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Mike watched Marcia Blake as she took the seat on the sofa across from him, crossing one thin leg over the other one. She smoothed her long black hair from her face before clasping her hands and dropping them to her lap.
“What brings you by, Deputy Sheriff Taylor,” she asked abruptly in her schooled tone.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about your husband if that’s alright.”
“Well, then. What would you like to know?”
“Where was your husband on the night of the murders?”
“Normally I don’t remember dates all that well. But that night in particular was our wedding anniversary.”
“That’s what he said,” Mike quipped.
“Then I’m assuming he also told you that we went out to dinner that night and then home to celebrate privately.”
“Then why do you feel the necessity to ask me a question that Roger has already answered for you?”
“I guess I just needed to hear it from you.”
Marcia lifted one hand and pick an invisible piece of lint from her navy blue skirt before meeting Mike’s eyes. “Roger was with me all night,” she replied firmly. “We went to Le Ramon for dinner and if I recall correctly, ran into Cliff and Harriet Tremble. We discussed the weather, shared a glass of wine, and then took our table where sitting next to us was Mayor Brenner and his lovely wife Janet. I assure you, if you ask anyone they will tell you that we were in fact there that night.”
“What about later that night?”
“I’m afraid my husband and I are the only ones who can account for our whereabouts after dinner. I don’t usually invite an audience into my bedroom.”
“I wasn’t implying…”
“Oh no?” she cut him off. “Then you must be implying that I am lying.”
Marcia straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin proudly. “My family has lived in this town for decades. The Cavanaughs have donated money in the past to have the library restored, the town hall rebuilt after the fire in 1968, and my father, Thomas Cavanaugh donated the money to build that wonderful precinct that you work out of every day. I don’t appreciate you coming into my house and accusing me of lying or disrupting your precious investigation.” Marcia stood and glared down at him. “Now if you don’t mind, I have more important things to tend to.” Turning on one foot, she replied haughtily over her shoulder. “I’m sure you can see your way out.”
Mike stared after her for a long moment before he stood up and started for the front door. What a woman! No wonder Roger Blake regularly solicited in extramarital affairs. His wife was an ice queen, making Mike feel just a little bit sorry for the man that had to come home to her every night and wake up to her every single morning for the rest of his life.
* * * *
Roger Blake walked into his study, throwing his jacket over the chair and suppressing a curse. How dare that man come into his office and question him like he was a common criminal! He would have Mike Taylor’s job for it. Of that he was certain.
Roger ran his hands through his hair as he walked over to the bar and pulled out a crystal decanter filled with vintage brandy and poured it carefully into a sifter. He lifted the glass to his mouth and winced as the liquor slid down his throat. Emptying the contents with one swig, he slammed the glass down on the counter and walked towards his desk. From behind him he heard the door open and close softly and turned around to accost the intruder.
Marcia stood in the doorway, a silk negligee clinging to her rather gaunt-like body, her long black hair falling in her face and a seductive smile on her face. “I heard you come in,” she explained.
Like a stalking feline, she closed the distance between them and wrapped her arm around his neck.
Roger quickly evaded her kiss, pulling himself out of her embrace and taking a step back. “I’ve had a real shitty day.”
Her mouth puckered in an elaborate pout. “You always have a shitty day,” Marcia whined, attempting to put her arms around him once again.
Roger dodged her advance and took another step back. “Damnit woman!” he growled. “I’m not in the mood for your games tonight!”
Marcia’s arm fell to her side with defeat. “When are you ever in the mood, Roger?”
He closed the distance between them in one stride and grabbed her forcefully by her shoulders. “I have cops coming in and out of The Gazette on a regular basis, questioning me like I’m some kind of criminal. I have an employee that was brutally stabbed and may not live to see another day. And I have a slew of incompetent reporters who are unable to get a decent story out of the situation. One of their own is involved in a brutal attack and they can’t get any information out of anyone. It’s a damn nightmare!”
“That’s all you care about? Getting the story?”
“No. That’s not all I care about. But unfortunately, I run a newspaper. And getting the story is what sells those newspapers so that I can get paid a salary which without I wouldn’t be able to afford this nice roof over your head or pay off Evan’s college debts. So excuse me for not having a sympathetic bone in my body.”
Marcia pulled out of his grasp and glared at him. “I swear! Ever since you started working for that damn paper you’ve had no personality and quite frankly… no time for me.”
“Well, how about I quit that damn paper and we can live in a cardboard box?”
“Roger, you are being an ass. Don’t forget who got you that job. And don’t forget that you will be the one living in the cardboard box.”
He slapped himself in the forehead and let out a humorless laugh. “That’s right! Daddy is always there to save the day for his little girl!”
