R Is for Ricochet (Kinsey Millhone Series #18)

R Is for Ricochet (Kinsey Millhone Series #18)

3.8 94
by Sue Grafton, Judy Kaye
     
 

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"Reba Lafferty was a daughter of privilege, the only child of an adoring father. Nord Lafferty was already in his fifties when Reba was born, and he could deny her nothing. Over the years, he quietly settled her many scrapes with the law, but he wasn't there for her when she was convicted of embezzlement and sent to the California Institution for Women. Now, at thirty… See more details below

Overview

"Reba Lafferty was a daughter of privilege, the only child of an adoring father. Nord Lafferty was already in his fifties when Reba was born, and he could deny her nothing. Over the years, he quietly settled her many scrapes with the law, but he wasn't there for her when she was convicted of embezzlement and sent to the California Institution for Women. Now, at thirty-two, she is about to be paroled, having served twenty-two months of a four-year sentence. Nord Lafferty wants to be sure she stays straight, stays at home and away from the drugs, the booze, the gamblers." "It seems a straightforward assignment for Kinsey: babysit Reba until she settles in, make sure she follows all the rules of her parole. Maybe all of a week's work. Nothing untoward - the woman seems remorseful and friendly. And the money is good." But life is never that simple, and Reba is out of prison less than twenty-four hours when one of her old crowd comes circling round.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Grafton offers more of the same-old same-old in her less-than-inspired 18th Kinsey Millhone novel (after 2002's P Is for Peril). In this sexy adventure, the spunky hard-boiled detective has to escort the newly paroled Reba Lafferty, privileged ne'er-do-well, to her stately home, keeping her on the straight and narrow. Reba challenges the PI with her barely concealed hankerings for the now off-limits booze, gambling and charming Alan Beckwith, married real estate developer and former employer for whom Reba took a two-year barbwire vacation courtesy of the California Institution for Women. Lust is in the air as studly, stylish cop Cheney Phillips enters in his red Mercedes, fanning the flames with Kinsey, when Beckwith's activities catch the eye of the feds. Kinsey lends a supportive ear to her beloved 87-year-old landlord, smitten by a 70-year-old neighbor. Kinsey and Reba team up to get the goods on Beckwith, but reckless Reba has vengeful ideas of her own and more than once lands their collective fat in the fire. If the chemistry between Cheney and Kinsey seems forced at times, Grafton as usual creates believable and enduring characters and a strong sense of place in her town of Santa Teresa circa 1987. And that should be more than enough for most fans. Agent, Molly Friedrich at the Aaron Priest Literary Agency. (July 13) Forecast: A decline in quality in this iconic series hardly matters. A national author tour will help fuel another bestseller. BOMC Main Selection, main selection of Doubleday Book Club, Literary Guild and Mystery Guild. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In Grafton's 18th Kinsey Milhone mystery, the crime is not murder (although a corpse does pays a brief visit) but "love gone right, love gone wrong, and matters somewhere in between." Hired by dying millionaire Nord Lafferty to baby-sit his recently paroled daughter, Reba, Kinsey finds herself entangled in a complex money-laundering scheme when Reba decides to take revenge on the two-timing lover for whom she had gone to prison. Meanwhile, Kinsey's octogenarian landlord resigns himself to a loveless life after his interfering brothers sabotage a budding relationship with a lively widow. And the twice-divorced Kinsey has to decide whether to risk opening her heart to sexy cop Cheney Phillips. As demonstrated here, Grafton's series remains fresh and exciting, with complex plots and well-developed characters. Kudos to Grafton for maintaining her high standards. Grafton lives in California and Kentucky. [A BOMC, Doubleday Book Club, Literary Guild, and Mystery Guild main selection.]-Wilda Williams, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Kinsey has been hired by a wealthy father to befriend his daughter upon her release from prison after serving a sentence for embezzling funds from her boyfriend/employer. It sounds easy, but the detective learns quickly that Reba's boss is still involved in a complex money-laundering scheme and is wanted by many federal law-enforcement agencies who want Reba to help them get evidence against him. Eventually she does, but there are problems leading to the exciting climax when the sleuth herself is kidnapped. Kinsey is young enough to appeal to teens; her lighthearted personality and witty asides amuse and entertain. Fans of this series will be pleased that she has a new boyfriend, but may be frustrated because her elderly landlord's family interferes.-Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
R is really for romance, as Kinsey Millhone acknowledges on the first page of this tale of love gone right and wrong and every which way in between. After serving her time for embezzling $350,000 from real-estate entrepreneur Alan Beckwith, Reba Lafferty's emerging from the California Institution for Women, and her father, an ancient millionaire, wants somebody to meet her at the prison gate, drive her home, and make sure she gets settled. Mission accomplished, Kinsey and Reba agree after two days of salt-and-pepper rapport. But like the Commander in Chief, they turn out to be premature. Reba's relationship to the man she robbed is fraught with complications that multiply by the minute, and before long Lt. Cheney Phillips, Santa Teresa PD, is leaning on Kinsey to lean on Reba to gather evidence in a money-laundering case for the IRS, the FBI, and the DEA. Back home, Kinsey's landlord, spry geezer Henry Pitts, chafes as his even older brothers try to cut into his courtship of widowed painter Mattie Halstead, leaving Kinsey wondering why she's trying to foster some love affairs and nip others in the bud. No more mystery than Q Is for Quarry (2002). But Kinsey's frantic attempts to keep her balance on the tightrope between a pair of lovers scheming against each other, and her own latest stab at romance, will have fans purring contentedly. Book-of-the-Month Club/Doubleday Book Club/Literary Guild/Mystery Guild main selection
From the Publisher
"Grafton’s alphabet thrillers just keep getting better." —USA Today

