A thin blonde man in an expensive suit walked out of the front door of Rose's house. He was carrying some kind of long thin bundle wrapped in newspapers.
"Okay," Mitch said, watching from a hilltop several blocks away through a pair of binoculars. "There he goes."
"Has he got Rose with him?" Wolf asked, sitting up straighter in the car he'd rented that morning.
Mitch shook his head. "Nope. No other cops, either. If there were any more cops there I'd see some cars with a bunch of antennas, and I don't." He watched as Dover got into the only such car on the block and began to drive. When Dover reached the end of the block, he turned north.
"Okay," said Wolf. "We gotta check it out. I figure maybe he's got her in there. Probably not, but we can't let it go."
Mitch opened the passenger's door and and got in. "I'm with you," he said.
"This guy Dover is the wild card in this game, Mitch," Wolf replied, pulling out. "We don't know who he is or why he's here. "
The parking space Dover had been in was long gone, of course, by the time they arrived, but one of Rose's neighbors came out to his car and left as they approached, and they got the space. They said nothing as they walked up the steps toward her house.
Rose's key worked in the lock, and the door opened. Mitch pulled his .38 and went through the door first. Wolf came into the living room behind him and took a long careful breath, then stooped to sniff at the doorknob. "Two things; Rose hasn't been here lately, and this guy's not our killer. I know what our killer smells like. Nobody else has been in here in the last day or so either."
Mitch nodded, but he kept the gun out as he checked the kitchen, the bedroom, and the tiny bathroom. The place was a kaleidescope of distractions; even though it was a tiny house, half a carnival could hide in here. There wasn't a single square inch of open wall; paintings and embroidered samplers and engravings and etchings hung in rich overlapping profusion, and there were bookshelves and knicknacks, and every horizontal surface was piled high with art of various kinds ranging from bizarre to wonderful to banal. He'd been here before, but it was too much to keep track of.
Little that he could identify had been added; there were some police radios and electronics on the table in the kitchen, with several file folders, and a couple of suitcases on the bed in the bedroom. But there was so much stuff. He had a crawling feeling that he was missing something.
Mitch checked the first suitcase quickly, and found three more of those fantastic suits, plus an assortment of beautifully tailored shirts and two pairs of gorgeous handcrafted shoes. The guy had probably dropped thirty grand just on clothes. He's got to be a psychic, Mitch thought. This is the kind of protection Rose has with her house, only he has to have it small and light enough for a suitcase.
Mitch moved on to the second case. It was empty, but the cutout outlines in the foam rubber lining left no doubt what had been in it. He sucked his breath in. "Oh, shit... Wolf, get in here."
Wolf bent down and sniffed the case. "He touched this," Wolf said, "Just a few minutes ago. And the guns were here, I smell the oil and the powder and the varnish from the stock. It's hardly the kind of stuff our killer likes, but..."
"Yeah," said Mitch, "But it means Dover is probably some kind of killer anyway. And this is hardly police issue. A police marksman doesn't use a breakdown case like this, and nobody else gets rifles. And except for snipers, FBI agents sure as hell don't get rifles with scopes."
They both froze as in the kitchen the telephone rang.
It rang a second time, and a third, and finally Rose's answering machine picked it up. It did not play any outgoing message at all; it just played a beep and began to
"Contro Tutti i Dii," said a voice. "Pick up, Dover, there's trouble." Then there was a wait, and whoever was on the other end sighed, said "call me back," and hung up.
"What the hell did he say?" said Mitch, walking into the kitchen.
"I didn't catch it," said Wolf, right behind him. "I think it wasn't in English."
"I think it's Italian," Mitch said. "I recognize tutti anyway, that means 'all.'"
Mitch looked for a caller-id box, but didn't find one. He muttered something obscene and pulled out his notebook to jot down the exact time of the call. Maybe later, with a subpoena or a warrant, he could get it from the phone company. He thumbed the replay button on the answering machine and then wrote down the exact words of the Italian phrase, as near as he could make it out.
Wolf turned away from the phone and started putting mint tins and other small items into a duffel. In response to Mitch's raised eyebrow, he said, "Protection's from 'em and not just for 'em, near as I can make out. We need all the help we can get."
"Okay," said Mitch, "but we don't have time for you to make a bunch of trips out to the car. We don't know where he went. He could be back any time."
Mitch went into the bathroom and emerged a few seconds later with an ornately enameled snuffbox full of talcum powder. He took a pinch of it and sprinkled it on the inside doorknob in the living room, then breathed on it to blow away anything that wasn't sticking to a fingerprint. Next, he grabbed some scotch tape from the kitchen table and picked up two fingerprints from the doorknob on the sticky side, folding over the rest of the tape to catch them inside two layers. Finally, he stuck the folded tape in his pocket. The whole operation had taken him about ninety seconds.
Wolf was watching from the kitchen, admiringly. "You've done that a few times before," he observed.
"Just a few," Mitch agreed wryly, heading back for the bathroom. "He had to touch that doorknob on his way out. And now, so do we."
Wolf turned around and something caught his eye. "Uh, Mitch?" he said, pointing at a newspaper clipping on the table. "Check this out."
A grainy, black-and-white photo of a naked woman standing in front of a crowd and talking went with the strange story of a new cult of Aphrodite formed in the previous night. There was something familiar about the woman, but Mitch couldn't place it. He felt like she was somehow out of context, and he'd probably recognize her if only she'd been wearing her clothes.
"It's from a clipping service," he murmured, pointing at the stamp above the article headline. "Why would Dover's clipping service be sending him this?" He took down the name and address of the clipping service in his notebook, along with their attribution of the article to the Bay Weekly. One more thing to check out, he thought. They were coming away from this with more new questions than new answers.
"We're out of time," said Wolf.
"Yeah," Mitch agreed. "We gotta go."
They left Rose's house without another word.
"Where now?" said Wolf, getting behind the wheel.
"San Francisco State," said Mitch. "We've got just a half-hour or so before we're supposed to meet Abelard. And be on the lookout for paper stands. I want to get the Bay Weekly and get our own copy of that article." He fumbled out one of his cellular phones and started trying to figure out its Internet capabilities. "If I can get to Google, they have a translation service and I can see what that guy said," he muttered.
"When he left, he took that rifle for a reason," said Wolf. "I want to know who he plans to shoot."
"Uh. Yeah," said Mitch, uncomfortably shifting in his seat.
YOU ARE READING
This is a story that tells, among other things, why it really sucks to be psychic, what people who endlessly collect art and trivia are really doing, and where Gods, Goddesses and Devils come from. Rose is a telepath - but it isn't really "readin...