Authors: Janice Kaplan
She looked at me oddly. “You met him. Tattooed motorcyclist with a shop in a bad neighborhood. Is that who you’d want for your daughter?”
“Maybe not, but it doesn’t explain why he’d kill her.”
“‘Where there’s a will there’s a way,’” she quoted. “Perhaps she left him money.”
“She can’t leave him Roger’s money.”
Elsa looked frustrated. “Cassie had some money of her own. She’d told me about it when I first hired her, before she ever met Roger. Her father died in a car accident many years ago and she had an insurance trust. Her mother remarried a very wealthy man. Didn’t you see them at her memorial service?”
I remembered seeing a couple not much older than me, their quiet dignity a contrast to Roger. The mother’s anguish seemed so deep, palpable, and primal that I’d had to look away. Now it occurred to me that I’d come to think of Cassie as Roger’s wife, Andy Daniels’s fling, Elsa Franklin’s employee, and Billy Mann’s possible lover. I’d forgotten that she had also been someone’s daughter. Maybe I didn’t want to remember. The implications made me shudder.
“So you think she had her own money and wrote a will that left it to Billy, not Roger.”
“It would make sense. Roger doesn’t need any more funds. Billy obviously does.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Most women in their twenties wouldn’t have a will. It’s just not high in their minds that they might die.”
Elsa looked away, focusing far off in the distance. “You can’t compare Cassie to most women. She had a style all her own. Very determined and dogged. She liked to keep her life under control.”
“And also her death,” I suggested.
“Yes,” Elsa echoed. “Also her death.”
I looked back at the note, trying to hear Billy’s voice in it.
“Are you going to give this to the police?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I’m not trying to make accusations. It’s just something I found.”
“But it could be evidence. Or at least lead the cops to make some connection between Cassie and Billy.”
“I’d prefer not to get involved,” she said primly. “It doesn’t sit well with my position to be associated with something like this.”
“Think about Cassie’s parents,” I said, discomfited that up until now, I hadn’t done that myself. “Don’t you think it would help them if the murder could be solved?”
“Then you keep the note,” said Elsa. “Show it to Roger if you want. Give it to the police. I’ve kept a copy. Just try to keep me out of it.”
The next day, I drove over to the county clerk’s office, where Cassie Crawford’s last will and testament would have been filed. A perky associate in Jack Rosenfeld’s office, Rachel Royce, had already spent twenty minutes on the phone with me this morning, describing the ins and outs of probate, testators, bequests, legacies, and codicils. I didn’t expect to remember any of it.
“I wonder if they’ve already had the reading of the will,” I said when she’d finished.
“I can pretty much guarantee the answer is no,” Rachel said cheerfully.
“Really? Too soon?”
“Too soon, too late—it just doesn’t happen in real life. The attorney files the will and anybody who goes to the clerk’s office can review it. Often, we also send copies to the heirs.”
“Totally,” she said with a laugh. “Disappointing, right? All those great movie moments when the grieving family gathers and the tension builds. What would Hercule Poirot do without them? Or Perry Mason?”
“You don’t think the county clerk’s office will have enough drama?”
“A different kind, I’m afraid,” she said, laughing again. “Anyway, good luck.”
I got the address online, then drove over to the building on La Cienega that I’d seen so many times. I bounded in eagerly—then spent the morning bouncing from office to office, negotiating long lines, and listening to bored clerks announce that I was in the wrong place.
“But the woman over at death certificates told me to come here,” I said, frustrated, at my fifth stop.
“She was wrong.”
“It would be nice if someone here knew the correct information,” I said, more testily than I’d intended. “All I’m looking for is the will of a Los Angeles resident who recently died.”
“What day was it filed?”
“Who filed it?”
“Was it filed here or in one of our other locations?”
“Also don’t know.”
The clerk, a heavyset woman whose sleeveless shirt revealed stunning amounts of upper-arm flesh, offered a loud snort.
“Lady, you just said it’d be nice if someone here knew the correct information. It’d be nice if
knew some correct information, wouldn’t it?”
