“Her family owns all those hotels.” He was frowning now, obviously irritated that Alec hadn’t been suitably impressed. “The Hamilton in Chicago is just one of several. They’re all top-of-the-line. The woman comes from money, old money.”
“That wasn’t in your report. I checked. You should have said something. Why didn’t you?”
Alec didn’t know how to respond to the absurd question. “So what about her? And what did you mean when you said I was back in?”
“She has brothers.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Three of them,” he continued, acting as though Alec hadn’t acknowledged the fact. “The oldest one just called the superintendent. Seems he knows the Madisons quite well. They belong to the same country club,” he added. “The Clairmont Country Club, to be exact. My wife and I have been trying to get in there for over five years.”
“And?” Alec asked, trying to force him to get to the point.
“Aiden’s the oldest Madison,” he said. “He’s a very powerful man.”
He sounded like a fan now. Alec was disgusted. “So?”
“So he’s concerned about his sister’s safety.”
Alec leaned back. “Why are you talking to me? Wincott’s in charge of the investigation. Refer the brothers to him.”
“Wincott has enough to do,” he said. “And Regan Madison isn’t a suspect …”
“Did Wincott tell you she wasn’t?”
“I’m telling you,” he snapped.
He wasn’t going to argue. Come on, he thought. Spell it out. Lewis was taking forever to tell him what he wanted. And Alec had so many other things to do. Like doodling. He almost laughed out loud then. Lewis had made sure he’d be excluded from any and all investigations, wanting him to sit at his desk and stare into space. Fortunately, he had a lot of doodles to finish, and right now Lewis’s palms were sweating all over one of his more creative ones.
“I want you to look after her until Wincott brings in Sweeney’s killer.”
Alec dropped his pen. “You want me to be her bodyguard?” He got angry just thinking about it. “I’m not a damned bodyguard,” he muttered before Lewis could speak.
“You are now. Know why I decided on you?”
“Because you knew I’d hate it?”
“That too,” Lewis said, grinning. “You have a bad attitude, Buchanan. That’s why you were so good working vice. You fit right in with all those perverts and psychos.”
His insults didn’t faze Alec. “Nice of you to notice.”
“You’re going to stick with the Madison woman night and day, day and night. You got that?”
Was he more concerned about the wealthy woman being upset or Sweeney’s murder? It was hard to tell.
“If her family has so much money, why can’t they hire bodyguards?”
“They could. Of course they could,” he said. “And they might.”
Every time he opened his mouth, he spit all over Alec’s desk. Man oh man, three weeks suddenly felt like a life sentence.
“But I want someone from this office with her at all times, and I want Aiden Madison to be beholden. Got that?” He didn’t expect a reply. He straightened and headed back to his office. He was shutting the door when he paused and shouted, “Buchanan?”
Alec didn’t answer.
“This is my ticket into Clairmont. Don’t screw it up.”
“Keep her alive.”
DUE TO THE INCESSANT RAIN, THE MAINTENANCE CREW DIDN’T get around to clearing the five-foot-high pile of dead shrubs and branches for days. The men wore black rubber boots and yellow slickers over their work clothes and were soon covered in mud as they hauled the refuse away. Vernon, the most energetic of the three-man crew, had tossed the last gnarled branch into a nearby wheelbarrow and was heading back to the shed to take a break and smoke at least two unfiltered Camels when one of his coworkers, a whiner named Sammy, started screaming like a girl, pointing and backing away. Sammy’s hazel eyes looked as if they were going to pop right out of his head.
Harry, the new man, wore large bifocals, which were splattered with mud and drizzle. When he walked closer to see what Sammy was carrying on about, he too started screaming. He didn’t sound like a girl, though; he sounded like a squawking bird.
“What’s the matter with you two?” Vernon returned to the men as he asked the question. Then he saw what they were looking at. A toe was sticking up out of the mud.
