Murder Mile High (13 page)

“You and your boyfriend?”

“My friends and me.” She shook her head, and the long, shiny hair slid over her face. “You know—a bunch of us.” She shuddered. “I haven’t met a guy I want to date. I mean, that’s for the prom-queen crowd. Everyone would assume you were sleeping together, and it’s just too gross.”

A few months ago I would have agreed. But now Drake was messing with my head. I made a determined effort to stop thinking about him.

“I don’t know how to do Mom any good at all,” I said, finding something fresh to feel inadequate about. “Not without giving Dad a stroke, or Molly a conniption fit.”

“I shouldn’t have made you come out here.” Amy sat up straight on the bed, gazing down at her knees through holes in the overalls. “I thought—” she looked at me, and tears glittered in her eyes. Barker scooted closer to her, his head on her knee. “I thought if you came out, if they saw what a great person you are, everything would be better.”

“It’s not your fault, Amy.” I sat on the bed beside her and gave her a cautious hug. Despite living in California now, hugging is still not an everyday thing with me. “I was ready to approach them, and you gave me the reason I needed. Now it’s up to them. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t. Anyway, I’m glad for the opportunity to see Gramma and Grampa again. And you.”

“Well, you’ll see me lots if you want to.” Amy dried her eyes and smiled. “I like the Bay Area. I’m thinking of applying to Stanford and Santa Clara University and UC Santa Cruz.” She glanced at me. “That’s a couple of years away, of course.”

“I’ll look forward to it.” I stood up. “But for now I’m tired. Think I’ll get to bed.”

“You’re sleeping outside again?” Amy’s face was wistful. “I have this other bed.” She pointed to it.

“I like the bus.” I snapped my fingers, and Barker jumped up. “And Barker likes it, too.”

Amy pulled me into the kitchen on my way out to offer me a snack, but I declined on the grounds of just having brushed my teeth. I smiled at Renee, who sat at the table with a mug of coffee and a catalogue, and received a grudging nod in return.

It was cold outside. I pulled the Z-bed out, fluffed my sleeping bag, got my sweats out of the cupboard, and put them by my pillow. Barker curled up under the bed, waiting until I was trapped in the sleeping bag before making his move to sleep next to me. My book and headlamp waited on the other side of the pillow.

I was ready to shut myself in for the night when Officer Eva drove up in her patrol car.

She came over to the bus. I climbed back out again, standing by the open side door. “So,” she said. “Going nighty-night?”

“You got it.”

She glanced over her shoulder at Andy’s house. Renee was at the curtain again. “They won’t let you inside?”

"I prefer my own space.’’

She looked at me. In the weak dome light, her face was impassive, her dark eyes unreadable. “You still have that tape?”

“No.” I had left it in Amy’s bedroom. “My niece needed it back.”

“You just gave it to her?”

I shrugged. “It doesn’t take long to erase, you know. Didn’t your copy work out?”

“It worked.” She took a breath. “I gave it to O’Malley.”

“Thanks for putting me on the spot.”

“You put yourself there.” Her glance slid away from me. “It’s evidence in a major case, even if improperly obtained.”

“How did he like what Kyle said?”

“He laughed.” She gave me the ghost of a grin. “Your friend Kyle is going to receive a visit first thing in the morning. Good thing you’re not keeping him up late.”

“Everybody seems so interested in my social life all of a sudden.” I gestured to the dog, the sleeping bag. “You can see it’s a real lively one.”

“Your friend Drake asked me about it, too.” She smiled more openly. “Man almost leaped down the phone line when I said you were mixed up in a murder case.”

“Yeah, and then he leaped down my throat. You’re really making my life easy, aren’t you? I guess O’Malley will be here right after he gets Kyle out of bed, hmm? My brother will love that.” I nodded at the patrol car. “You’re bringing down the tone of the neighborhood, you know?”

She lifted her eyebrows. “So are you.”

“That’s already been pointed out to me.” I glanced at the kitchen window again. The curtain was back down. “But I’m not parking down the block tonight. Maybe tomorrow.”

Her face changed. “They don’t want you to park in front of their house? Your family really knows from hospitality, Liz.”

“Families can be strange. Say, did you get hold of Maud?”

Her face sobered. “She was already gone, everything locked up. We’ll have to find that mountain cabin. I’m searching the property records tomorrow.”

