Adeola smiled, but she didn’t feel like smiling. She had argued and fought against violence all of her life, but this was the first time that violence had ever made her feel truly afraid.
‘You will take care of me, won’t you?’ she said.
Rick stood behind her and laid both hands on her shoulders, looking at her face in the dressing table mirror. ‘Anybody who wants to harm you, they’ll have to come through me first. I promise you.’
oah usually started the day with nothing more than three cigarettes and two mugs of horseshoe coffee, but this morning Silja had prepared him a bowl of muesli and sliced bananas and dried apricots, and he didn’t have the heart to refuse it. He sat out on the terrace and tried to call Mo while he was eating, but all he heard was the same recorded message.
‘Maybe he had to go out of town,’ Silja suggested.
‘Maybe,’ said Noah, with his mouth full of oats and nuts. ‘But he never mentioned it, and he’s not answering his cellphone, either.’
A little after ten thirty, he called Mo’s office on Beverly Boulevard. The nasal voice of one of his production assistants said that Mo hadn’t yet appeared, but ‘you know, Mo is Mo. He comes and he goes.’
After he had finished his breakfast, Noah decided to drive over to Santa Monica to see for himself if Mo was at home. ‘He could be sick. Who knows?’
‘If he’s sick, his wife would answer the phone, wouldn’t she?’
‘I don’t know. I just have this feeling that something isn’t right.’
Silja put her arm around his shoulders. ‘I know that you have lost your Jenna, but you must not think that all the world has become bad.’
The weather had turned unseasonably hot, and by the time they reached Mo’s house on Lincoln Boulevard the temperature was almost up to 115 degrees F. Inside the Super Duty, the air conditioning was set to Nome, Alaska, but outside the sidewalks were rippling with heat.
Mo lived on a corner plot, in a pale blue split-level house that was typical of the development of the 1960s. It looked like the kind of place that Lucille Ball’s neighbours might have lived in. There was a sloping lawn in front of the house, most of it burned patchy brown, and a scrubby yew hedge around the veranda.
Mo’s thirteen-year-old Cadillac was parked in the driveway, a bronze Fleetwood with sagging suspension.
‘Looks like he must be at home,’ said Silja, as they pulled up outside.
Noah shook his head. ‘He doesn’t drive much these days, because of his eyesight. He says he’s so long-sighted he has to go next door to read the newspaper.’
They walked up to the front door and Noah rang the bell. There was no answer. He rang it again, but there was still no answer.
‘There, you see,’ said Silja. ‘He must be out of town.’
‘His office would have said so. He may not put in regular hours, but he still has to work to a tight production schedule.’
Noah walked along the veranda and tried to peer in through the living-room window, but the dark brown drapes were drawn and all he could see was his own reflection.
‘Mo!’ he shouted. ‘Mo, it’s Noah! Are you in there, Mo? Is everything OK?’
‘Maybe we should try around the back,’ Silja suggested.
They opened the side gate and went into the backyard. There was nobody there, only a sun-faded airbed floating in the middle of the circular pool. Noah looked in through the kitchen window. Three beefsteak tomatoes and a cucumber were arranged on one of the counters, as if somebody was right in the middle of preparing a salad, but the kitchen was deserted.
He tried the window of Mo’s den. Mo wasn’t there, either, although his desk was strewn with at least a dozen crumpled-up balls of paper, and his computer was still switched on. On the walls were Mo’s framed certificates from the Screenwriters’ Guild, and several autographed photographs – ‘
To Mo from Dick Van Dyke
’ – ‘
To Mo, The
Only Man Nearly As Funny As Me, Mel Brooks
‘We should call the police,’ said Silja.
Noah nodded. ‘Maybe you’re right. This is very weird. Very unlike Mo.’
He walked back to the kitchen and tried the door. It was unlocked. He hesitated, and then opened it a little way and called out, ‘Mo? Anybody at home? It’s Noah!’
He stepped inside. The kitchen was unnaturally chilly. Not only was the air conditioning on full, but the refrigerator door was wide open. Noah closed it.
