After I pulled my hair, which was still damp, back into a ponytail I poured myself a cup in my favorite mug and added my usual way too much sugar with some non-dairy creamer. I stirred my mug o' yumminess and walked into the family room.
It was still cold inside, even with the heater on, so I cranked up the gas on the fireplace. It took a second to find it but I located the TV remote under my favorite blanket. Within a few moments I finally settled into the couch with the intent of binge watching a bunch of shows on the DVR I recorded from the Crime Network. Maybe it was because my mom was a cop. But I was obsessed with shows about murder and crime. Most of my girlfriends were into romance stories. I liked those too. But given my druthers, I'll watch a crime show nine times out of ten.
After scrolling through the menu of programs I'd recorded, I settled on a three part documentary. It was about a man, Nicholas Michaels, who'd been killed by three high school kids. The case was famous but long before my time, before I was born actually. It seemed like I'd heard about this case before but I couldn't remember when or how. All I knew was this would take me to lunch time.
Part one was sort of the set-up for the documentary. It introduced the victim's wife and the circumstances leading up to when she found him. He was murdered just inside the front door of their home on the rules foyer. He was shot right behind his right ear by a .38 caliber pistol. There was a bit of background on the victim too. He was an architect. He and his wife were still basically just newlyweds when he was killed.
It was just starting to get good when my husband called. I was so excited to see my husband's name on the caller ID I forgot to pause the show.
"Hey baby. How are things going in Wisconsin?"
"Oh you know. The usual. Lots of boring meetings. Late night dinners with clients. I'd much rather be home with you. What are you up to this morning, besides drinking coffee?"
I could almost hear the smile in his voice.
"Hah. You know me so well. Just binge watching stuff I recorded from CNC."
"What is CNC? A news channel or something?"
"No silly. It's the Crime Network Channel. You know how obsessed I get over shit like that. It's fascinating to me. I don't know why."
"Me either. That stuff sort of creeps me out."
"Which is why I usually only watch it when you're not around. Hang on a second let me pause the TV."
I reached down and picked up the remote off of the couch where I'd set it. When I looked up I was taken aback by the image on the screen. The murder victim in the story I was watching looked remarkably like my father-in-law, only much younger. Like my husband's age. For that matter he even looked a lot like my husband too. Was I seeing things? I paused the TV. That's when I realized my husband was talking to me."
"Dana? Honey? Are you still there?"
I was sort of in shock.
"Yeah. Yeah I'm still here. Sorry about that. This show is about some guy who was murdered over like 30 years ago. But I just saw his face. Nikki, he looks just like your dad only way younger, even a little bit like you. That's crazy, huh?"
"Oh. Really?" He paused for a second. "Uh what is the name of the guy who was killed?"
"Nicholas Michaels. Apparently he was murdered by some teenagers or something. I'm not sure of all the details. I'm just getting into it."
"Really? That's uh, umm. Honey. That's my uncle. My dad's twin brother. You may not remember, but I told you about my uncle that died before I was born. That's him."
"Wait, what? This guy on TV was your uncle? You never told me he was murdered. Why does he have a different last name of Michaels? Your dad's last name isn't Michaels, it's James. I don't understand."
"I'm sorry. I know you're probably upset right now. But the truth is we, as in my family, don't like to talk about this. My dad says that after the murder the press was constantly hounding our entire family, not just my uncle's wife. So my dad moved out of state and legally changed his name to make it harder for the press to find him."
"Why didn't you ever tell me any of this? I'm your wife for God's sake."
"Look. I'm sorry okay? This all happened just before I was born. My mom was pregnant with me when this tragedy occurred. So really, it's his story to tell. Not mine. I just figured if he wanted you to know he would have told you himself. I guess he prefered to keep this to himself. Can you really blame him?"
I thought for a moment. I was angry, sure. But I also felt horrible for what my father-in-law must have endured and now all the secrets he had to keep.
"Yeah. I guess that makes sense. But look, I really want details when you get home. Got it?"
"I'll tell you as much as I know. But honey, you should probably not watch the rest of that show. It'll just make you more upset. And God knows how twisted up the story is now."
