Chapter 24

I finally crawled into bed at midnight. Detectives Paglia and Odessa arrived at the Heveners shortly after Lonnie showed up and they at least pretended to be sympathetic as they talked me through the events leading up to Tommy’s death. They viewed me as a witness, not a suspect, which greatly affected their handling of me. Lonnie rode herd on them, nonetheless, protecting my rights any time he thought they were crossing the line in the course of the interview. The crime scene investigation seemed to take forever: fingerprints, sketches, and photographs; the endless narrative loop, in which I laid it all out again in excruciating detail. They bagged and tagged the Davis as evidence. It would probably be a year before I saw that gun again. Richard Hevener was picked up within the hour, driving south on the 101, on his way to Los Angeles. I figured it was still remotely possible he’d taken the jewelry, but I was not convinced. Lonnie was the one who drove me home.

Monday morning, I skipped the run and then I skipped the gym. I was feeling creaky and sore, my body a patchwork of bruises. Emotionally, I was feeling battered as well. I drove to the office and circled the block, finally finding a parking spot about six blocks away. I hobbled the distance and took the elevator up. When I walked into the firm, Jeniffer was sitting at her desk, applying a final coat of polish to her fingernails. For once, Ida Ruth and Jill didn’t seem interested in persecuting her. I found the two of them chatting in the corridor. At the sight of me, they fell silent and fixed me with compassionate looks. Jill said, “Coffee’s on in back. Shall I bring you a mug?”

“I’d appreciate that.”

I went into my office and dialed Fiona’s number. When she answered the phone, we exchanged the obligatory chitchat. I was guessing she hadn’t heard about the shooting because she never mentioned it. Or maybe she didn’t care. That was always a possibility with her. In the background, I could hear metal banging, the scraping of chairs, and assorted shrieks: Blanche’s four rowdy kids spending the day at Grandma’s. With Fiona’s bare cement floors, it sounded like a roller rink or bumper cars. I said, “I have the answer to your question about the person living in that house on Bay. Turns out it’s Clint Augustine’s father and Clint’s living with him…”

“I told you they were having an affair.”

“Well, not quite.”

Jill appeared and set a mug of coffee on my desk. I blew her a kiss and went on to describe Clint’s medical condition, which I gave Fiona by name. I’d read about dermatomyositis in the Merck Manual I have sitting on my desk at home. Altogether not good, and his particular symptoms seemed severe. “I’m guessing that in the last year, he’s been in no shape to engage in a sexual liaison or any other kind, for that matter.” I found it a relief to be talking about something other than the night before.

Fiona’s response was grudging. “Perhaps I’ve misjudged her.”

“Hard to know,” I said, not wanting to rub it in.

“What about the missing money?”

“The cops are looking into it so I’ll leave that to them. I won’t be charging for the time I put in.”

She seemed to shake off her disappointment. “Well, I suppose that takes care of business. If you like, you can calculate what I owe you and deduct it from the balance of the retainer. No need for a final report. This call will suffice.”

“Sure, I can do that. I’ll put a check in the mail to you this afternoon.”

There was a moment’s hesitation. “I wonder if I could ask you to bring me that in cash?”

“Sure. No problem. I can have it up there this afternoon.”

I was sitting at my desk, cleaning and organizing my files when Jeniffer came in and handed me a note.

Kinsey,

Sorry I had to do that to you, but I didn’t have a choice. Here’s the difference between us: basically, you’re decent and have a conscience. I don’t.

Mariah

“Where’d you get this?”

“It was just sitting on my desk.”

Feeling sick, I lifted the receiver and dialed 713… the Houston, Texas, area code… and then 555-1212, for Directory Assistance. When the operator came on, I asked her for the sheriffs department in the county where Hatchet was located. She gave me the number and I made a note of it. I let it sit on my desk while I took out the file Mariah Talbot had given me. I glanced through the news clippings until I spotted the name of the sheriff who’d handled the Hevener murder case. I tried Mariah’s number first and got the same recorded message I’d heard before. “Hello, this is Mariah Talbot. You’ve reached the offices of Guardian Casualty Insurance in Houston, Texas,…” I depressed the plunger. Anyone can leave a recorded announcement on an answering machine. Anyone can have a stack of business cards printed.

