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Unbreakable Bond - Chapter 10



CHAPTER TEN


Danny ran a hand through his hair. "Her husband died, she sought revenge on the judge, and then she overdoses in the bathtub.” He shook his head.

Regardless of how long I stared at her, Donna's sunken eyes and deadpan stare continued to chill me as sharply as it had when I'd first seen her, screamed, and jumped back about fifteen feet from her body. Her eyes were glassy, her skin blue, the slack muscles in her face reminding me of a wax doll. She wore yellow bunny pajamas and matching fuzzy slippers, which led me to believe she'd been there awhile. Even actresses were up and dressed by noon.

I shivered again, despite the jacket Danny had thrown over my shoulders. I was a PI who dealt with sex. Give me a spouse cheating with the maid, cheating with the nanny, cheating with the frickin' yoga instructor. Not a stiff.

I squeezed my eyes shut and took a few deep breaths. I could do this. I was a big girl. It was just a dead body. No biggie, right?

I opened them again, trying to see the room without the cloud of squick factor. Two empty prescription bottles, one of generic hydrocodone and the other of Tylenol with Codeine, sat in Donna's lap. Several pills were scattered around her body, as if she'd meant to take them, but they'd fallen from her hands or mouth. Her body was slumped in an uncomfortable position, though how much of that was postmortem, I had no idea. Her head lay under the faucet, her feet tucked underneath her.

"No. This doesn't feel right."

"What do you mean?" Danny asked.

"She was angry at Judge Waterston for sending Miguel to his death in prison, so she kills him, sets me up, and then what…swallows a bunch of pills? It took a whole lot of anger to fuel that murder. Angry people don't suddenly go apathetic and kill themselves. I mean, why not go after the inmate who killed Miguel? The prosecutor who put him away? The public defender who failed?" I finally paused in my rant to breathe. I stepped back and stared at the walls and ceiling, waiting for my broken thoughts to piece into a cohesive puzzle.

"So, you think someone else did this?” Danny asked, eyebrows furrowing together. “To her?”

“I don’t know.” I glanced around the overly-coordinated bathroom again. “This doesn’t feel like the room of a killer.”

“Killers like daisies too,” Danny said, attempting levity.

I shook my head. “There was no forced entry. Just the unlocked door. She let whoever did this to her in.”

“If someone else did this,” Danny added.

“She knew them. Trusted them.”

“A friend?”

“Or a partner.”

Danny bit the inside of his cheek. "So…you think she was working with someone else to kill the judge?"

I'll admit, I hadn't been sure, just processing out loud. But Danny's question sharpened my suspicions.

"Or for someone else. She was an actress. Someone hired her to play a part." It made perfect sense.

Danny stared at the body, uncertainty splattered all over his expression. "Okay. Let's assume she was. Someone knows she's an actress, knows she doesn't exactly have a deep love of the judge. So, they hire her to play Mrs. Waterston and get you involved."

"And once she sets me up, she kills the judge."

Danny looked down at the woman in the tub again. "But something must have gone wrong. The partner gets nervous."

"Or Donna gets greedy," I added, picking up his train of thought. "Either way, it's not safe to keep her around anymore."

"So he kills her, then makes it look like a suicide."

I nodded. "Now, if the cops get hold of me, there's absolutely no one to back up my 'crazy story' about a fake wife hiring me to spy on her husband. This guy gets away with it. Again. His second murder."

Danny nodded. "It's a theory," he hedged.

"Who gets in the tub and puts their head up against the faucet?" I pointed for emphasis. "Who lies in their bathtub to take pills? Why not her bed or the couch? Spend her last moments in comfort, staring at Miguel's photo. People die in tubs after slitting their wrists, and not while wearing fuzzy slippers."

"So now what do we do?" Danny asked.

I let out a breath. Honestly? I didn't know. My leads had just died with Donna. And the knowledge that we ransacked her place while she was lying there dead left a new unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Great detective work, Jamie.

"Let's get out of here."

We retraced our steps back though the apartment and I opened the front door and poked my head out. I half expected cop cars to come screaming to the curb, but the sidewalk was empty. Even the traffic had died. I thanked God for small favors.

We dashed across the street and back into the van. The last thing I needed was my face plastered across the six o'clock news for another murder.

The humidity inside the van instantly bathed my body in a fine sheen of perspiration. Danny had covered the vinyl seats with fake fur, since stakeouts were synonymous with baking our internal organs or freezing off our extremities, depending on the time of year.

I pulled my phone from my pocket, ready to call Aiden, and realized I held my regular phone. I'd left the unregistered one back at the office.

"Find a pay phone."

Danny turned and gave me a look. "What is this, nineteen-eighty? Are there any payphones left in LA?"

I flipped him the bird. "Fine. Find a Mini Mart where I can get a prepaid."

