Read Murder Mile High Online

Authors: Lora Roberts

Tags: #Mystery

Murder Mile High (15 page)

I cleaned the kitchen quickly, while Dad finished his coffee, and then changed the sheets on their bed. Mom was glad to get back into it.

“My legs are so wobbly,” she complained. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You’re much better, anyway.” I picked up the bundle of used sheets. “Get a nap, now. I’ll wake you before I leave.”

She pulled the afghan up around her shoulders, but she still looked worried. “Your dad—”

“He’ll be okay.” I wasn’t so sure of that, but I had lost my fear of the old man. “I won’t pay any attention to him.”

“You should go to confession.” Her voice trailed. “He’s right about that, you know.”

“Uh-huh.” I slipped out of the room as her eyes closed. The sheets and towels made as much of a load as I ventured to put in the washer. I wondered how she’d kept all these ancient appliances going. The stairs out of the narrow cellar were steep; I couldn’t see my frail mother carrying laundry up and down.

My dad was still waiting in the kitchen when I went in to look under the sink for cleaning supplies. “What do you think you’re doing here?” His bark sounded much like it used to.

“I’m helping.” I sat down across from him. “Let’s make peace, Dad. I’ll forgive you for casting me out when you should have helped me, if you’ll forgive me for ignoring your advice about my marriage.”

“You forgive!” He looked genuinely astonished. “You, a jailbird, a divorced woman who tried to kill her own husband! What could you possibly have to forgive?”

“The Bible,” I reminded him, “sets a precedent for the way to treat sinners and prodigals.”

“The devil quotes scripture for his own ends.” Dad crossed himself. “You were an undutiful daughter. I should have taken my belt to you.”

“You did.” I sat rigid, keeping my temper. “Many’s the time you lambasted me. It only made me hate and resent you, so as a treatment for undutifulness, it failed. Let’s try talking to each other, Dad. I’m willing to listen. Get it out of your system.”

He wouldn’t say another word, just buttoned his lips together and glowered from under his bushy brows. After a moment I shrugged and gathered the cleaning stuff together. In the intervals of running water in the bathroom, I could hear him moving around.

I put fresh towels out and left the bathroom sparkling. My mom was snoring gently, flat on her back with the afghan tucked under her chin.

Dad was in his chair in the living room, the TV turned on to some news babble. He watched me through the room, but didn’t speak until I’d put the cleaning things away and was dusting the living room. Then he flicked off the TV and pointed the remote control at me.

“Sit down,” he ordered, moving the remote between me and a chair, as if he’d finally found a way to get me to do what he wanted. The surge of rebellion I felt was maddeningly adolescent. I conquered it, sat, and tried to assume a pleasant expression.

“What did you do with the gun?”

My pleasant expression fled. “What gun?”

Dad thumped the remote on the chair arm. “You know what I’m talking about!” His voice rose. “I told that cop—”

“Shh!” I glanced toward the hall. “If you start shouting at me, I’ll leave. Mom should get some sleep.”

He harrumphed, but lowered his voice. “My gun.”

I took a deep breath. “Why do you suppose I have it? I don’t have the faintest idea where it was kept.”

“Don’t play dumb, girl.” His face was suffused with red, the usual effect any opposition had on him.

“You say it’s missing now?”

He looked at me hard. “I kept it in the same place for the last twenty-five years—a safe place. You didn’t know where it was?”

“It was in a box or something, that’s all I remember. You never used it that I recall, except to mark holidays once in a while.”

“I nearly used it not long ago.” He smiled in grim satisfaction. “On your husband.”

“Mom said you threatened to shoot him. I could have told you that wasn’t such a good idea.”

He looked contemptuous. “Didn’t have to shoot him, not with young Biff here aching to bounce him off the pavement. Just told him I would if I caught him bothering around here again.” His swollen knuckles tightened around the remote control. “He was getting round your mother. Getting money out of her somehow.” His laugh was not amused. “Fool pack of women I got around here.”

“Did you tell the cop? O’Malley?”

Dad looked at me as if I were crazy. “Tell the cop? You think I’m a fool, too? He asked me about my gun—damn government knows everything nowadays. Told him it would take me awhile to get it out, and he didn’t want to wait. Said he’d be back for it today.”

“What will you tell him when you don’t have it?”

