A Shot in the Bark: A Dog Park Mystery

By

C. A. Newsome

 

Prologue

Fifteen Years Ago

 

He had to go. Could she do it? Years with this man were endurable while he was pursuing his ambitions, working long hours and out of town for days at a time. Then retirement brought his domineering ways home and the man who was a big fish in a very big pond now thrashed around in her little puddle, making life miserable with his endless demands.

 

Potassium Chloride was virtually undetectable. It mimicked heart attacks, and he’d already had two. No one would notice the injection site because he took daily insulin shots. Could she sneak it into his syringe? Could she set it up so he would give it to himself while she was away? But the syringe would have a chemical residue. And if potassium changed the color of insulin, he’d notice.

 

What would deflect suspicion? If she were gone when it happened, she could arrange an alibi. That would mean an unattended death and maybe an autopsy. If she were present and had to face EMTs, could she pull off acting dazed and grieving? Could she time it right, the call to 911?

 

She recalled the Harris case, which blew up because he delayed the 911 call too long. His wife’s skin was dry when the EMTs arrived and he had cleaned up the bathroom. Too clean. She was sure he had to clean it up because his wife thrashed around in the bath while he was holding her under. The floor was bone dry. No puddles from a distraught husband dragging her out of the tub. And he drained the tub. Was there something in the water to make her sleepy? Only her hair had been wet when the EMTs arrived, a fact that led to months of controversy in the press and in the courts, racking up thousands of dollars in expert witness testimony. Such a small thing and it led to disaster. Could anyone remember everything to do at a time like that?

 

Her thoughts returned to the man she’d lived with for so long. Her love was reduced to grinding resentment. He was a miserable man in a life where he no longer had a purpose, where his sphere of influence was reduced from affecting thousands over the years to this kingdom with only one citizen to rule.

 

His only joy was making her even more miserable than he was. He would be better dead. Careful planning was required. Could she pull it off? Could she do it?

 

Chapter 1

 

Saturday, May 7

“How did I get mixed up with such a loser, Anna?” Lia’s question somehow managed to be simultaneously earnest and rhetorical. The lithe, thirty-ish artist posed this question as she and her friend perched on top of a picnic table at the Mount Airy Dog Park, watching their furry children at play.

 

Anna, wise in the ways of the heart, kept silent. Like all good cops and therapists, she knew a void invited unburdening. She was a sturdy, middle-aged woman of medium height, with a square face and thin lips. Dark brows hovered over intense eyes of an indeterminate color. Nature had gifted her with hair that went pale gold instead of grey, and it waved softly just above her shoulders. It was her one beauty. Like everything in her life, its display was understated.

 

Lia sighed and ruffled the ears of Chewy, her silver Miniature Schnauzer. Satisfied, Chewy took off for another tour of the park perimeter. Lia tracked his jaunty trot with fretful green eyes while she gathered her thoughts. “I know better. Mom went through the same damn thing with her second husband. Handsome, talented, and just needed a little help to manifest his brilliant potential. Ha!” She bent her head forward while she gave a pat to a passing lab. Summer-streaked chestnut hair poured over her shoulders, curtaining her expressive eyes. She chewed on her bottom lip and picked at the fringe on her paint-splattered cut-offs.

 

Anna gently posed her question. “You’ve been seeing him for, what, almost a year now? What’s upsetting you today?”

 

“Nothing’s upsetting me. That is, nothing’s changed. Nothing’s improved, nothing’s different. He always acts like I’m this big muse, and he says he’s writing like crazy but he’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” She gusted a sigh while rolling her eyes. “I take that back. He’s not rearranging them, he’s tossing them into a big pile and pouring gasoline on them. It’s a funeral pyre on a sinking ship.”

 

“So what brought this on today?” Anna asked.

