Authors: Summer Prescott
meant to call and check on Fergus in the hospital, but business picked up again
for the evening rush and she’d been swamped with an unusually high number of
tourists. Susan went home for the day once traffic slowed to a dull roar, leaving
her to tidy up and close on her own. When everything was finally tucked away in
its appropriate place, she flopped into one of the chairs, wondering just how she’d
be able to walk home after her long and eventful day.
she deserved a little R&R, she slipped off her shoes, grabbed a slice of
pie she’d left out for herself, along with a mini bottle of cabernet that she
had stashed in the office, and let out a deep sigh, debating whether or not she
wanted to take her car home. She disliked driving on principle and tried to
avoid it whenever possible…but her feet might not make it all the way home
after the day she’d had.
Just as she
put the first luscious forkful of pie to her lips, the shop phone rang. Feeling
delightfully empowered, she chose to ignore it…for at least three rings.
But…having been long cursed with the compulsion to be responsible, whether it
involved answering phones, or responding to texts and emails, she gave in and
Sweets, this is Marilyn,” she leaned on the front counter, exhausted, not even
bothering to sound perky.
“Is this Ms.
Marilyn Hayes?” A deep male voice asked.
speaking,” she replied wearily.
Detective Bernard Cortland of the Key West PD. I’m going to need you to come
down to the police station to answer a few questions regarding the incident at
your shop this afternoon.”
she repeated, confused.
investigating an incident involving a Mr. Fergus Downey. Are you familiar with
Mr. Downey, ma’am?”
sank to the floor, sliding down the counter, and taking the phone cord with
her. “Fergus? Is he…?” she trailed off, unable to even finish the thought, and
dreading Detective Cortland’s answer.
“He died on
the way to the hospital this afternoon, Ms. Hayes.”
her eyes, remembering his dear pallid face as he was wheeled out. “What
“That has yet
to be determined,” he dismissed her question brusquely. “You’re going to need
to come in for questioning, ma’am,” he repeated.
whirled. She physically shook it, as if the action would somehow cause a
clearing of the myriad of thoughts that currently overwhelmed her.
“I’m sorry, I
don’t understand,” she murmured, in shock at the loss of her friend.
ma’am your understanding is irrelevant. You can either come to the station or I
can send a patrol car to escort you in.”
“Oh my,” she
exclaimed, wondering at the reason for the detective’s no-nonsense tone. “Right,
of course…of course, I’ll be right there…” she promised, continuing to hold the
phone even as the line went dead, staring at the floor.
her name to the desk sergeant, and quickly followed behind the officious portly
man as he led her to Detective Cortland’s office.
the officer held the door open for her to enter.
Hayes,” he announced to the rugged-looking detective seated at a messy desk
“Ms. Hayes,” Cortland
gestured to one of the two chrome and leather chairs in front of his desk and
Marilyn sat, mechanically. “I’m Detective Cortland. I believe you were
acquainted with Fergus Downey?”
Detective, I am…was…” she stammered, rattled. She’d never been inside a police
station before. She found the sterile environment entirely foreign and more
than a bit intimidating. Not to mention the fact that someone whom she saw at
least twice a week, every week, had just passed.
“I take it he
came into your shop on a frequent basis?” Cortland asked, pen poised over a
“He came to
the shop every Wednesday and Saturday and sometimes more than that—but he never
missed Wednesdays or Saturdays…other than when he went out of town or
something,” she recalled.
he go when he left town?” the detective eyed her shrewdly.
“I think he
had a sister, but I’m not really sure. Our relationship pretty much revolved
around his obsession with Key Lime Pie,” she smiled sadly.
eyes narrowed, lips pursed.
up hesitantly. “Can I ask what this is all about? Even though Fergus had a
heart attack this afternoon, we all thought, I mean we all hoped that… that he
that Mr. Downey did not have a heart attack, but an extreme reaction to a toxin
in his blood stream. The hospital ran some labs and the results looked
suspicious, so we ran them by our forensics team. They found a chemical
compound that shuts down lung function. Mr. Downey essentially died of
understand…that makes no sense,” Marilyn said, shaking her head.
poisoned,” the detective said flatly. “We traced the lethal substance back to a
key lime filled strawberry that was purchased from your store.”
mouth fell open into a silent O of surprise. Cortland watched her intently,
trying to gauge her reaction. She opened her mouth to say something, then
closed it again when nothing came out.
