Power Corrupts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: General Erotica  |  House: Booksiesilk Classic Group

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Cheated husband gets justice.

Power Corrupts


by Saddletramp1956

Copyright© 2023 by Saddletramp1956, All rights reserved


The jury had just been released for the day, having heard closing arguments from both the defense and the prosecution. It was fairly late in the afternoon, about 4:00, so the judge ordered the jury back to the hotel where they had been sequestered for the two-week trial, which was the culmination of an investigation that lasted nearly a year. The defendant was taken back to the Tarrant County Correction Center in Fort Worth and nothing more would happen until Monday when the jury reconvened.


So I decided to walk back to my room at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Dallas, stopping at a bar along the way for a quick beer and a bite to eat. I had just finished my burger and was halfway through my beer when I heard a female voice behind me.


Hey, cowboy, buy a girl something to drink?” she asked.


I turned around and looked at the source of the question. She looked familiar and then it hit me.


Ashley? Ashley Marks, is that really you?” I asked.


Yup, it's me,” she said, flashing a smile that could melt the polar ice cap. I invited her to sit down and waved to the waitress.


My God, how long has it been? Sixteen, seventeen years now? How are ya doing,” I asked.


I think it's been seventeen years,” she said. Ashley had been one of my best friends in high school, along with Steve Jenkins and Jolene Carter. Together, we were known as the 'Four Musketeers.' That changed, though, when Ashley's father took a job in Austin during our senior year. I hadn't seen nor heard anything from her since then.


I'm doing okay,” she said. “Went to college at the University of Texas, graduated, got married, divorced and now I'm a reporter for the Austin Statesman.”


Wow, you've had quite a life. What happened?” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders.


I was married,” she said, with emphasis on the “I.”


Unfortunately, he wasn't. Or at least, he had a hard time remembering his vows. After I caught him cheating the third time I said enough and kicked his city-boy ass to the curb,” she said. “I think he ended up managing a McDonald's in Beaumont someplace.”


Sorry to hear that,” I said. “I know how it feels, believe me. So, what brings you up to the 'Big D'?”


I've been covering the Jenkins trial the last couple weeks. What a mess. I watched you testify the other day, in fact,” she said. “I'm really sorry about Jolene. Whatever her faults, she didn't deserve to die like that.”


I didn't say anything to that. No, Jolene didn't deserve to die the way she did. I would have preferred something more painful, like burning at the stake, but that opportunity – like so many other things, was taken from me by a man I once thought of as my best friend.


So, how are you coping, Bill Jennings?” she said, breaking my train of thought.


About as well as expected, considering the last sixteen years or so of my life has been nothing but a sham,” I said.


At least you have your children,” she said. I nodded.


Yeah, I guess,” I said. “They're mine, legally anyway.”


You may not be the sperm donor, but trust me, you're their father in all the ways that really matter,” she said.


I guess you're right,” I said. “It still doesn't make me feel any better, though.”


Look, I have to make a confession here,” she began. I looked at her, wondering what she had up her sleeve.


You know, every reporter in that courtroom is going to want your story. I'd like to be the one who tells it, if that's okay with you,” she said. “I know you're probably having a lot of trust issues and I fully understand. But no one there knows you like I do. Look, if it'll help, we'll sign a contract. You give me exclusive rights to your story and I'll protect you from the wolves. Kinda like a publicist, you know. I won't publish anything without letting you look it over first. My editor has already approved it and I want this done right.”


I knew deep down that she was right. I had already been accosted by reporters from every major news outlet in the country – CNN, Fox News, the Associated Press, you name it. Even a bunch of smaller but well-known bloggers had reached out to me. It was all so overwhelming. Something told me I could trust her so I made up my mind.


Okay, Ashley,” I said. “You have a deal. So how does this work, exactly? Do we do this here, do we take it to my hotel room, or your hotel room? What did you have in mind?”


Well,” she said, “I've been wanting to see the old homestead for a while now. It's only what, two to two and a half hours west of here by car? It's still fairly early and the jury's not scheduled to begin deliberations until Monday morning, so that gives us the weekend. Why don't we take a drive back and you can show me where it all happened? You can give me details on the way and after we get there I can maybe talk to your kids and your parents, if that's okay.”


I thought for a moment before saying yes. It would be a good break from the trial and I figured it might be nice to show Ashley around a bit and maybe reconnect.


Sounds good,” I said. “Where are you staying?


I'm at the Hilton just around the corner. You?” she asked.


Same. You want to grab a few things first before we head out?” She nodded and we agreed to meet at my truck in the parking area. “You can't miss it,” I told her. “It's a big blue crew cab.”


Same old Bill. Gotta have the biggest pickup in the state. Give me about a half hour after we get there so I can change into something a bit more comfortable and grab a few things, okay?” she asked. I agreed and we headed off.


The sun had just dipped below the horizon by the time we got on to Interstate 20 headed toward Abilene. I was glad as I hated driving into the sun.


Ashley had changed out of her professional reporter attire and was now wearing a knee-length denim skirt with a white western-style blouse. She looked just as pretty to me now as she did back in school. I also got a good look at her shapely legs and felt a familiar stirring below my belt. She smiled.


I know what you're thinking, cowboy,” she said.


Oh, really?” I asked.


You're thinking something like, 'why didn't I hook up with Ashley instead of Jolene?'” I laughed.


Your finely-tuned reporter instincts tell you that?” I asked.


No, the way you're checking out my legs did. Like you used to do back in school,” she said. “Betcha thought I forgot about that.”


Well, legs like those are pretty hard to forget,” I told her. I always liked looking at her legs back then, especially when she wore that little cheerleader uniform. She smiled and pulled out her recorder. “So tell me, Ashley, is there a Mr. Right somewhere in Austin”?


No,” she said. “After my divorce I focused almost entirely on work. As you can imagine, I've had a lot of trust issues with men and until now I just haven't met anyone I really care to spend any time with.”


Sorry to hear that,” I said. She laughed.


Somehow, I doubt that,” she said. Damn those reporter instincts. “Anyway, what do ya say we get this little road show going?”


Yeah, okay,” I said. She placed her recorder on the dash, making sure it wouldn't fall off.


You don't mind if I record this, do you?” she asked. I shook my head.


Not at all,” I said. “I want you to get this right.”


I took a sip of coffee and thought a bit before starting.


Well, Ashley, as you know, Steve and I, along with you and Jolene were really tight in school. After you left, it was just the three of us mostly. I asked Jolene to marry me right after graduation and she said yes.


Steve and I both joined the Marines right out of high school. Both of us went to San Diego for boot camp and even went into the same platoon. Jolene and I agreed that we'd get married after I finished my advance training. After boot camp Steve and I got separated. He ended up in infantry and I got computer electronics. So he was assigned to Camp Pendleton and I was sent to Quantico, Virginia.


Anyway, about a month or so later, Steve messed his knee up pretty bad and ended up getting a medical discharge. You noticed he still walks with a slight limp.”


Couldn't they have given him a desk job?” Ashley asked.


No, it doesn't work that way,” I said. “Everyone in the Corps is a basic rifleman, regardless of their MOS, or specialty. Even clerks and computer types like me have to meet the physical requirements for combat.


So Steve went back home and his father pulled some strings to get him on with the county.”


That's right, his dad was a county commissioner, wasn't he?” Ashley asked. I nodded.


Yep. Right up until he died. That's how Steve first got elected. I guess the voters thought enough of old man Jenkins to elect his son.


So I finished school, came home and got married. Steve was my best man. I learned much later that he was also Jolene's 'best' man, if you know what I mean.”


That bitch,” Ashley said.


Anyway, I ended up on the west coast and almost nine months to the day of our wedding, Bryan was born. About a year later, I got sent to Okinawa for a year-long unaccompanied tour. We came home for a month and I let Jolene and Bryan stay in my house, which I inherited from my grandparents. We figured that it would be easier on them with both our parents there.


After that tour, I came home, packed up Jolene and Bryan and we went to my next duty station, which was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A little less than nine months later, Jessica was born. Jolene had a hard time with the pregnancy and insisted I get a vasectomy. She argued that if we ever wanted another child I could always have it reversed. So I went along with it. If I knew then what I know now, though, things would've been quite different.”


Looking at the pictures, it's pretty easy to see Steve's features in the kids,” Ashley said. “Didn't you notice that when they were born?”


That's a pretty fair question,” I said. “You may recall that when we were younger, people often said Steve and I could pass as brothers. We both have the same color hair and the same eyes. Hell, we even have similar earlobes. No, they both looked a lot like me when they were toddlers and they both have their mother's eyes and nose. It wasn't until they got to be much older before I started seeing the resemblance. When we get to my house, you'll see the baby pictures.


Anyway, I finished my time in the Corps and we all came back home. Dad took me to his computer shop and introduced me to all the other guys. I went straight to work for him, which was really nice. Unfortunately, that also meant doing quite a bit of travel.”


Did that ever bother Jolene,” Ashley asked. I shook my head.


Nope. Just the opposite. She seemed to relish the fact that I was going out servicing customers and building networks. Dad got clients in Dallas, Abilene, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, all over. Heck, we even had clients in Houston and Oklahoma City. Jolene thought it was great that I was building up such a large client base,” I said. “In reality, my absence gave her all the time she needed to bring Steve into our house and into our bed. Of course, I learned that much later.”


You mean she actually did Steve in your marital bed?” Ashley asked.


Yeah. All the freaking time,” I said. “That's why I burned it and the mattress after she got shot.”


I don't blame you,” Ashley said.


I burned a few other things as well, like the couch and the recliner Steve used to use,” I said. “Jolene's wedding dress also got torched.” Ashley winced at that.


So Steve was a regular fixture at your house, then,” Ashley said.


Yeah, so much so that he had his own recliner, even. I really didn't mind at the time, since I considered him a friend. He'd come over, especially on Sunday after church. We'd start watching a ball game and he'd almost always end up falling asleep in that damn chair.


The kids also began calling calling him 'Uncle Steve,' pretty much at Jolene's insistence. At the time, it bugged me, but now I know why.


Hey, I don't know about you, but I could go for a warm-up on my coffee. You about ready for a pit stop?” I asked.


Ashley turned off her recorder. “Sure,” she said. “I could go for that and a smoke break, if that's okay with you.” I nodded and pulled off at the next exit.


