Authors: Debra Purdy Kong
Tags: #Suspense, #Adventure, #Thriller
THE WELT ON
Casey's left shoulder throbbed the next morning and her arm felt heavy, as if encased in iron. Her bruised lower back was stiff and sore, but it could have been worse. If the man had had a gun, if he'd followed her homeÂ .Â .Â .Â She was fairly certain he hadn't. She'd checked the rearview mirror a thousand times. On the other hand, if her attacker had been the ponytailed guy, Theodore Ziegler, he knew where she lived anyway. She wished she'd had the presence of mind to aim her flashlight on her assailant's face instead of acting like a bloody amateur.
When she had returned home last night, she'd called Simone Archambault first, then Stan to update him on events and ask for today off to go to Victoria.
“You know you can call anytime and I'll do what I can do help you out,” he'd replied, “but it sounds like you're getting in over your head, Casey. Are you sure Victoria's a good idea?”
“I don't have much choice. Simone Archambault is the best lead I have to Dad's past, and she won't tell me anything until I prove who I am. Apparently, Dad showed her a photo of me once, so she insists on meeting in person.”
Stan didn't say much after that, except to say that they still hadn't found the individual who'd vandalized the lockers.
Casey left her apartment and headed downstairs into Rhonda's kitchen.
“You're early again,” Rhonda said, nibbling on a piece of toast. “Going back to the house?”
“No, I have another assignment,” one involving a forty-minute drive to the Tsawwassen terminal, a ninety-minute ferry ride to Swartz Bay, and another half-hour drive to Victoria. Hardly a quick jaunt, but it had to be done. She felt guilty for not telling Rhonda about Simone, but if Rhonda found out she'd want to tag along, and Casey wanted to talk to the woman alone.
“Tell Summer her bike tire will be fixed tomorrow.” Casey headed for the back door.
“Sure.” Rhonda took another small bite of toast. “Want to have supper with us tonight?”
“Actually, it could be a long day, so don't worry about me.”
“Then you don't know when you'll be back?”
, I'm not sure.”
“Okay, backing off.” Rhonda put the toast down and raised her hands. “But just one more question, totally off topic. What did Detective Lalonde come to see you about last night?”
Uh-oh. “You knew?”
“I was in the tub when I heard voices outside. Thought it might have been Lou, but when I got out a bit later and heard it again, I peeked out the window and saw Lalonde walking away.”
Rhonda's en suite bathroom and bedroom windows were at the front of the house above the porch. Casey had been on the phone with Stan when her buzzer rang, and she brought Lalonde up to her apartment so they could talk privately. Afraid to lose what little cooperation the detective had given her, Casey hadn't told him about her visit to the house. Hiding the pain to her shoulder had been tough.
“He wanted to know, among other things, how long you'd been engaged to Dad.”
Rhonda plugged in the kettle. “Why? And why wouldn't he ask me?”
“The great detective wouldn't say.”
She didn't want to tell her that Mother had called Lalonde from Geneva, Switzerland, of all places, to ask if she could claim Dad's body. It seemed she felt it only right to remove the “burden” of funeral arrangements off her “poor daughter” and make them herself.
. The words burned like bile in Casey's throat. Lalonde also said that Mother hadn't approved of Rhonda's engagement to Dad, but he didn't give a reason. He had made a point of saying that he'd found Mother candid and cooperative. At that point Casey realized Mother had totally conned him.
Mother came from a family of con artists who associated with criminals, and the whole clan disliked cops. She hadn't introduced Casey to many of her relatives, but she had talked about working in an uncle's pharmacy when she was sixteen. Her job was to change the expiry dates on pill bottles and packaging to sell as new meds. Casey figured the family had a lot of heart attacks and unwanted pregnancies to answer for, among other things.
Even if she knew who the killer was, Casey doubted Mother would tell the authorities if it compromised her interests. That Mother was in Geneva, the same city where Theodore Ziegler had another address, had made her wonder exactly what Mother's interest was in all this. She'd asked Lalonde about it, but his response was to remind her that this was a police investigation.
“The great detective can't locate Dad's dental records. Do you know who his dentist was? Because I don't remember.”
“I don't either.” Rhonda removed a jar of instant coffee from the cupboard.
“Lalonde might have a
test performed on the body, but results could take time.”
“What for? You identified your father.”
“It sure looked like him, yeah. But now that there are two deceased Marcus Hollands,
testing could be necessary for at least one of them, if not both. I think they'll want to compare their analysis with
they know is Dad's.”
“What's wrong with fingerprints?”
“That's also why he was here,” Casey answered. “I gave him the birthday cards I got from Dad, and do you still have his comb? They'll need hair samples for testing.”
Rhonda nodded. “I never cleaned them or his razor and toothbrush.”
After the funeral, Rhonda had asked for all of Dad's personal items, including his clothes. As far as Casey knew, she'd kept everything.
“Whatever Marcus was up to,” Rhonda said, “he kept it secret to protect us. You know that, don't you?”
“I don't know anything right now.”
“He loved you, Casey. He would have done anything to keep you from harm. After Marcus kicked Lillian out, he hired a private detective to watch over you in case Lillian's family tried to kidnap you.”
