Innocent Until Proven Guilty – Free Read for Limited Time

LEGS CROSSED CLIP ART - SMOOTHEDDeanna Forbes sat straight in the uncomfortable wooden chair. She kept her shoulders back and her right leg crossed over her left knee, making sure to hold her foot perfectly still. That effort, along with the pleasant expression on her face, cost her considerable energy, but she was a strong-willed woman and had had a lot of practice at maintaining proper demeanor.

Her ash blond hair, blunt cut to just below her jawline, was shiny smooth and added to her cool, collected composure. Only her gray eyes darted from place to place, taking in all the details of her surroundings and keeping up with her rapidly shifting thoughts.

“Now, Ms. Forbes,” Detective Simon Stone addressed her from the opposite side of the table where they sat in the interrogation room. Her eyes focused totally on him as he continued. “I have here your earlier statement that you were with friends at a private party the evening Peter Crandell was shot, but so far, our office hasn’t been able to make contact with any of these – uh – friends.” As he said the last word, his left eyebrow lifted in a question, and his blue eyes pinned her.

The implication that real friendship was somewhat lacking here wasn’t lost on Deanna, but she couldn’t seem to keep herself from focusing on those eyes — well — on his whole appearance, which was commandingly attractive: dark complexion, black, wavy hair, and strong brows – all accented by the most brilliantly blue eyes she’d ever seen on a man. This meeting was the second time she’d sat with Simon Stone for questioning, and both times his extravagant good looks and his virile, no-nonsense manner, coupled with a surprisingly melodious voice, had interfered with her efforts to concentrate. That wasn’t good — not good at all. She needed all her wits about her for this one.

“Well, Detective Stone, as I explained in my original statement, it was a bon voyage party, and two of the couples were sailing that night. The other two couples live in Montrose, some 100 miles from here, so God only knows where they may be by this week. Besides — as I also said previously — you won’t find anyone who honestly thinks I had a motive for killing Peter Crandell. Why on earth would I want poor Peter dead?”

“I don’t know that you did want him dead, Ms. Forbes. But right now we can’t rule out anyone who knew him, and an alibi for your whereabouts at the time of death is crucial.” There was a knock at the door of the interrogation room, and Stone got up to answer it. After the briefest whispered conversation, he turned to Deanna. “Excuse me a moment, Ms. Forbes. I’ll be right back with you.” He then stepped out into the hall to continue the conversation.

After a good five minutes, he returned with a smile on his face. “Well, good news: “ he said, closing the door and returning to his seat at the table, “our men have finally made contact with one of the couples from the bon voyage party. They have corroborated your alibi completely, so it looks as though you’re free to go. I’m sorry we had to detain you so long.”

GUN FIRINGDeanna smiled widely. “That is good news, Detective. And I’m glad to know you think so too. I’d hate to have you believe I was guilty of such a terrible act as shooting someone.”

“Just because we question a person doesn’t necessarily mean we believe they committed the crime, Ms. Forbes. But in cases like this, there are usually a number of people who are possible suspects until we can find good reason to eliminate them from the list.”

“I understand, Detective Stone. But I want to make sure I have the facts right: You are saying that your department no longer consider me a suspect in the shooting of Peter Crandell. Is that correct?”

Stone smiled. “You are correct, Ms. Forbes,” he said and rose from his chair.

Deanna rose as well, and on a sudden impulse, she said, “Well … now that we’ve got all that matter cleared up, I wonder if you might consider having dinner with me tomorrow evening. I feel I’d like to get to know you better.”

Stone’s first response was one of surprise, but it registered only momentarily. His easy smile replaced it, a smile that reached his eyes, and Deanna suddenly realized that it was that smile that came from deep inside of him that made him particularly attractive.

“I should be free tomorrow evening ─ barring some unexpected homicide, that is,” he said with a grin. “Do you have a particular place in mind?”

“I like dining at The Captain’s Table in the restored lighthouse a little south of the city. Do you know it?”

“Yes, I’m familiar with it. I enjoy it myself. Shall I pick you up?”

“It’s probably better if I meet you there. Say 7:00?”

“Fine. I’ll look forward to it, Ms. Forbes.”

Deanna smiled widely, “Why don’t you just call me Dee? All my friends do, and I think we could become friends now that this nasty murder business is behind us.”

“Well, then, Dee,” he said moving to the door and holding it open for her, “I’ll see you at The Captain’s Table at 7:00 tomorrow evening.”

“Good bye Detective Stone.” She smiled again and gave him a questioning look. “Perhaps you’ll give me permission to call you Simon when we meet for dinner.”

“Perhaps I shall,” he answered with a teasing grin. Deanna turned and walked out of the office and exited the police station without looking back. Keeping her back straight and her head up was second nature to her; smiling at everyone she passed didn’t come quite so naturally. However, she was determined not to let that smile slip until she was well out of sight of any law enforcement officers.

Simon Stone returned to his own desk and filled out his report on the interrogation – but he didn’t sign off on it. Instead, he entered Deanna Forbes’ name into a data-base he used only when the normal sites failed to give him satisfactory information. He waited, holding his breath.

Deanna Forbes sat behind the wheel of her Lexus. Driving back to her home, she questioned her own sanity. Why on earth had she invited Simon Stone to dinner? Well, she knew the answer on the surface, of course: he was stunning, sexy, and captivating. He was also dangerous, but she had lived with danger most of her life. Having been raised by a drunken father who came home to beat up on his wife and two kids on a regular basis ─ and then living with a grandmother who ran a gambling casino, with all the attending crime element casinos attracted ─ she was no stranger to dealing with danger and it’s threats to her own peace and security. In fact, sometimes she wondered if she had become too comfortable with danger. Maybe that’s why she’d never stuck with any relationships in the past that didn’t carry with them any kind of threat.

She shrugged her shoulders now. Oh well, her die was cast. She was having dinner with a man who, up until an hour ago, had considered her a possible murderer. Come to think of it, he hadn’t told her which couple had corroborated her alibi for that night. Of course, all six of the other guests had been so drunk that they couldn’t have been sure about who was there and who wasn’t. One thing about most of her friends: they were so irresponsible in their own lives that they didn’t think twice about checking up on anyone else to make sure they weren’t doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It would never occur to them that one of their guests might have slipped away from the group long enough to put old Peter away and slipped right back into the crowd as if nothing had transpired except a trip to the bathroom.

GOLD SANDALS SOFT EDGEThe following evening Dee chose her sexiest knee-length dress for her date with Simon. Apple red with a V-neck that threatened to plunge too far, but then stopped unexpectedly. Keeping the men she dated just slightly off-balance was important to her. The dress had a belted waist that showed her figure to perfection, and three-inch high, gold strappy sandals gave her enough glitter to match her excitement.

Simon was waiting at a table when she arrived, his dark suit intensifying his virile looks and those brilliant eyes. Ordering quickly, they then turned their attention to conversation. “Now, tell me, Simon ─ I do have permission to call you Simon?”

He grinned. “Please do.”

“So … how’s your case going? Any new leads today?”

“Dee, you must know that I can’t discuss that with you.”

She looked surprised. “But since I’ve been in on it from the beginning, I thought that would make a difference.”

Simon didn’t believe her to be that naive, but he refrained from saying so. “Maybe we’d do better to talk about your work,” he said instead.

“My art center?” He nodded.

“Well, I have to admit, I do enjoy talking about it.  It’s very satisfying. We offer art classes by some of the most talented artists in the state, and I’m sure you know we have a new exhibit every month. Of course, one of the things I’m most excited about this week is my purchase of the most excellent prints I’ve ever seen of several works by world renowned masters.”

Simon nodded as he took a sip of his wine. “I’ve seen the advertisements for the classes and the exhibits, but I didn’t know about the new acquisitions.”

“I’ll be advertising those soon. But, tell me, why is it you’ve seen only the advertisements and never the real thing?”

He smiled. “I’m afraid I’m not a connoisseur of art, although when I see a piece I really like, I do value the talent it took to create it.”

She reached over and laid her hand gently on his arm. “Well, in two weeks, we are exhibiting the work of a brilliant local artist ─ all water colors ─ and all images of the inner city. You must come. You will recognize all the scenes, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the pieces.”

He felt her energy pulling on him, drawing him toward her, urging him to agree to attend and make the deliberate move into her territory. “I’ll send you a personal invitation so you won’t forget,” she added, looking straight into his eyes.

“That’s fine. I just might make it a point to attend.” He returned the earnest look, letting his eyes hold hers for several moments, and hers dilated with pleasure at his action. He was trying to read her – trying to get a handle on exactly what it was about her that attracted him – and what it was about her that made him sure she had killed Peter Crandell.

From that point, their meal progressed into conversation about the things Simon enjoyed when he had free time.

“I enjoy sailing as often as I can,” he said.

Her eyes lit up. “I love sailing! Do you have your own boat?”

He nodded. “Yes. Nothing elaborate, but it serves my purposes.”

“You’ve named it, of course.”

He nodded again. The “Blue Swan.”

She lifted her eyebrows in approval. “Interesting. And, of course, it’s blue?”

He laughed gently. “What else?”

“Would I be too forward if I asked for an invitation to go sailing with you some time?”

