Now You See Him – Excerpt

Now You See Him

Mira
November 1, 2004
Amazon ASIN: B000AI4K6C
ISBN-10: 0778320995
ISBN-13: 978-0778320999

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CHAPTER ONE

There is a beat in this city, like the throbbing of arteries when the heart contracts.

New Orleans has its own pulse. I hear it now, getting faster. Steam vents through grills in the street. If they pumped blood from those grates the air would turn red, but the pressure would ease.

It’s early, early enough the breeze through jasmine doesn’t take the edge off last night’s scents of booze, sweat and urine.

This waterproof bike-suit makes me sweat and the helmet doesn’t help anything.

Concentrate.

My timing must be as perfect as it was the first time. I’ve already seen her several times. The one. Rich, spoiled, dissatisfied and looking for more treasures to buy, to stuff in the bottomless cavity she thinks is her desire. Boredom is the name of that cavity, and fear. The boredom of a woman who has everything but purpose. She would never confess to fear but it’s there, fear of being alone with herself. I loathe such women. One of them has ruined my life by using my talent and ignoring my existence.

Concentrate.

Antiques, Diamond and Gold Jewelry by Xavier Tilton.

Whooee, that is some name to fill up an awning over a shop door. Shops like this one cram Royal Street but I picked out Xavier Tilton’s place for the diamonds—and the long-legged woman who comes at the same time on the same morning each weeks. Tilton carries more diamonds than any other place I’ve checked. They shimmer and flash inside glass-fronted display cases lining the walls. No fingerprints on that glass; Xavier carries a half-mit in his pocket and moves behind customers discreetly wiping away any evidence of their presence.

He’s doing it now, sliding behind her, talking and wiping.

It’s time. They’re alone in there and the street is almost empty. Nothing but a few stinking, sleeping no-names covered with piles of rags. Once I’m in the shop I’ll close the door to keep the sound down.

Wait, there’s a delivery truck. If it stops here I’ll have to change plans.

Come on, come on. Geez, a friggin turtle. Move. Good, it’s parking over there, the driver’s leaving the engine running. Any distraction is good.

Call Xavier to the courtyard behind the shop, to the deliveries gate. Now! Move your feel. Walk into the alley beside the shop and press the button beside the pretty iron gate.

“Xavier Tilton here.”

“Mornin’ Mr. Tilton. Gift delivery from Blossoms.”

“Bring it into the shop.”

Shit. “It’s a fern of some sort. A tree. ‘Bout seven foot.”

“I’ll meet you at the delivery gate. Give me a couple of minutes to get through the courtyard.”

Do that, Xavier. Take your time getting to your gate. I’m the one who has to get inside the shop and keep moving until this is finished.

It’s raining again. Quick, inside, close the door quietly. Smells of ammonia and stinkin’ candles.

Bless you, Xavier, for the classy music. Nothing like a little opera early in the morning.

The seconds are ticking away now. How long before Tilton comes back?

The woman has heard me coming into the shop. “Mornin’, ma’am.” Don’t I sound friendly?

“Good mornin’ to you,” she says. “He’ll be right back.” Pretty face. Smooth blond hair. Much younger than I thought. Too bad. She wants something in the case, can’t look away from it for more than a second.

Her purse is small—no straps. Fate is smiling.

Take out the pick and palm it against my thigh. Cram the dark visor down.

Stay cool. Two steps . . . and strike. Ouch, it goes in easy enough until she falls and her weight hangs on the pick. Damn blood everywhere, running down the visor and blurring everything. Wipe it on your sleeve. She’s doing it right. With a little guidance from me she falls forward and through the glass and she doesn’t say a word, doesn’t scream. That’s because she’s already dead—or close to it.

How many more seconds? If he catches me it’s over.

I can see her in the mirrored back of the case, sliding down, breaking shelves, tipping all the pretty things. She’s not pretty anymore.

