The residence in Anaheim proved to be a single-story structure dating to the 1950s. Pierced and scalloped eave boards, rococo carved shutters, and patterned Alpine door surrounds failed to convince that this California ranch house belonged in Switzerland, or anywhere.
Penetrating the branches of two huge stone pines, moonlight painted scattered patches of faux ice on the age-silvered cedar-shingle roof, but not a single lamp brightened any window.
Flanking Kravet’s house were a Spanish casita and a New England cottage. Lights were on in the cottage, but the casita appeared to be uninhabited, the windows dark, the yard in need of mowing.
Tim twice drove past the Kravet house, then parked around the corner, on a side street.
He compared his wristwatch to the SUV’s clock. Both read 9:32.
“I’ll need maybe fifteen minutes,” he said.
“What if he’s in there?”
“Just sitting in the dark? No. If he’s anywhere, he’s staking out my place—or searching it.”
“He might come back. You shouldn’t go in without a gun.”
“I don’t have a gun.”
From her open purse, she withdrew a pistol. “I’ll go with you.”
“Where’d you get that?”
“From my nightstand drawer. It’s a Kahr K9 semi-auto.”
The thing was coming, all right, the thing that was always coming for him, that could never be escaped.
At the tavern, he had been in a place that had always been right for him, where he was just another guy on a bar stool, where from the perspective of the front door, he was the smallest man in the room. But this evening it had been the right place at the wrong time.
He had found a way of living that was like train wheels on a track, turning on a known path, toward a predictable future. The thing pursuing him, however, was not only his past but also his fate, and the rails that led away from it also led inexorably to it.
“I don’t want to kill him,” Tim said.
“Me neither. The gun is just insurance. We’ve got to find something in his place the cops can hang him with.”
Leaning closer to see the weapon, he said, “I’m not familiar with that gun.” She didn’t wear perfume, but she had a faint scent he liked. The scent of clean hair, well-scrubbed skin.
She said, “Eight-shot 9-millimeter. Smooth action.”
“You’ve used it.”
“On targets. A shooting range.”
“There’s nobody you fear, yet you keep a pistol by your bed.”
“I said nobody I know would want me dead,” she corrected. “But I don’t know everybody.”
“You have a concealed-carry permit?”
“No. Do you have a permit to break into his house?”
“I don’t think you should go in there with me.”
“I’m not sitting here alone, with or without the gun.”
He sighed. “You don’t exactly have attitude….”
“What do I have, exactly?”
“Something,” he said, and got out of the Explorer.
He opened the tailgate and retrieved a long-handled flashlight from the shallow well in which the car jack was stored.
Together they walked to Kravet’s house. The neighborhood was quiet. A dog barked, but in the distance.
As iridescent as a snake’s skin, thin ravels of silvery clouds peeled off the face of a molting moon.
A wall defined the property line between the dark casita and the Alpine house. A gate opened onto a passageway alongside the garage.
Suddenly soughing through the stone pines, the inconstant breeze shook dry needles down onto the concrete path.
At the side door to the garage, Tim switched on the flashlight just long enough to determine that there was no deadbolt.
Linda held the extinguished flashlight while he slipped a credit card between the door and frame. He quickly popped the simple latch.
In the two-car garage, with the door closed behind them, Linda switched on the flashlight again. No vehicles were present.
“Masonry’s not your only skill,” she whispered.
“Everybody knows how to do that door thing.”
Most likely the front and back entrances featured deadbolts, but the door between the garage and the house had only a cheap lockset. Many people think the appearance of having defenses is good enough.
“What kind of prison time do you get for burglary?” she asked.
“This is housebreaking, not burglary. Maybe ten years?”
The lock disengaged, and she said, “Let’s be quick.”
“First, let’s be sure there’s not a pit bull.”
Taking the flashlight from her, he eased the door open. He played the beam through the narrow gap, but saw no animal eyeshine.
The kitchen was not what he expected. The flashlight found chintz curtains. A canister set painted like teddy bears. The wall clock, in the form of a cat, featured a swinging tail for a pendulum.
In the dining room, the linen tablecloth was trimmed with lace. A bowl of ceramic fruit stood in the center of the table.
Colorful afghans protected the living-room sofa. A pair of well-used recliners faced a big-screen TV. The art was reproductions of paintings of big-eyed children popular about the year Tim was born.
Turning to follow the sweep and probe of the light, Linda said, “Would a hit man live at home with his mom and dad?”
The larger bedroom offered a rose-patterned comforter, silk flowers, and a vanity with mother-of-pearl combs and brushes. In the closet were men’s and women’s clothes.
The second bedroom served as a combination sewing room and home office. In a desk drawer, Tim found a checkbook and several bills—telephone, electrical, TV cable—awaiting payment.
Linda whispered, “Did you hear something?”
He switched off the light. They stood in darkness, listening.
The house wore silence like a coat of armor, with an occasional click or creak of gauntlet and gusset. None of the small noises seemed to be more than the settling pains of an aging structure.
When Tim had convinced himself that nothing in the silence was listening to him, he switched on the flashlight.
In the darkness, Linda had drawn the pistol from her purse.
Examining the checkbook, Tim found that the account was in the name of Doris and Leonard Halberstock. The bills awaiting payment were for the Halberstocks, as well.
“He doesn’t live here,” Tim said.
“Maybe he used to.”
“More likely, he’s never seen this place.”
“So what’re we doing here?”
Linda drove while Tim sat with her open purse on his lap, the gun in the purse. He was on the phone with Pete Santo.
Having gone back into the DMV database as they spoke, Pete said, “Actually, the car that’s registered to Kravet isn’t at the Anaheim address. In that case, it’s Santa Ana.”
