The siren song of an unsolved murder case lures ex-cop Michael McLaren back into detective work ... this time on his own, and with life-threatening consequences.
“I’d like you to solve a murder.”
Of course, her statement had the desired effect. She had rehearsed what to say during the drive to see him. Yet now, watching the amazement in his face, she didn’t smile. The subject was too serious.
McLaren straightened up from the pile of rocks, cocked his right eyebrow, and eyed the woman with the accumulated years’ experience of a police detective sizing up a reliable witness. She was tall, with hair the color of new corn silk, and she seemed oblivious to the dampness encircling the hem of her long skirt. She had waded through a pasture of dew-drenched grass and had carefully picked her way between the small mounds of sheep dung and clumps of thistle to reach him. Now, near the top of the hill, the wind whipped a stray strand of her long hair and for a moment McLaren thought how it mimicked a stalk of greater tussock sedge that danced under the light, breezy buffeting.
He slowly wrapped his fingers around the stone he held, torn between getting back to work and satisfying his curiosity. His cop’s inquisitiveness won. He said rather reluctantly, “Whose murder?”
“And who’s Marta Hughes--personally, professionally and otherwise, Miss…?”
“Oh, sorry.” She extended her hand to him and spoke in a remarkably steady voice for having legged it up this steep hill. “Bad habit of mine. I get tunnel vision at times.” She paused, as though debating how to proceed now that she had opened the subject. “I’m Linnet Isherwood. Marta’s a friend of mine. She’s married. Sorry. Was married.” She flushed slightly and McLaren thought fleetingly how attractive the pink of her cheeks accented her green eyes. Linnet glanced at the stonewall he was repairing before adding, “They’ve a son. She worked at an animal shelter. Everyone said it was the perfect--”
McLaren held up his hand. “Is that where she was found, at work?”
Linnet shook her head. “No. She’d gone missing for several days before the police found her body outside Elton. She--” She pulled in the corners of her mouth, as though what she was about to say was distasteful. “She’d been dumped alongside the road. Like a sack of rubbish.”
Watching Linnet fumble for a facial tissue in her skirt pocket, he said, “What’s the matter with the police?”
Linnet blotted her eyes, then stared at him, the tissue crushed in her fingers. “Pardon?”
“The police. The coppers, the PCs, the local constabulary. The bill. They investigated the case, I assume.”
“So?” He said it with a hint of sarcasm in his voice, as though his suggestion were laughable, or he already knew the outcome of similar investigations. But there was something more that laced his simple question: an underlying tone of fatigue. With the police, with people, with his life. He exhaled heavily, slowly, waiting for her answer, his arms crossed on his chest, and wondered how she had found him. Not ‘why,’ particularly. His home village was rife with the knowledge of his previous career. And the circumstances that had led to his return there.
So he waited, eyeing the woman, and was forming the response he’d give her when she said, “They never found out who killed her.”
The information had no more effect on him than a fly settling on a stonewall. He sighed, unfolded his arms, and said as though he’d recited it a thousand times, “I’m sorry, Miss Isherwood. I’m not in the job anymore. And I’m too damned hot.” An understatement, he thought, as he tried to swallow; it was the hottest June he could remember. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Talk to a solicitor.” He turned from her and picked up his work gloves, silently dismissing her.
“But the killer’s got away with murder!”
“Tell me about it. We live in a world of injustice.” The words were muffled as he bent over the rock pile.
“And the person they suspected at first now has a blot on her name that will probably stay with her the rest of her life.”
“Relative of yours, I take it.”
“No. Not at all.”
“No. A coworker of Marta’s, actually. I don’t really know her.”
“Because she’s innocent. Because,” she added when the words had not moved him, “I heard that you fought against injustice.”
Copyright © 2009 Jo A. Hiestand