By: L.M. Pruitt

“Tammy says Loretta pretty much threw up her hands and said she was going out with her friends to which Harold replied ‘over his dead body’.” Pete opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a pack of gum, thumbing out a piece before offering me one. When I shook my head, he shrugged, dropping the pack back in the drawer and easing it shut. Unwrapping the gum, he popped it in his mouth, chewing for a moment before continuing. “Guess Harold didn’t think she’d take him quite so literally.”

“Guess not.” I rubbed my forehead, squinting one eye against the headache brewing behind it. “I won’t lie to you—most of my law enforcement knowledge comes from television. Can you tell me what she’s looking at? Not first degree, obviously, but—.”

“Georgia doesn’t separate murder out by degrees the way other states do—we pretty much got murder and manslaughter and since I play golf with the district attorney about once a month and know the man pretty well, I don’t think I’m overstepping by saying he won’t go for manslaughter.” Pete swiveled his chair in tiny half circles, chomping away on his gum. He rubbed a hand over his mostly bald head and sighed. “It’d be one thing if Harold had been abusive. A halfway decent attorney could make a case for your sister suffering from battered spouse syndrome and just snapping, picking up the shotgun and blowing him away.”

I didn’t bother mentioning emotional abuse—that’d be something for the lawyer to deal with when they went to court. Allison was already working on finding someone who was both competent and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. The chances of finding one who met both specifications was slim but I’d rather stay local if I had a choice. Local meant they’d know how to work the judge and appeal to a jury if the case ever reached the inside of a courtroom. Local gave Loretta a better shot at getting out sometime before her youngest finished college.

“Mind if I talk to her for a few minutes?” I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. “And do you maybe have a couple of aspirin? I’ve had a headache since I woke up this morning.”

“Got a BC Powder.” He opened the desk drawer again, pulling out the package and tossing it to me before nodding at the corner behind me. “Got a few cokes in the mini-fridge. Don’t tell Mrs. Pete if you see her.”

“Secret’s safe with me.” Knowing coke could mean pretty much any variety of soda, I braced myself before opening the fridge. I blinked in surprise to find an actual Coke. Popping the top, I ripped open the medicine package with my teeth, taking a long swig of ice cold soda before dumping the powder in my mouth. Swallowing and coughing once, I said, “Loretta?”

“Yep.” Pete stood, rounding the desk and walking out of the room ahead of me, pulling a set of keys from his pocket as he made his way down the hall, turning the corner and stopping in front of another door. Unlocking it, he pushed it open, glancing over his shoulder as he spoke. “Can’t let you in the cell with her but—.”

“Jesus!” I shoved past him, my heart hammering double time. “Pete, get her down, get her down now!”

“Christ in a sidecar.” Pete yanked me back, all but throwing me out of the room. “Tell Dana to call the hospital, activate the EMTs, tell them we got an attempted suicide.” His hands were steady as he opened the cell door, stepping back to drag a chair inside the small space, hauling his bulk up so he could cut the makeshift noose Loretta had wrapped around her neck. “Now, Jeannie. Tell’em I’ve started CPR but I don’t know how long she’s been down.”

I sprinted down the hall, stumbling to a stop next to Dana’s desk, my words tumbling out in a stream of nonsense which she somehow managed to understand. My legs gave out and I slid to the floor, dropping my head between my knees. My vision wavered and started to go dark and I bit my lip, the pain clearing away some of the cloudiness.

I was vaguely aware of the hustle and bustle around me but I didn’t pay it any attention, not until a pair of thick-soled black shoes stepped in to my field of vision. I lifted my head as Pete knelt in front of me, his basset hound face even droopier than normal. We stared at each other for a moment before I took a deep breath. “Say it fast.”

“She’s gone, Jeannie.”

And so was the rest of my life.


The next week was a blur, somehow managing to go too fast and too slow all at the same time. Loretta hadn’t had any life insurance—not that it would have made a difference since most insurance companies are sticklers for the whole ‘no-suicide’ clause—so I’d dug in to my savings and paid for everything in cash. Even keeping things as plain and simple as possible without being insulting had cost me close to five thousand dollars. I wasn’t bankrupt but my fallback cushion was a helluva lot less comfy than I liked.