Read Murder Mile High Online

Authors: Lora Roberts

Tags: #Mystery

Murder Mile High (19 page)

We rode in silence for a while longer. The sun was in my eyes on its journey toward the peaks. The road plunged into valleys and climbed flanks of hills. I reached for the visor, and Eva glanced sharply at me as I pulled it down. All I could think about was that Drake knew, now, that my shameful past as a battered woman was not as far past as he’d thought. Would he, too, feel a kind of disgust for a woman who could let that happen to her again without calling the authorities—one of whom was him?

When the silence got too heavy—or maybe it was my thoughts—I spoke.

“So are we going to Boulder?” We were heading somewhat south of Boulder, but there wasn’t nearly enough traffic for a commute destination.

“No.” She turned her attention back to the highway. Without the flashing lights, our progress was much more sedate, although she drove fast—too fast for that road, I thought.

“Are we meeting O’Malley somewhere?”

“Probably.” She slipped the cruiser around a lumbering semi, leaving it in her wake.

“Are you going to tell me anything about it?”

“No.” She thought for a minute. “Why did you think we’re going to Boulder?”

“Where else does this road go?” I spoke patiently, and she answered with the same exaggerated diction.

"There are other places.”

Vague memories stirred in my head, and I pressed my fingertips against my temples, as if that would cause my thoughts to coalesce sooner. "Tony used to visit someone in one of the little towns around here.”

“Who?” Her voice sharpened.

“He didn’t tell me, and I was too grateful to have him gone to ask.” I didn’t want to remember it—certainly not to tell Eva about it. But my memory was in a constantly churning state these days, and a lot of unpleasant stuff was boiling up.

On this particular occasion, a few months before our lives together ended, Tony had not wanted me to enjoy myself while he was off on his weekend of fun. I remembered sipping the glass of wine he had, with unaccustomed gallantry, poured for me. Next thing I knew, I was waking up on the bathroom floor, with a jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers beside me. The door was securely locked, from the outside. I tried to get the window open, but it was nailed shut. I yelled a bit. When no one in the other apartments responded, I threw the jar of peanut butter through the window.

Some kids playing outside had helped me down from the window. I had been hungover from whatever drug Tony had given me to knock me out. And, of course, the front door of the apartment was locked, too. Luckily, the landlord believed the story that my purse had been stolen, and brought over a spare key. I’d reglazed the window myself, and then on my landlord’s advice, changed the door locks. I really wanted just to leave the apartment, but Tony always kept our checking account low, and the rent was paid through the end of the month. I’d had nowhere to go, thanks to my family’s hostility, and no means when I got there.

The odd thing was, Tony had appeared to forget how he’d left me when he came back three days later. He showed up at dinnertime that Monday evening, wearing his work clothes, as if he’d left that morning as usual. He’d brought me flowers—his usual make-up offering, augmented by a box of candy for this special occasion. When I asked him where he’d been, he just laughed and sat down at the table, ready for dinner. I wouldn’t have had any clue if I hadn’t found the filling station receipt on the bedroom floor the next time I swept.

For the past few years, I’d blocked my life in Denver from my conscious mind so successfully that it had come to seem a hazy dream, a formless mental cloud that was never examined. Now I needed to bring it into focus, and sometimes it sprang into my mind with a dreadful, painful clarity. Despite what Eva might think, I was a different woman now, incapable of enduring such treatment. And Tony’s appearance in Palo Alto had proven that. I had known he wouldn’t come back, and he hadn’t. Others could believe what they liked.

Eva was waiting for my reply. “It’ll come to me, probably. The town had a funny name, the place he bought gas once. He never told me about it or why he went.”

“Hygiene?”

For a moment I was offended. “I had a shower—”

“The town’s name.” Eva appeared to be struggling with a smile. “Hygiene is north of Denver, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” I felt sheepish. “No, it was something else—Nederland.” Pleased with my memory for leaping into the breach, I smiled. “You know, I saw something recently that reminded me of that. Let’s see . . ."

“Something since you came back?” There was tension in Eva’s voice again.

“Yes, just in the last day or two.” I frowned, chasing the elusive thought. “In someone’s house.”

