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Authors: Linda Peterson

The Devil's Interval (29 page)

BOOK: The Devil's Interval
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“Tell me now,” he said, “and I buy lunch. Or, don't tell me, and you pick up the check, and I'll find a reason to haul you down to my office and wreck your entire afternoon.” He took a tidy, satisfied bite out of his not-very-appetizing-looking veggie burger. “Your choice.”

So I told. A very workmanlike, crisp summary, if I do say so myself.

“That's it?” asked Moon, pushing his plate aside, and pulling his mug of tea in front of him. “You're doing a story?”

“That's about it,” I said cheerfully.

He pulled a notebook from his breast pocket. “And the story is what took you to San Quentin with Ms. Fuentes?”

I sighed. “Okay, why are you asking me to tell you all this if
you already know everything?”

A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth. I thought of the nickname Moon's wife had for him, “Lt. SmugBuns.” He folded his arms, and leaned back on the wooden bench. “Maybe I just wanted to see how forthcoming you'd be. And, of course, I'm wondering how forthcoming you've been with Michael.”

“You'd be surprised. There's a whole new Maggie in town. Michael's very involved in the whole thing. I'm sure that's why he mentioned it to you,” I observed, all the while wondering why Michael felt so obliged to blab about the story to Moon at practice. “Michael happens to know—just for your information—everything I know.”

Moon narrowed his eyes. “Uh-huh. Sure he does.”

“He does,” I protested. “Now, it's your turn. What was going on at the office today? Guys from the DA, huh? What interview transcripts were they looking at?”

“And she's back, ladies and gentlemen,” observed Moon to the room at large. “Ms. Nosy Fiori, girl detective, woman of a million questions. Not cured, not retired, merely resting for a while.”

“Hey, I just spilled every little shred of info I've got,” I said. “Turnabout is fair play.”

“In a relationship of equals, it is,” said Moon.

“Okay,” I said, “how's about if I tell you what I think and you can confirm or not.”

“You're free to speculate,” said Moon. “And I'm free to do absolutely nothing. You need to know that Travis Gifford is already a trophy on our wall at SFPD. Case solved; case closed. No one's going to be anxious to reopen anything.”

I nodded, impatiently. “So, I think that all those baby ADAs were looking at the interview transcripts of Carol Ann Masters, trying to see where they'd screwed up, missing some critical piece of information.”

“It's possible that's the transcript they were reviewing,” said Moon.

“Plus, I bet they wanted to see the transcripts of the interview
with Purity at A Mom's Place.” I sat back, satisfied. “I think this is great. One little Q&A session with Maggie Fiori, the master interrogator, and the wheels of justice are back in motion.”

“Did anyone ever tell you that it's more attractive to let other people find and praise your good qualities?” asked Moon.

“That is practically a direct lift from Miss Manners,” I countered.

“What's your interest in this case, Maggie? Beyond the trumped-up story angle?”

I stopped to consider. In fact, the excitement I felt about the conversation with Carol Ann seemed out of proportion to what the information might actually mean. It's not as if it cleared Travis, and we might never know who the guy was or if there was someone else in the backseat or what they were doing with Grace. “I don't know,” I confessed. “Michael probably told you that some of the Women Defenders got me involved.”

“I know Isabella Fuentes,” he said. “She's a good person and a terrific lawyer. I'm not sure she needs your help.”

“Hey,” I said, “I didn't go looking for this experience. The Women Defenders came and found me. Plus…” I hesitated.

“Plus?” he prompted me.

“Plus, Isabella took me up to San Quentin, and it's an experience you don't forget.” I wrapped my hands around the coffee mug.

“So you've met Travis Gifford?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I've met him and his mother.”

Moon shook his head, “That's a sad story. I knew Ivory Gifford from The Devil's Interval. We used to go to their Sunday afternoon jams, because they'd let kids in during the day. I can't imagine what kind of hell she's gone through with all of this.”

