K is for Killer Page 2

I tried not to sound irritated since the mistake is not uncommon. "I'm him," I said. "Millhone Investigations. The first name is Kinsey. Did you tell me yours?"

"No, I didn't, and I'm sorry. I'm Janice Kepler. You must think I'm a complete idiot."

Well, not complete, I thought.

She reached out to shake hands and then realized the crack in the doorway wasn't large enough to permit contact. She pulled her hand back. "It never occurred to me you'd be a woman. I've been seeing the Millhone Investigations on the board down in the stairwell. I come here for a support group once a week down a floor. I've been thinking I'd call, but I guess I never worked up my nerve. Then tonight as I was leaving, I saw the light on from the parking lot. I hope you don't mind. I'm actually on my way to work, so I don't have that long."

"What sort of work?" I asked, stalling.

"Shift manager at Frankie's Coffee Shop on upper State Street. Eleven to seven, which makes it hard to take care of any daytime appointments. I usually go to bed at eight in the morning and don't get up again until late afternoon. Even if I could just tell you my problem, it'd be a big relief. Then if it turns out it's not the sort of work you do, maybe you could recommend someone else. I could really use some help, but I don't know where to turn. Your being a woman might make it easier." The penciled eyebrows went up in an imploring double arch.

I hesitated. Support group, I thought. Drink? Drugs? Co-dependency? If the woman was looney-tunes, I'd really like to know. Behind her, the hall was empty, looking flat and faintly yellow in the overhead light. Lonnie Kingman's law firm takes up the entire third floor except for the two public restrooms: one marked M and one W. It was always possible she had a couple of M confederates lurking in the commode, ready at a signal to jump out and attack me. For what purpose, I couldn't think. Any money I had, I was being forced to give to the feds at pen point. "Just a minute," I said.

I closed the door and slid the chain off its track, opening the door again so I could admit her. She moved past me hesitantly, a crackling brown paper bag in her arms. Her perfume was musky, the scent reminiscent of saddle soap and sawdust. She seemed ill at ease, her manner infected by some edgy combination of apprehension and embarrassment. The brown paper bag seemed to contain papers of some sort. "This was in my car. I didn't want you to think I carried it around with me ordinarily."

"I'm in here," I said. I moved into my office with the woman close on my heels. I indicated a chair for her and watched as she sat down, placing the paper bag on the floor. I pulled up a chair for myself. I figured if we sat on opposite sides of my desk she'd check out my deductible expenses, which were none of her business. I'm the current ranking expert at reading upside down and seldom hesitate to insert myself into matters that are not my concern. "What support group?" I asked.

"It's for parents of murdered children. My daughter died here last April. Lorna Kepler. She was found in her cottage over by the mission."

I said, "Ah, yes. I remember, though I thought there was some speculation about the cause of death."

"Not in my mind," she said tartly. "I don't know how she died, but I know she was murdered just as sure as I'm sitting here." She reached up and tucked a long ribbon of loose hair behind her right ear. "The police never did come up with a suspect, and I don't know what kind of luck they're going to have after all this time. Somebody told me for every day that passes, the chances diminish, but I forget the percentage."

"Unfortunately, that's true."

She leaned over and rooted in the paper bag, pulling out a photograph in a bifold frame. "This is Lorna. You probably saw this in the papers at the time."

She held out the picture and I took it, staring down at the girl. Not a face I'd forget. She was in her early twenties with dark hair pulled smoothly away from her face, a long swatch of hair hanging down the middle of her back. She had clear hazel eyes with a nearly Oriental tilt; dark, cleanly arched brows; a wide mouth; straight nose. She was wearing a white blouse with a long snowy white scarf wrapped several times around her neck, a dark navy blazer, and faded blue jeans on a slender frame. She stared directly at the camera, smiling slightly, her hands tucked down in her front pockets. She was leaning against a floral-print wall, the paper showing lavish pale pink climbing roses against a white background. I returned the picture, wondering what in the world to say under the circumstances.

"She's very beautiful," I murmured. "When was that taken?"

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