Alex Delaware: Evidence Part 33

Milo said, "What club was Teddy a member of?"

The hair fell away. "Not a real club, just a joke. The Three F Club. She said it was the only way to a man's heart. Three F's-feed 'em, flatter 'em, f.u.c.k 'em. Don't write that down, I don't want my parents to see it."

"You see paper and pencil anywhere, Ati?"

"I'm just saying."

"So Dahlia never complained about Teddy being aggressive or violent with her?"

"Never."

"Just grumpy with a temper."

"Nothing whack, like any guy."

"But you told Detective Reed he hurt her."

"Because I believe he did."

"You believe?"

"I can't prove it, but ..."

"You suspect."

Nod.

"Why, Ati? This is important."

"Did he?"

"We don't know, Ati. Help us."

She breathed in. Exhaled slowly. "The last time I heard from her she was going traveling with him, she said she'd be back in a few days, we'd hang out. But she never called and I never heard from her again and when I called her phone, it was disconnected and when I went to her house, no one was there."

"Where'd she say she was traveling with Teddy?"

"Back home," she said. "His home."

"Sranil."

She frowned. "My parents told me about it. It's a weird place, full of like old-fashioned peasants. Indonesia's modern. Sranil's just an island that never became part of Indonesia. Teddy didn't like it himself, was going over there to get a bunch of his money and come back here and live with Dahlia. He was already building a house. He wanted to be modern and be with any woman he wanted even if she was white, not be under his brother's thumb."

"Dahlia told you all that."

"Yes."

"Maybe she went there with Teddy and decided to stay."

"No way," said Ati Meneng. "That's why I know something happened to her. She totally planned to come back. Promised me we'd hang out when she got back. But she never got back."

"Did you report her missing?"

"She wasn't missing, she was with him."

"You suspected he'd hurt her."

"I didn't think so at the beginning. I just ... I don't know, maybe it was his brother but I was too afraid to say that. His being a sultan, who'd believe me?" Looking at Reed. "I didn't think you'd believe any of it, period. Mostly I forgot about it, then you showed up and it was like something clicked inside my head, you know?"

Milo said, "You told Detective Reed about a Swedish girl but you didn't use Dahlia's name."

"I didn't-I wasn't sure. It's not like I was still thinking about it. I used to think about it. Then it stopped. Then he showed up ... I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, no, you did great, Ati. We really appreciate it. Now tell us everything you know."

"That is everything."

"Dahlia definitely planned to return to L.A."

"We had plans," said Ati Meneng. "A whole day, soon as she got back. First we were going to the Barney's warehouse sale and have lunch at this cafe at the Santa Monica Airport-that's where the sale is. Then we were having dinner at the Ivy-not the beach, the one on Robertson. Then we were going dancing. But she never came back. And she left her car at her house and when I looked in through the window, all her stuff was still in there."

"You went over because you were worried."

Tears turned the black eyes to pond-stones. "I kept calling. Her cell was disconnected, she had no more Internet for IM'ing, her house was dark. My mind started running. I mean I liked him the couple of times I met him, but I didn't really know him. And what my parents said, that started to bother me."

"About people from Sranil."

"Superst.i.tious peasants. Cannibals, rituals. You know?"

"Scary," said Milo.

"Really scary, so I stopped thinking about it. I would've called her family but I didn't know how to reach them. I figured if she stayed away long enough, they'd do something."

"Even though her parents wanted her gone."

"She just said that," said Ati Meneng. "It probably wasn't even true. Families love each other. Like her sister, Dahlia said they were different but they still loved each other."

"The serious sister."

"Dahlia said she even thought about becoming a nun then she became an architect, built houses."

"Speaking of houses," said Milo. "Do you remember the address of Dahlia's?"

"Never knew the address, Dahlia always drove me there and took me home. She liked to drive real fast, said in Germany there were roads with no speed limits, she used to go a hundred miles an hour."

"What neighborhood was the house in?"

"Brentwood."

"Could you find it?"

"For sure."

Milo stood. "Let's do it."

"Right now?"

"Can't think of a better time, Ati."

CHAPTER.

28.

The house that evoked Ati Meneng's "That's it!" was a mini-colonial wedged between two much larger Mediterraneans. Twenty-minute drive from the station, nice section of Brentwood, a short walk to the Country Mart.

One symmetrical story was faced with white clapboard. Lead-pane windows were grayed by curtains and sideburned by black shutters. A red door was topped by a fanlight. The lawn was compact and trimmed, the empty driveway spotless.

Two blocks away was the vacant lot Helga Gemein had given her partners for her nonexistent residence. Milo said, "You're sure, Ati?"

"Totally. I remember the door. I told Dahlia a red door could mean good luck in Asia. Dahlia laughed and said, 'I don't need luck, I'm adorable.'"

