Then the night would be beautiful, crystal clear, even if humid and hot.
“Well?” Jerry demanded, staring at Jed.
“Well, either everyone involved fucked up entirely and Beau Kidd wasn’t the killer, or we’ve got a copycat out there who studied the case and is imitating the original too damn well.”
“Hell, I knew that.”
“Jerry, I was in and out of town when it all went down,” Jed reminded his friend. “And I wasn’t on the force then, either. Who’s your partner these days?”
“O’Donnell. Mal O’Donnell. And he wasn’t around twelve years ago, either. Hey, you want to get some dinner?”
Dinner? Jed’s stomach turned at the thought. Did that make him a wimp? he wondered. He could still smell death and disinfectant. Still, he started to agree, hoping, probably vainly, that Jerry might say something that would give him a clue to the truth about the murders. Did he feel guilty? Hell, yes—if he’d made a mistake. Not only had he made the perp in his novel the homicide cop, even though the man’s name had been changed for legal reasons, but the case he had used was glaringly evident.
The real cop was dead.
Yeah, but his parents weren’t. And they had to live every day with the world’s belief in their son’s guilt, a belief he had perpetuated in his novel.
Jed realized that he wanted the current killing to be the work of a copycat—he didn’t want to be responsible for the continued life of a horrible mistake.
“Hey, you in there somewhere?” Jerry asked him.
“Yeah, sorry.” Jed looked at his watch. “I can’t join you for dinner. I have a commitment.”
“My cousin Ana. One of her best friends when she was growing up just moved into her grandmother’s house. I promised I’d show up for the housewarming.”
“Cool. Where’s the house?”
“Almost horse country. An old pre-Civil War place, one of the few still left in the area.”
“Ah. A rich kid.”
“No, not really. I grew up down the street, and Ana is still there, since she bought her parents’ house. Christina’s place is just older and bigger. Her grandparents were immigrants and bought the place way before the theme park explosion, when the countryside was nothing but groves.”
“Must be worth a fortune now,” Jerry noted.
“Yeah, I guess. But you know how neighborhoods build up. Christina has almost an acre, with a big sloping lawn, almost looks like the place is on a hill, but there’s a modern ranch on her right, and a 1930s art deco-style bungalow on her left.”
“Sounds cool,” Jerry commented. “Better than the cookie-cutter housing developments that have gone up everywhere. Anyway, if you think of anything, give me a call. And stop by the precinct sometime. The guys will be happy to see you.”
“Yeah, they like to torture me about my books.”
“What? You a sissy now? Can’t take the torture? I’m betting I’ll see you soon enough,” Jerry told him. He pointed a finger. “I know you, and you’re not going to let this go. And that’s cool with me,” he added. “We’ve got the mayor and the governor breathing down our necks. The feds even have a squad on it.”
“Then I’m sure the perp will be caught.”
“Yeah?” Jerry said morosely. “We had about six counties’ worth of detectives and the feds on the case the last time. Anyway, keep in touch. Have fun hobnobbing with the rich and famous.”
“I told you, Christina’s family wasn’t rich,” Jed said, laughing.
“If she sold that place, she’d be rich now.”
“She won’t sell it,” Jed said flatly. But did he really know that? Christina had been his kid cousin’s friend. He didn’t actually know her all that well, though for some reason he felt as if he did. He had just seen her six months ago at her grandmother’s funeral. The gangly kid she had once been had grown into a beautiful woman. Tall and slim, but shapely. Regal, and stoic in the face of grief. She’d been wearing black, a suit with one of those slim pencil skirts. Her hair had been a blaze of deep red against the black, something Jed remembered well. The sun had lit up the length of it as it swept down her back, and the color had been almost startling.
Irish red, he reckoned.
She hadn’t cried at the service, but those enormous blue eyes of hers had been filled with a greater depth of emotion than any tears could have evoked. She’d loved her granny, the last of her family except for two cousins. He knew them, too, though they weren’t the same age. Dan and Michael had graduated one after the other right behind him, but they’d had different interests and hung out with different friends. He’d gone for a basic BA, while Michael and Daniel McDuff had gone into the arts. Daniel was still struggling as a performer, while Michael did freelance production work for several of the local theme parks and planned to found his own company one day.
