J.A. Jance's Ali Reynolds Mysteries 3-Book Boxed Set, Volume 1: Web of Evil, Hand of Evil, Cruel Intent (6 page)

Ali scanned the next several paragraphs, which mostly contained information she had already learned. She slowed and read more carefully when she reached the part that discussed the ill-fated bachelor party at the Pink Swan.

“We were all at the Pink Swan having a good time,” said bachelor party host and former NBC executive Jake Maxwell. “I remember someone saying there was a call for Paul. I believe he went outside to take it, and he never came back. I finally went outside looking for him and noticed his Porsche was missing from the parking lot. I just assumed he’d decided he’d had enough and gone home.”

Early yesterday afternoon, Mr. Grayson’s Porsche Carrera was found stripped and abandoned in an apartment parking lot in Banning. The Camry destroyed by the speeding train had been reported stolen earlier in the day from a vacant-lot private-vehicle sales location in Ventura. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department is asking that anyone with information on either vehicle contact them immediately.

Mr. Grayson was in the process of divorcing his wife, former local television news personality Alison Reynolds. He was due at a hearing to finalize their divorce at 10
A.M.
yesterday morning. It was his failure to appear in court that prompted his fiancée, April Gaddis, to contact LAPD’s Missing Persons Unit, which immediately began conducting an investigation.

The story continued on page two, but Ali didn’t bother following it. There was nothing new here. She tried two other papers with similar results—much the same story with no additional information and with equally bad photos of Alison Reynolds. Disgusted, Ali gave up, poured another cup of coffee, and turned on her computer. Once it booted up, she logged on and went to check out her new mail. Scanning the subject lines, she saw that three of them were addressed to Fred, the guy who had objected to the fact that Ali was divorcing her husband.

Dear Fred,

You are an ignorant asshole. I hope you die.

So much for reasoned discussion. That one was unsigned, and Ali simply deleted it.

Dear Fred,

You sound just like my first husband, and you know what? It’s been years now and he still hasn’t figured out how come I took the kids and left him. I tried to tell him his actions were pulling us apart, but he didn’t want to hear it—so he didn’t hear it. It was a struggle, but money isn’t everything. I know the kids and I—two daughters and a son—are all better off.

C
ONNIE
IN
MI

Dear Fred,

Let no man put asunder? God must have heard what Fang did to Babe, and She smacked him a good one. Maybe She’ll smack you, too. Sounds like you deserve it.

C
ASEY THE
O
LD
B
AT

Casey was someone who wrote in often. Usually Ali posted her comments, but this time they were a little too close to the “hope you die” one. Ali deleted Casey instead. As she was about to move on, a click announced a new e-mail, this one also addressed to Fred. But what caught Ali’s attention was the sender’s address, sugarloafmama.

Dear Fred,

I agree with you. Marriage vows are sacred, but they need to be kept by both parties involved. It reminds me of that old song, about Frankie and Johnny. “He was her man but he done her wrong.” All I can say is, good riddance!

S
UGARLOAFMAMA

Laughing, Ali posted Edie’s comment. Anyone who lived in or around Sedona would know exactly who Sugarloafmama was. And the fact that Edie Larson held some reasonably strong opinions on any given subject, especially her former son-in-law, wouldn’t be news, either.

Google sent me here. I thought this was a health care site. If I wanted advice to the lovelorn, I’d go to Dear Abby. You guys should get a life.

That one was unsigned and it went away. After that Ali read a whole series of comments that were essentially notes of condolence to her. One in particular stood out.

Dear Babe,

I understood exactly what you meant when you said you didn’t know what to feel and that you couldn’t cry. My divorce had been final for only two weeks when my husband committed suicide. He always said he would but I didn’t believe him. I needed him out of my life. He was into meth and gambling both, and watching him destroy himself was killing me. But I didn’t mean for him to die. For a long time I thought his death was my fault. It took three years of therapy for me to come to terms with what happened.

So please accept my condolences. I’m sure you loved Fang once. According to my therapist, I had to grieve not only for the man who was gone but also for the man who never was—and for the dream I once had about how our life together would be. Grieving for the dream is as hard as grieving for the person. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you think you need it. But it’s hard work. Harder than anything I’ve ever done.

I’ve been a cutloose fan for a long time. Through the months I know you’ve focused a lot of your anger on Twink even more so than on Fang. I understand that, as far as you’re concerned, Twink is “the other woman,” but I also suspect that she’s much younger than you are and not nearly as smart. She isn’t going to have the emotional resources you have to deal with this tragedy. Try to remember that her dreams are in ashes today, too, right along with yours.

