Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Two--Chapter 4

4
After stopping at all the addresses listed for Dillon and turning up zilch, I drove back to the office. The front door was open until six, when the receptionist and Amerson went home, but I wanted to slip in and out. I parked in the back and let myself in through the rear entrance. I’m not an employee and don’t work full time, so I don’t have an office or my own desk. But there are several cubical workstations in one of the back rooms, set up with computers and phones for use by those of us who only drop by occasionally. Tonight, the room was empty.
I chose a seat and pulled out my notes. It was tedious work, but I went through each plate number I’d written down. My first step is always to see what name came back and if it’s known to be connected to the case. My next step is to make sure the plate came back to the same make and model I’d found it on. Stolen plates had blown open more than one case in the past, or so my mentor Blue had said. Lastly, I input everything into an Excel spreadsheet so I can more easily search for patterns later. When I’d done this, coming across no names that rang any bells or any stole plates, I printed the list.
I’d learned the Camaro and FJ were registered to an Eric Dunn. A quick property search told me Dunn owned the house, having purchased it five years before. I ran his name through the Sideline database and came up with several hits. A bit more searching told me Dunn was a defense attorney. That went a long way in explaining how he could afford his house.
I wasn’t sure I was making progress on finding Danielle Dillon, but I still needed to find Dix, too. I looked up the number to the Starbucks where he worked and used the landline to call. A girl answered, and I heard the espresso machine hissing and blenders whirling in the background.
“Hi. I was wondering if Cory was working tonight.”
“He’s not here at the moment, but I think he’s closing tonight. Hang on, let me check.”
It is frightening to me what people will tell a perfect stranger over the phone, truly frightening.
“Yep, he’ll be here from five-thirty to close. Would you like me to have him call you?”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. I may just swing by.”
I hung up and dialed my voicemail. I had a message from Amerson, the Burbanks’ accountant, and Ellmann. Amerson called to tell me no vehicle was registered with the DMV under the name Danielle Dillon. I’d just looked it up myself and knew the same thing. But that message had been there a while. The accountant left the names and addresses of the housekeeper and gardener. Ellmann just asked me to call him back.
I added the housekeeper’s and gardener’s addresses to my growing notes, along with the accountant’s name and phone number, just in case. Feeling I’d come to a bit of a standstill, I dialed Ellmann.
“I was wondering if you had plans tonight,” he said. “Would you be interested in grabbing dinner?”
“Sure. Did you have anything specific in mind?”
“Not really. Why? Do you?”
“How about Pueblo Viejo?”
“Strange choice. I have the nagging suspicion you’re up to something. Whatever it is, can we get ice cream first?”
Ice cream is Ellmann’s favorite food. When in doubt with Ellmann, get him ice cream. Yesterday’s Ice Cream Shoppe, located across the street from Pueblo Viejo, serves Blue Bell ice cream. In Ellmann’s opinion, the only ice cream that’s better is the homemade stuff at Pioneer Candies and Ice Cream.
“Sure.”
“You’re not denying it?”
“Would there be any point?”
“Probably not.”
“So I thought I’d save us both the time.”
“Want me to pick you up?”
“No, I better meet you there.”
“Definitely up to something. When do you want to meet?”
I looked at my watch. “How about twenty minutes?”
He agreed, and we disconnected.
I gathered my printout and tucked the notes back into my pocket. The drive, in the heavy evening rush-hour traffic, took nearly the whole twenty minutes. It took me another five to find a parking space and hike over to the restaurant. Ellmann was standing on the sidewalk waiting for me.
Ellmann is a very big man. He’s six-six and solid muscle. I’m pretty sure he could pick up a car if he wanted to. He has wavy dark hair, which he keeps a little longer, and his cheeks and chin are covered in a dusting of dark growth. There were few occasions when he wore a high and tight and went clean shaven. Fine with me; he’s a very good looking guy.
His eyes are green, a more jade color than mine, and have a mesmerizing quality to them. Of Italian descent, Ellmann doesn’t really have the olive complexion, but he always looks healthily tanned. His typical work uniform consists of jeans, which fit him exactly right, and t-shirts, with a few button-down tops thrown in. Today was no different. He wore a light blue t-shirt that made me want to blow off the rest of the day and take him home.
“You look beautiful,” he said, smiling.
“I was just thinking the same of you.”
He pulled me into him and kissed me. The take-Ellmann-home idea was gaining intensity and appeal the longer the kiss went on.
“Are those handcuffs in your pocket?” he whispered in my ear.
“Yeah.” Suddenly my mind was dreaming of different things to do with those cuffs. I pushed away from Ellmann. “Uh, should we eat?”
