Thirty-Two and a Half Complications
Rose Gardner Mystery #5
Release: June 24
Available for preorder:
Staring down the barrel of a gun was not how I wanted to start my day.
“Everyone put your hands on your heads and lay down on the floor!” the robber shouted, the ski mask over his face muffling his words. Without the gun, it would have been hard to take him seriously. His mask was plastered with pictures of Sponge Bob Squarepants.
I started to get to my knees, clutching a deposit bag tight in my fist and cursing Violet under my breath. If I survived this, I was gonna kill my sister. I’d finished a job for a cranky elderly man the previous day, and he’d paid me in cash that still smelled of the dirt he’d buried it in. Nine thousand dollars. Little had I known that the hydrangeas I’d planted were less than six feet away from Henryetta’s own version of Fort Knox, otherwise known as the metal box buried in Mr. O’Leary’s backyard. Violet had agreed to drop the money off at the bank along with day’s proceeds, but she’d forgotten and left it the store overnight. So it had fallen on me to make the deposit on my way to my landscaping job this morning.
Besides me, there were five other customers in the small lobby of the Henryetta Bank. Mr. Murphy, an older farmer who’d recently sold his property and moved to town grumbled as he got down on the floor, his wife Miss Wilma following suit. A middle-aged man and a younger woman I didn’t know were also lowering to the floor. But poor Miss Honeybelle, a member of the New Living Hope Revival Church, had recently had knee transplant surgery and was struggling to get to the ground.
“Faster!” Mr. Sponge Bob shouted, waving the gun.
I hurried to the old woman’s side and tucked my deposit bag under my arm as I grabbed her elbow.
The robber shoved my upper arm with his elbow and I cried out in pain and surprise as I stumbled backward several steps. “What do you think you’re doing?” he grunted.
I knew I should have been more scared, but frankly, I was irritated as snot. Rubbing my arm, I glared at him. “She just had her knee replaced a month ago. She can’t get to her knees!”
“She will if she wants to live.” The cold tone in his voice told me he meant it.
Chills spread up my arms as I helped the shaking woman to the carpet. “It’s okay, Miss Honeybelle,” I whispered.
“No talking!” Mr. Sponge Bob shouted, pointing his gun at me again. “Why are you still up?”
Seething, I lay down on the floor next to the now crying elderly woman, making sure to put my bag beneath my stomach.
The robber’s accomplice, who was wearing a Batman mask, approached the teller’s window. His voice shook as he placed a plastic Piggly Wiggly bag on the counter. “Put all the cash in the bag.”
The Sponge Bob thief placed a foot on my side and gave me a half-hearted kick. “What are you looking at?”
Pain shot through my side but I knew I was lucky. He could have put a lot more force behind that kick. Nevertheless, these guys were starting to get me good and pissed.
I was surprised to see Samantha Jo Wheaton working behind the counter as a bank teller. Last I’d heard, she had a job at Wal-Mart. Her face turned red as she stuffed wads of cash into the plastic bag, her hands trembling. Out of the corner of my eye I tried to take in as many details about the two guys as I could. The Batman guy wore faded white Nikes. His faded jeans had a worn spot on his left thigh, and he was wearing a gray zippered sweatshirt over a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Jack Daniels logo. Wisps of dark blond hair poked out from underneath the bottom of his ski mask. The seam on the back of his head was off-center, then ran at a diagonal.
Mr. Sponge Bob was wearing scuffed work boots with dried light red mud on the heels along with dark jeans, a light gray T-shirt, and a brown leather jacket. A chain connected to his belt was attached to the bulge in his back pocket.
Before I realized what was happening, he squatted next to me. “Do you know what happened to the curious cat?”
Crap. Bile rose in my throat.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet, leaving my bag on the floor. “Come on,” he grunted as he pushed me toward the open safety deposit vault.
The Batman guy turned toward us, sliding the bag off the counter. “What are you doin’, Mick?”
“Why the hell are you usin’ my name?” The man next to me smelled of rust and something else I couldn’t place. Standing as close to him as I was, it nearly made me gag. “I’m teachin’ this one to mind her manners.”
The faint sound of sirens filled the nearly silent room.
The Batman guy flinched. “We ain’t got time for that. Come on!”
Mr. Sponge Bob’s grip on my arm tightened, his fingers digging deep. “If you know what’s good for ya, you’ll keep your mouth shut. Got it?”
Of course, it was at that exact moment when I felt a vision coming on. I’m powerless to stop them and can only let them run their course. They always follow the same pattern: I zone out for a few seconds and see something from the future of the pers on next to me. Then I return to the present moment and blurt out what I see. My visions are almost always inconvenient, and this proved to be no exception.
Everything turned black, and then I was in a rundown barn, standing next to an old gold-colored car. A man stood next to me, his face puckered into a frown. He looked to be in his early twenties and he had on the same outfit as the guy who was currently wearing the Batman mask. His hair was dark blond and shaggy, hanging slightly past his collar. “How much did we get, Mick?”
“Not enough, dammit.” I took a drag from a cigarette then tossed it on the dirt floor and stomped it with my worn boots. “That rat bastard didn’t come through. We need more.”
Then I was back in the bank, the robber still clutching my arm.
“You’re not gonna get enough money,” I gushed out.
“What?” he screeched. He dropped my arm and grabbed my face, pinching my cheeks as his angry brown eyes pierced mine. “What do you know that you’re not saying?”
I shook my head, speechless.
“Mick! Let’s go!” The other thief was already at the glass door, looking outside. The siren was getting closer.
Mr. Sponge Bob shoved me to the floor and stomped toward my money bag, snatching it up.
“That’s mine!” I shouted, sitting on my sore butt, my hands on the floor behind me.
He pointed his gun at my head. “You said we didn’t get enough money. Maybe this will make up for it. Any complaints?”
I had plenty, but I bit my tongue.
The two men ran out the front door but the bank customers still lay on the floor, a few of them crying.
To hell with that. That jerk took my money!
I scrambled to my feet and ran to a window, watching as the two guys slid into an older Dodge Charger—the car from my vision. Seconds later, two of Henryetta’s squad cars squealed into the parking lot, skidding to a halt on either side of the getaway car. Two police officers—both of whom I was all too familiar with—ran right past the car and burst into the bank with guns drawn.
“Everybody get on the floor!” shouted Officer Ernie, Henryetta’s very own Barney Fife stand-in.
