There was still no particular evidence of a crime. Just because Timothy W. Venture, Regional Sales Manager, Stillwater Investments, Silicon Valley, was lying sprawled on the floor of his corner office. The men had outlined him in tape, the carpet having proved resistant to chalk.
“Looks like he was hit on the head.” From time to time, the coroner liked to do an imitation said to be of Humphrey Bogart. Frank was an individual of considerable originality: Bacall would never have recognized him.
Joe Lookly nodded blearily, saluting with his coffee. It was hard, at times like this, to find something intelligent to say. “Anything else?”
“Well, not that I can see.” Frank perked up. “We’ll know when I finish the autopsy.”
“Any chance of accidental death?”
“Accidental?” Tiffanie Twitchett drew herself up to her full, stiletto-enhanced height. “Just look at him!”
The officials looked at him.
“He’s wearing – ” her voice dropped to a long-drawn hiss, “- jogging pants and a t-shirt!”
He was, indeed.
“His wife won’t let him out the front door without at least French cuffs and a tie.”
Some wives were like that. Joe had no doubt that his wife would have appreciated such sartorial attentions. She had never mentioned it. Mercifully. She had mentioned virtually everything else. In the nicest possible way.
“So, he never came into the office on the weekend in casual clothes?”
The coroner was busy touching the body, delicately, here and there, brushing the hair one way, then another.
“I have never seen him in the office on the weekend.” Joe thought she looked vaguely disdainful, but it was hard to tell.
“He’s cold and rigor mortis has worn off.” Frank shrugged. “I’d guess that he must have died on Saturday.”
“Any chance of an accident?” Joe repeated.
“Don’t see how. Blunt object to base of skull, etc. etc.”
“O.K.” He waved the hand that was not clutching the coffee. He was not at his best until his third mocha latte (with an extra shot of whatever passed for espresso) and a doughnut or two. He was not a man given to corpulence, whatever his wife liked to say, but he was a firm believer in the twin benefits of caffeine and sugar. Why not indulge? He was, after all and however temporarily, alive.
It was going to be hard to investigate a murder when he didn’t even know when (or if) it had occurred. Frank understood the wave and, in his turn, waved to the guys, who gathered the body into a dark, zippered bag and shifted it onto a gurney.
Everyone knew what a tough business banking was. Another body on the premises, more or less, was not going to raise any eyebrows.
“Wasn’t there a murder here a month or two ago?” Too late, Joe realized he had spoken aloud.
Tiffanie, concluding that he appealed to her memory, nodded. “In the parking garage. It was quite a shock to everyone.”
“William Castle, wasn’t it? A broker at Thriftley and Slokum?”
“Yes. Of course, it could have been one of us.”
“Hmmm.” He had never been satisfied with the official verdict on the case, although he had agreed to it: mugging gone wrong. These things happened, even in Palo Alto, and the garage of the Silicon Valley division of Stillwater was not a model of safety, even with a special city council dispensation allowing construction and specifying code. Deep under the old Victorian on a sleepy side street (most of them were sleepy side streets, unless you wandered a couple blocks too far and crossed the great divide into East Palo Alto), few lights, no guard. That death had been by gunshot, point-blank. Getting inside Venture’s office, cramped under the roof on the third floor, didn’t seem like something a garden-variety mugger would attempt. Garden-varieties were his specialty. He rarely encountered anything more exotic.
“So, Castle had friends here?” Garden-varieties, no doubt about it. And not many of them. He should have moved to the city – or another city of size and style and substance. In Palo Alto, if someone were to get killed every week or so, half the population would be dead and the other half in jail long before he had put in his twenty years, let alone reached retirement age.
“You know how it is. Everyone knows everyone in this business.”
“I suppose so. Lucky whoever he came to visit hadn’t gone down with him.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” She was becoming visibly impatient, despite her veneer of breeding.
Well, it was probably best that he stuck to small gardens and uncomplicated criminals. His wife was always detailing the qualities of her favorite detectives. As far as he could tell, he could not be said to share any of them.
