Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights (6 page)

“Excuse me, but just because I’m unfamiliar with the terminology of the stock market doesn’t mean I’m completely clueless about money. This is a community property state so if I had wanted to get my hands on Bob’s money, any divorce attorney worth his salt could have done that for me.”

“I know you wouldn’t kill for money or any other reason.” I inched closer to Leah and rested my hand on her shoulder. “But the police might think that you weren’t really up for the whole half-sies thing.”

“This is perfect,” Leah said. “If Bob had been bankrupt, Jack and I would be homeless and hungry, but since he wasn’t, I’m a murder suspect. No matter what the situation is I lose.”

“Just because you’re a suspect doesn’t mean you’re going to be charged with anything,” Anatoly pointed out. “Let’s figure out who else could have done this. Did anyone other than you and Bob know the combination to the safe?”

“No one. Just Bob and I. It was our anniversary.”

“Your anniversary,” Anatoly repeated. “The same combination you used for your personal Internet access, your ATM and your online retail accounts.”

“You can see why neither chose careers that required a lot of creative thinking.” Oh damn it, I’d done it again. I was really going to have to make more of an effort on this delicacy thing.

Anatoly did some more coughing before pulling out the necklace. He held up the pendant so that the light caught the yellow stone and the white diamonds that surrounded it. “Is this one of those yellow diamonds?”

Leah took the necklace from his hands. “Don’t be ridiculous. Colored diamonds are trendy and ugly. Diamonds should be clear like these little ones. The stone in the middle is a yellow sapphire.”

“I see. How much is that yellow sapphire worth?”

“I had the necklace insured for fifty-four thousand dollars.”

“Are you kidding?” I squeaked. “My God, what happened to the days when a man could clear his guilty conscience for under a grand?”

“Clearly Bob had more guilt than the average philandering husband,” Leah said, and shook her head in disgust. “I should have known right away. Bob was never excessively affectionate. We’re both too sophisticated to be taken in by all the hearts and flowers nonsense.”

I sank my teeth into my tongue to refrain from blurting out that she had been renting
Sleepless in Seattle
on a biweekly basis for the past decade and a half.

“…but it wasn’t until last year that he really became distant. He’d stay out late, make excuses for missing dinner, but he’d always make it up to me by buying me something. As the excuses became more frequent, the gifts became more elaborate.” She held up the necklace to eye level. “I don’t want it. I would never be able to wear it without remembering that he gave it to me just months before declaring that he was planning on trading me in for a younger model. I made such a fuss over his generosity, too. I made him gourmet dinners for a week straight. I’m so incredibly pathetic.”

“You’re not pathetic. Remember, Bob never actually left you. I’m sure that given the chance he would have come to his senses and stayed,” I lied.

Anatoly stepped back from the safe and scanned the room. “Where do you keep the computer?”

“In the study upstairs,” Leah said absently, still admiring the necklace she supposedly didn’t want.

I tugged at Anatoly’s sleeve. “I’ll show you.” We left Leah downstairs and I took him to the room that stood between Jack’s and the master suite. I stepped in and did a quick visual inventory. “Wait, I know they keep it in here. Where is it?”

Anatoly walked past me and tapped a spot on the empty desk. “My guess is it was right here.”

I stepped forward and examined the dust-free square on the desk where the computer used to be. “The police?”

“Looks that way.” Anatoly shook his head. “Hopefully there aren’t any messages on it from the mistress. It would be better if Leah could volunteer the information about that affair herself.”

“You want Leah to tell the police about Bob’s bimbo?”

“Assuming she didn’t do it, yes, I want her to tell them about Bob’s bimbo. They’re going to find out anyway, and while I recognize that in her case lying is a family trait, lying to homicide detectives will not serve her well.”

I shrugged. “There was a period of time in recent history when I was lying to the police all the time. I never got arrested.”

“No,
I
did. Let’s not repeat the pattern, all right?”

Leah entered the room and stared at the empty spot where the computer had been. “Hold on a minute. Last night the police escorted me through the house so that I could confirm that nothing was missing and I distinctly remember the computer being right there.” She looked at me and Anatoly accusingly.