Since your divorce from Fang wasn’t final when his death occurred, I expect that you and Twink will find your lives intertwined in unexpected ways. I hope you can find it in your heart to be kind to her and to her innocent baby as well.

Remember, God will see to it that you reap what you sow.

P
HYLLIS IN
K
NOXVILLE

Ali was in tears by the time she finished reading Phyllis’s note. There was so much hard-won wisdom in the words and so much caring that it took Ali’s breath away. She posted the note in the comments section and then sent Phyllis a personal response.

Dear Phyllis,

Thank you for writing. Thank you for your kindness—for knowing what I was feeling and giving me comfort; for giving me much needed guidance when I was in danger of losing my way.

B
ABE

Several of the other notes were in the same vein. Ali responded to them all, but the one from Phyllis was the only one she posted. That was the one that said it all and said it best. When her cell phone rang a little later, she expected the caller to be one of her parents or maybe even Chris. She didn’t expect to hear the voice of Dave Holman—Yavapai County homicide detective Dave Holman.

“I just talked to your mom,” Dave said grimly. “Is it true? Do the cops out in L.A. think you’re involved in Paul’s murder?”

In the years before Sedona had built its own high school, kids from Sedona had been bused to Mingus Mountain High School in Cottonwood. Dave Holman had been a tall skinny kid a year ahead of Ali in school. After graduation, he had joined the Marines. He went to college later, studying criminal justice. He was both a detective in the sheriff’s department and a captain in the Marine Reserves who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. He was also a much valued breakfast regular at Bob and Edie Larson’s Sugar Loaf Café.

Ali felt an initial stab of resentment that her parents had spilled the beans about what was going on in her life. Then she remembered her blog. Maybe Dave read cutlooseblog.com the same way Ali’s mother did. Maybe that was where he was getting his information—everything but her phone number, that is.

Why was it I wanted to have a blog?
Ali asked herself.

“They didn’t come right out and say so,” Ali replied. “Not in so many words.”

“What words?” Dave asked. “Tell me exactly what was said.”

“They took my statement,” Ali said.

“With your attorney present, this Angel guy?”

Obviously Edie had given Dave a complete briefing on Ali’s conversation with her.

“Angeleri,” Ali corrected. “Victor Angeleri, and yes, he was there.”

“Edie says you told them about driving past the crash site, seeing the emergency vehicles, all that?”

“I had to,” Ali said. “It’s the truth. I could see those lights from miles away. Coming past Palm Springs at that time of night, I couldn’t not see them.”

“Great,” Dave muttered. “What else did they have to say?”

“I don’t know. They asked a bunch of questions. I answered them. End of story.”

“What did they say when the interview was over?”

“What do you mean?” Ali asked. “You mean, like, did they say good-bye?”

“No, I mean like, ‘Don’t leave the state without letting us know.’”

Ali paused. “Well, yes,” she said at length. “I suppose they did mention something to that effect. They told me they’d be pursuing all possible leads but it might be best if I stayed around L.A. for a while. I told them that was fine. That I had planned to be here several more days. They hinted it might take a little longer than that for them to get all their ducks in a row.”

“I’ll just bet,” Dave said. “Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m glad your mother is on her way.”

“Mom is coming here—to L.A.?”

“Yes. Edie Larson is riding to the rescue. Didn’t she tell you?”

“No,” Ali said. “As a matter of fact she didn’t. I’ll call and tell her not to come.”

“That’s probably why she didn’t mention it to you, and by now it’s too late, because she’s already on her way. I may show up, too,” Dave added. “I came to Lake Havasu to see the kids this weekend, which means I’m only four and a half hours away.”

Ali knew that since Dave’s ex-wife and her new husband had taken the children and moved to Lake Havasu City, Dave had spent at least one weekend a month going there to see them.

“Really, Dave,” she told him. “That’s not necessary. What about your kids?”

“What about them? I already did what Rich wanted me to do this weekend—which was to get him signed up for his learner’s permit. As for Cassie and Crystal? They’ll be glad to have me out of their hair. Spending weekends with me is more of a hassle for my daughters than it is anything else. I’m not nearly cool enough to suit them.”

“But it makes no sense for both you and Mom to drop everything and come running to California,” Ali argued. “I’m sure this is no big deal.”

“No big deal?” Dave repeated. “Are you kidding? Being accused of murder is always a big deal, even if you end up getting off. Ask O. J. Simpson. Ask Robert Blake. And since you obviously don’t want me to do this for you, let’s just say I’m doing it for your folks—for your mom. This is my cell phone, by the way,” he added. “Feel free to call me on it anytime if you need to.”

