G is for Gumshoe - Page 89/98

There was a silence. I had to struggle not to jump in with a lot of pointless dialogue. I'm too old to beg and whine. I just couldn't picture us in a motorcade, driving across town to a kidnapping or a shootout with Mark Messinger. My presence was redundant. I had other fish to fry. Rochelle was loading her gun-both chambers. It was too ludicrous for words, but something about it gave me a leaden feeling in my gut.

I could see Dietz debate my request. In an odd flash of ESP, I knew he'd have felt safer if I were going with him. He held out his car keys, not quite making eye contact. "Take my car. There's a chance Messinger might spot us if we pull into the hotel parking lot in it. We'll take the rental car. What I said before goes. Nothing dumb."

"Same to you," I said, perhaps more sharply than I intended. "I'll meet you out at the charter place."

"Take care."

"You too."


It was 4:42 when I turned into the entrance to Mt. Calvary for the second time that day. A long line of eucalyptus trees laid lean shadows across the road. I passed through them as though through a series of gates as I wound my way up the hill. I turned left into a parking area near the office and pulled in beside a splashing stone fountain in a circle of grass. Bright orange goldfish darted among the soft, dark green filaments of algae. I locked the car. The tall carved wooden doors to the nondenominational chapel were standing open. The stone interior was dark.

I passed a double row of flat monuments, displaying various types of granite markers and styles of lettering. Hard to decide which I preferred at such a quick examination. I reached the office and pushed through the glass door. The reception area was empty, the desk bare except for a neat stack of postcards depicting the crematorium. What kind of person would you write to on one of those? I spotted a discreet sign saying press buzzer for service attached to a device about the size of an electric letter opener. I pressed a lever. Magically, a woman appeared from around the corner. I wasn't really up on the fine points of cemetery ethics so, of course, I told a lie. "Hello. I wonder if you could help me…"

From the woman's expression, she was wondering the same thing. She was in her forties, dressed in prim office clothes: a gray wool dress with a touch of white at the neck. I was sporting my usual jeans and tennis shoes. "I certainly hope so," she said. She kept her judgment in reserve just in case I was rich and had a passel of dead relatives in need of lavish burial.

"I believe my aunt is buried here and I need to know the date she died. My mother's in a nursing home and she's worried because she can't remember. Is there some way to check?"

"If you'll give me the name."

"The last name is Bronfen. Her first name was Anne."

"Just a moment." She disappeared. It was hard to picture how she'd find the information. Was all this stuff on a computer somewhere? In some old file cabinet in the back? If the date and place of death didn't coincide with Bronfen's story, I was going to do some digging and see if I could come up with the death certificate. It might mean a few phone calls to Tucson, Arizona, but I'd feel better knowing what had really happened to Anne.

She returned in a remarkably short period of time, holding a white index card which she passed to me. There wasn't much on the face of it, but it was all pertinent. I soaked up the typed information in a flash. Surname, Chapman. Given name, Anne Bronfen. Age, forty. Birthdate, January 5, 1900. Sex, female. Color, white. Place of birth, Santa Teresa, California. Place of death, Tucson, Arizona.

Ah. Date of death, January 8, 1940. That was interesting.

Date of interment, January 12, 1940. The space allotted to the funeral director had been left blank, but the lot number and the plot number were filled in.

"What's this?" I asked. I held the card out, pointing to the bottom line on which the word cenotaph had been handwritten in black ink.

"That's a commemorative headstone for someone who's not actually buried in that plot."

"She's not? Where is she?"

The woman took the card. "According to this, she died in Tucson, Arizona. She's probably interred there."

"I don't get it. What's the point?"

"The Bronfens might have wanted her remembered in the family plot. It's a great comfort sometimes to feel that everyone's together."

"But how do you know this woman's really dead?"

She stared at me. "Not dead?"

"Yeah. Don't you require any proof? Can I just come in here and fill out one of these cards and buy somebody a gravestone?"