In the silence of the conference room, Seth Bryan deliberately turned the series of grisly photos, studying them once more. He sighed and asked, “Do we know yet if we have all the pieces?”
“Come on, boss,” Rosaria Frio replied, her voice unconcerned. “That guy was never all there.”
The sheriff dropped his head back and laughed. It was the first relief he’d felt in several days. “That’s so wrong. And so funny.”
“And true,” Midget added.
“You got me there. The question is, has Sweetum put all the pieces together yet. Can he tell us if we have recovered all the body parts?”
Rosaria shook her head. “The best he can tell us is that will take him another forty-eight hours at least. Two days and he will do his best to give us cause of death—maybe time of death—and whatever other evidence he can deduce.”
“He’s not going to piece that guy back together again, is he?” Midget asked. “Like Frankenstein?”
Seth sighed again. “So the next question is, who hated the guy enough to want him dead?”
The two other officers returned his gaze silently.
“Okay. Shall we at least try to prioritize the folks who wanted to kill him?”
Rosaria nodded. “Family first. That’s where you always look in a homicide.”
“That gives us two suspects,” Midget said. “I keep thinking it’s quite a coincidence that Jackson Sinclair shows up and right away his dad goes to pieces.”
“Family reunions can just tear you apart,” Frio deadpanned.
“No more puns!” Seth shook his head. “That’s enough cutting up.”
They laughed then. They put their heads down and sighed.
“Moody,” Seth said. “I expected her to be terribly upset when I showed her Morris’ head. But when she got here she was already—altered, I guess, is the best way to describe it. I don’t know if it was because Jackson scared her or if she thought maybe he had done something to her dad. Or maybe she showed up knowing what we were going to show her. . . . I’ve known her such a long time. Seen her experience all sorts of things. She always stays supremely cool. Today she was just not herself and I’m not sure what that means.”
He glanced at Midget. “And what about her brother? We find a bloody cleaver under his bed. Suppose it was him. He hacks his dad to pieces, carries them out into the desert and buries them—but leaves the murder weapon under his bed? Does that make sense to anybody?”
“Think about this,” Midget responded. “Suppose that cleaver is the murder weapon and it was planted under his bed. That means somebody else knew what he did. Or he had a conspirator who turned on him.”
“Or his sister is trying to frame him,” Rosaria said.
“We can’t just focus on his son and daughter.” The sheriff leaned back in this chair. “Who else gets to be a ‘person of interest?’”
“Eyana Saleh.” Rosaria’s reply was immediate.
“Miss Elegant Egypt? You like her?”
“I hate her. She thinks we’re stupid. She was totally smug and condescending when we confronted her with that baloney story about why she’s here. We called her by her right name and it didn’t faze her. She’s a cool, cool customer, but not quite as smart as she thinks, boss.”
“So what is she up to?”
“I have no idea,” Rosaria said. “I know it has nothing to do with some spa. I know she sneaks around the neighborhood and, for some reason, she has set up a surveillance camera. It’s trained on Riley’s house.”
Seth nodded. “She’s a Hollywood type in the real world, right? Maybe she’s trying to set things up for an expose on our last brutal murder.”
“I could go with that,” Midget replied, “if the realtor hadn’t found Morris’ head in that same house.”
“Poor Nancy. Wonder if she’ll ever go in an empty house by herself again.”
“You were talking about how Jackson shows up and Morris dies,” Rosaria said. “Well the situation is the same with Miss Smart Ass. Saleh shows up and Morris dies.”
“Yes. That’s true and we have to investigate her for that. That’s also true for our starlet Tara Windsor. She shows and Morris goes. . . . Does it surprise anybody that a glamorous celebrity like that would think she could fool us into thinking she was somebody besides who she is? If she’s looking for obscurity, why the hell would she come here after the kid was murdered?”
“Here’s something else to think about,” Rosaria said. “Two Hollywood type people show up in California’s most unHollywood place, Rubicon Ranch, for no obvious, realistic reason. Then suddenly our one resident, obnoxious Hollywood guy gets the horror movie treatment. How’s that for a big coincidence?”
Midget crossed his arms. “What if Morris brought ‘em here?”
“Morris brought them here?” Rosaria asked.
“He was working on a movie script maybe. He was trying to work a deal. Maybe the movie was about Riley—which is why Egypt was scoping out the house.”
“And they killed him because of artistic differences?” Seth asked.
“Do you think Tara Windsor was supposed to play the role of the brilliant Latina detective who solved the case? Still, you have to admit,” the lieutenant said, “the coincidence is a little much to swallow. And while we’re talking about newcomers showing up just in time for Morris to die, let’s not forget ‘electric boy.’”
“Oh yeah. Ward Preminger. Isn’t that his name? He’s surely the most innocuous guy in Rubicon Ranch.”
“One of the uniformed officers saw him checking out Sinclair’s house—paying real close attention to it,” Midget said.
Rosaria nodded. “And Egypt has been spending time with him.”
“Damn. We need more information on all these new people. We can’t leave anybody out. . . . And we can’t leave out our old-timers either.”
“Who, for instance?” the deputy asked.
“Eloy? He’s a harmless old man.”
Seth smiled. “Come on, Rosaria. That guy is incredibly fit. He can powerlift Midget. And there was no love lost between Eloy and Morris. Eloy perceives himself as the moral protector of Rubicon Ranch. He made no bones about thinking Morris was evil.”
“I think they were actually kind of alike,” Midget said. “They both pretend to be something they’re not. Morris tried to act senile. Eloy tried to act crippled.”
“Eloy is the farthest thing from crippled. And I happen to know he has a sabre in his house. He took it from a North Korean officer. Has an edge on it you could shave with. . . . I wouldn’t mind having forensics taking a look at that sword now. And he was the one who found the buried necropieces out in the desert. Pretty convenient, if you ask me, that his new dog—two days he’s had this dog—and it finds the detached pieces of Morris Sinclair out in the desert.”
They were silent for a time. Then Midget spoke up.
“You haven’t mentioned your girl either.”
“Oh. Melanie? She’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time, isn’t she? But she has great power of observation. And she found the foot, the first piece of the pie—or guy, so to speak. We need to help her remember all she saw. I imagine she might be useful to us again. . . . Something tells me we’re in for a few surprises.”