They were getting ready to open when Sam Lessman’s mother called and asked for Dad. He listened to her a minute, then said, “Let me put you on Speaker. We’ll all want to hear this.”
Karnie, her mom, and Chuck gathered around him.
“The police keep questioning Sam over and over again,” she told them. “They think he killed Donna. His cleaver has gone missing. It was the same type they found in Donna’s skull. Tony, you bought it for him as a going away present, remember? It had his initials on it. He told them that, but they don’t believe him.”
“I had them engraved on the handle,” Dad confirmed.
“Would you tell the police that? Have they called you to ask about it?”
“They haven’t, but I’ll call them.”
“Thank you. I think the only reason they haven’t arrested him is because he wasn’t at the shop yet during the time they think she was murdered.”
“What time do they think that was?” Karnie leaned closer to Dad’s phone to ask.
“Between six and eight that morning.”
Karnie frowned. “Why would Donna be at her shop that early? Hers doesn’t open until nine, like ours.”
“Sam told me the workers have to be there at eight-thirty. He got to the shop a little late that day. He was waiting for a mechanic to finish work on his car. But he said there was no sign of blood anywhere in the parking lot when he arrived.”
“The police think she was killed at her shop?” Karnie asked.
“They know she was. In the parking lot. They used a special piece of equipment that can scan for traces of blood. It lit up when they waved it near the back door at the parking spot Donna always used. They think someone washed it away with a power hose the workers use to keep the lot clean.”
“Didn’t Donna have security cameras?” Dad glanced at the cameras near their front doors and the parking lot.
“Donna angled them so that her private parking spot wasn’t covered. She wanted to be able to drive in and walk in the shop without warning the workers. She thought she might catch them at something.”
“A little bit of a tyrant?” Chuck shook his head.
Mrs. Lessman made a rude noise. “Some tyrants are nicer than she was.”
Karnie asked, “Why are they just focusing on Sam? There must have been lots of people who didn’t like her.”
“Because she spent half an hour screaming at Sam before she left the shop the night before she died, and his meat cleaver is missing.”
Chuck sounded irritated. “She took turns screaming at people, didn’t she? He’d probably heard it all before.”
“She threatened to fire him this time.”
Dad raised his voice. “What for? The boy’s good at what he does.”
Mrs. Lessman hesitated. “She wanted Sam to cut and label steaks so that they looked like more expensive cuts than they were.”
“She wanted him to cheat customers.” Chuck exchanged a hard look with Dad. “Sam would never do that.”
“That’s why she threatened to fire him and find someone who would.”
“Customers would know. She’d go out of business.” Dad’s lips pressed together in a tight line.
“That’s what Sam tried to tell her. She said it would only be for a month or two until her money was in better shape.”
Mom glanced at her sister, listening intently, and shook her head. “A business has to work hard to get a good reputation when it starts up. Once you lose that, it’s almost impossible to get customers to trust you again.”
They could hear Mrs. Lessman’s sigh. “Donna didn’t listen to anyone. Sam told me, he thought he was probably going to be fired, just like Jose was. He was so happy to get that job, but he said he wouldn’t ruin his reputation as a good butcher just to please Donna.”
Dad puffed up like a proud papa. “Good for him. If he needs help, tell him to call me. We’ll help him find a good shop to work in.” Dad could do it, too. He knew a lot of other butchers.
“Please. Just call the cops and tell them Sam’s cleaver had his initials on the handle. The one that killed Donna wasn’t his.”