Authors: Laura Disilverio
“What’s your next step?” I asked.
“Take a nap.” His eyelids were drooping and I realized I was as tired as he looked.
“Sounds good.” I gently lifted his leg and slid out from under it. He barely stirred. Returning to his bedroom, I retrieved the red blanket folded at the foot of his bed and draped it over him. Auburn stubble shadowed his jaw and his lips were slightly parted. Without thinking, I leaned over, intending to kiss him. I stopped with my mouth a hair’s breadth from his lips. I was tired. I’d had too much whiskey. This was stupid.
I started to pull back and Jay surprised me by lifting his head so his lips grazed mine. Even that light touch set the blood thrumming in my head—and other places—and I was lost. I leaned toward him and our kiss deepened. Our lips were our only point of contact but the sensation was so intense, the heat that grew in me so all-consuming, that I drew away moments later, shuddering.
Eyes still shut, Jay said softly, “I dare you to try that again when I haven’t been shot. In fact”—his eyes snapped open and he didn’t look nearly so sleepy—“you should try it again now. It’s only a flesh wound after all.” He waggled his eyebrows.
Folding my lips in to suppress my smile, I turned away. “Never let it be said I took advantage of an injured man,” I said primly, dragging my keys from my pocket. Even though I really, really wanted to take advantage of this wounded man. The keys clinked in my inexplicably trembling hands.
“I would never say that,” he promised, but his eyelids were drooping again and I think he was asleep before I was out the door.
• • •
Back at Fernglen
that afternoon in jeans and a sweater, greatly refreshed by six hours of sleep, I searched for Grayson Whoever, the guy who had taken over as weapons master. I was trying not to let my brain worry at Jay’s story, and had resisted the urge to casually stroll through each of the mall’s jewelry stores, looking for a mother lode of stolen/smuggled diamonds. As if they’d be displayed in plain sight, I scoffed at myself, or hidden beneath the leaves of a rubber plant in the sales area. The thought of all the criminal activity brought me up short: surely, if the diamonds had been smuggled into the U.S., some law enforcement entity was on the lookout for the diamonds and the thieves. INTERPOL? U.S. Customs? The FBI? My tiredness had fuzzed my brain, keeping me from recognizing all the vague spots in Jay’s story.
Focusing on Zoë Winters’s death, I asked a guard where I could find Grayson. The guard, used to seeing me around by now, pointed a beefy finger at a trailer parked on the far side of the fenced-in area. Two faux policemen clattered down the stairs as I approached, chatting with each other about an upcoming audition. The door remained open and I knocked lightly before pushing in to the room. A narrow counter topped with a computer and a fat three-ring binder was immediately on my left. Shelves and cubbies made up the rest of the trailer, most filled with what I assumed were props.
“Yes?” A skinny man in his late twenties looked at me over the rims of Harry Potter glasses. Dishwater-colored hair was brushed straight back from a pale, narrow brow, and he looked like he’d have been more at home in an academic library, researching his dissertation, than on a movie set, unloading a box of switchblades. He held one up, pushed a button, and light streaked down the blade as it sprang up.
“Grayson Bleek,” he acknowledged. “Who are you?”
I introduced myself, letting my gaze wander around the shelf-filled space. I could hardly take in the variety of stuff in the trailer, ranging from staplers and mugs that might go on a desk, to plants and ottomans, and a seven-foot-tall stuffed giraffe. What in the world—? “Is this all the stuff that’s in the movie?”
“Good God, no.” Bleek looked at me pityingly. “We’ve rented storage units for most of it.”
I blinked. “Being props master must be a complicated job.”
“Absolutely.” He puffed out his thin chest, covered by a logoed tee shirt under a maroon denim vest. “It requires an exacting eye for detail, the treasure-hunting instincts of Indiana Jones, and the diplomatic skills of Kissinger for coordinating with the set and costume designers, lighting, and the continuity people. I was the assistant props master, but I suppose you’ve heard about Zoë.”
I was relieved he’d brought her name up first. “Had you worked together before?”
“First time. She was one of the best in the biz, though.” He propped his skinny rear on a stool and set down the knife. As if that made him aware of it, he patted the box. “The police took all our knives to see if . . . We had to replace them. Had them overnighted. Thank God they got here in time. Van would pop a gasket if we had to delay shooting or rearrange the schedule again tomorrow.”
“Do you know if the police found anything on the knives that would help them identify the killer?”
I got the pitying look again. “Do I look like someone the police would confide in? They haven’t been back to arrest anyone, as far as I know. I can tell you”—he leaned across the narrow counter—“that we only handed over twelve knives.”
“So, we started with thirteen.” Bleek watched for my reaction.
“Did you keep the knives locked up?”
