Authors: Vicki Delany
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Women Sleuths, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General
“Champagne, cheese, stuff like that,” Lopez said. “Doesn’t suggest to me an old high school buddy. Sounds like what you lay on to impress a woman.”
“Sounds like what you lay on, Ray,” Townshend said. “The sort of guys I used to date think a six pack and left-over pizza’s enticing.”
The men laughed.
“What do we know about the guy?” Keller sipped at his tea. “Steiner. German?”
“Just pretentious,” Lopez said, checking his notebook. “Born Albert Jones in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Rudolph Steiner is his professional name.
something-or-other. Fifty-six years old, lives in Vancouver. Married for the fifth—note that’s fifth as in five wives—to the former Josephine Marais. He’s a photographer, apparently some kind of hot-shot in the world of glamour. High fashion stuff. You know, skinny women who never learned how to smile wearing clothes that make them look like they crawled out of a dumpster.”
“Or failed clown school,” Townshend added.
Winters shifted in his seat.
“I’ll start digging into his finances. And his wife’s,” Lopez said.
“At a guess,” Winters said, “the former Josephine Marais doesn’t have much in the way of finances to investigate. She looks like a gold digger, and my impression is that she was trying to put on a show of grief, but not feeling much emotion.”
“Think she might be behind it?” Keller asked.
“Not ruling her out,” Winters said. “The first person she wanted to speak to after getting the news was her lawyer. He’ll be here tomorrow, probably on the same plane as the IHIT guys.”
“Money, then,” Keller said. “If the lawyer’s rushing right over. Always complicates things. No one suspicious seen hanging around the hotel?”
“I want to speak to the person Steiner ordered the champagne for,” Winters said. “The chambermaid who found the body confessed that she had a couple of good slugs before going into the bathroom.”
“I can testify to that,” Townshend said. “Found it all over the floor. Some cheese and little green grapes too.”
“Point is,” Winters said, “the bottle was open, but either nothing was drunk or only a very small amount. Same with the food. The person Steiner was expecting might have failed to show, or, if he did come, he might have not wasted time on pleasantries. So far, no one’s come forward to say they saw anyone in the room, heading for it, or wandering around reading the door numbers. Mrs. Steiner has the room next door, and she says she didn’t hear anything. I think she didn’t hear a lot of things.”
“Steiner was kneeling over the toilet,” Keller said. “Was he sick into it?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Townshend said. “His stomach might not have gotten the message to upchuck before his brain ceased to compute.”
“You have such a lovely way with words, Alison,” Lopez said. “The maintenance man was apparently on the floor late afternoon or early evening, something about a broken lamp. That room is at the other end of the hall from Steiner’s, but he might have seen something. He’s not working today. I’m trying to track him down.”
“The gun?” Keller asked.
“It was wiped clean,” Townshend said, swallowing the last of her sandwich. “No surprise there. Unregistered, which is definitely not a surprise. It’s the type used to kill Steiner. We’ll run tests, of course, to ensure it’s the actual one.”
“Not much doubt,” Keller said. “Guns are not in the habit of showing up in Trafalgar garbage.”
“For now,” Winters said, “my money’s on the assistant. She seems to have done a runner. I’ve issued an alert for her, across the province and at the borders with Washington, Idaho, and Montana.”
Lopez’s phone rang. “Yeah? Escort her to the hotel right away. Someone will meet her at the front.” He put the phone away.
“Speak of the devil. The assistant, Diane Barton. Horseman stopped her heading toward town on Highway 3. She’ll be here in about ten minutes.”
“Drat. If that’s it for now?” Winters looked around the table. They all nodded. “I’m meeting IHIT at the Castlegar airport at noon tomorrow. We’ll come straight here. They’ll want an update.”
“I love drain day,” Townshend said.
Diane Barton was in her mid-twenties. She was tall, lean and fit, brown hair cut short with no attempt at style. She wore loose chinos, pockets everywhere, and a baggy Toronto Maple Leafs sweatshirt. Brown eyes blinked behind thick glasses and a broad silver ring circled every one of her ten digits. She wore no make-up and walked with long strides and her handshake was firm.
“Gee,” she said, when Winters told her of the death of her employer, “that’s too bad.”
