The door should have been locked. Lydia Corriger looked up and down the residential side street and saw no movement through the chilling November rain. The porch was wet with footprints that weren’t hers. She pulled her Beretta out of her pocket, clicked off the safety, and pushed the door open.
She knew better. Never enter a situation without full control.
But she’d been in a hurry.
Lydia stepped into the foyer. Wet footprints directed her right, into the living room. She held her gun to her side, stepped across a faded Oriental rug, stood in the middle of the space, and listened. She was met with nothing but the low-level buzz of an empty house.
She entered the kitchen. The odors of bacon and coffee lingered in the air. She touched the half-filled carafe in the coffeemaker. Barely warm. Whoever made the pot hadn’t touched it for at least an hour.
Lydia circled left, past a powder room and a cluttered office across from a polished wooden staircase. She glanced back down the hall toward the front door, placed her left foot on the far side of the first stair, and brought her right foot to the opposite end. Until she was sure the entire house was unoccupied, she didn’t want to reveal her presence with a creaky step to the center. She mounted the stairs without a sound, turned on the landing to begin the full climb to the second story, and saw the body. One leg protruded over the uppermost steps; the other was bent to the side.
I know those old-man shoes. I told him he was too young for wing tips.
Lydia scrambled up the stairs, not bothering to stifle her scream.
Seattle, six weeks earlier
Lydia tightened the twine around yet another bundle of newspapers, tossed it onto the pile growing next to Mort’s open garage door, and shoved a sweaty hank of auburn hair off her face. “Five more minutes. Then I’m going to take my aching muscles back down to Olympia.”
Mort looked up from a box of screws and bolts. “I’m on a deadline here, Liddy. House sold faster than I thought it would. I have to be out of here in thirty days.”
“My hunch is Micki’s got a spreadsheet of assignments for every cop in Seattle.” She stretched her back. “You’ll be fine.”
“Still, I appreciate you coming by.” Mort wiped his hands and motioned her over to the picnic bench. He poured two glasses of iced tea, then pointed to an enormous rhododendron hiding the fence. “I won’t miss that son of a bitch. It wasn’t knee-high when Edie and Robbie planted it on his tenth birthday. Now look at the damned thing. It’s a quiet green giant now, but I’m raking pink petals for a month when it’s shedding.”
Lydia lifted her face to the warm October sun. “Does it help to focus on things you won’t miss?”
“Ever the shrink, huh?” Mort eyed the back of the house he’d lived in for nearly twenty-seven years and ached to see Edie come through that back door one more time, carrying two beers and smiling, the kids finally asleep.
“This is a family joint. Let the house have what it needs.”
“But a houseboat? Are you sure?” she asked.
“The only yard work tossing tuna to the sea lions? Yeah, I’m sure.”
“What about your workshop? You gotta have ten thousand dollars’ worth of saws and sanders and who knows what else down there.”
Mort would miss the smell of freshly cut wood; the satisfaction of sliding stain with the perfect touch to make the grain in a straight piece of cedar sing. “Robbie’s new place has plenty of room. He’s always had an itch for building.”
“Still, that floating conclave down on Lake Union . . .” She sounded doubtful. “Can you be happy anchored alongside tech millionaires and corporate moguls?”
“I’ll bet I’m the only civil servant in the ’hood. I can’t believe what JoAnne got for this place. It’s the only way I could afford the houseboat. Reward for staying put, I guess.”
The two of them sipped their tea in the silence of the golden afternoon.
“There’s a whole crew coming tomorrow to pack me up,” Mort said. “You could come back.”
Lydia looked over the yard. “You want me to take a cutting from that rhoddie? I’ll plant it at my place. You could visit it any time you want. I’ll even let you rake up the blossoms for old times’ sake.”
Mort ignored her dodge. “Micki and Jimmy will be here.” He kicked at the grass. “Opportunity to meet some new folks.”
Lydia was quiet. “I already know enough people. I just wanted to help with your move.”
“You can’t do this forever, you know.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “What do you mean?”
“Punish yourself. Isolate yourself. Whatever the hell it is you’re doing by closing off from everyone. You haven’t practiced psychology in nearly two years. You needed to heal from that bullet, sure, but that was a while ago.” He ran a hand across the thin white scar on his cheek. “And I’ll always appreciate you were in the saving-my-ass business a few months back. But you’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing since you left Whidbey Island.”
“I keep busy.” Her tone warned him to back off.
He wanted to reach out and touch her. Reassure her he had her best interest motivating him. But he knew she found no comfort in the feel of human skin.
“You need social contact, Liddy.” He was mindful to keep his tone soothing. “We all do.”
Her blue eyes narrowed. “With all due respect, Mort, you have no idea about my needs.”
“I’m sure I don’t.” Mort leaned forward. “But I know loneliness, kiddo. It’ll eat at you until you’re sick to the bone. When’s the last time you saw that coffee-shop guy? Oliver, right? Bring him tomorrow. We’re going to the Crystal for burgers after a few hours’ packing. Could be fun.”
Lydia focused her attention on the rhododendron Mort was so eager to abandon. “I appreciate your concern, Mort. But how I spend my time is up to me.”
“Is it, Liddy?” He needed her to understand. “I have more than a passing interest in your activities.”
Lydia stood and walked a few paces away. She wrapped her arms tightly around her waist and kept her back to him. Mort wondered if it was guilt or fear that had her defenses so high.
“I wonder.” Her voice was cold and clipped. “Is it a good idea for us to be in any contact with each other? I appreciate your concern.” She turned to face him. “But I’m long past the need for a daddy. And I’m too old to be babysat.”
“Liddy, I’m not saying anything like that. What I mean is—”
“What you mean,” she said, interrupting him, “is that you’re second-guessing your decision to let The Fixer go.”
His own guilt for allowing a vigilante assassin to escape justice was never more than a heartbeat away. “We are both vulnerable here,” he reminded her. “But my concern has nothing to do with that. I worry about you. Getting back into a normal life is a good idea.” He asked her to sit but she held her ground. “It’s tough to live with the knowledge of what we’ve done. I gotta tell you, sometimes my friends . . . having people to interact with . . . the distraction of normal life . . . sometimes it’s what stops me from climbing the walls or revealing things that are best left buried.”
She stepped close enough to look down on him where he sat. “There is no we in what was done, Mort. We didn’t kill twenty-three people. I was on my own with that. What you did was let a desperado get away. That’s it. Folks find out and worst case is you take an early retirement. Maybe that sterling Mort Grant reputation gets a little mud on it.” Her voice held an edge he hadn’t encountered before. “On the other hand, if my past gets exposed, the best I can hope for is eternal damnation following a very long time in a very tiny cell. So don’t worry. There’s no need to advise me on how best to leave the past buried.”
He held her stare until she turned away, then he stood.
“Liddy, listen, I didn’t mean . . .”
She held up a hand to silence him. He could tell the brief smile she offered was forced. She nodded toward the garage. “You better get back to packing. Good luck with your move.”
He watched her walk to her car, get in, back out, and head down the street without a wave or backward glance.