Read Showdown in Mudbug Online

Authors: Jana DeLeon

Showdown in Mudbug (17 page)

Zach followed the patrolman into the clinic and down the hall, Chuck and Lila trailing behind. They stepped into the last room, and the patrolman pointed to a ladder in the corner of the room. “The guy’s wallet and keys are on top of that ladder. His truck’s out back and hasn’t moved from where it was parked yesterday.”

“There’s more,” Chuck said. “The table saw was still plugged in. There was an open can of stain right there in the middle of the floor with the brush right beside it, and from the way the stain was set on top, it had been open for a while. There’s no way he just left things like that.”

Zach walked around the room, studying the area. Considering it was a construction site, the room was pristine, but then, since he was staining cabinets in this area, it needed to be. He took a look at the cabinets and decided it was probably some of the best workmanship he’d ever seen. Everything about this guy said orderly and dedicated. As much as he hated to admit it, something was wrong with this picture.

“Anyone check where he lives?”

The patrolman nodded. “I sent a guy by there as soon as I saw the scene here. Apartment manager let him in, but the place looks fine. No sign of forced entry and no sign of the guy.”

Zach blew out a breath and lifted the wallet from the ladder. “I’ll take his wallet and keys, run him through the system…see if we can come up with anything. So who is this cabinetmaker?”

“His name is Hank Henry,” Chuck said. “He’s really been doing a fine job here. Something must be wrong.”

Zach froze. Surely, it wasn’t the same Hank that Raissa had mentioned last night. The one that Sonny Hebert’s men were “watching.” He flipped the wallet open and pulled out the driver’s license. It was a lousy picture, like most licenses. He needed to run the guy as soon as possible.

The patrolman nodded his head toward Chuck. “Chuck tells me Hank’s had some trouble in the past but nothing to speak of since being on-site, until yesterday.”

“What happened yesterday?”

“There was a guy,” Chuck said. “Looked like he was hassling Hank.”

“Did you ask about it?” Zach asked.

“Yeah, but the guy said he was asking for directions, then took off. I don’t think it was the truth. The guy…well, I don’t know how to say this without incriminating myself, but he reminded me of some of the ilk I had to deal with when I first got started in construction. You know the type.”

“The type that shake you down for money if you want to stay in business?” Yeah, Zach knew the type, and it was hitting far too close to home.

“Yeah,” Chuck said. “I’m not saying that’s what was going on, but I don’t believe the guy was asking for directions, either.”

“Would you recognize the guy if you saw him again?”

Chuck nodded. “I’m pretty sure I would.”

“Good. I’ll send someone over with some pictures…see if you can help us with another angle to investigate. Will you be here all day?”

“Until five or so.” He reached into his pocket and handed Zach a card. “Give me a call. If I’m not here, I can meet anywhere to look at the pictures. Doesn’t matter what time.”

“Great,” Zach said, and slipped the card into his pocket. “If there’s nothing else I need to see here, I’m going to head back to the station and get working on this.” He pulled his cards from his pocket and handed Chuck and Lila each one. “If there’s anything you can think of that you forgot to tell me, please call me anytime.”

As soon as Zach got into his car, he reached for his laptop and connected with the police database. He typed in Hank’s information and waited while the system searched. A couple of seconds later, a clear picture of Hank Henry appeared on the screen. Shit.

He stared at the screen, hoping his initial reaction had been incorrect, but even with a closer look, he knew he wasn’t. This was the guy he’d seen going into Raissa’s apartment that night. The one she’d met in the alley. He’d completely forgotten about it, with everything else going on. And then it hit him where he’d seen the name before—in the police records on Maryse’s many adventures.

Hank Henry was Maryse’s ex-husband, son of a murdered ghost.

Knew him secondhand, my ass.
Raissa Bordeaux had a lot of explaining to do.

