“While we’re waiting for the tech, you could tell me about your relationship with Detective Sweeney.”
“That will take all of five seconds. I didn’t have a relationship with him.”
The mere thought was appalling. Though it was wrong to speak ill of the dead, Sweeney was one of the most obnoxious men she’d ever met. Still, no matter how repulsive, no one should have to die in such a way.
“Okay,” he said. He leaned against the window ledge, folded his arms across his chest, and asked, “So tell me how you know him.”
His eyes weren’t missing a thing. The way he was watching her made her even more nervous, but she was determined not to let him know it. She hadn’t done anything wrong, and he wasn’t going to make her feel as though she had.
She went to the sofa and sat down. “I don’t actually know the man. I only met him once, when I went to the police station … the day I bumped into you.”
She tried to get comfortable so she would look calm. One of the pillows was poking her in her back. She leaned forward, pulled the pillow out, and dropped it on the cushion beside her. “I went to the station as a favor for a friend to find out how Detective Sweeney was progressing on an investigation he was supposed to be handling.”
He homed in on the key word. “Supposed to be handling?”
“I wasn’t certain if he was looking into the matter or not,” she said. “But I got the distinct impression he didn’t much care about the case or anything else, for that matter.”
“Tell me about the investigation,” he said.
Straightening her skirt, she crossed one leg over the other and leaned back against the cushions.
“Have you ever heard of Dr. Lawrence Shields?”
“No,” he answered. “What kind of doctor is he?”
“A quack,” she blurted. “At least I think he is.” She shook her head and then said, “He runs those self-help, turn-your-life-around seminars twice a year in Chicago. You’ve never seen his commercials?”
He shook his head. “What about him?”
She explained in great detail who Shields was and what he had done to Mary Coolidge. She told him Mary’s daughter had gone to the police and filed a complaint against Shields and that Detective Sweeney had been given the file. “Mary’s daughter didn’t get anywhere with the detective. She went back home, but my friend Sophie read copies of Mary’s diary and decided to get involved. Sophie sent another friend, Cordie, to talk to Sweeney about the investigation, and she couldn’t get any answers either.”
“And then it was your turn to talk to Sweeney?”
“Yes. Wait a minute … don’t you see, that has to be it.” She was suddenly too excited to sit still. She stood and began to pace while she worked the hypothesis out in her mind. “It all makes sense,” she said. “There’s your connection.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
“Shields and Sweeney. Maybe Shields found out that my friends and I were investigating him. What if he knew that we were pressuring Detective Sweeney to do his job. Maybe Shields decided to have Sweeney killed to warn us off, and he sent me that photo to scare me.”
She stopped pacing and stood in front of Alec, her hands on her h*ps as she eagerly waited to know what he thought of her supposition. He didn’t respond quickly enough.
“What do you think? It is possible, isn’t it? Shields manipulated Mary into handing over more than two million dollars. Maybe Shields thought that was worth killing for. And Mary’s daughter believes that Shields drove Mary to suicide, or maybe he had her killed, because she threatened to go to the police. And if he killed once, why would he hesitate to kill again? Maybe Shields thought my friends and I were getting too close.” She put her hands out, palms up. “Maybe that’s our connection.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Doesn’t that make sense?”
He couldn’t resist. “Maybe.”
She didn’t realize he was teasing her. She looked inordinately pleased with herself. “Okay, then,” she said. “Good,” she added with a firm nod. “Now what?”
He pulled a ragged little notepad out of his suit pocket. “Now we start over.”
“Oh, my God, Cordie and Sophie … could I make a phone call first?” she asked. “My friends are in the Caymans with Shields. I’ve got to warn them.” She hurried to her desk.
“Before you leap to conclusions, let’s get a few facts,” he cautioned.
She was already dialing Cordie’s cell phone. She was routed to voice mail, which told her that Cordie was either using the phone or had it turned off.
“Cordie, call me as soon as you get this,” she said. “It’s urgent, and you and Sophie stay away from Shields. Call, no matter what time it is.”
She hung up the phone and walked back to Detective Buchanan. He didn’t ask her what her phone call was about, and she didn’t offer to explain.
“You said we needed to start over?”