"Should a contest be held to name the most credible private eye in mystery fiction, Kinsey Millhone would certainly rank at or near the top. The central figure in Sue Grafton’s long-running series conveys a verisimilitude, in both her professional and private lives, that makes most of her competitors seem like cartoons." —The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Grafton, as usual, creates believable and enduring characters and a strong sense of place in her town of Santa Teresa circa 1987." —Publishers Weekly

"Sue Grafton is brillant. We'd follow Kinsey Millhone anywhere." —Newsday

"A tale of love gone right and wrong and every which way in between. R is for Ricochet will have fans purring contentedly." —Kirkus Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780739304211
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/13/2004
Series:
Kinsey Millhone Series, #18
Edition description:
Abridged
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 6.22(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

“FAST-PACED.”

—USA Today

“Returning for another visit with the perpetually grumpy, smart-alecky and utterly dedicated Kinsey is a treat.”

—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

R is for Ricochet

Reba Lafferty was a daughter of privilege, the only child of an adoring father. Nord Lafferty was already in his fifties when Reba was born, and he could deny her nothing. Over the years, he quietly settled her many scrapes with the law, but wasn’t there for her when she was convicted of embezzlement and sent to the California Institution for Women. Now, at thirty-two, she is about to be paroled, having served twenty-two months of a four-year sentence. Nord Lafferty wants to be sure she stays straight, stays at home and away from the drugs, the booze, the gamblers.

It seems a straightforward assignment for Kinsey: babysit Reba until she settles in, make sure she follows all the rules of her parole. Maybe all of a week’s work. Nothing untoward—the woman seems remorseful and friendly. And the money is good.

But life is never that simple, and Reba is out of prison less than twenty-four hours when one of her old crowd comes circling around…

“Grafton as usual creates believable and enduring characters and a strong sense of place.”

—Publishers Weekly

“The prose is smooth and seemingly effortless, with descriptions crisp and concise.”

—Los Angeles Times

“The spunkiest, funniest, and most engaging private investigator in Santa Teresa, California, not to mention the entire detective novel genre.”

—Entertainment Weekly

Praise for the Kinsey Millhone novels:

“A REFRESHING HEROINE.”

—The Washington Post Book World

“Millhone is all too human, and her humanity increases with each novel, each investigation…An incredibly even and satisfying series, one that keeps the reader interested in the plot—and in the continuing development of Kinsey Millhone.”

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Grafton’s prose is lean and her observational skills keen.”

—Chicago Tribune

“A confident, likable sleuth with a good sense of humor.”

—Orlando Sentinel

“A long-lived and much-loved series.”

—Publishers Weekly

“[Grafton] has mastered the art of blending new and old in novels that are both surprising and familiar.”

—The San Diego Union Tribune

“Grafton deserves an A for maintaining her series’s high standard of excellence.”

—Library Journal

“A STELLAR SERIES.”

—The Baltimore Sun

“If you haven’t tried [Grafton] yet, you’re missing a sterling example of the mystery writer’s craft at its low-key, disciplined best…Grafton has cited the late great Ross MacDonald, creator of the sun-drenched-noir Lew Archer novels, as an influence. Twenty years into Kinsey’s run, she’s become his rightful heir.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“Grafton is so good that when you’re immersed in one of her books—and even afterward—you believe that there is a Kinsey Millhone in Santa Teresa, California, who is a private investigator and lives in a converted garage and dines fairly often on Big Macs.”

—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Kinsey Millhone is Grafton’s best mystery, one that has been unfolding deliciously since the letter ‘A.’”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] first-class series.”

—The New York Times Book Review

TITLES BY SUE GRAFTON

Kinsey Millhone mysteries

A is for Alibi

B is for Burglar

C is for Corpse

D is for Deadbeat

E is for Evidence

F is for Fugitive

G is for Gumshoe

H is for Homicide

I is for Innocent

J is for Judgment

K is for Killer

L is for Lawless

M is for Malice

N is for Noose

O is for Outlaw

P is for Peril

Q is for Quarry

R is for Ricochet

RIS FOR RICOCHET

SUE GRAFTON

BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Epilogue

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the following people: Steven Humphrey; Boris Romanowski, California State Parole Agent; Alice Sprague, Deputy District Attorney, Alameda County, California; Pat Callahan, Public Relations Officer, Valley State Prison for Women; at the California Institution for Women, Warden John Dovey, Lieutenant Larry J. Aaron, Public Information Officer, and Pam Clark, Community and Parole Relations; Bruce Correll, Chief Deputy (retired), Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department; Lorrinda Lepore, Investigator II, Ventura County District Attorney’s Office; Bill Kracht, General Manager, The Players Club; Joan Francis, Francis Pacific Investigations; Julianna Flynn and Kurt Albershardt; and Gail and Harry Gelles.