Having taken a break from the drive, we jumped back on the highway headed toward Abilene. Ashley pulled out her recorder and set it back on the dash.


So all this time you never had a clue that Jolene was cheating on you with Steve?” she asked.


No, I guess I was the typical clueless husband. She never disrespected me, at least to my face, and there was never any hint of sex happening in the house when I was gone. I guess they were pretty careful all those years,” I said.


So when did you find out?” she asked.


About a year ago, I was sent to Los Angeles for a month-long training program in an ERP package we contracted to support for a client in San Antonio. Jolene and the kids were great about emailing me and calling me every day. One weekend, I got an email from Bryan. Jolene and Steve took the kids to the lake fishing and he caught a pretty big bass. So he sent me a picture,” I said.


I pulled out my phone and handed it to Ashley, telling her what album to open. The picture I was looking for showed Bryan holding up a big fish. Right next to him was Steve. Jolene was on the other side of Bryan with her left hand on Steve's right shoulder.


What do you see in that picture?” I asked Ashley.


My God,” she exclaimed. “They look so much alike. They even have the same dimples.”


Yeah,” I said. “I noticed that as well. Now, take a look at Jolene's left hand. What stands out about that?” Ashley positioned the picture and zoomed in using her fingers.


I don't see any rings,” she said.


That's right,” I said. “You'll never guess where they were.” Ashley gave me a quizzical look. I guided her to the folder where I kept pictures from Jessica.


Take a look there until you see one with an ashtray,” I said.


Okay, I got it,” she said.


Zoom in on that picture and tell me what you see.” Her eyes got wide as she zoomed in on the picture.


Is that what I think it is?” she asked. I nodded.


Yep. The very ring I placed on her finger when I married her. Along with my great-grandmother's engagement ring. And guess whose cigarette butts are in that tray?”


Let me guess – Steve's,” she said.


Oh, there's more,” I told her. “That ashtray is not just in our bedroom, it's on my nightstand. Which means Steve was in our bed, probably with Jolene.” Ashley began tearing up.


How could she do that to you? And you say Jessica sent this?” she asked.


Yeah,” I said. “She often helped her mother clean house, which meant clearing out and wiping all the ashtrays. She saw that before they left, took a picture and sent it to me. She was very upset.”


I can imagine,” Ashley said. “Did she say anything to Jolene?”


Not that I know of. I wrote her back and told her not to say anything to her mom. I also told her to take the rings out and put them in her pocket and mail them to me.” Ashley laughed.


I'll bet Jolene was fit to be tied over that,” she said.


Yeah, Jessica was a real trooper the whole time. She did what I asked, but Jolene went nuts trying to find those rings. She even had Steve come over to help her look for them. They dug through trash, opened up the traps under the sinks, you name it. I wish I could've been there to record it.”


So what did you do,” Ashley asked.


Well, my course was finished on a Friday afternoon, so I drove straight through and got home that Saturday night. Jolene met me outside, crying that she'd lost grandmother's ring. She was absolutely beside herself. I asked all the usual questions, you know, did you look everywhere, did you set them on the sink, and so on. She kept insisting she looked all over.


That's when I reached into my pocket and pulled them out. I thought she was going to pass out. 'How did you get them,' she asked me. I just said a trusted friend found them and mailed them to me. I never mentioned Jessica's role cause I figured she'd rip the girl a new one. I just told her 'don't put them in the ashtray the next time Steve comes over.' It was priceless. Her eyes got as big as saucers and she started crying, giving me all the usual bullshit that she loves me.


Oh, sorry,” I said when I saw the look on Ashley's face. “I didn't mean to cuss.”


That's okay,” she said. “I've heard and said a lot worse, believe me. So tell me, what did you do then?”


Well, I pretty much knew then that it was over between us,” I said. “I didn't have any real evidence of their cheating, no photos or anything like that. I figured I'd start doing some investigating and get things ready, you know. The first thing I wanted to do was get DNA tests done. I needed to find out if the kids were mine. I also got hold of some surveillance gear from our shop. Motion-activated hi-def cameras, voice-activated audio recorders, the works. I even put a bug on our phone. Everything went to my home server and that got backed up to the cloud. I waited until she was out shopping and put it all in.


The DNA was pretty easy to do. One of our clients in Dallas is a lab that does those kind of tests and they got me everything I needed. I got the samples from the kids, asking them to never say anything to their mother. Took my own sample and waited for the next Sunday when Steve came over. As usual, he fell asleep in that recliner he always sat in, so it was pretty easy to grab a swab from inside his cheek.


Took me a week to get the results because I asked the lab to mail them to the shop. Sure enough, the tests showed a 99.9 percent chance that Steve was the father of both children, which meant that he and Jolene had been at it for at least 16 years if not longer.”


And all that time you never had a clue?” Ashley asked.


No. Not a clue. I'm sure if I sat down and analyzed it carefully I might have figured it all out, but that's just it. Before then, she never gave me any reason to question her fidelity. Our sex life was always good, even after the children were born.


So, I waited to get some kind of other evidence. And that didn't take very long. A week after I installed all the gear, I got my first piece of video evidence.


I ended up going to Oklahoma City for a server install and knew I'd be there for a couple days. The kids were over at my parents' house so that left Jolene to her own devices. Not long after I left, she called Steve and arranged to have him come over for the night. I called from my hotel in OK City and spoke to her briefly, just to let her know I was there. She told me she loved me but by then I really didn't give a shit. After that call, I logged into my home server and waited. Sure enough, about 9:00 that night, they were in our bed doing the dirty deed. Naturally, he didn't use a condom, which really ticked me off.


What was worse than watching the two of them rut like animals was what I heard them say, though.”


What was that?” Ashley asked.


Hang on,” I said. “I gotta take this exit. Then it's another 30 minutes.”


I had to focus during this part of the trip. It was getting pretty dark and this particular road didn't have any lights, guard rails or white lines denoting the sides. Someone not looking carefully could very easily end up in the ditch, or worse.


Additionally, this particular road ran close to where Steve's drug-running buddies used to operate. Most of them had been arrested or otherwise put out of operation after Steve went down, but I was always on the lookout. I had to replace my windshield a couple times after they shot it out. Plus, there were a lot of critters out here – mostly armadillos and deer.


I clicked on the high beams and turned on the light bar on top of the cab. Then I turned on the police scanner and the CB radio and grabbed my pistol out of the glove box. I wasn't taking any chances.


We finally made it to my house and Ashley noticed the DPS car sitting in the driveway.


Who is that?” she asked.


Protection,” I said. “They've been keeping an eye on the place since Steve's arrest. Some of his buds thought they could burn the place down in revenge, but we stopped 'em. Cold.” I patted the pistol in its holster. She knew what I meant.


Are we going to be safe here?” she asked. I nodded.


Yeah,” I said. “We've got 24-hour protection. DPS is also watching over my folks and the kids. I think we got most of Steve's buddies locked up by now, but we're not taking any chances. Hell, they had to fire almost the entire Sheriff's Department. Let's go check in and I'll introduce you.”


After I pulled into the garage, Ashley and I got out of the truck and walked to the patrol car. The DPS officer got out and walked over to us.


Bill Jennings?” he asked. “Thought y'all were in Dallas for the trial.”


We shook hands. “The trial just went to the jury this afternoon. By the way, this is Ashley Marks, reporter for the Austin Statesman. She's going to be with me for the weekend, getting background on Steve for a story,” I said.


He touched the brim of his gray Stetson as he nodded to her.


Pleasure to meet you, ma'am,” he said, smiling. He looked back at me. “Everything's quiet so far. Been quiet ever since the Rangers took that last bunch outta here. Still, you never know. My replacement will be along shortly.”


Thanks,” I said. We shook hands and parted.


Y'all have a good evening, hear?” he said as we headed for the door.


Will do,” I said. “You do the same.”


I started the coffee pot and gave Ashley the nickel tour of the place when we got inside. The original house was first built in 1866 by one William Bryan Jennings after he returned from fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The house had been expanded, remodeled and modernized many times since then, but there were still a few places where the original 150-year-old construction could be seen. Today, it boasted five bedrooms on two floors and a three-car garage with a covered wrap-around porch.


There was a bedroom for each of the two children, the master bedroom, one room converted into a sewing and craft space for Jolene and another room set up as a game/TV room for the kids. I offered to let Ashley sleep in the master bedroom as it was the only one with its own bathroom and I thought she might appreciate the privacy. I could sleep on the futon in my den/office downstairs as I had done since confirming Jolene's infidelity. Ashley, however, wouldn't hear of it.


Nonsense,” she said. “That bed's big enough for four people. There's plenty of room and we're both adults, capable of self-control.”


That threw me for a loop. “Okay, if you say so,” I said. She smiled and led me down the stairs.


You have a story to tell me, so let's get to it,” she said.


Let me call the kids first so they know we'll be there tomorrow,” I said. I called my parents' house and spoke with my dad, then the kids. They were excited about seeing Ashley so we arranged to be there for lunch. I grabbed us some coffee and headed into the living room. After sitting the cups down, I realized I had a pile of DVDs so I grabbed them out of the office where I kept them locked up.


This should help a lot,” I said. Her eyes got wide.


My God, how much video do you have?” she asked.


Quite a bit, actually,” I said. “Some of this is from here in the house, some is from surveillance cameras in my office. I also scanned all the documents and I have a whole bunch of pictures and audio as well. So everything I have is here. And I've got multiple copies just in case.”


I pulled out a disk, confirmed it was the right one and put it in the DVD player.


Let me warn you, this is pretty graphic,” I said.


I'm ready,” she said. I reminded her this was the DVD that confirmed my suspicions. I also reminded her to listen carefully to what was being said. I pressed play and the video started with Jolene walking into the master bedroom, followed by Steve.


There was a lot of foreplay as they undressed each other. Jolene removed her rings and tossed them in the ashtray on my nightstand. Steve ground out his cigarette on them while smiling.


Fuck him and his great-grandmother's ring,” Jolene said. Steve laughed. Ashley grimaced, tears coming to her eyes.


Eventually, they were both naked. Jolene got on her knees and took Steve's cock in her mouth. He seemed to enjoy her ministrations, and after a few minutes, exploded in her mouth. She swallowed before getting off her knees, then got into the bed.


Steve joined her and they immediately began coupling. Ashley covered her eyes. Apparently this was just too much for her. I fast-forwarded through the more graphic parts, a gesture Ashley seemed to appreciate.


