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Lenny Fitzpatrick, the current warden of Central State, didnt know me from Adam, and he wouldnt have given me the time of day if he wasnt stuck on a treadmill. I knew this because when I finally found him in the dizzying maze of buildings that make up the massive Cleveland Clinic, he looked me over with as much suspicion as if I was one of the inmates in his prison and hed just found a hole in my cell floor with an escape-plan map tucked inside.

To my credit, I didnt let that stop me. But I didnt appreciate it, either, especially since when I left the cemetery at lunchtime, Id stopped home to shower and change. I was neat, clean, presentable, and looking as good as ever. I wasnt about to be intimidated. Not by a silver-haired, sixty-something guy wearing gray fleece shorts and a white T-shirt that said I MIGHT BE OVER THE HILL, BUT I GOT HERE ON MY HARLEY.

I introduced myself and told him the same story Id told Helen Lamar, the one about doing research for the TV show competition and how if I could find out more about Jefferson Lamar, it would get my team big points.

That was a long time ago. Fitzpatrick wasnt moving very fast and it was no wonder. His left leg was crisscrossed with glossy, bright red scars. He took a dozen more slow, careful steps. Theres nothing new to learn about Jeff Lamar, anyway. Anything you need to know about him, you can find in the old newspaper articles. There were plenty of them. Jeffs case, it created quite a media sensation.

By now, telling fibs didnt phase me, so I didnt miss a beat. I have read the old newspaper articles. They gave me all the basic background I need, but theres nothing like firsthand information from a person who was really there.

His jaw went rigid. I was there at the prison, he said. Not there at the murder.

Of course not. That wasnt what I meant at all. I sidled a bit closer to the treadmill, and maybe a whiff of the Marc Jacobs Pear Splash Id sprinkled on before I left my apartment was a welcome change from the combined aromas of sweat and hospital disinfectant. Some of the starch went out of Fitzpatricks shoulders.

There never was a chance that Jeff didnt commit that murder, he said.

Since I hadnt mentioned the bogus note in the cemetery file that talked about Lamar being framed, this struck me as interesting.

That seems like a funny thing to say about a friend, I pointed out.

Who said we were friends? There was an open water bottle on a holder at the front of the treadmill, and keeping one hand firmly on the railing at the side of the machine, Fitzpatrick reached for the bottle and took a swig. He didnt look at me again until hed put the water bottle back. We worked together, me and Jeff. Its not like we were joined at the hip or anything.

And you think its possible for someone to commit a murder when hes a firm believer in the justice system?

Youve learned that much about him, huh? A smile twisted Fitzpatricks expression. That was Jeff, all right. Always preaching about what we could do to help our inmates. Bah! I had the feeling if Fitzpatrick could have gotten away with spitting on the floor, he would have. He never would listen. Not when I told him that no matter what he did, criminals were criminals and they were never going to change. He saw the same figures on recidivism that I did. He knew that as soon as the prisoners were released and walked out our front gates, they were going to pick up right where they left off and end up back behind bars. But Jeff Fitzpatrick shook his head in disgust. Maybe that should have told me something, huh? Maybe I should have seen that he had criminal tendencies.

Did he? Have criminal tendencies?

He killed that girl, didnt he?

What was she like?

Vera Blaine? He probably hadnt given Vera so much as a thought in more than twenty years. That would explain why he had to concentrate for a while before he said, She was young. And she didnt strike me as being very smart. I wouldnt have hired her. But then

Ive heard the stories about Lamar and Vera having an affair, I told him when it seemed like he was reluctant to continue. You dont have to worry that youre helping to keep Lamars secret.

His laughter sounded like sandpaper on stone. Is that what you think Im doing? Keeping secrets in honor of Jeffs memory? Im not in the secrets business, honey. Dont have the time, and even if I did, I couldnt care less. What Jeff did with that girl, that was his business. It became my business when he killed her.

So you thought he was guilty? You testified against him?

