Authors: Carolyn Haines
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Women private investigators, #Hollywood (Los Angeles; Calif.), #Delaney; Sarah Booth (Fictitious Character), #Costa Rica, #Motion picture industry
"Good thing Ricardo speaks fluent Spanish. I wouldn't know how to telephone for the emergency team."
That was a point of interest. "I didn't know Federico's son was on the set."
"Yes, assistant cinematographer. He shot your screen test. Didn't you know?" Graf's fingers drifted up to my hair, gently combing through my curls in a way that was both relaxing and exciting.
"I had no idea, but they look alike." I tried to keep my mind on the conversation. "I met his daughter yesterday. She's lovely, but . . . unhappy, I think."
"It's nice that Federico is giving his children a leg up in this business. Ricardo really wants to become a director, like his father. Estelle"--he shrugged--"Federico never talks about her."
"Listen. The ambulance is on the way." The sound of a siren came distinctly on the morning breeze. "I should change out of this dressing gown. Dallas will kill me if I get something on it."
He bent closer to my ear. "I'll be glad to help you get out of it."
His words affected me, but I gave him only a laugh as I turned and went into the house. Glancing behind me I saw the medics arrive with a stretcher. Graf remained behind to offer help.
The cast and crew had scattered, taking off for the beaches or hiding out in their rooms, or going back to the hotel in town where most of them were booked. Only a select few members had been invited to stay at the house, and for the moment the mansion was quiet and cool.
I walked up the stairs and into my room. Opening the balcony windows, I could hear Federico talking with the medics. Stepping outside, I watched them load Joey into a waiting ambulance. A gentle breeze tinkled the wind chimes, and I examined the balustrade. It was thick cement, and a section three feet wide had simply broken.
Or not so simply.
Bending closer, I saw what looked like chisel marks in the cement, as if a tool had been worked into cracks to weaken the structure. But who would do such a thing? And why?
The notion that I was being watched came over me with such certainty that I backed away from the balcony and ran inside. My gaze roved from one side to the other, but the room was empty. Except for the portrait of Carlita.
I could have sworn there was a hint of satisfaction in her smile that hadn't been there yesterday.
As soon as the medics were gone, I found Federico alone in the suite of rooms he was using with Jovan. The model was scheduled to arrive on the set any minute. She'd had a fashion shoot in Milan, so her scenes had been pushed back.
"Come in, Sarah Booth." Federico sat wearily in a chair before a cold fireplace. "What a day. The medics seem to think that Joey will be fine. His right arm is broken and he's badly bruised. They'll know for certain that there's no serious damage once they run some tests."
"I'm glad to hear that." I hesitated. The subject I wanted to broach wasn't going to be pleasant. "I looked at the balustrade, Federico. It's possible someone deliberately weakened the structure."
His eyes widened and he rose slowly to his feet. "Are you saying this wasn't an accident? That someone deliberately set out to hurt Joey."
"Maybe not Joey." It had occurred to me that had Joey not fallen, it might have been me. The script called for me to lean out into the breeze, letting it lift my hair and blow my dressing gown against my body while Ned watched from the lawn below.
He took my meaning instantly. "You think you were meant to fall?"
I frowned. "I don't know. It doesn't make sense. But something isn't right."
"This house has been empty for several years. It will be Estelle's on her wedding day, but until then, I've neglected it. I sent a cleaning crew out last month to prepare for the film, but before that, no one lived here." He paced as he talked. "Perhaps this happened when the house was empty, or somehow the cleaning crew did something."
I didn't disagree. Both scenarios were possible. "I'm not afraid, but I am concerned. I think you should hire some security here."
He stopped pacing and nodded. "You're thinking of Suzy, aren't you?"
"Two serious falls, one of them fatal. Yeah, it's an easy link to make." I saw the worry etch itself more deeply in the lines of his face. "There probably is no connection, but I heard what Suzy said at Michael Mainheim's party."
He dropped his gaze. "I'm sorry, Sarah Booth. You shouldn't have heard that."
"She felt I stole this role from her." I gave a wry grin. "I know what that feels like, and it isn't very nice. She was upset."
"Six years ago, I would have cast Suzy as Matty. But her time for that role passed. You
Matty, Sarah Booth. I've told you this before, but it bears repeating. I didn't give you anything you didn't deserve."
His words were high praise, but they didn't answer the question of what Suzy was doing out in Lettohatchie Canyon. "Do you really believe Suzy was climbing around that canyon because she and Bobby Joe Taylor are friends?"
He shook his head slowly. "I don't know. Suzy did say Bobby Joe was working on a script with her in mind."
Then it was possible she'd come out to the mountain to talk to Bobby Joe without knowing he'd let Graf and I stay in his place for a few weeks. But she never knocked on the door. She was climbing the ravine. It didn't wash.
"Suzy's death troubles me. Now Joey is hurt." I didn't have to go further. Federico took my hand and pressed it.
"I'll hire the security company now. Ricardo can check out several agencies and find the best one."
"I think that's a wise decision." I found a smile and pasted it to my face. Federico had enough to worry about. If someone
was up to something on the set, maybe the presence of security guards would put a stop to it.
I awoke from a nap to discover that the entire day had slipped away. The rustle of papers made me sit up in bed. Graf sat in an overstuffed chair, his feet propped on an ottoman, reading
Sweetie snored lightly at his feet. The soft late evening light struck Graf full on the face and I couldn't help but see how handsome he was.
"Would you like some coffee, Sarah Booth?"
I wasn't certain what I wanted, other than to pat the bed and ask Graf to come and lay beside me. That would open too many doors, though. I sat up and rubbed my face. "I feel like Dorothy, and this isn't Kansas anymore." The room was magnificent, especially with Graf there as if he were part of my family.
