Searching for Sarah

Searching for Sarah

by Lynn Erickson

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780515126990
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/01/1999
Pages: 1
Product dimensions: 4.08(w) x 6.74(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Jake Savelle sat, legs splayed, in his favorite chair, the only valuable thing salvaged from his divorce, and stared out the window overlooking downtown Denver.

    He was alone in his two-room dump and he let his body slump, let his face fall into the vacant lines of depression. Out in public he faked it, defending himself against pity, but at home it was too damn hard.

    His mind took the familiar path, ruts worn deep in it after eighteen months, and with the perfect vision of hindsight, he pinpointed the exact moment he'd begun his fall from grace: the night someone had pumped two bullets into Scott Taylor's brain.

    He rubbed the scratchy five o'clock shadow he was too apathetic to shave and turned his head. Outside it was a brilliantly clear March day, the sun poised to drop below the snow-covered Rockies to the west of Denver. At least he had the view. Okay, so it was only a wedge of splendor between two apartment buildings, but it was his wedge.

    Peaches' chewed-up tennis ball rested against a chair leg on the rust-colored shag carpet, and Jake picked it up, idly bounced it on a kneecap while he stared at the sun glinting off the peaks of the Continental Divide. Vail was right there, just beyond that tallest peak. He wondered what the skiing was like in the Back Bowls. Most likely great. Bottomless, untouched powdery snow that would part before his skis and billow up behind in the champagne-dry air. He and Shayne used to love the Bowls. They used to throw all their ski gear into their spanking new Range Rover—their biggolden retriever, Peaches, jumping in on top of it—and take off for their Vail condo every weekend they could steal from their busy law practice.

    Used to. Now the condo was sold, the profits split. Shayne had the Denver house, the Range Rover, and Peaches, because Jake wasn't allowed to keep pets in his apartment. He sneaked her in on weekends, though, when the landlord wasn't around. You might think the place was in ultra-chic lower downtown next to Coors Field, for chrissakes. A pricey "LoDo" loft.

    He threw the tennis ball across the cluttered room and avoided looking at the stacks of legal briefs that awaited his attention on the coffee table.

    His former energy and passion for the law had evaporated. Sure, he appreciated the paralegal work a few old lawyer friends threw his way, but that was only marking time. It paid the bills. Frankly, he didn't know which was worse, being treated like a charity case or the humiliation he still suffered from his disbarment.

    Jake must have dozed then, because the next thing he knew he jerked to consciousness. The light in the room was dim and golden, and someone was knocking at his door. He unfolded himself stiffly, stood and ran a hand through his hair. Napping. With the table piled high with unfinished briefs, he was goddamn napping. Sleeping too much—a sure sign of depression.

    The instant Jake pulled open the door and saw David Carmichael he was filled with dread. "Shit," he said.

    But the cop only gave a tired laugh. "No, no, Nina's okay." And he strode in past Jake and headed to the fridge, where he pulled out a can of beer and popped it open.

    Jake leaned a shoulder against the door and eyed his friend, trying to gauge the man's body language, much the way he once would have assessed a prospective juror. Like Jake, David was a tall man, six-foot-one, though he was twenty pounds lighter than Jake, who somehow managed to keep his muscle tone, forcing himself out the door every morning to take a jog around the Capital Hill neighborhood. And, like Jake, David was still an attractive man approaching his forties, though Jake had almost all his hair, and Rogaine was miserably failing David.

    Nina's cancer was taking its toll on her husband.

    It was in David's carriage, in the sag of his thin shoulders, in the rhythm of his stride. Being forced to face his wife's mortality was a damn heavy weight.

    Jake followed his lead and took a beer out of the fridge. "So," he said, "the surgery went all right?"

    "Yes and no. I mean, they haven't found any new cancer, but she had a bad reaction to the anesthesia, and she's still in the ICU."

    David had tossed aside a couple of ratty pillows and settled on the couch, taking a long draw on his beer. Jake sat down in the rickety wooden chair across from him. "But she will be okay? I mean ..."

    "Yeah, yeah, her doctor said she'd be fine in a few days."

    "And the cancer?"

    "For now she's in the clear."

    "For now?" Jake scowled. "And just what does that mean?"

    "Damned if I know."

