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Chapter 6





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Turning out of Mary's street, I realized I had to go right past the place where Maureen's three ex-roommates lived, and decided to chance it that one or more of them might be home. I parked and climbed the stairs to the garage apartment and felt the sun beat warmly on my back. Were we headed for a hot summer? The main door was open, so I rapped on the screen doorframe and called out, "Hello, anybody home?"

A young woman in a short robe, toweling her hair, arrived. I introduced myself and asked, "Are you Ruth or Nadine or Clare?"

She smiled. "I'm Nadine." I explained my errand, and she held the door open.

"That's terrible! God, I hate to hear of rape! Come on in."

I walked in and immediately felt stifled. The ceilings were low and probably uninsulated. The windows were few, small and faced the wrong direction to catch the prevailing breeze. The apartment smelled of steam from a recent hot shower, shampoo, deodorant and an elusive scent of cucumbers.

Two kitty-cornered single beds doubled as couches in the living room, and pretty well filled it except for a small coffee table and a bureau, its top crowded with a TV, a small CD player and a lamp. A tiny kitchenette huddled in a corner, jammed with a cube refrigerator, micro, toaster and coffeemaker. I could see into the bedroom, which held two single beds separated by a small table with lamp. I assumed another bureau might be beyond my sight. A tiny bathroom showed a stall shower, steam-coated mirror and a sink about the size of a cereal bowl. The edge of the toilet peeked coyly around the half-open door.

Nadine kicked the bathroom door closed and pointed toward a figure reclined on one of the couches. The figure wore shorts, a halter and what looked to be a plaster mask, covering her entire face except for a round mouth-circle and two green circles where I hoped her eyes were. "This is Clare."

"Hi, Clare. I'm Alex."

"Hi," Clare responded. She tried to smile, but the plaster cracked alarmingly and sent a shower of small fragments onto the pillow. She removed two thick slices of cucumber from her eyes, thereby solving that little mystery, and sat up. "Did somebody really get raped?"

I said yes, but did not identify Maureen as the victim. I merely said I was interviewing people who had been at the Bitter End and might have seen something helpful. Clare and Nadine tried to be obliging, but had little to offer. No one had tried to join their table. No one showed special interest in any of them. No one had acted strangely. "At least, no stranger than always," Nadine had laughed.

They more or less confirmed the timeline Maureen had given me, and that was that. By that point, I felt pretty steamy myself and was glad to leave them.

In the car I put down all the windows and took deep breaths. The thought of three people living in that warren was claustrophobic. If you factored in Maureen, it took on the characteristics of a string quartet performing in an upper berth.

Now running late, I picked up Fargo and headed for the cottage. Once there, we went about our chores. He checked out every square inch, looking for Cindy and/or Wells, her young cat, a little black beauty with three white socks and one white spot that looked as if she'd dipped her chin in the milk. According to orders, I took the package of chicken breasts out of the freezer. In a burst of domesticity, I removed the packaging, put the meat in a shallow bowl and splashed some marinade on it.

I called Sonny and delivered Mary's message regarding the boat trailer. He said "Yeah, yeah, yeah" at the end of it, which irritated me somewhat.

"Look, Sonny, you begged me to do your dirty work and I did it. Now please at least do what she asks. If you don't, I'm the one who'll pay for it. Wash and dry that damn trailer or don't use it at all!"

"Oh, hell, Alex, you know I'd wash off the salt water and either dry it or park it in the sun, anyway. I don't need to be lectured like a twelve-year-old. Does she want rental for it, too?"

"Of course she doesn't, but if you're smart, you'll take her a lovely pot of spring flowers."

"Oh. Yeah. Okay. Thanks for calling." He rang off and I smiled a very sisterly smile. Sonny prided himself on good manners. It was a real blow when he had to be reminded of something. Fargo and I moved to the backyard, where I dumped some briquettes in the grill and lit it, and Fargo surveyed the scene and then looked at me questioningly. I answered his question. "Cindy will be here soon, and I imagine Wells is up at Aunt Mae's being spoiled." At the mention of Aunt Mae, Fargo looked thoughtfully up the slope toward her house, apparently decided the walk was not worth it and lay down on the grass.

I sat down in one of the lawn chairs, propped my feet on another and had that first bitingly cold bitter swallow of freshly opened beer, lit cigarette number four and decided life was good.