I glanced around the lobby, my mouth hanging open. Everyone already was on the floor. Everyone but me.
Ernie turned his gun on me. “You heard me! The rules still pertain to you, even if you’re dating the district attorney.” He didn’t sound the least bit happy about that part.
Technically I was dating the assistant district attorney, but now didn’t seem like a good time to point that out. Instead, I pointed to the window. “But they—!”
“On the floor now!” He shouted, reaching for his handcuffs as he kept his weapon trained on me. I wouldn’t put it past him to use either tool. If he shot me, Detective Taylor would probably give him a medal and make him mayor for the day. But having an assistant DA boyfriend had its perks. Everyone in town knew Mason Van De Camp Deveraux III and his legendary wrath. Heads would roll—most likely literally—if one of them hurt me.
The second policeman, Officer Sprout, gave me an apologetic look.
“You’re not listening! They—!”
Knowing that my money was speeding away with the robbers made me consider protesting again, but from the way the gun pointed at me shook, I wouldn’t put past him to accidently shoot me. I shot him a glare as I got back on my knees, fuming as I obeyed. Officer Sprout was fairly new to the Henryetta Police Department and had already upped their overall incompetence level to an all-time high. A few weeks ago, he’d acted as my guard while I was in witness protection, hiding from escaped prisoner Daniel Crocker. Crocker had had a personal vendetta against me for helping put him behind bars for murder. While I was with Officer Sprout, I had a vision that Crocker’s men would find us at the not-so-safe safe house and Officer Sprout would turn me over to save himself. My vision only came partially true—I’d discovered that I had the power to alter them—but only because I escaped out the bathroom window just as Crocker’s guys started shooting.
Officer Ernie took several steps closer. “Why am I not surprised to see you here?”
Anger burned in my chest. “What exactly are you insinuating?”
“Wherever there’s trouble, you’re in the thick of it, Rose Gardner.”
“I can’t exactly help that,” I protested. “Can I get to my feet now?”
Officer Ernie shifted his weight, the leather of his belt creaking. “Not until we make sure the robbers aren’t here.”
“You aren’t gonna find them in here, you damn fool!” Mr. Murphy shouted, getting on his hands and knees. “They plum ran out the door just before you got here!”
The smug grin slid off Officer Ernie’s face as he turned to look at the front door. “What?”
“That’s what I was trying to tell you!” I shouted, getting up and walking over to poor Miss Honeybelle. “They were in the car you parked next to before running in here. A gold Charger with a dent on the front fender.”
“What?” he screeched and ran outside.
Officer Sprout stood in place, his mouth gaping in shock. He pivoted to take in the room. With his round, freckled face, he looked like he should be in high school chess club meeting, not investigating a bank robbery.
I pressed my lips together, trying to keep myself from saying something ugly. “I want to report a robbery,” I said once I was feeling calmer.
That shook Officer Sprout out of his stupor. “Somebody already reported a robbery—or at least the bank’s alarm system did. That’s why we’re here.”
“Not just the bank money. They took my deposit bag. I want my money back.”
Officer Sprout scowled, as if to rebuke me for making his life more difficult. “Well…I don’t know how that works.”
“What do you know?” Mr. Murphy asked, his contempt obvious.
Officer Ernie burst through the door. “I don’t see anything.”
I shook my head in disgust. “That’s because they left already.” I started for the front door, but Ernie blocked my path.
“And where do you think you’re goin’?”
“I left my purse in the car, and I need to get my phone so I can call Mason.”
He shook his head, his face breaking out in splotchy red marks. “Nobody’s leaving this building until we get your statements and look for evidence.”
“Aren’t you going to go after them?” a man asked.
Everyone swiveled around to look behind the counter. I was surprised to see that Mr. Turner, the bank manager, was standing there with Samantha Jo. He’d been conspicuously absent during the robbery.
“When did you get here?” Mr. Murphy asked, pointing his cane at the middle-aged, balding banker.
He rested his folded hands on his paunch. “I was in the back…taking care of…something.”
“You yellow-bellied, snake-eyed coward,” Mr. Murphy growled. “You hid.”
The banker’s eyes widened. “I…”
“I need to call my husband,” the younger woman said, wiping tears from her cheeks.
The middle-aged man turned to Mr. Murphy. “Why didn’t you beat them off with that cane of yours?”
Pandemonium broke out, every one of us voicing our protests while Officer Sprout looked like he was about to take off running and Officer Ernie’s ears turned bright red.
I edged over to an empty desk and picked up the phone. “Mason,” I said when he answered his cell phone. “You’re never gonna guess what happened.”
“With you, there’s no telling. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Mostly.” I rubbed my bruised side. “But why are you asking? You don’t even know why I’m calling.”
“Rose, trouble finds you like a divining rod finds water.” I heard the smile in his voice, but then he turned serious. “Where are you and what happened?”
“Do you think you could get away for a little bit?” I asked. “And meet me at the Henryetta Bank?”
“Are you having some kind of trouble at the bank?”
I took in the chaos around me. “You could say that.”
Mr. Murphy’s voice rose above the others. “I got all my money in this damned place. I better not have lost a penny!”
“Do I hear shouting?” Mason asked before switching to his official voice. “What’s going on there, Rose?”
“I’ll explain when you get here.” I sighed as I hung up. Mason was right. This was just another day in the life of Rose Gardner.
Mason walked through the bank’s door fifteen minutes later. I had no doubt he’d have been there sooner if the brace on his leg hadn’t slowed him down. He’d broken his leg a few weeks ago while we were evading Crocker and his men in the woods near Henryetta. The doctor had set it with pins and put him in a cast for two weeks, so the brace and the cane he was using with it were a graduation from crutches. Still, it slowed him down. And Mason Deveraux was a man who was always on the go.
His face was taut with worry until he saw me sitting on the metal desk, then it was replaced by relief. “Rose.”
I hopped off the desk and met him halfway. He pulled me into a tight hug. “I called Detective Taylor on the way to find out what happened.” He leaned back and examined me closely. “Are you really okay?”
Tilting my head to the side, I gave him a frustrated grimace. “I’m fine. Really. Just ticked off that the thieves took my deposit bag. I tried to report the theft to Officer Sprout, but he refused to listen to me…said he didn’t know how to take my report.”
