Read Suspicion of Innocence Online

Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (29 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
3.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"Do you blame yourself for what happened?"

"In a strange way, I do feel guilty. Not for her death, of course, but. . . . You know. If only. If only."

She tilted her glass, watched the light bounce off the wine. "If I weren't so buzzed I wouldn't bore you with all this."

"No, I asked you."

Gail looked up. "Why? It's a dull topic, compared to what you just told me."

Anthony put his forearms on the table, hands loosely clasped. How utterly foreign he seemed to her in that moment, for reasons which had nothing to do with his Hispanic features or the lingering accent. She simply did not know what he was thinking and didn't know what words to use to find out.

"Gail." Anthony took the wineglass from her and pushed it aside. "Listen to me." His voice was quiet. "I have a friend in the State Attorney's Office, a prosecutor. I asked him about Renee's murder."

Her eyes fixed on his face, waiting.

"I wanted to know, specifically, if they have enough evidence for an arrest, and if so, of whom. He said the police are still investigating, but there is a primary suspect. You."

She felt one moment of giddy incredulity before she grasped what he was saying. "Me? They suspect me? Why?"

"I don't know. He wouldn't get into specifics." The waiter appeared, a young blond man in a red vest. "Will there be anything else for you folks?"

"No, thank you." Anthony barely glanced up at him. The waiter left. "You don't have to discuss it with me. There may be reasons you prefer not to."

She started to laugh, but gasped instead. "What are you telling me? I should hire a criminal attorney?"

"At some point you should consider it, yes. For now, I am offering my advice as a friend."

"This is impossible."

He spread his hands. "But not something to be taken lightly."

"I suppose Britton thinks I did it for the money. I inherited two hundred thousand dollars from Renee." Anthony's brown eyes held no expression. "That's a lot of money, I know. It was a trust our grandfather left us. It's complicated."

"Never mind. You can explain it later. Did the police ask you where you were when Renee died?"

"You really think she was murdered. Don't you?"

"Yes. What did you tell the police about an alibi?"

"Who could have done this? I don't even know who she was involved with. Last year she was arrested with some men bringing cocaine from the Bahamas."


She laughed a little, running her fingers through her hair. "All right. Where was I when she died? There was a party at my mother's. Dave took Renee home. Britton might think I was jealous, because he found greeting cards that Dave sent Renee. Birthday, Valentine's. Sometimes for no reason at all."

"Slow down."

She closed her eyes for a moment, started again. "I might as well tell you. Dave and I are separated. It has nothing to do with Renee. Or maybe it does, but not the way Britton thinks."

"Were they having an affair?"

"They had lunch together occasionally. Regularly. For almost two years. He says he never slept with her." "Do you believe him?"

She nodded. "You'd have to know Dave to understand."

He looked at her for a moment, then said, "When did you find out about this . . . arrangement?"

"He told me just after she died. After." Gail pressed her knuckles into her breastbone, waiting for her heart to settle. "What am I going to say to Karen? What about my job?"

"An investigation doesn't mean you will be arrested," Anthony said. "You don't have to say anything to her yet. Are there criminal attorneys at your law firm? You may want to consult with one of them."

"There's one. He does white-collar crime. I don't know anyone else. I'd appreciate your help."

"Then listen to what I tell you. First, don't talk to any policemen, I don't care what they say. If you're dumb enough to talk to them, they will hang you with your words. I know Frank Britton from other cases. He's not the country boy he appears to be. Do you understand?"

She nodded.

"Next, don't discuss the facts of this case with anyone. Innocent words can be misconstrued and your closest friends could be subpoenaed to testify against you. Yes?"


"And tell your husband and the rest of your family not to talk to the police unless a lawyer is present."

"How is that going to make me look?"

"Don't think about that. If you are contacted by the police for any reason, you tell them, 'I would like to talk to you, but I was instructed by an attorney not to say anything. Otherwise, I would be glad to help.' And if this occurs, call me immediately. Will you do that? Gail?"

"Yes." She took another deep breath, then said, "Am I supposed to mention your name?' '

He hesitated. "If you wish, but I cannot become officially involved unless I am retained."

"Oh, God. How much—"

"No." Anthony took her hand and enclosed it in both of his. "I'll monitor the situation for now. Don't worry."

"I've never been—" She laughed shakily. "I've had two speeding tickets in my life. That's it."

He smiled and let her hand go. She felt cool air where his had been. He said, "This is what I want you to do. Tomorrow morning you will call me and I'll give you a list—a long one—of things for you to write down. What happened and when, that sort of thing. What Britton asked you or Dave and what you told him. That way, if something happens, we will be prepared. But we'll talk about that tomorrow. Now, it's late."

Gail glanced at her watch. "Almost eleven."

"Where's your daughter?"

"With my mother."

"Are you all right to drive?" He reached inside his jacket.

She nodded. "Tell me something. Don't criminal attorneys ever ask clients if they're guilty?"

He pulled a business card and a pen out of his wallet, looking at her. "Not if they already know the answer." He wrote on the back of the card. "That's my home number. Anytime after eight."

She put the card in her purse, then spoke over her shoulder when he came around for her chair. "You asked me about Renee so you could decide if I did it."

"Forgive me. I prefer innocent clients when I'm lucky enough to find them."

Gail stood up, still a little out of breath. "Once you told me everyone is guilty of something."

"Did I? And what could you be guilty of?"

"Not this."








