Chapter 12

Tuesday morning dawned in a haze of damp and fog. I went through my usual morning routine, including a jog so vigorous it left me rosy-cheeked and sweating. After breakfast, I spent some time working at home, finishing revisions on my report for Fiona. Maybe all these neatly typed pages would pass for progress in her eyes. This was one of the few times in my life when I could see that I might fail, and I was scared. I anticipated her return with the same enthusiasm I’d felt any time I had to have a shot as a kid.

I left my apartment at 9:35. With the temporary break in the storm, large bands of blue sky had appeared between the clouds. The grass had turned emerald green and the leaves on all the trees were looking glossy and fresh. My appointment with Dow Purcell’s best friend, Jacob Trigg, was scheduled for 10:00. I’d studied a city map, pinpointing his street address in the heart of Horton Ravine. I drove east along Cabana Boulevard and ascended the hill as it swept up from the beach. I turned left on Promontory Drive and followed the road along the bluffs that paralleled the beach. I turned left again and drove through the back entrance to Horton Ravine. Tommy crossed my mind and I smiled in a goofy glow I found embarrassing.

A mile down the road, I saw the street I was looking for. I turned right through a warren of winding lanes and drove up the hill. Water rushed in a torrent along the berm and what looked like entire gravel driveways had washed out into the road. A tree with shallow roots had toppled backward, pulling up a half-moon of soil. Despite the numerous houses in the area, Mother Nature was busy reclaiming her own.

I peered to my right, checking mailboxes as I crept along. I finally spotted the house number Jacob Trigg had given me. Enormous black wrought-iron gates stood open and I drove up a long curving lane between low stone walls. At the top of the slow rise, the parcel became flat and I could see gently undulating acreage sweeping out in all directions. The two-story house was Italianate in feel, elegant and plain with a symmetrical window placement and a small porch in front with a circular balustrade.

I parked and got out. All the ground-floor windows were disconcertingly dark. There was no doorbell and no one answered my repeated knocks. I circled the house, checking for lights or other signs of the inhabitants. The air was still except for the occasional water dripping from the eaves. Had Trigg stood me up? I took a moment to check my bearings. Formal gardens stretched out on either side of house, but there was not a gardener in sight. Probably too wet to do much work.

I started down the sloping lawn, hoping to come across someone who’d tell me if Trigg was home. For the next five minutes, I wandered across the property, grass squishing underfoot where underground springs had suddenly resurfaced. At the end of a row of ornamental pears, I spotted a greenhouse with a small potting shed attached. An electric golf cart was parked nearby. I picked my way forward, mindful of the mud sucking at the soles of my boots.

I could see a man working at a high bench just inside the shed. Despite the cold, he wore khaki shorts and muddy running shoes. There were braces on both legs, secured by what looked like screws driven in on either side of his knees. I could see signs of atrophy in the muscles of his calves. Propped up against the counter beside him was a pair of forearm crutches. The billed cap he wore covered a thatch of gray hair. On the redwood surface in front of him, there were five or six ratty-looking potted plants in various stages of decline.

I paused in the doorway, waiting for acknowledgment before I went in. Beyond the far doorway, the greenhouse opened up, but the angled glass ceiling wasn’t visible from where I stood. Most of the side panes were an opaque white, but in places the glass was clear, admitting brighter squares of light. The air was warm and smelled of loam and peat moss. “Hi. Sorry to interrupt, but are you Mr. Trigg?” He scarcely looked up. “That’s me. What can I do for you?”

“I’m Kinsey Millhone.”

He turned and looked at me blankly, a knot forming between his eyes. His mustache was iron gray and his brows were an untidy mix of black and gray hairs. I guessed he was in his early sixties; red-nosed, jowly, and heavy through his chest, which sloped forward and down into a sizeable belly.

“I was hoping you could answer some questions about Dr. Purcell,” I prompted.

His confusion seemed to clear. “Oh, sorry. I forgot you were coming or I’d have waited at the house.”

“I should have called to remind you. I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me.”

“Hope I can be of help,” he said. “Folks call me ‘Trigg’ so you can skip all the ‘mister’ stuff. Doesn’t seem to fit.” He leaned against the crude redwood counter and stirred a quick squirt of detergent into one of two buckets of water sitting side-by-side. He reached for a twig of miniature rosebush festooned with cobwebs. He placed his hand on the soil at the base of the plant, turned it upside down, and dunked it in the water. “I’m surprised you found me. My daughter lives with me, but she’s out this morning.”

