Darkness (Common Law, #3)

Darkness by Kate Sherwood
 
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-531-9
eBook release: 
Mar 6, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-532-6
Print release: 
Mar 6, 2017
Word count: 
49,400
Page count: 
184
Cover by: 
 

This title is #3 of the Common Law series.

This title is part of the Common Law: The Complete Collection collection. Check out the collection discount!

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A murdered prostitute. An obvious suspect. Clear evidence. For once, Jericho Crewe has a straightforward crime to investigate, and Wade Granger isn’t involved.

It all seems so simple, but Jericho’s instincts won’t let him rest. As he investigates, he finds troubling suggestions that the murder is a part of something larger and more sinister. But working within the boundaries of the law may keep him from finding the truth. If Jericho doesn’t break the rules, an innocent man may rot in jail while a killer remains free to strike again.

Inevitably, it all comes back to Wade. Because who else knows as much about breaking rules? And who else knows Jericho the way Wade does—not wisely, but far, far too well?

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Spoilery warnings (click to read)

Verbal abuse and hateful behaviour surrounding a character with a serious traumatic brain injury.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Jericho Crewe was at home, pretending to watch TV while brooding about the sorry state of his life, when the phone rang. Nikki’s tone. He was tempted to ignore it, but she was his father’s widow, the mother of his two half siblings—his responsibility. So he answered, expecting to hear her strident demands for whatever favor she’d managed to dream up.

Instead he heard, “I like snakes,” in a childish voice.

“Elijah? That you? You like snakes?” Jericho took a moment to clue in. “Oh, okay. Our deal. Snakes instead of guns.”

“Guns are still best, but you said I should tell you what I like second best. That’s snakes.”

It had taken the kid a couple months to come up with it, but Jericho supposed it was better late than never. “Okay. Good.” He tried to think it through. “I like snakes too. Maybe we should go for a hike and see if we can find some? Or maybe the zoo . . . there’s a little zoo down in Billings, I think, and I could check if they have snakes.”

“Mom says they do. She says it has to be an overnight trip if we go to Billings, because it’s far. She says Nicolette has to come too, and you have to find something Nicolette wants to do on the trip so she’s not left out.”

Yup, that sounded like Nikki. Why impose on him for one child’s care when she could push for two? Of course, free babysitting was the least sinister explanation for the woman’s sudden interest in having Jericho spend time with the kids. “Uh . . . did she have any idea what Nicolette would want to do?”

“She said this whole thing is your plan, so it’s your problem to figure that out.”

Of course it was. Jericho thought about having both kids in the car with him for about four hours each way, staying in a hotel with them, trying to keep them from setting the place on fire or freeing all the animals at the zoo—“How about we find something closer to home? Hey, does Nicolette like horses? We could go horseback riding somewhere there’s likely to be snakes.”

“I don’t want to ride a horse.”

Of course he didn’t.

“Uncle Wade says you should talk to Cory Barker about snakes. He says Cory has lots.”

Jericho tried not to react to Wade’s name. It had been a couple months since their last meeting, up in the forest. Which was good. Jericho’s life would be a hell of a lot easier if he could stay the hell away from Wade Granger. Not feel snubbed by the man’s absence. Not feel the aching need in his gut expanding from a tiny acorn into what sometimes felt like a full-grown oak tree. Wasn’t lying awake at night, imagining Wade’s hands on his body instead of his own. Not at all. “I’m not sure I know Cory Barker.”

“Uncle Wade says you should get to know him.”

Maybe Uncle Wade should take you to see Cory Barker and his damn snakes. Maybe Uncle Wade should mind his own damn business and stop telling me what to do. Maybe Uncle Wade should shove one of Cory Barker’s snakes right—

“Are you going to call him? You said you’d get me something for my second-favorite thing. That’s what you said.”

“Yeah, I’ll— I don’t know about Cory Barker, but I’ll figure it out, for sure. Maybe not Cory Barker, but . . . snakes. You got it. And what about your sister? Has she got a favorite thing yet?”

