Grabbing his jacket, he went downstairs, letting himself out into the moist and wintry night. High above the soggy garden, white clouds slowly transformed themselves into spectral horses and mountains and dragons, then pulled apart like cotton to show the glitter of faraway stars.
Perry wondered what the stars were like in Los Angeles — could you even see stars in the smoggy L.A. skies? He wondered why he was thinking about L.A. — and Nick — yet again. Probably because he couldn’t bear to think about San Francisco and Marcel.
He followed the narrow brick path through the maze of overgrown hedges and shrubs that had turned to brambles, until the path gave way to broken steps and then dirt and mud.
The old crooked tower of the dovecote stood before him. In the insubstantial starlight it looked like a witch’s house. It was one of his favorite subjects. He had made several sketches of it and painted it twice — even selling one of the paintings. He considered the structure.
It was a pretty good hiding place, really, that relatively small cylindrical tower with its interior walls made up of boulins or pigeonholes — assuming someone didn’t have allergies or asthma. Just the idea of that dank darkness made his chest tighten uncomfortably.
But there was no reason to believe Shane Moran and his gang would have dumped their ill-gotten gains before escaping into the woods — what sense would that make?
The bushes rustled behind him, and he whirled, heart pounding in terror. When his eyes verified that there was, in fact, someone standing there — a bulky black shape in the darkness — he thought he might actually faint.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” Rudy Stein demanded. He sounded as shaken as Perry felt.
Perry’s heart resumed beating as he recognized the other man. “Walking.”
Stein said aggressively, trying to cover his own fright, “Funny time for a walk, if you ask me!”
Perry squared his shoulders. “I could say the same to you.”
There was a surprised quality to Stein’s silence. At last he gave a funny laugh. “Yeah, well, you better watch your step,” he said, pointing downward.
Perry looked down and realized he was standing in a puddle.
Stein gave another of those curt laughs. “Have a good night,” he said, and strode off in the direction of the river.
Perry gazed after him, but Stein’s figure was soon swallowed by the shadows.
The night closed around him again and he shivered. That was enough fresh air for one evening.
He made his way back to the house, went up to Watson’s rooms — again conscious of the strained silence within the empty halls — and prepared for bed.
Flossing his teeth, Perry weighed his options for the next day. Running into Stein seemed to confirm his suspicion that something was going on in the old house, and while it wasn’t really his business, the fact that a dead body had been dumped in his bathtub did sort of elicit his interest.
He decided to visit the historical society the next day and see what he could find on the house. He could try church records too. They were always useful in detective novels, although he wasn’t sure what he would be looking for in this case. Records of births and deaths would be the usual thing; perhaps Shane Moran had been a local boy. That would give him possible ideas for where Moran might have stashed his loot.
Perry blinked sleepily at the turn his thoughts had taken.
Shane Moran’s loot? He wasn’t planning to spend the rest of his vacation treasure hunting, was he? How had he gone from curiosity about the history of the house to wondering about Shane Moran’s final heist?
He rinsed and spat water into the sink, turned off the taps, and returned to the unfamiliar bedroom, climbing into the enormous bed. He turned on the electric blanket, snapped out the light and stared up at the ceiling. Shadows flicked across the pale surface as the tree branches outside the house were shaken by gusts of wind.
The next storm front was moving in fast.
For a time he lay in the darkness, listening to the wind and the old house creaking and settling for the night.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish