Girl Under Water
"A thrill-a-minute ride which left me guessing right to the conclusion… I totally loved and can highly recommend."Goodreads Reviewer
Her numb fingers scrabble over upholstery, over metal, over glass, searching for a way out. Water stings her eyes as she’s dragged downward, clinging to her last breath as she’s absorbed into the cold dark below…
When Gloria Carmichael’s body is found broken and bleeding on the sidewalk just days after knocking on Detective Charlie Winters’ door begging for help to locate her father’s will, Charlie’s instinct is confirmed: her latest case is about more than just a simple family feud.
The Carmichaels are famous in Salem Island for their large family and charitable work, but, moments before she died, beautiful, trustworthy eldest daughter Gloria called Charlie to say she had uncovered a terrible secret that would break the mystery of her father’s death wide open.
With the voice of her murdered sister ringing in her ears – pushing her to risk everything to bring justice to the innocent – Charlie takes matters into her own hands. She won’t let another family break apart like her own, and she knows the answers she needs are hidden somewhere inside the Carmichael home.
But as Charlie races to confront her main suspect – a file containing evidence that will devastate the Carmichael family on the car seat beside her – she’s rammed off the road and over the edge of a nearby cliff. Fighting for breath in a sinking car, Charlie has to survive or other innocent lives will be taken. Everyone involved is keeping secrets, but only one twisted soul is prepared to kill to keep theirs…
An addictive crime thriller with twists at every turn, you won’t know what hit you after you’ve finished Girl Under Water. A perfect read-in-one-sitting rollercoaster ride for anyone who adores Angela Marsons, Robert Dugoni and Mary Burton.
Everyone is talking about L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain:
"Leaves you on the edge of your seat until the wee hours of the morning. Kept me enthralled from cover to cover. Heart-stopping suspense." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"A great start to a new series. It is a true page turner and I was truly blind-sided by the reveal. Lots of potential and promise in this series." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"Wow… This is so much better than the majority of crime books out there. Suspenseful, engrossing… All of the characters are believable… I want to read the next one please pretty please." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"Stylish, taut and addictive… One of the masterpieces of 2020… I was drawn in from the very first word… kept me hooked until I read its wonderful and satisfying ending. I completed it in one night…
Release date: December 17, 2020
Print pages: 420
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Girl Under Water
The old man felt the dampness on his cheeks. Confused, it took him a few seconds to remember what tears were like, what crying was like. Billionaires like Dutch Carmichael didn’t cry, did they?
“I know I have a tendency to be distant,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “Maybe even a little cold. I know that.”
They walked through the upstairs hallway of the Carmichael mansion, the two of them striding over a rich Persian rug and past an original Tiffany lamp. The crystal chandelier hanging over the entryway glinted rainbow shards of light all around them.
“Looking back…” Dutch said, “maybe I could have been more open. More demonstrative with my affection. And not just with you. With everyone.”
The old man’s cane tapped out a beat on the inlaid wood floor. Pictures congregated in clusters along the wall. Photographs mixed in with paintings. Several blown-up magazine covers featured a younger Dutch—the rugged, self-made tycoon smiling the same wolfish smile in every shot.
He couldn’t say what he wanted to say. Couldn’t conjure the words to articulate what he felt inside. He’d kept a hard edge about himself for all of those years, fought his way to the top of the cutthroat business world, stayed lean and hard and hungry at the expense of nearly all of his personal relationships. He hadn’t known any other way, and whenever he tried to voice any of the softer feelings inside, his mind went strangely blank.
The voice that finally answered him was clear and strong.
“Well, I forgive you. I can’t speak for any of the others, of course. But I do. You’ve always done your best. I think we all know that.”
They hugged there at the top of the stairs, and Dutch was overcome with emotion. Joy. Sorrow. Nostalgia. Regret. Things he hadn’t felt in years. Things he hadn’t let himself feel.
Christ, how had he let his life go this way? Selfish. Alone. Separate from his lover. Separate from his family. Separate from everyone. Greed was a blackness, a corruption that invaded the mind and spread through the body like cancer. It chewed you up.
The family’s long history of conflict flickered through his head: fights, feuds, divorces, lawsuits. Dutch’s increasing wealth only seemed to make the familial squabbles worse. More heated. More vicious.
“It’s all long-forgotten now. Back in the past where no one can change it, where no one can touch it.”
The hug tightened. The body in his arms felt so light. Childlike.
Maybe he could make things right after all. There was still time. He was seventy-seven, yes. White-haired and stooped, yes. But he was in good health. The heart and lungs of a forty-year-old, the doctors told him.
He had time to fix it, to repair the broken relationships before the end.
He pulled gently away from the embrace.
“You know, the staff are off on Sundays, but Rosa leaves sandwiches,” the old man said. “More than enough for both of us. I’d love it if you’d stay and have lunch with me.”
“Well… I only came for a short visit, like I said.”
Dutch’s eyelids fluttered. He almost let it go at that. Almost.
“Ah, come on. Humor me. It’d mean the world.”
“OK. Let’s eat.”
Dutch smiled and turned to walk the last few paces to the stairway.
He picked his foot up. Wobbled down that first step.
There was a soft scraping sound, and then something bashed him on the back of the head.
Motes of white light flashed in his skull. Popping. Exploding.
The object burst on impact, spreading its shards around him.
Dutch planted his cane, wedged it into the oak floor, and for a second it seemed that would hold him.
Then the cane snapped. Cracked in half.
The old man launched off the top of the stairs. Body cartwheeling into empty space.
His vision whirled. Flashed on the ceiling. The chandelier. The wood of the stairs. And back to the ceiling again.
His upper back crunched on impact, body folding up like an accordion, knees tucking into his chin. But he didn’t stop, didn’t slow. Gravity wasn’t through with him yet.
Tiny moments of his life flashed through his head. Blinking off and on.
Huddled in a tent outside of Da Nang. Drinking warm Coca-Cola and Tiger beer with his men. Laughing about something someone had said. Probably Fanelli. He’d always been the joker of the bunch.
His body rolled over itself. Somersaulting. Downward. Reality swung around and around.
Another flash took him to the birth of his eldest child. The press of the surgical mask against his face. The nurses handing over that tiny bundle. The small child, red and raw like an alien creature. A smile so big it made his cheeks sting.
The wood splintered. His bones snapped. One of his shoes came off and bumped alongside him.
Finally he landed on the polished floor at the bottom of the stairs and stopped moving.
Something popped in his spine. Severed. A tremor ran through him, tingling and throbbing and needling as his nerves began to die. All sensation fading out to nothing.
