Moody looked at the clock on the wall. She frowned at the numbers. It was only a few minutes after four o’clock. That had to be wrong. It was impossible that only an hour had passed since her brother had shown up unannounced on her doorstep.
Yes, her doorstep. No matter what Jackson said, she had priority when it came to inheritance. After all, Morris had done things to her that had messed her up so badly, her only options when she started college were psychology to deal with her issues or suicide to end them.
An involuntary shiver shook Moody and rattled the ice in her glass of tea. She had put some of the horrible memories of her childhood and adolescence in a locked, bolted and chained area of her mind. Jackson’s sudden appearance had opened that door.
Morris deserved to rot. He was responsible for evil acts against others, but what was reprehensible were his acts against his own flesh and blood. Moody was not ready to face her own past. Not yet. She calmly locked, bolted and chained that particular door to the past.
Jackson was another issue. She knew what he had done the night before he ran away. No one had noticed as she spied on her family. Early on in life, Moody had learned the only way to survive the Sinclair household was to be one step ahead of everyone. It did not take long for Moody to become skilled in making herself invisible and watching the others.
On that long ago night, Jackson had done the unspeakable, and all at their father’s bidding. Moody had watched through a crack in the door as her father psychologically battered her mother and her brother held his tongue. Her mother had crumbled after hours of mind torture from her husband. Her delicate mind had endured too much over the years with the Sinclairs and the final straw had been the pictures of the child she had miscarried only a few months before.
Those pictures had been in a special place in Morris’s desk, in a secret drawer Moody knew about from her frequent covert observations. After her mother’s death, Moody had looked at the pictures. She was a bit taken back that simple pictures had driven her mother to accept the pills her father had given her.
The pictures were graphic and horrible. At thirteen, Moody should have been repulsed. She was not. She was, after all, a Sinclair. Her mother, however, was not a Sinclair by blood. Genetics must have played a role in her mother’s coerced suicide. Moody was not that weak.
Another involuntary shiver shook her body. Why after all these years was she bothered by the images of her very dead mother lying on her vomit covered bed? The flashbacks were coming fast and strong. Moody struggled to shut the door.
Concentrate on right now, she told herself. Why had Jackson shown up now, of all times? Right when things were starting to go well for Moody and life was sorting itself out, her murderous brother shows up.
Maybe she should make him a nice glass of tea. She remembered the tea she had given him long ago. It had come from the same pitcher that her mother had drunk from shortly before her miscarriage.
Moody had watched her father add a powder to the tea. Their eyes had locked and her father had given her a conspiratorial smile while mixing the powder into the pitcher of sweet tea. Putting a finger to his lips, he had silently made Moody a coconspirator.
She could have easily dumped the pitcher of tea down the sink or replaced it with something her father had not tainted, but Moody had not been happy with her mother for a long time. The woman had never stood up for them to their father. She was nothing more than a doormat. When her mother became pregnant, in Moody’s adolescent mind, a new child was a new enemy to contend with.
So, she served her unsuspecting mother and brother sparkling glasses of amber liquid. To Moody, fewer enemies within the house meant greater chances of survival. Too bad her younger brother had not been home at the time. Lucky him.
Jackson had cramped up, her mother had miscarried and Moody could have prevented all of that pain.
But, she turned a blind eye to the suffering of her family just like they always turned a blind eye to her pain.
Moody never knew what Morris had put in the tea. She never asked. Her silence had sealed the pact she had with her demonic father. She wondered how Morris had sealed the pact between himself and Jackson.
Thinking of her brother, she had noticed he had not touched the glass of water she had served him when he first came into the house. It was doubtful he would touch anything coming from Moody’s hand.
She jumped as a door opened with a soft click. If her brother thought he could sneak up on her, he was sadly mistaken. She may be getting older, but her perception to watch her back had never been stronger.
A bottle clinked against another in the kitchen. Jackson had made himself at home, she thought, as he strolled into the den where Moody was sitting, a beer in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
“So, do the police have a clue where Morris is?” her brother asked.
“Not that they’re telling me,” she replied with a shrug. She had nothing to offer her brother or the police who had been at the house earlier. Thinking about that, she was glad Jackson had not come to her house earlier. She did not know what Seth Bryan would have thought of Morris’s oldest son showing up shortly after Morris’s disappearing act.
On the other hand, maybe it was fortunate that her brother had shown up when he did. It was suspicious. With any luck, maybe Moody could turn it into highly suspicious.
“Do you want a tour of the neighborhood?” she asked her brother. The look of surprise on his face was priceless. However, it soon turned into wariness.
“What’s your angle, Mary?”
“Morris is gone. You’re here. Draw your own conclusions, brother. You might as well be seen out and about rather than hiding in this house.”
She had not quite convinced him. She could see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to figure out her ulterior motive.
