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'I know how Winston Brant was killed, but I haven't told anybody yet,' Mark said. 'But the solution is so simple, I don't know how we missed it.'
Now Jesse was staring at Mark, too. 'You're telling us there's a simple way to stab a guy in midair without being seen or leaving a single trace of evidence?'
'There can't be,' Steve said. 'I went over everything last night. I examined the video, the autopsy report, the schematics of the plane. I even took apart a parachute pack. I didn't see anything that could explain what happened.'
'But you've already explained it,' Mark said.
'I have?' Steve asked, confused.
'You said it's an impossible crime.'
'It is,' Steve said.
Mark shrugged. 'Then it didn't happen.'
'Excuse me?' Steve said.
'It didn't happen,' Mark repeated.
Amanda gestured to the morgue freezer. 'I've got Winston Brant's corpse right here.'
Steve looked at Jesse. 'I thought you said Dad had a minor concussion. Does this sound minor to you?'
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'Hold on.' Mark held up his hands. 'What I mean is, nobody murdered Winston Brant.'
'Since when is a knife in the chest natural causes?' Steve asked.
'I didn't say he died of natural causes, I said he wasn't murdered,' Mark said. 'Winston Brant killed himself.'
That was what his subconscious mind had been trying to tell him for days, robbing him of sleep. That was why when he dreamed of Rebecca Jordan leaping out her window, she morphed into Lenore Barber and Winston Brant before she landed. Because in his mind, Rebecca Jordan, Lenore Barber, and Winston Brant were all the same.
They all wanted to die.
He didn't make the connection until he saw Lenore Barber in the smoking cessation workshop.
Mark resolved to pay a lot more attention to his dreams from now on.
'Captain Newman will never buy that it's suicide. He'll think I'm stumped and that I'm taking the easy way out,' Steve said. 'There's no suicide note, no evidence whatsoever that Winston Brant killed himself.'
'Brant is the evidence,' Mark said. 'The only way he could have jumped out of an airplane at ten thousand feet and been stabbed to death on the way down is if he did it to himself. That's what the parachute pack, witness statements, airplane schematics, and videotapes prove-without a doubt.'
'It's not enough,' Steve said.
'If what you're saying is true,' Jesse said to Mark, 'why didn't Brant leave a suicide note?'
'I don't know,' Mark said. 'But even without a note, suicide is going to be a lot easier for us to prove than murder.'
'We may already have some evidence,' Amanda said. 'When I did the autopsy, I found therapeutic amounts of Prozac in his system. You don't take an antidepressant if you're feeling great about life.'
Mark nodded. 'It fits with something Grace Wozniak, Brant's secretary, told me. She said Brant lost his spirit over the last few months, that he didn't seem to care about anything anymore.'
'The guy had everything,' Jesse said. 'What did he have to be depressed about?'
Amanda pointed to the article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. 'You mean besides all of this?'
'So what? Brant was going to expose their evil deeds at the stockholders' meeting anyway, wasn't he?' Jesse said. They'd go to prison and he'd get his company back.'
'In ruins,' Steve said. 'It would have been a pretty empty victory.'
'But a victory nonetheless. Brant was a man who liked a good fight,' Mark said. 'His wife says that's why he insisted everyone call him 'Win' instead of Winston.'
'So why not wait to kill himself until after he exposed those three jerks?' Jesse asked. 'Why kill himself at all?'
'Good point,' Amanda said.
Jesse looked at her in surprise. 'Really? You think so?'
'You had to make one eventually,' Amanda said.
'I'm certain that Winston Brant killed himself,' Mark said. 'Why he chose to do it when he did and how he did, I don't know.'
Dr. Sara Everden's medical practice was in a European-style cottage on the East Coast Highway, conveniently located across from the Newport Beach Country Club and within walking distance of the neighborhood Bentley dealership.
She ran a family practice, which in Newport Beach meant that her waiting room was occupied by well-heeled retirees in cardigan sweaters, middle-aged men in golf attire, socialite women in tennis outfits, and gleaming-toothed children in private school uniforms.
