Authors: Lora Roberts
“What’s the reason?” Her printer started chugging away, and she gave it a dissatisfied glance. “Wish I had a laser printer like Biff’s,” she muttered. “No way does he deserve it.”
“Drake and I aren’t romantic.” I watched her rip the paper from the printer. “Biff has a fancy computer?”
“Everything’s fancy about him.” She looked smug. “But he’s flunking out just the same. Come on, Aunt Liz. I’ll be late!”
She rushed down the hall, and Barker rushed after her, getting all worked up at the prospect of frenetic action. Renee stood in the kitchen doorway, uttering encouraging cries like, “Don’t forget your homework!” and “Do you have lunch money?” This last caused Amy’s hand to extend automatically toward her mother, who just as automatically dug into her pocket and slapped a five-dollar bill into the beseeching palm.
Urged on by Amy, I made my best speed through the streets, which luckily weren’t too clogged with traffic. She sat in the front passenger seat, sorting through a bulging backpack.
“What you need is a laptop computer.”
“Oh, yes!” She closed her eyes for a brief moment of ecstatic yearning. “I’d love one—and a cell phone. That way I could keep up with the markets no matter where I was.”
“Maybe one of your stocks will pay off big-time.”
“Maybe.” For a moment she was the mature, fiscally responsible teen I’d lived with the past summer, instead of the giddy, often sullen girl who inhabited her parents’ house. “I lost some bread in mutual funds, and the bottom fell out of the futures market. But I did get a couple of hot tips on technology stocks last summer, and those are starting to take off.” She sighed. “I’m supposed to put my earnings into my college fund, though. Laptops cost too much.”
"That sounds sensible.” She shot me a look, but I kept my attention on the road. I knew from the eight weeks she’d stayed with me that editorial comments were unwelcome and possibly detrimental to future confidences.
We pulled up in front of the school, and Amy got her stuff together. Students were standing around outside in attitudes of extreme leisure. “We’re early,” Amy said, glancing at her watch. “I thought we were late.”
“Your clock must be fast.”
Amy shrugged and slid down from the passenger seat to the sidewalk. "Thanks, Aunt Liz.” Barker stuck his head out the window, whining eagerly, and she rubbed his ears. “Sorry, guy. They don’t let dogs in school.”
“They let you in, didn’t they?” Biff stood beside the bus, his face wearing the same sneer I’d seen before. He stared rudely at the cleavage Amy’s deeply-scooped T-shirt revealed. “Of course, you have your points.”
“Not funny,” Amy said coldly. She started to move away, but Biff crowded her against the bus. He looked from her to me, and his eyes were cold and angry.
“So the police bugged me twice yesterday. Twice!” He leaned over Amy. “You been tattling, Amy? You know what that gets you."
Barker didn’t like his tone of voice. He started growling, his hackles rising, and Amy, who had been looking around cautiously, smiled a little.
“Watch out, big guy,” she said to Biff, her sneer matching his. “Fang here will tear your balls off if I tell him to. And I didn’t tattle on you. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I hadn’t noticed Eva pulling up behind me, so fixed was I on the scene Biff was creating, but she strolled up in full uniform, her hand gripping her nightstick. “Is there a problem here, Ms. Sullivan?”
Biff gave her the once-over, still insolent. “Yeah. Too many nosy bitches in my life.”
Eva’s smile curled her mouth, and it occurred to me that she was attractive, with her strong body and well-constructed face. She didn’t appear intimidated by Biff.
“This is my charming nephew, Officer Gutierrez. Byron Fahey.”
Eva looked him up and down, to the accompaniment of Barker’s growling. A little crowd of students collected, their faces watchful. I wondered whose side they were on. Biff’s side? He had the look of a popular guy, with his muscle shirt showing off a fine build, and the gold earring glinting in his ear. Amy’s side, and by extension, mine? Or maybe just against the police, whichever side that was.
“So you’re the one we’ve been hearing about.” Eva settled herself firmly, hands on her hips, near her weapon and nightstick. “Several folks have let us know you’ve been bringing a gun to school. Do you have a license for a gun, Mr. Fahey?”
Biff didn’t back down. The expression in his flat blue eyes gave me a cold chill. He seemed so big, exuded such a sense of menace. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
"That’s your story, is it?” Eva pulled out a little notebook and flipped it open. “You want to come to the station and give me a full report?”
