Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard


  The facts were as Mr. Geurin had stated them. From 11:34 P.M. Thursday night until 3:41 P.M. Sunday afternoon, Mr. Geurin had been in jail.

  As an alibi, it was tough to beat.

  Ms. Dean had last been seen alive when she and her three friends left Ernie’s on Friday night. Given the condition of the body and the progression of rigor mortis, factored in with the temperature in the climate-controlled house, Ms. Dean had been killed some time Friday night or Saturday morning.

  Mr. Geurin, however, was not the killer.

  That simple fact presented the detective with a more difficult puzzle than he had first assumed. If Mr. Geurin hadn’t done it, who had? So far they hadn’t turned up any other romantic relationships, no frustrated lover enraged by her refusal to leave Mr. Geurin. Since she and Mr. Geurin had, in effect, broken off their relationship on Thursday night, that theory didn’t fly anyway.

  But the attack had been a very personal one, characterized by rage, overkill, and the attempt to blot out the victim’s identity. The stab wounds were postmortem; the hammer blows had killed her, but the killer had still been in a rage and had resorted to the knife. The wounds had bled very little, indicating that her heart was no longer beating when she received them. The sexual attack had also been postmortem.

  Marci Dean had known her killer, had probably let him into the house, since there were no signs of forced entry. With Mr. Geurin out of the picture, the detective was back to square one.

  He would have to retrace her steps Friday night, he thought. Start at Ernie’s. Where had she gone from there? Had she hit a bar or two, maybe picked up some guy and taken him home with her?

  His brow creased in thought, he returned to Mr. Geurin, who was slumped in the chair with his eyes closed. He sat up when Detective Bernsen entered the room.

  “Thank you for your cooperation,” Detective Bernsen said politely. “I’ll arrange a ride for you if you need it.”

  “That’s it? That’s all you wanted to ask me? What’s this about?”

  Detective Bernsen hesitated. If there was one thing he hated doing, it was bearing the news of death. He could remember an army chaplain coming to the door in 1968 and advising the detective’s mother that her husband wouldn’t be returning alive from Vietnam. The memory of grief was seared on his brain.

  But Mr. Geurin had been put to some trouble in this matter and deserved an explanation. “Ms. Dean was attacked in her home—”

  “Marci?” Mr. Geurin sat upright, suddenly alert, his entire manner changed. “Is she hurt? Is she all right?”

  Detective Bernsen hesitated again, caught by one of those uncomfortable insights into human emotion. “I’m sorry,” he said as gently as possible, knowing the news would be more upsetting than he had previously supposed. “Ms. Dean didn’t survive the attack.”

  “Didn’t survive? You mean she … she’s dead?”

  “I’m sorry,” the detective said again.

  Brick Geurin sat stunned for a moment, then slowly began to collapse. He buried his unshaven face in his hands and sobbed.

  Her sister, Shelley, arrived on Jaine’s doorstep before seven the next morning. “I wanted to catch you before you went to work,” she said briskly when Jaine opened the kitchen door.

  “I’m not going to work today.” Jaine automatically took another cup from the cabinet and filled it with coffee, then passed it to Shelley. What now? She didn’t feel up to dealing with sisterly outrage.

  Shelley set the cup on the table and put her arms around Jaine, holding her close. “I didn’t hear about Marci until I caught the morning news, and I came right over. Are you okay?”

  Tears stung Jaine’s eyes again, when she had thought she couldn’t possibly cry any more. She should have been all cried out. “I’m okay,” she said. She hadn’t slept much, hadn’t eaten much, and felt as if only half her cylinders were firing, but she was dealing. As much as Marci’s death hurt now, she knew she’d get through this. The old saw about time marching on was an old saw precisely because it was so true.

  Shelley held her at arm’s length, studying her colorless face and raw, swollen eyes. “I brought a cucumber,” she said. “Sit down.”

  A cucumber? “Why?” Jaine asked warily. “What are you going to do with it?”

  “Put slices on your eyes, silly,” Shelley said in exasperation. She often sounded exasperated when dealing with Jaine. “It’ll make the swelling go down.”

