Authors: Cheryl Bradshaw
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
I put the phone down and interlaced my fingers behind my head and leaned back in my chair. I wondered how she knew Marty and why she sounded so uptight over the phone. My questions would be answered soon enough.
At one forty-five I changed from my bare feet into a pair of brown suede pumps I kept around as a backup for occasions like this one. The door jingled when it opened and in walked DD dressed in a pair of bootcut jeans, a long white tunic sweater, and white lace-up snow boots. She concealed her eyes behind a pair of sunglasses which she swept over her head when she entered. Her eyes were puffy and a reddish color. She gave me a half smile and then pivoted on her heel and shifted her gaze to the exuberant Lord Berkeley, who sprung from his bed and ran circles around her feet.
“Oh, what a cutie,” she said. “Maltipoo?”
Lord Berkeley noticed her sentiments toward him and put his best paw forward. She bent down and picked him up.
“Sorry about that,” I said, “normally I don’t bring him to the office when I meet with clients.”
“Oh, don’t even worry about it. He’s adorable.”
She ran her fingers up and down his body a few times and nuzzled his nose and then placed him back down in his bed. Lord Berkeley, the perfect icebreaker.
I motioned to the chair opposite my desk. She sat down and rested her hands on her jeans.
“Can I get you anything?” I said. “Water, tea, coffee?”
I grabbed one out of the mini fridge next to my desk and handed it to her.
“I’m not sure what I’m even doing here.”
“I recognize you from Wildwood,” I said.
“That’s right, I saw you with Mr. Langston. I really should apologize. It wasn’t my intention to eavesdrop, but I gathered from your conversation that you were a private investigator, and after what happened yesterday, I thought maybe you could help.”
“Were you there when the accident took place?” I said.
The color drained from her face. She twisted the cap off the water and took a sip and then another. For a moment she didn’t say a word and just gazed at the wintery view out my office window. I sat in silence and waited until she was ready.
“The woman who died yesterday, Charlotte Halliwell…”
Tears welled up in her eyes and her hands quivered. I reached for a tissue and handed it to her.
“She was my sister,” she said.
I thought of my own sister and for a moment the past flooded back to me and flashes of memories filled my head. I pressed my eyes shut and then opened them again and tried to focus on Audrey.
“I’m sorry, I had no idea,” I said. “Take all the time you need.”
She angled back in my chair and turned to the side and dabbed her eyes with the tissue.
“I need a minute to get myself together.”
I nodded and waited.
A few minutes went by in silence and then she calmed down and displayed much of the composure she exhibited when she first entered my office. When I felt she could handle my questions I continued.
“Why don’t we start from the beginning?” I said.
“You mind if I smoke?” she said.
I did mind, a lot in fact. But I also realized if she had a cigarette it might allow her to keep it together, for the moment anyway. My office was devoid of ashtrays, but I managed to find a small glass dish in one of my drawers. I took it out and slid it toward her side of the desk.
Audrey reached into her bag and pulled out a narrow cigarette and rested it on the edge of her lips. She cupped the lighter in her hands and lit up. She took a long drag, cocked her head to one side, and spewed forth a stream of smoke. I resisted the urge to plant my fist under my nose and instead cracked the window.
“I went to Wildwood yesterday to meet my sister for lunch. We had talked on the phone the night before, and she said she wanted my advice and needed to talk to me about something and suggested we get together after she finished skiing for the day, but she never showed. After you left, Mr. Langston called me into his office and told me what happened.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“You’ve experienced a shock. It’s understandable that things don’t make sense right now,” I said. “I know what you’re going through.”
And I did.
She took another drag from her cigarette and then smashed it into the plate.
“You don’t understand. Everyone says it was an accident, but what if it wasn’t?”
She looked me in the eye and gauged my reaction. I tried not to look perplexed, but in truth, I couldn’t believe what she’d said.
“Do you have reason to believe otherwise?” I said.
“I thought so, but now I’m confused. It’s hard to separate my head from my heart right now, you know?”
She sunk down in my chair and tapped her finger on the side of her face.
“Oh to hell with this,” she said, “you want the truth? I’m going to say it like it is. And if you want to believe I’m a nut job, that’s up to you. But I need to get it off my chest before I explode.”
“Go on,” I said.
“I don’t believe it was an accident. In fact, I know it wasn’t. My sister was murdered.”
Audrey’s alleged murder declaration piqued my interest. I mulled it over for a few minutes before I constituted a response.
“Forgive me, I’m not trying to discount what you are saying,” I said, “but from what I understand your sister ran into a tree while skiing and the cops said it was nothing more than an unfortunate accident.”
“I know how it looks,” she said. “I discussed this with the cops already and they laughed it off like I’d just escaped from the loony bin. My sister wasn’t some newbie. She started skiing at the age of two.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect, but even experienced skier’s crash now and then,” I said.
“Did you know when she was around twenty she went to the World Championships, twice? Twice! She has a silver medal in downhill for heaven’s sake. Charlotte was familiar with the terrain at Wildwood; she skied there almost every day.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
She took her hand and gestured toward the window.
“Look out there,” she said.
I turned toward the window and saw nothing. Maybe she
“Take a good look. Nothing but blue skies all week. Now you tell me, how does someone with her experience run into a tree on a clear day?”
She bounced her shoulders up and down.
“I guess that doesn’t point to murder though,” she said. “You probably agree with the cops.”
In all my years as a PI, no one had ever presented a case like this to me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
“Can I ask you some questions?” I said.
“Did your sister ever sustain any skiing injuries that might have caused her enough problems to have an accident?”
“A broken arm a couple of times when she was a teenager and a broken leg once.”
Her eyes flashed like she’d just recalled a memory.
