Sarah Woods Mystery Series (Volume 6) (9 page)

BOOK: Sarah Woods Mystery Series (Volume 6)
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Chapter 15

 

 

 

 

 

 

T
he next morning I woke at 8:15 and Carter wasn't beside me. He usually gets up around 6:00 to do his morning exercise ritual of jumping jacks and pushups.

When I found him at the kitchen table with his laptop, I knew something was wrong.

“What's up?” I asked. “You haven't even made coffee yet?”

“You might want to sit down. You're not going to like this.”

“What? You're scaring me.”

“Please don't be upset with me.”

The pleading look in his eyes caused a squeezing sensation in my chest.

“Just tell me,” I said.

“I've been looking into your friend Peter. Did you know that he lost a small fortune in the stock market eight years ago?”

“Well, Lois said he'd had some financial troubles, but a lot of people did.”

“Peter had to file bankruptcy, lost his house and got divorced all in the same year.”

My heart dropped because I knew where this was going. “Don't tell me that Norton Cline was his financial advisor.”

“Not exactly, but Norton owned the company. Peter's advisor was a man by the name of Vince Woodward. Vince left the company in 2012.”

“Just because Peter lost money with one of his companies, doesn't mean he knew that Norton owned it.”

“Sarah, think about it. What would you do if you lost your life savings? You wouldn't just throw your hands up and say,
oh well, that's life.
No, you would make it your mission in life to find out who screwed you over and, then, you'd probably fantasize about the many ways of getting back.”

“Fantasizing about revenge is common. Thousands of people lost their savings, but the majority of them never acted on it.”

“That's because they usually don't have the opportunity to get away with it. When Peter saw Norton Cline walk into his bakery, he probably saw it as a sign and acted on it.”

“I might agree with you, except for one important thing. Peter would never kill Claire just to keep her from talking, and he certainly wouldn't have dumped the body in my trunk. What purpose would that serve?”

“I don't know,” he said. “Maybe it was his way of getting your attention.”

“That makes no sense whatsoever.” I abruptly stood up from the table and went back to the bedroom to get changed.

Carter followed me. “Sarah, you can be pissed all you want, but we can't ignore the facts. Peter had the motive and the means to kill Norton Cline. When Claire threatened to expose him, he panicked. He probably felt as though he had no other choice.”

“I hear what you're saying, but I still don't believe he'd kill an innocent young woman and, not only that, we don't even know if Norton was poisoned. Those autopsy tests might confirm that he died of natural causes.”

Carter shook his head, exasperated. “Why are you so protective of Peter? You dated the guy over twenty years ago. You hardly know him anymore. You don't know what he's capable of.”

“You're right. I haven't been in touch with him, but I know that he's a good guy. You always tell me I'm a good judge of character. Why can't you trust me on this?”

“You
are
a good judge of character, but you still tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. If Peter were a stranger, you can't tell me you wouldn't be on board with my theory.”

“If you're so sure about this, tell me; how do we prove it? Because unless you have hard proof that Peter has committed double homicide, I am
not
on board with you.”

The hurt look in Carter's eyes cut deep into my heart.

“Fine,” he said. “That's my job. To gather the evidence and remain objective. Which is something you're
not
able to do right now.”

He left me alone in the room, and moments later, I heard his footsteps going down to the basement, better known as the
man cave
. It's also where he keeps his punching bag.

Maybe Carter was right. I couldn't stay objective on this one, but that didn't mean I was wrong, either. I knew in my heart that Peter was not a murderer.

I got dressed and called Lois right away.

When she answered the phone, the first words out of my mouth were, “Is Peter still there?”

“Um, no. He left a few minutes ago to pick up his kids from the ex's. He might come back later. Why?”

“I'd like to come over if that's okay.”

“Sure. I'm not working. We closed down the bakery for a week, so yeah, I'll be here.”

 

I scribbled a note and left in on the kitchen table:
I'll be at Lois's house if you need me.

