45

In the late afternoon Marquez waited for Selke on the deck of Raburn’s houseboat. He looked through the windows and saw the same disarray as last time, a man of modest means living alone with his habits. The bed was unmade. Magazines and fishing lures covered the table. A green Heineken can sat at one end. In the kitchen, smoked fish rested on a plate. A big pot sat on the stove, and he remembered Raburn talking about making chili. He’d never finished trimming the windows, and the same can of primer sat under the sawhorse. Paint had dried on the brush. Honest Abe hadn’t been bailed since the last rain and sat low in the water. It was impossible to look at the scene without wondering how much of what had happened was set in motion the rainy Sunday when they’d offered Raburn the deal.

The last sunlight was a pale gold-white on the water when Selke came down the path. Marquez got up from the chair. The cold had never let up today, and he felt it in his feet and hands.

“Raburn had keys in his pants. I forgot to bring them,” Selke said.

They didn’t need keys. He’d watched Raburn lift the door, then slide it over. He’d said the lock was a pain in the ass anyway, and people in the delta, or at least the old-timers, all knew each other and didn’t worry about theft.

They went inside. He wasn’t sure what he could do for Selke here but was in no hurry to go anywhere else, and there was a chance Raburn had written something down.

“A name you’ll recognize and I won’t,” Selke said as they searched. He added, “I’d like to find something that helps us get a warrant for Ludovna’s house, but we’re not exactly going to find a diary, are we? Did Raburn have any girlfriends?”

“None that we ever saw.”

“What about boyfriends?”

“I don’t think so. He talked about different friends. A lawyer here in the delta that he threatened us with, but I don’t know whether that was real or not.”

“I’d like to talk to this lawyer. There’s got to be an address book or something. We didn’t find anything in his pickup.”

“I think he was close to his brother and otherwise largely a loner.”

The pot on the stove did have chili in it. There was more beer in the refrigerator and a vodka bottle, ice, and wrapped cuts of fish in the freezer.

“He didn’t own much in the way of clothes,” Selke said. “There’s no desk or anything. He had a cell phone on him, and it’s beeping that he’s got messages. I won’t know who those were from until tomorrow. I’d like to get from you a list of all the contacts he introduced you to.”

“Sure.”

“Who do you think killed him?”

He’d already answered this question earlier, told Selke that he thought Raburn had called the wrong person, that it somehow came back to the meeting that should have happened this morning with both brothers, Cindy, and Shauf and himself.

“His brother had unpaid debts and old debts that got negotiated down to pennies on the dollar after a near bankruptcy. You need to look there too. Let me ask you a question. Why would anyone kill the children?”

“Children are hard,” Selke said softly. “They’re hard. I’ve only seen it a couple of times in eighteen years as a detective, and both of those were for the same reason, a divorced husband deciding his ex wasn’t entitled to remarry and start a new life. But that’s not what we have here.” Marquez didn’t respond, and Selke said, “You’re quiet.”

“Like you say, the kids are hard.”

Selke found an address book and flipped through with Marquez watching. Mostly initials next to numbers. He talked as he examined the pages.

“The FBI will take this case. This is execution-style murder, and given what’s happened in the last week I’m surprised they haven’t already showed up. It’s got a caviar connection, and it’s too close in timing to Weisson’s. If we don’t solve it tonight, they’ll step in by noon tomorrow, and I don’t think we’re talking about a joint investigation either.”

He was probably right. Selke found the light switches and turned them on. He stepped out on the deck and came back in.

“We’ve got sightseers,” he said, and Marquez glanced up toward the eucalyptus and saw a handful of people, probably neighbors. By now, the word would have gotten around. The river darkened, and the riprap, the rock lining the opposite bank, lost its reflection.

“The boy was barefoot,” Selke said. “Somebody walked him and his sister down from the house, possibly the wife as well. I’m guessing there were at least two shooters. From your end, what are the possible reasons to kill the kids? I mean from a poaching angle?”

“To get information.”

“Threaten to kill the kids if they don’t talk?”

“Something like that.”

“Do you think Raburn would hold back confessing he was working with Fish and Game and let the kids get killed one at a time?”

“Not a chance. He’d give the information up right away.”

“Even if it was going to get him killed?”

“He’d push it as far as he could.”

“He pushes it and, bang, one of the kids gets shot.”

Selke knew it was Ludovna who Raburn claimed to be afraid of. He knew Nike Man had shown a gun the first time Marquez had gone with Raburn to make a sale to Ludovna. They’d been over these things earlier in the afternoon, and Marquez didn’t feel like he had anything new to add. He watched the light leave the water and was sure the chain of events started when he decided to flip Raburn. He’d been wrong about Anna. He’d been wrong here. Shauf had argued against flipping Raburn, and maybe it was more than not trusting Raburn. Maybe it was intuition. He didn’t burden Selke with that theory, instead moved over as Selke began to look at photos on a laptop he’d powered up.

