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Authors: Barbara Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

Suspicion of Innocence (26 page)

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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"Wait a minute. I'm not sure I understand this."

"I came home twice, Gail. The first time was around ten-thirty but you weren't there. Where'd you go?"

Gail stood up, stretching the phone cord to make sure Karen was still in front of the television. "Renee's. I just drove by to see if she was up. I wanted to talk to her, but I chickened out. I sat in the driveway for a few minutes, then came home."

"Jesus. Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I didn't think of it. And nothing happened. I didn't even get out of the car."

"Do you know how that
looks?
Don't mention it to Britton, I'm telling you." There was a silence over the phone. Then Dave said, "If anybody asks, I came home about eleven. We went to bed."

Gail heard the noise of cartoons on the television, Karen's laughter.

"Gail, are you still there?" "Yes."

"It'll be okay. Listen, is Karen around?" Gail called her to the phone.

While Karen talked to her father—she seemed a little formal with him—Gail stood at the open door of the refrigerator staring vacantly at the contents.

Close to eleven, Renee had been home. Her car was in her parking spot. A kitchen light was on. Who was with her then? What were they doing? If Gail had stayed there a few minutes more—

She turned around when she heard the click of the telephone. Karen had hung it up.

"Did you have a nice talk with your dad?"

"Okay."

"How about McDonald's tonight?" Karen shrugged.

Gail crossed the kitchen for her car keys. "Come on. We’ll go out." She bent to kiss the top of Karen's head. "You don't have any homework, do you?"

"Well ..." Karen smiled.

"So do I. We’ll do it later."

Gail left her stack of files on the counter.

 

 

 

 

Twelve

 

 

Number 1642 spread out over two lots at the end of Malagueña Avenue, a narrow street of overhanging trees and long driveways. As she passed Ernesto Pedrosa's open ironwork gates, Gail saw a sprawling two-story stucco house, a red tile roof, a heavy door under a vine-covered portico. Cars jammed the driveway and parked along the sidewalks in both directions. She had to drive a block and a half before finding an empty plot of grass not in someone's manicured yard.

At the front door Gail pushed the buzzer, waited awhile. Salsa music was coming from somewhere. Crickets chirped in the tangle of bushes under the front windows. She heard laughter, voices speaking Spanish. The tap of heels on tile. Then the door swung open.

The pretty, dark-haired woman standing there smiled.
"Buenas"
she said slowly, quizzically, taking in Gail's business suit and briefcase. The music was louder now.

"Soy Gail Connor.
Umm.
¿Señor Antonio Quintana está aquí?"

The woman smiled as if she should have known.
"Ah, sí, entre. Perdóneme. Señora Connor."
She drew Gail inside, closed the door. More Spanish.

''¿ Usted habla inglés ?"

The woman laughed gaily. "Sure. Sorry about that. I'm Anthony's cousin Elena. He said you were coming. We'll find him.
Mami, ahora vengo."
She told the older woman sitting on the sofa with three others that she would be back. "Come on, I saw him a minute ago."

She led Gail through the large room with its heavy furniture and high ceilings, then down a hallway, people coming and going. A little girl with a pacifier on a ribbon watched Gail hurry along beside Elena.

"Do you live here?" Gail asked.

Elena glanced at her. "Me? No, I used to. I got married ages ago."

The music switched smoothly from instrumental to vocal. It had to be a live band, Gail realized. They passed a huge kitchen, racks of pots overhead, women clattering dishes, the sweet aroma of roast pork and garlic. Finally the hall opened out to a screened patio that might have held a hundred people—laughing, talking, filling plates at a table heaped with food. And dancing. The other end of the patio had been turned into a dance floor.

The band was on a small platform. Four men in tuxes —keyboard, guitar, conga drums, a horn—backed a singer whose hips and feet moved as if on ball bearings. He wore a wide-shouldered white suit and lime green shirt. His black hair was tied into a little ponytail.

"Ms. Connor?"

Gail wasn't aware she had stopped walking. Elena pointed. "Anthony's over that way."

They made their way through the crowd, the peplum on Elena's yellow silk dress bouncing as she clicked along in her high heels. Nearly all the women here wore clingy, ruffled things that emphasized their bodies. Elena stopped to greet someone.
"Gisela, ¿qué tal?"
They pressed their right cheeks together, a kiss in the air. Gail's eyes went back to the band.

Renee had dated a Hispanic boy in junior high. They had danced the
merengue
in Irene's kitchen, radio turned way up. A Wilfrido Vargas tune, Gail remembered that too. Renee and the boy, both of them small and graceful. Shoulders level, backs straight. His hand on Renee's waist, her fingers on his shoulder. Turning back and around, then a spin, carried by the steady rhythm. He tried to show Gail, six inches taller. She turned the wrong way and stepped on his foot. Laughing, Renee held out her hands.
Feel it, you goose. Don't think. Just move with it.

On Ernesto Pedrosa's patio the singer in the white suit pulled the microphone closer to his mouth, words pouring out like liquid.
Morena, que no me trates así. Ay, marni, ¿porqué me duelas a mí?

Elena took Gail's elbow again. "He's here. I saw him a minute ago. Yes, over there."

Gail had expected—had almost hoped—to find him dancing. But he was standing in a group of other men along the side of the patio with a drink in his hand, his jacket off and his collar open. He saw her and smiled. His eyes moved quickly over the people behind her, then back to her face. Ignoring her extended hand, he lightly kissed her cheek.

She knew, with a sudden, giddy rush of pleasure, that he had been looking for Dave and that he was glad she had come alone. He took her arm and pulled her out of the way of a teenage couple dancing by.

"This is a marvelous party," she said, laughing a little. "What's the occasion?"

He leaned closer so she could hear him. "My aunt's seventieth birthday."

