Fishing For Murder

by Mark Zeid, author of Media Murder Mysteries

Fishing for Murder (working title) is a mystery in progress. There is little I can do to help with the COVID 19 crisis, but I can provide a novel free of charge for readers. I am posting a chapter of this mystery every week for readers to enjoy. Remember, this is a work in progress, so there will be errors. Therefore, I welcome any comments readers my have, especially those dealing with errors in fact. I hope you enjoy the story.

Fishing for Murder

by Mark Zeid

Chapter One

“He’s over here,” a voice shouted. “You two go up there and make sure he doesn’t make it up to the road.”

Wild Mike stayed still, He forced himself to calm his breathing as he listened to the rustling of the leaves and branches as the men moved through the brush. He was able to tell the movement of the men were to his left. They wanted to cut him off from the road, which suited him. He moved to his right, down closer to the water, still staying inside the tree line to avoid being spotted. He moved quietly, just as they had taught him years ago. Go a few steps, stop, listen, then move on. They repeatedly stress that during the training. Your goal is to be silent and deadly.

 The sounds of the men chasing him were growing fainter, meaning they were moving away from him. Still, he had to remain calm, not run, not give away his position. Up ahead he saw a boat house. If he could make it there, maybe he could find a boat, hopefully a kayak, which would allow him to quickly and silently move through the water and escape.

It took him almost fifteen minutes to cover the three hundred yards to the boathouse. He slowly opened the door, making as little noise as possible. He slipped inside and closed the door. His eyes were adjusted to the dark, so he didn’t turn on any light to search for his escape vehicle. He didn’t want to ruin his night vision. Suddenly the lights went on. Wild Mike turned to exit, but there was a person with a pistol standing between him and the door.

“Don’t,” the figure commanded. “Don’t do it. Don’t make me shoot you.”

* * * * *

Homer Rucker thought of himself as a good old country boy. He came complete with a beer belly and an attitude. His partner was Jefferson “Jeff” Davis, a 22-year-old, rookie with less than six months on the job.

“I can’t believe your mama named you after the President of the Confederacy,” Rucker said as he pulled their police vehicle up to the boat house. “What was she thinking?”

“Probably crackers like you would appreciate a nigger named after him,” Davis answered.

“Now, now.” Rucker responded. “I ain’t got anything against you or any other African Americans. After all, one of you became President of the United States. That’s quite an accomplishment.”

The two exited their patrol car and walked up to the boat house. “Heard you caught him,” Rucker said with a grin.

“She didn’t catch me,” Wild Mike stated. “I surrendered.”

Detective Kimberly Simmons was leaning against the boat house with Wild Mike sitting at her feet, his hands were hand cuffed behind his back. Kimberly sighed. Just her luck dispatch would send this patrol unit to transport the prisoner.

“He’s telling the truth,” Kimberly said, leaving out the part of her having her nine-millimeter weapon on him. “Listen carefully. Just because he’s hand cuffed, don’t think he can’t hurt you. Remember, he spent six years as a Marine Corps sniper. Give him cause or the opportunity, he’ll take you both out in a heartbeat.”

“Don’t you worry,” Rucker replied. “We know we’re dealing with a murderer. . .”

“I didn’t kill him,” Wild Mike shouted. “He was dead when I found him.’

“Yeah, sure,” Rucker said grinning. “Then why you had the victim’s hat. I bet when we search your belongings, we’ll find the victim’s other belongings, like his wallet and cell phone. Face it. You’re toast.”

“Enough,” Kimberly interjected. “Take him back to the station and process him. Don’t have anyone talk to him until I get there. I’m going to meet up with Tindall at the crime scene, but I should be back as the station within the hour. Understand.”

“Yes ma’am,” Davis answered.

“Don’t call me ma’am. I’m a detective. You can address me as detective, but not ma’am. I’m not an old lady.”

Davis nodded he understood as he and Rucker helped Wild Mike to his feet before placing him in the back of their patrol vehicle.

* * * * *

Detective Steve Tindall was setting up of the standing lights illuminating the crime scene. The coroner was already there, declaring the victim dead and that the body could be removed whenever the detectives were ready.

“What have you got?” Kimberly inquired as she approached her 39-year-old partner.

“I have a backache from carrying those damn lights,” Tindall groaned as he leaned his five-foot, ten-inch slender frame back. “It’s the middle of the night.”

Kimberly looked at her watch. “It’s only eleven thirty; but I guess it is past your bedtime.”

“Hey, I should be home watching the news on TV and drinking a beer.”

Kimberly chuckled. “You have two teenagers at home. They probably drank all of your beer, blamed it on your wife, and hid the remote so that you have watch MTV.”

“Paula doesn’t drink beer, my kids are too young to drink, and they have their own TVs.”

“How can you afford that on a cop’s salary?”

“Because like all good Americans, I have a couple thousand dollars of credit card debt,” Tindall answered. “How about you?”

“That’s the advantage of being single. I have only two credit cards and am able to pay them off every month. Back to my original question, what can you tell me about our victim?”

“He’s dead.”

“That’s what makes you such a wonderful detective,” Kimberly stated. “Your powers of observation are amazing. It couldn’t be that the body hasn’t moved since we’ve discovered almost two hours ago or the coroner has pronounced him dead, could it?”

“Yeah, yeah. What I’m saying is we have a dead body, no identification, the body was dragged out of the water, the coroner can’t give us a time of death until he does the autopsy, and there is no obvious cause of death.”

“What about the wounds and bruises on his body?”

“Don’t know. Fairly sure they happened shortly before he died, but whether they are the cause of death, we won’t know until after the autopsy.”

Kimberly knelt down to get a closer look at the body. “Do you think Wild Mike did this?”

“Again, don’t know,” Tindall answered. “He’s capable, especially since he’s an ex-Marine. And he has been brought in for assault before. But he’s never done anything like this. But then, he’s never been quite right since getting back from Iraq. They really did number on him over there. And he was found with the body. Also, we found these binoculars next to the body. Mike’s name is on them.”

“Get a warrant to go through his things,” Kimberly stated.

“He’s homeless.”

“Yeah, I know. But he has some kind of camp set up about a mile from here. That’s where he hangs out and most of his belongs are. And I want to do this by the book. I would hate to lose the case because of a technicality.”

“Good point,” Tindall replied. “The last thing we would want is for a killer to go free because we got lazy.”

* * * * *

The police station was a long, single-story, brick building with windows at least five feet above ground. The logic behind this was any blast or gunfire would miss the police officers sitting at their desk, thus protecting them. As with most police stations, Justin Ainsley, a public defender, was required to enter the building through the foyer, which placed him in front of a Plexiglass, bullet-proof window with a small depression at the bottom for passing documents to the police officer sitting on the other side. Justin stood there patiently waiting for the officer to ensure Justin had an appointment before buzzing him through and allowing him to proceed further into the building. Justin was surprised to find a woman about his own age waiting on the other side of the door.

“I’m Detective Kimberly Simmons. I’m the one who took the suspect, your client, Mike Richards into custody. He’s been booked on suspicion of murder.”

Justin studied the woman in front of him, she was of average height, with shoulder-length blond hair and deep blue eyes. She was attractive, with an hourglass figure. Still he could tell she had confidence, the kind that comes from dealing with hard and dangerous situations by overcoming them, not by asking others for help. “What evidence do have against him,” Justin asked.

The detective handed the lawyer a folder. “It’s a copy of the police report, or what we have so far. We are still waiting on the autopsy results, which we expect this afternoon, tomorrow at the latest.”

“Have you questioned my client?”

“We started to, but he demanded a lawyer as soon as we read him his rights.”

Justin opened the folder. He saw some crime scene photos, a list of items taken into evidence, and a detailed report of police actions.”

“Can you give me the Reader’s Digest version of the report?” Justin asked.

“Sure. Last night, about nine thirty, someone called in a report of man with a body. A patrol unit went to check it out. They saw Wild Mike with the body and started to chase him. Back up units arrived, as did I and my partner. I was able to take Wild Mike into custody without incident at a boat house about a mile and a half from the crime scene. Evidence collected at the crime scene was a hat we believed belonged to the victim and a set of binoculars belonging to Wild Mike. We also found blood on Wild Mike’s shirt. The lab results aren’t back yet, but I’m fairly sure it’s the victim’s blood. And when we search his camp; and yes, we had a warrant; we found a wallet and a cell phone, which we determined belonged to the victim, Raymond Carlsen.”

“What was your probable cause for the warrant?”

“Wild Mike was soaking wet, the body was pulled from the water, Wild Mike’s binoculars, and the fact he ran when we approached him.”

“Has my client made any statement, any explanation for his presence?”

“No,” Kimberly answered.

“Any motive?”

Kimberly shook her head. “None that we can find, but the investigation is less than a day old. But Wild Mike does have a history of violence since he returned from the war. He’s a mental case.”

“PTSD?”

“Who knows,” Kimberly answered.

Justin closed the folder. “So, what you have is a dead body and my client in the area. That’s hardly enough to charge him.”

“No,” Kimberly corrected Justin. “We found physical evidence tying him to the victim, Raymond Carlsen, present at the scene of the crime, fleeing the crime scene, and the ability to kill someone with his bare hands. Furthermore, there was a verbal altercation between Carlsen and Wild Mike a few days before. And the fact he’s homeless and a flight risk, we’re holding him. As for charging him, that’s up to the District Attorney, Connor Arnott, but you already know that.”

“I do have a couple of questions,” Justin stated. “First, why do you call him Wild Mike?”

“It’s a nickname he picked up. After he got back, he got into several physical altercations with locals, usually at bars. Nothing serious, most fist fights. People ended up with bruises and cut lips, but that’s all. Then he started living out there in the woods next to the lake where we found the body. Until now, we thought he was basically harmless.”

“But now you’ve changed your opinion of him?”

“I have a dead body and he was found in the area, so I’m not discounting possibility.

“Does he have any family?”

“He has a wife. I think he left her because he didn’t want to hurt her, but I can’t be sure. What else?”

“Your report said both Mike and the victim were wet, like they had been in the water.”

“Yeah, so?”

“What if Mike was bringing the body out of the water?”

“There were no drag marks.”

Justin grinned. “There wouldn’t be if Mike was carrying the body.”

“Nice try,” a man in a three-piece suit said as he walked up to Justin and Kimberly. He was in his mid-forties, carrying a slight paunch, had thinning blond hair with a touch of silver. “But we have him dead to rights. The only thing we’re missing is a confession, which we really don’t need.”

“Not to be rude,” Justin interjected, “But who are you?”

Kimberly waved her hand to man in the expensive suit. “This is the District Attorney, Mr. Connor Arnott.”

Justin put out his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley, a public defender. I’m Mr. Mike Richards court-appointed lawyer.”

“Yeah, I know,” Arnott replied. “Look, here’s the deal. You get him to confess, and I’ll reduce the charges to manslaughter. He’ll do maybe ten years, if he doesn’t cause problems while he’s in prison. What do you say?”

Justin gave Arnott a slight smile. “I say I’ll talk to my client first.”

* * * * *

Twelve hours had done wonders for Wild Mike. He had the chance to shower, changed into a clean orange jumpsuit, and given something to eat. However, the time in custody had done nothing to improve his attitude.

Wild Mike was escorted into the room. it was barren except of a table bolted to the floor with two chairs chained to large metal U-bolts cemented into the floor. The chains allowed for the chairs to move a foot in any direction. Wild Mike’s hands were restrained by a chain around his stomach, which was also chained to the shackles around his legs. He was led to a chair and forced to sit down. Wild Mike stared across the table at the person sitting on the other side. The man was about thirty, with dark, neatly trimmed hair. He had a tanned complexion which he got from being outdoors, probably from jogging to keep him in good physical shape. But what impressed Wild Mike was the man was confident. Mike could tell this man was not scared of him or his reputation.

“Who are you?” Wild Mike demanded.

“I’m your lawyer.”

“Took your sweet time getting here. Are you going to get me out?”

“My name is Justin Ainsley. I’m a public defender. Do you know what that means?”

Wild Mike turned to the guard who had brought him into the room. “Hey, I’m talking to my lawyer. This is a private conversation. You’ve got to leave. And turn off the cameras.”

Justin nodded to the guard that it was okay for him to leave. “There are no cameras in this room,” Justin said after the guard left the room. This room is used for attorney-client conversations and the police are not allowed to monitor the conversations, although there is a window and I’m sure there is someone watching to make sure you don’t hurt me.”

“Now, why would I want to hurt you? Just get me out of here.”

Justin stared at the man with long hair and an unkept beard. Justin’s client was about thirty and in excellent physical shape, which was surprising for a homeless man. Justin opened a folder laying on the table between him and Wild Mike. He placed a photograph of a dead body in front of Wild Mike. “What can you tell me about this?”

“I didn’t kill him. I didn’t do anything. I don’t belong in here.”

“The police have quite a bit of physical evidence that says you did. You were at the scene with Carlsen, the man who was killed. Your binoculars were at the scene. They found the victim’s cell phone and wallet hidden in your camp. There are witnesses who say you had a verbal altercation with Carlsen a few days before. They have quite a bit to hold you on.”

“I didn’t do it.”

“Then tell me what happened.”

Wild Mike leaned back in his chair. “Why? You wouldn’t believe me. Why should I tell you anything?”

Justin sighed. “You like this place? I mean do you want to stay here?”

“No,” Wild Mike answered.

“Then tell me what happened. I can’t help you if you won’t help me.”

“Real crusader, are you?”

“No. I’m a public defender who earns a set salary whether you go to prison or go free. Win or lose, I get my paycheck and get to go home. Now, pretend you’re the Jolly Green Giant and can the crap. Tell me what happened.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

Justin leaned forward, placed his hands on the table, and stared at Wild Mike. “Then why are you here?” Justin leaned back in his chair.

“It was the lights.”

“What lights?”

“I sleep out there by the lake. I kind of like the being out there. I’m alone. Don’t bother anybody. Anyway, whenever there is a lot of noise on the lake or lights, it wakes me up.”

“Go on.”

“Well, I see these lights. First, I heard some motors out on the lake, then I see some lights out there. I kind of hang out on the bank, watching. Can’t really see anything because the lights from the boat ruin my night vision. There was a boat and I figured they dumped something overboard because I heard a splash. Then the boat leaves. Anyway, I’m hanging out there and I see something floating in the water. My night vision begins to come back. I wait a while and it gets closer to shore. As it gets closer, I see it’s a body. So, I went out into the water and brought it back to shore. As soon as I set the body down, some cops come up and say I killed the guy. They pulled their guns, but I got out of there before they could shoot. They chased me through the woods. I was getting away too, that is until that detective found me in the boathouse. So, I surrendered. But I didn’t kill that guy. I don’t even know him.”

“According to the report, you have a verbal altercation with him a few days earlier.”

“What do you mean?”

Justin pulled out a piece of paper. “This police report says you had an argument with the victim two days before he was found dead.”

Wild Mike scoffed. “I argue with a lot of guys. That doesn’t mean I kill them. Besides, I didn’t recognize the guy I pulled out of the water. His face was all beat up. I guess the rocks got to him before I did. Anyway, as soon as I got on the beach, the police showed up.”

“So, you are down at the shore of the lake, hanging out, then you see a body in the water. You go and get the body, drag it out of the water. Just as you get to shore the police show up and you run off.”

“That’s right. Now get me out of here.”

“First, I have to prove you didn’t kill the guy.”

* *  * * *

Justin walked along the shoreline. He remembered the summers he came to a similar place to fish with his father, who loved fishing. He remembered the bugs and hot sun making the cool water a welcomed relief whenever he had to wade in to get a fish he had caught. Justin remembered the smell of dead fish and algae.  He noticed this lake had more than its fair share of dead fish washing up along the shoreline.

A voice interrupted Justin’s reminiscence. “What are you doing out here?”

Justin turned to see Detective Kimberly Simmons standing next to tree. “Just getting the lay of the land, sizing up the case against my client. What are you doing here?”

“Still an active police investigation. Granted, the CSI team went through everything last night, and again this morning in the daylight. But I wanted to see the crime scene for myself.”

“Strange,” Justin said. “I thought once you had a suspect in custody, the case was closed.”

“You know better than that.”

“What do you mean?” Justin said feigning ignorance.

“Justin Ainsley, graduated Summa Cum Laude from Antioch Law School, Captain, U.S. Army, two tours in Iraq and six years with the Judge Advocates Corps, honorably discharged, two years with the public defender’s office. You’ve been around enough to know that the case is not closed until the actual person who committed the crime is put in prison.”

“You’ve done your homework. I wish I knew as much about you.”

Kimberly walked up to Justin and gave him a smirk. “You mean you don’t like a woman of mystery.”

Justin chuckled. “Not when that woman carries a badge and a gun.”

“So, Mr. Ainsley, what brought you to our fair city. This area is great for fishing and hunting, but you don’t impress me as the outdoorsy type.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Call it a hunch. We cops have them all the time.”

Justin grinned. “Nice place. I imagine a lot of people come out here to fish.”

“Used to,” Kimberly replied. She pointed to several large homes on a ridge above the shore. “About ten years ago, rich people bought up property here and created private access to the lake. They can’t stop people from coming ashore from boats or walking along the shoreline on one of the paths; but they did put up fences and cut off public access to the lake from the road. The public access is limited to the boat rental places about a mile from here, where the parking lots and entrance to the trails are.”

Justin scanned the homes above him. “If they own the land, how is it that Mike is able to stay out here?”

“They don’t own the land,” Kimberly answered. “They own the property between the road and the lake. To get here, you have to cross their property, which is fenced, has cameras, and several of them have dogs that are not very friendly. As for Wild Mike, his camp is about a mile from here, and it’s pretty far back from the path. He really doesn’t bother anyone when he’s out here. All the problems we had with him was when he was living in town. Once he set up camp out here, he mellowed out.”

“Then what was the altercation he had with Carlsen about?”

Kimberly shrugged her shoulders. “Who knows. It’s easy to set Wild Mike off. He’s not very sociable. The weird thing is before he went into the Marines, he was really popular and friendly.”

“According to his service record, he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure that changed him.”

“I’m sure it did,” Kimberly said in agreement.

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of several loud motors. Justin and Kimberly saw four young men pass by on jet skis, each of them staring at the couple on the shore. They quickly turned and speed away as Justin and Kimberly watched as the jet skiers went around a bend in the shoreline.

“Gee, I hope we didn’t scare them away,” Justin said in a mocking voice.

“They’re college kids. They probably left because we didn’t have any beer.”

“I don’t know,” Justin said. “I don’t think that’s the reason they left.”

* * * * *

“This place is a mess,” Justin said as he and Kimberly approached Wild Mike’s camp, which was located several hundred yards from the main path surrounding the lake. The camp had a rock overhang that provided some protection from the elements. Wild Mike had also set up some sticks to form walls on either side of the camp.

“Truthfully, the camp was really neat when we went through it this morning,” Kimberly answered. “I think the patrol officers helping with the search got a little too enthusiastic. And before you ask, yes, we had a warrant.”

“You told me that already. According to your report, you found the victim’s wallet and cell phone here?”

“That’s right. One of the patrol officers found them in Wild Mike’s sleeping bag.”

“Find anything else?”

“Now that you mention it, yes. We found some clean clothes and some food. It looked like someone left it here for Wild Mike.”

“Where did you find that?” Justin asked.

“Right here,” Kimberly answered, pointing to a large flat rock covered with a small blue plastic sheet. The plastic had several stones around the edges, keeping it from blowing away.

“How long between the time you arrested Mike and the time you searched his camp?”

“About ten or eleven hours. I took Wild Mike into custody before midnight. We got here about ten o’clock. We had to get the warrant first, and no judge is going to give us a warrant before he or she has had their morning coffee.”

Justin waved his hand. “This is public access. Anyone could have put the cell phone and wallet there.”

Kimberly chuckled. “You want me to believe someone planted evidence to frame Wild Mike within hours after killing Carlsen. How did the killer know Wild Mike was at the crime scene and how did he manage to get here, plant evidence without leaving any trace, within hours after the body was discovered?”

“It’s my job to explore all of the possibilities.”

Kimberly walked over to Justin and gently tapped him in his chest. “Just be sure to explore the possibility that Wild Mike did kill Carlsen.”

* * * * *

Chapter Two

“All rise. Court is in session. The Honorable Gwen Whitlock presiding.”

The judge entered the courtroom and took her seat. “Please take you seats.” She looked over the courtroom. “Is the District Attorney ready?”

“Yes, your Honor,” Connor Arnott answered without getting out of his chair.

The judge looked at Justin and the defendant, Wild Mike. “Is the Defense ready?”

Justin stood up. “Yes, your Honor.”