He slanted me a look. Thats a leap of logic if I ever heard one. And no, I didnt testify against Jeff. I testified. I told the truth. Thats all. Sat there in court and told the truth.

And the truth was

He took another drink of water and used the time it took to do it to arrange his thoughts. Jeff Lamar was a tough man, he said. Not as tough as he should have been with the prisoners. He believed in educating them. Like that ever did one of those scumbags one bit of good! Jeff was tough with us, with the people he worked with.

Then do you think one of them might have- Id said too much too soon, but once the words were past my lips, I couldnt take them back. With no other option, I fell back on the truth. I talked to Helen Lamar. She believes her husband was innocent, that he was framed by someone who had a grudge against him.

Helen always was naive. Thats the only thing that would explain her still believing that crock. With the evidence they had against him, nobody else could have possibly believed Jeff didnt do it. Well He paused for a moment, his head cocked. Maybe Darcy Coleman. But honestly-

Darcy Coleman? I made a mental note of the name. She was-

Jeffs secretary. Before Vera Blaine. Darcys husband was in one of the armed services, cant remember which one. He was stationed overseas. Thats when Darcy worked at the prison. When he came back and got transferred to some base in California, she quit and went with him. Jeff needed a secretary. He hired Vera.

And this Darcy, do you know what happened to her?

He looked at me as if Id just asked him to recite the alphabet backward, but fortunately, there was still twenty minutes to go on the countdown timer on the treadmill, and Fitzpatrick was bored. Talking to me apparently beat sweating all by his lonesome. I get a Christmas card from Darcy every year. Her husband died a few years ago. Some sort of accident. She moved back to Ohio to be with family. She got her degree out in California. Last I heard from her, she was teaching down at Kent State University.

I told myself not to forget this. Darcy Coleman sounded like someone I needed to talk to, but before I asked her the all-important question, I wanted to run it by Fitzpatrick and get his take. Darcy believed Lamar was innocent. Why?

Why? Because she was devoted to him. Its that simple. Not that I thought there was ever anything between them-

But you did think there was something between Vera Blaine and Lamar?

Again, he had to think about it before he shook his head. Jeff had better taste than that, and I dont mean that in some sort of sexist way. But Helen, she was a pretty woman. She was soft-spoken and educated. She worked as a teacher. Vera was one of those flashy girls. You know, all hair and attitude. He realized what hed said and flinched, but I didnt give him time to apologize. For one thing, I was way more than just hair and attitude, and if he knew me better, hed know that. For another, I didnt have the patience to put up with that kind of crap.

So you dont think they were having an affair?

I didnt say that. I said Jeff and Helen seemed to be happy. And I was going to say that I dont think Jeff was the type.

Which type is that?

You know, loose morals. Jeff was a big believer in doing the right things. He believed in the law.

And the law let him down.

This time, Fitzpatricks smile was touched with pity. You just dont get it, do you? he asked. The law didnt let Jeff down, he let it down. He betrayed everything he said he stood for. He killed that girl, as sure as Im standing here. How else can you explain why his gun was used?

Someone stole it?

Thats what Jeff said. But its like all the other evidence against him. Too glaring to ignore. He was in Cleveland that night, you know.

This was an important piece of information neither of the Lamars had bothered to mention. Doing what?

Obviously killing Vera.

I made a face. Not what I meant. What did Lamar say he was doing in Cleveland that night?

The story Jeff told was that his father called in a panic, and he raced to Cleveland to check things out. The old man had Alzheimers, you see. Whatever it was that had the old man all upset, there was nothing wrong when Jeff got there. According to him, he stopped by his parents house for a bit, then headed back home.

And his parents confirmed the story?

Yeah, I was pushing a little. That might have been why Fitzpatrick gave me a long, careful look. Because of his condition, the elder Mr. Lamar wasnt sure if Jeff had been there or not. As for Jeffs mom, shed had a stroke a year or so before. She was weak and spent a lot of time in bed. At the time Jeff says he was there, she was sound asleep. So you see, nobody can say if that part of Jeffs story was true or not.

