Authors: Lora Roberts
“Yeah.” Gutierrez and the beefy guy cop were the last ones there. “Is anyone going to hang around to tell my dad about it?”
“Nope.” She looked at the neighbors. “He’ll probably get the unofficial word, or you can tell him later.”
“That will be fun.” I got into the back seat of the patrol car. A murmur went up from the small group of people clustered on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Beamish’s house, centered by her foghorn bray. I waved cheerfully as we pulled away.
Officer Gutierrez ushered me through the institutional halls of police headquarters and into a drafty office where two bleary-eyed, middle-aged men sat at desks covered by mountains of paperwork.
“It’ll be a minute.” The man at the nearest desk didn’t even raise his head.
The second man smiled at Officer Gutierrez. “Hey, we can always make some time for Ms. Gutierrez, can’t we, O’Malley?”
O’Malley looked up at that. “Oh, it’s you, Eva honey. Look, I’ll clean out my desk for you tomorrow, okay? I got work to do right now.”
Officer Gutierrez reddened perceptibly, but managed a smile. “I’m not after your job tonight, O’Malley. Just bringing you a customer.”
“I got enough customers.” O’Malley looked at me without the teasing smile he kept for his female cohort. “What’s it about?”
“Homicide,” Officer Gutierrez said. She gestured me into the chair in front of O’Malley’s desk, and leaned against the door frame just behind my shoulder. “Body dumped on the front porch of this woman’s family. Her ex-husband, she says."
“Did you do a make?”
“Asked for it on the way in. They’ll bring it along as soon as the printer is free.”
O’Malley nodded, his attention still fixed on me. “Why don’t you tell me about it, missus? Or ex-missus, whatever.”
I told him about it, as succinctly as I could. My head was pounding, and for some reason all I could think about was Barker—if he was behaving, if he’d get too cold in the bus without me there to curl up with. At least, that’s what occupied the front of my mind. The back of it was wondering how long it would be before Paul Drake’s name came into the conversation. It was humiliating to think I might need his help, as if he were an all-powerful Lord Peter Wimsey to my Harriet Vane. Finally I understood what she was so upset about in those books.
“So either him showing up like that on the doorstep was one hell of a coincidence,” O’Malley said slowly, after I quit talking, “or else someone really has it in for you big time, missus. Is that your story?”
“I don’t have a story.” Other people I knew didn’t spend significant portions of their time being questioned by police. I allowed myself a bit of self-pity, since I was no less well-behaved than anyone else. “I’m just telling you what happened. My mother isn’t well; I came back here for the first time in over ten years to see her. I’ve been driving since Saturday, and didn’t pass the city limits of Denver until after six tonight. I went right to my brother’s house. I don’t know when Tony was killed, but I’ve been with my brother and his family and my mom since seven.”
“That’s nice,” O'Malley said. His tone of voice was bored. Behind me, Officer Gutierrez shifted from one foot to another, her belt clanking slightly, the fabric of her uniform brushing sibilantly against itself. O’Malley let the silence lengthen.
“Hey!” I had a happy thought. “I was at a garage in Idaho Springs just before five. My bus sprang an oil leak, and they were able to fix it. They’ll tell you I wasn’t in Denver earlier. If you’ve ever driven an old VW bus, you’d know how long it took me to get from there to my brother’s in rush-hour traffic.”
“Yeah, yeah.” O’Malley checked the shelf behind him. “Phil, you have the phone book I need.” The other man, talking into his telephone with the receiver cradled between his ear and shoulder while he typed on a computer keyboard, just shrugged. “What was the name of the garage?”
I reached for my knapsack, which had already been searched once, and fished out the receipt I’d gotten from Hank. For the first time in a while, fortune smiled on me. Hank’s garage had the kind of cash register that printed date and time on the receipt. Both were there to confirm what I’d said: I’d paid cash for the repair at 5:15 that very afternoon.
O’Malley dialed the number on the receipt, but nobody answered at the garage. He hung up the phone just as a uniformed officer came in with some papers and dumped them on his desk.
“Is that the make on the victim?” Officer Gutierrez stretched out her hand toward the papers, but O’Malley, elaborately casual, moved them out of her reach.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” he said, looking up at us, but it seemed to me the papers had contained information he’d rather not have had. He stared at the wall for a moment. Officer Gutierrez looked confused.
