I didn't learn as much as I'd hoped, mostly because I'd fallen asleep halfway through a book on the details of importing illegal goods and the tax evasion issues it created. Yes, money laundering profits from illegal smuggling was just that fascinating. That was the last time I'd spend the night at the Victorian. I woke up to find myself drooling on a picture of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, one of the Bay Area's most notorious gangsters.
On the plus side, it was a very refreshing nap. Unfortunately, nothing I'd read had immediately pointed me to an aha! moment about how and why Albert might have killed my aunt.
I still had half an hour before my shift started, which left me plenty of time to run back to my apartment for a change of clothes. Something nice and bright that didn't scream prowler like the current black outfit did. Or maybe that was just my guilty conscience talking.
I was climbing the stairs when 2B stuck his head out the door. He looked a little green. "I've been waiting for you, Marty. Come on in for a second."
I froze on the top step, horrified at the idea. "I can't…I mean, I'm kind of in a…no."
"Can't you just come in for a second?" he asked. "I need a favor."
"I can hear you just fine from here," I said. And what would make him think I would do him any favors?
He rolled his eyes. "What, you think I want to jump your bones or something? I just wanted to ask you if you've got any Pepto-Bismol. I taste tested some of Mr. Bitterman's food a little while ago, and I'm not feeling so good."
"The soup?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"The cabbage surprise?" I asked.
He clutched at his stomach. "It was some kind of meat. I think it was rat. Or squirrel."
Any more talking, and I was going to need the Pepto-Bismol.
"I don't have any Pepto-Bismol," I told him. "Sorry."
"Can you go buy me some?" His face twisted. "I'm in bad shape here, Marty."
"Why don't you ask Mr. Bitterman?" I said. "He's the one who made you sick."
"I don't want him to know."
I looked at him, surprised.
2B shrugged. "He reminds me of my grandpa. I don't want to hurt his feelings."
That was kind of sweet, even coming from 2B. I'd had no idea he felt that way about Mr. Bitterman. It might have been my first actual glimpse of the real 2B behind the raggedy Deep Purple T-shirt and devil goatee. Maybe he had a soul after all.
"I'll check with Mrs. Strum for you," I told him. "I have a feeling she might have been to the pharmacy recently herself."
"Thanks, Marty." He backed into his apartment. "I'll leave the door unlocked. Just come on in. I'll be in the bedroom." He closed the door, and I heard hurried footsteps on the other side and the squeaking of bedsprings as he threw himself onto his mattress.
He was going to have a long day.
* * *
After leaving a bottle of the promised medicine outside 2B's door, I raced back to campus and spent the next four hours slinging coffee, wiping tables, and looking over my shoulder every three seconds for menacing thugs or shady burglars.
By dinnertime, Irene and I were huddled in front of the computer in her home office, where she was showing off the newly polished Sherlock Holmes website. Her office was nestled in the back corner of the house, with glass walls overlooking the pool on one side and gorgeous landscaped gardens on the other. The colors were light. The furniture was plush. It was a vacation suite with a work space.
"I don't know." I studied the screen. "This still feels wrong."
"Is it the colors?" Irene looked at it. "I thought darker would be good. You know, for a mysterious globe-hopping detective involved in matters of murder and intrigue."
I glanced at her. "Or a figment of your imagination."
She grinned. "Whatever."
"I don't know," I said again. "I don't like that red. Can you make it look less like blood?"
"It was subliminal messaging," she said. "But have it your way." She went to work, and moments later, the red dripping letters morphed into black block letters on the forest green background. "How's that?"
I nodded. "Masculine without being psychotic."
"If you say so. Let's take it live." A few mouse clicks later, she sat back and checked her watch. "It's almost time. This is going to be fun."
I didn't know about that. Despite Irene's enthusiasm, Sherlock Holmes wasn't getting any easier to live with. It was one thing to toss out a bogus name when we were talking to potential suspects. It was another to keep growing the charade at Watson's expense.
"I've got him!" Irene announced. "The man is punctual. I've got to give him that. Punctuality is good." Her fingers scrabbled across the keyboard. I leaned over her shoulder to read the screen. "Don't worry," she told me. "I'm just telling him how nice it is to finally meet him."
I rolled my eyes.
"And now…" She kept typing. I hope you've found my assistant, Martha, helpful.
"Hey, be careful," I said.
"Lighten up, Marty. He doesn't have a clue."
I wasn't sure about that. Watson definitely seemed to have a clue. Sometimes I got the impression he was just paying out some line while we doubled down on Sherlock Holmes. If so, it was only a matter of time before he yanked us back down to reality and maybe onto the radar of Detective Lestrade. Who also, oddly, seemed to believe that I worked for a private investigator. For the moment. Until he got hold of the phony license. Was there any way he could get hold of the phony license? No, of course not.
On the other hand…
She's a very bright young woman.
"What high praise." Irene's tone was droll.
"What else is he going to say to my boss?" I asked. Still, very bright young woman stung a little bit. As much as nice had. He could have at least said She's a very bright and devastatingly sexy young woman. Or something.
Talk about being yanked back to reality.
"Huh." Irene leaned closer to the screen. "Are you seeing this?"
I refocused. Watson was talking about the park and Kate's complaint letters about the criminal activity there. He'd taken it on himself to follow up with the police.
"…a recent arrest," Irene read. "And look at this. It was about two weeks before Kate was killed."
My pulse stepped up a notch. It had to be Albert Fong. There was nobody in that park more deserving of being arrested than Albert Fong. Except maybe Heckle and Jeckle, but I had a feeling if you cut off the Albert Fong head, those snakes would be nothing but empty husks in matching black suits.
"We've got him," I whispered.
"Steven Sanders." Irene sat back. "Who's Steven Sanders?"
"I don't know. I don't remember talking to…" Then it came to me. "Wait, that's Rabid."
Irene looked up at me. "The skateboarder guy?"
The skateboarder guy I'd confronted by myself and practically accused of murder. I nodded. "What was he arrested for?"
She turned back to the computer. "Possession of marijuana."
"Oh." What a relief. "Is that all?" No surprise there. The real surprise would have been if he didn't possess marijuana.
"The arrest came about as a result of complaints from a local concerned citizen," Irene read.
I gave a start. "Complaints…"
"That citizen…" Irene looked up at me again. Her expression was grave. "…was Kate Quigley."