“Well, I did wander quite a bit. I’m glad you don’t have a roving pack of attack-trained dogs.”

“That bunch is put away for the moment,” he said without pause.

I really hoped this was a sample of his dry wit. Hard to tell as his tone of voice and his facial expression didn’t change.

“In case you’re wondering what I’m up to, I’m not a horticulturist by trade. My daughter has a business taking care of houseplants for folks here in Horton Ravine. She does a bit of hotel work, too-the Edge-water, Montebello Inn, places like that. All live plants; no fresh flowers. I guess they hire someone else to do the big fancy arrangements. She brings me the sickly kids and I nurse ’em back to health.” He righted the dripping rosebush and then swished it in the bucket of clear water. He pulled it out, shook it off, and studied the effect. “This little guy’s suffering from an infestation of spider mites. Suckers are only a fiftieth of an inch long and look at the damage. Used to have healthy foliage and now it’s no more than a twig. I’ll keep it in quarantine. We see a lot of root rot, too. People overwater, trying to be helpful between Susan’s visits. You a plant person?”

“Not much. Used to have an air fern, but I finally threw it out.”

“Smell like feet,” he said, with a shake of his head. He set the rosebush aside and reached for a corn plant in a terra-cotta pot. I watched while he sponged a dark gray powdery coating from the leaves. “Sooty mold,” he said, as though I’d inquired. “Plain old soapy water’s good for a lot of these things. I’m not opposed to a systemic poison, but something like aphids, I prefer to try a contact pesticide first. Malathion or nicotine sulfate, which is basically your Black Flag-40. I’m conservative, I guess. Susan sometimes disagrees, but she can’t argue with my success.”

I said, “I take it you’re an old friend of Dr. Purcell?”

“A good twenty years. I was a patient of his. He testified in my behalf in the lawsuit following my auto accident.”

“This was before he got into geriatrics?”

“I certainly hope so,” he said.

I smiled. “What kind of work did you do?”

“I was a detail man; drug sales. I covered the tri-counties, calling on doctors in private practice. I met Dow when he still had his office over near St. Terry’s.”

“You must have done well. This property’s impressive.”

“So was the settlement. Not that it’s any compensation. I used to jog and play tennis. Take your body for granted until it goes out on you. Hell of a thing, but I’m luckier than some.” He paused, peering over at me. “I take it you talked to Crystal. She called to say you’d probably be getting in touch. How’s it going so far?”

“It’s frustrating. I’ve met with a lot of people, but all I’ve picked up are theories when what I need are facts.”

His tangled eyebrows met in the middle, forming a crimp. “I suspect I’m only going to add to the general confusion. I’ve been thinking about him, going back over things in my mind. Police talked to me the first week he was gone and I was as baffled as anyone.”

“How often did you see him?”

“Once or twice a week. He’d stop by for coffee in the mornings on his way to Pacific Meadows. I know you gals think men don’t talk about personal matters… more like sports, cars, and politics is your sense of it. Dow and I, we were different, maybe because he’d seen me go through so much pain and suffering. Without complaint, I might add. He was a man tended to keep his own counsel and I think he valued that in others. He was only eight years my senior, but I looked on him as a father. I felt comfortable telling him just about anything. We built us a lot of trust and in time, he confided in me as well.”

“People admire him.”

“As well they should. He’s a good man… or was. I’m not at all sure how we should speak of him. Present tense, I hope, but that remains to be seen. Crystal tells me Fiona hired you.”

“That’s right. She’s in San Francisco on business, but she’s coming back this afternoon. I’m scrambling around, talking to as many people as I can, hoping to persuade her the money’s well spent.”

“I wouldn’t be concerned. Fiona’s hard to please,” he said. “Who’s on your list aside from me?”

“Well, I’ve talked to one of his two business associates…”

“Which one?”

“Joel Glazer. I haven’t talked to Harvey Broadus. I talked to people at the clinic, and his daughter Blanche, but not Melanie.”

His eyebrows went up at the mention of her name, but he made no comment. “What about Lloyd Muscoe, Crystal’s ex-husband? Have you spoken to him?”

“I hadn’t thought to, but I could. I saw him at Crystal’s on Friday afternoon when he came to get Leila. How does he fit in?”

