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Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind 14

CHAPTER 7

  The DMV was crowded when we arrived the next morning. Richard handed over the California title to register his car in New York State, and got his picture taken for a driver’s license. After we filled out our respective paperwork, Richard flashed his identification and the poor patient—me—was given preferential treatment and escorted directly to the cashier. Did the good doctor get the same treatment in five-star restaurants?

  They promised the licenses would arrive in about a month. Good old New York State bureaucracy. In the meantime, we were both given temporary paper licenses; mine looked lonely in my empty new wallet. According to the law I could drive again. Now if only I had a car.

  Next step, the bank.

  Being a large depositor had its benefits. Once inside Bison Bank, we sailed past security and headed for the executive offices. We stepped off the elevator on the tenth floor and Richard led the way to the reception desk. I followed, soaking up the layout as I went. Richard was learning. He’d made the appointment for lunchtime so I could snoop.

  We paused in front of the receptionist, a skinny young woman with brassy blonde hair and a winning smile.

  “Good morning. I’m Richard Alpert. I have a twelve-thirty appointment with Ron Myers.”

  The receptionist rose from her desk. “Right this way.”

  “Is there a drinking fountain around here?” I asked.

  “Just down the hall, to the left.”

  “Thanks. I’ll catch up with you, Rich.” She nodded at me and led Richard away; I headed in the opposite direction.

  Being lunchtime, the place was relatively empty. It didn’t take long to find Sumner’s old office. I could see by the frosted glass flanking the door that the light was on inside. I tested the handle. Unlocked. A quick glance around proved no one was in sight. I stepped inside.

  The blinds were raised, giving a panoramic view of the city—not that Buffalo in March is all that attractive. Craning my neck, I could see the ice on Lake Erie shining in the distance. The peons in the tellers’ cubes on the main floor would covet such an office. Cherry hardwood furniture buffed to perfection. Someone had already started packing Sumner’s personal items into a sturdy cardboard carton.

  I sat in the plush swivel chair, settling my good arm along the armrest, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply. I’d hoped to glean some insight into the man, but instead a memory from long ago surfaced, and I suddenly realized where I’d met Matthew John Sumner.

  It was my mother’s birthday, and the blue pressed-glass bud vase was the most beautiful thing my ten-year-old eyes had ever seen. I must’ve stood in Woolworth’s gift section, staring at it, for more than five minutes, my attention completely focused on the $3.95 price tag. I had precisely $1.14 in my jeans pocket. I looked around. No one nearby. Slipping the vase under my jacket, I headed for the exit.

  “I saw what you did.”

  My heart froze as I looked up into the stern face of the tall, hefty man above me. I’d never stolen anything in my life and now, on my first foray into crime, I’d been caught.

  The man crouched down to my level, holding out his hand. Without a word, I handed over the vase.

  “Why would a boy like you want something like this?”

  I couldn’t look him in the eye. “It’s . . . it’s my mother’s birthday tomorrow. I don’t have enough money.”

  “I see.” He straightened. “Wait for me outside.”

  Being a frightened child, I did just what the adult told me to do. Minutes later, he came out of the store.

  “Young man, you know it’s wrong to steal.”

  Hot tears of shame stung my eyes as I nodded solemnly.

  He handed me a paper sack. “Here. You give this to your mother on her birthday. But you have to promise me you’ll never steal again.”

  Gaze focused on my feet, I nodded. He patted my shoulder. Without a word, I turned and ran all the back to our apartment.

  I never stole again.

  My mother had cherished that cheap piece of glass, but I couldn’t look at it without feeling shame over how I’d obtained it.

  Sitting in Sumner’s chair, I pondered my debt to him. Our fleeting encounter some twenty-six years before had made one hell of an impression on my psyche. What else could explain the visions of his murder?

  I left the whys for another time and forced my thoughts back to the present, studying Sumner’s desk.

  His Rolodex was fat and well-worn. Taking out my little spiral notebook, I jotted down any phone number that looked promising, including those of his children. The desk itself was already pretty much cleared, and the computer was switched off. Aside from the fact it was illegal, it was also unlikely I could tap into the bank’s databases to check Sumner’s files. I thumbed through a diskette box next to the terminal. Nothing looked to be personal.

  Several photos decorated the walls behind the couch: Sumner’s wife, children, him receiving an award.

  I sat back in the comfortable chair, grasping the arms, waiting for that funny feeling to come over me.

  Nothing.

  The file cabinets were locked, but the desk drawers weren’t. I sifted through them and found the requisite pens, pencils, and other office supplies, along with a battery-operated razor, a toothbrush, and a tube of minty-fresh toothpaste.

  The credenza’s cabinets housed an assortment of trophies, paperweights, and award placards. Buried in back was a framed drawing of rainbows and colored balloons, crudely done in marking pens, like something a child might do.

