Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery (Chapter Seven) (Edited)

The following is, from start to finish, a work of complete fiction. Any resemblance to persons alive and/or dead are purely coincidental, so please don't sue me (because I own nothing of value); unless, of course, it's a reference to someone here on BRB, in which case REALLY don't sue me.

Chapter One - It's Good To Be The QB

Chapter Two - A Blogger Named Scott Brooks

Chapter Three - The Quarterback Is Dead

Chapter Four - Why Is Housekeeping Never There When You Need It?

Chapter Five - The Photograph

Chapter Six - I'm Looking For A Girl. Yeah, Aren't We All?

Chapter Seven: Finnegan's Eliot's Wake


The last embers of sunset were slowly consumed by the oncoming darkness as a lone limousine cruised up the road to the entryway of Nash's house. Between the limo and the house stood, in order: a tall, black wrought iron fence which surrounded the house, its spindles topped by gilded spikes; a squadron of very serious looking men, each roughly the size of a city block, clad in black suits that would make the Secret Service look like a comedy troupe by comparison; and a swarm of reporters, cameramen, and looky-loos hovering around in the hope of finding a story worth publishing, a picture worth posting, or a cute anecdote to share with the neighbors the following day.

Within this throng of humanity stood Jack McClanahan, his writing pad in one hand, and pinching the stub of his cigarette to his lips with the other as if his life depended on it. As he let out a cloud of blue smoke to a chorus of coughs and disapproval, he felt a sharp pain in his side. He dropped the stub, lost in the night, and reached to feel where the elbow had struck. McClanahan was a gaunt man in his late forties. He wore a simple white dress shirt, pristine blue jeans, and a brown suede jacket.

"The things I do for a story," he said in a rasp, feeling at the point of impact. He knew that would be a bruise tomorrow. It was moments like these that made him wish he had more meat on his bones.

He felt two more sharp pains in his lower back and let out a muffled groan. The crowd around him grew more agitated as the limo approached. When the limo stopped in front, one of the guards jogged around the crowd and talked to the driver through a cracked window. He gestured at the other guards to let the limo through. There was a brief buzzer sound and the gate began to open.

As the gate opened, the mob outside shouted questions excitedly at the back of the car. Camera flashes lit up the sweeping night like fireflies on LSD. The guards who had been standing in front of the gate ushered the crowd out of the way without saying a word and wearing the exact same look on their faces saying that they would brook no arguments on the matter. The limo rolled through the opened gate amid the groans of reporters and cameramen who failed to obtain anything useful for their employers. McClanahan, like the others in the mob, knew he was in for a long night.

**********

"What's that? You're breaking up on me," said Marcus Sheridan, looking absently through the tinted windows out at the pine trees which lined the pathway to the house.

"How much longer, did you say you were going to be? Well hurry up, I don't want to be here any longer than I have to. Awright, bye," Sheridan said angrily as he turned off the phone. "How much longer until we get to his house? I didn't realize we had to go through the damn forest to get there."

The driver remained silent. Sheridan fumed as he saw the faint glow of electric lights on the cobblestone driveway. The glow grew brighter as the limo pulled around to the front of the house. The first thing Sheridan noticed was the large fountain that stood in front of the house. It was built of gleaming white Italian marble. The marble plinth in the center propped up a bronze sculpture of a water nymph, which had water coming out of its mouth intermittently. The door was opened suddenly by a very out-of-breath driver. Sheridan got out of the limo and he could hear the water pouring into the basin of the fountain with another noise accompanying it. He leaned his ear toward the fountain to hear it better. Sheridan rolled his eyes. As water spewed out of the nymph's mouth, the melodic sound of someone puking their guts out accompanied it.

"Classy, Nash," Sheridan said scornfully. "Real classy."

He took a couple of steps and stretched out, letting out a loud, strained groan which probably would have frightened off any predators in the area, had there been any in the forest surrounding the house. His long, lean frame badly needed that moment to stretch out. He ran his hands through his Cushing-inspired fauxhawk and scratched at an itchy spot on his head as if he were a dog with fleas. He had tightly pinched features, except for a massive, chiseled chin which would have made Jay Leno jealous, and narrow brown eyes which scanned over the front of Nash's "humble" abode.

The house that laid before the fountain was classy, however. The doorway to the house was flanked on either side by ferocious looking bronze lion statues. Above the door stood a veranda with enormous potted plants stationed at the corners. Sheridan imagined Louis XVI or Marie Antoinette might have stood on a similar veranda in a similar palace in addressing the local peasantry.

"No wonder Nash loved this house so much," Sheridan thought.

