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Authors: J. A. Jance

Injustice for All

BOOK: Injustice for All
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INJUSTICE FOR ALL
J. A. JANCE

 

 

Chapter 1

THERE’S nothing like a woman’s scream to bring a man bolt upright in bed. I had been taking a late-afternoon nap in my room when the sound cut through the stormy autumn twilight like a knife. I threw open the door of my cabin. The woman screamed again, the sound keening up from the narrow patch of beach below the terrace at Rosario Resort. A steep path dropped from my cabin to the beach. I scrambled down it to the water’s edge. There I spotted a woman struggling to drag a man’s inert form out of the lapping sea. She wasn’t screaming now. Her face was grimly set as she wrestled the dead weight of the man’s body. I hurried to help her, grasping him under the arms and pulling him ashore. Dropping to his side, I felt for a pulse. There was none. He was a man in his mid to late fifties wearing expensive cowboy boots and a checkered cowboy shirt. His belt buckle bore the initials LSL. A deep gash split his forehead.

The woman knelt beside me anxiously, hopefully. When I looked at her and shook my head, her face contorted with grief. She sank to the wet sand beside me.“Can’t you do something?” she sobbed.

Again I shook my head. I’ve worked homicide too many years not to know when it’s too late. Footsteps pounded down the steps behind us as people in the bar and dining room hurried to see what had happened. Barney, the bartender, was the first person to reach us.

“Dead?” he asked.

I nodded. “Get those people out of here, every last one of them. And call the sheriff.“

With unquestioning obedience Barney bounded up the steps and herded the onlookers back to the terrace some twenty-five feet above us. Beside me the woman’s sobs continued unabated. It was a chilly autumn evening to begin with, and we were both soaked to the skin. Gently I took her arm, lifting her away from the lifeless body. “Come on,” I said. “You’ve got to get out of those wet clothes.” She allowed me to pull her to her feet. “Is this your husband?”

She shook her head. “No, a friend.”

“Are you staying here at the hotel?” She nodded.

“Where’s your room?”

“Up by the tennis courts.”

She was shaking violently. The tennis courts and her room were a good quarter of a mile away. My cabin was just at the top of the path. “You can dry off and warm up in my room. The sheriff will need to talk to you when he gets here.”

Like a dazed but pliant child, she followed me as I half led, half carried her up the path. By the time we reached my room, her teeth chattered convulsively. It could have been cold or shock or a little of both. I pulled her into the bathroom and turned on the water in the shower.

“Get out of those wet things,” I ordered. “I’ll send someone to get you some clothes.” Kneeling in front of her, I fumbled with the sodden laces of her tennis shoes with my own numbed fingers.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Gi c Ginger,” she stammered through chattering teeth.

“Ginger what?”

“Wa c Watkins.”

I stood up. Her arms hung limply at her sides. “Can you undress, or do you need help?”

Clumsily she battled a button on her blouse, finally unfastening it. Leaving her on her own, I let myself out of the bathroom. “I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

Alone in the room, I stripped off my own soaked clothing and tossed the soggy bundle on a chair near the bed. I pulled on a shirt, a sweater, and two pair of socks before I picked up the phone and dialed the desk clerk. “This is Beaumont in Room Thirteen,” I said. “Did someone call the sheriff?”

“Yes we did, Mr. Beaumont. The deputy’s on his way.”

“Have someone stay down on the beach with the body until he gets here. Make sure nothing is moved or disturbed. The woman who found him is here in my room. She was freezing. She’s taking a hot shower. Her name is Watkins. Can you send someone to her room for dry clothes? Does she have a husband?”

“There’s no Mr. Watkins registered, Mr. Beaumont, but I’ll send someone after the clothes right away.”

“She’ll need the works, underwear and all.”

“I’ll take care of it as soon as I can.”

“Good,” I replied. “And when the deputy comes, be sure he knows she’s here with me. Since she’s the one who found the body, he’ll want to talk to her.”

The desk clerk himself brought the clothes, handing them to me apologetically. His name tag labeled him Fred. “I hope I have everything,” he said.

I opened the bathroom door wide enough to slip them inside onto the floor before turning back to Fred. “The deputy isn’t here yet?”

“There’s an accident down by the ferry dock. He can’t come until he finishes with that.”

“Did the dispatcher call for a detective from Friday Harbor?” I asked. He shrugged.

“I guess, but I don’t know for sure. You seem to know about this kind of thing, Mr. Beaumont.”

I ought to. I’ve worked homicide in Seattle for the better part of twenty years.

Fred moved uncertainly toward the door. “I’d better be getting back. ”

“Who was he?” I asked. Fred looked blank. “The dead man,” I persisted.

“Oh,” he replied. “His name was Sig Larson. He was here with the parole board.”

