Sunday, December 23, 2:30pm
“Yes, Your Honor, I know it’s Sunday and I do realize Christmas is the day after tomorrow. It is extremely important for us to get the search warrants immediately. . . . An arson, sir. Someone set fire to a house that was a crime scene—another murder, we suspect. The house was a rental that belonged to the murder victim. Everything in the house was lost and we can’t find the renter, if any. We believe someone was covering up information pertinent to the crime. And we anticipate these other two sites may have evidence that might help us. So we need to get into the realtor’s home and into her office. . . .” Seth sighed. “She was murdered, Your Honor. None of that matters now. Oh, well if that’s the case, then you really need to issue the warrants to find out if I am involved. . . . No, sir, I will not personally execute the warrants. My lieutenant will oversee the entire investigation. I’m just enabling her. . . . Frio. . . . Yes, sir, she is.” He dropped the phone onto its cradle.
Frio smiled at him. “That was a most interesting conversation—at least the half I heard. I’m dying to know what was said.”
“Well, the important thing is that Judge Madison is faxing us the authorization for warrants to Nancy’s home and office.”
“That’s good—since we’re already in the process of searching them. What was it Madison said when you asked to get into her place?”
“He said, and I quote, ‘That’s funny. I heard you got into everything else of hers.’”
“Uh huh. Got to like a judge with a sense of humor. And what was he saying about me?”
“Ha.” Seth smiled broadly. “Let’s just say the judge finds you extremely physically appealing.” He nodded at her. “Knowing that may come in handy for you one day.”
Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “My heart is a twitter. Was he trying to kick you off the case?”
“He was ‘taking it under advisement.’ Without making a comment or a judgment, he was reserving the right to come back later and eject me from any involvement. He hasn’t done it yet because he clearly thinks I didn’t kill her. That and he wants to find out who did and thinks we can pull it off.”
Frio leaned across his desk and handed him a tiny, square memory chip. “This is the video of the crowd around the Santa House while it was burning.”
“Good. How many cameras?”
“Just two. I don’t think anybody knew they were being taped.” She tilted her head. “Do you really think the arsonist—and maybe the murderer—would stick around and watch after setting the fire?”
“Well—” He slipped the memory card into the edge of the laptop on his desk. “—pyromaniac firebugs do. . . . I don’t have any reason to think this is a serial arsonist, so I would say that, if it were me, I wouldn’t have stuck around. In Rubicon Ranch, however, our murderers are as likely to be brazen as they are to be crazy.” He ran the mouse along the desk and actuated one of the video recordings.
There was a quick tap on the sheriff’s office door and, as they looked up, Officer Midget bustled in. Breathing heavily, he came to the empty chair opposite Bryan and sat down.
“So, Deputy, did you find the theoretical ‘little book of secrets’ at Nancy’s house?” the sheriff asked.
“No. But I found evidence that it might exist.”
“Do tell,” Frio said.
He drew a deep breath. “Somebody tossed her place before we got there. Somebody was looking for something.”
They were silent, reflecting on the possibilities.
“Midget,” the lieutenant asked cautiously, “are you sure it wasn’t a robbery? Maybe somebody figured out she wasn’t coming home and decided to break in and clean her out.”
“Uh huh. Well, if they did, they forgot her flat screen, all her jewelry, enough expensive gadgets to open an electronics store and a wad of $5000 in hundred dollar bills that wasn’t all that hard to find.”
Bryan chuckled. “It’s beginning to sound like our little psychic may have been right.”
“You don’t believe in that psychic crap, do you, boss?”
“Really, Rosaria, you Gemini are so skeptical. Actually I’m less inclined to believe she’s psychic than that her name might be in that naughty little book—which is how she would know it existed.”
“If so,” Frio said, “why would she want it found?”
“Better the police have it than some of these media freaks or tour guides around here. With us it becomes evidence. For Celeste, that might be damage control.”
“There’s another possibility.” When the others looked at him, Midget continued, “It might be a smokescreen. Like, supposed the psychic is the killer. She tells the sheriff’s department that Nancy is a blackmailer and suddenly we have a whole subdivision full of suspects.”
Seth sat straight up in his chair, clicking the mouse abruptly. “Hey. You two come around here.”
Midget and Frio stood and walked behind the sheriff’s desk. They watched as he ran the video backwards and started it again in slow motion.
“See this woman?” He put the white arrow of the cursor on a woman walking through the crowd away from the burning house and thus toward the camera.
Frio bent down, staring at the screen. “Who is she?”
“Someone I was once familiar with.” He looked over his shoulder at Midget. “And don’t say a word about me being familiar with all women in Rubicon Ranch, son.”
“I wasn’t going to, boss.”
Bryan shook his head and looked back to the screen. “We need to find her. We need to know what her interaction with Nancy was. We need—” He stopped again, leaning even closer to the laptop screen. He keyed the mouse and ran the video back slowly. “This Goth chick. Who is she? Christ, I know her. And look at the way she sizes up the first woman. She nearly jumps out of her skin.”
“Yeah,” Midget said, “but the first woman doesn’t seem to see her.”
The sheriff stopped the video and sat staring at the frozen image of the two women.”Get ‘em. . . . I want both of them right here in front of me.”