“What was the call about?”

“Just routine matters. She had a capital gains question she needed an answer for.”

“So nothing that was bothering her?”

Mason lowered his arms. “Not that I was aware of.”

Puller had interviewed thousands of people over the years. Some were telling the truth, most had been lying. Liars gave telltale signs. Breathing sped up just a bit. Eye contact was lost. Arms retreated to the torso and clenched, like the formation of a little cocoon to hide the false statement, or at least the bearer thereof. A good interviewer could spot the liar nearly ninety percent of the time.

Based on that, Puller was pretty sure that Mason had just lied to him, but he didn’t know to what degree.

Puller said nothing. He was waiting for Mason to ask the question that he should have already asked if he had been telling the truth.

Mason said, “Do you think your aunt was worried about something?”

Puller didn’t answer right away. He was thinking about one of his aunt’s statements:

People not being what they seemed.

He wondered if Griffin Mason fit into that category.

And he wished he had not shared the contents of his aunt’s letter with the police. But he couldn’t change that now.

“I don’t know. Like I said, I hadn’t really communicated with her over the years.”

Mason studied him closely and then shrugged. “Accidents happen, I know. But it doesn’t make it any easier to accept someone passing. But you can take some solace in the fact that Betsy thought so highly of you that she would leave you all her property.”

“Would you happen to have a key to her house? And a copy of the will for me to take?” “Actually, I do. Betsy entrusted a set of keys to me when she had surgery a while back. I tried to give them back, but she insisted that I keep them.”

Mason opened a drawer, took out a silver lockbox, opened it, rummaged through some keys in there, and pulled out a set of two.

“Front door and rear doors. Give me a minute to make a copy of the will.”

He ran the pages through a copier that was set against one wall of his office, then handed the still warm pages to Puller.

Puller stood and slipped a card out of his pocket. “Here’s my contact info for down the road.”

Mason took the card. “Are you going over to the house now?”

“No. In the morning.”

“Will you be staying in Paradise long?”

“I don’t know,” said Puller. “I guess once you get to Paradise it’s hard to leave, right?”

He walked out.

CHAPTER 25

Puller parked his Corvette about a block down from the house and walked the rest of the way. Despite what he had told Mason he had decided to check out his aunt’s place now. He kept a lookout for police cruisers. Even armed with keys and his aunt’s last will and testament, he wouldn’t put it past Hooper to bust his balls if he got the slightest chance.

He walked up the driveway and glanced over at Cookie’s house. It was dark now and he envisioned the “young’un” partying into the wee hours in Paradise. He thought he heard Sadie yapping from inside the house, but kept walking.

The yapping made Puller start missing AWOL, his cat.

He used the key to open his aunt’s front door, went inside, and closed the door behind him. The house was dark. He didn’t want to arouse suspicion by turning on any interior lights, so he pulled his penlight from his pocket and started moving around. He had the interior of the place pretty much memorized from his earlier visit.

He walked through the kitchen and entered his aunt’s bedroom. The bed was made. She had not gone to sleep that night, obviously. She had gone into the backyard, either voluntarily or not, and there her life had ended.

A nightstand next to the bed was filled with books. His aunt had been a reader when Puller had known her all those years ago, and she had obviously kept up that habit. He scanned the titles with his light. Mostly mysteries and thrillers. His aunt did not strike him as the love story type. If she was going to cry, it would be for a legitimate reason as opposed to a manufactured one.

Puller’s light skimmed over the top of the nightstand and then came back to it. He risked turning on a light because he wanted to get a clearer view.

With the table lamp turned on he leaned down and saw that his first impression had been right. A small rectangular shape with a slight dust pattern around its edges. He picked up a Robert Crais paperback from the shelf below and laid it on the rectangle. It didn’t fit.

Too small.

He tried a Sue Grafton hardback.

Too big.

He opened the drawer and saw a small black journal inside. He lifted it out, opened it. The pages were blank. He placed the journal down on the rectangle. A perfect fit.

There must have been another journal. And it seemed to be missing. And something told Puller that that journal would not have blank pages.

They’d murdered his aunt and taken her journal because of something that was in it.

Perhaps it would elaborate on what had been in her letter.

People who were not what they seemed.

Mysterious happenings in the night.

Things that just did not seem right.

He put the blank journal back, switched off the light, and left the room.

He took a few minutes to check the bedrooms upstairs but found nothing of interest or help with his investigation. One closet was full of old clothes. Some were men’s pants and shirts that had presumably belonged to his uncle Lloyd. The other closets were filled with empty hangers, old vacuums, boxes full of musty sheets and comforters, and the odds and ends that folks collected over a long life.

On a shelf at the back of the closet he found several boxes. One was filled with jewelry that even to Puller’s inexperienced eye looked valuable. He went through the box methodically. There was also a collector’s book with old coins inserted in it. These looked valuable too. He wondered how long she had had all of this.

He walked back downstairs through the kitchen and into the garage. The Camry sat there looking polished and ready to go, unaware that its owner would not be coming back for another ride. Puller scanned the exterior of the car with his light, looking for damage or unusual marks, but he saw none.

The car looked to be in reasonable shape. He calculated that it was about five or six years old. His aunt might have bought it before she had developed all of the issues with her spine.

He leaned up against the wall and started contemplating things, trying to fill in holes in his aunt’s recent actions.

He was primarily thinking that if his aunt had seen something that had caused her death, it was either in the neighborhood or elsewhere. If elsewhere, she had had to get there somehow. And even though Cookie didn’t think that Betsy drove anymore, he was often gone at night and wouldn’t know if she only took her car out after dark.

He opened the driver’s side door and sat down in the front seat. He noted that, though tight for him, the seat was set back far enough for a tall woman.

Then he saw the special devices that had been fitted onto the car. They were controls set within arm’s reach to work both the brake and gas pedal.

So his aunt could have driven this car despite her infirmities.

He noted the sticker on the upper left side of the windshield. It was from a lube shop in Paradise. It listed the next date for service and the mileage the car should reach by that time. The date was from exactly thirty days ago. Puller looked at the mileage listed and then shined his light on the dashboard. He did a quick calculation, and also factored in his aunt’s death.

In the roughly twenty-six days she could have driven it the car had gone an average of ten miles per day. He thought rapidly. Could his aunt with all of her back issues have driven hundreds of miles at a stretch? It was doubtful. But could she have driven shorter distances? That was more likely.

What i

f she had driven the same distance every day? Ten miles a day, in fact. That sounded doable even with her back problems.

So five out and five back. It at least gave Puller something to go on, something to check when there was so much that wasn’t clear. He could do that route on all points of the compass and see where he ended up.

The next moment Puller quickly climbed out of the car and softly closed the door. He extinguished his light and pulled his Mu.

Someone had just come in the front door of the house.

Puller went through the garage door back into the kitchen, making hardly any noise. The other person in the house was not being nearly as quiet. That could be both good and problematic for him.

He edged around the doorway leading into the family room. He heard squeaks from above. The person had to be upstairs. He wondered briefly if it could be the police, but surely they would have announced themselves. However, if it was Hooper, Puller might shortly find himself in a shootout with the hair-triggered cop. The last thing he needed right now was to be arrested for blowing away a police officer. Yet if anyone was going to get shot tonight he much preferred it not be him.

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