And for the generous offers of support and expertise for the subplot that ended up on the cutting-room floor, thanks go to Detective Sergeant Bill Turner (retired), Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department; Dona Cohn, Cohn Law Firm; attorneys Joseph M. Devine, Lawrence Kern, and Philip Segal of Kern Noda Devine & Segal; Daniel Trudell, President, Accident Reconstruction Specialists; James F. Lafferty, P.E., Ph.D., biomechanics and mechanical engineering; Dr. Anthony Sances, Jr., President, Biomechanics Institute; and Nancy Degger, President, Rudy Degger & Associates. Maybe next book.

1

The basic question is this: given human nature, are any of us really capable of change? The mistakes other people make are usually patently obvious. Our own are tougher to recognize. In most cases, our path through life reflects a fundamental truth about who we are now and who we’ve been since birth. We’re optimists or pessimists, joyful or depressed, gullible or cynical, inclined to seek adventure or to avoid all risks. Therapy might strengthen our assets or offset our liabilities, but in the main we do what we do because we’ve always done it that way, even when the outcome is bad…perhaps especially when the outcome is bad.

This is a story about romance—love gone right, love gone wrong, and matters somewhere in between.

I left downtown Santa Teresa that day at 1:15 and headed for Montebello, a short ten miles south. The weather report had promised highs in the seventies. Morning cloudiness had given way to sunshine, a welcomed respite from the overcast that typically mars our June and July. I’d eaten lunch at my desk, feasting on an olive-and-pimiento-cheese sandwich on wheat bread, cut in quarters, my third-favorite sandwich in the whole wide world. So what was the problem? I had none. Life was great.

In committing the matter to paper, I can see now what should have been apparent from the first, but events seemed to unfold at such a routine pace that I was caught, metaphorically speaking, asleep at the wheel. I’m a private detective, female, age thirty-seven, working in the small Southern California town of Santa Teresa. My jobs are varied, not always lucrative, but sufficient to keep me housed and fed and ahead of my bills. I do employee background checks. I track down missing persons or locate heirs entitled to monies in the settlement of an estate. On occasion, I investigate claims involving arson, fraud, or wrongful death.

In my personal life, I’ve been married and divorced twice, and subsequent relationships have usually come to grief. The older I get, the less I seem to understand men, and because of that I tend to shy away from them. Granted, I have no sex life to speak of, but at least I’m not plagued by unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. I’ve learned the hard way that love and work are a questionable mix.

I was driving on a stretch of highway once known as the Montebello Parkway, built in 1927 as the result of a fundraising campaign that made possible the creation of frontage roads and landscaped center dividers still in evidence today. Because billboards and commercial structures along the roadway were banned at the same time, that section of the 101 is still attractive, except when it’s jammed with rush-hour traffic.

Montebello itself underwent a similar transformation in 1948, when the Montebello Protective and Improvement Association successfully petitioned to eliminate sidewalks, concrete curbs, advertising signs, and anything else that might disrupt the rural atmosphere. Montebello is known for its two-hundred-some-odd luxury estates, many of them built by men who’d amassed their fortunes selling common household goods, salt and flour being two.

I was on my way to meet Nord Lafferty, an elderly gentleman, whose photograph appeared at intervals in the society column of the Santa Teresa Dispatch. This was usually occasioned by his making yet another sizable contribution to some charitable foundation. Two buildings at UCST had been named for him, as had a wing of Santa Teresa Hospital and a special collection of rare books he’d donated to the public library. He’d called me two days before and indicated he had “a modest undertaking” he wanted to discuss. I was curious how he’d come by my name and even more curious about the job itself. I’ve been a private investigator in Santa Teresa for the past ten years, but my office is small and, as a rule, I’m ignored by the wealthy, who seem to prefer doing business through their attorneys in New York, Chicago, or L.A.

I took the St. Isadore off-ramp and turned north toward the foothills that ran between Montebello and the Los Padres National Forest. At one time, this area boasted grand old resort hotels, citrus and avocado ranches, olive groves, a country store, and the Montebello train depot, which serviced the Southern Pacific Railroad. I’m forever reading up on local history, trying to imagine the region as it was 125 years ago. Land was selling then for seventy-five cents an acre. Montebello is still bucolic, but much of the charm has been bulldozed away. What’s been erected instead—the condominiums, housing developments, and the big flashy starter castles of the nouveau riche—is poor compensation for what was lost or destroyed.

I turned right on West Glen and drove along the winding two-lane road as far as Bella Sera Place. Bella Sera is lined with olive and pepper trees, the narrow blacktop climbing gradually to a mesa that affords a sweeping view of the coast. The pungent scent of the ocean faded with my ascent, replaced by the smell of sage and the bay laurel trees. The hillsides were thick with yarrow, wild mustard, and California poppies. The afternoon sun had baked the boulders to a golden turn, and a warm chuffing wind was beginning to stir the dry grasses. The road wound upward through an alley of live oaks that terminated at the entrance to the Lafferty estate. The property was surrounded by a stone wall that was eight feet high and posted with No Trespassing signs.

I slowed to an idle when I reached the wide iron gates. I leaned out and pushed the call button on a mounted keypad. Belatedly I spotted a camera mounted atop one of two stone pillars, its hollow eye fixed on me. I must have passed inspection because the gates swung open at a measured pace. I shifted gears and sailed through, following the brick-paved drive for another quarter of a mile.

