Death of a Pirate King
An excerpt from the fourth novel in the Adrien English series by Josh Lanyon
It was not my kind of party.
Sure, some people might think the dead guy made it my kind of party, but that wouldn't be a fair assessment of my entertainment needs-or my social calendar. I mean, it had been a good two years since I'd last been involved in a murder investigation.
I sell books for a living. I write books too, but not enough to make a living at it. I did happen to sell one book I wrote to the movies, which is what I was doing at a Hollywood party, which, like I said, is not my scene. Or at least, was not my scene until Porter Jones slumped over and fell face first into his bowl of vichyssoise.
I'm sorry to say my initial reaction, as he keeled over, was relief.
I'd been nodding politely as he'd rambled on for the past ten minutes, trying not to wince as he gusted heavy alcoholic sighs my way during his infrequent pauses, my real attention on screenwriter Al January, who was sitting on the other side of me at the long crowded luncheon table. January was going to be working on the screen adaptation of my first novel Murder Will Out. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
Instead I heard all about deep sea fishing for white marlin in St. Lucia.
I pushed back from the table as the milky tide of soup spilled across the linen tablecloth. Someone snickered. The din of voices and silverware on china died.
“For God's sake, Porter!” exclaimed Mrs. Jones from across the table.
Porter's shoulders were twitching and I thought for a moment that he was laughing, although what was funny about breathing soup, I'd no idea-having sort of been through it myself recently.
“Was it something you said, Adrien?” Paul Kane, our host, joked to me. He rose as though to better study Jones. He had one of those British public school accents that make insignificant comments like Would you pass the butter sound as interesting as Fire when ready!
Soup dripped off the table into my empty seat. I stared at Porter's now-motionless form: the folds on the back of his thick tanned neck, the rolls of brown flab peeping out beneath the indigo-blue Lacoste polo, his meaty, motionless arm with the gold Rolex watch. Maybe forty seconds all told, from the moment he toppled over to the moment it finally dawned on me what had actually happened.
“Oh, hell,” I said, and hauled Porter out of his plate. He sagged right and crashed down onto the carpet taking my chair and his own with him.
“Porter!” shrieked his wife, now on her feet, bleached blonde hair spilling over her plump freckled shoulders.
“Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Paul Kane staring down, his normal unshakable poise deserting him. “Is he-?”
It was hard to say what Porter was exactly. His face was shiny with soup; his silvery mustache glistened with it. His pale eyes bulged as though he were outraged to find himself in this position. His fleshy lips were open but he made no protest. He wasn't breathing.
I knelt down, said, “Does anyone know CPR? I don't think I can manage it.”
“Someone call 911!” Kane ordered, looking and sounding like he did on the bridge of the brigantine in The Last Corsair.
“We can trade off,” Al January told me, crouching on the other side of Porter's body. He was a slim and elegant sixty-something, despite the cherry red trousers he wore. I liked his calm air; you don't expect calm from a man wearing cherry-red trousers.
“I'm getting over pneumonia,” I told him. I shoved the fallen chairs aside, making room next to Porter.
“Uh oh,” January said and bent over Porter.
By the time the paramedics arrived it was all over.
By then we had all adjourned to the drawing room of the old Laurel Canyon mansion. There were about thirty of us, everyone, with the exception of myself, involved one way or the other with movies and movie-making.
I looked at the ormolu clock on the elegant fireplace mantle and thought I should call Natalie. She had a date that evening and had wanted to close the bookstore early. I needed to give Guy a call too. No way was I going to have the energy for dinner out tonight-even if we did get away in the next hour or so.
Porter's wife, who looked young enough to be his daughter, was sitting over by the piano crying. A couple of the other women were absently soothing her. I wondered why she wasn't being allowed in there with him. If I was dying I'd sure want someone I loved with me.
Paul Kane had disappeared for a time into the dining room where the paramedics were still doing whatever there was left to do.
He came back in and said, “They've called the police.”
There were exclamations of alarm and dismay.
Okay, so it wasn't a natural death. I'd been afraid of that. Not because of any special training or because I had a particular knack for recognizing foul play-no, I just had really, really bad luck.
