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Road of Memories
ROAD CLOSED… Those two words sounded so simple as Dr. Sparrow Malone read them to herself. She knew otherwise. Active homicides were never easy.
Sparrow looked up from the weathered road barrier — now entwined with crime scene tape — to see Detective Zane Travers walking her way. Shaggy brown hair framed the man’s handsome face, which currently showcased a grim expression. By the time Zane reached where she was standing, Sparrow had to tilt her head up to look into his hazel eyes. At five-foot-five, she looked tiny standing next to Zane’s toned, six-foot-four body.
“Thanks for coming down here, Sparrow.” Zane gave her a small grin. He lifted the crime scene tape and gestured for her to step under it. He waited until Sparrow was beside him before he continued speaking. “I know you typically don’t help out with active homicide cases, but we need you on this one. It has us puzzled.”
“Who is it, Zane?” Sparrow’s gray eyes stared up at him. Zane was making her nervous by hesitating on the case details. Sparrow gave him a playful smile. “I’m a Criminal Psychology professor, not a mind reader. I skipped that class during grad school at Oxford.”
Zane chuckled. “Really? Portland PD makes that our first class at the academy.” He ushered Sparrow to an unoccupied area as he lowered his voice. “Remember how I told you that you never had to tell me about your past?”
Sparrow’s smile faded. “I remember. It was during our first date.”
“Yes, that’s exactly right,” Zane confirmed as he took a deep breath. “Sparrow, you don’t have to share anything with me that you don’t want to. I just want you to be prepared.” He could see the multitude of questions swimming in her dark gray eyes. “The victim had your name written on a piece of paper in her coat pocket. Sparrow, does the name ‘Diona Pianza’ sound familiar?”
Sparrow froze as Zane spoke the name of a woman she hadn’t seen in years. Yes. She knew her. Diona was the daughter of a retired federal judge in Portland. She was wealthy, beautiful, and Sparrow’s identical twin. She hadn’t seen Diona in three years — since she and their mother slammed their overpriced house door in her face.
“Sparrow?” Zane took one of her hands in his. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Zane — just shocked at who the victim is.” Sparrow tucked a strand of long, black hair behind her ear. “I know her, that’s for sure. When I moved here from London three years ago, I was on a mission. Father had just passed away, and he informed me that I had family here in Portland.”
“Diane Pianza.” Zane’s eyes widened at the new information. “Then that explains why…”
“Yes. Diona and I are identical twins.” Sparrow sighed as tears formed in her eyes. “I was ecstatic to know that I still had family left. After all, Father was the only family I had in London. Boy, was I in for a surprise.” She knew Zane was not liking the way this story was going by the way his body tensed. “I arrived at Diane’s door, eager to meet my mother, and was promptly informed that she’d never wanted two children. Both have since called me a gold-digger, attention-seeker, and who knows what else. Diane even threatened to place a restraining order on me if I contacted them.” Sparrow felt tears rolling down her cheeks. “I never felt more alone than at that moment. Well, until a certain Detective Travers strolled into one of my class lectures.”
Zane pulled her into his arms and hugged her. “I’m sorry that happened, Sparrow. You don’t have to help with this case. I’m almost done here, and then I’ll take you home.”
“No, Zane.” Sparrow shook her head as she looked up at him. “Diona may have been a cold-hearted person, but she was my sister. I need to know what happened to her. I need to know why she had my name on her.”
“Stubborn, aren’t we?” Zane grinned as he released her. He took her hand in his as he led her toward the tarp-covered body. “Let’s get to work, then.”
It was more than two hours later before they left the closed-off section of the highway behind. Zane admired how calm she had been as the Medical Examiner gave them the preliminary cause of death — strangulation.
Zane was, however, concerned with how Sparrow was going to handle seeing Diane Pianza. She had insisted on going with him to do the notification.
“I can still take you home, Sparrow.” Zane glanced over at her. “You don’t have to put yourself through this.”
