The coroner turns noting their approach, nodding a greeting to the both of them and points to the retreating gurney carrying away the body. “According to the internal body temperature, taking into consideration the weather and the water damage, I’d estimate his time of death at shortly after 4 am.” He frowns then, deep in thought. “Preliminary exam suggests blunt trauma to the head and drowning as the cause of death. I’ll know more once I have him in the lab. I’ll run the usual analysis tests. You two give me the more interesting cases.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Hector is looking at his notes again while the coroner leaves them to their work. “Given our current list of suspects, we can put Jenson and Evangeline on the less likely candidates, neither would have had the opportunity to get to Peter Hamilton’s car. I still say we should add the daughter and son to the list at least until we speak to them.”
Elissa tilts her head watching Kingston rocking back and forth with his head in his hands sitting at the poolside table. “Agreed, Tiana and Dennis Hamilton need to be questioned soon. I don’t care how much fuss Mrs. Hamilton makes.”
Hector shoots her an amused glance, “And as much as you dislike that lawyer, Odette London, she goes on that least likely list.” He turns his attention to Kingston as well and frowns. “He’s losing it.”
“I need to talk to the butler, you can handle the gardener,” Elissa pats his arm and gives him a grin. “Good luck.”
Groaning he drops his head in defeat, “So unfair.”
Elissa makes her way to the back of the house while Hector takes a seat across from Kingston. The man looks up suddenly, eyes wide and stammering. “I… I had… there was…” Kingston runs his shaking hands over his face, smoothing his beard and mustache in the process. He shudders and tries again. “I pulled him out, I tried to do that breathing thing and… he wouldn’t…” Kingston closes his eyes and takes a steadying breath.
“I had a message to come early this morning because of some do-da event tonight. The crew was running late and… if-if we got here on time, do-do you think…” He glances over towards the direction of the pool, his eyes panicked as they fall back on Hector. “Maybe we coulda… yanno… saved him?”
Hector looks up from his notebook and shakes his head. “It isn’t healthy to think that way, if it is some one’s time it doesn’t matter where you were.” The troubled and pained look in Kingston’s eyes doesn’t diminish. His hands are wringing and he has the look of someone who has more to say. “I’m sure you did fine. Who left you the message?”
He frowns and shakes his head, “I dunno. The connection was kind of bad and the words were rushed and I just figured it was Cecil but the other officer said that Cecil says it wasn’t him and-”
Quickly Hector interrupts him. “Breathe Mr. Riley. Slow down before you hyperventilate.” Kingston nods and tries to regulating his breathing. “Do you still have the message?”
Kingston sits up, eyes wide and he nods quickly. “Yes!” He hands over his cell phone with a glimmer of hope sparkling in his eyes.
Hector grins at him, slipping the phone into a plastic bag and clearly marking it with Kingston’s full name. “We’ll have someone analyze the message. See what we can make of it.” He writes a few things in his notepad.
“I didn’t call the Rileys. There is no event, that I am aware of, this evening or any time this weekend.” Cecil recites this once more for Elissa’s sake. “I already told this to the other officer, mind you.”
Elissa nods slowly. “I figured you had, this is merely a formality since Peter Hamilton’s death is already our case.”
“You mean his murder.” Cecil eyes her wearily. “You aren’t the only one who knows how to ask questions. 1st Division is Homicide, which you failed to mention your first visit.”
“Intentionally omitted, I admit. We were unsure about certain aspects of Peter Hamilton’s death; therefore it would be presumptuous and inaccurate if we were to immediately cast the accident into the realm of a homicide rather than keeping it simply an accident. Besides we were merely here to notify the next of kin and have him positively identified.” Elissa watches him closely noting that his eyes are very expressive even if his face remains neutral, such as the tightening around his eyes when Peter’s death is called an accident reflects either anger or pain. If what Hector suspects and Cecil is one of Peter Hamilton’s lovers, his reaction to Peter’s death fits.
“I see.” Cecil glances at the intercom as it crackles to life. He walks over to it as her voice beckons him.
“Cecil, bring me an icepack.” Zania’s whiny pout is carried into the room.
