Read Murder Mile High Online

Authors: Lora Roberts

Tags: #Mystery

Murder Mile High (9 page)

“I heard he had your credit card, that you gave it to him.”

“He stole it.” She recovered a little. “I reported it stolen.”

“When was this?”

“Look, what makes you think you can ask me these questions? You’re not the police.” Her lips pressed together in a firm line.

“The police think I had something to do with it, and I didn’t. I’m trying to find out what Tony’s been doing since he left the brokerage house. I thought you might know. Did you start seeing him again?”

Her gaze slid away. “It was stupid, wasn’t it? I knew what he was like. But he came around—so charming. He brought me that picture.” She nodded toward the watercolor. “We had spent such wonderful weekends there—our private place. I—let him take me out to dinner and everything.”

“Was this recently?”

She twisted away. “Oh, well, I already told the cops, so I guess I can tell you. We went around for a little while. Other people will tell them that, I’m sure—my so-called friends. Then he got offensive again, and I told him to get out. That’s when he said—that’s when he stole my credit card. I realized it the next day and reported it missing, and they closed the account. That was a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t heard anything from him since.”

“He took you out.” I spoke slowly. “So he had money. Where was he getting it?”

“He had money then.” She shrugged elaborately. “I didn’t know where it came from, and I didn’t ask.”

“He ran out of money.” I leaned forward, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Is that when he blackmailed you?”

She scooted farther away on the sofa. “I don’t—look, this is none of your business. Tony was a bastard, only interested in himself.”

“He seemed to be hitting a lot of folks up for money about then.”

She gave another bark of that humorless laughter. “I’m not surprised. He was really sweating for some cash—” She stopped.

“Why?”

“How should I know?” She wrapped the towel tighter around the picture. “Probably cooked the books again and needed to cover. That was his style.” Her lips snapped together tightly.

“You know where he was working.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I don’t know.” Leaning forward, she looked deliberately into my eyes. “I don’t know anything. And you can tell anyone who asks you that I said so.”

“Okay. I’ll tell them that. But why don’t you tell me what you’re so afraid of? Maybe I know something that will help.”

“You are so naive!” She jumped up and shoved the painting into a crate. “I’m giving myself a nice vacation in a mountain cabin until this all blows over. So if anybody’s looking for me, they won’t find me.”

“Tony was doing something illegal, is that it? Drugs?”

“I suggest you leave now.” Maud came over to stand beside me. “I can’t help you anymore.”

“Maud, you don’t have to tell me. But you should tell the police. Maybe they can protect you, if you need it. And they need the information to conduct an investigation.”

“Look, as far as I’m concerned, whoever killed Tony was just cleaning up one of Mother Nature’s mistakes.” Her gaze slid away from mine. “I mean, it was only a question of time before he took someone out, if you ask me. The way he was acting—” She stopped again, then took my arm and jerked me toward the door. “You should feel the same way.” She stood there, her hand on the doorknob. “You tried to kill him, too, after all. The police can find out stuff on their own, if they’re inclined.” For a moment she looked almost sympathetic. “I’ll tell you this much. It wasn’t the police Tony was afraid of, probably because he had something on someone there. He had something on a lot of people. He would have been rich if he’d had any idea how to manage money.” She opened the door.

“Wait, Maud. Did he tell you what he had on them?”

She pushed me out the door, firmly. “Good-bye, Liz. Hope you manage to avoid the rap this time.”

The door closed behind me, and a moment later I heard the rattle of the chain lock.

 

Chapter 11

 

I still didn’t know what Tony had done for the past year, but it seemed likely to have been shady. And the harder it was to find out, the more it looked like a clue to his murder. Obviously, he’d had enemies. In fact, some members of my family could look suspicious, as O’Malley had pointed out.

But I preferred to scrutinize other potential murderers. Both Leonard and Maud looked good for this purpose. Of the two, I would pick Maud as cold-blooded enough to kill someone who got in her way or threatened her. Had Tony threatened her? And why the panic-stricken flight?

