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Authors: Livia J. Washburn

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BOOK: Trick or Deadly Treat
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“All right,” she said. She needed to get back to her original reason for coming here this afternoon. “Just a couple more things. You know Mrs. Carlyle's husband, of course.”

“Jack? I mean, Mr. Carlyle? Sure.”

“I imagine he's been around some since Dr. Baxter's death, helping his wife get everything squared away.”

“Well, not really. Meredith's pretty much taken charge of everything by herself.”

“What about before Susan Baxter was killed? Was Mr. Carlyle around much then?”

Raylene got a wary look in her eyes. She asked, “What would be wrong with it if he was? They were related, weren't they?”

“Only by marriage.”

“Are you trying to suggest that there might have been something going on between Dr. Baxter and her brother-in-law?”

Raylene was a little quicker on the uptake than Phyllis had expected.

“That's crazy!” the young woman went on before Phyllis had a chance to say anything else. “Jack was here a few times with Meredith, but that's all.”

Phyllis thought rapidly. Dr. Kathleen Hampton had indicated that Jack Carlyle was a frequent visitor to Susan Baxter's office, but Raylene was denying that. Either Dr.
Hampton was mistaken—or lying—or Raylene wasn't telling the truth.

But there was another explanation, Phyllis realized. She said, “You told me that Dr. Baxter gave you some time off the morning she was killed. Did she give you time off very often?”

“Well . . . yeah,” Raylene said with a shrug. “Like I told you, this isn't like a regular doctor's office. We don't get walk-ins”—she paused, gave Phyllis a narrow-eyed look, and went on—“unless they've got ulterior motives like you did.”

“But often there are times during the day when you're not in the office.”

“Sometimes, yeah. Dr. Baxter was good about that. She made plenty of money, you know, so she was nice and didn't even dock my wages when I had to go run some errands.”

Of course she was nice about it, Phyllis thought. By giving her receptionist the time off, she was able to have her clandestine rendezvous with her lover. Jack Carlyle? Kyle Woods?

Both?

Phyllis had a lot to think about and a lot to talk over with Sam when he got back from Fort Worth.

“All right. I suppose I should let you get back to your work,” she said.

“Yeah. Meredith's not as lenient about things like that as her sister was.”

“I was under the impression that they were a lot alike. Both very driven and demanding.”

“Dr. Baxter could be like that, sure,” Raylene said. “But she could be nice, too.” She swallowed. “I really would like for whoever killed her to pay for it. If you think there's really a chance her husband didn't do it . . .”

“That's what we're trying to find out,” Phyllis said.

“Then I hope I was able to help.”

“I think you have,” Phyllis said.

She smiled again and said good-bye, then left the office. Thoughts whirled through her brain as she walked across the parking lot to her car.

She was so distracted she almost didn't notice that the woman she had seen earlier, talking on a phone in one of the parked cars, was still there. Probably waiting for a patient in one of the other doctors' offices, Phyllis thought idly. The woman had her head turned away, but Phyllis could tell that she wore a scarf over her hair and a pair of dark glasses.

Phyllis had gotten into the Lincoln and driven several blocks before a shock of recognition hit her. The realization hadn't soaked in at the time, but there had been something familiar about the woman.

She couldn't be sure, of course, but she thought now that the woman in the car could have been Meredith Carlyle.

Chapter 21

W
ith the speed limits on the interstate, it didn't really take long to get from Weatherford to Fort Worth. As Sam made the drive that afternoon, he was struck as he often was by how much open land still remained on both sides of the highway. If anybody had asked him twenty years earlier, he would have said that it would all be covered with strip malls and housing developments by now. Some of the old ranching families that owned vast stretches of land had been reluctant to sell it all off, so there were still areas of rolling hills that didn't look much different than they had fifty or even a hundred years earlier.

It was only a matter of time, though, Sam thought. Already, if you knew where to look among those hills, you could spot large tracts of big, ostentatious houses jammed together on tiny lots, the sort of overblown McMansions that few people could afford these days.

Yet for some reason, developers continued to build them.
There was nothing in between anymore, as far as housing was concerned. People lived either in apartments or mobile homes, or in those big, fancy places where they could barely make the mortgage payments and were always in danger of losing their home. It didn't make sense to Sam, who was glad he lived in a house that had been built back in the days when there was still a middle class and people had some dang sense.

That thought put a grin on his face.

“And stay off my lawn, you dang kids,” he muttered in a self-mocking tone.

When the interstate split between I-20 and I-30, he followed I-20 toward the southwest part of Fort Worth, where his destination was located. After a few more minutes of traveling through ranchland, he found himself surrounded by those housing developments he had been decrying earlier, along with freeway merges, fast-food joints, big box stores, road construction, and traffic, traffic, and more traffic. It had been a while since he'd been in this part of Fort Worth, and with all the road construction going on—detours, concrete barriers, orange cones, gaping earthen pits where exit ramps used to be—he wondered if he would be able to get to where he needed to be. If, indeed, he could even find the place anymore.

