Wednesday, 2 SEP, 7:15 AM, Four Points Sheraton
The ringtone on Chris’ iPhone invaded his dreams and jerked him awake. With his head still buried beneath the covers, he reached out to the nightstand to claim the device. He felt for the phone and pulled it underneath the comforter, placing it to his ear. “Hello?” he mumbled.
Train continued to blast “Save Me San Francisco” into his ear. He groaned and thrust the phone away, opening one eye to locate the answer button. He saw it was Damon calling and tapped his thumb to the screen. “What?” he growled.
“You’re still sleeping?” his brother demanded.
“Well, not anymore,” muttered the younger Karas.
“C’mon, get your ass in gear. This case isn’t gonna solve itself.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” he muttered. Chris could hear people talking and laughing in the background. He frowned and pushed himself onto his elbows. “Where are you?”
“Downstairs in the restaurant. Hurry up!”
When the line went dead, Chris heaved a sigh and dragged himself from bed. He shuffled to the bathroom, grabbing his toothbrush and toothpaste on the way to the shower.
Twenty minutes later, Chris sat across from Damon at Alexander’s ready to dig into the breakfast his brother had ordered for him.
“Where do you wanna start?” asked Chris. He sipped his coffee and made a face. It was cold. He motioned for the server.
Damon fished some cash from his pocket and tossed it onto the table. “I wanna talk to the roommate—what’s her name again?”
The server arrived at the table and looked to Chris. “Yes, sir?”
“Jenna Angler,” supplied Chris. He turned to the server and flashed a charming grin. “Hi, can you warm that up, please?” he asked, pointing to his cup.
The young woman smiled politely. “Yes, sir. “I’ll be right back with a fresh pot.”
“We’ll talk to her before we talk to Candace’s co-workers,” continued Damon.
“Okay,” replied the younger Karas as he stabbed a sausage link with his fork. “We’re still gonna take a look at the Coxes’ boat, right?” He popped the link into his mouth and made another face.
“Yeah, we’ll do that before we head outta town.” Damon stood as Christian munched on the cold sausage. “Let’s go.”
Chris stared at him in disbelief. “Wait, we’re leaving now? I haven’t eaten.”
“Not my fault you overslept,” countered Damon as he left the table.
Chris muttered a curse under his breath and jumped up from the table, taking his plate with him. He wolfed down the remaining sausage and stuffed a pancake into his mouth, nearly colliding with the waitress as she rounded the corner with a fresh pot of coffee. He handed her the plate and struggled to swallow the pancake. “Oh shit. Sorry. I’m so sorry. Can I, um, get that coffee to go, please?”
The server raised an eyebrow, but nodded and did an about face.
Chris caught up to his brother near the front desk just as Damon’s phone signaled an incoming call. The older Karas glanced at the screen. “Ben,” he murmured as he thumbed the answer button. He spoke briefly with Powers then ended the call. “Dennis Mitchell came back clean,” he said.
“Is that it?”
Damon remained silent as they walked through the lobby.
Chris sipped his coffee and narrowed his eyes at Damon, trying to read his expression. A knowing smile slowly spread across his lips. “He gave you the results of the forensics report, didn’t he?”
His brother flashed a wry smile. “Yeah,” he answered. “The DNA came back on that hair follicle we found—not Paige’s or Brian’s!”
“Still doubt me?” Chris asked with a grin.
“More than ever,” his brother joked.
“So—the usual bet then?”
Damon chuckled. “Yeah, sure.”
“The cases are linked,” insisted the younger man.
Chris had uncanny instincts about these things, but Damon wasn’t convinced yet. “Maybe. Ben’s having Jodie send the DNA results to Ventura. We’ll see if it matches any of the DNA they collected from Candace Everton’s body.”
“It will,” murmured Chris.