The judge looked at several papers on her desk. She turned her attention to Wild Mike. “Mr. Richards, I see you served our country as a Marine. I thank you for your service. Now, about the matter at hand. Do you understand you have been charged with murder?”

Justin gestured for Mike to stand up. “Yes, your Honor,” Wild Mike answered.

“How do you plea?” the judge asked.

“My client pleas ‘not guilty’ your Honor.”

“Let the record show the defendant pleaded not guilty,” the judge acknowledged.

“Your Honor,” Justin interjected. “There is the matter of bail.”

“Absolutely not,” Arnott yelled. “This is a cold-blooded murder case. The defendant is homeless and a flight risk. He has a violent past and is a danger to the community. Under no circumstances should bail be allowed.”

“Your Honor,” Justin countered. “The evidence against my client is circumstantial. Yes, he was at the scene; but being at the scene of a crime doesn’t mean he committed it, and District Attorney knows that. As for the victim’s belongings being found at my client’s camp, there is public access, and anyone could have put it there.”

“Highly unlikely,” Arnott argued.

“Still, my client is entitled to bail.”

“He’s a flight risk,” Arnott yelled.

“Mr. Arnott,” the judge said interrupting Arnott. “I appreciate lawyers having passion for their cases, but I do not appreciate screaming and theatrics in my courtroom.” The judge turned her attention to Justin. “But Mr. Arnott is right. Your client is homeless and a flight risk. Bail is denied.”

A young woman with shoulder-length, dark brown hair leaned over the railing separating the attorneys from nonparticipants in the court. She was dressed in a flower-print dress, which Justin imagined was one of her best dresses that she owned. She whispered something in Justin’s ear.

“Is there something you would like to share with the court Mr. Ainsley?” the judge demanded more than asking.

Justin turned his attention back to the judge. “Your Honor, this is Mrs. Kristen Richards, wife of the defendant. She is requesting visitation rights with her husband while he is custody.”

The judge took a minute to think about the request. “I’ll allow supervised visits while awaiting trial. Is there anything else?”

Both lawyers nodded there wasn’t anything else. “Then I expect all pretrial motions and discovery to be filed within thirty days,” the judge commanded. “If there is nothing else, then the defendant is remanded to pretrial confinement.”

* * * * *

Ten Years Ago

Nineteen-year-old Kristen Tarleton was working as a volunteer for the Multiple Sclerosis aquatic program at a pool where Mike Richards was a lifeguard. The program lasted an hour every Monday and Wednesday during the summer. Kristen found herself staying to swim laps, making sure one particular lifeguard noticed her, after the patients had gone home. Mike made time to chat with her when he wasn’t on duty. Kristen was attracted to this boy who was confident, athletic, and funny. Even though he was strong, he was gentle with her. Mike found the shy girl with a swimsuit model’s figure interesting and caring; traits he admired greatly. On his eighteenth birthday, Mike enlisted in the Marines. Kristen spent the next three months writing letters and dreaming of when he would return. After boot camp, Mike returned for a ten-day leave and to ask Kristen to marry him. Less than a year later, after Mike completed his advanced infantry training and was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, they were married. At first, marriage was wonderful, until Mike’s first tour to the Middle East. He returned changed. He was no longer gentle, funny, or loving. He was irritable, aloof, and couldn’t sleep. It got worse after Mike’s second tour. When his enlistment was over, Kristen hoped things would improve, but instead they got worse.

It was this shy girl, hopelessly in love with her husband, but unable to live with him; that Justin met as he walked out of the courtroom. “Excuse me,” she said, afraid to confront Justin. “You’re my husband’s lawyer, aren’t you?”

“That’s right,” Justin answered. “What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to say that I know Mike has a reputation for being violent, but I know him. He would never kill anyone.”

Justin sighed as he held his briefcase in both hands in front of him. “Mrs. Richards Your husband was a Marine Corps sniper. He was trained to kill. He served two combat tours. He’s killed before and is quite capable of killing again.”

“So, you believe he’s guilty?”

“I don’t know,” Justin answered. “While he has the ability, many of the facts of the case seem to be too convenient.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’ll put it this way. I’m your husband’s lawyer, and I’m going to do everything possible to see he gets a fair trial and justice is served.”

The shy woman in front of Justin shook her head and held it high. “He has his flaws, but he didn’t kill that boy. Mike is innocent. I want you to prove it and get him out of jail.”

Before Justin could answer, Kimberly joined him and Kristen. “Mrs. Richards. Good to see you. How are you doing?”

Kristen glared at Kimberly. “What do you care? You’re the one who put him in jail. You cops pinned this murder on Mike because you want to solve this case and you don’t care who gets sent to prison for it.”

Kimberly reached out to calm Kristen. Kristen took a step back. “Don’t touch me,” she commanded. “I don’t want any of you filthy cops to touch me. Just get out there and find the real killer.” Kristen didn’t wait for a response; she stormed off.

“Don’t blame her,” Justin said to Kimberly. “She’s just upset because what her husband is going through.”

“No kidding,” Kimberly replied sarcastically.

“Well, if you excuse me, I have a lot of work to do. I need to start on pretrial motions and examining the evidence against my client.”

Kimberly took a deep breath. “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?”

Justin stood still for a moment before answering. “Sure. Why not. Besides, I’ve got some questions I would like to ask you about the case.”

Kimberly smiled. “I was kind of hoping you would say that.”

* * * * *

Dannie’s Deli was considered the best family-owned restaurant in the city. It was a small place with six booths along one wall and eight tables in the middle of the room. At the back end were to two glass counters forming an L: one filled with pastries and one filled with deli meats and side salads.

Justin stopped in front of the shop and pointed to a sign written in a foreign language. “Do you know what that says?” Justin asked Kimberly.

She glanced at the sign. “It’s Hebrew. It says they serve kosher food here. The family who owns the shop are Jewish. They’re really nice people.”

Kimberly and Justin entered the shop. An elderly man greeted them. “You want Hebrew or English menu?”

“English,” Kimberly answered. She led Justin to a table towards the back of the dining area. Justin could smell chicken soup coming from the kitchen behind a set of double doors, one mark with enter and the other with exit.

“I recommend their pastrami on rye or the tuna melt,” Kimberly said as Justin looked at the menu. “But truthfully, everything is good here.”

“I take it you come here often.”

“They give you free refills on all drinks, the food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the service is great.”

Justin chuckled. “And thought only truckers knew the best places to eat.”

“So do cops.”

A young lady came over and placed a pot of tea and two cups on the table. “Let me know when you are ready to order,” said the waitress.

“I’m ready now,” Kimberly responded. “I’ll take a blueberry bagel with cream cheese and an order of blintzes.”

The waitress turned to Justin. “What about you sir?’

Justin put down the menu. “I guess I’ll have the pastrami sandwich and a Coke.”

The waitress repeated their order as she took up the menus before leaving. Kimberly poured herself a cup of tea for herself and Justin.

Justin picked up his cup and gave Kimberly a small wave of the cup. He took a sip and placed the cup back on the table. “So, tell me why you wanted to talk to me? What do you want to tell me about the case?”

“What makes you think I have any information about the case that I haven’t told you?”

“Call it a hunch. Us lawyers are known to have them.”

Kimberly game Justin a small smile. “Maybe I want to hear what you have to say. Maybe I want to know how you intend to defend Wild Mike.”

“Simple. He didn’t do it. I’m going to find out who did.”

“Ah, the SODDI (some other dude did it) defense. Why am I not surprised?”

Justin chuckled. “Maybe someone else did do it. Maybe you have the wrong person in custody. Have you thought about that?”

“Maybe.”

“What?” Justin exclaimed in surprise. “You agree with me?”

“A better way would be to say I’m open to exploring the possibility of Wild Mike being innocent.”

“Why?”

“Wild Mike,” Kimberly replied. “He was wet and so was Carlsen. The only reason Wild Mike would be on the shore with a wet body is if he went in the lake and pulled it out.”

“You don’t think they were fighting and maybe Mike drowned the victim?”

“Wild Mike is a scrapper; but he had no wounds or bruises on him. There were no cuts or scrapes on his hands or knuckles. Ever known a person get into a fight and not come out without at least one bruise?”

Justin nodded his head in agreement. “If you think he’s innocent, then why do you have him locked up. Let him go.”

“It’s not up to me. For some reason, the DA, Connor Arnott, seems to be out to get Wild Mike.”

“What’s his story?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who is he? How did he become the DA? What’s his background?”

“Don’t really know,” Kimberly answered. “He’s been the DA for I don’t know how long. He’s fairly good. He supports the cops. I know he wants to get into politics, so he’s probably trying to make a name for himself.”

“Why does he have it out for Mike?”

“I don’t think he has it out for Wild Mike. But this case is going to big news and it’s a great chance to get known.”

Justin looked confused. “What makes this case so important? I know it’s a homicide, but there have been other homicide cases before.”

Kimberly chuckled. “You really don’t know, do you? Raymond Carlsen, the victim, was the son of our state senator, Phillip Carlsen; and Raymond was working at the law firm of Nicole Welsh, the highest paid corporate lawyer in the state. How did you not know about this?”

“I knew about Raymond being Phillip Carlsen’s son, but I didn’t know he was a lawyer.”

“He wasn’t,” Kimberly replied. “He was an intern at the firm. He would have started next year as an associate there.”

“And to think I thought he was just some kid the police found on the shore of the lake.”

“Not hardly,” Kimberly answered. “Not hardly.”

* * * * *

Justin placed his CAC (computer access card) card into the slot on the keyboard of his computer. He sat down behind his desk, waiting for the computer files to open. As Justin leaned back in his chair, his associate, Wendy Codwell entered his office.

Wendy was a full-figured woman who celebrated her thirty-ninth birthday every year for the past decade. Justin was impressed with Wendy for three reasons. The first was she was always dress in professionally in tailored suits. Second, she was extremely intelligent and resourceful, even for a lawyer. The third was her brilliantly dyed red hair.

“What do we have?” Justin asked.

“A real ball buster,” Wendy answered. “This case is not a simple homicide.”

“Explain,” Justin commanded.

“Don’t take that tone with me,” Wendy responded. She placed a folder on Justin’s desk. “The victim, Raymond Carlsen, is the son of state senator Phillip Carlsen.”

“I know,” Justin stated interrupting Wendy.

“He’s also a law school student working for Nicole Welsh, a high-priced corporate lawyer with a lot of influence in the community.”

“Again, I already know that.”

“The defendant in this case is a former Marine Corps sniper who pulled two tours in the Middle East. He’s trained in hand-to-hand combat and can easily kill someone with his bare hands.”

“Still, nothing new.”

Wendy let out a deep breath. “Did you know he was seeing a mental health counselor at the VA?”

“No, that I didn’t know.” Justin leaned back in his chair. “See if you can’t get a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) release from our client. We’ll want a copy of his records from the VA.”

“Now you’re telling me something I already know,” Wendy snidely responded.

“Anything else?”

“Not yet, but then the murder occurred last night. We haven’t got the autopsy results yet. As for the lab results from the autopsy and the crime scene evidence collected, it’s going to be a while before we them.”

“Yeah, I know,” Justin replied. “In the meantime, see what you can find out about Detective Kimberly Simmons.”

“Any special reason you’re so interested in this detective?”

Justin blushed as he thought of Kimberly. Yes, he did find her attractive, but then who wouldn’t be interested in learning more about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Amazon carrying a police shield. “Not really,” Justin lied. “I just want to know more about the people involved in this case, and that includes the detective who made the arrest.”

Wendy turned to leave Justin’s office. At the door, she looked over her shoulder at Justin. “Yeah, sure,” she said with a smile, “I’ll make sure to get you that information.”

* * * * *

“About time you got back,” Tindall commented snidely as Kimberly walked into the office.

“Why? What did I miss?” Kimberly asked.

“The autopsy report came in.”

“What did it say?”

“Cause of death was blunt-force trauma. He was beaten to death before being dumped in the lake.”

Kimberly glared at Tindall. “You are such a great detective. To think, with all those bruises and being wet, it’s amazing that you and the coroner were able to come to that conclusion.”

Tindall chuckled. “Yeah. The coroner was also able to establish the time of death. It was less than an hour before the body was discovered.”

“Strange?”

“Why?”

Kimberly strolled around the office. “Wild Mike gets into a fight with someone, beats him, then drowns him, then drags the body out of the water. But there were no signs of an altercation at the scene. No blood cast off. No drag marks. The only foot prints we found there were of Wild Mike’s, going in and out of the water. And no signs of Wild Mike being in a fight.”

“And you’re beginning to think maybe he didn’t kill Carlsen.”

“When did Wild Mike start living out there in the woods?”

“I don’t know,” Tindall answered. “Probably a couple of months ago. I know he was living with his wife three months ago when you picked him up for that bar fight.”

“Yes, that’s right. And since then, he hasn’t caused any trouble.”

“Not quite,” Tindall responded. “There have been several complaints about him out there. Mostly college kids and those rich snobs who live on the lake complaining about him watching them. They always see him with a pair of binoculars.”

“But except for a few barroom brawls, Wild Mike hasn’t done anything that violent. While he’s capable, I don’t see him killing someone over a petty argument.”

Tindall clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back. “Doesn’t change the fact we have a homicide victim and the only suspect is Wild Mike.”

Kimberly crossed her arms in front of her and stared at Tindall leaning back in his chair. “You know what this means, don’t you?” she stated.

Tindall groaned as sat back upright and brought his hands down. “Yeah. It means we might have an unsolved homicide.”

* * * * *

Chapter Three

At fifty-three years of age, Nicole Welsh had it all. She had the six-bedroom, four bath, two-story house with an in-ground pool and a large garage for the four cars she shared with her husband, Brandon Hansen. Nicole graduated from law school twenty-eight years ago. She then found a rich husband and became head of her own law firm all before the age of thirty. Since then, she managed to become one of the highest-paid and most successful corporate lawyers in the state. As Justin stood in the foyer of the home, he admired the large office/library off to the right and the spacious living room to his left. A maid had instructed him to wait there while she informed Nicole of Justin’s presence. Justin took a few steps to the entrance of the living room, noticing a large, flat-screen TV, several tasteful sculptures and paintings. On the mantel over the fireplace were a set of candlesticks flanking a large mirror.

“Can I help you?” an authoritative feminine voice demanded. “You’ve interrupted my breakfast.”

Justin turned to see a middle-aged woman in a kimono robe over silk pajamas. Her hair was cut short, just covering her ears, and showing streaks of gray.

“I asked if I could help you,” the woman demanded again.

Justin put out his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m an attorney and working on a case involving a homicide that occurred two days ago. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions.”

The woman closed her robe. “I know who you are. I have nothing to say about the case.”

“And I know who you are,” Justin replied. “You’re Nicole Welsh, high-priced corporate lawyer, and the person who called the police the night of the murder.”

Nicole scoffed. “I’m a lawyer and I know a bluff when I see one. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t know anything happened until the next day when I saw it on the news.”

“Strange? Your property overlooks where the murder happened.”

“So do a lot of others.”

Justin walked through the foyer into a room leading to the back of the house and the pool. “I can almost see the shoreline from here. I’m sure from the second floor or the edge of your property, you can see it. Mind if I take a look.”

Nicole smiled at Justin. “Well, I’m certainly not going to invite you up to my boudoir, but you are welcome to go outside and take a look.” Nicole opened the back door and led Justin to the edge of her property.

“I was right,” Justin commented. “You can see the shoreline from here.”

“Just because I can see it, doesn’t mean I did. I had no reason to look outside that night.”

“Really,” Justin stated with disbelief. “With all the lights out there on the shoreline, including the blue police lights, you didn’t bother to take a look to see what was going on?”

“I guess I was asleep by the time all of that happened.”

“Yeah, that’s probably it. Let me ask you about something else.”

“What?”

“Raymond Carlsen.”

“What about him?

“Surely you knew he was the victim,” Justin stated with a smile.

“Of course I knew.”

“He worked for you, didn’t he?”

Nicole crossed her arms in front of her chest. “You know he did.”

“Just had to confirm it.”

“No, you didn’t,” Nicole responded. “Like all lawyers, you know the answer to all of the questions before you ask them.”

“Here’s one I don’t know. When was the last time you saw Raymond?”

Nicole stared at Justin for a moment before answering. “It was the day before he was murdered. He’s an intern at my office. I saw him at work that day when I left the office that afternoon, he was still working. If I remember correctly, he was making some copies for one of the associates.”

“So, you didn’t see him the day he was murdered?”

“I just told you I didn’t. What makes you think I did?”

“Nothing really,” Justin answered. “I’m just wondering why Raymond was out here.”

“What makes you think he was here?”

“He had to have some reason for coming to the lake.”

* * * * *

Justin pulled his white Toyota into a parking space at the edge of the gravel parking lot. Once again, he was assaulted by the odor of fish and algae as he got out of his car. He felt the rocks through the soles of his shoes as he walked across the gravel to the office for renting jet skis and boats on the lake. One dock was under construction. Justin could see the posts leading into the water, although the boards of the dock extended only about a third of the way. Several college-age students standing on a second dock attracted Justin’s attention. They were discussing the merits of various locations on the lake and which would be the best place for their outing, which included two coolers, probably filled with ice and beer.

A man came out of the rental office. “Morning. What can I do for you?” he asked.

The man was in his early forties, slender and tan from working outside. He was dressed in cutoff jeans and a white sleeveless tee shirt advertising a local bar. He pulled a red ball cap from his rear pocket and placed on his head with his receding hairline and short dark hair.

“I take it you’re the owner of this establishment,” Justin said as he looked at the canoes, kayaks, motorboats, and jet skis.

“Nope. The bank owns it. They just let me work here and pay them money every month,” the man answered with a chuckle. “Name’s Thom Ferrell. What can I do for you?”

Justin extended his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m investigating a homicide that took place here a couple of days ago.”

“Be careful there,” a voice responded.

Justin turned to see Kimberly standing a few feet from them. “People might think you’re a cop; and we wouldn’t want that.”

“That’s right; you could get into trouble impersonating a police officer,” said a man standing next to Kimberly.

Kimberly faced the man. “That’s right. You two haven’t met.” Kimberly motioned to Justin, then the man next to her. “This is Justin Ainsley, Wild Mike’s lawyer. Justin, my partner, Steve Tindall.”

Tindall stepped forward and shook Justin’s hand. Tindall gave a nod to the marina owner. “Thom, good to see you. Hope you don’t mind us asking a few questions.”

“If it’s about that kid getting killed, ain’t got anything to tell you. I close this place up at six and go home. I didn’t hear anything about it until the next morning.”

Justin took a couple of steps towards the docks. “Doesn’t look like you do much business. I mean it looks like most of your boats and stuff are here, not on the water.”

“You’re right about that,” Thom said with a chuckle. “But then, it’s a weekday. Most of the kids are in school. On the weekends and during school breaks, I can barely keep up with demands for jet skis and boats. But, the construction of the new dock will help business once it’s completed.”

“Lots of fishermen on the weekends,” Justin asked.

“Not anymore,” Thom replied. “It seems the fishing has gotten bad. There used to be quite a few people coming up from the college and neighboring cities; but not anymore. Guess fishing isn’t as popular as it used to be.”

“Enough about fishing,” Tindall said hoping to bring the focus of the conversation back to him. “What can you tell me about Wild Mike? Heard he had a scuffle with someone here several days ago.”

Thom pulled his hat off to wipe the sweat off his forehead. “Yeah, that happened. This young fella threw a wrapper on the ground. Wild Mike picked it up and put it in the trash can. Then he scolded the young man about littering. That fella started yelling back, telling Mike to mind his own business. Well, that just pissed Mike off more, and he started screaming at the kid. Then the kid shoved Mike. Guess the kid thought he could scare Mike off. No way. Sure enough, Mike decked the kid. I was able to pull Mike off and the kid’s friends held him back. Then the wimps called the cops to file a complaint, saying Wild Mike assaulted them. Of course, Mike had disappeared before the cops showed up. I told them that the kid started it, but Mike finished it.”

Justin held up his hand to interrupt Thom’s story. “Does Mike often have altercations with others who litter?”

Thom shook his head. “If you leave Wild Mike alone, he’ll leave you alone. Oh, he might cuss you out for littering or doing something you shouldn’t. But if you keep on walking, he’ll leave you be. He does look for fights, but he won’t turn tail and run from one.”

“Did Mike seem especially angry at this kid?” Tindall asked. “Did it seem that Mike wanted to finish what he had started?”

“Mike didn’t start the altercation,” Justin interjected. “Thom just told you it was the young man who threw the wrapper on the ground.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tindall responded. “But considering the young man Mike had the fight with was our victim, Raymond Carlsen, and the fact it occurred one day before we found him dead; I need to be sure that Mike didn’t have a grudge and go looking for this kid.”