“The police asked the same question. No. We keep the guns secured”—he jerked his head toward a gun safe behind him—“but the knives didn’t get any special treatment. I mean, knives aren’t like guns. We’ve all got one or a dozen in our kitchens, don’t we? Guns are different, though. I’m all for strict gun laws. Violence is out of control in this country and we need to do something about it.”
“Uh-huh. Would Tab Gentry have had any reason to have a knife for his role?”
“That the extra who got fired?”
“Maybe. I know there’s a scene where the cops disarm a couple of the bad guys after a knife fight, but I don’t know if this Gentry was one of them.”
So Gentry might well have had access to a switchblade. Interesting. I took another tack. “What was Zoë like?”
“A perfectionist,” he answered immediately. “One coffeepot out of place, one frame not on the inventory, one stuffed giraffe not on set when it’s needed, and
” He clapped his palms together. “Outa here. Sayonara. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”
“She was tough, huh?”
“Like I said, a perfectionist. It’s what made her so good at the job.”
“But some people must have resented that.” I arched my brows, inviting him to dish the dirt.
His eyes slid from side to side, as if checking to make sure no one had snuck into the trailer while we talked. “Well. I only got on as her assistant because Zoë fired the woman who originally had the job before we ever left California. And one of the actors got fired the other day because he shot off a blank, and—”
“—I figure she must have been hard to live with, if you know what I mean?” Ducking his chin, he looked at me over the rims of the Potter glasses.
It took me a moment. “You mean Margot?”
“You didn’t hear it here,” he said coyly, twiddling a loose button on his vest, “but they had a real catfight the other day. Monday. Right here.” He pointed to the trailer floor. “I was in the back, doing inventory, and I don’t think they knew I was here. In fact, I know they didn’t. And after they started going at it, there was no way I was making a peep.” He drew his thumb and forefinger across his lips as if zipping them.
“Wha—” I didn’t even have to finish the question.
“Apparently Miss Zoë had been stepping out on her girlfriend,” Bleek said, scraping one forefinger the length of the other in a naughty-naughty gesture. “Margot was PO’d. And I mean with a capital P and a capital O. Zoë said something about how they didn’t own each other, and Margot said she felt sorry for Zoë because her self-esteem depended on her being able to attract sleazy tramps who didn’t have the brainpower or fidelity of a dragonfly. I’ve got to remember that one. Anyway, that’s when Zoë slapped her.”
“Zoë hit Margot?”
“Whappa.” He mimed a slap in the air. “It was quiet for a good thirty seconds after that and then I heard the door open and close twice, like Margot ran out and then Zoë went after her.”
“How do you know Zoë hit Margot and not the other way around?”
I got the pitying look again. “Have you met Margot?” When I nodded, he went on, “Well, there’s your answer. Margot wouldn’t swat a mosquito. Zoë, on the other hand . . . Margot’s lucky the guns were locked up.”
I gave him a disbelieving stare.
“Oh, yeah,” he nodded. “Zoë was a spitfire. Her being the weapons master was a perfect fit. She was a great shot, had fencing training, and was really into weapons. Supposedly has a collection of World War Two guns or some such, but I’ve never seen it. Me, on the other hand, I’m the last person who should be weapons master because I hardly know which side of the knife to slice a tomato with. But I’m stuck with it until they can hire someone else. I hear they’re considering some former SEAL who’s right down the road in Annapolis. Better him than me.” He pulled a knife from the box, checked something on its handle, and made an entry in an online database.
Turning to get another knife, Bleek brushed against a stack of papers on the counter and they spilled. I bent to retrieve them, freezing when I recognized the top page. “Where did you get this?” I asked, holding up the page on which it said “Stop making movies that glorify violence and capitalist materialism or we’ll stop you.” Black type on a white page, like Ethan’s, with a graphic of a knife dripping red blood. It matched the red of the stapler that had been weighting the pile down.
“That?” He made a dismissive gesture. “It was on the floor, like someone had slipped it under the door, when I came in—what?—day before yesterday. I meant to throw it away.”
“Mind if I keep it?”
He hesitated for a moment, as if wondering why I’d want the page, then shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”
With a word of thanks and a “nice to meet you,” I headed for the door. On the threshold, I stopped. “Uh, the giraffe?” I asked.
Bleek smiled, showing small teeth. “There’s a scene in a toy store. The giraffe gets it.” He mimed holding a gun in both hands and jerked his hands up. “Boom. The hit man is chasing Ethan but kills the giraffe instead. We bought twelve of them.”
Outside the trailer, I paused. It was beginning to look like a large portion of the movie crew had received photocopied “stop making violent movies” notes. Who else had received one? Did it matter? I made a mental note to ask around and to find out from Detective Helland if the police had learned anything from Ethan’s note.
Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, I tapped on Ethan’s trailer door.
