Excerpt for Private Justice #3: Denial by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Private Justice #3: Denial
A Story By: Daniel Clayton
Copyright © 2018 By
: Daniel Clayton
Smashwords Edition

Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed or perceived as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, places, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Thursday night, Archer and his girlfriend Kerry drove to his mother’s house for dinner. Italian sausage and garlic bread. Sounded good to him; he especially liked the spices his mom put on the garlic bread and the sausage. It was tempered, however, knowing his mother was going to ask for a favor. That’s why she called this morning to invite them.

Kerry was more optimistic. “Been a while since she’s had dinner with us. Think the last time was at our place. Could be she just wants to return the favor.”

“If she is asking for something, maybe it won’t be that bad, but I’m sure she’s got something she wants or needs from me.”

“Computer problems?”

“Be my guess. Or maybe she’s got some tax hiccup she needs you to solve.”

“I’m not a CPA so I’m not really sure what advice I can provide. Not unless she wants me to fix her 401K or something.”

“Little late for that, isn’t it?”

“Just a bit,” Kerry said, brushing a wisp of curly red hair in front of her face. “I mean, unless she wants to work for another ten years and donate, like, half her paycheck to get her where she needs to be. I know she didn’t get going on that until very late, from what she told me.”

“Figured she’d be married when all was said and done,” Archer said. “Didn’t think she’s be divorced or any of that stuff. Good thing they kinda get along.”

“Guess you can’t prepare for everything,” Kerry said, patting his shoulder.

Maybe not, but at least he could be ready for whatever request she had in mind.

Dinner was almost ready when they arrived. Putting the finishing touches on the garlic bread and getting plates and silverware ready. Went into the living room and watched a re-run of How I Met Your Mother and talked above the noise.

Archer: Yeah, work’s going good. Both sides. Keeping busy and making some decent money. No, nothing too big, but yeah, it’s always busy. Everyone’s got their problems.

Kerry: Tax season’s over so even though I don’t deal with that, it does feel like things have kinda slowed down. Lot less stuff going on. Kind of settling into a routine now, but I’m sure it’s gonna blow up soon.

Diane, sitting on the loveseat, offered occasional contributions and thoughts, but her mind was elsewhere. Kept looking at her food or the TV, which was unusual for her. Seemed to be waiting for an opening. Archer wasn’t going to press her. He knew it wasn’t a computer or some other tech problem. Would have been the first or second thing she said as they arrived.

The sausage was excellent and a little spicier than usual. Kerry mentioned it and Archer chimed in, saying, “Yeah, usually you go to the Jewel for that. You get this from somewhere else?”

“New place called Butera,” Diane said. “It’s just up the way. Lois said they have amazing meat and some really good prices on beer if you’re looking for something new. Thought I’d give it a shot. Guessing it meets your approval.”

“Oh, yeah.” Archer looking at Kerry, who nodded. “Yeah, maybe we’ll head over there one night, see what they got.”

“Starting to get warm enough for the grill,” Kerry said.

Archer nodded. “Have a cookout in a couple weeks or something. Get Derrick and Emma over. Maybe a few others. Get the summer started off right.”

Diane made a face. She couldn’t wait any longer. “Well, I don’t suppose you’ve heard the news.”

Something odd about her tone. “What’s that?”

“Your cousin Luke, the wedding’s off.”

“What, you’re kidding. When did this happen?”

“Last weekend. You didn’t hear or…”

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “Susie broke up with him or got cold feet or…”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Diane said. “Just announced to his folks the wedding was off and that he was devastated by what happened. Your Aunt Lucy called and she just… she couldn’t understand why.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“He wasn’t exactly bustling with details,” Diane said. “Just as devastated as his folks are. And the rest of the family, too. I mean, it’s really been tough for a lot of them right now. Especially since it was so close to the wedding. And I guess they were fine, like, ten days ago. Everyone is just… stunned and they have no idea what’s going on. He left their apartment and she’s not interested in talking to any of them right now. Guess she’s as upset about the whole thing as them.”

“So she dumped him rather than the other way around?” Kerry said.

“From what I gathered, yes,” Diane said.

“That’s too bad,” Archer said. “I mean, they were… what, about six weeks from being married? And they’d been together a long time, right? Like, four or five years?”