“I got nothing to say to you.” Deliberately he turned back to Amy.
“You want to charge him, Miss Sullivan? Liz?” Eva looked at us, and back at Biff. “He’s bothering you?”
“This is private,” Biff said, swinging back around. Red flooded his tanned face and neck. His fists clenched, and a couple of young men stepped a little closer. They, too, looked well built and pumped up.
Unmoved, Eva surveyed them. “You boys are spoiling for a fight, is that it? Come on. Take me on. I’m just a woman, right?” Biff seemed to be considering it, but the other boys looked at each other uncertainly.
“Of course,” Eva went on, her voice conversational, “after I whip your butts, I’ll arrest you. Book you for assaulting an officer. Down at the station, they don’t like punks who try to beat up officers. You’ll get the full treatment—strip and body cavity search. They’re not always too gentle. Probably won’t call your parents for a while, so you can get the full benefit of the holding cell. Probably set your bail high, too. So, you want to give it a shot? Or do you want to get on to class?”
The other boys melted back into the crowd, and the crowd began to melt away. Biff, sullen, turned also, but Eva’s arm barred his way.
“I’m not through with you, Mr. Fahey.” She smiled easily at him, her white teeth gleaming. "Think you’d better come with me.”
“Why?” He flung himself back against the bus, crossing his arms over his chest to make his biceps bulge. “Because I had a gun? Why don’t you ask Miss Priss there about her gun?”
There was a moment of startled stillness. Amy was the first to break it. “My gun?” Her voice was a notch higher. “I don’t have a gun!”
“You did last May.” Satisfied with the sensation he’d created, Biff straightened. “Saw you myself, when they—” he jerked his head toward Eva “—were trading concert tickets for guns.”
“Oh, yeah.” Amy looked a little self-conscious. “Yeah, that’s right.” She grinned suddenly. “So it’s obvious where the gun is, moron. I gave it to the cops.”
Biff was slightly cast down from his failure to think that one through. “Well,” he demanded, sticking his face toward her, “where did you get it? And how many more have you gotten since?”
“Where did you get yours, if it comes to that?” She stuck her face out, too. They looked like nothing so much as second graders having a playground confrontation. It would have been funny if they hadn’t been arguing about who had the most firearms. And if Biff hadn’t had such an ugly edge.
“Children.” Eva’s voice was calm. “Simmer down. Amy, where did you get the gun you traded?”
“It was Daddy’s,” Amy said, her eyes on the ground. “He still doesn’t know I took it. I hated having it around the house, and he left it unlocked. Mom hated it, too. So when they said they were trading tickets for guns, no questions asked, I just took it and got the tickets.”
“I see.” Eva’s mouth twitched, but she maintained her sober expression when she turned to Biff. “And where did you get yours?”
Eva waited, and finally Biff added, reluctantly, “From my granddad. He—doesn’t exactly know I did. And now it’s gone from my room,” he added with resentment. “Guess my mom or dad found it.”
“So neither of you has a gun at this moment?”
The bell rang before they answered. Amy looked toward the building, where a few students were running toward the doors. “I don’t, of course. I didn’t have one before, really.” She caught my eye. “I know it was bad, Aunt Liz, and I’ll tell Daddy tonight, and I’ll pay for a new one if that’s what he wants, although I’m totally against guns, but I really have to get to class now."
Eva nodded. “Go ahead, but have your aunt bring you by the station this afternoon to sign a statement.”
Amy scurried off, and Eva turned to Biff.
“I already signed a statement yesterday,” he said sullenly.
“But you lied in that one. Said you had no access to firearms.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll change it. At lunchtime.” He gave her a look of intense dislike. “So get off my back.”
A man came hurrying up.
“I’m sorry you’ve been bothered, Officer,” he said. “This young man is working on straightening out his problems. Why were the police called?” He gave Biff a severe look.
“I was just passing by, Mr. Hedges.” Eva smiled brilliantly. “Just shooting the breeze. There’s no problem. Right, Mr. Fahey?”
Biff stared at the ground, not answering. Mr. Hedges made an impatient noise. “You know, Byron, you are at risk of expulsion if you don’t start cooperating. And you can tell your mother I said so!”
