Repo-man Brocs Harley finds himself in the police crosshairs when his brother's death is ruled murder. Now it'll take all his skill and a fair amount of luck to find out who killed his brother.
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Brocs Harley hasn't always lied on the right side of the law, but he's never been accused of murder...until now.
A repo man with a degree in criminal justice and a background in grand theft and B&E, Brocston Harley has never tried to avoid his black sheep label or his father's ire. His little brother, Drew, was teh golden boy. The favorite son, heir to the Harley real estate fortune, and recently engaged, Drew had everything a young man could want. When he's found dead of an apparent suicide, Brocs knows in his gut it has to be murder. When the police come to the same conclusion, Brocs finds he's the number one suspect. It will take all of his skills to stay out of prison, unearth an ugly family secret and discover who murdered his brother and why.
Where the Dreams End
Rain beat a steady tattoo against the faded canvas of the funeral home tent. I stood alone and watched the man seated at the graveside say goodbye to his favorite son.
That man was my father. I was the other son.
Rain soaked my bare head, dripped off my hair and ran down my neck. I wondered idly why young men didn’t wear hats anymore—brain confetti, I didn’t want to think about why I was standing there in the rain.
My brother’s fiancée, Lori, stopped at my side. Pale with grief and dressed in black, she was still beautiful. I held her close and her small frame shuddered. I rested my cheek against her hair while she cried in my arms. We stood that way for a long time. Finally, she took a trembling breath and stepped away from my embrace. Rain mixed with the tears on her cheeks.
“I loved him so much, Brocs,” she whispered.
Lori’s dad pulled her under his umbrella and they trudged slowly toward his car. I shivered, turned up the collar of my overcoat, and squinted into the darkness under the tent. Lightning flashed and thunder shook the ground. I flinched. The old man sat unmoving.
Melinda Carver, Drew’s secretary, stopped by my side. I tore my gaze from the tent and transferred it to her. Her eyes were puffy and red from crying. She started to speak, and then just shook her head. I gave her a hug.
“Thanks for coming, Mel.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without your brother, Brocs.”
I wondered that myself as she slowly walked away. My eyes drifted back to the scene at the graveside. The priest, Father Michael, knelt to speak with Halston. They turned briefly toward me. Halston shook his head, stood and moved away. Father Mike started speaking again. I turned to watch the line of cars parading out of the cemetery. Wil Pinkerton, my best friend since college, stopped and shook my hand. In all the years we’ve known each other I don’t think we’d ever shaken hands. It was awkward.
“Want me to stick around?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Thanks for coming, Wil.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
I said I would, watched him make his way down the hill to his car, and wished I’d asked him to stay.
The soggy squelch of a footstep sounded behind me and I turned toward the tent. Father Mike opened his umbrella as he ducked out from under the canopy. He stopped, squeezed my shoulder and started to speak. Our eyes met and he sighed. He knew whatever comfort he offered wouldn’t help.
“I’m sorry, son,” he said.
I clenched my teeth and turned away, fighting for control. He gave my shoulder another squeeze and continued toward his car. I stared once more at my father, Halston Harley—in mourning for the son he loved, left with the one he despised.
My name is Brockston Lee Harley. Brockston was my mother’s maiden name. Lee was my biological father’s name. Mom gave me the name Lee against her husband’s wishes. That single act of defiance may have shaped my entire childhood.
The funeral director huddled off to the side, shivering in his overcoat. The men waiting to fill the grave stood behind the flapping canvas, smoking, talking quietly, waiting patiently for us to go. Thunder crashed and lightning split the sky again. I swore softly to myself, and glared at Halston.
As if he felt my gaze, he turned and stared at me in disgust as he stepped away from the grave. I took his arm when he shuffled past. Shrugging me off, he increased his pace so we weren’t walking together. His thinning gray hair lay in wet tendrils across his head, his hat twisted forgotten in his hands. His rain-soaked overcoat billowed behind him as he stretched the distance between us.
I sighed and trailed him to the limo. A shudder rippled up my spine as the sound of machinery broke the silence. I slid into the car next to the man who had raised me, as my brother’s casket settled into the earth.
