Night Vision

A Jane Lawless Mystery

Jane Lawless Mysteries (Volume 14)

Ellen Hart

Minotaur Books

NIGHT VISION
1
When it came to leaving, Joanna always had to work her way through alternating layers of anxiety and fear and an ever-present hungry itch, one that whispered in her ear that it was time to go back out into the world again and prove she was a survivor. In the past fourteen years, her house overlooking Lake Pend Oreille had become not just a home but a safe haven. She'd never felt comfortable on display in Hollywood. She'd always looked upon her life there as a necessary evil.
Sandpoint was a town of some seven thousand people, situated at the tip of the Idaho Panhandle, just fifty miles from the Canadian border. When Joanna had first come here after the trial, it had seemed like the middle of nowhere, and that's just where she wanted to be.
Even before the trial, Joanna had been looking to get out of L.A. She hated the phoniness, the professional promises so easily made and broken, the casual lies, and the ignorant arrogance that came with power and privilege. Every morning she'd wake in her home in Bel Air with the same sense that something was breaking inside her. She was surrounded by friends, fans, business associates, and an adoring public, and yet she was hugely--cavernously--lonely.
For a time, she toyed with the idea of moving back to the TwinCities, back to her hometown of St. Paul, but that felt too much like failure. She wasn't the young, eager, innocent Jo Carlson any longer--theater major at the U of M, aspiring actress, starry-eyed wannabe. She was Joanna Kasimir, an internationally known film star with dozens of movie credits--and an Academy Award and two Golden Globes resting on her mantel. She could still remember the dreams she'd had as a young woman. She'd lived on little else for years. How could she have known what the flip side of those dreams would be? When she finally left L.A., she knew without a doubt that she was running for her life.
But life had a habit of never traveling in straight lines. It turned out that she wasn't running away so much as she was running toward something better. She'd found her mountain hideaway near Sandpoint two months after leaving L.A., bought it on the spot. She was as much seduced by the cathedral feeling of the big log house as by the tall timbers surrounding it, the view of the lake below, the fresh air, and the sense of peace all around her. She could make a stand here. She would dig in and see what life was really about. Amazing as it seemed, she'd come to love this place with the same passion she felt for acting. She'd never felt lonely here, not even for a day.
Afternoon sunlight flooded the living room as Joanna turned from the deck and walked back inside. She stroked her blond hair behind her ears, glancing down at her grubby jeans and T-shirt. She'd have to get used to wearing presentable clothing again while she was in Minnesota. The limo was scheduled for ten tomorrow morning. It would take her to the airfield where she'd board a private jet. She was pretty much packed, although she wanted to look through her closet one more time.
Heading up to her bedroom, she cringed when she saw the four extralarge suitcases spread open on her bed. Joanna Kasimir, the actress, adored beautiful clothing. It was all part of the split personality thing Joanna had been living with ever since she'd moved to Sandpoint. She was part small-town resident and general recluse, and part actress, a woman who could still command an audience and who still had the fire in her gut to act.
Cordelia Thorn, an old friend and the current creative director atthe Allen Grimby Repertory Theater in St. Paul, had offered her a part she'd been wanting to play for years--Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The AGRT was one of the finest regional theaters in the nation, so it was an honor to be asked to join the company for a limited engagement. Joanna relished the challenge of bringing something new and definitive to the role. If nothing else, shrews were fabulous characters to play. At forty-seven, Joanna had long ago faced the fact that the film scripts she was being offered were, to put it bluntly, crap. The legitimate stage had become the refuge of the aging actress.
As she started to close the suitcases, the phone rang. Stepping over to the nightstand, she picked up the receiver. "Hello?" she said, standing with a hand on her hip.
"Joanna? It's Diego Veras."
Diego was her brother's boyfriend. She hadn't heard from either of them in more than a year. She felt a pang of guilt for not keeping in better touch but pushed it away. "Hi," she said. Her first instinct was to assume that something was wrong, but she felt it was best to go with a neutral question. "How are you?"
"Fine. Well, not so fine, actually." Diego had a heavy Spanish accent. He and his family had moved to California from Buenos Aires when Diego was fifteen. Diego and Joanna's brother, David, had met when David was in L.A. visiting her--must have been back in the early eighties. Diego was Joanna's age, a few years older than David, already an established architect at the time. "What's going on?"
