“He’s guilty!” A loud, booming voice cracked the early afternoon air.
for Marion Moore!”
“Cut!” Annie called from behind the cameraman. She turned and faced the small audience. “Guys, we need you to remain quiet while the camera is rolling.”
“Saul Moore is guilty!”
“It’s been forty years. He’s got to pay for what he did!”
“Because this man says so?” Marlee pointed toward Devon. The words were out of Marlee’s mouth before she could pull them back. Her chest tightened, her stomach hardened. She gave an impatient snort and turned to face the very people who had only recently told her they thought Saul was innocent. How quickly they’d changed their minds!
“Devon Reilly is here to make a TV show. God forbid facts should actually make their way into his show. He cares only about ratings and fame and—”
“He’s guilty! And he deserves to rot in jail.”
“If he was guilty, why would he stay in Burrawang Bend?” She spoke through clenched teeth with forced restraint. Her eyes landed on Leanne Olsen. “You stood in my store yesterday, telling me how you’d been wrong about Pops. What’s changed between then and now?”
Devon’s low, deep voice had Marlee whirling on her heel with her chin thrust out, her jaw tense. Max started to squirm in her arms. She held him tight, but he arched his spine, threw back his head, and dug his feet into her stomach.
“Down!” Max’s small hands pushed against her chest. “Down! Mama, down.”
But Marlee wasn’t going to let Max go. Not while the townspeople were seemingly out for blood. Moore blood.
As Devon stood before her, she inhaled deeply, and her nose filled with the scent of his cologne, which surely cost more than her monthly supermarket bill. Intentionally or not, the size of him invaded her space, and she fought the urge to take a step back. But she was determined to stand her ground, to let him know he did not intimidate her.
Her eyes narrowed as she continued to study him. Up close his eyes were as blue as the sky on a crisp winter day. His jaw was covered in tawny stubble. And the close-cropped hair around his temples had started to gray. He had the look of a romantic lead and the body of Thor.
Beneath his T-shirt, he was hiding a body she hadn’t been able to erase from her mind.
“What about the other suspects? In your piece to camera, you mentioned only my grandfather. You’ve totally dismissed the possibility of another suspect.”
She followed his gaze. In the space of only moments, the gathering had doubled. A few held placards calling for Pops’ arrest. Others continued to chant, “Guilty! Guilty!”
Max’s eyes filled with tears. He buried his head against her shoulder.
“Is there some place we can talk?”
“I’m not going to help you convict my grandfather.”
“I don’t need you to.” He flashed a grin that made Marlee want to slap his face. Hard. She wasn’t one of his fans who was going to go weak at the knees and cling to his every word. “But I do want to talk to you about your grandmother.”
“Dude, the light is going.” The cameraman called from the bottom of the steps. “And we’ve still got at least another two hours of filming.”
“I’m staying at the Holiday Inn Motel on Jacaranda Road. Meet me there at seven.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because you’re going to want to hear what I’ve got to say.”
“What makes you think I’ll show up?”
“Because you’re curious. After all, you showed up here, didn’t you?”
* * * *
Devon, in a cloud of steam, came out of the bathroom, his hair still damp from his shower, a towel wrapped around his hips. He picked up his mobile. No text or voice messages, but he had several missed calls mostly from his brother, Aiden.
He was not in the mood to deal with his brother, but he’d been avoiding his sibling for too long. He needed to man up and cop it on the chin. He hit the speed dial. Within two rings, his brother answered his call.
“I was beginning to think you were dead. I’m used to not hearing from you, but even you have to admit this stint of radio silence has been longer than usual.”
“I’ve been busy—”
“You need to stop choosing fame over your family.” Aiden’s words, abrupt and to the point, moved something near Devon’s heart. His gut clenched. “And do not insult my intelligence by saying that’s not what you’re doing. It’s been months since I’ve seen you. Care to tell me when you’ll next grace us with your presence?”
How could Devon even contemplate facing his family? Dan was dead because of him. And to make it worse, he had been unable to find his killer. That ate away at him and filled him with self-loathing. He focused on the day he could look his family in the eye and tell them he’d finally found who had killed Dan. Until then…
“Aiden, I’m in the middle of a case. I can’t talk about this now. We’ll speak later.”
He would deal with the guilt of cutting off his brother later. Right now he needed to focus all of his attention on trying to find out who killed Marion Moore.
He switched off his phone and crossed to the wall that had once displayed the mass-produced images that were found in motel rooms all over Australia. In their places, Devon had placed photos of Marion and Saul Moore that had been taken prior to the murder. Next to Saul’s photo, Devon had pinned a photo taken of him earlier in the day. He stood before the wall; his arms folded across his chest, and just stared at the photographs, silently pleading with them to start speaking to him.
