Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

  “Is ‘Brick’ his real name or a nickname?”

  “I don’t know. ‘Brick’ is all I ever heard her call him.”

  “Okay, that’s enough. I’ll get back with you when I hear something. Oh—want to meet me for lunch?”

  “Sure. Where?”

  She still sounded scared, but she was holding together the way he had known she would. “I’ll pick you up, if you can get me through the gate.”

  “No problem. Twelve?”

  He checked his watch. Ten-thirty-five. “Can you make it earlier, say eleven-fifteen or so?” That would just give him time to get to Hammerstead.

  Maybe she knew, maybe she caught on then. “I’ll meet you downstairs.”

  She was waiting for him at the front of the building when the guard let him through the gate. She was wearing another of those long, lean skirts that looked like a million bucks on her, which meant there was no way she could climb into his truck without help. He got out and walked around to open the door for her. Her eyes were anxious as she studied his expression. He knew he was wearing his cop face, as emotionless as a mask, but she went white.

  He put his hands around her slender waist and lifted her into the truck, then walked back around to get behind the wheel.

  A tear slid down Jaine’s cheek. “Tell me,” she said, her voice choked.

  He sighed, then reached out and drew her into his arms. “I’m so sorry,” he said against her hair.

  She clutched his shirt. He could feel her shaking, and held her even tighter. “She’s dead, isn’t she,” she said in a trembling whisper, and it wasn’t a question.

  She knew.


  Jaine had cried so much her eyes were swollen almost shut. Sam had simply held her through the initial storm of weeping, parked in front of Hammerstead; then when she regained a bit of control, he asked, “Can you eat anything?”

  She shook her head. “No.” Her voice was thick. “I need to tell Luna … and T.J.—”

  “Not yet, honey. Once you tell them, it’ll be all over the building; then someone will call the newspaper or a radio or television station, and it’ll be all over the news. Her family hasn’t been notified yet, and they don’t need to hear it that way.”

  “She doesn’t have much family.” Jaine fished a tissue out of her purse, then wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “She has a sister in Saginaw, and I think an elderly aunt and uncle in Florida. That’s all I ever heard her mention.”

  “Do you know her sister’s name?”

  “Cheryl. I don’t know her last name.”

  “It’s probably in an address book at her house. I’ll tell them to look for a Cheryl in Saginaw.” He dialed a number on his cell phone, and spoke quietly to whoever answered on the other end, imparting the information about Marci’s sister.

  “I need to go home,” Jaine said, staring through the windshield. She reached for the door handle, but Sam stopped her, holding her in place with a firm hand on her arm.

  “No way are you driving right now,” he said. “If you want to go home, I’ll take you.”

  “But my car—”

  “Isn’t going anywhere. It’s in a secure place. If you need to go anywhere, I’ll drive you.”

  “But you might have to leave.”

  “I’ll handle it,” he said. “You aren’t driving.”

  If she hadn’t been so shattered, she would have argued with him, but tears welled again and she knew she couldn’t see to drive. Neither could she could go back inside; she couldn’t handle facing anyone right now, couldn’t handle the inevitable questions without breaking down. “I have to let the office know I’m going home,” she said.

  “Can you handle it, or do you want me to do it?”

  “I can,” she said, her voice trembling. “Just… not right now.”

  “Okay. Fasten your seat belt.”

  Obediently she buckled the belt around her and sat deathly still as Sam put the truck in gear and negotiated the freeway traffic. He drove silently, not intruding on her grief while she tried to accept that Marci was gone.

  “You—you think Brick did it, don’t you?”

  “He’ll be questioned,” Sam said neutrally. At this point, Geurin would be the number one suspect, but the evidence would have to support it. Even while you played the odds, you had to always be aware that the truth could go against the percentages. Who knows? They might find out Ms. Dean had been seeing someone else, too.