Simon was quiet for a moment, but then smiled. “Deanna Forbes, I do hereby issue you a formal invitation to go sailing with me on my next day off ─ which, by the way, is this coming Saturday.”

“It just so happens that I’m free Saturday. The gallery is closed this weekend, due to some new carpet being laid in the front foyer, and my custodian will be on hand to make sure everything goes as it should. So, what time should I be ready?”

“I like to go out early when I’m alone. The sunrise is usually spectacular, and we are supposed to have clear weather for the next several days. Is 5:30 too early for you?”

She grimaced slightly. “I have to admit that I’m not normally an early riser, but for something this special, I’m sure I can make it. Will you include a big cup of coffee in the deal?”

“I’ll bring coffee when I pick you up. And, of course, I already have your address in the case file, so I’ll be at you house at 5:30 on the dot.”

She smiled into his eyes. “I’ll be ready and looking forward to the day, Simon. And thank you.”

They left the restaurant shortly after making plans for Saturday. Just outside her front door, Dee offered him her hand, saying, “I had a lovely time, Simon. Let’s do this again.”

He took her hand and held it for several moments, then leaned over and placed his lips against hers in a touch so light, she barely felt it, yet she felt her response throughout her entire body. This man had some kind of magic in him she thought. But before she could discover what thought came next, he had stepped back and was saying he’d see her bright and early Saturday.

Simon slept fitfully that night. His dreams kept bringing him visions of Deanna with a gun in her hand. After waking, getting up to go to the bathroom, and finally getting back to sleep, his second dream brought a worse scenario. In dream number two, she fired the gun at some unknown person, and the sound of the shot brought him wide awake. He found himself in a cold sweat, and couldn’t figure out why.

He’d had cases before when he’d dreamed about people he’d interrogated and even people who were unquestionably guilty of the crime, but he’d never felt their presence or their actions so personally. But then, of course, he’d never dated one of those people right after interrogating them either. He explained away his unusual response with that fact, and did his best to put the dreams behind him. He had some serious investigating to do tomorrow morning, and he had to be alert to do it right.

SAILBOAT IN SUNRISE - MINESaturday turned out to be the perfect day for sailing, and Deanna acclimated herself to Simon’s boat and the rhythm of his enjoyment of the sea. They’d started in time to catch the sunrise, and had sailed until mid-afternoon.

When they finally forced themselves to head back to the dock and secured the Blue Swan at the marina, they walked through the open-air market along the wharf. Simon was surprised and touched to see how Deanna showed genuine interest in each of the vendors at the stalls where she stopped. He put his thoughts into words as they sat at a nearby snack bar and had coffee.

“You surprise me, Dee.”

She looked surprised at his words, “How so?”

“You took time to talk personally with each one of those vendors where we stopped and drew them out about themselves and their own lives.”

She laughed, “And you didn’t think I had enough heart to care about the ‘little people’ who run these open air market stalls? Is that it?’

He grimaced at her mocking tone. “I didn’t exactly mean that, no. I just thought you were a much more impersonal – no – make that a more private person, I guess.”

“My grandmother used to set up a stall in this market place years ago,” she said, looking away to the row of stalls behind them.

“Really? What did she sell?”

“Her art.”

“So your grandmother was a painter? Is that where your love of art comes from?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe. I don’t really know. She had a few commissions over the years, and during the summer, she painted here at the market – at her stall. People could come by and have their portrait done in charcoal or colored pencil for a small price, and she loved doing that on a regular basis. I loved the work my grandmother did, but she was never able to make it pay enough to become a full-time artist.

“And then she had some of her best works stolen. The worst part was that it looked as though the thief was another artist who had pretended to befriend her. The paintings were unsigned, so he could easily have put his own name on the canvases and passed them off as his.”

“But didn’t she report him to the authorities?”

Deanna shook her head. “She couldn’t prove it. She wanted to believe he hadn’t done it, but she refused to call the police because, I think, in her heart she felt it really was him.” She shrugged her shoulders again.

“She was so heart-broken that one day, right after the robbery, she went into the bedroom she used as a studio and destroyed most of her other paintings. I was thirteen then, and by that time I was living with her in order to be away from my abusive father. I came home that afternoon and roamed around looking for her. I finally heard her yelling back in her studio, and when I went to investigate, I saw almost every painting either smothered in black paint or ripped to shreds.

“There were three left, and I grabbed them and ran with them until she could get control of her anger again. I still have them displayed at my center in a special case. But I can’t part with them, so they’re not for sale.”

“Is this the same grandmother who runs the casino?”

Deanna nodded her head. “Yes, that’s when she went to work at the casino. She was still a beautiful woman, even though she was 50 years old. Being almost full-blooded Cree, she still had coal black hair with no gray, but her eyes were green, and they sparkled like emeralds. And she was good at the tables. Jack Townsend, the owner, took a real liking to her, and eventually he hired her to run the office and gradually more and more of the business. They finally married, and when he died five years ago, she became the sole owner. Now days that’s her whole life.”

Something like electricity was coursing through Simon. There was a connection here that he’d never even considered. An artist who had seriously hurt Deanna’s grandmother and virtually stolen her possible future success. Who was that man? And was he still alive – or had he been shot and killed a little over a week ago? Peter Crandell would have been considerably younger than Dee’s grandmother, but he could have known her well. The question was would he still be hanging around here if he’d stolen the woman’s  paintings?

Simon leaned closer to Dee and spoke softly. “At the risk of stirring up bitter feelings, do you mind if I ask you who that artist was who stole your grandmother’s paintings?”

Dee looked startled at first, but then she allowed herself to smile slowly. “What you’re really asking is if that artist was Peter Crandell.” She looked right into Simon’s eyes, daring him to deny the charge.

He didn’t flinch. “All right. Let’s say you’re correct in that assumption. It’s a reasonable guess, isn’t it?”

Dee shrugged her shoulders again and rose from her seat. “I suppose one could say it’s reasonable, but why on earth would Peter still be hanging around this area if he had actually stolen paintings from someone else who still lives here?”

“Good question. But you haven’t answered my question, and I asked first.” He rose from his seat as well and took their cups to deposit them in a nearby garbage container. When he returned to Dee’s side, she grimaced.

“I guess I might as well tell you because I’m sure you have ways of finding out. So yes, Peter Crandell is the man who I used to believe stole my grandmother’s paintings.”

Simon looked at her sharply. “Used to believe? You mean you don’t believe now that he was the guilty party?”

Deanna shook her head. “I don’t know. I find it hard to match anyone who was that greedy and mean to the kind of man Peter was when he moved back here. Of course, I didn’t actually know him very well back then. My own personal life was so messed up at that time I couldn’t be bothered with my grandmother’s friends. He was actually an art student in those days, but an extremely promising one, and he often hung out with Grandmother and even helped her in her stall here at the market.”

“And he continued working with her after the paintings were stolen?”

She shook her head. “No, he graduated the same month the paintings disappeared, and he left the area for many years. He returned only about three years ago, and that’s when I really got to know him.”

They had started walking toward the parking lot by then, and after they were seated in the car, she continued. “Peter was extremely talented, and when he came to me about a showing of his work, I was prepared to blackball him completely. But Grandmother said that truly great artistic talent is rare, and that the value of that kind of gift – and the sharing of it – are more important that personal feelings. She still insisted that she didn’t believe Peter was the culprit and she insisted that I work with him. So – not wanting to cause her more unhappiness, I did.”

“And?” Simon prompted

“And gradually, his quiet, unassuming manner wore down my dark feelings. I never could figure out how anyone with that kind of nature could possibly commit a crime like the one against Grandmother, and I guess I lulled myself into thinking perhaps I had been wrong.”  She looked Simon in the eye. “And don’t you go accusing my grandmother of murder either. I’ve told you, she’s the one who insisted I help Peter.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve already looked into your grandmother, and she has a hard and fast alibi.”

Simon didn’t ask any more questions. He could see that Deanna was upset, and he had to admit that the whole scenario – and its multiple possible interpretations – had him upset as well.

After dropping Deanna at her home – and giving in to one more light kiss as he said goodbye, Simon couldn’t make himself go home to his apartment. Instead, he headed for the office. He had to do some more checking. He had to connect some dots.