 

“I read his latest revisions yesterday. Thinking about it kept me up most of the night. The manuscript was nearly finished when I met him a year ago. It’s no closer to being finished now than it was then.” Lia paused. “Really, it’s further away. His revisions are chopping it up so it’s disjointed and unpublishable. He says he needs to cut pages, but he’ll need to add another 50 pages to pull together all the new material he’s added. He’s killed the pace and it’s lost its freshness. He’s overworked the good parts until they just lay there, dead and stinking to high heaven.” Lia ended her rant and sat back, arms folded.

 

“That’s quite an image.”

 

“Anna, it’s pure road kill. I told him, ‘You can’t sell something if you never finish it. You can’t finish it if you keep adding new elements that mean you have to rewrite the whole damn thing. You’re not curing cancer here, you’re just trying to entertain people.'”

 

“Good thing he’s a writer, not a painter. He can go back to an earlier version of the manuscript when he comes to his senses.”

 

“That’s just it,” Lia’s voice took on a disgusted edge. “He’s been overwriting the file all along. I set up his computer and showed him how to save different versions of the book as he made changes, and he blew it off. He said it was too much trouble.”

 

Anna considered this. “There’s software that can retrieve it, isn’t there?”

 

“There isn’t if Paul offers to defrag your computer while you’re having beers. It’s gone. For good. Honey! Stop digging! Right! Now!” Lia’s anger made this reprimand sharper than it should have been.

 

Honey usually deserved her name. Today she was busily enlarging a hole created by an earlier dog park visitor and quickly losing her sweetheart status. Chewy found this very amusing and sniffed the dirt pile, emerging with dirty paws and a clump of sod on his pert nose.

 

“Honey! I said STOP!” This time the handsome Golden Retriever looked up, her expression sheepish. She returned to Lia in a penitent slouch and placed one dirt caked paw in Lia’s lap in a plea for forgiveness. Lia looked down at the dark smudges on her shorts. “And I thought Goldens were the perfect breed.” She scratched behind Honey’s ears and gave her a kiss on the top of her head.

 

Anna laughed, a merry tinkling full of good humor and empathy. “At least you have the sense to dress for the park. Not like some I might name.”

 

Lia noticed the older woman’s eyes flick over to the pair sitting at a picnic table several yards away. Lia knew she wasn’t talking about Jim. Jim’s couture was comfortable, well-used and rumpled, like his face and personality. It was the coifed grand-dame deftly touching his arm that drew this bit of spite from Anna.

 

“I miss Jim, too. I’m sorry I ever introduced them. Catherine’s had her claws out for him ever since. And she never would have looked at him twice if I hadn’t raved about what a great friend he was. Now every time I’m around him, she does everything she can to distract him from me.”

 

Catherine Laroux and her twin Pomeranians had appeared three months earlier. Caesar and Cleo (Anna, Bailey and Lia privately called them “Prissy” and “Poopsy”) didn’t need much exercise. Catherine needed escape from her husband, and attention. Lots of attention. Any attention would do, and she got it with flattering focus and playing the damsel in distress. Whether it was people who slighted her, symptoms she couldn’t decipher, or appliances she didn’t understand, Catherine always found a reason to seek help and advice. She had a consummate talent for making her needs more important than anything else that might be happening. The women caught on quickly. The men, typically, when faced with the full brunt of femininity, were clueless.

 

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Lia continued. “How many problems can one person have at 8:00 a.m. in the dog park?”

 

This time Anna responded with a ladylike snort. “Now, now. Let’s collect our furry children and see if they might like to chase some balls.”

 

Anna’s handsome and mannerly Tibetan Mastiff, CarGo (as in “Car! Go!”), was stately and full of humor. He was all black and tan and always well-groomed. Like his mistress, he deplored fussiness and remained aloof from drama. He galloped up – gallop is the only word that would work. At 125 pounds, CarGo could be mistaken for a small horse. His one bad habit was jumping up, and with paws on shoulders, looking humans in the eyes. In moments of whimsey, Anna considered teaching him ballroom dancing.

 

His canine radar infallible, CarGo was ready as soon as Anna pulled her “flinger” from her bag. Anna expertly launched two balls in the air. CarGo beelined after a line-drive, Chewy yapping at his heels while Honey considered a high lob, bolting when its trajectory became apparent. She leapt up to snag it out of the air before CarGo pounced on his own grounder.

