Helena snatched the dog back. Clearly she wasn’t interested in the effort of actually brewing coffee. “Fine,” she sniffed. “Coffee, then, Pierce. Perla can run in the yard.” She hurried toward the French doors that led to the pool and patio area. “Now, no doo-doo by the water, Perla! Take it out to the back, that’s a good girl!”
“Coffee, coming right up,” Pierce said. He walked over to the kitchen and began preparing it. Helena caught hold of Sean’s arm, leading him back to the sofa and whispering, “Honestly…this house is impossible. These men—my husband, Pierce—they’re so lost. Oh, it’s dreadful. Everything is at a standstill. Did you know I was about to read for the part of Lady Macbeth in a new Shakespeare project? It’s going to be wonderful, filmed along the lines of Game of Thrones with lots of swords and sorcery. Even Eddie said that hot new director thought I’d be perfect for the role!” She pouted. “Of course now, God knows…”
The house phone rang and Pierce picked it up. “Yes, Eddie. They’re here now. Yes, I’ll tell them.”
He hung up a moment later and turned. “Mr. Archer is on his way,” he announced. He’d barely finished speaking when the phone rang again, and again Pierce answered it. As Helena looked at him expectantly, he covered the mouthpiece and said, “It’s Benita, Mrs. Archer. She’s calling to lend her support. Will you speak with her?”
Helena started to rise. “Benita?”
“Yes, the ex–Mrs. Archer,” Pierce said politely.
Helena paused, eyeing him with venom. Sean wasn’t sure if her dislike was now aimed at Pierce or Benita. She suddenly seemed to puff up. “No! You may tell her that I’m busy with the FBI. You may tell her that I’m far too distraught!”
Pierce dutifully did as bidden, assuring the second Mrs. Archer that he’d convey her feelings and support to her ex-husband. Sean suspected that Pierce used the word ex–Mrs. Archer on purpose, either to remind Helena that there were others who had loved Eddie and whom Eddie had loved, or that she, too, could be replaced.
“Oh, that woman! Calling now!” Helena said, shaking her head.
“I thought you two were friends.” Madison smiled sweetly. “I always felt it was so wonderful that you could have remained such good friends.”
“Yes, Helena. In fact, we met at Eddie’s marriage to Benita,” Sean said.
Helena waved a hand in the air. “Well, yes, we’re friends! But this is an intimate time. I’m here to support my husband.”
“I’m assuming you and Eddie were together when you got the call from Alistair last night?” Sean asked, keeping his tone sympathetic.
“Yes, yes. I was sound asleep,” Helena said. “And then the phone rang, and… My Eddie! My poor Eddie!” She hid her face in her hands.
“You’d both been here all evening?”
“Earlier, Eddie was out at some meeting, but I was here all day. Pierce can tell you that.” She turned, gesturing at him. He carried in a tray, then set it on the coffee table. He was quick and efficient; the silver serving tray had three filled cups and saucers, milk, cream, sugar and artificial sweetener—anything they might have wanted—as well as plates of cookies and scones.
“I mean, if you’re accusing me of anything!” she said, as if she’d just grasped the question, horrified at what it could imply. “Seriously? Sean! How could you even imagine that I…or Eddie! Oh, Sean! I thought you came here to be Eddie’s friend.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything, Helena.” Sean kept his voice calm. “I’m trying to get a complete picture of what happened last night. Eddie had a meeting, but you were here. And then Eddie came home. What about Alistair?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask Pierce. I was out in the afternoon.” She paused, realizing that she’d just said she’d been home. “I was only out for an hour or so. Shopping. I was on Sunset. I can give you a list of the stores,” she said coldly.
“How would you like your coffee, Sean? Do you still take it black?” Pierce asked.
“Yes, thanks,” he said.
“Alistair didn’t leave until seven-thirty last evening. He was up doing homework until then,” Pierce informed.
“So you weren’t home until after seven-thirty?” Sean said to Helena.
“Was it that late?” Helena asked Pierce. “I’m sure I was home by late afternoon.”
“No, Mrs. Archer. Alistair had gone about an hour before you returned.”
“Well, then, there you have it. Our living calendar and timepiece here—Pierce—can tell you exactly where I was!” Helena said. “And when,” she added.
Pierce ignored her, apparently accustomed to anything she had to say. “I saw her come home,” he told Sean. “She retired to her room after that and I didn’t see her again until the phone call came.” He smiled.
