Chapter 1: The Ballroom
Negan arrives at his crime scene.
He zips up his leather jacket against the cold night air, wishing he’d thought to stop for coffee. He pauses by the front door of the gaudy mansion, frowning at the three shivering crime scene investigators standing there. “Why is nobody working my fucking scene?” he grumbles.
“It’s a bloodbath, sir,” the first man says shakily.
Negan waits for more, but is met with only silence. “I know it fucking is,” he finally complains grumpily. “That’s what you fuckers are here for.”
“It’s too much, sir. It’s real bad. One of us is still in there, though,” the second man points out.
Negan’s tongue makes a sucking sound against his teeth and he grins. “Ballard?”
“Yes, sir,” the third man pipes up. “Nothing seems to get to her. She’s a little weird, to be honest.”
“Don’t be a dick about it just because she can fucking sack up and do her job and you can’t,” Negan retorts, slapping him on the back before heading inside.
He’s not sure exactly where the murder happened, but it’s easy enough to follow the smell. When he rounds the corner and sees a short, cute brunette standing outside a loop of crime scene tape, he knows he’s in the right place.
“CSI Robin Ballard,” he drawls, finally waking up a bit as his flirting instinct kicks in. “You gonna make my life easier today? Open and shut case?”
She laughs prettily and nods at one of the coffee cups sitting on the railing beside her. “For you,” she clarifies before continuing. “Not open and shut, but limited. You only have five suspects, and they’re all still here.”
Negan gratefully takes the coffee, glancing at her curiously. “What’s this for?” he wonders casually.
She shrugs. “You always forget to grab coffee when you get woken up for a case.” Negan smiles. Robin works the night shift, so she’s used to the grind.
“Well, shit, sweetheart, I think you’re noticing me a little too fucking much for your own good. Better watch out or I’ll get the wrong fucking idea,” he teases nonchalantly. She rolls her eyes.
“Being observant is my job, Negan. And don’t call me sweetheart. You might be Head Detective, but that doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass for sexually harassing me.” She winks at him so he knows she’s just kidding and gestures beyond the tape with her head. “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll walk you through the ballroom.”
“The fuck kind of people need a fucking ballroom?” Negan mumbles, finishing his coffee. He sighs. “No time like the present. Show me what we’ve got.”
He follows Robin around the corner, stopping at the edge of a pool of blood surrounding a body on the floor. “Well, holy fucking fuck,” he mutters. “He doesn’t even have a fucking head anymore.”
“Nope.” Robin twirls her finger in a circle where the man’s head should be. “That’s pretty much all brain matter.”
Negan glances at the baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire lying next to the body. “Done with that, I presume?”
“As far as I can tell. Obviously there’s not much wound evidence to go on.”
“No fucking shit,” Negan agrees. “Multiple hits, though. Has to be.”
“Definitely. Easy enough to do once he’s on the ground, especially if the murderer caught him by surprise. If it were me, I’d sneak up on him, hit him in the back of the head, and then go to town.”
“Planning to murder someone, Robin?” Negan smirks at her, his eyes sparkling mischievously.
Robin raises an eyebrow at him playfully. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Negan blows her a kiss and she wags her finger at him. “So inappropriate, Head Detective.”
“My apologies, CSI Ballard. I just can’t fucking control myself.” Negan pauses and looks back at the bat. “Odd weapon to find at a fancy fucking party. Is it from the house?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I think that’s a likely conclusion. It’d be pretty conspicuous to show up at a party with it, don’t you think?”
Negan snorts. “Yeah, probably. Any way to get prints off of it?”
Robin grimaces. “Probably not. Curved wooden surfaces are not the best for prints. And even if I can manage to get some, it will take a while to run them through the system.”
“All right.” Negan waves his hand at the mess in front of him. “Is there any way to fucking identify this guy besides DNA?”
“I know who he is already,” Robin answers, raising her chin in triumph.
“Well, be still my beating heart,” Negan coos. “Don’t fucking keep me in suspense.”
She chuckles. “Sergeant Abraham Ford. It’s his house, and he’s the only one missing. DNA will absolutely confirm, of course, but according to his maid, a Miss Olivia White, the clothes match what he was wearing when the party started.”
“Okay.” Negan points to the broken glass resting beside the body. “Alcohol?”