‘It could be that some thieves broke in, and attacked them,’ said Silja. ‘That happened to a friend of mine in Venice, right in the middle of the day. They tied her up and made both of her eyes black.’
Noah went through to the den. Mo’s brown leather chair was set at an angle, as if he had suddenly pushed it back and stood up. There were more crumpled-up balls of paper on the floor, and also a pair of spectacles. Noah bent down and picked them up.
‘It’s beginning to look like you’re right. Somebody did come in here and attack them.’
It was gloomy in the living room, with the drapes drawn tight. Silja tugged them open, while Noah looked around. There were no signs of a struggle – no chairs knocked over, no cushions on the floor. On the gilt-painted coffee table in the centre of the room there was a neat stack of
and a box of Caramel Matzoh Crunch.
They looked into the master bedroom. The king-size bed was covered in a pink satin throw with ruffles all around the edges, and two pink-and-white stuffed penguins were propped on the pillows, but again there was no indication of any violence.
‘This is like the goddamned
,’ said Noah.
They went into Leon’s bedroom. It was catastrophically messy, but only in the way of any other college student’s room, with DVDs and socks and discarded jeans all over the floor, and a wall covered with pin-ups of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and basketball pennants and photographs of Leon’s last trip to Israel.
Then Noah tried the bathroom. He had to push the door hard to open it because the bathmat was rucked up. ‘What’s the matter?’ asked Silja.
As soon as he saw the shower he knew at once that something terrible had happened here. The glass partition was decorated with a palm-tree-shaped pattern of dried blood, and there was a dark shape hunched in the shower tray.
He pushed the door wider. To his left, in the white bathtub itself, lay the pallid body of Mo’s wife, Trina. She was naked, with her arms and legs twisted at awkward angles underneath her. Her throat had been cut so deep and wide that she had almost been decapitated, and her neck was hanging open like a huge, leering grin.
The bottom of the bathtub was an inch deep in brown, congealed blood, as dark as molasses.
‘Noah?’ said Silja. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Don’t come in,’ he told her, turning around.
‘Don’t come in. They’re here. They’re both dead. Somebody’s killed them.’
Silja covered her mouth with her hand. ‘Oh my God! Oh, Noah.’
Noah carefully crossed the bathroom floor. The small white tiles were covered in bloody handprints and bloody footprints, as if Mo and Trina had been playing a macabre game of Twister while they bled to death.
He opened the shower door. Mo was sitting there, staring at him with his eyes wide open. He was wearing only a grey turtleneck sweater, the front of which was black with blood. He had been emasculated, too. Between his hairy white thighs there was a nothing but a gaping wound, as dark as pigs’ liver.
Noah stood and stared at Mo for nearly half a minute, as if he expected him to say something. But then a blowfly landed on Mo’s lip, and started to walk across it, rubbing its proboscis together, and all Noah could do was turn around and leave the bathroom and close the door behind him.
Silja was in the kitchen, talking on her cellphone.
‘Who are you calling?’ he asked her.
‘The police. What else?’
‘Of course. You’re absolutely right, yes. Go ahead. God!’
‘Are you all right?’
Noah leaned against the counter. The kitchen seemed to shrink all around him, and Silja sounded as if she were talking to him from another room.
‘I’m OK,’ he said. ‘Just give me a minute.’
‘You look terrible.’
He pulled out a high-legged stool and sat down. ‘I can’t believe this. First Jenna, now Mo and Trina. What the hell is going on here, Silja?’
‘Yes,’ said Silja, on her cellphone, ‘Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica – Noah, what number is it?’
When she had finished talking to the police, Silja came up to Noah and held him close. ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. How were they killed?’
‘The same way as Jenna. Their throats were cut. Mo – they cut him down there, too – castrated him.’
‘Oh my God. Do you think it was the same people?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t understand it at all. Who would want to murder an innocent guy like Mo? He wrote
, for Christ’s sake. He wrote jokes.’
They were still waiting for the police when they heard a key turning in the front door.
Noah immediately stood up and reached for the knife that Trina had been using to prepare her salad. He gestured for Silja to stay well back in the alcove beside the refrigerator, and then he crossed the kitchen and stood next to the door.