 

Anna turned to look at Lia. “I love watching them play. I don’t even mind the slobber. So what will you do about him?”

 

“Luthor?” responded Lia, not thrown by the non-sequitur. “What I always do, I suppose. Withdraw.

 

“People who accomplish anything are finishers. They don’t whine or make excuses. They might adjust their course a bit, but they don’t suddenly decide to switch destinations. All of a sudden, Luthor doesn’t know what kind of book he’s writing. This is 18 months into the thing, and he hasn’t decided who the killer is, or if he ought to be writing a police procedural instead of a psychological thriller. Drives me crazy. Once I figured he was never going to finish the book, I lost all feeling for him.”

 

“Over a book?”

 

“Over his lack of direction and his pretense that he’s actually doing something. I can’t be with someone who hasn’t entered the real world. Sooner or later, they wind up turning on me like it’s my fault they haven’t accomplished anything.”

 

“Poor girl. I’m so glad he never moved in.”

 

“That would have been a mistake. I’m dreading this as it is. Oh, Gawd. Here he comes.”

 

It was the sound of a perforated muffler that drew Lia’s attention to the parking lot. Luthor had named the rattle-trap Corolla “William” because it had “suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Lia thought “Shakes-Gear” was more to the point.

 

Luthor Morrisey was a handsome man, blond and tall. His hair was deliberately unkempt, and his clothes, while expensive, were unpressed and tossed on. 19th Century Romanticism overlaid with a patina of 21st Century Artist Grunge. Lia reckoned he’d coasted on his looks and self-serving artistic sensitivity for too long, that and his advance guard, Viola, a lovable but occasionally schitzy Border Collie mix whose silky fur drew admirers. In an act of compassion that Lia suspected slayed the hearts of many women before her, Luthor had spotted the traumatized puppy in a February ice storm and spent over an hour coaxing it to warmth and safety. But animal rescue only gets you so far. She mused, “I’ll miss the dog.”

 

“Lia!” Luthor yelled, waving a long arm over head.

 

“As if I didn’t figure out he was here when the car was a mile away,” she muttered.

 

“Now, Lia, have pity. He doesn’t know what’s coming.”

 

“No, he doesn’t have a clue. That’s the problem.” Lia mustered a limp half-smile (or was it a grimace?) and went to meet him with dread in her heart.

 

Anna watched as Lia ignored Luthor’s outstretched arms and perched on a table. Her crossed arms confused Viola, who expected hugs. Lia’s defensive posture must have sunk in, Anna noted, as Luthor’s stance suddenly became aggressive. Anna continued to watch the performance as Luthor’s voice became audible over the distance and elevated in pitch. She could almost, but not quite, understand what he was saying.

 

“Third time a charm?” a familiar voice asked.

 

Anna turned to look at Jim. The retired engineer was a short man with kind eyes and a shaggy beard. Anna thought, not for the first time, how much he resembled Treebeard, the ancient ent in Lord of the Rings. “I hope so, the other breakups didn’t stick. I hope this one does. This is wearing her down.”

 

“Is she going to be okay?”

 

“Sooner or later. Lia’s resilient. But I’d so hoped he would make her happy.” Anna craned her neck further. “What happened to your girlfriend?”

 

“Girlfriend? Catherine? She just needed some advice. She’s not my girlfriend. Fleece is the only woman in my life.” Jim referred to his beloved Border Collie, who was currently attempting to herd a pair of Lab pups.

 

“You’re too kind, Jim.” Or too blind, she privately thought.

 

A tall redhead with chin-length hair joined them. Bailey had the kind of figure that photographed well because she was always fifteen pounds underweight. In real life, she came off as gawky. She had an open face with mildly popped eyes, and a nose that an unkind person might call ‘beaky.’ She had a hesitant smile, with the left side quirking up while the right remained undecided. “So do you think this will be the end?” Bailey gestured to the discordant pair with a long, graceful hand that should have been pouring tea or playing piano. Ironically, her fingers were always callused and nicked from her job as a self-employed gardener.