Robin nods. “Scotch. Miss White said that he started drinking before the party and hadn’t stopped the last time she saw him. He was probably fairly drunk, which would have made him easier to attack.”
“Okay. There’s not much else to see here, I suppose. You said I have five fucking suspects? I assume the maid is one of them.”
Robin walks back under the crime scene tape and points to the back of the house, where Negan can see a group of people huddled together behind a set of glass doors. “They’re all in the conservatory. The woman in the red dress is Miss Rosita Espinosa. The man in the gaudy purple suit is Dr. Eugene Porter. Mrs. Carol Peletier is the older woman in the ridiculous peacock feather hat, and the priest is Father Gabriel Stokes. You’ve probably already figured out that Miss White is the one in the maid’s uniform.”
“Do you need to look for evidence anywhere else?” Negan asks as he studies the group of people. “No blood on them,” he muses. “How’s that fucking work?”
“Well, they could have changed before anyone called the cops, though that would be rather noticeable to the other guests. Maybe they wore something over their clothes and stashed it somewhere. I’d like to look them over and see what I can find. Maybe when you get a few leads, I’ll have more for you to work with.”
Negan rolls his neck back and forth, cracking it and shaking his hands out. “Look around while I interrogate them. See what you can see.”
“You got it, boss.”
Negan nudges Robin’s shoulder. “I love it when you call me boss.”
“I know, boss.” She blows him a kiss this time, skipping ahead of him down the hallway.
Negan starts to talk to his suspects while Robin pokes around in the conservatory. She’s concentrating, so his voice has receded into a general hum in the background when she finds the bullet.
It’s embedded in the trunk of one of the trees. Robin pulls it out with a pair of tweezers and looks at it carefully.
“Negan!” she calls. “You’re going to want to see this.”
A few moments later, Negan appears at her side and she shows him the bullet. “It was in the tree there. I’m guessing it was fired today. There’s no tree growth over it and it’s still in decent shape.”
“Victim didn’t have a gun? Maybe he tried to defend himself.”
“No gun on or near him,” Robin confirms. “Maybe your murderer tried a different method before they settled on the bat.”
Negan stares at her skeptically. “Are you telling me I’m literally searching for a smoking gun?”
Robin giggles. “Well, you have to start somewhere.”
Chapter 2: The Conservatory
Negan begins to interrogate his suspects.
“They were all searched by the officers who were first on the scene. I have their effects, but I didn’t see anything suspicious. Definitely no guns.”
“Residue test?” he wonders.
She grins. “I can do that right now.”
“I’d smack your ass to thank you if you weren’t so fucking uptight,” Negan quips.
Robin shakes her head at him playfully. “Do your job, you walking lawsuit.” Negan chuckles and turns his attention back to the case.
“All right,” he starts, standing in front of his suspects and waving the plastic bag Robin slipped the bullet into between his fingers. She’s bent over beside him, grabbing a few things from her kit. Negan glances at her deliciously round backside and licks his lip before continuing. “My lovely CSI here, Miss Ballard, is going to check your hands for gunshot residue, but I would very much appreciate it if someone could tell me the story of this bullet.”
“Bullet?” Mrs. Peletier asks, dramatically placing her hand on her chest. “I thought poor Abraham was bludgeoned to death.”
Negan nods. “As far as we can tell, he was. But this bullet could still be related to his murder.”
“You can’t know that,” Miss Espinosa protests, clearly extremely annoyed. “And you can’t hold us here.”
Negan bristles and opens his mouth to reply, but stops when Robin touches his arm and leans up to whisper in his ear. “Remember what happened the last time you went off on a suspect, Negan? Don’t let your mouth get you in trouble.”
He grimaces, but bites his tongue. He knows she’s right. “What would I fucking do without you, Robin?” he sighs. “Maybe one day you’ll let me show you how much trouble my mouth can get into.”
“Such a tease.” Robin winks at him, then turns around. “Miss Espinosa, Head Detective Negan can hold you, actually, because you’re all suspects in a crime. So the sooner we figure out what happened, the sooner those of you who aren’t guilty can leave.” She holds up a long swab that’s been soaked in solution. “So palms up, everyone. This won’t take long at all.”
Negan smirks as Robin goes down the line, starting with Miss White. He talks while she works. “CSI Ballard is exactly right.”
