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Authors: Earlene Fowler

Seven Sisters (23 page)

BOOK: Seven Sisters
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He laughed out loud and took a bite of his bagel. “Lucky thing for her she’s elderly and Dove taught you to respect your elders. I take it you didn’t smack her.”

“No, but I sure wanted to.”

“You look fine just the way you are,” he murmured, his attention distracted by the newspaper.

And is fine good enough?
I wanted to ask, but didn’t. I contemplated whether I should tell him about Cappy’s reaction to my conversation with her mother. Since we had enough other things creating barriers between us these last few days, I decided to be as open and honest as possible.

“Cappy reacted real strange when she saw me talking to her mother.”

His head came up. “How so?”

“She seemed to have the impression that her mother told me something she shouldn’t have, that I should ignore what her mother said and to basically mind my own business.”

He looked at me over his glasses again, his nonverbal agreement with her obvious.

“I’m no more involved than you,” I said petulantly. “She didn’t even give me time to say that her mother didn’t reveal a thing, only insulted my looks.”

He thought about it for a moment. “That bothers me. If Cappy is involved in Giles’s murder and she thinks you know something . . . ”

“It didn’t feel like she was threatening me, Gabe. Besides, I don’t think she’d hurt me. Don’t forget, I’ve known her since I was a girl.”

“That doesn’t make any difference,” he said, looking worried for the first time. “If she felt her family was threatened, if she or someone in her family committed that murder and it appears they did, how long she has known you won’t matter one bit.”

“I can’t change what’s already happened, but I can stay out of their way. Which I will. If JJ asks me to get involved any more, I’ll just say no.”

“Good. And don’t forget to tell all this to Detective Hudson.” He shuffled through the paper and found the sports page. “You know, Benni, I am very happy you’re keeping me informed on this.”

I opened my mouth to tell him exactly what the situation was with the sheriff’s detective, then stopped. I’d never been in such an awkward position. I knew there had always been a slight animosity between the sheriff’s department and the city police, though the sheriff and Gabe seemed to like each other personally. Like rival cattlemen and sheep-men, they looked at their professions in different ways and were certain their way was the right one. This situation with Detective Hudson could cause a bigger rift between the two agencies. Maybe I could figure a way to get the detective off my back without running to Gabe.

IT WAS QUIET down at the folk art museum. Monday was our only officially closed day, and D-Daddy used it to do any major work inside the museum itself. Today he was patching up some places in the adobe and replacing a window that broke yesterday.

“Have fun on Saturday,
ange
?” he asked, stopping to rub Scout’s belly. “That boy, Hud, he’s real Cajun. He does the dancing, him.”

“Only half Cajun, D-Daddy. The other half is pure bullshit.”

He threw back his head and gave a rich cackle. “That make him full Cajun, then.”

I smiled and said, “Thanks for the dances, but next time don’t let another man cut in, okay?”

He went back to slapping on the mixture he’d concocted to match the dusky white adobe walls. “I think he likes you,
ange
. Cajun men, we like the
jolie blondes
. Your police chief, he better be closer watching the chicken coop.”

“It’s not that he likes me. I just have something he wants.”

D-Daddy nodded his head solemnly, his eyes twinkling. “Yes, ma’am, you surely do.”

I felt my face warm at his words and gave a nervous laugh. “Not in his wildest dreams, D-Daddy.”

I walked outside, passing under the green canopy of honeysuckle and ivy, to my office in the co-op studios. Except for two women in the common area basting a quilt, Scout and I were alone. I grabbed a cup of coffee for me, a dog biscuit for him, and checked through the mail and messages that had accumulated in my box. Then I got down to work, digging into all the letters, reports, and filing I’d gotten behind on, accompanied only by the comforting doggy sounds of my canine companion, the only male in my life I truly understood these days. I didn’t even glance at the clock until my phone rang two and a half hours later. Ten-thirty-five and I’d already done a day’s work. I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I picked up the phone.

“Josiah Sinclair Folk Art Museum. Benni Harper speaking.”

“I’m still waitin’.” Detective Hudson’s audacious Texas twang instantly deflated my good feeling. “Did you forget to set your alarm?”

I hung up the phone without answering, knowing I’d regret my impulsive action. It rang again ten seconds later. On the fourth ring, I reluctantly picked it up.

“Josiah Sinclair . . . ”

“I know where you work.” His voice wasn’t amused. “Get over here now.”