Through a picket fence of pines, I caught glimpses of a gray stone house. When the whole of the residence finally swept into view, I let out a breath. Something of the past remained after all. Four towering eucalyptus trees laid a dappled shade on the grass, and a breeze pushed a series of cloudshaped shadows across the red tile roof. The two-story house, with matching one-story wings topped with stone balustrades at each end, dominated my visual field. A series of four arches shielded the entrance and provided a covered porch on which wicker furniture had been arranged. I counted twelve windows on the second floor, separated by paired eave brackets, largely decorative, that appeared to support the roof.

I pulled onto a parking pad sufficient to accommodate ten cars and left my pale blue VW hunched, cartoonlike, between a sleek Lincoln Continental on one side and a fullsize Mercedes on the other. I didn’t bother to lock up, operating on the assumption that the electronic surveillance system was watching over both me and my vehicle as I crossed to the front walk.

The lawns were wide and well tended, and the quiet was underlined by the twittering of finches. I pressed the front bell, listening to the hollow-sounding chimes inside clanging out two notes as though by a hammer on iron. The ancient woman who came to the door wore an old-fashioned black uniform with a white pinafore over it. Her opaque stockings were the color of doll flesh, her crepe-soled shoes emitting the faintest squeak as I followed her down the marble-tiled hall. She hadn’t asked my name, but perhaps I was the only visitor expected that day. The corridor was paneled in oak, the white plaster ceiling embossed with chevrons and fleurs-de-lis.

She showed me into the library, which was also paneled in oak. Drab leather-bound books lined shelves that ran floor to ceiling, with a brass rail and a rolling ladder allowing access to the upper reaches. The room smelled of dry wood and paper mold. The inner hearth in the stone fireplace was tall enough to stand in, and a recent blaze had left a partially blackened oak log and the faint stench of wood smoke. Mr. Lafferty was seated in one of a pair of matching wing chairs.

I placed him in his eighties, an age I’d considered elderly once upon a time. I’ve since come to realize how widely the aging process varies. My landlord is eighty-seven, the baby of his family, with siblings whose ages range as high as ninety-six. All five of them are lively, intelligent, adventurous, competitive, and given to good-natured squabbling among themselves. Mr. Lafferty, on the other hand, looked as though he’d been old for a good twenty years. He was inordinately thin, with knees as bony as a pair of misplaced elbows. His once sharp features had at least been softened by the passing years. Two small clear plastic tubes had been placed discreetly in his nostrils, tethering him to a stout green oxygen tank on a cart to his left. One side of his jaw was sunken, and a savage red line running across his throat suggested extensive surgery of some vicious sort.

He studied me with eyes as dark and shiny as dots of brown sealing wax. “I appreciate your coming, Ms. Millhone. I’m Nord Lafferty,” he said, holding out a hand that was knotted with veins. His voice was hoarse, barely a whisper.

“Nice to meet you,” I murmured, moving forward to shake hands with him. His were pale, a tremor visible in his fingers, which were icy to the touch.

He motioned to me. “You might want to pull that chair close. I’ve had thyroid surgery a month ago and more recently some polyps removed from my vocal cords. I’ve been left with this rasping noise that passes as speech. Isn’t painful, but it’s irksome. I apologize if I’m difficult to understand.”

“So far, I’m not having any problem.”

“Good. Would you like a cup of tea? I can have my housekeeper make a pot, but I’m afraid you’ll have to pour for yourself. These days, her hands aren’t any steadier than mine.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine.” I pulled the second wing chair closer and took a seat. “When was this house built? It’s really beautiful.”

“1893. A man named Mueller bought a six-hundred-forty-acre section from the county of Santa Teresa. Of that, seventy acres remain. House took six years to build and the story has it Mueller died the day the workers finally set down their tools. Since then, the occupants have fared poorly…except for me, knock on wood. I bought the property in 1929, just after the crash. Fellow who owned the place lost everything. Drove into town, climbed up to the clock tower, and dived over the rail. Widow needed the cash and I stepped in. I was criticized, of course. Folks claimed I took advantage, but I’d loved the house from the minute I laid eyes on it. Someone would have bought it. Better me than them. I had money for the upkeep, which wasn’t true of many folks back then.”

“You were lucky.”

“Indeed. Made my fortune in paper goods in case you’re curious and too polite to inquire.”

I smiled. “Polite, I don’t know about. I’m always curious.”

“That’s fortunate, I’d say, given the business you’re in. I’m assuming you’re a busy woman so I’ll get right to the point. Your name was given to me by a friend of yours—fellow I met during this recent hospital stay.”

“Stacey Oliphant,” I said, the name flashing immediately to mind. I’d worked a case with Stacey, a retired Sheriff’s Department homicide detective, and my old pal Lieutenant Dolan, now retired from the Santa Teresa Police Department. Stacey was battling cancer, but the last I’d heard, he’d been given a reprieve.

Mr. Lafferty nodded. “He asked me to tell you he’s doing well, by the way. He checked in for a battery of tests, but all of them turned out negative. As it happened, the two of us walked the halls together in the afternoons, and I got chatting about my daughter, Reba.”

I was already thinking skip trace, missing heir, possibly a background check on a guy if Reba were romantically involved.

He went on. “I only have the one child and I suppose I’ve spoiled her unmercifully, though that wasn’t my intent. Her mother ran off when she was just a little thing, this high. I was caught up in business and left the day-to-day raising of her to a series of nannies. She’d been a boy I could have sent her off to boarding school the way my parents did me, but I wanted her at home. In retrospect, I see that might’ve been poor judgment on my part, but it didn’t seem so at the time.” He paused and then gestured impatiently toward the floor, as though chiding a dog for leaping up on him. “No matter. It’s too late for regrets. Pointless, anyway. What’s done is done.” He looked at me sharply from under his bony brow. “You probably wonder what I’m driving at.”