“It’s open,” he called.
I pushed the door inward and found Ethan and my mom seated at the dinette table, playing cards.
“Thank God you’re here, EJ,” Ethan said, throwing down his hand. “I owe your mother a million dollars.”
“Really?” I kissed Mom’s cheek.
“I’m going to collect it in kind,” Mom said with a twinkle in her eye. Her blond hair was smoothed off her face in a French braid, and she looked young and vital in blue jeans and an oversized white blouse with the cuffs rolled up. “We’re buying season tickets to the San Francisco Opera and your dad’s going with me to every production.”
Ethan grabbed his throat and made gagging noises. Opera was not his thing.
“Be grateful it’s not the ballet,” Mom said severely, piling the cards together and sliding them into the box. “What are you up to, darling?” she asked.
Helping myself to a bottled water from the fridge, I told them about almost running into Jesse Willard—I assumed—on the night shift.
“I don’t like your working all night,” Ethan frowned. “It’s dangerous. And it’s bad for your health.”
“I don’t do it often,” I said. “And it’s not dangerous.” If you discounted people getting shot in the garage, as Jay had.
“No filming today?” I asked to change the subject.
“Got a couple scenes in the can this morning. Van’s taking a long lunch with the investors. We’re resuming later this afternoon—doing a couple of interior scenes. Tomorrow’s the big love scene.” He shot a mischievous glance at Mom, who smiled, unperturbed.
“Anya, of course. My character, Hunter, falls for Antonia while protecting her. They have a steamy encounter on an old tugboat that’s interrupted when the hit man blows a hole in the boat and it sinks. Once Hunter rescues Antonia and kills the hit man, he agrees to change his name and enter witness protection with her. The last scene is the two of them having the bandages unwrapped from their faces following plastic surgery to have their appearances changed.”
“Nothing says ‘romance’ like getting a new nose for the one you love,” I observed.
Mom laughed. Ethan looked a little hurt. “That was my addition to the script,” he said.
Oops. A thought crossed my mind. “Where are you filming the love scene?”
“On a tugboat our locations manager spotted somewhere on Chesapeake Bay. He had it brought to Colonial Beach because it’s closer,” Ethan said. “It’s about an hour from here.”
“Any chance I could bring a friend along to watch the filming?” I asked, thinking of Edgar. He’d have a better chance of actually talking to Van on a confined set than in the middle of a mall action shoot. Maybe Ethan could finagle him a couple of minutes’ conversation with the famous director.
“Sure,” Ethan said happily, reading my request as increased interest in the moviemaking business, I was sure. He got down on the dense carpet and began doing sit-ups. “I’ll be shirtless tomorrow,” he said between crunches. “Gotta work on my six-pack.”
Mom gave him an indulgent smile and I escaped from the trailer, knowing I couldn’t get anything out of her with Ethan around. I’d catch her alone later and make her tell me whatever she was hiding about Tuesday morning. Not for one second did I think she’d killed Zoë; however, I was darn sure she knew more than she was saying, and I knew that if Helland identified her on the camera video, he’d have her in a police interrogation room faster than Fubar could catch a mouse.
Telling the dog barking at me from Anya Vale’s trailer to hush, I strolled into the mall, thinking I should call Jay to make sure he was still alive. As it turned out, I didn’t have to call because when I turned into the food court I spotted him handing cookies to a geriatric couple. He moved a bit stiffly, but otherwise didn’t look like someone who’d been shot less than twenty-four hours earlier. As the old couple left the Lola’s counter, I hurried over.
“What are you doing here?” I asked in a low voice.
“Hello to you, too,” Jay said, his eyes telling me he liked the way my teal sweater contrasted with my chestnut hair.
“Hello. You took a bullet last night.”
“It’s only a flesh wound,” he said in a weird British accent.
I stared at him.
I shook my head, and he sighed as if I’d disappointed him greatly.
“Are you really okay?” I asked.
“Sore,” he admitted, “but a handful of ibuprofen every few hours works wonders.”
“Why didn’t you stay home today?” I bit my tongue; I sounded like a worried girlfriend . . . or worse, his mother.
“We independent small business owners can’t afford to be lazing around in bed all day watching
All My Children
,” he said, smiling over my shoulder at a slender woman who looked like she was trying to decide if a chocolate macadamia nut cookie fit into the day’s eating plan.
I turned back to him as the woman drifted away, apparently deciding she hadn’t spent long enough on the StairMaster that morning to justify a cookie. Before I could say anything else, Kyra appeared, a vision in wide-legged terra-cotta-colored pants with a boat-necked shirt. Her hair was braided at the crown and flowed loose from about ear level and her smile lit up the food court. “My best friend and my favorite cookie man,” she greeted us. “I’ll have the usual, please.”