False Front: Chapter 1
‘It’s not a suicide,’ a voice shouted from the doorway.
Homicide Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce ignored the noise and focused on absorbing the scene around her. To the left, against the wall, a black lacquer table with curved legs bore a large white and red vase containing a greenhouseful of red roses and white lilies. The petals appeared to be as soft as chamois. The floral arrangement overwhelmed the residential space in its size and expense – more suited for a hotel lobby or the entrance of a too-pricey restaurant.
A field of stark white marble veined with black stretched beneath Lucinda’s feet. The stone led to two broad steps stretching wall-to-wall. It, too, seemed too much – too grand for a place called home. Beyond the marble flooring, wide heart of pine planks led into an expansive living room populated by white and red chairs and sofas and black lacquer tables. The room ended with floor-to-ceiling glass that bowed out toward the James River as if yearning to set sail.
Directly in front of her, right above the marble steps, an arched walkway, like a bridge over a small stream, spanned from one side of the second floor to the other – the top railing of black lacquer supported by the warm tones of aged pine spindles. Near the center of the walkway, a wooden chair with an upholstered seat pushed against the rail. Attached to the railing, a thick yellow rope formed a dense knot, suspending the body of a middle-aged woman.
‘Someone murdered my wife,’ the voice from the doorway said. Lucinda assumed it was the voice of Frank Eagleton, the male resident of the home.
Lucinda turned around and faced him. A tall, well-built man in a charcoal suit, striped tie and Italian loafers leaned into the room between the two uniformed officers blocking his access. A very good but still perceptible hairpiece perched on the top of his head. Deep-set blue eyes flashed, his full, lower lip stuck out in defiance. He gave the appearance of a man who was unused to being ignored.
Turning to Sergeant Robin Colter, Lucinda whispered, ‘Get the husband away from the doorway. Do it nicely. But make sure the uniforms keep him outside on the premises.’ Lucinda returned to her examination. Below the woman’s feet, the bright red soles of a pair of Louboutin black spiked heels slashed across the white marble like a fresh wound.
The deceased, presumably Candace Eagleton – the only female living at this address – wore a black pencil skirt and a stark white silk blouse. Around her neck, a light green stone pendant hung from a gold chain. The same stone was in her earrings and on the ring finger of her right hand. Was the way she was dressed telling? Was she on her way out? Did she dress like that around the house, or did she put on a favorite outfit to commit suicide?
Was there significance to the display of the body? No one opening the door could miss her. The high-vaulted ceilings in the foyer seemed to press down, forcing all eyes in the direction of the deceased woman. Beyond the elevated walkway, the ceilings soared up again in the sun-drenched room beyond. Was that her last moment of theatre? Did she want to make sure her husband noticed her at last? Or was her prominent location an arrogant slap from a killer?
‘Money can’t buy you love.’
Lucinda grinned and turned toward the sound of the familiar gruff voice of the coroner. ‘Doc Sam! Is that what you think this is all about – love?’
‘Of course. She either felt unloved and, thus, ended her miserable existence. Or she was unloved and that person snatched her life away. Love or the lack of it is a backdrop to every story.’ The word love sounded incongruous falling off the lips of an old curmudgeon with a balding head of wispy hair and rumpled clothes.
‘Are you becoming a romantic in your old age?’
‘I’m not too old to show up at yet another of your crime scenes, Pierce,’ he said as he tugged on a Tyvec suit and booties.
‘True. But love, Doc Sam?’ The eyebrow above her good eye arched nearly to her hairline.
‘I’m not getting senile, if that’s what you think. Blame my granddaughter. She keeps telling me about my lack of faith in humankind and my permanent state of surly cynicism – she actually used that phrase, just fifteen years old and she threw “surly cynicism” at me. Anyway, she nags me to look for the positive, look for the silver lining, look for the love.’
‘And you’re actually listening and following her advice?’
‘She’s my granddaughter, Pierce. My only granddaughter. I’m trying but your surly cynicism doesn’t make it easy.’
Lucinda laughed and faced the body presumed to be Candace Eagleton once again. ‘The husband says it’s not a suicide.’
‘And that surprises you, Pierce? What family does believe a loved one could take their own life?’
‘Not surprised at his comment but I am surprised at how perfect the scene looks.’
Doc Sam stepped up to the woman’s feet and looked up at her hands. ‘Appears to be some dirt under her fingernails.’
‘That seems out of character. Looks like a fresh manicure and a pedicure. Look at her. Look around you. This is a woman who takes great care with appearances.’
‘Hmm,’ Doc Sam said. ‘That could explain the perfectly composed suicide scene.’
‘Perhaps. But who is the most likely suspect when a woman dies violently in her own home?’
‘Most definitely, Doc. So why would the most likely suspect direct us away from a suicide conclusion?’
‘Playing head games with the dumb cops?’
‘Most possibly. I hope you can provide some answers for me,’ Lucinda said. ‘Make sure the hands are bagged before you move the body.’
‘Do I tell you how to do your job, Lieutenant?’ Doc Sam growled.
