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Authors: Polly Iyer

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BOOK: Murder Deja Vu
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“I haven’t. That’s one thing I know for sure.”

Reece breathed her in. An essence so sweet he wished he could bottle it and take it out whenever she wasn’t near. “Carl can’t get away with this.”

She lifted her head and said, “He won’t.”

“There’s nothing to stop him. The police will believe him, and I’m going to be carted off to prison again.”

“Not if I have this.”

Reece stared at the key she held in her hand. “Is that what I think it is?”

Dana’s wicked smile teased. “Yup. Key for the handcuffs.”

Reece looked at the key, then back at Dana. “Where did you get it?”

“Detective Tobey.”

“What the hell’s going on, Dana? Why would he give you that?”

“So we can escape.”

“I’m through running for something I didn’t do. And I wouldn’t take you with me if I did. So give it back.”

The door opened. Larkins came into the room, followed by Jeraldine, Clarence, and Detective Tobey. Dana hid the key with a quick motion.

“Mind if we come in, Mr. Daughtry?” Larkins said.

Reece still focused on Dana. “Yes, I do, but I don’t imagine it’ll make any difference.”

“’Fraid not.”

Chapter Fifty-Four
One-sided Deal

 

Atlanta, Georgia

 

J
im Payton met Barry Kanter at his office Monday morning. A man in a suit who looked like a cross between Mike Tyson and Isaac Hayes perched on the corner of the desk. Barry introduced him as Detective J.C. Stone, Atlanta PD.

“Call me J.C.” He stood and offered his hand, towering over Payton, who at six-two had always considered himself a big guy, but he seemed dwarfed next to Stone.

“J. C. Stone,” Payton said. “Didn’t you play for the Falcons some years back? Wrecked your knee, right?”

“That’s me.” He tapped his knee. “Sidelined permanently, but life goes on. Now instead of bullying big brutes, I bully two-bit sleazeballs.”

“Like Harry Klugh?” Payton asked.

Stone laughed. “Man, you pulled a doozey out of thin air. A lot of people would like to get their hands on that guy.”

“I’m hoping to work that in my favor.”

“J.C. will go with you to talk to Vic Castell, aka, Harry Klugh. That’ll solve the jurisdiction problem,” Barry said. “Interesting how he stepped into another man’s life twenty-five years ago.”

Stone released a long sigh. “Pros like Castell find ways to get around those minor inconveniences—payoffs, someone else’s fingerprints, like that.” He rubbed his clean-shaven chin, which matched his gleaming head. “Klugh does most of his work for attorneys, specializing in digging up dirt on witnesses so lawyers can discredit their testimony. Probably has a budget to get what an ethical PI. wouldn’t stoop to go after.”

“Why don’t you tell J.C. what you have in mind, Jim,” Barry said. “See what he thinks.”

* * * * *

P
ayton and J.C. found Harry Klugh’s office on the second floor of an unobtrusive two-story brick building on Broad Street in downtown Atlanta, a couple of blocks from the court house. Part of the area appeared newly renovated. Payton figured Klugh had been there awhile and benefited from the inner city rejuvenation. Although the outside of his building had been refurbished, the inside looked its age, with cracked plaster walls and missing one-inch floor tiles. A stale, musty smell permeated the air.

“If he’s trying to keep a low profile,” J. C. said, “this’ll do it.”

The first floor housed a finance company and bail bondsman. With no elevator in sight, they climbed the wide flight of creaking stairs. Payton stopped in front of the door painted with chipped gold lettering on the frosted glass panel:
Harry J.
Klugh
, Private Investigator
.

Payton waggled his brows at Stone, turned the knob, and entered the small space, furnished with the basic office necessities, including a laptop and fax machine. Klugh sat behind a metal desk, feet stretched on top, reading the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
. He looked up
.

If he had a nose for cops, he didn’t act like he smelled anything unusual. He rolled his chair back and lowered his legs, looking eager to make a good impression.

