His eyes were clamped shut. A popping sound penetrated the silence. Pain ripped through his head a millisecond before death drew his last rattling gasp. His body slumped over the steering wheel with his head resting at an odd angle on the dashboard. Blood, in stark contrast to the white leather, oozed from the small hole near his right temple. His left arm was angled with his hand resting on his lap. The right arm was hanging straight down, his hand spread in a relaxed position.
Less then five hours later, the police finished their investigation. The body of James Linton was removed and transferred to the morgue. The investigating officer determined the death was a suicide. A spent shell from the small 22 caliber pistol on the floor of the car was found on the seat next to the body.
Officer Robert Morris was a veteran with sixteen years on the Boulder police force. He finished writing his report at the scene and enclosed it and the instant photographs into a manila envelope. He and his partner were the last to leave the scene. They watched as a tow-truck hooked up the metallic blue Cadillac and pulled it up to the dirt road that led to the highway.
Morris shook his head and looked at his partner. "We'd better inform the family." While it wasn't something Morris was inexperienced with, it was something he dreaded. Then he added, "By the photos in his wallet, it looks like his children are adults. They should be able to help his wife deal with it."
* * *
The following morning, Kathy Knight was downstairs in the kitchen preparing breakfast when her husband John rapped on Tony's bedroom door. "Time to get up, Son." He went downstairs and turned off the security alarm before opening the front door. He picked up the morning paper and walked into the kitchen. Kathy handed him a cup of coffee and he sat at the table to peruse the paper.
"Did you wake Tony?" Kathy asked.
"Yes, he should be down soon." John looked up. "I'm giving him time off from his schooling today."
Tony was a twelve-year-old boy that John and Kathy were in the process of adopting. He had been living with them less than two months. John rescued him from being sent to a juvenile detention center for shoving and robbing an elderly man. Because the boy was behind in his reading, writing and speaking skills, John decided that home schooling would be best for the present year. He wanted to bring Tony up to the level where he should be before putting him back into the public school system.
John's statement surprised Kathy. "Why?"
"He said he needed a break."
Kathy wiped her hands on a dish towel and sat across from him. "That is your reason?" she asked with a look of disbelief.
He grinned at her befuddled look. "I have been pushing him. We need to remember that studying is a whole different way of life for him. I don't want him to resent learning; I want him to enjoy it. Once in a while it won't hurt to give him some free time. Anyway, it has been a while since I checked in at the clinic."
With a wry look, she stood and said, "I think you're the one who wants a break."
He just chuckled and went back to reading the paper while she put a platter of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon on the table. She put a glass of orange juice by each plate before refilling her and John's cups with coffee and settling at the table. She was about to say something to John when the look on his face as he read stopped her. She remained silent until he looked up from the paper. "What is it?"
"Do you remember back in April and May when I was going in to counsel a patient?" She nodded. "This article says that he committed suicide yesterday. He was found in his car dead from a bullet to the temple."
"You can't blame yourself, John."
"I don't! That man would not have committed suicide. I will stake my reputation on that."
"How can you be so sure? Maybe something triggered it...something you are unaware of."
"Kathy, I just talked to him last week. He worked at that big car dealership west of the mall here in Boulder. I stopped in to see how he was doing. Then we went out for coffee. He was elated because he had been promoted to manager of purchasing. Nothing in his demeanor even hinted at depression. Something is way out of kilter here." He shook his head. "He was a happy, healthy, vibrant man. No way would he have taken his own life."
"Did the police investigate it?"
"Yes, but it doesn't mean they came to the right conclusion." He looked off and squinted in thought. "I think I'll pay his family a visit."
"Surely, you aren't going to tell them your thoughts on it?" The look he gave her spoke volumes. In an apologetic tone she added, "Of course you wouldn't."
Tony came in and said, "I wish ya wouldn't a woke me up. I was havin' the best dream."
