The End

On Sunday, they woke to rain pounding on the roof and someone pounding on the cabin door. 

Ansel opened an eye.  Seven-thirty.  On a Sunday.  On vacation.  Really?  The idea of cards had appealed to all of them, so they’d stayed up later than usual, sitting around the kitchen table, playing poker until they couldn’t stay awake any longer.  None of them cared if they fished in the morning.  It would still be raining, so they’d decided to sleep in.

Ansel heard Jerod shuffle to the front door.  He shouldn’t open it alone.  What if it was Cassandra’s killer?  Or Mikey?  What would happen?’

Ansel tossed a sweatshirt over his pajama bottoms and went to see who was there.  Jerod was opening the door, and Mikey rushed inside, out of the rain.  He paced nervously. 

“It’s not true.  What everyone’s saying isn’t true.  Cassandra wasn’t like that.  She was always home when I got there after work.  She was a good wife.”

Jerod groaned and rubbed his blurry eyes.  “Whatever, man.  We’re just here for the fishing.  We don’t know why her body ended up in the shed, and we don’t care.”

Mikey collapsed onto a chair.  “I don’t know what to think.  Why was she at your cabin?  Why did she leave our house in the middle of the night?”

Ansel tried to help Jerod.  “Colin didn’t kill her.  He was playing cards with some other tourists.”

Mikey waved a hand.  “I heard.  I’ve heard it all.  He didn’t come on to her.  She came on to him.  I don’t believe it.  She wasn’t like that.”

Ansel and Jerod both sagged onto kitchen chairs across from him.  This wasn’t their battle, but both of them felt sorry for Mikey. 

“Look, man,” Jerod said, “you’re not a detective.  Neither are we.  I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have to wait to see what Cooper comes up with.”

Mikey snorted.  “He came to me a few months ago to say Cassandra was hitting on him, and he thought I should know.  I asked her about it.  She said she felt sorry for Cooper.  She was trying to be nice to him and he took it the wrong way.  She was like that, always trying to help people.”

Jerod and Ansel exchanged glances.  Ansel asked, “Were they all men?”

Mikey glowered.  “Not that many women go to the bar and grill.”

Of course.  Cassandra had an answer for everything.  Ansel tried to think of a way to get rid of Mikey.  “We all want to offer our sympathies.  We’re all married men who love our wives.  We understand how hard this must be for you.”

Mikey blinked.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do without Cassandra.  I felt like I won the jackpot when she married me.”

Oh, crap.  Ansel felt for the guy more than ever.  “That’s how I felt when I met Jazzi.”

Mikey swallowed hard.  “Lots of guys were after her, but she chose me, you know?”

Ansel’s lips turned down.  She knew a steady meal ticket when she saw one.  And someone who’d forgive her anything.  He felt even sorrier for Mikey.

Mikey took a deep, ragged breath.  “Sorry to bother you guys, but she died here, and I sort of needed closure or something.  I’ll be going now.”  He stood and left.

Jerod and Ansel looked at each other, then headed back to their beds.  But before sleep claimed him, Ansel hoped Mikey would be okay when everything came out about his wife.

The muffins and coffee cake were gone, so they ate Didi’s sandwiches for breakfast a little before noon.  The deluge had stopped, so they grabbed their fishing gear and went to the river.  Mikey and his friends were a short distance down from them.  Everyone threw their lines in the water and eventually caught a salmon, but for some reason, one of the men in Mikey’s group couldn’t get a bite.  He finally walked to where they were and asked, “Can I try fishing with you?  I’m not having any luck where I was.”

“Go for it,” Jerod told him.  “I already have four.  I can only keep one more.” 

The guy cast and still couldn’t get a nibble. 

“What are you using for bait?” Thane asked.

“Spawn bags.”  He pulled out his line to show them. 

“You have them placed wrong,” Thane said.  “And everyone’s using them.  I’m catching more with a plastic worm.  Here.  Let’s switch up your bait and rearrange it.”  Thane removed the spawn bag, added a worm, and repositioned it.

“Thanks.  I usually fish from a boat.  I’m not used to fishing from shore, but I wanted to spend time with Mikey today.”  The guy tossed his line in the water, and a short while later, a fish tugged on it.  He pulled it in.  “Awesome!  By the way, I’m Austin.  I’ve known Mikey a long time.”

Thane nodded down the shore toward Walker.  “Like me and him.  BFFs since third grade.”

Austin hesitated.  “Mostly.  We’ve had good years and not so good.”

“Yeah, well nothing’s perfect.”  Thane grinned.  “Walker and I had a few bumps, too.  He disappeared for a while and I thought he might be dead.”

Austin blinked, surprised.  “And then he just came back?”

“It’s complicated,” Thane said.  “His dad died, and his mom finally felt safe moving back to town.”

“But he was the same man you knew before?  Nothing had changed?”

“It wasn’t his fault they left town.  He missed me as much as I missed him.”

