Page 29 of Killer Secrets

But now he was gone. The crapes had been saved.

“Did you talk with him often?”

“No. When our crew took on this property, he gave us tutorials on how to do our jobs—how short to cut the grass, how deep the mulch should be, exactly where to make cuts when trimming branches, how far apart to plant this tomato plant from that one. He checked on us about once a month to make sure we haven’t forgotten.”

Jeez. Sam had just developed a new level of respect for all the service people in the world. He dealt with plenty of demanding, overbearing and just plain mean people himself, but at least he had some measure of protection from the badge he wore and the title he carried. He’d worked for a chief who stood up for his officers, and Sam made sure his officers knew he had their backs.

He was pretty damn sure Mila’s boss didn’t stick up for his crews. He was also pretty damn sure they didn’t get paid extra for dealing with a jerk like Greeley, even though the boss did.

Ben called him on the radio, and Sam answered, then stood. “I need to go out back. Can you wait here? I have some more questions.”

She nodded, and again he became aware of that sense of distance about her. As if she was holding herself together in some way he didn’t understand. Like she wasn’t here in the blazing sun being asked about the second murder in five days, but somewhere…else.

He would like to be somewhere else with her.

Maybe someday. But right now he had a body to examine.

* * *

Last night, Gramma had called Mila during the news when the latest lottery winner was announced. She bought a ticket religiously, just one, and always called Mila during the drawing so she could share the thrill of winning with her. Every one of those lottery tickets had been losers, though, and Mila always ended the conversation with “Better luck next time.”

“You bet,” Gramma always replied. “We’ll win someday, pretty girl. We’ll be so rich we’ll buy our own state. Our own country. I’m thinking England.”

Being rich, at least for Mr. Carlyle and Mr. Greeley, hadn’t ended the way fantasies were supposed to. When Gramma won the lottery and they bought England, they were supposed to live happily ever after. Everything was supposed to go their way. Otherwise, what was the point?

Though she felt selfish for even thinking it, Mila wondered how far behind schedule this would put them. Presumably, like last week, they wouldn’t be allowed to finish the job since it was now a crime scene. The officers would question each of them in their own time, and if they hadn’t already, sooner or later they would wonder at the coincidence of two murders committed while the same group of people was around. Evan Carlyle hadn’t been dead long before she’d found him, and neither had Mr. Greeley. She and Ruben had both seen the last trickles of blood seeping from his wounds.

Goose bumps rising on her arms, she took a long look around. Traffic buzzed by on the highway, barely visible. The front and sides of Greeley’s property were fenced in, but the gate from the highway was always open. The nearest houses were out of sight, but she’d heard sounds before—dogs barking, a chain saw, music—suggesting that the neighbors were a short walk through the woods. There could be a back road that left the property in that direction, or someone with a four-wheeler could have made his own trail.

A murderer showing up at her place of work twice. What were the odds of that?

She was so lost in the ugliness of that thought that Sam’s reappearance startled her. He must have noticed that her mind was wandering, because he’d stopped at the edge of the copse, giving her a moment to notice him. If he’d just suddenly appeared on the path in front of her, she might have managed a scream at least as impressive as Lunasha’s had been.

Once he had her attention, he sat down again, as far toward the end of the bench as he could get, then shifted to face her. His expression was grave, his eyes shadowed. “Greeley was still alive when you—when you saw him.”

Mila nodded.

“You didn’t see anyone around who didn’t belong? No vehicles anywhere? No sense of someone watching?”

She shook her head. So the killer could have been in the yard, could have been interrupted in his escape by Lunasha or Mila. That made an already disturbing experience even more so.