Danny pulled on a pair of sweatpants and stumbled into the kitchen to fix himself a strong cup of coffee. It was still dark outside. The tree-lined, suburban street in West Hollywood where Danny had lived for the past six years was empty and as silent as the grave. Was Angela still asleep? Danny pictured her, dark hair spilling over a soft white pillow, her glorious body warm and naked beneath Lyle Renalto’s sheets. Was she in the guest bedroom? Christ, he hoped so.
He remembered Lyle’s contemptuous comment at the hospital: “For a detective, you’re a pretty poor judge of people. Angela and I aren’t lovers.”
Detective Danny McGuire hoped with all his heart that Renalto’s words were true.
He looked at his watch: 5:20.
If I drive over there now, they’ll still be asleep. I can see for myself which beds were slept in.
He jumped into the shower.
IT WAS SIX A.M. ON THE dot. The same uniformed maid who had been on duty yesterday answered the door. Danny thought, Poor woman. How early does she have to be at work?
The maid looked at Danny and thought, Poor man. How early does he have to be at work?
“I’m looking for Mrs. Jakes.”
“Mrs. Jakes not here.”
“Okay, look, I know Mr. Renalto’s your boss. And I know he’s not exactly thrilled about my questioning Mrs. Jakes, especially at this time in the morning. But this is a murder investigation. So I need you to please wake Mrs. Jakes, and Mr. Renalto if you have to.”
“No, you don’t understand. She not here. She leave last night. You’re welcome to come in and search the house if you no believe me.”
Unfortunately Danny did believe her. His heart began to race unpleasantly.
“Left? Where did she go?”
“I don’t know. She have a suitcase. Mr. Renalto drive her to the airport.”
Danny’s career flashed before his eyes. I should have come straight back here yesterday. I would have caught them. Now my key witness has flown the coop to God only knows where.
“What about Renalto? Did he leave with her?”
The maid looked surprised by the question. “Of course not. Mr. Renalto, he is here. He is asleeping upstairs.”
Danny pushed past her, bounding up the ornately carved staircase two steps at a time. Double doors at the end of the corridor clearly led to the master bedroom. He kicked them open. The sleeping figure under the covers didn’t stir.
“Okay, asshole. Where is she?” Danny marched toward the bed. “And you’d better have a good fucking answer or I am going to book you for obstruction of a murder investigation and personally see to it that you never practice law in this town again.”
Grabbing the heavy silk counterpane, Danny yanked it off the bed.
And really, really wished he hadn’t.
TWO YEARS EARLIER…
SOFIA BASTA HUNG UP THE PHONE and hugged herself with happiness.
Her husband was coming home. He’d be here in an hour.
Husband. How she loved saying the word, turning it over in her mind and on her tongue like a piece of succulent candy. They were married now. Actually married. Frankie, her only friend through the long, dark, desperate years in New York. Frankie, the most beautiful, brilliant, perfect man on earth. Frankie, who could have had anyone, had chosen her, Sofia, to be his bride. Most mornings she still woke up and felt nervously for her wedding band, unable quite to believe her good fortune. But then she reminded herself.
I am Sofia Basta, great-granddaughter of Miriam, a Moroccan princess. I’m special. Why shouldn’t he have chosen me?
Their apartment was modest, a two-bedroom condo in the Beverly Hills postal district, but Sofia had made it warm and welcoming, delighting in creating the perfect nest for Frankie to come home to. Brightly colored cushions and throws adorned the couch in the living room, which was flooded all day long with blazing California sunshine. How Sofia loved that sunshine, after eighteen grim, overcast years in New York! The grimy city, the loneliness of the children’s home. Sofia’s life had been a nightmare back then. But it all seemed like a dream now, a story that had happened to someone else.
And what a story it was.