“I don’t know how long it’s been, exactly, but it was a long time. And the whole family is just… shattered by this. I know your cousins Marcus and Aiden went over there to talk with him. But I guess he was a total wreck.”

“I’m sure it’ll come out soon enough,” Archer said.

“From what everyone’s been saying, it sounds like Susie must have done something.”

Archer wasn’t surprised they’d think that. Couldn’t, after all, be something Luke did. No, he was a good boy who never did anything wrong. He was the golden child far as the family was concerned.

“Do they know of anything specific or is it just a lot of…”

“Not sure,” Diane said. “Like I said, he’s not really opening up and there’s a lot of very confused, upset people trying to understand why this happened.”

“Well… sorry it happened, but, you know… it’s better this happened now rather than later, I guess. I mean, right?”

“Yeah, really,” Kerry said. “I mean, it’s terrible, but it would be worse if they went through this based on a lie or something, right? I mean, it’d be a lot worse. Especially if they had kids.”

Diane seemed to agree, but the contradictions still ate at her. “But it seemed like they were so perfect for each other. I mean, the times I saw them together they seemed very happy and everyone else seemed to agree. So I don’t know what happened or why it happened.”

Archer also thought they were good together the few times he’d seen them at family functions and parties. His exposure, compared to the rest of the family, was limited. Didn’t feel like he could say with any real authority like the rest of them.

“Well, it’s too bad,” Archer said. “I’ll be sure to check in on him at some point. See how he’s doing.”

“Could you… I don’t know… look into this? Maybe on the side?”

“Investigate why they broke up?” Archer looking at Kerry, then his mom, not sure he’d heard right.

“Everyone’s so devastated about what happened to Luke and your Aunt Lucy mentioned maybe you could look into this. See if she was doing something that might have caused this.”

Archer shaking his head. “I ask Derrick that, he’d probably laugh at me for even suggesting such a thing.” Truth was, he probably wouldn’t, but he wanted to try and stamp this out.

“It would mean a lot if you were able to find out anything cause its really eating Luke up about what happened and it’s really eating your Aunt Lucy and Uncle Jim and your cousins up.”

Archer leaned back, stunned by the request. Kerry looked just as surprised. Archer let all this sink in and percolate in his mind. “I don’t know why I’m even considering this given that I wasn’t even invited to the wedding in the first place. So I don’t see what my stake is in this.”

“You like Luke and he’s your cousin. Thought that’d be reason enough.”

“Yeah, when we were younger, but he doesn’t talk to me anymore. Not unless I send him a message. He and the rest of them have treated me like a leper since…”

“You know that’s not true,” she said. “You know they’d be there for you if anything happened.”

Archer wondering if she believed that or if she was saying it for herself. “Well, he didn’t invite me to the wedding and neither did Marcus, Aiden, or Brianna, so I don’t know what we’re talking about, exactly.”

“They just want to know what happened and I was hoping you and your boss might be able to…”

Archer shook his head. “He couldn’t even bother to invite me to the wedding and I know he invited just about everyone else so I don’t want to hear this is a small event. I know Aunt Lucy’s pulling out the stops for this.” Diane, stunned by his reaction, couldn’t mount a reply. “While it’s very sad, I’m not going out of my way to help him when he seems to have no use for me anymore. So, no. Absolutely not. They don’t get act like I exist only when they need me. They’re the ones who started this. Not me. I’m not doing this and I’m not going to ask Derrick or Emma to waste their time on this.”

Diane seemed to accept this, but made no effort to hide her disappointment.

“Whatever happened between them, I’m sure it’ll sort itself out and I’m sure the answer’ll come out,” Archer said. “It’s gotta happen eventually. And I’m sure there’s fault on both sides for this. From what I’ve gathered helping out with these kinds of cases, that’s usually how it ends up.”

“And then one of them goes too far,” Diane said.

“Well, he wants to talk, we can talk, but in the end, Luke’s gonna have to work through it himself. I mean, that’s what he told me when I talked to him after you and dad divorced. Told me to be a man, suck it up, and work through it. He’s gonna have to do the same.”


Archer grabbed a pair of beers from the fridge and went into the living room. Kerry had a British cop show playing on low. Show called Happy Valley. Seemed a bit like Fargo based on what he’d seen. Except they spoke in English accents instead of saying “Yah” all the time.

Kerry said, “I never heard you talk about that before,” while he twisted off the bottle caps.

