As Melanie booted up her laptop, her cell phone rang.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Good morning, Melanie,” Nick Farley’s familiar rich voice replied. He was the president of All Animals Rescue, the rescue that had helped Sam.
“Hi, Nick,” she said. “How’s Sam?”
“Well, the vet says he’s going to lose his leg, but he’s in remarkably good shape otherwise. They’re going to amputate and do his neuter today, and he should be ready to go to foster tonight.”
“Oh good. I’m sorry about the leg but glad he’ll be ok,” she said. “Thank you for helping him.”
“No, thank you. He may not have made it without you. By the way, we’ve found that tripods usually get around very well. I just wanted to update you.”
“Thanks, Nick,” Melanie said, before hanging up.
Melanie smiled as she returned to her voicemails. Nick could always be counted on to step up in a pinch for an animal.
John, Melanie’s boss, appeared holding a cup of coffee in her doorway. “Could you pull the Skaggs file for me?” he asked, adding “if you can find time between your animal work.” Despite his sarcastic attitude, Melanie knew John appreciated her rescue efforts. The fact that he had more than once picked up strays off the road and brought them into the office was proof that her belief was accurate.
“I suppose,” she responded in kind as she made her way to the file room.
Melanie made it through the morning and lunch, but she struggled to stay awake during an afternoon meeting. When 4:00 finally arrived, she hurried to her car and headed home. Marcus had already been dropped off by the school bus and was lying on the couch on his phone beside Kitty. “How was school,” Melanie asked him. “Fine,” was his monosyllabic reply. “Well, go on and take a bath. I’m getting ready to start supper. Do you have homework?”
“No,” he answered. Melanie doubted the veracity of his answer, but she would have to wait until she got some other chores done to check his backpack. At 14, Marcus was a typically lazy teenage boy. She was glad he was at least participating in marching band as a bass drummer. Early spring was off-season for band though, giving him more time to laze than usual.
Melanie filled the cat’s bowl and rummaged through the fridge for dinner ideas. She decided to fix stir-fry vegetables over rice. She heard Dan’s truck pull into the driveway as the rice water started to boil.
“Hey,” she said as he walked through the kitchen.
“Hey,” Dan answered. He changed from his work uniform, went to the bathroom and poured himself a drink.
“Busy day?” she asked.
“On and off,” he answered, before retiring to the living room. No mention was made of his text the previous night. Melanie decided to let it go, hoping for a peaceful, early evening. She was still tired from being out late the night before.
Melanie heard her phone ding multiple times as she was loading the dishwasher after supper. Wtf, she thought. She picked up the phone and saw five notifications from her friend Chrissy. That explains it, she thought. Chrissy was a wonderful rescue networker and fellow board member of Kentuckians Fight for Animals. However, her mind worked so quickly that Melanie had to fight to keep up.
Did you talk to Cook about meeting Wed?
What did he say?
Should we take info to give him-business cards, flyers, copies of spreadsheets?
Driving now. I’ll call when I get home.
Oh good Lord, she’s driving and texting all this, Melanie thought with a chuckle. She pulled up her email to make sure she had not missed an email from Marty Cook, their legislator. She had not. The annual legislative animal advocacy day was just two days away, and she had yet to get a firm appointment with their State House representative.
By Tuesday afternoon at quitting time, Melanie had finally received email confirmation of a meeting time with Rep. Cook for the following morning: 10 am. She gathered her purse and keys and headed for the parking lot. She had not made it to the interstate when her phone rang.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Oh my God, have you heard?” asked Chrissy.
“Heard what?” Melanie said.
“It’s Nick. He killed himself. Mattie went to the facility this afternoon for her shift and found him shot in the head in the office.”
“Oh my God, what the hell,” said Melanie. “Are you sure? Are you sure he’s dead? How do they know he shot himself? Maybe some druggie broke in looking for drugs or money or…”
“He left a note,” Chrissy said. “and they found the gun right beside him. I just can’t believe it.”
“I can’t either. I gotta go. I’ll call you later.” Melanie hung up and pulled into a gas station parking lot. She pulled up facebook on her phone and searched for Nick’s page. There were condolences and outpourings of sympathy already piling in. She put down the phone and stared into the distance still in shock. Why would he do such a thing, she thought. He had told her recently that All Animals had over sixty animals, mostly dogs and cats, in rescue at that time. Only about half were in foster care. The rest were being cared for at their facility. What would happen to them? She knew he had been injured in a fall from a ladder while making repairs at the facility not long ago, but he had been getting treatment and physical therapy. It made no sense. Melanie took a deep breath and steered the car back onto the road toward home.
