FOUR

“I think he murdered a friend of ours in Laguna Beach.”

I kept my gaze locked on Gibbs. Her words were as provocative as anything I’d heard in a therapy session in quite some time, but I was having a hard time not thinking about Sam.

Less than twenty-four hours earlier the ambulance had taken him to Avista Hospital, which was closest to my house in the hills on the eastern side of the Boulder Valley, not Community Hospital, which was only blocks from his house in the shadow of the Rockies on Boulder’s west side. The cardiologist who worked him up in the ER and busted his clot with some cardiac Drano had scheduled an angiogram for the precise hour on Monday morning that I was seeing Gibbs Storey. At the moment when Gibbs told me she suspected her husband of murder, Sam probably already had a puncture hole in his groin and a long catheter snaking up an artery to his heart.

What would Sam, an experienced homicide detective, do in response to Gibbs’s revelation, were he sitting here with Gibbs and me? I wasn’t sure. If I could have channeled his presence to assist in this interview, I certainly would have.

I could have said,“Holy shit!”in response to Gibbs’s accusation of her husband, but I didn’t.

Or I could’ve said,“That doesn’t really surprise me,”because it didn’t. Not totally, anyway. Sterling Storey was, like his wife, not only charmed but a charmer. I also suspected that he was a bully. Or more accurately, an intimidator. I’d seen his act up close and personal during one of our conjoint psychotherapy sessions.

As I exhaled, I reminded myself that the fact that Sterling had taken a few cheap verbal shots at Gibbs a decade before didn’t mean he was capable of murder.

But I also recalled the razor edge of his glare. The fact that I remembered it at all told me something that I was certain was relevant. I’d witnessed the glare, I think, during the second of our three sessions. Gibbs had said something about… God, I couldn’t remember what Gibbs had said something about, and Sterling had touched her knee to get her attention and had then frozen her with a look so menacing that I remembered it as though it had happened only yesterday.

Gibbs had backed down like a good hound ordered to heel.

And then she’d changed the subject.

What had the subject been?

I couldn’t recall.

In reply to her accusation about Sterling, I could have asked Gibbs,“Why are you telling me this? Why aren’t you at the police station with this information?”But I knew there would be a reason. Maybe not a good reason, one that might sway me. But there would be a reason, one that would teach me something important about the woman who sat across from me.

I bought time. I crossed my left leg over the right and said, “Why don’t you tell me exactly what you’re concerned about.”

Announcing her suspicion of her husband hadn’t robbed Gibbs of any of her composure. Her feet stayed side by side in their fashionable slides, and the smooth inner surfaces of her knees still touched as though she were intent on keeping a slip of paper clenched between them without dimpling it. Her shoulders were straight enough to please a Marine drill sergeant, and her spine erect enough to parallel a flagpole. She held her hands as though she were waiting for a photographer to finish snapping a glamour shot of her God-knows-how-many-carat engagement ring.

“I don’t really even know how to talk about this.” She adjusted those lovely hands, moving them to a position as if in prayer, but her fingertips were pointed toward me, not the heavens. “Louise was our friend in California. In Laguna Beach. But… it’s not just Louise.”

It’s not just Louise?

“Louise is the one who was murdered?”

“Yes, in 1997. While we were living in Corona Del Mar. She was killed at her apartment on Crescent Bay on Thanksgiving Day. Or nearby, anyway. We’d just finished redoing our cottage. Right from the start the police suspected that her assailant wasn’t close to her. They thought the guy who killed her might have known her, you know, casually, but wasn’t close to her. She wasn’t from there; she was British. But no one has ever been arrested.”

We’d just finished redoing our cottage?

“And you think Sterling was involved?”

“Involved? That’s a funny word. Well, I think Sterling did it. Who am I kidding? Although I don’t want to believe it, I guess I know he did. He had a thing… going with her.”

“A sexual thing? An affair?”

“Of course.”

The string of her earlier words that had initially caught my attention was still bouncing around my head like a Miller moth trapped behind a miniblind. I repeated the words aloud. “Gibbs, what did you mean when you said before, ‘It’s not just Louise’?”

“This is weird,” she said.

Tell me about it,I thought.

“What did that mean, Gibbs? ‘It’s not just Louise.’ What did you mean by that?”

“I don’t even know why I said it.”

My mind raced ahead of her, but I tried to keep my focus. I decided not to say what was on my mind. Why? What was on my mind was that I didn’t believe her most recent denial. Inconsequential to the therapy perhaps, but an important point considering the circumstances.

Things that are unimportant to the progression of therapy may be crucial to the prosecution of a murder.

She clenched her teeth and tried to smile. Maybe she was fighting tears, but as incongruous as it was, I thought she was actually trying to smile.

She raised her hands to her face to cover her mouth, then took them down again before she said, “You know Sterling, Dr. Gregory. I mean, yes, yes, yes, he has a temper. But could I really be married to a murderer? Or am I nuts?”

Two different questions,I thought.

Two different questions.

Before I conjured up a response, I remembered what it was that Gibbs had said a decade before that had earned her the memorable glare from Sterling.

Sex.

Gibbs had said something about sex.

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