  Jaine began crying again. She put her hands over her face and sat hunched over, her shoulders shaking. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she managed to say, then wondered dully how many millions of other people said exactly the same thing during a crisis.

  “I know, honey.”

  He did know, she realized. In his job, he probably saw way too many scenes of this sort.

  “H-how did—? I mean, what happened?”

  Sam hesitated, reluctant to tell her Marci had been both bludgeoned and stabbed. He didn’t know the exact cause of death, hadn’t seen the crime scene, so he didn’t know if she had died from head trauma or if she had died from the stab wounds.

  “I don’t know all the details,” he finally said. “I know she was stabbed. I don’t know the time of death or anything.” Those three statements were true, without being anywhere close to the whole truth.

  “Stabbed,” Jaine repeated, and closed her eyes as if trying to visualize the crime.

  “Don’t,” he said.

  She opened her eyes and looked questioningly at him.

  “You were trying to imagine what happened, how she looked, if it hurt,” he said, more harshly than he intended. “Don’t.”

  She took a deep breath, and he expected her to lash out at him, transferring the focus of her grief and anger to him, but instead she nodded, trusting that he knew best. “I’ll try, but—how do I not think about it?”

  “Think about her instead,” he said, because he knew she would anyway. It was part of the grieving process.

  She tried to say something, her throat working, but tears welled up again, and she settled for a jerky nod. She didn’t say anything else all the way home to Warren.

  She felt old as she walked across their driveways to her house. Sam went with her, his arm around her, and she was grateful for his support as she ponderously climbed the steps to the kitchen door. BooBoo came meowing, tail twitching, as if asking why she was home so early. She leaned down to scratch behind his ears, taking comfort in the warmth of the sinuous body and the softness of his fur.

  She put her purse on the table and sank down in one of the kitchen chairs, holding BooBoo on her lap and stroking him while Sam called his sergeant and carried on a quiet conversation. She tried not to think about Marci, not yet. She did think about Luna and T.J., and the anxiety they must feel because they hadn’t yet heard from Marci. She hoped Marci’s sister was contacted soon, because when she reported off for the rest of the day, her friends would know something was dreadfully wrong. If they called here to check on her, she didn’t know what she would say or if she could even manage to talk to them.

  Sam set a glass of tea in front of her. “Drink it,” he said. “You’ve leaked enough to be dehydrated.”

  Impossibly, that earned a shaky smile. He kissed the top of her head, then sat down beside her with his own glass of tea.

  She put BooBoo down, sniffed, and blotted her eyes. “Exactly what did you tell everyone at the department about me?” she asked, just for something to talk about.

  He tried for an innocent look. On that rough-hewn face, it didn’t work very well.

  “Nothing much. Just that if you called, to tell you how to get in touch with me. I should have thought to give you my pager number anyway.”

  “Nice try,” she commented.

  “Did it work?”


  “Okay, I told them you cuss like a sailor—”

  “I do not!”

  “—have the sweetest ass this side of t
he Rocky Mountains, and if you called, to get in touch with me pronto because I’ve been trying to get you into bed and you might be calling to say yes.”

  He was trying to cheer her up, she thought. She felt her chin wobble. “That’s so sweet,” she managed to say, and burst into tears again. She hugged herself, rocking back and forth. This outburst was violent but short, as if mentally she couldn’t sustain such anguish for a long period of time.

  Sam scooped her onto his lap and held her head against his shoulder. “I told them you were special,” he murmured, “and that if you called, I wanted to talk to you no matter where I was or what I was doing.”

  That was probably a lie, too, she thought, but it was as sweet as the other one. She gulped and managed to say, “Even if you’re doing your task force stuff?”

  He paused. “Maybe not then.”

  Her head was aching from crying so much, and her face felt hot. She wanted very much to ask him to make love to her now, but she swallowed the words. As much as she needed the comfort and closeness, the affirmation of life, she wouldn’t feel right; their first time shouldn’t be under such circumstances. Instead she snuggled her face against his neck and inhaled his warm male scent, taking what comfort she could from his closeness.

