I pulled into the only parking space available at the office, right in front of the entry door. Robin had a clear view of the Cadillac from her desk. And I heard about it as soon as I got inside. “Nice ride. Who’d you steal it from?”
“It’s a loaner, until I can get a rental car.”
“From your friend Alma?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. As soon as I hear from the kid that hit me’s insurance company, I’ll get a rental.”
“Alright, come over here,” was the next thing I heard.
I walked to her desk and she examined my head. “Stitches?”
“Seven. I told you this morning. And a concussion.” I guess she didn’t listen to me when we talked earlier.
“And how is the wrist?” The question was a little gentler in tone.
“It hurts, but I’ll live.”
“Can I see it, please?”
I gave her my wrist and she poked and prodded until I yelped, “Ouch.”
“Did you get the stuff I asked for on Navarro?”
“Here.” She handed me two sheets of paper, filled with data. “I was just getting ready to send it to you.”
I took the paper back to my office and sat at my computer. I’d barely gotten the thing booted up when Robin came in and sat down. “I’ve got a favor to ask you.”
“I know you asked me to clean Eddie’s office out, and I went in there and tried. I can’t do it by myself. Can you help me?”
I sat there for a minute while we stared at each other. “Sure. But it has to wait until I’ve figured this Navarro/Cortez mess out.”
“Okay. I’ll just keep the door closed.”
“I see you got his name off the door.”
She nodded. “That was the only thing I could do.”
“I understand. Maybe it’s better this way.” It was gonna hurt no matter when we did it, but a little time might help.
“Probably so. Thanks.” She got up and turned to leave the room.
“Robin.” She turned back around to face me. “You’re welcome.”
It took me two or three hours to put all the data I had into some kind of timeline. By the time I was finished I had almost four full pages. I didn’t hear a word out of Robin the whole time I was working. Once I was sure I had everything I needed, I got up and went to my doorway. “Do you want to get lunch before I leave?”
“Yes, thank you.” She stopped what she was doing and grabbed her purse. “I’ll be right back.” That meant she was going to the Subway Sandwich Shop down at the corner.
“Bring me an iced tea, please.”
She walked out the door and turned left. Yep, Subway. I looked down at her desk and saw the picture she had framed. It was the three of us, the day we moved into this office. It seemed so long ago, but it was only four years. Our whole world had changed in that time.
I went back to my office and stopped at the computer. I printed out four sets of the ‘report’ I’d just finished and put them in my briefcase. The briefcase and I went back out to the front office and sat down to wait for Robin. She was back in just a few minutes, carrying a bag with her lunch in it, and my iced tea. “Are you leaving now?” she asked.
“Nope, not until you’ve finished eating.”
“You really did have a concussion, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did. Why do you ask?” I was perplexed as to what she was getting at.
“Because you’re too nice.”
“Maybe I just . . . oh, never mind.”
“Maybe I just miss the way it was when the three of us were together,” I told her, and instantly regretted it.
“I know,” she replied softly. “I do, too.”
I got up and picked up my briefcase. “I’m going now.” I walked out the door and got in the Caddy before I said anything else. By the time I got back to the mansion I had myself put back together again.
Gerald met me at the door. “Madam is upstairs napping.”
That sounded like a good idea, given that I’d been up since five o’clock. “I think I’ll do the same,” I said, handing Gerald the keys to the car. I trudged up the stairs, set my briefcase down, and laid on the bed, fully dressed. I was asleep in a matter of minutes.
I woke up slowly, the way you do when you’ve been really deep in sleep. I knew right away, before even sitting up, that someone had been in my room. Reaching down, I felt for my briefcase. It was right where I’d left it. Very slowly, I rolled over to face the closet. What had been empty before, with a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, now held all those same clothes – clean and hanging up. Brilliant work, Holmes, I thought.
Having done my finest detective work in a week, I rolled out of bed. Then I picked up my briefcase and headed for the stairs. I could hear Alma’s voice downstairs. “Six will be fine for dinner, Gerald.” It was coming from the living room, and that’s where I went. “Well, nice to see you up,” she laughed.
