A Sarah Cross Legal Thriller
About the book
The smell of tobacco brings Sarah closer to the ghosts of her past…
It all started with a call.
Federal Prosecutor Sarah Cross knows she should have turned down detective Lee Black's request for help. When a respected politician from her hometown is found murdered, all clues point to the estranged, cheating husband. Until they don't.
Forced to revisit the demons of her past that she vowed never to touch again, Sarah is pushed back onto a path she has been running away from. Amidst a political scandal that threatens to uproot the county's legal department, she must erase her name from the list of a notorious mafia boss. And in a race against time, she has to save her daughter from the clutches of her childhood nightmare...
"You fucking bitch! You're dead. I'm gonna kill you!"
I didn't turn at the sudden screech from Martinez's wife in the public gallery. The rest of her threats were drowned by the crack of a gavel as Judge Ganset demanded order. Murmurs from the rest of the crowd washed over me like surf. It was a good verdict; Martinez was going away for a long time. Justice. My hand went to the small, silver cross under my blouse. I remembered the stony face of the man who had given it to me. Tanned, creased, and topped with a shock of pure white hair.
Phillip Gove and Mica Harris, my trial team, sat beside me. Phil was middle-aged, heavy set, and with more years of trial experience than any other assistant prosecutor in the Silver City DA’s office. Mica was the newest member of the office, assigned to me to gain experience and already proving the worth of her weight in gold for her energy and efficiency. I reminded myself how lucky I was to have them.
"Good job, boss." Phillip slapped my shoulder with a meaty hand, rocking me. He was like a bull in a china shop.
It brought me back to the present. I began arranging the papers in front of me, slipped my pen into the inside pocket of my Ralph Lauren jacket and buttoned it. The craving for nicotine was raging. My throat was dry. The courtroom was barely controlled chaos around me. Martinez was being wrestled to the ground by two bailiffs. He liked the result even less than his wife but his ire was directed at his attorney.
"Team effort, Phil. Great job, you too, Mica." I gave each a quick smile as I stood. They needed more but it was difficult.
Mica beamed anyway, her round face lit up at even meager praise.
"Drink to celebrate at Jake's, Sarah?" There was hopeful optimism in her tone. The thought of a cold beer and a bourbon chaser caused a flutter in my chest, like I used to get whenever Carl smiled at me.
"How many emails do you think Larry has hit me with while we've been in here today, Mic?" I raised an eyebrow. It was an excuse and they knew it.
"Come on, boss. It's almost five thirty. Just this once," Phil cajoled, brushing his thinning hair back across his head like he did a thousand times a day.
"Coffee. At the place across the street. Then I need to get back to the office."
I slotted my laptop into its place in my shoulder bag, files going into the pocket beside it. Phone out and into my inside jacket pocket, next to the pen and a pack of Lucky Strikes. Across the aisle from me, Mick Fleming, Martinez's expensive defense attorney, was waiting, looking like he had been sucking on lemons. He hadn't expected to lose. I took a step in his direction, extending a hand.
"Quit," I said.
"Fuck you." Southern California accent.
"We'll get you."
I turned away, not hearing his response, glad not to have to look at his slick hair and overfed cheeks. There was a reason I had never sought a place in a private law firm, and Fleming was it. Defending scum like Martinez with loopholes and technicalities wasn't justice. All the people whose lives had been destroyed by the drugs Martinez sold had received justice today.
"Did you hear that?" Phillip sounded outraged.
"I was hardly professional myself."
"He's a snake," Mica put in.
"Forget him. He and his partners will go too far one day and they'll be the ones on trial. That's if Martinez's crew don't take matters into their own hands."
"Here's hoping," Phillip said.
