Read Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel Online

Authors: Elizabeth Bemis

Tags: #Mail Order Bride, #FBI, #military, #Police

Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel (21 page)

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
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“Literally. He just looked at us. Even when Doc was trying to psyche him out with both words and by getting up in his grill, he didn’t so much as blink.”

“Did he ask for a lawyer.”

“Nope. Not a word.”

“Weird. Doc have any theories?”

“Not more than ‘he must be taking the fifth.’”

He’d really thought that with MacQuaid’s laundry evidence, they could get him to reveal…
something.

“Cut him loose. We don’t have enough to hold him on, and he’s obviously not going to give us anything.”



Thursday, December 11—5:00 p.m.

Oakley Neighborhood, Cincinnati, Ohio

The savory smell of cooking meat greeted Deck as he stepped from the miserable cold drizzle into the warm house. The radio was cranked up, playing Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” in the kitchen, and he could hear Dana singing along in a reasonably convincing alto.

With a grin, he dropped his coat over a hook on the hat tree in the entryway and stepped into the kitchen. The radio was up loud enough that Dana still hadn’t heard him. He watched her dance for a moment while she pulled plates out of the cabinet.

“Something smells good,” Deck said, leaning his crutch against the island and taking a load off.

Dana jumped. Her smile said she knew she’d been caught. She turned around and grabbed a small, wrapped package off the counter, holding it out to him. “Happy Birthday,” she said.

Deck accepted the gift almost as if by accident, but as he did so, he felt his face fall. “Oh.” He shook his head. “You really shouldn’t have done this. How did you even know it was my birthday?”

She winked. “I’m FBI. I know everything.”

He placed the gift wrapped with shiny blue paper on the island. “Clearly, you don’t. I, uh, I don’t actually celebrate my birthday.”

Her smile faded, and her dimples disappeared. “Religious conviction?” she asked.

“What? No.”

“Oh. So why don’t you celebrate it? Thirty-three isn’t old enough to swear off birthdays.”

“Long story.”

“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

What would it hurt to tell her? Maybe
then
she’d understand why he had such an issue with her lying. “I remember telling you that my mom told a whopper of a lie and that we…well, we don’t speak anymore, right?”

Her eyes brightened as she nodded, even as she turned around and dished carrots, potatoes, and a steaming portion of pot roast on each of two plates. The timer on the oven rang, and she pulled out a loaf of garlic bread.

The smell of garlic combined with the smell of the pot roast, and Deck felt his stomach rumble.

She turned back to look at him. “What about it?” she asked when he didn’t continue.

He didn’t know how to continue. He’d never told anyone this before. He hadn’t ever discussed any of it with anyone. Sure, his brother, Mike, knew something had happened and that Deck no longer showed up at family events. But Deck knew for a fact that their mother hadn’t ever spilled the beans, and it wasn’t his secret to tell, so, in spite of the fact that Mike had asked on countless occasions, he’d never told him.

She put the plates on the table and sat next to him.

Deck slumped on his barstool, trying to find the right words to explain.  “I grew up in what I thought was the perfect family. My dad was a second-generation Irish cop. One of those big, burly, affable guys everyone could and did count on. He lived by the credo that honesty was the most important trait a man could have. We knew as kids that if we screwed up, the best way to double our punishment would be to lie about it. It was a…a
thing
in our house.” He sighed and took the first bite of the food on his plate. “Wow. This is good.”

“Thanks,” Dana said. “Continue… How does ‘Thou shalt not tell a lie’ equate to not believing in birthdays?”

“It’s not that I don’t believe them. I just don’t celebrate mine.”

“Because…?”

