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Authors: Susan Dunlap

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Not Exactly a Brahmin (19 page)

BOOK: Not Exactly a Brahmin
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“What do you think you’re doing?” Lois stood at the door, one hand on her hip, the other holding a cigarette. In my rush to find out what Ott had done, to find out about Cap Danziger, I had completely forgotten Lois Palmerston.

“This is a report from the detective your husband hired,” I said, standing up. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”

“You don’t have any right to go through his desk. I didn’t say you could do that.”

“The report wasn’t hidden. It was in the first place anyone would look. You knew it was here. There’s no need to deny it. You knew what was in it. And you knew why your husband was getting this information. Now why was that?”

“I want you to put that back where you found it and leave my house.”

“You called and begged me to come here.”

“That’s what you say.”

I stared. I hadn’t expected this level of duplicity. I took a breath. Inspector Doyle’s face flashed before me. I didn’t want to think how he would react to a second complaint in two days. The woman was a pro. She’d probably throw in my crack about the Doberman, too. But I wasn’t about to leave. “Mrs. Palmerston, the people mentioned in this report are your friends. Why was your husband checking up on them? What is it that connects the Munsons and Carol Grogan?”

“I told you to leave.”

“I’ll go when you answer my questions.”

She stared at me. I returned her gaze. It was a moment before she looked down and took a drag of her cigarette.

“All right,” she said. “I’m going to tell you what I told Ralph about those people and then I expect you to leave. Is that a promise?”

“We don’t make promises in Homicide investigations.”

She looked like she was going to argue and then suddenly found the effort too great. “Come downstairs,” she said. “I’m tired.”

I followed her to the living room and sat next to her on one of the sofas. She stubbed out her cigarette and immediately lit another.

“I needed money. I borrowed it from my friends, from the people mentioned in the detective’s report. I never told Ralph until he heard from the doctor, that he was going blind.”

I said nothing, waiting.

“It was a very emotional time for both Ralph and me. I shouldn’t have told him; I wasn’t in control. But we were afraid; we thought at first that his eye problem came from a brain tumor. You don’t last long when you have one of those. We thought he was going to die.”

Still I waited.

“Like I said, it was a very emotional time. All of a sudden, he wanted me to tell him everything. Up till then he hadn’t wanted to know anything about me before I met him, I mean anything really personal. Now he wanted everything. He wanted to know what my childhood was like, what courses I’d taken in college, how I’d lived afterward. He wanted to hear about every man I’d dated, every one I’d slept with, who I’d borrowed money from. Ralph said he wanted to make restitution before he died. He wanted to leave the world with a clean slate. So I told him. I’d taken money from friends.”

“How much had you borrowed?”

“Oh, I don’t know—”

“Mrs. Palmerston, your husband asked you this question. He wanted to know how much. You told him. You know. Now how much?”

“Five thousand dollars.”

“Each?”

“Yes.”

I restrained a whistle. Lois Palmerston certainly could get the most out of people. To Carol Grogan and Nina and Jeffrey Munson, five thousand dollars would have been a great deal of money. I asked, “When was that?”

“Five years ago.”

“Why? For what?”

She swallowed. “Officer Smith,” she said in a low, very controlled voice. “I’ve answered your questions. I’m distraught. My husband was killed yesterday.” She looked at her watch. “Two days ago now. It’s after midnight. I haven’t slept in God knows when. If you don’t leave right now, I am going to call my lawyer at home.”

“Just one more question. Who was the person at Trent Cadillac?” I held my breath.

“No. That’s all.”

There was an icy desperation to her words. I knew I’d get nothing else out of her, except another complaint. I stood up.

“Put the detective’s report down,” she said.

I did, and left.

CHAPTER 19

T
HE THOUGHT OF GOING
home passed through my mind only briefly. If I was going to be awake and furious, I might as well do it at the station dictating my report. Maybe Lois Palmerston would file another complaint anyway. I’d gone out of my way to accommodate her. I should have known better. Nine to five, they’d told us in patrol officer training; don’t take your work home with you. You only end up screwing yourself. And don’t give extra services, I could have added, and then expect to get something in return for them, particularly from someone with a record of using people like Lois Palmerston’s. Four years on the force; I should have known better.