“It’s not fair that she gets her first favorite and I only get my second favorite.”

“If her first favorite is lethal, she’s not going to get it, either. Is she there? Can I talk to her?”

“She’s busy. Bye.”

And Jericho was left staring at his phone. What the hell was Wade up to? Was he just being helpful, suggesting a way to give Elijah a treat without too much trouble? Maybe, but Wade was rarely just anything.

Jericho hit one of the stored numbers in his phone, and a moment later heard, “Mosely Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Garron speaking.”

“It’s Jericho. Do you know anything about a guy named Cory Barker?”

“Cory Barker? Sure, we’ve had him in a few times. General lowlife, nothing too exciting. Why?”

“Don’t suppose you know if he keeps snakes?”

A disgusted snort. “Wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Is there—” Damn, how to word this? “Is there a reason we’d be interested in him for anything going on lately?”

Jericho could practically hear Garron’s scowl. “What’s this about?”

Jericho wasn’t going to share that detail. He wasn’t going to admit that his ex-lover had possibly given him a tip, but had equally possibly just been helping him find snakes for an annoying six-year-old. He wasn’t going to explain that even if it did turn out to be a tip, there was a damn good chance it was based on furthering Wade’s interests rather than those of the sheriff’s department. There was no way to explain any of it. No way to explain Wade. And also no way to ignore him, not for Jericho. “Have you got a phone number or an address for him? Cory Barker?”

“Hang on,” Garron grumbled. He was back a minute later. “No phone number. As I recall, there was lots of swearing about us not having his permission to call. I’ve got an address, though. Over by the elementary school, Seventeen Thompson Crescent.”

“Thanks.”

“You going over there? You need backup?”

“No.” At least, he hoped he didn’t. “It’s not a police issue. I’m just—I’m looking for snakes.”

“Right,” Garron drawled. “Good luck with that.”

So Jericho hauled himself off the couch and headed out to his old Mustang. It was a nice night, with no clouds and a warm summer breeze, and it would have made more sense to go find a park and look up at the stars. Instead, he was chasing down a snake lead, half hoping it was also something else.

He pulled up in front of a modest, ragged bungalow. The town had lost population since the mine closed, and it was cheaper to rent houses than apartments most of the time. But there wasn’t a lot of money spent on maintaining the near-worthless rental houses, that was for sure.

He noted the battered pickup in the driveway, and headed for the front door. All the windows of the house were closed, and he peered around the side, trying to spot an air conditioning unit. Didn’t see one. So the closed windows were suspicious. But maybe the house was just naturally cool. And it wasn’t like the night was that hot.

All the neighbors had their windows open, though. Jericho approached the front door with a little extra caution. He knocked. Gentle, polite, just a member of the community making a somewhat strange inquiry about snakes. His Glock was reassuringly solid in his waistband holster, and the fact that he’d worn it, the fact that he was thinking about it—his subconscious was telling him something, and he’d better listen to it.

Another knock, this one more forceful, and he heard movement inside the house. Someone stumbled over something, banged into the door. “Who is it?”

“My name’s Jay,” Jericho said. Ask about the snakes, get away from here, go home. But he couldn’t do it. “I heard maybe you could help me out.” Okay, that was still vague. You don’t have to go through with this.

Then the door opened a crack, and a whiff of stale air escaped. Stale, chemical-laden air. Jericho wished he didn’t recognize that smell, but he did. Jesus Christ, this asshole was cooking meth in a residential neighborhood, four doors down from the elementary school. What would the blast radius be if the place went up—just how much damage would be done? It would depend on the time of day. If they got lucky, the explosion would only take out this house and probably one on either side. But if the timing was wrong, and kids were walking by on their way to school—

“Who told you to come here?” the man inside demanded. It was hard to see him clearly, but he looked like he was in his midtwenties, too damn thin, and too damn jumpy. He kept wiping his nose with the back of his hand, and Jericho could see raw spots on both the hand and the nose.

