Our Life of Love

Emma Bruce

 

Prologue

“You can see everything in here, Kassidy. You just need to look.” Cherylyn Dwyer carefully placed the shimmery snow globe into the seven-year-old's hands.

Kassidy Scanlin shook it with all of her youthful exuberance and watched the synthetic snow dance around the porcelain skaters. “It’s so pretty.” Her blue eyes gleamed through the clear glass of the globe.

Cherylyn bent near and breathed in the smell of the newly bathed child. She ran her hand down the damp waves of Kassidy’s sandy hair. “I want you to have it. My mom gave it to me when I was about your age and since I don’t have a little girl of my own, I’d like you to have it.”

Kassidy’s eyes widened as she met Cherylyn’s gaze. “But you might have a little girl someday.”

Cherylyn sighed a tiny sigh. Children were so genuine, still young enough to harbor hope though hope had left its dusty tracks behind. “Even so, you’re my first little girl and I’d like you to take it.”

Kassidy stroked the glass bulb. “I’d have to ask my mom.”

“All right, but take it with you so she can see how pretty it is. I’m sure she’ll agree.” Cherylyn gave the child a warm smile and picked up her brush.

Cherylyn caught the child’s reflection in the mirror. Central casting had placed them well. Kassidy could so easily have been her child—their coloring, their smile, their coy femininity were identical. It wouldn’t be at all a stretch to believe that this little girl could have been born from her as opposed to Kassidy’s own mother, the petite wild child with a shock of strawberry blonde waves that she always attempted to tame with knitted caps fashioned out of granny squares and tiny freckled features suggesting a not yet mature twelve-year-old. “Maybe I should just leave it here until she says it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to break it while I walk because sometimes I forget to walk and run instead.”

Cherylyn smiled at the child’s ever-present honesty and pointed toward a table where a bouquet of irises stood tall and proud in a cut-glass vase. “Then set it over there. It’ll be here when you’re ready.”

Kassidy carefully placed the globe on the lace tablecloth and spun to throw her arms around Cherylyn. Why did it still surprise her? Why did the child’s unabashed affection catch her off guard each and every time she displayed it? Cherylyn squeezed her tight, took in one last memory of her smell and patted Kassidy’s back.

“I’ll come back to get it if she says I can,” Kassidy said and pulled away.

“Okay, honey. I’m tired and I’m going home soon, but I’ll leave the door open. You come right on in and take it if Mom says it’s all right.”

Kassidy skipped to the door after giving the snow globe one last caress. She slipped through with a wave and was gone.

Cherylyn sighed as the door closed. No use brooding since brooding never changed anything at all. She turned back to the mirror and slipped her satin robe from her shoulders. Her swanlike neck was the envy of many; her generous curves the envy of all. What did she have to feel sorry about? Her gaze trailed to his photo that displayed a gleaming smile offset by the dark hair and ruddy skin with a background of the crystal sea framing him. What a beautiful child they would have had, half him, half her, now neither.

Cherylyn picked up the mother-of-pearl hairbrush and began to hum a gospel song from her youth. “Yes, he does. Yes, he does,” she sang softly. The door slid open and the light in the dressing room dimmed. “Kassidy?”

No answer came.

Cherylyn turned to see a hand, much larger than would belong to Kassidy, reach for the coveted bulb of glass. “Pretty,” a voice said and Cherylyn knew. The hand stroked the globe, flipped it once to make winter swirl in the middle of steamy California and set it to rest again on a wicker stand.

“Why are you here?”

“We need to talk.”

Cherylyn adjusted the robe to cover her shoulders as she cautiously rose to her feet. It felt as though a ball of the lard her grandmother used to steam into soap had traveled upwards from her belly to her throat, defying both gravity and reason. “I don’t think there’s anything left to say.”

The hand paused near the irises. “Your favorite, right?”

Cherylyn tightened her robe to her neck. “I suppose you know that they are.”

“They’re so bright.”

Braver now, Cherylyn took a step forward. What bad could ever happen when irises were there to witness it? “I think it would be best if you left.”

The hand reached inside a coat, or was it a bulky sweater? It was difficult to see since the light was now nothing more than a glow. “I don’t believe it’s ever been your job to think, Cherylyn. Not when you’re so much better at other things.”

