Frantically she looked back towards the bathrooms but Don was nowhere in sight. She lunged for Grace, gathering her quickly in her arms, the startled girl letting out a small scream as Anne pulled her off her feet and started running towards the complex. Her only chance was to get to Don but they quickly cut her off and tackled the pair to the ground.
"NO!" Anne screamed as she felt Grace ripped from her arms. She tried to get up but she was pushed back down by one of the men.
"DADDY! DADDY! DADDY!" Grace was screaming at the top of her lungs as the three men had her and started moving quickly back in the direction they came from.
"HELP! HELP! THEY'RE TAKING OUR DAUGHTER!" Anne yelled as she finally got to her feet and ran after the men, she could see several people turn towards them at the sounds of their screams. She had to get to Grace and she could hear the little girl's crying as she got closer.
One of the men held back from the trio and Anne ran straight into him, trying to bowl him over on her way to Grace. Unfortunately he was too quick and strong for her and she felt the sting on her face as he simply slapped her, knocking her back to the ground. Rolling over she tried to get back to her feet but as she turned back to him, she was shocked to see him literally flying through the air.
In just a split second, she took in the scene. It was Donald Duncan and the look on his face sent a chill through her. She thought that she had seen every possible facial expression he had from joy to sorrow, but the look on his face at this moment was terrifying. She saw him pounce on the man just as he regained his feet. Don punched him in the stomach with such force that he doubled over and spit flew from his mouth. She heard a dull thud as Don's knee connected with his face and his head snapped back as blood poured from a nose that was flattened against his face. With his attacker slumping down to his knees, Don struck again and the man was instantly flat on the ground with Don over him. One, two, three times Don slammed his fist into the stricken man's face and Anne could hear the sickening crack of bones and see blood explode to cover Don's fist and arm.
"DADDY!" Grace called again and Don leapt to his feet with Anne only a second behind him. They ran towards the other two who were struggling with Grace. Instead of running themselves, they had foolishly stopped to watch Don's exchange with his first attacker.
The man who wasn't holding Grace came at Don, Anne could see him land several blows on Don but she ran past them and grabbed at the one retreating with Grace in his arms. She could hear the sounds of cursing, grunting and punches being landed; she prayed Don was winning as she tried to wrench the screaming girl from the last attacker.
Again she found herself landing roughly on the ground. She got to her hands and knees and then to her feet only to be confronted by the sight of the man tossing Grace to the ground. Stunned she tried to figure out why he would do that when it became suddenly clear.
"GET GRACE!" She heard Don yell as he went by her and slammed into the man with a fury that caused her to look away for a second.
Anne summoned what strength she had left and went to the screaming little girl and gathered Grace into her arms. Turning back towards the two men she saw them grappling on the ground. Neither seemed to have an advantage as they rolled in the dirt. The man was almost as large as Don and he seemed to be trying to get something out from his waistband. Then it hit her what he was doing, Anne suddenly realized that regardless of the outcome, she had to get Grace away from here and right now! If the man had a knife or gun and Don couldn't take him, he might still come after Grace.
Turning, she started away from them towards a crowd of onlookers that were coming towards them. Grace was yelling "DADDY! DADDY!" in her ear and Anne realized that the way she was holding the little girl, she could see the fight over her shoulder. She quickly spun around to get Grace facing away but the sight made her heart stop and her blood run cold.
Don was on top of the man but even from the few yards she was away, she could see the knife sticking out of his left arm and blood pouring from the wound. But it was obvious that it had not been enough to stop the raging Donald Duncan. Anne seemed frozen to the ground at the sight of Don slamming his fists into the face of his attacker. The man was trying to fend off the blows but it was futile and after a couple more punches, Anne saw his arms drop away, leaving him totally unprotected against Don's fury. His arms were moving like pistons and his fists were a blur as she could see him strike over and over until it seemed he realized that the man was no longer a threat. Don slumped down on top of him momentarily until she saw him get his breath and start to gather himself.
Anne watched Don get up from the ground, it seemed like it took every ounce of energy he had left and once he got to his feet, she could see him swaying as he tried to stay upright. He took a step towards them but Anne gasped as he stumbled and fell to his knees. He looked up at them and mustered more strength from somewhere and with what seemed like superhuman effort, finally got back up.