“Guy down at the bar—shit, I forget his name.” Jericho had never worked narcotics, but even he knew this was not a great cover story. Somehow, though, he thought it might work on what was clearly an amateur setup and a clown who was obviously tweaking. “Midsize guy, kinda skinny, with brown hair? He said you could hook me up.” Jericho reached for his wallet. “What can you give me for eighty bucks?”

A moment of indecision, then greed took over. “A gram for ninety.”

“Ninety? That’s steep.”

“That’s the fucking price,” the guy snarled, rubbing at his nose harder.

Jericho pretended to be indecisive. “Fine,” he finally said, and opened his wallet. He held it carefully to be sure his police ID didn’t show.

And that was when his phone rang. He ignored it, and held the bills out toward the tweaker, then snatched them back before they could be taken. “Where’s the crank?”

“You don’t trust me?”

“Let me see it.”

Jericho’s phone had stopped ringing, but then it started again, and it was obviously setting off the tweaker’s nerves. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”

“No. It’s probably the bitch I’m buying this for. She’s getting kinda . . . impatient.”

That was when there was a loud thud behind him. He stepped to the side, trying to keep his eyes on the tweaker at the same time as he checked out the new disturbance. There were no streetlights, but Jericho could see a man by his car—had he just bashed his fist into the roof of Jericho’s Mustang? “Hey,” Jericho called. “You got a problem?”

“Yeah,” came the response. “You’re my fucking problem.”

Jericho recognized the voice. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

“You want this or not?” the tweaker demanded, holding a baggie out in Jericho’s direction.

Jericho needed to change tack. “Who’s that guy?” Jericho asked. “The guy by my car. What the hell’s going on?”

“What? Fuck, I don’t know him! He sounds like he knows you!”

“Fuck off!” Jericho called toward the street.

“Make me!”

“What, is he your buddy?” Jericho demanded of the tweaker. “I give you the cash, and I go down there, and he steals the crank? Fuck you, man!”

“I don’t fucking know him!”

“Bullshit!” Jericho lunged forward, but did it slowly enough that the tweaker could get the door shut and locked. “Asshole!” Jericho yelled, and kicked the door for good measure.

He made sure his shirt was covering his holstered gun, then turned and stomped down the stairs and out to the street.

“He’s cooking meth right next to a school,” he growled as soon as he was close enough for Special Agent Hockley to hear him. “The DEA’s just sitting on that?”

“We’re on it,” Hockley responded, his voice also low and intense. “We’ve got a special team coming in to make sure it’s taken apart cleanly. We’re quietly evacuating the neighbors. We’re doing this right, Crewe, and we do not need you wandering in and making a mess of everything. Get the hell out of here. And answer your phone next time!”

“Goddamn it,” Jericho said, mostly to himself. “I only wanted to find some fucking snakes.”

 

Chapter Two

“Why the fuck did Wade Granger want to mess up our bust?” Hockley demanded the next morning. He was wearing the proof of his long night in the stubble on his face and the bags under his eyes, but apparently his energy was undiminished. “Why would he send you into a situation like that?”

Jericho wanted to argue with the “send you” part of that question, but he wasn’t sure what he could say. It had taken about ten words from Wade, not even spoken directly to Jericho, to have him running across town to the door in question. He leaned back in his creaky leather desk chair and watched the irate federal agent pacing around his office. “I suppose it’s possible he was helping me find some snakes.”

“The snake thing is just weird. Why the hell does the kid want to see snakes?”

“Maybe because Wade planted the idea in his head to get me to go mess up your bust. Maybe because snakes are cool. I truly don’t know.” Jericho sighed. “It’s possible Wade wasn’t aware of your operation. I mean, if you’ve plugged the pipeline through Kayla’s dad, he might not be as clear on what you guys are up to. And if that’s the case—it’s honestly not impossible that he wanted to draw my attention to the fact that someone was cooking meth four doors down from an elementary school. Summer vacation’s almost over, and if that place had blown up when kids were walking by, it could have been a disaster. It’s a damn good thing you got it cleaned up last night. And Wade’s helped before, when protecting kids was involved.”

