Authors: Vicki Delany
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Women Sleuths, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General
After going to the bother of breaking in, if they couldn’t find anything of value thieves often trashed the place. Just to be mean.
This bunch didn’t even leave footprints. They’d had a lot of snow over the winter and when it started to warm up all that snow made a lot of mud. Winters could see a set of footprints in the entrance hall. He’d need to get someone around to make a cast of the prints, but they were almost certainly from Molly Smith’s boots. The homeowners were in stocking feet, their shoes neatly lined up at the door.
All of which indicated to John Winters that he was looking for a highly professional set of thieves. In and out. Grab the good stuff and get the hell out. Most of the houses that had been burgled had a neighbor bringing in the mail and watering the plants. In every case the watchful neighbor hadn’t seen or heard a thing.
They’d done the usual fingerprinting for these sorts of cases—door frames, window sills, the surfaces the stolen objects had been resting on. And found nothing except the homeowners’ and random prints matching nothing on file. Smith obviously thought it was a waste of time to fingerprint the whole house.
It was his time to waste.
Meredith Morgenstern rolled her eyes behind the woman’s back. What a freakin’ waste of time. Anyone who knew anything about this killing wasn’t talking and everyone who didn’t know a single thing, but wanted the attention, wouldn’t shut up.
The third-assistant-sub-cook, or whatever she was called, thought Meredith would be interested to know she’d seen Mrs. Steiner leaving the hotel the morning of her husband’s death. As no one had suggested Mrs. Steiner kept herself in purdah, that was hardly a revelation.
This had the potential to be a major story. Rudolph Steiner had been a big-time fashion photographer in his day. That lately he probably couldn’t get anyone to take his calls wouldn’t matter when news of his death got out. Nothing revived celebrity like headlines screaming brutal murder.
Before anyone else came sniffing after the story, Meredith was determined to have the details. IHIT had been called in. That was good—it meant the case would be out from under the thumb of the Trafalgar City Police and Sergeant John Winters. Winters absolutely hated her. She was just a reporter trying to do her job, but Winters had really taken against her.
Her attempts to interview Mrs. Steiner had failed. The hotel receptionist, nose in the air, said they had instructions not to put any calls through, and she certainly wasn’t going to tell Meredith what room the woman had been moved to. She’d decided to find out where the IHIT guys were staying and maybe run into them in the bar later. Her cell phone rang.
“Hi, Meredith, it’s Emily. Emily Wilson? How’s things?”
Meredith knew Emily, vaguely, friend of a friend. “Sorry, but I can’t talk right now, I’m really busy. You heard about this murder at the Hudson House? I’m working the story.”
“I figured you would be, that’s why I’m calling.”
Meredith couldn’t imagine what Emily might know about this. The girl worked in town, a clerk at Rosemary’s Campfire Kitchen.
“Gotta run. I’ll call you later, Emily.” She was about to hang up, try to get back upstairs and see what was happening. If the police wouldn’t talk to her, perhaps she could at least get a shot of the forensic investigators in their white suits. The public loved that sort of stuff. Before she disconnected, Meredith remembered one interesting thing about Emily Wilson. “I have to see someone but…uh…they can wait a minute.”
“I heard something I thought you might like to know. Something the paper might like to know, I mean.”
“Dave popped in to say hi.” The interesting thing about Emily Wilson was that her boyfriend was Dave Evans. Constable Dave Evans. Evans was cute and Meredith had occasionally looked his way, thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have an inside source on the police department. Evans had ignored her overtures, which she put down to his fear of Sergeant Winters.
“Go on,” Meredith said.
“Do you pay for information?”
“We’re a small local paper, Emily. We don’t have money for that sort of thing.” She wanted to reach down the phone line and grab Emily by the throat.
“Rosemary’s gone to the bank. When she gets back I can go on my break. Buy me a coffee at Eddies?”
“Look Emily, like I said, I’m busy. Can you tell me what it’s about?”
“I bet you have an expense account, Meredith. I’d like to go to Flavours for dinner one night. Dave won’t take me there because he says it doesn’t look right if people think the police are making too much money.”
