Dark Need
Page 23

 Lynn Viehl

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Harry looked worried as they walked toward the yacht. "You okay, kid?" He offered her a paper napkin from the folded stash he kept in his jacket. "You're soaked."
Whatever the weather conditions, reading blood also made Sam perspire badly. Her clothes were sticking to her, and she felt a small but steady stream of sweat pouring down the center of her back. Sam used the napkin to blot her hot, wet face and soaked it; Harry had to give her another before she could dry her face.
She looked back at the grotto of statues. "He was running. That's why they were bouncing."
"What was bouncing?"
"The statues—I mean, the victim. I think he was running away from something just before he died. The killer used a sword." Jasmine suddenly filled her head, and her legs suddenly shook so badly that her knees almost buckled.
"Easy now." Harry was right beside her, and slipped an arm around her waist. "Breathe. You're turning five shades of purple."
She breathed in. Even the reek of the Intracoastal's polluted waters was better than drowning in the delicate, flowery scent. "Why didn't I go into the military?"
Harry gave her shoulder an endearingly awkward pat. "You'd have just ended up getting your head chopped off by terrorists in Iraq."
"Would I." She turned around and stared hard at the statues, recalling the image of the sword wedged between them, and then the sword amputating the victim's hand. "Montgomery ran into the sword that decapitated him—could someone have chased him into it?"
Her partner laughed out loud. "No one's going to cut off their own head to get away from someone."
"Maybe he didn't see it until the last second." Sam knew how ridiculous it sounded, but it was the only thing that made sense of the images. "All I know is what I got from him. There was something else. I think the victim chopped off his own hand first. With the same sword."
"Now you're talking plain crazy," her partner told her. "No sane person amputates his own paw."
"I only know what I saw happen through his eyes." Sam tried to remember what the face of the man standing by the pool had looked like, but all she got was the outline of his body—shorter than her, a bit heavier than Harry. "He was on the beachfront today before he came here, too. I saw the inside of that nightclub where we went to question the owner about the Caprell case."
"Confusion, Fusion, whatever it was?" Harry appeared skeptical. "You sure you're not mixing up two different murders here?"
She nodded. "Whoever this man was, he definitely saw Lucan No-last-name through his own eyes before he came here." That Lena Caprell had been sexually involved with the same man might simply be a coincidence, but her killer had also posed her body sitting up on a bench.
"That Lucan guy was a bit weird, but he didn't strike me as the type to chop up anyone," Harry said. "Look at the way he was dressed. He'd have hired someone to do it."
"We need a motive." She met the doubt in her partner's eyes. "I need you to believe what I saw."
Her partner nodded slowly. "We've used this thing of yours to close too many cases for me to doubt you." He glanced back at the technician who was photographing the remains. "Let's see if we can ID the vic and do the notification. We'll have the uniforms look around for this sword you saw while we go check out the vic's background."
Sam looked toward the water. "Then we have another talk with Lucan."
Sam and Harry left the crime scene after the victim had been tentatively identified as J. R. Montgomery, the owner of Montgomery Construction in Fort Lauderdale. Their first stop was to notify Montgomery's next of kin, which his secretary identified as his mother, Nancy.
Harry called in their next destination to Dispatch as Sam drove. "I hate it when it's the mothers. The old ones always look like it's going to kill them."
"Better she hears it from us than the vultures," Sam said, glancing up at a circling news helicopter.
J. R. Montgomery's mother's home was in an older section of Fort Lauderdale, a neighborhood populated mainly by retirees who preferred to avoid the condo commandos on the beach and live out their golden years in single-family homes.
Nancy Montgomery turned out to be a small gnome of a woman with a blazing halo of dyed red hair. She answered the inside door three seconds after Sam rang the doorbell. She kept the outer screen door locked and peered at them through it with classic old-lady suspicion. "Who are you two? What do you want?"
"I'm Detective Quinn, ma'am, and this is my partner, Detective Brown." Harry held out his open ID so she could see it, and Sam did the same. "We need to speak to you about your son, J.R."
"He's not here, and as soon as he gets here he'll be too busy to talk to anyone." She jabbed a finger toward Harry. "You want to do something for the community? Arrest Mr. Baker next door and take away his no-good dogs."
Harry frowned. "Why would we want to do that, ma'am?"
