“See, we made a human ladder. You, then Detective Lee, then myself anchoring the whole thing. You need your strongest guy anchoring,” Minetta said, grinning. His arm supported Sharp on one side and Lee had the other. She was shivering from the cold, her body ached and the side of her head was sore and caked with blood — but she never felt better in her life.
“Thank god your plan worked,” said Lee, his face set hard as the trio walked towards the charred mansion. Fire trucks, a police car, an ambulance with its light still flashing and Lee’s grey Dodge were pulled up at odd angles around the building.
“Wait, how did you know I was here?” Sharp asked.
“Easy. We got a call about a prowler. When I realized the caller lived next to the Iversons, I figured you just might be involved,” he said, smiling at his dead-on deduction.
As they neared the house, two paramedics rolled a stretcher across the lawn towards the open back doors of the ambulance. Rand Iverson lay on the stretcher breathing in short gasps into an oxygen mask. Mark and Eve rushed along on either side of him, then stepped aside so that his body could be lifted up into the ambulance. Rand raised his hand in the air — and the procedure halted. Mark rushed to his side.
“What is it, sir?” Mark asked, leaning over Rand. The man raised his mask and said, “I want Eve with me,” then he added, firmly, “Just Eve.” He replaced the mask over his mouth and closed his eyes.
Mark forced a smile. “All right, sir. If that’s the way you feel.” Mark turned to Eve. Behind him, the medics lifted the stretcher and slid it inside the ambulance.
Eve said, with just as much firmness as her father, “You keep an eye on things here. I’ll call you later with an update.” They locked eyes like they were squaring off across a boardroom table. Any warmness that had existed between the engaged couple was gone like smoke into the night sky.
A vein pulsed in the side of Mark’s face.
“Fine,” he said, even though it wasn’t.
A moment later, the ambulance rumbled across the lawn, turned at the end of the driveway and disappeared down King Cross Road.
At the Dodge, Lee grabbed a blanket from the trunk and passed it to Sharp.
“Thanks,” she said but her eyes were on Mark. His threat, only half an hour earlier, to kill her with his bare hands, echoed in Sharp’s ears. But as he stood staring at the hissing building, hands jammed in his trousers pockets, he didn’t look very threatening. He glanced over at Sharp then turned away.
She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
Lee’s voice broke into her thoughts, “so what’s all this about the letters? We read them. Just the desperate scribblings of a jilted lover, no?”
Sharp turned to Lee. “When I was in her apartment, I saw them stacked by the phone with ‘Claire’ written in caps across the front. A whole pile — and at that time,before you got your hands on them — they were all unopened.”
“So?” Lee said.
“When Mowbray gave me his number, he wrote it on a piece of paper along with his name. The writing was the same. I remembered it. Big, loopy writing. Almost childish. Mowbray told me his break-up with Claire was amicable — that they were still friends. A stack of unopened letters with no stamp means he was stalking her. Hand-delivering them!”
Lee frowned. “Doesn’t sound very amicable. But does it make him a killer?”
A police car turned its headlights on and suddenly the small group was lit up. Black shadows reached across the grass behind them.
Sharp said, “he was pressuring her to take him back. She didn’t want to because she was coming out. As a lesbian.”
“Huh? Who? What?” Minetta said, suddenly interested.
“Yes, we’ve got that part of it down,” Lee said quickly.
Sharp pushed her hair back from her face, allowing herself a quick smile.
“Think about it,” she continued, “if he’s sneaking around Claire’s building, he may have followed her, he may even have seen her go into a dyke bar. No jilted boyfriend likes that — unless he’s invited.”
“Now you’re talking,”Minetta grinned.
Lee’s jaw tightened.
Sharp pushed on, “Mowbray feels threatened. He wants her back. So he figures if he can’t have her, no one will. So, he unleashes his own, private crime wave. A string of burglaries. Except he doesn’t take anything of value.”
Minetta piped up, “Yeah. Just junk. I wondered about that.”Sharp turned to him, “He didn’t need to take expensive stuff. He didn’t want stolen goods. He just wanted the burglaries to be noticed — so that he’d have a cover for murder.”
Sharp turned to him. “Check his apartment. Sniff around. Believe me, it’ll stick.”Minetta’s face folded into a half smile, “about as much as he is down there on those rocks.”
“Yeah, about that much,” Sharp said, her face drawn as she remembered the horror in his eyes when he realized he was slipping over the edge.
“No one deserves to die,” she said, almost to herself.
Sharp’s gaze came to rest on the smouldering building. “He was an actor. Or, wanted to be, anyway.”
“Well that dream’s over,” Lee said.
The firemen coiled their hoses and packed equipment into their trucks. The fire was out and the building was soaked through. Someone had put a yellow police tape border around it.
Lee walked across the lawn to where Sharp was waiting. She was buttoning up her jacket.
“I’m going to split if you’re done interrogating me,” she said.
“Look, you’re not driving. I’ll drive you. I’m almost done here.”
“I’m fine to drive! I feel fine,” Sharp said. “And thanks — for everything back there.” She gave him a quick hug.
“Anytime. Just — be careful, huh?”
“Yeah,” Sharp smiled at Lee, then headed down a path to the road. She stopped and turned back to him.
He turned and walked over to her, “Yeah?”
“You never told me who dropped the charges against me.”
Lee frowned, “I can’t do that, Sid, you know that. Besides, what does it matter?”
She looked at him, exasperated, “It matters to me! I spent a night in your crummy jail. You owe it to me. Come on. Why do I have to keep reminding you that we’re on the same side?”
His feet shifted on the ground. “All right. Jesus!” He lowered his voice to a whisper and said, “A woman, name of Janet Wilbur. That’s all I know. She wouldn’t say why she was dropping them. Now don’t ask me anything else, okay?”
Sharp pulled at her lower lip, thinking, remembering her search of 141 Fulgrove. Wilbur? The name was familiar.
“The third-floor tenant!” Sharp burst out.
Lee’s jaw flexed. “Keep it down, huh? Now don’t go causing more trouble for yourself, you hear?”
“I won’t — and I owe you one,” she said, smiling. A few minutes later, Sharp unlocked her K-car and climbed in. The smile had left her face by now. How does Janet Wilbur figure in the Mintz affair, she wondered. And why drop the charges?
She pressed down on the gas pedal and the K-car rolled forward into the darkness.
(Image credit: MartinM303/iStock/Thinkstock)
(Follow Hope Thompson online at hopethompson.net)