Melanie parked her car in the Capitol parking garage at 9:45 Wednesday morning. She hurried up the steps and met Chrissy on the Capitol steps.
“Where have you been?” Chrissy asked. “I’ve been waiting for ten minutes.”
“Sorry,” Melanie said. “Let’s go on in.”
They flashed their IDs at security and took turns going through the scan machines.
“Have you heard any more about Nick?” Melanie asked, as they made their way up the stairs. “No, just what I heard yesterday. It’s awful,” said Chrissy.
Melanie shook her head in agreement. They reached the top of the stairs and entered the House office area. Melanie checked in with the receptionist, and they found a seat in the reception room. A few minutes later, they were beckoned by a staffer. They entered Marty Cook’s office and were greeted by none other than the legislator himself. “Hello ladies, Marty Cook,” he said, extending his hand. Introductions made, they entered his office.
“What can I help you with today?” asked Marty.
“Well, Rep. Cook, we wanted to speak to you about the animal shelter bill,” started Melanie. She began her spiel about improvements that needed to be made to the current shelter standards, and she handed him written materials. Chrissy took the opportunity to give him a flyer and a business card.
“Please, call me Marty. I have two rescue dogs myself,” Marty said. “If this bill makes it to committee, I’ll definitely vote yes,” he said.
“Can you co-sponsor it?” Chrissy interjected.
Marty stood and ran his hand through his dark hair. “I’ll do that,” he said with a chuckle. “Now, I have to get into session. Can I reach you at the email and phone number here on the card?”
“Yes,” Melanie and Chrissy said in unison.
“Thank you for your time. We really appreciate it,” Melanie said, heading toward the door.
“My pleasure,” Marty said.
Melanie and Chrissy reviewed the meeting as they left the building. “I hope he does sign on,” Chrissy said.
“Me too,” said Melanie. They followed each other out of the parking garage. Chrissy headed home, and Melanie drove to the office.
At home that evening, Melanie looked through Marcus’s backpack while a casserole baked in the oven. “Buddy, what’s this blank worksheet?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Well, work on it while supper’s cooking,” she said, handing it to him.
“Dan, have you seen the pen that was on the table?” she called out.
“No, haven’t seen one,” he said from the living room. People are so helpful around here, Melanie thought. She dug through a drawer until she found a pen that worked.
“Here, use this,” she handed the pen to Mario.
Melanie’s phone dinged. It was a text from Chrissy.
Nick’s visitation is Friday at three with the funeral to follow.
Melanie typed thanks to her friend, sighed and pulled the bubbling casserole from the oven.
Her phone dinged again, this time with an email notification.
Ms. Burden, thank you for meeting with me today. I would be glad to co-sponsor the animal shelter bill. Please contact me by phone to discuss further. Marty Cook
Melanie typed a quick thank you reply and made a mental note to call the legislator tomorrow.
After logging on to her computer Thursday morning, Melanie placed a call to Marty Cook. She was surprised to hear him rather than a staffer answer the phone. “Marty Cook.”
“Hi, Marty. It’s Melanie Burden. I believe you wanted to discuss the animal shelter bill.”
“Yes, I’m glad you called, Melanie. I have some meetings this morning. Any possibility you could meet me for lunch?”
“Sure, that would be great,” Melanie answered.
“The Bistro at noon ok?” he asked.
“Sounds good. Thanks.”
Melanie hung up and returned to her work. She had met with a few legislators, but she had never been invited to lunch with one before. Hopefully he is serious about the bill, she thought. He also wasn’t bad to look at.
Melanie walked through the Bistro’s front door at noon sharp. Marty was already there waving at her from a table.
“Hi, how are you?” she asked.
“Hungry. You?” he replied.
“The same,” she said. “So thank you again for co-sponsoring the bill. It really is needed so we can get each animal adopted from a shelter in the state vaccinated and neutered. Right now it just depends on each county.”
“Well, as I said, I have two dogs that came from the local shelter, and I’d do anything for them. They’ve been a blessing, especially since my divorce.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t be. It was for the best,” Marty said.
They placed their orders and returned to their conversation. “You know, I know you have a stressful job,” Melanie said and continued “but animal rescue is a hard field too. We just lost a rescue director to suicide this week.”
“I heard about that. Terrible. Maybe if we can get shelters up to snuff, it will take some pressure off the rescues,” Marty said.
“I hope so,” she said.
They ate their meal and continued talking. Melanie was surprised at both how down to earth Marty was and at how comfortable she felt with him.
Marty picked up the tab and shook Melanie’s hand as they were leaving. “Thank you for meeting with me. I hope we can talk again soon.”
