CHAPTER 1 Sunday/ December 24, 2006; 4:15 pm DFW Airport, Texas “Hi Love, I’ve just arrived.

I’ll be home around 6 o’clock,” Edward Morris said as he tilted his head to look at his watch. He walked towards the baggage claim at DFW Airport, with his briefcase in one hand and his cell phone in the other, like a man on a mission. Edward’s wife had always told him he was a handsome man but he never really paid much attention to praises. Actually, he was quite dashing in a rugged sort of way. He was not a pretty boy, but a man’s man. Edward had large broad shoulders with a small waist; brown hair with copper highlights, cropped close in a military regulation haircut; a strong sharp jaw line; frosty green eyes and ivory freckled skin. For such a large man, he should look awkward in his three-piece suit and tie but Edward wore anything well. Edward had been away all week on business; he was tired and anxious to get home. It was Christmas Eve and Edward knew Erin and the boys were waiting for him. It was a longstanding tradition to cut a tree and decorate it on Christmas Eve. Because of the meetings with Sell Oil, Edward was already running late. He increased his pace a bit to make up for his tardiness. Really, he should have been home yesterday afternoon but Maxim Sell insisted on a noon meeting today. The arrogant jerk even had the audacity to have Edward’s flight schedule changed prior to informing him. Edward thought it odd to have a meeting on a Sunday, not to mention Christmas Eve. Edward did not complain aloud but he knew Erin’s stomach was probably in knots. She was a bit of a control freak when it came to schedules and plans. On the other end of the line, Erin told him to buckle his seatbelt and drive safely. She was very fussy when he made her wait and Edward could not think of anything cuter. He adored her and still blushed when he thought of her. They had been married over sixteen years and had two wonderful teenaged boys. Life really could not get any better and Edward knew it. “Yes Love, I know. I‘m at the baggage claim now. Let me get on the road. Okay, I love you too! I’ll see you in a bit.” Edward snapped his slim phone shut and slid it into his jacket pocket. His Dunhill case was sliding down the chute when he reached the carousal. The bag had been a gift for the trip from his Mom. She brought it over last Sunday afternoon and it was wrapped with old newspaper instead of wrapping paper. His Mom never wasted anything and Edward thought to himself with a smile, Sweet little lady. It would take another fifteen minutes to find his Jeep in the cheap parking lot. It was a lot colder in Dallas than Houston and he pulled the collar of his jacket up to protect his neck from the elements. As Edward searched for the jeep, he reflected on the events that had led him to Houston this week. Edward invented a measuring device he named simply “The System” or TS for short. Edward’s company, MA Oilfield Solutions (MAOS), tested TS for the last two years on the local tank batteries and oil well sites throughout Montague County. The testing data was positive and TS would keep lease owners from having costly and dangerous oil spills. Edward had also had a remote data-collecting program built in by his partner that would track production to within one barrel. The owners of the sites could pull up data for their tanks and wells from any Internet connected computer or cell phone. Edward patented TS two months ago which got MAOS noticed by a large company out of Houston called Sell Oil. Maxim Sell personally phoned Edward over a month ago to arrange demonstrations of TS. Mr. Sell was seriously interested in implementing TS on all his Texas sites over the next twelve months and that would mean a billion dollar

deal. MAOS was still negotiating some of the finer points of a contract but it looked promising. If TS proved itself throughout the probationary period, Sell Oil would implement it on all of their sites internationally. Things were on the move now and Edward felt butterflies in his stomach. It was similar to the same feeling he got when Erin was close. The possibilities in front of him and his company were limitless. Chance Armstrong, Edward’s partner for the last eight years and friend for life, spoke of receiving a government contract for TS. The State of Texas had thousands of abandoned wells that spilled production each year and this cost millions of dollars to taxpayers. There was an offer on the table to equip each of these sites with TS. There was also talk of requiring active wells to have TS installed in order to track their production output. As it stood now, the oil companies reported their output on an honorary basis. Oil prices were rising daily and the State of Texas suspected oil companies of fudging their books. Lawmakers in Austin felt TS would allow the State to know just how much oil each well site truly produced. Edward worried about his company growing so fast that the demand would put him out of business. Chance looked into a grant, which could help subsidize the cost of producing TS. Several government incentives and grants are available to companies that create jobs