J.A. Jance's Ali Reynolds Mysteries 3-Book Boxed Set, Volume 1: Web of Evil, Hand of Evil, Cruel Intent (5 page)

Sims opened the back door of the sedan to let Ali inside. When she saw there was no door handle, she felt a moment of concern. She realized belatedly that she probably should have called Helga before agreeing to come along with Sims and Taylor. Presumably Helga would have warned her against getting into a vehicle with them.

On the other hand, why not?
Ali thought.
All they need is for me to identify the body. What’s wrong with that?

Ali remembered times in the past when she’d been assigned to cover ongoing police investigations. She remembered instances where some of the people involved refused to cooperate, to give statements of any kind to investigating officers without having an attorney present. And even though at the time Ali had known full well that was everyone’s legal right, she had still harbored a sneaking suspicion that people who hid behind their attorneys had something else to hide as well.

Well, I don’t,
Ali told herself firmly. Settling into the backseat, she fastened her seat belt. While Detective Taylor drove, Sims rode shotgun and chatted her up.

“I understand from Detective Little that you and your husband are in the process of getting a divorce?”

Are
getting
a divorce?
Ali wondered. The use of the present tense was telling. Until the detectives had a positive identification of their victim, they were going to hold firm to the fiction that Paul Grayson was still alive.

“Yes,” Ali answered. “It was supposed to be finalized today. That was probably the first time anyone besides April noticed Paul was missing—when he didn’t show up for the hearing.”

“Friendly?” Sims asked.

At first Ali wasn’t sure what Sims meant. “I beg your pardon?”

“You know,” he responded. “Your divorce. Is it amicable and all that?”

“As amicable as can be expected considering my husband’s girlfriend—his fiancée—is eight and a half months pregnant.”

“With his baby?” Sims asked.

“So I’ve been told,” Ali said. “They were supposed to get married tomorrow. Speaking of which, why am I doing the identification? Why not April?”

“You’re still married to him,” Sims said. “From our point of view, you’re a surviving relative. She’s not.”

Ali thought about that for a few moments. It was rush hour. Traffic was painfully slow. As they inched along, Ali realized that she and the two detectives were in the same situation. They wanted information from her; she wanted the same from them.

“This man who’s dead,” she said, “this man who may be Paul. What was he doing on the railroad tracks? Did he go there on purpose? Was he trying to commit suicide or something? Maybe he and April had a fight and it pushed Paul over the edge.”

“It wasn’t suicide,” Sims replied.

“An accident then?”

Sims said nothing.

Ali thought about what Jake had reportedly said about Paul bailing on his own bachelor party without bothering to tell his host or anyone else that he was leaving. Unless…Paul Grayson had never had a good track record where women were concerned. Ali could well imagine him picking up one of the strippers or the pole dancers or whatever brand of feminine charm the Pink Swan had available and taking her somewhere for a little private tête-à-tête.

“Was he alone or was he with someone?” Ali asked.

“We’re not sure,” Sims said. “We have people doing a grid search, but so far no other victims have been found.”

There was a short pause before Detective Taylor piped up. “When exactly did you get to town, Ms. Reynolds? And did you drive over or fly?”

Taylor’s questions activated a blinking caution light in Ali’s head. She considered her words carefully before she answered. The very fact that she’d been close enough to see the flashing lights on the emergency vehicles might give the cops reason to think she was somehow involved. If she told them about driving past Palm Springs at midnight and seeing the lights, Sims and Taylor could well turn Ali’s coincidental proximity into criminal opportunity. Still, she’d already given the same information to Detective Little. It seemed foolhardy to withhold it a second time, and there was even less point to not being truthful.

“I drove over yesterday,” Ali said. “Last night. I left Phoenix late in the afternoon. Got to the hotel around two in the morning.”

“Which means you were driving through the Palm Springs area around…?”

“Midnight,” Ali answered without waiting for Detective Taylor to finish posing his question. “And you’re right. I did see the cop cars and ambulances and other emergency vehicles showing up at the scene of the wreck. It’s dark in the desert. You could see those lights for miles. Later on, I heard on the radio that a train had crashed into a car.”

Ali’s cell phone rang just then. The phone number wasn’t one she recognized. “Hello?”