Klugh must have been doing an okay business. He looked fit and tanned, wore an expensive suit. Golf, Payton figured. He didn’t know why, but that pissed him off.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?” Klugh asked.

Stone flipped open his badge. “J. C. Stone, Atlanta Police. This is Sheriff Payton, Harold County, North Carolina. We’d like to talk to you about Robert Minette.” Stone pulled out one of the visitor’s chairs. “Mind if we sit down?”

“Naw, go ahead. Make yourselves at home.”

“Where was I?”

“Robert Minette,” Klugh said.

His cocky grin pissed off Payton even more.

Stone nodded. “Right. You know him?”

“Sure, I know Minette,” Klugh said. “I’ve done work for him. But you knew that.” He leaned forward on the desk, folded his hands. “Since this isn’t Twenty Questions, why don’t you get to the point, which I assume is Robert.”

Stone glanced at Payton. “Not exactly. There’s another reason. The murder of a woman in Harold County. Lurena Howe?”

Klugh raised his hands in defensive mode. “Whoa. I don’t know anything about a murder in North Carolina, other than what I heard. Didn’t I read in the paper that you arrested the guy who killed her? Wait a minute.” He opened the paper, exposing the sports page he was reading, and flipped to the front page.

Payton had heard on the news that Reece Daughtry lay in a Portland hospital, fighting for his life after his brother allegedly shot him in self-defense. The story sounded fishy. Payton planned to call Clarence Wright as soon as he finished his business in Atlanta.

“Here it is,” Klugh said. “Bottom of the front page. Says here your murderer’s in Maine, Sheriff.” Klugh turned his newspaper to show Payton. “What’s his name? Yeah, here it is. Daughtry. That’s the guy who got off for killing some girl up north years ago. It says here that he’s a person of interest for the murder of the two women in North Carolina.” Klugh slapped the paper on his desk and focused on Payton. “So what’s the story?”

Payton listened to Klugh with twisted admiration. The man was one cool customer. He didn’t miss a beat, acting like an innocent man should. Payton had a momentary flash of doubt.
No, this is the guy
, he convinced himself. Klugh had been role-playing long enough to believe his own hype. “Well, I’ll get right to the point.”

“Yeah, why don’t you, because, you see, I’m getting a bad feeling here, wondering why the sheriff of Harold County is in my office, first asking about a client, now mentioning a murder in my client’s jurisdiction. I’m curious as hell.”

Payton leaned back in his chair, hoping he looked more relaxed than he felt. “I think you murdered Lurena Howe, and I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

Klugh belted out a raucous laugh. “Man, you have balls, I’ll give you that.” He laughed some more. “And I assume you have proof, right?”

“Nope,” Payton said. “Nothing other than I can place you in Harold County the day of the murder.”

“And that would be the day I visited Robert Minette about a job he wanted me to do.”

“Yup.”

“Okay, you got me. I was in Harold County. Actually, I was there twice. I don’t know if either day was the one of this murder you’re talking about, but I can clear up the date.” He flipped back his calendar and stopped at one of the pages. “Let’s see. June twenty-fifth and June twenty-seventh. Both times at a diner outside Regal Falls. Either one of them the day?”

“Yup. The twenty-fifth,” Payton said.

“Last time I looked, meeting a client didn’t make me a murderer. You’d better have more than that.”

“I do,” Payton said.

Klugh squinted, exchanging glances between Payton and Stone. “What?”

“I’m collecting criminal evidence against Minette. I have a woman who’ll claim he raped her, and another person who owns a tape of someone threatening a witness on Minette’s behalf. The case never went to jury, but it’s still a crime, with no statute of limitations. The voice on the tape is disguised, but Detective Stone assured me new technology can identify a voice match. We believe the voice is yours.”

Payton knew the voice recognition bit was iffy at best, but he hoped Klugh might fall for it. “Knowing Minette, and we both do, I think he’ll roll on whoever he can to make a deal for himself, especially with murder involved. I’m offering you a deal to roll first.”

