Behind Lori Baer
“Mr. Angellini,” came the voice, deep, resonant, and familiar, “I hope we’re not disturbing you.”
The gray block moved into view and a shadow appeared behind it. Vider and Mavic.
“It isn’t what it looks like,” I choked, knowing full well it certainly was.
Vider moved into the library, a mountain on wheels, towing his little hill behind, and the pair seemed to displace the air out of the room.
“It never is, Mr. Angellini,” Vider said, with cloying affability. “It never is.”
The room got crowded when a Lake Forest cop and a Mexican in work clothes and a John Deere cap filed in. They idled leeward of the CPD detectives.
Vider swiveled his head. “The Priest with you?”
I pointed at the ceiling. “Upstairs.”
“Why don’t you invite him to join us?”
Mavic heard it as an order and marched, nearly blowing the Lake Forest cop and gardener aside like leaves in a big wind.
“Mind if I have a seat?” Vider said. He dropped into a chair across from me. It creaked under his bulk. Waving a beefy hand at the desk, he said, “It fits you.”
I leaned back and tried projecting comfort and ease, as if nothing could be more natural than finding me in a murdered friend’s home uninvited. Do it once a week, don’t you know, maybe twice if the mood strikes me. I didn’t think my nonchalance was working. My back was moist and my shirt was sticking. I leaned forward to cool down.
“What brings you here?” I asked. It was a feeble offense, but the offensive nonetheless.
“We have an appointment with Mrs. Gatewood. And what do you know? We arrived to find a small crowd at the front door.” He thumbed back at the Lake Forest officer and the Mexican. Then, as if the good humor he’d been exhibiting was too much for his system, he commenced coughing and sneezing and produced the familiar wadded paper towels from his suit jacket and blew his nose in short bursts for a minute. I wondered if he’d been using the same ones for a week, whether he’d ever heard of small tissue packs, or personal sanitation for that matter. I figured those tiny tissues wouldn’t cover a single nostril.
“Where’s winter when you need it,” he groused, as he rammed the wad into his suit pocket. It occurred to me that if the CDC got wind of his habits, they might classify his pocket as a level two contamination zone.
He gave his throat a good and noisy clearing, tracked my eye, which had drifted to the pair behind him. “Officer Daniels and Mr. Ramirez. Mr. Ramirez was working in the backyard. He was coming around the corner to the front to trim those bushes out there on the street.” He flicked a hand at the window. “That’s when he saw you and Tommy invite yourselves in.”
“I planned calling you,” I said, just because I thought I had to say something.
“Nice to know. You should have. Then I could have told you this”—he encompassed the room with a insouciant whirl of gray arms—“is illegal. But I’m going to overlook that for a minute, since you did me a favor.”
“What favor?” I asked, a bit too anxiously.
“I had it on my pad to track you down after interviewing Mrs. Gatewood.” He produced his notebook and flashed it at me by way of proof.
I was staring at it, when Mavic returned with Tommy.
“He was in the big bedroom,” she said. “It looked like it might be Mrs. Gatewood’s room.”
“The Priest lurking around a lady’s bedroom. Tsk, tsk, Tommy.”
Tommy folded his arms and assumed the animation of a statue.
Vider and Mavic together, reminiscent of the confrontation in Chuck’s apartment, began grating on me. I said, “Why did you want to see me? Couldn’t be you found Chuck’s killer?”
Vider switched back to me. He was smiling, but now it was cold, empty, an unnatural decoration on his face, like frou-frou on a bulldozer.
“We heard somebody broke into your place last night,” Vider said. The smile went cockeyed, jagged and tight, looking like a break in stone. “I suppose you’re, what, reciprocating?” He knew he’d hit a nerve, and backed off. “Bad joke. Forget it. I’m lousy with jokes. You can ask Mavic if you don’t believe me.”
“He jokes like he cooks,” she agreed, too eagerly.
“There’s been a development in the Gatewood case,” he said. He dropped the smile and he looked better without it.
“Well.” My patience was brittle.
Vider wrinkled his forehead, and I could almost hear his skin clatter like loose stones. He flipped pages in his notebook.
