Authors: Jacqueline Seewald
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Romance, #Mystery & Detective, #Romantic Mystery, #Murder, #Murder - Investigation, #Women Librarians, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Investigation, #Police Procedural, #Mystery Fiction
The Drowning Pool
By Jacqueline Seewald
Published by L&L Dreamspell
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Copyright 2009, 2011 by Jacqueline Seewald
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except for brief quotations used in a review.
This is a work of fiction, and is produced from the author’s imagination. People, places and things mentioned in this novel are used in a fictional manner.
Published by L & L Dreamspell
Produced in the United States of America
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A special thanks to Alice Duncan who edited this novel, as well as
The Inferno Collection,
with her usual thoroughness. Alice, a veteran writer of mystery and romance herself, provided fresh eyes and perspective.
For my mother, Anna, a loving, compassionate human being as well as a natural storyteller,
and for her three special sisters: Sarah, Fanny, and Molly.
* * * *
“O, Lord, methought what pain it was to drown,
What dreadful noise of waters in my ears,
What sights of ugly deaths within my eyes!”
Act I, Scene iv
Kim Reynolds was haunted by ghosts, but only a select few knew about this since it wasn’t something she discussed openly. To most people, Kim appeared to be a perfectly normal woman. Her life was about service to the community—in her case, service to the university where she worked as an academic reference librarian at the humanities library. Wanting to pass as ordinary, she repressed her psychic sensibilities as best she could. But Mike Gardner knew and understood, because he himself had a unique awareness.
At the moment, Kim was much more aware of the living than the dead as Mike held her in his arms and proceeded to kiss her thoroughly, his body quickening in a way that sent delicious sensations rippling in waves across her skin. All he had to do was touch her and she went up in flames.
Suddenly she became aware of a persistent beeping sound. Mike groaned and cursed softly as he moved away from her. The loss of his touch left her bereft, as if part of her had been surgically removed.
“Gardner.” He practically spat the word into the cell phone, then listened impatiently. “I’m off-duty. Can’t you put someone else on it?” He listened again.
Kim could tell he was withdrawing from her, moving into the orbit of his work. She rose from the couch that doubled as her bed in the small studio apartment and adjusted her clothing. When Mike finished the call, he looked over at her apologetically, his strong features solemn.
“Suspicious death,” he said without preamble. “They need me now.”
“Then I guess you’d better go,” Kim said. She tried to ignore her sense of disappointment.
“Yeah, well, I have an idea. Why don’t you come with me?”
She stared at him in amazement. “Isn’t that against procedure?”
“I’m not supposed to be on duty tonight, but I suddenly am. Besides, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.” He sounded very serious and thoughtful.
There was no way that she was going to refuse.
“You’ll find this interesting,” he told her. “The death occurred here in La Reine Gardens.”
Kim looked at him in surprise. “Here?”
They left the apartment, and Mike opened the door for her to enter his black Ford on the passenger side. Mike concentrated on his driving as they moved through the garden apartment development. It was an attractive complex, brick buildings set around large courtyards, lushly landscaped, the lawns elegantly manicured. How could anything evil ever happen in such a place? And yet, according to Mike, it had.
“What did you want to talk about?” she asked him.
“About us.” He gave her a sideways look.
“I think things are going pretty well with us.”
He grinned, his ruggedly handsome features lighting up. “I sure agree. In fact, I think maybe it’s time we thought about making arrangements more permanent between us.”
She instinctively moved closer to the car door. “Define permanent.”
“Well, like maybe I should make an honest woman of you. What would you say to us getting married?”
She stared at him. “I had a feeling that’s what you meant.”
“Of course you did.” His eyes twinkled.
She looked away from him, staring into the darkness. “I suppose you’d want me to move into your house, fit into your life.” Kim felt her heart start to beat faster.
Mike kept his eyes on the road, but his expression was one of concern. “Would that really be so bad? I know you like your independence, but don’t you think we could be happy together?”
“What about the girls?”
“Evie and Jean like you. I don’t really see a problem there.”
Kim bit down on her lower lip. “I couldn’t be their mother.”
Mike reached over and took her hand. “No one expects that. You could be their friend.”
“I need to think about it.”
“I’m not pushing,” he said. But it was clear to her that he was hurt, disappointed by her reaction to his proposal.
Still, Kim knew that although her feelings for him were deep and strong, it wasn’t going to be a simple decision for her. She wasn’t ready to give up who and what she was to become Mrs. Michael Gardner. Maybe she never would be ready for that.
“Do you want to just move in with us for the time being? See how it goes?” he asked.
“No, I need to keep my own apartment,” she said in a firm voice, sounding more certain than she actually felt.
Mike didn’t respond, but his silence spoke volumes. He pulled up in front of the pool club and they both got out of the car. Kim wondered if their relationship was about to end. God, that would hurt! She really cared about him. And yet she was afraid to completely trust him—or any man, for that matter. Still, losing him might kill her. And knowing she’d only have herself to blame didn’t help the least little bit.
* * * *
Around them on this humid night in early August, the world breathed in a hushed gasp, lit darkly by a cloud-obscured moon.
Detective Bert St. Croix was already on the crime scene when they arrived. To Gardner, she looked tired. He introduced her to Kim.
