The bell above the door of Jack’s Place jingled when Cassi and I walked into the small diner. I did a quick scan and eyeballed two men sitting at a table, backs to the wall with ill-fitting gray suits, loose ties, and heavy soled shoes. In other words, cops. I motioned for Cassi to follow me.
“You Nelson and Graves?”
“That’s us,” Graves’s face tightened. He straightened his back and exchanged a quick glance with his partner.
I extended my hand to the two detectives, “Marco Ross, Sand Point PD. This is Deputy Stella Cassidy.”
Graves let my hand hang in the air, “We heard about you. Came down from the top that you were coming to town. Seems you got some serious pull around here.”
I dropped my hand and hooked my thumbs in my belt, “Look, detectives, I know we’re kickin’ around in your sandbox. I don’t want to grind your stones on this one. We need all the help we can get from you guys. I just want to know how this guy ended up on my beach.”
Graves’s face relaxed a bit, “You’ll have no problems with us. We heard you were OK. Have a seat Chief.”
“Thanks,” I pulled out a chair and sat.
Cassi sat next to me in the remaining chair.
A smile drifted over Nelson’s face, “Senior Detective Jimmy Nelson,” he said, emphasizing his rank, “and this here’s my partner, Junior Detective Michael Graves,” same emphasis. “So pleased to meet you ma’am.”
Cassi nodded at the two men, “Detectives.”
Graves turned to see a pair of tight, faded jeans standing beside him and looked up at the waitress, “Hey Kimberly. How’s tricks?”
The auburn haired girl set glasses of water on the table, “Just fine, darlin’, how are you?”
“Now I’ve seen your beautiful face I think I’m just fine too,” he beamed a wide smile at Kimberly.
“Oh stop it, detective, you’re making me blush.”
“You know you’re the only reason I come to this place. Cause we all know Jack can’t cook!” This last a shout that drew a single finger response from the man behind the grill. Graves turned back to me and Cassi, “The owner’s an old friend from high school. Nice guy.”
“Well you better order something ‘fore that nice guy comes out here and beats you with his spatula,” Kimberly giggled.
“Let’s go with the usual then. Bacon, egg & cheese burger, fries, and a chocolate shake.”
“Let me have the grilled chicken sandwich, no mayo, side salad, and a Diet Dr. Pepper. One of us needs to drive this guy to the hospital when his heart explodes.”
“Ain’t that the truth!” She turned to Cassi, “Ma’am?”
“I’ll have a grilled ham and cheese with fries and a Diet Coke please.”
“And for you, sir?”
“Same as the young lady, but make mine a sweet tea,” I looked over and smiled when I caught Nelson eyeballing Cassi.
Kimberly turned to Nelson, “I’ll be right back with your salad Jimmy.” She collected the menus and walked off to the kitchen.
Nelson watched Kimberly walk away, “Man, that little girl makes them Levi’s dance!” He turned to Graves, “When you gonna hit that?”
Graves looked at Cassi then down at his hands, his face reddening just a bit.
I jumped in to save Graves from further embarrassment, “So, gentlemen, what can you tell me about this Parker guy?”
Graves pulled out the case file for the Emily Parker murder and shook his head, “It’s a bit hard to believe. We question the rat bastard on a murder up here then he washes up on your beach all beat to shit.”
“Can’t say the guy didn’t have it coming,” Nelson sipped at his water, “he was a high powered business executive. Imports exports. Millionaire by 35, beautiful wife, luxury cars, nice house on the lake, the whole bit. He was living the high life then his wife turned up dead in their living room. He called 9‑1‑1 all panicked saying someone broke into his house and ‘Oh my God, my wife is dead! She’s DEAD!’”
Graves picked up the story, “When we questioned him at the scene, he gave us a story about being downtown entertaining some clients and he came home to find his house broken into and his wife dead.”
Cassi looked at Graves, “But you don’t buy it?”
“He seemed credible enough, but nothing was missing from the house,” Nelson cut in, “the place wasn’t turned over very much and there was no sign of forced entry so it didn’t look much like a robbery‑homicide. She had some healed over scars and older bruises so it looked like he liked to rough her up. When we got there, she was lying on the couch with her neck snapped and a bloody dent in the wall above her.”
Graves continued, “We searched the place and found some cards and notes from some guy. In the last one he asked her to leave her husband. Signed his name with this big fancy ‘R.’ Couldn’t really make out the name. The rest was just a scribble.” He looked up and smiled as Kimberly returned with Nelson’s salad and their drinks.
Kimberly passed the drinks around the table and the salad to Nelson. She brushed her breast along Graves’s back as she did so, eliciting a shiver from Graves and a stifled snort from Nelson, then she headed smiling back to the kitchen.
“Shut up, shit‑for‑brains, and eat your rabbit food,” he looked over at Cassi, his face reddening again. “Sorry for my language, ma’am.”
Cassi laughed, “It’s OK, detective. I have three brothers. She’s a pretty girl.” Cassi smiled at Graves who looked quickly down at the table.
