Friday, May 18, 2007

Dirty Work -- Part II

by Renee Holland Davidson


Read Part I first


Two hours later, Rickert--one chin richer than in the photo--bulldozed through the double oak doors. A man and a woman, one on each side, quick-stepped to keep up. Both wore blue blazers with blue-and-red striped ties, the executive uniforms of Cal West Bank. They stopped at the valet stand, shook hands all around, and drove off, each in their own car. Nothing hinky here.

Rickert squeezed himself into a steel blue Jaguar, an easy tail, as long as he wasn't an amateur Andretti. I brushed the cornbread crumbs from my shirt, and flipped the ignition, waiting for a yellow VW to fall in behind him before I pulled out of the parking lot.

Ten miles down the main drag, then onto the freeway, headed north. No dodging and dancing for this guy--the Jag plowed a steady seventy in the second lane for fifty miles, then a quick exit on Lakeview Lane.

Lakeview was a narrow two-lane road that first snaked through Bixby canyon, then corkscrewed up the mountain to the town of Carrington. Towering pines and wrought-iron fencing surrounded Alpine-styled castles, and in the middle of it all, Lake Carrington--a 700-acre manmade play pool for the liposuctioned, Botoxed set.

I passed the exit, certain Rickert would spot me if I followed him through the canyon. It didn't matter; I knew where he was going. One of the names Jessica had given me was Bob Harvey, Rickert's business partner and best friend. Harvey had a vacation home overlooking the lake, and I had his address in my pocket.

I took the next exit and found an all-night diner. Figured I'd grab a cup of java and give Rickert some time to get settled in. I wondered whether I'd find the old boy playing an innocent game of Texas Hold 'em with a few pals, or another not-so-innocent game of poke-her.

Forty minutes later, I was cruising down Lake Terrace Road. When I reached Harveys' Haven--a redwood and glass structure that looked like a cross between a cathedral and a ski-resort chalet--I slowed down. No sign of the blue Jag, but he'd probably stashed it in the four-car garage that fronted the circular driveway.

I drove farther up the street and pulled into the dirt lot of a house still under construction. Camera in hand, I hoofed it back down the street to the Harvey place,

An automatic gate blocked the driveway and the man-gate next to it was locked. I slung the camera cord around my neck, said a little prayer that a spiked post wouldn't impale any precious body parts, and climbed over.

The floor-to-ceiling windows in the back of the house must've made for some awesome views, but privacy be damned. Lights glowed in the empty kitchen and family room. I'd walked three-quarters of the way around the house when I heard a scream from an upper window.

It wasn't a jackpot hurrah, and it wasn't a scream of ecstasy; it was trouble.

Pulling the revolver from my waistband, I reversed direction, heading for the French doors that closed in the dining room. Before bashing in a pane, I jiggled a doorknob, surprised to find it open. I crept inside, ears perked; all was quiet. The dining room was dark, but light from the kitchen shone onto the nearby staircase. Gun drawn, I headed for the stairs.

One foot on the first step, and the lights blazed on, momentarily blinding me. I slammed myself against the wall, and dropped down to one knee; pointing my gun up the stairwell.

A bitter laugh, then a shrill, taunting, "Hey, cowboy."

I recognized the voice immediately. Phoebe! My head buzzed. Phoebe? Phoebe and Rickert? I recoiled at the images exploding in my brain. Couldn't be. Something was wrong.

She stood at the top of the stairs, smirking, hands on her hips.

"What are you doing here, Phoebe? Was that you who screamed?"

Raised eyebrows, a slight shrug, then, without a word, she turned and walked down the hall.

I hesitated. Was Rickert up there? Did Jessica think he was messing with my wife? Was he messing with my wife? Who screamed? And why? I felt like I'd taken a sucker punch to the noggin.

Phoebe looked cool and calm as the glassy lake, but I wasn't primed for a high dive. I held my gun in front of me as I sprinted up the steps.

At the landing, I stopped, took a deep breath, then pushed open the first door on the right. Bookshelves lined the back wall behind a desk the size of a tugboat. In front of the desk, two overstuffed chairs. Phoebe lounged in one, legs crossed, that same smirk still painted on her face. Rickert slumped in the chair next to her. At his feet, a broken bottle of Jack Daniels bathed in a pool of glass shards and whiskey, and protruding from a bloody wound at the base of his neck--my switchblade.

My jaw clenched. "What happened?"

She aimed a remote control at a television hanging from the ceiling in a corner of the room. Two quick jabs with her thumb, and the screen lit up. Me, the star of the show, clambering over the front gate in hi-def color. "Well," she said, "looks like a jealous husband seeking revenge, don't you think?"

I studied Rickert. Three chins lolled on a blubbery chest that should've been stuffed in a super-sized bra. A gargantuan gut splayed over elephant-thick legs. "You weren't..."

She shook her head in disgust. "Give me some credit." She threw a glance his way. "I didn't even know him."

"Then why..."

"Doesn't matter."

I looked back up at the television, where I stood in freeze frame. "What do you want?"

"Help." She paused. "You dump the body, I destroy the clip." A nod to the computer on the desk. "And the copy I emailed."

The phone rang. Phoebe plucked a handkerchief from her pocket and used it to pick up the receiver. "Hello." Another glance at Rickert. "Yes, it's done." She listened, eyes focused on the ceiling. A quick intake of breath, then a long exhale. "Good." She hung up the phone and closed her eyes for a moment.

"Who was that?" I asked.

"Jessica."

"How do you know her?"

Phoebe inspected her newly manicured fingernails. "My bartering club."

The pieces finally fell into place. My words came out slowly. "Where is she?"

"Dallas," she whispered.

"At your father's?"

She looked up at me, her eyes dark as Texas crude. "I don't have a father," she said.