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Authors: Jonathan Kellerman

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Evidence (9 page)

BOOK: Evidence
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“Anbar
Eye-raq, sir.”

“All
right, you get a pass, but next time speak up for truth and justice. Got it?”

“Yes,
sir.”

“Anything
happen while I was gone?”

“Not
much, sir.”

“Not
much or nothing?”

“Pretty quiet, overall, sir,” said Ramos-Martinez.
“That security guard came back, said he was still officially on the job. I told
him he could stand out on the street but couldn’t gain access. Or park his car
anywhere on the street. He usually pulls up here on the dirt, wanted to again.
I told him it was part of the scene. He decided to leave.”

“God
forbid
he
should get cited.”

Silence.

“He
put up any fuss?”

“No,
sir.”

“You
pick up any ulterior motive on his part? Like wanting to get back in there and
alter evidence?”

“He
didn’t argue, sir. Guess guarding it now’s kinda horse after the cart, sir.”

Milo
stared at him.

“My
dad says that all the time, sir.”

“Can
I assume your fellow officers searched the entire premises—house and yard—as I
instructed?”

“Yes,
sir. Thoroughly. I was part of that. We found some soda cans toward the back of
the property, dented and rusty, like they’d been there for a while. They were
tagged and bagged appropriately and sent to the lab, sir. No weapons, or narcotics
or blood or nothing like that, sir. CS techies said nothing interesting up in
that room, either, sir.”

Milo
turned to me. “Where’s the nearest hardware store?”

“Nothing’s
really close. Maybe Santa Monica near Bundy.”

Back
to Ramos-Martinez. “Officer, here’s what I need you to do: Drive to the
hardware store at Santa Monica near Bundy, buy a good-quality padlock and the
shortest chain you can find, and bring all that back A-sap.” Fishing out his
wallet, he handed bills to the young officer.

“Right
now, sir?”

“Before
now, Officer. Put a move on—pretend it’s a code-two.
Don’t call in to report your location, either. Anyone fusses, blame it on me.”

“No
sweat, sir,” said Ramos-Martinez. “I don’t mind fuss.”

“That so?”

“Yes,
sir. Takes a lot to get me worried, sir.”

The
day had remained warm and the turret should’ve reflected that. Instead, it felt
chilly and dank and my nose filled with stink that didn’t exist. The same
stench I’d carried around for days after my first visit, years ago, to the
crypt on Mission Road. Some old cluster of olfactory brain cells, activated by
memory.

Milo
slouched and chewed his dead cigar. “Okay, we’re here. Give me some thunderous
insight.”

“If
the killer stalked Backer and Jane, I’m wondering why he chose to strike here.
The staircase is pretty well hidden and he’d have to sneak his way up in the
dark, be careful not to make noise. If Backer and Jane were close to the
staircase, he’d risk being seen or heard well before getting to the top. And
with them higher than him, he’d be at a serious disadvantage. One good shove
and our boy’s tumbling.”

He
said, “So maybe our boy knew Backer and Jane came up here regularly to mess
around, and had the lay of the place—pun intended. Hell, Alex, if the two of
them were bumping around, heavy-breathing, that would’ve blocked out
footsteps.”

“Familiarity
with the site could also mean someone who’d worked here, a tradesmen assigned
to the job. Maybe someone who knew Backer through construction. If you find a
history of violence, stalking, sexual offenses, you’ve got something to work
with.”

“Jane’s
jealous sig-oth just happens to be Joe Hardhat?”

“That
or someone who’d seen Des with Jane and grew obsessed with her.”

“Job’s
been dormant for two years, we’re talking a tradesman who moved on.”

“Maybe
not far enough.”

He
looked at his watch. “You go on home, I’m gonna do my own walk-through of the
grounds, stick around until Ramos-Martinez brings the lock and chain.”

“Keeping Doyle Bryczinski out.”

“Keeping
everyone
the hell out,” he said. “Besides, I’m a prince among men. Why
not pretend to have a castle?”

