I locked the door of my apartment behind me and started down the stairs. My purse began to vibrate and the opening line of the country song 'Big Green Tractor' filled the air. I fished out the black rectangle and answered the call. "Hi Garrett."
"See I told you personalized ringtones would be useful." A smooth male voice announced over the connection. Garrett and I work together, and he had programmed my phone for me. I hated the ringtones, but hadn't yet been able to figure out how to change them. I'm not really technologically impaired, but it was nothing like my last phone which had met with a tragic accident involving a toilet a few months ago.
"I have caller id." I reminded him. "I don't need Jason Aldean screaming at me every time you call."
"Well, I'd have preferred 'Somethin Bout a Truck', but you said-"
"I find that song positively revolting," I said, "The thought of skinny dipping blasting from my phone is scandalous!" That isn't my only or primary complaint with the song, but it was one he might understand.
"Come on, Quinby, Scandalous? That word has been out of vogue since Victoria died."
I chose to presume he was speaking of the late regent Victoria, and plunged on, "I can think of no other word for it. It's unspeakably disgusting." I had reached my car and slid in behind the wheel.
He sighed in exaggerated fashion. "Whatever. Where are you?"
I turned the key in the ignition. "I'm just leaving for the office."
"My office." Before you go off thinking I'm a snob, allow me to explain. I have two offices. One is mine, the other I share with Garrett and a few other people.
"If you don't have a prescheduled meeting, we need you here." He informed me. "Drake just called."
"Okay, I have to go to the post office first, and then I'll be there."
I ran back inside to change my clothes, and after I stopped to pick up my mail, I drove north into the city proper of Wilmington, Delaware to the offices of Salisbury and Ashton. I swiped my access card to get in the back door, and took the elevator up to my office. I set my coffee cup on the desk and was in the process of putting my purse away when Garrett entered.
"We are in the conference room waiting." He announced.
As you may or may not have guessed, my relationship with Garrett falls under that unique heading 'frienimies' . Sometimes we get along just fine. Today he was trying to push my buttons. Unfortunately it was working.
I mentally counted down backwards from ten as I prayed that I would not lose it. "I'll be there in just a minute, Garrett," I said as calmly as I could. "I walked in the door thirty seconds ago. I don't believe Messrs. Salisbury and Ashton would appreciate my coming into a meeting with my coffee cup and purse." Okay, so that was probably a bit much, but he got the point and left. I closed my desk drawer, smoothed my hair and skirt, pasted a smile on my face for my bosses, and crossed the hall to the conference room. Unfortunately the only open seat that made any sense for me to take was next to Garrett. I nodded to our bosses, Wynn Salisbury, (a man in his mid-sixties with graying blonde hair, now on his third marriage to a woman younger than me) and Drake Ashton IV, (age forty-seven, dark brown receding hairline, happily wed to his wife Ashley (check out that name) who is a year older than he), as well as to the firms junior partner, a woman about my age named Vanessa Pederson. Seated next to Mr. Ashton was a young man, (scarcely out of his teens I believe) with sandy blonde hair and baby blue eyes. He was wearing jeans and a blue and green striped polo.
"Good morning, Quinby," Mr. Salisbury said as I sat down. "Thank you for joining us on such short notice. We'd like you to meet Aaron Stafford."
"Pleased to meet you." I offered my hand to shake, but he ignored it so I withdrew.
"I guess there's no easy way to put this, Quinby," Mr. Ashton, "But Aaron has a problem. His former girlfriend and her new boyfriend were found dead last night." He looked apologetically at Aaron, "The police think he may have done it."
"May have?" Aaron interrupted, (I was seriously starting to dislike the kid) "No, they're convinced I did it. That one dude was ready to lock me up this morning."
"Aaron, please do not refer to Sgt. Sanders as a 'dude'," Mr. Ashton interjected, "You should be more respectful of our law enforcement officials."
"Sgt. Percy Sanders?" I asked.
Mr. Salisbury looked up, "You know him?"