“He might or might not. About four months back, Dow mentioned that he went to see Lloyd. I assumed it had something to do with Leila, but maybe not. You know, Leila lived with Lloyd briefly. She’d been busy telling everyone she was old enough to decide. Crystal got tired of fighting her, so Leila went to Lloyd’s. She started eighth grade in the public schools up here. Wasn’t here two months and she was out of control. Grades fell, she was truant, into alcohol and drugs. Dow put his foot down and that’s when they stepped in and enrolled her in Fitch. Now she’s strictly regulated and she blames Dow for that. Sees him as a tyrant-a tyrant being anyone who won’t let her have her way.”

“I think she’s mad at Lloyd, too. When I was over there, she was refusing to see him, but Crystal insisted.”

“I don’t doubt she’s mad at him. She thinks it’s his job to get her out of there. Doesn’t want to look at her own behavior. Her age, you always think it’s someone else’s fault.”

“What happened when Dow went to see Lloyd? Did they quarrel?”

“Not that I know, but if Lloyd intended to do Dow harm, he’d be way too wily to tip his hand with any public display.”

I reached in my bag and found a stray envelope so I could make a note. “Can you give me his address?”

“I don’t remember offhand. I can tell you where it is, though. Big house, yellow shingles, pitch roof. Right there at the corner of Missile and Olivio. Lloyd rents the little studio in back.”

“I think I know the place,” I said. “I gather he and Crystal get along okay.”

“More or less. She still tends to lick his boots. Crystal was always under Lloyd’s thumb.”

“How so?”

“He lived off her earnings when she worked as a stripper in Las Ve-gas. They had one of those hotheaded relationships full of drinking and fights. One or the other would end up calling the police, screaming bloody murder. Crystal would have Lloyd arrested and then next thing you know she’d change her mind and refuse to press charges. He’d accuse her of assault and battery, then they’d kiss and make up. Oldest story in the book. After she met Dow, she dropped everything and moved to Santa Teresa with the girl. I guess she saw Dow as her ticket out, which in a way he was. Problem was, Lloyd followed her and he was furious-couldn’t believe she’d leave him after all they’d been through. Couldn’t believe he’d lost control is more like it.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I heard it from Dow,” he said. “I think he was worried Lloyd would find a way to reassert his dominance. Crystal looks strong, but where Lloyd’s concerned she’s motivated by guilt. He claims she owes him big time for turning his life upside down.”

“Doesn’t he work?”

“Not so’s you’d notice. He did construction for a while, but then he claimed he’d injured his back. He’ll live on worker’s comp until the money runs out. That’s how his mind works. Why put out the effort if he can get what he wants by manipulating someone else?”

“But surely Crystal’s out from under him.”

“A woman like her is never out from under a man.”

I tucked the envelope away, trying to think what other ground I might cover. “What about the book Dow was writing? That’s one reason Crystal’s convinced something’s happened to him. She says he wouldn’t just walk out: first of all because of Griffith and, secondly, because of the book he was working on.”

A pained expression seemed to cross Trigg’s face. “Started out, he was excited about the project, but the task turned out to be a lot harder than he thought. I’d say he was more discouraged than enthusiastic. He was also upset about Fiona. She kept pressing him for money. He knew she was convinced he was going back to her and that distressed him no end. That’s why he was on his way up there.”

“What do you mean ‘up there’?”

“He was going to see Fiona to clarify the situation.”

“The night he disappeared?”

“That’s what he told me. We had breakfast together that Friday morning and he said she’d insisted on a meeting. She was always insisting on something. She’s a pain in the ass, if you’ll forgive my being blunt. I told Dow then what I’d been saying all along: She was always going to demand a pound of flesh from him. She couldn’t stop him leaving her, but she could surely make him pay.”

“What in the world made her think he’d leave Crystal and go back to her?”

“Oh, she had it all worked out, according to him. Said she was the only one understood him, for better or worse. I guess she was big on ‘worse.’ “

“Fiona tells me Dow disappeared on two previous occasions. Any idea where?”

“Rehab. He told me he went to a ‘dry out’ farm.”

“Alcohol?”

“That’s right. He didn’t want it known, felt his patients would lose confidence if they knew his drinking was out of control.”

“I’ve heard from a couple of different sources he was drinking again.”

