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Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind 43


  * * *

  It was Hayden’s day off. I tried his home phone number and found him in. He wasn’t exactly happy to hear from me, but told me to come over anyway. He lived in one of the older neighborhoods in Orchard Park.

  Two boys’ bicycles, covered in fresh mud, were clashed on the soggy ground in the front yard. The basketball hoop over the garage door had no net. It started to rain as I knocked on the side entrance door. Richard looked morose and huddled into his jacket. I knocked again, and a matronly woman answered. “Mr. Resnick? Won’t you come in? My husband is in the den.”

  The tidy, dated kitchen reminded me of a set from a sixties sitcom. The aroma of meat loaf and boiled potatoes filled the air. An unfrosted chocolate cake, cooling on wire racks on the counter by the sink, added to the sense of unreality. We followed her through the orderly house to the den. She ushered us inside and closed the door behind us.

  This was obviously Hayden’s domain. Family photos were scattered over the walls, including a large color portrait of Hayden, his wife, and two preteen boys. Bowling trophies shared shelf space with a clutter of books, magazines, and other memorabilia.

  “Still joined at the hip, I see. Sit,” Hayden commanded. “I don’t like my weekend interrupted,” he warned without preamble.

  “With any luck, you’ll never see me again after today.” I handed him the envelope.

  “What’s this?” He lifted the flap and dumped the contents on his desk.

  “My case against Sharon Walker.”

  “Who?”

  “The woman who killed Matt and Claudia Sumner. It’s kind of a long story. I hope your meat loaf will keep.”

  I repeated what I’d told him at the police station earlier that week, catching him up with the events that had occurred within the past few days—leaving out the part where Maggie and I found the second victim. While I spoke, he pawed through the envelope’s contents. He didn’t ask where I got the copy of Sumner’s calendar, and I wouldn’t have told him. Richard handed over his handkerchief with the fabric swatches.

  Hayden leaned back in his Naugahyde swivel chair. “All circumstantial. You haven’t got a thing I can go to the D.A. with.”

  “I know that. But once you subpoena the lab report, that alone should give you a new angle to investigate.”

  He picked up the envelope. “Where’d you get this?”

  “Sumner’s office. It was jammed behind one of the drawers in his desk.”

  “And what were you doing there?”

  “I had permission. Ron Myers can vouch for me.” I waited, and when he said nothing, “Well?”

  “Well, what? There’s nothing here. No case.”

  “Will you at least look into it?”

  “Yeah. But it won’t come to anything. Guaranteed. Sumner slept with a number of women, but he was usually discreet. He was being blackmailed. He withdrew fifteen hundred dollars from his savings account every month for the past four years. That is, until this past month. He didn’t pay and was killed for it.”

  “It wasn’t blackmail. He considered it child support.”

  “Whatever,” the detective said.

  “And you don’t think a woman could’ve killed him?”

  “Arranged to have him killed? Certainly. Doing it herself? That’s another matter, especially considering how it was done.”

  “Don’t be such a chauvinist, Hayden. This isn’t the turn of the century, and Sharon Walker is no dainty little female. She can probably bench-press more than all three of us put together.”

  “That doesn’t prove a thing.”

  “Then what about her car? It matches the one Paul Linski saw.”

  “By his own admission, he doesn’t know for sure if he saw it on the night the body was dumped.”

  “What about the carpet fibers? She carted Sumner from Holland to Orchard Park in the back of her station wagon. There had to be fibers on his wounds, in his lungs, or under his fingernails.”

  Hayden continued to glare at me.

  I let out a long, quavering breath, trying to hold my anger in check. I’d wasted my time and his.

  “Well, you keep all that stuff, Detective. It isn’t doing me any good.” I stood. “And if the case is still open in a year or two, maybe you’ll be willing to take it under consideration. Come on, Rich, let’s go.” I paused at the door. “And thanks for telling Nielsen about me. My tax dollars at work.”

  I opened the door and started back through the house. Mrs. Hayden stood at the counter, assembling her layer cake. I walked past but heard Richard murmur, “Nice to meet you,” on his way out. He always did have good manners.

  The door closed behind him, and he followed me to the car. The drizzle had turned into a steady downpour. We got in the Lincoln and sat.

  Richard turned to me. “I’m sorry, Jeff.”

  “What for? I didn’t really believe he’d go for it. To tell you the truth, I’m surprised he didn’t throw us out.” I took a breath to steady my shaky nerves. “I’ve done my civic duty. I reported what I know about a crime. If Hayden chooses to do nothing about it, it’s out of my hands.”

  “I just hope you haven’t set yourself up as a target.”

  Me, too, I thought.

  Richard silently fumed for most of the ride back to Amherst, more depressed about the situation than I was. Time to lighten the mood.

  “Did you see the basketball hoop on Hayden’s garage?” I asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Whatever happened to ours?”

  He frowned. “Grandmother had it taken down the day you left for the Army.”

  “But you put it up.”

  “I did it for you. She never bothered to ask me if I’d like to keep it. Shortsighted of her.”

  “Why?”

  “It made it easier for me to take the job in Pasadena. That stupid basketball hoop was the tenuous connection I had with you. She wouldn’t understand that you could mean something to me. When it came down, it was the first step toward my freedom.”

  “I don’t get it.”

  “I was just a possession to Grandmother. She’d won me from Betty. She saw your leaving as another victory. The job in California was my way out, but not without a lot of guilt. I wasn’t there when Grandfather died, and I wasn’t there when she died two years later, alone. Curtis found her in her bed.”

  “Did you come back to Buffalo?”

  He shook his head. “What was the point? There was no one to come home to. I made all the arrangements by phone. I’ve never even been to her grave,” he finished quietly, his gaze locked on the road ahead, his expression unreadable.

  I remembered then what Brenda had said to me the day I’d returned to Buffalo: It means a lot to him that you’re here.

  “You think we could get another one?” I asked.

  “Another what?”

  “Backboard. I won’t be in this brace forever. It might be fun to play some one-on-one again.”

  He risked a glance at me, his smile tentative. “Sounds like a great idea.”

  I think we both knew then that I wasn’t ever going back to Manhattan.