When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1) (35 page)

BOOK: When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1)
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“Very clever ... changin’ the subject.”

“Well, this is our last room left to organize, and you’ll be a new man. No more piles everywhere. You know, you knock one of those big stacks over it could bury you alive. And then I’d have to come over here to all your hollering and moaning and dig you out. This is a much safer way to live.”

“Is that it? You’re stuck in this rut ’cause it’s safer?”

Sadie sighed. “You are wearing me out, Charlie. What about this weird rock here? It’s scratching the heck out of this beautiful desk. If you’re using it as a paperweight, at least put some paper under it so it doesn’t do any more damage.”

Charlie closed the space between them and carefully lifted the odd-looking rock, a gleam dancing in his eyes as if it was his most prized possession. “I found this a long, long time ago. It sorta represented a lifetime of strugglin’. But you reminded me that the most beautiful things can come on up outta the devastation.

“Jus’ like the Lord promises to give us beauty for ashes, sometimes we have to look beneath the battered, sometimes ugly surface of what we see—and what is causin’ us pain—to find the treasure within.”

“That was incredibly poetic of you, Charlie.”

“Glad you-er payin’ attention because ya needed to hear it. You been mopin’ around the past several years like nothing good’ll ever happen again. Actin’ like you missed your one chance to be happy. Ain’t nothin’ under the sun too cockamamie it can’t be turned ’round right. Just gotta keep your eyes and your heart open. Look for a sign. Just like this ol’ rock I found during the war. It whispered at me, gave me a new hope, set me on a new path. Part of that path led me to you.”

“It whispered, eh? Well if that rock can say all that, I say keep it right there where you can hear it. The scratches will give the desk, er, character.”

“Nope, I’ve a much better spot for it. I want you to have it.” He extended his hand, the weight of the rock making the papery skin of his arm quiver around the wiry muscles.

Sadie shook her head. “Charlie, if it means that much to you, I couldn’t possibly take it. Besides, I don’t know what I’d do with it.”

“Well, first of all, it’ll remind you a’ this conversation next time you start throwin’ yourself ’nother pity party. Second of all, you can use it as your paperweight when you go back to medical school.” He placed the fist-sized rock in her hand, cocooning his soft hands around the gift in her palm as if bestowing a blessing. “Have-ta promise me one thing though.”

Touched, Sadie looked up through a misting of tears. “Anything.”

“You have-ta promise you’ll take it to an expert someday and have ’em tell you ’bout it.”

“A rock expert?” She looked down at the rock. It was terribly ugly—a sort of odd brown and burnt yellow mass of lumps. The brown parts were a thirsty-looking volcanic rock and the few peeks of the slimy mustard-colored part resembled snot.

Charlie nodded. “And be sure you get yourself a second opinion, ya hear?”

“O-kay.”

“Ya gotta promise now.” He pointed a crooked finger at her, looking more serious than she’d ever seen him.

“I promise. And thank you. It will always remind me of you.”

As the memory faded Sadie felt an immediate prompting to fulfill her promise to Charlie. She went to the spare room to snatch the rock off the desk. Except it wasn’t there. Belatedly she remembered she’d brought it along to show her patient Elsie one day a few months back—the woman had vast knowledge about just about everything. Sadie had probably left it in the glove box of the Camaro.

She had just grabbed the doorknob then stopped. “A rock expert?”

Where am I going to find one of those?

Dropping her bag by the door, she went to her laptop, Googled “analyzing rocks and stones” and paged through endless nonsense about kidney stones and the mystery of Stonehenge until she saw the name of a prominent jeweler. “They’ll probably think I’m nuttier than a fruitcake.”  But it was easier than tracking down some sort of geologist at the last minute. Maybe the yellow goo was quartz? Perhaps it had a particular significance or use?

Whatever it was, she needed to know. Her sense of urgency was unfounded, but she went with it. Why not? Adjusting her search to local jewelers, she found a place in Clayton, and within a minute, had the beauty riding shot-gun when she set off to fulfill a very puzzling promise.