“Ali Reynolds?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Victor, Victor Angeleri. My colleague Helga Myerhoff asked me to call you. Sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier. I’ve been tied up in a meeting. I thought maybe it would be a good idea for us to get together so I have a little better feel for what’s happening. Helga gave me a brief overview, but I’d like a few more details from you. Since the office is just down the street from your hotel, I thought maybe I could drop by in a little while before I head home.”

“Sorry,” Ali said. “That won’t be possible.” She was aware that the cops in the front seat were listening avidly to everything she said and to every nuance of her side of the conversation. Their interest gave Ali a hint about how badly she had screwed up by not heeding Helga’s advice.

“Why not?” Angeleri wanted to know. “What’s more important than meeting with me?”

“It’s just that I’m not at the hotel right now,” she said. “I’m actually on my way to Indio. Two detectives from the Riverside Sheriff’s Department picked me up and asked me to come with them. They need someone to identify a dead man—the man they think is my husband.”

Angeleri uttered a string of very unlawyerlike words, ones Edie Larson would have deemed unprintable. “Are you nuts or what? You mean you just got in the car with them?” he demanded. “And now they’re taking you all the way to Indio?”

Ali didn’t know Victor Angeleri, but he sounded upset—furious, even—as though he couldn’t quite believe he’d been stuck with such a numbskull for a client. Ali couldn’t believe it, either.

“That’s where the body is,” Ali said.

“You’re going to the coroner’s office there?” Victor wanted to know.

“Evidently,” Ali answered meekly.

“All right,” Victor shouted into her ear. “Where are you now?”

“Merging onto the ten.”

“I’m leaving the office right now. I’ll meet you there. In the meantime, keep your mouth shut.”

“Where did you say we’re going?” Ali asked, directing her question at Sims.

“The Riverside County Morgue,” he answered. “The address is—”

“I know the address,” Angeleri interrupted, bellowing the words loud enough to break Ali’s eardrum. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Until you and I have a chance to talk in private, you’re to say nothing more. Nothing! You can talk about the weather. You can talk about the World Series, but that’s it. Understand?”

“Got it,” Ali answered. “I hear you loud and clear.”

That was actually something of an understatement since Sims and Taylor must have heard him, too. The two detectives exchanged a raised-eyebrow look, and Sims heaved a resigned sigh. Clearly they had been having their way with her. Now the game was up. Ali’s only hope was that Victor Angeleri would be smart enough to dig her out of the hole she had dug herself into before she made it any deeper.

Ali glanced at her watch. At the rate traffic was moving, it would be another two hours before they made it to Indio. And with Victor leaving the office on Wilshire that much behind them, Ali calculated that it would be hours before the attorney could catch up with them. That meant she was in for several uncomfortable hours of keeping her mouth shut.

Gradually traffic began to thin. The car sped up, but clearly Taylor and Sims had gotten the message. They made no further attempt to ask her questions about anything—including the run-up to the World Series. Left to her own devices, Ali spent the time trying to figure out how, in the course of one short day, she had gone from being an almost divorced woman to being a homicide suspect.

Ali checked her watch when they pulled up outside the coroner’s office in Indio. She expected they’d have to wait another hour at least before Victor could possibly catch up with them. Then, after however long it took to do the identification and conduct any additional interviews, there would be another three-hour car ride back to the hotel.

Resigned to the idea that it was going to be a very long night, Ali was astonished when an immense man rose from a small waiting room sofa and hurried toward them.

“Ali Reynolds?” he asked.

Assuming this was yet another cop of some kind, Ali nodded.

“Good,” the newcomer said, turning to the detectives. “If you don’t mind, I’d like a word in private with my client.”

“We’ll be right outside,” Detective Sims replied before he and Taylor returned the way they had come.

“You’re Victor?” Ali asked. “My attorney?”

He nodded. Victor may have served as the attorney to some of Hollywood’s “beautiful people,” but beautiful he was not. Victor was a wide-load kind of guy—John Candy wide—with droopy jowls and a receding hairline. His suit may have been expensive, but it didn’t quite meet around his considerable girth. In one hand he carried a scarred, much-used leather satchel–style briefcase that was crammed to overflowing with papers.

“We left long before you did,” Ali said. “How did you manage to get here first?”