“Which part?”

“The part where your cousin, like, blew you off,” Kerry said. “I know you said they gave you, like, the cold shoulder, but I don’t think you ever mentioned that before.”

“Yeah, I hadn’t even thought about that in a long time, but when she started putting on this guilt trip, it all started coming back. I mean, with them, it’s basically death by a thousand cuts. Every little bit they do adds up. Because they’re all super-religious and don’t believe in divorce because it’s a sin or something, they treat me like some non-person. Got almost no encouragement from any of them and my mom, well, I think they forgave her because they blamed my dad and because I’m still close to my dad…”

“But I never heard that one before.”

“Yeah, it was during a Thanksgiving party, if I remember right. We were at my Aunt Carol’s and my parents had had a nasty fight about something and I’d overheard it from my room so I was down and feeling pretty low and I remember telling Luke, who was from college, and, well, that’s what he said. Think I knew then that my family had decided I no longer existed. Next ten years or so pretty much proved that and then some. Stopped being invited to parties or hang out with them or whatever.”

“Can’t believe your mom hasn’t done anything about it or stuck her head in the sand.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure they’ve strong-armed her into being quiet about it. Or maybe she doesn’t want to rock the boat, but seeing them profess to believe in God and then act like I don’t exist…”

“Didn’t you say your one Aunt said you no longer existed in the eyes of God?”

Archer rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I forgot about that.” Fucking Aunt Carol. His hand briefly clenched the bottle, then relaxed. He stared at the screen, waiting for the moment to pass. “Well, whatever.”

“Don’t know why you keep trying.”

“I don’t, really, anymore,” Archer said. “It’s my mom. She keeps thinking or pretending everything’s fine and I really wish she would just stop. It hasn’t been right for a long time. No amount of praying is going to fix that. I mean, yeah, it’d be nice if they up and apologized or, you know, treated me like a human being, but I don’t think it’s going to happen no matter what I do.”

Kerry looked at him. “But you don’t really believe that, do you? I can tell. You’re still hoping. Hoping they’ll embrace you. I mean, you say all this stuff and you’re right, but I don’t think you believe it. And I don’t think you do, either.”

“Think you’re right. Guess it’s all that crap my mom keeps saying. Really want to believe they care.”

“But you already know the answer.”

“Pretty much,” Archer said, finishing the rest of his beer.

“So why do you think they broke up?”

“I don’t think she was as religious as him in the first place. I know there was a bit of a thing when they decided to live together. Think some of them have a problem with couples living together before marriage.”

“Yeah, well, you want it to work or not?”

“I don’t know what they’re thinking half the time, but I know my mom had mentioned it. Remember thinking, like, ‘What century we in now?’ But if I were to guess, something might have snapped in her and she realized she was going to give a lot more than she was comfortable with on the religion thing. And I don’t think Luke was going to bend because his parents would never let him.”

Kerry nodded. “Least you got your dad’s family. That’s something.”

That it was. And his genetics was maybe another reason why they didn’t like him. Seeing him—tall, thin, and lanky with short brown hair—was like seeing his dad. “Still, it is pretty sad when your stepmom’s family treats you better than your own.”

“You try bringing that one up? Maybe that’d get their attention.”

“If anything, it’d probably make them hate me even more cause you know he married a Jewish woman. For them, he might as well have said he was a mass murderer. Think they might have liked him a little better.”

“Or an Irish Catholic girl?” Kerry turning her head towards him for a kiss.

Archer smiled and leaned in to reciprocate. “Think the only way they function is by hating other people sometimes.”

“Mm.” Pulling herself on top of him. “Not much of a way to live, is it?” she said between kisses.

“Not really,” Archer said, straightening himself so she could sit on his lap. “Because then they’d have to realize how pointless their lives really are.”

Kerry leaned back slightly and started to undo her shirt buttons. “So your parents are divorced and you’re living with an Irish Catholic girl even though you’re a Protestant… amazing you haven’t been struck down by lightning yet, huh?”

“Not yet,” Archer said as the shirt fell off her shoulders. “But if God is planning to, I hope he can wait a little while.”


The next morning, Archer had to finish some work with a client in his side business before heading to the office. Before working for Private Justice Investigations, he had a nice little sideline as a computer repair expert and technician. Like Derrick, he had built a decent stable of clients and had received enough good reviews from them to expand his client base. Got to the point where he got to pick and choose who he worked with. He referred the others to friends of his who specialized in one form or another.