I dialed the Texas number and asked for Sheriff Hollis Cayo. I identified myself and told him where I was calling from. “I’m wondering about two murders you investigated in 1983. This was Jared and Brenda Hevener.”

“I remember them,” he said. “They were both fine people and deserved better than they got. How can I help?”

“I thought I should pass along some information. Tommy Hevener died last night. His brother shot him in the heat of an argument.”

There was a moment of quiet while he took that in. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I hope you’re not telling me Richard’s headed this way.”

“No, no. The cops picked up him and put him in the county jail out here. I understand he’s broke so the public defenders office will probably handle the case,” I said. “One thing I was wondering. Was Casey Stonehart ever caught?”

“No, ma’am. He’s gone, disappeared right after the murders, probably the work of them two boys as well. Our best guess is he’s dead, but we may never know. Texas is a big state. Lot of acreage available for unmarked graves.”

“I understand Brenda Hevener’s sister and Guardian Casualty Insurance intend to file suit. Have you heard about that?”

“Yes, ma’am. I believe they’re in the process of gathering information even as we speak. What’s your interest?”

“I had an insurance investigator come into my office a week ago and I wondered if you knew her. This is a woman named Mariah Talbot.”

I could hear the smile in his voice. “Yeah, we know her. ‘Mariah the Pariah.’ You’re talking five foot nine, a hundred and forty pounds, twenty-six years old. Blue eyes and her hair’s turned prematurely gray.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that. I was beginning to think she’d misrepresented herself. How long has she worked for Guardian Casualty?”

“I never said she did. Fact is, Talbot’s the name of Casey’s older brother. Got another one named Flynn. I think there’s another couple brothers in there somewhere, but those are the two I dealt with. The fact is, that whole family’s bad. In jail and out, a bunch of sociopaths.”

I could feel myself squint. “And what’s her connection?”

“The woman you’re talking about is Casey’s sister, Mariah Stonehart. The only girl.”

I said, “Ah.”

After we hung up, I laid my little head down on the desk. I should have known, I guess, but there was no doubt about it, she was slick.

At 10:30 I went over to the courthouse to do a records check for Tina Bart. I figured it would be a comfort to bury myself in endless mundane paperwork, where the chances of violence and betrayal were reduced to a minimum. Besides, I was genuinely curious about Glazer’s business dealings, specifically his connection to Genesis Financial Management Services. The MFCU investigator was probably tracking the three larger corporations I’d heard mentioned-Millennium Health Care, Silver Age, and the Endeavor Group. Somehow I had the feeling things were beginning to snowball for Joel Glazer and his partner, Harvey Broadus.

I started with the Assessor’s Office in the County Administration building, where I looked up the property tax records for Pacific Meadows. As expected, Glazer and Broadus were listed as the owners. Under their individual names, I checked for other properties they might own and made a list of those. I left the Assessor’s Office and walked over to the courthouse to the County Recorder’s Office. Files there were arranged according to the Grantor and Grantee Indexes: those who sell and those who receive. I spent an hour working my way through real property sales, grant deeds, trust deeds, tax liens, quit claims, and reconveyances. Tina Bart had been right. The Pacific Meadows building and lot had changed hands three times in the past ten years, and each sale had represented a substantial jump in price. The property was sold to Maureen Peabody in 1970 for $485,000. She’d sold it, in turn, to the Endeavor Group in 1974 for a tidy $775,000. The property sold again in 1976 to Silver Age for $1.5 million, and was finally purchased by Glazer and Broadus’s company, Century Comprehensive, in 1980 for a whopping $3 million. By calculating the documentary transfer tax on the grant deed, I could see that the current assessed value was $2.7 million.

