It was Wednesday afternoon.
Sharp sat in her K-car in front of All Trust Insurance. At 2 o’clock, she decided to call it quits. She figured if Mintz hadn’t left to see his lady friend by now, he wasn’t going to. Maybe he’s going to do a normal day’s work for a change, she thought.
Sharp was restless, anyway. She didn’t think she could take another day of watching 141 Fulgrove — and waiting. Something had to give soon in the Mintz case. She was sure of it.
She turned on the engine and put the car in drive.
A brass plaque with the words “Sharp Detective Agency” was mounted on the office door. Sharp turned the key in the lock and entered.
The office was laid out with a metal desk and chair, two pale-green leather guest chairs and a low-rise bookcase. A black, metal file cabinet leaned up in one corner with a spider plant resting on top of it. Green variegated tendrils hung against the cabinet and curled around the drawer handles.
Sharp tossed her jacket across one of the guest chairs and slipped into the chair behind her desk. She had a packet of mail in her hand. She worked off the elastic band and flipped through the envelopes. Bills, mostly.
Suddenly, she looked up. Her mind flashed back to the table in Claire’s apartment, the black rotary phone and the stack of letters, unopened and handwritten in marker with the word “Claire” across the front — and the electricity bill on top.
The rent bill she was holding flapped in her hand. She looked down, surprised. Her hands were shaking. She dropped the bills and circulars and shoved them away, across the desk.
“I need a coffee,” she said aloud. I just need to relax. She stood up and grabbed her coat, pulled it on and headed for the door.
But she was too late. Someone was knocking on the other side.
“Yes?” her voice wavered. Why am I scared? she wondered. Then the door swung open. Sharp stepped back. She knew why.
“Hey?” Sharp said, forcing a smile, as Detective Kevin Lee and his partner, Tony Minetta, pushed past her into the office.
“Sidney,” Lee said, by way of a greeting.
Minetta just looked around, nodding and grinning stupidly, then said, “So this is what a PI’s office looks like, huh? The real schmeel. What do you know?” He plopped down in one of the guest chairs. It let out a creak in protest. He unzipped his bright yellow windbreaker and released his belly, which hung over his belt like a bag of sand.
Sharp directed her attention to Lee, who leaned against her desk with his arms folded across his neat, dark blazer. In the small office, she was cornered between them — on the spot. Fine, I’ll stand, she thought to herself.
“Well, what can I do for you?” Sharp asked, trying to sound cheerful.
“I’ll get straight to the point,” Lee said, flipping open his notebook.
“That would be great because I was just on my way out to see a client, so . . .” Sharp looked at Lee, but she could feel Minetta’s eyes boring into her.
“A female client?” Minetta asked.
Sharp smiled at Lee. “You were saying?”
“We did a fingerprint analysis of the Iverson apartment and your fingerprints were found there — on several pieces of furniture.” Lee looked up at her. On his face was the question, “Why did you do this to me — and yourself?”
Sharp scratched her forehead. “I . . .” she started but didn’t get any further.
“You originally told me you met her in . . . a bar . . . and that you gave her your business card, which we found in her apartment. Would you like to explain what you were doing in her apartment?” Lee didn’t really want her to explain. He knew already.
But Minetta was all ears. He pulled his weight up in the chair and leaned forward, eagerly.
Just as Sharp was about to speak, he said, “Guess where we found your fingerprints? On the headboard! That’s the wooden part of the bed that you pile pillows against. You might have been like this or . . . maybe you can show us.” Minetta curled his arms over his head and moaned.
“Tony . . .” Lee said in warning — but he was smiling, too.
“I was tied up,” Sharp said.
“Right. What?” His mouth fell open.
Sharp continued, “And yes, I was in her apartment on Saturday night. I didn’t mention it because I . . . didn’t think it was important. After all, she was alive on Saturday night. We . . . slept together, except there wasn’t a whole lot of sleeping going on.” She looked at Lee defiantly, then said, “Is that everything?”
Lee sighed. “Are you sure you’re not leaving anything out this time?”
“No,” Sharp stood her ground. It was the only ground she had.
“Okay. Let’s go through the details,” Lee readied his pen.
“Yes! Details, please.” Minetta gaped at Sharp.
“What do you want to know?” Sharp asked Lee, suddenly regretting her choice of words.
“Everything!” Minetta said, grinning.
“Actually, Tony’s right. Start at the bar. What time did you meet her?” Lee looked at Sharp.
“About 11. We talked for a bit, then we drove in my car to her place and got there just after midnight. We didn’t waste any time having drinks or anything. We just went straight at—”
Lee cut in. “When did you leave in the morning?”
“Hey? That was just getting good,” Minetta appealed to Lee.
Sharp replied, “About 10. I called her that afternoon, but there was no answer. I left a message on her machine. The next day I heard on the news what had happened.”
“Did she seem upset or worried about anything?” Minetta asked.
Sharp turned to him, surprised. “Yes, actually. She did seem a bit restless — preoccupied. I asked her what was the matter. She said she was just, well . . . excited.”
“Excited, eh?” Minetta tossed that around in his head for a moment, then displayed a full set of tobacco-stained teeth in a wide grin.
Lee closed his eyes, pained. “I think we’ve got everything we need for now. We’ll be talking to you again, though, I’m sure, so don’t run away anywhere.” Lee slipped his notebook inside his blazer pocket.
Minetta lifted himself out of Sharp’s guest chair. “Say, how do you two know each other, anyway?” Minetta looked between Lee and Sharp. A muscle in Lee’s face twitched.
“High school,” Lee said, dryly.
Minetta shrugged. “Well, what do you know? We didn’t have any dykes where I went to school.”
Sharp stared at him. No one moved.
“Sorry . . . is that the wrong word? What should I say?” he asked.
“You can start with good-bye.” Sharp held open the door.
Minetta made a sad face and turned to the door.
Lee followed Minetta out without saying a word.
Sharp closed the door and stood still for a moment. She pulled at her lower lip. Something was nagging at her mind. Suddenly she crossed the room and sat down behind her desk, leaned back and closed her eyes.
Claire had been upset about something, Sharp thought. Sure, she was excited. Who wouldn’t be? But there was something else bothering her. What was it?