Without any hesitation, a curly-haired young man in an orange T-shirt walked in, and tossed a canvas bag on to the kitchen floor. Noah wrapped an arm around his neck and held the point of the knife up against his right side. ‘You move – you
, even – you’re going to be very, very dead.’
The young man froze, with one arm still lifted, as if he were playing statues.
‘What are you doing here?’ Noah demanded.
‘What am I doing here? I
Noah hesitated, and then he relaxed his grip. ‘Leon?’
Noah let him go, and lowered the knife. ‘Jesus, Leon, I didn’t recognize you. Last time I saw you, you were only knee high to a high knee.’
‘Mr Flynn! What are you doing here? Where’s my dad?’
Leon was a taller, skinnier version of Mo, with a pale face and close-set eyes and a large, curved nose. His upper lip was dark with an incipient moustache. On the front of his T-shirt was a large picture of the Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu.
‘Leon, you’d better sit down.’
‘Why? Why do I have to sit down? Where’s my dad?’
‘Leon, something bad has happened.’
Leon stared at Noah in panic. ‘What? What’s happened? Tell me!’
‘Somebody’s broken in here. Somebody’s broken into your house and your dad and Trina are both dead.’
What do you mean dead? Where are they?’
‘You don’t want to see them, believe me.’
‘I want to see them! I want to see my dad! I don’t understand any of this! Who broke in? What did they do?’
It took Noah almost five minutes to calm Leon down. By that time the police had arrived, three squad cars and two detectives. Then an ambulance from the coroner’s department, and two Humvees from the CSI. A few minutes later, two mobile TV trucks turned up, and several more cars, until the whole block looked like a battle scene.
As the house began to fill up with police officers and crime scene investigators and medical examiners, Noah took Leon out into the backyard, and stayed close to him, with his hand resting on his shoulder.
‘I tried to call Dad last night,’ said Leon. ‘I should have known that something was wrong when he didn’t answer.’
‘It’s not your fault, Leon.’
‘Yes, it is. I should have been here. If I hadn’t stayed over with my friends in Sherman Oaks—’
‘There’s no question, Leon. If you had been here, they would have killed you, too.’
‘But who could have done it? My dad never hurt anybody in his entire life. Dad was just Dad. He made everybody laugh.’
A tall black detective came out of the house, with his coat slung over one shoulder. He had a grey walrus moustache and his bald head sparkled with perspiration.
‘Mr Finn, is it?’
‘Flynn. As in, “in like Flynn”.’
The detective dragged out a large white handkerchief and patted the back of his neck. ‘Hell of a mess, this, Mr Flynn. Any ideas at all who the perpetrators might have been?’
‘There was more than one of them, then?’
‘That’s what the footprints are telling us. And one of the neighbours saw two men approach the house round about three o’clock yesterday afternoon. They were wearing grey suits, the both of them, that’s what she said. She thought they were Mormons, or maybe Bible salesmen.’
Noah pulled a face. ‘I don’t know who they could have been. Mo was everybody’s friend, and it wasn’t like he had anything much to steal. A few screenwriting trophies, that’s all.’
The detective looked around the yard, and at the faded sunbed that was circling in the swimming pool. ‘I hate cases like this. There’s a reason they got killed. There’s always a reason. But the reason is so goddamned bizarre you can never work out what it is.’
When the detective had gone back inside, Noah said to Leon, ‘Listen – you’re going to have to call your family. You have an uncle in San Diego, is that right?’
‘That’s right, Uncle Saul. And two aunts in Pasadena. And all my cousins and all. My granddad died last summer.’
‘You’d better come home with us first. Why don’t you grab some clothes and a toothbrush and we’ll get the hell out of here?’
‘OK,’ said Leon, and then his eyes suddenly filled up with tears. ‘I just wish I could have said goodbye to him properly. You know, instead of arguing.’
‘You argued with him?’
‘He called me in the morning and gave me a hard time because I hadn’t taken that stuff that you wanted my professor to look at. That cuneiform writing, you know?’