Justin took a step forward to face Tindall. “So, you think Mike went looking for Raymond, found him the next day, beat him up and killed him because of a candy wrapper.”

Tindall glared back at Justin. “No. I think Wild Mike went looking for Raymond because he called the police and got Mike in trouble.”

“I think the both of you need to get your testosterone in check,” Kimberly said with a degree of frustration.  She reached out and turned Justin to face her. “Look we need to investigate everything, including a possible motive for Mike to kill Raymond. You don’t know Mike the way we do. He always seems to be in a bad mood; one step from going off the deep end.”

Justin nodded he understood before facing Thom. “I do have one question. Why was Mike down here? What was he doing here at the marina?”

Thom waved his hand towards the building that served as the office for the marina. I run a small convenience store. I often get supplies for Wild Mike. He was here to pick them up.”

“Did he?” Justin asked.

“Of course. He got them right after he knocked that young fella down. He got them. When the kids told him they had called the police, Mike flipped them off and went on his way.”

“Seemed pretty calm for a crazed killer,” Justin commented.

* * * * *

It was certainly quiet Justin thought as he made his way to Mike’s camp. After spending the day in his office going over paperwork, Justin didn’t know if he should appreciate this opportunity to get outdoors. He still smelled the fish and algae, but he also smelled the pine while listening to the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. Dusk was coming and soon it would be too dark to find the place, even with a flashlight. Also, Justin’s unfamiliarity with the lake and wooded area surrounding it didn’t help. According to the directions given to him by Thom that morning, all he had to do was follow the path around the lake until he came to a small foot bridge over a stream. Justin simply had to turn away from the lake and follow the path uphill for about half a mile to Mike’s camp. Justin stopped about halfway up the path, turned, and admired the view. He watched several large birds soar above the lake. After a minute, he returned to his trek up the hill.

Justin found the camp. It was as he had seen it the other day. Most of Mike’s belongings were strewn about the site, evidence of the police ransacking the place when looking for evidence. Justin found some food in a plastic bag next to clean shirts, underwear, and a pair of pants in a pile beside a wooden chair.

“I see you found the place.”

The voice startled Justin, who turned to see Detective Kimberly Simmons leaning against a tree, grinning at him.

“What are you doing here?” Justin demanded.

“Saw you taking off down the trail by the lake. Figured you would be coming back here. I followed you to make sure you didn’t get lost.”

“You were worried about me?”

“More of I didn’t want to mount a search and rescue mission for a lost lawyer, especially at night.”

“You could have waited until daylight. I doubt there is anything out here that will hurt me.”

Kimberly found a log to sit on. “What are you doing out here? You were here the other day. Nothing’s changed.”

“I wanted to go over the events of that night; but I wanted to do them at the time they happened.”

“In that case, I’ll wait with you. Kind of help you through the events as they happened.”

“What about your partner?” Justin asked. “Certainly, you don’t intend to keep him waiting. I figure it’ll take four or five hours before I’m through here.

“Steve didn’t come. He went home to his wife and kids.”

“You came up here by yourself? Isn’t that kind of dangerous? What if something were to happen to you?”

Kimberly laughed. “What about you? You’re up here all by yourself.”

“It’s different.”

“Why? Because you’re a man? You can take care of yourself, while poor little defenseless me is here all by herself.”

“Why do I have a feeling that you are better at this than I am?”

“Because I grew up here. When I was a kid, I spent more time here in the woods than I did in school, much to the disappointment of my parents.”

“Well, since we have time to kill, what’s your story?” Justin asked as he leaned back in the wooden chair.

“You mean why am I not married with the required two or three children and an ex-husband,” Kimberly answered with a grin.

“We can start with that. Then you can tell me how you became a cop in a town where the idea of a lively Saturday night consists of college kids getting stoned.”

Kimberly stood up. “Hey if I’m going to tell you my life story, we’re changing seats. I want to be comfortable.”

“I was here first. Why should I have to give up the only comfortable chair in the place?”

“Because you want to hear my story. Now get up.”

Justin chuckled as he relinquished the chair. “You have the chair. Now let’s hear your story.”

Kimberly made sure to give a sigh of comfort as she sat down. “I guess it started with me growing up here in this town. I even went to college here. After I graduated with a degree in criminal justice, I took a job in LA and joined the police force there. After several years and a talent for dealing with women victims, I found myself working as a detective. I would still be out there if it weren’t for my father dying. I came back for the funeral, discovered I liked it better here than smog-filled LA, so I stayed.”

Justin leaned back against a log and stretched his legs out. “What about the rest of the family? Your mother? Any brothers or sisters?”

“My, my,” Kimberly replied pretending to be coy. “All these questions.”

“And very few answers.”

“Well, my mother is alive and kicking and enjoying life as the owner of a bridal shop. She also does some catering on the side. My only sibling, my sister, works with my mother. Together, they run the gossip mill in this area.”

“What about a husband, kids, pets, stray animals that have adopted you?”

“Nope. No husband, no kids, no pets, no stray animals. Not that I wouldn’t like to have them, but I haven’t found the time or the right person, yet. What about you?”

“I thought you knew all about me.”

Kimberly smiled. “I know you served. According to my sister, you’re still single, but you were dating another lawyer until she got a job offer in D.C. Anything to add?”

“I have a cat. It kind of came with the house I’m renting.”

“What’s its name?”

“I call him Gibb Cat, it’s a Shakespearean term for stray cat.”

Kimberly got out of the chair. “So, you live alone with a stray cat, and you take on murder cases pro bono.”

Justin stood up. “Got to have something to look forward to when you get up in the morning.”

“It’s getting dark,” Kimberly stated as she stretched her arm. “We should get going. I know it’s early, but you’ll get the idea of what happened.”

“No, I want to hear what Mike heard and see what Mike saw. Everything took place a night.”

“The coroner put time of death between six to eight o’clock at night. It’s almost six thirty. This would be about the time Wild Mike would have killed Raymond.”

“You found Mike and the victim down by the shoreline; isn’t that right? But you don’t really know where he supposedly killed Raymond Carlsen.” Justin asked. According to your theory, you think Mike left his camp around now, went down to the shoreline, killed Carlsen, and hung around there for a couple of hours, then dumped the body?”

Kimberly crossed her arms. “Truthfully, I can’t figure out the timeline yet.”

“Well then, I’m going to follow Mike’s story.”

“What is that?”

“According to Mike, he was here when he heard some noises and saw some lights down at the lake. When he got down there, that’s when he heard a splash. After several minutes, he saw something in the water, and he realized it was a body. That’s when he went in and pulled it out.”

“But there were no drag marks,” Kimberly stated.

Justin held up his hand. “He carried the body out. That’s why you found blood on his shirt, and no signs of a struggle.”

“It’s hard to tell if there was a fight, especially at night, with a bunch of police officers tramping around the place.”

“I can understand that. But I want to wait to see if there are any lights or noise coming from the lake and whether they can be seen from here.”

Kimberly uncrossed her arm and moved to the edge of the camp site. She turned to face Justin. “I’ll save you the trouble. Yes, you can see lights and hear noises from the lake up here. Take a look. You can see the lake and some kids on jet skis out there. And you can even hear the skis from up here. You don’t need to wait for nightfall, so let’s get going.”

Justin was a bit embarrassed at failing to notice something so obvious. “I still want to wait until nightfall to see how Mike would have gotten from here to the shoreline.”

“Wild Mike knows these woods as well as you know your apartment. He’s capable of moving down to the shoreline quickly and quietly; something you won’t be able to do in the dark. If fact, you would be lucky to make it down there without tripping over something and breaking a bone. Now, I know I’m not as good as Wild Mike, so I’m going down while there is still enough daylight to see where I’m going. And, you should come too. There is no need to wait until dark.”

Justin relented to Kimberly’s logic, and joined her as she led him down the path.

* * * * *

“Well, here we are again,” Kimberly said when they got to the crime scene.

Justin walked around the area. “It’s hard to tell what happened with all of the tracks and impressions here.”

“What do you want to know?”

“The facts,” Justin stated. “Someone calls the police reporting a fight. A patrol unit arrives, finds Mike with Carlsen, who is dead. The police are on the road, the lake is here, Mike is in the middle. He panics and runs. Where did you finally catch him?”

“Not quite,” Kimberly chuckled. “Wild Mike doesn’t panic. He’s a former Marine sniper. He’s been in a lot of tougher spots than this. And, I’m sure he’s dealt with dead bodies before.”

“Sounds like you think he’s innocence.”

“Innocence, no,” Kimberly answered. “But honestly, I don’t think he killed Raymond Carlsen. When I cornered him at the boathouse, which is about a mile from here, he surrendered. He was thinking clearly. Don’t get me wrong; if he could have gotten away, he would have. But he knew he had been identified. He knew running wasn’t going to help.’

Justin took note of the view from the shoreline. It was dark, but he could see there were a couple of motorboats out on the lake. The lights from the homes on the hill overlooking the lake casted shadows along most of the shoreline, but there were patches where the moon light shined through.

“Was there a full moon the night Carlsen was killed?” Justin asked.

“No, but there was a full moon a couple of days earlier. But the moon was bright enough and the night was clear. You could see someone standing on the shoreline if he moved out of the shadows.”

“Still, the autopsy showed Carlsen was killed at least an hour, possibly two, before the patrol unit showed up. Why was Mike still here? If he had killed Carlsen, he wouldn’t have hung around waiting for the police.”

“I agree,” Kimberly replied. “I mean the arrest the night of the murder was justified. We had a dead body, Wild Mike was seen with the victim, he had blood on his shirt, he ran away. Taking him into custody was called for.”

“So why is he being charged with murder?”

“Simple. We don’t know who really killed Carlsen,” Kimberly answered. She started down the path toward the marina, then she turned to face Justin. “I mean, it could have been someone else; but it could also have been Wild Mike.”

* * * * *

Chapter Four

Justin admired the large Tutor home with vines growing around the window shutters. On both sides of the front porch were flower beds stretching out to the half circle driveway with enough room to park at least a dozen cars. He rang the doorbell, which he heard through the heavy wooden door. After several seconds of silence, he rang it again. Still, there was no answer. Justin decided to circle the home to see if there were any signs of someone being there.

It took him almost two full minutes to make his way to the back of the house where he found a nude woman sunbathing on a lawn couch. Justin quickly turned around and loudly cleared his throat.

“Oh, don’t be such a prude,” the naked lady said as she lazily turned on to her stomach. “If it bothers you so much, hand me my robe and I will cover up.”

Justin timidly stepped backward till he could find the robe. He continued to move backwards to avoid having to look at the woman. He handed her the robe.

Justin heard a slight groan and sigh. “You can turn around now,” the woman said.

Justin turned around just as the woman was pulling her long red hair from beneath the collar of the robe, which was open, revealing two perky breasts and a dark triangle of public hair. The woman of Hispanic heritage was in her early thirties, had a sensual hour-glass figure, tanned skin without any bikini lines, dark eyes, and a perfect complexion. Modesty was not one of her attributes.

“Do you think you could. . .” Justin said motioning to the woman and her terrycloth robe.

The woman closed the robe and tied the cloth belt. While it covered her body, it left nothing to imagination about this woman physical attributes. “Who are you and what do you want?” she demanded as she picked up a glass of orange juice.

“I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m a lawyer. . .”

“Sweetheart, what makes you think I need a lawyer?

“I’m hoping you don’t. I’m a criminal defense attorney. A couple of nights ago, there was a homicide down by the lake.”

“Yeah, I know. I saw the lights down there. I heard they caught the guy who did it.”

“Yes, the police do have a suspect in custody. I’m his lawyer.”

The woman chuckled as she set her glass of orange juice down on a table. “And you want to know if I saw what happened?”

Justin pulled out a small notebook from his pocket. “You are Ms. Ava Shimley, right?”

“That’s right sweetie.”

Justin walked to the edge of the back yard and looked down at the lake. “Can you tell me what you saw that night?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Excuse me, but do you mind if I ask if anyone else was here? Possibly one of your staff?”

“The staff had the night off.”

“What about your husband, or maybe another family member?”

“I’m a widow. Why? Are you getting ideas?”

“That’s flattering, but I am really here on business.”

“A man with morals. My, my, what I am going to do with you?”

“Can we focus on you and your family? Is there anyone else living here? Someone who might have seen what happened the other night?”

“I’m sorry to say I was here all by myself. Not that I wouldn’t like to have had company, but that night, no such luck.”

“Is there anything you can tell me about that night?”

Ava Shimley returned to her lawn couch and removed her robe. “Sweetie, all I saw was a bunch of lights. Now unless you want something else, bye bye.”

Justin could tell Ava enjoyed making him uncomfortable as she coyly lifted her arms showing her entire naked body. “Appreciate your time, but I think I’ve got all I need.” Justin gave Ava a small salute as he left.

* * * * *

The public defenders’ office occupied the fifth floor of the public services building. The first floor was a lobby with a small newsstand selling coffee and snacks. The other floors of the building held offices for public works, and a gym for the people who worked in the building. Justin made it a point to use the stairs instead of the elevator. He exited the stairwell and made his way to the office he shared with his associate Wendy Codwell.

Wendy was seated at her desk working on her computer. “It’s about time you came in. It’s almost lunchtime. What happened? Had a rough night?”

“Went to see Ms. Ava Shimley, Nicole Welsh’s neighbor,” Justin answered. “Turns out she’s a bit of tease.”

“Oh, I know all about Mrs. Shimley. At least your morning was more interesting than mine. I’ve been going over the police reports, the autopsy report, and the chains of custody. Nothing like checking all the paperwork to brighten one’s morning.”

“Find anything interesting?”

Wendy leaned back in chair. “You read the police report. Someone called in a prowler down by the lake. A unit was dispatched. They found our client with the victim. Our client ran, they chased him down, he was arrested. Later, they searched the client’s personal belongings and found the victim’s wallet and cell phone. So far, everything looks like it was done by the book. They had probable cause, a warrant, didn’t violate the client’s rights, nothing out of place.”

“How did young Raymond die?”

“Stop that,” Wendy commanded. “Don’t personalize this. It’s the ‘victim,’ not ‘young Raymond.’ Don’t think of us being here to fight for the victims or the clients. We’re here to do a job, not to fight crusades.”

“What about providing the best legal defense we can for those who can’t afford a lawyer? That’s not a crusade; it’s our job.”

Wendy pointed at Justin with the pen in her hand. “If you start riding horses and attacking windmills, I’m getting another partner. Remember, Don Quixote was a work of fiction.”

“Okay, okay. What about the autopsy report?’

“No surprise there. He was beaten to death.”

“So, Raymond, I mean the victim, was killed somewhere else, then dumped in the lake.”

Wendy pulled out a piece of paper. “There is one piece of good news. The VA counselor is willing to talk to you about Mr. Richards.”

“You mean our client.”

* * * * *

The VA Center was a huge H-shaped building with mental health on one side, physical rehabilitation and primary care on the other, and the waiting room in the center. In the middle of the waiting room was a courtesy counter with fresh coffee, fruit, and cookies. Justin wanted a cookie but decided to get a cup of coffee instead. He sat down and picked up one of the many veterans’ magazines in the waiting area. Before he could open the magazine to the first page, a short, middle-age Black man came out of the mental health offices and called for Justin. Justin followed the individual to a private office located in the maze behind the door leading into the offices of the mental health practitioners.

“I’m Phillip Donley,” the man said as he motioned for Justin to take a seat in front of the man’s desk. “Before we begin, I need to see some identification and the proper paperwork.”

Justin handed the man his driver’s license and the required forms. As the individual looked over the papers, Justin took note of the office. There were the required diplomas on the wall as well as several reproductions of paintings of sailboats. As with most offices, there were bookcases with shelves of books and memorabilia.

Phillip handed the papers and driver’s license back to Justin. “So, what can I do for you?”

“I need to know about Mike Richards. He’s been charged with murder. Anything you could tell me would be useful.”

Phillip leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk. “You want to know if Mike could have killed someone. The answer is yes. The Marine Corps trained him to kill, and according to his service record, he was exceptionally good at it. He was a sniper, trained to kill a person hundreds of yards away with a single shot from a rifle.”

Justin raise his hand to interrupt Phillip. “I know he was trained and capable of killing. What I need to know is if he is suffering from any kind of psychological trauma that would cause him to lose control and kill a person in a fit of rage?”

“Well, Mike was suffering from PTSD. But his outbursts were limited to destruction of property.”

“I don’t quite understand?”

“Think of it as an adult throwing a temper tantum. He’s angry. He wants things to change, but he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” Phillip answered. “He moved out of his house to be away from his wife so that he wouldn’t hurt her when he lost his temper. He started living out in the woods near the lake. Since he moved out there, he’s had fewer outbursts and was coming to counseling. I wouldn’t say he’s well, but he is getting better.”

“But it’s still possible for him the lose control and kill someone?”

“It will always be possible for him to kill, but whether he would lose control of his emotions, that’s hard to say. It would depend on the circumstances and the amount of stress he was under at the time.”

“So, you think he could and would kill someone if that person pissed him off.”

Phillip shook his head. “Did you know Mike earned the Navy Commendation Medal with a Combat V?”

“Yes, I reviewed his service record.”

“Do you know how he earned it?”

Justin shrugged his shoulders. “I assumed he saved some Marines or killed a lot of terrorists.”

“Not at all. He saved a family from being killed by other Marines who had faulty intelligence. Somehow, Mike figured out the family was being set up so that a terrorist group could blame Americans for killing innocence civilians. Mike stood in front of the Marines who had their weapons on the family. It caused a lot friction between him and the others in the unit, but everyone recognized his courage. Mike was trained to kill, but he has a real moral code. He is more interested in protecting the innocence and helpless than he is in getting revenge. Like I said, he’s capable, but it’s unlikely he would do anything without a very good reason.”

Justin took a minute to compose his next question. “If he says he didn’t kill the person, you would believe him?”

“Mike may have issues, but one thing for sure, he’s honest. He doesn’t lie.”

* * * * *

“Hey, our shift is almost over,” Tindall complained as Justin walked into the detectives’ office. “Couldn’t you come back tomorrow?”

“I could,” Justin answered the detective. “But the autopsy report raised some questions about the case.” Justin nodded to Kimberly as he looked around the detective division of the police station. The detectives called the common room the bull pen, where each detective had his or her own desk. The desks were arranged in pairs, facing each other to make it easier for the detectives to talk to their partners. Beside each desk, was a chair for the suspect or witness a detective wanted to question. There were four of these workstations in the bullpen. Along two walls were four rooms for private conversations. Holding and booking facilities were located downstairs.

“Yeah, I figured,” Tindall replied. “The report said Carlsen didn’t drown; he was beaten to death.”

Justin moved to the front of Tindall’s desk. “If Carlsen was beaten to death elsewhere, then where you found Mike and Carlsen was not the crime scene.”

Tindall turned to face Kimberly. “I love this.” Tindall turned back to Justin. “You know as well as I do, wherever we find a body, it’s a crime scene. Yes, there may be a second crime scene, but that doesn’t mean your client is off the hook.”

“Carlsen was killed somewhere else,” Justin stated. “Have you looked for another crime scene? Have you considered the possibility of another suspect? The possibility of Mike being innocent?”

Tindall looked to Kimberly, who got up from her desk. “This is an open police investigation,” Tindall stated. “Of course we’re looking into all possibilities.”

“Any chance of getting my client released?”

“That’s up to the judge,” Kimberly answered.

“So, Mike is still stuck in jail,” Justin replied.

“That’s right,” Tindall stated.

“Any suggestions on what I can do to help my client?”

Kimberly grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. “You can take me to dinner.”

“How is that going to help Mike?”

“To find out, you’ll want to take me to dinner.”

Justin chuckled. “Who says I want to take you to dinner?”

“I do,” Kimberly answered with a grin.

* * * * *

The owner knew people came to a bar for four things: cold beer, strong drinks, good food, and good music; and the Cactus Rose Saloon was known for all of these. Waitresses were young, sexy, and good looking. The bouncers were big, strong, and not known for their gentle nature. The owner furnished the bar with picnic tables and mismatched bar stools along the bar. There was a band stand for local musicians to play country and western music on Thursday and Friday nights. The owner also kept an extremely large-screen TV for sport parties on the weekends. Any other time, loud music blared over loudspeakers, forcing patrons to yell in they wanted to hold a conversation.

“First time,” Kimberly asked as she and Justin entered the bar.

“I tend to stick to take out or cooking prepared dinners at home.”

“Well, you’re going to love this place.”

Justin noted the young waitresses dressed in shorts and tight tee shirts. “Kind of a cheap knock-off of Hooters.”