He chuckled as he followed me inside, no doubt fully aware of the direction my brain had spun. Ellmann tends to have an uncanny and sometimes annoying talent for knowing precisely what I haven’t said. Only one other person in the world can do such a thing, and that’s Amy. It had taken her years of practice. Ellmann seems to do it naturally. Most days I like that. Some days it scares me.
Ellmann had put our name in and requested a seat on the patio, which was all the more convenient for my purposes. After a short five-minute wait, we were shown to a table. The restaurant was crowded, and the sidewalks were packed.
“How was your day?” I asked after we placed our order.
“Pretty good,” he said, nodding. He took a sip of his drink and leaned back in his chair. “Finally got a break in that series of muggings downtown. Caught the guy this morning. We even recovered a lot of what was stolen.”
“That’s great.”
“It is. Shortly after that, though, I got called in on a new case.” He dragged a hand back through his hair. It’s what he does when he’s stressed or upset. “Caroline Marks was murdered last night.”
I may not have known the name Burbanks, but I knew the name Caroline Marks. She was a big deal in Fort Collins, her family being sort of like our own version of the Rockefellers. She was a native, her great-great-great grandfather having been a key player in founding the town. He’d struck it rich with the railroads, and while he had left plenty of money to his children, they’d each gone on to do something remarkable and earn their own fortunes. The Marks family had more money than the lot of them could ever spend in ten lifetimes.
Caroline Marks had married young and become a widow young, the result of something tragic like cancer, if I remembered right. Never remarrying, she devoted her time to her children and town. Pretty much every local charity and public event had her hand in it. Every year, she gave away two scholarships to CSU to local high school graduates she chose herself. It wasn’t uncommon for her to pay the hospital bills of a local family in dire financial straits. She’d built a shelter for the homeless and fully funded the soup kitchen there. She donated money to the Lincoln Center so they could buy equipment and props for the community theater. She donated computers and musical instruments to the local schools. She went to the library and read books to the kids on weekends. She was like Fort Collins’ own Mother Theresa. It was hard to think of her as being dead, and that much harder to think of her death as murder.
Who could have done something like that? Who would want to kill Mother Theresa?
“I can’t believe it,” I said after a long moment. “Do you have any leads or anything?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m still not really sure what we’re dealing with. We think her murder is connected to a string of murders stretching across the state. The FBI is getting involved, and a task force is being formed.”
“I just can’t believe it.”
He sighed and leaned forward again. “I get the feeling you have plans for the evening. I was going to head back to work anyway. I want to go through things while it’s all fresh and before the FBI takes over.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a couple things to do. Hey, would you do me a favor, maybe when you need a break later?”
“Depends,” he said cautiously, watching me. Even after such a short time, Ellmann knows me well.
“I just need a little information. In August, a couple named Melissa and Mitchell Conrad was murdered in their home. I don’t know yet if it’s connected in any way to the woman I’m looking for. There wasn’t much in the papers.”
“The name rings a bell, I think. I’ll see what I can find. It’ll probably be nothing,” he warned.
“I know. I just need to be sure.”
“Who are you looking for?”
“A woman named Danielle Dillon. I’ve got until six a.m. Sunday to find her or Sideline is out a lot of money and an old lady loses her house.”
“Is she the reason we’re here?”
“No. That would be Cory Dix. Oh, I don’t have a cell phone right now, by the way.”
If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. I suspect he wasn’t.
“What happened?”
I explained.
“I’m glad you didn’t follow him out the window.”
“I’m not a total idiot.”
“So, what’d Dix do, anyway?”
I told him.
“Streaking, huh? He’s quite the daredevil.”
“He’s a pain in my ass,” I said, looking across the street at Starbucks. “He works there. And the police are probably more upset about the grand theft auto part.”
“With CSUPD, it’s hard to tell.”
Not surprisingly, there is a bit of rivalry between the different agencies in law enforcement. Those in Fort Collins and the state of Colorado are no different. They are capable, for the most part, of working together, but they’re pretty hard on one another. And all of that animosity is magnified for the FBI. I imagined Ellmann would be pretty stressed in the coming days after working with them and a bunch of other local agencies.
Ellmann polished off his entire plate and then the last part of mine. We paid our bill and left, crossing College then heading south. He held my hand while we walked.
“So, my dad called me today,” he said.
I could tell by his tone I should be worried.
“Yeah?”
“Yeah. He’s getting married.”