Chapter Seventeen

Raissa walked into the coffee shop in downtown New Orleans wearing blue jeans, a polo shirt, and a black bob. She ordered her usual latte and took a seat in a far corner nearest the exit, where she had a clear view down the street of her shop, and more importantly, Dr. Spencer’s office. She saw Helena huff down the sidewalk, then look back and glare. Because Raissa had refused to drop an invisible passenger off in front of the building and wouldn’t buy Helena a latte until they left, Helena was pouting.

Raissa grinned at the agitated ghost and wondered if Helen would find anything of interest in Dr. Spencer’s office. She rather doubted it. Surely he wasn’t stupid enough to keep information on whatever he was mixed up in right there, where a search warrant could find it. But criminals weren’t always smart, and Helena was invisible.

Despite Zach’s assurances that he’d do a thorough check on their friend Dr. Spencer, Raissa was pretty sure he didn’t have clearance for military records. Having Helena check out his office was a long shot, but you never knew what a long shot might turn up.

She opened her laptop, intending to make a list of all the items they’d discovered that didn’t add up. Sometimes seeing the facts in print made her mind turn in a different direction, find a connection she hadn’t seen before. Instead, she stared at the blank document, her thoughts drifting off to the night before, and Zach.

She’d been stunned when he asked what they were doing. She knew exactly what he wanted to know, but the reality was, she didn’t have an answer. At least not one that made it seem anything but cheap and tawdry, and that’s not at all how she felt. Zach brought out feelings in her that she’d never felt before. She’d never met anyone else who agonized with what was right and what was policy the way she did. He struggled with everything, as she had before her stint with Sonny.

That stint had changed everything. That and the kidnappings. The bad guys weren’t all bad. The good guys and the rules weren’t all good. And for the first time in her life, Raissa had had to learn how to live in shades of gray. Some people managed it easily, but Raissa felt it said a lot about a person if they struggled with creating a balance.

She let out a sigh. Not that any of it mattered. The reality was, Raissa’s time in New Orleans was fast drawing to an end. One way or another, time was up in two days, assuming the kidnapper stuck to his MO.

Melissa Franco would be back at home with no memory of what had happened and unable to provide them a single lead. And Raissa would quietly disappear.

Again.

Raissa blew out a breath and stared out the plate-glass window across from her table. She’d run before, many times. There had been six other towns, six other identities, and countless other jobs before she’d landed back in New Orleans as Raissa Bordeaux. But this was the first time she’d felt she belonged. She had a job she enjoyed, that challenged her on some level even if it wasn’t the thrill ride she was used to. She had all the money she needed from the security gigs, a comfortable apartment, and some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for.

And she had Zach.

Well,
had
was too strong a word, but Raissa liked to believe that if things were different, they might have made a go of it. It had been a long time since Raissa had allowed anyone that close to her. It scared her and excited her and depressed her all at the same time. It was going to be hard to let go…of everything.

Her cell phone’s ringing yanked her out of her thoughts and she glanced at the display. Zach. That was fast. She opened the phone. “You got information on Spencer already?”

“No,” Zach replied, his voice tight and hard. “I have another problem. One I’m hoping you can help me with.”

Raissa felt her heart rate speed up. “What’s wrong?”

“I was watching your apartment one night, and I saw you with a guy. He was hiding in the alley, but you brought him up to your apartment. I need to know what your relationship is with him.”

Raissa frowned, completely confused. “You’re in the middle of a kidnapping investigation and you’re calling me about some jealous, macho stuff?”

“Give me a break. I’m calling because there was another kidnapping last night, and that guy I saw go into your apartment is the one missing. The same guy you claimed to only know secondhand, remember?”

Raissa clenched her phone. “What happened?”

“Looks like someone snagged him from his work site yesterday eve ning or last night. He came to see you damned near in the middle of the night, Raissa, and I already ran a check on him. I know all about Hank Henry’s past. The construction company owner said some guy was at the site yesterday. He thought the guy was hassling Hank. Who’s tailing him?”

“Rico Hebert.”

“Damn it! You told me he wasn’t involved in the kidnappings.”

“I don’t think he was.”

“Then what did they want from him? The fool didn’t learn the first time?”

“It wasn’t Hank they wanted. Rico was shaking down Hank for information on me. He told me about it immediately after it happened.”

