"Then it's official evidence, and we have the right to open it."
"I'll get it," Ruby said.
* * *
The cardboard carton that Ruby brought was similar to the others, with the same CRIME SCENE EVIDENCE tape around it. But when that tape was removed there was more tape beneath, colored blue, bearing the initials "C.E.," and secured by sealing wax at several points.
"Take that off carefully and save it,'' Ainslie instructed.
A few minutes later Ruby had opened the carton flaps and folded them back. Both peered inside, where several plastic bags were visible, each containing an object. One, near the top, was a gun that looked like a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver. In another bag was an athletic shoe, with another shoe beneath. Both shoes bore stains. A fourth bag contained what appeared to be a T-shirt with a similar stain; a portion of a recording tape was also visible. Each bag had a label attached, with handwriting that Ainslie recognized as Cynthia's.
He could hardly believe what he was seeing.
Ruby was puzzled. "Why is this here?"
"It was never intended to be. It was concealed in the Ernst house and, just as you said, brought here by mistake." Ainslie added, "Don't touch anything, but see if you can read what's written about the gun."
She leaned closer. "It says, 'The weapon which P.J. used to shoot his ex-wife Naomi with her friend Kilburn Holmes.' There's a date. 'August twenty-first' six years ago."
"Oh Jesus!" Ainslie said in a whisper.
Ruby straightened, facing him. "I don't understand any of this. What is it?"
He answered grimly, "The artifacts of an unsolved homicide. Unsolved until now."
Although the Jensen-Holmes case was not handled by Ainslie's Homicide team, he remembered it well because of Cynthia's long association with the novelist Patrick Jensen. He recalled again that Jensen had been a strong suspect following the murders of his ex-wife and her young male friend, killed by .38-caliber bullets from the same gun. Jensen was known to have purchased a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver two weeks earlier, but claimed to have lost the gun, and no murder weapon was found. In the absence of specific evidence, no charges were laid.
An obvious question: Was the gun in the box just unsealed the missing weapon? Another: If the evidence was real, why had Cynthia labeled it, then concealed it for six years? Such labeling was routine for a trained Homicide detective, which Cynthia was. Concealing evidence was not.
Ruby broke in. "Does this 'unsolved homicide' fit in somehow with the Ernst murders?"
It was one more question Ainslie was already asking himself. The questions were endless. Was Patrick Jensen involved in the Ernst murders? If so, was Cynthia protecting him from that, as well as from an earlier crime?
Weighing it all, Ainslie felt a mood of deep depression sweep over him. "Right now I'm not sure of anything," he told Ruby. "What we do need is an ID crew to go through this box."
He lifted the tiny office's single phone.
Cynthia Ernst could remember the precise moment when she decided that someday she would kill her parents. She was twelve years old, and two weeks earlier she had given birth to her father's child.
A plainly dressed, middle-aged woman had arrived unannounced at the family's mansion in the exclusive, security-protected Bay Point community on Biscayne Bay. Producing credentials that described her as a child welfare worker, she had asked the housekeeper for Mrs. Ernst.
When Cynthia heard the stranger's voice she moved quietly into the corridor outside the main-floor drawing room, where her mother had taken the woman and closed the door behind them. Equally quietly, Cynthia opened the door just enough to peer through and listen.
"Mrs. Ernst, I'm here officially to talk about your daughter's baby," the woman was saying. She looked about her, seemingly impressed by her surroundings. "I have to say that in matters like this, there's usually poverty and family neglect. Clearly that isn't the case here;"
"There has been no neglect, I assure you. Quite the contrary." Eleanor Ernst spoke quietly and carefully. "My husband and I have cared for our daughter devotedly ever since she was born, and dearly love her. As to what has happened, we are as distressed as any couple can be, though we tell ourselves that somehow we've failed miserably as parents."
"Perhaps it will help if we talk about the background. How, for example, did your daughter . . ." The visitor consulted a notebook. "Your daughter Cynthia. . . what were the circumstances under which she became pregnant? And what about the father? What do you know of him especially his age?"
Cynthia moved even closer to the doorway, not wanting to miss a word.
"The truth is, we know nothing at all about the child's father, and Cynthia has refused to tell us." Eleanor's voice was little more than a whisper. She dabbed at her eyes with a small handkerchief, then continued, "Unfortunately, young as she is, our daughter has had many boyfriends. I am sorry to say this, but I am afraid she is shamefully promiscuous. My husband and I have been worried about her for some time."
"In that case, Mrs. Ernst" the welfare woman's voice had sharpened "wouldn't it have been logical to seek professional advice? You and your husband are informed people and must know such facilities exist."
"In retrospect, perhaps we should have. But the fact is we didn't." Eleanor added pointedly, "It's always easy for others to have hindsight."
"Do you plan to have counseling now? And to include your daughter?"
"Gustav and I may well consider that. Until now the preparations we've had to make have preoccupied us. After the awful event, the child was put up for adoption we'd made prearrangements." Eleanor paused. "Do I really have to answer these questions? My husband and I have been hoping for total privacy."