“You used to work at Thriftey and Slokum, didn’t you,” he mused, taking a quick slug of coffee. It was cold.
“You know I did.” Tiffanie stalked toward the office door.
The interior of the Victorian had been redone under the same dispensation that had built the parking garage. Glass walls, steel beams, grey carpet. The puddle of blood in front of the filing cabinet had darkened, but was still sticky in places, in the deeper points of the rug pile. It still smelled. When Joe turned, the glass wall was crowded with eager faces, remarkably alert for – he checked his watch – 6:42 on a Monday morning.
“Ms. Twitchett, did you have any reason to want Timothy Venture dead?”
“Of course.” She flashed him a blinding smile. “We all did.”
When he remained silent, she strode through the doorway. The crowd parted in her wake.
Who went around discovering dead bodies in offices at 6:30 in the morning?
Ms. Tiffanie Twitchett, apparently. She claimed to have arrived as per usual at 6:00 a.m. precisely and to have noticed the body draped over the floor at 6:15, when she went in to remind Mr. Venture of the morning investment call. The Market, she reminded Inspector Lookly, opened at 6:30 on the West Coast. Shocked at his appearance, she had laid a tentative finger on his forehead, anticipating both fever and a sharp rebuke. Finding neither, she had grown bolder and decided to call the police.
Joe finished his coffee. They all had wanted to see the man dead, had they? He supposed he’d have to verify that personally. When he, in turn, moved toward the door, all the eager faces evaporated. When he wandered around the glass-walled offices and, eventually, through the second- and first-floor bullpens, everyone was remarkably busy. Remarkably, everyone – every single person – was on the phone. Most were chattering at speeds he did not associate with northern California. Ironic, he thought, that those little grey cubicles offered so much more privacy than the elite offices.
By the time he left (no one could be expected to do their best thinking without proper sustenance, particularly in the absence of an autopsy), the receptionist had arrived.
“Sure, I wished he were dead,” she answered easily. She sounded intensely cheerful. “Everyone did. From what I hear, his wife did, too.”
The off-putting name of the place (Donuts and Coffee) did not prevent more customers pushing in than the fire marshals would have allowed – had they not been anxiously waiting, themselves. Joe reached past the open door to snag a number from one of the twin dispensers, then hung back among those milling anxiously on the sidewalk. The number system was a vast improvement over expecting people to maintain an orderly line. Human nature could only do so much. It had been Joe’s idea to open the renaming to customer participation. A big cardboard box, tied with a red ribbon, stood against one wall to receive suggestions. It had originally been near the counter, but this placement had created inordinate confusion. Customers had thought it some sort of overly-optimistic tip solicitation.
Juan prodded his bicep.
Joe woke up. The place was still crowded. Even with speedy service, there was no way his number could be up. So to speak.
The baker held out a pink box, tied with butcher’s string. “I knew you’d be in. You’re late this morning.”
With his other hand, Juan held out a very large cup of coffee. Even in the warm morning air, tendrils of steam rose.
“Thanks, Juan. Just what I needed.”
Juan eyed him casually as Joe plunged his face into the drink. “On the job early?”
“Yeah, well, might as well, right?” Joe managed half a grin. “I’m sleeping on my desk as it is.”
“Back at Stillwater.”
“Huh. What are the odds? It’s not as if Palo Alto is brimming with murders. Funny having two at the same place.”
“I think so, too.”
His wife had always told him that Juan was his alter-ego. The woman had never been short of opinions. She was a font of psychological interpretation, specializing in detectives. Joe’s understanding of the subtleties of the species came mostly from her commentaries. He wondered, at times, if she were motivated purely by aesthetic appreciation for the arts, or if she meant her remarks as some sort of personal reflection on his own habits.
“The chocolate-coffee doughnuts are a big hit,” Juan was saying. “I ended up making two kinds – one filled with espresso ganache, lightened with cream, the other with mocha cream.” He nodded. “Great idea.”
“Peanut butter and jelly still a staple?”
