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Authors: Laura Disilverio

Tags: #mystery

3 Malled to Death (20 page)

BOOK: 3 Malled to Death
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“Of course. Give them my number.”

I nodded and rose. “I will. Thank you. It was good to see you again, Dr. Duvvoori.”

“Come anytime, EJ,” he said with a smile. “Stay well.”

Twenty-eight

• • • 

When I got
home, Grandpa Atherton was sitting at my kitchen table, hand feeding Fubar bites torn from a strip of bacon. With the other hand, he was sorting through a pile of mail I hadn’t gotten to from the past couple of days.

“Make yourself at home,” I said caustically, on edge from my talk with Dr. Duvvoori and the hellacious traffic I’d fought on the way back. I’d called Kyra on my cell phone, too, to warn her that a deranged stalker might have her in her sights, but she’d laughed me off, said she could take care of herself, and that had worried and annoyed me, too.

“I’ve got chicken pot pies in the oven.” Grandpa smiled at me.

The smell of browning puff pastry and rich stock and vegetables took the edge off my mood. “Want to move in?”

Grandpa chuckled. While he rose to peek in the oven, I disappeared into my bedroom to change. Fubar, I noticed, stayed with the bacon provider, rather than coming with me to ask how my day was. Fickle feline. Pulling an old Packers tee shirt over my head and slipping into a pair of holey sweats made me feel much more relaxed.

When I returned to the kitchen, the pot pies steamed from two plates on the table and Grandpa had opened bottles of beer to go with them. “Cheers,” he said, clinking his bottle against mine as we sat.

We ate in silence for a moment and Fubar disappeared through his cat flap when it became clear the handouts had dried up. The pot pies catapulted me back to my childhood, when Mom used to put pot pies in the oven for me and Clint whenever she and Ethan were going to be out for the evening. The babysitter du jour had served them up with tall glasses of cold milk once Clint and I were in our jammies. I used to love separating the fluted rim of crust, browned almost to burned, from the gooeyness inside the pie, and saving it for last. I did it again now, even though the gourmet-brand pot pies Grandpa had brought were a far cry from the Swanson’s of my childhood.

Gesturing toward one of my letters with his fork, Grandpa flicked some gravy on it. “Oops. Sorry, Emma-Joy.” He looked at me from under his brows. “That looks like it’s from a police department.”

“Did you figure that out from the return address which says ‘Omaha Police Department’?” I knew what was coming and it made me testy.

“I thought you’d changed your mind about police work,” he said.

“You
want
me to change my mind. That’s different.”

“I want you to be realistic—”

“Why does your version of ‘realistic’ mean I have to give up on joining a police force, doing the only kind of work I want to do?”

“Your leg—”

“It’s my brain that makes me a good cop and there’s nothing wrong with my brain. You’re as bad as Ethan!”

Grandpa didn’t respond; he merely picked up his empty foil container and stuffed it in the trash can, his lips pressed together. I mashed the last bits of pot pie into goo with my fork, watching from the corners of my eyes as Grandpa sponged the table. The silence grew. Leaning back, I stuffed my foil dish and napkin in the trash. When Grandpa returned to the table, he changed the subject.

“Detective Helland wasn’t in, but the detective I gave the note to, a woman named Livingston, took it seriously, I think. I gave her my friend’s name at the FBI so they can get the forensic data from her. She wanted copies of the earlier notes and I said we’d try to get them.

“I’ll give Delia a call,” I said. “Knowing her, she has them sorted and filed by date and subject matter. I know she’s on her honeymoon, but I don’t think she’d mind a quick phone call, under the circumstances. What time is it in Fiji?”

“Noon tomorrow,” Grandpa said.

I stared at him. “How do you—?” Shaking my head, I found my cell phone and called Delia’s cell, hoping it worked in Fiji. I figured it would because she’d always been reachable when traveling with Ethan.

After congratulating her again on her marriage, and apologizing for interrupting her honeymoon, I told her what we needed. In her usual efficient way, she said it was no problem and that she’d make a couple calls and arrange to have the file shipped to us via overnight mail.

“We’ll have them tomorrow sometime,” I told Grandpa.

“Good. Maybe a police psychologist can make something out of them.”