“Probably Fiona’s influence. She’d drive any man to drink.”

“Couldn’t he have checked into another rehab facility?”

“I hope so. I surely do, but then again, you’d think he’d have let someone know by now.”

“Fiona says he didn’t say a word to anyone before.”

“That’s not quite true. He told me.”

“What do you know about the business at Pacific Meadows?”

Trigg shook his head. “Not much. I know it wasn’t looking good. I told him to hire an attorney, but he said he didn’t want to do that yet.

He had his suspicions about what was going on, but he wanted to check it out himself before he did anything else.”

“Someone told me he was worried Crystal would jump ship if the uproar became public.”

Trigg tossed his sponge in a bucket. “Maybe that’s what Fiona was counting on,” he said.

I walked into the office at 11:25 to find Jeniffer, bending over a file drawer, in a skirt so short the two crescent-shaped bulges of her hiney were hanging out the back. Her legs were long and bare, tanned from all the days she took off to go to the beach with her pals. I said, “Jeniffer, you’re really going to have to wear longer skirts. Don’t you remember ‘I see London, I see France, I see someone’s underpants’?”

She jerked upright and tugged self-consciously at the hem of her skirt. At least she had the good grace to look embarrassed. She clopped back to her desk in her wooden-soled clogs. She sat down, exposing so much bare thigh I felt compelled to avert my eyes.

“Any messages?” I asked.

“Just one. Mrs. Purcell said she’s back and she’s expecting you at two o’clock.”

“When? Today or tomorrow?”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry about it. I can figure it out. Anything else?”

“This came,” she said, and handed me an Express Mail envelope. I opened the flap. Inside was the contract Fiona’d signed and returned. Shit. I already hated feeling bound to her.

“Also, someone’s here to see you. I showed her into your office and took her a cup of coffee.”

That got my attention. “You left her in my office by herself?”

“I have work to do. I couldn’t stay.”

“How do you know she’s not back there going through my desk?” I said, knowing that’s what I’d be doing if I were in her place.

“I don’t think she’d do that. She seems nice.”

I could feel my heat gauge rising into the red zone. “I seem nice, too. That doesn’t count for much. How long’s she been there?” To be fair, I was probably displacing my feelings about Fiona onto her, but I was pissed, anyway.

Jeniffer made a face to show she was thinking real hard. “Not long. Twenty minutes. Maybe a little more.”

“Is she at least someone I know?”

“I think so,” she said, faintly. “Her name’s Mariah something. I just figured she’d be more comfortable back there than if she waited for you out here.”

“Jeniffer, in that length of time, she could have ripped me off for everything I own.”

“You said that. I’m sorry.”

“Forget about ‘sorry.’ Don’t ever do it again.” I headed down the inner corridor. I looked back at her. “And get some pantyhose,” I snapped. As I passed Ida Ruth’s desk, she was studiously avoiding my gaze, no doubt thrilled I was being subjected to a sample of Jeniffer’s continuing ineptitude.

My office door was closed. I barged in to find a woman sitting in the guest chair. She’d placed her empty coffee mug on the edge of the desk in front of her. Scanning the surface, I could’ve sworn my files were ever so slightly disarranged. I looked at her quizzically and she returned my gaze with eyes as blank and blue as a Siamese cat’s.

She couldn’t have been more than twenty-six, but her hair was a startling silver-gray, as polished as pewter. She wore very little makeup, but her skin tones looked warm against the frosty hair, which was combed back and anchored behind her ears. She had a finely sculpted jaw, a strong nose and chin, lightly feathered brows. The skirt of her gray wool business suit was cut short and sheer black hose emphasized her shapely knees, one of which carried the vestiges of an old scar. There was a black briefcase resting near the left side of her chair. She looked like an expensive lawyer with a high-powered firm. Maybe I was being sued.

Warily, I moved around my desk and sat down. She shed her jacket with ease and arranged it across the back of the chair to avoid wrinkling it. From the shape of her shoulders and upper arms, I knew she worked out a lot harder than I did.

“I’m Mariah Talbot,” she said. The black silk tank top rustled faintly as she reached across the desk to shake hands. She had long oval nails painted a neutral shade. The effect was sophisticated; nothing gaudy about this one. The most riveting feature was a gnarly white scar, probably a burn, on the outer aspect of her right forearm.