in rural areas and even more to those who help the environment. Edward and Chance discussed, at great length, all the options and it looked promising. Edward felt like he was walking on a cloud. Who would have thought a poor redneck Marine from Montague County could do this well with his life? Edward and Chance started their small oilfield monitoring business in the North Field eight years ago and they were doing well for themselves. TS would take MAOS to a completely new plateau though and the thought of that was a bit intimidating. Several local competitors tried to get a hold of TS before the patent was issued. Several times, Edward and Chance found their equipment smashed. A few narrow escapes had prompted Edward and Chance to take the added precautions over the past two years. They encrypted the software, added guard dogs and set up surveillance cameras. Thompson’s Oilfield Monitoring tried on several occasions to corner both Edward and Chance. First, they tried to buy them out but Edward and Chance would not be bought out. Then Thompson went as far as trying to bribe each guy on several occasions to get a piece of the action. The last straw had been when the owner of the company, Ben Thompson cornered Dianna (Chance’s wife) at the grocery store and tried to convince her to talk Chance into selling his half of MAOS. Ben Thompson was the twenty-year mayor of Bowie, Texas and thought he could strong-arm or buy anyone. He owned 10 square miles of tanks and wells in the North Field and over forty commercial and residential rental properties between Nocona and Bowie. In addition to being the founder and owner of Thompson’s Oilfield Monitoring, Ben also sat on the bank’s Board of Directors and attended the “right church” for show. There was not much Ben Thompson did not have his fat fingers in, and he wanted TS. Edward pulled his parking ticket from his jacket pocket as he found his vehicle. The Jeep was black, wore a rebel flag bumper sticker and the horn played Dixieland. It was near the rear of the lot but Edward did not mind the walk. He had parked that far back to keep the Jeep from being dinged or vandalized. He would be getting something new to drive soon. The Jeep had served him well, but it was only nine months until his oldest son Eddy turned sixteen. Eddy had his permit and Edward practiced driving with his oldest son every weekend. Eddy already bragged continuously to his friends that he was getting the Jeep, and a promise is a promise! Edward shoved the ticket back into his pocket so he would be able to load his luggage. As he spotted the Jeep, Edward realized that it was sitting lopsided. As he got closer, he determined the cause and muttered, “Damn, a flat tire!” He

walked a few more steps and set down his briefcase. He pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open with a quick snap of the wrist. He would make a call to his auto club because it was not just one tire but two. He knew there was only one spare and trying to find someone with a tire the size of his, late on Christmas Eve, was going to take some time. Edward knew Erin would blow her top if she thought he was not able to help pick the tree this year. He had not missed it since he returned from overseas. Erin was all about traditions, schedules and special days. She had always held a lot of stock in those kinds of things and Edward did not want to be the one to let her down. Erin was a ball of fire when she got angry and he smiled just thinking about her all riled up. Sometimes he would get her mad just to watch her fume. He would call Erin after he called the auto club. Edward stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw that the tires were not just flat, but slashed. Both drivers’ side tires had jagged gashes down the sides of them. This would not be an easy task for someone considering the Jeep’s tires were nearly half as tall as Edward. Whoever did it had to have a sharp knife and great upper body strength. Edward was so angry now he did not notice the blue van with dark tinted windows parked three spots away, nor was he aware of the man lurking from behind with a tire iron. On a normal day, Edward would notice anything out of place but today was not a normal day. Edward was too preoccupied with other things to pay attention. “Stupid thugs!” Edward exclaimed as he cleared the number of the auto club and dialed 911. Just before he pressed send, he thought the wind must have picked up because he felt a swish of air coming at his back. Then everything went dark…

CHAPTER 2