My hand went to the pocket of my jacket, touching the soft pack of cigarettes and then taking the phone. As I left the courtroom the smell of pine disinfectant and wood polish was strong. The hallway leading to the courthouse's grand, and famed, atrium was all dark hardwood and polished marble tiles. Black metal benches lined the walls and a few hopeful reporters were just getting up, phones in hands and stretched out towards me. I turned away, letting Phil's round-shouldered bulky frame block them, sending them back to the main pack that waited outside for the public statement. Phil would make it; he loved the spotlight and that suited me. That's one of the reasons he was such a great assistant.
Two men slipped by Phil, one of them jogged a few steps to catch up with me as I headed for the fire exit. He wore a department store suit and was built like a football player. The other one wouldn't lower himself to run. I could hear the steady metronome rap of Italian shoes on the marble.
"Counselor, could the Lieutenant have a word?" said the first. What’s his name? Damn, all I can think of is a smoke.
"Walk and talk, Detective. This is just one of thirty-three cases I have on my desk right now."
I led the way through the tighter corridors of the courthouse's backrooms. I could have done it blindfolded. At the double fire-exit doors, Charlie Smith, one of the court security guards, stood waiting. He knew where I would be headed. He held one side open, having already disabled the alarm. He gave me a wink and a salute with two fingers glancing off his forehead.
"Masterful job today, Counselor. Good as I've seen in twenty years." He took a cigar case from the breast pocket of his uniform shirt and I made the metal cylinder disappear with the smoothness of a conjuror.
"You've earned that, enjoy it."
I smiled and it felt like it was the first in a long time that wasn't forced.
"Isn't that illegal?" came a deep flat voice from behind. The buff detective looked back at his companion, half a smile crooking his mouth.
I stepped into the parking lot outside the fire exit and took out the cigarettes, taking hold of one in my mouth. I took the book of matches from my trouser pocket. Three left, that dictated how many I could have today. That's the rule. I lit and drew in a long blue breath. The door closed behind us and I turned to face Lieutenant Lee Black.
"I don't like crowds," I told him, choosing to believe the illegality he mentioned was opening the fire-door, not the gift of the Havana.
Lee was in his late-forties, about seven or eight years older than me. His short, dark hair was sculpted into a perfect side parting. His hazel eyes were creased at the corners but the rest of his face was smooth, giving him a round-cheeked boyish look.
He was immaculate, as always. He looked less like a working cop and more like an actor playing a cop in some fifties TV show. Teeth too white, face too handsome. Always looking like he was laughing at a private joke.
By contrast, I wore a gray trouser suit that disguised my figure, not that there was much to disguise. I was tall for a woman, almost eye to eye with Lee. My body was too straight, had never had enough curves to fit the view of the female form I had been programmed with. My blonde hair hung back from my temples almost to my shoulders. Out of court, I had shaken out the ponytail and clipped it in place with a pair of grips.
"Mica, you don't need to hang around, you know that. I'll see you at the office on Monday."
"Guess coffee's off then. Knew it was too good to be true. Want me to give Carl a call, tell him you'll be late?"
"You probably should, Mica," Black said smoothly before I could speak. He held out a card, a gold cufflink catching the late afternoon sun as he did. It was a glint amid starched white cuffs. "My number, if you need to get hold of her in the next few hours."
Mica looked confused as she took the card. "I could just call her?"
Black smiled and I thought of a shark. "Or me," he said. She needed rescuing, so I took the card out of her hand.
"Don't worry, Mic. I'll speak to Carl. Ignore him. Mid-life crisis."
I turned back to Black, prodding his white shirted chest with a corner of the card to get his attention. "Two minutes, Ulysses."
I had discovered that Lee was short for Ulysses five years before. It wasn’t common knowledge. The other cop spluttered and Lee took back the card with a broad grin. "You won't believe how much I don't bite at that one. Hal, if I hear that name in the precinct you'll be directing traffic by next week."
"What do you want, Lieutenant? Besides hitting on my colleagues."
"A case. My boss has already talked to your boss. You've probably got an email waiting for you. I got the files, you can read them in the car."