“All right, Charlie. Let’s hear this baby whisper.”

Chapter 36

Archer Hayes

S
omething was off. Canterbury’s confession looked cut and dry on paper, but for some reason, it ate at him. If he knew what
it
was, he wouldn’t still be hunched over his desk overindulging his gut.

Archer leaned back in his swiveling desk chair, craning his neck against the headrest to stare blankly at the ceiling, stewing.

James Canterbury deserved to be behind bars—of that Archer had no doubt—but something about his testimony of Charlie’s murder was just a little formal, too specific. Archer knew the ex-con had stolen the file from the Carbondale Police Department, so that could account for some of the regurgitated information, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something else.

Maybe it was all just too tidy. Canterbury struck him as impulsive, unhinged. This case, while kind of haphazard in some ways, was also calculated. Archer straightened, lifted the file, and riffled restlessly through the pages, giving his niggling instincts one last indulgence.

Which
only proved to be a colossal waste of time. With no inconsistencies found, he finally put it away and moved on.

The afternoon was slow and filled with tedious small tasks for each of his other cases. He expected the busy work would occupy his mind, and it had helped to curb his fixation with Canterbury, but now he couldn’t stop thinking about Sadie.

She hadn’t returned any of his calls. Having checked his phone at least fifty times in the past few hours, he was starting to feel pathetic and unwanted.

At some point she was going to have to talk to him, right? And while persistence was something he had in spades, patience was not.

His office phone rang, and something in him hoped for a new disaster to pull him from desk duty. Maybe not murder—he never wished for that—but any kind of fraud or scam in the white collar division would be a welcome distraction. Funny, he’d always thought distractions were the greatest danger. Now, to even function, he needed one. “Hayes.”

“Oh good, you’re still at the office.”

“Sadie!” His heart tripped over itself at the sound of her voice. “I’m so glad you called—”

“Yeah, I got your messages. Listen we can talk about us later, this is urgent.”

“You mean there’s still an
us
to discuss?” Archer held his breath, his heart chugging a little faster in wait of her response.

“Archer, focus. I’m on my way to you. Just don’t leave. And pull everything you have on Evan Westwick. I’ve got a hunch.”

“O-kay. What’s going on?”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, just hang tight.” She disconnected the call.

Not the way he’d pictured that conversation going, but at least he’d get to see her soon. Until then, he pulled the info they had on Evan like she’d asked.

Evan Westwick’s alibi had checked out, but the sources were a little weak. He’d claimed he was in New York for work, and the airline confirmed. However, the travel days straddled the date of the murder by four days on each end, affording Evan time to arrange alternative transportation, if need be. They hadn’t been able to track any credit card transactions in New York City during that time, so that left some questions.

There was also the issue of his finances, which seemed to be in order except now Archer noticed something. Everything was in Evan’s wife’s name. And when he’d spoken to Heather Westwick on the phone, her answers had been sure, exact. No fumbling or searching dates. No hesitations.

But even as Archer continued reanalyzing every scrap, he could have laughed at the absurdity. Evan Westwick? No chance he could have pulled something like this off without some experienced help. The kid didn’t strike him as a criminal mastermind. Actually, Archer was amazed Evan was competent at anything—especially his job.

Who would trust someone like Evan with their money?

Archer picked up his phone and dialed the number for Evan’s office.

Now
he
had a hunch about Evan Westwick.

Archer had just hung up the phone when he heard Sadie knock. “Come in.” He stood and rounded his desk as she entered. To keep from hauling her into his arms, he stopped short and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Just looking at her made his chest hurt. She had just barely started healing but no amount of bruising or swelling could dull her appeal. Her hat and baseball tee combined with curve-hugging jeans, Chuck Taylors, and that wild mess of white-blonde hair made her every teenage boy’s fantasy. There wasn’t anything he wanted more than to beg for her forgiveness and then kiss her until neither of them could remember why they were fighting. But he couldn’t do either of those things. At least, not yet. He gritted his teeth against the temptation.

