One False Move Page 38

“They did an autopsy?”

“Yep. She landed on her head. The impact crushed her skull.”

“Tox screen?”

“They didn’t run one.”

“Why not?”

“She died from a fall, not an overdose.”

“But a tox screen would have shown if she’d been drugged,” Myron said.

“So?”

“There were no signs of a struggle, okay, but what would have prevented someone from drugging her and then dumping her over the side?”

Francine made a face. “And maybe little green men pushed her.”

“Hey, if this was a poor couple and the wife had accidentally fallen off her fire escape—”

“But this wasn’t a poor couple, Myron. It was the Bradfords. Did they get preferential treatment? Probably. But even if Elizabeth Bradford had been drugged, it still doesn’t add up to murder. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Now it was Myron’s turn to look confused. “How do you figure?”

“The fall was only three stories,” Francine said. “A short three stories.”

“So?”

“So a murderer who pushed her off that terrace could not have counted on that low a fall killing her. More likely she would have just broken a leg or something.”

Myron stopped. He had not thought of that. But it made sense. Pushing someone off a third-floor balcony with the hopes that she would land on her head and die was risky at best. Arthur Bradford did not hit Myron as a man who took risks.

So what did that mean?

“Maybe she was hit over the head beforehand,” Myron tried.

Francine shook her head. “The autopsy didn’t show any signs of an earlier blow. And they also checked the rest of the house. There was no blood anywhere. They might have cleaned it up, of course, but I doubt we’ll ever know.”

“So there’s absolutely nothing suspicious in the report?”

“Nothing,” she said.

Myron raised his hands. “So why are we out here? Trying to recapture our lost youth?”

Francine looked at him. “Somebody broke into my house.”

“What?”

“After I read the file. It was supposed to look like a burglary, but it was a search. A thorough one. The place is trashed. Then right after that Roy Pomeranz calls me. Remember him?”

“No.”

“He was Wickner’s old partner.”

“Oh, right,” Myron said, “an early musclehead?”

“That’s him. He’s chief of detectives now. So yesterday he calls me into his office, something he’s never done before. He wants to know why I was looking at the old Bradford file.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I made up some bullshit story about studying old police techniques.”

Myron made a face. “And Pomeranz bought that?”

“No, he didn’t buy it,” Francine snapped. “He wanted to slam me against a wall and shake the truth out of me. But he was afraid. He was pretending like his questions were just routine, no big deal, but you should have seen his face. He looked maybe half an egg sandwich away from a coronary. He claimed that he was worried about the implications of what I was doing because it was an election year. I nodded a lot and apologized and bought his story about as much as he bought mine. When I drove home, I spotted a tail. I shook it this morning, and here we are.”

“And they trashed your place?”

“Yup. The work of professionals.” Francine stood now and moved closer to him. “So now that I’ve stepped into a pail of snakes for you, you want to tell me why I’m taking all these bites?”

Myron considered his options, but there weren’t any. He had indeed gotten her into this mess. She had a right to know.

“You read this morning’s paper?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“You see the story on the murder of Horace Slaughter?”

“Yes.” Then she held a hand out as though to silence him. “There was a Slaughter in the file. But it was a woman. A maid or something. She found the body.”

“Anita Slaughter. The victim’s wife.”

Her face lost a little color. “Oh, Christ, I don’t like the sound of this. Go on.”

So he did. He told her the whole story. When he finished, Francine looked down below them at the patch of grass where she had captained the field hockey team. She chewed on her lower lip.

“One thing,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s important or not. But Anita Slaughter had been assaulted before Elizabeth Bradford’s death.”

Myron took a step back. “What do you mean, assaulted?”

“In the report. Wickner wrote that the witness, Anita Slaughter, still displayed abrasions from the earlier assault.”

“What assault? When?”

“I don’t know. That’s all it said.”

“So how do we find out?”

“There might be a police report on it in the basement,” she said. “But—”

“Right, you can’t risk it.”

Francine checked her watch. She moved toward him. “I got some errands to run before I start my shift.”

“Be careful,” he said. “Assume your phone is tapped and your house bugged. Assume at all times you’re being followed. If you spot a tail, call me on the cell phone.”

Francine Neagly nodded. Then she looked down at the field again. “High school,” she said softly. “Ever miss it?”

Myron looked at her.

She smiled. “Yeah, me neither.”

On the ride back to his house the cell phone rang. Myron picked it up.

“I got the information on Slaughter’s credit card.” Win. Another one who loved to exchange pleasantries. It was still before eight in the morning.

Myron said, “You’re awake?”

“My God, man.” Win waited a beat. “What gave it away?”

“No, I mean, you usually sleep late.”

“I haven’t gone to bed yet.”

“Oh.” Myron almost asked what he’d been doing, but he knew better. When it came to Win and the night, ignorance was quite often bliss.

“Only one charge in the past two weeks,” Win said. “A week ago Thursday Horace used his Discover card at the Holiday Inn in Livingston.”

Myron shook his head. Livingston. Again. The day before Horace vanished. “How much?”

“Twenty-six dollars even.”

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