“Now that I think about it,” she said, “Charlotte fell out of the back of our dad’s truck when she was a kid and hit her head on a boulder. She almost died. It knocked her unconscious and when she came to, she said she’d been to the
, you know died and all that. It was weird. She even said she talked to our grandfather who passed away ten years earlier.”
“I wonder if that would—”
“It wouldn’t. When the doctor checked her out he said she was fine, and she never experienced any issues after that. She was in perfect health the day she died.”
“Did she take any medications of any kind?” I said.
She shook her head.
“You said before that she wanted your advice.”
“Any idea what she needed to discuss with you?” I said.
She fidgeted with the bottom of her sweater. It rolled up at the end and she smoothed it back down with her fingers and then it rolled back up again.
“She didn’t say. I tried to ask her on the phone, but she said she wanted to wait and talk to me about it in person. I figured I’d find out later so I didn’t push it.”
“What about her tone of voice during the conversation, did it seem like anything was wrong?” I said.
“She sounded nervous and that wasn’t like her. My sister had a glass half full approach to life, even when she had a good reason not to. That’s just the type of person she was.”
Sometimes the aloof ones had the most to hide.
“How were things at work?” I said.
“She liked her job, but she wanted to transfer to another agency.”
“Any idea why?”
“Money, I guess. She was offered a better commission somewhere else, and she was ready for a change of scenery.”
“What about her co-workers, any problems there?” I said.
“From what I know, she got along fine with everyone.”
“Did she tell anyone she planned to leave?”
“Her partner, Vicki, and her assistant, Bridget, of course. I assumed the three of them were going together.”
“So if it wasn’t a problem with work, then—”
“Let me save you some time,” she said, “I want you to check out her fiance, Parker Stanton, or ex-fiance I should say.”
“Why him?” I said.
“A couple months ago she broke off their engagement.”
I took a sip of my hot chocolate. It was cold, and spitting it back into my cup in front of the client seemed an indecorous thing to do so I swished it around and swallowed hard.
“What was the reason for the break up?” I said.
“Parker spent a lot of time away from her. He traveled to New York and was always in meetings and stuff for the family business. They kept him away three, sometimes four days a week. Then he would fly back and spend the rest of the time with Charlotte. Toward the end of their relationship, he only came home about once a week for a day or so and then he flew back out again.”
“And that’s why she ended it?” I said.
I felt like a therapist engaged in a game of twenty questions.
“She acted like it didn’t bother her, but I could tell it did. One weekend we went on a girl’s trip together, just the two of us. She called him several times and he didn’t answer. Then on Sunday night he called and blamed it on phone problems and said he didn’t get any of her messages. He talked to her maybe five minutes and then made some lame excuse about how he needed to go meet with his dad.”
“How did she react?”
She leaned forward and rested both elbows on my desk.
“That’s when she ended it. She broke off the engagement and said she was done.”
“What about Parker?” I said.
“He called all the time, sent gifts, and even booked two tickets to Hawaii. He said he would do anything, all he wanted was a second chance.”
“And did she give him one?” I said.
“She told him she didn’t ever want to see or hear from him again.”
“I guess she meant it.”
A cold chill swept across my face and I realized the window was still open. With the smoky smell out of the room, I reached over and closed it.
“What did you think of him?” I said.
“Spoiled rich kid who spends his life doing daddy’s grunt work. In my opinion the only reason he involved himself in the business in the first place was to convince everyone he could make it on his own. But everyone knew he was daddy’s lackey.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “Parker played nice. He treated my sister like a princess, showered her with gifts, and showed her what it was like to have money—lots of it. But there was something off about him. I don’t know how to explain it, but the guy gave me the creeps.”
Her face wrinkled up when she said the word
like a baby does the first time they take in a spoonful of creamed peas.
“How so?” I said.
“I dunno, I didn’t trust him. He’s the only man I’ve ever met who could sweet talk his way out of anything.”
“Until she dumped him and called off the wedding,” I said.
She slumped back in the chair.
“He called me.”
“A few weeks ago. He asked if we could get together to talk about Charlotte and said he wanted my help to get her back. He refused to accept that it was over.”
“And did you?” I said.
“I told him he could go to hell.”
“Point taken,” I said.
“Look, I wasn’t privy to all the details of their breakup, but she called it quits. That was good enough for me. Parker flipped when I said I wouldn’t help him and yelled all kinds of things at me. He said he would get Charlotte back with or without my help and would do whatever he needed to do to change her mind.”
“And you think Parker would kill Charlotte over their break up, like if he couldn’t have her, no one could?” I said.
She paused and thought about it for a moment.
“That’s what I want you to find out.”
I thumped my pen on the notepad on my desk and considered what she’d said. Audrey shifted in her chair and awaited my verdict.
“Please Ms. Monroe; I can’t stop thinking about the urgency in her voice the last time we talked. Something was off. I know there’s more to what happened to her than what everyone thinks.”
“Let me see what I can dig up,” I said, “but you need to understand I might not find anything.”
“It’s a start. It means a lot that you are willing to look into it for me.”
We went over the necessary fees and she signed the paperwork. I stuck my hand out and she gave it a firm shake.
“I’ll be in touch,” I said.
She shielded her eyes with her glasses again and said, “Thanks for not treating me like I’m crazy.”
“For what it’s worth, you seem normal to me, and I’m sorry about your sister.”
one more thing,” she said.
“I requested my own autopsy, but they’re backed up right now and I don’t know how long it will take for the results to come back from the lab. They won’t return my calls.”
“I might be able to help with that,” I said. “Let me see what I can do.”
For the first time since laying eyes on her, Audrey Halliwell smiled.
“I appreciate it, I really do.”