Authors: Suzanne Young
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths
Murder by Proxy
Copyright 2011 by Suzanne Young
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using ISBN 978-0-9827952-3-1
Cover Designer: Karen Phillips
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Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
To Joan (in memory) and Anne Budlong,
who took me in and introduced me to Colorado
My gratitude to Larry Marsh for sharing his ideas and expertise on automobile mechanics that led to several possible plot scenarios, including one used in this story. Heartfelt thanks to Sandi Marsh for her work on the web site www.SuzanneYoungBooks.com.
For support above and beyond during the release of my first novel, I cannot express my thanks enough to Carolyn Knudsen, Anna Lindsey, Kaitlin Lindsey and “Little Alice” of the Clear Creek Animal Hospital. Their generosity and kindness to all creatures great and small is exceptional.
I extend my appreciation to the men and women of the Arvada (Colorado) Police Department, sworn officers and civilians alike, for their dedication and well-organized, informative citizens' police academy.
During my brief emergency stay at Lutheran Medical Center, the following people were incredibly kind and reassuring: Shelly, admit nurse; Laurie & Heidi, third floor RNs; Deborah, third floor CAN (nurse assistant); Sandra, echo cardiology; and “transporter” Lee (also a jolly member of the Renaissance Festival cast).
I am indebted to my friends Jim Coleman, Olivia Coleman, Lori Gee and Gail Lindsey for their expertise and feedback as first readers.
I especially wish to thank and acknowledge my best critics Linda Berry and Bonnie McCune without whose support and guidance this story never would have come to life; and Jodie Ball, our newest writing partner, for her insights and suggestions.
Why would someone run down a young woman and not stop?
Edna Davies wondered with an inward shudder as she slid into the rearmost pew of the chapel.
The casket was closed, its lid covered with a spray of flowers surrounding a photograph of the dead woman. Edna guessed it was a college graduation picture. The same photo had been used for the cover of the memorial card that was being handed out at the door. The card looked home grown, a computer-generated four-fold designed by a loving hand.
She hadn't wanted to come to the funeral, let alone go up to the altar, but she had done it for her son who seemed to take strength from having her near. Once Grant laid his single rose on the coffin with the other flowers, he had escorted her to the back pew before joining the other pallbearers. He walked slowly, stiffly, shoulders hunched. She had never seen him look so forlorn, not even at his first wife's funeral.
Waiting for the service to begin, she studied the picture on the card. Lia Martin had been a pretty brunette with long, straight hair. A mischievous twinkle shone in her large, dark eyes, obvious even in the formal photograph. Twenty-four years old, Grant had told Edna. Lia had been jogging at dawn when a dark-colored SUV struck her down. The driver never even slowed, according to the only witness who had come forward.
Edna shook her head in a combination of disbelief and dismay. She looked up to watch her son talking with two other men at the front of the small church. Lia had been Grant's systems administrator, whatever that meant, but Edna gathered it was an important position in his computer department. The company he worked for was a large distributor of office products.
Of her four children, Grant was the only one whose stocky build resembled her side of the family. The other three were all lean and lanky, taking after their father. Grant also had her fair skin, more apt to burn than tan, and auburn hair with a tendency to curl. Although hers had long since gone gray, the curl was still there.
She didn't feel her sixty-eight years at all until the thought occurred to her that she had been Lia's age when she'd given birth to Matthew, her first baby, and that Grant, her third, would be thirty-two in March. As she thought of her offspring, she caught a glimpse of Lia's parents. They were standing by their daughter's coffin, and as Edna looked up, the father bent to kiss his wife's temple. No one should have to bury a child.
Startled out of her reverie, she was momentarily disoriented. Was someone calling her name? She didn't know anybody here. Perhaps she hadn't heard correctly. Moving her head casually, she glanced left, then right, scanning the people around her.
“Excuse me. Mrs. Davies?”
The voice was low and hoarse, scarcely above a whisper. Unexpectedly, a shiver prickled down her spine.
She was about to turn around when a young couple appeared beside her, wanting to share the pew. As Edna slid sideways to make room, her tote bag fell from her lap onto the floor. She bent and fumbled to pick it up, wedging herself between the seat and the back of the neighboring bench as she simultaneously clutched her coat to keep it from following the bag and struggled to keep her wide-brimmed black hat on her head. Feeling flustered and a little breathless, she finally resettled herself and turned to see who had called her name. She saw nobody. Had she imagined it?
“Ladies and gentlemen …”
Wishing again that she had never agreed to accompany her son to this funeral, Edna focused her attention on the woman who rose to address the gathering. The speaker, whom Edna guessed to be in her early thirties, looked stiffly professional in a black business suit, her blond hair pulled into a bun at the base of her skull. Referring to the card in her hand, Edna noted that the woman was Marcie James, a sales supervisor at Grant's company.
The service progressed while Edna's thoughts wandered again, this time to the house where she and her husband Albert had lived for barely two months, their retirement home in southern Rhode Island. Even with boxes still left to unpack and flower beds to winterize before the first hard frost hit, Albert had talked her into accepting Grant's plea for help.
