SITTING WITH HER FEET on her desk, Loren Muse decided to call Max Darrow's widow.
It was three or four in the morning in Nevada- Loren could never remember if Nevada was two hours or three behind- but she suspected that a woman whose husband gets murdered probably sleeps uneasily.
She dialed the number. It went into voice mail. A man's voice said, "Max and Gertie can't answer your call right now. We're probably out fishing. Leave a message, okay?"
The voice from the grave made her pause. Max Darrow, retired cop, was a human being. Simple, but you forget that sometimes. You get caught up in the details, in the puzzle pieces. A life has been lost here. Gertie will have to change that message. She and Max won't be going fishing anymore. Sounded like a small thing but it was a life, a struggle, a world now shattered.
Loren left a message with her phone number and hung up.
"Hey, what are you working on?"
It was Adam Yates, the FBI chief from Vegas. He'd driven to the county prosecutor's office with her after their meeting with Joan Thurston. Loren looked up at him. "Just a few strange developments."
She told him about her conversation with Cingle Shaker. Yates grabbed a chair from a nearby desk. He sat, never taking his eyes off hers. He was one of those guys. Big on eye contact.
When she finished, Yates frowned. "I just can't see how this Hunter guy fits in."
"He should be in custody soon. Maybe we'll learn something then."
Yates nodded, kept up with the eye contact.
Loren said, "What?"
"This case," Yates said. His voice was soft now. "It means a great deal to me."
"Any reason in particular?"
"Do you have children?" he asked.
He held up his hand. "That was stupid, sorry."
"Why all the questions?"
"You don't have kids. I don't think you'll understand."
"Are you for real?"
Yates held up the hand again. "I don't mean that the way it sounded. I'm sure you're a good person and all."
"It's just that... when you have kids, it just changes things."
"Do me a favor, Yates. Please don't give me that having-children-alters-you spiel. I listen to that crap enough from my painfully few friends."
"It's not that." He paused. "Actually I think single people make better cops. You can focus."
"Speaking of which..." She picked up some papers and pretended to be busy.
"Let me ask you something, Muse."
"When you wake up," Yates went on, "who's the first person you think about?"
"Okay, it's morning. You open your eyes. You start getting out of bed. Who is the first person you think about?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
"Well, not to be insulting, but the answer is you, right? There's nothing wrong with that. You think about you. That's normal. All single people do that. You wake up and wonder what you're going to do that day. Oh, sure, you might take care of an elderly parent or something. But here's the thing. When you have a child, you are never number one again. Someone is more important than you. It changes your worldview. It has to. You think you know about protect and serve. But when you have a family..."
"Is there a point to this?"
Adam Yates finally stopped with the eye contact. "I have a son. His name is Sam. He's fourteen now. When he was three years old, he got meningitis. We thought he might die. He was in the hospital in this great big bed. It was too big for him, you know? It looked like it would swallow him up. And me, I just sat next to him and watched him get worse."
He gulped a breath and swallowed hard. Loren let him take his time.
"After a couple of hours, I picked Sam up and held him in my arms. I didn't sleep. I didn't put him down. I just kept holding him. My wife says it was three full days. I don't know. I just knew that if I kept Sam in my arms, if I kept watching him, then death couldn't take him away from me."
Yates seemed to drift off.
Loren spoke softly. "I still don't see the point."
"Well, here it is," he said, his voice back to normal. He locked eyes again. His pupils were pinpricks. "They threatened my family."
Yates put his hand to his face, then back down as if he wasn't sure where he wanted to put it. "When I first started this case," he went on, "they set their sights on my wife and kids. So you understand."
She opened her mouth, said nothing.
The phone on the desk rang. Loren picked it up.
Lance Banner said, "We lost Matt."
"That kid who lives with them. Kyra, whatever. She started screaming and... Anyway, his wife is here. She says that she was driving the car, not him, and that she doesn't know where he is."
"I know it."
"Bring her in."
"She refuses to come."
"We have nothing on her."
"She's a material witness in a murder investigation."
"She's lawyering up. She says we either have to arrest her or let her go."
Her cell phone chirped. Loren checked the caller ID. The call was originating from Max Darrow's house.
"I'll get back to you." She hung up the office phone and clicked on the mobile. "Investigator Muse."
"This is Gertie Darrow. You left me a message?"
Loren could hear the tears in her voice. "I'm sorry about your loss."
"I don't mean to disturb you at such a terrible time, but I really need to ask you a few questions."
"Thank you," Loren said. She grabbed a pen. "Do you know why your husband was in Newark, Mrs. Darrow?"
"No." She said it as though it was the most painful word she ever uttered. "He told me he was visiting a friend in Florida. A fishing trip, he said."
"I see. He was retired, yes?"
"Could you tell me if he was working on anything?"
"I don't understand. What does this have to do with his murder?"
"This is just routine-"
"Please, Investigator Muse," she interrupted, her voice up a notch. "My husband was a police officer, remember? You're not calling me at this hour for routine questions."
Loren said, "I'm trying to find a motive."
"But..." And then she quieted down. "The other officer. The one who called before. Investigator Wine."
"Yes. He works in my office."
"He told me that Max was in a car, that"- there was a choke in the voice but she kept it together-"that he had his pants down."
Loren closed her eyes. So Wine had already told her. She understood, she guessed. In today's society of openness, you couldn't even spare a widow anymore. "Mrs. Darrow?"
"I think that was a setup. I don't think there was any prostitute. I think your husband was murdered for some other reason. And I think it might involve an old case of his. So I'm asking you: Was he working on anything?"
There was a brief silence. Then: "That girl."
"I knew it. I just knew it."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Darrow. I'm not sure what you mean."
"Max never talked about business. He never brought it home. And he was retired. She had no reason to come around."
"I don't know her name. She was a young thing. Maybe twenty."
"What did she want?"
"I told you. I don't know. But Max... after she left, he was like a madman. He started going through old files."
"Do you know what the files referred to?"
"No." Then: "Do you really think this could have something to do with Max's murder?"
"Yes, ma'am. I think it might have everything to do with it. Does the name Clyde Rangor mean anything to you?"
"No, I'm sorry."
"How about Emma Lemay or Charles Talley?"
"I saw that name."
"On his desk. There was a file. Must have been a month ago. I just saw the word 'Potter.' I remember because that was the name of the bad guy in It's a Wonderful Life. Remember? Mr. Potter?"
"Do you know where the file is now?"
"I'll go through the cabinets, Investigator Muse. If it's still here, I'll find it for you and call back."