Ellie checked the clock. “There’ll be a tall man with me. Say in about an hour?”
“All right.” Mrs. Hamilton provided her address. “My husband and I will be here.”
“See you then.” Ellie sent Grant a text, letting him know about the meeting. Distracted, she paced the foyer until the dog ran to the front door. Not wanting barking to wake the baby, Ellie led the dog back to Hannah. The baby was sleeping in her seat in the corner.
“Thanks,” mouthed Hannah.
Ellie ran out to the car as Mac went into the house. One look at Grant’s face told her something was wrong. She closed the car door. “What happened?”
“Mac and I found where Donnie’s been staying.” His knuckles were white on the steering wheel.
“How did you find him when the police don’t know where he is?”
Grant’s answer was too slow, as if he were carefully choosing his words. “Mac knows people on the other side of the law.”
“Really?” She wouldn’t have guessed the shaggy biologist had a dark past.
“Unfortunately, he went through a rebellious stage in his youth.”
“We all have some bad decisions behind us. What’s important is that he came through it.” As she spoke the words, Ellie realized how much they applied to her as well as Mac. Nan was right. It was time she forgave herself for one stupid mistake in high school.
“I know, but it wasn’t easy to see the evidence of how far Mac really fell. I was away. I had no idea.” He frowned. “I think that bothers me more than what actually happened. I left Lee to handle everything back home. I never considered the amount of responsibility he shouldered.”
“Did he ever say anything to you?”
“You were at war, Grant. He probably thought you had enough on your plate.”
“Did you know they were having financial difficulties?” he asked.
“Neither of them said anything outright, but I knew Kate was sweating the mortgage and the BMW lease payments. They couldn’t afford to fix the house up the way I was working on mine. But then, my house is smaller, the price was lower, and I had a substantial down payment from the last house I flipped.”
“I don’t understand why they bought a house they couldn’t afford. Sure, their previous place was small. Two kids would have been a tight fit, but wouldn’t that be better than being in debt?”
Ellie squeezed his hand. “Lee wanted that partnership. He’d put seven years into that firm, and the senior Mr. Peyton, Roger’s father, told Lee if he wanted to be a partner, he’d better look the part.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Old Mr. Peyton is superficial. He wouldn’t give the partnership to anyone who didn’t look successful,” Ellie said. “But I’m not sure why Lee took the case, considering the partnership was so pivotal for his career. Before Peyton hired Frank, Lee didn’t really have any competition. He thought the partnership was a sure thing. But with Frank vying for the same position, taking the Hamilton case was a risky decision.”
“So Lee worked his ass off, and Peyton screwed him by hiring a competitor.”
“Unfortunately, that sums it up. He probably thought he’d get more out of Lee if he kept him on edge.”
“Maybe Lee thought taking the case was the right thing to do. He had this optimistic streak. He always thought things would work out. Usually, he was right, but this time I guess he wasn’t.” Grant was quiet for the next few minutes.
“There’s something you’re not telling me,” she said.
He nodded. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“Yes.” Apprehension bubbled into her chest, but she didn’t want to be sheltered from any truth that could affect her family’s safety.
“Looks like Donnie killed his girlfriend. He put her on ice in her trailer bathtub.”
She recoiled. “I don’t know why I’m shocked. He already killed Lee and Kate.” But another murder drove home the danger to her family. “Did you call the police?”
“I did. Don’t worry. I used a pay phone and didn’t leave my name.” Grant’s posture was stiff. He steered the car with one hand. The other rested on his thigh, clenching and loosening repeatedly. He was acting stoic, but finding that woman’s body had disturbed him.
“I wasn’t worried.” She reached over and grabbed his hand. He curled his fingers tightly around hers, and a small amount of tension eased from his muscles.
Ellie directed him through a few turns. The Hamiltons lived in a development of big houses on large lots. A meadow and forest edged the rear of the property.
“Lindsay hanged herself in those woods behind the house, right?” Grant steered the car up a long driveway.