7:45 AM; Jenna Angler’s Apartment
Damon and Chris drove to the Woodland Apartments where Candace Everton had lived with Jenna Angler. Jenna was far too upset to attend classes so the brothers found her at home. The college student opened the door as far as the security chain would allow and
peered at the men through the crack. “Yes?”
The Karases flashed their badges. “Jenna Angler?” asked Damon.
“I’m Damon Karas and this is my brother Chris,” he said, indicating the younger man.
“We’d like to talk to you about Candace.”
“Uh, okay, just a minute,” she replied. Jenna closed the door and the Karases heard the sound of the chain sliding across its track. The young woman opened the door wider to admit the detectives. “Come in,” she murmured.
Jenna was young, about nineteen Chris guessed. She was pretty despite her red-rimmed, puffy eyes. She wore a pink terry cloth bathrobe overtop light blue pajamas and pink, fuzzy slippers on her feet. From her appearance, it was obvious she’d been crying when the Karases arrived and probably had not slept the night before. She carried a wad of tissues in her left hand.
“I’ve already spoken to the police,” she said. Her voice cracked slightly as she took a seat on the worn, floral sofa, tucking her legs underneath her. “I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
Damon glanced around the living room. It was a typical college girl apartment decorated in bright colors and furnished with an eclectic array of second-hand furniture and garage sale bric-a-brac. Posters of kittens, flowers, and Hollywood heartthrobs shared space with an “I Believe In Jesus” poster and other declarations of faith. The girls covered one wall with inspirational photos and motivational words, essentially wallpapering it with their dreams and goals—aspirations that, for one of the girls, would never come to be.
A pile of clothes was heaped in a corner and a few dirty dishes littered the white painted coffee table. The only seating in the room was the small sofa and a pair of vintage plastic scoop chairs. Damon and Chris each sat in one.
“We’re sorry to have to put you through this again, Miss Angler,” said Damon. “My brother and I are here from Coronado. We’re investigating several disappearances as well as Candace’s murder.”
“We’re sorry for your loss,” added Chris.
“Thank-you,” whispered Jenna, dabbing at her eyes.
“Jenna,” replied the girl.
Damon smiled affably. “Jenna—did Candace have any enemies that you know of?”
“No,” asserted the co-ed. “Everyone loved Candace.”
“Jenna, you attend California Lutheran and so did your roommate,” said Chris. “We know that Candace dropped out. Did she…?”
“You’re gonna ask me if she fell in with a bad crowd,” surmised Jenna.
“Candace and I were both Christians, but about six months ago she started to fall away, you know?” Jenna looked first at Chris and then Damon, they nodded their understanding and she continued. “I tried to talk to her, but she didn’t want to hear it. She took a job at that bar and started staying out late. She never brought boys back to the apartment, but I know she was”—Jenna lowered her voice—“sleeping with them. She started to smoke and drink and I just couldn’t seem to get through to her!”
Jenna started to cry again. Her wadded up tissues were useless against the fresh onslaught of tears and runny nose. She shoved them into the pocket of her robe and sought out fresh ones. Damon reached for the tissue box and handed it over to her.
“Thanks,” she muttered plucking three tissues from the box.
Chris felt sorry for the girl and regretted having to ask the next question. “Was she—seeing a man with dirty blonde hair, about six-five to six-seven, two hundred fifty pounds?”
Jenna knitted her brow. “Not that I know of,” she murmured. “Wh-why do you ask?”
“Candace’s co-workers reported seeing a man who fits that description hanging around her the night she was killed,” answered Chris. “He’s a person of interest. Think hard, Jenna. Did Candace mention anyone like that to you?”
“No,” she sniffed. “She dated a guy—a co-worker, I think. She said he was tall, but I never saw him.”
“Did she tell you his name?” asked Damon.
Jenna blew her nose. “It was unusual—Hurley or Furley or something like that.”
After a brief search of the murdered girl’s room, the Karases assured Jenna they would do everything possible to find Candace’s killer. Damon gave her his business card and told her if she thought of anything else, she could reach them through the Coronado Police Department.