 

“I hope so,” Anna responded, “but I don’t think he’ll let her go easily and she’s already stressing over that garden you two are building for Catherine. I’m so angry at Luthor, he should be supporting her so she can do her work, not expecting her to nursemaid him while he pretends to be a writer.”

 

“Support her?” Bailey looked amused. “He can’t even put gas in his car.”

 

“Not that. She does okay by herself. I meant cook her dinner, rub her feet instead of expecting her to rub his all the time. He’s not the one standing on a concrete floor all day painting. Why is it men always think their needs are more important, Jim?”

 

“Anna, you know I’m not going to touch that.” Jim looked at her sideways and put up both palms in a universal request for peace.

 

The sound of a car door slamming brought them back to the drama at hand. Squealing tires announced Luthor’s departure.

 

“I don’t think he can afford to lose any rubber,” Jim said dryly. “He could blow out a tire going down Montana Avenue.”

 

“Don’t say that!” Bailey interjected. “If he dies on that hill, she’ll feel guilty and paint his picture forever. If he lives, she’ll still feel guilty, she’ll be rubbing his feet in the hospital, and she’ll still paint his picture forever. Either way, it’ll destroy her career because who wants to buy a hundred paintings of Luthor? We’ll never finish Catherine’s garden. I won’t get paid and I’ll wind up starving.”

~ ~ ~

Sunday, May 8, 4:00 a.m.

 

Lia couldn’t say she was up early because she’d never been to bed. Luthor’s recriminations and endless phone calls echoed in her head all night. Weary, she’d unplugged the phone at 1:00 a.m. At 1:30 she’d taken a long, hot soak in Epsom Salts, her favored cure for insomnia. It hadn’t worked.

 

Luthor probably started leaving nasty messages on her cell phone at exactly 1:05 a.m., but as usual she didn’t know where her cell was. She hated the damn thing and only kept it because there was no phone at the studio. That’s where it probably was.

 

She hoped her phone wasn’t over by the south wall. She thought of Jason, an illegal loft-liver on the other side of that wall. Better buy him a twelve-pack. Make it imported. I bet the ringing has been driving him crazy. If I’m lucky, the battery’s dead. She pictured Jason, enraged by the noise, punching a hole in the dry wall to retrieve her phone and fling it out a window. She winced. At least then I wouldn’t have to listen to the messages. How many were there? One three hour rant? A hundred one-word nuisance calls? How quickly can you call and leave a message? Two minutes? At two minutes a message and three hours, ninety messages? What are the limits on the in-box? She hoped for Jason’s sake it was one very long message, or that the battery was dead. How long would it take to delete ninety messages?

 

Tired of her head spinning, Lia pulled on sweats and grabbed her keys. The soft jingle had Chewy and Honey beating her to the door. “You guys don’t miss a trick, do you? Up for some pre-dawn prowling?” She snapped leashes to their collars. “Shall we walk this time? It’s only a mile-and-a-half, what do you think?”

 

Lia learned to appreciate baker’s hours years ago when an outdoor mural had her working in the pre-dawn dark so she could project her design on the wall. Her friends were horrified, convinced her body would turn up months later in Mill Creek. But Lia loved how quiet the world was at 4:00 a.m. Inside at 4:00 a.m., your brain would be in over-drive. The world outside was silent at 4:00 a.m. You never realized how noisy houses were until you went outside in the dead of night. The quiet calmed her mind. Outside was peace. No pain, no drama, and she could let everything go.

 

Lia hit her stride. Not a power walk, but quick and steady through the darkness. She watched her shadow change direction and shape as she passed under street lights. The rhythmic motion eased her. Honey and Chewy trotted obediently beside her. Her head started to clear and she began to relax. This is the ticket. One and a half miles to the park, let the dogs run around a bit, back home, fry up some potatoes and eggs. It’s Sunday, no need to plug the phone in. Play some Mozart. Do the crossword. Don’t think. Go back to bed. Yes.

