The dawn was accompanied by drizzle, dark gray sky gradually shading to a cold white light. Ordinarily, I don’t run in the rain, but I hadn’t slept well and I needed to clear away the dregs of nagging anxiety. I wasn’t even sure what I was worried about. Sometimes I awaken uncomfortably aware of a low-level dread humming in my gut. Running is the only relief I can find short of drink and drugs, which at 6:00 A.M. don’t appeal.
I pulled on a sweat suit and hit the bike path, jogging a mile and a half to the recreation center. The palm trees along the boulevard had shed dried fronds in the wind and they lay on the grass like soggy feathers. The ocean was silver, the surf rustling mildly like a taffeta skirt with a ruffle of white. The beach was a drab brown, populated by sea gulls snatching at sand fleas. Pigeons lifted in a cloud, looking on. I have to admit I’m not an outdoor person at heart. I’m always aware that under the spritely twitter of birds, bones are being crunched and ribbons of flesh are being stripped away, all of it the work of bright-eyed creatures without feeling or conscience. I don’t look to Nature for comfort or serenity.
Traffic was light. There were no other joggers. I passed the public restrooms, housed in a cinderblock building painted flesh pink, where two bums huddled with a shopping cart. One I recognized from two nights before and he watched me now, indifferently. His friend was curled up under a cardboard comforter, looking like a pile of old rags. I reached the turnaround and ran the mile and a half back. By the time I got home, my Etonics were soaked, my sweat pants were darkened by the drizzle, and the mist had beaded in my hair like a net of seed pearls. I took a long hot shower, optimism returning now that I was safely home again.
After breakfast, I tidied up and then checked my automobile insurance policy and determined that the replacement of my car window was covered, after a fifty-dollar deductible. At 8:30, I started soliciting estimates from auto glass shops, trying to persuade someone to work me in before noon that day. I zipped myself into my all-purpose dress again, resurrected a decent-looking black leather shoulder bag that I use for “formal” wear and filled it with essentials, including the accursed cashier’s check.
I dropped the car off at an auto glass shop not far from my office and hoofed it the rest of the way to work. Even with low-heeled pumps, my feet hurt and my pantyhose made me feel like I was walking around with a hot, moist hand in my crotch.
I let myself into the office and initiated my usual morning routines. The phone rang as I was plugging in the coffeepot.
“Miss Millhone, this is Ramona Westfall.”
“Oh hello,” I said. “How are you?” Secretly, my stomach did a little twist and I wondered if Tony Gahan had told her about his freak-out at the Clockworks the night before.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m calling because there’s something I’d like to discuss with you and I hoped you might have some time free this morning.”
“Well, my schedule’s clear, but I don’t have a car. Can you come down here?”
“Yes, of course. I’d prefer that anyway. Is ten convenient? It’s short notice, I know.”
I glanced at my watch. Twenty minutes. “That’s fine,” I said. She made some good-bye noises and clicked off. I depressed the line and then put a call through to Barbara Daggett at her mother’s house to verify the time of the funeral. She was unavailable to come to the phone, but Eugene Nickerson told me the services were at 2:00 and I said I’d be there.
I took a few minutes to open my mail from the day before, posting a couple of checks to accounts receivable, then made a quick call to my insurance agent, giving her the sketchy details about my car window. I’d no more than put the phone down when it rang again.
“Kinsey, this is Barbara Daggett. Something’s come up. When I arrived here this morning, there was some woman sitting on the porch steps who says she’s Daddy’s wife.”
“Oh God. Lovella.”
“You know about her?”
“I met her last week when I was down in L.A., trying to get a line on your father’s whereabouts.”
“And you knew about this claim of hers?”
“I never heard the details, but I gathered they were living in some kind of common-law relationship.”
“Kinsey, she has a marriage certificate. I saw it myself. Why didn’t you tell me what was going on? I was speechless. She stood out on the front porch, screaming bloody murder until I finally had to call the police. I can’t believe you didn’t at least mention it.”