I shivered. “Is that all you wanted to talk about? It’s cold out here.”

She studied me for a moment. "That’s all for now. I’ll be in touch.”

Sitting on the Z-bed, I shut the door and the dome light went off. All the curtains were closed, so I couldn’t see Officer Eva leaving. But I heard her car drive away as I scrambled into my sweats and parked my old Birkenstocks by the door.

I didn’t use the headlamp to read. While I was lying awake in the dark, a truck roared by, and I saw Tony’s body again, sprawled on the steps, his head dark against the welcome mat. And then the scene changed to Tony falling backward, staring in surprise, while I felt the heavy weight of the gun in my hand. Only this time, instead of a bright triangle of blood on his shirt, there was a neat hole in his forehead, and his eyes were fixed accusingly on me.

I woke up, realizing it was a nightmare, but despite Barker’s reassuring warmth by my leg, I didn’t feel safe and invisible, like I used to when the bus was my only refuge.

 

Chapter 16

 

It was another gray morning. At the neighborhood park, Barker strained to go after some squirrels. I let him off the leash and leaned against the slide, watching him flash across the damp grass, scattering the squirrels and birds as if life could hold no greater pleasure. And probably, for a dog who’d been neutered a few short weeks ago, that was true.

I tried to think what in my life gave me that rush. Getting an acceptance from a magazine was up there, especially if a check was enclosed—usually by the time I was paid for my work, months, if not years, had passed from the time it was accepted. Another small but richly enjoyable experience was diving into the pool for my swim, cleaving the water, switching elements in an instant. And seeing a whole row of carrots pop up in the seedling bed was also something to savor. I resolved to notice such things more often. Without that kind of sweetening, the dull fiber of life gets mighty hard to swallow.

Homesickness washed over me. Three years ago I would have scoffed at the notion that I could feel so grounded in one particular place. But now I wanted my house, my own bed, my kitchen full of rickety, last-legs appliances, my garden and flowers and redwood trees. I even wanted my neighbor—and maybe on more than a purely platonic basis, if my dreams were anything to go by. Besides, having Drake live in the house in front of me was like having a shield against the outside world. Not that I would tell him so, of course. It was too shaming to admit that after years of solitary vigilance, I liked having a man to guard my portal.

Barker finished with the squirrels, driving the final tree-rat into the branches. He found a stick and brought it to me; I threw it several times before he decided not to play anymore and refused to drop it. I snapped the leash on. We walked back with him carrying the stick proudly, ears up, tail wagging.

I took a circuitous route back to Andy’s, trying to decide what to do with my day. Since I had come to Denver in the first place to help with my mother, I thought I would give it another chance. If Dad wasn’t speaking to Molly, it shouldn’t bother me that he wouldn’t speak to me, either. At least I could wash dishes and do some laundry, maybe cook them a meal. My dad should enjoy seeing me do women’s work.

Turning the corner onto Andy’s street, I saw a car pulled up in front of mine—the car Detective O’Malley had been driving the day before. He was sitting in the open side door of the bus.

Barker didn’t like that much. As we approached, the fur on his neck got tall, and he started growling deep in his throat, around the stick he still clutched.

O’Malley put out a cigarette and glanced up placidly when I stopped in front of him, holding Barker by the collar. “You shouldn’t leave your door unlocked.” He shut the book he’d been reading and put it down beside him.

I recognized the book. “Did you lose my place?”

He shrugged. “Might have. Didn’t know you had a place.” Negligently he held a hand down toward Barker. After a suspicious sniff, Barker dropped the stick and backed away. His fur was still up, but he wasn’t growling anymore. “Didn’t have you pegged for the kind of person who reads Juvenal,” he went on. “He’s big among police officers, you know.”

I didn’t tell him that the Juvenal, a translation borrowed from Drake, was my current sleeping-pill book. It’s my habit to read myself to sleep, and an exciting mystery or my favorite Victorian authors don’t work too well for that. “Did you want to talk to me, Detective? Kind of early for that, isn’t it?”

“I was driving by,” he said, shifting over to make more room in the doorway. “Saw that your door was open, and was afraid something awful had happened to you—like your relatives tossing you in the Platte. Thought I’d wait a while.”