“Danged if I know.” Dad brooded. “It’s not in its place. Thought you might have found it and shot that no-good weasel yourself.” He scrutinized me carefully, like the deed would be written all over my face, and maybe it was. After a moment, during which I couldn’t have spoken even if I’d thought of something to say, he leaned back. “Guess you didn’t.”

I couldn’t tell whether he was relieved or disappointed. The hysterical laughter I’d been suppressing erupted.

“Nothing funny about this.” My dad was offended. “If you didn’t take my gun, who did?”

“Maybe the person who killed Tony. Maybe that person is trying to figure out a good way to use it to incriminate you or me right now. Wait—my bus!” I rushed to the front door. Babe sat there, serenely unlocked, with Barker’s head hanging out the driver’s side window. I had forgotten that he took his duties as car alarm seriously. It would be hard to plant a gun in my car while he was in it.

“Eh?” Dad was prying himself painfully out of his chair. “Is that cop back?”

“No, not yet.” I dropped the curtain back over the window. “So what will you say?”

“Doesn’t matter what I say.” He lowered himself back in his chair, hands spread on his thighs, not looking at me. “He’ll think you did it. Thinks so already, from what I could tell.” He glanced over, and turned his gaze away again. “I thought so, too, then, but I guess you couldn’t have. Not with my gun, anyway.”

“Well, as long as we’re being so frank, let me tell you that he told me you and Biff were also on his list of people who might have killed Tony.”

Dad’s jaw dropped open. It was, in a macabre way, the high point of my morning. I didn’t want my dad or my nephew to be investigated by the police. But there was a certain irony in knowing that I wasn’t the only Sullivan whose actions and motives were subject to scrutiny.

 

Chapter 18

 

I wanted to talk to Kyle again, to see if he’d known anything about Tony’s dealings with my mom and dad. Having them drawn into the murkiness surrounding his death was too scary. Scariest of all, I could see my dad shooting Tony. I just couldn’t see him doing it the way it had happened, in that execution style that Drake had recognized immediately.

After dusting, I put off the vacuuming until Mom would be awake. There wasn’t much besides eggs, lunch meat, and Molly’s soup in the refrigerator. Dad was watching TV, and waved me away impatiently when I asked what he’d like for dinner. Hoping I’d remember the route to the market, I drove off to forage.

I stopped at the post office to mail the tape and transcript, and found my way to the King Sooper. Despite its name, the market wasn’t too impressive next to the big, expansive food emporiums of California, where every kind of fresh produce gleams in beautifully stacked pyramids—or at least it can seem that way. The lettuce in Colorado wasn't bad, but the tomatoes were pale and firm, like some new species of apple. Between Dad’s need to avoid saturated fat and Mom’s invalid stomach, there wasn’t much leeway. I got a chicken and some veggies, yogurt and oatmeal and more bread, some gelatin and fruit cocktail to complete the time-warp effect. There were batteries there, and I got the right size for Amy’s tape recorder, but they didn’t sell the tiny tapes.

Barker was holding his leash in his mouth when I put my groceries in the bus. I stopped at a park to let him run, so it was nearly noon when I got back to my parents’ house. Amid the cars parked along the street, I almost missed the police cruiser halfway down the block.

Leaving Barker in the bus, I walked down the street. Officer Eva was sitting in the cruiser’s front seat, her head bent over her notebook. When I stopped beside the window, she looked up.

“Hi, Liz.” She gave me a brief smile, showing excellent white teeth. “I’m supposed to go talk to your dad. Want to come?”

“He told me about the gun.”

She pursed her lips. “You’re speaking? O’Malley thought you’d be the last to know.”

“Dad doesn’t have the gun anymore. He doesn’t know when it disappeared. He last saw it a while ago.”

“When he was brandishing it at a man whose description sounds a lot like your ex-husband’s,” Eva said, nodding. “We heard about that.” She nodded toward Mrs. Beamish's house. “Your neighbor has good eyesight.”

“Binoculars, probably.”

“She said the man had stopped in several times in the preceding month.” Eva flipped through the notebook. “Did you know that?”

“Mom told me when I got here.” I shifted uneasily. “She had a kind of soft spot for Tony before we got divorced. He evidently was exploiting that.”

Officer Eva looked skeptical. “Funny that you come home just when he’s getting bumped off. It’s no wonder O’Malley’s looking so hard for the connection."

