“I’m Investigator Loren Muse,” the woman said.
Wow, that was fast. Cingle remembered the name—Muse was the one who’d questioned Matt earlier this evening.
“Cingle Shaker,” she said.
“Yes, I know. I have a few questions.”
“And I’m going to choose not to answer them right now.”
Loren was still catching her breath. “Why’s that?”
“I’m a working private investigator.”
“And who would your client be?”
“I don’t have to tell you.”
“There is no such thing as PI-client privilege.”
“I’m aware of the law.”
“So I choose not to answer any questions at this time.”
Loren dropped the manila folder on the table. It stayed closed. “Are you refusing to cooperate with the county prosecutor’s office?”
“Not at all.”
“Then please answer my question. Who is your client?”
Cingle leaned back. She stretched out her legs and crossed her ankles. “You fall in a pool or something?”
“Oh, wait, I get it. Because I’m wet? Good one, really. Should I get a pen, you know, in case you come up with more gems?”
“No need.” Cingle pointed to the camera. “You can just watch the tape.”
“It’s not on.”
“If I wanted to tape this, I’d have you sign the release.”
“Is anybody in the monitoring room?”
Loren shrugged, ignored the question. “Aren’t you curious about how Mr. Hunter’s doing?”
Cingle didn’t bite. “Tell you what. I won’t ask any questions if you don’t.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Look, Inspector . . . Muse, is it?”
“What’s the big deal here? It was a simple assault. That hotel probably has three a week.”
“Yet,” Loren said, “it was serious enough for you to pull a gun on a man?”
“I was just trying to get upstairs before it got any more dangerous.”
“How did you know?”
“The fight was on the fifth floor. You were outside in your car. How did you know that someone was in trouble?”
“I think we’re done.”
“No, Cingle, I don’t think we are.”
Their eyes met. Cingle did not like what she saw. Loren pulled out the chair and sat down. “I’ve just spent the last half an hour in the stairwell of the Howard Johnson’s. It’s not air-conditioned. In fact, it’s hot as hell. That’s why I look like this.”
“Am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?”
“It’s not a simple assault, Cingle.”
Cingle eyed the manila folder. “What’s that?”
Loren dumped out the folder’s contents. They were photographs. Cingle sighed, picked one up, froze.
“I assume you recognize him?”
Cingle stared at the two pictures. The first was a headshot. No question about it—the dead man was Charles Talley. His face looked like raw meat. The other was a full body shot. Talley was sprawled on what looked like metal steps. “What happened to him?”
“Two shots to the face.”
“Feel like talking now, Cingle?”
“I don’t know anything about this.”
“His name is Charles Talley. But you knew that, right?”
“Jesus,” Cingle said again, trying to put it together. Talley was dead. How? Hadn’t he just assaulted Matt?
Loren put the pictures back in the manila folder. She folded her hands and leaned closer. “I know you’re working for Matt Hunter. I also know that right before you headed for that hotel you two met in your office for a very late-night chat. Would you care to tell me what you discussed?”
Cingle shook her head.
“Did you kill this man, Ms. Shaker?”
“What? Of course not.”
“How about Mr. Hunter? Did he kill him?”
“How do you know?”
“I didn’t even tell you when he was killed.” Loren tilted her head. “How could you possibly know that he wasn’t involved in the man’s death?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
Cingle took a breath. Loren did not.
“How about retired detective Max Darrow?”
“Who?” But Cingle remembered that name from Matt. He had asked her to check him out.
“Another dead man. Did you kill him? Or did Hunter do it?”
“I don’t know what . . .” Cingle stopped, crossed her arms. “I have to get out of here.”
“That’s not going to happen, Cingle.”
“Are you charging me with something?”
“As a matter of fact, we are. You threatened a man with a loaded handgun.”
Cingle crossed her arms and tried to regain her composure. “Old news.”
“Ah, but see, you’re no longer getting sped through the system. You’ll be kept overnight and arraigned in the morning. We’re going to prosecute this to the full extent of the law. You’ll only lose your license if it all breaks your way, but my bet is, you’ll serve jail time.”
Cingle said nothing.
“Who assaulted Mr. Hunter tonight?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Oh, I will. Because—and this is interesting—when we found Mr. Talley’s corpse he had a stun gun and a pair of brass knuckles. There was fresh blood on the brass knuckles.” Loren did that head tilt again, moving in a little closer. “When we run a DNA test, whose blood do you think will match?”
There was a knock on the door. Loren Muse held the gaze a moment longer before she opened it. The man who escorted Cingle from the station was there. He was holding a cell phone.
“For her,” the man said, gesturing toward Cingle. Cingle looked at Loren. Loren’s face gave away nothing. Cingle took the phone and put it to her ear. “Hello?”
It was her boss, Malcolm Seward.
“It’s a sensitive case.”
“I’m on the computer network now,” Seward said. “Which case number?”
“There isn’t a case number yet.”