Monday, December 31, 2012
After lifting Prince, her miniature toy poodle, from the floor and rubbing his head to keep him from barking, Rachel Contino used her intercom system to respond to a call coming from the ground floor of her condo. Okay, now who else is stopping by to see us this morning? She smiled at Prince, who obviously knew that he might have someone else to play with soon.
The response, however, shocked her. “This is Detective Lindstrom. I need to talk to you for a minute.” The sound of his voice made her skin tingle immediately.
“I see.” She swallowed hard. “I’ll buzz you through.” This investigation was supposed to be over. With her previous upbeat nature quickly disappearing, she lowered Prince to the floor. Her mind quickly flooded with questions he might have for her as she quickly reflected on her life. While she had always enjoyed spending money on her expensive clothes and jewelry designed by such names as Prada, Gucci, and Cartier to reflect her success, she knew they revealed the harsh reality of the sacrificed time and energy she had spent on acquiring them.
She was not nearly as vain as most people thought since she fully knew these cold, lifeless treasures did nothing to warm her bed at night. Her fabulous collection couldn’t come close to filling the empty hole in her life which was threatening to swallow her. Where has my youth and my very life gone? Where is love? Inches from giving in to self pity, the thought of buzzing Detective Lindstrom in from below moments ago brought her back from the brink of despair.
Hurriedly, Rachel clicked on her e-mail account, looking for any last minute emergencies she needed to handle. As she was about to close out, an ad from yet another mortgage company opened. While feeling fully frustrated, her finger stretched for the delete key, but hovered as a photo of the mortgage originator, who was one very sexy man, materialized and filled the computer screen with his intoxicating smile.
“Oh . . . to be so young again.” After glancing at the name below the photo which introduced him as Carlos Martini, she could only hope he looked as good in person as he photographed.
She glanced at her watch again before closing her e-mail to protect it from the detective’s prying eyes. After she forced the brush through her hair one last time, she realized she had no time left to finish her makeup. With Prince yapping beside her, she hurried to answer the pounding on the door.
After picking Prince off the floor again and cradling him beside her, Rachel cracked the door and studied the city detective sweating outside in the latest of one of St. Petersburg’s famous heat waves. She offered a smile as she hoped that after today she would never see this man’s face again. Her stomach churned, and a chill traveled the length of her spine as she again realized that she would be forced to go over what she knew of the death of her friend and real estate client, developer Jonathan Harrell. What had transpired thus far had been one hell of a continuous nightmare, not to mention how it was slowly dragging her career to the brink of disaster with it.
“Detective–what is it?” She hesitated for a moment before she relented and opened the door wider.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but the case is being reopened. This morning we received some new evidence suggesting Jonathan’s death wasn’t a suicide.” With his short but stocky body firmly planted in the doorway, Lindstrom glanced around her. “Perhaps this conversation would be better handled if we continued it inside.”
Rachel’s muscles in her face tightened, erasing her desire to smile as she moved to one side to allow him to enter. “I thought you closed the investigation.” Her mind flashed back to the endless problems caused by Jonathan’s suicide, and how his death inside one of his condo units made her job of selling the remaining units next to impossible, especially during this current housing meltdown.
“Well . . . we thought so too, but as I said, we received some new information making us have some serious second thoughts.” He strolled toward a chair at her dining room table. The sound of him dragging the chair legs over her stone floor made her skin shiver as she forced herself to remain calm.
While pulling her fluffy white robe tighter, Rachel hoped to avoid his staring eyes. “What did you discover?” Rachel studied Lindstrom’s eyes, as he retrieved a pad from the inside of his basic blue suit which was probably purchased from a local discount department store–the cheap material certainly looked like he had anyway. With both the legs and arms of the suit several inches too long, he definitely needed a tailor. She knew her opinion was cruel and bit her lip, but from the first time she saw him, his clothes reminded her of seeing a scarecrow in a cornfield when she was ten.
“I need to ask you some more questions.”
With feelings of anger boiling inside her, Rachel raised her voice so as to not waste any more time in getting to the point. “Am I being investigated?” She remembered the interrogations earlier–the accounting of her whereabouts–the frustrations of having to defend her answers. Thoughts of Jonathan being murdered scared her. She didn’t understand why her good friend and one of her best clients may have been killed. This investigation continued to frustrate her to no end, and especially if they thought she had anything to do with his death. Yes, Jonathan had threatened to give his listings to another agent, but she knew he had felt frustrated, much like many developers trying to survive in the market. She also knew that if Lindstrom had heard about his threat, he might consider her a suspect. While hoping that no one ever knew about this argument, the only disagreement they had ever had, she knew she had always worked hard for Jonathan and wanted to sell as much as she could for him.
Lindstrom smiled as he motioned toward another seat at the table. “If I was investigating you, this conversation would be at my office and not here. Please relax and have a seat. Please . . . I need your help.” His normally rigid face turned soft and plaintive. Perhaps in his late fifties, Rachel wondered if Lindstrom had been in law enforcement all of his life. He had never strayed from his persistent investigation.
