Rubicon Ranch: Secrets ~ Chapter 32: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 24, 1:35pm

Melanie paced the house, unable to get the strange email out of her head. You never know when to leave well enough alone, do you? Alexander Gray is dead. Let him rest in peace.

The words seemed to be from Alexander himself. Whenever she overworked a piece, taking a section of the book that was perfect and rewriting it until it sounded flat and spiritless, he used to shake his head and say half in exasperation and half in affection, “You never know when to leave well enough alone, do you?”

Could he be alive? The message had come from someone at canescent@gmail.com. Alexander had often used various shades of gray for his personal email addresses, and canescent meant “turning white or grayish.” Although Alex was only in his mid forties, his often lamented that his hair was already turning grey.

Was. Not had been.

Did she already, in the depths of her being, accept that he still lived, or was she only indulging in wishful thinking? Perhaps it suited the assassin’s evil plan to have her believe Alexander lived.

But no. It had to be Alexander who sent the email. Who else would know his fondness for that particular word? At night, when they got ready for bed, he used to tell her she was incandescent while he was merely canescent. Though he hadn’t given her such a compliment in a very long time.

But if Alexander were alive, who had been in the car when it hit the embankment? Whose ashes were in the urn on her dresser?

Could Alexander have seen the man cutting the brake lines, and somehow turned the tables, letting the would-be assassin die in his place? That would certainly explain what had happened to Alexander’s cameras—the cameras were so much a part of him, he would have automatically taken them with him wherever he went.

But where did he go? Could he still be in the neighborhood, camping out in one of the deserted houses? Could he have killed Nancy and perhaps Clark Bailey, too? But why? Had they discovered his secret?

Nancy didn’t seem to know that Alexander was alive since she had accused Melanie of killing Alexander. Unless Nancy had been playing a deadly game?

And anyway, I might have killed her.

Melanie trudged to her bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed she’d once shared with Alexander. Rubicon Ranch housed so many secrets, and now it contained another one. Would she ever know the truth of Alexander and what he had become? Would she continue living this half-life of a widow, never knowing for sure if her husband lived?

“Damn you, Alexander!” she screamed. “How could you do this to me?”

Alexander didn’t answer. He never did, which was just as well. If she ever saw him again, she’d kill him herself for putting her through all the agony of grief.

Her cell phone rang, and she picked it up, half expecting to hear Alexander’s voice. Instead, she heard her agent’s chipper tones.

“Dahling! So much excitement! We want you to write the book. Such a delicious story.”

Melanie’s mouth went dry. So it was true. Alexander lived. “Have you talked to him?”

“Talked to him? You mean the sheriff? We’re hoping you will.”

“Wait a minute,” Melanie said. “You’re not calling about my husband?”

“Oh, dahling. I know how much you miss Alexander, but there simply isn’t a story in his death. You have to get over it. Move on. Now that sheriff Bryan seems a lovely and tragic man. Take him to dinner. Get all the juicy bits. Then write the story.”

Melanie took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, but still, could not make sense of the woman’s words. “What are you talking about?”

“The murders. About an hour ago. It’s posted all over Twitter and on Facebook. We can release the new book just a couple months after your Necropieces story. You’ll be the hottest writer in years. Everyone who’s anyone will want to interview you.”

“What story?” Melanie demanded.

“Just a second, dahling. I have to take this call.”

In the vacuum of silence left behind when Dottie put her on hold, Melanie could hear activity outside. Still carrying her phone, she ran to the front door and yanked it open. A cluster of sheriff’s vehicles and a black coroner’s van were parked in front of the house where she had found Nancy’s body, and people clustered in the street as if they were watching a parade.

With so many official cars in the area, it was obvious that something major had happened. Could the sheriff be dead? But no, Dottie had suggested she contact the sheriff to get the details.

She noticed fellow standing off by himself, and for just a second she thought she was seeing Morris Sinclair himself, then the man turned and stared at the Sinclair house, giving Melanie a clearer look at him. Although there was some resemblance to Morris, especially in the way he carried himself, he was way too young to be that wicked old man come back to life.

Get a grip. People don’t return from the grave. There are no ghosts. And Alexander isn’t alive. I identified the body myself.

She stopped short, right foot in the air. Slowly, she put the foot on the ground next to her left and tried to remember what she had seen at the morgue. Alexander’s shirt on the mangled body. His wedding ring on a bloody finger. His wallet in a plastic bag on the table. She’d been so numbed by shock that it had never occurred to her to study the mashed features to make sure the man was Alexander, and now it was too late.

One thing she felt sure of. If Alexander lived, he had been complicit in the man’s death. How else could the man have been wearing Alexander’s clothes and wedding ring?

Melanie pulled off her own wedding ring. Resisting the urge to throw it as far from her as possible, she stowed it in a pocket. If the ring meant so little to Alexander, then it shouldn’t have any meaning for her, either. But then, she’d known for many years the rings they exchanged and the vows they made didn’t mean much to him. She’d found him so often with other women that after his death, she’d been shocked by the depth of her grief. But maybe she’d been mourning the death of her childish hopes that one day he would give up other women and love only her.

Catching sight of that strange little woman Celeste Boudreau among the gawkers, Melanie remembered what the psychic had said about Alexander, “I’m sorry. I thought I saw who did it, but couldn’t catch the vision.” Had her words been a con? A pretense to make Melanie take her more seriously?

Or perhaps she hadn’t been able to see who killed Alexander because Alexander hadn’t been killed.

“I’m back, dahling. I can slip a contract in the mail today. The sooner the book is published, the better. The public is so fickle you, you know. Isn’t it fortunate that you’re already on the scene?”

Melanie spoke slowly, enunciated both of the words clearly. “What happened?

“Your sheriff’s wife killed his lover and tried to make it look like he did it. And with her dying breath, the lover killed the wife. To save him, they say. Isn’t that sweet?”

Melanie disconnected the phone, went inside and shut the door.

Those poor women. Dead because of one man.

What about Nancy? Had the real estate woman’s life somehow intersected with others, creating not a just a tragic triangle, but a quadrangle?

What if Seth had pursued his interest in her, Melanie? Would she, too, have been dead?

Too many unanswered questions.

Someone would write the story of Seth’s women, showing how the lives of those people intersected with such tragic consequence, but it wouldn’t be her. She had her own story to unravel.

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About Pat Bertram

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Great Yearning and four novels -- More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, Daughter Am I, and Light Bringer. All are available from Amazon, Smashwords, and Second Wind Publishing, LLC. http://secondwindpublishing.com
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