Page 52 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Sure.”

They both looked out at the cove for a while. The fog coalesced into an impenetrable veil. The thud-thud-thud on the path announced a covey of joggers. They materialized in the mist, three middle-aged men who should have known better. Thomas wondered if any of them had started to notice some problems in his knees. Just a matter of time when you got close to forty.

“I hear we’re invited to Leonora’s house for dinner tonight,” he said after a while.

“Cassie called about an hour ago. She said she and Leonora are going to cook for us.”

“Be a good chance for all of us to put our heads together and discuss strategy.”

Deke’s face became impassive. “Cassie thinks I’m obsessing.”

“You are. So what? It’s what we Walker boys do.”

“Might be a little embarrassing talking about some of this stuff in front of her,” Deke said.

“Nah. Look at it this way, after six months of doing yoga with you she knows as much about this mess as the rest of us. Maybe she can give us a different perspective, the way Leonora is doing.”

“I never thought about it that way.” Deke hesitated. “I just don’t want her to conclude that I’m a total space cadet, you know? Things are awkward enough between us as it is.”

“Give her a chance, Deke. Also, you could look on the bright side.”

“What’s the bright side?”

“Worst-case scenario is that, even if Cassie decides you’re a total nut case, we get a home-cooked meal and the company of two very nice ladies tonight.”

“There is that,” Deke said.

Maybe Leonora really was some sort of catalyst, Thomas thought. A lot of things around here were starting to show signs of movement and change.

He and Wrench walked back to the house along the jogging path. The late afternoon rush hour was in full swing. Runners, bikers, walkers and people with dogs crowded the trail. Twice he almost got run down by a jogger. Life in the fast lane was dangerous.

The phone was ringing when he and Wrench let themselves into the hall. He closed the door and picked up the cordless extension.

“This is Walker.”

“Thomas?” Leonora said.

“I’ll be there in about half an hour.” He glanced at his watch. “I need to shower and change.”

“No rush. Cassie and I are still fussing with the last-minute stuff. I called to ask if you would mind bringing your tools?”

A rush of red-hot anticipation warmed his blood. “Don’t worry. I never go anywhere without my tools.”

There was a short, startled pause on the other end of the line.

Leonora giggled.

“Actually, I was referring to your other tools,” she said. “The kind you keep in your workshop. I’ve got a leaky faucet in the bath that has gotten so loud it’s keeping me awake at night.”

“Oh, those tools. Sure, I’ll bring some of them, too.”

Half an hour later, freshly showered and dressed in a button-down shirt and chinos, he went into the workshop. He selected a wrench and some other odds and ends he figured he might need to fix a leaky faucet.

When he emerged, Wrench was waiting for him at the front door, leash in his mouth.

“Sorry, pal, not this time.”

Wrench looked pathetic.

Thomas crouched in front of him and rubbed his ears. “Here’s the situation. There’s a possibility that I might get asked to spend the night at her place. I don’t think I’ve got a chance in hell if you’re there with me. It’s one thing to ask a man to stay over. It’s another thing altogether to invite him and his dog to spend the night. See what I mean?”

Wrench remained unconvinced.

Thomas gave him one last pat, rose and went out the door. The wrench was heavy in the pocket of his jacket.

“Care for some hors d’oeuvres, Deke?” Cassie said.

She offered him the bowl of steamed and salted soybean pods. He eyed them closely and then took a small handful.

“These are interesting,” he said. “Tricky looking, but interesting.”

“You’ll get the hang of it after a while,” Leonora assured him. “Watch me.”

She put the end of one of the salted pods into her mouth, held on to the other end with her fingers and winkled out the soybeans with her front teeth. She dropped the empty pod into a small bowl.

Deke tried the same process. There was a loud sucking sound.

“Got ’em,” he announced. He tossed the empty pod into the bowl.

“If you can do it, so can I,” Thomas said.

He put the tip of a soybean pod into his mouth and scraped lightly with his front teeth. When he was finished he held up the empty pod in triumph.

Everyone laughed and reached for more.

Leonora exchanged a look with Cassie. So far, so good. The evening was off to a promising start.

Thomas sniffed the aromas emanating from the kitchen. “Smells good. What’s for dinner?”

“Spinach and feta cheese lasagna,” Leonora said. “Cassie made an apple pie for dessert.”

“Lasagna?” Thomas got a dreamy expression. “Oh, man. I really, really like lasagna.”

“I can’t even recall the last time I had homemade apple pie,” Deke said. “It’s my favorite.” He looked at Cassie. “Didn’t know you could cook.”

“You never asked,” she said sweetly.

He blushed furiously, reached for his beer and changed the topic. “Good news, bad news from the grad student who ran the tests on that sample of Rhodes’s nutritional supplement.”

“What’s the good news?” Thomas asked.

“It’s just colored sugar and cornstarch.”

Leonora raised her brows. “And the bad news?”

“It’s just colored sugar and cornstarch.”

Thomas grunted. “In other words, we’re not going to get him for selling drugs.”

“Not this easily, at any rate,” Deke said. “He’s a phony but I don’t think you can say he’s doing anything that’s dangerous or illegal with that nutritional supplement he’s selling.”

Leonora looked at him. “Anything new on the old Eubanks murder?”

He swallowed more beer and slowly lowered the bottle. “Like I told Thomas, nothing that would explain Bethany’s interest in the case. According to the old records, it was just one more interrupted burglary in progress.”

Thomas picked up another soybean pod and put it between his teeth. “Eubanks was in the math department. Bethany was a mathematician. Are you sure there’s no connection?”

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