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He was in trouble.
That ongoing theme had been part of his life since adolescence. He didn’t conform because it wasn’t in him. There had been some forgiveness when he was younger, but that seemed to have gone away.
“I’ve been arrested. I need a lawyer.” It was the second time Randy said it.
His father said, “Then I suggest you get one.”
“This happens to be my only phone call and—”
The line went dead. He shut his eyes and dropped his head, the phone clammy in his hand. He couldn’t swallow, could barely breathe, and his whole body was shaking.
It wasn’t like this was smoking some weed, or a speeding ticket. This was for murder.
* * *
Jason Santiago had just gotten out of his truck before the glowering Wisconsin skies decided to open up and let loose. He ran for it, barely made it into the courthouse before he was thoroughly drenched, and had to duck into the men’s restroom on the first floor to try and repair the worst of it with a paper towel. Why was it every single time he was due to testify in court he spilled mustard on his tie, or in this case, ended up soaking wet?
He was in luck, because the presiding judge was a good old boy who didn’t care about his appearance all that much but only wanted to hear what he had to say when he was called to the stand. They had certainly interacted before, and that helped. “Go ahead, Detective Santiago.”
“Well, the defendant had been sexually harassing the victim at work, got fired for it, and when we obtained a warrant after she wound up dead in front of the office building, we found a gun under the mattress of his bed. It proved to be the weapon used to kill her, so I believe arresting him on the spot was not a bad decision.”
The defending attorney stood, but Judge Tate said, “Sit down, Counselor. If you even try to argue wrongful arrest on the basis they couldn’t know it was the murder weapon, it will irritate me and I’ll have to remind you they were exactly right. It was the murder weapon. I’ll take care of this.”
She sat down.
The judge did level Jason with a stare. “What made you think it was the gun used to kill the victim?”
“I’ve seen my share of gunshot wounds, so thought it was probably the right caliber. There was exactly the correct amount of bullets missing from the chamber if it had been fully loaded at the time of the murder. May I point out to the court the defendant had violated a restraining order previously. It wasn’t brilliant detective work, since he’d vowed revenge in front of witnesses. It seemed he’d followed through and we arrested him.”
Tate nodded. “Thank you, Detective. You are dismissed.”
When it came to court, “dismissed” was his favorite word. Jason couldn’t wait to get out of there. He went down the steps of the courthouse thankful the deluge was over at least temporarily, and jerked to loosen his tie. He slid into his vehicle and immediately called his partner in Milwaukee Homicide, Detective Ellie MacIntosh. “That bastard will burn in hell,” he told her. “Or at least live life in it if prison counts as hell, and it really sounds to me, if all the rumors are true, it fits the description. I didn’t stay for the sentencing, but I read Tate pretty well. That judge will toss max at him. He’ll definitely get murder one, since it was premeditated.”
Ellie was at her desk because lucky her, Tate preferred to grill male police officers and had a special soft spot for pretty blondes. She hadn’t been summoned to testify. “He’s a woman’s worst nightmare.”
She meant the man they’d arrested, not Tate. He agreed. “Hers, yes. I’m hoping the victim will haunt him. I’d buy a white sheet and do it myself, but I doubt security would let me near his cell, and floating around saying boo isn’t in my skill set.”
“A lot of things aren’t. We have an interesting new problem.”
That wasn’t exactly what he needed. He had a pregnant girlfriend who didn’t want to discuss marriage, parents he barely knew and he’d just had to do something he despised and go to court. Plus he was soaking wet. What he wanted was a cold beer, or even a lukewarm one, and to sit on his old couch in just sweatpants and watch a baseball game, preferably involving the Brewers handing some other pro team their ass.
“Like what?” He groaned. “Dammit, I don’t like the tone of your voice. How big is this ‘new problem’?”
“Medium to large. I’ll tell you all about it when you get here.”
It was raining again, indicating that sitting at his desk in wet clothes was still in his future. He just wasn’t a believer in umbrellas. When it was sunny it never even occurred to him to pick one up, and when it was coming down in buckets it was a little too late. Besides, they always seemed to be so ungainly to manage, so he just toughed it out. After parking the truck he sprinted toward the doorway, trying to ignore the trickle of water down the back of his neck. He passed another detective named Rays in the hall, who started laughing. “Well, look at the bright side, Santiago. At least you won’t have to take a bath tonight.”
“Yeah, thanks. I could use some sunshine like you on a day like today.”