  “I have some eye pads for that.”

  “Cucumbers are better. Sit down.”

  Because she was so tired, Jaine sat. She watched as Shelley took an enormous cucumber out of her shoulder bag and washed it, then looked around. “Where are your knives?”

  “I don’t know. One of the drawers.”

  “You don’t know where your knives are?”

  “Please. I haven’t lived here even a month yet. How long did it take you to get unpacked when you and Al moved?”

  “Well, let’s see, we moved eight years ago, so … eight years.” Humor sparkled in Shelley’s eyes as she began methodically opening and closing cabinet drawers.

  There was one hard rap on the kitchen door; then it opened before she could get up. Sam stepped into the kitchen. “I saw a strange car and came over to make sure no reporters were bothering you,” he said to Jaine. Legions of reporters had called the night before, including representatives from all four major television networks.

  Shelley turned around with the huge cucumber in her hand. “Who are you?” she asked bluntly.

  “Her neighbor the cop,” Sam said. He eyed the cucumber. “Have I interrupted something?”

  Jaine wanted to hit him, but she didn’t have the energy. Still, something in her lightened at his presence. “She’s going to put it on my eyes.”

  He gave her a sideways, you-gotta-be-kidding look. “It’ll roll off.”

  She decided she would definitely hit him. Later. “Cucumber slices.”

  His expression changed to skeptical, I-wanna-see-this. He went to the cabinet and took down another cup and poured himself some coffee. Lounging against the cabinets with his long legs crossed, he waited.

  Shelley turned to Jaine, more than a little bemused. “Who is this?” she demanded.

  “My neighbor,” Jaine said. “Shelley, this is Sam Donovan. Sam, my sister, Shelley.”

  He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

  Shelley shook hands, but she looked as if she didn’t want to. She resumed looking for a knife. “You live here three weeks, and you already have a neighbor who just walks in and knows where your coffee cups are?”

  “I’m a detective,” Sam told her, grinning. “It’s my job to find out stuff.”

  Shelley gave him her Queen Victoria look, the one that said she was not amused.

  Jaine thought about getting up and hugging him, just because he made her feel better. She didn’t know what she would have done without him yesterday. He had been a rock, standing like a wall between her and all the phone calls, and when Sam told someone to stop calling, there was a note in his voice that made people pay attention.

  But he wouldn’t be there today, she realized. He was dressed for work, in light tan slacks and a crisp white shirt. His pager was clipped to his belt, and his pistol rode on his right kidney Shelley kept eyeing him as if he were some exotic species, only half her attention on finding a knife.

  She finally opened the correct drawer, though, and pulled out a paring knife.

  “Oh,” Jaine said with mild interest. “So that’s where they are.”

  Shelley turned to face Sam, knife in one hand and cucumber in the other. “Are you sleeping together?” she asked in a hostile tone.

  “Shelley!” Jaine said sharply.

  “Not yet,” Sam said with utter confidence.

  Silence fell in the kitchen. Shelley began peeling the cucumber with short, vicious strokes of the knife.

  “You don’t look much like sisters,” Sam observed, as if he hadn’t just stoppe
d the conversation cold.

  They had heard that comment, or a version of it, their entire lives. “Shelley looks like Dad but has Mom’s coloring, and I look like Mom but have Dad’s coloring,” Jaine said automatically. Shelley was tall, almost five inches taller than Jaine, and lanky and blond. The blond hair was purchased, but looked good with Shelley’s hazel brown eyes.

  “Are you staying with her today?” Sam asked Shelley.

  “I don’t need anyone to stay with me,” Jaine said. “Yes,” said Shelley.

  “Run interference and keep the reporters away from her, okay?”

  “I don’t need anyone to stay with me,” Jaine repeated.

  “Okay,” Shelley said to Sam.

  “Fine,” Jaine said. “This is just my house. No one pay any attention to me.”

  Shelley whacked off two slices of cucumber. “Tilt your head back and close your eyes.”

  Jaine tilted and closed. “I thought I was supposed to lie down for this.”