“Chief Cabot, from the High Hills P.D. I take it you know him.”
“Cabot called this morning requesting our assistance.” He looked up at Tommy. “Sometimes the system works. Feels good when it does.” Eyes back on the notebook, he continued. “He wanted to know the whereabouts of Jerden Marsh. We decided to visit Mr. Marsh at Gatewood Graphics. We figured it being a workday he’d be there. The receptionist informed us he wasn’t in. We went up to his office anyway. He wasn’t there, and by the looks of his desk hadn’t made it in that morning, unless he’s one of those neat-nicks. We asked the secretary for his home address and headed there.”
“Maybe you could get to the point quicker,” Tommy said, still not much more than a statue.
“Tommy, you were always one for a story. Please, give me my due here. I’m getting to it.” He combined jutting his chin with hunching his shoulders for emphasis. “Marsh lives on the Gold Coast in that French building on the corner of the inner drive and LaSalle.”
“The Cardinal must have him over for coffee often,” I said. The Cardinal’s residence, a sprawling brick mansion on a precious hunk of land, was as good as in the front yard of Marsh’s building.
“You never know,” Vider said, deadpan, “these Chicago cardinals, they can have some pretty liberal ideas about things.” Then he promptly launched into a series of hacking coughs, which drove his hand into his pocket to produce the wad. I averted my eyes and counted to ten. He had the wad back in the pocket when I swung my eyes back.
“We asked the doorman to call up. Just our luck, no response. So we ask, ‘Did Mr. Marsh come home last night?’ ‘Yes,’ says the doorman. ‘Did Mr. Marsh go out after arriving home?’ ‘Not since I came on,’ replies the doorman. He came on at eight. We ask him to announce us, which he does. Guess what?” He lifted his head and fixed his eyes on me, as if he expected an answer.
I gave him one. “He’s not home.”
Vider craned back to Mavic. “Maybe Mr. Angellini does qualify as a detective.” Back to me, he continued, “Who knows, Marsh could have stepped out early for a jog. Or maybe he had a business trip. But since we’re there and we’re pretty good cops, we ask the doorman if he’d let us up. He trusts us. Everybody trusts cops.” He sneered and snarled and both seemed to fit him better than the smile he’d been brandishing.
I guess I struck him as too tranquil, because he barked, “Ever been to Mr. Marsh’s place?” The words shot out of him and hit just like a bullet.
I was speechless for a second, during which he examined me boldly, studying my reaction, preparing to pounce if I began trailing clue spoor. I shook my head, maybe with a dash too much of fawning vigor.
“Tommy, doesn’t it make you wonder sometimes,” he said, conversationally, sausage finger aimed at the ceiling, “the way these hoods live, if there’s a god up there?”
Tommy loosened up a bit. He slid his hands into his pockets. He softened his glare. “Too much like philosophy for me.”
Vider nodded. “Know what you mean. Gives me a damn headache.” Back at me, he said, “Never been there, huh? Marsh’s place is on the tenth floor. He’s got a good view of the park and the lake. You know, that just burns me.” He banged away at his bulging nose with a finger, as if it was a punching bag. “Anyway, Mavic and me, we get up on ten and make our way to the front door. All the time we’re commenting between ourselves how ornate the hallway is.”
“More like a hotel,” Mavic said.
“Right. I didn’t care for it. She did. What do I know?”
She smiled in such a way as to indicate she thought Vider knew nothing, certainly less than zero on the subject of corridor design.
“I knock on the door,” he said, not bothering to glance back at her. “Marsh has a giant brass knocker on his door and I use it. I bang it discreetly, in keeping with the place. I get no answer, so I bang again, this time hard. Still nothing, so I do it again, harder yet, and I yell, ‘Mr. Marsh, are you in there? It’s the police.’ Embarrassment’s a real door opener, isn’t Tommy?”
“If your party doesn’t blast you through the door,” Tommy answered sourly.
Vider let out a short burst of a laugh. It was sharp and serious, as distant from delight as a week in the ICU with a hole in the chest.