It’s true he had seen a whole new side to Deanna Forbes today – a soft, caring side that he would have bet a week ago didn’t exist. But he had to keep reminding himself: most people are made up of several different layers of personality. And a numGUN FIRINGber of other people who had displayed a warm, personable, caring side of their character had also been known to commit cold-blooded murder when they felt they had a strong enough motive.

~~~

Throughout the following week, Simon logged almost eight hours a day staring at his computer screen. He did take time to work on another case during some of those hours, but as soon as he got a chance, he want right back to the evidence and clues about Peter Crandell. His assistant, Tony, assumed that they were focusing on two other suspects who had also been brought in for questioning and had no one to corroborate their alibis. But this morning Tony had noticed that Simon was making notes on some information about Deanna.

“Hey, what’s the deal?’ He stood looking over Simon’s shoulder at the information on the screen. “I thought we took her out of the possibilities over a week ago?”

Simon Shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just a dog with a bone that I don’t quite want to let go of yet. Never hurts to cover all the bases even when we think we’ve got the case solved, and right now it’s still far from solved.”

“Right, but I thought we agreed that the guy who got cut out of the partnership with Crandell was our leading suspect.”

Simon sighed, stretched his arms over his head and swiveled his seat around to face Tony. “Yeah, he is our number one man right now. I don’t know ….” He paused and glanced back at the site he had up on his screen. “I guess I just can’t seem to get an ‘all clear’ on this.”

“But didn’t you say you had gone out to dinner with Deanna Forbes?”

“Yes, I did that. And I enjoyed myself. But I’ve been having some issues with the fact that I’m dating a woman who, a couple weeks ago, was a suspect in a murder case.” He got up and picked up his coffee cup from the desk. “Either I’m a little crazy, or I haven’t had enough caffeine the past couple of days. I’ll fix that part right now,” he added as he headed for the coffee maker.

“Well, time will tell, I guess,” Tony said, following him to get a cup of coffee as well. “but my money’s on the ex-partner.”

Simon glanced at Tony, but didn’t actually make eye contact. “I hope you’re right he said.”

“I think I am. And you have to admit that money is a powerful motive. You know yourself that it’s behind a large portion of the crimes we solve.”

Simon nodded. “But the other large portion of those crimes are committed as a result of emotional pressure – anger, jealously, the need to get revenge for some personal wrong.”

Simon had walked over to a window on the far side of the office and stood looking out. Tony moved to perch on the corner of a desk close by. His interest was thoroughly peaked now. He’d known Simon for years, and he knew the attitude – the look he wore – when something in his gut told him there was more to the story than met the eye. “So you have reason to believe that Deanna Forbes was suffering from some kind of deep emotional turmoil concerning Crandell – jealousy maybe? Another woman?”

Simon shook his head. He didn’t turn around and look at Tony because he realized his partner was beginning to take him seriously, and, at this point, Simon didn’t want him to return to being suspicious of Deanna. Heaven knew – Simon didn’t want to be suspicious of her himself. He was unusually attracted to her already, and he had plans to spend more time with her in the near future. So he decided he needed to throw Tony off the scent a little more. He turned and looked at him.

“No, I don’t think Deanna Forbes was jealous. Remember, Peter Crandell was about twenty years older than her, and believe me, she didn’t need to chase after a man twenty years her senior. Deanna Forbes can have just about any man she wants.”

“Whoa there, buddy. Does that include you?”

Simon shrugged. Then he grinned. “She’s been making some inroads that very few other women have managed.”

Tony chuckled and rose from the edge of the desk. “So all this extra investigating is more because you’re nervous about becoming vulnerable to the lady, is that it?”

Simon went back to his own desk and sat down. “I guess that has a lot to do with it,” he said, and was spared the need to continue because Tony’s cell phone rang then, and he answered it.

Both detectives passed the next week collecting more evidence against Howard Blake, Crandell’s one-time partner in an art and craft import business. The two had gone their separate ways, but no one knew the exact terms of their division. Blake had been heard to say that Crandell had cheated him out of a fair price for his half of the business, and that he intended to get even. No alibi for the time of Crandell’s death made Blake an even stronger suspect, and with evidence of his purchase of a gun in the past year – a gun that matched the caliber of the bullet found in Peter Crandell’s heart – he looked like a killer for sure.

On the following Friday morning, Tony laid the bill of sale for that gun on Simon’s desk. “This puts a few more nails in his coffin, to my way of thinking,” Tony said.

Simon breathed a huge sigh – relief that was almost tangible – and picked up the bill. He nodded. “Yeah, I’d say it’s time to go pick up Mr. Blake.”

HANDCUFFSWhen Simon put the cuffs on Blake and read him his rights, Blake looked him right in the eye. “Detective Stone, I know things look bad for me. But you’ve gotta believe me! I didn’t kill Peter! Yes, I was angry, and, yes, I made threats. What man wouldn’t when he’d been cheated by someone who was supposed to be his friend?” At those words, Simon’s stomach clinched. He’d heard those same words before – and by someone who had thought – at least at one time – that they fit Peter Crandell. He was hearing them a second time – again being used to describe Peter Crandell. Was the man actually guilty of such treachery – and against two different friends – at two different stages of his life? And if he were, was that treachery enough to push either friend into committing murder?

Simon pulled his thoughts back to his job and began ushering Blake out to the waiting police car. “You’ll have your day in court, Mr. Blake,” he said to the prisoner. “Be sure you give your attorney all the facts and all the information he’ll need to plead your case effectively.”

“Don’t worry, Detective. I’ll do that. And I’ll let him know a few other things I know that just might help you sharp detectives find out who the real killer is. There’s another party that had a real motive for murder, and when you finally get all the facts about her, you’ll be singin’ a different tune about me.”

Simon looked at him sharply, and Blake looked right back. His eyes told Simon that he had information Simon would rather not have come to light. Abruptly, Simon turned Blake over to Tony and got behind the steering wheel of the car. His own thoughts were swirling, but he refused to speculate or imagine beyond what the facts told him. He was worked up and over-stressed. That was all. He never liked arresting anyone because he thought they were a cold-blooded killer. Even after all these years, it still upset him.

And it was bad enough feeling this way about a stranger like Blake. He couldn’t afford to start imagining what he’d feel like if he had to do the same thing to a woman he really cared about.

To make matters worse, he was scheduled to spend the entire evening in that woman’s presence. The watercolor exhibit was only hours away, and he needed to de-stress in a hurry if he were going to get any pleasure out of the evening at all.

He arrived at the art center feeling slightly better, after having showered and forced down a ham sandwich. He knew there would be plenty of refreshments at the exhibit, but alcohol on an empty stomach was something he’d learned years ago to avoid, and fancy canapes couldn’t substitute for solid food when he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

He entered the center quietly, stopping to scan the enormous entrance area carefully. The practice was second nature, having been in law enforcement for nearly twenty years. No police officer entered a public building, especially one filled with people, without checking to make sure where all the exits were, and identifying any potential trouble makers or other threats to security.

By the time he felt he had a handle on the layout, he saw Deanna coming towards him. She was gorgeous, dressed in an exotic ankle-length gown of black silk, embroidered with gold sequence in an oriental pattern. The same gold sandals she’d worn on their first date added to the look, as did the dangling earrings with an oriental design that matched the dress. Her hair glistened – her lips as well, tantalizing him as she smiled directly at him long before she reached his side.
“Hello, Simon,” she purred, nestling her left hand in the crook of his right arm possessively. “How dangerously handsome you look tonight.”
He smiled, knowing she was deliberately trying to stir something deep within him. And she was succeeding. He felt the pull of her magnetism on his entire being; her eyes held his; he felt the connection of their bodies although they weren’t actually touching except for her hand. She was deliberately maintaining that miniscule amount of space that allowed the current of her own sexuality to flow into him and receive an answering current from him, all without being overtly flirtatious.

When had the relationship moved them into this new level of awareness and desire? He hadn’t felt it when they had sailed together that first time – or even when they had spent the whole day on the Blue Swan again just last week.. And he hadn’t felt this way when they had lunched together yesterday. He’d had no doubt that he was strongly attracted to her, but suddenly tonight he was out of his depth. She was saying something that he had missed while musing to himself. “I’m sorry; my mind wondered for a moment. What were you saying?”

She smiled knowingly, her eyes gleaming. “I simply said I feel honored that you made the effort to come when I know you must have had a horribly trying day – what with having to make an arrest and all.”
His eyebrows went up. “How did you know about the arrest?”

She shrugged. “I have friends all over town. You don’t think anyone who knew Peter Crandell would fail to tell me if his killer were arrested do you?”
“Darling, I don’t know how everyone knows things, but there are far too many newspapers in this town – and far too many nosy people – to let something that big pass by unnoticed – or unheralded.” She tugged gently on his arm. “Now come on. Let’s get you something to drink, and then I want to introduce you to Nathaniel West, artist of these fantastic works.”
“Don’t you think I should look at his work first, so I can say something sensible about it when I meet him?”
Her laugh was delightful. “Of course you’ll look at them first. I’m about to give you my own personal tour. Besides, Nathaniel is not the only person I want to show off tonight. I want to show you off as well. So come,” she said and walked over to one of the tables set throughout the room to get glasses of champagne for both of them.

The evening passed in a blur of faces and names, one or two short conversations with people whom he knew prior to this evening, and a record breaking series of introductions to new people. Dee had been honest when she’d said she wanted to show him off. The idea of her pride in him lit a brand new kind of spark inside of him. He’d never known a woman who literally made him feel like royalty.

As the crowd began to thin, Deanna invited him to accompany her to her private office for a moment. Once they had closed the door behind them, she turned to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, putting her face close enough to touch his lips, but still refraining from doing so.

“Simon,” she whispered, “I can’t begin to tell you how happy you’ve made me by coming tonight. It means so much for you to step out of your normal lifestyle to come into mine.”

Without any conscious thought, Simon found that he had put both arms around her and had tightened his embrace to close any space between them. As she continued to whisper how honored she felt because of his desire to be a part of her world, his lips began to touch and tease her own, until, finally, all caution gone, he took complete possession of those lips – all whispers subdued, as were all questions and uncertainties about the wisdom of such action.

LOVERS - SILIt was long moments before they were able to speak again, and when he finally came out of the haze that encompassed both of them enough to pay attention to anything else, he realized that the quiet undercurrent of chatter from the exhibit rooms, which had been noticeable even after closing the office door, was now gone. He pulled back from the embrace and listened more carefully. “It sounds as though your guests may have left.”

She smiled. “Yes, I knew it wouldn’t be long. That’s why I felt free to spend this time with you. Carl, my assistant will have seen them out and invited them back. And he is taking Nathaniel for dinner. I told them I had other business that demanded my time.”
He looked around as if to determine what that business might be. She laughed. “Darling Simon, how you surprise me. You’re the finest detective this city has, yet you have the naivete of a little boy at times. Don’t you understand that my more important business is spending time with you?”

Simon stepped closer to her again and put his arms around her once more. She welcomed his kiss as she had before, and, again, it was long moments before they spoke. Then Deanna said, “I ordered a late supper catered at my apartment, and because I hoped fervently that you would come tonight, I ordered for two. So will you follow me home and join me?”
He smiled. “I find the idea too hard to resist,” he said. “Are you ready to leave now?”

She nodded. “Yes, let me get my purse, and I’ll let Carl know we’re going. He’ll finish up here and lock up.”

The following morning, Simon woke up agitated. He hurriedly showered, dressed, and took off to the marina. He needed to be out in his boat – away from everything that felt like a constraint – away from everything except an ocean so vast that it let his mind go into neutral.

He had stayed with Dee long into the night – actually into the wee hours of the morning. He had admitted his feelings to her and reveled in her admission of feelings equally strong. They’d made no commitment, but he felt committed. Yet he felt hounded by something – whether inside or outside of him he didn’t know – that warned him to be careful.

As he sailed, he felt the pressures melt away. His thoughts kept drifting back to the times he’d sailed with Dee. In his mind, he could see her there – on the deck – her gorgeous hair blowing wildly, her voluptuous body soaking up the sun, her eyes inviting him to enjoy her presence. He could almost hear her infectious laughter at that moment, although he wasn’t within the sound of any other human beings.

As the morning drifted by, he began to sort out his thoughts and feelings. It came to him that the reason he had plunged into the intensity of their relationship with such abandon the previous night was that he had finally felt free from the need to keep proving to himself that she was innocent of the murder of Peter Crandell. With the arrest of Howard Blake and the uncompromising evidence that was building against him, Simon’s mind was finally letting go of the threads of suspicion that had bound him for days. By mid-afternoon, he felt like a new man. When he returned to the marina, he was able to tackle the list of ordinary chores waiting for him and even whistle while he worked through them.

Sunday morning, he answered his phone at 9:00 to discover Deanna on the line. “Hello, Darling,” she said, an eagerness in her voice. “I just called to say that I missed you yesterday.”

“That’s nice to hear,” he said, smiling.
“Isn’t it amazing. Four weeks ago, we didn’t know each other, and now I feel almost abandoned when I go one whole day without your company.”
He chuckled. “That’s quite an admission.”
Her answering chuckle sounded over the line. “Yes, isn’t it? I sometimes wonder about myself. I seem to throw caution to the wind at times, and I find I’ve done that thoroughly concerning my relationship with you. So, since I’ve been so fool-hardy already, I thought I’d call and see if I could talk you into taking me sailing today.”
“I don’t know why not. We should have good weather all day, and I don’t have anything else that’s pressing. I managed to get my household chores settled nicely yesterday.”
“Wonderful! When do we leave?”

Simon glanced at his watch. “Let’s say I’ll pick you up in about an hour.”

“I’ll be ready. Oh … and … by the way … I should have said this first thing … I love you, Simon.”

His heartbeat doubled; his stomach tightened; energy surged through him; the whole atmosphere grew brighter. He was in love for the first time in his life, and it affected him in ways he’d never experienced – or imagined – during his years of casual dating. “I love you, Dee. I’ll show you just how much when I see you in an hour.”

“I can’t wait, Darling.”

“See you soon.” When he returned the phone to its stand, he walked over to the window and just stood gazing out for several minutes. He had experienced strong feelings for a couple of other women in his life, but they had never grown to the level of these feelings for Deanna. He’d always managed to keep those relationships casual – and without putting forth a lot of effort to do so. But this time ….

He turned from the window and headed for the shower. An hour would be gone before he knew it if he spent it in all this meditation.

When he walked through the door at Dee’s house, she looked so good to him that he immediately picked her up and whirled her around. “Good morning, Dee Dee!” he said, laughing, enjoying the shock on her face at his unexpected behavior. He set her feet back onto the floor and proceed to kiss her thoroughly. Her response was everything he’d hoped and more. So much more, in fact that he quickly made an adjustment in his own actions, knowing that if he didn’t cool things down, they just might not make it to the boat.

With some effort, they managed to subdue their passion for the time being and loaded the few things Dee had ready to take with her. They stopped to buy food on the way, and, within the hour, found themselves sailing smoothly across the sparkling waters of the bay, headed out to the sea and a full day of nothing but pleasure in each other’s company.