“Was his previous assistance about protecting kids or protecting you?” Hockley shook his head. “It’s a fucked-up situation, Jericho. You know that.”

Jericho couldn’t deny it. And in a way, as much as the DEA’s continued presence in Mosely was a nuisance, he knew things would get even more fucked-up when—or if—they ever decided their work in the area was done. As it was, Jericho was mostly busy helping Kayla run the department and enforcing the simpler laws that affected a rural community. Large-scale investigations of people like Wade Granger? He could ignore them, as long as the feds were around to do that work. Without the feds, whatever was going on between Jericho and Wade would boil up a hell of a lot faster.

The not-entirely-unpleasant churning in his gut that came when he thought about heating up with Wade was a sign that he still needed to get his head in the right place about that relationship. Damn it. “He’s attached himself to Nikki’s life. Her kids. I could ignore her—I’d be happy to ignore her—if she were on her own. But I feel like I’ve got some obligation to the kids, you know? They’re my half siblings. And that means I’m going to keep having contact with Wade, even if it’s as indirect as this was.”

Hockley grimaced, then said, “There’s something else you should know.”

There had probably never been good news presented with a lead-in like that, so Jericho braced himself and waited.

“You know we’ve been questioning the bikers,” Hockley said. Most of the major players from the recent bust were being held without bail, and the feds had been going through their typical investigations. Nothing to worry Jericho about that. Hockley paused a moment, then clearly decided he had to go on. “We’re casting a wide net. Asking questions about the specific crimes that they’ve already been charged with, but also about larger issues and crimes we suspect they were involved in.”

“Okay . . .”

“We’ve been asking them about your father’s death. The questions haven’t been too targeted, since we haven’t really got that much to go on. But we’ve been asking.”

Jericho just nodded. As always when his father was mentioned, there was no use trying to catalog, much less understand, the emotions that raced through him.

“We haven’t gotten much. But a couple days ago we were talking to Mike DeMonte, and he said . . .” Hockley peered down at his phone, apparently reading a note word-for-word. “He said we should ‘tell Junior to look closer to home on that one.’”

“‘Closer to home.’” Jericho tried to ignore the twisting in his gut, tried to treat the response like an intellectual problem. What sort of information would the bikers have about his father’s death? Who might they have heard from? And who would they consider close to Jericho’s home? “You’re thinking he meant Wade?”

“Seems like a logical assumption. Granger’s the one who’s benefited most from your father’s death, after all. His recent business growth has been based almost exclusively on activating the contacts and other information from that thumb drive.”

Jericho nodded dully. Wade had benefited. Wade was capable of killing a man. Wade had pulled a gun on Jericho himself fairly recently. Wade was a reasonable suspect. God, what did it mean that Jericho was working so hard to forget that?

His phone rang then with Kayla’s distinctive tone, and he tried not to look too pathetically grateful for the distraction as he answered the call.

“We’ve got a body,” Kayla said. “Over on Forest Lane, those rental houses. White female, midforties, suspected homicide. You’ve got the experience on that, so I want you to take lead.”

Jericho sat up a little straighter. He was aware of Hockley listening, but didn’t temper his words. “You think it’s actually ours? The feds aren’t going to sweep in and take over?” He glanced over at Hockley, who just raised a sardonic eyebrow.

“We are not currently aware of any reason for the feds to be involved,” Kayla said.

Jericho was already standing when he jerked his head in a sort of good-bye to Hockley. He started for the door, phone still clapped to his ear. “You got an address for me?”