"Are kidding me right now? I'm absolutely going to watch the rest of this. I want to know what happened."
"Okay. Fine. But just...just take it all with a grain of salt okay? It's television and they do a lot of producing to amp up the drama. You can't trust everything you see and hear on that show. Okay? Promise me."
"I promise you. But we're talking as soon as you get home on Friday. You promise me!"
"Of course Dana. Anything for you my love. I miss you. I'm sorry you found out about this in this way. I gotta run to get ready for a meeting in an hour or so and I haven't even had breakfast yet. I love you."
"I love you too, babe. Be safe up there. Don't drink too much. I'll see you on Friday."
We hung up. When I put my cellphone down on the coffee table, I looked up at the big seventy-two inch TV screen. It was still paused, frozen with an image that looked so much like my father-in-law it was uncanny. To quiet the growl in my belly, I went into the kitchen to grab carrots and celery with Ranch dressing to snack on. This was going to be a far more interesting morning of TV than I had first imagined.
When the final episode of the 3-part series concluded, there was a lot to unpack. Apparently, the victim's wife had been pregnant at the time of her husband's murder. But when the episode concluded it mentioned she passed away a year and a half after the murder. It didn't say what happened to her child though. That was kind of weird.
My plan was to watch everything else I'd recorded that day. But now my mind was working like crazy. I pulled out a pen and notepad from the desk drawer in our bedroom/office. I decided I was going to watch this three-parter show again. But this time I would be taking notes. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything. I already loved crime shows. But this had actual family ties involved. I was like a junkie who'd found her crack. I was seriously about to be ODing on this. Murder. In my own family. This was insane.
Before I settled into the story again, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup. I usually didn't eat a lot of comfort foods. My adopted parents were a couple of health nuts. They sort of turned me into one too. I loved vegetables. I could go all vegetarian if I let myself. But every once in a while I like to have a few guilty pleasures, especially when my husband wasn't home.
After lunch I decided I wanted to get back to my show, only this time I took copius notes. Apparently, my mind was so buzzing from finding out the victim was family that I missed quite a bit of detail. The wife was a school teacher. She taught at the same place where the three boys went to high school. There was even suspicion that she was somehow involved. But they never found anything to tie her to the murder.
After the shows were over I was reviewing my notes. There was definitely something missing here. Or at least it felt that way. Why did these three boys kill my husband's uncle? The only motive the police could come up with was a robbery gone wrong. Two of the boys had records of minor theft. They'd been suspects in previous burglaries but had never been caught.
The third boy had no prior record. But he provided the murder weapon and he drove them to and from the crime. The gun belonged to his father. All three of them were tried and convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The boy who actually pulled the trigger died in prison. He was shanked by another prisoner. He'd only been in prison for six months.
I'm not sure why, but I felt like there was much more going on here. It was this nagging feeling that kept tugging at me on the inside. I loved a good murder mystery. But this was something else. I'd never felt this intrigued before. I kind of felt like if I didn't want to obsess over this I probably needed to step away for a while and focus on something else. My go-to activity to clear my mind was always a jog outside, or at least some time on the treadmill if the weather was bad.
The good news was the day was perfect for an afternoon jog. Yeah, it was pretty cold outside but there wasn't any ice or snow on the ground yet. So I put on my workout clothes, my running shoes and my heart monitor and I was good. My only other concern was my cellphone and keys. It's a bit old fashioned, but I have a fanny pack for that. That way I could also keep a few bucks on my person just in case I wanted to grab a donut for my cool down walk home. Which I did.
The weather was jog perfect. Not super cold but cold enough I really didn't sweat much if at all. So I decided rather than a quick two-mile route, I'd get in four miles instead. That way I'd burn off the calories from my comfort food lunch and the donut I would be eating, post jog workout.
As I set off on my paces, my mind kept going back over the show and the information that my husband's uncle had been killed. I was supposed to be clearing my mind. But I couldn't help myself. My mind just kept pouring over the details. As terrible as all 9f this was, it was probably the most fascinating thing I was ever related too even if only by marriage.
