Read Murder Mile High Online

Authors: Lora Roberts

Tags: #Mystery

Murder Mile High (10 page)

She shook her head. “This is the weirdest case I ever worked on,” she said. “Usually I go look for the junkie who knocked over the liquor store, or the hood who shook down the wrong person."

“Do you do much homicide work?”

“I’ve helped out a little.” She glanced at me curiously.

“I have a friend in Homicide in Palo Alto,” I said lamely. “I thought maybe from what O’Malley said last night that you were hoping to get a desk next to theirs.”

She shrugged. “Lots of uniformed cops want to move into Homicide. Better pay, more interesting work.”

“Longer hours, I bet. Especially in a city this size. Drake doesn’t get many murder cases in Palo Alto, so he does lots of low-level investigation and gets home for dinner most nights.”

“Drake is your buddy’s name?” She whipped out her notebook. “Maybe I’ll be in touch with him.”

“Great.” It wasn’t great. He’d be burning up the telephone wires to yell at me as soon as he heard from the Denver police that I was a murder suspect, an activity of mine he deplores. I’ve thought before that it’s something in my karma. I used to be a suspect because anyone who lives in their car is considered abnormal by the police. But now I live in a house most of the time, and have been published in a couple of good rags and have even held down jobs—a series of temp jobs, it’s true, but I do have an income of sorts. And still the bad vibes were landing on me regularly. It’s enough to make a person seriously consider the cloister.

A man ran up the steps and paused before the door to apartment 2D. He was in his mid-thirties, tall, sunburned, and wiry in worn Levis, a chambray work shirt, and scuffed cowboy boots. His light brown hair was longish, straight, and glossy. He folded away a pair of sunglasses and put on some horn-rims, looking at Officer Gutierrez. “Are you here to see me? I’m Kyle Baldridge.” His glance slid over me, then returned. The blue eyes widened. “Liz? Is that you? My God, how did you know?”

I started to smile, but his face changed. “Don’t tell me you—that you finally—My God!”

Shaking his head, he backed away. The smile froze on my face. Officer Gutierrez looked at me curiously before she spoke.

“Mr. Baldridge.” She spoke firmly. “I’m here to ask you some questions about Tony Naylor’s death. And Ms. Sullivan isn’t under arrest.” She gave me a dissatisfied look. “She shouldn’t be here at all, actually.”

“Liz.” Kyle came forward again, his expression shamefaced. “Forgive me. I’m sorry—I should have known— well, I’m not too clear on the circumstances of Tony’s death. All I heard was he’d been shot.”

I let him take my hand. He squeezed it gently. “I was actually trying to think how I could get in touch with you, and here you are.”

Officer Gutierrez cleared her throat.

“I would like to talk to you, Mr. Baldridge.” She glanced meaningfully at me.

“Can Liz come in, too?” Kyle smiled at me, and I remembered how his smile always seemed to light up his rather sober face. “We have to talk about stuff.” He guided me over to the door of his apartment, which he unlocked one-handed. “Was it a terrible shock for you? It was for me. Tony wasn’t always the best person but—he was my best friend for too long. I always made an excuse for him.”

He ducked his head and looked at me sidewise. “Not for what he did to you,” he said awkwardly. “I couldn’t understand that. Every time he’d say he wasn’t going to anymore. You know.”

“I know.” I moved away from him when we were in the apartment, looking around at the comfortable leather furniture, the polished wood floor and Navaho rugs, the old trade blankets draped over sofa and chair. Baskets and pots lined a shelf under the window. It didn’t look like Tony’s kind of pad.

“So what about the memorial service?” Kyle put one hand on my shoulder, looking at me earnestly. “I was just going to get something together. Is there—do you want— am I horning in?”

“Not at all.” I looked at Kyle, and remembered the times he’d helped me. I hadn’t asked often, because if Tony had known he would have assumed a sexual relationship between us, which was the only kind he knew about between men and women. But Kyle and I had been friends, and more important even than the times he’d helped me hide from Tony were the conversations we’d had about artifacts and the Anasazi, his true passion in life. “Kyle, I have to say I don’t care about Tony’s memorial service. Did you get hold of his mother?”

“She died a couple of years ago.” Kyle looked grieved. "Tony would never talk about it, but he brooded. Then he got a lead on where you were in California and went out to see you. Did he touch base?”

