Recap of Chapter 9: A surprise visit from Penny’s dad turned out to be bittersweet. His presence was always welcome, but the news he brought made her eyes fill with tears. As much as she wanted to leave her past behind, the anniversary of a notorious double homicide was enough for her hometown newspaper to make the story—and her mug shot as the number one suspect—headline news. Will she ever be free of it?
Penny didn’t even notice that Matthew had hobbled through the restaurant door. How could she when her eyes were filled with tears at the news her dad brought? Jesse hurriedly ushered Matthew into the corridor by the restrooms and gently told him it wasn’t a good time. He promised to relay Matthew’s message to Penny as soon as it was safe.
Even though five years had passed, the horror of that whole ordeal with her ex was fresh in Penny’s mind. Like a movie reel, the memories of five years ago swirled around her mind. She had finally freed herself of him and his toxic infidelity—finally taken her life back. His clothes were gone from the closet, and she’d scrubbed his scent from the towels and linens. He was dead to her—as she’d told herself daily in the mirror. She was free to concentrate on her work and rebuild her life as a single woman. She ignored the whispers in the restaurant where she cooked. Small towns were full of people who know more about your life than you do, and Granville was no exception. Of course, people were whispering. She had a devastatingly handsome ex-husband who was caught cheating. Presumably half the town already knew about his bad behavior. It appeared that only she was kept in the dark, and the insult was too much to bear. Not only did Penny (known as Esme then) make a public scene—always fuel for wagging tongues—she kicked him to the curb and didn’t look back. Then, she promptly held her head high and carried on as if none of it mattered. Her dad and his friends rallied around her, filling the tables each day spreading cheer and making a fuss over her. Good ol’ dad. God love him, he couldn’t really protect her, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
She divorced Antonio immediately, petitioning for a reasonable division of their bank account and belongings. She wanted to keep his name, and Gus the cat, and the furniture. Already involved with a woman of considerable wealth from out of town, Antonio signed-off hastily, and complied with her request to collect his personal belongings while she was at work. Her dad made sure to be there lest he take liberties. They exchanged no words while Antonio loaded the boxes Penny had left stacked in the foyer and exited from her life. He also left a bouquet of flowers and a note declaring his undying love for Penny, despite their break-up. Her dad unceremoniously dumped the flowers and note in the outside trash. Penny needed no complications or mixed messages from the man leaving her to pick up the pieces of her broken dreams.
It was months later when Penny was accosted by her neighbors before she’d cleared the sleep from her eyes. She hadn’t yet had a sip of coffee when loud rapping came to the kitchen door. Alarmed, Penny opened the door to find two of her neighbors in dressing gowns. Had she heard? What a tragedy! Just horrible! And on and on it went while Penny tried to make sense of what she was hearing. There had been a murder—a double murder, actually—and Penny’s Antonio was dead.
The neighbors seemed unsure whether to offer sympathy or to gossip about the scandal of it all. They seemed to vacillate between both sentiments, tisk-tisking and covering their mouths in horror and then smiling wickedly at the salacious details. The gossip was that he was murdered while in bed with an as-of-yet unidentified woman. Speculation was that she was a prostitute, and the neighbors seemed to jump on that theory. When Penny finally managed to extricate herself from the ladies, she leaned against the closed door, taking deep breaths. Antonio dead? Penny’s immediate thought was that he had messed with the wife of the wrong man and paid the price. His behavior was reckless, of that there was no doubt.
Detectives came by later to inform her of the murders and to ask basic questions that would establish her whereabouts at the time when it took place. In a tactful way, they let her know that the scene was one of alarming violence and gore, but they did not show her photographs. Penny volunteered that she had worked until midnight at the restaurant and then came home, as usual, going to bed at around 1:30 am. Nothing unusual occurred. She had received no phone calls or messages from her ex-husband or from anyone asking about him. The whole interview took around 20 minutes, after which they left, pressing a business card in her hand in case she thought of anything that would have a bearing on
Penny’s dad arrived as the detectives were leaving. He brought bagels and cream cheese from her favorite spot and got busy right away pouring coffee and plating his offerings. It was surreal, this turn of events, and both of them nibbled at their late breakfast with furrowed brows. Her dad’s mere presence was enough to bring calm to Penny’s jumbled thoughts. There were no words that would settle anything and so they didn’t try to make sense of what had happened. “So, what are your plans for today?” he asked.
“I didn’t get that far,” Penny admitted. “I guess I’ll show up for work as usual. My shift starts at 3.”
“You think that’s a good idea?” he asked. “There will be looks and whispers—maybe even reporters.”
Penny scoffed, “Other than reporters, it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with for months already. And when you say reporters, you mean Mr. Franklin from the Gazette? The guy I’ve known since birth? I think I can handle Mr. Franklin. One piece of my cherry pie a-la-mode and he’ll be as tame as a kitten.”
“I guess you’re right. Might as well keep living your life because there’s not a damn thing you can do that will change what has happened. Just be prepared to deflect a lot of insensitive comments.”
“Again, nothing I haven’t been dealing with already.”
He rose and kissed her on the forehead. “Well, I’m gonna get back to it. Hang in there, Lucky. And if you need anything from me, just let me know.”
He left Penny to go through her normal routine—showering, feeding Gus, watering her plants, and doing laundry. Should she show up to work or call in? Does a person’s ex-husband being murdered warrant an emergency personal day? Who knew? She pondered this idea while she watered and dead-headed the outside plants. Moving the hose from pot to pot, she enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on her shoulders, the splash of water over her toes. Antonio gone forever and in such a violent way was a scenario she’d never imagined. Oh, she’d fantasized about him being hit by a bus or falling off a cliff—the usual revenge-motivated feelings of a woman scorned—but this? It was beyond imagination. Then she found herself wondering who would want to kill Antonio. Or was it the mystery woman who was the target and Antonio was collateral damage. It was a first-class mystery and there would be lots of speculation until it was solved. From talking to the detectives, it didn’t seem that they had any leads. This scandal would be headline news for a long time. Penny sighed, rolled up the hose and went inside to shower and dress for the day. Might as well face it head-on.