Ah, the wonderful arrogance of law enforcement officers. What he’d forgotten was that I was married to one. I’ve been through that be-nice-then-surprise-them-with-force psychological tactic too many times to count. “We both know I can tell you what you need to know over the phone. I don’t have time to drive to the sheriff’s office.”

“I want to see your face when you’re talking. That’s the only way I can tell if you’re trying to pull one over on me.”

“Listen up, because though I promised my husband I’d cooperate with you and I try to keep my promises to him, I’m only going to tell you my story once. If that’s not good enough, then I suggest you take it up with my husband,
the police chief
. Have you got a pad and pencil?”

There was silence at the other end. Ha, I’d managed to shut him up for one nano-second.

“Rose Brown told me exactly nothing yesterday,” I said. “Write that down, detective.
Nothing
. She rambled on like older people do about her dead husband, his fondness for the law, horses, and women, not necessarily in that order. She then proceeded to tell me to fix myself up or my husband would leave me for a prettier woman. That was it. I got away as soon as I could because I’ve about had it up to my chin with people telling me how to keep my husband from straying and I’ve had it with you bugging me. Good-bye.” I hung up the phone, waiting for it to ring again. When it didn’t, I let out a deep sigh and went back to filing, trying to keep my mind off the whole darn Brown family and their internal family dramas.

About a half hour later, I was on my knees, filing in the S-T’s, when my office door flew open and a grim-faced Detective Hudson filled my doorway. Scout jumped to his feet, his one German shepherd ear at full mast, a low growl rumbling in his throat.

“Oh, great,” I muttered.

Detective Hudson took a step inside the office, and Scout’s hindquarters went taut, preparing to spring.

I waited a few seconds before saying, “Scout, friend.” Scout sat down and lifted a paw. I reached over and pushed it down. “Don’t take that word to heart,” I said to the detective. “I have to call you a friend or he’ll chew those atrocious-looking boots to leather shreds.” Detective Hudson’s feet were encased today in navy blue ostrich quill boots. They were ugly, but even I could tell they were expensive.

“I have one more question about what Cappy Brown said to you after you talked to her mama, and since my ear is already half deaf from you slamming the phone in it, I decided I’d probably be more successful and safer continuing this conversation in person.”

I turned my back to him and resumed filing.

“Benni, I swear I’ll take you down to the station, then call your husband and tell him that though I’ve repeatedly asked you not to, you’ve been investigating this on your own.”

I turned to gape up at him. “You’ll what? Are you saying you’ll tell my husband lies about me?”

Any resemblance to Tom Sawyer disappeared when his face hardened. “I’ll do whatever it takes to solve this case.” The unbending resolve in his voice told me to take that statement seriously.

I stood up, weary of this game. “Detective Hudson, my husband asked me to cooperate with you, and I’m trying to do that. I’m sorry if I was rude, but to be honest, you rub me the wrong way. One minute you’re Mr. Texas-cutesy and the next you’re Mr. Hard-ass Cop. I’m tired of being manipulated by you and by the Brown family. I’ll tell you what Cappy said to me, and then you’re on your own.”

His dark, serious eyes studied me for a long moment, his hands resting on his hips. Then he said in a solemn voice, “You think I’m cute?”

“Geeze Louise!” I said, throwing up my hands. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

He grinned. “Just tell me what Cappy said to you.”

I told him the same story I told Gabe.

“So obviously she now suspects you know more than you do. I sure don’t like that idea.”

“Neither did Gabe, but I’ll tell you what I told him: I don’t think she’ll hurt me. I know it appears she is the most likely one to be involved with Giles’s death, but I know her better than you and Gabe and I don’t think she’d kill someone in cold blood.”

His face had the same scornful and superior boy-are-you-naive look I’d seen on Gabe’s. It must be a class they take in cop school. Condescension 101.

“Is there anything else you need?” I asked. “I’ve told you everything I know. Scout’s honor.”

Scout’s ears perked up at the sound of his name.

Detective Hudson searched my face with wary eyes, then concluded, “You’re telling the truth.”

“You wouldn’t know the truth if it bit you in the butt.”

“Exactly what does the chief do to shut that smart-ass mouth of yours?”

“Good-bye, Detective Hudson.”

He didn’t budge.

“What else do you want? I’ve told you everything I know. Now go do your cop stuff.” I waved him away.

He pulled a white sheet of paper from inside his tweed, cowboy-cut jacket. “I have a list of the nineteen cemeteries in San Celina County.”

“We have that many cemeteries?”

“Want to go grave hunting?”