The dirty plates in the conference room had been cleared in the few minutes since the police meeting, and fresh tea was ready. Winters could get used to working in this environment.
Diane dropped into a chair. “What happened?”
“When did you last see Mr. Steiner?”
“Last night. Around five, I guess. We’d been out shooting most of the day, and went over the pictures.”
“Where was this?”
“In his room. He didn’t like them.”
“Didn’t like what?”
“The pictures. Said they were crap. Which they were. He figured it was the light and wanted to go someplace different. That’s what I was doing today. Looking around for the right place.”
“I’ve been sitting in the damn car all day. There was an avalanche on the pass. Dumped a shitload of snow all over the highway. I had to wait for freaking hours. I tried to call Rudy, but,” she shrugged, “there’s no reception up there. Do you think they allow smoking in here?”
“I doubt it.”
“Me too.” She eyed the tray of sandwiches. “Are those for us?”
“Help yourself.” Her story about her phone was probably right. In these mountains you didn’t have to move far from the center of town to lose the signal. “How long have you been working for Mr. Steiner?”
“About six months. It’s my way of trying to get my foot in the door. I’m a crackerjack photog myself, but it’s tough to get a break. I lug his stuff around, scout locations, admire his crap pictures, and hope to hell to get someone to look at mine.”
“You don’t think he was a good photographer?”
“He was on the way down, and let me tell you, it’s a long way down. But he still has the connections, you know. Had the connections, I guess. I’m sorry he’s dead, but he was just a job to me.” She shrugged and took a bite of a thick sandwich, roast beef on whole wheat.
“Tell me about his wife.”
Diane laughed around a mouthful. “She married him because she couldn’t get anyone with real influence. She married him because it beats working on your back.”
“Are you saying Mrs. Steiner was a prostitute?”
She threw up her hands. The rings reflected light from the lamp on the table beside her. “No, I’m not. Sorry. I don’t know much about her. She did some modeling—Wal Mart flyer type of stuff. Crotch shots of sturdy white cotton underwear. She wanted to do better, hell we all do. Sometimes a girl’s gotta sleep with the movers and shakers, or so they tell me. Which is why I prefer to be behind the camera, not in front of it.”
“You don’t like her?”
“I can’t stand the freakin’ bitch. Knows nothing about photography but is always sticking her surgically-altered nose in and telling me what would look good. He was loaded and connected, I’ll tell you that. Can’t imagine that had anything to do with her ‘falling in love’ with him.” Diane wiggled her fingers in the air to make quotation marks around the words.
“What about him? What did you think of Mr. Steiner?”
“I didn’t like him or not like him. He was the boss. I did my job.” Sandwich finished, she studied the array of food again, and settled on a Nanaimo bar.
“What time did you leave Mr. Steiner’s room?”
“Five-thirty, probably. Around then. It hadn’t taken long. Rudy hated the pictures so there wasn’t much to discuss. I told you that.”
“Did you see him again?”
“What did you do after leaving him?”
“Went to my room for a while, read. About eight I went out to eat. Had dinner, by myself as per normal, and then back to my room.”
“What time did you get back?”
She looked toward the window. “Ten-thirty, eleven maybe. I had nothing better to do, so had a couple of beers with my dinner, and went for a walk.”
“Something Thai.” She shrugged again. “They might remember me, it wasn’t busy.”
“Did you see Mrs. Steiner at any time?”
“Nope. But I wouldn’t expect to see her hanging around any place I might frequent.”
“I’ve been told he rarely went out to eat.”
“Oh, yeah. He was a weirdo all right.”
Winters’ ears pricked up. “In what way?”
“Scared of germs, like that millionaire guy who never left his hotel room, but not so bad. Rudy didn’t eat in restaurants because who knows what germs are floating around and landing on the food. He didn’t like ordering from room service, but he had to eat when he traveled, didn’t he? It was better than going out. I’d been here a couple of weeks before they got here, scouting out locations mostly, and picked them up at the airport in a rental car. Before he got into the car for the first time, I had to wipe the whole interior down with disinfectant. While he watched me doing it.” She snorted. “He didn’t trust me not to say I’d done it when I hadn’t. It was always like that, some things he’d freak over. I suspect that’s why Josie had a separate room. Women are okay for, you know, sex, but you don’t want them spreading their yucky female germs around. Just my opinion, mind, he never said that.”