“Diane might know something, Zane. She might know why Diona had my name on her.” Sparrow sighed and looked out the passenger window. The afternoon sun was slowly starting to peek through the clouds. “I have to help. I need this closure.”
Zane nodded. “Alright, but we’re leaving the minute she makes you feel uncomfortable. I’ll carry you out of that house kicking and screaming if I have to.”
A small smile formed across Sparrow’s face. “You’re always there to rescue me, Zane. One of these days, I really could need protecting from something.”
Zane chuckled and shook his head. He knew Sparrow was joking with him, but there were strange details in this homicide that were starting to gnaw at him. Something about how this crime scene was “displayed” didn’t feel right, and Zane was praying that it was just his over-protectiveness working overtime. The only issue with his bad feeling was that he was sure this case wasn’t only about Diona.
“We’re here.” Sparrow’s voice was barely a whisper, but it managed to bring Zane out of his thoughts. “Time to face my demons.”
Zane gave her a sympathetic smile as he turned the car toward the judge’s address at Victory Lakes. Sparrow remained silent as he brought the car to a stop in front of the enormous metal gate that blocked the community’s entrance. Zane flashed his badge to the guard that peered through the doorway of a small building nearby. The guard nodded as he opened the gate — waving them through. Zane nodded to the man in response.
“Have you seen or heard from Diona lately??” Zane asked as he navigated through the neighborhood. “I just figured I might need to ask — you know, in case Diane assumes that…”
Sparrow knew why Zane wouldn’t finish his last statement. “In case Diane assumes that I killed her. I expect that she might think that, too, since I’m the daughter she didn’t want.” Sparrow sighed. “I never wanted money from them. My father made sure I was very well taken care of — even after he passed. The only thing I ever wanted was a mother.” Tears threatened to form in her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. “Plus, you knew where I was at her time of death. I was giving a lecture to seventy-five students.”
“I know that, Sparrow.” Zane turned into the Pianza’s driveway. “I just don’t want her blaming you.”
“I’ll be fine, Zane.” Sparrow smiled as Zane brought the car to a stop. She turned to face him. “I haven’t seen or spoken to Diona in three years. I’m sure Diane thinks I’ve gone back to London by now, anyway.”
Zane gave her a reassuring grin as they both got out of the car. The two-story brick house was lit up with various outdoor lamps and security lights. It wasn’t surprising that the door was open by the time the couple arrived at it.
“Can I help you?” A petite woman in her early twenties stood by the door. Her dark-brown hair hung in a low ponytail — the color matching her eyes. Sparrow didn’t remember seeing her before.
“I’m Detective Travers, and this is Dr. Malone.” Zane took his badge out of the inside pocket of his jacket. “We need to speak with Diane Pianza. It’s an urgent matter.”
The woman stared at him before glancing at his badge. She looked at Sparrow, briefly, before turning her attention back to Zane. The young woman sighed as she moved out of the way — allowing them to enter.
“Maybe you can help us with our recent Diona dilemma.” The young woman closed the door behind the couple before leading them to the large sunroom at the back of the house. “My sister has decided to disappear again… Can you believe it? Only a week until her wedding, too!”
The bitterness in the woman’s voice would have made anyone suspicious — if she hadn’t just dropped the bombshell of being Diona’s sister. Sparrow was sure she had heard her wrong. Diane had only wanted one child — no more.
“Excuse me. You’re Diona’s sister?” Sparrow asked as they walked. “I wasn’t aware that Diane had two daughters.”
“That’s because Diona takes all the spotlight. I’m Dana.” The woman smiled at them over her shoulder. “I’m her half-sister. Our mom and my dad are divorced. I mostly stay in New York. I’m a senior at NYU.” Dana stopped and faced Sparrow. “I know who you are, Dr. Malone. I just can’t believe how much you two look alike, but, then again, identical twins means identical — right?”
Sparrow nodded. “Yes, but raised worlds apart. You can call me Sparrow, by the way. Dr. Malone is what my students call me.”