He grinned. I loved how his smile was slightly lopsided, lifting up ever so slightly more on one side. Funny how I’d never noticed until we started seeing each other, right around the time Crocker broke out of jail. “Violet should have a record of all the checks, and the cash you take in at the shop is minimal. You can get customers to stop payment on the checks and issue you new ones.”
Something in my stomach rolled around and tried to dive to the floor. “What about the cash?”
He shrugged. “It might be a total loss unless you recorded the bills’ serial numbers. I doubt you’d hit your deductible anyway.”
Suddenly, I felt hot and was having a hard time breathing.
Mason’s eyes flew open in alarm. “Rose? What’s wrong?”
I started to fan myself with my hand. “There was more than the usual amount of cash in the deposit bag, Mason. A lot more.”
His voice hardened. “How much?”
“Nine thousand dollars.” Feeling lightheaded, I stumbled backward.
Mason grabbed my arm and helped me sit down in the office chair in front of the desk I’d just hopped down from, taking the seat next to me. “What were you doing with that much cash?”
Tears welled in my eyes, but I refused to let them drop. “The big landscaping job Bruce Wayne and I just finished—”
“The retaining wall, trees, and shrubs for Mr. O’Leary?”
I nodded, feeling like I was gonna hyperventilate. “He paid me in cash.”
He grabbed my face between his hands, his fingers gently rubbing my cheekbones. “Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.”
I nodded again. But nine thousand dollars was an awful lot of money. Money we needed. Violet had already allocated all the grant money we’d received from the Arkansas Small Business Administration and then some for our expansion into the empty lot next to our existing building. Unexpected expenses had popped up along the way, and we needed every penny we could get. We couldn’t afford to lose nine thousand dollars.
“You have a copy of the receipt, right?”
“Then you’re fine.”
“Except for the deductible. And our insurance rates will raise.”
He frowned, then leaned in and gave me a gentle kiss. “You’re forgetting that your bag was taken during a bank robbery. The bank’s insurance should cover you one hundred percent. I know my own insurance predicament must have you worried, but I’ll eventually get reimbursed, and so will you. Stop worrying.”
I blinked in relief. Mason was right. He’d been fighting to get a settlement ever since Crocker burned his condo down weeks ago, and he was living with me until it was all sorted out. “Thank you. It’s at times like these that I’m particularly glad I have you around.”
He laughed. “Because of my legal expertise?”
I shook my head and grinned at him. “That comes in handy, but no.” I leaned over the arm of my chair and looped my arms around his neck. “Because you’re so calm, it makes me calm too.”
His smile turned wicked. “You make me sound boring, but that wasn’t the impression I got last night.”
A blush rose to my cheeks.
He leaned closer, until his lips were practically brushing my ear. “There’s a time for calm, and a time for…”
I lifted my eyebrows. “Not so calm?”
“I had a few other word choices in mind,” he teased. “But you’re right. I’m supposed to care about my reputation, and someone could hear us.”
“I should say,” said Miss Mildred, my old across-the-street neighbor, who seemed to have appeared out of thin air and was standing next to us. “I thought you were supposed to be a good example for the citizens of Fenton County, Mr. Deveraux. Not an example of lewd behavior. I can see that Rose’s debauched nature has rubbed off on you.”
Mason leaned back in his seat and smiled good-naturedly up at the elderly woman. Miss Mildred was eighty-three years old, but nothing slipped passed her. Which made her the perfect president of the neighborhood watch committee, AKA the Busybody Club. She was probably bored to tears since I was no longer in the neighborhood. Who was she spying on now?
“What are you doing here, Miss Mildred?” Mason asked. “How’d you get past the crime scene tape?”
“I’m here to see to it that my money’s safe. The fool loan officer Mr. Sullivan’s damn near given half the money in the bank away to the riffraff in this town.” She shot me a glare, making sure I knew she included me in that category, before turning her annoyance on Mason. “And Officer Ernie wouldn’t dare turn me away. I expected to find a crime scene, not your seedy display.”
Who was she fooling? She was here to snoop.
“Not to worry, Miss Mildred. Your money’s federally insured, so I can assure you that you haven’t lost a penny.” He chuckled. “And my girlfriend just had a brush with death. You can’t fault a man for wanting to confirm she’s okay…and that she knows he can’t live without her.”
Her frown froze, as if she couldn’t think of any negative way to spin his statement…a first for her.
“What about your husband?” Mason asked. “I bet you two were inseparable when he came back from the war.”
The elderly woman’s cheeks turned pink.
Miss Mildred was actually blushing.
I almost gasped in surprise.
“He was a sailor, wasn’t he? At the end of the second World War?” Mason asked, wrapping an arm around my shoulder and pulling me closer as he spoke. The arm of the chair hit the spot on my ribs where I’d been kicked, so I shifted slightly. “I hear it’s hard for a young girl to resist a man in those Navy whites.” He grinned at me. “Maybe I should join the Navy.”
“Don’t you dare,” I whispered.
Miss Mildred tugged at her sleeve, avoiding eye contact. “He had been gone a long time.” Then, as though remembering who she was talking to, she stiffened. “Shouldn’t you be investigating the robbery, Mr. Deveraux?”
He grinned and relaxed his grip on my shoulder. “Nope. The fine officers of the Henryetta PD have it under control. I’m here to make sure my girl’s okay. I’ll take over when they’re done.”
She gave her head a little shake, then pulled back her shoulders. “Fine officers, my foot.” She cast a scowl at me. “They never did a blessed thing when I called them about her.”
“I can assure you that they’d arrest her if they could find the evidence to warrant it,” Mason said, grinning.
I pulled away from him. “Hey!”
Miss Mildred walked away, muttering under breath about my wicked ways.
I turned sideways and glared at Mason. “The police would arrest me if they could? And why would you sound happy about that?”
His grin turned wicked again. “I like thinking about you in handcuffs.”
My eyes flew open. “Mason!”
He laughed. “She’s harmless, Rose. I don’t know why you let her get you so worked up.”
“You try living across the street from her for twenty-five years, and then we’ll revisit the topic of how harmless she is.”
“I’d rather spend every minute with you.” He kissed me again, but then pulled back with a sigh. “But the duties that accompany the never-ending job of an underpaid, underappreciated county attorney tend to interfere with that.”
I smoothed out a wrinkle on his shirt with my thumb, wishing we could go back to the farm so I could take it off of him. “You love every minute of your job and you know it.”