 

* * *

When I walked into Lois's house, I noticed that the furniture had been rearranged in the living room. And the place smelled fresh, like lemon and pine needles.

“Looks like you're feeling better,” I said. “Did you have a burst of energy and decide to clean?”

Lois was wearing sweat pants, a t-shirt, and a bandana to keep her thick mane of dark hair out of her face. “I couldn't fall asleep last night, so I had to do something. I'm so restless.”

“So have you decided to take over Claire's lease and stay here?”

She wiped her face with a paper towel and invited me to join her on the couch. “I think so. I'm supposed to meet with the landlord tomorrow. Also, I've been trying to figure out what to do with Claire's things. Do you think her father might want some of her stuff?”

“I have no idea. Next time I see him, I'll ask. Although, he's probably right down the street sitting in a stolen car, watching the house as we speak.”

She shook her head. “Doesn't it bother you? I'd be a basket case knowing someone was following me.”

“I guess I understand it, to some degree. He has nothing better to do than obsess about finding his daughter's killer. I'd be the same way.”

Lois leaned over to pick up what appeared to be a photo album. “On a different note, I was going through some of my boxes and found this. You're gonna laugh.” She dropped it into my lap.

I opened the cover. “What is this?”

“Photos from our massage school days. I was going through some of my old boxes and found it.”

“Look at my hair,” I said, pointing to the ridiculous perm I had back in the late eighties.”

I burst out laughing when I saw another photo of me and Lois with some of our other classmates.

“I can't believe how heavy I used to be,” she said. “Every time I see those old pictures I want to burn them.”

“I won't let you burn these. They're precious.” One of the photos was of me and Peter. Lois must have noticed me staring at it.

“I'm not sure if you ever knew this,” she said. “But you were the first girl who ever broke up with Peter. Bruised his ego, big time and then you got married a year later.”

I had no idea why she felt compelled to mention this. “Well, Peter met his wife shortly after that, right?”

She rolled her eyes. “She was a rebound. I don't think he ever loved her.”

“Peter never shared his feelings with me. I had no clue he liked me that much, to be honest.”

“Well, it's water under the bridge at this point. Peter has his kids, and he loves them more than anything in the world. So all is not lost.” Lois got up from the couch and headed to the kitchen. “Hey, you want coffee?”

“That would be great, thanks. Black is fine. You mind if I look through the rest of your photos?”

“Go ahead but you'll notice I've removed some of the pictures of me. I can't stand to be reminded of what I used to look like.”

I flipped through the pages of the photo album and saw faces of fellow classmates that I hadn't seen in over twenty years. What surprised me the most was that Lois had kept a dozen or more photos of me and Peter. I wondered if she ever hoped that I'd someday be her sister-in-law. Nah, Peter and I had never even discussed being exclusive, let alone marriage. He was—and still is—a handsome guy. All the girls adored him. So why would he be upset over losing me? I reasoned that it probably had nothing to do with me. Guys just hate to be dumped by anyone. Not that girls were okay with it. It sucks for everyone.

As I got further into the book, I was treated to wedding pictures of Peter with his new wife; a cute blonde with a big smile and tanned skin. Then came the baby pictures followed by toddlers and so on. Cute kids.

When I came across one photo in particular, though, I had to stop and hold my breath. Apparently, Peter and his family had gone camping when the kids were about kindergarten age.

Lois waltzed back into the room and set my mug on the coffee table. “Now you know what Peter's wife looks like. She's not so cute anymore.”

Pointing to one of the pictures, I asked, “Did Peter rent this white camper, or did he own it?”

If Lois detected the quiver in my voice, she didn't let on. “He bought that camper a long time ago. They used it for about two or three summers. Peter had to sell it when he filed bankruptcy”

I should've felt relieved, but part of me wondered ….maybe he hadn't sold it.

