Page 69 of Smoke in Mirrors

Deke looked at him.

“That’s all I can do,” Ed said.

“Appreciate it, Ed,” Thomas said.

Ed nodded. “No promises.”

“That I can believe,” Deke grumbled.

Leonora spotted Thomas and Deke first. Relief cascaded through her.

“They’re here.” She slid toward the end of the booth and got to her feet.

“About time.” Cassie put the half-finished bottle of water down on the table and followed her.

Thomas and Deke forged a path through the crowd. Nobody dawdled in their way, Leonora noticed. When they got closer she understood why everyone was giving both men a wide berth. There was cold steel in both pairs of Walker eyes.

She could feel the chill all the way across the room.

“Something happened,” she said to Cassie.

Cassie looked at Deke. “Dear God.”

They both went forward, pushing past Kyle, who was returning from the bar with a tray containing a bottle of designer water and a fresh pot of tea.

“Hey,” he said as they went unceremoniously past him on either side. “Where are you two going?”

They ignored him. Leonora reached Thomas first. She went straight into his arms.

“What happened?” she said against his jacket. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” He hugged her close. “We’re both okay.”

Cassie put her hand on Deke’s shoulder. “What went wrong?”

“Long story,” Deke said. He gave her a crooked smile. “Don’t I get a welcome hug, too?”

With a small, choked cry, Cassie put her arms around his waist and pressed her face against his shoulder.

“We both need a beer,” Thomas said. With one arm around Leonora’s waist, he led the way toward the booth. His expression chilled further when he saw Kyle. “What the hell is he doing here?”

“Never mind Kyle.” Leonora grabbed his arm and urged him into the booth. “Sit down.”

Thomas obediently lowered himself onto the bench. She got in beside him. Deke and Cassie sat down on the other side. Kyle stood, tray in hand, looking slightly confused.

“I’ll have a beer. Whatever’s on draft,” Thomas said to Kyle.

“Same for me,” Deke said.

Kyle opened his mouth, closed it. With a small sigh, he turned and started back toward the bar.

Leonora looked at Thomas. “All right, let’s have it.”

“Rhodes is dead,” he said.

Cassie stared at him, speechless.

Leonora felt as if the air had been sucked out of her lungs.

“Dead?” Her voice rose. “He’s dead? Are you sure?”

“Real sure,” Thomas said.

“Not—?” Leonora let the words hang, unspoken, in midair.

“Not us,” Deke assured her dryly. “Someone else got there first. Shot him twice.”

“Who?” Leonora demanded.

“Didn’t get a good look at him,” Thomas said, “but our guess is—”

“What do you mean, you didn’t get a good look?” Leonora shot up and planted both palms on the table. “You saw the killer? He was there when you arrived?”

“He didn’t hang around long,” Deke said. “Only fired one shot in our direction before he split.”

“Oh, my God,” Cassie whispered. “Oh, my God.”

Leonora sat down again. Hard. She had a feeling her mouth was hanging open in an unattractive fashion, but she couldn’t summon up the will to close it. She propped her elbows on the table and dropped her face into her hands.

“Stovall is convinced it was a drug killing and much as I hate to admit it, it’s just barely possible,” Thomas said. “But we may get something out of it. Because of the rumors of drugs being involved in Bethany’s and Meredith’s deaths, Stovall has promised to take another look at both files. See if there’s any link to Rhodes.”

Leonora raised her head. “You’re right. That’s progress.”

Thomas folded his arms on the table and lowered his voice. “Still doesn’t give us any connection to the Eubanks murder thirty years ago, though.”

“I’ve been working on a new conspiracy theory,” Deke said. “What if first Bethany and then Meredith figured out Kern had committed that murder all those years ago? What if, fearing exposure and the loss of his reputation from Bethany and maybe blackmail in Meredith’s case, he decided to get rid of both women and wanted some help?”

“I see where you’re going here,” Leonora whispered. “Maybe Kern suspected that Alex Rhodes was selling drugs. Bought some S and M from him and used it to poison Bethany first and, six months later, Meredith. It would have been easy to stage a suicide and a car accident if they were in the grip of severe hallucinogens.”

Thomas looked at Deke. “If you and Leonora are right, you see where it leads?”

Deke nodded. “Right back to Osmond Kern. Maybe that was who we surprised in Rhodes’s house tonight. Maybe Kern knew that we were getting close. He had to get rid of Rhodes because Alex, as the dealer who had sold him the S and M, was the one person who could link him to the two deaths.”

“If you’re right,” Thomas said, “Elissa might be in danger.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. “From her own father?”

“I don’t think Osmond Kern is what any self-respecting psychologist would term a nurturing parent.” Thomas reached for his cell phone. “I’ll give Stovall a call. He’ll probably tell me I’m as crazy as Deke, but I’m pretty sure he’s got a personal interest in Elissa Kern. He cares about her. He’ll want to be sure she’s safe.”

Ed was standing in Osmond Kern’s darkened study, gazing at the text on the glowing computer screen when he took the call.

“Stovall here.”

“This is Walker. Thomas Walker. I know you don’t want to listen to any more conspiracy theories tonight, but if the Walker brothers and their associates are right about this one, Elissa may be in grave danger.”

“Not anymore.”

“Hear me out, Ed. There’s a chance that Osmond Kern shot Alex Rhodes tonight to cover up a murder that was committed thirty years ago.”

“You know something, Walker? You’re good at this detective stuff. Maybe you should consider a career in law enforcement.”

There was a beat of silence. Ed could hear the sounds of a crowd and easy jazz. The Walkers were in the Wings of Fire Pub. He wouldn’t mind being there right now himself. He didn’t drink much normally, but he could have used a shot of something strong right at that moment.