Erik Matthews glanced at the man sitting across from him. It still all felt surreal. None of this could be happening. It shouldn’t be happening. “I still don’t see how I can help you,” he told the man. Detective Duval, he’d introduced himself as. Erik had never expected to have a cop sitting in his kitchen. Especially not a detective from Farmington. They weren’t even in his jurisdiction. But, he was here with an officer from the Aztec police department. One of the few the small town their ranch was located outside of employed.
Erik didn’t want to look at Officer Timmy Lorman, either. But, that was more personal. He just couldn’t stand him.
“I told you,” the detective said, “We’re here to talk to you about the deaths of Lauren and Adam Matthews.”
Erik felt something burning a trail up his throat. He’d wanted to vomit ever since he’d gotten the news. Had wanted to hold his son, cry with him. “My daughter-in-law and grandson,” he choked out. “That’s who they are.” Who they were. They were both gone now, and the cops in Farmington had been holding his son, so he couldn’t even see him, see how he was holding up.
He was sure it wasn’t good.
“Yes, Mr. Matthews. We’re sorry for your loss.”
He wondered if they’d said the same to Jason. Or if they’d just started shooting questions at him like bullets. It made his chest ache. If he hadn’t just been in for his yearly physical, he might think he was having a heart attack. But, the doctor assured him his was strong and healthy. No, this was just grief.
“If I could tell you something, I would,” Erik assured the men. “Lauren was a sweet girl. We were glad to have her in our family. And Adam. He-” Erik choked up, trying to get the words out. “He was so full of life. How are they just dead?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. What can you tell us about your son’s relationship with his wife?”
“What does that mean?” He could feel his face heat, almost felt his blood boiling. His blood pressure was good, too, the doctor had said. Good thing he wasn’t having it measured now. “They were in love. Anyone who looked at them could see it. They were all happy. Jason loves…loved,” –damn that was hard to adjust to, thinking of Lauren in the past tense–“his wife. And his son. They were a happy family. They were talking about adding to their family.”
“That could stress anyone out, especially if they aren’t on the exact same page. Are you telling me they never fought? Not even once in their–” the detective flipped through a notepad– “two and a half year marriage.”
“No, I’m not telling you that. Every married couple fights. And Jason can have a temper. Sometimes it gets loose from him.”
The officer nodded, and Erik wanted to wipe the smug look off his face. “I told ya, Detective Duval, we had to haul the boy in more than once for fighting.”
Erik’s face tightened, and he wanted to lash out at the man. “And how many of those fights did your own boy instigate, Timmy?” he questioned.
Officer Lorman’s face darkened, going hard. “We’re not here about Rodney. We’re here about what your son did.”
Now, Erik did lunge up from the chair. But, before he could reach the officer, the detective stepped between them. “All right. That’s enough. I said, that’s enough,” he repeated, pushing Lorman back a little when he tried to step forward. “I’m here to try to solve a double murder, not play referee to whatever bad blood you two have. We only called you as a courtesy,” he addressed Lorman. “If I have to, I’ll take him to our station for any further questions. I’d rather not, though.”
Lorman sneered at Erik. “I’ll wait for you outside. Don’t let him fool you, though. His son ain’t no angel.”
“He ain’t a demon, either,” Erik said, just as Lorman exited his kitchen.
“Will you sit down, Mr. Matthews?”
“Not if you’re going to accuse my son of being a cold-blooded killer as well.”
“We haven’t accused him of anything yet. Now, Mr. Matthews, please sit down.”
Erik did, though he wouldn’t call himself calm yet. If the detective hinted one more time that Jason could have done this, he might come completely unglued. Yes, his son had a temper. And he’d come by it naturally, through the blood.
The detective smiled at him slightly. Erik figured it was to put him at ease. It only sent a chill down his spine, like a bug crawling along his nerves. “So,” the detective said, “your son works on the Owl Crest Ranch, just outside of Farmington. Is that right?”
“You already know that, or you wouldn’t be asking.”
The smile faded a little from the detective’s face, but he pressed on. “But, you have your own ranch right here. Why isn’t he just working for you.”
Erik’s hand balled into a fist on top of the table. The detective was certainly good at hunting out and attacking a sore spot. “Didn’t want to work for his old man. Said I was too critical, and he wanted to be my son, not my employee.” The words still burned in his gut. He’d wanted to pass the running of the ranch on to his son. But, he left to work for a stranger instead.
“So, you two fought about that?”
“Not particularly. He wanted to leave. I wanted him to stay. In the end, he left.”
The detective scribbled something on his notepad, and Erik really wished he could see what it was. Make sure he wasn’t shining an ugly light on Jason. “What about siblings? You have two daughters as well, right?”
HIs shoulders tightened. “What do they have to do with any of this? Kirsten doesn’t live here anymore.” And, God, he wished she’d leave that loser boyfriend and bring her daughter here to live. “And Sophie’s home from college for the summer, but she’s out with the other hands right now.” She actually did want to work with him, so that was something at least.
“Just trying to establish a pattern,” Detective Duval said. “Did he fight with his sisters very often?”
Erik didn’t like where this “pattern establishment” was going. He’d rather have it stated out plain. “They had the usual sibling arguments. But, if you’re asking f he ever hurt them, struck them. No. Not since he was maybe eight. Jason never needed to be told many times that something was wrong. He might yell, but he’d never hurt a woman. Not on purpose. And he certainly wouldn’t have hurt his son, no matter what her bastard father might have told you.”
“There are reports of CPS being called out there.”
“On unfounded charges. Every single one of them.”
The detective’s lips twitched, and Erik guessed he’d already looked into that and found the same thing. “Still, there’s a pattern of behavior. We’ve heard from more than one person that he tended to lose his temper easily. He could have been stressed, maybe she was being critical, like he accused you of. Maybe he just snapped.”
“No,” Erik growled, lunging out of the chair again. “Don’t you come into my house and try to spread that filth. I told you he didn’t do it. He never would have done that. He loved them, both of them. He wouldn’t have…” He choked on the words then pointed at the door. “Get out.”
The detective flipped his notepad closed and slowly rose to his feet. “That’s all the questions I had anyway. I’ll let you know if I have more, Mr. Matthews.”
Erik stood right where he was until the detective had left the house, until he heard the car start and head down the drive. Then, he sank back into the chair, his head dropping into his hands. His shoulders started to shake, and for the first time since they’d gotten the call from Jason, he let the tears fall.
Note: This is some of the back story to Chasing the Ghost, Book 4 in my Gilbert, Co series. Jason’s still running from his ghosts when that story starts, and some even more dangerous threats.