When I got home I headed straight to the shower. Even though I didn't perspire that much, I felt I needed to just get clean again. It wasn't a cold shower, but it wasn't a really hot one either as per my usual. When I got out I dried off, put on my heavy cotton robe. I had just started brushing my hair when I heard the doorbell. It was almost dinner time. I wasn't sure who would be stopping by today. But I quickly put my hair up in a towel and went to look through the peep hole of the front door. My heart nearly stopped when I saw who it was.
It was my father-in-law, Mick. What was he doing here I wondered? I unlocked the lock and swung open the front door. He smiled when he saw me.
"Hey, Mr. James! What are you doing here?"
"Hi Dana. I tried calling before swinging by. But I got no answer. So I thought I'd pop by to see if you were home. I hope I'm not intruding."
"No. No not at all. Please come in. I was probably in the shower when you called and my phone was in the bedroom. So that's why I didn't pick up."
"Well good. I just thought I'd check on you. I know Nikki is out of town this week."
"Sure thing. I'm actually glad you came by. I wanted to discuss some things with you. How about I pour you some coffee and then I get dressed?"
"Sure. That'd be fine."
Thankfully there were still about two cups of coffee left in the pot I made earlier. I poured Mick a cup. I'd make mine when I got back from changing.
"Here you go. Now just have a seat at the table and make yourself comfortable. I'm going to something on and I'll be right back."
"Thank you. I'll see you in just a minute then."
Quickly, I went to my bedroom to pull out some PJ bottoms and an old t-shirt. I put them on and headed back to the kitchen. I went over to the coffee pot.
"I was going to put on another pot. Did you want the last of this one or would you prefer to have one from a fresh pot?"
"Oh I'll take what you have there. You don't need to go to any extra trouble for me."
I poured what was left of the coffee in the pot into his cup.
"Oh I planned on being up a while this evening anyway Mr. James. So I'm putting on a fresh pot. I was also thinking of making myself some dinner. Can I make something for you while I'm at it. I was thinking of either a turkey sandwich on wheat bread or pastrami on rye. Would either of those interest you?"
"Oh. It's been ages since I had pastrami on rye. That'd be wonderful. Thank you sweetie."
"Coming right up then. Let me pull everything out and make us some sandwiches. It won't take long at all."
"Oh that's fine. Take your time. I'm in no hurry. The missus is at some lady's Bible study group at the church. They're doing some kind of potluck thing for dinner. So I'm on my own for dinner anyway. This'll work out fine."
"Perfect. Did you want mustard or mayo on your sandwich?"
"Both if that's okay. Say, didn't you say earlier you wanted to talk to me about something?"
"Got it. Both is fine. And yes I did want to talk to you. But I think I better preface it by saying I don't want to make you upset or trudge up old memories. I'm just curious about some things. Maybe you have some answers."
"Sure sweetie. Anything. I don't get too worked up about much these days."
"Okay well then I'll just dive right in. I was watching some shows I'd recorded on my DVR today. One of them was a three part series from the Crime Network Channel. The show was about the murder of a man named Nicholas Michaels."
I was watching my father-in-law for his reaction. He froze. It almost appeared as if all the color had gone out of his skin. I continued.
"Any Nikki called while it was on and the victim's face appeared on the screen. He looked like a younger version of you. He could've been Nikki's brother too. When I asked Nikki about what I saw on television, he informed me this was your twin brother. I had no idea that you'd had a twin and that he'd been murdered. All Nikki ever told me was you had a brother who'd passed before he was even born."
"Well I sure am sorry you found out about this that way. I guess I should have let you know the circumstances before the two of you got married. That's my fault."
"Mr. James. Please don't feel bad for not telling me. If anything I'm the one who should feel bad about bringing this all up. Obviously it's not something you wanted to talk about. Or you would have shared your story with me."
"No. No. This is on me. When you married into this family or maybe even before, you should have been told the truth."
