The Governor of Florida has ordered all flags be flown at half-staff. The funeral is to take place early this afternoon, starting with a service at the Chapel by the Sea, located right across the street from the seashore. The streets leading to it are lined for blocks with uniformed officers, standing under dreary clouds shoulder to shoulder in their crisp dark green shirts and pants with black stripes, to honor the slain officer.
This city of just over a hundred thousand residents has sunk into a mood of collective grief. Cold rain falls as thousands of people flock to the streets around the Chapel, waiting for the procession to arrive.
About a dozen officers on horses and hundreds of others on light-flashing motorcycles lead the way ahead of the hearse. Behind it trotted a riderless black horse, draped in a white blanket. A legion of officers follow, a steady drumbeat guiding their steps.
When the hearse comes to a stop, the officers stand at attention, their arms raised in salute. The coffin, wrapped in the American flag, is carried past Tracy and her son into the church.
Flanked by Pa on one side and my mother on the other, I enter the Chapel and take a seat behind Tracy. Heather trails behind us, swaying her hips left and right in an impossibly tight dress. Her cleavage is generous enough to make the pastor blush.
Ed’s portrait has been placed to the right of the altar. Throughout the service, Timmy weeps for his father. Toward the end, as the choir softly hums Amazing Grace, his cries tug at my heart.
Afterwards, on the way out, I stop in front of Tracy. She is somber and utterly pale. Her eyes are red, but dry.
“So sorry for your loss,” I say, a bit stiffly. After what she’s gone through, I’m afraid my words will fall short of giving comfort.
“Thank you,” she says.
“I’m leaving town,” I say.
And Ma adds, “Both of us, we have flight tickets for tomorrow morning. Time to go back home.”
“But,” I say to Tracy, “before I do, let me apologize—”
“Apologize?” she echoes, raising her eyebrows. “For what?”
Awkwardly, I say, “For not taking good care of Timmy. If I would have watched him more closely—”
“You must be out of your mind,” she whispers, coming closer and drawing me into a hug. And to my father, who stands by my side, she says, “You must be so proud of your daughter.”
“I am,” says Pa.
And my mother adds, “To someone who doesn’t know Ashley, she may look frail, but let me tell you, she’s fierce, especially when going on the attack. Why, she taught that punk a lesson—”
“Oh, Ma! Please stop,” I say.
“I won’t say another word.” Bowing slightly over her sensible shoes, my mother adds, “So sorry for your loss.”
Tracy turns back to me, grinning through fatigue. “Ash,” she says, “now is not the time to talk, but tonight, after the cemetery, please come over. We’ll talk.”
(Volume II of Ash Suspense Thrillers with a Dash of Romance)
The last thing Ash expects when she lands in Clearwater, Florida is to be stalked by a troubled teenager. If that's not bad enough, she is caught in a shooting spree next to the nearby elementary school. The cops think it’s an attempt at mass killing, but Ash wonders if the only victim was specifically targeted by the killer. Will she manage to identify him and have him arrested before he comes after her?