We rode through town in silence. Rain peppered the windshield, but the streets were filled with lunch hour traffic. People hurried through the shower talking and laughing. Even in a place as small as Stantonville, Missouri, the death of one person caused only a tiny ripple.
I closed my eyes and slumped against the leather seat until the limousine stopped outside the monstrosity Drew and I jokingly called Halston Manor. Cars lined the circle drive and lights shone from the front windows. I wasn’t going in. I couldn’t imagine anything that would take me through those doors now that Drew was gone. I’d walked away from that house four years ago and hadn’t set foot inside since.
Halston and I left the limo from opposite sides. He started toward the front steps. I headed toward my olive drab F150 pickup. Halfway there I stopped.
“I loved him, too,” I said.
Halston paused when I spoke, but didn’t turn around. Then he stalked up the stairs and pushed through the front door. He wouldn’t even share his grief with me. I slipped behind the wheel of my truck and lay my forehead against the steering wheel. The tears I’d been choking on since Drew died trickled out. I clamped down on them, jabbed the key in the ignition, and spraying gravel across the immaculate lawn, shot onto the street.
I drove aimlessly, letting the sound of the wipers lull me into a daze. A blaring horn brought me out of the ozone and I swerved into my own lane. A picnic area was ahead, deserted in the storm. I angled off the road and parked, looking out at the swollen river. Fat drops splattered on the roof, ran together and blurred the view from the windshield. I slumped against the seat, closed my eyes and thought about the last time I saw Drew.
* * *
We stood at the bar, glasses held high, singing Happy Birthday. Drew grinned with embarrassment and slipped his arm around Lori. We finished our off-key serenade and yelled for a speech. Drew, fortified by alcohol, climbed onto the bar. He started to speak, then stopped and glanced at Lori. She nodded slightly and he went on. “Lori and I are getting married,” he said. Yelps of surprise greeted his announcement. I ordered another round of drinks. Drew’s buddies took turns pounding him on the back and twirling Lori around the dance floor. When they finished pummeling Drew, I grabbed him in a bear hug.
“Congratulations, bro. It’s about time.”
He smirked. “I didn’t want to get in any hurry.”
Lori appeared at his side, blue eyes shining, cheeks flushed with happiness. Her blond hair fell across her face and she flipped it out of the way. I brushed a kiss on her cheek and gave her a hug. Her head barely reached my chin and the flowery scent of her shampoo tickled my nose. Something akin to regret washed through me. I would have traded places with Drew in a heartbeat, but Lori met Drew first and never spared me a glance. She stepped away and curled her arm around my brother. I envied their happiness.
“You mind if we get out of here, Brocs?” Drew asked.
He turned and gave Lori a wink. She smiled and a blush stained her cheeks. Clearly, they had a more personal celebration planned. I gave Drew a gentle shove toward the exit.
“Get out of here, you guys.”
“Meet me for lunch tomorrow, Brocs. I got something I need to talk to you about.”
“Sure. Where and when?”
“How about Luigi’s around one?”
“I’ll be there. See you tomorrow.”
His expression darkened for a moment. I thought it was a trick of light until he spoke again.
“Don’t stand me up, Brocs. This is important.”
His tone was serious, at odds with the party swirling around us. “I’ll be there. I promise.”
I escorted them outside and waved as they strolled down Allen Street hand in hand. When they were out of sight, I wandered back into the bar. Smoke hung in the air and the jukebox was blasting Metallica. The party was still in full swing even after the departure of the guest of honor, but I’d had enough. I finished my beer, shouted goodnight, and escaped the smoke and noise. The music blared, then became muffled when the doors swung closed behind me. The clock on the bank flashed twelve-thirty. It felt later. I started down the street to my apartment. Other than the diffused glow seeping from a covered window above, the block was dark. The shadows hid the cracks in the sidewalk, the peeling paint and crumbling brickwork. Under the soft moonlight, the neighborhood wore a cloak of prosperity that, in the harsh light of day, had been missing for over a decade.
Fatigue seeped through my body. I trudged up the stairs and turned the key in the lock. I draped my jacket over the back of a chair, eased off my boots and padded into my bedroom. As I peeled off my tee shirt, I noticed a dead mouse at the foot of my bed. I tipped the trashcan and toed the gift inside as I made a brief search for my benefactor, Baldwin, my feline roommate. He’s a charcoal gray tabby, invisible unless he wants to be noticed. I flushed his dubious gift, finished undressing and sank onto the bed.
