Debbi Mack reads Chapter 6 of her New York Times bestselling hardboiled mystery, Identity Crisis, on the Crime Cafe podcast.
Here’s the text of my reading:
Detective Derry stopped by the office the next day. Jergins was with him, looking sullen and officious.
“Things aren’t looking good for your client,” Derry said.
“Garvey’s body was found in his apartment. A witness says Ms. Hayes was there that weekend, the weekend he was shot.”
That creepy neighbor of Schaeffer’s, I thought. “So?”
“Didn’t she have a protective order against this guy? Why would she want to see him?”
It was a fair question. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t prove she killed him.”
Derry took a deep breath. “I didn’t say it proved anything.”
“Maybe it was someone who looked like Melanie.”
“Anything’s possible. The witness identified her from a photo we found in her apartment.”
“You searched her place?”
He nodded. “Yesterday.”
He didn’t mention the box or the state of the apartment, and I wasn’t going to bring it up.
“Was there any reason for that, other than a witness’ statement?”
“Fingerprints,” Derry said. “We found her prints at the scene.”
“How do you know they’re hers?” I had to ask.
“The bank where she works routinely takes its employees prints.”
I was at a loss to understand or explain it, but I didn’t owe anyone any explanations. “What do you want from me?”
“I just wanted to let you know we’re getting a warrant for Ms. Hayes’ arrest,” Derry said.
I nodded. What could I say? I’d have done the same thing in their place.
“So if you have any knowledge of Ms. Hayes’ whereabouts, now would be the right time to tell us,” Jergins barked.
I could understand if the FBI didn’t offer courses in diplomacy, but I was starting to wonder if it should. Even Derry didn’t look happy about Jergins’ outburst.
“If I had any knowledge of Ms. Hayes’ whereabouts,” I said, keeping my voice deliberately calm. “I would have told you by now.”
Jergins squinted and scowled at me.
“We thought it would be a good idea to check with you,” Derry said, sounding almost conciliatory. “Just in case.”
“I understand. What about the murder weapon? Were her fingerprints on that?”
“We’ll discuss that at the appropriate time, Ms. McRae,” Jergins said, interrupting.
Derry’s eyes slid Jergins’ way. His cheeks reddened, and I didn’t think it was from embarrassment.
“Really?” I said. “And when did you start working for the homicide unit?”
“There’s an appropriate time and place for everything.” Jergins’ face was tight, making his big ears stand out even more. “We’ll discuss the murder weapon at that time and place.”
“Now, I wonder when that would be. Maybe at the sentencing hearing?”
Derry turned away. I didn’t know, but I could have sworn he stifled a smile.
“With all due respect, Ms. McRae,” Jergins said. “We don’t know that Ms. Hayes will hire you to represent her.”
“You represented her on a domestic violence matter. That doesn’t mean she’ll want you for this.”
I looked at Derry. He was staring at something on my desk. I realized it was Melanie’s address book, still sitting beside the phone.
“As far as I’m concerned,” I said, addressing my comments to both men, trying to bring Derry back into the conversation, “she’s still my client.”
“Mr. Garvey’s dead,” Jergins said. “The case is moot, and you know it.”
“Sure, the court case is moot, but I don’t consider the entire matter closed,” I said. “After all, your interest in her was sparked by that case. I haven’t closed the file. So it’s still an open case, from my standpoint, and she’s still my client.” Not bad, I thought. Pretty smooth, even.
Derry kept looking at the book. The plain, dark cover had nothing to connect it with Melanie, but I couldn’t remember if her name was on the inside.
Jergins sneered. “Very convenient. Keeps that attorney-client privilege intact.”
“You know the privilege doesn’t let me help clients commit crimes.”
“I know that. Maybe we should get a warrant and make sure you know that, too.”
I gaped at him.
Derry coughed. “Can I talk to you a minute?” he said to Jergins. “Excuse us.”
They left the office. A few minutes later, Derry returned, alone. “He’s going to wait in the car.”
“Is this supposed to be some weird variation on ‘good cop, bad cop’? What the hell’s his problem anyway?”
Derry shrugged. “Lacks a few social skills. Guess he has a thing about defense lawyers.”
“He also thinks you know something you’re not telling us.”
“But you know better, right?”
“I think you’re telling us everything you know,” he said. “I certainly hope so.”
“I am.” He seemed to have lost interest in the address book. Guilt gnawed at me, but the book didn’t have any answers, at least not yet.
“The man he mentioned, Christof Stavos,” he said. “He is dangerous.”
“I know. It’s been bothering me. You really think he might hurt Melanie?”
“It’s possible. Or maybe you.”
“Why would he have any interest in me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe for the same reason that Jergins thinks you’re holding something back.”
“Christof Stavos has a thing about defense attorneys, too?”
Derry toyed with his shirt cuff. “Were you talking to someone at Bruce Schaeffer’s apartment?”
That blabbermouthed neighbor must have told them about me. I never gave my name, but Derry may have recognized the description.