I proffered a slight shrug, waiting to hear what he had to say.

“Reba’s being paroled on July twentieth. That’s next Monday morning. I need someone to pick her up and bring her home. She’ll be staying with me until she’s on her feet again.”

“What facility?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound as startled as I felt.

“California Institution for Women. Are you familiar with the place?”

“It’s down in Corona, couple of hundred miles south. I’ve never actually been there, but I know where it is.”

“Good. I’m hoping you can take time out of your schedule for the trip.”

“That sounds easy enough, but why me? I charge five hundred dollars a day. You don’t need a private detective to make a run like that. Doesn’t she have friends?”

“Not anyone I’d ask. Don’t worry about the money. That’s the least of it. My daughter’s difficult. Willful and rebellious. I want you to see to it she keeps the appointment with her parole officer and whatever else is required once she’s been released. I’ll pay you your full rate even if you only work for a part of each day.”

“What if she doesn’t like the supervision?”

“It’s not up to her. I’ve told her I’m hiring someone to assist her and she’s agreed. If she likes you, she’ll be cooperative, at least to a point.”

“May I ask what she did?”

“Given the time you’ll be spending in her company, you’re entitled to know. She was convicted of embezzling money from the company she worked for. Alan Beckwith and Associates. He does property management, real estate investment and development, things of that type. Do you know the man?”

“I’ve seen his name in the paper.”

Nord Lafferty shook his head. “I don’t care for him myself. I’ve known his wife’s family for years. Tracy’s a lovely girl. I can’t understand how she ended up with the likes of him. Alan Beckwith is an upstart. He calls himself an entrepreneur, but I’ve never been entirely clear what he does. Our paths have crossed in public on numerous occasions and I can’t say I’m impressed. Reba seems to think the world of him. I will credit him for this—he spoke up in her behalf before her sentencing. It was a generous gesture on his part and one he didn’t have to make.”

“How long has she been at CIW?”

“She’s served twenty-two months of a four-year sentence. She never went to trial. At her arraignment—which I’m sorry to say I missed—she claimed she was indigent, so the court appointed a public defender to handle her case. After consultation with him, she waived her right to a preliminary hearing and entered a plea of guilty.”

“Just like that?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“And her attorney agreed to it?”

“He argued strenuously against it, but Reba wouldn’t listen.”

“How much money are we talking?”

“Three hundred fifty thousand dollars over a two-year period.”

“How’d they discover the theft?”

“During a routine audit. Reba was one of a handful of employees with access to the accounts. Naturally, suspicion fell on her. She’s been in trouble before, but nothing of this magnitude.”

I could feel a protest welling but I bit back my response.

He leaned forward. “You have something to say, feel free to say it. Stacey tells me you’re outspoken so please don’t hesitate on my account. It may save us a misunderstanding.”

“I was just wondering why you didn’t step in. A high-powered attorney might have made all the difference.”

He dropped his gaze to his hands. “I should have helped her…I know that…but I’d been coming to her rescue for many, many years…all her life, if you want to know the truth. At least that’s what I was being told by friends. They said she had to face the consequences of her behavior or she was never going to learn. They said I’d be enabling, that saving her was the worst possible action under the circumstances.”

“Who’s this ‘they’ you’re referring to?”

For the first time, he faltered. “I had a lady friend. Lucinda. We’d been keeping company for years. She’d seen me intercede in Reba’s behalf on countless occasions. She persuaded me to put my foot down and that’s what I did.”

“And now?”

“Frankly, I was shocked when Reba was sentenced to four years in state prison. I had no idea the penalty would be so stiff. I thought the judge would suspend sentence or agree to probation, as the public defender suggested. At any rate, Lucinda and I quarreled, bitterly I might add. I broke off the relationship and severed my ties with her. She was much younger than I. In hindsight, I realized she was angling for herself, hoping for marriage. Reba disliked her intensely. Lucinda knew that, of course.”

“What happened to the money?”

“Reba gambled it away. She’s always been attracted to card play. Roulette, the slots. She loves to bet the ponies, but she has no head for it.”

“She’s a problem gambler?”

“Her problem isn’t the gambling, it’s the losing,” he remarked, with only the weakest of smiles.

“What about drugs and alcohol?”

“I’d have to answer yes on both counts. She tends to be reckless. She has a wild streak like her mother. I’m hoping this experience in prison has taught her self-restraint. As for the job itself, we’ll play that by ear. We’re talking two to three days, a week at the most, until she’s reestablished herself. Since your responsibilities are limited, I won’t be requiring a written report. Submit an invoice and I’ll pay your daily rate and all the necessary expenses.”

“That seems simple enough.”

“One other item. If there’s any suggestion that she’s backsliding, I want to be informed. Perhaps with sufficient warning, I can head off disaster this time around.”

“A tall order.”

“I’m aware of that.”

Briefly, I considered the proposition. Ordinarily I don’t like serving as a babysitter and potential tattletale, but in this case, his concern didn’t seem out of line. “What time will she be released?”

