Authors: Charlaine Harris
I didn't even have to think about it. “Not me,” I said, and turned to look at Tolliver, fully expecting him to echo my words.
“Yeah, I talked to Felicia Hart a couple of times,” he said, and I used all my self-control to keep my face and body still.
“So, you had conversations with Felicia Hart besides the
initial one when she asked you to come to Nashville to look for her niece.”
“Yes, I did.”
I was going to kill him.
“What was the nature of these calls?”
“Personal,” Tolliver said calmly.
“Is it true that you and Felicia Hart had a relationship?”
“No,” Tolliver said.
“Then why the phone calls?”
“We'd had sex,” he said. “She's called a couple of times after that, while my sister and I were on the road.”
I could feel my fingers curl into fists, and I made them straighten out, made my face remain calm. If it was also sort of fixed and rigid, well, I couldn't help that. I was doing my best.
Tolliver had a lot of appeal, and though we hadn't ever discussed it, he obviously enjoyed sex, judging from the way he tracked down opportunities to do it. I did, too, but I was
pickier than Tolliver when it came to selecting a partner. Tolliver viewed sex, as far as I could tell, as a sport he could play well, with any number of the people on his team. I thought of sex a little more personally. You revealed a lot of yourself during sex. I wasn't willing to let many people see that much of me, literally and figuratively.
Maybe these were typical male-versus-female attitudes about sex.
“So what did she want to talk about?” Detective Young asked. She had a narrow-eyed look that I didn't like, as if she felt she'd caught Tolliver out in a guilty secret.
“She wanted to blow off steam about the family situation,
about Tabitha's being missing for so long, about how the stress was affecting Victor,” Tolliver said easily, and I thought,
I looked down so my face wouldn't be so easy to read.
I thought of acting strange and making the detectives so nervous that they would leave, but I was really angry with Tolliver. He could make his way out of the tangle as best he could.
“What did she say in these conversations?”
He shrugged. “I don't recall specifics. After all, it's been months, and it wasn't that memorable.” Aware he sounded less than gallant, Tolliver amended that to, “I didn't know I'd have to be telling anyone what she'd said. She was worried, of course, and not just about Victor. She was concerned about Diane and Joel, and about her own parents. After all, they're Victor's grandparents, even if they're not Joel's in-laws anymore. Andâlet's seeâshe said kids at school were accusing Victor of having something to do with Tabitha's disappearance, because a couple of times he'd mouthed off to his friends about his dad preferring Tabitha to him because Tabitha was Diane's daughter, and he wasn't Diane's son.”
“What was your response?”
“I didn't have much of a response,” Tolliver said. “I wasn't on the spot, and I didn't know the people involved that well. I felt she mainly wanted to vent to someone who didn't have a vested interest, and I happened to come along at the right time.”
“Did she want you to return to Nashville?”
“We couldn't,” Tolliver said. “We had a schedule to stick to, and any downtime we have we spend at our apartment in St. Louis. We're on the road pretty much year-round.”
“You have that much business?” Detective Young said. He seemed startled.
I nodded. “We stay pretty busy,” I said. I noticed that Tolliver had dodged answering their original question, but I sure wasn't going to point that out. I was ready for them to be on their way.
Lacey and Young gave each other a look, and a communication seemed to pass between them. The middle-aged man and the younger woman made good partners, somehow. They'd had a meeting of the minds somewhere back in their professional history, and they'd made it work for them. Until this moment, I'd thought Tolliver and I had had the same thing working for us.
“We may need to ask a few more follow-up questions,” Detective Lacey said, making an effort to sound pleasant and as though any further questions would be inconsequentialâno problem, no sweat, don't worry, be happy.
“So, you'll be here?” Young asked, pointing at the floor to indicate she meant
right here at this hotel, don't leave town.
“Yes, I suppose we will,” I said.
“Of course, you'll want to go to the funeral,” Young said, as if something she should have known was just now popping into her head.
