Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights (5 page)

Her action must have surprised her, as well, because she had become completely still. Then she slumped against the counter. “I know it looks bad, but I honestly never wished him dead. I wanted the chance to make it work. Why wasn’t I given that, Sophie? Why would anyone do this?” She slid down to the floor, buried her face in her hands and cried.

I reluctantly crept forward and sat down beside her, careful not to get shards of ceramic stuck in my butt. I understood where Leah was coming from. I’m not sure she valued Bob the individual all that much, but she did value their union and the life they had made together. Her choices were not ones that I would ever have made for myself, though they apparently worked for her. But Bob’s extramarital affair had not been one of her choices, nor had his murder. At least I hoped it hadn’t been. Now, after spending years perfecting her role as Mrs. Bob Miller, she was forced to redefine herself, and she had no clue how to do it.

I put my arm around her shoulders. “I’ll ask Mary Ann about the black,” I said, referring to my friend who worked at Neiman Marcus. “She’ll know what you should wear.”

Leah choked back a sob.

“Do you want to cover the mirrors?” I asked.

Leah lifted her tear-stained face. “Cover the mirrors? Bob would have hated that. He wasn’t even Jewish.”

“Look, God’s got Bob covered, so now we’ve got to do what’s necessary to get
you
through this. The rabbis wrote out some pretty clear instructions on what we Jews are supposed to do when we lose a family member, and you need guidance, soooo…”

Leah nodded and chewed on her lip. “I guess it’s not such a bad idea, but do you think…perhaps just for this morning…?”

“You want to wait until you’ve finished with your makeup and hair.”

“Am I completely shallow and horrible?”

“Maybe, but if so, it’s hereditary, because there’s no way that I’m going to go through the day without my under-eye concealer.”

Leah rested her head against my shoulder, which required some contortionist moves on her part, but the gesture was irresistibly sweet. “If you ever try to remind me that I said this I’ll deny it, but honestly—I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“You’re never going to have to find out,” I said, then reached forward and patted her knee. “And you can count on me reminding you.”

 

If anybody else had lost her husband I would have had the courtesy to let them shower before me. But it was an undisputed fact that Leah’s particular bathing rituals were the primary reason for California’s water shortage, so I made it a point to sneak in first. When I had finished making myself beautiful, I searched the apartment for something appropriate to cover the mirrors with. It took about five minutes for me to figure out that I had nothing. My downstairs neighbor Nancy sewed. She’d probably have some spare fabric. But there were so many things I’d rather do than ask her for a favor—like go snorkeling in a tanker full of plutonium.

I heard Leah turn off the shower. She’d be done in forty-five minutes max. I had promised her I’d cover the mirrors and I didn’t want to renege on that, especially since it was the only thing that seemed to perk her up. I opened one of my dresser drawers for the eighth time and glared at its contents. Of course there was nothing of use in there. Gym clothes, bathing suits and…

My hand reached in and pulled out the first of my many sarongs that I had collected over time to use as bathing suit covers and skirts during the years that it was fashionable. I shook it out and held it up to the full-length mirror fastened to the closet door. It was the right length. I had seven sarongs and five mirrors. Perfect. I hurried around the apartment hanging up my exotic mourning sheaths. By the time Leah was done I was waiting outside the bathroom holding the sarong I intended to hang in there. Leah opened the door and looked at it questioningly.

“Are you going on a cruise?”

“These are for the mirrors. I didn’t have any black cloth.”

“Are you kidding? It’s going to look like we’re holding a luau.”

“A very somber luau.”

Leah shook her head. “Sophie.”

“I put the black one with the purple and turquoise fish in the living room.”

“I gave that to you when you got accepted into USF! I can’t believe you still have it!”

“I take it with me on every beach vacation.”

“Well, I guess it’s okay. After all, you’re putting the red one in the bathroom and the one I gave you
is
predominantly black….”

“And if you’ll recall, the fish on it are wearing very serious expressions.”

“Bob loved fish.” And that was it—Leah was in tears again.