“Do you have
video feed in the shop, Ms. Hayes?” the detective asked, raising an eyebrow.
Her voice was
shaky. “No…I don’t”
“Do you know
if any of the neighboring shops do?” he persisted.
“No, I don’t
think so, but really I have no idea,” she said, in a daze.
silently for a moment, Marilyn gazing at her hands that were clasped together
in her lap. Cortland stared at her, shifting in his chair.
were when Mr. Downey became incapacitated?” he asked, tapping his pen on the
pad in front of him.
up from her hands, torn from her reverie. He was looking at her so intently
that she felt for a moment as though he could see her very soul, and she
noticed for the first time how handsome he was. He had a strong jaw and eyes
were like velvety chocolate. His shirt was wrinkled and his tie was askew,
which did nothing to diminish his striking good looks.
“Call me Marilyn,”
she murmured absently. “Um…yeah, sorry,” she said, giving herself a mental
shake and trying to focus. “I was delivering pies for a garden party on 16th
Terrace, the other side of the island. I drove my car…obviously.” she
explained, not knowing exactly what type of information he was looking for.
“Ok,” he made
some notes on the pad in front of him. Every square inch of the rest of his
desk was covered in papers and stacks of files, with an aging laptop perched
atop it all.
“And who was
working at the time, Marilyn?” He made a point of calling her by name.
Tiara Hayes, a new baker Susan Dwyer, and a line of customers that wound out
the door and onto the sidewalk.”
saying that you left to make a delivery with that many people in your store,
leaving only a young girl and a brand new employee to handle that kind of
traffic?” he asked, incredulous.
Marilyn sat up
straight, a small spark of anger flashing in her eyes. “Of course. I used to do
everything myself, so I knew that two people would be perfectly capable of
handling all the customers in the line. Besides, I had made a commitment to
deliver my pies on time, and professional integrity is important to me.”
raising his eyebrows a bit and writing something else down. Marilyn subtly
lifted up onto the edge of her seat to try to sneak a peek at his notes. Noticing
her movement, Cortland took the notebook off his desk and snapped it shut,
giving her a weary look.
returned when the victim was being placed into the ambulance?”
nodded, shuddering at the memory of Fergus’s pale, waxen complexion.
“Who was there
when you came back?”
out a sigh, tired of replaying the afternoons events over and over in her mind.
“Joe and Larry, my handymen, were there, fixing the ovens, Susan, Tiara, Drew…”
This was the first time Marilyn had thought about Drew since this afternoon but
she’d had more than enough to be concerned about without having to worry about
his intentions for her daughter. “Drew is the yoga teacher at Yoga on the
“And Joe and
Larry, what are their last names?”
“I have no
idea,” she admitted, never having considered that fact.
to you?” Bernard looked up from his pad.
“No, not at
all. I just don’t ever remember hearing their last name, I make the check out
his pad again, scribbling across the page.
“Oh, no there
are two hyphens in there and no period after the Mr.” She’d been craning her
neck to watch him write notes again. He glanced up at her, irritated, and she
raised both hands in surrender, sitting further back in her chair.
what?” she asked, exhausted.
at him blankly. “That’s it?” she repeated, feeling dull and fuzzy.
“For now,” he
stood, coming around the desk to let her out. “I’ll get in touch with you if
there’s anything else we need.”
then,” she stood awkwardly, noting absently that the handsome detective was
tall and broad-shouldered.
him out and found Tiara waiting in the reception area, nervously tapping one
said, surprised when her reserved, level-headed daughter rushed into her arms.
hugged her hard, speaking into her shoulder. “He died.”
“I know honey,
it’s such a terrible thing. How did you know I was here?” Marilyn lifted her
daughter’s chin to see her face, which bore all of the signs that gave away the
fact that she’d been crying.
she looked worried. “A detective called, wanting to ask me some questions.”
“Oh, well I
guess that makes sense,” she sighed. “I’ll sit right here and wait for you.
and the same officer who had led her mother back indicated that she should
By the time
mother and daughter left the police station it was past midnight. The entire
day had been surreal, and Marilyn had no idea what to make of any of it. Detective
Bernard Cortland had been impossible to read, and she felt like he had been a
bit accusatory at times. She had to wonder how on earth Fergus had ingested
poison. He was retired, so it’s not like he had a whole lot of exposure to
toxic environments. Her head swam, trying to figure out the whole bizarre
situation in her exhausted state.