“Sure.” He paused. Joe drained the last of the coffee. “I’ve been wondering. Do you think people would go for a savory doughnut? You know, same texture, same principle, but with, say, salmon and feta?”
“It’s my theory that you could raise hot dogs to fine art.”
Juan’s grin cleft his face. “Here, take these. Eat some, don’t just hand them around.”
He really should learn to stop calling her his wife. She had left him, but she would never be his ex. His late wife. No, certainly not. The woman had never been late in her life.
The interview with Mrs. Timothy W. Venture had to be carried out, as tactfully as possible, even if it later transpired that her husband had not been killed.
“Of course, they all hated him. And why not?” Her eyes, carefully made-up in an understated sort of style, were hard. They glittered with something other than tears. “I hated him. He was a foul man. Just hideous.”
“He was having an affair.”
It was a long drive from Palo Alto to Los Gatos. Contrary to expectation, he had not found the southbound traffic to be noticeably lighter than the northbound. He wondered what drew people so far south of the city during working hours. The hills were very close, the temperature a good ten degrees warmer, the air even drier. When he had managed to find the house, he felt a twinge of surprise. It was not a mansion, nestled against the reddish hills, but a nice, large-ish house, relatively crowded with neighbors on a ruler-straight street leading nowhere. Interesting choice. More expensive, certainly, than, say, Fremont. The Ventures appeared to be doing well.
“Well?” Maggy Venture’s gaze was fixed firmly on his. She was obviously waiting for something.
“Well.” Joe smiled. He could be charming. He might not be Peter Wimsey or Thomas Magnum, but he was fairly sure that he could manage some degree of charm, when required. His stomach growled slightly. Big mistake, not eating some of those doughnuts on the way here. He had hidden them under the passenger seat to keep them on hand, but (hopefully) out of direct sunlight.
“Well?” she repeated.
“He was wearing sweats and a t-shirt.”
The woman shrugged impatiently. “Well?”
“Well, I’m told that he never left home without a tie.”
“Maybe he had it in his briefcase.”
“We didn’t find any briefcase in his office.”
Her disdainful expression changed slightly, as if she might be resisting comment.
“I guess he always carried a briefcase?”
“What did he put in it?”
Mrs. Venture shrugged. “The newspaper. A sandwich. An extra tie.” She smiled, without charm. “You know – in case something happened to the one he was wearing.”
“He took a sandwich?”
She shrugged again.
For a long time now, he had been living on Juan’s doughnuts. Why not? They contained all the basic food groups, if you went for peanut butter and jelly. (It was grape jelly.) If you felt an overwhelming need for vegetables, you could get carrot-cake doughnuts. Joe never had figured out how Juan managed to cream raw carrots. It was part of the man’s genius, one of the reasons Joe had invested in the business. After all, if one were going to indulge – and policemen had a certain obligation to live up to stereotype – one might as well go beyond blissful indulgence and hope for some financial return. He used to bring boxes of the new varieties home for his wife, in the hope that she might eat. Occasionally, she had humored him.
“Of course, I hated him.” The broker shrugged. “Pretty much everybody did.”
“Why? One day, he transferred my top clients to another broker – out of state – even though he lost his own cut of the commission.”
“Well, I’m not surprised he finally bought it. He was that type.”
“I heard that he was having an affair. Going through receptionists.”
“I heard he kept busy with the institutional sales reps.”
“He used to do a lot of drinking with the guys.”
“His wife would call to see where he was.”
“He’d start crying on the phone with her.”
“Oh, sure, of course, he drove home. How else would he get there? We weren’t going to drive him.”
“A bunch of us used to sit around thinking of ways to kill him. I was going to do a hit-and-run in a dark alley.” The young man laughed easily, flicking a balled-up wrapper across the table.
“Well, yes, but obviously that doesn’t mean we did anything. Why would we?”
“You expect me to tell you with whom he was having an affair?” Mrs. Venture’s eyebrows rose painfully. She appeared determined to keep him at the door. It was a full southern exposure. In the interests of departmental prestige, Joe had put his jacket on and tidied up his tie. A mistake.