I crossed University at King Way, running the red light after the two cars ahead of me. Cars on University hit their horns. I blew mine back.

What I really wished was that I had Cap Danziger’s home address, that I could go there and yank him out of his patrician bed, and force the truth out of him.

I pulled up by the station. There was a spot in front. I wasn’t even pleased. Goddamnit, I wished Howard was here to talk to. I could go by his house. For his house this wasn’t too late.

But I paused only momentarily. I wasn’t going to discuss
this
with Howard. Or with Pereira. After a year of complaints about my ex-husband, I wasn’t about to admit to my friends that the first man I was attracted to was probably up to his ears in my murder case.

I headed inside, dumped my purse on my desk, and pulled the one new message from my IN box. It was in Howard’s scrawl:
Lois P. clear with SFPD Vice.

So Lois hadn’t been involved in prostitution in San Francisco, or at least she’d never been picked up or even suspected. Another time I would have been disappointed at that dead end. Now, I was still too angry. I took my notes and walked to the dictation booths.

“Lois Palmerston, widow of the deceased,” I began, “called me at home at ten-thirty. She sounded shaky—see earlier report on her condition—and asked me several times to come to her house.” I realized I had deleted any mention of Cap Danziger being at my house when the call came.

I went on describing the footprints outside Lois’s windows. Stopping, I wondered who had made those prints. In running shoes, it could have been a man or a woman. It could have been ninety percent of the Berkeley population. Was it one of the Shareholders Five? Why would they be looking in Lois’s window, particularly if the house was dark? To see if they could break in and get Ott’s report? That made sense. But that also meant they knew of the existence of the report. Had Ralph told them? I felt sure that Ott, oddly professional Herman Ott, would never have revealed his assignment to the subjects of it. But if one of the five wanted to get that report, then the only logical reason was so that I wouldn’t find it and connect them to Ralph Palmerston’s murder.

I was beginning to feel better.

I described Lois Palmerston’s appearance, forwent any mention of the eggs and cocoa, and detailed my search of the premises and discovery of Ott’s report. Its contents I dictated as specifically as I could recall:

Adam Thede, his health food restaurant, and his tainted suppliers.

Carol Grogan, her house, and the overdue second mortgage.

Jeffrey Munson, Munsonalysis, and his contract with the South African supplier.

Nina Munson, her handmade jackets, and three of the four stores I could recall.

And “our friend at Trent Cadillac,” for whom Herman Ott had found no professional expertise necessary.

Controlling my resurgence of anger, I dictated Lois’s explanation of the list: her story that she had borrowed five thousand dollars from each of her friends, and that Ralph Palmerston had wanted to make restitution before he lost his sight. Did I believe that story? At a time like that, talking about childhood was understandable. Lovers—I could see that. But discussing outstanding personal debts was an odd inclusion. And despite whatever he might have told Herman Ott, Ralph Palmerston hadn’t done anything good for Adam Thede. It was possible that his information had come too late, as Thede suggested. What about Carol Grogan? Palmerston hadn’t paid the back payments on her second mortgage. Surely, he was the one who bought it from Peter Hargis. He could have canceled the entire mortgage. But if he had done that, Carol Grogan wouldn’t have called Lois to ask for a loan—if that indeed was the reason she had contacted Lois.

Nina? It wouldn’t be difficult to see if those stores were carrying her jackets.

Jeffrey? What good would it do him to know a contract he’d signed five years ago was with a South African supplier? For someone with Jeffrey’s radical pretensions, dealing with a South African-connected firm would be devastating. In Berkeley, that type of publicity could cripple Munsonalysis. But Jeffrey still seemed to be in business. Unlike Adam Thede, nothing bad had happened to him.

But what was so obvious about Cap Danziger’s interests? In what way would Ralph have helped him? Cap was handsome and charming, and had good connections. All he lacked was money. If Ralph Palmerston had done something good for Cap—given him money—Cap wouldn’t have been working late, night after night. If he had money, he would certainly have a car; we wouldn’t have driven to the bar in my car last night. So it wasn’t
good
that Ralph Palmerston had in mind for Cap. Did he instead plan to get him fired from Trent? As a punishment that wasn’t in the same league as losing the restaurant of your dreams, where you had the only opportunity to be creative in the world of vegetarian breakfasts. Losing one job selling cars merely meant that Cap Danziger would move to another. Car salesmen changed jobs all the time.

