Read Murder Deja Vu Online

Authors: Polly Iyer

Murder Deja Vu (10 page)

His smile set her heart beating faster. His kiss ignited nerve endings she didn’t know existed. Reece led Dana through the rooms. He’d designed the house with nature as his guide. Skylights flooded every room with sunlight, framed by rough-hewn beams on the vaulted ceilings. Each room had at least one rock wall, with simple hand-crafted furniture.

“Did you make the furniture?”

“Most of it.”

She marveled at his talent and wondered what heights he might have achieved if fate hadn’t played its dirty trick. They ended the tour in the kitchen. Birdseye maple cabinets hung over black granite countertops veined in shades that mirrored the wood’s color.

“They ransacked the refrigerator but at least had the decency to put the food back inside. I’d gone shopping the day before, so I would have been genuinely pissed if all the food had spoiled. I’ll make dinner tonight.”

“Right. You said you were a good cook.”

“Yup. No modesty when it comes to my cooking.”

“Great, because I suck at it. I only cook because I have to eat to stay alive.”

Reece laughed. “You really are cute and pretty and beautiful all at the same time.”

Her breath caught in her throat. “Am I?”

“Yes, you are.” He kissed her again. “I’ll invite Jeraldine and Clarence. You know they’re a couple, don’t you?”

The revelation took her by surprise. “No, I didn’t. They’re not two people I’d put together, and not because she’s black and he’s white. But because she’s so dominant and he’s so quiet.”

“He’s not that quiet. He’s the boss, if you can believe it.”

“No way.”

“Yup, and she yields to him. It’s a sight to watch.” He took her by the hand. “I’ll call them after I show you my etchings.”

* * * * *

R
eece made love with the same passionate intensity that defined him. He made sure he pleasured Dana before satisfying himself. After, she lay in his arms, cognizant of every emotion, every sound to file away so she’d never forget them.

Dana helped Reece return the books to their rightful places. What an outstanding collection. She forced herself to focus on the task to avoid skimming through them. Reece would stop and show her something he considered special, exposing his passion for the subject matter and the written word. The man constantly surprised her, revealing bits and pieces without trying.

She watched him make seafood linguine with assurance and creativity. No measuring, no second-guessing. He knew what he was doing, and the result proved it when they sat down to dinner with Jeraldine and Clarence.

“Honey, this is better than you can get in Seafood City, Massachusetts,” Jeraldine said. “That’s Boston, Dana. Best seafood anywhere.”

Dana listened to the innocent banter, tensely aware that Jeraldine’s ebullience might be a cover for bad news. Clarence waited until Reece served coffee.

“Doesn’t take Jeri long to zero in on a snitch wherever she goes. This time was easier because not many people mind working against Minette. He’s not well-liked. The snitch is a gal at the courthouse. They’ve dug up something to tie you to Rayanne Johnson, Reece. We don’t know what it is, but they’re going to pull you in for questioning.” Clarence focused on Dana. “I’m sorry to say the problem is coming from Robert Minette’s office.”

Dana’s stomach turned over.

Reece put down his cup. “Don’t direct that at Dana, Clarence. She has nothing to do with her ex-husband.”

Dana liked the way Reece stood up for her. It had been a long time since someone did that.

“Sorry. I know. I didn’t mean—”

Dana waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. People have said things to me when Robert wasn’t around as if I were his surrogate. I know it wasn’t personal.”

“We didn’t want to tell you till after dinner, baby,” Jeraldine said.

Dana noticed how Jeraldine called Reece baby all the time. She’d known him for twenty-one years, and Dana guessed when they met, Reece probably seemed young to her. Dana figured Jeraldine to be in her mid to late fifties, but she neither looked her age nor acted it. She loved Reece like a son.

Reece looked bewildered. “I don’t understand. The bartender said the woman left with a stranger, and the stranger wasn’t me, which of course I knew.”

“Yes, and I’m working that angle,” Clarence said. “It’s obvious from his description that he wore a disguise—glasses, facial hair, ball cap. We have height and weight, though. If it’s someone from Boston, the weight could have changed, so we have to keep those things in mind.”

