Home > The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(5)

The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(5)
Author: Blake Pierce

Jessie responded with a thumbs-up emoji. There was no way she wasn’t going to be there for him when he came through that door. This case might be important but it wasn’t even close to her top priority today.

Matilda pushed open two heavy doors and led them along the thickly carpeted, art-adorned second floor corridor.

“This is Jasper’s wing,” she said in a respectful, hushed voice as they passed through the corridor into what Jessie guessed was the entertainment room, which had a pool table, a foosball table, a ping-pong table, and several old-style stand-up video game machines along with a pinball machine. A gigantic TV monitor, which covered an entire wall, stood in front of two couches and an easy chair. It looked like ten people could comfortably watch whatever he put on.

Matilda walked obliviously through the room, then through the sitting room until she reached a pair of ornate mahogany doors, one of which was ajar. She pushed it open all the way and stepped to the side so Jessie and Karen could enter. When they did, they finally found the folks they’d been looking for.

Four uniformed cops were milling about. There was a woman in a crime scene unit jacket standing with a man in a suit, who was leaning just outside a door Jessie assumed led to the bathroom. He was in his late forties, with unkempt black hair and a paunch that threatened to burst the buttons on his dress shirt.

“That’s Ernie Purcell,” Karen said, nodding at the man in the suit. “He was likely the assigned detective before HSS pulled rank. I doubt he’ll be psyched about it.”

“Why is that?” Jessie asked.

“Ernie’s kind of territorial,” she warned. “He’s also a bit of a toady. If he’s on this case, it means the higher-ups want it resolved quickly and cleanly.”

“So you’re a big fan then?” Jessie mused.

“I don’t like to speak ill of anyone. But he’s going to be an impediment to doing this the right way.”

“Good to know,” Jessie said as she crossed the enormous bedroom, glancing out the floor to ceiling windows, past the balcony to the expansive lawn below. In the distance she saw a large garden with a hedge maze and what she thought might be enclosures for a petting zoo.

Ernie Purcell looked up with a scowl etched on his face. In that moment Jessie decided that the best way to deal with this guy was to get him back on his heels. If he felt in control, it would be that much harder for her to get the information she needed. She wanted him unsettled, even if that required a little creative storytelling.

“Who’re you?” he demanded unsociably.

“Ernie,” she said when she got to him. “You’re hurting my feelings here. Are you telling me you don’t remember we met at the True Blue Gala last year? You were so friendly back then, some girls might say too friendly. And now you’re acting all standoffish. What’s a gal to think?”

“I didn’t go to the gala last year,” he said flatly.

“Wow,” Jessie said, getting into the spirit of the lie. “You must have really knocked back quite a few to have forgotten our time together. I’ll try not to take offense. Maybe you can make it up to me by giving us the lowdown.”

“Lady, I don’t know who you are…” he started before Karen cut him off.

“Sure you do, Ernie,” she said. “You might not remember the gala. But I saw your eyes when Ms. Hunt walked over. You recognize her from being on your old boob tube. There’s not a cop in this city who isn’t familiar with the exploits of Jessie Hunt, so you can quit pretending. Moreover, if she’s here, you know why. You’re just upset that you’ve been relegated to the second team.”

If it was possible, Purcell’s scowl got even more pronounced.

“Not great to see you, Bray,” he muttered. “I thought we were rid of you for good. And I’m nobody’s second teamer.”

“Look,” Jessie said amiably, as she put on her gloves. “I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with you, Ernie. I’m sure you’ve done a bang-up job so far. But Detective Bray is right. HSS has claimed this case. And as the assigned HSS primary, I’ve tasked Bray with being my partner on this case. Your assistance is appreciated. In fact, it’s required. But you will be in a secondary role. So why don’t you start filling your role and update us on what you have so far. Shall we check out the scene?”

For a second Purcell looked like he might balk. But then he looked at Jessie, with her gloves on, and a nasty smile came over his face.

“By all means, Ms. Hunt,” he said with fake politeness, “let’s.”

He extended his hands as if to welcome her into the bathroom. Unsure of the reason for the sudden change of heart, she stepped inside, with Karen right behind her. The second she looked around, her heart sank.

The bathroom looked immaculate. And there was no dead body in it.






“Where the hell is the victim?” she demanded.

“I’m surprised you didn’t pass her on your way up here,” Purcell replied with barely contained malice. “She was taken out in a body bag ten minutes ago.”

“How could you let that happen?” Karen demanded. “This is a crime scene. It should have taken hours to properly document and clear it.”

“I couldn’t wait hours,” someone behind them said.

Both women stepped out of the bathroom to find themselves face to face with Jasper Otis. Jessie managed to keep her expression from changing, but only due to years of hiding her emotions from killers. Karen was slightly less successful as she gasped slightly at the sight of him.

Jasper Otis wasn’t an especially imposing-looking man. He was of average build—around five foot ten and 175 pounds. He had shaved off what was left of his thinning grayish-brown hair and wore glasses with lenses so thin, Jessie wondered if they were for show. He was tan, but not overly so. He was in good shape, but not so ripped that he looked like he was desperately chasing youth. His eyes were stunningly blue and piercing. They were the feature that pushed him from pleasantly bland into the mildly attractive camp.

“In murder investigations,” Jessie said, recovering quickly enough that her reply came naturally, “the homeowner doesn’t usually get to make those decisions.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said convincingly. “My home has never been the scene of a crime before so I guess I didn’t know the rules. Just the thought of a dead body in the shower I use every day was so unsettling, I had to do something. So I asked Carlotta and the housekeeping staff to move her to the sitting room. They used gloves and everything so their fingerprints wouldn’t get on her.”

Jessie said nothing, though her internal alert system was going off. The idea that this guy didn’t know any better when it came to preserving a crime scene was laughable. She found herself instantly suspicious of him.

“Mr. Otis,” Karen said, now recovered. “You own a movie studio that has made multiple police thrillers. Have you never watched one of them? Are you seriously telling us that you didn’t realize that disturbing a crime scene was a problem?”

“No, detective,” he replied, his voice warm as honey. “I’m telling you that I freaked out. I’m embarrassed about it. I regret it. Unfortunately, it seems that it’s too late to do anything about it. I’ve created many things in my career but a time machine is not yet among them.”

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