“Your friend Kyle’s, perhaps? He’s got a lot of nice stuff, I noticed.” There was resentful admiration in Eva’s voice. “I wonder if he came by those artifacts legally.”

“He works with archaeologists. Maybe they give him stuff.” I felt another synaptic connection. “No, it was Maud’s place. She had a watercolor of a quaint-looking little Main Street. I thought it might be Central City, but now I remember the name underneath was all one word. I couldn’t read the word, but I’m pretty sure it started with an N. She must have been up there with him.”

Officer Eva’s shoulders relaxed a little. “So Maud knew about this place of Tony’s.”

“It wasn’t Tony’s place, I’m pretty sure.” I shook my head. “Well, I’m not sure, actually. He could have acquired a vacation house or something in the past ten years. But if he had a house, why was he mooching off Kyle and Maud?”

“Not much work in Nederland, maybe.” Eva made the suggestion. “He couldn’t make a living there, and he could in Denver."

“It would surprise me, somehow, if Tony owned anything.” I fell silent, and so did Eva.

The road went on. The sun dropped behind the mountains, in that abrupt way I’d forgotten, and dusk closed in. We passed a signpost that said Nederland was twelve miles away. The road got steeper, the darkening landscape more forbidding.

Eva reached for her radio receiver and spoke into it. I couldn’t decipher the squawking that came out, but I saw her glance at her odometer and she said, “Within a couple of miles, then,” More squawking. She glanced at me. “I’m bringing her.”

The squawking got louder, and I thought I recognized O’Malley’s voice. Eva said, “I thought she might help us out.” She sounded defensive. “Be there soon.”

I sat forward, knowing now that we were near something that would affect me—probably in a negative way. We drove for another couple of minutes, and then we rounded a curve and I could see the flashing lights in the distance. As we drew closer, Eva slowed. She parked behind another patrol car on the narrow shoulder. Just ahead in the deepening gloom, the road took a sharp bend. The guardrail there had obviously failed in its duty. It was twisted and broken away in one place. A knot of dark forms was gathered there, bathed in the eerie glow of the flashing lights. More lights flickered below the road.

“Come on,” Eva said, springing out of the cruiser and wrenching the door open on my side. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

She marched me down the road toward the cluster of other people. Dread grew inside me. I knew I wouldn’t want to see this; whatever it was, it would somehow be laid on my plate, which was already unpleasantly overfull.

One source of the flashing lights was an ambulance. Each vehicle we passed seemed to have a muttering radio inside it. One car looked like O’Malley’s. My steps hesitated, but Eva dragged me along.

Three men stood at the break in the guardrail. The wind was cold and dank off the mountains; I shivered in my thin cotton sweater. The men were looking down the mountainside; Eva and I came closer to the edge and looked, too.

A car was poised amid the scree and boulders that cloaked the sides of the ravine, its nose pointed downward as if eager to finish its journey. After a moment, letting my eyes get used to the shifting patterns of gray shadows, I saw that it was held back from a free fall by a granite outcropping that dwindled away further down. White-jacketed figures toiled up the slope, back to the road. They carried a burden in a sling between them.

One of the men at the guardrail turned. It was O’Malley. He frowned impartially at Eva and me.

“I don’t know what you think this will prove,” he grumbled.

“Neither do I, but she was there when I heard about it, and she’s already shed some light.” Eva didn’t look at me as she spoke; all her attention was focused on those laboring figures. “Says Naylor used to visit someone up here occasionally.”

“Who?” O’Malley barked at me.

“I don’t know. Maud Riegert, maybe.” I was watching as the emergency medical technicians rose from the ravine, like Orpheus ascending. “He didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask.”

O’Malley shook his head, but his attention was also distracted. The EMTs handed up their burden to those waiting at the guardrail, then scrambled the rest of the way on their own. The phalanx of police and technicians gathered around the stretcher.

“Come on,” Eva said, pulling me over. As we breached the circle, one of the EMTs pulled the body bag open.

Maud Riegert’s face stared up sightlessly. Half of her face, anyway. The other half had been blown off.

 

Chapter 23

 

Eva stopped the cruiser in front of Andy’s house and looked at me soberly. “You were lucky,” she said.