“No,” I said.
She cocked her head as if she couldn't have heard me correctly. “Say what?”
“I don't go to funerals,” I said.
“What about your mother's? We heard she died last year.”
They'd been making phone calls. “I didn't go.” I didn't want to feel her presence again, not ever, not even from the grave. “Goodbye,” I said, standing and smiling at them. They were definitely disconcerted, now, and exchanged one of their glances again, without the certainty.
“So you'll stay in town until we contact you again,” Detective Young said, tucking her hair behind her ear in a gesture oddly reminiscent of that of her partner.
“I think we've established that,” I said, keeping my voice sweet and even.
“Of course we will,” Tolliver said, without a trace of irony.
the departure of the police, the silence that fell was the noisiest silence we'd ever shared. I didn't even want to look at my brother, much less discuss what had just happened. We didn't move. Finally, I threw my hands up in the air, made a sound that came out “Arrrr,” and stomped into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. It immediately opened, and Tolliver strode in.
“All right, what did you want me to say?” he said. “Did you want me to lie?”
I'd thrown myself down on my bed, and Tolliver chose to loom over me, his hands on his hips.
“I didn't want you to say anything,” I said, in as neutral a voice as I could manage. But then I bounced to my feet to glare at him. “I didn't want you to say
today. What I would have wanted, if I could have had it, was for you to have
shown a little discretion, a little common sense, months ago! What were you thinking? Was your upper brain involved in this process at all?”
“You justâ¦can't you cut me some slack?”
“No! No! A waitress here or there, well, ick, but okay! You meet someone in a bar, well, okay! We all have needs. But to have a relationship with a client, someone involved in a caseâ¦come
, Tolliver. You should keep your pants zipped! Or can you?”
Since Tolliver was so in the wrong, he got even angrier. “She was just a woman. She isn't even a member of the family, at least not the direct family!”
“Just a woman. Okay, I'm seeing it now. Just a hole for you to sink into, is that what you're saying? So much for being selective. So much for thinking every time you have sex, âIs this the woman I choose to have a baby with?' Because that's what it means, Tolliver!”
“Was that what you were thinking when you screwed that cop in Sarne? How you wanted to have his baby?”
There was another silence, this one charged with other tensions.
“Hey,” he said, “I'm sorry I said that.” The anger drained away.
“I don't know if I'm sorry or not,” I said. “You know you did a wrong thing. Can't you just say it? Do you have to justify it?”
“Do you have to ask me to?”
“Yes, I think I do. Because this wasn't only personal, this
was business, too. You've never done that before.” Okay, at least I didn't think he had.
“Felicia wasn't paying us. She's not really a member of the family.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, crumbling at last. “You're right. She was too close to the action. I shouldn't have.” He smiled, that rare, radiant smile that almost made me smile in return. Almost. “But she made a real pass at me, and I guess I was too weak to turn it down. She was offering, she was pretty, and I couldn't think of a real reason why not.”
I tried to think of something to say, but I couldn't. Actually, why not? Exactly for this reason, that's why notâbecause this time, Tolliver's sex life had backfired on us. I thought we were in even more trouble than we'd been before, and that hadn't been inconsiderable.
Tolliver hugged me. “I'm sorry,” he said, and his voice was quiet and sincere. I hugged him back, inhaling the familiar smell of him, laying my cheek against his hard chest. We stood like that for a long minute, with the dust motes floating in the sun coming through the hotel window. Then his arms loosened, and I stepped back.
“This is what the detectives should have asked you: who called you about the cemetery?” I asked.
“Dr. Nunley. And in Detective Lacey's defense, he did ask me that at the station.”
“Did Nunley say who'd asked him to call? Or did you get the impression it was just his idea?” I went back out into
the living room area to get a drink. Tolliver trailed after me, lost in thought.
“I thought someone had drawn you to his attention, because he asked a lot of questions. If he'd been the one who'd originated the invitation, he would have known more about you. That's my opinion.”
