K is for Killer Page 105

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He closed the door on my side, effectively cutting off communication. I leaned over and unlocked the door on his side, but I had to wait until he'd gone around and let himself in. He slid under the steering wheel.

"Quit being such a stickler and play the game," I said. "What do you think?"

"I think it's dumb to guess."

"Oh, come on, Cheney. It had to be murder. Somebody busted out the pool light and then disconnected the GFI. You don't believe it was an accident. You're the one who told Hawthorn there might be a peripheral connection between Lorna's death and Esselmann's."

"What connection?" he said perversely.

"That's what I'm asking you!" I said. "God, you're aggravating. Okay, I'll go first. Here's what I think."

He rolled his eyes, smiling, and turned the key in the ignition. He put his arm across the seat and peered out of his rear window, backing out of the gate with a breathtaking carelessness. When he reached the road, he threw the gear into first and peeled out. On the way back to my place, I told him about Leda's surreptitious tape recording. I didn't have the transcript with me, but the text was so sketchy that it wasn't difficult to recollect. "I think the guy is telling her about his scheme. He's come up with a way to kill Esselmann, and he's feeling clever. Maybe he thought she'd find it amusing, but she obviously doesn't. You ought to hear her on the tape. She's pissed off and upset, and he's trying to act like it's all a big joke. The problem is, once he's told her, he's left himself open. If he actually intends to go through with it, she'll know it was him. Given her reaction, he can't trust her to keep quiet."

"So what's your theory? Bottom line," he said.

"I think she was killed because she knew too much."

He made a face. "Yeah, but Lorna died back in April. If the guy wanted to kill Esselmann, why wait this long? If the only thing that worried him was her blowing the whistle, why not kill the old guy the minute she's dead?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe he had to wait until things cooled down. If he'd moved too quickly, he might have called attention to himself."

He was listening, but I could tell he wasn't convinced. "Go back to the murder scheme. What's the guy intend to do?"

"I think he's talking about a variation on what actually happened. Clark and Max go through the same routine every morning. He throws a stick into the lap pool and she fetches. She's a retriever. She was born for this stuff. After they play, the two swim. So here's the deal. Suppose the pool's been electrified. He throws the stick. She leaps in and takes a big jolt. He sees she's in trouble. He goes in after her and he dies, too. It looks like an accident, some freaky set of circumstances everyone feels bad about. Poor guy. Tried to save his doggie and died in the process. In reality, Serena took the dog to the groomer's, so Clark went in swimming by himself. Instead of Clark and the dog, you have Clark and the gardener, but the setup's the same."

Cheney was quiet for a moment. "How do you know it's Lorna on the tape?" he said. "You've never heard her voice. The guy could be talking to Serena."

"Why would she be there in the first place?" I asked promptly. I noticed it was more fun to ask questions than to have to answer them.

"Haven't made that part up yet. The point is, Serena's upset because she doesn't want the dog used as bait, so she takes Max off to the groomer's to get her out of the way."

"I've talked to Serena. The voice didn't sound like hers."

"Wait a minute. That's cheating. You told me the voices were distorted. You've talked to J.D. and you said it didn't sound like him, either."

"That's true," I said reluctantly. "But you're suggesting Serena killed her own father, and I don't believe it. Why would she do it?"

"The guy's got a lot of money. Doesn't she inherit his estate?"

"Probably, but why kill him? He'd already had a heart attack, and his health was failing. All she had to do was wait, and probably not very long at that. Besides, I've seen her with him. There was nothing but affection. An occasional complaint about his stubbornness, but you can tell she admired him. Anyway, I'll see if I can get the tape back and you can hear it for yourself."

"Who has it?"

"Leda. She sent J.D. over to pick it up last night. Or that was his claim. Actually, in the suspect department, they're not bad candidates. Both of them were nervous I'd give the tape to the police. Neither has an alibi. And you know what J.D. does for a living? He's an electrician. If anybody'd know how to hot-wire a lap pool, he would."

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