Authors: Vicki Delany
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Women Sleuths, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General
What on earth am I doing?
All his anger fled as he realized that he was practically accusing his wife, the woman he loved beyond reason, of murder. He stepped back and lifted his hands. “Oh, Eliza.”
They looked at each other for a long time. Finally she spoke. “What do you want me to do?”
“You need to come in, to the station. Speak to the detective from IHIT. I’m sorry.”
“Rudy was alive when I left him, I swear.”
“You’ll have to make a statement to that effect.”
“I’ll get my purse,” she said. He watched her walk away. Her head was down and her steps heavy. She wiped at her eyes.
He remembered how angry she became when she realized they weren’t going to make the flight to Vancouver. Had she known what had been found in room 214 at the Hudson House Hotel? Had she been wanting to get out of the country before it was discovered?
He loved her so much; he’d always loved her. Did he believe her?
What kind of a damn question was that?
The phone again. This time he flipped it open and barked hello. Madison.
Winters didn’t give the Mountie a chance to speak. “I’ve found the woman the room service guy identified. Meet me at the station. Fifteen minutes.” He put his phone away and followed Eliza.
Barb poked at the number on her computer screen with the tip of her pencil. She’d made an error somewhere, and the detectives’ expenses weren’t balancing. It had been hard to concentrate. Tension was high in the station, and all day people had been coming and going through the Chief’s office. It was none of her business what went on inside his office when the door was shut, unless he chose to tell her, but sometimes she couldn’t help pricking her ears up a bit higher than normal. Fortunately, he’d been at a meeting with the mayor when Adam and Dave had that fight in the lunch room. She hoped no one would tell him about it. The Chief regarded his officers with almost as much proprietary interest as he did his children, and he’d be upset to think there was dissention in the ranks.
When the Chief Constable was upset, Barb was upset. She herself regarded the Chief with almost as much proprietary interest as she did her husband. She’d worked here for almost thirty years; several Chief Constables had passed through her office. She considered it to be part of her job to train him, always a him so far, as to how she did things. Paul Keller had proved easy to train.
She looked up to see John Winters standing in the doorway. He looked like hell, his face was pale and drawn and he had bags under his eyes Barb had never seen before. His wife was with him, and she looked even worse. Her eyes were red, her hair tied back in a stubby pony tail with strands sticking out all over. She was dressed in black stretch pants with a pink stripe on the leg, a pink and black top with mismatched red wool sweater, and her bare feet were stuffed into unlaced running shoes.
Barb started to stand. She’d met Eliza Winters at the annual pot luck last summer, and had thought the sergeant’s wife was charming and elegant. Now, the woman looked as old and worn as if she’d spent the night in the drunk tank. “What on earth?”
“I need to see the Chief,” Winters said. “Now. No matter what he’s doing.”
A man stood behind them. Barb didn’t know him, but she knew the IHIT team were in town. She punched the intercom to her boss’ office.
Winters didn’t wait for the go ahead. He threw open the Chief’s door and pulled, pulled! his wife in behind him. The unknown man followed, dark and scowling. He slammed the door.
Barb heard the Chief shout, just once, “What?”
She went to the hallway and looked out. The staff were standing in the corridor, open-mouthed, shifting from one foot to another.
“What’s going on?” Barb asked.
“They’ve arrested Sergeant Winters’ wife.”
Barb echoed the Chief Constable. “What?”
The by-law officer said, “For the murder.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“She hasn’t been arrested,” Jim Denton said. “Brought in for questioning.”
“That’s bad enough.”
“Who’s been arrested?” Dave Evans came out of the constables’ office. He took a swig from the can in his hand.
Evans almost sprayed them with pop.
“Who’s that man with them?”
“IHIT. Sergeant Madison.”
A man knocked at the glass wall to get attention. He said he was here to request a record check. No one rushed to serve him.
The door to the Chief’s office flew open, and the staff scattered in all directions. John Winters came out, face like a thundercloud. He put his head down and stomped toward his office. Mrs. Winters was next, followed by the RCMP sergeant. He grabbed her arm, none too gently, and steered her toward an interview room. Barb noticed that he did not take her to the nice room, where they questioned victims and witnesses.