"That could work in our favor." He said.
"I didn't say we were well-acquainted," I said, "He helped me with a case a few months back. Garrett met him."
"Seemed nice enough," my co-worker mumbled. Clearly he didn't like being drug into the conversation.
"The point is," Mr. Ashton continued, "That Aaron didn't do it, right Aaron?"
"Yeah," he lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
"Okay, it might not be my place to ask this, but, if no formal charges have been filed…"
"That's where you come in, Quinby." Mr. Salisbury said, "We want to make sure it doesn't get that far."
"Oka-ay," I was still puzzled; this is a law firm, why are we trying to keep this thing out of court? I took out my notebook. "What do they have? Besides motive obviously."
"Obviously!" Aaron nearly jumped out of his chair, "See Drake, she's against me too!"
Drake? Even I address him formally. I was shocked that the kid would be so familiar. "Calm down, Aaron." Mr. Ashton said in a soothing voice- the one he used on a hostile witness, and very similar to the one I often employ when babysitting my friends' five month old daughter, Maddie. "Ms. Xander has been in this business for a long time, and she knows that when a girl and her boyfriend are killed, the ex-boyfriend is presumed to have motive."
"Former boyfriend, Drake." Aaron said, "Why is that so hard for you to get? I wasn't mad at Kennedy; she and I agreed it wasn't working out so we broke up. End. Of. Story."
"How long ago was this?" I threw in before anyone else could speak.
"Oh, I guess it was last Monday." He said with about as much interest as a doorknob.
I consulted my calendar, "That would be the twelfth?"
"If that was last Monday." What a jerk.
I know I'm an old-style traditionalist, but today was only Wednesday. Counting both today and Monday as full days, that was only ten days, and the girl already had a new boyfriend? Not that I blamed her for dumping Aaron, but she was going through relationships like Kleenexes. "What are the full names of the deceased?" I asked, "Just for my records."
"Umm…" Garrett took out his phone and began scrolling, "Kennedy Markovich and Arnold Owens." He said after a moment.
"Markovich?" I spoke primarily to Wynn Salisbury.
"Yes," he said with a small nod. "She was Marcus and Arbutus' daughter."
"I see why Sgt. Sanders is so anxious to close." I said. "This is probably the highest profile case of his career." Marcus' father, Jarvis Markovich had been mayor of Wilmington since 1992, so the death of his granddaughter wouldn't be overlooked by anyone in the tri-state area, and I was certain the department was already feeling pressured. "How long had Kennedy and Arnold been together?"
All eyes turned to Aaron. "How should I know? We weren't talking anymore."
"I thought you said it was amicable." Garrett interjected. Clearly he didn't care for Aaron any more than I did. Score one point for Garrett. Good thing for him, he needed it after the scene in the office.
"We can safely assume it was less than ten days," Vanessa said before our guest could react to Garrett's inflammatory comment. "Since she and Aaron were still together at that time."
"Good point," I said, "Now, there's no chance it was an accident?"
"Multiple stab wounds in both victims." Mr. Ashton said quietly.
"Definitely murder." I agreed. "Where were you last night?" I asked Aaron.
"At home studying for my biology exam. The one I'm supposed to be taking right now. It's finals week."
"Were your parents home?"
"No. Dad's on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, and they hosted a Christmas open house last night. It was nearly midnight when they got home."
That didn't look good. "All right, what do we know about Mr. Owens?"
"Nothing, yet." Mr. Ashton said, "That's all up to you, Quinby."
"Okay," I turned to a blank page in my notebook. "It was good to meet you Aaron, but I'm sorry it was under these circumstances." I didn't attempt to repeat the handshaking fiasco. "Is there a number I where I can reach you in case I have more questions?"
Aaron sent me a sour look, but rattled off a number. I copied it down, and then looked at Mr. Ashton, and carefully raised one eyebrow.
"I think that we're finished here," he said, "Come on, Aaron, I'll drive you home."