Authors: Marilyn Levinson
“But he was the sweetest man, Lexie. And he loved me-e-e.”
I waited for her crying jag to subside. When it didn’t, I said, “My advice is to come back here and talk to the police. A Detective Paulson’s in charge of the case now. He seems like a decent man.”
The waterworks came to an abrupt halt. “I’ll think about it,” Gayle said, and hung up.
I headed for the parking lot, no longer hungry. Our last sisterly conversation had awakened memories I’d managed to put on the back burner of my mind. I’d forgotten that Gayle was a whiner with a healthy sense of entitlement and the habit of blaming other people for whatever went wrong in her life. After she’d come home from Europe, she’d drifted from one place to another, always picking up and moving on because someone had done her wrong.
At first I’d call to give her pep talks and encouragement. I did my best to boost her ego and her spirits. But after watching her make the same mistakes again and again, I grew disgusted and started telling it like it was. “Think before you get involved with a guy,” I’d advise. “I knew he was bad news from what you told me.” Gayle didn’t like hearing what I had to say. She called me a nag, uptight and worse. And so we’d drifted apart, speaking on rare occasions. When we talked she kept our conversations light and impersonal. So much time had passed, I’d forgotten how it had always been. Until now.
But Gayle wasn’t a liar. She’d sworn that she hadn’t killed Len Lyons and I believed her. She hadn’t left that knife in the guest room any more than she’d killed Len Lyons. I didn’t know if someone was trying to frame her or had hidden the knife to deflect suspicion from himself or herself. Gayle needed my help. She was my kid sister and in a terrible jam. Even though it was partly of her own making, I had to help her.
I rescued Puss from the vet’s and brought him home, where he ignored me until he was too hungry to keep on snubbing me. He allowed me to pet him as he gobbled down his food, which made me smile. Suddenly I was starving. I took a frozen focaccia from the freezer, nuked it, and polished it off as I stood at the counter. The doorbell rang. Worried that it might be Pete Rogers back for a second visit, I peered through the peephole, then swung open the door for Brian.
“I should have told you I’m off the case,” he said by way of a greeting.
“That would have been civil. Considerate. Decent,” I said coldly.
“What do you have to drink, and I don’t mean coffee?”
I poured him a jigger of scotch, which he downed in record speed. We sat down side by side on the living room sofa.
“Were you thrown off, or did you recuse yourself or whatever the department calls it?” I asked.
“A bit of both, after I told the captain of my close ties to a suspect’s sister.”
I didn’t know a person could feel elated and annoyed at the same time. “Will this count as a black mark against you?”
Brian shrugged. “It is what it is. Now that Gayle’s a possible suspect, I’m too close to the case. When it comes to trial, I don’t want to be the one to screw up the possibility of a conviction, regardless of who the murderer turns out to be. My captain agrees.”
“What’s Detective Paulson like?”
“He’s a good man. I’ve worked with him on several homicides.”
I drew a deep breath. “Gayle called me. She swears she didn’t kill anyone, and I believe her.”
Brian laughed. “You’re her sister. You’re supposed to believe her.”
“Thanks. She’s done lots of stupid things in her life, but I believe her when she says she’s no killer. I told her to come back here.”
“Is she coming?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s running out of money, so maybe she will. Oh!” I suddenly remembered. “Gayle said Shawn was a partner in the marijuana plant business. He only blew the whistle because another cop was about to.”
“That makes sense,” Brian said.
I hugged him. “Then you believe Gayle’s innocent?”
“Hey, I didn’t say that. Just get her to come back here. She doesn’t want to get Paulson mad. He comes across as a sweetheart, but he can be one mean SOB.”
I shuddered. “I’ll do my best.”
We ended up on the living room couch smooching away. The house phone rang. I disentangled my arms and legs and hurried into the kitchen to answer it.
“Hi, Lexie, it’s Sadie.”
“Are you all right? You sound funny.”
“Yes. I just woke up from a nap.”
“Sorry. I called to see if you’re free next Sunday night.”
“I suppose so. Who can think that far ahead?” I murmured.