Rays grinned. “What are friends for?”
Ellie was wearing a pink top over white Capri pants and dainty gold sandals when he arrived at her desk. She looked nothing like the no-nonsense homicide detective, with her smooth blond hair loose and a hint of glossy pink on her lips, but then again he knew she was heading off to meet her sister for dinner. Jody and her husband were in town for some sort of business meeting through his work, hadn’t brought the kids but enlisted a friend for baby-sitting duty, and since her brother-in-law had a late meeting, Ellie had suggested a girls’ night out. She and her sister were definitely the best of friends.
He had a feeling he might be a major topic of conversation, but definitely was not invited. Fine, he wasn’t a female, so didn’t qualify for a spot at the table, but he’d love to hear that discussion.
Of course Ellie took one look at him and asked in open amusement, “Do you ever check the forecast?”
Why lie? He couldn’t change it, so no, he didn’t look. “No. So what’s up?”
“Don’t drip on my desk.”
“I’ll do my best if you will just answer my question.”
“Metzger wants to see us.”
Oh, just what he needed. A trip to the chief’s office? The last time he’d gotten that order, he’d been suspended from duty. Jason had been cleared of all charges, but it wasn’t all that long ago. “Why?”
“There’s a special case that’s cross jurisdiction. There has been a specific request for us to assist.”
That was good news anyway. He wasn’t in trouble for a change. “Who asked?”
“Aren’t you full of questions? So am I for that matter. The chief has a way of being pretty clear. I guess let’s go and find out.”
She stood, and he assessed her appearance and wondered how many people might have guessed that long, flowing feminine top was to conceal the changes to her figure. She wasn’t showing too much yet, but she was showing. He asked softly so no one would overhear, “How’s our baby today?”
* * *
Ellie was adamant they didn’t talk at all about their private life at work, especially the upcoming baby, and Jason Santiago had been pretty good about it, considering he was definitely a man who went his own way. Occasionally, he leaned in too close or put his hand on her waist or the small of her back in what might be construed—correctly—as too much familiarity. However, she could cut him some slack because she had every intention of just going ahead and telling their boss after the official part of their meeting. She had a slim build and suspected very soon it would be an easy guess anyway. Half her clothes didn’t fit already.
“Fine.” She kept her tone brisk. “Let’s hope he or she can hear classical music, but not discussions about murder while in the cocoon.”
“The cocoon?” He had intensely blue eyes and they were amused. He was also soaking wet, his blond hair in damp curls. How anyone could look attractive while absolutely drenched was a mystery to her, but he pulled it off pretty well. If she faced the truth, she was puzzled by the attraction in the first place. He was hardly the boy next door.
“I’m quoting my sister.” Ellie was really looking forward to seeing Jody, who knew pretty much everything about motherhood. Well, no one did, at a guess, but her sister at least had some experience in the form of three healthy, if a little exuberant, children.
“I can’t wait to hold the baby, him or her. No preference.” He held her gaze a shade too long, and that was yet another reason to just tell Metzger she was pregnant. Anyone paying attention had already noticed Santiago’s romantic interest, and that was everyone they worked with. The janitors would probably come to the conclusion this baby was his, and thanks to a stalker case they’d worked recently, Metzger already knew they had a physical relationship.
The chief was not going to be happy about the unexpected development.
They walked down the hall to the chief’s office and met his harried secretary just before they got there. She waved them on. “Go in. He’s about done with a call.”
Chief Metzger was a big, square man with a very limited sense of humor who took his job seriously and was good at it. Ellie liked his Spartan and direct approach, and she respected how he handled his authority. He still was on the call and simply motioned for them to take a seat. He ended the call abruptly with the words, “I’ll make sure this is handled well and quickly.”
The chief had a steely gaze and knew how to use it. He first looked at Ellie, and then at Santiago in a deliberate sweep, and pointed at an envelope on his desk. “When you leave, take that with you. Those are crime scene photographs from a few days ago. We have a situation that needs to be addressed, and you two have been especially requested to help in the addressing of said situation. I’m hoping for results that reflect well on the MPD. Got it?”
Santiago predictably replied, “Not yet. What situation?”
“We have a murdered daughter of a district attorney. Her boyfriend has been arrested, but the young man is swearing his innocence.”
“If he was arrested,” Santiago pointed out, “there must have been probable cause.”
“Sure is. An eyewitness. Well, two of them apparently. Also physical evidence.” Metzger perpetually drank coffee and picked up his mug before going on. “Cut and dried. Or so it seems.”