“That’s Mrs. Winters?” the by-law officer said in surprise. “I heard she was a model. Must have been a long time ago.”
The person in charge of maintenance for the Hudson House Hotel agreed to come into work a few minutes early to talk to Detective Lopez. His name was Dennis Jones and he was a beefy man with the bulbous red nose of a serious drinker and the prominent, round belly of a serious eater. He was dressed in overalls, spattered with paint and oil, covering a gray T-shirt that had probably once been white. His hair was thin, badly cut and greasy, and his nails didn’t look as if he washed his hands all too often. Small black eyes in a pudding face darted around the room: a man used to checking a place out before settling down.
“Heard some guy got his number punched, eh.” Jones pulled a chair up to the conference room table and started the conversation. “Guess that’s why you want to talk to me. Shoot.” He laughed heartily and, Lopez thought, too forcefully.
Lopez took his own seat, reminding himself that just because someone was not comfortable being questioned by the police didn’t necessarily mean he had something to hide.
“Your manager tells me you were on the second floor Monday evening?”
“Yup. Lamp needed replacing. I figured it was the bulb at first, but nope, the bulb was still good. It was the lamp was broken. So I replaced it.”
“Room number?” Lopez asked, although he knew it. It was recorded on the hotel log.
“Second floor. West end, third door from the fire escape. Don’t remember the number.”
“Not a problem. Time?”
“Round about five-thirty. I remember that ‘cause it was the last job before my dinner break.”
“Did you see anyone in the hallway when you were there?”
“No.” the man answered, very quickly.
“Are you sure?”
Another bark of a laugh. “I figured you’d ask that question, Detective. I’m way ahead of you.” The room wasn’t warm, but Jones pulled a handkerchief out of the pocket in the bib of his overalls and wiped his forehead. “Was thinking about it last night, see. No, I didn’t see anyone. Place was quiet as a tomb.” He laughed again.
“How long were you upstairs, on the second floor?”
“Two minutes maybe. Checked the bulb. Went downstairs for a replacement lamp. Another two minutes to swap them.”
“Did you take the elevator?”
“You don’t understand about the hierarchy in a place like this, do you? Of course I didn’t take the elevator. That wouldn’t be right, would it? Can’t let the fancy pants guests rub shoulders with the person who pulls their condoms out of the toilet or changes their lamps.” A vein throbbed in the fleshy neck, and his fists were tightly clenched. “A hotel works invisibly, you know.”
The bitterness in Jones’ voice came across loud and clear. Irrelevant, Lopez thought, unless the man had finally snapped and murdered a demanding guest.
“Thank you, Mr. Jones. That’s all I wanted to know.” He handed over his card, and Jones took it with calloused fingers. “If you remember anything, give me a call at that number.”
John Winters punched the keys to unlock his computer with almost enough force to break them. To no one’s surprise, he was off the murder case. He was lucky he hadn’t been shown the door altogether, at least for the time being. The Chief, after getting over his initial shock, ordered Winters to stay absolutely clear of any involvement in the investigation into the murder of Rudolph Steiner. He wasn’t to so much as talk about the case with anyone. If the subject came up in his hearing, he was to leave the room immediately. The Chief also suggested, avoiding looking at his lead detective’s face, that for the time being Winters vacate the family home.
Eliza had sat in the chair in front of the Chief’s desk, curled up into herself, mentally and physically. She hadn’t said a word. It hadn’t been necessary for Keller to ask her if this was true—her face was confession enough. Winters had been told to go back to his office and see what else needed his attention, and Madison took Eliza to be questioned.
Winters was still carrying the dammed picture. The opportunity to produce it hadn’t presented itself, and he hadn’t made one.
The top item in his inbox was a report of a break and enter on Elm Street. It had come in less than an hour ago. Constable Smith asking for a detective to go around and take prints. He called her.
“Molly, I’m looking at the report on the B&E on Elm. Are you finished there?”