“Thanks, Sparrow,” Dana replied as she smiled at her. “I’m sorry about what happened last time. If I hadn’t been off at school, I would have loved to have met my other sister.” Dana motioned for them to continue following her. “One of my friends is taking your Criminal Psychology class this semester, and she is just raving about her awesome professor on Facebook.”
Zane chuckled as he glanced over at Sparrow — who was trying to hide her embarrassment. She never complimented herself, and she looked so adorable when others did so. That was one thing he loved about her.
“Diona!” A loud male voice boomed through the spacious sunroom as the trio entered. Sparrow looked around Dana to see a man rushing toward her. Even though he stood a few inches shorter than Zane, he was rather handsome with short, jet-black hair and blue eyes. The man grabbed Sparrow and hugged her close when he reached her. “We’ve been so worried! You were just going out for the day. You can’t just disappear like that when we’re getting married in a week!”
Sparrow managed to push herself away from the man’s crisp, dark-gray suit. The aggressive move appeared to shock him — causing his gaze to drift from Sparrow to Zane. Zane’s expression caused the stranger to drop his arms from around Sparrow and back away.
“What is going on? Who is this?” The man looked from Sparrow to Dana. “Oh, is this Dana’s date to the wedding? Isn’t he a little, um, older than you, Dana?”
“You have got to be kidding me, Greg. You can’t be that dumb. I honestly don’t believe what Diona ever saw in you.” Dana sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Be nice, Dana.” A sharp voice came from behind Greg. “Everyone, come take a seat.”
Sparrow and Zane followed Dana to the middle of the sunroom. She led them to a bright yellow sofa before joining her mother on the loveseat across from them.
“It’s been a while, Sparrow,” Diane said calmly. “I’ve heard that you have made quite a name for yourself at the local university.”
“Yes, I have,” Sparrow answered coolly. She gestured at Zane beside her. “I also help Portland police with cases. This is Detective Zane Travers.”
Diane glanced at him and nodded. “Hello, Detective Travers. I assume you have news regarding Diona?” She sighed as Zane nodded. “I had a feeling that something was wrong. Do I need an attorney present for this conversation?”
“Only if you believe you do, Mrs. Pianza,” Zane informed her. “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but we found Diona’s body this morning. She was murdered.”
If Diane was shocked or saddened, the woman was doing an excellent job at hiding it. Sparrow had never seen a person with such a flawless poker face. She found it odd that Diane was acting nothing like the woman who’d thrown her out three years ago.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m not surprised to hear this.” Diane’s voice was steady and quiet. Beside her, Dana broke into silent sobs. Greg gently helped her out of the room. “Diona had always been a handful. She’s made enemies, bad decisions, and who knows what else. I knew this visit would come one day.” Diane sighed again. “Last year, I had a heart attack. I had to retire from my career, so I told her to grow up. She decided to get engaged instead.”
“That explains Greg,” Sparrow mumbled. She winced as Diane nodded. “I’m sorry, Diane. It’s not my place to judge…”
“No, Sparrow.” Diane shook her head. “You have every right. My heart attack made me rethink how I talked to you. I have been so ashamed since then. I didn’t even think about you having no one but us. I only learned last year that Albert had passed three years ago, but I do not doubt that you tried to tell me that night you came here. I just acted so….”
Sparrow smiled at her. “I forgive you, Diane. That’s all in the past, but we do need your help. Detective Travers needs to ask you some questions.”
“Mrs. Pianza, do you know your daughter’s plans for yesterday?” Zane took out a notepad and pen from his coat pocket. “Was she meeting anyone in particular?”
“Please, call me Diane.” The older woman gave him a small smile. “She said that she was running errands then drinks with her friends. When she didn’t arrive for her dress fitting this morning, I called her friends. They said she never showed up last night.” Diane thought for a moment. “Every call went straight to her voicemail.”
“We didn’t find a phone on her or at the scene,” Zane informed her. “We found Sparrow’s name on a piece of paper in Diona’s pocket. Was she looking to reconnect with Sparrow, too?”
