“I’m right behind you,” he answered.
Sure you are, she thought to herself, just as soon as Amelia Ann finishes flirting.
She carried one box outside, rounded the corner of the building, and immediately noticed their car’s right rear tire was riding low.
“Great,” she whispered. The tire was either going flat or needed air, and the way her luck had been going, she’d wager it was flat. She dropped the box on the pavement, slipped the key into the trunk lock, and stepped back as the lid popped open.
She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She couldn’t move. She shut her eyes, opened them, and nothing had changed.
“Oh, come on,” she whispered.
She slammed the trunk lid down and ran as fast as she could back to Noah’s room. His door was closed. She pounded on it with her fist.
He knew something was wrong the second he looked at her face. “Jordan? What’s the matter?”
She grabbed his shirt and panted to get the words out. “There’s a dead body in the trunk of our car.”
LLOYD WAS FOLDED UP LIKE A CONTORTIONIST. ONE LEG WAS bent underneath him, and the other was pressed against the back of his head. He died with the most startled look on his face, not pained, just startled, like a big glassy-eyed carp on the end of a fishhook. Jordan didn’t think she was going to be able to get his expression out of her head for a long, long time.
“You’re right, Jordan. Lloyd was a big man.” Noah stood in front of the open trunk, peering down at the body. He glanced over his shoulder to look at her.
She sat on a stone wall, waiting for him to finish his inspection of the body. She refused to look at poor Lloyd a second longer.
“He’s not in a Ziploc bag,” she commented weakly. She couldn’t imagine why that was important to her, but at the moment it was.
“No, he isn’t,” Noah agreed.
Chief Joe Davis stood beside him. The two men were now on a first-name basis. Murder had a way of cutting through formalities. Davis leaned into the trunk and then said, “So we agree? One blow, back of the head. Then he was stuffed into the trunk, right?”
Noah nodded. “Looks that way, Joe.”
“The blow cracked his skull,” Joe concluded. “Had to be someone strong. Someone real strong.”
In unison the two men turned and looked at Jordan. Were they wondering if she were strong enough to kill Lloyd? She folded her arms and frowned at Noah. He’d better not be thinking such a crazy thought.
Joe looked at Lloyd again. “What’s going on?” he asked in frustration. “Two bodies in what? Two days? Three?”
“Is this your first homicide?” Noah asked.
“Second if you count Professor MacKenna,” he said. “Though I didn’t see the body, the investigation is on my shoulders now. This is the second murder Serenity’s ever had. We’re a peaceful community. That is, we were until your girlfriend hit town and men started dropping like flies.”
Noah let Joe’s assumption that Jordan was his girlfriend slide. “You know she didn’t do this. She didn’t kill either one of them.”
“Lloyd was my primary suspect. He had her car in his garage, so he had the opportunity.”
“What about motive?” Noah asked.
Joe shook his head. “I hadn’t figured that out yet. I’m gonna get some help. I’ve got two sheriff’s deputies driving over, and they both have more experience.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve also got detectives from Bourbon on their way too.”
“Where’s the coroner?” Noah asked as he checked the time. “We’ve been waiting for forty-five minutes now. And where are the lab techs?”
“Things move considerably slower in small towns, you know that. Everyone has to come in to Serenity from other places. They’re all on their way,” Joe assured him.
“You know I’ve got friends who can help.”
Joe nodded. “I know, and if I need the FBI’s help, I’ll ask.”
“What about Sheriff Randy?”
“I’ll be meeting with him this afternoon. We were gonna meet this morning. He called last night,” he explained. “But now that I’ve got to deal with this situation,” he said, nodding to Lloyd, “I had to push his meeting back and the meeting you and I have at MacKenna’s house.”
“I want to go with you,” Noah said.
Joe shook his head. “No. Randy knows me. He’ll clam up about his brother around you.”
“Where’s his brother? And don’t try to tell me I won’t be talking to him.”
“I don’t know where J. D. is, but Randy will tell me. Then we’ll decide what to do.”
What was there to decide? J. D. had assaulted Jordan. He should be dragged into jail and locked up. Nothing much to decide about that.
“If you don’t bring J. D. in, I will.”
Joe cocked his head and frowned. “Is that a threat?”
Noah snapped. “Damn right it is.”
Joe put his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “Okay, okay. I hear you. But please, let me talk to Randy alone. I live in this town,” he reminded him. “I’ve got to try to do this the right way, so let me take this one step at a time.”
Unlike Joe, Noah didn’t care or need to get along with anyone. He was about to tell him that he wasn’t going to be patient and that, one way or another, he would be talking to both Dickey brothers, but Jordan drew his attention.
Jordan scooted off the wall and walked over to him. She brushed her hand down his arm, and said, “Joe, Noah and I would like to help any way we can. Isn’t that right, Noah?” He glanced down at her. When he didn’t respond, she leaned into his side and repeated, “Isn’t that right?”
“Sure,” Noah finally answered. This was one of the most absurd situations he’d ever encountered. There was a dead man in the trunk, an inexperienced and possibly inept policeman running the investigation, and a woman who was slowly driving him nuts and now wanted him to be nice.
“I guess you two will be staying on in Serenity a while longer,” Joe stated. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes, we will,” Noah said. “So far Jordan’s the only connection between the professor and Lloyd.”
“I’ll go tell Amelia Ann we’ll need the rooms again tonight,” Jordan offered.
Noah grabbed her hand and pulled her back. “You stay close to me.”
“I’m going to—”
“She already knows,” Noah said as he tilted his head toward the window behind the wall. Amelia Ann and Candy were both watching, wide-eyed. Fortunately, from their angle they couldn’t see inside the trunk of the car.
Joe suggested they both go back into the motel. “You two don’t have to wait with me. I’ll call you as soon as I’m finished here and finished talking to Randy.”
Noah put his arm around Jordan and headed inside.
“Noah?” Joe called.
“You’ll be needing another car.”
“Looks that way.” Noah felt Jordan’s shoulders slump under his arm. “You okay, Sugar?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she answered with a sigh. “But I’m beginning to think this friendly little town isn’t so friendly after all.”
ALTHOUGH AGENTS CHADDICK AND STREET FROM THE FBI’s regional office hadn’t officially been assigned to the investigation, they were doing as much as they could to help Noah figure out what was going on.
The two men brought Noah and Jordan yet another car, a Toyota Camry. Jordan, who was beyond spooked at this point, insisted that one of them open the trunk and have a look inside before she got into the car. Agent Street had a rather warped sense of what was funny. He thought it was humorous that Nick’s sister had found another body and laughingly called her a corpse magnet.
Chaddick handed Noah a large manila envelope. “Everything you asked for is in there,” he said. “There are copies of MacKenna’s bank statements for the past year, but I’ll go back further if you want.”
“MacKenna was into something all right,” Street said. “For eight months he’s only made cash deposits. Five thousand dollars every couple of weeks.”
“And he drove all the way to Austin to make those deposits,” Chaddick added. “He also purchased a new car eight months ago, and the mileage indicates he’s done some serious driving since then. One of the assistants at the college where he taught told me the professor received an inheritance.”
“Strange inheritance,” Street said. “Cash every couple of weeks that can’t be traced back to anyone.”
“What about his phone records?” Noah asked.
“They’re in the envelope too,” Chaddick said. “In the six months that he lived in that house he only received a couple of telemarketing calls. No calls made out either, except for one very short call someone made a half hour before J. D. Dickey says he got a tip that there was a body in Jordan’s car.”
“Are you telling me someone called J. D. from inside MacKenna’s house?”
“That’s what I’m telling you.”
“But I called the professor,” Jordan interjected. “When I got to Serenity. He had given me his number. That call has to show somewhere.”
