Stuart woke up and stared at the ceiling. Mary was sleeping at his side and he counted the number of heartbeats he felt in his chest until that number reached one hundred, and then slid out of bed and walked out onto the patio. Mary was pregnant. It seemed too incredible to be true, really, but she was showing, and the ultrasound had floored him. Stuart was going to be a father. Mary was going to have his son, maybe, or a daughter, and there was never a time in his life things seemed to be so perfect and so real. Everything was going as if he was taking part in a fairy tale that had been written to have a happy ending.
Mary’s father had all but surrendered the day to day operations to Stuart, and Stuart was glad David hadn’t tried to keep control of the company when it was clear to everyone Stuart was much more capable of running the show. The first year Stuart had managed the company had seen profits soar over fifty percent higher than David’s best year. David knew a good thing when he saw it and had started easing out of the big chair and into retirement. Stuart had always dreamed of making a six digit salary for a living and now seven wasn’t impossible. His son would never have to go through the years of hard work Stuart had, and this world would be his one day. Mary had fretted about having enough money to have a baby just a year ago and now, and now, she was thinking of having another in a couple of years, and Stuart wanted nothing less than to give Mary everything she had always wanted. She had wanted him when he was nothing at all but a young man with a big dream and now, and now, he was rising up so fast, so far…
Stuart wondered why no one had seen him, and he wondered why no one had come looking for him. It had been two weeks. He was safe. He had to be safe. David was a lot of things, but the man did set up a decent security system for his family. Their house was no Fort Knox, but at the same time, anyone who wanted to get close would be seen. Wouldn’t they? Stuart wondered how bad it was, and how good his defenses were. His driver was good. The man had been with David for nearly twenty years. The domestics were good people and all of them had been in the family in one way or another for a while now. But the police were of a world of their own, and Stuart wondered if they would take his silence as a sign of he being willing to trade that silence for peace for his family. Nothing had happened yet. Nothing would happen, or it would have by now. Wouldn’t it? Stuart lay back in a lawn chair and drifted off to sleep.
“Baby?” Mary stood over him, and lump sticking out over her panties and Stuart knew he had never seen any woman so beautiful. “Baby tell me what’s wrong.”
She knew. Mary knew, and of course she knew, but he could not tell her this. He lifted her up off her feet and she squealed like a little girl, and he took her into the bedroom and laid her on the bed very gently, and he could feel the muscles in his back protesting. She was getting heavier by the day, and Stuart knew he would have to do something about that thing that hung over his family’s head.
Stuart has never spoken at any length to Marshall, but he was one of David’s oldest and most trusted advisors. He had always gotten the feeling that Marshall didn’t like him, but Marshall never said a word that wasn’t needed, and the man knew his place. Marshall deferred to him in every way, except in legal matters, and his advice wasn’t suggestions to be considered lightly. Marshall never spoke unless he had something to say, and David has seen strong men wilt under Marshall’s glare as if they knew something about the man he did not.
“Who have you told this to, Stuart?” Marshall looked at him with those dark eyes, and Stuart felt the first feelings of fear, true fear, the type of fear that mattered. Marshall had the mustache of a walrus and Stuart had regretted getting high with Mary and lying in bed with her and making fun of this man. Stuart felt sweat form on his back and soak through his shirt.
“No one.” Stuart was proud he didn’t stutter. “No, not Mary, if that is what you’re asking.”
“You’re the best thing that has ever happened to David, this company, or Mary.” Marshall said. “I want you to know that. “ Marshall leaned back in his chair. “You were right to bring this to me. There isn’t a way to know if they saw you. They may be waiting until this has blown over before they…do something. We can’t allow that possibility. I’ll get a team ready and depose you properly, and get Michaels and his people to put some serious security around The Old Man, and get Mary the hell out of the country. We’re lucky I still have some friends up in the capital with the Attorney General’s office who owe me.” Marshall stood up and extended his right hand. “You’ve got a lot more guts than I thought you did. I’m sorry I underestimated you, sir.”
The weeks that followed Stuart never went anywhere without two of Marshall’s men with him. The other managers at the company treated him like he was a mob boss or some sort of dangerous creature. The word “Sir” was spoken now with more respect than he had heard before. Marshall, who had all but ignored him unless he had some business to discuss, made it a point to greet him in hallways and opened doors for him, as Stuart had seen him do for David. Stuart missed Mary, but she had been whisked away, quickly and quietly, and Stuart was a little surprised she had agreed to go. But now, suddenly, the people around him were not just following his directions, they were obeying orders. Stuart threw himself into his work, as a distraction from the trial, and one day Marshall walked through the door and smiled at him.
“We got a guilty plea from Charleston” Marshall said. “He’s turned evidence in exchange for a ten year sentence, no parole.”
Stuart sat with his son on his knee and tried to get the lad to blow out the candles. David, named after his grandfather, was more interested is watching the people come and go, and the light of the camera. This was David’s second birthday, and Stuart knew that Marshall had something to tell him. The man was huge, but nearly invisible wherever he went. He blended into the party crowd, and for the millionth time he thanked whatever gods there were, that Marshall was there whenever he needed him. He eased David over to Mary and went out onto the patio. He knew Marshall would follow, and in a few moments, he did.
“Charleston died in prison today, Stuart.” Marshall told him without any sort of emotion. “A lifer shanked him in a fight.”
“Wow” it was all Stuart could say.
“I have something to ask you, and I want you to know that new security system we installed excludes any sort of electronic eavesdropping, unless the CIA is out there.”
“Yes, Marshall, of course, anything, and you know that.” David couldn’t believe it. Did Marshall have someone killed to protect him from a threat that wouldn’t get out of prison in eight years?
“Those hack jobs hired by those cops that were masquerading as the defense team where a bunch of idiots, Stuart, but I am not.” Marshall said. “I want you to know that.”
“I do know that Marshall, what on earth…?” Stuart was floored by the accusation.
“You weren’t even there, Stuart.” Marshall continued. “You never saw the murders. You and Mary checked out of the hotel on a Sunday, and your credit card receipts and cell phones say that you were back here in Baltimore on Monday.”
“That’s right.” Stuart stammered.
“The murders happened Monday morning.” Marshall said. “You weren’t there.”
“But I saw them, I did, I saw them kill those men.”
“No, Stuart, you didn’t.” Marshall said. “I have no idea how you got all the details right, but you were not there.”
“I remember those murders.” Colleen said. “Two of those cops got life without.” She stood up and paced. “What are you telling me, they didn’t commit the murders, they were possessed, this guy…Stuart…he was possessed, just what?”
“You are a detective, Colleen, you tell me.”
“The cops confessed, I remember that. So they did do it, but if that guy wasn’t there…I don’t understand what you’re telling me.”
“That is what I tell you.”