“If I recall correctly, he’s saved your ass more times than I care to count.”
Roger simply held his tongue and nodded. She was right. He had saved his ass. And he had heard about how indebted they were to Daddy every day since.
“Mike Taylor paid me a visit today,” she replied offhandedly.
Roger’s eyes met hers, glared at her. “What did he want?”
“To know where you were the night of the murders.” She studied him thoroughly for a long moment before she asked, “Are you a suspect?”
“No,” he shook his head furiously. “They’re just covering all of their bases because they have absolutely nothing to go on.” Roger stared at her with contempt. “What did you tell him?”
“I lied. I told him you were with me all night.”
“I didn’t do it for you,” she snapped. “I just don’t feel like letting the entire world know that you were with your mistress on our wedding anniversary. I do have a reputation to uphold.”
Roger didn’t dare deny that he had been with another woman that night. Marcia was much too smart for that.
“You know, Roger, if you don’t play your cards right you will lose me and everything you have worked so hard for. Don’t forget that it can all be taken away from you like that.” She snapped her fingers in front of his face and turned away haughtily, exiting the study with a slam of the door.
* * * *
Mike watched Isabella from across the table as she scrambled to get comfortable in her chair. Once she was settled he pulled out his notebook and started staring at his notes.
“So,” he finally said. “Roger Blake has an ironclad alibi for the night of the murders.”
Her eyes darted to his, the expression on her face skeptical. “Oh yeah?”
“It was his wedding anniversary. I have his wife Marcia and about fifty or so guests from Le Ramon willing to testify that he was exactly where he said he was.”
“What about after dinner?”
“Roger and his wife were having a little private after dinner dessert, if you know what I mean.”
Isabella shook her head. “I just don’t get it. Why does he have all of those pictures on his computer?”
“Who knows? But because they were obtained illegally I cannot ask him.”
“Well, Alan Ginnis isn’t our perp either.”
“How do you know?”
She laughed. “Trust me. I know.”
“Then who does that leave us with?”
“I think I’ll pay him another visit tomorrow morning.”
Isabella tapped her chin reflectively with her forefinger. “Are you sure Marcia Blake isn’t covering for her husband?”
“Why would she cover for him?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m just grasping at straws.” She let out a long sigh. “I still think he’s involved in this somehow.”
“I think you want him to be involved so bad that you’re letting it cloud your judgment. And if that’s the case, Isabella, then it’s time for you to back off and let the real police do their job.”
“I told you, Mike. I’m doing this with or without your help.”
“You are too stubborn for your own good,” he teased with a wink.
Isabella merely smiled back and opened her mouth to jibe back when his phone rang.
He held his hand up and lifted the phone to his ear. “Taylor.”
“Mike?” the feminine voice bellowed desperately over the line.
“Hold on a second.” Mike glanced up at Isabella and mumbled, “Excuse me for a minute,” before he left the room.
Mike shut the door to the study and whispered into the phone. “How did your date with Cameron go?”
“Did you sleep with him?”
“Cynthia?” he drawled.
“Yes,” was her discomfited reply.
“Then did you…”
“Yeah. It’s been taken care of.”
“Good. Remember this will not come up again. And for your trouble that little problem we had talked about before is now taken care of.”
“Thank you, Mike.”
Quickly he hung up the phone and returned to Isabella.
She smiled up at him. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. Everything is fine. So what were we talking about?”
“You were in the middle of telling me that I’m too stubborn for my own good.”
“Oh yeah.” Just as he was about to sit back down at the table, the phone rang again. Mike drew the receiver up to his ear.
“Where’s your restroom?” she asked quickly before he became ensconced in another phone conversation.
“Upstairs, third door on the right.”
Isabella started up the stairs, looking for the restroom. Without thinking, she stumbled into the second door on the right and almost backed out when she realized her folly until something stopped her. The room was wallpapered from top to bottom with pictures of Jessica Porter. Isabella glanced over her shoulder, knowing she should get out of here while the getting was good. Yet her feet refused to budge.
Pictures were everywhere of Jessica Porter, from the time she was a young girl until very recently. The images were haunting, the photos taken from a surveillance point. Isabella turned around the room, the smiling girl’s face reflecting back at her on every wall.
She stepped further into the room and found a small section of one wall dedicated to Jessica’s roommates, photos of the girls coming and going with different companions. These too were taken from afar and obviously without the women’s knowledge.
Suddenly, she heard a noise behind her and turned around to find Mike leaning against the doorframe, a sardonic smile tilting his lips.
“This is not the restroom, Miss Evans,” he said lightly.
“Mike… What is all of this? Why do you have pictures of Jessica Porter and her roommates?”