“Tying Reece to the woman doesn’t tie him to the murder,” Dana said. “Maybe he met her, maybe he even—”

“Don’t, Dana.” Reece snaked his arm around her shoulders. “Don’t go there, because it’s possible. I haven’t been a monk the last six years, though I rarely did anything around here. Rudy’s is a good thirty miles away, and I liked the music, so it’s possible.”

“Show him the picture, Clarence,” Jeraldine said.

Clarence drew a small pad and a copy of what looked like a yearbook picture from his shirt pocket. “Recognize her?”

Reece studied the photograph. “I don’t know. Maybe. How old is this?”

“She was thirty-two. This is a high school shot, so…maybe the picture’s fourteen years old.

Reece looked at it again. “Add a few years, a few pounds. Me, a few beers. Could be someone I—” He shot Dana a glance. “You know.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jeraldine said. “Dana’s right. Even if you did, doesn’t mean shit.”

Clarence raised his hands to stop the conversation. “Before we go off half-cocked, Jeri and I want to go over some old history—the events the night you were arrested for Karen’s murder. I know you’ve gone over them a hundred times with Jeri and in your own head, but not enough with me. Maybe you missed something. Some small fact, a connection. I tried to talk to your brother, but I’m sorry to say he refused to speak to me.”

“Not surprising. Carl supported me before and after the conviction, but in my heart, I don’t think he wanted to talk about it for fear he’d find out I was guilty, even though I swore I wasn’t.”

“Could Carl have been sleeping with Karen Sitton?”

Reece snorted. “Seems half of Cambridge slept with her. Why not Carl?”

“What about the others that night?” Clarence flipped open the pad. “I have the names of the male suspects questioned before your trial.”

“Only men?” Dana asked. “No women?”

“A few were questioned, but it took a strong person to cut through bone and muscle to almost sever a woman’s head.”

Dana gasped, then covered her mouth.

“I’m sorry, Dana,” Jeraldine said. “It was an ugly murder. I doubt any woman short of Xena, Warrior Princess, could have committed it.”

“I know. I wasn’t thinking.” She glanced at Reece, and he reached for her arm and stroked it.

“I spent fifteen years not thinking,” Reece said, “and another six being grateful not to be behind bars. But I need to clear myself, or this will follow me for the rest of my life. Every time there’s a murder in the area, some cop will come to my door and question my whereabouts. I can’t go through life like that. The Harold County sheriff visited me soon after I came. Wanted to make sure I wasn’t luring women to my lair, or something.”

“The way I see it,” Clarence said, “there are two scenarios. One—the same person who killed Karen committed the latest murder. Maybe my looking into the case had someone scared I’d uncover something. What would be the best way to deflect exposure? Commit another murder with the same M.O. so Reece looks guilty all over again. It’d be brilliant, really.”

“What’s the other scenario?” Dana asked.

“A new murderer. I’ve eliminated revenge. Why wait six years?”

“Revenge for what?” Reece said. “What could I possibly have done that could exact that kind of revenge? I hardly know anyone around here.”

Clarence pushed his plate away. “Or the killer is using you so the cops won’t look at the real reason he murdered Rayanne Johnson. They questioned her on-and-off-again boyfriend, but people swear he was at the bar all night. I’ll check him out anyway. The downside of that theory is it seems unlikely that someone in a small town like Corley would have heard about Reece’s trial. The police chief only knew because of Minette’s suit against Reece to block the sale of this property. So I’ll work on scenario number one: that Karen’s murderer came down here to pin another murder on Reece to protect himself from being discovered. Also, let’s remember why Reece became the prime suspect in the murder. That kind of murder is usually a crime of passion. Someone knew her well. These other guys appeared to be quickies. One of them wasn’t. We have to find out which one. I’ll check who left town for a day or two, though whoever did this was probably smart enough to cover his tracks. What do you think?”