10:00 AM, Bombay Island Bar & Grill
The Karas brothers arrived at The Bombay Island Bar and Grill at ten AM—seven hours before it would open its doors to Ventura revellers. Damon made arrangements to meet the staff members who were there the night Everton was murdered. Most weren’t happy by the summons and a few were a little hostile as they lined the bar of the brick-walled establishment. The night manager and seven of the eight waitresses that were there that night sat awaiting the Karases. The chef and his two line cooks, three busboys, the dishwasher, and the bartender with the long surfer hair and bad boy smolder were also there. The brothers started with the pretty-boy bartender.
“Chase Sanborn,” said Chris, reading from a notebook. “Is that your given name?”
The sharp tapping of a woman’s heels against the stone floor earned the attention of everyone present. The Karases turned to see a woman sashaying toward the group. Her black hair was swept into an updo allowing large, star-shaped rhinestone earrings to sway crazily under each ear lobe. She used way too much make-up. It emphasized her fifty-plus years rather than refuted them. She wore a red, low-cut blouse and a black mini with black stockings and three-inch heels.
“Hell no,” she snorted in a Tennessee drawl. “He got that off a coffee can. His real name is Early Haywood Sanborn.” The woman stopped a few feet from the bar, smirked at Early, and then turned to face Christian. “He was named after his great-grandpappy Early,” she added. Several of the servers giggled.
“Shut-up, Dee-Dee!” sneered the bartender.
Damon raised his hand in warning to Early while eyeing the newcomer. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Delores Pittman,” she smiled, turning toward Damon. She did a double take, looking from Damon to Christian and back again. “Are y’all two boys twins?”
Damon shook his head. “No.”
“Well, ya look like it,” she shrugged. “Anyway, ev’ry one ‘round here jus’ calls me Dee-Dee.”
“That’s not the only thing they call her,” muttered Early derisively. That comment was a hit with the busboys.
Dee-Dee’s eyes flashed fire. “You watch yer mouth, boy!”
Damon shot a warning look to the bartender. “Knock it off!” he barked. Turning toward Dee-Dee, he added, “both of you.”
Early held up his hands in surrender. “Sorry.”
Chris glanced at Damon with a bemused smile before returning his attention to Dee-Dee. “You—work here?”
The woman settled her ample rear onto a bar stool in front of Chris and smiled seductively. “I sure do, honey.”
“You seem to know Early pretty well. Are you related?”
“Well, I do work here, darlin’.”
“You didn’t answer my brother’s question,” replied Damon testily.
Early cleared his throat. “I hate to say it,” he said, heaving a sigh, “but—she’s my mother.”
Dee-Dee rolled her eyes and grimaced. “I had ‘im very young,” she added.
Damon nodded. “I’m sure you did.”
The cocktail waitress smiled seductively at the older Karas, allowing her eyes to rove over his length. “Y’all two boys are really cops?”
“We really are,” replied Damon coolly.
“Lord have mercy,” exclaimed Dee-Dee. She dug a pack of cigarettes from her purse and stuck one of the menthols between her red-painted lips, glancing down to make sure her cleavage was properly displayed. “You don’t look like no cops I ever seen.”
“We’ll get back to you in a minute,” answered Chris. “Just—sit tight.”
Delores waved her free hand, lighting the cigarette with the other.
Damon nodded to the bartender. “All right, Early”—he glanced in Chris’ direction and raised an eyebrow—“sounds kinda like Hurley, don’t you think?”
“And Furley,” added Chris.
“Right,” agreed Damon, returning his gaze to the tall man.
Early furrowed his brow. “Ye-ah…um, I prefer Chase.”
Dee-Dee snickered, exhaling smoke through her nose.
“You’re pretty tall, Early. How tall exactly?”
Sanborn folded his arms across his broad chest. His muscles strained against the fabric of his black T-shirt. “Six-six.”
