Read Not Exactly a Brahmin Online

Authors: Susan Dunlap

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Not Exactly a Brahmin (22 page)

BOOK: Not Exactly a Brahmin
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“Oh, of course.” He stepped back.

It was a tiny, twelve-foot-square room, with a ceiling that couldn’t have been over six-and-a-half feet high—clearly an illegal unit. Against the back wall was a rumpled, blanketed double bed, against a side wall an armoire, and in the front corner a table with a hot plate. In the remaining wall was a door that couldn’t have been more than eighteen inches wide. It had to lead to the world’s smallest bathroom. I almost laughed when I remembered that I had worried about what this man would think of
my
apartment.

The room was dark. The only window was next to the door I had come through. There was nothing on the walls—no pictures, not even a calendar.

“I can see why you spend your evenings in the showroom,” I said, leaning against the wall. There wasn’t even a chair to sit on.

“It’s cheap.”

“And a good address. That’s important, isn’t it, Cap?”

He took a moment to assess me. Even dragged from bed with his sandy hair hanging over his eyes, he still looked appealing. I had to remind myself that this man had invited me out for the purpose of pumping me. While I was searching Lois Palmerston’s house, he, doubtless, was calling Sam Nguyen or the other four Shareholders to relay what I’d told him.

“Do you mind if I dress?”

“After we talk.”

“I thought this was—”

“It’s business. Everything between us has been business, right?”

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.

“Shareholders Five. Tell me about it.”

“I don’t know anything about such a group.”

Someone else—anyone unfamiliar with the facts—wouldn’t have doubted him. “Okay, let’s start with something easier. Ralph Palmerston picked up his car from your shop at one-thirty. He drove it home and put it in the garage. The garage has an automatic door. You can hear it go up and down inside the house. The garage door wasn’t tampered with. So, that means that the damage to Ralph Palmerston’s brake lines happened in the Trent shop.”

Cap sat down on the bed. His expression was that of one listening to a very boring customer.

“There are five people involved with Lois Palmerston who gave her five thousand dollars each. Ralph Palmerston made it his business to revenge himself on all five. But you, Cap, were the only one who was in the shop when the brake lines were punctured. You were talking with Ralph Palmerston. And you looked scared.”

“I told you I was with him. I told you I was there when he spotted Sam Nguyen.”

“But he didn’t spot Sam Nguyen, did he?”

“I said he did.”

“Sam Nguyen was all the way across the room. Ralph Palmerston was going blind. He didn’t drive because his sight was so bad. He wouldn’t have spotted Nguyen across the room. He wouldn’t have noticed anything across the room. You pointed out Sam, didn’t you? What did you say—that Sam had criticized his car, how it was kept up, or how it was driven?”

“Why would I do that?”

Taking a breath, I made my choice between Cap and Sam.

“To distract Ralph Palmerston from you. What was he telling you? Was he suggesting that he was going to use his influence to get Jake Trent to fire you?”

Cap hesitated, but remained silent.

“Or was it more than that? A job, one particular job wasn’t that important to you, was it? You could have gotten another job, sold cars at another dealership, in another city. As long as you were accepted in Society, you could always get a job, right?”

He still said nothing, but his silence had the look of acquiescence.

“It was that social acceptance where Ralph Palmerston was going to attack you, wasn’t it? You told me how, yourself. He’d let them know that you broke the rules, that you made use of them for Lois. Now do you want to tell me about it, or shall I work it out?”

He hunched forward, the collar of his terry cloth bathrobe shifting up around his ears.

“Here or at the station?”

He sighed. “All right. It’s not illegal. Actually, it didn’t even start as a plan, it was just a game, with the five of us sitting around Adam’s house after one of his parties, eating one of his straggler’s breakfasts. I think it was Carol’s idea, not that it matters. She was complaining about needing money, about her ex-husband not paying support. And then out of the blue, she said, ‘What I need is a rich husband.’ Adam said something like, ‘Where do you think you’re going to find one?’ Then there was some discussion about Adam inviting a better class of bachelors to his parties. And I said, that if you want to marry money, you have to go where it is—to the Society functions. Carol looked down at whatever combination of garments she’d thrown on, probably jeans and an ancient sweater, and said, ‘Like this?’ So then there was a discussion about how you have to look the part in order to even get past the door at the right affairs. You need the right address. You need to give the appearance of money. Somewhere in that banter Carol said, ‘Well, why don’t you bankroll me to marry a rich man? It’d be an investment, like a money market account only the payoff would be better.’ We weren’t serious then. It was late, we’d been drinking, partying. We were just toying with a fantasy.”

