Authors: Nicholas Guild
Tags: #thriller, #assassins
a novel by
Published by Nicholas Guild at
Copyright © 1978 Nicholas Guild
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
where he was standing on the driveway, he couldn’t see much
evidence of fire. Of course the roof and front wall of the house
had been pretty thoroughly hosed down and one pane of glass in the
dining room window inexplicably broken, but the kitchen, which
occupied a rear corner, had sustained all the real damage.
They had even hosed down the garage door,
which you would have thought well out of reach of the flames. He
swept a hand over its beaded surface to leave a glistening smear.
His palm, he noticed, came away covered with a milky film.
Louise had never really liked that color.
“Well, look, if you think it’s that bad I can
take it back. I’ll just tell the guy it doesn’t look anything like
what he showed me on the sample card.”
Twisting around from his crouch by the lower
left hand panel, careful to hold the paintbrush so it wouldn’t run
out onto where the cement wasn’t covered with sheets of newspaper,
he had caught sight of her standing on the sidewalk, just at the
edge of what, God willing, would sprout into their front lawn. She
had peered through the blinding early afternoon sun, shading her
eyes with one hand as she rested the other, tucked under at the
wrist, on her hip.
It was a characteristic attitude.
“No, forget it. I can live with it. And you’d
have to repaint the whole door.” He remembered how the hand shading
her eyes had dropped suddenly, falling loose and despairing at her
side. “Oh, Ray. What the hell.”
Someone from behind had taken hold of him,
just at the base of the triceps, and, without thinking, Guinness
snapped his arm forward to free himself. It was nothing more than a
reflex, the kind he had once honed carefully but had thought long
buried and forgotten, so when he stepped back it wasn’t to drive
his elbow into anybody’s larynx. He even smiled, feeling slightly
embarrassed at the expression of surprise on the face of the man
behind him. The guy was only doing his job.
“Mr. Guinness,” the man said again,
recovering himself almost at once. He was the earnest looking young
detective with the tightly curling, sand colored hair—a nice kid,
about twenty-six or so and working very hard on his professional
dignity. “Mr. Guinness, I’m afraid we won’t be able to let you into
the house. Can I take you anywhere? Some friends, perhaps?”
Ray Guinness didn’t answer immediately.
Instead he glanced down at the driveway, touching an eyebrow with
the tips of his first two fingers, as if to make sure it was still
there. He must have looked puzzled.
“For the night, Mr. Guinness. You’ll have to
have somewhere you can go for the next several days. Our laboratory
people will have to keep the house sealed for some time. Until
they’ve had a chance to sift through everything. There will have to
be an arson investigation as well. We’ll bring you out any clothes
or personal effects you need, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to
allow you inside. I’m sorry.”
The young man seemed almost to be pleading
with him to understand, as if he expected torrents of abuse.
But Guinness understood. Yes, it would be
dark in another hour and he would have to begin thinking about a
place to sleep. A hotel. He couldn’t think of anyone who was a good
enough friend that he could ask them to put him up, not under the
circumstances. At least not anyone he wanted the cops knowing
about. No, it would have to be a hotel.
The place was crawling with police. It looked
like every plainclothesman in the Bay Area was on his planter box
of a front lawn. They stood around in little knots, talking quietly
among themselves like guests at a party that hasn’t yet quite
gotten itself off the ground.
“When can I see my wife?”
Curly didn’t much like that. He too glanced
down at the cement, his face hardening with worry.
Everyone was being very cute about Louise; no
one would tell him where she was or precisely what had happened to
her. Except that she was dead.
The police had brought Guinness home. They
had come and fetched him from his office, where he had been
patiently working his way through a seven inch stack of sophomore
term papers. Just as he had finished the first reading of one
comparing Troilus and Sir Gawain as courtly lovers, there came a
light tapping on the glass upper panel of his door. The door had
opened before he had had a chance to respond.
“Mr. Guinness?” It was Curly, standing with
only half of his body across the sill. “Mr. Guinness, would you
come with me please,” he said softly, holding out his gold badge.
‘‘I’m afraid there has been an accident.”
He wasn’t told that his wife had been killed
until after they had gotten him there. But he had guessed.
Curly—was his name Peterson? He thought so, yes it sounded
right—Detective Peterson had been very reluctant to say much. He
gave the impression of having been ordered to keep things dark, or
maybe he just didn’t fancy his charge getting hysterical on him at
forty miles an hour. Anyway, he was acting the way people do when
someone is suddenly dead.
They had parked most of a block down from the
house, and as he got out of the car Guinness had caught sight of a
man in white coveralls stepping into the rear of a police van and
closing the double doors behind him. For just a second the inside
of the van had been visible, and there was what looked like a
litter on the floor and on the litter was something covered with a
black plastic tarp.
Had that been Louise?