  “Too late.” Shelley plopped the cold green slices on Jaine’s sore eyelids.

  Oh, that felt good, cold and moist and incredibly soothing. She would probably need an entire grocery bag full of cucumbers before Marci’s funeral was over, Jaine thought, and just like that the sadness was back. Sam and Shelley had pushed it away for a few moments, and she was grateful to them for the respite.

  “I got a call from the investigating detective,” Sam said. “Marci’s boyfriend, Brick, was in jail in Detroit from Thursday night until late Sunday afternoon. He’s in the clear.”

  “A stranger broke in and killed her?” Jaine asked, removing the cucumber slices and raising her head to look at him.

  “Whoever it was, there was no sign of forced entry.”

  She had read that much in the morning paper. “You know more than you’re telling, don’t you?”

  He shrugged. “Cops always know more than they tell.”

  And he wasn’t going to divulge any details; she could tell by the way his expression slipped into his cop mask. She tried not to imagine what those details might be.

  He drained his coffee and rinsed out the cup, turning it upside down on the drainboard. Then he bent down and kissed her, the pressure on her mouth warm and brief. “You have both my pager and cell phone numbers, so if you need me, call.”

  “I’m okay,” she told him, and meant it. “Oh—Do you know if Marci’s sister is here?”

  He shook his head. “She’s gone back to Saginaw. There’s nothing she can do here, yet. The house is still cordoned off, and an autopsy is required in murder cases. How long that will take depends on the M.E.’s workload. The funeral may not be until this weekend.”

  That was another detail she didn’t want to think about, Marci’s body lying on a refrigerated slab for several days.

  “I’ll go to work tomorrow, then. I’d like to help her sister with the arrangements, if she wants, but I don’t guess there’s anything to do yet.”

  “Not yet.” He kissed her again, then lifted her hands, still holding the cucumber slices, and replaced them on her eyelids. “Keep them there. You look like hell.”

  “Gee, thanks,” she said dryly, and heard him chuckle as he left.

  There was that silence again. Then Shelley said, “He’s different.”

  Different from Jaine’s three ex-fiancés, she meant. No joke. “Yeah,” she agreed.

  “This looks pretty serious. You haven’t known him for long.”

  If Shelley only knew! She was probably counting the entire three weeks Jaine had lived here. There was no telling what she would say if she knew that for the first two of those weeks Jaine had thought Sam was either a drunk or a drug dealer.

  “I don’t know how serious it is,” she said, knowing she was lying. “I’m not rushing into anything.” For her part, she couldn’t get much more serious. She was in love with the big jerk. Exactly how or what he felt was still open for discussion.

  “That’s good,” Shelley said. “The last thing you want is another broken engagement.”

  She could have gone all day without mentioning Jaine’s miserable track record, but then Shelley had never been noted for her tact. On the other hand, Jaine had never doubted that her sister loved her, which made up for a lot of tactlessness.

  The phone rang. Jaine removed the cucumber slices and reached for the cordless at the same time Shelley did. “Sam said for me to answer the phone,” Shelley hissed, as if whoever was calling could hear her.

  Ring.

  “Since when do you take orders from someone you just warned me against?” Jaine asked dryly.

  Ring.

  “I didn’t exactly warn—”

  Ring.

  Knowing the mini-argument could go on for half an hour, Jaine punched the “talk” button before the answering machine could pick up. “Hello.”

  “Which one are you?”

  “What?” she asked in astonishment.

  “Which one are you?”

  She disconnected and set the phone down, frowning.

  “Who was it?” Shelley asked.

  “A crank call. Marci, T.J., and Luna have been getting them since the List came out.” Her voice caught a little when she mentioned Marci. “It’s the same guy, he always says the same thing.”

  “Have you reported to the phone company that you’re getting obscene calls?”

  “They aren’t obscene. He says, ‘Which one are you?’ in this weird whisper. I guess it’s a guy, because it’s hard to tell when someone’s whispering.”

  Shelley rolled her eyes. “A crank call about the List? You can bet it’s a guy. Al says all the guys at work have been really ticked off about parts of it. I’ll let you guess which parts they don’t like.”