“Almost every minute.” He gave me another peck on the lips and stood. “Except for the minutes it takes me away from you. I cleared my schedule for the next hour. Let’s get out of here. I want to spend time with you, but not in this mess.”
I looked around taking in the sight of the still chaotic bank lobby. “Don’t I have to give my statement? I’ve got details about the robbers that I need to share.”
“Not until Detective Taylor shows up. When I called him, he told me that there was something he needed to wrap up on another case before heading over here. I’ll tell Ernie that I’m taking you into my personal custody in the meantime,” he smirked. “And maybe we can borrow a pair of handcuffs for good measure. I’ll be doing a public service by protecting the innocent citizens of Fenton County from a whirlwind of trouble.”
“Very funny,” I said sarcastically, but I couldn’t hold back my laugher. I cast a glance at my second least favorite police officer—Detective Taylor being the winner in that category. Officer Ernie was trying break up an argument between Mr. Murphy and the bank manager, reaching for the cane the older man was trying to beat the younger one with. “Officer Ernie isn’t going to like it.”
Mason straightened his back, instantly looking more official. “Officer Ernie will have to deal with it.”
As I’d expected, the Henryetta police officer frowned his disapproval, especially after an errant cane swing from Mr. Murphy hit this arm, but he didn’t try to stop Mason. Most intelligent people with even half a brain wouldn’t. After Mason took over the assistant DA position last spring, he quickly convinced most of the town he was someone to fear. Which is why I got actual applause when I told him off in front of a group of courthouse employees while I was serving on a jury. I was one of the few people with the gumption to stand up to him, and by the time the case I’d been a juror on was settled, Mason and I were friends.
Which had been a huge sore spot for my old boyfriend Joe. For more reasons than I’d understood at the time.
But just as we were slipping out the front doors of the bank, a black sedan pulled into the parking lot. Mason stopped in his tracks when Detective Taylor got out and started walking toward us.
My toast from breakfast turned into concrete in my stomach. “So much for escaping.” A brisk November breeze lifted the hem of my jacket, and I reached down to flatten it against my jeans.
“I’m going to ask him to take your statement first. I want to be there when you give it.”
I slipped my hand in his and squeezed in gratitude. He knew how nervous I got whenever the police questioned me. Especially after Henryetta’s finest made me their number one suspect after my mother was murdered months ago. They’d spent a good amount of time trying to find enough incriminating evidence to arrest me instead of looking for the real killer. But I also suspected he was impatient for more details about what had happened in the bank that morning.
He dropped my hand and left me by the doors, meeting the detective halfway down the sidewalk. They talked in voices too low for me to hear, and then Taylor shot me a scowl and headed my way, Mason by his side.
“Ms. Gardner,” he began, and I had no delusions about why he was being so formal. It could entirely be attributed to the intimidating presence behind him. “Mr. Deveraux would like me to take your statement before he heads back to court.” While his words were polite, there was an undercurrent of hostility in his tone, making me even more grateful for Mason’s presence. “Let’s go inside and see if there’s somewhere to take your statement.”
I followed him back into the chaos without saying anything. While Officer Ernie had successfully wrestled the cane from Mr. Murphy, his forehead now sported a red welt. Miss Wilma dabbed her eyes with a tissue, shouting protests of police brutality. Taylor walked past the commotion as if it were an everyday affair, stopping in front of the bank manager.
“Is there anywhere quiet—” he cast a quick glance toward the shouting match four feet away, “—I can take this witness to interview her?”
Mr. Burns’ face was red and he appeared pretty flustered as he looked around. “Uh… yeah… Norman Sullivan didn’t come in this morning. You can use his office.”
Taylor’s eyes widened. “The loan officer? Did he call in sick?”
“No. He just didn’t show up.”
“Does he usually do that?” Mason asked.
Concern flickered in Mr. Burns’ eyes. “No.”
Detective Taylor pulled his notebook out of his pocket and flipped it open to jot something down. “I’m going to need Sullivan’s address and phone number.”
The bank manager nodded, then pointed to a small office to the side. “I’ll get it for you. That’s his office over there.”
Mason led the way to the office and motioned for me to sit in a guest chair. Taylor, who pushed in past me, ignoring Mason’s well-mannered gesture, circled the desk and sat in the loan officer’s chair. My gaze swept the room as I sat down, and I noticed Mr. Sullivan’s family photos were missing. I’d spent a good twenty minutes examining them several months ago when I’d been in this office applying for a small business loan.
Taylor shifted his chair and clicked his pen, narrowing his gaze on me. “And what was your purpose of bein’ at the bank this morning?”
I looked at Mason for reassurance. He stood against the wall with his arms crossed. His face was expressionless, but he nodded his head. The last time I’d been questioned was after Jonah’s mother had tried to kill me. While I’d been completely innocent in that case, Detective Taylor had made his extreme dislike for me crystal clear. “I was making a deposit for our business.”
“The Gardner Sisters’ Nursery?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“So tell me what happened at the bank.”
“I was standing in line waiting to make my deposit when two men wearing ski masks—one decorated with Sponge Bob, the other with Batman—burst in. They had guns and they pointed them at us. Sponge Bob seemed to be in charge. He told all the customers in the lobby to get on the floor. But Miss Honeybelle had trouble getting down because of her knee replacement surgery last month.”
He looked up. “So what happened?”
“I walked over to help her, but the guy didn’t like that we were taking so long and he got grumpy.”
Taylor started writing again, but Mason’s jaw twitched.
“You need to tell him everything, Rose.” Mason’s voice was tight. “What did he do?”
I felt my cheeks redden. “He shoved me when I tried to help her, but I convinced him that she couldn’t get down on her own, so he let me help her.”
“Then what happened?” Taylor asked.
“The man with the Batman mask handed Samantha Jo Wheaton a plastic Piggly Wiggly bag and told her to fill it with cash.”
Taylor scribbled his notes. “And how do you know Samantha Jo Wheaton?”
“She’s a new bank teller here. But that’s not how I originally know her. We went to school together. Plus everyone in Henryetta knows she burned her husband’s fishing boat in their front yard last year. The married men were afraid to cheat on their wives for a spell, and the single men were afraid to date her after her divorce was finalized. She used to work at Wal-Mart.”
“So are you friends or not?”
“No, more like acquaintances.”
