“Because it proves where he was before the murder, and that he wasn’t at the studio or the museum stashing the knife,” Sean said.
“But if he killed the girl in a jealous rage—” Helena began to say, then obviously remembered that Eddie was there, and that while Alistair might not be her biological son he meant the world to her husband. She flushed. “I’m just afraid that’s how the police will probably see it,” she mumbled.
“And that’s why we have to find out who might’ve been at the studio. Who knows it well enough to hide there and escape and to do it without tracking blood anywhere,” Sean said evenly.
“Someone could have planned this?” Eddie asked in horror.
“Someone would have to have planned it. Someone who knew the studio, like I said, but also your son’s schedule, the movie and special-effects business, and either knew about evidence or studied police and forensics procedure,” Sean told him. “The answer isn’t going to jump out at us. We’re going to have to dig until we find it.”
“We’ll dig. We’ll dig into anything and everything. Everything.” Eddie repeated the last word fervently.
“I’ll need to visit Alistair tomorrow,” Sean said. “For now, I’m sure Madison wants to get home, and I need to check in to my hotel.”
“You can just stay here, you know,” Eddie offered.
“Eddie, you made wonderful hotel arrangements for us. Actually, I wouldn’t mind some time alone, until my team shows up. Space to think.”
“Then, by all means, get checked in. I put your luggage in the little Prius outside. I figure you can use that while you’re here.”
“Great. Thanks, Eddie.”
Eddie groped in his pockets and came out with a handful of keys. He dropped several; they all bent down to retrieve them at the same time. Madison banged into Sean and he caught himself once again studying the young woman with the wide eyes who was supposed to help him.
The girl who spoke to ghosts, or so Eddie said.
He paused for a moment. She was stunning, and in a way a woman like Helena would never understand. Those eyes of hers! Blue as the sky and framed by rich dark lashes. Her face was a classic oval that no amount of money could buy. Her dark hair was long and naturally wavy. He couldn’t avoid noticing that her body was shapely, lean, athletic—with curves in all the right places. Curves that weren’t exposed by a low-cut neckline or contained in sausage-skin pants.
Startled by his assessment—and trying to tell himself that it was so positive because he really disliked Helena—he stood again, glancing at her apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Madison. I’m fumbling all over the place.”
“No, I’m sorry. I dropped the keys,” Eddie muttered.
“It’s understandable, Eddie,” Madison said. “And I’m just fine.”
“I was driving competently all day, I swear it,” Eddie insisted, half-humorously.
Sean grinned. “We know. We drove with you.”
“All right. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Eddie said.
“As I said, I’ll see Alistair,” Sean told him. “Can you tell them I’ll be there, midmorning?”
“Definitely, and he’ll be glad to see you—and Madison, too. Will you come and assure him he has friends?” Eddie asked her.
“Yes,” Madison said. “Of course I will.”
Eddie nodded, his expression grateful. “They’re giving Alistair a sedative tonight. Doctor says he’ll sleep for hours.” He looked at Sean again. “If the cops could just understand what this has done to him, how he’s feeling…they’d know he couldn’t have done it.”
Helena put a hand on his shoulder. “Are they keeping the studio closed, Eddie? What about the work you have going on?”
“We’re still down tomorrow. We’ll be back up in a day,” Eddie said, frowning.
“You have so many people depending on you for their livelihood, dear,” Helena said softly. “Like Madison.”
“I’m okay with whatever you choose to do,” Madison told Eddie. “As I’m sure everyone at the studio is.”
Eddie almost smiled. “The police want to go through the studio once more. And then, apparently, it’s all right for business to go on as usual, even if your son had been accused of murder and a girl died horribly on your property. Oh, Sean, I’m assuming your team will want to search the place, too?”
Sean nodded. He was fairly certain that Eddie believed their relationship meant there was someone who cared actively seeking the truth. He also realized that Eddie Archer had read up on the Krewe of Hunters. And he might have called them in simply because he had a greater belief in the FBI—or because he’d learned something about the Krewe and hoped that one of them could just speak to a ghost and come up with the answer he wanted.