  “What exactly does a task force do?”

  “Depends. Task forces are formed for different reasons.”

  “What does your task force do?”

  “It’s a multidepartment violent crimes task force. We apprehend violent criminals.”

  She didn’t like the sound of that. She was more comfortable thinking of him asking questions, writing stuff down in a little notebook; in short, detecting. Apprehending violent criminals sounded as if he was breaking down doors and stuff like that, and facing mean people who were likely to shoot at him.

  “I want to ask you some questions about that,” she said, lifting her head to frown at him. “But not right now. Later.”

  He blew out a relieved breath.

  He held her on his lap for quite a while. He held her close while she called the office and reported off for the rest of the day. She managed to keep her voice even, but Mr. deWynter wasn’t in and she had to talk to Gina, who was full of questions and also reported that both Luna and T.J. had called several times.

  “I’ll call them back,” Jaine said, and hung up. Miserably she buried her face against Sam’s shoulder again. “How long do I have to dodge them?”

  “At least until they aren’t at work. I’ll check with the sergeant at Sterling Heights to see if her sister has been contacted yet. And just don’t answer your phone; anyone who needs me will either page me or call on my cell phone.”

  Eventually she left the comfort of his lap and went to the bathroom to wash her face with cold water. She peered at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were red, and her entire face was puffy from crying; she looked like hell, and didn’t care. Wearily she changed into jeans and a T-shirt, and took two aspirin for her pounding head.

  She was sitting on the side of the bed when Sam came looking for her. He loomed in the doorway, big and masculine and utterly comfortable even in the feminine environs of her bedroom. He sat down beside her. “You look tired. Why don’t you take a nap?”

  She was tired, almost overwhelmingly so, but at the same time she didn’t think she could sleep. “At least lie down,” he said, seeing the doubt on her face. “And don’t worry; if you do go to sleep and I learn something, I’ll wake you up immediately.”

  “Scout’s honor?”

  “Scout’s honor.”

  “Were you ever a scout?”

  “Hell, no. I was too busy getting into trouble.”

  He was being so sweet she wanted to hug him to pieces. Instead she kissed him and said, “Thanks, Sam. I don’t know what I’d have done today without you.”

  “You’d have managed anyway,” he said, and returned the kiss with interest, but drew back before it could heat into anything serious. “Sleep if you can,” he said, and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

  She lay down and closed her burning eyes. Eventually the aspirin began to work on her headache, and when she opened her eyes, she realized that the afternoon had grown late. She looked at the clock in some astonishment; three hours had passed. She had slept after all.

  She had some treated eye pads for soothing tired and puffy eyes, so she placed two of them over her lids and rested for a little while longer, trying to muster some energy for the next few draining days. When she sat up and removed the eye pads, the puffiness was noticeably less. She brushed her hair and teeth, then wandered out to find Sam watching television with BooBoo asleep in his lap.

  “Any news?”

  He had considerably more details now than he had earlier, but none he wanted her to know. “The sister has been notified, and the press knows Marci’s identity now. It’ll probably be on the evening news.”

  Her face tightened with sorrow. “Luna? T.J.?”

  “I turned off your phones after you went to sleep. There are a couple of messages from them on your machine, though.”

  She checked the time again. “They’re on their way home from work now. I’ll try their numbers in a few minutes. I’d hate for them to hear it on television.”

  She had barely gotten the words out of her mouth when two cars pulled into her driveway: Luna’s Camaro and T.J.’s Buick. Jaine briefly closed her eyes, trying to brace herself for the next few minutes, and walked barefoot out onto the front porch to meet her friends. Sam came out behind her.

  “What’s going on?” T.J. half-yelled, her pretty face haggard with tension. “We can’t find Marci, you left work and won’t answer your telephone—damn it, Jaine …”

  Jaine felt her face start to crumple. She clamped a hand over her mouth, trying to hold back the sobs that convulsed her chest.

