One False Move Page 34

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Hold the phone.

Myron looked back over at Tiles. Tiles would still not meet his eyes.

Then Myron remembered the blood on the shirt in the locker. The cops didn’t know about that, couldn’t know about it.…

“She wants to see her father,” Myron blurted out.

Everybody looked at him. “Excuse me?”

“His body. We want to see Horace Slaughter’s body.”

“That won’t be necessary,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve positively identified him through fingerprints. There’s no reason to put—”

“Are you denying Miss Slaughter the opportunity to view her father’s body?”

McLaughlin backpedaled a bit. “Of course not. If that’s what you really want, Brenda—”

“That’s what we want.”

“I’m speaking to Brenda—”

“I’m her attorney, Detective. You speak to me.”

McLaughlin stopped. Then she shook her head and turned to Tiles. Tiles shrugged.

“Okay then,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll drive you over.”

The Bergen County Medical Examiner’s Office looked like a small elementary school. It was one level, red brick, right angles, and as unassuming a building as one could construct, but then again, what did you want in a morgue? The waiting room chairs were molded plastic and about as comfortable as a pinched nerve. Myron had been here once before, not long after Jessica’s father had been murdered. The memory was not a pleasant one.

“We can go in now,” McLaughlin said.

Brenda stayed close to Myron as they all walked down a short corridor. He put his arm around her waist. She moved in a touch. He was comforting her. He knew that. He also knew that it shouldn’t have felt so right.

They entered a room of gleaming metal and tile. No big storage drawers or anything like that. Clothes—a security guard’s uniform—was in a plastic bag in one corner. All the instruments and utensils and what-have-you’s were in another corner, covered by a sheet. So was the table in the center. Myron could see right away that the body underneath it belonged to a big man.

They paused at the door before gathering around the gurney. With minimum fanfare, a man—Myron assumed he was the medical examiner—pulled the sheet back. For the briefest of moments, Myron thought that maybe the cops had screwed up the ID. It was a whimsical hope, he realized, not anything based on fact. He was sure it ran through every person’s mind who came here to identify someone, even when he knew the truth, a last gasp, a fantasy that a wonderful, beautiful mistake had been made. It was only natural.

But there was no mistake here.

Brenda’s eyes filled. She tilted her head and screwed up her mouth. Her hand reached out and brushed the still cheek.

“That’s enough,” McLaughlin said.

The medical examiner started pulling the sheet back. But Myron reached his hand out and stopped him. He looked down at the remains of his old friend. He felt tears sting his own eyes, but he forced them back. Now was not the time. He had come here for a purpose.

“The bullet wound,” Myron said, his voice thick. “It’s in the back of the head?”

The medical examiner glanced at McLaughlin. McLaughlin nodded. “Yes,” the medical examiner said. “I cleaned him up when I heard you were coming.”

Myron pointed to Horace’s right cheek. “What’s that?”

The medical examiner looked nervous. “I have not yet had the time to properly analyze the body.”

“I didn’t ask you for an analysis, Doctor. I asked you about this.”

“Yes, I understand that. But I do not wish to make any suppositions until I perform a complete autopsy.”

“Well, Doctor, it’s a bruise,” Myron said. “And it happened premortem. You can tell by the lividity and coloring.” Myron had no idea if that was true, but he ran with it. “His nose also appears to be broken, does it not, Doctor?”

“Don’t answer that,” McLauglin said.

“He doesn’t have to.” Myron starting leading Brenda away from the shell that was once her father. “Nice try, McLaughlin. Call us a taxi. We’re not saying another word to you.”

When they were alone outside, Brenda said, “Do you want to tell me what that was all about?”

“They were trying to con you.”

“How?”

“For the sake of argument, let’s say you did murder your father. The police are questioning you. You’re nervous. Suddenly they give you the perfect out.”

“That self-defense stuff.”

“Right. Justifiable homicide. They pretend they’re on your side, that they understand. You as the killer would jump at the chance, right?”

“If I were the killer, yeah, I guess I would.”

“But you see, McLaughlin and Tiles knew about those bruises.”

“So?”

“So if you shot your father in self-defense, why was he beaten beforehand?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Here’s how it works. They get you to confess. You follow their lead, come up with a story about how he attacked you and how you had to shoot him. But the problem is, if that’s the case, where did the facial bruises come from? All of a sudden, McLaughlin and Tiles produce this new physical evidence that contradicts your version of the events. So what are you left with? A confession you can’t retract. With that in hand, they use the bruises to show it wasn’t self-defense. You’ve screwed yourself.”

Brenda chewed that over. “So they figure someone beat him right before he was killed?”

“Right.”

She frowned. “But do they really believe I could have beaten him up like that?”

“Probably not.”

“So how are they figuring?”

“Maybe you surprised him with a baseball bat or something. But more likely—and this is the tricky part—they think you had an accomplice. You remember how Tiles checked my hands?”

She nodded.

“He was looking for bruised knuckles or some other telltale sign of trauma. When you punch somebody, your hand usually shows it.”

“And that’s also why she asked me about a boyfriend?”

“Right.”

The sun was starting to weaken a bit. Traffic whizzed by. There was a parking lot across the street. A sprinkling of men and women in business suits trudged to their cars after a day of unnatural office light, their faces pale, their eyes blinking.

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