“When was I supposed to do that? At the morgue?
Over at the funeral home with your mother in a state of collapse?”
“You could have called me, Kinsey. Any time. You could have come to my office to discuss it.”
“Barbara, I could have done half a dozen things, but I didn’t. Frankly, I was feeling protective of your father and I was hoping you wouldn’t have to find out about this ‘alleged’ marriage. That certificate could be a fake. The whole thing could be trumped up, and if not, you’ve still got problems enough without adding bigamy to his list of personal failings.”
“That isn’t yours to decide. Now Mother wants to know what the ruckus was about and I have no idea what to say.”
“Well, I can see why you’re upset, but I’m not sure I’d do it any differently.”
“I can’t believe you’d take that attitude! I don’t appreciate being kept in the dark,” she said. “I hired you to investigate and I expect you to pass on whatever comes to light.”
“Your father hired me long before you did,” I said. That silenced her for a moment and then she took off again. “To do what? You never did specify.”
“Of course I didn’t. He talked to me confidentially. It was all bullshit, but it’s still not mine to flap around. I couldn’t stay in business if I blabbed all the information that came my way.”
“I’m his daughter. I have a right to know. Especially if my father’s a bigamist. What else am I paying you for?” “You might be paying me to exercise a little judgment of my own,” I said. “Come on, Barbara. Be reasonable. Suppose I’d told you. What purpose would that have served? If your parents are still legally married, Lovella has no claim whatever and, for all I know, she’s perfectly aware of that. Why add to your grief when she might well have slunk away without a word?”
“How did she know he died in the first place?”
“Not from me, I can tell you that. I’m not an idiot. The last thing in the world I wanted was her up here camping out on your doorstep. Maybe she read it in the paper. Maybe she heard it on the news.”
She murmured something, temporarily mollified.
“What happened when the cops got there?” I asked.
There was another pause while she debated whether to move on or continue berating me. I sensed that she enjoyed chewing people out and it was hard for her to give up the opportunity. From my point of view, she wasn’t paying me enough to take much guff. A little bit, perhaps. I probably should have told her.
“The two officers took her aside and had a talk with her. She left a few minutes ago.”
“Well, if she shows up again, I’ll take care of it,” I said.
“Again? Why would she do that?”
I remembered then that aside from the matter of her father’s apparent bigamy, I hadn’t told her about the infamous twenty-five thousand dollars, which Billy Polo assumed was part of Daggett’s “estate.” Maybe Lovella had come up here to collect. “I think we better have a chat soon,” I said.
“Why? Is there something else?”
I looked up. Ramona Westfall was standing in my doorway. “There’s always something else,” I said. “That’s what makes life so much fun. I’ve got someone here. I’ll talk to you this afternoon.”
I hung up and rose to my feet, shaking hands with Mrs. Westfall across the desk. I invited her to take a seat and then poured coffee for us both, using social ritual as a way of setting her at ease, or so I hoped.
She was looking drawn, the fine skin under her mild eyes smudged with fatigue. She wore a tan poplin shirtwaist with shoulder epaulets and carried a mesh-and-canvas handbag that looked like it could be packed for a quick safari somewhere. Her pale hair had the sheen of a Breck shampoo ad in a magazine. I tried to picture her in a raincoat, lurching around the marina with Daggett’s arm draped over her shoulder. Could she have flipped him, ass over teakettle, right out of that skiff? Hey, sure. Why not?
She stared at me uneasily, reaching out automatically to straighten some items on my desk. She lined up three pencils with the points facing me, like little ground-to-air missiles, and then she cleared her throat. “Well. We were wondering. Tony never said anything so we thought perhaps we should ask you about it. Did you tell Tony about the money when you talked to him last night?”