He took a bite of potatoes. For a woman who wasn’t particularly domestic, she definitely could do pot roast. He swallowed, knowing he was stalling. “Okay, let me start at the beginning. Idyllic childhood. Mike, my brother, was always a lot closer to Mom, but I was just like Dad, at least in temperament. I looked nothing like him, which was always a bit of a family joke. You know, what
did
the mailman look like? But it was just a joke. I played football just like he did. We did a lot of outdoorsy stuff together. Like Dad, and at his recommendation, I went into the marines after high school graduation. I spent ten years in. Did a tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq at the end. I’d decided to get out after my Iraq tour was over and join the police force like my old man. God, he was proud of that. I had just a couple of months left when Dad found out he had a pretty advanced case of leukemia.” Deck’s throat clogged, just like every time he thought about his big, sturdy father wasting away in a hospital bed while he was too far away to do more than call occasionally.

He cleared his throat and took a sip of milk. “The only thing that was going to save him was a bone marrow transplant. He’d had a twin, which would have been an ideal marrow match. Unfortunately, Uncle Shay had died a couple of years earlier. So Mom and Mike were haunting the bone marrow registry and asking everyone and their long-lost cousin to get tested.

“Meanwhile, I’m cooling my heels in the middle of a war zone. I was trying to talk my superiors into letting me go home. Parents and children are about a half match, sometimes even better. In the absence of another donor, doctors will occasionally throw a Hail Mary pass and use a half-match donation, even though the chances of it working are pretty slim. But Dad was going downhill fast. And what if I was a better match than Mike? I called Mom and told her I’d be on the first plane out of there, and she told me not to bother. I’m thinking… He’s already gone, right?”

Dana left her food uneaten on her plate, her entire focus on him.

“When I asked if I should be planning to come home for the funeral instead, she told me that my marrow definitely wouldn’t be a match, half or otherwise. Turns out the mailman scenario wasn’t that far off. She told me only so I wouldn’t come home—like that would have made a difference. I mean, the guy had raised me as his own. I still wanted to be there for the end. I was shocked, though, that
he’d
never told me the truth, because of his views on total honesty. While I was still trying to wrap my head around that, she admitted he didn’t know. And she was pretty sure for him to find out at that late date, when he was so sick, would kill him.

“Two days later, I left Iraq to go home to attend his funeral, which fell on my birthday.”

“Oh, Deck…” She reached out to squeeze his hand.

“I don’t know how I made it through the funeral. It was like…everything was a lie. I returned to my unit about a week later, and I haven’t been able to speak to her since.”

“She didn’t come see you when you were in the hospital?” Dana asked.

He shrugged. “I think she tried to, but I’d made it pretty clear to my brother that I didn’t want her there. She still sends letters. And occasionally women.”

“Excuse me?”

“For a while, there was a parade of women bearing my mother’s stamp of approval and casserole dishes.”

She snickered at that. “What does she say in her letters?”

He sighed. “I don’t know.”

“You throw them out?”

He shook his head. “Just never opened them.”

“That’s so sad. Do you think that you’ll ever…” She bit the corner of her lip. “…forgive her?”

“I doubt it.”

“Can I say something that is…”

She continued to worry her lip with her teeth, and he wanted to stop her. If anyone was going to bite her lip, he wanted it to be him.

Where the hell did that come from?

“…so none of my business?” she continued, having no idea that his brain had descended into the inappropriate.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it. But he shrugged anyway. It might get his mind off her lips. “What?”

“Is it possible there might be another side to the story? Sometimes, maybe not often, but occasionally, there are reasons not to shout the truth from the rooftops.”

Which was a good enough reminder why he should guard himself against this woman. She truly believed that.

“I can’t think of a single one,” he said.

“What if she was raped? What if that was the only mistake she ever made in her entire marriage to your dad? What if every moment that she spent with your father afterward was her trying to make up for one stupid mistake? How different might your life have been if your parents had divorced? Or if they stayed together, but your dad held her mistake against her every day? Can you imagine what a different person you’d be if your father hadn’t been there? Or if he’d been there but hadn’t been able to deal with you because all he could see in you was your mom’s mistake?”

“He wasn’t like that,” Deck defended. But she wasn’t asking any questions he hadn’t put to himself a million times.

“Probably not,” she agreed. “But people do surprising things when backed into a corner. And your mom certainly saw a different side to him than you did. Maybe she was willing to live through the pain of a lie for the sake of her marriage and her child.”

