She said, "Gotcha, Skip Cosgrove."
As I watched Skip Cosgrove rummage around my dad’s desk, I had a short panic attack. What if he found Dad’s password? That would mean we’d find out what Dad had been researching. We’d learn what had been making him crazy. And I might be exposed.
For the briefest moment, I didn’t want this guy to do anything. But that was stupid because I did want him to find my dad. I considered how I’d deflect the investigation if he hacked his way into the computer, then suppressed a smile. This professional was having no more luck than I had had earlier. He made a weird comment about the room being sterilized by my dad. To me, that would imply Dad wasn’t drunk.
Mom’s brow furrowed and she glanced at me, then back to Skip. “What’s that mean?”
“He didn’t want anyone following his trail,” I said.
Skip nodded. “Exactly. People always leave a trace of what they’ve been working on. Here, there’s nothing. Your husband wanted to make sure that if something happened to him, nobody could come in behind him and retrace his footsteps. You could probably hire a forensic computer expert to go through this, but that would be expensive and time consuming. I know a guy who could do it. He might do it as a favor, but I don’t know if he’d be available. He’s got a big deadline. On second thought, maybe we’d be better off just going back to the old way of doing things.”
“What’s that?” asked Mom.
“Legwork,” he said. “I’ll need to go wherever he would normally go and ask around. I’ll need a picture and a list of places to visit.”
This wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. In fact, that had been my next step—visit the places Dad would usually go—not that there were many. There was his Rotary lunch—a week away. There was the bar around the corner from the title company—he hadn’t been there in months as far as I knew.
“He’d been going to Agua Hedionda a lot lately,” said Mom.
“What?” I blurted. That was ridiculous. My dad, a nature guy?
“When did he start visiting the lagoon?”
“Maybe a few weeks ago.”
“Had he gone there recently—in the last few days?” asked Skip.
Mom shook her head. “No. Not in the last few days.”
“Something’s bothering your husband, Evelyn. If we knew what that something was, we might have better odds. I suspect we won’t figure that out until we find him. The lagoon’s out for now. He’ll probably be going someplace where he can drink.”
“Keller’s,” Mom said.
I nodded. “The bar near the title company—Dad always used to go there after work. We could go do that now.”
“I prefer to work alone,” Skip said. “Look, if he’s running away from something that happened here, seeing either of you might trigger a flight response. I’ll go down there myself.”
No way was I letting this guy out of my sight. If he found Dad and they started talking, my business dealings might come up. I had to go. Besides, I needed more time to work him for access to Nordoff.
“My dad and I were always very close. He wouldn’t run from me.”
Mom’s jaw fell. “And he’d run away from me?”
Skip stood and put his hand on Mom’s arm. I know he was only consoling her, but seeing him touch her like that pissed me off. I felt like an idiot. Was this guy stirring some primal instinct in me? Jealousy? Fear that he’d move in on my mom? I cleared my throat.
“It’s probably got nothing to do with you. But he’ll be expecting you to come looking for him. If he’s trying to sort something out on his own, seeing you would tip him off. Skip and I can handle this without alerting him to what’s going on. Right?”
Skip grimaced. Actually, he looked annoyed. “It would be better if—”
“I’d like Roxy to be there,” Mom insisted. “Richard would do anything for her. As I think she would for him.”
That comment sent a chill to my soul. Would I? What if he asked me to not steal the five million? I gave that thought a quick burial. No way, I wasn’t going there.
Mom continued. “She should go with you.”
He glared at me. “You have to agree to follow my directions.”
Oh, big bully man, I’m scared. Careful, buddy, or I’ll knock you on your ass—unless you’ve got a higher-degree belt than mine in karate. “Sure. You’re the boss.”
He stared at me for a few seconds, obviously unimpressed by my quick acquiescence.
“What? I said you’re in charge. You want me to sign something?”
He hesitated. “Fine. Just listen when I tell you to do something, okay?”
