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Authors: Sandra Brown

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Alibi (12 page)

BOOK: The Alibi
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had never experienced it before, so how could he put

a name to it? He only knew that it was encompassing

and debilitating, that he had never felt like this before

even though he had been with a lot of beautiful, captivating,

sexy women.

From there his thoughts had wandered from his

sexual history to hers. And that's when he had re

 

membered the telephone call. Frowning, he had

looked at the telephone on the table across the room.

When he had caught her using it, she had looked startled

and guilty. Who could she have been calling?

Suddenly he had sprung off the bed. Heart racing,

he bent over the telephone and ran his finger along

the rubberized buttons on the panel. He wasn't even

sure that this particular model had the feature he

sought, but then, yes!, there it was.

Auto Redial.

Hesitating only a second, he depressed the button.

Beeping a series of tones, the telephone automatically

dialed the number, which simultaneously appeared

on the LED. He grabbed a pencil and the only

paper within reach--last season's Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. He scribbled the telephone number

across the cover girl's abdomen.

"Dr. Ladd."

He didn't know what he had expected, but after

two rings when his call was answered by a clipped,

professional, female voice, it caught him off guard.

"Pardon?"

"Were you calling Dr. Ladd?"

"Uh ... I'm ... I might have the wrong number."

He repeated the number he had jotted down.

"That's correct. This is an answering service. Were

you trying to reach the doctor?"

At a loss, he said, "Uh, yeah."

"Your name and a number where you can be

reached, please."

"You know, on second thought, I'll wait and call

during office hours."

He had hung up quickly, but for a long time afterward,

he had sat on the edge of the bed and pondered

who the hell Dr. Ladd could be, and why she had

been calling him in the middle of the night.

He had run through a roster of names and faces in

his memory bank. He mixed socially with a number

of physicians. He was a member of two country clubs

that were jam-packed with doctors of every specialty.

But he couldn't recall ever having met a Dr. Ladd.

But had he met Dr. Ladd's wife? Did he know Dr.

Ladd's wife intimately?

Annoyed by that grim but very real possibility, he

had forced himself to get up and shower. Not that a

hot shower was indicative of anything. Not that he

felt guilty and in need of cleansing. If she was married

and had lied about it, he was blameless. Right?

Right.

After dressing, he had trudged into the kitchen,

where he settled for two cups of decaf freeze-dried

coffee. He even forced down half an English muffin,

chewing and ruminating in sync. She had told him

she wasn't married, but hell, how could he believe a

woman who hadn't even told him her name?

He didn't even know her name, for chrissake!

She had told him a lot of things. For instance, that

she didn't habitually go to bed with men she had only

just met. Casually or routinely. Weren't those her

exact words? But how did he know if that was true?

How did he know that she wasn't a compulsive

liar and slut, who happened to be married to a poor

schmuck with a medical degree? She could be a

wayward wife who had cheated on Dr. Ladd so much

that he was no longer surprised by telephone calls in

the middle of the night.

The more Hammond thought about it, the more

morose he became.

As he straightened up the kitchen, he had checked

the wall clock and was surprised to see that it was already

midafternoon. How could he have slept so late?

Easy. They hadn't stopped making love. . . . They

hadn't drifted off to sleep until nearly six.

He hadn't intended to return to Charleston until

dark. He had planned on spending a leisurely Sunday

fishing, or sitting on the porch and taking in the

scenery, basically doing nothing that required him to

think too much.

But staying in the cabin hadn't held much appeal.

Nor had thinking. So he had locked up the place and

headed back ahead of schedule. Now as he crossed

Memorial Bridge into the city, he wondered if she

was a Charlestonian who had taken a similar route

home.

What if they bumped into each other some night at

a cocktail party? Would they acknowledge their night

together, or would they greet one another like polite

strangers and pretend they had never met?

It would probably depend on whether or not they

were with other people at the time. How would he

feel if he was introduced to the seemingly happy couple,

Dr. and Mrs. Ladd, and was required to look her

husband in the eye and shake his hand and make

small talk and act like he hadn't had carnal knowledge

of the woman standing beside him?

He hoped for many reasons that he would never be

faced with a situation like that, but that if he was, he

would handle it with a reasonable degree of aplomb.

He hoped he wouldn't look like a sap. He hoped he

would be able to turn his back on her and walk away.

He wasn't sure he could. That's what worried him

most.

When faced with a moral dilemma, Hammond

usually chose on the side of right. Beyond normal

childhood pranks, high school mischief, and college

debauchery, his conduct was unimpeachable.

Whether he was cursed with an extra measure of

virtue or merely cowardice, he customarily abided by

the rules.

It hadn't always been easy. In fact, his unshakable

sense of right and wrong had been at the crux of most

of his conflicts with friends and colleagues, even his

parents. Especially his father. His father and he

didn't abide by the same rules of behavior. Preston

Cross would consider this quandary over a woman

amusing.

Turning into the condo complex where he lived,

Hammond asked himself what would have happened

if he had walked in on her moments earlier last night

and had heard her say into the telephone something to

the effect of, "Darling, since it's so late, I've decided

to stay over with my friend [insert feminine name

here. That is if you don't mind. I thought it might be

dangerous to drive back alone this late. All right then,

see you in the morning. Love you, too."

 

When the automated door opened, Hammond

guided his car into his narrow garage. But for several

moments after he had turned off the engine, he sat

there and stared into near space, pondering whether

or not he would have passed or failed that particular

test of his moral fiber.

