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A Lethal Love (Stonewall Investigations Book 2) by Max Walker (1)

1 Griffin

There shouldn’t have been so much blood. Fuck. There shouldn’t have been any blood. Why was there so much blood? It was a deep red, almost maroon. A pool on the floor next to her, reflecting the light from above. It was a color I’d immediately come to hate. There was a smell, too. A scent that stung my nose and rolled my stomach. Like a metal tang, something rusting in the air. My head hurt. Pounded. I looked around the room trying to establish where I was. The familiar eggshell-white walls of my brownstone were surrounding me. There was a handprint on the far wall, as red as the blood on the floor.

Underneath the handprint was Veronica, my roommate.

My dead roommate.

Holy shit.

Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck.

She was dead. There was no question about it. She had been wearing a white shirt that was soaked through in the dark red. The shirt was sliced at the chest, where it appeared she had been stabbed. There were a handful of other stab wounds across her body. Her skin was a bluish white and her eyes were wide open and—my lunch shot up my esophagus. I swallowed it back down.

I was laying down on the couch, looking at my dead roommate, my head throbbing as if it had been hit a hundred times with a hammer.

Full panic flooded through me. I stood up. Slipped. Fell hard on my ass. That was when I realized I slipped on blood. My brain was firing off nerves that had been fried, their ends burned to a crisp. Like live wires that whipped around in a storm, frayed and broken, sparking, searching for a connection that made sense but finding nothing. That’s always how my brain felt after the medication.

Especially when I followed the meds with wine. Lots of wine. Red wine. Almost as red as the blo—

Police. I needed to call the police.

But, wait! Tires screeched inside the folds of my brain. They’re going to think I did this. What am I going to say?

It didn’t matter. She was dead. In my apartment. What the fuck else would I do? I looked around for my phone, spotting it on the far end of the couch.

Shit… what happened before I blacked out?

The phone was in my hand, my fingers moving over the numbers automatically. Nine-one-one. A sweet-sounding guy answered. I’m sure I sounded much less sweet.

“My roommate!” I yelled louder than I thought I would. “She’s dead. I don’t know what happened. I was, uh, shit. I was—”

Passed the fuck out.

“Sir? Is the location you’re in safe? Just you and the deceased?”

Deceased. Shit. Fuckity fuck.

“Yes.” As if that doesn’t seem at all suspicious. “I—it wasn’t me. I don’t know what happened. I blacked out.”

“That’s okay. Just stay calm, police will be there shortly.”

I stumbled back, away from the blood. I hit a wall with my back. I hadn’t even noticed I was moving. Slowly, the floor rose to greet me. Or did I sink down to it? Couldn’t really tell anymore. Everything was still fuzzy; nothing made sense. The sharpness that came from the adrenaline wasn’t sharp enough to cut through the fog completely.

What had happened? Why was Veronica dead?

I didn’t… no, I couldn’t have. Never.

Not unless…

Sirens sounded through my living room. The window was open, letting in all the noise from outside. I lived in a brownstone in Chelsea, Manhattan. It was just me and Veronica, who had moved in only two weeks earlier. No one else was inside from the last thing I remember, which was… what were we doing?

Shit. I couldn’t remember.

The sirens were louder now, directly outside the window. I got up, surprised I was able to stand with how shaky my legs were.

Legs. That’s right! Veronica was practicing a dance routine she was going to do for an audition. I was watching her, drinking on the couch, pointing out when she’d miss a step. That was at… one in the afternoon. She had the audition at four. And it was now… fuck, eleven o’clock at night.

* * *

The police station stank. There were homeless people, drunk people, regular people here for who only knew what. Overall, it was a shit time. All compounded by the fact that I had woken up to my roommate dead in the living room.

It still wasn’t fully hitting me. Maybe I was still in shock. Maybe it was the mix of alcohol and medication still numbing my system. I’d realize what happened in slow bursts. The ride to the station had me bursting out into random cries. I pulled myself together, though, insisting we would find whoever did this. I had been scared that the cops would accuse me of doing it, but thankfully, the two officers that showed up seemed compassionate and willing to help. They sounded like they believed my story, as crazy as it sounded while I was saying it.

Seriously. I need to stop doing this. Drinking. Blacking out.

At the station, the two officers walked me to a room I assumed was reserved for interrogations. Lucky for my sanity, there was a window in this room. I hated tight spaces, so being able to look out at the police parking lot helped calm me down a bit. It was dark out, the streetlamps on and glowing their orange light down onto the hoods of the police cars.

It felt like another two hours before anyone came into the room. It was a police officer, but I didn’t know this guy. He was dressed in a regular navy polo shirt and dark jeans. I knew he was a cop by the badge hitched onto the waist of his jeans. He had big bushy brows that framed intense brown eyes. He had a couple of scars on his forearms and face. He’d obviously seen some shit.

Well, guess I’d seen some shit now, too.

Fuck... I need a beer. Just one beer.

It still didn’t fully click into place. Drinking was what had me sitting in this dingy police station. If I hadn’t opened that bottle, I wouldn’t have blacked out…

I’m going to need one to go to sleep tonight.

“Griffin Banks.”

“Yes,” I replied, even though the cop’s tone didn’t sound like he was asking anything.

“I’m Detective Dawson. Want to tell me what happened tonight?”