His eyes pick up the room the request originated from and he frowns, his muscle in his jaw flexes twice before turning on his heel to the freezer. “You said you wish to speak with Lady Zania. I believe speaking with her now would be advisable. Ms. London is with her.” Cecil glances at Elissa hesitantly. “I will need to announce you before you enter, protocol…”
“Thank you…” Elissa looks towards the back door as if she were to say something then changes her mind. “Cecil, the night before Peter Hamilton’s acc-”
“Murder,” Cecil interrupts.
“Yes, the night before his death, did you have any visitors to the estate?” Elissa follows him down the servant’s corridor. The corridor is slightly narrow allowing two to walk side by side uncomfortably. It is brightly lit, plain walls with simple tiled floors. Elissa looks around at the different offshoots to take the staff in different directions to get to specific areas of the house quickly and efficiently.
“Within the house, no…” Cecil eyes here again while winding his way up around a spiral staircase towards the second floor.
Elissa’s lip quirks temporarily into a small grin as she continues her questions. “Did Mr. Hamilton have a visitor that evening?”
“There was a guest on the premises, yes.” Cecil pauses at the landing. He looks meaningfully at her, tilting his head, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Mr. Hamilton received this particular guest in private within the servant’s quarters.”
“I thought you are the only staff-” Elissa frowns and peers at him.
“I am.” He straightens and stares at the door before him. “It is my home on estate property. It was provided to me by Mr. Hamilton my second year with them. Lady Zania did not approve of his generosity, preferring to refer to it as the servant’s quarters to justify his action.” Cecil’s lips thin and he opens the door stepping out to a lavish hallway, softly lit with sconces, decorated with paintings and fresh flowers.
“Where were you last night?” Standing at the threshold, Elissa looks back at the servant’s staircase remembering the wide elegant staircase at the foyer from their first visit.
“Home asleep, alone.” Cecil shrugs a shoulder. “No one to verify with I’m afraid.”
“What about the night Mr. Hamilton was with his guest at your home, were you there as well?” Slipping through the door allowing it to close with a soft click, she allows her eyes to take in her new surroundings and rich colors.
“No, I was here tending to the estate and its residents.” Cecil clears his throat and she has the decency to blush.
“Sorry, it’s so beautiful.” Before he can step away, Elissa puts her hand on his arm. “Detective Fredericko is out back speaking with Kingston, if he comes looking for me…”
“I’ll be sure to escort him to you immediately.” Cecil nods, turns on his heel and leads the way down the hallway towards a set of double doors at the end.
“Did Mr. Hamilton receive guests at your home often?” Elissa looks up at him wishing she could read his eyes at that moment. “And if so how often?”
“No, that was the first and only time,” Cecil gives her a side glance.
Elissa hesitates, her stomach squirming nervously as she follows at a distance. “Why do I suddenly feel as if I’m going to the Principal's office?” Her eyes darting around the hallway she notices that the closer they get to the doorway, the less decorative and warm the hallway becomes.
Cecil snorts and glances back at her, grinning for possibly the first time since the two met. “Mr. Hamilton’s office was intentionally designed to give such ominous feelings. He said it is to deter interruptions.”
“Who was the guest that night, Cecil?” The two stand before the double doors.
His grin slips from his face, the mask of indifference returns like a curtain falling. Without turning to look at her, his hand grips the handle. “Jenson McMillan.” Cecil doesn’t give her time to respond or react. He opens the door and slips in without fully closing the door behind him yet closing it enough for her to be hidden from view.
Zania’s voice barely carries to her though the crack. Elissa clutches her stomach, her mind reeling as she shakes it in disbelief. “… don’t care! I want him released. My children need closure, they need to mourn and I need this whole damnable thing behind me.”
“While I understand your reasoning, Mrs. Hamilton,” a calm voice chills the air, Elissa recognizes her accent the moment when Odette started speaking, “the fact remains that your husband was murdered and they will not release his body until the autopsy is complete. Consider yourself lucky if they release him prior to solving the case. They gave you a time frame-”
“Oh stop patronizing me, they said maybe… maybe!” Zania elongates the last maybe peppering it with sarcasm. Her groan following her outburst emphasises her misery.
Cecil clears his throat, “Detective Putnam is here to speak with you.”
“Well I don’t want to talk to her.” Zania’s pout is clear in her voice causing Elissa to smirk. She straightens and takes a calming breath waiting for Cecil to ‘fetch’ her.
“You have no choice in the matter. Your husband was killed and another body is found on your premises. Sit up.” Odette’s voice is clear, concise and clipped.
