The coroner turned noting their approach, nodding a greeting to the both of them and pointed 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 frowned 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 was looking at his notes again while the coroner left 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 tilted 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 shot her an amused glance, “And as much as you dislike that lawyer, Odette London, she goes on that least likely list.” He turned his attention to Kingston as well and frowned. “He’s losing it.”
“I need to talk to the butler, you can handle the gardener,” Elissa patted his arm and gave him a grin. “Good luck.”
Groaning he dropped his head in defeat, “So unfair.”
Elissa made her way to the back of the house while Hector took a seat across from Kingston. The man looked up suddenly, eyes wide and stammering. “I… I had… there was…” Kingston ran his shaking hands over his face, smoothing his beard and mustache in the process. He shuddered and tried again. “I pulled him out, I tried to do that breathing thing and… he wouldn’t…” Kingston closed his eyes and took 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 glanced over towards the direction of the pool, his eyes panicked as they fell back on Hector. “Maybe we coulda… yanno… saved him?”
Hector looked up from his notebook and shook 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 didn’t diminish. His hands were wringing and he had the look of someone who had more to say. “I’m sure you did fine. Who left you the message?”
Kingston frowned and shook 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 interrupted him. “Breathe Mr. Riley. Slow down before you hyperventilate.” Kingston nodded and tried to regulating his breathing. “Do you still have the message?”
Kingston sat up, eyes wide and he nodded quickly. “Yes!” He handed over his cell phone with a glimmer of hope sparkling in his eyes.
Hector grinned 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 wrote 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 recited this once more for Elissa’s sake. “I already told this to the other officer, mind you.”
Elissa nodded slowly. “I figured you had, this is merely a formality since Peter Hamilton’s death is already our case.”
“You mean his murder.” Cecil eyed 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 watched Cecil closely noting that his eyes were very expressive even if his face remains neutral, such as the tightening around his eyes when Peter’s death was called an accident reflected either anger or pain. If what Hector suspected and Cecil was one of Peter Hamilton’s lovers, his reaction to Peter’s death fit.
“I see.” Cecil glanced at the intercom as it crackled to life. He walked over to it as her voice beckoned him.
“Cecil, bring me an ice pack.” Zania’s whiny pout was carried into the room.
His eyes picked up the room the request originated from and he frowned, his muscle in his jaw flexed twice before he turned on his heel to the freezer. Cecil continued to speak, “You said you wish to speak with Lady Zania. I believe speaking with her now would be advisable. Ms. London is with her.” Cecil glanced at Elissa hesitantly. “I will need to announce you before you enter, protocol…”
“Thank you…” Elissa looked towards the back door as if she were to say something then changed her mind. “Cecil, the night before Peter Hamilton’s acc-”
“Murder,” Cecil corrected.
“Yes, the night before his death, did you have any visitors to the estate?” Elissa followed him down the servant’s corridor. The corridor was slightly narrow allowing two to walk side by side uncomfortably. It was brightly lit, plain walls with simple tiled floors. Elissa looked 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 eyed Elissa again while winding his way up around a spiral staircase towards the second floor.
Elissa’s lip quirked temporarily into a small grin as she rephrased her question, “Did Mr. Hamilton have a visitor that evening?”
“There was a guest on the premises, yes.” Cecil paused at the landing. He looked 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 frowned and peered at him.
“I am.” Cecil straightened and stared 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 thinned and he opened the door stepping out to a lavish hallway, softly lit with sconces, decorated with paintings and fresh flowers.
“Where were you last night at 4 am?” Standing at the threshold, Elissa looked back at the servant’s staircase remembering the wide elegant staircase at the foyer from their first visit.
“Home asleep, alone.” Cecil shrugged 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, Elissa allowed her eyes to take in her new surroundings and rich colors.
“No, I was here tending to the estate and its residents.” Cecil cleared his throat and Elissa had the decency to blush.
“Sorry, it’s so beautiful.” Before Cecil can step away, Elissa put her hand on his arm. Cecil looks stunned at being touched and Elissa removes her hand immediately as she states, “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 nodded, turned on his heel and led the way down the hallway towards a set of double doors at the end.
“Did Mr. Hamilton receive guests at your home often?” Elissa looked up at Cecil wishing she could read his eyes at that moment. “And if so how often?”
“No, that was the first and only time,” Cecil gave her a side glance.