The clinic was decorated with French antiques and maritime art, so it felt less like a doctor's office than it did the front room of a physician's home in a seaside village in France, circa 1904.
Sara met with Mark and Steve in her office, which was dominated by a faux brick fireplace, the mantelpiece covered with family photos of herself, Winston, and their kids engaged in outdoor activities against the backdrop of various exotic locales. Skiing in Switzerland. Fishing in Cabo San Lucas. Snorkeling in Tahiti. In all the pictures, Winston Brant looked fit, tough, and proud. It wasn't the face of a suicidal man, but Mark knew not to read too much into what a person showed of himself to a camera. Photos could barely be trusted to capture the obvious, much less reveal a person's inner life.
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Sara was shocked to see Mark's broken arm and bandaged forehead, and after some polite small talk about his car accident and recovery, she took a seat behind her uncluttered, carefully organized desk and pinned Steve with her gaze.
'Detective Sloan, you said on the phone that you'd concluded your investigation.'
Mark and Steve sat in leather chairs across from her. Mark couldn't help noticing how much more comfortable these chairs were than the ones in her living room.
'I thought that was a little vague,' she added. 'Does this mean you know who killed my husband?'
'We do,' Steve said.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. 'Have you made an arrest?'
'No,' he replied.
She cocked an eyebrow. 'Why not?'
'Because there's nobody to arrest.' Steve cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. 'I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Dr. Everden. Your husband killed himself.'
'No, I don't believe it,' she said. 'He wouldn't do that.'
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'We're closing our homicide investigation,' Steve said. 'I wanted you to hear it from me, face to face.'
'You're just giving up because it's too hard,' she said, glaring at him. 'That's the truth, isn't it?'
Steve turned to his dad, as if to say,
I told you so
. Her comment simply confirmed his fears about the reaction he could expect from his superiors at the LAPD.
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Sara also turned her attention to Mark, almost daring him to say what she knew he would. 'Do you think Win killed himself, too?'
Mark nodded. 'I'm sorry, Sara.'
She shook her head in disappointment as if scolding two misbehaving children. 'You can't seriously believe that Win jumped out of a plane and stabbed himself. It's unthinkable.'
'But not impossible,' Mark said. 'Which is what murdering him that way would be.'
'Please, Mark, you can't let them get away with murder. There has to be a way to prove what they did,' she said. 'Win deserves justice. So do our children.'
'I know how much you want to blame somebody for his death, especially those who made his last few months so difficult,' he said. 'But suicide is the only logical explanation for what happened. The evidence backs it up.'
'What evidence?' she asked.
Mark carefully walked her through it, point by point, in exhaustive detail. The blood spatter pattern on Brant's chute proved he was definitely stabbed after he jumped out of the plane. The skydiving instructor's videotape proved that no one got close enough to Brant to kill him. And the forensic examination of Brant's parachute proved that it hadn't been booby-trapped in some clever way to plunge a knife into his chest.
'And we know from you and his secretary that your husband was despondent about what was happening to his magazine.'
'Win wasn't despondent, he was angry,' she said. 'There's a difference.'
'He was taking antidepressants, perhaps for some time,' Steve said. 'It certainly appears that he was a deeply troubled man, apparently more than anyone knew, even those closest to him.'
Her eyes flashed with anger. For an instant, Sara looked as if she might leap across the desk and throttle Steve. But that moment passed, leaving behind a flush on her cheeks.
'My husband climbed cliffs with his bare hands, Detective. He swam with sharks. He rode in a balloon halfway across the globe. Those are not feats achieved by a man hobbled by sadness, doubt, or despair. Win was a relentlessly driven man who didn't let any obstacle get in his way. That drive, that unflagging self-confidence, took enormous strength, physically and emotionally. But he was human, and as much as he hated to admit it, he couldn't constantly sustain that drive. He had his occasional down days.'
Sara looked past the Sloans to the family photos on her mantelpiece. 'When you live at peak emotional and physical levels, those rare but inevitable depressions can be extreme. Occasionally, he needed my help. But my husband was, above all else, a fighter, a competitor, and a winner. He was always preparing for the next bigger, tougher challenge. It's what he lived for.'
