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Authors: Medora Sale

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BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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“I'd love some coffee,” she said. “It smells—I don't know—nice and ordinary.”

“One coffee coming up. How about orange juice? And some toast?”

She put down her coffee mug and leaned heavily back on the pillows Lucas had arranged behind her. “I'm tired,” she said. “But I guess I'm okay.”

“Good,” he said, setting his plate down on the coffee table and picking up a glass of water. “Drink this. You got very dehydrated.” He laughed nervously. “I thought you meant to dry up on me.”

“I knew I was dying,” she said quietly. “And I didn't give a damn. I felt so awful . . . and so tired. And you kept shoving things down my throat. Instead of just leaving me . . .”

He waited for her to finish what she was saying, but she turned her head and looked at the blank windows, silent again. He got up and began the slow routine of unlocking all the shutters and raising them. The strong spring sun flooded the room, and Annie dropped her head back as far as it would go. In a minute she was asleep again.

Inspector John Sanders walked into the room, took off his gray, pin-striped suit jacket and draped it with elaborate care over the back of his chair. His face was white; his features frozen, thin-lipped, immobile. He sat down with the same care that he had expended over his suit jacket and grabbed for a file. He opened it and inspected the first page it contained. Five minutes later he was still staring at the first page.

“You want a coffee?” said Sergeant Ed Dubinsky, who up to this point had been pretending to ignore him.

“No,” said Sanders.

“So what in hell happened up there?” asked Dubinsky. “Before you have a heart attack and can't tell me.”

“It's going over to internal affairs.” Sanders glanced up for a moment and then returned to his file.

“Turn the page,” said Dubinsky. “Then tell me what's going to internal affairs.”

Sanders closed the folder sheepishly and looked over at his partner. “Lucas. Dragging us all upstairs was Baldwin's idea. Everybody else was happy to wait until we found the stupid idiot and asked him what in hell he thought he was doing. But Baldwin thinks Lucas was on the take, got himself mixed up with Neilson's murderers, and is getting out while the getting is good. He claims he's been suspicious of Lucas from the very beginning, that Lucas kept turning up where he wasn't expected—looking into aspects of the investigation he wasn't supposed to be worrying about.”

“Could be,” said Dubinsky with his usual skepticism.

“I dunno,” said Sanders, running his hands through his hair. “He never struck me as the type. Which doesn't mean a thing. Those pretty, clean-cut types can get away with murder.” Sanders winced. Harriet's cry of “gorgeous” was still ringing in his ear. “Baldwin says he was chasing that witness so he could get rid of her.”

“Or somebody was,” said Dubinsky. “Anyway, what difference does it make? They can't do much until they find him.”

“They're stepping up the search. I hadn't realized until today how much Matt hated him.”

“So what else is new?” said Dubinsky, yawning. “But I wouldn't worry about Lucas. He's not as stupid as you think. He'll be all right. Anyway, you want to hear what I got from the auditors?” Sanders leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Their reason for concentrating on Neilson's land development deals is that they were sent in there on account of the fire and those people being killed. That good enough for you? Anyway, it's slow because everything he did was very complicated. Got it? It took them forty-five minutes to explain those two things to me. But what they're pretty sure of—it'll take weeks before they pin down the proof, understand—is that Neilson was expecting the roof to fall in on him and was moving every asset he had out of the country, out of reach of Canadian courts.”

“You mean, he was going to leave the country for good?”

“They wouldn't say, of course. But that's what it looks like. And with two plane tickets—”

“Take the kid with him.” Sanders sat up and opened his eyes again.

“Bingo!” Dubinsky leaned back in turn. “And something else. While you were farting around up there, raising your blood pressure for no good reason, Collins and McNeill tracked down that safe-deposit box key. I told the manager we'd be there at two. That gives us time for lunch.”

The manager of the large downtown bank where Carl Neilson had his safe-deposit box did not like police on the premises. He was waiting at the door; he pushed them through the public areas as if they were plague carriers, hustled them into a private room and into the box almost before they could identify themselves.