“The parole board!” Cops don’t like parole boards. Cops and parole boards work opposite sides of the street. Parole boards let creeps go faster than cops can lock them up.

“What’s the parole board doing here?”

Fred shrugged. “They came for a three-day workshop. They’ll probably cancel now.”

I glanced toward the bathroom door where the rush of the shower had ceased. “And her?” I asked.

“She’s a member too, as far as I know. Her reservation was made along with all the rest.”

“But her husband isn’t here?” .

“No, she’s by herself.”

“What about Larson?” Asking questions is a conditioned response in a detective. I asked the question, ignoring that I was more than a hundred miles outside my Seattle jurisdiction. Someone was dead. Who, How, and Why were questions someone needed to ask. It might as well be me.

“His wife is due in on one of tonight’s ferries. I don’t know which one. She isn’t here yet.”

I went to the bathroom door and tapped lightly. “I’m going to order a couple of drinks from Room Service. Would you like something?”

“Coffee,” was the reply. “Black.”

I turned back to Fred. “Did you hear that?” He nodded.

“Send up a pot of coffee for her and two McNaughton’s and water for me. Barney knows how I like them.”

“Will do,” the clerk replied, slipping from the room into the deepening darkness.

The door reopened. “I almost forgot. She’s supposed to call Homer in Seattle. It’s urgent. He said she knew the number. ” Fred shut the door again, disappearing for good this time. Still cold, I turned up the thermostat in the room, mulling the turn of events. The lady showering in my bathroom was a married member of the Washington State Parole Board. The dead man on the beach was married too, but not to her, although it was evident there was some connection. Room Service was on the ball. Coffee and drinks arrived before the bathroom door opened. Ginger Watkins, wearing a pale green dress, stepped barefoot into my room, a huge bath-towel turban wound around her head.

She was fairly tall, five-eight or five-nine, with a slender figure, fine bones, and a flawlessly fair complexion. Her eyes were vivid uncut emeralds.

Coming up from the beach, I hadn’t noticed she was beautiful. Standing across the room from me, swathed in the gentle light of the dressing room behind her, she took my breath away.

She returned my unabashed stare, and I looked away, embarrassed. “Better?” I managed.

“Yes, but I’m still cold.”

I rummaged through the closet and brought out a tweed jacket which I put over her shoulders. I handed her a cup and saucer. “Here’s your coffee.”

She slipped into one of the two chairs at the table. “I left my wet clothes on the floor,” she said.

I pointed to the chair. “There mine are.” I poured more coffee. Her hands trembled as she raised the cup to her lips.

“What did you say your name was?”

“Beaumont,” I answered. “J. P. Beaumont. My friends call me Beau.”

“And I’m Ginger Watkins.”

“You told me. The desk clerk said the man’s name was Larson. You knew him?”

She nodded somberly, her eyes filling with tears. “Sig,” she murmured, her throat working to stifle a sob.

“A friend of yours?”

She nodded again.

“How did you happen to find him? It wasn’t much of a day for a walk on the beach.”

“We planned to meet down there to talk, after the meeting. I was late. Darrell called.

I didn’t get there until forty-five minutes after I was supposed to.”

“Who’s Darrell?” I asked.

She gave me a funny look, as though I had asked a stupid question. “My husband,” she answered.

The name sounded familiar, but I didn’t put it together right then. I let it go.

“Why meet him there? Why not in the lobby or the bar?”

“I told you, we needed to talk.”

She set her coffee cup down, got up, and walked away from the table, her arms crossed, her body language closed.

“What about?”

“It was personal,” she replied.

That’s not a good answer at the beginning of an inquiry into death under unusual circumstances. Accidental drownings in October are unusual. My gut said murder, and murder is very personal. The ties between killer and victim are often of the most intimate kind. “How personal?” She turned on me suddenly.

“You don’t have any right to ask me a question like that.”

“Someone’s going to ask it, sooner or later.”

She met my gaze for a long moment before she wavered. “Sig had some business dealings with my family. That’s why I needed to talk to him.”

“Privately?” I asked. She nodded. “Do you know his wife?”

Her mouth tightened. Her fingers closed tightly on her upper arms. “Yes. I know her.”

“What’s she like?”

“Mona’s a calculating bitch.” It was a simple statement spoken with a singular amount of venom.

“I take it you’re not friends.”

“Hardly.” She walked back over to the table and sat down opposite me. “Mona thought Sig and I were having an affair.”

“Were you?”

She looked at me, her eyes clear and steady in the glow of the light. “No,” she said.

Irate husbands and wives don’t always verify their spouses’ indiscretions before they rub out a presumed lover. “Is Mona the jealous type? Or Darrell?”

