K is for Killer Page 19

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"No thanks," I said. "I hope I haven't picked a bad time." I waited by the door while he lumbered toward the kitchen to fetch himself a beer.

"Don't worry about it. This is fine," he said. "I just haven't had a chance to unwind yet. This is my daughter Trinny."

Trinny glanced up with a brief smile and then went about her work, pouring a cocoa-brown batter into a nine-by-thirteen aluminum cake pan. The hand mixer, its beaters still dripping brown goo, sat on the kitchen counter beside an open box of Duncan Hines chocolate cake mix. Trinny tucked the pan in the oven and set a timer shaped like a lemon. She'd already opened a cardboard container of ready-mix fudge frosting, and I'd have bet money she'd helped herself to a fingerful. While my aunt had never really taught me to bake, she'd warned me repeatedly about the ignominy of the commercial cake mix, which she ranked right up there with instant coffee and bottled garlic salt.

Trinny was barefoot, wearing an oversize white T-shirt and a pair of ragged blue jean cutoffs. Judging from the size of her butt, she'd conjured up quite a few homemade cakes in her day. Mace opened the refrigerator door and took out a beer. He found the flip in a drawer and levered off the cap, tossing the bottle top in a brown paper trash bag as he passed it.

Trinny and I murmured a "hi" to one another. Berlyn, the older daughter, emerged from the hallway, wearing a pair of black tights with a man's white broadcloth dress shirt over them. Again, Mace introduced us, and we exchanged inconsequential greetings of the "hi, how are you" type. She was intent on rolling up her sleeves as she crossed into the open kitchen. She paused beside Trinny and held her arm out for assistance. Trinny wiped her hands and began to roll up Berlyn's sleeve.

At first glance, they were sufficiently similar to be mistaken for twins. They seemed to favor their father, both big girls and buxom with heavy legs and thighs. Berlyn was a dyed blonde, with big blue eyes framed in dark lashes. She had a clear, pale complexion and a lush full mouth, vibrant with glossy pink lipstick. Trinny had opted for her natural hair color: a double fudge brown, probably the shade Berlyn was born with. Both had bright blue eyes and dark brows. Berlyn's features were the coarser, or perhaps it was the bleached hair that gave her the appearance of tartishness. Without Lorna's delicate beauty in the family for contrast, I would have said they were pretty in a slightly vulgar way. Even knowing what I knew about Lorna's promiscuity, she seemed to have had a classiness about her that the other two lacked.

Berlyn moved over to the refrigerator and pulled out a diet Pepsi. She popped the tab and ambled out the back door onto a wooden deck that ran along the back of the house. Through the window, I watched as she settled on a chaise made of interwoven plastic strips. It seemed too chilly to be sitting out there. Her eyes caught mine briefly before she looked away.

Beer in hand, Mace moved through the kitchen toward the den, indicating that I was to follow. As he closed the door behind us, I picked up the chemical scent of baking chocolate cake.

5

The den had been added onto the house by framing in one-half of the two-car garage. Subflooring had been laid over the original concrete, and look-like-oak tongue-and-groove vinyl planks had been installed on top of that. Even with the addition of an area rug, the room smelled like motor oil and old car parts. A sofa bed, coffee table, four chairs, an ottoman, and a rolling cart for the television set had been arranged in the space. In one corner was a filing cabinet and a desk piled high with papers. All of the furniture looked like garage sale purchases: mismatched fabrics, worn upholstery, someone else's discards given another chance in life.

Mace sank onto a battered brown Naugahyde lounger, activating the mechanism that flipped the footrest into place. His mouth was crowded with bad teeth. The flesh along his jaw had softened with age, and he now had parentheses setting off the thin line of his mouth. He picked up the TV remote, punched the mute button, and then clicked his way through several channels until he found a basketball game in progress. Silently, guys bounded up and down the court, leapt, fell, and bumped one another sideways. If the sound had been turned up, I knew I'd hear the high-pitched shriek of rubber soles on the hardwood floor. The ball sailed into the basket as if magnetized, not even touching the rim half the time.

Without invitation, I perched on the nearby ottoman, arranging myself so I was in his line of sight. "I take it Janice has told you about our conversation last night." I was prepared to make soothing noises about Lorna's participation in the pornographic film. Mace made no response. A fast-food commercial came on, a fifteen-by-twenty-inch full-color burger filling the TV screen. The sesame seeds were the size of rice grains, and a slice of bright orange cheese drooped invitingly from the edge of the bun. I could see Mace's eyes fix on the picture. I'd always known I wasn't as compelling as a flame-broiled beef patty, but it was deflating nonetheless to see his attention displaced. I moved my head to the left, entering his visual frame of reference.

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