Authors: Linda L. Richards
At a gesture from Wyndham, Dex and I took the two seats opposite him, the table between us. Dex looked as comfortable as he always did and I tried to follow his example. This was not, however, a normal day. Laird Wyndham was sitting directly across from me. Close enough, I realized, that if I stretched out a leg, I’d be able to touch him with my toe. Close enough that, with the right crossbreezes, I’d be able to catch a whiff of his scent, and he—I thought headily—mine.
I was so caught up in thoughts of toe-touching and possible scent exchanges that I missed the earliest part of the conversation. Nor did I later regret it. How often, I reasoned, would I have Laird Wyndham practically almost to myself in this way? I knew what they were talking about anyway, or thought I did. The small talk that marks the earliest part of human interaction: I’m here because of this, you’re here because of that.
But his hair.
Up close—this close—I could see the irregularity of his part. And I could see that while his hair did not appear especially thick, there was a lot of it, dark chestnut in color, waved back so neatly it looked almost creamy. Thick, dark cream. A lock of it fell over his forehead and dipped toward his left eye.
“She’s not taking notes.” I’m not sure if the words themselves stirred me or the fact that they were about me. Probably both. There was amusement in Wyndham’s voice and I found myself only lightly mortified that he should have found me out so quickly. It was likely not the first time a young woman had finagled her way into his presence.
“Hear that, Kitty? Your lack of note taking is inviting concern.” I smiled timidly at Wyndham, then cast Dex a disapproving look. He paid no attention.
I could feel color hitting my cheeks. “Sorry,” I said stammering a bit, “it’s just… sorry.” I took out a notebook and wrote “Wyndham Notes” across the top of the page. “I’m ready now,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “Please. Continue.”
I was relieved when their attention was diverted by another arrival at our table. The man who joined us was dressed perfectly and expensively, from his crisp collar down to his spotless luggage-brown wingtips.
“Steward,” Wyndham said warmly, rising and clasping the other man’s hand, “good of you to join us. Thanks for setting this up.” Wyndham introduced us to his lawyer, Steward Sterling, and I receded as far as possible into the background, feeling a bit silly taking notes where none, strictly speaking, needed taking.
The three men spoke lightly at first, feeling each other out. Dex seemed to like both Wyndham and his lawyer almost instantly. Wyndham didn’t seem at all the spoiled star the papers made him out to be, and there appeared to be real affection between Wyndham and his lawyer: the two men were obviously friends as well as colleagues.
I noticed that the tightness and suspicion I’d seen in Dex’s face when he spoke to or about Xander Dean was absent. I could tell Dex felt that these were men he could trust.
“What I don’t quite understand,” Dex was saying, “is how you think I can help. Or even, to be perfectly honest, what I’m doing here. What Kitty and I are doing here,” he amended.
I saw the two men exchange a glance before either answered.
“You know the bare facts in the case.” It was Sterling who spoke first. “You understand … that is, you’ve heard and read and so on, you know what Laird is accused of and how the papers say it came to be.”
Dex nodded. Grunted slightly. “And I was there,” he pointed out.
Sterling nodded agreement. “And you were there. Right. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you.”
“How did you know that?”
“What? That you were there? Let’s just say you are not inconspicuous in a crowd like that. Laird here saw you. Asked around.”
“Yes,” Laird confirmed. “And then when … when all of this happened, I realized you were someone who might be in a position to be helpful to me. Someone I could talk to.”
“I’m listening,” Dex said.
The two men exchanged another glance. This time it was Wyndham who spoke. “We think there’s more going on than meets the eye.”
“How do you figure?” Dex asked.
“It’s the only thing that explains … well, everything,” Wyndham said. “The way the press has been since my arrest and … the thing itself.”
“Unless you did it,” Dex said matter-of-factly.
“Right,” Wyndham nodded, meeting Dex’s eyes. “Unless I did it. But I did not.”
Dex nodded. “OK,” he said. “Though maybe you can clear something up for me. Something that’s been bothering me. That night—the night of the party—you were on the phone a lot and when you weren’t, it looked as though you were waiting for someone. Can I ask who?”
Wyndham and his lawyer exchanged a glance. I did not see Sterling shrug and encourage Wyndham to explain, but I felt it just the same.
“I was waiting for Sterling here.”