I closed the photo album and returned it to the coffee table. As I took a sip of coffee, I began to reason with myself: there are probably hundreds of identical white campers out there within a fifty mile radius.

I couldn't be sure this was the same camper that had been burned down in Sanford, but the coincidence sent my mind into a tailspin. Everything Carter had warned me about Peter now seemed possible.

“Sarah?” Lois narrowed her eyes as she scanned my face with concern. “Does the coffee taste bad?”

“It's fine.” I had to snap out of my trance and regain control of my emotions. Thankfully my phone vibrated, alerting me to a text. “Detective James wants to see me at the station right away.”

She gave me a pout. “But Peter is on his way here with the kids. I want you to meet my niece and nephew. When will you be back?”

“An hour or so. I'll give you a call if it's going to be longer than that.”

Lois walked me to the door. “You think he has some new information about the case?”

“Maybe.” I feared, however, that the detective had found out that Carter and I had been to visit Cline's widow. I'd have to come up with a damned good excuse.

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

W
hen I walked into Detective James's office, he asked me to have a seat.

“What's up?” I said, trying to swallow the lump in my throat.

“My tech guy found some things on Claire's laptop. Looks like you were right.”

“Right about what?”

“She'd been doing online searches for poisons. Specifically, easily attainable poisons. There were several websites about Ethylene Glycol. Which is the main ingredient found in antifreeze and transmission fluid. You can buy it at Walmart or any gas station.”

I sucked in a breath. Of course, I wasn't surprised, and yet, I couldn't stop trembling. “Does this mean that Norton Cline's death is now considered a homicide?”

“Not officially. Until we have the lab tests back from his autopsy, we can't be certain of anything. But I will send a forensics team to the bakery to search the kitchen and area to find the source.”

“She wouldn't have left it there,” I said. “It's probably at her house, or maybe in her own car. Have you checked her Volvo?”

“I'm on it, Sarah.”

If I didn't tell the detective about Peter now, he'd find out eventually. Too bad it would have to be from me. “There is a possible lead,” I finally said. “Carter found out that Peter lost a lot of money during the stock market crash in 2008 with a company that Norton Cline used to own.”

“Why didn't you tell me this before?”

“Because I don't think Peter is involved. It's likely that he had never met Norton Cline. “

“Look, Sarah. I understand this Peter is your friend's brother but let me handle this from here on in. You should be watching your own back, anyway.”

 

When I left the station, I called Carter to apologize.

“You were right,” I told him. “I need to distance myself from all of this but I did the right thing and I told Detective James about Peter's affiliation with Norton Cline. Lois is going to be hurt and confused when she finds out I did that. I hope they can prove he's innocent.”

There was a long silence. “When are you coming home? I feel like shit for walking out of the room during our discussion earlier. Let me make it up to you.”

“I'm not upset about that,” I said. “You had every right to shake some sense into me. Besides, you might be right about Peter after all.”

“What do you mean?”

“I saw some old pictures that Lois had in a photo album. Peter used to go camping with his kids and they had a white camper, similar to the one I saw in Sanford.”

“You think it was the
same
one?”

“Hard to say. Lois told me he had to sell it during his bankruptcy - maybe he held on to it for some reason. At this point, there's no way we can prove it was the same camper or not.”

“Maybe there's a way I can find out if he ever sold his camper. His bankruptcy lawyer would have that information but I don't want you to worry about that. When are you coming home?”

“I need a walk to clear my head. The sun is out and I want to take advantage of it.”

 

* * *

I drove downtown, parked, then grabbed a scarf from the backseat. Even though the sun had made a presence, it didn't mean it was warm outside, especially on the river.

I grabbed a coffee and meandered the cobble-stoned paths, watching the landscapers prepare the area for the coming tourist season. After twenty minutes, an empty bench beckoned to me, so I sat down with cell phone in hand.

Should I call Lois and warn her? Did she have any idea that her brother might be involved?

A voice broke my concentration.

“Mind if I join you?”

