“I disagree,” Sophie said. “I think it’s all about the money.”
“The risk of someone going to the police …” Regan began.
“He thinks he’s invincible,” Sophie said. “And the risk? Must be worth it to him. Mary Coolidge handed over a little more than two million. And that’s a whole lot of money, ladies.”
“Definitely worth the risk,” Cordie said. “When you’re as greedy as he is.”
Regan looked at Sophie. “How did you get hold of this diary?”
“I told you Mary’s daughter found the diary after the funeral … when she was packing her mother’s things.”
“She immediately went to the police and got nowhere. She also hired an attorney to get her mother’s money back, but after reviewing the paperwork Mary had signed, the attorney told the daughter that what Shields had done was reprehensible, but legally he hadn’t broken any laws.”
“And?” Regan asked when Sophie didn’t continue.
“Christine—that’s the daughter’s name—had to return to Battle Creek, where she and her husband live, but before she left, she mailed copies of the diary to the Tribune. The reporter who got the envelope made a few phone calls, but he had more pressing work to get done, and he didn’t have the time to devote to what he considered to be a lost cause. The letter and the photocopies ended up in his trash can.
“I heard him telling another reporter about the gullibility of the woman, and, of course, I became curious, so after he left, I took the copies out of the trash and read them.”
“You know what a sucker Sophie is for lost causes,” Cordie said. “And since she needed help, she coerced me into reading the diary …”
“And she promptly got on board,” Sophie added.
“When did all this happen?” Regan asked.
Sophie answered. “You were in L.A. when Cordie went to the police to find out what she could.”
“She made me go,” Cordie said. “And I’ll admit that I was initially encouraged to learn that the police did, in fact, have an active file on the man. My excitement didn’t last long, though. Lieutenant Lewis is a silver-haired charmer and a bad flirt. He oozed sympathy and understanding,” she added. “And it took me all of two minutes to figure out he wasn’t the least bit sincere.”
Sophie had forgotten to tell the waiter to bring her salad as soon as it was ready. All three lunches arrived together. In a hurry now to get back to the office, she picked up her fork and attacked her salad with gusto. Cordie poured ketchup all over her cheeseburger, slapped the top bun on, and picked it up.
“Have there been any other complaints against Shields?” Regan asked.
Cordie put the cheeseburger back on her plate before answering. “Yes, it looks like there were other women, but no hard evidence had been collected. The lieutenant insisted he was working on it. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Anyway, another month went by and still no arrest had been made. I found out that Lewis had shuffled the investigation over to one of his more lackluster detectives named Sweeney.”
She picked up the cheeseburger again and was about to take a bite when Regan asked, “And how long did you say you’ve been working on this?”
“Not that long,” Cordie said.
Regan deliberately waited until Cordie was about to take a bite of her sandwich and then said, “One more question …”
Cordie put the sandwich down again. “You’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you? Asking me questions just as I … Sophie, leave my french fries alone.”
“They’re not good for you. I’m just helping you eat them because I care about your health. That’s the kind of friend I am.”
Cordie rolled her eyes at Sophie and then turned back as Regan was asking, “I do have a serious question. Do you think Mary Coolidge committed suicide, or do you believe what Sophie believes?”
“That she was murdered?” Cordie whispered. “I’m not sure. It’s possible.”
Regan dropped her fork and leaned forward. “Are you serious?”
“How come you didn’t act shocked when I told you my opinion?” Sophie asked.
Regan didn’t mince words. “Because you’re a drama queen. Cordie’s more practical, and if she thinks it’s possible, then …”
“Then what?” Sophie asked, frowning now.
“Then it’s possible.”
“I’m not a drama queen.”
“Tell me why you think it’s possible,” Regan asked Cordie, ignoring Sophie’s comment.
“Read the diary.”
“I will, but tell me now.”
“Okay. You’ll see toward the end, Mary was scared of Shields. He had threatened her. If you read the last entry, you’ll see that her handwriting is all over the page, which tells me the drugs were in her system and making her loopy. Maybe that’s why she wrote what she wrote … but then again, maybe it was really happening.”
