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Fourteen

Murder On The Eightfold Path

The on-scene investigation was winding up when Jake arrived.

A.J. spotted him striding tall and assured through the crime scene personnel busily searching Medeas Victorian house of horrors for the gun that had killed her. Jake paused to show his ID to a uniformed officer who pointed out Detective Lennon. Lennon was heading the investigation.

A.J.s heart did a glad leap before she remembered that all was not well between her and Jake-and even if all was well, he would not be happy to find her in the middle of a murder investigation. She could understand that since she wasnt happy to find herself in this situation either.

She couldnt help staring as he and the silver-haired Detective Lennon began to speak.

She and Elysia had informed the police about the nocturnal visit of Bill Zemda the night before, pointing out the garden back gate, but so far no one seemed interested in anything but A.J. and her mothers movements.

I see your inspector is here, Elysia stated. She was pale but composed.

I think hes your inspector at the moment, A.J. said grimly.

Apparently finished speaking with Detective Lennon, Jake glanced around the room, spotted A.J. and Elysia, and made his way over to them.

Elysia said coolly, Inspector.

Endora.

A.J. covered an inappropriate laugh in a small cough.

You okay? Jake asked her, his features softening infinitesimally.

She nodded. It would have been nice if he had folded her in his arms-she could have used a hug right about then. Even a smile would have been welcome. Neither looked likely. Jake appeared tired and somber.

He said shortly, Next question. What the-what exactly are you doing here?

Excuse me, Elysia said, starting to turn away.

Not so fast, Jake said. Youre part of this equation. Of that, I have no doubt.

Youre so wise, Elysia cooed. Unfortunately, nature calls and I must obey. She sauntered away to the downstairs powder room.

Jake turned back to A.J., his expression, if possible, grimmer than before. Okay, lets try this again, what are you doing here?

She definitely didnt appreciate him using his cop voice with her, but she managed to say evenly, I told you I was going out of town for the weekend.

And out of all the hotels and motels and homes of friends and family you could have picked to visit, you just happened to choose to stay here? At a house where a homicide was due to take place?

Naturally we didnt know about the homicide ahead of time or wed have booked the Best Western. Or maybe even tried to stop it. Or do you now suspect me, as well as my mother, of murder?

Jake looked around as though he thought they might be overheard. Listen to me because Im only going to say this once more. Despite the fact that I think shes a nut-case, I dont believe your mother killed Dakarai Massri. But thats just my personal belief, and it doesnt mean a damn thing. I have to do my job. And that job is to investigate Massris homicide.

Cant you recuse yourself?

I dont want to recuse myself. I fought like hell to stay on the case!

Terrific. And Im supposed to be, what? Happy about that?

Jake said between gritted teeth, I fought to stay on the case to make sure the investigation was thorough and careful and impartial. To make sure that nothing was missed or overlooked. I fought to stay on the case to help your mother.

A.J. didnt know what to say. Her idea of helping was such a different thing, but she could see that Jakes approach was practical and maybe even of more use than blind loyalty.

Into her silence, he said, So you want to tell me what youre doing here, because I find this too much of a coincidence to swallow.

A.J. recognized that the time had come to lay her cards on the table. Well, maybe not the full deck, but then she wasnt sure that, given recent events, she was playing with a full deck. In either case he wasnt going to like it, but Jake would like lying even less. She recalled a certain conversation a few months earlier. No, lying was not an option.

Its not a coincidence that were here, but it might be a coincidence that Maddie is dead.

What does that mean?

That this might not have anything to do with Maddies murder, but she used to be married to Dicky Massri.

She had the satisfaction of seeing Jakes jaw drop. He said at last, That hasnt turned up anywhere yet.

They were married in Egypt. There were immigration issues, though-among other things. They divorced nearly two years ago.

Go on.

Thats basically it. Mother remembered the marriage- Despite her best intentions, at the last instant A.J. couldnt admit to breaking and entering Dickys apartment. We thought that there might be a lead here. Something that would, at least, cast doubt on the case youre-the police-are building.

And?

I dont know. Maddie swore she hadnt stayed in contact with Dicky. Unless she was one heck of an actress, she didnt even know he was dead. But its obvious that she and Mother werent the only two women he had romanced with an eye to um fleecing.

Is that what their generation calls it? Jake was still dour. Was Maddie being blackmailed?

No. Im sure she wasnt. I dont think she even knew he was in the country. The scam with her was to marry her and then keep asking for money. Eventually she got fed up and divorced him. Like I said, Im convinced she didnt even know Dicky was dead.