Ellie had to admit she was confused. “So why exactly are we here? What does ‘or so it seems’ mean in this case?”
“Because it isn’t that simple. He comes from a prominent family, but is a bit of a black sheep and they have nothing to do with him any longer. There’s plenty of evidence to take to a grand jury, but here’s where it gets dicey. His family’s accounting firm has been under a covert investigation for possible ties to embezzling and corporate fraud, and their tentacles are elsewhere too. His father works there, both his brothers work there, and his uncle is a partner. Everyone is involved, which includes the FBI and forensic accountants from the IRS; even the DEA. At more than one level people are wondering if the killing wasn’t just a warning to back off. Complicated investigation, lots of parties doing different things, and what they want from you is to find out if this young man really did kill her or if it was a hit and they just set him up for the fall since he’s estranged from his family. The various agencies will handle the rest, but you will assist them by determining if this is a legitimate arrest or if he’s telling the truth. It looked cut and dried at the scene, but the officers who arrested him aren’t homicide and they aren’t you.”
Ellie started to say, “Surely the FBI—”
“Are undercover. They can’t ask questions, but you can. You are expected by the family, due to Randy’s arrest, to show up for a few interviews, so they won’t be surprised. You are homicide detectives and this is definitely a homicide.”
That made sense.
He went on. “Plus, you’ve handled a case like this before. We deal with people who view the law as an option they can ignore. These people have money and don’t care how they get it apparently. That’s not our problem. Our problem is one victim who can’t speak for herself because she’s dead and a young man who deserves a fair shake if he’s telling the truth. I have people in high places telling me he really might have been set up.”
“By his family?” Santiago didn’t look aghast, he was just asking. His unusual childhood and his stint in the military, not to mention his current occupation, made it almost impossible to surprise him. Ellie had found that out in the course of working with him for several years now.
“Or whoever controls them and knows they won’t step forward to help him out. Randy is still sitting in jail. These are people who have cocktails with judges at fancy parties and the money to meet almost any bail, but they aren’t interested in lifting a finger on his behalf. Why not?”
If the young man was guilty, she didn’t feel sorry for him, but if he wasn’t …
Jason was never shy. “He’s the fall guy.”
She agreed. Instantly.
Metzger spread his hands. “Once again, that’s not our problem. Your job is to find out what really happened between our suspect and Janet Locke. If the system chooses to prosecute because of what you find out, then hopefully that’s justice. If they choose to hit the family and their suspicious friends with both barrels because Randy Lane is considered disposable and framing him for murder is a crime, then that is the decision of people who have a lot more at stake in this than we do.”
“Locke is a U.S. district attorney and a hard-ass. Well, shit,” Santiago muttered. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I think I’ve pissed him off more than once. This is a federal case.”
“It happened right here in our jurisdiction, and there is no indication that it was more than a lover’s quarrel gone bad. If there is, I expect you to find out.”
“Can we see the arrest report, sir?” Ellie wasn’t thrilled with this assignment either.
“Here it is.” He handed over a piece of paper. “No emails on this one, and that order doesn’t come from me but from above me. Before the murder, they’d been working on this for months and aren’t happy to involve us, but don’t have much choice. It would be absolutely a red flag if the MPD didn’t look into it as deeply as possible, and you have gotten enough press that they are hoping maybe that if she was murdered as a message, it will stir things up a bit just in case you two can figure out who really did it if it wasn’t Randy Lane.”
“It sounds dangerous.” Santiago looked as bland as much as he could pull off, but it wasn’t a very good performance. “Maybe I should work this with Grasso.”
Both Ellie and Metzger looked at him like he’d lost his mind. The chief leaned back. “Where the hell did that come from? I believe you of all people understand MacIntosh can handle herself because she’s saved your sorry ass a time or two. I have always been under the impression that if I assigned you a different partner on a case you’d be extremely unhappy.”
“I normally would be.”
She knew exactly where it was coming from, and this was not necessarily how she wanted to do this, but then again, she didn’t want to do this at all. She said quietly, “He’s worried because I’m pregnant.”
There, it was over. Bandage ripped off and tossed away.
Metzger shut his eyes and leaned back in his chair and blew out a breath. It took him a long moment. “There’s only one reason I can think of he’d be so worried. What? Did you both skip health class in high school? For two people I consider some of best detectives I’ve ever had, you both just slay me.”
Copyright © 2018 by Katherine Smith