FRIDAY/JUNE 29, 2007; 4:00 am MONTAGUE, TEXAS The day started like every other weekday, at 4 o’clock. Erin Morris awoke long before the sun rose into the sky and the morning birds sang their songs. Her alarm was purposely set all the way across the bedroom on her mahogany dresser. This was done to make sure turning it off was a large chore, therefore eliminating the chance of pressing the snooze button. Her husband Edward taught her the trick years earlier. The shrill twang of metal rock blared from the alarm clock her sons had given her for Mother’s Day this year. Obviously, one of them believed it would be a riot to wake Erin up with a little AC/ DC instead of her normal, easy listening, John Mayer or Nora Jones. Erin liked to ease awake in the mornings. “I’M ROLLING THUNDER, A POURING RAIN; I’M COMING ON LIKE A HURRICANE! MY LIGHTNING’S FLASHING ACROSS THE SKY, YOUR ONLY YOUNG BUT YOUR GONNA DIE!” the little speakers blared louder than would be expected. Erin tumbled out of the four-poster queen sized bed in a shocked state of rolling thunder instead of sitting up easily like slow dancing in a burning room. “OUCH! DAMN IT!” She knocked the back of her head on the corner of the nightstand and turned over a bottle of water she kept there through the night. Erin raised her head about the time ‘HELLS BELLS’ were gonging. Tears had welled up in her eyes and she had to hold her breath to let the pain pass. She thought she might be sick if she moved too quickly. Dixie licked her in the face and wagged her tail in anticipation. Erin’s Saint Bernard was ready to pee and wanted her to know it. The dog was oblivious to the possible concussion Erin may or may not be suffering. “You’ll just have to wait a minute girl!” Dixie jumped back into the bed and settled in for the wait. Erin put her hand to a knot, which was rapidly rising, on the back of her skull. “At least the lamp stayed on the table,” she thought to herself as she reached up for the knob with fumbling fingers. Erin realized her hand caught in the cord and she jerked it back, only to have the lamp slide across the top of the table and conk her on the top of the head. “Son of a…!” White splotches danced before her closed eyelids as tears streamed out the sides with ease. This time she let the nausea roll through her before she opened her eyes that were more than likely crossed. Dixie licked Erin’s cheek, a protective action that was only given in dire situations such as this. The dog had never littered pups and treated Erin as if she was her own. This behavior had increased over the last six months. It had come to the point where Dixie slept in the bed instead of on the floor and Erin did not mind at all. Anything beat sleeping alone. Erin untangled the sheets from her legs and got to her feet. She replaced the lamp onto the nightstand and then gave it a dirty look, as if it could see her. She turned on the lamp then stumbled over to the dresser and turned off the blaring alarm. Erin was positive that either Eddy or Eric was giggling in his room, maybe both of them. The sneaky things had probably planned it for days. She would have to make the payback a good one in return. She could only imagine what else her boys had in store for her “Special Day”. Last year, they had been quite inventive with their prank. She should have considered them up to no good but she had been tired and hardly thought anything of it. They had a brilliant idea to fill her garden tub with clear jell-o and foamed bubbles over the top of it. They told her that they had run her a bath so she could soak and relax. Then Eddy and Eric stood outside her bathroom door with Edward and nearly died laughing after they heard her screams, followed by a long line of curse words they would never be allowed to repeat. Then, they teased Erin

relentlessly for weeks; saying, “There is always room for jell-o! Right Mom?” Erin collected her clothes and walked into the master bathroom. This was her sanctuary from the everyday chaos of her life and was designed in warm earthy tones to soothe. She had selected Indian sandstone tiles and countertops in a warm rusty brown. It was offset with a creamy beige paint and brilliant white trim and cabinets. Erin set the tile herself and felt a sense of accomplishment each time she entered the room. The double sinks were set into the countertop with brushed nickel fixtures. The two-person Jacuzzi tub set separately from the glassed-in shower stall. The shower was used a lot more than the tub. Erin glanced into the beveled mirror over the vanity to see if she looked any older than yesterday. “Well, I still look the same but I sure do feel old!” Nightmares were haunting her again and Erin had not been sleeping well. The night terrors started over six months ago and Erin went to the doctor after weeks of restless sleep. He prescribed her sleeping pills and anti-depressants. The dreams had stopped completely after a week of taking the medicine and Erin regained the ability to function regularly. She continued taking the pills religiously but the dreams had started again about a week ago. It was always the same dream. Erin was alone in the North Field #34. It was dusk outside and there was an awful silence, no rustling of the wind, no pumping of the tanks or wells! She did not know why she was here but knew the site. She had a feeling of dread and thought there was danger near by. Then, she was running, running fast, but it was like a cartoon where no matter how fast the character pedaled its legs it could not go any faster than a slow jog. Someone was behind her. She could not hear him or see him but Erin just knew he was there, and after her. There was a car in the distance; a red sports car she had never seen before. If she could just get there, she