Once again he started towards them and then stopped, dazed he looked over and realized that the attacker's knife was still sticking out of his arm. Seemingly without even feeling it, he reached over and pulled the knife from his arm, throwing it down next to the motionless man. As he walked slowly towards them, she couldn't believe the sight. His massive chest was heaving as he tried to get his breath, his face was starting to swell from the blows he had absorbed, dirt was covering him and his shirt was torn and wet with blood. Reaching out towards her, she saw his hands were covered with gaping wounds. Gently he took the still crying Grace from her, Anne too stunned to even protest.
As he walked away, cradling Grace against his chest, Anne watched them in disbelief before she suddenly realized that the sound of sirens was filling the air. Turning towards the noise, she saw two uniformed officers running towards her.
"OFFICERS!" she yelled out, getting their attention. "CALL FOR AN AMBULANCE, NOW!"
One of them grabbed his radio and was talking into it as they finally got to her.
"What happened?" The other asked quickly.
"Those three men attacked us and tried to kidnap our little girl!" Anne told them hurriedly.
The officer looked quickly at the three men lying broken on the ground, onlookers were gathering around but keeping their distance.
"So where is the girl now?"
Anne looked over and saw that Don had gotten to a bench on the far side of the playground and was sitting down holding Grace in his arms. Thinking quickly she grabbed him by the arm. "Her father has her, she's safe, but you HAVE to call Sheriff Duncan right now and get him here. Tell him that Don has been in a fight! Call him, but leave Donald Duncan alone until he gets here, understand . . . understand?"
The cop hesitated and so Anne yanked on his arm. "CALL HIM NOW!" She screamed at him.
"Yeah, right now!" he answered, before grabbing his radio and walking towards the men on the ground.
Anne could see him talking on the radio and she just looked around before the events of those last few minutes hit her full force and she burst into tears. She slowly collapsed down onto her knees as another arriving officer helped her up and guided her back to the bench where this had all started such a short time ago.
Leaving her there, Anne simply rolled into a ball on the bench as the sounds of more sirens filled the air. It seemed like she was there for hours until she heard a soft voice beside her.
"Anne . . . Anne, it's me."
Looking up, she saw Mike standing there beside the bench. He helped her uncoil and get to her feet but as soon as she was up, she launched herself into his arms. "OH GOD! OH GOD! THEY ALMOST GOT HER!" Anne screamed into him as he held her tightly against him.
"Shhhh, it's okay, we're here, Bobby's here, relax, we're here." Mike replied trying to calm the frantic woman.
Mike held her for several minutes as her body was wracked with convulsions, finally it seemed she was able to get herself under control and Mike gently guided her back to the bench. Holding her tightly, she sobbed quietly as the memory of the day played over and over in her mind.
Mike kept her face hidden against him, not wanting her to see the scene in front of them. The attackers were loaded up and taken away in ambulances, the area was cordoned off with tape and a dozen or more police and Sheriff's personnel were interviewing people who had witnessed the attack.
Finally a very sober Bobby came over to the pair. "Anne?" he said quietly as he got down onto his knees so he was eye to eye with the distraught woman.
"Anne?" he said again a bit louder, finally gaining her attention.
"I'm okay," she replied in a whisper as she wiped the tears from her face. She was still clinging to Mike but straightened up to face the Sheriff.
Bobby seemed hesitant to speak but then started with a slow and gentle tone. "Anne, we need your help."
Anne just looked at him quizzically. "What?"
Bobby took a deep breath and looked around, trying to get his words just right. "Anne, we have to get Don and take him down to give a statement."
"Anne, you're a lawyer, you know why."
"But . . . but . . . they tried to take Grace." She said and both Mike and Bobby knew she was struggling to keep control of herself.
"Anne, he isn't in any trouble, we have two dozen witnesses who say you two were attacked, they tried to kidnap Grace and Don defended you. There is no reason to worry, but he still has to make a statement, plus . . . I think he may need some medical attention."
"Okay?" Anne answered, still not understanding. "What about the guys who attacked us, what about them, get their statements, leave him alone Bobby!" Her voice rising as she felt her anger welling up. They had been attacked and now in her muddled mind it seemed to her that Bobby wanted to go after Don.
"Anne . . . Anne, listen to me." Bobby said, moving closer to her, so they were eye to eye. "The first man's jaw is broken to the point it will be a long time before he gives a statement and the second . . . well the second is in even worse shape."
