Page 8 of Killer Secrets

“Lawrence.”

“First name?”

“Mister.”

Ah, one of those people who didn’t get overly familiar with his employees. At the moment, that grated on his nerves, but then, his nerves had already been shredded in the few minutes in the backyard.

A woman answered on the third ring, and he asked for her boss. Overhearing her call out “Ed, it’s for you,” when the man came on the line, Sam adopted what he considered his politics voice.

“Ed, this is Sam Douglas down at the police department. How are you, man? It’s been a long time.”

Sam didn’t know if he’d ever met Ed Lawrence, but he certainly knew his kind. Made his success on the backs of underpaid, overworked employees, somehow convinced himself that they would be nothing without him when it was really the other way around, smarmy and blustery and always looking for anything he might use to increase his sense of self-worth. In a small town, being on a first-name basis with the police chief could be that something.

“Oh, I’m good, Chief, good.”

“You heard about the incident out here at Hawk’s Aerie, I’m sure. Your employees have been most helpful. I really appreciate it a lot.”

“At Happy Grass, we’re always glad to help. Glad to help.”

Great, a repeater. It was a quirk of cops that too many of them figured if it needed saying one time, it couldn’t hurt to say it twice. It was on the short list of things that drove Sam crazy.

“Listen, your worker who found the body…she’s pretty shook up by this. You can’t imagine what it was like for her.”

“Must have been a pretty ugly scene.”

Lawrence’s voice held a sly, inviting tone that all the put-on sympathy in the world couldn’t hide. He would love to share the gruesome details with his buddies while bragging that he got them straight from the police chief himself. That would be worth free rounds at the bar for two or three days, at least.

“Ugly enough that she really needs to take the rest of the day off. You’re fine with that, aren’t you, Ed? I mean, supporting the community and the police department the way you do, of course you’d want her to go home and deal with this instead of worrying about lawns.”

In his peripheral vision, he caught Milagro rolling her eyes. Apparently, she couldn’t imagine her boss caring anything about his employees except that they showed up and worked hard. Sam couldn’t imagine being that kind of supervisor. Couldn’t imagine anyone in his family letting him get away with it before they smacked him back down to size.

“Sure, sure, she can take the day off,” Lawrence said. “It’ll put us behind schedule, of course, but that’s a small price to pay given the circumstances. You just go ahead and tell Maria—”

“Milagro.”

“Yes, yes, of course she should deal with this. Tell her I said don’t think about work at all today. Tomorrow’s plenty soon enough for that.”

“I will. And you know, Ed…” Sam adopted Lawrence’s insincere good-ole-boy tone. “I would consider it a personal favor if you didn’t dock her pay for the time off. She’s doing her civic duty, helping the police, and I would just hate to see it cost her more than the emotional trauma she’s already been through. You think you could do me that favor, Ed?”

The level of joviality in Lawrence’s voice dropped enough to force him to clear his throat to answer, but he came out with the right response. “Of course, Chief. I’m happy to do it. Happy to do it.” He pronounced each of the last four words with extra emphasis, like he was trying to convince himself.

“Thanks, Ed. I’ll see you around.” Sam laid the phone in the console cup holder.

Milagro was watching him again, but this time her gaze didn’t dart away and back. Her brows were narrowed, and something that might be the start of a smile curved her lips a bit. He got the impression that she didn’t smile much. Lurking beneath the lingering shock and dismay was an intense solemnity that he doubted gave way very often.

What had she been through in her twenty-six years that made her so solemn?

The list of possibilities was too long to consider right now.

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