 

Finally, annoyed with himself for engaging in such

pointless speculation, he got out of his car and let

himself into his townhouse through the door connecting

the garage to the kitchen. Out of habit, he

headed for the telephone to check his voice mail. On

second thought, he ignored it. There was bound to be

at least one message from his father. He wasn't in the

mood to rehash yesterday's confrontation. He wasn't

in the mood to talk to anyone.

 

Maybe he would go for a quick sail. There were a

few hours of daylight remaining. The sixteen-foot

craft, a gift from his parents when he passed the bar,

was moored across the street at City Marina. That's

why he'd bought a condo in this complex; it was a

short walk to the marina.

 

Today was a perfect day to take the boat out. It

might help clear his mind.

 

Quickening his pace, he went through the kitchen,

into the hall, past the living room, and was headed for

the stairs when he heard a key being inserted in the

front door lock. He barely had time to turn before

Steffi Mundell came in, a cell phone held to her ear.

 

She was saying, "I can't believe they're being such hard-asses about this." Juggling keys, phone,

briefcase, and handbag, she waggled her fingers in a

hello wave. "I mean, food poisoning isn't exactly

bone cancer.... Well, let me know.... I know I

don't have to be there, but I want to be. You have the

number of my cell, right? . . . Okay, 'bye." She

clicked the phone off and looked at Hammond with

exasperation. "Where the hell have you been?"

"What happened to hello?"

His colleague never stopped working. In an oversize

briefcase, she carried around with her what

amounted to a miniature desk. Upon joining the

Charleston County Solicitor's Office, she'd had a police

scanner installed in her car, and she listened to it

like other motorists listened to music or talk radio. It

was a standing joke among the other attorneys and

police officers that Steffi was the prosecution's

equivalent of an ambulance-chasing defense attorney.

She dumped her plethora of belongings into a

chair, stepped out of her high heels, and pulled her

shirttail from her skirt waistband. She fanned her

midriff with the loose blouse. "God, it's stifling outside.

I'm smothering. Why haven't you answered

your phone?"

"I told you I was going to be at my cabin."

"I called there. About a million times."

"I turned off the ringer."

"For heaven's sake why?"

Because I was totally involved in a woman and

didn't want to be disturbed, he thought. But he said,

"You must have the radar of a bat. I just came in

through the back door. How'd you know I was here?"

"I didn't. Your place is closer to CPD than mine. I

figured you wouldn't mind me waiting here until I

heard something."

"About what? Who were you talking to? What's so

urgent?"

"Urgent? Hammond?" Facing him, hands on hips,

she appeared at first to be mystified. Then her expression

changed to one of profound amazement.

"Oh, my God, you don't know."

"Apparently not." Her dramatics didn't impress

him. Steffi was always dramatic.

So much for sailing. He didn't want to invite Steffi

to come along, and she wasn't easy to shake, especially

when her spirits were running this high. He

suddenly felt very tired. "I need something to drink.

What can I get you?"

He retraced his steps into the kitchen and opened

the refrigerator. "Water or beer?"

She padded along behind him. "I can't believe it.

You honestly don't know. You haven't heard. Where

is that cabin of yours, Outer Mongolia? Doesn't it

have a TV?"

"Okay, beer." He took two bottles from the refrigerator,

opened the first one, and extended it to her.

She took it, but she continued staring at him as

though his face had just broken out in oozing sores.

He opened the second beer and tipped the bottle toward

his mouth. "The suspense is killing me. What's

got you so hyped?"

"Somebody murdered Lute Pettijohn yesterday afternoon

in his Charles Towne Plaza penthouse."

The beer bottle never made it to Hammond's

mouth. He lowered it slowly, staring at her with total

disbelief. Seconds ticked by. Gruffly, he said, "That's

impossible."

"It's true."

"Can't be."

"Why would I lie?"

At first immobilized by shock, he eventually

moved. He ran his hand around the back of his neck

where tension had already gathered. Operating on autopilot,

he set his beer on the small bistro table,

pulled a chair away from it, and lowered himself into

it. When Steffi sat down across from him, he blinked

her into focus. "You did say murdered!"

"Murdered."

"How?" he asked, in that same dry voice. "How

did he die?"

"Are you okay?"

He gazed at her as though he no longer understood

the language, then he nodded absently. "Yeah, I'm

fine. I'm just. . ." He spread his hands.

"Speechless."

"Flabbergasted." He cleared his throat. "How'd he

die?"

"Gunshot. Two bullets in the back."

He lowered his eyes to the granite tabletop, staring

sightlessly at the condensation forming on the cold

beer bottle while he assimilated the staggering news.

"When? What time?"

"He was found by a hotel housekeeper a little after

six."

"Last evening."

"Hammond, I'm not stuttering. Yes. Yesterday."

"I'm sorry."

He listened as she described what the chambermaid

had discovered. "The head injury was more

than a bump, but John Madison thinks the bullets

killed him. Naturally he can't officially rule cause of

death until he's completed the autopsy. All the particulars

won't be known until then."

"You talked to the ME.?"

"Not personally. Smilow filled me in."

"So he's on it?"

"Are you serious?"

"Of course he's on it," Hammond muttered. "What

does he think happened?"

For the next five minutes, Hammond listened

while she gave him the known details of the case. "I

BOOK: The Alibi
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