Authors: Polly Iyer
“I’ll tell you why tonight. Clarence won’t be there, and you and I can have a long talk. He loves you, you know.”
Dana’s breath caught in her throat. Did Reece tell her that? Did he actually say it?
“Oh, by the way, I met your ex-husband. He’s an asshole.” Then Jeraldine hung up.
larence drove into Corley. He located the police station, a small brick building on the main street. One uniformed officer glanced in his direction, then shifted his focus to an older woman with a halo of tight curls framing a face creased by a suspicious frown.
“What can I do for you?” she asked Clarence.
“Like to talk to someone about the murder of Rayanne Johnson.”
“That’d be Micah. He’s the chief of police.”
When she didn’t say anything else, Clarence asked, “Where might I find Micah?”
The man in the uniform walked toward him. “That’d be me.”
Micah didn’t look like Barney Fife, but he didn’t look like Wyatt Earp either. Clarence took out a card and handed it to him.
Micah looked at it. “Boston, Massachusetts, huh? Don’t tell me you came all the way down here to investigate a murder in Booniesville.”
Micah mispronounced the name of the state like a lot of people did. Massatooshitts. Clarence pinched his chin. “Booniesville?”
“Sure. Isn’t that what you big city guys think of us down here? Don’t deny it.”
“Hadn’t given it much thought, Micah. This is just another job. Doesn’t matter where it is. Fact is, I come from a town in Missouri that’d make Corley look like a metropolis.”
“Yup. Right in the middle of nowhere.” Corley’s chief of police probably thought he was bullshitting him, but he wasn’t. “Now what can you tell me about the murder?”
“You working for the guy who done it?”
“No, I’m working for the lawyer of the man wrongly accused.”
“Don’t seem wrongly accused to me. We don’t get too many beheadings ’round here, and there he is, not thirty miles away, done it before.”
“He was exonerated.”
“Hmm, so I heard. But it sure is a coincidence, ain’t it? How many beheadings you ever heard about?”
“I peg it for a copycat.”
“Hmm, maybe. Have to be someone who knew about him, though, wouldn’tcha think? I remember the to-do about his buying property in Harold County, but I didn’t much remember the particulars. Doubt others did around here either. Looks like someone did, though.”
“Yes, if it’s a copycat, then I suspect it would have to be someone who knew about him. Does narrow the field. Will you help me?”
Micah hesitated. “What’d you want to know?”
Clarence pulled out Reece’s picture. “Ever see this man around here before?”
Micah took the photo and studied it. “No, can’t say I have, but I know this is the guy. Picture’s been in the paper. Besides, if he planned to do what he did, I doubt he’d come in here and get acquainted.”
“Good point. Would you show me the police report? I know you’re not obligated to, but I’d appreciate it.”
Keep it simple, Clarence.
He didn’t want to seem like some city slicker showing off, trying to make locals look like yokels. That had never been his style. Get on their wavelength, be one of them. Hell, he was one of them.
The sheriff eyed him.
“A man’s life might depend on it, Micah. All I want to do is give him his best shot, and you’re the man who can help.”
“The sheriff’s boys went over her apartment with a magnifying glass. There was a lot of blood, but not much else in the way of clues. Whoever killed her didn’t leave anything to go on. Can’t imagine how he left the crime scene without being noticed, though. Must’ve been covered in blood. You don’t do a murder like that and not get it all over you.”
“True. I’d say he came prepared, wouldn’t you?”
“I seen a movie once where the killer put on one of them cheap plastic raincoats you buy for almost nothing. Disposable. I’d guess that’s what whoever done this wore. Ya think?”
“If he was smart. Guess he was since no one saw him. I’d sure like to look at the photos of the crime scene. You must have copies. After all, you were in charge.”
Clarence knew what Micah meant. “I know how it is when someone else comes in and takes over. I used to be a cop, and it happened all the time. The feds’d come in to work with us on a case, and before long they were in charge.” He shook his head. “Man, I hated that.”
“Then you know. Wait a minute. I’ll get the report, see if we made copies.” He walked into an office with an eye on the woman at the desk. Clarence decided if there were no copies, she’d be to blame. She sniffed a challenge in Micah’s direction. She’d done her job.
Ah, small town departments. They probably never had more than a few drunk calls on Saturday night. A murder…now that was big time.
“Here you go,” Micah said. “If your guy didn’t do it, I sure hope you clear him. But if he did, he needs to get what’s coming to him.”
“I agree. I’m looking for the truth, that’s all. You have any idea where Ms. Johnson could’ve met whoever she took back to her apartment?” Clarence figured the answer was the bar’s name on the matchbook cover Jeri learned they found in Reece’s house, but he never blew an opportunity to hear a different answer.
“Only thing goes on around these parts, without going over to Asheville or Hendersonville, is blue grass music at Rudy’s Bar on Friday nights. She was a nice gal. No trouble. Worked at Dollar General. Could’ve been a customer she met.”
Clarence looked at the report. He saw nothing about testing for drugs other than alcohol, and unless they had a specific reason to suspect drugs, they wouldn’t run a tox screen. A slice across the carotid artery proved a powerful cause of death. “Lot of blood.”
“Place was a real mess.”
“You don’t have the autopsy report, do you?”
“Nope. Sheriff Payton took over the case. He hasn’t sent it over. S’ppose he will when he has a mind to.”
“Where’d you say Rudy’s Bar is?” Clarence knew that too, but Micah seemed brimming with importance now.
“I didn’t, but it’s down the road apiece, ’bout ten miles. Town called Emory. Ain’t open on Sundays, though. Watch close or you might miss it. Only thing there worth noting is Rudy’s. People and bands come from all ’round. You think
might’ve met someone there?”