 

She turned down Westwood Northern Boulevard, jogging down the hill for the last half-mile. Honey and Chewy barked happily. “Shush!” she admonished, laughing as the last of the tension poured out.

 

She slowed to a walk as she turned into the parking lot. She was looking forward to sitting on a table, looking up at the sky and watching the stars until the rising sun blinked them out. Then she saw the dark hulk at the far end. The familiar silhouette had her grinding her teeth. What was Luthor doing here? He couldn’t have known she was coming this early, could he? Or had he been parked outside her apartment and seen her leave? Was he stalking her? But surely she would have heard him. She would have heard his muffler, anyway.

 

Shit. Shit. Shit. Damn. Her mental cussing became a litany as she angrily strode towards the car. Then she thought better and turned towards the utility road leading up to the entrance corral. For whatever reason, Luthor had not gotten out of his car. She didn’t want to be freaking out in the parking lot, upsetting the dogs so close to the street.

 

So she climbed the hill, passed through the fenced corral, and released Honey and Chewy. She pulled a rag out of her pocket and wiped the dew from a spot on her favorite table top and clambered up. She sat facing the parking lot, no longer thinking about stars or sunrise. The car was still. Surely he’d heard the dogs barking? Maybe he’d passed out drunk. Maybe he just came so he could sit there and snub her. Like how would she ever know she was being snubbed if she couldn’t see him doing it.

 

The minutes passed. Honey and Chewy whuffed softly as they made their nocturnal investigations. False dawn appeared over the ridge. Shit. The litany began again, tired now. Shit. Shit. Shit. Damn. She couldn’t put it off any longer. Her brief spell of serenity was broken and beyond repair. Trudging back down the hill, she wondered what she could possibly say to Luthor that she hadn’t already said.

 

By the time she hit the parking lot, she was pissed. Was he going to spoil her favorite place for her now? Were they going to have to divvy it up, take different shifts, different quadrants, different friends? If they did that would he respect it and leave her be? Somehow she doubted it.

 

“Luthor!” His name was a sharp retort in the darkness, like a pistol shot. “What the hell are you doing? Why can’t you just give me some space?”

 

The Corolla remained silent. Was he in the car at all? Had she been fuming for nothing? Maybe he drove it here last night and it broke down. Or was he passed out? He didn’t normally drink alone, but he might have made an exception.

 

She neared the passenger side and spied a dark form leaning back in the driver’s seat. Damn. Looks like Door Number Two. She wrenched the door open and the absence of alcohol fumes hit her the same time the overhead light did.

~ ~ ~

Lia huddled on the picnic table. In the telepathic way of all dogs, Honey and Chewy sensed her distress and had her sandwiched between them. Radios crackled in the distance. Yellow tape fluttered as police set up a perimeter.

 

Jim handed her a cup of coffee and she cradled it between her palms, leached warmth into skin chilled by horror. It was Jim who found her at daybreak, hugging the dogs, rocking in shock, Jim who called District Five, and Jim who sent Anna for coffee at the closest UDF.

 

She looked at him, pleading. She had a stray thought, that his compassionate face belonged on a religious icon. Something Italian, from one of the Catholic sects that embraced poverty. He could have been a Franciscan monk. Maybe Saint Francis himself.

 

“Lia, you’re not responsible. It was his choice. And it was his choice to do it where you might find him. He knew you’re often first up here in the morning. I’m sorry it happened, but that was wrong of him. It was hateful to put you through this.”

 

Tears started to seep out of Lia’s eyes. Anna leaned over and wrapped an arm around her. “I’m so sorry, Sweetie, it shouldn’t have happened. Not like this.”

 

Lia took a sip of coffee. “Hazelnut. You knew to get hazelnut creamer for me.” Her mouth quirked sadly.

 

“Of course,” Anna responded kindly.

 

“What do you mean I can’t come in?” The strident voice drifted up from the parking lot. “I have to come in. Those are my friends!”

 

Lia looked towards the police barrier and groaned.

 

“I’m sure Catherine is worried about you,” Jim said.

