From the look of things, the good citizens of Twilight, Texas thought more of J. Foster Goodnight as a corpse than they had as a human being.
Numerous military-themed floral baskets and vases filled with white lilies, red roses, blue delphiniums and red and white striped carnations with blue bows, vied for space with the dressed-in-their-Sunday-best crowd spilling out of the stone pavilion overlooking the Brazos River. But no one cried, most speculated on the lavish contents of J. Foster’s will and quite a few shared a smile or two.
Caitlyn Marsh concurred.
In death, J. Foster had earned her floral shop more money than she’d made her entire last quarter. While in life, the grandfather of her only child had killed her high school sweetheart as surely as if he’d pulled the trigger.
Even now, eight years after Gideon’s murder, just thinking of him as he’d been—whole, handsome, incredibly strong and brave—hurt Caitlyn’s soul. Never mind that at age twenty-five she’d already been both bride and widow to someone else, her heart would forever and always belong to Gideon Garza.
In the distance she heard the faraway droning of a motorcycle engine. The cool spring breeze dispersed somewhat the cloying perfume of too many blooms; ruffled hairstyles and funeral programs with a photograph of the deceased sitting in an overstuffed leather chair, a black Stetson perched atop his head. He had one hand on his Bluetick Coonhound’s neck, the other curled around a tumbler of malt Scotch. A fully loaded gun rack, along with various dead animal heads, was mounted on the wall behind him. He looked the epitome of what he was. Rich, privileged, cruel and proud of it. J. Foster had been the kind of wealthy, hard-ass, good old boy who’d once defined Texas—loud, shrewd, swaggeringly arrogant and tough as his alligator boots.
No expense had been spared on the flag-draped, cherry hardwood coffin with a MemorySafe drawer to display his cherished keepsakes—the scorecard from the hole in one he shot on his forty-fifth birthday at the Pecan Valley Country Club, old Blue’s last dog collar, a cigar that was reportedly Cuban and given him to by LBJ, a Navy Vietnam War Veteran patch and a paperback copy of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. The coffin’s handles were solid gold and the casket liner was 100% silk, custom-made, cowboy print depicting a an old west cattle drive scene.
The casket sat flanked by two young Navy seamen in white. Ringing the pavilion, standing at attention as erect as the young service men, were the Patriot Guard. On their motorcycles, American flags flying, they had escorted the hearse from Shady Rest Funeral Home to the hillside where many of Twilight’s servicemen and women were buried. Just the sight of them, stalwart and dutiful, misted Caitlyn’s eyes with patriotism. She might have hated J. Foster, but he had served his country, and for that, he’d earned her grudging respect.
The minister delivered the eulogy, but Caitlyn wasn’t much listening. She knew what J. Foster was really like and she didn’t particularly want to hear the positive spin the reverend put on his life. Instead, she was calculating how long it would take her and the funeral home assistant to get the flowers, earmarked for the graveside, into the rear of her van while the sound of the distant motorcycle grew steadily louder.
The young service men carefully folded the flag with practiced precision. Once their task was complete, the honor guard took over. Three retired service men with rifles, simultaneously firing off three shots apiece. The loud, definitive noise jarred Caitlyn and she winced with each firing as spent bullet casings spit against the cement.
“Taps” issued eerily out across the cemetery. The river running below bounced the sound back until it was difficult to know from what direction the mournful bugling came from. The hairs on her arms raised and a lump clogged her throat. Caitlyn swiveled her head, looking for the bugler, but saw instead a black motorcycle traveling the winding road toward the pavilion.
The bugling stopped and she heard the engine again, much louder now.
It was an Indian.
She knew because Gideon had owned a 2000 Indian Chief bought with money he’d earned working as a carpenter’s apprentice the year after he’d graduated high school and she’d loved riding on the back of it, her arms wrapped around Gideon’s firm waist, the wind blowing over her skin, the throb of that distinctive machine vibrating up through the seat.
Who was this latecomer?
Closer and closer the motorcycle drew. For a moment it disappeared behind a bend in the road, hidden by a cedar copse. Then it reappeared, just as the two Navy seamen handed the folded flag to Goodnight’s next of kin, saluted, snapped their heels and pivoted away.
The Indian pulled to a stop behind the procession of cars parked along the circular drive. Heads turned. A murmur running through the throng as others noticed the new arrival.
The rider, cloaked in leather, his face hidden behind a helmet and protective goggles, swung off the bike. He sauntered toward the group, everyone transfixed.
Caitlyn’s heart fluttered in recognition. Gideon. She felt all the air leave her body, heard the blood bounding through her ears.
But it wasn’t Gideon. It couldn’t be Gideon. Even though he moved with the familiar gait of the boy she’d once loved more than life itself. How many times had she mistaken a stranger in the crowd for her long lost lover? Hundreds. A thousand? More?
The interloper reached the stone pillar where Caitlyn stood, her body trembling, mouth dry.
He stopped halfway between her and the casket.
Her heart was in her throat. Her knees were noodles. Her confused mind was in utter chaos. Her head spun, her vision blurred. She fisted her hands, gulped for air.
It wasn’t Gideon. It simply could not be. She knew it and yet and yet…
Then he stripped off his helmet, pulled away the goggles and Caitlyn stared straight into the eyes of a dead man.