“I chartered a plane from Santa Monica,” he answered. He led her back to the sofa and placed his briefcase on the floor beside it. “Flew from Santa Monica Municipal to Jacqueline Cochran Regional here in Palm Springs. Believe me, at my hourly rate, it would be a total waste of your money for me to spend six billable hours driving back and forth to Indio. Now sit down here,” Victor continued, indicating a place next to him on the sofa. “I need to know what’s going on.”

Too tired to object, Ali sat. She had been through enough emotional upheaval in the course of the day that she was feeling frayed and close to tears. When Victor reached for his briefcase, she expected him to extract either a hanky for her or else a laptop computer for him. Instead, he removed a dog-eared tablet of blue-lined paper. Reaching into his shirt pocket, he retrieved a black and white Montblanc fountain pen.

Over the past few years, Ali had come to rely on computers more and more. Somehow, though, she found it strangely reassuring to see that Victor Angeleri was not a high-tech kind of guy—that when it came time to do a job, he relied on brainpower and old-fashioned pen and paper. That was exactly what Ali Reynolds needed right then—not someone blessed with good looks or glitz or style, but someone with substance—someone who would be big enough and tough enough to take on the combined girth of Detectives Sims and Taylor and win.

“All right then,” Victor said, removing the cap from his pen. “Tell me everything—from the beginning.”

{ CHAPTER 4 }

CUTLOOSEBLOG.COM
Saturday, September 17, 2005

It’s after one. I should be sleeping, but I can’t. I didn’t expect yesterday to be a good day. You know before it starts that the day you go to court to get a divorce isn’t going to be a red-letter day or a time for celebration. But I didn’t expect it to be a disaster, either. I didn’t expect it to end with a trip to the morgue.

Because, although my divorce wasn’t finalized yesterday, my marriage ended anyway. My husband is dead. He didn’t show up for our ten
A.M.
court appearance because he died the night before—died after taking an early powder from his own bachelor party and departing the premises without telling anyone else he was leaving.

After spending hours in the company of a pair of homicide detectives, I now know how Fang died. His hands and feet were bound with duct tape. His mouth was taped shut. He was placed in the trunk of a stolen car that was left parked on the railroad tracks near Palm Springs. The vehicle with him in it was subsequently struck and demolished by a speeding freight train. He was ejected upon impact and thrown into the desert, where his body was found hours later. The autopsy won’t be done until much later today. My hope is that he died upon impact.

And so, since the divorce was never finalized, the authorities consider me to be his “next of kin.” For the first time in my life, I had to go to a county morgue to make a positive ID.

I expected the place to be dingy and cold inside. It wasn’t, but the chill I felt had nothing to do with an overly active air-conditioning unit because the air-conditioning unit was barely functioning. As I stood there in the viewing room, waiting for an attendant to wheel out the loaded gurney, my blood turned to ice. And when I had to look down into that scratched and battered but oh-so-familiar face, it was all I could do to remain upright. I didn’t exactly faint when I saw him lying there, but my knees went weak. Fortunately, someone helped me to a chair.

I didn’t cry, couldn’t cry. Mostly because I didn’t know what I was feeling or what I was supposed to feel. Fang and I were divorcing if not divorced. Our relationship was over if not ended. And yet, this was a man I had loved once—someone vital and strong with whom I had hoped to share the rest of my life. It makes my heart ache to know that he is gone. And yes, it makes me sick to think that his unborn child—a baby due within the next few weeks—will never know him at all, will grow up without ever once seeing him. That’s wrong. Leaving a child fatherless is WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

After I’d done the ID, someone—a clerk—gave me a paper to sign—a form that says what’s supposed to happen to Fang’s remains once the authorities are finished with them. It seemed inappropriate for me to be the one deciding which mortuary should be brought in to do that job. I’ve been out of Fang’s life for a long time—longer, it turns out, than the six months I’ve been out of the house. It seemed to me that Twink…No, correction. Make that, it seemed to me that his fiancée—the woman who’s expecting his child—should be making those decisions, but it turns out the very fact that we were still legally married automatically puts me in charge. So I looked in the phone book, tracked down the name of the mortuary that handled Fang’s mother’s services six years ago, and called them.