Wordlessly he pushed himself away from the doorway and started walking towards her.
Isabella took a cautious step back. “Mike?”
“You shouldn’t have come in here,” he said evenly and reached for her.
* * * *
Cameron had kissed Cynthia good night and watched her let herself out of his apartment. He had breathed a sigh of relief when she was gone, thankful for the time alone. The woman had been with him everyday since their first date and he was feeling a little smothered by her affection.
He had started the relationship with Cynthia in hopes of taking his mind off of the one he couldn’t have. But it had been in vain. His heart still belonged to Jessie no matter how hard he tried to give it to someone else. However, Cynthia had been a nice diversion. He could honestly admit that.
Cameron still had no idea what condition Jessie was in. Sheriff Benson hadn’t returned any of his phone calls and the hospital refused to divulge any information. He had even tried to go the hospital himself and slip into her room, just so that he could see her--talk to her. Her door had been blocked by two uniformed officers and instead of trying to talk his way past the security he continued walking.
Not seeing Jessie was driving him insane. He longed to hear her voice, to inhale the intoxicating scent of her perfume. Cameron didn’t know how much longer he could go without his daily fix of the woman he loved. It had been over three weeks since he had spoken to her. He had never gone that long without contact with her.
But what could he do? Not a goddamn thing! He could go in there and demand that they let her see him but Cameron knew that would do no good. He was forced to sit on the sidelines and devour what little information he could get through the papers and the local news broadcasts.
Cameron stood and stretched his tired muscles, figuring it was time to hit the sack and try to get some sleep when he heard a thunderous knock against his door and flinched. Cameron groaned as he walked to the door, aggravated for the unwanted guest and hoping to God it wasn’t Cynthia again. Throwing the door open, he was greeted by two men in drab black suits and ties, holding a detective shield up where he could clearly see it.
“Cameron Demauro?” the older man inquired in a curt voice.
“Yeah,” Cameron nodded.
“I’m Detective Cheney and this is Detective Holland.” He nodded towards the younger man. “We need you to come down to the precinct with us.”
“We need to ask you some questions in regards to the triple homicide on Ambrose Drive.”
“What?” he asked with ambivalence.
“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be,” the younger man replied with impatience.
Cameron nodded and grabbed his keys from the hook by the door. Silently, he followed the men out the door.
* * * *
The ring of the phone brought him out of his sleep abruptly. Nathan reached over and lifted his cell to his ear. “Benson,” he mumbled groggily and glanced over at Jessie who was still snuggled against the crook of his arm.
“Nathan, it’s Mike.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s either very late or real early.”
“That’s helpful,” he groaned and slowly pulled his arm out from under Jessie. “Hold on a second.” She stirred for a moment and Nathan simply leaned down and whispered a kiss across her forehead before he stood up and walked out of the room, downstairs to the kitchen. “I assume you wouldn’t be calling me this late if it wasn’t important.”
“I’ve got some good news.”
“I could use some good news.”
“We may have our suspect.”
“What do you mean?” Nathan asked, dragging a hand over his face.
“Cameron Demauro has been taken into custody for questioning. We have surveillance video from the hospital where he tried to visit Miss Porter.”
“You can cut the Miss Porter shit,” Nathan growled.
“I know about your past with the victims. Jessie filled me in.” The phone was silent for a few moments. “Mike?”
“What did she tell you?” he asked in a strained voice.
“That you had had a romantic relationship with all three of her roommates at one time or another. That you and Karen had been seeing each other right before she was killed.” Nathan could have swore he heard Mike sigh in relief. He brushed that observation to the back of his mind. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t let me work the case.”
“You’re damn right I wouldn’t have let you work the case. But not only that, Mike. You could have offered us vital information to help find the man that did this to your girlfriend and her friends.”
“I know,” he whispered solemnly. “I’m sorry.”
“Your apology doesn’t mean a damn thing now.” Nathan forced himself to breathe. Getting pissed off at Mike for withholding information wouldn’t do any good. “So,” he finally sighed. “Cameron Demauro?”
“Yeah. He has a motive. He was in love with Jessie but she didn’t feel the same way. To teach her a lesson, he killed her roommates and then vowed that if he couldn’t have her no one else could. Only problem was he fucked up and she didn’t die.”
“That’s possible. Does he have an alibi?”
“That’s what our detectives are trying to find out now.”
“Good. Keep me posted.”
There was a moment of silence and a loud commotion. “I have to go. They’re getting ready to start interrogating Demauro.”
“Call me back and let me know what happens.”