Numb. Paralyzed. A broken thing. Battered and bloody.
As the last glimmer of consciousness drained from him, he looked up. Saw the menacing silhouette standing at the top of the steps, feet planted shoulder-width apart.
And part of him had always known. Always feared. Always suspected that this might happen—someone close turning against him.
But I never thought it would be you.
Charlotte Winters thought she was the first one to the office that morning, but when she entered through the back door of A1 Investigations a few minutes before 9 a.m., she heard a voice coming from inside.
“Now you’ve done it.” The voice was barely above a whisper. “You’ve made a mess of this.”
Juggling her laptop, purse, a drink carrier, and a paper bag with two toasted bagels inside, Charlie hurried through to the main office. There she found her new assistant huddled on the floor behind the front desk, cheeks splotched red.
“Paige?” Charlie said.
The girl jumped at her name.
“Oh! Miss Winters!” Paige let out a nervous laugh. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Charlie moved to the desk and set the coffee and bagels down.
“What are you doing here so early?”
“Well, you were so excited when your new chair came in yesterday, I thought it’d be a nice surprise if I came in early and had it all set up for you, but…” Paige’s eyes strayed to the lopsided configuration on the floor beside her, and her voice went up an octave. “But I’m no good at these assemble-it-yourself things. The directions are always a bunch of gobbledygook, and I wind up with extra pieces by the end.”
She lifted a plastic baggie filled with bolts and washers and shook it, jangling the parts together. She jabbed her finger at a piece of paper on the floor beside her.
“Everything is arrows and letters. It might as well be written in hieroglyphics.” She pointed at the parts strewn about on the carpet, voice wavering, tears threatening to spill over her eyelashes. “I have no idea what’s what.”
“She’s losing it, sis,” Allie’s voice chimed in Charlie’s head. “You better step in unless you want another meltdown like when she found that sparrow last week.”
The voice of her dead sister had a habit of cropping up when tensions were running high.
Charlie’s twin had gone missing nearly twenty years ago, and the only trace they’d ever found was her severed foot, which had washed ashore on one of the island’s beaches. It was at Allie’s funeral that her voice had first appeared, beamed into Charlie’s head as if by radio signal or satellite. It was disconcerting at first. Was it real? Evidence of the paranormal? Or was Charlie slightly insane, her twin’s death breaking her psyche in half to restore the balance of things, fabricating the voice to fill the void left by Allie’s absence?
Whatever the explanation, Allie was attracted to drama. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t also right. Charlie had only known Paige for a few weeks, but it was already clear she was an emotional creature. Last Friday, a bird had flown into the front office window hard enough to knock itself out and leave a smudge of tiny feathers on the glass. Paige had started sobbing, thinking it was dead. But it had only been stunned, flying away unharmed a few minutes later.
Charlie snatched up one of the cups from the drink carrier she’d set on the desk and held it out.
“Why don’t we take a break? Once we have some caffeine pumping through our veins, I bet we’ll be able to figure this out.”
“Yeah. OK.” Paige scooted closer to take the offered drink.
When she settled back on the floor, she sat cross-legged, gripping the cup with both hands and blowing into the opening in the lid. Paige was twenty-three, but sometimes Charlie had a hard time remembering she wasn’t a kid. There was something so wide-eyed and innocent about her.
It had been Frank’s idea to hire someone to help out at the office. The caseload at A1 Investigations had nearly doubled in the last few months, and with Frank’s health problems, it made sense to find someone to pick up some of the slack. Paige was great with paperwork and answering phones. She kept Charlie organized and free to focus on the real investigative work. Charlie was willing to overlook the fact that the girl panicked at the notion of assembling office furniture.
“Thanks, Miss Winters.”
Charlie was about to remind her that she’d asked to be called by her first name when the front door opened with a swoosh, letting in a gust of crisp May air.
Charlie turned, expecting the FedEx guy, Ralph. He almost always came this time of day. Instead, a woman stood on the mat just inside the door.
She was tall with red-blonde hair styled in a shoulder-length flip that reminded Charlie of Jackie Onassis. The woman studied the office as she carefully removed a pair of soft leather gloves, her lips puckering in a way Charlie interpreted as disapproving.
“Welcome to A1 Investigations. I’m Charlie Winters,” she said, walking over and extending a hand.
“Gloria Carmichael,” the woman replied.
She slid a pair of Gucci sunglasses from her eyes up onto her head. The crow’s feet around her green eyes suggested she was older than Charlie had first suspected. Late fifties, maybe early sixties.
“I smell money,” Allie whispered, and Charlie silently agreed.
Even if she hadn’t come in with designer sunglasses and supple-as-butter leather gloves, Charlie would have pegged her as being wealthy. It was something in her posture, her head held high atop her long, smooth neck. The confident note of command in her voice. This was a woman used to having things her way.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Carmichael?”
“It’s Ms. Carmichael, but you might as well call me Gloria,” she said, still eyeballing the surroundings. “This is… I mean… you’re the one who found that missing girl, yes?”
The Kara Dawkins case had made all the headlines, the news outlets in the area painting Charlie as a hero. It had been good for business, but Charlie couldn’t get comfortable with all the hype.
Still studying the office, Gloria Carmichael frowned.
“I was expecting something… different.”
“Tell her you can go change into a pinstripe suit and fedora if that’ll make her feel better,” Allie suggested.
Charlie ignored her sister’s voice and gestured to the leather couch against the wall. Gloria hesitated a moment before taking a seat, and then Charlie realized she had nowhere to sit herself. Paige had moved her old chair out to make room for the new one.
The half-assembled thing jutted up from the floor, looking more like an abstract sculpture than something someone could sit on. She opted to lean against her desk, but a moment later, Paige hopped up with a wink, which Charlie took to mean she was going to fetch a chair from the back room.
“I’m here about my father. Randolph Carmichael.”
Charlie stood up straighter at that. Randolph “Dutch” Carmichael was big news on Salem Island. The founder of Carmichael Investments, a wildly successful hedge fund, had been found dead at the bottom of a stairway in his home a few weeks back. Initially presumed an accident, the police had eventually ruled the death a homicide. Ever since, the press had been going wild speculating the who and why of it all.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Charlie said.
Gloria flapped her gloves in the air in a dismissive gesture.
“I’m not here for sympathy. I want answers. The work of the local police… leaves something to be desired, you might say. I’d like another set of eyes on the case. An outsider. And I’ve discovered some inconsistencies in my father’s estate.”