“It’ll be fine, Mr. Hedges.” Eva spoke soothingly to the man, turning him aside for a moment. Biff melted toward the buildings, and by the time Mr. Hedges looked around, he was vanishing inside the door.
The administrator sighed. “I appreciate your coming around sometimes, Eva. It’s good for these kids to see police presence.”
“Fun to check out my alma mater sometimes, too.” Eva waved and climbed into her cruiser. I started up Babe, and Mr. Hedges trotted back to his school.
I wouldn’t have had his job for anything. Facing down muscle-bound young men with the kind of chip on their shoulder that Biff carried seemed downright dangerous. And how did the students feel about it? High school was a place of seething hormones and raging disappointments in my day, but I never felt physically frightened of anyone. And I had been frightened of Biff, for a moment. Looking at him brought to mind every news story about disaffected, amoral youth I’d read in the past few years.
Barker hopped into the passenger seat, and I was glad he was the only adolescent I was responsible for.
I wondered if I was being followed. How else had Eva known where I was?
I stopped at the King Sooper to pick up some groceries. Walking from the parking lot, I tried to get a good look at the cars that might have followed me. Inside the market, I moved slowly past the fruits and vegetables, gathering nectarines and grapes. I got a pound of the coffee Renee used, and some decent tea bags. All the turmoil was making me forget that I should be a good guest and contribute to the household. Renee and Andy didn’t have to worry about their food bill like I did, but if I’d thought it was rude of Renee to visit me and my sparse refrigerator without helping out, then I should practice what I preached. Cruising up and down the aisle in a leisurely way, I kept tabs on anyone who paused nearby while I read the labels on everything.
By the time I went to the check stand, I had some little cans of tuna and some dried soups in cups—ready to take to the road the minute I could. Naturally, the same people who’d been shopping in the store were also in the checkout line. It turns out that in grocery stores, someone generally is following you.
The checker was a lean, hollow-eyed fellow with darkly nicotine-stained fingers and a chesty cough. The way his hair receded reminded me of Leonard Tobin. I wondered if Leonard had heard about Maud’s death yet. On an impulse, after I’d put my groceries away, I drove south along Broadway, taking a roundabout route to Leonard’s house. I had a fancy to see how he would react to Maud’s death.
Nobody screeched through yellow lights to stay near me. Nobody showed any interest in me at all. It was almost insulting.
Leonard’s house looked just the same. It had occurred to me that Eva might be there, or even O’Malley, motivated by the same questions that bothered me. But the driveway was empty, although I could see a car in the garage when I stood on tiptoe to look through the windows.
I rang the bell and heard the same hollow echo. After the second ring, footsteps dragged down the hall. “Who’s there?” Leonard sounded cautious.
“Liz Sullivan.” I smiled my best when he opened the door a slit. “I wanted to talk to you for a second, Mr. Tobin.”
“Yes?” His eyes were bleary; the only sign that he’d done anything but drink since two days before was the clean shirt and tie he had on. Evidently he dressed for success even in the midst of failure.
“Uh—has Eva been here? Officer Gutierrez?”
He squinted at me. “Yeah. She came along day before yesterday, not long after you. She was a little steamed when I told her you were bugging me.”
“She hasn’t been here today?”
“No one has. Except you, and I don’t particularly want you here.” He started to close the door. I had a hasty debate with myself.
Just before the door closed, I said, “So you didn’t know Maud was dead?”
He froze for an instant. “Maud?” His face was expressionless—so much for making a discovery there. “You mean—my Maud? We spoke of her yesterday.”
“Yes.” The door swung a little farther open, and then I saw the shock in his eyes, the increased slackness in his jaw. “I thought you might have heard already. I’m sorry.”
“Maud.” His eyes focused again on me. “She wouldn’t even speak to me afterwards, you know. Pretended it had never happened. If I hadn’t had pictures, I would have doubted my own memory.”
“Pictures?” I followed him into the house, shutting the door behind me. He didn’t seem to notice, just moved unsteadily down the hall to that bare living room. A fresh bottle of Jack Daniels adorned the table.
“Of her—enjoying herself, so to speak.” His face turned a little pinker while he filled his glass. “Photography’s my hobby, you know.” He nodded toward the framed landscapes on the wall. “I offered once as a gag to take some boudoir shots of her, and she took me up on it.” He gulped some whiskey. “It led to—it was—very exciting. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “She acted like it never happened. Said—”