A Dead Sister (Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery)

BOOK: A Dead Sister (Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery)
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A Dead Sister

 

Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery #2

Anna Celeste Burke

Copyright © 2014 Anna Celeste Burke

Kindle Edition

 

 

A DEAD SISTER

Copyright © 2014 Anna Celeste Burke

All rights reserved.
  Without limiting the rights under the copyright reserved above, n
o part of this publications may be reproduced, stored, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without prior written permission except brief quotations for review purposes.

For written permission please contact Anna Celeste Burke:
[email protected]

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Samashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Cover
Design by Anna Celeste Burke

P
hoto by StockLite From Shutterstock.com

 

ISBN-13: 978-1497473973

ISBN-10:
1497473977

 

 

 

 

To sisters everywhere, especially mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

To my husband, Victor, for his continue
d love and support.

He reads every word I writ
e. There’s nothing more encouraging than hearing him laugh where I hoped the reader would!

       
To
my sister
, Brenda, who painstakingly edited
A DEAD SISTER.
I am blessed, and would be so lost without her!

       
To readers of
A DEAD HUSBAND
, the first book in the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series. Thanks for the kudos, comments, and suggestions. Feedback is a gift to me and every author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

Palm Springs, CA.
January 10, 1999

 

Kelly Fontana ran for it as well as she could. She had fooled the thug who came to shoot her up again, pretending to be out cold from whatever it was he was giving her. Trying to escape was scary. The first time she fought the huge ugly man with the misshapen head and a scar on his cheek, he had hit her hard. Hard enough to make her ears ring and her teeth rattle. Then he had bound and gagged her.

What scared her more than that was the fact she almost didn’t want to stop him. She was beginning to like the drug: the rush of something akin to euphoria, followed by obliv
ion. It was tempting just to lie there and let him shoot her up again. But, Tommy, what about Tommy? It would be his 16
th
birthday any day now, if she hadn’t lost track of time altogether during her captivity. Her younger brother was going through a lot and he needed her.

It had been several days since she was confined to the luxurious hotel suite. Once they had her under control with the drugs they had untied her hands and feet and removed the gag. That made it easier to get her back and forth to the bathroom, to give her water and a bit of food. The food didn’t always stay down so then it was back to the bathroom again to clean her up.

What the ugly man and an assortment of helpers hadn’t realized, what any junkie knows, is that she was developing a tolerance for the stuff. After the 3
rd
or 4
th
or 5
th
day the drug had started to wear off a little sooner each time. She was able to get a window of near-lucidity before the next injection closed the curtains. Those brief interludes had been used to check out her surroundings. The doors were locked and the windows too. Not a way to escape, anyhow, with such a long drop to the ground from her second floor accommodations. No phone. No response when she pounded as hard as she could on the door or the walls of the hotel room, calling out for help. On one occasion someone had heard her, peering up at her from the parking lot. Kelly shrank back in horror. It was the ugly man. By the time he made his way up to her room, she was back in bed and seemingly out cold.

It was just a matter of time before they’d shoot her up not to knock her out but to shut her up, permanently. She had overheard her captor arguing on the phone about what to do with her. They had not believed her when she promised not to tell what she knew. It wasn’t clear why she was still alive at this point.

Stumbling from the hotel room after she stabbed the ugly man, Kelly headed down the nearest set of stairs under the exit sign. He had bent over her so close that she could smell the sour odor of his breath, tainted by more than a hint of alcohol. He was startled when she shoved the knife, secreted from the room service tray, into his throat. Pushing past him, she stopped long enough to put on her shoes and grab her purse. Then Kelly took another few seconds to retrieve the hypodermic needle he had just loaded. She might need a weapon if she ran into one of his assistants before she could get downstairs to the lobby and help.