It had been Cherylyn’s plan to reach the door; to open it, to extend her palm and request the exit once again. But the hand, covered now in a scratchy woolen glove, snaked out and pulled the satin tie from her robe. Cherylyn attempted to scream, but either the mass of lard or the pressure of the sash, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing, stopped her. She tried to say his name, the name of the one she’d loved, but it proved impossible. To speak, one needed the gift of breath and life and she no longer had either.

* * * *

Kassidy raced down the hall and then remembered security telling her once that she could cause an accident, scooting that way. She slowed her steps and ran her hand along the pink wall of the corridor. It was a darker pink than she usually liked, but it looked pretty here outside of Cherylyn’s dressing room. Her own dressing room wasn’t half as big and it was in a hallway that was painted just plain old white. Someday maybe hers could be here too with a glittering star on the door and her name spelled out in shiny letters across it instead of just K. Scanlin written on a little card above the knob.

Kassidy reached Cherylyn’s door and knocked. No one came, but she had said that she was going to go right home, so Kassidy turned the door handle and stepped inside. It was dark, but not completely dark. Cherylyn must have forgotten to turn the light all the way off. Kassidy never forgot to do that because her mother reminded her ten times a day that electric cost money. “Cherylyn, it’s me Kassidy. Mommy said I could keep the skater’s globe so I’m going to take it.”

She stepped in further, but her tummy felt strange. She spotted the skater’s globe next to the place where she’d set it down. She snatched it and turned. Was someone lying on the floor? It was too dark to be sure. Kassidy clutched the heavy globe, squeezed her eyes shut, darted through the doorway and zoomed down the hall.

She didn’t care what security said.

Chapter One

Jace Brooks peeled through the Ventura Studios lot and wheeled his vintage Camaro into a spot that said Reserved for Studio Executives. He’d been ticked when the call had come in right between the shrimp cocktail and the sirloin strip. Now he was downright pissed. Forty-five minutes of nose-to-ass freeway traffic hadn’t been his plan for the evening. By now he should’ve been on to the cranberry apple pie and anticipating the rest of the night with Leslie Foster, assistant DA.

Jace slammed the car into park and climbed out. His partner, Stan Walker, waited near the main door with a lit cigarette that he must’ve known Jace would need. “Thanks for coming.”

Jace snatched it and took a satisfying drag. “You owe me. Whaddya got?”

Stan’s chubby legs tried to keep up with Jace’s long, smooth strides. “Cherylyn Dwyer, thirty-two years-old, star of Our Life of Love.”

Jace stopped at the entrance to the building. “Our life of what?”

Love. It’s a soap. A daytime drama? Margaret loves it.”

“Fascinating.” Jace pulled the door and met at least twenty uniforms scurrying, jotting notes, using the phone. “Where is she?”

“In her dressing room. Looks like she’s been down a couple of hours. Strangled with the sash of her expensive robe.”

Jace grabbed a file a uniform handed him and flipped it open. “Any witnesses?”

Stan raised his hefty shoulder toward what looked to be a conference room. “Not an eyewitness, but the last one known to have seen her is a kid. She plays her daughter on the show. She’s in there. Pretty shaken up.”

“Great.” Nothing worse than interrogating little kids. They were about as helpful as nothing. Jace did a quick flip-through of the photos in the file. Cherylyn Dwyer. She’d certainly been a beauty, striking all kinds of poses from innocent to vamp. He handed the file off to Stan. “How old?”

“Looks to be about six or seven. I’m not sure.”

Jace took another drag and then handed the cigarette that had been dangling between his lips back to Stan. “Why the hell don’t you know, Walker? You’re supposed to know.”

Stan helped himself to the last bit of nicotine and smirked. “Because you’re so damn good at it.”

Jace shook his head. “I’ll get her statement after I check out Miss Cherylyn Dwyer’s lifeless form.”

“You’re sick, Brooks.”

Jace grabbed the notebook Stan handed him. “Just doing my job.”