~~~

Three weeks later, Simon walked into his office with a grin on his face that no one could have missed. Tony was already at his desk, and as soon as he saw his partner, he summed up the situation nicely. “So you finally popped the big question.”

Simon stopped in his tracks, halfway to his desk. “How on earth did you know!”

Tony laughed. “Buddy, no one had to tell me. You’re lit up like a neon sign, and what else could it be. I’ve never seen you like this, and everyone around here has known for at least a couple weeks that you and Deanna were getting really hot and heavy.”

Simon set his briefcase on his own desk and walked over to Tony’s, perching on the corner. “You know, I’m 40 years old, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in love before.”

Tony looked at him and grinned. “It can get you when you’re not looking, man. It happened to me. But I can honestly say that five years and two kids later, I’m a solidly happy man.”

Simon nodded. “I know you are, Tony. I hope I can have all that to look forward to as well.”

“And to think,” said Tony, “you met each other through a murder case. Who would have thought.”

“Yeah. Well, I guess stranger things have happened,” he said, getting up and moving over to his own desk. He tried not to let it show, but at Tony’s words, Simon’s stomach had clenched, and old fears began clutching at him. He struggled to get his mind back into control.  Settle down, Simon. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. Everything’s cleared up. The trial starts soon; the real killer will be behind prison walls, and the whole mess will be totally behind you and Deanna forever.

Simon didn’t particularly care about planning a big wedding. He was relieved when Dee told him she’d like to keep the wedding quite small and then hold a huge reception at the art center after they returned from a week’s honeymoon. She wanted only one bridesmaid, a close friend, Stella Myers, so Simon needed only one attendant as well. With a small ceremony in mind, the two of them agreed that one month allowed enough time for preparation, and the process began.

During the first couple weeks, Simon left most of the decision to Dee and tried to look and sound interested when she shared ideas with him. But all he really wanted at this point was to hear the words “I now pronounce you man and wife” coming from the minister.

Not wanting to seem a shirker, however, Simon did take responsibility for making all the travel arrangements and reservations necessary for the honeymoon. They had both agreed on the Virgin Islands, knowing they’d have plenty of opportunities for sailing and enjoying the beaches.

Howard Blake’s trial was set to start the week following the honeymoon, and Simon was working diligently to make sure everything in his case file would be ready for the D.A. ahead of time. He worked longer hours than usual, trying to stay on top of his regular case load, but he found time each evening to spend at least an hour or so with Deanna. He felt the need for her almost as strongly as he felt the need for air to breathe. It frightened him a little, never having found himself in such a state previously. But he also reveled in the exhilaration of their romance. If anyone had told him six months ago that he’d be feeling this way before the year was out, he’d have laughed out loud. Now days he just laughed out loud from sheer pleasure.

On a Friday morning, one week before the wedding, Simon was alone in the office, finishing up a report on a case that was now closed, when officer Megan Phillips knocked and, at his invitation, opened the door and slipped in. She walked over to his desk and spoke quietly. “Detective Stone, Howard Blake’s attorney’s here to see you.”

“Oh? Did he say what it’s about?”

“No sir; he insists that he has something to tell you, but it’s for your ears alone.”

Simon nodded. “Very well, send him in.” He closed the file folder he’d been using and turned his computer screen so that it couldn’t be seen by anyone sitting in front of his desk.

When the attorney came into the room, Simon stood up and acknowledged him. “Mr Cartwright.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Detective Stone.”

Simon motioned to one of the wooden chairs in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”

MEN TALKING ACROSS DESK“Thank you, “ Cartwright said and sat immediately. “I’ll not take a lot of your time, Detective, but I have a message for you from my client, and, because I do believe your the kind of man who is more interested in finding the right criminal to bring to justice than in just wrapping up a case, I’ve come to bring you that message.”

Simon’s eyebrows went up and he nodded at Cartwright. “Please go on.”

“What I’m going to tell you is information that ordinarily would be strictly confidential between my client and myself – unless I decided it needed to come out in the courtroom, of course – but Blake insists that I share some of it with you. I’ve told him that if you do believe any of what I’m going to tell you, he will have to speak to you personally about it as well, and he agrees to do that.”