"Well, what about the one who grabbed Grace, the one who stabbed Don, get him to talk, ask him why he did this, they tried to get Grace, why, why?" Anne spat out.
"Get him to talk, why Bobby, why did they do this, WHY?" Anne continued, her voice getting louder and her arms starting to become animated as her frustration with Bobby seemed to be turning to anger.
"WHY, BOBBY, ASK HIM WHY!" Anne screamed out.
"ANNE! ANNE! . . . Listen to me . . . listen, please," Bobby started, before he took a deep breath and looked at her with a dark expression. "Anne . . . that man is dead."
Anne slumped into Mike as the words hit her. "Oh God, no!" Anne whispered.
"Listen, Anne, I need your help and I need it now."
"What . . . what can I do?" Anne answered quietly, the gravity of Bobby's statement hitting her.
"We have to get Grace away from Don, no one has approached him, he's still sitting there with her."
"Why do you need me?"
"I have no idea what his mental state is right now, I've kept everyone away from him. I didn't want to take the chance that he would see someone as a threat. I need you to come with me and get Grace. I think . . . well, I know, you are the only one who can do this, if anyone else goes over there, I just don't know what he'll do!"
Anne got to her feet quickly, surprising the two men. "I understand . . . let's go," she said firmly. She knew what Bobby needed and why, and it suddenly startled her to realize, that after all that she knew about Donald Duncan and all she had seen today, she was absolutely sure, he would never hurt her.
"We'll all go." Mike said distinctly as the trio started across the playground.
It seemed like a hundred eyes followed them as they approached Donald Duncan sitting on the bench. The three tried to hide their shock at his appearance but it was difficult as he seemed to be swathed in blood. He was covered in scratches and scrapes and there was a long line of blood still seeping from the hole in his arm. Don had shoved a piece of his shirt into the hole to stop the bleeding but it had only just stemmed the flow. Unbelievably Grace was sleeping in his arms with dried blood on her from where Don had wiped at the tears on her face.
Anne couldn't stop her own tears as she sank to the ground in front of him. She took the same posture as Bobby had done a few minutes ago and got to her knees so that they were almost eye to eye.
"Don," She said at almost a whisper. "Don, I have to take Grace home, while you go with Bobby."
Don looked at her and then at the two men who stood back a few steps. "No." He said flatly, his eyes flashing a warning as he looked at the trio.
"Don, you aren't in trouble, but they need a statement and you need some stitches . . . I'll take her home."
"They might try again, she's safer with me." Don said with a growl, his face stating to show a rage that was fast approaching.
"Mike and I will take her home. You go with Bobby." Anne said as she reached up and gently ran her hand over his dirty and blood smeared cheek. His eyes went from wild to soft at the instant of her touch.
Bobby and Mike stepped forward as they saw the soothing effect that Anne had on the big man. It seemed like the burning malice was draining from him.
"Don," Bobby started and then paused, waiting to get his attention. "Dad and Anne will take her home and I have two Deputies that will not allow Anne and Grace out of their sight until they're in your house, then the Deputies will guard them there."
Don seemed to take in his words but then looked down at Grace and seemed to pull her a bit more against him.
"Don, please?" Anne said so softly that only he could hear, she was still caressing his bruised face. Then, keeping her hand on his face, she slowly rose to her feet, willing him to stand up also.
He lifted his eyes and looked deep into hers for a moment before kissing Grace gently on the forehead. Then he stood up slowly and handed the sleeping girl to Mike who took her into his arms.
Don stared at the blood smudged little girl in Mike's arms for a few seconds, before he looked up at him. "That's my life." He finally said quietly as Mike was turning away to go.
"I know, Don, I know." Mike answered softly and then motioning to Anne, they walked towards the car.
Don watched them all the way to the parking lot before he finally looked over at Bobby, who had been waiting patiently by his side, not daring to say a word to stop the events that were unfolding. "Let's go." he finally said as he saw Grace being put into Mike's car.
Anne and Mike arrived back at the house with an overnight bag for her. Mike had explained that he didn't want her out of sight until this was settled. Anne tried to argue but it was all for show, she really had no desire to be out of the protective cocoon that Mike and the Sheriff's department had her and Grace wrapped in.