“So that night he came to your place…”

“Was the first time I’d ever met him.”

“And he thought it would be smart to accost you in an alley? What in the world did he tell you that couldn’t wait until the next day?”

Raissa took a deep breath, knowing Zach wasn’t going to like that she’d kept this from him. “He told me that one of the Heberts asked him to kill me.”

There was dead silence on the other end of the line, and Raissa could practically feel Zach’s anger over the phone. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because if they’d wanted me dead, I already would be. I think they were sending a warning, hoping I’d pack and leave. They knew Hank was no killer and probably figured he’d tell Maryse, who’d tell me.”

“And that’s why this Rico kept hassling him? You
did
leave. Why stay on the guy?”

“I don’t know for sure. All I can figure is that since Monk mentioned Hank’s name before he died, Sonny thinks he knows something about the kidnappings. I think he’s got a tail on him to see if it leads anywhere.”

“Like figuring out what Monk was into?”

“Exactly.”

“And what do you think?”

“I think Hank is clueless. If he saw or heard something he wasn’t supposed to, he has no idea what it is. I
covered that ground with him already. He’s not faking, or I would know.”

“So maybe he just owed this Monk money, like he did everyone else in the state.”

“Maybe, but then why was he kidnapped? Easier to just put a bullet through his head to leave a message for others who are thinking about banking with the Heberts.”

“Shit. This situation is getting out of hand. A missing girl, a missing gambler, a lying doctor, a mayor with a shaky background, and far too many black Cadillacs for my taste.”

“I know, I know. I’m trying to make sense of it, but then something else happens and I get even more confused than before. There has to be something we’re missing. Did you get the check on Spencer yet?”

“No. I’ll run it as soon as I get to the station and tell my captain about Hank. Not that I have any idea what I’m going to say.”

“Just tell him what you got from the crime scene and witnesses. We’ll figure it out, Zach, I promise. I need to call Maryse. I need to warn her and Mildred to be extra careful.”

“Good idea. I’ll call as soon as I can. Worry about keeping
yourself
safe, while you’re at it.”

Raissa disconnected with Zach and dialed Maryse’s number. No answer. Damn. She didn’t want to panic Mildred or Maryse. This might all amount to a bunch of nothing, even though she had a very bad feeling. Finally, she sent Maryse a text message asking her to call as soon as she got a chance.

She’d use the time in between to get everything down in writing, including this latest bit of trouble. And she’d figure out how to tell Maryse that her ex-husband was missing…again.

Ten minutes later, she shut her laptop and looked up to see Helena exiting Spencer’s office. She glanced down at her watch. That was fast. She shoved the laptop in her bag and bought a coffee for Helena before leaving the shop to meet her on the street. How in the world was she supposed to tell the ghost that her son was missing? Raissa quickly ran through all the facts she had on Hank and potential scenarios, and fi nally decided to hold off for now.

They could be wrong. Hank could have fallen off the wagon and gone on a gambling bender and would show up in a day or two. Then she would have worried Helena for nothing.

And if the Heberts have him…

Her gut clenched. But it didn’t change her decision. If the Heberts had gotten to Hank, then telling Helena now or later wasn’t going to change the outcome. She tried to look normal as she hopped into the car. Helena was already sitting in the passenger’s seat, gazing longingly at the latte. Raissa passed the cup over and pulled away from the curb.

“You weren’t there very long,” Raissa said. “Did Spencer show up or something?”

“No. There wasn’t a lot to look at.”

“What do you mean?”

“The place is almost bare. There’s still a receptionist area with all the décor and computers, and the exam room looks like an exam room, but his office is almost wiped clean. No files, no books, no pictures. Did he say anything to you about moving?”

“No. In fact, he told me a couple of months ago that he’d renewed his lease for another three years.”

Helena took a huge gulp of coffee and sighed with contentment. “You think he’s making a run for it.”

“It certainly looks that way.”

“But what’s he running from?”

Raissa shook her head. “If we had the answer to that, I think we’d blow this whole case wide open.”