I had almost smoked the cigarette to the filter and needed another one. But the hook was in me now. I crushed the stub out beneath my shoe.
"What is it?"
"Miranda Miller. I take it you know who I’m talking about."
“Of course. I thought Larry would be handling this one personally.”
“Well, I assumed our DA wouldn’t pass up such a high profile murder case, but who am I to assume? We got you.”
Black put out a hand and a plain folder was given to him.
"This is Sergeant Grant, by the way," he said as he handed the folder to me.
"OK," I said, taking the folder and beginning to scan.
"That's the best you're going to get from the ice queen, kid," Black said. "Appreciate it."
I turned a page and saw the crime scene photographs before I realized what I was looking at. I looked up so fast I could have given myself whiplash. Stomach rolled.
"Might have warned me, Lee."
"Yeah, well, now we're even. We're parked over there. Captain Morgenstern told me to head over here to pick you up on our way to speak to a witness. Statement was taken from her at the time but maybe you can get something we didn’t. Victim had to be identified by dental records by the way. Not much left of anything else."
I had another cigarette lit and offered one to Black.
"Not in the car, not fair on my partner. He takes his health seriously. New to homicide, see?"
One match left. Should have spaced them out. Can't break the rules.
I reduced the cigarette to a stub in a few long pulls, throwing away what was left and blowing the smoke out of my lungs before I got into the back of a dark blue sedan. Black and Grant got into the front. Grant was driving.
"I don't think I've ever seen you get behind the wheel, Lee."
"My great great grand-daddy was a plantation owner in Georgia, and my momma brought us boys up to think of ourselves as displaced aristocrats. Even though Granddaddy George lost the farm investing in the only dud silver mines in this part of Nevada. So, it suits me to be driven."
I wondered if the story was true. With Lee, you never knew when he was just spinning a tale. I was delaying and I knew it. Those pictures. I had to look at them, but the sight of blood had always been a problem for me. It triggered too many memories. I opened the folder again and forced myself to look.
"Looks like the entire top half of the head has just disintegrated." I said, reducing the images to plain facts by speaking them aloud.
"Thirteen shell casings were found. Seven entry wounds found in the torso and groin. The rest were discharged at the head, close range."
"Whoever did it must have been breathing in her brains," Grant commented.
"Thank you, Hal. Let’s not upset delicate stomachs," Black shot back.
"Frenzied attack,” I said aloud as I looked through the preliminary crime scene findings. "Was she married?"
"Yes, but he wasn't home. Don't know where he is yet. We're going to see the neighbor who called 911. A Miss Katey Halliday."
A car shot out of an intersection against a red light. Grant swore and I had time to brace myself against the back of the driver's seat before it slammed into us side on. The grinding screech of metal knifed my ears. I looked up and straight into the eyes of a man with a gun.
Black and red bandana. Shaved head and the muzzle of a gun pointing from an open window at me. I felt like I had stared down the barrel of that gun for an hour but no sooner had the vehicle slammed into ours than they were away. The air filled with the stench of melting rubber and smoke hissed from the other car's rear wheels. Horns blared as they lurched into traffic and took off down the street. I didn't have time to duck. Grant was out of the car, firearm drawn and taking aim. Lee reacted just as fast but he had a notebook in his hand and a pencil.
"Don't bother, Hal. Too many civilians." He tore off the page he had scribbled on. "Here, got the license plate. Call it in. You OK?"
That last was directed at me. I nodded, hands shaking.
"Friends of yours?"
"Probably the Martinez crew." My voice shook no matter what I did. I hated showing weakness in front of Lee. He had the good grace not to comment.
Around us Clark Avenue continued to bustle, drama over. Traffic went on its way and pedestrians jostled on the tree-lined sidewalk. I got out of the car and straightened my jacket, resisting the clamor for another cigarette. Grant had put the car half onto the sidewalk. Lee had walked around to the driver's side and looked it up and down lazily.
"We still good to go, Hal?"