Pull the pick out. NOW. Grab the purse and stuff inside the suit. Move my feet, back away, put the pick in its thigh pocket, open the door, close it behind me and walk away. Walk fast but not too fast—to the corner, turn, and there’s the bike.

I’m away and heading for that coulee and the ruined shack. It wasn’t the woman’s fault, not really, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time—for her.

This suit doesn’t keep the wind out, or am I cold? How can I be cold. Warm rain hits my neck and should turn this oilskin stuff into a sauna? I’m going where I went before, out past the zoo.

Soon the scenery gets lonely, the undergrowth is burned, and rotting trees lean this way and that. The deeper I go the more deserted it feels.

The coulee isn’t deep enough but it’ll have to do.

The rented bike goes into the barn. My own wheels never looked so good. Off with the suit and wrap the helmet and purse inside, and the gloves, the black tennis shoes, underwear too. Now I stuff the lot into a double garbage sack but I can’t load it until I wash.

The soap is still where I hid it. Colder, the water should be colder and chafe my skin red and clean. My feet cling to slimy gravel and tree roots. Why do I shiver when I’m not cold anymore? Soap coats me and I rub it in hard, dig my fingernails into the soft surface of the bar.

Not enough. I want to bleed, I want to hurt. A pebble, large and porous like pumice—yes, it will clean me. It tears into my upper arms, into the skin on my belly and buttocks, the backs of my thighs and my elbows. Long red stripes that pop bubbles of blood, then begin to seep in ragged rivulets quickly mixed to a bloody wash by the water. I want to lay the flesh on my face raw but everyone would see it.

Sometimes a sacrifice must be made—as an example. I didn’t want to do it the first time or this time, but I had to, Sonja made sure of that. Sonja owes me.

God help me, one more to go.

CHAPTER TWO

THE TIMES ONLINE:
New Orleans. Tuesday, October 23

Yesterday morning an as yet unidentified woman died when she fell into a jewelry display case at a Royal Street antique shop.

Owner Xavier Tilton, alone with the woman at the time, received a call to the outside service entrance and left the woman in the shop. By the time he returned she appeared close to death and did, in fact, expire before the police and aid units reached the scene.

Although Mr. Tilton is sure the victim carried a purse, no purse was located at the Royal Street shop. Mr. Tilton reported that the deceased had been interested in a piece of antique diamond jewelry in the case. After the incident, no merchandise appeared to be missing. The ring the victim was considering remained on her finger.

No official comment has yet been made but information from a credible source revealed that the crime has been classified as murder.

A tentative link is made to the bizarre murder of Stephanie Gray during Mardi Gras two years ago. At that time a close friend of Miss Gray said the victim had traveled to New Orleans to try out for a place in a band. The friend did not hear from Miss Gray after she boarded a bus in Bismark, ND.

At autopsy it was discovered the woman had most likely died before being trampled during the parade. A weapon later described as probably an ice pick, had been stabbed beneath the base of her skull then removed. No purse or other personal possessions were ever found. Our sources tell us yesterday’s Royal Street victim also sustained a mortal wound to the brain, most likely inflicted with an ice pick, and used in part to drive her through a heavy glass door in the display cabinet.

Last Friday, Charles Penn, convicted murderer of Stephanie Gray, escaped while being transported between maximum security facilities. He remains at large.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Think it’s going to rain?” Father Cyrus Payne, pastor of St. Cécile’s parish in Toussaint, Louisiana pounded along the path beside Bayou Teche with his friend Joe Gable at his heels.

“Nope.” Joe Gable didn’t say a lot when they took these early morning runs together.

Cyrus figured Joe only stayed behind him because he was too polite to leave the narrow track and pass. Cyrus turned his face up to the hazy sky and said, “It’ll rain.”

“What evidence do you have to back up that claim?” Joe sounded like the lawyer he was.

“Purely circumstantial stuff,” Cyrus said. “It’s almost eight and there’s no sign of the sun.”