Porter's wife-“Ally,” they were calling her-looked up and said, “He's dead?” I thought it was pretty clear he was a goner from the moment he landed flat on his back like a harpooned walrus, but maybe she was the optimistic kind. Or maybe I'd just had too much of the wrong kind of experience.
The women with her began doing that automatic shushing thing again.
Kane walked over to me, and said with that charming, practiced smile, “How are you holding up?”
His smile informed me that I wasn't fooling anyone, but actually I felt all right. After two weeks of hospital, any change of scenery was an improvement, and unlike most of the people there I knew what to expect once someone died a public and unexpected death.
Kane sat down on a giant chintz-covered ottoman--the room had clearly been professionally decorated because nothing about Paul Kane suggested cabbage roses or ormolu clocks--fastened those amazing blue eyes on me, and said, “I've got a bad feeling about this.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. Violent death in the dining room? Generally not a good thing.
“Did Porter say anything to you? I couldn't help noticing that he had you pinned down.”
“He mostly talked about salt water big game fishing.”
“Ah. His passion.”
“Passion is good,” I said.
Kane smiled into my eyes. “It can be.”
I smiled back tiredly. I didn't imagine that he was coming onto me; it was more…an actor picking up his cue.
He patted my knee and rose. “It shouldn't take much longer,” he said, with the optimism of inexperience.
They kept us waiting for probably another forty minutes and then the doors to the drawing room opened silently on well-oiled hinges, and two cops in suits walked in. One was about thirty, Hispanic, with the tightly coiled energy of the ambitious young dick, and the other was Jake Riordan.
It was a jolt. Jake was a lieutenant now so there was no reason why he'd be here at a crime scene--except that this was a high profile crime scene.
It was like seeing him for the first time--only this time around I had insider knowledge.
He looked older. Still ruggedly good-looking in that big, blond, take-no-prisoners way. But thinner, sharper around the edges. Harder. It had been two years since I'd last seen him. They didn't appear to have been a fun-filled two years, but he still had that indefinable something. Like a young Steve McQueen or a mature Russell Crowe. Hanging around the movie crowd, you start thinking in cinema terms.
I watched his tawny eyes sweep the room and find Paul Kane. I saw the relief on Kane's face, and I realized that they knew each other. Something in the way their gazes met, locked, then broke--not anything anyone else would have caught. I just happened to be in a position to know what that particular look of Jake's meant.
And since I was familiar with the former Detective Riordan's extra-curricular activities, I guessed that meant the rumors about Paul Kane were true.
“Folks, can I have your attention,” the younger detective said. “This is Lieutenant Riordan and I'm Detective Alonzo.” He proceeded to explain that Porter Jones appeared to have been the victim of some kind of poisoning and they were going to ask us a few questions, starting with who had been seated next to the victim during the meal.
Paul Kane said, “That would be Valarie and Adrien.”
Jake's gaze followed Paul Kane's indication. His eyes lit on me. Just for a second his face seemed to freeze. I was glad I'd had a few seconds' warning. I was able to look right through him, which was a small satisfaction.
“I don't understand,” the newly widowed Ally was protesting. “Are you saying-what are you saying? That Porter was murdered?”
“Ma'am,” Detective Alonzo said in a pained way.
Jake said something quietly to Paul Kane, who answered. Jake interrupted Alonzo.
“Mrs. Jones, why don't we move next door?” He guided her towards a side door off the lounge. He nodded for Alonzo to follow him in.
A uniformed officer took Alonzo's place and asked us to please be patient and refrain from speaking with each other-and immediately everyone started speaking, mostly protesting.
The side door opened again and everyone looked guiltily towards the doorway. Ally Porter was ushered straight out.
“The performance of a lifetime,” Al January commented next to me.
I glanced at him and he smiled.
“Valarie Rose,” Detective Alonzo requested.
A trim forty-something brunette stood up. Rose was supposed to direct Murder Will Out, assuming we actually got to the filming stage-which at the moment felt unlikely. She wore minimal makeup and a dark pantsuit. She looked perfectly poised as she passed Detective Alonzo and disappeared into the inner chamber.
