Read The Ice Maiden Online

Authors: Edna Buchanan

The Ice Maiden (17 page)

BOOK: The Ice Maiden
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He and Stone exchanged baleful looks. “Right. Unfortunately, I wasn't here, so she asked to talk to my supervisor, to thank her for reopening the case.”

“Damn.” I dropped into the chair beside his desk. “She didn't shoot the poor woman down, did she?”

“No way. Riley's too smart for that. She just said, ‘You're welcome,' and then blindsided me when I walked in the door. Didn't know what hit me.”

“Where is she?” I stole a guilty glance over my shoulder. Her office looked dark.

“Slammed out of here ten minutes ago. Think I'd be standing here talking to you if she was around?”

“Sorry,” I said. “But I have something that will make you boys feel better fast.”

“What, you pushing Prozac?” Stone said.

“Maybe she's getting outa town, way outa town,” Burch said. “Becoming a foreign correspondent.”

“Not funny, when I've got the cure for what ails you,” I said. “A witness.”

Their faces changed as I filled them in, without using Shelby's name.

“She's scared, afraid to talk to you. But she can confirm a lot of things.”

“Did she say where they got the gun?” Stone asked eagerly.

“B and E of a house. Thought it went down in Miami Shores four days or so before that Christmas Eve.”

“Excellent,” he said. “Miami Shores has only about ten thousand population. Can't be many guns taken in burglaries there during that week. Let's just hope the gun was legal and the victim reported it. If we can locate the police report, get the serial number, we can see
if it's surfaced anywhere since. Might still be out there, recoverable. If your witness can put it in their hands that night—we might have something to run with.”

“She was only a little kid at the time,” I said. “I'm not sure if she can ever be persuaded to testify, but she might. If not, it might give you enough to flip one of the others.”

“How come this witness never spoke up before?” Burch asked.

“She's grown now, a mother herself. Her conscience has been bothering her.”

“Funny how people suddenly discover their conscience,” he said, “once they have kids.”

“She's also depressed, apprehensive about nine-eleven and the war.”

“Who isn't?” Stone said.

“How nice of our legal system back then to turn Mad Dog loose on the community for the holidays,” Burch said. “Merry Christmas, Miami.”

“Yup, sent him home angry, hopped up on teenage testosterone, and out of control,” Stone said.

“Sounds like he's the shooter,” I said. Now that Riley knew, I asked them, did we still need to withhold the information that Coney was a suspect? “I can use it in my next story,” I said.

Burch shrugged. “Riley's gonna make us miserable anyway. Why the hell not?”

“Way to go,” Stone said. “She'll take the bows when we close it.”

 

Visiting hours were over by the time I found Ryan's hospital room. His roommate, an elderly man, was
dozing, but Ryan was awake, halfheartedly watching talking heads dissect gloomy news on CNN. He looked tired but seemed happy to see me.

He flicked off the TV. “What a weird war,” he said. “Bam! Boom! Bombs away, take that. Now, here's some lunch.”

He felt better, he said, but still didn't know when he could go home. I kissed his cheek and delivered his mail, along with a stack of magazines I'd picked up at a newsstand on the way,
Esquire, Time,
and
Playboy
. “Thought you might want something to read,” I said, “or pictures to look at.”

“You should see some of the nurses here,” he said, with a low whistle. “I love nurses: their white uniforms, all starchy and clean, and those little white squeaky shoes. This place is full of them.”

“Not surprising,” I said, “since this is a hospital.”

Lottie, Villanueva, and Howie Janowitz had visited earlier. Lottie had brought cheerful sunflowers in a tall blue vase and a bakery box of chocolate chip cookies.

A big shiny-green plant from the paper had a card signed
From the Newsroom.
And there was a giant fruit basket filled with gourmet biscuits, sausages, and cheese—from the firefighters union, Ryan sheepishly admitted.

“I'm big with the fire department,” he said. “Their PIO called to say they entered my story in a national contest.”

I helped myself to an apple. “You mind?”

“Naw, guess you're entitled, since you actually wrote it. But hands off the chocolate-chip cookies.”

He was wan but smiling when I left, enthusiastic
about a pretty young nurse who'd popped in to say I had to leave. She'd promised to look in on him again before her shift ended.