The truth of the matter was, Ali still had Dave’s cell phone number stored in her phone. She had needed his help once, desperately, when the abusive husband of one of her cutloose fans had come looking for Ali. But there was no way she was going to admit that to him, especially not right then.

“I still think this is silly,” she said.

“Everybody’s entitled to his or her opinion,” Dave returned. “I don’t have enough available cell phone minutes to waste time arguing about it.”

“All right,” Ali said, capitulating. “You know where to come?”

“Edie gave me the address. Rich is putting it into MapQuest right now. Unfortunately my Nissan Sentra doesn’t come equipped with the fancy-schmancy GPS you have in your Cayenne. I can’t leave until a little later, but I’ll be there.”

He hung up. Ali was still holding the phone in her hand when it rang again. “Ali?”

Helga’s near-baritone usually made people think they were talking to a man. Ali knew better. “What’s up?” Ali asked.

“Are you decent?”

“Not exactly.”

“Get that way,” Helga ordered, “and then meet us downstairs.”

“Us?”

“Victor and me,” Helga said. “We have an appointment with Ted Grantham half an hour from now.”

“With Ted?” Ali asked. “What for?”

“With Ted and with Les Jordan,” Helga replied.

“Who’s Les Jordan?”

“Paul Grayson’s estate planning attorney.”

Far be it for Paul to have one attorney when he could have two,
Ali thought. Then she realized she had no room to talk.

“Why are we meeting him?” she asked.

“For a reading of the will.”

“Now?” Ali wanted to know. “Don’t people usually read wills after funerals instead of before?”

“Under normal circumstances that’s true,” Helga said. “But these circumstances are far from normal. Meet us downstairs in fifteen minutes.”

{ CHAPTER 5 }

V
ictor and Helga arrived together in Victor’s silver Lincoln Town Car. When Ali looked inside the vehicle, she could see that Victor took up more than half of the front seat, with the steering wheel grazing his ample belly. Helga, on the other hand, was so tiny that once Ali settled into the backseat, the top of the diminutive attorney’s hairdo didn’t clear the headrest.

“I’m not sure why we’re doing this in such an unseemly hurry,” Ali said, once her seat belt was fastened. “Yesterday we found out Paul was dead. Today’s the day he and April were supposed to get married. Couldn’t we wait a day or two and give the poor woman a chance to adjust?”

“We’re doing it now because we need to,” Victor said. “Because if the cops are going to pin a murder-for-profit motive on you, we need to know whether or not it will fly, and it may, especially if you’re still a beneficiary under the will. The cops will naturally expect that the will won’t be read until after the funeral, and they know the funeral can’t take place until after the coroner releases the body—sometime next week. In other words, reading the will now gives us an investigational leg up for at least the next several days.”

“We’re also reading it now because Ted Grantham is a spineless wuss,” Helga observed. “When I called and suggested reading the will today, he practically fell all over himself saying yes. He even suggested we go to the house to do it. He said he’d call Les Jordan and April and set it up.”

Ali was dismayed. “We’re going to the house on Robert Lane?” she asked. “Couldn’t we do this somewhere else—anywhere else? Why would Grantham suggest such a thing? Why would you agree to it?”

“Because evidently he doesn’t think April’s in any condition to go elsewhere,” Helga said. “I think he also agreed to reading the will today because he’s nervous. His divorce case is in the toilet, but he still wants to be paid. Grantham may not have drafted the new will, but I’m guessing he knows the terms. He hasn’t come right out and said so—that would be a breach of client privilege—but from the way he’s acting, I’m guessing the new will has been drafted without being put into effect.”

“And I’m still the main beneficiary?”

“Right,” Helga answered. “So Grantham is making nice with us because he thinks you’ll be the one settling Paul’s estate—as well as paying any outstanding bills.”

“He’s doing this because he’s buttering us up?”

“Buttering
you
up,” Helga corrected. “He also said something about preserving community assets. I think he’s worried about handing things off to you before any of those assets has a chance to disappear. If that were to happen, he’s concerned he might somehow end up being held responsible.”

“What do you mean disappear?” Ali asked.

“You’ve never had the pleasure of meeting April Gaddis,” Helga said with a disdainful sniff. “Ted has met her, and so have I. Prior to meeting your husband and signing on for what she thought would be a very luxurious free ride, her greatest ambition was to become a Pilates instructor someday. She’s gorgeous but not exactly the brightest bulb I ever met. The same goes for some of the bodybuilding pals she likes to hang out with. I wouldn’t call them the salt of the earth, either. April’s bachelorette party the other night was wild enough that the cops had to be summoned to quiet things down—and that’s with her about to give birth.