I crossed the street to the public library and started working my way back through the city directories, looking for Maureen Peabody. Moving back and forth between the city directory and the crisscross, I discovered she was the widow of a man named Sanford Peabody, who’d been an officer at the Santa Teresa City Bank from 1952 until his death in the spring of 1969. Maureen had probably used the money she inherited from his estate to buy the nursing home.

On a hunch, I returned to the courthouse and checked the marriage records for 1976 and 1977. In February 1977, I found a record of the marriage license issued to Maureen Peabody and Fredrick Glazer, a second marriage for both. She was fifty-seven at the time and he was sixty-two. It didn’t take much to figure out that Maureen was Joel Glazer’s stepmother. I was betting Maureen’s name would appear again among the corporate officers of both Endeavor and Silver Age. The only question remaining was who owned Genesis, the operating company for Pacific Meadows. I found the company listed among the applications for registration of a fictitious business name. The owner of record was Dana Jaffe, Doing Business as Genesis Financial Management Services. The mailing address was in Santa Maria. For her home address, she’d used the house in Perdido, where she’d lived at the time I was looking for Wendell Jaffe. Joel Glazer had probably talked her into signing the DBA application before they married. She may or may not have understood the significance. On the surface, Genesis appeared to be separate and unrelated to Pacific Meadows. In truth, Glazer controlled both, which put him in the perfect position to reap the benefits of all the bogus Medicare claims. I was glad I wouldn’t be around when Dana found out she was married to another crook. She was pissed when I helped to put her son in jail. Wait until she had to forfeit her life in Horton Ravine.

I left the courthouse, blinking at the hazy light as though emerging from a darkened theater. I glanced at my watch. It was now close to noon and I was curious what was going on with the police investigation. I deducted the two additional hours’ work Fiona’d authorized. I then went by the bank and withdrew the $975 I owed her. I crossed Anaconda and walked along Floresta to the walkway where the Arcade sandwich shop was located. The take-out window was open but didn’t seem to be doing much business. The picnic tables and benches were still way too wet for use. As I passed the plate glass window, I caught sight of Odessa sitting by himself at one of the small marble tables. The place was empty except for him, though the funky indoor coffee shop across the way was jammed. I waved and went in. I sat down in the bent-wire chair across the table from him. “How’re you doing?” he said.

“I’ve been through worse. I thought you’d be doing take-out and eating at your desk today.”

“Too depressing. I need light. Fluorescent bulbs make me want to kill myself.” He was working on another paper-wrapped burger in a red plastic basket surrounded by fries. “At least you’re eating well.”

Odessa smiled. The damp air had added a halo of frizziness to his already unruly dark hair. Any woman in his position would be despairing, trying a succession of hair sprays, gels, mousses, and anti-frizz products. Paglia had it right: He’d shaved himself bald. Odessa gestured at the fries, fully expecting me to take one.

I shook my head. “I’m fine. I’ve just been nosing around in the public records. It looks like Dr. Purcell’s business associates have been working a Medicare scam and trying to push the blame off on him.”

“You’re talking about Glazer?”

“And Harvey Broadus. Purcell had figured it out and had a meeting scheduled with the FBI. Who knows how far the two of them were willing to go to keep him quiet. What’s the coroner have to say?”

“He found powder tattooing on his right temple. He didn’t have much to work with, but he says it looks more like near-contact than a contact wound. Means the gun was held a short distance away instead of pressed right up against the skin. Purcell could have done it himself if his shooting arm was another eight inches long. They went back to scour the area near the reservoir, but so far no bullet. I think they’re going to broaden their search. Could be he was shot somewhere else and then the car was moved.”

“That’d be tricky, wouldn’t it? With him sitting at the wheel?”

“That bugged Jonah, too. You know him. He got to thinking about that blanket Purcell had over him. Mohair, pale green? He asked Crystal and she said it was a gift from her. A year ago she put together this emergency road kit in case he ever got stuck: snacks, flashlight, bottled water, first-aid supplies-all of which he kept in the trunk of his car. Blanket was part of that. Jonah thinks the killer could have spread it over the body and then sat on his lap to drive him up to where we found the car. The blanket was used to keep the blood off his clothes.”

