J.A. Jance's Ali Reynolds Mysteries 3-Book Boxed Set, Volume 1: Web of Evil, Hand of Evil, Cruel Intent (8 page)

April’s words chilled Ali. If the killer had been somewhere nearby when the crash occurred, then he was probably still there when the emergency vehicles were dispatched to the scene as well—at the same time Ali herself was driving past on the freeway.

That meant the cops would go looking for someone who might have given the escaping killer a ride. That also meant Detectives Sims and Taylor wouldn’t have far to look, especially if the old will was still in effect. They’d come after Ali—with a vengeance.

As someone with the three necessary ingredients—motive, opportunity, and an unidentified accomplice—Ali would be exactly what the detectives wanted and needed, a prime suspect.


t turned out April was hungry enough that one order of toast and marmalade wasn’t enough to do the job. Ali went back to the kitchen for a second helping. When she returned with it, she was surprised to find a camera crew had arrived. Someone was sweeping up the broken rock, and others were setting up cameras on the side of the terrace, where the city of L.A. would serve as a backdrop. She returned to the table just as Tracy McLaughlin came jogging up the stairs and back onto the terrace.

Earlier, when he’d been giving grief to the groundskeepers, he’d been clad in a T-shirt and a pair of khaki Bermuda shorts. Now, he was dressed in what looked like the same kilt he’d worn for the RV mural. Tucked under one arm, like a football, was a ball of granite—a four, Ali estimated. Nodding briefly in April’s direction, he marched over to the camera crew. He put the ball down on the flagstone terrace. When he straightened, he brushed a long lock of blond hair off his forehead and then stopped to confer with a member of the crew. Meanwhile, the ball of granite set off on its own and rolled drunkenly across the terrace. It came to rest near the leg of Ali’s chair. A five-inch-tall numeral 3 had been sandblasted into its otherwise smooth surface. Having it roll in her direction seemed far less dangerous than having it bounce.

Leaving the camera crew, McLaughlin hurried over to retrieve it. “Sorry about that,” he said.

“This is Tracy,” April said to Ali. To Tracy she added, “And this is Ali.”

No last names were mentioned or seemed to be necessary.

“Glad to meet you,” Ali said.

He nodded. “Same here.”

Just then a sweet young thing, a Hispanic woman in a very short skirt and very high heels, came through the French doors from the living room. Ali recognized her as a former intern from the station, although she couldn’t remember the name. She wore a lapel mic and was dressed in a business suit—interviewer rather than intern attire. Obviously her career had taken an upward swing since Ali had last seen her. As she headed for the camera crew, so did Tracy.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said. Grabbing his ball, he hurried after her, smoothing his unruly hair as he went. Something about seeing the woman seemed to penetrate April’s fog and she suddenly realized that, of all the people on the terrace, she was the only one wearing a robe.

Abruptly, she pushed her chair away from the table. “I’ve got to go get dressed,” she said.

Since no one had come to summon Ali, she stayed where she was. A few seconds later, Tracy McLaughlin, still holding his granite ball, and Sandy Quijada—she announced her name at the beginning of the interview—stepped in front of the camera for an old-fashioned stand-up.

“This is Tracy McLaughlin,” Sandy said, smiling engagingly into the camera. “You’re generally credited with inventing Sumo Sudoku. Do you mind telling us how that all came about?”

“Just because someone is strong doesn’t mean he’s stupid,” Tracy told her. “It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book. I mean, how many times have you heard the words ‘dumb as an ox’? If you’re a jock, people automatically assume you’re also a dolt. Sumo Sudoku is a game that mixes brains and brawn.”

“How?” Sandy asked.

Not exactly insightful,
Ali thought.

“Sudoku is a game of logic,” Tracy replied. “Regular sudoku is usually played with a paper and pencil. Or a pen if you’re very good.”

“Like a crossword puzzle,” Sandy supplied.

“Right,” Tracy said. “Only with numbers instead of words. It’s done on a square layout of eighty-one squares arranged in a nine-by-nine matrix. Numbers from one to nine are placed in the squares so that all values occur without repetition in each horizontal line, in each vertical line, and in each of the nine three-by-three submatrices that fit within the nine-by-nine square.”

Sandy frowned slightly, as though the word “submatrices” was leaving her in the dust. “So how is Sumo Sudoku different?”