He was mostly full-time at Private Justice. He worked the cases as they came and provided security advice when Derrick did security consulting jobs that required his cybersecurity expertise. He didn’t care about the side hustle so long as it didn’t interfere with his regular work. So far, it hadn’t. Mostly because the work for Derrick was simple and didn’t require much more than the bare minimum.

Archer finished his work with the client and pulled into the office a few minutes after eleven. Derrick’s partner and girlfriend, Emma Hartzmann, was typing away when he came into the office. She handled a lot of the financial and legal issues related to their cases. From time to time, she worked in the field when Derrick was busy with something else.

Emma removed her headphones, smiling. “Thought you were gonna be gone all day,” she said.

“Lot more questions than I would have liked to answer,” Archer said. “And he’s got that thick German accent so all his consonants sound like they’re running on top of one another.”

“But at least he pays in American dollars.”

“True enough. And I gave him a pretty detailed list of instructions,” Archer said. “Maybe he’ll actually learn something so I don’t have to bail his ass out every time.”

“But if that were true, you’d be out of work.”

Archer tilted his head slightly to concede the point. “Someone like him, though, you realize there’s only so much shit you can take before you decide to give up and not have to deal with it.”

“I know, right?” Looked down at the papers strewn on her desk. “Was your phone off while you were gone?”

Archer frowned. “I don’t know. Maybe. Why?”

“Your mom called. Asked where you were. Said you were on a call. Said to call her back soon as you could.”

“Jesus Christ… didn’t think she was actually do it…”

“Why, what’s the problem?”

“Oh, my cousin’s going through some personal stuff.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Emma said. “She sounded a bit upset when she called, though.”

Of course she was, Archer thought. Sometimes he felt like he was at her immediate beck and call. You didn’t answer right away, she’d send texts, emails, and carrier pigeons until she got a response. And then he spent more time explaining why he didn’t answer the first time around. Sometimes it didn’t even matter if he had a good excuse. His mom had no patience for people who wasted her time. Or perceived to be wasting it.

Went into his office, which also doubled as the conference room, and set everything up before checking his phone. Yeah, it was off. Turned it off before his meeting because his client could be a real ass if he didn’t provide his full and undivided attention. Pressed the button to turn it back on and settled into his chair.

Not much going outside of his work right now. Some cybersecurity research protocol for Derrick, but otherwise nothing special. Mostly stuff he already knew, but Derrick wanted something in writing for a client. Mostly to help him back up what he had already been telling them. Some people, like his client this morning, would never learn. Could lead the horse to water, as they said, but after that…

His phone buzzed several times after it finished loading. Four missed calls and several texts from his mom and a few more from Kerry. Shit. He called her too? He started with Kerry’s texts. See what was going on. Last text was from fifteen minutes ago. It said: I dunno what’s goin on but ur mom sounded pretty upset when she called me.

Messages from his mom, every five to ten minutes starting an hour ago, were about the same thing. Where are u? Something happened with ur cousin. Need u to call me right now.

What the fuck? Pressed the button to call her back.

There you are,” Diane said.

“Yeah, sorry. I was at a meeting. Had my phone on. What’s going on?”

“Luke tried to commit suicide last night. He’s in the hospital.”

Archer almost jumped out of the chair. “Wa… what? Is he okay or is…”

“I guess he’ll be okay, but I don’t know the specifics of how or what he tried to do.”

One way to define it, he thought. “What happened?”

“Not quite sure. Everyone is in hysterics right now. You should come down when you can. He’s at Edward’s in Naperville.”

“All right, yeah. I’ll be down later today,” he said. “Just need to wrap up one or two things later today and I’ll be right down.”

He left the office, shaking his head. Never would have thought Luke would be desperate enough to do something like that. And why would he? All but been anointed the golden child by his family since the day he was born. Didn’t make any sense.

He left his office and told Emma what happened. “Oh, my God, is he all right?”

“I guess, but I really don’t know. Gonna head down, but I want to finish a few things before I head down there.”

“You can head down now if you want. Do your work from there. Shouldn’t feel like you have to stay on our account.”

“I’ll get there eventually.”

“Same cousin you were talking about a minute ago?” He nodded. “Was it really that bad?”

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