2

On my way back into town, I picked up my dry-cleaning and then cruised through a nearby supermarket, picking up odds and ends, which I intended to drop off at my place before I returned to work. I was hoping to touch base with my landlord before the arrival of his lady visitor later in the day. I was running the errands to provide myself with props to explain my unexpected midafternoon appearance. Henry and I confide in each other on many issues, but his love life isn’t one. If I wanted information, I knew I’d do well to proceed with finesse.

My studio apartment was originally the single-car garage attached to Henry’s house by way of a now glassenclosed breezeway. In 1980 he converted the space to the snug studio I’ve been renting ever since. What began as a basic square fifteen feet on a side is now a fully furnished “great room,” which includes a living room, a bump-out galley-style kitchen, a laundry nook and bathroom, with a sleeping loft and a second bathroom up a set of spiral stairs. The space is compact and cleverly designed to exploit every usable inch. Given the pegs and cubbyholes, walls of polished teak and oak, and the occasional porthole window, the studio has the scale and feel of a ship’s interior.

I found a parking spot two doors away and hauled out my cleaning and the two grocery bags. My timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As I pushed through my squeaky metal gate and followed the walkway around to the rear, Henry was just pulling into his two-car garage. He’d taken his bright yellow five-window Chevy coupe for its annual checkup and it was back now, the exterior polished to a fare-thee-well. The interior was probably not only spotless, but scented with faux pine. He bought the vehicle new in 1932 and he’s taken such good care of it you’d swear it was still under warranty, assuming cars had warranties back then. He has a second vehicle, a station wagon he uses for routine errands and the occasional trip to the Los Angeles airport, ninety-five miles south. The coupe he reserves for special occasions, today being one.

I have trouble remembering that he’s eighty-seven years old. I also have trouble describing him in terms that aren’t embarrassingly laudatory given our fifty-year age difference. He’s smart, sweet, sexy, trim, handsome, vigorous, and kind. In his working days, he made a living as a commercial baker, and though he’s been retired now for twenty-five years, he still makes the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever eaten. If I were forced to accord him a fault, I’d probably cite his caution when it comes to affairs of the heart. The only time I’d seen him smitten, he was not only deceived, but nearly taken for every cent he had. Since then, he’s played his cards very close to his chest. Either he hadn’t run into anyone of interest or he’d looked the other way. That is, until Mattie Halstead appeared.

Mattie was the artist-in-residence on a Caribbean cruise he and his siblings had taken in April. Soon after the cruise ended, she’d stopped in to see him on her way to Los Angeles to deliver paintings to a gallery down there. A month later, he’d made an unprecedented trip to San Francisco, where he spent an evening with her. He’d kept mum on the subject of their relationship, but I noticed he’d spiffed up his wardrobe and started lifting weights. The Pitts family (at least on Henry’s mother’s side) is long-lived, and he and his siblings enjoy remarkably good health. William’s a bit of a hypochondriac and Charlie’s almost entirely deaf, but that aside, they give the appearance of going on forever. Lewis, Charlie, and Nell live in Michigan, but there are visits back and forth, some planned and some not. William and my friend Rosie, who owns the tavern half a block away, would be celebrating their second wedding anniversary on November 28. Now it looked like Henry might be entertaining similar thoughts…or such was my hope. Other people’s romances are so much less hazardous than one’s own. I was looking forward to all the pleasures of true love without suffering the peril.

Henry paused when he caught sight of me, allowing me to fall into step with him as he proceeded to the house. I noticed his hair had been freshly trimmed, and he wore a blue denim work shirt with his crisply pressed chinos. He’d even traded in his usual flip-flops for a pair of deck shoes with dark socks.

I said, “Hang on a second while I drop this stuff off.”

He waited while I unlocked my door and dumped my armload on the floor just inside. Nothing I’d bought would go funky in the next thirty minutes. Rejoining him, I said, “You had your hair trimmed. It looks great.”

He ran a self-conscious hand across his head. “I was passing the barbershop and realized I was long overdue. You think it’s too short?”

“Not at all. It shaves years off your age,” I said, thinking Mattie would have to be an idiot if she didn’t understand what a treasure he was. I held open the screen door while he pulled out his keys and unlocked his back door. I followed him inside, watching as he set his groceries on the kitchen counter.

“Nice that Mattie’s coming down. I’ll bet you’re looking forward to seeing her.”

“It’s only the one night.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“She did a painting on commission for a woman in La Jolla. She’s delivering that one plus a couple more in case the woman doesn’t care for the first.”

“Well, it’s nice she can manage a visit. When’s she getting in?”

“She hoped to be here by four, depending on traffic. She said she’d check into the hotel and call once she’s had a chance to freshen up. She agreed to supper here as long as I didn’t go to any trouble. I said I’d keep it simple, but you know me.”

He began to unload his sack: a packet wrapped in white butcher’s paper, potatoes, cabbage, green onions, and a big jar of mayonnaise. While I watched, he opened the oven door and checked his crock of soldier beans bubbling away with molasses, mustard, and a chunk of salt pork. I could see two loaves of freshly baked bread resting on a rack on the counter. A chocolate layer cake sat in the middle of the kitchen table with a glass dome over it. There was also a bouquet of flowers from his garden—roses and lavender he’d arranged artfully in a china teapot.

“Cake looks fabulous.”