How did she take that news?

A.J. cast her mind back. She was shocked. She didnt shed any tears over him, but she wasnt gloating either. She admitted, In fact Maddie burst out laughing when she learned Mother had been involved with Dicky. Granted, she had a very odd sense of humor.

Did she have any theories about who might have popped her ex?

A.J. shook her head. No. The last shed heard he was still in Egypt. But something did happen today, and I think it has to tie in with her death. Anything else is too much of a coincidence.

Go on.

She found out that a friend of hers, Peggy Graham, had recently committed suicide. Except Maddie didnt believe it was suicide.

No one ever does. What makes you think it ties into her death?

She was so shocked at the idea. She even said at one point she thought it might be murder.

Jakes green eyes narrowed. Did she have any grounds for such a claim or was she just talking?

I dont know, but she was killed only a few hours later.

Who overheard her say she didnt believe Grahams death was an accident?

Reluctantly, A.J. said, Just Mother and I, although Maddie was obviously upset when she left the hairdressers.

That wouldnt be unexpected. Shed just heard of her friends death.

There was a phone call while Mother and I were talking in the kitchen after Maddie had gone upstairs to rest.

Who called?

Thats the thing. The phone only rang once.

Jake rubbed his forehead. In other words, someone could have just dialed wrong. So far none of this is getting us anywhere.

What if Maddie went upstairs and phoned someone? And that one ring was the person calling her back to arrange a meeting of some kind? If Maddie was waiting for the call, shed have snatched it up immediately, which would explain why there was only one ring. You could check the phone records, right?

Yeah, Jake said slowly. So you think this person called Maddie back to arrange a meeting of some kind and then killed her?

I think its a possibility.

And they killed her because she didnt believe Peggy Graham committed suicide?

I dont know why she was killed. Maybe its something else entirely. She was pretty wealthy. Maybe its something as mundane as that. But theres some connection here. I know it.

Jake looked skeptical. Did this Graham woman know Massri?

I dont think so. But I dont know. A.J. considered this idea more carefully. It seemed like maybe something had happened between Maddie and Peggy. She said they werent as close as they used to be.

Wouldnt she have mentioned it if this Graham woman was seeing her ex?

Probably. I know there is one obvious connection.

He waited. A.J. knew how it was going to sound before she said unwillingly, They all went to the same hairdresser.

For what seemed like a very long time Jake didnt move a muscle. At last he said, without any inflection at all, Seriously?

I know what youre thinking, she said quickly. I know how it sounds. But theres something there. I mean, just the fact that Maddie was killed after we went to The Salon. That cant be a coincidence.

It could, actually.

But its not. Jake, Maddie was shocked when we left the salon, but she was also frightened. And angry.

Jake wearily rubbed his forehead. Youre grasping at straws.

Im not. This is fact. Maddie and Peggy both went to the same hair salon. The same salon Mother uses, by the way. A.J. very nearly slipped and added that Massri-or someone visiting his apartment-had also used The Salon products. As far as she was concerned that was the clincher in her argument, but unfortunately she couldnt reveal she had been in Massris apartment.

A.J.-

Theres another fact, A.J. said stubbornly. Two of these women, Mother and Maddie, went on Egyptian cruises. Maybe Peggy did, too. You could check, couldnt you?

Honey. A.J. I know you want to help your mother. But this is silly. This Graham woman and the vic-er, Ms. Sutherland-were friends. Just like your mom and Sutherland were friends. They all probably shopped at the same stores and dined at the same restaurants, too. For all we know they might have read the same books or watched the same TV shows or listened to the same music. It doesnt prove anything.

Youre not giving this fair consideration, Jake. Theres more to this than it sounds.

With an obvious attempt at patience, he said, These women are about the same age and the same income bracket, correct?

I have no idea what Peggy Graham was like.

Lets leave Peggy Graham out of it for a second. Your mother and Sutherland fit the same approximate profile. Theyre friends. They talk. One likes where she gets her hair done, she tells her friends. One has a good time on a cruise, she tells her friends. Theres no mystery-or even surprise-to any of this.

When A.J. didnt have an answer, he said more gently, Lets look at it from a different angle. Say there is a connection here. Say that somehow the beauty parlor and the Egyptian cruise are all linked together. Maybe the salon is getting a kickback for every client they refer. What does this have to do with Massri? How does this lead to murder? How does it lead to suicide?

That would be your job to figure out, A.J. said shortly.

Okay, and what am I supposed to be figuring out? He was equally curt. What angle am I pursuing here? What is it you suspect the beauty salon of? Overcharging for haircuts?

