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Authors: Susan Dunlap

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Not Exactly a Brahmin (23 page)

BOOK: Not Exactly a Brahmin
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I waved and headed for my door.

I’d half expected the apartment to be filled with the aura of Cap Danziger, but it just looked like home. Grabbing a robe, I headed for the shower.

As the hot water beat on my back, I pondered Cap Danziger and Sam Nguyen. Were they just friends—two elitists thrown together? Was that why Sam had used his influence with Jake Trent to get him to rehire Cap each time he fired him? Or was the bond between Sam and Cap more than mere friendship? Love? Not an outlandish thought, particularly in the Bay Area. But neither Cap nor Sam had given any indication of being gay. If not love, was the thing that linked them blackmail?

Blackmail? Which way? If Sam were threatening to expose Cap over … I had suspected Jeffrey Munson of being Lois’s lover. It had been hard to picture Lois with Jeffrey. But it was easy to imagine her with Cap. So if Sam Nguyen had threatened to tell Ralph Palmerston about Cap and Lois, it would have given both of them very good reason to kill Palmerston before he found out and changed his will.

And the other way—Cap blackmailing Sam? I couldn’t come up with anything that would have involved Ralph Palmerston.

But I could find out about both of them. I rinsed off the soap as fast as I could, whisked the towel around my body, headed for the closet, and grabbed a forest green T-shirt that said
STINSON BEACH
on it, turned it inside out, and put my jacket over it. I’d just have to remember not to take the jacket off. But I’d had practice at that. Putting back on the same slacks (miraculously unstained), I headed for Munsonalysis.

The receptionist looked up as I walked into the Munsonalysis office. On her desk the multitude of electronic devices sat neither blinking nor beeping.

“I’m here to see Jeffrey Munson. I’m with the police.”

“He’s not here now.”

“When will he be back?”

“I don’t know.” There was no hostility in her voice. It was simply a statement of fact.

“Doesn’t he usually give you a time he’ll be back?”

“Usually, but he didn’t today.”

“Why not today?”

“He got a call, and he left.”

“Who was the call from?”

There was a slight hesitation before she said, “I couldn’t tell you.”

“Yes, you could. It was a voice you recognized, wasn’t it?”

She lowered her head. She looked like a demure Japanese doll.

“It was from his wife, wasn’t it? From Nina?”

Now she looked up. Her expression—knowing, disgusted—was anything but demure. “Yes.”

“Thanks.”

Jeffrey’s Porsche, with its radical-chic dented exterior, was parked in front of 1733 Gilroy Street. Nina’s door was open. Through it I could see Jeffrey seated on the fainting couch, with the snapshots of Nina’s white-on-white dress and her bright jackets behind him, and the clothes rack with the white painting overalls and the multitude of brightly patched garments next to him. In a beige-striped rugby shirt, tan cords, and tan running shoes, Jeffrey looked more akin to the whites than the brights.

I walked in, and starting on the offensive, said to him, “Cap Danziger called today, didn’t he?”

It was Nina, seated at her work table across from him who said, “Yes.”

Beside Jeffrey was the pile of jackets with the store labels on them that I had seen before. “Returned?” I asked.

“Yes,” Nina said.

“What reason did the store owners give you?”

“They didn’t. When you own a place, you don’t have to explain. They just said they were returning them.”

“Didn’t you ask why?”

She sat a moment, looking small and dark against the brightly colored fabrics on the table behind her. “I knew why. I’d already talked to Adam, and to Carol. It was just a question of waiting to see what tack Ralph took with me. It could have been worse. This will pass. These jackets aren’t fashion items. They don’t go out of style. I’ll sell them next year.”

“Now that Ralph Palmerston is dead, you will. If he had lived, those stores would never have handled them.”

“Maybe. But this isn’t the only market. I could take them to L.A. It’s inconvenient. But I could do it.”

“Still, things are a lot easier for you now that Ralph’s dead.”

She looked straight at me, her brown eyes catching mine. “They are, but I didn’t kill him. Why should I, after the fact?”

I could see that it would be a long time before I rattled her into revealing anything. Jeffrey Munson sat watching her. To him, I said, “But it’s a different affair with you, isn’t it? Ralph Palmerston knew that you worked for Von Slocum, the South African supplier. That’s what you did five years ago to get the money to pay Lois, isn’t it?”

