Authors: Jennifer L. Jennings
hen we stopped into the police department, Detective James gave us an update on the investigation.
“Forensics couldn't find one shred of evidence that Claire had been killed inside the blue truck,” he said. “Her hair and clothing fibers were found in the front seat but as Mr. Kendall had admitted to Claire being inside his car on the day she died that was to be expected.”
“What about witnesses who work at the Irving Gas station?” I asked.
“I spoke with a few of the employees and showed them her photos. Nobody could help me.”
“Does that make Mick Kendall a suspect in her murder?” Carter said.
“He's a person of interest. I'd still like to get him in here for a chat.” Detective James looked at me. “He seems to trust you. Why can't you talk some sense into him?”
trying, but he's afraid to go back to jail.”
The detective shrugged into his jacket and grabbed his keys. “What's with the dressy attire? Are you two going to a funeral?”
My body stiffened at the thought of lying to him. Luckily, I didn't have to.
“We had some business to attend to,” Carter replied, then deftly changed the subject.
The detective seemed to buy it. “Well, I'm heading to the Wentworth Home where Adam Kendall lives.”
“Claire's brother,” I said. “He still doesn't know about his sister?”
“I've informed the administrator and she told me that Adam doesn't do well with strangers. I'll need his staff of nurses to help me break the news to him. I have no idea what his mental state is or how he might react. This is a very delicate situation.”
“I understand. Is there anything Carter and I can do?”
He looked at the both of us for a long moment. “I guess not. I'll be in touch.”
* * *
Carter had finally convinced me there was no harm in talking to Norton Cline's lawyer. All we needed was a list of names of people who'd filed those lawsuits and find out if there were any new ones in the works.
And since we were already dressed to impress, why not take the opportunity to use it to our advantage.
Located on the first floor of a prominent commercial building in downtown Bridgeport, we arrived at the office of Mr. Lyle Coombs, a short, odd fellow with a round head and thick eyeglasses. Soft silvery wisps of hair were combed over his head and sealed with a shiny sheen, probably hairspray.
Carter told him we were private consultants, hired by the Bridgeport Police Department, to inquire about Mr. Cline's business. Mr. Coombs seemed intrigued, so he invited us to have a seat behind his mammoth wooden desk.
The office was large but smelled like mildew. When I spotted the collection of encyclopedias on a bookshelf, I realized this guy was old school. Probably hated computers and cell phones. Either that, or he was just too lazy to have the books removed.
Carter cleared his throat; time to get down to business. “You must be wondering why Sarah and I are here. Truth is, we have reason to believe that Mr. Cline's death might be connected to another case we're working on.”
Mr. Coombs tilted his head with interest. “Is that so?”
“Since this is an open investigation, I won't be able to share the details with you but, as far as Mr. Cline goes, you may be able to help us.”
“Sure. What's the problem?”
“Did Mr. Cline have any enemies, past or present, who have posed a threat to him recently? We spoke with Audrey this morning and she didn't have access to those names. She suggested that we come see you.”
Mr. Coombs blinked a few times. “Pardon, did you say you spoke with Audrey?”
“Yes. Apparently Mr. Cline had a bunch of angry clients who believe he cheated them out of their life savings. It's possible one of them wanted revenge.”
Realization dawned on his face. “Oh, I see. I assumed Mr. Cline died from natural causes. You're telling me that isn't the case?”
“We are awaiting the autopsy results,” Carter said, “But yes, there is a chance that foul play was involved.”
Mr. Coombs remained silent.
“Can you tell me,” Carter continued. “how long has Mr. Cline been a client of yours?”
He wiped his forehead and swallowed. “Since... 1991 I believe.”
“That's almost twenty-five years. Would you say that you were good friends?”
“Of course,” Mr. Coombs said. “He was a good man. I respected him.”
Carter gave me a discreet glance, and I knew exactly what he was thinking. Norton needed a lawyer to fight his battles and he'd probably made Mr. Coombs a wealthy man. Even in death, his lawyer would remain loyal.
Carter persisted. “So we need that list of names. And any other persons who might have expressed dissatisfaction. Apparently, he'd received some hate letters. Would you have access to those?”
He shook his head. “No, I'm sorry. Mr. Cline never showed them to me. He didn't seem concerned about them.”