"Do you always celebrate like this?"

"No, her son-in-law's parents just arrived from Havana, so it's for them, too. And also for one of the
municipios en el exilio."

Gail had heard of these groups of exiles from towns in Cuba. They were combination social clubs and planning committees, having picnics while deciding such things as who would run for mayor and what public bus system to have when they finally went home again.

Anthony introduced her to the other men. One she recognized as a Miami City Commissioner. She supposed her briefcase and the announcement that she was a lawyer with Hartwell Black and Robineau put her firmly in the category of business associate, not female friend.

Finally he took her arm. "I would suggest you have something to eat, but my grandfather said to bring you in as soon as you arrived. I think he wants to go to sleep."

"Are you sure this is convenient?"

"Yes, don't worry. He's expecting you." Anthony glanced around, then noticed Elena. "Elenita, see if you can find Carlos and tell him Ms. Connor is here, will you?"

"Sure." She smiled at Gail.

Gail couldn't hold back a delighted laugh as Anthony escorted her through the crowd with a hand lightly on her waist. "Do you know, I've never been to a Cuban party before?"

"No?"

"I've missed a lot."

"You see." He wagged a finger at her. "Too much time in that office of yours."

Anthony picked up his jacket from the back of a chair in the hall. "Perhaps you can stay after the meeting." He straightened his cuffs. "You might like to hear the band, taste some of the cooking." He smiled. "It wasn't catered from Yuca, but I admit—it's pretty good."

 

In Ernesto Pedrosa's study at the opposite end of the house, the music seemed to come from far away. Gail walked slowly across the room, whose dark corners were illuminated only by a silk-shaded floor lamp. Anthony flipped a switch and two other lamps came on at either end of a sofa upholstered in brown leather, cracked from age. She smelled expensive cigars and musty books.

Directly in front of her was the desk, not as big as she had expected. Its right end came out further into the room than the left.

"Haven't you ever wanted to ..." Gail made a pushing motion with her hand.

"I did once, for fun, and he chased me through the house with his belt." Anthony turned on the brass desk lamp.

"Did he catch you?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

Her eyes lifted to the flag, a red triangle and white star on the left, three blue and two white stripes across. The lower right edge of the flag was tattered and stained. There were, indeed, several holes in it.

She glanced at Anthony. He shrugged.

On another wall a washed-out blue banner bore the numbers 2506 in faded yellow. A black and white photograph hung beside it, a formation of men in Army fatigues, the same banner flying behind them.

"What is this?"

"Brigada 2506
invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961," Anthony said. "They meet here from time to time. Those who are left."

Gail walked past a bookcase crammed with papers and heavy books, then to an illuminated glass case. Inside, a faded red ribbon had been draped across an open book of poetry.
Versos Sencillos.
The pages were yellowed, the stanzas written in Spanish. Beside the book was a photograph of a man with a high forehead and small mustache. He wore a black coat and wing collar.

"José Martí," she announced.

"Very good."

"There. I know something about Cuban culture." She studied the paintings on the wall. Old Havana. Varadero Beach. Hills and oxcarts and palm trees. She glanced at Anthony. "And you grew up in this house."

"Yes. The Pedrosa Museum of Cuban History."

He took her briefcase and put it beside one of the chairs facing the desk. When he turned back around his eyes went toward the door. He made an almost imperceptible bow.

' 'Señor, buenas noches. ' '

Ernesto Pedrosa came in, leaning a little on his cane. He wore a long-sleeved white linen shirt with four pockets—a
guayabera
intricately pleated and stitched.

Gail could see now where Anthony had gotten his height. Pedrosa was even taller, a slender man with a gray mustache. Now he was looking at her through his heavy, black-framed glasses.

Anthony said,
"Abuelo,
may I present
la señora
Gail Connor. My grandfather, Ernesto Pedrosa Masvidal."

She held out her hand. His was cool and dry, a big hand that enveloped hers completely.

' 'Mucho gusto en conocerle, señor. ' '
Gail had learned that from Miriam before leaving the office today. She must have pronounced it right, because Pedrosa glanced at Anthony with the pleased surprise of an aging relative for a child who has done something particularly clever.

' 'Que bien ella habla el español. ' '

Gail shook her head. "No, I don't speak it well enough to hold a conversation."

"It doesn't matter." The old man chuckled. Behind the thick glasses were a pair of light blue eyes. "Welcome.
Bienvenida a mi casa, doctora."

"Doctora?"

Anthony explained.
"Doctora
is a term of respect for your profession as a lawyer."

Pedrosa still held her hand. He brought it briefly to his lips. '
'Sin amor de mujer no hay razón para vivir. ' '
He smiled, then turned toward his desk, walking with a limp around the end further out into the room. "Translate,
nieto.
These are words for a younger man."

Anthony smiled as if the two of them were sharing a private joke. ''Without the love of a woman there is no reason to live."

Gail said softly, "What a charming man." But this old charmer, she recalled, had helped launch armed raids on Cuba and bomb a Little Havana radio station.

Anthony touched her elbow. "Come sit down."

Pedrosa hooked his cane on the edge of his desk and eased himself into his chair. Beside the lamp was a tray of crystal liqueur glasses and a bottle. "Anthony,
por favor.
My hands are stiff tonight. May I offer you a glass of cognac,
Señora
Connor?"

"Yes, thank you."

Anthony loosened the cork, which squeaked a little as he turned it.

"That's enough," his grandfather said, and pulled it out the rest of the way. It was a short, heavy bottle with an ornate gold label. Gran Duque de Alba. Pedrosa filled three glasses, then hesitated.

"Where is Carlito?"

"He is coming."

Pedrosa filled a fourth.

BOOK: Suspicion of Innocence
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