“Listen, I don’t need to answer questions from you.” His hands tightened into fists.

“Maybe working for Von Slocum wasn’t such a sacrifice.”

He flushed.

“Maybe it wasn’t your only South African deal.”

His lips pressed together.

“It’s like your Porsche—radical on the outside, Republican under the hood.”

He slammed his fist into the couch. “I needed money fast. I didn’t want to. I just couldn’t think of any other way to get that kind of cash. But I’ve given more than that amount to groups working against apartheid since then.” He looked toward Nina.

She said, “He did what he had to; I did what I had to. I had a necklace to sell.”

“And you can live more cheaply?”

“Listen, she gets her quarter of the net from Munsonalysis, I see to that,” Jeffrey insisted.

“That’s right,” Nina said. “Jeffrey’s been fair to me.”

I’d let him calm down too much. “To get back to Ralph Palmerston,” I said, “Nina’s right in saying that what Ralph planned for her, he did. But for you, Jeffrey, it was still coming, wasn’t it? Ralph Palmerston penciled in the dates he carried out his well-prepared revenges—Adam Thede 9/26, Carol Grogan 10/12, Nina 10/25. But there was no date by your name. What was he going to do, leak to the newspapers that you’d worked for Von Slocum? Or was he just going to let the word out on the avenue, or with one or two protest groups?”

Jeffrey glanced at Nina, then said, “What difference would it make? The effect is the same. If he told one person, he might as well have painted it on my building wall, like graffiti.”

“It would destroy your business, wouldn’t it?”

“It would destroy me,” he said quietly.

“But if you stopped him before the word got out, then it would be all right.”

It was Nina who said, “It’s never been all right for Jeffrey, since the moment he made the decision to work for those bigots.”

Ignoring that, I said, “Jeffrey, you know cars inside and out. It would have been easy for you to puncture the brake lines. It was an expert job, but you could have done it, couldn’t you?”

“I didn’t, dammit, I didn’t.” His voice was shaky; his hands were pressed together.

“It would have been so easy, Jeffrey. Two holes, and everything would be all right. You said Ralph Palmerston was a parasite; he wouldn’t be missed.”

“I didn’t.” His voice was lower.

“You said Lois was a parasite. Look at all you and Nina did for her. Nina took care of her in college. After college, you gave her a place to live. You brought her out here. You paid for that, right Jeffrey?”

Slowly, he nodded.

“You spent weeks working on her car. How long did it take Nina to make her beautiful clothes? Nina sold her necklace. You endangered your business. You sold your soul for her, didn’t you, Jeffrey?”

Nina seemed about to speak, but didn’t.

Jeffrey just sat, but his fists were tight.

“Lois threw it all back in your face, didn’t she? She told Ralph Palmerston about the deal you had. She gave him your names. She watched as he plotted his revenge.”

“Dammit! Dammit!” Jeffrey was screaming. “Fucking bitch! She could have stopped him. Goddamn fucking bitch.”

“Who killed him, Jeffrey? Was it Cap Danziger? Was he Lois’s lover?”

I’d expected a shout of confirmation, or of outrage, but what I got was a muddled stare. The notion of Cap and Lois was clearly a new one for Jeffrey. I turned to Nina questioningly.

She took a breath. “Lois always had her choice of men. Why would she kill a rich ‘parasite’ for a penniless one?”

“Charm, love, sex?”

“Lois wasn’t easily charmed.”

Nina seemed certain, but that didn’t mean Lois hadn’t been having an affair with Cap; it just showed that Nina couldn’t see any logic to it. But sensible, frugal Nina was not Lois.

Jeffrey’s breath was still shallow, his face red. Nina’s calm hadn’t affected him at all.

“Sam Nguyen?” I demanded.

“Sam?”

“You worked as a mechanic when you arrived in Berkeley. You knew Sam then, right?”

“Yes. Everyone in the business knew Sam.”

“What is Sam’s racket, Jeffrey?”

“He’s a good mechanic, the best.”

“He’s doing more than tuning engines. What is it, Jeffrey? Why are the drug dealers so interested in Sam Nguyen?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” He looked panicked. “Sam made over cars, that’s all.”

Nina jumped up, rushed over to him, and put her arm around his shoulder. Jeffrey sighed. “It is all,” she said.