Charlie was about to ask what she meant by “inconsistencies” but was interrupted by a high-pitched squeal. The sound of a harpooned sea creature screamed out from the hall—the awful squawk of Charlie’s old chair.
Everything stopped as Paige emerged from the hallway pushing the ancient wooden thing. The chair’s shriek was painfully shrill. Ice picks to the ear drums. It sent a wave of shivers up Charlie’s spine.
Realizing all eyes were now on her, Paige’s cheeks glowed red.
“Sorry,” Paige mouthed, wincing as she guided the chair over to Charlie with a final screech for good measure.
Charlie had found a comfortable position on the desk and had no interest in moving to the decrepit chair, but she felt obligated to take the seat now that Paige had gone to all the trouble. She lowered herself onto it, wincing as it wobbled slightly but held her weight.
Gloria frowned from her position on the couch. The look on her face might have been pity.
“You were saying there are inconsistencies with your father’s estate,” Charlie said. “Could you elaborate?”
“My father had his own way of doing things.” Gloria reached up and fiddled with her earring, a pearl set into a gold rose. “He was a maverick when it came to the stock market, as everyone knows, but he always advocated diversifying one’s assets, and since he retired from running the hedge fund, he’d become fascinated with the ‘unbanking’ movement.”
“Yes. He began transferring large sums into luxury assets and alternate currencies. Unfortunately, it’s not all accounted for. What we’ve been able to itemize at the house adds up to a few million dollars, and that’s not nearly enough. I could bore you with the minutiae, but the bottom line is this: there’s about four hundred million dollars missing.”
Charlie’s eyebrows shot up.
“Four hundred million dollars?”
“The problem is that my family are a paranoid lot, and the rumors are already flying about where the money has gone.” Another gesture sent the gloves slapping against Gloria’s thigh. “Cryptocurrency and buried treasure and what-have-you. Items have started disappearing from the house. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of my brothers are there now, ripping up floorboards and digging holes all over the property. They’ll be at each other’s throats until the money is found. And then of course there’s the elephant in the room: the possibility that one of my siblings murdered my father.”
Charlie reached for her notepad but paused at that.
“And what do you think?”
Gloria opened her mouth, her head shaking from side to side.
“I honestly don’t know. The inheritance would make for a compelling motive, of course. But now? With the questions surrounding the money and the fact that we can’t find his will—”
“His will is missing?”
“Yes. I’ve spoken with his lawyers and spent hours searching for it myself. I checked the safe in his office but only found a few pieces of my mother’s jewelry and some random bits of family paperwork. Birth certificates and such. Then I realized he probably kept a digital copy on his laptop. But I can’t find that either. The laptop, I mean.”
Charlie tapped her pen against her lip. The details surrounding Dutch Carmichael’s murder seemed to grow more complicated by the second: the missing laptop, the estate in limbo, the bulk of his fortune unaccounted for. She braced herself as Gloria went on.
“I’m afraid my siblings are already scheming against one another, convinced someone knows something about the money. My father always taught us to put family first. He would have been disgusted to see what jackals we’ve become. I’ve been chosen as the representative of the estate, and between itemizing the house and keeping my siblings from turning into absolute savages, my hands are full. I need you to work the murder angle, yes, but I also need someone—an expert—to figure out what my father did with the money.”
“You have how many brothers and sisters?” Charlie asked.
With her chin raised, Gloria pierced Charlie with her fierce green gaze.
“Three brothers, two sisters, and you can spare me the Brady Bunch jokes. I’ve heard them all.”
“And your mother?”
“She passed,” Gloria said. “Many years ago now.”
The gloves flapped again as Gloria waved away Charlie’s condolences.
Turning her notebook to a fresh page, Charlie passed it to Gloria, along with a pen.
“I’ll need the names and numbers for your siblings and anyone else you think I should talk to. Any close friends of your father’s, business associates, that kind of thing.”
Gloria nodded as she wrote.
The rickety old chair listed slightly as Charlie leaned her weight against the backrest, and she reached out to steady herself against the desk.
“If you had to take a guess, who’s your money on?”
Gloria paused in her writing.
“Which one of your siblings do you think would be most likely to attempt to collect on an early inheritance?”
“I honestly can’t decide.”
“Are they really that bad?”
Gloria looked confused for a moment and then shook her head.
“Oh no. It’s quite the opposite. I can’t imagine any of them stooping to something so common as murder,” she said. “Believe me, I’m no rube. I’ve watched enough true crime documentaries to know that money is as good a motivator as any. And the truth of it is, as much as my father encouraged us to be independent, we grew up sheltered. Or perhaps ‘spoiled’ is really the best way to say it. We are used to the finer things. Big houses. Nice cars. None of us have struggled.”
“Is there anyone else who would stand to gain from your father’s death? Anyone outside the family?”
Gloria folded her hands in her lap.
“As a matter of fact, there is someone who would better fill that role, in my opinion.”
“And who would that be?”
“Vivien Marley. His mistress.”
Her face tightened when she said it, as if that last word tasted bitter in her mouth.
“His…” Charlie blinked. “I’m sorry… you said your mother was dead?”
“Then… I mean, wouldn’t she be your father’s girlfriend? Or fiancée?”
“Absolutely not. Their relationship began when my mother was still alive and continued up until his death. She’ll always be the other woman in my eyes. I honestly don’t know what my father saw in her. She’s barely older than me, for God’s sake.” Gloria rolled her eyes and laced her fingers together. “What you have to understand is that Mother and Father had an… arrangement, as sordid as that sounds.”
Gloria studied her fingernails, the distinct pucker of distaste on her lips.
“He was free to have other women as long as he agreed to never set my mother aside.”
“So I guess all that ‘family first’ stuff was a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type of deal,” Allie said.
Charlie kept her focus on Gloria.
“You wonder why he didn’t marry Vivien after my mother died?”
Gloria pinched the large diamond set into one of her rings and spun it around her finger absently.
“I suppose he was a bit old-fashioned that way. His word was his bond. He told my mother he’d never marry his mistress, and I think in some way he felt that even after she died, it would have been dishonoring her to remarry. Anyway, I won’t deny that I have a certain bias against the woman. I’ve never liked her. Perhaps that clouds my judgment. Predisposes me to suspecting her.”
Charlie definitely wanted to talk to this Vivien character.
She hadn’t been sure what to make of Gloria at first. The woman had an air of snobbishness about her. But Charlie appreciated this sudden admission of a blind spot when it came to her father’s lover. She’d found that most people weren’t self-aware enough to realize they had them.