Any number of triggers could make him reckless—if she stood within arm’s reach, if he could smell her tangerine hair, if she smiled a certain way. Heaven help him if she licked her lips like she did when she was nervous.

“Do you wanna sit?” he prompted. She nodded and took the nearest chair while he propped himself against the edge of his desk. “So, what’s going on?”

To his relief, she didn’t look mad at all. But she did look a little too excited, and if he was a betting man, he would guess it was more about her Evan-hunch than it was about seeing him.

“Well.” She splayed her hands palms down. “Guess who showed up at Charlie’s today, mere hours after the call saying his possessions were up for grabs? Yep, the philandering pansy in pink Polo. Sorry for the alliteration but there’s no mistaking who that is. I mean he claims to be
so
all darned important, but then he up and leaves Chicago at what could only have been a moment’s notice to come sort through a bunch of old bird books and newspapers? It just didn’t compute. Add to that the fact that the guy is like a serious creep. With his lewd stares and unwelcome advances for drinks and Lord knows what else.” She shivered. “The guy’s married, just saying.”

“He asked you out?” Archer’s molars ground together with enough force to crack a tooth.

“Chill out. It’s not like I would ever consider it in a million years. But there’s more. He—”

“If that little punk laid one finger on you I’ll—”

“Stand down, you’re getting sidetracked.” She tapped her lips. Lush, pretty lips ripe for the tasting.

Stand down, was right.

“Hmm, where was I? Oh, right.
Evan
was acting really weird and kept pressuring me to see Charlie’s letter—the one I got at the reading of the will. He was peddling a load of sentimental excuses, but I wasn’t buying.
Pretty
awkward, and when I refused, he was not happy.”

Her words ran a mile a minute. Her face adorably animated. She paused to take a breath, and their gazes locked. Without a word, Archer communicated everything he wished he could say. Ten seconds or ten minutes might have passed, it didn’t matter. For the moment, he was granted a glimpse. Sadie was his. And just like that, hope rekindled.

Until her eyes shuttered and she shook her head. “What was I saying?”

“He, uh, wasn’t happy you withheld your letter.”

“Right. So, I’m sitting at home gorging on mac-n-cheese when something clicks. When he pulled up and saw me he was surprised. His eyes—so dark and wide with white showing all the way around the irises. It was like the whole episode came crashing back and knocked the air from my lungs. Those eyes—Evan’s eyes—were the same dark eyes of my attacker at Charlie’s.”

“What! Evan’s the intruder?”

She nodded with way too much enthusiasm. “Uh huh. Then I’m thinking, why? If Canterbury killed Charlie, what motive would Evan have for breaking in? I start wondering if I might’ve overlooked something from the letter. And when I read over it again, Charlie clearly points to a conversation we had a few months back about this old rock he gave me. I’ll tell you the unabridged version some other time, but long story short—he made me promise to have an expert examine it someday.”

“A rock expert?”

“That’s exactly what I said.” She batted playfully at his arm, and he’d need a Kevlar vest and a sedative to not be affected by her smile. “Oh,
‘what are men to rocks and mountains?’
Poor dope, that Mary Bennet. Though, if any rock were to compare …”

Her musings were lost on Archer but he felt his lips tug into a grin. Hopefully the night would end with a whole lot more smiling.


Pride and Prejudice
fan? Not so much?” She smiled cheekily, getting sidetracked in her private joke. “I’m shocked.”

“Rein it in, Sherlock. I’ve followed you so far, now bring it home.”

“Right. I just took the thing to a jeweler—because I didn’t know where else to take it—and figured they might be able to point me in the right direction so I can figure out why Charlie thought it was so special.” Rosy red rode high on Sadie’s cheeks, a juicy secret hid behind her enigmatic grin as she reached into her purse, pulled out the rock, and placed it firmly on Archer’s desk for emphasis. “It’s a freakin’ diamond!”