“Look, I can’t help that. I came because Amy asked me to, said Mom was sinking and needed to see me. Turned out she wanted me to know that my louse of an ex-husband had been black—”

“Blackmailing her?” Eva spoke softly. “Thanks, Liz. I wasn’t sure you’d tell me.”

I cursed my nervousness, which had led me to babble. Normally I keep a tight rein on my loose lips, but I had let my guard down with this woman.

“He made up some stuff and said he’d smear it all over if she didn’t pay.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “She’s old, credulous. Never thought to wonder who’d care about Tony’s lies. Just gave him what she could spare and hoped he didn’t come back.”

“So when your dad threatened him, he stopped coming?”

“Guess so.” I could hear Barker whining from the bus; he doesn’t like to see me standing around when he’s locked up. "Talk to Dad if you want. He’s gotten childish, you know. Surprised me how feeble he’s become. He couldn’t have killed Tony, much less heaved him onto the porch.”

“But he wouldn’t have had to, would he?” She smiled, revealing those strong white teeth. “Tony could have been shot by someone standing on the sidewalk in front of the porch, if he’d been coming out of the house. He would have fallen just like that, with his head on the mat.” She studied me. “Your dad has an alibi, of course—he was at his lodge meeting. But the rest of you—your mother, you, your brother, your niece—could have conspired.”

“That’s a lot of people just to kill one lousy guy. And I thought the evidence showed he wasn’t killed here.” I didn’t think she believed what she was saying, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Police can be self-delusional when it comes to proving their own theories. “Wasn’t there an exit wound? I’m sure your evidence people found no trace of a bullet anywhere. And if you think Mrs. Beamish would have missed a murder practically on her doorstep, you’ve seriously underestimated her snoopiness.”

“Did you know your brother has a gun, too?” Officer Eva flipped through more pages of her notebook. “The firearms bureau’s computer was down, or we would have known before.”

No, I didn’t know, although it doesn’t surprise me.” I pushed the hair out of my eyes and realized my palm was sweaty. “Most people around here have guns, don’t they?”

“We’re going to need to test these weapons. I’d advise your family to get it together.”

“I don’t know anything about it. Ask Andy.” A thought struck me. "There is one gun you haven’t mentioned.”

“Your own?” She looked resigned. “You packing heat, Liz?”

“No, Tony’s.” I could still remember its solid, reassuring weight in my hand, in the instant before I’d fired ten years ago. “Did he get it back after my hearing?”

She frowned. “Haven’t checked on that.”

“If he was killed with the same gun as I used before—don’t you have the tests you did then? Could you compare the bullets? Or did you guys spring-clean all that evidence away?”

"That would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it?” She snapped her notebook shut. “Guess I’d better see if I can dig that up. Meanwhile, tell the menfolk to get ready to present arms.” She gave me a narrow-eyed look. “It would go hard with anyone who lost their registered weapon and didn’t report it.”

“I’ll pass that along.”

“And you don’t have a firearm yourself?”

“The pen is mightier than the gun, or so I’ve told myself.” I put one hand on the car roof and bent to look in the door. “After the last time, I swore off firearms. If someone gets up against me, I just write them off.”

Her chuckle sounded unforced. "Take care.” She started the cruiser, and I watched her drive off.

Barker wanted to come with me when I collected my bags of groceries, but I made him stay. Growing up, I had never had a pet, though my brothers had coon dogs once, which were penned up in the backyard and not allowed many treats. My mother didn’t like animals in the house—the mess, she always said, and it was true that Barker left a trail of fluffy white fur everywhere he went.

My dad was still sitting in front of the TV, watching a repeat of The Dick Van Dyke Show with intense concentration. I put away the food and used ice cubes to make the gelatin. The laundry had to be tended, too.

By the time I looked in on Mom, she was just waking up. She smiled sleepily at me, for the first time without that line of disapproval between her eyes. “I’ve had such a good rest,” she said, yawning.

“I’ll heat the soup for lunch, if you’d like.”

"That sounds good. I believe I’m a little hungry.”

She came into the kitchen while I dished up the soup, exclaiming how well I’d cleaned the bathroom, and for a few minutes we were in accord. Then Dad came in and took exception to the grilled cheese sandwich I’d made and the wheat bread it was made on, and Mom wondered how I could forget that he hated melted cheese and never would eat it. “We never have pizza,” she reminded me, sounding wistful. “Your father simply can’t stand it.”

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