They weren't more than half an hour out of Leicester when Rose found the misgiving niggling at Blow's consciousness from his meeting with the Bacon brothers. It hadn't become a formal question in his mind until he and Rose started dissecting implications of the new information. Just something that didn't feel quite right, keeping his skeptical reflexes from fully blessing the promise of hope Leonard's sober, reasonable presentation had aroused. Rose picked up right away that his mind wasn't settled.
“He frazzle you again, darlin'?” She was behind the wheel. He'd smiled, shaken his head and climbed into the passenger side when she asked if he wanted to drive the rental.
“Never been in one of these. What is it?”
“Buick Encore. I thought we'd be less conspicuous around here than in the Volvo. Former students back for Thanksgiving and all.”
“Good idea. Seems like every other car lately is a white SUV. We'll be invisible.” He strapped in and adjusted the seat for more leg room. Rolled his head back and forth against the soft cream-colored leather upholstery, inhaling and savoring the expensive new-car aroma.
He closed his eyes and felt suddenly drowsy. It was the comfort of the SUV's warm interior after the chill of walking from his office, he supposed. Other than what felt near freezing temperature the day was pleasant enough. No wind. Wispy cirrus streaks across the azure sky. The sun no doubt had warmed the air some since the brothers' blustery entrance.
The ride itself, smooth as a drifting feather once Rose had backed off the pad and gotten them on the road, encouraged his slide toward unconsciousness. It was her frazzle question that pulled him back, he hoped, and not a tracheal snort that would have prompted her to speak to cover his embarrassment. He shot her a look and saw no sign of a smirk or an attempt to hide one. But he hadn't gotten quite all she said, and on a prideful impulse decided to fake it.
“Doesn't take much to frazzle me, Rosie.” He mumbled it and stopped himself from going further, hoping what she'd said wasn't important.
“Oh, I don't believe that, darlin'. You're a pretty mellow fellow.” Her face when she glanced at him was blank—glowing, but expressionless. She turned back to the road, then added with a quick smile, “Most of the time.”
Of course. The meeting. She knew his client got on his nerves. Must've expected this had happened despite the “exculpatory” promise. Pissed him off, and he wanted to cool down before talking about it.
“Truth is, Rosie,” he said, knowing he was on her wavelength now, “I'm not sure what to think.”
He told her how Elvin had brought his brother and how Leonard by Elvin's own admission seemed in fact to be the “good brother,” and he told her what Leonard had presented. He remembered the trial, following it in the news, he said, and how surprised he and his father had been when what was looking to be a shaky prosecution case ended suddenly in a guilty plea. And the quiet admiration they'd shared when word trickled through the bar community that Bacon had reported the allegation of an ongoing felony involving his client, effectively scuttling his defense.
Rose had remained silent while Blow talked. She kept her eyes mostly on the road, but turned her head slightly toward him a couple of times, nodding that she followed what he was saying. She assumed he was finished after a longer than usual pause. She glanced over she saw that his eyes were closed, head tilted into the seat cushion.
“Sounds almost too convenient, doesn't it?” He question prompted a rustle of living flesh against soft, brushed leather. The voice that came with it was less than enthusiastic, almost a grunt.
“Yeah, it is.”
“What do you think?”
“I'll use it, of course, if that's all there is. At least plant the seed. It's plausible.”
“Pretty thin, though, isn't it? I mean without knowing who this Crawdad is?
“Damned thin, Rose.”
“You think Motley will be able to find out?”
“I'd rather he didn't, actually. I'd rather the police look into it?”
“Probly not. I'm sure these people are all still in prison.”
“Know any state investigators?”
“I don't, Rose. But Gobble would have to request it. Be fun to have him working for the defense.” His smile was half-hearted.
“Wouldn't they try to prove this Lucas King guy was lying?”
“Oh, sure. And he's unreliable, obviously. But they would have to go beyond his statement. It still all comes down to the woman. Who she was, or is, however credible King may or may not be. A State Police investigation could shake an apple or two loose from the tree.”
“You know, Rose, I still can't shake the feeling that Bacon, Elvin and maybe his brother, too, really don't want to find this woman. This latest doesn't help me with that. I still can't fathom why someone would go to the trouble to wipe away all the fingerprints on Elvin's boat. That was a risk, a big risk. I should think to pull off something like that you would need some real professionals. Very expensive professionals. Was revenge that important to this MacKenzie character?”
“You thinking maybe Elvin Bacon knew the woman?”
“Well, I'm...” Blow let his voice trail off to silence. They rode awhile without speaking, either of them, yielding to the traffic sounds and the steady hum of the Buick's tires on the highway asphalt. Blow was gazing out his window at a handful of crows feasting among a cornfield's rows of stubble when the word “knew” as he'd heard it in Rose's question pushed its way to the forefront of his consciousness with a new emphasis. What if the woman had known Bacon from somewhere? A long ago acquaintance? What if MacKenzie's pros had found someone from his past, someone he was unlikely to remember but who knew enough about him to bewitch? And at some point he realized who she was, or who he thought she was...”
“It was on the boat. He confronted her, lost his temper and they fought. He didn't intend to push her overboard but that no longer matters.” Rose finished Blow's speculation. She heard the ambivalent emotion in his voice, a mix of relief from understanding with disappointment at the implications.
Blow continued, “He sees how bad it looks for him. If her identity comes out and we can't prove a MacKenzie connection, his goose is cooked. It would prove his statement was lie. He's trying to find her, alright, but on the sly, hoping to find her alive.”
“So he had to be the one who got rid of the fingerprints, but he was in custody, wasn't he?”
“Nobody's nailed down exactly when it happened, but whenever it did it would have been way too big a risk for him, or anyone connected to Jacobs & Bacon. That's what bothers me more than anything right now.”
“It won't matter if the woman turns up alive, will it?”
“This is true, Rosie, but if she's dead, if, no matter how good she was in the water—a SEAL or some kind of Olympic swimmer or whatever—if she had a freak accident and drowned, and her body turns up--” He shook his head, turned it to Rose. The lines in his face joined the gray of his wig to give Rose a start at how suddenly he seemed to have aged.
Seeing the tip of his glue-on mustache peeking out of his breast pocket mitigated her concern enough to smile. Ordinarily she would have giggled.