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Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (5 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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"We'll be finished in an hour, so what's the point?"

The front door swung open and two people came through it. The woman—in her mid-twenties, with a frizzy ponytail—wore spike heels and a knit dress that showed a rounded stomach. At least the dress was black, so Gail couldn't immediately assume she had wandered into the funeral home by mistake. Her legs were tan and muscled.

Her companion, a heavily built Hispanic, wore a royal blue suit with the sleeves rolled up, no tie. He had a mustache and a strand of hair which curled past his collar like a little black tail.

Glancing at a small sign with Renee's name on it, the woman pointed to the left. Long silver earrings swung against her neck. "She's over this way, Julio." They signed the guest registry and disappeared down the corridor.

"Good lord," Gail said. "What was that?"

"Some of Renee's friends, I would imagine."

"A pregnant exotic dancer and a pimp. Lovely."

"Christ, Gail. You're at her funeral."

Gail leaned her forehead into her open palm. "I'm sorry. Don't let me get like this in front of Irene. I don't know why I do it."

"Because you hated Renee's guts."

She raised her head. "That's a rotten thing to say."

Dave shrugged, then stood up. "Well, I guess we ought to go put in an appearance." He waited. "Are you coming or not?"

"In a minute."

"Jesus. You're the one who wanted us both in there."

Gail drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair, then got up and followed him back inside. He went off to talk to Ben. She found her mother in the first row of chairs with Patsy. Irene took Gail's hand as she sat down. "Patsy says she can stay another few days."

Patsy nodded. "I told Kyle to go on home tomorrow. I'm gonna take a flight back to Tampa on Wednesday." She settled into the chair on the other side of Irene. "I need somebody to run me out to the airport, though."

Gail hoped Patsy wouldn't ask her to do it. The mountain of work waiting for her at the office made her pulse race every time she thought of it. She had relied on the telephone and fax machine this week, but it wasn't enough. The senior partner in her department was beginning to wonder if he should temporarily shift some of her cases to other attorneys.

Patsy leaned back to look around Irene's head. "I can't stand taxis, and I'm not letting Irene drive anywhere, the shape she's in. I swear, people over here drive like they're on drugs. . . ."

Her voice trailed off as her eyes focused on something behind Gail. Gail turned to see. The other people in the room were watching, too, their conversations fading.

It was an Indian. He looked like an Indian, at any rate. He wore a patchwork jacket stitched in rows of colors— tiny squares and triangles of red, yellow, and blue. Half a dozen strands of beads hung around his neck.

The Indian walked slowly along the aisle, his eyes straight ahead of him. His long hair, black with silver shot through it, was tied back in a leather thong.
 

He stood at the casket for more than a minute before he turned and looked at Irene. She smiled up at him. "Why, Jimmy."

He stood silently in front of her, then put his hand on her shoulder. "Mrs. Connor, my heart is full of sadness for you."

"That's sweet."

"Renee's body is lying over there in the coffin, but her spirit is with the Mother of the Earth."

Gail exchanged a look with Patsy. Where had he learned this routine, old Westerns? The stoic Indian, not a hint of smile, talking about death and spirits in a rumbly bass voice. Everyone within earshot stood transfixed.

Irene said, "Do you know my other daughter Gail?"

The Indian's eyes shifted. He gave a polite nod. "Glad to meet you."

"Gail, this is Jimmy Panther. Remember I told you about him? From the Historical Museum?"

"Oh, yes. How do you do."

"And my sister Patsy. She's from Tampa."

After a second, Patsy smiled. "Hi. I like the jacket. What kind of . . . Seminole, right?"

"Miccosukee," he said, and shook her hand when she held it out.

Jimmy Panther reached under his hair to take off one of the strands of beads he wore. It tinkled softly. Bells. He opened Irene's palm and held the strand over it, tiny white shells. From the bottom hung three funnel-shaped silver bells.

"These were made by my grandmother. Like the ones that Coacachee—known as Wildcat—brought back from the spirit world after he was called by his dead sister."

They clicked together and caught the light as he let them drop into Irene's palm. She looked at them, uncomprehending.
 

"The white represents purity and peace. The bells are the voice of the dead person. They help you remember her."

Irene picked them up. The bells rang softly.

He said, "When Renee visits you in your mind, you must welcome her. And don't cry over her. That would make her spirit sad."

"I'll try," Irene whispered.

Patsy stifled a sob and pressed a Kleenex to her nose.

Jimmy Panther nodded. "We all have a time to die. We're lucky if we can choose our place. Renee liked the Everglades. It is a good place to die, if your time has come."

Irene stood up and put her arms around his neck, still clutching the beads. "Thank you," she said, and he let her kiss his cheek. Jimmy Panther placed his hands momentarily on her shoulders, then silently turned and crossed the room, everyone watching until he had gone.

Gail wandered far enough into the lobby to see the front door close behind him. She hadn't known he and Renee were friends. They could well have met at the Historical Museum, when Renee was working there as a volunteer. What Gail did know was that Irene had already donated more money than she should have to Jimmy Panther's Miccosukee history center. As far as Gail had heard, the center was still no more than a pile of concrete blocks out on the Tannami Trail, the highway heading west across the Everglades.

Irene didn't need anyone playing on her sympathy, Gail thought. Particularly not Jimmy Panther, with his beads and his bullshit about Renee's spirit.

A brown pickup truck turned out of the parking lot. For an instant, flashing from window to window, Gail saw the Indian at the wheel, patchwork jacket off, his elbow resting on the edge of the door. He wore a short-sleeved blue shirt. There was a gun rack in the back window.

Gail turned around just as Dave came into the lobby.
 

He pulled his car keys out of his pocket, then studied them in his hand. "I'm going to go get Karen."
 