Not a dumb blonde,
Ali thought.
But dumb nevertheless.

“For one thing, it’s played outdoors,” Tracy explained patiently. “Instead of using paper, we use grass or sand or even gravel. It has to be played on level ground so the numbers stay wherever they’re placed. And instead of using a pencil to fill in the numbers, we use rocks like this.” He hefted the granite ball into the air and held it up to the camera so that the sandblasted number 3 was showing.

“This is a number three rock. It weighs thirty pounds. The number one rocks weigh ten pounds. The number nine rocks weigh ninety pounds.”

“That’s a lot of rocks,” Sandy marveled.

Tracy nodded. “It is,” he agreed. “The total weight of the playing pieces is four thousand fifty pounds. Not exactly your grandfather’s game of checkers.”

“I’ll say.” Sandy beamed.

“So when we set up for a game, the grid is made up of individual squares that are two feet on each side, so a full layout is eighteen feet per side. As I said, the terrain should be flat enough to prevent placed markers from rolling on their own, but it may be flat or sloped, grassy or sandy—slightly damp sand is better than dry. Like golf, you must play the terrain as well as the basic game.”

“Here you’re going to play on grass?” Sandy asked.

If Tracy McLaughlin had a sense of humor, it wasn’t apparent in the dead seriousness of his responses. “That’s right. The game is prepared by placing all the markers ten feet from the edge of the grid. The judges will place the starting pieces in position. They are marked with an International Orange adhesive tag and may not be moved for the duration of the round. The remainder of the pieces will remain untouched and on the sidelines until the starter’s signal. Markers may be moved at will during the round, but doing so more than once will slow the competitor. Markers may be carried or rolled. Speed is essential. So is accuracy.”

Listening to him drone on, outlining the rules, it occurred to Ali that she was listening to an engineer masquerading as a bodybuilder. Sandy’s attention seemed to be wandering, too.

“So how will today’s match work?”

“What’s all this?” Victor Angeleri demanded. His sotto voce greeting to Ali provoked an angry frown and an exaggerated shushing motion from a woman on the sidelines with more tattoos and piercings than clothing.

Ali rose to her feet and hurried inside with her attorney on her heels. “Mr. McLaughlin is outlining the rules for Sumo Sudoku,” she said, once in the living room. “It’s supposed to be the next big thing.”

Victor stopped and looked back out on the terrace. “Really? Next to what?”

“Beach volleyball, for all I know,” Ali answered. “But from what I’m hearing, I’m guessing the world is safe from Sumo Sudoku. What about the will?”

“Les just got here,” Victor told her. “It’s time.”

Victor ushered her into Paul’s study—what used to be Paul’s study. An unfamiliar man was seated behind Paul’s ultramodern mirrored glass and stainless steel desk. He rose when Ali entered the room. “Les Jordan,” he said. “You must be Ms. Reynolds.”

Ali nodded.

“Sorry to be meeting under such unfortunate circumstances.”

Ali nodded again. She looked around. Usually there were only three extra chairs in the room—two captain’s chairs and a leather sling-backed contraption that was supposedly ergonomically superior to any other chair in the house. It was also Ali’s least favorite. Helga was seated next to the wall in that one. It would probably soon be Helga’s least favorite as well since her feet barely touched the floor. But today, with four lawyers already present, three extra swivel chairs from the game table in the family room had been crammed into the study as well.

Ali took one of those while Victor and Ted Grantham settled into the two captain’s chairs. “I expect Ms. Gaddis should be joining us any moment,” Mr. Jordan said seriously. “If you don’t mind waiting…”

It wasn’t lost on Ali that, while they waited for April to put in her appearance, Ali was sitting in a roomful of attorneys, all of them chalking up billable hours at an astonishing rate.

And it’s all Paul’s fault,
she thought.
If he hadn’t gone and gotten himself killed, if he’d tended to business, if he’d kept his pants zipped

“Would you care for some coffee?” Mr. Jordan asked.

There was something about being in her former home and being offered coffee by a visitor, especially a visiting attorney, that rubbed Ali the wrong way. “No thanks,” she said. “April and I had coffee together out on the terrace a few minutes ago.”