The front of the house was splashed with white lights, putting it in stark contrast with the blackness of the forest beyond. Sheridan walked up to the ornate glass door which was opened immediately by a solemn-looking man dressed in a black morning coat.

"Welcome, sir," the man said.

The foyer was empty save for an ebony staircase that gracefully wrapped around the circular foyer to the upper floors. The sounds of indistinct conversation drifted in, bouncing off the eggshell blue walls. Sheridan followed the murmur, which grew louder with each step he took. It was a somber occasion, he knew, but Sheridan could hear laughter punctuate the muted chatter.

He entered the main living room through the dimly-lit hallway. In it, there were dozens of people wearing their best benighted mourning clothes and talking excitedly; from the snippets of conversation he heard, a lot of it was about how the Texans would fare in the Super Bowl the Sunday after next with Yount at the helm. Sheridan shook his head and cursed silently at what Nash called his "friends."

Out of the corner of his eye, Sheridan could see someone move to sit on one of the enormous leather couches against the right-side wall. It was Ashton Yount and he was being propped up on the couch by another man, one in a gray three-piece suit.

Sheridan walked over to Yount and the gray suited man, "Everything okay, Ash?"

Yount looked up with a start, "Huh? Ye-yeah, I'm fine. You've met my agent, haven't you?" he asked, gesturing toward the man in gray.

"Can't say I have," Sheridan said offering his hand for the man to shake. "Marcus Sheridan."

"Name's Henry. Henry Glaston. How's our best pass rusher doing this evening?"

Glaston was a diminutive man with a magnificent mane of black hair which were going gray around the temples. He had kind, grandfather-like eyes which twinkled in the bright light from the chandelier above. Watching him wrangle Yount, who was easily half a foot taller, onto the couch was an amusing sight to see.

"Fine. Fine," he said blandly, leaning closer to Glaston's ear. "Is everything okay with Ash, there?"

Glaston, with a look of confusion on his face, turned toward Sheridan, "What do you mean?"

"He looks like he's a million miles away," Sheridan said, wishing he were a million miles away.

After a moment the confusion was replaced by a grimace, "Oh? Oh, that! You see, he's taken Eliot's death kind of hard the last few days. Combine that with the pressure of winning the Texans' first Super Bowl, and well..."

Sheridan looked at Yount who was staring off into the far distance, which pretty much consisted of the opposite wall and a painting displaying Jacques Louis David's "Napoleon Crossing The Alps" except with Nash in the "Little Corporal's" place atop the horse.

"He crawled into a bottle and, except for practices, won't come out."

Sheridan was beginning to understand why the focus of the wake was on Yount instead of Nash. He looked utterly miserable where he sat, as if he were all alone even in a room full of people. It's been said that heavy is the head which wears the crown, or in this case, the helmet with the wireless mic in it. What kind of hell had Yount put himself through in these last couple of days? Sheridan pushed it out of his mind. He was glad that he just had to destroy quarterbacks instead of being one.

"Hank?" Yount asked uneasily.

"What you need, Ash?"

"Could you get me a scotch? I'm getting thirsty."

"That's not a good idea,"

Yount turned sharply in Glaston's direction, glaring angrily. "Why the hell not?"

"Because you've had enough," Glaston said through gritted teeth.

Sheridan sensed that this was as good a cue as any to extract himself from the impending argument. He excused himself, glanced quickly around the room, then at his gold watch. Where the hell was she? This was one of the things about her that made him crazy, she was always on her own schedule. Never mind that he told her he didn't want to be here. Never mind that she was going to be his excuse for leaving early. It was his escape plan and she was not living up to her end of the deal. Coach Verdieri, in an attempt to maintain team solidarity, said that the wake, and Nash's funeral later in the week, would both be considered "mandatory team activities." He was stuck, it was just a matter of how long would he be stuck for.

What struck Sheridan as far more funny than it really should have been was that he had not seen Verdieri since he had arrived there. Did he really skip out after telling the rest of the team that they had to attend? He could feel the anger rising inside, heat flushing his face and his ears in particular. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, thinking of how it would feel to hold the Lombardi Trophy in his hands, the smooth silver pressed against his lips when he kisses it, and the joy of watching the trophy make its way to the center of Reliant Stadium for the presentation. It made him feel better almost instantly. Maybe that quack anger therapist was not as full of shit as Sheridan thought.

He opened his eyes to see Glaston march irritably over to the bar and pour what would be Yount's first, and most likely not his last, drink of the night.