She laughed. “Darrell? Are you kidding? He could care less. Mona called him with the story, and he was afraid it would hit the papers and screw up his campaign.”

Suddenly the names shifted into focus. Darrell Watkins, candidate for lieutenant governor. Boy Wonder tackling the longtime incumbent. I whistled. “You mean the Darrell Watkins?”

Ginger Watkins peered at me across a cup of coffee. “One and the same,” she said softly. “The sonofabitch.”

It was no wonder I forgot to give her the message that someone had called.

 

Chapter 2

DEPUTY Jake Pomeroy arrived about seven. He made a very poor first impression. He was a fat-faced, pimpled kid who looked like he had stepped out of his high school graduation picture into a pimpled deputy sheriff’s uniform. Until the detective arrived from Friday Harbor, Deputy Pomeroy was in charge. The deputy considered Sig Larson’s death to be the crime of the century on Orcas Island. He was trolling for suspects. He tossed his first hook in my direction. “Your name’s Beaumont, is that correct?” I nodded. “What do you do?”

“Homicide detective. Seattle P.D.”

I handed him my ID. He gave me a shrewd, appraising look. “I understand you moved the body. Is that also correct?”

“Yes. “

His look became a contemptuous sneer. “Surely you know better than that. “

I wanted to slug the officious bastard, but I answered evenly. “We thought he might still be alive.”

“When you say ‘we,’ you mean you and Mrs. Watkins?”

“She found him. I heard her scream.”

“And what time was that?” he asked, addressing Ginger.

“A quarter to six,” she replied.

“I was late.”

“Late for what?”

“I was supposed to meet Sig there. At five.”

The deputy tapped his front teeth with the eraser of his pencil and eyed her speculatively.

“Why?”

“To talk.”

His look narrowed. “Wasn’t it cold down by the water?”

“We wanted to talk privately.”

Pomeroy said nothing as he made a note. “How would you describe your relationship with Mr. Larson?”

“Friends. “

“That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

“How long have you known Mr. Beaumont here?”

“We just met. Down on the beach.”

She was in my room, wearing my robe, her hair wet from my shower, with my bath towel wrapped around her head. She was also barefoot, because the desk clerk had forgotten to bring her shoes. Jake Pomeroy didn’t believe for one minute we were recent acquaintances.

I attempted what must have sounded like a lame explanation. “We were freezing. I was afraid she’d go into shock. Her own room is way up the hill.”

Jake gave Ginger an overt leer. “You’re sure the two of you never met before this afternoon?”

“I’m sure!” Ginger snapped, a tiny flush marking her delicate cheekbone.

“You did say `Mrs. Watkins,’ isn’t that right?” She nodded. “But your husband isn’t here with you?” He recast his hook.

“I’m here on parole board business. So was Sig. ” She was rapidly losing patience.

“Was your husband also a friend of Mr. Larson’s?”

The emerald in her eyes gleamed hard and brittle. “They had some business dealings, that’s all.”

“We’ll check this out, of course,” he said.

His questions had gone far enough. I resented the insinuations in his clumsy quest for an infidelity motive. “Look, Pomeroy,” I told him, “if you want to ask questions about the position of the body, or what time it was, or whether we saw anyone else on the beach, that’s fine. But if you’re making accusations, you’d better read us our rights and let us call an attorney. If not, I’ll shove that gold star where the sun don’t shine.”

A stunned expression spread over his flabby countenance. He lumbered to his feet. “I’ll go back and wait for Detective Huggins.

“You do that.”

I banged the door shut behind him and returned to the table. Ginger had unwrapped her turban and was toweling her hair dry. She looked relieved. I picked up the phone and dialed the desk. “You didn’t bring shoes,” I growled when Fred answered.

“I didn’t? Sorry. I can’t do anything about it right now. A whole bunch of people just got here. I have to get them settled.”

“Never mind,” I told Fred. “I’ll get them myself.”

Ginger gave me her key. I walked to her room through a lightly falling evening mist.

Opening her door, I expected to find the room well ordered and neat. Instead, it was a shambles. The place had been ransacked. I picked up the telephone receiver.

Holding it at the top in an effort to disturb as few prints as possible, I called the desk. “Was Mrs. Watkins’ room torn apart when you came after her clothes?” I asked. “Why no, Mr. Beaumont. It was fine.”

“It isn’t now,” I said grimly. “When that detective gets here, send him up.”

“He’s right here. Want to speak to him?”

“Put him on.”

“Hello,” a voice mumbled. “This is Detective Huggins.”

“I’m Beaumont.

“J. P. Beaumont? Are you shitting me? This is Hal, Hal Huggins. Haven’t seen you since I left the force ten years ago. How the hell are you?” It took me a minute to place the name and the face and the mumbling speech. Hal Huggins had opted for being a big fish in a very small pond when he left Seattle’s homicide squad to go to work for the San Juan County Sheriffs Department in Friday Harbor, hiring on as their chief detective. Probably their only detective.

