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Authors: Susan Dunlap

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Not Exactly a Brahmin (21 page)

BOOK: Not Exactly a Brahmin
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Dillingham, the night watch desk man kept the watch’s box of three-dozen doughnuts. “Can I buy one from you?” I asked.

“You can
have
one, Smith. A promotion gift from us, like a gold watch. Even the same shape. We’ve still got two jellies.”

I barely knew Dillingham. My reputation had certainly spread. Taking the doughnut, I headed to my desk. From habit I checked my IN box and Howard’s, but, of course, nothing had changed since two-thirty. Then I sat, took a bite of the doughnut, and considered the fiasco of my night. If elimination is gain, then there might be some value. But the only person who had really gained was Leon Evans. I owed him, and in a more subtle way, Howard owed him. That had never been mentioned, but both of us knew that he was Howard’s suspect; it was the mantle of Howard’s investigation that covered my conversation with Evans.

I had no doubt that Evans had been telling me the truth. There was no reason for him not to. And there was a lot of reason for him to cooperate with me (and, by implication, with Howard) on this unimportant issue. The next time Howard rousted him out of bed at eight in the morning, Evans would remind him.

But what about the things I hadn’t asked him? He knew Cap Danziger. And Sam Nguyen? Thinking back on his reaction when I’d asked about Sam, it was too quick a no. If Leon Evans had bought a Cadillac or two from Cap, then he knew Sam Nguyen. Cap himself told me that Sam was the draw at Trent Cadillac. So why hadn’t Leon Evans mentioned at least knowing
of
Sam? Was it a normal reluctance to give the police anything? Or was his connection with Sam Nguyen somehow outside the law? Not drugs, but some other illegal pursuit?

If not drugs, what? What were Sam Nguyen, Lois Palmerston, and the Shareholders involved in? What was it that Lois could buy, smuggle, or steal that would make the investment so alluring that Carol Grogan would take a second mortgage on her house? Whatever the scheme it must have had a high probability of good return. Was it smuggling? Had Lois Palmerston used her trips with Ralph to bring in diamonds or currency? As much as the idea appealed to me, particularly the part about Ralph’s being used as cover, it didn’t hold. Lois had gotten the twenty-five thousand dollars before she had even met Ralph. At that time she wasn’t traveling anywhere.

Blackmail? I found it even harder to believe that in the three months after Lois’s arrival in Berkeley, she had found five people, three of them strangers, to blackmail.

So, if not blackmail, smuggling, or drugs, what? And why had Ralph Palmerston been so angry with Sam Nguyen the day he died? I leaned back in my chair. Why had Ralph been screaming at him?

“Jill, Jill! Wake up.” Howard was shaking me. “What are you doing here? I know your apartment’s not much but—”

“Howard?” It took me a moment to realize where I was.

“Come on, Jill. You’ve got five minutes to Detectives’ Morning Meeting. And Jill”—he grinned—“you’ve got jelly on your face.”

Before I realized it, I’d whipped my tongue out and licked the jelly off the side of my mouth. “Howard,” I said, “what are your plans this morning?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“You weren’t headed to see Leon Evans, were you?”

“No. Why?”

“Well, I hope this isn’t going to screw up anything for you, and I should have asked you before—I left a note in your IN box—if it hadn’t been three in the morning—”

“Jill! What are you talking about?”

“I went to Evans’s place last night, this morning, actually. I needed some inside knowledge of the drug scene five years ago. I needed to know if my suspects were involved. I knew Evans would be able to tell me.”

Howard took a breath. It was a moment before he said, “What did you use as leverage?”

“That I was in Homicide. I told him it would be good for me to think fondly of him.” Howard didn’t comment. I said, “I know it’s got to reflect on you. He’ll get what he can out of you for it.”

He nodded. Looking at his watch, he said, “Three minutes. You’d better wash up before the meeting.”

“Okay.” I started to the door.

“Jill.”

I turned.

“You’ve got jelly on your lapel, too.”

“Damn.” I headed down the hall to the ladies’ room. Howard hadn’t reacted as he would have a year ago. He hadn’t said it was understandable that I questioned Evans, okay that I hadn’t consulted him. My problem with Howard had always been his making too much of an effort to help me, even when it meant endangering his own career. If I had been talking to Jackson, or Eggs, or any of the other detectives, the restrained reaction Howard had shown would have been no more than I’d expected. Had I taken greater advantage of Howard than I’d realized?

