Authors: Cheryl Bradshaw
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
“What happened?” I said.
“When we got back to the office he was waiting for her in the parking lot. I’ll never forget the look on her face when we drove in. It was like she knew she was going to catch hell from him, and she did alright. Once the car door opened he hustled over and grabbed her by the arm and practically dragged her back to his car.”
“I’m not sure; she left with him I think. And right after that, she told him to hit the road and they broke up.”
“How long after?” I said.
“Maybe a few days. It wasn’t long.”
“How would you define your relationship with Charlotte?”
She glanced at the picture on Charlotte’s desk.
“The two of us were in real estate school together. When we graduated she was hired here right away, but I had trouble finding work, and when Charlotte found out, she suggested we team up. And we’ve worked together ever since.”
She scanned her wristwatch.
“I don’t mean to cut you short, but I’m late for an appointment,” she said.
“It’s no problem,” I said, “thanks for the information. I’d like to speak with Charlotte’s assistant, Bridget, while I’m here. Is that possible?”
“Bridget hasn’t shown up for work since the accident. I tried to reach her by phone, but I couldn’t get an answer. I heard she moved out of her condo and in with her boyfriend. I’m not sure where that is but you can ask Jack Montgomery or his secretary for that information.”
“And Jack is?” I said.
“He’s our broker. His office is downstairs, second one on the right.”
We both stood and Vicki walked me out.
“I understand how Audrey feels, but I hope she can come to terms with it. And let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.”
Jack Montgomery sat at his desk with an assortment of papers in one hand when I arrived. His door was open, but I knocked anyway.
“Excuse me,” I said, “Mr. Montgomery?”
He set the pile of paperwork down on the side of his desk and looked up at me.
“And you are?”
“My name is Sloane Monroe.”
He leaned forward and extended his hand.
“I hoped to get an address from you for Charlotte Halliwell’s assistant,” I said.
He turned toward a picture on the corner of his desk and studied it for a moment. From my vantage point it looked like Charlotte, Jack, Vicki and two or three other people I didn’t recognize. The caption on the photo read
Top Agents of the Year
“If you need any information, you can get it from my secretary.”
“Did you know Charlotte Halliwell wanted to transfer to another agency?” I said.
He squirmed in his chair like a schoolboy waiting for the recess bell to ring.
“She’s dead now. I don’t see why it matters.”
“She was the best selling agent in the office, wasn’t she?” I said.
“Not just the office, in all of Summit County.”
“I imagine others vied for her talents then,” I said.
“Charlotte was unparalleled, a one of a kind in our industry. I’ve never seen an agent with the same drive and ambition that she had, and I don’t expect to, not for a long time.”
“With her track record I imagine the other agents were jealous of her success.”
“If they were, I didn’t know anything about it. She was happy here.”
“Why do you think she wanted to leave?” I said.
He scrunched up his face.
“You don’t expect me to believe she didn’t have offers from other agencies,” I said.
“Why are you here asking about her?”
“I was told Charlotte planned to leave this agency and work for someone else, and I was curious about why she wanted to do that.”
“That’s horse shit.”
“Why is it so hard for you to believe Mr. Montgomery?” I said.
“I don’t have time to answer any more of your questions.”
“There’s no need for you to get defensive.”
He launched his body upward which sent his chair spiraling backward. It ricocheted off the wall and tumbled to its side.
“I don’t know who you think you are barging in here with all these wild accusations, but I’ve had enough.”
A woman entered the office and handed a stack of papers to Jack. She saw the look on his face and backed out of the room and closed the door behind her.
“If I can just get that address I’ll be on my way,” I said.
He shook his head.
“We’re done here. Leave, now.”
There was one thing I was certain of as I left; Jack Montgomery was lying. But why?
The EnergySolutions Arena brimmed in anticipation of the night’s big game. Fans mingled outside in the hallways and were proud to display their yellow, green, and blue on shirts, ball caps, and even on the child who whizzed past, the words
painted on both sides of her cheeks. The air was abuzz for the big match up, and I had a golden ticket.