“Then what about cell phone records?” Noah asked the agents.
Street answered. “We can’t find any record of a cell phone listed in MacKenna’s name. Jordan, if you’ll give me the number you called, we’ll check it out.”
“We went ahead and had a couple of our people process MacKenna’s car. I’m betting the only prints they find are his,” Chaddick said. “Joe Davis is in way over his head, but he won’t ask for help from us. You want us to push our way in? We could take over and get you two out of here.”
Noah shook his head. “Not yet.” He looked at Jordan and reevaluated. “I don’t know. Maybe it would be a good idea to take her…”
Jordan knew where this was going and decided to nip it in the bud. “I’m staying here with you, Noah. Besides, I promised Chief Davis I’d stay another day. For all we know, he might decide to arrest me.”
“He’s not going to do that, and if I think—”
“This isn’t negotiable,” she said. “I’m not leaving.” To emphasize her decision she tried to stare him down.
“She’s a lot like her brother,” Chaddick commented, smiling.
“She’s a lot prettier,” Noah said. After thanking the two men for their help and promising to stay in touch, Noah opened the car door for Jordan, then circled and slid into the driver’s seat. “Let’s go for a ride.”
“I’d like that,” she said. “If we have the time, I’d like to drive to Bourbon and buy a new cell phone.”
“You can’t get along without a phone for a few more days?”
“You don’t understand. It’s my PDA, my camera, my Rolodex, my global positioning system, and, most important, my personal computer. I can access the Internet and e-mail. I can also send pictures or text or video clips electronically.”
“You know what else you can do? You can make phone calls.”
She laughed. “That too. And after I purchase a phone, I’d like to stop by the police station and talk to the detectives and find out what happened to my laptop.”
“Nick already talked to them. They said they never saw it.”
“It didn’t just dance away. It was in my rental car, on the seat next to me. Maggie Haden must have seen it too when she went through my purse to get my identification. I’ll bet she took it. She did go back to the grocery store lot when she locked me in a cell. She could have taken it then.”
“We’ll keep looking, but for now we’re meeting Joe Davis at MacKenna’s house, remember?”
“After he talks to Sheriff Randy,” she reminded him. “I’m surprised you didn’t insist on being there when he talks to him.”
“I’m more interested in his brother.” He handed her a slip of paper. There were two addresses with directions from the motel.
“I thought maybe we’d drive by J. D. Dickey’s place. See if he’s home.”
“And if he is?”
Noah started the engine and put the gear in drive. “I’d like to stop in and say hey.”
“Just trying to fit in, Sugar.”
“What’s the other address?”
“Maggie Haden, your old friend.”
“Why do you want to drive by her house?”
“I’ve got J. D.’s license plate number. He drives a red pickup truck. He could be with her. You did tell me that she has a history with both Dickey brothers.”
Jordan flipped on the air conditioner. “And if he’s there?”
“Do you mind?” she asked as she lifted the envelope Chaddick had given to Noah. “I’d like to look at his bank statements.”
“Go ahead. Add up all the cash deposits,” he suggested.
“If it was five thousand dollars every two weeks for six months, that’s sixty thousand dollars.”
After she added all the deposits, the total was actually ninety thousand dollars. “The last two months the professor was alive, the deposits had increased in both amount and frequency. Where did the money come from?”
“That’s the ninety-thousand-dollar question.”
“What do you think he was into? You think maybe drugs? Or gambling? He didn’t seem the type to get into either one of those vices.”
“Exactly what type gambles? Was he the type of man to lie about getting an inheritance?”
“Read me those directions to Dickey’s house.”
Jordan did as he asked, spotted Hampton Street, and said, “Turn right at the corner.”
She then returned to speculating. “The professor told me that he had changed his plans and was leaving for Scotland earlier than he’d originally intended.”
“He was jumpy at dinner when he noticed how crowded the restaurant had become. I thought he might be claustrophobic.”