Miss Espinosa rolls her eyes in exasperation as Robin swabs her hands. “Okay, fine, but how do you know the bullet has anything to do with Abraham’s murder?” she persists.
“Occam’s razor, Miss Espinosa,” Robin hums triumphantly, turning to Negan and holding up the swab, which is bright pink.
“What does that mean?” Miss Espinosa clears her throat nervously and hides her hands behind her back.
“Occam’s razor is a principle that states that the simplest explanation is usually the right one,” Negan informs her.
“I meant the color of the swab,” she huffs. “But what’s the simplest explanation?”
Robin chimes in. “It’s possible that whoever killed Sergeant Ford might have tried another method before they succeeded with the baseball bat. And since none of you has reported being shot at…”
“Maybe it was just target practice,” Miss Espinosa quickly suggests.
Negan shakes his head. “Target practice in a glass room? Unlikely. And if the tree was used for target practice, there would be evidence of more than one bullet being fired.”
“That’s also a rare tree,” Robin points out. “It’s a Chiranthodendron, commonly known as the Devil’s hand. They’re expensive to order and cultivate. You wouldn’t use it for target practice.”
“Okay, fine, but nobody got shot, so I don’t see what the problem is?” Miss Espinosa crosses her arms and tries to stare Negan down.
He raises an eyebrow curiously. “I’m just trying to establish a timeline and figure out a motive, Miss Espinosa. And the color of the swab means you fired a gun recently,” Negan replies casually. “Maybe you’d like to come clean before this gets more complicated?”
“I’m not telling you shit!” Miss Espinosa turns on her heel and stalks over to the door, where an officer stops her from leaving. Negan shrugs and waves his hand at the officer, indicating that he should let her continue down the hallway. The skirt of her bright red dress flares behind her as she yanks open the door to the library and shouts, “I am calling a lawyer!”
“All right,” Negan mutters. Robin packs up her kit, stashing away the evidence they’ve discovered so far. “Why don’t we all go to the library and keep trying to sort this out?”
He turns to follow Miss Espinosa; Robin lets the others file past her so she can trail behind. As she tries to let Miss White walk by, the clearly agitated maid grabs her arm.
“I might be able to help,” she whispers. Robin stops, letting the others get ahead of them.
“What is it, Miss White?”
“Miss Espinosa dated Sergeant Ford,” she reveals conspiratorially. “But he ended it recently. He’d started dating another woman instead. She didn’t take it well.”
“He invited his ex to a dinner party? Why?” Robin wonders.
Miss White shrugs. “They worked together sometimes too, long before they began seeing each other. And this event was planned a while ago. They haven’t been broken up that long.”
“Thank you, Miss White. You’ve been very helpful. Just let me or Head Detective Negan know if you think of anything else.”
The woman walks into the library, glancing skittishly at Negan as she passes him where he’s leaning against the wall. Robin joins him.
Before they go inside, Negan glances at her. “Did you notice that none of them seem particularly upset that he’s dead?”
“I did,” she confirms. “Miss White just told me that Sergeant Ford was dating Miss Espinosa, but he broke it off a while ago for another woman. They worked together too, so that might have been awkward.”
Negan smiles. “Aw, you think workplace relationships are a bad idea? So much for my plans later.”
“You wish, Negan,” Robin retorts. “What’s your next move?”
“Get a timeline of the party. See what they reveal once they start talking. Poke around the library during?” She nods in agreement and Negan opens the door, his hand brushing the small of her back lightly as he ushers her inside. He watches in satisfaction as the skin on the back of her neck prickles in response.
“Did you speak to your lawyer, Miss Espinosa?” Negan inquires.
She’s perched on the desk with her arms crossed, looking extremely put out. “He said to call him again if you arrest me,” she admits. “Are you arresting me?”
“I’m not arresting anyone yet. I just want to get an idea of what happened before Sergeant Ford went missing, and all of you can help me with that.”
Before anyone can start talking, Robin points to the chandelier above Negan’s head. “Do you see that?”
“See what?” He peers up, not knowing exactly what he’s supposed to be looking for.
She clambers up onto the chair beside him. It wobbles and Negan reaches out reflexively, his large, warm hands gripping her thighs to hold her steady as she reaches out with tweezers and grabs something. “Lift me down?” she requests. Negan does, his own skin prickling as she loops her arm around his neck for support.