“Sure,” I said. “Not that it did any good. I got nowhere. He was adamant. He wouldn’t even discuss it.” She colored slightly. “We’re thinking to take it,” she said. “Ferrin and I talked about it last night while Tony was out with you and we’re beginning to believe we should put the money in a trustee account for him… at least until he’s eighteen and really has a sense of what he might do with it.”
“What brought about the change?” “Oh everything, I guess. We’ve been in family counseling and the therapist keeps hoping we can work through some of the anger and the grief. He feels Tony’s migraines are stress-related in part, a sort of index of his unwillingness… or maybe inability is a better word… to process his loss. I’ve been wondering how much I’ve contributed to that. I haven’t dealt with Abby’s death that well and it can’t have helped him.” She paused and then shook her head slightly as though embarrassed. “I know it’s a reversal. I suppose we’ve been unnecessarily rude to you and I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” I said. “Personally, I’d be delighted to have you take the check. At least then I could feel I’d discharged my responsibilities. If you change your mind later, you can always donate the money to a worthy cause. There are lots of those around.”
“What about his family? Daggett’s. They may feel they’re entitled to the money, don’t you think? I mean, I wouldn’t want to take it if there are going to be any legal ramifications.”
“You’d have to talk to an attorney about that,” I said. “The check is made out to Tony, and Daggett hired me to deliver it to him. I don’t think there’s any question about his intention. There may be other legal issues I don’t know about, but you’re certainly welcome to talk to someone first.” Secretly, I wanted her to take the damn thing and be done with it.
She stared at the floor for a moment. “Tony said… last night he mentioned that he might want to go to the funeral. Do you think he should? I mean, does that seem like a good idea to you?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Westfall. That’s way out of my line. Why don’t you ask his therapist?”
“I tried, but he’s out of town until tomorrow. I don’t want Tony any more upset than he is.”
“He’s going to feel what he feels. You can’t control that. Maybe it’s something he has to go through.”
“That’s what Ferrin says, but I’m not sure.”
“What’s the story on the migraines? How long has that been going on?”
“Since the accident. He had one last night as a matter of fact. It’s not your fault,” she added hastily. “His head started bothering him about an hour after he got home. He threw up every twenty minutes or so from midnight until almost four A.M. We finally had to take him over to the emergency room at St. Terry’s. They gave him a shot and that put him out, but he woke up a little while ago and he’s talking now about going to the funeral. Did he mention it to you?”
“Not at all. I told him Daggett was dead, but he didn’t react much at the time, except to say he was glad. Is he well enough to go?”
“He will be, I think. The migraines are odd. One minute you think he’s never going to pull out of it and the next minute he’s on his feet and starving to death. It happened last Friday night.”
“Friday?” I said. The night of Daggett’s death.
“That episode wasn’t quite as bad. When he came home from school, he knew he was on the verge of a headache. We tried to get some medication down him to head it off, but no luck. Anyway, he pulled out of it after a while and I ended up fixing him two meatloaf sandwiches in the kitchen at two A.M. He was fine. Of course, he had another headache on Tuesday, and then the one last night. Two the week before that. Ferrin thinks maybe his going to the funeral will have some symbolic significance. You know, finish it off for him and •set him free.”
“That’s always possible.”
“Would Barbara Daggett object?”
“I don’t see why she would,” I said. “I suspect she feels as guilty as her father did, and she’s offered to help.”
“I guess I’ll see how he’s doing when I get home, then,” she said. She glanced at her watch. “I better go.”
“Let me give you the check.” I pulled my handbag out of the bottom drawer and took out the check, which I passed across the desk to her. As her husband had done the night before, she smoothed out the folds, looking at it closely as if it might be some preposterous fake. She folded it up again and slipped it in her bag as she got to her feet. She hadn’t touched her mug of coffee. I hadn’t drunk mine either.
I told her the time and place of the services and walked her to the door. After she left, I sat down at my desk again, reviewing everything she’d said. At some point, I wanted to take Tony Gahan aside and see if he could verify her presence at the house the night Daggett died. It was hard to picture her as a killer, but I’d been fooled before.