“And to be quite blunt,” Gloria continued, “Vivien is such an airhead that I doubt she would have been able to pull something like this off.”
Charlie handed Gloria a clipboard with the standard client contract attached. After a cursory glance at the pages, the woman signed her name to the bottom with a flourish of the pen.
“I’d like to take a look at the house, if I can,” Charlie said.
Gloria glanced at the thin, rose-gold Cartier watch encircling her wrist.
“I can do it now, if we’re quick about it.” She stood and started pulling on her gloves. “You’ll follow me over?”
Charlie nodded and grabbed her bag.
Charlie followed Gloria’s Bentley through downtown Salem Island, past the storefronts, and out to the end of the island where most of the wealthy residents lived. The “cake-eaters” as her uncle Frank called them.
“Working a case for the Carmichael family,” Allie said, letting out a low whistle. “You’re a real hotshot now.”
Charlie tried to ignore her, but as usual, Allie kept the conversation going all by herself.
“Six kids. Old lady Carmichael was really pumping ’em out,” Allie said. “She probably died just to give her vagina a rest. The ol’ dirt nap is one way to stop human beings from crawling out of the damn thing.”
Charlie returned her coffee to the cup holder beside her.
“Thanks for that visual.”
The truth was, sometimes it was comforting to have Allie’s voice in her head. A little piece of her sister that never left.
Other times, she just wished Allie would shut the hell up.
Gloria’s Bentley slowed in front of Charlie, brake lights flashing red before swooping into a driveway flanked by two brick pillars. Charlie followed, rolling past a wrought-iron gate with a large copper “C” emblazoned in the center.
A row of weeping willows lined both sides of the drive, their silvery-green foliage reaching almost close enough to brush the roof of the car. The house beyond was a mansion in the truest sense of the word: a Georgian revival masterpiece in red brick and slate tiles with formal gardens and hedges populating the grounds. Charlie’s mouth popped open at the sight. It looked like a postcard of an English country house where the queen might stay.
“Damn. This is some classy shit,” Allie said.
Charlie parked in front of the main entry and got out, catching a whiff of the spring flowers blooming along the path. As Gloria paused to inspect a silver Cadillac parked nearby, Charlie ogled the place, craning her neck to take it all in.
She struggled to process that this vast estate existed on Salem Island. She’d known Dutch Carmichael was wealthy, but this was next level.
Halfway up the marble steps of the entrance, Gloria turned back.
“Are you coming?”
With a final glance around at the exterior of the house, Charlie nodded.
As Charlie passed through the front door, her mood shifted. The opulent awe of the exterior gave way to something ghostly inside, something hushed and eerie.
Her gaze drifted up the sweeping staircase, lingering briefly on the crystal chandelier, roughly the size of her car, sparkling overhead.
This was where Dutch Carmichael had met his demise. Tumbling down this long, curving staircase. Snapping bones. Crushing vertebrae.
His maid had found him at the bottom in a pool of crusted blood. Cloudy eyes staring up at nothing.
Charlie gawked at the spot where the body must have lain, the inlaid wood floor polished to a mirror-like sheen. Then her eyes swept back up the stairs.
The tabloids had ghoulishly spread the leaked crime scene photos far and wide, and the graphic images flared in Charlie’s head now. The old man’s scalp had split and torn at the points of impact from the fall, flaps of skin coming free from the curvature of his skull.
Gloria’s heels echoed as she strode beyond the entryway, and the clacking brought Charlie back to the present moment.
“We might as well start here in the parlor,” Gloria said, sweeping aside a door across from the cursed staircase.
A man stood in the room beyond with his back to them, pointing his phone at a large oil painting of a woman holding a spiked wheel and a book. The flash on his phone’s camera went off as Gloria and Charlie entered. He whirled around as he heard them approach.
“Glori!” the man said, tucking his phone into his vest pocket. Charlie noted that he wore a full three-piece suit with no tie. “I didn’t know you were coming by.”
Gloria crossed her arms over her chest. Charlie would have been able to read the displeasure in her posture a mile away.
“Likewise,” she said, her tone flat.
She allowed the man to plant a kiss on her cheek but didn’t exactly look pleased to see him.
The man was familiar somehow. He looked around the same age as Gloria, with sandy hair and a smile he could flick on like a light bulb. It transformed his chiseled features into something softer. More approachable.
He did it now, stretching his mouth wide and letting the skin at the corner of his eyes crinkle.
Instead of smiling back, Gloria fixed him with an unwavering stare.
“What are you doing in here, Wes?”
“Me?” The man’s forehead wrinkled. “Well, I was talking with Tucker over at the Free Press, and they’re interested in doing a feature on Dad. A memorial of sorts. They asked me to write a little something about him, and they also want some photos. I was trying to find the one of all of us at Marjory’s cabin from a few summers ago, when we did the surprise party for Dad’s seventy-fifth. Do you happen to have a copy somewhere?”
“I’ll have to look.” Gloria flicked her head at the painting. “And the reason you’re photographing the art?”
The man blinked.
“Photographing the… art?”
“Don’t play stupid, Wes. I saw you take a picture of the Sabbatini.”
“Oh, that!” He waved her away. “Tucker mentioned that Dad’s collecting might be an angle they would use in the feature. I thought I could take a few snapshots to give them an idea of what’s here.”
The man squirmed slightly under Gloria’s fierce gaze. His eyes flicked over to Charlie, going wide as he made a show of noticing her.
“Is this her? The crack investigator?”
He moved closer, and Charlie noted how his brilliant white teeth were all the same size and shape, like a row of perfect little breath mints. At the thought, she realized he smelled slightly minty, as if he’d just gargled with mouthwash.
He extended a hand.
“Wesley Carmichael, pleased to meet you.”
Of course, Charlie thought. That was why he looked familiar.
Wesley Carmichael, formerly Senator Carmichael. Or Senator Bar-michael as the tabloids often taunted, a cruel reference to his long-standing alcohol problem.
The lurid headlines flashed through Charlie’s head. The mugshot where he looked like he was half dead, massive purple bags puckering under his bloodshot eyes. It had started with an arrest for drunk driving, then the media dug up more and more from there. Hookers. Gambling. Still, for the most part, the public forgave these indiscretions, offered him a second chance. When he got arrested with a kilo of cocaine some months later, it effectively ended his political career and his marriage.
“Charlie Winters,” she said.
His grip was firm yet gentle, and he gave exactly three pumps before releasing her. A practiced gesture.
Gloria pulled her gloves off.
