After She's Gone (West Coast 3) - Page 81

“What’s going on?” he asked. She shook her head but he must’ve looked over her head into the room and spied the mask because she heard his sharp intake of breath and felt him stiffen. A second passed and then he said, “What the hell is that?”


She spent what was left of the early morning in Trent’s bed, lying in his arms, telling herself she was falling into a trap, surprised that he’d not tried to kiss or touch her other than to hold her close. She hadn’t undressed. The streaks of mud from Hud’s eager greeting had dried on her clothes, and she hadn’t given them a second thought. She’d struggled to fall asleep with Trent beside her, though, so it took till morning light was beginning to touch the bare windows before she’d drifted off. When she finally opened her eyes, she saw on the bedside clock it was nearly ten and Trent wasn’t with her, the sheets on the spot of the bed where he’d lain cool to her touch.

In a flash, she remembered the hideous poster or mask or whatever it was and forced herself not to dwell on it, not let the evil piece of art consume her. “One day at a time,” she told herself and pushed off the warm bed.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, she hurried downstairs. The dog was lying on a rug near the wood stove where a fire still burned. As she walked into the room, Hud lifted his head and thumped his tail. “Yeah, you see this?” she teased, pointing to her dirt-smeared pants. Unconcerned, Hud stretched and got to his feet. Quickly she eyed the cozy room. Her bag was still open, but it was now near the couch, and the sleeping bag, along with the horrid mask, was nowhere to be seen.

Following the scents of brewed coffee and fried bacon, she found Trent seated at the kitchen table. His damp hair had been combed, his jaw clean-shaven, his jeans as disreputable as ever, an unbuttoned flannel shirt tossed over a dark T-shirt.

On the table in front of him were a cup of coffee, her cell phone, the red earring, and the dreadful mask. Allie’s ghostlike image lay face up, the table’s scratched wood surface showing through the empty eye sockets.

“Mornin’,” he drawled, looking up as she entered with the dog in tow.

“Oh, God, what is that doing here?” She pointed to the mask.

“Couldn’t throw it out.” He scraped hi

s chair back. “Coffee?”

Her stomach turned over and she shook her head. “Maybe water first.”

He found a glass in a cupboard that was filled with mismatched kitchenware and filled it from the tap, then handed it to her.

“What’re you doing with my phone and that . . . that thing?” she asked again, taking a sip of water and gesturing to the distorted picture.

“We need to get to the bottom of what’s going on.” After refilling his cup from a pot still warming in the coffeemaker, he pulled another mug from a shelf and filled it, then placed both cups on the table. “Then we have to talk to the police.” He looked at the mask. “How do you think that got into your bag?”

Setting the water glass aside, she picked up the chipped mug that held her coffee. She explained how she thought someone had placed it in her bag when she’d been out, how she’d felt someone had been inside her apartment and that the cat had been trapped inside, and finished with, “. . . before the hospital, I’d been going back and forth from Portland to LA during the filming of Dead Heat, so I’d never really emptied my bags. I didn’t check to see what was inside before I packed, just threw in some more clothes and personal stuff, things I thought I’d need. Unless someone was in my apartment another time that I don’t know about, that’s when it happened.” She looked out the window over the sink. Dark clouds roiled over the forested hills surrounding the ranch, but the rain had stopped, at least for now. “What about my phone? What’re you doing with it?” she asked.

“Snooping, obviously.”

She saw that he was kidding around, trying to lighten the mood. Cocking an eyebrow, she waited, silently suggesting he explain.

“I think you should call your doctor again. See if she texted you.”

She took another swallow. He was right. Of course. Before she could change her mind, she dialed and waited. One ring. Two. Voice mail picked up and Cassie forced herself to leave a simple message. “Dr. Sherling, this is Cassie Kramer. Please call me back.” She left her number and clicked off. “Mission accomplished.”

“Not until you actually speak with her. Even then we’ll have a lot more to do.” He went to the stove and opened the oven door. The scents of bacon and fresh bread erupted. Cassie’s stomach growled. “Let’s start with breakfast.”

For once, she didn’t argue.

Standing in the living room of Cassie Kramer’s LA apartment, Rhonda Nash did a slow burn. The place, obviously, had been left in a hurry. There were a few clothes left in the bedroom closet, a couple sweaters tossed onto the bed, and the trash, what little there was of it, hadn’t been taken out. Some mail, mostly junk, was scattered on a small desk. The bed hadn’t been made. It was as if Cassie Kramer had gotten a call in the middle of the night and blown town, which wasn’t exactly what had happened according to the landlord. Still, it was becoming more evident by the second that Nash’s trip to California might have been, if not a wild goose chase, then too little, too late. The apartment was in minor disarray and, if the landlord were to be believed, Cassie Kramer had barely touched down before she’d fled LA, as quickly as possible. From what Detective Nash could determine, she’d been in California just long enough to ask questions about her sister, ruffle some feathers, then race out. Cassie had been seen with Holly Dennison the night before the set designer’s murder and she was still a person of interest in her sister’s disappearance. If nothing else, she was guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As she eyed the living room and bedroom of the apartment, Detective Nash wondered if Allie Kramer’s sister’s culpability ran a little deeper than that.

“She said she was going back to Oregon for a while. Didn’t know exactly when she’d return, but wanted to keep the apartment,” Doug Peterson had told her. Pushing seventy, with thinning white hair and a bit of a paunch, Peterson owned the large home on the property and rented out this little apartment.

Currently, Peterson was hovering on the tiny front porch and holding a black cat while stroking its fur and keeping an eye on Nash and Hayes as they poked around. He didn’t set foot in the apartment, just hung near the open door. She sensed he wanted them to leave things be, but didn’t have the guts to take on the police. “She’s been a good tenant, Cassie has,” he said. “Quiet for the most part. Respectful of the property. Always pays on time. Even when she isn’t in town.”

Yeah, yeah, Cassie Kramer is effin’ fantastic, Nash thought sourly, but kept her opinions to herself. “Good to know.”

She’d already seen Holly Dennison’s corpse and the mask that had been left at the crime scene. She’d talked to the LA techs and cops who’d been at the scene, but had spent most of her morning with Jonas Hayes who had brought her up to date on his investigation.

Glancing around the apartment one last time, she figured her next move was to have another face-to-face with Allie Kramer’s sister.

And she hoped to do it in Oregon, if that’s where she’d flown.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Virginia Sherling insisted across the wireless connection. “I never texted you. I don’t text.” There was irritation in the doctor’s voice.

Tags: Lisa Jackson West Coast Mystery
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