“This place specializes in cheap. But the food is good.”

“Kind of loud, isn’t it,” Justin shouted.

Kimberly leaned over to speak in Justin ear. “Like I said, people come here for the food and cold beer. Trust me, you’re going to like the place.” She led Justin to one of the picnic tables towards the back.

A young brunette wearing a tee shirt advertising the Cactus Rose Saloon came over and handed Kimberly and Justin menus. Her nametag identified her as Amber. “What can I get you from the bar?” the pretty brunette asked.

“Two longnecks, Coronas with extra lime,” Kimberly answered. She turned to Justin. “Anything for you?” she playfully asked.

“Naw, I’ll just steal one of yours.”

“Got it. Two Coronas,” Amber the waitress repeated. “I’ll bring them right out. Take a minute to look at the menus. All burgers come with one quarter pickle and our famous Cactus Rose fries.”

Cactus Rose fries?” Justin inquired.

“They French fries seasoned with garlic butter, jalapeno peppers, and powdered cheese,” Amber explained. “They’re our most popular item. Of course, you can order onion rings, potato salad, coleslaw, or macaroni salad instead. Seriously, look over the menu, I’m sure you’ll find something you like. Now let me get you those beers, I’ll be right back.”

Justin spent as much as time watching the young brunette with her hair tied in a ponytail as he did looking at the menu. Kimberly knew what she wanted so she spent her time watching Justin trying to admire the attractive waitress without Amber noticing. She, noticed. As long as the gentleman looked and didn’t take advantage of the situation, Amber felt flattered and pleased that someone with good manners would show some interest in her.

Kimberly reached out and tapped Justin’s hand. “The waitresses here are cute, but you need to read the menu if you want to order dinner,”

“Any suggestions.’

“Burgers are good, but what’s really good here are the fajitas.”

Amber returned with two beers and took Justin’s and Kimberly’s orders. Justin smiled as Amber walked away. He turned his attention to Kimberly. “Well, other than enjoying this pleasant atmosphere, why did you bring me here?”

“Thought we could exchange information. We’ve got a lot against Wild Mike. But I would like to hear what you’ve found out.”

“I’ve told you all that I know, which is mostly the information in the police reports.”

Kimberly took a drink from her beer. “And what about your visit to Nicole Welsh? What did she tell you?”

Justin chuckled. “To get out of her house.”

“And what did you find out?”

“That she has a good view of the shoreline where Carlsen was killed. Her and a Ms. Ava Shimley.”

Kimberly took another drink of her beer. “I’m sure your encounter with Ms. Shimley was more than interesting.”

“What’s her story?”

“There are more stories about that woman than there are tattoos in the Seventh Fleet, and some are more interesting than others. But if you really want to know about the folks on High Road, you need to talk to the experts.”

“High Road?

“That’s what the locals call the development overlooking the lake, especially since they don’t allow locals access to the lake through their property.”

“And what about these experts you mentioned? Who are they?”

“Meet me at the station tomorrow at nine o’clock, and I’ll take you to meet the experts,” Kimberly said, grinning at Justin.

Justin raised his bottle to Kimberly. “A mystery date. This should be interesting.”

  • * * * * *

Chapter Five

The chime rang as Kimberly and Justin entered the shop. An attractive middle-aged woman greeted the couple as the door closed. “Welcome to Simmons Bridal Boutique. Please tell me you are here because my oldest is finally getting married.”

“I beg your pardon,” a confused Justin said.

Kimberly went over to a counter separating the front of the shop from the back where wedding gowns, tuxedos, and other wedding paraphernalia were located. There were three small sofas with a table in front of each. These were where the brides and families gathered to plan the weddings, the receptions, and other details of the big day. On the counter were two coffee pots, one regular and one decaf, a hot water bottle for tea, and a large platter of assorted cookies. Kimberly grabbed two cookies and with them in her hand, pointed to the middle-aged woman with short blond hair and a litter-Coke-bottle figure. “Justin, meet my mother, Rhonda Simmons, the owner of this fine establishment.”

The woman extended her hand to Justin. “Glad to meet you. You know you’re the first man she’s ever brought to the shop. I’m hoping this is for a social occasion.”

“Not quite,” Kimberly mumbled with a mouthful of cookies. She waved to a woman entering from the back of the shop. “And this is my younger sister, Janet.”

Justin shook Rhonda’s hand and nodded to the woman walking toward Kimberly. “Pleasure to meet the two of you.”

The younger sister, Janet, smiled and waved for Justin to come farther into the shop. “Come on in,” she said. “Have some cookies and coffee and tell us what you want.”

“Yes, yes,” Rhonda said as she took Justin by the arm and led him to one of the sofas in the shop. “So how did you and Kimberly meet?”

“Mom, switch to decaf,” Kimberly said as she reached for two more cookies. “Justin here is the lawyer for Wild Mike, who has been charged with murder. He needs some information about the people involved in the case.”

“So you came to us,” Janet replied with a giggle.

“That’s right,” Kimberly answered. “There isn’t a better, more actuate gossip mill in the entire county. Let’s face it. He’s going to find out more here about the people involved than he ever will from court records.”

Rhonda and Janet laughed. “Well, you’ve come to the right place,” Rhonda stated. “I’ve known Mike Richards since he was in diapers. He was a good kid, and a great athlete. He was an all-state swimming champ. I swear that boy was born with gills. He swam like a fish. He was more at home in the water than he was on land. Of course, all that changed when he went into the Marine Corps.”

“What happened?” Justin asked.

“What do you think happened?” Janet answered. “He went to war. It tore him up something terrible. When he came back, he lost that carefree innocence he had. He must have done some really bad things over there; then I suspect most people who see combat aren’t happy with what they have to do to survive. It seems he hates himself more than he hates the enemy.”

“I heard he got into a lot of fights,” Justin stated.

Janet snickered. “If you went into a bar and he was there, best you move onto another place. I remember this one time a guy came up to Mike and wanted to buy him a drink, a kind of a thank you for your service. Mike told the guy to go away and leave him alone. Guess the guy didn’t like that. He insisted on buying Mike a drink. Next thing you know Mike decks the guy. Mike stood there yelling at the guy, who was too scared to get up. Mike was still screaming at him when the police arrived and arrested him.”

“You know a lot about Mike,” Justin commented.

“We should,” Rhonda answered. “He grew up around here. I helped his wife, Kristen, who is a real sweet girl, pick out her wedding dress. Still see that darling girl every now and then.”

“Know anything about the victim, Raymond Carlsen?” Justin asked.

Janet and Rhonda exchanged looks. “Not really,” Rhonda answered. “I know he’s the son of Phillip Carlsen, who is a state senator. Phillip was a personal injury lawyer before he went into politics. I know he’s thick as thieves with that lawyer Nicole Welsh. Now there’s a woman who has lots of skeletons in her closet.” Both Janet and Rhonda giggled.

“I understand Raymond was working for Ms. Welsh,” Justin said.

Rhonda wave her hand at Justin. “Honey, working in not the word for it. That woman hires a bunch of law students, and they spend more time running personal errands for that woman than anything else. I would be surprised if they spent more than two hours a day in the office. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of her personal favors were more than errands, if you get what I mean.”

“I thought Ms. Welsh was married.”

Rhonda laughed again. “Her and her husband must have an open marriage with all the young men and women spending so much time, including some nights, up there on High Road.”

“And she ain’t the only one,” Janet added. “Her neighbors are just as bad.”

Kimberly poured a cup of coffee and handed it to Justin. “Did you talk to any of the neighbors?”

“I’ve been able to contact only one of them, a Ms. Ava Shimley.”

Kimberly smiled but Rhonda and Janet laughed. “Bet she was naked,” Janet said still laughing.

Justin blushed. “How did you know that?”

“We’ve heard stories,” Rhonda answered.

“What’s her story?” Justin asked.

“She’s a gold digger, she is,” Rhonda replied. “About five years ago, Charles Shimley goes down to Puerto Rico for a golfing holiday. He met Ava, where she was working at a casino. Well, the old fart takes a liking to her, and before you know it, they’re married. Lasted about three years, then Charles dies of a heart attack. But he left her a boatload of money. The woman is the vending machine queen; she owns just about every vending machine in the county. She’s doing quite well. I should know. I’ve catered several of her parties. She’s another one who likes them young. I can tell from most of her guests.”

Justin took a sip of coffee. “Anyone else up there I should know about?”

“Oh, my goodness,” Janet exclaimed. “Take your pick. You’ve got Bradner Hansen, Nicole Welsh’s husband. He runs Hansen Realty over on Fifth Street. He’s as bad as his wife. He manages to have an awful lot of business dinner and lunches with the young female lawyers working at his wife’s firm. There’s also Adam Lingenfleter. He was a lawyer, but he’s now working at the college. He’s at all the parties on High Road. Some say he and Nicole were a couple before she married Bradner.”

“Well having loose morals is one thing. What I need to know is there anyone else who would want to kill Raymond Carlsen?”

Rhonda went over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup. “Don’t know about Raymond, although I’m sure there’s a long list of people who wish to see his father, Phillip, under a headstone.”

Kimberly’s cell phone rang. The others in the shop were silent as she answered it. Other than a brief acknowledgement of understanding, Kimberly said very little until she finished the call. She placed her phone back in her pocket and turned to Justin. “We’re going to have to cut this short. Steve needs to see us up at the lake.”

“Steve?”

“Detective Tindall. He found something. Something you are going to want to see.”

  • * * * * *

The ride to the lake was an uncomfortable twenty minutes of silence for Justin, especially with Kimberly speeding along the road. They pulled into the parking lot of the marina. A crowd had gathered to watch a tow truck pull a red Chevy from the water. Detective Tindall was standing next to the tow truck with two patrol officers who made a half-hearted attempt at crowd control.

“What have you got?” Kimberly said as she approached the detective.

“An used car. Can let you have if really cheap.”

“Already have a car. What do you have?”

Tindall pointed to the red Chevy attached to the tow truck. “Here is Raymond Carlsen’s car.”

“How did you find it?” Justin asked.

“Police work,” Tindall answered. “Carlsen lived in an apartment on Funderburg Drive, which is about twelve miles from here. Now, Wild Mike could cover that distance easily in a couple of hours, but I doubt he would go all the way there to find some kid who insulted him a couple of days ago, then drag the body back to the lake. Therefore, I’m willing to bet Carlsen came out here to the lake, where he met up with Wild Mike, whether by design or accident doesn’t matter. Now, we found Carlsen’s body and his personal effects, but not his car.”

“Still haven’t told me how you found it,” Justin commented.

“My, my, impatient aren’t you,” Tindall replied. “I came out here and started talking to some of the regulars. People have been fishing off the pier for ages, but now several of them are complaining about something tangling their fishing lines. They figured it was leftover construction material. I took a look and found signs of tire tracks. I got our divers to go out and look. Sure enough. They found the car.”

Justin walked over to the car. “Carlsen’s body was found almost two miles away, on the other side of the lake. How do you explain his body being so far from his car?”

“Well, I can only guess,” Tindall said slowly. “But Wild Mike knows this area very well, and he’s one hell of a swimmer. He could have killed Carlsen, brought the car here, dumped it in the lake and then swam across to where he left the body. Or he could have dumped the car and taken Carlsen, who was still alive and able to walk, to where we found the body.”

Justin nodded his head in agreement. “Yes, it could have happened that way. But why wouldn’t he simple place the body in the trunk and then dump the car in the lake?”

“Maybe he got rattled,” Tindall answered. “It’s possible he wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“You don’t believe that for a moment,” Justin said, “and neither do I.”

  • * * * * *

“Appreciate you giving me a ride back to town,” Justin said to Kimberly.

“Well, I couldn’t leave you out there at the marina. Wouldn’t be neighborly.”

“Still, I appreciate it. When do you think forensics will get their report to us?”

Kimberly shrugged her shoulder. “Don’t know. It being in the water for five days doesn’t make thing easier. To be honest, I doubt they will find anything useful. Of course, I will get you a copy as soon as they finish.”

They pulled into the police station parking lot. “Mind if I talk to Mike?” Justin asked.

“He’s your client. Can’t stop you.”

“Thanks.”

Kimberly escorted Justin into the police station and to an interview room. She then instructed a patrol officer to bring Mike to Justin. It took a few minutes, but soon Mike appeared. This time his hands were shackled in front of him, but there were none on his legs.

Mike sat down at the table across from Justin. “Why haven’t you gotten me out of here? What about bail?”

Justin pulled out a notepad. “Mike, you were in court when the judge denied you bail.”

“So why are you here?”

Justin shook his pen at Mike. “Pretend you’re the Jolly Green Giant and can the crap. I’m here to help you. I don’t need attitude. I need honest answers.”

“You want honest answers. Then you spend your days and nights here in jail.”

“I said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you want out of here, you’re going to have to work with me.”

Mike raised his hands to show the shackles on them. “Yeah right. What do you want to know?”

“Let’s start with that night. Why did you go down to the lake?

“I told you. It was the lights.”

“How do you explain having Carlsen’s hat?”

“Found it on the beach. That’s it. I found it.

“What about Carlsen’s wallet and cell phone at your camp?”

“I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t take them. Why would I? I don’t need the money and I certainly don’t need a cell phone.”

“How well did you know Carlsen?”

“I didn’t. I see kids down at marina when I go down there, but that’s all. I don’t mess with them unless they mess with me. I told you the last time what happened. I heard some noise, saw some light, so I went down to the beach. I saw a boat. I heard a splash and knew they threw something overboard. When the boat left and I realized it was a body, I swam out and brought it back to the beach. That’s when the police showed up and I took off.”

“Why did you run?” Justin asked. “Why didn’t you just tell the police you found the body and about the boat?”

“They seemed bound and determined to arrest me. It wouldn’t have mattered what I said.”

“Why do you believe that?”

“It was something they said.”

“What did they say?”

“They said ‘We have a killer here with a body,’ then they drew their guns. They were convinced I had killed that boy as soon as they saw me.”

“One last question,” Justin said as he leaned back in his chair. “What did you do with Carlsen’s car?”

Mike stared back at Justin with a confused look. “Car? What car?”

  • * * * * *

Chapter Six

Justin sipped his coffee as he admired the energy these students had so early in the morning. The first class was at eight, and students with backpacks, coffee, and paper bags containing either doughnuts or breakfast sandwiches were rushing to class. Justin looked over the list of names Wendy had given him. Realizing the difficulty in finding students attending classes, he decided to visit Carlsen’s professor, Adam Lingenfleter.

Justin found Lingenfleter’s office, located on the fifth floor of the Law School, was empty. His office hours were posted from nine to twelve each weekday. Justin had an hour before Lingenfleter was scheduled to be in his office. He was about to go to one of the student cafes when he noticed a rather rotund individual carrying a briefcase. He was a bit on the short side, had a fair complexion, light brown hair, and dressed in jeans, a tee shirt, and a corduroy jacket.

“Professor Lingenfleter?” Justin asked as he approached the individual.

“Yes,” the man answered. “What can I do for you?”

Justin put out his hand. “I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m the defense attorney for Mike Richards.”

“You mean that animal that killed Richard. I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”

Justin dropped his hand and stood in front of Lingenfleter. “You can talk to me here, or under a subpoena. I can’t imagine that would be good for your reputation, especially here at the law school.”

Lingenfleter glared at Justin. “Step into my office,” he commanded. “I don’t want to have this conversation here in the hallway.”

Justin followed Lingenfleter to his office. Lingenfleter opened the door and motioned for Justin to take a seat. Lingenfleter took off his jacket and hung it on a hook on the back of the door before closing it.

Lingenfleter took his seat behind his desk. “First of all, I don’t like to be threatened; so what do you want to know?”

“What can you tell me about Raymond Carlsen.?

Lingenfleter grunted. “He was one of my best students. I arranged for him, along, with other students, internships with local law firms.”

“Yes, I know. Raymond’s internship was with Nicole Welsh and her firm. I understand you two are neighbors.”

“So, Nicole and I are friends. What’s wrong with that?”

“She lives in a really expensive neighborhood. I’m surprised you can afford a house there.”

“I used to practice law. I managed to make a good living back then.”

“But now, you’re a professor, making a less money. How can you still manage to afford such a place?”

“Not that it’s any of your business; but I do have savings. Now, what do my finances have to do with you defending the butcher who killed Raymond?”

“Nothing really,” Justin answered. “Let’s get back to Raymond. Do you know what kind of work he was doing at Nicole Welsh’s firm?”

“I’m sure you are aware of privileged communication between an attorney and client, that extends to everyone working in the law office. They are not allowed to discuss anything they hear or see in the office. But you know that.”

“What I am curious about is was Raymond working on anything that could have gotten him killed?”

Lingenfleter let out a small laugh. “You know as well as I do, interns do grunt work; make copies, run errands, pick up coffee and lunch orders, and if they are lucky, maybe, just maybe, they do some research on case law that might apply to a case the firm is currently working on. But dealing with anything sensitive or dangerous, no possible way.”

“Then why was he killed?”

“Because that animal you are defending killed him for no good reason.”

“I doubt that. Besides, it is necessary for me to look into the possibility of other suspects, the possibility that someone else killed Raymond.”

“Well, I can’t help you. I know nothing about what Raymond was doing at Nicole’s firm.”

“What about Raymond the student?” Justin asked. “What about his friends?”

“I was Raymond’s teacher, not his buddy. I wasn’t in his social circle.”

Justin nodded he understood. “You mentioned you placed other students in internships. Did you place any other students with Nicole’s firm?”

“Just one. Dale Knief.”

“How can I find this Dale Knief?”

“I can have him contact you if you leave me your information.”

Justin stood up and gave Lingenfleter business card. “Appreciate that. If I need anything else, I’ll be sure to contact you.” Justin noticed Lingenfleter was happy to see him leave.

  • * * * * *

There is an universal truth about law school, actually all graduate schools; even with the internet, it still holds true, graduate students spend a lot of their time in the library. Justin wasn’t disappointed. It took him less than ten minutes to find a group of law students gathered in a back corner discussing court cases and possible questions for an upcoming exam.

“Good morning,” Justin said approaching the group. “I take it you’re law students.”

A young woman with her raven-black hair tied in a ponytail replied. “That’s right. Is there something we can do for you?”

Justin nodded to the woman who answered him. She was dressed in blue jeans with a grey Army tee shirt, which accented her slender figure. “I’m Justin Ainsley. I’m a defense attorney and hoping that maybe some of you can help me with a case I have.”

“Is this a paying job?” a young man with muscles bulging from his blue polo shirt asked. “We all have internships where we work for college credit, so if you’re looking for free help. . .”

“Calm down,” the woman in the Army tee shirt said. “I’m Deborah Laounty,” she said as she began to introduce the group. “The guy over there is Josh Lamica. The girl with the ball cap is Mary Stott, and the last one is Jessica Behrens. You’re right about us being law students, but we really don’t know much about criminal law.”

Justin smiled and waved to each person in turn. “I don’t need any legal advice. I have a partner who gives me plenty of that. What I’m trying to do is find friends of someone who was a law student here. Do any of you know Raymond Carlsen?”

Jessica was a blond with short hair and a fondness for purple, or so it seemed from her outfit of a purple blouse, purple earrings, and purple lipstick. “Of course we know Raymond. His father is a state senator. We all know it’s who you know that will get you a good job after law school. But Raymond was killed last week. How can we help you?”

“I’m trying to find out what kind of person Raymond was. Maybe he was mixed up in something that could have gotten him killed.”

“I know who you are,” Josh, muscular man, forcefully stated. “You’re the defense attorney for the guy who killed Raymond.”

“Is that what you’re trying to do?” Deborah, the woman in the Army tee, asked. “You’re going to put Raymond, the victim, on trial, instead of the person who killed him.”

Justin held up his hands to calm the group. “Look, I know most people around here don’t like my client, Mike Richards; but I have to provide him with the best defense possible. And that means finding out everything I can about the people involved. I’m not trying to ruin Raymond’s reputation or anything. But I do have to explore the possibility that someone else may have wanted to harm him.”

“You need to explore the fact that Wild Mike was a pervert,” Jessica responded. “He was always watching us whenever we went to the lake.”

“What do you mean?” Justin asked.

“What Jessica means, is every time we went to the lake, we would see Wild Mike on shore with his binoculars, which I’m sure he used to watch us,” Deborah explained.

“How do you know he was watching you?” Justin asked.

Both Deborah and Jessica stood up and proudly displayed their figures. “Mister, we don’t have these figures and wear bikinis without wanting to attract attention. Of course the guys we want to attract are guys are our age, certainly not some old guy living in the woods.”

“I understand,” Justin acknowledged. “Other than watching you with binoculars, did Mike harass or do anything?”

