Stratus Fear

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Chapter Twenty

Arianna opened the door within moments of my summons. As soon as she saw me, she donned a warm, welcoming smile. “Hello, Cadye! It’s nice to see you again. Please, come in.”

I stepped into the foyer while she glided to the side with the swish of yet another halter gown, this one of shiny emerald, with its folds cinched around her waist by a gold belt. Her hair fell like a thick glossy coat of honey down her back. “In fact,” she revealed, “I had a feeling that you would stop by today.”

“Oh? Did your feeling tell you why?”

“No,” she laughed, “I’m not always privy to the depths of my feelings. Suffice to say, they tell me only what I need to know. So, come in, Cadye, and have a seat.”

“I just have a quick question,” In the living area now, I chose a stuffed ottoman, scooting it closer to the sofa where she sat and crossed her legs. “I have a photo here of a man who may or may not be Mr. McAllister’s killer. I want to know if you might have seen him around the building the day of your boss’s death or perhaps a week or two before.”

When I flicked on Buckley Grover’s photo, the first one without the doodles, Arianna studied it for a moment, both her face and eyes smooth and steady. She shook her head. “No, I don’t recall this man.”

“I have another image here, the same man but wearing a disguise.”

When I clicked on Buckley with my embellishments, she studied this photo even more closely, but again, she shook her head. “Sorry, but no. Was he here on a maintenance call?”

“To clean the pool, or so that’s what I’m inclined to believe. He’s real name is Buckley Grover, but he may have used the name Sonny Clarke. Morrison at the front desk recognized him.”

“Morrison sees and hears everything, so I’m not surprised.” Her laugh contained an edge of wry humor. “Of course, I hate to say it, but I rarely notice maintenance people around here. Then again, they probably think we companions are invisible as well, just machines programmed to serve drinks and perform sex.”

I nodded thoughtfully without making a comment until I thought of something else. “Before I leave, I want to ask you one more question. Do you plan to attend Gavin McAllister’s memorial service?”

Arianna’s eyes narrowed to shiny amber slits. “Memorial service? I guess I assumed it has already been held, arranged by any family members Gavin had.”

“Actually, it hasn’t happened yet, the arrangements to be made by the president of the institute where Gavin worked. His name is Mendell Joffe. Have you ever met him?”

“I’m sure I had the evening Gavin invited some of his colleagues over for drinks. His name is familiar. Of course, I don’t remember him specifically or anyone else who came that evening for the simple fact I was too busy mixing cocktails and serving appetizers.” Arianna suddenly let out a little sigh, a mix of the bittersweet and the sad. “Besides I rather doubt he’ll invite me to Gavin’s service. We—that is, people like me in the companion trade—we’re usually considered just pieces of the furniture that come with the place, to be discarded when we serve our purpose.”

Clearing my throat, I couldn’t think of anything to add that would make any difference. Arianna had said it all quite frankly with no room for argument. I could only thank her for her time and let her know I would keep in touch. She walked me to the front door, but before I exited completely, she placed her hand on my arm to hold me back a moment. When I turned to her, I could see the diamond sheen of tears along her lower lashes.

“Will you, detective—Cadye—will you tell me what happened, when you finish the case?”

How could I not? She had invested her time and affections for the dead man, and helped me a great deal with my investigation. So, she deserved a little peace of mind, shabby though it might be. I patted her hand and tried a reassuring smile. “Of course, Arianna. I promise.”

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