“Ted’s worried that when some of the more disreputable wedding guests who’ve been staying at the house pack up to go home, some of Paul’s precious objets d’art might end up going home with them. Grantham is lobbying for you to demand a full inventory of the contents of the Robert Lane house—an immediate full inventory.”

“In other words,” Ali said, “Ted’s rooting for the old will over the new one because he expects to hand the whole mess over to me and maybe get paid faster besides. But if the old will is still in effect and I’m the primary beneficiary, doesn’t that give me a clear motive for wanting Paul dead? Doesn’t it make me look that much worse to the cops?”

“That just about covers it,” Victor agreed. “What’s good for Ted could be bad for us.”

“I still don’t like the fact that we’re having the will read now,” Ali said after a pause. “It seems rude and pushy.”

They had come to a stop at a light on Sunset. Victor sought Ali’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “It probably is rude and pushy,” he agreed. “But let me remind you, this is a homicide investigation, Ali—possibly even capital murder. With your life at stake, you by God better believe we’re going to be pushy.”

“All right,” Ali conceded finally. “Fair enough.”

Robert Lane was only a few blocks long and sat on top of a steep hill just up from Sunset Boulevard; it was a winding, narrow, and supposedly two-way street. Whenever Paul and Ali had thrown parties—which they had done often—they had rented the parking lot from a neighboring church down on Sunset and then hired one of the local parking valet firms to ferry guests’ cars up and down the hill.

Since the wedding and reception had both been scheduled to take place at the house, Ali assumed the parking arrangements would have been canceled once the wedding was called off. The sides of the street were full of illegally parked vehicles, most of them bearing media insignia. When Victor pulled up to the gate, Ali was surprised to see that it was wide open. She was even more surprised to see the parking valets very much in evidence although most of the newsies had chosen to disregard the valet parking option.

“Keep your cool, Ali,” Victor advised as he turned in at the gate. He maneuvered his Lincoln into a narrow parking place between a catering truck—if the wedding had been canceled, why a catering truck?—and an enormous RV garishly painted an overall red and blue plaid pattern. On the side was a picture of a muscle-bound, bare-chested man wearing little more than a kilt. Beside him, printed in huge gold letters, were the words
TEAM MCLAUGHLIN. SUMO SUDOKU.

Ali had a passing knowledge of sudoku. In fact, the waitresses at the Sugar Loaf had become sudoku addicts and experts, spending their break times working the puzzles in discarded newspapers left behind by customers who weren’t so afflicted.

Puzzles of any kind had never really appealed to Ali, but she had learned enough to understand that sudoku was a game of logic played on a square containing eighty-one boxes divided into nine smaller squares. It was similar to a crossword puzzle only with numbers rather than words. The object was to fill in all horizontal and vertical lines with the numbers one through nine without ever having the same number appear twice in any of the lines. Each of the smaller boxes was also supposed to contain the numbers one through nine with no repetition. Ali assumed that Sumo Sudoku was more of the same, only bigger.

“Your husband’s death is a big story, and everybody is covering it,” Victor cautioned. “That means there may be reporters outside the door. So when we get out of the vehicle to go inside, try to keep quiet. I don’t want any off-the-cuff remarks from anybody, you included, Helga,” he added.

With Ali’s attention focused on the garishly painted truck, she almost missed the group of reporters bearing down on them as Ted Grantham hustled out of the house to usher them inside. “Right this way,” he said hurriedly. “Les isn’t here yet. He called to say he’s tied up in traffic. April should be down in a few minutes.”

Down from what used to be
my
room,
Ali thought, but she said nothing.

“Sorry about all the uproar,” Ted commented, leading them toward the front door, where a hand-lettered
DO NOT DISTURB
sign had been posted over the doorbell. “But the film crew was already scheduled to be here today as part of the festivities,” he continued. “Since this is the only day they
can
be here, April decided to go ahead with the shoot after all. Even with Paul gone, she thinks once the program is in the can there’s a chance they’ll still be able to get it on the air—maybe on one of those reality shows.”

“What shoot?” Helga asked.

“The Sumo Sudoku shoot,” Ted answered. “Surely you’ve heard of Sumo Sudoku. It’s Paul’s latest brainchild. April’s, too, for that matter. It’s all the rage around here and supposedly the next big thing. You play it with rocks. When Tracy McLaughlin of Team McLaughlin takes the RV down to the beach and sets up a match there, it’s amazing. People line up to play; they’re even willing to fork over good money for the privilege.”