    "Jesus, David, you're a homicide detective. Don't you know how to ask the right questions?"

    David's lip curled again in that weary smile. "Maybe I don't ask 'cause I don't really want to know."

    "Mm," Jake said. "You want me to pick Scan and Nicky up from hockey practice and get them some dinner?"

    "Hell, Jake, you don't have to do that."

    "I'd like to do it."

    "No, really."

    "It's for Nina, okay?"

    "Well ..."

    "What time do they get done?"

    "Seven, seven-fifteen."

    "We'll grab a pizza or something, and I can bring them by to see their mother if you want."

    David thought a moment then shook his head. "Better not. She may still be in the ICU and she looks, well, not so great. You know?"

    "Sure," Jake said. He knew.

    He looked at David, took a sip of his own beer. David Carmichael was a real buddy, a brother, the whole male bonding thing. Their friendship had begun during the Taylor murder investigation, when David had been one of the detectives assigned to the case and Jake, as chief deputy district attorney, had been working it, too.

    Most of the homicide cops had regarded Jake with a jaundiced eye, because they all knew Taylor had been his brother-in-law. And there were more than a few in the city government who'd thought he should recuse himself from the case for just that reason.

    Both David and Jake suspected Taylor had been assassinated because he was a threat to the Washington power structure. But Denver's top brass, from the DA to the mayor, had serious doubts about that theory. They had been hoping to sweep the affair under the rug—bad for tourism, bad for Denver's image, and too hot to handle.

    It was true that the evidence pointed to a burglary gone sour. The only hint that it had not been an impulse shooting was a small wad of steel wool found on the carpet, which could be used as a silencer. Despite Jake's best efforts, the steel wool had been explained away: a sloppy maintenance man. Another thing had always bothered Jake—the two 9mm slugs in Scott's head. Pretty fancy hardware for a burglar.

    When the case had been shelved a year ago, five months after Scott's murder, due to lack of evidence or leads, Jake had persuaded David to help him pursue the assassination theory on the sly. And David had come through, in spite of his sick wife, his heavy caseload, and against police captain Barry Disoto's direct orders.

    Now that was a friend.

    David was draining off his beer and coming to his feet. "I better get on back to the hospital," he said, and he arced a perfect dunk shot into the overflowing trash can across the room. "You ought to clean this place up, pal." He nodded toward the coffee table and the cubbyhole kitchen.

    "Um, well, the maid skipped me this week." Jake walked him to the door. "Kiss Nina for me, and don't worry about the boys. I'll watch TV till you get in. And they'll do their homework."

    David let out a breath. "Thanks, Jake, and I mean that. You've been a real help since, you know, since the cancer thing."

    Jake shrugged. "I'm just after your wife, buddy."

    "Uh-huh," David said wearily and he closed the door behind him.

It was good to have something to do. Picking the boys up at the hockey rink, feeding them, and getting stuck playing computer games kept him from thinking too much, from wallowing in his depression. He'd always wanted kids. Though he'd never confess it—at least not to another man—he'd married at thirty for two reasons: one, because he was inept at the singles game anyway and he'd fallen in love with a lovely woman who was a damn good lawyer to boot, and two, because he wanted kids. Boys would fit the bill—boys to go to Bronco games with—but girls were fine, too. Hell, he liked women. Maybe he didn't exactly understand them, but once he'd given up trying, women were okay.

    Then, a few months before his brother-in-law's murder, Shayne had announced she did not want to have children.

    It had been a blow to Jake—but Shayne was adamant. That must have been the beginning of the end of their marriage, he figured. Maybe it really hadn't been his disbarment at all.

    He turned in at midnight and thought about his lost life and ruined marriage and couldn't quite make sense of it. He wasn't stupid. Overzealous, maybe, but not stupid. Yet he hadn't seen the setup coming.

    David had warned him. "You better cool it with the Taylor murder thing, pal. Word is that you're pissing off the wrong people," he had told him dozens of times.

    Jake hadn't listened. Murder, assassination, was wrong, and the thought of a cold-blooded killer walking around scot-free had made him crazy with rage.

    Lying in the dark now, his hands behind his head, he felt sick. He should have seen the setup coming. But somehow he hadn't. All he knew was that one day he'd been the honest Denver crusader, and the next day a female juror on one of his cases claimed he'd had sex with her during the trial. The administrative board for the Colorado Bar Association was not constrained by the rules of evidence, and Jake had been immediately and conveniently disbarred.

