K is for Killer Page 63


"Don't be ridiculous. Of course, I'll be there… Well, I'm opposed, of course. We're talking about an allotment of twelve million gallons a year. I'm absolutely adamant about this, and I don't care who knows it." His manner shifted to something slightly less gruff. "I feel fine… I appreciate that, Ned, and I hope you'll tell Julia I received the flowers she sent and they were lovely… Yes, I'll do that. I don't have much choice. Serena keeps me on a very tight leash." He turned and rolled his eyes at her, knowing that she was nearby. "I'll see you at the meeting Friday night. Just tell Bob and Druscilla how I'm voting on this. We can talk about it then, but I hope we're in accord… Thank you. I'll do that… Same to you."

He hung up the handset with a shake of his head. "Damn fools. First time my back is turned, they get sweet-talked into something. I hate the oil companies. That Stockton fellow's not going to have his way on this."

"I thought you were in his corner."

"I changed my mind," he said emphatically. He held his hand out to me. "Please excuse my bad manners. I shouldn't keep you standing while I rant and rave. Clark Esselmann. You caught me in the middle of my daily romp with the dog. I don't believe we've met."

I introduced myself. His grip was firm, but I could detect a slight tremor in his fingers. Up close, I could see that his color was poor. He looked anemic, and the flesh on the back of his right hand was bruised from some medical procedure. Still, he had a certain hardy determination that seemed to prevail in the face of his recurring health problems.

"Dad, you're not seriously thinking of trying to make it to a board meeting."

"You can bet on it," he said.

"You just got home. You're in no shape. The doctor doesn't even want you driving yet."

"I can take a taxi if need be. Or I can have Ned pick me up."

"I don't mind driving you. That's not the point," she said. "I really think you ought to take it easy for a few days."

"Nonsense! I'm not so old or infirm that I can't make decisions about what I'll do on any given day. Now if you girls will excuse me, I'm going up to take a rest before dinner. It's been a pleasure, Miss Millhone. I hope the next time we meet, you'll find me decently dressed. I don't usually meet the public in my bathrobe."

Serena touched his arm. "You need help getting up the stairs?"

"Thankfully, I don't," he said. He moved from the room with a shuffling gait that nevertheless propelled him at nearly normal speeds. As he passed the basement, he reached over and opened the door. The dog must have been lurking at the top of the stairs because he appeared at once and trotted after the old man, glancing back at us with satisfaction.

As Serena turned back to me, she sighed in exasperation. "That man is so stubborn, he drives me nuts. I've never had children, but surely parents are worse. Ah, well. Enough. I'm sure you didn't come here to listen to my gripes. You said you had a question."

"I'm looking for some money Lorna might have had when she died. Apparently she closed out a bank account on Friday of that week. As far as I can see, there's twenty thousand dollars unaccounted for. I wondered if you'd seen any cash on the premises."

Serena put a hand to her chest in surprise. "She had that kind of money? That's incredible."

"She actually had quite a bit more, but this is the only money that seems to be missing."

"I can tell I'm in the wrong business. Wait till Roger hears this."

"You didn't see any sign of it the day you found the body? Might have been a cashier's check."

"Not me. Ask her landlord. I didn't even go in."

"And he did?"

"Well, it was only for a minute, but I'm sure he did."

"He told me once he caught the smell, he turned right around and went back to his place and called the cops."

"That's true, but then while we were waiting for the police to show up, he opened the door and went in."

"To do what?"

Serena shook her head. "I don't know. I guess I thought he wanted to see what it was. I'd forgotten all about it till you brought it up."

13

When I got back to my apartment, Danielle was standing on my doorstep in a shallow pool of light. Her long legs were bare, capped by the shortest pink miniskirt on record. She wore black high heels, a black tank top, and a varsity letter jacket with a big black F across the back. Her hair was so long that it extended below the bottom of the jacket in the back. She smiled when she caught sight of me crossing the yard. "Oh, hey. I thought you were gone. I came to get my dime. The IRS says I'm short on my estimated income tax."

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