One False Move Page 69

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Wickner stopped, smiled. “Getting off the subject a bit, aren’t I?”

Myron shrugged. “I’m not in any hurry.”

“Unfortunately I am.” Another smile that twisted Myron’s heart. “I was telling you about the second time I encountered Anita Slaughter. Like I said, it was the day Elizabeth Bradford committed suicide. A woman identifying herself as a maid called the station at six in the morning. I didn’t realize it was Anita until I arrived. Roy and I were in the midst of the investigation when the old man called us into that fancy library. You ever seen it? The library in the silo?”

Myron nodded.

“The three of them were there—the old man, Arthur, and Chance. Still in these fancy silk pajamas and bathrobes, for chrissake. The old man asked us for a little favor. That’s what he called it. A little favor like he was asking us to help him move a piano. He wanted us to report the death as an accident. For the family reputation. Old Man Bradford wasn’t crass enough to put a dollar amount on doing this, but he made it clear we would be well compensated. Roy and I figured, What’s the harm? Accident or suicide—in the long run, who really cares? That kind of stuff is changed all the time. No big deal, right?”

“Then you believed them?” Myron said.

The question nudged Wickner out of his daze. “What do you mean?”

“That it was a suicide. You took their word?”

“It was a suicide, Myron. Your Anita Slaughter confirmed it.”

“How?”

“She saw it happen.”

“You mean she found the body.”

“No, I mean she saw Elizabeth Bradford leap.”

That surprised him.

“According to Anita’s statement, she arrived at work, walked up the driveway, spotted Elizabeth Bradford standing alone on the ledge, and watched her dive on her head.”

“Anita could have been coached,” Myron said.

Wickner shook his head. “Nope.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because Anita Slaughter made this statement before the Bradfords got to her—both on the phone and when we first got there. Hell, most of the Bradfords were still getting out of bed. Once the spin control began, Anita changed her story. That’s when she came up with that stuff about finding the body when she arrived.”

Myron frowned. “I don’t get it. Why change the time of the jump? What difference could it make?”

“I guess they wanted it to be at night so it would look more like an accident. A woman inadvertently slipping off a wet balcony late at night is an easier sell than at six in the morning.”

Myron thought about this. And didn’t like it.

“There was no sign of a struggle,” Wickner continued. “There was even a note.”

“What did it say?”

“Mostly gibberish. I don’t really remember. The Bradfords kept it. Claimed it was private thoughts. We were able to confirm it was her handwriting. That’s all I cared about.”

“You mentioned in the police report that Anita still showed signs of the earlier assault.”

Wickner nodded.

“So you must have been suspicious.”

“Suspicious of what? Sure, I wondered. But I didn’t see any connection. A maid suffers a beating three weeks before the suicide of her employer. What’s one thing got to do with the other?”

Myron nodded slowly. It made sense, he guessed. He checked the clock behind Wickner’s head. Fifteen minutes more, he estimated. And then Win would have to approach carefully. Making his way around the motion detectors would take time. Myron took a deep breath. Win would make it. He always did.

“There’s more,” Wickner said.

Myron looked at him and waited.

“I saw Anita Slaughter one last time,” Wickner said. “Nine months later. At the Holiday Inn.”

Myron realized that he was holding his breath. Wickner put down the weapon on the desk—well out of Myron’s reach—and grabbed hold of a whiskey bottle. He took a swig and then picked up the shotgun again.

He aimed it at Myron.

“You’re wondering why I’m telling you all this.” Wickner’s words came out a bit more slurred now. The barrel was still pointed at Myron, growing larger, an angry dark mouth trying to swallow him whole.

“The thought crossed my mind,” Myron said.

Wickner smiled. Then he let loose a deep breath, lowered his aim a bit, and started in again. “I wasn’t on duty that night. Neither was Roy. He called me at home and said the Bradfords needed a favor. I told him the Bradfords could go to hell, I wasn’t their personal security service. But it was all bluster.

“Anyway, Roy told me to put on a uniform and meet him at the Holiday Inn. I went, of course. We hooked up in the parking lot. I asked Roy what was up. He said that one of the Bradford kids had screwed up again. I said, screwed up how? Roy said he didn’t know the details. It was girl trouble. He had gotten fresh, or they had taken too many drugs. Something like that. Understand now that this was twenty years ago. Terms like date rape didn’t exist back then. You go back to a hotel room with a guy, well, let’s just say you got what you got. I’m not defending it. I’m just saying it was the way that it was.

“So I asked him what we were supposed to do. Roy said that we just had to seal off the floor. See, there was a wedding going on and a big convention. The place was mobbed, and the room was in a fairly public spot. So they needed us to keep people away so they could clean up whatever mess there was. Roy and I positioned ourselves at either end of the corridor. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t really think I had much of a choice. What was I going to do, report them? The Bradfords already had their hooks into me. The payoff for fixing the suicide would come out. So would all the rest. And not just about me but about my buddies on the force. Cops react funny when they’re threatened.” He pointed to the floor. “Look what Roy was willing to do to his own partner.”

Myron nodded.

“So we cleared the floor. And then I saw Old Man Bradford’s so-called security expert. Creepy little guy. Scared the piss out of me. Sam something.”

“Sam Richards,” Myron said.

“Yeah, right, Richards. That’s the guy. He spewed out the same dribble I’d already heard. Girl trouble. Nothing to worry about. He’d clean it up. The girl was a little shaky, but they’d get her patched up and pay her off. It would all go away. That’s how it is with the rich. Money cleans all spills. So the first thing this Sam guy does is carry the girl out. I wasn’t supposed to see it. I was supposed to stay down at the end of the corridor. But I looked anyway. Sam had her wrapped in a sheet and carried her over his shoulder like a fireman. But for a split second I saw her face. And I knew who it was. Anita Slaughter. Her eyes were closed. She hung over his shoulder like a bag of oats.”

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