No matter how many times he saw it, it never got one damn bit easier. Cherylyn Dwyer’s body lay rigid and cold, the healthy glow she’d once had was now converted to something icy and near transparent. Her silky blue robe fell to her sides and a silhouette of a shapely breast was evident. Around her neck the sash of the robe was pulled tight.

“Get some gloves on and cover her up,” Jace grunted to the uniform standing guard. He was well aware that he had a hard-ass reputation, but he believed in doing things right and salvaging what tiny bit of the victim's dignity that remained.

The uniform did as he was told and Jace turned to survey the room. It was decorated with elegant Victorian furnishings covered in pastel shades of satin. Three vases filled with fresh flowers stood on various tables throughout the room. A vanity with a mirror was at the far side. Jace walked over to it and paused. “She’d been sitting here.”

The uniform glanced up as Jace ran his long fingers through the shoulder-length waves of his dark hair. “Get me a glove.”

The uniform gave Jace a rubbery hand. He tugged it on and lifted a hairbrush for closer examination. A jar of cold cream sat open and a pile of tissues and cotton swabs were next to it.

“What do you think?” the uniform asked as he watched Jace ponder.

“She wasn’t expecting anyone, didn’t have any pressing plans.”

“How do you know?”

Jace looked at the wet-behind-the-ears kid fresh from the academy. He hadn’t honed in on instinct yet. Five years on the other side of thirty and fifteen years of witnessing the most brutal acts of inhumanity, Jace only knew instinct. By-the-book procedure had failed him too many times.

Jace pointed to the jar. “She was using this. No deep grooves in the cream like there would be if she’d been in a hurry. She was taking her time, scooping it out gently. Then there’s the brush—long strands woven smoothly through the bristles. If she’d been hurrying to get somewhere or get ready for someone, she would’ve been moving faster, the strands would be tangled around the bristle spokes.”

The uniform stared, fascinated. “Damn.”

Jace pulled off the glove and looked at an antique porcelain clock on a wicker bookshelf. Eight-fifteen.

The pie would’ve been nice.

* * * *

Maureen Beckett stroked her daughter’s hair and tried to silence the Sousa march that beat inside of her chest. What had been just a normal day for twelve full hours had suddenly turned dark and sinister. Her beautiful little girl was a possible murder witness.

“Are you all right, Mrs. Scanlin?” a masculine looking female officer asked.

Maureen glanced at the woman with her sensible pants and blouse, hair cut in a non-descript bob and nails clipped short for efficiency. “It’s Ms. and it’s Beckett. I’m not married. Please call me Maureen.”

The officer attempted a smile. “All right. Is there anything you or your daughter need at the moment?”

Maureen glanced down at Kassidy, still trembling in her arms. “I don’t think so. But just how long will we be detained? I’d like to get my daughter home.”

The officer nodded as if she understood. “I realize this is quite the ordeal, but the detective assigned the case needs to speak with Kassidy. It shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Maureen pulled Kassidy closer still and watched the officer whisper something to a uniformed cop.

“I want to go home,” Kassidy muttered in a tiny voice.

“I know, sunshine. We will. They just need to get some information.”

Kassidy lifted off of Maureen’s gauzy peasant shirt. Her tiny face was blotchy from tears, a trait she’d had since she was just a baby. Thankfully for her inexperienced nineteen-year-old mother, the infant Kassidy hadn’t cried often but always succeeded in ripping out Maureen’s heart whenever she did. “I didn’t see anything.”

“I know, honey. I think you’ll just have to tell the police officer that.”

“Can I still keep the snow globe?”

Maureen reached out to touch the child’s flaxen hair. She looked so much like her father, Peter the tennis pro. Though Maureen searched daily, she couldn’t find a shred of herself in her daughter. “We’ll ask to make sure they don’t need it. If they don’t, of course you can keep it.”

Kassidy ran the chubby back of her hand across her eye. “Do you think they called Cherylyn’s mom yet? Remember we met her last summer?”

Maureen nodded and tucked a silky tendril of Kassidy’s hair behind her ear. “Yes. I remember. I’m sure someone will call her.”

Appeased for the moment, Kassidy snuggled back into the crook of Maureen’s arm. It wasn’t long before Maureen felt the steady hum of her breathing. Kassidy had slipped into sleep with the blissful ignorance of having no idea what awaited and how tarnished the world could be.