"Have you heard from David?"
"No. Why? Is he okay?"
"To be honest, Joanna, I don't know. He ... well, he left me. I thought he'd go off for a few days, think about it, and come back. He's done it before. But he's been gone a long time and I'm worried."
"How long?"
"Almost a month."
Joanna sat down on the edge of the bed. "Are you saying you have no idea where he is?"
"Yeah. No idea."
"Was he angry when he left?"
"Not exactly. I was. I told him things had to change or ..." His voice trailed off.
"Or what? Tell me!"
"Or I was leaving him. Look, I blame myself, okay? I shouldn't have lost it like I did, but you don't know what it's been like living with him this last year. You haven't exactly been the world's greatest sister, Jo, so I don't think you're entitled to a lecture."
If he wanted to make her feel like a total shit, he'd succeeded. "He didn't say anything about where he was headed?"
"After I left for work one morning, he just took off. When I got home that night, his car was gone, and so were a bunch of his clothes. He took maybe five thousand from the wall safe. I had a guy run a check of his credit cards. He's not using them. He obviously doesn't want me to know where he is. I've talked to our friends all over the country, but nobody's seen him. I'm scared, Joanna. In the shape he was in, anything could've happened."
"What's that mean?"
"He's not well. Don't ask me what's wrong, because I don't know. I'm not even sure David knows."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Welcome to my life."
She pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes. "Call the police, Diego."
"I did. He's officially listed as a missing person, but so what? It's not like they go looking for him."
"Then hire someone private."
He sighed. "I thought about that. But I keep hoping he'll come back."
"If you don't hire someone--and I mean today--I will."
"Okay, okay. You're right. But I wanted to check with you first, just in case he headed your way. I didn't really think he had."
Score another point for Joanna. She was a lousy sister.
"Can you think of anyone he might contact?" asked Diego. "I've called all our friends. Nobody's seen or heard from him."
Downstairs, the doorbell rang.
Joanna put her hand over the mouthpiece and shouted, "Annie, will you get that?" Annie Thompson was her live-in housekeeper and cook. Returning to Diego, she said, "I don't know. I'll have to think about it."
"Well, think fast, okay? I'm going crazy here. If you hear from him, you'll call me, yes?"
"Of course I will. You do the same." She explained that she was leaving for Minneapolis in the morning. She gave him the phone number of the loft where she would be staying. He already had her cell.
As she hung up, Annie sailed through the bedroom door carrying a large package wrapped in bright pink paper.
"Flowers, Joanna. I can smell them right through the wrapping." Annie was an energetic, sentimental, soft-bodied woman. Her mother was from Mexico, an illegal until her father, a rancher from Utah, had married her. She set the package on the dresser and stood back, waiting for Joanna to open it.
Joanna's stomach still contracted with dread at the sight of a flower delivery.
Ripping off the paper, her breath caught in her throat. It wasn't precisely like the flowers Gordon used to send, but it was close enough.
"Something wrong?" asked Annie. "Here, you should read the card." She removed a small pink envelope from the center of the arrangement.
With shaking hands, Joanna opened it and read:
Roses are the flowers of love. Can't wait to see you! Did you miss me?
There was no signature, but then, it wasn't necessary.
"Who brought these?" demanded Joanna.
Annie seemed startled. "A delivery guy."
"What did he look like?"
"Tall, I think. Yes, tall. White. Middle-aged."
"Was it a delivery truck or a private car?"
"I didn't notice."
Joanna rushed to a window overlooking the front of the house. In the distance, she could see an SUV kicking up dust as it sped away down the hill.
"Did I do something wrong, Joanna? Please tell me! Are you upset?"
Panicked was more like it. Joanna grabbed the cordless phone off the bed and punched in the number of her lawyer in L.A. She was amazed to realize she still knew it by heart.
When the secretary answered, Joanna announced who she was and demanded to talk to Gershen Blumenthal.
"He's in a meeting. If you give me your number--"
"Get him out of the goddamn meeting! This is an emergency!"
While she waited, she glanced at the flowers. "I'm okay, Annie. But get those out of here. Dump them in the garbage."
"But--"
"Do what I tell you!"
A moment later, Blumenthal came on the line, his voice as booming and hardy as ever. "Joanna, what a nice surprise--"
She cut him off. "You've got to do something!"
"I do?"
"It's happening again."
"Joanna, if you'd just calm down and--"
"For God's sake, don't patronize me, Gersh! You've got to help me. I can't take this again!"
The lawyer was silent. Then, "What are you saying? Be specific."
"Gordon." She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. "He's back."
NIGHT VISION. Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Hart. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.