Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard


  He knew where they all lived. He had gotten their addresses from their files at work. It was so easy, for anyone who knew how, and of course no one had questioned him.

  He would go to her house and find out if she was the one who had said that awful, stupid thing. He was pretty sure it was Marci. He wanted to teach that stupid, vicious bitch a lesson. Mother would be so pleased.

  Marci was a night owl, even during the workweek. She didn’t need much sleep, so even though she didn’t party nearly as hearty as she had when she was younger—say, in her thirties—she seldom went to bed before one A.M. She watched old movies on television; she read three or four books a week; she had even developed a fondness for cross-stitching. She had to laugh at herself whenever she picked up her cross-stitch hoop, because this had to be proof the party girl was getting old. But she could empty out her mind when she was working cross-stitch. Who needed meditation to gain inner serenity when she could get the same effect by duplicating with needle and thread a small colored pattern of Xs? At least when she had completed a pattern, she had something to show for it.

  In her time she had tried a lot of stuff that people probably wouldn’t expect of her, she thought. Meditation. Yoga. Self-hypnotism. Finally she had decided a beer worked just as well and her insides were as serene as they were going to get. She was what she was. If anyone didn’t like it, screw ‘em.

  Usually, on a Friday night, she and Brick would hit a couple of bars, do some dancing, drink a few beers. Brick was a fine dancer, which was surprising because he looked like someone who would rather die than get on a dance floor, kind of a cross between a truck driver and a biker. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but he sure had some moves.

  She had thought about going out without him, but the idea wasn’t very exciting. With all the hoopla this week about that damn List, she was a little tired. She wanted to settle down with a book and rest. Maybe tomorrow night she’d go out.

  She missed Brick. She missed his presence, anyway, if not him in particular. When he wasn’t in the sack or on a dance floor, he was pretty boring. He slept; he drank beer; he watched television. That was it. He wasn’t a great lover, either, but he sure was an eager one. He was never too tired and was always willing to try anything she wanted.

  Still, Brick was just further proof she wasn’t any good at picking men. At least she wasn’t stupid enough any longer to marry them. Three times was enough, thank you. Jaine fretted because she’d been engaged three times, but at least she hadn’t actually married three times. Besides, Jaine just hadn’t met anyone yet who could hold his own with her. Maybe that cop …

  Hell, probably not. Life had taught Marci that things seldom worked out just right. There was always a bump in the road, a glitch in the software.

  It was after midnight when the doorbell rang. She placed a bookmark between the pages so she wouldn’t lose her place and got up from the couch where she had been sprawled. Who on earth could that be? It wouldn’t be Brick returning, because he had a key.

  That reminded her: she needed to get her locks replaced. She was too cautious to simply get her key back and assume he hadn’t made a duplicate. So far he hadn’t displayed any thieving habits, but one never knew what a man might do when he was pissed at a woman.

  Because she was cautious, she looked through the peephole. She frowned and stepped back to unlock the door and remove the chain. “Hey,” she said, opening the door. “Is something wrong?”

  “No,” said Corin, and hit her in the head with the hammer he had been holding against his leg.

  seventeen

  On Monday, the elevator sign read: XEROX AND WURLITZER HAVE ANNOUNCED THEY WILL MERGE TO MARKET REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS.

  Jaine was still chuckling when the elevator doors opened. She felt as if she were fizzing on the inside, a direct result of a weekend filled with Sam. She still hadn’t been filled with Sam, but she had started on the birth control pills that morning. Not that she had told him she was going to, of course. Frustration was driving her crazy, but anticipation was lighting up her whole world. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so alive, as if every cell in her body were awake and singing.

  Derek Kellman stepped forward to exit the elevator as she was getting on. “Hi, Kellman,” she said cheerfully. “How’re things going?”

  He turned bright red, and his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “Uh—okay,” he mumbled as he ducked his head and hurried off the elevator.