Austin’s gaze went to Mikey downstream.  “When Mikey met Cassandra, he dumped all of us.  All he thought about was her.  Then we learned he didn’t treat her that well either.”

Ansel was fishing next to him.  “That’s not what we heard.  We heard that Cassandra used Mikey for security and then played around on the side.”

Austin froze.  He turned to look at Ansel.  “How long was she doing that?”

“I got the impression it started right after he put the ring on her finger, but he never caught on.  Maybe he didn’t want to.”

Austin’s entire body stiffened.  A fish tugged on his line, but he didn’t notice.  “I’ve been a horrible friend.”

“Did you know about it?”  Ansel was under the impression Cassandra was usually pretty discreet.  She didn’t get sloppy until she met Colin.

Looking down, Austin rubbed his face.  He dropped his fishing pole, and Thane picked it up.  “I’m the one she cheated with year after year.  I believed her when she told me that Mikey married her, then neglected her.  I should have known better, but Mikey was always busy—volunteering as a fire fighter, working long hours at the lumber yard, and hanging out with his buddies  Now that I think about it, though, Cassandra encouraged him to keep busy, said she liked a man who was secure enough to do his own thing and let her do hers.”

Thane snorted.  “You mean let her do other guys.”

Austin flinched.  “I’ve been an idiot.  I thought she only came to me for comfort.”

With another snort, Thane said, “I don’t think she was looking for comfort with Colin.  She wanted a good time.”

Austin gave a strangled reply.  “She came to my house that night when Mikey was called away to fight a fire.  She was in the mood to party, but I was tired.  She told me Colin had come onto her in the bar the night before, and that worried me.  I wanted to make sure she got home safe, so I followed her when she left.  But she didn’t go home.  She drove to your cabin and parked on the brim of the road where the trees are, where no one would see her.  She was sneaking through the back yard when I called to ask her what she was doing.”

Ansel’s lips pinched in an unhappy line.  “You killed her, didn’t you?”

Austin’s face twisted as he fought for calm.  “She laughed at me.  Said I was nice to cuddle with but she was getting bored.  Told me the redheaded guy looked like a good time, and she meant to have some fun.”

“How did you open the shed?” Jerod asked.  They’d all stopped fishing to listen to his story.

“She turned to walk away, and I saw the ax inside through the window.  I gave the door a hard kick, and it flew open.  It was a cheap lock.  She didn’t even turn to see what I was doing, just giggled and told me to keep the noise down and to go home.  And then…  Well, I lost it.”

Mikey and his friends had come to see what they were talking about, and Mikey stared.  “You killed her?”

Tears streaked down Austin’s cheeks and he covered his face with his hands.  “I’m so sorry.  I really am.”

Jerod reached for his phone and called 911.  Mikey just stood there, looking blank, like he couldn’t believe it.  His friends gathered around him.  Austin’s legs gave, and he sank to the ground, sitting with his knees up and his arms wrapped around them, his face buried. 

When Cooper came, he handcuffed Austin and took him away.  Mikey’s friends took him home. 

Jerod picked up his catch for the day and started back to the cabin.  “I’m done fishing.” 

The others followed his lead.  Jerod cut through the yard, staying as far away from the shed as possible.  “I hate looking at the yellow crime tape.”

They cleaned their fish, then cleaned themselves and heated up Jazzi’s lasagna for supper.  “I don’t want to go the bar tonight, not even for a beer,” Walker said.  They all agreed.

The next morning, they ate enchiladas for breakfast.  All of the other food was gone.  Then they gathered their things, picked up the cabin, and locked the door behind them.  Jerod took the key to the fish cleaning table and dropped it into its drawer, like the owner had told him. 

Then Walker, Thane, and Radley got in Walker’s truck, and Jerod and Ansel got in Jerod’s to drive away.

“I sure enjoyed fishing with you guys,” Jerod said on the way home, “but if we do it again, let’s go to some other river and some other town.  There are plenty of fishing spots in Michigan.”

Ansel glanced in the rearview mirror as they drove farther and farther away from the cabin.  “It was a nice place, but I don’t ever want to see it again.  It will make me think of Mikey and the murder.”

For the first time, Jerod grinned.  “Jazzi’s going to be jealous that we solved a murder without her.”

“Are you nuts?  She doesn’t like messing with them any more than we did.  She’s going to be glad she wasn’t with us.”

“I’ve got to give Gaff and Caden credit.”  Jerod reached to turn on the radio.  “They handle stuff like that every day.”

“I’m glad we’re putting it behind us.”  A song came on about a guy with a broken heart because he’d lost his girl.  Ansel reached to change the station.  Then he leaned back to enjoy the scenery.  He pointed.  An eagle flew into a forest as they passed it.  He cracked his window and breathed in the scent of pine.  There were so many good things about this trip.  Those were the memories he’d keep.

7 thoughts on “The End

  1. I read the end and then had to go back and start at the beginning. A great story, Judi, with some tense scenes and a strong ending. I don’t blame them for not wanting to go back there in the future even though it was a special spot. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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