Simon nodded again. “I’m listening.”

“I’m sure you already know that my client insists that he is innocent of the murder of Peter Crandell, but he has given me a good deal of information that – if it can be verified – could quite possibly lead you to the real killer.”

Simon cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair. “Blake hinted at something like that when I arrested him, but he’s been incarcerated for over a month now, and I haven’t heard more, so I assumed it was all a last ditch effort to take the focus off himself.”

“Well, part of the reason you haven’t heard more is that I’ve been considering just how much he needs to say. He’s finally convinced me that he has to be better off when he relays this information to you because, even though he will undoubtedly go to jail for a crime, it won’t be for murder, and he won’t be facing life imprisonment or the death penalty either one.”

“So you’re saying he’s admitted to being guilty of some other crime that puts him in a position of having information about Crandell’s death, even though he’s not the one who pulled the trigger?”

“Basically, yes.”

“So what’s the crime?”

“Before I tell you more, I want to make sure we are on the same wave length here. You do understand that I am not making a confession for Blake. I am merely here to tell you what he told me and what he wants me to pass on to you. If there’s to be a formal confession, I’ve explained that he will have to make it out of his own mouth and to your face.”

“We’re on the same wavelength counselor. Obviously I can’t consider something you’ve been told by someone else as anything but hearsay, and I’d never act on it unless Blake said the same thing to me in a formal confession.”

Cartwright nodded. “I was sure you’d see it that way. So here’s what my client wants you to know. One of the deals that went sour between him and Peter Crandell – one of the things that they were in … uh … partnership for – was blackmailing a woman named Deanna Forbes.”

Simon fought with everything in him to keep from reacting physically to the words. He wanted to squirm, to lean forward onto his desk, to grab Cartwright by his tie and yell, “Explain!” Instead, he simply swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded.

Cartwright cleared his throat and then continued: “According to Blake, this Forbes woman is an art dealer, and some time back, she started dealing in stolen goods.” He cleared his throat again. It was obvious he was nervous, and Simon was pretty sure why. Most of the people who had business around the police station these days knew he was engaged to Deanna Forbes. No doubt Cartwright and Blake has discussed that fact in connection with this conversation.

“Please just go ahead and give me the information you have, Mr. Cartwright.”

The attorney nodded and continued. “Well, according to Blake, the blackmailing had been going on for a little over a year, and Forbes was getting angry. But Crandell had her over a barrel, so to speak, since he supposedly had proof that some of the paintings she’s had shipped in were indeed on a list he was supposed to be watching for and reporting to authorities. Of course, he didn’t report anything except to Forbes herself, which resulted in the beginning of the blackmailing.”

Simon wanted to blast Cartwright for accusing Deanna of committing such a felony, but he held his tongue. He needed to hear everything the man had to say before he reacted. But his gut had already reacted violently. He hoped he could sit still long enough to get through the whole conversation.

Cartwright continued: “Blake tells me that Forbes, on several occasions, threatened Crandell with murder, but that Crandell laughed it off. Then the afternoon that Crandell was shot, Blake had gone to his office to try to convince Crandell that he still needed Blake to carry on the business and that they should try to work something out.”

Simon interrupted. “So that’s why your client has no alibi for the time of death. He was with Peter Crandell during part of that time period.”

“His words to me indicate that to be the fact. But I’ll continue: Evidently Crandell laughed at him and was so scathing in his rejection of Blake that my client finally gave up and left the building. But as he was going out one exit, he saw Deanna Forbes walking toward the building from a different direction. He discovered later that she had parked two blocks away, but at the time, he just hung back, hoping she didn’t see him, and then walked across the street to watch and see how long she stayed. He says he didn’t know why he waited. He just did.”

Simon interrupted here. “Is that when he discovered she had parked two blocks away?”

“No, it wasn’t until she left about twenty minutes later.”

“Was your client paying that close attention to the time?”

“Well, if you recall, there’s a church bell a couple blocks away to the north, and it rings on the hour and the half hour. Blake heard it ringing as he watched Forbes enter Crandell’s building, and he remembers that she was already out and back to her car – he watched her from the opposite side of the street – before the half hour bell sounded.”

Simon nodded. “I see. And exactly what hour of the day was that?”

“Blake says the church bells rang 4:00 as Forbes entered the building and didn’t ring the half hour until after she had driven away.”

Simon’s mind jumped to the coroner’s report, which he’d read a dozen times already. Time of death: between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m.

Cartwright watched Simon’s face closely. “I can see that your thoughts are tracking with mine, detective – back to the coroner’s report.

Simon looked straight at the attorney. “And your client is prepared to confess to his part in this transaction and testify under oath to all the rest?”

“He says he is. In fact, he’s been ready for a couple of weeks now, but I’ve encouraged him to wait and give the authorities time to uncover some of these facts themselves.”

Simon nodded. “That’s understandable.” He heaved a sigh and shifted position in his chair. “Tell Blake, I’ll arrange for him to give me his confession and his testimony this afternoon.”

Cartwright stood up. “Thank you, Detective Stone. I’ll go tell him now.” Simon stood as well and nodded agreement. Cartwright let himself out the door, and Simon walked to the window, needing desperately to look into the sunshine and the blue sky for as long as possible.

He was still standing at the window when Officer Phillips stuck her head in the door to let him know she was going to lunch and there’d be no one at the desk out front for an hour. He looked at his watch and discovered he’d been staring at the sky for over forty minutes, his mind whirling.

What did Blake’s story mean? Simon was convinced his own heart couldn’t have been so wrong about Deanna. That thought kept bouncing in and out of his mind between a myriad of other thoughts and feelings: relief that Tony hadn’t been in the office when he spoke with Blake or his attorney; suspicion that Blake had made everything up to throw them off the track where his involvement in the murder was concerned; the possibility of ignoring all of the new information and just letting things ride, since Deanna had an alibi and Blake did not ….

His head hurt from the tension, and his stomach was too soured to even think about ingesting food. He finally returned to his desk and pulled out the file with the interview he’d done with the Mathisons, the couple who had verified Deanna’s alibi. She’d been at their home, after all. They would have known if she’d left. Maybe he should talk with them once more and make sure that they were holding to their story. If they were, it would just be Blake’s word against the Mathison’s and Deanna’s, and Blake was the one with the most to lose, so the jury would surely doubt his testimony more than anyone else’s.

Something else needled him. Something new. His unconscious mind recognized it, but his conscious mind refused to acknowledge it as guilt.. He sat at his desk, staring at his computer screen but seeing nothing. He was numb, but his mind was alive with accusations. He’d never considered turning a blind eye to clues or covering them up in the past. But was he covering up anything? Not really. He was certain Blake’s attorney would insist that Blake tell the jury everything he had told Simon. So it wouldn’t be hidden. It just wouldn’t be given a chance to have corroboration if he sat on it until the actual trial. And … again … Simon assured himself that if it boiled down to just Blake’s words against everyone else’s, the jury wouldn’t buy it.

He had made plans to join Deanna, her maid of honor, and her husband for dinner. By 6:00, when he stopped at Deanna’s house, he had to admit to being thoroughly sick at his stomach. But he knew he couldn’t get out of the dinner without explaining things to Dee, and that wasn’t going to happen. He’d have to fake it for tonight.

The evening passed reasonably well, although Dee had known something was wrong. He’d excused his mood with the explanation that he had a case that was dragging him down. She never even considered that it had anything to do with Peter Crandell’s murder. In her mind, that case was closed.

As he drove home from her house, he considered again the possibility of letting everything ride just the way it had been before Blake had made his confessions. He didn’t want to have to consider Deanna in the light of a possible murder suspect again. That was all behind them, and, for the first time in his life, he was a man in love and looking forward to a life with something in it besides chasing criminals and trying to get them put behind bars and kept there for a reasonable time. It was a lonely and sometimes bitter way to live, and he was tired of it. He wanted to be in love, and he wanted to be married – to Deanna Forbes.

He barely slept that night, and when he did, he kept asking the Mathison’s the same question over and over in a dream. When he finally got up at 5:30, exhausted and in a sweat, he showered, dressed, and left his apartment. He had to get out into the fresh air, and he planned to have breakfast at his favorite place. Unfortunately, the food tasted like sawdust, and his eyes felt as though they had some of that same sawdust in them. It was no good. He’d have to at least force himself to do another interview with the Mathisons.

So when he got to the office, his first move was to call their home and set up an appointment for later that morning. When he arrived at their home, Boris Mathison was standing in the long drive talking to his chauffeur. He waved at Simon, and after parking the car, Simon walked over to the two men. He heard the last of Mathison’s words to the young man. “So you’ve got the names written down, along with a description of their cars.”

“Yes sir,” the chauffeur replied.

“Good, then make sure those two families have their cars parked in the prime spots.”

“You can count on it, sir,” he replied and saluted the older man before walking off.

Mathison looked at Simon and turned to lead him toward the house. “Good man I’ve got there,” he said glancing back toward the retreating chauffeur. “Takes excellent care of all my vehicles and runs a smooth ship whenever we have a party.”