“You could say so.” Officer Gutierrez looked at me again. I could see her making a mental note to have yet more conversation with me. “Anyway, the memorial service is all yours. I wouldn’t dream of interfering.”

“I guess it’s dumb to have a service for a man with as many enemies as Tony had,” Kyle said, sighing. He moved over to Officer Gutierrez, who was examining a small black and white pot. "That’s Chaco work,” he said, taking the pot from her to trace the design. “You can see the characteristic—” he broke off and laughed. “Sorry. I don’t mean to jump on my hobbyhorse.” Somehow he ended up with the figurine in his hand. He set the pot back carefully on its stand and offered Eva Gutierrez a seat. “Would either of you like a drink? Coffee? Mineral water?”

Officer Gutierrez glanced at the pots and then at Kyle, vanishing into the kitchen. “Just some conversation,” she called after him as he disappeared into the kitchen. She frowned at me. “You can make yourself scarce, Ms. Sullivan. I’m not going to smash up your friend’s artifacts or anything.”

“No, let Liz stay.” Kyle reappeared, drinking a mineral water and carrying two more bottles. I accepted the one he offered me, more as an excuse to stay than because I was thirsty. Office Gutierrez didn’t take one.

“You say Mr. Naylor had enemies.” She had her notebook open now. I wished I had mine out, but I was counting on the tape recorder. “Can you tell me who they were?”

“Afraid not.” Kyle smiled at her, but his eyes looked worried. “Tony didn’t really tell me, and after a couple of incidents year before last, I didn’t ask. I let him stay here when he needed a place, but to tell the truth I was always glad when he moved on.” He sat on the sofa, staring at his clasped hands. “I loved him like a brother,” he said quietly. “And he was always a brother to me. Both of us grew up without dads, you know. My mom is dead, too, and Tony’s was a hopeless alcoholic. He sent her money, but he couldn’t stand to visit her very often, because she was just going downhill. I think in the end she was homeless or something.” He looked up briefly, and I saw the moisture in his eyes. “I always thought he’d straighten out. He was a lot of fun. He just—never grew up. Now he doesn’t have a chance to anymore.”

“So you don’t know who his enemies were?”

Kyle looked at her carefully. “I kind of thought,” he said, choosing his words, “that it was someone local. In the police department, actually.”

 

Chapter 12

 

Officer Gutierrez froze. She sent a glance toward my knapsack, probably wondering if my tape recorder was on. “What do you mean by that?”

Kyle shrugged. “Something Tony said awhile ago. He’d been working for some big trucking place, getting accounts from shippers and stuff. And then all of a sudden he was looking for a place to stay and didn’t want anyone to know—would never answer the phone or go to the store or anything. This went on for a while, and finally I told him it wasn’t going to work for me much longer.” He looked at me a little apologetically. “Sometimes he could just get on your nerves.”

“Look, you don’t have to spare my tender feelings about Tony.” I was tired of being treated as the grieving widow. “I’m surprised you could even stay friends with him.”

“I didn’t really,” Kyle mumbled, tearing at the label on his mineral water bottle. “I kinda lost patience then. He said he couldn’t leave because someone would kill him. And I told him to go to the police for protection, because I sure couldn’t provide it, and frankly didn’t want to be involved.” Kyle got fired up a little, recounting this. “Then he said that’s who was trying to kill him.”

“Who?” Officer Gutierrez looked up from her notebook.

"The police.” Kyle set the bottle down on the coffee table. “He said they were after him.”

“Did he say why?” Officer Gutierrez looked skeptical.

“No. Next day, I come home from work, he’s gone. All his stuff moved out, not a sign of him. At first I thought maybe whoever they were had got to him, but then I noticed a lot of groceries were gone, too. That didn’t seem to indicate a hit.” Kyle smiled faintly. “I didn’t hear from him until his mother’s death. We got tight again for a while after that, but he never stayed long.”

“Was he still working at the shipping place?” This had become a burning question for me; I was determined to get an answer. Officer Gutierrez frowned, but Kyle answered.

“I don’t know. He said he was working contract stuff, and by that point I didn’t want to know what he was up to.” Kyle picked up his bottle again and finished the drink. “Every so often he’d call, we’d go out and have a meal, go to a concert or have a few beers. He always looked fine—I mean, not like he didn’t know where his next bath was coming from, or anything. Just ordinary.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose and smiled hopefully at me. “Liz, can you have dinner with me tonight? I mean—excuse me, ma’ am.” He turned politely to Officer Gutierrez. “Is that all you wanted to ask?”