I headed back down the hall, slipping into the meeting room just before Inspector Doyle. Doyle glanced at me and then looked away. I slumped into the chair next to Howard and wished I’d thought to get a cup of coffee.

The meeting was mercifully short. There was a training film afterward, on blood subgroups, I think. When the lights went on, I felt an elbow in my ribs, poking me awake. I looked at Howard before I realized the elbow was on my other side. From there Clay Jackson winked at me.

It was too early for Trent Cadillac to be open, but not so early that Jake Trent couldn’t be up. In my office I dialed his home number.

“Yeah?”

“Mr. Trent, this is Detective Smith, Berkeley Police Department.”

“You again? Don’t you ever sleep? First you call me at midnight, now it’s the crack of dawn.”

“It’ll just take a minute.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You remember I asked you about Ralph Palmerston’s scene with Sam Nguyen?”

“I remember, I remember. I told you all I know.”

“What I didn’t ask you was what was Nguyen’s reaction. Did he look angry?”

“Lady, I don’t know. He was racing out the door. He had his back to us.”

“You couldn’t guess from the hunching of his shoulders, or the way he walked?”

“Like I said, he was almost out the door. He was in a big hurry. He only went four or five steps. If they were different from his regular steps, I couldn’t tell you.”

“Why was he rushing?”

“Got me. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with Palmerston.”

“Why would that be?”

“Don’t know.”

“Any idea?”

“No.”

“One more thing, Mr. Trent.”

“Lady, I’m still in bed. I haven’t even taken a leak yet.”

“Cap Danziger—”

“Oh, geez. Danziger’s not hiding behind Sam again, is he?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Forget it.”

“What’s going on between Cap Danziger and Sam Nguyen?”

“Look, I can’t tell you that. I’ve got some loyalty to my men, even Danziger. He brings me a lot of Society trade.”

“He also seems to bring you a lot of headaches.”

“So he’s not the most reliable guy on the floor. His paperwork … Geez, you’d think a college man would be able to get a loan application form done in a week. And his check-in calls. I told him, you got to keep up with the customers so when they think of trading in they think of you. But could he bother with those calls? They’re bread and butter. I told him. I … he’s been with the dealership five years on and off. He and Sam started together before I bought the place. He’s screwed up a few times. I’ve fired him a few times. I’ve hired him back a few times.”

“Why?” When he didn’t answer, I asked, “Because his friend Sam Nguyen wanted you to?”

“Yeah. So? Sam’s good for business.”

And, I thought, Cap’s indebted to Sam, or vice versa. “How did Danziger screw up?”

“Paperwork. Nothing up your line.”

“Paperwork covers a lot of possibilities.”

“Yeah, well, that’s all I can say.”

I hesitated, then decided to go with my original line of questioning. “Why was Cap Danziger talking to Ralph Palmerston?”

“I’d like to think he was buttering his bread.”

“And
do
you think that?”

He didn’t answer.

“Mr. Trent?” When he still didn’t answer, I reminded him, “This is police business.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you. There’s what we call the ‘sales look.’ It’s sort of the ‘you and me, buddy’ look, the ‘pat on the back’ look, if you know what I mean.”

“Right.”

“Well, Danziger didn’t have that look.”

“Was he angry?”

“No. But I’ll tell you, that was the only time I’ve seen Danziger look scared.”

“Do you know why?”

“No. Mr. Palmerston didn’t say. He was too caught up with Nguyen. I figured whatever happened between him and Danziger he’d forgotten, and I wasn’t going to remind him, that’s for sure.”

“What about Danziger? What did he say?”

“I didn’t ask him. To tell you the truth, lady, I forgot about that until you asked. Now, listen, before you think of any more ‘last things,’ I got stuff to do.”

“Sure. Thanks for your help, Mr. Trent.”

“Don’t mention it. But look, don’t call again, either, huh?” He hung up.

Pereira was standing behind me. “These aren’t Cadillac hours, Jill,” she said, grinning. “You look like you had a long night.”

“I did. Where’s Howard?”

“He was heading for a squad car when I saw him. But listen, let me tell you what I’ve got.” Ignoring Howard’s chair, she settled atop his desk, pulled out the lower drawer, and propped her feet on it. “It’s the article on Lois Palmerston’s breakfast party from the
Chronicle.
I mentioned it to you yesterday.”