When she awoke
the next morning, she managed to make it through her normal routine in a
relatively normal manner, despite the fact that she still felt tired after a
night of restless sleep.
corner of the block where her shop was located, she stopped dead in her tracks,
her stomach flip-flopping with dread. A police car was parked outside of her
shop and simple little bakery was a veritable hive of activity.
she called out, running. “Excuse me, but I own this shop…and someone had better
tell me just exactly what is going on here,” she demanded, hands on hips. The
mixed crowd of police personnel, some in uniform, some not, didn’t bother to
acknowledge her presence as they carried equipment, unloaded trunks of
instruments, and took photos of a roped off area in front of the shop.
Out of the
handful of people in front of her shop, she spotted Bernard Cortland. “Excuse
me…Detective, what is going on?” she raised her eyebrows, clearly upset.
you’re here early,” he said, looking relieved. “Now we won’t have to break the
glass in the door.”
glass? What on earth are you talking about? I just spoke with you last night,
and you gave me no indication that I’d be seeing you here this morning,” her
temper flared. “Particularly with a handful of your closest friends,” she
glared at him, gesturing to the officers and techs milling about.
“Marilyn, let me
introduce you to Detective McNabe,” he led her over to a bearded man with a
clipboard. “He’s here with the Special Investigations Division of the Miami PD,
and will be having direct oversight of this case from now on.”
on here, Detective McNabe?” Marilyn could feel her nostrils flaring.
ma’am,” the detective peered at her from beneath his bushy eyebrows. “You’ll
have to relinquish your keys to the building and step back, this entire area,
including the interior of your shop, is part of a crime scene investigation.”
on the sidewalk just outside of the police tape. Men and women had been roaming
in and out all morning, coming and going in a pragmatic manner which was quite a
contrast to the determined officers that she liked to watch on TV detective
shows. Right now she seemed to be the only person present who was truly
disturbed by the whole ordeal.
Bernard Cortland seemed to magically appear behind her with a cup of coffee. He
held the cup out to her and she took it gratefully, thankful for any
distraction that the hot, fragrant brew might provide.
tried to read the detective’s face. He seemed to be somehow nearly as
frustrated with the situation as she was. “They took over your investigation?” she
didn’t say anything, pretending that he hadn’t heard her question, but Marilyn
thought she saw his jaw muscles flex, indicating that he had. She noticed that
he was wearing the same outfit that he’d had on the night before, his tie was
gone, the top of his shirt unbuttoned, and his face was peppered with a sexy,
rugged, two day stubble. He took a long sip of his coffee, avoiding her eyes.
“Do you have
any leads?” she asked. Cortland looked at her for a moment, opened his mouth as
if to say something, then closed it again, with something of a grimace.
Detective McNabe interrupted the conversation that they’d almost had. “These
officers are heading to your house, you are free to accompany them if you would
like,” he said, gesturing to two uniforms hovering nearby.
“What do you
mean I’m free to accompany them? I didn’t give you permission to ransack my
store and I certainly won’t give you permission to enter my home,” she could
felt an angry flush of color flooding her face. “My daughter is at home sleeping,
I won’t have you scaring her,” Marilyn’s eyes flashed.
daughter was brought in to the station just after you arrived here, for further
questioning,” he peered at her without blinking.
questioning? Why? What exactly is going on here, Detective?” she demanded,
hands on hips. You could mess with Marilyn and have a chance of coming out
okay, but nobody messed with her baby girl and got away with it.
aware that your daughter was offered a job in Northern California as a Junior
Engineer with a company that’s so successful, it’s a household name?” he asked
her mouth and shut it again, feeling much like a gaping codfish, but unable to
help herself. Why hadn’t Tiara told her about the offer?
offered the job three weeks ago and she turned it down,” the detective
continued. “Do you know of any reason she might turn down what she referred to
as a chance at her dream job?” he probed, trying to take advantage of Marilyn’s
state of shock.
She wanted to
argue with the quiet, pragmatic man, to tell him he was either lying or didn’t
know what he was talking about—but she knew in her heart that he’d have
absolutely no reason to make something like that up. What she couldn’t figure
out is why Tiara turned an incredible opportunity down without ever telling her
“I don’t suppose
you’ve seen this,” McNabe casually handed her a stapled sheaf of paper. Marilyn
looked down at the first page, reading the title.
