By the time the sun slept, tucked in its bed, she had a neat schematic of all the pieces she could put together. There were holes, to be sure, but at least she had a start.
At the bottom, like footnotes, sat the rest of her cases. She was ninety-nine percent sure they had nothing to do with any of this, but Viktor had indicated he knew of them. So that meant … what, exactly? She didn’t know, but if she had to beat him with the paper, she’d find out!
She sat back and tossed the pen on the desk. She eyed her computer, but it did her no good without a hard drive.
Just as she started to get heartily bored, a figure appeared outside her door. She stared at it, heart in her mouth.
Victor didn’t say anything else, but she recognized his voice. “Coming.” She unlocked the door. “Where have you been?”
He handed her a large brown sack, redolent of onions and garlic and marinara sauce. Definitely marina sauce. “What’s this?”
“Dinner,” he responded. He pushed the door shut behind himself and locked it, then went to her windows and closed each of the blinds one by one. He turned back to catch her watching him, frozen with the bag in her hands. “You gonna serve us, or do we just smell it?”
She moved. “Sorry.” She got plates and set them down next to the bag on the desk. She lifted out the containers, wincing at the heat. He brought pasta with marinara and grilled chicken, garlic bread, salad, and dessert in a container marked, helpfully, ‘dessert.’ “What’s this?”
She rolled her eyes. “I can see that. What kind of dessert?”
“Eat your dinner first.”
“Yes, Dad,” she retorted, working the lid off the container. It turned out to be a luscious-looking chocolate cake with ganache. Her stomach growled loudly.
He laughed and took one of the plates, serving himself pasta. He sat down on the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him. “I found your hard drive.”
She stared at him, meal forgotten. “You’re kidding!”
He shrugged. “Took some doing, but I got it back. I’ll install it after dinner for you.”
“Is there any data still on it?”
He nodded. “Some. They destroyed the files related to the Greenes and some other pictures, but other than that, it’s intact.”
She hid her disappointment. “I did some work while you were gone.” She sat down in her chair and pulled the notes over. She took a bite of chicken and paused. “Oh my God, is that good.” It came out garbled.
“I’m glad you like,” he responded. “I wasn’t sure what you liked for dinner, but I figured Italian was a safe bet.”
“Because my name is Carmichael?”
He snorted. “No. Because I know you’ve eaten Italian before.”
She almost asked, but didn’t. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “I put together all the things I know so far. It’s not a lot, and there are holes, but here.” She handed him the paper. “I don’t think those ones at the bottom are connected, but I don’t know.”
He studied it, eyes flicking back and forth as he read. “Impressive,” he grunted finally.
“Don’t sound so shocked. I do this for a living, remember?”
Viktor eyed her. “I know that. I meant, it’s impressive the connections you’ve made here. You’re right about Mrs. Dawson, she’s connected.”
She felt like preening at his compliment. “Connected how?”
“They’re blackmailing her? How?”
He smirked again. “What makes you think she’s a victim?”
She frowned, confused. “Huh?”
“She’s the pickup contact. She’s not being blackmailed, Mario’s is.”
“Oh my God.” She flashed on the handbag. “So that’s what that was for!”
“The second time she went there, she came out with a handbag that didn’t match her outfit. I couldn’t figure out what it was for; I bet it was the drop!”
“Her husband thinks she’s cheating on him.”
“With whom?” Viktor scoffed. “That’s preposterous!”
“He thinks it’s his partner, Peter Henkle.”
“Henkle’s gay!” Viktor took another bite of chicken and watched her reaction. “I take it, you didn’t know that?”
She shook her head and tried to school her features to a less startled expression. “No, I had… um, no idea…” None at all, actually. She should have, probably.
“Carter Lawson’s in debt up to his eyeballs. He got into gambling a few years ago and is paying it off. He’s clean, hasn’t touched the dice in months, but still. My bet is that his wife did it in order to get them off the hook financially. I’m not sure why he’d hire you; she’s head over heels in love with him. She’d do anything for him.”
“He doesn’t know that?” Why would he hire her, then? “Who is he in debt with?”
Viktor’s expression grew careful. “No one you need to concern yourself with.”
Russian mob, then. Huh. They were everywhere, these days. “Maybe she didn’t tell him what she’s doing?”
He cocked his head. “That’s a possibility. Sort of like Othello, really.”
She stared at him. “What?”
“It’s a play by Shakes –”
“I know what it is,” she interrupted. “I’m just surprised you’d quote it!”
He laughed at her with a straight face. “Ah.”
“So, Othello suspects his wife of cheating, even though she isn’t. Mrs. Lawson tries to get money, and doesn’t realize he’s making his debt payments. Mr. Henkle’s gay, and his partner thinks he’s sleeping with his wife.”
“So what does that have to do with the Greenes?”
His brows drew down and he took a bite of salad, chewing the crunchy greens with loud sounds. He swallowed. “What makes you think they’re connected?”
“Call it a hunch,” she growled.
He laughed. “Okay, okay.” He sipped his drink. “They are connected because the Greenes work for her boss, that’s all. Nothing more sinister than that; they don’t know each other, as far as I know.”
“So what do I tell Mr. Lawson about his wife?”
“He still pays your fee either way. Tell him the truth, that his partner’s gay and his wife loves him dearly.”
“What about the embezzlement?”
“Leave that out of it.”
“What about the woman?” she asked absently, looking back at her list.
“What woman?” he asked sharply.
“The one in the window?” She looked up at him. “I didn’t tell you?”
He wasn’t smiling anymore. “No, you didn’t tell me. What woman?”
“The one in the window, down the street from Mario’s? She was there the first day I saw Mrs. Lawson go in.”
“Curly brown hair? Wears red lipstick?”
“How the hell do you know that?”
He shrugged. “I know many things. That’s not a person you want to tangle with.”
“Why? Jesus, Viktor. Everyone around me right now is someone you want me to stay away from!”
“Why would she be following Mrs. Lawson?” It sounded like he mused to himself, not her.
“My question exactly. She seemed angry.”
“She would be.” He stood. “I need to go. I’ll be back,” he said before she could open her mouth. “I’ll be back.”
She watched him deposit his food in her trash can and walk out.
Just like that.
She didn’t throw her drink at the door as he closed it, but she sure was tempted.