“It’s a twelve-layer torte. I used Nell’s recipe, which was originally our mother’s. We tried it for years, but none of us could duplicate her results. Nell finally managed, but she says it’s a pain. I ended up tossing half a dozen layers before I mastered the thing.”

“What else are you having?”

Henry took out a cast-iron skillet and set it on the stove.

“Fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans. I thought we’d have a little picnic on the patio, unless the temperature drops.” He opened his spice cabinet and sorted through the contents, taking down a bottle of dried dill. “Why don’t you join us? She’d love to see you.”

“Oh please. Socializing is the last thing she needs. After six hours on the road? Give the woman a drink and let her put her feet up.”

“No need to worry about her. She has energy to spare. She’d be delighted, I’m sure.”

“Let’s just see how it goes. I’m on my way back to the office, but I’ll check in with you again as soon as I get home.”

I’d already decided to decline, but I didn’t want to seem rude. In my opinion, they needed time to themselves. I’d pop my head in and say hi, primarily to satisfy my curiosity about her. She was either widowed or divorced, I wasn’t sure which, but during her last visit, I’d noticed she’d made a number of references to her husband. At one point, when Henry was nursing a bum knee, she’d gone hiking alone, taking her watercolors with her so she could paint a spot in the mountains she and her husband had enjoyed for years. Was she still emotionally entrenched? Whether hubby was dead or alive, I didn’t like the idea. Henry, meanwhile, was busy being nonchalant, perhaps in denial of his feelings or in response to covert signals from her. Of course, there was always the possibility that I was imagining all this, but I didn’t think so. At any rate, I intended to have my supper at Rosie’s, resigned to my usual weekly allotment of her bullying and abuse.

I left Henry to his preparations and went back to the office, where I put a call through to Priscilla Holloway, Reba Lafferty’s parole agent. Nord Lafferty had given me her name and phone number at the end of our appointment. I was already back at my car, opening the driver’s side, when the elderly housekeeper had called from the front door and then hurried down the walk, a photograph in hand.

Winded, she’d said, “Mr. Lafferty forgot to give you this. It’s a photograph of Reba.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that. I’ll return it as soon as we get back.”

“Oh, no need. He said to keep it if you like.”

I thanked her again and tucked the photo into my bag. Now, while I waited for Parole Agent Holloway to answer her phone, I plucked out the photo and studied it again. I’d have preferred something recent. This had been taken when the woman was in her mid-to late twenties and almost puckish in appearance. Her large dark eyes were intent on the camera, her full lips half-parted as though she were on the verge of speaking. Her hair was shoulder-length and dyed blond, but clearly at considerable expense. Her complexion was clear with a hint of blush in her cheeks. After two years of prison fare, she might have packed on a few extra pounds, but I thought I’d recognize her.

On the other end of the line, a woman said, “Holloway.”

“Hi, Ms. Holloway. My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a local private investigator—”

“I know who you are. I had a call from Nord Lafferty, telling me he’d hired you to pick up his daughter.”

“That’s why I’m calling, to clear it with you.”

“Fine. Have at it. It’ll save me the trip. If you’re back in town before three, bring her over to the office. Do you know where I am?”

I didn’t, but she gave me the address.

“See you Monday,” I said.

I spent the rest of the afternoon taking care of paperwork, mostly sorting and filing in a vain attempt to tidy up my desk. I also did some boning up on parole regulations from a pamphlet printed by the California Department of Corrections.

Returning to my apartment for the second time that day, I saw no sign of picnic items on the patio table. Perhaps he’d decided the meal was better served indoors. I crossed to his back door and peeked in. As it turned out, my hopes for their romantic interlude were squelched by William’s presence in the kitchen. Looking aggrieved, Henry sat in his rocking chair with his usual glass of Jack Daniel’s while Mattie nursed a goblet of white wine.

William, two years Henry’s senior, has always looked enough like him to be his twin. His shock of white hair was thinning where Henry’s was still full, but his eyes were the same hot blue and he carried himself with the same erect military bearing. He wore a dapper three-piece suit, his watch chain visible across the front of his vest. I tapped on the glass and Henry motioned me in. William rose to his feet at the sight of me, and I knew he’d remain standing unless I urged him to sit. Mattie rose to greet me, and though we didn’t actually hug, we did clasp hands and exchange an air kiss.

She was in her early seventies, tall and slender, with soft silver hair she wore pulled into a knot on the top of her head. Her earrings glinted in the light—silver, oversize, and artisan-made.

I said, “Hey, Mattie. How are you? You must have arrived right on time.”

“Good to see you. I did.” She wore a coral silk blouse and a long gypsy skirt over flat-heel suede boots. “Will you join us in a glass of wine?”

“I don’t think so, but thanks. I’ve got business to take care of so I have to run.”

Henry’s tone was morose. “Have a glass of wine. Why not? Stay for supper as well. William’s invited himself so what’s the difference? Rosie couldn’t tolerate having him underfoot so she sent him over here.”

William said, “She had a small conniption fit for no reason at all. I’d just returned from the doctor’s office and I knew she’d want to hear the results of my blood work, especially my HDLs. You might want to take a look yourself.” He held the paper out, pointing with significance at the long column of numbers down the right side of the page. My gaze slid past his glucose, sodium, potassium, and chloride levels before I caught the expression on Henry’s face. His eyes were crossed so close to the bridge of his nose I thought they’d trade sides. William was saying, “You can see my LDL-HDL risk ratio is 1.3.”

