Authors: A.W. Hartoin
Also by A.W. Hartoin
Double Black Diamond
About the Author
by A.W. Hartoin
Copyright © A.W. Hartoin, 2013
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Also By A.W. Hartoin
Mercy Watts Mysteries
Many thanks to the people of Roatan, Honduras.
Special thanks to Bananarama Beach and Dive Resort
Your help made the book.
MRS. LANE SANDERS was the kind of woman who usually didn’t approve of me. Her grey hair flowed back from her widow’s peak in thick waves and landed on her white silk blouse that was buttoned as high as possible and, just to make sure, sealed with a heavy amber brooch that weighed a pound at least. No one was getting those buttons undone, by god.
I sat in the walnut-paneled waiting room opposite Mrs. Sanders, very aware that it was her domain, not mine. The room matched her perfectly, cold and dignified. I’d never been accused of being either. She sat behind her oversized desk with arms crossed and refused to say where her boss was. That was nearly the last straw. I’d had enough of lawyers and their critical secretaries. Two days left before vacation and Arlene Cobb, a lawyer my father referred to as the Duchess of Dirt, hadn’t even bothered to show up to pelt me with obnoxious questions about my godmothers’ sanity in the civil case against them. I had better things to do than be deposed, buy flowered sundresses that I’d never wear again and wax things that really ought not be waxed. In the last month, I’d found myself involved in four high-profile cases, where the lawyers were happy to bill as many hours as humanly possible, wasting my time in cold offices, repeating cold facts. I think they were trying to freeze some sort of confession out of me. Fat chance. All four of the offices were so similar I often forgot which one I was in and which high-priced shark sat across the table. This wasn’t going to be one of those days.
I would’ve walked out and, in retrospect, I should’ve, but Myrtle and Millicent needed me. Their nephew, Brooks, was trying to get control of their money and their lives. He was using my family to do it. So I sat as far away as possible from Mrs. Sanders, which put me directly across from the stenographer, a spindly redhead that was probably forty but looked twenty. He definitely
approve of me and not in a good way. It was all my fault for letting my mother pick out my outfit. She insisted and I’d learned the hard way that it was easier to comply than fight, so I was wearing a wrap dress that was supposed to make me look like I meant business, yet be stylish. It did neither job well. Mom’s theory that the hideous print of black and yellow daisies would be distract from my chest might’ve worked if the top would’ve stopped gapping open and the skirt didn’t part to expose my thighs.
Jay the stenographer loved that dress, couldn’t take his eyes off it. More to the point, he couldn’t stop trying to look up my skirt. So I got to sit there holding my dress together, while listening to my lawyer, Big Steve Warnock, yelling in the hall behind me. Big Steve’s voice had been known to go through three feet of concrete and we got to hear every curse word he uttered and there were a lot of them. I say we but Lane and Jay didn’t seem to be paying attention. Lane’s expression had gone to glaring and Jay had slid down in his seat in an effort to get a better view up my skirt. Why is it when someone’s trying to look up your skirt, you get an irresistible urge to cross and recross your legs?Maybe it’s just me, but I had to recross my legs. It had to be done. Jay licked his lips and I put my right leg over my left and felt a little pop in the twenty-dollar pantyhose I’d bought for their supposed durability because Mom said I had to wear pantyhose to depositions. I leaned forward and a spidery run raced down my thigh to my knee.
“I can help you take those off,” said Jay, licking his lips.
Just then Big Steve stalked in, still on his cell. “Get her here now!” He tossed me the phone and popped Jay in the head with the back of his hairy hand. “Shut up, fool, or I’ll fire you so hard you’ll have to sell your equipment for scrap.”
Jay blushed as red as his hair. “I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”
“Damn straight it won’t.” Big Steve sat next to me and I scooted over to make room, even though he was in another chair. He was that kind of guy, the kind that took up a lot of space in every room, whether a closet or an auditorium. You just couldn’t stop looking at him, even when he was quiet, which was rare.
“We’ll give Arlene another fifteen seconds and then we’re out of here.”
“Thank goodness,” I said.
Big Steve looked at his watch. “Ten seconds.”
I smiled. Jay the stenographer looked terrified, a normal reaction to Big Steve. Lane sighed and got on the phone.
“Five seconds. Grab your purse, Mercy.”
A young man with a receding hairline and watery blue eyes ran through the door, clutching six inches worth of paperwork and a battered laptop. “I’m here. I’m here.”
