"A Cadillac Fleetwood? Seriously?"
Bekka was grimly amused by my potential choice in new vehicles.
"Is it gonna have curb feelers, Lenny? Will you drive around with the left blinker on all the time? Will the climate control be forever wedged at eighty?"
I said, "Hey, if people look at the car and assume some old guy is driving it, that's fine with me. Remember this car is stealth: armored body, bulletproof glass, and a hot motor. Between the weight and the engine modifications this thing is gonna get crap mileage, but I don't care. We'll be safer in it than we ever would be in the Acura." I lay my menu on the edge of the table.
"Is this decision because the Acura is such a bullet magnet?" Bekka asked over the rim of her wine glass.
"Partially. I swear that thing is cursed. Also, as comfortable as the Fury is, nothing beats a Cadillac. We should have a car we can relax in. I'd say being in a car that people can shoot at and it doesn't matter is pretty damn relaxing. And I'm putting in one hell of a stereo, too."
"Are you going to sell the Acura privately, or use it as a trade-in?"
I pondered this. "Probably trade it in. The dealership won't ask as many questions as a private purchaser would. Admittedly, the Acura has never been in an accident, it's just been perforated by bullet holes, but still.... I'd get better money from a private sale, but finding someone to buy it after they learn about the number of times it's been shot up ain't likely. Better to just bring it to a dealership and take the loss."
Bekka sighed, then giggled. "If you think you'll be happy driving the monster you described, then go for it. I think you'll miss the Acura within ten minutes of making the trade, but that's my opinion. So does Rico really think he can have the modifications you're wanting made?"
"Yeah. The glass and plating will be done in house, and if he needs to he'll do the engine tweaking in his own shop in Anaheim. Any speed shop will help me tighten up the suspension, get it at least as flingable as the Fury is. And I'm dropping at least three grand on the stereo."
The waitress came up and we ordered. After another round of drinks came, Bekka said, "You're building one brute of a car."
I sure hope so," I said.
After dinner we drove over to our semi-completed house in Encinitas, sitting on top of a bluff overlooking the beach and ocean. The house was about two thirds done, the major structural bits now completed. There was still a ton of tile to be laid, plumbing, painting, the roof.... We were down to the details, and it felt good. Within six weeks the fencing would come down and we could put our key in the lock of the main entrance, feel the click, and walk in. Our home.
It would be an empty home at first. There was far, far more space than we had furniture to fill it. We'd be haunting furniture showrooms, trying to find pieces that we both agreed upon. (I saw a black leather sofa that I thought looked great. Bekka hated it. "It looks like it needs ankle straps, and a pocket to stash handcuffs and drool gags." We finally chose a grey cloth sofa.)
We liked to come to the building site in the early evening, after all the workers had gone home. We had a key to the fence gate, so we'd go on in, walk to the bluff side of the house (the "front") lean back against the empty hot tub, smoke a couple cigarettes, and watch the sun set into the Pacific.
We popped the padlock and went on in. There was a light breeze off the ocean, carrying its own unique scent. Much closer to us I could smell someone baking a frozen pizza. I lit a cigarette and put it out of my mind.
We stood there, grooving on the setting sun. In the dying light I noticed something, a pile of cloth, sitting off to our right and out near the edge of the bluff. The construction workers must have left something out. I pointed it out to Bekka. "Go find out what it is, maybe lock it back up if we can," she said.
I went to inspect the pile. It didn't take long for me to realize the pile had legs, and arms, and a head. The head was bent at a ludicrous angle, completely unnatural. I started to call Bekka over, then stopped her. I told her what I'd found. "Just goddamn peachy," was her only response.
"One of us needs to go to a pay phone," I said. "It makes no matter to me who does it."
"I'll go," said Bekka. "Should I call Encinitas PD, or the sheriffs, or 911? Does it matter?"
"Call PD. The person has been dead for hours, there's no real emergency. I want them to hurry up just so we can get out and go home."
Bekka got in the Fury and took off. I went and looked at the corpse again, processing what was there. It was a woman, about 35, in a blue dress. Her neck was horribly broken, as though she'd done a nose dive off the roof of the house. There was no blood that I could see. Touching the neck showed her to be ice cold. Her eyes were open, so I tried to do something about that. No luck, they kept popping open. I sighed and lit another cigarette.
Bekka got back from calling the cops about thirty seconds ahead of the first cop. He was a bright young sport who didn't look any older than me. He took one look at the body and got on his radio, talking in ten-code the entire time. He asked if I had touched anything. Of course not, I replied.
"What are you two doing here?" he asked.
"This is our house under construction," I said. "We come here often to see what progress is being made and to watch the sun set."
"Do you recognize the woman?"
"No," we both said.
A few more vehicles of officialdom arrived, including Donner's replacement, a man named Ross. He shook hands with me and Bekka and began playing twenty questions.
"How long have you had this property?" Ross asked.
"Over four months," I said. "There was a gap between purchasing the lot and starting construction because we were having trouble with our financing."
"You say you don't know the woman?"
"Why did you come here on this particular night?"
"The same reason we always come here, to check progress and watch the sun set."