“She's so cute,” he whispered, after she left. “Single, too. I think she likes me.”

“Who wouldn't?” I said.

I drove home listening to the chatter on my police scanner and wondering why young Andre Coney had wept and punched walls in apparent rage and frustration after the crime. Did he actually have a conscience as a lad? His later record reflected no such hint. Perhaps it was fear. The possibility of a homicide rap will give even hard-core adult criminals bad cases of the heebie-jeebies. Maybe he was afraid the missing murder weapon would resurface, leading police to him. Or was it something else? Most of all I thought about the little girl Shelby Fountain had been, the woman she had become, and how life can be so damn hard for good people trying to do the right thing.

Lottie sashayed down the hall, a stack of photos in her hand, as I checked my mail next morning.

“What are you doing?” she demanded. “Nobody opens their mail anymore, not without gloves and a space suit.”

“I do. I wouldn't miss my crank mail for the world,” I said. “I just called the hospital. A stranger visiting the patient in the next bed answered and said Ryan had been wheeled away for more tests. Have you talked to him today?”

“Yup,” she said. “He's in love. Hope nurse Nancy don't break his heart.”

“Let's treat them to dinner at his favorite place when he gets out,” I said. “Think she'll come?”

“Sure. I'm up for that,” she said. “I just wish they'd
quit messing with him and let him go home before he catches something. Hospitals are full of sick people. You know doctors, they're like policemen; no bad situation they can't make worse.”

“For sure,” I said. “It sounds like they're running every test in the book. CYA, I guess. Scared of being sued if they miss something.”

She pulled up a chair and began to spread out her photos. “Hell-all-Friday, Britt, why didn't you tell me Sunny had cheekbones to die for? Did you know her mother modeled? And guess who showed up during the shoot? Detective Pete Nazario, scampering around underfoot like a lovesick Chihuahua.”

“Sunny Hartley?” I blinked. “You shot Sunny's picture?”

“Yup. Not for our piece, for the Lively Arts section on Sunday. She's hot. Thought you knew.”

I didn't. She read me the art critic's lead:

“The Miami art scene, once a cultural wasteland, is now alive with hot young emerging artists.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“He's featuring Ten to Watch, the top ten twenty-and thirty-something artists,” she said. “Whole package is gonna run in color on the front of the Arts and Entertainment section. Sunny's near the top of the list. Her first big show is about to open at a South Beach gallery.

“Sorta camera-shy at first,” she said, “but loosened right up once we started discussing her work.”

“She never said a thing about it,” I said, vaguely troubled. The pictures were stunning. Sunny, pensive
and sophisticated, posing with her cold stone statues, her hair loose, strong body lithe and graceful.

“Ain't she a natural?” Lottie said, peering over my shoulder.

“You can make anybody look good,” I murmured.

“Sure don't hurt to start with a face like that. Most young artists would kill to get this kind of exposure. This'll be a surefire career booster. Big-time.”

“Did you talk about the case?”

“Nope. The assignment had nothing to do with it. Didn't want to bring it up unless she did. Don't even know if she knows I know.”

Sunny, I thought, surprising as usual. “What was Nazario doing there?”

“Helping out with the lights, equipment, and all. But he's definitely got eyes for her. Sparks flying, hormones jumping. Ain't love grand?”

 

Later in the day, a judge refused again to reduce bond for Hector Gomez, the shopkeeper—in part, I was sure, because the Reverend Earl Wright led raucous demonstrators in a noisy protest outside, then filled every seat in the courtroom.

Andy Maguire was off, so I covered it. The defendant, in a rumpled oversized jail uniform, gave me a hopeful sad-eyed nod as he scanned the gallery for a friendly face. His wife, a small round woman, caught up with me in the corridor outside.

“Hector talked to you. You saw him,” she pleaded. “Please tell them he never meant to hurt nobody. Tell them my husband is not a bad man.”

“I'm sure he isn't,” I said. “Have the public defender, your lawyer, check out the story in tomorrow's paper. There will be some details on the dead man's character.”

Her eyes brightened. “Then, you think, they will let Hector come home?”

I sighed. “I don't know.” Probably not, I thought. “But your lawyer might find it interesting.” I told her not to worry, easy for me to say, then watched her walk the gauntlet alone, past the angry, shouting protestors outside.