Someone scoffs loudly and, if possible, it drips with disdain and sarcasm. “Sit up? I’m not a child.” The whining in Zania’s voice naturally spoke otherwise. “My head hurts. Can’t we do this tomorrow?”
“It would be best to do this now while I am here to protect you. I have appointments tomorrow.” Odette apparently isn’t giving in to Zania’s demands.
“Fine,” Zania manages to make the one word sound so labored. Shortly afterwards, there is a creaking noise that Elissa presumes is a couch or some sort of seating. “I’ll be down in a min-” Cecil clears his throat again. “What?” The word is clipped and punctuated with impatience.
There is a pregnant pause before Cecil speaks. “Detective Putnam also requests to speak with Master Dennis and Miss Tiana.” Elissa’s eyes widen. While yes, she does indeed need to speak with them, she hadn’t said that to Cecil.
“No!” Zania or someone stood, stomped, walked, dropped something, Elissa isn’t sure which just knew that there was suddenly a loud thump.
“Mrs. Hamilton, pull yourself together. It is only procedure and you should have expected the police would eventually ask to speak to them.” Odette tried reasoning.
Elissa glances at her left hand as her right hand twists the ring on her finger mindlessly. A voice behind her breaks her out of her thoughts. “What are you doing?”
She jumps and spins around blinking in surprise. She had been so deep in thought, or the carpet is just that thick, that she didn’t hear him approach. “I’m waiting to be announced.” Elissa’s voice is breathless and faint, keeping the tone low to almost a whisper. “You’re…”
The boy, or more accurately the young man in his late-teens, is already taller than Elissa. He leans closer mock whispering to mimic her. “Dennis Hamilton, I know. Who are you?” Dennis looks very much like his father with dark brown hair, deep brown eyes that are almost black and the amused quirk of his eyebrow. “Miss…”
“Oh, sorry, you look-”
“Like my father, again this is information I already know. I’m still waiting for a name. Preferably yours.” Dennis glances at the door sitting ajar and grins openly. “Is mother having one of her fits?” He leans closer to the door. “She’s probably hung over.”
“I’m Detective Putnam.” She starts only to stop her explanation when he straightens and steps closer to her. She takes an involuntary step back for each of his steps forward.
“Have you ever heard the expression the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” When she nods, Dennis continues. “My father was a womanizer.” Elissa stops moving when her back is pressed to the wall. Dennis rests a hand casually beside her head, leaning in towards her. “Word is he was very popular with the ladies and as luck would have it, this apple did indeed fall closely to the tree.”
Elissa’s lip twitches as she suppresses a laugh. She stands taller and leans closer. “I’m an officer of the law, a detective with Sunset Valley Police Department and you, Dennis Hamilton, are still under aged therefore not even remotely interesting to me in any way except one. Where were you last night around 4 am?”
A throat is cleared behind him, but Dennis doesn’t appear surprised or bothered by the intrusion. “Yes, Cecil?”
“Lady Zania is ready for you Detective Putnam.” Cecil’s eyebrows furrow. His eyes are intense glancing from Elissa to Dennis and back again. “Master Dennis, your presence is also requested.”
“Interesting…” Dennis backs away a step from Elissa and waves Cecil off in order to personally escort Elissa to his father’s office. “So you really are a detective. What a shame.” He holds the door open for her waiting for her to enter first. “Six months.”
Elissa pauses at the threshold and peers at him. “Pardon?”
Before Elissa enters she is assaulted by an unintelligible grunt followed by a screech of indignation. “How dare you speak to-”
Dennis raises his voice over Zania’s, drowning her out. “Good morning, Mother.” Elissa looks at Dennis wondering if this too is a trick he learned from his father. With a flick of his wrist he lets the door close loudly behind them.
Zania flinches. “Inside voice, dear.”
“Yes, of course, we wouldn’t want to cause you any discomfort.” Dennis over exaggerates his pronunciation of each word rather loudly, relishing in each flinch Zania gives him.
“Stop it, Denny.” A young girl has joined them. Her firm voice stops Dennis from his continued taunting yet he remains amused dropping into an overstuffed arm chair. She glances at Elissa before quietly closing the door behind her. Tiana Hamilton crosses the room and sits on the sofa beside her mother handing her a red drink with a stalk of celery protruding from it. “I’m Tiana Hamilton, Detective Putnam. Cecil said you were here to talk to us.”