It took a couple hours to get Grace settled down. A bath and some clean clothes helped her appearance but unfortunately Anne recognized that the emotional toll was going to take far more. It seemed to her that the little girl who was always laughing and joking was gone, to be replaced with one who wouldn't let Anne and Mike out of her sight. Anne was able to slip away for a shower and clean clothes while Mike kept Grace's attention. Afterward, they all huddled on the couch as they awaited Don and Bobby's return, talking about anything but the day. Anne made some dinner and after more cuddling, she was finally able to get Grace to go to sleep in her own bed.
Returning down to the living room, Anne simply collapsed onto the couch next to Mike who held her as she just wanted to feel safe, wondering if she ever would again.
Later when the door opened, Don and Bobby came in and found them awaking from their stupor. Don only took a momentary glance at the pair and then headed up the stairs.
Bobby sat down across from the couch as the two woke up fully.
"Well, how did it go?" Mike asked.
"No problem with the fight, I had the DA with me when we took his statement."
"What, without his lawyer present?" Anne blurted out.
Bobby's face turned hard. "Damn it, Anne, he doesn't need a fucking lawyer, I was there!"
"Whoa, whoa you two" Mike jumped in. "I think we are all a bit stressed right now, let's settle down."
Bobby looked stricken as he realized what he had said. "Damn Anne, I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything."
"I know, I know" Anne replied carefully. "But how is he?" She asked tilting her head towards the upstairs.
Bobby just shook his head. "Physically, they put over a hundred stiches in him in various places, plus a few staples. His hands are a mess and he has more scrapes, bumps and bruises than I have ever seen on one person."
"But is he going to be okay?" Anne asked hesitantly.
"Physically, he'll be okay."
"Mentally?" Mike asked.
Bobby seemed to slump a bit in the chair. "Mentally . . . I just don't know."
"I don't know if I should say anything, he might not be happy."
"Don't give me that shit, answer me." Mike said firmly.
Bobby looked at them for a long time before he finally started speaking quietly. "He kept breaking down."
"Breaking down?" Mike asked.
"He kept saying 'I've lost them', over and over, then he would . . . well then he . . . he tried to hide it, but then he would cry."
As his words sunk in, Mike nodded and got up, motioning to Bobby. "Look, it's been a hell of a day, tempers are short, I say we get some sleep, then we'll come back here tomorrow and see if we can put our heads together and make some sense of this."
Just as the two men hit the door, a thought seemed to grab Anne. "Lost them?" she said to Mike and Bobby.
Mike turned and stared at her for a second. "Them." He repeated directly at Anne, and then the two men left.
"Them," Anne repeated as she tried to make sense of it. But her mind was too muddled by the day, so she went upstairs to check on Don and Grace.
As she expected, she found Don sitting by a sleeping Grace. She came and stood beside him before reaching down and gently taking his hand. Motioning him to his feet, she pulled him down the hall towards the master bedroom.
"Don, we've got to get you cleaned up and into bed." She said as he just nodded. She could tell that he was almost out on his feet from exhaustion. She left him standing there as she looked through his dresser drawers until she found a pair of gym shorts. She started guiding him into the bathroom but he stopped her. "I can't get the stiches wet."
Anne went down to the kitchen and got some plastic wrap and scissors. Returning to the filthy and blood stained man, she gently cut away what was left of his shirt and wrapped his wounds. She had to keep focused on her task as the sight of Don's battered body was shocking. She was surprised when she saw an old wound on his stomach and a huge spider webbed mass of scars on his shoulder.
"Don, what are these?" She asked as she worked on him.
He seemed to hesitate but he was too tired to even be evasive. "They shot me."
"Who shot you?"
"I tried to get them all out but I couldn't, they shot me."
Suddenly it hit her, the Judge's words. Four young men are alive, the Silver Star for bravery. He had saved four young men but he couldn't get the rest because they shot him. In her mind the puzzle came together, he saved four but he couldn't get the rest. Her thoughts from long ago came to her, the thoughts that something haunted him and caused what she now saw as a gentle giant to become a violent troublemaker.
"Don, you saved four, four are alive because of you."
"No . . . no . . . five are dead because I couldn't get to them." He replied, his voice weak and low.
Anne knew she was fighting a losing battle but at least things were clearer to her. Finishing up, she gently guided him to the bathroom and closed the door. She heard the shower turn on and later, off as he finished.
