I killed the engine and sat, watching as she slowed and pulled into the drive. I grabbed my umbrella and got out of my car as she was getting out of hers. This was one of those occasions where asking a direct question seemed the obvious route. I wasn’t going to lurk in the bushes or peep over windowsills in search of the truth. “Crystal?”
She’d already let herself through the gate and she turned to look at me. She wore a rain-repellent parka, cowboy boots, tight jeans, a heavy white cableknit sweater. She clutched a neat stack of shirts against her body to protect them from the damp. Her makeup was light and her tousled blond hair was pulled into a knot. She stood with one hand on the latch and I could see her puzzlement.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Her response time was ever so faintly slow. “About what?”
“Clint. We happen to be members of the same fitness gym.”
“What do you want?”
I shook my head. “Someone saw your car here and thought you might show up again.”
She closed her eyes and then opened them again. “Fiona.”
I didn’t cop to it outright, but I didn’t see much reason to deny it, either. What was the point? She knew I’d been working for Fiona and who else, really, would be dogging her steps. “You should probably be aware she talked to Detective Paglia.”
“Fuck. She just can’t leave anything alone. What’s she going to do, monitor my actions for the rest of my life? Have me followed around so she can point a finger at me? What I do with my time is none of her damn business.”
“Hey, babe. It wasn’t my idea. If you’re pissed off, take it up with her.”
“Oh, right.” She paused while she struggled to get a grip on herself. When she spoke again, her tone was more resigned than angry. “Let’s get out of the rain. It’s ridiculous to stand here getting soaked.”
I followed her through the gate. We went up the front steps and took shelter on the porch. I lowered my umbrella, pausing to shake off the water.
“I guess there’s no point pretending you didn’t see me today.”
“I don’t like it any more than you do.”
“You know, the entire time I was married to Dow, she did everything she could to make life miserable for me. How much more shit am I supposed to take?”
“She’s not the only one who heard the rumor about Clint.”
“Who’d she get that from? Dana Glazer, no doubt. What an evil bitch she is.”
“People talk about these things. Sooner or later, it was bound to come out.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake. You know what? There’s no law that says I can’t visit a friend, so why don’t you go back and tell her to get fucked.” She gestured dismissively, annoyed with herself. “Ship that,” she said.
“Why add fuel to the fire? Clint was my trainer. We did weights. End of sentence. There was never anything sexual between us. Ask him if you doubt me. I’ll be happy to wait out here.”
“What would that prove? I’m sure he’s too much of a gentleman to kiss and tell.”
“Don’t you have any male friends? Does everything between a man and a woman have to be sexual?”
“I didn’t say you were guilty of anything. I’m telling you how it looks. Tongues have been wagging. Fiona saw your car here yesterday and here you are again today.”
She stared at me briefly and then seemed to make a decision. “Why don’t you come in and I’ll introduce you properly.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Why not? As long as you’ve come this far. By the way, I found Dow’s passport when I was going through his clothes. It was still in the breast pocket of the overcoat he wore when we went to Europe last fall.”
“Well, that’s one question down. Are those his?” I said, pointing to the shirts.
“Someone might as well get some use out of them.” She unlocked the front door, using a key, I noticed, from her own key chain. She pushed open the door and stepped aside, allowing me to pass in front of her and into the house. I don’t know why I should have felt embarrassed, but I did.
The front room was done up as an old-fashioned parlor with a camelback sofa, occasional tables, and assorted Queen Anne chairs. Every item of furniture sported a hand-crocheted doily designed as protection from dirt and grease stains. There was a grandfather clock and lots of knickknacks; milk glass, cranberry glass, Steuben glass, Lladro, framed photographs of family members long since deceased. Crystal scarcely gave the room a glance as she proceeded down the hallway and through the kitchen to a glassed-in porch. Clint was seated in a La-Z-Boy looking out toward the yard. She put the stack of shirts on a small wooden table next to him. Crystal gave him a brief kiss on the top of his head. “I brought you some shirts and I also brought a friend. You remember Kinsey? She’s a member of your gym.”