'Until he found an obstacle he couldn't overcome,' Mark said.
'Like what?' she said.
Mark shrugged. 'I don't know.'
'How about the ruination of
magazine and Brant Publications at the hands of his major investors?' Steve asked.
'Didn't you read the paper this morning, Detective?' she asked. 'He would have beaten them.'
'But at what price? To the public, your husband and
were one and the same, like Hugh Hefner and
,' Steve said. 'The magazine would have been destroyed by the scandal. Maybe he couldn't live with that.'
'How dare you presume to know what my husband felt about anything,' she said. 'You didn't know him at all.'
'No, we didn't,' Mark said sadly. 'But we know how he ended his life.'
Mark and Steve didn't say anything until they were outside and walking to the car.
'That's it for me, case closed,' Steve sighed. 'It's no longer a homicide investigation. Cops with calculators will take over now.'
'You sound disappointed,' Mark said.
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'I wish it was a murder.'
'Because you disliked Brant's partners? Or because you feel bad for Brant's family?'
'Because I feel cheated,' Steve said. 'I was looking forward to you figuring out how it was done.'
'I did,' Mark said.
'Yeah, but it doesn't feel quite the same, or as satisfying, without you laying out the clues and exposing a murderer.'
'Not every homicide investigation ends that way.'
'It does when you're around,' Steve said. 'I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but there was a moment back in Dr. Everden's office when I thought you were going to surprise me by revealing she killed him.'
'It's a suicide, Steve,' Mark said. 'And even if for argument's sake we say it wasn't, Sara was on the ground with her kids and the families of the other skydivers when Brant was killed. She couldn't have stabbed him.'
'I know. I was telling you what I felt, I didn't say it was logical or rational.' Steve opened the passenger door for his father, then walked around and got into the driver's seat. Once they were both in the car and buckled up, Steve started the ignition and caught his dad looking at him curiously.
'What?' Steve asked.
'Why did you think I was going to accuse Sara of murder?'
'I suppose it was the way you spoke to her and what you said. There was a wariness about it,' Steve said. 'It was like you were playing her.'
'Remind me never to play poker with you.'
Steve looked incredulously at his dad. 'You do think she killed her husband.'
'Of course not,' Mark said. 'Winston Brant's death was absolutely, positively, unquestionably a suicide.'
Steve nodded and was about to pull into traffic, when Mark spoke again.
'But she was lying.'
The car came to a jolting halt, its nose out in traffic, as Steve stomped on the brake. He abruptly shifted the car into reverse, backed sharply into the parking space again, and turned to face his father.
'Lied about what?' Steve asked calmly.
'She knew his death was a suicide,' Mark said. 'I think she knew it all along, despite everything she said today.'
'She may have guessed, but that's not a crime,' Steve said. 'Unless she was hiding a suicide note so she could get her hands on the life insurance settlement.'
'Sara doesn't need money,' Mark said. 'She's already an extremely wealthy woman.'
'She is now,' Steve said.
'She didn't kill her husband for his money,' Mark said. 'Winston Brant killed himself.'
'So you keep saying,' Steve said. 'If you're convinced that's what happened, and that she isn't trying to swindle the insurance company, what difference does it make whether she knew it or not?'
'It doesn't,' Mark said. 'But I don't think Brant killed himself because he couldn't live with the downfall of his magazine.'
Mark shook his head. 'I wish I knew.'
'Are you going to keep poking around?'
'It's none of my business,' Mark said.
Steve stared at his father, dumbfounded. 'This from the same man who just spent days investigating an attempted suicide?'
'I'd only be hurting the family to satisfy my own curiosity.'
'That never stopped you before,' Steve said.
'I could tell myself I was serving a greater purpose, seeing that justice is served or, in Rebecca's case, preventing a death. That's not the situation this time,' Mark said. 'I'll just have to accept the fact that some mysteries in life will never be solved.'
Steve doubted his father could do that any more than he could surrender himself completely to someone, but he thought it was nice that Mark was willing to try.