Read Darker Than Midnight Online

Authors: Maggie Shayne

Darker Than Midnight (14 page)

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
12.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

River put the ID badge on the table, and she reached for it. “Kyle Maples. Not even very imaginative, is it?”

“Why would he be using a false name?”

She looked up at him, waving the paper in the air. “Man, you
are
rusty, aren't you. Hang in there, pal, you get back in the saddle and it'll all come back to you. The guy had a rap sheet. Violent shit, too. Nothing close to murder, but a couple of robberies where he beat the hell out of the victims. One instance where he broke a guy's legs in exchange for five hundred bucks from a loan shark. He couldn't have got a job at the state mental hospital with a record like this. I'm surprised they didn't run his prints, anyway, find all this and fire his ass.”

“Maybe they would have if he'd been there long enough.”

She tipped her head to one side. “He was new?”

“I'd never seen him before that day.”

Nodding slowly, she took a bite of her oatmeal. “We can check that out today.”

He just sat there, still staring at her. “What do you mean, we?”

She set her spoon down, drew a breath. “Look, you told me this guy tried to kill you. His prints are on that knife, he's got a record and he was working under an assumed name. It's pretty clear to me you're telling the truth. You killed him in self-defense—”

“I didn't mean to kill him. I didn't, it just—he went down hard, hit his head.”

“Hey, I'm not complaining. Bastard needed killing. Still, it was self-defense. And if someone's trying to kill you in the hospital, you freaking leave. It's common sense.”

For a moment he just sat there, staring at her. She believed him. She'd said it, and she meant it. An enormous weight seemed to lift from his shoulders, and that was odd, because up until that moment, he hadn't thought he gave a damn if anyone believed him. Ever.

“Did you know this guy? Did he have any reason in the world to want you dead?”

River shook his head slowly. “I never saw him before that day. Never heard of him—not by either name.” He shrugged. “Maybe I busted him—”

“Doubtful. You were NYPD. His records are all out of Michigan. So, he had no motive. We have to consider the possibility that he was working for someone else. Especially since he's hurt people for money in the past.”

River blinked slowly as he digested her words. “Someone hired him. Someone who wants me dead.”

“Yeah, it looks that way.” She nodded at his bowl. “Your oatmeal is getting cold, River.”

He looked at it, then back at her. “I…what are you saying, Cassandra?”

She leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms at her waist and stared at him. “I have every reason to believe that turning you in right now would put your life in jeopardy. I can't, in good conscience, do that. I can't.”

“It could cost you your job.”

“I'm planning to give notice in Syracuse, anyway.”

“What about this job? The one here in Blackberry?”

She sighed. “If we get to the truth soon enough, no one ever has to know.”

“You can't do this.”

“What I can't do is hand you over knowing it's liable to get you dead. How am I supposed to live with something like that?”

“You don't even know me. Why the hell should you care?”

She pursed her lips, lowered her head. “It's not a question of caring. It's a question of doing what's right. Look at you. You don't look to me like you need to be locked up in a rubber room and drugged into oblivion.”

He shook his head. “I don't know what I do when I have those blackouts. For all I know, I could be dangerous. I could be dangerous to you.”

“Oh, please. I could kick your ass blindfolded.”

He looked up fast and saw the twinkle in her eyes. He couldn't resist it, even smiled a little in response. “You probably could at the moment.”

“At the moment, hell. I'm talking on your best day, pal.”

He liked her. He knew it right then. She had so much life in her it was rubbing off on him, though he'd thought his was pretty much drained and gone.

“Listen,” she stated. “You hurting me is the least of my worries. Men don't hurt me. It doesn't happen. It's not even in the realm of possibility. So don't make it an issue.”

He tipped his head to one side and thought he'd glimpsed
something in her that he hadn't seen before. She had shadows, secrets inside her. A darkness that wasn't readily apparent.

“I would like you to let me get some help on this. I think Frankie would back me up. I think she'd agree that keeping you here, in my custody, in secret until we get some answers, is the best idea.”