At first, I thought: not Clint, mistake, has to be someone else. But it was him. Whatever his disability, he was considerably diminished. He was suffering contractures of his hands and a muscle weakness so pronounced that he could hardly move his head. He’d lost an enormous amount of weight. His eye sockets were puffy, a reddish-purple color, as though he’d been punched out. I could see skin lesions on his forehead and his arms. I tuned the rest of it out. Through the window, I could see a burly old guy working in the yard, tying up some vines; probably Clint’s father, the man who answered the phone.
Crystal was saying, “We just ran into each other and she was asking about you.”
“How’re you doing?” I said, feeling like a fool. Clearly, he wasn’t doing well and might never do well again.
“Clint has a systemic connective tissue disease called dermatomyositis. Severe in his case. It may be an autoimmune reaction, though nobody really knows. This has been going on since, what… the end of January, isn’t it?” She addressed her remarks to him, as though for confirmation. “The doctors were hoping he’d go into remission so it seemed advisable for him to lay low.”
“Is that why he rented the Glazers’ cottage?”
“That’s right. I wanted him close so I could keep an eye on him. After the lease ran out, it seemed best to have him move in with his parents for a while.” She leaned closer to him. “Where’d your mom go, is she out?”
Clint’s response was garbled, but she seemed to understand him, probably because she’d tracked his degenerating speech patterns for the past ten months.
“Why didn’t you let people know what was going on?”
“Clint asked me not to and I honored his request. As long as you’re prying, will there be anything else?”
“Of course,” she said. “That’s what she pays you for. I’m surprised you’d even mention it.”
“It might go a long way to getting her off your back.”
Crystal smiled at Cllint, who was watching her with a doglike devotion. “Cat’s out of the bag,” she said. “Remember Dow’s ex-wife? She finally figured out we were having a torrid love affair. Kinsey’s caught us in the act.”
I could feel myself flush. Clint seemed to enjoy the joke and I could hardly protest. I said, “I probably ought to go.”
“Good. He gets tired when we have visitors. I’ll walk you to the door.”
I could feel a brittle rage radiating from her as she accompanied me. I knew she resented the invasion of privacy, both his and hers. “Look, I’m sorry.”
“Did Dow know?”
“Someone else might have told him. I certainly didn’t. People want to believe the worst. That’s the hell of it,” she said.
The freeway traffic was crawling, cars end to end, apparently slowed by an accident farther up the road. I drove home on surface streets to avoid the mess. All the streetlamps were on and the roads gleamed like patent leather in the falling rain. In my neighborhood, the houses glowed with light. I found parking right in front of Henry’s. I was grateful for that as it saved me the half-block of splashing through puddles. I went through the squeaking gate and around the corner of my studio to the rear. Henry’s kitchen lights were out. He was probably over at Rosie’s where I’d catch up with him in a bit.
I unlocked my door and let myself in. As I closed the door behind me, someone slammed against it from the outside and sent me hurtling. My shoulder bag struck the floor with a thunk and I saw my key ring sail off and land on the rug. I went sprawling, hands flying out instinctively to catch myself. I hit the floor and rolled as Tommy Hevener grabbed me by the hair, pulled me upright, and dragged me backward. I stumbled into him and he sat down abruptly, pinning me across his knees. I’d been flipped like a turtle and I was on my back, flailing for purchase. His raincoat was in a tangle but offered enough protection that I couldn’t land a blow.
He choked me with one hand while he squeezed his fingers around my face, digging into my jaw so hard it forced my mouth open. He stuck his face against mine. I could feel his breath against my mouth. “Henry gave you the name of a jeweler in L.A. Turns out there isn’t any such guy, so what the fuck was that about?”
The door swung back again and banged once against the wall. I shrieked, rolling my eyes in that direction. Richard was standing in the doorway in his black raincoat. He closed the door behind him, looking on with indifference as Tommy tightened his grip.
“I don’t know. I never dealt with him. Someone told Henry. He was just passing it on. You were there.”