“Me, either,” I said. “That's really why I got involved, I think. Travis asked me to go meet his mother, and I thought—well, you can guess what I thought.”

“Suppose that was my son?”

I nodded.

Moon frowned. “The world's full of tough-luck stories, Maggie. Hardly seems like fodder for
Small Town
.”

“It's not,” I said. “I had to sell our managing editor on the story. But it's turned out to be full of surprises. For our readers, Grace Plummer is really the compelling story. Glamorous social butterfly, living the high life, married to Mr. VC.”

“Hanging out at the Crimson Club,” added Moon.

“Yes, well, there's that,” I said. “But Grace turned out to be a far more interesting and substantive person than I ever imagined. You know, you read the social notes and you think—spoiled, rich, idle, useless.”

“More complex than that,” said Moon, catching the waitress's eye and signaling for the check. “Most people are.”

“I know,” I said, “but Grace was really someone special.”

“You mean her ‘good works' stuff?” asked Moon, easing a twenty out of his elegant, snakeskin wallet. “I think that's what lots of those social butterflies do. But I know what you mean. From the files, it looks as if Grace Plummer actually broke a sweat, as opposed to just sitting on boards and booking tables for charity events.”

“Wow,” I said, reaching over to touch the wallet. “Do the PETA folks know that a committed vegetarian like you carries his dough around in something like this?”

“Faux,” he said. “My wife, the Hong Kong superstar shopper, got it for me.”

Moon shrugged into his jacket and helped me into mine. Ever the gentleman. We headed out into the street. Almost overnight, real spring had arrived in San Francisco. Boots and tights and tweed skirts had given way to bare legs and floral skirts. That was the good news, but real spring meant summer was just ahead, and the habeas clock was ticking away. Moon walked me to the corner of Montgomery and Post, where the financial district met the start of serious retail. North up Montgomery, the do-it-yourself investors hung out in the lobby of Charles Schwab, watching the ticker, kibitzing, and giving one another unsolicited advice. West
up Post, the windows of Armani beckoned, bright with silky, well-cut fabrics, hanging on the kind of bodies Grace and her pals put in long hours at the gym to achieve. Maybe if I got some advice from the geezers in Schwab's lobby, I could afford to shop at Armani.

“Doesn't it seem like an awful lot of weird coincidences in this case, John?”

“Like what?”

“You know Ginger, Grace Plummer's best friend, is the daughter of Ivory's sweetheart, on and on it goes. Some cop noticed Ivory and Gus in an art-house theater the night of the murder.”

He shrugged. “Anybody who likes jazz in this town knows Ivory. And police officers, for your information, don't just like shoot 'em up movies. In fact, they generally think they're silly. So, no, I don't think it's farfetched that a cop was in the theater that evening, and that he'd notice Ivory. She's a striking woman. When the case came in, and we did a briefing for the whole homicide squad, this guy spoke up and said, ‘Now, that's weird. I've just seen that woman and the big guy with her.' As for the rest of it, it's a small town. Isn't that what your chic little magazine is all about?”

“I guess,” I said. “In fact, that's an excellent reason for me to get involved, isn't it?”

“It may be a legitimate reason for you to do a story on Grace Plummer, but that's a far stretch from playing girl detective again.”

“Thanks for lunch, John,” I said, reaching up to give him a peck on the cheek. “Since the girl detective told all, does this mean I get to go back to work, instead of off to the hoosegow?”

“The hoosegow?” he asked. “Where do you come up with these ridiculous words?” He put up his hand. “Never mind, I know you're going to tell me the derivation of the word, and I just can't accommodate one more useless bit of Fiori trivia in my brain today.”

“It's a
gringo
version of
juzgao
, variant of
juzgado
, meaning jail, of course.”

