One False Move Page 33

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“I just told you. In the head.”

“No, I mean where. What city?”

But of course they had known that she meant that. They did not want to tell her, hoping to trip her up.

Myron answered the question. “He was found here in Mahwah.” Then he looked at Tiles. “And before Magnum PI pounces again, I know that because we’re in the Mahwah police station. The only reason for that is that the body was found here.”

McLaughlin did not respond directly. She folded her hands in front of her. “Brenda, when was the last time you saw your father?”

“Don’t answer,” Myron said.

“Brenda?”

Brenda looked at Myron. Her eyes were wide and unfocused. She was fighting to hold it all back, and the strain was starting to show. Her voice was almost a plea. “Let’s just get through this, okay?”

“I’m advising you against it.”

“Good advice,” Tiles said. “If you got something to hide.”

Myron looked at Tiles. “I can’t tell. Is that a mustache or really long nostril hair?”

McLaughlin remained overly earnest, a perp’s dearest chum. “It’s like this, Brenda. If you can answer our questions now, we can end this. If you clam up, well, we’ll have to wonder why. It won’t look good, Brenda. It’ll look like you’ve got something to hide. And then there’s the media.”

Myron put his hand out. “What?”

Tiles handled this one. “Simple, asshole. You lawyer her up, we tell the media she’s a suspect and that she wouldn’t cooperate.” He smiled. “Miss Slaughter here will be lucky to endorse condoms.”

Momentary silence. Striking an agent where he lives.

“When did you last see your father, Brenda?”

Myron was about to interrupt, but Brenda silenced him by putting her hand on his forearm. “Nine days ago.”

“Under what circumstances?”

“We were in his apartment.”

“Please continue.”

“Continue with what?” Myron interrupted. Rule twenty-six of lawyering: Never let the interrogator—cop or fellow attorney—get a rhythm. “You asked her when she last saw her father. She told you.”

“I asked under what circumstances,” McLaughlin replied. “Brenda, please tell me what occurred during your visit.”

“You know what occurred,” Brenda said.

That put her a step ahead of Myron.

Maureen McLaughlin nodded. “I have in my possession a sworn complaint.” She slid a piece of paper across the metal table. “Is that your signature, Brenda?”

“Yes.”

Myron took the sheet and began to skim it.

“Does that accurately describe your last meeting with your father?”

Brenda’s eyes were hard now. “Yes.”

“So on this occasion at your father’s apartment—the last time you saw him—your father assaulted you both physically and verbally. Is that correct?”

Myron kept still.

“He shoved me,” Brenda said.

“Hard enough for you to want a restraining order, isn’t that correct?”

Myron tried to keep pace, but he was starting to feel like a buoy in rough waters. Horace had assaulted his own daughter and was now dead. Myron had to get a handle on this, get back into the fray.

“Stop badgering,” he said, his voice sounding weak and forced. “You have the documentation, so let’s get on with it.”

“Brenda, please tell me about your father’s assault.”

“He pushed me,” she said.

“Can you tell me why?”

“No.”

“No, you won’t tell me. Or no, you don’t know.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“He just shoved you?”

“Yes.”

“You walked into his apartment. You said, ‘Hi, Dad.’ Then he cursed at you and assaulted you. Is that what you’re telling us?”

Brenda was trying to keep her face steady, but there was shaking near the fault lines. The facade was about to crack.

“That’s enough,” Myron said.

But McLaughlin moved in. “Is that what you’re trying to tell us, Brenda? Your father’s attack was completely unprovoked?”

“She’s not telling you anything, McLaughlin. Back off.”

“Brenda—”

“We’re out of here.” Myron took hold of Brenda’s arm and half dragged her to a standing position. Tiles moved to block the door.

McLaughlin kept talking. “We can help you, Brenda. But this is your last chance. You walk out of here, you’re talking a murder indictment.”

Brenda seemed to snap out of whatever trance she’d been in. “What are you talking about?”

“They’re bluffing,” Myron said.

“You know how this looks, don’t you?” McLaughlin continued. “Your father has been dead awhile. We haven’t done an autopsy yet, but I’d bet he’s been dead for close to a week. You’re a smart girl, Brenda. You put it together. The two of you had problems. We have your own list of serious grievances right here. Nine days ago he assaulted you. You went to court to get him to keep away from you. Our theory is that your father did not obey that order. He was clearly a violent man, probably angered beyond control by what he perceived as your disloyalty. Is that what happened, Brenda?”

Myron said, “Don’t answer.”

“Let me help you, Brenda. Your father didn’t listen to the court order, right? He came after you, didn’t he?”

Brenda said nothing.

“You were his daughter. You disobeyed him. You publicly humiliated him, so much so that he decided to teach you a lesson. And when he came after you—when that big, scary man was going to attack you again—you had no choice. You shot him. It was self-defense, Brenda. I understand that. I would have done the same thing. But if you walk out that door, Brenda, I can’t help you. It moves from something justifiable to coldblooded murder. Plain and simple.”

McLaughlin took her hand. “Let me help you, Brenda.”

The room went still. McLaughlin’s freckled face was totally earnest, the perfect mask of concern and trust and openness. Myron glanced over at Tiles. Tiles quickly diverted his gaze.

Myron didn’t like that.

McLaughlin had laid out a neat little theory. It made sense. Myron could see why they would believe it. There was bad blood between father and daughter. A well-documented history of abuse. A court order …

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