  Luna stopped in her tracks, tears welling. “Jaine?” she asked in a shaky voice. “What’s happened?”

  Jaine took several deep breaths, fighting for control. “It—it’s Marci,” she managed to say.

  T.J. paused with one foot on the first step. She clenched her hands, already beginning to cry even as she asked, “What is it? Is she hurt?”

  Jaine shook her head. “No. She—she’s dead. Someone killed her.”

  Luna and T.J. came to her in a rush, and they clung together, weeping for the friend they loved and had lost forever.

  Corin sat in front of the television, rocking back and forth as he waited, waited. For three days he had caught every newscast, but so far no one knew what he had done and he thought he would burst. He wanted the world to know the first of the four bitches was dead.

  But he didn’t know if she was the right one. He didn’t know if she was A, B, C, or D. He hoped she was C. C was the one who had said that awful thing about trying harder to be perfect. C was the one who really, really needed to die.

  But how could he make sure? He had called them, but one never answered her phone, and the other three wouldn’t tell him anything.

  But there was one he didn’t have to worry about now. One down and three to go.

  There! The newscaster, looking oh-so-serious, said, “A shocking murder in Sterling Heights takes the life of one of the Detroit area’s latest celebrities. Details when we return.”

  At last! Relief filled him. Now everyone would know they shouldn’t say such things about Mother’s perfect little man.

  He rocked back and forth, singing softly to himself. “One down and three to go. One down and three to go …”


  Finding Meldon Geurin, nickname “Brick,” didn’t take very long. A few questions led to his favorite bar, which led to the names of some of his friends, which led to the statement that, “Yeah, Brick, uh, he and his old lady, uh, had a fight or something, and I heard he’s crashing with Victor.”

  “What’s this Victor’s last name?” Detective Roger Bernsen asked very nicely, but even when he asked nicely, it came out sounding somehow like
a threat, because Detective Bernsen was about two hundred and fifty pounds tightly packed on a five-eleven frame, with a twenty-inch neck, a bullfrog voice, and an expression that said he was about an inch away from a ‘roid rage. He couldn’t help his voice, didn’t care about his weight, and practiced the expression. The total package was very intimidating.

  “Uh—Ables. Victor Ables.”

  “Any idea where Victor lives?”

  “In the city, man.”

  So the Sterling Heights detective contacted the Detroit P.D., and Meldon “Brick” Geurin was picked up and held for questioning.

  Mr. Geurin was in a surly mood when Detective Bernsen sat down to talk with him. His eyes were bloodshot and he stank of stale booze, so his surliness could perhaps be attributed to the wrath of grapes.

  “Mr. Geurin,” said the detective in a polite tone that nevertheless made Mr. Geurin flinch, “when did you last see Ms. Marci Dean?”

  Mr. Geurin’s head snapped up, a movement he seemed to regret. When he could speak, he said sullenly, “Thursday night.”

  “Thursday? Are you certain of that?”

  “Yeah, why? Did she say I stole something? She was there when I left, and if she says I took something of hers, she’s lyin’.”

  Detective Bernsen didn’t respond to that. Instead he said, “Where have you been since Thursday night?”

  “In jail,” Mr. Geurin said, even more sullenly than before.

  Detective Bernsen sat back, the only outward evidence of his astonishment. “Where were you in jail?”


  “When were you picked up?”

  “Thursday night sometime.”

  “And you were released when?”

  “Yesterday afternoon.”

  “So you spent three days as a guest of the city of Detroit?”

  Mr. Geurin smirked. “Guest. Yeah.”

  “What were the charges?”

  “Drunk driving, and they said I resisted.”

  All of that could easily be checked out. Detective Bernsen offered a cup of coffee to Mr. Geurin but wasn’t surprised when it was refused. Leaving Mr. Geurin alone, the detective stepped out to make a call to the Detroit P.D.

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