A Merciful Secret (Page 31)

I’m full of shit.

Shoving away his guilt at sticking a finger in a case that wasn’t his, he knocked on the door of the apartment. Rob Murray lived on the second floor of a building that had seen better days. Truman dared not touch the outdoor iron stair railing, fearing its one remaining support would give way. On the second level he’d walked by apartment windows with curtains made from sagging floral sheets and one covered with a Seattle Seahawks beach towel. Rob hadn’t bothered with window coverings. Through his small apartment window, Truman could see Rob’s chipped kitchen sink, piled with a half dozen milky bowls and plastic spoons. An open box of Lucky Charms sat to the right of the sink.

Bachelor diet.

The door opened, and a man dressed in splattered white painter’s clothing glared at him. “What?”

His eyes were dark, and a cigarette dangled from his lips. He looked about thirty, and he had the pasty skin and the soft, round body of a man who lived on cold cereal and beer.

“Rob Murray?”

He squinted, and his suspicious gaze bounced from the business card Truman held out to the badge on his coat. He took the card and didn’t look at it. “Yeah?”

“I’d like to ask you about the Lexus we found on Goose Hollow Road yesterday.”

The suspicion cleared. “It’s not mine. I borrowed it, and the owner got it back already.”

“Why was it just left there?”

“Because it died. I don’t know what happened. It needed a tow.”

“How come it sat there for a few days? Why didn’t you call for the tow right away?”

Rob shuffled his feet and looked away. “I forgot,” he muttered.

“You forgot about a vehicle? An expensive SUV you’d borrowed?” Bull.

The man worked his cigarette for a moment and reluctantly moved his gaze back to Truman’s. “My buddy who picked me up wanted to party. It slipped my mind.”

“How long was this party?”

Rob winced. “A day or two. He had some great weed.” Defense squared his shoulders. “It’s legal here now. We can do that.”

“Don’t I know it.” Truman tried a different approach. “Christian Lake told me you work for him.”

“Yeah, I’m sort of a handyman for his place. It takes a lot of upkeep. Stuff’s always breaking.”

“I’ve seen the house and can I imagine it takes a lot of work. It’s massive. I guess I assumed Brent Rollins took care of that sort of thing.”

Rob gave a short laugh. “Rollins doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. I’ve always said my job is to do the stuff Rollins thinks he’s too good for.” Resentment simmered in his gaze, and he sucked hard on his cigarette.

Truman prodded. “Not the best boss?”

He blew a cloud of smoke to the side. “Rollins is the pain in the butt, but Lake is great. That’s why I asked Christian for the loaner when my truck wouldn’t start. I knew he’d help me out.”

“Nice loaner.”

More puffing on the cigarette. “Yeah, I expected him to offer the Ford truck. It’s a little beat up and used for hauling stuff on the property. I knew he kept every vehicle stocked with gas and emergency supplies in this type of weather. Surprised the crap out of me when he handed over the Lexus keys.”

Truman gestured at the white clothing. “You doing some painting up there today?”

“Nah, I’ve got another job today. Rollins called and told me to stay home for a few days. I have a painter friend I help out when they don’t need me.”

“That makes it hard to count on a paycheck.”

“Christian pays me a salary. Some weeks I have sixty hours of work to do; some weeks I have ten. It all balances out, and I get a regular paycheck in my account.”

“What day did he loan you the Lexus?”

Rob screwed up his face, thinking hard. “Three days ago . . . No, four. It was the day I repaired the greenhouse. The snowstorm cracked some panels. I finished up and my truck wouldn’t start.”

Truman remembered how Rollins had to step into the garage to confirm the SUV was missing. “Is the greenhouse close to the main house?”

“Nah, it’s back a ways through the woods. There’s an open area that gets good light.”

“Your own truck was parked out of sight of the home?”

“Yeah, until yesterday after Christian called me about the Lexus. The tow truck driver who returned the Lexus checked my battery and gave me a jump. I figured that’s what it was.”

“Why didn’t you just ask Rollins for a jump that day?” With a six-car garage, surely there was a vehicle to use for a jump.

He smirked. “And risk the engine of one of Christian’s precious vehicles? I knew what he’d say.”

“You know, you’re lucky you have a job after leaving the boss’s precious vehicle on the side of the road for days.” Truman would have fired his irresponsible ass.

Rob managed to look contrite. “Rollins chewed me out.”

But didn’t fire him?

“Christian didn’t say anything?”

“No, he’s cool.”

Cool enough not to care about a ninety-thousand-dollar Lexus?

“Why were you on Goose Hollow Road? That isn’t on your way home from the Lake house.”

“I was headed to my buddy’s house.”

“Can you give me his name and address?”

“Why? We didn’t do anything.” Rob’s scowl grew. “I don’t have to give you that. You know there’s privacy laws and shit, right?”

I’m speaking to a lawyer.

“Just asking,” Truman said as he gave his best troubled look. “There were some disturbances out on that road a few days ago,” he lied. “And I wondered if you or he saw anything. It’s part of the reason I came to you about the Lexus. I didn’t know if the car being abandoned was a result of one of them. You didn’t see anything suspicious on that road, did you?”

Rob stroked his chin, his suspicion gone. “No. It’s a quiet road.” He rattled off his friend’s address and phone number, and Truman wrote them down.

He thanked Rob for his help and excused himself, feeling like the world’s biggest con man. He reviewed the discussion in his mind, making certain he hadn’t asked anything that could affect the true investigation.

Will the FBI question Rob too?

They’d shown interest in the abandoned car, hoping to link it to Christian Lake’s whereabouts on the nights of the two murders. But clearly Rob Murray had been the driver.

A dead end?

Truman climbed in his SUV, wanting to call Mercy and wondering if they’d tracked down Salome Sabin yet.

Not my case.

It wasn’t her case either, but she was in it up to her neck.

Ava’s charming phone call to ask Christian for permission to print the Hummer tires didn’t work, and Mercy wasn’t surprised when he told her to get a warrant. Back in the Bend offices, Ava asked Eddie to write up a request for the warrant and then started to review the next steps in the investigation.

Mercy inched away from the duo, toward the office door. Jeff had more work for her. She couldn’t hover around Eddie and Ava, expecting to be informed about every little phone call on the murders of Olivia Sabin and Malcolm Lake.

“I think we need to go back to Portland,” Ava abruptly stated.