Page 6 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Prove it. Help me find the money she embezzled.”

“You’re threatening me. I really hate that.”

“I’ve also offered a hefty finder’s fee,” he reminded her. “Think of it as the carrot-and-stick approach.”

“If you don’t mind,” she said icily, “I’ve got to finish packing up Meredith’s things.”

“Which reminds me. I’ve got a question about that.”

“What question?”

“Why are you the one who came here today? Why is it your job to clean out the apartment and deal with the final details of Meredith Spooner’s life?”

Leonora looked around at the unadorned walls and the impersonal furnishings. It was difficult to imagine Meredith, always so vivid and exciting, spending the last few days of her life in this plain, dull space.

A great sadness welled up inside Leonora. Meredith had been complicated and frequently maddening. Whenever she had appeared, trouble had followed. But the world would certainly be a less colorful place without her.

“There was no one else to do it,” Leonora said.

Chapter Two

Perpetual night infused the interior of Deke’s house. The curtains were drawn closed on all the windows even though the low, gray clouds of the cold November afternoon offered no real threat of sunlight. The gloom was relieved only by the eerie glow of the computer screen. It reflected off the lenses of Deke’s gold-rimmed glasses and bathed his face and untrimmed beard in an unhealthy light.

Thomas sat in the leather armchair on the other side of the desk, a cup of coffee beside him, Wrench sprawled at his feet, and felt depressed. Whatever progress he had made in the struggle to drag Deke out of the netherworld inside his computer had been lost when the news of Meredith Spooner’s death had reached them. Deke had immediately plunged back through the looking glass, searching for connections and patterns to support his theory that Bethany had been murdered.

“Leonora Hutton showed up at the apartment?” Deke asked. His eagerness was so painfully obvious that it hurt to look at him. “Just like you thought she would?”

“She showed. Said she’d come to pack up Meredith’s things.”

“Well? What happened? Will she help us?”

“I don’t know,” Thomas said.

“What do you mean? You told me that she was our only real lead.”

“I know.” He hesitated. “But she’s not quite what I expected.”

“How’s that?”

Thomas thought about his impressions of Leonora. He was still trying to sort them out. He’d spent most of the time on the trip back to Wing Cove yesterday and a lot of last night on the task, but he hadn’t made much headway. No matter how he approached the problem she refused to be stuffed into a neat category.

“She’s nothing like Meredith,” he said. “Complete opposites, in fact. Reverse images. Day and night.”

If Meredith, with a voice that hinted of honey and Texas, golden blond hair and eyes the color of a summer sky, had been the day, Leonora was the night.

“Good twin, bad twin?” Deke suggested.

“Trust me, those two were never twins.”

A memory of that first glimpse of Leonora yesterday when she had turned away from the dresser to confront him hovered in his head. The image haunted him like the remnants of a dream he could not shake.

He saw her again now in his mind and tried to employ a measure of objectivity. She had been dressed in a pair of dark green trousers and a green pullover. Her dark hair had been caught up in a French twist. Stylish, black-rimmed glasses emphasized her green eyes and the striking planes and angles of an intelligent face that had fascinated him for some inexplicable reason. So much so that he had had to make an effort to look away, even for a few seconds. She had worn little if any detectable makeup. Not a woman who traded on her looks the way Meredith had, he thought.

Within five seconds of meeting her he had known that Leonora was a lot like him in one respect. She was accustomed to going after what she wanted. Probably didn’t give up easily, either, once she had set herself a goal.

“What did she say about the finder’s fee?” Deke asked.

“Called it a bribe. Then I sort of implied that if the police got involved they might look in her direction to find the money, what with her being such a good friend of Meredith’s and all.”

Deke was startled. “How did that go over?”

“I don’t think she liked being threatened.”

“No big surprise there, I guess.” Deke gazed into the oracle that was his glowing computer screen. “I’ve been thinking about the money.”

“What about it?”

“In a way, it’s the least of our problems.”

“Got news for you, Deke, when the audit turns up more than a million missing from the fund we’re going to have a big problem.”

“I’ll replace the money before the audit. No one will ever know it disappeared.”

“Replace it? Just where do you plan to get that kind of cash?”

“I’ll liquidate some accounts.”

“The hell you will,” Thomas said softly. “I’m your investment manager, remember? Damned if I’ll let you take that kind of a bath.”

“I can replace it. Take a few consulting assignments.”

“Forget it. Meredith Spooner stole that money. We’re going to get it back.”

Deke smiled slightly.

“What?” Thomas said.

“Nothing. Just that when it comes to finding that missing money you’re starting to sound as obsessed as I am about figuring out who murdered Bethany.”

“It’s the principle of the thing, damn it.”

“Yeah,” Deke said. “Gotta love those principle things.”

Thomas slumped deeper into the chair. “We’re getting a reputation around here, you know. They’re calling us the ‘crazy Walker brothers.’ ”

“I heard.”

They sat together in the gloom for a while. Wrench stretched, changed position slightly and went back to sleep.

“We need to find the money,” Thomas said eventually, “because it’s our only shot at figuring out whether or not you’re right about Bethany and Meredith being murdered.”

“What’s this? You mean you’re starting to buy into my conspiracy theory?”

“Let’s just say that my conversation with Leonora raised some questions I’d like to see answered.”