Instead of cash reserves, negotiable bonds, whatever it was that Sanders had expected to see, only two items occupied the space. A standard business envelope and, under it, an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven brown manila one. Both were unmarked and unsealed. Sanders picked up the smaller envelope and looked inside. It contained one strip of developed black-and-white negatives, 35mm. From the larger envelope he pulled out six black-and-white prints, eight by ten in size, set them on the table, and picked up the top one. And drew his breath in through his teeth in a muted whistle. “Pay dirt, Ed,” he muttered softly. “You better get the car. We're off.”

The house in Thornhill slumbered in the strong spring sunshine, clean, innocent, and rich-looking. They surprised Lydia Neilson on her way out to the stable, turned her around and back into the house. She led them into the study, smiling politely and automatically, but as she turned to gesture them into chairs, Dubinsky pulled the manila envelope out of a large plastic bag. Mrs. Neilson paled and sat down abruptly.

“Mrs. Neilson,” said Sanders briskly, “while going through a safe-deposit box rented by your husband—”

“Where did he keep them?” she asked. Her voice was hoarse.

“At his downtown bank.”

“Yonge and Bloor?”

“No, right downtown.”

“I didn't know he had another bank,” she said. Her shoulders sagged, and her face settled into a mask of absolute misery.

Dubinsky took out the top photograph and handed it to Sanders. “We found this and other photographs of you—”

He held out the picture, but she shook her head vehemently and wrapped her arms protectively around her body.

“I've seen them,” she said. “I don't ever want to see them again. They're disgusting—absolutely disgusting.”

“Is that you in the photograph?” asked Sanders. “You might want to consider for a moment before—”

“Oh, yes, it's me. But I didn't—” She stumbled, searching for words. “It was a setup. I never went in for Carl's sick games. And I would never, never, never have done anything like that with a child present. That was pure Carl, that touch. He knew how I felt about child pornography.”

“What do you mean—a setup?” asked Dubinsky.

Lydia Neilson's fingers were digging into her upper arms as she clutched herself more and more tightly. She stared down at the carpet. “A setup. The kind of thing Carl was good at. That's why people hated him.” She looked up a moment, surprised. “Or admired him, too, I suppose. Anyway, I was ready to leave him. He was disgusting—but that doesn't matter here. I fell in love with someone—a normal human being—and Carl opened a letter from him and discovered I was going to leave. He didn't give a damn about me, not really, but he was furious that I meant to take Mark with me. Mark was his son, you see. His property. He never told me about all of this until later, by the way. Anyway, it was my birthday, and he threw a big party for me, a costume party at La Celestina—that's one of his businesses. I'd never been there before. It was hot and smoky and filled with people I didn't know. I remember being very thirsty and feeling very strange, and someone taking me somewhere to lie down. I don't remember anything else until I woke up in the hotel with my lover in bed with me and someone taking our picture. Both of us felt like hell. Carl came in right after that with a couple of guys and that pile of pictures. I threw up when I saw them.”

Sanders looked at the top picture. Lydia Neilson was lying on a double bed, naked, with one man on top of her, and a second man reaching out for her while being fondled by a boy who looked no more than ten. Her eyes were shut and her face was slack. Unconscious? Possibly, he thought. “Is one of these men your boyfriend?” he asked abruptly.

She shook her head. “The idea was that Carl would go into court and say that not only did I have a lover but I went to parties where I—” She stopped in momentary confusion. “Parties like that. He said if I ever tried to leave, or had anything to do with my friend or any of his friends again, he would divorce me and produce these pictures in evidence—including the one they had just taken—and I would never see Mark again. He said the two men in the pictures would swear that I—that this wasn't the first time. My friend got dressed and left, and I've never seen or heard from him since.” Tears began running down her face. “You can't believe how happy I was when that policeman told me Carl was dead. I felt guilty, because he was a human being and afraid of dying and deserved to live his life, but I was happy. No one was going to be able to take Mark away from me now. That was all I could think of.” Lydia Neilson unwrapped her arms and fished in her pocket for a handkerchief. “Someone like me killed him, Inspector, some desperate person, and I feel so sorry for him, because you'll catch him, whoever he is, and all he was doing was trying to save himself from being destroyed by my husband.”