 

I wrote the story identifying the dead burglar electrocuted in Gomez's shop as a suspect under investigation in the old Christmas Eve rape and murder.

I already had a quote from Heather Chance, so I called Sean Chance as well. His new wife answered. She insisted on knowing my business with her husband before letting me talk to him.

“It's in reference to a news story I'm working on,” I said.

“What story?” she demanded, children playing noisily in the background.

Simply curious or jealous? I wondered. Unsure how much she knew about the old case, or how she might react, I said I preferred to tell him.

“What story?” she repeated.

“A follow-up on something from years ago,” I said lightly.

A child shrieked, then began to howl.

“Sean! Sean!” the woman shouted. “Sean! Are you
deaf? Why in hell is Danny crying again? Pick him up! Now! Can't you see I'm on the phone? Would it kill you to lift a finger for a change?”

Maybe raising a young trophy wife along with a second family isn't such a barrel of fun after all, I thought.

“Now,” she snapped irritably, “just what is it you want to talk to my husband about?”

I gave up. “His son's murder,” I said crisply.

She put him on.

He took the news in stride, as though Ricky's murder were a remote if sad historic event from some distant lifetime. “It's a shock to have it come up again after all this time,” he said softly. The noted architect added that he hoped justice would at long last be served.

I had heard the unmistakable click of an extension gently lifted as we spoke, so I mentioned that I'd already met the boy's mother.

“How is Heather?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said maliciously. “Absolutely wonderful, and so happy to hear the news.”

I called Cubby Wells next, but he didn't pick up his phone.

“Just wanted to let you know,” I told his answering machine, “that you might be interested in a story running in tomorrow's paper.” I left my number.

I also called the Reverend Earl Wright for comment on the judge's refusal to reduce Gomez's bond.

“I applaud his just decision,” he boomed. “An eye for an eye. That man took a life.”

“Would that apply to Mr. Coney too,” I asked, “since he's now identified as a murder suspect?”

“I don't believe corrupt lies designed to deliberately
malign the dead, who are unable to defend themselves or their reputations.”

At least the man was consistently inconsistent.

I turned in the story, then swung by the hospital to see Ryan. His face lit up when I walked in. He put down the black-and-white composition book he'd been scribbling in and happily reported that he had a Saturday-night date with nurse Nancy.

“So you know when you're going home?”

“Not yet”—he shrugged—“but I'll surely be released by then. I feel a lot better,” he said, eyes alight. “I've been working on my poetry. You know how I always complain that I don't have time.”

With his curly chestnut-colored hair and those big soft brown eyes with lashes any woman would kill for, Ryan did look like the young Lord Byron.

 

I called Sunny's number on the way home to tell her about the story in the morning paper. No answer. I detoured to North Beach, muttering under my breath. My knocking must have disturbed the musician upstairs. Barefoot and wearing baggy shorts, he padded halfway down, leaned over the banister to check me out, and then retreated without a word. What was that all about? I wondered.

Sunny eventually heard me, eyeballed me through the peephole, and opened the door. The process took longer and involved a lot more hardware than I remembered.

“Have you beefed up security?”

She nodded.

Did that explain the hammer in her hand, or was I
interrupting her work again? She scrutinized the lobby, then locked up behind me.

“There was a prowler,” she said casually.

“What do you mean?” I said, alarmed. “What happened?”

She shrugged. “Someone tried to break in the other night.”

“Are you sure?” I said.

She appeared calm, but she left the formidable hammer on a table near the door before leading me back through her high-ceilinged studio into the kitchen-living area of her suddenly shadowy and cavernous apartment.

“They picked the dead bolt,” she said, “at two
A.M.
I had just finished work, happened to be in the room stretching, and saw the door inch open. The security chain caught it. It was weird. I called out, and when no one answered I rushed to slam it and then pushed a chair in front of it.”

“Did you see who it was?”

She shook her head. “But next morning I found a half dozen burnt-out matches and cigarette butts in the lobby, as though someone had been waiting or watching. Maybe they thought nobody was home.”

“Why didn't you call Sergeant Burch or me?”

“Why should I?” She looked puzzled.

“Did you tell Detective Nazario?”

“No. Why would I?”

