Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(13)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(13)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“Sharp!” someone yelled. “Get your butt back here.”

He spotted Jimmy and Phil at a round table behind the L of the bar. Phil had worked with Sharp on the SFPD. Phil’s wife had made him retire the day he’d completed his twenty-five years. Jimmy was a retired sheriff’s deputy who’d worked for Randolph County with Paul.

Jimmy used his foot to push out the chair across from him and Phil. “Take a load off.”

Sharp slid onto the well-worn seat.

The waitress, Mindy, looked over the bar and asked, “Beer?”

Sharp shook his head. “Just sparkling water, Mindy. Thanks.”

She disappeared into the walk-in cooler. A minute later, she walked around the bar with a bottle of sparkling water. She popped the top and set down the bottle. “It was all the way in the back. No one drinks this here but you.”

The Pub was a serious watering hole. It was not a place for health nuts or teetotalers, although the bartender stocked an organic ale just for Sharp. But this was not a social visit.

“Thanks.” Sharp swigged from the bottle.

“I hear you’re back to work, Sharp.” Phil sipped a tall draft, then leaned back and folded his hands across a huge paunch. His wife was an amazing cook, and he was clearly enjoying his retirement.

“I’m getting there,” Sharp said with more enthusiasm than he felt.

Jimmy squinted at him. “You still look like hell.”

“Been a long day.” Sharp hadn’t gotten much sleep. After he’d been banished from the crime scene, he’d hung around, eavesdropping on the Knoxes’ neighbors, striking up random conversations. Unfortunately, none of the neighbors seemed to know the Knoxes very well. A few had met Paul. No one had spoken more than five words to Tina since they’d moved in. No one had seen or heard anything around the time Paul was killed.

“You need some weight. Order a cheeseburger.” Jimmy handed him a menu. “That rabbit food you love can’t sustain human life.”

Sharp ignored the dietary advice and set the menu aside. “Maybe later.”

“I can’t believe Paul Knox is dead.” Jimmy downed the final drops of his Scotch, raised the tumbler in the air, and signaled the bartender for another. “He made it through all those years on the job without getting shot, only to get blown away in his own house after retirement.”

Mindy came around with Jimmy’s Scotch and an order of fried pickles. They waited until she’d left before continuing the conversation.

“I heard your partner and his girlfriend were at the crime scene before the deputies.” Ice rattled as Jimmy shook the amber liquid in his glass. Paul’s death would have started a rush of phone calls and conversations. Jimmy probably knew everything about the investigation by now.

“Lance coaches the stepson,” Sharp said. “The mother called him and asked him to find her boy.”

Jimmy drank more Scotch, his face grave. The worst cases involved missing or dead kids.

Phil took a long swallow of his beer, set it down on the table, and toyed with a cardboard coaster. “I hope they find him.”

The alive was implied.

“How long has he been missing?” Phil asked.

Sharp glanced at the time on his phone. “About eighteen hours.”

They were all quiet for a few seconds, no doubt all remembering kids who hadn’t been found in time.

“Morgan and Lance are covering the direct search for the kid,” Sharp said. “I’m exploring the relationship to the murder case. Time is not our friend. We can’t afford to overlook any angles.” Sharp turned to Jimmy. “Paul must have put away plenty of scumbags. Do you remember anyone threatening to get even with him?”

Jimmy huffed. “Sure. We all got our share of threats.”

Phil nodded. “I know I did. A few threatened my family too.”

“Same here,” Sharp agreed. “But you don’t remember anyone specific?”

Jimmy shook his head. “No. You should talk to Brian Springer. He worked with Paul the most before Paul retired.”

“Are they still close?” Sharp asked.

“I’m not sure.” Jimmy swirled the ice in his glass. “They had a disagreement right before Paul retired. But if anyone will remember individual cases, it’ll be Brian. Do you know him?”

“His name sounds familiar.” Sharp had been on the SFPD long enough to know many of the local law enforcement officers. The sheriff’s deputies had backed up Sharp many times, and vice versa.

Jimmy opened his photo app on his phone and scrolled backward. He turned the screen toward Sharp. “This is Brian.”

