Authors: Laura Disilverio
• • •
It was a
great plan, but midway through lunch, I got a call from Coco MacMillan.
“EJ,” she wailed, “two officers went home with the stomach flu and I don’t know what to do. I think Joel Rooney’s the only one at the mall now. They called me before they left, but I’m in Boston for the weekend—my sister’s wedding—and I can’t—”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said with an inward sigh. “I’ll go in.”
Coco sighed her relief. “Thanks, EJ, you’re a lifesaver. Did I tell you I designed the bridesmaids’ gowns for the wedding? They’re lavender silk with an asymmetric neckline and—”
• • •
After kissing Jay
good-bye and putting on my uniform, I trudged into the mall with less than my usual lukewarm enthusiasm for my job. I had trouble pushing thoughts of Jay out of my head as I walked into the office. Joel, looking rumpled and harassed, gave me a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, EJ.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” I said. “It is what it is. At least it’s a Sunday so we can go home early.”
“Yeah. I called Edgar and he’s feeling fine and will be here for the midshift.”
“Good thinking.” I gave Joel an approving look. “I called Vic Dallabetta on my way over and she should be here any minute. She’ll have Josie Rae with her—couldn’t get child care at the last minute like this—so I told her she could do dispatch and her daughter can stay here with her in the office while you and I get out and about.”
“Fine by me,” Joel said. He was always eager to escape from the security office. “We got a call two minutes ago about a guy making a ruckus at the pet shop. Howling like a wolf, or maybe a hyena. The woman wasn’t sure. He’s scaring the bunnies and gerbils, she said. Want me to check it out?”
“Go.” I waved him away. The gesture knocked a stack of papers off my desk and I bent with an exasperated sigh to pick them up. The flyers distributed on the movie set, I noticed: Stop making movies, yada-yada. I shuffled the black-and-white photocopies into a pile and then slid one back out again. This one had red on it, a red drop of blood dripping from the knife. My fingertips tingled. Was this the original? Had someone used this page to make the other photocopies? A memory lurked just out of reach. I thought I knew where this came from. I shut my eyes and an image of a red stapler popped into my head. Bleek! This page had come from the props trailer. I remembered picking it up when it fell, thinking that the red was the same color as the stapler.
I smiled grimly. I was going to have a serious talk with Mr. Grayson Bleek as soon as I could find him. I frowned, reconsidering. I had to tell Detective Helland, I decided reluctantly. If Bleek really had had something to do with Zoë’s death or the other attacks, Helland, with the full power of the police behind him, was better equipped to deal with Bleek than I was. Damn it, anyway. Why should Helland get to have all the fun after I’d pieced it together? Nevertheless, I dialed his number.
Helland answered, which surprised me. I’d figured that on a Sunday he’d be out doing whatever he did on a day off. I thought about that for a quick second. Was he into sports? Did he hang out with friends or family? Go to the movies? I knew he was a gifted amateur photographer, but I didn’t know much else about his off-duty life. Nor did I want to, I told myself as he said, “Officer Ferris. Don’t tell me you’ve found another body?”
Refusing to rise to the bait, I explained my flyer theory. “So, I think Grayson Bleek distributed them,” I said. “Maybe he killed Zoë to make his point when production didn’t stop. The note said to quit making the movie ‘or we’ll stop you.’ He had access to the weapons on set, he didn’t much like Zoë, and he got her job when she was killed—it all fits. Although,” I added, thinking as I talked, “it seems a bit ironic that an antiviolence organization would use murder to make its point.”
“Beyond ironic,” Helland said drily. “Ludicrous.”
I was stung by his tone. “I’m not saying Bleek did it, but I’d think you might want to have another conversation with him.”
“However did I do my job before I had you to help me?” Helland asked, but I heard resignation in his voice and the skritch of pen on paper that told me he was making note of my information. “Any idea where he is now?”
“No. He might be in the props trailer in the parking lot, though. While I’ve got you on the line—” I told him about the attack on Kyra.
“Did you report it?”
Clicking from a computer keyboard filtered through the phone. “Got it.” He fell silent for a moment, presumably scanning the report. “No description of the assailant?”
“No, but Kyra thought it was a woman.”
“I presume you think this is related to the killing? Any idea why someone would go after her?”
