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Unbreakable Bond - Chapter 9



CHAPTER NINE


"Donna Martinez lists her profession as actress," Maya informed us, clicking open another window. "But, according to the IMDB, she hasn't had any significant roles. Not even a commercial."

IMDB was the Internet Movie Database, and if Donna had done anything from an indie flick to voice-over in a cartoon, it would have been there. "Wannabe," I concluded, not surprised as the title covered half the residents of the LA Basin. "So what does she really do?

"Works nights as a cocktail waitress at Club Dante," said Maya, switching to another screen. "If her electronic fund transfers are any indication."

"I know that place. It's off Sunset," Caleigh jumped in. "It's nice. Swanky. I saw a Kardashian there last month."

"She's married to Miguel Martinez," Maya continued.

"Why does his name sound familiar?" Danny asked.

Maya clicked away at the keyboard, pulling up another window. "Miguel Martinez was arrested and sent to prison for aggravated assault last summer. He held up a liquor store and beat the clerk who needed twenty stitches and suffered a concussion."

"I remember that story," Danny said, nodding as recognition dawned. "Double-jointed Brandy talked about it nonstop one night. She lived around the corner from the store."

Fascinating stuff, Danny.

"Miguel's no longer in prison. He died…oh."

"Oh?" I asked, leaning forward to read the screen.

"He died just last month. Stabbed by another inmate," Maya said.

Danny moved his head up and down with slow deliberate nods. "Shanked."

Caleigh, peering over Maya's shoulder, tapped the screen with a fingernail. "He was sentenced by Judge Waterston."

Talk about motive for revenge. The excitement buzzed through me, like a fluorescent light flickering to life.

Danny and I exchanged ah-ha glances. "I'll get the van," he said and hurried outside.

"Maya, text me her address." I ran to my office and strapped on my holster and gun. I shrugged into my jacket, and slid my phone into a pocket.

When I turned, Caleigh was leaning in the doorframe.

"Are you sure it's okay to go out there? What about the police?"

Her concern made me smile. "I'll be fine. If the cops knew about Donna, they'd also have the killer and no longer need me for anything. When I get back, this will be all over, and we can concentrate on our other clients."

I squeezed her shoulder and walked back into the lobby.

My phone buzzed with Maya’s text as soon as we got in Danny’s van. I read it off to him as I fastened my seatbelt. The ride along the freeway felt like hours, even though we'd hit a rare traffic-free sweet spot. I jiggled my knee up and down, too much adrenaline making it impossible to sit still.

Danny glanced over. "Antsy?"

I tried to chuckle, but it was a strangled sort of sound instead. "What gave me away?" I joked.

His tight smile did nothing to reassure me. Levine might be delusional, but Danny knew as well as I did how deep in dog crap I was. It wasn't a situation I was used to or, quite honestly, knew what to do with. Private investigators tracked down others. They didn't become the prey.

We pulled up outside of a squat, stucco building in North Hollywood with paint that was faded to a pale sun-stroked beige. It reminded me of a motel—two-stories tall, entrances facing the street. The building was divided in half, each with its own staircase weaving up the floors.

The apartment number May had sent was 2B, which I spotted immediately. The front window's curtains were parted, but with the sun's glare, I couldn't see any movement inside.

So we sat and watched.

I texted Maya for information on the type of car Donna drove, wishing I'd seen Faux Mrs. Waterston arrive and leave the agency. I mentally noted a beat-up green Hyundai, a shiny white Buick, and a muddy black Trailblazer parked across from us now.

"This whole thing will be cleared up by tonight," Danny said.

I exhaled, grabbing onto his words with both hands. "I can't wait. My celebration will consist of a strong drink and a hot bubble bath." I imagined sinking into the fragrant soapy goodness.

"Alone? Or will you invite Mr. ADA?"

I jerked my head toward him. "What?"

"Just wondering. You two seemed pretty cozy last night."

I frowned. "You have to be joking. That was a cat and mouse game. I was flirting to save my life, Danny."

"Are you sure?"

An image of Aiden's cool eyes and warm smile flooded my vision. I quickly snuffed it out.

"Positive," I said. But my voice cracked.

Danny's eyebrows rose. "Not convincing, Bond."

"Fine—Aiden Prince is an attractive man. Is that what you want me to say?"

He turned his gaze out the window, his expression hidden. "No. It's not."

I poked him in the arm. "Don't tell me you're jealous?" I teased.

He let out a sharp bark of laughter. "Of what? Slick hair and a spray-on tan?" He patted his abdomen. "A six-pack beats that any day."

I snorted. "You think pretty highly of yourself there, Casanova."

"Hey, I've never gotten any complaints."

I held up my hands. "I wasn't putting you down. Lord knows you've had every bimbo from here to Manhattan fall at your feet."

He turned on me. "Is that it? Just because I get laid that somehow puts me in a different league than Mr. Ken Doll?"

"What league, Danny?" I asked. "I said he was attractive—that's all."

"Yeah, he's a real catch, with his flashy career, making peanuts working for the state, and his dead wife sympathy card."

I stared at him, stunned into silence.

He paused a moment, then averted his gaze, as if realizing how far below the belt that comment had struck. "I don't trust him, that's all," he mumbled.

"That makes two of us."

We didn't say anything more, just sat there watching 2B.

Maya texted back that Donna Martinez had a valid California state driver license, but there was no info on the type of car she drove. Same went for her late husband.