“Nice to be up,” I replied. “Where’s junior?”
“Upstairs in his room with Lloyd Barton. That’s his best friend from Political Science. They’ve got a test on Monday. And he promised he would stay away from the window.”
I guffawed. I hoped he would stay away from the window, unless he started kissing Lloyd. But then Alma hadn’t seen what I saw.
“I have a lot of data for us to go over. Do you want to see it now or after dinner?”
“Oh, let’s wait. I’m busy at the moment,” and she picked up a Martini glass from the table, which I hadn’t seen.
Gerald made his entrance right about now. “Something to drink, Rick?”
“How about a vodka and soda, Gerald?”
“With lime?” he asked.
“No Martini?” Alma laughed.
“No. I’m having my vodka in a different form.”
“Did you see your car this morning?”
“Yes,” I answered, “and it was pitiful. It looked just like a folded-up pretzel.”
“Is your mechanic going to be able to fix it?” It didn’t sound like an idle question. It sounded like she was really interested.
“He says yes, with the help of his brother, who just happens to own a body shop.”
“By the way, Walton called again. You can pick up a rental car at Enterprise.”
“Good,” I answered, just as Gerald came back with my drink. “Then I don’t have to worry about damaging your car.”
“One of us can take you over in the morning.”
We sat in silence, as we had before, for a few minutes, luxuriating in our drinks. Finally Alma asked, ”What’s bothering you?”
“I remember you telling me you didn’t lie.”
I couldn’t help it. She’d walked right into it. “Do you believe everything I tell you?”
Alma burst out laughing. Right now there was nothing of the stern Mrs. Cortez I’d met on my first day here. “Yes, I do.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Something’s not right, but I don’t know what it is. Why hasn’t Billy Flatbush made another attempt, for one thing.”
“I thought that was curious, too.” I could see her thinking. “Maybe he’s got another job.”
“No. Flatbush only takes one job at a time. I just can’t figure it out.” I took a sip of the vodka soda. “Maybe it will come to me when we go over the information I gathered.”
We were saved from further speculation by Gerald. “Dinner is served.”
When we got to the dinner table, I saw that there were four place settings. “Junior and his friend?”
Before anyone could answer, there were two thunderous sets of footsteps on the stairs. Lloyd Barton was two or three inches shorter than Lonnie, blonde and blue-eyed. And dressed just as expensively.
“Rick, this is Lloyd Barton. Lloyd, Rick Simon, my . . . uncle.”
“Uncle?” Lloyd asked curiously. I certainly didn’t look like I was related to the Cortez family. I had dark hair, but that was where it ended.
“By marriage,” I explained. Junior looked relieved at my save.
We had a pleasant dinner. Lloyd seemed to be as bright as Lonnie, and he was way more talkative. When the meal was over he thanked Alma for inviting him, then turned to me and stuck out his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Simon.”
We shook as I told him, “Same here, Lloyd.”
Once they were gone, Gerald reappeared. “Bring the coffee pot and two cups, Gerald. We’ll be in the living room.”
I helped Alma with her chair and we went back in the other room. I took two sets of the report out of my briefcase while Gerald brought in the coffee pot and poured us each a cup. “Is there anything else, madam?” he asked.
“Yes, close the living room doors, please.”
As soon as we were alone I handed one set to Alma. She put on her glasses and spent several minutes reading what I had compiled. “Fascinating,” she murmured at one point. “I never knew any of this.”
I shook my head again. “I still get the feeling somethings not right. Does anything stick out to you, or seem off?”
“No, not really. What’s bothering you?”
“It’s too easy. The information follows too straight a line from A to B. I just can’t put my finger on where it goes wrong.”
“Maybe you’re too close to it. Let’s go watch a movie – maybe taking your mind off it will help.”
“You have a movie room here?” I had no idea.
“Well, of course. How about Knives Out? I hear it’s really good. It’s got Daniel Craig and Jamie Lee Curtis.”
“Fine by me.” And we went off to find the movie room, hoping that would trigger whatever was floating around in my brain.