  “The parts having to do with their parts?” As if she had to guess.

  “Men are so predictable, aren’t they?” Shelley moved around the kitchen, opening drawers and doors.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Finding out where everything is so I won’t have to look for anything when I start cooking.”

  “You’re cooking? What?” For a slightly disjointed moment, Jaine wondered if Shelley had brought over the ingredients of whatever she planned to cook for her family’s supper that night. After all, she had pulled a gigantic cucumber out of her purse; God only knew what else was in there. A roast, maybe?

  “Breakfast,” Shelley said. “For us. And you’re going to eat it, too.”

  Actually, Jaine was hungry this morning, having skipped supper the night before. Did Shelley think she was crazy? No way was she going to argue with food. “I’ll try,” she said meekly, and replaced the cucumber slices on her eyes while her sister bustled around preparing made-from-scratch pancakes.

  Corin sat staring at the phone, feeling his disappointment wash through him in waves. She hadn’t told, either. At least she hadn’t snapped at him the way the others had. He had thought she would, had prepared himself for whatever she might say. She had a big mouth on her, as his mother would have said. He often disapproved of the way she talked at work, with all that cursing. His mother wouldn’t have liked her at all.

  He didn’t know what to do now. Killing the first bitch had been… so overwhelming. He hadn’t expected that wild, hot rush of joy, almost of ecstasy. He had gloried in it, but afterward he had been frightened. What would Mother do if she knew he enjoyed it? He had always been so afraid she would find out his secret pleasure at her punishments.

  But the killing … oh, the killing. He closed his eyes, swaying back and forth a little as he relived every moment of it in his mind. The shock in the bitch’s eyes that split second before the hammer hit her, the sodden thudding sounds, then the joy that leapt through his veins and the feeling of being all-powerful, of knowing she was helpless to stop him because he was so strong—Tears welled into his eyes, because he had enjoyed it so much and now it was over.

  He hadn’t enjoyed anything so much since the day he had killed Mother.

 
; No—don’t think about that. They said he shouldn’t think about that. But they said he should take the pills, and they were wrong about that, weren’t they? The pills made him go away. So maybe he should think about Mother.

  He went into the bathroom and checked in the mirror. Yes, he was still there.

  He had brought a tube of lipstick from the bitch’s house. He didn’t know why. After she was dead, he had walked around, looking at her things, and when he was in her bathroom checking himself in the mirror, he had noticed the ungodly amount of makeup strewn about the bathroom, covering every flat surface. The bitch had certainly believed in beautifying herself, hadn’t she? Well, she wouldn’t be needing this anymore, he had thought, and slipped the lipstick into his pocket. Since that night it had been sitting on the vanity in his bathroom.

  He uncapped the tube and twisted the bottom. The obscenely shaped crimson length poked out, like a dog’s penis. He knew what a dog’s penis looked like because he had—no, don’t think of that.

  Leaning forward, he carefully outlined his lips in bright red. He straightened and stared at himself in the mirror. He smiled, his red lips stretching over his teeth, and he said, “Hello, Mother.”

  twenty

  It was amazing, Jaine thought the next morning when she stepped onto the elevator at work, how her world could be so altered while most of the people who worked at Hammerstead were unaffected by Marci’s death. Of course Luna and T.J. were as grief-stricken as she, and the people in Marci’s department were sad and shocked, but most of the people she met on the way in had either not mentioned it at all or said something along the lines of, “Yeah, I heard about that. Awful, isn’t it?”

  The computer nerds, of course, were unaffected by anything that didn’t involve gigabytes. The elevator sign this morning read: NEW PRESS RELEASE BY THE FDA: RED MEAT IS NOT BAD FOR YOU. RESULTS OF TESTS SHOW IT IS FUZZY GREEN MEAT THAT IS BAD FOR YOU.

  Since fuzzy green meat sounded like the ordinary contents of the average computer nerd’s refrigerator, that notice probably had deep personal meaning for most of them, Jaine thought. On any other day, she would have laughed. Today she couldn’t summon up even a smile.

 
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