Franklin County Jail, Winchester, Tennessee Thursday, October 24, 11:55 a.m.
Herman Carter looked old. So very old.
The past five months in jail awaiting trial had taken a toll on the seventy-one-year-old man. He’d lost weight, and his gray hair lacked its usual sheen. But it was his eyes that told the real story. Dull, list-less, resigned.
Rowan DuPont felt no sympathy.
Renewed indignation tightened her lips. This man—a man she had known and trusted her entire life—had deceived her. He had taken advantage of her father…and betrayed so many people. For no other rea-son than greed. He could toss out his excuses about his wife’s illness, but the truth was he had hurt people, using Rowan’s family and the funeral home that had belonged to her family for 150 years.
He deserved a far heavier punishment than she imagined the court system would eventually dole out. Eventually being the key word. The trial wasn’t scheduled to begin for another three months. The wheels of justice indeed moved slowly.
“Did you get my letters?” His voice sounded rusty, as if he rarely found a reason to use it.
“One every week,” Rowan said, her voice stiff, no matter that she had repeatedly attempted to relax. No matter that she did not want to be here, this meeting was necessary. Furthermore, it was essential that she proceed with caution where her personal feelings were concerned. She needed him cooperative. Revealing her utter disdain would not aid toward that end.
Herman had written to her every week since his ar-rest. Until yesterday, she had not opened a single one of his letters. She had felt no desire to read anything he had to say. He could not be trusted in any capacity. Yet, unfortunately, he was the one person still living who was well versed in her family’s history. He and her father had been best friends their whole lives. With her father dead going on a year now, Herman was the only person who might be able to help her.
For five months she had attempted to dissect her mother’s journals. She had searched the funeral home, as well as the living quarters, from top to bottom. One by one she had questioned neighbors, business asso-ciates and anyone else who had known her parents. She had learned nothing useful toward her goal of uncovering the facts surrounding the deaths of her sister and her mother.
Perhaps the truth had died with her father.
Rowan still struggled with the loss of her father. The idea that he might have lied to her made adjust-ing to this new reality all the more difficult. A part of her refused to believe he had lied, despite the rumors and innuendos she had encountered. The trouble was, she had to know for certain. Herman Carter, the man who had stolen body parts from the dead to sell on the black market, was the sole person on this planet who might be able to help her find the answers she sought. However hard she had searched to find the facts some other way, ultimately, she had realized this was her only choice. He was her final hope.
The thought of living with the uncertainty was something she was not prepared to do. Too much hinged on knowing the whole truth.
“Is that why you’re here after all this time?” Herman asked, a spark of hope lighting his dark eyes. “Did my words persuade you to forgive me?”
Rowan clenched her jaw long enough to restrain the urge to laugh in the man’s face. Forgive him? Not in this lifetime. All those weeks and months she had ignored his attempts at communicating. She had fully expected to continue on that course. Then, the day before yesterday she had hit a wall, run out of viable options for finding answers. With no other alternative, she reluctantly began to open the letters and read each one, twice. They told her nothing useful. Rather, his words had repeatedly expressed how deeply sorry he was and how desperately he wanted her forgiveness.
Forgiveness was the one thing she could not give him. Beneath the table that separated them, her right knee started to bounce. She braced against the out-ward display of her emotions and said what needed to be said. “No.”
The optimistic gleam that had appeared in his eyes died an abrupt death. “Then why are you here?”
“I’m here for information.” Rowan squared her shoulders and stared straight into his defeated gaze. “You owe me the truth, Herman. The whole truth.”
He shook his head, turned up his shackled hands. “I’ve told you and the police everything I did. I don’t know what else I can do.”
If only the issue were so simple. “I don’t need the truth about what you did, Herman. We know what you did.”
His shoulders drooped. “I don’t understand what you’re saying, Ro. I did bad things—but never at Du-Pont. Never. It was Woody who crossed that line, not me. I wouldn’t have done that to Edward. And it only happened once. Even if Woody hadn’t ended up dead, I guarantee you he wouldn’t have done that again.”
Really? She was supposed to be grateful he did his stealing from the dead at another funeral home? Un-believable.
Sticking with her agenda was imperative. The chief of police had allowed her this extended visit with Her-man for that specific purpose. She wasn’t allowed to discuss the ongoing criminal case with Herman—not that she had any desire to do so. The chief—her long-time friend, William “Billy” Brannigan—had allowed her to use this interview room rather than the usual vis-itation area with the metal bars and Plexiglas. Today could very well be her one chance to speak with Herman in this sort of setting. The elderly man was likely going away for the rest of his life.