“I’ve been waiting in line for hours,” I said, tears of frustration popping into my eyes. “Can’t you help me?”
“God helps those who help themselves,” she said cryptically. Then, looking out to the line, she called,
Chastened, I scuttled away. How was I supposed to untangle a murder when I couldn’t even get untangled from a murderous bureaucracy?
Back in the parking lot, I took a deep breath, the smoggy Los Angeles air feeling surprisingly invigorating after the stultifying atmosphere inside. I pulled out my cell phone, which apparently hadn’t gotten much reception in the maze I’d just escaped, and noticed two calls from Jack. I called his office back and he picked up immediately.
“Lacy, I called as soon as I got in. Rachel told me she spoke to you this morning. Something about wanting to read a will. What’s up?”
I filled him in briefly on my conversation with Elsa, the threatening letter she’d shown me, and her speculation about Cassie’s will.
“Interesting,” he said. “Listen, I’ll send one of my investigators to track down the will and get the information to you by tomorrow.”
I gave a half turn and stared at the building where I’d just been. “I’ve been trying to get it all morning,” I said finally.
“You’re kidding,” he said. Then he gave a little laugh. “Like to be self-sufficient, huh? I guess you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.”
“Not funny,” I said.
“Sorry. Come by about three tomorrow.”
Jack’s office was on the twenty-eighth floor of one of the towering glass-and-steel buildings in Century City. When I got there the next day, I parked in the underground lot, then took the elevator directly to his floor. As one of the named partners in the firm, Jack had a corner office with the requisite wood paneling, shelves of law books, framed diplomas, and formal leather chairs. Sun poured in from windows that faced north and east and provided a panoramic view of the city. Behind his desk, Jack looked tanned and surprisingly relaxed.
“Been playing a lot of tennis?” I asked.
“Every morning,” Jack admitted. “Though I should probably quit. Last week I played Ryan and he beat me six-one, six-one.”
Since Jack’s son Ryan was Grant’s doubles partner, I smiled. “You should be proud.”
“Proud? I’m a guy. I want my son to beat everyone in the world—except me.”
“Not that you’re competitive.”
“Would you want a lawyer who liked to lose?”
I smiled. “Nope.”
“Then let’s score some points.”
He hit an intercom and asked to see Rachel Royce. A moment later, a pretty young associate bounced into the office—porcelain skin, long, curly red hair, and a curvy body hidden under a lawyerly navy pantsuit.
“You must be Mrs. Fields,” she said, offering a firm handshake despite her French-manicured fingernails. “Sorry if I sent you on a wild-goose chase yesterday.”
“It was an experience,” I said.
“Well, I have the information you need,” she said, tapping a heavy file folder. “Remember I told you that the reading of the will happens only in movies and mystery novels? Turns out we can have one right here.”
She sat down on a red leather sofa, which didn’t seem to give an inch under her weight. Either the new leather was still stiff, or Rachel was too slim to make a dent.
“I have the complete document, but I’ll just summarize the main points,” Rachel said, all business as she pulled out a sheaf of papers. “The will was signed and witnessed a little over a year ago. The way the father’s insurance trust was written, the money in Cassie’s trust is transferred to her sister’s trust. It’s more complicated than that for tax reasons, but that’s the basic outcome. Roger hadn’t put any assets directly in her name. In terms of other gifts, she left a ten-thousand-dollar bequest to her alma mater, UCLA, for the general alumni fund. And fifty thousand dollars to William James Mann.”
Rachel looked up. “Short reading and not much drama. But it’s all I’ve got.”
“Thank you, Rachel,” Jack said.
Catching his dismissive tone, Rachel gathered her papers and put a summarizing memo on Jack’s desk. “Let me know if there’s anything more I can do,” she said, before heading out.
The door closed, and in the silence that followed, Jack looked at me expectantly.
“Ten thousand to UCLA,” I said finally. “Does that give Elsa Franklin a motive?”
Jack shook his head. “In this town? Come on, Lacy. Think about the benefit auction we went to last year. Someone bid fifty thousand to have coffee with Steven Spielberg. That’s one expensive latte.”
