Read Circle of Influence (A Zoe Chambers Mystery) Online

Authors: Annette Dashofy

Tags: #Mystery, #mystery books, #british mysteries, #detective stories, #amateur sleuth, #cozy mystery, #murder mystery books, #english mysteries, #traditional mystery, #women sleuths, #female sleuths, #mystery series, #womens fiction

Circle of Influence (A Zoe Chambers Mystery) (8 page)

BOOK: Circle of Influence (A Zoe Chambers Mystery)
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SEVEN

“Aunt Zoe. Wake up.”

The words filtered into the middle of a horrendous nightmare in which Jerry McBirney loomed over Zoe. She tried in vain to scream for help. Fingers clutched her arm, and she jerked away.

Bolting upright in her recliner chair, Zoe blinked and looked at the teenage girl. The slender fingers gripping her arm didn’t belong to McBirney. They belonged to Allison.

Zoe forced her breath to slow as panic drained away. It had been a dream. Only a dream.

“Aunt Zoe? Are you all right?” Allison asked.

Zoe patted her hand. “I was having a nightmare. I’m fine.” She brought the chair back to a sitting position. She had only intended to close her eyes for a moment. What time was it? How long had she slept? Her mouth felt like parchment. Rancid parchment.

Logan remained bent over her computer keyboard, right where he’d been before she’d dozed off.

She climbed out of the recliner and moved to his side. “Find anything yet?”

Allison dove into the deserted chair and started thumbing her cell phone’s keypad.

Logan blew a puff of air from his lips. “Not yet. Someone reformatted the hard drive. Probably when they switched over to the new computers.”

“So there’s nothing left on it?”

He looked at her over his shoulder with a grin and wiggled his eyebrows. “Stuff is never really deleted from a hard drive. I’m downloading some software that will let me restore the old files.”

“You can do that?”

“Yep,” Logan said. “It’d be easier if you had a faster Internet connection.”

Zoe thumped him playfully on the head. “Beggars can’t be choosers, dude.”

He snickered without looking up. “Hey, are you gonna feed us lunch or what?”

“Yeah. I’m starved,” Allison piped up.

“What time is it?” Zoe squinted at the clock on the bottom of the monitor screen. Jeez. Almost one o’clock. She really did pass out. “Okay. Let me see what I’ve got in the fridge.”

“Can’t we just order pizza? I bet Mario’s would deliver out here,” Logan said.

Allison made a face. “Mario’s isn’t open for lunch, moron.”

“You’re the moron.”

“Dweeb.”

“Goth.”

Zoe cleared her throat. “Enough already, you two. How do hot dogs sound?”

“Woof, woof,” Logan said followed by a pretty good impersonation of a panting hound, complete with tongue lolling out of his mouth. Allison tried to hide a small smile.

Zoe closed her eyes and shook her head. “Sorry I asked.” But she wasn’t. The kids were laughing. For a few brief minutes, they’d escaped the horror of reality.

She was half way to the kitchen when Allison’s alarmed cry brought her back into the room.

“What?” Logan demanded of his sister, who was staring at her phone.

“It’s about Gram. She’s in jail.”

“Are you sure?” Zoe suspected the girl had misunderstood whatever message she’d received. “I know she was going to turn herself in this morning. But I can’t believe Judge Mitchell would lock her up.”

Allison had been texting nonstop and paused only to read the response. “It’s not about the computer thing. She attacked Mr. McBirney.”

Against her better judgment, Zoe succumbed to Logan’s demand that she drive the kids to the Vance Township Police Station to find out what was going on with their grandmother.

The parking lot was packed. Channel 11’s news truck had been joined by vans from the other two Pittsburgh stations. Zoe suspected several of the other cars belonged to print reporters. No way did she want to march Sylvia’s grandkids through a media gauntlet.

She dug her cell phone out of her pocket, and within a few minutes of placing a call to Pete, she and the teens were escorted into the back entrance by Seth Metzger.

“The Chief’s not too happy that you guys are here,” the young officer told Zoe as they made their way through the storage room. “We’re having a hard enough time keeping the lid on this powder keg.”

“I’ll bet.” She caught Logan’s sleeve. “Did you hear that? Don’t make me regret bringing you here more than I already do.”

He met her gaze, but said nothing.

The door at the far end of the storage room opened into a narrow hallway with a low acoustical tile ceiling, dimly lit with fluorescent panels. They passed a couple of empty interrogation rooms before coming to a T-shaped intersection in the hall. Instead of turning left and heading toward the offices at the front of the station, Logan bolted straight toward the holding cell. And Sylvia.

Seth muttered something under his breath as Zoe loped after the boy.

She’d expected to find Sylvia cowering and weeping inside the sterile cage-like cell. Instead, the old woman appeared to have grown taller. Her jaw jutted and her eyes narrowed to match the determined crease in her forehead. She took her grandson’s hands through the bars and held them tight.

