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PROLOGUE

AN OBLIGATION

One

TIM HURRIED INTO THE family room and rushed to the coffee table.  He picked up the television’s remote control.  Henry was sitting on the couch.  The Wall Street Journal newspaper was spread out beside him.  He looked up at the back of Tim’s head.  Tim changed the channel and turned up the volume.  Henry asked him what he was doing.  Tim turned around and looked at him and pointed at the screen.  Henry removed his reading glasses, sat up straight and slid to the edge of the couch.  Both watched the screen without moving.  A reporter was announcing Breaking News.

“This normally quiet street is not so quiet this morning.  A neighbor, who wishes to remain anonymous, called the police while out walking their dog.  The neighbor discovered the door open to the house behind me.  Not something that was normal.  Not even in this safe neighborhood.  The neighbor went to the door and called out to the family who lived inside the house.  No one answered.  That is when the police were called.  The house is where the Smith family resided.  The police arrived and checked inside the house where a gruesome scene awaited them.  All four of the Smith family members were found bound and executed.  The Smith’s had only lived in the house for two months.  Neighbors we talked with described the Smiths as good honest people.  Nothing but praises for their new neighbors.”

Tim looked around at Henry.  Henry stared back at him.  Henry’s mouth hung open.  His brow furrowed.  The reporter kept talking.  Both turned their attention back to the screen.

“The Smiths were a young family.  The parents, David, thirty-six, and his wife, Gretchen, thirty-five had two children—six year old Sam and eight year old Tara.  Neighbors said they often saw the four of them in their front yard playing as a family.  This is an older neighborhood.  Younger families have been moving into it.  Neighbors say that the younger and older residents are a good mix.  Children see the older residents as extensions of their family.  The older residents see the young children as extended grandchildren.  It appears that it will take the closeness of this neighborhood to get the residents through this awful tragedy.

This horrific crime has neighbors and authorities alike baffled.  This seemingly All American Family had their lives cut short by someone, or some ones, that the police and the neighborhood want desperately to be found.  We will—“

“Turn it off,” Henry said.  Tim pointed the remote at the television.  “Turn it off.  Now!”

“I’m trying, Dad,” Tim said.  The screen went black.

Henry sat quietly on the couch and lay back.  He brought his hands up and covered his face.  Tim stood quietly and watched him.  Henry sighed with his hands still over his face.  “Damn it!” Henry said and put his hands down in his lap and sat still.  Suddenly, he reached over and grabbed the newspaper and began ripping it apart.  “Damn it!  Damn it!  Damn it!”

“Dad,” Tim said.  Henry kept ripping the newspaper apart and throwing it on the floor.  “Dad.  Dad.”  Tim walked over and grabbed Henry’s wrists.  Henry tried to pull away from him.  “Dad, you have to stop.”  Henry tried to pull free from Tim’s grip.  “You have to stop.”  Tim held onto Henry’s wrists.  “You couldn’t do anything.  You couldn’t save them.  You tried.  But you couldn’t.  You have to stop.”  Tim felt his father tensing up.  “Putting yourself in the hospital isn’t going to help you, or them, or change anything.”

Henry relaxed and breathed loudly.  His head hung down.  A minute passed before he looked up at Tim.  “I’m okay,” Henry said.  Tim slowly let go of his wrists.  “I promise.  I just need to stand.”  Tim reached for Henry’s hand.  Normally Henry would not allow him to help him stand.  He had told Tim that when he could no longer stand up by himself, it was time to put him away.  Henry took Tim’s hand and pulled himself up off the couch.

“I warned them,” Henry said while pointing his finger at Tim.  “I told them.  I sent him five letters.  I advised them not to take the whole amount.  I told them they would draw attention to themselves.  I told them it would tip off the IRS.  And they would investigate.  That’s normally enough to get people’s attention.  They sent me back a foolish letter.  It basically said so what.  If the money was clean they would pay the taxes and take the lump sum.  That’s what they said.  Damn fools.”  He paused.  “Of course, the money was clean.  I made it clean.  Stupid and careless.  That’s what they were.”  He exhaled.

Tim wanted to tell him to calm down.  But it would just make him more excited.

Henry paced back and forth and pushed his hands through his thin, white hair.  His hands slid across his scalp.  “You know, I called him,” Henry said.

Tim stared at him in disbelief.  They do not call people.  It was a rule.  It was an unbreakable rule.  It was nonnegotiable.  It was his father’s main rule.  What happened to anonymity?

“I know,” Henry said.  “We don’t call people.  I don’t want you calling people.  I was careful.”  Henry paused to make sure Tim understood that what he did was a one time thing.

Tim nodded.

“I told him I didn’t know where his father and mother got the money,” Henry said.  “I told him I was overseeing it.  I told him nine thousand dollar parcels wouldn’t draw attention from the IRS or the banks.  I told them to take nine thousand per month.  Then, I would create ten people to receive the same amount.  All of it going to them.  Because of course, I can create ten people.  And, they will be as real as anyone.  I didn’t tell them that.  But, I did tell them they would receive over one million per year until they had it all.”  He exhaled and looked off in the distance.

“It would have gone undetected by every enforcement agency out there,” Henry said.  “I told him that would also keep his family out of the news.  But they insisted on having all the money at once.  I sent them the note his father left with me fifty years ago.  I never opened it.  I had an idea what was in it.  My guess was a letter warning them that someone would come looking for them if anyone found out they came into a large amount of money.”

“But, they didn’t listen,” Tim said.

“No,” Henry said.  “That’s obvious.  They wouldn’t have gone out and purchased a seven hundred thousand dollar house.  Who makes a jump from a two hundred thousand dollar residence to a seven hundred thousand dollar residence in a few months?  This man was in the same job.  How could he do it?  Win the lottery?  There was no evidence of that.  What’s the next logical conclusion?  I would say crime.  He was too stupid to understand.

I had the IRS covered.  Even with him taking it, all the documentation made it look like long-term investments.”  He sighed.  “I warned him he could be putting his family in danger.  That what he was doing was not safe.  He was stupid.  Stupid and greedy.”  He shook his head.  “Those poor children.”  He pressed his fingers in the corner of his eyes.

“Dad, I’m getting us a drink,” Tim said.  “You rest.  I’ll be right back.”  Tim left for the kitchen.

Chapter two is coming soon.  Until then, if someone calls you with a lost inheritance, think twice.