“I’m coming over with you. You’re the lead, but I’m part of this. Meet me downstairs.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He wasn’t happy that a woman was dead, he told himself as he jogged down the stairs, leaving Hockley behind. No, not happy she was dead, and not even happy he was heading off to investigate her death. It wasn’t happiness he was feeling, just a sense of purpose. Everything had been too complicated lately, first with his father, then with the feds, and always, of course, with Wade. But this sounded straightforward. A woman had been alive, and now she was dead, and there was reason to believe her change in status wasn’t due to natural causes. Jericho would find out who had killed her, and why, and he’d gather evidence to ensure that the right person was punished. Everything would make sense. He hoped.

“Please tell me Wade Granger wasn’t the one who found the body,” he said as Kayla fell in beside him and they charged out the door.

She gave him a startled look. “Do you have some reason to believe he’s involved?”

“No. Just, you know—just my horrific luck.”

“Jay, if you’re investigating drug trafficking and semi-organized crime in Mosely, Montana, it’s not bad luck that leads to you repeatedly encountering Wade Granger.”

Well, she had a point there, but it wasn’t one he wanted to think about too hard. “So who did find her?” he asked, then hesitated as the sidewalk ended at the asphalt of the parking lot.

“I’ll drive,” Kayla said, and they strode toward her cruiser. “We got the call from Ned Appleby, the owner of the hardware store. You used to work there, right? In high school? So you know Ned.”

“Mr. Appleby.” The man had given Jericho a chance when no one else would, and he’d repay the favor by using the proper honorifics. “How’d he get involved? Do we have an ID on the victim?”

“Not firm yet, but we think it’s Lorraine Mackey. Body’s in her house, and the general description matches. Ned didn’t get too close to her, understandably.” She climbed into the driver’s seat, and Jericho took shotgun.

Lorraine Mackey. Damn, it was always harder when the victim was someone he’d seen living and breathing and walking around. Lorraine had been a known prostitute, an alcoholic and addict more likely to stumble than walk—Jericho had written her up for public inebriation twice in his short time in Mosely—but she’d at least been alive. And now someone had made her dead, on his watch.

“Dangerous line of work,” he said once he and Kayla were both buckled in. “Did she let johns into the house?”

“Yeah.” Kayla shook her head. “Hell, we practically chased her into doing it. We’d bust her for solicitation if she was working the streets, but we always figured whatever she did inside her own home was her own business.”

He was familiar with that way of thinking, but it was easier to recognize its destructiveness in someone else. “Kayla.” He waited until she looked over at him. “Let’s hold off until we find out what happened. We’ve got plenty of time to feel guilty about shit then, okay?”

“Okay,” she agreed reluctantly. “I thought I could get a head start. That’s all.”

“I appreciate your commitment to efficiency.”

“On the plus side,” she said as she pulled out of the parking spot, “Wade Granger doesn’t run whores. I’ve never known whether that was out of respect for his mother or simply a personal preference, but this might actually be a truly independent crime. No Wade, no feds. No complications.”

“That is a plus.”

They drove the rest of the way to Lorraine’s house in silence.

 

Chapter Three

Jericho stayed at the crime scene long enough to get a general impression and to make sure it was properly secured, ready for the lab guys to arrive. He toured the property and noticed with a sinking feeling how heavily treed the backyard was and how hard the dirt in the alley behind the house was. There’d be no tire tracks to find, and the other side of the alley was deep forest, not more houses. There was a rough path leading into the woods, and at some point he’d have to follow it and figure out where it ended. But the significant thing right then was that this was an easy house to approach without being seen. The chances of an eyewitness were low. Still, he checked that the deputies had a good list of questions to ask on their initial survey of the neighbors and then found Kayla and suggested they get the hell back to the station.

“So, you’re squeamish?” Kay asked as she drove. She didn’t sound disapproving, exactly. More amused.

“No. But I saw what I had to see, and the crime scene guys can do the rest.”

“You didn’t want to soak up the vibe?” He wasn’t sure if she was genuinely curious about his methods or was prompting him to do things the way she wanted.