    He rolled over, punched his pillow, and tried to stop thinking. It was no good. His thoughts kept crawling out of the black comers of his mind. How could he have been so damn wrong about everything—his marriage, the Taylor murder investigation, his whole life? It frightened him that he'd screwed up so badly. He felt that if he'd been that far off in his judgment, everything he was, everything he aspired to be, must have been wrong. He no longer knew who he was or where he was headed. He had lost his passion and his direction—a direction that had obviously been wrong. It almost seemed as if his life, his very essence, had seeped right out of him. He was like the man in that old sci-fi movie, the man that was shrinking into nothingness.

    And that frightened the hell out of him.

A ringing telephone in the middle of the night meant only one thing to Jake: disaster. It had been one of those god-awful calls that had informed him last year that he'd been disbarred—like the well-meaning associate of his couldn't have waited till morning? Now, as he sat up and oriented himself, his heart thumping against his ribs, he could only think it was one of three people: Shayne calling him to say Peaches had gotten loose and hit by a car.... Or it could be his sister Heather.... But Jake was sure it had to be David with terrible news about Nine.

    He picked up the phone and steeled himself. The digital clock glowed 1:06 A.M.

    It was not David. Or Shayne or Heather. Instead, an unfamiliar male voice asked if this was Jake, Savelle.

    He thought a minute, clearing his head. "Yes, he finally said. "And who is—?"

    He was cut off. "There was a woman," the voice said, "in the hotel room at the Brown Palace."

    "Listen," Jake began, "who is this?"

    "She was a witness. A witness to Senator Scott Taylor's murder," the voice cut in again and then abruptly the line went dead.

    Jake took the phone from his ear and stared dumbly at it. Someone in the hotel room? Scott's room? A woman. "A witness," he breathed. "There was a goddamned witness?"

    He finally hung up the phone, and he could feel a tightening in his chest, both a swelling of fury and a terrible elation. A witness? Was it possible?

    It was hard to think, hard to even fit his mind around the news. He flung himself out of bed and paced in the darkness—a witness, a witness, a woman. But ...?

    It was possible. My God, Jake thought, Scott Taylor—his sister's husband—had been the first candidate in three decades who'd promised a new order, who'd sworn to clean up the Washington morass: campaign finance reform, the works. And Jake, along with millions of others, had been swayed by Scott's passionate belief that politics could make things better. The far-reaching possibilities of a Taylor presidency had given so many renewed hope. He himself had been forced to admit he was having grandiose thoughts about visits to the White House, maybe even getting a posting there. Everything had been damn near perfect.

    Except for one little problem: Scott was a womanizer, a dyed-in-the-wool sexual addict.

    Jake sank down onto the side of the bed. If the anonymous caller had said anything else about Scott's murder, Jake would have taken it with a grain of salt. But a woman. Oh, yes, it fit.

    Suddenly he looked up; he could feel the excitement running through him like electricity. It had been so long, so goddamn long since he'd felt anything.

    A witness.

    He stood up in the blackness of his tiny bedroom and felt heat emanating from every cell in his body. He was a man on fire.

David Carmichael shook his head in disbelief. "Jake, pal, you get a call in the middle of the night from some jerk who doesn't even ID himself, and this asshole tells you there was someone in the hotel room and you fall for it, hook, line, and sinker. Jesus, think about what you're saying."

    Jake glanced at the hospital bed where Nina was sleeping then turned back to David. "I have thought about it," he whispered harshly. "I was goddamn up all night doing nothing but thinking about it. It fits. You know Scott's reputation. Hell, everyone knew. Even my sister knew."

    "Heather ...?"

    "Damn right. She stuck with him because she believed in him and, if you really want to know, Heather was motivated by the very real prospect of becoming First Lady. She didn't delude herself, though. No one who knew Scott did. There's a good possibility that there was a woman with him."

    "So where was this broad when Taylor got shot?"

    "How the hell would I know? Hiding, I guess."

    "And no one saw her? The murderer just missed her?" David blew out a disgusted breath. "Come on, Jake. Get real."

