Read One Deadly Sin Online

Authors: Annie Solomon

Tags: #FIC027110, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Sheriffs, #General

One Deadly Sin (9 page)

BOOK: One Deadly Sin
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D
ennis Runkle was a satisfied man. Despite what Edie Swann had said, he had a feeling that black-haired mess of a circus act would end up taking the Bellingham house.

He paused leaving his latest appointment—another old relic on the east side. Time wasn’t right for east side development. But it would be. Yes, indeedy. Long as Hammerbilt stayed open. And if he could get this monstrosity at a good price, he’d own two nice properties on the east side of town, this and the Bellingham house.

He trotted down the sloping steps to the curb. Why did he keep referring to it as the Bellingham house? As he’d told the Swann woman, the Bellinghams hadn’t owned it in years. Not since… well he’d had enough of the past in the last few weeks to last him another twenty years.

Black angels, indeed.

Well, now that they’d buried poor Fred Lyle, talk should die down.

At the bottom of the steps, he took a moment to admire the convertible’s blue shine. He inhaled good fortune. Thought about the woman he’d just left inside the house. Poor thing. Now that her mother was dead she was free. Better late than never.

He remembered her when she was in school. Never pretty but always kind. What they used to call a good girl. And now. White-haired, dried up. Life had passed her by.

He had an odd impulse to go back and ask her to dinner. Or lunch, maybe. Yes, lunch would be more appropriate. He might even enjoy talking with a woman closer to his own age. He’d enjoyed talking with her just now.

But he couldn’t imagine her sitting next to him in his gleaming Corvette. He’d look ridiculous. He needed someone pretty and young sitting there.

So he suppressed that fleeting impulse and opened the car door. Was about to toss his briefcase inside, when his smile chilled. Something on the passenger seat. Something small and black.

Tentatively, he leaned over the driver’s side and poked at it. The thing rolled on its back, and sent a ripple of apprehension down Dennis Runkle’s spine.

A tiny black angel. Just like the one Fred Lyle had received right before his death.

What the—

He slid behind the wheel. Stared at it. How long had it been there? Up until the afternoon he’d had folders and papers piled up on that seat, ready to move them to the new office. Had someone tossed it in days ago and he hadn’t seen it? Or had someone placed it there today? A few minutes ago.

He looked around. No one on the street. He started the engine and slowly rolled down the road. No one hiding behind trees or shrubs.

He started to sweat.

Anyone could have done this. In good weather, he always kept the top down. He liked to show off.

But now… He’d been foolish to expose himself all this time.

He sped away and as soon as he saw a public lot—Myer’s Gas Station—he pulled in, quickly raised the car top, locked it in place, and rolled up the windows. Feeling safer, he sped off again, blasting the air-conditioning. He was absurdly hot.

He glanced at the dark little creature, so like a devil’s messenger. Another shiver ran through him.

What did it mean? Some kind of voodoo?

Suddenly, he grabbed the figure, yanked open the glove compartment, and threw it inside.

But still, he couldn’t breathe easier. He couldn’t breathe at all.

He gripped the wheel. His throat was closing up. He gasped, desperate for air, and clutched his neck. The car swerved violently. Panic overwhelmed him, and in a violent jolt, he understood what was happening. But the knowledge came too late.

Holt got the call over the radio while he was doing his afternoon patrol. By the time he got to the accident site there was a small crowd. The town fire truck was there, along with their volunteer crew. A county ambulance stood by. Sam had already set up a perimeter and was holding the curious back.

He drew her away from prying ears. “Status?”

“Dead,” she said.

“I can see that.” He glanced over her shoulder to the wreck. The showy blue convertible was crunched like a tin can against a telephone pole. Dennis Runkle’s body was crushed against the steering wheel.

“Pretty straightforward. Plenty of eyewitnesses,” Sam said, gesturing with her head toward a group separated from the rest. Holt recognized Andy Burkett, who ran Myer’s garage, but he didn’t know the others. “Same story all around,” she said. “He was going fast, lost control, and wham.” She whistled like a mortar traveling overhead and exploding. “I tracked the skids. They jibe with what the witnesses say.”

“Any indication of why he was speeding?”

“Idiocy? I mean, the man was seventy if he was a day. Had no business driving a powerhouse like that to begin with.”

“Ageism, Deputy Fish? Not much of a theory.”

“Okay, so maybe the brakes failed.”

“Wouldn’t be skidmarks if they had.” Holt signaled to Andy Burkett, who ambled over. “You said he was driving fast. Anyone following him?”

The mechanic shook his head. “Just raced down that hill toward the square like a demon was after him.”

“You see one?”

“No, sir.”

“Sam, check with the others.” She went off, and Holt turned back to Burkett. “Can you stand by? We’ll get the body out and you can tow the car.”

“Sure thing, Chief.”

Between Holt, the EMTs, and the volunteer fire department, they got the driver’s door open and Runkle’s body off to the county morgue.

The rest of the witnesses confirmed Burkett’s story, which left Holt mentally finishing his accident report, case closed. He gave Burkett the okay, and the mechanic called the garage and had someone bring the tow truck to the wreck.

The crowd of onlookers had thinned, but there were still a dozen hardy souls who would stay until the bitter end. They watched silently as Burkett hooked up the wreck and stood by while the driver started the winch. The crushed metal clanked as it was hauled upward, and the briefcase on the seat fell onto the car floor.

“Slow it down!” Burkett yelled to the driver.

The winch jerked to a stop, and the glove compartment popped open. The owner’s manual, papers, and other odds and ends fell out, then shifted from side to side as the pulley started again, slower this time.