So when he had finally been told, it hadn’t
been much of a surprise. But death had stopped being much of a
surprise a long time ago.
A Sergeant Creon had been the one to break
the news, if you could call it that: “There was a body found in the
house. Female, Caucasian, a hundred and ten to a hundred and twenty
pounds. About five foot four, with dark brown hair worn to the
shoulder. Wearing a printed cotton house dress, dark tan with
pictures of fruit on it. We assume it to have been Mrs. Guinness.
That sound about right?”
“We assume it to have been Mrs.Guinness.”
Guinness swallowed hard and nodded. He had been married to the
woman for five years, and now she was just a series of identifying
“Sorry,” Creon responded nervelessly, not
even bothering to look up from the little pocket book in which he
was making notations. A few seconds later he closed it and
sauntered off without another word. Guinness watched him go,
measuring his back for an appropriate sized bullet hole.
Not a gent you warmed up to right away.
Could that really have been Louise? Five feet
four in a tan dress. Yes, that was her. It had to be her. Still, it
was hardly possible to think of her as a corpse.
Sadly, it would no doubt become easier. It
always happened that way.
“They might be able to let you see her
tomorrow,” Peterson answered finally, apparently having made up his
mind that it would be safe to risk that much. Creon must have been
a real peach of a guy to work for. “They will have finished the
preliminary examination by then, and there will have to be a formal
identification. I should think by tomorrow, but you had better
check with the sergeant.”
The hell with the sergeant. He would be
seeing Louise soon enough in any case. What there was to see.
When had been the last time—breakfast? No,
lunch. He had come home for lunch. He always came home for lunch on
Thursdays, and it was a Thursday. Somehow it seemed important and
strangely difficult to keep such things straight.
Yes, he had come home for lunch. On Thursdays
he had two hours between his morning and afternoon classes, and so
there was time to come home.
Louise had been wearing that dress. She
called it her French dress because all the little printed apples
and onions were labeled underneath and the labels were in French.
She always wore that dress whenever she planned to do a lot of
dusting. He hadn’t the faintest idea why.
So they had had lunch together, or at least
she had served him his lunch. She didn’t eat lunch very often,
saying it was hard on her waistline, but she had sat at the table
in the little breakfast nook off the kitchen and had kept him
company while he ate. That had been—when?
Not quite seven hours ago. He had had a ham
and cheese sandwich and a glass of iced tea.
Had they talked? Not precisely, no. She had
talked and he had eaten, putting in a yes or a no as the situation
seemed to demand. She had been after him to do something, but for
the life of him he couldn’t remember what it had been. Would it be
important later that he should remember? What had she been talking
Yes, of course; it had been something about
the venting for the clothes washer in the basement. It was backing
up, and she had thought perhaps one of the hoses was clogged and
wanted him to check when he got home from work. He couldn’t do it
right then because he would have had to change out of his slacks
and jacket and there hadn’t been time.
No, he couldn’t imagine that it would be
important to remember that.
They had sat there like that for maybe half
an hour. Him eating a ham and cheese sandwich, thinking with one
half of his mind about how that afternoon and evening and the next
and the whole fucking weekend were hostages to his sophomore term
papers, and with the other half helping her worry that perhaps it
might be something major with the washing machine, something he
wouldn’t be able to fix with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver and
a straightened clothes hanger. He would have liked to have stayed
and seen if he couldn’t have taken care of it right then and there,
just so she wouldn’t have to spend the whole afternoon tormenting
herself over it.
And now she was so much cold meat in some
locker in a police morgue.
A light blue Chevy sedan, identical except in
color to the half dozen or so police cars parked along the street
in both directions, pulled into the curb in front of the driveway
and stopped. On the driver’s side the front door opened and a man
with black hair pared down to a crew cut got out and slammed the
door shut behind him. He wasn’t very tall, so it wasn’t until he
came around to the trunk of his car and bent over to open it with a
key that his slate gray suit appeared to be a couple of sizes too
large for him.
Out of the trunk came a small black satchel,
and the man with the crew cut and the baggy suit carried it into
the house, amiably waggling his free hand at Creon as he passed.
The good sergeant wasn’t wasting any time in getting his sifters
out on the job; probably by morning they would have collected
enough fingerprint cards and samples of carpet fluff to keep them
all out of mischief for a month.
Accident hell. Louise hadn’t had any
accident. Nobody dies in a stupid little kitchen fire, not in a
kitchen from which there are two exits and which isn’t much bigger
to begin with than a good sized bathroom.
Something was going on here that nobody was
telling him about, and he didn’t like it. Louise hadn’t simply set
fire to the place and died. Louise didn’t have accidents, she
wasn’t the untidy type.
She even kept a small fire extinguisher,
shaped like a can of whipping cream, in a drawer on the left hand
side of the sink. No, Louise wasn’t the type to have accidents.