It got better shortly. Cindy arrived in a smiling TGIF mood. We made dinner and ate it in the kitchen. A breeze had come up, and it held a leftover spring chill somewhere around the edges. We lingered over coffee and swapped accounts of our day. Cindy was, of course, horrified at the tale of Maureen's rape. I cautioned her to silence and she nodded.

"I understand. She still needs privacy around this. Although she'd better be prepared for lots of publicity when you catch him."

I was touched by her faith. "That may not be tonight," I said lightly. "She really hasn't yet come up with much to go on." I sipped my coffee thoughtfully. "Cindy, let me ask you. If you knew you had in some way been drugged and were in the car with a woman who frightened you, and who you were sure had thoughts of raping you or harming you in some manner, would you say later, that with the wind blowing through her hair, she looked like a beautiful pirate?"

"No." Her answer was quick and firm. "I would not. In an effort to describe her, I would mention the hair color. And I would maybe say she had an attractive face. Or maybe—yes, I'd more likely say she looked like a movie actress, something like that. The beautiful pirate bit sounds too romantic, like she found him thrilling . .. maybe a little scary, but thrilling."

She stood up and took a small melon from the refrigerator. She cut two slices and turned back to the table. "And there's something else. Who'd be driving this fancy, expensive car with the top down, on a windy and cold, wet night?"

I stared at her, fork in hand. It made no sense. And Super Sleuth here hadn't thought of it. Then she gave me further reason to wonder which of us was the detective.

"The two things," she explained, "almost sound as if Maureen is remembering a previous time with him, when she wasn't afraid. When it was a lovely night with the wind in his hair, and his pirate profile didn't frighten her. Maybe the drugs and the trauma have got her mixed up."

I blew out a deep breath. It made sense. Maybe Maureen really knew the guy and couldn't bring herself to realize it. I'd have to figure out a way to get around that with her.

Cindy scraped an errant seed off the side of her melon. "Have you any idea where he took her?"

"Not really. Maureen remembered some steps and a light colored building. Trish thought it might be the old icehouse condos. And it has to be someplace near Ptown or just possibly North Truro. He wouldn't want to be carting her around passed out or have the drug wearing off. There's a big motel over near Pilgrim Heights. And there are plenty of big white houses in town. But motels or B&B's have people around. It sounds as if she could barely walk . . . if that."

I finished my melon and Cindy picked up the plates. "Most people would probably assume Maureen and her boyfriend were just drunk, if they paid any attention at all. But, Alex, I keep going back to John Frost. Why did they go to him instead of the police? No offense to Sonny, but is there any reason to think the cops would mishandle it?"

"I can't think of any. They've all had various types of sensitivity training. If there was reason to think Maureen was especially vulnerable, I'm sure Sonny would have had Jeanine handle at least the opening phase of it. She's a good cop and a very warm, caring woman. No, they wouldn't screw up." I got up, too, and poured us some coffee. We both went back to the table and I lit cigarette number... could it be six? For shame! Naughty!

"Uh-huh." Cindy still wasn't happy. "So they probably went to Frost, thinking of suing for some kind of damages?"

"I assume so."

"But, Alex, how do they know the rapist has any money to give them?"

I had no answer for that one. "Just hoping, I guess." It sounded weak.

Cindy smiled. Then she changed course. "What's your schedule for tomorrow?"

"Busy, I'm afraid. I need to talk to the bartender at the Bitter End and the doctor who treated her, if he's available."

She nodded, amicably enough. "I figured something like that.

Just remember, Lainey and Cassie and Trish and Sonny plus Peter and the Wolf are coming to dinner."

I silently blessed her for not going into some diatribe about my working on a weekend. "I'm sorry. I'll get finished as fast as I can. What do you need me to do?"

"Just make sure we have whatever forms of alcohol we may need, plus mixers and ice. I can handle the rest of it. Oh, check the charcoal. Sonny's bringing steaks to go with the lobster."

"Going first-class, huh? Oh..." I had a sudden thought. "Uh, where are we eating?"

She laughed. "The house." I liked this woman. It was never your house or my cottage. It was just the house or the cottage, a quiet statement that we were both at home in both dwellings. "They're due at seven, so please be home in time to sit down and have a quiet drink with me before they get there." She gave me a kiss that promised nice things later.

And Cindy did not break promises.

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