Elissa hesitated, her stomach squirming nervously as she followed at a distance. “Why do I suddenly feel as if I’m going to the Principal's office?” Her eyes darted around the hallway where she noticed that the closer they get to the doorway, the less decorative and warm the hallway became.
Cecil snorted and glanced 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 stood before the double doors.
All amusement vanished. Cecil's grin slipped from his face, the mask of indifference returned like a curtain falling. Without turning to look at her, Cecil's hand gripped the door handle. “Jenson McMillan.” Cecil didn’t give Elissa time to respond or react. He opened the door and slipped 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 clutched her stomach, her mind reeling as she shook her head 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 chilled the air. Elissa recognized her Brittish accent the moment 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 elongated the last 'maybe' peppering it with sarcasm. Her groan followed her outburst emphasizing her misery.
Cecil cleared his throat, “Detective Putnam is here to speak with you.”
“Well I don’t want to talk to her.” Zania’s pout was clear in her voice causing Elissa to smirk. She straightened and took a calming breath waiting for Cecil to ‘fetch’ her.
“You have no choice in the matter. Your husband was killed and another body was found on your premises. Sit up.” Odette’s voice was clear, concise and clipped.
Someone scoffed loudly and, if possible, it dripped with even more 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 wasn’t giving in to Zania’s demands.
“Fine,” Zania managed to make the one word sound so labored. Shortly afterwards, there was a creaking noise that Elissa presumed was a couch or some sort of seating. “I’ll be down in a min-” Cecil cleared his throat again. “What?” The word was clipped and punctuated with impatience.
There was a pregnant pause before Cecil spoke again, “Detective Putnam also requests to speak with Master Dennis and Miss Tiana.” Elissa’s eyes widened. While yes, she did indeed need to speak with them, she hadn’t said that to Cecil.
“No!” Zania or someone stood, stomped, walked, dropped or something, Elissa wasn’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 glanced at her left hand as her right hand twisted the ring on her finger mindlessly. A voice behind her broke her out of her thoughts. “What are you doing?”
She jumped and spun around blinking in surprise. She had been so deep in thought, or the carpet was just that thick, that she didn’t hear him approach. “I’m waiting to be announced.” Elissa’s voice was 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, was already taller than Elissa. He leaned closer mock whispering to mimic her. “Dennis Hamilton, I know. Who are you?” Dennis looked very much like his father with dark brown hair, deep brown eyes that were 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 glanced at the door sitting ajar and smirked. “Is mother having one of her fits?” He leaned closer to the door. “She’s probably hung over.”
“I’m Detective Putnam.” Elissa started only to stop her explanation when he straightened and stepped closer to her. She took 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 nodded, Dennis continued, “My father was a womanizer.” Elissa stopped moving when her back was pressed to the wall. Dennis rested 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 twitched as she suppressed a laugh. She stood taller and leaned 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 was cleared behind him, but Dennis didn’t appear surprised or bothered by the intrusion. “Yes, Cecil?”
“Lady Zania is ready for you Detective Putnam.” Cecil’s eyebrows furrowed. His eyes were intense glancing from Elissa to Dennis and back again. “Master Dennis, your presence is also requested.”
“Interesting…” Dennis backed away a step from Elissa and waved Cecil off in order to personally escort Elissa to his father’s office. “So you really are a detective. What a shame.” He held the door open for her allowing her to enter first. “Six months.”
Elissa paused at the threshold and peered at him. “Pardon?”
"I'll be legal in six months." Dennis explained.
Before Elissa entered the office she was assaulted by an unintelligible grunt followed by a screech of indignation. “How dare you speak to-”
Dennis raised his voice over Zania’s, drowning her out. “Good morning, Mother.” Elissa looked at Dennis wondering if this too was a trick he learned from his father. With a flick of his wrist he let the door slam closed loudly behind them.
Zania flinched. “Inside voice, dear.”
“Yes, of course, we wouldn’t want to cause you any discomfort.” Dennis over exaggerated his pronunciation of each word rather loudly, relishing in each flinch Zania gave him.
“Stop it, Denny.” A young girl had joined them. Her firm voice stopped Dennis from his continued taunting yet he remained amused. He dropped into an overstuffed arm chair. The newest arrival glanced at Elissa before quietly closing the door behind her. Tiana Hamilton crossed the room and sat on the sofa beside her mother handing the woman 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.”