Last year Albert had sold his share of a successful family medical practice near Providence. Almost at once, he and Edna set off on a driving trip that had taken them along the eastern seaboard, nearly to Florida, in search of the perfect place to live out the rest of their lives. Eventually, they had returned to their home state, finding nothing as versatile or alluring as the familiar beaches, fields and forests of Rhode Island.
The day they returned home, Albert began receiving calls from former colleagues, asking his opinion on one medical case or another. Most recently, an invitation had been extended for him to speak at a conference in Chicago. From Illinois, he had flown to Colorado to visit a progressive children's clinic, which gave him the opportunity to spend a few days with their son.
During Albert's visit Grant's second wife, Karissa, had been rushed to the emergency room, almost delivering her baby in its seventh month. Her physician, with whom Albert heartily agreed, told the young woman that she should remain in bed for the next two months if she were to carry her baby full term. Actually, she wasn't strictly bedridden. She could get up for meals or to use the bathroom. She could even lie on the sofa in the living room if she wished, but her activities were severely restricted.
It was for this reason that Albert had called Edna, and she had agreed to help. Karissa's own mother had died of cancer five years ago, and there were no other female relatives or friends who could commit to an indeterminate stay. Edna thought she and Albert would handle things together, but she had been in Colorado only two days when Albert, the traitor, had flown back home in answer to a desperate call from another colleague requesting his consultation with a particularly baffling medical case. For a retired physician, he certainly was keeping awfully busy.
Abruptly, her attention was brought back to the present when people around her stood and began filing out of the chapel. She had no more time to dwell on her thoughts as she rode with several other mourners in a minivan to the burial site. Having arranged earlier to meet Grant after the graveside service, Edna hurried to keep up with her fellow passengers after they were dropped off. She was thankful she had worn sensibly low heels but wished for her walking shoes as she traversed the uneven lawn.
Standing slightly apart from the crowd, she watched her son help lift the coffin from the hearse. The sun was harshly bright, and in the early October breeze, leaves chased themselves in a race to the open grave.
She spun around, recognizing the low, hoarse voice as the one she had thought she'd heard in the chapel. A man came up on her right, hat in hand, towering over her in a rumpled brown suit and looking every bit like an oversized bloodhound with his loose jowls and sad brown eyes. His smile was weak, apologetic. “Name's Ernie Freedman. Be obliged if you'd spare a minute when this is over.”
“What do you want?” She was baffled. She was two thousand miles from home, and this stranger was talking to her as if he knew her.
“I'd like to tell you a story, Ma'am.” He spoke quietly. “Maybe after you hear it …” he paused briefly before continuing. “Well, you see, I'm hoping you'll help me.”
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” She became aware her voice had risen when several people turned to look at them. She hadn't realized the graveside prayer had begun.
Not wishing to disturb the mourners further, she turned and took the stranger's arm, leading him a short distance away. She almost never acted on impulse, had always been careful to consider the propriety of a given situation, but at the moment, she was glad for the diversion. The burial of a woman nearly the age of her own youngest child disturbed her more than she had anticipated.
Once they were out of earshot, she stopped and repeated her question. “How do you know who I am?”
He smiled, making his sad eyes twinkle for an instant. “Your son bears quite a resemblance to you. I guessed at the relationship when I saw him escorting you to your seat back at the chapel.”
Edna couldn't help smiling herself before becoming serious again. “Who are you?”
“I'm a detective, Ma'am.”
“For heaven sakes, stop calling me that. It makes me feel old. My name's Edna.” She thought Ernie didn't look much younger than she. Five or six years, perhaps. In his early to mid-sixties, she guessed. No younger. “What do you want from me?”
“It's really your son I'm after. I need to talk to him.”
“Then why not do so?”
“He's avoiding me.” Ernie toyed with his cloth hat, twisting the brim in his large hands.
Edna was losing patience. She did not feel like playing Twenty Questions with this stranger. “Look, Mr. Freedman, unless you can tell me straight out what it is you want, please go away.” She started to turn back toward the gravesite.
“No. Wait. I need you to ask Grant to listen to me.” He reached out a hand but didn't touch her. “See, I'm looking for a friend of his. Woman named Anita Collier.” Fumbling in an inside jacket pocket, he pulled out a wallet-sized picture and handed it to her.
Taking the small photo and thinking the name sounded familiar, Edna studied the picture of a young woman with straight, dark hair. Startled and confused, she glanced up at Ernie. “She looks like Lia, the one who's being buried today.”
“I know.” He indicated the photo in her hand. “Actually, they were friends. Both worked at Office Plus with your son.”
“How can Grant help you?”
Hope filled his eyes as Ernie slapped the rumpled hat onto his thinning gray hair. “I'm not real sure. I'd wanted to talk to Lia, but now that she's gone, Grant is the only lead I have left. I know he and Anita are friends. For one thing, he recorded the message on her answering machine.”
“Why is that significant? Lots of women ask a male acquaintance to record their phone greetings. There's probably no more to it than that.” Not certain whether she was convincing herself or the detective, she said, “He could have done that at the office, if they work together as you say.”