CHAPTER 22

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

2:55 a.m.

Fifteen minutes later, Stacy braked in front of Leo’s. She’d thrown on a pair of jeans and a light sweatshirt, taking the time for nothing else but pulling her hair back into a ponytail.

She climbed out of the car and hurried up the walk. The house was dark, save for the gas porch lights. Leo sat on the top step waiting for her.

He stood as she reached him. “There’s been another murder,” she said without preamble. “It appears to be related to Alicein Wonderland. And to one of the cards you received.”

He paled. “Which one?”

She quickly explained about Spencer’s call, sharing all she knew. “I fully expect him to show up here. I thought we should talk first.”

He nodded. “Let’s go inside.”

Leo led her to the kitchen. As she had requested, he had coffee waiting. He waited as she lightened and sweetened it.

Obviously a man who understood the powerful pull of caffeine.

“What does this mean?” he asked after she had taken a sip.

“There may be a connection between this murder and you.”

“The game. The White Rabbit.”

“I said there may be. You have to show the police the cards.”

“Did you tell Malone-”

“About the cards? No. I thought you should.”

“When will they come?”

“Any minute is my guess. Though they may wait until morning. Depends on what else they have and their sense of urgency.”

As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Leo looked at her; she indicated he should answer and that she would wait in the kitchen.

Moments later he returned with the two detectives.

“Thought you’d be here,” Spencer said when he saw her.

She smiled slightly. “Ditto.”

“Coffee?” Leo asked.

The men both refused, though Tony reluctantly.

Spencer began. “Obviously, Ms. Killian filled you in.”

“Yes.” Leo glanced at her, then back at Malone. “But before we go on, there’s something you need to know.”

“What a surprise,” Spencer said, looking at her.

Stacy ignored his sarcasm. Leo continued. “In the past month, I’ve received three cards from someone claiming to be the White Rabbit. One depicts a mouse, drowned in a pool of tears. The cards are signed the White Rabbit.

Spencer frowned. “From the game?”

“Yes.” Leo quickly explained about the role of the White Rabbit in his game and his fear that someone had begun to play the part for real. “I’ve gotten plenty of crank mail over the years,” he finished, “but these…something about them unnerved me.”

“That’s why he hired me,” Stacy said. “To find out who sent them. And if that person was dangerous.”

“I’d like to see the cards.”

“I’ll get them.”

“I’ll go with you,” Tony said, falling in step with the other man.

Stacy watched them go, then turned to Malone. “What?”

“Going into the private dick business?”

“Just helping a friend.”

“Noble?”

“Cassie. And Beth.”

“You think the cards are from their killer.”

It wasn’t a question; she answered, anyway. “They could be.”

“Or not.”

Leo and Tony returned then. Tony handed Spencer the cards, exchanging a telling glance with his partner. By his expression, Stacy knew he believed they were onto something.

Spencer studied the three cards. He lifted his gaze to Leo’s. “Why didn’t you call us about these?”

“And say what? I wasn’t overtly threatened. Nobody was dead.”

“Somebody’s dead now,” Spencer said. “Drowned in a pool of tears.” He took out a photo and handed it to Leo. “Her name was Rosie Allen. Know her?”

Leo stared at it, shook his head and handed it back.

“What’s going on?”

They turned. Kay stood in the doorway, looking fresher than she should for the hour.

“There’s been a murder,” Leo answered. “A woman named Rosie Allen.”

Kay frowned. “I don’t understand. What does this Rosie have to do with us?”

Spencer stepped in. “She was murdered in a manner similar to a card your ex-husband received.”

“The mouse in a pool of tears,” Leo said.

Spencer held out the photo. “Ever seen this woman before?”

The woman stared at the picture, her face going white. “It’s the sewing lady,” she whispered.

“You know her?”

“No…yes.” She brought a hand to her mouth. Stacy saw that it trembled. “She did some…mending and…alterations for us.”

Spencer and Tony exchanged glances. Stacy knew what the look meant: this was no coincidence. It was a connection.

Leo crossed to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair and sank onto it. “What we feared, Kay. It’s true. Someone’s playing the game for real.”

The detectives ignored that. “When did you last see Rosie Allen?”

Kay looked blankly at Spencer. He repeated the question. Before she answered, she followed Leo’s lead and sat down. “Just the other day. A suit of mine needed alterations.”

“And she fitted you?”

“Yes.”

“But you didn’t know her name?”

“Mrs. Maitlin…she takes care of such things.”

Tony frowned. “Such things.”

“Taking care of the help. Arranging appointments. Paying for their services.”

“I’ll need to question her. And the rest of the household staff.”

“Of course. The staff arrives at eight. Will that be soon enough?”

Both detectives checked their watches, then nodded. Having been there herself, she recognized their thought processes. It was five-thirty now. They’d go home for a quick shower, then meet somewhere to grab some grub. That would put them back here just as the staff was arriving for the day.

After telling Leo she would call him later, Stacy followed the two detectives out, hurrying to catch up. She missed Tony, but stopped Malone as he unlocked his car door.

“Spencer!” she called.

He turned, waited. She reached him. “The murder tonight, any similarities to Cassie’s?”

“Nothing that I saw,” Spencer answered.

She fought disappointment. And frustration. “You’d tell me if there was, right?”

“You’ll be the first to know when there’s an arrest.”

“Nice evasion.”

“Damn decent, if you ask me. Don’t think I owe you more than that.”

“I’ll make a deal with you, Malone. Mutual cooperation. I’ll share anything I get with you, if you do the same with me.”

“And why would I want to do that, Killian? You’re not a cop. I am.”

“It’d be the smart thing to do. I’m determined. I’m working for Noble. I could help you.”

“The connection between Noble and Cassie is paper thin. If you don’t see that-”

“Believe me, I do. But it’s the only connection I’ve got, so I’m going with it.” She held out her right hand. “Mutual cooperation?”

He gazed at her outstretched hand a moment, then shook his head. “Nice try. But NOPD doesn’t make deals like that.”

“Their loss. And yours.”

He climbed in his car and drove off. She watched him go, then crossed to her own car. She unlocked it and slipped inside. He’d be back. He was arrogant but not stupid.

The name of the game was solving the case. He needed her to do that.

He just didn’t realize it. Yet.

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