Don came back out in the gym shorts and Anne carefully removed all the wrapping. Now cleaned up and in full view, two things caught her attention. The first was the sight of the other bullet wound in his leg but more important was the second, which hit her just as she guided him down and started to cover him up.
Through the chaos of the day and the craziness that had suddenly become her life, she looked down upon Donald Duncan and in her mind it clicked. "Oh my fucking God" she whispered under her breath.
Her husband had been tall and skinny and while she had had a couple relationships with guys she worked out with at the gym, nothing she had seen from them compared to what she saw before her now. As she slowly took in the sight of Donald Duncan laid out before her, her eyes gazed down in awe. From the massive chest and arms adorned with colorful tattoos, down past his muscular midsection, to the small waist and huge and powerful legs, it struck her like a bolt of lightning.
What was laid out in that bed before her was one hell of a man!
She had been totally detached as she helped him get cleaned up and into bed but now with a sudden shift of perspective, Anne felt embarrassed to be staring at him. She had to tear her eyes away from him as she tried desperately to put him back into her mind as simply; Grace's daddy.
Anne finally took a deep breath and quickly put away her thoughts. She covered him up, and he was instantly fast asleep, the exertion of the fight and the emotional hours afterward had wiped him out. She returned to the guest room and was almost immediately overcome with sleep herself.
Anne woke suddenly and glanced at the clock. It was 2:17 but she lay quietly as she tried to hear what had awakened her. Fearing the worst, she suddenly threw back the covers and padded into the hallway. Looking around, she saw nothing out of sorts, so she moved slowly down to Grace's room. Peeking in the door, her breath caught in her throat.
Laying on the floor, next to Grace's bed, she saw the huge form of Donald Duncan. Sometime after she fell asleep, he had brought in a couple blankets and a pillow and went to sleep on the floor. She walked quietly into the room and settled lightly into the chair where Don sat to read Grace her bedtime stories. She wanted to wake him but he would just come back to guard her again, so what would be the point?
Looking over at the bed, Grace was wrapped in warm blankets and she could hear the almost undiscernible sound of her breathing. She could see her face peeking out and her long blonde hair in disarray on the pillow. A little angel, tucked into bed, sleeping peacefully and securely under the protection of the most powerful man she had ever known. Looking around the room at the cartoon cutouts on the wall and the dozens of stuffed animals, she thought of the story, the lamb sleeping with the lion.
Without a conscious effort, her head shook slowly back and forth as the memory of the day came back to her. The incident with Grace in the backyard, her run in with Bill Meyers, the way he handled other threats paled in comparison to the ferocity and savage brutality of his actions today. But then the aftermath, the sight of this massive man, bloodied and beaten gently cradling Grace and comforting her as he carried her so carefully across the playground to safety. The love of a man for his daughter, would she ever see it more plainly demonstrated, even though in such a horrific fashion?
Shaking off the thought of the fight, she looked down at him curled up on the floor. Gazing at him, another question came to her mind, what it would be like to be loved like that? To have a man who would risk his life to take on three men in a life or death struggle and then sleep uncomfortably on the floor next to your bed, just to protect you? She thought of her husband who left her the instant he found out she couldn't have children. He didn't love her like this, did he ever love her at all, she questioned?
Her eyes glistened as she thought of her solitary existence, before she finally rose from the chair and got to her feet. Slowly and carefully, she knelt down by the sleeping man. Leaning over him, she planted a gentle kiss on his cheek. Straightening back up, she looked over at the little girl sleeping peacefully under the protection of her father and then she peered up towards the ceiling. She couldn't help herself as she whispered quietly. "God, all I ask . . . please let me be loved like this someday."
Returning to her bed she felt an enormous sense of loss as she realized that in a couple days she would lose Don and Grace. Turning into her pillow, she couldn't help the tears as she cried herself back to sleep.
The next day found the five of them seated in the living room, the morning having been a quiet affair. The first problem to resolve was Grace, she refused to leave Don's side and any suggestion that she play in her room was met with a flat refusal and tears. Finally, Don decided to let the others talk and he took Grace outside to play on the swing set.
Looking down at her feet, "I feel like her innocence is gone." Anne said sadly after they left.
Mike shook his head. "She'll be okay, she has you and Don to take care of her."
Anne's head shot up at that and she started to reply when Bobby cut in. "I don't want to appear insensitive to Grace, but we have a hell of a problem to get sorted out."
"That being, who sent those guys to get Grace?" Mike added in.