Drew was worried about something. I clicked through the TV channels and wondered what it was, probably something to do with the wedding. Maybe Lori was pregnant. I grinned at the thought. The Flying Tigers with John Wayne was on channel thirty-four. I turned up the sound and settled onto my pillows.
A ringing sound jolted me awake. I sat up and Baldwin slid down my chest with his claws out. I swore and pushed him aside as I reached for the phone. Blood dotted the scratches on my chest and I pressed the sheet against them.
“Hello,” I mumbled.
“Mr. Brockston Harley?”
Christ, a telemarketer. I checked the time, 4:00 a.m. Maybe not, even those guys sleep sometimes.
“Harley, are you there?”
I tried to place the voice and failed.
“Who the hell is this?” I asked.
“Your brother should have kept his nose out of our business.”
“What are you talking about? Who is this?”
“This is a piece of friendly advice. Stay out of things that don’t concern you.”
The line went dead. I cradled the handset, rubbed my face and thought about calling Drew. Decided it could wait since I was meeting him for lunch later. I got up, drug the bloody sheet off the bed, and washed the scratches with alcohol. It stung like a son of a bitch. I looked around to glare at Baldwin, but he was MIA. He’s big on self preservation.
Back in bed, I wrapped the quilt around me and was just on the edge of sleep, when a thundering noise sounded from the front of the apartment. I shot off the bed like I’d been launched from a catapult and stomped down the hall.
“The building better be on fire,” I snarled, as I jerked the door open on the safety chain.
A badge appeared through the crack. I quickly ran through my actions over the last twenty-four hours. I couldn’t come up with any reason the police would need to see me.
“Mr. Harley?” A voice demanded from the other side.
The chain rattled as I released it from the catch. I was expecting uniforms. Instead, two casually dressed men entered. Plainclothes detectives? Goose bumps rose on my skin. Cops at four-thirty in the morning will do that to you.
“What’s this all about?” I snapped.
“Why don’t you get some clothes on, Mr. Harley, then we’ll talk.”
I glared at the older of the two cops. He seemed prepared to wait me out so I went into my bedroom and scooped the clothes I’d been wearing earlier off the floor. I pulled on my shirt, and the smell of stale beer and old ashtray assaulted my senses. In the bathroom, I splashed my face with water—a feeble attempt to wake up. It didn’t help much. The detectives were standing in the living room talking quietly when I entered. They stopped and turned as I came into the room.
The older one was tall and somewhere in his mid fifties. His dark brown hair was beginning to go silver and his skin was weathered as if he spent a lot of time outdoors. His wrinkled suit coat appeared slept in. I couldn’t tell if that was the result of a long day, or his natural appearance. The necktie dangling from his right jacket pocket led me to believe it was the former. When I entered the room, his face went pale and he took a step back. As I watched, his gaze narrowed and he shook his head. The blank cop stare was gone. Now his gaze held something I couldn’t identify. He was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He seemed to recognize me, though.
His partner had dark curly hair that needed a good combing. He was a few years younger than me, somewhere in his mid-twenties, and there was no compassion in his face or his stance. His arms were like tree trunks, straining against the fabric of his polo shirt. I knew his type, asshole, full of himself and the idea of being a cop. He was probably an asshole before he got the badge. I motioned the detectives to a seat and lowered myself onto the coffee table facing the older one.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked.
“Mr. Harley, I’m Detective Sergeant Dean Stryker. This is my partner, Detective Morris. We tried to reach your father, but apparently he’s not home.”
“Probably passed out and didn’t hear the phone,” I said.
Stryker’s expression was pained. I don’t know if it was because of the comment or the interruption.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Go ahead. What did you need to talk to Halston about?”
“Mr. Harley, there’s no easy way to say this. A patrol officer discovered a body around two a.m. We believe it might be your brother Andrew.”
I felt like a fist had just sunk into my stomach. I shifted my stare back and forth between them, but didn’t speak, so he went on.