Regan picked up the papers, pulled the last page out, and read. There were only four words.
Too late. They’re coming.
THE ALLEY SMELLED LIKE WET DOG HAIR AND PUKE. THE OVER-flowing Dumpster that Detective Alec Buchanan had spent most of the night behind smelled much, much worse.
In all, there were now seven detectives working the case. Alec had drawn the short straw and was relegated to doing backup for another detective named Mike Tanner, who was inside the dry and most likely warm warehouse, waiting to make the deal.
Undercover detectives Dutton and Nellis were across the street, watching the entrance to the warehouse from different angles.
Two other detectives were across town at a restaurant, looking as young and clean-cut as high school honor-roll students dressed in the uniform of all the teenagers in the city—Old Navy T-shirts, Gap loose-fit jeans, and scuffed white Nikes. They were impatiently waiting for a fresh supply intended for the streets of suburbia.
The seventh detective was following the money.
Detective Dutton was officially running the show, but Tanner thought he was in charge. Alec had worked with Tanner for only a couple of days, and so he tried not to make any snap judgments about the man. He’d adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Though, admittedly, what he had seen so far hadn’t impressed him. Tanner had a short fuse and let his temper get the upper hand. Not good, Alec thought, in a situation like this. Not good at all.
Tanner had already caused problems. He’d refused to wear a wire and wouldn’t let the techs put a couple of bugs inside the warehouse. Tanner was worried the mikes would be discovered, and since he was the only one who had worked with the twins, the others had to acquiesce.
Alec had been told to expect the deal to go down around three or four in the morning, when the scum crawled out from under their rocks to buy and sell anything and everything. These two lawyers were a different breed, though. They apparently started their workday around noon.
The attorneys, Lyle and Lester Sisley, were identical twins who had migrated to Chicago from a 7-Eleven-sized town in Georgia. They sounded and acted like good ol’, down-home, country boys who pledged allegiance to the flag and to Elvis every morning, and who liked to go out on the town and kick up their boots every now and then, but who would never ever get into any real trouble. Casual acquaintances considered the twins a little slow-witted, but sweet, terribly sweet.
The opposite was the case. There was nothing sweet or slow-witted about them. Their IQs were identical and hovered just one point above genius. It was reported that they had partied their way through law school and still had managed to graduate at the top of their class.
The twins had been in Chicago for a little over a year when they came to the conclusion that they were working too much and making too little. They decided then that they needed to branch out.
Five years later, they were taking in millions, and it sure as certain wasn’t from their legal fees. They continued to practice law and maintained offices on Elm Street, but they had very few clients. The two shared an impressive title, yet neither dared print it on the glass of their office door. They were quite simply known as the premier drug lords of Chicago.
And more. Much, much more. It was estimated that in the past twelve months, Lyle and Lester had sold more drugs than Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. There wasn’t a pill they didn’t push or a drug they didn’t lace with other, more addictive substances.
Needless to say, the undercover detectives had been trying to nail their sorry asses for a long, long time. Today would hopefully be the end for Lyle and Lester, if all went as planned. It had taken months of hard work to entice the twins into taking the risk of actually transferring the money personally. Greed had been a powerful motivator, and Tanner, who had set up this latest venture, believed he had successfully penetrated their inner circle.
Most of their illegal business transactions were conducted in the warehouse where Tanner was waiting.
The twins were the odd couple. They did almost everything together. They worked together, played together, and lived together in a high-rise apartment on Lake Shore Drive. They would even occasionally dress alike in cowboy attire.
There were a few differences. Lyle had a thing for buxom women. He consumed them like a baseball player chewing on sunflower seeds and spitting out the shells when the taste was gone. Yet, the women he so casually discarded couldn’t say enough nice things about him. After he finished with them, he lavished them with expensive “parting” gifts. The women called Lyle the ultimate gentleman.
Lester had a thing for cars, Rolls-Royces to be specific. He had over fifteen of them stored in his warehouse now and had just purchased another one. The cost was a mere one hundred fifty-three thousand, but that was chump change to the drug lord.