“So your chauffeur handles all the valet service for your parties as well?” Simon asked.

“Oh yes. I like to use my own people.”

Simon nodded. “Makes sense.” And before he realized he was going to ask the question, he heard himself saying, “So, was that man the one in charge of the parking for the bon-voyage party you and your friends had – the one where Deanna attended and needed you to corroborate her alibi?”

“Oh, yes. He does ’em all. He has help, of course, but he’s in charge, and he’s always on top of things too.”

Simon didn’t take very long with Mathison and his wife. They led him to the patio in back of the house and offered him a seat and refreshments. He refused anything to drink and got right down to business. He simply told them that before the trial he liked to re-affirm the testimony of everyone who’s information played an important part in the case. They seemed glad to think their testimony was that important, and when asked, they both affirmed that Deanna had been at the party all evening. “She was the first to get here,” Mrs. Mathison said.

“And the last to leave,” Boris added. “But that’s her normal M. O., you know. She likes to arrive early at our parties so we can all three have a cozy chat, and once the party’s in full swing, she gets involved talking to everyone and generally is the last one to say good night.”

“And that’s the way it was on the night of Peter Crandell’s murder? You’re sure?”

“Why, of course, Detective Stone,” Boris said. “We talked with her personally throughout the evening.” He chuckled. “She always scolds us for drinking too much, but I guess we should be glad of that, since I remember her telling me that twice on the night in question. And if she hadn’t, perhaps I wouldn’t have known for sure she was here.”

“I don’t suppose you remember any exact times for those conversations with Deanna, do you?”

“Well, now, Detective, we had been drinking quite a bit, and I didn’t stop to look at the clock every time Dee talked to us, but, as I said, she came early; we talked throughout the evening; and she left last. Surely, she’s not under suspicion again.”

Simon shook his head. “No. I’m just double checking all of our facts before the trial starts in a little over a week.

“Ah, yes, you’ll just be getting back from your honeymoon when it starts, won’t you? Well, I can tell you one thing: you couldn’t give Dee a better wedding present than having locked up the Blake guy for Peter’s murder. We all breathed a big sigh of relief when that happened.”

Simon nodded his head. “I can understand that.” He got up from where they were sitting on the patio and shook Boris Mathison’s hand. “Thank you again for your time,” he said.

Boris grinned. “No problem Detective.” He and his wife turned to go into the house as he added, “We’ll see you at the wedding next Friday.”

As Simon returned to his car, he noticed the chauffeur closing the garage doors and before he realized what he was going to do, he walked over and struck up a conversation. “Say, I just spoke with Mr. Mathison about some evidence he was able to provide concerning a party they had here several weeks ago, and before we talked about that, he told me some very complimentary things about you and your work for him.”

The young man had stopped in front of Simon and was wiping his hands with a rag. He grinned at Simon – a broad, open grin. “I try to give him good service. He pays good, and I like the job.”

“Does he pay better than most people for services like yours?”

The man shrugged. “Better than some. And there are perks as well.”

Simon nodded. “Sounded to me, from what Mathison said, that you deserve them.” Then he stuck out his hand toward the young man. “I’m Detective Simon Stone, and I’m investigating a recent murder.”

The man took Simon’s hand a little hesitantly and finally said, “My names Kendall, but I don’t know anything about any murder, Detective.”

Simon shook his head and held up his hand in a defensive gesture. “No, no. I’m not implying that you do. But I’m wondering if you just might remember anything that could be helpful from the night of the bon-voyage party the Mathison’s had here a few weeks ago. Sometimes people see things or hear things that can be important, but they don’t know themselves that what they saw or heard matters.”

Kendall looked thoughtful. “Man, that party was weeks ago – maybe more like months now.”

“I realize that, but would you be willing to just humor me for a few minutes and tell me anything that you do remember from that night while you were handling the valet parking?”

“Well …,” Kendall said, looking off in the distance while he stood with his hands on his hips, the rag still dangling from one hand. “Nothin’ stands out in my mind.”

“I’m most interested in whether or not you – or any of your helpers – saw any of the guests leave the party and then come back before it was over.”

Simon’s heartbeat doubled. He wished he hadn’t asked the question, but something inside him refused to hide from the truth any longer. He could only hope that the truth would be what he wanted to hear.

Kendall thought for a minute. “I can’t say that I saw anyone leave. But then I wasn’t right where I could see all the cars for the whole evening. We had been having issues with Mr. Mathison’s Rolls that day, and I went back into the garage to talk with the mechanic about that situation, and I was probably gone an hour. One of the other guys was keeping an eye on the guests cars during that time.”

“Does he work here too? Could I talk to him?”

Kendall shrugged. “I guess you could talk to him alright, but he’s not here this week. He had vacation time coming, and he won’t be back to work until this weekend. I could try to call him if it’s real important.”

“You don’t have to do that. If you’ll give me his name and number, I’ll get in touch with him myself, and you won’t need to be bothered any more.”

“Well, now, that’s kind of a problem. You see, Mr. Mathison won’t let us give out any information about his other employees. If you want to ask him, and he tells me it’s okay, I’ll give you the guy’s name and number, but I can’t unless you do that.”

Simon saw his chance to back out of this impromptu interrogation and took it. “Well, I don’t think it will be necessary to bother Mr. Mathison again. I’ll tell you what: if you do talk to the other guy, and he remembers anything, he can get in touch with me. Here’s my card,” he added as he handed Kendall a business card. “And please assure him that he is not in any trouble personally. I just like to cover all the bases to make sure we know everything we need to know before someone goes on trial for murder.”

Kendall nodded his head in understanding. “When I see him, I’ll tell you’d like to talk to him.”

“Thank you, Kendall. I appreciate it.

The following morning, even though he normally took Sundays off when possible, Simon went to his office at 10:00. Right after the murder, he had ordered the records of Peter Crandell’s two phone accounts, his e-mail correspondence, and his bank records. He hadn’t discovered anything that shed light on the murder by the time he’d arrested Blake, and after that, he had stopped perusing those particular records.

Now, he wanted to go through them more carefully to learn how many calls Crandell had made to Deanna, how many e-mails they had exchanged, and whether or not Crandell’s bank account showed large deposits at any particular times for no apparent reason. After hours of non-stop study, Simon still had no indication of a connection with Deanna, other than an occasional purchase she had made from his import company and a few reasonable payments for paintings that had been sold during one of his exhibits at her art center.

Simon stopped at 1:30 to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and while he was eating, Dee called. “Hey, I thought we were going to try to go sailing this afternoon,” she said. “Did you forget?”

Simon groaned. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I got swamped with some unexpected work on a case and, yes, I did forget. I guess I might as well tell you now that Detectives do sometimes lose all track of time when they’re working on a tough case. Is that going to be a deal breaker for us?”

She laughed, and his heart turned over. “Simon, Darling, I can’t think of anything that would be a deal breaker at this point. I’m besotted with you; I can’t deny it. And it’s alright about the sailing. To tell you the truth, I’m a little tired. How about I order us some supper catered here to my apartment for later instead.”

He smiled and took a deep breath. “That sounds great. Give me a couple more hours, and I’ll be so bleary eyed I’ll have to stop.”

“Good. I’ll see you about 6:00, and that should give you plenty of time.”

It was almost 4:00 when Simon closed the files, messaged the back of his neck, and got up from his desk. He was exhausted, more from the emotional tension than the actual work. He’d been trying his best to find something that he didn’t want to find, and that kind of stress was a killer if it lasted long enough. He managed to go home, shower, and get to Deanna’s before the food arrived, and, forcing himself to focus on her and their feelings for each other, he managed to pass the evening in a peaceful state of mind. However, once he was home and trying to sleep, he didn’t find it so easy to keep all the fears from closing in on him.

Finally by Monday morning, he knew he’d have to make a trip to Peter Crandell’s office. He and his team had scoured the place immediately after the murder, and he couldn’t believe they had missed anything that mattered. But he knew putting off another trip wasn’t an option. There were some dragons that had to be slain. He had to put fears to rest and get some real peace before the wedding. So he stopped by the office to pick up the keys to Crandell’s building. He was relieved to see a note on his desk from Tony saying the chief had asked Tony to work on a case that would normally have been covered by another detective. Due to illness, the team on that case was short-handed, and Tony was the obvious choice to fill-in. That left Simon free to investigate further without anyone else being the wiser.

As he entered Crandell’s office, he was bombarded with memories of his first interview with Deanna after the murder. At that time, she was hadn’t been a primary suspect, but an acquaintance closely enough connected to be questioned. He’d been impressed with her from the beginning. No – make that attracted to her from the beginning. But she’d really surprised him with that spur-of-the-moment invitation to dinner after the second interview. Who would have believed that interrogating a possible suspect would lead to his marriage? He smiled to himself now and asked himself if he really wanted to be here. What exactly was he looking for anyway? And if he found it, would it jeopardize his chance at love and happiness with Dee? And if it did so, was it worth it?

“Snap out of it, Stone,” he scolded himself out loud. “Think, man. Think! Do your job and get this over with!” With that short lecture, he started yanking open drawers, rummaging through them, and slamming them shut again. He moved to a wall storage unit and did the same with all the compartments of that. These were areas he and his men had thoroughly searched; he was wasting his time.

