Meanwhile, things don’t add up next door. Britt’s working overtime researching their new neighbors whose one-year-old son disappeared four years ago. Rhea McKenzie, has a secret and bruises aren’t the only thing she’s trying to hide. When an off-hand comment discloses a connection to Ashley Lambert the two cases become entwined, setting off an unstoppable chain of events. Britt is sucked into an alliance with Rhea and driven to make decisions that challenge her ethics, threaten her relationship and in the end, push her over a line she never thought she’d cross.
“I don’t believe my daughter jumped. She wouldn’t have done that. I told the police, but they dismissed me. Evidently, they knew my daughter better than I did.”
“What’s your feeling on that, Mrs. Lambert?” I asked. Parents don’t always share perspectives on their children.
When she looked at me, her eyes were moist. She cradled the columbine in her palm. “Call me Gwen.”
“Ashley was a good girl. She worked very hard at everything she did.”
“She was the best, always. She made sure of it,” Greg chimed in.
Or else you did, I thought.
“It would have gone against her nature to jump off that building. It just wasn’t her way,” Gwen added.
“Her way?” Greg squinted at his wife, his face twisted in disgust as though studying an insect on flypaper. “What the hell does that mean?” He stood and walked around the circumference of our seating arrangement and then came back and took his chair again. “My girl did as she was told. And only what she was told.”
“It’s not always easy to tell a senior in college what to do,” I said. “At some point they start making their own choices even if some are ones their parents might not like.”
“Not my girl.” Greg shook his head, knocking my theory out of the park. Dismissed as impossible.
I couldn’t help but notice he kept referring to Ashley as my girl not our girl as though he’d created her, given birth and raised her throughout her short life singlehandedly. I didn’t like him. My assessment of Gwen was still up in the air, but she was wrapped so tight I couldn’t get a glimpse inside. It’s never easy to work for someone you don’t like, but Ashley’s case held the interest factor. Why had this seemingly perfect child jumped to her death?
“She was a star athlete at the top of her class and a week from graduation,” Greg continued. “She’d been accepted at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute for Bioethics. And you’re telling me that’s a kid who makes bad decisions? I don’t think so, Ms. Callahan.”
Okay, he shut me up. (A momentary lull.)
“Mr. Lambert,” Griff spoke up. “I have a daughter. I can’t imagine what you must be going through dealing with all this. What is it you think we can do for you?”
“I told the police and the medical examiner that my daughter wouldn’t take her own life. Cops shook their heads, said it wasn’t their call to make. The medical examiner said it presented as a cut and dried suicide.”
“And what do you say, Mr. Lambert?”
“My daughter was murdered.”
I glanced at Gwen. “Do you agree, Mrs. Lambert?”
She raised her eyes, glanced at her husband and then to me. “I’m not convinced, but I do agree that suicide doesn’t fit with who my daughter was.”
Griff kept his focus on Greg. “What makes you think someone would have killed your daughter? Did she have enemies that you’re aware of?”
“No, no enemies that I know of, but her jumping makes no sense. She had everything going for her and absolutely no reason to end her life. She would never have done that to me.”
Strike two. The selfish bastard assumed his daughter’s tragic death had more to do with him than whatever had driven her to that fateful state of mind. “Suicide is about what’s going on within the person themselves,” I said trying not to let my voice betray my disgust. “I doubt Ashley was consciously doing anything to you at the moment she jumped. If she jumped.”
“She knew the goals we’d set,” he said dismissing my remark. “And she had every intention of attaining them.”
“Goals?” I asked.
“Johns Hopkins, her PhD, an Olympic gold medal.”
“Had she been accepted to compete in the Olympics?” Griff asked.
“It was in the works,” he said annunciating each word as though we were hard of hearing.
“Did you let the medical examiner know how you felt?”
“Of course, I did.”
“And was an autopsy performed?”
Greg Lambert glanced at his wife. She looked away. Touchy subject, I gathered.
“Useless,” he said. “They found nothing.” He turned to Gwen. “Go get my checkbook.”
She rose and disappeared inside the house without a word, still holding the columbine in her hand.
I caught Griff’s eye and he raised his eyebrows as though asking, should we?
“Look Mr. Lambert,” he said. “Britt and I like to discuss a case before we commit to it. We want to feel some degree of surety that we can help you before money changes hands and we sign a contract. Give us time to talk it over and we’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
Gwen reappeared holding a large, black-spiraled checkbook. Greg took it from her along with the pen she offered and flipped open the front of the book. He looked at Griff. “How much do you want?” he asked.
“Mr. Lambert, I…” Griff started.
“We’ll give you the information you need to get started. I don’t have any doubt you’ll see it my way. What’s the retainer?” He held the pen poised over the checkbook.
“Five thousand,” Griff said.
I thought that was a little high. He must be thinking about the pool we wanted to install.
“And a list of names. Professors, coaches and friends,” he added.
Greg pointed to his wife. “Put that together.”
Dismissed, Gwen went inside to gather what we needed.
Once we had the necessary information from Gwen, and Greg’s check was folded inside Griff’s pocket, Carole stepped onto the deck and offered to show us out.
“We’ll be in touch,” Griff said. He stood extending a hand toward Greg.
Greg Lambert rose from his chair and placed his hands on his hips. “When?”
“As soon as I have something to tell you,” Griff said lowering his arm.
Griff’s ability to come off unfazed by blatant rude behavior is beyond me. I couldn’t get off that porch fast enough. If I’d lingered I would have placed a well-directed snap kick to Greg Lambert’s groin.
We followed Carole to the front door. She swung it wide and stepped with us outside then pulled the door closed behind her. On the front step she glanced from one of us to the other then dropped her head and stared at the granite, clearly trying to make up her mind. We waited. When she looked up she extended her arm toward Griff as though intending to shake.
“Look,” she said. “I’m probably way out of line here and dipshit in there will have me banned if he knows I’m talking to you. I’m already on probation around here so whatever I say stays between us, all right?”
Griff nodded and reached for her hand, keeping his eyes on her face.
She slipped a folded piece of paper into his palm. “I’m Carole Weston, Gwen’s sister. Call me,” she said. “There’s more to this. A lot more.”
Excerpt from Scar Tissue by Patricia Hale. Copyright © 2018 by Patricia Hale. Reproduced with permission from Patricia Hale. All rights reserved.