Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights (2 page)

“Leah, you can’t—”

“The hell I can’t!” I involuntarily stepped back. I had never seen her like this. She swallowed and looked away. “I found a receipt from Tiffany’s. He bought her a six thousand dollar bracelet. He bought it on the same day he bought me the diamond studs.”

“And what does that tell you, Leah?”

“It tells me that she’s using him. He bought the earrings for me because deep down he loves me, and he bought her a bracelet because he thought he had to in order to hold on to her.”

“Well that’s an interesting spin, if lacking in the logic department.”

But Leah wasn’t listening to me anymore. She brushed past me and stared at the chilled beers without reaching for one. “I am not going to take romantic advice from a divorced woman who talks to her cat.” I peeked guiltily at Mr. Katz, who was sleeping through the current fireworks. Leah snatched up the phone from the end table and started jabbing her fingers against the numbers.

“Leah, who are you calling?”

“Erika.”

“Bob’s secretary, Erika?”

“I spoke with her earlier. She’s as outraged as I am and offered to help me win him back.”

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Erika? Erika, are you there? It’s Leah. I’m coming over so if you get this message just…just wait for me. I need to come up with a plan before this goes too far.” Leah slammed the receiver onto the cradle.

“Leah this is crazy. You can’t put yourself through this. Plus you have Jack to consider—wait…where’s Jack?”

“He’s with my friend Miranda, and for your information I’m doing this for Jack.” She bent over to pick up her purse and made a beeline for the door.

“Oh come on, Leah, stay and talk to me about this. Erika’s not even home.”

“She will be soon and if not I’ll…I’ll just go home and do the laundry. Bob will need his golf clothes ready for the weekend.”

“Leah!”

“Goodbye, Sophie.” In an instant she was gone.

Well, that had been disorienting. It had looked like Leah, but I swear to God if I had closed my eyes I would have mistaken her for someone else. It wasn’t her words so much—although she had used more profanity than I was used to hearing from her—but her tone that had really thrown me. It had fluctuated from hollow to restless then back again. She seemed on the brink of losing her mind.

My eyes wandered to my unfinished beer on the counter. I picked up the bottle, then thought better of it and went to get the vodka from the kitchen. Leah would snap out of it. She just needed time. I poured the clear fluid over some ice cubes, then added a little cranberry juice for color. I should write something…like a book, or more specifically, the book my editor thought I had already started working on. In four months I would be touring to promote my latest finished Alicia Bright mystery,
Words To Die By
, and it would be helpful if I could complete the first draft of the next book in the series before hitting the road.

I silently welcomed the burning sensation the liquor provided as it worked its way down to my liver. The problem was I wasn’t quite ready to write another murder mystery yet. It had only been a few weeks ago that some lunatic had tried to break my head open with a golf club. Funny how being stalked by a homicidal maniac can knock the blood lust right out of you. Although I did want to kill my brother-in-law, Bob. That was promising progress.

I eyed my drink. It looked a little too red so I diluted it with more alcohol. If only Leah had gone running off to her friend Becca. Becca would have told her to kick Bob to the curb. But Becca was currently touring Europe with her boyfriend and it was doubtful Leah knew what country they were in, let alone what hotel.

I took another sip. I needed to relax. Erika may not give the best advice in the world, but evidently she and Leah had become close. She would undoubtedly offer Leah the emotional support she needed. This was good. Leah had Erika, and I had Absolut.

My pet strolled into the kitchen and blinked at me. “That’s what I like about you, Mr. Katz. You’re quiet, nonconfrontational, and it was legal for me to cut off your balls.”

 

It must have been a little after 10:00 p.m., because a
Friends
rerun was on. That meant I’d been unconscious for one…no, two and a half hours. The last thing I remember was watching a
Will and Grace
rerun. I had only consumed two cocktails (albeit, two very strong cocktails), but the combination of the alcohol and a good dose of emotional exhaustion had pretty much done me in for the evening.

It took a little effort but I managed to get off the couch. Unfortunately, the ringing of the phone interrupted my journey to the bedroom. I tapped the receiver with my index finger and considered my options. It rang again. Hell, it was worth picking it up just to keep it from making that shrill sound two more times. “Hello?”

“Sophie?”

