Since we are close to publishing, this is the last week of chapter one. You can catch up here.
“Friends?” Mark uncrossed his arms and sat on the edge of the brick wall, hoping she’d loosen up a bit. Normally when he crossed his arms in reaction to a witness’ pose and then uncrossed them, they’d follow suit. Jay remained where she was, however, her arms folded over her chest to protect her from anyone getting too close. If she were sitting, she’d have her legs crossed too, he suspected. “Did Buck belong to a book club?” he asked.
She bit down on her lip, her head lowering in her distress. “No. Buck was homeless. We have many homeless people who loiter around the library, especially as the temperature starts to drop. They stay as late as possible, then usually find a place to sleep for the night, and then are here waiting for us to unlock the doors in the morning.”
“Did you find him?” he asked, even though Davis had said his wife found the man.
“No. Mrs. Davis found him.”
“Do you remember anyone ever arguing with him?” He rephrased the question she’d answered before he’d asked her. Maybe she didn’t think someone would have wanted to kill the man, but maybe she’d seen something she’d forgotten.
She shrugged. “Not really. Only the normal stuff. Homeless people tend to ramble on to no one in particular, so most people don’t pay them any mind. As long as they’re not tarnishing their area, that is. Then there are others like Buck. Buck was a good man; he didn’t belong here.”
Mark nodded, noticing the woman had a soft spot for the homeless community, evidently from the time spent with them. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a business card, offering it to her. “Here’s my number. Call me—”
The young woman refused the card, shaking her head. “I know how to find you. I don’t have any pockets, so I’d just lose it.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her remark, and though she struggled, her lips edged up for an instant and then fell again. Her amber-colored eyes filled with sorrow. Sad. She was beautiful. And too young to experience this kind of hurt, but he saw it all the time.
Her skin was a creamy ivory color with a flush of pink across her cheeks that counteracted the grief in her eyes. The young woman had a Gaelic look to her as Ashlyn did, except that she was shorter, more soft spoken. And instead of Ashlyn’s strawberry-blond hair, Jay had fiery red hair, a deep crimson shade that looked as if it might burst into flames at any moment.
Not that he was interested. He loved Ashlyn. But he still recognized a beautiful woman when he saw one. And even if Ashlyn ended their relationship tomorrow, he wouldn’t date a younger woman.
At twenty-three, Ashlyn was only six years younger than he was, but it was the furthest he was going. If Ashlyn were even a couple years older, she probably wouldn’t be thinking so much about setting a wedding date. They were a perfect couple. They enjoyed each other’s company, liked the same things, had similar goals and dreams. Or maybe Mark just thought they wanted the same things in life.
He turned his attention back to the woman in front of him, instead of the one who was hours away. “Can I get your phone number, then, in case I have a question?”
“I live in a dorm and I don’t have a phone.” She pushed herself away from the wall and walked toward the entrance. “As I said, I know where to find you.”
“Okay.” Mark knew better than to press a potential witness in public. Unless she was a suspect—and he had evidence proving she was a suspect—all he could do was hope that she’d cooperate. Behind closed doors, on the other hand, he’d get them to break, find out what they were hiding. Even if they weren’t guilty, witnesses tended to get scared, especially when it came to a murder investigation.
He watched for a couple of seconds as the young woman walked toward the entrance, and then turning away, lifted his phone to text Ashlyn. He just wanted to make sure she wasn’t sitting in the train station. Train stations were some of the scariest places for a single young woman to be alone. But being so far along in her pregnancy, she hadn’t wanted to take even the short flight to her mother’s house. At least it was better than a bus.
Ashlyn texted him back immediately: In the car with Mom. Love you, worrywart. :) <3
He sent back a smiley face and heart in response and made his way to the front door again.
“’Bout time,” Captain called, gesturing to the back doors. “Forensics is on the way. Everything good with Ash?”
“Yeah, she’s spending a few weeks with her mother before the baby comes,” Mark said as nonchalantly as he could muster, but Davis and Townsend raised their eyebrows in unison. A shadow of a smile crossed Townsend’s face, but Davis at least had the decency to look concerned.