Breathing easier, but knowing to maintain her guard against saying anything she would regret later, she slipped into the white leather chair at the end of the table while scratching Prince behind one ear. “What do you need from me? You know I’ll help anyway I can.” She lowered her eyes to study the beveled glass tabletop which rested on a large white coral base. Maybe she over worked the snow-white color scheme in her condo, but she loved the resulting style. She knew she was refocusing her attention, but anything outside his stares would soothe her mind.
He leaned forward as his voice remained smooth and soothing. “I need to keep this as quiet as I can for a while and I need you to respect my request.”
What is Lindstrom trying to hide? Jonathan had lots to live for and many friends. Who would want to kill him? Obviously she wasn’t going to hear what he discovered without agreeing. She studied his light-gray eyes, which contrasted with the gentleness of his face, and perhaps concealing an inner strength he controlled until when it was needed. His eyes reminded her of a wolf, ready to pounce on her at a moment’s notice. “What makes you think he was murdered?”
She watched him scratch a note on his pad before returning her stare. “You had the listings on the condos he had developed. How much did he confide in you concerning his finances?”
She looked away, unable to withstand the intensity of his eyes any longer. “Some. We maintained a good working relationship, as well as being good friends. He understood the problems we’re having in this market and knew I was doing my best to sell his condos for him. Of course I knew he was suffering with some financial problems. All developers are now.” She selected her words carefully since she didn’t want the detective to dig into their personal relationship to deeply. After crying many nights over his death, hiding their friendship behind this professional, but cold accounting would be best for everyone.
“We discussed the suicide note he left behind before –the one he supposedly typed on his computer for us to find.” Lindstrom’s slow diligent methods of operation irritated her the same way they had from the beginning of the investigation.
“And . . . as I told you before, I’ve no way of knowing for sure if he wrote that letter or not.”
“That’s understandable. However . . . this is what I need to know. Did he mention anything else about his current finances to you?”
Rachel considered her words before she answered. “He remained anxious about the market, as he should have been, but I don’t think he felt suicidal at all. If he did, he hid his condition from me very well.” Memories of working with Jonathan resurfaced–the good times–the closings.
Lindstrom continued with his relentless questions. “Did he ever say anything about refinancing his loans with a bank out of Germany?”
No, now this is new. Why had Jonathan never said anything about this? “He never mentioned this to me, but I’m sure he was exploring all options.”
Rachel studied Lindstrom as he continued to make notes. With the smell of cigarette smoke venting from his clothes, and no wedding ring on his finger, she imagined his life at local sports bars after work, that is, until he started to explain further. “I just learned that he had received approval on a new loan the day before he died. The bank contacted me this morning with questions concerning his death. They thought that he must have made other arrangements, and that was the reason why he hadn’t followed through on the loan. The loan officer was surprised to hear he had committed suicide shortly after obtaining their loan approval.”
“Ohmigod! He didn’t say a word about the loan.” While she had maintained some doubts about the suicide until now, this definitely changed her opinion. She quickly started replaying the list of suspects in her mind. Jonathan had a business partner, Donnie Moore, but the two worked close together and needed each other. Jonathan, who had been a developer for a long time, was divorced, but the marriage had ended a long time ago. Naturally, some of the owners weren’t too happy about the falling real estate prices, but they had to understand that the collapse wasn’t his fault. Perhaps one of them had maintained a secret grudge.
“I’m going to talk to everyone again that he had dealings with. I know you provided me with a detailed list before, but I’d appreciate the help if you can add to the list anyone else you think might in anyway be connected to Jonathan Harrell.”
Rachel leaned back in her chair. The list she had prepared for him before was long, and she knew that he would investigate anyone else she added to it. This wasn’t going to win her any popularity awards. “I don’t think he made any enemies, and I’m sure most people would consider him to be a great guy.”
“So I’ve heard.” He placed the pad back in his suit pocket. “I hope you’ll consider one point that I need to make. If someone had a problem with him and his business, you might also have an enemy out there that you don’t know about.”
Was that possible? Could someone want me dead also? The tension escalated in Rachel’s neck, stretching outward toward her shoulders. “Are you trying to scare me?”
Rachel studied his smile, a vain attempt to lighten the impact. “I think it would be negligent on my part if I didn’t come here to warn you.”
Rachel’s heart fluttered as she realized how right he was, but forced her body not to reveal the fear overtaking her. “Thank you.” She continued to breathe deeply, attempting to stay in control. “What do you suggest I do?”
“There are two things I recommend. First, don’t take any unnecessary chances, and second . . . help me find out who is behind this murder. I promise to hold all information in confidence as best I can.” He raked the legs of the chair along the granite floor again as he stood, making her wince with pain.
As she stood, her robe parted slightly. Seeing him focus on her bare skin scared her, and she quickly grasped the lapels. “Okay, I’ll be in touch with any more names I can remember.” She pulled Prince closer to her to ensure that he remained quiet.
“Thank you.” He opened the door and closed it behind him as he left.
She breathed deeply before letting out a sigh of relief, only to have thoughts return of the new problems she faced in having Jonathan’s will probated by the courts. This would delay clearing title further now, making the sales of his remaining properties not only difficult, but in this environment almost impossible. While feeling selfish in her needs, she knew Jonathan would approve. Business was always the center of their relationship. She knew he would want her to complete the project. She owed him that.