“I’m thinking the place must be huge inside, what with there being only four apartments to a floor. Marsh could be lost in the place, maybe in the john, some cranny where he can’t hear me. Just when I’m getting comfortable with the idea, wouldn’t you know it but somebody hears us and sticks her head out her door. She demands to know what all the rackets about.”
Sneezing, the wad, and prodigious nose wiping followed, whereupon Mavic took up the tale.
“I said, ‘This isn’t racket, lady. This is official police business.’ I flashed my shield and the Sergeant said, ‘We’re looking for Mr. Marsh. Is he in?’ We didn’t expect anything, but she said, ‘Yes.’ We scratched our heads. ‘How do you know?’ ‘It’s my job,’ she said. ‘I’m an old lady. Nobody cares about me. Not even my own children. What else do I have to do? I’m a busybody.’ Everybody’s got a smart mouth these days, even the old biddies.”
“Nobody cares about anybody these days. They should print it on the front of the Sun-Times,” Vider said, having suppressed his olfactory eruptions.
Tommy, who loosened to the point he was dancing from foot to foot, said what was on my mind, “What does this have to do with us?”
“Tommy, you used to be the picture of patience. The patience of a priest, eh? I’m getting there.”
“Then how about getting out of first gear?”
“Crusty,” Vider said, “especially for somebody caught red-handed, as they say, breaking and entering. But okay, for you, I’ll move it along. The old lady disappears into her apartment. I give the door another rap, and when he doesn’t answer, I decide to try the handle. It’s worked before. And it works this time. Of course, it wasn’t right. Even upright citizens don’t normally leave their front doors unlocked. And this is a wise guy. So, we draw our weapons, open the door, and go it.
“The door lets us into a foyer, a long narrow hall, a gallery, I guess they call them in those buildings. We start in the living room. Nothing. Then the dining room. Then the kitchen and …”
“Stop,” I said. I shouldn’t have said it as I was saying it, but I couldn’t restrain myself. “You found Marsh dead on the floor.”
Vider regarded me quizzically. “Why would you think that, Mr. Angellini?”
“The dramatic build up.”
“You certain?” he said. “Maybe there’s something you’d like to share with the group.” He chuckled, but there was no mirth in his eyes, which were locked on mine.
“No,” I said. I backed it up with a good deal of head shaking.
“Okay, well anytime you feel moved. And no, we didn’t find Marsh dead in the kitchen. The kitchen was empty. We did, however, find him sitting in his bathtub, a bottle of J&B within reach, the Black Label stuff. He was taking a bath in his own blood.”
I said, “You mean he killed himself? I can’t believe Marsh would do that. Kill somebody, no doubt about it. But kill himself?” I got my head going again, just to emphasize how unbelievable I found the idea.
“We couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Angellini. Especially since we found a knife in the bath with him and a nice collection of stab wounds in his chest and stomach. Which leaves us with a conundrum, as they say: Who had a motive to kill Marsh?”
“You don’t have enough pages in your notebook to list them all,” Tommy said.
“He wasn’t a candidate for Man of the Year, you’re right about that, Tommy. We know he had a few enemies.”
“A few?” I yelped.
“So a lot,” Vider conceded. Tossing an arm in my direction, he added, “You’re on the list.”
“Me?” I said, a klaxon rattling my skull.
“Close to the top,” Mavic added
“Me?” It was feeble but heartfelt.
“You were caught trespassing on Gatewood Graphics
“Who told you that?” I said.
“A fellow named Petey.”
“He’s Marsh’s goon.”
He shrugged. “He works for Gatewood Graphics, and he said you threatened Marsh.”
“I did no such thing. And, anyway, how can you believe Marsh’s own henchman?”
Vider flipped through his notebook. “Normally, we wouldn’t. However, in your case, Mr. Angellini … well, the receptionist says you showed up without an appointment. Mr. Schwartz, the production manager, who thinks you’re a pretty good fellow, he says you were strolling through the plant.”
“Did he tell you he was with me?”
“He says he didn’t know how you got there.”
It was all I could do to refrain from leaping out of my chair.