“The body was found in Borders Alley off of Allen Street this morning. The ID with the body belongs to an Andrew Harley. I hate to ask it of you, sir, but we’d appreciate it if you would come downtown and make a positive ID.”
Drew. Dead. Impossible.
“There’s got to be a mistake,” I said. “I just saw Drew last night.” I glanced down at my watch. “Just a few hours ago.”
“I’m sorry, sir, it could be a case of mistaken identity.”
He didn’t believe that and neither did I. Why would someone else have Drew’s ID? I stared at the floor between my feet, unable to face the truth in his eyes. A picture of Drew and Lori hand in hand walking down the street flashed through my mind. I shook my head free of the image and looked up.
“Mr. Harley, would you please come downtown with us?”
I nodded and stood. Stryker and his partner walked to the door of my apartment and I followed. In a daze, I shoved my feet into my boots, snagged my jacket and trailed the detectives to their car. I sat in the rear seat. The door panels were scarred and stained. The seat back in front of me showed the marks of countless footprints. It smelled like vomit and fear and sweat. I glanced at the doors with no handles and remembered other rides in the back of other police cars. At least this time I wasn’t wearing cuffs.
The chatter of the police radio was the only thing that broke the silence as we drove through the darkened town. Here and there, a light shone in a window. Early risers brewing their first cup of coffee. We passed the police station and stopped at the rear entrance of the hospital. The coroner’s office and morgue were in the basement. I tagged behind the detectives into the building and onto the elevator. The walls were prison gray. The light was muted by a layer of dirt on the inside of the fixture. No happy healing colors here, this elevator was obviously not for public use. The elevator hissed open onto a vast sea of white—walls, floors, ceilings. I squinted against the sudden glare.
We stepped into an entry hall bracketed by swinging doors. Paper coveralls were stacked on shelves to my left with white lab coats hanging below on hooks. Every detail of the scene appeared in sharp-edged relief. Stryker removed a surgical mask from a dispenser on the wall and held it out to me. A laugh welled up inside at the incongruity of preventing infection in a morgue. I stifled the urge with a cough. The hyper-clarity dimmed as I donned the mask.
The curly-headed detective pushed a button almost hidden behind the hanging lab coats. The face of a young woman appeared at the window. She recognized the detectives and stepped into the hallway. She was beautiful. Her green scrubs and auburn hair stood out in stark contrast to the white walls.
“Good morning, detectives,” she said. “Working late, or up early?”
“Late I’m afraid, Sara. We need to ID the body that came in this morning.”
She met my stare, sizing me up. It was not a friendly look. Probably wondering if she was going to have to revive me. Rotten bedside manner, probably why she worked with dead patients, I thought uncharitably. She had succeeded in distracting me until she pushed into the lab. The detectives moved through behind her. I stood watching the doors swing back and forth, willing myself to follow, wishing I didn’t have to. Detective Stryker came back through.
“Come on, son. It won’t get any easier if you wait.”
His expression was compassionate and that was almost my undoing. I took a deep breath and pushed into the lab. Sara moved purposefully across the room and stopped in front of a wall of stainless steel drawers, each one slightly larger than a dorm-sized refrigerator. The detectives halted on either side of her. I held my ground, my feet wouldn’t move any closer. She shot me another unfriendly glance, lifted the latch and swung the stainless door open. I didn’t breathe as the metal table whispered out, and the sheet-covered form came into view. It wasn’t Drew. It couldn’t be.
“You need to step forward, son.”
I forced my feet to move. Sara lifted the sheet and revealed my brother. His face was slack in death, devoid of the laughter usually there. His right eye bulged slightly and a bruise shadowed his cheek and forehead. I groaned low in my throat and took a step back. The older detective placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I shrugged away and cleared my throat.
The words were strangled. I cleared my throat and stared at the detective. “That’s my brother.”
I spun away, snatched the mask from my face and pushed out of the lab and into the waiting area. A tattered mustard yellow couch with chrome arms stood next to the wall in the hallway. I sagged onto it, rested my head on my hands and closed my eyes. I felt the couch give as the older detective sat next to me.
“Detective…” I stopped, but his name wouldn’t come.
“Detective Stryker, how did he die?”
“It appears to be a suicide.”