“Jesus Christ, this keyboard. Did he use this thing for a place mat?”

He poked at something stuck between the A and S keys. Looked like tuna fish mixed with mayonnaise and dried, but Selke had been able to open photos Raburn had downloaded onto his computer.

“I’ve seen him take photos with his cell phone,” Marquez said.

There was a photo of Ludovna, Nike Man, and a black Mercedes in the background. A blurry shot, but it was them. Photos of the delta bridges. Drawbridges with concrete pilings and painted steel frames. A photo of Mount Diablo at the far end of a slough, the slough flat and still, the colors of sunrise above the mountain. Anna with sunglasses on and her hair blowing back, August alongside her with an arm around her shoulders.

“That’s Burdovsky,” Selke said. “She’s gone on to celebrity status. Where do they have her locked up?”

“Keep going.”

Another shot of Nike Man and an odd shot down an embankment along a river or slough, a small man bent over holding his face.

“The man in the photo is bleeding,” Selke said, and Marquez told him the story of the Mexican fisherman and the treble hook. Then they both studied the photo in silence. Now a photo of Sacramento Fresh Fish and one of August Foods, and a topless shot of Anna sunbathing, lying on her back on boat cushions, dark nipples. Two shots of Crey. One on his sport boat with the captain’s hat. It looked like Crey had posed for the photo, whereas the others looked like they’d been taken without the people in them necessarily knowing.

“You’ve found his log,” Marquez said. “How’d you get past the password?”

“I tried his brother’s name for the password and it worked.”

Selke clicked to the next one. “That’s the DBEEP boat and its crew. Jo Ruax is at the wheel,” Marquez said. “Looks like he was on the water when he took it.” There were two more of the DBEEP boat and a close-up of Ruax’s face. “They may have questioned him on the water and he pretended he was on the phone.”

“Give me a reason why?”

“Ruax may remember this and I’ll ask her. Maybe he took this close-up of her to email someone who wanted the faces of the local law enforcement.”

“So are we going to find you in here?”

“Keep going.”

There were various photos of sloughs. Photos of Raburn Orchards as the pear leaves turned with the fall. August’s Porsche outside the packing shed. A shot across vineyards to a sky-blue Victorian-style house. Two fishermen in their boat.

“I recognize those two. Raburn took me to meet them. Ruax knows that slough and she’s got a name for it, Camp Sturgeon.”

“These are guys he bought from?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not about a debt his brother owed, is it?”

“No.”

Individual shots of Perry and Torp. Perry leaning against the Le Mans. Then another shot, this one of the two of them.

“Bingo,” Selke said, and clicked to the next photo, a darkhaired woman trying hard to smile for the camera. Marquez didn’t recognize her. “Sherri La Belle,” Selke said, “and now I’m going to tell you something you can’t talk to anyone about yet.” He clicked back to Torp and Perry. “I’ll have murder warrants on these two tomorrow. I know where they got the refrigerator and what banding tool got used. They stole more than her car.”

Marquez answered the question before it came. “I don’t know where they are, but you know who to ask.”

“I do, and Richie Crey is going to find out he could end up back inside if he obstructs.”

They looked at the remaining photos and then returned several times to three shots, all taken through fog and with no way to make out the location exactly, but it was Anna’s car, a parking lot Marquez knew was the fishing access, then a second car, a white BMW, and a shot of a man standing near a woman who was probably Anna. The photos were taken from above, probably from the levee road. The tall man near her was not Ludovna, August, Nike Man, or Crey. Well, he might be Crey, he conceded, then added, “But I don’t think he is.”

Selke’s phone rang before he could answer. Marquez watched him study the number on his screen.

“That’s the Feds,” he said to Marquez. “They’re going to take my case away.”

He walked onto the deck to talk to them, and Marquez could hear enough to know that’s exactly what was happening. When he heard Selke describe what they’d found on the computer he backed out of the photos and clicked onto the Internet. Raburn was on dial-up, had a power and telephone line strung from the roof of the houseboat to a tree on the shore. The dial-up was slow, and he heard Selke starting to wind down the conversation. But now the Net came up, and he attached all of Raburn’s photos, then emailed them to an address he used only with the SOU. The file was still sending when Selke hung up and came back in.

“What’s the story?” he asked Selke.

“They want that computer tonight. They want me to bring it to them and there’s something more going on. It’s more than the Raburn murders.”

Marquez looked down at the laptop, saw the last green bar fill, and the icon disappear. He clicked out of the Net as Selke walked over.

“Want me to turn it off?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

Marquez shut down the computer.

“I emailed myself the photos.”

“I figured that’s what you were doing. I want you to copy me.”

“Give me an address.”

He waited now as Selke wrote it down ayzSelke@yahoo.com. So Selke wasn’t going to chance sending it to the county either.

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