Two days ago—was it just two days?—I told you about my plan to pick up some new clothing on my way through Scottsdale so I could go to court looking like a bit of a fashion plate in something more sophisticated than what I wear hanging around home in Sedona. I even splurged on a haircut, a manicure, and a pedicure. I wanted to be able to put my best foot (and toes) forward when Fang and I stood in front of the judge to disavow our vows.

The irony is, when I came back to the hotel, I took off my courtroom duds and slipped into something comfortable—a T-shirt, a pair of jeans, comfy tennis shoes. I took off my makeup and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. That’s how I was dressed when two homicide cops came to ask me to ride along and see if I could positively identify the body of their dead victim. And that’s how I looked hours later when the identification ordeal was finally over and I stepped back outside the Riverside County Sheriff’s Substation in Indio to return to the hotel.

I have no idea who alerted the media to what was going on. I know for sure someone had already leaked Fang’s name. As cameras flashed and reporters yelled questions, someone recognized me and called me by name as well. I’m sure my photo will be all over the news tomorrow, and I’ll look as bedraggled as some of those awful mug shots that turn up when some celebrity gets booked for drunk driving.

It’s one thing to stand outside the emotional box and report on someone’s untimely death for whatever reason. It’s something else to be living it—to be inside that awful box and trying to make sense of it. Now, because of the way the media works, I’ll no longer be reporting on events—I’ll be part of the story.

So this is an early warning for all my cutlooseblog.com fans. I’m sure all kinds of crap is going to hit the fan first thing in the morning. I just want you to know that I’m fine. And I’ll keep you posted as we go.

Posted 1:07
A
.
M
., September 17, 2005 by Babe

Scrolling through her e-mail list, Ali could see more than a dozen comments lined up and waiting to be read, but she was too drained to face them.

Go to bed,
she told herself, switching off her computer.
Tomorrow’s another day.

Ali did go to bed then. Not only that, she surprised herself by falling asleep almost immediately. After what seemed like only a matter of minutes, the ringing phone awakened her.

“What in the world is going on?” Edie Larson demanded.

“What are you talking about?” Ali grumbled groggily. “And what time is it?” The room’s blackout curtains were pulled shut. In the pitch black room she had to turn over to see the clock, which read 5:35
A.M.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Edie continued. “What happened to Paul? And why did you have to do the identification? What about his bride-to-be who isn’t?”

“Who told you all this?” Ali asked.

“You did,” Edie answered. “In cutloose.”

Ali was astonished. It had never occurred to her that her mother might join the Internet world. “You read my blog?” she asked.

“Of course I do,” Edie said. “Why wouldn’t I? Every morning while I’m waiting for the sweet rolls to rise and when there’s no one here in the restaurant to keep me company, I read the whole thing. When Dad and I got Chris that new Mac, he gave us his old one. Hooked it up here in the office, got me an Internet account, the whole nine yards. My Internet handle is sugarloafmama, by the way, but I didn’t call to talk about me. I want to know what’s going on with you. Tell me everything, and hurry it up. We open in a few minutes.”

So Ali told her mother as much as she could remember—the parts she had put in the blog as well as the parts she’d left out. The truth is, after sitting through the statement she’d given to Detectives Sims and Taylor, Victor had advised her to say nothing in her blog about any of it—nothing at all. Feeling a certain loyalty to her readers, Ali had written her blog entry anyway, saying only what she thought would pass muster. She never came right out and said that she had ridden to Indio in the company of the two homicide detectives. And she never breathed a word about hitching a ride back from Jacqueline Cochran Airport with the newest member of Ali’s burgeoning troop of attorneys.

In talking to Edie, however, Ali corrected this deliberate oversight by mentioning Victor Angeleri by name, while at the same time somehow glossing over the criminal defense portion of his curriculum vitae.

“You say his name’s Victor, Victor Angeleri? What kind of a name is that?” Edie wanted to know.

“Italian, I suppose,” Ali answered.

“And he flies his own plane?”

“No. He chartered one.”
And on the way home, to take my mind off my troubles, gave me an in-depth lesson on Jacqueline Cochran, the lady the airport is named after, and on the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II,
Ali thought.

“What’s he like?” Edie asked. “Old? Young? What?”

“About the same age as Dad, I suppose,” Ali said. “And big. He had to use a seat-belt extender in the airplane.”

“I don’t care one whit about his size,” Edie declared. “What I want to know is whether or not he’s any good. Now what kind of attorney is he again? Not your divorce attorney,” she added. “That’s Myra somebody.”