“I’m more interested in learning when you last saw him.”
The Los Gatos police had been reasonably cooperative. They had done little to conceal the intensity of their enthusiasm for the case. Joe had convinced them that they would be most valuable looking into the lady’s activities locally. Like the autopsy, he’d get the report later.
The woman drew herself up, without the majestic height of Tiffanie Twitchett, but equally alarming. “I saw him Saturday morning. He went out to get the newspaper. I haven’t seen him since.”
Joe suppressed any facial movement. “You asked him to leave.”
“You expected him back – when?”
“After he got the newspaper, of course.”
“I assumed that it was delivered?”
“He bought it on his way to work in the mornings?”
It was unfortunate that he lacked the experience – or the imagination, if it came to that – to deal successfully with people like Mrs. Venture. He could not think of her as “Maggy.” He could not imagine that anyone could.
“That seems reasonable.”
“But on Saturday, you expected him to buy the paper and come home.”
Her finely-tuned shrug was becoming annoying.
“When did you talk to him last?”
After an extended moment of opaque examination, Mrs. Timothy W. Venture withdrew into the house and shut the door.
Joe did not move.
Captain Sterling’s expression did not change. Was it shock? Or perhaps indifference? Maybe nothing more than an assumed blankness used to create an aura of masculine authority, quite unnecessary in such a small, expensive town.
“You know, Joe,” he began at last, “your wife could not possibly have been murdered. You know all the facts. I hate to be brutal, but it seems you need to review them: suicide by massive overdose.” His gaze traveled over Joe. Joe found it evasive.
“I want to see the file.”
“Joe, you need to take time off. You’ve refused to see a psychiatrist; you’ve refused to take leave. I really think that you need to take some time.”
“There’s no reason I can’t see her file.”
“For your own good, Joe. For obvious reasons, you couldn’t work that case. There’s no reason to look through the file. It will only upset you more.”
“Upset?” Slamming a fist against the nearest solid object would not impress the captain with his mental probity. “I think it’s connected to the Stillwater parking garage case.”
Sterling nearly grinned. “Too much late-night TV? Law and Order marathons?”
“I was closing in on something important.”
“Sure. Sure.” The captain made some sort of non-committal gesture. “I guess, if you can stand looking at the file, you can take a look. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any of those incredible doughnuts on you, would you?”
Joe certainly knew what to expect. His wife had ingested part of a doughnut, stuffed with strawberries and cream, glazed with swirled orange and mango. The official record claimed that she had mixed the contents of a series of capsules into the filling. Uppers. Downers. Anticoagulants, opioids. If not instantaneous, death would have been quick. No one could have survived. His wife was not no one.
“I can’t go back into a nursing home, Joe.”
“I know, sweetheart. I’ll take care of you at home.”
“Joe, we can’t afford for you not to work.”
The first two times she had spent time in a home had cost more than they had. Not that there was much. He had managed to get a loan against his pension, after they had spent hers, after their credit cards were no longer considered valid. He knew that the thought of the recent past sent her into a state of panic she was now too weak to withstand.
“It’ll work out. You beat it before. You’ll beat it again. You have great doctors, this time.”
“I can’t.” Her eyes squeezed shut. “I can’t, Joe, not even with you.”
“Don’t leave me, Ginnie.” Was he only burdening her with his need?
When Ginnie had taken a job at the university, they had moved down from the East Bay, sure that life with such a commute was not worth living. They’d been lucky to find a one-room apartment – it must have been the kitchen, in the days when the house had been functional – at a below-market rate. By the end, even the money from the new mortgage Ginnie’s parents took on their house had evaporated. Joe sold his car. In the end, the money went to Juan.
Joe was still standing outside the Ventures’ door, propped against the frame, when Maggy Venture reappeared.
It was several seconds before he realized that the woman was holding out a mostly-empty bottle. Clear glass, containing some greenish liquid.
“He left Saturday morning.” She thrust the bottle at him, jerking it impatiently until he accepted it. “He left with his phone and his thermos of health drink. I didn’t expect to hear from him, and I didn’t.”
