Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 36

After the doors closed, I grabbed her arm and leaned close. “You have to promise me, Neely Kate.”

She raised her right hand as though she was being sworn in. “I do! I swear. I promise.”

“Something’s not right. It’s like he’s ignorin’ evidence or something.”

“Yes! Exactly! Like the pin they found in the safe! It didn’t belong to the murder victim, but it didn’t belong to Bruce Decker either. Where did it come from?”

“How do you know these things?”

She rolled her eyes. “I already told you. I have the gift. I know things. Now listen. We don’t have much time.”

I only wished she did have the gift. “Does Detective Taylor know who the real murderer is? Is he protectin’ him?”

“No, nothing like that. It’s pure laziness. The crowbar was under Decker’s house and his fingerprints were at the crime scene. It’s just too easy to slap a Case Closed sign on it instead of really investigating. I heard Frank Mitchell owed money to some bookies down at the pool hall.”

“I heard he owed someone money too, but I didn’t hear to who.” Who were the bookies?

The elevator stopped on the second floor with a jerk, and the door slowly slid open.

Neely Kate glanced over her shoulder at me, then faced the front. “You didn’t hear nothing from me.”

“You mean that your cousin is gonna look like an orange Skittle at your wedding? And spoil the surprise for everyone?”

With a wink, she headed down the hall toward the probate office. “Thanks for coming to see me! Lunch tomorrow?”

The thought of meeting Neely Kate for lunch made me happy. “Yeah.”

Mr. Deveraux’s office was two doors down from the probate office, but I’d told Neely Kate I was going to visit Marjorie Grace. I might as well make an honest woman of myself and drop in to see if she was there. For all I knew, she’d gotten the day off too.

I knocked on the juror room, unsure about proper manners for such a thing. Turned out I worried for nothing. The room was empty, the lights turned off. Mrs. Baker’s deadly casserole had been removed, probably handed over to Officer Ernie for evidence. Sinking onto a chair, I had to admit I was relieved to be alone. I needed to prepare myself the confrontation I was sure to have.

My cell phone rang and startled me. Snatching it from my purse, I groaned when I saw who was calling—the DMV. Suzanne was surely calling to chew me out. Maybe even fire me. Could I get that lucky?

Sucking in a deep breath, I turned off the ringer and stood. Time to get this over with.

I walked down the hall, the heaviness of my dread dragging on me while every nerve stood on end in anticipation. I stopped outside Mr. Deveraux’s office door and read his name on the frosted window.

I was about to make a fool of myself.

Panic gripped me and I closed my eyes, trying not to hyperventilate. After a couple of deep breaths, I felt a bit calmer. I was the only one willing to help Bruce Wayne Decker. I couldn’t let public humiliation stand in my way. My eyes still closed, I reached for the doorknob when the door swung open, and something rammed into me. I stumbled backward, releasing a squeal that rivaled the pig that had escaped at the county fair last month.

A hand grabbed my arm and jerked me forward until I collided with something hard. My eyes flew open, and my screeching stopped when I saw it was none other than Mason Deveraux III, his hand gripping my elbow so tightly I was sure I’d have bruises. My chest was firmly against his as he held me upright. His eyes were dark and angry.

“What the hell are you doing, Ms. Gardner?”

“I…”

“Are you always this annoying or is it just me you have an affinity for?”

My mouth dropped open and I vacillated from bursting into tears and giving the man a good tongue-lashing. Luckily for me, I’d cried myself out on Tuesday night.

I stiffened and twisted my arm from his grasp. “And are you always this rude or do you save it for just me?”

Mr. Deveraux stepped backward, smoothing the imaginary wrinkles from his jacket. “What are you doing here, Ms. Gardner?” His mouth pursed into his constipated look. I swore I was gonna bring him some Ex-Lax.

“Hadn’t you realized, Mr. Deveraux? It’s my life’s purpose to annoy you. How am I doin’ so far?” What had gotten into me? I’d never been so rude to anyone in my entire life.

He leaned closer, his eyes narrowing. “You’re exceptionally talented, but surely even you have a purpose other than coming down here to pester me, on your day off from your civic duty no less. Shouldn’t you be home vomiting?”

My chest heaved with my anger and frustration. This wasn’t going very well and I hadn’t even started yet. “I needed to talk to you.” Crappy doodles! I wished I’d thought to iron out at least part of my snippy tone.

He swung his hand away from his side, his hand gripping a manila folder. A fake grin plastered his face. “Well, here I am, in the flesh. Start talking.”

The blood in my veins boiled. “What in the world happened to make you so hateful?”

His arm fell back to his side and his grin turned into a scowl.

“I haven’t done a thing to you other than happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trust me, Mr. Deveraux, you’re the last person on the face of the earth I want to see right now.”

His eyes widened in confusion. “But I thought you just said you needed to talk to me.”

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