“And Petey, he says he caught you roaming through the plant.” He snapped the notebook closed and glanced around the room, then settled his eyes on me. “You have some bad habits, Mr. Angellini.”
“Helping a friend?”
“Conducting your own investigation when I told you not too. Not to mention trespassing, and breaking and entering.”
“I did not trespass at Gatewood Graphics. I was only trying to learn more about Chuck’s murder.”
Vider threw up his hands in exaggerated show of frustration.
“We don’t appreciate citizens doing our job for us, Mr. Angellini,” Mavic said. “You make us feel inadequate.”
“Give us a break,” Tommy said.
“And you, Tommy, if anybody should know better, it’s you. You wouldn’t stand for any of this … what?” Vider said, searching the air for the words and finding them, “freelance detecting.”
“You wouldn’t do the same, if the body belonged to a friend of yours?” Tommy said.
“I have the badge and it makes all the difference. And it means I ask the questions. And the question I have for you, Mr. Angellini, is: You admit to strongly suspecting Marsh had a hand in Chuck Gatewood’s death?”
“Yes, I’m sure he was involved. He may have even instigated Chuck’s murder. But it doesn’t mean I’d kill him.”
“You had a meeting with Gatewood’s sister and husband the day of the funeral?”
“I wouldn’t call it a meeting as in I arranged it,” I hedged. “They wanted to talk. So did I. They were concerned about losses at the company.”
“Got you angrier at Marsh, him hurting Gatewood’s sister on top of killing your friend?” Mavic prodded.
“Look,” I said hotly, “you know Chuck asked me to help him find the person embezzling from Gatewood Graphics. Was I angry when I knew Marsh was probably the guy? Sure. But I wouldn’t kill him over embezzlement.”
Mavic chimed, “Maybe you had another reason?”
“You two aren’t paying attention,” I retorted.
Pointing between Tommy and me, Vider said, “We understand you two spent yesterday downstate in Decatur and Hillcrest.”
“Traveling’s not a crime,” Tommy said, “unless things have changed since I left the force.”
“How about filling your partners in,” he said, flagging himself and Mavic, “on your findings.” It wasn’t a question.
Tommy said, “We were looking into Mrs. Gatewood’s background.”
“And?” asked Vider
Tommy looked at me.
“She’s not who I thought she was.” I brushed invisible dust from Chuck’s desk. Vider drummed a few notes on his thighs.
“She was married twice before Chuck. Both husbands are dead.”
“The first one in a trailer fire. The second in a car accident. Both accidents seem questionable. The sister of the first husband’s suspicious. There wasn’t much love lost between her and the brother, so her concern seems credible. The police aren’t certain about the second one.” I gave him the details and went on to say, “When I hired her, Lori told me she graduated from the University of Illinois. She hadn’t.” I skipped over the part about her father abusing her, how she had sent him sent to prison, and how he had died in a truck accident. It didn’t seem to matter.
“Quite a history,” Vider said. He switched between Tommy and me. “You suspect she might have had a hand in her husbands’ deaths?”
Tommy answered, “It’s possible. For starters, you don’t usually run into women who have three husbands who all die violent deaths. One, okay. Two a stretch, but maybe. Three, you’ve got to be suspicious. And I’m not even mentioning they all died before the woman’s got a gray hair on her head.”
Vider listened attentively. “Add Marsh to the list.” Staring at me, he said, “You seem in pretty good health, Mr. Angellini.”
“Be serious,” I said. “What reason could I have for killing Chuck? He was a friend, a business associate. And why would I kill Marsh? I grant you I didn’t like the guy, but what reason would I have to kill him?”
“Where Mrs. Gatewood and you having an affair?” He pulled it from out of nowhere to startle me, and it worked.
I fell back in Chuck’s chair, deep so the leather gathered round me for an instant. I wondered if The Incident would haunt me for the rest of my life. I always assumed it was private, was behind the protective wall of family. But it wasn’t. Somebody outside the family, somebody besides Lori, knew about it, but I had no idea who it was.
Tommy thought faster than me and said, “What a pile of manure. Where’d you hear it?”