Finally, he stopped his feverish activity and just sat down in a chair across from Crandell’s desk. If he wanted to find any link between Peter Crandell and Deanna that looked like blackmail, what did he have to look for? He thought for several minutes, going back over the bank records he had studied yesterday. Suddenly, he realized that the one thing he hadn’t considered – and it wasn’t like him to miss something that obvious – was that Crandell might have had an account at a different bank into which he deposited any blackmail funds. Of course; that was the logical answer, but where were the records?

As he sat in the chair, trying to quiet his mind enough to let his normal gifts for investigation come to the surface, he began focusing on the artwork Crandell had displayed on the walls. He got up from the chair and walked around looking at them more closely and saw that they were all originals by Crandell himself. And all of them were landscapes except one: a portrait of Deanna, sitting on a cliff on a windy day. Why only one portrait in the midst of a decorating scheme that focused on landscapes?

He walked over and stood before the portrait. Deanna looked happy in the picture and, with the wind tossing her hair and billowing through a green scarf around her neck, it was a picture of life and energy. No wonder Crandell was proud of it enough to want to display it in his office.

Simon reached up and took the picture down from the wall. He’d like to have this piece, and he would contact the executor of Crandell’s estate about buying it. Just as the frame came free of the wall, something fell to the floor, and, looking down, Simon saw a small brown book at his feet. Undoubtedly, whatever it was had been tucked behind this painting, and Simon turned the painting around backwards to look more closely at the frame. Sure enough, there was a slight space between the frame and the canvas, large enough to tuck something into it. Simon sat the painting on the floor and reached for the object. But even before he turned it over to see what was written on the front of it, some sixth sense told him it was the one piece of evidence he had been looking for and hoping not to find.

BROWN BOOK FOR STORYA bank book, from a bank not mentioned in any of Crandell’s other business papers. The account, in the name of Petros, LTD., showed regular deposits four times a year, for the past two years, in the sum of $10,000. No other deposits were entered, and, to date, there had been no withdrawals. It could certainly translate into blackmail payments that were kept hidden in a secret account, but it could also be payments of some other kind that were too personal for Crandell to keep records of them with his business papers. Blake had said that the blackmailing had been going on for over a year, but he didn’t specify exactly how much longer than a year. Of course, there was always the possibility that Crandell had been blackmailing Dee even before he struck a deal with Blake.

Simon shook his head and threw the bank book down onto the desk. He shouldn’t even be thinking these thoughts at all. Crandell’s having a second bank book proved nothing where Dee was concerned. He needed to get out of here and get back to a place where he could think more clearly. However, knowing he couldn’t just leave the bank book lying on the desk, he did put it in his pocket to take with him. He glanced once more at the portrait, sitting on the floor, but at this point, he even recoiled from the picture because of the possibility that it had once held incriminating evidence he didn’t want to face.

By Wednesday, Simon had the legal papers he needed to call for Deanna’s bank statements, and as soon as he sat down to his desk, he went to work on them. It was painstaking labor – another job that brought a heaviness to his own heart – but he pressed himself to stick with it. By early afternoon, he had amassed a list of checks for $10,000, made out to Petros, LTD, and bearing dates that matched the deposits into Crandell’s account by that name. MAN AT DESK b & wHe slammed the file folder shut, turned off his computer screen, and put his head in his hands. Even if Dee was still innocent of Crandell’s murder, she had evidently been guilty of dealing in stolen art, or she surely would not have been paying hush money to Crandell.

Then another truth reared its ugly head: He wanted to insist that Dee tell him the truth about the stolen good and the blackmail – and that she try to make it right – but, at the same time, he knew that if he just kept quiet about it, no one else would ever have to know. Since the bank book hadn’t been discovered in the official searches of Crandell’s office, and there were evidently no records of the account elsewhere, if he destroyed the book in his own possession, the whole subject would still be dealt with in the trial as Blake’s word against Deanna’s.

He wrestled with all those possibilities for the next twenty-four hours, and by the time he showed up at the rehearsal and the dinner on Thursday night, the stress was clearly evident. But most of the people involved were caught up in the excitement of the wedding, and even Dee was so focused on getting all the details just right that her only question to him was if he was getting any rest at all.

“I’m fine, Honey,” he’d lied. “And I’m taking off tomorrow at noon, so I’ll look rested and eager the way a groom should look at the wedding,” he’d added, following his words with a kiss that left her in no doubt of his feelings and his need.

She seemed satisfied with that, and when they parted for the evening, she touched his face gently, as she said, “My darling, Simon, how I ever lived without you I do not know. But I’m so grateful that by this time tomorrow night, I won’t ever have to live without you again.”

He kissed her again, with the passion he could hardly contain, and hurried off to his car. How he hoped she was right about their never having to be apart again. He’d try to make it happen. He had to.

At a quarter past nine, the next morning, Simon received a call from Kendall. “Detective Stone, you asked me to call you when Tom got back from his vacation, and I told him you wanted to talk to him. He’s not too anxious to talk to you – kind of scared, I think – but I told him he wasn’t in any kind of trouble. That’s still true, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s still true,” Simon said. “Is he there at Mathison’s now?”

“Yeah, do you want me to put him on the phone?”

“No, I’ll come out and talk with him. I’ll be with you in about thirty minutes. It shouldn’t take long.”

Simon cursed himself all the way to the Mathison home. “You’re a fool,” he told himself out loud more than once. “You need to leave this alone. You’ve done your job, and you’ve got your man in jail.”

But he kept driving, and finally found himself at the Mathison estate, sitting at a picnic table situated close to the garage, talking to Kendall and Tom. Kendall had filled Tom in on the fact that Simon’s questions concerned the bon voyage party from several weeks ago.

“All I really need to know,” Simon said, “is if you noticed any guests leaving while the party was still in progress and then returning before it was over.”

“Oh, wow, it’s interestin’ you should ask me that. Wouldn’t you know it would be about somethin’ I saw that nobody else could see.”

Simon gritted his teeth silently. “Exactly what does that mean, Tom?”

“Well, I just mean that if I hadn’t taken over for Kendall during that time, I wouldn’t have seen her, and I wouldn’t be able to help you out.”

“You saw someone leave the party?”

“Yeah, that Ms. Forbes, and it was really strange. I wouldn’t have seen her at all if I hadn’t walked over by the gazebo to have me a smoke. We don’t have to keep our eyes on the cars all the time you know. We just have to keep one of us standin’ by in case a guest needs to leave early or needs to get into his car for somethin’. We’re supposed to be right there for them.”

“Are you saying you saw Deanna Forbes leave the party before it was over?”

“Yeah, isn’t that what I just said?”

“Not exactly. Please give me the details if you can remember them.”

“Hey, I can always remember details where Ms. Forbes is concerned. She’s some looker, ain’t she? I mean real classy, but sort of nice at the same time. And what a tipper. I guess that’s what made me remember that day especially. Since I was leanin’ against the gazebo, havin’ a smoke, like I said, I could see the side entrance to the house – a door almost no one uses – and she came out that door and almost ran to her car. At first I thought what a shame it was that she was goin’ straight for her car and not lettin’ me get it for her – cause she’s a big tipper, let me tell you.”

“Yes, you said that,” Simon interrupted. “Go on. What happened next?”

“Well, like I say, I was sure disappointed. But then I noticed that she was runnin’, and I figured maybe she had an emergency and couldn’t wait for somebody else to get the car. And then when she took the back drive off the property ─ drivin’ fast ─ I figured for sure it was an emergency because that’s the shortcut into town.”

“So she drove away?”

“Yeah, and I finished my cigarette and walked on over to the front part of the house. I thought maybe some of the other guests might be gonna leave early too. But nobody did, and then about an hour later – well maybe it wasn’t that long either – but anyway sometime later, I saw Ms. Forbes drivin’ up that back drive again.”

“And she went back into the house?”

“Yes sir. And when she came out at the end of the party, she gave me the biggest tip I’ve ever had.”

“I don’t guess you have any idea what time that was?”

“Well, I don’t know for sure,” Tom said and looked at Kendall. “It was when you were with that mechanic. Do you remember anything about the time?”

“I remember the mechanic left at 5:15, because I looked at my watch as he was driving away,” Kendall answered. Then he looked at Simon. “I knew I had to get the truck washed and waxed before it started getting dark, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. But I went to offer Tom a break before I started the truck.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Tom added. “And Ms. Forbes had already come back to the party by the time Kendall came to give me a break, so I guess it had to be about 5:00 that she came back.”

Simon had taken notes as Tom talked, and he read those notes back to Tom and Kendall. They agreed that he had recorded the facts correctly, and he rose from the picnic table and extended his hand to both of them. “You’ve both been very helpful. I want you to know that I appreciate it, as does my department.”

“Hey, no problem,” Kendall said, and Simon turned to leave just as Tom spoke again. “Hey! I just remembered somethin’ else really weird about that whole thing.”

Simon turned back to him. “What’s that, Tom?”