“Did you call the Miami Beach police?”

This time she nodded. “I filed a report.”

“Did you tell them about the old case?”

“No. This had nothing to do with that.”

“But, Sunny, what if it did?”

“That wouldn't make sense. I've done nothing to provoke it. I'm not working with the police. Nobody from the past has any reason to stalk me.”

She chose a Golden Delicious apple from a fruit bowl and offered it to me. Stomach churning, I declined.

She sat at her little dining table and took a bite.

“Stalk?” I took the stool across from her. “Has anything else been going on?”

She chewed, then swallowed. “I thought somebody was following me the other night.”

“Oh, swell,” I said. “Did the Beach cops take the matches and cigarette butts as evidence?”

She blinked. The idea never seemed to have occurred either to her, or to them.

“They didn't seem that interested,” she said.

“Where are they?”

“I swept them up and threw them out.”

“Not a good move, Sunny.” I threw my hands up in exasperation.

She put the apple down and leaned across the table. “It was probably just some crackhead, or drunk, or homeless person looking for a place to crash.” Was this to reassure me or herself? “This town is crawling with spaced-out weirdos, partygoers, and tourists on the make. Maybe one followed me home from the beach the other night. Sometimes after working long hours, I go for an ocean swim, just to stretch out in that warm salt water. It's wonderful for knotted muscles.”

“At night? Sunny, don't tell me you do that at night with no lifeguards on duty.”

“No chance of sun damage,” she said lightheartedly. “My mother would be so proud.”

I was not amused.

“Look,” she acknowledged, “this did rattle me a bit. Had I been in the freezer, or asleep, I wouldn't have seen the door opening and they might have gotten in. But it's okay now.” She smiled. “I kickbox, I stay alert. Jimmy, my upstairs neighbor, is keeping an eye on things. And now that the police know, I'm sure they're watching the building.”

Like hell, I thought. I filled her in on the Gomez-Coney story in the morning paper.

“No more night swimming in the ocean, please,” I said. “At least not until we know what's going on.”

“This sort of thing, a burglar, a peeping Tom, happens to every woman,” she said. “I'm lucky they didn't get in, and now they won't because I've taken extra precautions.” Her eyes caught on mine. “I'm not paranoid, Britt. I was. After Ricky was killed I thought I'd never feel secure again. When your trust in human beings is destroyed, you're afraid of everything, even being in an elevator with a stranger or alone at a bus stop. You're afraid to pass an ordinary-looking guy on the street. I fought those fears. I took self-defense courses. I stay in shape. Fear will never rule my life again. I'm fine now. Although,” she said, averting her eyes, “you never get completely over some things.”

“Are you seeing Pete Nazario?”

She turned her deaf ear to me.

I touched her hand, forcing her to look at me.

“Look,” I said, “I don't mean to invade your privacy, but—”

“I'm still trying to work through some things,” she whispered. “I don't date a lot.”

“Why?”

“Well, the first one certainly didn't end well, did it?”

“Look, Pete's a good person. I think he's interested in you, and I'm sure he'd want to know about this—”

“He
is
interested,” she said flatly, “but is it a prurient interest because he knows I was a rape victim, or is it me he's attracted to?”

“In his line of work, victims are a dime a dozen. If he had a thing for them, he'd be a very busy boy. He strikes me as a pretty decent guy.”

She sighed. “It would probably be best for me to tell every man I meet up front that I had a bad experience and can't deal with aggressive men. But I'm not comfortable doing that. My problem in a relationship is that the man has to be very, very gentle, you know what I mean?

“Physically,” she said shyly. “I have to come on to them. It's awkward. So I usually find it easier not to start anything.” She buried her face in her hands, clearly uncomfortable. “It would help if he knew that.”

Oh, hell, I thought. Who am I now, Ann Landers?

“If you find him attractive, Sunny, see him. Have some fun. I thought you two might be hitting it off. With all the creepy stuff going on right now, it can't hurt to have a cop around. They're great deterrents. I used to date a cop,” I said wistfully. “They really know how to make a woman feel secure.”

BOOK: The Ice Maiden
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Why I Write by George Orwell
Atonement of Blood by Peter Tremayne
The One You Want by Showalter, Gena
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
Snow by Ronald Malfi