So Cap
was
the fifth Shareholder. I shifted my weight to the other foot. “But you didn’t bankroll Carol.”

“No. I don’t think Carol’s ever quite forgiven me. I was the one that pointed out her deficiencies. She was local. Her father was a fireman, hardly top-drawer. She was divorced from a guy who could be bugging her for the rest of her life if he discovered she had a rich husband. It wouldn’t be hard for any prospect to find that out. And that’s not even taking into consideration her biggest drawback—two small kids. Physically, Carol was all right. She could have been made up well, and dressed well, but her personality. Well, let’s just say that Carol can be too honest.”

“So you thought of Lois.”

“No. I didn’t know Lois. Nina did. She said she had the perfect friend. Beautiful, an actress. From New York. She said she could get her out here.”

“And then what happened?”

He sat up straighter. “You know this isn’t illegal.”

“I didn’t say
this
was. What happened after the party?”

“Well, about a month passed. I’d really forgotten about the whole discussion, when Nina called me and said her friend was here. That pretty much forced our hands. We got together and talked about the project like it would really happen. Then we realized that we were going to need money for clothes, money to rent a suitable apartment, money for charitable contributions—Society charity functions are where a woman can be seen. We were going to need a lot of money.”

“Five thousand each?”

“Right. It wasn’t easy to come by. I had some money I’d inherited, but that five thousand wiped it out.”

“And then you assigned tasks?”

He looked quizzical.

“You were the escort. Lois had to have an entrée into Society, someone acceptable, like you. Adam Thede catered. Nina”—I recalled the photo of the one white-on-white long dress on her wall, amongst the other pictures of brightly colored patchwork jackets—“Nina made Lois’s wardrobe, Jeffrey got her the car, and Carol researched exactly how to social-climb.”

Slowly, he nodded.

“What was the payoff?”

“Two thousand a year.”

“Each?”

“Yes.”

“Not bad.”

“In the long run it wouldn’t have been. But the first couple of years it was hard on most of us. Maybe not Adam, but on Carol, Nina, and me.”

I didn’t need Cap Danziger to tell me that this was the scheme Lois Palmerston had admitted to Ralph in that emotional moment when she and Ralph both thought he was going to die. And this was the one scheme to which Ralph would have reacted so violently. Any other deal where five people loaned his wife money, he might have had some qualms about. Had it been drugs, he doubtless would have objected; he was that type of man. Perhaps he would have presumed that Lois’s evil companions had led her astray, but he probably would have accepted the fact that she had some responsibility. But not with this scheme, not with one to trick him into marriage. If he cared about his marriage, or about Lois; if he wanted to preserve the illusion that his wife loved him—and what dying man wouldn’t—he
couldn’t
consider her as anything but a pawn in the plot, a pawn who had come to love him after their marriage. He would have absolved her, but the restraint he’d shown to her would have exploded in his revenge against the coldblooded plotters who had used his wife to make a fool of him. It was the only scheme that would have generated the intensity of revenge Ralph had had. And the most devastating manifestation of that revenge would have been aimed at the man who had dated Lois: Cap himself.

Cap Danziger was still sitting on the foot of his bed, his bathrobe tied loosely around his waist, his legs crossed.

“Why did you kill Ralph Palmerston?”

He jumped up. “I didn’t kill him. Do you think I would tell you all this if I’d killed him?”

“You were at the repair shop.”

“I was with Palmerston. I couldn’t have been under the car. Don’t you think Sam Nguyen would have found it odd for me to rush into the shop, push myself under the car he was working on with an ice pick or something in my hand?”

“Maybe Sam left?”

“You know by the time Sam left I was with Palmerston. Jake Trent saw me there. How much more of an alibi do you want?”

“Well, then if you didn’t kill him, who did? It had to be one of you five.”

“Why one of us? Why not Lois?”

