There was someone at the side of the house.
No, there were two.
Delaney could hear the muted creak of their shoes and the crunch of their weight on the charred ground. Someone cleared his throat not far from him.
In a smooth movement, Delaney rose to his feet and turned to face the intruders, balancing perfectly on the balls of his feet, his body completely relaxed but ready to explode in an instant.
A tall skinny guy in a creased cream colored suit and black shirt stood watching him with a sardonic expression. He reminded Delaney of a slightly washed out Frank Sinatra. Standing behind him was a stiff looking police officer wearing a San Benito sheriff's police department uniform. Delaney remembered seeing him before.
"Hope we're not disturbing you, Mr. Delaney," said the skinny guy. "We thought you might have been asleep."
"Who are you?" Delaney asked.
"Dorsey," he replied flashing his badge. "Lieutenant Raymond Dorsey. I'm a detective with California State Police Department. This is Officer Patrick from the San Benito sheriff's office. I've taken over the investigation into your wife's death, Mr. Delaney. I'd like to ask you a few questions if I may. And, there have been developments." It sounded like an insinuation.
"May we sit down and talk for a while?"
"Of course. I was just about to make some coffee. Would you like some?"
Both men nodded and Delaney walked into the kitchen and set up the percolator. Dorsey and Patrick were looking around the house as if they were measuring distances. Patrick showed distinct interest in the burnt out shell at the side. After a moment, Dorsey and Patrick came into the kitchen.
"Nice place," remarked Dorsey. "Lucky the fire didn't reach the main part of the house."
"We got here in time."
"So I read in the report. This would be around the exact time your wife met her untimely death?"
"That's what I've been told," he said, serving coffees on a pine table while all three of them sat down around it. "What developments have there been, Lieutenant?" Delaney wanted to know.
Dorsey cleared his throat and Patrick took out his notepad and pen.
"The coroner's report has been completed and, as next of kin, you are entitled to a free copy."
Delaney just stared at him.
Dorsey sipped some coffee and continued. "We've finished our examination of the murder site, Mr. Delaney and we've found your wife's car. Correction, it's your car too, I assume?"
"Yes it is."
"Okay, if you don't mind I would like to run through the situation as we have it. I apologise if I ask you any questions that you have already answered. It's just my way of doing things. Your wife's body was found in a disused chicken shed; a perfect place to confuse forensics, but the shed is actually the old vestry of the Mission of San Juan, to be precise. This is a partly ruined religious building that was abandoned a couple of hundred years ago but there are some structures left more or less intact. There are signs warning people to keep out because it might be in a dangerous condition. Some ancient state law ensures it won't be pulled down, so it just gradually crumbles away. No one ever goes there except to shoot up. It's one of those remote, forgotten places you have to know is there before you can find it."
"I'd like to see it?" Delaney wasn't sure he really wanted to give his emotions even more of a battering but he knew he had to try and be dispassionate if was going to find Maria's killer.
Dorsey glanced over at Patrick who had said absolutely nothing since arriving at the house.
"I can't see why not, now we've finished with it. I've checked your background, Mr. Delaney - Hong Kong Police and US Special Forces. I drew a blank on exactly what section of our military you served in?" Dorsey sipped his coffee.
Delaney knew this was a question and not an idle comment.
"It's classified. But I can tell you it was called G-Force."
"That's what I thought your report said. Thing is, Mr. Delaney, we can't find a single trace of this so-called G-Force. It's like it doesn't exist."
"That's why it's classified," Delaney told him. "I'm not sure it's relevant to this enquiry, Lieutenant. I need to see where my wife was murdered. One way or another I intend to find out who did it."
"I thought that's what you might say," said Dorsey. "We'll come back to that in a moment. The facts are these. An extremely knowledgeable assailant subjected your wife to a brutal attack. She was mutilated, and I'm sorry if this causes you distress, in some kind of religious ceremony and made to make a tape of her so-called confession, again a religious connection. There are no fingerprints on the tape and it's of a type you can buy anywhere. There are traces of her blood in the vestry but that's all. We have DNA samples of your wife but absolutely nothing on her killer yet. Some local farmer had used the vestry to keep chickens until a few months ago and if there were any forensic clues as to the identity of her attacker, they could be virtually obliterated by old chicken DNA. And when she died she was around three months pregnant."
Delaney said nothing. He just watched Dorsey's body language.
"The killer must have been able to get your wife to do his bidding and make this tape and leave no clues. There is evidence of some tire tracks in the dust outside the mission but of more than one vehicle. Now to your car, Mr. Delaney. This was found abandoned in the grounds of La Juanita Country Park, about halfway between Monterey and Salinas and about thirty miles from the murder scene. This is a rich man's golf course and leisure club with acres of ground where people frequently park up and have picnics or go for walks. People do leave vehicles there overnight, there's no law says they can't. No one's going to notice a car has been abandoned for some time. So this is where your wife met her killer and got, or was forced, into his car and taken to the mission."
"That's what I've just worked out," said Delaney.
"I heard you were smart," smiled Dorsey. "Which means, of course, that your wife intended to meet her eventual murderer. Your wife was a journalist. I've read some of her stuff. It's real good. So, one conclusion I draw is that this was an arranged meeting for a purpose and the killer was posing as someone with, for argument's sake, information your wife was keen to receive and this is why she went willingly."
"I've come to that conclusion also, Lieutenant," said Delaney. "What about the car? Did you get anything?"
"There were prints from both you and your wife and there were numerous other prints which we are cross checking. Has anybody else been in your car around the time your wife went missing?"
"Yes, various friends of ours and, I guess, business associates of Maria's."
"If you could give me a list of anyone you think has been in the car recently it would help to eliminate them."
"I'll do what I can," said Delaney and watched Patrick scribbling into his notepad.
"Do you know if your wife was working on anything that would have led to her meeting this person on that day" asked Dorsey.
"No I don't. I didn't know much about any of the projects she was working on. She was excited about something but she never told me any details."
"You were husband and wife, Mr. Delaney, surely she used to confide in you, talk to you about material or stories she was working on?"
"She never did. She kept that side of her life strictly off limits. I think it was just force of habit. Maybe she thought if I knew anything it might compromise her story. She did work on some pretty sensitive stuff. You might try her agent."
"Hmph!" Dorsey sniffed, not impressed with the explanation. "And there's nothing here that would give us any clue or indication of her current projects?
"The fire destroyed the entire office, Lieutenant," said Delaney. "This is another point I also thought about."
"So, were the fire and the murder connected?" Dorsey squinted and looked even more like Ol' Blue Eyes.
"You said one conclusion, Lieutenant," said Delaney.
Dorsey didn't reply at once. Paused a little for effect then fixed Delaney with watery stare.
"You have an alibi, Mr. Delaney, and witnesses, but we haven't completely ruled you out. Until we investigate further and check whether you could have killed your wife at the murder scene or somewhere else and dumped the body getting back to set fire to the house yourself then, technically, we have to treat you as a suspect."
"What?" snapped Delaney. "Am I under arrest?"
"No, not at this time but I'm going to ask you for a DNA sample as a matter of routine."
Delaney sat back. Looked at Dorsey. Didn't blink. "So I'd be on your DNA database?"
"Yes, but, my gut feeling is the record will be expunged under California Penal Code 299 as soon as you are cleared. Look, Mr. Delaney, believe me this is just routine. Keeps the boys in the office happy so they know I'm doing my job. There may be DNA traces we haven't picked up yet."
"Do you think I could do that to my wife? Do you?" Delaney stood up.
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