The Obsession Page 103

“God, I have to get beds. And champagne. And serious supplies. If you think I can cook,” she said to Xander, “wait until Harry makes a meal.” Obviously buoyant, she jumped back to Mason. “Do you think you can put in for some time off so you can be here, too?”

“I’ll look into it.”

Sipping his own coffee, Xander saw it start to get through, when some instinct, some tone, maybe some body language told her something was off.

“Is something wrong?” The moment she asked, she went pale. “Oh God, Harry and Seth. Is something wrong? Is one of them sick?”

“No. No, they’re both fine.”

“Then what? It’s something. You . . . you didn’t tell me you were coming,” she said, stepping back to look at him more keenly. “You aren’t telling me how long you’ll be here. You aren’t telling me something else.”

“Why don’t we sit down?”

“Don’t do that. Just be straight with me. Is this about Marla Roth? Are you here about the murder?”

“When someone’s murdered near my sister, and my sister finds the body, I take an interest.”

“So you’re here to talk to Chief Winston.”

“I’m here to see you, and to talk to Chief Winston.”

“Okay.” Though some of the shine dimmed, she nodded. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate the assistance. You don’t have to circle around telling me something like that, Mason. I know what you do.”

“It’s not just that. Another woman’s missing. Another local woman.”

“What? Who? When did— Did you know about this?” She whirled on Xander.

“No, and simmer down. Missing for how long?”

“Donna Lanier closed Rinaldo’s restaurant at approximately eleven forty-five Friday night. She was the last to leave, and was last seen by two other employees, who left about the same time. According to statements, she was supposed to drive to Olympia to spend the weekend with her sister and a cousin. Her car’s still in the lot, and she never met her sister and cousin or contacted them.”

“She could have changed her mind,” Naomi began.

“Her suitcase is in the back of her car. She’d planned to drive straight there after her shift. She hasn’t been seen or heard from since eleven forty-five on Friday, she hasn’t used a credit card, sent a text, made a call.”

“Donna. She’s the brunette?” Though she’d gone pale, Naomi’s voice stayed steady when she turned to Xander. “Early forties, round, cheerful face?”

“Yeah. She and Loo are tight. Go back to high school together. You think whoever killed Marla wasn’t passing through, didn’t just grab her up because he saw an opportunity. You think whoever did that has Donna.”

“I think it’s a strong possibility.”

“She calls everyone sweetie.” Slowly, Naomi lowered to a chair. “I noticed that when I first moved here, and I’d go in for takeout, she’d say, ‘I’ll get that right out for you, sweetie.’ Or ‘How are you doing tonight, sweetie?’”

“She has a kid in college. She raised her mostly on her own. Divorced, no interest from him in the kid. She has a daughter away at college.”

“I’m sorry.” Naomi rose again, went to Xander. “You’ve known her all your life. I’m sorry.”

“I’ve never known her to hurt anybody. She’s nothing like Marla. Don’t they go for a type? She’s fifteen years older, brunette, settled, steady—and not the sort who’d catch your eye like Marla.”

“I need to talk to your chief of police, get more information.”

“How do you even know about it?” Naomi demanded.

“I contacted Winston after Marla Roth. Did you think I wouldn’t hear about it, Naomi? Christ, I’m a federal agent, I’m going to hear about it when my sister finds a body in her goddamn backyard.”

“It wasn’t, and you’re taking that tone with me to block me from taking one with you. I didn’t tell you because there wasn’t a point. I didn’t want to worry you or the uncles. Is that why they’re coming out here?”

“I haven’t said anything to them about this. Yet.”

Mason let the last word hang a moment.

“I talked to Winston about Roth, gave him my contact information, asked him to let me know if anything else came up. It came up.”

“If you two want to snipe at each other about it, I’ll stay out of the way.” Xander shrugged. “But it’s pretty pointless on both sides. I’m getting more coffee.”

“You could have told me you’d called the chief, told me you’d come here to talk to him.”

“You could’ve told me you found a dead body.”

“Next time I find one, you’ll be the first.”

“Don’t joke about it, Naomi.”

“Oh, I’m not.” She closed her eyes. “I’m not. I’m sick at the thought of it. I don’t know how you do what you do. I know why, I understand why you chose to do what you do, but I don’t know how you face it. Day after day, how you stand being faced with it. I’ve done everything I could to cut all of it out of my life, to put up walls. And you do the opposite. I can be proud of you, and I am, and still wonder how you stand it.”

“Doing this is how I stand it. We can talk about this when we’re alone, and when I have more time.”

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