The Obsession Page 105

“Have a seat.”

Sam took the chair behind the desk that looked as though it had stood in that spot for a couple generations.

“I’m going to tell you straight off, we haven’t got line one on Donna Lanier. Her sister, her daughter, and her cousin are all on their way here. No stopping them. Her car was locked, and we found the keys on the ground, just under it. It’s clear whatever happened to her started in that parking lot.”

Mason only nodded. “I’d like to see the lot, and her residence, if possible.”

“We’ll do that.”

“You indicated Ms. Lanier lives alone, and is—to your knowledge—not in a relationship.”

“That’s right. Donna’s been divorced and single for a lot of years. Now she and Frank Peters have a drink or dinner now and then, and I do believe a bit more than that. But it’s a friendly sort of thing, and nothing serious on either side. And Frank was down at Loo’s when Donna closed up Friday. He was with a couple of friends, didn’t head out until nearly one.”

Nodding again, Mason decided to keep his notes mental for the time being. “Is that usual?”

“More like clockwork. Frank and his buddies tend to hit Loo’s on Friday nights, blow off the workweek steam.”

“Would you object if I speak to him?”

“No, and neither would he. He and Donna have been friends a long time. He’s scared for her, and I’ll admit I am, too. She’s not one to go off like this. She’s a responsible woman with a daughter she loves, a job she loves. She’s got friends. And let’s cut through this, Agent Carson. She sure as hell didn’t go willing out of that lot, without her car, keys on the ground, when she’d planned this get-together with her sister and her cousin for months now. All she could talk about was her trip, how they were getting hot-stone massages.”

“I don’t disagree, and I realize it seems as though I’m asking to cover ground you’ve already covered, and ground you know better than I ever could. Sometimes an outside perspective, a fresh eye, sees something overlooked.”

Sam looked into his mug, grimaced a little, drank. “I’m not going to argue that, and you can cover the ground all you want. But I don’t just know the ground, I know the people who live on it. And I know there’s no one in this town who could do what was done to Marla. And I know we’ve got people who come here for a few hours, a few days, maybe longer, to use the marina, the shops and bars and restaurants, the hiking trails. They rent boats and kayaks and Sea-Doos.” Sam set his mug down. “I don’t know them.”

“You believe an outsider abducted and killed Marla Roth.”

“With every bone in my body.”

“Tell me more about her.”

“Marla?” Sam puffed out his cheeks, let the air out in a half sigh. “As different from Donna as they come—and I know that’s not usual if this is the same person. Marla was thirty-one, on the wild side of things, and always has been. She divorced a good man who loved her, and still does. Who’s grieving for her. You can talk to him, too, but Chip Peters would’ve cut off both arms before laying a hand on Marla.”

“Peters.” He already knew, of course, had already looked at the connections.

“That’s right. Frank’s Chip’s uncle. Frank and Darren Peters—that’s Chip’s dad—have run the Sea to Sea Tours and Rentals for about sixteen years now. Chip’s part of that. I’m telling you he’s no part of this, and neither is Frank.”

Sam seemed to pull himself back, took another sip from his mug. “But you need to look, see for yourself.”

“Was the divorce acrimonious?”

“Ever had one?”


“Me either, but I don’t know any that are pleasant activities.”

“My information indicates Chip—that’s Darren Peters, Junior—has a temper, often a violent one.”

“Your information’s wrong,” Sam said flatly. “What Chip has is a code, and God knows a weakness where Marla was concerned. Yes, he had what you could call a confrontation with the dickhead Marla was hooked up with some years back. I’ve got a report, I’ll get you a copy. This individual tuned Marla up, a couple times. Chip got word of it—from Marla—and gave the dickhead a taste of his own. Only took one punch to lay him out, and plenty of witnesses to that. Chip didn’t keep at him, and he could have. He used his fists once or twice otherwise—over Marla. He’s a big man, Agent Carson. One punch usually did the trick. A man prone to violence doesn’t stop at one.”

“No charges pressed?” Mason asked.

“No. In the case of the dickhead—one Rupert Mosley—I spoke to him myself. At that time he and Marla both sported shiners, and the fact was he’d given her hers. I said I’d be happy to charge Chip with assault, and they could share a cell, as I’d also be more than happy to charge him with assault on Marla. He opted against, further opted to relocate. He moved down to Oregon, outside Portland. I’ve checked his whereabouts on both nights in question. He’s alibied tight, seeing as he’s doing a nickel in CRCI for laying into another woman down there. But I’ll give you that data, too.”

“I’d appreciate it. Can I ask why Chip and Marla divorced?”

“She wanted out. She wanted more. More what, only God knows, but nothing was ever quite enough. She went at your sister at Loo’s that Friday night shortly before she went missing.”

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