After we left Ms. Withers' home, Ronan said, "That went pretty well, I think."
I shook my head. "We didn't get much. Just that the suspect is a confirmed woman. But that's who rescued Beau. She's not necessarily our murderer."
"Yeah, but if we do find her, maybe she can lead us to them if she isn't."
"True," I said. My mind was a jumbled knot. I needed to process. "Let's shut down for the night, okay, and attack it again tomorrow."
"Sure, bro. See you at 9 am in the lobby. Okay? And we should dress in our blacks. I think people need to take us more seriously."
"Got it." Our blacks were our formal uniform. I hated wearing it, but he was right. That woman treated us like we were kids since we were in our sweatshirts. And I didn't believe her. She was hiding something. Maybe protecting the woman who'd brought Beau to her.
I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned until I couldn't take it anymore. So I got dressed and went for a walk out on the pier beside our hotel. The crisp night air seemed to rustle through me. Every nerve was irritated. I felt as if the murderer was so near. Why couldn't I figure this out?
The facts I knew strolled through my mind over and over. The woman must have known Beau. And had access to his apartment. The only people I could think of were the girls close to us. Our friends. Amber was one...and maybe Etoile. But why would they lure Daniel to that apartment, watch Daniel try to kill Beau then stab him and save Beau? The motives didn't make sense to me.
A shooting star whispered over the clear, ebony sky. God, I'd missed Brindleton Bay. If it weren't for this screwed up case, I'd move back here in a heartbeat. But I'd never get Beau to agree. Losing his sister here and him almost dying. There just were too many fucked up memories for us.
But that reminded me of something the older lady had said to us earlier. She'd always wanted to help hurting things. Hadn't Briar said something similar?
And Briar loved to go to the animal shelter. I wondered if Ms. Withers liked the animal shelter as well. If we found out more about the eccentric lady, maybe that would lead us to this mystery woman.
A foghorn moaned its presence as seagulls cried in protest. Lapping at the beams of the pier, foamy waves mesmerized me, making my thoughts grow deeper.
I'd decided we needed to visit that shelter. The one where I'd gotten our dog and cat, Bullet and Clawed. It was down the street from Ms. Withers' home, and just maybe someone there could tell us more about her. If Rosalind Withers had a connection to the Fortners, maybe she knew more than she was giving us.
The following morning, Ronan and I paid a visit to the shelter. Before we could get a question out, the woman at the desk said, "Officers, I promise. That's catnip I'm growing out in the back there. I don't smoke the funny stuff. Honest."
I shook my head. "We're not here for that, miss."
"Oh...so you're not weed-busters? That's a relief...but um...w-well, we just passed our annual inspection. I keep a clean ship around here. No shit gets passed me. I'm rinsing out the little buggers soon as the bow wows make 'em. I'll swear on my dead grandmother's grave."
This girl was a character. But we needed to be serious with her so she'd tell us what she knew. I said, "Your shelter is fine. We just would like a bit of information about a local woman. Her name is Rosalind Withers. Do you know her?"
She thought for a moment. "Rosalind Withers...oh, you mean Bitch Patrol? Oh yeah, everyone knows her. She comes in here almost every day."
"Bitch Patrol?" Ronan asked. "Why do you call her that?"
"Dude, cuz she's got this bitchy personality and she's always watching out for preggers doggies. I didn't give her the name. I wouldn't get in her way if you paid me. Just saying." She waved her arms. "Look, if you want to arrest her, she lives just down the road. Not gonna lie. The woman is nuts. If you've got a beef with her, I wouldn't be surprised. She's got more opinions than Ronald Stump on Tweeter. Seriously."
I cocked my head. "What sort of opinions?"
"You know...like how we're of the devil when we euthanize. Listen, I don't do that. Other shelters might, but I have a thriving foster system and it's working. I don't need her high and mighty self coming in here and making accusations that aren't true. It's...blood boiling. You know?"
I nodded, trying to show compassion and keep her talking.
Ronan leaned in and whispered, "I don't think we're getting anywhere with this, August."
She closed off and said, "You think I'm the one who's crazy. Don't you? This is all a huge scheme to get me to confess. But I didn't do it."
"Do what?" I asked.
"Whatever it is you're after. I'm a law abiding citizen and I don't appreciate the interrogation."
I crossed my arms, sighing. I thought the uniforms might have set this one off a bit. We should have worn our sweatshirts, but who knew? "It's okay, miss. We just want information about Rosalind Withers. Does she have any friends? Someone we could contact and get more information?"
She started laughing. "Ahahahaa...whew! Sorry! Freak out moment. It's just when two gorgeous agents come waltzing in my place, my brain kind of freezes up, so...yeah...don't mind me!"
"Um...do you know of any? Friends, I mean?" I asked.
"August..." Ronan needled. "I think this is a dead end."
Arching her eyebrow, she said, "Actually, Bitch Patrol was just in here yesterday with a friend. I don't know her name cuz she just came here with her this week, but they seem to be pals."
"What does this friend look like?"
"Um...she's got like really hella long red hair. Oh and she has a kid. A girl. They were just in here not too long ago. Looking for a kitten for the little girl. I mean, Rosalind wasn't with them then but...yeah. If you hurry, maybe you could catch them at the park? I don't know..."
Long red hair?
My stomach knotted. "Thank you, miss," I said, rushing out of the shelter.
I scrambled down the road, past Withers' house as I heard Ronan call after me. "Wait up, August!"
The pieces started falling into place as if it'd always been there in the back of my mind, but now, I knew how it went down. The motive, the access, everything.
And there she was, playing with her little girl. I'd recognize her anywhere since I'd just seen her at the gala. She'd grown her hair out passed her waist. And just as I suspected--her daughter was about seven years old.
Thinking back, when Beau and I thought Ethan was breaking up with Amber, he was really consoling her about her pregnancy.
And if they were brother and sister, it would have made things even more upsetting. Amber was so inconsolable at the time. That made so much more sense now.
And maybe Daniel had found out about it and was blackmailing Amber and Ethan. She hated the Fortners so much. She was so distraught when she confided in me back then.
But her just being upset about her parents' involvement didn't ring true with how distressed she was. But add in a Fortner threat to reveal their incestuous baby? Perfect sense.
I spied the little girl who could have easily come from Ethan--jet black hair, light eyes...oh my God. I felt so bad for this little girl and her family.
And I was going to be the cause of her misery as the arresting officer.
"Amber?" I said, walking up behind her.