“Pretty thin,” Joe said. The church and rectory came into view and he made sure, politely, that he was the first on the faint path from the bayou to Cyrus’s garden gate. “When the haze shifts the sun will be out.”

“I feel rain coming.”

Joe laughed. “Well now, that changes everything. You’ve got me convinced.”

Cyrus thumped his friend’s shoulder. Once inside the white fence which surrounded the garden, they slowed and walked side-by-side on crunchy, sunburned grass. There wouldn’t be much time to get cleaned up and have a think before mass at 8:30.

“Madge is here again,” Joe said, pointing to Madge Pollard’s car parked beside Cyrus’s red Impala station wagon in front of the house.

“Madge works here, she’s here every day.” He’d almost said she was always here.

“This early, Cyrus?”

“Not all the time.” This line of questioning didn’t come up often but when it did Cyrus felt awkward, almost cornered. His own fault for being so dependent on Madge as his assistant—and his friend.

“She’s a special woman,” Joe commented. “And she’s lovely.”

“Yes, she is.”

Joe slanted him a look and said, “I’ll carry on back to the office and shower there. Wills, wills and more wills today, not that I’m complaining.”

“Cyrus!”

They both stood still and looked across Bonanza Alley, the little street between the church and the rectory. There was Madge, just as if talking about her had conjured her up. She ran between graves in the churchyard, waving a piece of paper above her head. “Wait!” she cried, even though they hadn’t moved since her first shout.

Alarmed, Cyrus hurried to meet her. Today she wore red, his favorite because it showed off her dark curly hair and even darker eyes—and it went with her bright spirit. “Mornin’, Madge. You’re awful early.”

She didn’t smile or greet him in return. “Where have you been? I looked for you everywhere.”

Joe caught up with him and they said, “jogging,” in unison.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Madge told Joe. “You probably know Ellie Byron better than any of us.”

Cyrus felt Joe stiffen. “What about Ellie?” he said.

“Maybe we should get out of the street,” Madge said although there wasn’t a moving vehicle in sight. She looked hard at Cyrus and said, “There’s coffee ready in the kitchen. Let’s get some and you can both read this.” She waggled the sheet of paper again and led the way around the house to the back kitchen door and inside.

“I don’t need coffee, thanks,” Joe said. He’d turned pale under his tan. “Let me see that, please. I’ve got to get back.”

Back to the town square where his offices were only two doors away from Ellie’s book shop, Cyrus thought.

Joe scanned the computer printout he’d taken from Madge, read it again—more slowly, and gave it to Cyrus.

He finished it and his hand fell to his side. He watched Joe’s reaction. The man crossed his arms tightly and he looked into the distance as if he’d forgotten where he was and who he was with.

“Well, say something,” Madge demanded. “Do something.”

“We probably won’t need to do anything,” Cyrus said. “Ellie happened to be on a hotel balcony when Stephanie Gray died—staring straight down. Other people were there and they didn’t see a thing. For some reason Ellie did. In all that crush she noticed a woman fall like a log, not get accidentally pushed the way it was supposed to look. But she didn’t see the killer—or she’s not sure if she did or not. Ellie couldn’t identify him.”

“What if Charles Pen doesn’t really believe that?” Madge said tightly. “What if he decides to come after her?”

“He may blame her,” Joe said. “I’ve thought about this plenty. She couldn’t identify him, but she wouldn’t rule him out.”

Suddenly Madge’s eyes shone with angry tears. “He got caught because he was there, exactly there, and he ran. He got in the way of people trying to help Stephanie, he was in such a hurry.”

Joe scrubbed at his face and said, “I can’t get it out of my head that maybe if Ellie had been down there, she’d have been the one who died.”

“God rest the soul who did,” Cyrus murmured.

“Not everyone believed Ellie had never seen Charles Penn before,” Madge cut in. “Some said she must have seen him but she was afraid to admit it in case he ever came after her.”

