Read Murder Deja Vu Online

Authors: Polly Iyer

Murder Deja Vu (8 page)

“Why, after all these years, did you look back into the case?”

“Call it unfinished business, call it personal guilt, call it I had a crack investigator for the first time. But the real reason is I wanted Reece cleared once and for all so he could put that ugly chapter of his life behind him and move on. He’s been in limbo. Now, with the murder here, it’s not only my wish any more, it’s a necessity.”

“Someone killed a woman and made it look like Reece did it. Why?”

“Beats the shit out of me. But I’m wondering if it’s something else. If Clarence’s poking into Karen Sitton’s murder set someone off.” Jeraldine polished off the last of her drink. “I’d feel responsible if a girl died, but a murder with the same M.O. incriminating Reece all over again would sure draw the police away from the real killer, wouldn’t it?”

“I never thought of that.”

“We’ll see what happens.” She pushed away her drink. “I’ve had enough. Good thing I’m staying here. I don’t have far to go. Okay, honey, so tell me, how in hell did you marry a prick like Robert Minette? He makes Attila the Hun seem like Mr. Rogers. Were you fucking drunk?”

Dana laughed for the first time that day. “A moment of bad judgment, I’m afraid. But I didn’t know it until a long time later. It’s hard to believe now, but Robert can be charming when it suits his needs.”

“I’ve known men like him. He’s a coward and a bully, and I bet he beat up on you too. I’m not asking you to tell me, but he’s the type. Fuck him.”

“Jesus, Jeraldine. The last thing I want to do is fuck Robert Minette.”

Jeraldine burst into laughter that almost shook her bosom out of her jacket. “Honey, you’re gonna do fine.” She waved her hand in the air and called, “Chaz, honey. Come on over here, darling, and take our order.”

Chapter Thirteen
The Bombshell

 

C
larence started out late Monday morning, hoping Rudy’s Bar opened for lunch. Old Micah was right about Emory. It wasn’t much more than the blink of an eye with only small print on an I-26 exit sign en route to Asheville. The main street consisted of a couple of city blocks, with mill houses lining the side streets. The surrounding area was pretty, though—a few small farms bordered by mountains. He could easily retire around here. Better weather than up north, for sure.

It didn’t take but a minute to find Rudy’s, sandwiched between Belle’s Fashions and Tucker Hardware. A few people were already cooling off with a noonday beer, watching the sports channel. Some others were in booths eating what looked like barbeque sandwiches. If there was a smoking ban in North Carolina, no one at Rudy’s had heard. The place reeked of cigarettes. At least he’d worn jeans and a shirt so he didn’t stand out, not until he opened his Midwest, Yankee-tainted mouth. He took a stool.

“What’s that sandwich they’re eating?” he asked the bartender.

“Pork barbeque. Want one?”

“Yeah, and whatever you have on tap.

The bartender was a big guy, six-two, at least, with a scruffy beard, ponytail, and bulging muscles stretching the fabric of a worn Charlie Daniels T-shirt. “You want to know if Rayanne was in here Friday night?”

Clarence smiled. Small towns. “Micah or the woman?”

“Woman’s my wife’s aunt. She called this morning. Said to expect this Yankee fellow checking what went on Friday night. Rayanne’s murder’s the biggest thing to hit the Carolinas since Eric Rudolph.”

“Did you know her?”

“You trying to get that murderer off?”

“Not if he’s guilty, and he isn’t.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I know him. He served time for a murder he didn’t commit. Someone’s setting him up.”

The bartender wiped down the counter, his gaze solid on Clarence. “That happened to a friend of mine. Served eighteen miserable months before they nabbed the bastard who really robbed the convenience store.”

“How would you like to serve fifteen years, hard time?”

“I wouldn’t. That sucks.”

“Yes, it does.”

“You have to admit, it’s a bad coincidence.”

“It is, and it happened to my man.”

“You a cop?

