Page 8 of Smoke in Mirrors

He glanced back at Ed and recognized the expression. Any male would have understood it. Ed had it bad for the lady in the light-colored sweats. For a couple of seconds he even felt a twinge of sympathy. Then he reminded himself that this was Stovall, who thought Deke was crazy.

“Friend of yours?” Thomas asked.

“We’ve met a few times,” Ed said. Very offhand. “We both spend a lot of time at the Hidden Cove.”

The Hidden Cove was one of the town’s two bookstores. Thomas was mildly surprised to discover that Ed read. Police procedural mysteries and high-tech military thrillers, no doubt.

Thomas watched the woman. “Who is she?”

“Elissa Kern. Professor Kern’s daughter.”

“Didn’t know he had one.”

“Elissa told me that her parents were divorced when she was five. She and her mother moved away. Didn’t see much of her dad for a long time. Elissa got divorced, herself, last year. Came back here to get to know her father.” Ed took a swallow of coffee and lowered the cup. “Don’t think it’s working out. Kern’s got a problem with the bottle. Only reason he hasn’t been fired is because he’s got tenure.”

“I heard.”

Everyone in town knew that Dr. Osmond J. Kern, distinguished professor of mathematics, was slowly drinking himself to death. Bethany had been a great admirer of Kern’s and had always spoken highly of him. The professor had made his name and reputation nearly thirty years ago with his work on an algorithm that had won prestigious prizes in mathematics and had proved enormously important to the computer industry. He hadn’t done anything else of note before or since as far as Thomas knew. But, then, Kern hadn’t needed to do much more than show up occasionally for classes and seminars. As Ed had just pointed out, Kern’s work on the algorithm had been his ticket to academic nirvana: tenure.

Elissa Kern was almost directly in front of the SUV now. Ed watched her with a tight, stoic expression. She noticed the vehicle parked in the deepening shadows. Thomas thought her tense expression lightened a little. She did not pause but she raised her hand in greeting.

Ed responded by lifting his own hand six whole inches.

Seething passion, Ed Stovall style.

But who was he to judge? Thomas thought. Not like he was getting any seething passion, himself, these days.

“Hey, Ed, you hear those rumors about Meredith Spooner doing drugs?”

Ed’s gaze followed Elissa as she moved off down the footpath. “I heard.”

“Yesterday I met someone who knew her pretty well. She said that Meredith had a thing about drugs. Claimed she wouldn’t have used them. That strike you as familiar?”

Ed sighed and pulled his attention away from Elissa’s disappearing backside. “We’ve been over this ground before, Walker.”

“Just thought I’d mention it.”

“Sounds like your brother is working on a new conspiracy theory. Tell him not to waste his time. The investigation into Bethany Walker’s death is closed and it will stay that way unless you’ve got some solid evidence to show me.”

“Sure, Ed. Always good to know you’re keeping an open mind.”

“Best thing you could do for your brother is get him to a shrink.” Ed switched on the SUV’s ignition. “Might not be a bad idea if you had a chat with one, yourself. You’re starting to sound like you’re buying into Deke’s fantasy.”

Wrench chose that moment to lift his leg beside the front tire of the SUV.

Fortunately, Ed did not notice the canine insult. He was too busy looking back over his shoulder to check for traffic behind the SUV. He put the vehicle in gear and drove away down a narrow lane.

Wrench came to stand quietly beside Thomas.

“That was very passive-aggressive of you, Wrench.”

Wrench grinned.

“Okay, maybe I am getting as bad as Deke,” Thomas said. “But at least I’m not parking in the trees down here near the footpath to watch a woman do her daily exercise routine. A man’s gotta be desperate to do that.”

Wrench looked up at him.

“All right, so we hung around that apartment down in L.A. for a while waiting for Leonora Hutton to show up. Different matter entirely. That was business.”

He and Wrench continued along the footpath at their own easy pace, ignoring the thundering herd. A short while later they turned off the path to follow a lane up the wooded hillside to the house in the trees.

Thomas paused on the porch to dig out his key and open the door. Inside the small foyer he unleashed Wrench. He removed his jacket and hung it in the closet. Wrench went into the kitchen to find his water bowl.

There was a chill in the house. Thomas paused in the front room to light the fire. When the blaze was crackling properly he rose and walked between the two large recliners positioned in front of the hearth to the counter that divided the kitchen and living areas.

Virtually every surface gleamed in these rooms. Ditto the bathroom and front hall. It had taken him several months to complete the tile project. Sometimes he wondered if he’d gone a little overboard.

He checked the phone for messages. There were none. Leonora Hutton had not called.

He opened a cupboard, took a doggie treat out of a large bag and tossed it to Wrench. Wrench crunched happily away on the fake bone.

“Supposed to be good for your teeth,” Thomas said.

Wrench did not appear to be concerned about his teeth.

It was hard to explain good oral hygiene to a dog that had been blessed with excellent teeth. Thomas abandoned the attempt, opened the door beside the refrigerator and went into his favorite room in the house, his workshop.

He switched on the light. Ranks of gleaming tools were neatly arranged on the walls. Pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, all were organized according to size and type. Storage chests with clear plastic windows on the drawers held precisely sorted nails and screws. A sack of grout left over from the recent marathon tile project stood in the corner.

He walked to the large wooden table in the center of the room and lounged against it next to the drill press. He did his best thinking in this room and right now he wanted to think about Leonora Hutton.

Night and day. Reverse images in a mirror.

He’d been so damn sure what to expect from the woman he assumed had been Meredith’s partner. But Leonora baffled him. She hadn’t even tried to seduce him. He told himself he shouldn’t take it personally. Still, he had a feeling it would have been an interesting experience. A lot more interesting than it had been with Meredith.

Tags: Jayne Ann Krentz Suspense