He shook his head slowly. “Frankie Parker is a by-the-book cop. She's had to be. It was tough enough for her to be an older female in the position of police chief. If she were a rule bender she never would have lasted a week in the job.”

“She's got nothing to lose. She's retiring.”

“With a spotless record. And some of her officers haven't got the best opinion of me.”

“Really? Which ones?”

He made a face. “I blacked out at the station, while they were questioning me. When I came back, Frankie's nephew was kicking me in the rib cage hard enough to break a couple. Bastard always had it in for me.”

“Good.”

“Good?” He didn't get it.

“Yeah. I was hoping I'd find an excuse to put a hurting on that putrid little weasel.”

He blinked, both at the venom in her tone and the sudden, rigid set of her jaw. She looked as if she meant it. “Let it be. Your job's on the line.”

“It figures, he'd hate you on sight,” she said. “You were an NYPD cop, a decorated one. He's the type to be threatened by that. Hell, he's threatened by me. I think he wanted Frankie's job for himself.”

“All the more reason to keep the local cops in the dark.”

“Okay, then,” she said. “There's one other person I'd like to let in.”

“Your friend the retired ATF agent?”

She shook her head slowly. “No. No, he's got a nice little
life going. I don't want to risk screwing it up. No, I was talking about my father.”

“Your father.”

She nodded slowly. “Just take the pitch before you decide whether to swing, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And eat your oatmeal, for heaven's sake…”

He nodded, and ate a few bites of the oatmeal. It surprised him when he realized he actually felt hungry, and he ate a few more.

“My father is a doctor. Was a doctor.”

“Was?”

“A surgeon,” she added, not elaborating on her use of the past tense. “He's good, River. Sharp. I'd like to have him take a look at you, see what he thinks about getting this crap out of your system.”

He sighed, lowering his head. “I'm fine. I'm feeling better every day.”

“Couldn't you just humor me?” She reached across the table to put a hand over one of his, almost as if not quite aware she was doing it.

And again her touch sent rivers of warmth and sensation from the point of contact right up his arm and through his entire body. It didn't make him uncomfortable anymore. He was beginning to look forward to her touches.

“River, he can be trusted. I swear to you, he won't say a word, not even to Mom if I ask him not to.'

He drew a breath. “Let me think about it.”

“Okay.” She glanced at the clock. “I've got to get in to work.” And she squeezed his hand. “Tell me you'll still be here when I get back.”

“I…I don't know.”

She studied his face for a long moment. “Would a bribe help?” Then she got up, went to the living room and came
back with a thick file folder. “Here.” She dropped it on the table. “This is the file on your case. At least it's what Frankie had. She said there were other things she could get later, but this was the gist of it.”

He looked up at her.

She said, “Trust me yet?”

“I'm gaining on it.” He closed his hand around the file. “Thanks for this, Cassandra.”

“You wanna thank me, then don't make me sorry by taking off on me. I've got the bit in my teeth on this one, River. I want to run with it. Nothing gets my blood flowing like a chance to solve a juicy case. Don't deny me having my fun, okay?”

She turned and walked into the living room.

River followed her, thinking he ought to be on his knees in gratitude, even while wondering if she could possibly be for real. She grabbed her coat, pulled it on, then opened the front door. But instead of walking out, she stood still.

“Cassandra?”

She glanced over her shoulder at him and whispered, “Here's my stray. Shh, don't scare him.”

He moved up closer to her, looked past her and saw Rex sitting on the porch near an almost empty dog food bowl.

“I've been trying to lure him closer, but he's so wary,” she began.

She never finished. Rex gave two sharp barks and lunged through the doorway, launching himself at River. Cassandra just barely ducked the attack. Rex's big paws slammed him in the chest, and River went down on his backside, while the dog licked his face with more enthusiasm than care.

“My God, I thought he was attacking you,” Cassandra said, one hand pressing to her chest. “I, uh…take it you two know each other?”

River buried his hands in his friend's fur, rubbed his cheek
against the dog's face and managed to get out from under the brute. “Yeah, you might say that.” He sat up, reached up a hand.

Cassandra closed hers around it and tugged him to his feet.