Robin
was waiting for me in the living room, all sixty-three inches of her curled on
the couch, listening to Stefano Grondona play Bach on old guitars. A white silk
dress played off against her olive skin. Auburn curls fanned on the cushion.
Blanche snuggled against Robin’s chest, knobby blond head resting near Robin’s
left hand.

Both
of them smiled. It can be jarring when a French bulldog’s flat face takes on an
unmistakably human expression, and some people startle when Blanche switches on
the charm. I’m used to it, but it still makes me wonder about the standard
evolutionary charts.

I
said, “Hey, girls,” and kissed them both. Lips for Robin, top of the head for
Blanche. Unlike our previous dog, a feisty brindle male Frenchie named Spike,
Blanche has no jealousy issues. I gave her bat-ears a scratch.

“You
look tired, baby.”

“I’m
fine.”

“Do
you mind going out?”

I was
still stuffed with Italian, said, “Not at all.”

We
drove to a place at the top of the Glen where good jazz was mixed with decent
food and a generous bar. The band was offset and the stand-in sound track was
low-volume sax, something Brazilian-tinged, maybe Stan Getz. We drank wine,
settled in.

Robin
said, “What’s the case?”

I
told her.

“Holmby.
That’s close.”

“No
danger, Rob. This was personal.”

I
summed up Backer’s proclivities, the interviews of Holman, Sanfelice, and
Passant.

She
said, “They all sound like soap opera characters.”

“Don
Juan and his fan club.”

“If he was a woman, he’d be labeled a slut.”

“Or a
courtesan,” I said. “Or ambassador to a major ally. It’s always a matter of pay
grade.”

“Borodi
Lane is serious pay grade, Alex. Maybe he took Jane there because she was a
rich girl.”

“Her
clothes didn’t say that. I was wondering about someone who worked in the
neighborhood. Anyone who spent time there knew the job was inactive and
security was lax.”

The
food came. The band approached the stage.

Robin
took hold of my hand. “Guess I should give you credit.”

“For
what?”

“Not
being a Don Juan.”

“That
deserves a prize? Fine, I’ll take what I can get.”

“Hey,”
she said, stroking my cheek. “Handsome dude with a fancy degree and no
mortgage? Not to mention other … ahem … attributes. You could be partying like
it’s 1999.”

“Bring
on the platform shoes.”

“That’s
the seventies, dear.”

“See,”
I said. “I’m out of touch, would never survive the meat market.”

“Oh,
you’d thrive, sweetie. It would be one thing if you were a twerp with no
libido, but I know otherwise.”

“That’s
me,” I said. “Sexual Superman with the morals of a saint.”

“You
laugh,” she said. “I smile.”

CHAPTER 10

We
drove home well fed and watered. As I held the door open, Robin said, “Nice
place you’ve got here, Don.” We disrobed in the dark, collapsed under the
covers. Afterward, she said, “That was great, but next time platform shoes.”

I
awoke at four eighteen, was at my desk five minutes later, pupils constricting
as the computer screen filled with light. Plugging in the Borodi address
produced a four-year-old squib in
L.A. Design Quarterly
.

“Masterson
and Associates, Century City, will be the architects for a mammoth project
planned in Holmby Hills this fall. The 28,000-square-foot residence sits on a
2.42-acre lot on Borodi Lane and will be the L.A. pied-à-terre for an unnamed foreign
investor.”

Marjorie
Holman’s dismissive comment about Helga Gemein flashed in my head. No need to
work, Daddy was a German shipping tycoon.

A
stretch, but you needed to be at that level for a project of that scope.

I searched some more, pairing Gemein and Borodi, found
nothing.

Five
hours later, I was in Milo’s office and he was shaking his head. “Already
checked the assessor, nada.”

“What
about the building permit?”