Grant was leaning back into the car, speaking into a mobile radio. He straightened and cast a critical eye at the damage.
"Looks cosmetic. You want to wait for another pool car?"
"While we've got a window in the Counselor’s diary let’s not waste it," Black drawled, checking a watch that glinted in the sun.
His eyes met mine across the roof of the car. There was a momentary flash of genuine concern, quickly drowned beneath the customary smirk.
"You OK, Sarah?" he asked again.
I felt sick as the adrenaline left my system and didn't trust my hands not to shake. More than anything I wanted to be home with Vicky. I touched the silver crucifix, remembered my old mentor. Duty first.
"You bet. You'll need a sworn statement from me at some point. Want to make a note, Lieutenant?"
Smirk bloomed into a white toothed grin and he tapped the side of his head. "All filed."
Miranda Miller lived in the Carson Heights suburb of Silver City. The road snaked from the plain in which the downtown area sat, alongside the Rio Seca, the river that divided Silver City. The road took us into the lush foothills that stood in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada. The houses were widely spaced and the gardens smelt of citrus fruit. Well-watered green replaced the brown of the desert visible beyond the city to the east. I digested the file as we drove, filtering out the chat from Lee in the front of the car. He liked the sound of his own voice. The craving for nicotine and alcohol was buried by the need to be sharp. I couldn't afford to lose focus.
"Run me through the scene of crime one more time, Lee."
Lee smoothly switched from whatever he had been talking about with barely a pause.
"911 call made by Katey Halliday, 37, and neighbor of the Millers for seven years. Call logged at 6:37 am on the 29th of April. Says she heard a number of gun shots. Sounded like firecrackers was what she told the emergency operator. Patrol car arrived at 7:10 to find doors and windows locked. They broke in and found Mrs. Miller dead in her kitchen. Face down."
Lee was reciting from memory. It was a neat trick he had that set him apart from most detectives.
"Nowhere to be seen. Her car keys were in her hand but her car was gone."
“Was it robbery? Intruder got caught and panicked?” It sounded wrong to me, the frenzied nature of the killing. But every avenue had to be explored.
“Can’t rule it out.” Lee was on my page, nothing assumed. “But it seems unlikely as I’m sure you’ll agree. And plenty of valuables left in the house.”
"She'd had sex recently, maybe the night before. Signs of violence."
"House was locked up, any sign of forced entry?"
"None. Neighbors neither heard nor saw anyone, other than the gunshots. No-one else called 911. Neighbors on either side were awakened by the shots but weren’t sure about what they heard."
"How recent is recent?"
"You're making the husband for it." It wasn't a question.
"Got an APB on him. Looks like a prime suspect to me. Except that victim's phone has text messages implying he was in Carson City at the time. Hotels have been checked and he was booked into a motel there, and a man matching his description checked in at about 10:30 the previous evening."
"He could still have got back here. It’s only a couple of hours by freeway."
"Sure is. That's why we're looking for him."
I scanned through the file again, slower this time. Sunlight striped my face where it filtered through the trees lining the streets. Lee had turned up the AC and the back of the car was a fridge, which was how I liked it. He knows me better than Carl does. Carl still forgot how much I hate being warm. Or maybe he just doesn't care. I made notes into my phone to bring the swirling facts into some semblance of order. A message popped onto the screen. It was Carl.
“You were supposed to be picking up Victoria from piano practice @ school. School tried to call you and then got me.”
I didn't bother replying but immediately texted Vicky,
“Hi, sweetie. Sorry, got caught up in work. Did Dad get you from school?”
I didn't have to wait long for the reply.
“Hi Mom, no sweat. Big case? Tell me about it when you get home. No, got a ride from Jenny's mom. No sweat. Dad being a dick about it.”
“Language. Your dad's not a dick...all the time. I'll tell you what I can later. Might be late. Love you pixie.”
“Love you too, Mom. He is too.”