  Jaine smilingly shook her head and punched the button for the third floor. She couldn’t imagine Kellman getting up enough nerve to grab Marci’s ass; she and everyone else in the building would have paid good money to have seen it.

  As usual, she was the first one in the office; she liked getting a jump on Monday mornings, with all the payroll to handle. If she could just keep her mind on the job, she was off to a good start.

  The List thing was dying down, maybe. Everyone who wanted an interview had one, except for People magazine. She hadn’t watched television that morning, so she had no idea what snippets of their Friday morning interview actually made it on air. Someone would be certain to tell her, though, and if she ever felt the urge to watch it, which wasn’t likely, at least one of the other three would have taped the program.

  Funny how she didn’t much care. How could she worry about the List with Sam occupying so much of her time and thoughts? He was maddening, but he was funny and sexy and she wanted him.

  After eating dinner together Friday night, he had awakened her at six-thirty Saturday morning by spraying her bedroom window with the water hose, then inviting her out to help him wash his truck. Figuring she owed him, since he had washed the Viper, she quickly pulled on some clothes, put on some coffee, and joined him outside. He hadn’t wanted to just wash the truck; he wanted it waxed and buffed, all the chrome cleaned and polished, the interior vacuumed, all the windows washed. After two hours of intense labor, the truck had gleamed. He had then pulled it into his garage and asked what she was cooking him for breakfast.

  They had spent the day together, arguing and laughing, watching a ball game on television, and were getting ready to go out for dinner when his beeper went off. He used her phone to call in, and before she knew it, he was out the door with a quick kiss and a “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

  He was a cop, she reminded herself. As long as he remained a cop—and he seemed set on making a career of it, given his interview with the state police—his life would be a series of interruptions and urgent summons. Broken dates would come with the package. She had thought about it and decided what the hell, she was tough, she could handle it. But if he were in danger … she didn’t know if she could handle that nearly as well. Was he still working on that task force? Was it something he was permanently assigned to, or were things like that temporary? She knew so little about law enforcement, but she would definitely be finding out more.

  He had returned Sunday afternoon, tired, grumpy, and not inclined to talk about what he’d been doing. Instead of badgering him with questions, she let him nap in her big easy chair while she read, curled up on one of the two remaining cushions on the couch.

  Being with him like that, not on a date or anything, just being, had felt somehow… right. Watching him sleep. Enjoying the sound of his breathing. And not daring, not yet, to put the L-word to what she was feeling. It was too soon, and she was still too wary from past experiences to blindly trust that this excitement when she was with him would last forever. Her wariness was also the real basis for her reluctance to sleep with him. Yeah, frustrating him was fun and she enjoyed the heat in his eyes when he looked at her, but deep down she was still afraid to let him get too close to her.

  Maybe next week.

  “Hey, Jaine!”

  She looked up as Dominica Flores stuck her head in the door, her eyebrows raised in query.

  “I just caught part of the thing on television this morning; I had to leave before it was finished, but I set the VCR. It was so cool
! You looked hot, really hot. Everyone looked good, y’know, but, wow, you were great.”

  “I didn’t see it,” Jaine said.

  “Really? Wow, if I were on national television, I’d stay out of work to watch myself.”

  Not if you were as sick of the whole thing as I am, Jaine thought. She managed a smile anyway.

  At eight-thirty, Luna called. “Have you heard from Marci?” she asked. “She hasn’t come to work yet, but when I called her at home, there wasn’t an answer.”

  “No, I haven’t talked to her since Friday.”

  “It isn’t like her to miss work.” Luna sounded worried. She and Marci were pretty tight, surprisingly so considering the gap between their ages. “And she didn’t call in late or sick or anything.”

  That really wasn’t like Marci. She hadn’t reached her position as head of accounting by being unreliable. Jaine frowned; now she was worried. “Have you tried her cell phone?”

  “It isn’t on.”

  The first thought that sprang to Jaine’s mind was that there had been a traffic accident. The Detroit traffic was horrendous during rush hour. “I’ll call around and see if I can find her,” she said, not voicing her sudden concern to Luna.