“No, not really,” Jessica replied. “I mean he creeped us out by standing on shore and looking at us; but he never really bothered us. We would see him at the marina sometimes; but I don’t remember him even talking to us.”

“That’s true,” Deborah said. “The only time I ever remember him saying anything to us was pick up some trash we left. He certainly didn’t hit on us.”

“So other than being a bit weird to you guys, he never spoke or caused you any harm?” Justin stated.

“Well,” Deborah added, “other than killing Raymond Carlsen, no.”

  • * * * * *

Justin was on his way to his car when is cell phone rang. “Good morning. Justin Ainsley.”

“You the lawyer defending the piece of crap that killed Raymond Carlsen?” a female voice at the other end of the phone call asked.”

“Yes, I’m Mike Richards attorney.”

“Meet me at the Student Saloon in thirty minutes.”

“How will I know you?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll know you.” The voice hung up.

  • * * * * *

The Student Saloon was located in the basement of the same building as the student cafeteria and book store. Like most bars, the lighting was dimmed. There was a long counter serving as the bar and several small tables arranged throughout the room, which was large enough to hold at least two hundred people. The smell of pizza, the most popular dish on the menu, was the overwhelming odor in the air. Justin ordered a soft drink and found an empty table.

Justin had finished half of his drink when a young woman with long dark hair approached his table. She was wearing a flower print blouse and a light gray skirt that reached to above her knees. She stood there for a moment, staring at Justin.

Justin raised his glass to the young lady. “I take it you’re the one who called?”

“I take it you’re the garbage defending that killer, the one who killed Raymond?”

“Yeah, and it’s a pleasure to meet you too,” Justin answered. “How about you telling me your name and why you wanted to meet.”

The young woman pulled out a chair and sat across the table from Justin. “I heard from one of my friends that you are looking into Raymond’s past. Trying to find someone else who would want to kill him. Well, I’m here to tell you two things. One, I wanted him dead. Two, I didn’t kill him.”

“Well, that certainly saves me a lot of time. But I still need more information.”

“I can imagine.”

Justin pulled out a pocket notebook. “How about telling me your name and why you wanted Raymond dead?”

The young lady leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms. “My name is Charlisa Nickels. I’m, I mean I was Raymond’s girlfriend. We had been dating for more than a year. Then he suddenly breaks up with me, right after he gets an internship with this really prestigious law firm. I mean we’ve been together for all this time. I practically supported him, and he dumps me.”

“Let’s start with who you are?”

“I just told you,” Charlisa stated. “I was Raymond’s girlfriend.”

“What I need is more than that. Are you a student? Did you two live together? Why did you want to kill Raymond?”

“Yes, Raymond and I lived together. We even talked about getting married. Then he gets this job, this internship, and he suddenly moves out and ghosts me. He doesn’t return my calls, my texts, emails, nothing. I finally chase him down at the law firm where he is working. I find him with this woman. She was old enough to be his mother. It’s obvious he’s dumped me for this woman. He’s such a gold digger. You would think with his old man being a state senator, that would be enough, but no. I mean I thought we had something, but he dumped me for this rich bitch. And I’m left with nothing but the bills for the apartment, and get this, seven packages of beef jerky. I don’t even like beef jerky. What am I going to do with seven packages of beef jerky?”

Justin snickered. “Can I ask what do you do? Are you a student? Do you have a job?”

“Yes, I’m a student,” Charlisa answered. “I’m working on my masters in business administration. I met Raymond when we were both undergraduates here. We dated off and on for a while, then when we got into grad school, something clicked. Like I said, we were living together, and I thought everything was great. We spent holidays with each other’s family, had sex several times a week, socialized with friends. We even talked about getting married.”

“You told me that. But I find it hard to believe you wanted to kill Raymond because he broke up with you.”

Charlisa stared at Justin. “You asked if I had a job. I’m currently working part-time at a formal wear store. Before that, I was working part-time at an investment firm, kind of learning the ropes of big business. Then Raymond broke it off with me. A week later, I’m let go. I find out later that rich bitch Raymond is seeing was a major client of the firm.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t want to kill the woman.”

“Who says I didn’t?”

“Well, not that I don’t appreciate the truth, but why are you telling me all this?”

Charlisa leaned forward and placed her elbows on the table. “Because it is just a matter of time before you find out about me and Raymond. I want you to know that as much as I wanted Raymond and that shank he was screwing around with dead, I didn’t do it.”

“And why should I believe you?”

“Because I have an alibi, I was working the night Raymond was killed. And, I can’t swim.”

Chapter Seven

The law offices of Welsh & Hansen reminded Wendy Codwell of law offices on television programs. There was a pretty receptionist with long blond hair. She was wearing a business suit that highlighted her figure. She was polite and friendly, but well aware her job was being the person who kept those the lawyers didn’t want to talk to out of the office. The burnt orange carpet went perfectly with the wood grain furnishings in the office. Behind the lovely receptionist was a wall with the name of Welsh & Hansen displayed in large script letters. Wendy was certain behind that wall was a labyrinth of offices, cubicles, conference rooms, and waiting areas.

“Good morning,” the receptionist said as Wendy walked in. “How can I help you?”

Wendy returned the greeting. “I’m Wendy Codwell from the Public Defenders’ Office. I’m hoping I can see Ms. Nicole Welsh.”

The receptionist smiled, “May I ask what this is in reference to?”

“Of course. I’m one of the attorneys working on the Raymond Carlsen homicide.”

“That was such a tragedy. Raymond was a wonderful boy. Everyone here liked him.”

“I’m sure they did,” Wendy responded. “Still, I need to talk to Ms. Welsh and Raymond’s coworkers. I know it’s unpleasant, but I do need to talk to them.”

“I understand,” the receptionist stated as she lifted up the phone and pressed some numbers. She let the person at the other end know Wendy was in the reception area. When the receptionist finished, she showed Wendy where to wait.

Wendy didn’t have to wait long for an irate Nicole Welsh to come out. “What are you doing here?” Nicole demanded.

Wendy stood up. “I’m working Mike Richard’s defense team. I just need to get some background information about Raymond Carlsen and what he did here.”

“He was an intern here. He was a good kid and did good work. That was until that animal killed him for no reason.”

Wendy sighed. “I can see this isn’t going to be easy. Look, I think it would be better to talk privately in your office than here in the reception area. You wouldn’t want any of your clients to get the wrong impression.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No, I’m stating a fact,” Wendy replied. “I don’t want to make a scene in your front office.”

“You can make a scene if you want, but no one here is going to help you. In fact, if you approach anyone from this office, I will sue you and the your entire office for harassment.”

Wendy took a small step forward and faced Nicole. “It’s not harassment; and I would love to see you bring us into court. What you’re doing is called obstruction of justice. The defense team has an obligation to investigate all the facts, including the victim and his life, to see if there are any circumstances relating to the crime.”

“Ms. Welsh,” the receptionist interrupted.

“What!” yelled Nicole.

The receptionist gave a slight cough. “ Your next appointment is due in fifteen minutes.”

Nicole took several deep breaths to regain her composure. “All right. Maybe we should continue this discussion in my office.”

Wendy nodded in agreement. Nicole opened a door leading to the offices behind the reception area. Wendy also noticed Nicole scowled at the receptionist.

Nicole led Wendy though the cubicles to her private office, which had the required huge desk, two chairs in front of it, a couch and two large windows looking out onto the street below  Nicole motioned for Wendy to take a seat in front of the desk.

“What do you want to know about Raymond?” Nicole demanded.

“What kind of employee was he? What did he do here? Was he working on anything that would take him out to the lake?”

“He was a good kid,” Nicole answered. “But I told you that already. He was an intern here. He did mostly errands like making copies, correlate documents, check on facts, run personal errands for employees who didn’t have the time to do them.”

“What was he working on when he was killed? Did it have anything to do with something happening at the lake?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No, he was not working on anything that could have gotten him killed. As for the lake, this firm deals mostly with corporate law, copyrights, patents, that kind of stuff. We wouldn’t have any business deals taking place out at the lake.”

“What exactly was he working on before his death?”

“He was an intern,” Nicole forcefully stated. “He wasn’t working on any cases. He made copies, correlated material, ran errands. If there was anything related to a case this office is working on, I doubt they would go after an intern and not a lawyer.”

“Did Raymond have any issues, conflicts, problems with anyone here?”

“Interns have trouble fitting in with everyone. It’s new to them and they have to learn the ropes while everything is going on. It can be exciting. It can also be overwhelming. As far as I could tell, Raymond wasn’t having any difficulties. Everyone liked him.”

“Do you know why Raymond was out at the lake the day he was killed?”

“Nope, absolutely not.”

“When was the last time you saw Raymond before his death?”

“The day before. He was making copies of something when I left the office for the day.”

“Anything else you could tell me about Raymond? Maybe a reason someone would want him killed?”

“None. That animal killed Raymond for no reason. Now, get out of my office before I do something you’ll regret.”

Wendy stood up, smoothed out her skirt, and looked at Nicole. “You know, I deal with murders, child molesters, rapists, scum of the earth that would slit your throat for a cold beer. So if you are trying to intimidate me, bitch, you are going to have do a lot better.” Wendy turned and left Nicole’s office.

  • * * * * *

Wendy managed to work her way pass the glares of the employees at Welsh & Hansen.

“How did it go?” the attractive receptionist asked as Wendy exited the back offices.

“I’ve had better interviews at autopsies.”

The receptionist giggled. “Figured as much.”

Wendy leaned against the counter in front of the receptionist. “What can you tell me about Raymond?”

“Nothing much,” she replied. “He was an intern, so I had very little contact with him. It’s not like anyone was calling him.”

Wendy continued to watch the receptionist as she checked information on her computer. Wendy could tell this woman had brains as well as good looks. “Excuse me sweetheart, what’s your name?”

“Rachel.”

“Well Rachel. What can you tell me about Raymond? Was he working on anything interesting? Dangerous? Maybe up at the lake?”

“Not that I know of.”

“How often did Raymond come into the office?”

“Every day. As an intern, he was basically a slave. He did all the grunt work and ran personal errands for all of the associates.”

“How often did Ms. Welsh work with the interns?”

“Practically every day,” Rachel answered.

“Something tells me that needs more explanation.”

Rachel smiled. “I’ve worked here for two years. I’ve noticed that all of the interns have been good-looking, young men. I heard from the receptionist before me, it’s been that way for years. And, it seems Ms. Welsh always has a lot of errands for the interns, many of which require them to visit her at her home after hours.”

“Know of any other interns who can confirm this?”

“There’s Dale Knief. He’s the other intern currently. He gets in around one o’clock. But you can find him at the deli down the street where he usually has lunch before coming in. But don’t tell any one I told you.”

“Wouldn’t happen to have his phone number?”

Rachel handed Wendy a piece of  paper.

Wendy took out one of her business cards. “If you get any kind of flack about talking to me, call me. And if you ever want to work for a different lawyer, definitely, call me.”

  • * * * * *

Wendy stood outside the deli looking in. Left of the entrance was a long glass counter displaying a large selection on bagels and pastries. In the back was a cooler with six glass doors. the far left held yogurt, cheese, and ready-made sandwiches from the kitchen behind the cooler. the rest of the cooler held soft drinks. There were no booths but also most twenty tables with seating for four in the large dining area. Wendy pulled out her cell phone and punched in the numbers on the piece of paper the receptionist had given her. A slightly portly man in his early twenties picked up his cell phone. Wendy closed hers and entered the deli.

Wendy walked up to the young man who was staring at his cell and chewing on half a sandwich. He was dressed in dark slack and a light-blue dress shirt. His striped tie was laying on top of a small knapsack. The young man looked up at the middle-aged woman dressed in a business suit.

“Can I help you?” the young man asked.

“Dale Knief. Nice to meet you.”

The young man put down his cell phone. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

Wendy sad down across the young man. “You’re Dale Knief. You’re an intern at Welsh & Hansen. You’re also a friend of Raymond Carlsen.”

“Who are you?” Dale asked.

Wendy pulled out one of her business cards and handed it to Dale. “I’m Wendy Codwell. I’m with the Public Defender’s Office.”

“And you’re looking into the Raymond’s murder.”

“My goodness, you’re a bright boy.”

Dale leaned back and crossed his arms. “What do you want?”

“Peace on Earth, a cure for cancer, oh, and a brand new Mercedes, but not black; I would prefer a brighter color, maybe red. . .”

“I don’t sell cars; so what do you want?”

Wendy put her elbows on the table. “What can you tell me about Raymond Carlsen?”

Dale uncrossed his arms and took a sip of his soft drink. He set it down and stared at Wendy. “What’s with the red hair?”

“It’s a fashion statement. Now, back to Raymond. What can you tell me about him?”

“He was a jerk.”

“Explain.”

“He thought he was hot stuff because his father was a state senator. He had an in with Ms. Welsh, the senior partner at the law firm. It was a cinch he would get a job offer after graduating, and he made sure we all knew it.”

“So, what kind of work did Raymond do at the firm?”

“Raymond and I are interns. We mostly run errands, make copies, corelate material, that kind of stuff. Every once in a while, we get to help with researching case law for something one of the associates is working on.”

“If Raymond thought he was such hot stuff, maybe he was working on something or helping with a case. Was he working on anything special?”

“If you mean running errands for Ms. Welsh and delivering her dry cleaning after hours, yeah, he was doing something special, if you know what I mean.”

“I mean was he working on anything that might have put in danger? Was he working on anything that would cause someone to think Raymond might be a threat to him or her?”

“No. I mean he managed to piss off people at work.”

“What about the other partner, Hansen?”

“There is no other partner. Hansen is Ms. Welsh’s husband. I guess he put up some of the money to get the firm started, but he’s no lawyer. He deals in real estate. But he does show up at the office quite often, usually to hit on some of the good-looking young lawyers working there. I’ve heard that most of them work there a few years, get some experience, then look for a job with another law firm.”

“The guy sounds like a pig. Back to Raymond. You said he upset people at work. Did he have any enemies there?”

“Well no one really liked him, except for Ms. Welsh. But what does this have to do with Raymond’s death? That creep up at the lake killed him.”

“How about you?”

“Let’s just say Raymond and I didn’t exchange Christmas cards.”

“Where were you the night Raymond was killed?”

“I’m a law student. I was home studying like most law students. I maybe an intern, but I still have to take classes and pass tests.”

“One last question,” Wendy stated. “How does Raymond’s death affect you?”

“Not sorry he’s gone, especially since I have a good shot at getting a position at the firm when I graduate now that Raymond’s out of the picture.”

“So, you benefit from Raymond’s death.”

Wendy could see Dale was uneasy about that statement.

  • * * * * *

The Hansen Realty office building was specifically designed to look like a modern home. It had its main office in what would be the living room of most houses. The three back bedrooms served as private offices. The kitchen was the employee break room and the dining room was the conference room. The flooring was a light-colored wood title, selected for high pedestrian traffic. Wendy stepped into the air-conditioned office. She was greeted by a middle-age woman with short brown hair. She was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved pink blouse with two red roses embroidered over the left breast pocket. The name plate on her desk identified her as Marion.

Marion smiled at Wendy. “Good morning. How can I help you?”

“Morning. Would it be possible to talk to Bradner Hansen?”

“Of course. I’ll go and get him. In the meantime, you can have a seat and feel free to browse our listing on the computer.” Marion left her desk and went to one of the back offices. She returned with a man dresses in chinos, an Oxford shirt, and a blue blazer with a Hansen Realty patch on the pocket. Even though the man combed his hair back, Wendy could tell he was experiencing male-pattern baldness. The man’s belt and blazer failed to hide his expanding waistline.

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Bradner Hansen. No matter what kind of home you’re looking for, I guarantee we have it, and in all price ranges. Now, what can I do for you?”

Wendy extended a business card to Bradner. “I’m Wendy Codwell from the Public Defenders’ Office. I’m hoping you have a few minutes to talk.”

Bradner dropped his hand, refusing to accept Wendy’s card. “My wife told me about you. She said you were defending that pig who killed Raymond.”

Wendy smiled. “Are you sure it was Mike Richards who killed Raymond? There might be a possibility someone else wanted him dead.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what can you tell me about Raymond Carlsen? How well did you know him?”

“He worked at my wife’s law office. I met him a couple of times when he had to drop something off at the office.”

“Did you know what Raymond was working on at your wife’s office?”

“Now how would I know? What goes on at the office is confidential. No one is going to tell me what they are working on.”

“Do you know if Raymond had any enemies or problems at work?”

“Again, how would I know what happens at my wife’s office?”

“What can you tell me?”

“Nothing!”

“Well, since you’re being so helpful, maybe you could tell when was the last time you saw Raymond?”

“I don’t remember.”

Wendy stared at Bradner for a few seconds. “Mr. Hansen, thank you for your time. I’m afraid I won’t be needing your help in finding a new home; but I can guarantee we will speak again.” Wendy turned and left.

  • * * * * *

Chapter Eight

Wendy was eating a muffin when Justin walked into the office. She pointed to a pot of freshly brewed coffee and an opened package of muffins next to the coffee. Justin noticed this was Wendy’s second muffin from the package.

“Good morning,” Wendy said while munching on her muffin. “How did go at the university yesterday?”

“Glad I’m no longer a student,” Justin answered. “How about you? How did it go with your interviews?”

“Well. Let’s see. I interviewed Nicole Welsh at her law firm; talked to Dale Knief, an intern working at the firm; and ended the day meeting with Bradner Hansen, who is not your most friendly real estate agent. Can’t say I got a lot warm fuzzies from anyone.”

“Same here,” Justin replied. “It seems everyone I talk to wants to see Mike locked up or shot. The only person who’s been helpful has been Kimberly.”

“Kimberly? You mean Detective Simmons? Well, that’s it. Let’s talk about your love life. It’s got to be better than this case.”

“What love life? We went out to dinner once. You’re reading too much into her being helpful. Let’s focus on what we know about Raymond Carlsen and the people we interviewed.”

Wendy finished her muffin. “Sure, why not? I can always use indigestion with my morning coffee. You first.”

“I met with one of Raymond’s law professors, Adam Lingenfleter. Turns out he and Raymond’s father, Phillip Carlsen, crossed paths in court when they were practicing law.”

“That’s a mild way to put it,” Wendy said with a slight giggle. “Those two started out at the same law firm, competing for cases. They were both personal injury lawyers, so every case they won, got them up the corporate ladder. Carlsen was known to steal several of Lingenfleter’s clients, especially the ones that had easy cases. Forced Lingenfleter to leave the firm and start out on his own. He had a hard time getting cases until he wangled himself a position at the law school. At first, it helped him get new clients; but soon the demands of teaching forced him to quit practicing law.”

“Interesting. How does he manage to afford his home? I understand it’s a pretty expensive neighborhood.”

“He helped our favorite lawyer, Nicole, win a big case. He bought the house with the settlement money he earned. But I’ve heard he’s had trouble with paying his property taxes; at least that’s what my contact in the tax office told me.”

Justin poured himself a cup of coffee. “That raises some interesting questions for the next time I get to talk to him.”

“Did you get to talk to anyone else?”

“Yes,” Justin answered, taking a sip of coffee. “I met with Raymond’s girlfriend.”

“Oh, I really do want to hear about our victim’s love life. Was it sorted? Obscene? Kinky?”

“You’re making me wonder about your love life?”

“I’m happily married, and it’s boring. Now, tell me about Raymond’s.”

“His girlfriend is named Charlisa Nickels. They were living together until Raymond got the internship at Nicole Welsh’s law firm. He moved out and broke off the relationship. She says she was working at an accounting firm. She thinks Nicole Welsh, who is a client of the firm, had something to do with her getting fired a week after Raymond got his internship.”

“Anything else?”

Justin sat down behind his desk. “Yes, she admits she wanted to kill Raymond, but says she has an alibi. She was working part-time at a formal wear store. Oh, and she can’t swim.”

“She doesn’t need to know how to swim to dump a body from a boat,” Wendy pointed out.

“That’s true. So, what did you turn up?”

Wendy sighed heavily. “My first stop was to Welsh and Hansen Law Offices. Ms. Welsh told me nothing other than to get out of her office. But the receptionist, whose name is Rachel, by the way. If you get a call from her, treat her nice, and be sure to let me know. Anyway, she told me that Ms. Welsh tends to hire young male interns and has a lot of personal errands for them to run, many of which require them to make trips to her home after hours. And it’s common knowledge that her husband, Bradner, is very familiar with this arrangement. In fact, it was hinted that he himself sometimes dates young female lawyers working at the firm.”

“Infidelity is hardly new, but it does supply a motive; if we can prove Raymond was sleeping with Nicole and that her husband was upset about it. Did you talk to anyone else?”