I wanted the text back as soon as I sent it. Damn! Shouldn’t be calling her Dad names in front of her. We’re not in competition over her. I looked up from the phone to see Lee looking over his shoulder at me, eyebrow raised. Damn!
"Still with us, Counselor?"
I put the phone away without replying. Grant was slowing and turning into a driveway. A wood framed house painted in pastel blues and yellows stood behind an immaculate lawn, kids toys scattered across it. The drive ended in a double garage. White painted wooden gates stood open, flanked by two tall, brick gate posts. There was a spill of crumbling brickwork and masonry from one of the gateposts, where a corner looked to have been smashed. A thick black tire mark curved from the damage into the street.
The house opposite had identical gates, though these were closed and guarded by uniformed cops. Beyond the closed gates I could see the top story of the house beyond, also wood, though painted in bolder colors and looking as though it had an extra story on its opposite neighbor. There were three outside broadcast vans parked along the street, the logos of local TV networks on their sides.
"Is that the crime scene?"
"Sure is. And this is the residence of Mrs. Katey Halliday." Lee answered.
"Looks like the lady's expecting us," Grant commented.
A woman with blond hair, tied back into a ponytail, wearing yoga pants and a baggy sweatshirt, had come out of the front door and was watching the car approach. She chewed her lip and fidgeted with her feet. She was beautiful but it looked like a beauty that had been bought, cosmetic surgery, makeup, the best skin treatments.
I rarely wore makeup. My best feature, a female friend had once told me, was my high apple cheeks and hooded eyes that apparently looked sultry. All of which, I apparently wasn’t doing enough to emphasize. Compared to the deep tan, real or otherwise, of Katey Halliday, my pale skin must seem almost ghostly.
"Waiting for something,” Lee said thoughtfully. "Wonder what."
"Mrs. Halliday. Good to see you again. I hope we're not intruding," he greeted her warmly.
"You are. I was just about to go to a class actually."
"Sorry to disturb you. Night classes?"
Katey Halliday looked from Lee to Grant, sparing a look for me as I got out of the car and plainly dismissing me.
"I told you everything I know."
"Routine, Mrs. Halliday. Can I call you Katey?"
"Let’s go inside, shall we, Katey?" Lee said right over her. I suppressed a smile as he breezed past her and waited for Grant to open the front door.
Mrs. Halliday jumped. "Hey! You can't go in there without my permission. My husband's an attorney."
"You'd rather do this out here?” I asked. “Was it your husband who was in such a hurry to get out of here that he hit that gatepost?"
Halliday's mouth fell open and she paled beneath her fake tan. Lee stepped out onto the marble porch, notebook in hand.
"Ok, ok. But five minutes, ok?" Halliday finally said.
I walked past her into the house, meeting Lee's eye. This was a well-practiced routine for the two of us; I just hoped his new partner was well trained already not to get in the way. The house was standard new money-crass. Shiny and impersonal with no expense spared and no taste demonstrated. A living room opened out from the hall to the left, furnished in white leather with a bookcase facing tall windows. I saw a copy of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries that looked like an original and three hardbacks by Michael P. Halliday, all three turned so that the cover faced out rather than the spine. My own copy of Blackstone was much more recent and very well thumbed. I'd never heard of Michael P. Halliday though.
I took a seat on one of the couches, letting Lee gesture Mrs. Halliday to an armchair before he and Grant took the other couch. He had positioned her so that if either one of us spoke to her the other could observe her reactions. Halliday was starting to look flustered. This was classic Lee Black strategy.
"Would you like to tell me what happened prior to your 911 call three nights ago, Mrs. Halliday? I asked.
"I already told the cops all about this. Are you a cop?"
"I'm with the DA's office. My name is Sarah Cross."
"From your perspective Katey, behave as though she is," Lee volunteered, sitting back and crossing his legs.
Before he finished talking, I began speaking. Halliday looked from one to the other, confused. That's what I wanted.
