Thinking of Persephone MacGillivray and her sexy Jennifer Beals sweatshirt, I cursed under my breath. Either she was lying about killing Mr. Fries, or perhaps, she’d sneaked a peek at the body before my cops arrived. Damn, dame. She might’ve compromised my crime scene. I imagined her horrified look when I demanded she take off the sweatshirt, so I could submit it into evidence. Unfortunately, I’d need a warrant first. But all I had was a circumstantial glitter. I couldn’t see pretty Persephone murdering her amputee neighbor. But then again, as I learned often, anyone can be motivated to kill.
Officer Poundacre jerked her chin at me. “Where’s Puente?”
Iggy Puente, my partner. “In Rahway. His old man died unexpectedly.” She cocked a brow. “Heart attack,” I added. “I’m taking this solo until he comes back. Shouldn’t be more than a few days.” I cleared my throat. “Did you get a next of kin?”
She nodded. “Has a daughter, Ms. Fries, on Clifton Avenue, and a son who works on some oil rig in the Gulf.”
I sucked on my teeth and glanced at a busybody neighbor peeking through the hole in the fence. “Make sure you secure the area. I don’t want any onlookers leaking info to the press.”
“You got it, Detective.” She motioned for her belt, but I stopped her.
“Who’s processing today?”
“I think it’s Boschman,” she said, before unclipping her radio and mumbling directives.
I smiled. Fred Boschman owed me a favor, which meant I could pressure him for a rush job on forensics. I knew I couldn’t get far without the toxicology report.
I crouched down near the body and examined the man’s swollen lips, now a ghastly shade of purple. His tongue, fat with white dots, lolled to one side. A line of creamy, white applesauce had dried on his chin and neck. Mr. Fries’s eyes were wide open with cataracts coating the light blue irises. My guess was Mr. Fries was shocked in his final moments, which only pointed to one thing — he knew his attacker.
I rose from my crouch. I’d have to interview Persephone again, no question. But first, I needed to meet Mr. Fries’s daughter and deliver the bad news.
“Tell Boschman, I’ll meet him in the morgue later for his prelim observations,” I told Poundacre before leaving the yard through the gate and jumping into my Maserati.
Clifton Avenue was only a seven minute drive from the victim’s house, but my car could make it in four. I parked in front of a blue Cape Cod style house with an overgrown lawn. A child’s bicycle leaned against the bark of a leafy fruit tree in the side yard.
I always hated this part. The department used to have a squad who were trained in comforting the victims, but budget cuts relegated them to volunteer work. And very few people wanted to donate their free time by telling family members their loved ones were murdered. Best left to the detectives anyway.
I knocked on the door, my fist deliberate and forceful. Time was a commodity I couldn’t afford to waste. I heard steps approach and a woman opened the storm door, but stood behind a dusty screen. She appeared to be in her early to mid 40s. She had dark hair with thick blonde highlights, reminding me of zebra stripes. Her face was lined and tired, which made sense seeing the toddler on her hip.
She eyed me suspiciously. “Can I help you?”
I held up my badge. “I’m Detective Spreadbury. May I come in?”
She nodded and wordlessly opened the screen door. I followed her through the foyer and into a small living room. She set her toddler down onto the stained carpet and handed him an electronic tablet. Then she plucked toys from a worn, floral couch and gestured for me to sit. I did so, whipping out a small notebook and pen. I breathed in a sweet, heady smell, like the pipe odor from Mr. Fries’s place.
“Ms. Fries,” I began.
“Claudia,” she corrected. “Please tell me what’s going on. You’re making me nervous.”
I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry to tell you this but your father was murdered in his backyard today.”
She gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and wept. I gave her a few moments to register the shock, to mourn, to grieve. I never wanted to rush a witness into speaking before they were ready.
Claudia wiped the tears from her cheeks, smearing her dark makeup. “I know who did this,” she said. She then stared at me with cold, blue eyes — clearly inherited from her father, “My rotten ex-husband. Duncan Meadows.”