 

“Hush,” Anna snapped. “Maybe somewhere in her tiny little heart she’s thinking about Lia, but that won’t stop her from making this all about her. She’s already well on her way.”

 

“Now, Anna, that’s uncalled for,” Jim responded.

 

“Stop it!”

 

The guilty pair looked at Lia, taken aback by her outburst.

 

“I can’t take the bickering,” she pleaded.

 

“We’re sorry, Lia,” Anna responded. “We won’t do it anymore. Looks like the police are taking care of Catherine for you.” They watched as Catherine’s Lexus turned around and pulled out. A lone figure worked its way up the access road and through the corral, approaching their table.

 

“No uniform,” Jim observed. “Must be a detective.”

 

He was tall, maybe two inches over six feet. Lean, with an easy stride. Longish, dark hair. A pleasant face with slightly droopy eyes. Like Paul McCartney. Puppy dog eyes that might turn into Basset Hound eyes in old age, though Sir Paul wasn’t looking too shabby these days. His golf shirt and khaki slacks reminded Lia she was still in her sweats. And very shortly, the heat was going to turn on like flipping a switch.

 

“Hi. You found the body?” The inquiry was soft, as if he was afraid of startling her.

 

Lia nodded dumbly as she stared at the ground, having a sudden flash of Michael Douglas gently coaxing Kathleen Turner out from under a bus in a Central American jungle. What was that film? Something about a stone?

 

“Lia Anderson, is it?”

 

Another mute nod.

 

“We had to send your friend away. I hope that doesn’t upset you.”

 

Lia’s mouth quirked, a sign of life. His calm tone steadied her. She took a deep breath and shook her head, still looking down. “It’s alright. Are you a detective? Jim said you must be a detective.”

 

“Yes, Detective Dourson. Peter Dourson.”

 

“Detective, can I ask you a question?”

 

“Sure, go ahead.”

 

“How long will I be stuck here?”

 

“We’re not sure at this point. Is there somewhere you have to be?”

 

“No, but this is strange, you know?”

 

“I know. We need to ask you some questions. We’ve been waiting for the Victim Advocate to show up.”

 

“It’s okay, we don’t need to wait. I’ve got Jim and Anna.”

 

“Are you sure? Do you have someone to be with you when you leave here?”

 

“I can take her home, Detective. I’ll look after her.” Anna brushed a strand of hair out of Lia’s face. “She won’t be alone.”

 

“All right then. Jim and Anna. You would be Jim McDonald? You called this in?”

 

“Yep. This is Anna Lawrence. She got here right after I did.”

 

“And what time was that?”

 

“Around six.”

 

Dourson raised his eyebrows.

 

“All the dogs know is that it’s daylight. They could care less about what time it is.”

 

Dourson smiled at that. “Is that everyday?”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

Dourson turned to Lia, “You were here before that. When did you get here?”

 

“O-dark-thirty? I don’t know. I left the house a little after four and we walked up here.”

 

“Who was with you?”

 

“Just the dogs, Honey and Chewy.”

 

“That’s pretty early.”

 

“I couldn’t sleep.”

 

“How long does it take you to walk up here?”

 

“Twenty, twenty-five minutes.”

 

“So does four-thirty sound about right?”

 

“I guess, I don’t know. I misplaced my cell. I don’t wear a watch.”

 

“So what happened when you got here?”

 

“I saw the car and I was pissed.”

 

“Pissed? How come?”

 

“Didn’t they tell you?”

 

“Tell me what? What am I missing?”

 

“Officer,” Anna interjected. “Detective, he was her boyfriend. She broke up with him yesterday.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Lia’s tears started again. “I’m sorry, too. So sorry.”

 

Dourson was gentle. “Lia, are you okay to do this?”

 

“I don’t want to wait.”

 

“Okay, tell me what happened after you got here. Take your time.”

 

“I was pissed.” Lia restarted her story and haltingly recounted events up to the time she threw open the car door.

 

“What did you see?”