I hugged her and tried to conjure up some fond memories of Bob ordering halibut. I wanted to feel more sad about this, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I wasn’t a sociopath, but my main emotion at the moment was relief. If Leah could just have another breakdown over Bob’s eating habits in front of the police, that might sway their opinions in the right direction. Leah wiped her tears and tried to smooth a crease in a skirt that I had lent her. I slipped past her and covered the last mirror. I heard Leah gasp in what I took to be horror as I pushed in the last thumbtack. “Oh, come on, Leah, it’s a mellow red.”

“It’s not the sarong—I just remembered what I forgot.”

“Which is?”

“Mama.”

“Shit!” I locked eyes with Leah. If Mama came for a visit and discovered a tube of Monistat 7 in the bathroom drawer you could count on her demanding to know why the offending offspring hadn’t called her the minute she felt an itch. Forgetting to call to let her know her son-in-law was murdered was not going to go over well. I glanced at my watch. “She must not have watched the morning news or she would have called by now—”

The phone rang. Leah looked like she had just swallowed her tongue and I felt the threat of a migraine.

“It could be a reporter looking for a quote,” I said.

“Do you have caller ID?”

“No, but I’m going to get it any day now.”

“How helpful.”

Leah and I walked over to the phone and stared at it as it rang for the fourth time. I decided to live dangerously and pick it up right before the answering machine did it for me. “Hel—”

“What kind of child doesn’t call her mother when her sister’s
schlemiel
husband has come to a
schwartzen sof
?”

The more excited Mama got, the more Yiddish she used. I wasn’t exactly fluent in the language but I knew that to come to a schwartzen sof was to come to a bad end and that schlemiel was a polite way of calling Bob a prick. I cleared my throat.

“Mama, it really wasn’t my place to call you—Leah should have done that.” I winced as soon as I said it. It was an unfortunate force of habit to transfer my mother’s wrath onto my younger sister. I mouthed the word
sorry
to Leah. She in turn gave me what I had come to know as the “I’m going to get you for that” look.

“So where’s your sister and the
lobbus?
Are they all right?”

“Leah and Jack are fine. Jack slept over at a friend’s house and Leah’s…” Leah began to shake her head furiously at me. “Leah’s here, but she’s asleep.”

“At ten in the morning she sleeps?”

“Well, she didn’t sleep much last night. As you pointed out, her husband was killed.”

“So who shot him? Was he some kind of criminal? If I find out that he got my Leah mixed up in any kind of monkey business I’ll…I’ll give him the Einhoreh, that’s what I’ll do.”

“What good—or bad—is the evil eye going to do now that he’s already dead?” I heard Leah choke back another sob and I mentally slapped myself.

Mama muttered some more Yiddish before coming back to English. “Enough with the sleeping—put Leah on the phone.”

It was tempting to think that Mama was just being insensitive to my sister’s need for rest, but it was more likely that she knew I was lying, which was impressive because I’m a pretty good liar.

I took a moment to weigh my loyalty to my sister against my desperate desire to get off the phone. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the choice because Leah, in what I assume was an unexpected attack of altruism, took the phone from me.

“I’m here, Mama. Yes, I’m okay…Jack’s okay…No, I haven’t eaten anything today…”

I left the room to allow Leah some privacy and to avoid being stuck with the phone again.

CHAPTER 3

Alicia let out an exasperated sigh. “Dead people are always so much more likable than the rest of us.”

Words To Die By

L
eah and I were only fifteen minutes late in meeting Anatoly at her house. This was a new record for Leah, but for some reason Anatoly didn’t look like he was in the mood for handing out gold stars.

“Can we go in now?” he asked.

“Hello?” I suggested. “When you greet someone you’re supposed to say hello. Otherwise people accuse you of having Asperger’s.”

Leah looked around the front yard and then stared at the still closed front door. “Where’s the police tape?”

“What’s the point of having police tape if there are no police here to enforce the restriction?” Anatoly asked. “Unless the goal is to entice troublemaking teenagers to mess with the crime scene.”