“Confidential, Tommy, can’t say,” Vider replied. “But a reliable source. Knew Mr. Angellini well and Mrs. Gatewood when she was Ms. Baer and working at Trumpet Advertising. Trumpet was your advertising business, wasn’t it, Mr. Angellini?”
“Yes,” I said.
“This person remembers you and Ms. Baer spending quite a few evenings together over a two-month period.”
“I don’t deny it. She was helping on some new business. We had to work closely. This source of yours, did he work at the agency?”
“Didn’t say the gender, Mr. Angellini.” And directly behind it, “Didn’t your wife stroll in on you?”
“Who told you this?” I demanded.
He waved me off. “Now you could have had this thing between you on hold. Then when Marsh showed up, she got in touch with you. You decided to help an old … friend, maybe pick up where you’d left off.”
I was seething inside, but managed, “Why would I hurt Chuck?”
“Opportunity. You saw it as your chance to get him out of the way so you and Mrs. Gatewood could pick up where’d you’d left off?”
“That’s nuts. If I’d wanted to have an affair with her, I could have done it with Chuck alive.” It was beginning to feel like I’d asked for a shovel and was champing at the bit to dig a really deep hole with it.
“Maybe. But maybe you’re the type who couldn’t bear to hurt a friend. Better to kill him, spare him that mental anguish you read about all the time.”
“That’s beyond nuts, Vider. It’s wacko.”
He shrugged. “The fact is you may have a motive for murdering Gatewood and Marsh.”
“Ridiculous.” It emerged loud, and I stamped my feet and thrust forward, feeling much like a peevish child.
Tommy interjected, “I thought you’d cleared Gabe?”
“We didn’t know about the thing with Mrs. Gatewood then.”
“How do you explain the deaths of Mrs. Gatewood’s husbands downstate?” I fired angrily.
“Good point,” Vider said. “Maybe they were murders like you think. I never said Mrs. Gatewood wasn’t involved. Could be she had a thing going behind those fellows too.”
“How thin can you stretch it?” I said.
“We’ll look into them, rest assured.”
“Then look into the pickup too,” I said.
“The one that nearly killed Tommy. The one I saw at Chuck’s funeral. The same one I saw behind Chuck’s building when I left Saturday.”
“Is this your imagination at work, Mr. Angellini?” he turned and stared at Tommy. “That how you got the nick over the eye, Tommy? I was wondering about that.”
“Still nimble,” Tommy said, “or you’d be looking down at me in a box.”
“How can you be sure it was the same truck?” Vider asked.
“It was a beater, lime green. How many could there be?” I said.
“Who do you think this person is?”
I shrugged. “Somebody who didn’t appreciate us looking into Lori’s past. Somebody who’s been following me around since the day of Chuck’s murder. Maybe Chuck’s killer.”
“Did you get the plates?”
“No,” I said, sheepishly. “But we saw a little of him. He was small, with a wooly head of gray hair.”
“Not many men with gray hair in the Chicago area,” Vider said, catching me rolling my eyes. “But we’ll keep it in mind, maybe run it by the official busybody in Marsh’s building. Maybe check with the people at Gatewood Graphics. See if anybody there saw a beat up pickup around the building.” Vider pushed out of the chair, put his notebook and pen in his pocket and stretched. “Well, I guess we’re done with you and Tommy for the time being.”
As I started to get up, Vider said, “However, there is a little matter with the Lake Forest Police. Officer …”
On cue, the Lake Forest cop took a step, like Vider was Simon and had just told him to take a baby step forward.
“These gentlemen broke in. I’m sure you have an ordinance against such behavior.”
“Yes sir,” he said, “we sure do.” He reached into his shirt pocket and produced his Miranda card. He began reciting from it. Vider and Mavic watched with tiny smiles.
He was halfway through the rote when the click of heels echoed in the hallway outside the library. He halted and joined the rest of us in looking toward the library entrance.
Lori Gatewood walked in and regarded our small crowd with surprise. She was dressed casually in tan slacks, a bright blue blouse, and dark brown wool jacket. She looked expensive, but her face was drawn, her deportment droopy, her face, especially her eyes, weary.