“Thanks.” She brandishes the tweezers and shows him what she’s found. “Rope fibers.”
Negan turns so they can confer privately for a moment. Despite his demeanor, he doesn’t want to be insensitive. “Rope in the chandelier would indicate a possible suicide attempt, but that doesn’t make much sense. He certainly didn’t bash his own head in.”
“Unlikely,” Robin acknowledges. “And Miss White said he owns multiple guns. A military man like Sergeant Ford would probably just shoot himself if he wanted to commit suicide.”
Negan nods and turns back to his suspects. “Miss White, would you happen to remember when you last cleaned the chandelier and if these rope fibers were there when you did?”
Ms. White clears her throat. “I cleaned the chandelier this morning, sir. There was no rope in it then, and Sergeant Ford was gone all day. He only arrived back home about an hour before the party started.”
“There’s the beginning of your timeline,” Robin observes.
Negan smiles. “Let’s see where it goes.”
Chapter 3: The Library
Several pieces of the puzzle fall into place and another motive surfaces in Negan’s investigation.
Negan nods, standing next to her and watching her work. “You’re way better at this technological shit than me,” he grumps.
“That’s because you’re an old man,” Robin teases. “Okay. There’s your shell. What do you want to add first?”
Negan glances at his suspects. “I need to know when each of you arrived at the party,” he tells them. “And if you were in the house at any other time before the party today.”
Robin listens to their answers, tapping at her tablet as she adds the information. “Miss White arrived at seven this morning and was here all day and through the party. She never left. Miss Espinosa arrived at 8:15 PM to speak to Sergeant Ford about work. She left at 8:30 PM because she forgot something and returned at 8:55 PM, right before the party started. Everyone else arrived between 8:45 and 8:55 PM,” she summarizes helpfully. “What next?”
Negan strokes his beard thoughtfully with one hand. “Let’s work backwards,” he suggests.
“Sure. Miss White, you called the police and said you’d discovered Sergeant Ford’s body. Can you tell us about that?” Robin requests.
Miss White, though visibly shaken, folds her hands and carefully recounts her short tale.
“I wasn’t attending the party; I was just cleaning up after everyone. I was almost done clearing the dining room after the party’s meal when I smelled blood. I was scared, but I went to investigate and found poor Sergeant Ford’s body.”
“You didn’t hear anything?” Negan clarifies.
Miss White shakes her head. “I’m afraid I was moving between the kitchen and the dining room the entire time I was cleaning, sir. Putting food and dishes away. I must have missed the noise because of it.”
“And this was shortly before your call to the police?” Negan asks.
“Yes, sir. Maybe five minutes? I was rather shocked when I found the body, of course. It took me a few moments to get my bearings, and then I had to go get my phone from the kitchen where I store my purse while I work.”
“And where was everyone else at that time?” Negan turns his attention back to the other partygoers.
“We were in the conservatory already,” Mrs. Peletier replies easily. “Abraham was going to show us some of his rare plants.”
“All right. I need to know who was where for the entire duration of the party. Each room you were in, when, and for how long,” he orders.
Robin quickly creates a map of the house on her tablet. She gives each guest a colored dot on a legend and then puts a dot in each room where a guest went, adding time markers where she can.
“Great,” Negan praises her slowly as he thinks. “We’re back to the bullet, I think,” he observes. “I really want to know how that factors into all of this.”
Miss Espinosa sighs and looks down at her hands. “Fine. I shot at him, okay?” she admits. “We met at work, and we dated for a while. He broke up with me a few weeks ago, and I was still pissed about it. But I wasn’t trying to kill him!” she quickly adds. “I just wanted to scare him a little.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Too bad he didn’t buy it,” she mutters. “He actually laughed at me.”
“That was why you left?” Negan prods.
She nods. “Yes. I wanted some air before I came back. I didn’t forget anything.”
“Did you use a silencer?” Negan wonders.
“No. I shot at him with an old revolver. It’s his. He had it with him in the conservatory. I just came here early so we could talk. I wasn’t planning to shoot at him. It was a moment of passion or whatever.”
“And you didn’t hear the shot, Miss White?” Negan inquires.