I handed him Barker’s leash. “Well, I don’t have many comforts, but I can do better than sitting in the doorway. Hold this for a minute.”

He stood beside the bus, watching Barker with a wary expression that mirrored the dog’s. I folded the bed back, tossed my sleeping bag into the cargo area, pulled up the table, and got a couple of oranges out of the cupboard. I noticed while I was in there that some papers in my file box were rearranged. I always stack them neatly, because the box is just barely big enough to hold my file folders. O’Malley had made himself at home, it seemed. I began to wonder if he’d watched for me to leave so he could search my space.

I put the oranges on the table. “
Voilá
.”

“Nice little place you got here.” He climbed in and handed me the leash. Barker’s fur was still up, so I made him sit by me after I took the leash off. He sat on the bench seat, staring fixedly at O’Malley, who took the seat that faced backward behind the driver’s seat.

“It’s good for traveling.” I rolled an orange toward him. “I can heat some water if you’d like tea.”

He looked a little uncomfortable. “No thanks.”

I peeled my orange. I was hungry. “Officer Gutierrez seemed to think you’d be badgering Kyle this morning, not me.”

“I wondered if I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.” He glanced around.

“You think I would have brought him here?” I began to laugh. “My brother would really hit the ceiling then. Might be amusing at that.”

“You didn’t go to his place.”

“No, of course not. We’re just sort of friends—at least we were ten years ago. He’s a nice guy.”

“What did he say when you told him you were coming back for a visit?”

I put the orange down. “Maybe you’d better spell out what you’re after here, O’Malley. I didn’t tell him or anyone I was coming back. My niece told me my mother was ill, and I decided on the spur of the minute. I would never have told Kyle even if I’d known how to reach him.”

“Why’s that?” He leaned forward, his voice soft and persuasive. “Because you knew he would want to protect you against your ex-husband? Because you knew he would kill Naylor and dump the body where you’d find it?” He sat back a little. “Just like this old cat I had once,” he added. “Used to bring ground squirrels she’d killed and lay ‘em right on the doormat.”

I shook my head, trying not to dwell on the monstrous picture he’d conjured. “You’re really reaching here, O’Malley. Kyle’s probably got a girlfriend—it’s a sure bet he hasn’t been pining for me the past ten years. And nobody knew—I didn’t know myself—when I’d get here. I’m sure when you talk to Kyle he’ll be able to set your mind at rest. He was Tony’s friend more than mine. The only person I know who’d kill someone because of me is— was—Tony. And the person he’d kill wasn’t Kyle.”

O’Malley frowned. “What do you mean? Do you have other old boyfriends around?”

I shook my head. I had gotten into the habit of talking to Drake, forgetting that other policemen aren’t always willing to listen with an open mind. “The person Tony would have killed is me, Detective. He came close a couple of times. Not over other men, because there weren’t any.” It was too much. All the feelings I had been trying to revise for the past year came boiling to the surface—the anger, the fear, the disgust. “Do you suppose I could have trusted any man that way—after Tony?”

He studied me a moment, curiously. “So you like women, is that it?”

Barker’s cold nose shoved in my arm a couple of times helped me control myself. “You really need to know about my sex life? I’ll tell you. There is none. It’s that simple.”

For the first time, his gaze fell, and a slight blush appeared. “Okay, already.”

Heady with the power of discomfiting him, I pushed.

“So you’ll have to drop me and my family from your list of potential bad guys, right?”

He shook his head. “You wish. Think about it, Missus. Your ex-husband didn’t end up on your parents’ doorstep by accident. Someone put him there for a reason.”

“Someone who heard that he was bothering my mom, that my dad threatened him—”

O’Malley cocked an eyebrow at me. “Your dad doesn’t admit that, of course. And your nephew, young Byron—” He pursed his lips. “That boy’s inches away from trouble.”

“Look, O’Malley. You’re wasting your time trying to find a culprit among the Sullivans. Do us both a favor here.” I realized I was leaning forward, jabbing my finger toward his bemused face. I tried to relax in my seat. “Stop concentrating on me and my family. We didn’t do anything. Find out who did, and give them the third degree. And do it soon. I want to go home.”

O’Malley shook his head. “You got a lot of gall, talking to me like that.” He didn’t sound angry, just surprised. “I could haul your ass in, you know.”

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