I looked up to find Mick Kendall, wearing the same jean jacket. “Suit yourself but I have nothing to tell you.”

“You just left the police station. You must have some news.”

“I'm off the case, Mick. I'm done.”

He glared at me. “What? Why?”

“It's best for everyone involved. That's all I can say.”

He shook his head. “But I thought you cared. Now you're just giving up? I can't believe this.”

I wasn't about to share my reasons with him. “Instead of being upset with me, why don't you stop stealing cars and get a job.”

“I told you, there are no jobs. Not for someone like me and I'm sick of trying to play by the rules because nobody else does.”

I sipped my coffee, thinking about his comment. He was right. People like Norton Cline could basically steal their clients’ life savings and get away with it. Happened every day.

Mick sighed. “Truth is, I don't want to be a criminal anymore. I'm tired of looking over my shoulder.”

“Maybe that's a good thing,” I said. “Perhaps you're ready to start a new chapter. Leave that old life behind and start fresh.”

“Sure,” he said. “But it's hard to start over when everything has been taken from me. My family, my dignity, my money. It's all gone and I'll never be able to get it back. Before I went to prison, I had been saving up to buy a large piece of property up north. I was going to build a house, for Claire, Adam and me. It would've been perfect.”

“Maybe that dream is gone,” I said. “But it's not too late to do the right thing now.”

“I've been thinking about that. I want to turn myself in.”

“Seriously?”

He nodded. “Hey, if they arrest me, so be it. I'm just tired, you know? I'm tired of the rat-infested apartment I live in. Tired of being broke and just tired of being so damned bitter about how my life turned out.”

I understood his need to vent and I felt this was a good step. “So you're ready to go talk to Detective James?”

“Yeah, but I don't want to go in there alone. If you go with me, maybe you could tell them I'm a good guy, and I just want to help find Claire's killer.”

“Sure, I can do that. I'll drive you there myself.”

He didn't make an effort to move. Instead, he took a deep breath as he looked around the park. “Sure is beautiful here, isn't it? I wonder if I'll ever get to see it again.”

I grabbed my purse and got to my feet, before he decided to change his mind. “C'mon, this is the right decision, Mick. Trust me.”

 

Mick didn't have much to say when we got into my car. Hands folded in his lap; there was no expression on his face. He looked numb. Was he having second thoughts?

I pulled out into traffic, heading toward the police station when he finally cleared his throat to say, “Actually, Sarah, I changed my mind. There's someplace else I'd rather go.”

I didn't take my eyes off the road. “What are you so afraid of Mick? You know this is the right decision.”

“I never indented to go to the police station. I just wanted to have a few minutes alone with you.”

The tone of his voice sounded different, sending a chill through me. “Why?”

“To tell you how much I've enjoyed our little game.”

I almost slammed on the brakes. “What are you talking about?”

“You must have been shocked when you opened your trunk and saw my daughter lying there. Tell me, what was the first thing that came into your mind?”

Mick wasn't supposed to know that detail. I'd never told him. The only way he could have known is if he'd put her there himself. “You killed her?”

“It wasn't part of the original plan. Claire might still be alive if you hadn't been such a nosy bitch.”

I couldn't swallow. My neck felt so tight, I thought I might suffocate. “You knew I'd been following her?”

“I saw your car parked behind Claire's Volvo, up at the land. You were in the woods, spying on her. I figured you knew about the money, but I was pretty sure you had no clue
why
she had it. It was only a matter of time until she blabbered about what we did.”

I took a deep breath and forced myself to keep calm. Maybe Mick just needed to vent. To tell his side of the story, but I knew better than that. He'd planned this down to the last detail and I bought it, hook, line and sinker. Still, I wanted to know the truth. What could possibly drive a father to murder his own daughter?

“You obviously want to explain yourself,” I said. “So here's your chance. You have my full attention for five minutes until we get to the police station.”