Dex kicked back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. I knew what this meant: he didn’t believe this answer. Yet. But he would listen to all of it. He said as much. “I’m listening,” was what he said.
The two men exchanged glances again. I could tell they were weighing their answers, wondering how much to say.
Finally Sterling said, “We’d had words.”
“Pardon?” Dex said.
“Words, you know. We’d had a bit of a falling out.”
“About what?” Dex wanted to know.
Another shared glance.
“It doesn’t matter,” Wyndham said.
Sterling nodded. “Not relevant,” he added in lawyerly fashion.
“So let me get this straight,” Dex said, “the two of you had some kind of… what? Disagreement?”
He got a brace of nods. I gathered that his choice of the word “disagreement” was a good one. “All right,” Dex said with the air of someone who was letting something go. For now. “Still, someone did it. The girl is dead. And if not you, then who?”
Both Steward and Wyndham shook their heads. It seemed an unconscious show of unanimous innocence.
“That’s the rub, I think,” Steward said. “And that’s why Laird felt he wanted you here. We don’t know who did it and the police aren’t looking because they think they do. Laird got to thinking that if someone—say, you—could discover who
“Gotcha,” Dex said. “You wouldn’t have to prove your innocence if someone else was guilty.”
“Right, right,” Wyndham said. “So you’ll take the case?”
Inexplicably, Dex looked at me. “What do you say, Kitty? Do we take the case?”
I tried to glean what Dex wanted from me just then: it seemed he wouldn’t have asked this particular question if he didn’t already have an answer.
“Umm,” I stammered. “Uh … yes?”
“There you go then, boys. You heard the lady. I’d like five days in advance. Plus expenses.”
Wyndham looked pleased. Sterling stuck out his hand, pumped Dex’s. “Cash OK?”
“One thing I need to know,” Dex said, “was what happened from Laird’s perspective.”
“What happened?” Wyndham asked.
“Right. What did you see? I saw a woman—Rhoda Darrow—point out the bedroom to you. I saw you go in. I saw you come out. Next thing you know, the girl is dead. And I’m gathering from the fact that you’re claiming you’re innocent that the girl was alive when you left the room….”
“She was,” Wyndham said emphatically. “She certainly was.”
“Still,” Dex prompted. “Something went on in there….” He left the sentence dangling, willing Wyndham to finish it.
Wyndham looked to Sterling, who nodded, approving this portion of the tale.
“Well, like you said, that Darrow woman came to me. I didn’t know who she was right off, though her face was familiar.”
“We’ve figured it out since, though,” Sterling interjected. “They’d worked together on a film, maybe five years ago. Right, Laird? Five?”
“Right. I remember because we weren’t talking yet. No hint of talking, so I’m thinking ‘26 or thereabouts.”
“So she looked familiar …” Dex prompted, obviously not that interested in Rhoda Darrow’s resume at this point.
“Right. And all she says was, ‘The messenger is waiting in the larger bedroom.’ And she says it like that’s going to have meaning for me, you know? Like I’m going to know what it is.”
“And did you?” Dex asked.
“No,” Wyndham said right away.
“So why did you …”
“Go into the bedroom? Well, it was, like I said, the
she said it: like I was supposed to know. And I figured … I figured, I
don’t know anymore. So much has happened since …” Wyndham tugged at his hair distractedly. I noticed this of course because I was endlessly fascinated by his hair.
“Well, I figured, maybe it was Steward. Or maybe a message from Steward. So I went.”
“Lemme guess,” Dex said. “Not a message?”
“No. No message. There was just this … this girl. And she was in the bed when I came in. Not wearing much of anything at all.”
“And you didn’t know the girl?” Dex asked. “Not like, say, with the Darrow broad? You’d maybe worked with her or something?”
“No, no,” Wyndham said quickly. “Nothing like that. So I come in the room and I close the door behind me.”
“Why?” Dex wanted to know.
“Why’d I close the door? Just because, you know,” he cracked a smile, “I’m Laird Wyndham. Sometimes people want to lurk around. Hear stuff. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into.”
Dex nodded. “OK. So you close the door …”
“Right. And the girl on the bed? When she sees it’s me, she’s on me so fast…”
“Has this ever happened before?”