From what Ellmann had told me, his parents had been married young. After three children and fifteen years together, they’d called it quits. His mother, Anja, had gotten remarried a couple years later to a guy Ellmann and his siblings like well enough, and she’s still married. His father, Vincent, had been sleeping with his secretary at the time of his divorce. After a couple years, he found out she’d been having an affair. He dumped her then moved on to someone else, then someone else, then another. He was never without a girlfriend for very long, and the women kept getting younger and younger. His children had gotten used to his revolving door of women, but none of them liked it.
“Married?” I said, unsure of exactly what else to say.
“Her name is Susan. I guess they’ve been together for about a year. Anyway, he called to tell me he’s coming to town. He wants all of us to meet her before the wedding. He’s already been to see my brother in Seattle. This is his next stop. Somehow he convinced my sister to fly out here, too.”
Ellmann is the middle child. His brother, Charlie, is two years older and lives in Seattle with his wife and their two children. He’s some kind of engineer doing some sort of complex aerospace design stuff I don’t understand. Their sister, Natalie, still lives in California, in the town where their mother had moved them after the divorce. Ellmann had told me she’s an artist. She works at a local community college teaching painting, sculpture, and drawing. She does her own art on the side and has done several art shows.
“Well, okay,” I said. “We should be happy for him, right?”
“She’s probably younger than my sister,” he said. “He’s not a young man anymore. I can’t help but wonder what she’s after.”
No one in Ellmann’s family is hurting for money, least of all his father.
“Okay, so when she gets here, we’ll get her full name and her prints and do a background check. If she seems shady, I’m not above a little intimidation.”
He glanced down at me then laughed.
“I want you to meet them,” he said after a minute.
We walked to the door of the ice cream shop, and he pulled it open.
Ellmann’s intimately familiar with my family after a couple encounters shortly after we met. It hadn’t gone well, but at least my dirty little secret was out on the table. I’d never met any of his family. I suppose I hadn’t thought it would never happen, but I had thought it would be a while longer.
“When are they coming?” I asked as we got in line.
“Tomorrow.”
I knew my eyes were bigger than usual when I looked up at him.
“Tomorrow? What kind of notice is that?”
“He only called me today. That’s just how he is. My sister will fly in about an hour later. I was thinking we could all have dinner.”
“Have you told them about me?”
“Yes, a little. Please, don’t worry. They’ll love you.”
Naturally. What’s not to love?
“And on the off chance they don’t?”
“Doesn’t matter. There’s a reason I moved to a state where none of my family lives.”
__________

We ate our ice cream at a table on the sidewalk outside the shop. We chatted about important things and about nothing. One of my favorite things about Ellmann is how easy it is to be with him. We don’t always have to be doing something or talking; we could do nothing and not say a word. We could also do anything or talk about anything. And I rarely get bored with him. He makes me think; he challenges me, pushes me. Ellmann’s very intelligent, and I found we are more equally matched than most people I know.
But brains run in Ellmann’s family. Ellmann has degrees in science and psychology. His brother is an engineer. His sister was a chemistry major before she switched to art. Their father was a scientist for the Army Corps of Engineers until he retired. And their mother is some sort of biological research scientist for the Center for Disease Control.
My family didn’t necessarily get shorted in the brain department, but mental illness runs rampant on my mother’s side, and there is a long history of abuse on my father’s. All of this significantly affected the ability of my relatives to pursue college degrees and honest, meaningful careers. My mother somehow managed to get an MBA and become a partner in her investment firm, but she was the exception to the rule, and I can’t even begin to guess how she managed to do it. It probably had something to do with the fact that the schizophrenia that runs in the family had skipped over her. She got bipolar disorder instead. By some miracle, both my brother and I seemed to be unaffected, but this is a constant fear in the back of my mind.
I sat opposite Ellmann facing north. I watched the heavy foot traffic in and out of Starbucks over his shoulder. This Starbucks store is located in the old, historic Northern Hotel. Yesterday’s Ice Cream Shoppe and a couple other places share the space. The hotel is located on the north side of Old Town and just west of Old Town Square. There are always lots of people in this area, and today the place was hopping, with an almost constant string of people in and out. I could see customers milling around through the windows, but the number of people and my angle made it hard to differentiate anyone in particular.
“Got your capture papers?” Ellmann asked as he took his last bite.
I nodded. “Yep.”
“All right, then. Let’s go get him.”
We stood.
“You can’t help me.”
“I’m just going for a cup of coffee.”
We dumped our trash and walked to the corner. The place was crazy. Every table I could see was occupied. The line to place orders reached to the door. The line to pick up orders was just as long. I attempted to politely make my way through the crowd, but people pretended not to see me and didn’t move, afraid I was really trying to cut in line. People tended to move out of Ellmann’s way just because of his size—some instinctive fear of being flattened by a mountain. But I’d never given Ellmann much room to play rescuer to me, and I didn’t think now was the time to start. If I could save myself from kidnappers, I could get through a little crowd, right? Instead, I used my elbows to shove people out of the way, like I was making my way to the bar for a drink.