With a stern look, John asked, "You wish who wouldn't have awakened you?"
"Sorry, I wish you wouldn't a woke me up."
"How come I always have ta to work on my language? I aint never had no one complain about it cept you."
Kathy shut her eyes and shook her head. She and John had been working with him on avoiding the double negatives in his speech and not saying, aint. Both felt that Tony understood the lessons.
"That is the problem, Tony," John replied. "Your teachers let you get away with it. You and I both know that what you just said was deliberate, wasn't it?" When Tony made no reply and stared at the table, John repeated, "wasn't it?"
"Yes," Tony admitted.
"Well, that deliberate act just cost you the free day that I intended to give you today. I felt you earned time off because you've been doing so well, but you just proved me wrong. Apparently Kathy and I haven't been able to get through to you. Before I leave, I will give you work to do. When I get home, I expect it to be finished, understood?"
"Yes, I won't do it again. I promise."
Tony was hoping John would change his mind. After breakfast, he even cleared the table and helped scrape and stack the dishes in the dishwasher, but when the kitchen was tidied and he walked into the dining room, John was waiting. He dejectedly sat down to await the verdict.
"Do you remember the two books that I gave you to read six weeks ago?" John asked.
"Yes, I read both of em...them."
"Good, you never did write reports on them. That is your assignment for today."
With a look that clearly showed excitement, Tony asked, "Then can I go out and ride the ATV?"
"Those reports had better be informative. You have the guidelines. Make sure you tell something about the main characters and explain how they changed over the course of the story. Do it right," John added with emphasis.
Tony persisted. "If I do them right and put all the stuff you want in them, can I ride the ATV?" He tilted his head and said, "You can trust me, Dad. I guarantee they will be the best reports you ever read."
John grinned. "Okay, if you do them properly, and there is still daylight, you can ride the ATV." He chuckled and ruffled Tony's hair. Before walking out the door, he gave Kathy a kiss and said, "Don't plan on me being home for lunch. I have no idea when I'll be home."
As soon as John walked out the front door, Tony leapt from his chair and dashed upstairs to his room. Kathy wondered what he was up to. Several minutes later he came back down carrying some papers. He looked at her and asked, "Can I go inta the den to use Dad's stapler? I will come right out."
"Sure, but don't touch anything else. You know how John is about the den."
In less then a minute, Tony came out of the den with a happy grin on his face. He sauntered into the dining room and placed two reports on the dining room table complete with hand-drawn covers. He looked over at Kathy. "Dad said I could ride the ATV if I done the reports."
"Did," Kathy corrected. "Go on then. But don't go beyond the hill." The hill she was referring to was a foothill beyond the stream that ran through the back of their property and could be accessed by crossing a wooden bridge.
* * *
With her household chores completed, Kathy opened the front door to let fresh air in. An audible gasp slipped from her throat at the tall figure standing there. With a hearty laugh, he pulled her into a strong hug. "How are you, Kathy? Where is that baby brother of mine?"
"Good grief, Mat, you startled me! Come on in. John left a little while ago. Are you just passing through?"
Mat waited until they were settled in the living room before answering. "I drove in last night from Trinidad. I had some business dealings in Santa Fe. Thought I would return home to Grand Junction through Boulder so I could make a proposal to you and John. It was too late to bother you for a bed."
With a hint of rebuke in her voice, Kathy replied, "You know better than that. John will not be happy about that."
"Oh no! You're forgetting that I grew up with him. I know how he hates to have his sleep disturbed. One Time Tom and I woke him up in the wee hours and told him to get ready for school." Mat burst out laughing at the memory. When his laughter died down, he continued. "John trudged into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Just as he was stepping into it, Dad came in and bellowed, 'What are you doing taking a shower at 3:00 am on a Saturday morning?'"
By this time, Kathy was caught up in his laughter. "What happened?"