Somebody could, and I was going to ask him about it the next time he popped into my life.

Youre wasting your time if you think all these questions are going to get you anywhere. Fitzpatricks comment brought me out of my thoughts. The evidence against Jeff was too solid. He was guilty, and if Helen believes otherwise, too bad for her. Shes living a fairy tale. So are you if you listen to her. There wasnt anyone who would have framed Jeff. Not anyone with anything much to gain from it.

You got his job.

The look Fitzpatrick tossed me was so fierce, I took a step back. He slammed one finger into the button that stopped the treadmill so that he could glare at me more effectively. Are you implying-

Nothing. Im implying nothing. What Im doing is looking for the truth.

It was more than twenty years ago. What difference does it make? He poked the button one more time. The treadmill started up again, and Fitzpatrick started with it, walking each cautious step while he kept an eagle eye on me. Why would anyone care anymore?

That same afternoon before we wrapped up work for the day, Greer made a long, impassioned (and needless to say, boring) speech about long shadows, sunsets, and creating a moody atmosphere. Consequently, shed scheduled filming to start later the next day. I would have rejoiced and planned on sleeping in late if not for the fact that I realized that the topsy-turvy schedule meant more work for me. Because of the terms of their probations, my team still had to report to the cemetery at the regular time, and Sammi, in particular, had a curfew. There were papers in the file that I was required to sign saying that if she stayed past a certain time, I was responsible for getting her home.

Which didnt mean I couldnt fudge things. Just a little.

Instead of our usual starting hour, I told my team to be at Monroe Street at ten, and with time on my hands and in need of a computer, I stopped at Garden View first thing in the morning. It was a good thing I did. Otherwise I wouldnt have found the vase of flowers on my desk.

It wasnt a showy bouquet, and yellows and creams really arent my colors, but the summery daisies, a couple white roses, and the poof of babys breath was charming in its own grocery-store-bought flowers kind of way. You were the best thing about that TV show, the card said. I hated even thinking that Quinn had watched the stupid show. I liked the idea that he was nice enough to send flowers because of it, though. I called to tell him both.

You watched. I didnt need to identify myself, so it was the first thing I said after hed answered with a brusque, Harrison, Homicide.

I watched? I heard the click of computer keys while he did whatever it was he was doing when his phone rang. The TV show? Yeah, sure I watched. I told you I was going to. I wasnt home. I had to TiVo it. You were-

The best thing about the show. I grinned into my phone. Thats sweet, really. And it really was, because of all the things Quinn is, sweet isnt one of them.

You were the best thing about the show. He must have finished with his computer because I heard his chair squeak when he leaned back in it. The whole thing was pretty hokey.

But I still rate flowers.

Uh, yeah.

It was one of those tactful statements. Noncommital in a way only Quinn can be. I guess thats why I thought of the incident the spring before when I made the mistake of thinking a huge bouquet of flowers that had been delivered to the office was from him when they were really from an FBI agent Id met when I was in Chicago. History couldnt be repeating itself.

Could it?

I grabbed the hand-written card again. There was no indication whod sent the flowers or where theyd come from.

You didnt send flowers.

Sounds like youve got a secret admirer. Quinn is the only guy I know who can say this sort of thing and not sound the least little bit jealous.

It would have been kind of nice if he did.

And I was getting way off track. Still holding the gift card, I flipped it over, but there was nothing written on the other side. I tossed the card on my desk.

Your secret admirer taking you to dinner tonight?

I was tempted to tell him that as a matter of fact, I did have a date that night, because this bouquet of flowers was even more spectacular than the bouquet Agent Baskins had sent, and I was so curious to find out who this secret admirer of mine was, I couldnt resist.

But that seemed a little petty, even to me.

I cant. Not tonight, I told him, opting for the truth. Were filming tonight. And today I sat down at my desk and flicked on my computer. I need to go look at shrubs. I didnt appreciate the chuckle I heard on the other end of the phone, so I was instantly defensive. What?