“Uh, baby … it’s a crusty old rock the size of a baseball.”

“I know!” She squealed, oblivious to his endearment.

Squealed? Sadie?

“… but only on the outside. Inside it’s a raw, uncut canary diamond! You see those few shiny yellow parts. I guarantee it’s from the time of the missing notebook. Charlie went and hid his proof in the ground when Reamus’s guys went after him, and he found this massive diamond.”

A diamond?
Really?
He started to shake his head. It was just too unbelievable. Who just
finds
a diamond in a mound of dirt? There were mines for conflict diamonds, for sure, but … His thoughts severed. Something Charlie’s apprentice, Roger, had said during their talk in the hospital rushed back to him.
“‘He said he’d found treasure, and that if I was smart enough to see it, I would, too.’”

“What did you just say?”

Archer hadn’t realized he’d spoken the words out loud. “Roger—the young guy who served under Charlie—told us Charlie said that to him just before the end of his term. He said he’d found treasure. I guess it was a literal treasure after all.”

Their eyes communicated their mutual amazement before they each leaned in to take a closer peek at the rock.

“Unbelievable, right?” Her voice was reverent, barely a whisper.

“Totally unbelievable.” They sat for a full minute, awestruck by the surprising twist until Archer’s brain kicked back in. “Wait, how did
you
end up with it?”

She sat up straight, an enticing little splash of something tangy tempted his nose. “Now, now, Agent Hayes, don’t tell me you’re still thinking I’m involved in this somehow.”

He held up his hands and laughed. “Even putting aside your presence in Charlie’s will, the fact that you have that rock means you
are
involved in this. But the only thing you’re guilty of is making me crazy for you.” He winked, and a pretty little blush painted her cheeks pink again. “But you didn’t answer my question, now, did you?”

She huffed. “He gave it to me—that’s the cool part of the story I can tell you later. In addition to the jaw-dropping figure the jeweler estimated it to be worth once they polish it up.” A peek of realization lit her face, her eyes wide and innocent. “Probably shouldn’t be toting this thing around, huh?”

Letting out a small chuckle, he continued to watch her, mesmerized by every little nuance. “Probably not. Hey wait a second—do you think Evan knew about the diamond?”

She nodded. “Maybe not specifically, but he knew. Heck, after all the stuff Charlie told me,
I
should have known. He was quite the storyteller. I guess I just never imagined they were all true.”

“Well, per your request I did some digging, and get this—Evan lost his job six months ago. The number we had for his office before is now out of service. Probably a burner phone. I tracked down the real one. The lady I spoke with from HR said he was canned after he got caught trying to skim a little extra off the top of his largest clients and divert the funds into more than one offshore account. He denied the whole thing, claiming he was trying to fix a glitch and was testing their security. Rumor has it he developed a gambling problem and got in pretty deep—so deep his trust-fund wife froze his access to their accounts until he figured out how to settle up his debts without draining her dry.

“I’ve got some of my guys in Chicago feeling out the bookie scene to see just how deep exactly, and who might have been putting on the pressure and pulling the strings to get their money back.”

“Ooo! I’ve got something else, too!” She waved her hands excitedly. She was so friggin’ cute he could barely sit still. “Evan’s wife basically owns Vale Pharmaceuticals. She’s their VP. Could have been where he got the drugs that killed Charlie.”

“Interesting. Let’s run the scenario. Say Evan loses his job and owes a bunch of money to some bad dudes. He makes a deal, bartering their assistance for a fortune. His dear old gramps told him about finding treasure for years, so he has his wife nab some truth serum, has his buddies help stage a feasible alibi, and sneaks into town. Then he attempts to loosen Grandpa’s lips so he can make away with the loot and settle up his debts. Only the drug kills Charlie, and Evan panics but knows he needs to get Charlie’s body out of the house so he can keep searching with less police interference.

BOOK: When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1)
7.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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