"Dad escorted John back to bed. Then he gave me and Tom a well-placed swat and told us to get back to sleep. I had to hold my pillow over my head to muffle the laughing. But, John was not so forgiving. When Tom and I fell asleep, he crept out of bed and looped string around us...at least a mile of it. That must have taken him an hour to do. He had it looped over us and under the bed. His final touch was to gag us. Of course, this woke us up. He gagged me first, then Tom before turning on his bed lamp. We couldn't even twitch we were so well trussed to our beds. He took our pillows and stacked them on his own and leaned back on them to read a novel. When daylight appeared, he switched off the bed lamp, took a shower, got dressed and left. Mom always let us sleep in on Saturday so she didn't bother to check on us. When they ate breakfast, Mom asked John if we were still in bed and he said yes."
"How on earth did you get loose?" Kathy was always fascinated by the tales told by John's siblings about him.
"When lunchtime rolled around, Mom asked Dad to awaken us. It was a disaster. Tom and I had wet our beds on top of it all. Neither Mom nor Dad saw the humor. Let's just say that all three of us suffered the consequences, John most of all. Mom made him wash all of the bedding and haul our mattresses out into the back yard to dry. Dad wasn't so angry about John trussing us to our beds as he was about John gagging us. He said we could have had our noses clogged and suffocated. He warned all of us that nighttime pranks were forbidden. He wagged his finger and said; 'Johnny is dangerous when he is sleep deprived. Always remember that.' and I have."
Kathy chuckled and shook her head. "I'm going to call him on his cell phone and let him know you're here."
"Never Mind. I have some things to deliver to the parents of a friend of Katie's."
"How is Katie and her family doing?" Kathy asked.
Mat had three daughters and Katie was the youngest. She and her husband, Don, had two little boys of their own. He grinned. "They're doing fine. Carla and I had the boys for two weeks last month. They kept this old grandpa hopping."
"What do you mean by old?" Kathy scolded. "You are only one year older than John. And you both look younger than early fifties," she added.
"Well, we are definitely not as energetic, that you must admit." He gazed at her with dark eyes that reminded her of John. That and his thick black and silver hair were the main physical resemblances that the brothers shared. John was taller, trim and well-built, while Mat, though six-feet-two, was shorter and a little overweight. He looked more like their mother and John looked just like their father. "Can I look at your phone book? I want to check the Boulder street map. The Linton's that I need to deliver the box to live there."
Kathy's eyes widened. "Do you mean the James Linton's?"
"Yes, Do you know them?"
"Not personally. John knew Mr. Linton. He may be at their home now. Mr. Linton was found shot to death in his car. The police believe it was suicide. John doesn't think so."
With a soft sound, Mat blew his breath out through nearly closed lips. "I should have called home. I bet Katie has been trying to reach me. Chances are Rita is here. How awful!" He looked directly at Kathy. "Why does John suspect foul play?"
"He insists that Mr. Linton would not have taken his own life."
"I think I will just wait here for John. No sense delivering the box at a time like this. I'm sure it would be awkward. Would you mind if I use the phone in John's den to call home?"
Kathy smiled. "Of course I don't mind. You know our house is your house. I'll get started with my cooking."
* * *
Since all of the parking spaces were taken in front of the Linton house, John parked a half block down and walked back. The door was answered by a young woman. Her face showed that she was under strain. Though her skin was tanned by the sun, it still lacked that soft pink hue around the cheeks. Her eyes mirrored the pain and strain of her father's untimely death. She remained silent as she waited for John to state his business.
With a sympathetic look, John said, "I was a friend of Mr. Linton's. You have my deepest sympathy. I would like to offer any help I can to his wife and children. My name is John Knight."
She peered at him with suspicion. "Wait here. I'll get my mother."
For several minutes, John was left alone on the stoop. He glanced around at the yard and exterior of the house. The yard was well-kept and the house was a modest stucco. His thoughts were interrupted when a quiet female voice asked,
"Are you the doctor that Jim was seeing last spring?"