“Six-six,” repeated Damon flashing his brother another look. “Tell me about the
night Candace was murdered,” he directed.
Uh, there-there’s not much to tell, really. We had last call and then we closed the bar. She—did her side work and clocked out.”
“What time was that?”
Chris waved a green time card in the air. “Three-o-seven, according to this.”
“Anyone clock out before her?”
The busboys and kitchen staff all raised their hands.
“Around midnight, sir,” answered one busboy.
“All of you?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. The kitchen closes at eleven.”
Damon nodded. “I’m going to need all of you to provide statements on your whereabouts at the time of the murder.” He gestured for Early to continue.
“I finished up and headed out, too. That’s when-when I saw her car. It was still in the lot, but there was no sign of her.”
“What time was that?” asked Chris.
Early shrugged. “About three-thirty, maybe a little after…”
“Anything else you wanna tell us?” asked Damon.
Sanborn shook his head. “No, that’s all there is to tell.”
Dee-Dee took a drag of her cigarette and blew the smoke toward her son with a smug smile. “‘Cept that he was sleepin’ with ‘er.”
The bartender glared at Dee-Dee. “Shut-up, momma,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Did that little detail slip your mind?” asked Damon, shifting his gaze back to Early.
“We dated for a few months,” he said with a shrug of his shoulder.
Early heaved a sigh. “We decided to—to take a break from each other.”
Dee-Dee snorted. “She dumped ‘is ass, that’s what happened!”
“He was jealous,” exclaimed Dee-Dee. “Got a bad temper. He gets that from his lousy, no good bum of a daddy.”
“Go on,” said Chris.
“Candace flirted with the men ‘round here so they’d leave ‘er bigger tips, We all do,” she added with a shrug. Well, ol’ Early didn’t take kindly ta that. The two of ‘em argued ‘bout it all the time. One night this ol’ boy came in and tried ta get a little too friendly with ‘er. She handled it fine, but this jackass”—she jerked a thumb toward Early—“took ‘im outside and beat the shit outta the guy. That was the final straw. She broke up with ‘im that night. After that, she jus’ kinda cut loose.”
“Cut loose?” asked Chris.
Dee-Dee laughed. It was a smoker’s laugh, deep and throaty. “Slept around, sweetcakes. That little slut got banged more than a screen door in August!”
Early’s eyes burned with rage toward Dee-Dee. “Shut-up,” he snarled. “Don’t you talk about her like that!”
Chris stepped forward. “Settle down,” he warned.
“You were jealous,” asserted Damon.
Sanborn fixed the older Karas with a baleful stare. “So?”
“She made you angry.”
Early looked away and shook his head.
“She belonged to you, but she didn’t want you. Did she Early? You couldn’t stand seeing her with all those other guys. It made you so angry you couldn’t see straight.”
Sanborn’s head snapped back around. “Yeah! I was angry, all right? Is that what you wanna hear?”
“Angry enough to want her dead?”
Sanborn blinked back his surprise. “No! I-I could never kill Candace—I loved her.”
Damon’s eyes hardened. “I’ve heard that before—Chase.”
“When did you last have intimate contact with Candace?” asked Chris.
“A-a while ago…two months maybe.”
“Ha! That’s a lie,” shot the waitress. “I caught ‘em in the store room together the night she was killed.”
“Dammit, Momma,” Early screamed. “Shut the fuck up! The bartender looked contrite as he faced the Karases again. “We were just talking,” insisted the bartender.
Damon stared at Sanborn and raised his right eyebrow.
“Two. Months!” Early repeated defiantly.
“If you’re lying,” said Damon, “we’ll know about it.”
Chris’ fingers flew over the keypad of his iPhone. When he finished, he eyed the bartender. “You called 911 from the parking lot when you discovered Everton’s car?”
Early nodded. “Yeah, they said if she wasn’t missing for twenty-four hours, there was nothin’ they could do.”
“What’d you do next?” asked Damon.
Early sighed and looked away. “I left.”