Sofia’s mother, Christina, had been a drug addict and sometime hooker, as ill equipped to take care of her children as she was to take care of herself. But it had not always been like that. Christina Basta grew up in great wealth, first in Morocco and later in Paris, where her parents sent her to an exclusive girls’ boarding school. Tall and slender as a gazelle with creamy skin and mellow, searching brown eyes, the spitting image of her grandmother Miriam, Christina quickly caught the eye of the Parisian modeling scouts who hung around the Rue Du Faubourg looking for fresh talent. By sixteen years of age Christina was working almost full-time. By eighteen she was living in New York, sharing a model apartment with three other girls from her agency and indulging in all the myriad pleasures the city had to offer.
Christina Basta’s burnout was rapid and catastrophic. First came cocaine. Later it was heroin. At twenty, after one missed job too many, Christina was dropped by her agency. By now estranged from her family, and too proud to ask for help, she turned instead to “boyfriends” to fund her ever-growing habit—in reality dealers and pimps, who dragged her deeper and deeper into hell.
Sofia and her twin sister, Ella, were the result of Christina’s third pregnancy. Christina had tried to abort them, as she had the other babies, but the procedure was botched and both babies survived. Born in the Berwind Maternity Clinic in Harlem, and abandoned there by their mother that same night, the Basta twins spent a few short weeks together before Ella, the prettier baby of the two, was adopted by a local doctor and his wife. From then on, Sofia began her life as she was destined to continue it: alone.
But not completely.
When Sofia was six years old and living at the St. Mary’s Home for Girls in Brooklyn, the staff at the home received word, via a top-flight Madison Avenue law firm no less, that Sofia’s mother had died. Christina had left a “small bequest” to her daughters. As the doctor and his family had moved away, taking Ella with them, it was decided that the bequest should go to Sofia.
“It’s not very substantial,” the lawyer explained, to the great disappointment of the head of St. Mary’s. “It may have sentimental value, though, perhaps when the child is older. There’s a book, an old book. And a letter.”
The book was the one that recounted the love story of Miriam and Jibril, which a few years later Sofia and Frankie would spend so many happy hours poring over together. The letter was from Sofia’s mother, explaining that the book was not some legend, but the true story of one of Sofia’s ancestors, a relic of a past that Sofia had never known, and detailing the circumstances of her birth.
Frankie had seen the letter. Sofia had shown it to him in her teens. He was the only one she trusted and he understood that the book and the letter changed everything for the orphaned Sofia. Overnight, she had gone from being nobody, the unwanted spawn of a hooker and her pimp, to being somebody, somebody special, a royal Moroccan princess tragically separated from her beautiful twin. Of course, the other kids in the home made fun of her, told her that her book was a load of horseshit, that there was no twin, no exotic royal past. But Frankie helped Sofia see past their envy and their mockery. He was her rock, her salvation, her only friend, and the book was her most treasured possession.
To this day, Sofia wasn’t sure what had drawn Frankie to her. Perhaps it was that he was an orphan too, a genuine orphan, like her. Most of the kids in the home had families, just not ones that could take care of them. Frankie and Sofia had no one. But in other ways they were wildly different. Where Sofia had always been lonely and friendless, envied by the girls in the home for her beauty and harassed by the boys for the same reason, Frankie was adored by everyone, staff and kids alike. Handsome—my God, he was so handsome!—smart, funny, charismatic, he could make you feel special merely by casting his ice-blue eyes in your direction.
Frankie cast his eyes in Sofia’s direction a lot. But not in the same, frightening, predatory way that the other boys did. Frankie’s attentions were nobler, gentler somehow, and infinitely more precious than the others’ testosterone-fueled advances. Sofia was flattered but frustrated. She longed for him to touch her, but he never made a move.
She had begun to despair that he ever would. And then one day a miracle happened. They were reading the book together in the rec room, as they so often did. Frankie loved the book almost as much as Sofia. He thought Miriam’s story was wonderfully romantic and questioned Sofia endlessly about her family history and her long-lost twin, Ella. But on this day, he asked a different question. The most wonderful, unexpected, unhoped-for question. And of course Sofia had said yes, and Frankie had promised her that as soon as they were married, he would be with her, physically, as a man and wife should be.