It was almost seven when I made my way back to the parking garage holding my keys splayed between the fingers of my right hand in case I needed a weapon. My bag of research weighed heavy on my left shoulder. Just as I climbed into my Jeep, the cell phone rang. It wasn't a number I recognized. I hit the door lock and opened the phone.
“Alice? You know who this is.”
It was Sunglasses.
“I’m gonna give you directions to my house.”
“Why?” Why voluntarily go to a thug’s house?
“Cause I owe you.”
“You don’t.” My heart went thump.
“You helped me big time. Now I’m gonna help you. You need money for a lawyer.”
“It’s too late. I’m due in court the day after tomorrow.”
“A new lawyer can ask for a delay so he can get up to speed. Be at my house in an hour and I’ll set you up.” Sunglasses gave me the address and directions. Alice Harte, thugette.
Let me count the ways this could go bad – Sunglasses wants to eliminate me as a witness before he murders Leslie, the police are watching Sunglasses and I’ll get caught up in his arrest, I could be an accessory to Leslie’s murder, or maybe it wasn’t Sunglasses on the phone at all… maybe it was Leslie, disguising his voice. I pinched my right thigh to distract me; my leg was trembling so hard it bounced off the gas pedal. Chills ran through me like a bad flu.
Think positive. Deep breath. I followed his directions as best I could. The house was waterfront in one of those old Miami neighborhoods that are more like mazes where you follow the openings until you find yourself at a dead end. The old brick streets meandered, never straight, forking around two hundred year old banyan trees and round crumbling walls, each overgrown driveway hiding what was at its end.
He had instructed me to look for a post with a sea turtle on it, fake I hoped. There it was, a stone figure of the Mock Turtle looking just like he did in Alice in Wonderland. He was posted at the entrance to a drive heavy with tropical trees forming an eerie canopy. If I was setting me up, it would be in a place just like this.
At the next split in the road, I parked the Jeep and walked back to the turtle sign post. I was not about to drive right up to whatever lay just out of my sight. Everything’s going to be okay. Deep breath. You need the money for a lawyer.
I walked quietly up the drive, stopping every few steps to listen. I didn’t hear axes being sharpened. No gun fire. It was all good.
The sound of feet walking on gravel. A car door opened and slammed. An engine started. I threw myself on the ground just off the driveway. I looked up in time to see Leslie’s Lamborghini. The car came within inches of my head as it sped away.
Decision time. Run like hell or march into it.
Sunglasses’ fortress was an old Spanish-style estate made of stone and iron. The grounds were lit with an orange glow like a smoggy day in L.A. I pressed the bell and waited. No response. This big house should have some kind of butler or maid or machine-gun-toting giant. I pounded on the rustic wooden door. No answer.
Drawn to sounds of opera music from a glass-enclosed wing to the right of the house, I made my way to French doors. I stood on my toes ready for flight and pressed my nose to the glass, careful not to leave any fingerprints or pick up any germs from the door handle. The room was a study in gilt and gaudy. It looked like it had been furnished by Godfather-To-Go by way of the British Museum.
I knocked on the glass. No response. The door swung open and I stepped in to the last few notes of Madame Butterfly. “Mr. Hare?”
Sunglasses sat with his back to me in a high-topped leather chair. He wore a red shirt and what looked like black slacks. “Mr. Hare?”
I got that shaky feeling you get when something isn’t right. It wasn’t like my arms were growing or my legs were shrinking. It was more like the taste of metal in my mouth.
Stepping to his left side, I touched the gangster’s shoulder. It was sticky. I looked at my hand. Blood. And germs. God knows what this man has. And then reality kicked in and for one horrifying moment his head lulled on his neck, rolled onto his right arm, and hit the floor with a crunch-splat. My mind spun. I was pretty sure he was dead; and Leslie did it. Sunglasses must have told him he had the tape recording of his confession of Jug Hare’s murder. That meant Leslie was wise to Maris and probably me.
Eeewww… blood on my hand. I looked around for wipes. There was a small door across the room and to the right. A bathroom? But to get there I had to walk around dropping more of my DNA all over the floor. I focused on the little door and ignored the head on the floor behind the desk. If I touched the knob I’d leave finger prints. I could open it with my mouth… ick. What was I thinking?
I could grab the knob through my sweater, but I’d have to throw it away. My black turtle neck was one of my favorites. I worked my hand under the fabric and created a mitten. The knob stuck. I pulled more of my sweater into the twist and it released. It was a bathroom. I elbowed the light switch and grabbed a handful of tissues from a red and gold box on the counter. Using the paper I turned on the faucet.
Sunglasses’ blood was on my hands, both lit and fig. It flowed in pink and crimson streams into the sink and down the drain. I kept the water running and threw the tissue in the toilet; I grabbed a second paper to flush the handle. My stomach was about to contribute to the drain – I talked myself out of it.
The sound of a car door slamming sent me to the floor. I peeked around the bathroom door jamb.