“You mean, you don't care who killed him?” asked Sanders quietly.

“Not particularly. And don't look at me like that. I didn't kill him. I couldn't put Mark at risk—what would he do with his mother in prison? No, I couldn't do that. Besides, I've never killed anything in my life. But someone did, and Carl deserved it.”

“The problem with Mrs. Neilson,” said Dubinsky, yawning and taking the top off his coffee, “as I said yesterday, is that although she has motive written all over her, motive she admits to, we can't place her anywhere near the scene. It's a long way from her house to the hotel. The housekeeper didn't see the car go out, and none of the neighbours saw her driving to or from the house.”

“No one saw her out riding, either,” said Sanders.

“Okay, no one saw her out riding. But there is someone who was right there while that bastard Neilson was still bleeding all over the carpet, and that's Rob Lucas's mystery witness who has disappeared, with or without Lucas. Has it ever occurred to you that she might have taken her little twenty-two and popped a couple of tiny bullets through his brain as well?”

“Yeah, it's occurred to me. From time to time. Stupid thoughts like that are always occurring to me at four in the morning. But you know what really occurred to me while I was listening to Mrs. Neilson? That her husband was a vindictive, blackmailing son of a bitch by nature. Maybe we should concentrate on his business partners for a day or so—if we can find out who they are. He probably did the same sort of thing to them. Anything new from the auditors?”

“Come off it,” said Dubinsky with pain in his voice. “I just got in.”

“Christ! They've probably been working since dawn. Call them.” Sanders turned back to his desk and began his morning paper shuffle once again.

It was after lunch before Dubinsky turned up again, looking sleek and well fed. “Okay,” he said. “Here's what we've got. The guy who's been looking at Neilson's restaurant and hotel business says that for the last two or three weeks before he died there was a serious hemorrhage.”

“What does he mean, hemorrhage?”

“Well, there's a hell of a lot of money coming in to the restaurant, for instance. Much too much. I asked him if it could be drugs and girls, and he said he hadn't the slightest idea. Neilson had it covered in his books, sort of. Then the money disappears. Not just the extra cash, but all the money. And now the books for the restaurant wouldn't stand up to a five-minute scrutiny, he said. So I asked this guy who Neilson was trying to fool, and he said it wasn't the auditors. And it wasn't the tax people. Maybe some very gullible business partners for a very short period of time. Because pretty soon even they would figure it all out. In a week or so, at the rate he was going, there wasn't going to be enough cash in that business to pay the cook.”

“What about the guys sniffing around the premises? Anything new?”

Dubinsky shook his head. “They're still looking. The place is getting too respectable. But they're still digging.”

“So as far as Neilson's death goes, we're back where we started.”

“I don't know about that. Try this on. Randy West's been inside. He served five years of a fifteen-year sentence for embezzlement. Got out five—six years ago and has worked for NorthSea/Baltic ever since. I found that so interesting, I made an appointment with Mr. West at the restaurant for a little talk. You're welcome to come along if you want: five-thirty.”

They were met at the door by Horvath in a dinner jacket. Its neat and severe lines made him look gloomier than ever. Before he managed even the briefest of good evenings, Sanders had him backed over to the relative privacy of the coat-check counter. “Do you remember a birthday party that Mr. Neilson gave for his wife here? One of those two-hundred-people, close-the-dining-room kind. Costume.”

Horvath wiped the surprise caused by their sudden entrance off his face and restored his features to their habitual melancholic impassivity. “For Mrs. Neilson? You're sure?” Sanders nodded. “It must have been before my time. I've never met Mrs. Neilson. I heard she didn't like going out much. I didn't know she'd ever been here.”

“Do you get a rake-off on the girls?” asked Sanders casually.

BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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