That worry proved to be groundless. Sam's natural sense of direction asserted itself, and even though the roads weren't exactly how they used to be, he was able to drive right to his destination: an eight-story building that looked like a giant cube of bronze-colored glass.

It was ugly as could be, not surprising for a modern office building. As Sam sat there in the parking lot, looking at it, a
mental voice in the back of his head said in a robotic drone,
“You will be assimilated.”
The thought brought a chuckle to his lips.

He tried to put ruthless aliens out of his mind and concentrate on the case instead. Even though this building was where Jack Carlyle's office was located, Sam had no way of knowing whether Carlyle was actually in there. And even if Carlyle was there, it might be hours before he came out. He might be a workaholic who stayed at his desk until ten o'clock at night or even later. Sam frowned as he realized that in his zeal to find out more, he hadn't really thought this through.

There was one thing he could try. He had written down not only the address of Carlyle's office but also the phone number. Now he took the piece of paper from the pocket of his denim jacket, slipped his cell phone from the other pocket, and thumbed in the number.

His name might show up on the caller ID on the other end of the call, he thought as it began to ring. He should have gotten one of those burner phones like the spies and drug lords used on TV shows. But it was too late to worry about that now.

A woman answered the call with the company name and added, “Jack Carlyle's office.”

“I'd like to talk to Mr. Carlyle, please,” Sam said.

“May I ask who's calling?”

Sam hesitated for a couple of seconds, then said, “Wait a minute. Did you say Jack Carlyle?”

“Yes, sir,” the woman replied with only the slightest trace of impatience.

“I'm sorry. I'm callin' from the wrong list. I was actually lookin' for somebody else.”

“Not a problem, sir.”

The connection broke with a click.

Sam closed the phone and put it back in his pocket. The way the woman had asked who was calling was indication enough that Carlyle was there.

But the question of how long it would be before he came out still remained.

Sam told himself that he would just have to be patient, but less than ten minutes later, none other than Jack Carlyle emerged from the building's main entrance and walked quickly into the parking lot. Sam's pickup was toward the back of the big lot. He slouched a little more in the seat and pulled down the bill of his feed store cap to partially obscure his face without interfering with his view of Carlyle.

The man seemed to be in a hurry, and he didn't have a briefcase or anything else with him, as if he had dropped whatever he was doing and left his office for some reason. He got into an expensive European sedan and drove out of the parking lot.

Sam was a couple hundred yards behind him.

With the traffic over here in this part of Fort Worth, he worried that was too much distance, that he risked losing Carlyle just when he had caught a break by the man leaving work early.

Carlyle headed straight for the interstate, though, and got on I-20 headed west toward Weatherford. Maybe he was headed home, Sam thought. He didn't know where that was, but he would do his best not to let Carlyle lose him.

Carlyle had a heavy foot on the gas. Sam had to drive faster than he normally did to keep up with his quarry. He
hoped they wouldn't pass a state trooper working radar. If they did, there was a good chance he'd be stopped, and then he would lose sight of Carlyle.

The shoulders and median stayed clear of Highway Patrol cars, much to Sam's relief. And some twenty minutes later Carlyle left the highway at the Santa Fe Drive exit and turned right on that road.

Traffic here wasn't as bad as it was one exit farther west at South Main, but there were enough cars on the road that Sam hoped his pickup blended in with the other vehicles as he tagged along behind Carlyle. He had no idea where the man lived. If he'd had to guess, he would have said that the Carlyle home was probably in one of the new, exclusive, gated residential developments south of the interstate, but at the moment the man was headed in the opposite direction.

It didn't take long to reach the area around the hospital. Sam frowned as he saw Carlyle turn in at the complex where Susan Baxter's office was located. Phyllis had planned to pay another visit to Susan's office this afternoon. Sam wondered if she might still be there. If she was, she might appreciate a heads-up that Jack Carlyle was in the area.

Even as he was pulling into the parking lot, Sam had his phone out. He pushed the button to call Phyllis's cell phone and heard it ringing as he steered the pickup into an empty space.

She answered quickly, saying, “Sam?”

“Where are you?” he asked.

“Why . . . I'm home,” she said. She sounded a little surprised, and he knew he'd been more curt than he meant to be. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” he said as he killed the pickup's engine. “I was just makin' sure you weren't still at Susan Baxter's office.”

“No. I left there a little while ago. More than half an hour ago, actually. Would it be a problem if I was still there?”

“I don't know,” Sam said. “Looks like Jack Carlyle is payin' the office a visit. Was his wife there when you left?”

“No, just the receptionist. Are you sure that's where Carlyle went?”

“I just saw him go inside.”

“Are you where you can keep an eye on the place?”

“I am.”

“Let's stay on the phone while you do,” Phyllis suggested. “I learned something while I was there earlier. Kyle Woods went to see Susan Baxter just a little while before she was killed.”

Sam sat up straighter behind the wheel and asked, “How'd you find out about that?”

“Raylene told me. The girl who works in the office.”

“Dang. That puts Woods right back in the picture, doesn't it?”