would be able to get away to safety. Erin knew she would never get to the car in time but she tried as hard as she could anyways. She tripped on a log and Erin cursed herself for being too damn clumsy as she fell to the ground and skinned her hands and knees. The man was getting closer and Erin knew she would be dying soon. Heavy footsteps echoed in her ears and the earth shook with the weight of them. Sound exploded around her in an instant and Erin realized that the pumps were loud; too loud! No one would hear her screams for help. Erin was in the middle of nowhere, it was almost dark and no one could see her. In an instant, he was on Erin, straddling her and pinning her to the ground. Something wet dripped in her face and Erin thought it must be the man’s sweat. His face was blurred and Erin thought that was strange considering it was only inches from her own. Did she know him? He was a very large man and had a distinct smell Erin could not pinpoint. He was growling words but the pumps drowned them out before they reached Erin’s ears. Then, he was hitting her with big meaty fists and the leather gloves he had on made an awful sound on Erin’s skin. Over and over, at a rhythm that matched the hammer-jacks pumping. Erin can feel the life draining out of her and the screams in her head were fading with each passing second. The heavy weight lifted from her chest but her lungs were still gasping for air. Erin’s eyes felt so heavy. Perhaps, she would close them for a few minutes. She slipped into oblivion thinking that something warm was running down her face and she was so cold. All was silent again and Erin thought to herself, “The angels should be coming for me soon. That is what happens when you die, right?” What seemed like hours passed with nothingness and then Edward was standing over her. Erin could feel him there but that is all. Sound returned and he tells her to wake up and to open her eyes. There is urgency in his tone and tears clogging his words. Erin wanted to wake up; to see his face one more time, up close before she dies! She can feel his large rough hands caress her cheeks and there is such gentleness. “Now Erin! Open your eyes! Please Love!” He screams it

and she wants to open her eyes so badly but Erin cannot get her eyes open to see his face, no matter how hard she tried. Then Erin would awake in a cold sweat screaming his name and it was over. The doctor told her that this meant her husband wanted her to stay focused on what was in front of her but Erin thought that was a questionable interpretation. She did not know what the dreams were trying to tell her but she knew the doctor was not even close. Erin felt at the goose egg on the back of her skull. A headache was starting to throb. She opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of aspirin along with the bottle of anti-depressants. She shook out three aspirin and two of the happy pills her doctor had prescribed and swallowed them all dry. By the time Erin showered, dried, and dressed, the clock in her bedroom read 4:18. She was pretty quick today, and realized she had enough time fix herself up a little for the special occasion. Her eyes were large almonds of a smoky grey. Perhaps a little mascara could bring some life back to them. Erin’s hair was a lost cause in her own opinion. It was such a dark brown that it almost looked black and hung to the middle of her back. It looked pretty tame while wet but Erin knew, as soon as it dried, it would be a mass of uncontrollable waves and twists that could rival Medusa’s snakes. She opted for the eyes but just pulled her hair into the quick neat knot at the back of her neck like the one she always wore to work. Erin did not bother with face make-up. It would just sweat off from the heat of the kitchen. Erin took one last look in the mirror to see the results of her efforts. Dark circles ringed her eyes and her, once full and heart-shaped, face looked hallowed and pasty instead of its normal olive tone. Erin had shed over twenty pounds since Christmas without trying and had to buy a completely new wardrobe. Most women would be ecstatic but Erin was just irritated with the bother of having to shop. She thought if she could bottle the formula for grief as a diet pill, she would be a millionaire by now. Oh well, she really did not care what she looked like anymore. There used to be a time, not too long ago that she would never have left her house without doing a full thirty-minute work-over. “That was then and this is now,” Erin thought to herself as she turned out the light on her own reflection. Erin rattled off a list of chores in her head as she walked down the stairs with Dixie bouncing happily beside her; “Pie crust, peel apples, make puddings, sift flour…” The wonderful smell of fresh brewed coffee hit her nose as she opened the back door and let Dixie out to relieve herself. Erin was so out of it, she did not pay much attention to the barking that started as soon as Dixie went through the doorway. She would have to get back to her list after her first cup of coffee. Brenda always set the timer of the coffee pot the night before. “An Angel!” Erin said