Annette Taylor 22 Merrimac Drive Portsmouth, VA 23704(757) firstname.lastname@example.orgThrenody for a Brown Girlby Annette Taylor Kendall lay in bed with her eyes open in the dark and wondered if her mother had made it back from “visiting an old friend”. The old friend was most likely a man because she wore one of twenty dresses bought for attracting men’s attention. Man-catcher dresses her mother called them. They lived up to their name. The illuminated numbers of the digital clock showed it was three so Kendall sighed then sat up ready to check the other bedroom as she had done many times before. A hard and violent hand clamped over her mouth and forced her head down onto the pillow. Her heart pounded and her breathing sped up. A voice hissed. “This won’t take long.” Her expanding irises searched for light to see her unseen attacker but saw only a moving darkness separate from the static dark of the room. That restraining hand kept her pinned down. She clawed it and its wrist and her legs flailed underneath the bedclothes. “Keep still you little bitch.” She made rapid whimpering sounds in her throat as she continued struggling. Aunt Jean, her mind screamed. Aunt Jean wake up! Darkness closed in then there was light. Kendall looked up at her attacker and he looked down at her with pale blue eyes that never blink. “Get away from my niece!” The hand holding the knife descended. Three gunshots drowned the sound of Kendall’s louder whimpers. Impact of those bullets stiffened the man’s body which then slackened, swayed and began to fall forward. Kendall flung herself onto the floor. . “Kendall! Are you alright?” Jean shouted. “Yes.” Her voice quivered. “Go downstairs and call the police.” Kendall rushed for the door gasping and trembling, hurried downstairs with rapidly beating heart. She headed for the kitchen then stopped on realizing the front door was open. It drew her against her will. She walked forward to close it and once at the threshold poked out her head. Something lay on the porch. Without withdrawing her head, she reached back and turned on the outdoor light. Nena Armstead lay dead on the porch, bloodstains on the bodice of her man-catcher dress. Kendall screamed loud enough to be heard in Norfolk. “Did any of you know him?” Detective Hunnicutt asked.“Never seen him before,” Jean Vernon replied. “My niece couldn’t have known him either because she and Kendall just moved back to Portsmouth a few days ago.” Hunnicutt sat in the living room in a chair across from the sofa where Mrs. Vernon and her grandniece sat, or to be accurate, where the teen huddled against the older woman. The girl’s left arm encircled the woman’s waist and her face was hidden against the woman’s shoulder. That face turned toward him. “We should have stayed in Florida.” She turned back to her hiding place and cried—not loud as when he had first arrived—but cried in a heartbroken way. “What brought Miss Armstead back to Portsmouth?” Hunnicutt asked. “She inherited money from her father. The family lawyer contacted me and I got in touch with Nena.” Jean said. Hunnicutt made notes in his notebook. “Kendall, did your mother usually stay out late?” The girl’s head turned slightly so that her mouth no longer pressed into the older woman’s shoulder. “Yes.” Her voice was dead. “Did Miss Armstead tell either of you where she’d be? “No,” Kendall said in the same dead voice, “just that she was meeting an old friend.” Her mouth settled back where it had been. “Nena told me the same thing.” Police officers and crime scene technicians came and went while Hunnicutt questioned Jean Vernon and Nena Armstead. He watched them stiffen up every time someone went upstairs or came back down. When the killer’s body was brought downstairs, he thought Kendall would have a fit. “Did she mention this old friend’s name?” “No,” Mrs. Vernon said. “Or where she was going. Only that she’d be back late.” “Did she have any enemies in Florida who might’ve wanted her killed?” Kendall turned her head once more to uncover her mouth. “Mom had no enemies except herself.” Her voice was as dead as a disembodied voice at a séance. “You can’t make any enemies if you’re too busy searching for a man to love you.” Detective Hunnicutt made no comment on that statement because he knew about Nena’s desperation for a father’s love. When some women were denied that love they wasted their time and talents on men who never intended to love them back. Those men wanted sex and the women gave it to them in spades hoping by doing so they would be loved. He took brief notes and maintained eye contact with Mrs. Vernon. He took a few more notes then stood. “I may need to ask more questions.” He took two cards from his wallet. And gave them to Mrs. Vernon. “The top one is my phone number, the second is the number of a company that’ll clean your grandniece’s bedroom.” “Thank you.” Kendall moaned against the older woman’s shoulder. Detective Hunnicutt—Freddie to his friends—headed for the front door and passed a few words with the officer stationed