“He was on the scene,” Phyllis said. “That has to be important.”

“I wonder if Hank Baxter knows about that. He might be more willing to open up about the trouble between him and Woods if he did. At the very least we need to tell his lawyer about this.”

“We certainly do.” Phyllis paused. “I guess we're turning out to be pretty good consultants after all.”

“I guess so,” Sam agreed with a chuckle. “Paul Drake better watch his back.”

“Any sign of Carlyle?” Phyllis asked.

“Nope. He hasn't come back out.”

“I wonder what he's doing there . . . Can you look around the parking lot from where you are?”

“Some. What do you want to know?”

“Is there a car parked there with a woman waiting inside it? A woman wearing a scarf and dark glasses?”

“Somebody incognito, eh? I've always liked that word.
Incognito
.” Sam looked around while he was talking. He reported, “I don't see anybody who looks like that. Who's she supposed to be?”

“I don't know for sure. She was there when I visited the office earlier, and after I left I got to thinking that she might have been Meredith Carlyle.”

“That doesn't make any sense,” Sam said. “Why would she spy on her own sister's office?”

“I don't know. But once I left she could have gone inside. She could have called her husband and asked him to meet her there.”

“Told him instead of asked him, more than likely,” Sam said. “You know, I was just settlin' down for a long wait outside the buildin' where Carlyle's office is, when he came out in a hurry and lit a shuck for Weatherford. When you think about how long it takes to get from where we were to where we are now, that would've been pretty soon after you left out of Susan Baxter's office.”

“Then it really
was
Meredith,” Phyllis said.

“Maybe. We don't have any real proof, though,” Sam cautioned. “You want me to go see if I can sneak a look inside the office?”

“It's tempting . . . but I don't want you to get in trouble. Besides, there's this new development about Kyle Woods to deal with. One of us needs to talk to Mr. D'Angelo before it gets any later in the day. He may be leaving his office soon.”

Sam thought about it and said, “Why don't I do that? I'll give him a call, and in the meantime I'll keep an eye on Carlyle's car and watch for his wife, too.”

“All right. And then you'll be coming home?”

“Don't know,” Sam said. “I reckon that depends on what happens. You never know where the trail will lead us private eyes.”

“I don't know whether to laugh or tell you to be careful.”

“We'll just say you did both,” Sam suggested.

While he had Phyllis on the phone, he had her look up Jimmy D'Angelo's number, then said good-bye and called the lawyer. There was a chance D'Angelo might be in court, but the secretary who answered the phone put Sam right through to him.

“Mr. Fletcher.” D'Angelo greeted him in a booming voice. Sam thought the lawyer had him on speakerphone. “Sam. What can I do for you?”

“We've located a witness who can put Kyle Woods in Susan Baxter's office not long before she was murdered.”

There was a click, and the quality of D'Angelo's voice changed, telling Sam that D'Angelo had picked up the phone to continue the conversation.

“What witness?” he asked.

“The girl who runs the office,” Sam said. “I think Phyllis said her name is Raylene.”

“Raylene Bagley, that's right. I've read her deposition. She
was the one who found Susan Baxter's body when she came back from lunch.”

“What she doesn't seem to have mentioned to anybody is that she left for lunch early, and when she left, Woods was there with Susan. Has Hank Baxter ever told you what caused his fallin' out with Woods?”

“If he had, it would be privileged communication,” D'Angelo said. “But no, as a matter of fact, he's been as tight-lipped about that with me as he has been with you, even though I've tried to convince him that it would be better for him if he were completely honest with me.” The lawyer paused, then said, “I'm confident he will be once we get closer to trial. There's nothing like the thought of facing a judge and jury to make somebody willing to do whatever it takes to get them off.”

“Maybe you should tell him that Woods was there on the day of the murder,” Sam suggested.

“Actually, why don't you tell him? Maybe the four of us could have a meeting here at my office tomorrow morning. You, Mrs. Newsom, Hank, and me.”

Sam thought about it. His appointment with the other vet to have Buck's leg checked was the next day, but not until the afternoon. He told D'Angelo, “As far as I know right now, we can do that, but I'll have to check with Phyllis.”

“All right. Let me know. I'll give you my cell phone number.”

He did so, and Sam wrote it down in a little notebook he took from the pickup's glove compartment. He tore the page out and tucked it away in his shirt pocket.

He had been watching the door of Susan's office while he talked to D'Angelo, but so far Jack Carlyle hadn't put in a return appearance. He was still inside, although Sam couldn't
rule out the possibility that Carlyle had left the building through a back door. Carlyle's car was still where he had left it, however, so Sam thought that was unlikely.

Since he had D'Angelo on the phone anyway, he asked, “Did you ever find out anything about the murder weapon?”

“Yeah. The cops found blood traces on a paperweight in Susan Baxter's office. It's a brass dog, believe it or not. Not so hard to believe, I guess, when you consider that her husband the veterinarian gave it to her. About six inches tall and nice and heavy. Evidently, it matched the indentation in Susan's skull.”

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