I rolled my eyes skyward. “Leah, I’m tired, I’m grouchy, I’m intoxicated and I’m going to bed.”

“Sophie, please.”

There was something in Leah’s voice that stopped me. It wasn’t the desperation that had colored her tone earlier, but it was unnerving nonetheless. I sighed and leaned against the dining table. “Okay, what is it this time?”

“It’s Bob…I’m home…I’m here with Bob. Oh God, Sophie!”

I stood up a little straighter. “What? Did he hurt you?” My bloodlust was definitely back. I was going to kill him. Actually, I’d do better than that. In my next book I’d castrate a philandering husband named Bobby by rigging his inflatable sex doll with explosives.

“No, no, he didn’t hurt me. He can’t. Oh God, Sophie… Oh God, he’s dead! Bob is dead!”

My eyes traveled to the depleted bottle of vodka on the counter. “I’m sorry, Leah, but I think I must have misunderstood you—”

“He’s dead! D–E–A–D. BOB IS DEAD!”

“You mean like
dead
dead?”

“How many kinds of dead are there?”

“I’m not getting this.” I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. “Bob is only five years older than I am. Thirty-five is a little young for—”

“I think he was shot or something.”

“Shot
or something?

“I think so. I don’t know. He’s just lying there and there’s all this blood coming out of his head. Sophie, what do I do?”

Well, I wasn’t sure about her but what I wanted to do was throw up. “Leah, how exactly did Bob get ‘shot or something’? Who shot him?”

“How in God’s name would I know? I just came home and found him in the middle of the living room with a hole in his head! And our pictures, the framed wedding pictures that were in the room, they’re all smashed up. No one even bothered to clean up the glass! What if Jack had come home with me and cut himself?”

Excuse me? I lowered myself into a chair and tried to figure out if Leah’s instincts proved her to be Mother of the Year or just stark raving mad.

“Sophie, are you still there? What am I supposed to do?”

“I’m here.” Big sisters taught their younger siblings how to straighten their hair and apply their makeup. They did not instruct them on how to behave at a murder scene. “Leah, I honestly don’t know. What do the police say?”

“The police? I don’t know, they’re not here. Do you think they’re coming?”

“Didn’t they
say
they were coming?”

“No, no, I haven’t called them yet…. I called you. Oh, Sophie, he’s really dead! I mean really, really…”

I couldn’t hear Leah anymore, nor was I suffering the effects of the alcohol. All I could feel was the beginning of a panic attack. I took a deep breath and tried to make my voice slow, steady and clear. “Leah, I need you to hang up the phone right now and call the police.”

I could make out Leah’s quiet sobs on the other end of the line. “Leah, this is really important. I’m coming over but I need you to call them right now.”

She made some kind of weak affirmative noise. I hung up and for a few moments I couldn’t get myself to move. This was very bad. Hours after Bob had informed Leah that he was leaving her, he had transformed into a bloody corpse, and the phone records would show that the first number Leah dialed after discovering his body was not 911, but mine.

I looked down at Mr. Katz who had wrapped himself around my foot. “What now?”

 

My first stop was not Leah’s but Anatoly’s. I double parked in front of his building, ran up to the stoop and stood methodically tapping the buzzer until he relented and came down. He threw open the glass door and glared at me.

“Get your finger off the button,
now
.”

“Anatoly, I need help.”

“I’m not a psychiatrist.”

“Not that kind of help—” I took a moment to turn and acknowledge a driver yelling obscenities as he maneuvered around my illegally parked Audi “—although that should probably be my next stop. I’m here because Leah’s in trouble.”

“Leah’s made her choice, and you’re going to have to deal with that. Who knows—maybe she’ll get lucky and he’ll end the affair.”

“The affair’s pretty much a nonissue now, unless of course his mistress is into necrophilia.”

Anatoly’s lower jaw seemed to detach from his head. “She
killed
him? What the hell is wrong with you people? Doesn’t anyone in your family understand that vigilante justice is wrong?”

“She didn’t do it.” As soon as I said the words I realized my voice lacked the conviction to make them believable. I cleared my throat and forced myself to look Anatoly in the eye. “My sister did not shoot her husband. She loved him. Yes, they were having problems, but she was fully confident that they would work through them.”

Anatoly’s forehead creased and he leaned against the door frame. “What is this? Rehearsal for when you have to talk to the police?”

