Author's Note: Thanks so much for the reviews, favorites, and follows. I should warn you that in the next chapter or two, the story will venture into M territory and its overall rating will change.
Part Three: "Strip Searches and Other Invitations"
"Driver's name is Sam Menard, age 44." Lucassi handed a plastic bag of Menard's personal effects to Audrey. "He's unconscious."
"How long until he wakes?" Nathan asked.
"Took a pretty nasty bump on the head. He'll go for an MRI as soon as the lab tech gets back from lunch. Should be any minute now."
"Wow. The urgency is so overwhelming," Audrey replied blandly.
"Haven isn't Boston, Detective Parker," Lucassi countered. "His vitals are stable."
"So the blood on his hands…," Nathan interjected.
"That's where it gets interesting." Lucassi raised an eyebrow. "We cleaned him up, looked for the wound, and found nothing."
"So it's not his blood," Nathan surmised.
"But it was a lot of blood," Audrey commented.
Nathan looked at Audrey and nodded slightly. "Something must've happened to make him take off like that. I'll check the ER, see if anyone's been admitted."
"I'm going to look through this," Audrey replied holding up the plastic bag. "See if I can spot anything unusual."
A few minutes later, Nathan and Audrey met up to share their findings with one another in the corridor outside Sam Menard's hospital room.
"So it turns out speed racer here lives a few houses down from Sada Quinn. Explains why he was in the neighborhood."
Nathan's impassive expression clouded. "But not why he was tearing out of there like a bat out of hell." The fierce protectiveness he felt toward his partner was something he usually kept under the surface, but the sight of Parker in the path of that oncoming car gnawed at him. If something had happened to her, he didn't know if—
No, he mentally chastised himself. Don't go there. Don't complicate things. Don't look for trouble.
Audrey watched his expression shift and unconsciously rubbed her arm, wincing slightly at the memory of Nathan pulling her to safety and the two hitting the ground hard to avoid being struck by Menard's vehicle. The adrenaline of the moment hadn't made the pain register. Between the odd flutter she felt at the closeness of Nathan's body to her own, coupled with the immediate pursuit of their would-be hit-and-run driver, there hadn't been time for it. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, she could definitely feel the after-effects of their dive.
Her movement to massage her arm did not miss Nathan's notice.
"Are you hurt?" His tone dropped.
She shrugged off his concerns. "I'm fine. Just some bruising. You should see the other guy," she joked but the concern in his eyes didn't dissipate. "If anyone should be worried, it's me about you."
He shook his head. "I'm fine."
"How do you know?" she pressed.
"You'll just have to take my word for it unless you plan on doing a strip search." Nathan's normally stoic face flushed at the realization of what he'd said. "Not that I would expect you—"
Audrey let out a low chuckle, though she couldn't quite keep at bay the images that flashed through her mind. Her partner was a very handsome man. She'd be a poor detective, indeed, if she didn't notice that. She always knew from the way his shirts stretched across his torso that he was solidly muscled, but actually feeling him atop her after he pulled her to safety, she gained a deeper appreciation for just how solid he was.
She cleared her throat, ready to let Nathan off the hook and to try to shake off the less than pure thoughts she was having about her partner. "So it, uh, looks like Menard was doing yard work if the grass stained shoes and grass clippings in his socks are any indication."
Nathan looked at her with gratitude before he furrowed his brows as her words sank in. "Wasn't he wearing khaki pants and a button up shirt? Not exactly yard work clothes in my experience."
"You do yard work?"
"I have a yard."
"You should invite me to see it sometime." The words slipped out before she realized. Where had that come from?
If Nathan was surprised by them, he didn't show it. "The yard work or the yard?"
Audrey tried to regain her focus on the case. "So what did you find in the ER?"
"Our bleeder hasn't shown. Only people to be admitted are a woman with an acute stomachache and a man who seems to have overdosed on his ED pills."
Audrey grimaced. "Why would he overd—? You know what? Never mind."
"I think we ought to head back to the Menard house. See if we can find the source of this blood."
A few minutes later, they were in the parking lot approaching Nathan's truck. "Hey, I didn't tell you earlier," she began, catching his hand and stopping him midstride. "Thanks for saving my life. When I saw that car coming at me, it was weird. I just froze."
"You're my partner," he replied as though it were the most obvious reason in the world. "Don't want to have to train another."
But the intensity of his gaze told her it went far beyond that.
"We're looking for 688 Fascination Street," Nathan said as they neared the neighborhood where both Sada Quinn and Sam Menard lived.
"I keep thinking Fascination Street sounds familiar," Audrey commented as she looked out the window watching numbers on mailboxes.
"Was the title of an 80's song. The Cure."
"You've been holding out on me, Detective Factoid."
"You don't need to know everything about me." His words were spoken with a touch of humor and, Audrey thought, a challenge.
"But you're such a fun mystery to uncover. So I'm thinking you can be my partner at the Gull's next trivia night."
"What? You afraid I'll make you look bad?"
"That's it exactly, Parker," he replied wryly. "Of course, half the time you can't remember people's names. 688. Here it is."
"Nice neighborhood," Audrey commented as Nathan pulled into the driveway of the Menard house.
"He lives alone, so there shouldn't be anyone here, but just in case, we'll go to the front. Knock."
They did just that after exiting the Bronco and approaching the two-story Georgian style brick home. The impeccably manicured lawn seemed to be a pre-requisite for the neighborhood, though it didn't look freshly cut. "Haven PD. Anyone here?" Audrey called out.