There's about an hour of this,” I said. “This was bad enough, but the pillow talk afterward is a real buzzkill.”


Thanks for skipping through all that,” Ashley said. It's one thing to hear that someone you love and care for is cheating, it's something else again to watch it happen. I finally got to the part after their mutual orgasms. They were laying on their back, smoking a cigarette. Steve again ground his out on Jolene's rings. Jolene turned on her side, facing Steve.


I'm pregnant again, babe. Looks like you're gonna be a daddy again,” she said. Steve scowled.


Dammit, didn't you take your pills?” he asked.


Yeah, I might have missed a day here and there, but mostly I did. Why can't you use a condom?”


I hate those things,” he said. “You know the rules. No rubbers. I guess you're just gonna have to get another abortion. Either that or convince pencil-dick it's his baby.”


I can't do another abortion, Steve,” she said. “I've already had three and the last one nearly killed me. I was so sick I ended up in emergency. Besides, you know dipshit had a vasectomy after Jessica was born. That was your idea to make sure he never got me pregnant.”


Well, what do you wanna do?” Steve asked.


I want to leave and marry you,” she said. “That's all I've ever wanted. And I think Bill's on to us anyway.”


I told you I'm not the marrying kind. Besides, a family could really complicate what I've got going on and I like things the way they are now. Bill works and pays and I get the rewards,” he said. “And don't worry about him knowing anything. Hell, he's so fucking stupid we could fuck right in front of him and he'd never know it.”


Can't you just, you know, do him like you did those other guys?” she said.


Well, those other guys were all illegals anyway. No one would miss them. Besides, who's gonna cry for some scummy drug runners in the country illegally. Hell, I probably secured half the voting block by getting rid of those guys.


It's one thing to put a bullet in the head of an illegal no one knows. It's another thing to do it to a respected member of the community.”


Maybe you can arrange an accident,” Jolene said. “It wouldn't be the first time and you know people get killed driving down Indian Trail all the time.”


The people who do are usually out-of-towners looking for scenery and they don't know the road like he does. There may be something we can do, but let's not off him just yet. Maybe we can find something that'll take him out slowly. You know, like poison. Let's just think it over for a bit before we settle on a plan. We'll have to get rid of him eventually, but let's do it right and do it at the right time, maybe after the kids are out of the house. That way, you'll get his insurance and a good part of his business.


Meanwhile, you go to that new clinic in Abilene. They'll take better care of you than those quacks at the place you went to last time. I'll keep an eye on Billy-boy. If it looks like he's gonna do something stupid like see an attorney I'll have a little talk with him and set him straight. Okay?”


Jolene nodded.


Okay, baby, I'll do it. You're the man,” she said, kissing his face. Jolene turned, straddled Steve and lowered herself on his cock.


Now fuck me,” she said. “Give me all of that cum.”


And the coupling began anew. I stopped the video. Ashley was shaking her head, tears streaming down her face.


I hate that bitch,” she said. “And you stayed with her for seventeen years? Please tell me you went to see a lawyer after that.”


I did go see a lawyer. That was quite a day. Let me tell you about it,” I said, beginning my narrative.


In fact, I had gone to see a lawyer. As I told Ashley, I made an appointment to visit Alan Jackson, the attorney who had taken care of all our family's business and personal legal needs for years. What I learned at that meeting chilled me to the bone.


I recalled my visit to Alan's office. After our initial greeting, I got right to business, showing him just some of the evidence I had, including the DNA report and the video of Jolene's infidelity with Steve.


Alan explained what I could expect. Although Texas is a community property state, a divorce could be granted on the grounds of adultery or cruelty. Although adultery isn't a crime in Texas, it could affect the judge's decision in the distribution of assets and support. It could also be used in civil litigation.


But, Alan told me, the biggest problem I had to face wasn't the law. Legally, he said, I had a slam-dunk case. The problem, he added, was Steve.


Look, Bill,” he told me, “Steve runs this county with an iron fist. He owns the Sheriff's Department, not to mention every judge in the county. And in Texas, you have to file in the county where you have resided for the last 90 days. Frankly, I don't think there's a judge in this county who'll even hear your case.


On top of that, Jolene's pregnancy could drag it out. Texas courts will not finalize a divorce until the baby is born. It doesn't matter who the father is. They do that so any orders regarding the final support can be taken into consideration.


One final thing, Bill. Steve has put out word that you may be looking to divorce Jolene. He's made it clear that we're supposed to inform him of any attempt to initiate divorce proceedings.”


Wait a minute,” I said. “You're telling me that Steve ORDERED you to violate attorney-client privilege, and possibly even violate the law by refusing to report a crime?”


Alan nodded his head.


'Fraid so, Bill. I don't like it one bit, but I have no desire to end up in a shallow grave out on Indian Trail, if you know what I mean. You have no idea what you're up against,” he said. “I'm sorry, Bill. I really don't have a choice in this.”


I couldn't believe what I was hearing.


I'm sorry, too, Alan. Looks like I don't have a choice, either. You're fired. As of right now. I'd like all files pertaining to the family and the business, along with any backups you may have, and I'd like them now,” I said.


I figured that would be your response, so I took the liberty of getting them all together,” he said, pointing to two file boxes on the floor by the door. He pulled out a piece of paper, wrote some notes and handed it to me. “Thank you,” he said, realizing I had given him an out.


Again,” he said. “I'm so sorry. I thought you and he were friends. Is there no way you can look past this with Jolene? You know, for the kids' sake?”


Could you tolerate being unknowingly cuckolded for seventeen years?” I asked him.


Reckon not,” he said. “Let me help you take those files out. It's the least I can do.” He grabbed the file boxes as I closed up my briefcase and walked with me to the truck. Once there, he looked around before speaking again.


Call those people I listed on that paper I gave you, Bill. I didn't want to say anything in the office just in case, but the authorities are very interested in some of Steve's activities. Don't waste any time, please,” he said. “For all I know, Steve's having you watched. Again, I'm so sorry. Maybe after all this is over we can get together and patch things up.”


I shook his hand. “Thanks, Alan, I understand. We'll be in touch.”


I headed back to the office, mulling over everything Alan said. I wasn't too concerned about firing Alan as I knew my Dad would support my decision. My biggest concern was Steve and what he or his cronies might do to the family.


I called the numbers Alan gave me and made appointments with each of the three men listed. One was for an expensive high-power family law attorney with a well-deserved reputation as a blood-sucking shark, another for a state prosecutor and a third for a senior officer in the Texas Rangers. All of them were in Dallas.


I spoke with my father and informed him that I fired Alan as our attorney. He took it well...


What the fuck did you do that for?” he asked.


I explained what Alan told me, then showed him the DNA and video evidence I showed Alan. His tone changed considerably.


Holy crap,” he said. “I suspected Steve was a snake but I had no idea it was this bad. You gotta get those kids out of the house. There's no telling what they'll do.”


I agreed, but wondered what excuse I could use to manage that. Dad had a plan already figured out.


When are your appointments in Dallas?” he asked. I told him my appointment was for tomorrow.


Good. Tell Jolene I'm sending you to Phoenix to do a site survey and you may be gone for a few days. I'll go with you to your house just in case. Have the kids pack up some things and they'll stay with us. Hopefully, that'll throw 'em off the trail for a little while,” he said. “You planning on telling the kids about this?”


I have to, Dad. They deserve to know the truth,” I said. “I won't run down their mom, but they're old enough to make their own decisions.”


Okay, son, you do what you feel is right and your mom and I will support you,” he said.


I called Bryan on his cell phone and explained that he and Jessica would be staying with their grandparents for a while starting today.


What's going on, Dad?” he asked.


I'll tell you later, just make sure that both you and your sister are at home right after school,” I said. “Your grandpa will be taking you from there.”


Okay, Dad, we'll be there,” he said.


Love you guys,” I said. I could almost hear his face turn red with embarrassment.


Love you too, Dad,” he whispered.


A few minutes later, I heard from my secretary.


Bill, Steve Jenkins is here to see you,” she said. I pulled my pistol out of its holster and placed it on my desk where I could easily reach it, started the video recorder to capture the meeting and told my secretary to send him in and let my father know he was here.


Steve walked in the office like he owned the place and immediately saw the 9 mm pistol on my desk.


Quite a piece of hardware you have there,” he said. “Didn't know computer geeks used handguns.”


What do ya want, Steve,” I asked.


Right to the point. Good. Look, I know you went to see Alan Jackson today,” he said.


So? What's that to you?” I asked.


If you're thinking about divorcing Jolene, forget it,” he said. “I don't give a shit if you know about her and I but I'll be damned if I'm going to let you drag me through the mud in court.”


Tell me, Steve, why? I thought we were friends. Why did you and Jolene do this? How long has it been going on?”


How long,” he asked. “That's a good one. You're going to love this. We actually started up back during our senior prom. You remember that, don't you? Ashley was my date for the night, but Jolene and I snuck off for a while and got it on. You were dancing with Ashley when we came back, remember? Hell, we were all 18 at the time so it's not like we were doing anything illegal.”


Then we got back together while you were in Quantico. Remember, I screwed up my knee at Pendleton? We did it quite often until you came back. Jolene got on birth control but I guess she forgot to take it on the day you guys got married,” he said.


You were my best man, you asshole,” I said.


I was hers, too. I gotta admit, I really enjoyed seeing her walk down the aisle. She was so beautiful. Better yet, I knew my cum was dripping out of her pussy the whole time. That's why I was smiling. And guess what? Nine months to the day, Bryan was born,” he said. “Ain't that a kick in the pants?”


Of course, we didn't get back together until you brought her home on leave. That was right before you headed off to Okinawa. Yeah, we had a good ol' time, Jolene and I. Spent almost every night together while you were there. She got pregnant about six months in and got an abortion. Didn't want to have you coming home to a pregnant wife.


Hell, I even fucked her the day your plane landed. And guess what? Nine months later, Jessica came along,” he said.


It was my idea to have Jolene make you get a vasectomy, by the way. We didn't want her to have any of your kids. Figured it'd get too complicated, keeping up with who fathered which kid. Jolene fucked up a couple times over the years and had to go visit the abortionist. Good thing your insurance covers abortion.


We had a great thing going all these years until you decided to get smart. You couldn't just leave it be. Nah, you had to get all indignant and righteous.