“No, sir. I was preparing for the party. I was probably in the pantry gathering ingredients for dinner. It’s hard to hear in there.”
“Where’s the gun, Miss Espinosa?” Negan finishes.
She shrugs. “I left it with Abraham. I assume he put it away or did something else with it.”
“Thank you.” Negan motions to Robin and they step out into the hallway. “Officers, can you go into the room with our suspects, please?”
The officers slip inside the library and they’re alone.
Negan crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the wall. “Do you believe her?”
Robin smiles. Negan may be a bit abrasive and inappropriate at times, but he’s a very smart detective, and when he gets serious, he means business.
Robin thinks for a moment. “I do,” she finally reveals. “It’s a logical explanation for the bullet. And she already knows that a gunshot didn’t kill him, like she said. There’s no reason for her to lie. She was just being obstinate before.” Robin pulls out her tablet and adds the bullet to the timeline. “I’m not sure it helps much. Sure, she didn’t kill him then, but she still could have later. We know she has a motive, and she admitted to that motive just now.”
“Yeah.” Negan runs his hand through his hair, narrowing his eyes as he looks around and thinks. “Something is bothering me,” he confesses. “The… fucking…” He gestures at his head in frustration. “…peacock hat lady said they were all in the conservatory when the body was discovered. But if one of them is the murderer, someone had to have been missing. Unless it was Miss White who did it.”
Robin giggles. “Mrs. Peletier,” she corrects him, then continues. “Miss White could have done it. She doesn’t seem to have a motive yet, but we don’t know what their relationship was like. It might have been bad.” Robin pauses. “Someone could have slipped out of the conservatory. If everyone else was involved in their own conversations, they might not have noticed. And we tested all of their blood alcohol levels when we got here. No one was trashed, but everyone had a few drinks, so they probably weren’t being very observant.”
Negan can’t argue with her line of reasoning. “Damn you for making sense, Ballard,” he jokes. “What would you do next? Give me some fucking guidance here.”
“Check each room that guests were in for evidence that corroborates or disproves their stories. And I’d start with the library. Search in front of them. Shake them up a bit. They might reveal something.”
“I fucking like the way you think, Ballard,” Negan admits.
“Thanks for asking,” Robin says softly. “It’s nice to work with a detective who realizes that crime scene investigators know what we’re doing.”
Negan chuckles. “Come on. Let’s put on a show.”
They head back into the library. Robin checks her tablet. “Dr. Porter. You were the only guest who visited the library, correct?”
“That is correct, ma’am,” Dr. Porter responds stiffly. “Sergeant Ford has many interesting texts and he often lets me avail myself of them.”
Negan blinks at the man, whose face is expressionless. “You’re a real fucking smartypants, aren’t you? Even with that fucking hair.”
Robin can barely keep herself from laughing. “Negan!” she chastises him, smacking his arm.
Negan shrugs. “What? It’s true.”
Dr. Porter doesn’t seem offended. “It is indeed true, ma’am. My appearance often draws consternation from my colleagues, but my intelligence more than makes up for it.”
“Along with your suit from prom in the 1970s,” Negan quips, earning another smack from Robin. He smirks before turning his attention fully back to the investigation. “And where was Sergeant Ford while you were here?”
“He was sitting at his desk the entire time, sir.”
“And you didn’t notice a rope hanging from the chandelier at all?”
“No, sir. There was no rope in the room that I could observe. I can only conclude that the incident which left the fibers in the fixture happened before my arrival or after my departure.”
“Was Sergeant Ford doing anything while he was sitting at his desk?”
Dr. Porter shifts just a little and finally shows some emotion. He looks vaguely uncomfortable. Negan’s nose twitches almost like he’s a bloodhound who’s caught a strong scent.
Robin wanders over to the desk and begins looking at it. It’s neat and organized; nothing appears to be out of place. She sits down in the large leather wingback chair and starts opening drawers. Most of them contain obvious contents. Office supplies, mail, important papers.
But as she reaches the middle drawer, she notices that it seems too shallow for its size.
There’s a large ledger in the drawer. She takes it out and sets it aside before gently pressing down on the thin plywood that forms the bottom of the drawer.
When it obligingly pops out and reveals a stack of papers beneath it, Robin is very satisfied and Negan is very intrigued.
“Nice, Ballard. Secret compartment in the drawer.” He moves to stand next to her. “What’s in it?”