“That reminds me . . .” I told him about my conversation with Dr. Duvvoori. “He thinks it’s perfectly possible that the woman who wrote those letters thinks Ethan loves her back and that he’s being kept from her by Mom and who knows what other women. Zoë, obviously. Ethan hugged her to make her feel better after that prop gun went off by accident. I think the stalker misinterpreted that.” I hoped. I was going to get Mom to spill the beans tomorrow, come hell or high water.

Grandpa’s white brows drew together. “Then why Kyra? Or do you think the attack on her wasn’t related?”

“No, it was,” I said, rising in my excitement to pace the small kitchen. “The day she was attacked, we ran into Ethan on the set. He greeted her like a long-lost friend, threw his arms around her, kissed her. I can absolutely see how someone could misinterpret their relationship. Whoever it was knew Kyra was participating in a roller derby bout that night because we mentioned it several times.”

“It wouldn’t take a KGB agent to find out when and where,” Grandpa said.

“Right. So she drives to the city auditorium, hides, and waits for Kyra to come out.” I frowned. “Or maybe she follows Kyra there from the mall. That would explain how she knew which car was Kyra’s.”

“Pretty ballsy,” Grandpa observed. “There were a lot of people around, weren’t there?”

I nodded. “Yes. She’s losing it, losing control, I think. She’s taking bigger and bigger risks.”

“What did your shrink say were the chances she’d turn against Ethan eventually, start to blame him?”

I stared at him, appalled that I hadn’t thought of something so obvious.

Grandpa smiled grimly. “Make a list of who was there when Ethan hugged Kyra and Zoë. If we cross-reference the two lists, we should narrow down the suspect pile.”

“It was crowded both times. All sorts of movie people were milling around. I don’t know half their names. But I’ll try.” I found a pad of paper by the phone and sat at the kitchen table.

“Concentrate on remembering the women,” Grandpa advised.

“Duh,” I muttered under my breath. “The straight women,” I added, crossing Margot Chelius’s name off my list. Or did she swing both ways, like Astrid apparently did? I wrote Margot’s name down again and sighed. It took me twenty minutes, and when I was done I knew the lists were flawed and incomplete at best. The list of people who had been present both times looked like this: Anya Vale, Bree Spurrier, Iona Moss, Margot Chelius, Vandelinde, the actor playing the hit man (Brad Something), Grayson Bleek, miscellaneous police extras, crew members, security men.

“This doesn’t exactly help us zero in on a single suspect,” I said, passing the list to Grandpa.

“It narrows down the field,” he said. “I’ll get started on background checks on all these people, even the men. Who knows? Maybe the stalker is a gay man.”

“Writing on pink stationery sprinkled with Shalini?” I didn’t try to hide my skepticism.

“You never know,” Grandpa said. He rose to leave, tucking the page into a pocket. He kissed my forehead. “Goodnight, Emma-Joy. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Only when Grandpa had left did a new thought cross my mind. We were basing our whole argument that it was a stalker who killed Zoë on the theory that someone shot at Mom, trying to eliminate her from Ethan’s life. What if Mom got shot at not because she was married to Ethan, but because she saw something the morning Zoë died, something that would identify the murderer? Fubar head-butted my ankle, but I ignored him, thinking it through. In that scenario the attack on Kyra was Lexie the Loon out for revenge or a knife-wielding mugger. I shivered. Mom was in danger either way, and the sooner I found out what she’d been up to Tuesday morning, the safer she’d be.

• • • 

Although I wanted
to hightail it out to see Mom Monday morning, I had to work. My first stop was the old perfume store where Detective Helland’s task force had set up shop. The blond detective was giving directions to two officers when I walked in. Finishing with them, he greeted me with a lifted brow.

“Any progress?” I asked.

“Grayson Bleek confessed to creating and distributing the antiviolence flyers,” Helland said. “He and his brother Hayden, who’s one of the movie’s security guards, founded the Anti-Violence Anti-Capitalism Movement two years ago in response to, and I quote, ‘the insensitivity of the greater Hollywood community to the deleterious effects of conspicuous consumption and glorification of violence on the American ethos.’” He read from his notebook and looked up at me with a gleam in his eye.

“Catchy,” I offered, “although they’d never make it in the military with a clunky acronym like AVACM.”

Helland laughed, his gray blue eyes seeming lighter and bluer than usual. “I knew you’d appreciate it. Anyway, he confessed to the sabotage but categorically denies having anything to do with Winters’s death or the shots fired at the Jarretts.”

“Of course.”