Only half listening to Ted, Ali stepped through the double doors with their elegant frosted glass and into the spacious foyer. It was a strange experience. This light-washed entryway with its hardwood floor and antique credenza had once been part of her home. Most of the house had been decorated in accordance with Paul’s unrelentingly modern sensibility. In the face of all that brass and glass, Ali had gravitated to the one exception—a beautifully wrought, bird’s-eye maple credenza that had occupied the place of honor in the entryway. She had loved the slightly curved lines of the piece and complex patterns in the grain of the wood. In a way, the credenza had seemed almost as much of an interloper in Paul’s house as Ali herself had been.

Now the credenza was covered with a collection of fragrant condolence bouquets, all of them complete with unopened envelopes from various senders. At least one of the vases had been carelessly deposited on the polished wood, leaving behind a distinct and indelible water mark. Seeing the stain saddened Ali. She made a halfhearted effort to rub it out but it didn’t go away. It would take someone wiser in the ways of cleaning to make the offending moisture ring disappear.

With no one paying any attention to her, Ali ventured a few steps into the living room. In anticipation of the wedding, most of the furniture had been removed—replaced by a dozen or so rows of cloth-covered banquet-style chairs arranged so they faced a wooden arch at one end of the room. On either side of the arch stood ranks of candles and immense baskets of flowers—an avant-garde mix of traditional and fragrant lilies punctuated with an occasional bird-of-paradise.

Ali wasn’t the least bit surprised by this somewhat odd combination. Bird-of-paradise wasn’t exactly commonplace in bridal floral arrangements, but Paul had always preferred it to any other flower. He would insist on sending it on occasions when other people—Ali included—would have preferred roses or gladiolas or even snapdragons. The oddly angular buds with their comical topknots and brilliant colors had never spoken to Ali the way they had to him.

The same could be said of Paul’s choices in furniture—unabashedly modern and not especially comfortable—and art. On this early Saturday morning, with most of the furniture removed in honor of a wedding that would never happen, only the artwork remained. The big splashy original oil canvases had bold colors and plenty of panache. Ali knew the paintings came with top gallery pedigrees and spectacular price tags. What they lacked was heart.

Just like the rest of the house,
Ali thought. No wonder she had never felt at home here. If it hadn’t been for Elvira Jimenez doing her cooking magic in the kitchen, the house on Robert Lane could just as well have been a museum of modern art.

The far wall of the living room was lined with French doors that led out onto a spacious terrace. Through the open doors, Ali saw the terrace was stocked with a dozen or so linen-covered cocktail tables and even more chairs. Empty buffet tables, chafing dishes at the ready, were situated at both ends of the terrace. Again, Ali wasn’t surprised that Paul would have selected this spot as the site of his now canceled wedding reception. Paul had always loved entertaining on the lavish terrace with its unobstructed if sometimes smog-obscured view of the city. Ali had usually gravitated toward the smaller and more private tree-and-bougainvillea-lined patio out back by the pool house.

With the three attorneys settled in the library in a low-voiced huddle, Ali wandered out onto the terrace. The grassy lawn below the stone balustrade was a beehive of activity. Someone was using a handheld dispenser to lay out a complicated pattern of white chalk lines on Paul’s carefully tended grass. Ali looked around for Jesus Sanchez, Paul’s longtime gardener. He had always taken great pride in the fact that his grass could have been plunked down on the eighteenth green of any self-respecting golf course without anyone knowing the difference. Ali more than half-expected Jesus to appear out of nowhere, bellowing a loud objection to the chalk-spreader’s desecration.

Moments later Jesus did in fact appear around the corner of the house above and behind Ali, but he wasn’t making any kind of fuss about the chalk on his grass lawn. Instead, he was totally occupied by two young men who were pushing a pair of heavily laden wheelbarrows loaded with perfectly round rocks down the steep path that led from the back of the house to the lawn below.

As one of the men made the corner, the wheelbarrow wobbled in his hands. The next thing Ali knew, the load of rocks came spilling down the hill and onto the flagstone terrace. Some of them bounced almost head high while one of them smashed to pieces, sending shards of granite flying in every direction. One needlelike piece seemed headed directly for Ali’s throat. It missed her by an inch. Seconds later, a man vaulted off the path and over the rail, landing on the terrace next to her.

“Are you all right?”

Ali was shaken but unhurt. “I’m fine,” she said.

Nodding, the angry man turned back to the frightened workman who was still clinging to the handles of his empty wheelbarrow.

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