Page 70 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Am I missing something here?” Thomas asked finally.

“I’ll make sure Elissa is safe tonight, but I don’t think there’s anything more for any of us to worry about.”

“What makes you so damn sure she’s safe, Ed? I know you really like the idea that the shooter is on his way out of town but are you willing to bet Elissa’s life on it?”

“The shooter isn’t on his way out of town,” Ed said. He could feel the weariness all the way to his bones but he wouldn’t give in to it. There was no way he would get any sleep tonight. “I don’t know where Kern is yet, but I expect to find him soon.”

“Kern?” Thomas paused a beat, as if he was quickly reevaluating the situation. “Are you saying you believe that Kern was the killer? How did you put it together?”

“I didn’t. Not until Elissa called me a few minutes ago to tell me that her father had disappeared. He left a suicide note.” Ed gazed down at the words on the screen. “He wrote it on his computer. Elissa found it when she got home from the concert tonight.”

“Suicide,” Thomas repeated neutrally.

“Suicide?” a woman said on the other end of the line, her voice muffled against the noisy backdrop of the pub.

“What is it? What’s going on?”

Probably Leonora Hutton, Ed thought. Sitting next to Walker, listening in on the conversation.

“Kern and his boat are both missing,” Ed said. “Looks like he took it out tonight after he returned from Rhodes’s house.”

“Any sign of the gun?”

“Right here in the study next to the computer.” He hesitated, pondering procedure, and then thought, the hell with it. The Walkers had been through a lot this past year. They were entitled. “I won’t give you all the details of the note, but between you and me, it looks like the whole thing went down pretty much as you and your brother figured. Starting way back with Eubanks.”

“What about Bethany and Meredith?” Thomas asked.

“It’s all here. Bethany Walker threatened to expose him as a fraud. So he slipped her some drugs and pushed her off that bluff. Six months later Meredith figured out what had happened and tried to blackmail him. He arranged to meet with her in California. Said he wanted to make a deal. A one-time payment and her promise to disappear. They met for dinner in a neutral location. A restaurant.”

“He slipped the drugs into her food and then set up the accident?”

“Yes. He hoped that would be the end of it. He assumed that everyone involved would continue to write off the Walker brothers’ wild theories. But things just got more complicated. Leonora Hutton arrived on the scene. And the next thing he knows Alex Rhodes tries to blackmail him.”

“You’re sure about that?” Thomas said swiftly.

“He mentions it in his note. Also, Elissa tells me that she went through some of Kern’s financial records recently and found indications of some transactions that she can’t identify. She’s almost positive they’re the blackmail payments.”

“Why did Kern fall apart after murdering Rhodes?”

Ed studied the screen. “Tonight he almost got caught in the act of murder. It was too close. He nearly botched it and he knew it. He says he realizes that it’s just a matter of time before it all comes crashing down on him. Says he can’t face the humiliation of having his colleagues and peers discover that he’s been living a lie for the past thirty years.”

“How about having folks find out that he killed three people in addition to Sebastian Eubanks? That give him any problem?”

“The way I read this note,” Ed said, conscious of Elissa listening to every word, “I’d say the murders were the least of his concerns. It was his fear of having the truth about the algorithm come out that drove him over the edge tonight.”

“How’s Elissa doing?”

He glanced at her with concern. She stood quietly, her arms folded tightly around her midsection. In the glow of the screen he could see tears glistening on her face.

“It’s been a tough night,” Ed said. “But she’s holding up okay. She’s a strong lady.” Elissa gave him a faint, brave little smile. “I’ve got to go, Walker. In addition to dealing with Rhodes’s murder, I’ve got to get a search organized to find Kern. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

He ended the call.

Elissa walked toward him. “Thank you for being so kind tonight, Ed. I don’t think I would have been able to deal with all of this if it hadn’t been for you.”

He put his arms around her and held her close for as long as he dared. About sixty seconds.

Reluctantly he released her. He pressed her hand and picked up his hat.

“Work to do,” he said.

“I understand. Do what you have to do.” She stepped away from him, her eyes full of admiration. “You have your responsibilities to fulfill, and I know you take your duties seriously. It’s part of what makes you such a fine man, Ed.”

He realized he was blushing. Grateful for the low light in the study, he turned quickly away and strode toward the door.

Not every woman understood the demands of his job. Elissa would make a first-rate cop’s wife, he thought. But he couldn’t allow himself to dwell on the possibilities the future held until he had found her father’s body and answered all the outstanding questions.

First things first. That was how you got the job done.

Chapter Nineteen

She went home with Thomas. He acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do but that wasn’t what made her uneasy. What worried her was that it did feel natural. Wrench apparently agreed with the consensus of opinion. He was waiting at the door with a rubber ball that squeaked when he squeezed it.

It was all very comfortable. Maybe too comfortable, she thought. Of course, she could have pointed out to Thomas that, with Alex dead and with Osmond Kern missing and presumed drowned, there was no longer any danger and therefore no logical excuse for spending the night together. But she said nothing.

The truth was, there was no place she would rather have been. Not tonight. She went into Thomas’s arms with a glorious sense of rightness. He held her close and made love to her with a thoroughness that left her exhausted and satisfied. She had expected to battle a bad case of insomnia, given the excitement of the night. Instead, she sank into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning the three of them took the footpath into town to get coffee and tea and the latest gossip. The clouds hung low enough to cut off the tops of the trees and the air was cold. The early morning herd of runners and joggers stampeded past as they strolled in the slow lane.