Leah threw him a confused look. “But in the movies…”

“Hollywood has a very different approach to crime fighting than the police.” Anatoly looked at his watch impatiently. “The police may or may not come back to look for more clues, but they have to accept the fact that by that time things will have been altered.”

“Okay, so let’s go in and alter them.” I looked expectantly at Leah, who was examining the doorknob as if it were attached to the gates of hell.

Anatoly cleared his throat. “Leah, if you want to wait out here I’ll understand. Just give me the keys and I’ll come get you if I have any questions.”

Leah shook her head. “I’ve got to go in eventually.” She pulled out her keys at a speed that underscored the meaning of the word
eventually,
and after several deep breaths (each one resulting in the further extension of Anatoly’s chin) she opened the door. She stood in the entryway for a full two minutes before Anatoly and I gently pushed past her.

Our first stop was the living room. Things looked eerily normal. If there had been broken picture frames on the floor, they were gone now, with the exception of a few neglected slivers of glass. Anatoly sighed and looked around the room.

“I’m sure they confiscated everything that could possibly qualify as evidence. I doubt we’ll find much.”

“You mean they took my wedding pictures?”

We turned to see Leah standing behind us.

“Can they really do that without asking me?” she asked.

“As long as they have a warrant,” I said. I walked over to the middle of the room and tapped my foot against the bloodstained floor. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed it was spilled burgundy.

Anatoly was now walking slowly around the room, taking it all in. “Show me where the gun was kept.”

Leah led him to the safe, which was tucked into the cabinet below her showcase of Waterford collectibles. It was such a stupid place to put a safe. Like a burglar wasn’t going to search the furniture piece holding thousands of dollars’worth of crystal. Leah twisted the combination lock a few times until it released. Inside were some insurance papers, a will, a rather extravagant-looking diamond necklace and a few bond certificates that added up to an amount that was considerably less impressive than the value of the necklace. No gun.

Anatoly examined the insurance records. “No life insurance?”

“Bob thought accidental death and disability insurance was enough. After all, both of us were in perfectly good health.”

“So Bob decided to wait until his health failed before approaching the insurance companies for life insurance?” I asked. “Or is it possible he just couldn’t be bothered spending money on a policy that he would never be able to benefit from personally?”

Leah winced and I immediately felt guilty. I was going to have to work on holding back my reflexive insulting observations about her husband now that his previously vacant head contained a bullet.

Anatoly coughed a few times in an obvious attempt to suppress a laugh. “Let’s be grateful he didn’t have an insurance policy—one less reason for the police to suspect you.” He stuffed the papers back in the safe. “Did you have a lot in savings?”

“Just over a hundred thousand,” Leah said softly. “It’s not enough. Our house payments alone are ten thousand dollars a month.”

Anatoly did a quick double take.

“Well, we put down a small down payment!” Leah said defensively. “It’s important to have a nice house to bring business associates to. Besides, Bob was making over four hundred thousand dollars a year and he was getting a promotion, so we knew we’d be fine…or at least we thought we would.” Leah’s eyes misted over. “Oh God, I’m going to have to go back to work, aren’t I.”

“There are worse fates,” I said. “So, other than the savings account, your house and your cars, are there any other assets worth mentioning?”

Leah’s face brightened. “There are the Chalet stocks! Of course, I can’t cash them out yet, since they just went public and the shares are in lockdown….”

“Lockup,” Anatoly corrected. “When a company goes public the employees’ shares go into
lockup
for the first six months or so.”

Leah dismissed Anatoly’s comment with an impatient wave of her hand. “Lockdown, lockup, who cares what it’s called? The important thing is that Jack and I aren’t going to lose our house and I won’t have to work!”

I creased my forehead. “How much are Bob’s shares worth?”

“I don’t know the exact figure, but it’s well over a million.”

I bit my lip and Anatoly let out a heavy sigh. “So much for eliminating money as a motive.”

Leah took a step back from Anatoly and glared at him. “You aren’t seriously suggesting that I would kill my husband for monetary gain?”

“You wouldn’t be the first woman to do so,” Anatoly said.

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