“Poor girl,” Cyrus said. “She’d barely come through the nightmare at Rosebank and managed to pull herself together for Spike and Vivian’s wedding and this happened.” Rosebank belonged to Vivian and her mother. They ran it as a hotel with a few long stay apartments. Sheriff Spike Devol and Vivian Patin had been married at the house a few weeks after the Patins’ lawyer was found dead on the grounds and Ellie got singled out for some unpleasant attention. Cyrus glanced at the headline again. “Ellie’s been through too much and I don’t think we know all of it.”

“I’ll tell you this much,” Joe said, his dark blue eyes flat and hostile. “If Ellie said she’d never seen Penn before the lineup, she’d never seen him. Ellie doesn’t lie.”

Madge said, “We all love Ellie. I’d do anything for her.”

“It’ll take me about fifteen to run back there,” Joe said, the defensive expression still on his face.

“Take my car,” Madge said.

“Or mine,” Cyrus offered.

“I’d rather run,” Joe said as he opened the door.

When they were alone Madge poured coffee for Cyrus and herself. She put the cups on the table before the kitchen windows and they sat down.

“We mustn’t frighten Ellie,” Madge said. “But we’re all going to have to keep watch on her.”

“And pray Penn gets picked up quickly.” Cyrus said. The first drops of rain hit the windows but he didn’t feel any triumph. “We’re going to have to watch both of them, Ellie and Joe. He could put them both in danger if he rushes in without knowing what he’s getting into.”

“The police will come poking around,” Madge said. “It’s the Sheriff’s Department jurisdiction out here, but the New Orleans people will want to talk to Ellie.”

“NOPD probably has a detective on the way as we speak,” Cyrus said. “But Spike will have a cruiser in the square all the time and he’ll camp on Ellie’s doorstep to keep her safe if necessary—with Joe. I’m glad she has the dog now.”

Madge topped up their coffee. “Did you see his Joe’s face when he went out of here?”

“Uh huh—and before. First he looked sick and scared, then mad.”

“Did you have any thoughts about that.” Madge stirred her coffee and kept her eyes lowered.

“Maybe, tell me yours first.” Cyrus didn’t like to start gossip.

“I think Joe’s in love with Ellie.”

So did Cyrus and he wasn’t sure the idea gave him a warm and cozy feeling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ellie Byron reached to turn off the computer, but couldn’t make herself do it. Even when she pushed her chair away from the desk she could read the words on the screen, or maybe she’d memorized them in one reading.

Charles Penn on the loose.

And within hours another ice pick killing occurred, like the one at Mardi Gras two years ago.

Hungry Eyes, Ellie’s book shop and café occupied the entire floor beneath her flat and a second, vacant one she tried to keep rented. She had gone down to get ready for the day and popped back up to check the news online, as she did every morning.

Ellie forced herself to move and ran down to lock the shop doors again. She hurried to switch off all appliances in the small café. She kept a wary eye open for her regular early customers and printed on an index card: SORRY. LATE OPENING TODAY. This she attached to a window with a suction cup and hook.

Trailing a battered cell phone by its antenna, Daisy, her German Shepherd loped into the shop and flopped on her bed, followed by Zipper, the moody cat Zipper, Ellie had bought for Daisy. Zipper didn’t lope, she sprang, all four feet leaving the ground at the same time, and landed on top on Daisy.

The dog inherited the phone after she began stealing and hiding it at every opportunity. She played up like a kid when a call came in for Ellie.

Outside in the square two early morning delivery trucks, parked half on and half off the sidewalk were the only signs that a new business day had begun. Boxes piled outside Cerise’s Boutique, a dress shop opened a few months ago, meant Cerise was late getting started again. Ellie worried about Cerise’s merchandize being left on the sidewalk.

The driver of the second truck carried supplies into Lucien’s Hair Affair and Spa where the first clients would already be lounging and tucking into fresh beignets and café au lait, unless they preferred champagne. Lucien had come from an upscale salon in New Orleans.