Robin glances through the fairly thick sheaf. Negan notices that Dr. Porter has started sweating.
Robin looks at him. “Mr. Porter,” she starts. “It appears that you aren’t actually a doctor.” She hands Negan the documents. “Sergeant Ford has evidence that Mr. Porter’s PhD credentials are falsified.”
“What kind of doctor are you supposed to be, anyway?” Negan queries.
Mr. Porter breaks down quickly. “I’m supposed to be an engineer, sir,” he rushes to explain. “I’m smart enough to do the job. I really am. I just never had the money to go to school, and I couldn’t get enough loans. So I made myself some fake documents so I could do the job I wanted. The job the government needs me to do now,” he points out, as if that makes his deception better.
“Why didn’t Sergeant Ford rat you out?” Negan wants to know.
Mr. Porter sighs. “Sergeant Ford was using the information to get better deals from me on government contracts. He knew that I would do everything I could to please him because he could reveal the truth about me to my superiors at any time.”
“You do realize that that’s a good motive for murder?” Robin muses.
Mr. Porter nods. “Yes, I am aware of that, ma’am. The honest truth is that I was going to try to kill Sergeant Ford because I was tired of the blackmail. I had planned to make it look like a suicide. I put the rope on the chandelier while Sergeant Ford was mingling at the party. I was going to ask him to join me to talk about our arrangement once I was ready.”
“What happened?” Robin speaks up. “There were no ligature marks on Sergeant Ford’s neck, so you must not have gotten the rope around it.”
“No, ma’am,” Mr. Porter agrees. “I chickened out. I was afraid Sergeant Ford might hurt me if I failed, or make my life worse because of what he knew. So I took down the rope and hid it in the study.”
“So Sergeant Ford was never in the library with you?” Robin pulls out her tablet to make adjustments.
The map updates and Robin looks at Negan. “Shall we go to the study next?”
“I think that’s an excellent plan, CSI Ballard.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Miss Espinosa snaps. “Traipse around after you while you try to solve a murder?”
“Not at all,” Negan brushes her off congenially. “You can stay here with these lovely officers while we go solve a murder.”
Chapter 4: The Study
An inspection of the study yields fruit for Negan’s investigation.
“I just needed out of there for five fucking seconds so I can fucking think, you know?” he explains.
She nods. “I bet. It’s better this way anyway. I don’t need them trampling all over my evidence.”
Negan pushes open the door to the study and glances around. “Nothing seems to be out of place,” he observes.
Robin smiles. “That’s where I come in.”
She walks slowly around the room, finally stopping at a shelf where the books are just slightly out of place. She reaches behind them and pulls out a bundle of rope. She lays it out on the table behind her and inspects it before putting it into an evidence bag.
“I don’t think it’s going to tell us much,” she admits.
“Probably not,” Negan agrees. “But I still don’t want to rule Porter out. If he got scared enough, he might have tried to kill Sergeant Ford.”
“He definitely has a good motive,” Robin points out. “That information being revealed is going to ruin his life.” She tilts her head to the side as she studies the carpet. “Do you see that?” she mutters, suddenly dropping to her hands and knees and pulling something free from the edge of the rug.
Before Negan can answer, she’s holding up a crumpled peacock feather exactly like the ones in Mrs. Peletier’s hat.
Negan shrugs. “So she lost one. She has plenty left.”
Robin shakes her head as she stands up. “There’s only one problem with that, Negan.” She pulls out her tablet again and shows him the map. “According to Mrs. Peletier, she was never in the study tonight.”
“Hm. Could somebody have tracked it in?” Negan wonders.
Robin looks at the feather carefully. “I don’t think so,” she finally decides. “This looks like it was stepped on once. That step probably shoved it partway under the rug where we found it. If it had been dragged or stuck to someone’s shoe, we’d see more damage. And this thing is enormous. Someone probably would have noticed it if they’d picked it up on the way here.”
Robin makes a note on their map as Negan takes the feather and studies it. “So why was she in the study?” he starts thinking out loud. “And why wouldn’t she tell us she was?”
“Maybe she has something to hide, just like Mr. Porter did,” Robin suggests. “Something that Sergeant Ford knew about.” She pokes around the shelves by where she found the peacock feather as she talks. “Did you get the files on the suspects? The precinct should have sent them to you by now.”
