Authors: Christine Gentry
Tags: #Fiction / Mystery & Detective / General
“First, we'll have to wait and see what happens with the murder investigation.”
Bieselmore stood up. “I suppose so. Who do you think did it?”
“I have no idea.”
Ansel walked toward the office door. Cameron stared at her, and she had the distinct impression he'd been hinting at something, but she couldn't figure out what the devil it was. Did Nick say something to Cameron about her? She decided to throw him a well-deserved curve.
“Speaking of ideas, where did you get the notion that Nick borrowed money from Leslie?”
Cameron's expression morphed into a cagey smile. “Leslie owed his annual dues. When I called him, he said he was short of cash because Nick borrowed money from him. It simply slipped out before he realized it.”
“Listen,” Ansel said, herding him toward the hangar exit, “let me handle the media and the museum association board. This will blow over. Until then, I expect us to stand united regarding Nick's positive contribution within the society.”
Cameron smiled thinly. “In other words, keep my feelings to myself. Don't worry about me, Ansel. I have no intention of besmirching this organization for the likes of Nicholas Capos.”
With those endearing words, he left the hangar. Ansel followed, hurrying toward the trailer. A quick check of her living room answering machine revealed five messages. Too early for Dr. Andreasson to call. The messages most likely had come from society members and the press. Or Lydia.
As Ansel stood there hesitating to play them, the phone rang. More reporters? Time to buckle down and make her first official statement. Ansel grabbed the receiver on the second ring.
“Ansel Phoenix? This is Karen Capos.”
Ansel hitched in a breath. Karen had always been Nick's invisible spouse. She'd never attended a weekend field party for members and family or attended a posh society fund raiser. And she certainly had never deigned to communicate with an Indian woman from Big Toe.
“Karen, I was just going to call you aboutâ”
“I need to see you. Come to my house, and we'll talk.”
Ansel sifted through her feelings before replying. Karen didn't seem the least distraught over her husband's murder. Disgust tempted her to deny Karen's demand on the spot, yet the possibility of finding out what she knew about Nick's activities during the last few months intrigued her more.
“How about tomorrow morning?”
“Fine. That's 1501 Aberdeen Avenue in Glasgow. Be here at nine.”
“Karen, what's this about?”
The dial tone buzzed in Ansel's ear like an angry bee.
“Women can help to turn the world right side up.”
Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee
Ansel was preparing a lunch of tuna fish on rye with potato chips when the phone rang again. She abandoned the plate next to some kitchen counter bowls containing fossils percolating in cleaning fluids and bolted into the living room. Maybe it was Andreasson.
She'd already made statements to three newspaper journalists, dodging bullets concerning Nick's personal activities by playing dumb, and she fully expected Nancy Kilpatrick from WBTV to appear on her doorstep any minute. It was Pearl, her stepmother.
“Ansel, how are you?” she asked, concern lacing her voice. “Your father and I read about the Capos murder. You found him?”
Ansel's tense shoulder muscles relaxed a bit. “Hi, Pearl. Yes, I did, but I'm doing okay.”
“Well, you don't sound too chipper. I can't imagine this happening near Big Toe. Is there anything we can do?”
“No. I would have called. I've just been busy with reporters. They're asking questions about Nick and the Pangaea Society.”
“I'm sure the whole thing has been horrible for you. Your father is very worried about your well-being.”
“It is horrible. One moment my students and I are looking for dinosaur bones, and the next minute we find a human grave. I recognized Nick even though he was in bad shape. It was quite a shock.”
“You should have called us.”
“I didn't feel like talking, Pearl. Especially after my round with the homicide detective.”
“You were interrogated? Don't tell me the police think you had something to do with it.”
“It's standard procedure. Do you know a sheriff's detective named Lieutenant Reid Dorbandt?”
“He asked about dad.”
“He wanted to know if I was Chase Phoenix's daughter. He gave me a strange look. It was weird.”
Pearl remained quiet for a moment. “Your father had a run-in with the sheriff's department a few years ago. You were in college.”
“Did it involve Captain Ed McKenzie?”
“How did you know about him?”
“Dorbandt said McKenzie knew dad.”
Pearl laughed. “That's an understatement. Your father looked into a murder case and stepped on some law enforcement feet. McKenzie was a toe. He'd roughed up Indians trying to get a confession. When Chase stepped in, McKenzie almost lost his job. The county cops still get prickly when the name Phoenix is mentioned.”