He squatted down, saw the chipped red polish on the toenail, and fell back on his ample butt. “Don’t touch nothing,” he choked out as he scrambled to his feet. “The police won’t want us touching nothing because this here is now a crime scene.”
Harry was staring hard at the toe, half expecting it to wiggle. “How do you know, Vernon?”
“ ’Cause this is where the crime was perpetrated, you twit, or at least where the body was buried.” He paused to point dramatically at the toe before continuing. “And that makes it a crime scene. That’s what they call it on television when they wrap yellow official tape all around the perimeter. Sammy, for the love of God, stop your yelling.”
Sammy pulled a soggy handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his eyes. “We should do something for her … shouldn’t we try to do something for her?”
Given the circumstances, Vernon was surprisingly calm. “No one can do anything for her now.”
“It is a real toe, isn’t it, Vernon?” Harry asked.
“What do you mean, ‘real’?”
“I’m thinking it could be a rubber one or a plastic one. One of those smart-ass college kids might be trying to prank us.”
It was a viable possibility. Vernon leaned in. “It’s real, all right. Rubber don’t decompose so fast, and I can see it isn’t plastic ‘cause there isn’t any shine to it.”
Sammy gagged. Harry gave him a sharp look and waved him back. “The police won’t appreciate it if you puke on their crime scene. Take a couple of deep breaths,” he suggested.
“Are you sure the toe’s attached to a body?” Harry asked Vernon.
“You come up with the stupidest questions. I’m not touching it or tugging on it to see if it’s attached or not. That’s for the police to figure out. Why don’t you run over to the lecture hall and use their phone to call the police? Sammy and I will wait here.”
“Wouldn’t it be quicker if I just use my cell phone?”
“For crying out loud, does everyone in the U.S. of A. have a cell phone?”
“I don’t know about everyone else in the U.S. of A.,” Harry said. “But I sure do. Had it for over a year.”
He unfastened his slicker, pulled out a bright red phone, and dialed 911.
THE LAST THING REGAN WANTED OR NEEDED WAS SOMEONE the day. Detective Buchanan didn’t particularly care how she felt, though. He strolled into her office, looking as scruffy and as sexy as she remembered, leaned against the side of her desk, and calmly announced that he was going to be her bodyguard for the next three weeks, or until the man who had e-mailed her the photo of Detective Sweeney was apprehended.
“Shouldn’t you be out there looking for the murderer instead of following me around?”
“I’ve been assigned to you,” he said. “Detective Wincott is out there looking,” he added.
She was frustrated and weary. She was also scared but wasn’t going to admit it. Cordie still hadn’t called her back, and Regan was worried sick about her and Sophie.
“Yes, you already told me that Detective Wincott was in charge. I haven’t met him yet. I have been cooperating, haven’t I?” she said. “And it seems you only just left. There’s been such commotion here since then. I need some time to just sit down and think. My head’s reeling. I have some work to finish, and then I want to …”
He tried not to smile. “Think?”
“No problem,” he said.
He removed his tie and stuffed it in the pocket of his jacket before taking it off and draping it over a chair.
She watched him get comfortable on the sofa. “What happens in three weeks?”
“Sorry?” He was rolling his sleeves up as he turned to her.
“You said you were going to be my bodyguard for three weeks. What happens then?”
He undid the top button of his shirt before he answered. “I’m finished with the job and leaving Chicago, but don’t worry, if he’s still out there, then someone else will be assigned to guard you. Until then, you’re stuck with me.”
“Who made that decision?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it does,” she said.
“Okay, who?” She wasn’t going to let it go.
“Do I have anything to say about this?”
He flashed a smile and picked up the latest Forbes magazine from the coffee table. “Not really,” he said. “Like it or not, I’m here to stay.”
She didn’t like it, not one little bit. Detective Buchanan was a clear distraction, but she had to put the discussion on hold when his cell phone rang. Her office phone rang at the very same time.