The only other vehicle in sight belonged to her friend Joe Gable, a lawyer with offices almost next door. His army green Jeep hung out in its usual spot beneath a gnarled old Sycamore. Ellie gave the vehicle a long look. The thought that Joe was so closeby gave her courage.

From the way things looked outside, this was just another day in this old Bayou Teche town, only for Ellie it was anything but just another day. She switched off the little radio balanced between jars of loose candies on a shelf in the café.

Keep busy. Think about what you should do next, but don’t think about ice picks. She stopped breathing and looked behind her, into the square, again. No one brandishing an ice pick out there.

The nightmare began again and she squished the urge to call Joe. That wouldn’t be wise.

“C’mon gals,” she said to the animals. She didn’t attempt to soothe their injured feelings at being disturbed from a little morning nap for the second time. “Now! Heel, Daisy. Upstairs we go.”

Keeping up with the news online became a habit after the death of poor Stephanie Gray almost two years previous, when Ellie was the only eye witness in the case.

When the last tenant left the second flat above the shop, Ellie hadn’t hurried to replace her. She still toyed with the idea of making the two flats into one large one but couldn’t afford a renovation yet.

Ellie closed herself in but heard the insistent ring of the bell at the shop door. She knelt on the floor between Daisy and Zipper and held their muzzles. “You’re good girls but you mustn’t bark.” Some hope. They thought barking at possible intruders was their reason to live.

The bell rang again and she shuffled on her knees with an arm around Daisy until she reached the front windows. She looked down at the top of a man’s dark blond hair. Behind him at the curb stood a gray Dodge sedan in need of a paint job.

Ellie couldn’t think for the hammering of her heart and the pounding in her ears.

Calm down. Sure Charles Penn had similar coloring, but he wouldn’t come to her door in broad daylight and ring the bell.

She should call for help now. Joe would come, and Spike. The phone rang and Ellie jumped so badly her chest hurt. She picked up and said, “Joe?” Sometimes he called her around this time.

“You are there, Miz Byron. My name is Guy Gautreaux, Detective Guy Gautreaux, NOPD. I just want to ask you a few questions.”

CHAPTER THREE

Ellie muzzled Daisy, put on her choke chain and shut Zipper in the apartment. No point having a well-trained dog then leaving her where she couldn’t be of any help.

Daisy’s alert button had been pressed. Nose straight ahead she didn’t as much as whine while she walked beside Ellie. They arrived at the shop door and Ellie peered through at a rangy man dressed in jeans and a denim jacket. Detective Gautreaux gave a big, white grin and looked back at her with liquid almost black eyes.

The detective had an open face and the eyes were sincere.

Ellie stared at him, waiting. Just because he looked like someone’s handsome, harmless big brother returned from a camp counselor stint didn’t mean he’d get inside Hungry Eye so easily.

He mouthed something and indicated the door handle.

Ellie put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. Daisy gave a single deep bark and strained toward the door.

He slapped his forehead in one of those, “What was I thinking?” motions and produced his badge which he pressed against the glass so she could read clearly. Looked real, darn it. Now she had no excuse not to let him in. She took off Daisy’s muzzle and opened the door.

Gautreaux stepped inside and locked the door behind him.

Ellie wasn’t sure that made her feel comfortable. She could feel Daisy vibrating under her skin, see the way the dog’s eyes went from her to Gautreaux.

The detective gave her a disarming grin and walked forward to take a look at the shop and café. “Nice place,” he said and she noted he wasn’t grinning anymore although, even in repose, there were plenty of lines to prove he smiled a lot. “Some dog, too. What’s his name?”

“She’s Daisy.” Ellie held onto Daisy as if she barely had control of the animal. “It’s not a good idea to make nice with her.”

Gautreaux nodded gravely. “Ex police dog?”

“No, but she’s just as well trained. Friend of mine had a friend who trained her. And Daisy’s in therapy regularly so she’s fairly predictable.” The devil made her say the last bit.