Holding tight to the rail, Kelly made her way to the first floor and through the door from the stairwell into a long corridor. Not one but two of the ugly man’s assistants spotted her and headed in her direction. They had that same startled look she had seen on the ugly man’s face, but quickly recovered. A grim determination carried them toward her as swiftly as they could without drawing attention to themselves. Kelly moved back through the door she had exited and out
another leading from the stairwell and the hotel. The creosote-laden evening breeze hit her as she stepped into the hotel parking lot. She lurched forward as fast as she could, hoping to stay ahead of her pursuers long enough to get around to the front entrance. Maybe someone would help her.

The bright lights rushing toward Kelly made it impossible to see the make of the car or the driver. She tried to step out of the way. When it struck, she flew through the air and collided with the windshield before landing hard. Her last thoughts were of the gift she had bought and the little handwritten note: “You are sweet sixteen, Tommy. I love you just the way you are, Sis.”

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

Rancho Mirage, CA.
June 29, 2013

“...cling to a blind and absolute faith in the meaning that all things even the diminishments must hold for a man who believes that God is the animating force behind every single event.”

Jessica hurled the book by Teilhard de Chardin across the room, but then went to pick it up. It wasn’t hers to destroy. Father Martin had loaned it to her, hoping it would help her find answers to the questions that dogged her. She checked the book to be sure she hadn’t dinged it when it collided with the wall in the exquisitely furnished bedroom of her childhood home in Mission Hills.

The desert modern wonder of glass and stone and steel wasn’t hers, either. She glanced at the wall to make sure it wasn’t damaged. The house was an architect’s dream come to life, a cathedral to domestic bliss. It was a dream her father, Henry “Hank” Huntington, yes, as in the Huntington Beach Huntington’s, brought to fruition before his marriage to her mother fell apart.

Her parents’ divorce was the first terrible thing that ever happened to Jessica Huntington-Harper, the pampered only child, born into the lap of luxury. She was just Jessica Huntington then. The hyphen came later, when she married her law-school sweetheart, now turned scumbag, Jim Harper. The hyphen was gone again now, along with the scumbag.

When Jessica was a “tween” her parents began to spend less time together then started bickering behind closed doors. Eventually, unable to contain themselves any longer, they squabbled in front of anyone who happened to be in the room. At that stage, Jessica became an integral part of the free-for-all, throwing herself into the fray. She did not take sides, but hated them both.
They were equally to blame for making a shambles of the idyllic life they led in the tony desert resort town of Rancho Mirage, California.

To get even, she became the most unbearable little beast, mouthy and defiant about anything and everything. Not just at home. Jessica managed to get herself kicked out of two private schools in the Coachella Valley before landing at St. Theresa’s Catholic high school in Palm Springs. She was scared and angry and out of control for much of her early adolescence because of her parents’ divorce. Now she felt that way again
. This time it was
her
marriage on the rocks.

“Why do bad things happen to good people? No, make that, why do bad things happen to ordinary people trying to get by the best they can?” She put herself into that category of person. Maybe not always good, but not so bad either as to deserve the comeuppance she was being dealt. That was one of the questions that pressed down upon her, as she struggled to recover from a series of blows.

What did de Chardin know, anyway? A learned man, sure, but he was still a man—and a priest to boot! Jessica glanced down at the open book in her hands. The hair on the back of her neck prickled as she read.

“In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.”

She snapped the book shut, placing it gently on the writing desk, pondering what she had read. How could he grasp the heartbreak of being humiliated and dumped by an unfaithful husband whose girlfriend had “accidentally” become pregnant? Jessica had failed at that, too. Three years of trying to have a baby, to no avail, even with fertility treatments. There had been several false starts, and sad endings, accompanied by a few extra pounds of baby fat, but no baby.

“Accident, my ass,” Jessica shouted as she stomped back to her enormous bed and threw herself down into its plush, silky embrace. An accident, for Jim, maybe
. No way would that conniving skank have made such a mistake.

Yesterday, Jim Harper, her soon-to-be ex-husband had brought an apt end to what had been the worst week of her life. When he had arrived at the gate to the Mission Hills Country Club, her beloved Bernadette had given security permission to let the rat into the community. Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Bernadette
announced his arrival, allowing him to join Jessica on the back patio.

