Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights (7 page)

We walked inside and took an elevator to the eleventh floor, which was the second of the three floors that housed Chalet. I had only been there once before with Leah. Back then Bob had shared a moderate-size office with a colleague whom he had neglected to introduce me to. Since then Bob had moved up in the world. He held bragging rights to a corner office the size of my living room. Leah had told me the CFO had recently turned in her notice and Bob was to fill the vacant role. Of course, at the time she hadn’t known that Bob had no intention of sharing his success with
her…

Now the door to the office was wide open, and sitting at his desk was a petite Chinese woman. Her permed black hair hung delicately around her shoulders as she sobbed into her hands. Even without being able to see her face I recognized her as Erika. The tall man with the salt-and-pepper hair patting her shoulder was Chalet’s CEO, James Sawyer, whom I had met at the occasional dinner party. As Anatoly and I stepped inside, James’s hazel eyes met mine.

“Sophie.” He stepped around the desk and clasped my right hand in both of his. Erika looked up and used the back of her hand to try to wipe away the tears that dampened her face.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am about Bob,” James continued.

His tone was so sincere and concerned that I genuinely wished I was more upset. “I want you to know that we at Chalet have always considered the family of our employees to be part of our own extended family—no matter what their nationality, race, creed or religion.”

Anatoly cleared his throat and I pressed my lips together. “I see you’ve been watching the news,” I said.

“I…might have caught it while purchasing a coffee across the street.” James adjusted his tie as if that was the reason he had suddenly gone red. He looked past me to Anatoly. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“Anatoly Darinsky. I’m a close friend of Sophie’s.”

Close
—I liked that.

“I see,” he said. “Well, I assume you’re here for some of Bob’s things?”

“Actually, we were hoping to talk to Erika for a few minutes.” I tilted my head to the side so that I could see past James to Bob’s grieving secretary. “Bob always spoke so highly of you, and Leah feels that your help with the arrangements would be invaluable.”

“Of course, I’ll help with the…arrangements. Oh, poor Bob!” She lunged for the tissues at the corner of the desk.

James regarded Erika with a mixture of sympathy and disdain. “Erika, you can go through the paperwork tomorrow,” he said as he helped her to her feet and led us out of Bob’s office and to her desk. “Waiting another day won’t kill—won’t be of any significance. Why don’t you take the rest of the afternoon off?”

As Erika squeaked in agreement, James checked his watch. “I don’t mean to appear insensitive, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to head out. I’m scheduled to speak to a youth group in Hunter’s Point in forty-five minutes.” He looked up at Anatoly and me and smiled proudly. “Chalet has built a reputation on reaching out to San Francisco’s diverse community.”

“Uh-huh.” I eyed the navy-blue pinstripe suit once more and tried to imagine how that look played with today’s troubled urban youth.

“Bob always said he wanted to get more involved in Chalet’s community projects.” Erika made a loud honking noise as she paused to blow her nose. “Now he’ll never have the chance.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. Expecting Bob to do voluntary community service was kind of like waiting for the Pope to go devil worshiping.

James’s eyes were now darting between the sniffling Erika and his ticking watch. “Yes, it’s all very unfair. Sophie, please express my sympathy to your family.” He nodded at me and Anatoly, and gave Erika’s shoulder one last awkward pat before quickly removing himself from the room.

“I’m sorry.” Erika sat up a little straighter and tucked her hair behind her ears. “I know that I was just his secretary, but he was so incredibly sweet to me. He and Leah both were, and—” she anxiously tugged on her tennis bracelet “—I just can’t believe he’s gone!”

Anatoly had reopened the door to the office and was taking a visual inventory. “Have the police been here yet?” he asked.

“Yes, they came earlier. They took the computer. Other than that I think they left everything intact.”

Anatoly closed the door again. “So as far as you know, they didn’t find anything.”

Erika hesitated. “Did you really come to get my help with the funeral arrangements, or did Leah send you to gather information about…that
woman?
” By the way she said “that woman” I was unsure if she was referring to Bob’s mistress or a female Al Qaeda terrorist.

Anatoly shook his head. “We didn’t come to find out about Bob’s mistress, but if you know who she is, I’m sure Leah would be interested.”