“Cassandra,” he said. “Meet Rex. Rex, Cassandra, though she prefers to be called Jax for some unknowable reason.”

Cassandra crouched down beside him, stretching a hand tentatively and then letting it hang there while Rex sniffed it. He showed his acceptance by reaching past it to snake his tongue over her face.

She backed away, wiping her cheek with one hand and petting the dog with the other. “I think I liked it better when you were scared of me, pal.”

Rex stared at her for a moment, then proceeded to walk through the house, sniffing everything he came to, as if inspecting the place. He found the fireplace in the living room, and flopped to the floor in front of it with a sigh that sounded like an expression of extreme relief.

River swallowed. “That was always his spot,” he said. He licked his lips, lowered his eyes and tried not to choke on the lump that came into his throat.

To his surprise, Cassandra's hand clasped his nape. “Now it can be his spot again.”

CHAPTER 7

J
ax walked into the Blackberry Police Department that morning wondering if the secret she was hiding showed on her face. She knew she was doing the right thing—so why did it feel so wrong? God, she felt as if
she
were the criminal.

“Good, you're here,” Frankie said as soon as she walked in. “Grab some coffee and come on in here.” She walked into the larger part of the main room, where the officers' desks were set up.

Jax filled a cup and followed. The other cops were there. Campanelli sat on the edge of his desk. Matthews leaned against a file cabinet. Kurt Parker sat in his chair. In the middle of the room was another man, sipping coffee from a foam cup. He was tall, rather thin, handsome in a studious way. Narrow face, longish nose, wire-rimmed glasses, nondescript brown hair.

“Cassandra Jackson,” Frankie said, “this is Dr. Ethan Melrose.”

Jax felt her brows go up even as the man extended his free hand. “Lieutenant Jackson. Chief Parker has told me a lot about you.”

“Wish I could say the same,” she said, taking his hand, careful not to say too much.

“Dr. Melrose is Michael Corbett's psychiatrist,” Frankie explained.

And best friend, Jax thought in silence. No wonder he looked so weary. “I remember from the case file,” she said. Then she turned to Frankie. “Has there been a sighting?”

“Not so far,” the police chief answered.

“Nonetheless,” the doctor interrupted, “I'm certain he'll come here, sooner or later. And probably sooner.”

Jax tipped her head to one side. “That doesn't make a lot of sense, does it, Doctor? I mean, he was a cop. He must know this would be the first place people would look for him.”

“He's a mental patient, Lieutenant,” Melrose said. “And he's not stable. His decisions aren't going to seem rational or logical. He's going to do what comes naturally, and that includes returning to the last place where he was happy and comfortable.”

Jax noticed the look Frankie sent her—the one that said the last place this guy had been happy and comfortable had probably been
her
place. Jax crossed the room to Matthews's desk, perched herself on the free corner, deciding to keep quiet and let Melrose do the talking.

“You can bet we'll collar him if we find him,” Kurt Parker said. “And if he's in this town, we
will
find him.”

Jax sent Parker a glare that was full of warning, and the cocky look on his ugly mug turned into one of confusion.

“I've got no doubt about that,” Dr. Melrose said. “The thing is, I don't want him any more traumatized than necessary. If you do locate him, I'd appreciate it if you'd call me. Let me talk to him before you approach him. Give me the chance to try to get him to come in without a struggle. It would be better for everyone.”

“You want us to treat him with kid gloves,” Kurt interpreted.

“He's a dangerous man in a volatile state, and off his medications to boot,” Melrose told him. “He could become violent if approached or confronted. No one wants that.”

“Certainly not,” Frankie agreed. “Dr. Melrose, I'll do my
best to give you first crack at him. But if it comes down to a choice between letting him slip away, and moving in without your help, we're going to have to move.”

“I understand that, Chief,” the doctor said. “I'm staying at the Blackberry Inn.”

Jax barely restrained a gasp. Had he been there last night, when she'd put in the call to Joshua Kendall?

“You can reach me there, or on my cell phone.” He tugged a card from his pocket and handed it to Frankie.

Jax cleared her throat. “Dr. Melrose, it might be helpful if we knew more about this orderly who was killed. Did he have a history of trouble with Corbett?”

