Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

  Thank goodness for that. She had been out a lot of money lately, and her bank account was seriously shriveled.

  The telephone rang. It was one of the nonfeminine things that hadn’t been damaged, so Jaine picked it up. She never had gotten around to hooking up the Caller ID unit, she remembered, and the bottom dropped out of her stomach at the thought of answering without knowing in advance who was calling.

  It could be Sam, though, so she hit the talk button and put the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

  “Is this Jaine? Jaine Bright?”

  It was a woman’s voice, vaguely familiar.

  Relieved, she said, “Yes, it is.”

  “This is Cheryl… Cheryl Lobello, Marci’s sister.”

  Pain shot through her. That was why the voice sounded familiar; it reminded her of Marci’s. Cheryl’s voice lacked the smoker’s rasp, but the underlying tone was the same. Jaine gripped the phone tighter. “Marci talked about you a lot,” she said, blinking back the tears that hadn’t been very far away since Monday when Sam had told her about Marci’s death.

  “I was going to say the same thing to you,” Cheryl said, managing a sad little laugh. “She was always calling to tell me some remark you had made that cracked her up. She talked about Luna a lot, too. God, this doesn’t seem real, does it?”

  “No,” Jaine whispered.

  After a choked silence, Cheryl marshaled her control and said, “Anyway, the medical examiner has released her b-body to me, and I’m making the funeral arrangements. Our parents are buried in Taylor, and I think she would want to be close to them, don’t you?”

  “Yes, of course.” Her voice didn’t sound like Marci’s, Jaine thought; it was too thick with tears.

  “I’ve arranged for a graveside service Saturday at eleven.” Cheryl gave her the name of the funeral home and instructions on how to get to the cemetery. Taylor was south of Detroit and just east of Detroit Metro airport. Jaine wasn’t familiar with the area, but she was really good at following instructions and stopping for directions.

  She tried to think of something to say that would lessen Cheryl’s pain, but how could she when she couldn’t even lessen her own?

  Then it hit her, what she and Luna and T.J. should do. Marci would love it.

  “We’re going to hold a wake for her,” she blurted. “Would you like to come?”

  “A wake?” Cheryl sounded taken aback. “An Irish wake type of thing?”

  “Kind of, though we aren’t Irish. We’re going to sit around and lift a beer or two in her honor, and tell all sorts of stories about her.”

  Cheryl laughed, this time a real laugh. “She would get a kick out of that. I’d love to come. When is it?”

  Since she hadn’t talked to Luna and T.J. about it yet, she wasn’t certain exactly when this wake would begin, but it would have to be Friday night. “Tomorrow night,” she said. “Let me get back to you with the time and place—unless you think the funeral home would let us sit up with her and have it there?”

  “I kind of don’t think so,” Cheryl said, and sounded so much like Marci that Jaine got a lump in her throat all over again.

  After writing down Cheryl’s number, Jaine went over to Sam’s and got the bag containing her Caller ID unit and new cell phone, which she hadn’t even turned on yet.

  She sat at the table and carefully read the instructions, frowned, then wadded them into a ball and threw them in the trash. “It can’t be that complicated,” she muttered. “Just hook this thing between the line and the phone. How else would it work?”

  Looked at logically, it was simple enough. She unplugged the phone from the wall jack, took the phone wire provided with the unit, and hooked the unit to the jack, then connected the phone to the unit. Presto bingo. Then she went over to Sam’s house and dialed her number to see if the thing worked.

  It did. When she pressed the display button, Sam’s name popped up in the little window, with his number under it. Man, technology rocked.

  She had a list of calls to make, and the first one was to Shelley. “I need you to take BooBoo for the rest of Mom and Dad’s vacation,” she said.

  “Why?” asked Shelley belligerently, her hurt feelings evident.

  “Because my house was vandalized last night and I’m afraid BooBoo will be hurt.”

  “What?” Shelley fairly shrieked. “Someone broke into your house? Where were you? What happened?”

  “I was with Sam,” Jaine said, and left it at that. “And the house was pretty well trashed.”