“Yes.” Ellie placed a hand on the tension building in her stomach. The thought of living so close to the place where a child took her own life sent a wave of nausea into her throat. “How can they live here?”
He parked in front of the porch steps. “Maybe they don’t want to let go.”
Mrs. Hamilton let them in. Thin to the point of gaunt, she wore wrinkled silk slacks and a light sweater that bagged on her frame as if she’d lost the weight recently and hadn’t bothered to buy new clothes. Her face and lips were colorless. A half inch from her part, a stark line of gray bisected her bobbed hair. The house was as elegant and unkempt as its mistress. Dust coated the expensive furniture, and dirt marred the red oak floors.
Ellie introduced Grant.
Mrs. Hamilton showed them into a study at the rear of the house.
A man sat on the sofa, his gaze fixed vaguely on the view of the woods through a set of French doors. He didn’t wait for an introduction. “I go out there every day and sit under that tree. You probably think that’s sick.”
“No, sir. Everything about this situation is wrong. I imagine you can’t take it in.” Grant took the wing chair diagonal to Mr. Hamilton. “I’m Lee’s brother, Major Grant Barrett.”
“Your brother was a good man.” Mr. Hamilton returned his gaze to the glass. “He wanted to help us.”
Ellie sensed a connection of grief between the two men and let Grant take the lead. She settled in a chair across from Grant. Mrs. Hamilton sat on the sofa but not immediately next to her husband. She left the middle section empty. The distance between them seemed larger than a couch cushion.
Grant leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. His jacket stretched until Ellie could see the weapon at his hip. He carried it so naturally, she’d nearly forgotten about it. “Did he give any indication of how he was going to do that?”
“No. We were so pleased he’d agreed to take our case. No one else seemed to care, but he did. I’m sorry he died.” Mr. Hamilton turned back to the woods, his gaze clouded with pain. “Do you really think his murder could be related to my daughter’s case?”
“We’re not sure,” Grant said in a raw voice. “But I’m sure you understand why I have to find out.”
“I do.” Mr. Hamilton shuddered. He took off his glasses and cleaned them with the hem of his sweater. “The first time she asked to quit the skating team, we should have known. She loved skating. That would have been the last thing she willingly gave up. We should have pulled her out of that school. We should have taken her back to San Francisco. She was so unhappy here. It broke my heart.” His voice cracked.
“I didn’t want her to let those bullies win. I was afraid if she gave up and ran away, it would damage her forever,” Mrs. Hamilton said quietly.
“No worries about that now, right?” Her husband’s voice cut like a blade. “She didn’t care about any of that. She just wanted to get away from a bunch of nasty, spoiled bitches getting a real charge out of making her miserable.”
His wife turned away from him without comment. Mrs. Hamilton drew her legs onto the sofa and curled them under her. “Everyone else in town, including the police, was more focused on Lindsay’s emotional problems. We kept telling them she didn’t have any emotional problems until we moved here, but it didn’t seem to matter.”
“I don’t understand. That seems simple to me,” Grant said.
“She’d been treated by a psychiatrist and was taking medication for ADHD in California. So even though her emotional issues were new, she had a past history of being treated by a psychiatrist. Then her new doctor here prescribed an antidepressant. We didn’t tell anyone. She asked us not to.” Mrs. Hamilton sighed. “She seemed to be feeling a little better.”
Mr. Hamilton stirred. The set of his mouth disagreed with his wife. “I didn’t want her to take them. One of the warnings on the label said that the drug could cause an increase in suicidal thoughts. How the hell can they make an antidepressant that causes suicidal thoughts? The doctor gave us a list of signs to watch for. It seems we missed them.”
Mrs. Hamilton shifted. “That’s the real reason no one will take the case. They said we held back critical information that could have changed the way the school and the arena management dealt with the situation.” Mrs. Hamilton interlaced her fingers and clenched her hands until her nails turned white. “And that the medication, along with our misreading Lindsay’s moods, could have been determining factors in her suicide. They also suggested she had an undiagnosed mental illness before moving here.”
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