The Accepted Degradation
of Women in Dating and Social Practices
, then underneath the title,
paper?” Marilyn looked from McNabe to Cortland, then back at the essay.
“Take a look
at page four, there’s a highlighted section that you might find personally
interesting,” he said, with a strange look on his face.
heart beat faster as she turned the pages, wondering what on earth could
possibly be written on page four. She was horrified when she realized that,
though the names had been changed, the situations that her daughter had
described and analyzed were the patterns of interaction between Marilyn and
Fergus. She included some of the dead man’s comments to her mother, pointing
out what she perceived to be the dysfunctional nature of the relationship,
which her mother accepted as normal.
that Fergus’ position as a customer created situational circumstances where his
dominance as a financial supporter placed him in a relationally superior
position to her mother, which led to inappropriately familiar behaviors. Her
daughter had painted her out to be a subservient doormat, which wasn’t the case
at all. Tiara’s contention was that her mother had allowed Fergus to treat her
in a degrading manner until it became accepted as a normal. Marilyn’s hand
shook as she looked up at McNabe, feeling more than betrayed and utterly
hard, pulling herself together and regaining her cool. “I’ve never seen this before,”
she handed the paper back to him. “And I can’t say that I understand the
significance of a school paper,” she challenged, staring pointedly at the
published paper for a Women’s Studies class,” McNabe stepped closer. “We talked
to her professor this morning, and she said that not only is Tiara one of the
best students she’s ever had, but also that she’d rarely seen such passion for
a woman’s role in society. She speculated that it stem from Tiara’s
relationship with her father.”
brilliant, that’s not news to me, but you called her professor?” Marilyn was
confused, wishing she’d suddenly wake up and find that this was all part of a
really be proud…” McNabe commented dryly. “There is something else we
discovered about your daughter that raised a bit of a red flag,” he continued,
consulting his notes.
utterly numb with fear and disbelief as she was continually pelted with
information that sent her reeling. In the space of two days, her entire world
had turned upside down.
she has a rather violent past,” the detective looked at the befuddled woman in
front of him, an eyebrow raised as though questioning her.
entirely untrue! Tiara was taught from a very young age that violence is never
the answer, she’d never hurt a fly.” Marilyn fixed McNabe with a determined
stare. She was rock-solid on this. Her daughter might get a bit mouthy with her
mother on occasion, but would never dream of using any kind of physical means
to resolve any sort of conflict.
“Tiara was a
part of an altercation at an Irish Pub near her campus,” McNabe paused
dramatically, allowing time for the information to sink in. “She hit a man over
the head with a beer bottle...which could have been considered assault with a
deadly weapon if the District Attorney had elected to charge her more harshly.
She was arrested, along with her then boyfriend Samuel Freed. Mr. Freed has a
very long track record of reckless and dangerous behavior and spent two months
in prison after his trial. Your daughter was lucky, she took a plea bargain and
got off with 500 hours of community service.”
thought her heart would pound right out of her chest. Tiara had told her all
about the ‘volunteer work she was doing’ but she’d never mentioned the reasons
behind it. She felt at the moment that everything she had known and believed in
was ebbing away like a dwindling tide, and she swayed slightly, feeling rather
“With all due
respect, Ms. Hayes. Perhaps you don’t know you’re daughter as well as you
think,” McNabe commented gravely, receiving a warning look from Bernard
Cortland, who believed that diplomacy solved more crimes than cruelty. The
truth should always be presented, but it wasn’t necessary to use it as a
bluntly traumatic weapon.
“What are you
suggesting?” Marilyn clenched her teeth and stiffened her shoulders to control
the trembling that threatened to overtake her. This sarcastic and rude Miami
detective could not possibly think her 21-year-old daughter had anything to do
with this. She needed to see Tiara, she had to talk to her to figure this out.
daughter know that Fergus Downey came in to your store every Wednesday and
Saturday?” McNabe began questioning her again.
“I have nothing
more to say to you, Detective,” Marilyn said feeling like the breath had been
knocked out of her. “And my daughter will not be answering any other questions
without an attorney present.”
daughter is well above the age where she can make that decision for herself. She’s
been made aware of her rights under the law, and what she elects to do is her
business, not yours, Ms. Hayes,” McNabe said quietly, clearly finished with the
detective from Miami left without another word, leaving Marilyn to stew in her