Page 7 of Smoke in Mirrors

“What questions?”

“You know that stuff about the drugs?”

Deke’s hand clenched fiercely around a pen. “What about it? Bethany didn’t do drugs.”

Thomas reached down to scratch Wrench’s ears. “Leonora Hutton swears Meredith didn’t use them, either.”

“No shit?” Deke put down the pen, sat back and combed his fingers through his untidy beard. “And yet the same rumors are circulating. Now that is interesting.”

“Yeah.”

“You knew Meredith pretty well there for a while,” Deke said. “What do you think about those drug rumors we heard?”

Thomas hesitated. It was a little weird to realize that you could sleep with a woman a few times and not know something as fundamental as whether or not she used illicit chemicals. All he could truthfully say was that she hadn’t used them when she was with him and he’d never seen any indication that she had been under the influence.

“I can’t be sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say Meredith Spooner was too focused on her scams to risk messing herself up with drugs,” he said finally.

“Just as Bethany was too focused on her work to fool around with them. It’s another link, admit it.”

“Okay.” Thomas sighed. “We’ve got two links. Maybe. Both women spent a lot of time at Mirror House and both women are rumored to have used drugs even though there was no evidence they had done any at the time of death and everyone who knew them well claims they wouldn’t have used them at all.”

There was a short silence.

“Not much to go on, is it?” Deke asked wearily.

“No.”

“Maybe Leonora Hutton will turn out to be the key,” Deke said.

Thomas did not respond. He wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted Leonora Hutton to be the key to this thing.

The rain had stopped by the time Thomas and Wrench left Deke’s house but the damp chill bit deep. The clouds hung low and heavy, obscuring what little light was left in the short day. The fir trees dripped and the grass at the edge of the path was muddy. The surface of the bone-chilling water in the cove was agitated and choppy, as though some monstrous denizen of the deep was roaming about down below in search of prey.

Thomas snapped on Wrench’s leash and together they headed for the footpath that would take them home. Wrench didn’t need a leash, but people got nervous if they saw him without one. Thomas empathized. People sometimes got the wrong impression about him, too. Maybe that’s why he and Wrench had hit it off right from the start, he thought. They were both innocent victims of their genetic inheritances.

The paved path followed the outline of the cove. At this time of day the traffic was fairly heavy. Joggers, runners and power walkers jockeyed for position. Those, including Wrench and himself, who moved at a more leisurely pace were expected to give way to others who took their fitness seriously.

Several dogs bobbed at the ends of leashes. Wrench acknowledged a chocolate Lab and a retriever as equals and politely ignored a fluffy little white powder puff that wanted desperately to be best buddies.

Wing Cove was tucked into a densely forested stretch of landscape that bordered Puget Sound. Under other circumstances, Thomas thought, he would have liked the place a lot better, in spite of the fact that it was heavily oriented toward the academic crowd. The cove itself was aptly named. It roughly resembled the shape of a gull’s wing in flight. The widest section was at the entrance where it connected with the Sound. The town was located at the far tip of the wing. A sprinkling of houses and cottages was scattered on the wooded hillsides that rose up from the water’s edge.

Wrench led the way to the narrow footbridge that crossed the cove at midwing. The wooden bridge provided a shortcut to the opposite side. The route saved less enthusiastic exercisers from having to go through town or all the way to the cove’s entrance to use the highway bridge.

When they ambled off the footbridge at the far side Thomas saw a white SUV bearing the blue-and-gold logo of the Wing Cove Police Department parked near the edge of the path.

He recognized Ed Stovall, the chief of police, behind the wheel and raised a hand in casual greeting. Ed rolled down the window and nodded brusquely.

“Evening,” Ed said. There was an edge to the greeting.

He was a small, compact man with thinning hair and no discernible sense of humor. Ed always seemed a little too rigid as far as Thomas was concerned. He figured the guy for a frustrated military commando wanna-be or an ex-Marine.

Then again, he and Deke were biased against Stovall. They had locked horns with him more than once during the months following Bethany’s death.

Ed had handled the investigation. When he had called it a suicide and everyone else, including the medical examiner, had gone along, Deke had protested. Loudly. Stovall had not been real happy when Deke had insisted that there was an unidentified killer running around tiny Wing Cove.

The college administration hadn’t been particularly thrilled with Deke’s conspiracy theory, either. Wing Cove was a company town and Eubanks College, the community’s largest employer, was the company that made the rules. The trustees and the alumni were a conservative bunch. In Thomas’s opinion, the college administration was obsessed with the reputation of the institution. But he had to admit that he could see their point on the subject of campus safety. A campus that acquired a reputation for violence made parents nervous. Nervous parents sent their offspring elsewhere for higher ed. Every tuition fee counted at a small institution like Eubanks.

Although he understood where Stovall and the campus authorities were coming from, Thomas had had no choice but to back Deke’s request for a more thorough investigation of Bethany’s death. Push come to shove, the Walker brothers stood together even when one of them was privately convinced that the other had gone off the deep end.

“Hello, Ed.” Thomas came to a halt beside the SUV’s front window. Wrench sniffed at a tire. “Keeping an eye out for speeding joggers?”

Ed did not smile. Thomas had never seen him smile.

“Had a few minutes,” Ed said in his serious Ed tone. “Got a cup of coffee. Came down here to drink it. Nice here this time of day.”

Thomas realized Ed was not looking at him. He was watching the crowd on the footpath. Thomas followed his gaze. It appeared to be focused on a woman in pale sweats, walking briskly and determinedly at the edge of the path. She looked to be in her late thirties, attractive in a serious sort of way. There was something very focused about the way she moved. He got the feeling she was working off some heavy stress.

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