Authors: Crystal Hubbard
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #African American, #General
Genesis Press, Inc.
An imprint of Genesis Press, Inc.
Genesis Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 101
Columbus, MS 39703
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, not known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without written permission of the publisher, Genesis Press, Inc. For information write Genesis Press, Inc., P.O. Box 101, Columbus, MS 39703.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.
Copyright © 2010 Crystal Hubbard
Manufactured in the United States of America
Visit us at www.genesis-press.com
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This book is dedicated to C.A.K. and G.P. Thank you
for your courage, guidance and friendship, and for
trusting me with your stories. This book is also dedicated
to C.W., who dances with the angels.
Zebulon Rice thought himself a lucky man.
He took his time climbing the carpeted stairs of the
three-bedroom Gambrel farmhouse he and his grandchil
dren had been hired to empty. At seventy-years-old, he
did everything at his own pace to save the wear and tear on his joints, especially his knees and knuckles, which
seemed to have aged slightly faster than the rest of his
body. His grandchildren, twenty-year-old Zebulon III, eighteen-year-old Jedediah, and sixteen-year-old Rhoda,
were the runners and lifters, the backbone and muscle of
Rice & Family Movers. Zebulon, the great-great
grandson of the escaped slave who had founded the
family business with the money he’d earned slopping docks in Quincy, was the brains of the operation. His
wife, Teresina, was its heart. She booked their appoint
ments, managed the finances, and gave birth to five
strapping sons, all college graduates, who had provided
the next generation to keep Zebulon & Family running
well into the twenty-first century.
Yessir, I’m a lucky man
Zebulon thought with a swell of pride.
I might not have
a big Gambrel farmhouse in Manchester-by-the-Sea, but I know I’m richer than the folks giving up this place.
Zebulon’s craggy brown hand eased along the hand-
carved pine banister. His experienced eye had fallen in l
ove with the farmhouse at first sight. The house had to
be over a hundred years old and had been constructed of
pine, likely from the very trees that had been felled to
clear ground for the house and acres of what had once
been farmland. A few working farms still existed in the
town, but this wasn’t one of them. Fortunately, the
owners had possessed the good sense to maintain the
fields, keeping them so well they looked like an endless
expanse of emerald carpet.
The interior of the house had been cared for just as
well. The rafters in the high ceilings were original to the
structure, as were the banisters and living and dining
room floors. He was an amateur at best, but Zebulon had
learned a lot about home renovation and restoration in
the course of his nearly fifty years in the moving business,
and he had to squint and really snoop to notice places
where new wood, tile, stone or slate had repaired the old.
At the top of the stairs, he noticed a dark droplet about
the size of a quarter on the ivory carpet, and he smiled. No
wonder the old bones of the stairs don’t creak, he chuckled
to himself. The joints had been recently oiled.
Zebulon tugged a bandanna from the back pocket of
his work overalls. As he bent over and wiped away the droplet of oil, he hoped that someone would care for him
in his old age as well as the departing residents of the
farmhouse had cared for it.
He brought the bandanna closer to his face and
sniffed it, hoping to identify the type of lubricant used to
condition the stairs.
he thought, new wrinkles
joining the old on his brow.
This don’t smell like oil.
e touched the smear on his handkerchief, rubbed it
between his thumb and forefinger. His eyes wide, a
sudden burst of adrenalin jolted his heart. He looked
back down the stairs. “Zeb, is somebody hurt?”
His grandson, a handsome kid with a bright smile
and sparkling black eyes in a face as dark as freshly brewed coffee, appeared just inside the front door.
“What’s the matter, Granddad?”
“I said, is somebody hurt,” Zebulon repeated. “Got
some blood up here.”
“Naw, we’re all good,” Zeb told him. “Jed’s tying
down the last of the furniture in the truck and Rhoda is
checking our moving list against the homeowner’s inventory. We’re good to go, Granddad, just as soon as we get
Mrs. Wyatt’s check.”
“Boy, lower your voice,” Zebulon insisted with an
impatient slash of his hand. He walked a few steps down
the stairs to speak more quietly with Zeb. “You don’t ever talk about money until the job is done to the client’s sat
isfaction. What if Mrs. Wyatt had heard you?”
Zeb rolled his eyes. “I think Mrs. Wyatt might be pre
“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
“She’s been up there in the master bedroom for the past
half hour.” Zeb snickered. “Jed and I caught a peek of her
in the window when we were putting the mattresses in the
truck. Saw her splashing red paint on the walls. Guess she’s
leaving a surprise for her ex-husband.” He shook his head.