"Someone left here in a big hurry. I'm betting it was that morning or maybe the night before. Damage looks recent to me. But I'm no expert. Go ahead."
Halliday swallowed. "Like I said. I heard shots. From the Miller's place."
"What time?" Lee asked.
"Are you always awake at that time?"
"Yes, usually. I go for a jog before it gets too hot."
"Were you outside or inside when you heard the shouting?" I asked.
"Outside, just about to start. I got to the end of the drive and I heard the shots start. There were so many it was like firecrackers."
"What did you do then?" Lee asked, leaning forward, hands clasped between his knees.
"I ran back inside and called 911."
“So, it was actually more like six thirty, not six,” I stated.
“What? Oh, yes. I guess.”
“The damage, Mrs. Halliday,” I prompted.
"My husband. He hit the gatepost, he always drives too fast. He's done it before."
"Looks like both of those posts have had some rebuilding on them, you can see the new brick,” Grant commented.
I didn't look at him but saw Lee squeeze his shoulder. Shut him up, Lee.
"Right. Lawyers are always in a hurry. Time is money, right Sarah?" Lee said.
"Wouldn't know, I don't get paid by the hour. Where is your husband, Mrs. Halliday?"
The one-two was working, I could see Halliday was getting flustered. Any sympathy I would have felt had evaporated at her entitled attitude.
"He's a partner in a law firm in the city, Brendan Associates."
"He's there now?" I asked.
"Yes, why? What does it matter?"
Lee knew where I was going. "Hal, go out and get a unit over to Brendan Associates. Check Mr. Halliday's car."
"What?! No, wait. He's in Reno. Yeah, sorry, I forgot. He had to go to Reno. They represent a casino, I think."
"Well, we'll have the Reno PD check his car,” Lee said smoothly.
"Was it Miranda Miller's husband who was leaving here in such a hurry that morning...Katey?" I asked.
There was a moment between us. It felt as though the air was charged. I was working a hunch. There was no evidence to suggest it except for his car not being at home. And the damage to the Halliday gateposts. If she hadn't been so damned defensive when we arrived, I probably wouldn't have asked.
"Get...get out! I know my rights. I don't have to talk to you without an attorney. I want you off my property."
"You don't want an attorney, Katey..." Lee began. But Halliday was on her feet, fists clenched.
"Stop talking. Just shut up! I told you everything, first time. If you want to interrogate me, I want a lawyer. Now get out."
A look passed between Lee and myself. Gotcha.
"You're pretty sharp,” Grant complimented as we walked back to the car.
"That's why she's here. I didn't spot that damage to the gate. That must have been guesswork,” Lee said.
I allowed myself a slight victorious smile. "It was a gamble. Could have been nothing, so I thought it was worth pushing her."
"I'll get a uniform out here to bring her down to the precinct. You want in on that conversation?" Lee asked.
We got into the car. I wanted to let my head fall back and kick off my shoes. Not in front of Lee.
"Depends. If you're bringing her in tonight, I need to get back to my family. In the morning I'd like to sit in."
"Suits me. It’s shift change anyway. You want to check out the crime scene before we take you back to the courthouse?"
No, I want to get home to my little girl. "Yes. I need to look it over. See what else you missed."
Grant was turning the car and heading back out of the driveway. Lee flashed his badge through the windshield and the uniform officer on guard opened the gates. A few reporters scampered forward, crouching to see into the car and snapping pictures. Grant barely slowed. I flipped open the file again as Grant pulled us up opposite the Miller house. Another uniformed officer stood sentinel at the front door, coming forward to check the badges of my escorts.
We entered the house through the front door. Hardwood flooring and a staircase that split halfway up to curve away over our heads. A full length mirror on the opposite wall gave an illusion of depth, a spider’s web of cracks marred one corner. Caused by an impact. Scanning the floor around the mirror revealed a CSI tag.
"What was used to break the mirror?"
