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Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (31 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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"Miriam?" Gail adjusted her straw to reach the last of her iced tea. "When you finish, would you see if you can get Anthony Quintana on the phone? And make sure I'm not disturbed while we're talking."

"I'm almost done." Miriam opened a file and unfolded the metal clasp, poking the prongs through the holes in a letter. "You know, if I ever can go back to school," she said, "I would love to be an attorney."

"You would, huh?" Gail turned another page.

"Yes. It is so exciting."

"Well, you've got the brains, Miriam, but— Let me see your teeth." Miriam laughed. ''Why?''

"You can't get into law school unless they're filed into points."

A light flashed on Gail's telephone, an outside call coming through the switchboard. Miriam reached for it before Gail could turn in her chair. "Ms. Connor's office. . . . One moment, please, I'll see if she's available." She pressed the hold button. "It's Jimmy Panther."

Gail held out her hand. She had put him off too long. Miriam left with three files and a microcassette full of instructions.

"Jimmy, this is Gail Connor. I know you must be calling about the deer mask."

"Right. It's been . . . what, over three weeks since you found it? If you're too tied up to bring it out here, I could come to your house." The voice was polite, as usual, but this time it held an undercurrent of annoyance.

Gail said, "At the moment, I don't have it. Saturday before last I took the mask to the Historical Museum and let Edith Newell look at it. You know Edith, I believe."

"Yeah."

"She thought it might be genuine Tequesta. I let her send the mask to a friend of hers at the University of Florida, an archaeologist. He's going to give an opinion."

"You sent it to Gainesville? This is my property you're talking about."

Gail rolled a pencil on her desk, its edges clicking. No reason to tell him everything. "Let me explain. I found it in Renee's condo. As the executor of her estate I have a duty. This isn't meant to be personal, Mr. Panther, but for all I know the mask could be a valuable artifact from a museum. How can I be sure who it belongs to?"

Behind the silence over the phone, Gail heard people talking. A cash register. A door opened, closed. He was probably calling from the gift shop on the Trail.
 

Then Jimmy Panther said, "If that mask is Tequesta, I'm as surprised as you are. My grandmother—her name was Annie Osceola—told me she made it. She kept it in a heavy wood box under her bed, wouldn't let anybody touch it. She said when the time came she would tell me the legend of the mask." He paused. "Not many people know this," he said, "but Annie Osceola was a descendant of the Tequestas."

"Is that so?" Gail said. "I thought they died out."

"They did—except for a few who went to Cuba."

"Cuba?"

He didn't elaborate. "Where is the mask now? Still in Gainesville?"

"I could find out."

"If it's broken," he said, "I would be very upset. Very."

After some grumbling, Jimmy Panther agreed that Gail could call him back later in the week. Gail hung up and pressed the intercom.

"Sí',
señora"
Miriam said, her voice sliding up and down the scale.

"Miriam, do me a favor. Call Edith Newell over at the Historical Museum and see if she's heard from her friend in Gainesville. She'll know what you mean."

Gail went back to the notes on her desk, flipping through till she found the page about Jimmy Panther and the mask. So now the Tequestas had migrated to Cuba. Well, well. When Jimmy's white grandfather was running rum for Al Capone to and from Havana, he may have met Annie Osceola. Fascinating. Maybe she had been a dancer at the Tropicana. Maybe Anthony Quintana was a distant cousin of Jimmy Panther's. Gail started to write.

When her telephone buzzed she automatically picked it up.

"Mr. Quintana on line one," Miriam said. "And the lady at the museum says she got it this morning. Whatever it is, she has it."

"Thanks." Gail glanced up to make sure her door was closed before pressing the button. ''Anthony, this is Gail. I'm glad you're in."

"Has something happened?"

Gail slowed down, realizing she must have sounded out of breath. "No, Sergeant Britton hasn't jumped out of the bushes yet. Do you have a minute?"

"Of course."

With thumb and forefinger she ruffled the bottom edges of the twenty-three pages of notes. "Over the weekend I talked to my cousin Ben Strickland. Your name came up, naturally. He told me you were Renee's attorney on a drug case last year."

"Ah. This is true. And you would like to know why I didn't tell you. At the time—last Friday night—I believed you had enough to think about. I would have brought it up eventually." When Gail did not reply, he said, "I knew Renee through the title company. She was my client for only a week, then the case was nolle prossed." He paused. "Judge Strickland must have told you the State Attorney's Office dropped it."

"Yes, he told me." Gail wondered if Anthony knew what part Ben had played in this. She asked something else. "Do you know if Renee was guilty?" Before she finished the question she could visualize him smiling at it.

He said, "Guilty of what? Of trafficking in cocaine? No, I don't think so. Of knowing it was on the boat? Yes. She said she knew. That's not a crime. I would tell you more about it now, but I'm on my way out. We'll talk this afternoon."
 

"I can't make it," Gail said. "I'm getting sent to cover a deposition. If you have a mail slot I can leave my notes at your office. There's no rush, is there?"

She heard a door open, heard his secretary ask a question. Anthony told her to wait a minute. Then he said to Gail, "I've heard nothing new about the investigation. Call me later at home, would you do that? We should discuss what is likely to happen next."

After hanging up, Gail returned to her notes, putting her personal history into reverse chronological order. Less personal that way.

Miriam knocked and opened the door far enough to lean inside. "Gail? While you were on the phone, you got a couple of calls. One, Carlos Pedrosa was asking about the option again, whether you got it back from Judge Strickland. I told him no, not yet."

Gail nodded, paper-clipping pages together. "Who else?"

"Frank Britton of Metro-Dade." She looked up.

"He said you could come by headquarters and collect your sister's papers. I have the address if you need it, out west of the Palmetto Expressway."

"Did he say anything else?"