  “Thank God you weren’t at home!” Then she paused, and Jaine could hear her sister’s thoughts churning. Shelley wasn’t slow. “Wait a minute. The house has already been trashed and BooBoo wasn’t hurt, was he?”

  “No, but I’m afraid he might be.”

  “You expect them to come back and trash your house again?” Shelley was shrieking again. “It’s that List, isn’t it? You have a bunch of crazies after you!”

  “Just one, I think,” Jaine said, and her voice caught.

  “Oh, my God. You think the man who killed Marci broke into your house? That’s what you think, isn’t it? Jaine, my God, what are we going to do? You have to get out of there. Come stay with me. Stay in a hotel. Something!”

  “Thanks for the offer, but Sam beat you to it, and I feel safe with him. He has a gun. A big one.”

  “I know; I saw it.” Shelley was silent a moment. “I’m scared.”

  “So am I,” Jaine admitted. “Sam’s working on it, though, and he has a couple of leads. Oh, by the way, we’re getting married.”

  Shelley began shrieking again. Jaine took the phone away from her ear. When there was silence again, she put the phone back and said, “The tentative date is the day after Mom and Dad get back.”

  “But that’s only three weeks! We can’t get everything done! What about the church? What about the reception? What about your gown?”

  “No church, no reception,” Jaine said firmly. “And I’ll find a gown. I don’t have to have one made for me; one off the rack will do fine. I have to go shopping anyway, because the creep cut up most of my clothes.”

  More shrieking. She waited until Shelley’s outrage died down. “Hey, let me give you my new cell phone number,” she said. “You’re the first one.”

  “I am, huh?” Shelley sounded fatigued from all her shrieking. “What about Sam?”

  “Even he doesn’t have it.”

  “Wow, I’m honored. You forgot to give it to him, didn’t you?”


  “Okay, let me get a pen.” There were rustling noises. “I can’t find one.” More noises. “Okay, shoot.”

  “You found a pen?”

  “No, but I have a can of Cheez Whiz. I’ll write your number on the counter with it, then find a pen and copy it.”

  Jaine recited her number and listened to the spewing noise as Shelley Cheez-Whizzed it on her coun-tertop.

  “Are you at home, or at work?”

  “At home.”

  “I’ll come pick up BooBoo now.”

  “Thanks,” Jaine said, relieved that worry was taken off her hands.

  Next she called Luna and T.J. at work, and did the three-way calling thing. They fussed over her, too, and she could hear the underlying knowledge in their voices that it could have happened to them. As Jaine had expected, they loved the idea of a wake for Marci. Luna immediately volunteered her apartment, and the time was set. She gave them her cell phone number, too.

  “I have something to tell both of you,” T.J. said, keeping her voice low. “But not while I’m here.”

  “Come by when you get off work,” Jaine said. “Luna, can you make it?”

  “Sure. Shamal called again, but I’m not in the mood to go out with him, not with Marci—” She stopped, and audibly swallowed.

  “You shouldn’t go out with him anyway,” Jaine said. “Remember what Sam said: family only. That means no dates.”

  “But Shamal isn’t—” Luna stopped hersel
f again. “This is awful. I can’t be certain, can I? I can’t take the chance.”

  “No, you can’t,” T.J. said. “None of us can.”

  No sooner had Jaine hung up from talking with her friends than the phone rang. Al’s name and number popped up in the little window. She picked up the phone and said, “Hi, Shelley.”

  “You finally got Caller ID,” Shelley said. “Listen, I think we should call Mom and Dad.”

  “If you want to tell them I’m getting married, fine, though I’d rather do it myself. But don’t even think about telling them to come home because of this crazy guy.”

  “This crazy guy is a killer, and he’s after you! You don’t think they would want to be here?”

  “What could they do? And I don’t intend to let him get me. I’m having an alarm system installed, and I’m staying with Sam. Mom and Dad would just be worried, and you know how Mom has looked forward to this vacation.”

  “They should be here,” Shelley insisted.

  “No, they shouldn’t. Let them enjoy this. You think I’d let a crazy guy stand between me and my wedding? This one is going to go through if I have to hog-tie him and drag him to the altar. Or whatever,” she added, remembering that it wasn’t going to be a church wedding.