“I don’t know,” I said, letting my frustration leak into my tone. “I’m not even sure it’s connected, but the murder, and then someone shooting at Ethan and my mom, and then the attack on Kyra . . . it’s all too weird and unusual
to be connected.”
“Muggings aren’t that unusual, even in Vernonville,” Helland said mildly, and I knew he wasn’t trying to rile me.
“I suppose not.”
“The report says Kyra had an altercation with a member of the other roller derby team and that the woman might have lain in wait for her and attacked her. There’s a note here that the investigating officer has been unable to contact the woman yet, presumably because she and the roller derby team were on their way back to Danville. We’ve asked the Danville police to question her.”
“That’s something,” I said, figuring there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance that the enraged roller derby opponent had knifed Kyra. “That still leaves Zoë’s murder and the attack on Ethan. Those have got to be connected. They knew each other, they were both working on
, they both received those antiviolence notes . . .”
Vic Dallabetta arrived then, along with a youngster in braces. I said good-bye to Helland and hello to Vic and Josie Rae. A short, stocky woman with dark hair, Vic Dallabetta had a chip on her shoulder that I’d worked hard to overcome. As a single mother, she felt discriminated against and I would schedule her for shifts that enabled her to spend the most time with Josie Rae. This was the first time I’d met her daughter and I saw she was eyeing me with the same curiosity I felt toward her. I held out my hand. “You must be Josie Rae. I’m EJ.”
She shook my hand gingerly. “Mom talks about you.”
Carefully not looking Vic’s way, I said, “She talks about you, too. She says you’re an artist?”
Josie Rae nodded, dark hair like her mom’s swishing against her shoulders. “Sure am. Look.” She pulled out a sketchbook and flipped the top open.
“Josie Rae—” Vic began.
“I’d like to see them,” I said.
They were mostly manga images of girls with big heads and huge eyes, drawn in pen and colored with markers. I turned the page. Josie Rae hovered over me, peering over my shoulder, smelling faintly of bubble gum when she breathed out. “I like the colors, and the way you do shading.”
“I can’t do hands very good,” Josie Rae said. She scrunched her face and gave a philosophical, one-shoulder shrug.
“Thanks for sharing them with me,” I said, handing the sketchbook back. “Will you show me what you draw while you’re working here with your mom?”
“Maybe.” She turned away as if it didn’t matter, but I thought she was pleased at my interest.
Giving Vic a wave, I headed for the Segway and pointed it toward Merlin’s Cave. I found Kyra at work as I expected to, the bandage on her arm concealed by a gauzy teal green blouse over a slim-fitting black skirt. “I knew you’d be here,” I said, “even though the doctor told you to rest.”
“This is resting,” Kyra said, gesturing toward the customer-free store with a sigh. “If it gets any more restful I’m going to go insane.”
“Have you advertised for an assistant?”
“Not yet. The thought of wading through résumés from hordes of unqualified teens or, worse, overqualified electrical engineers who’ve been out of a job since they were laid off a year ago makes it not seem worth it.”
“What would constitute unqualified?” I asked. “You didn’t know diddly-squat about magic or this New Age stuff or any of the merchandise before you took over last year.”
Kyra bent a look at me. “Yeah, but I knew how to make change if handed five dollars for a dollar-forty-seven trinket, and I knew how to listen to customers and to say ‘You’re welcome’ instead of ‘No problem’ when someone says ‘Thank you.’ Teens these days don’t have basic addition and subtraction skills, and sure as hell don’t have the kind of manners Mama drilled into me and my brothers.”
I grinned. “Oh, you’re getting curmudgeonly now that you’re headed toward forty.”
“Forty! I just turned thirty-two.”
“Just sayin’. When someone starts talking about ‘teens these days,’ it’s a sure sign of encroaching senility.”
She tossed a stuffed unicorn at me. I dodged it, laughing, and then picked it up and restored it to its shelf. “I talked to Detective Helland and he seems to think last night’s attack was a garden-variety mugging. At any rate, it doesn’t sound like the police have made any progress in finding your attacker.”
“Not surprised,” Kyra shrugged.
I told her about Jay and me talking to Jesse Willard at the park and my conviction that he hadn’t killed Zoë Winters.