“Yes, I took some pictures of where the missing stuff had been, and the basement window, which was broken. They told me it hadn’t been broken when they last looked, so that was probably where the perp got access. There’s a tall fence around their yard and that window’s not visible from the street. I spoke to the neighbor, who saw nothing, heard nothing. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get prints so I called for forensics. I guess they’re pretty busy, eh?”
“I’m going to take it.”
“Yes, me. Do you have a problem with that?”
“Of course not. I just…”
“Meet me there in five.” Winters hung up without bothering to ask if she was in the middle of something else.
He stopped at the equipment room before leaving. Everyone he passed avoided looking at him. The door to interview room two was closed, and he could hear nothing coming from inside. Barb rounded the corner. “Oh, John,” she said, with a strained sort of cheerfulness. “I was about to put the kettle on. Would you like to join me in a cup of tea?”
“No. That is, no thank you. On my way out. A call. Back soon.”
He thought he heard a wave of excited chatter as the door slammed behind him, but that might only have been his imagination.
He arrived at the house on Elm Street before Smith. Winters knocked on the front door, and a man answered. “Wow,” he said when Winters showed his ID. “You people sure are quick. My friends in the big cities will be green with envy. My wife’s still working on the list your officer asked her to prepare. It doesn’t look like they’ve taken much. Just the good stuff, small and portable, electronics, jewelry. I’m Fred by the way. Fred Webster.” He held out his hand.
Winters shifted his case to his left hand and shook. “John Winters. Any damage, Mr. Webster?”
“No. They were neat and tidy about it.”
The patrol car pulled up and Smith joined them. The man showed them into the house, and a woman came down the wide staircase. She held up a piece of paper. “I think this is all,” she said, handing it to Winters.
“Thank you.” He glanced at it. The handwriting was shaky, nerves probably, but he could make it out. As the man had said, there wasn’t much. Just the good stuff. A group of photographs accompanied the note.
“Pictures of the jewelry,” Webster said. “For the insurance.”
“That’s very helpful. Do you have copies, can I take these?”
“They’re all yours. We can print off more.” His face fell. “Oh, now all I need is a printer. And a computer.” He turned to his wife. “Darlene, when did you last do a backup?”
“Day before we left,” she said. “I’ve checked and the CDs are still here.”
Winters spoke to Smith. “I’m going to do the whole house. Windows, doors, counter tops, tables. Every surface.”
“While I’m doing that, I want you going up and down the street and ask if anyone saw anything.”
“You spoke to the woman who was minding the house?”
“If anyone saw anyone come to this house other than her, I want to know about it.”
Smith shot him a look, but she was wise enough not to argue in the presence of the homeowners.
Winters ignored her. “It was probably done at night, so you’ll have to come back again when people are home from work. Do it tonight, before they start to forget. I’ll authorize the overtime.”
“I’d like to lie down,” Mrs. Webster said. “Is that all right?”
“Is there a spare room you can use?”
“Yes, we have a guest room.”
“Was anything taken from there?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Give me a few minutes. I have a couple of questions, and I’ll do that room first, then you can lie down.”
The woman nodded. Winters wasn’t qualified in forensics, but he did have a SOCO course under his belt that allowed him to take fingerprints. In a department the size of Trafalgar, officers needed to be able to multi-task.
“Report to me when you’re finished,” he ordered Smith. He turned back to Mrs. Webster. “Why don’t we sit down.” She headed toward the back of the house and he followed. He heard the front door shut, perhaps with more force than necessary, as Smith left.
Time to stop fooling around. He’d had enough of whoever was doing this. There’d been a series of B&Es just like this one over the past six weeks. Nice houses, nice neighborhoods, family away on vacation. It was always the same—straight to the electronics and jewelry. No muss, no fuss. No random destruction. One house had nothing taken. The owner lived alone except for an elderly dog, she had her laptop computer and accessories with her, owned no electronics other than an out-of-date radio and CD player, and no jewelry worth stealing. Drawers had been opened, clothing moved aside in the search for something that might have been hidden, and that was it. Other than the disarray and a broken lock on the back door, she might not have known someone had been in the house.