She was in there for about fifteen minutes and then the door opened; without speaking to anyone she crossed into the main room. Detective Alonzo announced, “Adrien English?”
Kind of like when your name gets called in the doctor's office: That's right, Adrien. This won't hurt a bit. I felt the silent wall of eyes as I went into the side room.
It was a comfortable room, probably Paul Kane's study. He seemed like the kind of guy who would affect a study. Glass fronted bookcases, a big fireplace, and a lot of leather furniture. There was a table and chairs to one side where they were obviously conducting their questioning. Jake stood at a large bay window that looked down over the back garden. I spared one look at his stony profile, then sat down at the table across from Detective Alonzo.
“Okay…” Alonzo scratched a preliminary note on a pad.
Jake turned. “That's Adrien with an 'e',” he informed his partner. “Mr. English and I have met.”
That was one way to put it. I had a sudden uncomfortably vivid memory of Jake whispering into my hair, “Baby, what you do to me….” An ill-timed recollection if there ever was one.
“Yeah?” If Alonzo recognized there was any tension in the air, he gave no sign of it, probably because there's always tension in the air around cops. “So where do you live, Mr. English?”
We got the details of where I lived and what I did for a living out of the way fast. Then Alonzo asked, “So how well did you know Mr. Jones?”
“I met him for the first time this afternoon.”
“Ms. Beaton-Jones says you and the deceased had a long, long talk during the meal?”
Beaton-Jones? Oh, right. This was Hollywood. Hyphens were a fashion accessory. Ms. Beaton-Jones would be Porter's wife, I guessed.
I replied, “He talked, I listened.” One thing I've learned the hard way is not to volunteer any extra information to the police.
I glanced at Jake. He was staring back out the window. There was a gold wedding band on his left hand. It kept catching the light. Like a heliograph.
“What did he talk about?”
“To be honest, I don't remember the details. It was mostly about deep sea fishing. For marlin. On his forty-five foot Hatteras luxury sport-fishing yacht.”
Jake's lips twitched as he continued to gaze out the window.
“You're interested in deep sea fishing, Mr. English?”
“So how long did you talk?”
“Maybe ten minutes.”
“Can you tell us what happened then?”
“I turned away to take a drink. He-Porter-just…fell forward onto the table.”
“And what did you do?”
“When I realized he wasn't moving, I grabbed his shoulder. He slid out of his chair and landed on the floor. Al January started CPR.”
“Do you know CPR, sir?”
“Mrs. Beaton-Jones said you refused to administer CPR to her husband.”
I blinked at him. Looked at Jake. His tawny eyes were zeroed in on mine.
“Any reason for that, sir? Are you HIV-positive by any chance?”
“No.” I was a little surprised at how angry I was at the question. I said shortly, “I'm getting over pneumonia. I didn't think I could do an adequate job of resuscitating him. If no one else had volunteered, I'd have tried.”
“Pneumonia? That's no fun.” This also from the firm's junior partner. “Were you hospitalized by any chance?”
“Yeah. Five fun-filled days and nights at Huntington Hospital. I'll be happy to give you the name and number of my doctor.”
“When were you discharged?”
“And you're already back doing the party scene?” That was Jake with pseudo-friendly mockery. “How do you know Paul Kane?”
“We met once before today. He's optioned my series character for a possible film. He thought it would be a good idea for me to meet the director and screenwriter, and he suggested this party.”
“So you're a writer,” Detective Alonzo inquired. He checked his notes as though to emphasize that I'd failed to mention this vital point.
“Among other things,” remarked Jake.
I thought maybe he ought to curb it if he didn't want speculation about our former friendship. But maybe marriage and a lieutenancy made him feel bullet-proof. He didn't interrupt as Detective Alonzo continued to probe.
