Chapter 12: Amanda and Nancy Jane
“Come right on in,” said Amanda Hopewell from the front stoop. She was holding the door open and waving us through even though we had just gotten out of the car. “I see you brought someone with you. Hi. I’m Amanda. I’m Billy’s mom.”
She held the door open while we made our way across her yard. Then, as Kelly got to the stoop, Amanda let go of the door to shake hands. “Who might you be?”
“Kelly Callahan,” said Kelly, shaking hands with our host. Although Mrs. Hopewell was standing on the stoop, she was only an inch taller.
“Kelly Callahan,” sang Atreyu’s mom, still pumping Kelly’s hand. “That sounds so musical.”
Kelly smiled and looked at me.
“I’m sorry,” said Amanda, rubbing Kelly’s arm. “I hope I didn’t offend you.” Patting her head with the palm of her hand she said, “Sometimes I have no earthly idea what’s about to come out of my mouth.” To me, she added, “Thank you for coming, Mr. Callahan. I could tell you weren’t comfortable coming here today, so I asked a friend to join us.” She pointed at Kelly with her thumb. “It seems like you had the same idea. Your wife?”
Kelly was already inside, but that last question brought her head back into view as she leaned back out.
“My daughter,” I said, stepping past her.
Every light in the living room was on. Every end table and the coffee table was covered with knickknacks and figurines. And every place to sit was covered with pillows or a cat.
“In here,” said a woman from the doorway of the kitchen. “We made coffee.”
As soon as Mrs. Hopewell maneuvered past us, she began waving us forward again. This time we were directed to the kitchen.
I tried to do as I was told, but the woman in the doorway made it hard to get in.
“Who’s this?” the woman in the doorway asked, looking past me at Kelly.
“This is Mr. Callahan’s daughter,” answered Amanda.
“That must make you Mr. Callahan,” said the woman, finally looking at me. She placed her hand on her chest and said, “I’m Mrs. Howard. Nancy Jane Howard. Come in. Make yourself at home.” As she spoke, she turned, allowing me just barely enough room to sidestep by her.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Facing her as I squeezed by would have been very uncomfortable for me, but having my back to her seemed rude. I opted for rude.
“What’s your name, dear?” Nancy Jane asked.
“I’m Kelly,” answered Kelly tersely.
I didn’t have to see her face to recognize her expression. Kelly did not try to squeeze by Nancy Jane. Instead, she stood where she was and held out her hand, directing Nancy Jane to clear the way.
Kelly’s response to Nancy Jane and mine were at opposite ends of the scale. I don’t know what scale I’m speaking of, but this scale is what Bree learned when she was being counseled by the minister she eventually had an affair with. According to some research, that the two of them looked at, there are people who face a conflict like me. I’m an avoider. Avoiders tend to just absorb small nuisances and slip on by them. And then there’s the direct type, like Kelly and her mother. They deal with conflict head on. I don’t know if Nancy Jane stayed in the doorway to make me feel uncomfortable, but I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it. Kelly, on the other hand, was not about to let what might or might not have been deliberate go by without some sort of response. She wasn’t mean or ugly, but if she was pushed she could have a very sharp tongue.
“It’s so nice of you to join us,” said Nancy Jane.
“I asked Kelly to come with me because she has law enforcement experience, and considering what we’re talking about, I thought she might have some insights to offer.”
Nancy Jane spread her hand out toward the kitchen table, “Please sit.”
The kitchen was as busy as the front room. There was only a tiny spot on the kitchen counter where food preparation could occur. There was no food out, nor were there any dirty dishes. The clutter was entirely made up of kitchen gadgets. The kitchen table was the most open space, but it was covered with stacks of mail, napkin and silverware holders, and some more ceramic figurines. I wondered how any cooking could occur with all this paraphernalia in the way, and if there was no cooking going on, then why was all the paraphernalia here? I was startled out of my trance when someone nudged me on the back.
“Yes,” said Amanda from the other side of the kitchen, “please sit.”
“Maybe your guests would like some coffee,” said Nancy Jane.
“None for me, thanks,” said Kelly right away. She slid a chair out away from the side of the table and sat.
“I’m fine,” I said. I took the seat next to Kelly on the side of the table. There wasn’t enough room for both of us to sit with our legs under the table, so we sat more in the middle of the kitchen.
Nancy Jane and Amanda took the seats at either end.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” began Kelly, “but I have an early class this afternoon, so I’d like to go ahead and get started if you all don’t mind.”
Nancy Jane pointed at Amanda and said, “Why don’t you go ahead and get this started?”
Amanda shuddered slightly. “I don’t know where to begin. This is so overwhelming.”
