Framed and Burning (Dreamslippers Book 2) (9 page)

“You loved him,” Cat said softly.

Mick felt himself smile. She was right. “Oh, I wouldn’t know what to do with a man’s body, and I never thought of Donnie that way, but yeah. I loved him.” He sniffed, feeling a cry well up in his chest, but it was his nature to stifle it, so he did.

“But Donnie didn’t die because of your dreamslipping. Like mine killed Lee.”

“Whoa, is that what you think?” Mick said. He walked over and sat down next to her on the couch.
 

“How can I not? The killer in my case followed me out to Seattle and shot him.”

“But she was trying to kill you, right? And he was there.”

“He saved my life.”

Mick nodded. “And Donnie might have saved mine, in a way. Since I let him live in my studio, I stopped sleeping there. I mean, except for that one night when I slipped into his dream.”

“I used to slip into Lee’s dreams, across thousands of miles.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. They were like PTSD dreams. From when he was in Iraq. He kept reliving something, over and over again.”

“Whoa.”

“He couldn’t save this kid. They’d strapped a bomb to the kid, and Lee tried to save him but failed.”

“So he saved you instead.”

Mick let Cat sit with that one a bit. She stopped chewing on her bottom lip. “He figured out I was a dreamslipper, in the end.”

“No kidding.” Mick had not seen that one coming. No one on Earth knew he could slip into their dreams.

“And now he’s dead. The only person in the world—I mean the non-dreamslipping kind—who knew what I could do. And he’s dead.”

“Did he accept it?”

Cat smiled. “He said, ‘That’s a pretty neat trick you’ve got there with the dreams.’ But he’d been in a coma, Uncle Mick. And then he died.”

Mick didn’t know what to say.

“So what do I do with this?” Cat asked, her eyes imploring. Mick didn’t have an answer for her. He wished his sister was there. Pris had an answer for everything.

“I don’t know. But you can’t stop living. And living means loving.”

There was a knock at the door, so Cat got up to answer it.
 

“We need to take Mick in for questioning.” Mick recognized the voice. It was Sergeant Alvarez.

Cat protested, “But you’ve already questioned him.”

“We have new information.” Alvarez stepped inside and motioned for Speck and Santiago to escort Mick, who knew what this was about. He’d been waiting for it.

>>>

They put him in a room without windows, or at least that’s what it looked like, but he figured the glass that appeared blackened was one-way glass, so they could see him, but he couldn’t see them. That’s kind of how he felt about the situation. He had no idea what Jenny had told them.

Soon Sergeant Alvarez walked in and sat down. “We know you were having an affair with Don Hines’s girlfriend.”

Mick did not respond. If he hadn’t gone to see Jenny already and witnessed what a wrecked state she was in, he would have been surprised.
 

“She was no longer Donnie’s girlfriend,” he said. “They broke things off a month ago.”

Alvarez raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Yes. And I was not having an affair with her.”

Alvarez tossed a photocopy onto the table. Mick recognized the image.
 

“Then why was this on Donnie’s cell phone? He received it the night he died.”

He winced, realizing Jenny had sent the photo after all. He’d pleaded with her not to send it.

“Because Jenny was mad at Donnie. She wanted him to hurt. And she was jealous of my friendship with him. So I guess I had to hurt, too.”

Alvarez glared at him. “What exactly are you saying? The photo’s some kind of fake?”

Mick flashed on a moment from that awful night, before he went to the party, before he found out that Donnie was dead. Jenny’s call for him from the bedroom, saying her zipper was stuck… His fingers on her back… The way she swayed into him.
 

“A frame-up would be more accurate,” he replied.
 

Alvarez snorted. “You were fucking your best friend’s girlfriend. Maybe the two of you killed Donnie.”

Mick clenched his fists. “What, to get him out of the way? Why would we have to do that?”

Alvarez was silent for a moment, and then this: “Why don’t you tell me what happened that night between the hours of nine and half past midnight?”

Mick swallowed hard, but his throat was dry. “Jenny called me, said she needed my help, that she was going to surprise Donnie, propose getting back together with him.”

“And why did they break up?”

Mick grimaced. “Donnie kissed someone else at a party, and Jenny caught him.”

“So Donnie was a player.”

“I wouldn’t call him that.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.”

Mick shrugged. “Donnie really liked people. Everyone he met. He never discriminated, never talked bad about anyone else, and he’d give you the shirt off his back. He was the friendliest guy I’ve ever known. He could seem kind of clownish, but people loved him. Sometimes too much. And Donnie couldn’t resist loving them back.”

“And the night of the fire?”

Mick remembered. Her back was so soft, and she pressed her ass into his crotch. Then she whispered, “I’ve seen you look at me, Mick.”

He’d let his hand trace down her back, down to the curve, felt her flex and arch backward.
 

But then he stopped. Pushed her away. He knew what she was doing. “You’re just trying to get even.”

She grabbed her phone, let her dress drop in front, and took a selfie with Mick there behind her.

Mick knew then that she wasn’t just trying to get even; she was trying to destroy his friendship with Donnie. He lunged for the phone.

“Forget it, Mick!” She threw the phone into a drawer and stood in front of it, her arms crossed.

He knew he could take her. He could throw her aside, grab the phone, and smash it against the wall. But he’d have to hurt her, and something in him stopped him from that. This was dangerous ground, and he knew it.

“Jenny,” he said. “I know Donnie hurt you. But this is… This is low.”

“Get out!” She took off her witch boot and threw it at him. The pointy toe caught him in the chest.

“Don’t send the photo,” Mick said.

“Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t!” She threw her other boot at him.

So he left.
 

He told this to Alvarez.
 

“And that’s it? What happened after that?”