"Did you notice anything unusual when you came in the gate?"
"Nothing.... Although in retrospect, it's strange for her to be inside of the fencing. To get through the gate, you need a key to the padlock. She sure doesn't look like she climbed a fence to get in."
Ross glared at me. "Anything else?" he asked.
"Yeah. If this was a suicide, she picked a damn unreliable way to do it. It's only about forty feet from our roof to the ground. Also, to end up where she did would have taken a good running start. If she had landed in just about any other position besides on her head she would have gotten pretty banged up, but she wouldn't have died. So if it was a suicide, she was extremely lucky."
He finished writing and said, "You've thought this through, haven't you?"
I shrugged. "Just going with what made sense."
Ross said, "You're Lenny Schneider and you're his wife Bekka. You know, before he left, Lieutenant Donner told me to keep an eye on you two whenever you show up. Here I am with a corpse on my hands, and it's on property you own. Now I know why Donner said to watch you. If this isn't suspicious then I don't know what is. So you have a better story than the one you've told me?"
Bekka said, "What did Donner say about us?"
"Merely that you bear watching."
Bekka scoffed. "Yeah, well, you can save yourself hassle and disregard Donner's instructions. I was nearly stabbed to death when we were still living in the Olivehurst complex. Donner decided that Lenny did it, out of the blue, no evidence. It took Lenny finding the guy who almost killed me and bringing him to Donner on a silver platter for Donner to lay off Lenny. Shit, Lenny did Donner's job for him.
"Mr. Ross, save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by ignoring what Donner said about Lenny. He's just a businessman, running a perfectly legitimate video production company in La Costa. Lenny also has some poor luck, as demonstrated by what happened here today. But despite what Donner thinks, he's not a criminal."
Ross listened to this with raised eyebrows. Then he lightly applauded and said, "That was spoken like a woman protecting her husband."
"Since that's what I'm doing, I'm glad it came across," said Bekka.
"Perhaps you should take the time to examine the body and get a good idea of the layout here," I said. "Maybe you'll find some detail that I missed. Isn't that what you get paid for?"
"I'll do just that, as soon as I get over the feeling that you're holding something back. I don't know why you would, unless you know more about this death than you let on."
"I know what I've observed, and I've told you all of that."
Ross wiped at his nose and said, "You two stay here. I'll be back with more questions in a minute."
Bekka turned to face me. "Great. We've got a replacement version of Donner on the Encinitas PD."
"Don't get too worked up. He gets paid to be paranoid."
The lab guys finished putting tape around the body. Ross and a uniform hiked up the stairs to the top floor and looked down. Even from there it would have taken some determination to land where the woman did, and it would have meant clearing the railing that ran around the balcony of the top floor. Bekka and I lit cigarettes and waited.
Ross joined us again and asked, "Where's the lock for the gate?"
"Locked to the fence, so it doesn't get lost," I said.
"How many keys are there to that lock?"
"Search me. It's the construction company's lock. They gave us a key so we could do exactly what we did tonight, which is check on their progress and enjoy the view."
Ross said, "You'll need to call your contractor. This is a crime scene so far as I'm concerned, so you won't be getting any work done for a couple of days. Not until I give the okay."
Bekka asked, "How long is the body going to stay there? It gives me the heebie jeebies."
"So long as I get sensible answers out of the two of you, you'll be leaving before she does. You'll need to leave your gate key so we can get in and out. But remember that right now this is a crime scene. You can't come and go as you please, like you're used to."
"I'll answer any questions that you have. Sir."
Ross interviewed us separately, probing us about how we'd spent the evening before heading for the home site, asking us to remember our precise movements once we arrived, and generally giving us the impression that we were being considered as suspects in the woman's death. Our stories remained firm, and he had no choice but to cut us loose after a while. We went to the gate and ducked down under the POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS tape that was now wrapped around our new home. We got in the Fury and headed to Carl's Jr. for milkshakes.
Bekka was feeling blue. "We haven't even moved in to our new home and already there's a death. It's like someone is trying to give us negative karma right off the bat."
I told her, "Look, the cops will do their routine and figure out what happened. For all I know it really was what it looks like, a suicide."
"So why did she choose our place?" asked Bekka.
"How did she get inside the fence to begin with?"
"Baby, I have no idea. I don't feel like putting on my detective costume for this one, to be frank. Unless this Ross asshole starts to lean on us, I'm staying the hell out of this mess."
Bekka sucked at her shake. "Lenny, are we cursed?"
"How so?" I asked, although I knew what she meant.
"We draw rapists, lunatics, fire bombers, zealotic protesters, picketers, would-be mass killers, obsessed fans, murderers, and corpses to wherever we're at. Normal people get away with not having to wear guns. Normal people don't plot escape routes while driving on the freeway. Normal people haven't killed in self defense. Tell me, why did we end up with all the fun?"
"We're just lucky that way," I told her.
"In that case, I'm sick of being lucky," grumbled Bekka. "I want to live a life where I don't sleep with a pistol on my bed side table."
"That's' a dream of mine too. Come on, let's go home and get in the spa."