No Time for Hesitation.

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A lifeline for three.

“Have a seat.” O’Leary led them both into his office, dusted off the chairs with his hat, and put the shotgun, wrapped in the towel, on the other desk, along with the bag containing the bottle. He poured Leony and himself coffees, adding milk and plenty of sugar to hers, knowing her preference, and knowing she would need it.

She drank thirstily.

He’d made it just before he’d answered their call.

He told Gregory to help himself to a can of pop out of the small refrigerator, and a snack too, if he was hungry. There were a couple of donuts in there from the small diner on Main street.

He’d tell them the good news first.

“First, doc’s findings will match mine, that your husband committed suicide while inebriated.”

He saw their startled looks. They’d told him what had happened, he’d seen it for himself, and he hadn’t believed them?

“But…?”

Leony knew better than to say any more. She wanted to cry again.

“That’s what the evidence showed, some of it, and is what the finger-prints on the barrel and trigger will suggest, so you don’t have to try to cover for each other. That was unnecessary.”

He saw the boy flash a look at his mother, to say, Mom, you didn’t have to do that for me. I wouldn’t have gone to jail.

And there was a returning look of love, which said,

Oh, yes, I did.

He smiled at them both and the look of surprise on their faces.

“You need to let the evidence speak for itself instead of clouding the picture with any confessions. It would never go to trial anyway, not with his history of drinking and violence against you.”

Gregory began to speak. “But the evidence on the gun….”

“The evidence on the gun shows your father’s prints on the barrel, and the stock, and on the trigger.”

He let that sink in.

“He’d been drinking, and he had got violent again as he has before, and just as quickly began to regret it.

“He was overcome by remorse.”

Remorse? It seemed as though the Sheriff hadn’t known his father at all. But then Gregory realized that he did know him. And knew him well. Just as he knew about his history of drinking and violence with his family.

“I know everybody in this village. I also know most of their uncomfortable little secrets. This is not the big city, where no one knows anyone else, and no one cares about their neighbor. I know, and I care.”

He poured Leony another cup of coffee and dug out the remaining donut for her son. They understood by now what he was saying.

“The law, for all of the fanfare about it, is rarely fair. It doesn’t work the same way for everyone, and it can ruin a person’s life, even when they’re innocent, the way their lives get dragged through the mud. That’s not fair.

“I could charge one or other of you with murder or obstruction of justice, if I was dumb enough to try, but nothing would come of it. The evidence, no matter what you will say, shows suicide, and the desire of a mother to protect her son, and of a son to protect his mother. The truth does not matter. What the evidence shows is all that matters, and you should let the evidence speak for itself and not muddy the water.”

He continued to explain it.

“There is no evidence of a crime in that trailer, other than against god’s law, just evidence of a very unhappy situation and a disturbed man, as my files show from years ago.

“Innocent people have spent many years in jail for crimes they never committed.”

While others had gone free.

“But…” Leony was lost for a moment, not sure what he was saying to her, after she had confessed.

How had he known?

He held his hand up and smiled at her. Gregory was equally confused.

“Suicide.” He repeated the word. “And even if it wasn’t, which it was; tell me, Leony, what would be gained by either you, or your son going to jail in some miscarriage of justice, which is what it would be with you both confessing to it to protect the other.” They both looked startled to hear that.

“God knows we have enough of those?” He repeated that one word, and let it sink in.

“Suicide.”

She could say nothing, unable to answer, so he answered for her.

“Nothing would be gained. I do not like what happened any more than you do, but it was long overdue. Justice will be better served by not punishing those who do not deserve to be punished. I have a far better solution for everyone. One that injures no one.”

He’d gone over it in his mind on the five-minute drive from their home.

He looked at Gregory. “You and I will need to talk about a few things son, before this goes much further, maybe later on tonight, but I’ll do most of the talking. I know exactly how you feel and what you are feeling, and I can help you there if you’ll let me.” He already knew how he could help the boy’s mother.

“This has happened many times before to folks just like you. Not here, but more often than you think”—he glanced at the books lined up on the far side of his office, all well-thumbed and all well-read— “and I can assure you, you’ll get over it. We all have secrets that follow us around, but we have to learn to live with them, not to let them destroy us.”

What secrets was he talking about? What secret might he possibly be hiding?

“Am I making myself understood here?”

They both nodded and looked at each other. They were beginning to understand.

“Good. You can’t go back and live there in that trailer. Not after that, but we have to get everything back to some semblance of getting beyond this and picking up the pieces, so that you can start to live a normal life again after feeling that your life and your future just ended. It didn’t. It just started.”

He marshalled his thoughts as they sat quietly waiting to hear what more he would say.

“I’ll get you settled into that little motel down the road for a couple of days to let this blow over. They don’t have a bad restaurant. I usually eat most of my meals there, so I’ll eat with you if you don’t mind.”

They were caught with nothing to say; seeing their lives slowly being given back to them, when they had not expected it, though it would take some time to recover from what had happened.

“There will be gossip for a while. There always is, and the rumors will do the rounds, but they won’t go far if you don’t respond to them. It will all blow over quietly now. Besides which, I’ll be close by, and most people know I don’t have any patience for gossip.”

Now he was getting stuck for something to say. How was he to broach this next step without being too obvious?

“As it stands, this can go in one of about three different ways, Leony, and I’ll let you decide what you would most like to happen, and I’ll help you in what you decide to do, however I can.”

She was still confused, but waited for him to explain.

“As you said yourself, you wouldn’t be able to live in that trailer park without a job, and unable to pay the rent. Desmond was not insured, and Cranston, sure as hell... pardon... had no plans like that for any of his employees.

"A woman like you, should never work for him.”

She blushed to hear such kind words, but knew that they were sincere.

“He has… difficult relations with all young women who work near him.”

They knew all about that.

“You know about him as well as I do, and so does the whole village. So that's not an option for you.

“I can try to find you a job; but they’re pretty scarce around here.”

Gregory sat quietly, seeing more than he might be given credit for. He was about to escape with murder. He knew that Sheriff O’Leary liked his mother, and had had no use for his father, but as far as they were concerned, he, Gregory, didn't exist at that moment and he wanted it that way. The ax was not about to fall on either him or his mother. He did not mind. He liked the Sheriff, but didn't understand everything he was being told. This was not how the law was supposed to work, not how the television portrayed it.

He would need to set the record straight, except the Sheriff was looking at him, seeing straight through him, and might even be shaking his head.

How did the Sheriff know what was going on in his mind?

He listened as O’Leary spelled out the options for his mother.

“Option one: Sell your trailer to Henquist. He’ll move it, clean it up, put it into his own park and rent it. You’ll pocket about ten thousand dollars after you’ve settled the loan against it. Or you can pay him a higher rent, and live there once you get a job.”

O’Leary saw the look of surprise on her face that he knew anything about their personal finances.

“If you pocket that money, then you can do what you like. Either to stay here somewhere—that motel, The Outpost, is not too bad. It rents rooms by the month, while Gregory finishes school, or you can leave, and make a fresh beginning in, say, Portland. It will be difficult, at first, no matter what you decide. You have Desmond’s truck, but it won’t get you far, and Portland is not a friendly place. I started there, and I know.”

Option two: Take the Rollins family up on their offer to help you out, like they always wanted to. They’re good people deep down. You still pocket the money from sale of your trailer, but they would help you get started too. Maybe help you buy a better vehicle, find you a job. They have connections.”

Option three: He paused, having difficulty saying what he wanted to say.

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