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Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (9 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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"Hmm. I don't know. What?"

"A motion for recusal."

"Ah. George told me he mailed it Monday. Apparently he didn't call you." The soft voice had a tone of surprise that Gail didn't buy for a second.

"No, he didn't. Who's handling this case, you or George?"

Quintana let a couple seconds go by. "You asked to speak to me, and here I am."

Miriam came in with the file and left again.

Gail spoke slowly. "Mr. Quintana, I'm going to assume this is your case, all right? I don't know how they do things over in criminal court, but I can tell you this: Judge Coakley doesn't like attorneys playing around with the system. Fair warning. Don't make me bring this up on an emergency basis."

"Are you asking that I withdraw the motion? Until there is a settlement, the case proceeds. We both know how this works."

"If you prefer." Gail twisted the phone cord around her fist, imagining it was his silk tie. "You've no doubt had a chance to review the order I drafted. A courier can take the original to the judge this afternoon. And as long as we're on the subject, we may as well discuss a date and time for me to depose Ernesto and Carlos Pedrosa."

She thought she heard him sigh. "Listen, Ms. Connor — No, I won't be formal with you. Listen, Gail. We could drown ourselves in paper and procedure. But now we are speaking to each other—not face to face, but speaking nonetheless. I had hoped we could leave the adversarial relationship for the courtroom."
 

The man was smooth, she had to give him that much. "I'm not hard to get along with," she said. "But motions out of nowhere set my teeth on edge."

"As I can understand. All right, then. Let's talk about it this afternoon. Allow me to buy you that cup of coffee you declined before. I have a deposition to attend in your building, so it would be convenient."

Gail noticed the way he pronounced deposition: with a soft
s
,
not the hard English
z
. She ran her thumb down the plastic index tabs sticking out of the Darden file. "I'll be honest with you. My clients aren't in a mood to be generous."

Anthony Quintana chuckled. "We must both beware our clients. What time?"

"I need to speak to the Dardens first. May I call you early next week?"

"Of course. Until then."

Gail hung up, then frowned at the thick file on her desk, with the motion on top still creased from mailing. She knew when she was being pushed. Most attorneys who tried it went for a full tackle. Nothing personal, of course, and afterward everybody shook hands and had a drink together. Those were the rules. But Quintana was playing another game: Get her unbalanced. Smile. Try charm instead of cold demands. If she doesn't play along, then get tough.

Just try it,
amigo,
Gail muttered to herself. She reached for her time log. Point-four. If she could only send a bill in this case, the Dardens would be on their knees to settle.

She opened a foreclosure file, then swore softly when the intercom buzzed. She picked it up.

Miriam said, "It's that Britton guy from Metro-Dade. He's outside."

"Who?"

"The police officer you wanted me to call, remember?"

"He's here?"

"Uh-huh. I don't think he's collecting for the P.B.A."

 

Typical plainclothes cop, Gail thought as Miriam closed the door behind him. Muted blue plaid jacket, a dark tie, short brown hair, gold-framed glasses. A late-thirties guy going slightly heavy around the middle. He could have been an appliance salesman for Sears. Until he handed her a white card with a gold shield on it. Metro-Dade Police Department.

"Ms. Connor, I'm Frank Britton. How are you this morning?"

She took his hand, extended across her desk. "Sit down, Sergeant. What's this about?"

He had a pleasant face. She had seen faces like that before, on expert witnesses about to testify. Settling into the witness chair, straightening the front of his jacket a little, getting comfortable.

Gail put the card on her desk. "This says Homicide Bureau."

"Yes, ma'am. I'm investigating your sister's death."

She sat down in her chair. "I don't understand."

"You might know this, being an attorney, Ms. Connor. The Homicide Bureau looks into suicides, just like any other death by unnatural causes." Britton's delivery was polite, his accent from somewhere in north Rorida, that down-home drawl uncommon in Miami.

He said, "Now, we did a preliminary investigation at the scene last Monday, after we got the report. Search of the area and so on. We did her apartment the same morning, but—"

"Is that routine?"

"Absolutely. We look to see if anybody's in there. You never know. There could be somebody injured or deceased. And if she had a roommate, we'd want to notify that person." He paused to make sure Gail understood, then said, "I want to go back and do it again. Your mother said to call you."

"Did she? Why? I mean, she is the personal representative."

"She didn't mention it. I thought you'd probably be handling your sister's affairs."

"No. And my mother didn't mention this . . . investigation to me."

"Maybe she forgot," he said. "It happens. People don't like to think about death."

"But Renee killed herself. Isn't that what the death certificate says?"

"No, ma'am. It's still pending. We're not going to release the certificate until I can look into it further, and I usually start with the decedent's place of residence. Last time we had the landlord let us in. If we go back, we're going to need a search warrant unless we have a family member along."

Gail said, "I don't see the point. Renee was found in a county park with her wrists slashed."

"Yes, ma'am, a policeman comes in, starts asking questions, when everybody is trying to get over the loved one's death. I realize it can be a shock."

Half smiling, Gail looked down at his card, aligning it with the edge of her desk. ' This is unreal. Do you do this with all suicides?"

"Lord, no. We don't have that kind of manpower. It's a judgment call, usually after somebody asks us to look into it."

"Meaning my mother."

Behind the glasses, his pale blue eyes showed sympathy. "You can kind of see her point. There was no note, for one thing, or a terminal illness. Most people who do themselves in are depressed. Your mother didn't think Renee was in that frame of mind."

"Did she tell you Renee tried to kill herself before? With a razor blade?"

"When was that?"

"About four years ago."

"Huh." Britton said, "Well, we still need to check it out. When can you come let us in?"

