Least Wanted — Chapter 11 — Part One
Sam McRae Mystery #2
At the courthouse the next morning, I got my ten minutes with Tina — five minutes after getting her file. It didn’t take long to figure out I held a “dummy file,” something to show she was charged with a new offense, with nothing in the way of meaningful information. No police report, no school records, no intake forms — nothing. I entered my appearance for Tina at the hearing and flew by the seat of my pants with what little I had.
In a quick conversation with ASA Ellen Martinez beforehand, I’d been able to find out that the softball bat found next to Shanae Jackson’s body had belonged to Tina and had Tina’s prints on it, as well as Shanae’s blood. A neighbor had also overheard Shanae and Tina arguing on the day Shanae died and other occasions. Since our last meeting, Martinez had been in touch with Frank Powell and some of Tina’s teachers. Martinez learned about Tina’s deteriorating attendance and disciplinary record. I noticed she didn’t mention the Pussy Posse and wondered if she was holding it for later or if she wanted to check the veracity of the information before raising it in court. The prosecution had five days after I entered my appearance to disclose in discovery their evidence against Tina. I’d have to wait and see if the matter came up then.
I made all the arguments I could for house arrest and electronic monitoring. Despite my best efforts, the master refused to release Tina to her father. William Jackson stated that Fisher wasn’t fit as a parent, only to have the master tell him Tina wouldn’t be released anyway. The master said Jackson would have to file a petition if he wanted to fight with Rodney Fisher over his parental rights. Fisher yelled that it would be a cold day in hell when Jackson took his little girl from him. Things went downhill from there, and the bailiff removed Jackson from the courtroom. In so many words, the master told Fisher to behave or get thrown out, then he finished announcing his ruling: Tina was to remain in custody pending trial.
I put a hand on Tina’s arm. “I’ll request a review of the decision. Meanwhile, hang in there. I’ll be by to see you as soon as I can.” She wouldn’t even look at me before they led her off.
With a sigh, I packed my briefcase. While I was in the neighborhood, I considered going by Ray Mardovich’s office. The thought of airing a few grievances was both tempting and humiliating. My humiliation won out. I made a beeline for the door.
I was heading back to the office when my cell started vibrating. I never drive and take calls at the same time — and I would like to personally crucify every idiot I see driving with a phone pressed to their ear — so I pulled over to check the number. It was Walt.
“Where’ve you been?” I asked. “I need to tell you about my road trip this weekend.”
“I’ve been up to my ass in alligators,” he said, his voice hoarse with fatigue.
“The shit has hit the fan.”
“Sondra Jones is dead. One of the office cleaning crew found her Friday night, shot in her office.”
“Do I sound like I’m kidding?”
“Tell me this has no connection to the embezzlement and our client.”
Walt was silent.
“Walt, you’re not telling me what I want to hear.”
“And I’m not hearing what you want to hear. Robbery wasn’t the motive. Her purse was there, money and credit cards in her wallet. To make matters worse … I don’t want to talk about this on the phone. We need to meet. How soon can you be at my office?”
“Give me twenty minutes.”
When I got to Walt’s, I gave him a quick rundown on the weekend before we turned our attention to Jones’s death.
“The good news is,” Walt said, “our client hasn’t been implicated in this. Not yet.”
“Thank God. The way you were talking — ”
“Hold on, I haven’t given you the bad news. Brad found the body before the cleaning crew.”
“He found it? And didn’t report it?”
“He said he was scared. He was supposed to meet Jones to discuss his employment status and the audit. It was after business hours and no one else was there. When he saw the body, he freaked and ran. He didn’t want to get involved.”
“Great. Now what? As far as Brad and the audit and all.”
“I don’t know. We should touch base with Hirschbeck on that.”
“If he’s as informative as he was last time, it’ll be a short conversation. Anything else you need right now? Just so you know, I have another murder to defend.” I filled him in briefly on Tina’s case.
“If they do arrest Brad, I can be there for the questioning,” Walt said. “I could use your help with fact-finding, identifying witnesses and so forth. Finding out who else was there that night and why anyone might have a motive to kill Jones.”
“How about the real embezzler?” I asked. “Jones was an outsider. Her push for an audit might have threatened the actual embezzler. Since Brad knew he was under suspicion, I don’t think he would have done it. He’d have to know he’d be a logical murder suspect.”
“Sure,” Walt grumbled. “If he was thinking logically at the time.”
“Good point,” I said. “Still, it’s all the more reason to push Hirschbeck on getting this audit done.” I paused before adding, “Assuming, of course, the audit clears him.”
Walt raised his eyebrows, then said, “Yeah.” I was trying to think of something reassuring to say, when the phone rang. Walt picked it up. “Yeah . . . . Yes . . . . Okay, where are you?” There was a long pause, during which Walt nodded and grunted repeatedly. “Okay, okay. I’ll be right there. Don’t say anything more ’til I get there.”
He hung up. “That was Brad. Scratch what I just said about our client not being implicated.” He pawed around on his desk and scooped up a legal pad and a pen.
“He’s been arrested?”
“Not arrested, but held for questioning at CID. You know what that means.”
“It means I’ve got to get to work. I guess someone must have spilled about Brad’s meeting with Jones.”
“Lobby security camera. Has him coming in the building’s front door at 6:25 P.M. Right in the window of time they think she died.”