“Therapy?” Gautreaux looked blank.

“Both Daisy and Zipper. We’ve got one of the best dog therapists around, right here in Toussaint. L’Oisseau de Nuit. We call her Wazoo.”

“Uh huh. How interestin’. Is Zipper another Shepherd?”

“Mean cat. She belongs to Daisy. Daisy gets lonely if she doesn’t have someone to play with.”

“Well,” Gautreaux said, “I sure understand how she feels about that.” The expression on his face didn’t flicker and he didn’t give Ellie even a suggestion of an invitation with his eyes.

“I have a lot to do,” Ellie said. This guy thought he was smooth and that she was a small town girl waiting for a nod from an urban cowboy. If she had her way, he’d never find out how wrong he was about her.

“Look, these are informal questions but you’re expected to take them seriously.”

Ellie’s sweating hand slipped on Daisy’s cinch. She didn’t comment.

“Where were you first thing yesterday mornin’?” He turned on the smile again. “Remember, this doesn’t mean anythin’. Just a few routine questions to fill up the necessary spaces.” His pen hovered over a notebook and he hummed while he waited. “Between the moonshine, and the shinin’ of the moon…” He sang barely above a whisper. A pleasant sound—too pleasant.

“Yesterday mornin’?” he prompted.

“I was here.”

“And you’d been here all the night before?”

“Yes.”

“Alone?”

She blushed, darn it. “Yes, alone. I live alone.”

“What time did you open up?”

“Around twelve.”

Gautreaux looked at her sharply. “Why so late?”

She began to feel angry, and hot. “I take an occasional Monday morning off. I clean up the stacks, work on my books, pay bills.”

“You can’t do that without closin’ the shop?”

“I’m the only one here. I’d be interrupted all the time.”

“So there wasn’t anyone here with you yesterday morning? Who saw—”

Joe, in a mesh tank top and running shorts, used his key and opened the shop door. With his jaw jutting, he advanced on Gautreaux. “What the hell’s goin’ on here?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “I see NOPD’s unmarked cars haven’t gotten any cuter.”

At the very least, Ellie would like to stand beside him but she thought better than to move.

“You heard me,” Joe said. He had a film of sweat on his tanned face and body and his navy blue eyes narrowed to slits. “Why are you here?”

“Who are you?” Gautreaux asked, flashing his badge. “This is a friendly conversation between Miz Byron and me.”

“I’m her lawyer,” Joe said promptly, although he wasn’t. “Joe Gable.”

“A lawyer with a key to the castle.”

When Gautreaux showed his white teeth again Ellie feared Joe might land a fist right there. Every muscle and sinew in his fit body flexed. His black curly hair clung to his forehead and neck.

Since it was obvious Joe didn’t intend to answer the detective’s question, Ellie said, “Joe is my neighbor, too, and we keep spare keys for each other.”

“Cozy,” Gautreaux said, apparently unaware that Joe’s stance had changed. Ellie swallowed several times. Leaning forward slightly, Joe’s hands had curled into fists.

Without moving her feet, Daisy stretched her neck, sniffed Gautreaux’s jeans and rested her big wet nose at the side of his knee.

Ellie didn’t move her away and Gautreaux behaved as if he hadn’t noticed.

“Why are you here?” Joe said to Gautreaux.

“I thought I told you. To ask the lady some questions.”

Joe turned his attention on Ellie. “Did he tell you what the interview was about?” She’d never seen him like this. He seethed.

“No,” she said. “But I figured—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Joe said, quickly enough to let Ellie know he didn’t want her finish what she’d been about to say.

“Hey.” Gautreaux gave Joe a man-to-man look. “Why don’t the three of us sit down somewhere. I don’t have a lot to ask but we could get through faster.”

Joe appeared about to refuse but he took a deep breath through his nose instead and nodded shortly. “How about the table at the back of the stacks?” he asked Ellie, putting a hand at her waist.