With Barker on the leash, I roamed through Cheesman Park and the botanical garden. I couldn’t keep my mind on the flowers or the distant view of Pikes Peak to the south. I kept thinking about Maud’s description of Tony as a lover. It was hard to deal with having Tony on my mind, after years of carefully screening myself against a single thought of him. He had been a totally different person to her than to me, and yet I knew he could woo and seduce. He had always said his violence toward me was my own fault; perhaps I had brought it on by my lukewarm response to him.

Collapsing onto a bench, I stared at a bed of late roses. There it was, the victim mind-set I’d inhabited far too long. In the past couple of years, I’d started to come out of that, to take my place among ordinary people who don’t automatically cringe when a man raises his voice. The only blame I accepted was for not leaving town before I tried to shoot my husband, instead of after the jail term I served for doing so. I wouldn’t be responsible for Tony’s actions anymore.

“He’s dead.” I said it out loud, trying to convince myself. “He’s dead.”

“Just tired, I think.” The elderly man walking by looked at me reproachfully. “He could use a drink of water.”

“Huh?” I gaped at him a moment before I realized he was talking about Barker, who sprawled at my feet, tongue lolling out. The man went on by, shaking his head over my obtuseness, and I led Barker to the water fountain, where he politely accepted some water from my cupped hand.

Then I really looked at the roses for a little while. The bushes were small; I had forgotten, after years in California where a grandiflora like Queen Elizabeth could reach to the eaves, that in the Mile High City, roses must be covered every year against frost, and are extensively cut back for that purpose. Many old favorite hybrid teas were blooming, as well as some newer ones I didn’t recognize.

Back at the bus, I got Barker a bowl of water and looked at Kyle Baldridge’s address in my notebook. He didn’t live that far away, and perhaps one of his neighbors would know how I could get in touch with him.

“Can you believe it?” I spoke to Barker while I maneuvered through traffic. He was in his favorite spot in the front passenger seat, sitting up tall to observe the action. “I forgot to ask Maud where Tony was living!”

For a moment I debated going back to her house. But she might already be gone, and I might not be so lucky next time at getting through that lobby door.

Instead I stopped at the next pay phone. Maud’s answering machine answered after the third ring. I debated leaving a message. When it beeped I said, “Maud, this is Liz Sullivan. There’s one more thing I’d like to ask if you’re still there. Would you pick up the phone, please? It won’t take—”

She picked up, cutting into my flow of words. “What is it? I told you, I know nothing.”

“But you know where Tony was living, right?”

She was silent a moment. “Not really,” she said, grudgingly. “Around, is my best guess. Here when I let him, with Kyle sometimes, with other people probably—women, no doubt.”

So my ex-husband had also become a kind of vagabond—the moocher kind. “How do you know?”

“He gave me his pager number, not a real phone number. Then he’d call back. And when he stole my credit card I called Kyle’s to tell him to give it back, and Kyle said he hadn’t seen Tony for quite a while. So he didn’t always live there. Look, I’ve got to go. The movers are here.”

She slammed down the phone. I got back in the bus and headed on to Kyle’s. I had to find some way to get in touch with him. He might know something, even if Tony hadn’t been living there recently.

It was after four. Traffic was thick on Eighth Avenue. I turned off on Pennsylvania, partly to escape the traffic, and also to look at the last place Tony and I had lived together, an old brick apartment building with ten small units. I drove slowly down the block, searching for it, but there was no trace. The building had vanished, along with several of its equally rickety neighbors. Southwestern-style condos with tiny patios covered the area.

I drove on to Kyle’s, feeling disoriented. Denver had changed more than I had. I kept trying to turn onto streets that were now one-way in the other direction. I kept looking for familiar landmarks and not finding them, or finding them metamorphosed. An old house whose mini-turrets and battlements I had always admired had been modernized with a huge, featureless addition across its backside. The strip mall I had patronized now housed offices— chiropractor, orthodontist, and optometrist—instead of dry cleaners, bakery, and convenience store.

Larimer Square and all of what Amy called LoDo was also changed. The area had been undergoing a renaissance ever since I could remember, but it was still a pretty funky place when I’d left Denver. Now it resonated with expensive, urban-rustic chic. Kyle’s apartment was in an old warehouse converted into living units. Mailboxes and doorways crowded the front hall; years of use had polished the wooden handrail along the curving stairs.