I leaned in and wrapped my hands around my glass of tea then looked over at Nelson, “So you like this guy Parker for killing his wife?”
“Damn right. The only prints in the house were Parker’s and his wife’s. We confronted him with the letters and he seemed surprised enough, but we could tell he was jacking us. Something was wrong about him.”
Graves put a spoonful of milkshake in his mouth then waved the spoon toward the others, “His clients alibied him about the drinks downtown, and we could definitely smell liquor on him, so that part of the story checked out.” He took another spoonful, “The window of opportunity was tight, but he could have made it home in time to kill her. No one at the bars were real sure of their times, so his alibi’s not real solid.”
Nelson shoveled some iceberg lettuce and tomato slices into his mouth then continued, “The way we see it, Parker comes home all liquored up, and his wife comes clean about the affair and spills that she’s leaving him for this other guy. Parker flies into a rage, smacks her around a bit, hits her hard enough that she hits the wall, cracks her head open, and snaps her neck.”
Graves took the cup away from his face, leaving behind a chocolate smile, “He panics and calls 9‑1‑1, giving them a story about a break-in.” Graves sat back and watched Kimberly return with the food.
Nelson picked a couple of fries off his partner’s plate, bit them in half, then stabbed the remains in the air, “We didn’t have anything solid to take him in. His alibi may or may not put him at the scene. He had some minor scrapes on his right knuckles, but he explained them away saying he fell coming out of the bar. Everyone at the bar said he was pretty lit so that was plausible.”
Cassi put down her sandwich, dabbed at her mouth with a napkin, then looked across at Graves, “You know anything about this mystery man the wife was fooling around with?”
Graves lay his burger on his plate, still chewing the chunk he took out of it, “Didn’t have much to go on, really, just the cards and stuff.” He wiped his mouth with his napkin, “No return addresses on the envelopes or anything, and we couldn’t get no prints off ‘em. Like I said, all we had was that big fancy ‘R’.”
“What about her friends? Anything there?” I leaned forward and shoved the grilled cheese sandwich into my mouth, taking half of it in one bite. I followed it up with some fries.
“Not too much,” Nelson poked his straw at the ice in his glass, “her friends said they thought she might be having an affair but said she denied it. They also painted Parker as a real piece of work, always bossing her around in public like she was his servant girl so the abuse angle fits.”
“You have no doubt it was Parker who killed his wife?” I looked from one detective to the next as I washed down some more fries with sweet tea.
Graves stopped the remains of his burger midway to his mouth and waved off my question with one hand, “None. In fact, we was fixin’ to bring him in and grill him again on his alibi, maybe catch him in a lie. I reckon we won’t get that chance now.”
“Don’t think so boys. Mind if we get a copy of the case file? Especially those letters. We need to find out who Mrs. Parker was having her affair with. Wouldn’t surprise me if he went after Parker after learning about the case in the press.”
“You got it,” Nelson finished off his soda, picked up the dark green folder sitting next to him on the table, and handed it to me, “Our captain thought you might want to look over the file so we brought you a copy.”
“Thanks detective, tell your captain I appreciate it. You’ve been a big help.”
Kimberly returned and stood next to Graves, her thigh touching his, “Anything else for y’all?”
I looked up at Kimberly, “No thank you young lady, but I’ll take that check from you when you get a second.” I turned to the table, “This one’s on me boys,” then polished off my sandwich and the few remaining fries.
Kimberly returned and slid the check onto the table next to me. I took a quick look at it and stood, fishing some bills out of my wallet, “Gentlemen,” I shook Nelson’s hand, “thanks again. We’ll be in touch.”
Graves extended his hand and I shook it firmly. I looked at the young detective then at Kimberly. I winked at the girl, handed her the check and fifty bucks, then turned back to Graves with a wicked grin, “And would you please ask this pretty girl out on a date Graves?”
The color drained out of Graves’s face and his jaw flapped open.
Cassi followed me away from the table, her hand covering her mouth to stifle a laugh. I looked over my shoulder as I opened the door and saw Nelson slapping Graves on the back and Graves avoiding Kimberly’s gaze at all costs, his ears and face now red as her hair.
I smiled at Cassi as we stepped into the late afternoon sun, “Our work here is done.” I put on my sunglasses and tossed the keys to Cassi as we approached my truck, “You drive.”
As we pulled away from the curb, I started flipping through the case file. I got to the copies of the letters from the wife’s boyfriend and read through them, “I can’t believe women fall for this sappy crap.”
Cassi laughed, “Maybe that’s why you’re still single, eh Chief?”
“And glad for it!” I proclaimed. I continued reading, “Nothing but crap in here. No mention of any people they met, or places they went, or anything else that might—” I looked up from the paper, closed my eyes, then opened them and looked back at the letter and the big ‘R’ of the signature. I closed the file and turned to Cassi, “Change of plans. We’re going to the ME’s office.”
Cassi creased her brow and shot me a glance, “I thought you went there this morning?”
“I need to check on something. I hope to find out that I am very, very wrong.”