The visitor had been making entries in her notebook. "The welfare of a child overrides privacy, Mrs. Ernst. But if you doubt our agency's right of inquiry, you can always ask your lawyer."
"That won't be necessary." Eleanor had become placating. "I will tell you that my husband and I, and also Cynthia, have learned a great deal from what has occurred. In a way it has drawn the three of us closer. We have had long talks, and Cynthia has given her solemn word that from now on she will mend her ways."
"Perhaps I should talk with your daughter."
"I'd much prefer you didn't. In fact, I beg of you not to. Something like that would almost certainly undo all the progress we have made."
"Are you really sure?"
"I truly am."
Nowadays, as an adult, Cynthia sometimes wondered why she hadn't barged in at that moment and blurted out the truth. Then she realized that while such an action would have embarrassed her parents and prompted questions, in the long run she most likely would not have been believed. She had read of notorious child-abuse cases in which adults who denied such charges were believed, and children weren't. The accused adults could hire fee-hungry practitioners who skillfully demolished children's statements, while the children even if they understood had no such recourse.
In any case, Cynthia perhaps with instinctive insight did not burst in, and the two women's voices faded as, having heard enough, she moved away.
Ten minutes later her mother and the welfare worker emerged, Eleanor accompanying the visitor to the front door and closing it after her. As she turned, Cynthia stepped into view and faced her mother.
Eleanor paled. "Cynthia! My God! How long have you been there?"
Cynthia glared back, silently, her gaze fierce and accusing. In most respects she still looked like a twelve-yearold girl, with short brown bangs and freckles, but her eyes, intensely green and filled with resolve, belonged to a much older woman.
Eleanor Ernst's hands were clasped nervously together, her eyes shifting. She was elegantly dressed, with coiffed hair and high heels. "Cynthia," she said, "I insist you tell me how long you've been there. Have you been listening?"
Still no words.
"Stop looking at me like that!" As Eleanor took a few steps forward, Cynthia stepped back.
After several moments her mother drew her hands to her face and quietly wept. "You heard, didn't you? Oh, darling, I had no choice; surely you see that. You know I love you. Please give Mommy a hug. You know I'd never hurt you . . . Please let me hold you."
Cynthia watched with an expression of utter detachment, then slowly turned and walked away.
The lying, hypocritical words she had heard her mother speak were seared forever in her mind. She already hated her father for his physical abuse from the earliest moments she remembered. In some ways she despised her mother even more. Even at twelve, Cynthia knew that her mother could have, and should have, sought outside help, and her failure to do so could never be forgiven.
But Cynthia, clever and shrewd even at twelve, swallowed her rage for the sake of her future. To realize all her burgeoning plans, she needed her parents especially their contacts and resources. Therefore, as time went on, in public she maintained a veneer of politeness and occasional affection. In private she rarely spoke to them.
Her father, she knew, accepted the deception, grateful for the image it conveyed to outsiders. Her mother behaved as though not a thing in the world was wrong.
And if either parent ever disagreed with her wishes, Cynthia would cross her arms and look at them with a cold, steady glare, as if to say, I know what you did to me, and you know, too. Wouldn't it be better if no one else knew? Take your choice.
This unspoken threat, an appeal to their shame, guilt, and cowardice, worked unfailingly. After a few tense, awkward moments, Gustav Ernst would invariably yield under the fierceness of his daughter's gaze and mumble, "I simply don't know what to do with you."
Eleanor, as usual, would shrug helplessly.
A disagreement between both sides emerged a couple of years later when Cynthia's schooling became an issue.
She had attended elementary and middle schools in Miami, and her report cards rated her an outstanding student. What Gustav and Eleanor planned next, at age fourteen, was a highly regarded private day school in Coral Gables, called Ransom-Everglades. But Cynthia, at fourteen, had other ideas. At the last moment, when the RansomEverglades arrangements were virtually complete, she announced that she would go to Pine Crest, a boarding school in Fort Lauderdale, some twenty-five miles north of Miami. She had applied to the school herself and agreed to attend when they accepted her.
Gustav was totally opposed. "You deliberately went against our wishes," he said over dinner that night. "If we had selected Pine Crest, you would have wanted Ransom-Everglades. "
Eleanor watched helplessly, knowing that Cynthia would eventually have her way.
And so she did, employing her usual technique. Sitting at the dinner table, she did not touch her food. Instead she stared resolutely at her father, a glint of absolute power in her eyes, until he finally put down his fork and huffed, "Oh, for heaven's sake, do whatever you want."
Cynthia nodded, rose from the table, and went to her room.
Four years later it all happened again, when Cynthia was poised to enter college. Now she was eighteen and possessed the cunning and beauty of a full-grown woman. Cynthia knew her mother desperately wanted her to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Eleanor's prestigious alma mater, and for four years had let Eleanor believe she would.