“There’s
a perfectly legit four-year-old permit on file. And that Century City outfit—Masterson—were
the architects, but the property owner of record is a corporation called DSD
Incorporated, Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C., and for the last
thirty-nine months, that address matches the headquarters of a soybean industry
lobbyist who never heard of DSD. No corporate listings, anywhere. Maybe they
were a sleazeball hedge fund that went poof.”

I
said, “The article said foreign investor.”

“So
DSD was a holding company set up as some kind of tax dodge. Does that bother
me? Not unless it relates to two bodies in a turret.”

He
opened a desk drawer, slammed it shut. Wheeled his chair back the three inches
allotted and knuckled his eyelids. His windowless cell was ripe with stale
tobacco and fumes from the burnt coffee cooked up in the big detective room.
He’d fetched two cups, had finished his. Mine cooled, untouched. Life was too
short.

I
said, “Any word on the autopsy?”

“Bodies
are stacked up in the fridge closet like firewood, coroner’s not seeing this as
high priority because cause of death is pretty obvious. I bitched, but they’ve
got a point. The X-ray of Backer’s head shows bullet frags in his brain, and
Jane’s a clear strangulation. What they didn’t find was any sign of sexual
assault. Oh, yeah, just in case I was getting the least bit cheerful, the only
prints that show up in Backer’s car are his and Jane’s but since she’s not on
record, big damn deal. She doesn’t have a single distinguishing scar,
deformity, or tattoo. Though she did get a nose job, a long time ago. I’ve been
trolling the Doe Network and every other missing persons database, but so far
nothing, even allowing for a bigger schnoz. And Backer’s hard drive turned out
to be more of the same: porn, ecology, architecture.”

“Sounds
like a Woody Allen film,” I said.

“Sounds
like a tragedy. I’ve already left two messages with those
hooh-hah
architects, still waiting to hear back. Let’s go see what the neighbors have to
say.”

This
time he drove. “In case the parking nazis return.”

“You’ve
gotten yourself immunity?”

He
produced the crumpled ticket. Tore it into shreds and dropped them in the
trash. “I’m a scofflaw.”

But
for the crime scene, Borodi Lane was stately and sun-splotched. He stopped to
check the new chain. Snug.

“I
still don’t get the point of a half-day patrol, nothing on the weekend.”

I
said, “People capable of building houses like this rarely deal with the
day-to-day. Being across the ocean would make it even harder to stay in touch.
Some underling probably told a subordinate to order a plebe to maintain
security but keep an eye on the budget. A peon lower down the ladder tried to
earn brownie points by skimping. Besides, what was to steal? Rotten wood?”

“Unnamed
foreign investor. Okay, let’s get to know the good folk of Borodi Lane.”

Six
pushes of gate buzzers produced three no-answers and an equal number of Spanish
housekeepers answering the intercom. Milo coaxed the maids outside, showed them
Jane Doe’s picture.

Perplexed
expressions, head shakes.

The
seventh house was an unfenced brick Tudor, generous but not monumental, fronted
by a cobbled motor court. Bentley, Benz, Range Rover, Audi. A young brunette in
lavender velour sweats answered the door. Freckles struggled through matte
foundation. Long silky hair was tied up carelessly. “Is this about the murder?”

“Yes,
ma’am.”

“Ma’am?
I’m twenty-five.”

Milo
smiled. “I vaguely remember being twenty-five.”

She
extended a hand. “Amy Thal. This is my parents’ place. Before
they left, they told me what happened. Mom didn’t even
want me to stay but I told her to chill. I always house-sit the cats when they
go to Paris.”

“When
did your parents leave?”

“Early
this morning.” Widening smile. “Don’t worry, they’re not fugitives from
justice, the trip was planned months ago. But if you want to interrogate them,
I can give you the number, even the address of their apartment. Ernest and
Marcia Thal, Rue Saint-Honoré. I guess it’s possible they’re traveling as
Bonnie and Clyde.”

She
giggled.

Milo
didn’t.

“Sorry,
I don’t mean to make light of it; to be honest, it’s a little scary. Though I
guess it’s not hugely surprising.”

BOOK: Evidence
10.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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