O’Malley seemed to see me again; there was more curiosity in his gaze than before. “Get the usual stuff and let her go. We’ll keep this for a while,” he said fluttering the paper from Hank’s garage. “Eva will give you a receipt for your receipt.” The ghost of a smile visited his dour mouth. “Hope you enjoy your family reunion, because you’re going to be around for a while. We’ll be in very close touch with you until we get a handle on this investigation.”
Following Officer Gutierrez down the hall, I started breathing again, thanking the Goddess of Travelers for that blown oil pressure regulator. Hank would surely remember me, the last customer of the day. I wasn’t home free, but at least I had an alibi of sorts. And Paul Drake hadn’t come into it at all.
“Sit here,” Eva Gutierrez said, pulling out a chair in front of a desk on one side of the busy charge room. She sat at the desk and began pulling out forms. The noise and bustle going on all around helped mask our voices, making us almost cozily private.
“Paperwork,” she explained, rolling a form into the typewriter and beginning to type, her fingers flying across the keyboard. “I thought I’d get away from clerical stuff in law enforcement, but there’s forms to fill out before you can blow your nose, almost.”
I smiled perfunctorily, and she concentrated on her typing, passing things over to me as she finished them. I read every word of the evidence receipt, the interview report, the preliminary statement, and all the rest of them. After they were signed she stuffed them into a folder.
“Could you copy all those for me?” It was an impulsive question, born of my experience with correctional bureaucracy.
She hesitated. “Well, okay. No rule against it for this stuff.”
“I’ll copy it if you don’t have time.”
“It won’t take long. We’ll do it on the way out.”
It didn’t take long. I pushed the door and turned to her. “Thanks. It was as painless as possible, I suppose.”
“Good.” She raised her eyebrows at me. “I’m driving you home.”
“Oh.” Of course, there was no Babe waiting for me outside. I felt cast adrift. “Thanks.”
“Just checking out that you’re going where you said you were, and that your brother’s recollection of events matches yours."
I didn’t enjoy the thought of facing Andy’s anger, and later my dad’s inevitable hostility. “Well, I’m sure he’ll tell the truth, anyway,” I said, trying to convince myself.
We drove in silence for a while. The inside of the cruiser was warm and crowded, with all kinds of lethal-looking stuff bristling out of it here and there.
“So why’d you shoot him the first time?” Her question came out of the warm darkness. I could see her profile etched against the window—a straight, rather long nose and a firm chin. She was still pretty young—late twenties, at a guess. Efficient, ambitious. Maybe even honest.
“It was him or me, or at least that’s what I thought at the time.” I shrugged. “Didn’t really solve anything, though. If he’d killed me, I would no longer have to worry about having a police record every time there’s a bad deed done nearby. If I’d killed him, I’d still be in jail, probably.”
“At least you’re alive.”
“For what it’s worth.” I pointed out Andy’s street, and she turned the cruiser. Babe was parked in the driveway, with no new dings or scratches that I could see, so Amy had made it home all right.
Officer Gutierrez walked me up to the door. Andy opened it before we got there and stood waiting, fists on hips. His dark silhouette loomed in the lighted doorway, reminding me of my father years ago, when I’d come home past my curfew.
“Andy, Officer Gutierrez.” I introduced them on the step, hoping he’d be polite enough to invite her in, if not me. “She wants to talk to you.”
“Now you’re dragging me into it—and my daughter!” Andy thrust his face forward, into the light. There was an ugly look in his eyes. “You actually contaminated my daughter with your convict behavior!” Renee peeked out from behind him, her mouth making a tight upside-down smile, as if she were confronted with something nasty.
“Perhaps you wouldn’t mind talking to him out here.” I turned politely to Officer Gutierrez.
“Certainly.” She took out her notebook. “Mr. Sullivan—”
“Come on in.” He had the grace to look slightly ashamed. “But if you’re arresting her, I can’t afford any bail.”
Officer Gutierrez raised her eyebrows. “Ms. Sullivan is not under arrest, sir, anymore than you are. I merely wish to verify some points in her statement.”
