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Authors: Janette M. Louard

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BOOK: Hanging on a String
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“Does he know you're here?” I asked.
Thea sighed again. “Yeah. Mom told him.”
I shook my head. “I should have known.”
Wanting to change the topic from our meddling mother, I asked, “Where's my favorite nephew? Is he asleep already?” Reese was known for his late nights and his devotion to Cartoon Network.
“Your only nephew is on your bed. He fell asleep watching television.”
“Is he okay?”
“He keeps asking about Brooks, but apart from that, he seems like he's hanging in there. He wants to go back to our apartment, but I told him we're keeping you company.”
Thea cleared her throat. “I'm going to see a lawyer tomorrow.”
“Isn't that a little quick?” I asked. “You just moved out yesterday. Maybe you should talk to Brooks.”
Thea shook her head. “I told him I would stand by him no matter what happened in our marriage, but I also told him that if he cheated on me or if he beat me, I'd leave him so fast, his head would spin like Linda Blair's in
The Exorcist.

Divorce is a bitch,
I thought. My experience with marital dissolution had driven me to a psychiatrist's couch for two years and even now I'm not completely over the pain of it, the realization that the one you once loved so deeply is now a complete stranger. Even though I stopped loving my husband a long time before we divorced, I still felt loyal to him. I still worried about him. I hoped his life was working out. We had been a team for a long time. After the team disbanded, it was as if someone had neglected to remind me. We didn't have children, and I could only imagine the pain of having to go through that and having your child go through the drama with you.
I reached out and held my sister's hand. “You know, I'm going to be here for you and Reese.”
A solitary tear rolled down Thea's face. “I know.”
She wiped her face and then said, “Enough about me and my Lifetime movie drama. How was your day?”
“Don't ask,” I said.
“At least you don't have to divorce anybody,” Thea said.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess it could always be worse. Listen, how do you feel about some cookie dough ice cream?”
Thea gave me a sad smile. “You always know how to cheer a sister up.”
7
The next morning I lay on the couch and tried to force myself to get up. I'd given Reese and Thea my bed. Magic stayed on the couch with me. We'd reached an uneasy truce. He only barked at me when he was hungry. I usually got up at 6 a.m., turned on the news, and rode my treadmill for forty minutes. That was a routine that seldom varied. But instead of working up a sweat on the latest torture machine, as Dahlia referred to my exercise equipment, I lay swaddled in my down comforter, contemplating my world and the events affecting it. Mariah Brown's visit last night had disturbed me. I also needed to talk with Raymond about the latest information I had about Chester. I wasn't sure how I was going to broach the subject; on top of adultery, bigamy, and murder, we now had attempted bribery. It was going to be a heck of a day.
Thea and Reese left the apartment after sharing a pancake breakfast with me. Thea was going to go to my parents' apartment to talk with them.
“Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?” I asked my sister. “You know how she is.”
“It's okay,” Thea replied. “I'm a big girl. Besides Dad is there. He can usually stop Mom before any blood is shed.”
“Call me if you need reinforcements,” I told her as I watched them leave.
I turned on the television and flipped the channel to one of the morning news shows. Magic sat on my lap, satisfied with the many doggie treats I was currently feeding her. The hot topic for the day was the murder of the handsome, promising male attorney and his mistress/wife of the heart. The news broadcast was a rehashing of the previous night's news conference; however, it focused more heavily on Winter Reed.
Apparently, Winter was a barber/exotic dancer who had met Chester while pursuing her employment. Although the newscaster didn't specify which line of employment Winter had been pursuing when she met Chester, I knew damn well that she didn't meet him while she was cutting his hair.
I turned off the television and lay in bed. At ten o'-clock my telephone started ringing. I let it ring for awhile before I gave in and answered. Whoever was calling was certainly persistent.
“Hello,” I said, my eyes staring at the clock on my dresser.
“Jasmine, where are you?” It was Lamarr, and he sounded worried.
“Is something wrong?”
“With everything that's happened in the last forty-eight hours, you ask me this question?”
I felt a yawn coming on. “I love that you care, my brother, but is there any other reason for this call other than to check and see if I'm still living?”