"There's some good noise about this movie," he said, folding the paper and offering it to me.
I shook my head. "Millie tells me everything I need to know about Hollywood. Part of it's true and part of it isn't."
He laughed. "You have good friends, Sarah Booth. I was watching you sleep and thinking that I've neglected to make those connections. I wonder if it's a gender thing or if I've failed somehow."
It was true that a lot of men never built friendships. Many developed "couple" friendships. "You'd probably be surprised at the people who count you as a friend."
He stood up and came to the bed. "I've been all about work or a romantic relationship. I want to have friends, like you."
I touched his face lightly, the evening stubble rough under my palm. "I'll be your friend."
He looked so innocent--before his fingers found the ticklish places along my ribs and hips.
Screaming and struggling to get away from him, I couldn't help but laugh. This was familiar ground for us. We rough-housed
like kids, a trick way to experience the pleasure of physical intimacy. When at last I was panting for air, Graf pulled me into his arms and held me gently.
For a long moment we stayed that way before he let me go and stood up from the bed. "You're the hardest test I've ever met."
I only nodded. "I think coffee sounds good." We had to get out of the bedroom. The attraction between us was impossible to ignore.
"I'll go start it. Meet you in the kitchen."
Graf walked out of the room and I realized Sweetie Pie was still snoring. Some watchdog.
I put on jeans and a T-shirt and started down the hallway. The house was still quiet. In the morning everyone, including the caterers and set builders with their saws and drills, would be back.
Halfway down the upstairs hall, I had the sense that someone was watching me, but when I looked, the hall was empty, the hardwood floors shining in the peachy light. Maybe I was missing Jitty and hoping for a ghost.
As I started across the foyer, I heard voices raised in anger.
"You were responsible for Mother's death. No matter what you say, you were at the bottom of it."
The voice was young and female and filled with bitter emotion. I hesitated. It was coming from Federico's room. The door was open, and if the people arguing wanted privacy, they should have shut it.
"You can't begin to know what really happened." Federico's response was calm, sorrowful.
"Mother was so unhappy. You made her unhappy. That's why she overdosed. This is at your feet, Father."
Estelle was in the house again, and no happier than she'd been the day before.
"In one way, you're correct, Estelle. I am partially to blame for this situation right now. When you were younger, I did
everything I could to protect you. I didn't always tell you the truth, because it was so painful."
"The truth! You wouldn't know the truth if it walked up and spit in your face."
"I can see you've inherited your mother's temper as well as her theatrics."
There was the sound of something breaking. "Mother doesn't want you in this house. She'll make sure you don't stay. What happened to that prop man is only the beginning."
"You should leave, Estelle. Before you say something you'll regret for the rest of your life."
"Make me! This will be my house. Mother meant for me to have it. She wouldn't want you and that filthy slut in here. I want all of you out!"
"I'm calling the security team. I'm having you removed, Estelle. This will be your house one day. Until then, I have a movie to make and I can't afford for you to do harm to yourself or anyone else. Leave now or I'll have you removed."
"You wouldn't dare."
Apparently he would dare, and he did. Not a minute later the front door opened and two burly men wearing blue uniforms with "PSA" embroidered on the chest came forward. They each wore a utility belt with what looked like Mace or pepper spray and batons attached.
I moved down the hall, pausing in the kitchen door, where I could hear the kettle Graf had put on whistling away.
"You bastard!" Estelle's angry scream came just as Graf lifted the kettle. I heard it clatter to the range top, and he was beside me in an instant.
"Take your hands off me!" Estelle, in the grip of the two security guards, was being dragged from her father's room and down the hall.
"You'll pay, Father! You'll pay the ultimate price for this! Mother won't allow it! You and that whore will pay, just like the last one did!"
"Take her off the property and release her," Federico told the guards. "Estelle, I'm calling Senor Martinez. If you step foot on this property again, you will be arrested and put in jail, where you'll remain until the filming here is complete. Don't make me do this."
She was escorted out of the house. The door slammed shut, and Federico was left standing alone in the hallway.
I pushed Graf back into the kitchen. Federico had enough on his plate without knowing that members of his cast had witnessed a terrible fight with his daughter.
"Holy shit," Graf whispered, "that was intense."
Graf hadn't heard the entire fight like I had. Several things were troubling me as I sat at the kitchen table. Graf placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of me and then took a chair.
"You look really worried, Sarah Booth."
I was. Several times Estelle made reference to her mother as if the woman were still alive. She wasn't--as far as I knew. Carlita Marquez had died of an overdose years back. Or that was the scuttlebutt. "Estelle seems seriously . . . unbalanced." The idea of her walking so quietly into my room was upsetting.
"She won't get back on the property. I'm glad to see Federico hired security."
"This was Estelle's mother's home. She knows it inside and out. Do you think Estelle was making reference to the death of Suzy Dutton when she said that about paying like the last one did?"
"Sarah Booth, don't borrow trouble." He picked up my hand and kissed it. "You're a movie star now. At least for the time being. You've taken down your shingle as a private investigator. If Estelle was involved in Suzy's death, let Sheriff King in California handle it." He kissed my hand again. "Besides, if I'm not mistaken, Estelle was here in Costa Rica. Hard to kill a woman in Malibu when you're a continent away."
"Good point." And it was. I sipped my coffee. Graf had hit
the nail on the head. I wasn't Sarah Booth Delaney, PI. I was Sarah Booth Delaney, star of
One bitter lesson I'd learned in the last few years was that a person has to focus on what she wants. I couldn't keep one foot in the world of detecting and another in acting. I had made my choice and I owed it to myself and Graf to give it one hundred percent.