I sat back, idly listening to the guy in the next booth describing an assault on Telegraph. David Thomas, seller of feather ornaments, had attacked bodily one Timothy Arndt, seller of tie-dyed T-shirts on the next blanket, after Arndt’s springer spaniel had become too familiar with Thomas’s wares. Both principles were under arrest. The springer spaniel, presumably, was home with the T-shirts (and maybe a few contraband feathers).

I walked to the machine and got a cup of coffee. At two-thirty in the morning it tasted awful.

What if “our friend at Trent Cadillac” was not Cap Danziger but Sam Nguyen? (It had to be one of the two; they were the only Trent employees at the dealership five years ago.) I hesitated to even consider the possibility for fear I would be misled by my own desires. But if Clayton Jackson’s conclusion about Lois Palmerston—that she was dealing cocaine—was correct, then it would make sense that her connection was not Cap Danziger but Sam Nguyen. Sam Nguyen might be known as being adamantly opposed to drugs, but dealers hardly advertised their trade. Sam Nguyen may just have worked out a good cover. He could still have connections in the Far East. And if he aimed to open his own garage, what easier way to get money?

But how would Lois have come in contact with him? Could she have met him some time when Ralph picked up his car? No, she had got the money from the Shareholders five years ago, before she knew Palmerston. But Jeffrey had worked as a mechanic when he first arrived in Berkeley. He would have known Sam Nguyen. If Sam Nguyen were the drug connection, that would mean that instead of being one of the five Shareholders “loaning” money to Lois, he had been the recipient. It would mean that the fifth Shareholder was not Sam (or Cap) but Lois.

I gathered up my notes. Lois Palmerston had come out here five years ago in the summer. Almost immediately she convinced four or five people to “loan” her five thousand dollars. Why, but for a highly profitable drug deal, would a woman like Carol Grogan, divorced, with two young children and a house payment she could barely manage, be willing to loan a strange woman five thousand dollars? How did she even raise that money?

To Ralph Palmerston, making money off the weaknesses of others would hardly seem “courteous.” Lois had lied to him, told him the money was a loan. Had Ralph been suspicious of her story, just as I was? Had he hired Herman Ott to find out what was really going on? That sounded like something important enough for a man to get settled before he went blind. Had he found that Sam Nguyen had lured Lois and the other four into the drug world? Or had he assumed all five of them (Sam and the four Shareholders) had corrupted the wife he cared for? Had he then instructed Herman Ott to begin the part of the investigation that I had discovered in his report?

One thing was clear. There was no evidence Ralph Palmerston had done anyone a good turn, and plenty of reason to assume he had planned to hurt them.

It was a moment before I realized the irony of Ralph Palmerston’s retribution. Five years ago Carol Grogan had taken a second mortgage on her house. That had to be where she got the money to give Lois. And it was that house that Ralph had been threatening when he bought the second mortgage.

And Nina Munson. I recalled her saying that five years ago she had made the pivotal sacrifice of selling her mother’s antique necklace. Had she used the proceeds for Lois or, as she implied, to finance designing and making her jackets? It was her designing that Ralph had zeroed in on.

Adam Thede? The connection was not so clear. But he had told me Sunny Sides Up had been in business six months, and he’d waited for almost five years to open it. It sounded like five years ago he had diverted enough money to keep his dream in abeyance. It also sounded like Ralph Palmerston hadn’t waited long before spreading the news of Thede’s tainted suppliers.

Coming back to Sam Nguyen, five years ago would have been a reasonable time for him to have immigrated to the United States. Was it with the Immigration Service that Ralph Palmerston had planned to deal his retribution to Sam Nguyen? The Immigration Service takes a dim view of drug dealing.

I plunked my pad and pencil on my desk. My theory was good, but it was just a theory. There was nothing substantial linking Lois Palmerston or Sam Nguyen to cocaine, or any other drugs, for that matter. I needed some evidence, or at least a good lead.

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