(from pages 291-292)
When she arrived home, she found the house was quiet, almost creepy as she and Vera entered. The police’s yellow crime tape was gone, and there were no media vans lurking in the background. Joann turned on the central heat and lit a few candles, trying to get rid of the musty smell from the house being closed up.
“Are you sure you’re going to be all right, Joann?” asked Vera.
“I’m going to be fine. You don’t need to stay really. I’ve thought about the fact that a girl was murdered in my bedroom, but the only ghosts I believe in are those whom people allow to haunt their minds. I’m not about to let that happen to me. And as for Buck, I don’t think he’d dare show his face around here.”
“Well, okay. But please call me, even just to chat,” Vera encouraged.
“Certainly, I promise.” She gathered up some clothes, shoes, games, and such for Vera to take back to Toby, placing them in a box.
Vera took the box. “I’m sure Toby will appreciate these things. Maybe having more of his own things will cheer him up. Jason said he was going to try to get him to go horseback riding in the morning.”
“That’ll be good. Well, I’m going to start work in the morning. My boss said that he’d give me a desk job until I was better healed. So I’d better get things squared away,” Joann said, walking Vera to the door. “Thanks for everything, Vera,” she said, hugging her.
“You’re quite welcome, dear. Now don’t hesitate to call if you need us. God bless you, and we’ll be praying.” Vera hurried home.
Joann locked the door and paused, feeling the quietness of the house. She crept into the hall and approached her bedroom. The door was standing open. Looking inside, she peered at the bed where she loved to lie in Tom’s arms, snuggling and planning their future. She ached all over with a terrible ache, longing to be there again beside of Tom with her head resting on his shoulder—her favorite place in the whole world. She tried not to think about Julie lying dead on the floor in this very room, but it was hard to fight away the images of what Toby must have seen.
The late autumn evening was causing a darkness to creep over the house, and the terrible chill of her loneliness was enhanced by the dropping temperature. She turned on lamps in every room, which filled the house with soft light in addition to the flickering candles, which bounced their glow off of the walls in various patterns.
Joann rummaged through the freezer to find a microwave dinner, which she prepared, only to take a few bites. She walked through each room of the house examining it, checking each window to be sure that it was securely locked. She double-checked the doors and finally decided that she could safely go to bed. But could she go to sleep? After putting on her nightgown, she pulled the comforter back on her side of the bed and stood there staring at the place where Tom should be lying but couldn’t bear to lie down. Tom wasn’t there, and it was his choice that may never let him be there again. He made this decision without as much as a thought about her, only his brother. Her breathing became heavy, and her head began to ache as she fought back the torrent of tears that were attempting to take over. Quickly, she ran to Toby’s room and threw herself onto his bed, crying profusely. Here, she would reside, not being able to sleep in her own bed without Tom, in the room where Julie Spencer breathed her last and where this horrible nightmare began.
Hank made every contact he could think of to find Buck or Stephanie, but no one would talk. A few times, he got some information for a ten-dollar bill, only to find that he was steered wrong. He decided that he was too easily conned when he felt desperate. They probably laughed all the way to their junkies. Weeks later, Hank had not come any closer to finding Buck. He didn’t know where else to turn. His cell phone rang. “Hank here,” he answered.
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