I drove the RAV4 to U.S.C. in silence. We parked in the student parking lot and I followed Lonnie in to the hall where his locker was located. He opened and took out his English Literature book, then closed and locked the locker. We went back down the hall and across the lot to where we’d left the Toyota. Lonnie got in the passenger side and I got behind the wheel, then we were underway.
In just a few minutes we were back at the mansion and headed up the steps. I heard the click before I saw anything and tackled the last of the Cortez children as the gun went off. The bullet hit one step behind us, and I rushed junior into the house. “I heard a gunshot!” Alma exclaimed.
“Flatbush missed us,” I told her, and it got me to thinking. Billy Flatbush was an expert marksman. Yet he’d missed either Lonnie or myself four times. There were two possible explanations – the man shooting at us wasn’t Billy Flatbush, or missing us was deliberate.
I went upstairs to see if I’d gotten any of the information I’d requested. All of the banking data was there, as well as a copy of Alma Cortez’s will. Now I had to sit down and read over everything. If I was lucky it would only take the afternoon. I started with the bank statements first.
There was enough data there to make me believe that this time I was on the right track. Once I’d gone through Alma’s will I knew I was. I was just about to put everything away when I heard a commotion downstairs – raised voices, doors slamming, objects breaking as they hit the floor, and finally a gunshot. I grabbed my gun and stuck it in the back of my waistband, and slipped out of my room carefully. Junior’s door was open, and he wasn’t in there. I snuck out to the stairs and tried to peak down, but all I could see was Gerald standing there with his hands high in the air.
Finally I heard him – that voice I’d know anywhere. “Alright Simon, I know you can hear me. Unless you want to see all three of these people dead, get down here now.” It was Billy Flatbush. I walked down the stairs as casually as I could, and when I was about halfway down I got a complete picture. As I said before, Gerald was standing almost dead center in the vestibule with his hands in the air. Alma was leaning against the living room doorway, and I could see a trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth down her chin. Junior was standing behind her. They must have both been in the living room and he followed his mother out. Flatbush was in the corner behind the front door; he had a handgun in his right hand and a rifle leaning up against the door.
“How did you get in here?” I asked. “Don’t you know they have pest control in this house?”
“You’re not in the least bit funny. You know that, don’t you?”
“What is it you want, Flatbush? Or should I tell you how this is going to go?”
“First of all, I want you dead,” he all but growled at me. “You’ve been making life tough for me, and I’m through with that.”
“So kill me,” I replied. “But I don’t think that’s all you want.”
“No, it’s not, smart guy. What else do I want?”
“I think you want to finish the job you were hired to do. Let’s see, how much did you get paid to take care of the Cortez family? Half a million up front and the rest when Lonnie got his money from the estate?”
I heard Alma gasp. Lonnie never made a sound, but I noticed he’d stepped out from behind his mother. “Rick, what are you saying?”
“I’m sorry, Alma, but the reason that Lonnie escaped being hit each time he was shot at is very simple – he wasn’t the target. But it had to look like he was. The way you had your will drawn up, if all four children were alive when you died, they each got one-fourth of the estate. If there were only three alive, they got one-third. Two alive left them with half each, and if there was only a single survivor, he or she got it all. You’re a bright lady, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.”
“Oh no, Rick, it can’t be. You have to be wrong. Lonnie, tell him he’s wrong.”
Lonnie walked over and picked up the rifle. “Sorry, Mom, your private investigator got it right.” He aimed the rifle at his mother, but turned his head to address me. “I was wondering how long it was going to take you to figure it out. We laid a neat little trail for you, and you followed it so well. I don’t know what tipped you off, but it’s nice to know you weren’t as dumb as I thought you were.”
“Somebody hinted that I might want to check your bank account. It was easy to follow you from there.” Donahue had given me the idea. If I got out of this alive I had a proposal to run past him.
Alma stared at her only remaining child in horror. “You paid . . . you paid to have your brothers and sister killed? What kind of a monster are you?”
Lonnie smirked. “I guess I take after Uncle Eduardo.”
“Well, let’s stop all the chit-chat and get this show on the road, shall we? You, butler, get over here by the lady of the house.”
“Where do you want me to go?” I asked Flatbush.
“You stay right where you are. I’m going to enjoy filling you full of lead.” He looked at Gerald, who hadn’t moved. “Hey, butler, get over here I said.”
Gerald had to walk in front of me to get where Billy wanted him. I had about half a second when Flatbush couldn’t see me, and that’s when I made my move. I reached behind and pulled my gun, and before anybody could say “Boo” I put three bullets in the hitman. His gun fired as he went down, knicking Gerald in the right shoulder and me in the left arm. Billy looked surprised as he fell. Lonnie was terrified and threw down the rifle. I glanced over at Alma and there was nothing but hatred in her eyes. I almost shot him; then reasoning took over and I didn’t think he was worth it.
I bent down to examine Gerald’s shoulder and I heard a soft thud from Alma’s direction. Madame had fainted. “You alright, Gerald?” I asked as I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. He nodded and then I had emergency on the line. “Yes, I need the police and an ambulance at 763 Mockingbird Lane. And the coroner. Send Sergeant Donahue if he’s on patrol, would you? And please hurry. There are people here bleeding.” Then I hung up. I know they hate that, but I didn’t have time to blather on about what happened when the police would ask me the same questions when they got here.
I made my way over to Alma, lying on the floor. I tried not to drip blood all over her, but it was almost impossible not to. I patted her cheeks and called to her, and she was just starting to come around as the EMT’s and the cops got there. Gerald got taken to one ambulance and I got taken to another; as soon as they’d cleaned my wound and wrapped it I declined further medical treatment. I went over to see how Gerald was doing and all he could say was, “It hurts, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” I told him, ”but you’re the hero, bud. If you hadn’t walked past me, we’d probably all be dead by now.” That got a smile out of him.
“Take care of Madame, please.”
“I will,” I promised, and went back in the house. Lonnie was sitting on the floor, handcuffed. His mother was laid out on the couch, a doctor bending over her. Donahue was coming my way. “You were right,” I told him. “The evidence was all in the bank account.”
He beamed at me for about ten seconds and then got all stern and official. “Tell me what happened.” So I did. He recorded my statement and then switched the machine off. “Congratulations on taking care of Flatbush. That’s one s.o.b. that got exactly what he deserved.”
“He was gonna kill us all, Sean. I really didn’t have any choice in the matter.”
Sergeant Donahue grabbed junior by the handcuffs and pulled him to his feet. “Good job, Rick,” he whispered to me as he walked past. Then he started reciting Lonnie’s Miranda rights to him.
I went over to see how Alma was doing – I know she’d had a hell of a shock. She was sitting up and the doctor had applied a small band-aid right below her mouth. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. ”How could I have given birth to that monster? To have his own family murdered.”
“He wasn’t finished, Alma. If you start to feel sorry for him, just remember he was going to kill you, and Gerald . . . and me.”
“I never did anything but love him, Rick. He took everyone I had in the world away from me.”
I shook my head. “Not everyone, Alma. You have two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and four grandchildren. And a butler that loves you very much.”
“Gerald? How is he?”
“He’ll be fine after he spends a few days in the hospital. He’s a good man, Alma. You could do worse.”
“I know I could. And what about you? What are you?”
I laughed. “I, Madame, am a very dear friend.” And I kissed her hand.