I answered his questions, but I was thinking of the first time I'd met Paul Kane. Living in Southern California, you get used to seeing “movie stars.” Speaking from experience they are usually shorter, thinner, freckled, and blemished. And in real life their hair is almost never as good. Paul Kane was the exception. He was gorgeous in an old-fashioned matinee-idol way. An Errol Flynn way. Tall, built like something chiseled out of marble, midnight-blue eyes, sun-streaked brown hair. Almost too handsome, really. I prefer them a little rougher around the edges. Like Jake.
“Hey, pretty exciting!” Alonzo offered, just as though it wasn't Hollywood where everyone is writing a script on spec or has a book being optioned. “So what's your book about?”
A little dryly I explained what my book was about.
Alonzo raised his eyebrows at the idea of a gay Shakespearean actor and amateur sleuth making it to the big screen, but kept scribbling away.
Jake came over to the table and sat down across from me. My neck muscles clenched so tight I was afraid my head would start to shake.
“But you also run this Cloak and Dagger mystery bookstore in Pasadena?” Alonzo inquired. “Was Porter Jones a customer?”
“Not that I know of. I never saw him before today.” I made myself look at Jake. He was staring down. I looked to see if my body language was communicating homicidal mania. In the light flooding from the bay window my hands looked thin and white, a tracery of blue veins right beneath the surface.
I folded my arms and leaned back in my chair, trying to look more nonchalant than defensive.
We'd been talking for thirty minutes, which seemed like an unreasonable time to question someone who hadn't even known the victim. They couldn't honestly think I was a suspect. Jake couldn't honestly think I'd bumped this guy off. I glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Five o'clock.
Alonzo circled back to the general background stuff that is mostly irrelevant but sometimes turns up an unexpected lead.
To his surprise and my relief, Jake said abruptly, “I think that's about it. Thanks for your time, Mr. English. We'll be in touch if we need anything further.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but what came out was a laugh. Short and sardonic. It caught us both by surprise.
“Gosh, you look terrible!” Natalie exclaimed.
I batted my lashes. “You always know the right thing to say.” I flipped through the day's sales receipts.
I'd acquired Natalie two years ago when Angus, my former bookstore employee, split for parts unknown. After a string of temps I let my mother-against my better judgment- persuade me into hiring Natalie.
Natalie, at that time, was my brand new step-sis. After thirty-odd years of widowhood, my mother Lisa had suddenly decided to remarry, and with Councilman Bill Dauten had come three step-sisters, in order of appearance: thirty-something Lauren, twenty-something Natalie, and twelve-year-old Emma.
They were the nicest family in the world. I kept a watch out for the insidious undercurrents, the clues that all was not as it should be, but nope. Nothing. Okay, maybe Bill overdid the Yagermeister on the holidays and got squirm-makingly sentimental, and I could have done without Lauren and her many crusades--and Natalie had the worst taste in men I'd ever met outside of myself--but Emma was a pip.
“Where've you been? I was getting worried.”
I replied vaguely, “It took longer than I expected.” Anything I told her would hit the familial newswire within the hour, and for now I needed this to be an exclusive.
“Did you have a good time?” She really wanted to know; she really hoped I'd had a good time. This was one of the things that I found hard to get used to in having an extended family. It was nice but it was strange.
After all these years of it being just Lisa and me-okay, actually being mostly just me-all these interested and involved bystanders made me uneasy.
I glanced without favor at the boyfriend du jour: Warren Something. He lolled in one of the club chairs near the front desk, looking bored. Straggly hair, emaciated body, and one of those wispy goatees that made me yearn for a sharp razor--and not so that I could give him a shave. He wore a T-shirt that read Chicks Hate Me. Supposedly he was some kind of musician, but so far all he seemed to play was on my nerves.
Hiring Natalie turned out to be one of my better decisions. My only problem with her was she kept trying to persuade me to hire Warren.
“It was okay,” I said. “Aren't you two going to a concert or something?”
Warren showed signs of life, “Yeah, Nat, we're going to be late.”
“Lisa called four times. She's really upset you went out so soon after getting discharged. You better call her.”
I muttered something, caught Natalie's eye. She chuckled “You're still her baby.”
Warren laughed derisively.
Yep, I was definitely getting tired of old Warren.
