Small Town

Page 15


“Lord Peter?”

“Lord Peter Wimsey, the talented amateur, without whom Scot-land Yard would be powerless in the fight against crime. Don’t you read books? Never mind, sweetie. Maybe they worked it out on their own.”

“They couldn’t have,” he said, “because it wasn’t something that was there. It was something that wasn’t there.”

“Huh?”

“A little turquoise rabbit,” he said, “about so big, and it was one of three fetishes she had, and they were always together, grouped around the little dish of cornmeal, and when I got there the place was a mess, the bison and the bear were lying on their sides and the cornmeal was spilled, and—”

“Whoa,” she said. “Cornmeal?”

“Yellow cornmeal, like you’d make cornbread with, in a little china saucer. Oh, why the cornmeal? That was for them to eat.”

“For . . .”

“The three of them, the bison and the bear and the rabbit.”

“Was she some kind of a flake?”

“It’s traditional,” he explained. “You’re supposed to put out food for them.”

“Like milk and cookies for Santa?”

“I suppose so. Anyway, the rabbit was missing, and since they never would have known it was there in the first place—”

“I get it. Maybe the killer took it.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“As a souvenir. Instead of cutting off an ear or a clitoris, like any halfway normal person would do—”

“Jesus!”

“When you thought of it,” she said, “how come you didn’t call them?”

“Because I’m a cowardly custard.”

“Bullshit. Nobody ever stayed sober on cowardice. We’re all heroes.”

“I was afraid to call.”

“That’s something else. What’s the fear?”

“That they’ll think I’m an idiot.”

“You said they already think that.”

“Yes, but—”

“What they think of is none of your business, anyway. Is that all?”

He thought for a moment. “Well, see, I’m out of it now. I had a horrible couple of hours, first finding the body and then being asked the same questions over and over and finally giving a formal statement. I mean, they were perfectly nice, they were almost too polite, but underneath all that respectful politeness it was obvious they despised me. And it’s none of my business, right, but it’s not much fun to be around.”

“Of course it isn’t.”

“So why don’t I just leave well enough alone? I mean, for all I know she dropped the rabbit days ago and its ear broke off and she threw it out. Or it got lost, or, I don’t know . . .”

“The bear ate it.”

“Actually, I thought of that myself. Early on, before I knew what I’d find behind Door Number One. It was just a nice little whimsical thought. I have to call them, don’t I?”

“Yep.”

“Because it’s my civic duty?”

She shook her head. “Because it’s driving you nuts,” she said,

“and you can’t get it out of your head, so for God’s sake tell them and be done with it.”

He stood up. “Thank God you’re my sponsor,” he said.

A L A N R E A D E S A I D , “H E called you? Why the hell did he call you and not me?”

“I guess I’m cuter,” Slaughter said.

“I was nicer to him than you were, man. I was the perfect Sensitive New Age Guy, treating him like a human being instead of a dizzy little flit.”

“Maybe your sincerity came shining through,” Slaughter suggested. “Did you even give him your card?”

“Of course I gave him my card. Call anytime, I told him. You think of anything, I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night, just pick up the phone.”

“Maybe he tried you first and your line was busy.”

“Musta been,” Reade said. “Now what’s this shit about a rabbit?”

“He called it a fetish, which to me is a sex thing, fur or high heels or leather, shit like that.”

“Black rubber.”

“Hey, whatever works for you, Alan. These are little figurines, the Indians carve ’em out in Arizona and New Mexico. You keep

’em around and feed ’em cornmeal.”

“Cornmeal?”

“Don’t worry about it. She had three of them, according to Pankow, and one was missing.”

“The rabbit.”

“Right. The others were a bear and a bison. You remember seeing them, because I have to say I don’t.”

“No.”

“Well, he says they were there, and—”

“Wait a minute, it’s coming back to me. On a little table, two little animals, and one was a buffalo. The other was pink—”

“Rose quartz, he said.”

“—and I couldn’t tell what it was, but I suppose it coulda been a bear. I don’t remember any rabbit.”

“That’s the point. The rabbit was missing.”

“Same size as the others?”

“A little smaller, he said. Maybe two and a half inches long.”

“Does that include the ears? Never mind. What did you say, turquoise?”

“That’s a kind of blue stone.”

“Jesus,” Reade said, “I know what fucking turquoise is. My wife’s got this silver necklace, her brother gave it to her, and he’s as light in his loafers as Pankow, incidentally. A turquoise rabbit, and he says it was there the week before?”