“Don’t you worry about your old grandma,” Sylvia told him. “I’m fine. You need to take care of your mom and sister, you hear?”

Where was Rose?

Logan sniffed back tears and chewed on his lower lip, but nodded. “I will. But I’m going to make things right for you, too. Aunt Zoe’s helping me—”

Zoe caught his elbow and squeezed. Hard. He winced, but shut up.

From behind her a voice boomed, “Aunt Zoe’s helping you with what?”

She wheeled around to face Pete. Gauging from the scowl on his face and the dark circles under his eyes, she could have guessed he’d had a rough, sleepless night even if she didn’t already know it for a fact. She hoped exhaustion dimmed his observational skills enough that he missed the panic on her face at nearly being busted.

“I’m helping him watch his sister so Rose can take care of some things.”

“Yeah,” Logan said. “We’re—ah—yeah. What she said.”

Pete pinned her with a stare, and Zoe made a mental note to strangle the kid later.

“Is that right?” Pete sounded skeptical.

A door slammed. Footsteps and raised voices interrupted the conversation.

She might have been grateful for the diversion, except she recognized one of the voices as belonging to Jerry McBirney.

“Right this way, folks,” McBirney bellowed as he appeared around the corner, leading a small army consisting of Elizabeth Sunday and four reporters armed with notepads and cameras.

Pete approached the group, his arms spread wide. “Metzger!” he shouted. Then to McBirney and his entourage, he commanded, “
No
.”

The reporters froze, mid-stride. The attorney, in her high heels and tailored skirt and jacket, snapped to attention. Even McBirney hesitated in his advance.

Zoe noticed the red swelling on the left side of McBirney’s face and the slight discoloration below his eye. What the hell had Sylvia done? Zoe eyed her and raised an eyebrow in a silent question. The older woman gave her a smug wink.

“Step aside, Chief,” McBirney said. “These fine reporters want photographs of the thief.”

The reporters exchanged uncertain glances with each other.

“What you mean,” Sylvia said, “is they want pictures of the little old lady who cleaned your clock, you son-of-a-bitch.”

The rest of McBirney’s face reddened to match the welt.

“Shut up, Sylvia,” Pete said through his clenched jaw.

Seth Metzger appeared around the corner behind the reporters. The creases in his forehead indicated he knew he’d screwed up.

“Metzger, get these people out of here,” Pete ordered.

“Yes, sir, Chief. Folks, you’ll have to leave. Now.”

“Hold on there.” McBirney held up an arm, as though stopping traffic. “I told them they could have pictures to go with the interview I just gave them. And I intend to see that they get their photo op.”

Pete stepped closer to McBirney until their faces were mere inches apart. Zoe strained to hear Pete’s whisper. “And I’m telling you. Get the hell out of my police station before I decide to lock you in that cell with Sylvia and let her finish the job she started.”

“You think I’m scared of an old lady?”

“I think you ought to be.”

McBirney glowered at him. Zoe wished she could see Pete’s face.

Silence hung between them for several long moments. Two reporters scribbled madly on their notepads. A third raised his camera, and the flash lit the hallway.

At that moment, Elizabeth Sunday stepped in and placed a hand on McBirney’s arm. “Jerry, I told you this was a bad idea. Let Chief Adams do his job. Mrs. Bassi is under arrest. That’s what you wanted. Leave it at that.”

“What I want is to have the computer confiscated,” he snapped at her.

Zoe looked at Logan who met her gaze with an expression that said
I told you so
.

“Detective Baronick is with Rose over at Sylvia’s house right now picking it up,” Pete said.

  Logan stood outside Sylvia’s cell, still holding hands with his grandmother. But Allison was nowhere to be seen. Zoe looked around, but couldn’t find the dark-haired girl anywhere.  When was the last time she’d seen the girl? They’d come into the station together. They’d all slipped through the door from the storage room into the hallway together. After that, she wasn’t so sure.

A commotion drew Seth’s attention back to the front offices.

“The murder victim’s wife just pulled in,” came a shout.

Three of the four reporters spun in unison and charged past Seth, flattening him against the wall.

“I got it, Chief,” he said before Pete had a chance to bark orders again. Then he disappeared after the group.

The one remaining reporter thrust a small digital recorder in Pete’s direction.

“Excuse me, Chief Adams, but would you like to comment about the Bassi homicide or the skirmish at the magistrate’s office this morning?”

Pete fixed him with a stare. The reporter’s hand started to quiver. Then he withdrew the recorder and turned to follow his colleagues toward a potentially more talkative subject.

“Is it safe to assume,” Elizabeth Sunday said, her hand still resting on McBirney’s arm, “since Mrs. Bassi has returned that your detective is also back with the evidence?”

“You can assume whatever you like,” Pete said. “But you’ll have to do it somewhere else.”

McBirney’s grin turned into a broad, victorious smile. Zoe was glad she hadn’t had a chance to eat lunch.

