Authors: Peggy Dulle
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Romance - Kindergarten Teacher - Sheriff - California
“I’m surprised you and my parents socialized with her.”
“Oh, honey. She was a kick and she didn’t take herself seriously at all.”
She leaned back in the lounge chair, “There was Norma and Donald Phillips, Melvin and Leslie Mitchell, your parents, Carmelita and her guest and myself. I usually brought a girlfriend until the last cruise, when Adam went with me.”
Okay, I had the names but I needed to put them to the faces on the pictures. “I have some pictures from the cruises. If I brought them here, would you tell me who they are?”
“Of course, I love looking at photos.”
“Great.” I hurried back to my room. When I went though the door, Tom sat on the couch about a foot from the television set. It looked like a baseball game between the static.
the set. “Come on.”
“Having trouble with the TV?” I asked.
“Stupid thing. All I want is the score to the game.”
“The lobby has a bigger TV. Why don’t you go down and ask them to put it on?”
“Good idea. What are you going to do?”
“I’m finally tired. I think I’ll lie down for a few minutes.”
He smiled, walked over and took the rubber band from my hair, “I could join you. I don’t really care about the game.”
Oh great. I didn’t think Betsy would stay by the pool long. Tom stepped toward me. I put my hands up and smiled. “Go check the score, then come on back. I don’t want you thinking about the score instead of me.”
“That would never happen, honey. Guys can’t multi-task when they’re in bed. We’ve only got one thing on our mind. Unlike you — half the time you’re working on your lesson plans when we’re in bed.”
“I am not,” I said.
He stared at me. I backed down.
“Okay, so sometimes I am. But go and find out the score anyway. I’ll be here when you get back.”
He looked toward the door and back at me. “Okay, I’ll only be a few minutes.”
He left. I went to the window and watched him walk down the hallway and into the lobby. I grabbed my pictures and went back to the pool. I knew Tom. He’d get interested in the game. I had at least a few minutes before he’d remember me.
Betsy still lay on the lounge chair by the pool. She didn’t look over when I went through the squeaky metal gate. She had probably fallen asleep waiting for me.
But that wasn’t it at all. She had a small hole in the center of her forehead and her eyes were open. I heard someone screaming. It took me a few seconds to realize it was me!
Tom came running through the gate; he had that little ankle gun out again. “What’s the matter?”
I pointed to Betsy and buried my head in his chest. “She’s….’
“Sh, Liza.” He smoothed out my hair.
I felt him bend over, probably putting his little gun away or checking to see if Betsy was still alive. He pulled me from the pool area, shutting the gate behind him.
My body shook. I couldn’t get it to stop.
“Call 911,” Tom barked at someone.
I lifted my head and saw Ramon stop, turn, and run back toward the lobby. I buried my head back in Tom’s chest. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first dead body I’d seen. But this woman, I had just spoken to. If Tom hadn’t been awake when I went back to the room, would I have returned here soon enough to see her killed? Or be killed myself? My body shivered.
“It’s okay, Liza. I’m going to take you back to our room.”
“But the police,” I started.
“Yes, they’ll want to talk to you but they can do it in our room.”
He turned me around, put his arm around my waist, and led me to our room. He set me down on the bed, “Will you be okay here for a few minutes?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“I want to meet the cops at the body.”
When he said “body”, I shivered again.
He put his hand on my shoulder. “If you want me to stay, I will.”
“No, it’s okay.” I nodded. “I’m okay, Tom. Go ahead.”
He grabbed his badge and left the room.
As soon as he left, I realized I didn’t have the photographs anymore. I must have dropped them when I saw Betsy’s body. Great, now I would have to explain them to the police. And to Tom. I heard the sirens a few seconds later.
When I looked out the window, I counted four police cars, an ambulance, fire truck, and two other vehicles with flashing lights. I quickly shut the shades and turned on the TV. The only station the stupid thing got was in Spanish. I left it on for the noise and paced the room, which wasn’t an easy task, since it was barely eight by eight. I’d have worn a path in the carpet if it wasn’t so shabby already.
A few minutes later, I heard a knock at the door. Could the cops be here to talk to me already? I looked through the peephole. Brenda.
I opened the door and she came in. She had black marks under her eyes, like she’d been crying and had rubbed her mascara.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Did you really find the body?” Her body shuddered.
I nodded, “Yes.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. Betsy was such a nice lady.”
“You knew her? I thought you only had worked here for the last few months.”
“I have, but before that I worked at the Carlton Inn downtown.”
“Betsy stayed there?”
“Yes. She used to come into town a lot and she always stayed there.” She leaned against the door.
“Why’d she stay here this time?”
“She said it was something about her husband. You know he died on a cruise.”
“I heard that.” This woman might be a wealth of information, so I pulled Tom’s suitcase from the couch and indicated for her to sit down.
When she sat down, I continued, “Why’d she come into town when she stayed at the Carlton?”
“She works for a computer company. They installed new software in the computers at the Carlton. The stuff never worked right, so she always came down and worked on them.”
“I think that’s how she met her husband,” Brenda continued, “on some job in Oklahoma. She installed the hotel software and he was there for a lawyer’s conference.”
“Adam was a lawyer?”
She shrugged, “I think so.”
That was news. My dad had been a lawyer too. Is that how they knew Adam? Did they work together in Texas?
“He cheated on her.” Brenda said as she stood, slid open the curtains and peered outside.
“How do you know?”
“He came into town a few times with her before they were married. She’d go into the office and work on the computers. She thought he was in the pool. But I saw him with a lady once.”
“By the pool?”