Nick approached me with a beer in one hand and popcorn in the other.
“Well traitor, should we find our seats?”
“That’s a bit harsh,” I said.
“Would you rather I announced the location of the conspirator in the midst?”
“It’s just this one night,” I said. “I’m for the Jazz on any other night.”
“Except when they play your precious Lakers.”
I deposited our tickets into the usher’s hands. He scanned them briefly and said, “Follow me,” which we did like a couple of lost sheep in the wilderness.
We descended the stairs until we were all the way at the bottom with nowhere left to go. The tickets had a number seven on them outlined in gold foil, but for all I knew it was row seven in the nosebleed section.
The usher summoned us with two fingers.
“Come on over,” he said.
The row he stood in was positioned right behind the players.
Nick placed his hands together like he was about to say grace.
“Thank you Marty,” he said.
The stadium thumped to the beat of hip-hop music and the crowd awaited the start of the game. In the next row over a man flashed me with his enormous Jazz glasses that blinked on and off like a hotel sign declaring a vacancy. Nick appeared relaxed amid all the chaos and nursed his cup of beer.
“Isn’t this great?”
“Best seats in the house,” I said.
The kiss cam hovered overhead and sought innocent victims in the crowd, prompting them to give one another a big smooch in front of the insatiable crowd. An older man and woman locked in its sights. The woman clapped her hands with glee and puckered up to the man whose face was as red as a tomato in July. He moved in for a quick one.
“Marty deserves a big kiss for this,” I said.
“Just make sure it’s on the cheek.”
The Jazz mascot rode around the court on a miniature motorcycle and jumped over various obstacles in his path. I imagined one day he would fly through a ring of fire and attempt a black flip, and when he did, his enormous bear head would slide off to reveal the excessively tatted Carey Hart. Motorcycle racer by day, Jazz Bear by night.
“How did it go today with the chief?” Nick said. “I heard your client went to the paper.”
“I had no idea she would do that.”
“Have you made any progress?” he said.
“I’m still doing the preliminary rounds and Maddie’s on board too.”
“Maddie must love that.”
“The challenge,” he said.
“I’m counting on it.”
Game time. The players hustled out on the court while the announcer commenced with the necessary introductions. First up, the Lakers. They entered the sports arena to rowdy Jazz fans that spewed forth their comments while the team took their places. Then it was time for the Jazz. The team penetrated the court with a loving embrace from the crowd who stood on their feet and chanted for them.
“Care to wager?” Nick said.
“Loser cooks dinner,” I said.
“Five-course minimum, you sure about that?”
Nick took a considerable amount of time before he answered. On one hand, no man in his right mind ever passed up one of my home-cooked meals, of this I was certain. On the other, fine cuisine wasn’t his specialty. He weighed the risk and then nodded.
The players in the middle bounced on bended knee and the jump shot sprung them straight up in the air like a pair of rockets and we had liftoff. My stomach twisted with disquietude and I watched through squinted eyes. Both outstretched hands launched their fingers in the air to protrude the ball forward and two seconds later, the Lakers were in control. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Long way to go still,” Nick said.
“I think of the first toss up as a sign.”
“My team beats yours.”
“I meant with your case,” he said.
“I checked out where it happened which was a huge waste of time. I also went to Charlotte’s office. Now it’s time to focus on the boyfriend while we wait for Maddie’s autopsy results to come back.”
“What if it shows her death was an accident?”
“Hopefully that will be enough for Audrey to put it to rest.”
The Lakers dribbled and then
, a perfect three pointer. For a moment I forgot my place in the enemy’s camp and shouted out a supportive
which elicited dirty looks from the spectators around me. A crotchety silver-haired man a few seats over gave me the stank eye and shook his head in disgust. My secret was out.
“Good job,” Nick said.