Several tenants in surrounding apartments came and went, but there was no activity at Donna's. After another thirty butt-numbing minutes, I decided we'd waited enough.

I grabbed the door handle. "Let's go have a look."

We exited the van and walked across the street. Early Friday afternoon meant most people were at work. Would that include wannabe actresses?

I knocked on her door, praying no one would answer. As much as I wanted to haul her down to the local precinct, I also wanted to find proof of her involvement in setting me up and murdering the judge. A handwritten diary detailing her plan to frame me and kill the judge would be a bit much to ask for, but a girl could hope.

When no one came to the door, I pulled a pouch of tools from my jacket pocket, ready to put my lock picking skills to work.

But before I even opened the little black case, Danny turned the knob and pushed. The door creaked open.

"Who doesn't lock their door in North Hollywood?" he whispered.

Agreed. This was not a good sign.

We slowly stepped over the threshold, and I called out. "Mrs. Martinez? Anyone home?"

Was it possible she'd seen us coming and hid? If so, I planned to go through every square inch. If she was quivering in a closet, we'd find her.

Daylight streamed through the window, illuminating a small pastel living area. A light blue sofa took up most of one wall. A white coffee table sat in the center of the beige carpet. A television, a couple of cheap end tables, a short bookcase, and a lemon-colored chair completed the tidy set up. The place looked like a photo shoot for Pottery Barn and smelled of cinnamon and vanilla. All very feminine.

A thin stack of mail sat on a side table. An electric bill, flyer for 20% off at Macy's One Day sale, and the latest copy of Cosmo were all addressed to Donna Martinez. At least we had the right apartment.

Sadly, no murder weapons, no confessions, and no Donna.

"Look." Danny pointed to a sheet of paper sitting on the coffee table. It had the same print as the striped envelope.

I walked over and scanned it.

Dear Mr. Sterling,

Thank you for your consideration in the role of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. She was such a classic beauty and magnificent woman. I am so honored to have been given the opportunity.

Sincerely,

Donna Martinez

I raised a brow and glanced at Danny. "Who sends thank you notes to casting directors?"

Danny chuckled. "Maybe she thinks this will raise her chances."

"Yeah, of being laughed at." Beside the letter sat a pack of matches and an empty envelope with a scribbled phone number. I pulled out my phone and took a photo of it for future inquiry. Then I wandered into the back hall.

Three doors stood ajar. I poked my head into the first room. The kitchen counters and spotless stove stated Donna was either a clean freak or a takeout connoisseur. I moved on to the next door, an equally pristine bathroom with coordinating rugs, towels, and curtains. Figuring I'd raid the medicine cabinet last, I entered her bedroom. The place where secrets were hidden.

Holy fashion explosion.

If the rest of the house was considered tidy, this room resembled the regurgitated remains of a bargain basement sale. The sheets on the queen-sized bed were rumpled. A pink and white polka dot comforter was tossed in a heap on the floor. Clothing covered every surface, including the lampshade and windowsill.

I walked to an open closet and found dresses, skirts, and blouses neatly hung on half the rod. The other half was empty.

I paused. And took a good look at the clothing on the floor.

The room was covered in T-shirts, jeans…men's clothes.

Miguel's things.

On the floor of the closet were several shoe boxes. Old photos of Donna and people I assumed were family and friends filled one. Crumpled receipts, dated as far back as three years ago, occupied another, and a third held old letters from Miguel to Donna over the time he spent in prison.

I raised an eyebrow. Those held promise. Miguel could well have hatched the plan to kill the judge from behind bars. Maybe the letters contained explicit instructions on how to hire a sucker.

"Any luck in here?" Danny asked as he entered the room. Then paused. "Wow, tell me you didn't do this."

"Nope. This is all Donna. I haven't combed through the dresser yet."

Danny nodded, crossing to the pastel pink piece of furniture.

I sat on the edge of the bed, with the box in my lap and opened the first envelope. The letter was dated four months ago. He wrote that his cellmate was cool, but he missed her, and it was unfair he was locked up.

There was a letter for each week of his incarceration. While his love for her never wavered, his attitude about everything and everyone else did. Over time, he ended up hating his cellmate but grew remorseful over the robbery. Unfortunately, there was no mention of Judge Waterston.

I returned the box to the closet. "Find anything useful?"

Danny turned. A pair of fuzzy, pink leopard handcuffs hung from his pinky finger. "Do these count?"

"Nice. Pure class."

"Wanna take the bathroom?" Danny asked.

I nodded, leaving him to explore the rest of Donna's goody drawer.

The white tiles gleamed. Frosted glass doors encased the tub, closed now, and a pair of towels hung over its rack. Two toothbrushes, one blue and one pink, leaned in a daisy printed ceramic cup. Beside a daisy printed soap dish. And daisy printed lotion dispenser. The woman loved a theme.

Tylenol, a dozen facial cleansers, moisturizers, and acne medication stood at attention in the mirrored cabinet. The one beneath the sink held extra rolls of toilet paper, sanitary products, and condoms.

Nothing personal. Nothing incriminating. This trip was starting to feel like a waste of time.

I turned to head into the kitchen, on the flimsy hope that her cabinets held the blueprint to framing Jamie Bond.

But a flash of something dark through the frosted bathtub doors caught my attention. Something dark, sitting just below the porcelain surface.

I slowly pushed the left glass door open, peeking inside.

And found Donna Martinez staring up at me with vacant eyes.

Dead.

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