“Because, Cap, Ralph Palmerston wasn’t threatening her.”

He sat back on the bed. “Then I don’t know. I really don’t. I never wanted to think about it, and I haven’t.”

“But you’ve been in contact with the others, haven’t you? You kept tabs on me for them.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t unpleasant. We were all worried. You’re bound to worry when you’re a police suspect, no matter how innocent you are.”

I took a guess. “You called in the complaint about me, didn’t you.”

Now he did look uncomfortable. “That had nothing to do with the murder. We just wanted to keep you from finding out about our scheme. It only made sense for me to call. I know how to get service from public representatives. That’s one of the advantages of growing up in Society. You assume public servants will serve, and if you approach them right, they do.”

“You did all this and you expect me to believe you don’t know who killed Ralph Palmerston? It had to be one of you five.”

He didn’t answer. And as I waited for him to dress, I wondered if indeed it did have to be one of the five Shareholders, or if it could be the person who would have found puncturing Ralph Palmerston’s brake lines no trouble at all.

CHAPTER 22

I
DROVE
C
AP
D
ANZIGER
back to the station. It gave me a perverse delight to glance in the rearview mirror and see him back there in the cage. I was beginning to have a real understanding of Ralph Palmerston’s reaction. Suppose Cap Danziger had told me that Adam Thede or Nina Munson had coerced him into pumping me. Even knowing better, I would have wanted to believe him, just to salvage my self-respect. And that was in reaction to one evening, one kiss. How much greater would Ralph Palmerston’s feelings have been after four years of marriage? And even more than any of the other suspects, he would have despised Cap Danziger. Cap had been his social equal, a man whom he probably had met, a man who had been Lois’s escort—and how much more? Palmerston’s revenge on Adam Thede destroyed his livelihood and his dreams. What had he planned for Cap Danziger?

I took Cap’s statement, had him wait while it was typed. Another suspect I might have gotten coffee, but Cap Danziger I let sit empty-handed. Ralph Palmerston’s reaction was seeming more and more understandable. When the statement was signed, I called a patrol officer to drive Cap Danziger home.

Howard was leaving the office as I walked in. He nodded but didn’t stop. I started for the door, to call him back. Was he angry about my questioning Leon Evans last night, or was he just in a hurry? I was too tired to judge. So I sat staring at the door, willing someone to drop in so I could talk about the great break in my case. But no one came, and as I thought about it, the question arose: So what? What clue does that give you to who killed Ralph Palmerston? Are you any closer than before? All the Shareholders Five were involved in the scheme. And there was Sam Nguyen, who had started to work at the same time Cap Danziger did, who took Cap to lunch with him, whom Ralph Palmerston was screaming at, and who was not walking, but
racing
out the door of the repair shop.

The excitement that had sustained me since Cap Danziger’s confession faded. Talking to him, taking his statement, waiting for it to be typed had consumed a lot of time. It was almost noon. I hadn’t eaten anything but night watch’s doughnut since the taco at dinner. What I needed was a meal, a decent meal. Even I couldn’t face another jelly doughnut. And I wouldn’t be hurt by a shower and clothes that didn’t have salsa and jelly on them.

I signed out and drove along Martin Luther King Junior Way toward my apartment. At the corner of University Avenue, waiting for the lights to change, was a witch. I crossed with the traffic. At the next crosswalk, a tiny punk-rocker, two goblins, and a white rabbit made their way, giggling and waving at the cars. I had forgotten today was Halloween. Berkeley celebrated Halloween in a big way. If you walked into the East Bay MUD office to pay your water bill, you might be greeted by Cleopatra; in the grocery you could be checked out by an executioner. At the department those of us on patrol or in Details showed some restraint, but one year all the clerks had turned up in prison stripes.

I pulled up in front of the Kepple house. Perhaps Mr. Kepple would appear as Ebenezer Scrooge. But when I spotted him, he looked as he always did—a portly, sixtyish, bald man wearing brown polyester pants and a windbreaker. He was blowing leaves off his short driveway with an electric blower. Without asking, I knew that when he finished here, he would make his way along the path to the backyard and my flat, blower whirring like the dentist’s air squirter. I was only pleased that I hadn’t considered taking a nap.

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