“He sure must have done something awful to piss her off
like that. She seemed like such a nice lady.”
Splashing red paint in the—” Zebulon’s tongue
froze. “Is that officer still outside?”
“He was when I came in,” Zeb said and shrugged.
“What’s he here for? To make sure we don’t steal any
But by then Zebulon had swept past him and out the
wide front door. One of Manchester-by-the-Sea’s finest
was sitting in a squad car reading the sports headlines on
the back page of the
“This heat getting to you?” the officer asked when
Zeb slammed against the driver’s door. “You don’t look so
“I think someone’s in the house,” Zebulon panted.
He snatched off his grimy St. Louis Stars cap and swiped
the back of his hand across his sweaty brow. “And I
haven’t seen Mrs. Wyatt in a while now.”
The officer, his balding pate gleaming pink in the
summer sun, calmly opened his newspaper. “No one’s
gone in or out except for you, your workers, and the
Wyatt,” he replied, stressing the buzz at
the end of Ms.
“Thank—” Zebulon began, turning toward the
“Oh, her husband might still be there,” the officer interrupted indifferently. “He wanted to pick up a few
things before the little missus ran off with them. I’m sure
you . . .” The officer looked up from his paper to see Zebulon awkwardly rushing back into the house.
“Granddad, what’s the matter?” Zeb asked on the old
Shh!” Zebulon hissed, ushering his grandson behind
him as they climbed the stairs.
The loose cartilage in Zebulon’s knees sounded like
popping corn, and he worried that the noise would
herald his approach. His lungs burned and seemed to
harden in his chest as he fought to quiet his breathing.
The thick runner covering the upstairs corridor muffling
his footsteps, he passed one empty bedroom, a bathroom,
and a second bedroom. The door to the master bedroom
at the end of the corridor was closed, but the seam of
light beneath it revealed unhurried movement.
“Go get the officer,” Zebulon whispered to Zeb.
“Now,” he mouthed angrily when Zeb took too long to
Zebulon heard nothing until his toes touched the
base of the door. Whispers, too soft and garbled for him
to understand, but loud enough to make his bladder
seize, prompted him to grip the doorknob and slowly,
quietly, turn it. Hanging back, Zebulon allowed the
weight and momentum of the door to open it further.
Later, when he testified in court, Zebulon would
recall the easy, silent movement of the brass door hinges, and he’d again wonder what kind of oil had been used to care for the joints. But in that moment when he’d entered
the master bedroom, all coherent thought fled Zebulon’s
He first thought Mrs. Wyatt wasn’t in the room, that
the naked man kneeling behind the bags and boxes Mrs.
Wyatt had planned to transport in her SUV was some
bold vagrant who had begun squatting in the house
efore the owners had completely vacated. The streaks
and splatters of blood on the windows and ceiling spoke
of a far different circumstance, one that drew Zebulon
into the room.
It never occurred to Zebulon to be afraid, not after
the coppery wet pungent smell of fresh blood assaulted
his nose, not even after he spotted a slim, feminine hand
filled with blood on the floor. The autonomic response of
fear greased his aching joints, clearing the pain from
them. It flowed through his ancient muscles, steeling him
as he moved closer to peer behind the boxes concealing
all but the bloody palm.
The kneeling man’s back and shoulder muscles
bunched as his blood-streaked right arm flew up, flinging
fresh blood onto the ceiling and Zebulon’s overalls. His
arm slashed down, its movement ending in a nauseating
Zebulon rounded the boxes and could go no farther.
He recognized the yellow and black fabric scraps that had
been Mrs. Wyatt’s pretty shorts and tank top. It took him
a longer instant to identify the strands of black silk lying
all over the clothes and the floor.
The kneeling man, Mrs. Wyatt naked, unconscious,
and pinned between his knees, slowly straightened, and
Zebulon felt no ache of arthritis as his hands tightened
into fists. “Mr. Wyatt,” he started cautiously, “why don’t
you just put the knife down?”
Sumchai Wyatt slowly turned, twisting at the waist
enough for Zebulon to see the blood, some crusted, some
still damp, coating him from neck to knees and mixing w
ith the sweat running down his face. His knife hand
dripped red, the other remained tangled in his wife’s hair.
What remained of his wife’s hair.