"Well I'm bringing this up because I wanted you to know I found out and didn't want you to feel like you had to keep this secret from me. I also didn't want to keep my knowing about from you. We're family now. That's what matters most."
I took the plate with the sandwich I'd made for him plus some potato chips and set it in front of him. He looked as if he could cry. I suddenly felt awful. My heart sank. I hurt not only for bringing it up but just knowing he was feeling the loss all over again. He was probably sitting there with a lot of bad memories going through his mind. I put my hand on his shoulder band gave a gentle squeeze just to try to show a little compassion. I felt horrible for even bringing this up.
"Well since you know, you should probably know the rest of the story. There's a lot of stuff they say on TV that isn't true, or it's half true plus there's a lot they don't know."
"Nikki said something similar when we spoke about it earlier."
"You may not realize this, but I named my son after my brother."
"Wow. I'm surprised I didn't catch that earlier. Nicholas. Nikki. I guess I'm not as bright as I think I am."
"Oh don't beat yourself up about it. I'm sure just the shock of learning about something like this was a lot to process."
"True." He seemed to have regained his composure. Even the color had returned to his cheeks.
"Well, for starters I'm sure whatever you saw blamed the whole thing on those three boys, eh?"
"Actually yes. They said it was a home robbery that had gone wrong. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"That's what the police thought, anyway. But they only knew part of the truth."
"What do you mean?"
He turned to look at me standing by the counter. I'd just finished making my own sandwich. His face was now a bit contorted. He looked angry.
"They didn't know that his own wife was behind it all. She put that boy who pulled the trigger up to it."
"Wait. What? How do you know this?"
"His wife was a teacher at that high school. She was messing around with the kid who killed my brother. I know this because her teacher's aide was the daughter of the secretary at our office. Her mom found out about her affair after those boys went to prison."
"How did you find out?"
"Her momma told me. She told me everything she'd learned so I could get justice for my brother."
"What did you do when you learned this?"
"I went to the police. They didn't do anything about it. They said they'd looked into that but couldn't find any proof. So they stopped investigating my sister-in-law. They said they'd already gotten my brother justice and something about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush or something. All I know is, she got away with murder."
"Oh my gosh. Did you try going to the media?"
"Those blood sucking leaches? Hell no. The media hounded us for months. I wanted no part of them. They were so relentless we had to move away and change our names just to get away. That's why we weren't part of whatever show you saw. Otherwise they would have been all over us again. No thank you."
He was now shaking.
"Mr. James I'm sorry for even bringing this up. I feel terrible."
"Oh it's okay sweetie. I'm okay really. Just a little emotional is all. It'll pass. I'm better already. See?"
He wore a fake smile. I knew he was still worked up but trying to play it cool for my benefit. He was sweet for trying. But I knew better.
"So the show said she died a year and a half later. It also said she had a child. But they didn't elaborate. Do you know what happened to her or her baby?"
"Well I wished you didn't ask that. But you are family so I'll be honest with you. Nick's wife Janice died of a sudden heart attack. Her baby girl had recently turned a year old when it happened. We thought about adopting her but we'd have to reveal our identities and that would defeat everything we'd done to protect ourselves. She went into the system and was adopted by another family."
"Oh my gosh. How did you find out about all of this?"
"We still have a few friends that live there who we have maintained some contact with. They care about us so they won't tell anyone where we are or that we've changed our names. We're grateful for that."
"Oh well so am I. Thank you for sharing those details with me. It's nice to know the rest of the story."
"Well dear, I haven't told you everything quite yet. That was just the beginning. I'll share the rest of what you don't know if you promise to keep it as a family secret. You can't tell a soul. You promise?"
My father-in-law got this slight grin on his face. There was even a strange twinkle in his eye.
"Of course. You know I wouldn't say anything to anyone. This is private family information. I would never tell anyone, especially knowing what you've been through in all of this. I promise."
"Well I'm so happy to hear you say that. Because I promise you I've saved the best part of the story for last. Do you remember when I told you we wanted to adopt that little girl, but why we couldn't?"
"Yes. I do."
"Well it turns out, we were able to bring her into the family anyway."