It’s Monday, and though I dislike Monday because I can’t sleep in, I do enjoy it simply because I can share another chapter of Jen Winters story. Last chapter was a tense one! Don’t forget to check out Jen’s website here.
It was almost 9 a.m. before the police left the Dragonswan manor. After interviewing everyone in the house, the police reported to Margaret their findings. Most importantly, Peggy was gone. Her room had been ransacked, there were bloodstains from the now shattered glass-top table and every indication she was dragged from the house through the kitchen and into the orchard. Secondly, their head of security for the night shift had been shot, and though still alive, was in critical condition.
Aside from those two casualties, the only other thing missing was the golden image of the dragon god, inlaid with rare and precious stones. It would have been impossible for a lone intruder to take a solid gold two foot statue. While it was priceless to the Dragonswans, the value of it was over forty-two million dollars and it weighed nearly 2500 pounds. The thieves would have had to have a mobile crane to move it, but why they would take a pregnant woman was beyond comprehension.
Margaret’s temper flared like a magnesium fire when the officer finished his initial report. Her normally calm exterior blazed with rage the likes of which she had never felt in her life. She stormed away from the flurry of activity, seeking refuge in the orchard, the only place in her life where she could always find peace.
Instead of peace, she found Ann, the reporter, staring at the first tree and the pedestal where the athame was placed during the tourist season.
“Miss Dragonswan!” Ann exclaimed as soon as she caught sight of her. “What’s happened in the manor? There were reports of a murder and I saw an ambulance.”
Margaret normally had endless patience for the press—one of the many reasons she was the face of the family’s apple empire—but today, of all days, Ann was the most unwelcome sight.
“Get out of here!” she screamed in her fury. “Get out! Get off my property! Stay the hell away from us!” She raised her hand toward the athame when Ann stood there instead of running, but two strong arms wrapped around her and pinned her against a hard chest.
“Leave now!” a deep voice commanded. His undeniable tone of authority spurred Ann into a quick jog back to the gates.
Margaret struggled to free herself, screaming for release, but the deep voice behind her only whispered, “Stop, Margaret, stop,” until she finally lost her energy and began to wilt into tears.
The arms turned her and she immediately buried her face into Detective VanCamp’s chest, wracked with pain and sobbing. VanCamp held her silently for as long as she needed him, stroking her long hair and holding her tightly. He knew exactly what was happening in her heart and he knew that there were no words that would comfort her.
When she had spent her last tear, and heaved her last sob, Margaret pulled away from VanCamp. She took the handkerchief he offered and wiped her blotchy, red face and her swollen eyes. She did not apologize nor look apologetic and neither did he. Instead, he took her hand in his and held it there, staring into her bright green eyes. The wordless conversation that passed between them told Margaret all she needed to know about Detective Don VanCamp: he was good to the core, troubled by death, and willing to do what it would take to find Peggy and bring her intruders to justice. She squeezed his hand tightly and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you,” she whispered, dropping his hand and turning away. She hadn’t slept since just after midnight and it was time for her to take care of her needs.
Detective VanCamp watched her go back into her home and then returned to his job. He hadn’t been called to the scene initially, but when he got in to work for his shift, his captain had sent him directly to the mansion. He’d only arrived in time to see Margaret disappear toward the orchard. His instincts had him follow her. When she went for the knife, he knew. He had grabbed her to stop her from doing anything to harm herself or the reporter. He knew that she must’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed. When he turned her toward him, he saw a look in her eye that told him everything he needed to know from her. No, she had not killed that woman—she wasn’t even on the suspect list as far as he was concerned. She was too raw, too heavy, too depleted to be a suspect. He knew that look, he’d seen it on the face of too many wives and mothers; he’d seen it in the mirror. That look and the years of grief counseling that went with it were the reason he had left Phoenix and moved to Littleton. This was supposed to be his new start. He’d picked a town with virtually zero violent crime on purpose.
And now he was in the thick of it again.
His tense strides took him quickly back to his car, but upon seeing several of the house staff leaving the manor, he decided to take a quick look inside. Unfortunately, no one was able to clean up the mess and until the detectives cleared the scene, there would be a bloody mess in the middle of their hall. Fortunately, he was the lead detective and he knew with a glance that there was nothing more they could get from going over it again. The CSI unit that had gone over it had come in from the city and had much more experience with this type of scene than the little, two-person unit that the Littleton police force employed on occasion.
He pulled his cell from his front shirt pocket and dialed his brother-in-law.
“Markson cleaning.” The crisp answer from his brother indicated the man was busy.
“It’s Don,” he greeted. “I need a referral.”
“Hey Don. How’s the quiet life?” his brother-in-law asked.
“Conspicuously unquiet,” Don sighed.
“I see. I guess you need a crime scene clean-up crew there?”
“You got it,” he answered.
“Give me a few minutes. I’ll call you back.”
VanCamp headed back to his car, stopping at the security gate on his way out. He’d familiarized himself with the man in the guard shack on his way in. “Hey, I need a copy of the personnel list for the house and grounds and I put in a call for a crime scene clean-up unit to come take care of the mess. I’ll give you a ring when I have a time.”
James nodded. “I have a list prepared now.” He handed a thick packet to the detective. “And I appreciate the call you made. Tell them we will take care of the bill here. No need to bother the sisters about it.”
Detective VanCamp perused the list. “You don’t have the Dragonswan family in here,” he noted.
James frowned at him. “They aren’t personnel. Would you also like a list of family?”
“Family and friends, if you can manage.”
James nodded. “It will take me a couple of hours, but I will have it on your desk before lunch.”
“Thank you, sir.” VanCamp started to put his car in gear again and stopped. He leaned back toward his passenger window and looked James in the eye. “Do you have anyone at the top of your suspect list?”
James’ jaw ticked, but he didn’t make any other indication of his thoughts. “I’ll make sure you get your list, Detective.” James flicked his eyes to the security camera.
Detective VanCamp understood his reluctance. The man did not want to be sued for slander. With a grunt of acknowledgement, VanCamp left the manor to go study the evidence and statements gathered by the night shift officers.