I snapped upright and glared, pain replaced with fury. “My brother wouldn’t kill himself. He just got engaged.”
“The location is a bit unusual, but it seems fairly straightforward.”
“What do you mean the location is unusual?”
Stryker shifted on his seat before he answered.
“Suicide is a very personal decision. It’s somewhat unusual for it to be in a public place. In a car or hotel room, but not usually out in the open. Don’t get me wrong, it does happen, just not often.”
“Was there a note? What makes you think it was suicide? Oh Jesus, what am I going to tell Lori?”
I ran my hands over my face. My throat was tight. My eyes burned. Stryker laid a hand on my shoulder.
“I’ll have someone drive you home. I’m sorry you had to do this, son.”
I jerked away from him and glared.
“I don’t want to go home.”
I pushed the words past the lump in my throat and stared at the detective until he turned away.
“Stryker, I want to know why you think my brother killed himself. What did he die of?”
Stryker, still not meeting my gaze, said softly, “A gunshot wound to the head.”
I stared at his face. He kept his gaze locked on the wall behind my left shoulder.
“I didn’t see a gunshot wound.”
“You were on the left side, it was in his right temple. We won’t know for sure until the coroner’s report is finished, but the injury appears consistent with a self inflicted gunshot wound.”
“Drew didn’t own a handgun, he hated them.”
Something flickered in the detective’s eyes, just a flash and then it was gone, the compassionate expression dropped back into place like a mask.
This wasn’t really happening.
“Look, son, you’ve had a terrible shock. It’s normal to throw up roadblocks, reasons why they wouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry, the evidence of suicide is pretty clear. He left a note.”
“Can I see it?”
“I’ll see that it gets to you myself.”
God. Drew was dead. I felt as if an enormous hole had just opened in my life. We sat in silence, the detective and I, in the harsh white light of the hallway. He just watched while I crawled through my memories for a reason Drew might have killed himself. There wasn’t one. He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t deeply in debt, he wasn’t depressed. I would have known.
“You’re wrong, detective.”
“Go home, son. Get some rest.”
Anger coursed through my body. This man didn’t know Drew, but he was willing to believe he killed himself and wasn’t going to search any further. It was all I could do not to hit him. I stood and paced down the hall, my hands clenched into fists at my sides. A message board was bolted to the wall at eye level. A purple smiley face surrounded by balloons stared at me from a flyer. That was just too much. I slammed my fist into the grinning purple glob. Pushpins pinged on the floor and rolled away. The now-crumpled smiley floated down to my feet. Stryker watched from down the hall, while I massaged my knuckles and fought to get my anger under control.
“It can’t be suicide.”
“The coroner’s report will tell us for certain, but this isn’t television, son. Murderers in the real world are more likely to hide a body than to stage a suicide. Do you have a reason to think it’s murder, Mr. Harley?
His tone was different. The comfort and compassion were missing. His voice was hard now. My bullshit antenna went on red alert as I tried to reason out the change. When I looked up, his face still held the same soft expression as before. I shook off my uneasiness and put it down to a long shift. He was tired, I was tired. We weren’t getting anywhere here. I tried to ease the tension in my neck and shoulders.
“No one would want to hurt Drew.”
“That just leaves us with a crime of opportunity, like a mugging. But that wouldn’t explain the suicide note with the body, or the fact that his wallet and watch were still there.”
“He didn’t kill himself.” I wasn’t sure who I was trying to convince, the detective, or myself.
Stryker paced down the hall away from me.
“What did the note say?” I asked.
He turned when I spoke. “Son, please. Give yourself some time to come to terms with this trag—”
“What did the note say, detective?”
“It said, ‘Please forgive me’!”
Why would Drew say that? Forgive him for what? It didn’t make any sense.
“The note was in Drew’s handwriting?”
“Mr. Harley. I know you’re upset over the death of your brother. Rest assured if the coroner doesn’t rule his death a suicide, I’ll be the first one out there trying to find his killer.”
I interrupted again.
“You didn’t know Drew. If you did, you’d be out there trying to find the killer now, not making excuses. I want that note, Stryker.”
The detective placed a business card into my hand.