“No.” He shook my head, using my hair for leverage.
I clawed at his hand, trying to pry his fingers off. The pain was excruciating. “Let go, let go. That’s it. That’s all. I never called the guy. I swear.”
“Tell me you didn’t find the safe and help yourself.”
“The fuckin’ safe in the office. Don’t play dumb. You know exactly what I mean. You broke in. You ripped us off and we want the stuff back.”
“What stuff? I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Richard said, “Get her up.”
Tommy didn’t move. His grip on my hair was so tight, I thought he’d tear out a hunk of my scalp. I couldn’t move my head. I was nearly sick with fear. What had Mariah done? Had she set me up?
Richard said, “Tommy.”
Grudgingly, Tommy loosened his grip. I turned on my side and rolled away from him. I lifted myself as far as my hands and knees, shaking my head while I gasped for breath. “I don’t know anything about a safe. I never saw it.” I put one hand against my throat, trying to suck down air. “I’d have to be an idiot to break in. I still have a key. It’s on my key ring.”
I fumbled across the rug for my keys and held them up to him. “Look at this. Think about it. If I’d done it, I’d have closed the place so you wouldn’t know. Why would I leave it open and call attention to the break-in?”
“How’d you know the place was left open?” Richard asked. He seemed calmer than Tommy, but no less dangerous. He took the ring of keys and sorted through them until he found the office key, which he worked out of the bunch. He tossed the remaining keys to Tommy. I directed my response to both, looking from one to the other.
“Because my office is right there. Across the alleyway.” Richard was silent and I felt myself babbling on. “I’m telling you the truth. Last night I stopped at the office. I looked across the alley and saw the door standing open.”
“Seven, I think. Sometime around then.”
Tommy said, “Why didn’t you call the cops?”
“I thought it was Richard and he was showing the place.”
Tommy was sitting with his knees drawn up, shaking his head. “Jesus. You don’t know how much trouble we’re in. Christ, everything is gone. Every goddamn…”
“Shut up, Tommy. She doesn’t need to know. Let’s get her out of here before someone shows up.”
“I’m sorry your valuables were stolen, but it wasn’t me. I swear.”
“Yeah, well we’re sunk, anyway. Wiped out. It’s over.”
“Knock it off,” Richard said, and hauled me to my feet. “You take her. I’ll drive.”
“I’ll drive. It’s my truck.”
“Right.” Richard locked his arms around me, pinning my arms against my body. He lifted me off the floor and walked me to the door, half-dragging me, half-carrying.
I grabbed the doorframe long enough to get my feet down. I stiffened my knees, forcing him to halt. “Let me get my bag,” I said, gesturing. I felt like a kid pleading for her teddy bear. Tommy leaned down and picked up my shoulder bag. He did a quick search, pawing through the contents. He found the Davis, checked the load, and tucked it in his pocket, tossing the bag aside. There went that hope. I glanced back, watching him turn the lights out and pull the door shut before he joined us on the patio.
His truck was parked around the corner. Richard held my left arm, his fingers digging into me so hard I knew I’d bruise. The two of them crowded against me, walking in a lockstep that forced me to trot along. What were they going to do with me, rape, maim, and kill? What would be the point of that? If they took me to the house, I could scream my bloody head off and no one would hear.
We reached the pickup truck. Richard opened the door on the passenger side. He flipped the seat forward and shoved me into the narrow space behind the seats, knocking my head against the frame in the process.
I said, “Hey!” This was pissing me off. I managed to rub my head while I squeezed into the well. Tommy got in on the driver’s side. The two doors slammed in quick succession like rifle shots. Tommy jammed the key in the ignition and the engine fired to life. He pulled out with a chirp that probably left a little skid of rubber on the pavement. I clung to the seat back, trying to assess the situation.
For the moment, I was safe. Tommy was too busy driving to pay attention to me and Richard didn’t have a sufficient angle to turn around and level more abuse. Rain was stinging against the windshield. Tommy flipped on the wipers.