Erika leaned forward conspiratorially lest we be overheard by the ants currently scoping out her water bottle. “Her name’s Bianca Whitman. Yesterday, before…before—”

“What happened yesterday afternoon?” I asked, quickly cutting her off before she had a chance to indulge in another shower of tears.

“It was the morning, actually. Leah called me. Bob had just broken the news to her and she was so distraught.” Erika looked down at her desk as if she could see the previous day’s events replaying on its surface. “It was such a shock…the very idea of Bob betraying the woman he loved—” she faltered and squeezed her eyes closed against the tears “—it was just so out of character.”

“And Bob was such a character.” Anatoly elbowed me and I forced myself to look more bereaved. “What I meant to say was that he had so
much
character—he was just full of it.”

Erika shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Yes, well anyway, Leah asked me to look around the office for any information on this woman. So I…I went through his things while he was at lunch.” She looked up at us pleadingly. “I know I shouldn’t have. I just wanted to help Leah. She’s become such a good friend. And Bob…you have to understand, Bob wasn’t a bad person. He was just…”

“An adulterer,” I finished. I was pretty sure he was a bad person, too, but I decided to let that one drop.

“Did you find anything in your search?” Anatoly asked.

Erika nodded. She unzipped her large purse and began unloading its contents onto her desk. Anatoly’s forehead creased as she pulled out a miniature package of Kleenex, a bottle of prescription pills, a lipstick, a wine cork, a small package labeled
insulin,
her wallet and finally a small, light pink envelope. I had forgotten about all of Erika’s health problems. She had both severe diabetes and a heart murmur. Yet it was her hearty golf-playing boss who had checked out at the ripe old age of thirty-five. It was irony like that that made a person want to take up smoking.

Erika picked up the envelope with her thumb and forefinger. “This should give Leah most of the information she wants.”

“Which is?” Anatoly asked, taking the letter.

“Her name and address. There’s no phone number and she’s unlisted—I checked.”

Anatoly scanned the letter while I helped Erika reload her purse. “What time did Bob leave work yesterday?”

“Five o’clock, as always,” Erika said.

Anatoly nodded and stuffed the letter back into the envelope. “Did you tell the police about Bianca?”

“No,” Erika paused a moment to blow her nose again. “I didn’t want to tarnish Bob’s memory. Besides, there’s Leah to consider. I know she’s suffering horribly right now and if she did something in the heat of passion that perhaps she shouldn’t have…I just don’t want to be the one to make things worse for her.”

My hand clenched the Chateau d’Yquem wine cork that I had been about to drop in her bag. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “You’re not actually giving credence to baseless allegations made by some cross-burning bitch on Channel 2 today.”

“I’m sorry?” Erika blinked at me. “What are you talking about? You’re not saying that Bob’s mistress was a Klan member, are you? Bob would never get involved with a person like that! She must have lied to him about who she was or…or brainwashed him!” Erika dropped her head to her arms again and started weeping.

Anatoly grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the exit. “Thanks for your help. Leah will contact you to discuss the memorial service,” he called over his shoulder before shoving me into the elevator.

“Sophie, I doubt a lot of people saw that report,” he said when the doors closed. “I know this may be hard for you to understand, but some people might think Leah’s guilty just because she had means, opportunity and motive.”

“Yeah, yeah, tell it to Dershowitz.” I jammed my finger against the button labeled
L
. “Let me see the letter.”

Anatoly handed it over to me and I quickly unfolded it.

Dear Bobby,
I know I shouldn’t be writing this, but you’re all I can think about these days. Every time I drive by a restaurant in which we dined, or pass a park bench on which we sat, or walk down a street on which you held my hand, I think of you.

 

Oh, yuck.

