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.’” A reverent pause, then a murmured, “I am always intrigued by the use of a pen name.I suppose Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton did not wish to be confused with his father.Or trade upon his illustrious name.Ah well, his words ring true whatever the attribution.Dear Annie, God-speed in your quest.”Annie refused to speculate upon the reasons for Lord Lytton’s pen name.Laurel was right.It didn’t matter who said it, the sentiment caught at her heart: “…of all best things upon earth…”What did friends do for friends? With a fine disregard for mixing metaphors, Annie said sternly to Agatha, “They don’t sit around and twiddle their thumbs while Rome burns.And neither will I.” She grabbed her purse and headed for the door.The Schmidt house, a one-story bungalow of pinkish stucco, nestled beneath an ancient magnolia.The drive swung around the tree to a separate garage.Parked to one side was a shabby blue Taurus.A discarded Christmas tree, festooned with limp icicles, was propped against a shabby white wooden fence.The house had a closed-in, withdrawn appearance like featureless mannequins in a forgotten store window.As Max parked, a police cruiser with its siren wailing slewed to a stop behind him.The siren cut off in mid-blare.Billy slammed out of the car.Without regard for his crisp uniform trousers, he stalked through puddles, head forward, shoulders bunched, hands clenched, his normally pleasant face rutted by an angry frown.The bungalow’s front door opened.A middle-aged woman in a faded red velour jumpsuit stepped outside.She poked her head forward, her thin face anxious.Billy slapped a massive hand on the sagging white gate.“She better be here.” His voice was a mixture of raw fury and worried uncertainty.“And she better have a damn good explanation.”Max grabbed Billy’s arm.It wouldn’t do for him to charge up the walk and explode.“What’s happened?”The acting chief glowered.“I should have taken her in last night.I trusted her.And she didn’t come.I’ve let Pete down.I’ve let everybody down.I blew it, Max.”“Hey, ease up.” Max kept his tone light.“It’s no big deal, Billy.Maybe she got cold feet.We can make sure she doesn’t get off the island.Ben’s got a search going for the dress.He’d know to call us if she got on the ferry.”Billy’s head jerked up as if somebody had socked him.“Oh, God, I didn’t think about the ferry.Max, get on the horn, alert Ben.” His broad open face creased in despair.“I don’t know how I could have forgot that.”Max pulled out his cell phone.“Sure.I’ll take care of it.Anyway, it’ll probably turn out she’s just running late.She’d be a fool to try and run away.”Billy kneaded his face with sharp knuckles.“A fool.Or guilty as hell.” He glanced at the woman on the porch.“Come on.”Patches of red stained Mrs.Schmidt’s cheeks.Her salt-and-pepper hair bushed in tight curls.Narrow black-rimmed glasses perched on the end of a long thin nose.When they reached the steps, she snapped, “I declare I don’t know what’s happening.How come you’re back here this morning with your siren squealing? What are the neighbors going to think? We’ve never had the police at our house before.First you come in the middle of the night, and I’ve already had a half dozen calls this morning, people wanting to know if anything’s wrong.I’ll say things are wrong, the police wanting to see Miriam’s girl about a murder.Miriam was always trouble, and now Chloe’s even worse.We’ve always tried to welcome her, but she won’t have anything to do with the people we know.” She tossed her head like a nervous horse.The front door squeaked.A heavyset man stepped outside.Bulging dark eyes peered from a round face like shiny raisins protruding from thick dough.“I always told Frances that girl would come to no good end.Like mother, like daughter.Coming home last night, then going out again, that’s no way to act.And she wouldn’t say a word when she got home the second time, even though we’d waited up.She went into her room and locked the door, and she still hasn’t come out.”“We’re here to take her into custody.” Billy tried to speak evenly, but he bristled with anger.Mrs.Schmidt gasped, pressed her hands against her cheeks.“Come now, Mother.The police got to do what they got to do.” Schmidt jerked his head toward the entrance.“If you’ll come this way, Officer.” He bustled importantly past the living room to the right and the dining room to the left.Several doorways opened down a narrow hallway.“She hasn’t even come out of her room yet.But we know she’s here.Her car’s still parked out there, that old blue Taurus.” The four of them crowded in front of a closed bedroom door.Billy knocked.“This is the police.Open up.”There was no response, no sound, no movement.“Chloe, you come on out now.” Frances Schmidt’s voice was shrill.Billy knocked again, a thunderous rattle that shook the door in its frame.He turned the handle.Max frowned.He turned toward Schmidt.“Bring us a screwdriver.We’d better take down that door.”Mrs.Schmidt rushed to the doorway, flailed her hands against it.“Chloe, open up right now!”There was no sound, no movement, no life beyond that closed door.Schmidt brought the screwdriver, his face pale.He handed it to Billy, fingered his unshaven cheek.Billy loosened the pins from the hinges, pulled the door free.He stepped over the threshold, his head swinging, checking the unmade, empty bed, the open closet door, the clothes strewn about.Chloe wasn’t there.SevenANNIE OPENED THE driver’s door of her Volvo and a note card fluttered to the floor.She retrieved it.As she settled behind the wheel, she studied the card and smiled.Stylized heads of a black Lab, massive faces upturned with a look of adoration, rimmed the border.Ornate lettering announced: “When Fortune’s fickle, the faithful friend is found—Quintus Ennius.”Annie’s eyes widened [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]