“So that’s it?” she asked, redirecting Wesley’s attention. “I’m supposed to believe you came all the way out here to take some pictures for Tucker?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Wesley sounded more hurt than defensive.
“It means I hope I won’t find any other items missing from the house. You know we’ve only begun itemizing the assets. This all has to go by the book, and no distributions can be made until the estate is closed. The probate judge was very clear about that.”
“Damn it, Glori. I told you it wasn’t me. You know Jude always had a hard-on for the Picasso—why don’t you ask him about it?”
“I did, and he denied taking it. The painting certainly didn’t get up and walk out on its own, Wesley. Someone took it. As soon as Father died, the lying started. It’s like everything he taught us, every virtue he tried to reinforce, went flying out the window the minute he was in the ground.” She sighed. “Meanwhile, being the eldest, I get saddled with all the responsibility of trying to hold everything together.”
“Come on, that’s not true.” He reached out and put a hand on his sister’s shoulder. “We’re in this together. You know that.”
Gloria glanced at Charlie, then to her watch. She swiveled back to face Wesley.
“If that’s true, perhaps you can do something for me?” She cocked her head sideways at Charlie. “I told Ms. Winters I’d show her around the house, but I’m supposed to be meeting with one of the appraisers in forty minutes. Could you take over from here?”
Wesley’s face relaxed, and he seemed relieved that Gloria had gone from grilling him to asking for a favor.
“If that’s alright with you?” Gloria asked, directing the question to Charlie. “I do apologize for passing you off like this, it’s just that this appraiser is supposed to be the best, and it was his only opening for the next month.”
Charlie shrugged. She’d need to talk to all of the Carmichael clan at some point, and she might as well check Wesley off the list while she had him here.
Gloria nodded once then slipped her fingers back into her gloves and headed for the door.
“If you have questions or need anything, please don’t hesitate to call,” she said, turning back before shutting the door with an imposing thud.
Wesley made a sweeping gesture with his hand, flashing his minty smile at her.
Wesley guided her through the parlor, which featured a large marble fireplace and bay windows overlooking the gardens at the front of the house. Next came the formal dining room with another massive chandelier glittering over the table like a nebula of diamonds.
“I got the impression that Gloria filled you in on what I’m doing here?” Charlie said, pausing to admire the set of antique Delft pottery displayed against one wall of the room.
“Yes,” Wesley said. “We’re the two oldest, so we’ve always had a bit of a bond over that. Sort of pseudo-parental figures to the rest, especially now.”
Charlie followed Wesley across a hallway carpeted with Persian rugs and into a glass-roofed solarium with a view of the back lawn. Potted plants peppered the space—a lemon tree, a banana leaf palm, and a hibiscus that reached almost to the ceiling. The greenery gave the room a more relaxed feel than the rest of the house.
Beyond that lay a kitchen that could have housed Charlie’s entire studio apartment inside. Wesley pushed through a swinging door into a butler’s pantry and then jogged up a stairwell that led to the second floor.
Upstairs, they did a quick circuit of a series of bedrooms, all roughly the same size and decorated in the same classic style as the rest of the house.
“How many bedrooms in the house?” Charlie asked.
“Ten bedrooms, twelve bathrooms,” Wesley answered. “Including the basement, the house is a smidge under ten thousand square feet.”
“Damn. Lot of toilets to clean,” Allie said.
Charlie was starting to get a sense of why Gloria had hired her. Itemizing this huge of an estate was going to be a massive undertaking, let alone trying to work the murder angle.
Dutch’s suite occupied the west wing of the second floor. They passed a four-poster mahogany bed and entered the study. Books lined floor-to-ceiling shelves, complete with a library ladder to reach the volumes at the very top. It smelled like wood and leather, and the rug underfoot felt like walking on a cloud. There was a large antique safe in the corner, its door hanging open.
The tiger maple desk was free of clutter, which made it seem unused. Like a showpiece in a museum.
Charlie pointed at one of the drawers.
“I figure that’s what Gloria hired you for.”
She slid the top drawer open and found a collection of fancy-looking pens, a box of paper clips, and a sterling-silver letter opener. Charlie checked the other drawers and discovered nothing of note. She hadn’t expected anything to turn up someplace so obvious, but she still found herself disappointed.
“Gloria mentioned that your father’s computer seems to have gone missing.”
“I heard that, yes.”
“If you had to guess, who do you think might have taken it?”
“Oh, I’m not sure anyone did. I think it’s equally likely—perhaps even more so—that he has some secret hiding spot for it.”
“Any idea where that secret hiding spot might be?”
“No. And I’m not sure it’d do us much good even if we had it.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, my dad was a nut about privacy. You’ll notice there are no cameras in the house? My sister, Marjory, lives just up the road. They had a break-in a while back. The intruder trashed her husband’s office and stole an extremely valuable coin collection. They installed a state-of-the-art home security system after that and tried to convince Dad to do the same thing, given he was so close and was a much more prominent figure. But he was adamantly opposed to the idea. Said he didn’t need eyes watching him in his own damn house. Anyway, I’ve gotten off track. My point was really that he had the computer on lockdown anytime he was away from it. Password-protected. I sincerely doubt we’d be able to get into it even if we had it.”
A phone trilled, and Wesley slid a hand into his suit jacket. He glanced at the screen and then held it in the air.
“Would you mind if I take this?”
“Sure,” Charlie said. “Go ahead.”
“Thanks.” He tapped the screen and brought the phone to his ear. “Wesley Carmichael.”
His voice receded as he exited the study, and Charlie turned around to face the empty office again. She went back to the desk, doing a more thorough job this time of searching the drawers. Moving things aside and checking for hidden compartments. When she satisfied her curiosity there, she moved to the bookshelves. The bottom half of the units on the back wall were cabinets which revealed a set of office appliances—printer, scanner, even an ancient fax machine. Charlie closed the doors and focused on the books themselves. Pulling out an atlas here and a legal reference there, riffling through the pages. Tugging at a few random volumes of a large world almanac collection.
“You’re yanking on those almanacs like you think one of them might open a secret passageway,” Allie said.
“I’m being thorough.”
“Oh my God. I was joking, but you really are, aren’t you? This isn’t Clue, you know.”
After sifting through the office and finding nothing, Charlie slipped into the bedroom, checking for signs of Wesley in the hallway. It was deserted. Might as well have a quick peek at the old man’s bedroom while she was here.
She slid open the drawers of the matching nightstands, peered into the wardrobe, squatted down and looked under the bed. She didn’t figure anyone would have a problem with her searching in here, but poking through bedrooms always made her feel like she was violating something. Even the most spartan bedroom was an intimate space. Someone’s sanctuary.