“I'll give her a call. Lock up, will you?”
Natalie assented, and I went upstairs to my living quarters. Years ago I bought the building that now houses Cloak and Dagger Books with money I inherited from my paternal grandmother.
I turned on the lights. The answering machine light was blinking red. Eight messages. I pressed Play.
Lisa. I fast forwarded.
Holy moly. Fast forward.
Jeeeesus. Fast forward.
Guy's taped voice broke the silence of the apartment. “Hello, lover. How'd it go?”
Guy and I had been seeing each other since Jake and I parted ways. I hit stop on the machine, picked up the phone, but then considered.
If I called Guy now it wouldn't be a quick call and I didn't have the energy to deal with what I was feeling, let alone his possible reaction.
I replaced the phone and went into the bathroom, avoiding looking at my hollow-eyed reflection in the mirror. I didn't need a reminder that I looked like something the cat dragged in. I felt like something the cat dragged in-after he chewed on it for a few hours. My chest hurt, my ribs hurt. Coughing really hurt, but suppressing the cough was a no-no because my lungs had to clear. A truly delightful process.
I took my antibiotics and stretched out on the couch. Fifteen minutes and I'd call Lisa and then I'd call Guy and tell him about the party and Porter Jones and Jake. Guy wouldn't be happy about any of it, especially the part about Jake. Not that I'd ever really gone much into my relationship with Jake; but Guy had been the prime suspect in one of Jake's murder investigations, and it had left him with not very friendly feelings towards cops in general and Jake in particular.
I thought about the party at Paul Kane's. Not that “party” was exactly the word for the afternoon's events. I tried to pinpoint exactly when I'd met Porter Jones. Paul Kane, who had been mixing cocktails behind the bar, had introduced us. He'd handed me a glass that had been sitting on the bar for a few minutes, and said, “This is for Porter. My own special blend.”
I'd handed the glass to Porter.
Of course Porter had had a lot of drinks that afternoon. A lot of glasses had passed his way….
When I woke, the buzzer was ringing downstairs.
I sat up, groggy and a little confused with weird dreams . The corners in the room were deep in shadow. Just for a moment it looked like someplace else, someplace strange, someone else's house. It looked like the home of whoever would live here years after I was gone.
The clock in the VCR informed me that it was eight o'clock. Shit. I'd stood Guy up for dinner.
The buzzer downstairs rang again, loud and impatient sounding.
Not Guy because he had a key.
No way, I thought. I started coughing like I'd inhaled a mouthful of dust. Dusty memories maybe.
I got up, adrenaline zinging through my system like someone had flipped a switch. Heading downstairs, I flipped the ground level lights on. I crossed the silent floor of towering shelves and strategically placed chairs, my eyes on the tall silhouette lurking behind the bars of the security gate.
Somehow I knew--even before he moved into the unhealthy yellow glow of the porch light. I swore under my breath and unlocked the front door. Pushed the security gate aside.
“Can I come in?”
I hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure.” I moved out of the way. “More questions?”
“That's right.” Jake stepped inside the store and stared around himself.
The previous spring I'd bought the building space next door, and between the bookstore and the gutted rooms next door was a dividing wall of clear, heavy plastic. Otherwise it didn't look too different: the comfortable chairs, the fake fireplace, the tall, walnut shelves of books, the enigmatic smiles of the kabuki masks on the wall. Everything as it was. Myself excluded. I had certainly changed.
I remembered when I'd first met him, when he'd been investigating Robert Hersey's murder. He'd scared the hell out of me, and I wondered now why I hadn't paid attention to that first healthy instinct.
His eyes came at last to rest on me. He didn't say anything.
“Déjà vu,” I said, and was relieved that my tone was just about right.
It seemed to annoy Jake though. Or maybe he was annoyed at being forced to remember there had ever been anything between us besides criminal investigation.
He said flatly, “I want to know what you were holding back when we interviewed you this afternoon.”
That caught me off guard. “Nothing.”
“Bullshit. I know you. You were hiding something.”
Now that really was ironic. “You think?”
