I decided to go over to the department immediately and get it over with. It felt strange to drive up to the two-story brick building without a badge on, even stranger to park in one of the visitors’ spaces. Several cops greeted me when I entered. I waved and stopped at the desk.
“Claire! How you doing?” asked the desk sergeant.
“I’m fine. Is Don around?”
“Sure. Go on up. I think you know the way.” The sergeant smiled and went back to his duties.
I headed toward the stairs. It hurt a little to walk the halls. Ghosts of past cases flew through my mind. I remembered wild chases, tough busts, and the looks on the faces of the victims’ families when they thanked me. Maybe I wasn’t quite over leaving the force.
My mind snapped back to the present when I saw Don hunkered down over some paperwork at his desk, running a hand through his dark hair. I sucked in a ragged breath when I saw those broad shoulders again.
He raised his head. There were circles under his brown eyes and a day’s growth of dark stubble on his face.
“Looks like you pulled an all-nighter.”
He motioned toward a chair. “Yeah, I sure did, and I’ve got the paperwork to prove it. What brings you by?”
“I’m working a case. I understand from the people involved that you were the lead investigator on it.”
“Yeah? Who was the vic?”
“Oh, that one.” Don blew out a breath. “What a mess. I had everybody leaning on me from the mayor on down. Believe me, I went over all the evidence with a fine-tooth comb. Talked with everybody involved about fifteen times. Everything came to a dead end.”
“I know you’re thorough, Don. It’s just that the parents want me to make sure all the angles were covered.”
“Sure, I understand. I’m surprised the stepfather’s interested in pursuing the case, though. He wasn’t much help one way or the other while we were investigating.”
“Really. Could he be a suspect?”
“Don’t think so. He and the mom were involved in planning a big family reunion over in Parkersburg about the time of the murder. Took them three or four days to set the thing up, then they were with relatives for another few days. The mom swore they were together the whole time. I think he was just mad because apparently he and Cindy didn’t get along.” Don turned toward a filing cabinet. “I don’t mind letting you know who the players were since it’s a cold case. The parents would probably give you the same list I have.” He dug through some files and came out with a folder. We discussed the case for a while as I made notes.
Then Don asked, “How are you doing, Claire? I heard you were having a tough time.” His dark eyes tried to penetrate my thoughts.
“Is that so!” My voice went up a notch. “And which of my good friends who I haven’t seen since I left the force told you that!”
“Take it easy, Claire. I’m just worried about you. You know you could have stayed on here and had a much easier time of it.”
“Yeah, right.” I glared at him. “They offered me a wonderful desk job after I found out I had diabetes because I had to use insulin. They were scared to put me back on the street.” I sneered. “That would have been just ducky. Me shuffing paperwork, people smiling when they brought it to me then talking behind my back.” I raised my hand to the side of my mouth. “Poor Claire. Isn’t it too bad? She can’t go out in the field any more.” I jabbed my forefinger at him. “That wasn’t the life I wanted!”
“Claire, please. I only want to make sure you’re okay.”
“Ah, yes.” My body tensed. “You’re such a tower of strength. I seem to remember you broke our engagement in the middle of everything else I was going through.”
“Lower your voice. Everyone’s looking. Besides you know we had other issues.”
“What other issues?”
“You were living your job twenty-four/seven. You had to make the most busts, solve the most cases, be Miss Super Detective.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I felt like you didn’t have room in your life for me.”
His remark stopped me cold. I never knew he felt that way. Besides, I’d always found time for him. He was just plain wrong. “That’s not true!” Heads turned as my voice went up again. “I needed you more than ever when I found out I had diabetes.”
“If you remember, I went to classes with you.” Don spoke quietly, patiently. That irritated me more than if he’d shouted at me. “I wanted to find out what we needed to do to make sure you were okay. But then they offered you the desk job. You got mad at the world-over the diabetes, over the job change, everything.”
“Do you blame me?” I hurled the words at him.
“Not necessarily, but you’ve got to understand. It was like trying to be close to a volcano. After a while, I couldn’t do it any more.” Don’s eyes grew duller, more tired.
“Now if you want to think I was a jerk, go right ahead, but that’s the way I felt at the end.”