“Jasmine.” Lamarr sounded impatient. “In case you haven't noticed, this stuff isn't very funny. I just wanted to make sure you're safe. Hey, I know I'm overreacting, but I just want to make sure you're okay.”
He was 100 percent right. I have a defense mechanism that enables me to be a smart-ass when I'm under stress. I knew from experience that there were very few people, if any, who appreciated this particular trait. Lamarr was a good friend. He was like a brother to me, and he was worried. I felt instantly ashamed.
“Lamarr, I'm fine,” I said. “I'll be at work within the hour.”
“Okay, Jasmine,” he replied. “Just be careful. It's a mean world out there.”
He hung up before I had a chance to agree.
The telephone rang again. I picked up the receiver, wondering what Lamarr wanted now.
“Hello, Lamarr.”
I heard the sound of a man's voice, a voice that brought those butterflies right back into the pit of my stomach. “I'm sorry to disappoint you, Miss Spain. But this isn't Lamarr.”
It was Detective Marcus Claremont.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this call, Detective Claremont?” I asked, even as my heart did a funny little flip. I hadn't felt this way since my high school crush on Tyke Hollingsworth.
“I'm pleased that my call falls in the category of pleasure.”
I felt the heat rise. I couldn't be sure, but I thought that maybe, just maybe, the handsome detective was flirting with me. It had been awhile since I'd been able to get my flirt on.
“It was just a figure of speech,” I replied, trying to regain my composure.
“Pity,” he murmured.
Okay,
I said sternly to myself.
This conversation is spiraling in a direction that neither of us needed to go.
He was a detective investigating the murder of Chester. For all I knew, he was trying to butter up a potential suspect. I knew I was being dramatic, but still, there was something a little unseemly about flirting with Marcus Claremont, especially with everything else that was going on.
I cleared my throat. “What is it that you want, Detective?”
I heard him chuckle over the phone. It was clear that I amused him, and I didn't like that at all.
“I'm returning your call.”
Oh. I'd forgotten I'd called him last night about Mariah.
He continued speaking. “I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to call you back yesterday. What was it you wanted to talk to me about, Miss Spain?”
“Mariah Brown called me yesterday, and she paid me a visit.”
I gave him the details about both conversations.
“Was that all she said?”
“Basically.”
“Why would she call you? Do you two have some sort of relationship? Are you friends?”
“Hardly,” I replied.
“Is there any time later on today that we could meet?” asked Detective Claremont.
“I really don't know anything else about Mariah,” I replied. I was nervous about meeting him. My attraction to him was growing in leaps and bounds. It seemed inadvisable to continue down this road, particularly when an investigation was ongoing.
“This isn't about Mariah,” he clarified. “Can we meet sometime this afternoon?”
“What is this about?” I asked again.
“I can't talk about it right now,” he replied. “But I really need to talk to you.”
Oh my God,
I thought.
He's coming on a little too strong.
I needed to set him straight.
“Detective Claremont, I'm sure in your line of work, you must meet a lot of women ... and I'm sure sometimes you become attracted to them. But I'm involved with someone. So if this meeting is just a way of... well, getting to know me better, I don't think that would be a good idea.”
 
It took him a good minute to stop laughing, and when he did, I was completely mortified.
“Miss Spain, I am very attracted to you,” he said. “I find you beautiful, intriguing, and well, let's be honest, sexy as hell.”
Sexy as hell?
I didn't breathe. Every muscle in me tightened, stilled, so I could hear his next words without interference.
He continued. “But let me be clear with you. I am a professional. I am investigating a homicide, and no matter how appealing I may find your company, I can assure you that the meeting this afternoon is strictly business.”
Okay, I didn't necessarily want to hear that. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
“Besides,” he said, “I heard you're not seeing anyone. In fact, I heard you haven't had a date in quite some time.”
At this point, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die.
“Who told you
that
?” I screeched.
“Your receptionist,” Detective Claremont replied. “She thinks that you work too hard and that you ought to get out more.”
I was going to strangle Raquel.
“I have a meeting this afternoon with a client,” I said, after I had regained my composure, “but you can come by after that. About four o'clock or so.”
“Okay,” he replied good-naturedly. “As always, Miss Spain, it's been a pleasure.”