“I hear a car!” Madison set down her coffee and rose. “I think Eddie’s here.”
Pierce strode to the door and opened it quickly, waiting while Eddie Archer parked his car in the drive. Eddie trudged toward the house, looking haggard and sad. He seemed to perk up as he entered and saw that both Sean and Madison were there.
“Sean, welcome, and Madison, my dear, thank you for hanging in with this. In this town, the people who love you can turn against you in the blink of an eye, so it’s good to have friends,” Eddie said. “Real friends.”
“I just made coffee,” Pierce said.
“Yes, darling.” Helena walked over to Eddie, slipping an arm around him. “I was so enjoying conversation with your friends.”
Eddie didn’t seem to hear the edge in her voice. He was distracted, squeezing her in return and pecking her cheek, his eyes never leaving Sean’s.
“Well, can you help me?” he asked anxiously. “Can you at least stop them from crucifying Alistair without even looking into other possibilities?”
“Eddie, there’s definitely room for a great deal of investigation,” Sean said. “Don’t lose heart. I want to see the security videos myself and search the studio some more, plus the surrounding area, and check out everyone and everything in the immediate vicinity. The D.A.’s office will prepare their case against Alistair, but you and your attorneys have him at the best possible place for now. The kid has to be hurting, and they can help him there. Not only that, he’s out of harm’s way. Yes, you’ll hear terrible things—and you’ll have to expect that.”
Eddie nodded, and Sean prayed he could prove that Alistair was innocent. In the meantime, he wanted Eddie to remain positive, but it was going to be a long haul. He could imagine what the court case was going to be like.
“Thank you, my friend. Thank you. Where do we go from here?” Eddie asked.
“Tomorrow night, the rest of my team arrives. We’ve already been invited in, so we can set up at the police station. I met Detective Benny Knox. We’ll be working in conjunction with him.”
Eddie made a face, and Sean tried to reassure him. “Eddie, I’m with you all the way on this, but you have to see how it looks to others. As far as anyone’s been able to tell thus far, Alistair was alone at the Black Box Cinema, Colin Bailey was on guard at the studio and Jenny Henderson managed to slip in. We have to prove otherwise, and that means delving into everything. Alistair’s life, your life, friends, enemies—”
“And me,” Helena put in. “Eddie, Sean wanted to know where I was last night!”
Eddie remained distracted. He didn’t respond to her complaint, if he even heard it. “Anything—anything. Whatever you need. I’m here, and I’ll give you anything you want, and everyone around me will be as helpful as possible, too. Right?” He looked at Helena, and it was evident that he’d hardly been aware of her.
“Of course, sweetheart, of course,” Helena said.
Eddie stepped away to face Madison, taking her hands. “Thank you, thank you, Madison. I know this isn’t what you do…but I need you. This is Alistair’s life,” he said passionately.
Madison gazed back at him, and Sean saw himself, years before, when he’d first met Eddie. The guy was an absolute icon, an idol to anyone who loved special effects. And he was so down to earth, so generous…Sean could see that she was controlling her emotions as she listened to him and then spoke. “Eddie, Alistair is a great kid, a great person, and I’m happy to be there for him—and for you—in any way possible.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Eddie said again. “Sean, what do you need from me now?”
“Your schedule yesterday.”
Eddie nodded. “Woke up, ate bran flakes here and ran by the studio, just to see that everything was okay for lockdown. After that, I left and met with Myron Silver and Harvey Anderson, producer and director on the Shakespeare movie that’s gearing up. I went back to Harvey’s home studio to look at his storyboards. I talked to Alistair on the phone about seven to see if he was up for dinner, but he’d already eaten at home with Pierce, so I went to a fast-food drive-through, grabbed a veggie burger and came home. I watched a few of my cooking shows and went to bed. And then I got the phone call. I rushed to the Black Box, and then to the police station, where I called my lawyer. And soon after that, I called you and…” He shrugged. “Then I called the governor. I campaigned for him, and I said I needed help and that I thought I knew the people who could provide it.”
“When was the last time you saw Alistair?” Sean asked.
Pierce cleared his throat. “Alistair was here all afternoon. He was on the computer for a while, and he took a swim.”
“If you think the kid’s innocent, why are you asking questions about him?” Helena demanded.