  “You’re trying to distract me, and it isn’t working. I want to call Mom and Dad.”

  “I don’t, and it’s my situation, so what I say goes.”

  “I’m going to tell David.”

  “You may tell David, but no one, absolutely no one, is to tell Mom and Dad. Promise me, Shel. No one in your family, no one in David’s family, neither friend nor foe, is to tell Mom and Dad about this. Or send them an express letter. Or a telegram, E-mail, or any other form of communication, including skywriting. Have I covered all the bases?”

  “I’m afraid so,” Shelley said.

  “Good. Let them enjoy their vacation. I promise I’ll be careful.”

  Sam got a call from Laurence Strawn early in the afternoon. “I’m leaving myself wide open for a lawsuit for invasion of privacy,” he said. “But a court order would take time and might alert the guy, so to hell with it. If this gives you an edge, then it’s worth a hundred lawsuits.”

  Sam definitely liked this guy.

  “Check your E-mail,” Strawn continued. “It’s a hell of an attachment, it will probably take quite a while to download.”

  “That was fast.”

  “Ms. Yother has incentive,” said Strawn, and hung up.

  Sam turned to his computer and downloaded his E-mail. When he saw how many Ks of RAM the attached file took, he winced. “I hope I have the memory,” he muttered, then clicked on the attachment and opened the file.

  Thirty minutes later, it was still downloading. He drank some coffee, did some paperwork, called Bernsen and told him he had the personnel files, drank some more coffee. Bernsen was on his way over to get a copy, and Sam hoped the damn thing finished downloading before he arrived.

  Finally the screen cleared. He loaded the paper tray in the printer and set it to printing. When the tray was empty, he loaded it again. Damn it, going through this many files would take forever, even if he and Bernsen didn’t have other cases to work and could concentrate on this. It looked as if he would be doing a lot of night reading.

  The printer ran out of toner. Cursing, Sam stopped the task, hunted down a toner cartridge, and was doing battle with it when one of the clerks took pity on him and popped it in place. The printer resumed spitting out pages.

  Bernsen arrived, and they sat together watching the printer. “I’m tired just looking at this,” Bernsen said, eyeing the enormous stack of paper.

  “You take half and I’ll take half. We’ll run the names, see what the computer spits out.”

  “Thank God we only have to do the men.”

  “Yeah, but the computer industry is heavily male. Most of these files are on men; it’s not a fifty-fifty split.”

  Bernsen sighed. “I wanted to watch the ball game tonight.” He paused. “I got the M.E.’s report on Ms. Dean. No sperm.”

  Sam wasn’t really surprised. In a lot of sexual abuse cases there weren’t any sperm present, either because the perpetrator used a condom—some actually did—or because he didn’t ejaculate. It would have been nice to have the DNA for positive identification, just in case they needed it.

  “He did find a hair, though, that wasn’t Ms. Dean’s. I’m impressed he spotted it, because Ms. Dean was blond, and so is this guy.”

  A wolfish smile spread across Sam’s face. A hair. Just a single hair, but it gave them the DNA they needed. The case was slowly coming together. A partial shoe print, a single hair; it wasn’t much to go on, but they were making progress.


  When Sam got home that afternoon, both T.J. and Luna were just going in his front door. That meant Jaine was in his house, rather than hers. He liked that. He hoped she was making herself comfortable, because he didn’t intend to let her sleep in her own house until after he had caught Marci’s killer, and maybe not even then. Having her around was way too much fun to give up, even temporarily.

  The day was miserably hot, and sweat crawled down his spine as he went inside. He put the heavy stack of paper, half of the printed-out personnel files from Hammerstead, on the coffee table, then stood for a minute inhaling the blessedly cool air. With his lungs rescued from heat damage, he shrugged out of his jacket and followed the noise into the kitchen.

  Jaine was pouring four glasses of iced tea, which meant she had seen him drive up.

  “You’re just in time,” she said.

  He removed his pistol and badge and laid them on the counter next to the coffeemaker. “For what?” He took one of the glasses of tea and drank deeply, his throat working.