I said, “Where’d you have the safe? The place always looked empty to me.”
Tommy said, “In the closet floor, under the wall-to-wall carpeting.”
“Don’t play dumb.” Richard was bored.
“How many people knew besides the two of you?”
Tommy said, “No one.”
Richard snorted. “What’s this, twenty questions? Would you give it a rest.”
“Who opened it last?”
“Jesus, Tommy, this is bullshit. Are you buying this act?”
“He did. We had something we wanted to sell. He goes all the way down to Los Angeles on Friday and there isn’t any such dude. He thought I pulled a fast one and he was pissed.”
“When did he get back? Was it late?”
“No, it wasn’t late,” Richard snapped, exasperated. “It’s five o’clock. I go over to the office and put the piece back in the safe.”
“Everything else was still there?”
“Of course it was. Now would you shut the fuck up?”
“Maybe someone saw you with the stuff and followed you back. If they saw where the safe was hidden, they could have waited until you left and ripped you off.”
“I said, shut your mouth!” He raised his left arm, torqued around in the seat, and bashed me in the face with a backhanded swing. The blow didn’t have much force, but it hurt like a son of a bitch. I felt tears burn my eyes. I put my hands across my nose, hoping he hadn’t broken it. Didn’t feel like that.
Tommy said, “Hey! Cut it out.”
“Who put you in charge?”
“Just leave her alone.”
“Why, because you’re fucking her?”
“He is not!” Who wants to be accused of screwing some guy you can barely tolerate? There was a moment of silence. Then, I said, “Anyway, how’d they get the safe open? Was it drilled?”
“You are just not going to shut up, are you?”
I thought the question was a good one, but I shut my mouth and leaned away from the front seat, out of range. The space where I was sitting was small and cramped, scratchy with cheap carpeting. I groped around, hoping for a weapon-a wrench or a screwdriver-but found nothing. I felt along the circumference of the well and my fingers closed over a ballpoint. I didn’t think it’d be effective, but then again, why not? I clutched the pen in my fist, wondering what would happen if I jammed it in Richard’s ear.
The drive to the house took seven minutes at top speed on the wet-slick roads that wound through Horton Ravine. I held on for dear life, the turns throwing me first this way and then that. As Tommy wheeled up the driveway, he picked up the remote control for the two double-wide garage doors and hit one of the buttons. The double door on the left began to roll open and a light came on. He pulled in, coasted to a stop, and set the hand brake. The adjacent bay was empty. Tommy’s red Porsche sat in the next bay over and on the other side of that was a second Porsche, a shiny black one, presumably Richard’s.
Richard opened the door and got out. He left the truck door ajar. I could see the two big garbage cans just outside the kitchen door where they tossed their trash. Above them, I could see a line of buttons on the wall. I thought he meant to hit one so the garage door would grind shut, but he peered into the truck bed. He opened the toolbox and fumbled among the contents. I measured the distance, but I wasn’t going to have time enough to lean forward, pull the door shut, and lock it before he got to me. I turned to Tommy. “You were at my house last night. I saw someone in the office when I stopped off on my way home. You couldn’t have stolen anything and then showed up at my place so soon afterward.”
He turned to look at me. “What?”
“If it wasn’t you, it was him. Who else knew the combination? Just the two of you, right?”
Richard came back with a coil of rope. “Nobody asked you. Now get out.”
“Tommy, think about it. Please.”
Tommy sat there for a moment. He got out of the truck and moved around the front to the passenger side. “Richard, what are we doing? This is dumb. We should have left her where she was. She doesn’t know anything.”
Richard scarcely looked at him. “Back off. I’ll take care of it.”
“Who put you in charge? What the hell is that for?”
“I’m going to tie her up and kick the shit out of her until she tells us where she hid the stuff.”
“You’re not thinking straight.”
“Who asked you?” Richard said. “I told you not to fuck with her. This is all your fault.”
