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There are people who like change. There are even a few who thrive on it. That's not me. If it were, I wouldn't have reupholstered my ten-year-old recliner, and I wouldn't resole my shoes until they're half-a-size smaller than they were to begin with. When I move into a house or, as in the present case, into a high-rise condo, I'd better like the way I arrange the furniture the first time because that's the way it's going to stay until it's time to move someplace else. In fact, my aversion to change probably also accounts for my Porsche 928. George Washington's axe, with two new handles and a new head, probably doesn't have much to do with our first president. And my replacement Porsche doesn't have a lot of connection to Anne Corley, the lady who gave me the original. Still it's easier to hang on to the one I have now out of sentimental reasons than it is to admit that I just don't care to make the switch to a different car.
In other words, I'm a great believer in the status quo. It also explains why, on the Monday morning after Beverly Piedmont and I drove home from Lake Chelan, I came back to work expecting things at Seattle PD to be just the way they had been. And to begin with, there was no outward sign of change. Sue Danielson and I walked into our cubicle to discover a yellow Post-it note attached to the monitor of the desktop computer we share when we're in the office as opposed to the laptops we're supposed to use in the field.
"See me," the note said. "My office. Nine sharp."
There was no signature. On the fifth floor of the Public Safety Building, no signature wasnecessary. Captain Lawrence Powell has never made any bones about hating electronics in general and computers in particular. His idea of surfing the net is to go around the Homicide Squad slapping Post-it notes on every computer in sight.
Sue sighed. "What have we done now?" she asked, glancing at her watch. At 8:02, there was no reason to hurry to Larry Powell's fishbowl of an office. If we were going to be chewed out for something, I'm of the opinion later is always better than earlier.
"Who knows?" I said. "But remember, whatever it was, I was out of town most of last week, so it can't be my fault."
"You'd be surprised," Sue returned.
Sitting down at the desk I removed the note and turned on the computer. In typical bureaucratic fashion, when the department finally decided to create a local-area network and go on-line, they bought computers from the lowest possible bidder. As a consequence, they take for damned ever to boot up. I tapped my fingers impatiently and stared at the cyberspace egg timer sitting interminably in the middle of an otherwise blank blue screen.
"Probably has something to do with that well done smoker who set herself on fire last Tuesday," I suggested.
"Oh," Sue said. "That's right. I forgot. You missed it."
I didn't like the sound of that "Oh." My antenna went up. "Missed what?" I asked.
"Marian Rockwell's preliminary report."
Marian Rockwell is one of the Seattle Fire Department's crack arson investigators. "Agnes Ferman's death is no longer being considered accidental," Sue continued. "Marian found residue of an accelerant on Agnes Ferman's bedding."
Smokers die in their beds all the time in their beds or on their sofas. As far as I was concerned, arson seemed like a real stretch.
"What did she do, dump her fighter fluid while she was refilling her Zippo? Right. The next thing you're going to tell me is that Agnes Ferman is Elvis Presley's long-lost sister."
Sue scowled at me. "Don't pick a fight with me about it, Beau," she said. "I'm just telling you what Marian told me. You can believe it or not. It's no skin off my teeth either way. It's all there in the report I wrote up Friday morning."
Squabbling with my partner in the face of an imminent and possibly undeserved chewing out from the captain more or less took the blush-off the morning. Up till then, it had seemed like a fairly decent Monday.
"So what else did you do while I was gone?" I asked.
"On Ferman? Not much. I counted and inventoried all the money and..."
"Money? What Money?"
"The three hundred some-odd thousand in cash we found hidden in a refrigerator in Agnes Ferman's garage. I had planned on starting the neighborhood canvass and talking to her next of kin, but counting that much cash takes time. Agnes has a sister who lives up around Marysville and a brother and sister-in-law in Everett. That's about all I know so far. I haven't had a chance to track any of them down. The same goes for neighbors. Marian interviewed some of them the one who reported the fire but so far nobody's really canvassed the neighborhood."
Cash or no cash, homicides come with a built-in timetable. A murder that isn't solved within forty-eight hours tends to not be solved at all. As with any rule, there are exceptions, but the chances are, the longer a case remains unsolved after that deadline, the worse the odds are that it will ever be cleared. Next-of-kin and neighbor interviews are where investigations usually start. The fact that no interviews had taken place so far wasn't good. Furthermore, since my whole purpose in life is to see that killers don't get away with murder, I wasn't the least bit pleased by the seemingly unnecessary delay.
"Great," I fumed. "That's just great. Our case goes stale while all those concerned stand around twiddling their thumbs."
Sue shot me an icy glare. "I don't suppose you watched the news when you were east of the mountains." Breach of Duty
. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.