“Talked to Dale Knief,” Wendy answered. “He’s an intern at the same firm that the victim was. He said our victim, Raymond Carlsen was a shoe-in for a position when he graduated. Now that he’s dead, Dale had a chance at getting the position. I got the impression there wasn’t much love lost between the two of them.”

“So he could have had a reason for killing Raymond.”

Wendy scoffed. “Pretty weak motives. Jealous lovers, possible job, cheating spouses, a bad job experience.”

“Murders have happened for less. They’re more likely motives than a vet carrying a grudge for days and then attacking some college kid.”

“True. But Carlsen was beaten to death. It’s possible his death wasn’t premeditated,; it could have been something done in a moment of rage.”

Justin took a sip of his coffee before answering. “That doesn’t help Mike. He’s know to lose his temper, and he is quite capable of beating someone to death. But the real issue for me is what was Raymond doing out there at the lake?”

Wendy was silent for a moment as she reflected on Justin’s comment. “Good point. It would take a lot of planning to get Carlsen out to the lake to kill him. So you think the key to our case is finding out why he was out at lake. How are we going to do that?”

Justin shrugged his shoulders, signaling he didn’t know. He cleared some papers on his desk to find a spot to place his coffee cup. He turned on his computer and leaned back in his chair. Wendy watched, waiting for an answer.

There came a knock on the door. A young woman entered. “Excuse me. Are you Mr. Ainsley?”

Wendy looked over the young woman with envy. She was an attractive woman wearing jeans and a pale blue sweater, both which accented her slim figure. She had short brown hair just pass her ears, but her hair was pulled back of her right ear reveling two small pierced diamond earrings. Her pink lipstick went perfectly with her tanned skin tone. While the woman was tall, she wasn’t short. Wendy was sure Justin was hoping she wasn’t a client and that he could ask her out; not that Wendy blamed him.

“Yes, I’m Justin Ainsley. What can I do for you?”

“I need your help,” the young woman replied.

Justin leaned forward and pulled a notepad out. “Okay. What kind of trouble are you in?”

The young lady closed the door and approached Justin. “I’m not in trouble. It’s my boyfriend. He’s missing. And I think the man you are defending killed him.”

* * * * *

Chapter Nine

Wendy motioned for the young lady to take a seat. “Sweetie. Could you please explain? Why do you think your boyfriend’s disappearance has anything to do with our client; and why do you think Mike Richards killed him?”

 “I have a better idea,” Justin said before the woman could answer. “Let’s start with you name and the name of your boyfriend.”

“My name is Denise Stebbins. My boyfriend’s name is Paul Campbell.”

“What makes you think Mike Richards had anything to do with your boyfriend’s disappearance?”

“Didn’t I just ask that,” Wendy stated with slight frustration.

“What do you know about Mike?” Denise asked.

Justin waved his hand. “He’s a combat vet, served in Afghanistan, former Marine.”

“He also lives out there at the lake. And he is the most environmentally conscientious person out there. He doesn’t litter, or harm animals, of destroy any of the trees. Except for his campsite, there is no sign of him out there.”

“Okay. He’s environmentally friendly. What’s the connection between that and your boyfriend’s disappearance?”

Denise raised her head slightly. “Paul was majoring in environmental science. He noticed a lot of dead fish and other wildlife out there. He’s run into Mike several times. Now, Mike and Paul weren’t friends, in fact Mike seems to hate everybody. But Paul did notice that Mike seemed to care about the lake and the woods around it.”

“So far, it seems there isn’t conflict,” Justin noted. “Why do you think Mike would harm your boyfriend?”

“Paul,” Denise responded loudly. “His name is Paul.”

“Of course, Paul.”

“Paul knew that with Mike living out there, he would notice things most people would miss. Think about it. Most people go out there for a few hours maybe once or twice a month. But Paul would go out there four or five times a week. Except for Mike, the people who worked at the marina or lived there, no one was there that often.”

Wendy held up her hand to interrupt Denise. “Honey, just because Mike lived out there, doesn’t mean he had anything to do with your boyfriend.”

“Let me finish,” Denise responded with hostility. The same night the boy was killed out by the lake, was the last time I saw Paul. He said he was going out to see Mike, to find out what he knew about the pollution of the lake.”

Justin held up his hand. “So far, there is no conflict. It seems your boyfriend, Paul, and Mike are on the same page; they both care about the environment and the lake. There’s no reason for Mike to hurt Paul.”

Denise crossed her arms. “You really don’t know Mike Richards very well, do you? He’s not very friendly. While he and Paul had the same ideas, Mike can be very hostile to anyone who disturbs him. He’s often yelled and threatened Paul when Paul was out there.”

“Has Mike ever harmed your boyfriend?” Justin asked. “And when you say threatened, how did Mike threatened your boyfriend?”

“Well, I don’t think Mike ever actually hit Paul or physically accosted him. But I do know Mike told Paul to stay away; and if he didn’t, he could get hurt.”

“How did Mike threaten to hurt your boyfriend?”

“Paul said Mike told him it was dangerous for him to be poking around the lake. Now that is a threat.”

“Not necessarily,” Justin responded. “It could be a warning of some danger out there that Paul was unaware of.

Wendy got up and pulled a chair up next to Denise. “Look sweetie. I understand you are worried about your boyfriend. And I can understand why you think maybe Mike had something to do with his disappearance. But truthfully, just because Mike lives out at the lake doesn’t mean he hurt your boyfriend. Have you talked to the police about this? If you want, I could call them and have them come over and take a report.”

“I’ve already done that,” Denise replied in a huff. “I went down to the police station and talked to them. They took a report,; but they haven’t done anything. I’m telling you Paul is in danger and Mike is responsible. Now what are you going to do about it?”

Justin got up and held his hand out to Denise. She took it and Justin led her to table in the conference room. He then gave her a tablet of paper and a couple of pens. “Do me a favor. Write down everything you know about your boyfriend’s disappearance. Be sure to include any names of people who would know anything and times and dates of any events or meetings. Once you have completed your statement, I’ll look into it.”

“And exactly how are you going to look into it?”

“I’ll talk to the people you mentioned in your statement. I’ll talk to the police and see what they are doing. I’ll even talk to Mike Richards about it. I can’t promise I will find your boyfriend; but I do promise to do everything I can to locate him. Won’t lie to you. There isn’t much more that I can do other than talk to people, but I will do everything I can.”

Denise stared at Justin. “Well, at least it’s more than the police are doing.” She began to write.

  • * * * * *

It took Denise less than an hour to complete her statement. Twenty minutes after that, Justin walked into the police station and asked for Detective Simmons. The desk sergeant called to the detective division before informing Justin Detective Simmons was not working today. He also informed Justin that Detective Steve Tindall, Simmons’ partner was out at the lake; and he requested Justin to join him.

Justin questioned the request for him to come to the lake during the entire drive up there. He mentally went over possibilities of discovering new evidence that would exonerate his client. Then he thought about evidence that could convict Mike. By the time Justin got to the lake as nervous as a cat in a dog pound. Justin quickly brushed pass the patrol officers controlling the bystanders watching Detective Tindall and several divers standing on the pier. On the lake, there were only two boats, each with two police officers and a dog.

“What’s up?” Justin asked as he approach Detective Steve Tindall.

“We’re doing a cadaver search,” Steve answered.

“And may I ask what this has to do with me?”

“Maybe nothing,” Steve replied.

Justin stood next to Steve for a minutes, observing the boats on the water. “Well I guess it’s a good thing I came out here anyway. I need to talk to about something.”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

“This morning, a young lady came to my office. Her name is Denise Stebbins. She told me her boyfriend, a young man named Paul Campbell, was last seen out here about a week ago. He’s disappeared and she suspects foul play.”

“Know all about it.”

Justin turned to stare at Steve. “You know about it?”

“Yep,” Steve acknowledged. “She reported him missing a couple of days ago. I had a couple of patrol officers come out here and search the area, but they found nothing except for a backpack. It had some kind of scientific equipment in it, so I came out here.”

“So you are working on the case?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Justin shouted. “How about doing something other than watching some boaters out there with their dogs?”

Steve faced Justin. “I am doing something. Because of the backpack, I called in a favor with a friend of mine with the state police. Those dogs you see out there are cadaver dogs, specially trained to smell bodies in water. I don’t know the specifics, but I do know if there is body out there in that lake, those dogs will find it. Once they alert on a spot, these divers will go out there and see if they can find a body. I’m just hoping it isn’t that poor girl’s boyfriend. By the way, you should hope so too. Because if it is, we just may have a second murder victim; and may I remind you right now the primary suspect of any foul play out here is your client.”

Justin was about to reply when one of the dogs started barking.

“Looks like he found something,” one of the divers said as he and the others climbed into a boat.

They made their way to where the dog had alerted. They tied their boat to one with the dog and two officers. The four divers sent over the side into the water. Everyone stared and quietly waited. Justin knew the divers had a limited amount of air. They could remain submerged for less than an hour. The minutes crawled by. Still the divers were submerged. After half an hour, with the crowd still quiet except for a few mutterings, the divers surfaced, one of them hold an orange floatation device.

The divers climbed back into the boat. One of them stood up and shout. “We found a body.”

* * * * *

Chapter Ten

There are only two changes in the daily routine of a jail. One is the food, lunch and dinner menus change according to the day of the week. The second is the opportunity to meet with a religious leader on Sunday. So when Mike was told his lawyer was here to see him, he saw it a change from boredom, and nothing else.

Justin watched as Mike was brought into the room. It was designed to be barren, with nothing more than a steel table bolted to the floor, and surrounded by four steel stools, also attached to the floor. Justin had brought only a yellow, legal-sized tablet and two pens with him. He knew the less he took into the facility, the easier it was to gain access to his client.

The guard took off the shackles restraining Mike. He took the stool on the opposite side of the table from Justin. “What brings you here?” Mike demanded with irritation.

“I was in a good mood, but I needed someone to ruin it; so naturally, I thought of you.”

“Ha, ha. You should be on Saturday Night Live.”

“Nah, can’t stand the fame.”

Mike leaned forward. “So what really did bring you down here?”

“The police found another body out at the lake yesterday. They think you might have had something to do with it.”

“Wasn’t me.”

“How do you know?” Justin asked. “I haven’t told you who it is or where they found the body.”

“Because I haven’t hurt anyone. I don’t know anything about any dead body. It wasn’t me. Look somewhere else.”

Justin nodded acknowledgement. “Do you know a college kid named Paul Campbell?”

“No.”

“You sure? He’s, he was studying environmental science. He spent a lot of time out there. Someone said you knew him.”

“Was he a tall, slender dude, always carrying a blue backpack?”

“I don’t know. The body they found yesterday had been in the water for several days. I won’t know the victim’s identity until after the autopsy. As for a blue backpack, I know the police found a backpack, but they haven’t told me what color it was. Now back to my original question; do you know Paul Campbell?”

Mike glared at Justin for a few seconds before answering. “I know of some college kid that came out to the lake a bunch of times. I know he was taking water samples. He used to ask me all sorts of questions, mostly about what I thought was killing the fish out there. I can tell you he was a tall, thin guy, and he always carried a blue backpack. I don’t know his name. I really didn’t talk to him much.”

“Someone stated you threatened him.”

“He’s lying. I told that kid to go away. I told him it wasn’t healthy for him to search for answers. It was a warning, not a threat.”

“What were you warning him about?”

“Something that has nothing to do with me being in jail.”

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?”

“Because when we finish talking, you get to leave and I’m still here.”

“When was the last time you saw Paul Campbell?”

“If you mean the skinny kid from college, I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

“What about the night you were arrested?”

“No, I didn’t see him that night or that day. It must have been at least a couple of days earlier when I saw him last.”

“Was that when you warned him?”

“Probably. I honestly don’t remember.”

Justin tapped the tablet of paper in front of him with one of the pens. “Let’s talk about why you are out there at the lake. You have a home and a wife who loves you. I understand she brings you clean clothes and money sometimes. So why are you out there and not at home?”

“You serve?’

Justin nodded yes. “I pulled two tours in Iraq with the Judge Advocate’s Office.”

“Still, you never saw combat, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You were lucky. Don’t get me wrong. We appreciated those who gave us support. And I know you guys didn’t always have it easy. I’m sure there were times when things got bad.”

“But,” Justin added.

“A lot of us have real problems when we get back. It’s amazing how little things you never noticed before all of sudden start to startle and annoy you. You’ve met my wife, Kristen, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I met her the day you were in court.”

“She’s not a large woman; in fact, she’s kind of small. You wouldn’t think she would make so much noise. I can hear her footsteps. All she is doing is walking; but the sound of her footsteps bother me. At night, if she moves in bed, it startles me and wakes my up. We’ll be watching TV and I get startled when her cell phone goes off. I have to go outside when she’s washing the dishes because the noise gets to me. Even our cat makes too much noise when he is walking around. Every little sounds makes me jump. As for getting to sleep, forget it. I spend most nights in front of the TV, hoping to fall asleep. When I do, it’s for a couple of hours, then I wake up. I’m exhausted, but I can’t seem to get to sleep.”

“And I’m angry all the time. People do stupid things, nothing important. They throw trash on the ground, they stand in the doorway, they make too much noise with their cars, petty things; but they all make me mad and I end up yelling at complete strangers for no real reason. When I’m out at the lake, the noises I hear from the forest don’t seem to upset me. If I do get angry, I can always pound sticks against a tree or throw rocks at a cliff. I don’t hurt others. That’s why I’m out there. I don’t want to hurt anyone ever again, for any reason, whether it’s justified or not; I don’t want to hurt people.”

Justin took a deep breath before answering. “I can understand where you are coming from. Still, the police have several reports of you being involved in altercations with strangers at local bars.”

“I said I didn’t want to hurt people, that’s why I’m out at the lake. There’s no one to hurt. I don’t have worry about losing my temper because it’s just me out there.”

“Like I said, I understand,” Justin replied. “But we still have two dead college students, and it looks like they were both out there at the lake the night you were arrested.”

  • * * * * *

“He killed him. Wild Mike killed Paul. That murderer you are defending killed him.”

Justin stood in the doorway of his office staring at Denise Stebbins, who was screaming at him between sobbing over the loss of her boyfriend. Wendy was standing next to the crying girl, handing her tissues and trying to calm her down.

“They wouldn’t even let me see him,” Denise sobbed.

“It’s a good thing too,” Justin replied. “The body the police recovered yesterday had been in the water for several days. It’s a ghastly mess. It’s much better for you to remember your boyfriend as you knew him. Besides, they haven’t identified the body yet. It could be someone else.”

“Yes they have,” Wendy said, handing Denise another tissue. “They got the boy’s dental records, and they match. They are following up with DNA testing, but the police are fairly sure the victim was Paul Campbell, this young lady’s boyfriend.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Denise yelled. “That man killed Paul.”

Justin went to his desk and sat down. He faced Denise. “I went to talk to Mike this morning. He tells me he doesn’t know your boyfriend and he didn’t see him the night Raymond Carlsen was killed.”

“Of course he killed Paul,” Denise exclaimed. “Who else would have? No one had anything against Paul. The only person who could have done is that murderer. He’s nuts. He’s creepy, He’s crazy. He belongs in jail.”

Justin took a deep breath. “What makes you think Mike is mentally ill?”

“He’s always out there with those damn binoculars; that’s why,” Denise answered. “Only a pervert would run around in the woods spying on everyone out there. I’ve seen him myself; standing on the shoreline staring out at everyone through those binoculars.”

Justin made a note on a pad of paper. “I understand you’re upset; and you have every right to be. And I can assure you that the police will do everything they can to find the person who killed your boyfriend.”

Denise turned and stormed over to the door. “It’s Wild Mike. The police don’t need to look. It’s animal they have in their jail.” Denise slammed the door on her way out.

Wendy returned to her desk, sat down, and faced Justin. “Well, you see the drama I’ve been dealing with this morning. What about you?”

“Like I said, I visited Mike this morning. He said he had seen the kid around and even warned him. There seems to be a lot dead fish out there, and this kid was trying to find out why. But Mike said he didn’t see the kid the day Raymond was killed and he had nothing to do with the kid’s death.”

“I gathered from the hysterical woman who just left that the police found another body yesterday. Do they know when the victim died, and how?”

“Don’t have the autopsy report yet,” Justin answered. “Why?”

Wendy picked up her coffee cup. “Then it quite possible the second victim was killed the day before or several days before Raymond Carlsen. And it means our client may be looking at a second murder charge.”

  • * * * * *

Chapter Twelve

The young men seemed more interested in impressing the young women with their athletic stunts than the music blaring from a portable tape player on the dock of the lake marina. They were dressed in swim suits or cutoff jeans; none of the boys were wearing shirts, probably to show off their muscles and lean physiques. The young ladies seemed just as interested is displaying their bodies. However, the person who caught Justin’s attention was the older man wearing shorts and a sleeveless tee shirt. Justin recognized him as Adam Lingenfleter.

“How is everyone doing today?” Justin said as he approached the group.

“We’re fine,” one of the young ladies with long black hair answered. She stood up and faced Justin before crossing her arms against her chest. “What can we do for you?”

Justin motioned for someone to turn down the music. “Nothing really. Just saw you all out here and thought I would ask what’s happening.”

One of the muscular young men turned down the tape player. “Don’t I know you?” he said with some a degree of suspicion in his voice. “I’ve seen you somewhere.”

“He’s the lawyer defending Wild Mike,” Adam answered. His voice didn’t hide the contempt he had for Justin. “He’s out here fishing for some kind of excuse to get his client released.”

“Yeah, that’s where I saw you,” the young man said. “You were the guy who talked to us in the library at campus. You were asking about Wild Mike then?”

“That’s right,” Justin replied. “But today I was just curious what you were all doing out here at the lake.”

“Why?” the muscular individual demanded. “We aren’t doing anything wrong.”

“Oh knock it off, Josh,” a blond wearing a purple two piece swim suit to show off her slender body. “There’s no reason to be hostile.”

The young woman walked up to Justin and stuck out her hand. “I’m sure you don’t remember us, so let me introduce you to everyone.”

Justin shook the woman’s hand. She put her arm around Justin’s and led him forward. “I’m Jessica Bethens, one of the law students you talked to in the library. The tall one with black hair is Deborah; you also met her at the library. Then there’s Mary, the other female in our study group. The guy with the muscles is Josh, and he was with us when we talked to you at the library. The other three guys are Scott, Bill, and Phillip. And I get the impression you know our law professor, Adam Lingenfleter.”

“Are you all law students?” Justin asked.

“No,” Deborah answered. “Just the ones you met at the library. The rest have different majors. But it turns out we are all in the same business law class.”

Justin grinned and pointed to Adam. “And you are their teacher.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Justin could hear the hostility in Adam’s voice.

“Nothing. Like I said, I was curious as to what was going on. Just making conversation, trying to be friendly.”

“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Jessica answered.

The tall girl with the black hair grabbed an Army tee shirt and put it on. “Jessica’s right. Sorry about being defensive; but we’re a bit shook up about the whole thing. First, Wild Mike kills Raymond, then he kills another student.”

“That’s right,” shouted Adam. “Your client murdered two students.”

“Yeah, I hear the police suspect him in a second homicide that took place out here,” Justin said. “But seriously, I didn’t come over to talk about Mike Richards. I heard the music, saw you all out here, and thought I would simply say hello.”

“Hello,” Adam responded, his voice dripping with contempt.

Justin walked to the edge of the dock. “So you are all out here swimming and just hanging out.”

“Not quite,” responded Deborah as she pulled her long black hair from the back of the Army tee shirt. “We’re hanging out, but no swimming. Thom, the marina owner, doesn’t want us to swim near the dock because of the construction going on. He’s afraid we might get hurt. As for swimming elsewhere, forget it. With all the dead fish that have been showing up lately, most of us are a bit concerned about what’s in the water here. It’s probably contaminated with some kind of toxin or something.”

“What?” Justin exclaimed. “No one has been out here to test the water or try to find out what’s causing the fish to die?”

“There was one guy,” one of the young ladies stated. “Hi, I’m Karen. The guy who was checking out the lake was the other guy Wild Mike killed.”

“You mean Paul Campbell?” Justin asked.

“That’s right,” Karen confirmed. “He was kind of a science geek. He was doing a project for the university, trying to find out if there was anything wrong with the water. I don’t know if he found anything or not because he got killed.”

A young man with a scruffy beard approach Justin. “That’s right. He found out that Wild Mike was doing something to the water, polluting it, causing all the fish to die. So he killed him. That kid didn’t stand a chance. First he killed that kid, then he killed Carlsen. He’s a murderer.”

“Calm down Scott,” Adam said. “We don’t have tell this man anything.”

