Home > The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(7)

The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(7)
Author: Blake Pierce






Cord Mahoney looked dead.

Apart from the slight whistle he made as he exhaled, there was no visible indication that he was any better off than Millicent Estrada. His body was stiff. His skin was waxy and because he was under the covers, there was no sign of his chest rising and falling. Jessie decided to make sure.

“Wake up, Cord!”

He shot bolt upright, flailing around wildly as he lost his balance and toppled off the valentine-shaped bed. Karen put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle. Detective Purcell scowled at her, and Matilda gasped softly. While they all waited for him to gather his wits, Jessie again marveled at the style of the guest house.

It had the look of a fairy tale cottage on the outside, complete with stucco exterior, a faux thatched wooden roof, and colorfully painted bricks around the window frames. But the wooden sign on the door reading “Love Shack” tipped her off that the inside might be a different story. The small living area was decorated with a bright pink leather couch. The walls were covered in photo stills that appeared to be from 1970s-era porn films.

The bedroom where they found Cord was barely large enough for the king bed, shaped like a candy heart. Every wall, along with the ceiling, was mirrored. Jessie half-expected to find a key party bowl lying around.

Cord managed to orient himself and sit on the edge of the bed. His head was in his hands, which rested on his thighs. He looked like he was fighting off nausea.

“How are you doing, Cord?” she asked gently.

He looked up at her and she knew the answer was: not well. While it was obvious that under normal circumstances, he was an attractive guy, these were not normal circumstances. His eyes were more red than hazel. His skin looked pasty. There was sweat on his forehead, where his longish blond hair adhered. Jessie guessed that he was in his early thirties but it was clear that he lived hard so he might actually be a half decade younger than that.

“I’ve been better,” he admitted, his voice thick with exhaustion.

“Well, maybe getting some fresh air will help,” she suggested. “I saw a picnic table out front. We can talk outside and if you feel like vomiting, the grass is right there. Better that than messing up this…lovely bedroom.”

“Who are you again?” he asked.

“I’m Jessie Hunt. I work with the police. This is Detective Karen Bray. You might remember Detective Purcell from earlier. We need to ask you some questions.”

He nodded silently and followed them out to the patio table, making sure to sit in the most shaded chair. Jessie, Karen, and Ernie Purcell took the other seats. Matilda stood silently off to the side.

“So,” Karen began, “we know you gave Detective Purcell here a statement a few hours ago. But frankly, Cord, it was pretty incoherent. We were hoping you could clear a few things up for us.”

“I’ll try.”

“Great. So why were you in Jasper’s personal wing in the first place?”

Jessie didn’t mind Karen taking the lead in the interrogation. It actually afforded her the chance to study Cord’s body language before diving in herself.

“I had to pee,” he said. “But every bathroom was being used.”

“Aren’t there a dozen of them?” Karen pressed.

“There are a lot,” he replied. “But the party was so massive that there were just too many people. Lines to get in were five, six deep. And they were moving slowly, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” Karen said.

Cord glanced over at Matilda as if seeking her permission, but she showed no visible reaction, so he continued.

“Jasper’s parties can get wild. Sometimes people in the restrooms are having sex or…doing drugs. They lose track of time. Meanwhile, the rest of us are outside waiting to relieve ourselves.”

“But you knew where to find an unoccupied one,” Karen prodded.

“Right,” he said, getting back on track. “Jasper’s been letting me crash here for the last couple of weeks. I work as a VP of production at his studio, Otis Ocular. My condo complex had a gas leak. We were all relocated to a crappy motel. When he found out, he said I could stay here until it got resolved. So we’d hang out sometimes in his wing—play pool, watch a movie. So when things got tight last night, I thought I’d use his private bathroom. No one’s supposed to go in the wing without express permission, which is why I thought it might be free. But I also felt guilty because it was like I was betraying his trust.”

“Sure,” Karen said. “So that’s when you found Millicent Estrada. Did you recognize her?”

“Not then, because I was so freaked out and she looked so messed up, with her neck and all. But later on, when I saw a picture of how she usually looks, she was familiar. I think she’s some kind of lawyer or something. And she’d gone to lots of Jasper’s parties lately. I’d see her at the ones with fifty people and the ones with five hundred. But I didn’t really know her, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“So she was a regular at the parties?” Jessie clarified.

He shrugged.

“I couldn’t really say what makes for a regular. Jasper throws so many of them and there are always tons of people coming and going, doing all kinds of wild stuff. It’s usually a madhouse. But I’ve definitely seen her around.”

“And she was wet when you found her?” Jessie reconfirmed.

“Yeah, when I shook her, hoping she’d wake up, water was dripping off her.”

Karen leaned in and Jessie could sense that she was about to get more aggressive.

“Cord, Detective Purcell here says you were pretty out of it when you gave your statement earlier. Is that correct?”

“Yeah, I’d been partying pretty hard.”

“In light of that, is it possible that you inadvertently stumbled upon Ms. Estrada alive in Mr. Otis’s personal wing and mistook her for a threat of some kind? Maybe lashed out at what you thought was an attacker?”

Cord looked at her as if she was crazy.

“No way,” he insisted firmly. “I was messed up, sure. But I didn’t do anything like that. I walked into that bathroom and saw her in the shower. I tried to help but she was already dead. I admit I was high out of my mind. But I didn’t touch that chick. Give me a lie detector test. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of in my life, maybe even illegal things, but not this.”

And then, as if the stress of asserting his innocence had caught up to him, he suddenly leaned over to the side and vomited in the grass.

As Jessie looked at the guy, sickly and pathetic, she internally dismissed him as a suspect. Not because he might not be capable of doing something awful in a drunken stupor, but because she doubted he could keep it hidden. If he was guilty, Cord Mahoney would have already confessed by now.

“Thanks for thinking of coming out here,” he said to Jessie appreciatively when he’d caught his breath.

“Sure thing, Cord,” she said before turning her attention back to the others, Matilda in particular. “This is a waste of time. We need to talk to the person who actually runs this place. That’s the estate manager. Take us to Nancy Salter now, please.”

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