Ali wondered how it was Edie Larson could somehow play dumb while simultaneously and unerringly sniffing out Ali’s every attempt at subterfuge.

“Not Myra, Helga Myerhoff,” Ali corrected. “She was the one handling the divorce proceedings. Victor specializes in criminal defense.”

“But why on earth would you need a criminal defense attorney?” Edie wanted to know. “Do the cops think you had something to do with Paul’s death—that you’re somehow responsible? How could you be? You were miles away at the time.”

Ali remembered the pulsing, telltale glow from that long line of emergency lights that had lit up the desert floor as they streamed through the night toward the scene of the wreck.

Not nearly as many miles away as I should have been,
Ali thought.

Victor hadn’t wanted her to mention seeing those flashing lights in the course of giving Detectives Sims and Taylor her taped statement, but since they already knew what time she’d left Phoenix and since they already knew what time she’d checked into the hotel, that meant they also knew the approximate time she would have been passing Palm Springs. Consequently, it seemed pointless to skip over that part. The truth was she
had
seen the flashing lights. She would have had to have been blind not to, and lying about that in an official statement seemed both pointless and stupid.

“The cops probably do suspect me,” Ali said, trying to deliver the words in a casual, offhand manner that she hoped would throw Edie off course. “But Victor says not to worry. It’s just routine. That’s what homicide detectives do. To begin with, they look at everyone. Then gradually they eliminate the ones who didn’t do it until they arrive at whoever did.”

“So you’re saying for sure that Paul was murdered?” Edie asked.

Ali sighed. “Yes. When Victor and I left Indio, they hadn’t yet released any details about the case because April hadn’t been notified, but I’m sure she has been by now. If that’s the case, the story is probably all over the airwaves. I was asleep, though, so I haven’t had a chance to check.”

The idea that the questioning was routine did nothing to calm Edie’s outrage. “This is unbelievable!” she announced. “I should never have let you drive over there on your own. Never. The subject came up before you left. Dad said I should probably pack up and go along, but then I let you talk me out of it. Big mistake. There are times women need their mothers with them, Alison. This turns out to be one of them.”

In the background Ali heard a door open and close. “Speak of the devil,” Edie said. “Here’s your father now. I’m in the office, Bob,” she called to her husband. “Ali’s on the phone. Come listen to this. You’re not going to believe it.”

Briefly Edie began to recount everything Ali had told her. Halfway through, though, the story came to an abrupt stop.

“My word!” Edie exclaimed. “I completely lost track of time. The first customers just pulled up, Ali. We have to go now. I’ll call again later, but you take care of yourself. Don’t let those turkeys push you around.”

Once Ali put down the phone, she dozed for a little while, but by seven when she was wide awake, she called room service and ordered breakfast and newspapers. She managed to jump in and out of the shower before her breakfast tray showed up.

Sipping coffee, she went through the newspapers, where the homicide—yes, a Riverside Sheriff’s Department spokesman actually used the H-word—of prominent television news executive Paul Grayson was front-page news. So, unfortunately, was Ali’s picture, which turned out to be every bit as bad as Ali had predicted it would be. The caption stated: “Former L.A.-area newscaster Alison Reynolds, accompanied by noted defense attorney Victor Angeleri, leaves the Riverside County Sheriff’s Substation in Indio after identifying the body of her slain husband, Paul Grayson.”

Trying not to look at the tabloid-worthy photo, Ali turned her attention to the accompanying article. Despite the use of a banner headline and the expenditure of lots of front-page column inches, there was surprisingly little content, and hardly anything Ali hadn’t already gleaned on her own.

Today was supposed to be Paul Grayson’s wedding day. Instead, the prospective groom is now a murder victim, having fallen victim to a bizarre kidnapping/murder scheme in which he was left bound and gagged in the trunk of a stolen vehicle that was abandoned on a railroad track near Palm Springs. The stolen vehicle was subsequently struck by a speeding freight train, killing Grayson on impact. An autopsy has been scheduled for later today.

A joint homicide investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is attempting to establish the exact chain of events from the time Grayson abruptly departed a posh bachelor party being held in his honor to the time an eastbound Burlington Northern freight train slammed into the vehicle in which he had been imprisoned.

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