Page 14 of Killer Secrets

Oh, hell. Ed Lawrence of Happy Grass was the kind of guy Sam wanted to forget as soon as their business was done, but no, he’d buddied up to Lawrence to be sure Milagro got some time off without losing pay. Now Lawrence was going to return the favor by buddying up to Sam. Damn.

“Hang on, Ed. I just this minute walked in the door. Let me get settled.” He set the phone down, closed the door and set his hat in its designated spot atop an old oak filing cabinet. Finally he sat down behind the desk and took up the phone. “Sorry about that, Ed. I’m here.”

“Don’t apologize. People always call at inconvenient times. Some of the worst times. I could tell you…but I won’t.” He cleared his throat and slid into what Sam pegged as his faux-concerned voice. “I just wanted to be sure my crew was cooperative with you yesterday. They’re good workers, but they’ve got their quirks. You know, pretending they don’t speak English sometimes when you know damn well they do, or sticking together like it’s them against me, or freaking out when they have any interactions with the police. My workers are all here legally, Chief, don’t doubt that a second, no, sir, not one second. I’ve got copies of their papers. Now if it happens to turn out that some of those papers aren’t real, well, you can’t blame me for that. I did what I was supposed to.”

Sam barely resisted a snort. If Ed Lawrence was the man he thought, any false papers had probably been obtained at his behest, thereby covering his ass while leaving everyone else out to hang.

When Lawrence took a noisy breath, Sam grabbed hold of the pretext for his call. “Everyone was fully cooperative, Ed. They lived up to your expectations.”

“Good, good. So…the dead guy—I mean, the victim. Ruben says it was Evan Carlyle. Well, actually, what he said was that they found him at the Carlyle house. Was it Evan?”

Bracing the phone between his shoulder and ear, Sam picked up a thick pile of messages and ruffled the edges. Milagro had intimated that Lawrence didn’t encourage familiarity with his employees. He doubted Evan Carlyle had, either.

“You know I can’t confirm that. An official announcement will be made once the next of kin have been notified.”

“But you can confirm that his throat was cut, can’t you?”

Sam sighed. In the reality of crime scenes, there was no such thing as private information versus public. Too many people saw the body: in this instance, the lawn service crew, the police, the crime scene investigators, the ambulance and fire crews, the team from the medical examiner’s office. And everyone talked. Lois, Ben and Simpson had surely told other officers what they’d seen. Ruben and the rest of his crew had likely told their families or friends, and hopefully Milagro had told her grandmother.

“Officially, I can’t confirm anything. When Detective Little Bear has information to share, he’ll contact the media.”

Lawrence’s chuckle held a hint of disappointment. “Aw, Chief, you know everyone shares a few tidbits with their buddies.”

“I know, but as chief, I don’t have that luxury.” Before the wheedling could continue, Sam asked, “How was Ms. Ramirez this morning?”

“Who—oh, Maria. She was fine.” His tone clearly said he’d paid no attention to her. How long had she worked there that her boss still didn’t know her name? Happy Grass wasn’t a large company. Even if Lawrence did nothing more than sign her paycheck every two weeks, he should know her name.

Thankfully, someone in the background shouted for Lawrence’s attention. With a remark about how he never could catch a break, he hung up, and Sam heaved a sigh of relief. He made a mental note to check with Milagro in another few weeks. With Lawrence now acting like they were buddies, she’d damn sure better get paid for her few hours off.

* * *

Mila liked to think she didn’t spook easily, but midmorning on Thursday, when she had to walk into the first fenced-in backyard, she’d hesitated so long that Ruben had come over and led the way. The second time Alejandro had accompanied her and then Mario.

None of them had mentioned yesterday’s discovery. None of them had teased or scorned her hesitancy. They hadn’t said much of anything at all, but she’d appreciated their actions. She hadn’t had a lot of experience with simple courtesies, and today they’d made her throat swell and her eyes sting.

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