Maryse looked up as the bells over Sabine’s shop door jangled, hoping it was Mildred or Raissa, but instead a petite, pretty blonde woman stepped hesitantly inside. The store had been swamped with business that morning, and the last customer had left only seconds before. Maryse had been hoping to return a call to Raissa, who’d sent her a text message earlier, but so far, there was no sign of a break in store traffic.

Maryse plastered on a smile and walked over to the woman. “Good morning. Can I help you find anything?”

The woman clutched her purse. “I hope so. Are you Maryse Robicheaux?”

Maryse studied the woman’s face, trying to figure out if she was supposed to know her, but absolutely nothing came to mind. “Yes, I’m Maryse.”

“My name is Lila.” She extended her hand. “We’ve never met, so don’t worry about offending me.”

Maryse shook her hand. “Was it that obvious?”

“You’re Southern. It’s sorta a given.”

“What can I help you with, Lila? If you’re interested in a reading, Sabine will be back next week.”

Lila’s expression grew serious. “I wanted to talk to you about Hank.”

“You know Hank?” Of all the things in the world Maryse figured the woman may want, information on Hank was the last thing that she would have thought of. “You don’t look like a bookie, loan shark, or cop.”

Lila blushed. “I’m not any of those things. I’m his boss.”

“I thought his boss was some guy named Chuck?”

“Chuck is the owner of the construction company, but I’m the owner of the clinic that’s being built. Hank’s building the cabinets.” Lila tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her hand shaking.

Maryse placed her hand on Lila’s arm. The woman was clearly distressed, and if it had anything to do with Hank Henry, she probably had good reason to be. “Let me put out the closed sign and we can talk in the break room. I have tea and coffee and might even be able to stir up something stronger.”

Lila gave her a grateful nod. “That would be great.”

Maryse flipped the sign in the front window and locked the door. She motioned to Lila and headed to the back of the store to the break room. “Have a seat,” Maryse said, and waved a hand at the tiny table and chairs squeezed into one corner of the room. “I’ll get us something to drink.”

“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you.” Lila said, and slipped onto a chair in the corner. She sat completely upright, and Maryse could see the stress on her face.

“It’s no trouble,” Maryse said. “I’d just put on a pot of coffee before you came in. Would you like some? If not, there’s soda, water, and tea. Anything stronger and I’d have to make a trip upstairs to Sabine’s apartment.”

“Coffee would be great.”

Maryse poured two cups of coffee and sat them on the table along with a caddy of creamer, artificial sweetener, and sugar. Lila opened a packet of artificial sweetener and added it to her coffee, then began to stir the life out of it.

“You said you wanted to talk about Hank,” Maryse prompted.

“Yes, but I really shouldn’t bother you. This was a mistake. I just thought…But now that I’ve met you, there’s no way…”

Maryse placed her hand on Lila’s arm. “No way, what? Is something wrong with Hank? Is he in some kind of trouble?”

“He’s missing,” Lila said, her voice barely a whisper.

“Oh, well,” Maryse struggled for the right words since it was clear that the woman was distraught. “Hank’s not exactly proven to be reliable in the showing-up-for-things category. In fact, you might say he made a professional career of coming up missing for a couple of years.”

Lila nodded. “I know about your relationship—how he ran off and left you to deal with everything alone.”

“Really? I didn’t know you could get that kind of information in a job interview.”

Lila blushed. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I was Hank’s counselor when he was in rehab. Please don’t let anyone else know. It’s not ethical for me to talk about things he said to me at the center.”

Maryse leaned back in her chair, her mind trying to process what Lila had said. “Rehab? While I was hunting for him under every cypress tree on the bayou, he was in rehab?”

“Part of the time, yes, and I can tell you that he has a lot of guilt over what he put you through. He stated clearly from the first day of therapy that he was wrong, and you were a wonderful person who didn’t deserve to be saddled with someone like him. I know it’s hard to believe, given the way he treated you, but Hank has great respect for you. I think that’s part of the reason he couldn’t bring himself to contact you.”

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