Maureen closed her eyes too, hummed a Joni Mitchell song and waited.

“Mrs. Scanlin?”

Maureen lurched up, disturbing Kassidy as she did. “What time is it?

“Close to ten,” the female officer who’d returned said.

Maureen struggled to focus and with clarity came memory. She looked up at the officer, but saw someone else instead.

He was tall, at least six two, towering over the frumpy female officer in front of him. He had the dark hair of a biker who refused to wear a helmet despite the law. The face was wholly masculine, not pretty but definitely handsome in a roguish sort of way. The nose was long and wider than God had most likely intended, probably due to a flailing of fists in a late night brawl. His mouth was drawn as though it was not particularly prone to smiling, though the lips were thin and would form such a nice smile Maureen was sure. His eyes, crystal blue and fringed with thick lashes, were the one feature that seemed out of place, seemed too soft and vulnerable in this otherwise I-dare-you-to-take-me-on face. High cheekbones and angular jaw rounded it out somehow, leading Maureen’s eye to the hoop of silver in his left earlobe.

“This is Detective Brooks. He needs to ask Kassidy some questions.”

Maureen shifted and remembered then that Kassidy had been asleep across her chest. The detective stepped forward and extended his hand. Maureen adjusted, tried to take it, but failed. He retracted and simply waited while Maureen gently shook her daughter.

“Kassidy, can you wake up please, honey?”

“Long night,” the detective said, and flipped a spiral notebook open.

“Yes, it has been.” Maureen nudged again. “Sunshine, you need to wake up.”

Kassidy sat up, rubbing her eyes.

Maureen steadied Kassidy’s shoulders and lifted her chin. “This is the detective from the police department. He needs to talk with you for a minute.”

“Can I get a drink?” Kassidy asked.

Maureen looked at the officer who nodded, and then back to Kassidy. “Go ahead. There’s a water cooler right over there.”

Kassidy wandered off, still looking groggy. Maureen watched her little overalls disappear across the room. She stood and adjusted the cap she wore. Her crocheted vest had twisted and she righted it across her shoulders. “I don’t believe she saw anything.”

The detective jotted something on the pad. “Maybe not, but we need to find out what she did see.”

“I just told you I don’t believe she saw anything.”

He flipped the pad closed. “Mrs. Scanlin…”

“It’s Ms. and it’s Beckett. I’m not married.”

“Ms. Beckett…”

Maureen raised her palm. “I really hate that. Please just call me Maureen.”

He crossed his arms, digging for patience she was certain. “Okay. Maureen. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Often witnesses have a lot more information than they realize. The sooner we can tap into anything that they may remember, the better off we are.”

“Is Kassidy considered a witness? She didn’t see the attack.”

“She’s considered the last known source to have talked with and/or seen Miss Dwyer alive.”

“She’s only seven.”

He looked at her then, met her eyes, held his stare. “I realize that. But you need to realize that we have a murder to solve and your daughter may be able to help us do that.”

“I’m just looking out for the best interest of my child.”

“And I understand.”

“Do you have children?”

It seemed she’d succeeded in rendering him speechless, even if only momentarily. “No, I don’t.”

Kassidy was back, water dripping on her chin.

“Hi.” The detective extended his hand.

Kassidy hesitantly shook it.

“Can I talk with you for a minute?”

Kassidy looked up at Maureen and nodded when her mother did. “Yes.”

“Why don’t you sit down?”

Kassidy hopped back onto the loveseat and Maureen sat down next to her. The detective squatted on the floor in front.

“I’m Detective Brooks.” He looked behind him and indicated another older, hefty man with thinning hair and the stereotypic glob of jelly donut on his tie. “This is Detective Walker and Officer Randall,” he said as he looked to the female officer. “We’re trying to figure out what happened to Miss Dwyer and we wondered if you could help us.”

Kassidy tilted her head. “Did you say your name was Detective Brooks?”

He smiled then and something foreign and unwelcome flipped inside of Maureen. “Yeah. It is.”

Kassidy beamed, genuine, sincere, for a moment no longer frightened. “My name on Our Life of Love is Brooke! It’s the same name!”

