Authors: Ann Roberts
Tags: #Crime, #Fiction, #Lgbt, #Mystery, #Romance, #Non-Kobo, #Uploaded
“He’s not a murderer!” Ari proclaimed, suddenly stopping and facing Molly. “He didn’t do it,” Ari emphasized. “Molly, I’ve known Bob for most of my life. We have a very special relationship, and I believe in his innocence.”
Ari’s passion touched Molly. She placed her hands gently on Ari’s shoulders before she spoke. “Then let me do my job.”
“I will. But I can’t see Bob go to jail for something he didn’t do.”
“Do you know where he is, Ari?” Molly asked, her eyes probing Ari’s for the truth.
“No,” Ari answered honestly.
“But if you did, would you tell me?” Ari hesitated and Molly shook her head. “Then I have to think I can’t trust you.”
“I’m sorry. But you don’t get it.”
Molly threw up her hands and sighed. They stared at each other, unable to resolve their differences. “I guess there’s nothing else to say,” Molly concluded. She turned to walk away.
“Molly, wait,” Ari said. Molly faced her and she could see Ari was searching for words and tears were coming down her face. Finally she asked, “Have you ever owed a debt you never thought you could repay?”
or call our toll-free number
Copyright© 2006 by Ann Roberts
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Editor: Anna Chinappi
Cover designer: Sandy Knowles
This book is dedicated to my mother, the first writer I ever knew.
I am grateful to many people for their help with this endeavor—
Linda Hill for the opportunity
All the folks at Bella Books who keep the fires of the independent press burning
Anna Chinappi for her insight and guidance
LC who explained the details of police work
KS for pushing me to finish
My family—the ones who had to wait until I got off the computer. I’m fortunate to be so loved.
About the Author
Ann Roberts wrote her first novel at the age of four.
detailed the odyssey of her pet guinea pig on the day it escaped. Instead of worrying, Ann wrote about her loss and received two important rewards for her efforts: Her guinea pig did reappear and her mother baked her cookies because she thought the story was wonderful.
Ann has worked as an educator for twenty years in the high school and community college settings. She also spent thirty-five minutes in a kindergarten class, an experience she still cannot discuss. Currently she is a middle school administrator and lives with her family in Phoenix.
Sunday, June 17
When Ari opened the door, the last thing she expected to see was a corpse, but there he was, face down, spread eagle on the floor, sunlight washing over his lifeless body. She reflexively gasped and backed out of the house. A few seconds passed, and when no one jumped out and attacked her, she took a breath and re-entered. Her footfalls echoed against the bare walls, the house vacated months ago by retirees spending their golden years in Florida. She advanced to the body and froze, listening to her heart pounding and the distant hum of lawnmowers.
Ari studied the victim with emotional detachment, a skill she’d learned at the police academy. Male. Probably mid-forties, salt and pepper hair, soft hands, the fingertips of the right one drenched in blood. His gold Rolex, expensive Italian loafers and pin-striped suit attested to his wealth. Judging from the condition of the body, Ari doubted he’d been dead for long. A puddle of blood surrounded his middle, suggesting an abdominal wound.
She winced at the sight of the floor. Her clients had spent the past two months renovating the house, which included refinishing the original hardwood. She scanned the ancient plaster walls adjusting to their recent coat of paint, and her eyes drifted to the vaulted ceilings and the refurbished crown molding. A historic home, every square foot had been given a total makeover to justify the high asking price for the small amount of space.
The only thing out of place was the bar that the owner had insisted on installing in the living room. It ruined the aesthetics in Ari’s opinion, and she avoided looking at its black countertop and chrome fixtures. With ten steps, Ari stood under the archway that led to the tiny galley kitchen. The white cabinets and ceramic tile were almost too bright against the morning sunlight, but nothing was disturbed, and there wasn’t a speck of blood anywhere.
She shook her head and returned to the living room. It took a lot to surprise her, and she’d seen most everything in twelve years of real estate, but this was a new one. Unable to stand still, but hesitant to leave, she checked her watch. The young couple who were viewing the property wouldn’t arrive for another twenty minutes. Ari knew she should go back outside to her SUV and call the police. She should not snoop, but curiosity won over, and she found herself looking down the short hallway. Although the doors were open, little light emitted from the adjacent rooms, and a tingle crept up Ari’s back.
It was definitely spooky. She veered into the only bathroom and stared at the shower door. There were no shadows silhouetted against the antique frosted glass, but she felt her breath catch as she swung the door open, revealing only sparkling blue ceramic tiles. Ari crossed into the small bedroom, where eggshell-white walls and contrasting wallpaper trim greeted her. The closet door stood ajar, just as she had left it after her last showing. She remembered the client had tried to close it out of habit, but Ari had quickly pulled it open again. A closed door was a sign that sellers had something to hide.
A chainsaw roared suddenly and Ari jumped. She realized it was too clear and too close.
She carefully made her way to the master bedroom and with each step the chainsaw buzz grew louder. The sliding glass door leading to the backyard stood wide open, the sheer curtains fluttering in the slight breeze. Ari realized the noise was coming from a neighboring yard, and she wasn’t going to be the victim of a maniac wielding a power tool.
The air conditioner was losing the battle against the 105- degree heat, and the room was baking. Ari saw that someone had pried the door open with a crowbar, breaking the mechanism in half. She nearly shoved it closed to vent her anger but stopped just as her fingers touched the handle.