Finding nothing, she went back out into the hallway, listening for Wesley. The quiet in the corridor made her uncomfortable, the odd charm of the Carmichael house veering back toward that unsettling murder scene she’d walked into downstairs, all the extravagant features turning sinister and strange, the air seeming to thicken around her. Goosebumps plumped on her arms as she walked through it.
She hurried down the staircase to the main floor, trying to will her heart into slowing. The light refracted through the crystals of the chandelier, a cold glow that decorated the floor with shimmering spikes.
At the bottom of the steps, she finally heard Wesley’s muffled voice coming from behind the dining room door. She moved closer to it until his words came clear.
“No, of course I didn’t tell her. I’m not an idiot.” Wesley sighed. “Regardless, I think she knew what I was up to. And I’m not exactly alone, if you catch my meaning.”
There was a brief pause, and then Wesley’s voice went lower. Charlie leaned in and closed her eyes, as if it might help her hear better.
“I can try, but…”
Charlie held her breath, straining to make out the words.
“OK. I’ll have to wait for a moment when no one else is around, but I’ll call you when it’s done.”
Footsteps approached. Wesley was heading for the door.
Charlie dashed away, scrambling up the first few steps of the staircase, then turning back so it would appear as if she were just now coming down.
Wesley was still glaring down at the phone in his hand when he strode out from the dining room, brow furrowed. He caught sight of her on the stairway.
“Find what you were looking for?”
“What I was looking for?” Charlie asked. Had he heard her lurking outside the door?
“In my dad’s office,” he said, going on with a dry smile, “No smoking guns?”
“Oh,” Charlie chuckled. “No. Nothing like that.”
“Well, I suppose you ought to see the basement. I doubt there’s much of importance down there, but I figure I might as well give the full tour. Leave no stone unturned and all that,” he said with a wink.
When Wesley hit the bottom step, automatic lights flicked on, illuminating the basement. There was a full bar with swivel stools at one end and a rec room area at the other, complete with a pool table, air hockey, and two bowling lanes.
“No ping-pong?” Allie said. “This place is a joke.”
Charlie followed Wesley down a hall, where he pointed out the indoor sauna and a home cinema with a digital projector and theater seating.
“I’m assuming Gloria already asked if you know where your father kept his will,” Charlie said as they walked.
“Yes, well, I have my doubts about that as well, to be honest. He was a practical man in many ways, and in others, not so much.”
He paused, thinking. She remembered him making the same face during his senatorial career when a reporter asked a hardball question. A philosophical look, something he must have practiced but which came off as natural.
“This is going to sound strange, but… I don’t think my father believed he would die.”
Charlie shrugged. “Death catches many people unaware, I think.”
“That’s true, but I mean it quite literally. The concept of a will was brought up a few times over the years, in an offhand way. He always brushed it off. One time, when I was much younger, I even recall him saying something along the lines of, ‘What do I need a will for?’”
“Could he have meant that as a joke?”
“I thought so at the time. But now…”
They’d finished their circuit of the basement, returning to the large room near the stairs with the bar and bowling alley. Wesley moved behind the bar, grabbed a crystal decanter by its thin neck and poured himself a generous serving of Scotch.
“Can I fix you a drink?”
“It’s not even noon,” Allie said. “Dude knows how to party.”
“What I think now is that Dad thought of himself as, well… immortal. I’ve encountered it a few times with other very wealthy, very successful men. It’s almost as if they believe their money and power protect them. And they do, from a great many things. They grow so accustomed to that protective bubble, though, that they start to believe it applies to all things. Even life and death. The world so rarely said ‘no’ to my dad—I think he thought it would keep on going that way.”
Watching him guzzle down the Scotch in two swallows, Charlie thought again of the tawdry headlines. The unflattering mugshot. Those purple pouches of flesh sagging beneath Wesley’s bloodshot eyes.
“You sure you don’t want a drink?” he asked, snapping her out of the montage of memories.
“Tell him you’re all set since you finished off that pint of Jack on the drive over,” Allie said.
Instead, Charlie said, “I’m good.”
Wesley nodded, unperturbed, and poured himself another.
“What can you tell me about Vivien Marley?”
“Ah, yes, the mistress. I know Gloria and Marjory tend to see her as an evil-minded gold digger, but she strikes me as fairly benign. The way I see it, she’s no more than a run-of-the-mill trophy wife. They’re a dime a dozen in our circle. The only difference is that Vivien didn’t actually get a ring out of the deal. I think that’s where the distrust comes from ultimately. Gloria’s too pragmatic and Marjory’s too shallow to understand that there’s a very real possibility that Vivien was with Dad out of love.”
Wesley smiled again. Charlie wanted to dislike him after overhearing his phone call, but she couldn’t quite pull it off. Despite that and the messy history of his political career, she couldn’t help but find him charming.
Polishing off the last of his drink, he slammed the glass on the bar. Then he dabbed his fingers at his chin as if he was about to say something.
But then a strident voice cut through from the bottom of the basement stairway, startling Charlie. Loud. Obnoxious.
“Day-drinking again, Wes? Shocker of the decade.”
The approaching man was in his early thirties, and he looked much like every other middle-aged hipster she’d ever met. Square-framed glasses. Black jeans cut so slim they looked painted on. A short-sleeved chambray shirt unbuttoned just far enough to reveal the topmost edge of a large chest tattoo. Even suspenders.
Wesley’s jaw tightened.
“What do you want, Jude?”
So this was Jude. The youngest of the Carmichael brood.
He marched over to where Wesley stood behind the bar and stuck his finger in his brother’s face.
“I know you told Gloria it was me who took the Picasso. That’s a lie, and you know it. If you keep slandering me, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”
“Good God, Jude. Is that really supposed to frighten me?”
Without another word, Jude picked up the empty tumbler and threw it, narrowly missing Wesley’s head. The crash of the glass shattering against the wall made Charlie flinch.
“Stop lying about me!” Jude shouted before turning on his heel and storming away.
When he’d gone from the basement, Wesley sighed.
“The irony is, if Jude had even an inkling of the truth…”
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, nothing. A petty family squabble.” Wesley’s grimace transformed suddenly into his best senatorial smile. “I haven’t shown you the pool yet, have I?”
“Lead the way,” Charlie said, though she didn’t think his comment about Jude had been nothing.
If Jude had even an inkling of the truth.
Wesley was hiding something, and she wouldn’t be in any hurry to forget about that.