Spit it the hell out
! “I might be able to talk Joe into coming up with something if it’s worthwhile.”
“Okay. Dave says John Winters’ wife has been arrested for the murder. Winters has been demoted, taken off the case. He left the station in a temper, and they’re questioning her now.”
“Big Eddie’s in five minutes. Flavours as soon as I’m free.” Never mind Joe or the paper, for a scoop like this Meredith would treat Emily herself.
For the rest of the afternoon, the mood at the police station was funereal, to say the least. Barb stayed at her desk, and no one came in for a casual chat or to ask if there was something tasty in the bottom drawer. She could hear people going about their business, but no one laughed, and voices were kept low. Ray Lopez came in, at a run, his hair windblown and his jacket askew, wanting to see the Chief. He’d said no disturbances, Barb told the detective. Lopez looked as if he might argue, but turned and left, every inch of his body showing his displeasure.
John Winters had been in Trafalgar for little more than a year, and he hadn’t gone out of his way to make friends; Barb practically had to order him to attend last summer’s pot luck. But he usually had a pleasant word for everyone and went about his work with quiet efficiency. As far as Barb knew, everyone in the department liked and respected him.
Madison spent almost an hour in the interview room with Mrs. Winters, before escorting her to the front door. Barb looked up as they went by. Eliza’s head was down, her hair covering her face. Madison’s face was set into a dark scowl.
He was back immediately, and went in to see the Chief.
The expense sheets were still on Barb’s computer, still out of balance. Quitting time, and she hadn’t accomplished anything all afternoon.
The Chief’s door opened and Madison came out. He left without so much as a glance at her. Paul Keller stood in the doorway. His lips were drawn into a tight line, and he was rubbing the fingers of his right hand together, as if hoping a cigarette would magically appear. His uniform shirt, usually a pristine white, ironed to a knife-edge, was rumbled. He let out a puff of air. As always, the scent of tobacco hung over the Chief like a storm cloud over the mountains.
“Do you have to leave on time?” he asked.
“Come in then. Have a seat. Shut the door, will you, Barb. This is not for anyone else’s ears.”
In all her years Barb had never breathed a word of department business outside the station or the Chief’s confidences outside his office. She wasn’t going to start now. She sat down. The chair was still warm from the last visitor.
“This is a nasty, nasty business.” Keller reached into the bar fridge he kept behind his desk and pulled out a can of coke. “Want one?”
He popped the top, and took a long pull before dropping into his chair. “I guess everyone knows John Winters’ wife was brought in for questioning?”
“Let’s hope we can keep a lid on that. We’re not keeping her; she’s been allowed to go home. The yellow stripes,” meaning the Mounties, “are close to arresting her.”
“Oh, dear,” Barb said. “That’s not good.”
“No kidding. If it happens, we will not be able to keep a lid on it.”
“What’s the reasoning?”
“Mrs. Winters admits she was in the man’s hotel room last night around eight-thirty. She says she was only there for a short while, and when she left Steiner was alive.”
“Madison thinks she’s lying. She was vague about why she visited Steiner in his room, why she only stayed a short while, why she didn’t even take off her coat and have a glass of Champagne. He’s out there now, trying to find someone who saw her leave the hotel later than she claims.”
“Did she know this guy?”
“Apparently she was engaged to him when she met John. She broke it off with Steiner and married John. She says she’s only seen him a few times since, in passing at parties and the like.”
Keller finished his drink, and gave the can a shake, as if he couldn’t believe it was all gone.
“Until this week?” Barb prompted.
“He contacted her. Told her he was going to be in town and wanted to get together and invited her up to his room.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“We’ve been told he doesn’t like to eat in restaurants if he doesn’t have to. The room-service waiter says Eliza, Mrs. Winters, looked tense and angry, not as if she were there to talk about the old days and have a friendly drink.”
“What does she say?”
“Very little. She says he wanted to renew their professional relationship, to take photographs of her for an art magazine. She told him no and he got hostile and rude. Then the waiter arrived. She left immediately after.”