“Do we have an appointment?” I asked, unable to keep the testiness out of my voice.

“We don’t, but I’m here on a matter I think will interest you,” she said, unruffled. Whatever my disposition, it wasn’t going to bother her. The image she projected was one of composure, competence, efficiency, and determination. Her smile, when it appeared, scarcely softened her face.

“What’s the deal?”

She leaned forward, placing her business card on the desk in front of me. The face of it read, MARIAH TALBOT, SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT, GUARDIAN CASUALTY INSURANCE, with an address and phone number I scarcely stopped to read. The logo was a four-leaf clover with Home, Auto, Life, and Health written in each of the four loops. “We need to have a chat about your landlord.”

“Henry?”

“Richard Hevener.”

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. “What about him?”

“You may not be aware of this, but Richard and Tommy are fraternal twins.”

“Really?” I said, thinking, Who gives a shit?

“Here’s something else you may not be aware of. Richard and Tommy murdered their parents back in Texas in 1983.”

I could feel my lips parting slightly, as though in preparation for the punch line to a joke.

The combination of the blue eyes and the silver hair was arresting, and I could hardly keep from staring. She went on, her manner completely matter-of-fact: “They hired someone to break into the house. As nearly as we can tell, the plan was for the burglar to drill the safe and walk off with a substantial amount of cash, plus jewelry valued at close to a million dollars. The boys’ mother, Brenda, was the older of two girls who came from an incredibly wealthy Texas family named Atcheson. Brenda inherited a stunning jewelry collection that she left, by will, to her only sister, Karen. These are pieces that have been passed down through the family for years.”

She reached into her briefcase and pulled out a fat brown accordion file. She removed a manila folder and passed it over to me. “These are the newspaper clippings. Plus, one copy each of the two wills.”

I opened the file and glanced at the first few clippings, dated January 15, 22, and 29 of 1983. In all three articles, Richard and Tommy were pictured, looking solemn and withdrawn, flanked by their attorney in a three-piece business suit. Headlines indicated the two were being questioned in the ongoing investigation of the homicides of Jared and Brenda Hevener. Additional articles covered the investigation over the balance of the year. I didn’t stop to read the wills.

Mariah Talbot went on. “You’ll notice their aunt Karen’s name cropping up in some of the articles. The burglar was a punk named Casey Stonehart, who’d already been jailed six times for a variety of crimes ranging from petty theft to arson, a minor specialty of his. We believe he opened the safe using the combination they’d given him. Then he dismantled the smoke detectors and set a blaze meant to cover up the crime. Apparently-and this is only a guess-the deal was he’d take the bulk of the jewelry, which he was in a position to fence. The boys would take the cash and maybe a few choice pieces, then submit a claim to the insurance company for the house, its contents, the jewelry, and anything else they could get away with. Oh yes, the cars. Two Mercedes-Benz were destroyed in the blaze. Mr. and Mrs. Hevener were found bound and gagged in the master bedroom closet. They died of smoke inhalation, which is not as bad as being burned alive- lucky them. Neither boy was anywhere in the area. In fact, both by some miracle were out of town and had iron-clad alibis,” she said. “Stonehart, the kid who did the dirty work, disappeared soon afterward; probably dead and buried somewhere, though we have no proof. He’s been missing ever since so it’s a safe bet they got rid of him. An accomplice is always the weak link in these things.”

“Couldn’t he be in hiding?”

“If he were, he’d have been in touch with his family. They’re all deadbeats and bums, but loyal to a fault. They wouldn’t care what he’d done.”

“How do you know their loyalty doesn’t include keeping mum about where he is?”

“The sheriffs department put a mail check in place and there’s a trace on the phone. Believe me, the silence has been absolute. This is a kid with big dependency issues. If he were alive, he couldn’t tolerate the separation.”

I cleared my throat. “When was this again?” I knew she’d told me, but I could hardly take it in.

“1983. Hatchet, Texas. It didn’t take long for suspicion to fall on the two boys, but they’d been extremely clever. There was little to suggest the part they’d played… beyond the obvious, of course. Financially, they cleaned up. For them, it must have been better than the lottery. To all appearances, there was no bad blood between them and their parents, no public disagreements, no recent increases in insurance coverage. There was also very little linking them to Casey Stone-hart. No phone records showing calls between the brothers and him. Bank accounts showed no unusual withdrawals to suggest a down payment on Casey’s services. The kid was such a lowlife he didn’t even have a bank account. He kept his money in his mattress; the Sealy Posturepedic Savings and Loan. The three of them did attend the same high school. Casey was a year behind the Heveners, but there was no overt connection. It’s not like they bowled in the same league or hung out together.”

