Read Murder Mile High Online

Authors: Lora Roberts

Tags: #Mystery

Murder Mile High (7 page)

Patience is not my long suit. “I like my life fine, and I wouldn’t dream of moving back and burdening you.” The words came out loud, defiant; those old patterns of behavior were powerful. I tried to sound like a rational adult. “Sorry, Mom. I’m just upsetting you, not helping at all. I’ll probably be around for a few more days until Tony’s death is settled. If you want to see me, let Amy or Renee know. Otherwise, I won’t come back.”

I had my hand on the doorknob when she spoke. “What do you want me to say, that I’m sorry, that we treated you badly?” Her voice had a little more strength in it. “Well, maybe we did. But you were so headstrong. You wouldn’t listen—just like your father, both of you going to extremes. I couldn’t go against him, and I was angry with you, too—oh, so angry, the way you threw my hopes away.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t live my life to please you,” I said tightly, not turning. “It’s all over with now.”

“But it’s not, is it?” Her voice gentled a little. “See, here you are in trouble again just because of that foolish marriage.” I bit my lip to keep from replying, and her voice went on, tempered with that know-it-all motherly condescension that so sets our teeth on edge. “And I never asked you to live your life to please me. Has it pleased you, Lizzie? Have you done so well by ignoring your parents’ advice?"

“Good or bad, my life is of my fashioning, and as you pointed out before, none of your concern.” I glanced over my shoulder for one last look at her face, set inflexibly in righteousness. “Good-bye.”

At least I didn’t slam the door.

 

Chapter 8

 

O’Malley was still talking to my dad. I hurried through the living room with only a nod to them, trying to avoid negative comments about my horrible personality.

At least Barker was thrilled to see me. Isn’t that why people have pets? Uncritical acceptance is so rare among humans. I didn’t have long to bask in it. Before I even had my seat belt untangled, O’Malley was standing by the driver’s window.

At his motion, I rolled the window down. Barker growled from the passenger seat, his hackles rising. I put a hand on his ruff. “Yes, Officer? Lieutenant? Detective? How do I address you?”

“You call me O’Malley, I’ll call you Lizzie.”

“Liz.” I pulled Barker back. “Put your fur down.”

“I don’t keep it up,” O’Malley said with a grin.

I gazed at him stonily. “My dog doesn’t like men much. What do you want?”

“I want to tell you I’m sorry about the way your parents feel.” O’Malley shook his head. “Boy, the last time you tried to kill your husband they sure got upset, huh?”

“Yes.” I put the key in the ignition. “I gather you don’t accept my alibi, O’Malley?”

“Your alibi’s fine.” He smiled amiably. “That fellow at the garage ID’d you right away. Even saw you sitting across the street in the cafe while he had your car on the rack. Looks like you didn’t pull the trigger.”

“I didn’t have anything at all to do with it.” I took a deep breath, trying to calm the panic that threatened me. The justice system isn’t really about justice. It’s about expediency, in a bungling sort of way. People who’ve already been through it can be processed quite easily. As far as the system was concerned, I was being served up on a silver platter.

“So you say.” O’Malley was still smiling. “You know, things are different now than they were last time you tried to kill your husband. Battered wives get off light these days. Sometimes they just get probation. A good lawyer, now, and you might not do any time at all.”

“Are you arresting me?” My hand tightened in Barker’s fur

“No, no. Don’t go getting ideas into your head.” He regarded me brightly. “Just telling you some facts, Liz. We aren’t ready to arrest anyone yet—still investigating.” He rubbed the sparse, graying bristles on his chin. The hair on his head, what there was of it, wasn’t much longer. “For instance,” he said in a conversational tone, “the neighbor next door mentioned that a man who looked a lot like your ex has been visiting here a few times lately. Last time, your dad and some young guy helped him out the door. She thought she saw a gun involved.” O’Malley smiled at me. “Of course, you weren’t around then, so you wouldn’t know anything about it. But maybe killing this guy is a hobby of your family.”

I felt a chill, but tried to keep my expression bland. “Boy, you people will settle for anyone as a perp—me, who wasn’t here, my dad, who’s no threat to anyone anymore—”

“Even an old guy can off someone if he has a gun,” O’Malley pointed out. “Course, it could have been the young guy. You know him?”