Mr. Coombs slowly got up from his desk and said. “I'll get my secretary to print out a list of names of those who filed the lawsuits. It should take less than five minutes.”
When he left us alone in his office, I looked at Carter. “Are we gonna get in trouble for this?”
He couldn't contain his smile of satisfaction. “It's not like we threatened the guy. He seemed willing to help, don't you think?”
I prayed that Detective James would give us a pass on this one.
e spent the next hour at the Hometown Diner eating lunch and looking over the eleven different lawsuits filed against Norton Cline in the past ten years.
“I don't recognize any of these names,” I said. “And I'm getting a headache from reading all this legal jargon.”
Carter seemed frustrated, too. “This is going to be a lot of work; contacting each and every one of these poor bastards who lost everything they owned. How in the world did Norton get away with screwing so many people?”
“I'm surprised it took this long for someone to exact his or her revenge. Not that I agree with it but I can understand it. If I had any money to invest, I sure as heck wouldn't put all my eggs in one basket.”
We finished eating, and Carter gathered all the files together. “Let's head over to see Lois. Maybe one of these names will sound familiar to her. Gotta start somewhere.”
When we knocked on Lois's door twenty minutes later, Peter answered.
“Oh good,” I said. “You're still here. How is Lois?”
Peter looked past me toward Carter. “She's sleeping right now, but please come in.”
I introduced Peter and Carter, and they shook hands. I couldn't help but notice that Carter eyed him with restrained curiosity. Peter seemed to be doing the same.
“Did you talk to Detective James this morning?” I asked Peter.
“Yes. He took down my statement. I'm afraid I wasn't much help. To tell you the truth, Claire and I didn't interact very much. She came to work, did her job, and that's about it.” He pointed toward the kitchen. “Hey, you want some coffee? I haven't gotten around to making a pot yet. It'll only take a minute.”
“No thanks,” Carter said. “We can't stay very long. Just wanted you and Lois to look over these lawsuits. See if any of these names ring a bell.”
Peter accepted the folder. “Absolutely. Anything else I can do?”
“Nope,” Carter said. “That's all for now.”
If Peter felt uncomfortable around Carter, he did a good job of hiding it. Carter, on the other hand, was not trying very hard to make friends.
Maybe I was the only one feeling uncomfortable. “Well, we should go.” I waved to Peter as I walked out the door with Carter trailing behind me.
When we left the house and got back in the Buick, I turned to Carter and gave him an admonishing stare. “You were a little rude to Peter in there. Why?”
He laughed it off. “I wasn't rude to him, just direct.”
“Well, it came off as rude.”
He evaded my stare. “Sorry, but it wasn't my intention.”
Since Carter wasn't one to downplay my feelings, I had a hunch he wasn't telling me something. “What's going on? Have you been looking into Peter's background?”
His eyes widened in mock surprise. “Who me?”
He was trying to make light of this situation. Which meant that he knew something, but he didn't want to hurt my feelings. “Well?” I said. “What did you find?”
He started the engine and pulled out onto the street, evading my stare. “Nothing, Sarah. Let's drop it, okay?”
When we got home, I went straight to the bedroom, peeled off my clothes and put on my shorts and a windbreaker. I needed to clear my head and go for a run.
“Is that the best decision?” Carter said, watching as I tied my shoelaces. “Don't forget there's a murderer out there and he knows where you live.”
“I'll stay on the main road. I'll be fine.”
Carter didn't try to stop me. He knew that I needed to get out my frustrations by pounding the pavement.
Some people go to shrinks, but running is my therapy, and it's better than dropping a hundred bucks for some advice I could probably come up with myself.
As I rounded the corner onto Cross Street, I had to slow down and catch my breath. The cool air stung my lungs and a cramp began to form in my calf muscle. This is what happens when I take a measly three days off from exercise.
As I lumbered toward a bench to sit down, I heard the engine of a car pull up behind me. I whipped around to find Mick Kendall getting out of a Fiat.
“Nice car,” I said. “How much did that cost you?”
He ignored my sarcastic remark. “Your detective has been sniffing around my apartment. I guess he called my parole officer to get my address.”
“Did you finally talk to him?”
“No. Why the hell would I stick around? I jumped out my back window and got lost.”
“He's going to catch up with you eventually,” I said.