Maddie was frightened and angry when we left The Salon. She wouldnt say why, but she was. And obviously with good reason.

If she wouldnt say why, then maybe she wasnt frightened. Maybe she was just shocked and upset to hear that a friend had committed suicide. Isnt that possible?

She was murdered only a few hours later. I thought you didnt believe in coincidence?

He was silent. Finally, he said, I dont. Ill look into Peggy Grahams death. And Ill check out the hair salon. Maybe theres something hinky there. Maybe its mob funded. Maybe I dont know. Ill look into it. He met her eyes. But I dont think you should pin your hopes on that line of investigation.

A.J. nodded.

And I think you should also be prepared for the fact that the victims connection with Massri and her homicide while your mother is a guest in her home is liable to look pretty bad for Elysia.

A.J. swallowed hard. You think shell be remanded to custody?

Im not going to lie to you. I think its very possible. The DA really thinks weve got the makings of a watertight case. On top of that, after last years allegations of nepotism, he wants to make it clear to the media that no favoritism will be shown to anyone, including celebrities.

So hes making an example of my mother?

Hes not making an example of her, he said wearily. He wants it played by the book. And if this was anyone but your mother, I wouldnt hesitate a second to put her back behind bars.

A.J. nodded tig htly.

Im going to be a while here. Ill call you tomorrow, okay?

A.J. nodded again. Jakes cell phone rang.

Excuse me. He moved away. A.J. watched his expression change and her heart sank. Something told her this call was not business-maybe it was feminine intuition, but the expression on his face told her the call was personal, private, and not unwelcome.

For a few seconds she stood frozen.

I suppose youre driving back with that brute?

A.J. started. She hadnt noticed Elysias return. No. Are we cleared to leave?

According to Detective Lennon, yes. And I dont know why we wouldnt be. Weve been interrogated, tested for gun powder residue, and had our luggage pawed through in search of the murder weapon.

Its not personal, Mother. They do have to investigate us.

I know, Elysia said bitterly. But its not pleasant either.


A.J. did not see Jake again before she and Elysia packed the Land Rover and left.

As they pulled around the crime scene vehicles, lights flashing in the twilight, A.J. said, Im sorry, Mother. I know you were friends a long time.

Elysia nodded, for once having nothing to say.

The trimmed yards and tidy houses rolled by in the deepening twilight, some dark, some lit by cheerful lamps. Comfortable facades that hid well, that was the point. Who knew what lived behind the pleasant surface?

Mother, when we were talking with Maddie about Dicky, you said something about your hairstylist recommending the Egyptian cruise line. Was that your stylist at The Salon?

Yes.

Whos your stylist there?

Im not really locked into any one stylist, Elysia said indifferently. I tend to go with whoever is available.

Do you remember who recommended the cruise line? Out of the corner of her eye, A.J. noticed her mothers purse-which was positioned behind the drivers seat-give a sudden jump. This so distracted her, she nearly missed Elysias answer.

Alessandro.

The Alessandro I had today?

Thats the one. Hes very popular, from what I understand. I think Roberto actually gives a better cut, but hes not as personable.

A.J. ignored the summation of stylist social skills that followed. When Elysia finally paused, she said, Im beginning to think there really might be something to this idea that The Salon is somehow mixed up in all this. Alessandro spent most of his time with me asking me all kinds of personal questions: was I married, did I have a boyfriend, did I have kids-

He probably wants to date you.

I didnt get that impression. Elysias purse gave another, more forceful jump. Mother your purse is moving.

That will be Morag waking up, I imagine.

Morag? A.J. reached behind the seat and dragged the purse over. Sure enough a pair of tiny beady eyes met hers.

You stole Maddies ferret? Why?

What was I supposed to do? I could hardly leave the wee beastie there. Shed have been handed over to animal control.

You dont know that. Besides, you cant take evidence from a crime scene.

I sincerely doubt anyone was going to devote themselves to finding her a good home. The way those idiots kept leaving all the doors open it was a mere matter of time before she got out in the street where a car or a dog might kill her. As for evidence, I dont think Morag is concealing the murder weapon. Nor do I think shes going to make much of a witness.

Thats not the point.

Or perhaps you think shes a suspect? Elysia tossed over her shoulder, Morag, did you do it?

Very funny.

Elysia shrugged.

What are you going to do with a ferret?

Ive no idea. I only know that little creature was very dear to Maddie. And Maddie was very dear to me.

A.J. had no answer to that.


Thirteen | Murder On The Eightfold Path | Fifteen