“I wasn’t here, as you said yourself. I was home, peacefully trying to make an honest buck. And if you want confirmation—”

“We got that already.” He gave me a sly smile. “Friends on the force, that’s what you have. Too bad your cop buddy didn’t come along to Denver with you. What an alibi that would be!”

I was about to make a heated reply, when it occurred to me that what was missing in this conversation was any sense from O’Malley that it mattered. He didn’t have the air of a man intent on doing his job. These offhand, leisured remarks were his way of going through the motions.

“If you really believe my dad would kill Tony, when I was the one he was mad at, then you’re obviously hard up for valid suspects. Why don’t you go find some, and stop bothering us?”

Even that didn’t get him riled. He stepped back from the bus, smiling a little. “We’re looking. Everywhere. Depend on it, Missus. And we’ll be having some more chats with you sometime soon. Eva will keep in touch with you on that.”

He waved, climbed into the nondescript car, and drove off. I watched him go, feeling hollow.

Then, before my dad could come out and harangue me, I drove off, too. I didn’t have a destination in mind. No point in going back to Andy’s house so Renee could give me the cold shoulder. No point in hanging around my mother, either. I was surprised at how much her rigid disapprobation hurt. I thought I’d cured myself of ever needing my parents’ approval years ago, but deep down, that “I’ll show them” attitude still lingered. And I hadn’t managed to show them. Though just getting through each day without a financial crisis was a triumph for me, they naturally didn’t see it that way.

Aimlessly, I drove through the streets of little houses, finding myself finally at a small park I remembered from high school, where the disaffected youth used to hang out evenings and weekends until the police would come and make them move. This time of day it was deserted except for a couple of moms at the tiny playground, pushing their toddlers in swings. I clipped the leash on Barker and walked slowly through the park, scuffling in the leaves, admiring the bed of dahlias that rose stiff and triumphant from their knobby bark mulch.

It sounded as if O’Malley would settle for me, or, if he couldn’t figure out some way to blame me for masterminding the killing, my dad and Biff. Much as I thought Biff deserved the chastising of Fate, a murder charge was probably overdoing it. And yet, did I want to take the rap myself? Was there any way out of that? I couldn’t marshal any coherent thoughts about my situation; instead I was awash in stoic helplessness.

Rabbits caught in headlights must have something of that heavy passivity, that acceptance of a danger so overwhelming that the only thing to do is hunker down and hope it goes over you without hurting too much.

Usually, it kills you.

What I needed was a plan. What I had was a primal need to call Drake and blubber in panic.

Barker strained at the leash after a squirrel. I didn’t know if Denver had a leash law, and under the circumstances I didn’t care about the wrath of the animal control department. I took off his leash and let him run.

Watching him dash from tree to tree, I tried to control my fragmented thoughts. I didn’t want to be the premier suspect, and I didn’t want my family suspected either. I certainly didn’t want the murderer out free under the blue sky while I was locked up for killing my ex-husband.

Given O’Malley’s snide remarks about Drake, the Denver police must already have contacted him to see if I’d actually been hanging around the Rockies longer than I’d said. Maybe Drake was already calling Renee’s, looking for me. Anxious for me. I allowed myself the comforting warmth of that thought. Drake, I was pretty sure, was genuinely interested in my welfare—at the least, as a friend. Perhaps even as more.

But that was too scary to think about—even scarier than O’Malley’s friendly concern. I couldn’t—didn’t want to—confront the possibility of a close, loving bond with a man. The very idea had been anathema to me for too long, because of Tony. And now Tony was dead.

That was the most disorienting thing that had happened in the past twenty-four hours. Tony was truly dead, gone out of my life, unable to personally threaten me again. I kept feeling that he was about to sit down beside me on the park bench any moment, grabbing my arm in that affectionate-looking squeeze that left bruises behind.

Barker panted up to flop in front of me, tongue hanging out. I put the leash back on him and sat awhile longer, staring at the path, waiting for Tony to feel dead to me.

He had been so exciting when I was nineteen, so different from the rest of the college boys. I had felt sophisticated and glamorous with him—and grateful, because no one had ever before treated me as if I were a beautiful woman. Later, I knew he treated any woman that way when he wanted something from her—sex or power or just an afternoon’s amusement. His insistence had led to our marriage—I was too infatuated, too envied by other girls, to care whether we married or not.

