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Authors: Mary Higgins Clark,Alafair Burke

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BOOK: The Cinderella Murder
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L
aurie hated hospitals, and not for the usual reasons: the chaos, the smells, the reminders at every turn of our fragility and the ticking of the clock. Laurie hated hospitals because they reminded her of Greg. She could not stand beneath those fluorescent lights, surrounded by the odor of disinfectant, without picturing Greg coming down the hall in sea-green scrubs, a stethoscope draped around his neck.

The doctor who walked into the lobby at the Cedars-Sinai emergency room looked nothing like Greg. She was a woman, probably not much older than Laurie, with blond hair pulled into a ponytail. “Jerry Klein?”

Grace’s jump from the seat next to her woke Timmy, whose head was resting in Laurie’s lap. Timmy rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Is Jerry okay?”

Laurie had called her father as soon as the EMTs whisked Jerry away in the ambulance. Leo immediately cut short their visit to the La Brea Tar Pits, dropping Timmy off at the hospital so he could stay with Laurie while Leo tried to get more information about Jerry’s attack from the police.

Laurie hugged Timmy close to her chest and patted his head. She did not want him to hear any more bad news.

Alex appeared next to the doctor, two cups of fresh coffee in
hand, which he delivered to Grace and Laurie. Laurie was truly impressed at how well Grace was keeping herself together. She was desperately worried about her friend Jerry but had been helping to comfort Timmy and had even thought to call Dwight Cook and inform him of the break-in at his house.

“I’ll take Timmy,” Alex offered, seeming to read her mind.

The doctor introduced herself once Timmy was out of earshot. “I’m Dr. Shreve. Your friend is stable, but the assault was quite serious, multiple blows from a blunt instrument. The injuries to his head are the most significant. The bleeding impaired his breathing as well, which has led to a comalike state. He’s showing signs of improvement already and seems to be neurologically normal or near normal, but we won’t know for certain until he regains consciousness.”

Grace choked back a sob. “Can we see him?” she asked.

“Sure,” the doctor said with a patient smile, “but don’t expect too much, okay? It’s unlikely he can hear you, and he certainly won’t respond.”

Despite the doctor’s warning, Laurie gasped at the sight of Jerry in bed. His head was swathed in bandages and twice its usual size. Beneath the oxygen mask, his face was swollen like a balloon and beginning to bruise. An IV drip was taped to the crook of his left arm. The room was silent except for the constant hum and rhythmic beep of a machine next to the bed.

Grace reached for Laurie’s hand, then rested her free hand on Jerry’s shoulder and began to pray. They had just said “amen” when Leo walked in. “I didn’t want to interrupt, but I said my own words from the hallway.”

Laurie gave him a quick hug. “Is Timmy okay?”

“Yep, he’s in the lobby with Alex. He’s a tough kid.”

After his father’s murder and the mayhem at the end of filming “The Graduation Gala,” Timmy had seen more violence than any person, let alone a child, should experience.

“Any word from the police?”

“I just came from the house. The entire block’s covered. The lead detective, a guy called Sean Reilly, seems like a good cop. They’re canvassing for witnesses, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m not optimistic. The lots in that area are so huge, you can’t even see your next-door neighbor.”

“I don’t understand it,” Grace said, sniffling. “How could anyone want to hurt Jerry, of all people?”

“I’ve got a theory on that,” Leo said. “The house was tossed. Drawers opened, luggage rifled through. Laurie, you had your laptop with you, but the rest of the computer equipment is missing.”

“A robbery?” Laurie asked.

“Except they left behind everything else. They didn’t even touch some very expensive speakers that would have been easy to grab. And unless you took the case files with you, I think those are missing, too.”

She shook her head. They had stored the files in two large banker boxes. The last time she’d seen them, they were in the den. “So this is related to the show?”

Leo nodded. “It’s the show.”

“The summit session. We told them all the address for filming.” She was thinking out loud now. “Someone was worried about what we might know. They took the files and the computers to find out what everyone else was saying.”

“Or they wanted to scare you into stopping production altogether.”

Laurie knew her father could be overprotective at times, seeing danger around every corner. But no one would break into a house that luxurious and leave with only documents and a few inexpensive laptops unless they were interested in
Under Suspicion
.

“Dad, you were worried when Rosemary’s neighbor was killed that it was somehow related to the show.”

“And I still believe that.”

“Can you reach out to the police up there? Make sure that both departments know there’s a possible connection between Lydia’s death and the attack on Jerry?”

“Absolutely.”

She leaned over Jerry, carefully avoiding the tubes and wires, and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. She had spent so much time telling her father not to worry about her while she worked on the show, but she never stopped to think that her production might be putting others in this kind of danger.

She had to find out who did this to him.

48

A
t nine o’clock, Leo turned off the light in Timmy’s room. Timmy had taken the next volume of the Harry Potter books with him to bed, but as Leo had expected, he had fallen asleep on the first page after their long and strenuous day.

He made his way to the hall, leaving the door cracked open in case Timmy cried out in the night.

If there was any sliver of light to be found in the brutal assault on Laurie’s colleague, it was that she was finally willing to concede that someone might be targeting people connected to her show. After all, the murder of Rosemary Dempsey’s neighbor had been Leo’s primary reason for coming to California.