Klugh listened. Payton wanted more than anything to wipe the crooked smile off his face, but Harris Stroud said Minette would never order Lurena Howe’s murder. He’d
imply
what he wanted done, and Klugh would do it. Then, Minette would claim he had nothing to do with any murder.

“What have you got against Minette, Sheriff?”

“I don’t like him,” Payton said.

“You can’t pin ordering a murder on someone because you don’t like him. So you can offer all the incentives you want―I didn’t kill anyone. And Robert can say whatever he damn well pleases to further his own agenda, but he can’t prove I’m guilty of committing any crime, murder or anything else.” Klugh’s smile twisted, his steely glare aimed at Payton. “And neither can you.”

Payton forced a grin in return, but it hurt like hell. He glanced at Stone, who hadn’t said a word. Then he turned back to Klugh. “Well, you leave me no choice, Mr. Castell.”

For the first time, Payton saw Klugh’s façade crack, much like the plaster on the walls of his office. “I believe some people in Chicago would be chomping at the bit to know your whereabouts. If I don’t get what I want, I’ll make sure they do.”

“Castell? I don’t know any Castell,” Klugh said, but his false bravado didn’t fool Payton.

“We have your fingerprints,” Stone said. “We ran them through AFIS, and guess what? They belong to Victor Castell. You can deny it all you want, but fingerprints don’t lie.”

Payton could see the wheels churning in Klugh’s head, weighing his options. His smile faded. “That’s…that’s blackmail.”

“Call it whatever you want,” Payton said. “I don’t care. I get what I want and Detective Stone will keep you in protective custody. Maybe the feds can insure your safety, take you out of the main prison population. Better yet, give them something they want and they could offer you witness protection.”

Slipping a stick of gum from the pack he carried in his shirt pocket, Payton curled it into his mouth. “Robert Minette committed federal crimes. The FBI will find your information about Minette and the people in Chicago valuable to them. And I’d get Minette. If you choose to stay silent, I may not get him for ordering a murder, but I’ll get him for something. He’ll offer you up like dessert to save his ass, and I’ll have to weigh my options. He may not go to jail for as long as I’d like, but he’ll be alive. Which, if you don’t play ball, is more than I can hope for you. I’ve heard those Chicago guys don’t play pretty, especially if their prey isn’t protected.”

Payton got to his feet. So did Stone, who cuffed Klugh’s hands behind his back. “Victor Castell, I’m placing you under arrest for the Chicago murder of Jimmy DiSanto and for questioning in the 1984 disappearance of Harry Klugh of Philadelphia and for the murder of
Lurena
Howe.”

Klugh turned and spoke over his shoulder in a calm, clear voice. “I want to speak to my lawyer. I may have information you need, as long as I get what I want.”

“No, you listen,” Payton said. “This is about me getting what I want. I can’t promise anything. You’re going down. How far down depends on what you have to offer. Detective Stone will keep you secluded until we come to some arrangement. However, if you choose not to cooperate, we’ll make sure the people in Chicago know your whereabouts. Understand?”

Klugh went into thinking mode. He nodded reluctantly. “Understood.”

Payton heaved a sigh of relief as he followed J. C. Stone out the door of Harry Klugh’s office and down the stairs. Klugh knew how the game worked, and he knew how to cut his losses. Minette was going down.

J.C. Stone’s voice echoed in the stairwell. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will…”

Chapter Fifty-Five
More Than Murder

 

New England

 

C
losure. Reece hadn’t understood the word earlier. He understood it better now. That’s what he wanted. Closure.

He stood in front of Daughtry Custom Homes exactly as he had a week before. He’d taken his dose of meds an hour earlier, but his chest ached, and he was shaking as if he were in the middle of an earthquake. He pulled the heavy wooden door open with his right hand and entered.

Today, the receptionist sat at her desk in the lobby. From her panicked expression, she recognized Reece. Didn’t everyone? Rolling back her chair, she positioned herself to escape from the man who chopped off heads. He conjured up a lethal smile. “I’m going into my brother’s office. Don’t. Call. Him.”

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