“But,” Barb said.
“But, Madison doesn’t believe her. If she didn’t want Steiner to photograph her, why didn’t she just send him an e-mail and say so? He can’t think of a reason Eliza Winters would meet with a man she hasn’t seen in years and kill him, but he’s determined to keep looking.
“Steiner was almost certainly killed by someone he knew, someone he’d let come up behind him while he was leaning over the toilet.”
“He was being sick?”
“Looks that way, yes. Although the physical evidence, shall we say, isn’t there.”
“Did Mrs. Winters say he looked ill?”
“She says he appeared to be poor health in general, but not immediately sick, when she left.”
“If it came on fast, and he had to run for the bathroom, he might not have cared who was sneaking up on him. That sorta thing takes all your attention.”
Keller cracked a small smile. “Good point. But right now Madison has his sights on Eliza Winters. I haven’t met him before, and I don’t know that I care for him. Too single minded for my liking. I looked up his record. He was promoted last month. This is his first big investigation, and he’ll want a nice quick, clean arrest. I can only hope he’s not the sort to go in for grandstanding.”
Keller was intensely loyal to his staff, and he’d stand by John Winters come hell or high water. But, Barb knew, if Mrs. Winters was charged, it was unlikely John could continue working here.
“It was eight o’clock in the evening in a busy hotel. Which is good, lots of potential witnesses. And bad, too many people going about their own business confuses everything. Madison’s going to try to find someone who can say what time Mrs. Winters left, and if anyone else was seen on that floor around the time in question.”
“Without a motive…”
“Motive’s not necessary to bring charges, Barb. Not even to get a conviction. But it helps, and you can be sure Madison’s going to be taking a good look into Eliza’s history.”
“Not many of us have snowy white pasts,” Keller said. “Don’t know I’d want someone trying to dig up the dirt on me.”
Barb didn’t even try to make a joke.
“I hope she wasn’t in the States recently,” Keller said.
“The gun. She denies having ever owned one. It could have been bought in any back alley in Canada, of course, but I don’t imagine a woman such as Mrs. Winters would know where to go looking for one. They’re a lot easier to find across the border.”
Barb said nothing. The border with Washington State was only an hour or so away, closer as the crow flies. Spokane was closer to Trafalgar than to any comparable-sized Canadian city; people went there all the time, for shopping, to see shows or concerts, for a Sunday drive.
Silence stretched through the office. Traffic hummed outside the window, and a man shouted a greeting, and a woman laughed. Barb studied the collection of pictures on the wall behind the Chief’s desk. Official poses, shaking hands with various dignitaries. Personal photos, of his family and his numerous fishing successes, cluttered the battered wooden desk.
“If she did buy a gun…” Barb began.
“Then it was premeditated.”
Elm Street had been reclaimed from what had once been a bustling industrial waterfront in the days when Trafalgar was a thriving center of industry. It was now a street of modern, expensive homes with spacious lots, well-maintained gardens, and great views over the water. People who lived on Elm were the kind of families with professional jobs, double incomes, and two well-scrubbed children with names like Ashleigh and Riley who had near-perfect attendance at the local public school. They were unlikely to be found at home in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. People who lived on Elm spent their evenings ferrying Ashleigh and Riley to hockey practice and piano lessons, supervising homework, eating meals made with organic food (in season and when available) prepared in the upgraded kitchen, watching the latest popular TV series on DVD after the kids were in bed, and heading for their own beds after Peter Mansbridge or Wendy Mesley read the CBC National News. It was highly unlikely anyone who lived on Elm Street peered out their windows watching for suspicious activity on the street.
Questioning the neighbors this afternoon had been a waste of time, as Molly Smith could have told anyone. Now she was supposed to come back in the evening and pound on doors again? She had planned to see a movie with Adam tonight. Cancelling that wouldn’t be a problem—she was in no mood to have a conversation about proper professional conduct around one another’s co-workers.
Everyone would be working hard with this murder case going on.