Nathan reached for the doorknob but found it locked. Meanwhile Audrey peered through the front window into the house. Nothing seemed out of place.
"Let's check the other doors. If there was blood on his hands, maybe we'll find something."
Nathan nodded in agreement and the two walked around to the service door of the garage.
"Bingo," Audrey said upon seeing the rust-colored handprint against the white door. Once they found the handprint, it was as though a connect-the-dots path opened for them. Blood droplets that had dripped onto the concrete now caught their eyes, the path of which led to the back patio and seemingly ended.
"See anything?" Nathan asked.
"Let's keep looking." Nathan stooped down, looking for any sign of blood in the yard edging the patio.
"A magnifying glass would be helpful right now." Audrey tilted her head in the direction of the adjacent property. "I wonder if Menard's neighbor saw anything. Lawnmower is out. Just sitting there."
"Expensive mower to leave sitting out."
Audrey looked at him questioningly.
"So…I know lawn equipment."
"Right, because you do yard work," she teased.
And then it clicked. "You said there were…"
"…Grass clippings," Audrey finished his thought.
The two walked briskly to the backyard of Menard's next-door neighbor.
"Hello? Anyone out here?" Audrey called out.
"Parker, over next to the house. The shrubs. Do you see it?" Nathan pointed. "Looks like feet sticking out."
The two jogged closer to investigate.
"Damn," Audrey grimaced, her stomach turning over.
"There's our likely source of blood."
On the ground, partially shielded from view by the shrubbery lay a man with garden shears protruding from his chest, his eyes wide open and staring blankly. Already, they were starting to cloud over, giving him an almost other-worldly appearance.
Audrey reached down and found the man's wrist. "No pulse."
"No surprise. Now we know why Menard was in such a hurry to get out of here."
"Question is, did he do this? And if so, why?"
Within minutes, backup arrived and the area was cordoned off. Concerned neighbors gathered on the scene beyond the police line, many shaking their heads, mulling about in shock and confusion.
Nathan approached Audrey after speaking with a few of the gathered neighbors. She had been watching as Julia Carr examined the unfortunate man's corpse. "Everett Ripley, age 41. Now that I think about it, I remember talking to this guy when I was looking for information about Lucy. Wasn't very helpful, but he was nice."
"Apparently someone didn't think so," Audrey countered. "Wait. You were trying to find out about Lucy?"
"Thought maybe a fresh pair of eyes…"
"You never said anything." Her voice shot up slightly.
"Shouldn't have said anything just now. I didn't want to get your hopes up unless I found something."
Julia removed a pair of examination gloves. "Well, I can confirm Mr. Ripley died of trauma to the chest and loss of blood. Garden shears. Can check that one off as one I haven't seen before."
"You keeping a list?" Nathan asked.
"More or less," Julia admitted. "Based on temperature, the clouding of his eyes, and the stage of Mr. Ripley's rigor mortis, I'd put the time of death at about two hours ago, give or take a few minutes."
"That would seem to fit with the time Sam Menard barreled out of here and nearly ran us down," Audrey said to Nathan.
"We know Menard was here, but why would he kill his neighbor? Everyone I've talked with so far says the men were friendly with each other. Loaned each other tools. Had cookouts. The usual."
Audrey's eyes fell on the murdered man. "Yeah. The usual, except for the garden shears sticking out of Mr. Ripley's chest and Sam Menard saying that it's not safe before he lost consciousness."
"Menard was scared, just like Samantha Heiser. Question is what frightened him?"
"Right. Was it Mr. Ripley who frightened him, leading Menard to kill him in some sort of weird fight/flight shenanigan? Was there an argument of some sort?"
"Shenanigan?" Nathan echoed her choice or word before shaking his head slightly and continuing, "Or did Menard find Everett Ripley like this?"
Audrey exhaled. "Menard's words bother me. I don't think it's a coincidence that both he and Samantha Heiser seemed unusually concerned for their safety."
"Other than the usual doom and gloom, take-your-life-in-your-own-hands concerns with living in Haven?" Julia interjected. "No offense, detectives."
"So what—if any—is the connection?" Nathan asked.
"As far as we know, neither man was at Rosemary's earlier today, which is the only place other than home that Samantha Heiser has been, according to both her and her roommate."
"So what if it's someone else's Trouble? Someone who was both at the bakery and here?"
"You thinking Sada Quinn?"
"She lives just down there," Audrey pointed down the road. "But she was also talking with us when Menard went all 'safety first.'"
"I'll round up some more statements," Nathan replied. "See what else I can find out about both men."
"I think I'll call the hospital. Get an update on Menard." Audrey watched as Nathan walked away, only realizing she was staring when she heard Julia clear her throat.
"So what's going on with you and my favorite brooding detective?"
"What do you mean?"
"You two had a moment."
"A moment?" Audrey shot her friend a 'you're crazy' look.
"Yes, a moment."
"We work together. That's all."
"I've known him a long time. What he's doing, trying to help you find out about your past, that's not something a co-worker does. There's something there. It's even in the way you look at each other."
"You're imagining things. Look, I need to call the hospital."
"I get paid to notice things, but whatever," Julia replied nonchalantly as she turned her attention away from Audrey and motioned to two paramedics who were bringing a cart to retrieve Everett Ripley's body.
To be continued...