It wasn’t as though Townsend and Mark hung out. The middle-aged man just liked to hear stories, and men in relationships didn’t talk about their women the way single men did. When a man loves a woman, he doesn’t share sweet or juicy details. The last thing a man wants is for another man to think about his woman in that way. Not that men wouldn’t anyway. He couldn’t imagine there was a man alive who would look at Ashlyn and not instantly fantasize about her.
With her long legs, perfectly proportioned curves, and flowing strawberry-blond hair, she was a walking pin-up girl. The kind of woman magazines hired to advertise crotch rockets and muscle cars. Not pregnant of course, but he hadn’t seen any fewer heads turn after she started showing. If anything, he swore she got more attention.
Mark shot a glance around the library for Jay, but she must have gone straight to work. Oh well, she didn’t sound as if she was ready to talk even if she did know something. He’d give her a couple of days and then show up unannounced. Mark followed the group out the rear doors to the patio area.
Although bits of mortar were yellowish and crumbling, the vine-covered brick wall surrounding the area stood tall and sturdy. And he found the source of the jasmine. For a moment, he’d wondered if it was Jay’s perfume.
Only one exit existed on the far right side of the courtyard. The shiny black-iron gate appeared to have recently received a fresh coat of spray paint and looked solid, so they must have left it unlocked.
He quickened his pace to catch up with Mrs. Davis. When he placed his hand on her forearm, she jumped. But the moment she made eye contact with him, she looked as though she wanted to collapse in his arms. Her eyes were bloodshot, but a gentle smile creased the corners of her lips and eyes.
“Markey,” she said through a sigh, giving him a sideways hug. “I don’t see enough of you, young man.”
He smiled at the woman and her sweet nickname for him. Few people called a six-four cop ‘Markey’ and got away with it, but she always would. He’d never understood why a woman like Margaret Davis had married Captain Davis. She was so mild mannered, and Davis had all the gentleness of a bull. Though, not around her. When Davis was with his wife, he was a different man, as though her kindness slayed the wild beast.
“I know, Mrs. Davis. I just can’t seem to fit story time into my schedule. I miss it though.” He inhaled deeply, thankful the cool September morning had preserved the dead guy enough that he hadn’t begun to smell yet.
Her smile grew. “I told you that you’d never forget. It’s calming, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is,” Mark agreed. “The scent takes me back. I can almost hear you reading James and the Giant Peach. I think I was seven at the time, but I can still recall the voices you used for each insect.”
Obviously remembering why he was here, Mrs. Davis leaned against him as they approached the homeless man.
Mark focused his eyes on the closed gate again and then scanned the rest of the patio. “Is the gate locked?”
“Yes. We usually open it in the morning and then lock it before we leave. That’s what I was coming out to do when I saw him.”
“But it was locked when you got here?”
Covering her mouth, she nodded her answer.
“And according to your husband, there’s a security system attached to all the doors and windows, but not the patio gate, right?”
“Yes,” she choked out.
“Is it possible someone locked two people out here, and they fought and then one slipped by you this morning?”
Mrs. Davis quickly moved her head back and forth. “I checked, Markey. I locked up last night, and I opened this morning. I may seem old, since you were a child when I’d read to you, but I’m only fifty-three, young man,” she tapped her temple, “and my mind is as sharp as it was when I was twenty-three. No one was on the patio either time.”
Mark inspected the walls again. Ten feet, he’d guess. Some people could scale them, but… Mark scrutinized the man on the ground. He appeared to be in his seventies. Long tattered overcoat, shabby work boots. His hands were tanned dark with years of dirt embedded under his fingernails. But there were no scratches on his hands from the vine, no dust from the crumbling brick.
He couldn’t envision this seventy-year-old homeless guy climbing the wall. Why would he? The patio held nothing special, no salvation from the elements, no fire pit to keep warm.
The brick-lined courtyard just had a few picnic tables and shrubbery. Marble chess pieces sat on a painted chessboard atop one of the concrete tables. That must have been where Jay and the old man had played chess.
How could someone have murdered the man inside the enclosure and then disappear? More than likely, Mrs. Davis had been mistaken about locking someone out here, but Mark would never challenge her assertion.
The Library will be available in a few weeks, but if you haven't read the prequel short story, it's available at all eBook retailers FREE! Enjoy!
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