“Yeah, I went there. I was hoping Schaeffer would know something about Melanie. Didn’t pan out.” I paused, then laughed uncomfortably. “There is something else. It’s kind of silly.”
I told him about the black Lincoln and the visit from John Drake the day before. Derry’s brow furrowed, the lines growing deeper as I spoke.
“You didn’t get the tag on the car, did you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think of it.”
“Another thing—I think that guy Drake gave me a fake name. I checked him out in some of the Internet directories and got nothing.”
“I think you’re right.” Derry paused and arched an eyebrow. “And I think, whoever he is, he has a sense of humor.”
Derry smiled. “You’re probably a little too young to remember the show Secret Agent Man. John Drake was the name of the main character.”
“And they say television isn’t educational.”
Derry stole a glance at me. The look suggested we were just two human beings talking. No ghosts haunting us anymore. However, the moment passed.
With the usual formality, Derry shook my hand. “If you hear anything, please let us know. Please keep what we said in mind.”
After he left, I wondered what I’d gotten into. I should have given Derry the address book.
I think I would have, except that Melanie was still my client. I wasn’t going to run out on a client, not without getting her side first. Something about the setup didn’t seem right. Killing Garvey, then leaving a box of incriminating files in her own apartment made zero sense to me.
As for Stavos, I didn’t know much about the Mob, but I was under the impression they didn’t kill people without a reason. When it came to this case, I felt like I was too clueless for them to bother with me.
Since I had no meetings or court dates, I dug back into Melanie’s phone book with renewed vigor. A person didn’t just disappear. They left traces somewhere. If she was with a friend, I should be able to find that friend. If she was at a motel, she’d eventually run out of money and have to turn to someone she knew. Donna would have been a logical person, but whether it was shame or pride, something was keeping Melanie from seeking her out.
I stuck with it and managed to make it all the way through S. A lot of the calls were long-distance. Either Melanie had traveled a lot or her friends did. She seemed to know people all over the U.S. and even someone in Canada. I figured I’d rest up before I tackled the multitude of Ts—Thompson, Tillman, Toohey …
I did some other work and a few administrative chores then left the office around five thirty.
At home, I fed Oscar, then took an evening ride on my old Schwinn. I’d been trying to exercise more regularly, do at least five miles every couple of days. Lately, I’d slacked off a bit, because of the heat and humidity. After the workout, I lugged the bike upstairs, sweaty and panting. Maybe a bit more diligence was in order.
The food situation was reaching a critical point, but I managed to throw together a tuna salad with dill pickle slices for dinner, which I ate while watching the news. The O’s weren’t playing. TV sucked. I thumbed through some magazines, then went onto the balcony. The sun had set, and the air was as moist and heavy as a wet blanket. Like a locker room, only filled with the pungent smell of cut grass and impending rain. Now and then, I heard the low rumble of distant thunder and saw lightning flicker in the dark sky.
I wished Ray were with me. I knew that wasn’t possible. When those months had gone by and he hadn’t called, at first missing him was like a chronic ache in my belly. I forced myself to forget. Then he showed up at my door. Now the ache was back. And again, he couldn’t be here.
I liked living alone, doubted if I could abide sharing my space with anyone, but sometimes I wondered. If I dropped dead tomorrow, who would care? Maybe a few people, but …
Still things could be worse. What if I were Melanie? Apart from my problems, maybe that was one reason I was so interested in finding her. She was all alone like me—probably scared shitless and in over her head.
Was that where I was with Ray? Over my head? I felt a wave of self-pity wash over me.
“Damn it,” I said. “Snap the fuck out of this.”
It was time for drastic measures. I marched straight to the fridge and went for the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Unfortunately, the carton contained about two spoonfuls, tops.
“Shit.” I sighed. I didn’t really want to go out, but unless I provisioned up, my next dinner was going to be a shriveled hot dog that I probably should have thrown out months ago or another Lean Cuisine. Plus, I needed that ice cream, for medicinal purposes.
I grabbed my purse and headed out. As I walked, I realized a car was pulling up beside me. It had a garish hood ornament. The Lincoln’s back doors were already open and two men were coming at me when I turned to run. I didn’t get far. They each took an arm and dragged me toward the car, one clapping a hand over my mouth before I could utter a peep.
My head felt light, and my stomach had that hard knot you get before you throw up. My pulse raced. I squirmed, but they had my arms locked in place. I kicked as hard as I could, connecting with one guy’s knee. He yelped in pain and his grip on my arm loosened enough for me to wrench free and scratch the other one’s face. As he cried out, his hand dropped from my mouth, although he continued to hold my other arm tight.
“Help!” I hollered at the top of my lungs. I tried to pull away from him. “Help!”
More noise, talking, footsteps behind me. Somebody grabbed my shoulders. Before I could yell again, I got a punch in the gut. I couldn’t breathe, talk, or move.
“Bitch,” a man said, as they dragged me into the car.
Someone blindfolded me, and we took off.
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