“I know how it works. My daughter is dead and I was the last person she was seen with. Cops like to fabricate motives when it suits them. Lawyers, too.”
“Detective James is not like that. If you just sit down and talk with him, maybe you can help.”
He folded his arms across his chest and stared at me. “You've been busy this morning. What's going on?”
“Jeesh, I really wish you'd stop following me. Do you have any idea how creepy it is?”
“Put yourself in my shoes. You'd do the same thing.”
I sat down on the bench and massaged my calf. “How did you get so good at stealing cars, anyway?”
“My cell mate was a pro. He got sent away for five years after they caught him with a warehouse of stolen exotic cars.”
“Nice to know you got an education while doing time.”
His tone changed. “Look, I just wanna know how the case is going.”
I figured I'd throw him a bone. “We might have a possible lead.”
His eyes lit up. “Who?”
“I shouldn't tell you. It might compromise the investigation.”
“You're just afraid I'll go after the sonofabitch.”
occurred to me. “Mick, I understand how frustrating it is to wait for answers that may never come. Maybe you should focus on what you do have; your son. Have you even been to visit him lately?”
The light went out of his eyes. “What's the point? Adam won't even recognize me. I'll just confuse him. He's better without me.”
“He's your son,” I reminded him. “How could you just abandon him?”
He pointed a rigid finger at my face. “A lecture from you is not what I need right now. Leave my son out of this, okay?”
“I'm sorry. It's none of my business.”
I continued to massage my leg, waiting for the cramp to dissipate. Mick took a few steps closer to me, hands in pockets of his jean jacket.
“Do you want to know why I killed that guy eight years ago?”
I turned to face him. “Sure. Why not.”
“His name was Zack Miller and he was Claire's boyfriend. She was a senior in high school, and he was twenty-three. A real punk. Turns out, he was a drug dealer who liked to prey on young girls and get them hooked on shit like cocaine and meth. I came home from work early one day and found them in her bedroom. There was a hypodermic needle sticking out of her arm. I freaked out and I hit him over the head with my daughter's soccer trophy. I didn't mean to kill him.”
“Then why settle for a plea of voluntary manslaughter? A jury might have believed you were just trying to protect your daughter.”
“I didn't stand a chance. Zack Miller's uncle happened to be some rich asshole who hired a whole team of attorneys to threaten and harass me with all kinds of legal bullshit. Eventually I broke down and took the deal. If I knew then what I know now, you're right; I could've skirted jail time. But the thing that sucks the most is not the eight years I spent in prison, it's the fact that Claire never once
me in prison. Not a single letter in eight years. She could never forgive me for killing that scum she called a boyfriend.”
I didn't know what to say. Offering platitudes wouldn't make him feel any better. “We're gonna find her killer, Mick, but you need to do your part and go see the detective.”
By the dejected look on his face, he was disappointed. “I'll see ya around, Sarah. Enjoy your run.”
An hour later when I got home, I told Carter about my encounter with Mick.
“He just wants you to feel sorry for him,” he said to me. “And he's taking advantage of your kind nature. I hope you told him to knock it off.”
“He needs a friend,” I said, but I knew that explanation wouldn't fly. “He finally told me about the man he killed eight years ago.”
Carter seemed mildly interested. “And?”
“Zack Miller was his daughter's first boyfriend, but he was also bad news. Mick came home one day to find them in her room shooting heroin. He freaked out and hit the kid over the head with his daughter's soccer trophy.”
He winced. “His lawyer should have gotten the charges dropped.”
“That's what I thought. Anyway, he's pissed off that Detective James showed up at his apartment earlier. Mick fled out the back window then stole a red Fiat. He's going back to jail if he doesn't smarten up.”
“A red Fiat? Nothing like drawing attention to yourself.”
I laughed. “No kidding. He's a piece of work.”
Carter came to me, took my hand, and led me down the hall. There was a devilish grin on his face. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“I made you a bubble bath. I figured you'd like that after your run.”
I kissed his cheek and began peeling the sweaty clothes from my body. “Aren't you thoughtful? As a matter of fact, it's just what I need.”
“Good,” he said. “And when you're done with that, the Thai food should be here for dinner.”
“A bubble bath and Thai food? I see what you're trying to do. You wanna get laid tonight, don't you?”
He just shrugged and headed back to the kitchen with an innocent expression.