Tim repeated the address aloud as he wrote it on the printout of Kravet’s driver’s license. “It’s no more real than the other one.”
“You ready to tell me what this is about?” Pete asked.
“It’s not about anything that happened in your jurisdiction.”
“I think of myself as a detective to the world.”
“Nobody’s been killed,” Tim said, and mentally added yet.
“Remember, I’m in the robbery-homicide division.”
“The only thing that’s been stolen is a coffee mug with a ceramic parrot for a handle.”
Scowling, Linda declared, “I loved that mug.”
“What’d she say?” Pete asked.
“She says she loved that mug.”
Pete said, “You want me to believe this is all about a stolen coffee mug?”
“And an egg-custard pie.”
“There was only half a pie left,” she said.
On the phone, Pete said, “What’d she say?”
“She says it was only half a pie.”
“But it’s still not right,” she said.
“She says,” Tim reported, “even half a pie, it’s not right.”
“It’s not just the cost of the ingredients,” she said.
“It’s not the cost of the ingredients,” Tim repeated to Pete.
“He’s stolen my labor, too, and my sense of security.”
“He’s stolen her labor, too, and her sense of security.”
“So you want me to believe,” Pete said, “this is about nothing more than a stolen coffee mug and half an egg-custard pie?”
“No. It’s about something else entirely. The mug and the pie are just associated crimes.”
“What’s the something else entirely?”
“I’m not at liberty to say. Listen, is there any way to find out if Kravet has another driver’s license under a different name?”
“I don’t know. But if the address in Anaheim was bogus, then maybe the name is, too. Does the DMV have any facial-recognition software that could search its files for a repeat of Kravet’s image?”
“This is California, dude. The DMV can’t keep its public restrooms clean.”
“Sometimes,” Tim said, “I wonder if The Incredible Hulk had been a bigger hit on TV, ran a few more years—maybe Lou Ferrigno would be governor. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“I think I would trust Lou Ferrigno,” Pete said.
To Linda, Tim said, “He says he would trust Lou Ferrigno.”
“I would, too,” she said. “There’s a humility about him.”
“She says Lou Ferrigno has humility.”
Pete said, “That’s probably because he had to overcome deafness and a speech impediment to become an actor.”
“If Lou Ferrigno were governor, the state wouldn’t be bankrupt, DMV restrooms would be clean, and you’d have that facial-recognition software. But since he’s not the governor, is there any other way you can search to see if Kravet has a license under a different name?”
“I’ve been thinking about that while we’ve been talking about Lou Ferrigno,” Pete said.
“I’ve also been rubbing Zoey’s ears the way she likes.”
“You’re a full-on multitasker.”
“There’s something I can try. It might work. Keep your cell charged, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Ten-four, holy one.”
As Tim terminated the call, Linda said, “Holy one?”
“Santo means ‘saint.’ Sometimes we call him holy one.”
Tim shrugged. “Some of us guys.”
While Tim had been on the phone, Linda had set out for Santa Ana. They were ten minutes from the address where, according to the DMV, the Chevy sedan registered to Kravet might be found.
“You and Santo,” she said, “you’ve been through something together.”
“We’ve known each other a long time.”
“Yeah, but you’ve been through something, too.”
“It wasn’t college. Neither of us went to college.”
“I didn’t think it was college.”
“It wasn’t an experimental g*y relationship, either.”
“I’m absolutely sure it wasn’t a g*y relationship.” She stopped at a red traffic light and turned that analytic green gaze on him.
“There you go again with those things,” he said.
“Those eyes. That look. When you go carving at somebody with that look, you should have a medic standing by to sew up the wound.”
“Have I wounded you?”
The traffic light didn’t change. She continued to stare at him.
“Okay,” he said. “Me and Pete, we went to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert once. It was hell. We got through that hell together.”
“If you don’t like Peter, Paul and Mary, why did you go?”
He said, “The holy one was dating this girl, Barbara Ellen, she was into retro-folk groups.”
“Who were you dating?”
“Her cousin. Just that one night. It was hell. They sang ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ and ‘Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,’ and ‘Lemon Tree’ and ‘Tom Dooley,’ they just wouldn’t stop. We’re lucky we got out of there with our sanity.”
“I didn’t know Peter, Paul and Mary performed anymore. I didn’t even know they were all still alive.”
“These were Peter, Paul and Mary impersonators. You know, like Beatlemania.” He glanced at the traffic light. “A car could rust waiting for this light to change.”
“What was her name?”
“The cousin you were dating.”
“She wasn’t my cousin. She was Barbara Ellen’s cousin.”
“So what was her name?” she persisted.
“Did she come from Alabama with a banjo on her knee?”
“I’m just telling you what happened, since you wanted to know.”
“It must be true. You couldn’t make it up.”
“It’s too weird, isn’t it?”
“What I’m saying,” she said, “is I don’t think you could make anything up.”
“All right then. So now you know—me and Pete, our bonding experience, that night of hell. They sang ‘If I Had a Hammer’ twice.” He pointed to the traffic signal. “Light’s green.”
Crossing the intersection, she said, “You’ve been through something together, but it wasn’t just PeterPaulandMarymania.”
He decided to go on the offensive. “So what do you do for a living, besides being self-employed and working at home?”
“I’m a writer.”
“What do you write?”
“What kind of books?”
“Painful books. Depressing, stupid, gut-wrenching books.”
“Just the thing for the beach. Have they been published?”
“Unfortunately. And the critics love them.”
“Would I know any titles?”
“You want to try me?”
“No. I’m not going to write them anymore, especially not if I end up dead, but even if I don’t end up dead, I’m going to write something else.”