  “We’re planning a wake for Marci. Her sister, Cheryl, is going to come.”

  “Where and when?” he asked briefly.

  “Tomorrow night, at my apartment,” said Luna.

  “Okay. I can be there.”

  Looking startled, Jaine said, “But if we’re all together, aren’t we safe?”

  “Not necessarily. You could just be providing him with a golden opportunity to get all of you at once. I won’t intrude, but I’ll be there.”

  Jaine snorted. If Sam was anywhere around, he intruded. He was one of those people you couldn’t ignore.

  T.J. slanted a meaningful look at him. “Before we get started, I have news.”

  “I have news,” said Jaine.

  “So do I,” said Sam.

  They all waited. No one said anything. Luna finally spoke up. “Since I’m the only one who doesn’t have news, I’ll direct this.” She pointed at T.J. “You go first. You’ve had my curiosity up since we talked on the phone.”

  T.J. raised her eyebrows at Sam, and he knew she was asking if it was all right to tell the other two what she had been doing. Since she would have told them anyway if he hadn’t shown up, he said, “Go ahead.”

  “I made copies of all the personnel files for Mr. Strawn,” she said. “He said a certain detective had asked to see them, and he was granting permission.”

  Three sets of eyes turned in his direction.

  He made a face. “I brought a lot of paperwork home with me. We’re running all the names for prior convictions or outstanding warrants, too.”

  “How long will that take?” Jaine asked.

  “If nothing pops up on the computer to point us in the right direction, we’ll have to go through all the files and see if something sticks out, maybe dig deeper.”

  “A day? Two days?” she prodded.

  “You’re an optimistic little cuss, aren’t you?” He took a long swallow of the cold tea.

  Luna made a T with her hands, signaling a timeout, then pointed at Sam. “Your turn.”

  “The M.E. found a blond hair on Marci that wasn’t hers.”

  The three women went very still, and he knew their minds were racing, trying to think of all the blond men at Hamm
erstead. “Does anyone spring to mind?” he asked.

  “Not really,” Jaine said. “And what you call blond, we might call light brown.” She looked at the others, who shrugged. “There are a lot of guys at work who qualify.”

  “Don’t drop your guard,” he warned. “She might have picked up the hair somewhere else. It’s a lead, and when we catch him, if the DNA matches, then we have him nailed. Just be extra careful around the blond guys.”

  “That’s a cheerful thought,” Luna said glumly. “I think I’m the only brunette in sales.”

  “I’m going to go through the files by department, starting with accounting, since Marci was the first target. By the way,” he said to T.J., “thanks for giving them to me broken down into the separate departments.”

  She gave him a wry look. “Anything I can do to help.”

  Luna directed the conversation again, pointing at Jaine. “It’s your turn.”

  Jaine took a deep breath. After three broken engagements, she had to brace herself to announce that she intended … again … to get married. She glanced at Sam, and he winked at her.

  “SamandIaregettingmarried,” she said in a rush, running the words together as if they would attract less attention that way. What the gods didn’t notice, they couldn’t squash.

  Sam put his fingers in his ears to block out the squeals that erupted. T.J. hugged Jaine. Luna hugged Sam. Then they somehow all ended up hugging each other. The circle was too small without Marci, Jaine thought, but she refused to let tears ruin this little celebration. Life went on. It was sadder without Marci, emptier, but it went on nevertheless.

  “How? I mean, when?” T.J. asked.

  “In three weeks, when her folks get home,” Sam replied. “I was thinking maybe in a judge’s chambers, but my family would never fit, and they’ll all want to be there.”

  “Maybe a park,” Jaine said.

  “Why a park? Someone’s house should be large enough. My folks have a big place; they had to have, with seven kids.”

  She cleared her throat. “Well, there’s my family, your family, T.J. and Luna, your cop friends, and I kind of … um … invited everyone on the street.”

  “Well, yeah,” he said. “George and Sadie would have to come, and Eleanor, and … and, goddamn it, our small wedding is already up to about a hundred people, isn’t it?” he finished in a frustrated tone.

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