He just stared, immovable, implacable, impossible. “Yeah.”
“I guess some things never change.”
“Yeah,” he drawled. “Two years later I find you smack in the middle of another murder investigation. Coincidence?”
“You think not?” I started coughing again, which was annoying as hell.
He just stood there watching.
When I'd got my breath again, I rasped, “If I were hiding something I guess it was the realization that you and Paul are already…acquainted.”
He didn't say a word.
“Same club, old chap?”
“You sound jealous, Adrien. And bitter.”
Did I? The thought startled me.
“Nah. Just curious.”
I lifted a shoulder. “Not really my business.”
“You've got that right.” He was curt. After a moment he said slowly, “So that's all it was? You guessed that Kane and I…knew each other.”
“In the Biblical sense?” I mocked. “Yeah.”
After we'd parted company he'd called twice when I hadn't been there to take his call. Or maybe I had been there, but just hadn't picked up. Anyway, I knew who the hang up calls were from because my machine was programmed to recognize that particular blocked number.
And then eleven months after the whole thing was over he'd called and actually left a message.
Like did he think I'd forgotten his voice along with his number?
It'd be nice to talk to you sometime.
Uh huh. As he himself would have said.
What did he think we'd talk about? His marriage? Work? The weather?
“So are we done?” I heard the tension crackle in my voice, and knew he heard it too. I didn't have the strength to keep fencing with him. I didn't have the energy to keep standing there pretending this wasn't getting to me, that it wasn't opening up a lot of wounds that weren't as well-healed as I'd believed.
He said flatly. “Yeah, we're done.”
“I don't believe it,” Guy said. “There's something wrong with my karma.”
“Check the expiration date,” I suggested.
He paused in setting out little white cartons of rice and shrimp in lobster sauce to give me the finger.
“Two words,” I said. “Sounds like duck flu.”
His smile was reluctant. His eyes, green as the curl of a wave, studied my face and narrowed. “You overdid it today, lover.”
“I'm out of shape. I find murder tiring.”
This reminded him of the thing I kept hoping he'd forget. “And of all the cops in all the world, why the hell would that asshole Riordan show up today at Paul Kane's? It's fucking unbelievable. I thought he was a lieutenant or something?”
“He is. I think he knows Paul Kane. It's a high profile case. There's liable to be a lot of media attention.”
“You don't honestly think they-he-thinks you're involved?”
Guy poured wine for himself and mineral water for me. He sat down at the kitchen table and began to eat, scowling. “You don't plan on-”
“No. I don't.”
He relaxed a little.
I said, referring to the murder case where Guy and I first met, “When you talked to the cops about Grimaldi, you kept me out of it, right?”
“As much as it was possible.”
“What's that mean?”
“It means that Detective Riordan had a pretty good idea of where I got my information.” He studied me. “He didn't push it, and neither did I since you'd asked me to keep you out of it. I couldn't help noticing…”
“He has this little muscle in his jaw.” Guy gestured to his own lean jaw. “And every time your name came up, the muscle moved.”
“It was pretty much a permanent twitch by then.”
Guy didn't laugh.
I reached my hand across the table. “Hey. Guy, I'm sorry this is bringing back bad memories for you. I'm not involved. I have no intention of getting involved.”
He took my hand, but he was still not smiling.
“You're not the one I'm worried about. I don't trust that bastard Riordan.”
Lisa phoned as we were lying in bed watching Michael Palin's Palin's New Europe. Actually Guy had been watching, and I had been dozing. Ever chivalrous, Guy took the bullet for me.
I listened gratefully to his side of the conversation.
“He's fine, Lisa. Just having an early night.”
Did she think we were in separate rooms? Sleeping in bunk beds? I lowered the TV volume with the remote control. The TV in the bedroom was Guy's idea. He found watching TV together more companionable than reading; not that we generally spent a lot of sheet time in intellectual pursuits.
“Yep, he's taking all his meds.”
“Oh my God,” I said.
Guy's eyes laughed at me.
“He's eating. He's resting. He'll give you a call tomorrow. I give you my word.”
