After twenty years on the Seattle police force, Roy had reached the rank of detective. Following a back injury he’d sustained from tackling a suspect, he accepted early retirement. Timing was good; both their sons had graduated from college and were on their own.
He and Corrie had moved to Cedar Cove, where the cost of living wasn’t as prohibitive and property values remained reasonable. Roy had expected to settle happily into early retirement.
What Royhadn’t expected was how quickly he’d grow bored with sitting around the house. Within eighteen months of moving to Cedar Cove, he’d started a new business—as a private investigator. Corrie had been around police work her entire life, and she took on the task of being his assistant and secretary.
When he hung out his shingle, Roy had assumed he’d be getting mainly employee background checks and insurance cases, but the surprising variety of business that came his way made life interesting. His most puzzling and difficult case was the disappearance of Dan Sherman. The man had vanished so completely that if Roy didn’t know better, he might suspect Dan had become part of the Witness Protection Program.
Corrie walked into the office and brought him a cup of freshly brewed coffee. She nodded at the computer screen. “Dan Sherman?”
Roy shrugged. Corrie didn’t say it, but they both knew he just couldn’t leave that one alone. The hours he put in these days were without compensation. Grace had given him a budget and the money ran out before he’d found answers.
“Troy Davis phoned,” Corrie told him. “He made an appointment for this afternoon.”
Now, this was interesting. The local sheriff was only a nodding acquaintance. Roy had spoken to him a few times and their paths had occasionally crossed. Roy liked Davis well enough, but the sheriff didn’t seem quite as sure of him. Reserving his opinion, Roy supposed, pending more evidence.
“Did he say what he wanted?” he asked.
Corrie shook her head. “Not really, just that he might have a bit of work for you.”
At three o’clock exactly, Troy arrived and Corrie ushered him into Roy’s office. Roy stood up to greet the sheriff, who was an inch or two taller than his own six-foot height and had a bit of a paunch. Too many hours spent behind a desk, no doubt. They exchanged handshakes and then both sat down.
Troy crossed his leg over his knee, drew a toothpick out of his shirt pocket and poked it into the corner of his mouth. He waited a moment, then asked, “Do you remember a while back there was a death out at the Thyme and Tide? The Beldons’ bed-and-breakfast.”
Roy did recall reading about it. The story was almost a classic. A stranger who’d appeared in the middle of a stormy night and booked a room, was found dead in the morning. No apparent cause. After the initial front-page article in The Cedar Cove Chronicle Roy hadn’t heard any more about the mysterious stranger, although he recalled one additional detail. The article had stated that the man carried false identification—a driver’s license that said he was James Whitcomb from somewhere in Florida.
“We still don’t have a name for that John Doe.” Troy frowned. “For a while, Joe Mitchell thought we might’ve stumbled across Dan Sherman.”
“Dan? Surely someone would’ve recognized him.”
“Our John Doe had undergone extensive cosmetic surgery. He’s about the same build and coloring as Dan, which was why we brought Grace in to take a look at him. I felt bad about that. It was pretty traumatic for her, but she’s a strong woman. I admire that in her.”
“So it wasn’t Dan.” Roy figured he might as well state the obvious.
“Naw.” Troy’s gruff response lacked humor. He shifted the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “That would’ve been too easy.”
“What did the John Doe’s fingerprints tell you?”
Troy dropped his leg and leaned forward. “Unfortunately not a damn thing. He didn’t have any. Apparently he lost them in the same accident that resulted in the plastic surgery.”
“Just bad luck? Or do you think he might’ve had them removed on purpose?” That was another possibility, although in the age of DNA, not as likely. But then, DNA technology was relatively new.
Troy raised his shoulders in a resigned shrug. “Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that his ID was false. He comes into town, stays at a bed-and-breakfast, and then turns up dead. Autopsy hasn’t determined anything conclusive. It isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill scenario.”
Now Roy was the one frowning. “Do you think he might be part of the Witness Protection Program?” Funny how he’d been entertaining that very notion regarding Dan Sherman a few hours earlier.
“I thought of that myself. There’s only one way to find out, so I contacted the local FBI.”
“They were willing to help?”
He nodded. “I gave them everything we had and they got back to me a week ago and said not.”
So much for that possibility.
“What about the vehicle?”
“Has Mitchell got any ideas, at least, about the cause of death?”
Troy bit down on the toothpick. “Like I said, nothing in this case is coming easy. Frankly, we don’t know. From everything Bob and Peggy told us, he looked perfectly healthy when he went to bed. Bob said he seemed anxious to get to his room, but Peggy attributed that to tiredness. It was late.”
“So what does Mitchell think?”