"He never chains them up when he goes out, and they dig their way out of his yard every time he does. Just look what they did to my trash yesterday." Nancy gestured to the side of the yard, where two garbage cans lay on their sides. Their contents appeared strewn from one end of the yard to the other. "Littering and vandalism and trespassing are against the law, aren't they? And what about keeping pets on leashes? Well?"
"Ma'am." Sam smelled a strong odor of cats and used litter boxes, but was careful to keep her expression neutral. "We need to speak to you about your son in private. May we come in?"
"I suppose." She fumbled to release two inner locks. "Watch out for my babies. I don't want any of them getting out. Mr. Baker's dogs will eat them."
It was good advice, and not just for the cats. The inside of Nancy Montgomery's house was so dark that Sam nearly tripped over what she thought was a furry footstool on the way into the living room.
The footstool got up, shook itself, and waddled off.
The old lady shooed three more fat Persian cats from a small sofa, then picked up one of them and went to sit with it in an overstuffed armchair. Another four cats sauntered into the room to sniff at Sam and Harry.
Sam reached down to scratch behind the ears of a thin but friendly tabby. Loose cat hair in every color imaginable had been shed on the furniture, upholstery, and rugs. It had been so long since Nancy had vacuumed that tufts of the hair had gathered around the baseboards like dust bunnies, and clumped around the bottom legs of the furnishings. There was also a faint but definite odor of decay, as if something had died somewhere but not been found.
"He's gotten himself arrested, hasn't he?" Nancy was demanding of her partner. "What was it? Speeding? Drinking?"
Harry leaned forward with his hands folded. "No, ma'am. Your son J.R. was killed last night in Fort Lauderdale. We're very sorry for your loss."
"Killed?" The old woman looked puzzled. "No, you're mistaken. My son is Jason Ralph Montgomery. You must have him mixed up with someone else."
"We found this on the body, ma'am." Sam took the evidence bag with J.R.'s license in it and handed it to her. "You will need to make a formal identification down at the morgue, but we know it was your son."
"I don't know about this." Nancy stared at the license. "It could be fake. You could be lying to me." Her hands started trembling. "How did he die?"
Harry exchanged a glance with Sam before he said, "We believe he was murdered, ma'am."
"Murdered?" Nancy's voice rose sharply. "By whom? How?"
"We're still trying to determine the circumstances involved, Mrs. Montgomery." Sam took out her PDA. "Do you know of anyone who might want to harm your son? Someone at work, perhaps?"
"No." Nancy looked indignant. "Everyone liked Jason. He was a hard worker, like his father. He was a good son to me." She turned to Harry. "Was he robbed? Did they shoot him? Have you caught them?"
"No, ma'am. It was very quick." Harry kept his voice gentle and sympathetic. "Did J.R. say he was going to meet someone at a club last night? Maybe get together with a friend for a drink?"
Something changed in the old lady's face, and she sat up a little straighten "My son didn't have time for drinking or going to clubs. Jason was coming here to clean up the garbage Mr. Baker's dogs dragged all over my lawn. I thought about calling the police when he didn't show up, but how was I to know he'd been murdered? What are you trying to say? That this was somehow my fault?"
Like most bereaved parents, Sam thought, she was reacting out of the initial shock. She'd already turned her son into a complete angel; now she would view every question as an attack on her. Which was understandable, but wouldn't help them.
"Not at all, ma'am." Sam pocketed her PDA and looked around. "Did J.R. live with you?"
"He had an apartment, but he spent most of his weekends here in his old room." Nancy waved toward the back of the house. "But what am I going to do about the garbage? Who's going to clean it up now that he's dead? Mr. Baker won't. He'll just laugh at me." Her face crumpled and she began to cry.
Harry rose and gave Sam a nod before going to the old lady's side to offer what comforting words he could. Sam took the opportunity to check out J.R.'s room, which she found at the end of the hallway.
The room might have belonged to Montgomery when he was a boy, but it had not been made into a shrine to his childhood. His mother must have bought the decor straight from a television shopping channel, Sam thought, eyeing the big, painfully bright floral patterns of the drapes, coverlet, and throw rugs. The only thing that didn't match was the wallpaper border around the ceiling, which was of cartoon cats chasing yarn balls and one another. On the nightstand was a copy of Reader's Digest, and inside the closet Sam found two pairs of worn sneakers, a couple pairs of old jeans, and some paint-spattered T-shirts.