“I told you, we're not going there.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of silver in his hand. Then, I felt the sharp edge of a blade on my leg, slicing through my jeans and into the flesh beneath it. I gasped, more from shock than pain.

“Take a left at the end of this street,” he said. “If you don't, I'll open up your femoral artery and you'll bleed out in less than a minute.”

He pressed harder and I felt the warm liquid soaking into my jeans. I got the point and decided it would be in my best interest to do as he said.

After I had taken the left turn, he pointed out the windshield, “At the next set of lights, take a right and get on the turnpike heading north.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, keeping my tone void of emotion.

“You'll see.”

There was only one town that I had been to in the past few days north of Bridgeport. “Sanford?”

He didn't respond but I had a hunch that I was right. What did he intend to do? Kill me and bury my body in the woods?

Mick was a rugged guy. Could I attempt to grab the knife out of his hand? No, the smartest thing to do was keep him talking. I'd figure out a way to convince him not to hurt me. “What's so special about Sanford?” I asked.

“I told you. I had purchased a ten-acre plot of land and planned on building a nice home for me and the kids. When I found out I was going to prison for eight years, I trusted my financial advisor to take care of my assets until I got out. He gave me his word that I'd make
triple
the money back on my investments.”

I knew exactly where this was going. “Norton Cline.”

“I went to see him after I got released. I was so excited to begin building that house on the property. The asshole looked me straight in the eye and said, 'I'm sorry, Mick.  That's how it goes sometimes, my friend. I warned you there were no guarantees. The land is gone. Your life savings are gone but all is not lost. Here's a check for ten grand.' I wanted to choke him right then and there. A measly ten grand to start my life over? Barely enough to buy a decent car. That's when I decided to buy a camper and put it on
my
land.”

As I merged onto 95 North, I kept my speed to a minimum. Keep him talking for as long as possible. Meanwhile find a way to get myself out of this predicament. “Why didn't you sue him? You must have known there were others trying to bring Norton Cline down.”

“I had no recourse. He showed me the documents that I had signed away, never bothering to read the fine print. I was a desperate man on his way to prison for eight years. I didn't think to hire a lawyer to look over those documents.”

“So revenge was the only way to get back at him.”

“It was the only thing worth living for. My daughter wouldn't speak to me. My son couldn't remember me. I couldn't find a job. So I began following Norton and it didn't take long to find his weak spots. His two favorite things in life; his Bentley and his food. When I found out he went to the same bakery that Claire worked, I took it as a sign. Sure, Claire refused to go along with my plan at first. It took a long time to convince her that Norton Cline was the devil. I gave her five thousand dollars, but what really sealed the deal was the one thing in life that meant more to Claire than anything else.”

“Her brother.”

Mick smiled sadly. “I threatened to remove him from his home and place him in a lesser facility. I had the power to do that since I'm still his legal guardian. Claire agreed to do anything I asked as long as I didn't remove Adam from his cushy home.”

“But when she saw that newspaper article, her guilty conscious took over. She didn't want the blood money anymore and gave it back to you.”

“That's when I knew I couldn't trust her to keep her mouth shut, and with you sniffing around, it was just a matter of time until the jig was up. I figured, by putting Claire in your trunk, you'd be in fear for your own life. I figured wrong. You didn't back down.”

The exit sign for Sanford was coming up, which meant
my
time was almost up.

Two miles.

I had to think of something.

My purse was in the back seat along with my cell phone and pepper spray. A lot of good that would do me. My only hope was to use my brain and keep calm. Then an idea hit me. I could bypass the exit, pretend it was a mistake, which would buy me more time. The next exit was over five miles away. In the meantime, maybe I could talk some sense into this lunatic with a knife.

“I have to give you credit,” I said. “I never really suspected you. You played a good game.”

“All the clues were there. You just didn't want to imagine that a father could murder his daughter.”

BOOK: Sarah Woods Mystery Series (Volume 6)
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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