I was unlucky, really, in seeing poor Maud Riegert with the left side of her head blown away. Unlucky, not just because of that, but because it wasn’t the first violent death I’d seen. But lucky because O’Malley had come very, very close to arresting me. After we’d gotten back to the station, I had spent a long time alone in an interrogation room while he and Phil and Eva had huddled to discuss what to do.

In the end, Eva was allowed to bring me back to Andy’s, as long as I knew I was on a short leash. The past twenty-four hours of my life, from last seeing Maud at her condo, to Eva’s picking me up to check out the van, were scrutinized minutely. Evidently they could tell that Maud had probably been killed the previous evening. My message was still on her answering machine, and helped verify my story that I was just asking her questions to establish my own innocence, not to scare her.

At one point Eva had left, returning about forty minutes later with a statement from Amy verifying that I’d been with her that evening until long after dark. And a check of my odometer showed totals that made it impossible for me to have driven so far since the police had written down my mileage just after Tony’s death. They would be checking the rental places, but people who rented vehicles in the evening and brought them back before morning would be pretty conspicuous, and when that didn’t pan out I felt secure in proving yet another alibi.

“I know.” I looked at Eva’s sober face and didn’t feel secure anymore. “Things don’t look good, do they?”

“You’ve got motive,” she said, and added over my protest, “or something that can be made to look just like it. Your ex-husband, the woman he was cheating on you with—both dead. You might have had opportunity. You even had access to weapons—your dad’s gun, your brother’s. We need to see those guns ASAP.”

“Well, my dad’s hasn’t turned up.”

Eva gave me a look. “Why hasn’t he reported it?”

“Take it that he’s reporting it now.”

I didn’t mention Biff. Judging from his temper tantrum that morning, the police were already talking to him. Let them connect him to my dad’s gun on their own. Besides, Molly would have my liver and lights if she thought I’d finked on her son. Unless it was him or me, I wasn’t going to throw my nephew to the mercy of the cops.

Eva sat for a moment. “So why didn’t he just tell us it was gone, not that he couldn’t find it?” She glanced at me. “He thought you took it, right? And used it.”

Either me or Biff. “I’m not even sure where he kept it—he never told anyone, as far as I know. I guess if I’d known, I could have gone for it after talking to my mom, before I joined Amy in the kitchen. That assumes I knew Tony was going to drop by, of course.”

“And if we assume Amy was in on it with you—”

“We assume nothing of the sort! The whole thing is ridiculous.” I could see the pale shine of Eva’s eyeballs turned my way. “If you think that, I don’t know why you’re letting me roam around in the world.”

“I’m not.” Her voice was hard. “Understand, Liz. I’m going to do my job. You may believe the two of us have gotten to be buddies because we’re both women, but that won’t stop me from arresting you if the evidence points your way. That won’t stop me from using force against you if I decide you’re a danger.”

“I never thought differently.” She was definitely preaching to the choir.

“So remember.” She reached over and opened the passenger door. “O’Malley’s giving you rope. Don’t hang yourself.”

I stood on the sidewalk, watching her lights disappear. Then a motorcycle rumbled to a stop and Kyle jumped off.

“Liz. Your dad told me you’d probably be over here.”

I didn’t respond to his outstretched hand. Knowing that the police are as close to you as fleas are to a dog is enough to make you hold back from everyone, for fear those fleas will start jumping.

“Hi, Kyle.” A light came on in the kitchen; I could see it from the comer of my eye. The curtain would twitch any moment. I hated the fishbowl I was living in.

Kyle looked concerned. “Was that the police? Are they still bothering you?”

“Until they solve this, yes.” I rubbed my hand over my eyes. “What’s up with you?”

“I was worried about you.” He pointed to a second helmet on the motorcycle’s seat. “Wanna take a ride? I’ll buy you an ice cream.”

The thought of it brought goose bumps to my already chilled arms. “No, thanks.” I was too tired to go anywhere or talk to anyone who might want to be entertained. “But thanks for asking.”

He took one of my hands. “I’m sorry this whole scene is so miserable for you,” he said earnestly. “But I’m glad to be in touch with you again.” A shadow crossed his face. “I’ve been making arrangements for Tony’s funeral, as soon as they release his body. Do you—would you consider being there?”

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