there then crossed the threshold. His sedan was parked behind one of five patrol cars. During the walk, he remembered the past. Remembered Nena Armstead. They had been friends as teens and gone to I.C. Norcom High and to Harry Hunt before that. He wanted to be her boyfriend but she had preferred friendship with him and preferred dating white boys then white men. He paused beside his sedan, turned to look back at the brick two-story house and promised to find out why Nena was killed. Hunnicutt searched the killer’s apartment the next day. A computer search identified him as Stokes Urquhart. Urquhart had been arrested a decade ago for robbery but had been clean since. A search of his bedroom (neat for a single man but not surprising for a former inmate) revealed pay stubs for his job at C & P Auto Repair and for The Inness House Foundation. The closet was searched, as was the chest of drawers, underneath the bed and any place that could serve as a hidey-hole. The bathroom was searched and the living room, too. Hunnicutt stood in the kitchen after searching it. Urquhart was not Nena’s type. How did their paths cross? Hunnicutt thought. This was not a man with a lot of money. Nena would not have dated him. Did they meet in a club and she shot him down? That made no sense because stabbing someone to death seemed personal and she had only recently returned to Portsmouth. He left Urquhart’s apartment to go back to the police department for an online search about the Inness House Foundation. The story behind Nena Armstead’s search for love was simple and complex. It started when Bradford Inness and Darlene Armstead became lovers. Their relationship continued on and off even after he married Elizabeth. In 1974, Darlene gave birth to Nena. He already had a daughter with his wife in 1973. After the birth of their second child, (a son in 1976) Elizabeth gave Bradford an ultimatum and he broke off with Darlene. She died from cancer in 1989 at forty years old. Nena was fifteen. She attended Norfolk State but dropped out after freshman year to embark on a search for someone to love her and those men were always white. Bradford died in 2011 (age 62). He had not seen Nena for years but left money for her in his will. The family lawyer contacted Jean Vernon who gave him her niece’s address. Nena returned home to Virginia with her daughter. Route 17 led to the city of Newport News where Merilla and her brother Grant Inness lived. They were co-chairmen of the board for The Inness House Foundation, which oversaw operation of Inness House, their ancestral home. The Foundation conducted tours, rented the house for movies and weddings, and allowed picnicking in summer. Hunnicutt met the siblings at Merilla Inness’s apartment. Their lawyer was there, too but only as her fiancé. He sat beside her on the couch. There was a deference in his posture. They made a picturesque picture. Merilla, slim, well groomed and with hair a spectacular shade of gray. Doubtless premature. Rayner Godfrey was a good-looking man, tall and broad-shouldered. His brown hair was just starting to turn gray. “Neither my sister nor I are responsible for our employee’s afterwork activities,” Grant Inness said. He sat in a chair like a king at rest with his keen-features in a frown. “Enough Grant,” Merilla admonished her brother. “Detective Hunnicutt is doing his job.” “He’s practically accusing us of involvement in that woman’s murder.” The last three words made Hunnicutt angry but he kept his face and body relaxed. “I’m not accusing you or your sister of anything. Look at the situation from my viewpoint. It seems odd that Stokes Urquhart murdered Nena Armstead after she received her inheritance and tried to kill her daughter.” “No one could have guessed Stokes was capable of something like this,” Rayner said. “If I thought he was, I would never have asked Merilla to hire him.” “You knew he was an ex-con?” “Yes,” she answered. “He was arrested years ago for attempted robbery. It was his first offense. Mr. Urquhart worked for us as a handyman for ten years and never gave us any trouble.” “Maybe he wanted a bigger payday,” Hunnicutt said. “Well, he didn’t get it, did he?”“Maybe Nena’s death was an awful coincidence,” Merrilla said. Hunnicutt’s insides relaxed because unlike Grant, Merrilla said Nena’s name. She was their sister whether they liked it or not. Grant obviously did not. He was embarrassed by his father’s sin but was angry that money had been left to Nena. Did either think about Kendall? “If Urquhart had killed anyone else, Miss Inness, I might agree with you.” Rayner had been silent and his body stayed close to Merrilla”s. His hand had reached for hers during Grant’s “that woman” comment and never left. He spoke now. “Let’s suppose Stokes found out about Miss Armstead’s inheritance. It would explain his attack on her.” He frowned at Grant who looked back at his future brother-in-law. Their eyes telegraphed some secret understanding to each other. Too quick for Hunnicutt to identify. One of them knew something and