“Maybe I can help,” I said. “What the police told me is that they want to reopen that investigation of the jewelry store robbery and they want to interview Atreyu—I’m sorry, I mean Billy. But you told them to ask me. Does that sum it up?”
“Yes. I suppose it does,” said Amanda.
“But do you still feel that way?” asked Nancy Jane, scowling.
“Well, yes,” began Amanda, but after making eye contact with Nancy Jane, she said, “No, not really.”
Nancy Jane cleared her throat and said, “We feel that it would be too upsetting for Billy to go through all that again. It was very difficult for him when it happened. He lost his father that night, and when the police questioned him, he had to relive it all over again.” She smiled and readjusted herself in her chair. “He told them what he could back then. He doesn’t have anything more to offer now.”
“And how do you know that?” asked Kelly.
The harshness of the question startled me. It was accusatory. I looked at her immediately. She was staring at Nancy Jane.
“Well, it just stands to reason, doesn’t it?” answered Nancy Jane. Her voice was calm, almost sweet. Kelly’s onslaught hadn’t frazzled her at all. “I mean, it’s been years. How could he know more now than he did then?”
“Why exactly are you here?” asked Kelly.
“Mrs. Howard is my friend,” answered Amanda. “She went through all of this with us back when we lost William.” Her eyes got glassy as she looked across the table at her friend.
Nancy Jane smiled and tipped her head. “We went to church together,” she explained.
“Your church,” added Amanda.
“You mean the church I live in?” I clarified.
“Yes, of course,” said Amanda. “Nancy Jane was the church secretary back then, and my William was the custodian.”
“Now we both go to Community Baptist Church,” said Nancy Jane. “But I’m not the secretary there.”
“I know I’ve wasted your time,” said Amanda.
“That’s quite alright,” I said.
“I’m curious,” said Kelly. “Why did you tell the police that it was up to him if your son was questioned?”
“My son trusts him,” said Amanda. “He’s the first person Billy has warmed up to since his father passed away. Billy calls him ‘Preacher.’ Did you know that?”
Kelly turned toward me slowly. “Preacher,” she repeated with a big grin.
“You know I’m not a preacher, right?” I asked Amanda.
“Of course,” answered Nancy Jane.
“I’ll say,” said Kelly, still grinning.
“I know you’re not a real preacher,” said Amanda, “but you are ‘Preacher’ to us.”
“My dad, the preacher,” teased Kelly as I backed out of the Hopewell’s’ driveway.
“You’re going to enjoy that, aren’t you?” I said. There was no reason to look at her.
“I might as well . . . , Preacher,” she said, chuckling.
I waited for her to finish enjoying herself and then I told her, “Thanks for coming with me, Kelly. I didn’t know what to expect, but it could have been worse.”
“Oh yeah? How?”
“It could still be going on.”
She laughed again, but it wasn’t the enjoyable kind of laugh. “Are you thinking it’s not still going on?”
“You heard them. They aren’t going to give the police permission to talk to Atreyu.”
Kelly shook her head and huffed, “I doubt it’s going to be that simple.”
“You’ll have to explain that to me.”
“That detective . . . what’s his name?”
“It’s his case,” she said.
I must not have looked like I understood because she began explaining it to me. “There are always cases that go unsolved. Most people don’t want to hear about that, but it’s true. Every investigator has to close an unsolved case and move on. There’s always another case and then another, so even if you don’t want to, sooner or later your superior’s going to tell you to move on to the next.” She then held up her index finger and explained, “But for some investigators, there’s that one case. The one you just know you’re one piece of evidence, one lead, away from bringing home. That’s the case that haunts you at night.”
I had never heard her talk like that. “Gee, Kelly, did you have a case like that?”
“No,” she said. “Thank God. I was never the lead investigator on anything big. Those cases went to the career guys. But I heard them talk about their case. If this is Detective Slaughter’s case, then he’s not going to let it go just because Atreyu’s mom’s friend told her he won’t remember anything new.”
“Do you think it’s possible that he might remember something new after all this time?”
“I think it’s possible that he doesn’t know what he remembers until he’s asked the right questions.”
“And with some new evidence, like that revolver, the detective will have some new questions,” I guessed.
“You can take that to the bank, Preacher.”
“You know if you keep calling me that I’m liable to come up with a sermon for you. How’d you like that?”
She just grinned and looked out the window.
“What’d you think of Nancy Jane?” asked Kelly.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Amanda seems to like her. I suppose that’s what counts. You sure made it clear how you feel about her.”
“Do you think she noticed?” asked Kelly.
“It’d be pretty hard for her to miss it.”
“You’d be surprised at what a woman like her can miss.”
“‘A woman like her,’” I repeated. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Busy-body, control freak, buttinsky, holier-than-thou,” said Kelly. “Take your pick.”