"Yeah, I'll take it," I said. "But starting this late after the murder will make it harder."
"Well, the police haven't done anything," Mrs. West said. Her voice was shrill.
I knew the coppers had probably done plenty. Still, this was what people who were connected to unsolved murders believed. I didn't say this to Mrs. West. I nodded in a way I hoped would give her the idea that I agreed with her and was sympathetic, which I was.
"You have to understand that chances are slim that I'll find the killer."
West said, "We have no other choice."
"Well, my fee is"
"We don't care what the fee is."
He was a lawyer with an important firm, and the Wests were in clover.
"I have to tell ya anyway."
When that was settled, West gave me a picture of his dead daughter, a folder that included a history of Claudette West's short life, and all the newspaper clippings about the case. The murder, as I well knew, had taken place four months before.
"You don't have police reports, do ya?"
He snorted. "What do you think?"
"They wouldn't give us anything," she said.
"Not even the names of possible suspects?" I asked.
"There was only one. Her ex-boyfriend, Richard Cotten." She wrinkled her small nose like she was smelling Limburger.
"He was never charged," West said.
"But he was a suspect?" I knew he was.
"For a time."
"I guess neither of ya liked him much." I stubbed out my butt in the overflowing glass ashtray.
"Liked him? Cotten is a despicable bastard," he said.
"Tell me why ya say that?"
"He didn't love her. He was only interested in her money."
I'd heard this before, but mostly from wives hiring me to follow husbands they think are stepping out on them.
Mrs. West said, "He was from a poor family and was raised by a working mother. Not that there's anything wrong with a mother working, but she was never there and Richard ran wild."
I could tell Myrna West didn't think a mother should work no matter what.
"Shot in a bar fight when Cotten was four," West said.
"Richard is a very angry person."
"Did he hit your daughter?"
He said, "Oh, no. But he showed it in other ways."
"It was the way he talked to her. He always acted as if she was dumb, said hurtful things. That's what we observed the three or four times we saw them together."
"Claudette would have told us if he'd hurt her physically," Myrna said.
I wasn't sure that was true.
"You ever talk to her about the things he said to her?"
"Yes. She said that it was just his way." West shook his head in disgust.
"You said ex-boyfriend. How long before the murder had they split up?"
"Only a few weeks."
"Do you have a picture of him?" I'd seen his picture in the paper, but I hadn't kept it.
Excerpted from This Dame for Hire by Sandra Scoppettone Copyright © 2005 by Sandra Scoppettone. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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