Diane nodded slowly. “As much as I love Diona, I raised her terribly. She is — was — spoiled, and she always saw Sparrow as a threat. When I wanted to apologize to Sparrow, Diona got very angry. Unless she was planning something, I cannot understand why she would have Sparrow’s name on her.”
Zane nodded as he wrote everything down. He glanced at Sparrow to see how everything was affecting her. He was amazed at how strong she remained throughout this whole conversation.
“How about her relationship with Greg?” Sparrow asked. “He was quick to think that she was having an affair.”
“Diona was Greg’s world — even though she called off their engagement multiple times to have flings.” Diane frowned. “He would always take her back. I never understood why, but I guess he loves her.”
“Correction… Diona was my world.” The sound of Greg’s irritated tone floated through the air. As the trio swiveled in their seats to look at the sunroom’s doorway, Zane’s hand immediately went to his gun at his hip. “I must admit that I strung her along for longer than I meant to, but she had tortured me enough in our previous relationships. I figured there would be no harm in keeping her around to get what I wanted.”
“What do you want, Greg?” Zane remained calm as he spoke to Greg. The man was unarmed, which meant Zane could reason with him better. “Was she spending too much money?”
“No!” Greg exclaimed with a scowl. “It’s your fault, Detective Travers. You’re the reason Diona’s dead.” The surprised look on everyone’s face made him grin. Greg faced Sparrow and walked a few steps closer to the couch. “You see, Sparrow, I thought Diona was cheating on me — you were right about that. So I followed her one day — or, at least, I thought I followed her. It turns out that I was following you. I got so angry when I saw you with the detective, but then again, I thought you were Diona. So, I followed you to the University to confront you. I realized my mistake when I listened to your lecture. I wrote your name down so I could go back to another one.”
“That is why you murdered my sister?” Sparrow’s eyes widened. A combination of shock and anger swimming through them. “You liked my lecture?”
“I liked more than that.” Greg grinned. “Diona had gone through my jacket before she left to run errands. I don’t know what she was looking for, but she found where I had written your name down. We had a huge fight, and I just snapped.” He scowled at Diane. “You knew that your daughter was a terrible person. She was going to confront Sparrow and make her miserable. I couldn’t allow that.”
“So, you killed her?” Sparrow stood up — balling her hands into fists. Zane stood up beside her. “She was just spoiled, and your best solution was murder? Tell me this: did you purposely leave my name on her to lead me here? Is that why you left her body out in the open?”
“I think that you can answer those questions better at the precinct.” Zane stated intensely at Greg — keeping his tone low and direct as he spoke. He could see Greg tensing up at his suggestion. “Let’s just relax, Greg. You don’t want to do anything that will…”
Before Sparrow could blink, Greg was on the floor. Dana stood behind him with a silver platter in her hands. The petite woman glanced from Greg to Sparrow and Zane.
“He has a gun in his waistband. I saw it under his jacket.” Dana leaned over him and flipped up the bottom of his jacket. She waited as Zane came over and retrieved the small handgun from against Greg’s lower back. “I heard someone yelling. When I got here and heard him confess, I… I knew I had to help. He was going to hurt you.”
“It’s okay, Dana. We’re all okay.” Sparrow hugged her sister. She glanced over at Diane — motioning for her to join. The woman gladly accepted the invitation. Sparrow glanced at Zane as he handcuffed Greg and stood up. She smiled at the grin Zane gave her. “We are all just fine now.”
“Let’s start over, Sparrow,” Diane told her after their hug ended. She glanced at Zane. “I would like to get to know my daughter’s boyfriend after all this.”
Sirens blared in the distance — signaling the arrival of the backup that Zane had called minutes ago. He propped a groggy Greg against a wall and put his arm around Sparrow’s waist.
“I’d like that… Mom?” Sparrow’s smile widened as her mother smiled in approval. She snuggled closer to Zane as the sirens came closer. “I think we’d both like that quite a lot.”