“Okay. So we need to talk to him.” I sympathized when Tolliver made a face. “Yeah, me, too. He's a jerk, all right.” Tolliver pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and checked a number on a folded piece of paper. Tolliver always has bits of paper in his pockets, and if he didn't do his own laundry I'd have to be searching his pants all the time. He finally found the right piece of paper and the right number and punched it in. From his stance, I could see that he was listening to the phone ringing on the other end. Finally, a recorded message came on, and when the beep sounded, Tolliver left a message. “Dr. Nunley, this is Tolliver Lang,” he said briskly. “Harper and I need to talk to you. There are some things left unresolved after yesterday's unexpected discoveries. You have my cell number.”
“Now he'll think we want our money.”
Tolliver considered this. “Yes, and he'll call back about that,” he said finally. “Come to think of it, if he doesn't pay us, we won't get anything for this. I can't help but be glad we're getting the Morgenstern reward money.”
“I don't really want to have earned it, you know?” He patted me on the shoulder; he knew exactly what I meant. Of course, he also knew that we would take it. We sure deserved it. “I can't help feeling that we've been yanked into
this. I just hope we haven't been shoved right under a ladder or some other bad luck thing. I'm scared we might end up taking someone else's fall for this.”
“Not if I can help it,” Tolliver said. “I know I've slipped up, but you can be sure I'll do everything in my power from now on out to make sure no one can connect us with the Morgensterns' mess. And it's a simple fact that we didn't take Tabitha, a provable fact. In fact, what date was she taken?” We looked it up on the Internet. Tolliver checked our previous year's schedule. God bless computers. “We were in Schenectady then,” he said, relief in his voice, and I laughed.
“That's plenty far enough,” I said. “I'm glad you keep such good records. I guess we've got receipts to back that up?”
“Yes, on file at the apartment,” he said.
“Not just another pretty face,” I said, and cupped his chin in my hand for a second to hold him still while I gave him a kiss on the cheek. But my happy moment didn't last longer than a few seconds. “Tolliver, who could have done this? Killed the girl, and put her there? Can it possibly be true that it's a massive coincidence?”
He shook his head. “I don't think that's even remotely likely.”
“You and I both know that massive coincidences usually aren't. But I just can't imagine a conspiracy so elaborate.”
“I can't either,” he said.
Oddly enough, the next person we heard from was Xylda Bernardo.
We'd just finished lunch. It was an uneasy meal. Art had
shared it with us, and since he ate a completely different kind of meal from us (he had a major lunch, and we like a light lunch), and he liked to talk business while he ate, I can't say we enjoyed it a whole lot. Art was about to catch a flight back to Atlanta, since he couldn't think of anything else to do in Memphis. The police weren't prepared to charge us with anything that he could discover; and he'd made many, many phone calls to everyone he knew in the justice system in Memphis to try to find out. We'd basically paid a whole hell of a lot for Art to fly over here first class to stay at a great hotel, make a lot of phone calls, and hold one press conference; but we'd known it had been a gamble when we'd called him.
Our lawyer was downing a huge salad, garlic bread, and veal ravioli, while Tolliver and I were having soup and salad on a smaller scale. I was watching Art chew hunks of bread and trying to remember my CPR lessons. Art was explaining what we should expect.
“You'll probably need to produce a record of your travels during the time since you met the Morgensterns,” Art said.
I glanced at Tolliver and he nodded. We were covered on all that. During the years we'd been traveling, Tolliver and I had learned to keep every single receipt, every single credit card slip, every single piece of paper that crossed our paths. This past year, we'd been especially diligent. We had a cheap accordion file that was always on hand in the back seat of the car, and the laptop; we kept good records. We sent off regular packets to our accountant, Sandy Dierdoff, who was based in St. Louis. She was a broadly curvy blonde in her forties.