“For now, anyway.” She stood up and turned to me. “I do, however, have further questions for Ms. Sullivan. If you would accompany me?”

“Just a minute.” Kyle got up, too. “Liz, would that be okay? Dinner? I feel awful that I suspected you, even for a second. I want to make it up to you.”

I glanced at Officer Gutierrez, who was visibly fuming. “That’s nice, Kyle, but probably not. I’m staying with my brother, and he’ll want some time to yell at me. Thanks anyway.”

Kyle stood in the apartment door, gazing wistfully after us. After me, it seemed. I was immensely flattered at his wish to spend time with me. Despite the horn-rims and the shaggy hair, Kyle was good-looking, and all that weekend trenching hadn’t done his shoulders any harm. I remembered him as impressive in his power suit and usual haircut, a kind of financial Clark Kent.

But attention from men still made me uneasy. After nearly a year of being neighbors with Drake and seeing each other often, I was just getting comfortable with him. It was infuriating to feel that I owed him any kind of sexual loyalty, seeing that neither of us had made that kind of claim on the other. But that’s how I felt.

I followed Officer Gutierrez down the stairs. Outside the door she turned to me. I noticed that she had a few inches on me, and she was mad.

“We’ll talk in your car.”

“Fine.” I led the way and unlocked the side door. “Watch out for Barker. He isn’t getting as much exercise as he likes these days.”

Barker was giving contradictory messages—his neck fur was up but his tail wagged furiously. He sniffed Officer Gutierrez’s outstretched hand, then stuck his nose in her crotch.

“Barker!” I yanked on the choke chain and he sat apologetically. “Sorry. He’s a rude teenager of a dog.”

“That’s okay.” Officer Gutierrez scratched him behind the ears and ducked to enter the bus. She slid behind the fold-up table, and I took the backward-facing seat across from her.

“What did you want to talk about?”

“I want you to give me that tape.” She stared straight at me and put her hand on the table, palm up.

“No.” I met her gaze. “You don’t have a search warrant. The only way you can get it is to beat me up.”

“That’s right.” Her gaze didn’t waver.

“My dog will bite you.”

Her shoulders lost their tense look. “Sure he will.” Barker was sitting right beside her—probably on her feet. He gazed adoringly at her, and her free hand fondled his ears.

“Look, Officer Gutierrez.”

She took her hand off the table and rubbed her eyes. “Oh, just call me Eva.”

“I was stupid to even indicate I might have a tape. Let’s just forget about it, okay?”

“No, let’s not.” She folded her arms across her chest. Deprived of caresses, Barker urged himself closer. “How long did you talk to Leonard Tobin?”

“Maybe half an hour.”

“How long to Maud Riegert?”

“About the same.”

“So your crummy little tape probably ran out before Baldridge’s left-field remark about Tony getting on the wrong side of cops.” She shrugged. “And if it is on the tape, such allegations should be investigated. I want to hear what else is on there, too. O’Malley wants the whole picture, and I think you have some pieces of the puzzle we haven’t seen.”

“What you say has merit.” I knew I’d only gotten this far with my ridiculous defiance because Eva was a straight shooter. Any other cop would simply have taken the tape recorder from me already. Probably deep-sixed the tape, too. I remembered O’Malley’s response to the printout on Tony he’d gotten. Certainly someone in the police knew more about Tony than they were letting on.

“Let me think about it, okay?”

She shook her head. “And while you’re thinking about it, someone comes along and takes the evidence. How will you feel then?”

“Really stupid.” I had to smile. “But I still know what was said.”

“Right. You, too, could be a danger to anyone interested in the tape.” She spoke slowly, carefully. “Duh.”

I squirmed a little. “Well, you’re the only one I told about the tape recorder. And there might have been a malfunction. The batteries might have died. This is all conjectural.”

“Your niece knows you carried the tape recorder. Anyone that she blabbed to knows—and believe me, that age can blab.” She leaned closer. “Play it now.”

I glanced around at people walking along the street, at the big bulk of Kyle’s apartment building. “Look, Kyle can probably see us from his windows. Anyone could hear. And I might get towed if I stay in this parking spot much longer.”

“You won’t get towed.” She, too, glanced at the apartment building. “But you’re right. We’ll go to headquarters.”

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