Settings
Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind 41


  * * *

  A shiny black SUV with the license plate HOTNEWS pulled up the driveway exactly on time. I headed for it, slammed the door after I got in.

  “Where’re we going?” Nielsen asked.

  “You like pizza for breakfast?”

  “Not since college. Why?”

  “We’re going to the joint where Rob Sumner works.”

  “What for?”

  “To talk.” I gave him the address. “Put this sucker in gear and let’s go.”

  “You don’t expect him to show for work the morning after his mother was murdered.”

  “Of course not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk to his co-workers.”

  Nielsen shrugged and backed out of the driveway and headed for Main Street. “Why the interest in the son? You think he’s involved?”

  “I don’t know. Something in his attitude makes me suspicious.”

  “Is this a psychic insight?” he asked, with more than a hint of contempt.

  “It’s a gut reaction. I’ve got years of investigative experience behind me. I’ve worked in the field for the last fourteen years.”

  “I did some digging on you. You had a pretty good career going.”

  “And it would’ve continued, if I hadn’t been mugged.”

  “As of yesterday, NYPD hadn’t made any headway on that.”

  He had done his homework. “I didn’t think they would.”

  Nielsen palmed the wheel as he turned onto Transit Road. “You want to tell me how this psychic stuff works?”

  “No.”

  “Aw, come on, Jeff. We’re old school pals.”

  “I’ve forgotten a lot since I had my brains scrambled, but I know for a fact we were never friends.”

  “That could change.”

  “Why?”

  Nielsen braked for a red light. “Because if you’ve got genuine psychic abilities—”

  “Less than a minute ago you were sneering at the idea.”

  “I admit I’m a skeptic.”

  “And I can’t put on a show for you. This stuff is hit or miss.”

  “So you were scamming Hayden?”

  “No. Sometimes—and only sometimes—I seem to tune into people’s emotions. The rest of it just kind of happens.”

  “And this only started after the mugging?”

  “Yeah, and I hope like hell it goes as fast as it came.”

  Nielsen pulled into the pizza parlor’s nearly-empty parking lot. The Open sign was still dark, but lights burned inside the building. “How are we handling this?” I asked.

  “I’ll just watch you in action.”

  I glared at him for a moment and got out of the car. He tagged behind me. The shop’s door was unlocked and we stepped inside.

  “We don’t open for another half hour,” said a teenaged girl mopping the entryway.

  “I’d like to speak to the manager.”

  “That’s me,” said a harassed-looking man of about forty, coming up from behind the girl. His nametag read Dennis Sloan. “You interested in the assistant manager’s job?”

  “No.” I introduced myself, ignoring Nielsen, and pulled out one of my business cards. “I’m here about an employee, Rob Sumner.”

  “Ex-employee.”

  Interesting that Linda Sumner wasn’t aware of her husband’s current employment status. Just where had he been going every day, when he should’ve been working?

  “I’m looking into Matt and Claudia Sumner’s deaths. Can you give me some insight into Rob’s character?”

  He scrutinized my card. “I can’t tell you why he was let go—corporate policy.”

  “What can you tell me about him?”

  Sloan took a half-step back, crossed his arms over his chest, his expression stony.

  “When was he fired?”

  “Two weeks ago.”

  Just about the time of his father’s death.

  “I understand he’s not very responsible—or reliable,” I said. “And maybe he drinks a little too much. Expects other people to clean up his messes.” I thought about Rob’s parents, and wondered if Claudia had slipped her son money to keep him afloat until he found another job. “He’s also got a violent streak.”

  Sloan’s eyes flashed, and his mouth went tight. “No comment.”

  He didn’t need to say a word. “Thanks for your help.” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

  We went back outside, and headed for Nielsen’s car. “That went well,” he said.

  I could’ve decked him. He opened the driver’s door as a rusty Ford Escort pulled into the lot, parking in the spot farthest from the entrance. A tall, skinny kid dressed in the franchise’s standard uniform got out. On an impulse, I jogged over to meet him.

  “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

  He looked at me suspiciously. “What about?”

  “Rob Sumner.” I handed him my card as Nielsen joined us. “I’m investigating his parents’ deaths. What can you tell me about Rob?”

  “He’s an asshole,” the kid answered without hesitation.

  “Why’d he get fired?”

  “He was balling one of the waitresses in the storeroom after hours.”

  Good old Rob—following right in his old man’s footsteps.

  “He was already on probation for beating up my buddy, Gene,” the kid continued. Reticence wasn’t his problem.

  “Gene was another employee?”

  “Yeah, until that bastard Sumner got him fired last month.”

  “What happened?”

  “Rob said Gene was stealing money from the girls’ tip jars. But it was Rob who took the money—Gene saw him. After Mr. Sloan fired him, Gene came back to have it out with Rob. He didn’t know the guy’s a psycho. He broke Gene’s nose—really messed up his face.”

  Sloan watched us from the restaurant’s plate glass door. I nodded in his direction. “Don’t let him give you a hard time for talking to me. The First Amendment says you’re entitled to an opinion, kid. Thanks for the information.”

  I headed back to the SUV with Nielsen trotting to keep up. “You got some good stuff. Why don’t you don’t look happy?” he asked.

  I waited until we were inside the car and he started the engine before answering. “Rob Sumner threatened me the other day. At the time I didn’t take it seriously.” I looked down at the sling surrounding my broken arm and thought about the throbbing in my skull that never really went away. “Maybe I should.”

  “It’s a tough game you’re playing,” Sam said. “Or maybe I should remind you that it isn’t a game. Just keep in mind how Sumner was killed and what happened to his body afterwards.”

  I turned to stare at him. He didn’t have the clue what I knew—what I’d seen. And I wasn’t about to tell him.