He picked up his digital recorder to record the facts of the case so far.
Saul and Marion had been married for a little under two years. They had one child. A daughter. Marlee’s mother. She was only four months old when Marion died. On April second, Saul arrived home at approximately four thirty in the afternoon. He’d found Marion lying in a tub of water, and she appeared to be dead. Between her ankles was a hairdryer that was still plugged into the wall. Saul claimed he unplugged the hairdryer, took it from the tub and then drained the water. He then lifted his wife from the tub and laid her on the bathroom floor. He covered her with a large towel. And then he called his brother, Lloyd, who drove to the police station and raised the alarm.
“Because in nineteen seventy-three, triple zero had yet to be rolled out to rural communities like Burrawang Bend. If they wanted the police, they had to ring them direct. But why call his brother first? Why didn’t Saul raise the alarm himself or go to one of his neighbors?”
Phone records confirmed that the only call Saul made on the day of Marion’s death was to his brother, Lloyd.
Devon crossed to the flip chart he’d set up and re-read what he’d written.
Marion, according to family and friends and a letter from her lawyer, was looking to divorce Saul. Why? He was messing around on her. A lot. He’d cheated on her at least six times. But one woman he’d repeatedly cheated on Marion with was a woman named Cecilia.
Devon flicked through a sheath of papers until he found what he was looking for. A photocopy of a letter from Cecilia to Saul in which Cecilia talked to Saul about her desire to marry him. The letter was dated November 3, 1971.
Saul and Marion were married in late October of the same year.
“At least he gave his marriage a go.” He heard the sarcasm in his own voice.
Devon made a mental note to speak with Cecilia. And he wanted to find out more about Lloyd, Saul’s brother. What was his role, if any, in all of this? And where was he now?
A loud knock sounded on the door. He glanced at his watch. It was only 6:00. His stomach emitted a deep rumble as he made his way toward the door. Room service couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Hang on.” He secured the towel around his hips and opened the door to find Marlee. Her hair was loose, her cheeks slightly rouged, and she’d applied several shades of brown eyeshadow to her lids. She wore a floral sun dress. She was even more gorgeous than he’d first thought. The kid with the weird orange hair was hoisted on her hip. “You’re not a medium rare steak and chips.”
She simply looked at him, her brow arched.
“You’re early. I thought you were room service.”
“Oh. Sorry. Max was getting restless and so I took him for a drive, but we ended up here.” She swallowed hard as she eyed his naked chest. “You’ve been airbrushed.”
He felt himself redden. “No, I’m real. I like to work out—”
“No, I mean, the photos of you on the Internet. They’ve removed your scar.” She glanced toward the scar just beneath his ribs. The remnants of a long-healed stab wound.
“Oh.” He tugged on his ear. “Perfection sells magazines, I guess.” And as if he’d only just realized what she’d said, he tilted his head to the side and grinned. “You’ve been looking at pictures of me on the Internet?”
“Yeah, well, don’t flatter yourself. I was trying to find out as much about you as I could.”
“Know thy enemy.”
“Something like that.”
“But, really, Ms. Moore, I’m not the enemy.”
“It’s Marlee.” When an old piece of farming equipment noisily chugged past the motel Marlee said, “Well, you can bet me being seen on your doorstep and you being shirtless is going to be around town quicker than you can take your next breath. Can I come in?”
He stepped aside and allowed her entry. “Does no one drive cars here?”
She pointed to a ride-on mower out the front of the motel. “That’s how I got here.”
Her laugh, soft and husky, filled the room, and moved something near his heart. “I’m teasing you, city boy. You may be in the country but you’re still in the twenty-first century. Women are even allowed to vote here.”
As they stood in the center of the room, the silence settled between them. He cleared his throat and tapped his thumb and forefinger together. Marlee Moore made his mouth dry, his breath quicken. And when he looked at her it was to find her looking at him.
Marlee swallowed hard. “I think things would be a little less awkward if you went and put on some clothes.”
He blinked rapidly, cursed, and quickly crossed to the bathroom.
“Do you mind if Max sleeps on your bed?” Her voice stopped him mid-step. “If he doesn’t get to sleep soon, we’re going to hear how unhappy he is.”
She flashed him a smile and his heart began to suddenly pound. A warmth spread from his groin and throughout the rest of his body. Did he have time to take a cold shower? Would she think it weird if she heard the shower running?
He watched as she placed Max on his bed. She handed him one of those plastic books that could be taken into a bath, and Max immediately rolled onto his belly and started to turn the pages. Devon didn’t have the heart to tell the kid he was holding the book upside down.