"How do you know they didn't do it on their own?" Anne asked.
"I checked on them, they are thugs for hire, they don't do anything without pay. We have both the police department and my office working on this but we're not getting anywhere." Bobby responded.
"Anne, I know that this is going to hurt and I'm sorry, but we have to start at the beginning." Mike said cryptically. He glanced over at Bobby who gave him a subtle nod.
"I don't understand." Anne answered.
Mike got up and walked around for a minute. "Damn it, there is no way to do this gently, so here it goes." He started as he sat back down and looked at Anne. "It is obvious that someone doesn't want Don to have Grace."
Anne nodded, agreeing to the obvious.
"Anne, I have spent a lot of time, money and energy checking on everyone involved with this and the only way to go about it is to eliminate everyone we can and then take what we have left."
"Okay." Anne agreed, with a quizzical expression.
"Anne," Mike started and then reached across and took her hands in his. "Anne, my investigation found that you were married and lost a baby. Your husband then left you."
Anne jerked her hands back from Mike and abruptly stood up. "And you think I had something to do with this so I can get Grace for myself."
"NO!" Mike said loudly, startling Anne to the point that she dropped back into her seat.
"No Anne, I DO NOT, but I'm not going to allow my emotions to get into this. We have to focus on facts and the idea that you would be involved with this makes sense in a logical fashion. Don loses her and you get her. Now what I need from you is tell me if that's possible, so we can discard the theory."
Anne was stunned but she understood the logic. "Mike and Bobby, I swear, I had nothing to do with anything that has happened. If Don would lose Grace, she becomes a ward of the firm, who will then determine her future, but she would not be placed with me." She finished with her eyes glistening.
"Anne, I just needed to hear it." Mike said with a small smile. "Next, if you wouldn't, then who would?"
Anne took a moment while she gathered herself together after that emotional exchange. "I don't know really, I have never been privy to any information on that point."
Mike leaned back in the chair for a minute, clearly thinking this through.
"Anne, tell me what you know about Libby and her family?" Bobby asked.
"What do you want to know?"
Mike leaned forward in his seat. "Everything!"
"I can't tell you much, there is privilege involved."
"Bullshit, Anne, my son killed a man to save you and his daughter, two more are in the hospital, and my niece was almost kidnapped, I don't want to hear anything about your legal mumbo-jumbo!" Mike spat out, clearly incensed at her answer.
"Hold on, dad!" Bobby jumped in. "Hold on, Jesus Christ, just relax . . . Anne, correct me if I'm mistaken, but how does Libby have attorney client privilege now that she's dead?"
Anne looked back and forth at the two men and finally decided they were right. If they didn't get to the bottom of this soon, it could happen again. "What do you want to know?"
"How did you meet?" Bobby asked. "Start there."
Anne thought back. "She made an appointment to see me for a will, I actually called her to see if it was a mistake as I didn't do any work for her family. She assured me she wanted to work with me. We met, I collected all the information, completed the will and then I had her come back, sign and witness it, that's it."
"That's it?" Mike asked.
"Well yes, but I actually understand more now after I talked with Don. She put him in the will to care for Grace, but I had no idea who he was or why. As she didn't have contact with him, we put in a standard provision that if he was unwilling or unable to care for her, it would fall to her parents, if not them, then the firm would seek out and find a suitable guardian. I guess now it makes sense that she wanted to work with me instead of who took care of her parents. I suppose her parents would not have been pleased if they knew Don was in her will. "
"Okay, I don't see anything there that is out of order." Bobby added in.
"But wait a minute, Anne, you say she put Don in the will for Grace, but who inherits the estate?" Mike asked after some thought.
"Well, Grace would, I suppose." Anne answered.
"But Grace is six." Bobby interjected.
"Yes, but whoever gets Grace would be appointed Guardian of her and the estate, but I don't even think there is that much of an estate."
"Think or know, Anne?" Mike asked quickly.
Anne seemed to ponder the question for a minute before answering. "Think."
Mike rubbed his chin for a second then looked over at Bobby who nodded back at him. Turning back to Anne, he addressed her directly. "So you have no idea how much the estate is worth?"
"I have no idea, I guess if I think about it, there must be something as the firm does business with them and we aren't cheap, but I didn't handle the family other than this one will for Elizabeth."
