She looked Danny in the eye and he felt his stomach lurch, promptly forgetting his next question. Lyle Renalto smoothly took advantage of the silence.
“Conchita, the Jakeses’ housekeeper, told me that all Angela’s jewelry was taken and a number of valuable miniatures. Is that correct?”
Before Danny could respond that he wasn’t in the habit of leaking sensitive information about a murder inquiry to “family friends,” Angela blurted out angrily, “I don’t care about the damn jewelry! Andrew’s dead! I loved my husband, Detective.”
“I’m sure you did, Mrs. Jakes.”
“Please find the animal who did this.”
Danny cast his mind back to last night’s crime scene: the blood-soaked floor, the old man’s all-but-severed head, the disgusting, obscene scratches on Angela Jakes’s thighs, buttocks and breasts.
Animal was the right word.
THERE WAS NO SIGN OF THE pretty nurse outside Angela Jakes’s room. As Danny stood waiting for the elevator, Lyle Renalto oiled up to him. “You don’t have a very high opinion of attorneys, do you, Detective?”
The lawyer’s tone had switched from hostile to ingratiating. Danny preferred hostile. Nevertheless, it was an unusually perceptive comment.
“What makes you think that, Mr. Renalto?”
Lyle smiled. “Your face. Unless, of course, it’s just me, personally, whom you dislike.”
Danny said nothing. Lyle went on.
“You’re not alone, you know. My father hated lawyers with a passion. He was crushingly disappointed when I graduated law school. I come from a seafaring family, you see. As far as Pa was concerned, it was the United States Naval Academy or nothing.”
Danny thought, Why’s he telling me this?
The elevator arrived. Danny stepped inside and pressed G but Lyle stuck an arm out to hold the doors. His film-star features hardened and his cat’s eyes flashed in warning. “Angela Jakes is a close friend of mine. I won’t have you hounding her.”
Danny lost his temper. “This is a murder inquiry, Mr. Renalto, not a game of twenty questions. Mrs. Jakes is my key witness. In fact right now, she and her maid are my only witnesses.”
“Angela didn’t see the man. She told you that already.”
Danny frowned. “I thought Mr. Jakes was a close friend of yours too. I’d have thought you’d want us to find his killer?”
“Of course I do,” snapped Lyle.
“Or perhaps you weren’t quite as close to Andrew Jakes as you were to his wife. Is that it?”
This seemed to amuse Lyle Renalto. “For a detective, I must say you’re a pretty poor judge of people. You think Angel and I are lovers?”
The attorney smirked. “No.”
Danny desperately wanted to believe him.
“This is a triple felony, Mr. Renalto,” he said, removing the attorney’s arm from the elevator door. “Rape, robbery and murder. I strongly suggest you do not attempt to obstruct my investigation by coming between me and the witness.”
“Is that a threat, Detective?”
“Call it what you like,” said Danny.
Renalto opened his mouth to respond but the elevator doors closed, denying him the last word. Judging from his twitching jaw and the look of frustration etched on his handsome face, this wasn’t something that happened very often.
“Good-bye, Mr. Renalto.”
FIVE MINUTES LATER, BACK ON WILSHIRE Boulevard, Danny’s cell phone rang.
“Henning. What have you got for me?”
“Not much, sir, I’m afraid. Nothing in the pawnshops, nothing online.”
Danny frowned. “It’s still early days.”
“Yes, sir. I also checked out Jakes’s will.”
Danny brightened. “And?”
“The wife gets everything. No other family. No charitable causes.”
“How much is everything?”
“After taxes, around four hundred million dollars.”
Danny whistled. Four hundred million dollars. That was quite a motive for murder. Not that Angela Jakes was a suspect. The poor woman could hardly have raped and beaten herself. Even so, Danny thought back to the words Angela had murmured repeatedly to herself last night: I have no life.
With four hundred million in the bank, she certainly had a life now. Any life she wanted.
“Anything else?” he asked his sergeant.
“Just one thing. The jewelry. A little over a million bucks’ worth was taken from the safe and Mrs. Jakes’s jewelry box.”
Danny waited for the punch line. “And…?”