So here's how it's going to be, cuck. Now that you know about us, there's no need for a divorce and there's no need for us to hide it. I'll be coming over anytime I want from now on, day or night. When I'm there, I'll be screwing Jolene. In your bed, on your couch, wherever the fuck I want. If you're in bed, I'll drag your ass out and jump in. If you happen to be screwing her at the time, too bad.


And when I'm there, you'll remember that I'm the master of the house. You'll do what I say, when I say and how I say. If I want you to watch me fuck Jolene and clean my cum out of her pussy, you'll do it. And you'll love it.


And if you get any ideas in that little cucky mind of yours to stop me, just think of the kids. I'd hate to see anything bad happen to them. You know, kids end up getting killed all the time these days.”


You motherfucker,” I said. “You touch one hair on those kids and I'll put you down like the rabid dog you are. I don't care if it's the last fucking thing I ever do.”


Talk shit all you want, cuck,” Steve said. “Just remember who's in charge here. Hell, I own this fucking county. I own the Sheriff's Department and I own every goddamn judge at the courthouse. And now I own you. You play ball and things will be just fine. You step out of line and it's lights out. For you AND the kids. Who knows, maybe I'll fuck that pretty little girl who thinks she's your daughter before I slit her throat.”


You'd kill your own children?” I asked. “What the fuck happened to you?”


I grew up,” Steve said. “And you'd better grow up as well, cucky. See ya around.” Steve left the office and I stopped the recording. I burned it to DVD, sent a copy of the video to my father and my contacts in Dallas and called my Dad.


Dad, check your email. We'd better move, like now,” I said. “He just threatened me AND the kids.”


Okay,” my father said. “Let me make a call. You call Bryan and have him get Jess and go to my house. Inform the school and I'll meet you at the house. I think it's time to evict your wife.”


I agreed, and called the school, telling them that under no circumstances was my wife or Steve Jenkins to pick them up or even be in the building, explaining that it could be a matter of life or death. I also informed them that the children needed to leave immediately. I called Bryan and told him to immediately collect Jess and go straight to his grandfather's house, no questions asked.


I'll fill you kids in later today, I promise” I told him. “And under no circumstances are you to have any contact with your mother or Steve. This is extremely important. Do you understand?”


Yeah, Dad, I got it. What's going on?” he asked.


No time to explain right now, son. Just do as I say, okay?”


Okay, Dad,” he said.


I grabbed my gun, the DVD I just burned, left the office and jumped in my truck. I knew my dad would be on his way soon so I didn't wait around. If he said he was gonna be somewhere, that's exactly what would happen. I pulled out and headed home.


About 15 minutes later, I pulled up to my house. I didn't see Steve's truck, but Jolene's car was there. Good. I knew my father would be there soon.


I went into the house, looked around for Steve or anyone else who might be waiting to do me harm. I kept my right hand on the pistol in its holster. I didn't see or hear anyone at first. I took a tentative step into the house. Jolene came down the stairs.


Bill, you're home early,” she said. “Anything wrong?” I looked at her, not saying anything at first.


Is Steve or anyone else here?” I asked.


Why would Steve be here?” she responded.


I think you know why Steve would be here. Maybe to get himself a little afternoon nookie or plot my murder,” I said. Jolene's eyes grew wide and her hand flew to her mouth. “Yeah, Jolene, I know.”


My God,” she said. “I'm sorry.”


Bullshit. Let me show you what your lover just told me, then I'll give you 30 seconds to grab your shit and get the fuck out of my house,” I said. I put the DVD in the player, turned on the TV and hit play on the remote. I watched Jolene's reaction to Steve's confession and his threat.


Bill, it's not what you think,” she said. “Please let me explain. Steve was just talking trash. We can work through this.”


Are you fucking kidding me, bitch? You conspire with Steve to cuckold me from the beginning, then you conspire with him to deny me children and then you conspire with Steve to kill me. Now your lover is threatening to kill his own children if I don't obey him. What the fuck kind of people are you? Now get your shit and get the fuck out! NOW, GODDAMMIT!”


I had never raised my voice to her, but she was clearly scared. I reached out and grabbed her left hand and pulled her rings off. I put my grandmother's ring in my pocket, took off my ring and slapped it into her hand.


Eat it, bitch,” I growled.


Bill, please don't do this to me. I'm sorry,” she whined through her tears.


Yeah, you're sorry, alright. You're a sorry-assed excuse for a wife. Now get the fuck out of here.”


I grabbed her purse and threw it at her. It hit her in the chest. She started for the door. I hurried her along.


Move, dammit!” I said. I was tempted to kick her in the ass, but I was raised to never hit a woman. We got outside and walked to her car. She turned back to me as she opened her door.


Where will I go?” she asked, crying.


First of all,” I said, “stop your goddamn crying. You're getting what you wanted. Second, I don't give a shit. Go to Steve's place, go to your mother's apartment or better yet, GO TO HELL!”


After I said that, I noticed two vehicles coming up the driveway – Dad's truck pulled in first, followed by Steve's. Jolene instantly stopped crying and smirked as she looked at me.


Now, we'll just see who has to leave, babe,” she said sarcastically. “It would've been a lot easier if you had just cooperated with us. Now, you and the kids will be begging us to kill you by the time we're done.”


You'd really kill me and the kids?” I asked.


In a fucking heartbeat,” she said. “And I'll enjoy every fucking minute of it. Don't worry, we'll give y'all a real good show before we start slicing you into pieces.”


Dad turned his truck to block Steve's access to the house and stopped. Steve slammed on his brakes, missing my dad's truck by just a couple feet. Steve jumped out of his truck. So did my dad. He brought out his 12-gauge shotgun, chambered a round and pointed it at Steve.


What the fuck are you doing, Jennings?” Steve shouted.


I'm enforcing the restraining order,” my dad said.


What restraining order?” Steve asked.


The one against you and your lover. The one that says the two of you are required to stay 500 feet from my family, and our property,” Dad said. “And trust me, asshole, I'd love nothing more than to blow your fucking head off right now. So just get back in your truck and back the hell out of here.”


Steve wasn't used to being spoken to like this and stopped moving forward. Two vehicles with flashing lights pulled into the driveway, stopping behind Steve's truck. Four state DPS officers got out, guns drawn.


We got it from here, Mr. Jennings,” one officer said, walking up to Steve. Dad lowered his shotgun as the officer served Steve with the restraining order. “Is that her?” he asked as he nodded his head at Jolene. Dad shook his head. The officer walked toward Jolene and I and handed her a paper.


Mrs. Jennings, you've been served with an order requiring you to remain 500 feet from any member of the Jennings family and any property under the control of the Jennings Historic Family Trust, which includes this home,” he said. “If you refuse to obey this order, you will be taken into custody. Do you understand?”


Yes, I do,” Jolene said quietly.


Excuse me, officer,” I said as he began to turn away. He stopped and looked at me.


Yes, Mr. Jennings?” he asked. I pulled a digital audio recorder from my shirt pocket.


I'd appreciate it if you could take Jolene and Mr. Jenkins into custody,” I said.


And why would I do that,” he asked. I pressed the play button and let them hear the threat Jolene just made against me and the children. Jolene looked like she was going to start crying. The officer looked hard at her before taking out his handcuffs.


Mrs. Jennings, you are under arrest. Please turn around and place your hands behind your back,” he said. After cuffing Jolene and reading her Miranda rights, he called another officer on his radio and instructed him to arrest Steve.


You're gonna pay for this, asshole,” Jolene said as she was led away in cuffs. “All of you are gonna pay.”


By now, another vehicle had turned into the driveway. A news van from a local television station had stopped and a reporter followed by a camera crew were walking up the drive as Steve was being arrested. They managed to get coverage of his arrest which made it to the evening news.


Steve was not happy, to say the least.


Goddammit, do you know who I am?” he asked the state officer putting him in cuffs.


Yessir, I do,” the officer said. “And frankly, I don't give a shit. You're still under arrest.”


I'll have your badge for this,” a red-faced Steve yelled.


I realized I should have mentioned their conspiracy to murder me and the children, but I didn't have that evidence on me – part of it was still in the DVD player in the house – and things were moving rather quickly. Still, I knew my contacts in Dallas had the evidence and were working on the charges.


The news van backed up and moved so the patrol cars could get out of the driveway. The reporter and her cameraman came up to me, my dad in tow.


Mr. Jennings, can you explain why Commissioner Jenkins was just arrested?” she asked.


Yes, I can,” I said. “The last time I looked, it's still a crime to threaten murder and even popular politicians like Steve and his married girlfriend are subject to the law. Now if you don't mind, I have children to look after.”


I walked away and Dad joined me, leaving the reporter and her cameraman in shock. Steve was well-thought of by the voters in our county, and I knew that his reputation as a “family values” guy had just taken a huge hit. Unfortunately, the voters didn't know Steve the way I did. But I would make sure they did.


My next stop was to my parent's house where I would explain all to what was left of my family.


I hated telling my children that the man they knew as “Uncle Steve” was really their biological father. But I felt I owed them the truth. At first they didn't want to believe it, but I had the DNA test results to prove it.


I don't care what that piece of paper says,” Jessica said. “You're my dad and you always will be.”


I agree,” Bryan said. I loved these kids and I was so proud of them, even if Steve was the sperm donor. We shared a group hug and shed some tears.


After a tearful 'so long' to the kids and my folks, I went back to my house, grabbed enough stuff to hold me over for a couple days and headed to Dallas.


And that's when you learned how bad things really were?” Ashley asked, interrupting my narrative.


Yeah,” I said, resuming my narrative after taking another sip of coffee.


The next day I met with Dave Brooks, the Dallas attorney well-known as a bloodthirsty shark who generally got his way in the courtroom. What I didn't know is that he had arranged for me to meet with all three of the men I had reached out to. I was rather surprised to see them all there when I showed up at his office early that day.


Sorry to bushwhack you like this, Mr. Jennings,” Dave said, “but after that last video you sent us we felt it would be better if all of us got together at once.”


I accepted his apology and he introduced me to the other two men.


John Hancock, the prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office, shook my hand and took charge of the meeting.


Mr. Jennings, let me start by apologizing for what you've been going through,” he said. “There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to put it out there.