Still, Leo was not happy about Laurie’s decision to stay at the Bel Air house. Detective Reilly had cleared them for reentry after the crime-scene unit had finished its work, but the bigger question was whether they’d be safe. “It’s obvious the guy was after one thing,” Reilly had said, “your computer and research on the show. You say there was nothing pertaining to the show that he didn’t take. So presumably he got what he wanted and won’t be coming back.”

Leo didn’t agree with Reilly’s logic, but the fact was that they were a large group, and the police planned to drive past the house every twenty minutes to be safe. And, Leo thought, my gun is at the ready in a worst-case scenario.

The police hadn’t located any witnesses yet in their neighborhood canvass. Some of the homes had surveillance cameras, but detectives still needed to wade through the footage. If they were extremely lucky, they might be able to locate images of cars or people coming and going from the street.

In his bedroom, he shut the door and pulled up a recently dialed phone number on his cell. It was the number for Detective O’Brien at the Alameda County sheriff’s department.

“Detective, it’s Leo Farley. We spoke earlier this week about your investigation into the murder of Lydia Levitt.”

“Of course I remember. In fact, I happened to touch base yesterday with one of my friends in the NYPD. Name of J. J. Rogan.”

“Talk about a blast from the past. I was his lieutenant when he first moved to detective squad.”

“That’s what he told me. He confirms you’re ‘good people,’ in his words.”

In light of what Leo was about to ask of Detective O’Brien, he was grateful for the recommendation on his behalf.

“You mentioned that you had some camera footage from the roads going in and out of Castle Crossings.”

“We do, but it’s a major thoroughfare. A whole mess of cars that could be heading in any direction. We’ve got no clear idea who exactly went into the gated community. I’ve got an officer capturing stills of license plates, matching each car up to a driver, but we’re talking about a lot of people to track down. I’ve been prioritizing the burglary angle, working my sources, but if this was a botched break-in, the person who did it hasn’t spoken a word of it on the street.”

Leo told O’Brien about the assault on Jerry and his belief that both that attack and Lydia Levitt’s murder could be connected to
Under Suspicion.

“We’ll certainly pursue that theory,” O’Brien said. “We’re looking at every possible lead.”

“The gated community doesn’t have cameras right at the entry?” Leo asked.

“You’d think, but those places really don’t have any major crime. The walls themselves act as their own kind of deterrent, and the guards at the gate have a dog and pony show, but they also wave a lot of people through if they seem to belong.”

Leo had been hoping that O’Brien would have gotten further in his investigation since they last spoke, but he knew how slowly things could move when no clear suspects have emerged. “So what you’re saying is that your footage from the road outside could be a search for a needle in a haystack.”

“You got it.”

“Any chance you could use the assistance of a retired cop from New York to wade through that list of drivers?”

“Could I
use
it? I’ll pay you back in whiskey at the first opportunity.”

“Sounds like a deal.”

After a quick discussion that Leo didn’t entirely understand involving digitization, file size, and data compression, Detective O’Brien estimated that he could get everything to him by e-mail tomorrow morning.

“I’ll probably have to get my grandson to help me open them,” he said before hanging up.

Sifting through images of cars on a busy street would indeed be searching for a needle in a haystack, but if Leo happened to find the same needle in two different haystacks on opposite ends of the state, he might just have himself a lead.

49

F
our and a half miles away in Westwood, Dwight Cook was pacing at the foot of his bed.

He flashed back to a long-forgotten memory of his father screaming at him in what must have been the eighth grade.
Stop pacing.
Just stop. You’re driving me crazy. And it’s weird. Maggie, tell your son how nervous he makes people when he acts that way.

His mother grabbed his father’s arm and whispered:
Stop yelling, David. You know loud noises make Dwight jumpy. He paces when he’s jumpy. And
don’t
call your son
weird.

Dwight had trained himself to control the obsessive pacing in high school by sitting on his hands instead. He learned that remaining still, focusing on the feeling of his weight on the back of his hands, didn’t make people nervous the way his pacing had. But he was alone in his bungalow now, so he didn’t need to worry about affecting anyone else. And he had tried and tried to sit on his hands, but the racing in his head—the
jumpiness
—wouldn’t stop.

He momentarily paused at the center of his bed to hit
REWIND
and then
PLAY
once again on his laptop.

Dwight had been speed-watching footage of the empty house when the man first appeared on the screen, walking directly through
the unlocked front door with a ski mask over his face. Twenty-three minutes. That was the amount of time Jerry had been gone, returning to the house with a bag from In-N-Out Burger. Had he eaten his fast food in the kitchen, maybe the masked man would have snuck out through the front door undetected.

But Jerry hadn’t taken his lunch to the kitchen. He walked directly into the den, where the masked man was rifling through the documents Jerry had left scattered across the coffee table.

Dwight continued to pace, clenching his eyes shut as each blow found its target. The weapon was the engraved crystal plaque Dwight had received from UCLA when he donated his first hundred thousand dollars upon graduation.

Dwight watched as the assault ended and the masked man turned to run out of the den, his arms filled with two banker boxes.

BOOK: The Cinderella Murder
12.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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