Ethan frowned. “I have no idea.”

“Well, how long had he been employed at the hospital?”

“I wouldn't know, Lieutenant. And I assure you, it's irrelevant, anyway.”

“Probably,” she agreed. “Still, I like all the information on a case I'm investigating. And I've found that the more you know about the victim, the more you know about the crime. I mean, when it comes right down to it, we don't have any proof River actually killed that man.”

He frowned and tipped his head to one side. “I'm afraid I don't understand.” He glanced at Frankie. “Is there suddenly some question as to how the orderly was killed?”

“I think what the lieutenant means,” Frankie said, “is that there's always room to question, Dr. Melrose,” she explained. “The obvious answer isn't always the right one, and we don't have any eyewitnesses, after all.”

He nodded. “Well, I'm sure the Vermont State Police have taken all that into consideration. And…well, I don't mean to tell you your jobs here, but certainly you are aware they are the ones investigating the murder. Your department's only part in this is to find and arrest Michael Corbett if he shows up here in Blackberry.”

Frankie lowered her head, a nod of concession. “I am fully aware of that, Doctor. Don't you worry. We'll keep an eye out for Corbett, and we will contact you if we find him.”

“Fine. I appreciate that. Before I take my leave, I just have one more question.” He turned his sharp gaze on Jax. “How did you know Michael Corbett's nickname was River?”

Jax felt her heart turn a somersault, but kept her face stone-cold expressionless. “Heard someone mention it, I guess.”

“Of course you did,” Frankie said, lowering a hand to Jax's shoulder. But her grip was firm, rather than friendly. “Don't forget, Doctor, Corbett lived in this town for a year before the incident. Everyone knew him as River.”

“I never could stand the guy,” Kurt muttered. “Arrogant big-city cops don't belong in Blackberry.”

Jax felt the barb, knew it was aimed at her as much as it was at River, though she almost laughed at his referring to Syracuse as a big city. He paced toward her and turned to sit in the nearby chair. She braced a foot on it and gave it a shove, so he landed on his ass on the floor.

Campanelli and Matthews had to turn away to keep from laughing, even as Jax leaned over and extended a hand. “Look before you sit, Kurt. You could have hurt yourself.”

He hadn't seen her move the chair, couldn't be sure he hadn't just missed, though he had a pretty damn good idea. He ignored her hand and got up on his own.

“We'll be in touch, Dr. Melrose,” Frankie said, completely in the dark and looking irritated with her nephew. “Meanwhile, we do have other work to do, so…”

He nodded. “I'll get out of your hair.”

“Good.” Frankie stood there, her hand on Jax's shoulder until the man had left the station. Then she said softly, “My office,” and turned and walked directly there.

Jax shrugged and followed her, feeling the eyes of the
other cops on her back the entire way. She walked in behind Frankie, who closed the door.

“How did you know he went by ‘River'?”

Jax frowned. “I told you, I heard someone say it once. It's no big deal, Frankie.”

Frankie studied her for a long moment. Finally, she nodded toward a chair, and Jax sat down. Frankie walked behind her desk. “You know, despite that he's a complete moron, Kurt did make a point out there. Cops from larger departments do tend to come here with something of an attitude. They tend to think we're backwoods, backward and none too sharp. But we're not. We're good cops, just like you are.”

“Frankie, I would never think otherwise. Please know that.”

She nodded slowly. “You serious about taking on my job?”

“Serious enough that I gave my notice to Syracuse already. But I'm not taking the job yet. I've got two weeks, right?”

Frankie lifted her silvering eyebrows. “Two weeks during which you're…what? Some kind of free agent?”

“Off duty. That's all.”

“You break the law, you aren't going to get hired. My recommendation only carries so much weight with the town council, Jax. You dig yourself a hole, and I'm not going to be able to get you out.”

“I know that.”

Frankie nodded. “Chances are, if River did come back to town, he'd show up at the house. It's where he lived, after all.”

“Can't say it hadn't occurred to me.”

“We should put surveillance on the place.”

“You have a cop
living
in the place. Can't get much better round-the-clock surveillance than that.”