“Oh, really. Now it’s my fault,” Tommy said. His annoyance had passed and there was something new in his face. He put his hand in his coat pocket; I knew he’d put the gun in one pocket, but I couldn’t remember which. “You know, she’s got a point. I know where I was last night and I can prove it because of her. How do I know you didn’t clean out the safe yourself?”
Richard snorted. “Why would I do that? I don’t have anyone to lay it off on, if you’ll remember.”
“You say that now. You could have taken everything to L.A. when you went on Friday. You could have sold it all and kept the money, then come back here and made it look like a burglary. There’s only your word you put it back where it was. I never saw the jewelry after you came back.”
“I’ll give you bullshit. The safe wasn’t drilled. Somebody had the fuckin’ combination. There are only two of us who knew. I know it wasn’t me, so that leaves you.”
“Stick it up your ass,” Richard said. He put his hand on the seat back so he could reach for me. I leaned forward and swung the pen in an arc and brought it down hard on the back of his hand. Richard bellowed with rage. He tried to grab me, but I scooted back to the driver’s side of the truck. Enraged, he flipped the seat forward, prepared to haul me out. I braced myself and kicked twice at his hand. I caught him smartly with the heel of my Saucony, jamming three of his fingers.
“Fuck!” He pulled his hand back, flashing a furious look at Tommy. “Jesus, Tommy. Help me out here.”
“Answer my question.”
“Don’t be an idiot. I didn’t take anything. Now let’s get her out of here.”
“You and I were the only ones who knew. Fuck this burglar shit. There wasn’t any burglar.”
Richard slammed the passenger side door. “All right, you shit. I’m telling you the truth. I didn’t do it. You get that? I wouldn’t do that to you, but you’d do that to me because you’ve done it before. So how do I know it wasn’t you?”
“I didn’t open the safe. You did that, Richard. You made a point of going down to L.A. alone. The jewelry’s gone now, you-“
Richard flew forward and grabbed Tommy by the front of his coat. He pulled him forward and then shoved. Tommy stumbled but regained his footing and came back at him. I saw Richard’s fist fly out, catching Tommy in the mouth. He went down, tumbling backward into the two plastic garbage cans that shot apart like bowling pins. I leaned down and reached around the side of the seat, fumbling for the lever that would release the seat back. I felt the lock give way. I opened the door on the driver’s side. I slithered through the gap, crouched, and came up along the fender still in a crouch. I could hear the chilling sound of flesh on flesh, a grunt as someone took the brunt of a blow. I lifted my head. Tommy was dragging himself to his feet, trying to free the Davis from his raincoat pocket. His legs seemed to weaken under him and he went down. There was blood streaming from his nose. He moaned, looking up at his brother in a daze. Richard kicked him. He bent down and took the gun from Tommy’s rubbery grip. He stepped back and leveled the Davis at his brother. Almost lazily, Tommy put a hand up and said, “Oh, Richie, don’t.”
Richard fired. The bullet tore into Tommy’s chest, though the blood was slow to come.
Richard looked blankly at his brother’s body and nudged him with his foot. “Serves you right, you little shit. Don’t accuse me.”
He tossed the gun aside. I heard it clatter across the garage floor and skitter under the truck. He hit the button that activated the other garage door. His manner was matter-of-fact as he moved around the red Porsche to the black one and got in. He started the car and put it in reverse. Engine whining, he backed out of the garage and down the drive.
I scrambled around the front of the truck on my hands and knees. I crawled over to Tommy to check his pulse, but he was dead. I spotted the gun. I was just about to pick it up when I caught myself. My hand veered off abruptly like an airplane pilot aborting a landing. No way would I mar the fingerprints that Richard’d left on the gun. I got up and went through the back door, turning the deadbolt behind me as I headed for the phone. I was feeling cold with dread, worried Richard would turn around and come back for me.
I dialed 911 and told the dispatcher about the shooting. I explained who the shooter was, gave her his name, a description of his Porsche, and his license number, H-E-V-N-E-R-l. I recited the address in Horton Ravine, repeating everything twice. She told me to remain at the scene until the officers arrived. I said, “Sure,” and hung up. After that, I dialed Lonnie.