“Used to be. I’m an investigator for the accused’s lawyer.” Clarence took out his card, along with Reece’s picture. “You see him in here Friday night? Someone said he was. You couldn’t miss him. He’s taller than you, got some gray in his hair. Tanned, good looking.”

The bartender examined the picture. “That was Ricky Poteat said that. He couldn’t have seen Santa Claus Friday night. He was drunk as a skunk. Don’t know why he’d say that.”

“Get his name in the paper, maybe?”

“Maybe.”

“So Reece Daughtry wasn’t here Friday. That what you’re saying?”

“Nope. Not Friday, but he’s been here before, couple of times. People come from miles around to hear the music. You get to recognize them. Strangers stick out. He seemed like a nice guy. Quiet. Drank a few beers, listened to the music, and left. Good tipper.”

Clarence knew that. Reece said he’d been to the bar. “Would you be willing to tell that to a judge?”

“Yup. Not a problem.”

“Rayanne in here Friday?”

“Yeah. She popped in most Fridays.”

The bartender shot some more beer into Clarence’s glass and said the second thing he came to hear.

“And she left with a stranger.”

Chapter Fourteen
Calling Bluffs

 

R
obert hated dealing with Harry Klugh because the slimy private eye knew too much. That was Robert’s own damn fault, but getting ahead required someone like Klugh on the payroll. Robert would have to live with it because it was too late now. He’d do what Robert wanted without him having to spell it out.
Klugh
would balk first, act like he was above the dirty deeds, but the PI liked money too much to refuse.

They sat at a table in the out-of-the-way diner where they usually met. Robert never wanted to be seen with Klugh. “I told you to get to Rudy’s early. What’s going on?”

Klugh
shrugged. “Who knew the investigator working for Daughtry’s big-mouth Boston attorney would beat me there today? He sweet-talked the yokel police chief in Corley into giving him the police report too.”

“Jesus.” Robert mopped the sweat off his forehead. He’d kill for a drink, but this place didn’t have anything but beer. He needed scotch. “Maybe I should fucking hire him. When was the last time the great Harry Klugh lost the edge?”

“I’m slowing down, Robert. Getting old, kinda like you. What’s the big deal, anyway? Maybe Daughtry didn’t do this one or the first one either, like they say. Considering the flimsy evidence back then, it’s a wonder they ever convicted him.”


They
? Who the hell are ‘“they”’ besides the most quoted people in the universe. No matter what
they
say, twelve jurors of his peers convicted Reece Daughtry of murder.”

“Whatever, Robert. You’re the prosecutor. You should know what you’re talking about.”
Klugh
scanned the diner. “And I’d keep your voice down if you don’t want to call attention to yourself. Now, what do you want from me?”

“I’m Mr. Minette to you today.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I want you to get me something to connect Reece Daughtry with the woman in Corley. Better yet, get me proof he killed her. The matchbook they found at Daughtry’s is worthless, and the guy who said he saw Daughtry on Friday night was falling-down drunk. Even I can’t make him look credible. The judge will set bail. We’ll be lucky if that stone man doesn’t sue us for false arrest.”

Klugh laughed. “Maybe there is no proof.”

“Well, find some. I don’t give a damn how. Just do it. I didn’t bring you up from Atlanta to ask me how to find evidence. That’s your job. Talk to the victim’s friends. See if she ever mentioned meeting a tall guy at Rudy’s who looked like Daughtry. See if she slept with him, for crissakes. I hear she slept around.”

Klugh leaned in closer, spoke in a whisper. “You don’t pay me enough to do what I think you’re asking. I won’t manufacture evidence, for any amount of money.”

Robert snorted. “Bullshit.”

Klugh
sipped his iced tea. He leaned over and patted Robert’s breast pocket.

“I’m not asking you to do that, and stop fiddling. Do you actually think Robert Minette is crazy enough to record this?” He zeroed in on Klugh. “And you better not be doing it now.”

“I’m not,” Klugh said. “But I recall you saying to always get the goods on those who can either hurt or further your career. You take your own advice seriously, don’t you? Look at you—gift wrapped in your designer suit and hundred-dollar tie. You’re a picture of a man at the top of his game. But we both know how you arrived at your lofty position. The first time, when was it, twenty, twenty-five years ago?”