“Of course,” Helland agreed. “However, he has an airtight alibi for the evening your parents were shot at. He was at the dentist having an emergency crown fitted.”

“What about his brother?”

“Filling out insurance paperwork. He drove Grayson to and from the procedure. The dentist’s office confirms they were both there. Neither one could have shot at your parents.”

“Let me tell you what I found out.” Handing him a copy of the latest letter from TMD, which Grandpa had already turned over to Detective Livingston, I went through my conversations with Dr. Duvvoori and Grandpa yesterday, and then handed him Duvvoori’s phone number and the list I’d come up with. “I think it’s possible the stalker, this TMD, killed Zoë and tried to kill my mom and maybe Kyra,” I said. I wasn’t willing to tell him my mom had been in the mall last Tuesday.

Helland edged his jaw to the left as he thought. “Let’s get some coffee.” Ushering me out of the office, he turned toward The Bean Bonanza, bought two cups of coffee, and handed one to me without asking what kind I wanted. I sipped it, grateful for the caffeine after a restless night; I’d dreamed of a
Psycho
shower scene in reverse with a woman stabbing Ethan over and over again through a shower curtain.

“You’re worried about your folks.”

Helland made it a statement, and I nodded. “Yes. Especially my mom, since the stalker’s already tried to kill her. But also my dad. What if the stalker decides Ethan has betrayed her?”

Despite the early hour and the mall not being open for shopping, Fernglen hummed with activity. Mall walkers racewalked or ambled past us, and a few shop owners and managers were already slipping under their stores’ grilles to catch up with cash register reconciliation or inventory tasks. A man from the plant service squirted water into the planters from a huge blue tank he towed, and wiped dust off the broad-leafed hostas and rubber plants.

“Doing background checks on all these people will take time,” Helland said, “even if we focus on the women.”

I sighed with relief, knowing he’d accepted my reasoning. “Grandpa’s already started on it.”

Helland’s look soured. “This is police work,” he snapped, “not amateur hour. I appreciate your bringing me this information, but you and your grandfather have got to step back now. You don’t want to end up in this killer’s sights, or screw up evidence and make it impossible for us to prosecute her.”

Every time I started to half like this man, he went out of his way to piss me off.

“And don’t bother to tell me you’re not amateurs,” Helland went on before I could object, “because neither of you carries a badge.”

I was debating whether to snap back at him or walk off in a dignified dudgeon, when he added, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Something in his voice defused my anger and I buried my confusion by taking a long sip from my cup. I peeped up at him through the steam drifting off the coffee. Was he worried about me? He met my gaze levelly for a moment and then stared into his brew, as if he’d find an important clue in the aromatic depths. The awkward silence stretched to fifteen seconds before I said, “I guess this means Jesse Willard is no longer a suspect?”

“It doesn’t mean anything until we’ve made an arrest,” Helland said disagreeably. “Stay out of it, EJ. It’s police work.” He crumpled his cup, lobbed it into a trash can ten feet away, and walked off before I could respond.

Fine. I stomped back to the security office, arriving in time to see Coco emerge from her office wearing a navy blue catsuit with a beanie-type hat. Joel sat in front of the monitors, but turned to face her when she said, “Ta-da!” She flung her arms wide. Her red curls bounced. “What do you think?”

“Of?”

“The new uniform, of course.” She turned around, displaying curves too fulsome for a spandex-laced knit. “It’s very Emma Peel, don’t you think? Someone gave my sister and her new hubby a boxed set of
Avengers
DVDs and we watched them after the bachelorette party. I knew immediately that this was the look we needed for our uniforms.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Joel said, taking the words out of my mouth.

I wondered what they’d had to drink at the bachelorette party, and if there was any chance someone had spiked their drinks with a hallucinogen.

“Not for the men, silly,” Coco giggled. “Your uniforms would have the same sort of top, but slacks on the bottom. Skinny ones. And shoes like John Steed wore. I’m modeling this for the FBI board this afternoon. Wish me luck!” She darted back into her office.

“Kill me now,” Joel said.

I choked. “Look on the bright side.”

He peered at me suspiciously.

“Shoplifters and vandals would be laughing too hard to steal or deface anything here at Fernglen. Think how our crime rate would go down.”

“I don’t care if it goes to zero,” Joel said, spinning his chair in his agitation. “I’m not walking around dressed like some cheesy spy from the sixties. You have to talk to her.”

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