“Uh huh,” he grunted, writing his thoughts. “What else can you tell me?”
“I took note of what they were wearing while the Batman guy was getting the money. He was had on jeans, a Jack Daniels T-shirt, a gray fleece jacket, and worn Nikes.” I looked over at Mason, who gave me an encouraging smile and a nod.
“And a Batman ski mask?”
“Yeah. Now that I think about it, I saw some of those Batman hats at the Piggly Wiggly last week when I was there. The Sponge Bob one too.”
Taylor looked up, suddenly more engaged in the conversation. “Now that’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
I shrugged, uncomfortable with being on the receiving end of his cold, calculating attention. “I was there shopping. I thought about getting one for my nephew, but I didn’t realize they were adult sizes until I picked one up and noticed the seams were off. The seam on the Batman hat the robber wore was catawampus. I’d bet my right arm it came from there.”
“You don’t say.” He turned back to his notebook. “And the other guy?”
I rattled off my description, unnerved now, which probably made me seem guilty, although of what, I didn’t know. I’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time. The only thing I could be accurately accused of was having extremely bad luck.
“What happened next?”
I squirmed. “I was purposely trying to take note of any identifying details about the robbers, and the guy in the in Sponge Bob mask didn’t like it. He pulled me up off the floor and started to take me to the safety deposit box room. But we heard sirens and the other guy told him they had to go. He called him Mick.”
“Mick? Anything else? Did he say a last name?” the detective asked.
“Anything else you remember about him?”
“When his sleeve got close to my face, I smelled rust.”
“Was is a faint odor or a strong one?”
I thought about it for a moment, then cringed when I remembered him grabbing my face. “Pretty strong. He told me not to tell anyone else about what they looked like. Then he picked up my deposit bag off the floor and left. I watched them get into their getaway car right before the police showed up. It was an older Dodge Charger. Gold. Officers Ernie and Sprout ran right past them on their way into the bank. But when I tried to tell Ernie, he wouldn’t listen. He pointed his gun at me and told me to get on the floor.”
Mason’s eyes widened. “So the police let them get away.” It wasn’t posed as a question.
I sighed. “By the time Mr. Murphy and I got a chance to tell them, the car was already gone.”
“Did you get a license plate number?” Detective Taylor asked, his mouth puckered in irritation.
I shook my head. “No. I only saw the front of the car, and it didn’t have a license plate.”
Taylor looked up and quirked an eyebrow. “You have to admit that it looks suspicious that you’ve been dead center in a lot of illegal occurrences in Henryetta over the last few months.”
Mason’s crossed arms dropped to his sides. “Are you calling her a suspect?” he asked in his no-nonsense voice, the one that made people quake in their shoes.
Taylor cleared his throat. “No. I’m just saying it’s an odd coincidence. You can’t deny it, Deveraux.”
Mason pressed his lips into a tight line and crossed his arms again.
Taylor gave me a sideways glance, the tiniest bit of a smirk in his eyes. “And how much money was in that bag of yours, Ms. Gardner?”
“About three hundred dollars in checks.” I took a breath, feeling like I was gonna throw up. “And nine thousand in cash.”
The detective’s pen stopped mid-stroke and he looked up at me with narrowed eyes. “Why’d you have so much cash?”
“Mr. O’Leary paid me yesterday for a job we’d finished at his place.”
“And he paid you in cash.” His mouth twisted to the side. “That’s an awful lot of cash.”
I shrugged, uneasiness crawling up my back and burrowing in the base of my head. “It was a big job.”
“Nine thousand exactly? Not a dollar more or less?”
Mason took a step forward, his voice deep and commanding. “What are you getting at, Taylor?”
“It just seems odd that it’s such a round number.” He shrugged. “It’s an observation. No more.”
Mason’s jaw twitched again, but his face was expressionless. “You seem to be making a lot of unnecessary observations.”
The police officer shrugged, nonplused. “Just doing my job, Mr. ADA. You’re griping all the time about us being sloppy and not asking enough questions.” He flourished the notebook he’d been writing in at Mason. “This is me doing my job.”
Mason’s eyes darkened.
I shifted my weight, feeling the need to break the tension. “I had initially given him a higher quote, but Mr. O’Leary insisted he wouldn’t give me the job if it was a penny more than nine thousand.” I took a breath. “We weren’t going to make much of a profit anyway, and we kept running into problems from start to finish. Now I’m gonna have a hard time paying Bruce Wayne’s paycheck.” All the more reason I needed to recover the cash.
“And do you routinely deal in cash?” Taylor asked.
Mason looked furious. “It’s none of your damn business how Rose handles her money for the shop, Taylor.”
The detective glanced at Mason with mock innocence. “I agree. I’m merely tryin’ to gather all the facts is all.”
We all knew that was a bald-faced lie, but there was no use protesting.
“And do you know anything else that might help us in this investigation?”
I did, but I couldn’t tell anyone who didn’t know about my ability…and I especially couldn’t tell him. “No,” I said, my tone making it clear that it was my final comment.
Taylor stuck his notebook inside his coat pocket. “Well, alrighty then. I’m gonna get the other statements. You’re free to go, but if I have any other questions, I’ll look you up.” He cast a derisive look at Mason. “Looks like I know where to find you.”
I frowned when I realized Mason had missed the detective’s sneer. “Yeah.”
Mason watched Taylor walk out of the office. “One of these days, the Henryetta Police Department is going to get cleaned out just like the sheriff’s department was,” he said. I could hear the lingering hurt in his voice. We’d helped uncover a leak in the sheriff’s department after Crocker’s escape, and unfortunately, it had been Mason’s friend Chief Deputy Dimler.
I made a face. “Don’t count on it. According to Aunt Bessie, they’ve been inept since before I was born.” The lack of photos in the office unnerved me. “Don’t you think it’s strange Mr. Sullivan didn’t come in today of all days?”
“It definitely seems like more than a coincidence.”
I stood and moved around the side of the desk, examining the walls. “I was in his office this past summer when I applied for my business loan. He had photos of his wife and his son at the boy’s high school graduation and another from his family trip to Cancun the year before. It seems odd that they’re gone.”
Mason turned to take in the room. “It most certainly does. I’ll be sure to have Taylor follow up on it.”
I stared out the window at the parking lot, my eyes finding the empty space where the getaway car had been parked. “Mason, there’s something I couldn’t tell Detective Taylor.”