“Strange girls on beds taking their clothes off and attacking me?” Wyndhan’s smile was wry.
Dex just nodded.
Wyndham nodded. “Yes, actually: it happens all the time. But this … I don’t know if I can describe it properly, this was different.”
“Try,” Dex said. “Tell me what was different.”
“Well there was a … I guess you could say there was a hunger on her.”
“She wanted a sandwich?”
“You do like to break things down to their most simple bits, don’t you, Mr. Theroux?”
“Call me Dex.”
“Okay, Dex. And no sandwich. But, to be honest, it wasn’t like she was after sex either. Or at least, not just sex. Or even sex for the sake of it. I know … forgive me if this sounds arrogant, but I know what that looks like. This was something more.”
“So you had sex with her?”
“No!” Did the word come out too quickly? I couldn’t decide. Maybe Wyndham thought so too because he tried it again, “No. I just extricated myself as well as I could and got the hell out of there.”
Which was pretty much in line with what Dex had seen. He’d told me that Wyndham had come out of the room looking like he needed a shower. Though, when I thought about it, that was a look that could swing either way.
“And that’s it?”
“Pretty much,” Wyndham said. “I was … well, I guess I was a bit upset by it. I’m not sure why. There was just something… well… dirty about the whole scene. I decided I wanted some air and slipped out when I thought no one was looking.”
“It just happened,” Sterling picked up the story here, “that I was arriving as Laird was leaving the bungalow.”
Wyndham nodded. “That’s right. And we had … well we had some things to clear up. We went someplace quiet to talk things out. We drove down to the marina in Long Beach where I keep my boat. And we were sitting there, on the aft deck, just chatting into the night and, next thing I knew I was being arrested for murder and I ended up here. You know the rest.”
“Well,” Dex said, “as much as there is to know, I guess. At least, among us. And for now. We’ll try to discover the rest. I’ll need your help with that. Do you have any enemies, Mr. Wyndham? Anyone who would wish you harm?”
“Call me Laird, please. And no. Nothing like that at all.”
“I’d like you to give it thought, please, sir. Careful thought.
And if you can’t think of anyone now, that’s all right. We’ll be talking a few times over the next few days. Anything comes to you, you can fill me in then or you can always call the office. Most likely talk to Kitty here, if I’m not around.”
“All right,” Wyndham said.
“So … no enemies you can think of right off the top of your head. Here’s another thing to ponder then: you’re both saying you didn’t do it.”
“I didn’t!” Wyndham said quickly.
“OK,” Dex said. “We got that part. But if not you, then who? Someone did, that’s clear as rain. What’s not so clear right now is who
do it. You got any pet theories?”
The two men exchanged another glance, but I couldn’t read anything into it. Looking at Dex, I figured he couldn’t either. It was Sterling who spoke.
“One thing we’ve been discussing is the likelihood of one of the service people having done it.”
“The service people?”
“Yeah, you know: busboys, housekeeping staff, even catering people.”
“I know what service people are,” Dex said. “It just seems a bit far-fetched, is all. I mean, let’s face it: we’ve got a bungalow crawling with all sorts and you’re thinking—what?—the butler did it?”
Wyndham looked embarrassed. “I was just thinking they might have had access, is all.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, OK?” Dex said, looking from Wyndham to his lawyer and back again, “but, the next few days, all you’re going to have is time to think about what happened. Maybe that kind of meditation will shake something loose. Meanwhile, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go away now and over the next few days, we’ll nose around some,
see if there are any clues the cops are overlooking because they’re so confident they’ve got their man.”
“That’s wonderful,” Wyndham said effusively. He looked as though he might clasp Dex’s hand gratefully once more, but Dex stopped him.
“Hold on though,” Dex said looking directly at Wyndham. “Not so fast. There’s something I want you to do for me.”
“But what can I do? I’m stuck in here.”
“I just need you to think about that night. And about who might have wanted to put the frame on you. Make notes on anything that jumps into your head that you figure might help me, even if it doesn’t seem like much of anything at all. OK?”
Wyndham laughed. It had a hollow sound, though it wasn’t unpleasant. More like hopeless, the way hopeless looks on a man who is used to having his dreams come true. “I can do that, all right. Like you said earlier, I got nothing but time on my hands.” And he said it rough, like he might have done when playing the love-struck cowboy in