one of them suspected the other’s involvement. The smart money was on Grant. “Yes, it would explain the attack.” “Stokes was probably going to make her Miss Armstead withdraw money from an ATM, but things got out of hand,” Raynor said. “Maybe.” He stood up. “Thank you all for your time.” He left and when he was back in the car, sat thinking about the glance that had passed between Grant and Raynor. Mr. Inness was going to be re-interviewed down at Portsmouth P. D. Ten o’clock that night, news anchor Nicole Livas of Channel 43, reported about another murder that occurred in Newport News. The victim: Grant Inness. And that did seem to be all of it for now. Nena Armstead’s body was released by the coroner’s office and buried another day later in Olive Branch Cemetery. Hunnicutt attended the funeral. He wanted to be inconspicuous but Mrs. Vernon saw him when the service ended. He told her and Kendall about attending school with Nena. Mrs. Vernon invited him to follow the procession to the house of another relative for the reception. He thanked her but declined the invitation. Kendall’s arm was wrapped around her aunt’s arm. The girl looked weak, depressed, and stared off into the distance. She turned her head slowly, looked at him with her mother’s green eyes. “Why did that man kill my mom?” “I don’t know but I intend to find out.” Kendall looked off into the distance again. “Mrs. Vernon have you ever met the Inness’?” “No. Are the Inness’ involved with Nena’s murder?” “Urquhart was their handyman.” He saw shock and anger cross her face. “It’s possible Urquhart found out about Nena’s inheritance and planned to rob her.” “The Inness’ have caused nothing but trouble to my family since old man Inness got my sister pregnant.” Hunnicutt did not mention his main suspect had beenmurdered. “You won’t give up, will you?” “No ma’am, I won’t.” Hunnicutt was sitting at his desk reviewing the case file on Stokes Urquhart. A recent addition to the file made him pause. It was a list of next of kin. Raynor Godfrey’s name was on it. Thoughts swirled through his brain. Was this the link between Raynor and Grant? The connection he might have seen when they looked into each other’s eyes. Did Grant ask Stokes to get rid of Nena and Kendall rather than share an inheritance? Hunnicutt reached for the phone on his desk. Raynor answered. “Come to the police station. We need to talk.” An unconnected chain of events happened that created another connection. While Raynor Godfrey talked with Detective Hunnicutt on the phone, Jean Vernon and Kendall were going through Nena’s possessions and found another copy of Kendall’s birth certificate. Another discovery that floored them both. Raynor was her father. He received another second phone call and when it was over he knew his future had changed. Another car pulled into the driveway of the house on Lakeview Circle. Raynor and a crying Merrilla got out and headed for the house. Jean Vernon only let him inside because of the gun. They all went into the living room. “I never intended this.” Raynor’s eyes shifted from fiancée to daughter. Nena said she’d never come back to Portsmouth.” “Did you have to murder Grant?” Merrilla screamed at him. “Did you!” “I didn’t want to kill Grant but he figured out I got Stokes to…to kill Nena.”A wail escaped Kendall and she jumped up from the couch but Jean’s grip stayed her. Father and daughter stared at each other. “You look like Merrilla. So did your mother.” Kendall screamed and flopped down on the couch. “You didn’t have to kill my mom. Why did you do it?” “She would’ve told Merrilla about us.” He looked at his fiancée. “You would’ve thought I was just like your dad. I couldn’t let you think that. She was a substitute for you.” “What are you going to do with us, Mr. Godfrey?” Jean Vernon asked. “Nothing with you. You’ll need to explain to the police. My fiancée, my daughter, and I are all leaving together.” He raised his gun. “Drop it!” Detective Hunnicutt entered the living room, his own gun raised and aimed at the lawyer. “Drop it I said!” Raynor looked sadly at Merrilla. “Will you still have me?” Merrilla said nothing.“No,” he said for her.Raynor aimed at Hunnicutt who fired twice. The lawyer fell onto the end table then onto the carpet accompanied by screams and tears from his fiancée and daughter.Once again, police, ambulance, crime scene technicians and news crews crowded onto the Lake Forest neighborhood. Detective Hunnicutt was in the kitchen as he had been before. This time with an additional person, Merrilla Inness. She and Kendall looked scared and confused and avoided each other’s gaze. Raynor Godfrey left behind another legacy neither Merrilla nor Kendall would ever forget. So had Bradford Inness. Both men had been fathers. One found his way back into the family bosom, the other never had a bosom to return to, at least not the bosom he wanted and so had found a substitute. It all lead to secrets and murders.Hunnicutt wondered what it would lead to now.
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