“He can’t pinpoint anything out of the ordinary. He’s ruled out just about everything. It wasn’t his heart. Not all the toxicology reports are back, but it wasn’t any of the common poisons. Basically, we just don’t know what killed him. Seems he was healthy one minute and dead the next.”
“Time of death?”
“According to Joe, it looks like he died in his sleep shortly after he arrived at the Beldons’ place.”
Roy had to admit to being more than curious now; this case was downright fascinating. “I don’t think you made this appointment just to discuss ideas with me. How can I help you?”
Troy Davis removed the toothpick and discarded it in the garbage can next to Roy’s desk. “I can’t classify this as homicide, but nothing’s adding up here. He carried fake ID, but then a lot of people do.” He sighed loudly. “I don’t have the manpower to invest in this case. I was hoping to hire you as an independent contractor to help us identify our John Doe. And if you happen to come across any other information, so much the better. We’d be grateful to find out anything we could.”
“What else can you tell me?” Roy asked. He’d already made his decision—this was the kind of assignment he savored—but thought he should know exactly what he was up against before he said yes.
“Just that our John Doe was meticulous in everything he did. His stuff was neatly packed inside his bag. It looked like something out of a military school. His clothes are the highest quality, top-of-the-line. Expensive. His raincoat was some Italian brand I can’t even pronounce. Cost more than I make in a month.”
“What kind of car did he rent?”
“Funny thing—you’d expect a Lexus or something, considering the expensive clothes, but it was a Ford Taurus. Interesting, eh? You’d assume he could afford to rent whatever he wanted, but he chose about as inconspicuous a vehicle as you can get.”
That brought up another question. “What kind of cash did he have on him?” Roy asked.
“Just a couple hundred dollars. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Okay,” Roy said firmly. “Count me in.”
“Great.” Troy stood and offered Roy his hand. “If you’ll stop at the office, I’ll give you copies of our files, and you can go from there.”
Roy could hardly wait. As Troy left, Corrie hurried into the room, her eyes questioning. “He has a case for you?”
“Not just any case,” Roy said. He stood at the window, watching the sheriff step out of the building and head toward the parked patrol car. This John Doe was as intriguing as any case he’d ever handled.
Olivia had bran muffins baking in the oven—her mother’s recipe—and was singing along with a tape of the Broadway musical South Pacific while she washed dishes. The doorbell rang, and she shook soapsuds off her hands as she went to answer it. She didn’t bother to turn down the volume.
Still humming, she opened the door to find Jack Griffin on the other side. He was hours early.
“Hello, young lovers, wherever you are,” she sang, pulling the door wider and motioning him in.
“Lovers? Did I hear someone mention the word lovers?” He wagged his eyebrows playfully and stepped into the house. The music swirled around them and taking Olivia by the waist he bent her dramatically over his arm, then brought her upright.
“Oh, my,” she said, playing along. “You do make my heart beat fast.”
Taking her by the shoulders, Jack faced her and his smile slowly faded. “I want you to go back to the word lovers.”
“It’s young lovers, as in coral sands and banyan trees in the South Pacific during World War II.”
“No,” he said, taking her fully into his arms now. “Forget young. The word is simply lovers, as in you and me.”
His eyes grew darker and more intense. Olivia realized this wasn’t a joke anymore but a question that Jack—her fun-loving, anything-for-a-laugh companion—was presenting to her. “I…” All of a sudden life seemed very complicated. Jack had phoned earlier in the day and suggested they get together; he wanted to talk. He’d sounded lighthearted for the first time in months. Olivia guessed that it had something to do with Eric. A few weeks ago, Jack had mentioned that his son had requested a job transfer and would be moving out shortly. He said he’d miss the boy, but he’d sounded pleased about Eric’s resolve and renewed energy—and no less pleased about having his house to himself again.
Before she was forced to reply, the timer on her oven rang, offering Olivia the perfect excuse to escape Jack and his question.
“The muffins,” she said, and hurried into the kitchen. She grabbed two crocheted potholders and pulled out the tin. She set the muffins on the counter to cool.
When she turned around, Jack stood in the entryway. His eyes met hers. “Eric’s moving out this weekend.”
“I thought that must be it.”
“I didn’t mean to start off with that question about us, but you presented the perfect opening when you waltzed up to the door singing about lovers.”
She’d been caught up in the song and hadn’t meant to suggest they fall into bed together.
“Olivia, listen,” Jack said, slowly advancing toward her. “I adore you.”
She felt the same way about him, but she also felt afraid. She hadn’t been with a man since her divorce, sixteen years before, and she trembled at the thought of sexual intimacy. Her hesitation frightened her, too; if she wasn’t ready after all these years, then she might never be. And yet she wanted passion and that kind of closeness.