His smile widened and Maureen recognized his effort to establish a relationship that would only aide him in his search. “It is the same. That’s my last name though. My first name is Jace.”

And for some unknown reason Maureen spoke. “That’s a very unusual name.”

He waited a minute to pull his gaze from Kassidy to her mother. “It’s Jason. There were two Jasons on my little league team. The other guy was better. I got outfield and a shortened version. It stuck.”

Kassidy giggled as if she understood completely.

“Can I ask you a few things, Kassidy?”

“Uh huh.”

“Thanks.” Jace flipped open the notebook and grabbed a pen from his sport coat pocket. “When did you see Miss Dwyer…”

“She likes me to call her Cherylyn.”

“Okay, when did you see Cherylyn for the last time?”

“I always go to her dressing room after we tape and my bath is done. She makes me chocolate milk and I watch her take her makeup off.”

“So that’s what you did earlier tonight?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say that she was going anywhere later or if someone was coming to visit her?”

“No. She said she was tired and that she had an early call—that means you have to be on the set early to tape something. Sometimes you have to re-tape stuff when someone messes up like the boom guy…”

“Honey,” Maureen interjected.

Jace just smiled. “It’s okay. Go on.”

“She said she had an early call and that she was tired. That’s all I remember. Then she gave me her snow globe. I went to ask my mom if I could keep it. When I got back, Cherylyn was gone so I took the globe and ran down the hallway.” Kassidy glanced over to Maureen. “Sorry, Mommy. I know I’m not supposed to run.”

Maureen ran her hand down her daughter’s hair.

“Why did you run, Kassidy?” Jace asked, jotting while he listened.

“Because it was dark and quiet. I got kind of scared when Cherylyn didn’t answer me I guess.”

“You called to her?”

“Yes.”

“Did you knock?”

“Yes, but the door wasn’t locked. I opened it because she usually says to come in. I thought maybe she’d left already.”

He wrote incredibly fast. “What did you see inside of the room?”

“The lights weren’t off all the way. Cherylyn has one of those dimmer thingies and I thought she just had them down. She does that sometimes if she’s going to light a candle. But there were no candles lit. I thought that she’d left and forgot to turn off the light.”

“You didn’t see Cherylyn on the floor?”

“No. Well…”

Jace stopped writing. “Do you remember something, Kassidy?”

“I thought maybe someone was on the floor.”

“Okay.”

“But I wasn’t sure.”

“Okay.”

“So I took the snow globe and ran.”

“Where did you run to?”

“Back to my dressing room. My mom was on the phone with my grandma so I played with the skater’s globe until she got off the phone.”

Jace turned to Maureen. “When did you receive word that Miss Dwyer had been killed?”

“I finished the call with my mother and called for a car to drive us out to mine in the lot. We were waiting when the producer of the show, Christian Michaels, came to tell us that Cherylyn’s body had been found by her driver.”

“What time was that?”

“About seven I guess.”

“And the tapping wrapped at what time?”

“About five-thirty.”

“Is it common for you to still be at the studio two hours later?”

Maureen didn’t care for his prickly tone. “It’s not unheard of. It’s Friday night and it’d been a long week. Everyone seemed to be moving slowly.”

Jace flipped another page in his book. “That’s pretty slow.”

Maureen crossed her arms in some sort of strange defense mode. “I believe that Kassidy and I have told you all that we know. If you don’t need her any longer, I’d like to take her home.”

Jace kept writing. Kassidy yawned and lay down on a cushion of the loveseat.

Maureen cleared her throat. “Mr. Brooks, if you’re finished I’d like to take my daughter home now. It’s been a very long evening.”

Jace flipped the notebook closed and slid it into his breast pocket. In one swift move he took Maureen’s elbow and eased her back out of Kassidy’s earshot. “I’m sure that it has been, but as of this moment Kassidy is the only witness we have.”

Maureen wriggled her arm away. “But she saw nothing that can help you, Detective Brooks.”

“Call me Jace. You told me to call you Maureen.”

There was something about him, something familiar yet unnerving. Something she wanted no part of. “I don’t know much about law enforcement, but I can’t believe there is much reason for us to be held here when my daughter is tired and has told you all that she knows. She loved Cherylyn and I’m not certain that the enormity of what’s happened has registered yet. I think it’s important for me to get her home to her own bed.”