"Look, Sergeant, I don't mean to be difficult, but I really don't have the time for this."

The light reflected in his glasses. "Then we'll have to get a warrant. Or ask Mrs. Connor to go with us."

Gail let a few seconds go by. "All right. I can meet you Saturday morning."

"Friday's better."

"Fine. Five o'clock. It's the best I can do."

 

After Britton left, Gail told Miriam to hold all her calls. She sat at her desk with both feet curled under her.

Irene might have gone so far as to call the sheriff of Dade County. And if he didn't know who Irene Strickland Connor was, then she would have referred him to the Mayor of Miami. They might not pay attention to every distraught mother, but they had to this one.

A few years ago Gail had come by Irene's for lunch and had found her at the kitchen table, thumbing through a brochure for burglar bars. This in a walled neighborhood with a guard house and security patrols. Gail had been mystified until she remembered Irene was due for minor surgery the next week. Irene had come out of the hospital; the bars had never been installed.

Gail berated herself for having let three days go by since she had last seen her mother. But the days were a blur; she could barely remember any of them.
 

She got up and crossed to the window ledge, where Jimmy Panther had left his teacup. She picked it up. He had said Renee promised to bring the clay deer mask to him last week. That could show something about her state of mind, if he was telling the truth. If. Jimmy Panther could say what he wanted. And Renee had a history of forgotten promises. Gail tossed the cup into her trash basket.

 

 

 

 

Four

 

 

Irene Strickland Connor lived in a subdivision a few miles north of downtown called Belle Mar whose homes ranged from twenties Mediterranean to ultramodern glass and soaring wood. At the main entrance, Gail put on her blinker and turned from Biscayne Boulevard onto Seagrape Lane. The smaller street, bordered with royal palms and flowering hibiscus, divided at a tiny guardhouse. Ten years ago, nervous about civil disturbances and immigration, the residents had put up an eight-foot-high security wall.

"Open the gate, sweetie," Gail said to Karen. The girl sat in the passenger seat of the Buick with a gate opener pointed at the striped barrier across the road. She pressed a button and the wooden arm swung upward.

Karen closed her geography book, which she had been reading on her lap.

"Did you finish the chapter?"

"Almost." Karen leaned over to put the book in her book bag.

"Almost?" Gail slowed over a speed bump. "You won't keep your A's that way. You can finish it while I'm talking to your grandma, all right?"

Ben had called her at work that afternoon. He had prepared the estate papers for Irene's signature and wanted Gail to notarize them. He had insisted:
No, no, I don't want to hear you 're too busy. Bring Dave. We’ll
all have dinner together. Besides, Irene says she hasn't seen you all week.
Trust Irene for melodrama. Gail had seen her three days ago.

Seagrape Lane meandered past Banyan, Bottlebrush, and Jacaranda and finally ended in a circle. Gail pulled into Irene's driveway, tires crunching on acorns from the overhanging oak tree. The house was a rambling one-story with a facade of old brick and a white tile roof darkened with mildew. An orange cat sprawled on the porch, licking its paws. A tabby watched them from a window ledge.

At the front door Gail used her own key, letting herself into the foyer. Karen followed, her school bag bumping past the screen door, which banged shut behind them. The painted metal decoration on it—a flamingo—rattled on loosened rivets.

"Irene! It's us!"

After a second, a muffled voice called out, "In the kitchen."

Gail found her pulling plastic containers and foil-wrapped plates from the refrigerator.

"You're early," Irene said. She set a casserole on the table, the glass lid clanking. "I was going to have dinner all ready for you, and here you are." Her voice was husky enough to make Gail wonder how much she had had to drink.

Karen dropped her book bag in a chair. "Hey, Gramma."

Leaving the refrigerator door wide open, Irene held out her arms. "Come here, precious." She enveloped the girl in a hug. "My goodness, you're so
big."

Karen's face was buried for a moment in Irene's flowered blouse. Gail noticed the rest of her outfit—parrot-green slacks and gold leather sandals studded with rhinestones. A scarf ran through her red curls, a perky bow tied behind one ear.

Gail wasn't sure if the clothes meant Irene had cheered up or if she was going slightly dotty. She went to push the refrigerator door shut.

"Are you hungry, baby?" Irene asked, straightening Karen's T-shirt over her jeans.

Karen made a face. "I am not a baby."

"Well,
no.
I'm so sorry." She spread her hand over her bosom. Gail saw she was wearing the white beads Jimmy Panther had given her at the funeral.

Karen petted the gray cat curled up on a kitchen chair. "But I am hungry. Definitely."

Gail said, "We’ll eat as soon as Ben gets here. Why don't you go out on the patio and finish your homework?"

"Oh, let the child eat, Gail. She doesn't have to wait for Ben."

Gail found an apple in the fruit basket and gave it to Karen. "Go on. I want to talk to your grandmother." Karen shot Gail a look, sighed pointedly, then dropped the apple into her bag. There were tables and chairs by the pool where she could study, if she weren't distracted by the view. Boats were crisscrossing Biscayne Bay, most of them heading back to their marinas at this hour. The distant grumble of engines wove through the chirps of mockingbirds in Irene's backyard.

"Stay on the porch," Gail added. The cat shot through the sliding glass door as she closed it.

Irene picked up her cigarette from a heavy crystal ashtray and eyed the table. "I thought we'd finish off this stuff so I can give the dishes back."

Gail recognized plates and casseroles that neighbors had brought last week, but the contents had dwindled. A few slices of roast beef, drying at the edges. Meat loaf reduced to a corner of a square pan. Remnants and scraps of green beans, potatoes au gratin, creamed corn, pickled mushrooms, lasagna, half a key lime pie—and more dishes she couldn't see into.
 

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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