“Never mind,” Robert snapped. “Water under the dam. You’ll never use it.”

“Not unless I have to.”

Robert knew
Klugh
had kept a copy of the tape. He even played it for him once. “You’d be cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

“Maybe. But you know why I keep it?”

Klugh
spoke in a voice so cold and tight, it sent a spike of fear to the base of Robert’s skull. He was afraid of Klugh, with good reason.

“To keep you in line, Robert. So watch your fucking mouth when you talk to me. I’m not some lackey you can threaten.”

Robert moved back in the booth. “Okay, okay. Let’s forget it, okay?”

Klugh
relaxed, unable to hide a victorious smirk. “Why do you have a hard-on for this guy? What’s he ever done to you?”

Robert didn’t answer.

“Is it because he’s banging your ex-wife? Yeah, read they hauled him out of her house. Must be humiliating to have the woman who bore your sons fucking an ex-con. But then he’s a whole lot better looking than you.”

Robert struggled to restrain his hair-trigger temper from boiling over, but Klugh knew how to stoke the fire. He also knew Robert had broken the rules in Charlotte. Broken the rules? He’d broken the law. Not that he’d given Klugh the order to make a witness disappear. Not explicitly. Robert never
ordered
anything.

“Keep my wife out of this. She’s a soft touch, and Daughtry’s story would break anyone’s heart―if he weren’t covering up a double murderer. Nailing him for this one will prove he was rightly convicted in Boston. I’d be in line for a judgeship, or maybe I’d run for governor. They couldn’t ignore Robert Minette then, could they? My name would be on everyone’s lips before they dragged Daughtry from the courtroom.”

“Well, you’d better figure a way to nail him, because there’s nothing to tie him to the murder. Even if he screwed the girl, he didn’t do it Friday night. Like you said, your eye witness is a bomb, and the bartender said
Daughtry
wasn’t there. Plus, the victim left with someone else, and Daughtry’s lawyer won’t quit until she finds out who.”

“Do you know?”

“Haven’t got a clue, and if I did, I’d go straight to the police.”

Yeah, right. Klugh go to the police? He’d blackmail the killer into bankruptcy.

“That surly bartender didn’t like me,” Klugh said. “He told me he’d never seen the guy before and didn’t get a good look at him anyway. If you want Daughtry, someone else showing up with the Johnson woman could sure ruin your case, Mr. DA. So you’d better be prepared. That’s enough for reasonable doubt. But you know that.”
Klugh
slid out of the booth. “Be seeing you, Robert. Good luck.” He headed toward the door.

Robert sat in disbelief. Klugh didn’t bite. Why? Had he switched sides? Robert needed him like he needed him in Charlotte and all the times in between. He was younger then, ambitious. He didn’t know to what lengths Klugh would go and almost croaked when the prosecution’s witness failed to appear. Accusations leveled at both Robert and his client tainted the firm. Innuendo was enough to get him fired if Robert hadn’t already learned how to play the game. Always stay one step ahead. Get the goods on friends and enemies alike. Robert had known the skeletons in his boss’s closet, and the man had allowed Robert to resign rather than call his bluff. He left the firm, leaving no more than whispers behind.

It worked out for the best. The position of district attorney better suited his talents. He put away bad guys and people applauded. Robert liked the sound of applause. He liked to win.

Klugh had let him down. Robert called the waitress and ordered a beer. He needed to think.

Then he saw the diner door open and Klugh slithered back to his seat.

“Change your mind?”

Klugh
flicked his tongue across his front teeth. “Depends how much it’s worth to you.”

Chapter Fifteen
Dana Exposed

 

D
ana waited all day for Jeraldine’s call. She couldn’t write, couldn’t read. Couldn’t think. She thought of Reece in a cell alone, and from what Jeraldine said, more than distraught. By early evening, she was beside herself. When the phone rang, she picked it up before the first ring ended.

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