I nodded. “Breakfast?”

“Probably that’s why it got the write up. It’s not the usual cocktail party or dinner. It was after”—Pereira glanced at the Xerox in front of her—“one of the dinner dances for the mayor’s campaign to save the cable cars.”

“Five years ago?” I asked, feeling more awake.

“Close to it. A couple of months less.”

“So what does it say?

“Actually, it’s just a mention in the Society column—‘And for those serious night owls there was Lois Burk’s gourmet vegetarian breakfast at her home in Pacific Heights, where the sun rose over tofu and sprouts that even the most convinced carnivore would have loved.’ ”

“Does it name the carnivores?”

“No.”

“But still, a gourmet vegetarian breakfast? How many places cater that type of meal?”

“A few would.”

“But, Connie, why would Lois choose that type of meal?

Not everyone is crazy about vegetarian food. People who are up all night want bacon and eggs. The reason,” I said, now completely awake, “that Lois would do that is because she knew Adam Thede, and vegetarian breakfasts are what he makes.”

“So?”

“So, besides investing five thousand dollars with Lois, Thede cooked for her affairs.”

Turning, Pereira shoved Howard’s IN box to one side and leaned back against the wall.

“What else did you find?” I demanded.

“I could have gotten the whole file on social climbing—it seems that someone compiled it a few years ago—but I didn’t think it would deal with Lois Palmerston. It was before her marriage.”

“Five years ago?”

“I think so.”

“Was the person who compiled it a librarian?”

“I don’t know. My librarian didn’t say, but it sounded like a professional job.”

I sat back—gourmet vegetarian breakfasts, research on social climbing.

“Jill,” Pereira said, “I’ve got something to show you.” She was grinning. “You’re not going to believe these.”

I nodded. Adam Thede and Carol Grogan.

“Look, Jill!”

I glanced up. Pereira held a pair of clear plastic high heels with rhinestones on the straps and embedded in the heels. “Aren’t they perfect?”

I must have looked confused, for she said, “Glass slippers, Jill. Cinderella wore glass slippers. I had to pay forty dollars for these—”

“Forty dollars!” I stared at the plastic shoes.

“Well, I couldn’t be Cinderella in hiking boots. The point of a costume, Jill, is to capture the whole effect. It’s the small touches, the things that the real character would take for granted, that make the disguise work.”

I stared. “The disguise!”

“Huh?”

“Disguise. That’s what Lois Palmerston was doing.”

“What?”

“I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to think of why five people would invest five thousand dollars each with Lois Palmerston. I thought it was drugs, or smuggling, or blackmail. But with none of those was there a reason why Ralph Palmerston would suddenly, five years later, hire a detective to find out about the members of the group, and then attack each one of them at the point where it would hurt most. It didn’t make sense till now.”

“What?”

But I was already up, purse in hand, headed for the door.

CHAPTER 21

I
T WAS A QUESTION
of which of the five I would get the story from. Adam Thede might have been easier. I had the feeling that had I known what to ask, he would have bellowed out the whole tale yesterday morning when we stood with our backs against opposite walls in his restaurant office. Any other detective would have headed for Thede, but I wanted to hear the story from Cap Danziger. I still didn’t know whether he or Sam Nguyen was “our friend at Trent Cadillac,” but Cap had been keeping an eye on me, either to protect himself or Sam. And he would be well aware of what went on with Shareholders Five. For him I took a squad car.

Cap Danziger lived in Cadillac land, high up in the hills. To be more accurate, it was Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo wagon land, with a few stray sports cars and the occasional Japanese compact for a son or a daughter.

The house was a Tudor with probably four bedrooms and a living room twice the size of my whole apartment. I couldn’t imagine Cap Danziger affording this. And I was right. By the door was an extra mailbox with a sign scotch-taped on it saying
CAMPBELL DANZIZGER—AROUND BACK
.

I followed the walkway around the house, down the slope of the hillside, to a door that led to a basementlike room. There was no bell. I pounded.

From inside came a groan.

I pounded again, louder.

He was tying a thick terry cloth bathrobe as he opened the door. He stared at me. “Jill? What happened to you?”

“I’ve been up all night.” If I hadn’t suspected that he knew exactly what had gone on at Lois Palmerston’s after I’d left him last night, I would have taken his expression for one of concern. Instead, to me, it showed a sleepy man trying to recall how much he should know. “Can I come in?”

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