“I’ll get the note to you, son. You’re right. I didn’t know your brother. Why don’t you come down to the station this afternoon? We’ll talk and see if we can come up with any ideas.”
I eased the card underneath the cellophane around my cigarette pack and stuck it in my pocket. I had no intention of talking to him about Drew. I knew he was just trying to placate me so I’d get out of his hair and he could go home. As far as he was concerned, the case was closed. I turned to leave and he asked if I needed a ride. I shook my head and punched the button for the elevator. I had to see Lori.
* * *
Four days since Drew died and I still didn’t know why. There was no police investigation. All the evidence said suicide. I dried my face, turned on the wipers, and angled back onto the road. The rain was starting to let up as I passed Drew’s office in town. The night he died, Drew had been worried about something. That’s why we had planned to meet at Luigi’s for lunch the next day. I stopped in the middle of the street as my thoughts darted in another direction. An angry horn blared behind me, the driver flipping me the bird as he swerved around. Maybe Drew did kill himself. Maybe there was something he wanted to talk about and in the end, he just couldn’t. I shook my head. No way. Drew wouldn’t have considered suicide a solution. I glanced at the Harley Real Estate sign and nodded once to myself. Something was going on that Drew couldn’t handle. Maybe it had to do with business. One way to find out was to check into what he’d been working on lately. I was going to toss his office.
I didn’t have a key so I walked to the rear entrance. I removed my lock picks from my wallet and checked for nosy neighbors. It was clear, so I finessed the lock, stowed the picks in my pocket and stepped inside. I hadn’t picked a lock in years but I guess it’s like riding a bicycle. Once learned, never forgotten.
In the belly drawer of Drew’s secretary’s desk was a set of keys. I pocketed them, pushed into his office and stopped. The picture on the wall behind his desk was of Drew and me, standing together on a riverbank in front of my motorcycle. Pain stabbed my heart and tears threatened. I willed them away and shook my head. I didn’t have time for tears now.
I started sorting through the files in Drew’s desk. Drew worked in real estate with the old man. From the paperwork, business seemed a little slow, but the books showed steady income. I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. But I didn’t really know what I was looking at, either. After one last glance around, I gave it up as a bad idea and started for the door. As I brushed past the desk, I knocked Drew’s daytimer onto the floor. I retrieved it and scanned the entries for the previous week—Bfast, Rowan-Morgan, 8am; lunch with Lori; Call Wes 1st Cap re financing; flowers to Mel for b-day. I turned to the current week—b-day party w/guys; update dad Brunner estate. There were more of the same, mostly business meetings. Nothing penciled in for the day he died or about what he wanted to discuss with me. I tossed the date book to the desktop and the blotter scooted uncovering a collection of papers. I sat back down behind the desk, and gathered the collection of sales flyers and email jokes. As I shuffled them into a stack, a scrap of paper fluttered to the floor. I picked it up and squinted at the scribbled words, B Luigi’s re Austin-Kline. It had been torn from the note section of his daytimer and was crumpled as if he’d thrown it away, then changed his mind. I opened his organizer to the back and found the page the scrap had been ripped from, but there were no other notes written there. I read the message again.
“B” would be me, but I didn’t know anything about Austin-Kline. I dug through the files again, and lifted the one labeled Austin-Kline and tossed it on the desk. I went through his desk once more, searching for anything else with that name on it. In the lower right-hand drawer, I found a blue folder with a rubber band around it. I added it to my stack. Drew’s briefcase was on the floor by my feet. I shoved the papers into the case tossed his date book in with them and started out. Halston was coming in as I stopped at the door.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he snapped.
Those were the first words, Halston Harley, had spoken to me in four years.
“I could ask the same thing about you. You’ve got business so pressing you have to work the day of Drew’s funeral?”
“Get out of here,” he hissed.
I shouldered past him, got into my truck and stared through the rain-speckled windshield. God, this day had been a week long already. I started the engine and fumbled around on the seat for my cigarettes as I drove toward home. The pack I picked up was empty. I crumpled it and felt something hard. I looked to see if there was a cigarette still in the pack. A business card was stuck between the cellophane and the paper. Detective Stryker’s card. As I sat at the stoplight, I worked the card from the mangled pack and stared at it. Tapping it against the steering wheel, I made a decision.