Sheridan wheeled around to see Verdieri being escorted to the living room by a pair of the same no-necked, planetoid-sized guards who stood in front of the gate. Verdieri dusted himself off as the guards shoved him into the main living room. He then spun around and yelled, "Get your damn hands off of me," as he ran his hands through his mullet. "Didn't need a goddamn escort," he muttered.

The room froze and watched the spectacle when Sheridan's ears picked up the first audible sob he had heard since he arrived. He looked around at the mourners who were all chatting amiably, talking football and all other topics of conversation besides Nash, until he saw a woman wearing a long black dress and a veil covering her eyes. Her petite hands were obscured behind her veil, clutching a small tissue and dabbing at her eyes gingerly.

She sat in a wide cream-colored chair which stood a couple of yards from the far wall. Under normal circumstances, she was a lovely, statuesque woman with mocha-colored skin. Her hair was swept up in a tight bun covered by a small hat which held her veil in place.

Sheridan walked over to her, feeling genuinely sad for her suffering.

"Mrs. Nash?" Sheridan asked, calmly.

The widow Nash looked up toward Sheridan, lifted up her veil, and let out a quick sniffle. "Laura, please."

Aside from the streaks from her tears, she was still very striking. She had to have been in her late 20s, Sheridan thought. She had high cheekbones and bright, expressive hazel eyes that would have been more beautiful had they not been bloodshot from crying.

"Laura, I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss," Sheridan said.

It surprised him how sorry he felt for her.

"Thank you," she choked out. "You're the first person to say so all night."

Sheridan looked at the crowd, almost everyone had drinks in hand and laughed as though it were any other party and not a memorial for a fallen friend; not that he could legitimately call Nash his friend. The sight of these freeloaders made Sheridan put down his club soda.

"I'm sure more will come," he said.

"Tha--" she could not finish the sentiment, the tears she had fought back overpowered her and she let out an extremely loud, albeit brief, sob.

As she cried, a lean and hungry-looking man that stood next to her leaned down and wrapped his arms around her. In low, hushed tones, he mumbled something about the sorrow he felt for her. Sheridan caught a glimpse of his face; sorrowful was not the word he would have used to describe it.

She fought to control her emotions. "Never let 'em see you cry, Eliot used to say," she said, lowering her veil again. "So which are you," she asked, her emotions finally under control again, "Football player who had to come or freeloader making one last grab at anything of Eliot's that isn't nailed down?"

Sheridan chuckled softly, "Football player. My name's Marcus."

"Marcus...Sheridan?"

Sheridan nodded uneasily. Nash had apparently told her about him. But how much did she know? Did she know everything? If she had, he would never have made it past the security gate outside.

"Eliot told me about you."

"H-he did," Sheridan asked, his heart thumping like a bongo, "what did he say?"

"Not much, just told me that you were about to get married or something like that."

Sheridan let out a heavy sigh of relief. He didn't tell her, then. Good.

"Yes. In fact, she was supposed to meet me here today. But she seems to be running late. Again," Sheridan said, with a trace of annoyance in his voice.

A dour man in a black morning coat walked up to Laura, "There's a woman at the gate, madam," he said in a precise British accent. "She says she knows Mr. Sheridan."

Sheridan's eyes widened at the news. "That must be her."

Laura gave the word to let her in. "I'll be interested in finally meeting this girl."

"Actually," Marcus said, "I think you've met each other before."

"Have we?"

"Yeah. She told me you two met in the WAG section during Texans games."

"Really? Can you describe her for me?"

"Sure. She's blonde with green eyes, about so tall," he said, indicating his fiancee's height on his chest.

Laura puzzled briefly over who this mystery woman could have been.

Five minutes passed before Sheridan heard the high, unmistakable pitch of his betrothed's voice echoing from the foyer. When she arrived in the room, she was out of breath and stopped at the entryway to the living room. She stood bolt upright and collected herself before entering. The dress she wore was a strapless black dress which showed off her pale complexion and curves so sharp that a warning label should have been sewn into the middle of her dress. She took a deep breath and walked in calmly and confidently.

"Ah, there she is," Sheridan said, masking the sarcasm in his tone masterfully, then did a double take as he noticed the short red hair she sported. What on earth did she do to her hair, he wondered.

As the woman approached, Laura raised her veil again, her eyes wide as saucers at the red-headed woman walking into her home.

"Laura Nash, this is Julia Quinn. My fiancee," Sheridan said cheerily.

For the first time that night, Laura was dead silent. Not a sob, not a sniffle, not even the slightest creak of her voice came out. She stared down Julia like a viper sizing up a particularly filthy rat. The green eyes, the long blonde hair, she pictured the redhead with it easily; she had known her, except she remembered seeing her in a long blue dress, instead.