Five or six years ago, the last time Gail had driven out to Ben's property, she had turned off Krome Avenue after the U-Pick strawberry field. The field was gone now, plowed under, a realtor's sign erected on two posts. For Sale—Residential Zoning. She turned and headed west, gravel pinging the underside of her car for a mile or so.

Ben had left the gate open for her. A barbed-wire fence extended on either side of it, running between the trees and a weed-choked drainage ditch. Gail rolled her window down and followed the dirt road that ran straight back into the property. Her tires splashed through a pothole and bumped over fallen branches. She came finally to a clearing where a tin-roofed shed and a faded concrete-block house faced each other across a plot of rocky ground. A dented aluminum fishing skiff leaned against the shed wall. Gail pulled in beside Ben's white Lincoln, turned off her engine, and got out.

Then she heard the barking. A black mutt sped around the corner of the shed, teeth bared. Ben followed close behind.

"Hey! Shut up that racket. Quiet!" As Gail came out from behind her door, the dog trotted back over to Ben. He patted its head. "Go sit down. Go on."

She caught her breath. "Are his friends around?"

"They saw a rabbit and took off into the woods." Ben laughed. "I won't let them eat you." He took off his work gloves and stuffed them into the back pocket of his jeans.

She picked up the plain white envelope on the passenger seat and held it out to him. "A present from Ernesto Pedrosa," she said. "His offer, signed and sealed."

"You came a long way to bring me this."

"I don't mind. The check's inside. A personal check, but you shouldn't have any trouble with it." She closed her door, then noticed the pile of junk beside the shed— a battered lawn mower, old tools, a torn mattress, scraps of lumber.

"You work fast." She had telephoned Ben's house at nine o'clock, catching him on his way out. "I can't believe you're doing all this yourself."

"Somebody's coming this afternoon with a truck." Ben wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. Sweat glistened on his neck and patterned the front and underarms of his blue work shirt. He grinned at her. "I can still get around, little girl. Come on, I've got some sodas in the cooler. Want one?"

"Not for me, thanks. I just had lunch."

She followed him across the yard. Under her sandals the ground was unyielding, a thin layer of dirt over white limestone. Ben folded the envelope and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

"I thought Karen might come along," he said.

"Dave's going to take her to a movie this afternoon."

Ben picked up a piece of two-by-four and sent it sailing end over end into a tangle of Brazilian pepper. "I don't know why I keep this place. Nobody comes out here anymore. I ought to sell the whole tract."

Gail shaded her eyes. "Where's the section Carlos wants? He said he'll need access to do a survey."

"That way, toward those trees. They better bring a machete and some bug spray. Tell him to let me know when and I'll put the dogs in the shed."

As they walked across the yard Gail studied the cabin —what they had once called the cabin, a single-story block house built in the forties. It seemed to be in the final stages of decrepitude—broken panes in the windows, mildew creeping upward from the ground. The roof, which overhung a concrete porch, bore a thick layer of pine needles. It probably leaked.

The dog trotted along beside them, tongue lolling out. At the end of the porch Ben lifted the lid on his cooler. "Nothing for you? Sure?"

She shook her head, then noticed the shotgun propped beside the screen door. "What's that for? Trespassers?"

"Just the legless kind. Last time I was out here I saw a rattlesnake in the yard." He popped the tab on his soda, tilted it back, then stood looking at her a minute. "Irene told me about you and Dave."

Gail nodded.

"I hate that, honey. He's a good man. Maybe the business has him down. I could talk to him." He put his hand on her shoulder.

"No," she said.

He turned away and stepped onto the porch. "Well, don't say I didn't offer." There was a sheet-metal dog feeder as far under the roof and away from the weather as possible. Two big bags of dog chow lay beside it. Ben set his soda on the windowsill and pulled one of the bags upright. The black mutt tapped across the porch, tail wagging.

Gail knew she had to be the next to speak. "I appreciate your concern, though. I do."

He slit the bag open with his pocketknife and lifted the bag to the feeder. "How's Karen taking it?"

"I'm not sure. She hasn't said much."

"You ought to think about what you're doing, is my opinion. Kids shouldn't grow up in a broken home."

"Ben—" Gail didn't want to start a discussion that would end up nowhere. "Ben, I came about something else. The police think I killed Renee."

He stood there holding the bag upside down, looking at Gail, long after the last chunks had rattled into the feeder. She stuck her hands into the back pockets of her slacks.

"Jesus H. Christ," he finally said.

She laughed softly. "Can you believe? Because of the money, I suppose. Dave wasn't home to say I was with him. And everyone knows how Renee and I disagreed. It all fits, in some nightmarish way."

"Where did you hear this?"

"From Anthony Quintana. He and I were on that case together—Doug Hartwell's daughter. I mentioned that at Irene's, didn't I? He has a friend at the State Attorney's Office and he asked what was going on."

"Are they crazy? It was suicide."

"Not according to the police," she said.

"God almighty. They're saying
did it? This is the grossest example of police incompetence I have ever heard of." He jumped down off the porch. "I'm going to have somebody's butt for this."

"Ben, there's nothing we can do. If we make a stink they'll think I'm trying to hide something. They haven't arrested me yet. They might not. But do me a favor. Don't say anything more about it than you have to."

"That homicide detective— What's his name? Britton. He asked me some questions a couple weeks ago. Came back another time. I figured it was routine. You know, because your mother wanted them to look into this." Ben groaned softly. "Oh, lord. Irene. Did you tell Irene?"

"Not yet," Gail said, "but I will. I spoke to Anthony Quintana this morning and he said I should discuss it with the family in advance, so no one is taken by surprise."

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
3.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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