Just cant imagine you buying shrubs. Ever. Cant even imagine youd know what to look for if you went to look for shrubs. But you know, theres a cop over in Robbery whos got this cousin who owns a nursery in Rocky River. I hear hes got good prices, and he might be able to help you out.

Cant. Im going to Kent to look at shrubs. Id already brought up the MapQuest program, and I checked out the map on my computer screen that showed me the way to the town about forty miles away. There has to be a nursery in Kent, right?

Youre going to Kent to look at shrubs and you dont know if theres a nursery in Kent?

Yeah, something like that. I looked at the map again. According to the turn-by-turn directions that accompanied it, it would take me exactly forty-eight minutes to get to Kent State University-and Darcy Coleman. That meant I was right on the money when I told my teammates wed meet at the cemetery at ten, because they were coming with me.

Well do dinner another time, I told Quinn.

Sure. He wasnt happy about it.

Youre not the only one with a busy schedule, I reminded him.

Point taken, he said, and though on the surface it was conciliatory enough, he somehow made it sound like an ultimatum. When youre not busy with your secret admirer-

Ill call. I promise.

This week?

Are you going to be chasing murderers this week?

Thats the thing with murderers. They never work around my schedule.

It looked like we had a lot more in common than Quinn could ever imagine.

The Garden of Eden Nursery was tucked between a taco joint and a bar in the area of Kent the locals charitably call downtown, when what they mean is the strip of businesses (largely restaurants, bars, T-shirt shops, and tattoo parlors) where the college kids party when theyre supposed to be studying. The nursery was run by an elderly man named Walter who looked a little uncertain when I walked in with my team in tow but brightened right up when he heard the word shrubs. Shrubs, it turned out, were Walters be-all and end-all. Within the first couple minutes of our arrival, I knew more about broad-leaved plants, conifers, and subshrubs than Id ever hoped to know.

I left my team to get all the details as well as some prices, and promised that Id be back ASAP. Except for Crazy Jake, who demonstrated an instant attachment to Walter and showed it by snapping dozens of pictures of the old guy, none of my other teammates were happy with what sounded a little too much like homework. They reminded me we werent anywhere near the planting stage. I told them I didnt care. With them busy with a project that would pass as work-related if anyone questioned us, I was free to search for Darcy Coleman.

According to the universitys website, she was a professor of philosophy who taught classes in alternative religions. Whatever that was.

When I finally located the classroom where Darcy was supposed to be teaching, I found a note taped to the door. It said the days class had been relocated to an outdoor venue behind the universitys sports complex.

I schlepped there, parked the van Id borrowed from Garden View to accommodate my team members, and followed a little trail of signposts-purple balloons hanging from paint sticks along with handwritten notes that said Prof. Colemans Class, This Way.

Good thing I wasnt a student. By the time I got to a clearing surrounded by tall oaks and hemmed in on all sides by lilacs as overgrown as the ones in Monroe Street, most of the class was already heading back the other way. There were still a couple stragglers-or brown nosers-around, and I watched as they chatted with a middle-aged woman who was gathering an armful of books.

There was nothing all that unusual about Darcy Coleman. She was average height, with an abundance of dark, thick hair streaked with gray. It hung around her shoulders. The style wasnt particularly flattering to a thin face scored with wrinkles. Had we passed in a more conventional setting, I probably wouldnt have noticed Darcy at all.

Well, except for the fact that she was wearing a long velvet robe. Purple. It brushed her bare feet.

Professor Coleman? I moved in as soon as those last remaining students were gone. I wonder if I could talk to you.

She glanced at a watch that graced her arm along with a dozen or more bangle bracelets. Ive got another group coming in just a couple minutes. Do I know you? Are you one of my students? If so, Im guessing youre in a pack of trouble, because I havent seen you in any of my classes, and part of what I grade on is attendance.

Im not a student. I was glad, too, especially when the professor set aside her books, reached into a large duffle bag, and brought out a dozen or more tall purple candles. She handed them to me.

Talk, she said, while you help me get ready.

