Page 66 of Smoke in Mirrors

Cassie picked up her bottle of designer water and poured the contents into a glass that was filled with ice. “I’m not sure how I feel about being packed off here to wait while our men go charging into the wilderness to do manly stuff.”

“I know how you feel. But you’ve got to admit, Thomas had a point when he said that it would be ridiculous for all four of us to tromp through the woods to Rhodes’s house. Of all of us, he and Deke are the ones who have the best shot at accomplishing something useful tonight. Thomas knows about money stuff and Deke knows computers.”

“I’m not arguing the logic of the decision. I’m just not real happy about it, that’s all.” Cassie helped herself to a pretzel from the small dish that sat on the table. She chewed for a while and then swallowed and leaned forward. “Do you really think it was Rhodes who tried to run you and Thomas off that road tonight?”

Leonora shuddered. “Rhodes or Kern. It had to be one of them. My money’s on Rhodes. I think Kern is too far gone into the bottle to be able to drive that skillfully.”

Cassie’s face tightened with anxiety. “This is so very weird. I hope we’re not all experiencing some form of mass hallucination here.”

“Is there really such a thing as mass hallucination?”

“Sure. Happens all the time. Plenty of incidents of it recorded throughout history.”

“Terrific.” Leonora sipped tea. “Something else to worry about.”

Neither of them spoke for a while. The music seemed to grow louder. So did the crowd.

“One good thing is coming out of all this,” Cassie said with a determinedly upbeat air. “Deke is changing. He talked to me about his relationship with Bethany for the first time.”

Leonora patted her arm. “That’s good.”

“He’s been twisted up with guilt because three days before she died, he had asked her for a divorce.”

“I got it. So when the verdict of suicide came down, he really took it hard.”

“Yes. He didn’t believe it. More to the point, he couldn’t allow himself to believe it because that would have meant he might have been the one responsible for triggering the act.”

“Nasty stuff.”

Cassie nodded. “It’s been eating him up inside. But he’s moving past it now. Thanks to you.”

“I had nothing to do with it. And neither did you or Thomas. Deke is saving himself. When it comes to this kind of thing we can all hold out helping hands to each other, doctors can supply some very helpful medications, but in the end, each of us has to have the will to swim to shore on our own. No one can carry another person. Not for long, at any rate.”

Cassie made a face. “That’s a very Darwinian view of life, isn’t it?”

“As the evolutionary biology types are so fond of pointing out, all of us are descended from folks who did whatever they had to do in order to survive.” Leonora paused. “Funny that you would use that phrase, though.”

“Darwinian?”

“Yes. Andrew Grayson used it this afternoon to describe life in the academy.”

“Well, you’ve got to admit that Darwinian is certainly one word for academic politics.”

“True, but until I talked to Grayson this afternoon, I never took the law of publish or perish quite so literally.”

“We still don’t know for sure that Kern committed murder.” Cassie broke off abruptly when a shadow fell across the table.

Leonora followed her gaze.

“Leo,” Kyle said with a hearty enthusiasm that rang painfully false. “I’ve been looking for you. Where have you been? I called your house several times, but you never answered the phone.”

“I’ve been busy all day, Kyle.”

“That so?” He grinned pointedly at Cassie. “Going to introduce me to your friend?”

“This is Kyle Delling,” Leonora said. “He’s in the English Department at Piercy. Kyle, this is Cassie Murray. She has a yoga studio here in Wing Cove.”

“A pleasure.” Taking the introduction for an invitation, Kyle slid into the booth. He slipped an arm around Leonora’s shoulders in a cozy, familiar manner. “Just to put you in the picture, Cassie, Leo and I are more than good friends. We used to be engaged.”

“I see.” Cassie looked at Leonora. “Has he met Thomas?”

“He met Thomas.” She smiled very sweetly at Kyle. “You remember Thomas, don’t you, Kyle? That man in my kitchen this morning? The one who looked like he’d been in a fight?” She glanced at her watch. “He should be here any minute.”

Kyle tensed and then promptly removed his arm from her shoulders. He shot to his feet and gave both women a brilliant smile.

“What’s everyone drinking?” he asked. “I’m buying this round.”

“Tea,” Leonora murmured. “Thank you.”

“Water.” Cassie held up the bottle so that he could read the label.

“Got it. Be right back.” Kyle plunged into the crowd.

Cassie looked at Leonora.

“Your ex-fiancé?”

“Yep.”

“I’ve got an ex-husband,” Cassie said thoughtfully. “In my experience, exes of any kind don’t tend to hang around unless they’re after something.”

“He’s after something,” Leonora said.

“You?”

“No. He’s seeking a more durable relationship than the one we had.”

“That would be?”

“Tenure.”

He was sweating. Again.

It had been a near thing on Cliff Drive this evening. He was still jittery from the close call. He paced the front room, thinking about how he had almost lost control and plunged through the guardrail.

Had Walker gotten a good look at the SUV? Didn’t matter. It was black, just like a hundred other SUVs in town. Luckily, he had remembered to tape the license plate.

He’d parked the vehicle in the trees out back just in case. He didn’t want Walker to drive past tonight, see it in plain view and maybe start to wonder. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe.

The jumpy feeling was really getting to him.

He glanced at the Rolex. His new client would be here at any minute. He tried to focus on that. She was spectacular. Blond. Great tits. Reminded him a little of Meredith.

No, don’t think about Meredith. Everything had started to go wrong after Meredith.

Think about the new client.

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