We have evidence – lots of it – showing that Steve Jenkins is not only involved in a number of criminal activities, but that he has been helped by your wife. Not only is he involved in running drugs, but we have proof that he has been running guns, engaged in human trafficking and human slavery and is also involved in a prostitution ring. Worse yet, forensics has tied him directly to at least six murders.


Moreover, your wife is implicated in most of that activity, especially the prostitution. We had hoped that we might have had a little more time to put it all together, but the threats against you and your children have forced us to move our timetable up significantly,” he said.


The third man, Don Jacobs, a Captain in the Texas Rangers, gave a brief rundown from his perspective. He made it clear to me that the entire Sheriff's Department had been compromised and could not be trusted to do its job. As a result, he said, efforts were underway to temporarily replace the department with Rangers and officers with the DPS until replacements could be trained and hired.


Unfortunately, that includes the corrections facilities where Jenkins and your wife are being held,” he said. “So we need to move fast before things get worse.”


As for your divorce,” Dave said, “I'm going to push for an annulment given your wife's criminal activity and the trickery she and Jenkins used against you. If that doesn't work, we'll file on grounds of adultery and mental cruelty. From what you've provided, I believe you'll come away with all of your assets along with custody of the children, if that's what you want.”


We talked for about another hour, discussing strategy and possible scenarios.


Dave handed me a DVD he said contained videos of my wife's activities taken by private and state investigators. Some of them, he said, were quite graphic in nature and involved a number of men, including Sheriff's deputies.


John wrapped up by telling me what he intended to do with Steve and Jolene.


I'm not going to sugar-coat this, Mr. Jennings,” he said. “I'm going for the death penalty here, at least with Jenkins. Your wife may luck out and just get life in prison with no parole.”


I have to warn you, though,” he added. “Your life and the lives of your family members are in danger. Be very careful. From what I've seen, you and your kids are damn lucky to be alive right now. People who cross those two usually end up dead.


You have our direct numbers, though. So if you see or suspect anything, you call us, immediately, hear?”


I hear ya,” I said.


We shook hands and departed. My mind was in a daze. The man I once considered my best friend was not only a murderer, he was into drugs, guns, prostitution, you name it. And my so-called loving wife was all part of it.


The trip home was spent thinking over all that had happened the last seventeen years. How could I have not seen it? Was I really so blinded by love and friendship?


I finally got back to town and got a frantic call from my son.


Dad, you need to come home, right now,” Bryan said.


What's going on?” I asked.


Just get home, NOW,” he said, hanging up.


I stomped on the gas and made it home in about 20 minutes. I saw the ambulance and the DPS patrol cars out front and immediately thought about what I was told.


I rushed to the door just as the paramedics wheeled a gurney outside. I stopped them to find out what happened. A paramedic lifted back a corner of the sheet revealing Jolene's face.


I'm sorry, Mr. Jennings,” the paramedic said. “She's gone.”


Strangely enough, I wasn't all that upset. I went inside to find Steve being lifted on another gurney. His left shoulder was shredded from a shotgun blast, but he was still alive judging from his groans. I saw the kids and my father standing off to the side. Thank God they seemed to be okay, I thought.


Avoiding the blood on the carpet, I made my way around to them and hugged them all after making sure they were okay.


What happened,” I asked. My father responded.


I brought the kids here to get a few things,” he said. “We were here for a few minutes when those two came inside. I guess they managed to make bail. Jessica and Jolene got into it and Steve drew a pistol. I heard the commotion and came in the back door. Bryan and I were out back getting some stuff. I grabbed my shotgun and came in here just as Steve drew his pistol. Jolene tried to get him to put the gun down, but it went off. He shot her, accidentally, I think. Right in the gut. I took Steve's shoulder out and called 911. That's when Bryan called you.


Jolene didn't last very long. She was gone by the time paramedics arrived. I'm sorry, son,” he said. I shook my head.


It's alright, Dad,” I said. “You did the right thing.”


That's when I remembered I still had the security system running on the home server. I checked and sure enough, the entire incident was captured on video. I showed the video to one of the officers as another was taking statements from my dad and the kids. He asked me to make a copy, so I did.


I stopped my narration long enough to take another sip of coffee.


Do you have that video here,” Ashley asked.


As a matter of fact, yes, I do,” I said, pulling it from the stack. I put it in the DVD player and hit the button on the remote.


The video began with Jolene and Steve entering the house through the front door. Shortly afterward, Jessica was seen entering the room.


What are you two doing here?” she asked. “You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be in jail.”


We made bail,” Jolene said. “And we came by to get you kids. You're coming with us.”


I'm not going anywhere with either one of you,” Jessica said. “You need to leave, now.”


Jolene grabbed Jessica by the wrist.


Oh, yes, you are, young lady. You and your brother are leaving with us now,” Jolene said. Jessica struggled and pulled away from her mother.


No way, bitch,” Jessica yelled. “I hate you and I'm not going anywhere with you.”


Jolene slapped her hard across the face. “Oh, yes you are,” she replied. “I've got a nice little room set up for you in Abilene. You're going to go and you're going to do exactly what I say.”


Jessica struck back, hitting her mother full in the face.


Not gonna happen,” she said. Jessica, stung by the blow, grabbed both of Jessica's arms.


Oh but yes, you are,” she said. “You're gonna be our new star. Isn't she, Steve?” Steve smirked as he responded.


The guys are gonna love you, little girl,” he said. Steve and Jolene laughed as the realization of what they planned dawned on Jessica. She struggled even harder and eventually broke free of her mother's grip.


I'm not going, and you can't make me,” she said. “Now get the hell away from me.”


Steve pulled a pistol out of his belt and began waving it as he spoke.


Well, then I guess it's lights out for you and your brother,” he said.


Jolene turned to Steve and tried to reason with him as Jessica began screaming for her grandfather.


Wait, Steve, we agreed we wouldn't kill them here. Let's take them out to the spot by Indian Trail where they won't be found. You know the place,” she said. Steve shook his head angrily.


No,” he said. “I want that cucky wimp of yours to watch me fuck her before I blow her pretty little brains out.” That aggravated Jolene even further.


No, Steve, put the gun down before you have an accident. We'll take care of them, but not here. We have to stick to our plan,” she said.


The two began wrestling and a loud report was heard, followed by an even louder shot. Jolene was thrown backward by the .45 caliber hollow-point fired at point-blank range into her abdomen as Steve was thrown backwards by the shotgun blast that ripped his left shoulder to pieces.


I stopped the DVD at that point.


That's when I got the call from Bryan,” he said. “You pretty much know the rest from here.”


Ashley wiped tears from her eyes as I got up off the couch.


I've about had enough for the night if you don't mind,” I said. “I think I'll step out back and have a smoke, then hit the rack.” Ashley got up and followed me out.


I'll join you if you don't mind,” she said.


We got a fresh cup of coffee and stepped on the back porch. For a while, neither of us said anything. Ashley broke the silence.


I've forgotten how dark and quiet it is out here,” she said. “I guess I've gotten used to city life.”


She looked at me before saying anything else.


Bill, you've got to get closure on this before it tears you up,” she said.


Easier said than done,” I told her. “How do you deal with the fact that the woman you loved all those years was lying to you the whole time? I feel like I've been cheated out of an entire life. My kids aren't even mine, for crying out loud.”


I know a bit of what you're feeling,” she said. “Remember, my husband was a serial cheater. But not everyone's like them.”


Yeah, I know,” I said quietly. Ashley put her arm around me, trying to comfort me.


Whatever it takes, Bill, just know that I'm here for you, okay? I'll always be here for you.” I hugged her back and thanked her. It was comforting to have her there and she felt really good next to me.


I can't tell you how many times I wished we'd gotten together in school,” she said. I thought the same thing. “Maybe if my dad hadn't been reassigned to Austin we would've. And none of this would have happened. You know, I was kinda jealous of Jolene back in those days.”


Really?” I asked. “But you were with Steve.”


We only dated because you and Jolene were an item back then. But I had my doubts even then. I knew Steve wasn't one to get tied down to one girl. He even told me,” she said.


Well, no sense crying over it now,” I said. “Besides, if you and I had've gotten together, you wouldn't have become a big city reporter.”


Pffft,” she said. “Yeah, right. You know there's times I'd give all that up just to be with a good man,” she added, looking up at me. I looked back at her.


You know, I believe you would at that,” I said.


We went back inside after a while and prepared to call it a day. I decided to crash on the couch as I had done so many times since Jolene was shot. Even though a DPS officer was posted outside, I was still concerned that some of Steve's cronies could get inside. On top of that, I was still a bit unsure of where things might go with Ashley and I didn't want to push the issue, considering that I had only slept with one woman for my entire adult life. Ashley understood, fortunately.


Just don't make it a habit, cowboy,” she said smiling.


I laid down and slept soundly, waking up to the smell of – BACON!


Rise and shine,” Ashley said, standing over me in a long t-shirt. “Breakfast is on, so come and get it!”


I got off the couch and headed to the kitchen table and took in the spread before me. Ashley had gone all out, fixing pancakes, bacon, sausage links, grits, toast, eggs and biscuits and gravy. My kind of breakfast. She even remembered to put peanut butter on the table. I was one of those guys who loved peanut butter on pancakes.


A fella can get used to this,” I said. Ashley came to the table with a fresh pot of coffee. “How long have you been up?”


Not long. I hope you like it,” she said. “It's been a while since I've cooked breakfast for a man.”


It sure smells good. You'd certainly get my mom's seal of approval for this,” I said. “I'm impressed. Didn't you cook like this for your husband?”


I said, for a 'man.' My ex-husband's idea of breakfast was an egg biscuit at a fast food place. Blechhh,” she said. “Dig in, cowboy, we have a lot to do today,” she added, smiling.


So, what's on the agenda for today?” I asked, savoring the feast on my plate.


Well,” she said. “I'd like to see your family today, then I thought we'd go see Jolene's mother. I thought she might be able to give some insight into Jolene's thought processes. Then if there's time, I'd like to go by the cemetery and get a picture of Jolene's final resting place.


And by the way, if you expect breakfast like this tomorrow morning, we'll need to stop at the store. You're just about out of everything,” she said.


I wolfed down my food like I hadn't eaten in a week, stopping long enough to sip my coffee and express my verbal appreciation of Ashley's cooking. Jolene hadn't cooked a breakfast like this in years and I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.