“Why? Didn’t I sound convincing?”

“That’s it. We’re done here. Goodbye, Sophie.”

I put my foot in the path of the door, inadvertently bringing myself closer to Anatoly. I could feel his breath in my hair and, despite his harsh words, I could see the twinkle of interest ignite in his eyes as he noted my new proximity. His mouth curved into a little half smile. I know that people often find themselves craving sex after a funeral but it probably isn’t healthy to be overcome with lust right after a family member has been shot. I distracted myself by looking at his feet. I’ve never been into feet no matter how big they are.

“Anatoly, I’m here to hire you. I was going to pay you six thousand dollars to find out if Bob was messing around. Now I’m offering you…ten. Ten grand to find out who messed with him.”

“It’s not about the money, Sophie.”

“What if I raise it to twelve?
Then
can it be about the money?”

He was silent for a bit and I kept my eyes glued to his boots. My friend Marcus always says that if a man’s shoes match his belt it means he’s gay. Anatoly must be the straightest man alive because his shoes never match anything. They are always ugly and—

“If you hire me I might uncover information that you don’t want to know.”

The statement was loaded with enough reality to quiet my raging hormones. I refocused on his face. “Then I’ll fire you.”

Anatoly snorted and looked out to the street. “I can’t believe I’m going to do this.”

“Great!” I pulled my keys out of my pocket and dangled them in front of him. “Get your coat and get in the car. I’ll fill you in on the details on the way.”

“I didn’t say I would take the case.”

“But you were about to. Come on, no more banter. The police are arriving at the scene as we speak.”

Anatoly shook his head in defeat. “I’m going upstairs to get some things. Wait for me in the car.” He retreated into the building and I ran to my car. I snapped on my seat belt and put my hand on the gearshift, ready to press it into first the minute his cute butt hit the seat. Anatoly was obviously less anxious. He strolled out wearing a generously cut leather coat and no other visible accessories. Maybe he had all his James Bond–like spy stuff hidden in his inside pockets.

Instead of taking his place in the passenger seat he came around to the driver’s side and opened my door. “Move over, I’m driving.”

“It’s my car.”

Anatoly bent down so that he was at eye level. “After your sister left your apartment, what did you do?”

“I watched some TV.”

“Right. Did you have any snacks while you were watching?”

“What would I snack on?”

“Vodka.”

“Vodka’s a good snack. Easy to prepare, light on calories…”

Anatoly smiled. “I’m driving.”

I gripped the wheel possessively. “Anatoly, you can’t possibly think I’m drunk.”

“No, I think your blood alcohol level is hovering around .08 but since we’re going to a place that we know will be crawling with cops it would be best if we don’t test fate.”

I grunted in disgust but relinquished my seat to him. “You think you know me so well.”

Anatoly positioned himself behind the wheel and adjusted the rearview mirror. “I guessed correctly, didn’t I?”

“Maybe. Or maybe you were playing PI in the apartment across the street, spying with a telescopic lens.”

“I don’t have to play PI, I
am
one.” He started the ignition and turned off the radio. “And I also have a life. Which way?”

“We’re going to Forest Hill. You know how to get to that neighborhood?”

Apparently he did, because he turned the car in the appropriate direction. I spent the first half of the drive giving him what little information I had. He listened, only interrupting occasionally to ask a question that I inevitably didn’t have an answer to. When I finished, the conversation lulled and I focused on the cars and street lamps we sped past. I hated to admit it to myself but I was pleased that he had insisted on driving. I consider myself to be a pretty independent person but in times of extreme crisis it was nice to have someone around who wanted to take control. That didn’t mean I was going to give him control, but I could take some comfort in knowing that it was an option.

As we got closer I broke the silence in order to direct him but I didn’t need to give him the exact address. Once we were within a block of the house all the flashing lights and uniformed officers served as a pretty clear indicator of where we were going. Anatoly parked several houses away and pulled the keys out without making any move to get out of the car. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask you again, Sophie. Are you sure you want me to investigate this?”

Other books

Matadero Cinco by Kurt Vonnegut
Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson
Owned Forever by Willa Edwards
I Still Remember by Bliss, Harper
Sarah's Seduction by Lora Leigh
Naked Angel by Logan Belle