“May I ask what this is about?” She directed her question at the Lake Forest officer, who with Ramirez, had yanked off his cap.
“Mrs. Gatewood?” he asked tentatively.
“Yes, Officer,” she replied quietly.
“These men,” he said, indicating Tommy and me with his cap, “broke into your house.
“I know Mr. Angellini and his father-in-law,” she said. “Where did you get the idea they are here uninvited?”
“Well, wait a minute,” Vider said. He strode over to the officer and Ramirez.
She cut him off before he could elaborate on his outrage with, “Oh.” She packed it with familiarity and distaste, which wasn’t lost on the Lake Forest cop. He gave Vider a puzzled look, as if he were about to fall into a big river of trouble and the cause of his impending misfortune was standing in front of him.
She walked over to Tommy and took his hand. “Good to see you, Mr. Tomassetti.”
I saw Tommy beaming at Vider as I came around the desk and joined Lori and him.
“Good to see you, too, Gabe.” He took my hand and laid friendly peck on my cheek, as if she were indeed happy to find me lurking in her house.
“Gabe, why didn’t you tell the officer I had invited you and your father-in-law?”
“In the excitement, it completely slipped my mind.”
Vider scowled. “Just a minute, Mrs. Gatewood. You know as well as I do that—“
Lori smiled at Vider. “Detective Vider, I hope you don’t think I’m lying?” It reminded me just how pretty and alluring her smile was. And how admirable was her composure. She was performing as if the only wrong committed by Tommy and me was we were a few minutes early.
“Very nice, Mrs. Gatewood,” Vider said sourly, “but how do you explain these two getting in while you were out.”
“Detective Vider,” she said sweetly, “this is Lake Forest, not Chicago.” She let her riposte hang in the air for a few seconds, long enough to allow Vider’s consternation to turn his face a light shade of purple. “I spoke with Gabe this morning and invited him over for a drink this afternoon. I wanted to give him some things I thought Chuck would have wanted him to have. I went out a while ago on some errands. Mr. Ramirez was on the grounds, so I left the door unlocked, in case I was detained. I’m happy to see Gabe had the good sense to try the door and let himself in.”
“Now just a minute,” Vider said. His face was approaching royal purple.
“Detective Vider,” she said, intensifying her pleasantness, “I hope you not implying I’m lying.”
“Officer Daniels,” he said. He sputtering like an engine about to run out of gas. “You’re not going to buy this. These men broke in.” He pointed at Tommy. “If you search him, you’ll probably find a set of lock picks.”
Daniels hooked his thumbs into his gun belt and drummed the buckle. “Well, Mrs. Gatewood seems pretty sure about inviting them.”
“Thank you, Officer,” she said, catching his eyes with those icy blue orbs of hers, blue crystal designed to win over any man. Daniels beat his buckle a little faster and squirmed. “I’m pleased someone believes me.” Turning her gaze on Vider, she said, “After all, it is my home. And I’m sure I’m free to invite anyone I please, any time I please.” Still focused on Vider, she added, “I’m correct, aren’t I, Officer?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Daniels said, “you certainly are.”
“I wonder, Detective Vider, what you and your associate are doing in my house without my permission.”
I have to admit that I was liking Lori again. I had little doubt she’d had a hand in Chuck’s death, though I found myself hoping it was inadvertent; but I was enjoying the discomfort she was inflicting on Vider and Mavic. I felt fully justified in the feeling as they exhibited no compunction whatsoever in tweaking me. Though, perhaps, seeing the shading of Vider’s face deepening, she was carrying it too far.
“We had an appointment with you, Mrs. Gatewood,” he said cattily.
“True, detective. But you I didn’t invite to wait for me in my house.”
“We were assisting this officer in apprehending two burglars,” Vider said sharply.
“And since when is Lake Forest in your jurisdiction?” she said, staring at Daniels, compelling him to fumble out support.
“It isn’t, Mrs. Gatewood.”