“He never told me that.” But then Dad apparently hadn't told her lots of things. “Gran and Gramps wouldn't have taken me.”
“Your aunts and uncles would have, if Lillian told them to. Those people had connections. Could have had you out of the country in two hours.”
Casey believed her. “I should go.”
“Have you started funeral arrangements?” Rhonda asked.
“Yep.” She hesitated. “It seems that Mother wants to claim his body.”
Rhonda snorted. “I always knew Lillian wanted him back, but his corpse? That's sick.”
“Yeah, well, she's not getting it, and I'll tell her so myself if I have to.”
Last night, Lalonde handed her a message from Mother, asking Casey to call her collect at the Geneva number. Undecided about what to do, she'd shoved the message in her jeans pocket, the same jeans she was wearing now.
Rhonda poured a teaspoon of sugar into a mug. “You said Lalonde called Lillian when he found Marcus's body.”
“Has he been in touch with her since?”
Oh, great. “Yes.”
Rhonda glanced at her as she took milk out of the fridge. “Did Lalonde bring up Lillian's name last night?”
“Why do you ask?”
Rhonda sloshed milk over the sugar. “Just wondering if Lillian discussed me with himâif that's why he asked about my engagement.”
“He did, and it's been bugging me because Mother was long gone before you and Dad got together, so how'd she know about you two?”
Rhonda rubbed sleep-starved eyes. “I didn't want you to know thisâthought it'd upset youâbut Lillian's been keeping in touch with me for some time.”
Casey's cheeks grew warm. “You've got to be kidding.”
“Kidding about your mother's impossible.” Rhonda's smile was bleak. “She called what felt like a hundred times to apologize for ruining my marriage. Claimed she wanted to be friends again, and to see you again. She still asks about you.”
Casey couldn't believe it. “What do you tell her?”
“Just the basics,” Rhonda's teaspoon clanged against the mug. “She said she was so sorry for hurting you and me. She said, âI swear I'll never hurt you again, Rhonda; just tell me how I can make it up to you, Rhonda; we know each other too well to stay apart.'” Rhonda dropped the teaspoon in the sink. “As if she could scam me. The second I told her that Marcus and I were engaged, I knew she hadn't changed.”
“She said, âHe'll never need you as much as I do. He'll never understand you as well as I do, Rhonda.' Every time she called she went on about how he and I were wrong for each other.” Rhonda removed a green bucket, brush, and Pine Sol from the cupboard below the sink. “I would bet Lillian said the same thing to Marcus. She hinted that they'd stayed in touch. When you said her name was in his address book I wasn't surprised.”
“Why would Dad have done that?”
“No clue.” Rhonda filled the bucket with water. “Lillian kept calling me after Marcus's funeral, supposedly to see how I was doing. I wonder if she knew he was alive.”
“If you didn't want Mother's friendship, why say anything at all? Why not just hang up on her?”
“You won't believe this, but I felt sorry for Lillian.” Rhonda picked up her scrub brush and rubber gloves. “She was so desperate for news about you. I'm a mom, Casey. I can't imagine being estranged from my daughter, not watching her grow up.”
“Did you and Dad ever discuss Mother?”
“I told Marcus about the calls, but he wouldn't talk about it. Thought he was still bitter. Now, I'm not so sure.” Rhonda lifted the bucket out of the sink. “Somehow, I don't think Lillian's finished with us.”
“What do you mean?”
She plunked the sudsy bucket onto the floor. “Sooner or later, she might appear on our doorstep to try and make peace with you.”
“After all of these years?”
“I think she hates that you and I are close.” Rhonda put the gloves on. “She wants to be part of your life again, probably to try and come between us.”
An unsettling thought. Was that why Mother wanted her to phone?
Rhonda began scrubbing the floor. Rhonda always cleaned floors when she was under stress, which was why Casey was glad she hadn't mentioned the phone message. Her friend had to be far more stressed than she was letting on. Why else would she abandon partially eaten toast and a fresh mug of coffee to wash a floor she'd just washed yesterday?
SIMONE ARCHAMBAULT LIVED
on a muddy lane bordered by sulphuric-smelling ditches and prickly weeds. Her cottage was a gray, clapboard shack about as appealing as a war bunker. The venetian blinds covering both windows were closed.
Casey walked along two planks laid across the marshy front lawn until she reached the door. She'd barely started knocking when the ominous barks of a large dog started inside. Simone poked out from behind the curtain. Casey heard, “Stop it, Georgie!”
The door opened and Casey found herself looking at a tiny woman with hunched shoulders and deep lines across her forehead and around her mouth.
“I'm Casey Holland.”
Simone studied her through bifocals. “Yes, you are.” She looked so malnourished that Casey was caught off guard when Simone grabbed her wrist and hauled her inside. “Not followed, were you?”
“No.” She'd been diligent about checking her surroundings. “Why do you ask?”
“I want privacy.”
The Doberman pinscher growled.
“It's okay, Georgie.” Simone led him into a room and shut the door.
Casey followed her to a plywood table under a window at the back of the cottage. The fridge and stove looked forty years old. Above the sink, two plates, four cans of vegetable soup, and two cans of dog food sat on a shelf. Charcoal sketches of barren landscapes and soaring eagles were the only decoration on dingy, beige walls.