“Could be dangerous.”

“Oh, come on, Frankie. If I can't hold my own against a scrawny mental patient, I'd better give up and go home right now.”

Frankie pursed her lips.

“You've only got three men, Frankie. You send 'em out to my place, you're liable to be left shorthanded. Besides, it wouldn't look good for me.”

“How so?”

Jax rolled her eyes. “Kurt's already got a chip on his shoulder where I'm concerned. You tell the men you don't trust me to watch my own place, send them out there to babysit, how am I supposed to step in as their commanding officer later on?”

Frankie sighed, lowered her head. “You have a point. And you're probably right.”

Jax had to forcibly restrain herself from sighing in relief.

“You know, Jax, I always had the feeling there was more to this case than met the eye. I did a lot of digging into it. On my own time.”

Jax felt the surprise showing on her face. “You did?”

“Mmm. Never could quite wrap my mind around the notion of River Corbett as a killer. Crazy or not. But I didn't find a damn thing that could help him. Seems to me you have the same feeling.”

Jax studied her, and finally, she nodded. “Yeah. I do. And I think a background check of the orderly would be a great place to start.”

Frankie nodded slowly and picked up the phone. She told Rosie to put her through to Sergeant Christopher Pensky at the Vermont's State Police Investigative Unit, and when she was connected, she said, “Chris? It's Frankie down in Blackberry. Yeah. Yeah, it's been a long time. Oh, getting ready to retire, actually. Coupla' weeks from now if all goes well. Listen, I need a favor. That orderly that was killed at the state hospital. You do any background on him?”

Then she listened, and as she did her eyes met Jax's and widened.

“Well, I'll be. No, I had no reason for asking. Just a routine follow-up question. No big deal. Thanks, Chris.”

She hung up the phone and stared into Jax's eyes. “How did you know?”

Jax put on her most innocent expression. “How did I know what? There was something in the guy's background?”

“Just that he was using a false name, had a record and had only been working there a week.”

Jax lifted her eyebrows. “So what did his rap sheet look like?”

“Why do I get the feeling you already know?”

“Come on, Frankie, how could I possibly know?”

Frankie narrowed her eyes and began reading from the notes she'd scribbled. “Armed robbery, assault, conspiracy. Seems he sometimes hurt people for money. They're faxing us the information.”

Jax nodded. “Makes you wonder, doesn't it?”

“Makes you wonder what?”

She shrugged. “Well, how does a guy like that get hired at a state mental hospital? He had to know they'd run his prints, get the results within a week and fire him on the spot. So why would he want to work there for such a short time?”

“You think he was there to commit some kind of a crime,” Frankie said, reading her.

“Probably a crime he'd committed before. I mean, that would be most likely. So, odds are he was either there to rob the place or put a hurting on someone for a fee.”

“You're saying he was hired to harm Corbett, making the killing a case of self-defense. And you're reaching, Jax, and I'd like to know just where the hell you're getting all this from.”

Jax shrugged. “It's a thought. One of a thousand possibilities that happens to be the one my gut likes the best. That's all.”

Frankie swore and snatched her car keys off her desk. “Come with me.”

“Where are we—?”

“Just do it!” Frankie stomped out of the office, barking to Rosie that she'd be back in twenty. She made angry footprints in the snow all the way to her black-and-white SUV, which was parked in front of the station in its own parking spot. One of the perks of the job, Jax guessed. The chief didn't have to go around back to the parking lot. Frankie opened the door without unlocking it, got in and had the thing in motion before Jax even got her seat belt fastened around her.

“Where are you taking me?” Jax asked her. “Come on, Frankie, I didn't mean to make you angry.”

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
12.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

New York Valentine by Carmen Reid
Times and Seasons by Beverly LaHaye
Earth Flight by Janet Edwards
Have space suit-- will travel by Robert A. Heinlein
The Baby Thief by L. J. Sellers
Memoirs of an Emergency Nurse by Nicholl, Elizabeth
Bourbon Street Blues by Maureen Child
Always Watching by Lynette Eason
The House of Blue Mangoes by Davidar, David