Cynthia Kang and Desdemona Valdez walked close to each another along the swath of beach as the sun rose. Out here in Malibu the fire-charged air and confetti of ash had been batted away by ocean breezes. Human folly and the sick intent of arsonists had created various wildfires in the Southland like that which could destroy mythical Asgard. The flames ate up trees and houses, apartments and mobile home parks from Santa Barbara to Sylmar to portions of Orange County. Some 1,300 homes lost to the incendiary whims of chance and winds up to sixty miles an hour. At one point sixteen separate fires blazed all through the night and a billion dollars of loss and resources was or would be consumed. And even as the firefighters tried to tame the fires, they’d been warned that rains were forecast as well. That the charred brush wouldn’t be allowed to cool before it had to be bulldozed into place and bolstered with sandbags to as best as possible curtail severe flooding and runoff, and more destruction of property and highway closures.
Maybe the capricious gods had finally gotten tired of their experiment and would let Southern California perish in a succession of ways. But the denizens were stubborn, for they had small dogs to buy sweaters for and more Botox to inject.
Congresswoman Kang reflected on this as she and LAPD Detective Valdez attempted to understand recent event unrelated to the fires but corrosive as well.
“I feel like one of those people in that board game, Clue or some such,” Valdez remarked, picking up a stick and spinning it out into the waves.
“That’s merely watered-down Agatha Christie,” Kang answered contemptuously, putting an arm around her lover’s waist and squeezing. “We had us some real twisty shit, homey.”
Valdez said, “Okay. So your brother was involved with this Cenine all along?”
“According to the text messages he’s sent me in the last twenty-four hours, she came to him all dewy-eyed and throaty whisper sometime in the middle of this mess. Seems she was worried she couldn’t trust Countryman. Could be too she’d learned of that loose cannon Riggs floating around and this had her figuring maybe she need backup in case something happened to her boy Dieter ”
Valdez chortled. “More like she needed another sucker, a man of course, to take out Countryman when and if she needed it to happen. Making sure when she came to your brother the top buttons on her shirt were undone to so he wouldn’t miss her heaving breasts.”
Kang grinned. Mutt and Jeff had been arrested, and with Gilmore and Countryman dead, the two had indicated in separate interrogations that they’d talk if they could make a deal.
Valdez stopped. “But he’s only compounding his sins, Cynthia. Right now he’s a person of interest, which is a limbo term for ‘once we get our hands on your ass, you are suspect number one, buddy.’ That’s if Cenine don’t bury a butcher knife in his back.”
“I know,” Kang said, concerned. “I’ve been texting him back, trying to convince him to turn himself in.” She shrugged. “Maybe he can claim she kidnapped him.”
“Uh-huh, blinded by her feminine wiles.”
“I am by yours.” They kissed.
At the diner in Norco, Mutt was freeing up the knife he was holding under the table when Cenine Gilmore stabbed him in the side of the neck with the fork she’d been using on her delicious pancakes. From a CPR course she’d been required to take to work as a lifeguard in junior college, she recalled the chart the instructor had shown them. It helped that the teacher was cute, a pre-med student who went into more detail than usual about the working of the human body when it came to pulling people from the water.
She remembered all about the carotid artery as the main supplier of blood to the brain and where it was positioned in the neck. It wasn’t random, then, where she did damage to Mutt and why as he rose and called her various names he got woozy and fell back in the booth like an arthritic spinster pushed from her walker. His blood decorating the Formica and faux leather.
Cyrus Kang was also on the attack, and after he’d put an elbow into Jeff’s mouth, chipping one of his front teeth, he followed up with a vicious overhand bringing the glass syrup container down on the tall man’s forehead, embedding a few shards in his brow.
This only enraged Jeff, and he plastered Kang’s brother with an uppercut that sent the younger man reeling. But Cenine Gilmore was already giving it some lung power as she shouted, “Rape! These freaks are trying to snatch me and my boyfriend for their horrible sex games!”
Already the dust-up had attracted attention, and two long-haul truckers wolfing down their breakfasts had been watching open-mouthed along with the other patrons. When Cenine yelled they went into action, while Jeff kicked Cyrus Kang, who was on all fours on the freshly mopped floor.
“My teeth. Nobody fucks with my teeth,” Jeff screamed. He was proud of not ever having a cavity, and now he was going to need an implant. He was beside himself with anger. That’s when the truckers tackled him and began to punch and claw at the incensed tall man.