Laura stood out of the chair she sat in and walked slowly, methodically toward her.

"You have some nerve showing up here," Laura snarled.

Julia blinked rapidly, showing her unease for the first time. "I-I'm sorry?"

"I saw that photo, Julia," Laura said, attaching extra malice to the woman's name, "You thought a cheap hair dye and trashy haircut would fool me?"

Sheridan looked as confused as a puppy between a couple of hydrants.

"I do-I don't know what--"

"Shut up," Laura said icily, the focus of the entire party now squarely placed on Julia and Laura. "You dare to show your face around here after what you did with my husband? You got some goddamn nerve, girl."

Laura raised her hand high in the air and flung it toward Julia.

Julia closed her eyes waiting for her slap to make impact, but all she felt was a soft breeze of frigid air. She opened a single eye to see Laura's hand stop mere inches away from her face.

Laura recoiled her hand and put it to her side, "Forget it. I wouldn't dare touch you. God only knows where you've been."

Sheridan glared at Laura in outrage. Julia's eyes teared up, her meticulously applied mascara trickled down her face.

"Skank," Laura muttered.

Julia ran as fast as she could out of the living room and into the courtyard out front.

Laura attempted to collect herself again. "I think," she began, choking back the tears and the fury that were demanding to be released, "I think you should leave."

Sheridan was dumbfounded. What on earth just happened? How did she know Julia? More importantly, what did she do with Nash that would have caused her to have such a meltdown? He paused for a moment to look at Laura. The relatively calm figure she had tried to maintain for the wake was long gone; all that remained was a grieving widow driven to the brink of madness by someone she thought had done her wrong.

"I said get out!" Laura screamed as she picked up Sheridan's glass of club soda and flung it across the room which shattered loudly against the opposite wall. Laura slumped down and bawled uncontrollably, giving up any pretense of trying to control the maelstrom of emotions within. The man who stood next to her before resumed his position as chief console and held Laura close as she cried into his chest.

Sheridan walked toward the exit, with several dozen pairs of eyes fixed on him coldly. He had never felt such icy contempt and such burning rage at one time as he had in that moment. He hoped never to experience it again.

He ran out to the courtyard where Julia was sitting in a silver Mercedes sobbing into a tear-soaked tissue. He got into the car with her and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close to him.

"You okay, sweetness?" Sheridan asked, unsure of what else to say.

Julia looked up at him. She looked worse than Laura did. "Do I look okay to you?"

He knew it was stupid to ask, and he regretted saying it the minute it came out. "Shhhhh, it's okay," he said, pulling her closer. She sniffled on his shirt. Sheridan made a note to burn this shirt when he was done with it.

"It's not okay," she sniveled. "I did a terrible thing."

Sheridan frowned, desperately trying to think of something that would make her feel better, "It couldn't have been as bad as all that," he said.

"It is," she said, then blew her nose loudly into a fresh tissue. "It was."

"What could you have possibly done that was so bad?"

Julia grew quiet, new tears were ready to slide down her face, "She wasn't wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"I--" the words caught in her throat, as if saying them would kill her, "I slept with Eliot."

Sheridan felt a chill sweep from his head down to his feet. He briefly imagined the hamster turning the wheel in his mind stopping, shaking its little hamster head, and squeaking in shock.

"You...what," Sheridan asked, fiddling with his ears, unsure if he heard correctly.

"I did. I was with Nash the night he died," Julia sobbed.

He felt...something. He did not know what exactly he was feeling. Numbness? The idea of Nash in bed with his fiancee infuriated him so much that it created a short circuit in his brain, preventing him from reacting at all.

"I...see," he said, neither able nor willing to see at all what she was saying.

"It gets worse," she continued.

"Oh," Sheridan said numbly, not entirely sure how it could get worse.

"There's a picture of him and me leaving t-together," Julia said.

"I guess...that would explain how L-Laura knew," he said.

"And--"

"There's an 'and,'" Sheridan asked incredulously, "What else cold there possibly be?"

"I think the police are sniffing around. Some investigator was sniffing around my dad's house yesterday looking for me. I think they think that I...that I..."

Sheridan leaned back in the seat and contemplated the dome light on the ceiling.

"Okay, here's what we're going to do," Sheridan said, sitting back up and facing Julia. "We are going home. You are going to tell me everything, and I mean every thing, about Nash, this investigator you mentioned, and we are going to fix this problem. Understand?"

Julia nodded silently.

"Good. Now let's get the hell out of here," Sheridan said. "I didn't want to come here in the first place."

TO BE CONTINUED...

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