“Swears to it.”

“I didn’t see any kind of a rabbit in Creighton’s apartment,” he said, “unless you count the bunny on the cover of Playboy. But would you even notice something like that if you weren’t looking for it?”

“This time we’ll be looking for it.”

“If we can find a judge who’ll write out a warrant.” Slaughter, beaming, pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket. “All taken care of,” he said. “Courtesy of Judge Garamond, the policeman’s best friend.”

Reade finished his coffee, pushed back his chair. “You want to go over there? It’s a little early, he might be sleeping in.”

“So we’ll wake him up.”

On the way Reade said, “Creighton seem to you like the type to take a souvenir?”

“No.”

“Me neither. That’s a serial killer thing, isn’t it? I didn’t see a whole lot of ritual in Fairchild’s apartment.”

“There wasn’t all that much to see, thanks to Mr. Clean. But I agree with you, Alan. Looks of it, two drunks went to bed, and one of them strangled the other either in the act or afterward.”

“I wonder how drunk he was.”

“Pretty far gone, would be my guess. Say he’s in and out of blackout, he could kill her and not know it. On his way out he’s in the living room getting dressed, because we know from Pankow that she left her clothes in the living room so he probably did, too . . .”

“And he picks up the rabbit and puts it in his pocket, and the next day he doesn’t remember killing her, and he doesn’t know where the rabbit came from, either. In fact . . .”

“What?”

“Well, if he puts it away when he gets home, and when he wakes up he doesn’t remember taking it or putting it away—”

“It could still be there,” Slaughter said. “Even if he came across it in a drawer or a jacket pocket, he wouldn’t see any reason why he had to get rid of it. By the way, I didn’t call it a fetish in my application for a warrant. I called it a figurine.”

“Good thinking.”

“Why would he pick it up in the first place, you got any theories about that?”

“We already said he was drunk, right? And who knows what’s gonna seem like a good idea to a drunk?” He shrugged. “Maybe he just likes rabbits.”

T H E D O W N S T A I R S D O O R B E L L S O U N D E D , one long buzz. He was drinking a cup of coffee and set it down on his desk and looked at his watch. It wasn’t quite nine yet, and who would be leaning on his bell at this hour? Some pest from the media? Or the Jehovah’s Witnesses he’d been expecting last week?

Before he’d finished wondering, the buzzer sounded again, two bursts this time. And he knew who it was, because who else would so effectively distill impatience and lack of consideration into noise?

He pressed the intercom and said, “Yes?”

“Detectives Slaughter and Reade, Mr. Creighton. Okay if we come up?”

“No,” he said.

“If you’d buzz us in, Mr. Creighton, it’d save making a scene in front of the neighbors.”

It was Mr. Creighton now, he noticed, because they weren’t in his space or his face, and the excessive familiarity could evidently wait until they were. “You’re not supposed to ask me any more questions,” he said, “and I don’t have to talk to you, and I don’t intend to.”

“Mr. Creighton—”

“Go away,” he said, and let go of the intercom button. He got all the way back to his desk before the next buzz. He ignored it, but when it was repeated he went and pressed the button again, told them again to go away.

“Mr. Creighton, we don’t have any questions and you don’t have to talk to us, but you have to let us in. We have a warrant.”

“For what? You’re going to arrest me again? You already arrested me, I’m on bail, remember?”

“A warrant to search your apartment.”

“You already searched it!”

“It’s a new warrant, Mr. Creighton, and—”

“Give me a moment,” he said, and went to the phone and found the slip of paper with his lawyer’s number. Would Winters be at his desk this early?

He was, and the first thing he did was assure Creighton he’d been right to call him. “You don’t have to answer a question, you don’t have to say a word,” he said. “What you do have to do, though, is let ’em in if they got a warrant. Where are they now?”

“Downstairs in the vestibule,” he said, and before he’d finished he heard them knocking on his door. “At least they were a minute ago. Somebody must have let them in, because they’re upstairs pounding on my door and calling for me to open it.”

“Don’t open it yet.”

“All right.”

“Tell them you want to see the warrant before you’ll open the door.”

He delivered that message through the closed door to Slaughter and Reade. One of them—Reade, with the reedy voice—said they’d be happy to show him the warrant, but first he should open the door. He relayed messages back and forth between Winters and the cops. They wouldn’t stick it under the door, but they compromised that he’d open the door a few inches with the chain latch on and he could read the warrant before letting them in.