“I’m glad I caught you before you left then. I’m truly sorry.” He bowed his head. “I held your husband in the highest regards.”
“He respected you, too. Can I get you something to drink? I’m afraid I don’t have much. I’ll be leaving in the next day or two, but I think I have some orange juice, and I just made a fresh pot of coffee.”
“No, thank you.”
Norrma led him into the kitchen and sat down at the table, one of the few pieces of furniture left behind until the day she left. Various paperwork lay in little piles on the table, some it from the landlord, and others from the movers, bank, and relatives who’d sent cards.
“Lawrence’s funeral was this past weekend, then I insisted the kids head back to school. I know they wanted to stay with me and help out here, and maybe it was cruel to send them away, but I think staying busy and being around their friends will help them more than being here right now.” She sniffed. “Lawrence would have insisted they get on with their lives as soon as they could. ‘Death,’ he told us many times, ‘is a natural part of things. Living is for the now. Mourning can always be done later.’ He always made sure we knew exactly how he felt. None of us had to guess whether or not he loved us.”
Joe nodded. “His directness is something I appreciated immensely.”
She took a sip of coffee. “The police came, had a look at his case files, and couldn’t really make heads or tails out of them.” Norma chuckled. “Lawrence always had a unique way of organizing things in life that sometimes only he understood. I packed up what they didn’t take. Honestly, I think they confiscated a few things here and there just so it looked good in their report. I don’t believe they’ll ever find anything, though. Nobody really understood what Lawrence worked on, not in the big picture way.”
Joe grinned. “I know the type. Law enforcement through and through. Takes one to know one, I guess.”
“That’s what I was thinking.” She peered down at her cup. “Do you know what might have happened to him?”
“Maybe.” Joe leaned in. “I sent somebody down here from Iowa, a young man named Andrew, who was looking for a case file I’d loaned Lawrence. Honestly, I figured things would go one way, and Lawrence would swat the boy on the ass and send him back home. Turns out the kid had a way about him, and I think they started working together. This tells me Lawrence was already working on a case and they somehow connected, or he found a use for Andrew.
“The problem is, I don’t have a lot to go on. Something isn’t feeling quite right. The parts aren’t adding up, only I’m not getting a big enough glimpse of the picture.” Joe leaned back in his chair. “I need a bit more.”
“Would these help?” She reached under the stack of folders and paperwork, pulled out two large envelopes, and handed them over.
Anybody who knew Lawrence would recognize his handwriting in a heartbeat. Same perfectly shaped letters. Same size. Unmistakable. And the words written on the front? JOE MURPHY.
Joe’s head cocked to the side. Curiosity? Disbelief? Both? And then she saw something else, a tensing in the man’s posture and narrowing of the eyes.
The predator senses prey?
Joe hefted the two envelopes in his hand. “Lawrence left these for me?”
The lump in her throat returned. “That’s why I was hoping you’d come. I think he knew what he was working on might not end well, and he once told me if anything ever happened to him, you’re the only one he trusted to look into it.”
She watched the man run his fingers across the surface of the envelopes, across his name.
“You didn’t give these to the locals?” he asked. “Or show them?”
She shook her head. “Lawrence trusted you. I’ll put my trust in you before them, too.”
“I don’t know what’s in these.” Joe patted the top envelope. “I can’t promise anything.”
“Don’t expect you to.” Norma sat up straight. Strength. Maybe a little pride. “Maybe one promise. Someone took away my husband, my children’s father. Someone took our love, my happiness, and future. Whoever it is ain’t no better than a roaming, rabid dog, and those kinds of dogs get put down.”
He stared at her. He stared long and hard. “Yes. Yes, they do.”