Last Call




This is a short novel. It’s 61,000 words, so a little longer than 2/3 of a full length book and a little short of twice the length of the honeymoon novella.

It’s wedding season in Sweetwater, and plenty of Savannah’s nearest and dearest have paired up to tie the knot. First up are Todd Satterfield and Marley Cartwright – but things take a turn when the father of the groom, Sheriff Bob Satterfield, doesn’t show up in time for the wedding.

Todd and Marley exchange vows anyway – the church is full and the minister waiting – but of course there’s no question about honeymooning in Tuscany under the circumstances. They stay home and, like everyone else in the family, turn their brains inside out to try to figure out what could have happened.

But as the hours and days tick by, Bob’s disappearance remains a mystery. The investigation is only made more confusing, and more urgent, by the discovery of another three missing men from a nearby town.

The next weekend is the wedding of Savannah’s brother Dix to Chief of Police Tamara Grimaldi, and Savannah’s determined that that’s going to take place as planned, Bob or no Bob. She takes over most of the wedding duties from Grimaldi, so the chief of police, along with Savannah’s husband Rafe and sheriff’s deputy Cletus Johnson, can keep scouring the county for any sign of the missing.

But when all four are found, all shot and left for dead in a pickup truck in the Bog, it’s clear that something big is at stake, and getting Bob back in (mostly) one piece, doesn’t mean he’ll stay that way long enough to attend his own wedding to Savannah’s mother two more weeks hence…

Chapter One

The month of June opened with Todd Satterfield’s wedding to Marley Cartwright. It went down in history not for the novelty of being the nuptials between the Assistant DA and the woman he’d tried to prosecute for murder, but instead for the disappearance of the father of the groom, Sheriff Bob Satterfield, who also happened to be my mother’s significant other.

But I seem to be getting a little ahead of myself, and should set the scene better before I go into the details of what happened.

Todd is an old boyfriend of mine, which ought to have been an impediment to my being included in the wedding.

On the other hand, I had once saved Marley’s life, as well as helped her discover what had happened to her son Oliver, and then played a part in making sure the people who kidnapped Oliver paid the appropriate price for their crime. As a result, I was a shoe-in for bridesmaid, or more accurately, matron of honor.

There were two other bridesmaids, or -matrons. We were all in our late twenties to early thirties, so we were all, actually, married. One was Marley’s best friend from college, Anastasia, and the other was my older sister Catherine, whose youngest son, Cole, was best friends with Oliver now that Marley had him back.

Todd had a best man—my brother Dix—and two other groomsmen, one a friend from law school and the other a colleague from the Maury County DA’s office.

It was a fairly small occasion, in other words. At least as far as the wedding party went. Todd’s mother Pauline had died a few years ago—cancer—and Marley’s parents disowned her back when everyone (including Todd) believed she’d killed Oliver and disposed of the body.

Long story.

And then there was the fact that Marley was more than seven months pregnant, and looked more like a white whale than I’d done a year ago, when I tied the knot. It was something Marley had said she didn’t want to do, walk down the aisle looking like a hot air balloon, but I guess in the end she’d changed her mind and decided that it was more important for her baby to be born in wedlock than it was for Marley herself to be svelte as she made her way down the aisle.

So there we were, at the pretty, little local church in Sweetwater, Tennessee, the first Saturday in June. It was a couple minutes before two, the time when the ceremony was scheduled to start, and Mother was shaking her head. “I have no idea what happened.”

We were standing outside the church—me in my bridesmaid dress, mother in a lovely, champagne-colored stepmother-of-the-groom-to-be suit—and Mother was explaining why she’d shown up by herself instead of with Bob.

“He got a call around ten this morning. He wasn’t on the roll—”

No, of course not. Not only was it a Saturday, but it was his son’s wedding day. The sheriff wouldn’t be working today.

“—but he went out anyway. Said it wouldn’t take long and he’d be back in plenty of time to get changed and to the church before two.”

“And he wasn’t?”

Mother shook her head. “When he didn’t come back by one, I tried calling. Multiple times. But the calls went straight to voicemail.”

“Did you try the sheriff’s office?”

Just because the sheriff himself had the day off, didn’t mean the office wasn’t manned. Or womanned, as the case might be. Crime doesn’t take a holiday, even when the sheriff’s son’s getting married.

“Of course I did,” Mother said. “They didn’t know anything about it.”

“So the call didn’t come through the dispatcher? Do you know who called?”

She shook her head. “He didn’t say. Just told me he had to go out for a while, and that he’d be back in time to change for the wedding.”

“Can you remember exactly what he said?” Just in case there was a clue there. Although if there had been a clue there, surely Mother would have recognized it for what it was. She wasn’t stupid.

“He answered the phone,” Mother said, “and said, ‘hello.’ The person on the other end said something. He asked what had happened. They answered. He asked ‘where?’ They answered. He told him he was on his way. He hung up and told me he had to leave for a while, but would be back.”

So nothing very helpful there. No names or anything. “And he didn’t tell you where he was going?”

“If he had,” Mother said, “do you think I would be standing here talking to you?”

I guess not. “So what do you want me to do?”

“I’m not sure,” Mother said. “Tell your husband, for one thing. But I wanted to ask your opinion about the wedding. Do we tell Todd and let him cancel? Or not mention anything and go ahead with it?”

“Do you think he’d cancel if we told him?”

She gave me a look that questioned my sanity. “Of course he would.”

“Then perhaps we should just carry on. Although I expect he’ll probably be angry once he figures out what’s going on.”

But on the other hand, maybe the sheriff would just show up in the middle of the ceremony, having been caught up in something that had taken longer than he thought it would, and the issue would resolve itself.

“Get Rafael,” Mother said.

“Go ahead and text him. There are no pockets in this thing.” I was wearing a very tasteful, but skimpy, bridesmaid dress, and my own phone was in the diaper bag sitting next to Rafe and our daughter Carrie, on a pew inside.

Mother’s fingers flew over the keys. A whooshing sound from her phone indicated that she’d sent the message, and we both turned to look at the door to the church. Waiting.

“What’s going on?” Catherine wanted to know. She’d been standing a few yards away talking to Anastasia when Mother drove up with a spurt of gravel, and she had left us alone thus far, but now she picked her way across the parking lot toward us to find out what had happened. “Is everything OK?”

“We don’t know,” Mother said. “Bob is missing.”


“Surely it’s a little soon…” I demurred, and Mother turned to—or more accurately on—me.

“He’s late for his only son’s wedding! He’s missing!”

Her voice was loud enough that Anastasia’s eyes widened. She began to make her way toward us, too. Over at the church, the front door open and my husband strode out.

We’d been married a year ourselves by now, or just about. The first Saturday in June should have been our wedding day last year, and for reasons—reasons that might impact Mother’s fears about Bob, now that I thought about it—that hadn’t happened. Rafe had been abducted. It would really be too much of a coincidence if the same thing had happened to Bob.

Anyway, even after a year of marriage—or close to it—he still took my breath away regularly. Now was one of those times. It isn’t often I see my husband dressed up in a suit and tie—he’s more the T-shirt and jeans type—but there’s no denying that he cleans up nicely. And the fact that he was carrying a baby car seat in one hand and had a diaper bag with jungle animals over the other shoulder only added to the appeal.

There was a scowl on his face when he opened the door, but by the time he reached us, it was gone. “What’s wrong?”

He looked from me to Mother to Catherine, and then included Anastasia, as she had minced her way over to us by then, as well. “Bob’s missing,” Mother said, and this time I didn’t try to correct her. She was right. If Bob wasn’t here for his only son’s wedding, he was missing.