    "Maybe there was a woman," came Nina's weak voice, and both men turned and stared at her pale form, which barely raised the sterile sheets.

    She licked dry, cracked lips and tried to push herself up against the pillows. Jake was by her side in a flash, helping her up and then pouring a glass of water from a lavender plastic container. "Here, drink this," he said, and he couldn't help noticing that her bony fingers shook. "I'm sorry, I thought we were whispering," he offered.

   "Oh, sure, it was more like two male dogs growling over there."

    David took her free hand, held it, and looked shamefaced. "How are you feeling?" Jake asked.

    "Like I was ridden hard and put away wet," Nina said, and she gave them both a little smile.

    God, Jake loved this woman. When his life had come unraveled she'd been there for him, making sure he'd eaten, including him in all the family stuff. Even with her illness, even though he knew how tough it was for her, she'd been his friend.

    He stared down at her and smiled. "I'll go now," he said, "let you two talk. I'm sure—"

    "Oh, no, you don't," Nina said. "Not until you and David come to some sort of a decision about this witness."

    David shook his head. "Babes, please, you don't understand. You know how many people make anonymous calls to the cops every day? Ninety-nine percent of them are either kooks or somebody out to screw somebody else. Jake's caller is probably some ex-con trying to mess with his head." He stroked Nina's arm. "And another thing, Captain Disoto would go ballistic if I went to him with an unsubstantiated story about a witness. He honest-to-God believes Taylor stumbled in on a burglar—bad timing."

    Nina closed her eyes for a long moment, and even Jake knew she was about to chew David out. He felt like a total ass. He had no business buttonholing David in Nina's hospital room and dumping on him in front of her. Especially Nina, who believed almost as fervently as Jake that Taylor had been assassinated for his political beliefs.

    Jake met David's gaze and tried to convey an apology.

    Then Nina opened her eyes. "Help him, David."

    "Babes," David began, but it was no good, and by the time Jake made his escape from Denver General, he felt like a number-one heel for dragging Nina into this mess.

    By the middle of the week, he wasn't feeling much better. Despite that pile of work awaiting him—despite a few concerned calls from lawyer friends awaiting those briefs—Jake had spent the better part of three days in the public library going over newspaper and magazine accounts of the last three months of Scott's life, looking for any hint of a liaison. Both Jake and David figured that if a woman existed, then there had to be some clue as to who she was: a mention of an aide, a photo of the candidate with a pretty young thing close by, adoration in her eyes. Something. Anything.

    When he wasn't in the library, his eyeballs falling out of their sockets from scanning microfiche, he was on the phone to former campaign workers, but it was always the same story: "Gosh, Mr. Savelle, I really can't help you." And the one person who would most likely know if Scott had been with a woman that night—other than his wife, Heather, of course—was Scott's former private secretary, Anne Schaffer, and she'd hung up on Jake the instant he'd posed his first question. Bitch, Jake had thought, but then he'd revised his opinion: Loyal bitch was more like it.

    There was another problem with Jake's renewed investigation: his sister. He had almost forgotten what finding a witness, a woman, in Scott's hotel room would do to Heather. God only knew, she'd been through enough when Scott was alive. And now, if such a person existed, the old wounds would be reopened. Was it fair to Heather? Wouldn't it be better all the way around if he let it go?

    But he couldn't. He could no more ignore this new information than he could stop the blood from pumping through his veins. He tried hard not to think about Heather at all, but still he did, and when she phoned him on Thursday night and asked him to a dinner party at the Cherry Hills Country Club that coming weekend, Jake begged off. "I, ah, promised Shayne I'd keep Peaches this weekend, and I can't leave her alone in the apartment. You know."

    "For Lord's sake," Heather said, "if you don't want to socialize, just say so. I only thought getting out a little would do, you some good."

    "I do get out," he said defensively.

    "Of course you do," she shot back. Then her voice softened. "Oh, Jake, really, I'm only trying to help."

    "I'm okay. Honestly."

    "You're sure?"

    "Scout's honor."

    But after he hung up he felt a stab of guilt. Shouldn't he at least have told her about the possibility of a witness? Talked over the implication?

    On Saturday Shayne really did leave Peaches with him. She stopped by at noon and he met her out front on Lawrence Street, girding himself for the inevitable confrontation, straightening his shoulders and putting his old insouciant smile on his face. Pity from his ex-wife would destroy him.