I laughed, remembering the evening. The real entertainment came from watching the town’s alpha males compete to see who had the bigger checkbook. “Lunch with Tom Hanks went for something like forty thou, didn’t it? He jumped up during the bidding to say Steven might have made
but he’d personally make any kind of sandwich the winner wanted.”
“He pretended to be furious that Steven took in more than he did.”
“Pretended? Even Forrest Gump has an ego.”
Jack smiled. “The point is that ten thou isn’t very much in the general scheme of things.”
“Cassie worked at the development office. It’s possible she put in the provision so when she talked to potential donors about making bequests she could say, ‘I believe in this so much I’ve done it myself.’”
Jack nodded. “I’ll buy that. Pretty harmless. Which brings us to William James Mann.”
“He obviously knew about Cassie’s will, which is why he mentioned it in the note,” I said slowly. “Somehow he parlayed that into a million-dollar diamond.”
“A decent motive,” Jack conceded.
“Better than Molly’s, don’t you think? Billy’s looking like a pretty good suspect to me.”
“A dead suspect, unfortunately. Interesting that the only two people who can really tell us what happened are both dead.” He paused. “By the way, if Billy killed Cassie, who killed Billy?”
I groaned. “Do I have to solve everything today?”
“Better you than the police.”
“Maybe that’s what Roger concluded. Better him than the police,” I said, an obvious scenario suddenly coming to me. “He figured out that Billy killed Cassie and couldn’t wait for the courts to settle the score. So he got vengeance himself.”
“Easier for a jury to understand if the same person killed both of them.”
“You mean Roger?”
“Or his friendly bodyguard.”
“Look, I can believe Roger setting his thug on the slime who killed his wife. One clean shot. Very elegant. He could justify it to himself. But his wife?” I hesitated. “No real motive. And so messy.”
“Which is where Molly comes in.” Jack rifled through a file on his desk. “My investigator says she has a gun license. And keeps a Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolver in her office.”
I asked, stunned. We’d never talked about it, but I assumed that, like me, if my best friend supported the NRA she meant the National Restaurant Association. Her favorite Clint Eastwood movie was
The Bridges of Madison County
The news that she packed a pistol didn’t make my day.
“Well, she works late in her office a lot, and she’s all alone,” I said, grasping for an explanation, “and she had a robbery about three years ago. Very scary.”
Jack consulted his notes again. “From the police report, the only thing stolen was a T-shirt.”
“That Brad Pitt wore for an audition,” I explained.
“So an overzealous fan broke in three years ago. And last month Molly bought a gun.”
Last month? What else didn’t I know about my best friend? At this point, if he told me she turned into Xena the Warrior Princess at night I wouldn’t be surprised.
I stood up. “Really, Jack, I don’t understand this. Are your investigators looking for evidence for or against us?”
“Evidence is just evidence,” Jack said, sounding more lawyerly than I generally liked.
“I don’t know how we got onto Molly anyway. This meeting was about Billy’s note and reading the will.”
Jack leaned back in his big chair. “You got what you wanted. Always a little twist when you gather to read a will.”
suggested to Dan that we escape for the long weekend, just the two of us.
“But we never leave the kids,” he reminded me.
“They’re leaving us,” I said. “Grant’s going to his team’s tennis tournament in San Diego. Ashley’s whole class is building houses in Guadalajara. I suggested they help the homeless in Watts but got voted down. Jimmy got invited to a chalet at Big Bear Mountain. Carla Peters next door called because she’s taking her Aidan and didn’t want him in ski class alone.”
have to be alone instead?” Dan asked. His annoyance from the other day had disappeared. We hadn’t discussed it—but marriage was like that.
“You’re not alone. You have me,” I said, putting my arms around him.
He kissed me and I moved closer, letting my body meld into his. He got the message. “If we’ll have the house to ourselves, why don’t we just enjoy it?” he whispered.
“Let’s enjoy it right now.” I slipped away to close the bed room door, then sidled back to Dan, who hadn’t moved from his spot a few feet from the bed.
“Have an affair with me,” I said, sliding my hands under his shirt and feeling the firm muscles of his back.