 

I hope that by putting the feelings that are in my heart on paper I will be better able to sort through them and maybe even figure out the right thing to do.
I know you think I shouldn’t, but I keep thinking of your wife and child. I know that she’s been disloyal and that she’s hurt you, but two wrongs have never made a right. Thus, it is my moral obligation to end things between us.
But I can’t do it, Bobby. Whenever I force myself to entertain the idea of life without you, a little part of me dies. I can still remember the way your shirt felt against my cheek as we danced at the Starlight Room. That night you told me we were soul mates. When I recall those words I know that I will never be able to walk away from you. Does that make me a horrible person? How can an immoral relationship feel so right?
So, despite the guilt, I am yours. I have no right to ask you to choose between me and your family, but I hope that you will have pity on me and make your decision. If you choose your family I will be heartbroken but I will understand; it’s the right choice to make. I just don’t have the strength to make it.

 

Love Always,
B

“Oh, this chick is a piece of work!”

Anatoly stifled a laugh as the doors opened to the ground floor. “Maybe she’s being sincere,” he suggested as he escorted me to the sidewalk.

“Nah. All that ‘I’ll be heartbroken but I’ll understand’ stuff is total passive-aggressive BS. She actually had the nerve to try to guilt him into leaving his wife and child!”

“Mmm, maybe—”

We stopped in front of his bike and he handed me the spare helmet.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” he added.

“You think?”

“I know. We’re going to pay her a visit right now.”

CHAPTER 4

“But she can’t be a slut,” Sara said with a confused shake of her head. “She buys her bras at Mervyn’s.”

Words To Die By

A
s it turned out, Bianca lived in an eight-story building at the top of Nob Hill. Anatoly found her name next to a buzzer for the seventh-floor flat. “A twenty-one-year-old with a condo kitty-corner to Grace Cathedral.” Anatoly made an appreciative clucking sound with his tongue. “Pretty impressive prize for a man you described as the world’s biggest schmuck.”

“She probably has buck teeth and a lazy eye.”

Anatoly shrugged and pressed the buzzer. A few seconds later a feminine voice come through the speaker. “Yes?”

Anatoly held up his hand to stop me from saying anything. “Hello, Miss Whitman? My name is Anatoly Darinsky. I’m a private investigator. I was hired by Bob Miller’s family to investigate his death.”

There was a moment’s pause and then we heard a loud
buzz
as the door before us unlocked. Anatoly held it open for me and we waited at the elevator.

“At what point do I get to rip her hair out?” I whispered.

“No hair ripping. We’re going to make her feel as comfortable as possible.”

“You think she’s going to be comfortable talking to the sister of her lover’s wife?” I let out a bitter laugh. “Give me a break.”

“You’re not Leah’s sister,” he said as we stepped onto the elevator.

“I’m not?”

“Not for this interview. You’re my assistant and you will behave as such.”

I tapped my finger against my lips thoughtfully. “I like that. You know, I bet that a few weeks of working with you would be enough to drive me to the edge of insanity. I might just have a breakdown and start tearing out the hair of some adulterous slut for no reason.”

“Sophie…”

“Relax,” I said. “I’m just kidding…sort of.”

The elevator doors opened to the seventh floor, and standing in a small foyer was a pretty petite blonde wearing khakis and a white button-up blouse. A pink cardigan was draped over her shoulders.

Anatoly extended his hand to her. “Miss Whitman? Thank you for seeing me. This is—”

Bianca’s hand flew to her mouth. “You’re Sophie Katz, Leah’s sister!”

Well, so much for that plan. Anatoly looked away to better hide the pained expression on his face.

“You know me?” My hand instinctively clenched into a fist.

“Yes, of course! I’ve read every one of your books! I…oh, you must hate me. I don’t blame you. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.” She bit her lip and looked down at her kitten-heeled sling-backs. “I keep thinking that this is some kind of nightmare—that none of this could possibly be true.”

“No, it’s true,” I said flatly. “Someone shot the bastard.”

Anatoly looked up at the ceiling and mumbled something in Russian, and Bianca’s eyes welled up with tears. “God help me, this is all my fault!”

Now, that was interesting. Anatoly and I exchanged quick looks. He put a comforting hand on her arm.

“Why don’t we step inside and talk.”

Bianca nodded weakly and turned to lead us into her home. The place was tastefully appointed in a very Laura Ashley way. She waved a hand at a floral couch and Anatoly and I took our seats. Bianca went to her purse, pulled out a lace handkerchief and gently dabbed her eyes. First Cheryl and now Bianca—at what point did hankies come back in vogue?

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