“Ms. Reynolds is going to consult with us on this case,” he said.
Kim stared at him and raised her brows questioningly. He gave her an enigmatic smile.
“So what have we got so far?”
“Positive I.D. of the deceased as one Richard Bradshaw, a member of the swim club and tenant of La Reine Gardens. Found floating in the pool,” St. Croix reported in a crisp manner.
He turned to Kim. “You know him?”
She shook her head. “No, but that’s not surprising. A lot of people live in the apartment complex.”
“Who found him?” Mike asked.
“Martha Rhoades,” St. Croix responded, nodding to a tall, stern woman who looked mighty unhappy. “She manages the pool club.”
“Good, I’ll talk to her now.”
“The lab people will be going over the place tomorrow morning.”
Gardner stared at his watch. “It’s already tomorrow morning. Sounds like you got things well-organized.” He figured by the time they were back on duty the next day some concrete facts would be established.
Kim appeared to be listening intently to the exchange. He was pleased that she was taking a real interest. He felt the same fierce attraction he always did when he looked at her. At this moment, all he wanted to do was make love to her, to bury himself in her female essence.
With reluctance, he turned his attention to the pool manager, introducing himself. “Could you take us through what happened here tonight?”
“Again? I already told those other policemen, the ones in uniform.”
She sighed with annoyance. “All right. I was walking my dog, Caesar, and I decided to walk in the direction of the pool. During the summer, the pool club is under my control, and I take pride in its management. Although I believed the pool had been properly closed, it’s part of my routine to double-check such procedures.”
“What do you do the rest of the year?” he asked.
“I’m a physical education teacher at the township high school.”
“So what did you see exactly?”
“Caesar and I walked up to the main gate around midnight.”
“Do you always walk your dog that late?”
She frowned at him. “Caesar sometimes suffers from insomnia. Rather than let him bark and keep everyone awake, I take him for a walk. I don’t mind on summer nights. It soothes both of us.”
“So what tipped you that something was wrong?” Gardner said.
“I was satisfied that the gate was securely chained, but when I was about to turn and go, something out of the ordinary caught my eye. The brightness of the lights on the water illuminated the figure of a man floating face down in the pool.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll want to talk with you again about this. Meantime, the pool club is shut to everyone except authorized personnel.”
“I’ll have to notify the owner you’re closing the pool. Mr. Page won’t like that. You can expect to hear from him. The man has a temper—not that I’ve ever seen it,” Ms. Rhoades hastily added, “but I’ve heard other people say that about him.” She compressed her lower lip as if worried she might have said the wrong thing. “I’ve always found Mr. Page to be a model employer. But this will upset him. And the tenants, they won’t like it either. Are you certain the club has to be closed?” Her expression was grim.
“For the time being, it can’t be helped,” Gardner said. He had no intention of debating the matter with her.
“Even the tennis courts? There’s a separate entrance to them.”
“Sorry. Until we have a chance to go over the place, everything stays locked.” He maintained a quiet but assertive tone with her. Gardner sensed he had to be firm with Ms. Rhoades because she seemed the sort of person who confused kindness for weakness. “Who closed up for the night?”
“Sonny did. He locks up every evening. It’s part of our regular routine.”
Gardner pegged Ms. Rhoades as the type of individual who rarely broke with routine. “At what time did Sonny lock up?”
“Punctually at eight.”
She glared at him.
“All right, and who opens the club?”
“I do, punctually at noon each day.”
“How many people work here altogether?”
“There are four of us. Myself, two boys and a girl. We act as lifeguards and do most of the maintenance work as well.”
“And how reliable are the other three?”
“They were all students of mine at the high school. I hand-picked each one of them.” She gave him a look that made it clear no further comment was necessary.
“We’ll be back. We’ll have more questions for you,” he said.
She sighed loudly. “I just cannot believe this. What a shame Mr. Bradshaw had to drown himself in our pool. So messy. And I suppose I’d better check the chlorine level. Totally unsanitary.” She turned her nose up in disdain.
Gardner smiled inwardly. The woman should have been a drama teacher; she’d clearly missed her calling. He glanced at Bert St. Croix but couldn’t tell what she was thinking. The hard features were expressionless, the eyes obsidian.
Usually, Webster Township kept its police force working singly rather than in pairs because it was one way of saving on expenses. But Mike Gardner knew the captain didn’t exactly trust St. Croix. She was a newcomer and the captain wanted him to keep a careful eye on her for a while. The bad part was that St. Croix seemed to understand that and resent it.
“Before you go, Ms. Rhoades, do you have Mr. Bradshaw’s address?”
“No, but you can get that information from the rental office when it opens in the morning.”
“Did Bradshaw have a wife?”
“Not a wife. He was living with someone. The women around here will gossip and one cannot help overhearing. This Bradshaw person apparently gave them quite a bit to gossip about. Besides the girl he was living with, there apparently were others. Someone said he was divorced, too, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. He really didn’t interest me at all—nor I him.”
That seemed true enough; Ms. Rhoades was not the type to be noticed by a womanizer. Her physique was decidedly masculine: flat-chest, small hips, broad shoulders, cropped, curly hair, and a certain tightness about the mouth implying repressed hostility. He concluded that she was not a promising candidate for a