“Hold it. Hold it!” Holt held up a hand, and Burkett shouted to the driver to stop.

“Something the matter, Chief?” Burkett asked.

Holt barely heard him. “Sam,” he said softly. “Get me an evidence bag from the trunk of my car. And some latex.”

She was back seconds later with the bag and the gloves. “What is it?”

Instead of answering, Holt put on the gloves, leaned in through the now-open driver’s side, and picked something off the floor of the car.

“Lord God a mercy,” Burkett said with solemn awe.

Sensing something momentous, the crowd edged closer, and Burkett blurted, “It’s one of them black angels.”

People started murmuring, and Holt snapped his head up. “Get those yahoos away from the car,” he said to Sam. But it was too late. She ushered them back, but they’d all heard. He gave the crowd his sternest, coldest look. “Go home. All of you.”

Folks grumbled and shuffled, but neither he nor Sam gave ground, and one by one they pulled each other away. Finally only the tow truck was left. Holt sent Sam back to the office to write up her report while Burkett finished hoisting the convertible and had it towed to the garage.

“What do you want me to do with it?” Burkett asked Holt. “Someone going to claim it?”

“Not yet. Listen, I want a full workup. Brakes, fuel line, transmission, you check everything. And I mean everything. If that car’s been tampered with I want to know. I want you to do it personally, okay? No one else.”

The intensity in Holt’s voice communicated itself to Burkett. He nodded gravely. “Yes, sir.”

“And Andy—you keep it to yourself. You have notes or paperwork, keep them locked up. I hear any of this talked around, I’ll know where it came from.”

“Won’t be from me.”

“Good. When you’re done, you call me. No one else. Got it?”

Burkett nodded, and Holt handed him a card with his contact information on it. Though he tried not to show it, he felt tired and dispirited. The death of two city leaders so close together was daunting. And the black angel lingered like doom over both.

12

A
s always, Sam Fish did as she was ordered: went to the office to write out a report. She didn’t particularly like writing reports, but following orders was a way of life. Otherwise things got all screwed to hell. Not that they couldn’t get all screwed to hell on their own. She’d seen that for herself in alibabaland. Her mind automatically scolded her. Iraq. She meant Iraq. Of course. No disrespect intended. Sir.

She sighed. Couldn’t seem to shake the army. Maybe she should have stayed in. If her mama hadn’t gotten sick she probably would have. A lifer. Well, things don’t always work out the way you planned. And law enforcement was a good job. Holt a good boss. Not bad to look at, either.

Her face heated, and she immediately dismissed that thought. It was her mother’s fault, always telling her to loosen up. “How you going to get that handsome man to notice you?”

Well, what was wrong with a starched uniform? Sam never did understand that whole wrinkled look. If you couldn’t make yourself neat and presentable, how were you going to make the world around you that way?

She let herself into the office. Frowned at the clutter on Holt’s desk. He might be movie-star cute, but they’d never suit. She’d always be running behind him, straightening up the mess he left. Just looking at his desk, she was tempted. But she resisted. He left her alone, only right she do the same.

She got out the report forms and started filling them out. She’d seen her share of bodies, but thought she was all through with that when she came home. She’d imagined a life of corralling Terry Bishops—drunks and drifters mostly. But here she was, two dead men in less than two weeks. And both with black angels.

She looked up from the form, stared into space. A coincidence or a connection? She wondered what Holt thought. In all the time she’d been his deputy, they’d never had a real case. Was this the first? Goose bumps ran up her arms. A real investigation. Wouldn’t it be sweet to go after the bad guys again?

When Holt finally made it home, Mimsy had dinner waiting. She sat him down at the kitchen table, the same table he’d eaten at his whole life, and put a cold beer and bowl of chili in front of him. How many meals had she made for him? He looked around at the kitchen. Saw the nick in the counter where an illegally thrown football had knocked over a glass bowl. The corner by the phone where messages, store circulars, and coupons had mounded into a junk pile. Home. Family. The natural order of things.

Dennis Runkle’s smashed-up body invaded the scene in his head. Stroke? Another Redbud VIP felled by a heart attack?

It could be the car. Something mechanical, either accidental or…

Or what? Murder didn’t happen in Redbud.

And yet…

Two deaths. Two black angels.

Unnatural. Supernatural?

He pushed the bowl of chili away. Man, oh man, now they had him thinking crazy.

Miranda rushed in, dressed for bed in her favorite nightgown with the lace ruffle around the edge. No one could accuse his child of not being a girl. “Daddy!” She hopped on his lap, and his gloom vanished. Hard to be gloomy when Miranda was around.

She put her arms against his neck and squeezed. “You’re late.”

“Sorry, darlin’. I was working.”

“I got a fattoo.”

“A what?”

“A fattoo. Look.” She pulled the neck of her nightgown down to bare her shoulder. Showed him some kind of picture she’d drawn there. “It’s a swan.”

He laughed. “Why in the world—”

“Don’t worry, it’s just marker.” His mother bustled into the kitchen. “It’ll wash right off.” She shot Miranda a long-suffering look.

“I don’t want to wash it. Do I have to, Daddy?”

“That’s what life’s all about, baby girl. Doing stuff you don’t want to do.” He nicked the tip of her nose. “So why a tattoo?”

“Miranda made a new friend today,” Mimsy said.

“Really.” Holt could only think of one person with tattoos. But where on this planet Earth could Miranda have met Edie? “A new kid?”

BOOK: One Deadly Sin
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