Deanna 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.”
Deanna 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, Detective Stone. 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 again. “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.
In the meantime, 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 its 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.
The mystery continues in book #1 of the Simon Stone Detective Series.
Read all of INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Available in paperback and digital at Amazon.
Book 1 is a story that I originally wrote right here on this blog: INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY
Here’s a peek at what it’s about:
Deanna Forbes is a suspect in a murder investigation, but that fact doesn’t interfere with her desires. And, as a woman, she finds herself attracted to Detective Simon Stone, who conducts the two interviews with her before she is taken off the suspect list. She surprises Stone, and herself, when she invites him to have dinner with her so she can get to know him better.
Simon is a detective with a heart, and, so far, that heart has never been broken. So falling in love with a woman he suspects of murder doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. But sometimes the heart has a mind of its own. He may be the sharpest detective on the force, but love is not a subject covered in the standard law enforcement manuals.
Today’s one-word prompt fits right in with the theme of the new novelette I’m currently working on. It is book number 2 in The Simon Stone Detective Trilogy. Some of you will remember Simon because I actually wrote the first book in the series (Innocent Until Proven Guilty) right here on this blog. That book will be available as an e-book on Amazon in September, and book # 2 will be out before Christmas. So I thought I’d offer Chapter One of the second book as a teaser — and as my response to the prompt: witness.
(One small note: If you have not read book # 1, what you read here will include information that may spoil the ending of the first book for you. So just be forewarned.)
Stanford Brooks sat at a table in a private study carrel on the second floor of the municipal library, submerged in his favorite historical era. Suddenly he felt a stabbing pain in the back of his neck. Letting out a small grunt, he started to lift his right arm, intending to place his hand on the source of pain to discover the cause. But before he could complete the act, a gloved hand covered his nose and mouth.
Ordinarily, being a big man, he would have used his size to struggle against such an action, but his mind had grown fuzzy and his throat was beginning to constrict. He tried to turn his head and groaned beneath the heavy hand, but it was a weak sound, due to the weakening condition of his whole body. In the next second, everything went gray, then black, and without another conscious thought, he fell forward across his book.
A faint snap sounded behind him, followed within seconds by the merest whisper of wood touching wood at the closing of the carrel door. Silence then reigned in the halls of the library’s second floor, and business as usual continued at the circulation desk downstairs.
On the other side of the city, Detective Simon Stone, deep in thought about the events of his day, walked to his apartment door and slipped his key into the lock as usual. But, suddenly, nothing was “usual” at all, because when he turned the key, there was no resistance. Every nerve came to attention, and he reached inside his jacket for his Glock. He had no doubt he’d locked the door when he’d left for work at 6:00 a.m.
His mind rapidly clicked off the possibilities: petty burglar, ex-con bent on revenge, a hit man under orders from any number of drug lords he’d ticked off over the past several years. As one part of his mind sorted through the options, another part tried to make the best guess as to where inside the apartment he’d most likely find the intruder.
When he’d settled on his plan of action, he eased the door open silently, crouching, and sweeping his gun arm left to right as he panned the entire living room. No one in sight, but immediately, he heard sounds in the kitchen. He tilted his head, listening: the clatter of dishes rang out against the background of running water. He shook his head, confused. He’d never known a burglar or a hit man who cleaned up the kitchen before committing his crime.
Simon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. That sixth sense that made him one of the sharpest detectives on the force told him all was well, but the fact that someone was in his apartment who had not been invited kept him vigilant. He moved on cat feet to the kitchen door, and just before giving the connecting swing door a shove with his foot, he heard the humming. His visitor was humming “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Well, that cleared away all questions. He knew only one person who hummed that stalwart Lutheran hymn as she worked: Aunt Prissy – not a dangerous criminal, but a force to be reckoned with all the same. A hearty sigh of relief rushed through him, only to be shut off by the irritation he felt at his aunt’s irresponsible behavior. He mulled over the possibilities of dealing with the situation.
At seventy-one, Aunt Prissy had lived long enough to think she knew best about most things and to feel brave enough to take on the world. A self-appointed amateur detective in her hometown, she didn’t shy away from practicing her gift for picking locks. However, she did make sure she practiced only on family and friends. He’d lectured and lectured, to no affect, so maybe now was an excellent time for an object lesson. He’d go ahead and kick open the door and yell, “Freeze!”
He didn’t want to point his gun at her, of course, and he quietly eased it back into his shoulder holster. As he did so, he started questioning the plan because he certainly didn’t want to frighten her enough to give her a heart attack or something. But she was in excellent health, so maybe ─
“Simon, for heaven’s sake stop standing outside the kitchen door!” He sucked in a quick breath, noticing at just that moment that the humming had stopped. She spoke again, still from inside the kitchen. “You’re probably thinking you’d like to kick open the door and frighten me half to death to teach me not to break into your apartment, but you’ll be wasting your breath, dear.” On the other side of the door, Simon just threw up his hands and looked straight up, as if to ask a higher power what on earth he could do about such a ridiculous situation. “Get on in here,” his aunt said, now. “I’ve got all your favorites ready to go onto the table.”