“I’ll take that as a yes. It’s Halloween, and I’ve decided to throw a costume party,” Sadie said. “That is, Tim and I thought a party would be fun. We’ll host it here, at my house.”
“Sounds like a great idea.”
“Come in costume. And bring someone, if you like.”
I peered into the living room where Brian sat up rearranging his clothes. “Maybe I will.”
Then her subliminal message kicked in. “I didn’t know you and Tim were dating.” I cringed because the expression sounded so old-fashioned. These days it referred to a couple’s sexual relationship.
“We are.” Sadie laughed. “We’re still getting used to the big shift in our relationship. It happened the night Len Lyons spied on our book club meeting.”
Something in her voice made me ask, “Did you know it was Len at the window?”
The laughter left her voice. “I saw his face and wondered if he’d come looking for me.” She faltered. “I owed him money and was late paying him back.”
“I was too embarrassed to say anything at the time, but his appearing like that really got to me. Tim realized how upset I was when he drove me home. He meant to comfort me as a friend.” The happiness was back in her voice. “And ended up spending the night.”
“Oh. How nice,” I added belatedly.
“We were shocked to find out someone killed Len the very next morning. And in your backyard, Lexie.”
“Not as surprised as I was,” I said wryly. “Do you still have to pay Len’s estate what you owed him.”
“So far I haven’t heard from anyone. I hope I never do.”
Tim have killed Len? Two people doing the deed made it easier than one and might explain the body’s position.
But how would they have lured him to my backyard? And why?
I sat down next to Brian and placed a hand on his knee. “Sadie just invited me to a Halloween party next Sunday. Wanna come?”
He shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
“The members of the book club will probably be there.”
He gave me a wolfish grin. “I’m off the case, remember? Do we have to wear costumes?”
“I’ll leave that to you, along with two rules: no tights and no fangs.”
He kissed me long and hard. When I came up for air, I said, “Sadie told me she and Tim are going out. The morning Len Lyons was killed, they were together.”
“You do?” I drew back, stung by his smug expression.
“I interviewed them, remember? And don’t give me that look. I can’t share what I learn about your book club pals with you.”
“I suppose,” I conceded. “But Sadie owed Len money, and he robbed Tim. Maybe the two lovebirds got together and killed him.”
“Maybe,” Brian said skeptically.
“You don’t think so.”
“I don’t think one way or another. We’re checking out every angle, every alibi. That is, Paulson and his men are. I’m out of it.”
I stroked his cheek. “I’m sorry you’re off the case because of me.”
“I should have passed on it immediately. In a way, it’s a good thing we don’t have a suspect in custody. His attorney would have a field day once he found out I knew you, maybe get the case thrown out of court. Now where were we?”
He reached for me as the phone rang again.
“Sorry.” I stood to answer it.
“I’m out of here.” He walked toward the front door.
“Brian, wait!” I called over my shoulder as I headed in the opposite direction. “Hello. Who is this?” I demanded.
“Lexie, it’s me, Al.”
“Be right back.”
I plunked down the phone and chased after Brian, who was half out the door. “Don’t be mad. I’m sorry things are so hectic around here.”
“Go back to your phone call,” he said, kissing the top of my head.
“When will I see you?” I asked.
“Next Sunday.” He grinned. “If not before.”
Relieved that he wasn’t angry, I returned to the kitchen and to Al. “My apologies. I was just seeing someone out.”
“Are you all right, Lexie? You sounded so brusque when you answered the phone.”
“Sorry. I’ve been on edge lately, with everything that’s happening around here.”
“That’s understandable. Have they caught that handyman’s killer yet?” Al asked.
“See much of Brian Donovan?” he asked, then quickly added, “You did say he’s in charge of the investigation.”
“He’s no longer on the case,” I said, then wished I hadn’t.
“Oh? Did he screw things up?”
“Of course not! Another detective took over because Brian’s busy with another homicide,” I said. “The police have been interviewing everyone, including the members of the book club.”
“I hope you’re not on their list of suspects,” Al said, sounding worried.
But my sister is
, I thought, and wondered why I didn’t want to share my concerns about Gayle with him.