“Thanks again. I look forward to it.” Melanie felt an extra bounce in her step as she got in her car and drove back to the office.
At home that night, Melanie told Dan about the meeting. “He’s a really nice guy. I think he can help us get the bill passed,” she said.
“Yeah I’ll bet he’s nice. He’s just trying to get in your pants. You can’t be that stupid,” Dan said.
Hurt, Melanie went into the bedroom and slammed the door. She half expected Dan to come in and apologize, but he never did.
Friday dawned chilly and gray. Melanie got up, put a pot of coffee on and got Mario up and on the bus. Since she had taken the day off for the funeral, she took her time getting ready. She decided to catch up on entering her work timesheets, but then she realized she had left her laptop at the office. She opened Dan’s laptop and prepared to boot it up. When she touched a key, his email inbox appeared. He must have forgotten to close out of it, she thought. She started to open a new window, but the subject line of the last email received grabbed her attention. HEY SEXY screamed at her from the computer screen. Her heart racing, Melanie clicked on the email from sherry223.
I love talking to you, but I want to see you in person.
We will soon. I promise.
Melanie, hands shaking, started to slam the laptop closed. She decided better of it and grabbed her cell phone. She took a screen shot of the email and texted it to Dan.
We need to talk.
She looked at the clock and realized she needed to shower and dress to make it to Nick’s service. Her mind kept replaying the words of the email. She was angry and shocked, but she didn’t really feel as upset as she thought she should. There had not been much of a relationship between Dan and her for a long time.
Dan still had not responded to her text by the time she reached the funeral home. Melanie shook her head and made her way to the door. She met Chrissy as she was walking in.
“I thought I would recognize more people,” she told Chrissy as they found a seat.
“Yeah, Nick knew a lot of people.”
After a touching service that featured Nick’s girlfriend speaking while holding his favorite pit bull Rocko, the party made its way out to the cemetery. Melanie jumped during the twenty-one gun salute given to honor Nick’s military service.
Melanie said goodbye to Chrissy and walked toward her car. She was stopped by a heavyset man in a dark suit. “Melanie Burden?” he asked.
“Yes?” she asked warily.
“I’m Detective Burley with Nice PD. Can I ask you a few questions?” Melanie nodded.
“We have some questions about Mr. Farley’s death. We see that he spoke to you the day before his death. Can you tell me about that conversation?”
“I had transported a dog for him. He was just updating me on the dog’s condition,” Melanie said.
“Ok, if you think of anything else, call me,” he said and handed her a card.
“Do you think there was something suspicious about his death?” she asked.
“We just have to investigate all angles in a death investigation. Thank you, ma’am.” With that, he was gone.
Marcus was spending the night with a friend, so Melanie was sitting alone at the kitchen table when Dan walked in the door from work. He avoided looking at her and went straight to the bedroom to change his clothes.
“So you have no explanation for me for that email?” she called after him.
Dan returned to the kitchen. “What do you want me to say? We barely talk anymore. There’s nothing here for me.”
“Well, in that case, pack your shit and get the fuck out!,” Melanie screamed. “Do you think I haven’t had opportunities to screw around? But I didn’t. Just get out.”
Dan didn’t protest. He got his suitcase out of the closet, packed a few changes of clothes and grabbed his toothbrush and deodorant. “I’ll be at Sherry’s,” he said as he walked out the front door.
Melanie screamed and threw an empty coffee mug at the door. Kitty jumped when it hit the floor and shattered.
Melanie planned to go to bed early Sunday night after a mostly sleepless weekend. She took Marcus’s phone at 9 pm to keep him from staying up all night playing games on a school night. She had told him that Dan and she were going to be taking a break from each other. If the news affected him, he had not shown it. He just shrugged. Although Melanie had adopted Marcus when she was still single, Dan had been his stepdad for over half his life. She worried how the separation and probable eventual divorce would affect him in the long run.
Melanie checked her phone before plugging it into the charger on her nightstand. She had an email notification from Marty Cook.
Melanie, please call me when you get this message. It’s important.
Melanie dialed the number on the email. Marty picked up on the first ring.
“Melanie, thanks for calling. I need to talk to you. In person. Can you come by the office first thing in the morning?”
“Ok,” Melanie said. Before she could ask him to elaborate, he said “Ok, gotta go. See you in the morning.”
Melanie couldn’t imagine what that was about, but she was too tired to imagine anything. She took a melatonin capsule and was asleep within minutes.
Melanie reached Marty’s office door shortly after 8 am. He greeted her at the door and ushered her into his office.
“Sorry for all the cloak and dagger,” he said, “but I’ve come across some troubling information. You were contacted by detective about Nick Farley’s death, right?”