"Okay, thanks for all your help. Detective Reed will take you back."

She turned to Reed. "You can just take me to my car. Or we could have lunch, I could call in sick."

Reed's voice was flat. "Whatever you want."

Ati Meneng said, "I guess I'm hungry, they'll probably yell at me, anyway."

Milo ran the address. Taxes were paid by Oasis Finance a.s.sociates, an investment firm in Provo, Utah. A call there elicited the guarded admission from the controller that the owners were "non-U.S.-citizens who wish to retain their privacy."

"Swiss or Asian?" said Milo.

"Pardon?"

"Swiss or Asian, which is it?"

"This is important?"

"It's a murder investigation, Mr. Babc.o.c.k. The victim's a woman named Dahlia Gemein."

"Gemein," said the controller. "Then you already know."

"I'll take that to mean Swiss."

"You never heard it from me." Milo clicked off.

I said, "Daddy Gemein's held on to the house two years after Dahlia disappeared. Maybe it's the family's West Coast getaway, as in sister gets to live here, too."

Milo said, "Kinda cute and traditional for Helga, but with Daddy paying the bills, she's flexible." Gloving up, he loped up the driveway, paused to peer through windows, continued to the garage, tried the door. Locked, but he managed to budge it an inch from the ground, squint through the crack.

Standing, he dusted himself off. "Little red Boxster, red motorcycle, looks like a Kawasaki. Be interesting if either was spotted on or near Borodi."

He called Don Boxmeister, gave him the info.

Perfect timing; the arson squad's canva.s.s was in full swing and a red bike had been spotted the day before the fire. Three blocks west of Borodi, parked illegally on a particularly dark section of street. The neighbor who'd seen it hadn't bothered to call it in. Boxmeister's other nugget was forensic: Initial a.n.a.lysis of residue found at the scene was consistent with vegan Jell-O, and scorched wires suggested electronic timing devices.

Milo gave Boxmeister Ati Meneng's story, then hung up and searched the inside cover of a notepad where he keeps a list he doesn't want on his computer: phone numbers of cooperative judges. Each time he begins a new pad, he recopies meticulously.

Running his finger down the small-print, back-slanted columns, he said, "This is your lucky day, Judge LaVigne."

LaVigne was available in chambers and Milo went full-bore, making more of the blond jogger than was justified by the facts, labeling the red Kawasaki as "rock-solid physical evidence." Emphasizing Helga Gemein's virulent hatred for humanity and evasive behavior when initially questioned, he tossed in speculation about international terrorist links, maybe even neo-n.a.z.i connections.

"Exactly, Your Honor, like Baader-Meinhof, all over again. Meaning the house-and I'm looking at it right now-could be a source of weapons, explosives, bomb timers, all of which has been implicated in the arson as well as the multiple murders. Top of that, the suspect may already be gone, we really need this warrant now."

It was as good a performance as I've seen and within seconds, he was winking and giving the thumbs-up. "Love that guy, he'll draft it himself, all I need to do is get it picked up and filed."

A call to Sean Binchy took care of the trip to the criminal courts building. Binchy was still at Manny Forbush's law office, soon as he had the dupes of GHC's hard drives he'd head downtown.

We waited for the locksmith and the bomb squad and the explosives dogs. Milo's cell battery was depleted and he switched to my car phone to get his messages. Lots of bureaucratic trash and one that mattered: Officer Chris Kammen of the Port Angeles, Washington, police department.

Kammen's ba.s.so rattled the hands-off speaker. "Hey, how's it going? We went over to that storage unit at four a.m. These people are neat-freaks, just about the most organized junk pile I've ever seen. Which is why I'm confident telling you there are no suitcases full of money. Not behind the piano or anywhere else."

"You're kidding."

"Wish I was," said Kammen. "Fortunately for you, the facility's got after-hours video that actually works. Unfortunately for you, it doesn't tell much. At eleven forty-three p.m. a male Caucasian in a dark hoodie used a key to gain entry and came out ten minutes later carrying what my grandma would call two stout valises. I'm getting a copy of the tape to send you, but trust me, it's not going to accomplish diddly. All you got is shadows and blur, the hood covers his face completely."

"How do you know he's Caucasian?"

"White hands."

"He didn't bother gloving," said Milo. "Apparently not."

"Maybe that's because finding his prints in the bin wouldn't be suspicious. Mrs. Flatt was really nervous about Mr. Flatt finding out she held on to them. Maybe he did."

Kammen said, "I wondered the same thing so first thing I did was look Flatt up, and trust me, it's not him. He's a big boy, six six, used to play basketball for P.A. High, power forward, good outside shot, I remember the name now. We used the gate as a frame of reference to get a measure on Hoodie and he's closer to five ten."

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