“Okay, you caught us. We used Anatoly’s super-microblastic shrinking machine and hid it in the drawer.”

“The police took the computer.” Anatoly was now looking through the papers on Bob’s desk with noticeable lack of interest.

“I can’t believe those people. First my wedding pictures and now this? It’s just so rude! You have no idea what it was like to see the photos of Bob and me on the happiest day of our lives covered in broken glass. And now, not only am I unable to reframe them, I can’t even complain about it to my online stay-at-home-moms’ support group! Honestly, is it really necessary to rob me of all my comforts?”

“Not all your comforts,” I offered. “I’m sure they left the ice cream.”

“This is so typical of you, Sophie! My life gets turned upside down and you’re making jokes.”

Anatoly looked up from the papers. “Funny, I thought it was Bob’s life that got screwed up.”

“Shut up!” The words came from both me and Leah in unison.

She smiled at me and I exhaled a sigh of relief. At least we still recognized that we were not each other’s enemy. The real enemy was the heterosexual male.

Leah checked her watch. “Damn it, I was supposed to pick up Jack five minutes ago.”

“Are you bringing him to Mama’s after that?” She had already told me that she was but I just wanted to be reassured one more time that she wasn’t bringing him to my house.

“Mmm-hmm. She’s taking him for the afternoon.”

“How about the night? Can she take him for the night, too?” Anatoly gave me a sidelong glance, which I ignored.

Leah pushed her purse strap farther up her shoulder. “Jack and I will be staying with you tonight.”

“I really think you should ask Mama to take him. You have enough on your plate as it is.”

“I’m the only parent he has now, and he needs me.”

“You’re right,” I said slowly. “Jack needs stability. Maybe the two of you should stay here tonight. That way he’ll be able to sleep in his own room.”

Leah shot me a “you can’t possibly expect me to stay here” look and then turned around to leave before I had a chance to send her a nonverbal message of my own.

Anatoly smirked. “I’m getting the sense that you have some strong feelings concerning your nephew.”

“You don’t know what this child is like. Rosemary’s baby would be easier to deal with.”

He chuckled and opened the top drawer of the desk. “I’m going to take an hour or so going through this place—there’s always the off chance the police left something behind.”

I pulled off my leather jacket. “I’ll help. I think I’ll start in the kitchen.”

Anatoly nodded, although I don’t think he was listening. I went downstairs and left him to his exploring.

Forty-five minutes later, I had discovered a frozen Wolfgang Puck pizza, two Trader Joe’s salads, an open bottle of Kenwood, Pinot Noir, and an entire box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. I flipped on the small television discreetly mounted on the wall in the corner of the dining room and turned the volume on low before getting to work on the pizza preparation. Ten minutes later the scent of freshly baked mozzarella brought Anatoly downstairs.

I gestured for him to sit at the dining table as I poured the wine. “Do you think the police found anything interesting last night?”

Anatoly glanced at the figure of Montel Williams scurrying around the TV screen, and pulled out a chair for himself. “It’s impossible to know.”

“So what’s our next move?”


My
next move will be to talk to the woman Bob was sleeping with.”

“Why would
we
want to do that?” I set the pizza out along with the two salads, then sat opposite him. “She has no motive—she won. Not that Bob was any great prize. Maybe that’s it! Maybe she started thinking about what life would be like with Bob and freaked out.”

“We don’t know the details of the affair.” He looked at the glass of wine offered him, then glanced at the wall clock, which read 11:55.

“My brother-in-law died yesterday,” I said. “I think it would be justifiable if we started drinking early. So what were you saying about the affair?”

Anatoly sighed and reached for the prepackaged shrimp Caesar. “I was saying that it’s unlikely Bob told Leah the whole story. Maybe his mistress had reason to want him dead, or maybe someone connected with her did.”

“A husband! Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because you’re not a PI.” He tore off a piece of pizza. “You’re a writer…of sorts.”

“One would think that with everything we’ve been through together you would know better than to piss me off.”

“Good point.” Anatoly leaned back in his chair. “All right, who might know the name of Bob’s mistress?”

“Maybe Erika, Bob’s secretary,” I mumbled between bites.

“I’ll need you to make an introduction.”