I finished my meal, feeling more satisfied than I had in a long time. I got up and gave Ashley a hug and a kiss, thanking her for the wonderful breakfast.


That was absolutely fantastic,” I told her. “Reckon I'd better go get ready.”


Please do,” she said. “You're wonderful, but you need a shave.”


I went upstairs and thought about Ashley as I showered and shaved. In less than 24 hours, I found myself falling for her, just like I had in school. Could it be, I wondered, that Ashley and I were meant to be together? For the first time in months, I felt content.


Ashley had used the other upstairs shower and was dressed in denim jeans and a t-shirt. She looked so much like she did so long ago. Grabbing her laptop bag and her purse, she urged me on.


We went to my parents' house and were greeted by the two kids, who ran out of the house as I pulled up. I introduced everyone to Ashley and we went into the living room. Ashley explained what she wanted to do and asked if she could speak to the everyone one-on-one in private. We all agreed, so my mom excused herself and went into the kitchen to fix lunch while my dad led me into the den.


Ashley started with Jessica and after spending an hour with her, spoke at length with Bryan.


Dad and I waited and spent most of the time talking “guy” stuff – hunting, fishing, football, you name it. We both avoided anything having to do with Jolene and/or Steve. After a couple hours, Ashley came into the den and asked to speak with my dad. I took the hint, grabbed the kids and went outside to toss a football.


It took a little more than an hour, but she finished with both my parents and came outside to join us until lunch was ready. The kids really seemed to connect with Ashley, and she seemed to enjoy spending time with us. We split into teams of two and played a short game of touch football. Jessica and I teamed up against Ashley and Bryan and we had a great time until Mom said lunch was ready. It felt good to relax with Ashley and the kids and for a time I felt like I had a happy family again.


We said our goodbyes after lunch and prepared to leave. Jessica caught up to me before I walked out the door.


Dad,” she whispered as she hugged me, “if you don't ask her to marry you, I swear I'll kick your ass.” What could I say? I promised her I'd give it a lot of thought.


So, how did your interviews go?” I asked Ashley after we left.


They went very well, thanks,” she said. “Bill, I know that trust is a real issue with you right now, so I'd like to explain why I interviewed everyone privately.” She was quite perceptive – maybe a result of those reporter instincts.


It's good journalistic practice to get independent corroboration, you know. Not that I didn't believe you, I did. And I do. I saw those videos with you, remember. But I wanted them all to feel free to express themselves without any outside influence. I hope you understand,” she said.


Actually, I did understand, and the fact that she had volunteered her explanation without me saying anything meant a lot.


I do understand, Ashley. You're doing your job and you're a professional. So, did you learn anything new?”


Actually, I did,” she said. “Jessica told me that Steve had made advances toward her and had been for quite some time.”


That sonofabitch,” I said.


I also learned that your family loves you very much and thinks the world of you,” she added. “They also loved Jolene, but they had issues with her and thought something had been going on. They didn't say anything because they didn't want to interfere with your marriage. I think if they had known anything concrete they would've said something.”


What else did you learn?” I asked.


I learned what it's like to be part of a close family. And I loved it,” she said. “I really enjoyed spending that time with you and the kids. Thank you for including me.”


My pleasure,” I said. “The kids and I had a great time, too. I think you made quite an impression on them.”


We pulled into the apartment complex where Jolene's mother, Myrna, lived, parked and headed for the door.


You want to interview her privately as well?” I asked.


I don't think that'll be necessary,” she said. “Besides, something tells me you and her should clear the air on all of this.”


Myrna Carter answered the door on the first knock and invited us in. She moved slowly, partly due to her health and partly due to depression. Her husband – Jolene's father – died a few years back in a mysterious crash and with Jolene's death, she was left alone with no direct family.


How are you feeling?” I asked, giving her a hug.


I'm managing, Bill, thanks for asking,” she said. She hugged Ashley and looked her up and down. “Ashley Marks, you're just as lovely now as you were in high school. Thanks for coming out to see an old woman.”


Ashley smiled as Myrna motioned for us to sit.


So, what brings you here?” she asked.


I explained what Ashley was doing and Myrna nodded her head in approval.


So what can I tell you?” she asked.


Well, Mrs. Carter, I'm curious about something. This affair between Jolene and Steve went on for her entire marriage. You had to have known about it. I'm curious to know why you didn't say anything to Bill?”


Myrna looked down before answering. She looked embarrassed.


Yes, I knew,” she said. “I'm sorry, Bill, I should've said something to you. You didn't deserve what they did to you.”


How long did you know?” I asked.


Almost from the beginning,” she said. “You remember that year you spent in Okinawa? Steve practically lived with Jolene that whole year. They were careful to make sure he wasn't at the house when your folks were around. I told her she was making a huge mistake but she refused to listen to me.”


So,” I began, “if Jolene wanted to be with Steve so much, why did she marry me? I would have let her go if she'd just said she wanted to be with him.”


She was a confused girl, Bill. She actually loved both of you, in different ways. You see, to her, you were stable, reliable. A good husband and father. Steve, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with raising kids. He was always a wild child and didn't want to get tied down. You were her rock and he was her sense of adventure.”


I'm sorry, Myrna,” I said. “Jolene had sex with Steve the day we got married. She had two children by him and passed them off as mine. She ultimately plotted to kill us all. Those aren't the actions of a loving wife.”


I know it's hard to believe, Bill,” Myrna said. “But she did love you, at least in the beginning. That's what she told me, anyway.”


So, what happened?” Ashley asked. “What changed Jolene so much?”


Well, Ashley, people change over time, I guess,” Myrna said. “Steve had his hooks in Jolene and before long, he controlled her. I said something once to her about it but she warned me that if I said anything to Bill, I'd come to regret it.”


Myrna looked at me.


That's why I quit coming over to see the kids, Bill. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't go over there and look you guys in the eye knowing what Jolene was doing. I knew that I would probably say something that would trigger them. They scared the living daylights out me sometimes.”


Did you know about her abortions?” Ashley asked. Myrna nodded.


Yes, I did. Jolene did confide in me about that. I told her she was being stupid and would get caught eventually, but she just shrugged it off. Said it was her choice and Bill didn't have any say in the matter. I suggested she should just do the right thing and divorce Bill. She laughed and said she would never get divorced. Said it wouldn't be long before she inherited everything Bill had anyway.”


How long ago was that?” Ashley asked.


I don't know, maybe a year and a half or so by now,” Myrna said. We let that hang in the air for a few seconds. So, Jolene and Steve had been planning do do me in for a long time. “I wanted to say something, Bill, but I was so scared. You know how intimidating Steve could be.” I knew.


Something nagged at me about all of this, so I spoke up.


Myrna, did your husband know about all this?” I asked.


I think he did,” she said. “I know he and Steve had words shortly before the accident.” Myrna's husband was well known as one of, if not the best, mechanic in the area and he took very good care of all his vehicles. Investigators called the accident a fluke, but were never able to explain how one brake line mysteriously failed and how a tie rod mysteriously got loose.


I guess that's all water under the bridge now, isn't it?” Myrna asked.


I don't blame you and the kids for not coming to the memorial service, by the way. Especially after the way she did you guys. I had hoped a few of her old friends would show up, but it was just me and the minister,” she added, wiping a tear from her eye. “I do want to thank you, though, Bill, for paying for the cremation. I thought it was interesting that you had them put her in her wedding dress, though. I had hoped that maybe Jessica would have wanted it.”


Ashley looked at me. “You cremated her in her wedding dress? Really? Why?”


I told you I burned her wedding dress. I just didn't tell you that she was in it at the time. I also made sure she was wearing the wedding ring I gave her. Truthfully, I thought it was fitting. I figured she had no use for our marriage, so...”


A final bit of revenge. I get it. You cremated her wedding ring, too?” Ashley asked. “But not the engagement ring.” I nodded. She seemed halfway amused as she made notes.


Anyway,” Myrna said, “I want to thank you for making sure I got Jolene's IRA. It really helped, being on a fixed income and all.”


Jolene had an IRA?” Ashley asked.


Yes,” I said. “She had about $350,000 in it when she was shot. I didn't even know she had it at the time. She also had another $200,000 in a savings account I didn't know anything about. I put that into a trust fund for the kids' college. Don't ask me how she did it 'cause I don't think I really want to know.”


Interesting,” she said, going back to her notepad. She turned to Myrna.


Mrs. Carter, is there anything else you can add?” Myrna shook her head.


Nothing that jumps out at me right now. I think y'all know pretty much everything else.” Myrna looked at me. “I'm so sorry things turned out the way they did, Bill.”


I hugged her. “It's okay, Myrna. Look, feel free to come by and see the kids any time you want, okay? I'm sure they'd love to see you.” She nodded and thanked me before giving Ashley a hug.


Thanks for coming by,” she said as we prepared to leave. “And please, don't be strangers, okay?” We promised to stay in touch and left.


You cremated her in her wedding dress and her wedding ring?” Ashley asked as we got in the pickup.


It seemed like the thing to do at the time,” I said. Ashley went back to her notes as I made the short drive to the cemetery. We wound our way through the well-kept grounds until we got to the columbary that held her ashes.


The short granite marker had a plaque that simply read, “Jolene Carter,” and listed the year she was born and the year she died. Nothing else on the plaque gave any indication of who or what she was.


At least you treated her remains with a bit of dignity,” Ashley said.


Well,” I said, “that was mostly for Myrna's sake. If it had been up to me, I would've just flushed her ashes down the toilet.”


Interesting you had them use her maiden name,” she added.


Yeah, I figured that since she had no use for our family in life I wouldn't burden her with the family name for all eternity,” I said. “They tried to get me to put something on the marker, like, 'loving wife and mother.' I figured they wouldn't inscribe 'cheating slut whore' or 'lying, scheming bitch' so I just kept it simple.”


Ashley took her photos and turned to me and placed a hand on my chest.


There's a lot of anger there, still, isn't there? Tell me, Bill, did you ever mourn her? At all?” she asked.


The truth was, I hadn't. In fact, I hadn't shed a single tear since she was shot. All the love I had for her had been burned away by her lying and cheating. Her threats against the children and myself pretty much did away with any feelings I had for her. A part of me was ashamed and that brought a tear to my eye. Dammit, I didn't want to do this in front of Ashley. I shook my head and started to turn away so Ashley wouldn't see me cry. She stopped me and made me face her.