“I absolutely want to. I want to soak up the vibe with the scene as it was at the time of the murder. The way it is now, with a bunch of nervous, nosy deputies? Neighbors pushing against the yellow tape and flies starting to buzz? That’s not useful to me. It interferes.”

Kayla was silent for a while before she said, “Your captain in LA told me you’ve got the makings of a topflight homicide cop. She thought you were going to burn out too early to make an impact, though.”

Jericho wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he defaulted to smart-ass. “Well, after my relaxing vacation here in Mosely, I’m sure my inevitable burnout can be significantly delayed.”

“She told me she doubted you’d come back to LA,” Kayla said, still calmly watching the road as she drove. “According to her, you always seemed like a visitor, not a resident.”

“Well, I’ve met that woman about three times in my life, so I’m not convinced she really knows what the fuck she’s talking about.”

“Is she wrong?”

“About me being a burnout in waiting? I’d like to think so, yeah.”

“So you see yourself taking it to retirement with the LAPD? I mean, after your lovely Mosely vacation, of course.”

“You don’t think I’m going to stick around up here, do you? I mean, so far I’ve been accused of corruption, dragged into undercover work I wasn’t prepared for, suspended, and when all that wasn’t happening, bored to death. There doesn’t seem to be a promising future for me with the Mosely Sheriff’s Department.”

“You forgot about getting shot.”

“Technically, that happened before you hired me. I’m giving you a pass on that one.”

They pulled into the department parking lot then, and neither of them said anything as they climbed out of the car.

“I’m not saying you’re going to stick around here,” Kayla said just before they reached the double glass doors at the front of the building. “But I don’t see you going back to LA.”

Shit. Neither do I. He’d never made a conscious decision about it, but somehow his life on the coast had started receding from his mind, and now it was so far away it was hard to even remember it. “Jesus, Kay, do we need to get into this right now? We’ve got a woman who was clearly murdered, a truly messed-up crime scene, and a chance to actually fucking do something about it instead of sitting back and watching the feds screw things up. What d’ya say: can we just solve some crime instead of having a goddamn therapy session?”

Kayla raised an eyebrow, then lifted one hand flat in the air and pretended to write on it with the other. “Patient displays strong aversion to discussion of future.”

“Patient prefers to focus on the present so he can figure out who the hell brutally murdered Lorraine Mackey,” he responded, and immediately felt guilty when Kayla recoiled. She’d been playing, dealing with the trauma of the situation in her own way, just like all cops did. And he’d shamed her for it. “Of course, patient is a known asshole,” he tried, and she was generous enough to smile at him.

They climbed the stairs and found Mr. Appleby waiting in one of the interview rooms, his hands wrapped around a mug of coffee as if he were trying to draw warmth from it. Jericho saw the man’s lips moving and realized he was praying. Shit. Looking for forgiveness, or something else?

Jericho turned to Kayla. “Let me talk to him alone first, okay? You can listen in from the observation room, but let me talk to him first.”

“Why?”

“Because Lorraine Mackey was an alcoholic, antisocial prostitute. I have no idea why Mr. Appleby was at her house, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t borrowing a cup of sugar.” It wasn’t something Jericho wanted to spend a lot of time thinking about, but that was true of just about every situation he encountered in the course of his work. “If he was there for the standard reason men visit Lorraine, he might be more comfortable telling me about it than you.”

She didn’t seem impressed, but she nodded reluctantly and headed down the hall that would lead to the observation room. Jericho pushed the interview room door open, and Mr. Appleby stood up so quickly he sloshed coffee onto his khaki trousers. He didn’t even look down.

“My God, Jericho, this is a terrible thing.” Usually, Mr. Appleby appeared younger than his age would suggest, but at that moment in the interview room Jericho could see the marks left by every year.