"A ring. Miller's wedding ring,” Lee said. "No sign of forced removal, in fact I would say it had been on and off her finger a lot. No tan line and well-worn inside."
Living room opened on one side of the hall, just like the Halliday house. I could see the kitchen through an open door beside the broken mirror and a closed door to our right. Grant started to lead the way to the kitchen. I opened the closed door and looked in. It was a den, lit by slashes of light through the gaps in broken blinds. Jagged pools of sunlight spilled over sports trophies and a large TV, lighting them up like prizes on a seventies quiz show. A slight odor wafted out, faded but still pungent.
I froze. I know that smell. I could feel my heart hammering in my chest, my throat was tightening. Not now. Please not now. Not here. My name was being called but it was a distant sound. My vision contracted to a pinpoint and I heard another voice. His voice. The voice I'd tried to forget. A stab of pain in my left hand dragged me back to the present. It had been gripping the door frame and a splinter of wood had jabbed into my palm. I cried out, losing my balance as I pulled myself from the room. Grant was beside me in a few long strides, steadying me. For once Lee's cynical smile was wiped from his face.
"Jeez, Sarah. What happened? You're white."
"I think she's in shock, Lieutenant,” Grant said.
"I'm OK." I tried to push Grant away, resenting the need for a man to help me stand. My legs were like jelly. "Just close that fucking door,” I barked.
The door slammed. I didn’t know who closed it. Grant held me by my forearm and I pushed myself away from him.
"There was a smell in there. It overcame me, was it hash?" I knew what it was but didn't want to show it.
"No, don't think so. Some kind of tobacco, not the usual kind. Not American I'd say,” Lee told me frowning.
"It’s strong. Or I'm more tired than I thought. I'm fine, I'm fine. Glass of water would be good. Or better yet a cognac."
Lee had turned to head for the kitchen and his head whipped back to me. Fuck, I'm losing it talking about booze like that in front of him.
"Bad joke. Ignore me. Kitchen's through there, right?"
I walked past both, back straight. The kitchen was rustic, all browns and grays, wood and stone. Markers from the CSI team were dotted everywhere. I navigated between them, found a glass and filled it from a faucet, gulping the cold water unit I had emptied the glass. Got to get back in control. He’s not beating me. Not again. Another foaming spurt from the faucet, this time I sipped before putting the glass down carefully. There was a slight tremor in the hand holding it. The absence of a comment from Lee spoke volumes about his concern. Under all the competition between us there was a...what? Friendship? That makes one then.
"Tell me what we know."
Lee leant on a counter, folded his arms and pointed with one finger to the wall behind me. "See the hooks. Good place to keep your keys, right?"
"That's what I do,” Grant commented.
Lee's finger swiveled to the far end of the kitchen towards a wooden door with a cat flap. "Victim is found on the floor head towards that door. Blood stains on that counter and the door through to the living room over there. And the wall besides those hooks.”
I looked from the open door that led through to the living room, noting the markers left by the CSI team circling blood stains. I could almost see Miranda Miller staggering through the door, heading for her car keys hanging up on the wall. She was wounded, had blood on her hands, left smears next to the keys. She grabbed the keys to a Mercedes, the logo was clear in the crime scene pictures. And died before she could reach it. There were three hooks. All empty. One key accounted for. No cars outside.
"She and her husband both have a car, right?"
"Two year old Lexus sedan for him. New Merc coupe for her."
"I am in the wrong job,” Grant commented.
"He took his car to Carson City."
"So we believe," Lee confirmed.
"Someone took her car with the spare keys."
Lee made a gun with index finger and thumb, cocking and firing at me. "Bingo. Glad to have you back with us."
I ignored him. Jackass. "The killer took her car. Which means we're looking for two people."
"Mr. Miller comes back from Carson City, kills his wife with an accomplice. Drives back to his motel while the accomplice takes Mrs. Miller’s car and that just don't make a lick of sense,” Lee said. "You start to see the problem. And now you’ve added Katey Halliday into the equation. Jeez."