“In here.” Renee led the way into the sleek kitchen. She carried a coffee mug, and she did mumble an invitation to Officer Gutierrez, which was declined.
“Ms. Sullivan states she got here about seven. Can either of you confirm that?”
Renee turned to Andy. “It was just about then. I’d just put dinner on the table.”
“Yeah, why we can’t eat at a decent hour,” Andy began, and then stopped. “Anyway, that’s about right. Sometime around seven.”
“And she was here until you left to pick up your father, is that right?”
Renee chipped in. “She and Amy left about ten minutes later, to give Andy time to get Dad out of the way. He would have had a fit—”
“That’s enough.” Andy glowered, and Renee shut up.
Eva Gutierrez stood up. “That’s all I need for now, Mr. Sullivan, Mrs. Sullivan. Thanks for your cooperation. You’ll be hearing from us if you can help us further.”
I walked her out, and after she drove away, I didn’t go back in. Barker jumped up on the passenger seat when he saw me headed toward him. I let him out and put on the leash, and we walked briskly around several blocks until the tension started to leave the back of my neck.
When I opened the side door on the bus, Andy came out of the house as if he’d been waiting for that noise.
“Where are you going?”
I ushered Barker into the bus and turned to face my brother. “The police think I’m staying here, so I planned to stay here. Right here in the driveway. But I can park in the street if you’d rather.”
He blinked. “You’ll sleep out here?”
“I prefer it that way.”
“Well—” It took him a moment to deal with this. “I just came out to say—you’d have to stay here, because I won’t be a party to you skipping out.”
It had really been a long day. That’s my excuse for losing my temper. “I never have skipped out. Any debt I owed to society has been paid—many times. Can you say as much?” I climbed in the side door. “Good night, Andy.”
He didn’t say anything, so I shut the door, and just after it closed he yelled, “And stay away from Amy!”
It was a little easier to take his hostility when I realized that a lot of it was prompted by concern about Amy. I slid the window open to talk about it, but he was already stalking back inside.
The little battery-powered lamp shed a soft glow over my chilly abode. I used the immersion heater to make myself a cup of tea—my own mixture, homegrown chamomile and mint. Amy had called it Peter Rabbit tea after I’d dosed her with it. A little honey made it perfect.
Barker jumped up beside me on the back bench seat. He looked very comfortable sitting there, his tongue lolling out, his head on a level with mine—maybe topping me a little, if truth be known. I am not a tall woman, and he sits very tall, especially when he gets to sit on the furniture. “Down,” I said, but without my usual emphasis. Practically everything in the bus counts as furniture of one kind or another.
After the tea was gone, I brushed my teeth in the little sink, pulled out the Z-bed and fluffed up my sleeping bag. I opened the side window and shook Barker’s rug out. I turned out the lamp and used the bucket I’d kept for traveling, wishing I had taken a stand on my principles after visiting Andy’s bathroom instead of before. Nestled in my sleeping bag, I thought about using my newest toy, a pencil-thin but bright halogen flashlight that, worn on a headband, made reading in a sleeping bag easier than ever. Before I could complete the thought, I was asleep.
Barker woke me early. I was stiff from the chill that seeped into my sleeping bag. There was no morning sun, just a lowering gray sky only a little lighter than night.
I pulled on clothes and took Barker for his walk, hoping Andy would go to work before I got back so I could use one of his bathrooms without enduring a rant from him. Of course, Renee would still be around, dealing out her slings and arrows.
While we walked, I tried to figure out what I was going to do. First and foremost in my concerns was my mother and her fragile health. Tony’s murder might have made her really ill—I would have to brave my father’s doddering fury to find out. And maybe she didn’t want to see me any more than he did.
My own situation also required a good deal of thought. Tony’s death had turned my already problematic reunion with my folks into something that threatened my personal freedom. It was almost enough to make me sorry he was dead.
For a little while I imagined heading west, driving back through the Rockies and the Sierra, back to my ancient computer and the queries I was compiling for the more lucrative magazines that had bought stuff from me in the past. Trying to make a living as a freelance writer is like being on a furiously moving treadmill—tumble off for any length of time and you have to scramble to get back on.