“Well, that’s pretty cold-blooded. Wouldn’t the mohair leave fibers on the killer’s pants?”

“Sure. Blood traces, too, but there’s been plenty of time to dispose of the evidence.”

I picked up a french fry, doused it in catsup, and put it down again. “I talked to Crystal last night. She came across his passport in an overcoat pocket from the last trip they took. What about Paulie? What’s the story on her?”

“Jonah had me check on that after you talked to him. She got picked up the first time when she was thirteen. Grandmother thought somebody stole her car so she called the police. Turned out Paulie took it. She also got picked up once for loitering and once for malicious mischief. She’s a kid with too much time on her hands and not enough supervision.”

“She and Leila are sure trouble.”

“We’re still working on that. We sent someone down to the school to see if we can get a match on the dates she was off campus and the money being pulled from the ATM. Those girls go any place but home for the weekend, they have to get permission from a parent or guardian, plus an okay from the person they intend to visit. It’s already looking like she managed to play both ends against the middle. Not easy to do. School officials have seen every trick in the book, but she’s smart. We’ve subpoenaed the bank records and the records from the mailing service where he kept his post-office box. The D.A. and probation are talking to the judge this afternoon. We’re hoping to wrap that up.”

“Here’s something else. The other day I stopped over at the Horton Ravine house. Leila had left school without permission. Crystal was having fits and gave me permission to search her room. She’s got a locked metal box hidden under the mattress. It’s probably dope, but it might be the missing money. She and Paulie may be planning to take off. You might be smart to keep an eye on them.”

“We can do that,” he said.

I got back to the office at 1:15. The rain was picking up again and I was tired of it. A curious depression had descended in the wake of the shooting with the adrenaline rush that accompanied it. The subsequent crash was accelerated by my conversation with Odessa. I envied them the hunt-Jonah Robb, Odessa, and Jim Paglia. Purcell had been murdered and though they might not be any closer to finding out who killed him, the process was under way.

I sat at my desk and I stared at the leaves on my fake ficus plant. From halfway across the room, the accumulated dust resembled a light layer of talcum powder. One day soon I’d really have to wipe that down. I swiveled in my chair and picked up a pencil. I drew a box on my blotter.

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on all the chores that I’d been putting off for the past week. I typed up the information I’d unearthed about Genesis and made photocopies of Klotilde’s bills, adding as much of her chart as I thought reasonable. I was hoping no one would ask how I acquired the medical data. While I stood there at the machine, feeding in copies, watching the light on the copier go back and forth, I pondered Fiona’s request for the $975 in cash. There was probably a simple explanation. I didn’t think she was seriously concerned my check would bounce, so it had to be something else. The picture that kept coming to mind was her weedy hillside property. I visualized the front hall of her house with its decor of drop cloths and permanent scaffolding.

I was also brooding about that green mohair blanket Crystal had given Dow, about someone sitting in his lap after he’d been shot to death. You wouldn’t want to drive far. Certainly not out on public roads where a pedestrian or a driver in the next lane might look over at just the wrong moment and spot you in the dead man’s embrace. If you were the killer, you’d think about the reservoir-how nice it would be if both the dead man and the car disappeared from view. Jonah had been assuming the killer made an unfortunate mistake, miscalculating the position of the boulder, which prevented the car from being fully submerged. What if the reverse were true? Maybe the killer intended to have the car found. If Dow’s death was meant to look like suicide, then maybe the causal error went the other way. The killer knew the boulder was there and thought the car would still be visible when daylight came. Instead, the vehicle veered slightly and sank too far down to be seen easily.

It wasn’t until late afternoon that I opened my bottom drawer and hauled out the phone book, turning to the yellow pages under the section that listed painting contractors. There must have been a hundred, column after column, some of them with box ads, some with catchy sayings: DON’T PAINT YOURSELF INTO A CORNER WHEN YOU CAN LET US DO IT. CHARLIE CORNER SONS, PAINTING. I had a quick vision of the Corner family sitting around the kitchen table, tossing back shots, coming up with log lines to stretch the advertising budget.