I raised my brows at this. Guy raised his own in reply.
Folding my arms behind my head, I stared at the street lamp shining behind the lace drapes over the window. Not that I would have admitted this to anyone, but my lack of energy scared me. I knew it was normal after pneumonia, like the sore ribs and the ugly cough, but the fatigue and shortness of breath brought back unpleasant memories. As had the hospital stay.
When my number came up I wanted it to be lightning bolt fast. I sure as hell didn't want to end things struggling for breath in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines and stuck full of needles.
“Sweet dreams,” Guy cooed and leaned over to replace the handset on its hook.
“I owe you, man.”
“She's a doll really.”
“Mm. Bride of Chucky.”
He chuckled and leaned over me, his breath light and cool as his mouth touched mine. “Say the word and I'll make running interference a permanent part of my job description.”
I kissed him back lightly.
“No?” He raised an eyebrow.
“What's it take to convince you I'm here for the long haul?”
“Maybe I'm just too set in my ways,” I said. “I've been living on my own a long time.”
“You're thirty-five, Adrien. It's not like your best years are behind you.”
They felt behind me, I thought tiredly, with my heart beat fluttering in my throat as it did more often now. But I couldn't tell Guy that. I couldn't tell anyone that.
“You know I love you,” Guy said. “Right? So what's the problem?”
“I don't know. I guess I'm the problem.”
“No. You just need time.” He kissed me again. “That's okay, lover. You take all the time you need.”
Natalie and I were having a little debate about inventory loss control--Natalie taking the view that stealing books was not really a crime so much as a cry for help--when Detective Alonzo showed up the next morning with Jake in tow.
“Can we talk to you for a few minutes, Mr. English?” Alonzo asked over the din of power tools from behind the plastic curtain.
I looked at Jake. His face gave nothing away.
We went back to my office. Jake leaned against the wall as though he was strictly there in his official capacity as observer in a training exercise for Alonzo.
Alonzo said, “We were wondering if you'd had a chance to remember anything else after you made your statement yesterday.”
“You mean like, did I remember I killed Porter Jones?”
He smiled, a genial cat to a smart-ass mouse. “Something like that.”
“Not that I know of.”
He looked interested. “What's that mean?”
I'd been debating since the evening before whether to mention the thing about handing Porter his drink before we went into lunch, and I concluded that it would be easier-safer-to have it out now. I said, “It means that if he was poisoned, then I think I probably handed him the drink that killed him.”
“You think he was poisoned, Mr. English?”
“I think I'd have noticed if he'd been shot or stabbed.”
Alonzo looked towards Jake as though seeking confirmation. “You got a little bit of an attitude, Mr. English, if you don't mind my saying so.”
“I don't mind.”
His black brows drew together.
“I guess you won't be surprised to hear that the coroner's preliminary findings indicate that Mr. Jones was poisoned.”
“I see.” And I thought I did.
“We've found the glass that was probably used to administer the poison. It was broken in a bag of trash, but there was enough to lift fingerprints.”
“Let me guess. Mine.”
“Jackpot,” said Detective Alonzo. He did seem to enjoy his work.
I reminded myself I'd been through police questioning before and that I had nothing to hide. “I did say I might have inadvertently given him the poison. I passed him his glass right before we went into lunch. There should be other prints on the glass as well.”
“Paul Kane's fingerprints should also be on the glass.”
“Well, it's his house,” Alonzo pointed out.
Jake said, “The interesting thing is the poison.”
I had avoided looking his way till now. His gaze was impassive.
Alonzo asked, “Do you have a heart condition, sir?”
Jake's gaze shifted pointedly to Alonzo.
“What medications do you take?”
“Digoxin and aspirin.”
“Digoxin. That's a form of digitalis, right?”
“Right. It slows and strengthens the heart beat.”
“You take tablets or injections or what?”
“I take tablets.”
I waited. I knew what was coming.
“You'll find this interesting. The autopsy results indicate that Mr. Jones died of a massive heart attack brought on by a fatal dose of some form of digitalis.”
They both stared at me.