Wesley led the way through a set of French doors onto a patio, warmth from the morning sun radiating up from the flagstones underfoot and coiling around Charlie’s ankles. Off to the left, an infinity pool hovered over a hillside view, and Charlie’s eyes snapped to the figure bobbing atop the water.
“Ah, yes,” Wesley said, gesturing that way. “Witness my brother Brandon in his natural habitat.”
Brandon Carmichael floated in a pool chair, sunglasses on, a Budweiser tallboy in a beer floatie next to him. Naked, tanned flesh stretched over his muscles and a pair of tight swimming trunks clung to a small portion of his lean body.
“Holy beefcake alert. He’s like a Greek god,” Allie said. “Charlie, after giving this a lot of thought, I think you should throw yourself at him. Hold nothing back.”
“We all mourn in different ways,” Wesley said, still addressing Charlie. “Brandon grieves his father by getting drunk in the pool like some kind of beach bum.”
He turned toward Brandon, lifting his voice.
“Are you allergic to shirts now, Bran? I don’t think I’ve seen you wear one since the funeral.”
Brandon said nothing. He just floated there, motionless. After a beat, Wesley went on.
“How does that work? You try to put one on and your body just rejects it? Sheds it or something, like you’re molting?”
Brandon still didn’t respond, didn’t move at all, his chair slowly rotating in the water like a dead leaf.
“Is he honestly asleep?” Wesley muttered, and Charlie thought she could hear genuine anger creep into his voice.
He stooped beside the pool, dipped his hand into the water and flung several handfuls, spritzing Brandon in the face pretty good.
Brandon jerked awake. Instinctively, he lurched to grab his beer and cupped a hand over the top, holding it off to the side like he was protecting an infant instead of a macro brew.
“What’s your problem, man? Beverage!”
Wesley stopped splashing and stood, a carnivorous smile spreading over his face.
“You must have dozed off out here,” he said. “I imagine gambling away Father’s money can be quite draining.”
Brandon ripped off his sunglasses and glared at him. When he spoke, it came out through clenched teeth.
“You think you put on a vest and it makes you superior? Last time I checked, you haven’t been gainfully employed in over a decade, Wes. Pretending to be successful might work at the country club, but it doesn’t count for much in the real world.”
Wesley’s lips tightened, his cheeks slowly going red. He said nothing.
Then Brandon’s eyes flicked over to Charlie, and after a few confused blinks, his face brightened into a smile.
“Oh, hey! You must be Gloria’s investigator.”
He tried to paddle his chair over with one hand, the other still clutching the tall boy, but he made no progress. The chair simply turned one way and then the other. Something about the visual struck Charlie as cartoonish—the muscular man excitedly trying to paddle his way over to her, huge smile on his face, big hand flicking at the water—and she had to stifle a laugh.
After a few seconds, Brandon gave up paddling and slid off the chair and into the water. He made sure to hold his beer up over his head like the Statue of Liberty, the red-and-white can the last thing thrusting out of the water after the rest of him went under. It slowly moved her way as he walked over the bottom of the pool, and Charlie laughed again.
“Don’t you have a Phish concert you need to get to or something?” Wesley said as Brandon emerged from the water.
Brandon chuckled and shook his head, his focus still entirely on Charlie.
“I went to one Phish concert—over a decade ago—and this guy brings it up about once a month. Trying to, I don’t know, rub my nose in it or something.”
Wesley grumbled something about how he’d leave her and Brandon to get acquainted and walked off, and Charlie realized that Brandon had gotten under his brother’s skin some—more successfully than Jude, anyway.
“Do you have a minute to answer a few questions?” Charlie said, refocusing on Brandon, who had now climbed out of the pool and wrapped a towel around his waist.
He took a long pull from his beer before he answered, wiped the heel of his hand across his stubbled chin. That roguish smile still beamed on his face.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Brandon stretched out on the cushions of a teak lounger and dropped his beer in the cupholder built into the armrest. Charlie took the lounger next to him, perching on the side and flipping to a fresh page in her notebook.
“What do you want to know?” Brandon asked, rubbing his palms together like someone sitting down to a feast. “Hit me with it.”
Charlie raised an eyebrow.
“You seem awfully excited about this.”
“Well it’s not every day that a charismatic, young private detective wants to interrogate me.”
“Charismatic?” Allie repeated. “He’s talking about you?”
Charlie ignored that.
“It’s not really an interrogation. That’s more of a police thing.”
He waved her away.
“My point is, I used to read a lot of Dick Tracy comic books when I was a kid. This is a bit of a childhood dream come true. Though with a name like Charlie Winters, I have to admit, I was picturing an old guy in a hat and trench coat.”
“I think Gloria was, too,” Charlie said. “I suspect I was a bit of a disappointment for her.”
“That’s only because she has no imagination. Doesn’t like surprises. Me, on the other hand?” Brandon lowered his sunglasses so he could wink at her. “I love a good surprise.”
Charlie studied him, trying to decide where to start. He had a bit of Wesley’s charm, but it was less polished. Rougher around the edges. Even his handshake was similar to Wesley’s, but without the practiced, measured quality. This was Wesley without the coaching.
Brandon even looked a bit like Wesley, though he was younger. Her age, maybe a few years older. But his hair was darker than Wesley’s, and he was more relaxed. A touch of slouch in his posture. Then there was the blooming beard. She tried to picture Wesley with facial hair. Couldn’t be done. It was much too “common,” as Gloria would probably put it.
“What did Wesley mean before, when he made the comment about gambling your father’s money away?”
Brandon ran his fingers through his hair and groaned softly.
“Pure exaggeration. Dad lent me some money when I was in college. I thought I’d try my hand at playing the market, you know. Walk in the old man’s footsteps. It didn’t pan out though. So I used the rest of the cash as my bankroll. Got into playing poker. Wes still acts like I’m some Vegas tourist, pissing away my paycheck on the weekends. He refuses to accept that this is how I make a living.”
“You’re a professional poker player?”
Brandon cocked his head to one side.
“I prefer to think of myself as not having a profession. But gambling is what pays the bills, so… yes. Technically it is my job. I do some sports betting as well, but poker is my main source of income. And Wes has no respect for it. He likes to blame his own gambling for all his other troubles. The drugs, the drunk driving, the hookers. He went through a twelve-step program for it and everything. Now he acts like he’s all high and mighty because he gave up his so-called vice. Likes to talk about being ‘clean.’” Brandon put air-quotes around the word and smirked. “The thing is, he still drinks like a fish. He may not gamble anymore, but he’s far from clean. He’s a hypocrite.”