He looked at her for a long moment and then backed up, snatched a conical cup and filled it with water from the cooler. He drained it in a sip, crunched the cup and made the perfect two points. “Children are interesting witnesses. They often remember in segments, kind of like a dream that it takes you all day to recall. The sooner we tap into anything that Kassidy may have seen, the sooner we can release you both.”

“Are we being held?”

He smirked then and Maureen liked it ever so much better when he looked stern. “Not technically, no.”

She glanced around at the conference room of the studio, the same room the producers of Our Life of Love had brought her and Kassidy into and treated the child to a spread of cookies, pudding, chips and lemonade while Maureen contemplated signing the contract. “The last I checked this was a television studio, not a police station.”

“Observant.”

“I think you’re flippant, Detective Brooks.”

“And I think you’re impatient, Ms. Beckett.”

“Maureen.”

“Only if it’s Jace.”

Maureen sucked in a breath and came dangerously close to pouting. She extended her hand toward Kassidy and watched as he squatted in front of the love seat, helped ease Kassidy up from her dozing and pointed to the sparkling red light in the soul of her sneaker. Kassidy nodded and explained something that Maureen couldn’t hear. She wandered over and lowered herself to the couch.

“You ready to talk a little more about Cherylyn now, Kassidy?”

Kassidy shrugged and swung her feet.

“Just a few more questions, okay? Then you and your mom can go home.”

“I’m sad that she died.”

Jace pulled out the notebook once again. “I know you are. I am too.” He flipped the pad open and shot Maureen a look out of the corner of his eye. “I want to talk a little about what happened right when you left to ask your mom if you could keep the snow globe, right at that second you got into the hallway.”

Kassidy’s feet swung with more gusto.

“Can you remember what you were thinking when you left the dressing room?”

“I was thinking, I hope my mom lets me keep it, I hope my mom lets me keep it.”

Jace smiled such a nice smile and wrote it down. “Okay. Now I want you to think about that walk down the hall and to your own dressing room. Did you say ‘hi’ to anyone? Did you see anyone that you knew?”

Kassidy looked up at the ceiling and then back again. “I don’t think so.”

Jace kept his focus on the pad as he spoke. “You don’t think so. That means maybe you did?”

Kassidy squeezed her eyes shut. “I don’t think so.”

“Okay.”

The two other cops exchanged glances, but Jace remained squatting, patiently waiting as he wrote. “What about a security guard or a cleaning lady? Or maybe another actor from the show?”

Kassidy had opened her eyes again. “I don’t think so.”

Jace stood up and snatched a folding chair that had been leaning against a wall. He flipped it around and straddled. “Let’s play a little game.”

“Okay,” Kassidy said in a small, tired voice. She was trying so hard and it seemed so unfair to put a child who obviously knew nothing through this.

“I want you to close your eyes for me, really tight like you had them a minute ago when you were trying to remember.”

“Are you a doctor?”

Jace gave a little chuckle. “Nah. I’d be a lousy doctor. I look really crummy in green.”

Kassidy laughed out loud. “I’ll try,” she said and closed her eyes tight.

“Okay, now try and remember anything about your walk down the hall. Were you cold? Were you hot? Was it dark yet?”

Kassidy shook her head. “No, I wasn’t cold and I don’t remember if I was hot. It wasn’t really dark yet, but it was getting kind of dark. I know because the door with the big exit sign above it opened and I looked back.” Her eyes shot open then. “I looked back!”

Ever so gently Jace said, “Okay. What did you see when you looked back?”

“I saw the parking lot sunshine and someone came inside. The door closed really quick so I couldn’t see who it was.”

“So you saw someone come inside from the parking lot door, but you couldn’t tell who it was?”

“Yes! I did see that!”

“Where were you when you turned around?”

“Almost to the corner where I turn to get to my dressing room. I know for sure because I could see a light on the fire hose case. The parking lot door slammed and the light was gone and I turned the corner.”

Jace flipped the notebook shut, patted Kassidy’s knee and stood. “Good job,” was all he said.

 

 

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