I started with the A’s and ran my finger down the names until I found the one I remembered from Fiona’s sign out front. One line of print. RALPH TRIPLET, COLGATE. No street address. I made a note of the phone number. Fiona struck me as the sort who’d pick a lone operator, somebody too hungry for business to argue with her. She’d by-passed all the splashy half- and full-page ads.

I dialed Ralph Triplet’s number. I was going to cook up a ruse, but I couldn’t think of one.

The phone was picked up on the first ring. “Ralph Triplet Painting.” I said, “Hi, Mr. Triplet. My name is Kinsey Millhone. I just finished doing some work for Fiona Purcell up on Old Reservoir…”

“I hope you got your money up front.”

“That’s why I’m calling. Is she a slow pay by any chance?”

“No pay is more like it. You seen that place of hers? White everywhere. You think that’d be simple enough, but we’ve gone through six shades so far. Everything from Frost to Alabaster, Eggshell to Oyster. Couldn’t find anything to suit. I’d get half a wall up, and then she’d want something else. Too green, she’d say. Or get the pink out of it. Meantime, I haven’t been paid in weeks. The architect filed a lien against the property and I’m threatening to do likewise. Meantime, I finally got around to checking her credit. Should have done that in the first place, but how was I to know. She puts on a good show, but she’s busy using one credit card to pay off another. What’d you say your name was?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said and hung up.

I pulled out the rubber-banded packet of index cards. This time I didn’t add anything. I shuffled back through my cards, checking the information I’d picked up in the past week, particularly the details about Dow’s last day. In passing, Mrs. Stegler had confided an item that caught my attention in light of everything I’d learned since then. She said while he was out at lunch, Fiona had stopped by. She’d waited in his office and had finally departed, leaving him a note. I’d sat in that office myself and I know how easily she could have opened his desk drawer and taken his gun.

Driving up Old Reservoir Road in the gathering dark, I could feel myself in a state of suspended animation. The only sign of agitation was that I was taking the curves a little too fast for the current road conditions, which were wet, wet, wet. I had an idea, an intuition to verify before I called Jonah Robb. I turned left on the road that angled up beside her property and pulled into the parking area behind the house.

I went around to the front door and rang the bell. She took her sweet time coming to the door. I stared off at Brunswick Lake. In the waning light, the surface was as silvery as mercury. It had been eleven days since I first stood in this spot, looking out at the same sweeping views. The steep sloping lot was now a fairyland of knee-high weeds: fox tails, wild oats, and rye bending in the passing breeze. With much more rain, the now-softened hillside would slide down into the road.

The door opened behind me. Even baby-sitting for her grandchildren, Fiona was decked out in a black wool suit with big shoulder pads and a pinched-in waist. The lapels and jacket cuffs were done in a faux leopard print. She had her hair concealed in a matching leopard print turban. Gloria Swanson had nothing on her. I held out the envelope. “I included an invoice for your records. I hope you don’t mind signing for the cash.”

“Of course not. Won’t you come in?”

I stepped into the foyer. There was a tricycle in the hall and the floor was covered with the same sort of kiddie detritus I’d seen at Blanche’s house: Tinkertoys, blocks, a sock, broken crackers, crayons. The kids had built an enormous tent with the painter’s drop cloths, which were now draped over all the chairs in the living room. I could see them bumping around in there, erupting in the sort of harsh, artificial giggles that signal the prelude to a big stinking fight.

Fiona scribbled her signature on the receipt. Her fingernails were dark red. She wore the same shade on her lips. She had a smudge of lipstick on the surface of her two front teeth. The effect was odd, like a virulent attack of bleeding gums. I tore off the top copy and handed it back to her.

“How’s Blanche doing?”

“She’s fine. At least she’s had peace and quiet for the afternoon. Andrew’s picking the kids up after supper tonight… assuming we live that long.”

“Mind if I use the bathroom?”

“There’s one off the kitchen. You can help yourself.”

“Be right back,” I said.