Charlie watched him closely when she asked the next question.
“So you haven’t borrowed money from your father anytime recently?”
“No. It was the one time, like I said. And I paid him back.”
His response seemed honest enough, though Charlie was careful to remind herself that she didn’t know him well. It could take some time to learn someone’s tells.
“Well, speaking of your father’s money,” Charlie said, “do you have any idea where the bulk of it went?”
Brandon shook his head.
“Dad was always very tight-lipped about that stuff. Secretive even.” He crossed one leg over the other. “This is going to sound ridiculous, but I can’t stop imagining him sneaking around the property at night, burying big jars of coins and whatnot. Gold. Silver. But then I always did like pirate stories when I was a kid. The idea of buried treasure being hidden out here makes me kind of giddy even now. I mean, how great would it be if he pulled a Forrest Fenn?”
Brandon slid his sunglasses to the top of his head and leaned in.
“Forrest Fenn was this rich antiquities dealer who hid a treasure chest in the Rocky Mountains. Filled it with a million dollars in gold and precious gemstones and then wrote a poem about it with clues to help people find it.”
“When was this?” Charlie asked. “The 1850s?”
“No, this wasn’t long ago at all,” Brandon said, eyes glittering with amusement. “Actually, someone found the treasure recently. Took them ten years, but they figured it out.”
“You think your dad would really do something like that?” Charlie asked, thinking that if it took ten years to find Dutch’s hidden riches, she’d be screwed.
“Probably not,” Brandon admitted. “But like I said, I’m a sucker for stories about buried treasure. And I can almost imagine him doing something kind of crazy like that.”
“He certainly seemed like a larger-than-life character, your dad,” Charlie said. “I suppose his death was probably quite a shock for all of you.”
“It really was. When Marjory called to give me the news, I thought it had to be some kind of joke. I couldn’t process it. I was at the MotorCity Casino in Detroit. Wandered the parking garage for almost half an hour, completely unable to remember where I’d parked.”
A strange, rhythmic pattering sound in the distance interrupted their conversation, and it was a moment before Charlie could identify what it was. Hooves. Sure enough, a chestnut horse galloped by a few seconds later. The rider’s ponytail streamed behind her as she steered the animal toward the stables on the other end of the property.
“Have you spoken to Dara yet?” Brandon asked, gesturing toward the girl on horseback.
“Well, that’s her on the Arabian.” Brandon took a swig of beer. “You know the animals here are worth somewhere in the ballpark of half a million dollars collectively? Dad paid over sixty grand for one of the stallions. Can you imagine? Buying a horse that costs as much as a luxury car? I mean, they’re spectacular animals, but I don’t have to shovel shit after I park my BMW.”
“You don’t think he had some sort of emotional bond with them?” Charlie asked.
“Sorry. If you knew my dad, you’d know how hilarious that sounds. He was not a particularly sentimental man.” He lowered his sunglasses and rested his head on the back of the lounger. “We had a dog growing up. Molly. An Irish retriever. She was sweet and smart and impeccably trained. He referred to her exclusively as ‘that damn dog.’ Never once called her by her name that I can remember. I don’t recall ever seeing him pet her. She was the equivalent of a footstool that left hair and puddles of drool around the house.”
An image of Dutch Carmichael was beginning to solidify in Charlie’s mind. Something beyond the staged portraits and fluffy news features. He’d been a stern man. A pragmatist. Perhaps one more interested in increasing his fortunes than bonding with his family.
“As to your original question, about where Dad’s money might have gone? I don’t know if you’ve done much research on his company, but he built Carmichael Investments into one of the largest hedge funds in the state. It currently manages over eight billion in assets. He had to be pulling fifty million a year, easy, before his retirement. So the one thing I’m sure of is that there’s money somewhere, and a lot of it.”
Charlie tapped her pen against her notepad.
“What about his charity? The Lamark Foundation?”
“You’d have to ask Marjory about that. The foundation is really her domain.”
Charlie made a quick note of that.
“One last question, and then I’ll leave you to the very important work you’re doing here, poolside.”
“I witnessed an interesting exchange between your brothers earlier. It was more of an argument really.”
“Oh yeah,” Brandon said, smiling and brushing some imaginary bit of something from his well-toned abs. “They fight all the time. Did Jude throw anything?”
“Yes, actually. A glass tumbler.”
“Classic Jude. So melodramatic. He’s like a toddler sometimes, I swear to God. Quite the temper on that one, and Wes knows exactly how to push his buttons.”
“Well, after Jude stormed off, Wesley said something along the lines of ‘if Jude had even an inkling of the truth.’” Charlie raised her eyebrows. “Any idea what he meant by that?”
Brandon’s jovial expression faded.
“Look. There’s something Jude doesn’t know. Something he can never know. For his own sake.”
“What is it?”
“Jude isn’t—” Brandon stopped short, and Charlie waited for him to go on.
“Isn’t what?” she asked, when he didn’t.
Hand over his mouth, Brandon shook his head.
“I can’t. It’s not my place. But trust me when I say it has absolutely no relation to what happened to my dad. It’s… ancient history.”
“Must be pretty serious if he won’t spill the beans,” Allie whispered.
Charlie considered this. Brandon had been fairly open and seemingly honest throughout the interview, in her estimation, so the sudden hesitation did come as a bit of a surprise. She supposed she could respect the instinct to protect the family secrets. On the other hand, she wondered at his ability to judge whether or not it had any bearing on his father’s murder. He was far too close to be impartial, and Charlie preferred to make those assessments herself. But it wouldn’t do any good to badger him about it. Better to find another way to sniff the secret out.
“Thanks for your time, Brandon. I appreciate it.” Charlie closed her notebook and slid it into her bag. “Do you think Dara would be up for talking with me?”
“I don’t see why not. I’d walk you over to the stables and do the whole introduction thing, but the path is gravel, and, well…” Brandon lifted his bare feet and wiggled his toes.
“That’s alright,” Charlie said, getting to her feet. “I’m sure she doesn’t bite.”
“Not unless you insult the horses. Then she might.” He raised the sunglasses again to look at her. “So that’s really it? We’re done?”
“That was rather painless.” Brandon frowned, almost looking disappointed. “In the movies, the private eye always has to slap the witnesses around some to get them to cooperate.”
“Next time, don’t be so cooperative.”
Chuckling, Brandon put out a hand.
“It was a pleasure. Really,” he said.
When they shook this time, he hesitated a moment before releasing his grip.
“And if you need anything else, you can call me. Anytime.”
With a nod, Charlie said, “I will.”
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