"Anne as her attorney, what would happen if the family had an estate of, let's pick a number, say, half a million dollars?" Mike asked very succinctly.
"Wow, well then that money would have passed through the parents to Elizabeth and then at her death to Grace. In this case, Elizabeth's will stated that her assets went with Grace for her care. So whoever has custody of Grace, has custody of what was originally the parent's estate." Anne finished her legal interpretation but then added in. "Half a million dollars seems like a lot, but after all the legal fees, estate costs, and everything else, there would probably only be about half of that. I'm not saying that's not a lot of money but surely you don't think all of this is for that money, do you?"
Mike just shook his head and stood up. He wandered around the room for a few minutes before he sat back down. "How much would be left if it started at forty million?"
"Well, I don't know, maybe . . . wait a minute! Are you serious?" Anne blurted out. Mike just nodded as Anne sat back in her chair and shook her head.
"I'm very serious, Anne. I had the family investigated, the parents were not only rich but very rich and if that will is as you described, I have a feeling that it's not Grace that someone's after, it's the money!" Mike replied.
Anne sat stunned at the revelation when something else came to her. "So you thought I wanted the money?"
Mike quickly answered. "No, but I have a feeling I know who does, I just had to make sure that you weren't an unaware accomplice."
"What do you mean?" Anne asked suspiciously.
Bobby jumped in. "We never believed you would hurt Grace but we wanted to make sure you weren't being used. Think about it, Anne, somebody wants the money, so they convince you to go along with the promise of getting Grace as your own. Even though you don't know about the whole picture, you think it's all about Grace."
Anne stood up and walked around the room, deep in thought over these revelations. Finally she stopped and looked back at the other two men. "Those fucking bastards! Those fucking sorry fucking pieces of fucking shit! How did I not see it! Damn it, Anne, Damn it!"
Mike and Bobby both stood up as Anne went into her tirade. "Your firm." Mike said distinctly.
"FUCK YES!" Anne yelled out. "It has to be, they lied to me about Don and Elizabeth's relationship and they had to know it was a lie because they represented the parents. Several times they asked me about things that it seemed they already knew. They are always there when I brief them, all three of them, that's the only time I can ever remember all three of them together on one case. FUCK!"
Suddenly Anne's head shot up as she looked at Mike. "You knew, you said you had a feeling you knew who wanted the money."
"The guy who worked for me, the one who tried to goad Don into a fight. I had someone catch up to him last night. After a short . . . discussion . . . he admitted that Brent Langeman paid him to go after Don."
Bobby's eyes went wide as he heard this. "Dad, for God's sake don't tell me-"
"Don't tell you what Sheriff, this is my family." Mike spat back at him.
Anne jumped back in. "But now what?"
Mike shook his head. "That's the problem, I don't know."
"As the Sheriff, so I've been called." Bobby started looking over at his dad. "I'm going to say, we have no evidence. However we got the information last night, it won't hold up in court. We'll never find the guys who hassled him before and the ones from yesterday, well let's just say that's going nowhere."
Anne had been thinking about the same thing. "Bobby's right, speaking as a lawyer we have nothing. These guys are very powerful, there is no way they would be brought down on what we have. I can guarantee they have covered their tracks to perfection!"
"One thing is certain," Mike started. "They have to fix this by Tuesday. If the Judge awards custody, then the money and Grace goes to Don and it's over."
"They could ask for a continuance." Anne interjected.
"No they can't, it won't be approved." Mike said with a smile. "The Judge won't listen to any of this out of court, he is too honorable to do that, but I think I can make sure there is no continuance."
"Unless you recommend that Don doesn't get Grace." Bobby said to Anne.
Anne's face suddenly turned ashen and she stumbled back to the couch. "Oh my God, I caused this. This is all my fault."
"Anne, what the hell are you talking about?" Mike asked as he saw her collapse.
"I turned in my report on Friday, I recommended that Don keep Grace."
"Anne, that's not your fault, you didn't know." Mike said as he comforted her.
"No it's not, but it does explain the desperate play yesterday." Bobby added.
"I have to meet with them tomorrow." Anne said suddenly, the fear evident in her voice.
Turning to Bobby, Mike asked. "Can we wire her?"
Bobby and Anne both shook their heads almost simultaneously but it was Bobby that answered. "We'd never get a warrant to do that, again we have NOTHING! Damn it!"