“Of course,” said Moon. “Thank you. And since I warned you I couldn't absorb anymore know-it-allisms from you, I'll have
forgotten what you told me by the time I get to the BART station in three hundred yards. Just as,” he turned me to face him, “I know you forget everything I ever tell you.”

“Oh, not everything,” I said. “Let's just keep each other in the loop, shall we?” And with that, I headed up Post. As I walked, breathing in the sweet, spring fragrance that seemed to clean even diesel bus fuel from the air, I wondered when my picture of Grace had changed so completely. And I thought back to sitting under the early apple blossoms with Purity, looking out on the tidy raised beds Grace had created. And I realized that in that moment, some shell had cracked open for me, some hard nut of judgment about who mattered in the world, and who didn't, the terrible life lists we keep—as Ken Kesey used to say, of “who's on the bus, who's off the bus” in our regard and good opinion. I had seen Grace not for who she was, because I would never know that, but for whom others thought she was, and how she was loved.

I stopped in front of the Armani windows and looked in, just enjoying the custard-yellow silk sundress with the draped neck. All wrong for me, even if I could afford it, but so beautiful. Inadvertently, I found myself reaching toward the window, as if I could put my hand through and touch that gossamer fabric. Through the windows, through the long-limbed mannequins, I could see the store and watched as an older, beautiful, slender woman, trying on the first cousin to the silk dress, in plum, instead of yellow, stood in front of a mirror. A stocky man stood very close to her, leaning forward, almost as if he were trying to soak her in, through his skin. She turned, with a smile, and I stepped back from the window, short of breath. It was Ivory, and the man admiring her was Gus. He put his hand on the back of her neck, and pulled her a little closer, and kissed her forehead. She rested her head on his chest, briefly, then pulled away and disappeared, back toward the dressing rooms, I imagined. I looked over my shoulder, embarrassed I might find someone catching me, intruding like a voyeur on such a private moment. Still, I wondered about what I had witnessed. Was this how I envisioned the mother of a Death
Row inmate watching the habeas clock run down?

“And the judgments are back,” I muttered to myself. “In plum and yellow, available at a boutique near you.”

I stood a minute more, and on an impulse, went to the front of the store and pushed the heavy glass door open. A saleswoman, elegant and thin in a soft gray sweater and tailored slacks greeted me.

“I'm just browsing,” I said. “Actually, I thought I saw a friend in here.”

She watched me look around. “She might be in the dressing rooms,” suggested the saleswoman, gesturing to the back of the store. I thanked her and wandered back in the direction she'd pointed.

As I drew near the dressing room, I heard breathy noises coming from one of the rooms. I stood, startled, listening for a moment. And then I understood. Ivory Gifford was crying.

I felt trapped. Listening to her was agonizing, and made me feel like the worst kind of snoop.

I crept closer, looking over my shoulder again, expecting Gus to come looking for her any minute. “Excuse me,” I called softly. No response. “Excuse me,” I raised my voice. “Are you okay?”

The noises stopped. “I'm fine,” she called from the dressing room.

I didn't know anyone was out there. I'm sorry.”

So, was it kinder to leave? Or to speak up? Maggie Fiori, woman of action and generally awful judgment, spoke up. “Ivory.” I hesitated. “It's Maggie Fiori.” The dressing room behind the elegant curtain grew very quiet. I heard her blowing her nose.

The curtain parted, and Ivory was completely dressed in her own clothes, except for her shoes. Standing there in her socks, the silky plum number on a hook behind her, she looked terribly young and completely vulnerable.

She looked puzzled, “Ms. Fiori? What are you doing here?”

For a moment, I considered a small equivocation like, ‘Oh, just shopping,' but that seemed to compound intrusion with a dumb lie.

“I was looking in the window,” I said lamely, “admiring a
dress, and I saw you through the window. You were trying on the dress I was looking at.” She stared at me, swiping at her eyes with a crumpled tissue.

“In a different color,” I added, with meaningless detail. “The one I was looking at. Kind of buttercup.”

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