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Flesh And Blood  骨血暴力-Flesh And Blood

31

I CRACKED THE bedroom door. Robin was curled on her side, the top sheet pulled down to her bare belly, mouth parted, breathing slowly. As I approached the bed and shut off the alarm clock, her eyes opened.

"A minute to six," I whispered. "Good morning."

She yawned and stretched. "I got tired . . . didn't see you much today—what'd you do?"

"Took a little drive up the coast."

"Oh ... I was thinking maybe we'd have dinner somewhere at the beach. Guess not, now that you've already—"

"The beach is one thing," I said. "The beach with you is another."

Kissing her chin. What a sweet guy. But all the time thinking: Malibu's a small place. Running into someone I knew would not be pretty.

By the time we left the house it was eight P.M., and we reached the coast highway twenty minutes later. I bypassed all the trendoid-infested spots-of-the-week and tried a place we'd never been before—a gray-wood cafe resembling an oversized bait shack perched on a mound of dirt above PCH. On the land side, just past Big Rock, where massive mudslides are the rule and thirty-foot-wide beach properties level off at a million and a half bucks. The decor was rickety picnic tables, sawdust floors, daily printed menus with all the polish of a high school bulletin, char broilers on overdrive, beery dialogue. The room was high enough to catch a clean vista of black ocean, and if the grandmotherly old waitress who greeted us with "Hello, dearies" had ever harbored showbiz illusions, they predated Technicolor.

Several miles before Paradise Cove.

We huddled at a tiny table in the corner, gorged on the mixed seafood grill, fresh corn, creamed spinach, decent Chablis, terrible coffee.

Having a life, and when Robin said, "You seem a little more relaxed," I hid my surprise and nodded innocently. Cheryl Duke's number sat in my wallet, but Robin never goes through my things.

I reached for her hand. She allowed me to hold it for a few minutes, then let go, and I wondered if I was less Olivier than I'd given myself credit for.

"Everything okay?" I said.

"Everything's fine. Just a little tired."

"Still?"

"Guess so."

We went to bed without making love, and I slept restlessly. The next morning she was up way before me, and by the time I reached the kitchen she was heading out with Spike. "Errands? "I said.

"Elvis, again. He still thinks he can sing— Stay safe." "You too."

"Me?" she said. "That's never an issue for me." Before I could respond, she was gone.

I didn't hear from Milo until three P.M. "No progress on LeMoyne and Salander's travel plans, couldn't get past the front desk at Morris, and the prosecutor who handled Gretchen's case has been kicked upstairs to Washington, D.C. Her assistant has taken over, and she says Kent Irving's name doesn't ring a bell. I asked her to check anyway— I suppose there's a chance she will. I asked her about garment guys, period, and she did admit that Gretchen's girls had worked the Mart—servicing buyers, that kind of thing. But the main reason I'm calling is I identified your Mr. Goombah."

"The task force knows him?"

"Didn't have to go to the task force. I had the photos spread out on my desk last night, and when Rick came in to drag me out to dinner he glommed on to them and said, 'How do you know Maccaferri?' As in Dr. Maccaferri. First name, Rene. The guy's a renowned physician, Alex. Big-time researcher headquartered in Paris, but he consults to the National Cancer Institute. Rick recognized him because he attended a seminar Maccaferri gave last year. Prostate cancer. It's his specialty."

"Oh," I said. "Tony Duke's sick."

"And Dutiful Son went to the airport to pick up his doctor."

I laughed. "So much for my big-time mafia theories."

"Hey, you tried."

"Maybe the rest of it's worthless. . . . Cancer—that's why the parties have ended. Why Cheryl said there'd be no more. Tony passed the banner to Anita because he's in no shape to run things. That may also be why Cheryl and the kids moved back—the gas leak story could be a ploy to keep Tony's illness quiet."

"Hold on," he said. "Maccaferri's no big bad torpedo, but Lauren and a lot of people are still dead. So let's not be too hasty. And I'm still left with little Andy Salander. Alex, the more I think about his cutting out so abruptly, the less I like it. He and LeMoyne packing and leaving in the middle of the night—it's a clear rabbit. The rest of my day will be spent on the phone with the airlines. Maybe I'll luck out. Anyway, thanks for trying, have a nice day."

Renowned physician.

So much for my big-time intuition. Milo had been gracious, but was the rest of it—including suspicions of Ben Dugger—just as off base?

Still, Dugger was an odd man who'd paid good money to Lauren and Cheryl and who knew how many other beautiful blondes to sit in a cold little room and entice men.

Hiring female flesh, compiling data that hadn't been published or put to any apparent use.

Hidden cameras, grids in the floor . . . voyeurism masquerading as science. Dugger had eschewed the flash and spark of Tony Duke's lifestyle for ... what?

I thought of how easily Dugger had relinquished Cheryl to Tony Duke the moment the old man had made his interests known. The personal trip to LAX to pick up Maccaferri—a job easily accomplished by a factotum. Maybe Dugger was a strong adherent to the Fifth Commandment. But perhaps, now that his father was seriously ill, there was a more practical reason to be attentive.

Back to the money: millions of dollars' worth of motivation.

Tony Duke's death was more than theoretical now. One day—perhaps sooner rather than later—Duke Enterprises would be divvied up. Ben Duj$0er's lifestyle was far from lavish, but his market research seemed to generate very little income, and someone had to pay for the ocean-view high-rise, offices in Newport and Brentwood.

And now he was closing down Newport and shifting operations to Brentwood.

Same reason: sticking close to Dad during the final days.

Dependent upon Dad's good graces. But with his sister at the helm of Duke Enterprises, was he in danger of being cut off? Knowing how Ben and Anita got along would help answer that, and the only indication I had was the fact that there'd been no mention of Ben's attendance at Anita's wedding.

Then there was the matter of the two other sibs: Sage and Baxter. And Kent Irving, of the pink shirt and Hollywood wink.

All in all, high risk for conflict. For the type of endgame litigation that meant big winners and catastrophic losers. Big-time rage.

Cheryl aka Sylvana was no genius, but she had to be aware of the financial ramifications. That could explain her anxiety about being branded a bad mom. Yet that hadn't stopped her from dozing off on the beach. Or giving me her private number.

Poor judgment . . . pliable.

Unlike Lauren, toughened by years on the street. Big tips.

I thought back to Jane Abbot's first call to me. Panicked about Lau-ren's disappearance, even though Lauren had been on her own for years, had traveled in the past.

Because the two of them had finally started to reconnect and Lauren had confided in her. Maybe even bragged about her lucrative dodge.

Perhaps Jane had tried to talk Lauren out of the blackmail scheme—the control issue Lauren had complained about to Andrew Salander.

Lauren refusing. Signing her death warrant, and that of her onetime partner/friend Michelle. And her mother.

Milo was chasing down Salander's whereabouts, and maybe that would lead to something. But I couldn't help thinking that any solution lay crouching behind the walls of the Duke estate. High walls, electric gates closed-circuit TV, cable car that shimmied up and down the cliff side. All of it emitting a clear message:

Keep out, Stupid.

And, for the life of me, I saw no way in.

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