Joe removed the lid and sniffed gingerly. The stuff smelled very green.
“It’s his special mix. He used to put it in a coffee thermos, so no one would guess. He let everyone think he had a caffeine addiction.”
“What is it?”
Her shrug grew to elaborate proportions. “I believe it’s spinach and wheat grass, with all kinds of other… anyway, I try not to know.”
“And his drinking?”
“With the men from the office. I’m told you would call him to find out where he was.”
“I never liked him being out late.”
“Hmmm.” He held out the bottle.
Mrs. Venture shuddered. “Take it. You can have it analyzed.”
“Stillwater maintains life insurance for its executives.”
The response was instantaneous and appeared, from the shrillness of its pitch, to be spontaneous.
“You think one hundred thousand will go far out here?” That still face, so carefully made to look virtually natural, had become streaked with vermilion. “I’m going to have to sell the place. I’m going to have to look for work again. I thought I’d gotten past that. Out of it.”
Joe lifted his eyes to hers. Beneath the rage, he saw despair.
“You know, Joe, that Ginnie must have stolen the drugs when she was in the nursing home.” Dr. Wei had always been straight-speaking. “I would have helped her, if she had been dying and wanted to end it, but she wasn’t dying.”
“No.” A niggling voice from the back of his mind disagreed. Dr. Wei had not seen Ginnie that last month. The last round of immune globulin had failed; she had refused plasmapheresis. Not that the insurance company had recognized it. They had refused to pay for immune globulin on the grounds that it was a blood product, not a drug, but at least they had known what it was.
Dr. Wei did not argue the point.
“I can’t go through it again, Joe.”
“Dr. Wei said to wait a couple weeks and then to try IVIG again.”
“It’s not working this time.”
Neither was prednisone.
She had simply, repeatedly refused to let him take her to the hospital, had let the scheduled dates for treatment slide by. He carried her to the bathroom. She could no longer sit up in bed, even with his help.
No, he could not disagree with the good doctor. That would mean that Ginnie had left him of her own will. Better to think she had been taken by some external force.
“Well, that’s about it,” Frank concluded. “With all that blood on the carpet, he must have been hit in his office. There’s no way he could have done it accidentally – there’s no appropriate surface anywhere near where he fell, and no blood anywhere else.”
“But no murder weapon handy.”
Office rumor was not only rampant, but increasingly spectacular: Venture had died elsewhere and been repositioned. He had been found naked: those track clothes weren’t his, they had been pulled over his dead body by his “interest” of the moment – well, it usually came back to Tiffanie. Perhaps it was the curse of the blonde, natural or otherwise.
“And the blood on the floor?”
“Oh, it’s his.”
“You tested it?”
Frank gave a snort. “What? It’s the same blood type.”
“I’d like to run a DNA test.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“And I need to know what was in his stomach.”
“Well, that I can tell you. It’s some sort of liquid green stuff. I’m guessing it’s a health drink.”
“See if it matches this green stuff.”
Frank gazed at the bottle as if it might explode. On the other hand, an exploding bottle might be a welcome diversion. Joe began to wonder why he was resisting. How often did he have an opportunity like this? Frank’s hooded eyes widened in sudden glee.
“Hey, okay, I give in. Whatever you want, Lookly.” He was grinning now, in full Bogart mode. “You can explain the cost overrun to the city council.”
“Have a doughnut, Frank.”
She barely made a sound, just rocked and rocked, face twisted, teeth clenched. Sometimes a muffled scream escaped her. Joe held her until, one night, she could not bear his touch. His arms were too heavy, his body too rigid. The landlady left a note asking them to be considerate of neighbors. The pain lent itself to differing interpretations. At first, nerves dying. With treatment, in the days when treatment seemed to help, nerves regenerating. Then, little by little, at first imperceptibly, a return to nerves dying.
“You saw the file, Joe.” Frank’s voice was gentle. “We traced the drugs to the second nursing home. The sleeping pills and the narcotics she saved out of her own prescriptions.” He cleared his throat lightly. “The dispensing nurse is supposed to wait while the patients take the meds. Maybe she stepped out. Maybe Ginnie palmed the capsules.”