I wasnt about to pass up the opportunity. While Darcy walked a wide circle around the center of the clearing, I followed along. And when she stopped and signaled, I handed her a candle. At each spot, she used a stick to poke a hole in the ground, placed a candle, and moved on.

I waited until wed set up two candles before I broached the subject. Im here about Jefferson Lamar, I said.

This wasnt something she expected. Her eyebrows arched, she looked over her shoulder at me. You know hes dead.

Yes, of course. But his widow-


Helen thinks he was innocent.

Darcy stopped in her tracks, and believe me, Im not overly sensitive or anything, but when she looked me up and down, I couldnt help but feel a little defensive. And she sent you to try and find out more?

I didnt like her tone. Then again, I wasnt crazy about her fashion choices, either, so I guessed there wasnt much the professor and I had in common. I reminded myself to hold on to my temper. Im doing some research about Lamar. I thought if I talked to someone who knew him well

All these years, and Helen still wont let it go. She wants you to prove Jeff was innocent, right?

Can you help me do that?

She shook herself out of the initial shock that had rooted her to the spot and continued on. We didnt stop again until we were on the far side of the circle. She signaled, I handed, she placed.

I never thought Warden Lamar was guilty, she said.


She shrugged. I knew he was innocent. Thats all. Or I thought I knew. He wasnt that kind of man.

But there was plenty of evidence against him.

The gun, you mean.

And his blood at the scene.

On Veras blouse. Yeah, I remember that. She moved on to the next spot. It made him look really bad. I remember how disappointed I was. I didnt want it to be true.

But you think it was.

I think the jury had to make a decision based on the facts, and the facts were pretty clear.

But what if he wasnt guilty? What if someone framed him?

I thought maybe Id get the kind of reaction I had from Lenny Fitzpatrick, but Darcy was more matter-of-fact than angry. Of course, I thought of that, she said. I was living in California by that time, and I was pregnant and pretty sick. I couldnt travel back for the trial, but I gave a deposition. I told the court everything I knew, and everything I knew said that Jeff was a good and honor-able man.

Did you tell them you thought hed been framed?

There was no proof.

But it was possible?

Another shrug.

If somebody framed him, do you have any idea who it could have been? Her expression was sour, and I knew if I didnt justify myself, shed tell me to get lost. You must have known more about what went on in that prison than just about anyone else, I said. You knew what was in each prisoners file, right? Who had disciplinary problems. Who had a beef with the warden.

She grunted a laugh. Every prisoner in there had a beef with the warden. Comes with the territory.

But maybe some of them were more pissed than others?

This gave her pause, and we stopped in the shade of the biggest of the oaks. I was Jeffs secretary for six years, and Ill tell you what: in that time, I saw my share of trouble-making prisoners. There were a couple who were worse than the others, though. Yeah. Thinking, she narrowed her eyes. There were a couple who were lots of trouble.

Would any of them have been capable of framing Lamar?

This time when she laughed, there was not one bit of humor in it. You dont know prisoners, do you? Oh yeah, there were a few who would have loved to see Lamar get jammed up. I told the police that when they called and talked to me about the case. If they followed up on my information or not, I cant say. I only know that if they did, they must not have found anything, because Jeff was the one who was arrested, and he was the one who was convicted.

Its possible things might look different now. I mean, a lot of time has passed. If you could give me some names

I dont know if she was going to agree or not because at that very moment, five other women entered the clearing. They were all middle-aged and all dressed pretty much as Darcy was, in long robes. Id held my curiosity in check long enough.

What in the world-

Darcys smile sparkled. Were doing a croning ceremony, she said, and in answer to my blank look continued. Debbie over there-Debbie was apparently the plus-sized woman in the red robe-is turning fifty, and were going to honor the wisdom shes gained over the years. Would you like to join us?

Will it get me the names of the prisoners you think might have framed Jefferson Lamar?

Darcy didnt answer. In fact, all she did was smile.

Right before she and all the other women there stripped off their robes.

Every single one of them was stark naked underneath.

| Dead Man Talking | c