  “Okay. Let me know.”

  As she hung up, Jaine tried to think of who to call to find out if there had been a traffic accident somewhere on the freeway between Sterling Heights and Hammerstead. And did Marci come down Van Dyke to hit I-696 or avoid Van Dyke and take one of the Mile roads over to Troy where she could pick up I-75?

  Sam would know whom to call.

  Quickly she looked up the number of the Warren Police Department, dialed it, and asked for Detective Donovan. Then she was put on hold. She waited impatiently, tapping a pen against the desktop, for several minutes. Finally the voice came back to say that Detective Donovan wasn’t available, would she like to leave a message?

  Jaine hesitated. She hated to bother him for something that could easily turn out to be nothing, but she didn’t think anyone else at the department would take her concern seriously. So a friend was half an hour late to work; that wasn’t generally cause enough to call out the troops. Sam might not take her seriously either, but he would at least make an effort to find out something.

  “Do you have his pager number?” she finally asked. “It’s important.” It was important to her, though it might not be to them.

  “What does this concern?”

  Irritated, she wondered if women regularly called Sam at work. “I’m one of his snitches,” she said, crossing her fingers at the lie.

  “Then you should have his pager number.”

  “Oh, for God’s sake! Someone could be hurt or dead—”She caught herself. “Okay, so I’m pregnant, and I thought he’d like to know.”

  The voice laughed. “Is this Jaine?”

  Oh, my God, he’d been talking about her! Her face flamed. “Urn—yes,” she mumbled. “Sorry.”

  “Not a problem. He said if you ever called to make sure you got in touch with him.”

  Yeah, but how had he described her? She refrained from asking and jotted down his pager number. “Thanks,” she said.

  “You’re welcome. Uh—about this pregnancy thing …”

  “I lied,” she said, and tried to work up a smidgen of shame in her tone. She didn’t think she succeeded, because the woman laughed.

  “You go, girl,” said the woman, and hung up, leaving Jaine to wonder exactly what she meant.

  She pressed the disconnect button on her desk phone, then dialed Sam’s pager. It was one of the numerical pagers, so she left her number. Since it wasn’t a number he would recognize, she wondered how long it would take him to return her call. In the meantime she called accounting. “Has Marci arrived yet?”

  “No,” was the worried reply. “We haven’t heard from her.”

  “This is Jaine, extension three-six-two-one. If she comes in, tell her to call me immediately.”

  “Will do.”

  It was nine-thirty before her phone rang again. She snatched up the receiver, hoping Marci had finally shown up. “Jaine Bright.”

  “I hear we’re going to be parents.” Sam’s deep voice purred over the telephone line.

  Damn blabbermouth! she thought. “I had to say something. She didn’t believe I was a snitch.”

  “Lucky I warned everyone about you,” he said, then asked, “What’s up?”

  “Nothing, I hope. My friend Marci—”

  “Marci Dean, one of the infamous List Ladies?”

  She might have known he’d have the details on all of them. “She hasn’t come in to work, hasn’t called, isn’t answering her home phone or cell phone. I’m afraid she might have been in an accident on the way to work, but I don’t know who to contact to find out. Can you steer me in the right direction?”

  “No problem. I’ll get in touch with our traffic division and get them to check reports. Let’s see, she lives in Sterling Heights, doesn’t she?”

  “Yes.” Quickly Jaine gave him the address, then paused as another awful thought struck her. “Sam … her boyfriend was really upset about the List. He left Thursday night, but he might have come back.”

  There was a slight pause; then his tone turned brisk and businesslike. “I’ll contact both the sheriff’s department and the Sterling Heights P.D., have her place checked out. It’s probably nothing, but it won’t hurt to be certain.”

  “Thanks,” she whispered.