“Jay and you, huh?” Kyra said slyly, completely passing over what I’d said about Jesse. “How did that come about?”
“He showed up on my doorstep this morning,” I said airily, pretending to examine a book about Stonehenge in a revolving rack. “We decided—”
“The best thing the two of you could think to do on a first date was interview murder suspects?” Kyra said, disbelieving.
“It wasn’t a date. It—”
“He shows up on your doorstep unannounced on a Sunday morning, probably with flowers or—”
“Coffee and cinnamon buns.”
“Uh-huh. It was a date.”
I hadn’t had a date in so long—not since before I went to Afghanistan—that I hadn’t even recognized one when I was on it. I let a smile blossom. “I like him,” I confessed.
“What’s not to like? He’s handsome, single—He is single, right?”
I just looked at her. Kyra and I had slightly different views on the acceptability of dating married men. She knew darned well I thought married men were strictly off-limits. A couple years back, when she’d had a brief relationship with a married athlete, I’d asked her what was attractive about a guy willing to lie to his wife and spend time with a mistress instead of his kids.
“Right. He’s good-looking, single, owns his own business, and he’s head over heels for you.”
“Puh-leeze. You don’t see him giving me free cookies every time I walk past the food court, do you? Or looking at me like I’m the only light in a dark cave.”
“He doesn’t.” I flushed.
“He does.” Taking pity on my discomfort, she changed the subject. “Anyway, you were telling me about Jesse Willard . . . wait a minute.” Her brown eyes lit up. “He’s looking for a job, isn’t he?”
I knew immediately where she was going. “He said so, yes, but I don’t know if a customer service—”
“I could at least talk to him about it,” Kyra said, overriding my concerns about Jesse’s ability to cope with sometimes annoying or frustrating customers. Even those of us without traumatic brain injuries sometimes wanted to bean unreasonable customers over the head or toss them into the food court fountain. “Do you have his phone number?”
• • •
I gave it
to her and left to continue my patrolling, knowing from long experience that there was no point in trying to talk Kyra out of something she’d decided to do. She could charge through the Rams’ offensive line to achieve a goal, which is how she became an Olympic athlete, I guessed. My route took me past Yalenian & Son Jewelers. Jay and I hadn’t discussed his search for the diamonds this morning, but the store brought him to mind. Thinking about Jay gave me a tingly feeling and put a smile on my face as I continued around the top level of the mall.
Then a thought brought me to a halt directly in front of a man dragging an Exercycle down the hall. What would happen when Jay found the diamonds? An empty feeling in my stomach gave me the answer: he’d leave. He’d go on to the next recovery job, which might be a yacht in Africa, or a stolen artifact in Colombia, for all I knew.
“Why so grim, Emma-Joy?”
Grandpa Atherton had approached from the side and I hadn’t even seen him. I shook off my dismay at the realization that Jay Callahan might move on at any moment. I could think through that later. “Hi, Grandpa. I’m not grim . . . just thinking. What are you up to?”
Wearing his favorite blue blazer over gray flannel slacks and with his white hair combed off his face, he looked ready for a photo shoot for
, if they did a Golden Years edition. “I heard about Kyra getting knifed last night,” he said, white brows drawing together. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m sorry. It’s been a busy day. I haven’t had a chance. The police think it was a mugging.”
Grandpa looked unconvinced but didn’t pursue it. “I met your mom for lunch today. She gave me this.” He handed over a sheet of pink paper, folded in half.
I held the corner between my thumb and forefinger, reluctant to mess up possible prints. “Should I—”
“My FBI friend’s already had a go at it,” Grandpa said, motioning for me to open the note. “She put a rush on it for me. No joy. Same stationery as before, same perfume, no prints.”
Reassured, I unfolded the page. The floral scent drifted up and made me sneeze. “‘My beloved Ethan,’” I read aloud. “‘Don’t think I blame you for your lack of faithfulness to me. I know you feel the same way I do, but you are forced to hide it. I understand, my love. Don’t worry. I know who to blame and how to deal with them. Soon, we will be together, forever, free to love as we were meant to love. Truly, Madly, Deeply.’”
I looked up, feeling slightly ill, and Grandpa nodded, apparently satisfied with my reaction. “Makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it?”