I could see the problem. It didn't make sense, but I couldn't think of another interpretation of these facts. Everything was jumbled. I needed some space and some distance to put the facts in order. Get some perspective. I needed my girl and some talk about funny videos. And I needed my last smoke of the day. Tomorrow, we'll find that Mr. Miller was having an affair with his neighbor across the street and left her place in a panic. Her reaction made that certain. Question is why? And where is he now?
The sun was below the horizon by the time the two detectives dropped me back at the Marshall County courthouse. I watched the tail-lights of their car disappear down Clark Avenue before letting my head drop to the steering wheel of my car. Weariness swept over me like a lead blanket. I could still taste stale tobacco at the back of my throat. Russian tobacco. Black and foul smelling. The kind Jason used to smoke. I shut my eyes tight, running through the mantra I had learned to fight off the flashbacks. I didn't want to remember. Didn't want to see his leering face.
I started the car reflexively, threw it into reverse, and swung it out of the parking lot and into the evening traffic with barely a pause. I ignored horn blares of angry drivers swerving to avoid me. It took five minutes before I saw the first liquor store sign. I sliced across two lanes, causing more irate blasts as I bumped into the lot and stopped. Neon red and blue proclaimed bargain prices alongside handwritten, star-shaped stickers on bottles of vodka and whiskey. A warm, yellow light spilled through the glass front door and I'd never seen anything so inviting.
My hands were shaking again as I took out the phone and hit the speed dial.
"Hey, Cross,” said a deep voice. "Long time no speak."
"I'm sitting in my car outside a liquor store,” I said.
Breathing. "You been in?"
"I'm on my way..."
"No! Just tell me what happens if I go in."
Pause. "Sarah, if you go in there, you'll drink. You'll get drunk. You'll feel like you've let Vicky down and Carl. And that will make you want to drink more."
"I had a...a flashback. When I was a kid. After my parents were killed."
"So ride it out. It’s over and Jason is long dead. Memories can't hurt you but a drink can."
"I know. I'm...I'm not going in. I just needed to hear you say it."
"That's what I'm here for. Go home and be with your family."
"I will. Thanks, Sully."
"Don't need it. Don't want it. Just don't drink."
"Three hundred and seventy-six days sober."
"Three hundred and seventy-seven tomorrow."
"Right. Speak later."
I hung up. Sully was on the other side of town, a tattoo artist in the gentrified Casey Bridge neighborhood. And my lifeline at moments like this. Thank you, Sully. Their voice was like an anchor I could cling to. To stop me getting swept away. I had needed them twice, including tonight.
It took me longer than I thought to get home through the evening traffic. I used the time to flush the case out of my head. I didn't want to be dwelling on it when I was spending time with Vicky. What about Carl? Funny that he was almost becoming an afterthought. No, not funny at all.
Oak Drive ran along the river, a pleasant promenade along the waterfront at one side of the road, houses on the other. They were all tall, nineteenth century looking townhouses, the oldest in Silver City. We were lucky to get one. Small front yards, ours a pleasing semi-wild garden of shrubs and bushes, large back-yards. We had bought the house shortly after Vicky was born for that reason. It seemed the perfect place for her to grow into. And it had been. As I went in Vicky was halfway down the stairs with a big brace-toothed grin on her face. Carl chose that moment to come out of his study, taking off his reading glasses.
"Hi Mom!" from Vicky was cut off by,
"We need to talk,” from Carl.
Vicky's face fell and she skipped to a stop. Then started back up the stairs. I heard the word “dick.” Carl started after her.
"Leave it, Carl. I'll deal with it."
"She can't be allowed to talk to us like that."
Not us. Just you.
"I agree but I'll deal with it. She seems unhappy with you right now."
Carl looked from me to our recently disappeared daughter. He looked uncomfortable and an instinct tugged at the back of my mind.
"What's going on Carl?"
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