When Marlee looked back at him, she raised her brow. “You’re still not dressed and it’s still awkward.”
He cursed again and headed into the bathroom. He pulled on a pair of jeans and a red T-shirt and splashed his face with cold water. But it did nothing to ease the burn he was feeling for Marlee Moore. He had a sudden urge to fuck her.
Get a grip, Reilly. You’re an ex AFP officer. You’ve been trained to take a bullet. A woman should not unnerve you.
But Marlee did.
When he finally came out of the bathroom, it was to find her standing before his flip chart and studying his comments. Shit
“What is this?” Her voice wavered, but she didn’t take her eyes from his notes. “You think Pops cheated on his wife? What kind of case are you attempting to build? Besides one that is built on lies.”
Damn. He hadn’t meant for her to see that. He moved toward her, and when he attempted to remove the pages from the flip chart, she placed her hand on his arm. He stilled. He wasn’t concerned she’d run and tell Saul what they had on him. Saul already knew what they had. He’d seen the evidence forty years ago. There was nothing new.
But he doubted Saul would have told Marlee what evidence they’d collected. It didn’t cast him in a positive light. Would Saul risk alienating the only person who believed in his innocence? Or did Marlee already know?
“Please.” She rubbed her palms down the side of her dress and cleared her throat. “I want to read what you’ve got.”
He stood to the side and folded his arms across his chest. He didn’t take his eyes from her as she read his scratchy writing. Her lips moved but she made no sound, even as her brow furrowed. She glanced at him and quickly returned her attention to his notes. She took a step backward and placed her hand across her breastbone. She blinked rapidly as if she was trying to process what she was reading.
Marlee Moore was either learning new things about her grandfather or she was an accomplished actress.
“Can you tell me what you’re thinking?” Devon kept his voice low. He moved a little closer but stopped when he saw her shoulders suddenly tense. He backed off and continued to watch her. “Thoughts? Feelings? What’s going through your mind?”
“If all of this is really true, then why hasn’t he been convicted?”
And that was the question that’d plagued Devon. Each time he re-read his notes, he was reminded he wasn’t looking at all of the facts. Something was missing. But what? Why wasn’t there enough evidence to serve justice?
Or was there really no case to solve? Had Marion Moore committed suicide, as Saul had said all along?
Marlee sat at the table and reached for his sheath of notes. Her teeth sank into her bottom lip as she flicked through the pages. What had Saul Moore told her about his early life? Had he filled Marlee’s head with lies? Or simply omitted what would make him look guilty?
She studied the letter from Thomas “Bluey” Williams, Marion’s lawyer.
“This is real?” She rubbed at her eyebrow and slowly shook her head. Her hand tremored as she replaced the letter on the table. “I know Bluey. Well, I know his son, Jason. Bluey died many years ago. A lawyer wouldn’t fabricate a document. Would they?”
“You’d hope not.” Devon remained where he stood. “You didn’t know your grandmother was looking to divorce your grandfather? In all of these years, Saul never mentioned it?”
Marlee slowly shook her head.
When most normal people lied, they showed signs of stress in their posture, movements, and facial expressions. Their voice rose in pitch, or their nostrils flared. They usually touched their face, especially around the mouth, as if they were trying to keep the untruths from spilling from their lips. But as Devon continued to study Marlee, he saw none of these signs.
Innocent? Or sociopath?
“I didn’t grow up with him. My mum and I left town when I was only eight. I grew up in London.”
“Your mum never mentioned it?”
“She never spoke about her father much. Their relationship was strained. Especially after she was diagnosed.” When she caught him looking at her, she shifted on the chair. “She had schizophrenia. I think it was difficult for Pops to have a relationship with her. It was difficult for all of us.”
Devon already knew that Marlee’s mother was diagnosed at age twenty-eight. Marlee was only fourteen and had been thrust into the role of caregiver. Her mother had died three years ago. Suicide.
“And you didn’t have a relationship with your grandfather?”
Marlee rubbed her arms. “He was more or less a stranger when I returned to Burrawang Bend two years ago. We’ve been getting to know each other ever since.”
Devon had been reading people for as long as he could remember, long before he’d joined the force. That skill had served him well and had yet to let him down. And the longer he spent with Marlee, the more convinced he was she had no idea her grandfather could potentially be a cold-blooded killer.
“You may think I’m an idiot for blindly defending a man I hardly know.” She closed her eyes for a moment before pulling back her shoulders and holding her head high. “But that man is my family. And aside from Max, he’s the only family I have.”
“Max’s father isn’t around? He’s not local?”