Justin held up his hands. “Look, I just came over to say hi. Didn’t mean to cause any trouble. So I’ll leave and let all of you continue what you were doing.” Justin could feel them watching him as he walked to his car.

  • * * * * *

“I was hoping I would run into you.”

Kimberly turned to see it was Justin who had addressed her. Justin leaning against the building, a few feet from the entrance of the police station. “Well, you found me. Now what can I do for you?”

Justin pushed himself off the wall. “I was thinking maybe we could have dinner or something.”

“A date!?” Kimberly stared at Justin. “I don’t know. I might be busy. I mean, I don’t just sit at home waiting for men to call me.”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you about Mike Richards and ask about how the homicide investigations are going.”

“What, you want to talk business,” Kimberly approached Justin and took his arm. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, this is a date and you’re taking me to dinner.”

  • * * * * *

“The Purple Pig?” Justin stated in disbelief. “I know you could pick the place, but The Purple Pig? What kind of place is this?”

“One of the best barbecue places in the state,” Kimberly answered.

“Really?” Justin questioned. “The place looks like an overgrown shack.”

Kimberly chuckled. “This is the South. We have more shacks serving the best food than there are fleas in a dog pound. Now quit squawking and come on it. I promise you won’t be disappointed. You weren’t disappointed when we went to the Cactus Flower Saloon.”

Justin and Kimberly entered the restaurant and were greeted by an overweight teenager wearing an apron with grease and barbecue stains. He led them to a picnic table designed to seat two customers before leaving them with a roll of paper towels and two sheets of paper that served as the menus.

Justin picked the paper menu. “I see they specialized in giving customers high cholesterol. They have French fries, fired potatoes, fried catfish, and fried pickles. Fried pickles?”

“What?” Kimberly exclaimed with surprise. “You never had fried pickles? I thought you were a man of the world, had eaten in some of the most exotic restaurants of the world.”

“The only thing they are missing here is fried rice.”

Kimberly chuckled. “It ain’t Southern. That’s Chinese, and what they serve here is strictly Southern.”

Justin gave Kimberly look and took a minute to reflect. “Don’t you like international cuisine?”

“The closest thing they have to international cuisine in this town is Taco Bell and Panda Express.” Kimberly answered with a gentle  laugh. “Come on, give this place a try. I guarantee you will like the food.”

The waiter brought over two glasses of water. “You all ready to order yet?”

“Give us a few minutes,” Kimberly replied.

“Sure,” the waiter said as he turned his attention to other customers.

“Any recommendations?” Justin asked.

“They’re known for their ribs. I would recommend the quarter portion unless you are really hungry. They do serve large portions of everything here. Oh, and by the way, the cole slaw isn’t fried.”

Justin took another look at the menu. “Maybe I’ll go with the barbecue burger. Good news. It comes with a side of fried pickles.”

“Look, if this place bothers you so much, we can go somewhere else. I just thought you might find this place fun. After all, dates are supposed to be fun.”

Justin put down the paper menu. “Sorry. I don’t mean to act like a snob. Besides, I really need to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“About the charges against my client. I can understand Mike being arrested when you found Raymond Carlsen. But charging him with the murder of Paul Campbell is ridiculous. There’s no evidence he had anything to do with that.”

Kimberly folded her arms and leaned on the table. “You forget. It was the District Attorney who filed those charges against Wild Mike, not us.”

“But the least you could do is look into the possibility that Mike is innocent. I mean you should do a though investigation, not hang it on some guy because it’s convenient.”

“We didn’t hang on anyone because it was convenient. We aren’t lazy. We investigate, and I mean we really do investigate, chasing down every lead, no matter how slim, to get to the truth.”

Justin held up his hands to signal surrender. “I didn’t mean you weren’t doing your job. But I can’t believe you and your partner can actually think just because Mike lives out there in the woods, that he killed two people. Come on. Common sense says he didn’t do it.”

Kimberly uncrossed her arms and slammed her hands on the table. “Oh, now I have no common sense. First, I’m lazy; now I lack any common sense. I suppose I’m also an idiot, incapable of conducting any kind of investigation. In fact, it’s probably a miracle I can even read this menu.” Kimberly threw the paper menu at Justin, where it fluttered to a spot in front of him.

“I didn’t say you weren’t intelligent. It’s just seems like everyone wants to pin this on Mike. It’s like everyone has it out for him.

“You think he’s being persecuted? You think the whole town hates him? Well, you’re wrong. Mike was a swimming champ. We are proud of his athletic accomplishments, and that he served in the Armed Forces. People here don’t hate him. But since he’s been back, the people here don’t know how to talk to him, how to act around him. He scares people.”

“And that’s because he’s what? Not normal? He needs help, not to be thrown in jail.”

“We didn’t throw him in jail,” Kimberly shouted. “We arrested him, based on probable cause.”

“Still, you haven’t looked into anyone else. It’s possible he’s innocent.”

“And it’s just as possible he’s guilty,” Kimberly responded loudly.

“Please lower your voice,” Justin pleaded. “You’re blowing this out of proportion.”

“Blowing it out of proportion,” Kimberly shouted as she stood up. “Proportion this! I’m leaving.” Kimberly stormed out of the restaurant before Justin could respond.

The waiter timidly returned. “Are you ready to order,” he asked.

Justin stared at him, then stood up. He placed two dollars on the table. “I think we’ll be dining elsewhere tonight.”

Justin exited The Purple Pig and looked around the parking lot. He was surprised he could see Kimberly, especially since she was only a minute ahead of him. He got in his car and drove back the way they had come. In less than fifty yards, he found Kimberly walking along the road.

“Don’t you want a ride back to your car?” Justin asked as he rolled down the window to talk to Kimberly. “It’s at least a couple of miles back to the police station.”

“I can walk,” Kimberly answered. “I run farther than that most morning.”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Justin pleaded. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I know you and your partner are doing your job. But. . .”

“Don’t ruin it,” Kimberly interrupted as she opened the passenger door and got into Justin’s car. “Just take me back. And shut up.”

They made the ten-minute ride in silence, which was the longest ten minutes Justin ever experienced. He pulled up behind Kimberly’s car.

“Hey, I really want to apologize for upsetting you,” Justin said.

Kimberly held up her hand to cut him off. “I was really hoping for a nice evening; but you insulted me and my department. You are such a snob. You’re a lawyer, so you think you’re smarter than everyone else. Well, I don’t need that kind of attitude. And for the record, this is probably the worst date I’ve ever had.”

Kimberly opened the car door and set her foot outside. Suddenly she turned around, faced Justin and grabbed his shirt. She pulled him toward her, and kissed him. “It’s still a date and a date ends with a good-night kiss.” Kimberly got out and slammed the car door.

Justin stared in disbelief as Kimberly got in her car and drove off. He was convinced that woman was as mentally stable as a two-legged chair.

  • * * * * *

Chapter Thirteen

“Coffee,” Kimberly demanded as she walked into the office.

“Well, good morning to you too,” Steve replied.

“Not in the mood,” Kimberly retorted.

“Bad date last night?”

Kimberly stopped, still holding an empty coffee mug in one hand and the coffee pot in the other. “What makes you say that?”

Steve chuckled. “I’m a detective. I saw you go off with that lawyer last night. Figured if things went well, you would be in a good mood. You’re not, so obviously things didn’t go well.’

Kimberly poured herself a cup of coffee and returned to pot to the coffee maker. “Let’s say I’ve had better dates and leave it at that.”

“Okay.”

Kimberly sat down at her desk, took a sip of coffee, and glared at Steve. “Do we have anything pressing for today?”

“Depends on your point of view. Our illustrious DA wants us to find more evidence against Wild Mike for the murder of Paul Campbell. I’m assuming he’s hoping we find additional evidence for the Raymond Carlsen murder also.”

“Either way, it’s back out to the lake.”

“I’m up for it,” Steve said as he got up from his chair.

“Let me finish my coffee first. Also, I want to review the case notes before going out there.”

  • * * * * *

“What brings you out to the lake,” Thom asked as Justin walked into the marina store. “It seems I’ve had more business with you and the cops this week than the fishermen.”

Justin waved and looked around the store. It reminded him of the old-fashion mom-and-pop stores where a first-generation family ran a neighborhood convenience store. Most of the merchandise was fishing tackle and equipment, although there was a selection of drinks, including beer, snacks, toiletries, and ready-made sandwiches. Justin grabbed a small bottle of orange juice and a couple of donuts.

“Don’t tell me that’s breakfast,” Thom said, ringing up the sale.

“Yeah, it is,” Justin answered. ’

“So other than criticizing your breakfast choice, what can I do for you?”

“You’ve heard about the second homicide out here.”

“Of course,” Thom chuckled. “This is a small town. You hear about everything.”

“What do you know about the second victim?”

Thom placed his hands on the counter and took a few seconds to collect his thoughts. “I know he was a college kid doing some kind of research on why so many fish were dying in the lake. He usually came out a couple times a week, went around collecting water samples, sometimes took a couple of the dead fish with him.”

“Did he ever have any arguments with anyone? Any hassles?”

“Not that I can remember.”

“What about with Mike Richards? Was there any conflicts between them?”

“I don’t think so. Don’t know why there would be. If you leave Wild Mike alone, he leaves you alone. And that kid didn’t bother anyone I know of.”

“When was the last time you saw him?’

“The kid from college? I think it was the same day that Carlsen was killed. I can’t be sure because I see so many people in a week, it’s hard to remember exactly, especially since he was missing for about a week before they found him.”

“Did you ever see anyone with Paul Campbell?’

“That’s the kid from the college? No, can’t say I have. I mean the kid talked to a lot of people out here. I think once or twice he had a girl with him. I kind of figured she was his girlfriend. But I don’t remember seeing him with anyone other than that.”

Justin pulled out a photograph of a young woman. “Is that the person you saw him with?”

“Couldn’t tell you,” Thom answered. “I really don’t remember her.”

“Is there anything at all you can tell me about Paul?”

“Nope. Like I said, he came out here a couple times a week, took samples, talked to the fishermen, and left. Didn’t cause any trouble.”

“And he didn’t have any contact with Mike Richards?”

“Didn’t say that. Just about everyone who comes out here runs into Wild Mike at some point. But like I said, if you leave him alone, he leaves you alone.”

“Has Mike had many altercations out here?”

“No, not really. He often scolds someone for littering. If it ever gets physical, Mike just shoves the person away and leaves. I’ve never seen him actually hit anyone.”

“Then why does everyone think Mike killed those two college students?”

“Because they were both beaten to death, and Wild Mike is the one person who could easily do it,” a voice from behind Justin answered.

Justin turned to see Detective Steve Tindall standing in the doorway. Behind him was Kimberly. Justin tried to hide the irritation in his voice, “So you’re out here to see what else you can dig up to send my client to prison.”

“We’re here conducting a police investigation,” Kimberly responded. “You know, doing our due diligence. You’ve heard of that, haven’t you?”

“Okay, okay, I deserved that. But I need your to understand. I firmly believe someone else killed those kids, not Mike.”

Steve grinned. “What makes you say that?”

“Think about it,” Justin replied. “Raymond Carlsen was killed two hours before his body was discovered. Within those two hours, Mike had to get rid of Raymond’s car, take Raymond’s wallet and cell phone back to his camp and hide them, then go down to the beach to drag Raymond’s body out of the lake. And now, you think he killed a second person. He was awfully busy for those two hours.”

“What makes you think did all that after he killed Raymond,” Steve stated. “It’s more likely Wild Mike did all that before he killed Raymond.”

Justin nodded he understood. “But’s just as likely he didn’t kill those kids.”

  • * * * * *

Chapter Fourteen

Adam Lingenfleter paced the floor of Bradner Hansen’s office.

“Stop that, will ya?” Bradner shouted in frustration. “You’re wearing a hole in the carpet.”

“Listen, we might have problems. I drove by the marina this morning. The cops and that lawyer, the one defending Mike Richards, were out there.”

“So what?”

“What if they find out what happened out there? It seems like they are still investigating the murder of those Carlsen and Campbell. It’s possible they may discover what is really happening out there.”

Bradner sat down at his desk and put his hands together to form a steeple with his fingers. After a moment of silence, he spoke. “Looks like I’ll have to have Nicole convince our future senator to step up the process, possibly get the trial to start. The sooner the better.”

Adam moved to the front of Bradner’s desk. “See that you get it done. We need that lawyer and the police to stop looking into these killings. We need to get it done before everyone ends up in jail.”

  • * * * * *

Justin stood outside Ava Shimley’s door, working up enough nerve to ring the doorbell. He wasn’t ready for a repeat of his last visit where he was forced to interview the woman naked. He reached out to press the doorbell. The door open. This time Justin was relieved to see Ava wearing a white tee shirt and blue jeans. He did notice she wasn’t wearing a bra and her perky breasts and nipples formed tempting curves beneath the shirt.

“Got tired of waiting for you to ring the doorbell,” Ava said, leaning against the doorframe. “Come on in. I promise I won’t bite.”

“Didn’t you tell me that last time?” Justin inquired with smile, trying to hide his anxiety.

“Did I bite?” Ava coyly answered as she stepped aside and motioned for Justin to enter.

“No,” Justin replied, remaining on the porch.

“So, what can I do for you today?”

“I’m sure you heard about the second homicide, Paul Campbell. They found his body out here at the lake a few days ago.”

“Of course. And you want to know if I know anything about it.”

“Did you know Paul?”

“Nope. I understand he was some college kid. Why would I know anything about him?”

“Well, he was doing some research out here. He wanted to find out why so many of the fish in the lake are dying. Maybe he came by and asked you some questions.”

“Not that I recall. But I don’t fish. My late husband did, but I don’t. The only thing I do is enjoy the view from my backyard. I rarely go down to the lake.”

“You don’t have any contact with the people coming to the lake? None at all?”

Ava chuckled. “I’m sure I’ve talked to some of them when I’m down at the marina, but none of them stick out in my mind. I’m neighborly, but not that neighborly. I kind of like my privacy.”

“I can understand that,” Justin replied with a grin. “But living out here, certainly you must have noticed something happening. Isn’t there anything unusual going on out here?”

Ava reached up and gave Justin’s cheek a little pat. “Honey, the only thing unusual out here lately has been a lot people asking questions. And I make it a point to know nothing.”

  • * * * * *

Wendy watched the young brunette with short hair and her domineering mother as they went through various magazines, commenting on wedding gowns and the groom’s choice of tuxedos. Rhonda Simmons smiled and offered encouragement, but Wendy could tell Rhonda welcomed the excuse to abandon the mother-daughter battle when a potential new customer entered the shop.

“How can I help you?” Rhonda cheerfully inquired with some hope of not having to return to the previous clients.

Wendy handed Rhonda a business card. “I’m Wendy Codwell. I work for the Public Defenders’ Office.”

“Oh yes,” Rhonda interrupted. “I met the most charming man from your office. Justin. Do you know him?”

“I should. I work with him.”

“Oh, do tell. What kind of person is he? I understand he’s single. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, does he?”

Wendy silently reminded herself she was here to get information, not give it out. “Sweetheart, the closest thing Justin has to a girlfriend is me, and I’m married with two kids in college.”

“How interesting.”

“Yeah, it keeps me awake at nights. Listen, I’m kind of hoping you could help me out here. Maybe you know some of the people involved in a case we are working.”

Rhonda crossed her arms but continued smiling. “You’re talking about Mike Richards.”

“That’s correct.”

“Mike doesn’t come in here. Our customers are those looking to get married. Mike’s been married for years.”

“I know. But I understand that Raymond Carlsen and his girlfriend, Charlisa Nickels, were planning to get married. Maybe you knew them?”

Rhonda laughed. “Wish I did. Handling a wedding for the son of our state senator, Phillip Carlsen. I would make a mint.”

“I’m taking it you don’t know them.”

“Know of them.”

“What about a Denise Stebbins and a Paul Campbell? They are also college students.”

Rhonda waved a hand to Wendy. “Now, her I know.” Rhonda took a small step forward and spoke in a low voice. “Most of my customers are like what you see over there. A bride with dreams and a mother who wants the wedding she never had, so she’s forcing it on her poor daughter. But this couple was different. Both the groom and the bride came in together and they seemed to agree on almost everything. I think it was because they couldn’t afford much. But I thought the groom was a fisherman. He smelled like fish. He was polite about it and apologized saying he had just finished work. He insisted on standing because he didn’t want smell up any of the furniture. I mean, I really liked the boy. I was so upset when I heard he had been killed. I know people say Mike did it, but I don’t believe that. That boy was so nice. I can’t imagine him getting into any kind of fight with Mike. Trust me on this. Mike can take care of himself; but one thing he is not, is a bully.”

“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt Paul?”

Rhonda shook her head. “Sorry, but I saw that boy with only two people. The first was his fiancée. The second was a professor out at the college.”

“Can you tell me who he is?”

“Well, I hate to sound racist and anti-Semitic. He’s Polish and Jewish. He has a name I could never pronounce correctly. But he’s a really nice guy. I see him all the time at Dannie’s Deli.”

Wendy reached over and took several of Rhonda’s business cards. “Thanks. I’m taking your cards and recommending you to all of my friends.”

The two women smiled and waved to each other as Wendy left the shop.

  • * * * * *

Entering Dannie’s Deli was a delight to the senses with the smell of freshly baked bread and colorful posters of European countryside. While there were several customers enjoying their meals at many of the tables in the restaurant, what caught Wendy’s attention was an elderly gentleman talking in a language she couldn’t place to a woman behind the counter.

“Welcome to Dannie’s Deli,” the woman said as Wendy approached the counter. “What can I get you?”

Wendy nodded to the gentleman. “Sorry to interrupt, but I’m looking for someone. I don’t know his name, but I’m told he is a professor out at the college and that Paul Campbell was one of his students.”

“I think you are looking for me,” the gentleman answered before Wendy could continue. “I am Aaron Kokolowski. I teach environmental science at the university.”

“And you’re Jewish?” Wendy timidly asked.

“Well of course. But you knew that when you heard us talking in Yiddish, didn’t you?” Kokolowski replied.

Wendy smiled before replying. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be anti-Semitic. I’m Wendy Codwell with the Public Defenders’ Office. A client of ours is suspected in the murder of Paul Campbell. I’m hoping you can tell me a little bit about Paul.”

“Oh, I would be glad to,” Kokolowski answered. “Can I offer you a cup of tea, or coffee. then we can sit and talk.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“I’ll bring you out a pot of orange blossom tea,” the woman behind the counter said.

Kokolowski led Wendy to a nearby table where they sat across from each other. Wendy brought out her identification to assure Kokolowski she worked with the Public Defenders’ Office. The professor simply glanced at it and motioned for her to relax.

“How long have you been teaching out at the college?” Wendy asked.

“Ever since I came to this country, more than twenty years ago.”

“Really? You came from Poland to here?”

The professor chuckled. “I met my wife when she was doing research in Poland. We fell in love and I followed her to America.”

“What got you interested in environmental science?”

“Chernobyl. The disaster there affected everyone in Eastern Europe.”

“I hope no one in your family suffered and ill effects,” Wendy said with some sympathy.

“Unfortunately, my grandparents contracted cancer as a result of radiation poisoning. That is one reason why I am so concerned about us poisoning our environment.”

Wendy nodded in agreement. “What can you tell me about Paul Campbell?”

A waitress brought out a small ceramic pot of tea and two matching cups. The professor poured each of them a cup of tea before leaning back in his chair. He picked up his cup and took a small sip of tea, then replacing it on the table.

“There is much to say about Paul. He was a graduate assistant, and a very good student. His research project was about the fish dying out at the lake. He collected water samples and brought back several dead fish so that we could take tissue samples.”

“Were you able to determine what was killing the fish?”

Kokolowski gave a slight nod. “Yes, we discovered they were being poisoned. Someone is dumping toxic waste out there. It’s not a large-scale operation or all of the fish would be dying.”

“Were you able to find out who is doing it?”

“No. Like I said, it’s not a large operation. Probably it is a small office simply dumping the waste in the lake instead of paying for a company to properly disposing of it. Paul was able to find out where the strongest concentration of the poison was, which is probably the dump site.”

“Did you tell the police about this?”

“Of course.”

“Who did you tell?”

“A detective. I don’t remember his name; but he did write down the information.”

Wendy toyed with her cup of tea. “What kind of person was Paul?”

“He was a nice boy. He was engaged to get married. Did you know that?”

Wendy smiled. “Yes. I knew. I met his fiancée. She seems like a nice girl. Naturally, she’s very upset over Paul’s death.”

“Of course.”

“Was Paul aggressive? Did he confront anyone about the dumping at the lake?”

“I don’t know. But Paul was a quiet person. I never saw him angry.”

“Did he ever talk about a man out there, someone who lived in the woods?”

