Monday evening after five o’clock, Louisa arrived at the home of Stephen and Beverly Nash, a brick ranch house in rolling country. She parked the Corolla in the gravel drive that led to the carport. The yard and flowerbeds were neatly raked. As buds swelled on the maple trees, and the green tips of bulbs peeped from the soil, the place looked ready for spring to burst.
Louisa followed a brick path to the front, pressed the doorbell, and waited on the brick stoop. A trim, middle-aged woman wearing an apron came to the door.
“Mrs. Nash? I am Louisa Abernethy Jones from the Vindicator. May I come in?”
“Stephen, the lady from the newspaper is here.”
An equally trim man of the same vintage, wearing slippers and a cardigan sweater, shuffled into the living room. He shook hands with Louisa and showed her to an armchair decked with a doily and an embroidered pillow. On the wall hung a wedding photograph in which Mrs. Nash wore a white dress and Mr. Nash wore a white naval uniform. The fireplace mantel was crowded with photographs in tiny easel frames, porcelain figurines, and a shelf clock in the shape of a bell. Side tables bore a cargo of lamps, coasters, and bowls. Everything was as neat as a pin. Mr. and Mrs. Nash sat in matching recliner chairs and politely faced their visitor.
“We read about the shooting in Hapsburg,” Mr. Nash said.
“What a dreadful thing for you all to suffer,” Mrs. Nash said.
“A tragedy,” Mr. Nash said.
“And it happened on a Sunday,” Mrs. Nash said.
“As you know,” Louisa said, “your son sang in the choir that Ralph Willis directed. He was also present at the house in the afternoon. He helped plant some bushes.”
“That’s Gary,” Mrs. Nash said. “Always ready to lend a helping hand.”
“That’s the way we raised our children,” Mr. Nash said, “all four of them.”
“Gary is the baby,” Mrs. Nash said.
“You should stop calling him a baby,” Mr. Nash said. “He’s twenty-four years old, for Christ’s sake.”
“Please refrain from using profanity in this house,” Mrs. Nash said. “You know I don’t like it. And Mrs. Jones may take offense.”
“Was Gary a friend of Ralph Willis?”
“He mentioned him,” Mr. Nash said.
“Gary phoned or came home once a week,” Mrs. Nash said. “He was very good about staying in touch and keeping us abreast. He was flattered when Mr. Willis asked him to sing at his Christmas concert.”
“St. Giles is an Episcopal church,” Louisa said. “Did that bother you?”
“We raised our children Southern Baptist,” Mr. Nash said, “the church we attend. “What they do after they leave home is up to them.”
“Gary works as a nurse at the regional hospital, is that correct?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Nash said. “He completed all the requirements to be a registered nurse, the four-year degree and the license examination. I guess he’s been at the hospital for over a year.”
“Two years,” Mr. Nash said.
“You know, when Gary was a little boy, he brought home injured birds and animals and nursed them back to health. He had a knack for it. The poor little things would quiver and shake. They were terrified and in pain. He fed them and kept them warm, and in a few days, they recovered enough to go back to the wild.”
“Except for that squirrel,” Mr. Nash said. “It jumped out of the cardboard box, and we chased it all over the house. It was faking.”
“We thought he might become a veterinarian,” Mrs. Nash said. “But he announced on Career Day at the high school that he wanted to be a nurse. It might have been a documentary he saw on television on the healing arts.”
“Why not a doctor?” Louisa asked.
“He wasn’t that good of a student,” Mr. Nash said. “Four years of college and then four years of medical school is a slog. Then who knows how many years of residency. Hell, I barely made it through an associate degree.”
“Watch your language, please,” Mrs. Nash said. “He set a realistic goal and he achieved it. Better not to aim too high and miss. We’re proud of Gary, as we are of all our children.”
“He’s also a talented singer?”
“He was always musical,” Mrs. Nash said. “Even as a toddler he crooned. He imitated what he heard on records and made up little songs.”
“You sang all the time,” Mr. Nash said. “Nursery rhymes and nonsense. He picked it up from you.”
“I suppose,” Mrs. Nash said. “Now there’s no one to sing to. Gary sang in the church youth choir and in school. He wasn’t good at reading music, though.”
“He wasn’t good at reading, period,” Mr. Nash said. “According to his teachers.”
“When he mentioned Ralph Willis and possible friendship, did that concern you?”
“Do you mean an older man and a younger man?” Mrs. Nash said.
“Gary is gay,” Mr. Nash said.
“We knew from an early age,” Mrs. Nash said. “Almost before he did. Do you disapprove, Mrs. Jones?”
“My only concern is getting the facts.”
“In a way,” Mrs. Nash said, “we were glad that he found someone. It was a relief.”
“Do you think Gary saw Ralph as a financial source?”
“A sugar daddy?” Mr. Nash said. “Gary has a good job. If anything, he earns more as a nurse than Willis did.”
“Gary disappeared shortly after the shooting. Do you have any idea why or where he went?”
Husband and wife exchanged glances. Mr. Nash nodded.
“Mr. Willis and he had scheduled a vacation,” Mrs. Nash said, “for last week in Philadephia. It was a way to get acquainted, he said. Gary had lunch with us on Sunday. He normally works Sunday night at the hospital, the graveyard shift, but he was able to get a last-minute substitute. He could start his vacation a day early. He drove back to Hapsburg to help Mr. Willis plant the bushes. They were to leave by train Monday. They had tickets and a hotel reservation.”
“We got a panicky phone call Monday night,” Mr. Nash said. “Something had happened to Willis, and he couldn’t go. So Gary was going by himself. He phoned again a few days later from the hotel. By then, we had seen the newspaper. He wanted to let us know that he was okay. We didn’t discuss the shooting.”
“Have you seen your son since then?” Louisa asked.
“Briefly,” Mrs. Nash said. “He said he found a place to stay near the hospital. He was tired of commuting from Hapsburg.”
“Is there a way for me to contact him?”
“He’ll be at the apartment tomorrow morning to pack,” Mrs. Nash said. “A mover will be there for the furniture.”
“We would appreciate it if you keep this information quiet,” Mr. Nash said. “In other words, the police don’t need to know.”
“I promise to protect your son’s privacy.” Louisa stood. “I have a drive ahead of me, so I ought to go. It was a pleasure to meet both of you.”
“One more thing,” Mr. Nash said. “Gary never handled a gun. None of our kids did.”
“We oppose violence and weapons of all kinds,” Mrs. Nash said, “including toys. Killing people is not a game, even in pretend.”
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His academic degrees are Harvard, B. A. in English, and Yale, M. Arch. His stories, essays, and book reviews appear in 2014 in Belle Rêve, Bangalore Review, Commonline Journal, Coup d’État, Digital Americana, Digital Papercut, Lowestoft Chronicle, Outside In Literary & Travel, Piedmont Virginian, Poydras Review, Ray’s Road Review, Short Fiction, and Work Literary Magazine.