I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair on one side of a sturdy white table. The cop took the seat across from me, his chair scratching against the big gray tiles underneath. My head pounded. Exhaustion was overcoming the adrenaline. Someone outside the room was yelling something about the Illuminati. I wanted to cry and sleep and drink, although I wasn’t sure exactly in what order.

“I mixed up my medication with my liquor. I blacked out for something like eight hours. When I woke up, Veronica was dead.”

“How often do you mix the meds with alcohol?”

“Not often.” We both knew that was a lie. The detective sat back in the chair. He had big brown eyes, the kind that made you feel at ease. But the way the rest of his face was set told me this guy wasn’t someone who went easy on people. He looked like a bulldog chasing down a bacon strip. Something in my brain was trying to push forward in that moment, shouting at me, fighting for my attention but I just couldn’t pinpoint it.

“Griffin,” he said, his voice sounding as soft as his eyes. “You’ve gotta be upfront here. Honest. We want to help find who did this to your friend.”

“Right, right.” It was hitting me. Slowly. “Fuck.” I coughed. Or was that a cry? “I, um… shit. I don’t know what happened.”

“When you woke up, do you remember seeing a murder weapon anywhere?”

My eyes widened. I hadn’t even thought of that. Of how she died, and with what. It was bloody, and I was panicked. “No.” I shook my head. “I didn’t see anything.”

“Hmm.”

“Jesus… I don’t even know. How did it happen?”

Dawson cocked his head, his eyes sparking. Something was replacing the warmth. Something else was shouting in the farthest parts of my brain. Louder. Getting louder.

“How?” I asked again.

“What was your relationship like with Veronica?”

“It was good. She needed a place to stay, so I offered mine. What happened to her, Detective?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.” The spark in those warm brown eyes was transforming. His eyes narrowed as he scanned my face. I looked out the window, getting uncomfortable. The seat I was sitting on was getting hotter and hotter.

Shit. Is the sun coming up? How long have I been here?

I took a deep breath, feeling myself spiraling. I was a total mess; I’d been a mess for years, and now it was all catching up to me. If only I’d been awake. Not fucking blacked out like a newly initiated frat douche. Maybe I could have stopped whatever happened to Veronica. At the very least, I’d have been able to be more help.

But wait… why was I left alive?

The question hit me with the speed of a bullet train. Whoever killed Veronica decided to leave me behind. Why? Because they felt bad? Doubtful.

“Griffin.” There was my name again. This time, it sounded like the detective was using his voice as a blunt object, banging it against my already aching head. “This isn’t looking good. You have an excuse, but not necessarily an alibi. The murder weapon wasn’t found, and there are no other witnesses. We’ve talked to neighbors, two of which weren’t home and another who said they heard tires screeching away but didn’t think much of it. So, whatever you can remember, whatever tiny detail you can pull up from your drug-addled brain, bring it up.”

Shit. Realization washed over me as if someone had pulled down a lever and opened up the floodgates. I was suspect number one. Everything I said was being viewed through a suspicious lens. The detective wasn’t on my side. He was on the side of getting answers, and I was sure that he’d force some of those answers if he wasn’t finding them. I swallowed back what felt like a stone, dropping right down to my gut.

“I need to go.”

“You need to answer my questions.”

The bulldog was transforming into a pit bull. His face turned tight, the muscles in his jaw twitching as he pressed his teeth together. I was sweating. I adjusted in the uncomfortable seat, the legs sounding in protest underneath.

“Am I under arrest, Detective?” The question felt like bile in my mouth.

He waited a moment before answering. “No.” He shifted his weight, looking directly at me. “We don’t have enough. Yet.”

The last bit sounded very much like a threat.

“I really hope you find whoever did this to Veronica,” I said, meaning it with every single fiber of my damn being. The chair protested louder as I pushed back and got up. The world outside, through the window, seemed so inviting. The sun was breaking through the morning haze and painting the street a light blue, as though night still wanted to cling on.

I had to get out there. To fresh air. And then I had to get home, drink a beer or two, and knock the fuck out.

Shit… I can’t even go home. It’s a goddamn active crime scene.

Maybe this was all a really bad dream. Maybe I could go to a hotel, sleep after downing a bottle of wine, and then when I woke up, everything would be back to normal.

Hopeful, huh? Nah.

Even I knew that was mostly just dumb.

“Griffin, be available for more questions.”

“Yeah, right,” I replied. Dawson was standing now, his eyes drilling a hole through me. I knew the only reason I wasn’t behind bars was because of who my father was. A regular Joe Schmo would probably have to be bailed out with the flimsy excuse I had. But I knew money talked in most situations, and sometimes money shouted loud enough to bring down entire police departments, and that meant the police would need an airtight case before chucking handcuffs on me. But that still didn’t mean I was immune to being wrongly accused, and that part terrified the living shit out of me.

The detective walked me out of the station, telling me to call him the moment I remembered something. The pit bull in him seemed more restrained toward the end. His shoulders were less tense and his eyes less narrowed. But that didn’t mean I could let my guard down. He was after something, and I could tell he wasn’t going to give up until he got it.

Before ordering a car to take me to a hotel, I pulled up another number. I had to make a call. One of the only real friends I had, and that wasn’t saying much seeing as I had to pay him a sky-high fee most times I talked to him.

“Ciao, Griffin, how are you?” my lawyer answered.

“Hi, Enzo.” I sighed, wishing the ground would just split open and swallow me whole. “It’s been a day.”