Authors: Cheryl Bradshaw
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
After the third try I gave up and went back down the hall. A door opened behind me.
“Sloane, hold up.”
I casually turned my head.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I thought you were someone else.”
I gave it a minute to sink in. It didn’t.
“It’s the hair,” I said, “no hat today.”
The dumfounded look on his face turned into a smile and he bobbed his head up and down.
“Wow, I thought you were a brunette under the hat you had on, but the black—I like it.”
“Thought you would,” I said, and I stepped into the dragon’s lair.
“What do you think?” he said.
“It’s nice, very umm, contemporary.”
I hated contemporary. The metal fixtures around the room reminded me of a jail cell. They were stale and ugly and felt hard and cold. The style suited him.
“Would you like to look around?” he said.
“I thought we could get to know each other better first.”
“I hoped you would say that,” he said.
“Can I offer you a drink? Wine, beer, or perhaps a cocktail of some kind?”
Knowing what I needed to say, I considered it. But, I knew better. I shook my head.
“Mind if I do?”
“Go right ahead,” I said.
He walked past me to the kitchen with a slight limp.
“Hurt yourself?” I said.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I had a long night.”
“Sounds like quite the party.”
Parker smiled but stayed quiet while he mixed a frilly girly drink that consisted of vodka and cranberry juice and some other juice that might have been grapefruit. He even took the time to squeeze some fresh lime into it before he walked over and sat down on the sofa. He patted down the space next to him and looked at me.
I bit my lip and did my best to muster a smile and sat instead on the adjoining love seat across from him. He was undaunted by this and seemed to enjoy the friendly game of cat and mouse.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said.
“Why don’t we discuss you first?”
He crossed his legs and leaned toward me.
“Alright then, shoot,” he said.
I knew all I needed to know already except for whether he committed the murder. Time to find out.
“Do you know any real estate agents in the area?”
“That’s an interesting question to lead with. Don’t you have one already?” he said.
“I know every agent worth knowing around here, who was it?” he said.
“Charlotte Halliwell, know her?”
He sat his drink down on the table and cleared his throat—three times.
“Charlotte Halliwell, huh.”
I pushed harder.
“Do you know her or don’t you?”
“Oh, uh, no. Can’t say that I do,” he said.
I smiled and relaxed back into the sofa.
“What’s so funny?” he said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I know you know her.”
“But I just said I didn’t,” he said.
“You know what I find interesting, Mr. Stanton?”
He jerked his shoulders.
“That someone like yourself could be engaged to a person they don’t even know. I mean, how does that happen?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
“And how did the others feel when they found out about the wedding? Were they jealous, heartbroken, or did you keep it to yourself?”
“Others?” he said.
He uncrossed his legs and stood up next to the sofa. I wondered if the hair on his arms stood up with him.
“The other women, of course. You never told them about Charlotte did you? None of them had a clue, did they?”
“Sloane, if that’s even what your name is, I assure you I—”
“I suppose the names Zoey and Daniela don’t ring any bells either, hmmm?”
Beads of sweat formed like a miniature rainforest on his upper lip. And I was just getting started.
“How do you know all this?” he said.
“Honestly, Mr. Stanton. If you want me to answer your questions maybe you should answer some of mine.”
He turned away from me. I had done something the other women couldn’t do and placed him in a position he wasn’t familiar with. I had become the cat, and the game wasn’t fun for him anymore.
“Do you know how Charlotte died?”
“Yeah, some accident at that Wildwood ski place,” he said.
“So you do know her then.”
He didn’t respond.
“You’re wrong, you know. It wasn’t an accident.”
“What the hell are you playing at,” he said.
His surprise, while unfeigned, was good. But not convincing enough to win the Oscar.
“Do you want to know how she died?”
“I already told you,” he said.
“The autopsy told a different story. Care to try again?”
“You tell me, you seem to know so much about it.”
He shook his head and picked his drink back up and ingurgitated all of it.
“Alright then,” I said. “She was murdered.”
He spat out some of his drink and it trickled down like a stream of water onto the sofa.
“You’re friggin nuts!” he said.
“Does the large amount of poison that the ME found in her body sound crazy to you?”
“I don’t believe you. No fucking way.”
“So that leaves me with one question.”
“And what’s that?” he said.
“Where were you the day she died?”
“We broke up. She went her way, I went mine,” he said. “None of this is any of your business.”
“And the text messages you sent her the day she died?”
“I don’t know who you are, but I don’t see a badge or a gun so I take it you’re not the police. I’m not saying another word.”
Just because he couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
“We’ll see about that.”
He slammed the empty glass down on the table and glared at me.
I rose from the sofa and looked at Parker and smiled.
“One last question before I go. Hit anyone lately?”
It took a moment for my head to adjust after being forced up against the wall, my neck pinned by the weight of his fingers. I allowed it. He may have controlled his women in the past, but I wasn’t about to give him the same satisfaction. The rancid alcohol on his breath was strong, and his eyes were like huge saucers and looked like they were ready to bulge out of his head. He held me against the wall to let me know he was in control and when he felt confident that he had dominated me, he pulled back and raised his hand to strike. I suppose he thought he was going to teach me a lesson. His mistake. I snaked his arm with my free hand, yanked it backward toward me, and struck above his palm. This left him no choice but to open up his fingers. I slammed the bottom of my hand into his fingers which bent them back almost all the way and then watched him retract in pain.
Parker massaged his fingers with his uninjured hand. I opened the door and pulled back my jacket just enough to reveal the gun holstered on my hip and curved my body so I faced him.
“Keep your hands off Daniela, and if I hear you’ve smacked around any other women, broken fingers will be the least of your worries.”
