After checking various sources, I found what Carol had said about Bobby Spears was true. He was good-looking, well liked and bright. He’d gotten a degree in computer science and was working for a company called Computer Reasoning Factor. The business dealt with various computer solutions and services such as repair, database set-up, Web site design and software applications. He was considered a comer.
I decided to tail him for a few days to get to know his routine, so I put on my uniform of sunglasses, sunshade and wig of mousy brown hair. I love my red hair, but not when I am following someone. Best not to stand out in a crowd.
His routine on workdays was predictable. He’d leave for work about 8:30 every morning, eat at the same restaurant for lunch and head home about 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. The interesting thing was that home was an apartment right on the canal. Home also had another resident—a girlfriend named Helen Colson. Bobby had moved on, too.
The restaurant looked like the best place to question Bobby. I decided not to make a prearranged appointment with him. I wanted unplanned responses to my questions.
I parked across the street from Spears’ restaurant and waited for him to enter. I figured I’d use a cover story when I talked with him. Since feelings between he and the Seabolds might be running deep on both sides, I didn’t want him to know I was working for Betty and Clint.
Finally he showed, and I hightailed it across the street. I walked up to his table, fake business card in hand. “Mr. Spears?”
He looked up from his menu. “Yes?”
“Hi. I’m Claire Burton, a freelance writer. I’m doing an article on Cindy Kagel’s death and wondered if you could give me some information.”
Spears sagged in his seat. “I talked to police and reporters ’til I was blue in the face after they found Cindy’s body. I don’t feel like going over everything again.”
“I can understand that, but there’s a chance new leads might be uncovered if the story appears in the paper again.”
Spears’ face brightened. “Do you really think so?”
I was surprised by his eagerness. Would he really be happy about new leads? “It’s worth a try, isn’t it?” I slid into the chair across from him. Close up, Spears’ beach boy good looks contrasted sharply with the business suit he was wearing.
“Yeah, I guess so.” He shoved his menu aside. “What do you want to know?”
I flipped my notepad open. “I understand you and Cindy dated for awhile. How did you get to know each other?”
“We met in high school. She was a couple of years younger than me, but so intelligent. That’s what attracted me to her—the fact that she was so smart for her age.”
“Really.” I smiled. “You’re the first man I’ve ever heard of who liked a woman for her mind first.”
Bobby laughed. “I guess that does sound funny, especially for a high school boy, but Cindy was the complete package. She was smart, pretty and caring.”
“How long did you two date?”
“We went steady until her junior year, then the bottom dropped out of everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“Something happened that changed Cindy. She’d never tell me what, but it must have been something serious.”
“How could you tell?”
The waitress came. I studied the carb-city menu and finally found something that wouldn’t send my blood glucose sky high. After the ordering formality was over, Bobby continued. “We used to see each other on a regular basis even when I went to college. But after this thing—whatever it was—happened, she’d come and go as the mood struck. I never knew when I was going to see her. I could tell she was using, too.”
“What was she on?” “I’m pretty sure it was crack. She’d be high a lot of times when we met.”
“The change must have been hard to put up with.”
“It was. I finally had to break things off with her. I couldn’t stand seeing her go downhill. I couldn’t keep up my grades and be her babysitter, too.”
The waitress brought our lunches. I shifted my notepad, then asked, “How’d she take it?”
Bobby rolled his eyes. “Very badly. She was strung out when I told her and went nuts. She screamed and yelled. Said she’d ruin my life.”
“Wow. That must have upset you.”
“Yeah, it did. Especially when she started stalking me.” Bobby shook his head and winced. “It got really bad when I started seeing someone else. We’d go out, and there Cindy would be. High as a kite and yelling about how I should be with her. A couple of times she tried to get physical with us.”
I put down my pad. “That surprises me. Doesn’t sound like the Cindy other people have told me about.”
“I know. It surprised me, too. I think it was the drugs.”
“You must have had some fun dates with all this going on. How did the girl you were with take Cindy’s actions?”
“Helen? She hung in there. She can take care of herself.”
“Twenty-first-century woman, huh? What’s her last name?”
“Colson, Helen Colson.” Bobby leaned toward me. “Please don’t bother her. She’s been through enough, and things are good for us now. Besides, Cindy’s dead. It wouldn’t do any good to dredge up old memories.”
I nodded, not committing one way or the other. “Did Cindy keep bothering you until she died?”
“No, she disappeared for a while, then popped up again.”
“Was she still strung out?”
“No, she came to my office. Said she’d cleaned up and had a job. She came by for a professional visit. Wanted me to help her with a computer accounting system.”
Bobby took the last bite of his lunch, then spoke. “It had to do with her job. She was working for some charitable organization. Said she thought there was something wrong with the accounting software they had and wanted to install a new system.”
“Any problems with her while she was in your office?”
Bobby hesitated. “Uh, no. No. Everything was fine. She was her old self. I was so glad she was back on track, then . . . .” He looked down at his plate. “Then she was gone.” He looked up at me, tears in his eyes. “I need to get back to work.” He started to rise from his seat. “I don’t think there’s anything else I can tell you.”
I held up my hand. “One more thing. Did anyone see you with Cindy in the office?” “Yes, Callie, the receptionist.” He called over his shoulder as he walked quickly to the cash register.
I was surprised by Bobby’s emotions. Was he just upset because Cindy as dead or was he maybe feeling guilty?
I went back to the office and fired up the computer, dreading what I was going to have to do. Since I’d told Bobby I was a freelance writer, I was going to have to write a story about the murder in order to stay out of trouble with my licensing board. That blasted “no subterfuge” rule tended to get in my way, and I was skating close to the edge.
If I had a story all ready to go, I could always tell them I was going to submit it to the newspaper.
As I typed away, I realized writing the story was actually helping me. The leads were piling up, and I had to decide which way to go next. Eventually I’d have to go down to the less scenic part of town and find out what had scared Cindy. I’d also have to talk with Callie, the receptionist, and Helen Colson, the girlfriend. Lots of work to do. What to do next?
The phone rang, interrupting my thoughts. Betty Seabold’s voice on the other end sounded tired. She wanted to know how I was coming with the case. Clint was giving her a hard time about my expenses.
I told her I wasn’t running up the charges unnecessarily, then changed the subject. “I talked with Bobby Spears today. He seemed okay to me. Why don’t you like him?”
“He was my last hope of getting Cindy straightened out before she ran away. She wouldn’t talk to me any more, so I was hoping he could do something with her. Seemed to me in the end he cared more about his grades than he did her.”
“I think he got frustrated with her like everyone else.”
I didn’t hear anything on the other end of the line. “Betty? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I was just thinking. I guess being mad with Bobby was really a mother’s frustration….” She started crying.
“Betty, it’s okay.” I tried to soothe her.
She cleared her throat and let out a breath. “I know. It’s just that I miss her so much.”
My heart wrenched. “I promise you, if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get to the bottom of this mess. I’ll find her killer.”
We said our good-byes. I stared at my story for a few minutes thinking about Betty’s grief, then got back to business. Bobby’s canal apartment girlfriend, Helen Colson, would be my next target.
To be continued