“I’ll do better than that. I’ll help you with the interview.”

Anatoly frowned and shook his head. “I mean it, Sophie, you need to leave this to me.”

“Uh-uh. Erika knows me, so she’s a lot more likely to open up if I’m there. Plus, I’m good at this detective stuff. I figured out who killed Tolsky, didn’t I?”

“How could I forget?” Anatoly taunted. “You’re the genius who put the whole thing together just minutes after the killer confessed. Very impressive.”

I narrowed my eyes. I didn’t care what anyone said, writing the Alicia Bright mysteries
did
qualify me to be an amateur sleuth. In
Words To Die By
Alicia solved four murders in less than a month’s time. Surely, with Anatoly’s assistance, I could solve
one
murder in less than a week. “The point is, I figured it out before you. No, scratch that—the point is, I’m the one footing the bill for this little investigation, so if I say I’m sitting in on an interview, then—”

Anatoly leaned forward and grabbed my wrist. God, I had forgotten just how strong his hands were.

“This is not a game. A man was killed and the murderer may be willing to kill again in order to avoid getting caught.”

I dropped the utensil I had been holding in my free hand. “You’re worried about me!”

Anatoly uttered some Russian curse and attacked his salad with his fork.

“You looove me.” When Anatoly didn’t respond I decided to take it down a notch. “Okay, maybe you’re not ready for the big
L
word, but you’ve got to admit you like me an awful lot.”

“Careful, Sophie. I like Caesar salad and look what I’m doing to it,” he said as he violently sank his fork into a piece of shrimp.

“Are you suggesting that you want to eat me?”

“Sophie…”

“Good afternoon.”

Anatoly and I looked up at the television to see the anchor woman who had begun speaking.

“Thanks for joining us for Channel Two News at Noon. Today’s lead story is a murder that took place last night in the Forest Hill district of San Francisco.”
Anatoly quickly stood up and adjusted the volume.
“Bob Miller, the comptroller at Chalet.com, was found last night with a gunshot wound to the head. His wife, Leah Miller, made the call to the police. This morning we had a chance to speak to Bob’s sister, Cheryl Miller. This is what she had to say.”

The camera switched to a shot of Cheryl standing in front of her place of work, Hotel Gatsby. Her overly gelled dyed-blond hair was impervious to the wind that was plaguing her interviewer. “I’m still reeling from the whole thing,” she said, gently patting the corner of her eyes with a pink handkerchief. “Although, I suppose I should have seen this coming. Leah and Bob were having problems, and Leah was never the most stable of people.”

“That bitch!” I screamed, standing up quickly enough to upset my chair.

“Shh!” Anatoly scolded, and turned the volume up a bit more.

“I know the police are looking at her,” Cheryl continued. “Of course, she’s denying it. I swear, it’s just like OJ and Nicole all over again.”

“How so?” the interviewer asked.

“Well, Bob and I came from a very well-respected New England family, and Leah’s…well, she’s black. And now she’s going to try to act like the police are targeting her because of her race, which isn’t the case at all. But if she’s brought to trial, who knows what she’ll be able to convince a jury of.” Cheryl dabbed her eyes again. “Not that Leah has the money to hire the Dream Team, but she does come from
some
wealth. Her mother’s side of the family is Jewish.”

I wasn’t so much upset as I was floored. Anatoly and I looked at each other.

“Huh,” he said, “I completely forgot that your sister is black.”

“I’m not sure she is anymore,” I replied. “Is it possible for a person to shop in Wilkes Bashford’s women’s department while still maintaining an ethnic identity?”

Anatoly shook his head and cast one last glance at the television. “This is going to get messy.”

 

Twenty-five minutes later I was clinging to Anatoly as he pulled his Harley into a parking spot right in front of Bob’s office building, located in the heart of the financial district. I doubt I’ll ever get over the thrill of having my breasts pressed up against his well-developed back muscles while riding on the back of that bike. There’s something intrinsically sexy about a non–Hells Angels type riding a Harley. It was like Anatoly was wearing a sign that said, “I’m sexy, I’m fun and I’m secure enough with my masculinity to willingly put a large vibrating phallic symbol between my legs and enjoy it.”

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