“I went to a bar and got drunk. Then, to please my sister, I stumbled over to the Art Basel party but didn’t make it past the hotel bar. And Donnie got burnt to a crisp.”

“Have you reached out to Jenny Baines since then?”

“I tried, but she threw me out.”

Alvarez sighed. “Wait here.” She picked up the photocopy and left him alone in the room again.

Then a few minutes later, the door opened, and in came Jenny with Alvarez, Santiago, and Speck. They sat down at the table, Alvarez at the head and Speck and Santiago in the middle, flanking Jenny. Santiago set a few bagged pieces of evidence in front of him on the table.

“Ms. Baines—Jenny,” Alvarez began. “Tell us the nature of your relationship with Mick Travers.”

Jenny cleared her throat. “Mick and I used to be friends. Because of Donnie.”

“You never slept together?” Alvarez said.

Jenny looked right at Mick and said, “I wouldn’t sleep with Mick if he paid me. A lot.”

Mick didn’t respond. Her anger sounded like a thin veneer covering over a wound that would never heal. Her eyes didn’t look mad to him, just very sad. Her thick mascara had stained her face where it ran from her tears. She smelled of weed.

“Let’s have the evidence,” Alvarez said, motioning to Santiago. He passed the topmost white bag to her, and she opened it and retrieved what Mick recognized as Donnie’s cell phone, perfectly intact.

“This was in Donnie Hines’s car,” Alvarez said. She gazed at Jenny. “He always left it there, didn’t he?”

Jenny nodded, tears welling in her eyes. “Otherwise, he’d lose it in his studio. Drop it in a paint can. He did that once.”

“We found the selfie you took, Jenny. It had been viewed. But you already know that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“We have his cell-phone records,” Alvarez said as gently as she could. “We know you talked to Donnie before he died. You were the last person to talk to him.”

Jenny broke down. “Please… I didn’t mean…” She covered her face with her hands.

Mick felt his anger like a flame lit deep in his belly. “What did you say to him?”

“I want my lawyer,” Jenny said through sobs. She attempted to dry her eyes on her sleeve.

“We’re going to hold you,” Alvarez informed her. “And yeah, you might want to get that lawyer. You wanted to hurt Donnie the night of his death. Maybe you went too far.”

With that, Speck rose and gently placed handcuffs on Jenny, whose body was wracked with sobs as he escorted her out.

Mick didn’t know what to say.
 

Alvarez turned to him. “She didn’t try to get the phone out of his car even though she knew it would incriminate her. What do you think her last words to him were?”

Chapter Seven

Grace walked in to find her granddaughter and Mick sitting in the living room, talking. Cat still had her purse slung across her body, as if she’d just come in. Mick had the rental car keys in his hands. Grace had hoped they’d help each other somehow with their shared grief, which was part of the reason she’d taken the Sanibel trip and dawdled along the way. They’d obviously been out somewhere together.
 

“We have some big news on the case,” Cat said.
 

“So do I,” said Grace. “But there’s something in the car I need you to help me with first.”

They followed her outside, where a good-sized painting was jammed in the rear seat of Grace’s rental car. It was covered in cloth, so she didn’t unveil it to them till Cat carried it into the house, where Mick propped it on one of his sawhorse easels in the lanai.

“Good Lord,” remarked Mick. “You bought one of Candy’s paintings. Why, Priscilla?”

“I wish you’d call me by my legal name,” Grace complained. “And I’m not sure why I bought it. Something told me to. I’m sure the reason will reveal itself in time. Isn’t it lovely, though? It’s one of her best, I suspect.”

“Which isn’t saying much,” Mick said.
 

“I should think you’d be more charitable,” Grace reprimanded. Her brother could be entirely too critical of both himself and others. It was his Virgo temperament.

“I really like this one,” Cat said, the response on her face genuine. “It’s about something. These kids, their world on the other side of the fence. It’s like the artist wished she could step back in time and join them.”

Grace clapped her hands together. “Oh, Cat! I agree.”

“It doesn’t challenge anything,” Mick put in.

“It doesn’t have to,” said Grace.

“But we can’t take it back with us,” Cat said. “On the plane. When we go home.”

“We’ll give it as a gift to Ernesto,” Grace said, right as the idea came to her. “He’d like it. And doesn’t it fit well in his cottage?”

“I’ll give you that,” said Mick. “Art shouldn’t match your couch, but this one does.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Grace. “You’re such a snob, Mickey.”

“Now listen to what’s going on with the case,” Cat insisted. She and Mick filled Grace in on what had happened with Jenny Baines.

Grace was surprised to hear of the development. “Do you think she could have killed Donnie?” She directed her question at Mick.

“No,” Mick said. “At least not directly.”

“We were talking about that when you came in,” explained Cat. “Mick thinks whatever she said to Donnie Hines, plus the selfie she sent, drove him to drink more than his usual that night.”

“Of the two of us, I’m more the drinker,” Mick said.
 

“Yes, I know.” Grace shook her head at Mick.
 

Grace closed her eyes for a moment, imagining the scene they’d described to her, especially Jenny’s desire to hurt Donnie. She pictured Jenny hanging up on him. Then Donnie throwing his phone in the car and heading up to the studio, where he would have found Mick’s just-opened bottle of Bushmill’s. He drank too much and went to lie down on the cot. As a diabetic, his body wouldn’t be able to handle it. He wouldn’t have heard the arsonist. The fire didn’t wake him up; he’d died in his sleep.

“So what did you find out about Candace Shreveport?” Cat said.

“She signs her paintings
Candy Port,
” Grace said, pointing to her stylized curly-Q signature. “But that does not an arsonist make.”

“Have you eliminated her as a suspect?” Mick said.

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