  I grasped the frame with my good hand, studied it. Nothing special about it or the drawing, which looked to be done on heavy card stock. On impulse, I fumbled to remove it from the frame and found that it wasn’t just a drawing, but a folded, handmade, one-of-a-kind invitation.

  Come to a first birthday party for Jackie, January tenth, seven o’clock, three years before.

  No address listed, so whoever sent it assumed Sumner knew where the party was to be held. But who was Jackie? It wouldn’t be too hard to check the birth records for that date. I hoped the child had been born in the Buffalo area. I jotted down the date.

  I slid the invitation back behind the glass, turned it over, and continued to study it. It must’ve meant a lot to Sumner, or why would he have framed it? Then again, why wasn’t it on display any more? Why was it hidden?

  Suddenly that queasy, unsettling feeling coursed through me. My fingers convulsed around the wooden frame as intuition flashed:

  Nightfall.

  Chest constricted. Throat closed on stifled sobs.

  No!No!No!No!No!No!

  A venom-filled voice—slow, draggy: “Get back in the car.”

  Rising panic.

  Closed in. Dark. An unspeakable horror—

  I dropped the frame as though burned, shattering the vision. Gasping for breath, I pulled at my suddenly too-tight collar. I sat back, wiped my damp palms on my pants, willing myself to relax.

  Fear. Got that in spades.

  Raw terror. The world destroyed in a way that nothing could ever make right.

  I frowned. These little nuggets of psychic insight were graphic, but not particularly helpful. At least not yet.

  Unwilling to touch the frame again, I used a ruler to push it back into the cabinet, slamming the door.

  “Can I help you?” An attractive redhead stood in the open doorway, her mouth pursed in annoyance. “This is Mr. Sumner’s office. Unless you have a damn good reason to be here, I’m calling security.”

  “Sorry. I—” My mind raced, and in an instant I decided to tell the truth. “I’m waiting for my brother. He’s meeting with Ron Myers. I didn’t feel well, and the door was open, so I ducked in.”

  She looked at me with suspicion. Okay, so it wasn’t the whole truth.

  “I’ll leave.” I quickly rose and the room suddenly lurched around me. I grabbed at the file cabinet for balance, and the woman hurried to my side, grasping my elbow to steady me.

  “Are you okay?”


  “I need to sit.” She led me over to the low couch. “This is embarrassing. I thought I was better, and now. . . .”

  She took in my lopsided haircut. “Were you in an accident?”

  “Mugged. In New York.”

  “That happened to my sister a couple of years ago.”

  Now that I had her sympathy, I might just get some information out of her. “My name’s Jeff. Jeff Resnick.”

  “Maggie Brennan,” she said, and offered her hand.

  My fingers clasped hers, my gaze captivated by her deep blue eyes.

  She wasn’t what you’d call beautiful. Fine lines around her eyes hinted at years of smiles. The color of her eyebrows didn’t match her auburn hair, cut in an out-of-date Dorothy Hamill wedge, but the style suited her. Her dark business suit made her look confident and competent.

  “Umm. My hand?” she prompted.

  Like a fool, I still clasped it.

  “Oh, sorry.” I pulled back my hand; the palm had gone moist again. “Did you say this was Mr. Sumner’s office? Wasn’t he the guy in the paper who—”

  “Yes. Isn’t it awful? I’m packing his personal things for his family.”

  “Did you know him?”

  “Everybody around here knew Matt.”

  “I’ll bet the bank practically had to shut down with everybody going to the funeral?”

  “Not as many went as you’d think. The rules for time off are strict. A bunch of managers went, but nobody I know would waste a vacation day for a bastard like him.” At my startled reaction, she quickly explained. “I can’t believe I said that. I just meant that he could be hard to get along with—a perfectionist who expected daily miracles from his subordinates. But nobody deserves to die like that.”

  I indicated the photos on the wall. “He must’ve been devoted to his family.”

  “Devoted to bailing them out of trouble.”

  “Oh?”

  She didn’t elaborate. In the pictures, Sumner’s children appeared to range in age from fifteen to thirty. No little tykes.

  “Did he have grandchildren?”

  “Not that I know of. His oldest son got married this past fall.”

  Okay. The invitation writer could’ve been Sumner’s girlfriend, with a baby—his baby? If so, someone had to know about them. The question was who? But the woman standing over me wasn’t the person to ask.

  “Are you feeling better now? I can show you to Ron’s office.”

  “If you wouldn’t mind.” I rose to my feet.

  She closed the door behind us. As she led the way down the corridor, I noticed how nicely her skirt fit. She paused at a door, knocked, then poked her head inside. “Ron? I think I found your errant visitor.” She held the door open for me.

  “Thanks. For your help.” I offered her my hand again. She took it and I held on.

  I liked Maggie Brennan.