Fiona returned to the living room and I could hear her issuing orders about the cleanup. The kids even seemed inclined to cooperate.

I walked through the kitchen and unlocked the door leading into the three-car garage. It was dark outside and the yawning space was gloomy. There was a BMW parked in the nearest space, but the other two were empty. She’d told me when Dow came to visit, she made him pull into the garage each time so the local tongues wouldn’t wag. I flipped on the overhead light, which didn’t help that much.

I took the flashlight from my shoulder bag and crossed to the far wall. I imagined myself sitting in Dow’s silver Mercedes. I looked to my left and calculated the trajectory of a bullet fired from the front seat through the driver’s head, through the car window, and into the wall. Right about there, I thought. I’d have bet money she never bothered to pry the bullet out of the dry wall. She’d had enough white paint on hand to cover any evidence of what she’d done. Who’d even think to look here? The cops with their metal detectors would be scanning down the hillside as far as the road.

In the light of the faulty overhead bulb, the wall appeared to be smooth. I ran a hand lightly over the finish, expecting to feel the faintly irregular patch of plaster fill. The wall was unblemished. Not a mark anywhere. I shone the light at an angle, hoping for the roughness in the surface to jump into bas-relief. There was nothing. I made a circuit of the space, but there was no indication whatsoever that Dow had been shot to death here before the car was moved. No fragments of glass, no oil patches on the floor where his car had sat. I stood there astonished. I wanted to wail with disappointment. This had to be right. I had been so sure.

The door to the kitchen opened and Fiona appeared. She stood and stared at me. “I wondered what happened to you.”

I looked back at her, mouth suddenly dry, desperate for an explanation that would cover my behavior.

“Detective Paglia was up here earlier, doing exactly the same thing. He checked the walls for a buried bullet and found none.”

“Fiona, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sure you are.” She paused a moment. “One question, please. If I’d actually killed Dowan, why in the world would I hire you?”

I could feel my cheeks grow warm, but I knew I owed her the truth. “I thought you needed to have the body found to collect on the insurance. If you hired me, you’d appear to be above reproach.”

Her gaze bit into me, but she never raised her voice. “You’re a very arrogant young woman. Now get out of my house.”

She withdrew, closing the door behind her with a sharp report.

I let myself out. I got back in my car and started down the hill, reeling with shame and embarrassment. What defense did I have? I’d been wrong about her. I’d been wrong about Crystal and Glint Augustine. I’d been wrong about Mariah, who’d made a fool of me. I turned left at the intersection. I’d driven a block when I caught sight of a familiar figure walking backward along the side of the road. Paulie, with her thumb stuck out. Jeans, hiking boots, the same black leather jacket I’d seen her in before. Nice quality leather, too, and I wondered if she and Leila had paid for it with a portion of the stolen thirty grand.

I slowed and pulled over on the berm while she hurried to catch up.

By the time she reached the car, I’d opened the door for her on the passenger side. “Hop in. Are you on your way to see Leila?”

“Yeah. She’s staying down at the beach.” She got in and slammed the door, smelling of dope and cigarettes. Her hair was brown and straight and might have been shiny if she’d kept it clean. I could see raindrops, like sequins, sprinkled among the strands. She had unconventional looks, but there was something haunting about her eyes, which were large and dark brown. “You can let me off in town. It’s no problem finding a ride from there.”

“I don’t mind driving you. I could use the air,” I said. I waited for passing traffic and then pulled onto the road. “You’re lucky I came by. I’m usually not over in this area. Were you up at Lloyd’s?”

“Yeah, but he was out and I couldn’t find the key. I didn’t want to wait for him in the cold. Aren’t you sick of this fuckin’ rain?”

I let that one pass. “The two of you are friends?”

“Kind of, because of Leila.”

“How’s she going to feel about it when he moves to Las Vegas. Think she’ll miss him?”

“Big time. She was really bummed when she heard.”

“Is she back at school?”

“Not until Wednesday. Her mom’s driving her down.”

“Well, maybe she’ll get to visit Lloyd once he’s settled,” I said. “When’s he taking off? He said a couple of days.”

