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Prime Suspect

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There was nothing like cruising down I-35 with the top down at sunset while basking in the satisfaction of a job well done.

He’d been through hell and back, but that was long ago, and now Tyler Seguin was living the dream.

Here he was now, dressed to kill in a grey three-piece Dolce & Gabbana suit, with the pressed white shirt, navy blue tie, and black Oxfords from the same collection to match while shifting gears in his victory green Corvette Stingray; which he bought with cash, thank you very much, as he always liked to mention.

He had it all: the car, the clothes, the cash, the penthouse apartment, and the wealthy clients.

Earlier that evening, he’d been with someone new. She was older, possibly in her 60s, from what Tyler could tell. Maybe that’s why she’d been so damn stubborn. By the time they hit their 40s, women knew exactly what they wanted and refused to tolerate anything else. If he didn’t know how to turn on the charm, the evening could have been a disaster.

Perhaps that was why Sharon had sent him. The younger studs wouldn’t have known how to handle her. Anyone with half a brain wouldn’t floor the accelerator of a 1,200-horsepower Shelby GT500 and attempt to run it right up a hill immediately after starting the engine.

No, one needed to warm it up first—start off nice and slow, gradually shifting gears as the engine revved its consent, begging you to unleash its full potential.

One needed to let every woman know just how special she was, and how much one appreciated them.

Tyler knew exactly how to do just that, which kept all his clients—female and male—coming back for more.

Looks would fade over time, and Tyler would eventually grow old and lose his testosterone and stamina.

But his clients had him now. With his chiseled physique, handsome face, and primal sexuality, Tyler was at the zenith of machismo; an absolute paragon of masculinity.

People would talk, saying how he made his living was immoral, not to mention illegal. They didn’t understand the part he had to play.

Everyone had needs. Sometimes, they required someone to fulfill those needs.

In a cruel world consumed by expanding darkness, they needed someone to bring them the light, to make them feel truly alive for the first time in ages.

Society was the whore.

Tyler was just the escort.

***

Sharon Lindemulder had built an empire of flesh over the past 30 years and ruled Dallas with an iron fist. She would not suffer no-name hookers or small-time pimps on her turf; and would immediately eliminate those who dared cross her.

Part of building and maintaining her empire involved traveling to other cities and seeking out talented and attractive streetwalkers. Five years earlier, a lucky break in Boston led her to Tyler, who had made the fatal mistake of turning the wrong trick in an alley.

Sharon remained hidden as she watched Tyler do what he did best. He was ingeniously talented in the erotic arts, and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. He would be an excellent addition to her lineup.

But when Tyler demanded his money, the trick decided he didn’t want anyone left alive to be able to tell his wife what he’d done. After a brief struggle, Tyler’s arms were locked behind his back and a knife was against his throat.

There was no time to waste. Sharon exploded out of her hiding spot and pulled her 9mm Ruger from its concealed holster on her right hip. Before the trick could react, she had fired two shots into his neck.

Once the trick’s lifeless body thudded to the ground and began bleeding out, Sharon holstered her gun, asked if Tyler was all right, and introduced herself before giving him the sales pitch.

The rest was history. Sharon’s gamble on Tyler hit blackjack. Tyler was now one of her top escorts.

Although sometimes, he needed to be put in his place.

Though it was a pleasant surprise to see him coming into her penthouse so soon. He owed her money. “Tyler? I thought you wouldn’t be here until tomorrow.”

“I owe you half from earlier.” Tyler reached into his coat pocket and produced a stack of $500 bills, which he waved in front of her. “Besides, didn’t you say you had someone else for me?”

“Oh, right. That.” Sharon snatched the money from Tyler’s hand before heading to her desk, where she rifled through papers before finding the notepad where she had scrawled notes from the call she had received that afternoon. “Your 9:00 had to postpone until tomorrow night. Their flight got pushed back.”

“‘Their’?” Tyler repeated, confused.

“Married Wall Street couple. They’re in town for some conference or other.” Sharon didn’t concern herself with the details beyond who, what, when, and how much they were forking over. “Said they wanted a companion for the evening.” Sharon looked down and counted the money Tyler had handed to her. Four thousand even. Perfect.

“They into drugs?”

“No.” Sharon shook her head. “Probably the only Wall Street bankers who aren’t.” Which was a shame as far as Sharon was concerned; she could have made some additional money off them.

“Twenty thousand?”

“Yeah.”

“How about we split it 60-40?”

Sharon clenched the money in her fist as she crossed her arms across her chest and shot an icy glare at Tyler. Apparently he needed to be reminded who was in charge. “No. You are not pulling this shit again. 50-50.”

“But you always assign—“

“You knew what the rates were when you agreed to this. But if you don’t like them, well, there’s...” Sharon cocked her head and smiled triumphantly as she twisted the knife. “Always the streets to fall back on, mmm?”

Tyler winced at the memory. “Okay, fine. 50-50.”