“No, in the hotel bar. When I went off duty, I saw them. She was tall, blonde and sleazy looking. Even as young as I am, I wear more clothes than she had on. I started over to tell him Betsy was almost finished but they got up and left together.” Brenda shook her head, “I never told Betsy.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Nope, they’re both dead. That’s weird — he died and now she’s dead.” Brenda reached for the doorknob. “Well, I better go.”
After she left, I paced again. What did it mean, their both being dead? Was it a coincidence? Had he really cheated on her? And was it important?
An hour later, Tom came into the room, two men following him. His face looked grim and angry. I’d seen the look before. It was when he was not in control.
“These men are detectives from Long Beach’s Homicide Detail.” He nodded toward the first gentleman. “Detective Jack Ramirez,” then indicated the other one, “Detective Brad Hansen.”
They both were dressed in dark suits rather than uniforms. Ramirez was taller, stockier, and Detective Hansen was short, thin, and very fair.
Detective Ramirez stepped around Tom. “I just want to tell you that if you weren’t here with a cop, we’d be taking you down to the station for this interview.”
Ah, good choice for the bad cop. He even looked mean. Now, where was the good cop?
“We understand you’re shaken up by what you’ve seen. But we really need some questions answered,” Detective Hansen said.
Tom’s demeanor softened and he laughed. Both men looked at him. “Guys, her favorite show is
Law and Order
. She’s seen so much good cop, bad cop, she’s a pro at spotting it. Just ask her the questions.”
Detective Ramirez frowned and pointed to the couch. “Have a seat.”
I sat down. Tom leaned against the wall. Before I could say anything, he said, “I told them we are here on vacation and we’re leaving tomorrow on a cruise.”
Detective Ramirez glared at Tom, “Not if I say you’re not. This professional courtesy doesn’t extend to her leaving the country.”
Tom back stiffened and he glared at him. It was a pissing match and I wasn’t in the mood.
“What do you want to know?” I said.
Detective Hansen sat in the chair across from me. “Just tell us exactly what happened.”
“I went into the pool area and found a woman with a hole in her head. I assumed she was dead. It would have been rude to call you if she wasn’t,” I said.
Tom laughed again, Ramirez glared, and Hansen smiled.
Hansen continued, “Okay, did you know the woman?”
“Not really.” Well, it was the truth. I wasn’t sure exactly how much to say to them. I wished I had been able to talk to Tom first.
Ramirez flipped open his notebook, “According to Ramon, you and he talked about the woman.”
“Yes,” I said and gazed at him.
“You didn’t know her but you asked about her?”
“Well, it’s complicated,” I said.
Ramirez glared at me, then to Hansen he said, “Let’s take her in.”
Tom stepped off the wall. “Liza.”
I looked at him. “Yes?”
“This isn’t Gainesville or Clainsworth; tell the detectives what they want to know. Stop stalling.”
Gainesville was Tom’s turf and Clainsworth was in Oregon. Tom had rescued me from that police department after they wanted to charge me with shooting my gun at some kids. But I didn’t want to tell these men about my parents, their cruising group, Adam’s death, or any of it. How much could I tell them without telling them the rest?
“I repeat, Miss Wilcox. How did you know Betsy Ruiz?” Detective Ramirez asked.
“She was a friend of my parents.” I saw Ramirez’s eyes widened, so I continued, “But I had never met her before.”
“Until today?” Detective Hansen asked.
“Yes.” It was time to try the sympathy card. “You see, in August it’s going to be the anniversary of my parents’ deaths. They were both killed in a plane crash. Before they died, they took a cruise with a group of friends.” Thinking about them brought tears to my eyes. The tears were real, but I deliberately let them fall down my cheeks.
“I wanted to relive their last vacation, so I’m taking the cruise they took. They stayed at this hotel, so we did too. Ramon told me Betsy was part of their group and that she was at the pool. I never knew their cruising friends. I went out to talk to her.”
“What did she tell you?” Detective Hansen asked.
Okay, this was trickier. Had anyone seen me with Betsy the first time I’d gone out? As my mom used to say, “in for a penny, in for a pound”. I went for it.
“Nothing,” I told them. “She was dead!” I buried my head in my hands.
I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder. I looked up, it was Tom. He stared at me and his eye twitched. A clear indication he knew I wasn’t exactly telling the truth. “It’s okay, Liza,” he said, then turned to the two detectives. “That’s it. Is there anything else you need?”
“We’re not done with her,” Detective Ramirez said.
“You are for now,” Tom stepped toward him. “If she thinks of anything else, I’ll call you.”
“From the cruise ship?” Detective Ramirez bellowed.
“Yes, they’ve got phones on it,” Tom turned and looked at me, “right?”
“We’re not done,” Ramirez said.
Hansen stood up. “We know where to find her if we need her, Jack.”
Ramirez scowled at me, then turned back to his partner, “Yeah, in Mexico.”
Hansen turned to Tom. “I want you to stop by with her after you get back from the cruise.”
Tom nodded. “We’ll come to the station the minute we get off the boat.”
“Thanks.” Hansen nodded at Tom, then at me. “Come on, Jack. We’ve got other people to interview.”
And they left. I let out a long breath. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding it for so long.
I got up. “I’m starving, Tom. Let’s go and get something to eat.”
I started toward the door and Tom grabbed my arm.
I looked up at him, “What?”
“Have a seat.” His jaw set in a determined way I’d seen before.
“Why?” I asked.
He glared at me. It made me very uncomfortable. The pit in my stomach startled tumbling. I sat down on the couch. “Okay, so what?”
He reached into his pocket and took out my photos and he laid them out one by one on the coffee table. With each picture, my stomach hurt more, my pulse accelerated, and I held my breath again.
When he set down the last pictures, he turned and stared at me. He picked up the six pictures with Betsy in them and laid them on top. “Now, will you tell me exactly what the hell is going on?”