“Yeah, what’s going on?” Melanie asked.
He answered her question with another question. “Were you aware of any cockfighting investigation Nick was involved in?”
“No,” she said. “But Nick was always fighting for animals, either dogs and cats or chickens or circus animals. It’s quite possible.”
“According to my sources, Nick’s death may not have been a suicide. He had security cameras at the facility. For some reason, the camera in his office went dead for a half hour surrounding the time of his death. Also emails and texts were found on his computer and phone with undercover officers investigating a cockfighting ring.”
Melanie’s eyes got big, and she could almost feel the blood pumping through her body. Cockfighting was a huge problem in Kentucky, because of its lack of felony laws against the barbaric practice. Cockfighters from other states and even other countries came to the state to participate in the bloodsport. It would be just like Nick to try to get involved and stop it.
“So you think cockfighters broke in and killed Nick?” she asked.
“Not cockfighters. Most of them are too stupid to pull something like that off. Most likely, it was someone with the Game Producers Association. They’ve been lobbying and paying off legislators for years to keep the laws from changing.”
“So Nick threatened that and they killed him? What about the suicide note though?” she asked.
“They’re doing handwriting analysis on the note. I wouldn’t be surprised if the note isn’t a match for him. I know this is a lot to take in. I just wanted you to be aware and to be careful.” Marty put his hand on Melanie’s.
“I will,” said Melanie. “I’ve got to get to work. Tell me if you hear anything else, ok?”
“I will. Be careful.”
Melanie’s eyes darted as she made her way through the rest of the day. She just laughed when her boss asked if she’d had too much coffee. As soon as she got home, she called Chrissy and told her about Marty’s conversation.
“That’s crazy,” Chrissy said. “But why did he have to talk to you in person? I think he’s got a thing for you.”
“No, he doesn’t. He was just being nice,” Melanie said.
“Whatever,” Chrissy said. “He’d be a big improvement over Dan. Just let me know if you find out anything else.”
After the dinner dishes were put in the dishwasher and Marcus was tucked into bed, Melanie decided to try to send a facebook message to Layne, Nick’s girlfriend. She hated to bother her while she was grieving, but she needed to find out more about the circumstances of his death. She typed:
I’m so sorry again about Nick’s death. I was questioned by a detective because I spoke to him on the phone the day before. Do you know anything about what’s going on? Thanks
She expected to not get a reply for awhile if at all, but just a few minutes later her phone notified her that Layne was messenger calling her.
“Hi Layne” Melanie said.
“Hi , I saw your message. I didn’t know the police had talked to you too. You know Nick was working with an undercover investigating cockfighting pits, right?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Melanie, “but it doesn’t surprise me.”
“Yeah, he had posed as a cocker with another guy last year. They were getting ready to turn over pictures and video with names to the feds. There’s a lot of crazy shit going on.” Layne’s voice broke.
“I’m so sorry,” Melanie said.
“Thanks,” said Layne. “It’s just stuff doesn’t add up. The security tape had been messed with, and they’re questioning whether he wrote the note. I think he was killed to shut him up.”
“Have you told this to the police?”
“I have, but they won’t tell me anything.”
“Well, take care and let me know if hear anything, ok?” Melanie said.
“Ok thanks,” said Layne.
Moments later, the doorbell rang. Who could that be, Melanie thought. She opened the door and saw Marty, looking wild-eyed.
“Come in,” she said.
He walked in and sat down on the couch. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked.
“No thanks, I can’t stay. I just wanted to drop by and check on you and tell you I talked to Det Burley.” He said.
“Yeah, what’d he say?” she asked.
“They got the handwriting analysis results. He didn’t write it. That and the security footage tampering both point to foul play. That’s what the coroner’s report will list as cause of death. Also they found Doug Moore’s thumbprint on Nick’s computer.”
“Doug Moore, the Game Producers president?”
“That’s him,” said Marty. “They’ve already gotten an arrest warrant and are on the way to pick him up.”
“Layne will be so relieved. I need to check with her.” Melanie started to reach for her phone, but Marty grabbed her hand.
“I also wanted to do this.” He put his hands on her waist and kissed her gently. Melanie returned the kiss and smiled.
“Well, I’m glad you stopped by,” she said.
Melanie was on the road before dawn Saturday morning. She had three crates packed into the back of the car. She had to pick up two mama cats and kittens and two puppies from the shelter. She would drive them to northern Kentucky to meet another driver who would continue the drive to a rescue up north, where the demand for pets was higher and the supply was lower.
She saw her phone light up and saw a text from Marty.
Let me know when you’re home safe.
Melanie smiled, put down her phone, turned up the radio and headed toward the shelter.