You need to get this out of you, Bill, before it eats you up,” she said. “Let it go so you can move on with your life.”


What life, Ashley?” I asked. “Everything I thought I had all these years was all a lie. Everything.” I shook my head as tears began to roll down my cheeks. Ashley wrapped her arms around me and held me tight. That did it. I sobbed, uncontrollably, for quite some time. Ashley said nothing, but held me tight the whole time, planting kisses on my face from time to time.


I finally settled down and looked at Ashley. I wiped a tear from her face as it traveled down her cheek.


What's this?” I asked.


She was my friend, too, remember? The four of us – you, me, Steve, Jolene – the 'Four Musketeers?' I loved her like a sister back then,” she said. “I hate what she turned into, but I still loved her. You loved her too, for a very long time. You married her, raised two kids with her. That's got to mean something.”


I guess you're right,” I said.


Damn straight, cowboy. I'm here for you, now, Bill,” she added. “And I'll be here as long as you need or want me, got it?” I smiled.


I got it,” I told her. She smiled and patted my chest.


We gotta get to the store before it gets too late,” she said. “What do ya wanna do about dinner?”


I thought for a moment before answering.


What about a trip to Charley's?” I asked. “They make a killer steak and there'll be a band tonight.”


Are you asking me out on a date? In front of your wife's ashes?”


Why not?” I asked. She smiled, kissed me on the lips and looked at Jolene's marker.


Bye, Jolene,” she said. “Your husband is taking me out on a date.”


I looked at the marker for a moment before getting back in the truck. “Bye, dear,” I whispered. I thought I heard a quiet sob next to me, but no one was there. I figured it was the wind causing my mind to play tricks on me, but I wasted no time getting back to the truck where Ashley was waiting for me.


You okay,” she asked.


Yeah,” I said, starting the pickup. “Let's go stock up for breakfast and get ready for the evening.”


We stopped off at the Farmer's market where we loaded up on eggs, bread, milk, bacon and whatever else Ashley thought we might need then headed home.


Home – what a concept. For some time I had thought of this place as just a house, a place where I slept. But being here with Ashley just seemed natural to me now. I showered, shaved and dressed, then waited for Ashley to finish doing whatever it is women do when they get ready to go out.


Finally, she came down the stairs in a denim skirt that fell a couple inches above her knees and a white blouse. She completed the ensemble with a pair of fairly expensive cowboy boots. A woman after my own heart. She was lovely. And tonight, she was my date. I offered her my arm and together we walked to our “chariot.”


Charley's was well known in our area for serving the best steaks with all the trimmings. Potatoes, and green beans with soft biscuits completed the meal. Afterward, we enjoyed a beer and eyed the dance floor, where a few other couples had already begun dancing.


Wanna dance?” I asked.


Sure,” Ashley said.


We danced. And danced. And danced some more. We did the two-step, some fast waltzes, several slow dances and even took part in some line dancing, something I hadn't done in a very long time. Ashley was with me the whole time but did take a couple breaks to the ladies' room.


We were dancing to a slow tune with our arms around each other when Ashley stopped and planted a soft sensuous kiss on me. Our tongues wrestled for a bit, causing me to get pretty excited down below. She leaned into my ear.


I love you, Bill Jennings,” she whispered. “I always have, and I always will.”


There it was. And to tell the truth, I was falling in love with her, too.


I love you too, Ashley Marks,” I said. She licked her lips nervously for a moment.


Take me home and make mad passionate love to me, cowboy,” she said. “Otherwise, I'll have no choice but to jump your bones right here.”


Who could pass that offer up?


By the way,” she said. “I have a confession to make. I'm not wearing anything under all this. Nothing. No bra, no panties. Nothing.” She leaned in closer and I knew she could feel my growing erection.


Then we'd better go get this situation under control, little lady,” I said in my best horrible John Wayne impersonation. She smiled, took my hand and led me to the parking lot. By the time we got to my crew cab pickup, she had unbuttoned the first three buttons on her blouse. Getting inside, she unbuttoned the fourth button and opened her shirt, displaying her C-cup breasts.


They're all yours,” she said. I bent down and took one hard nipple in my mouth. She moaned, and pressed my head into her breast. She brought my face up close to hers and gave me a sloppy wet kiss.


Take me home and fuck me, now,” she purred.


You got it, babe,” I said.


I got up and made my way to the driver's side. By the time I closed my door, she had removed her top and was now naked from the waist up. She began pulling her boots off, something not so easy to do in the cab. She managed to get them off and tossed them in the back seat after taking her socks off. She turned her attention to her skirt and unbuttoned it, flashing her legs as she went. Lifting herself off her seat, she pulled the skirt off completely and tossed it in the back, leaving her completely naked.


Thank God it was dark and my windows were tinted as dark as the law would allow, I thought. Otherwise, we could get pulled over. Nevertheless, I was enjoying the show Ashley was putting on for me.


She spread her legs wide, grabbed my hand and placed it directly on her mound. I noticed it was smooth-shaven and my cock felt like it was about to break through my jeans.


I shaved it just for you,” she said. “I hope you like it.” I did, and I told her so.


God, baby, I love it,” I said, rubbing her pussy lips, now soaking wet. She moaned as she moved her hips.


Hurry,” she said. “I'm so fucking horny for you and I need you in me right now.”


I kept rubbing her pussy and slid a finger inside her. She threw her head back, and pushed my finger deeper inside.


I need your cock right now,” she said, leaning toward me. She grabbed my shirt and pulled it open, ripping a couple buttons off in the process. I really didn't care.


Keep your eyes on the road, mister,” she said as she began kissing and licking my chest. Her hands moved to my jeans and she swiftly undid my belt, then unzipped my jeans. She started pulling my jeans and boxers down.


I lifted myself off the seat enough for her to get them down.


Mmmmm,” she moaned as she took my erection in her hand. “This is lovely,” she said. “Wonder what it tastes like?”


I almost ran off the road as she took my cock in her mouth. My god, I thought as her warm wet mouth went slowly up and down on me. She used her tongue in ways I never thought possible, bringing me to the brink. Sensing that I was about to explode, she backed off and went back to kissing my chest.


We're almost home,” I told her.


Good,” she whispered.


We finally made it to the house. I parked in the garage and hit the button shutting the large door. I couldn't wait to get out of the truck and had to pull my jeans up to keep from tripping. I ran to her door, and saw her spread wide for me in her seat, her shaved pussy literally dripping.


It's all yours if you want it,” she said.


I wasted no time and went down on her. After giving her an orgasm with my tongue, Ashley reciprocated with a toe-curling blowjob, with her kneeling on the garage floor and me against the truck. After swallowing everything I gave her, she stood and kissed me deeply.


Race you to the bedroom,” she said.


Let's go,” I said, and we both took off. She got a head start as I had to pull my jeans up – again. We made love to each other for what seemed like hours, giving each other several orgasms in the process. Unlike Jolene, Ashley was a vocal wildcat in bed. Her dirty talk kept me going.


Fuck me,” was just one of the many things she said over and over.


We enjoyed each other in just about every position we could think of – missionary, doggy, cowboy, you name it. I especially loved it when she straddled me and sat down on my cock, riding me like a cowgirl as I sucked on her breasts.


Eventually, we calmed down and laid on the bed, her in my arms. I thought about the events of the last day or two. Just 36 hours ago, I was a depressed, despondent man getting over the pain of a cheating, lying slut of a spouse who repeatedly disrespected me with the man I once considered my best friend.


Now, I had Ashley, who showed me what it felt like to love again. I knew what I wanted to do, but was afraid she would think I was moving too fast.


Fuck it, I thought. Full speed ahead. I looked at her face, framed by her long dark hair. She was looking up at me.


Penny for your thoughts,” she said.


I don't ever want this to end,” I told her.


Me neither,” she said. “What do you propose we do about that?” Interesting choice of words, I thought. Must be those darn reporter instincts again. I opened the drawer of my nightstand and pulled out a small box – the one that held my great-grandmother's engagement ring. I had taken it down to the jeweler's for a thorough cleaning after I took it from Jolene.


Ashley was sitting up in the bed by now, her attention riveted on the box. I told her about the ring and what it meant to me.


The ring was originally given to my great-grandmother a couple of years before my great-grandfather went to fight the Germans in World War One. He fought in the battle of Belleau Wood, the 1917 battle where the Marines earned the nickname “devil dogs.” He survived the war, but his exposure to German gas shortened his life considerably. My great-grandmother handed the ring down to her oldest son, who presented it to his bride-to-be. After Pearl Harbor, he fought the Japanese in the Pacific, and was wounded at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. My grandfather came home and they had two boys, one of which was my dad. By the time my grandmother neared her passing, my parents had been married for a while, so it was agreed the ring would go to me.


So you see, Ashley, this ring not only represents my love to you, it also represents over 100 years of Jennings family history. I'll understand if you'd rather have a new ring, but I just want you to know what this means to me. It's not just a 'hand-me-down.'”


Ashley looked at me, a tear in her eye.


Yes,” she said. “To both. I'll marry you and I promise to spend my life making you the happiest man alive. And I'd be proud to wear your great-grandmother's ring. There's just one condition.”


Condition?” I asked.


Yes,” she said. “Promise me you'll get your vasectomy reversed. I plan on giving you a whole house full of children. Maybe one day I'll be able to pass this on to one of our grandkids.”


I smiled and slipped the ring on her finger and we kissed for quite a while before making love one more time before falling asleep in each other's arms.


I woke the next morning to the next best thing to sex – the smell of bacon! I did my morning thing and went downstairs to see a nearly-nude Ashley making another of her killer breakfasts. I gave her a kiss and noticed she was only wearing an apron.


Don't want the girls getting splattered with bacon grease,” she said, pointing to her breasts.


We enjoyed breakfast and got our things ready for the trip back to Dallas. We decided to shower together, which naturally led to another steamy session of lovemaking.


I decided to call the kids and give them the news after we finally got dressed and packed. I dialed the number and put the phone on speaker so Ashley and I could both hear their response.


Woo-hoo!” Bryan yelled when I told them we were getting married. Jessica was just as happy.


Way to go, dad,” she said. “You got a real winner there.”


Congratulations, you guys,” my dad said. “And welcome to the family, Ashley.”


Thank you, Mr. Jennings,” she said.