Al gave a little laugh. “Lexie, tell me you’re not playing detective again.”
“Don’t be silly. How are things in Great Britain?”
“I’m pleased to say they’re going swimmingly well.”
“How wonderful!” I enthused, glad to be happy about something.
“The company’s more than pleased with my plans, and they’ve referred me to their sister company. It looks like I’ll be in London a few weeks longer than I’d planned.”
“That’s all right,” I said agreeably. “Take as long as you need.”
“Lexie! Don’t you miss me even a little?”
I felt a twinge of guilt. “Of course I do! I’m not very good on long distance phone calls.”
“We’ll talk about things once I’m home again.”
“Of course we will,” I agreed. I suddenly realized the time difference. “Al, isn’t it very late where you are?”
“It’s past two in the morning. All this excitement has kept me awake, but I should get to sleep. We’ve a long drive to the other company tomorrow. I’ll call you very soon. Love you.”
“Take care of yourself,” was the best I could manage.
I hung up, irritable and out of sorts. I now knew I didn’t love Allistair West and never would. I was crazy head-over-heels about Brian Donovan, and pretty sure he was crazy about me. I had no idea where our relationship was going, though I was aware that getting involved with a cop had all sorts of built-in problems.
I should have told Al the truth. He sensed it, I knew, but I’d wait until he was home again to end our relationship. It was the decent thing to do.
And the most cowardly. Besides, a little voice jibed at me, you don’t want him to tell you to leave this house before The Case of the Dead Handyman is solved.
I dragged a very full garbage pail to the curb. As I headed back to the house, I waved to Corinne, who was outside performing the same chore. She stopped and gestured to the pail behind her.
“Can you believe Felicity and I make enough garbage to fill two large pails in as many days? And half the time I eat dinner out.”
I laughed. “I’ve wondered the same thing. In my case, it must be all those microwave dinners.”
“Are you going to Sadie and Tim’s party?”
“Yes. What about you and Felicity?”
“I suppose so. I think it will do her some good to get out and be with people. She was terribly upset when they found that dead man so close to our house.”
“I can imagine. Felicity’s very sensitive.”
Corinne edged closer to me. “Have you heard anything about the police finding the person who did it?”
“Strange that he was killed in your backyard.”
“I thought so. See you next Sunday.”
I’d started for the house, when Corinne called to me. “How’s your sister?”
I stopped in my tracks and turned. “Gayle’s fine. I spoke to her this afternoon.”
Corinne closed the gap between us. “She seems very sweet. Kind of a lost soul.”
I shrugged. “Gayle and I are very different. She’s been going through a rough patch, and I’m afraid I haven’t been much help.”
“You’re her older sister. She expects you to make things right.” Corinne snorted. “Take it from one who knows.”
“We haven’t been close since we were kids.”
“Younger sisters are a pain in the butt. Still, it’s our job to look after them.”
It sounded as though she were chastising me for not knowing the rules. Well, I didn’t—not her rules, anyway. Clearly, Corinne’s point of reference was very different from mine. Felicity was borderline unstable while Gayle had a habit of making the wrong choices.
Back inside, I mused how each of us viewed life through a uniquely distorted lens. I opted for a life of freedom and usually chose lovers who proved to be unavailable one way or another. Al wanted a stable, ongoing relationship. Did I find that boring or confining? Was that why I’d convinced myself I couldn’t love him? Brian was warm, and I had no reason to believe he had commitment issues. But his job ran his life, and there would be times he wouldn’t be able to be there for me. Was that my reason for choosing him over Al? Not this time, I decided, and hoped I was right.
As for the others, Sadie coveted material possessions, Tim loved to gamble. Even Joy, who had chosen to be a full-time mom instead of an active FBI agent, was so paranoid she’d imagined her husband was having an affair.
Who was normal? What was normal?
I set out early Saturday morning to shop for our Halloween costumes. I mentally ran through my list as I pulled out of the garage: an eye patch, a blousy white shirt, a sword, and a pirate’s hat for Brian. A peasant-type blouse, an eye patch, and a sword for me. I had the perfect skirt and boots in my closet.