Now she had disturbed a crime scene. A wave of guilt swept over her momentarily, but as the real estate agent, she knew her fingerprints would be everywhere so the damage was minimal.
This was probably the killer’s entrance. That realization propelled her back down the hall to the living room. Ari glanced at the front door, her escape route if necessary. She vowed to remain for only another minute. Crouching over the man, she repressed the urge to fish his wallet out of his back pocket, but she wanted further clues to his identity. Her eyes settled on the floor and a few small droplets of blood that trailed behind the bar ten feet away. She swallowed hard and stood up. Walking so as not to disturb any of the blood, Ari peered around the bar. In a split second she realized nothing was wrong and everything was wrong. The shelves were clean and the floor refinishers had actually been able to replace the old wooden planks, worn and water damaged probably from the liquids that would spill off the counter. The bar was untouched, but a bloody stain covered the freshly painted wall behind it. Perhaps this is where he died, Ari thought. He was standing behind the bar, and he fell back against the wall. She moved closer, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dark space behind the bar. At first she thought it was only a blood spatter, the sunlight not illuminating the niche at all. Then she realized it was a word, a name.
” was crudely scrawled right above the baseboard. The color on the wall matched the color on the floor, and her mind flashed to the victim’s blood- caked fingertips.
A strange sound broke the silence.
Ari couldn’t tell if it came from inside or outside, but her curiosity instantly vanished. She bolted upright, smashing her head against the shelves that used to hold beer steins from around the world. She cursed fiercely as she scurried past the dead man and slammed the front door. Maybe that would scare the intruder away, if someone really was there.
She sprinted to the SUV, looking left and right. Only after she’d locked herself inside the truck and pulled her revolver from the glove box did she feel safe. She must have been quite a sight. Cell phone in one hand, gun in the other. She whirled around, checking the back, but no one was there. Now seemed like a good time to call the police.
Ari made the necessary 911 call and then immediately punched in her buyer’s number to cancel the showing. An answering machine picked up, and she knew they were probably on their way. Usually real estate wasn’t this exciting, but there had been a few interesting moments, such as when she had caught a couple having sex in the hot tub of one of her vacant listings. She cracked a smile at the memory of their horrified expressions. What really stood out in her mind was the beautiful woman emerging from the steam, her breasts glistening.
She took a deep breath, her heart still galloping and her hands shaking. She returned the gun to the glove compartment, chastising herself for not retrieving it
she searched the house. Her head started to pound and she rubbed her temples. She’d forgotten what it was like to experience an adrenaline rush.
The SUV suddenly felt like a sauna. Even dogs weren’t supposed to be kept in enclosed vehicles during Phoenix summers. Rummaging through the center console, Ari found a clip in the compartment and pulled her long, black hair into a makeshift bun, noting one reason why most lesbians have short haircuts. She checked once more through all the windows before she opened the door and slid out, throwing her jacket on the seat as an offering to the June sun. She desperately craved a cold beer and a swimming pool, preferably in the company of a beautiful woman. If she couldn’t have that, she would have gladly settled for a pair of shorts and sandals. Anything to shed the Italian loafers that were pasted to her feet. The worst part of real estate was definitely the power dressing. If she could sell houses from her couch clad in sweats and a T-shirt, she would have been thrilled.
Ari strolled around the truck, stretching out her long legs and forgetting that she was a target under the sun’s magnifying glass. She surveyed the nearby homes, every yard immaculate and every house possessing curbside appeal. The neighborhood was alive on this Sunday afternoon, complete with chirping birds and pounding hammers that joined the ever present roar of the lawn- mowers. Ari began to doubt that the sound she’d heard inside was sinister. More than likely it was a neighbor working in his yard. Until today, she would have believed this area was virtually immune to the high Phoenix crime rate.
Down the road the black-and-white units approached, three of them. The coroner’s wagon and detectives couldn’t be far behind. Ari smiled when the first officer emerged from his patrol car. Ben Hastings had been a family friend for years. He had watched Ari grow up, and like many of the officers, he still saw her as “Big Jack Adams’s little girl” and perpetually sixteen years old. He lumbered up the sidewalk, his husky frame testing the seams of his uniform.
“Ari Adams, what are you doing here?” Ben asked, as he pecked her on the cheek.
“I found the victim,” she said.
Ben noticed the real estate sign in the yard with Ari’s name in big, bold letters and nodded. A sly smile crept over his face. “You didn’t disturb the crime scene, did you, Ari? You know, poke around or anything?”
“As a matter of fact, I heard a noise after I discovered him, so I got out of there fast.” He didn’t notice that she had avoided his question, but his expression sobered at the thought of an intruder.
“We’ll check it out.” He motioned for the officers, and the group fanned out around the property.
The other crime scene vehicles arrived and Ari watched the circus unfold. As a witness, she knew she couldn’t leave. Just as she opened her cell phone to try the buyers again, a white Maxima pulled up to the curb.
“Shit,” she mumbled, meandering through the throng of people and vehicles, thinking of what excuse she could give to the bewildered buyers.
“Excuse me,” someone said behind her. Ari turned and locked eyes with a woman who matched her five-eleven frame, but could have wrestled her to the ground in a second. Most of her bulk was pure muscle, but Ari could see she also carried some extra weight that added to her shapeliness. The woman’s short, blond hair curled lightly over high cheekbones and a finely chiseled face. Designer shades masked her eyes. “You’re Ari Adams?” she inquired. “I’m Detective Nelson. I need a statement.”