Two or three murder investigations ago I might have panicked. As it was, I studied Detective Alonzo, perplexed.
“The glass was sitting on the bar for a few minutes. It was crowded, especially by the bar. Any number of people could have slipped something in that drink.”
“How would they know whose drink it was?”
“How would I? Paul Kane picked it up and said it was Porter's drink. I handed it to Porter.”
“You need a prescription for digitalis, right?”
“No. That is, it's a cardiac glycoside found in the foxglove plant, which is pretty common.” I thought of Lisa's house in Porter Ranch surrounded by a classic English cottage garden full of graceful spires of foxglove. “The entire plant is toxic, but the leaves especially so.”
“You seem to know a lot about it.”
“I watch a lot of TV.”
“And you're a mystery writer. I bet you know a lot about poisons.”
“Enough. I'm also a heart patient, so if I was going to poison someone I'd choose something that wouldn't immediately make me a suspect.”
Detective Alonzo gave Jake another one of those looks as if seeking guidance.
“You know, I've got to say, Mr. English, I've interviewed a lot of suspects, and usually people react a lot differently when they're questioned in a homicide investigation. Innocent people, I mean.”
“It's not my first homicide investigation.” I replied. I turned to Jake. “Maybe you should fill him on how we know each other.”
He didn't move a muscle. “He knows.”
“Really?” I smiled crookedly. “Everything?”
Not a flicker of an eyelash. “Everything relevant.”
He waited for me to say it. My heart sped up as I pictured myself speaking the words, betraying the secret he had protected for forty-two years. I could hurt him every bit as badly as he had hurt me-and the hurt would be lasting, permanent, devastating everything he cared about and valued from his career to his marriage. I could wreck him with a couple of sentences, and he knew it. He could see I was considering it.
He expected me to say it. His eyes never left mine, but there was no asking for quarter and no fear. He just…waited.
I said to Alonzo, “Then you know that I understand how this works and that I have confidence in the process.”
Alonzo, who had been looking from Jake to me, put his hand to his jaw like I had sucker punched him.
Jake straightened from the wall and said, his voice unexpectedly husky, “Thanks. I think that's about it.” He looked to Detective Alonzo who said, “Uh, yeah. I guess that's it for now. Thanks for your time, Mr. English.”
“What was that about?” Natalie demanded as soon and the front door closed behind Jake and Alonzo. “Were they police?”
“Yeah. It's just routine,” I told her. “Someone died at the party I was at yesterday; so they're just checking with people to see if anyone noticed anything suspicious.”
“Oh, wow! You mean, like a murder?”
“Maybe.” I was purposely vague. Natalie is a mystery buff and she's often lamented that she wasn't around to “assist” me the last few times I was involved in a homicide investigation.
“Oh, hey, a bunch of calls came in for you. Lisa really needs you to call her.” Here she gave me the look that managed to indicate sympathy while still spelling disapproval that I was dodging my filial responsibilities. “Your doctor appointment is confirmed for three o'clock. And Paul Kane phoned.”
“What did Paul Kane want?”
Natalie gave a disbelieving laugh. “He didn't say. But he wants you to call him right away.”
I nodded, returned to my office and dialed Kane's number.
I expected to have to go through at least one personal assistant, but Paul himself answered on the third ring. “Adrien, how are you?” He had a great voice. Smooth and sexy. I wondered if he had ever considered recording audio books. “I can't apologize enough for yesterday.”
“Is that a confession?”
“Is that a-?” He laughed. “You've been chatting with the coppers. Apparently I'm their number one suspect.”
“I didn't get that impression.”
“No? I did. Look, are you free for lunch? I've got something I want to discuss with you.”
All I wanted was to lie down and sleep for an hour or two. I was so damn tired all the time. But I wanted this film to be made. The bookstore expansion was costing a fair bit, and I was still five years away from inheriting the balance of the money left to me by my grandmother.
“I'm free,” I said. “Where would you like to meet?”
“I'm working on the lot today. What about the Formosa Café? Shall we say one o'clock? I've a proposition I think you'll find rather intriguing.”