“I’ll get to the point when I’m ready. See, I’m the Master of this conversation. I’m in control. Now, what exactly did being her Master mean to you?”
“The dynamics of a Master and submissive relationship are defined by each couple, but the basics are the same. It’s the Master’s job to protect the submissive, and put his or her pleasure and safety before all else.”
He snorts. “Clearly you failed on the protection end of things.”
The words successfully hit the open, bleeding wound that no doubt he intends them to. Anger that I would normally contain prickles easily. “Mocking her death does not become a man in your role,” I say tightly.
“I’m not mocking her death. I’m mocking you.”
“Which makes me concerned about your competence to get this job done.” As does his wrinkled shirt and suit jacket that he’s accented with bloodshot eyes and a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard that match his thick¸ rumpled hair.
He arches a brow. “How is my mocking you any indication of how I do my job?”
“A Master in any role, which I would assume a homicide detective should be of his, does not disrespect those who have put faith and trust in him based on that role.”
“I think you’ll discover, Mr. Compton, that we have more in common than either of us would like. Nothing I do is an accident, as I suspect is the case with yourself.”
I narrow my gaze on his, seeing the calculation behind his look. “Whatever head game you’re trying to play with me, I choose not to play. I came down here to assure that you deliver the justice Rebecca deserves. If you want my help, it’s freely offered, but from this point forward, through my attorney.”
“Why, Mr. Compton, would you need an attorney?”
“I don’t, but apparently you do. People who get off task need those of us who know how to get them back on task, to help them remain effective. I’ve been in town all of an hour. If there’s some point to all of this, get to it now.”
“Ava claims her confession was protecting you, the man she loves, because she found out that you and Sara McMillan killed Rebecca.”
“This again?” I ask, irritated by the illogical claim that anyone with two bits of sense could dismiss. “Aside from it being untrue, Sara never even met Rebecca, nor did she become involved with the gallery until Rebecca had resigned. So clearly that claim is impossible.”
“I’m just relaying what Ava’s defense will say.”
“Ava’s defense, or you?”
“Anything that could present as a reasonable doubt has to be dealt with. What do you know about Rebecca’s father?”
I blink at the sudden change of topic. “What does her father have to do with this?”
“Just being a Master of my job, Mr. Compton. Every possible suspect other than Ava has to be wiped off the list.”
“Rebecca didn’t know her father.” I push to my feet. “I’m done. I came back from New York early, with my mother barely out of cancer surgery, expecting this was going to be productive. So far, it hasn’t been. If you want to ask about Ava or anything actually related to the case, I’m available. For nonsense, I’m not.”
“Before you go,” he says, pulling a red journal I know is Rebecca’s from an accordion file, “I want to read you something.” He flips to a marked page. “The moment that he promised there was pleasure in pain. The moment when the blade traveled along my skin with the proof he would be true to his words. And I knew then that I had been wrong. He was not dangerous. Nor was he chocolate. He was lethal, a drug, and I feared . . .” He glances up at me and shuts the journal. “Who do you think a jury would think killed Rebecca?” He leans back in his seat. “Ava? Or one, or both, of the two men mentioned in this journal entry?” He taps the desk. “Her writing is about her Master, which you’ve already told me was you. Who’s the other man?”
I see how Rebecca’s words sound damning and could be easily twisted against me. “I want justice, and I will do everything in my power to help you see it delivered. You have my full cooperation, but I’m smart enough to have an attorney present when I do it.”
“To keep me focused.”
“As we’ve already established.” I head for the door and he follows.
“My focus, Mr. Compton, is on evidence. Confessions are given and retracted all the time. They don’t hold up. If you have any influence, as one would assume a Master would, use it to get Ava to produce Rebecca’s body.”
A body. Rebecca’s body. I feel like nails are being drilled into my skull, and though control is second nature to me, it’s all but lost to me now. It is all I can do to not pull him over the desk and shake him for f**king breathing, when Rebecca isn’t. “If I have to hear her tell me where the body is,” I say, “you’d better have glass between us or a guard nearby.”
“I’ll get my attorney to set it up with you.”
“Today. Get him to set it up today.”
I walk to the exit and leave without looking back. But I am looking back—at every moment I’d ever spent with Rebecca.
Thirty minutes later, my attorney has promised me a call-back after he assesses the situation, and I’m pulling into the driveway of my house in the Cow Hollow area of San Francisco. Killing the engine, I sit there. My skin is twitching and my nerve endings feel like they’re standing on end. I’m drowning in emotional quicksand that spells trouble I don’t need. What I do need, I cannot have. She’s gone—and just the idea creates a burning sensation in my chest.