Authors: Vicki Delany
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Women Sleuths, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General
Smith looked back and forth between the three men. A lot more was being said in this room than words, and it was in a language she didn’t understand.
“Thoughtful of you,” Winters said to Langois. “A word to the wise—we will be watching you.”
He turned and walked away. Smith pulled the door shut behind her.
At the bottom of the staircase, Winters stopped and waited for Smith to catch up.
“That might have been a mistake, Molly,” he said. “Iverson isn’t playing in the minor leagues, and he will do whatever he can to protect his client. I don’t see Mrs. Steiner killing her husband, she’s been brought up to keep her hands clean, but I doubt Iverson understands that.”
What Winters could possibly know about Josie Steiner’s upbringing, Smith couldn’t imagine. She didn’t ask; he wasn’t soliciting her opinion.
He stopped talking while a woman clattered down the stairs. She gave them a sideways glance and hurried away.
“Anyway, if things don’t go well, I wanted you to know, Molly, that you’re a good police officer. You’ve got a future ahead of you, if you want it.”
What the hell
She was so dumbfounded that he was out the door to the lobby before she recovered and ran after him. “John, I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to.”
Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket and she checked the display. The station. She answered, following Winters through the lobby and onto the street.
“Thanks, Ingrid.” She put the phone away. Winters waited for her.
“Fellow by the name of Frank Spencer, who lives on Station Street, called to speak to me. I questioned him the other night about the B&E across the street. He said he remembered something. It’s still quiet so I’m going to try to get someone to cover the street, grab a car and pay him a visit. Do you want to come?”
He studied her for a long moment. His eyes were heavy and he looked very old. “No, Molly, you take it. I think it’s time I had a talk with my wife.”
He walked away. A streetlamp lit him in a circle of yellow light, just for a moment, before the darkening night swallowed him up.
It was time to talk to his wife. It was long past time to talk to his wife. When he realized Iverson and Steiner were in Langois’ room, Winters had had a momentary stab of panic. He could be suspended for interfering in the Steiner case after being ordered not to. Then, without conscious thought, he came to the decision he’d been wrestling with. Eliza mattered more than the job. If she were charged, even if Madison kept badgering her, he’d quit. Walk away from his career, and do everything possible to clear her.
She was sitting in the living room, in her favorite chair, holding a book to her chest, her legs curled up underneath her, her feet bare. Her hair was lifeless and her eyes puffy and red. She must have heard him arrive, his car in the driveway, his key in the lock, his footsteps on the hallway floor, but she made no move to stand up. She looked at him, and didn’t say a word. A pile of tissues was scattered across the table at her elbow, beside her reading glasses. Outside, dusk was deepening, turning to night, but she hadn’t turned on the reading light and her face was in shadow.
She turned back to her book and said, “Forget something?” in a tone meant to convey disinterest.
“Forgot to say I love you.”
She turned a page. “Do you?”
He stood in front of her chair. “Of course I do. I always have. I always will.” He took the book out of her hands and dropped it to the floor. “Come to the kitchen. Let’s have some tea and talk.”
“Do you mean talk, John, as in an exchange of mutually beneficial information, or just an attempt to bully me into confessing to something I didn’t do. Like your Mountie friend?”
He took her hands and pulled her to her feet. “This is a mess, for sure, but we won’t sort anything out if I don’t let you tell me what’s going on.”
The laugh lines around her mouth and eyes had set into dark trenches. She’d aged about twenty years in less than a week. Her hair was dirty and uncombed, and her T-shirt had a coffee stain on it. “To show you I’m serious,” he said, “I’ll even make the tea.”
She didn’t laugh, but let herself be led by the hand into the kitchen. She sat at the table while he filled the kettle and plugged it in. A single-serving yogurt container, half-full, was in the sink, beside a piece of toast with a couple of small bites taken out of it. It was unlikely she’d had much more to eat than that for days.
He could feel her eyes on him as he busied himself making up a tray with tea pot, cups, milk, but she said nothing.