“You left? All this deep concern for the girl you love—a girl you called 911 for—and you just left?”
Early shook his head. “I drove over to her apartment. I started thinking that she maybe took off with some—guy. I waited for her outside, but…she never came back.”
“You expect me to believe that, Early?”
Sanborn glared at Damon. “I don’t give a shit what you believe,” he bellowed. It’s the truth,”
Chris’ phone vibrated, indicating an incoming text message. He glanced briefly at the device and then shifted his attention back to his brother. “Hargrove,” he explained. “The network recorded a 911 call at three thirty-two AM. The cell was registered to Early Sanborn. Ventura PD confirmed the call and the time.”
Early thumped the bar with his fist. “There ya go!”
Damon eyed the bartender and shook his head. “All that proves is that you didn’t lie about the call.”
“Who saw the guy that hit on Candace,” asked Chris.
Dee-Dee stood and boldly strode toward the younger Karas. She squeezed Chris’ bicep, delighting at the sinewy discovery under his jacket. “That’d be me, darlin’.”
Early frowned and shook his head. “Have some self-respect, will ya?”
Dee-Dee ignored her son’s comment and flashed a saucy smile at Chris then turned and ran her hand appreciatively over Damon’s chest. “Yer momma an’ daddy must be awful proud o’ you.”
Chris raised an eyebrow and smiled, amused by the stunned look that flashed across his brother’s face.
Damon regained his composure, removing the woman’s hand as it inched closer to his waistline. “Delores,” he warned. “If you put your hand on either of us again, I’ll arrest you for solicitation and assault on a police officer. Am I clear on that?”
Dee-Dee shrank away from Damon. She was embarrassed and suddenly felt her age. She silently cursed the bright fluorescents that brought out her flaws. It was different at night, when the lights were low, they camouflaged her age. At night, when the men were liquored up they responded differently to her. They were appreciative, complimentary in their actions and words.
“I hear ya,” she said, stepping behind the bar, aware that everyone was secretly cheering these cops for giving her her comeuppance. “Why ya askin’ all these questions
anyway. We already told the other cops everything we know.”
“Good. Now tell us,” returned Chris. “What did you see that night?”
“I didn’t see nothin’,” answered Dee-Dee as she poured herself a whiskey.
The manager who, until now, was a mute for all the brothers knew, finally spoke. “You’re gonna pay for that, Dee-Dee!”
“I already paid for it,” she snapped. “He tends bar for you every night, Eddie.”
Delores smirked until she saw the hurt register in Early’s eyes. She felt suddenly guilty and sighed, downing the liquor before answering Chris’ question. “Candace said some guy was comin’ onta her—said his hands were all over ‘er.
“Go on,” pressed Damon.
“So she pointed ‘im out as he was leavin’.”
“Can you describe him?” asked Chris.
“Nah, I only caught a glimpse of ‘im from the back? He was tall and broad. He had long hair”—she encircled her head with her hand—“had one o’ them knit caps on, too.”
Damon turned to Early. “Did you put eyes on this guy?”
Sanborn shook his head. “He wasn’t at the bar. He must’ve been sitting at one of the tables along the wall.”
Damon and Chris questioned the rest of the staff, but didn’t learn anything more about the suspect. They knew Chief Miller’s detectives were trying to track down patrons that were in the bar the night of the murder, maybe one of them could add something useful. The brothers left the bar, but advised the staff to be available should they have more questions.
Chris glanced at Damon across the BMW’s rooftop before climbing into the passenger seat. “Dee-Dee has my vote for Mother of the Year,” he joked. “Makes you almost feel sorry for Early.”
“I’ll feel sorry for him if we can rule him out as a suspect,” replied Damon. He slid behind the wheel and keyed the engine.
“You think he’s involved?”
“I think he’s got a temper that may have gotten him into trouble,” replied Damon as he merged into traffic. He guided the German sedan south toward the marina, “I also think he’s hiding something.”