“Sounds like an interesting man.”
She popped the last bite of the square into her mouth and wiped her fingers on her thighs. “He was that.”
“What are your plans now?”
“Now as in right now, or for the rest of my life? I’m going upstairs to clean up and grab something to eat. I hope to hell the hotel bill’s covered. Tomorrow I’ll ask Josie what she wants me to do with Rudy’s stuff. Then I’ll probably go back to Vancouver and wait for another job.” She looked at him. “I can go home, can’t I?”
“I don’t see why not. Give Detective Lopez your contact information in case we need to be in touch.”
Barb Kowalski leaned back in her office chair and stretched. Things were happening, and although she wasn’t an officer and not directly involved in the investigation, it was hard not to get caught up in the flurry of activity and the tension a murder always caused.
The CC had drunk so much Coke yesterday, owing to pressures of the case, he’d run out. On a good day he went through about ten cans. On a bad day, when the stress level was up, it could be twice that. The drink was his indoor tobacco substitute. Between the amount he smoked and the quantities of pop he consumed Barb hated to think what his lungs looked like and what his dental bill must be.
She eyed the French press at the side of her desk. Half a cup left, but she needed to get up and move. She felt like she’d been here all day although it was only ten o’clock. She decided to have the yogurt and apple she brought for lunch, and pop out later and buy a sandwich. Maybe a bag of Doritos for an afternoon snack. She could start her diet tomorrow.
She headed for the lunch room. Jim Denton, the dispatch officer, was on the phone; the legal clerk walked past with a pile of folders, and the by-law officer came through the door. The monitors showed that the cells downstairs were all empty. Molly Smith had gone to career day at the middle school, John Winters and the Chief were preparing for the arrival of IHIT, Ray Lopez was at the Hudson House Hotel, sifting through clues probably. Barb thought she’d like to follow them around one day, see what the police actually did out there.
She rounded the corner to see a Mountie standing in the hall, reading the staff notice board outside the lunch room. Brad Noseworthy had put up a sheet asking people to come to the car wash to raise money for his daughter’s hockey team. Barb pointed at the picture of the smiling girls posing for the team picture in their heavy gear. “She’s very good,” she said to the Mountie, “Brad has high hopes for an Olympic star one day.”
“Worth getting the car washed then,” he said. It was Adam Tocek, the one dating Molly Smith. They made a nice couple, Barb thought.
Inside the lunch room a man laughed. “Can’t imagine fucking a cop. Might as well be fucking a drag queen.”
Tocek’s face hardened. He walked into the room.
“You guys talking about someone in particular?”
Barb followed him. Dave Evans was sitting at the table, his legs outstretched. The man who’d spoken was Jack McMillan, a long-time retired officer who hung around the station sometimes, remembering the days when he’d been useful.
Evans looked at Tocek. “Nope. General chit-chat.”
“That’s what you get when you let girls do a man’s job. I wouldn’t want to go with a girl who could beat me up,” McMillan said with a laugh and a spray of spittle.
don’t want to either,” Tocek said.
You tell ‘em
, Barb thought.
“Does she let you play with her gun, Tocek?” Evans said. His voice was low and very tight. “Or do you prefer her truncheon?” He looked at McMillan, fishing for a laugh. “That’s if you can find a place to put it.”
“You fucking prick.” Adam Tocek crossed the room in one step, and before Barb knew what was happening Dave Evans was on the floor, blood pouring from his nose. She yelled.
“Hey.” McMillan jumped up. “No need for that.”
Evans leaned on the counter and pulled himself to his feet, bright red blood streaming down his face. He swung at Tocek and the Mountie ducked. Tocek punched Evans in the stomach and he grunted and staggered backwards. He fell against the water cooler, but came back fast. Barb heard the blow strike Tocek’s jaw. “Help!” Barb cried. “Someone help.”
“Break it up, break it up.” John Winters was between the two men, his arms outstretched to separate them. Evans moved as if to go around him.
“I said break it up. Next one to throw a punch is up on charges. McMillan, get out of here.”