The JOY of Murder – Chapter 2
To say I was flabbergasted by the popinjay’s pronouncement would be an understatement. Mrs. Pierce hadn’t left a good impression the one time we had crossed paths, but to believe she would commit murder…? Pierce’s urgency now made perfect sense, but why drag Dai into this? What in the world did he think she could do about it?
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Truman,” Dai said. “What can I do to help?”
Pierce finally raised his head. His face looked haggard, but his blue eyes shone with hope. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but would you speak to her? Would you look into this, see if you can find clues leading to the real perpetrator?”
“Hold on a minute, you.” I shoved my arm between him and Dai, not liking where this was going. “Why the heck are you trying to drag Dai into this? Don’t you have fancy lawyers and inquiry agents to help? Surely all your money will get you anything you need, no matter how lavish.”
Pierce looked away, not meeting my gaze. “It’s… complicated.”
Dai uncurled from her place on the couch to put her feet on the floor, smoothing her red pleated skirt as she did so. Partially dislodged, Prince hopped down, tongue lolling to the side while he kept a close eye on our unexpected visitor.
“I’m sorry, Truman,” Dai said. “But if you want my help”—Prince let out a soft half-bark—”our help, you’ll need to explain. The more information we have, the better we can deal with the situation.”
Pierce gave a long sigh, then rose off the floor to sit on the living room’s second couch. “It’s my father.” He sighed again. “The timing couldn’t have been worse.” Red splotches dotted his cheeks, destroying his rich, handsome-boy image, a true sign of his distress.
I glanced at Dai, growing more confused by the moment. Her expression was serene and exuded calm, like the black jade she was named after. “Anything you say here will be kept in the strictest confidence. We’re quite adept at keeping secrets.”
A trace of a grin came and went on the Pierce’s face. I knew how much he loved flashing his perfect smile around, so this was yet another indication of the depths of his misery. I was less and less inclined to get involved in this. I hadn’t thought much of his mother, and from Pierce’s hesitance, I had a feeling I wouldn’t like the father much either.
“He’s in the middle of some sensitive land-deal negotiations out in East Texas,” Pierce said. “Now that the second oil boom at Spindletop is over, he and some colleagues have been searching for new areas to purchase, trying to take advantage of the growing economic downturn.”
I frowned. It sounded like they were out there profiting from others’ bad luck during the current recession. Agricultural prices had plummeted since last year, and many families struggled to survive with less than before. People thus afflicted could become ‘marks’ to less scrupulous businessmen.
And from the way Pierce kept his gaze focused on the carpet, I was positive he knew it, too.
“Until the deals are complete,” he said, “my father can’t afford any adverse publicity.”
I didn’t remember seeing a murder mentioned in the Dallas Morning News that morning, but perhaps the arrest had happened too late to be included in the early edition. Still, it was sure to be splattered all over the front page when the news got out—or was it? I recalled that Linda Carmichael’s father was involved with at least one Dallas newspaper. As Pierce’s self-appointed girlfriend, she’d tried to take a photograph of Dai at Pierce’s shindig at the Dallas Country Club, intending to plaster her likeness amidst allegations of the Yellow Terror trying to sway Pierce into all manner of imagined evil deeds. If she’d gotten away with it, it could have proved disastrous for the Wus. Did Pierce’s father have sufficient influence with the Carmichaels to get the story suppressed?
Dai frowned. “Keeping it out of the papers wouldn’t be enough, though,” she said. “The arrest will be a matter of public record.”
Pierce sighed again. “It was recorded under her maiden name—Crawford.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be incensed or appalled. Did his father wield that much influence in the city? And what about his poor wife? “Was it listed as a homicide or a murder?”
Pierce frowned. “What’s the difference?” he asked. “Aren’t they the same thing?”
“Not under the eyes of the law, they’re not,” I said. Mrs. Lark had found a copy of the 1928 Texas Statutes at Dai’s request, and learned more about the law than I would have cared to ever known.
“If the death is considered to be excusable, negligent, or justified it won’t be deemed a capital felony, and she can be released on bail while awaiting trial. But if the homicide is judged to be a murder, it then becomes a capital crime, and posting bail won’t be an option.” Then I had an even more sobering thought. “If your father is keeping his name out of it by not using his lawyers, who will defend her? Does she have money of her own to hire an attorney?”
With each question, the popinjay seemed to shrink where he sat. It gave me no comfort whatsoever.
“I’m working on that,” he said. “I just need to be circumspect about it.” He looked at me imploringly, not something I would have ever thought possible.
“We cannot help you. We just can’t,” I said. Dai needed to stay as far away from this as humanly possible. I felt terrible about the Pierce’s mother, but I had my own people to protect. The way his family was going about this left a sour taste in my mouth, and if I was honest about it, a dash of dread as well.
“Jacques! It’s too soon to say that.” Dai sounded annoyed.
Better that she be angry with me than have the family exposed unnecessarily. I would have been more adamant about keeping away from Pierce if I’d had an inkling of the power his father appeared to possess.
“No. I’m sorry, Dai, but it isn’t,” I retorted, springing to my feet. “What if Mr. Pierce gets annoyed at us for sticking our noses where they don’t belong? If he can manipulate data on public records and control what news is shown in the papers, what might he do to you—to the family—if he turns on us?”
To my surprise, Pierce laughed. The sound was devoid of humor. “If it doesn’t interfere directly with his goals, he won’t deign to notice anything we do.”
The flat tone and blank expression did more to stall my objections than anything else the popinjay might have said. Dai reached out for my sleeve and tugged on it until I sat back down. Reading between the lines, Pierce’s words opened up all manner of questions. It definitely seemed to indicate the Pierce home was more than likely not a wealthy paradise.
“Please—all I ask is that you speak to her to get her side of things so we… so I can figure out what to do next.” Pierce’s misery covered his face, tears glinting in his eyes. The fact that he willingly let us see this told of the depths of his despair. “I don’t want her to think she’s been abandoned.”
It made me ashamed to have thought of withholding our aid, but it didn’t make the potential dangers any less firghtening.
“Truman, you were there for me when I needed your help,” Dai said softly. “Laura Cooper’s murderer would not have been caught without you. So visiting your mother is the least I can do. Where is she?”
Pierce’s relief was palpable. “They took her to the Dallas County Criminal Courts Building.” The top five stories of the structure housed the county jail.
I gritted my teeth and held my tongue, knowing that what Dai said was true. But after this ‘favor’ was over, I vowed, so too would be our involvement. Sadly, fate had something else in mind.