Page 65 of Smoke in Mirrors

Leonora fell silent.

They were on Cliff Drive now. Thomas slowed some more to compensate for the poor visibility. Down below the bluffs the cold, deep waters of the Sound swirled in the darkness.

Lights glared suddenly in the rearview mirror. A car, coming up fast from behind. The lights disappeared when Thomas went into the next curve.

“You know, Rhodes has been in town for about a year,” Thomas said. “Who knows what information he might have picked up from one of his clients? Margaret Lewis and Andrew Grayson can’t be the only two people who had some suspicions about the Eubanks murder.”

“Are you thinking that Alex figured out that Kern murdered Eubanks?” She considered that. “If he did, he might be blackmailing Kern. Maybe he killed Bethany and Meredith when they got too close to the truth to protect his investment.”

“There’s a certain logic to that scenario.”

The lights hit the mirror again, this time with dazzling intensity. He adjusted the glass to deflect the undimmed glare. It didn’t do much good. The big vehicle was closing the distance.

He was getting that weird, hair-lifting-on-the-back-of-his-neck feeling again. He wondered if he was starting to get paranoid.

“What a mess,” Leonora said. “We’ll never be able to prove anything.”

“I don’t know about that.” He checked the mirror again. The car behind him was definitely closer. “Might be some possibilities. Blackmail payments are nothing more than simple financial transactions when you get right down to it. And money always leaves a trail.”

“But how would we find it?”

“Remember that laptop we saw on Rhodes’s desk the day we did our little B and E job at his place? Deke might be able to coax something useful out of that sucker.”

“You’re going to go back inside Alex’s house?” Alarm sharpened her voice. “Thomas, no. My instincts tell me that is not a good idea. Not now. This is getting much too dangerous. We need to talk to Ed Stovall—”

Lights struck the side mirror. Thomas stopped listening to Leonora.

The vehicle that had been closing the distance from behind was pulling out to pass.

“Shit,” Thomas said softly.

Leonora broke off abruptly and whipped around in her seat. “Oh, my God. No one but a drunk or a homicidal maniac would attempt to pass here, especially in this rain.”

“Personally,” Thomas said, “I’m going with homicidal maniac.”

She looked at him. “What?”

He did not respond. They were heading into the very short stretch of straight pavement that ran along the highest point of Cliff Drive.

If it was going to happen, it would happen here, he thought.

The lights in the rearview mirror were as bright as the noonday sun. He did not look at them, but out of the corner of his eye he could detect the bulk of the vehicle coming up on his left.

“Check your seat belt. Make sure it’s tight.”

He did not wait to see if Leonora obeyed. Time had run out. He hit the brakes, feeling for that magical place between a controlled stop and a disastrous skid that would send them over the side.

The dark vehicle on the left swerved violently toward the SUV’s fender, a metal shark swooping out of the night seeking a single, fatal bite.

The sudden deceleration of its prey caught it by surprise. The snapping jaws missed by a heartbeat. It swerved. For an instant Thomas thought the vehicle might go through the guardrail. It fishtailed wildly. But at the last possible instant the driver managed to recover control.

Thomas caught a glimpse of a black SUV. He watched the taillights disappear around the next curve.

For a few time-warped seconds that felt like an eternity, neither he nor Leonora said a word. They both looked straight ahead to the point where the other car had vanished.

Eventually Leonora turned to him.

“Is this the place?” she whispered.

“Yes.” He accelerated deliberately. “This is the place where Bethany jumped.”

Two hours later, Thomas sat in the front seat with Deke. They were parked in the trees behind the abandoned cottage, not far from Alex Rhodes’s place. It had stopped raining, but the clouds hung low, an invisible weight pressing down from the night sky.

They had cruised past Rhodes’s house a few minutes ago. There was no vehicle in the drive. The lights were off. It looked like Rhodes was out for the evening.

“Probably having a couple of drinks at the pub in town,” Deke said. “Maybe getting sloshed. That near miss must have freaked him out. From what you told me, it sounds like he almost went over the edge when you did the sudden slowdown thing. Maybe he’s thinking about how close he came to getting killed instead of killing you.”

“I hope the bastard is having some shaky moments,” Thomas said.

“You’re sure it was Rhodes? There are an awful lot of dark SUVs and four-by-fours in this town.”

“Can’t be absolutely positive, but you’ve got to admit that the list of potential suspects is pretty damn short.”

“Could have been Osmond Kern,” Deke said. “He owns a dark-blue SUV, I think. And if Andrew Grayson is right, he’s capable of murder.”

“Maybe. But my money’s on Rhodes.”

“That’s because you’re pissed at him for the way he came on to Leonora and maybe arranged for you to get beaten up last night.”

“Okay, so I’m a little biased.” He opened the door. “Ready? Let’s get this done and done fast, just like we promised Leonora and Cassie. We go in. You download whatever you can get off that laptop and we get out.”

“And if I can’t get through his personal security?”

“We take the whole damn laptop. Hell with it. Let him go whining to Ed Stovall about a stolen computer.”

“Right.” Deke got out on his side and zipped his jacket. “This should be interesting.”

They started into the trees, heading toward the dark house at the end of the lane.

Leonora sat in the booth across from Cassie, a cup of very weak tea in front of her. The young man behind the bar had done his best, but there wasn’t much anyone could do with a poor-quality tea bag and water that hadn’t even been brought to the boiling point. Not that it mattered, she thought glumly. She couldn’t concentrate well enough to taste anything right now. All she could do was worry about Thomas and Deke.

The Wings of Fire Pub and Restaurant was crowded with a mix of students, faculty and townsfolk, seeking warmth and companionship on a damp, chilly night. Onstage a small group of musicians crafted mellow jazz.

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