Egypt’s eyes swept over the sleeping man, coming to rest on a lock of hair that lay over his left eye. Without thinking, she stretched out her hand push it back into place, stopping herself just in time before she gave in to the attraction. She’d definitely felt a tiny frisson when their fingers made brief contact as he took the bottle of Advil she handed to him. The look he’d given her said he’d felt something as well. But she’d come to Rubicon Ranch for one purpose only. A romantic involvement would be counterproductive and dangerous. Keeping to her cover story with casual acquaintances was proving to be enough of a challenge.
And who was he, really? He’d told her a bit about himself but several things didn’t ring true. Why would he move to a place where he’d have to drive 30 miles just to work a crappy job in a bookstore? He must have chosen Rubicon Ranch for some specific reason. He’d been reluctant to offer personal information during their chat over pizza. She also wondered why he’d almost panicked over the EMT’s suggestion of a medical follow-up. Even in sleep, there was something distinctly off kilter about him. Egypt smiled grimly; perhaps this was the source of her attraction?
Lost in thought, as she backed away her leg bumped the coffee table, jolting his wallet to the floor. She picked up the wallet and without a shred of conscience sifted through the contents: thirty dollars in small bills, a Kansas driver’s license—the name on it the same as he’d given—a business card from his workplace, and tucked behind that, a condom. She smiled. As she put the little packet back, it caught on something pushed farther inside the pocket. Using her index finger she fished out a folded newspaper clipping, featuring none other than Morris Sinclair. According to the article, the great author had refused to comment on whether he planned to write a novel based on the Peterson case.
Oh, Morris would have loved nothing more than to feed off the media storm around the Peterson case. She’d researched the facts of the case—such as had been released to the public—but Egypt still believed Morris had been deeply involved, if not physically, then by using his uncanny ability to manipulate people, and after the fact, making them believe whatever he told them to instead of what was right in front of their eyes. Like the way her alarmed objections over his theft of her screenplay were made to look like a desperate publicity grab by a hysterical and untalented wannabe filmmaker. Not contented with shaming her, after he published her work in novel form with hardly an original sentence thrown in (his novels were so devoid of actual literary value the readers didn’t notice any difference) he’d taunted her until she made the mistake of hiring a lawyer and suing him. He’d turned that into a circus, the Roman with her as lion feed, ultimately losing her reputation and her job.
So, Egypt believed Morris Sinclair would only be interested in a child’s death if he could either engineer it or make money off it after the fact. But Ward . . . why would Ward clip out this article and save it? Maybe Ward’s move here wasn’t really inspired by his professed love of the desert. As she put the wallet down, she whispered, “Did you stage your little accident hoping someone would come out of Sinclair’s house, or are you just a rather clumsy bookseller, unsure of his footing and his place in the world?”
Using the spare key, she let herself out and started up Delano Road in the direction she’d been heading when Ward’s accident had diverted her. The sun beat down relentlessly on the back of her neck and shoulders. Although the drapes and shutters of the homes she passed were all closed tightly to ward off the heat, she thought she saw a shadow flit behind a window in the Sinclair house. Or maybe it was a ghost. She smiled and picked her the pace in spite of the incline and the heat.
By the time she reached the cul-de-sac at the base of the hills, her blouse was wet with perspiration where her daypack pressed against it. At the For Sale sign in front of the penultimate house before the road dead-ended in a hiking path, she stooped to fix the strap of her sandal. Satisfied no one was around, she quickly made her way to the house and climbed a staircase that gave access to a high, side deck. She gratefully stepped into a rectangle of shade. From there, she had a perfect view of the Peterson House.
From earlier walks she’d learned that the neighbors were at work and school during the day and the house directly next to the Peterson’s had been vacant since shortly after the murders, as had the property where she stood now. Because this end of the street had higher income residents, the properties were being maintained even during vacancy. The previous owners of this house had apparently been trying for a Georgia O’Keefe theme. Along with a hideous rendition of one of the artist’s famous cow skull paintings done as a wall mural, there were several examples of the real thing attached to a wooden lattice leaning against the stucco wall.
Egypt pulled a surveillance camera from her pack and walked to the largest skull. Working quickly, she fed a cord through a hole in the back of the skull and behind the lattice to a socket beneath a porch light, moving a planter to hide the plug. Returning to the skull, with a practiced hand she set the camera inside. Using folded newspapers brought for just this purpose, she supported the lens so that the front porch of the Peterson House would be squarely inside the viewfinder. Now for a test.
A minute later, Egypt squatted in front of the Peterson’s front door and removed a small brown envelope from her pack. Her hand dipped into a side pocket and this time came out holding a pair of leather gloves which she slipped on. She tipped the envelope until a small, red velvet jeweler’s box slid into her hand. She popped it open, just to make sure. A shiver of excitement went up her spine at the sight of the tooth, nestled in its bed of satin, at the uproar the discovery of this “trophy” might create. Caustically, she realized that old Morris couldn’t have plotted this better himself. Unlike a novel, she couldn’t just rewrite reality, she’d have to restage the scene later using actors, unless some of the locals agreed to perform and they often did. And she knew with certainty that criminals were often consummate actors.
She went back to the neighbor’s deck and checked the playback. Perfect. She reset the camera and slipped down the back stairs. She’d continue up the hiking path for a while and circle around so anyone seeing her coming down Delano Road again would assume she’d been out for a hike. Then she’d go home. Ward probably wouldn’t wake up for a while and she had to make sure the USeeAll software she’d purchased was transmitting back to her laptop.
Now all Egypt had to do was make sure someone went by the Peterson House. The most likely candidates were either the woman she’d seen wandering around holding a camera like it was a rabid porcupine, or the rather glamorous dog owner, the one who’d been out earlier but had pointedly ignored the little scene in front of Eloy’s house. The camera woman had been around for the Peterson case, so it would be sweet having her find it. Neither woman wore a wedding band so she liked the symbolism of a single woman being drawn toward the ring box, expecting diamonds. . . .