Finally the kettle boiled. He poured hot water into the pot, and put the tray on the table. He placed a cup in front of her. At last he sat down.
“Tell me,” he said, “about Steiner.” He poured tea.
She pulled a tissue out of her pocket and twisted it around her fingers. At first he was afraid she wasn’t going to speak to him. He’d hardly blame her if she didn’t. He sipped at his tea as his heart thudded in his chest. He didn’t know if he could live without her.
She’d been at a party with Rudy that night twenty-seven years ago. As usual, there had been lots of booze and lots of cocaine. She didn’t usually drink because she couldn’t afford to waste any of her miniscule daily allotment of calories, but drugs didn’t make you fat. She hadn’t been in the mood to party—a boring function for some magazine editor’s birthday—and wasn’t even in the mood for snorting coke, even though the party organizers had bought the best. She’d had a meeting with her agent that afternoon. The agent told Eliza, straight out, that she needed to be more
to the executive at the advertising agency which was handling a major campaign for a high-end European designer moving into Canada.
She didn’t want to be
to any of them anymore, and she didn’t want to keep taking the drugs that made it easier.
She’d been bad-tempered at the party, had a fight with Rudy over nothing much at all, and gone home. Alone, sober, and wondering why, now that she’d achieved, at twenty-one years of age, all she’d dreamed, she was so unhappy.
If she were to make excuses, explanations, the first would be easy. She’d been so young. Her mother, a housewife from Saskatoon, tried to guide the sixteen-year-old girl around the world of high fashion, so out of her depth it was laughable. Eliza’s first agent might as well have been a pimp. She was, truth be told, a pimp. “Make men like you,” had been her advice to the shy, awkward girl from Saskatchewan. And Eliza had somehow known what she had to do to make men like her. As she crawled up the slime-soaked ladder that was the modeling world, even once she’d been in sight of the top, she still made them like her. Although, most of the time, she didn’t like herself very much. She’d discovered she had a good head for money, and began taking courses in finance, which she absolutely loved. She kept that a secret from Rudy and her agent, knowing, probably subconsciously, they both needed to keep her dependent.
She arrived home from the party to find the lock on her front door smashed, and called the police. The officer they sent was young, new. His name was John Winters. She showed him around the apartment, knowing he’d be impressed by the furniture, the art, the view. Her ass. She turned to see that his head was down as he wrote in his notebook. “Did you get all that?” she said.
“I think so.” He finished writing and only then looked at her. “You should call an emergency locksmith, ma’am. I’ll wait until someone comes, if you like.”
She loved him, the handsome, passionate, dedicated, sexy policeman, who pushed all her erotic buttons and taught her that sex could be something more than the most boring part of a job interview. She loved him so much she stopped screwing for work. And, to her surprise, she kept getting work. She no longer needed the coke and hadn’t taken a hit since. She’d pretty much forgotten about that part of her life.
When she did think of it, it frightened her to realize how different it could have all turned out. If she’d been stoned, as she usually was after a miserable industry party, she would have either not called the police about the break-in or waited until the morning. And someone else would have come.
She shook her head, chasing the memories away, and looked across the table at her husband. He looked so stricken, she wanted to reach out and kiss his face. Kiss it all over, and keep kissing until all the unhappiness had gone away.
Instead she said, “You knew I was engaged when we met. The night I met you I realized that even if I never saw you again, I didn’t have to settle for the likes of Rudy Steiner. I’ve seen him around over the years, at functions and parties. We said hi and moved on. It seemed every time I ran into him, he was with another wife. They were getting progressively younger, at least in relation to him. I heard he’d married five times. I never doubted for a single minute I’d merely have been wife number one.”
“Guy was a fool,” John said with a growl.