The line went dead and Nathan quickly shut the phone, tossing it on the cabinet. So Cameron Demauro had taken the bait and shown up at the hospital. The man must have seen the security outside of Jessie’s room and kept on walking. Still, just because Cameron had shown up didn’t mean he had come to do Jessie harm. The man was in love with her, yes. So maybe he had gone to the hospital to see her, to find out how she was.
From behind him, he heard Jessie suppress a yawn as she stumbled through the kitchen in the dark. Her fingers whispered across his bare back and he turned abruptly, grabbing her and pinning her against the counter. Before she could utter a word, he covered her mouth with his own.
They had made love three times over the course of the night and he still hadn’t had enough of her. She was like an addictive drug. He itched to make love to her again, right there on the kitchen floor, but knew that now wasn’t the time. They needed to talk.
As much as he didn’t want to, he tore his mouth from hers and stared down at her in the semi-dark room.
“Who was that?” she asked breathlessly.
“Mike. They’ve got someone in custody.”
Jessie pulled further away from him and studied his face in the shadows. “Who?”
She stepped away from him, the white t-shirt she had slipped into before coming downstairs glowing in the moonlight that crept in from the window. “Cameron?” she whispered in disbelief.
“I don’t know if he’s our guy but they brought him in for questioning.”
“Nathan, Cameron didn’t do it.”
“How can you be sure?”
“His build is all wrong.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve never seen the man’s face in my dreams. But I remember his height and build. And it doesn’t match Cam’s. The man I keep seeing is about the same height as Cameron. But he’s bigger. Do you know what I mean?”
“Muscle or weight?”
“Muscle,” she nodded emphatically.
“Are you sure?”
“Jess…” He didn’t want to stray from where recent events had taken them. Nathan would love nothing more than to climb back in bed with her and make love all day long. Unfortunately, he knew that they had work to do. “We need to talk about what happened that night. I need you to remember what happened.”
She let out a long sigh before taking a step forward and wrapping her arms around his torso, burying her face in his chest. “I know. Can it wait until tomorrow? Tonight I just want to climb back in bed with you and forget everything just a little while longer.”
He ran his hand over her hair and bent down, kissing her softly on the top of her head. Nathan could give her at least that. After tomorrow, he feared she may not have another chance to forget.
He dreaded asking her to remember something so horrific, so terrifying. Unfortunately, Jessie was the only one who held the key to finding out who was responsible for committing such a heinous crime. And somehow, the idea of Cameron Demauro being their perpetrator was too hard to fathom.
* * * *
Cameron watched Mike Taylor pace the small confines of the interrogation room. It infuriated him. They had all gone to school together, had been friends on and off over the years. And now, Mike was approaching him with the Mr. Demauro bullshit, as if they were complete strangers. It was unnerving.
He was no step closer to figuring out what this was all about. He had been here for three hours and no one had said one word to him about why he was here. Cameron felt like he was going to explode if he didn’t start getting some answers soon.
Mike turned to him. “Mr. Demauro, why were you at the hospital?”
“I already told you, Mike. I went to see Jessie.”
“Because no one would give me any information on her condition. I wanted to go see for myself exactly how she was.”
“But you didn’t,” Mike pointed out. “You saw the uniforms and turned around.”
“Yeah. I figured I would be wasting my time if I tried to get past them. So, I just left.”
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Where were you on the night of the murders?”
“I told those other two goons you set loose on me. I was at home in bed. I had to work early the next morning.”
“Yes. I was alone.”
Mike sat down in the chair across from Cameron, his expression a bit softer. “Look, Cam,” he said in a hushed voice. “I don’t think you are capable of killing an insect, much less slashing four women to shreds. But, that’s not what it looks like to my bosses.”
“I would never hurt Jessie!” he nearly shouted.
“No one is saying that you meant to hurt Jessie. She just happened to walk in at the wrong time. You panicked.”
“No!” he shook his head furiously.
“You meant to hurt her. Didn’t you? You wanted to teach her a lesson. All this time you’ve been in love with her and she wouldn’t give you the time of day. So, you decided that if you couldn’t have her, no one would.”
“That’s not true! Sure, I’m in love with Jessie. But I would never hurt her. I just want her to be happy.”
Mike slammed his fist down on the table, causing Cameron to flinch. “Let me tell you what’s going to happen,” he said between clenched teeth. “The D.A. is going to look at the pre-existing factors and find that you had a motive. He’s going to get a search warrant and send a team of investigators over to your place who will tear your tiny little apartment completely apart and if they find one shred of evidence against you, The D.A. is going to indict you on three murders and one attempted. If you fess up now and tell us what happened, I’m sure the D. A. and the court will be willing to go easy on you considering that you cooperated. The choice is yours.”
“I did not kill those girls. I did not hurt Jessie.”
Mike leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Then if that’s true you have nothing to worry about.”