    Peaches leaped out and jumped up on him the minute he opened the car door.

    "New car?" he asked Shayne, eyeing the leather interior, trying to keep the edge from his voice.

    "Well," Shayne said, her eyes hidden behind big round tortoiseshell sunglasses, "the old Range, Rover had almost forty thousand miles on it." Then she did that thing with her streaked blond hair—that thing that had always made his stomach coil with longing—she reached up and twisted it into a quick knot at the back of her neck. Magic.

    He looked away. "Wow, forty thousand miles. Wonder you didn't have a breakdown."

    "Oh, Jake, come off it," she said. "I'm doing all right and I'm certainly not ashamed of it. I can't help it if you screwed up your life." Then she rested her head on the steering wheel. "Sorry. That was uncalled for. I only hope that you, well, learned something from it." She straightened. "Jake, you're still a good-looking man. You're smart and you were a damn good lawyer. If you'd ..."

    "Go on," he said tightly.

    "You know, get over it, get on with things. I mean, look at how you're living. I don't want to sound like a snob, but really, look at this place."

    Jake pivoted, scanned the old brick building, then shrugged.

    "Okay," she said, "whatever. If you don't want advice I won't offer it."

    He said nothing.

    "I have to go. I'll pick Peaches up tomorrow around five, if that's okay."

    "Sure," Again he shrugged. And then he couldn't help himself. He glanced at the skis in the roof rack—two pairs—and said, "Got a date in the mountains?"

    She hesitated. "Yes," she finally said, "I do."

    Wisely, he let it go.

    Still, when she'd driven away, he couldn't stop the thought of Shayne with another man from sitting like a stone in his gut. And he wondered what it might have been like if he hadn't pursued the Taylor murder investigation—if he hadn't gotten himself disbarred. Would Shayne have stayed with him?

    He looked down at Peaches, who was sitting docilely by his feet now, her big, brown golden-retriever eyes beseeching him, her feathery tail dusting the sidewalk.

    "Okay, girl," he said, "so I'm a sap at heart." Then he grinned. "And I suppose you want to go for a run."

    She sprang to her feet and barked.

    "Figured," Jake said.

    Wearing a knit ski cap over his dark hair, which badly needed a decent trim, a turtleneck and blue sweatshirt, and his navy blue sweatpants, Jake put Peaches on her leash and headed along Lawrence, straight through downtown Denver toward the Auraria campus.

    He started out sluggishly despite the cold March afternoon. His mind was not on the run; he was thinking about Shayne and their marriage and how it had gone wrong.

    He knew he was beating himself up. A few days ago, when he'd gotten the anonymous call, he had felt the old familiar fire in his blood, and he'd dared to believe he was over his depression. But now his odds of finding that witness—if there was one in the first place—were diminishing. The depression was creeping back. And seeing Shayne again ... He could have done without that. It wasn't that he still loved her. The love had died. But, damn, it hurt somehow to realize she was going on so easily with a new life while his had flickered out like a spent match.

    He crossed Speer Boulevard with the light, and jogged toward the entrance to the campus, trying to clear his head. What he needed to do was keep his hopes up, concentrate on the search. Was there some angle he'd overlooked? Something David hadn't considered? Was there someone else close to Scott that he should call?

    Call, Jake was thinking, Peaches loping along by his side, he must have phoned a hundred people this past week, and a lot of the calls had been long distance. He could hardly wait to see his phone bill.

    "Long goddamn distance," Jake panted and he stopped short, leaned over with his hands on his knees, and tried to catch his breath.

    If the anonymous caller had been local there was no hope of tracing him. But if the call had been long distance, then maybe, just maybe, one of the phone companies had a record, and David had the authority to access those records.

    Jake straightened, still panting, his breath a white plume suspended in the cold air. Peaches looked askance at him, and Jake had no idea he was grinning.

    He'd made the run down to the Auraria campus in thirty minutes. It took him less than twenty to get home and dial David's number.

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Searching for Sarah 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lynn Erickson has done it again. Searching for Sarah is a non-stop page-turner with great characters and a great romance. Set in the glamorous resort of Aspen it is a super murder mystery that completely fooled me. I couldn't put it down. A must read for all romantic suspense buffs.