He started the car, still grinning at me as he made a left at the corner, then drove two more blocks before finding a gas station with a convenience store attached. I threw on a pair of sunglasses and tucked my hair into a bun, keeping my head down as I quickly went inside, bought the cheapest prepaid phone they had with cash, then ducked out.

"Who are you calling?" Danny asked.

"The ADA. Someone has to report the body."

I could hear his disapproval in the silence even before I looked up from my dialing to see the grim set of his jaw.

"Why not call 9-1-1?" he asked.

"Because this is personal."

His brows creased, and his eyes darkened. He didn't understand, and I didn't have time to explain.

I listened to the phone ring three times before Aiden picked up.

"Prince?"

"It's Jamie." There wasn't any time for small talk. Far from an expert on corpses, I wasn't sure how long Donna had been in the tub, but I knew it was only a matter of time before her neighbors would be wondering what had died in the walls.

He didn't respond, and I wondered if I'd lost the connection.

"Are you there?"

A door clicked shut in the background. "Yes. You ran out on me before…"

Before I could be arrested? Yeah, sorry, pal. "Listen. There's a dead body."

"What?"

I rattled off the address.

"Who lives there?"

A car pulled into the lot beside us. Instinctively I ducked down below the window.

"Donna Martinez," I answered.

A mother and child got out of the car next door, paying zero attention to me.

"Who is Donna Martinez?" Aiden asked.

Admitting how I knew Donna entailed explaining a whole lot more than I was willing to share at the moment.

"Jamie?" he prodded.

"She's in the tub," I told him. "I found her like that, but I had nothing to do with her death."

"Like you had nothing to do with Judge Waterston's murder?"

I swallowed hard. So the cat and mouse thing was over. Cards were being laid on the table. I wasn't sure if I was relieved or more anxious.

"Exactly," I slowly agreed.

Aiden paused. "Are your prints going to be in Ms. Martinez's house?" he asked.

I bit my lip. "My prints?" In order to have a fingerprint to match he'd have to know…

"James Bond, licensed private investigator, prints on file with the state of California."

I closed my eyes and thought a really dirty word. I'd known it was only a matter of time before he figured it out, but I'd hoped for more. I pictured his army of police officers at the agency right now, combing through records, asking Maya where her boss was, digging through my computer for any mention of Waterston. I shook off the panic that accompanied that vision, focusing on the voice on the other end of the phone.

"How did you find out?"

"You were careful not to touch your martini glass last night, but as you jumped up from the table, you grabbed the butter knife."

I though a few more dirty words.

Danny shot me a look. Clearly he could tell from my end of things, this conversation was not going well.

"Okay, so you know who I am and what I do. Would you believe this is all about a client and not about me killing anyone?"

There was radio silence on the other end. I held my breath.

"I believe in evidence," he said slowly. "I believe what I can prove in court."

It was a typical lawyer's answer. Full of words while saying nothing. But if I read between the lines, he wasn't exactly convinced of my guilt either.

"I didn't do this," I said point blank. "I'm being set up."

Again Aiden was slow to respond, as if carefully measuring his words before speaking. "I've been reading up on your history today. About your agency. You don't strike me as the careless type. If your background is any indication, if you murdered someone, you'd make certain there wasn't any photographic evidence lying around, let alone being aired on TV."

"Thank you," I breathed, letting out a breath I'd been holding for two days. Though I wasn't entirely sure it was a compliment, it was as close as the lawyer in him was going to get to telling me he wasn't out for my blood.

Yet.

"Where are you, Jamie?" he asked.

I bit my lip. I'd been on the phone for awhile now. Too long. Even with an unregistered number, Aiden could ping a cell tower and get a location on me.

"I have to go," I said.

"Wait! I…I want to help you."

I really wanted to believe that. I looked from Danny to the phone.

"I need to hear your side of things," Aiden continued. "In person."

"Meet in person?"

Danny shook his head, mouthing the word No.

"I can help you, Jamie," Aiden said again, "but I need you to trust me."

"I fell for that once," I pointed out. "You had cops waiting for me last night."

"Don't do it," Danny whispered.

"I promise I won't involve anyone else," Aiden reassured me. "Just you and me. You can pick the place this time."

Now I was on the phone way too long. I needed to get off. The woman and the kid reemerged from the store, the bell above the glass door jiggling loudly enough to give me a mild heart attack.

"Fine," I said.

Danny scoffed and ran his hand through his hair.

I turned my back to him, not wanting to hear the negatives. I knew this was a stupid idea. I knew I couldn't trust Aiden, even if part of me really wanted to. But what choice did I have? I'd been named and fingerprinted. I was running out of places to turn. If I didn't play nice with the ADA, I could count my moments of freedom on one hand. At least this way I bought myself a little more time.

"I'll meet you tonight," I promised, and rattled off an address before quickly hanging up.

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