“Hmmm,” she muttered, as if this was a revelation requiring cognition of titanic magnitude to comprehend. “And how did you and the detectives arrive at the conclusion a break-in was in progress?”
“Well, Mrs. Gatewood, we—I mean our dispatcher, Lake Forest, I mean—got a call from your alarm company.”
I darted a surreptitious glance at Tommy. No signs. Why did I believe him?
Happily, Lori was as smooth as her polished silk blouse. “I always forget to disarm that thing. Chuck –- well, he’d always have to remind me. I guess I overlooked it again without … “ Her voice trailed off dramatically. I’d forgotten what an actress she could be. Or maybe I never realized and always thought her sincere? Like that night, sincere about relieving the tension; or was it my rationalization, my way of assuaging myself with the idea Beth was reading her own insecurity into the situation? And here I was, years later, still at it.
“Detective Vider, I know I agreed to meet with you this afternoon, but under the circumstances, I don’t feel up to it.”
I could see Vider teetering between gracious defeat and common politeness and just bulldogging her into an interview. He must have concluded it would have been counterproductive, not to mention would have looked bad in the eyes of the Lake Forest cop, and the gardener, especially in light of Lori’s invocation of Chuck’s memory.
“Have it your way for now, Mrs. Gatewood,” he said. “I just want to remind each of you we’re conducting two murder investigations, and you’re important in both. Don’t go anyplace where we can’t find you in a hurry.”
Vider and Mavic exited, he still a fulsome purple.
“Have a good day,” Daniels said, finally unhooking his thumbs from his belt. The laconic Ramirez followed him out.
The three of us milled in awkward silence until we heard the car engines start.
Then Lori said, “It’s been a difficult day. I need a drink. How about you two?”
I couldn’t have agreed with her more about the difficult part. Being suspected of two murders in under a week seemed to qualify under the strictest definition of difficult. But a drink wasn’t the assuagement I needed. I declined. Tommy said he’d love a beer.
She excused herself and we heard her heels clattering through the foyer. She returned in short order with a Fosters for Tommy. Near the door, she opened a cabinet, revealing a nicely stocked bar. She poured herself a Bowmore on the rocks.
“Have a seat,” she invited, indicating the chairs facing the desk. We sat and she ensconced herself in the chair behind the desk.
She took a sip of her drink and blinked those blue eyes. “So, Gabe, why did you break in?”
I didn’t know how else to couch it gently, so I said it said it flat out, “Tommy and I were in Decatur and Hillcrest yesterday.”
She pulled long on her scotch, but otherwise didn’t signal that my revelation, that Tommy and my unveiling a past she had taken great care to obscure, affected her, probably hurt her, and frightened her.
“I’ve tried very hard to separate myself from that part of my life,” she said. She finished the drink and carefully set the glass on the desk. Then she proceeded to swipe her hand over the desk, as if she was sweeping away bad memories.
“Was Champaign on your itinerary?”
“Then you know it all.” Her voice quavered. “Gabe, I hope you can understand. I didn’t want to lie to you.”
“How about Chuck?” The fresh reminder of her betrayal caused me to add a small but perceivable twist of viciousness to the question.
Those blue eyes, they were on me, and they were pleading. “Would he have had anything to do with me if he had known the truth? Would you have?”
“You should have given us the chance. You may have found it wasn’t necessary to … to fabricate a life.”
The eyes were moist and it made them appear icier than normal. The hands worked back and forth across the desk, like sailboats yawing in and out of their course, like Lori herself tacking away from Decatur and Hillcrest.
“I had no choice. But I don’t suppose you’d understand.” Her voice was tremulous, the way a voice gets before it gives in to sobbing.
Softly I said, “Try. You might be surprised.”
She stopped her hands by cupping them around the glass. She stared into it; didn’t budge, just stared. The house creaked around us.
“Would you mind?” She slid the glass to me.
I took it. I could feel her heat on it. I went to the bar. I poured her another Bowmore, two fingers. I thought she needed it. I placed it in front of her and sat down.
She grabbed it and drank off half in a single swallow. She held the glass with two hands. She closed her eyes. “Let me tell you about my father……….