K is for Killer Page 93

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"Not surprising," I said. "It may come back in time."

"Hope not."

"Yeah. Tell me if you get tired. I don't want to wear you down."

"I'm okay. I like the company. What've you been up to?"

"Not much. I'm on my way home from a meeting at the water board. What a zoo. The old guy Lorna used to sit for got into a big shouting match with a developer named Stubby Stockton. The rest of the meeting was such a bore until then, it nearly put me to sleep."

Danielle made a murmuring sound to show she was listening. Her lids seemed heavy, and I thought she was close to nodding off herself. I'd hoped Stubby's name would spark some recognition, but maybe Danielle didn't have a lot of spark to spare. "Did Lorna ever mention Stubby Stockton to you?" I wasn't sure she even heard me. There was quiet in the room, and then she seemed to rouse herself.

"Client," she said.

"He was a client?" I said, startled. I thought about that for a moment, trying to process the information. "That surprises me somehow. He didn't seem like her type. When was this?"

"Long time. I think she only saw him once. Other guy's the one."

"What other guy?"

"Old guy."

"The one what?"

"Lorna screwed."

"Oh, I don't think so. You must have him mixed up with somebody else. Clark Esselmann is Serena Bonney's father. He's the old guy she baby-sat…"

She moved her good hand, plucking at the bedclothes.

"You need something?"

"Water."

I looked over at the rolling bed table. On it was a Styrofoam pitcher full of water, a plastic cup, and a plastic straw with an accordion section that created a joint about halfway down. "You're okay to drink this? I don't want you cheating because I don't know any better."

She smiled. "Wouldn't cheat… here."

I filled the plastic cup and bent the straw, then held the cup near her head, turning the straw at an angle until it touched her lips. She took three small sips, sucking lightly. "Thanks."

"You were talking about someone Lorna was involved with."

"Esselmann."

"You're sure we're talking about the same guy?"

"Boss's father-in-law, right?"

"Well, yeah, but why didn't you tell me before? This could be important."

"Thought I did. What difference does it make?"

"Fill me in and we'll see what difference."

"He was into kinky." She winced, trying to rearrange herself slightly in the bed. A spasm of pain seemed to cross her face.

"You okay? You don't have to talk about this right now."

" 'm fine. Ribs feel like shit, is all. Rest a minute."

I waited, thinking, "Kinky"? I pictured Esselmann getting his fanny spanked while he cavorted around in a garter belt.

I could see Danielle struggle to pull herself together. "She went there after his heart attack, but he came on to her. Said she about fell over. Not that she gave a shit. Buck's a buck, and he paid her a fortune, but she didn't expect it when he seemed so… proper."

"I'll bet. And his daughter never knew?"

"No one did. Then later, Lorna let the information slip. She said word got back and that's the last she saw of him. She felt bad. Daughter wanted to hire her, but old guy wouldn't have it."

"What do you mean, word got back? Who'd she let the information slip to?"

"Don't know. After that she was tight-lipped. Said you only have to learn that lesson once."

Behind me someone said, "Excuse me."

Danielle's ICU nurse was back. "I don't mean to seem rude about this, but could you wrap it up? The doctors really don't want her having more than five-minute visits."

"I understand. That's fine." I looked back at Danielle. "We can talk about this later. You get some rest."

"Right." Danielle's eyes closed again. I stayed with her for another minute, more for my sake than hers, and then I eased out of the room. The aide at the nurses' station watched my departure.

I found myself uncomfortably trying to conjure up an image of Lorna Kepler with Clark Esselmann. And kinky? What a thought.

It wasn't his age so much as his aura of formality. I couldn't find a way to reconcile his respectability with his (alleged) sexual proclivities. He'd probably been married to Serena's mother for fifty years or more. This all must have happened before Mrs. Esselmann died.

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