“Something like that. I’m trying to talk him into taking me along.”

“You’d leave town?”

“Well, sure. I don’t give a shit about this place.”

“Don’t you have family here?”

“Just Gram is all and she wouldn’t care. She lets me do anything I want.”

I looked over at her. “Have you ever been to Las Vegas?”

“Once when I was six.” A smile lit her face and her expression became animated. “We stayed at the Flamingo. Me and my sister swam in the pool and ate so much shrimp cocktail she barfed in a bush. After it got dark? We went around and finished all the drinks people left on the tables. What a blast. We were acting like nuts. We couldn’t even walk straight.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“I haven’t seen her or my mom since.”

I was curious about that, but I’d already asked a lot of questions and I didn’t want her to think I was interrogating her… though I was, of course.

“I’d have a hard time with the heat.”

“I like it. Even in summer, I bet it wouldn’t bother me a bit. I could live there easy. What a hoot.”

“Seems like money would be a problem.”

“Not at all. I have lots.” I could hear her hesitate, pondering the slip. Clearly, she’d told me more than she intended. “I could probably get a job parking cars at one of the big casinos. Something that paid good tips. This guy I know says a parking valet can make up to a hundred a day.”

“I thought you were sixteen.”

“Everybody says I look older. I got a fake driver’s license says I’m over eighteen. Nobody checks. As long as you show up for work, what do they care?” She thought she had street smarts, but her notions of how the world worked were wishful thinking on her part. “You think I don’t know how to take care of myself?”

“I’m sure you do.”

“I’m fine on my own. I’m used to it by now. I’m living on the street half the time, anyway, so better there than here. Maybe Lloyd’11 get a place and I can live with him.”

“You think that’s appropriate?”

She gave me an indignant look. “I’m not banging the guy. He’s just a friend.”

“What will Leila do if you leave? I thought the two of you were inseparable.” What I was really thinking was how easy it would be for Lloyd to tuck the girls in the car with him before he left the state. I didn’t believe Paulie would go anywhere without Leila. I glanced at her and watched her struggle with her response.

“That’s her problem. She’ll figure it out.”

We reached Crystal’s beach house. I pulled into the gravel parking area and Paulie got out. I didn’t think Crystal would be glad to see her, but she’d probably be polite. I figured Leila and Paulie, inseparable as they were, would end up in jail together within the next few hours. So much for Vegas and her fabulous career as a valet car park.

I left the engine running, waiting while Paulie rang the bell. I noticed the house next door had a SALE PENDING banner now affixed to the FOR SALE sign. Crystal came to the door. If she objected to Paulie’s presence, she seemed to keep it to herself. Maybe Leila was easier to get along with in Paulie’s company. Crystal caught sight of my car and waved. I returned the wave and backed out of the drive, my headlights washing across the open carport where I could see the Volvo and the convertible. The slot on the extreme left was empty and I was guessing that was the space where Dow had kept his car. I felt a tiny jolt of electricity. I made the turn onto Paloma Lane, drove half a block, and then pulled the VW over to the side of the road. I got out and walked back to the house. As I moved into the drive, my footsteps crunched on the gravel like someone chomping on a mouthful of ice.

Crystal had closed the door and the area was dark. I could smell ocean. I could hear the pounding of the waves. The quiet was like nectar wafting through the still night air. The rain had left the heavy scent of seaweed, pine boughs, and solitude. I swear the very dark had an odor of its own. Dare to be stupid, I thought to myself. Some people think you’re stupid, anyway, so what difference does it make?

