“Hi, Bruce. Your mom around?”
The kid pushed the door open. He studied Michael with unquestioning eyes as they stepped into the cramped entry. “No, she went to town.”
“Who’s watching the little kids today?”
“Lila. Over there.” He pointed across the commons to a smaller mobile home.
Sam spun on a heel and pushed Michael back out the door. He stumbled back a half step, nearly losing his balance. Her eyes looked past him and he blinked as he caught…a flash of fear? No way, not from her. She barreled down the stairs, not waiting for him.
Bruce hollered as she darted away. “Hey, Sam, Dad said he wanted you to stay for dinner the next time you came out.”
“Not today.” She tossed the answer back over her shoulder and nearly broke into a jog.
Michael pulled alongside her, grabbed her arm and yanked her to a stop, bringing his face close to hers. “Hey! What was that about?”
“What do you mean?”
He studied her, his gaze flicking back and forth over her face. She stared back at him blankly, but her pupils dilated the slightest bit and she shook off his hand.
“I mean, why did you plow me over to get out of that house? And start to run when the kid invited you to dinner?”
“I didn’t run.” She looked away.
He gave a grim smile. “Maybe it wasn’t running to you, but to any person who walks at a normal speed, it was running.”
Sam met his gaze and her chin lifted a little. She looked like a little kid standing up to a bully. “I don’t like it here. I don’t like to be in their homes.”
He eased back a little, considering her words. He hadn’t cared for the cramped, stifling feel to the space either, but he knew there had to be another reason to her rapid escape and she wasn’t ready to tell him. He changed the subject. “Who’s Lila?”
She relaxed a little, tossing errant bangs out of her eyes. “I think that’s who you’re looking for. Older lady.”
“Linda, Lila. She probably changed her name. I would if my sons were serial killers.”
“Sons?” Black brows shot together.
Fuck. He’d told her he was looking for the second son and mother, but hadn’t mentioned the police suspected the second son to be a killer too. His breath steamed in the snow. How much should he tell her?
“The police are considering that her other son could be on a killing spree in Portland, killing the people who put away his brother. Revenge killings. That’s the real reason why I need to talk to the mother.” Would she change her mind about helping him?
Regal eyes considered him. “Sounds personal.”
He straightened. Had he sounded that involved? He gave a small nod. “Could be.”
“Well, let’s see, then.” She marched up the rickety stairs to the smaller mobile home and fiercely pounded on the door. On this side of the commons, the wind was whipping through the compound. She tucked her chin and nose into her jacket collar as Michael stood two steps down and kicked the snow off his boots, smiling to himself. Obviously, he’d picked a good partner for his mission.
An older woman in a faded, floral housedress opened the door a few inches and peered at Sam with tired eyes. Instead of a greeting, she just nodded and stood silently, waiting for Sam to state her business. Michael studied the woman and Sam glanced back at him. With the quirk of a dark brow, she silently asked if this was the woman.
She was older and more tired, but she resembled the woman he’d seen in the DeCosta archives. His gut told him he’d nailed a bull’s-eye.
“Lila, this is Michael. He’s giving me a hand today. Could we come in for a minute?”
Disinterested eyes took one glance at Michael and dismissed him. “There’s no one here.”
“I think you could probably help us. It’ll take only a minute,” Sam coaxed.
The woman paused, considered, and opened the door wider.
She looked as if life had made her run a daily marathon under hot sun. Her mouth had that munched-together look indicating she didn’t have teeth. A feature Detective Callahan mentioned several times. Had she changed her name?
He followed Sam into the home. The pungent odor of dirty diapers smacked him in the sinuses. The home was too hot. Between the odor, heat, and small space, Michael felt sick. He swallowed the sour lump in his throat and saw Sam do the same.
This better be quick.
Lila led them to the kitchen, but there was nowhere to sit. Every chair at the table held a toddler’s booster seat, and the eating surface was overrun with dirty cereal bowls. Three ancient high chairs lined one side of the table. The woman leaned against the stove and looked expectantly at Sam. She ignored Michael.
Soap opera music came from a TV in another room. If there were children in the house, they were silent. Maybe it was naptime.
Sam’s blue gaze was on him, waiting.
He decided to be blunt and handed the woman his business card. He saw her eyes widen as she read it, and he swore she turned a shade paler than her already prison-shade pallor.
“As you can see, I’m from Portland and write for The Oregonian.” He paused. “Do you know why I’m here?”
Her head shook back and forth and she shoved the card back at him. He didn’t take it.
“You are Linda DeCosta, right?”
“I have some questions about your son.”
“Dave’s dead.” Her words were a little difficult to understand without teeth.