“I’m fine,” I replied.

“What are you up to?”

“I was with the woman who discovered the body this afternoon.”

“No shit. Pomeroy is lining me up to go talk to her.”

“You’d better come to her room first. Have the desk clerk bring you up.”

“Okay, we’ll be right there. Hey, by the way. There’s someone else here you know. I just ran into him in the lobby. Remember Maxwell Cole?”

Does Captain Ahab remember Moby Dick? Cole is a crime columnist for the Post-Intelligencer. He’s been on my case ever since I beat him out of a college girl friend, packed her off, and married her. As a reporter, he has dogged my career for as long as I’ve been on the force. Karen and I have been divorced for years, but I’m still stuck with Max. It’s like I threw out the baby and ended up having to keep the dirty bathwater. “Don’t tell him I’m here,” I cautioned. “What’s he doing here anyway? The Sig Larson story?”

“Probably, although he didn’t say.”

“Don’t ask. And don’t bring him along.”

Fred led Huggins and Pomeroy into Ginger’s room. The clerk’s mouth gaped. “What happened here? It wasn’t like this when I picked up her clothes.”

“What time was that?” Huggins asked.

Fred walked around the room as if at a loss for words, examining the debris.

“What time?” Huggins repeated.

“Forty-five minutes ago,” Fred replied. “No more than that.”

Huggins looked at me. “So what’s this got to do with the stiff on the beach?”

“I took Ginger Watkins to my room to warn up after we left the beach. Fred here,” I said, indicating the desk clerk, “came up to get her some dry clothes. Not quite an hour later, I discovered this when I came to pick up a pair of shoes.”

“Maybe she trashed it herself.”

“No. She’s still in my room. It’s too cold to be wandering around barefoot.”

Huggins glared sorrowfully around the room before turning to Pomeroy. “Call the crime-lab folks, Jake. Have them come take a look. Coroner’s got the body, and the beach is covered with water, but they’d better see this all the same.” He turned stify to me. “Take me to the lady. She can answer questions barefoot. Nobody’s taking any shoes out of this room until the lab’s done with it.”

Pomeroy lingered near the door. “I told you to get, Jake, and I mean it,” Huggins growled. Jake got, with the desk clerk right behind him. Hal and I strolled back toward my room. “You’re a little out of your territory, aren’t you, Beau?” It was a comment rather than a question, asked without rancor.

“I’m here on vacation, an innocent bystander.”

“Pomeroy seems to think otherwise.”

“Pomeroy’s got a dirty mind.”

He chuckled. “How’d you get dragged into this, anyway?”

“I heard a lady scream and went to check it out. I never saw her before six o’clock this evening.”

“Pomeroy says if you only met her tonight, how come she’s sitting in your room barefoot with a towel around her head, wearing your bathrobe? He told me she had just stepped out of your shower. He thinks you’re a hell of a fast worker.”

“She was cold, goddammit. I tried to tell him that.”

“He’s not buying. Envious, I think. Claims she’s pretty good looking. ”

“She is that,” I acknowledged.

“What did you say her name is?”

“Ginger Watkins. Her husband’s Darrell Watkins.”

He stopped short and whistled. “The gay who’s running for lieutenant governor against old man Chambers?”

“That’s right.”

Huggins shook his head. “What did I ever do to deserve this?” he asked plaintively.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad.”

Ginger rose to let us in, a worried frown on her face. “What took so long?” she asked. “I was afraid something had happened to you.”

“This is Detective Hal Huggins, ” I said as he stepped forward, hand extended. “He’s from the sheriff’s department in Friday Harbor. Hal needs to ask you some questions. Hal, Ginger Watkins. ”

She offered him a firm handshake, while Hal examined her with care. “Glad to meet you, Mrs. Watkins, but I’m afraid I have some disturbing news.”

Her face darkened. “What?”

“We’ve just come from your room. The place has been ransacked. ”

She paled. “Ransacked! When?”

“Between the time the desk clerk picked up your clothes and when I went to get your shoes,” I told her.

“But who would do something like that?” she demanded.

“We were hoping you could tell us, Mrs. Watkins.” Hal settled himself on the edge of the bed. “Any ideas?”

Ginger shook her head. “None,” she said.

“No one else had a key to your room?”

“Sig did. We always kept keys to each other’s rooms on trips, as a precaution in case one of us was sick or hurt. I was sick once and he had to break in. It was just a safety precaution.”

Huggins looked at her closely. “We’d better go over the whole thing,” he said, leaning stify against the headboard. “Tell me everything. From the beginning.”

 

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