Jed knew through Ana that despite having grown up several hours away in South Florida, Christina had been the closest of the three grandchildren to her grandmother. According to Ana, Christina and her grandmother had shared a special bond.
He’d turned down tonight’s invitation at first. He had never been a real part of the crowd. But oddly enough, it was the memory of Christina at her grandmother’s funeral that had turned him around. She had grown up not just beautiful but intriguing. She’d acquired an air of sophistication that was best described as alluring. In addition, she’d lost her parents just five years earlier, and had worn a lost and weary look he knew all too well himself.
He wished that he could somehow ease things for her. It was so easy to become bitter after so much loss. He had certainly done so, but Christina didn’t look as if she had.
He was surprised by how eager he felt to go, even if Ana’s old friend had grown up very nicely and he felt that they shared a bond of grief.
He usually avoided any woman who might be considered a friend. He didn’t like sympathy, and he didn’t like to talk. Margaritte had been dead for four years. He wasn’t as dead inside himself as he had been, but he still wasn’t certain that he even liked people in general, much less that he wanted to let himself get close to anyone. Best to veer far away from anything that might be an actual relationship. Barhopping and one-night stands were his preferred mode of existence.
Still, Ana had begged. And for a while, at least, he didn’t want to think about the Interstate Killer, and whether the original was alive or dead.
Or the fact that he was very afraid the nightmare was starting all over again.
There were still boxes everywhere.
For the life of her, Christina couldn’t figure out why she’d given in when Ana had insisted that she have a housewarming before she was fully moved in, but in Ana’s mind, it was good luck. At least she’d said “small gathering” and meant it. Just Ana, maybe her cousin Jed, Tony and Ilona from next door, and her own two cousins, Mike and Dan. The menu was simple: sodas, beer and wine from the quick mart down on the highway and barbecue delivered by Shorty’s. That was easy enough, she supposed.
This was her first day. The first day when she was completely out of her condo in Miami, when her boxes were filling this house, when she would sleep here for the first time after inheriting the house and deciding to move in.
Ana arrived early, while Christina was still considering the piano question. The piano was a crucial part of her work. It was almost like a physical attachment.
The light in the parlor was best, but she didn’t like having shelves piled with paper and drawers full of disks around, or all her office supplies cluttering up the small room. Still, her piano looked great right in front of the bay window.
It was staying, she decided. She would eventually find—and be able to afford—some good oak or maple office furniture that would suit the decor. And if not, the library was across the hall, a perfect place for office supplies and equipment. She could just walk across when she needed something. No big deal.
Why were there so many boxes? she wondered with dismay.
Because I’m incapable of parting with anything, she reminded herself.
She felt like the keeper of the family heritage or something. It was so hard to believe that everyone was gone except for Mike, Dan and herself. And neither Mike nor Dan felt the need to keep things like the cocktail napkin her mom had saved from her first date with her dad. Or all the hundreds of pictures from Ireland, or even the pictures of all of them as kids.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the clang of the old front door bell. She opened the door to let Ana in. Ana had a big box in her hand, with a plastic-wrapped cardboard tray on top. Christina quickly reached over to help her.
“No, no…if I just aim for a flat surface, I’ll be fine,” Ana told her cheerfully.
A flat surface sounded easy enough.
An empty flat surface involved deeper thought.
“The pass-through between the kitchen and dining room,” Christina said quickly.
Ana cut a path through the hall and parlor to reach her destination. Except for the clutter of boxes, the house was clean. It was a large, airy place, the perfect family home, in Christina’s mind. The hall worked as a breezeway, a traditional old time “shotgun” approach that allowed the house the best of whatever breeze was available. The stairway stood to the left of the hall and led to the second floor, a beautifully carved banister leading the way.
Ana knew her way around the house. She had been Christina’s friend forever, and had spent plenty of time here whenever Christina was up visiting her grandparents.
“This really is a super place,” Ana said, leading the way.
The house was wonderful. Christina had always loved it, and her grandmother, knowing how much she loved it and how well she would take care of it, had left it to her. But neither Mike nor Dan had been forgotten. They had received trust funds from the woman who had come to the U.S. to make her own way, and had done well simply by being hard-working, careful and smart.