Simon gave up. He gently pushed through the swing door and looked at his aunt. She was busy placing bowls and platters of food onto the table, but she looked up and smiled at him. Her still-bright blue eyes – the mirror image of his own – nailed him instantly, and the mischief in them was his undoing. He laughed out loud and crossed the kitchen in two long strides to take her into his arms in a bear hug.
She finally leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Hello, Nephew,” she said, her own eyes twinkling again. Simon stepped away a little, still grinning at her, “Hello, Aunt Prissy. To what do I owe this most unexpected pleasure? You didn’t even hint in your last card or e-mail that you were considering a visit.”
“I know, dear,” she said, at the same time setting the salt and pepper shakers on the table and motioning to one of the chairs. “Sit down, and I’ll say grace, and then we can talk while we eat.”
They both sat, and once Priscilla had blessed the food with prayer, she started passing him bowls and platters. “I just felt I wanted to see how you’re doing,” she said now.
“You’ve e-mailed me and asked that question at least three times in the past several months – and I’ve e-mailed you back that I was fine.”
“E-mail? Phooey! I can’t see your eyes and your expressions on an e-mail. So I decided I’d like to make another visit, and that would tell me a lot more than any computer letter.”
Simon chuckled. “There just isn’t much of anything to tell, Aunt Prissy.”
“Simon, how are you really doing?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “About as well as normal, I guess.”
“Now, what kind of answer is that, for heaven’s sake? What’s normal? There’s absolutely nothing normal about a detective falling in love with a murder suspect who’s under his investigation!”
He looked sideways at her but kept cutting his meat. “Thanks for rubbing it in.”
“You know better than that. I’m not rubbing anything in. I’m merely pointing out that you have nothing to gauge what’s’ normal in this situation. And that being the case, you should be free to allow yourself to feel any number of things that might seem weird to an average person.”
“So you’re saying I’m not average either, huh?” he asked, but there was a hint of a smile on his lips.
“Well, in my humble opinion, you’ve always been above average – ever since you were a child – but that’s beside the point. Have you heard from her since she went to prison?”
Simon shook his head, and stopped chewing long enough to answer. “No. I can’t imagine anything to be gained by continuing to communicate with her.”
“Do you still have strong feelings for her?’
Simon sat back in his chair, thinking, weighing his words. “It may sound surprising, after only eight months, but I don’t seem to have any feelings for her one way or the other.” He shrugged. “I’m at least smart enough to know that the person I thought I was in love with didn’t really exist. She was a figment of my own imagination, based on pretense and deception, both of which Deanna was a master at.”
“No question there.”
He got up to refill his coffee cup and came back to the table with the pot, adding a little to his aunt’s cup as well. As he sat back down, he said, “And I have to admit that it’s something of a relief to feel nothing for a while. All that emotion is wearing on a person, you know.” He managed a grin as he spoke the last words, and his aunt grinned back.
“Yes, having been very much in love with your uncle I can testify to the energy required to love and be loved in return. And, of course, my feelings for Mitch are not at that level just yet, but even in that relationship, there’s a huge investment of the inner man necessary to make and keep it healthy and happy.”
“How is your favorite police chief?”
“Oh, pretty much the way you remember him: calm, collected, and easy-going – well, except when I’m working on a case that is.” She shook her head a little. “He does get a little steamed up and un-relaxed when he starts worrying about me. But I keep telling him that I’m a grown woman who had to take care of herself for ten years before meeting him, and he’s just going to have to face the fact that I’m not going to become a meek little garden club member who stays at home pampering plants when life’s going on outside in the real world. And he might as well give up worrying because it won’t do him or me either one any good.”
Simon laughed. “I bet you give him that speech about once a month.”
She smiled. “Well I do try to change the words around a little from time to time, but, yes, I do manage to say it often. Bless his heart; eventually, it will sink in, and he’ll get used to letting me live my life my own way.”
As she spoke, she got up from the table, taking her plate and Simon’s to the sink, and as she returned with two servings of German chocolate cake, the phone rang.
Simon got up and walked over to the wall phone. “Hello.”
“Simon, I’m probably interrupting your dinner,” the voice said on the other end of the line.
“Oh hi, Mac. No matter about dinner. What’s up?”
“We’ve just taken a call from the city library director. She found a man dead, slumped over a table in one of the study carrels on the second floor. No obvious reason for death, but natural causes seem questionable since the man’s known for running in local marathons and seemed to be in great health. There’s an ugly red swelling and some bruising on one side of his neck. Sounded suspicious enough that I sent Peterson over. I know you’re off duty for twenty-four hours, and I wouldn’t have bothered you tonight except for the fact that the librarian identified the man as Stanford Brooks.”
“That’s right, and since he’s the primary witness in the case you’ve worked so hard on, I thought you’d want to stick your nose in on this investigation.”
“You thought right, Mac. And I’m grateful. Will Peterson have any objections?”
“I told him I felt you needed to be kept in the loop on this one. The fact that the trial starts next week makes this more suspicious than usual. We need to put some extra effort into making sure we don’t have some loose ends out there we didn’t know about. Peterson agreed.”
“Thanks, Mac. I’ll get right over there.” …………..
To participate in today’s prompt, visit the Daily Post site and get the details.