Page 46 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Let’s go home, Wrench.”

They went down the steps together. A movement in the window made Thomas glance back over his shoulder. Leonora stood there, holding the curtain aside, watching them leave. She was silhouetted against the warm lamplight of the living room. He took one hand out of his pocket and lifted it in a small wave. She waved back.

He was whistling by the time he and Wrench got to the footbridge.

Chapter Thirteen

Leonora opened the door of her cottage very early the following morning and was confronted by watery sunshine. It made a pleasant change from the fog, she decided.

She pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head, tugged on a pair of gloves and went briskly down the steps. When she reached the jogging path, she turned left, the direction that would take her toward the footbridge, the shortcut to Thomas’s house.

Pure intellectual curiosity, she thought. She just wanted to see if he was an early riser like herself. Find out if they had that much in common, at least.

Not that having a lot of interests in common was a guarantee of a sound and lasting relationship, as she had discovered the hard way with Kyle.

She walked briskly, wondering what Thomas would be wearing if he did happen to be up at this hour. Maybe he wouldn’t be out of the shower yet. She indulged herself in a harmless little fantasy that involved Thomas answering the door wearing his robe. With nothing at all on underneath.

They could discuss strategy for the confrontation with Julie Bromley. Or maybe some other topic equally pertinent to their investigation.

Or maybe he would invite her to go back to bed with him.

She walked a little faster.

The rhythmic thud of running shoes coming up behind her broke into her pleasant daydream. She heard heavy breathing and moved to the side.

A moment later Cassie, impressive physique sheathed in a halter top, tights and a pair of running shorts, pulled up alongside. Perspiration beaded her brow and soaked her running bra. Her red curls were held back off her forehead by a terry-cloth sweatband.

She saw Leonora. Surprise flickered across her face. She slowed to a walk and smiled.

“Hello,” she said. “Didn’t see you until I almost ran over you.”

“Good morning.” Leonora kept moving. “Don’t let me stop you.”

“No, no, this is fine. I was almost finished, anyway.” Cassie wiped her brow on the back of her arm. “Actually, this is good timing, at least for me. I wanted to talk to you. I was thinking of dropping by your cottage this afternoon. Mind if we keep moving while I cool down?”

Leonora had to lengthen her strides to keep up with her. “I appreciate the thought, but I don’t really have time to take yoga lessons.”

“I wasn’t planning to sell you any.” Cassie’s mouth twisted in a wry grimace. She breathed deeply. “I wish it were that simple. I’m afraid this is a little more personal.”

“Ah. Deke and Thomas.”

Cassie gave her a quick, searching look and then she drew another long breath and planted her hands on her hips. “Yes. Deke and Thomas. Especially Deke. I won’t beat around the bush. You’ve met him. Talked to him. What do you think?”

“I think he’s having some problems getting past the death of his wife. Probably could use some grief counseling.”

“I suggested that. So did Thomas. Deke won’t do it. He doesn’t think it will help.”

“He needs closure.”

Cassie sighed. “His job, as he saw it, was to take care of Bethany. In the end, he feels he failed.”

“No one can take complete responsibility for another person’s life, health or happiness. It isn’t possible.”

“I know. But for some reason Deke is obsessing on Bethany’s death. His guilt and depression have caused him to weave all sorts of bizarre theories.”

“I’m no psychologist,” Leonora said. “But from what I’ve heard about Bethany, I would say that she was fragile. Evidently she had trouble coping with real life or maybe she just wasn’t interested in it. She preferred to retreat to the realm of mathematics as often as possible. Deke said she sometimes spent days and nights in her office and long, long hours at Mirror House.”

Cassie snorted inelegantly. “I never met her, you understand, but I’d say that calling her fragile is a polite euphemism for selfish. I think she must have used her brilliance as an excuse to become extremely self-centered.”

“I’ve known one or two people whose IQs were literally off the charts. True genius can be a burden. It can make a person feel very isolated.”

“I understand,” Cassie said. “I’m sure that it’s difficult for anyone who is extraordinarily gifted to deal with the demands and routines of ordinary life.”

“Easy to see why such a person might feel more at home in a parallel universe where logic and mathematics hold sway and order prevails. It’s also easy to see how others might want to protect such a delicate flower.”

“I suppose so,” Cassie agreed. She sounded grim and morose.

“Maybe for Bethany, that other universe was where she felt at home,” Leonora continued, getting into her theory now, thinking of the ramifications. “To one of those rare high IQ types, this world probably seems like a strange, unpredictable, illogical place.”

“Yes.” Cassie’s jaw twitched. “I’m sure you’re right. Bethany probably did feel as if she was different from everyone else.”

“Because she was different. Who knows? Maybe she really did need to be protected from the demands of daily life. But one person can’t do that for another. Not for long, at any rate. The task would be frustrating, thankless and, in the end, futile. A man who tried to do it for a woman would inevitably come to the conclusion that he had failed.”

Cassie came to a halt on the path and turned to face her. “Exactly.”

Leonora halted, too. “A man who feels he screwed up big-time as a knight in shining armor would probably be extremely reluctant to risk getting involved in another relationship.”

“Damn. It’s hopeless, isn’t it? He’ll never look at me as long as he’s obsessed with finding out what happened to Bethany.”

“I’m not so sure it’s a lost cause.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think Deke is as depressed as everyone believes. I do think that he’s on a mission to find out what happened to Bethany. Clearly he needs some answers. In that sense, you could say he’s obsessed. But I have a feeling that kind of single-mindedness is a family trait.”