“It is.” Jericho turned to shut the door behind him and tried to find the gentler version of his professional voice. “I need to ask you some questions about it. There’s a camera set up behind the glass, there, and we’ll be making an audio recording as well. This is for your protection, and for our use in investigating the crime. Do you understand?”

Mr. Appleby seemed taken aback. He’d clearly been expecting a bit of commiseration before they got down to business, but Jericho couldn’t let himself think of Mr. Appleby as a friend, or as someone to whom he owed favors. Right then, the man was the sole witness in a homicide investigation. That was all.

Still, Jericho tried to smile a little as he gestured to the chair Mr. Appleby had abandoned. “Please, sit down.” He hit the buttons to start the recording instruments and couldn’t think of any other ways to delay. “Can you tell me what brought you to Ms. Mackey’s house today?”

Mr. Appleby sat, then nodded shakily. “I— He’s a good boy, Jericho. A good man. I know he’s not the same as he was before the accident, I know there’ve been some problems, but something like this? No. I won’t believe it.”

A good boy. A good man, not the same . . . “Will Archer? Is that who you’re talking about?”

“He came in to work this morning, about an hour late, and he was terribly upset. Couldn’t say what the problem was, but he was—he was crying, couldn’t sit still, he looked like he hadn’t slept. Wasn’t shaven, and he’s always so particular about that. And there were—” Mr. Appleby stopped, swallowed, and continued in a smaller voice. “There were stains on his clothes. I couldn’t be sure of the color because the fabric was dark. But under his nails it seemed brown.”

“You suspected it was blood?”

“I called Mary to come help me with him, and we tried to check him over. We thought it was his blood, thought he’d been hurt. But he kept pushing us away. And we noticed there were no tears to his clothes, no sign of injury. So finally I asked him if someone else was hurt, and he nodded, in his way, and I said he had to take me to them. And he did.”

“Where did he take you, Mr. Appleby?”

“Out through the back door. Down the alley, and then down a couple blocks. Then into the house. And that’s where I saw her.”

There were more questions that needed to be asked, details to be worked out. But first, Jericho had to take care of the essentials. “Where is Will now?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Appleby whispered. “He made it through the kitchen, but refused to go any farther. I went on in—I was calling out as I went, truly hoping someone would answer me and demand to know what I was doing in their home—and found . . . what I found. Then I ran back to the kitchen to call the police, but Will was already gone by the time I got there.”

Jericho knew Kayla was listening, knew she’d put out the APB. So he asked the rest of the questions he needed to ask. He did his job, trying not to think about the repercussions. He had to focus on the victim. Lorraine had been damaged by life, struggling to get by, but she’d been surviving. She hadn’t wanted to die.

And just because Will had been at the scene it didn’t mean he’d committed the crime. Not by a long shot. They’d find him, and then Jericho would have to work out some way to question him. They’d need medical records, psychiatric reports, interviews with the man’s friends and neighbors. Crime scene analysis, witnesses from the community, evidence gathered through a variety of tools.

“We’ll find him,” Jericho promised Mr. Appleby. “And we’ll do a thorough investigation. We’ll work out what happened.”

By the time the old man stood to leave, his color was better and he didn’t look quite as shaky as he had before. Jericho walked him out and arranged for a car to take him back to the hardware store. The niceties were observed as if there wasn’t a corpse a few blocks away, wasn’t a murderer running free. Jericho had the discipline to keep an open mind, and he honestly hoped he’d find evidence to cast suspicion away from Will Archer. But he’d investigated a lot of murders, and they were rarely all that complicated, once you got the basics figured out. When there was an obvious suspect, that was usually the person who’d committed the crime.

It didn’t matter that Will was one of Mr. Appleby’s protégés, just as Jericho had been. Didn’t matter that he’d gone to school with Jericho and always seemed like a good guy. Didn’t matter that the accident that had injured his brain hadn’t been his fault. If he’d done this to Lorraine, he would have to be caught and punished. The town would have to be protected. That was Jericho’s job, and he would do it, no matter what.