“For the same reason they wanted Jamie to take the test. Family members are best. And you’re family.”
Merci gazed out the windshield at something well beyond the reach of my headlights. After a few moments, she asked, “How did you know?”
“This and that. Richard Carlson wanting me to find you—the fact he was so happy when I did. I figure he was holding you in reserve, just in case. And then there was the way he knew exactly when your mother died … .”
“Bastard didn’t even go to the funeral.”
“Probably he didn’t want his wife to know. Then there was Bruder insisting his son was safe with friends. What friends? The way the cops were hunting him, you know they were watching everyone he’s ever known. So, who would he have left his son with? How ’bout his unclaimed sister-in-law, the boy’s Aunt Merci? I figured that when you had to make a phone call before you could accept my offer last night, like you first needed to ask permission. Of who? The baby-sitter, was my guess.
“But to be honest, I didn’t put it all together until I saw you in the gown Jamie gave you.”
“I said I was as pretty as Jamie.”
“And you are. Every bit as pretty.”
We drove a full mile in silence. Finally, I said, “It’s pumpkin time, princess.”
“You’re right. Jamie and I were sisters. We figured it out during our senior year of high school. We weren’t sure what to do about it—deep, dark family secret, small town, all that bullshit. Jamie wanted to tell the world. Richard said he’d disown her if she did. She disowned him first. She came down here to live with me. For seven years I had a family.”
“And the night Jamie was killed?”
“David brought TC to me. He asked me to hide them both and I did. David was terribly confused. A lot of the things he said didn’t make sense. He kept muttering that they were out to get him. That they had killed Jamie and they were going to kill him and TC. At first I thought they were you. Eventually, I learned about the Family Boyz and the Entrepreneurs and about Warren Casselman.”
“David admitted that he slept with Casselman’s wife and he believed Casselman might have killed Jamie outta revenge.”
“The thought hadn’t occurred to me,” I admitted, wondering why.
“I tell you, if it weren’t for TC I would have turned him over to the cops right then. He was cheating on my sister.”
“The night you came to my house, it wasn’t to kill me, it was to find out what I knew.”
“Later, you realized Bruder couldn’t hide forever, so you sent him to me, hoping I’d help.”
“Instead, you got him killed,” Merci muttered. I ignored the remark.
“Where’s his son?”
“Good people are taking care of him,” she confirmed. “Not like me, they’re straight.”
After a half mile of more silence, Merci asked, “So now what?”
“I think it’s time Richard Carlson accepted his responsibilities, I think it’s time he acknowledged his daughter. Don’t you?”
“Like that’s going to happen. I’m a prostitute. A convicted felon.”
“Yeah, but you’re also family. And you’ll be bringing him and Molly their grandson.”
“I hate the idea of letting Richard turn TC into some kind of tobacco-chewing, back-slapping, ass-kicking, north county good ol’ boy.”
“Perhaps his Aunt Merci will be around to help him out.”
Merci shook her head slowly.
“God, how I hate Grand Rapids.”
I parked the Cherokee at the curb and escorted Merci to my front door.
“When am I going to see my money?” she asked.
“As soon as the bank opens.”
I unlocked the door and stepped inside the dark house ahead of her. It was an impolite act on my part and I was soon punished for it. Before I could switch on a light, someone hit me on the head from behind with the proverbial blunt instrument. Twice. The first blow drove me to my knees. The second knocked me unconscious.