“None of it was insured. Seven figures’ worth of diamonds, and you don’t add it to your homeowner’s policy? Seems strange, don’t you think?”
It did seem strange. But Danny’s mind wasn’t focused on Andrew Jakes’s insurance oversights. “Listen,” he said, “I want you to run a check for me on a guy named Lyle Renalto. R-E-N-A-L-T-O. Says he was Old Man Jakes’s lawyer.”
“Sure,” said Detective Henning. “What am I looking for, exactly?”
Detective Danny McGuire said honestly, “That’s the problem. I have no idea.”
THE LITTLE GIRL GAZED OUT OF the carriage window at streets teeming with filth and life and noise and stench and poverty and laughter, and felt sure of one thing: she would die in this place.
She had been sent here to die.
She had grown up in luxury, in privilege and above all in peace, in a sprawling palace in the desert. The only daughter of a nobleman and his most favored wife, she had been named Miriam, after the mother of the great prophet, and Bahia, which meant “most fair,” and from her earliest infancy had known nothing but praise and love. She slept in a room with gold leaf on the walls, in a bed of intricately carved ivory. She wore silks woven in Ouarzazate and dyed in Essaouira with ocher and indigo and madder, shipped in at great expense from the Near East. She had servants to dress her, to bathe her, to feed her, and more servants to educate her in the Koran and in music and poetry, the ancient poetry of her desert ancestors. She was beautiful inside and out, as sweet-faced and sweet-tempered a child as any noble father could wish for, a jewel prized above all the rubies and amethysts and emeralds that adorned the necks and wrists of all four of her father’s wives.
The palace, with its cool, shady courtyards, its fountains and birdsong, its plates of sugared almonds and silver pots of sugary mint tea, was Miriam’s whole world. It was a place of pleasure and peace, where she played with her siblings, sheltered from the punishing desert sun and all the other dangers of life beyond its thick stone walls. Had it not been for one terrible, unexpected event, Miriam would no doubt have lived out the rest of her days in this blissfully gilded prison. As it was, at the age of ten, her idyllic childhood ground to an abrupt and final halt. Miriam’s mother, Leila Bahia, left her father for another man, riding off into the desert one night never to return.
Miriam’s father, Abdullah, was a good and honorable man, but Leila’s betrayal broke him. As Abdullah withdrew increasingly from life and the day-to-day business of running his household, the other wives stepped in. Always jealous of the younger, more beautiful Leila and the favoritism Abdullah showed to their child, the wives began a campaign to get rid of Miriam. Led by Rima, Abdullah’s ambitious first wife, they prevailed on their husband to send the child away.
She will grow into a serpent, like her mother, and bring ruin on us all.
She looks just like her.
I’ve already seen her making eyes at the servant boys, and even at Kasim, her own brother!
In the end, too weak to resist, and too heartbroken to look his favorite daughter in the face—it was true, Miriam did look exactly like Leila, right down to the soft curve of her eyelashes—Abdullah acquiesced to Rima’s demands. Miriam would be sent to live with one of his brothers, Sulaiman, a wealthy cloth merchant in Marrakech.
The child wept as the carriage clattered through the palace gates and she left the only home she had ever known for the first, and last, time. Ahead, the desert sands stretched out before her, apparently endless, a bleak but beautiful canvas of oranges and yellows, modulating from deep rust to the palest buttermilk. It was a three-day ride to the city, and until the walls of the ancient battlements loomed into view, they passed nothing but a few nomads’ huts and the occasional merchant caravan weaving its weary way across the emptiness. Miriam had started to wonder if perhaps there was no city. If it was all a wicked plan by her stepmothers to throw her out into the wilderness, like they did to criminals in the poems Mama used to read her. But then, suddenly, she was here, inside this anthill of humanity, this wild mishmash of beauty and ugliness, of minarets and slums, of luxury and destitution, of lords and lepers.
This is it, thought the terrified child, deafened by the noise of the clamoring hands banging on the carriage as they passed, trying to sell her dates or cumin or ugly little wooden dolls. The apocalypse. The mob. They’re going to kill me.