Sometimes her pillow did not do much to muffle the sound. Tears flooded her cheeks, her lips grew raw as her teeth grew sharper.
“The amphetamines she bought off the husband of one of the nurse’s aides. The guy has a rap sheet volumes long – in and out of jail for dealing since he was a kid. Same as his dad. They’re both in jail now for assault with a deadly weapon. Nearly beat some guy to death with a baseball bat.”
The landlady left a note saying that she expected them to move out before the end of the month.
“A bat?” Joe swerved clumsily toward Frank. “A bat?”
Frank looked at him with pity. “Sure. They’ll have it in evidence.”
“Did you test all the blood, skin, whatever? All of it?”
“Yes. I only identified that victim.”
“Hey, sure, sure.” He hesitated a moment. Joe seemed lost in thought. “You… ”
Joe returned to the moment. He had left his jacket somewhere and pulled his tie loose. “Yes?”
“You still carting those doughnuts around?”
This time, Captain Sterling gave a strong impression of irritation, rather than sympathy.
“What do you think you’re doing, Lookly?” When annoyed, he had a habit of scraping the back of his hand over his forehead. From time to time, he would chew the cuticle of his thumb. He was doing both now, in rotation. “You’ve reopened old cases, you’ve asked for DNA tests on routine evidence, you’re making everyone uncomfortable. We want to cut you some slack, but you’re out of your mind. You better get your head straight before I end up having to suspend you.”
“There’s a connection.”
“Joe, you’re not thinking. You’re overwhelmed by Ginnie’s suicide. It’s got you all crazy. Of course,” he caught himself abruptly, “of course, it’s natural. We all understand.” He cleared his throat loudly, gratingly. “But, there are limits. I can’t let you jeopardize your work.”
“I’m not. I won’t.” Joe flashed him a large smile. “I’m on top of this, sir.”
Sterling closed his mouth, rubbing his forehead as though he could erase whatever lay behind it.
“You weren’t having an affair with Timothy Venture.”
Tiffanie Twitchett turned wide eyes on him, one side of her thin mouth twisting slightly. “You’ve heard the gossip?” She laughed deliberately. “Let me tell you: this place is worse than a soap opera. If people’s lives were half as interesting as rumor makes them, they wouldn’t have time to gossip.”
Joe’s face twitched. “You wanted everyone to think you were involved with him.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re pretty savvy. You left such a thick trail – emails, gifts, hotel reservations.”
She merely watched him. She may have been amused. “Do you think that makes me guilty? I’m as torn up as anyone.”
“I’m sure you are.” He glanced around her cubicle. She had declined to go anywhere more private to chat. The grey walls were crowded with framed articles featuring Ms. Twitchett, with framed awards she had received from organizations as wide-ranging as the Girl Scouts and Foothill College. A Plexiglas box, conspicuously locked on one end, held a Louisville Slugger, prominently autographed by Bill Starins, hung over the filing cabinet, crowded by photographs in silver frames.
“Big fan?” Joe asked.
“Oh? I prefer football, but, sure, baseball is still America’s pastime.”
He was aware of how closely she was watching him. She slid her legs, still crossed, out in front of her, twisting slightly in her chair. Shifting her upper body to one side pulled her jacket beneath one breast.
“You know Bill Starins.”
“Oh, Bill and I go way back. He’s been a client of mine for years.”
“Nice. He gave you the bat?”
“Yes, when he first bought the Pythons. Of course, it’s been a couple years since he sold the team.”
“It’s a shame he did. They’ve never been the same.” Joe rose to leave. “It seems strange to me that, with all these incredible clients, you’re not in a glass office on the third floor.”
“I’m sure there’s plenty of speculation about that, too.” She did not change her position.
“I guess it shows that Timothy Venture was a man of integrity – not letting his personal feelings influence his judgement.”
At that, she snorted with what seemed genuine disregard for elegance.