I stood and leaned over the desk, looking straight into his eyes. “I’m so glad to find out everything was my fault. But you know what? That’s okay. I’ll just continue being Miss Super Detective. I have my own agency so now I think I’ll solve this murder. I think I’ll run out and do that little thing right now.”
I heard Don calling out to me as I walked with chin up and back ramrod straight toward the door. Anger burned like a fire in my chest, but my eyes filled with tears. For some dumb reason I still wanted to brush that dark stubble on his cheeks with my fingertips and feel the sand-papery glory that was his face.
I decided I was too mad to drive so I went to the park for a walk. What an idiot I was! Don was a painstaking investigator. He was probably right when he’d said everything had led to a dead end. I kicked a rock on the sidewalk. Stupid, stupid, stupid! You let your emotions get in the way. How are you going to get out of this jam?
Walking down the pathways cleared my head. I thought of Betty Seabold’s trusting look when she first came into the office. I remembered how she cried into her handkerchief. The right thing to do-the only thing I could do-was to meet with the Seabolds again and tell them there were no leads I could pursue. They’d already lost a daughter. They didn’t need to lose any more money on top of that.
I called the Seabolds from the cell phone in my car and arranged to meet with them at Dewey’s. Before starting my engine I used my meter to check my blood glucose and no surprise it was up because of the anger and stress. This day just keeps getting better and better. Have to give myself a little extra insulin at lunch. At least I knew the pump could handle that. As I drove toward the restaurant I realized I now had two problems to deal with. First and foremost, of course, was keeping the office open. Second, how could I ever face Don again when he found out I hadn’t even taken the case?
The Seabolds were already seated when I entered Dewey’s. While we ate lunch, I told them I didn’t think I could find out anything new about the case.
“I appreciate your honesty,” said Betty. She reached into a folder she’d brought. “There is one question I have, though. Did Detective Snyder ever figure out what this meant?” She handed me a paper with initials, dollar amounts, arrows, and question marks written on it.
“I don’t recall seeing this in the file,” I replied. “Whose handwriting is it?”
“It’s Cindy’s,” answered Clint. “We went to her apartment when she didn’t come to our family reunion. We looked through her rooms, and this paper was the only thing we found that didn’t make sense, so I took a copy of it. Then we called the police and reported Cindy as a missing person. They have the original.”
“Let me make a quick call.” I slid out of the booth, headed toward my car for privacy, and called Don on the cellular.
I paused for a second when I heard his deep voice in my ear, then spoke. “Don, it’s Claire. Can I ask you a question even though I did act like Mount Vesuvius in your office?”
He chuckled. “Sure. I’ve cleaned up the lava. What do you need?”
“On the Kagel case-did you ever get a paper from missing persons that had some strange scribbling on it?”
“Let me see…” I heard Don open the file cabinet.
“Ah, yes. I remember that now. Never found any significance to it. I figured she wrote notes to herself about her bank account since she had an account at First Bank of Indalia.”
“Thanks, Don. I’ll let you get back to work now.”
“I’d like to see you sometime-maybe light another fire besides Vesuvius.”
I closed my eyes savoring his velvet voice. No. I shook off wanting to see him. Too many things had happened between us. “Maybe later. I’m pretty busy with this case right now.” I clicked off the phone.
After returning to the table, I asked, “How careful was Cindy about her bank account?”
Betty laughed. “She was very careful. I used to call her the little accountant. It was a strange part of her personality, her being so young yet so attentive to her money.”
I pushed the paper toward Betty. “Do you think she would have made notes about her account on a paper like this?”
“No way.” Betty shook her head. “She always entered everything in her ledger.”
“Then I’ll take the case. I may be able to help you. Can I keep this paper?”
The Seabolds agreed. We went back to the office to sign a contract. I told them I’d contact them soon for an indepth interview about Cindy. As the Seabolds left, Betty said, “Be sure you talk to that idiot boyfriend of Cindy’s. He’s the biggest jerk I ever met.”
I assured them I’d talk to him, then went back to my desk. Leaning back in the chair with my feet on the desk, I enjoyed the moment. I had a case, a clue and a suspect. I just might make it after all.
To be continued…