I hesitated. To be honest, although the thought of going with him anywhere was not the least bit appealing, the possibility of traipsing through graveyards was. I’d always been fascinated by graveyards, especially the old ones and to actually have a mission, the hunt for this mysterious tombstone with the lily of the valley carving, was tempting.

“Look out, she’s weakening,” he said, amused.

I glanced over at the phone, causing him to smirk.

“Need to call the chief and ask permission?” he asked. I glared at him. “No.”

“Then let’s go.”

I thought for a minute, then said, “Why don’t we split the list and get back with each other later? That would be the smartest thing to do.”

“No way, Detective Harper. With my luck, you’ll find what we’re looking for and then hold the information for ransom.”

“I would not! You make me sound like a criminal or something.”

“Outside of her own family, you
are
the only one involved in this case with personal ties to Cappy Brown.”

I stood up and faced him. “Look, Detective, if—and I’m saying if—Cappy did kill Giles Norton, I would never protect her from prosecution and I resent you implying I would.”

He dangled the sheet of paper in my face. “So, what’s keeping you?”

I grabbed the list and scanned it. “I have to be back by six o’clock.”

“No problem, I have a date anyway. Say, do you have a camera?”

I gave him an exasperated look while opening the bottom drawer of my desk and pulling out the small telephoto Canon I use around the museum. “For someone who claims to be so good at his job, you sure are unprepared.”

“But I always manage to get my man . . . or woman. My conviction rate was the talk of the Houston PD.”

“Right, and your mother trains tigers for the circus.”

“Actually,” he said, switching off the office light as we left, “Mother did work for Barnum and Bailey’s once. She was . . .”

I groaned loudly, trying to drown out the latest lie. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“A clown,” he finished.

“How appropriate. How utterly appropriate.”

He insisted on driving, reasoning that not only could he deduct mileage whereas I couldn’t, his truck was newer, had air-conditioning and a CD player. I didn’t like him being in the driver’s seat, literally or figuratively, but also couldn’t argue his points. The temperature was already in the high eighties, and some of the cemeteries were over the grade in North County where it would most likely reach the nineties. With Scout riding happily in back, we started with the biggest cemetery, San Celina’s.

In the cemetery’s parking lot, my eyes darted briefly over to the newer section where my mother and Jack were buried. A tinge of sadness struck me, like it always did when I came here. I hadn’t brought flowers to their graves for a couple of months. Maybe tomorrow after work . . .

“Everything okay?” Detective Hudson had obviously caught my glance. You couldn’t fault the guy’s visual acuity.

“Fine,” I said, closing the truck door. “Let’s check the Brown family section first. It makes sense that he’d be blackmailing them with something from their own family.”

He came around the truck and stood next to me. “Now, that’s right smart. Where is this Brown section?”

“I have no idea, but I know who will. And I bet I could show him the rubbing and he’d be able to identify it in two seconds if it’s anywhere in San Celina’s Cemetery.”

“You’re not showing that to anyone,” Detective Hudson stated flatly. “That’s the only lead we have in this case, and the less people who know about it, the better.”

“But it would make it so much easier—”

“No.”

“Fine, we’ll waste time traipsing around graveyards when we don’t have to. Makes sense to me.”

“Benni, you . . .”

I told Scout to stay in the truck and took off across the green expanse of the cemetery lawn toward the gardener’s stone building, not interested in hearing anything he had to say starting with the word “you.” Inside, Mr. Foglino was tinkering with an old riding mower.

“Hey, Mr. Foglino.”

“Well, hello, Benni Harper,” he said, standing up and wiping his greasy hands on the thighs of his gray mechanic’s overalls. Mr. Foglino had been the head custodian at San Celina High School for thirty-two years. We’d all loved his wry, gentle sense of humor and the Tootsie Roll pops he passed out with gruff impartiality. When he retired, he went to work for his son who owned two local mortuaries and the San Celina’s Cemetery. He’d overseen the digging of Jack’s grave and many other San Celinans’ graves with the same serious respect he’d exacted over the shiny floors of San Celina High School. Mr. Foglino knew a lot of secrets about the families in this town, including who visited whose graves, how many times, how often, and why. Like a good bartender, he’d probably heard more confessions than Father Mark down at St. Celine’s Catholic Church and was just as discreet. He’d caught me a time or two sitting on Jack’s grave, my face slick with tears, and wordlessly handed me a package of tissues from his overalls’ deep pockets before going back to his mowing.

BOOK: Seven Sisters
11.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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