'Mr. Jennings' was my dad,” he said, laughing. “You can call me 'Pop' if you want to.”


Okay, Pop,” Ashley said. “Thanks again.”


Ashley, I'm so happy for you two,” my mother said. “Have you guys set a date yet?”


Not yet,” Ashley said. “I have some things to get squared away in Austin first, but it'll be just as soon as possible.”


I had one more item to discuss with the children.


Bryan,” I said. “You know, I think it would really be nice if you and Jessica stopped by and paid your Grandma Carter a visit every once in a while. Just stop over to say hi and let her know you're thinking of her. She's still your grandmother and she misses you. What do ya say?”


Okay, Dad,” he said.


Atta boy,” I told him. Bryan and Jessica were great kids and I knew they'd do the right thing.


We said our goodbyes and loaded the pickup for the trip back. Something Ashley said to my mother stuck in my mind.


I almost forgot you work in Austin. What are your plans? I mean, long-distance relationships don't always work out,” I said.


Well, you know Jake Carson will be retiring as the managing editor of the Daily Record?” she asked, referring to the local area paper. I didn't know that but motioned for her to continue. “Well, I sent my resume last week before we met and they're interested in talking to me about the job. He won't be retiring for about three months and it'll take me two months to wrap things up at the Statesman anyway.”


What if you don't get the job?” I asked.


No biggee,” she said. “I'll quit my job and come live with this guy I know in the area,” she teased. “Anyway, I understand no one else is really interested in the job and the board is pretty keen on having a woman in charge, especially one with my level of experience. And I have some ideas on ways to improve circulation.”


Sounds like you have it all figured out,” I said.


Well, I do like to be prepared,” she said.


However it works out, you know I'll support you 100 percent, right?” I asked.


She wrapped her arms around my neck and looked me in the eye.


And that's just part of the reason I love you so much,” she said. “Think of it. If I stayed at the Statesman, there's no telling where I'd get sent. Or for how long. I've been called in the middle of the night and sent clear across the country to cover some dipshit politician. Then sent from there to the other side of the country to cover something else. I'm tired of living in hotels. So when I saw this opportunity I had to jump on it. May not be much of a pay increase. In fact, it could end up being a pay cut, but it'd be worth it to me just to stay in one place.


And if I don't get the job, that's fine too. I can always write online, maybe do some freelance stuff or even write a book. Maybe I can start a blog about stupid people who cheat on their spouses. Personally, I'd rather spend all my time in bed with you.”


I like that plan best,” I told her. “Come on, let's head out.”


After closing up the house, I picked a few flowers from the flower bed in front of the house.


If you don't mind, I'd like to make a stop on the way out,” I said.


Oh?” she asked. “You got a girl friend hiding in the wings somewhere?”


You know better than that,” I said. I knew she was only teasing, but the question still bugged me. I didn't make an issue of it.


You're right, I'm sorry,” she said. “We've both been burned, so it's a sore subject with me, too.”


Actually, I was thinking about everything you said yesterday at the cemetery. Thought maybe it was time to start putting things behind me,” I said.


Good for you,” she responded.


We headed out and made a stop at the cemetery, pulling up next to the spot where Jolene's ashes were kept. We both got out of the truck and made our way to the marker. I knelt down and placed the flowers in a vase next to the marker.


By the way, Jolene, Ashley and I will be getting married. Just thought you might like to know,” I said. Yeah, she's dead, I know, but saying out loud like that seemed therapeutic for some reason. Ashley stood over me and also spoke out.


And if the kids are okay with it, I plan to adopt them,” she said.


We both said our goodbyes and headed back to the truck.


You really want to adopt the children?” I asked.


Hell, yes,” Ashley said. “They deserve a mother they can trust. Are you okay with that?”


Of course,” I said. At that moment, I knew marrying Ashley was the best thing for all of us. I thought she would make a terrific mother and I knew Jessica would need a strong, loving mother in her teenage years.


We were silent for most of the trip back to Dallas and Ashley used the time to work on her story. She seemed to revel in the task and I had time to reflect on the events of the last few months.


We finally pulled into the hotel and grabbed our bags.


You know,” Ashley said. “There's no reason for you to keep your room. The paper's paying for mine until this is over, so why don't you bunk up with me? I'll be working on my stories, of course, but there'll be plenty of time for us afterward.”


I liked that idea and took her up on it.


At least let me foot some of the bill,” I said. She waved me off.


You can pay for our dates, okay?” she asked.


And it was settled. I checked out of my room and moved in with Ashley. That night, we went out for a steak, danced a bit and ended up back in bed for another night of wild love-making.


We made it to the courthouse the next morning in time to get good seats. The jury was brought in from the hotel and immediately began their deliberations. Ashley did her reporter duties, getting statements from attorneys representing both sides and spoke with other observers and legal experts.


It didn't take the jury long to decide the case. By 1:30, word had come back that the jury was set to deliver their verdict to the judge.


Steve sat emotionless as the jury filed in. The judge took his seat and asked if the jury had reached a verdict.


We have, your honor,” the foreman said, handing a slip of paper to a bailiff. The judge read the paper, before folding it back up. He turned back to the jury foreman. “Is this a unanimous decision?” the judge asked. The foreman indicated it was. “Very well,” he said.


Will the defendant please rise?” the judge asked. Steve and his lawyer stood up.


In the case of the people versus Steve Jenkins, the jury has found the defendant Jenkins guilty on all charges and has unanimously agreed to the maximum penalty allowed by law, which is death,” he said. Steve's lawyer had asked the jury to assess the punishment in the event of a guilty verdict, thinking that it would be easier to avoid the death penalty since the decision would have to be unanimous. If even one juror disagreed, the most Steve could get is life in prison without parole. It was a gamble, and Steve lost.


As it was, Steve had been found guilty on six charges of first-degree murder, one charge of manslaughter, several charges of conspiracy to commit murder and a host of other charges, which included smuggling, human trafficking, drug dealing and prostitution.


The defense demanded the jury be polled, and the judge agreed. One by one, each of the 12 jurors said they agreed on the verdict and the punishment.


Mr. Jenkins, I am not a huge fan of the death penalty, but I fully concur with the jury's decision. If there was ever a case which deserves the death penalty, this is it. I hereby order that you be taken from this court and handed over to the state prison at Huntsville, there to be put to death in a manner proscribed by law at the earliest possible convenience. And may God have mercy on your soul,” the judge said, pounding his gavel.


My attorney walked up next to me and motioned for me to follow him. We caught up with the officers escorting Steve out of the courtroom. He spoke to them for a minute and they nodded their heads while glancing over at me.


Steve looked up at me, his eyes red, his body hunched over like an old man.


What are you looking at, asshole,” he said.


Right now, I'm looking at a worthless brokedick piece of shit,” I said. “I always wanted to know what one looked like. Now I know.”


My attorney handed Steve two forms and told him to sign them.


What the fuck for?” he asked. “What is this shit?”


One is a form relinquishing all parental rights to Bryan and Jessica Jennings, and the other spells out the disposition of your assets after your execution. Basically, it's a will that says what's left of your estate after taxes and penalties will be liquidated and split three ways. One third goes to Myrna Carter, the mother of your long-time lover, one third goes to the trust fund for Bryan Jennings and one third goes to the trust fund for Jessica Jennings,” he said.


Steve looked pissed, but realized he had finally been beaten and signed both forms. He looked at me with hate in his eyes.


Happy now?” he asked.


I will be,” I told him. “By the way, Ashley Marks and I are getting married and she's agreed to adopt the kids. Enjoy Hell, asshole. I look forward to pissing on your grave.”


My attorney thanked the officers and we left. I didn't see Steve again until the day of his execution. And yes, I did piss on his grave, but I made sure Ashley wasn't around. I didn't think she'd approve.


Finally, the nightmare was over, and I looked forward to a new chapter in my life with Ashley.




True to her word, Ashley let me read the story she wrote about me and I was impressed. The story went viral, and Ashley went on a number of talk shows to discuss the whole sordid episode. She was even approached about a possible movie deal, but eventually turned it down. She did, however, win a Pulitzer Prize for it.


The Statesman hated to see her go, but understood that her life had taken a different direction and gave her a nice bonus and a recommendation when she left. The board of the Daily Record eagerly brought her on as the new managing editor and circulation of the small paper tripled in the first year, prompting the company to build a new facility and hire in more help.


We both decided that we wanted to avoid a big church wedding and got married in our back yard, inviting family and friends. Ashley's parents came up from Austin along with a couple of her closest friends from the Statesman. Her father walked her down the aisle and warmly shook my hand as he gave her over to me. Bryan was my best man and Jessica was Ashley's maid of honor, making the wedding a true family affair.


After exchanging vows, the minister asked us all to turn and face the audience.


Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to introduce for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. William Jennings – and family,” he said to loud applause.


Bryan moved to Ashley and gave her a hug.


Welcome to the family... Mom,” he said, smiling. Ashley hugged him, tears in her eyes. Jessica also hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” she said.


I love you, too,” Ashley said, hugging both kids.


My dad came over and hugged us both before reaching into his pocket.


I hope you two enjoy your honeymoon,” he said, pulling out an envelope that held two tickets for a week-long Caribbean cruise.


Thanks, Pop,” Ashley and I said almost in unison.


And the new adventure began.


Ten months after returning from our cruise, Ashley gave birth to twins, one boy and one girl. We named the boy William Frederick after my grandfather and the girl Alicia Marie after Ashley's grandmother.


The day they were born, I happened to come across George Mason, a big-time politico in our area. He shook my hand as he accepted my celebratory cigar.


Congratulations, Bill,” he said. I thanked him.


By the way,” he said, “You know we have elections coming up pretty soon. There's a few of us who think you'd be a shoo-in for Steve's old commission seat if you're interested. After all, you're the guy who finally took him down.”


Kinda like our very own version of the 'Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,' huh?” I asked. He laughed.


Except John Wayne wasn't waiting in the shadows this time,” he said.


Thanks, but I don't think I could handle the pay cut. I do have two new mouths to feed you know,” I said.


You could still run your business,” he asked. “Is there another reason?”


Well, yeah, there is. Something my dad said the last time we talked about this whole mess with Steve,” I said.


What's that,” George asked.


Power corrupts,” I said.



Fade to black...



































Submitted: March 10, 2023

© Copyright 2023 Saddletramp1956. All rights reserved.

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