Lucinda rolled her eyes. ‘Yes, you do. All the time.’ She walked away and headed up the stairs.
Doc Sam called after her, ‘Do you ever listen?’
Lucinda simply smiled as she stepped onto the walkway. She turned right and entered a symphony of rose and white in a spacious master suite as expansive as some homes. The room smelled softly of refined femininity – a quiet marriage of timid lilies highlighted by demure vanilla. The rose color in the carpet and the draperies was the shade of a soft blush. In a corner, an old child’s rocking chair held an antique doll with blonde ringlets, dressed in an outfit that nearly matched the bedspread.
A coved ceiling rose above a four-poster bed covered with a lacy white spread sprinkled with tiny pink roses. The head of the bed was mounded high with decorative pillows in all shapes and shades of rose and pink. In the sitting area, two dark rose chaises sat before the window like two beach chairs facing the sea, the view of the river serene and magical. Between the chaises, a table, draped to the floor in white, bore a bud vase with a singular red rose.
Lucinda stepped into the master bathroom with its floor of white marble and its walls of white, pink and clear glass tiles. The dark rose surface of the vanity stretched long with two basins of translucent white on its surface. A large spa tub with a dozen jets was surrounded by green, growing plants and windows. A separate shower with sprays jutting from three walls stood beside the tub. The water closet was discreetly concealed behind a chest-high wall.
A door led to a walk-in closet with built-in drawers, shelves and hanging bars. She walked through an expansive selection of women’s clothing and shoes before exiting out of the other door and back into the bedroom. Not one square inch of space – not one single item – gave the impression that any man had ever walked through the doorway into this female sanctuary. Did she ever share this room with her husband?
Lucinda emerged from there into the harsh reality of a crime scene. The body no longer hung from the railing but rested on an open body bag, hands bagged, head tilted to one side. She moved on to the other side of the walkway and entered a room that could not have been more different from the one she left.
It was a second master suite, a bit smaller than the room across the walkway but certainly of a sufficiently elegant size. A bold bed frame of rough timber supported a king-sized mattress covered with a dark plaid spread that rose up in a hump at the end of the bed. A pile of decorative pillows formed a mountain on the window seat. A rustic nightstand bore a lamp made from deer antler, an alarm clock and two hand weights.
The draperies around the window of the sitting area matched the plaid of the bedspread. A chair and a recliner upholstered in dark green leather with brass brads sat at broad angles in front of the window. A primitive bent twig table sat betwixt them – a bottle of Jack Daniels, an ice bucket and two glasses on its surface.
Through the doorway to the bathroom, Lucinda spotted a slate-tiled walk-in shower big enough to sluice down a whole football team. A small walk-in Jacuzzi sat in a corner, flanked by windows. Rustic wood formed the vanity, its surface covered with a thick pane of glass. Two copper basins sat on top of that. Behind a chest-high wall were a urinal and a water closet.
Through the closet door, Lucinda found the same meticulous, personalized attention to detail in the storage design. This closet, however, was filled with male clothing exclusively. There was even an alcove built to the correct dimensions to hold a pair of the waist-high waders that trout fishermen wear. The door on the other side opened into the bedroom. It seemed apparent that the couple had not shared a bedroom. Did that mean they did not share a sex life?
Lucinda went back downstairs and scanned the front yard until she caught Robin Colter’s eye. She raised her chin and Robin cut off her conversation with a patrolman and came inside. ‘Is the husband in the back of a car?’ Lucinda asked.
‘Yes. He threatened to leave since no one would listen to him. He tried to barrel his way through the officers at the front door. We ended up putting him in cuffs to get him in the patrol vehicle. Once there, though, he calmed down. I took off the cuffs and he swore he would not attempt to leave the car until the detective in charge talked to him. He even said he was willing to spend the night there if he had to do so, as if it was his idea to climb into the car.’
‘Makes you wonder if he bullied his wife, too,’ Lucinda said.
‘He does seem used to getting what he wants, when he wants it. The last time I talked to him, he was demanding a timetable. He said he didn’t mind waiting, but he needed some parameters.’
Their conversation was interrupted by Doc Sam. ‘Pierce, you better take a look at this.’ He held up a clear plastic sleeve with an open piece of paper inside it.
Dear Frank, You have taken my heart, crushed it, stomped on it and pulverized it. You have destroyed my ability to love. I suspect that, if we remained together, it would only be a matter of time before you take my life.
I have been working to obtain an independent source of income because once I leave, I will not want to be connected to you in anyway. If you are reading this note, that means I have secured the revenue I need. All that remains is the division of the estate.
Since the house was built with the money I brought to the marriage, it seems right that I remain in it. However, if you want the house, you can have it. If you want to sell the house, we can do it. I simply want out.
Your betrayed wife and the debased mother of your children,
Lucinda read the letter out loud and handed it back to Doc Sam. ‘Perhaps the husband is right after all. Someone did murder his wife.’ She looked out to the patrol car holding the husband, raised her hand and pointed her finger like a gun. ‘Tag, you’re it, Frank Eagleton.’