“What do you think? Possible?”
“We questioned everyone local, but I gotta tell ya, some of them don’t like cops. They could’ve held back. Maybe not. If she met up with a stranger, Rudy’s’d be the place. Rayanne’s been known to—how can I say it and not say something bad ’bout the dead?”
“You don’t have to, Micah, and thanks. You’ve been a great help. It’s law enforcement like you that keep things straight.”
Micah beamed his appreciation at the compliment as Clarence tipped an imaginary hat and said “Ma’am” to the still-frowning woman behind the desk.
he sound startled Dana. She couldn’t figure out where it came from. The doorbell. She’d never heard it rung before. She peeked out the front door’s glass sidelight. Robert stared back at her.
What in hell was he doing here? She promised herself she’d be civil for the sake of her sons, even if civil behavior was anathema to her ex-husband. She took a deep breath and, against her better judgment, opened the door.
“May I come in?”
“I’d rather you didn’t, Robert. We have nothing more to discuss.”
“This is about Reece Daughtry.”
Knowing Robert, anything he had to say wouldn’t be good. He’d probably heard all about her and Reece, not that they flaunted their relationship in public. Regal Falls was a small town, and gossip, good or bad, spread like a contagious disease.
“You’ve met his attorney, I hear. Speak to her.”
“This has to do with you too. Please, Dana.”
Was this a new Robert? Contrite, yes, even civil? She wanted to tell him to leave, but if anyone knew anything about Reece’s case, it was Robert. “Okay. Come in. But I haven’t a lot of time.” She moved aside, and he walked past her into the house.
“This won’t take long.”
She led him into the great room so he could see the fireplace. Spiteful, she knew, but so what? It was the kind of thing Robert would do, and he’d taught her well. He studied it, and for once Dana couldn’t read his expression. He said nothing about it.
“He’s a murderer, Dana. He’s killed two women, and I’m going to prove it this time.”
So, Robert wasn’t contrite. He was the same manipulative bastard, only dressed in contrite clothing, like the wolf in sheep’s skin. How foolish of her to believe otherwise. She wanted to scream that he was more capable of murder than Reece Daughtry, but she reined in her anger, unwilling to let Robert incite her worst inclinations. She’d spent twenty years allowing him to do that, and if she lost control, he’d win.
“Why are you telling me? I’m not interested in your posturing. If you have a case, take it to trial.”
“Oh, I will. Because Reece Daughtry knew the victim, and we have a witness who said he saw him with her Friday night. I have someone on the way to talk to him.”
The statement made Dana dizzy. She’d fought to bury the possibility when Jeraldine mentioned it, but banishing a thought was pointless. It stayed in your brain like a blood stain on fabric. Dana hoped Clarence outflanked Robert’s investigator.
She sat down, trying not to look as if she needed to, but her knees felt rubbery beneath her. Robert surely saw. She’d never been good at hiding her reactions. “It wasn’t Reece.”
“You want to bet
life on that?”
She took a deep breath, stared at him, and held her voice steady. “Yes.”
His cool didn’t last long. It never did. “Jesus, how stupid can you get? You believe him because he told you so? Is that it?”
This was quintessential Robert. If Dana didn’t agree with him, she was stupid or childish or a hundred other derogatory epithets. Thirteen years older and worldly, Robert had swept her off her feet, saying everything a woman wanted to hear. More importantly, her father was a state senator, which made Dana good enough for Robert Minette. But she wasn’t as easy to control as he’d thought.
He scowled. “Are you going to answer? Do you believe him because he told you so?”
His snarky tone brought her back to the present and sliced through her like a paper cut. “Reece hasn’t told me anything because, as you know, the police locked him in a cell. Whatever he tells me, I’ll believe, because I know he couldn’t kill anyone.”
Robert snorted, twisting his face into a familiar grimace. “How loyal of you. More loyal than you were to me.”
“I don’t want to have this conversation.”
“No, I don’t expect you do. Daughtry’s a murderer. Not once, but twice.”
“Have you even talked to him, Robert? No, I’ll bet you haven’t. All you see is your shot at a high-profile case. You’ve made up your mind like you always do and, goddamn, Robert Minette is never wrong, is he?”
“Daughtry asked for a lawyer immediately, and when she got there, she wouldn’t let anyone near him.”
“Well, good for him and good for her. He knows what it’s like to be railroaded, and she’s not going to let it happen again. Because that was how it went down twenty-one years ago.”
“Is there no end to your stupidity? After you humiliated me, I should have thrown you out. But I didn’t, did I? No. Instead, I gave you everything a woman could want, and as soon as David went off to college, you walked out on me. Now you’re humiliating me again by falling for a man who almost decapitated a woman.”
“I want you to leave, Robert.” Ignoring the familiar prickly heat of anger that Robert generated, she slid open the glass doors that led out back, depriving him of the dignity to leave through the front door. “Get out and don’t come back. Ever.”
“You may not be here. I’d hoped you hadn’t lost your head over this guy, but considering his history, you still might.” He stepped outside without a backward glance, and she rolled the door closed with as much power as she could muster, and flipped the latch.
Moving into her office, where the height of the windows made it impossible for him to peer in, she sat on the daybed and shook, determined not to cry. She thought her ex-husband couldn’t do that to her any more. It was her fault for letting him into her home. Her refuge from him.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, half an hour, maybe more, remembering the years she’d spent in his house. He never let her forget he owned it, along with everything in it. Including her.
When she regained control, she stepped into the shower. The tile cubicle seemed empty. She missed Reece’s touch on her body. Missed his lips on hers. Robert’s words played in her head like some long-forgotten song remembered.
Falling for him.