Anything I’d felt for Tommy had evaporated. “What about the parents’ wills? Anything of interest there?”

Mariah shook her head. “No changes in the terms since the document was drawn up when the boys were born. The attorney was a bit lax in that regard. The twins had reached their majority and adjustments should have been made. Their aunt Karen was still listed as their guardian if something happened to the parents.”

“What made the cops fix on them?”

“For one thing, neither of them can act. They put on a good show, but the feelings were all phony, strictly crocodile tears. At the time, both were still living at home. Tommy was one of those perpetual college students; his way of refusing to grow up and go out on his own. Richard fancied himself an ‘entrepreneur,’ which meant he borrowed and squandered money as fast as it came into his hands. Jared was thoroughly disgusted with them. He considered them moochers and he was sick of it. Brenda, too. This we heard about later from close friends of theirs.”

“I’m assuming the brothers were charged?”

Mariah shook her head. “Police investigators couldn’t cobble together sufficient evidence to satisfy the D.A. Of course, the insurance company balked at paying, but the boys filed suit and forced them to perform. Since they’d hadn’t been arrested, charged with, or convicted of any crime, Guardian Casualty had no choice but to pay up.”

“How much?”

“Two hundred and fifty thousand each in life insurance. The home-owner’s and auto claims came to a little over three quarters of a million dollars. This is Texas, don’t forget. Not like real estate values you’re used to dealing with out here. Also, despite his business acumen, Jared never managed to amass much in the way of wealth. Lot of what he did was probably under the table, which is neither here nor there. Anyway, along with the insurance, you add the cash in the safe-which probably amounted to another hundred grand-and the jewelry on top of that, and you can see they did well. Guardian Casualty and Karen Atcheson, the boys’ aunt, are preparing to file a civil suit to recover their losses. We’re convinced the boys still have the jewelry if we can find a way to prevail. I’ve been assigned to handle the preliminary investigation.”

“Why now when the murders were three years ago? I know proof in a civil case is easier, but you still have to have all your ducks in a row.”

“Someone’s come forward… an informant… very hush-hush. This is the arsonist, a professional, who talked to Casey twice-once before the fire and then again right afterward. It was his expertise Casey was relying on, because the job was much bigger than anything he’d done in his piddling career.”

“What was the arsonist getting in return?”

“A piece of Casey’s action. Once the arsonist found out about the killings, he wasn’t willing to ‘fess up to any part in it. He was nervous about a felony murder charge, or worse-that the brothers would kill him. Now he’s decided to do what’s right and that’s why we think we have a shot at this.”

“Why doesn’t he go to the cops and let them handle it?”

“He will if Guardian Casualty comes up with the evidence.”

I pushed the file aside. “And you’re here to do what?” Mariah smiled to herself as though privately amused. “I’ve been nosing around. It looks like funds are low and the boys are getting on each other’s nerves. We’re counting on the fact they’re having cashflow problems. That’s why Richard agreed to lease the place to you, if you haven’t figured that out. You offered him six months’ rent in advance and he needed the bucks.”

“How’d you find out about that?”

“We gimmicked up another applicant, a writer looking for an office away from his home. The cash is the explanation Richard gave when he turned him down. At any rate, the friction between the brothers could really work for us. I’m always hoping one will break down and rat the other one out. We’ve been after them for three years and this is as close as we’ve come.”

“What’s this got to do with me?”

“We’d like to hire you to do some work for us.”

“Such as?”

“We want you to pass along the name of a fence in Los Angeles. He’s a jeweler by trade. The business looks legitimate on the surface, but he’s actually a fence. He deals in stolen property when the quality or quantity is sufficient to make it worth the risk. With money getting scarce, the boys might be tempted to dip into the stash, which we don’t think they’ve touched.”

“But they can’t get anywhere close to true value through a fence.”

“What choice do they have?”

“Wouldn’t they be better off trying to auction some of the pieces through Christie’s or Sotheby’s?”