“Really? Dad never said anything.”
“It's ancient history, but you know how volatile tribal issues can be. Just don't let the bastards intimidate you.”
“I won't. Something else happened. I lost my Iniskim.”
Pearl clucked. “Oh, Ansel, you must be devastated. How did it happen?”
“I don't know, but when I got to the seminar site the cord fell off, and the pendant was gone. I've looked everywhere for it.”
“It's a special stone. It'll turn up,” Pearl insisted.
“I hope so. It came from Grandma's medicine bundle.”
“I think you should spend a few nights at the ranch.”
Ansel paced the living room, considering the offer. “I can't leave. Today I'm expecting a call from a client that I can't miss, and tomorrow I have an appointment in Glasgow. I'll see you at the buffet. We can talk then.”
“I guess you know best. I met Nick Capos at last year's Beastly Buffet, remember?” Pearl spoke in a pleasant sing-song voice which her husband often joked was as smooth as a silkworm's rump. “Nick told me about his grandparents coming to the United States from Greece right before the Nazis invaded. He mentioned that his grandfather and his father, Isidoro, were glass blowers.”
Ansel had totally forgotten about Nick's immigrant grandparents and how they had come to America in the 1940s, but Pearl had a mind like a bear trap. The woman could read or hear something and reiterate explicit details at any given moment. Pearl's comment also reminded her about Nick's small glass-art collection which he inherited upon his parents' death a few years before. Nick had learned some of the family glass blowing skills before going to college.
“Nick showed me his glass collection once,” Ansel said. “His grandfather made vases and his father created large hand-blown spheres and paperweights. They were beautiful.” Peeved, she wondered if Karen Capos would get all of that priceless art glass as well as Nick's fossils.
“Nick seemed like a very nice person. And so devilishly handsome. What a tragedy.”
Tears stung the corners of Ansel's brown eyes. “It's all so unreal.”
“I wish your father could talk to you, but he's out rounding up bulls in the east pasture. I just had to call. I'm so happy you're coming to the party.”
Ansel brightened. “Absolutely.”
“Are you still going to bring a dish?”
“Of course. I've made arrangements to have it delivered it to the ranch that morning. It's called crow gut.”
“Sounds interesting. How many crows does the recipe take?”
Ansel laughed. “Crow gut isn't made from crows. It's an old Blackfoot delicacy made with the large intestine of an elk or moose turned inside out and filled with meat and vegetables. Then the whole thing is roasted, cut up, and served.”
“Marvelous. None of the other guests will have that recipe.”
“How are your party preparations coming?”
Pearl sighed. “Slow. Which reminds me, I've got to trot. A man from the party store is coming to tell me how many tents I need.”
“Tell Dad I love him.”
“I will. If you need anything don't hesitate to call.”
“I won't. Bye, Pearl.”
As soon as the remote hit the stand, the phone chirped again. Ansel looked with longing at her sandwich and chips, but the phone trilled insistently.
“Doctor Andreasson, Ansel.”
“Yes. Hello. Did you get my drawings?”
“That's why I'm calling. I've looked them over, and they're wonderful.”
His evident excitement was infectious and Ansel's spirits lifted. “I'm glad you're pleased. You're sure that you don't want any corrections?” She hated asking, but the last thing she needed was Andreasson finding something wrong after the deadline to go to press had passed.
“I'm sure. The four black and white anatomical drawings are quite accurate and well rendered, but the full color cover art is exceptional. You've caught the spirit of a thirty-foot-long Stegosaurus magnificently. You've certainly breathed new life into the old âroof lizard.'”
“Thank you.” She was elated to have pleased the fussy paleontologist.
“I'm going to call Rodgers and tell him the news. I'm also recommending your talents to my colleagues. I'll send these on to Folsom Publishing. Talk to you later.”
“Good-bye, Dr. Andreasson.”
A knock reverberated on the front door and Ansel jumped. Her nerves
on edge. “Coming,” she called. The pounding got louder. Did they have to break the door down, for Pete's sake?
Wide-eyed and disheveled, Lydia Hodges stood on the concrete stoop. Frizzled, brown ponytail hairs had escaped around her ears and damp forehead.
“Lydia, what are you doing here?”
“I just had to see you, Ms. Phoenix.”
“No problem. Come in.”
