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Chapter 1

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The day after the funeral, Jake stood at Tom's graveside. Uneven clumps of dirt had replaced the open hole. He didn't like seeing that. It meant that his best friend was gone forever. He could imagine his black casket buried under six feet of earth. Its polished surface no longer pristine, but dented by rock and clay as a backhoe filled in the hole. Soon, grass would grow on the cracked soil, and his friend would be nothing but a memory.

The cemetery was empty except for Jake. Yesterday's mourners had returned to their normal lives. Mary and the kids would be at home wallowing in their misery, normal life not an option for them. Instead of trying to comfort them, Jake had found himself here. He didn't recall the decision to come or even the trip, but he knew the reason. He didn't want Tom to be alone. It must be so cold down there.

Yet the person responsible for the fissure in their hearts still walked the streets. Jake couldn't let that continue. The killer would answer for his crime. That was a promise he'd made to himself and to Tom, and Jake would die before he broke it.

The prevailing police theory was that Tom's death was a random act of violence, a road rage incident that had taken a horrible turn. A crime with no real motive would be next to impossible to solve. Jake knew that from experience. The police in this small town would need his help or the investigation would surely stall. Besides, no one else would be as motivated as him to find justice for Tom. Certainly, not the fat lazy detective in charge of the investigation.

Taking a couple of deep breaths of fresh air, Jake closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Images of the first time he met Tom flashed across his mind. They'd played little league together. Their team was terrible, but it didn't matter. They were all having fun. Everyone except Jake's alcoholic father who yelled at him to do better every time he touched the ball. It was his lame attempt at parenting. The yelling got so bad, Jake would get a stomach ache before every game.

The other kids pitied Jake but kept their distance out of fear that his dad would yell at them too. Not Tom. Jake swore Tom would commit dumb errors to make Jake look good by comparison.

For the last game of the season, Jake was the first basemen. With runners in position, Jake had let an easy grounder go between his legs and get lost in the tall grass. The error had allowed the other team to take the lead. Jake's dad had lost his shit. His mother had tried to calm him down to no avail. Only when three other dads insisted that he shut up, did his dad stop screaming, but he was still visibly angry. Jake foresaw an evening of practice ground balls being nailed at him in the backyard as his dad continued to yell at him to play harder. He wanted to throw up.

In the final inning, their team had fought back and got the bases loaded with their fastest kids at second and third, and Tom was at bat. If he just got a decent hit, their team would win. No problem, Tom was a good slugger, and the opposing team's pitcher was tired. However, casting a glance at the stands and Jake's steaming dad, he took a practice swing and sat back down. Tom claimed that he pulled a muscle in his arm and couldn't bat.

Jake was on-deck, so it was up to him to win the game. Taking the first pitch, he pounded it over the centerfielder's head and they scored the winning runs. Jake's teammates carried him off the field on their shoulders, and the coach gave him the game ball. Jake was the hero of the game and earned them their only win of the season. His dad couldn't be mad at him now. To celebrate, his dad had gone to the bar, and Jake got a peaceful trip to the local ice cream parlor with his team.

With their cherry-dipped cones in hand, Jake had asked Tom, "Were you really hurt?"

"Yes. I can barely move my arm," Tom had answered.

"Which one?"

Answering too quickly, Tom had said, "My right."

"The one you're using to eat your cone?" Jake had pointed out.

Tom had smiled in response, and Jake's love for his friend had taken seed. What kid wouldn't have wanted to win the big game, but Tom had given that up to save Jake a night of torment. He was a true friend, and Jake swore to himself he'd always have Tom's back.

By the next summer, Jake's parents were divorced, his Dad had moved away, and he and Tom were the best of friends. They spent every minute together that they weren't in school or asleep. They were closer than brothers. Brothers fought, but not Jake and Tom. People joked that they were Siamese twins because you never saw one without the other.

By high school, their circle had grown by two more friends, but Jake and Tom were always the closest. And when Jake moved away after graduation, Tom had remained close with weekly phone calls and the occasional visit. He'd helped Jake through the loss of his job, his divorce, and his own bout with alcoholism. Jake felt like Tom had saved his life more than once, yet in the end Jake hadn't been there for him.

He opened his eyes and ran a hand through his unruly dark hair. The wind cut through his thin shirt like a knife, but he made no move to leave. He closed his eyes again and tried to conjure up another good memory to sustain his friend's image.

Without warning, a big hand pushed Jake in the back, nearly knocking him over. "Do you want to join him?"

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