Not that it mattered, though. But she did want him to be seen with her around the neighborhood. She wanted his presence felt. No hiding, not like that Tara Windsor.
Really, who did Tara think she was fooling? A person can fake many things, but personality traits are the hardest to conceal even for such an excellent actor as Tara. Her little tics were too obvious to Moody’s trained eye.
Why was she lying? Well, Moody could understand if she was trying to get away from public view, but in Rubicon Ranch? Although the community was somewhat exclusive, it was not paparazzi proof. If she was on vacation, there were millions of more exotic and private places to be than the middle of the desert.
Moody continued to think about one of Rubicon’s newest additions while Jackson prattled on. She tuned him out but her ears perked when he asked her about her next-door neighbor.
“It’s Melanie something, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Melanie something. Why do you ask?”
Jackson shrugged and grinned. Moody felt her stomach tense when she saw the ghost of her father’s evil smile on her brother’s face.
“I’ll be around for awhile so I might as well get to know the neighbors. Who is that old guy next door?”
A heavy silence fell between them. Minutes that felt like hours passed. Eyes locked with her brother, shark to shark, Moody broke the quiet.
“This isn’t your place. The only rights you have here are by accident of birth. Don’t stir things up for me.”
A loud sigh escaped before Moody could catch it. She could not afford for her brother to see any weakness. It was, however, too late. Her weakness had been exposed.
Moody did not want to be in the spotlight again and that heavy sigh spilled the beans for her.
The Sinclairs were adept at picking up cues from others. Jackson smiled broadly and repeated his question.
“His name is Eloy. I don’t know much about him except he won’t clear out the no-man’s land between our houses. Neither would Morris.”
“Okay. That tells me I need to win our neighbor over, doesn’t it?”
Oh, no. “Our” neighbor? Glancing at the clock again, she thought about how her brother had been in her house for less than two hours and was already making it a joint home.
Rising from the chair beside Moody, Jackson stretched. Her brother’s shirtsleeves slipped down from his outstretched arms and Moody noticed fresh scratches on the inside of his upper left arm. They were almost identical to the three slashes she had on her upper right arm.
She knew where hers had come from. The real question was where did Jake get his? Interesting and potentially something she could hold over her brother’s head.
“I’m going to take a look in Dad’s office. Where’s the key to the safe?”
Moody said nothing.
“Come on, Mary. I can pick the lock, you know, but it would be better if you just gave me the key.”
Moody had removed everything from the safe that was dangerous to her before she reported Morris missing. What was left only cast her father in a more horrible light.
Still, it was the principle of the thing. Jackson had no business going through Morris’s belongings, but Moody had no valid reason to stop him.
Giving him the key, she could only hope he would slip and fall into the safe. Too bad it was not big enough to hold all of him. It could hold a head, though.
Moody shook the morbid thoughts out of her mind. She rose and walked to Morris’s study and stood in the doorway watching her brother open Morris’s safe.
“I feel you staring holes into my back, Mary, Mary. It won’t do you any good. I’ve got a spirit shield covering me,” he said as he looked at her over his shoulder and winked.
“There’s nothing there, Jackson. You’re wasting your time.”
“Ah, but, sweet sister, that’s what I have a lot of right now. Time. And patience. I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from the ministry because I think it’s time for us to reconnect as a family, don’t you?”
Stunned but not surprised, Moody opened her mouth to reply but was interrupted by the low ringing of Morris’s office phone. Before she could pick up the receiver, Jackson beat her to it.
“Hello,” Jackson said in a deeper tone than his normal speaking voice. How odd. Her brother sounded eerily like their father.
Moody watched Jackson smile as he listened to the caller. Her brother looked at her and their eyes locked in an intense stare-down between two sharks.
Turning his back to Moody, he asked, “Who is this?”
Immediately, Jackson put the receiver back on the base. Shrugging and grinning, he told Moody, “He didn’t say who he was, but he seemed to have the idea I was Morris.”
“What did he want?”
Without a word, Jackson walked toward the kitchen and Moody followed. She wished she could kick the answer out of her brother, but from long experience she knew she would have to wait until he was ready to talk.
Moody looked out the kitchen window across no-man’s land as Jackson rummaged through her refrigerator. Listening to him move bottles and containers around, she daydreamed of shoving him face-first into the cold icebox and chaining the door shut.
“Jackson, what did he want?” she asked impatiently
Straightening and shrugging, Jackson answered. “It seems our neighbor Melanie ‘something’ found death in the desert and this guy wanted to sell Morris pictures of it.”
Moody turned from the window to face Jackson. Frowning, she asked, “Melanie found another body?”
“It wasn’t a body, Mary, Mary,” he replied with a slight smile and an unblinking stare.
With the trademark Sinclair shark grin, Jackson continued, “Nope, not a body. Our neighbor stumbled upon a foot. A necropiece.”