She'd only raised her eyebrows and given a bark of laughter when we'd explained what we did for a living. She'd seemed to enjoy our unusual lifestyle. In fact, she'd given us more good advice in our meetings with her than Art had ever even thought of sharing. Sandy had already emailed us about making our annual appointment; fall was fast turning into winter.
I was thinking about Sandy, and by extension our apartment in St. Louis, while I said goodbye to Art. We saw him leave with a mutual feeling of relief. Art was kind of proud of having us as clients, as if we were show business people; but at the same time, he wasn't at his easiest or most relaxed when he was alone with us.
After he left, and the staff had removed the lunch things, I asked Tolliver if he thought we could go out for a walk. I still hadn't forgiven Tolliver his huge error in judgment, but I was willing to put it on the back burner until I'd calmed down. A good walk might restore our sense of companionship.
Tolliver was shaking his head before the sentence even got out of my mouth. “We ran this morning in the gym,” he reminded me. “I know you don't want to be cooped up in this hotel, but if we go anywhere, someone'll spot us and want a statement.”
I called down to the front desk to ask if there were still reporters waiting outside the hotel. The deskman replied that he couldn't be sure, but that he suspected some of the people loitering in the coffee shop across the street were members of the press. I hung up.
“Crap,” I said.
“Listen, put on your dark glasses and a hat and we'll go to the movies,” he said. He found the complimentary
we'd gotten that morning and looked up movie times. I found myself looking at my own picture on the front page of the Metro section. I'd only looked at the front section this morning, on purpose. There I was: thin, dark-headed, with big deep-set eyes and an erect posture, arms wrapped across each other under my breasts. I thought the picture made me look quite a bit more than twenty-four and that made me a little shivery. Tolliver, right beside me in the photo, was taller, darker, and more solid.
We both looked desperately troubled. We looked like refugees from middle Europe, refugees who'd fled some kind of persecution, leaving behind all they held of value.
“Want to read it?” Tolliver asked, extending the paper. He knew I didn't like reading the few stories in the press about us, but since I'd been staring at the picture, he offered it to me.
I put out my own hand in a “stop” gesture.
He handed me the movie section instead, and I began scanning the ads. We liked space movies and action movies. We liked movies with happy families. If they got threatened with danger, we liked them to get out of it more or less intact, maybe shooting a couple of bad guys in the process. We didn't like movies about miserable people who became more miserable, no matter how brilliant they were. We didn't like chick flicks. We didn't like foreign movies. I didn't want to go to the movies to learn a damn thing about
human nature or the state of the world. I knew as much as I wanted to know about both those things.
There was a movie that fit our profile, which wasn't too surprising, I guess.
I put on a knit cap and my jacket and my dark glasses, and Tolliver bundled up, too. We got the doorman to call a cab instead of bringing our car around. We actually got a silent cab driver, my favorite kind. He could drive well, too, and he got us to the multiplex in time to buy our tickets and walk right in.
I love going to big multiplexes. I love the anonymity, and all the possibilities. I loved the teenagers who kept it clean, in their bright matching shirts and silly hats. Tolliver had had a night job in such a place in Texarkana, and he used to slip me in so I could hide in the darkened theater for a while, forgetting what waited for me at our home.
When the previews started running, I was as content as I could be. We sat together in the dark, passing the popcorn (no butter, light on the salt) back and forth.
We watched our pretty-pathologist-in-danger movie quite happily, knowing that everything would be okay in the end (more or less). We poked each other in the ribs when she was having a lot of trouble determining the cause of death of a very handsome guy. “You could have told her in a second,” Tolliver said, in a whisper only someone as close as I could have deciphered. The theater wasn't empty, but there was plenty of room at this weekday afternoon showing. No one was talking out loud, and no child was crying, so it was a good experience.
When the movie was over, the bad guy killed several different ways after we thought he was dead initially, we strolled outside, chatting about the special effects and the probable future of the main characters. That was our favorite game. What would happen to them after the action of the movie was over?