“I try my best.”
The rest of the game went by fast, and the Jazz drove a hard bargain, but on this particular night they proved no match for my Lakers.
Audrey checked in with me early the next morning.
“Not yet,” I said.
I shared the events of the past two days, which included my conversation with the chief.
“I didn’t mean to get you into any trouble, but those smug detectives didn’t even give a crap.”
“From now on you need to check with me first,” I said. “No more conversations with reporters, alright?”
The line went silent.
“And if I don’t agree?”
“Then I’m out,” I said.
And I meant it.
“I want to help you and I will do everything I can, but I need you to trust me,” I said.
Her tone relaxed a little.
“I suppose I owe you an apology. When those reporters got in my face, I lost it.”
“You’ve been through a lot, it’s understandable.”
“What more can I do to help?”
“I need an address for Parker Stanton,” I said.
“He has a house in Park City off Silver Lake Drive in Deer Valley. It’s the second or third house on the left. He also has some investment property downtown in Salt Lake City. The last time Charlotte mentioned it she said Parker rented it out to some tenants. I think the name of it is Lakewood something or other, but I’m not sure what number.”
“You said before that his schedule changed at the end.”
“In the last month or two of their relationship he was away a lot more. Most of the time he only came home to see her on Saturdays and by Sunday night he left again.”
“Perfect,” I said.
It was time to pay Parker Stanton a visit.
The lights at 112 Silver Lake Drive were off. I situated my car behind a broken lamppost down the street. It was pitch-dark and there wasn’t anyone in sight. The only luminescence came in the form of the full moon which shone down from a starry sky. A stray cat meandered around a trio of pine trees that hovered in the yard like a protective mother bear shielding her children from the outside world.
It wasn’t long before my thoughts turned to Gabrielle. Three years had passed since her death, but to me it seemed like yesterday that we sat together at a cafe and reminisced about our lives. She remained as vivid to me as the day she died and sometimes I imagined I would open my front door to find her standing in the doorway ready to spend the day together again.
A car turned up the street. I slid down in my seat and watched it pass and then turn around and come back again. It slowed to a snail’s pace when it reached Parker’s house. I took out my binoculars and sized up the vehicle and its passenger, but it was too dark to see much. He gave the house a long, hard stare and then drove two houses down and parked.
A couple minutes went by and his car door opened. A roundish rolly polly man braced himself against the car and lifted his body out. The man was dressed all in black and wore a long trench coat and a beanie cap on his head. He walked up to Parker’s front door and looked over his shoulder. When the coast was clear he reached into his jacket and pulled out a small white envelope and then leaned into the doorway and shoved it into the door jam and then hustled back to his car. I took out my camera and zoomed in on his license plate and snapped a photo before he sped away.
My first instinct was to pilfer the envelope and look inside, but Parker could be home at any moment so if I wanted take a peek I needed to act fast. I dashed to the door and reached for the envelope which was left unsealed. Inside was a small index card with words scrawled across the front in bold black marker,
LEAVE HER ALONE OR ELSE
Another car turned at the bottom of the street and headed up the hill toward me. I pressed the card back into the envelope and crammed it into the door jam and then hunched over and started to run, but it was too late. Parker’s garage door opened and a car drove inside. I flattened my body on the ground and assumed an army crawl position and took cover behind the pine trees.
It only took a few minutes for my clothes to become saturated from the snow that melted beneath me, and my body cried out for warmth of any kind, but I couldn’t move—not yet. The garage door went down and a single light illuminated from a room inside the house followed by another, and I had a clear view of Parker who paced back and forth in front of an undraped window. He was engaged in a conversation on his cell phone and a smile was plastered across his face. Every now and then he stopped and laughed. I pulled my binoculars from my coat pocket to get a better view. Parker was much skinnier than I imagined, too skinny for my taste, and the way his hand flicked when he talked exposed an air of confidence, like someone who reeked of money.