"Dave, we already decided."

"You
decided." He headed for the door. "I'll be back in time for the services. It'll be good for her."

Gail followed through the door, across the slate terrace, then down the steps. "Do you want her to remember Renee like this? In a funeral home, in a casket? She can't even see her."

"Does it matter?"

"Are you that bored?"

He whirled to face her. "I'm not
bored,
Gail."

Gail leaned against the side of their Buick. Under her dark suit she felt hot, prickly. The sky was still a bright, cloudless blue, the wind rattling the fronds of the palm trees in the parking lot. She pushed her hair off her forehead.

Dave sorted through the keys on the ring. "Karen liked Renee, you know."

"Damn it, that isn't the reason I left her home."

He unlocked the door and waited for her to get out of the way. "Do you mind?"

They looked coldly at each other for a moment, then Gail moved aside. "You be responsible for her while she's here."

Dave got in. He turned the ignition and the backup lights went on. The Buick shot into reverse at the same time a silver Mercedes coupe cornered at the street and sped across the lot.

"Dave!"

Both cars slammed on their brakes, the Mercedes skidding on a patch of loose dirt. The Buick bounced, its horn blasting. Gail saw Dave look angrily over his shoulder and raise his middle finger.

The other driver's dark tinted window slid down. She could see him now, a bearded man in gold-rimmed sunglasses. He leaned out the window and screamed something in Spanish. But Dave was already halfway to the street. The Mercedes backed into a parking space and the window slid up.

The car's chrome grille bore a gold Mercedes emblem the size of a dinner plate. On each headlight there was a tiny gold-colored windshield wiper. The door opened.

The driver tucked his tie into the front of his dark blue jacket. He was young—thirty, not much more than that —and a bit pudgy. His hair was thinning on top, but his beard was thick, closely trimmed to his face.

He closed his door, catching sight of Gail at the same time, and grinned at her. Behind him, the headlights flashed. There was a high-pitched chirp from under the hood. He spun the key chain around his finger and turned toward the front of the building.

A drug dealer. Or an auto thief particularly careful about his own property. But then, most of the luxury cars in Miami had alarms. At every clap of thunder they would go off like so many frightened children.

In the lobby Gail checked the guest registry. No name had been added to those of the women from her mother's parish who had come in just before him.

"Ms. Connor?"

She looked up.

It was Owen Finney. He whispered, "I have a message for you."
 

"Oh?"

"Yes. Father Donnelly called to say he might be late." Something in Gail's face made him add, "He took a wrong turn off the expressway. He'll be here, for sure."
 

She checked her watch. Not quite seven. "All right. Thanks." She should have been grateful that a priest was coming at all. It had been damned hard to find one.

Gail had spoken first to Father Hagen at Irene's parish, which her mother attended now and then. He was a thin, hollow-eyed man, his theology drier than his handshake. He offered his sympathy, but doubted he could in good conscience appear at the services. Gail knew it wasn't Renee's suicide that bothered him. He was still ticked off that Renee, at seventeen, had told him to kiss her sweet white ass. Irene had never heard about this.

Gail said yes, she understood, but it was Irene who needed him, not Renee. For fully more than two minutes, Father Hagen mulled it over, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. Finally he told her he could put her in contact with a Father Eamon Donnelly. Father Donnelly was Irish, retired from a country parish, and recruited by the Archdiocese of Miami.

Father Hagen explained: The church had a crisis on its hands, what with the older priests dying off, and so many Latin American Catholics immigrating in. And then there were the Haitians—Heaven only knew what the Archbishop was going to do without priests who could speak Creole. Luckily Father Eamon Donnelly had picked up some Spanish in Madrid. He had consequently been sent down to Homestead, to minister to the migrant workers in the tomato fields.

Father Hagen apologized when he handed Gail the telephone number, but Gail caught the flicker of satisfaction in his eyes.

The next day Father Donnelly said of course he would come. Naturally a donation to the poor was customary. Two hundred dollars, cash preferred. After a moment of stunned silence, Gail said she would arrange it. He asked about Renee; Gail gave him Irene's number.
 

What a joke, she thought now. A Catholic funeral for an atheist. Flowers from people who would never have spoken to Renee On the street.

As she began to turn away from the window, Gail caught sight of a sporty gray Cadillac turning into the driveway and disappearing past the side of the building. The funeral director's door was open and there was a window behind his desk that faced the parking lot. She went in far enough to look through it. The driver had seemed familiar.

The car stopped in a space next to a cluster of palm trees. Its brake lights went off. The door opened, and a man's foot in a low-cut black shoe appeared, planted on the ground for a moment before the rest of him got out.

It was Anthony Quintana. Gail had thought so, but couldn't imagine what he was doing here. He started walking toward the building, then stopped. Gail automatically tensed before she realized he was looking at someone who had come around the corner.

She saw a beard and blue suit. The drug dealer—if that's what he was—said something to Quintana. They spoke, standing at some distance, not a smile from either of them. Then the younger man headed for his car, and Quintana came toward the funeral home, so close to the window she could see the subdued pattern in his tie. No splashy colors today. His suit was charcoal gray, conservatively cut.

Possibly the bearded man was one of his criminal defendants. But why was Anthony Quintana here? Much as the idea intrigued her, Gail doubted he had come because of her. Courtesy did not extend that far. Had he known Renee?

She heard footsteps behind her. It was the funeral director himself—thin, balding, his eyebrows lifting. "May I help you?"

Gail murmured an apology and left his office.

She went back to the visitation room and looked past a group of women from the country club. Anthony Quintana was standing at the casket, head bowed, one hand on the kneeler. The diamond ring was gone. Today he wore a different one—silver with black stones.

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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