Sharon chuckled victoriously before suddenly remembering the other call she had taken that morning. “Oh, that’s right. Ines called this morning. Mrs. Hildebrand wants you to come over tonight.”

Tyler raised an eyebrow. “Tonight?”

“She’s attending a fundraiser tomorrow so she can’t see you then. When can you head over there?”

The conversation came to a brief halt when two of Sharon’s girls walked into the room and headed straight for the wet bar. Sharon made it a point to always have a couple of escorts hanging around to introduce to potential clients.

Junko was brand new, so Sharon didn’t have a good read on her yet. Sharon still wasn’t sure how to pronounce her entire name, let alone spell it. But so far, clients seemed to like her.

The second girl, a leggy white blonde, made more of an impression. Somewhere and somehow, Regina and Tyler had become best friends. They even spoke to one another and hung out when they weren’t working.

Regina beamed the moment she noticed Tyler’s presence. “Hey, Tyler.”

“Hey.” Apparently Regina’s smile was contagious, since Tyler was now beaming as well. “Got any work tonight?”

“Nah, just here until midnight. You gonna stick around for a bit? Been forever since we hung out.”

“Can’t. I’m going to Maggie’s.” Tyler’s expression grew serious once again as he turned back to Sharon. “I’ll be over there in an hour.”

“C’mon, stay!” Regina pleaded.

“I’d love to, but I have to work. This shit’s not free, you know.” With that, Tyler turned and strode towards the door.

Sharon waited until Tyler was gone before speaking again. “I know you’re disappointed, but I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up.”

Regina tilted her head to one side and stared at Sharon with a puzzled look.

“Zafiro’s coming over tonight.”

Sure enough, Regina perked up immediately. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Didn’t realize you’d have a slow night. Got something nice you can put on?”

The Cheshire-like grin spread wide across Regina’s face as she ran towards the stairs, stilettos clattering against the tile with every lope.

***

Margaret Hildebrand was not only Tyler’s best client, but they had also formed a strong bond. There was friendship and mutual respect, but no romance. Their relationship was symbiotic—Margaret received the companionship and sensual regard that had ended with her husband’s death, and Tyler earned her attentive ear and superfluous praise. Her considerable wealth barely factored into Tyler’s perception of her, but it certainly made his life easier.

“Sorry I’m late.” Tyler crept cautiously around the room, knowing full well that Maggie demanded punctuality, and he had been anything but. “I didn’t find out until just a couple hours ago you wanted me to come over tonight.” He raised the bottle of Dom Perignon, silently begging for forgiveness. “And I know how much you love this, so I stopped to get some on my way over.”

Maggie remained silent as she sat stone-faced on the loveseat, staring forward blankly with her hands in her lap. Yep, Maggie was pissed. But she always wanted champagne every time Tyler was over. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Wordlessly, he headed to the wine cart to fetch the butterfly corkscrew.

“Wait.”

Maggie’s voice stopped Tyler in his tracks. Cautiously, he turned to face her.

“I need your help.”

“What’s wrong?” Tyler placed the bottle onto the cart before going to join Maggie.

“Tomorrow…I’ve never met these people.”

“Really?” For Maggie, who had become heavily involved in philanthropy after her husband’s death, this was highly unusual. She was a fixture at many charitable events, so she had numerous contacts in the nonprofit circuit. Considering how many organizations were begging for cash, how was there someone who had not hit her up for donations at some point?

“The King Foundation just elected a new chairman. That’s probably who contacted me after all this time.”

“They reached out to you first? So then, what’s the problem?”

“I’m not sure what to wear tomorrow night. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”

Tyler nodded. Maggie had always wanted to be loved rather than feared, and galas tended to be the center of gossip. Of course she wanted to make a good impression. “Did you have anything in mind?”

Maggie rose from the loveseat and strode towards her bedroom. “Well, you’ve seen my navy blue dress plenty of times. But I have a couple others as well, and I was wondering.” By the time she finished speaking, she had opened her walk-in closet and pulled two gowns off the nearest rack. The pink one was an off-the-shoulder style, and the green one was Grecian inspired, but had a lower neckline. “Should I just go with the navy blue or one of these?”

Was this a test? Why was she asking him and not Ines? The whole situation was downright bizarre, but it wasn’t Tyler’s place to ask questions. “Don’t wear the navy blue. It’s too dark for summer. Besides, I think you’d look better in a lighter color anyway.”

“You think so?” The lilt in Maggie’s voice indicated interest, but her gaze remained skeptical.

“If you wanted to play it safe, the pink one would work. Even with the bare shoulder, it doesn’t show too much. But if you wanted to make a statement, the green one would show you off nicely.” Tyler leaned against the doorframe and flashed a seductive smile. “It hits you in all the right spots. Especially that neckline.”

Maggie replaced the gowns on the rack before turning towards Tyler with a smile of her own. “I’m getting awfully thirsty. Why don’t you pour me some champagne?”

