Daddy Dearest

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More of Andrew’s Story

Sitting in her car outside of an upscale suburban ranch house, Nori practiced her breathing exercises in an effort to calm her anxiety. She wasn’t sure how Ashley’s mother, Kathryn, would react to seeing her again. When they spoke on the phone, she seemed distracted, giving noncommittal answers to her questions. Reluctantly, Kathryn agreed to let Nori visit.

Standing back from the front window, Kathryn and Haywood Brownlee watched Nori.

“Remember what I told you,” Haywood said. “Find out what she wants, but agree to nothing.”

Kathryn wrung her hands, nodding at each of her husband’s instructions.

“This could be our ticket back in,” he said, laying his hand on Kathryn’s shoulder, squeezing hard enough to make her wince. “Don’t blow this for me, for us. Here she comes, meet her at the door.”

Before Nori could ring the bell, Kathryn opened the door.

“Norma!” Kathryn gathered her into an awkward hug. “It’s been too long.”

With an arm still around Nori, Kathryn guided her into an immaculate, white sitting room.

“Come sit down,” Kathryn said. “We have so much to catch up on.”

“Actually, Mrs. Haywood,” Nori began.

“Please, call me Kathryn…”

“Mrs. Haywood,” Nori repeated. “I’m not here to reminisce, I have some questions about Ashley.”

Kathryn blanched, sitting ramrod straight in the edge of the sofa. She began wringing her hands again.

“It’s been a very long time,” Kathryn said. “What good can come of bringing up such unpleasant memories.”

“She was your daughter, Mrs. Brownlee,” Nori said. “It took me years to realize it, but you didn’t give me all her things because of how painful it was to remember, it was because it made it easier for you to forget.”

Turning away, Kathryn rubbed her hands across her thighs but didn’t answer.

“In my house,” Nori said, “I have a photo of Ashley and me on the mantel. Where are your pictures?”

Kathryn remained silent.

“When was the last time you even spoke her name?” Nori got up from the sofa and sat back down in a chair facing Kathryn.

“Did you know that the authorities think they found Drew’s body?” Nori kept maneuvering around, trying to make eye contact. “The reports say it was found in a wrecked car at the bottom of Carson Lake, You know the one where Ashley and I used to swim? They say the body has been down there since, oh, about the same time Ashley died.”

Kathryn closed her eyes, shaking her head in an effort to keep Nori’s words from making their way into her head.

“You know what that means?” Nori laid her hand on Kathryn’s knee. “It means Drew didn’t do this, it means that he was a victim too.”

“It was the horrid woman, that whore married to Andrew.” Kathryn pulled away from Nori.

“No, Kathryn, it wasn’t.” Nori dropped out her chair, grabbing Kathryn’s hands. “Look at me! Annalise was the intended target, Ashley’s death was an accident. But, you already knew that.”

Kathryn tried to pull away again. 

“And you know who was responsible, don’t you?”

Kathryn opened her eyes, then her mouth as if to speak.

“Norma,” Haywood Brownlee entered the room. “I was surprised when Kathryn told me you contacted her. Are you all right, dear?”

Kathryn shook her head.

“It’s okay, Woody,” she said. “It’s just unsettling to talk about Ashley, but I’m fine.”

Walking between Nori and Kathryn, Haywood sat beside his wife on the sofa. Putting his arm around her shoulder, he made a show of comforting her.

“Kathryn said you had some questions about some of the items we gave you that belonged to Ashley.” Haywood took over the conversation. “Why after all this time are you interested in that?”

Nori fought the urge to slap him, instead chewed on the inside of her lip to settle her emotions. Haywood reminded Nori of a spider laying a inescapable trap for his prey.

“It may sound strange, but I’ve been having nightmares about Ashley, and I think you both may be able to help me understand them.” Nori carefully watched Haywood reaction. “I don’t remember much detail, only that they involved an old skeleton key Ashley used to have.”

Haywood lifted his arm away from Kathryn and ran his hand through his thinning hair. Ashley once told Nori that he always did that just before telling a lie.

“An old key?” Haywood turned to Kathryn, giving her an almost imperceptible nod. “Do you remember an old key?”

Kathryn’s eyes went wide, then she gathered herself. “Oh, yes… a key.”

If the situation weren’t so drastic, their acting would have been comical.

“I think Andrew gave it to her after one of his business trips,” Kathryn looked at Haywood while she spoke, sounding like she was delivering a memorized script. “Was it in the belongings I gave to you?”

“It was,” Nori said. “I never knew if it actually opened anything, but in my dreams it’s like I’m trying to remember but can’t.”

“Do you still have the key?” Haywood tried to appear casual, but his body language said he was too eager for the answer.

“No,” Nori said, “but I know where it is.”

“I see,” Haywood immediately turned cold and unsmiling. “I think this has been too much for Kathryn, I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“I’ll walk her to the door,” Kathryn said before her husband could object.

Standing on the front porch, Kathryn’s hug this time was genuine.

“Keep the key safe,” she whispered in Nori’s ear. “Don’t let anyone you don’t trust have it.”

Releasing her hold on Nori, she narrowed her eyes, hoping to see affirmation on Nori’s face.

“Thank you for your time,” Nori said, squeezing Kathryn’s hands. “I’m sorry if I upset you. I. Understand.”

Haywood joined his wife outside, waving as Nori backed out of their driveway.

“I have to call Grainger,” he said when Nori was out of sight.

“Why can’t we just go to the police?” Kathryn was on the verge of tears.

“The police?” Haywood dismissed her concerns with a flip of his hand. “This information will be valuable to Grainger, maybe enough to set up us again.”

Kathryn stayed in the doorway of Haywood’s office while he made the call.

“It’s more likely that we’ll end up like Drew at the bottom of the lake.”

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