His head jerked toward me. “What?”
“I had a vision. While the guy with the Sponge Bob mask was holding my face.”
His eyes widened. “He was holding your face? Why didn’t you tell Taylor that?”
I waved my hand. “That’s not important. The vision is. The robber was in an old barn next to the getaway car, and he was talking to his accomplice. But the guy wasn’t wearing the Batman mask anymore. I saw his face.”
“You’re kidding.” He shook his head, dazed. “What did he look like?”
“He had long scraggly blond hair. He was pale skinned and looked like he was in his late twenties, early thirties.”
“What else did you see?”
“Nothing really, but the robber said they didn’t get enough money. That the ‘rat-bastard’”—I used air quotes—“hadn’t come through and they needed more.”
Mason watched me for several seconds and then scooped me up in a hug, giving me a hard kiss. “You have no idea how helpful that is.”
“How?” I asked, confused.
“First, if they didn’t get enough money, they’re probably going to rob somewhere else.”
“Oh. That can’t be good.”
“No, but now we’re on the alert.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Second, I can have you look at mug shots to see if you can identify the guy. And third, now we know they either had an inside man or an accomplice who didn’t come through. While I hate to jump to conclusions, Norman Sullivan is definitely suspect.”
I found it hard to believe that the loan officer had anything to do with the bank robbery. He’d been so friendly and helpful in our meeting. But I had to admit that the circumstantial evidence was piling up. Still, circumstantial evidence had indicated Bruce Wayne and I were guilty of crimes we hadn’t committed. In my eyes, Mr. Sullivan was innocent until proven guilty. “There’s a problem, though,” I said, sighing. “You can’t use any of it. It’s from a vision.”
“Let me worry about that. Can you swing by my office for a bit and look at the mug shots?”
“Sure, but I need to go to the nursery first to break the news to Violet. And I suspect it’s not going to go over well.”
He lifted my chin and gave me a soft smile. “Hey, it wasn’t your fault.”
No, if it was anyone’s fault, it was Violet’s. But that had never stopped her from casting the blame on me, and I suspected this time would be no exception.
There was going to be hell to pay and Violet was gonna make me write a personal check.
This was one time when I was sorry to be right.
“What do you mean they took all of our money?” my sister shouted, gripping the counter at the register of our nursery so hard I worried it would snap.
“While I know you’ve been working night and day on this Holiday Open House—” I gestured to the interior of our store, which looked like a Christmas bomb had exploded inside it “—I know you haven’t lost your understanding of the English language.” I took a step closer. “The robbers took the deposit bag. It’s gone unless the police find the two guys who did this. And even if they do, we might be sunk since we didn’t write down the serial numbers.”
She looked down her perfect nose at me and tossed her perfect blonde hair over her shoulder. “And you just gave it to them?”
My mouth dropped open in shock, then I closed it and shook my head. “Yes, Violet. That’s exactly what I did. I said, ‘Here Mr. Bank Robber, please take all nine thousand dollars that I worked my hiney off to raise.’ Because the gun he was pointing in my face wasn’t enough incentive.”
Her face went ashen. “Gun?”
“It was a bank robbery, Violet. They typically involve guns.”
“Rose, you could have been killed,” she said, her voice quiet now, subdued.
“Well thank you for finally figuring that out.”
“Are you okay?”
I looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath before leveling my gaze on her. “I’m fine,” I said, my voice heavy with resignation. “No one was hurt.” I subconsciously rubbed my side. “Well, other than where he kicked me.”
She walked around the counter and wrapped her arms around me, her body shaking. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted that way. It’s just…the money…”
Besides funding our paychecks, we’d been counting on using that money to pay for a shipment of Christmas trees. We’d gotten a special deal on them, but there was a catch… It was pay on delivery, and we were committed. The delivery was set for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Less than a week away and now we didn’t have enough. “I can make do if I have to go a couple of weeks without a paycheck, and we can cancel the Christmas tree order.”
“We can’t cancel, Rose.” Her voice rose. “We’re committed to it.”
I stepped away and rubbed my temple “We’ll figure something out.”
“There’s nothing else to figure out. Given how much money we’ve invested in growing the business, we were barely able to scrape together enough for the trees and the Holiday Open House in the first place. There’s nothing left for the paychecks and now it will be hard to pay for those trees too.” Violet leaned her back against the counter. “What about Mason?”
I froze. “What about Mason?”
“He’s living in your house, rent free—”
Her eyes widened as she continued to plead her case. “But I’m sure he’d be more than happy to help—”
“No!” I said firmly. “Like I said, I can go without a paycheck. I’m not asking Mason for help.”
“Rose, be reasonable.”
“I’m being perfectly reasonable. And I’m not asking him. This is our business. We’ve already asked him to go above and beyond by looking at our legal papers for the Small Business Administration Grant and our agreement with the contractor.” I knew I should just tell her that Mason didn’t have the money to loan us, but she already found him lacking because of his work schedule, I could only imagine what she’d say if she knew about his financial situation.
“Joe helped us a lot, and you had no problem with that.” There was a hateful tone in her voice.
I put my hands on my hips, fighting tears. “I can’t believe you brought him up.”
Her face softened and she spanned the space between us, grabbing my arm. “I wouldn’t ask you, but we’re desperate, Rose. We’re in worse shape than I thought. I haven’t been totally honest with you. It’s not just our salaries and the trees on the line…” She took a deep breath, guilt twisting her mouth. “This whole Holiday Open House has gotten out of hand.”
I wasn’t surprised. When Violet first mentioned the idea of having the open house, I gave her my full support. But when we got the several hundred thousand dollars in grant money, Violet’s plans had grown proportionately. Too bad she hadn’t read the fine print: the grant money was strictly allocated for the expansion of our store, and we would be in deep doodoo if we used it for anything else. She’d bought artificial trees of every variety and thousands of dollars in decorations. But by the time she realized the limitations of the loan, her plans for the open house scheduled for Black Friday were already well on their way, and the Christmas trees had been ordered. We were good and stuck.