There were a couple gasps, a few curses, a couple return shoves, but I paid no attention. When I was near the front, I could better see the baristas behind the counter. There was one kid taking orders and two others making drinks. None of them were Cory Dix. I worked my way around the store as best I could, searching for Dix, who was now here if what I’d been told about his schedule was true. I pushed through the crowd waiting for their coffee to search the small seating area toward the bathrooms. And then I heard it.
“Zoe Grey.”
The voice like nails on a chalkboard.
I stopped. I didn’t want to turn around, but I could see no other choice. It was too late to pretend I hadn’t heard her, and I’d have to pass her in order to get out.
Taking a breath, standing up a little bit taller, and pushing my shoulders back slightly, I turned.
“Priscilla.”
Priscilla Casimir had started at the private K-12 school I went to in third grade. She’d declared us mortal enemies on her first day because she believed our ancient Native American ancestors to have been enemies. I’d declared her my archnemesis because, in the third grade, I’d believed I was a superhero, and every superhero has an archnemesis. Priscilla is mean, self-centered, ugly, and a little bit crazy. Growing up, she’d looked a lot like Christina Ricci in the movie Casper, with pale white skin and long, black hair. Except Priscilla had weird (crazy) eyes, a huge forehead, which was always obvious because she wore no bangs, and a pointy nose and chin. She’d always been tall and thin, aside from having hips twelve sizes too big for her body, which I’d always secretly hoped she’d never grow into.
Now, I could see some things had changed. Braces had straightened out her ugly teeth and, I suspected, her jaw, because her chin wasn’t nearly so pointy. Her nose was still pointy and slightly upturned at the end, but it had been softened by age and the effect of her thick bangs sweeping across her forehead. The bangs also hid her enormous forehead, which unfortunately helped her appearance dramatically. She was obviously paying someone a lot of money to style her hair because it was almost attractive (though I’d die before I admitted that out loud to anyone). It was still long, but she’d added highlights and layers.
She may have been one of the tallest in school, but she’d done her growing early; she was only about five-five barefoot. She was still thin, but the healthy kind, not the bean-pole kind. I was devastated to see she had grown into her hips and that her body was well proportioned. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. She was wearing an expensive brown pinstripe pantsuit with a pink blouse and heels. Her jewelry, makeup, and perfume were also expensive. She was carrying a brown leather briefcase with a designer label. It was all the sort of stuff I used to buy when I was making six figures a year. I had never thought it was possible, but I actually hated her more just then.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. Her voice had gotten a little more nasally with age, I noticed happily. “And what happened to your face?”
“I’m actually in the middle of something. Excuse me. Come on, Ellmann.”
I grabbed his arm and turned, starting back through the crowd.
“Now, is that any way to treat an old friend?”
“We were never friends,” I said, turning back to her. “Don’t tell people that.”
She grinned; it was that disgusting I-know-something-you-don’t grin. It always made me want to hit her. That’s something that hadn’t changed.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” she asked, eyeballing Ellmann like she was starving and he was a steak on a dinner plate.
“No,” I said. “Excuse us.”
I took Ellmann’s hand as she offered him hers.
“I’m Priscilla. Zoe and I went to school together.”
“I’m Alex Ellmann. I’m her boyfriend.”
I was annoyed he’d responded. It was like letting her win. The whole point of an archnemesis was to not let her win. Duh.
“Geez, Zoe, why do you call your boyfriend by his last name?” she whined.
I couldn’t keep my eyes from rolling. I’d lost track of how many times people asked me that, and how many times I’d heard it today alone. In my opinion, which I held above most others, it was no one’s freaking business what I called my boyfriend.
I was about to respond when I saw an employee pushing a mop and yellow bucket around the corner from the bathrooms. It was Dix. I knew he’d bolt if he spotted me. I wanted to get to him before he could get too far. I shifted slightly so Ellmann blocked me from his view, which bought me some time.
“Listen,” Priscilla went on. “I just moved to town. You may remember, I graduated high school a year early and got a full scholarship to Stanford. After that, I went to law school at Harvard. I just started with a large, prestigious Denver-based firm that has an office here in Fort Collins. I’ve been working for about a month now, and I caught my first really big case today. It’s the kind of case that will get me noticed. I plan to work here for a couple years then transfer to the larger Denver office, where I’ll take on big, public cases and become a partner by the time I’m thirty.”