"Yes." John reached for her hand and held it in both of his. "I am so sorry about his death, Mrs. Linton. I know this is a trying time for you and your children and I would like to help in any way I can."
"Call me Andrea. Please, come in."
John stepped into the living room. A young man, who appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties, was sprawled out on one of the two couches watching TV. Down the hall, several people, including the young woman who answered the door, were seated at the kitchen table. The other was an older man that John surmised was mid to late forties.
On her way through the living room, Andrea stopped to introduce John to her son, Kevin. The young man barely looked at John before he went back to watching TV. She led the way down the hallway to the kitchen. The man at the table stood and shook John's hand. "Nice to meet you, Doctor Knight. I'm Davis Anderson, Andrea's brother. We have been discussing the funeral arrangements and other matters. I'm a lawyer with the Anderson and Pruitt Firm in Denver. It is very kind of you to stop by." He motioned to an empty chair and John pulled it out and sat sideways to accommodate his long legs.
Andrea poured John a cup of coffee and sat down. "You have already met my daughter, Rita."
John reached out his hand to Rita and smiled. "Nice to meet you, Rita." He was puzzled that she showed anguish about her father's death and her brother didn't.
She sounded friendlier when she replied, "My best friend has the same last name as you. I suppose it is a fairly common name. Did you know my father well?"
"Yes, Knight is a fairly common name. I knew your father quite well. We just had coffee together last week. He was elated about his promotion. I saw no indication that he was contemplating suicide."
"None of us did." Andrea interjected. "I still can't believe he did this to usto me." Her comments reflected bitterness.
"Mom, he didn't do it to hurt us!"
Davis reached over and patted Rita's arm in a calming gesture. Andrea turned her focus to John. "If you saw him last week, I can't believe you didn't see some sort of clue. Jim said you were capable of reading minds."
"No, I'm not a mind reader. And, as I said, I saw no indication that he was contemplating suicide. In fact, it was just the opposite. He talked about his job and his future plans. He was happynot depressed in any way that I could see."
Davis squinted his eyes in thought. "Are you suggesting that it may not have been suicide?"
John met his look full on. "I am not suggesting anything. I am only giving you my observations of the man from last week." He looked at Andrea. "Did anything out of the ordinary happen since then that may have triggered him to take his own life?"
Andrea glanced into the living room. "Well, he did have some words with Kevin, but that was nothing unusual."
"Oh yeah," Rita agreed. "My little brother delighted in blaming Dad for all of his failures. He expected Dad to rescue him from every little failed venture."
"Rita, hush! Kevin will hear you. I'm sure Doctor Knight isn't interested in our little family squabbles."
With a slight shake of her head, Rita clammed up and focused on the table.
The awkwardness of the moment was broken when John said, "The reason I came was to offer my counseling services to the family to help you through these trying times."
Rita lifted her head. "What do you charge?"
"Not a thing. I want to help."
"Are you talking about a group thing?"
"Or individuallywhatever works."
"You are like a priest in the confessional. You can't repeat what you hear?"
He grinned. "Hardly a priest, but you have my oath that I won't repeat anything heard in a counseling session."
"We can go into my bedroom and talk now."
"I have a better idea. I have an office set up at my house. Why don't you stop by this afternoon." He reached into his lapel pocket for his wallet and withdrew his business card. He put the wallet back and withdrew a pen and wrote his address on the back of it.
Neither Andrea nor Kevin seemed interested in John's counseling offer, so he said his goodbyes and headed out the front door. Rita followed him out to the front sidewalk. In a quiet voice, she said, "I don't think Dad committed suicide."
With a penetrating look, John replied, "Neither do I."
With a slight nod, she turned to walk away. "I'll be over to talk to you this afternoon."
On his drive home, John turned over in his mind all that he observed and heard at the Linton house. The only one who seemed genuinely saddened by John Linton's death was his daughter, Rita.