Sprawled on a chaise, in a bathing suit and a coffee-stained robe, Jessica hadn’t even combed her hair. She wore no makeup to hide the remnants of a black eye from one of several fights for her life in less than a week. Her knees were skinned, and there were bruises on both
her legs and arms. Her wrist, sprained but not broken, was in a sling. Unable to swim with the wrist injury, Jessica had retreated to the patio, hoping the triple digit summer heat would purge her of the loathsome things she had seen and endured.

“We need to talk,” Jim Harper had said, seating himself on the chaise beside her. He did a quick little double take, taken aback by what he saw as he peered at her intently.

“Sounds like you’ve had quite a time. You look like hell.”

“Apropos
, since that’s where I spent a good part of the last week,” she said, glancing at him warily. “Make that the last few weeks, really, or months. No, how about the past three years?”

Jessica was growing angrier as she stared at the polished, well-dressed man.
He wore an open-collared bespoke shirt, in a cool minty green shade of Egyptian cotton, with tan linen shorts. On his feet were custom-made moccasins worn without socks. The whole ensemble created a relaxed, easy feeling that did not match the look on his face. Stress sat there. It had been there long enough to take a toll on his boyish features, etching lines that would cost a pretty penny to remove. A sprinkle of gray had begun to appear in the dark umber of his perfectly coiffed hair.

S
he flashed on the image of Jim as she had last seen him at home in Cupertino. There he was, flat on his back in their marital bed with a well-known Hollywood blond straddling him. The blond had a name, but Jessica couldn’t bring herself to use it. It was small consolation to see that they had obviously used a body double for her nude scenes in her recent banal hit. She was, nevertheless, a younger, thinner, more artfully enhanced creature than Jessica. Add to that her notoriety, and it all made a sad, sick kind of sense. Jim had acquired the platinum blond as the newest venture capital investment, in the love division, of his fully integrated corporate existence. His world of ruthless wheeling and dealing brought home in the most poignant way possible.

Jim’s growing addiction to deal-making, ladder-climbing and money-grubbing had become a near-constant source of antagonism in their marriage. He wanted her to understand, to share his enthusiasm for outwitting his opponent and amassing wealth. She didn’t. They were both rich when they married. Surely, their marriage—their lives—could be about other things? It was a wish, an assumption that she had made without even knowing it when they said, “I do.” According to Jim, there was rich and then there was RICHER and RICHEST. Not content with the tens of millions they each possessed, Jim wanted more. He kept Jessica up-to-date about newly-minted billionaires each year
, noting those who had reached that pinnacle with some tie to the Silicon Valley.

Jessica closed her eyes, hoping that image of Jim and the skank, along with the more recent carnage she had witnessed, would just go away. There had to be some mental equivalent to
chlorine bleach that could remove the vivid stains from her weary mind and beleaguered soul.

“Trust me,
Jim, I gave, as good as I got. It’s my new motto. No more of that “lemons into lemonade” crap. If life kicks you in the ass, kick back. And, I might add, you appear a little worse for wear, too.” Jim ignored her last comment.


You want to tell me what happened?”

“It’s not worth hearing all the gory details. I’m not even sure you know the key players, anyway, except for Laura. You know, Laura Stone? Her husband Roger was murdered a little over a week ago and we got caught up in the aftermath.
Aftermath is an understatement.” Jessica gazed out over the large, free-form pool sparkling in the late afternoon light. The palms were dancing in the afternoon breeze, picking up as it often did this time of day. Vivid blue skies provided the backdrop. Blue skies signaled fair weather and promising prospects. Sometimes they lied.

She and her best friend, Laura Stone, had been
stalked by murderous hooligans trying to retrieve something that had been taken from them. It had gotten Laura’s husband killed. Convinced they had conspired with him, they pursued Laura and Jessica to get it back. That Jessica had held her own with scoundrels and hoods, a mob-boss wannabe and his psychopathic moll, was testament to her stubborn determination to survive.