The barista called a drink that was apparently hers. She went to get it, giving me the perfect opportunity to get away from her. But I found I was rooted to the spot. I suppose I was in shock. I’d always known Priscilla was intelligent, which made me hate her even more, because being intelligent just made being mean easier for her, but I was still surprised to hear how accomplished she was. What kind of world is it that mean people can succeed like she had?
Coffee in hand, she returned.
“So, what are you doing now?” she asked.
I had nothing to say. I wasn’t married; I didn’t have kids; I didn’t even live in any of the houses I owned. I didn’t have a college degree, never having gone back to finish after quitting for a doomed relationship. I didn’t have a career, having quit the only career I’d ever had twice—once five years ago in order to move back to Fort Collins and put my brother back on the straight and narrow, and again four weeks ago when I’d started the bond enforcement thing. Technically, I still worked for White Real Estate and Property Management one day a week (too many clients threatened to walk away if I quit entirely), but I might have accepted one of Mark White’s promotions had I known a few weeks later I’d run into my archnemesis.
“Zoe is in law enforcement,” Ellmann said, putting his arm around my shoulders.
Ellmann had clearly picked up on what I wasn’t saying. The “law enforcement” thing was a bit of a stretch.
“Really?” Priscilla said, obviously skeptical.
“Yes, and she’s good at it. She puts bad guys behind bars. And she helps people.”
Now he was really playing me up. Not that he wasn’t always supportive, but this seemed over the top.
“So, you’re, what, a cop?” she asked me.
I opened my mouth to answer, but no sound came out.
“Not exactly,” Ellmann said. “But she’s on the same side.”
I had watched Dix stop to mop the floor near the bathrooms. Now he was wheeling the bucket toward us.
“What’s on the same side but isn’t a cop?” Priscilla asked.
I stepped away from Ellmann as the crowd parted to allow Dix and the mop bucket to pass. The next part happened really fast.
I moved in front of the bucket and said, “Hi, Cory.”
Dix looked up, and an instant later, recognition hit. He gripped the mop with both hands and jerked it up out of the dirty water, shoving it forward. It hit my chest, knocking me back and slopping down my front. Then Dix dropped the mop, spun around, and ran back toward the bathrooms.
I righted myself and started after him, knowing how much he liked bathrooms. I lost my footing on the mop as I hurried forward, stumbling, trying to go around the bucket. I ended up catching it with my knee as I was falling, pulling it over with me. I hit the floor, and the dirty water dumped out, soaking my shoes and my lower pant legs. I pushed myself up, aware of a screaming pain in my left shoulder as I did so, and charged forward as Dix disappeared through the door and around the corner out of sight. My shoes squished and squeaked as I ran after him.
I took the corner too fast in wet shoes and slid into the wall. Back here, the restrooms are to the right along the interior of the hotel. To the left is an exterior door, which was still easing closed—I assumed Dix had torn through it. I ran after him, huffing and puffing, sweating and soaking wet with dirty mop water. I knew it was a lost cause (because I’m not a runner), but I refused to give up quite yet. I caught a glimpse of a pair of shoes disappearing around the corner to the left. I hurried after them.
By the time I made the corner, Dix was gone.
I slowed to a walk and, holding a stitch in my side, made my way back around to the front of the building. People were staring at me, and I noticed they were moving out of my way now—giving me a wide berth, in fact. I looked down at myself and could guess why. I sort of looked deranged. The mop had struck me in the chest, and my entire shirt front was soaking wet with dirty brown water. Under the dirt, though, the color had faded. My jeans, wet from the cuffs to mid-thigh, were also faded. There had been bleach in that water, the little bastard. My clothes were ruined.
Ellmann came out of the coffee shop as I neared the door, Priscilla close on his heels, much to my disappointment. She was staring at me openly with wide eyes, eyes that seemed happy. Man, I hated her. Ellmann looked concerned.
“Are you okay? How’s your shoulder?
I nodded. “It’s okay. He got away.”
“How many times have you found him so far?”
“Twice.”
He shrugged. “You found Tyler Jay three times. Dix doesn’t stand a chance.”
“These were my favorite jeans,” I said.
He chuckled. “They were great jeans.”
“So this is what you do?” Priscilla asked, her nose decidedly upturned. “You chase people, allow them to elude you and ruin your clothes, not to mention embarrass you in front of dozens of people?”
“Priscilla,” I said on a sigh, “it’s really too bad you moved back here.”
“Oh, really? And why is that?”
“Because I was here first, and you’re gonna find it’s too small for the both of us.”

Read Chapter 5

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