"Mike, he's right, no judge would allow it and without a warrant, the evidence would be no good."
"But it would assure Don kept Grace." Mike threw out.
"No it wouldn't and even if he did, they would still be out there and they could still come after Don. Think about it, if something happened to Don, they could then claim the right to start over with custody."
The three seemed to each keep their thoughts to themselves as they mulled over the information that each had provided. Finally Mike broke into the silence. "We are going to have to hold what we have until Tuesday, all we can do is keep everyone safe until then. Anne can stay here and Bobby and I will keep working on this. I don't think Don should go to work or Grace to school, keep everyone here, together and safe."
"I have to go in to work tomorrow to see them." Anne brought up the issue again.
"Anne, I hope I'm not wrong, but I can't see a way you would be in danger. If they harm you, it would be too obvious." Bobby threw out hesitantly.
"Okay, so we keep everyone together except for Anne to go to her office and then return." Mike said with finality.
"We do have one more gigantic problem." Bobby added in.
"What's that?" Anne asked quizzically.
"It's six foot four inches tall and two hundred and fifty pounds of chaos if he suspects that what we've talked about is true." Bobby replied.
Mike just shook his head as he answered back. "Funny way to put it, but damn true. If he knew that Anne's firm was behind this, there would be no stopping him, he would tear that place apart."
The memory of yesterday and Don's face as he defended Grace made Anne shudder. "You're right, I hate to say it, but he would kill them and there would be no way to stop him."
"No there wouldn't and right now part of me would like to see that happen." Bobby said almost as if he was talking to himself.
"So would I, but the reality is that we tell him that we don't know anything and are still working at it." Mike said, making the decision.
"Agreed" Anne and Bobby said at almost the same instant.
There was another long pause before Anne finally spoke again. "I found him sleeping on the floor in her room last night." The two men could hear her voice cracking as she looked straight at Bobby and continued. "If this goes badly and by some crazy circumstance, he loses her, you better be prepared to control him somehow."
Bobby nodded slowly as he saw the tears trickle down Anne's face. "I understand," He said carefully, knowing full well the gravity of her words. In the last few weeks, Grace and Anne had transformed Donald Duncan from a violent trouble maker into a gentle and loving father. However, yesterday proved that the savage mayhem he could unleash was still just under the surface.
The sound of the back door opening and Don and Grace returning startled the three. Grace ran into the room and grabbed Anne for a hug. "Miss Anne, I had so much fun."
"That's good, sweetie." She replied, happy to see the smile back on Grace's face.
But unfortunately, the three couldn't miss the obvious pain that Don was in as he came back into the room. He was limping badly and they could see the hurt and exhaustion in his face.
"Are you okay, son?" Mike asked as he took in Don's appearance.
Don seemed to straighten up, "I'm fine."
After everyone was comfortably seated with Grace curled up in Anne's lap, Don was curious as to the conversation he missed. "So, did we get anywhere?" He asked mindful of Grace listening in.
Mike looked over at Grace before answering. "No, but we think it is best if you all stay here until Tuesday morning, just in case. So no work or school for you and Grace. Anne has to go to work tomorrow but that way everyone is together and safe."
"Makes sense." Was Don's only reply as it was obvious he was still feeling the effects of yesterday's fight and a long night laying on the floor.
"Well, Bobby and I need to go, if we hear anything we'll get back to you." Mike said as the two men got up and let themselves out.
Bobby checked in with the deputies standing watch on the house as they left. Once on the road, Mike brought up this morning's conversation. "She's right, you know."
"About what?" Bobby asked.
Mike took a deep breath, he couldn't believe what he was about to say. "If something goes to hell in that courtroom, you better be prepared to stop him at all costs."
"All costs?" Bobby asked quietly. "What are you saying, dad, that I should be prepared to kill my cousin?"
Mike just stared out the window as he contemplated Bobby's question. Finally he realized the answer, "Yes, as much as I hate the thought, you are the Sheriff, you need to be prepared for the worst possible consequences on Tuesday morning."
"I know, and I knew it the moment she said it."
"Let's hope to God it all works, but I can't believe after all they've done that they would give up now."
"Neither do I and baiting Don into a confrontation in court could be their final play."
Mike just shook his head before replying. "I wonder if they know the old saying about being careful what you wish for."
"Yeah, no shit." Bobby replied with a nervous chuckle.
Jan 4, 2018 in romance