Or perhaps it was sheer dumb luck. That bothered her, too. Another of those haunting questions: how had she escaped death when Laura’s husband Roger had not? Her shrink said it was normal to have some sort of survivor’s guilt after going through such a calamity. Why not come in and talk about it?

“Why not? Because I no longer live in Cupertino, that’s why not. And I can’t stand the thought of ever setting foot in the place again. That’s why not!” She was shouting at that point, and her perceptive, $300-dollar-a-visit shrink, sensing Jessica’s distress, promised to get back to her with a reference for someone local in the Coachella Valley.

She tried to refoc
us on the slickly dressed slime-ball-du-jour sitting next to her, wondering once again how she could have gotten him so wrong. “Let’s just say that all’s well that ends. How about, all’s well that ends and you’re still alive?” Jessica registered the first anxious flutters of a body that sometimes betrayed her by subjecting her to a full-blown panic attack.

“Laura’s husband murdered? Sounds like an ordeal. I’m glad you’re okay,” he said, shifting in his seat. Jim seemed relieved,
but the comments were perfunctory. Given his “time is money” credo, he was more likely relieved that she had cut the story short than that she was okay. That was harsh. It was hard to believe that the guy who had betrayed her after promising to love, honor and cherish her forever, was capable of any genuine concern.

“Yeah, well you can imagine how deeply moved I am by your expression of concern. So, what is it you really want to talk about, Jim?” Her time was valuable too, and she could tell that he was there on business. The tone in her voice gave him pause, but only for a moment.

“Jessica, this may not be the best time to do this, but is there ever really a best time when a marriage ends?” He did not wait for her to answer but rushed ahead with his pitch. Social amenities out of the way, he was ready to get down to the matter at hand. It occurred to her that she had not even inquired as to his well-being. She didn’t care to know. How strange to feel so little for a man she had loved so much. How was that possible? “I’ll just put it on the to-be-pondered list,” Jessica thought, trying to pay attention to Jim’s words.

“I’m convinced it’s in both our interests to get this
matter resolved. We had some good years together, Jessica. But those years are behind us. We both need to get on with our lives.” Jim added a couple of well-practiced gestures as he spoke. She was almost touched that he had gone to the trouble of practicing his spiel before making his presentation.

She also realized he was well within kicking range. Jessica squelched the thought before the more impulsive side of her nature could take command. Besides, he was just not worth the effort, and too many of her body parts were still aching from recent encounters with other bad guys.

“By
this matter
, I presume you mean divorce. It’s okay, Jim, you can use the word. I can take it. You’re here because you want me to sign the divorce papers, right? Shall I go get my copy or did you bring another?” She hoped he had brought a copy. Jessica wasn’t quite sure where her copy was, and besides, it had seen better days. The last time she
saw
her copy it was wrinkled, marked by the circular imprint of a coffee cup, and streaked with an odd assortment of things. Ice cream, finger print dust, makeup and a little blood, most likely her own, but she couldn’t guarantee it.

Jim was stunned. Jessica wasn’t sure if that was because she had cut him off mid-spiel or if her willingness to expedite matters caught him off guard. She was a little surprised, too, by how much she wanted closure in this part of her life.

“Why yes, Jessica I did bring a copy. I thought you might have, uh, uh, destroyed or, uh, misplaced the copy sent to you, and that’s why you hadn’t responded. You’ll sign it then?”

“Sure, hand it over.”

It was like a balloon had been pricked, all the air gone out of him. For a moment, the confidence he wore crumbled and something more unfamiliar took its place on his countenance. Was it doubt? No, not that. It was more like apprehension or maybe dread. He lied as he spoke again.

“I am so relieved, Jessica. I was afraid you might need more time and I just don’t have it. Cassie wants to get married as soon as possible. She, uh—we—uh, had an accident of some kind. And, and, anyway, she’s pregnant, Jessica.” There was nothing resembling relief in the look on his face or the sound of his voice as those last few words tumbled out of his mouth. Jessica cocked her head. What she saw was the look you might expect to see on a bear with its foot caught in a trap.
The analogy worked better if she visualized a different body part caught in the trap.

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