Audrey and I arranged to connect up at Charlotte’s place and Maddie was meeting me there afterwards so we could go talk to the chief. On the way over I placed a quick call to Nick. He didn’t answer, and I wasn’t surprised. I left him a message in which I did my best to downplay the events that occurred the last time we were together. I also gave him a brief idea of what happened at Parker’s but omitted the part where he cinched me in a choke hold against the wall. Since Maddie confirmed foul play, I didn’t want Park City’s finest in the way of me proving Parker did it, and for now, that included Nick—even if he wasn’t talking to me at the moment.
I found the door to Charlotte’s condo unlocked and all the lights on when I arrived but didn’t see anyone in the front room.
“Hello?” I said.
A voice echoed from down the hall.
I followed the sound to the bedroom where Audrey sat in the middle of Charlotte’s bed and flipped through worn pages of an old photo album. She traced her finger across a photograph of a young Charlotte who beamed with joy atop a purple road runner bicycle with a yellow banana seat.
“Reminiscing over all the good times,” she said.
“Well, you were right about what happened to Charlotte.”
She closed the album and tucked it into an oversized handbag on the floor and gave me her full attention.
“What do you mean?”
For the first time since we met, Audrey listened in silence while I relayed the information Maddie gave me. I passed on most of the details but left out the part where Charlotte may have been alert until the end. Audrey had suffered enough.
“I’m not surprised,” she said, when I finished. “You know that feeling you get sometimes in your gut. I’ve had that all along. Maybe now everyone won’t look at me like I’m a deranged lunatic.”
She shook her head back and forth.
“It’s hard to think of what those last moments were like for her. I wonder how much pain she endured and if she suffered; I could kill him, I really could.”
“I haven’t proved it was Parker yet.”
“Isn’t it obvious? He did it,” she said.
“There’s something else,” I said. “Earlier today I confronted Parker, and he got a little aggressive.”
She cupped her hand over her mouth.
“Are you alright?” she said.
“I’m a lot better than he is.”
Audrey raised an eyebrow and shot me a devious wink.
“What did you do?”
“Let’s just say he won’t get much use out of one of his hands for a while,” I said.
We both laughed.
“Serves him right.”
“He had a woman at his place in town last night,” I said. “Things got heated when she wouldn’t consent to sex, and I’m glad I showed up when I did.”
I explained what transpired between Parker and Daniela. Audrey hung on to my every word like a child clings to the bar on a roller coaster.
“Turns out they dated for about a year.”
She threw both hands up in the air.
“Unbelievable!” she said. “I don’t think anything you say at this point will surprise me.”
“Don’t count on it. The woman said Parker hit her, and on more than one occasion.”
Audrey shook her head back and forth.
“That stupid ass.”
“I think she was one woman in a whole string of them. Earlier in the day, I found him out with a blond woman. I haven’t had the chance to talk to her yet so I’m not certain, but they looked like much more than friends.”
She crunched her hands together the way a person relieves tension on a stress ball.
“I want to wrap my hands around his scrawny little neck and squeeze,” she said.
“I need you to steer clear of him, Audrey. I mean it.”
“You can’t expect me to sit back after all this. He needs to pay for what he’s done.”
“And he will, but I want to make sure it’s done the right way. Besides, we don’t know what he’s capable of.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I’m not my sister, I can handle myself.”
“I don’t doubt that, but let me see this through,” I said.
“I suppose that means you’ll work with the police now, huh?”
“A lot of good that’s going to do,” she said.
It was clear no amount of persuasion would change the idea she formed in her mind about the PCPD so I didn’t attempt it.
“Let me worry about that, okay?” I said.
She considered it for a moment.
“Well, I got this far with your help so I suppose I owe you that much.”
“Now that I know Parker is capable of violent behavior, did you ever notice any bruises on Charlotte?”
“She never said he hit her. He had a nasty temper sometimes, but that doesn’t mean he abused her. Now that I think about it, Charlotte dressed conservatively though. I suppose it’s possible if she was being abused that she hid it from everyone.”
“What about the other women, did she ever talk about them?” I said.
She shook her head.
“The ME found no sign of abuse on her body. No bruises, scars, or anything to suggest he abused her. The only injuries she had were the ones she sustained in the accident.”
Audrey glanced at the clock on Charlotte’s wall and then reached for her handbag.
“I’m sorry, I need to run. Vicki left some items at the office for me—Charlotte’s effects and other things from her desk she thought I might want, but stay as long as you need to and do whatever you need to do.”
“And if you get the urge to confront Parker, call me first, okay?” I said.
“I can’t guarantee to stay away from Parker forever, but for now you have my word.”
She reached into her bag and took out a pack of cigarettes.
“Just nail that son of a bitch before I change my mind.”
Charlotte’s condo presented itself as clean, but not meticulously so. In the kitchen a glass rested on the counter that was half filled with water. I found another in the living room. Her walls were painted dark red and replicas of Picasso paintings adorned them. A pair of heeled shoes lounged on the floor in front of the sofa. One had tipped over and was on its side. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of life that someone once inhabited the space. Her apartment was like a piece of history frozen in time. A part of me felt like a trespasser and that at any moment Charlotte would turn the key and step inside and wonder who I was and what I was doing there.
In the bathroom a soap dish displayed the words SOAP in giant black letters across the front of the dish. It matched the wastebasket which had TRASH etched on it. It seemed absurd to me that a person would decorate in such a way. I wondered what I would find next—a tooth cleaner with the word TOOTHBRUSH written on it?
There were two bedrooms in Charlotte’s condo. One to the left and one to the right of the bathroom. In one room I observed a desk, I started there.
Charlotte’s home office had an ornate brown desk that sat majestically in the middle of the room. It reminded me of a piece of furniture Henry VIII might have used in his day. The top contained a single item, a laptop computer. It was closed.