It was never that easy. But tonight wasn’t the time to tell Eddie that the Krewe worked like any other law enforcement agency, searching out clues, forensics and facts.
“Eddie, you need rest,” Sean said. “I know it’s hard, but try to get some sleep.”
“Yes. Yes, thank you,” Eddie murmured. “Oh, hey! It’s late. How about dinner? Would you like me to cook something?”
Normally, Sean would’ve said yes. Cooking would have taken Eddie’s mind off his situation. But he still had things to do, things he wanted done that night.
“We can stop at an In-N-Out Burger, if that works for you, Madison?”
“Nothing like a burger,” she said.
They moved to the door.
“Thank you so much for coming.” Helena nodded her head regally.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Sean said.
Madison waved to Pierce, who was hovering behind the group. He solemnly raised a hand in farewell.
As they went out to the front, Eddie followed them, pointing to a new Prius in the driveway. “I’ll hit the key guard on the gate,” he said.
“And get in, get in!” Helena called. “Eddie, that car over there—it’s paparazzi.”
“So let them take a picture of a grieving father,” Eddie said. “I don’t give a damn.”
Eddie really didn’t give a damn.
Sean observed rather cynically that Helena joined him, and that she posed, her face arranged in a mask of deep concern, her hips jutting out and her breasts high, hands draped with loving tenderness over the arm of her famous husband.
They walked to the car, with Sean pausing to open the passenger-side door for Madison. She slid in silently. He came around to join her, and waved as Eddie opened the gate. Then he eased the car out into the cul-de-sac.
“I’m sorry you have to drop me,” Madison said. “Do you need some directions? Oh—there is an In-N-Out Burger on the way.”
“I was with Eddie today when we picked you up, remember?” He laughed. “And I know I can find a burger place.”
“Yes, of course, but you don’t live here anymore. I wasn’t sure you’d remember how to get around.”
“I lived here long enough,” he told her. “Although it’s a little much to get used to again, after living in San Antonio. But I do still know my way around. I’m about to prove it—In-N-Out Burger ahead on the left. Shall we get something to go, or eat in?”
“I’m starving, so eat in, if you don’t mind,” she said.
They ordered and brought their food to a table. For a moment, they ate in silence; he was hungry, too. He found himself liking the fact that his companion ate with enthusiasm. She didn’t play with her food or pretend she didn’t intend to down her entire burger and fries, but she was fastidiously neat as she did so. It seemed they’d tacitly agreed not to speak about the case during dinner. Instead, they casually discussed California weather and the differences between Texas and California. She thought that Texas created a breed all its own; he thought that was equally true of California, whether people were born there or became Californians by choice.
Twenty minutes later, they were done and back in the car.
“I’m not sure I’m much help to you,” she said as they entered freeway traffic. “I felt you knew the studio as well as I did.”
“Not really. So much depends on the latest project. And that’s especially important with this case.”
“Whoever killed that girl knows the studio, beyond a doubt. Knows everything about it—as it is right now.”
She shook her head. “There are dozens of people who work there—probably forty full-time staff, and another twenty brought in on special projects, some of whom end up staying. And there are the different actors and actresses, set designers, directors, cinematographers, prop masters and so on who come in.”
“No, the killer is not going to be a producer who stopped by to check on props or the costumer who drops in once. Whoever did this knows the studio. Backward and forward.” He frowned. “This particular movie may well be a factor, too. Unless the connection—between The Unholy and the Sam Stone film—was intended to throw us off track.”
“So, why didn’t you start with the studio workers?” she asked.
“Everyone who’s worked at the studio in any capacity is being questioned, and alibis will be examined. I’m sure that Knox already has a list, and if there were any red flags, he would’ve told me. When my team gets here, we can divide and conquer. But I have a feeling it’s not going to be a regular employee or film person, unless it’s someone really close to Eddie. Whoever did this not only knows the studio, as I said—they know Eddie Archer. And Alistair…”
“Someone like a stepmother? Because that little visit was…interesting,” Madison said. “I’m sorry, I guess interesting is the wrong description. Were we making a courtesy call, or were we trying to make sure she’s supporting Eddie?”