Peter Morris, the man she had turned down for a second grant, was on the line. He was absolutely thrilled he’d gotten through to her.
“This is wonderful,” he stammered. “Your assistant kept putting me off, and I can’t believe I’m finally talking to you. I know you didn’t have anything to do with turning me down for the grant renewal, so I’m not blaming you. It was just a huge misunderstanding, wasn’t it?”
Before she had time to answer and set him straight, he rushed on. “My work is important. I need that money, and I was guaranteed that, once I qualified—and I did qualify last year—that it would be an automatic renewal. How about I come by tonight and you could have the check ready?”
“That’s not going to happen, Mr. Morris. I am the one who turned you down for the grant, and the information each applicant received was quite specific. There is no such thing as an automatic renewal.”
He refused to believe her. His voice had lost a little of its cheer as he said, “No, that’s not true. You couldn’t have turned me down. You understand how important my work is.”
He interrupted her again. “I know what you’re going to say. Your assistant already told me that I could reapply next year, but the community center desperately needs the money now. Pulling the rug out at the last minute … it just isn’t right. Now, about the check—”
Determined to end the conversation as quickly as possible, she interrupted, “You are not going to receive any grant money. Your application was denied, and I think it would be a waste of your time, and mine, for you to reapply next year.”
His gasp was loud and clear as she hung up. She noticed Detective Buchanan was off the phone and said, “Henry was right. Peter Morris can’t take no for an answer.”
She repeated almost word for word the conversation she’d had with the man. When she was finished, Alec said, “I’ll mention him to Wincott again and make sure he’s looking at him.” He stood, rolled his shoulders, and then picked up his suit jacket and put it on.
“Are you leaving?” she asked.
He smiled. “Yes, and so are you. The sketch artist is back and is waiting for us. We need to go. Hopefully, the two of you will be able to come up with a good likeness of the man who chased you.”
Her response was immediate. “Yes, okay.”
She shook her head. “No, this is too important.”
“Yes, it is.”
She grabbed her purse from her drawer and was heading toward the door, where he stood waiting, when her fax machine began to buzz.
“Do you need to see what that is, or can it wait until we get back?” he asked.
“It’s probably just an advertisement,” she said, but she had already turned around and was circling the desk to get to the fax machine. “It is so rare to get a fax these days. Everything’s sent through e-mail.”
She glanced over her shoulder to see if he was irritated that she was making him wait. He was busy buttoning the collar of his shirt and didn’t appear out of sorts over the delay.
“Do you mind? It will only take a minute. The cover sheet’s coming through.”
“No problem.” He was looking for his tie now.
“It’s on the floor by the sofa.”
“What is?” he asked.
“The tie you’re looking for. It fell out of your suit pocket.”
He headed back to the sofa. She turned to the machine. The cover sheet had dropped into the tray below. The sender line was blank, but there was something written on the subject line. She couldn’t quite make it out. She picked the sheet up and turned toward the light. A cold chill raced down her spine as she read the three words scrawled across the line: Your Murder List.
“Murder List? Oh, God …”
It suddenly all clicked. She inhaled sharply and took a step back as though that simple action would separate her from the truth.
She shook her head. “No … it couldn’t be … it’s just not possible …”
Alec heard the panic in her voice. He gently pried the cover sheet out of her hand just as the fax machine began to hum again. Page two was slowly coming through.
Regan had been so stunned by the heading on the top of the page that she missed the message, written in what looked like chicken scratches, on the bottom. Alec read it out loud: “Sorry, I can’t take credit for this one. I was too late. She was already in the mortuary. Had herself a fatal heart attack, but I went ahead and marked her off your list anyway.”
Alec was on the phone to Wincott by the time Regan held up the second page. He rattled off the fax number. “Everything else is blocked out.”
“We’re on it,” Wincott said. “I’ll see you back at the station.” He was shouting to his partner as he hung up.
Alec turned to Regan. “Murder List? What the hell is a murder list?”