As I had at Fiona’s house, I placed myself in a spot that approximated the location of the Mercedes’ front seat, picturing the car parked as it would have been had Dow pulled in that night. Maybe Crystal had promised him sexual treats, spelling out the possibilities in such succulent detail that he’d bypassed his scheduled visit with Fiona and come home to his wife. He must have pictured her coming out to meet him in a flimsy nightgown… something diaphanous… a thin, silky fabric that the ocean breezes would lift flirtatiously, exposing her legs. Crystal knew how to use her body to good effect. She could have retrieved the Colt Python.357 on an earlier occasion. She’d told the cops Dow kept it in his desk at work or in the glove compartment of his car. She had access to both, especially with Griffith’s visits to the nursing home. Even if she appeared wearing sweats and running shoes, all she had to do was open the car door, lean across the seat, and kill him as sweetly as a kiss. Driving the body up to the reservoir was a nice piece of misdirection-the risk of being spotted on the highway apparently less important than this chance to put Fiona in the soup. Given the amount of money Fiona stood to gain, the police would naturally pursue the notion that she’d killed him herself.

I looked to my left and calculated the trajectory of a bullet speeding in that direction. After all, if a shot had been fired from a Colt Python across the space of the front seat and through the kindly doctor’s head, one could only imagine the bullet traveling right on, smashing the car window, crossing ten feet of space, and plowing through the shingle siding of the house next door.

I crossed the patchy stretch of grass that lay between the carport and the structure next door. It might have once been a detached garage, joined to the house now and converted to a guest wing or family room. I took out my flashlight and turned it on. I moved the bushes aside and swept the beam across the rough-hewn shingles. The bullet hole was big, as black as a spider sitting on the side of the house.

I retraced my steps across the gravel parking pad to Crystal’s front door. I rang the bell. She opened it a moment later, with an expression on her face as if I might be someone soliciting for charity or selling door-to-door. She said, “Oh. I didn’t expect to see you. What’s going on?”

“I’d like to use your phone.”

She seemed puzzled but stepped back and let me pass in front of her. She was barefoot, wearing sweats, her hair pulled up on the top of her head. She peered out. “Where’s your car?”

“It’s parked on the road. The engine cut out and I need a way to get home.”

“I can do that,” she said. “Hang on a minute and I’ll grab my keys.”

“No, no. Please. I wouldn’t want to trouble you. I have a good friend nearby and he’s an experienced mechanic. I’ll just ask him to take a look. Maybe he can fix it right there and send me on my way.”

“Well, if that doesn’t work out, I can always run you home.”

From upstairs, I could hear the thunder of music being played at top volume. I pictured Paulie and Leila planning their escape. I really hoped the cops would show up before they made good on their “getaway.” I wasn’t sure where Rand was. Maybe off in the bathroom, getting Griffith ready for bed.

She showed me into the den and then stood in the doorway while I took a seat at the desk. I smiled at her briefly and said, “This won’t take a minute,” hoping she would leave. I picked up the receiver and dialed Jonah’s home number. If Camilla answered, I was screwed. On other occasions, she’d left the receiver on the table and walked off, refusing to tell Jonah I was on the line for him. When the call was picked up, he said, “Jonah Robb.”

“Oh, hi. It’s me.”

“Kinsey?” He sounded puzzled, as well he should have.

“Yes, it is.”

“What’s up?”

“I’m at Crystal’s beach house. I’ve got a little problem and I’d love to have you take a look.”

“All right,” he said, cautiously. “I’m buying this. Like what?”

“No problem. I can wait. Is that convenient for you? Because if it’s not, I can always try Vince.”

“Well, you know, I’m right in the middle of something. Is this important?”

“Completely. You have the address?”

“I know the place. Are you in trouble?”

“Not yet, but I could be. I’ll see you shortly and thanks. I appreciate this.”

I replaced the receiver and when I looked up again, Anica had joined Crystal in the doorway. The two stood close together, Crystal in front, Anica slightly behind. Anica’s hand was on her arm, and I suddenly understood what I’d been looking at all along. Anica said, “Is there a problem?”

“Not really. I’m waiting for a friend of mine to come give me some help. I had some trouble with my car. He’ll be here in a bit.”

“Oh. Well, why don’t you join us for a glass of Chardonnay while you wait.”

“I guess I could do that.”

I followed them out onto the deck. We sat in the dark, just the three of us, sipping wine and chatting, listening to the surf rumble on the beach until Jonah arrived.

***

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