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Authors: Linda Peterson

The Devil's Interval (9 page)

BOOK: The Devil's Interval
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I sketched out the death-penalty appeal background, gave a summary of Travis Gifford's arrest, trial, and conviction, mentioned The Devil's Interval, and waited. Puck Morris, our infamous music critic, known in band circles for his vicious reviews (with fair warning given by advance distribution to the unfortunate and untalented of “Pucked by Morris” T-shirts), laughed.

“I know that spot, Maggie. It's for oldsters. San Francisco used to be a great jazz town. Now it sucks. That place of Ivory's feels like a museum.”

Hoyt cleared his throat. “Say a little more, Puck.”

Puck glared at him. “Holy shit, Hoyt. That's what shrinks say.” He deepened his voice and affected a German accent, “Say a little more about vhy you find drowning kittens and masturbating to Strauss waltzes so pleasurable, Herr Morris.”

Hoyt was not amused. “Let's remember there are ladies present, Mr. Morris,” he said. “I repeat, why isn't San Francisco ‘a jazz town' anymore?”

Puck sighed and shrugged off his beat-up leather jacket. “Anybody but me hot in here? That menopause stuff contagious, Gertie, or what?”

Gertie regarded him with contempt. “Oh, grow up, Puck.”

“Why isn't San Francisco a jazz town? Couple reasons,” said Puck. “First, we're small potatoes. You need a critical mass of appreciators to keep a club open. There just aren't enough people who listen to jazz anymore. And the people who still do are getting
old. They like to sit at home and caress their vintage Monk and Bird LPs on the comfort of their own sofa. And drink their own booze while they listen. Clubs are a young person's scene.”

“What about the new SFJazz Center?” I protested.

Puck shook his head. “We'll see. It's hot, it's new. But sooner or later, it will be out there trolling for old people, too.”

“Jazz was just a sidebar,” I said. “To provide a little color. I think the main story could be about death-penalty appeals—who does what and how long it takes and the whole Innocence Project thing.”

Silence in the room. “Maggie,” prodded Hoyt, “we already did a story on your Gasworks Gang ladies. More death-penalty appeal coverage hardly seems like a story our readers would find compelling.”

“Okay, what would our readers find compelling?” I protested.

Puck began shredding his empty coffee cup. “They'd find the murdered broad interesting,” he offered. “She was a player on the social scene, wasn't she?”

“That's good,” I said. “Death of a Socialite.”

Hoyt began to nod, “That's got possibilities, Maggie. Although it seems a little odd to do it two years after her murder.”

I had an answer. “Now it's news again, because her alleged murderer is on Death Row and his attorneys are filing appeals. Let's go back and see if we can do a story that tells our readers how Grace Plummer went from glamorous socialite to dead body in the back of a limousine.”

“Cool beans,” volunteered Linda Quoc,
Small Town
's art director. “We can do a black-and-white photo essay—from the Black & White Ball to the back seat of a black limo. Very graphic.” I thought about the photos again and swallowed. Too graphic, maybe.

“It sounds a little too investigative journalism for us,” said Hoyt, “but I like the concept.”

“Well, let's see if we've got the chops to do it,” I said. I remembered something one of the Gasworks Gang said to me.
“We've got entree to the world Grace Plummer moved in. If anybody could do the story, we could.”

Hoyt caught me in the hall after the meeting. “I feel bamboozled, Maggie,” he said. “We were going to do that story, come heck or high water.”

“Oh, for heaven's sake, Hoyt,” I said. “It's hell or high water. Who are you going to give it to?”

“Besides you?” asked Hoyt. “I know you'll be riding shotgun on this piece, invited or not.”

“Hey,” I said, “I'm the media mogul, I'm the one who can get next to the rich and famous.”

He sighed. “I wouldn't be overestimatin' my clout if I were you,” he said. “I'm putting Andrea on it. She's got the pedigree.” Starchy Storch, who did both features and film reviews for
Small Town
, brought her daddy's signet ring, and a kind of rock-ribbed Northeast breeding to the magazine. Recently, she and
Small Town'
s favorite arty freelance photographer, Calvin Bright, had become a romantic item. Just two crazy preppy kids in love, one of whom happened to be African-American. “If Calvin ran the United Negro College Fund,” Michael once mused, “their motto would be ‘A Burberry is a terrible thing to waste.'”

“Perfect,” I said. I walked back to my office and picked up the phone. “Isabella,” I said. “It's Maggie Fiori. I went to see Ivory Gifford.”

I heard her sharp intake of breath. “Okay,” she said. “Tell me.”

“You win. Well, you and Ivory win. We're doing a piece.”


Dios mio
,” she said softly. “Thank you, Maggie.”

“Now would be a good time to tell me why you and Eleanor gave each other a peculiar look in Eleanor's living room the other day.”

“Ivory,” she said. “I've always thought we didn't have the whole story on Ivory. That is one tight mother-son relationship, and it weirds me out a little.”

I thought about my own boys, about how I kept a permanent, long-running tape in my head about every moment of their lives.
In an instant, I could recall the way Zach burrowed into the crook of my arm when he nursed, as if he were embedding himself back into my body. Or how, when Josh was three, every summer night he'd want to lie outside on the front lawn with Michael, and try to find Orion, which he pronounced Orizon, and how I loved that he saw a “horizon” in the sky—all the meaning I poured into that one boy and his use of that one word.

“What do you mean
tight
?” I said, trying to keep the defensiveness out of my voice. “Her son's on Death Row, of course she's obsessing about him.”

Isabella was silent. “Maggie, I'm a mother, too. I know what it means to be protective. I'm not talking about why she's fighting for Travis now. I just keep wondering if she decided she didn't like Grace for any number of reasons…”

“And killed her?” I said. “You've got to be kidding.”

