Least Wanted — Chapter 26

Sam McRae Mystery #2

“Shit.” I shifted the phone to my other ear. Who could blame Beaufort for killing himself? He had nothing to look forward to except prison and the stigma of a convicted statutory rapist and child pornographer. His death left me without a solid alibi for Tina.

“Now, the good news,” Little D said. “I may have some witnesses who saw the girls leave Beaufort’s place shortly before nine. If they saw Tina, they can back our story that she wasn’t the one leaving her house around eight.”

“They’d better be very observant witnesses,” I said. “Eyewitnesses often remember things wrong. Unless they have a reason to remember her, it’s likely they won’t be able to verify that she was with the group. In which case, we’re back to depending on Rochelle and her friends for Tina’s alibi. I don’t know how credible a friend’s word will seem to the police. Especially friends like these.”

“I can try to hunt down some other men at the party,” Little D said. “The cops will want to find them anyway. Maybe one of the witnesses knows the men.”

“That’s a thought,” I said. A tractor-trailer swept by, rocking the car. The shoulder of Route 29, a six-lane highway, was not the best place to chat. I wrapped it up quickly. “I wish I could talk to Tina. Any luck there?”

“Not yet,” he said.

I reminded myself to call Tina’s guidance counselor, Frank Powell. I asked Little D to keep in touch and said goodbye.

En route to the office, I considered what I would do if I couldn’t find Tina. Should I bring Rochelle into this? Would her word alone be compelling enough to nip the matter in the bud? Or should I start exploring other options? And what about Fisher? There was still the possibility that he’d murdered Shanae after she threatened to reveal the source of his extra income. I needed to find out if he had an alibi for that night.

* * * * *

I had a pleasant visit with Walt, dropped my stuff at home, and picked up Oscar at Russell’s. I got to the office about 2:00 p.m. Sheila, the receptionist, eyed me suspiciously and asked where I’d been hiding.

I told her I’d taken yesterday off.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people trooped in and out of here looking for you,” the gray-haired receptionist rasped. “A courier left a package for you. Three clients dropped in to chat about their cases. And some blond guy who looked like Mr. America was hanging around. Wouldn’t even tell me what it was about.”

I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck. I couldn’t imagine what Diesel might have done to me during business hours. If his intent was to intimidate me, he had succeeded

“When I told him you weren’t here, he went upstairs to shove a note under your door,” Sheila said. She handed me the package and a pile of mail. “Here you go. You’re welcome. Next time, I’d appreciate a heads up when you go AWOL.

When I had picked up my files before checking in at the motel, I’d made sure to lock my office door. From the top of the stairs I could see that the door was shut, but not completely latched. Someone had jimmied the lock

I opened the door a little at a time. The place had been turned upside down. The file drawers had been emptied. Files scattered about like confetti. The desk drawers were open, contents in disarray. My computer was on. The intruder hadn’t been able to get past the security code I’d installed.

The intruder had been thorough. My framed diplomas and bar license lay on the floor, the backings sliced wide enough for a hand to check behind the certificates. My bar certificate had incurred a small cut. It was barely noticeable. My eyes fell on my father’s photo of Jackie Robinson. It had received similar treatment. Gasping, I ran over to examine it. I was grateful to find it in good condition. Any nicks on that photo and I would have inflicted bodily harm on the perp.

I surveyed the wreckage, despairing at the prospect of putting everything back together again. No equipment was missing, but it was obvious someone had been looking for something. Did Diesel do all this while he was up here, pretending to leave me a note? It was possible as I had most of the top floor to myself. Maybe he’d used the opportunity to scope the place out, then returned later. He could have picked the front door locks so my landlord wouldn’t notice the break-in. And once he got to my office, the contents were fair game.

If he’d done this, why hadn’t he done the same to my apartment? Maybe I’d surprised him and come home before he’d had a chance.

I gathered papers and set them in piles. I would sort them out later. I checked to see if any of my visitors had actually left a note. An unfamiliar business card lay in the wreckage near the door. I picked it up. “Fisher’s Pawn Shop, Rodney Fisher, Proprietor.” On the back, someone had scribbled, “We need to talk, RF”. I found no other note or envelope. It’s unusual for a client to drop in without an appointment. If someone wanted to waste my time and their money, they usually did it by phone. I faced the possibility that someone other than Diesel had done this. One of my other so-called clients.

I sprinted downstairs. “Sheila, did anyone else go up to my office? Or leave anything with you?”

“Two of ’em left envelopes that I stuck with your mail,” she said. “The blond guy and two others went up to your office.”

“The ones who went upstairs. What did they look like?”

“One was a youngish, very dark-skinned black man. Kind of bulked up — you know, the sort with muscles on his muscles. Had his hair in those braids . . . .” She snapped her bony fingers in double-time. Sheila might have been twice my age, maybe more, but she had the manual dexterity of a twenty-year-old. “Whatta ya call ’em?”

“Cornrows,” I said.

Sheila pointed at me. “Right.”

That sounded like Narsh. He must have delivered Rodney’s card.

“What about the other?”

She closed her eyes. “Another black man. He was short and skinny with light-brown skin. Wore sunglasses and a baseball cap.”

The description fit Greg Beaufort. Clearly, he had tried to disguise his looks. “Were they together?”

She shook her head. “The darker fellow was here yesterday morning. The other guy came in the afternoon.”

Greg Beaufort had likely been told to leave work after I’d talked to the vice principal. Had he come here to beg me not to report him to the cops? Did he break into my office to search for the DVD? If so, perhaps his failure to find me or the disc was the final straw for Beaufort. And he chose to kill himself rather than face the consequences. Maybe, I thought. It was all speculation.

I shook my head, dispelling possibilities and refocused on facts. “What about the blond man?” I asked. “When was he here?”

“This morning. Why do you ask?”

“Okay, don’t freak out. But I think one of them broke into my office.”

Her blue eyes widened. “You’re joking. Is anything missing?”

“Nothing obvious. I’ll have to look through the mess before I know for sure. The place got tossed. Whoever did it was looking for something related to two cases I’m working on.” Since Narsh had left Fisher’s card, I focused on the remaining two as possible suspects. Either could have had reason to break in and rummage around. “How long were those guys upstairs?”

Her brow furrowed. “The dark fellow with the corn rows might have been five minutes. As for the lighter-skinned guy, I can’t say. I left my desk to help Milt organize his files. So I couldn’t tell you exactly when he left.”

“And the blond?”

“God, I don’t know.” She rubbed her forehead. “I wasn’t paying close attention. And I had my earbuds in, transcribing letters. I couldn’t hear a thing other than Milt, droning on about capital gains.” She bit her lip.

“Don’t sweat it,” I said. “You didn’t know there’d be a pop quiz.”

“Okay.” She sounded a bit shaky. “Are you going to call the police?”

I’d been so wrapped up in figuring out who and why, I had forgotten about the police. “Far as I can tell, nothing expensive has been stolen,” I said. “But I’ll call.”

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Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.