Lydia rushed into the mobile home. Before Ansel could close the door, Lydia started chattering. “I just can't believe we found that man. It's like a bad dream. I wish I could relive that day and not go to the seminar at all. You know, oversleep or feel sick so I can't show up? All this stress is making my zits absolutely explode.”
“Lydia, you're rambling. Calm down. Have a seat. Want something to eat or drink?”
Lydia's face relaxed as she flopped into a rocking chair positioned in front of the bay window. “Sure. Thank you. I'll have a rum and coke.”
Ansel's eyebrows lifted. She had a sandwich and soda in mind when she'd made the offer, but what did it matter? The girl was over twenty-one.
Ansel walked into the kitchen. She found an ancient bottle of rum and pulled it out. Did rum go bad or just get better with age? She fixed the mixed drink and grabbed herself a beer from the fridge. She also wrangled up a bag of pretzel sticks and her orphaned lunch plate.
“Here, Lydia. This should help.” She placed the foodstuffs on a round glass coffee table, then passed over the drink. “What did you want to tell me yesterday?”
Lydia chugged a third of her drink, and then gave a deep, heaving sigh to steady herself. “I know something about that dead guy Capos.”
Ansel stopped in mid-chomp. This was the last thing she expected. “What?”
“First, I have to explain some things,” Lydia began with determination. “You know I take classes at Bowie College, but I also work part-time at the campus bookstore. I work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. Three to nine. Last month when I was on break, I went outside to use a pay phone. I called my mother. She was expecting me home after work, but I'd promised to stop by my girlfriend's house to help her work on a term paper. Do you know Cindy Lansing?”
“Nope,” Ansel answered, nipping a quick bite of sandwich.
“Oh. Well, Cindy's working on her master's in psychology. She has to do this dissertation on abnormal behavior, but she can't write well. You'd think somebody who's gone through twenty years of schooling could make reports, wouldn't you?” Lydia stared at Ansel.
“You'd think so. Did Cindy know Nick Capos?”
“Did your mother know him?”
Lydia swallowed another third of her mixed drink. “Of course not.”
“Well, I'm lost,” Ansel said in frustration. “Just tell me about Nick.”
“Okay. When we found that body, I didn't recognize Capos because he was all puffed up and gross, but after that cop showed me his driver's license, I nearly blew my cool. Capos used another pay phone while I talked to my mother that night. I didn't tell the police about it.”
“Because I was too scared. Capos was yelling on the phone. I heard some of it.” Lydia's hand dove with gusto into the pretzel bowl.
“What did he say?”
“He ordered the other person to listen to him. Then he got mad. He spoke the name Griffin right before he slammed the phone and walked away.”
“Griffin,” Ansel repeated.
She couldn't think of anyone named Griffin. And what was Nick doing at Bowie? The private school had a good academic reputation but, as far as she knew, Nick didn't attend classes, teach, or serve on any of the college alumni or trustee boards.
“It makes me sick to my stomach, Ms. Phoenix. I actually stood next to a man who got murdered.”
“Can you remember the date of that phone call?”
Lydia chewed more pretzels and finished her drink. “Uh huh. Friday, May twenty-fifth, right before the end of spring term.”
“You've got to tell Lieutenant Dorbandt. He could track this Griffin person down.”
Lydia's eyes grew wide. “I'm not going to tell him anything. One official statement will be enough for the rest of my life. He'll think I'm guilty, too.”
“Because I didn't tell the truth from the beginning. I lied, and he'll wonder why.”
“Lydia, it's your duty to help,” Ansel replied. She buried the thought that she was a hypocrite. It was also her duty to tell Dorbandt about her one-night stand with Nick.
Lydia set her glass on the coffee table and stood up. “I don't want anything to do with this murder. I don't want crazy killers coming after me because they think I know something.” She grabbed her purse and started for the door.
Ansel jumped up. “Lydia, where are you going?”
“Do what you want with the information, Ms. Phoenix, but leave me out of it.”
Lydia rushed down the steps toward her Hyundai on the gravel drive. Ansel watched the blue car as it was swallowed by a cloud of dust which evaporated by a stand of pine trees near the end of her property.
Ansel reached for her Iniskim, but grabbed air. She'd forgotten it was gone, the leather cord now balled up and pushed into her fanny pack.
Well, she thought despondently, at least her trip to see Karen Capos wouldn't be a total waste. She couldn't wait to ask Nick's wife if she knew anyone named Griffin.