It was worth the price of admission—whatever that might be—to see four attorneys watching her in drop-jawed amazement. Before any of them replied, however, two newcomers showed up in the library doorway. One was a relatively attractive woman of indeterminate age. Her face was a tight-skinned mask that spoke of too many dollars spent on a high-priced plastic surgeon. Ali recognized the type—a Hollywood socialite wife—or more likely ex-wife—with more nerve than money. The bow tie–wearing man at the woman’s side was, Ali realized at once, yet another attorney—making the grand total five in all. Five too many.

“Good morning, Mrs. Ragsdale,” Les Jordan said smoothly, rising to his feet. “Come in, please. I didn’t realize you would be here or that you’d be bringing someone with you. I’ll send out for more chairs.”

“We’ll only need one,” the woman said. “My daughter won’t be attending this meeting after all. She’s not feeling up to it.”

“Well then,” Les said, “with all due respect, you probably shouldn’t be here, either, Mrs. Ragsdale. Client confidentiality rules and all that.”

Dismissing him with a look, Mrs. Ragsdale turned away from Les Jordan and addressed the other people in the room. “My name’s Monique Ragsdale,” she said. “April Gaddis is my daughter. And this,” she added, indicating the man beside her, “is Harlan Anderson. I’ve retained him to be here on the baby’s behalf—on Sonia Marie’s behalf. Regardless of whether or not we’re dealing with an old will or a new one, Mr. Anderson and I are here to make sure that my granddaughter’s interests are protected.”

Leaving Harlan standing, she strode into the room, settled her designer-clad self into one of the game room chairs, crossed her long high-heeled legs, and then gave Les a cool appraisal. “Shall we get started then?” she asked.

Ali knew at once that Monique was one tough cookie. Short of someone bodily throwing her out of the room, she and her attorney weren’t leaving.

Les looked questioningly at Ali. “By all means,” Ali said. “Let’s get on with it.”

Les Jordan sighed. First he went around the room, making all the necessary introductions, saving Ali for last.

“I know who she is,” Monique said shortly. “I’ve seen her before. On TV. Now tell us about the will.”

“The truth is, a new will was prepared,” Jordan continued. “It’s been drawn up, but it was never signed. We expected to finalize this after the divorce hearing yesterday. Obviously that didn’t happen, so the most recent last will and testament, the one that’s still in effect, is the one that was drawn up eight years ago shortly after Paul’s marriage to Ms. Reynolds here.”

A file folder had been lying on the table in front of him. He opened it now and began to read. Ali only half listened. She was familiar with the provisions. Shortly after the wedding, she and Paul had signed similar documents. Ali had left behind a trust for Chris. Paul had named some charitable bequests. Other than those, they had left everything to each other. Ali remembered that they had signed the wills in some other attorney’s office. At the time, it had seemed that Paul was going out of his way to protect Ali’s interests. Now, though, under these changed circumstances, being Paul’s sole beneficiary opened several cans of worms, not the least of which, Ali realized, would be Monique Ragsdale.

As Les Jordan read through the provisions—the charitable bequests as well as the personal ones—Monique became more and more agitated. The bottom line was clear. Ali Reynolds was still Paul Grayson’s wife, and since much of what they owned was community property, it went to Ali.

“You mean to tell me that April and her baby get nothing?” Monique demanded. “How can that be? You drew up the new will. Why wasn’t it signed?”

Les Jordan was exceedingly patient. “Paul and I had an appointment to sign the will yesterday afternoon after the divorce was final. He wanted to do it that way. Thought it would be cleaner somehow. We were scheduled to meet here at the house so he and April could both sign new documents. Obviously that didn’t happen.”

“I knew Paul Grayson,” Monique declared. “He was an honorable man. I can’t believe he meant to leave either his intended bride or his child unprovided for.”

Ali thought to herself. With Paul Grayson’s legal widow sitting right there in the room and with his pregnant not-bride sitting somewhere upstairs, that seemed an odd thing to say. You could call Paul any number of things, but honorable certainly wasn’t one of them.

“Intended and legally married are two different things,” Jordan pointed out.

“But still,” Monique continued. “The only thing that prevented him from marrying April was his tragic and untimely death. In fact, I happen to believe that’s the whole reason he’s dead. That whoever killed him did so just to make sure the marriage between my daughter and Paul Grayson never happened.” The pointed look she cast in Ali’s direction at the end of that little speech spoke volumes.

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