Maybe it was all, I thought as I drove back to the station. I recalled Sam Nguyen standing in the repair shop and telling me “secret cargo space—no problem.” He might deny any knowledge of what would go into those compartments, but we could probably haul him in on conspiracy the next time we busted one of his customers like Leon Evans. And once his business was common knowledge, once every police force kept an eye on his vehicles, the Leon Evanses of the world would keep away—or worse—lots worse.

But where did Sam Nguyen fit in with Shareholders Five?

CHAPTER 23

T
HE LAST TIME
I had seen Carol Grogan, she had been dressed in a T-shirt and sweat pants, sitting amongst an avalanche of plastic trucks and blocks in her living room. But this afternoon, for a trip to the police station, she wore a tan wraparound skirt, plaid blouse with roll-up sleeves, stockings, and stacked heels—her library clothes. She had made a passing effort at makeup, but it wasn’t the right effect for her unusual features. Rather than accenting their charm, it brought out their peculiarity. Her expression was anything but attractive as she sat down in the interview booth.

“Dustin and Jason get out of day care in an hour,” she announced angrily.

“The more quickly you answer my questions, the earlier you can leave. Day-care centers don’t turn children out on the street if their parents are a few minutes late.”

“They charge extra. That’s all I need right now.”

“You gave Lois five thousand dollars. She was to pay you two thousand every year. Did she pay off on schedule?”

“It wasn’t illegal.”

“I’m not saying it was. I’d just be surprised if Lois kept her end of the deal.”

“You and everyone else by now. Oh, the first year she was right there on time. The second year it was just a little late. But by the third year, it was six months late and a thousand dollars short. And this year, zip.”

“Is that why you had her to dinner, to demand your money?”

“It’s what I had in mind. But it didn’t take long for her to convince me that I had no power to demand from. When I threatened to go to Ralph, she laughed. She said Ralph knew. He understood her part.”

“Did you believe her?”

“Oh yeah. Lois had a way with men, particularly with Ralph Palmerston. After all, if he hadn’t been so fascinated with her in the beginning, he could have hired someone to check into her background. It wouldn’t have taken much to discover that there was nothing behind her fancy address and her Mercedes. But Ralph didn’t do that. Even then, he didn’t want to know. There was no reason he should want to know now.”

That made sense. I asked, “Are you going to sell your house?”

She clutched the strap of the big imitation leather purse on her lap. Her mouth twitched. She seemed on the verge of tears. “If I can work it out with the holder of the second mortgage, I will. You know you can lose everything by not paying your second.”

“But it’s more than just selling a house, isn’t it?”

She looked down at the purse.

I said gently, “You won’t be able to get another house, will you?”

She didn’t respond.

“And for all this you have Cap Danziger to blame.” When she hesitated, I said, “And when you and your kids are jammed into a tiny apartment, Cap will marry Lois and live off the Palmieri Winery.”

Her eyes closed. She seemed to be considering the premise.

“They’ve been having an affair, haven’t they, Carol?”

Now she looked up. “If they were lovers, they wouldn’t tell me.”

“Your idea was for you to be the one to marry money, wasn’t it?” I prompted.

Momentarily she looked surprised. “If Cap had listened to me, we wouldn’t have had any problems. If I’d been married to Ralph Palmerston, I wouldn’t have told him all my secrets when I heard he was going blind. Christ, if Lois didn’t have any decency, at least she could have used some sense. I never thought she’d be so bubble-headed. Cool, calm Lois. How could she do such a stupid thing?”

It wasn’t what I would have expected of Lois either. But Lois hadn’t said she had brought up the subject. She’d said Ralph asked her about her childhood, her boyfriends, her lovers, and her debts. Her debts were an odd inclusion in the otherwise emotional subjects. Why would Ralph have asked not
if
she had debts, but
whom she owed,
unless he already knew she owed money? Had someone told Ralph about Shareholders Five? Had that been the initial reason he hired Herman Ott—to find out if his wife was involved with the five?

Certainly none of the Shareholders would have told Ralph. Only someone who wanted to get even with one of them would. Someone like Sam Nguyen.

By the time Carol Grogan left, it was well after five o’clock. I had no address for Sam Nguyen. It was Saturday, and Trent Cadillac was closed by now. The only place I knew that Sam might be was the Bien Hoa restaurant.

I signed out and headed for my car three blocks away. At dusk, with stores emptying out and afternoon parties ending, the sidewalks were filled with clowns, ballerinas, hobos, and robots.

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