In spite of the mess, I firmly believed the open house was still a good idea. She planned on having holiday refreshments and a violinist was coming to play Christmas music. Prizes would be awarded to random customers throughout the day, and I knew the Henryetta Garden Club had planned their November meeting around the event. The women in Henryetta loved Violet—which was why she was one of the reasons she was in charge of the store while I handled the landscaping side of the business—and the event had even been written up in Banner News, the newspaper of neighboring Magnolia County. It was going to be the business holiday event of southern Arkansas, and I felt confident that it firmly establish us as the nursery of Fenton and Lafayette counties—quite accomplishment since we were only a few months old. But only if we could afford to pay for everything.
“We’ll figure something out,” I finally said. “Besides, the bank should eventually reimburse us.”
Violet worried her lip between her teeth. “But you didn’t make the deposit, right?”
“Well, no… But Mason thinks they will.”
“I’m gonna call our insurance company to see what they say.”
“Okay, I’d better get to the job site. Bruce Wayne probably thinks I’ve wandered off into the hills again.” In all the excitement, I’d almost forgotten all about it, but we needed the money and I couldn’t exactly afford to slack off.
Her head jerked up. “Don’t even joke about that. You scared me half to death when I found out that you and Mason had been traipsing in the woods with a maniac after you.”
“Well, we don’t have to worry about that maniac anymore.” Not after I’d shot and killed him in self-defense.
“Not that particular maniac, but there seem to be plenty more waiting to come after you.”
I took a step toward the door. “And on that cheery note, I’m out of here.”
I turned back to face her.
“I have a huge favor to ask you.”
Violet had asked all kinds of favors from me lately. This had to be a doozy if she was calling it huge. “What is it?”
“I’ve been driving myself crazy with the preparations for this event and throw in the fact that I’ve moved back into Momma’s tiny house with the kids…well, I was wondering if you’d consider hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year.”
My eyes widened in surprise. “Oh.”
“You’re living in Dora’s big farmhouse now, which means you have plenty of room. Even more room than I had in my house with Mike. And I can bring things too.” She tilted her head to the side and gave me a pleading smile. “Please?”
Violet had hosted Thanksgiving for seven years, ever since she and Mike had gotten married. But they were separated now, and she’d had to give up the house she loved to move into Momma’s house after I moved out of it. There was no reason to expect her to take the responsibility of hosting every year. It was long past time for me to step up. “Sure. Of course. I’d love to do it.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes turned glassy, and she looked close to crying. “And I’m sorry about earlier. You know I love you, right?”
I gave her a sad smile. “Yeah, I know.” Only it wasn’t enough to make up for all the ugliness she’d shown me over the last few months. Still, she was my sister, and nothing could stand in the way of that. At least nothing that had happened yet. “I love you too.”
After I’d climbed into my truck and pulled out of the parking lot, I called Mason. “Do I have to come in right away? I really need to go check on Bruce Wayne. We have a big job today, ripping out a bunch of bushes and a few small trees. I was planning to join him after depositing the money at the bank this morning, so I’m really late.”
“I was about to call you. My boss can’t be bothered to sit in on a deposition that he himself set up, so I have to go.” His frustration was unmistakable. Mason was the assistant district attorney in title, but he did far more work than the actual DA, which was part of the reason he worked so many late nights. “Would you be able to meet me for a late lunch?”
“In your office again?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“Mason, it’s your job. I would never begrudge you that.”
“I know, Rose. But the DA keeps shoving more and more responsibility on me, which is making it hard for me to spend as much time with you as I’d like.” His voice lowered. “I’ve waited months to be with you, so I begrudge the fact my job is getting in the way.” He paused. “I would consider quitting, but I’d have to leave Fenton County to find another job. I know you’re committed to your business and the farm, and I’m not about to move away from you.”
“Mason.” My voice broke. “I don’t want you to make yourself miserable because of me.”
“I’m not miserable because of you. Don’t think that.” I heard his frustration again.
“It’s okay.” I assured him. “You know I understand your position, and I don’t want you to move away from me either. Especially now. I’ll bring you lunch and we’ll eat in your office.” I smiled to myself and said in a husky voice, “And we can shut your door.”
“I like that thought,” he said. “It’s the only thing that’s going to get me through this deposition.”
I stopped at a stop sign and looked down at my faded jeans, worn long-sleeved T-shirt, and jacket. “Too bad I won’t have time to change into something nicer before I come see you.” Of course, he’d already seen me today, so it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise.
“Rose, you could walk into my office wearing rags and you’d still be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
I laughed. “You’re just trying to butter me up because you want me to bring you apple pie from Merrilee’s Café.”
“How can you say that?” he asked in mock dismay. “You know I think you’re beautiful. And if you don’t, then I’m falling down on my job.”
“So does this mean you don’t want the apple pie?” I teased.
He laughed. “Now, don’t get hasty.”
Chuckling, I shook my head. “Any other requests?”
“Surprise me. The rest is superfluous as long as I have you.”
My heart overflowed with emotion. I knew he meant every word. I suspected he’d go the rest of his life without another piece of pie if it meant being with me. “When should I come by? Does one work?”
“Can you make it one-thirty?”
“Done. I’ll see you later, Mr. Assistant DA.”
“Tell Bruce Wayne I said hi.”
I hung up, already missing him, which was crazy since I’d woken up next to him in bed and then seen him again at the bank. Turned out I was a greedy woman. I wanted every moment I could get with Mason. I had half a mind to go kick the district attorney’s behind myself.
When I pulled up in front of the Timberland house ten minutes later, Bruce Wayne was wresting with an overgrown shrub. He’d already dug up two others without me. He stuck his shovel in the ground and looked up at me through his shaggy bangs. “Everything okay, Miss Rose?”
Bruce Wayne had to be ten years older than me, putting him in his mid-thirties, but he still insisted on calling me Miss.
We had first became acquainted when I was in the jury on his trial for murder, which was incidentally when I’d first met Mason, who’d been the prosecutor for the case. I’d had a vision of the real murderer, but I couldn’t tell anyone that other than my then-boyfriend, Joe. A state police detective at the time, he had encouraged me to trust the system. But I knew what it felt like to be suspected for a murder that I hadn’t committed, so I had done everything in my power to make sure Bruce Wayne didn’t pay for someone else’s crime.
And he didn’t forget that.
So when I was desperate for manual laborers to help with a big landscaping job at Jonah’s New Living Hope Revival Church, Bruce Wayne had agreed to help. And the huge surprise to all of us was that he had a really a good eye for landscaping…and he loved it. He had become a loyal and dedicated employee, but more importantly, a friend.
