Sunday, December 22, 11:55pm
Lydia Galvin stood like stone behind the partially closed plantation shutters in her bay window. From this spot, she had a good view of her front yard where Nancy Garcetti’s body had been found. Lydia had remained vigilant for hours, beginning even before that Melanie person had stumbled on the scene, and she’d heard enough to know who all the players were in her own private police drama.
But now, the body had been cleared away, the crime scene technicians had packed up their evidence, the department photographer had decamped, the sheriff had come and gone. All that remained was lurid yellow crime scene tape draped around the deflating figure of Santa on a motorcycle . . . and the two deputies in charge—Lieutenant Rosario Frio and Deputy Kelvin Midget. Lydia could hear snatches of their conversation. They were comparing notes about canvassing the neighborhood, but they spoke so softly she couldn’t hear many details. And then, as if he knew she was within earshot, Deputy Midget raised his voice.
“I’ve knocked on the door several times,” he all but shouted. “Maybe nobody lives here.”
“But why would someone bother to put up decorations at an empty house?” Frio responded in a voice just as loud.
“Who knows what anyone does in this ghoulish neighborhood.”
Lydia thought she saw Midget wink at Frio, perhaps in acknowledgment that he himself now lived in Rubicon Ranch, but the wink could have been a trick of the moonlight.
Would it surprise them to know that putting up the decoration had merely been a whim? She’d found the silly figure in the garage of the rental house, and it had somehow seemed fitting considering the rebellious atmosphere of the neighborhood.
“I’m surprised Seth doesn’t do anything to clean up the area, especially since she lives here,” Frio said.
Lydia knew the “she” Frio referred to was Melanie Gray, the very woman who inadvertently brought her here. In newspaper articles, television coverage, online stories and blogs about the Rubicon Ranch murders, Melanie Gray had earned as much space as Seth himself. Only one or two photos showed the two of them together, but their images had been placed side-by-side often enough to make it seem as if they were a couple. And Melanie Gray seemed just Seth’s type—smart, remote, vulnerable, and ripe for sweet words that soothed the soul. But in the two months Lydia had been watching Melanie, hoping to catch Seth in action, the sheriff never once put in an appearance. Even the brief phone calls she’d heard on the tapped line had been strictly business.
“Do you think the people who live here are hiding from us?” Midget asked.
“It’s possible,” Frio said. “But I don’t know why. The innocent never have anything to fear.”
Lydia almost snorted, but caught herself before she made a sound. The innocent had nothing to fear from the cops? Who was Frio trying to kid? The innocent had everything to fear since they had only their innocence as protection, and innocence was tissue-paper thin.
“Maybe one of residents killed the woman,” Midget said, still playing the naïf.
“And dragged the body under the wheel of their own Christmas decoration? No one is that stupid.”
Maybe it wasn’t smart, Lydia admitted to herself, but it had almost done the trick. Melanie found the body as Lydia had hoped, but the woman left before Seth arrived. How could she have known when she arranged the tableau that Seth would be with his wife Monica—Nic—instead of rushing to the scene? He detested Nic almost as much as Lydia did. The only good thing about this situation was that Seth finally got a taste of what it felt like to suffer. And he deserved it after what he put her through.
He’d fed her and bedded her. Treated her as if she were the most special woman in the world. She’d been leery of him at first, knowing his reputation, but when he’d looked her in the eye and said with a sad little boy sigh, “I’ve been more open to you than I’ve ever been to any other woman,” she was lost. She had the feeling they’d found refuge together, he from his demanding wife and she from her abusive husband, but when she discovered the romancing had all been part of his come-on, her heart broke.
She hadn’t really expected him to leave his wife when she suggested it. She just wanted a bit of assurance that she came first, at least part of the time, but he turned on her. Called her a vituperative bitch. Whatever that meant. She’d never intended to confront Nic, but Seth must have believed she would and confessed the affair to his wife, making Lydia out to be the villain. Seth brought Nic to her house and stood there while his wife told her to be content with what she had with Seth and just let the rest go, that the affair was messing up all their lives. Her husband overheard the conversation, and later that night, he beat Lydia, smiling with every lash.
And it had all been Seth’s fault. If he had only left her alone. . . . It was bad enough getting abuse from her husband, but she couldn’t bear to be treated badly by the man who once called her the love of his life. She told their captain of the affair, insisting Seth had misused his power. Although a disciplinary action had been filed, Seth got off, of course, but both of them lost their jobs.
On their last day, she found him standing in the police department parking lot, watching the custodian paint over his name. Her heart had gone out to him. They hurt each other badly, but still, she could feel a connection.
“Can’t you understand how much I love you?” she’d said softly, tearfully.
He’d just stared at her with the icy non-caring eyes of a predatory bird and said, “I’m still licensed to carry a sidearm in California and if you come near me again I’m going to shoot you between the eyes.”
What was left of her broken heart turned to stone. And she’d been stone ever since.
She hadn’t felt anything when she left that day even though she’d lost both her last chance at love and her hard-won spot as a lieutenant in the police department. She hadn’t felt anything when she didn’t find another job while Seth, golden boy still, had landed himself a great position. She hadn’t felt anything when her husband ended up murdered, leaving her with enough money to get her through the coming empty years.
And she didn’t feel anything now when Frio and Midget marched to her entryway and banged on the front door.
“This is the sheriff’s department. Open up,” Frio shouted, sounding authoritative. If Lydia hadn’t once practiced such a voice herself, she might have been intimidated enough to answer the door. But all she did was stand and wait for Seth’s two deputies to give up and drive away.
Even if the deputies suspected that someone lived in the house, they couldn’t prove it as long as no one saw her. Only Nancy Garcetti knew she lived there. Nancy owned the house, one of the many she’d purchased at a steal because of the declining real estate market in Rubicon Ranch, and she’d rented it to Lydia for a bundle of cash and a promise of no paperwork work or records.
Now Nancy was dead.
Seth and Nic were together.
And Lydia was stone.