“Fuckin’ hilarious,” Valdez said deadpan, recounting the diner fight. They’d begun walking back to Lillian McCord’s abode that jutted on a bluff overlooking the beach and ocean. “As Jeff battles it out with the other two and Mutt’s all wobbly and lightheaded, your brother and the architect of all this madness skedaddle like a Teamster caught at a Bette Midler revue.”
“Not all of this,” Kang corrected. “She set up the X-selling network through the Pasta Grotto chain not for the money–well, not solely for the money, but to screw with her husband.”
“Say what, Jessica Fletcher?”
Kang continued. “It seems what she was really trying to pull off was discrediting her husband. When he got his final diagnosis that he was facing his degenerative disease, and she knew subsequent to this he’d changed his will to leave a great deal to several charities and good causes.”
Valdez shook her head. Kang went on: “If she could call into question the source of Gilmore’s money, even a part of it, then maybe that would scare some of these charities away from taking the funds. The specter of the IRS or SEC nosing around giving them weak bladders.
“She might also be able to mount an argument in court that her deceased husband was trying to hide assets via these charitable entities–some of them he’d given money to for years or they’d been recipients of grants through the Dollarville chain.
“So she puts the vamp on Countryman to learn what was going on with her husband inside the operation once she figured out Mace was onto her, at least as far as the selling of X went.”
Valdez began to ascend the wooden steps from the beach back to the house but paused. “So where the hell is Lacy Mills? We know from the autopsy on the billionaire she either administered a lethal cocktail to him or forced him to drink it. And what about Grish Waller? His death set this all off.”
Kang took in a deep breath of salty, clean air. “Chet did some digging and found out Lacy met Mace Gilmore some twenty years ago. One of those organizations he helped was a local literacy program she was a board member of.”
“So she was working for Gilmore all this time?”
“More like they shared a vision, it seems. Turns out she was into New Agey stuff too. So yeah, looks like they had a connection going way back.”
The couple reached the top landing, both looking out to sea. “Speaking of visions, Gilmore had one about you, yeah? The shit he set in motion was to test you, make you strong in a Nietzschean way. To lead us reptile brains out of the muck.” She grinned widely at her girlfriend. “I guess that means you ain’t reached your potential yet.”
Kang didn’t comment.
Valdez glared at her evenly. “Does Mills convince your old mentor to kill himself? I did some digging too, Congresswoman, and know she took several hypnosis classes via extension courses over the years, as well as hung out at some whacked-out guru’s place out in the high desert. I mean, Grish liked his late-night scotch, according to you. This investigation was hanging over his head, an investigation spurred on by the bullshit Cenine and Countryman were doing. So he had a lot on his mind, has his drink… or two. She comes into his study, talking to him comforting and what have you, but really putting the suggestion in his head.”
Kang said, “I honestly don’t know, Des. Conrad had tracked her down to Vegas and was pushing to get the truth out of her, but he told my brother later she was talking crazy. Going on about how she had to take it further than what Mace wanted to do, rattling on about the end days and starting to speak in tongues. This ruckus is heard and the law is called.
“So when the Vegas deputies take him in, after Lacy has run off, they knew the two were an item ’cause that’s what one of the deputies suggested and he just let that play out. Like it had been a lover’s spat rather than have them look any more into it since he didn’t want to scare Mills underground.”
“Mills was more whacked out than what we heard Gilmore going on about at the witchy woman’s house?”
“Could be she and Gilmore were working toward the same purpose but she got derailed. Who knows, maybe she was taking more drugs than he was.”
Valdez shuddered briefly and held Kang close. They watched the sun and surf.
On the 15 Freeway heading east back toward Las Vegas, Cyrus Kang drove and Cenine Gilmore tore dainty strips of beef jerky off a hunk and fed them to him. In the trunk was a metal suitcase studded on its edge with rivets. This they’d retrieved from a house in Orange County. You didn’t have to look close to see a weak glow emanating from a slight imperfection in the lead coating. The glow slowly grew in intensity as the lovers on the run got closer to the Nevada border.
In the Mojave Desert outside the tourist town of Bodie, Lacy Mills parked her four-wheel drive and got out at an abandoned compound that was once the home of what some termed a cult. She hefted her backpack and walked forward into the cool, inviting shadows of what had been the main building–now partly ravaged due to looting and transients’ setting fires. Inside she would wait for the sign. When the time came, she performed certain rituals and, as the sun set, ingested a paste concoction that included peyote. The ghost of Grish Waller appeared to her and she beamed.