 
I didn't make it into work until eleven thirty that morning. I noticed the raised eyebrows and the looks of disapproval that greeted my late arrival, but I was past the point of caring. This was one day I was not going to be worried about billable hours.
Before heading to my office, I stopped by Raquel's desk. I kept my hands tightly closed in fists at my side in an effort to resist any sudden temptation to wrap my fingers around her neck.
“Hi, Jasmine,” Raquel greeted me, with a wide smile. She obviously had no idea what she was she was in for.
“Raquel, did you discuss my personal business with Detective Claremont?” I asked.
“No,” Raquel said as she shook her head. “I only told him that you didn't have a boyfriend.”
I took a deep breath. I didn't want to yell at her.
“Don't you think that telling this man, this complete stranger, that I don't have a boyfriend is discussing my personal business?”
She looked confused. “Jasmine, first of all, he's not a stranger. He's a detective. Secondly, everyone knows that you haven't had a boyfriend in a while. It's not like I was divulging some big secret.”
“Raquel, what if I didn't want you to give out that information?”
She didn't even have the decency to look ashamed. Instead, she grinned at me. “Believe me, Jasmine, I did you a favor. That man is
fine
! You can thank me later, girlfriend.”
I turned away from her desk, with a growing feeling of annoyance. Raquel was unrepentant. Worse, she thought she'd just done me a favor by sharing my personal business with Marcus. I decided that the only person who could cheer me up at that moment was Lamarr.
I walked over to his cubicle in the mail room, intent on apologizing for my reception to his wild morning telephone call. His call had worried me, and I'd found myself thinking of little else on my trip downtown. Lamarr was not a person that panicked easily, but I'd heard the distinct note of fear in his voice.
“He's not here,” said Tobias, one of the mail room clerks. “He got a phone call, and he tore out of here about an hour ago.”
I stared at him blankly. Tobias was one of those good and gentle souls who liked nothing better than to talk and talk and talk and then talk some more. He knew everybody's business, and he wasn't averse to sharing what he knew. This, for once, would work to my advantage.
“Do you know who called him, Tobias?” I asked.
“I don't know, Jasmine,” he replied, “but it had to be a woman. Only a woman can make a man tear out of here the way Lamarr did.”
As far as I knew, Lamarr wasn't dating anybody. And why would he make such a big deal about me coming to see him and then leave the office before I got here? I was starting to get that feeling I get when trouble is near. My left eye starts to twitch. My mother attributes all this eye twitching to nerves, but experience has taught me better. Something was wrong, and I hoped that Lamarr wasn't mixed up in it.
“Jasmine, there you are!” I heard Raymond's voice, and I turned around to find him facing me, with a quizzical look. “I just got in,” he said.
“I need to talk to you,” I told Raymond. I knew that if I got sidetracked by whatever Raymond needed, then I wouldn't be able to get the answers that I needed about Chester and Mariah.
“Me first,” said Raymond. “We need to discuss any pending deadlines in Chester's cases as soon as possible.”
I knew that when Raymond said “as soon as possible,” he meant “immediately.”
So I walked with him to his office, or as he often called it, his “sanctuary.” A large corner office that was three times the size of mine, Raymond's office looked out on the hallowed caverns of Wall Street. His furniture was tasteful and understated. A mahogany desk; matching chairs; walls lined with diplomas, accolades, and pictures of Raymond with other famous people; an antique Persian rug; the obligatory Tiffany lamp; and other sundry trophies all blended together to form an office worthy of the two-page spread it had received in a decorating magazine. I found the place cold and a bit austere myself. He needed some plants or something.
Before Raymond had a chance to say anything, I told him about Mariah calling me and showing up at my apartment building.
“What did she want?” he asked.
After telling him about our conversations, I asked, “Do you think that Chester really tried to bribe Mariah Brown?”
“There's nothing, absolutely nothing, I'd put past him,” Raymond replied, walking over to his desk.
“If it's true,” I said, “what if he did this for other clients?”
Raymond sat down in his black leather chair, with a weary sigh.
“Jasmine, let's just deal with one crisis at a time. I don't have any information to support what Mariah's saying. For all we know, she could be involved in Chester's murder and trying to deflect attention away from herself.”
BOOK: Hanging on a String
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