“Right. Let me check.” Negan opens his phone and squints at it as he goes to his e-mail.
Robin laughs. “Your glasses are in your jacket pocket, Negan,” she reminds him.
Negan grimaces as he puts on the thick black-rimmed glasses. “I hate these fucking things,” he gripes. “They make me look like a fucking nerd.”
“You are a nerd,” Robin teases. “But don’t worry. They also make you look hot.”
Negan snickers. “Well, in that case, I’ll wear them all the time until you break down and can’t resist me.”
“Don’t hold your breath. I have a strong constitution.” Negan winks at her and then scrolls through the information he’s been sent.
“All of the suspects are clean…” he trails off, biting his lip as he reads the last file.
“Except one?” When Negan looks up again, Robin is holding a large dagger in her hand. “I found it hidden behind the books. Clearly, Sergeant Ford needed to not leave any space between them and the shelves, considering that this is the second piece of evidence we’ve found there.”
“Fucking goddamn, that thing is fucking huge,” Negan says. “And yes, you’re right, except one. Sort of.”
“Well, she was never officially charged, but Mrs. Peletier was investigated when her husband and daughter died in a car crash. Their deaths put her husband’s entire estate in her hands. Several witnesses testified that they’d been having marital problems, and that because she signed a prenuptial agreement, she wouldn’t get anything if they got divorced. I have the detective’s notes here. He was sure that she did it, but he couldn’t find any proof, so they had to declare the crash an accident.”
Robin looks thoughtful. “Do you want me to get wild with my theories?” She raises an eyebrow at Negan.
He chuckles. “Get fucking wild for me, Ballard. Pretty please?”
“Okay. We know that Sergeant Ford has a penchant for blackmail. He was blackmailing Mr. Porter. So maybe he was blackmailing Mrs. Peletier too. And maybe she was in here looking for whatever he has against her. No evidence, no blackmail, right? And it would explain why she didn’t tell us she was in here. She couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation.”
“I buy it so far. She came into a lot of money, so maybe he was making her pay him off. I’ll send a request for his accounts, but we probably won’t hear back from the bank until tomorrow.” He gestures to the dagger. “But how do you explain that? Sergeant Ford wasn’t in the study either, as far as anyone knew, right? So she didn’t come in here to kill him.”
Robin turns the dagger over in her hand and thinks. “Maybe it was her back-up plan,” she muses. “Think about it. She’s poking around where she knows she’s not wanted. If Sergeant Ford finds her, who knows how he’s going to react. She stabs him and kills him, claims that he got violent, and then she’s just a poor woman defending herself against an unwarranted attack. It would certainly be a sympathetic story to tell a jury, if the case even got that far.”
“All right,” Negan agrees. “But where’s the evidence against her? You didn’t find it in the secret compartment in the desk.”
Robin bags the dagger and looks around. “True. But a man paranoid enough to have a secret compartment in his desk drawer probably has other unusual hiding places, don’t you think? Maybe Mrs. Peletier thought he was using the old hollowed out book trick.”
Robin starts to inspect the books on the shelves more closely, looking at their titles. “Most of these are nonfiction,” she explains. “About the military, wars, weapons. But this one…” She points to a thick anthology volume of Sherlock Holmes stories. “It seems a little out of place, don’t you think?”
“I think you’re right, Robin,” Negan murmurs. He reaches out to grab the book. When he pulls it, there’s a loud mechanical noise as it leans forward.
The bookshelf in front of them slowly slides open, revealing a secret passageway.
Negan swallows. “Well, I, uh, wasn’t fucking expecting that. Who the fuck has secret fucking passageways in their house?”
“Worth checking out, don’t you think?” Robin grabs a flashlight from her kit and flicks it on.
Negan puts a hand on her arm. “Let me get one of the officers first. Show them how the passage works in case we get stuck.”
“And here I was thinking you’d have so many ways to pass the time if we did,” Robin teases.
Negan grins at her. “Oh, I have plenty, Robin. But wouldn’t you rather do that in my nice, comfy bed?”
“Don’t be lewd, Head Detective,” Robin replies primly. “I’ll wait while you get the officer.”
“One of these days, Ballard,” Negan assures her as he heads to the door. “One of these days.”