“Oh, we all know just how much integrity he had.”
It was perhaps strange that she was the only Stillwater employee not to have specified why she hated Venture. Surely, it was not for love.
“I try so hard. I try so hard, and it’s not enough.”
There had been no note. Then, again, she could no longer hold a pen.
“What do you think you’re doing, Lookly?” The captain’s impatience carried him out of his chair. “You won’t let it go. You’re not even focusing on the Venture case: you’re back on the Castle shooting. You want to reopen Ginnie’s death as a murder investigation, when that’s been settled, too.” Sterling could not stop himself from pacing, back and forth around the corner of his desk from Joe, immovable, to the office chair, and back. “I’ve begged you to see a therapist, to take time off.”
“I want a search warrant for all correspondence between Castle and Venture.”
“Joe, listen to me: no one will grant you a warrant for a closed case.”
“The two cases are connected.”
Sterling glared into Joe’s eyes from the remove of a couple inches. Joe did not stir.
“The garage doors.”
“They may be pretty lax about security at Stillwater, but you need an electronic key to get into the garage, from inside the building or from the street. And you need a key to get out. Castle could only have gotten into the garage if he had his own key or if someone were with him.”
“We never found a key on him.”
“And whoever killed him had to have a key or to be with someone with a key.”
The captain came to a halt.
“It’s fully automatic?”
“Not only fully automatic, but when the keys are read, the user ID and the time is recorded.”
“Why didn’t we know this?”
“We didn’t know this because the incident was reported as a robbery in progress, that the garage doors were open because Castle was about to drive out. We were told that the outside doors are all open during business hours. And when we got there, of course, the doors were unlocked.”
“Sometimes – most of the time – the simplest solution is the right one.”
“Sometimes it’s just convenient.”
It was late when Joe went back to Stillwater: late in the day and late in the week. He was tired. For once, he wanted to go home, back to that apartment he’d be vacating this weekend. The landlady’s gracious extension of eviction was running out. Frank and some of the others would drive him to Fremont, to his in-laws’ house. There was little to pack. It was not as if he and Ginnie had indulged in – much. Well, he could postpone sleep a while longer. He was hungry. He might even eat a doughnut. He hadn’t touched them since he had found a broken piece, strawberries and cream and all, on the floor beneath their bed, beyond the vomit.
Ms. Twitchett let it be known that she was not happy to be expected to stay when she wished to depart. Standing, she seemed to take all available space in the cubicle.
“You took my bat this afternoon. What do you want now?”
“I’m here to arrest you, Ms. Twitchett.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Not at all.”
“Are you going to give me all the details? It must be a fascinating story.” At his smile, she added swiftly, “I have a right to know, I believe. You can’t hide the charges.”
“True.” He had not come alone. “Timothy Venture’s blood is on your bat.” It sounded quite conversational.
“Impossible! That bat hasn’t left that wall since we moved to this building.”
“You can see for yourself, the bat is clean.”
“You must not watch much television, Ms. Twitchett. It’s the in-thing on crime shows to talk about retrieving blood from cleaned surfaces.”
She did a marvelous impression of disbelief and even sagged back against the filing cabinet. “What possible reason could I have had to kill him?”
Joe smiled. He could feel the presence of his audience nearby: the officer who had come with him, just beyond the cubicle doorway; brokers with evening calls to make, suddenly silent in their cubicles. Silent, and palpable.
“Venture was in the habit of reassigning the commissions of brokers he didn’t like.”
“Of course. What has that got to do with me?”
“He was courting William Castle.”
Joe had to wait for a response.
“And he wanted Castle’s book of business, right?”
“He offered Castle a million dollars for the book.”
Tiffanie shrugged. “That seems reasonable. He paid me a million, when I came over from Thriftley and Slokum.”
“Well, Castle felt he was worth more. Inflation, I guess.”
A phone rang, in some corner of the second floor. The voice that answered it was hushed, as if it had been caught in church.
“Venture planned to give him your top clients – including Bill Starins. It would have been about half your book.”
