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Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind 40

CHAPTER 21

  Claudia Sumner’s untidy death kept me awake and staring at the ceiling for a long time. She must’ve known all about little Jackie. Otherwise why was she so interested in finding out the beneficiary of the fictional insurance policy I’d mentioned when I’d met her? Did she wonder if her husband had changed his policies—maybe even his will—to include his lover and bastard child?

  Ron Myers said Claudia loved money. She also loved her children. How far was she willing to go to protect them and their inheritance? If Sharon confronted her—demanding Jackie’s share of Matt’s estate—Claudia could’ve been foolish enough to argue with her about it, not knowing she was Matt’s killer.

  Sumner’s tryst with Maggie had happened at the condo five years before. Little Jackie was now four years old. Had Sumner bedded Sharon immediately after Maggie had broken it off? If so, Sharon would’ve known about the condo. It fit the time line. Had she lured Claudia there? Her death fit the pattern of humiliation, too. Sharon had taken Sumner’s clothes before killing him. That she’d do the same to his wife made sense, as well. And killing Claudia at the condo, where Matt had slept with all his side-dishes, was the ultimate degradation.

  I got up late and found Richard and Brenda at the kitchen table still reading the paper. “Morning,” I called, shuffling toward the coffee pot.

  They looked at me over the tops of their respective newspaper sections. “Good morning,” Richard said. Did I detect a sliver of ice in his tone?

  “Did you have a good time last night?” Brenda asked.

  “Uh . . . yes and no.” I grabbed a cup from the cupboard and poured myself some coffee.

  “There’s been a development in the Sumner case,” Richard said, folding the front page of the paper to show me the banner headline. “They found his wife murdered.”

  I gulped my coffee. “Yeah. I know.”

  He studied my face. “How do you know?”

  I considered lying. Decided against it. “Who do you think found her?”

  “Jeffy!” Brenda cried.

  “Christ, now what kind of trouble are you in?” Richard asked.

  “Nobody knows it was us.”

  “Us?” Brenda said.

  “Maggie was with me.” I explained how she’d found the duplicate key to the condo in Sumner’s office. I left out the part about Maggie’s affair with the dead man.

  “I don’t see how they can connect either one of us.”

  “Oh no?” Richard turned, grabbed a Post-It note from the counter. “That reporter called three times last night. You snuck off to bed before I could give you the messages.”

  “Uh . . . thanks. I guess. I’ll call him later.”

  They gave each other worried looks, but Richard shook his head, and they both found places other than me to look at. Finally Brenda refolded her section of newspaper. “Tomorrow’s Easter Sunday; we really should go to church.”

  “Church?” Richard echoed. “But we never go.”

  Brenda shoved the Life & Arts section’s color spread in front of him. “The paper says there’s a Basilica in Lackawanna. Look at these pictures; the statues and stained glass look terrific. Its design is supposed to be based on St. Peter’s in Rome. And it sure wouldn’t hurt you couple of sinners to go.” With that, Brenda got up from the table, clearing away some of the dishes.

  “But you’re not Catholic.”

  “The two of you are. Maybe it’ll rub off on me.”

  Richard scowled. “What time?”

  “Noon.” Brenda looked at me. “Want to come?”

  I shrugged. “Sure.” Besides, Maggie had said the Basilica was her parish. Maybe I’d see her there.

  The phone rang. Richard’s scowl deepened. “I’m not answering it.”

  “Me, either,” Brenda said.

  I got up, picked up the receiver. “Hello.”

  “Jeff.” Sam Nielsen, sounding insufferably pleased. “You’ve been avoiding me.”

  “No I haven’t. I just wasn’t home when you called last night. Why have you been annoying my family?”

  “Me, annoy anyone? Ha! I was just wondering if you heard about Claudia Sumner?”

  I didn’t answer.

  “A woman called 911. You know who?”

  No way was I going to implicate Maggie. Some part of me still hoped I had a chance of being with her. “I read about it in the paper.”

  “That’s not what I asked.”

  Damn him. He was going to hound me until I gave him something more. “Look, I’ve just moved back to Buffalo and I don’t have any wheels. I need to make a few more inquiries. You available this morning?”

  “Name the time and place.”

  We agreed to meet in an hour. I hung up the phone to find Richard and Brenda staring at me. “Do you think that’s a wise move?”

  “I gotta get him off my back. If nothing else, I’ll bore him to death.”

  Brenda let out a sigh but said nothing.

  “And I’d like to go to East Aurora this afternoon, if you don’t mind driving, Rich.”

  “Why?”

  “To meet Sharon Walker.”

  Brenda sat down at the table again, her eyes flashing. “No, Jeffy. Don’t do it.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because from what you’ve told us, she’s a vicious murderer. Maybe she killed Sumner’s wife, too. I don’t want you to be next.”

  “She’s not going to kill me. I’m not stupid enough to accuse her.”

  “What will you say to her?” Richard asked.

  “I’m not sure. I figured I’d just wing it.”

  “Wing it?” Brenda asked.

  “Then what?”

  “Then I’ll go to Detective Hayden with everything I’ve got on her. It’s up to him to decide if he wants to pursue it. I’ll wash my hands of the whole thing once I talk to him.”

  Brenda crossed her arms over her chest. “Amen!”