K is for Killer Page 73

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I tried the bathroom next, shining my light up behind and inside the toilet tank, testing tiles for loose ones. I pulled out the medicine cabinet, peering down into the lathing behind it. I scrutinized the space in the alcove where she'd kept her bed, checked the metal floor plate in the living room on which the wood-burning stove had rested. There was nothing. Whatever Lorna did with her money, she didn't keep it on the premises. If she'd had jewelry or large sums of cash, she hadn't stuck it in a hidey-hole. Well, let's correct that. Whatever she'd done with her valuables, I didn't know where they were. Maybe someone else got to them first or maybe, as Cheney suggested, she'd used the money some other way. I finished up the search with a second survey, feeling dissatisfied.

By chance my gaze dropped to the Belltone box. The housing had been popped loose, and I leaned toward it, using my screwdriver to explore the space. For an instant I prayed a secret compartment would open up and a wad of bills would spill out. Optimist that I am, I always hope for things like that. There was nothing, of course, except the tag end of electrical wire. I'd never actually seen the working mechanism of a doorbell, but the wire seemed odd. I stood and stared at it for a moment and then leaned closer, squinting. What was that?

I went outside, down the creaking wooden steps. The front porch was hiked up on concrete supports, elevated about three feet, the space narrowing down to nothing where the ground sloped upward at the back. The intention must have been to keep moisture away from the floor joists, but the net effect was to create a cinder-strewn crawl space that had been screened with wooden lathing. I crouched beside the lathing and stuck my fingers through the holes. I gave a pull and a small section lifted away, allowing me to peer at the space underneath the cabin. It was pitch black. I raked the area with the beam of my flashlight and was treated to the bouncing of daddy longlegs as they warned me away.

There was a flat piece of plywood on the ground with a few garden tools laid on top. I stood up again, aligning my sights with the approximate location of the Belltone box. I adjusted my position and shone my flashlight up along the joists. I could see where the green wire came down through the floor. It was stapled along the joists at long intervals, running toward the edge of the porch close to me. I was going to have to inch my way under, not a happy thought given all the spiders lurking in the dark.

Gingerly I got down on my hands and the balls of my feet and duck-walked my way under. The spider kiddies viewed me with alarm, and many of them fled in what must have been spider fear and panic. Later they would have horrified conversations about the unpredictability of humans. "Eeew. All those fingers," they'd say. "And those big nasty feet. They always look like they're about to squish you." Spider mothers would console them. "Most humans are completely harmless, and they're just as scared of us as we are of them," they'd say.

I craned my head, sweeping the underside of the porch with the beam of my flashlight. Right at eye level a leather case had been stapled to the wood. I used the flat end of my screwdriver to force the staples out. The case was dusty and mealy where the leather had begun to deteriorate. I humped my way out from under the porch. I dusted my hands off, brushed gravel and dirt from my jeans, then flipped off the flashlight. I moved back into the cabin to examine my find. What I was holding looked like the carrying case for a little portable radio or tape recorder, complete with holes in the end into which an earphone or a mike could be plugged. There was a slit along one end for the volume control. It had to be a surveillance setup, not sophisticated by any means, but possibly effective. Somebody had planted something similar in my apartment a couple of years back, and I'd discovered it only by accident. In the meantime, the voice-activated recorder had captured my end of all phone calls, all incoming messages on my answering machine, both sides of any conversations I'd had on the premises.

Someone had been spying on Lorna. Of course, it was possible she'd planted the device herself, but only if she'd had a reason to keep an audible record of her conversations. If that were the case, I couldn't believe she wouldn't have planted the recorder inside the cabin, where reception would be good and the tapes easier to replace. Something like this, tacked to the underside of the cabin, was bound to pick up a lot of ambient noise.

Gosh-a-rudy, I thought, now who do I know who'd have access to all kinds of surveillance equipment? Could it be Miss Leda Selkirk, daughter of the PI who'd once had his license yanked for an illegal wiretap? I flipped my flashlight back on and turned the lights off in the cabin. I unlocked my car and turned the key in the ignition, easing the VW down the bumpy road toward the street.

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