Sharp recognized the face. “I’ve met him. Do you have his phone number?”

“Sure, I’ll text you his contact information.”

Sharp’s phone vibrated. He opened Jimmy’s text to read Brian’s address and cell phone number. “Thanks.”

“I’ll be right back.” Phil belched and headed for the restroom at the back of the bar.

Jimmy pushed the bowl of fried pickles toward Sharp. “Try one.”

Sharp took one from the bowl and popped it into his mouth rather than let the discussion segue into an argument about Sharp’s diet. “Is Brian still on the force?”

“Yes.” Jimmy set his phone on the table and ate a pickle. “But he’s due to retire soon.”

“Do you know what their argument was about?”

“Not the details,” Jimmy said in a vague tone.

Sharp lowered his voice and talked quickly. Recently, the sheriff’s department had been caught in a huge scandal, and he wanted to ask Jimmy any sensitive questions before Phil returned from the men’s room. “Are there any whiffs of corruption around Brian?”

“Nothing major.” Jimmy shrugged.

What does that mean?

But Sharp nodded. He really wanted to know what Brian had done, but if Sharp pushed too hard, Jimmy would become defensive and stop talking. However, if Sharp was patient and played along, Jimmy might just blab. He was drunk enough.

Jimmy shook his head. “Some guy they arrested in a bar fight filed an excessive force complaint. He said Brian broke his ribs with his baton. Nothing was ever substantiated, though, so maybe it wasn’t true.”

“Right.” But Sharp wouldn’t be surprised either way. Body cameras weren’t in the budget for the sheriff’s department yet. It would have been the suspect’s word against those of the deputies. The incident would have happened under the former sheriff, who had been known for looking the other way if a suspect got roughed up. “Did the complaint have anything to do with the falling-out between Paul and Brian?”

Jimmy lifted a shoulder. “I assumed Paul and Brian were told not to talk about it.”

But details would have leaked.

Sharp waited.

Jimmy swirled the ice in his glass and continued. “Paul and Brian were breaking up a bar fight. Paul had the patience of a saint, but Brian . . .” Jimmy wouldn’t directly criticize another cop, but the way he trailed off implied that Brian did not.

“Do you remember the name of the case?” Sharp asked.

“The guy’s name was Sam Jones.” Jimmy looked up. Phil was walking out of the short hallway that led to the restrooms. Jimmy’s mouth snapped closed. He wouldn’t say anything else about the excessive force case. He probably already regretted what he’d told Sharp.

Phil returned to the table.

And Jimmy returned to discussing general information. “Anyway, Brian is on vacation.” Jimmy raised his glass. The waitress knew him well enough to take her time bringing him refills. He was going to drink the booze as fast as she delivered it. “Here’s the worst part. Brian likes to go off the radar when he’s fishing. The sheriff had to leave a message on his cell phone. Brian doesn’t even know that Paul is dead.”

“If Brian knows the most about Paul’s cases, then I think I’d better try and find him.” Sharp drained his sparkling water. The fried pickle had soured in his stomach. Was there more to the excessive force incident? Could Brian be dirty? Had Paul known? The thought nauseated Sharp. “What does Brian drive?”

“A black Ford Taurus,” Phil said.

“Good luck finding the kid.” Jimmy shook his empty glass at the waitress again. “Let us know if we can help.”

“Thanks. I will.” Sharp left the bar and returned to the parking lot. A swarm of gnats attacked his face. He swatted them aside on the way to his car. Once he was behind the wheel, he called Brian Springer. The call switched to voice mail, and Sharp didn’t bother to leave a message. He plugged Springer’s address into his GPS and drove out of the parking lot. On the drive, he washed the taste of the pickle from his mouth with more green tea.

Brian lived in a development of small, well-kept homes on tiny lots. His one-story house was white with red shutters and had a small backyard surrounded by a four-foot-tall chain-link fence. His black Taurus was parked at the curb in the shade of an oak tree. A small shed occupied one corner of the backyard. Sharp parked behind the Taurus and walked up the concrete driveway. The lawn had been recently cut. The landscaping wasn’t fancy, but Brian kept it neat.

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