“I know, it seems unlikely. But, you asked me what the look was about—and I've got to be straight with you. There's always been something about that relationship that bothers me. Can you imagine trying to get between Travis and his mother?”

I didn't answer. “No,” I said reluctantly. “I can't.”

“And that stroke,” said Isabella. “I know it was real. You can't fake a cerebral event. But it sure didn't advance anybody's cause that Ivory can't remember much about a critical time in the case.”

“She had an alibi,” I said. “That's what it said in the file. She was at a late movie with a friend until nearly midnight. They must have had stubs or something.”

“Better than stubs,” said Isabella. “An off-duty cop from the homicide squad saw them at the movies. He noticed Ivory because he thought she was, and I quote, ‘a silver fox.'”

“So, she seems like a dead end.”

“I know, I know,” said Isabella. “But still.”

“Isabella,” I said, “you're convinced Travis Gifford is innocent, right? No doubts?”

“Hey,” she said, “I'm in the business of doubt, and shadows thereof.”

“Answer the question, please.”

“I am convinced,” she said. “I've been doing this work a while; I started when I was still in law school. These Death Row appeals are my tofu and drink, and I am convinced.”

“And not because of some hinky hunch you've got about Ivory?”

“No, that's just something I still wonder about. It's those vehicles at Grace's. I believe nosy, old half-blind Mrs. Lomax. I believe there were two other cars there that evening. Or maybe just one, if she was seeing double.”

“You're not falling under the Limo Lothario's spell, are you?” I asked.

“Not my type,” said Isabella. “Not even close. And it's not that I don't believe he's capable of killing someone. I think we all are. But from what I know about Travis, it makes no sense to me. None at all. What makes sense is that if he did kill someone, he'd be smart enough not to leave the body in his car. In his garage. From the very beginning, I knew that was off.”

“Hope you're right,” I said. “I share your opinion and I have very little idea why. Frankly, right now, I feel as if I'm working for Ivory, and that's good enough for me.”

CHAPTER 8

T
ravis remembered what one of his mother's boyfriends had said to him when he was a sullen teenager: “Be nice to your mom. She's a class act.” He thought about the inmates he'd see in the exercise yard, bulked-up guys with
Mom
tattooed on a bicep, surrounded by rippling hearts and roses. Travis thought about Ivory as something much tougher than a rose. A diamond, maybe. Beauty with a flinty edge, something sparkly and valuable pulled from throwaway coal. Gave him some confidence she'd end her latest romance. At any rate, he didn't think Maggie Fiori would say no to Ivory. His mom's the one who taught him how to be still. Just listen. When women start talking, they're always checking to see if you're really listening. Grace believed he was listening. That's why she told him all that crazy stuff about her own mother. Weird that it was his mother he channeled to make it okay for Grace to tell him her stories
.

“Secret weapon, Mom,” he whispered. “Always.”

CHAPTER 9

F
ree for lunch?” I asked when Michael answered his phone at work. “I'm in the neighborhood.”

“Sure,” he said, “but I'm crammed. Can you grab something and bring it here? We can eat in my office.”

I arrived at the law firm's minimalist white-on-gray lobby with a brown paper sack, holding turkey-on-rye for me and pastrami-on-rye for Michael. The latest in a series of pretty, young receptionists sitting behind a polished gray stone counter waved me toward Michael's office.

She gestured at the bag, “You're leaking a little.”

“Sorry,” I called, as I headed down the hall, holding my hand underneath the bag to capture the drips. “Remind Michael he's got a meeting in the conference room at 1,” she called back.

Michael's door was closed. I knocked, called “Michael, it's me” and walked in.

He was behind the desk, listening to a guy on the other end of the speakerphone, and impatiently made a “trying to wrap it up” gesture to me. I sat at the table, and swiped at my fingers with a few napkins. He waved me over and patted his lap. Licking the last drips of mustard and mayo off my fingers, I walked behind his desk. The vertical shades were closed, and I reached for the cords to pull them open. Michael leaned backward, and in one swift motion, slapped my hand, and pulled me onto his lap.

“Uh-huh,” he said, with his hand on the back of my neck,
inclined just slightly to the speakerphone.

“Well, listen,” he said, “I think we have a plan. Let's get the international folks to look at the unitrust situation, and I'll get back to you. Oh, wait!”

“Wait? For what?” asked the voice coming out of the speakerphone.

“Oh,” said Michael, a little breathlessly, as I found something to do with my still-mayo-sticky fingers. “Sorry, I was distracted. I've got somebody in here—uh, looking at the heating system.”

We never unwrapped those sandwiches.

Later that afternoon, back in my office, Michael called.

“Hi, honey,” I said. “How's the heating system holding up?”

“Just fine,” he said. “I think it's performing very well, thank you. So, even without any bondage, rank the surprise factor for me.”

“Oh, you boys are so competitive,” I said. “But I'd give you a perfect ten—though it was a little nerve-racking since we never got around to locking the door.”

“And yet another opportunity for a surprise,” said Michael. “Give me a ten-plus.”

“Okay,” I said. “It was fun. But we never got to the postcoital bliss in which I wanted to discuss something with you.”

“Why do I feel that bliss slipping away?”

“So, here's the thing. I want to be on the up-and-up with you.”

“How refreshing,” he said.

I described my visit to The Devil's Interval, and the story we talked about for
Small Town
. “Death of a Socialite?” he asked. “Boy, does that sound cheesy.”

“To you, maybe. Our readers will lap it up,” I said. “And it accomplishes several goals—we may turn up something useful for Isabella, we'll get a good story, I'll have done something for Ivory, who honest-to-God, if you met her, Michael, you'd do the same thing. She broke my heart.”

Silence.

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