“I’m sorry I’m late, and I’m sorry I didn’t call,” I said. “This morning got a bit crazy.” I gave him a goofy grin. “I was in a bank robbery.”
Bruce Wayne took his hands off the shovel and stood up straighter—not straight, it was a rare day when he didn’t hunch his shoulders—but still noticeably more erect. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“They took the deposit bag, Bruce Wayne.” I grabbed the edge for my jacket and twisted it in my hand. “It was filled with all the O’Leary money.”
“Oh, shit.” He grimaced. “Excuse my language.”
“No,” I laughed even though my eyes were tearing up. “I think this warrants an ‘oh, shit.’”
A goofy grin tipped up his mouth.
My own smile slid into a frown. “Violet has overextended us with the open house, so we’re in trouble.”
Bruce Wayne squirmed. “If you can’t afford to give me my paycheck—”
“You stop right there Bruce Wayne Decker,” I said, my voice firm. “Paying you is at the tip-top of our list of priorities, and I won’t hear another word about it. Understood?” I didn’t know how I’d pay him, but I’d figure out a way.
He looked down at his feet. “Yes, ma’am.”
I pushed out a huge breath. “Since David lost his job at the Piggly Wiggly last week, I’m sure you need every penny you can get. Especially with the holidays coming.”
He shrugged. “So what are you gonna do?”
I grabbed the shovel Bruce Wayne had brought for me, wanting to take my frustration out on the roots of the shrub. “I don’t know yet, but I need to come up with something fast. Ideally, I’d like to get my money back, but that seems unlikely. Unless…”
Bruce Wayne jerked his gaze up in surprise. “I don’t like the look on your face, Miss Rose.”
“If we can find out who robbed the bank, I might be able to get the money back.”
“We?” he asked, grumbling. “You got a mouse in your pocket?”
“Very funny.” I headed for the shrub next to the one Bruce Wayne was strong-arming and slammed the shovel into the ground with my foot. “You and I both know you still have some connections to shady characters in Fenton County.”
He shook his head. “No, ma’am. I ain’t gettin’ involved. Half of Crocker’s boys—the ones that are still hanging around—have it out for me.”
“What about Scooter and Skeeter Malcolm?”
Bruce Wayne pressed his lips together.
“Can’t you just ask around? See if anyone knows anything?”
He scowled. “I’ll think about it, okay? No more pressuring.”
I flashed him a grin. “Fair enough.”
“How’d Violet overextend herself, if you don’t mind me bein’ nosy?”
“She’s spread us out too thin by trying to grow the business too big, too fast, not leaving us with enough financial wiggle room in case something bad happened.”
“Like gettin’ your money stolen in a bank robbery.”
“Yeah,” I sighed.
“Sounds like my dad,” he muttered.
It was my turn to jerk up in surprise. While I hadn’t actually met Bruce Wayne’s parents, I’d seen them in the courtroom during his trial. They’d seemed like nice enough people, although boring as milk toast. I still had a hard time accepting that they’d washed their hands of him. “Your father seems way too conservative for that.”
He shook his head. “Russell isn’t my birth father. I was just two when Momma married him, so she gave me his last name. My dad is at the Tucker Unit with the Arkansas Department of Corrections.”
“Oh.” That explained so much.
“Yeah,” Bruce Wayne pried up part of the shrub with his shovel. “My dad had too many pies and not enough fingers.” He looked up at the roof. “Or was it too many fingers and not enough pies?”
“In any case, this reminds me of when I was a kid and my dad was actually out of prison for a little while. In the weeks before he was arrested again—the one that put him away for good—he was juggling too many things and it caught up with him. He didn’t have a backup plan. Yeah, that’s it. Juggling, not pies.” He paused. “Anyways, it sounds a bit like Miss Violet. No offense intended, of course.”
“None taken.” And besides, he had a point.
He looked me in the eye. “If you decide to start diggin’ into this, be careful. You know you have a penchant for pissing off shady characters.”
I nodded since there was no use denying the truth.
We worked in silence for several minutes before Bruce Wayne cleared his throat. “My father used to lord it over me that my real dad was a good for nothing piece of white trash.”
I waited for him to say something more. He rarely shared information about his personal life, let alone his past. I felt honored that he was comfortable enough with me to do so, but I also knew he wasn’t a man to be rushed. Information came out in its own sweet time with Bruce Wayne.
“When I first got in trouble, he declared that the apple don’t fall far from the tree.” He jammed the shovel into the dirt with more force than he usually used. “He used a belt to drive home his point.”
I kept shoveling and when he didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, I decided it was safe to talk. Since he was giving me the gift of sharing his past, I felt safe sharing my own story with someone who would understand. “My momma wasn’t my birth mother. Only I didn’t find out until after she died. My daddy had left my momma with the intention of marrying a woman named Dora. That’s my birth mother. She was pregnant with me when he walked out on my momma.” I swallowed, trying to wet my dry mouth. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was about telling him my story. “My momma hated me. After I found out about Dora, I found a photo of her holding me when I was a baby. Turns out that I kind of look like her, so I’m sure Momma didn’t care for the reminder. My daddy only came back to her after Dora died, and he brought me with him. He did it for Violet. So I understand what it’s like for a parent to hate you for no good reason other than who provided part of your DNA.” I stopped and waited for Bruce Wayne to look up at me. “I understand.”
He nodded and pressed his lips together. “I can see that you do.”
We worked in silence for a bit longer, but I kept thinking about everything Bruce Wayne had told me. His family had deserted him shortly before his murder arrest, which they’d used as an excuse to completely seal the door on their relationship. The only person he had left was his best friend David. At least I still had Violet, even if she wasn’t perfect. “Bruce Wayne, what are you doin’ for Thanksgiving?”
“Uh…nothing. Probably going to Denny’s in Magnolia with David.”
“I want you to come to Thanksgiving dinner at my place.”
“Give me one good reason you can’t come.”
He didn’t answer.
“Then it’s settled.” I smiled, finally feeling happy about my first Thanksgiving dinner. “David’s invited too.”
“What about Mason?”
“Mason will love to have you there.” And I had no doubt that it was true. He would welcome them both. That’s one of the things I loved about Mason. While Joe looked down on Bruce Wayne as a man with a criminal record, Mason saw the same potential in him that I recognized. No, Mason wouldn’t be an issue.
It was Violet who worried me.