Home > The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(8)

The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(8)
Author: Blake Pierce






They left Cord to sleep it off in his valentine bed.

Matilda led them to meet with Nancy Salter, who was supposedly going to get them in to formally interview Jasper Otis. As they followed the young girl, zipping past multiple guest houses at breakneck speed, Jessie and Karen considered what they’d just seen.

“I know they took Cord’s prints and DNA, but I doubt it’s going to turn up much,” Jessie said resignedly.

“You don’t think it could be him?” Karen asked.

“Never say never,” Jessie replied. “I’ve been burned too often to make that mistake. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. That whole wing was unoccupied. If he’d killed her, he could have walked right out of there and back to the party and no one would have been the wiser. But he called nine-one-one, gave his name, and stuck around, even though he was under the influence. Plus, even though polygraphs aren’t infallible, the general public doesn’t know that. Volunteering to take one suggests he’s either confident of his innocence or a sociopath of epic proportions. He didn’t strike me as the latter.”

Karen was about to respond when her phone rang. The way her face fell when she saw the caller and slowed her pace, Jessie knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant. She pretended not to notice and walked ahead, joining Purcell.

“Can you send me those crime scene photos?” she asked him. “I don’t want to wait for the preliminary report tomorrow to look at the body for the first time.”

He nodded without speaking and pulled out his own phone. Behind them Jessie could hear part of Karen’s conversation.

“I take him almost every week,” she said testily. “How hard is it for you to cut up some orange slices, sit on a lawn chair while cheering occasionally, then hand out said orange slices?”

Whatever the person on the other end of the line said, it didn’t go over well.

“I’m terribly sorry that you’ll have to miss the Rams game. Maybe you can record it. And if not, they play about fourteen more this year, so I think you’ll get over it.”

They were approaching a severe-looking woman standing on a stone staircase overlooking the garden and hedge maze. Jessie got the distinct suspicion that it was Nancy Salter and glanced back at Karen, giving her the official “time to wrap it up” look. Karen nodded.

“Just make it work,” she said. “We all have burdens. You have to find his cleats. I have to go solve a murder. Goodbye.”

Karen hung up just as they came to a stop. Jessie glanced over at Ernie Purcell. To his credit, he gave no indication that he’d heard a word of the conversation.

“Detectives,” Matilda said, “this is Nancy Salter. She’s the estate manager for Otis Estate. Nancy, you already know Detective Purcell. This is Detective Karen Bray and Jessie Hunt, a criminal profiler.”

Nancy Salter looked formidable. She appeared to be in her late forties. She was tall, even looking down at Jessie, who was five foot ten. Her coal black hair was tied up in a tight bun that made her already pinched face look like a raisin. She wore no obvious makeup but had on an elaborate business suit, complete with a doily-style scarf that made Jessie wonder if she’d walked into an episode of Downton Abbey.

“Hello,” Nancy Salter said, her voice both loud and nasally. “We’re pleased to have you. I’ve scheduled a ten thirty a.m. meeting with Jasper to discuss what he’s able to share regarding the matter in question. In the meantime, I’ve collected some of the revelers from last night’s festivities that are still on the property. If you wish to interview them, I’ll take them to you now.”

She began walking without waiting for permission.

“How many people are we talking about?” Karen asked as they all rushed to keep up.

“About two dozen, I’d say.”

“We’re going to need the names of everyone who attended the party last night,” Karen said.

Nancy Salter looked back at her and seemed on the verge of laughing, but managed to contain it.

“I’m afraid that’s quite impossible,” she said.

“Why?” Karen pressed.

“Because there was no guest list. Jasper is very welcoming. He invites friends and expects them to invite people he might find interesting. I can probably write down the names of people I’m certain were here, but that will be a mere fraction of the total actual attendees. To be honest, I wish Jasper would be a little more formal when it comes to his gatherings. It’s quite difficult to ensure we have enough food and beverages when, on any given night, we don’t know whether to expect twenty visitors or two hundred. I can tell you that based on the caterer’s bill, I estimate there were between four hundred fifty and six hundred people here last night.”

Jessie decided to pursue a different area of inquiry.

“I noticed cameras all over the property. Has your security team handed that footage over to Detective Purcell yet?”

“They’re collecting what’s available as we speak,” Salter assured her.

“Great,” Jessie said. “I’d like them to especially focus on the personal wing, from six p.m. until the first officers arrived on the scene.”

Nancy Salter did actually laugh at that one.

“Forgive my impertinence,” she said quickly. “It’s just that the notion that Jasper would allow his private residence to be monitored is laughable.”

“But I saw cameras there as well,” Jessie said, trying not to get annoyed by the woman’s attitude.

“Yes, they were installed in plain view as a deterrent. But they’re inactive. In fact, the residential wing and the garden hedge maze we just left are the only areas on the entire estate where there is no monitoring allowed.”

“Why the hedge maze?” Karen wondered.

“Jasper enjoys spending time there. It’s a place of solitude and mystery that relaxes him. And since he values his privacy, of course he wouldn’t want cameras there any more than in his own bedroom.”

“Ms. Salter,” Jessie said, “I have to say, I find the assertion that, in the home of a public figure like Mr. Otis, in the middle of a massive party, with all the security on this property, there is no footage at all in the area where the crime took place…hard to buy.”

Salter stared at her with what Jessie suspected was her most severe expression, the one she saved for employees who’d failed her or her boss. Jessie stared back, undaunted, waiting for an answer.

“Ms. Hunt, all I can tell you is our policy. I’m sorry that it doesn’t comport with your expectations, but there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is leave you in Matilda’s care to conduct any guest interviews you choose to do while I reconfirm your meeting with Jasper and attend to other errands.”

“I assumed you’d be staying with us,” Karen said.

“You assumed incorrectly, Detective Bray. My duties are numerous on this Sunday morning. Keeping Otis Estate running is much like operating an unconventional business. Jasper has a new personal chef who I need to check in on. The gardening staff is in an uproar over the trampling of several rose bushes last night. We are trying to resolve a mold issue in one residential wing of West House. And someone appears to have released one of the goats from the petting zoo and dressed another in a tube top. So I’ll have to take my leave of you. But rest assured, I will collect you when it’s time to chat with Jasper. Be well.”

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