Shit, you’d think he knew me or something.
“Listen to him, Roxy. He knows what he’s doing.”
Jeez. What was this, the We Know Roxy Society? “And I know my dad. I want him back as much as you do!”
Mom took two steps and embraced me. She leaned her head against my shoulder. “I’m sorry, honey. It’s probably all my fault. I must’ve done something, I just don’t know what. Find him and bring him home. We’ll work it out.”
I gripped her shoulders tightly. “We’ll find him, don’t worry.” I just wished I could believe that. “So, where’s a picture for Skip and me?”
Mom relaxed her grip and then turned away. “I’ll be right back.”
Skip looked me in the eye. It gave me a creepy feeling, like he could see inside me or something. “Roxy, I’m serious. I think I should do this alone.”
I held up my hand, palm facing him, fingers splayed. “Talk to the hand. I’m going along. Quit complaining.”
“Just let me make the initial contact, okay?”
As long as you get to him first, buddy. “I’ve got no problem with that. You did good with the Nordoff kid, I’m sure you’ll do fine here.”
It was no more than ten minutes later that Skip and I were headed toward Keller’s in my Toyota. We’d agreed to take my car since we could always put someone in the back seat.” I decided to stick to the business pleasantries. “Business must be good, you drive a Porsche.”
In the glow of the dash lights, I found myself glancing sideways to take in Skip’s features. He had a strong jaw and well-defined nose, kind of ruggedly handsome—if you like that sort. Who was I kidding? I did. He seemed to take on a different appearance in every light.
Maybe it was just that he was good at masking his feelings. Hard to read. Like me. Damned if that didn’t concern me. The last thing I needed was to be around a guy I couldn’t manipulate.
“I only take a few cases like this. Mostly, I like to work with people to help build their self-esteem and improve their communications.” His voice was deep, almost melodic.
“Are you a shrink?”
He laughed. “No. I’m a criminologist. I’m also trained in clinical hypnosis. I started out in the police academy, but I was a square peg in a round hole. I quit that to do what I love doing most, helping people make themselves better.”
Oh, brother. His was as big a racket as mine. “So you’re not a PI?”
In the dimness, his five o’clock shadow dominated. He stared straight ahead, his eyes glassy in the reflected glow. “For the most part I stay out of crimes. Those guys deal with the criminal element. Me, I prefer finding people who didn’t break the law. Every now and again the cops bring me in. So what’s your business? You said venture capital?”
Was he probing or just making small talk? Be careful around this guy, I thought.
I tapped my brakes as we came down Tamarack, making sure to keep my speed at the limit—and my response generic. “This is my first big deal. I worked for a VC before, but didn’t like some of the practices.” Like not sharing the profits. We were approaching the I-5 on-ramp, so I flicked on my signal. “It’s a fascinating field, just tough to get a start.”
“Where’d you get all that money, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’m just a broker. I put together the deal, other people have the money. But I will get a nice chunk of the profits from the deal.” Like, everything, I thought as we merged onto the 5.
“I guess that’s how another client of mine got started, small deals.”
”Is he looking for any new deals right now? I was thinking of calling him since I have one slot left open on this one.” I dared not look at Skip, sure that he was sizing me up.
“So you know Herman Nordoff?”
“Peripherally.” In the most generic six-degrees sense. I know you, you know him.
“Hmmpf. I have no idea. He didn’t discuss his business deals with the likes of me. That’s way beyond my ken.”
I slowed for the off-ramp to Carlsbad Village Blvd. So much for Round One. I’d work him a bit later. If I pushed further now, he’d get suspicious. This way, he’d be left wondering why I hadn’t asked for an introduction or recommendation. “Keller’s is down in the Village. We should be there in just a few minutes.”
“Let’s hope we find our man,” said Skip.
I made the turn onto Carlsbad Village Blvd. “I have a good feeling about this.” And I did. I was sure I’d already found mine. Gotcha, Skip Cosgrove.
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