“Fine,” she told him, very aware that for all the times they’d shared together, she never remembered him touching her except for one time when they danced at Pappy’s Dancehall.

Gautreaux stood aside to let them pass between lines of books and Ellie smiled when Daisy looked up at him and raised one side of her top lip. They took chairs around a table where customers sat to look over possible purchases. A circle of easy chairs for book club meetings would be more comfortable but Ellie didn’t want to get comfortable.

This time Daisy put her chin on Joe’s thigh and proceeded to sniff him.

He laughed and said, “I really do need a shower.” But he kissed Daisy’s head and, with a great sigh, she leaned against him.

“Let’s pick up where we left off,” Gautreaux said. “Did anyone see you here in the shop yesterday mornin’, Miz Byron?”

Ellie thought about it and said, “I don’t think so.”

“Not even your lawyer?”

“Not even her lawyer,” Joe said, showing his teeth in a vaguely Daisy-way. “Loads of people must have, though, Ellie. The early café customers at the very least.”

“Miz. Byron didn’t open the shop until twelve yesterday,” Guy Gautreaux said without looking at Joe. “She says she was doin’ paperwork and tidying up.”

“Then that’s what she was doing,” Joe said in as close to a deadly voice as Ellie had heard him use.

Gautreaux wrote and said, “Subject doesn’t have an alibi for night of 21 or mornin’ of 22. I’ll need to speak to anyone who did see you in the afternoon, but you can leave that to me.”

“You’re going all over Toussaint asking questions about me?” Ellie said.

“I’m a discreet man,” he said and stood up. Daisy squeezed past Ellie and planted that moist nose in exactly the same spot at the side of the man’s knee. “As Miz Byron was about to say before you stopped her, Joe, she figured quite correctly that I’m here because of her connection to the Stephanie Gray killin’. By now I’m sure you both know there was a murder in New Orleans yesterday. Royal Street. Same MO as the Gray case. Charles Penn escaped from custody a few days back and hasn’t been picked up so I’ll ask you to be careful, ma’am, and call me at this number if you encounter anything unusual.” He passed her a card. “No one you couldn’t identify has tried to contact you? Or even someone you did identify but wished you hadn’t?”

Ellie stiffened and took short breaths through her mouth. She knew what the last, not very subtle question meant. Daisy moved her head ever so slightly and gently closed her big, white teeth on a smidgeon of Gautreax’s jeans leg.

“No,” Ellie said. She might be scared but she wouldn’t let it show. She hardly dared look at Joe, but she could feel him, feel his anger although she couldn’t figure out why he was getting so mad at her, or Gautreaux.

“This was just an initial contact,” Gautreaux said. “I’m sure we’ll have to come to you again—or have you come to us. We’re there for you, and I mean that sincerely. I’ll make sure the local Sheriff’s Department is informed. Is there anyone you could ask to be with you until this is cleared up?”

“Yes,” Ellie said. “Daisy.”

“Not quite what I had in mind,” Gautreaux said, his gaze flicking toward Joe. “I’ll get some help from the local law. They’ll do some drivebys to check up on you.” He glanced at Daisy’s teeth and Ellie gave a little tug to disengage her buddy.

She wouldn’t help Gautreaux with a thing. He could find Spike Devol himself and later, she’d let Spike know she was just fine.

The detective gathered up his pad and pen and, as an afterthought, put one of his cards in front of Joe who left it on the table.

One last grin, a move to stroke Daisy—sensibly aborted—and he scuffed his dusty boots out of the shop.

Silence followed and Ellie’s jumpy nerves sickened her. Joe was her friend. He’d always been there if she’d needed something. Their response to each other had been slow at first but the liking had grown steadily and she enjoyed his offbeat sense of humor and spontaneity.

Joe stood up. He looked into Ellie’s face. “I’m goin’ to take a shower. Lock the door after me.”

He walked out.

NOW YOU SEE HIM