And afterward it didn’t take long before I became clumsy, awkward, dowdy, too shy—or so he told the friends he’d made at the brokerage house—to mingle socially in the evenings. I believed all that, even when I defied him, left him. I still believed it, on some level.

So I pushed the thought of Drake away. I wasn’t ready to give him the right to be concerned about me, involved in my actions. I would stand on my own two feet, and I would take care of my own problems. if I had to do it alone, without friends, I would do it, and not just be the blind, panic-stricken rabbit, paralyzed by its own fear and relentlessly squashed.

I got up, leading Barker toward the street and trying to kick-start my brain. I knew nothing about Tony’s friends and associates these days. But I had known some of them years ago, and they might know what he was up to that had gotten him killed.

Just as I opened the side door for Barker, a name slipped into my mind. Maud Riegert. Tony had been carrying her credit card, and now I remembered her—a thin, chain-smoking junior commodities broker at the same firm where Tony worked. I had met her a couple of times at office parties Tony couldn’t get out of taking me to, and the reactions of his coworkers at the second party had made it clear to me that Tony and Maud were linked in office gossip. That night I had offered him a divorce—a mistake I paid for with a black eye and a chipped tooth. When Maud called a month or so later to ask why I wouldn’t let Tony go where his heart was, I was so overcome with hysterical laughter I couldn’t speak.

The branch library was still in the same place, though I got lost on some one-way streets flying to get to it. I started with the Denver telephone directory and hit pay dirt right away. She was listed, though her address was not.

I used the pay phone next to the library, without much hope that she would be home this late on a Wednesday morning. But a sleepy female voice answered on the third ring.

“Maud?”

“Yes, who is it?”

“This is Liz Sullivan.” I cleared my throat. “Tony Naylor’s ex-wife.”

There was a moment of silence. “Who?”

“Tony Naylor. He’s dead, you know. He was killed last night.”

More silence. Then she whispered, “Who told you to call me? Was it Kyle?”

“Er—no one told me. I just remembered that you and Tony—I wondered if you knew—”

“Look,” she interrupted. “I don’t know you or what you’re talking about. The police already asked me about this Tony person. Evidently he’d stolen my credit card somehow. I don’t know anything more about it, okay? Just leave me alone!”

The phone banged in my ear, and the dial tone buzzed gently. I set the receiver back in its cradle.

Ten years is a long time to remember anyone’s voice, but I thought she’d recognized mine. No matter what she said, Maud Riegert knew something about Tony. And she’d told me something, too.

Kyle. Kyle had been Tony’s buddy, and I’d met him many times—mostly when they were both drunk, but sometimes on ordinary occasions, when he’d been kind to me. A couple of times, when Tony had taken a swing at me, Kyle had stopped him. Once, shortly before the end of my life in Denver, he’d come over when Tony wasn’t home, and I’d received the distinct impression that he would be glad to comfort me, especially in the bedroom. By then sex was not my idea of a treat, and fear of Tony’s retaliation would have kept me from enjoying it anyway, but I had appreciated the offer, which briefly made me feel like a woman again instead of a cowed, beaten thing.

I tried to remember Kyle’s last name, standing there with my hand on the receiver, but it eluded me. Instead, I went back into the library and consulted the phone book again. Among a list of brokerage houses I found the one Tony had worked for.

Digging out all my change, I lined it up on the little shelf by the phone where a phone book was supposed to be but wasn’t. I summoned my best office-temp voice, and when the receptionist at Baker Mulshine Hollenbeck answered, I asked dulcetly for personnel.

“I’m verifying a reference,” I cooed when personnel answered. “This is for a job that requires a great deal of background checking.”

“Oh, at Rocky Flats?” The woman on the other end sounded inclined to be chatty.

“I’m not allowed to say,” I said primly. “But you’re close.”

“How can I help you?”

“The applicant wrote down your firm on his employment history—although his handwriting is difficult to read.” That much was true, anyway—Tony always had a horrible scrawl. “One of his references also works for you, but I can’t make out more than Kyle Something.”

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