“Christie’s or Sotheby’s would insist on a provenance… proof the jewelry was theirs… which they can’t provide. They may try selling to a private party, which is yet another reason we’re stepping up the pace.”

“So I pass along the information about the jeweler and then what?”

“We wait to see if they take the bait and then we nail them. The Houston D.A.’s already talked to the D.A.’s office here and they’re ready to roll. Once we know the jewelry’s in the house, we’ll ask for a warrant and go in.”

“Based on what?”

“We’ll have the fence and the fence will have at least a portion of the jewelry. The boys are going to have a hell of a time explaining that.”

“What if they don’t make contact with him?”

“We have another scheme in mind that I’d rather not go into. In the meantime, you might want to see the jewelry.” Again, she reached into her briefcase, this time removing a manila folder with what looked like appraisals and a series of Polaroids. She sorted through the stack, laying picture after picture on the rim of my desk, rattling off the contents. “Diamond riviere necklace valued at $120,000. An art deco diamond-and-sapphire bracelet-that one’s $24,000. Diamond ring with a stone weighing in at 7.63 carats, worth $64,000. And check this one: a necklace with 86 graduated diamonds. That’s somewhere between $43- and $51,000. Sorry about the pics. These are preliminary Polaroids. All the good appraisal photos are being circulated through Southern California.” She finished dealing out the pictures, reciting prices like a pitchman for a company selling door to door. “What makes you so sure they still have them?”

“An educated guess,” she said. “We know they bought a safe from a local locksmith. We figure they installed it at the house so each of them could keep an eye on the other. The problem is, we have no legitimate means of getting in.”

“Funny you should say that. I was there last night.”

“How’d you manage that?”

“Richard was gone. Tommy took me over and showed me around.”

“I don’t suppose you spotted the safe.”

“I’m afraid not. There’s barely any furniture and no wall art. I can tell you this-the entire alarm system’s down. Tommy told me Richard set it off so many times they finally discontinued service. Now it’s strictly window dressing.”

“Interesting. I’ll have to think about that. When will you see him again?”

“I’m not going to see him again! After what you’ve told me?”

“Too bad. We could really use your help. He’s taken an interest in a woman more than once and Richard always puts a stop to it. He doesn’t trust his little brother’s tendency to blab. I don’t think Richard realizes what a threat you are.”

“I’m a threat?”

“Of course. Tommy’s hustling you and that gives you power-not a lot, but enough. You have access, for one thing.”

“I’m not going to go sneaking around in there. I’d have no reason whatever to tour the house again. Besides, even if I found the safe, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to open it.”

“We wouldn’t want you to do that. All we need is the location, which couldn’t be that hard. Once we have the warrant, we don’t want the boys disposing of the evidence.”

I thought about it briefly. “I won’t do anything illegal.”

Mariah smiled. “Oh, come now. From what we’ve heard, you’re willing to cut corners when it suits you.”

I stared at her. “You ran a background on me?”

“We had to know who we were dealing with. All we’re asking you to do is pass along the information about the fence.”

“I don’t like it. It’s too risky.”

“Without risk, where’s the fun? Isn’t that the point?”

“Maybe for you.”

“I told you, we intend to pay you for your time.”

“It’s not about money. I don’t want to be pimped.”

“Meaning what?”

“I won’t peddle my ass so you can nail these guys. I’m a big fan of justice, but I’m not going to offer up my body to get the goods on them.”

“We’re not asking you to go to bed with him. What you do in private is strictly your concern.” She closed her mouth, a move I’ve often employed myself, giving the other person the opportunity to work it out.

I picked up a pencil and tapped it on the desk, letting my fingers slide the length as I flipped it end over end. “I’ll think about it some and let you know.”

“Don’t take too long.” She placed a slip of paper on the desk with a name and address written across the face of it. “This is the name of the jeweler. I’ll leave it up to you how you play out the information. You can bill us for your time and gas mileage. If you decide you can’t help, then so be it. Either way, we’ll trust you to keep your mouth shut.”

I took the paper and looked at the name. “You have a number where I can reach you?”

“I’ve been moving around. In an emergency, you can use the number on my card, but I think it’d be better if I called you. I’ll touch base in a day or so and see how things stand. Meanwhile, I don’t want the boys to know I’m here. I’ve been dogging them for years and with this gray hair, I’m not exactly inconspicuous. If they find out we’ve spoken, you’re in the soup, so take care.”

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