Her smile congealed. “Tim would never have done that. He and I had a – special relationship.”
“So you wanted everyone to believe.” Joe stepped back from the doorway, motioning to his fellow officer. “The same kind of ‘special relationship’ that you’d had with Castle?”
Tiffanie turned one long hand upward as the other officer stepped into the cubicle. “You have no reason to arrest me. You haven’t even told me what the charges are.”
“Two counts of murder: William Castle and Timothy W. Venture.”
For a moment, he thought she would fight Qiang. Instead, she drew herself up, impossibly tall, and held out both wrists in utter contempt.
“You’ll need to bring my purse and briefcase. They’re over there.”
Joe picked them up and fell in step behind the procession.
“I’ve been holding your letter of resignation.” Captain Sterling was sprawled in his desk chair, a mug of coffee untouched on his desk. “I’m assuming you want it back.”
Joe smiled slightly.
Sterling made another attempt. “I’m hoping you want it back.”
“No, thanks, captain.”
The captain eyed him, decided not to press matters.
“So, no connection to Ginnie?”
“Only that Castle and… Ginnie both bought from the same guy. I stopped by the Maguire facility to see him. Castle was a regular – uppers and coke.” Christian Terrrence had been perfectly open about the matter, seeing that the disclosure added nothing to his current sentence. It might even show him as willing to cooperate in a police investigation. Ginnie Lookly, a one-time client, uppers only. “Vicky – yeah, my wife – must have wheeled her outside the home. Mrs. Lookly was alone when we met. I took off as soon as we’d made the trade. I guess somebody took her back inside.” Joe remembered that night. He had called her room, more than once. He had called the nurse’s station, wondering if Ginnie were sleeping. The nurse didn’t know. Just as he was ready to drive to the home, near-quarantine or no, Ginnie had called. She had wanted some fresh air. It was raining. Not just rain – the bucketing, weighty rains of winter in the San Francisco bay. No, he mustn’t come to see her. There was still an epidemic at the home. He mustn’t catch it. She was getting better. She would see him soon, at home. She’d be home in another week.
“I got the warrant. Castle and Venture put all the details of the deal in writing. Castle didn’t much care whose accounts he was given, as long as they were good. Rumor has it that Twitchett walked away with a number of his clients when she left Thriftley and Slokum. That’s how she landed Bill Starins.”
“That’s just hearsay.”
“Well, no, it isn’t. It was easy to trace the accounts. Nothing to decode. They keep clear records of the assigned broker. Everyone was cooperative, including the judge who issued the warrants.”
Sterling flushed slightly in dull streaks under his cheekbones.
“It still doesn’t prove that Ms. Twitchett killed either one.”
Joe smiled. “Well, she did own a gun like the one used to kill Castle and it was her card used to open the garage doors when he left Stillwater that night. Qiang is searching her apartment. Maybe we’ll be lucky. Maybe she figured there was no reason to get rid of the gun – or her clothes.”
“But if the doors had been left unlocked, she wouldn’t have needed to use her key to get in or to open them for us.”
Joe waved a hand, fingers waggling. “There’s a light on the locks – red or green, locked, unlocked. She would have known. And the record would have shown locking and unlocking, if she really hadn’t seen it.”
He wasn’t sure how he felt, about much of anything. He thought of borrowing Frank’s car to drive down to Los Gatos, vaguely troubled that Mrs. Venture would have to face public confirmation of the lost weekends she had managed to ignore. He could have postponed leaving, unofficially camped on his desk for a while longer, but he had handed his files to the prosecutors that morning. He barely had time to pack, to stop one last time at Donuts and Coffee, to be ready for Frank. Sterling had said he would call the Fremont police on Joe’s behalf. You never knew. They might be hiring. To Joe, the captain had seemed at least a touch relieved at his departure. The thought circled through his mind that now would be the time to move to Oakland. There was some sort of movement to try to find cops willing to live there, instead of withdrawing to a safe distance when their shift was done. He no longer had to worry about what his wife would say or how to protect her.
His wife had committed suicide.