He rasped out a question. “Why?”
“You lied to me,” I said. “That means we’re not friends anymore. I don’t want you to think this is a friendly conversation.”
I helped Whitlow to his feet and deposited him on a sofa. He was still clutching his stomach.
“What do you want?”
“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
“Let’s start with this—you’re still working for Timothy Dahlin.”
“I admit I was once employed—”
“Still employed. That’s how he knew about the letters, that both you and Heavenly made me an offer for the letters. That’s how he knew to position his man at Rickie’s to follow me. You told him.”
“That is mere speculation on your part.”
“How about I start speculating on your face,” I said.
Whitlow was a young man and proud. My first strike caught him by surprise, and he folded like I knew he would. Now he was alert; now he was thinking. Mostly he was thinking that he should fight back. I had to do something to convince him that he shouldn’t try.
“Boston.” I spoke softly, my hands at my side. I held my right hand open with the thumb down, tensed the fingers, and bent them slightly. In karate terms it’s called the nukite, or spear hand, and is used to strike soft targets such as the eyes, throat, and solar plexus. I rested my left hand on the back of the sofa and leaned toward Whitlow. “Boston,” I said again.
I drove the spear hand into his groin.
The explosion of pain took his breath away; he had none left to scream with. His hands went to his groin and he rolled over on his side. For a moment I thought he would weep, and maybe he would have if I hadn’t been watching. Instead, he masked his hurt with a long string of obscenities. I had no doubt that I deserved most of them. On the other hand, so did he.
I gave Whitlow a few moments to compose himself before I asked, “Are you ready to talk now?”
“I don’t know anything,” he said.
“You know plenty.”
“What do I know?”
“You know that Josh Berglund wrote that he had passed off the letters to me—that’s what you told Dahlin; that’s why you arranged to meet me at Rickie’s the day after Berglund was killed. The only way you could have known is if you broke into Ivy Flynn’s apartment and tore the page from Berglund’s log.”
“Hey!” I leaned in close again. Whitlow pressed his head back against the cushion to avoid my stare. “Don’t lie to me.”
“I mean—I took the page and some other stuff, but I didn’t break in. Ivy gave me a key.”
That made me back up.
“You didn’t know that, did you?” From his expression, Whitlow seemed empowered by having information that I didn’t possess. He actually grinned.
“Tell me about this,” I said.
Whitlow made me wait while he repositioned himself on the sofa, sitting up straight, ignoring his pain, reaffirming his manhood.
“I went to Ivy last week,” he said. “I knew that Berglund abandoned Heavenly. I knew that he had absconded with her research and, if I may so assert, my research as well. My impression was he was far ahead of us in the race for Jelly’s gold, and I grew concerned that he might discover its whereabouts before we did. I began to follow him. I learned that he was speaking to someone at the nursing home, but I could not determine whom. I also learned of his relationship with that little slattern Ms. Antonello.”
“What did you call her?”
The tone of my voice must have startled Whitlow, because it took him a few extra beats before he answered.
“A student at an evangelical Christian university gives a man oral sex behind a tree near Lake Valentine so she can tell her husband she’s a virgin when they marry,” he said. “However, I’ll defer to you for a label.”
“I don’t like labels,” I said, even as my inner voice was chanting, Dammit, dammit, dammit, and then, Poor girl. I had no doubt that Berglund was responsible for her corruption. Poor Genevieve.
“Keep talking,” I said.
“I conspired to meet Ms. Flynn without Berglund’s knowledge. I informed her that Berglund was using her as he had Heavenly, as he was using Ms. Antonello—”
“You felt the need to do that.”
“I admit to being desperate.”
“I convinced Ms. Flynn to ally herself with me. I assured her that together we would not only acquire the gold, we would make sure that Berglund received the reward he so justly deserved, the reward being nothing but the knowledge of his own failure. Ms. Flynn agreed. She began feeding me information. She told me that Berglund discovered the existence of Ms. Seidel’s letters. Alas, I was too late to intercept them. So we arranged for Ms. Flynn to take Berglund to the cinema while I searched the apartment, gaining entry with a key that Ms. Flynn gave me.”
“Was it your plan or hers?”