"No. Just that. And to call if you have any questions." Miriam closed the door again.

Gail drew in a deep breath. Surely this couldn't be a ploy to get her there, to snap the handcuffs on. If he wanted her, he knew where to find her. Another thought occurred: if he was giving the papers back, he might be giving up the investigation. Ben needed the papers for the estate, but she couldn't possibly go pick them up herself. But if she didn't, what would Britton think? Then again, Anthony had told her not to care what Britton thought.

She spun in her chair, reached for the phone, dialed. Anthony had already left.

 

At one-twenty Gail walked quietly into the courtroom on the tenth floor of the Dade County Courthouse. The session had started at one o'clock, Judge Henry Cooper's afternoon list of all matters short of a trial. Her case was set for one-thirty.

She took a seat along the aisle toward the back. Other attorneys sat here and there in the six rows of wooden benches. The long seats faced front, like pews in a chapel, separated from court personnel by a low partition. A jury box was tucked into a corner to the left of the judge's elevated desk.

Henry Cooper was new to the court, a mid-thirties black man with a luxuriant mustache. He wore his judicial robe even in the halls, either to compensate for his youth or to hide his running shoes. They still flashed beneath the flowing robe as he walked.

In the breaks between cases, the attorneys whispered to each other. There would be no attorney on the other side of Gail's foreclosure case. The defendants—Simon and Rita Yancey—had never filed an answer to the complaint or obtained counsel, and it was too late now. Absent compelling reasons, no decent attorney would take a case after default was entered. Like going to a doctor to cure rigor mortis. Some attorneys would do it, of course, delaying the case by any means, filing bankruptcy or all manner of spurious motions. They would advise their clients: Live in the house a few extra months for free. Cheaper than rent.

Sometimes the defendants would show up on their own. Gail scanned the people in the room, not seeing anyone who looked like a husband and wife. Then, across the aisle, on the second bench, she noticed a man in a suit that pulled across the shoulders. He was twisting his neck as if his collar were too tight. Light brown hair, a bald spot. She would bet money this was Simon Yancey.

He was holding a large manila envelope on his lap, which probably contained all the documents connected to the house. Deed and mortgage, warranties for the appliances, insurance, title policy. Maybe even photos. The Yanceys lived in Miami Springs, near the airport. Aside from their credit history, Gail knew nothing about the Yanceys except what she had gleaned from a copy of a letter in her file, the original sent to the judge last week. Single-space typing, cramped margins, an indignant tone.

"Dear Judge Henry Cooper, This to officially protest what is being done to me and my family. They are trying to put us out of our home. We got behind but since then we have sent the payments but they keep sending them back to us. ..."

The clerk called the next case. An attorney Gail had met at a bar meeting maneuvered past her. They smiled politely at each other as Gail shifted her knees to one side. She watched the man push open the low swinging door, announce his presence to the court. She wondered if he would have smiled at her if she were out on bail on a murder charge.

Before she left the ranch on Saturday, Ben had told her not to worry about making bail. He would lend her the money, if it came to that. And then he had apologized for blasting out his screen door, making her swear not to tell Irene.

That night Gail had told Irene about Frank Britton. Irene had burst into tears, raged at the police, and finally blamed herself for causing all this trouble. She had never done what Gail had feared—hesitate. Not for an instant, before flinging her arms around Gail's neck.
 

It made no sense to burden Karen with this, on the heels of her father moving out. Irene had come over a few times when Gail was late getting home. She had fixed dinner. They had talked. They had even talked about Renee. Gail could see how the three of them—herself, her mother, and her daughter—had become closer. Terrible that it had to happen this way.

Gail noticed the balding man in the ill-fitting coat shift in his seat. He was looking around the courtroom, studying the faces of the female attorneys. Besides Gail, there were two others, one arguing a case and the other in whispered conversation with someone in the back. He spotted Gail.

Large eyes, whites showing beneath the iris. Heavy jaw, a thin mouth. Younger than she had expected, probably under thirty. He looked at her blankly for a few seconds, then turned back toward the front. Apparently Mrs. Yancey couldn't get off work.

These were the kind of people Renee had dealt with at Vista Title Company. Normal people, buying houses. It wasn't likely, but maybe Renee had done their closing. Renee would have known more than their credit report. If Renee had been sitting here beside Gail she might have whispered,
Simon was a baggage handler for Pan Am, until it went under. Now he works as an air-conditioning mechanic, off and on. Rita is the cafeteria manager at Springs High School. They have a Harley and ride with the motorcycle club on weekends.

Renee's miniskirt would have crept up her thigh. Legs crossed, swinging her foot. The warmth of her shoulder against Gail's arm. And her perfume—Shalimar.

She would have laughed softly, pulling Gail closer.
Simon's not wearing his earring today. A diamond Rita gave him when they were in high school. They have two boys, really cute. Tommy has a learning disability, but he's smart if you really listen to him. Joey's an angel, he climbed right up in my lap at the closing.
Gail remembered what Jimmy Panther had said in her office. Renee was good with the kids at the Historical Museum.

If Renee were wearing Gail's tailored skirt and jacket, if she had her name on Gail's bar card, she would have told the man at Atlantic Financial Services to let the poor guy catch up on his mortgage, for God's sake.
Don't be such a putz.

Renee might have had a storefront office near the tomato fields in Homestead—speaking Spanish would help. She would have brought a bottle of Irish whiskey to Father Eamon Donnelly. She would have defended illegal immigrants against the INS, would have gone to their parties, would have danced the
merengue
or the
cumbia
on Saturday night, and slept with one or two of them, maybe even at the same time. Would have piled them—men, women and children—into her red sports car with the top down and gone cruising to Key Largo, radio blaring.

Renee would have known the details of a stranger's life; Gail didn't even know the details of Renee's.

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
2.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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