“Rubber mallet could have come from here,” Mason suggested.
“Possibly. But could we even tell if it was missing?” Ray asked, studying the hundreds of tools on pegboards.
Mason looked for an empty space on the boards but didn’t see one. Everything appeared in complete order. He opened the closest cabinet. Wood glues, stains, and paint. The cans were immaculate, not like his collection with dried paint dripping down the sides. He looked in a tall upright cabinet. Gardening tools. Hoes, rakes, shovels. No crusted dirt.
“Have they even been used?” Ray muttered.
Scratches on the metal indicated they had.
“The house isn’t this clean and organized,” Mason pointed out.
Ray shrugged. “Priorities.”
A uniformed officer appeared in the garage doorway. “We brought the neighbor back. She’s ready to talk to you.”
“She okay?” Mason asked.
“Pretty rattled. But she can talk. She’s on the bench out front.”
Mason took one last look around the immaculate garage. His awe was gone. Knowing that the creator would never again enjoy his man cave had soured it.
Outside, Gillian Wood held a cigarette between shaking fingers. She stood and gave the detectives a nauseated smile as she shook hands. Her face was heavily freckled, her eyes an intense green. She wore a T-shirt with PINK emblazoned across the front, and denim shorts. She seemed too thin to Mason. As if she smoked instead of eating.
Ray gestured for her to sit down and took the chair across from her on the wide front porch. Mason stepped back and leaned against a post, trying to blend into the wood. Women warmed to Ray better than Mason, and Ray automatically knew to start the interview.
Gillian shot a nervous glance at Mason and looked to Ray for reassurance.
It’d bothered Mason at first. Ava claimed women were careful around him because he rarely smiled. He forced his lips into a wooden smile.
Gillian blinked at him and quickly looked away, taking a long draw on her cigarette.
The neighbor said she was thirty-two and had lived next door for nearly a year. She rented the property.
“How well did you know Reuben?” Ray asked.
“Well enough to say hello . . . not much else. He kept to himself.” She blew smoke. “He helped me out one time when I had a leak under the kitchen sink. That was nice of him.”
“He has a lot of tools in the garage,” Ray added.
“I’ve seen it. Pretty crazy, huh? He works at Home Depot, so I guess the collection is understandable.” Her lips quivered on one side. “Probably spends his entire paycheck there. The curse of working retail. I worked at Macy’s for a year. I hardly brought home any money . . . always saw something I had to have.”
Mason studied her. Gillian was understandably nervous and upset. She’d seen the blood and knew her neighbor was dead. But her discomfiture seemed to mean more than that. He listened as Ray asked about visitors and vehicles that might have been at Reuben’s. She’d seen nothing. With every question, her gaze shot past Mason and lingered on the street.
Ray continued to ask about her past interactions with Reuben. She’d only been in his home that one time, when she’d followed him to get a wrench to work on her sink. She didn’t know if he had relatives close by. They rarely spoke.
“The officer told me he died,” she finally said. “I saw the blood, but he wouldn’t tell me if he was murdered.” She finally met Mason’s gaze. “Did someone kill him?”
Gillian sucked in a deep breath. Her entire arm shook as she raised the now-stubby cigarette to her lips. “I knew it,” she mumbled.
Mason waited for her to ask if she was safe living next door to a murder site. She didn’t.
“Gillian,” Ray started, “you saw the broken glass outside and the blood on the floor.”
“To see either one, you had to be in Reuben’s backyard. Your fence totally blocks any direct line of sight into his home.”
Her face paled beneath the freckles.
She thought no one would notice?
“I’m sure you were just checking on the welfare of your neighbor,” Ray prompted. “You must have been concerned.”
Mason could drive a semi through the holes in the logic of Ray’s suggestion.
Gillian was silent.
“Or maybe you had to step into his yard for some reason?” Ray continued.
Her shoulders shook once, and she sucked in a deep breath, meeting Ray’s gaze. “I guess I haven’t told you everything.”
That was easier than I expected.
“I was going to meet Reuben. I always use the back door.”
“Always?” Mason asked. “You meet with him frequently?”
She lifted her chin. “Yes. We didn’t want other neighbors to see us . . . We had a . . . relationship.”
“I see,” said Ray. “You must have cared deeply for him.”
Mason would have bluntly stated, “You were having sex.” Another reason Ray was better in certain situations.
“I did. He was a good man . . . a little obsessed sometimes, but he was kind.”
“That’s important,” Ray said gently. “How long had you been involved?”
“About a month.” She frowned, her gaze distant. “Closer to six weeks, I guess.”
“What do you mean ‘obsessed’?” Mason asked.
Gillian tilted her head to one side as she eyed him. She no longer seemed quite so nervous as she considered her answer. “You ever see that movie True Lies?”
“The Schwarzenegger movie,” Ray said. “He’s a government agent.”
“With Jamie Lee Curtis,” Mason added.
“That’s the one. Remember the idiot who tries to romance Curtis? Tells her he’s a spy? He claims people and governments are trying to kill him? How he has to stay off the radar all the time?”
The hair rose on the back of Mason’s neck. “Are you saying Reuben talked like that?”
“All the time.” Gillian dropped her cigarette butt and ground it out on the porch with her sandal. “He didn’t say anything the first few weeks we were together, but recently he needed to get things off his chest. Pillow talk, you know.” She gave a short laugh. “I listened but didn’t tell him I thought he was full of shit. He worked for Home Depot, for God’s sake. Why would he be of importance to anyone?”
“What exactly did he say?” asked Mason.
Gillian patted the pockets of her shorts, and disappointment flashed on her face.
Out of cigarettes.
She settled for twisting the ring on her right hand. “I don’t know. I didn’t pay that close attention. I thought he was just making it up.” Her face fell as she glanced at the front door. “Maybe not,” she said softly.
“Did he act differently because of his concerns?” Ray suggested. “Did he worry about going to work? Did he avoid certain people?”
Gillian frowned. “He always went to work. Didn’t seemed concerned about that. He would only use a cell phone you buy at a drugstore . . . you know . . . where you buy the minutes instead of having an account. Said he got a new one every few months. He told me I should do that too.”
She shrugged. “Said everyone should. Why give the government more information than they need? Which was a stupid thing to say since he also claimed he worked for the government.”
Ray frowned. “He worked for the government?”
Mason was lost. They’d found no information that indicated that. “For what part of the government exactly?”
“Whoever would pay him. FBI, CIA, NSA . . . When he talked like that, I knew he was full of it. Claims he sold them information.” She gave Mason an incredulous look. “What information would the NSA buy from a Home Depot employee?”
Mason’s thoughts raced. Could Reuben have been some sort of informant? The murder appeared to have been done by someone with an ax to grind. Or was he simply a movie fan with grandiose fantasies, trying to impress the woman in his bed?
Pulling his little notepad out of his shirt pocket, he reminded himself to look into the possibility of Reuben being a confidential informant. It was a start. A weak start. Reuben’s manager and coworkers might know more.
“Was he ever worried about someone specifically?” Ray asked. “Had he angered someone at work? Or maybe had a fight with a friend?”
Gillian shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“What else did you talk about?” Mason asked, thinking of topics to jog her memory. “Did he talk about trips he’d been on or wanted to go on? Was he planning any big purchases? New vehicles or maybe a new house? What did he like to do during his time off?”
“He liked to have sex,” Gillian stated, meeting Mason’s gaze dead-on. “I know he had taken trips to Central and Eastern Oregon. He showed me some pictures of Mount Bachelor and the Painted Hills.”
“Did anyone go with him?” asked Ray.
“Like another woman?” Gillian’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“Anyone,” clarified Mason.