Big Steve pushed past him. “We’re out and you’re not Arlene. Don’t think I don’t know the difference, although that is a tie a fifty-year-old woman would wear.”
“Please don’t leave. Mrs. Cobb will kill me if I don’t get this deposition done.”
“Where is she? And don’t tell me she got caught up in court. She has nothing on any docket today.”
“Um…” said the young man and I began to feel sorry for him.
“Um is not an answer.” Big Steve gently pushed me out the door.
“Arlene has a new boyfriend!” yelled out the young man behind us.
“Leonard,” said Lane, “are you out of your mind?
We turned slowly. Big Steve looked like it was his birthday. “How old is this one?”
Leonard clapped his free hand over his mouth.
“Too late for that, boy. The new cat is out of the bag. I’m truly going to enjoy my next committee meeting with Arlene.”
“Please don’t tell her I told you,” begged Leonard.
“Alright. I’ll give you a break.”
“Will you please come in the conference room? She’ll fire me if I don’t get this deposition done.”
I crossed my arms. “I thought she was going to kill you.”
Leonard barely glanced at me. “Same thing. Please. I’m begging you.”
“She’s quite the dragon, isn’t she?” said Big Steve.
A bead of sweat rolled down Leonard’s cheek. Poor guy didn’t know Big Steve made dragons look like house cats. He worked sixteen-hour days because he thought the law was good fun and didn’t understand that other people needed to do things like, you know, eat and sleep.
“I’ll give you fifteen minutes.”
Damn. So close.
Leonard led us into the conference room and I sat in a chair designed to be so comfortable that you’d relax and be off your guard. Fat chance. Big Steve touched my hand. “We’re in and out. Remember what I told you.”
I nodded. How could I forget? He’d told me a dozen times to answer questions briefly and to offer up absolutely nothing. As if I would. I’d been around. This was my tenth deposition in a month, including the murder cases. If this kept up, I’d have to buy stock in pantyhose or paint my legs.
Leonard settled in across from us and spread out his papers like a fan. Jay set up at the end of the room and tried not to look at me. Nice.
“State your name for the record,” said Leonard.
“Carolina Watts.” I was named after my mother, but my dad had nicknamed me Mercy. I preferred Mercy to Carolina. I was already too much like Mom for comfort.
“Is that the name you’re commonly known by?” asked Leonard.
Leonard looked up and waited. I could see a flicker of a smile on the edge of Big Steve’s lips. He loved it when I did as I was told. My parents loved it, too. I didn’t get the appeal.
“Let’s move it along,” said Big Steve.
“Yes, of course. State the name you’re commonly called,” said Leonard.
“Mercy Watts.” I almost said Marilyn, since I was a dead ringer for the late bombshell, Marilyn Monroe, and got called Marilyn as much as I did Mercy.
“Describe your relationship with Myrtle and Millicent Bled.”
“I’m their goddaughter.”
Defining my relationship to The Girls went on for another five minutes. I don’t know what he was looking for and I wasn’t sure he did either. Every deposition was the same. Who are you? What’s your relationship? Who’s decision was it that you attend Whitmore Academy? Who paid for it? Blah. Blah. Blah. But then it got interesting.
“What did your parents pay for the house on Hawthorne Avenue?” asked Leonard without looking up.
“It was a gift,” I said.
“A gift from Myrtle and Millicent Bled to your parents whom they barely knew.”
“Are you aware of the worth of the Hawthorne house at the time it was signed over?”
“Would it surprise you if I said that house was worth over seven hundred thousand dollars the year you were born?”
“You’re not surprised that the Bled sisters gave away a seven-hundred-thousand-dollar house to strangers?”
“I’d be surprised.”
“Is that a question?” I asked.
Big Steve’s lips twitched. “She’s not surprised. Next question.”
“Are you aware that the Hawthorne house was signed over to your mother alone? That your father, Tommy Watts, is not in fact on the deed?”
“You thought it was signed over to both your parents?”
“I’ve never seen the deed and I never thought about it,” I said, stifling a yawn.
“Do you know when exactly your parents met the Bled sisters?”
“No.” What in the world was he getting at?
“Would it surprise you that at the time the deed for the Hawthorne house was signed over to your mother, Myrtle and Millicent Bled had never actually met your mother?”
That stopped me cold and I felt Big Steve stiffen beside me.
“Miss Watts, please answer the question,” said Leonard with a smile. The goofy lost lawyer act was gone.
“I don’t know that’s true,” I said.
“Did your mother tell you she had met the Bled sisters at the time the deed was signed over?”