He saw the clenching of her fists, the rigidness to her spine. The fine hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end. Was Max’s father somehow involved with the case?
Marlee pressed her lips together. “Why do you need to know about Max’s father?”
Because the eyes I had on you before I stepped foot in town failed to mention you had a kid and I don’t want to be blindsided by an unknown player.
Devon leaned against the doorjamb. “Just trying to make conversation.”
Marlee frowned and made a deep sound in the back of her throat. The tension in her shoulders eased. “Oh. Well, Max’s father is in England. He’s British. And he has no interest in Max, if that’s where your questions are heading.” Marlee took her time in straightening the sheaves of paper. She cleared her throat, squishing her brows together. “Will our conversation end up in your show?”
He shoved away from the door and joined her at the table. He placed a bottle of water before her and reached for one for himself. “Whatever you tell me here will go no farther than these four walls.”
“Do you think I’m an idiot for defending Pops, since I know so little about him?”
“I think family is important to you.”
Marlee’s laugh was soft. She glanced toward Max who’d curled himself into a ball, his small thumb in his mouth, his eyes tightly closed. “Nice avoidance of answering the question, Reilly.”
“Years of practice, Moore.” He smiled and leaned back in his seat. “But no, I don’t think you’re an idiot.”
Her attention returned to the flipchart. “Pops was an insurance salesman?”
“Yes. And he had taken out several small life insurance policies on Marion.”
She glanced at him, her brow arched. “Several?”
“I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into that fact. Every insurance salesman I know says you can never have too much insurance.”
“You’ve written here he stood to gain at least a hundred thousand dollars upon her death. Fact or fiction?”
He took his time drinking from his bottle of water. He rubbed the back of his hand across his lips and exhaled. “Well, if her death was deemed an accident, then he stood to gain financially. A hundred thousand dollars in the early seventies was a considerable amount of money. And that is called motive.”
“It’s still considered a considerable amount of money. At least by me it is.” When she couldn’t loosen the lid of her water, he reached for it. Her gaze lingered on his. “When you were doing your piece to camera, I heard you say Pops had told people Marion had terminal cancer. Surely this would lead people to infer she might have committed suicide. If that was the case, then the insurance wouldn’t have paid out. There goes your motive, Reilly.”
He slid the opened bottle of water toward her.
“If Marion had cancer, then surely Pops is innocent.”
“It would certainly have the investigation looking in another direction. But, Marlee, there are no doctors or nurses or other health care professionals to support Saul’s claim Marion had terminal cancer. None of Marion’s friends confirmed she had cancer either. Surely, that would have been something she would have confided to her family and friends. It doesn’t make sense she would want to keep that to herself. Especially since she had a kid. She’d want to make preparations for her daughter.” He looked pointedly at her. “Your mother. And then there is the issue of the selective autopsy. If a complete autopsy had been performed, then we would have definitive proof of whether or not she had cancer.”
“Why wouldn’t the coroner examine all of Marion’s organs?”
“That’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. Within a day of the autopsy report being provided, Marion was cremated. An inquest was held, but the coroner could not make a decision as to whether or not Marion was murdered, if she committed suicide or if her death was an accident. Saul and other witnesses refused to give evidence. Hence, the open findings ruling. I’d like to question the coroner but I believe he died a couple of years after Marion.”
Marlee shifted on her seat. She tapped her fingers against the table, but she would not look at him. Was Marlee finally beginning to see the holes in Saul’s story?
“I have a copy of the signed statement in which Saul goes into great detail about Marion having terminal cancer. I can show it to you if you like.”
“I need to get Max home.” But she made no move to leave. Instead, she rubbed her hands along her thighs and sank her teeth into her lower lip. Her foot started to tap beneath the table. “There’s been a lot to take in. I need to process what I’ve learned tonight.”
She dragged herself to her feet. As she crossed to his bed, her steps were short and jerky. She turned to face him. He wanted to tell her not to go. Instead, he pressed his lips together.
“If I have questions, can I call you?”
Devon nodded. He retrieved his wallet and withdrew his card. She took it immediately.
Saul Moore had seemingly kept his head down and had stayed out of trouble for forty years. There’d been no reported unexplained deaths in or around Burrawang Bend. But Devon was in town to poke the bear. And an angry bear was a dangerous one.
“Marlee, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can ask you to be careful. Think twice if you’re going to confront him with what you’ve learned tonight.”
Devon stood at the door and watched Marlee and Max drive into the darkness. What was she heading to? Was she going to confront Saul with what she had learned?
He reached for his mobile and dialed Annie. She answered on the second ring. “Get a pair of eyeballs on Marlee Moore.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I think she may have just realized her grandfather is a murderer.”