She almost smiled. “He cornered me at a gallery opening not long before we moved here, maybe just over a year ago.” John hadn’t been with her. Even if he hadn’t been busy—and that was the height of the infamous Blakeley case that had almost broken him—John avoided fashion parties and gallery openings almost as much as the press clamoring to know when he’d be making an arrest. “His breath was bad and he needed a bath, and he was with a woman who looked to be about fifteen. He’d been pretty high. He told me the biggest mistake he made in his life was letting me get away. I could have told him he hadn’t
me do anything, but what was the point.” Rudy had taken the breaking of their engagement badly, and had bad-mouthed Eliza for a long time after. “And that was that.” She looked out the window. Rain slashed against the glass, and all was black and wet.
“Drink your tea,” John said.
She picked up the cup and took a sip. He’d added sugar while she wasn’t looking, but she drank it nevertheless.
“Obviously,” he said, “that wasn’t that.”
“No. He called me two weeks ago. Said he was going to be in Trafalgar for a few days, on assignment, and would like to get together.”
She looked at her husband. “I couldn’t see the harm, John. A quick drink in a busy bar for old times’ sake. I told him I’d enjoy meeting his wife. He snorted, I remember that, and said he’d give me a call when they got here.”
“Which I’m guessing he did.”
“It was Saturday night. You were working.” She held up one hand. “I’m not blaming you, John. You were busy at work. That’s always been okay with me.
“He had a minor germ phobia when we were together. I found it irritating, but nothing excessive. Over the years, I could see it was getting worse. At parties, he’d bring his own glass and wear white gloves. He always snagged a chair, so no one could stand in front of him and breathe on him, and if everyone went to a restaurant, he didn’t usually come. When he phoned, he invited me up to his room at the Hudson House. I said no, and suggested a nice bar. He sounded so panicked at the very idea, I agreed. Foolishly.” She finished her tea and looked at the water running down the outside of the window.
He poured another cup and slid it toward her. “How’d it go?”
She laughed, the sound harsh and bitter. It was so unlike any laugh he’d ever heard from her he could hardly credit that it came from Eliza. “Not exactly well. He had a good bottle of wine on a room service table, white tablecloth, red rose, very nice. I took off my coat, sat down, and accepted the glass he offered me. He looked dreadful, simply dreadful. I hadn’t seen him for a year or more, and was shocked at how much he’d changed. I didn’t want to lie to him, tell him he was looking good, so I didn’t say anything. We chatted a while, about the old days mostly, about people we knew back then. Come to think of it, I did most of the chatting, I don’t think Rudy said much at all. Which was odd, he’s always been very,” she paused, searching for the right word, “loquacious. Had to be the center of attention, all the time.” She waved her hands in the air, “Look at me, look at me, look at me now. That was Rudy.” Her hands dropped back to the table, and she cradled the cup as if seeking its warmth.
“You cold?” he asked.
He started to stand up. “I’ll get you a sweater.”
“No, John. I have to tell this.”
“I finished my wine—it was very good—and said I had to be off. He asked me not to go. He said his life had been nothing but a disaster since the day I left him and he had one last chance to make it right. He had an idea for a set of photographs. Art photos for a coffee table book that would be his legacy. His career wasn’t going well, I knew that. He hadn’t done anything new or original or even very good in years. He still got work on the strength of his reputation, but I thought it a bit odd that at not yet sixty he was thinking about a legacy. I pretended some interest in the project. And then he told me I would be it.”
“The project. I was to be the only model in this book. He got excited talking about it. He still had many of the pictures he took of me all those years ago. He wanted to shoot new ones, in the same poses, same general background and layout, put those with the old pictures and make an art book about ageless beauty. Or some such rubbish. I didn’t suggest he wait until I’m ninety before talking about ageless, but I wanted to.”
She looked out the window again. It had been awful. She’d told him she wasn’t interested in helping with his project, but thanked him for his interest, wished him luck, and started to leave. He hadn’t cried, but came near enough. All he’d ever wanted, he told her, all these years, was to get her back. For her to be his model as well as his wife. He’d spent years searching but he had never been able to find a woman who, like Eliza, was a match for the greatness of his artistic vision. He’d married women who reminded him of her.
Eliza doubted that: she’d met his newest wife, once, on the way out of a restaurant. The current Mrs. Steiner had been an emaciated groupie.