***

Nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Jamie Benn reflected on the saying as he parked the squad car in the first empty spot near the front of the lawn he could find in the midst of all the other empty cars with flashing lights. The call had already come in before he was even out of bed, meaning the events had occurred overnight.

As Jamie put the car in park and turned off the engine, his partner in (fighting) crime, Antoine Roussel, glanced at him and nodded. “Here we go.”

“Yeah.” Jamie and Rous exited the car and walked past a uniformed officer that Jamie didn’t recognize before ducking under the crime scene tape. From there, they made their way through the masses of patrolmen and forensics investigators before pausing at the front door.

“Why the crowds?” Rous wondered out loud as Jamie flashed his badge at a second officer standing guard. “I mean, forensics and coroner’s guys are always at scenes, but why’d they bring the whole fuckin’ divisions here?”

Jamie shook his head as the officer lifted the second tape barrier to let them both through. “Not every vic’s a widowed billionaire. Brings out the famewhores and wannabe CSIs.”

“Wait, wasn’t it her husband’s money and not hers?” Rous continued as they proceeded up the stairs towards the bedroom. “So it wasn’t her who was the billionaire.”

“No, both were oil families.” As always, Rous was never one for the minutiae, and it was up to Jamie to bring him up to speed. “She already had her family’s fortune, but then she married into the Hildebrands, so put the two together, and…” Jamie’s voice trailed off as they reached the bedroom. He’d seen some shit over the years, but holy hell was that a lot of blood. He could barely make out the lifeless body of Margaret Hildebrand underneath the gory mess.

The other homicide guys, Spezza and Radulov, were already there. Elie from the coroner’s office was processing the body. Captain Montgomery and Lieutenant Nill were also there for some reason.

Clearly, Rous was just as confused as Jamie at the presence of the latter two, as he tapped Jamie’s shoulder before leaning in and whispering. “What are they doing here?”

“No bruising,” Elie announced. “No other signs of a struggle, either.”

“The maid found her,” Montgomery began. “Came in an hour ago. She lives on the first floor, but didn’t see or hear anything.”

Rous frowned. “She slept through a murder?”

“Maybe she’s a deep sleeper,” Jamie offered.

Rous wasn’t buying it. “Or she’s on something.”

Jamie shrugged. “Or she did it.” He turned towards Montgomery. “Murder weapon?”

“We haven’t found one,” Montgomery replied. “Nineteen stab wounds, consistent with a steak knife. Forensics has been in the kitchen already and everything’s accounted for. Maid doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Well, lookie here.” Spez was down on one knee over the garbage can, pointing the beam of his flashlight directly over a used condom at the top of the heap. “Looks like she got off before she got offed.”

“Can we have some respect for the dead here?” Nill snapped. “This is sensitive. Mrs. Hildebrand was a major contributor to Mayor Rawlings’ reelection campaign, and a benefactor of many charitable—”

Rous’ tone was just as terse. “She was giving her money away. We get it.”

“Lieutenant?” Now was as good a time as any for Jamie to ask what he really wanted to know more than anything. “You specifically asked for me to be on this case, right?”

“Correct,” Nill replied with a nod.

“Why?” Now Jamie was only more confused. Spez and Radi could handle this well enough on their own. Assigning four homicide detectives to one case was overkill.

Montgomery broke his silence. “You were with the vice squad before it was disbanded.”

Jamie nodded. He had started out in the narcotics division, then moved onto the vice squad, where he had been up until it was disbanded two years earlier. Once that happened, he assumed he’d be back in narcotics, but Montgomery had called him into his office and told him he was getting moved to homicide—and promoted to the rank of detective, to boot.

“And when you were with vice, you dealt with Sharon Lindemulder.”

Even the mere mention of the name was enough to make Jamie angrily grind his teeth. When her lawyers weren’t busy getting charges dismissed on technicalities, Sharon knew the law and what she had to do to just remain on the outskirts, carefully evading every legal trap set as she shattered lives in the meantime.

“Radi interviewed the maid already. She said Mrs. Hildebrand had a visitor last night. One of Sharon’s studs.”

Jamie’s eyes narrowed as his pulse quickened. He and Sharon had some unfinished business. “She give us a name?”

“Someone named Tyler. He came over around 20 hundred hours, then the maid went to bed and doesn’t remember anything else.”

Rous frowned. “And she just happened to forget everything that happened between then and when she called us. Awfully convenient.”

For all Jamie knew, maybe it was the maid. But this Tyler had been the last person to see Margaret Hildebrand alive.

Which made him a suspect.

Had Margaret Hildebrand pissed off Sharon? There had long been rumors in vice that Sharon had any clients that tried to screw her over whacked. But no one could ever tie her to any suspicious deaths. Sharon was too smart to leave a trail.

But maybe this time, she had sent one of her studs to do her dirty work.

And maybe this time, Jamie could finally put that bitch behind bars.