Deck didn’t answer. He didn’t want to acknowledge that she had a point.

“Dinner’s really good,” he said, trying to find some way to change the subject. “I officially eat my words.” He tried to smile in her direction.

“Thanks. There’s cake as well. I left that up to the bakery, though.” She grinned.

“Thank God.”

“Watch it, Marine.”

It had only been nine months, but it felt like a lifetime since he’d identified as anything but a cripple. He liked that she saw him that way.

“Okay. Your turn.”

“My turn?”

“To answer the deep dark questions about what drives you.”

“It can’t just be that I’m a dedicated agent?”

“You
are
a dedicated agent. As is everyone on your team. Is it just wanting to be the best agent possible, or is it this case?”

She paused for a long time, and he wondered if he would get the full story, a partial story, or a flagrant lie.

“Both,” she said finally.

“Why?”

“Do I have to have a reason?”

His eyes locked on hers in a staring contest, and he couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the evasive maneuvers. He didn’t say a word, but something changed on her face, and he started to feel a trickle of hope that she’d pony up with the honesty.

“Two stories—you’re getting the short version of each.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Okay…” he said slowly. The short version was better than no version or lies.

“I’ve only been in the Cincinnati office for six months. Before that, I worked in Washington, DC. My last case was a joint taskforce with the DCPD and the DEA. We were investigating a pretty wide-reaching operation that involved the… Well, it doesn’t matter. That’s part of the long version of the story. Anyway, I ended up getting involved with one of the cops who was part of the taskforce. Something kept bothering me… I kept sensing that he was lying to me, but I didn’t have any proof, and I thought I was just being paranoid—which is what happens when you lie a lot. You think everyone else is, even when they aren’t. But in this case, he was. He was the inside guy for a band of particularly nasty Columbians. When the dust settled, three FBI agents were wounded, one killed, and I could have prevented it if I hadn’t gotten involved with him.”

He could tell from the raw pain in her eyes that the long version of that story was a
lot
longer than she was letting on.

She took a deep breath and let it out on a sigh before picking up her glass of water and taking a drink. “As far as I know, the tales of my incompetence haven’t made their way here, though I’m sure Sherwood at least has the facts of the situation. I suspect that when they do, the reasonably easy rapport I have with my partner and the other members of my team will be a thing of the past.”

“So you want to impress them before they have time to form negative opinions.”

She shrugged. “More or less.”

“And the reason why this case is so personal?”

“Well, the Croatian tie-in for one.”

“There’s an interesting question I’ve been meaning to ask. How is it that you speak Croatian as well as you do?”

“I was actually born there. Okay. Quick family history lesson: Mom’s parents were Yugoslavian, but they immigrated before she was born, so she was an American citizen. My father’s parents came later—when he was about seventeen. They wanted him to be able to go to an American University. They met at Ohio State in the early eighties and got married a couple of years later. He had a job offer from an uncle back home. Mom went with him, and my grandparents stayed here. I was born. Time passes. The job with Uncle Andrija was not quite as on the up-and-up as Mom had been led to believe. In fact, old Uncle Andrija had his fingers in all sorts of illegal enterprises. Enterprises that my father took over after he”—she finger-quoted—“
died.
Was pushed out of power by my father, more likely. At that point, I was about seven or so, my father started getting pretty violent with my mom. Eventually…”

She cleared her throat and stopped meeting his gaze, and Deck had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what she was about to say.

“He killed her. I saw it happen. We lived above his restaurant, and in the back were his real moneymakers. His stable, if you will, of prostitutes. I wasn’t allowed in the back, of course, but they’d come into the restaurant and most of them had been pretty nice to me. I ran out of the house and hid with them. They managed to get me to the police. My father was arrested and died in jail before he could be sentenced for my mother’s murder. There wasn’t any question about whether he’d done it—even without my testimony.”

Deck felt sick. He almost wished he hadn’t asked her. But at the same time, he felt pretty honored that she’d told him all that, and he suspected he was one of a very few who knew the truth.

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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