“That’s right.” He motioned for her to sit down. “Let’s start with Mary Coolidge.”
Then the questions began, one after another and another. She was beginning to tell him about the reception for Shields that she and her friends had attended when a man and a woman walked into the office with Henry. The woman carried what looked like a tool kit.
Alec grinned when he saw who the tech was. Melissa What-A-Bitch Hill. And that was only one of the many colorful names bestowed upon her by various detectives. Hill was a short, angry woman with a buzz cut and premature wrinkles, no doubt caused by her perpetual frown. She was nearly impossible to work with, but also one of the best computer nerds in the business.
The detective following in her wake was Matt Connelly. He was glaring at Hill’s back, which probably meant he’d had to ride over to the hotel with her. He nodded to Alec in greeting. His gaze moved to Regan and stayed there. “So what’s going on?”
“See for yourself,” Alec answered. “Look at the computer screen. Hey, Melissa,” he added.
Her grunt was her response. She wasn’t one for chitchat or pleasantries. “Is that the piece of crap computer you want me to take apart?”
Connelly answered her. “It’s the only piece of crap computer in the office. What do you think?”
“Up yours, Connelly,” she replied.
Alec quickly made the introductions. Connelly nodded in response, but Hill ignored Regan.
They both went to the computer and looked at the screen. Hill didn’t show any reaction, but Connelly visibly blanched. “Jeez. Sweeney naked. Man, that’s harsh. I’m gonna have nightmares.”
Regan joined them. “Did you say you were going to take my computer apart? Is that necessary?” she asked.
The woman plopped down in Regan’s chair. A second later her fingers were flying over the keyboard. “If I think it’s necessary, I’ll tear it apart. Now go sit somewhere and let me do my job.”
Regan was shocked by the woman’s rudeness. She wanted to grab her computer and protect it from her. “My files are all in there and my—” she began.
Alec moved in front of her to block her. “It’s okay,” he assured her. “Melissa won’t destroy your computer. She realizes she doesn’t have the right to touch it without your permission, and she certainly understands the legal ramifications if she were to deliberately break anything. Isn’t that right, Melissa?”
“Up …” She was about to use her standard reply when she glanced up and saw the look in Buchanan’s eyes. She’d heard he’d been a hard-ass while working vice, and she figured he hadn’t lost that mean edge yet. “Yeah, all right,” she muttered in a voice that resembled a pit bull’s growl. “Now, if you’ll leave me alone, I’ll try to get past these walls.”
“Let’s give her some breathing room,” Alec suggested.
Regan ignored him and thrust her hand out to the tech. She introduced herself once again. Melissa didn’t want to be bothered, but the hand was hard to ignore, since it was just inches from her face. She finally stopped typing and shook Regan’s hand.
“We were already introduced,” she muttered.
Melissa was a nervous woman. Her fingernails were bitten down to the quick. She gripped Regan’s hand tightly and then impatiently jerked her hand back.
“Now can I get on with my job?”
Regan pretended she hadn’t heard the question. “What did you mean when you said you had to get past the ‘walls’?”
Melissa looked resigned. “Whoever sent you the e-mail of Sweeney was a clever one, all right. He knows his way around computers. He’s set up barriers so no one can track it. But don’t worry. There isn’t a barrier I can’t get around.”
“Even with a piece of junk computer like mine?” Regan asked, smiling.
Melissa chuckled. “Actually, I called it a piece of crap computer, but I was exaggerating. It’s a little outdated. You ought to upgrade.”
Alec was impressed. He’d never seen Melissa smile before, and to listen to her chat it up with Regan was astonishing. With very little effort, Regan had cut through all of Hill’s barriers. Definitely impressive.
The photo of Sweeney appeared on the screen again. Melissa pointed to it and said, “That’s just how they found him.”
“I’m sorry?” Regan replied.
“I heard that’s how they found him, in his basement, hanging like that. Someone called it in, said Sweeney would be there, and he sure was. Pretty awful crime scene, I was told. Sweeney had a lot of enemies,” she thought to add. “There was a rumor he was blackmailing some dealers. Do you know why the photo was sent to you?”
“No, I don’t,” Regan answered. “It’s grotesque.”
“I’ve seen worse,” Melissa boasted.