  Sam didn’t like what he was thinking, but he’d been a cop too long to write off Jaine’s concern as overreacting. An irate boyfriend—one with a wounded ego, at that, over that damn List—and a missing woman were ingredients in far too many incidents of violence. Maybe Ms. Dean’s car had broken down, but maybe not. Jaine wasn’t the type to panic over nothing, and she had definitely been afraid.

  Maybe she had some feminine intuition going there, but he didn’t discount that, either. Hell, his mom had eyes in the back of her head and had always, without fail, been waiting up for him and his brothers whenever they had been up to mischief. To this day he didn’t know how she had known, but he accepted it nevertheless.

  He placed two calls, the first to the Sterling Heights P.D., the next to a pal in traffic who could check for victims in any morning traffic accident. The Sterling Heights sergeant he spoke to said they would immediately send a car to check out Ms. Dean’s residence, so he held off on calling the sheriff’s department. He left his cell phone number with both contacts.

  His pal in traffic checked in first. “No major accidents this morning,” he said. “A few fender benders is all, and a guy dumped his motorcycle in the middle of Gratiot Avenue, but that’s it.”

  “Thanks for checking,” Sam said.

  “Any time.”

  At ten-fifteen, his cell phone rang again. It was the Sterling Heights sergeant. “You called it, Detective,” he said, sounding weary.

  “She’s dead?”

  “Yeah. It’s pretty brutal. You got a name for that boyfriend? None of the neighbors are at home for us to ask, and I think we need to have a little talk with him.”

  “I can get it. My lady friend is—was—Ms. Dean’s best friend.”

  “Appreciate the help.”

  Sam knew he was treading on someone else’s territory, but he figured since he had tipped them to the scene, the sergeant would cut him some slack. “Can you give me any details?”

  The sergeant paused. “What kind of cell phone are you using?”

  “Digital.”

  “Secure?”

  “Until the hackers figure out a way to get the signal.”

  “Okay. He used a hammer on her. Left it at the scene. We might get some prints off it, might not.”

  Sam winced. A hammer did a god-awful amount of damage.

  “Not much of her face is left, plus she was stabbed multiple times. And she was sexually attacked.”

  If the boyfriend had left his semen behind, he was nailed. “Any semen?”

/>   “Don’t know yet. The M.E. will have to do tests. He—ah—did her with the hammer.”

  Jesus. Sam took a deep breath. “Okay. Thanks, Sergeant.”

  “Appreciate the help. Your lady friend—is she who you intend to ask about the boyfriend?”

  “Yeah. She called me because she was worried when Ms. Dean didn’t show up for work this morning.”

  “Can you just ask her about the boyfriend, and stall her on the rest?”

  Sam snorted. “I’d have a better chance of stalling sundown.”

  “One of those, huh? Can she keep it quiet? We’re pretty sure this is Ms. Dean, but we haven’t made a positive I.D. yet, and the family hasn’t been contacted.”

  “I’ll get her to leave work. She’s going to be pretty upset.” He wanted to be with her when he told her, anyway.

  “Okay. And, Detective—if we can’t locate any family locally, we may need your friend to identify the body.”

  “You have my number,” Sam said quietly.

  He sat for a minute after they hung up. He didn’t have to imagine the gory details; he had seen too many murder scenes in all their bloody reality. He knew what a hammer or a baseball bat could do to the human head. He knew what multiple stab wounds looked like. And, like the sergeant, he knew that this murder had been perpetrated by someone who knew the victim because the attack had been personal; the face had been attacked. The multiple stab wounds were indicative of rage. And since most female murder victims were killed by someone they knew, usually the husband or boyfriend, or the ex-whatever, the odds were overwhelming that Ms. Dean’s boyfriend was the killer.

  He took a deep breath and dialed Jaine’s number again. When she answered, he said, “Do you know Marci’s boyfriend’s name?”

  She audibly inhaled. “Is she all right?”

  “I don’t know anything yet,” he lied. “Her boyfriend—?”

  “Oh. His name is Brick Geurin.” She spelled the last name for him.

 
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