about her mother-in-law as she pulled a mug from the cabinet and poured herself a cup of liquid paradise. On the counter, next to the sink, a large crystal vase over flowed with a rainbow of fresh cut roses. Erin knew the boys must have cut them from the garden late last night. “They are good boys!” she said aloud and then thought, “How many teen-aged boys would remember their mother like this?” Next to the vase lay two envelopes. This was something Erin had always stressed to her children, “A gift should come from the heart, not the store!” So for years Eddy and Eric had made or gathered Erin’s gifts instead of buying them and each held a treasured place in Erin’s memories. Perhaps she could forget about the alarm joke. She opened the first envelope and immediately recognized it was from her youngest son Eric. He was a very artistic 13-year old and had drawn a portrait of Erin, smiling a big sunny smile, on the front of the card. The picture he had copied from was one taken last year, at a happier time. Erin thought she might never smile like that again. It was a very close resemblance of her and Eric even had a freckle dead center on the end of her nose. The freckle was one of the things about Erin’s appearance that her boys

constantly teased her about and Erin had become familiar with phrases such as, “You have something on the end of your nose Mom!” or “You’re such a brown noser!” Her boys had always loved to harass her, and Erin believed it was something they had inherited from their father. Edward was infamous for his humor and Erin found him irresistible because of it. Erin snorted a laugh then turned the card to read what Eric had written: You are my sunshine, my only sunshine! I love you Mom! Hope you have a sunny day! Eric Erin smiled the way only a mother does for her child and wiped a few tears from her cheek. Sweet and to the point, just like Eric. She moved on to Eddy’s and found the envelope was much heavier than Eric’s was. Erin opened it and a CD slid out into her hands. She put it into the CD player mounted under the countertop. Eddy was her musician. At 15 years old, he had already formed his own band and played for the locals regularly. The melody that flowed from the speaker was soft and beautiful. Erin wiped some more tears away and continued to listen. Eddy sang of the love he had for his Mother; how she was the center of everything good and lovely in the world. Erin was, at that moment, glad that the mascara she had on was waterproof. The song ended with Eddy telling Erin that he would love her forever and then some. That was something Edward always said to her, “Forever and then some, Love!” Erin reached back and felt the tender spot on the back of her head that was the size of a golf ball and decided it was not too bad after all. Erin had been dreading today for weeks now. The dark circles that were constantly with her since December had become a little darker, she had not eaten a decent meal in days, and the family had been very concerned. Friday/June 29th only came around every few years and the significance of it to Erin was enormous. Thirty-four years ago, Erin was born in Ft. Worth, Texas on Friday/June 29th. Twenty-eight years ago, she lost her first tooth, learned to ride a bike and swim on Friday/June 29th. Twenty-three years ago, she met Edward Morris at camp and received her first kiss from him on Friday/June 29th. Seventeen years ago, Erin married and lost her virginity to Edward Morris on Friday/June 29th. Six years ago, Erin opened the ‘Back Door Café’ on the outskirts of Bowie, Texas on Friday/June 29th. Today would be the sixth Friday/June 29th of her lifetime. Each of the previous days carried a special place in the grand scheme of Erin’s life, and she recognized that for what it was. Many had told Erin that she was silly for thinking one day could hold that much significance to one person’s life and she would argue, each one of those “said days” had been a stepping-stone for the best things of her life. Erin had a certain hang-up on it. The problem with this particular Friday/June 29th was Erin believed nothing good could ever happen to her again since the events of last December. She could no longer believe there was purpose or direction for anything. Erin’s mother Joann and father Eric had bought the house across the street and sold their mountain house in Colorado to be close. Brenda arrived on Christmas day and never really left. The boys had given up their after school events to fill-in at the restaurant and help out at home. Everyone had pulled in around her for a wall of support. They all suffered a great loss along with her, but Erin believed her family had held together a lot better than she had. Erin looked at the clock on the microwave and calculated that she was still ahead of schedule. AC/DC had its pluses. The time read 4:24, two more minutes and Erin would officially be 34 years old. She sat at the breakfast bar to drink her coffee. A moment of sipping and something glinted in the corner of her vision. A single red rose, with a white satin ribbon tied in a neat bow around it, laid at the edge of the counter closest to the wall.