 

“Blood, all over. The back window, the seat. He was just lying there in it with his mouth open.”

 

“This is really important. Did you touch anything?”

 

“No, no. The passenger side door handle, that’s it.”

 

“Why the passenger side door?”

 

“It was closest.”

 

“Detective Dourson surveyed the trio. “Did anyone else touch anything?”

 

“I looked in because she was just staring and wouldn’t say anything,” Jim volunteered, “I didn’t touch the car.”

 

“How about you, Anna?”

 

“I didn’t go near the car.”

 

Dourson turned back to Lia. “Tell me about the breakup. Was this your idea?”

 

Lia dully cited the hours of phone calls and recriminations laced with wheedling, begging and vicious profanity. No, she couldn’t remember exactly what he said. The verbal barrage flooded her, leaving behind a vile tone, but no quotes. She did recall he’d called her “Angel” in one sentence, and used the “C” word in the next.

 

“That’s why I couldn’t sleep, it was so nasty. I couldn’t get it out of my head.” She looked up at him then, finally, her jade eyes glistening and her lashes damp. “Was it suicide, Detective?”

 

Dourson paused for a moment, struck by mossy eyes that reminded him of cool green walks in Kentucky hollows. They were complimented by a soft, vulnerable mouth and those slightly aloof cheekbones. He noticed a slight dent in her chin, as if someone had pressed a thumb in it and left an imprint. Her hair was bound up in a clip. Spiraling tendrils escaped, emphasizing her long neck and reinforcing her fragility. He mentally shook his head and focussed on her question. “It’s early to say.”

 

“I’m sure you’re not allowed to say, anyway.”

 

“That, too, but really, it’s too early to know for sure.”

 

“I was so angry. I wanted him gone, but I didn’t want that.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Do you?” she pleaded.

 

“Yeah, I think so,” he said, as his heart broke for her.

 

Dourson collected contact information for Lia, Jim and Anna, and for Luthor’s parents. Anna led Lia out to her SUV while Jim followed along with the dogs. Dourson picked up Lia’s abandoned coffee. It was still almost full. He smelled hazelnut. He dumped it in the trash.

~ ~ ~

She remembered most the explosion of blood, the mess, and the blow-back speckling her clothes and skin. There would be plenty of time to burn her clothes, and the neighbors would just assume she was grilling out. She’d encourage that impression by dumping on Liquid Smoke. The police might never ask questions, not if they bought the suicide scenario she created.

 

She’d disliked doing it this way. Luthor had no convenient health issues to exploit, nor did he care for outdoor activities that could be manipulated into accidents. He had only one obvious weakness, and that was his dependence on Lia.

 

She pondered the cell phone in her hand. It had been so easy to lift from Lia’s tote. Easier still to lure Luthor with a text message. But what to do with it? Return it to Lia? Destroy it? It would be easiest to destroy it and Lia would probably figure she’d lost it. It wouldn’t be too difficult to return, just drop it behind the driver’s seat of her Volvo. The windows were always open for the dogs. But she’d have to remove those final text messages, and if the police came asking questions, possession of the phone would cause Lia problems.

 

If she got the phone back, Lia would feel compelled to access all of Luthor’s messages from last night. She could still do it without the phone, but would she bother? Too bad there was no way for her to find out what was on voicemail without it being flagged that it had been accessed. Luthor’s messages shouldn’t be incriminating. How could they be? Checking messages would tip Lia off that someone else had her phone, and that wouldn’t be good at all.

 

It had taken more time to dig Luthor’s phone out of his jacket and pull off those last texts than it had to kill him. It had been delicate going, putting it back. She’d felt horribly exposed even though trees blocked the view of the parking lot from the street. But she couldn’t have Luthor’s phone missing. That would be a tip-off. And if police ruled it suicide, they wouldn’t bother to pull the phone records, would they?

 

Such a nasty job, all the way around. She disliked guns, disliked blood, and disliked loose ends. She looked at the loose end in her palm and smiled with sudden inspiration. Insurance. She’d leave the messages and hang onto it for now. Just in case.

 

 

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