The mailbox with Baldridge on it was for apartment 2D. I started up the stairs just as Officer Eva Gutierrez turned the corner down them. She looked at me, unsmiling, and I looked back. Finally she spoke. “So what brings you here?”

“I could be looking to rent an apartment.”

“There’s no vacancy here.” She nodded toward the front door, where a plaque announced that we had entered the Glenarvon Apartments. Beneath the plaque were two empty hooks, obviously meant to hold a VACANCY sign.

“Well, I’m looking up an old friend, actually. Kyle Baldridge. He was a friend of Tony’s, too, so that’s probably why you’re here.” I’m not too good at being ingratiating, but I gave it a try. “If I’m in the way, I’ll come back later.”

Officer Gutierrez stood there for a moment, planted squarely on the landing above me. She appeared to come to a decision. “Come up here for a minute. We’ll have a chat.”

At the end of the upstairs hallway, a bench beneath a window gave a view of the street. Officer Gutierrez settled herself on it, gun and baton clanking, as if she had the rest of the afternoon. “Now,” she said. “What have you been up to?”

“Why should I have been up to anything?” I leaned against the wall and glanced out the window. My bus was parked a little way down the street. I could see Barker doing sentinel duty in the driver’s seat. He likes climbing up there when I’m not in the car.

She studied me for a moment. “I spoke with Leonard Tobin this afternoon.”

"Oh."

“He said you were asking him questions. That’s our job, Ms. Sullivan. All we want from you is to stay put while we investigate.”

"That’s not what I heard this morning.” I studied her in turn. She looked brisk and competent, but I wondered how much clout she had in the department.

“What do you mean?”

“Your Detective O’Malley was at my mom and dad’s this morning, and he pretty much told me he’d decided I fit the bill perfectly as a suspect. I expect he’ll arrest me soon.” Either me or my poor old dad. Or my obnoxious nephew Biff.

She frowned. “O’Malley said that?”

“He said women rarely do jail time anymore for killing their abusive husbands, and that I’d probably get off lightly.”

“Hmm.” She looked troubled. “Well, whatever he may think, he’s assigned me to follow up some leads, and I assure you I’ll do a thorough job.”

I wondered if Leonard had told her as much as he had me. “So who’s your favorite suspect?”

“I don’t have favorites.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m just gathering facts.”

“Kyle’s out of town, someone said,” I volunteered.

“So why did you come here?”

“I was going to ask around and see if a neighbor knew how to get in touch with him.”

“We’ve gotten in touch.” She smiled triumphantly. “He’s supposed to show up soon to talk to me.”

“Can I sit in?”

“Ms. Sullivan. This is not Murder, She Wrote. Amateurs are not invited into our investigation. I assure you, I’ll get all the information you need.”

“Did you get it all from Leonard?” I knew it was dumb to argue with a cop. But once in a while my mouth gets ahead of my brain. “Did you find out everything from Maud?” I fished in my knapsack, which was slung over one shoulder, and pulled out the little voice-activated tape recorder Amy had given me that morning. “Did Leonard tell you how Tony got him fired? Did Maud mention that she’s so scared of whoever he’s been hanging out with that she’s leaving town? Did you find out yet where Tony was working, how he was getting money, who else he was blackmailing?”

Her jaw was tight. “We will find that out, given time,” she said, reaching for the tape recorder. “You taped their conversations? Without their knowledge?”

“Is that against the law?” I held the tape recorder out of her reach. I could feel it faintly vibrating, taking down every word we said.

“You know it is, Ms. Sullivan.”

“Then I didn’t do it.” I put the tape recorder back into my pack and sat on the bench.

“I have reason to think otherwise.”

“Get a search warrant and find out.” I folded my arms and glared stubbornly at her. “Anyone can carry a tape recorder around, as far as I know. I mean, we are still in the United States here, aren’t we? And I’m free to sit on this bench and wait for my friend if I want to. And unless you’re arresting me, I’m going to.”

For a minute I thought she was going to arm wrestle me for the knapsack. Then her lips twitched and she burst out laughing.

“Okay. You win. Do me a favor and don’t get killed for that tape.”

“What tape?” I felt kind of foolish, glaring, when she was having a nice laugh on me.

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