“Ah, you mean that Mike Richards fellow. No, but I met him once. Sometimes I would accompany Paul when he went out to get samples. I had to make sure he was doing it properly. I remember this fellow. He was not a nice man.”

“How’s that?”

“He wasn’t friendly.”

“Did he do or say anything threatening?”

“Yes, yes, he did. He told us we shouldn’t be there. He said it was dangerous and we could get hurt.”

“He did?”

“Yes. I think his exact words were ‘Looking for the answer could get you killed.’”

“When did he say that?”

“It was less than a week before Paul was killed.”

  • * * * * *

Chapter Fifteen

“Good morning,” Judge Gwen Whitlock said as she sat down behind her desk. She turned on her computer before looking across her desk at Justin and Connor Arnott seated before her. “I understand this meeting is to discuss moving up the trial date.”

“That’s correct your honor,” Connor stated.

“Why?” Judge Whitlock demanded.

Connor fidgeted with his tie. “The prosecution is ready, and we see no advantage is delaying the trial. Everyone wants closure. This affair is causing fear and anxiety in the community.”

Judge Whitlock turned to Justin. “How about you? Are you ready to go to trial?”

“No, your honor.”

“What more do you need to do and when will you be ready?”

Justin fidgeted in his seat. “Your honor, we believe that our client is innocence. We are conducting our own independent investigation to not only prove Mike Richards is innocent but find the actual killer of the two college students.”

Judge Whitlock leaned back in her chair and gave Justin a look of disbelief. “I admire your commitment and loyalty to your client. Do you have any substantial leads? Anything to clear you client or to lead to another suspect?”

“Not at this time.”

Connor moved forward in his seat and motioned with his hand to emphasize a point. “Furthermore, the police have concluded their investigation. And they have not found any evidence of anyone else being involved. The defense is stalling. There is no reason for a delay.”

“Is that right?” Judge Whitlock asked.

“No, your honor. We really do need more time to complete our investigation.”

Judge Whitlock continued to lean back in her chair, starring at both Connor and Justin. “I have a very selfish reason for wanting this trial to be over as quickly as possible. My son is looking at colleges starting next month, and I would like to go with him. However, my personal life cannot dictate my court schedule. Still, I see no reason to delay. However, I will give the defense one more week to conclude its investigation, or at least come up with a reasonable cause to postpone the trial.”

“Your honor, that’s not enough time,” Justin objected.

“If you had some leads or reason to postpone, I would give you more time. But you don’t; so the trial begins in one week. Counselors, thank you for your time.” Judge Whitlock moved forward in her chair and turned her attention to her computer.

Justin let out a silent groan while Connor brushed his lapel and grinned.

Judge Whitlock continued to look at her computer. “Gentlemen, that was your signal to leave.”

  • * * * * *

A cup of lukewarm coffee and a frustrated Wendy greeted Justin as he entered his office. Wendy watched as he dropped his briefcase on the floor and took his seat. Justin picked up the coffee and took a sip, grimacing as he put the cup down on his desk. He glanced at Wendy before getting up and emptying the leftover coffee in a potted plant. He looked at the coffee machine, but sat down with his empty cup instead.

“You’ll kill that poor plant if you keep doing that,” Wendy commented.

“That plant is indestructible. It’s was here when I moved into this office.

“Still, that’s no reason to treat it so cruelly.”

“Hey, you made the coffee. Don’t blame me.”

Wendy chuckled. “The only reason I make coffee is I can’t afford to buy it at that fancy coffee shop in the lobby. They charge almost four dollars for a cup.”

“Life is full of injustices.”

“Which means your meeting with Judge Whitlock didn’t go well.”

Justin let out a deep sigh. “She moved up the trial date. It begins in one week.”

Wendy let out a groan as she got up and grabbed her purse and a clipboard with a yellow, legal pad. “Then we have to get busy proving our client is innocent. I’ll take High Road.”

“Guess that leaves me going back out to the university.”

  • * * * *  *

Wendy stopped her car on High Road. She let out a deep breath as she observed the row of million-dollar homes lining one side of the street. The paved passage was well maintain along the side with homes while across from them laid an open field overgrown with weeds. Out of the dozen homes on High Road, only three had full-time residents. Wendy pulled her foot off the brake and continued along High Road to Ava Shimley’s home. She pulled into the driveway and parked behind four-year-old blue Ford hatchback.

A portly, middle-aged woman wearing jeans and an Aloha-flowered blouse answered the doorbell when Wendy rang it. She wiped her hands on small white towel as she stared at Wendy.

“Good morning,” Wendy said. “I’m Wendy Codwell from the Public Defenders’ Office. Is Ms. Shimley at home?”

“No, she isn’t.”

“Do you know when she’ll be back?”

The woman shrugged her shoulders. “No, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I’m just one of the cleaning crew. We don’t live here, so we don’t have much communication with Ms. Shimley.”

“Why is that?”

“The woman is bit of a snob,” the woman answered. “Not that she should be. She was a cocktail waitress at some hotel in Puerto Rico where she met Mr. Shimley. He brought her back. That woman wasn’t here more than two minutes before she starts acting like queen of the county. Poor Mr. Shimley was so in love with her, she could do anything she wanted. So she made everyone leave the house. It was just her and Mr. Shimley up until the day he died; then it was just her.”

“And now?”

“Just her.”

Wendy looked around. “You mean she’s the only one who lives out here. How often do you come in?”

“Just once a week. There isn’t much to clean. The master bedroom and bath takes the most time. She eats mostly take out or leftovers from restaurants, so the kitchen takes less than an hour. Tell you the truth, I think she spends more time outside at the pool than anywhere else.”

“Tell me, do you know a person they call Wild Mike?”

The cleaning woman laughed. “Of course. We see him all the time around here. Why?”

“Have you or Ms. Shimley ever had any problems with him?”

“We haven’t, but Ms. Shimley told us he’s not to come on the property.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know,” the cleaning woman replied. “But she was adamant about him not coming to the house. Didn’t really matter. He never came up here. He was always down at shoreline of the lake.”

  • * * * * *

The best places to find any particular student were the gym, the library, or the campus coffee shop; and on this campus it was Ivy Tower. There was a cafeteria line serving various pastries, pre-made sandwiches, and packaged snacks. Students would get a cup and pay the cashier. They were then welcome to help themselves to as many refills of any beverage they desired.

Justin noticed most of them got coffee or tea. Justin found a table in one corner that gave him a complete view of the establishment. He looked down at his donut and coffee, and wondered if Wendy’s habits were rubbing off on him. He brought a novel with him and pulled it out. He made sure he was comfortable since there was no telling how long he would have to wait.

An hour later, Justin was glad he had brought the novel and had finished at least seventy pages in it. He was even happier when he spotted the person he was waiting for.

Several others noticed Denise Stebbins as she went through the line and got a sandwich and coffee, but their interest was focused on her slender figure and the hope of getting a chance to get capture the young lady’s phone number. Denise was dressed in jeans and a baggy green shirt promoting a bar in Fort Lauderdale. Justin waited for her to find a seat. He held off for a few minutes, giving her a chance to settle in. He packed up his novel, walked over to her table, and sat down.

“Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable,” she said sarcastically.

“Thank you. I will.”

“I’ve noticed. What do you want?”

Justin noted the hostility in her voice. “First of all, I’m on your side. Like you, I want to find the person who killed Paul. I don’t believe it was Mike Richards. He had no reason to kill your boyfriend.”

“Yeah, I figured; but you’re wrong.” Denise responded with hostility still in her voice.

“Paul,” Justin intentionally using the boyfriend’s name, “was probably killed because he found out what was killing the fish out at the lake.”

“So?”

Justin put his elbows on the table and tapped the table top. “Let’s assume Paul was killed for that reason. Mike Richards wasn’t doing anything to kill the fish. In fact, Mike was extremely conscientious about protecting the environment.”

“What makes you think that?”

“My associate talked to Paul’s professor. He stated Paul may have found the source of the pollution that was killing the fish.”

“Yes, Dr. Kokolowski. He’s a really nice guy. He arranged for me to get some counseling from a friend of his. It’s helping, but. . .”

“I know. It’s hard dealing with the loss of someone you care for. But I want to get back to what this professor said. He said that someone was dumping toxic waste in to the lake, and that was killing the fish.”

“And you think whoever is dumping these chemicals into the lake killed Paul.”

“It’s possible. It’s definitely a motive.”

Denise leaned back in her chair and crossed her arm over her chest. She sat silently, thinking of what to say. “I know Paul was trying to find out who was poisoning the lake. And you have a point, but I wonder if it’s true. What kind of crime is dumping waste in a lake? What? The person gets a fine? Would someone kill another person just to avoid paying a fine? I don’t think so.”

“Unfortunately, I have to tell you I know of several cases where a person was killed for a lot less. Still, what I need to know is if Paul ever told you who was dumping the chemicals.”

Denise shook her head. “No. If he knew, I’m sure he would have told Dr. Kokolowski or someone else. But he did say he believed it was taking place at night. He had been out there several times, both during the day and at night. He told me he saw some strange things on the lake at night. I told him it was probably some people fishing at night.”

“What else did he tell you about these nighttime activities?”

“The only person he ever saw was Wild Mike. He was standing on the shore with his binoculars.”

  • * * * * *

Chapter Sixteen

Three men watched Mike Richards as he stared at the clouds from a bench in the fenced-in yard of the county jail. Mike noticed them as soon as they started moving in his direction. While he continued to stare at the sky, he could tell the three were harden by several stints behind bars. One of them, who seemed to be the leader had four teardrops tattooed on his face. A second one, wearing a tee shirt, had sleeve tattoos on both muscular arms. The last one had no visible tattoos, but walked with a slight limp. The three approached Mike, the one with the teardrops standing in front while his partners stood on either side of Mike.

“Hey, Wild Man,” Teardrop said.

“Please don’t,” Mike replied.

Teardrop chuckled as he glanced at his compatriots. “Don’t what?”

Mike stood up and took a step closer to Teardrop. “Don’t do what you’re about to. I’m really not in the mood and I really don’t want to.”

“Don’t want to do what?” Teardrop said menacingly.

Mike took a deep breath. “You’ve been paid to give me a beating.”

“What makes you think we were paid,” Tee Shirt answered with a grin. “Maybe we just want to whip your ass for fun.”

“You can’t be that stupid,” Mike responded.

Tee Shirt grabbed Mike and put him in a full Nelson, turning Mike to face the man with a limp. He moved toward Mike. Mike picked up his feet and thrusted them out, striking his assailant square in the chest. Mike brought down his feet, scrapping the shins of the man holding him and stomping on the man’s right foot. Teardrop pulled out a makeshift knife. Mike grabbed Tee Shirt’s arms, turning him and pushing him into Teardrop, causing Teardrop to stab Tee Shirt in the back. Blood spurted out when Teardrop pulled the knife from Tee Shirt’s back. Both Tee Shirt and Teardrop were still standing, so Mike shoved Tee Shirt back into Teardrop’s knife a second time. Tee Shirt dropped to the ground. Teardrop had the knife in his hand. He lunged at Mike. Mike sidestepped the attack and grabbed Teardrop’s hand holding the knife. Swinging his leg back, Mike was able to pull Teardrop off balance and spin him around before shoving him into the man with the limp. Mike kicked at Teardrop’s knee, forcing him to kneel on the ground. Mike jumped up and came down with a hard blow to Teardrop’s head, knocking him to the ground. The man with the limp was the only one left. Mike could tell he was trying to decide whether to run or fight. Mike didn’t give him a choice. Mike took two steps forward and jump kicked the man in the chest, knocking the wind out him. Before his opponent could catch his breath, Mike lifted his leg and kicked the man in the face with the side of his foot. The man with the limp went down.

Teardrop groaned. Mike knelt down and grabbed Teardrop’s hair. “It turns out you really can be that stupid,” Mike stated as he pulled up Teardrop’s head. “Tell me who sent you.”

Teardrop gave Mike a bloody smile. “I ain’t telling you. . .”

Mike slammed the man’s face into the ground before he could complete the sentence.

  • * * * * *

Justin stormed into Kimberly’s office. “I demand to see my client,” he shouted.

Kimberly stood up and walked around her desk, stopping a few feet from Justin. She folded her arms and stared at him. “You do not get to come into my office and make demands.”

“And you have no right to deny me access to my client,” Justin continued to shout.

Kimberly glared at Justin. “What are you talking about?”

“He’s talking about Wild Mike being in isolation,” Steve answered as he entered the office. “There was a fight at the jail. Three dudes jumped Wild Mike, so he was put into solitary.”

“What about medical help?” Justin demanded. “How badly was he hurt? Is he going to be okay?”

Steve chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Justin shouted. “What kind of jail are you running?”

“We don’t run the jail,” Steve replied. “The Sheriff’s Office controls the jail. And for your information, Wild Mike is fine, which is more than can be said for the three guys who jumped him. He sent all three of them to the emergency room.”

“So my client is in solitary because he was attacked. You’re going to tell me it’s for his own protection.”

“Probably more for the protection of the other inmates,” Kimberly said as she stepped over to her desk and picked up the handset of her phone. “I’ll call and get them to get you access to Mike.”

  • * * * * *

There was nothing special about Bradner Henson’s office. The door led into a room with a single large window behind Bradner’s desk. The wall opposite the door and the one facing Bradner’s desk was filled with plagues and certificates. This guy has one hell of a Love me wall Wendy thought to herself. What an ego he must have.

Bradner looked up from his desk. “Pretty impressive, isn’t it? I was named the best business owner four years in a row. No one in this town can say that. So, what can I do for you?”

This guy really does have an ego, Wendy said to herself. She sat down in one of the two chairs in front of Bradner’s desk. Wendy smiled before taking out several photos of homes on High Road and the empty field across from them. “I was up on High Road and I noticed a few things which seemed abnormal.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the homes on High Road,” Bradner emphatically stated. “I should know. I helped sell most of the homes up there.”

Wendy held up her hand to cut Bradner off. “I didn’t say there was anything wrong with the homes. But I have noticed several things.”

“What,” Bradner demanded.

Wendy made a mental note of Bradner’s tone of voice. “There are more than a dozen homes on High Road, but only three of them are inhabited. Who owns the other homes?”

Bradner chuckled. “Most of them are vacation homes. The owners come down in the summer or on holiday weekends. A couple of them are short-term rentals, which I manage. I can assure you there is nothing improper with that.”

“Didn’t say there was anything improper about the homes. But I am curious as why homes were build on only one side of the road and why there is such a large empty field on the other side? Why hasn’t anyone tried to develop the land on the side?”

Bradner took a deep breath. “Is that your question? I would think the answer is obvious. Money. It takes a large sum of money and investors to develop any kind of housing project.”

“Can you tell me who owns the land?”

“No,” Bradner snapped. “I don’t know who, or if anyone is planning on developing that property.”

“Really? I would think someone would want to develop the area. It’s such a great spot.”

“I know. Still, it took some time to sell the homes that are on High Road. I guess it’s just not worth the money and effort to develop it.”

“Well I don’t know much about real estate development. That’s why I wanted to talk to you.”

“No problem,” Bradner replied. “Was there anything else I could help you with?”

“Well there is the issue of Raymond Carlsen. Perhaps you could tell me what he was doing at the lake that night? Did you see anything out of the ordinary?”

“No,” Bradner snapped again. “I have no idea why he was on High Road.”

Wendy got up for her chair. “Well in that case, sorry to have bothered you. Thank you so much for your help.”

“Glad to be of assistance,” Bradner replied with some irritation in his voice. “I’ll do whatever I can to see that murdered behind bars.”

Wendy walked to the door before turning to face Bradner. “Interesting thing. You said you didn’t know why Carlsen was on High Road. The strange thing is no one has said that Mike Richards was there that night. Strange, isn’t it?” Wendy left without waiting for a response.

Bradner watched Wendy as she left the building and got into her car. As soon as she left the parking lot, he picked up the phone.

  • * * * * *

Chapter Seventeen

Three deputies escorted Mike into the room used by lawyers when interviewing their clients in jail. Mike’s hands were handcuffed and attached to a chain around his waist. The chain was also connected to shackles around his ankles. Justin, seated at the steel table, motioned for Mike to sit on one of the steel stools across the table. Mike sat down and the three deputies stepped to the back of the room.

“Could you please remove the shackles from my client,” Justin said pointing to Mike’s chains.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” one of the deputies responded.

Justin tapped his yellow legal tablet with his pen. “I’m his lawyer. Trust me. It’s in his best interest not to hurt me. So please, remove the cuffs and leave us.”

The deputy came over and unlocked the shackles on Mike. “We’ll be right outside the door if you need us.”

“He won’t,” Mike replied. “I promise to be a good little boy.”

The deputy grunted. He had the others grudgingly left the room.

Justin nodded towards the door. “I get the feeling you’re not on their Christmas card list.”

Mike rubbed his wrists “I’ll get over it.”

“What happened? Tell me about the attack.”

“What’s to tell? Someone paid three thugs to rough me up, probably to kill me.”

“Why?”

“Don’t know.”

“Bull! Someone wants to make sure you don’t talk. You know something; something that will put someone in prison; something that will prove you’re innocent.”

Mike glared at Justin. Justin returned the stare. “Tell me again what happened that night,” Justin demanded. “Tell me every little detail.”

Mike chuckled. “Here I go again. I heard some noises, engines on the water on the lake. I went down to the shoreline and saw some lights. I could hear people talking. Couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I could hear them. I heard a splash. Then the boat left. I waited for a couple of minutes, to make sure the boat was gone. I saw something in the water. I realized it was a person. I guess they thought is would sink on its own or they didn’t weigh it down properly. I went into the water and pulled him to the shore. I discovered the person was dead. Before I could do anything, I heard the police yelling at me. They said I killed the person and they started after me. I figured it would be a good idea for me to run. I knew I could turn myself in later without some excited cops chasing me, and probably shooting me. I made my way to that boathouse where the detective caught me. Fortunately for me, she knew what she was doing and I had a chance to surrender before getting shot.”

“I’m surprised you made it all the way to the Marina before anyone caught you.”

Mike scoffed. “I didn’t go the Marina. That’s where whoever killed the guy was. I went to the boathouse below High Road.”

“There’s a boathouse at High Road?”

“Yeah. Wait! You thought there was only one dock. There’s one below High Road. There’s another old one by the stream running out of the lake, but no one uses that one anymore.”

“Are you sure?” Justin asked. “Someone was on that lake. Where did they come from?”

“Don’t know,” Mike replied. “All I know was they went in one direction, I went in another.”

“But they didn’t come from the boat house where Detective Simmons arrested you.”

“Nope, they disappeared into the night before anyone could see them.”

“And left you as the only suspect of the murder of Raymond Carlsen.”

  • * * * * *

Denise was used to having the boys at the college stare at her. Normally, she would take some pleasure in it. After all, she was attractive, had an excellent figure, was fairly intelligent and could be charming when it suited her. But right now, she was still dealing with the death of her boyfriend, Paul Campbell. Denise wasn’t in the mood for some guy hitting on her hoping for a date. She took a second look at the two guys staring at her. No, they weren’t interested in asking her for a date. She didn’t know why they were staring at her; all she knew was they were giving the creeps.

  • * * * * *

“Are you sure this is the place?”

Kimberly stared at Justin. “Of course I’m sure. I arrested him. I know where I arrested him, Okay?”

“But this was never in the police report,” Justin angrily answered.

“Yes. it was,” Kimberly shouted. “You just didn’t read it carefully enough to realize the boathouse wasn’t the same one at the marina.”

“So what else aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing. Everything is in the report. You just need to read it without a closed mind.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Kimberly crossed her arms. “Like the police botched the investigation. It was simple. We got a call. We checked it out. Found Wild Mike at the scene. Chased him down. Searched his campsite and found evidence tying him the victim. We did everything by the book.”

“But you know as well as I do, Mike is innocent.”

Kimberly smirked. “Of course. Why do you think I’m here?”

  • * * * * *

“Hansen Reality. How can I help you?”

“It’s me,” the voice at the other end of the phone answered.

“Yeah, I can tell it’s you,” Bradner said. “Why are you calling?”

“Something’s come up.”

“What?” Bradner demanded.

“It’s that detective. She out here at the lake with the lawyer for Wild Mike.”

“So?”

“So, if they keep looking, they just might find something. And that something will put us all in prison.”

“Don’t lay this on me.”

“Listen! This is all your fault. If you had been more careful, that college kid would have never been poking around, and nothing would have happened.”

“Don’t you accuse me of murder?” Bradner stated.

“Hey, if I go down, you go down too.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“I’m stating a fact,” the voice said. “We’re in this together, whether we like it or not.

  • * * * * *