The young chauffeur scratched his head as if he couldn’t get his thoughts collected, but finally answered. “Well, when Ms. Forbes got out of her car, instead of goin’ right into the house, she walked way out to the edge of the main yard — out to where there’s a big wooded area — on the east.” He looked at Kendall. “You know where I mean?”

“Yeah, sure, but why on earth would she go out to that area?”

“I thought it was kinda funny myself, and I guess that’s why I watched her so close. In fact, I even stepped up into the gazebo to see better. She walked just a little ways into the wooded area, and it looked like she threw somethin’ into the woods. But that didn’t make any sense, and I was so far away, I couldn’t see if she really threw somethin’ or not.” He looked back at Simon, whose face was now white. “Hey, Detective Stone, are you okay?”

Simon pulled himself together as much as possible. “Sure. Sure. I’ve just been working too hard on this case I guess. Is that all you remember, Tom?”

“Yeah, that’s about it, I guess. I had forgotten all about that last part until just now.”

“Well, I’ll leave you two to your work. I need to go up to the house and speak to Mr. Mathison if he’s home.”

“He’s home,” Kendall said, grinning. “I’m sure of it because if he weren’t, one of us would be driving his car.”

Simon nodded to both of them and made his way to the house. When he explained to Mathison that he needed to bring a team out to search through his woods, the man balked at first, but after Simon explained that it wouldn’t take long to get a search warrant and do it anyway, he finally gave permission.

For one brief moment, Boris Mathison considered calling Dee to let her know that there was still some kind of investigation going on that might include her. But he was a practical man who made it a habit to look out for himself first, and, in the end, he decided his safest bet was to stay as far out of the picture as possible.

Simon called the office from Mathison’s estate and had his team on the property within the hour. It was 12:30, and he had only five and a half hours until he was supposed to be at the church, dressing for his wedding. He felt sick and hoped he wouldn’t throw up in front of the search team.

There had been little rain during the weeks since the party, and even what had fallen had been deflected partly by the trees. Evidently the animal activity in this stretch of woods amounted to no more than squirrels, rabbits, and maybe a fox or two, according to the tracks they picked up. If luck were with them, they just might find any foreign object still at least partly visible right where it had landed. Judging from the angle Tom had seen Dee enter the area, they began the search to coincide with the most likely trajectory.

GUN FIRINGTwo hours later, Simon held the gun in his hand. The bile rising from his stomach was so bitter that as soon as the gun was in the bag and headed to the lab, he almost ran to his car to keep from vomiting in front of the other members of the team. He managed to get his car down the drive and back out on the road, but five minutes later, he had to pull off and run to the side of the road because the nausea was too much for him.

Back at his desk, he stared at the lab report. The gun was missing one bullet of the same caliber that had killed Peter Crandell. But there were no fingerprints on it, and it wasn’t registered to any legal gun owner. He closed his eyes and tried to take a couple deep breaths before he turned to his keyboard to start writing his own report. He felt like a robot. Numbness engulfed him, but he wrote non-stop. When he had finished typing, he hit “Print.” He needed to read the report in hard copy to make sure it was correct.

After reading it, he returned to his computer and moved the cursor to the “Save” button. But he didn’t click the button. If he didn’t save any of this on his computer, it would never become part of the official record of the case. A gun found in the woods with no fingerprints wouldn’t mean a lot if the rest of the information in this report never came to light. As hesitant as the two chauffeurs had been to talk with him, it was extremely doubtful they’d ever come forward and volunteer any information to anyone else. And it was a sure thing that Mathison didn’t want himself or his property connected with a murder in any way at all. With just a little luck, the gun would ultimately go down in the records as an unidentified, unclaimed weapon.

If he hit “Delete,” and ran the hard copy through the paper shredder, could he still be a happily married man by 8:00 this evening and for many decades to come? Why should he throw away all of his own happiness? Trying to decide the answer to that question, he sat like a stone, staring at the computer screen for the next hour.

When his phone rang, he picked it up automatically. It was Tony.

“Hey, bridegoom,” Tony’s cheery voice sounded over the line. “Just checking in to make sure you don’t need any last-minute help from your best man.”

“Hey, Tony,” Simon said and then let out a deep sigh.”

“Whoah, buddy. What’s that in-depth sigh about. Are you okay?”

Simon knew he’d have to play it cool if he didn’t want his partner picking up on the fact that something serious was going on. “Now, I ask you, is any bridegroom really okay right before he says, ‘I do.’?” He managed a chuckle with the words, and Tony’s voice came back relaxed.

“Well, you have a point there, my friend. But don’t sweat it. You’ll be fine once you’ve kissed your bride. But, hey, you surely aren’t still working!”

“Yeah, I’m just finishing up one last report, and I’m out of here in minutes.”

“Good deal. If you need me, call. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the church about 6:00 to get dressed up and spiffy.”

“Thanks, Tony. You’re the greatest friend.”

“See you soon, buddy.”

When he hung up, Simon buzzed officer Phillips and told her that he was officially off-duty as of that moment, and all calls should be forwarded to his substitute for the duration of his vacation.

At five minutes past 6:00, Simon walked into the church. One of the men who was ushering showed him to the side room where the minster, groom, and best man were to change clothes. As Simon entered the room, the minister came forward and shook his hand warmly. “Good to see you again, Detective Stone, and you’re early enough to have ample time to get ready. I’m going out to check on some last-minute details, so let me wish you congratulations ahead of time,” he said. Then just before he closed the door behind him, he added, “I’ll see you two gentlemen at the altar.”

Simon turned to Tony. “Looks like you’re ready.”

“Yeah, I thought I’d be more help to you if I got ready ahead of time. Stella came by a couple minutes ago and let me know that Deanna is here and getting dressed as we speak.”

Simon nodded and quietly started changing clothes. As he put the last touches on his outfit, he looked into the mirror for several long moments. Tony, behind him, saw the look on his friend’s face.

He cleared his throat. “Simon, I don’t mean to be nosy, but … I’ve known you a long time, and … well … I’ve seen how deliriously happy you’ve been since you and Dee made the decision to marry, but right now I’m picking up on something that just doesn’t fit with everything else I know.”

Simon looked into the mirror and met Tony’s eyes. Tony continued.

“What am I missing, Simon? … What’s wrong?”

Simon walked over to the jacket he’d worn into the church, reached into the inside pocket, and took out an envelope. He handed it to Tony. “This is the report I was working on when you called this afternoon.”

Tony looked confused, but some sixth sense told him he should read it now. He took out the several sheets and began reading silently. Moments later, stricken beyond words, he looked up at Simon.

Simon turned back around and looked into the mirror, straightening his tie once more. Tony walked up behind him but didn’t touch him or say anything. Finally, Simon turned and faced his friend again, and Tony spoke.

“Simon … you can’t go through with —”

“Stop, Tony,” Simon interrupted, throwing up his hand to silence his friend.

“But you can’t —”

“Tony …” Simon took a deep, ragged breath and finally laid his hand on Tony’s shoulder.  “I can do what I have to do, my friend.”

“But —”

At that moment, the minister stuck his head in the door and said, “Gentlemen, we’re on. Follow me please.”

Without another word, Tony slipped the report back into the envelope and stuck it in his own pocket. Both men followed the minister to the front of the church and turned to face the waiting guests.

BRIDE_02 - PINKDeanna’s father was no longer alive, so she had decided to walk down the aisle without an escort, and as the music began, Simon glued his eyes to the back entrance. Stella came first, of course, and, dressed in her cherry red gown, she made a striking contrast to Deanna in the full length, ivory wedding gown and veil. Stella took her place opposite Simon and Tony, and all eyes turned to see the radiant bride.

Simon watched in a daze. What he’d thought was his dream come true for his personal life was coming down the aisle to him. Her eyes were on him alone, and he knew – somehow, in spite of everything he’d learned in the past forty-eight hours – he knew that her love for him was real and lasting. How could a man possibly give that up? His thoughts tortured him. Were private convictions important enough to give up love that strong? Convictions wouldn’t keep him warm at night, or cause his blood to run hot and his whole being to feel alive with the passion that Deanna stirred in him. He couldn’t throw that away.

Deanna was finally at this side. She handed her bouquet to Stella, then reached out and took Simon’s hands. They were supposed to hold hands during part of the vows, but she wanted that touch right now, and so did Simon. He squeezed her hands gently, and she smiled, her eyes brilliant with her love for him. Simon couldn’t smile, but his eyes burned into hers.

Then the music came to an end, and the minister began: “Dearly beloved —”

“Excuse me, Reverend,” Simon interrupted, turning slightly to lay his right hand on the minister’s arm. “Before you go on, there’s something I need to say.”

The minister was surprised, of course, but he was seasoned enough to know that weddings seldom went according to plans. “Certainly, Detective Stone, take all the time you want.”

Simon looked back at Dee, who still smiled with expectancy, waiting to hear what he wanted to add to their ceremony. He closed his eyes for one brief, pain-filled moment. Then without another word, with his free hand, he pulled handcuffs from his pants pocket and locked them around Dee’s wrists before anyone could even realize what was taking place.

“Deanna Forbes,” he said. “you are under arrest for the murder of Peter Crandell. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney ……………..”

THE END

HANDCUFFS

~

Advertisements

Hey, don't you dare go away without leaving me a note!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s