“I think Clarence is right,”
Jeraldine
said. “What did I tell you, honey? Clarence Wright is right almost one hundred percent of the time.”

Dana couldn’t hide a smile. She saw now that Clarence wasn’t the milquetoast she first thought. He appeared studious—glasses, thinning hair, mild manner. She’d describe him as anonymous. Nothing about him said cop. “You must have been quite a detective, Clarence. You’re very disarming.”

“Yup. I always played the good cop in the good cop/bad cop act. Worked out well.” He smiled at Dana, adding a wink. “So, Reece, let’s look at this list.”

Dana sat back while Clarence went through the four men at the table the night of Karen Sitton’s murder, including Reece’s brother Carl. She could see Reece straining to remember. He made his own notes.

“I’ve talked to everyone but Carl,” Clarence said, “but the others couldn’t or wouldn’t add anything new, especially after twenty years. We know they all had a go at Karen and claimed their relationships with her were strictly sexual. A kind of bam-bam, thank-you-ma’am thing.” He glanced up from his paper. “One of them is lying. Now, with this new development, I’ll be much tougher when I get back up north.”

“I’ll think about these guys tonight. Try to get a clear picture in my mind. They were Carl’s friends, not mine. I didn’t know them well, but they seemed okay. No one I’d ever think capable of murder.”

“Were they with girlfriends?” Dana asked.

“Carl was with his girlfriend,” Reece said. “He married her. They’re divorced now. There were other girls with them, apparently friends. Jordan Kraus left with a girl from the next table. You could have knocked me over when I found out they’d all slept with Karen.” He rubbed his neck, a now-familiar gesture. “Man, what a sap I was.”

“There’s not a guy who hasn’t been there, Reece,” Clarence said.

“Yeah, but they didn’t spend fifteen years in prison for it.”

“I’ve known some who spent longer. Anyway, you can’t go back. We need to go forward, find the son of a bitch who murdered her.”

“Men don’t usually blab they’re sleeping with someone if they have a girlfriend,” Dana said. “That night Carl was with the woman he married. What if he had an affair with Karen and she threatened to tell? Wouldn’t that be a good reason to shut her up?”

“I can’t see Carl murdering anyone,” Reece said.

“Would he have said the same about you?” Dana asked.

“Yes, and he did, but no one believed him because he was my brother.”

Jeraldine’s phone rang. She flipped it open and listened. “Thanks, honey. Keep me informed, okay?” She turned to Reece. “Apparently one of
Rayanne
Johnson’s girlfriends, a woman by the name of Lurena Howe, signed an affidavit this morning. She’s prepared to ID you as someone who saw Rayanne regularly.”

Reece smacked his hand on the table. “That’s pure bullshit.”

Jeraldine reached for his arm. “Yeah, I know. My source is going to keep me posted.”

Dana shook her head. “Sounds like—”

“What?” Jeraldine asked.

“Like Robert’s handiwork.” Dana pushed her plate aside and dabbed the napkin to her lips. “He doesn’t like to lose, and he’s capable of doing things to make sure he doesn’t.”

Jeraldine’s brows knitted. “Are you saying he’d concoct a witness?”

“I’m saying he’s capable of it. There are stories.”

“Explain the word
stories
more clearly, honey. Because if what I think you’re saying is what you’re saying, this is a whole new ballgame.”

“Before Robert came here, he worked for a prestigious criminal defense firm in Charlotte. I’m not sure what happened, but he was defending a drug dealer for murder when the prosecution’s star witness disappeared. The judge threw out the case. Most people thought the dealer had something to do with it, but Robert resigned from the firm shortly after.”

“What makes you think the dealer wasn’t behind it?” Clarence asked.

“Something Harris said about there always being two sides to a story, but he wouldn’t elaborate.”

Jeraldine tapped her finger to her chin. “Hmm, interesting. We might have our hands full with Minette as opposition.”

“He won his case,” Dana said. “Why would he resign unless they suspected something fishy?”

“How did he wind up DA of this district?” Jeraldine asked.

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