Lester never drove the cars. Every Friday he liked to walk around the warehouse and look at them. He was overheard telling a friend that he was saving the cars and needed to keep them in mint condition, but he didn’t explain exactly what he was saving them for.
The whisper came through Alec’s earpiece. Dutton, from his position across the street, had spotted the twins.
Alec dropped into the Dumpster and squeezed down in the garbage. Something crawled up his neck, and he fought the urge to slap it away as he turned ever so slightly and peered out the hole he’d drilled in the metal. The lousy hiding place had been Tanner’s idea. Alec had wanted to find a spot in the loft of the warehouse where he could watch and listen, but Tanner wouldn’t hear of it. He was sure the twins would know if anyone was hiding inside, and since Tanner had set the meeting up, Alec didn’t argue.
Alec told Dutton he had no intention of waiting in the damn Dumpster. Dutton agreed. Tanner’s determination to be a superstar cop and make a name for himself was jeopardizing the operation. Dutton gave the order that as soon as Lyle and Lester went to the door, Alec was to climb up the fire escape and go in through a window he’d already scoped out for trip wires.
Alec kept watching the street. No one there yet.
“We’ve got a problem.” The voice belonged to Detective Nellis. “There’s a uniform talking to the twins. Ah, hell, he’s gonna give them a ticket. They parked in a tow-away zone.”
“No,” Dutton said. “He’s not writing a ticket. They’re all walking toward the warehouse now. The uniform’s between them.”
“Is he willingly going with them?”
“Can’t tell,” Dutton said.
“What about a gun? Does Lyle or Lester have a gun on him?” Nellis was angry. “Can you see, Dutton?”
“I can’t tell about the gun,” he whispered. “Alec, you’ve got time to get inside and warn Tanner. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Tell Tanner to abort,” Nellis whispered.
“He won’t, he won’t,” Dutton argued. “Alec, go. They’ve stopped in front of the main entrance, so they’re not gonna use the side door. They’re looking up and down the street. Not another soul around. Lester’s unlocking the door now. The uniform looks worried.”
Alec was already moving. He swung out of the Dumpster, raced across the alley, and climbed up the fire escape. The window was just out of reach. He jumped, grabbed the ledge, and then lifted himself through the window.
Dutton was right behind him. The detective wasn’t as big or as muscular as Alec, but he was just as nimble and didn’t make a sound.
There were boxes of auto parts stacked six feet high all over the loft and video cameras attached to the rafters. The twins didn’t have an alarm system. They took care of their own problems, and anyone who was crazy enough to rob or vandalize any of their property simply disappeared.
Dutton was slowly crawling toward the rail. Alec held up a hand to stop him and pointed to one of the cameras.
They could hear voices. The twins were talking to each other as they walked toward the office, which was directly below the loft. Tanner must have been waiting for them in the doorway of the office, because they heard him shout, “What the hell is this?”
Another voice—it had to be the young cop—answered, “What are you …”
And then there was a second of dead silence.
Dutton whispered, “They know.”
Alec nodded. He motioned to Dutton to cover the steps while he slowly edged closer to the railing so he could see what was happening.
Tanner was losing it, pacing back and forth, defensively throwing accusations at the twins. Lyle shoved the cop toward Tanner and pulled a gun.
It all went to hell then.
“SO ARE YOU IN, REGAN?” SOPHIE ASKED.
“Of course I am.”
“I knew you would be,” she said. “You’re always telling me I’m a sucker for lost causes …”
“Actually, that’s what Cordie tells you.”
“Yes, but you’re a sucker too.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” Regan asked.
Cordie was just finishing her cheeseburger. She waved a fry in Sophie’s direction and said, “You’re going to be late. Didn’t you tell me you had a meeting at one-forty-five?”
“I need to talk to Regan first,” Sophie said. She turned her full attention on her friend and said, “I need you to read the diary as soon as possible, but definitely before tonight. It won’t take long. Mary didn’t write in it every night. I think it’s only forty-some pages. You know what? Maybe you could read it after Cordie and I leave. And then …”