Thomas reached into his pocket for his cell phone.
“Whoever did this was searching the place and we interrupted him,” Deke said.
“They always tell you not to do that.” Thomas punched the emergency number on his cell phone.
“Now we know why. Good way to get killed.”
In the distance a heavy engine roared to life.
The 911 operator came on the line. Thomas filled her in on the facts.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, losing his patience with the endless litany of questions. “We’ll stick around until Stovall gets here. Not like we’ve got anything better to do. Tell him to watch for a small truck or an SUV on his way here. The guy who did this is driving something big.”
He ended the call.
The rising wind howled in the trees.
The drive in front of the little rental house was illuminated by the glaring lights of three police vehicles and Wing Cove’s two ambulances. The crowd included medical personnel from the hospital, Ed Stovall together with all of the members of his small force, the mayor and a reporter from the Wing Cove Star.
Murder was big news in a small town.
“Been keeping a close eye on Rhodes for quite a while,” Ed Stovall said. “Had a hunch he was dealing. He’s got a background in chemistry and this S and M stuff is definitely something that got cooked up in a lab.”
He stood ramrod stiff next to the gleaming front fender of his white SUV. Thomas figured it was mechanically impossible for Stovall to lounge casually against anything, even his own vehicle. The robotic construction of his compact frame probably did not allow for those options.
“Elissa volunteered to go undercover for me,” Ed said. “A very brave woman. Insisted on doing her duty as a citizen. She got me a sample of some of that nutritional supplement Rhodes sold. I had it tested. Turned out to be flavored sugar crystals and cornstarch. Couldn’t arrest him for peddling snake oil. But I was still sure there was something else going on with him. You ever notice those weird eyes?”
“Tinted contacts,” Thomas said.
“I know. Creepy, if you ask me.”
“I think Rhodes was trying to project a dramatic image,” Thomas said.
“I would have nailed him eventually. Unfortunately, someone else got to him first.”
Thomas watched two men load the gurney bearing Alex Rhodes’s body into the back of an aid car.
Deke scowled. “You really think this was a drug deal gone bad, Ed?”
He was furious and he was making little effort to conceal that fact. Thomas did not blame him. The conversation was not going well. As usual, Ed was not interested in their theories. He had already jumped to his own conclusions regarding the murder.
“It all fits,” Ed said, stubborn as ever.
“Okay,” Thomas said evenly, “say he was dealing drugs. Even if that was the case, what makes you so sure Rhodes got removed by his competition?”
Ed squared his cap. “Drug trade’s a rough business. Folks involved in it get killed pretty regularly.”
“Any idea why the killer would take the time to tear the place apart after shooting Rhodes?”
“Sure. He was looking for Rhodes’s supply and maybe some cash or valuables. Those bastards are all opportunists. Scavenger sharks.” Ed shook his head. “Only good news is that whoever did this is probably halfway back to Seattle. With any luck he’s someone else’s problem now.”
Deke made a disgusted sound. “Think so?”
Ed exhaled heavily. “I’m going to need written statements from both of you in the morning. Want my advice?”
“Not particularly,” Deke said.
Ed ignored him. “Stick to the facts tomorrow. Don’t drag your personal conspiracy theories concerning Mrs. Walker’s death into this thing.”
“Why not?” Deke squinted against the glare of the SUV’s lights. “Because it might raise some awkward questions about your investigation?”
“No,” Ed said quietly. “Because it will raise some awkward questions about the state of your mental health.”
“You think I give a shit about your opinion of my mental health, Stovall?”
Thomas winced. “Take it easy, Deke.”
Ed swung around abruptly to face both of them. “You two want to hear a really awkward question? Try this one: What the hell were you doing here tonight?”
“I told you,” Thomas said, “we came here to confront Rhodes about that near miss out on Cliff Drive. I wanted to hear his excuses.”
“You really think he tried to kill you?”
“Yeah, Ed. I really do think he tried to kill me and Leonora Hutton.”
“You’ve got nothing to back that up. Hell, you didn’t even file a complaint.”
“Didn’t figure you’d pay any attention to another complaint from one of the Walker brothers,” Thomas said.
Ed’s mouth tightened. The line of his jaw was rigid. “Should have filed a complaint.”
“What good would that have done,” Deke shot back, “given your views of the situation?”
“The death of your wife has nothing to do with this,” Ed said. But he said it in a surprisingly quiet voice. “It’s my job to deal with the facts and the facts are that this thing has all the hallmarks of a drug killing.”
Deke looked at Thomas. “Anal-retentive, like you said.”
“Take it easy,” Thomas said. “We need to get back to Leonora and Cassie. They’ll be worrying.”
Deke combed his fingers through his beard. “You’re right. Talking to Stovall is always a waste of time. Let’s get out of here.”
He turned on his heel and started toward the road, heading back to the old house where they had left the SUV.
Thomas moved to follow.
“Wait,” Stovall said in a low voice. “One thing before you two take off.”
Thomas stopped and turned. Deke reluctantly did the same.
“What?” Thomas said.
“I’ve been doing some thinking.”
“That’s gotta hurt,” Deke said.
Ed ignored the barb. “Rhodes came to town a year ago. He was here when Bethany Walker died. If I can prove that he was in the drug business, and I don’t think that will be tough, I’ll take another look at Bethany Walker’s suicide. See if Rhodes might have had a hand in it. I’ll also contact the California authorities and request a copy of the report that was filed on Meredith Spooner’s accident. See if there’s any connection that might have been overlooked on that end.”