“That it?” he asked, wanting to end the conversation.
She pursed her lips. “A few months after the murder, I met with Frank Bliss. I’d hoped to learn something the police hadn’t—stupid, I know—but…” She took a few steps, then turned back to face him, her expression defiant. “Ever since, I’ve felt that boy knew more than he’d told.”
“You ‘felt’?” Even though Cade’s career as a profiler centered on building a whole loaf from discarded chaff, he’d learned to distrust the I felt phrase—so often too close to its sister phrase, I wish, to be worthwhile.
“I figured you’d glom on to that word, but regardless, I’ll stand by it. Frank Bliss was either lying or not telling everything he knew.”
“If you consider his mother was brutally murdered—literally before his eyes—why would he lie? What do you think he’d gain from it?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “But ever since the murder, Frank Bliss has been in jail more than he’s been out. I suspect he lies for all kinds of reasons.”
“And his brother?”
Stan answered. “Dead. Knifed in an alley after a fight in some club. About three years after the murder.”
“Unlucky family,” Cade said. “A good psychologist might say it was his mother’s murder that turned Frank bad in the first place.”
“He’d be wrong,” Susan said, “because Frank didn’t like his mother.”
“He told you that?”
“He didn’t have to. It was in his face, in his eyes. I think he was happy she was dead.”
“Even if you’re right, it doesn’t prove—”
She stopped him with a raised hand, her eyes coal hard and direct. “If he didn’t care about his mother, he certainly wouldn’t care about a sixteen-month-old baby. Whatever his reasons, I think he lied.” She waved her hand in a frustrated action, her voice rose. “Maybe he killed his mother, maybe the lies were to protect himself, or his kid brother—”
“That’s a lot of maybes, Susan.” Cade said quietly. “Besides, you said the police checked Brett’s alibi.”
“They could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
The room went quiet, and Stan arched a brow and looked at Cade, his expression bordering on sympathetic. “Susie hasn’t let this case go since she found out about Josh. She’s not about to stop now,” he said.
Maybe not, but Cade knew they’d stepped hip deep into the realm of conjecture and magical thinking on a murder that occurred fifteen years ago. “It’s a waste of time. Mine and yours,” Cade said. He hadn’t left WSU to get mired in someone else’s problem, someone else’s grief—or to work a case with a serious case of freezer burn. He’d walked this walk before. Swampland in a fog. “I’m sorry,” he said again, more firmly this time. “I can’t help you.”
Again the room fell to silence, broken finally by Susan’s heavy sigh.
“I didn’t want to do this,” she said. “But you leave me no choice.” She met his eyes, her gaze unwavering. “You do this for me, Cade, and I’ll forget what your mother owed me, which over the years came to over sixty-five thousand dollars.”
She might as well have hit him in the gut with a two-by-four. His breath swooshed out, then he shook his head, muttered, “Son-of-a-bitch.”
“No,” Susan stated in a clear, measured tone. “I’m the mother of a dead daughter who’s missing her grandson. Sons-of-bitches don’t even come close.”
The man was coming out of the office as she approached. The big yellow dog, who’d been sitting outside the door, got up, wagging its tail and wiggling its rear end as if he’d been abandoned for a month rather than the few minutes it had taken for his owner to check in.
There were three steps up to the office door. From the bottom one, she said, “Friendly?” And nodded at the dog.
The man smiled and patted the dog’s head. “A teddy bear, especially if there’s food around.”
“Does he have a name?” She ran a hand along the silky fur on his back. She really should get a dog… if she stayed.
“Redge.” He shifted his gaze from the dog and met hers. “What about you?”
Her nerves jangled, and she tucked her hands in the pockets of her overalls. “Me?” she said, sounding confused and stupid and knowing she was neither.
“Name. Do you have one?”
She pulled her hands from her pockets, stuck one out straight as a lance, and said, “Addy Michaels. I’m the owner of Star Lake.”
She wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw him blink a couple of times, his eyes sharpen. He definitely hesitated before taking her hand, then smiled as if he was obliged to, kind of cool and polite. “Addy. I’m Cade Harding. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. I take it you’ll be staying with us?” She dropped to one knee to pet the dog, and get out from under his eyes, which suddenly seemed a bit too intense.
He didn’t smile this time, but he did tilt his head a bit. Her nerves skittered again when his gaze fixed on her. “As destinations go this will do just fine.”