“Like your old boyfriend?” Connelly asked.
Regan backed away from the desk and turned toward the windows so she wouldn’t have to look at the photo again. “Did anyone else get this?” she asked. “Or was I the only one—”
Melissa interrupted in a near shout. “I’m in.”
“In where?” Connelly asked. He was squatting down and peering at the blank screen when his cell phone rang. He impatiently answered it as he walked into the outer office.
“The photo was sent from a cell phone,” Melissa said. She rattled off the number as Alec pulled out his notepad again.
Color flooded Regan’s face. “Oh, my,” she whispered.
Alec heard her. “What? Oh, my, what?”
“The phone number … it’s mine.”
HER THEORY WAS SPRINGING LEAKS. IF SHIELDS WAS INDEED BEhind the murder of Sweeney, how did he get hold of her phone? Maybe her theory wasn’t right, after all. She was thinking about that while Detective Buchanan patiently waited for her to tell him how the photo of Sweeney had been taken with her cell phone. She wanted the answer to that question too.
“It is your phone number.”
“Yes,” she said. “But I certainly didn’t take that picture.”
Detective Connelly interrupted. “Plea bargain fell apart,” he called out as he shoved his cell phone into his pocket and headed for the door. “I’ve got ten minutes to get to the courthouse. You want me to get someone over here to help you?”
“No, I’m good,” Alec answered.
“The lieutenant wants to see you in his office as soon as you finish up here,” he added.
That news put Alec in a foul mood. The second the door closed behind Connelly, he gave Regan his full attention. “Okay, tell me about your phone.”
She assumed he wanted to know the model or the style. She didn’t remember either of those things, and so she told him about the capabilities. “It has a built-in camera,” she began. “And an extensive phone book with personal and business e-mail addresses. It’s Internet friendly,” she added with a brief smile.
“And you don’t remember where you lost it?”
She shook her head. “I thought I had left it in the car, but Henry looked, and it wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened to it.”
Henry heard what she said and rushed over to join the conversation. “That’s right. You can check with the guys in the garage. They all saw me, and I told them what I was looking for. They weren’t surprised. I mean, no offense, Regan, but you’re always leaving your phone somewhere. It’s small,” he told Alec. “And it sometimes falls out of her purse. One time I found it wedged between the seat and the console. I couldn’t find it today, though. I searched everywhere inside that car, and it wasn’t there.”
He took a protective step closer to Regan and said, “She isn’t in trouble, is she, just because someone else used her phone? You aren’t going to blame her, are you?”
The kid’s loyalty to his boss was admirable, but at the moment he was also a nuisance. “Last time I checked, losing a cell phone wasn’t a criminal offense. Don’t you have some work to do at your desk?” Alec asked.
Regan waited until Henry was out of earshot and then whispered, “He’s a worrier. He used to be much worse when he first started here. He’s getting better, but he still worries too much.”
Melissa’s loud grunt turned their attention. The woman was certainly in her element. Her fingers continued to whiz across the keyboard in a blur, and every minute or two she would let out a sigh or another crude grunt.
“Should I call and cancel the phone or report it stolen?” Henry asked from the doorway.
“No, don’t do that,” Alec said. “If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll try to contact her again.”
“He’s not going to use her phone again,” Melissa said. “He knows his way around computers, and he surely knows her phone can be tracked. The e-mail was sent five days ago, and he hasn’t sent anything else.” Her fingers suddenly stilled on the keys. “Okay, I’ve sent everything on to my computer, and I’m also printing out the picture of Sweeney to take with me. Until further notice, any e-mails she receives will automatically come to me too. That’s okay, isn’t it? I’m going to assume that’s okay.”
Regan wasn’t paying much attention. She was standing in front of the window looking down at the traffic on Michigan Avenue, her mind racing as she tried to remember the last time she used her cell phone. She knew Detective Buchanan would check with Sprint for the log of calls coming in and going out, but if she could remember now, it would save him valuable time. Since her surgery, however, the days all blended together, and she hadn’t kept track of her appointments in her PDA the way she usually did. The godawful photo of Sweeney was also disrupting concentration. She hadn’t realized a face could become so bloated, so grotesque. That image kept popping into her mind.