“Oh, sorry. Is that bad?”

“No, no. The doctor said it was excellent…in light of my medical condition.” William’s voice carried a hint of feebleness suggestive of a weakened state.

“Well, good for you. That’s great.”

“Thank you. I called our brother Lewis and told him as well. His cholesterol is 214, which I think is cause for alarm. He says he’s doing what he can, but he hasn’t had much success. You can pass the paper on to Mattie once you’ve studied it yourself.”

Henry said, “William, would you sit down? You’re giving me a crick in my neck.” He left his rocker and took another wineglass from the kitchen cabinet. He poured wine to the brim and passed the glass to me, slopping some liquid on my hand.

William declined to sit until he’d pulled out my chair. I settled myself with a murmured “Thank you” and then I made a show of running a finger down the column of reference and unit numbers from his doctor’s report. “You’re in good shape,” I remarked as I passed the paper to Mattie.

“Well, I still have palpitations, but the doctor’s adjusting my medication. He says I’m amazing for a man my age.”

“If you’re in such terrific health, how come you’re off to the urgent care center every other day?” Henry snapped.

William blinked placidly at Mattie. “My brother’s careless with his health and won’t acknowledge that some of us are proactive.”

Henry made a snorting sound.

William cleared his throat. “Well now. On to a new subject since Henry’s apparently unable to handle that one. I hope this is not too personal, but Henry mentioned your husband is deceased. Do you mind my asking how he was taken?”

Henry was clearly exasperated. “You call that a different subject? It’s the same one—death and disease. Can’t you think of anything else?”

“I wasn’t addressing you,” William replied before returning his attention to Mattie. “I hope the topic isn’t too painful.”

“Not at this point. Barry died six years ago of heart failure. I believe cardiac ischemia is the term they used. He taught jewelry making at the San Francisco Art Institute. He was a very talented man, though a bit of an eccentric.”

William was nodding. “Cardiac ischemia. I know the term well. From the Greek, ischein, meaning ‘quench’ or ‘seize,’ combined with haima, or ‘blood.’ A German pathology professor first introduced that term in the mid- 1800s. Rudolf Virchow. A remarkable man. What age was your husband?”

“William,” Henry sang.

Mattie smiled. “Really, Henry. I’m not sensitive about this. He died two days shy of his seventieth birthday.”

William winced. “Pity when a man’s struck down in his prime. I myself have suffered several episodes of angina, which I’ve miraculously survived. I was discussing my heart condition with Lewis, just two days ago by phone. You remember our brother, I’m sure.”

“Of course. I hope he and Nell and Charles are all in good health.”

“Excellent,” William said. He shifted in his chair, lowering his voice. “What about your husband? Did he have any warning prior to his fatal attack?”

“He’d been having chest pains, but he refused to see the doctor. Barry was a fatalist. He believed you check out when your time is up regardless what precautions you take. He compared longevity to an alarm clock that God sets the moment you’re born. None of us knows when the little bell will ring, but he didn’t see the point in trying to second-guess the process. He enjoyed life immensely, I’ll say that about him. Most folks in my family don’t make it to the age of sixty, and they’re miserable every minute, dreading the inevitable.”

“Sixty! Is that right? That’s astonishing. Is there a genetic factor in play?”

“I don’t think so. It’s a little bit of everything. Cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, chronic pulmonary disease…”

William put his hands on his chest. I hadn’t seen him so happy since he’d had the flu. “COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The very term brings back memories. I was stricken with a lung condition in my youth—”

Henry clapped his hands. “Okay, fine. Enough said on that subject. Why don’t we eat?”

He moved to the refrigerator and took out a clear glass bowl piled with coleslaw, which he plunked on the table with rather more force than was absolutely necessary. The chicken he’d fried was piled on a platter on the counter, probably still warm. He placed that in the center of the table with a pair of serving tongs. The squat little crockery pot now sat on the back of the stove, emitting the fragrance of tender beans and bay leaf. He removed serving utensils from a ceramic jug and then took down four dinner plates, which he handed to William, perhaps in hopes of distracting his attention while he brought the rest of the dinner to the table. William set a plate at each place while he quizzed Mattie at length about her mother’s death from acute bacterial meningitis.

Over supper Henry steered the conversation into neutral territory. We went through ritual questions about Mattie’s drive down from San Francisco, traffic, road conditions, and matters of that sort, which gave me ample opportunity to observe her. Her eyes were a clear gray and she wore very little makeup. She had strong features, with nose, cheekbones, and jaw as pronounced and well proportioned as a model’s. Her skin showed signs of sun damage, and it lent her complexion a ruddy glow. I pictured her out in the fields for hours with her paint box and easel.

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"Grafton’s alphabet thrillers just keep getting better." —USA Today

"Should a contest be held to name the most credible private eye in mystery fiction, Kinsey Millhone would certainly rank at or near the top. The central figure in Sue Grafton’s long-running series conveys a verisimilitude, in both her professional and private lives, that makes most of her competitors seem like cartoons." —The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Grafton, as usual, creates believable and enduring characters and a strong sense of place in her town of Santa Teresa circa 1987." —Publishers Weekly

"Sue Grafton is brillant. We'd follow Kinsey Millhone anywhere." —Newsday

"A tale of love gone right and wrong and every which way in between. R is for Ricochet will have fans purring contentedly." —Kirkus Review

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