Unscrewed(9)

By: Lois Greiman


But I had almost reached my destination. In less than a minute I would know whether Rivera’s Jeep was parked in front of his father’s manse. And if it was, well, then I could get on with that trust thing, couldn’t I?

“I’m afraid I’m unable to do that, Officer,” I said, lowering my tone an octave and trying to imbue it with sincere intelligence. I retracted the smile and wished I could do the same with the cleavage, but the cleavage was pretty much out there. “I have an appointment. But it will only take me a—”

“I’m sorry,” he interrupted. I hate being interrupted more than I hate Brussels sprouts. But growing up with three perpetually adolescent brothers can do that to a girl. “You’ll have to come back—”

“That’s impossible.” Interrupting other people, however, doesn’t bother me in the least. “But I can park here, if you prefer, and walk—”

“Like I said, ma’am, you’ll have to turn around.”

I also hate being called “ma’am.”

“I have an important engagement with—”

“What kind of—”

“It’s a private matter.” I could feel my adrenaline start to blend with the estrogen in my blooming system. It mixed a heady brew. “Between myself and my client.”

His brows lowered a quarter of an inch. “Are you counsel?”

Counsel? I let the question swirl around in my head. “Mr. Rivera’s expecting me,” I said. “His house is just up ahead. If you’ll let me…”

There was a moment of terse silence, then, “Did he call you?”

Umm. “Yes.” Sometimes the truth’s as good as a lie, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

“What’s your name, ma’am?”

“McMullen.”

He glanced toward the house, impatient. “Pull over to the curb. Wait in the car,” he said, then strode purposefully toward the front door of the stucco castle.

Weird. Backing up a little, I cranked the Saturn’s wheels toward the lawn. Maybe I should just turn around and go past Rivera’s house from another direction, I thought, but in that moment I caught the number written in black metal scroll against the pale stucco—3430, Senator Rivera’s address. A little bit of vertigo struck me.

The car door seemed to open by itself. There was a mob standing on the sidewalk, five men and two women crammed together like people do in times of tragedy and excitement.

“What happened?” My voice sounded hoarse.

“Don’t know.” The guy who turned toward me was pure yuppie. Perfect hair, perfect teeth, and a perfectly ironed dress shirt in mandarin orange. If I could have seen his hands I was pretty sure his nails would have shone with a fresh buffing. “The police showed up about half an hour ago. But they won’t say what’s going on.”

“Somebody’s dead.” The second guy was a few pounds heavier but just as yuppie.

“You don’t know that, Dave,” said Mr. Perfect.

“It happens just like this on CSI and somebody’s always—”

“This isn’t—”

My mind tuned them out as my attention wandered toward the street. And there, parked across Tramonto Drive, was Rivera’s Jeep. A wave of nausea curdled my stomach.

And something hit me in the back of the head. It might have been a thought. Or a premonition. Sometimes they come at me like disoriented bats.

“You Ms. McMullen?”

I turned.

A man in a tan tweed jacket and blue jeans strode partway down the winding stone walkway that led toward the house, the officer who’d stopped me at his elbow. Their heads shifted together. A few words were spoken. Maybe they were too quiet to hear. Maybe it was the swelling waves in my head that kept the world at bay.

“You Ms. McMullen?” he repeated. The suit was medium height, square-jawed, no-nonsense. I lurched back in time, to another place, another crime scene, another officer. I felt off balance. Maybe it was the three-inch heels.

“Yes.”

“I’m Detective Graystone. Officer Bjorklund said you had an appointment with Mr. Rivera.”

“What happened?” I asked. Dread was a greasy ball somewhere just south of my esophagus now.

“We’re still attempting to determine that, ma’am.” His blond hair was thinning and gleamed in the wheeling lights. “At approximately what time did the lieutenant call you?”

The lieutenant! They weren’t looking all grim-faced and hard-eyed about the senator at all. They had assumed I was there on the younger Rivera’s behalf. Why? The possibilities made me feel dizzy, sick. “I have to talk to him,” I said.

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