“Yes, of course,” McBirney said. “Ms. Sunday, let’s go see what kind of interview the widow Bassi is giving the reporters.”

“You’re a pig,” Logan said, his voice cracking.

Sylvia patted his hand, while Zoe put an arm around his shoulders and shushed him.

McBirney chuckled and turned to leave. But before he and the attorney took a step, a tall, rather attractive man appeared in the hallway. Wearing a long, dark wool coat and an exuberant grin, the new arrival seemed familiar to Zoe. She’d seen him before. But where?

“Chief, I figured you’d want to log that computer into the evidence room yourself,” the man said.

McBirney extended a hand toward the newcomer. “You must be Chief Adams’ detective. Baronick, is it? I’m Township Supervisor Jerry McBirney.”

The man raised an eyebrow at Pete, who gave a slight nod. “Mr. McBirney.” He took the offered hand. “Yes, I’m Detective Wayne Baronick. But I’m afraid you’ve got it wrong. I’m not Chief Adams’ detective. I’m with the Monongahela County PD.”

Of course. That’s why he looked familiar. His picture had been in the newspaper a few weeks back, escorting a drug dealer he’d arrested.

“And I find it very interesting that our homicide victim was found in your car,” Baronick continued. “Don’t you find it interesting, Mr. McBirney?”

The color drained out of McBirney’s face. Even the red, swollen blotch faded to a pale pink. “That car was stolen.”

“Yes, so I hear. But I still think it’s interesting.” Baronick turned his attention to Pete. “The flatbed will be here in an hour or so to pick up the car.”

“Pick it up?” McBirney stuttered. “The car?
My car
?”


My
evidence in a homicide,” Baronick corrected. “County will be taking over the case from here.”

McBirney leaned toward Elizabeth Sunday’s ear, but his harsh whisper carried all the way back to Zoe, Logan, and Sylvia. “What about the computer?”

“Oh, Chief Adams can keep the computer,” Baronick said. “I’m not interested in evidence from a simple theft case.”

Some of the color seeped back into McBirney’s complexion.

“Of course,” Baronick went on, “if it turns out that the theft and the homicide are related—and when you consider the theft suspect and the homicide victim are mother and son, it does seem likely—then I’ll be back to claim it, too.”

McBirney’s face turned white again. “Let’s get out of here,” he said to the attorney and stomped away with her sashaying behind him.

“Gee, Wayne,” Pete said, “if I didn’t dislike you so much, I’d keep you around just to repel the pests.”

“Baronick Asshole Control, at your service,” the detective said, displaying a mouthful of brilliant white teeth.

Pete turned toward Zoe and Logan. “I need you two out of here.”

“But what about Gram?” Logan demanded.

Sylvia squeezed his hand. “I told you not to worry about me. I’ll be out of here soon. Won’t I, Pete?”

He squirmed, something Zoe rarely saw him do. “You know I don’t have anything to do with that. For chrissakes, you slammed McBirney with that lethal weapon you call a purse. In front of the judge, no less. You’re damned lucky he just cited you with contempt of court. He could have charged you with assault.”

Zoe suppressed a laugh. “You hit him with your purse?”

“Damned right. Only way I could shut that mouth of his. Judge Mitchell should have given me a medal.”

“He probably wanted to,” Pete said. “That’s why it was only contempt.”

Baronick stepped forward. “You mean this is our computer thief?”

Sylvia puffed out her ample chest. “I didn’t steal it.”

Pete introduced Baronick to everyone.

“You have my condolences,” the detective said, shaking hands all around. “I’ll need to talk to all of you in the next day or so.”

Logan stuffed his hands deep into his baggy jeans pockets. “Chief Adams already asked us questions.”

“Yes, well. That’s how it works.” Baronick seemed apologetic, but Zoe suspected it was a practiced response. “He asks you questions. Then I ask you questions. And there will no doubt be twenty more people asking you the same damned questions. Do yourself a favor, kid, and get used to it.”

Pete touched Zoe’s arm, and a little flutter raced beneath her skin. “Get him out of here.”

“Yeah. Come on, Logan. We need to find your sister and your mom.”

Logan’s eyes widened as he looked at Sylvia. “Gram?”

“You go on, now. I’ll be out of here before you know it.”

He gave a half-hearted nod and turned away from the cell, pressing past Zoe, Pete, and Baronick with his hands still in his pockets and his shoulders hunched.

Before Zoe could follow him, Pete closed his fingers around her elbow and leaned in toward her ear. “We have to talk,” he whispered. “Soon.”

“You know how to reach me.”

He released her arm. “Okay, Baronick, let’s go log in that evidence.”

As Zoe rounded the corner toward the front offices, she heard Sylvia’s plaintive voice behind her. “Pete, you make sure I get out of here. I have to bury my son. After that, I don’t care what you do to me.”

BOOK: Circle of Influence (A Zoe Chambers Mystery)
4.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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