A sexy and surefooted investment counselor, who made her ride to the top in her red Triumph, circa 1972, Iris Thorne seems unshakable. She’s never looked back on her long climb up—certainly not as far back as her blue-collar roots in East Los Angeles. But the suicide of Dolly DeLacey, the mother of Iris’s childhood friend, Paula, has hit harder than the latest L.A. quake—and the aftershocks are just beginning.
At the request of Dolly’s husband, a slumlord with low friends in high places, Iris must locate the wayward Paula and bring her home for her mother’s funeral. But Iris has inside information that makes returning to the old neighborhood a potentially deadly task—and casts Dolly’s suicide in a suspicious light. Now, Iris dredges up an explosive memory she’s kept hidden for years, a shocking secret that may help her solve an almost perfect murder—or bring her down in an act of long-awaited vengeance…
“[Iris Thorne is] sleek, smart and refreshingly bitchy…. Any heroine so ambitious and quirkily original that she’ll sneak peeks into her associates’ lunch bags for clues to their home lives deserves our undivided attention.”
— Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Sharp and stylish… a multistranded complex of lies, betrayal, and desperation… that strips bare the politics of relationships. Clever and cool.”
— Val McDermid, Manchester Evening News (UK)
“[A] tightly knit, unpredictable tale. With her bold moral compass, her appealing in-your-face attitude and unsettled romantic life, Iris is a compelling heroine.”
— Publishers Weekly
Dolores Gaytan DeLacey knew she risked making her husband mad by straightening his newspapers, but if she just straightened them and resisted the temptation to throw any out, maybe he wouldn’t notice. She never threw out anything that belonged to him anyway. She’d learned her lesson a long time ago—even though he’d accused her of exactly that as recently as last month. He had eventually made her understand that the newspapers weren’t junk. He was going to read them when he had the time. And until he found the time, he’d keep them in his office, where she had no business being anyway. Why, just the other day, he told her, he’d taken one down and read it and had thrown it away when he was finished. So he didn’t want her saying he never threw anything away.
Many of the piles of newspapers still had not been righted and lay where they had toppled over. Others listed to the side. It wouldn’t take much to send them tumbling to the ground too.
She shoved the handle of her feather duster between the ties of her apron and leaned over to pick up a stack. She checked their dates to make sure she heaved them back where they belonged, then wiped beads of perspiration from her forehead and tried to catch her breath.
It had been an unseasonably warm and dry January for Los Angeles. Even though the thick adobe walls in the old part of the house kept the air cool, Dolly was hot. It didn’t take much for her to overheat these days, but she didn’t want to sit down and rest. She’d had enough of that.
It had taken her a long time, but she had finally made a navigable path to his desk. Of course he’d used his desk since the papers and everything else had fallen. He’d simply crawled over them with the ease of a much younger man. That’s one thing Dolly could say about her husband. Nothing, not even age, seemed to slow him down. Crawling up and over was not an option for her, not that she had any business in his desk anyway. She had no business there at all.
She dropped heavily into his desk chair, the worn leather and old springs singing, and picked up the hem of her apron to blot her face. She looked out the small paned window that was cut into the adobe wall, and waited for her breathing to return to normal. The sun shone through lacy, dusty cobwebs strung across each of the corners. She wondered how she could have let her house go for so long. She told herself it wasn’t her fault, not really, but she still felt it was. After all, this was her house. It would always be her house.
She pulled open the lower right-hand drawer of the old wooden desk and was glad to see that the metal box was still there. Grabbing its handle, she lifted it from the drawer, then carefully shoved the clutter on the desk out of the way to set it down. She opened it. It wasn’t locked. Why would he bother?
The box held just two things. She took out the will, her will in which she’d left him all her worldly possessions. Those were the exact words: all her worldly possessions. She’d reread that phrase many times since she’d found the single typed sheet a month ago. The signature was shaky and infirm but it could have been her signature in 1971, twenty-five years ago, which was when the will was dated.
She had no recollection of making the will but she remembered very little from that time. It was during her amnesia. Of course, she didn’t really have amnesia, but it was easier to explain things that way. Since then, some of her memories had returned, slowly creeping into her consciousness like creatures crawling from a dark cave. Most of the memories were joyful; some were not. Still, huge chunks were missing. Years and years. Vanished.
But there was one thing she never would have done, even then. She never would have left him all her worldly possessions. There was really only one thing he coveted anyway, and she’d promised her father that her husband would never own the remaining five hundred acres of Las Mariposas.
It was all that was left of the forty-three thousand acres granted to her great-great-grandfather in 1830 by the Governor of Alta California in payment for his services in Mexico’s war of independence. Her great-great-grandfather had named the rancho Las Mariposas because of the swarms of butterflies he said he encountered when exploring the property. In reality, he had confused fields of golden poppies with butterflies.
Her husband said her father had specifically stated in his will that they were to own Las Mariposas jointly, but she still didn’t know how that had happened. It was one of the things that remained hidden.
It would sort itself out. After all, her husband was twenty-two years older than she was. Certainly she’d outlive him. But things had been happening lately that made her uncertain. It had started with the baked chicken in mushroom sauce that he’d cooked. She was sick for two days after she’d eaten it while he remained healthy. Then there was the patch of flooring that had given way under her feet. She’d nearly dropped into the basement. One day she’d had a look around the garage and found all sorts of things that she’d never seen before. Rope, rat poison, saws. She’d only put it all together after she’d decided to stop taking her medication. It was as if a fog had lifted. Everything became crystal clear.
Reaching into the metal box again, she took out the other item it held: a gold wedding band. She held it up so she could see the inscription etched on the inside. Gabriel y Isabella 14 Junio 1934. She clutched the ring in her fist and her fist to her chest. The tears came immediately, forcefully. She felt the need to sink down, to get close to the ground, or to cling to something like the desk or a wall, but she fought it. She had to be strong. She had to keep her wits about her.
After calming down, she reached into her apron pocket, took out a square that she’d clipped from the neighborhood newspaper, the El Sereno Sentinel, unfolded it on the desk, and read it again.
SECURE WITH YOUR RETIREMENT PLANS?
UNCERTAIN HOW TO PAY FOR YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION?
I was raised in El Sereno and attended the local schools where I later taught hearing- impaired children. Now, as a senior investment counselor for McKinney Alitzer Financial Services, I’m in a unique position to understand your financial concerns…
Dolores looked at the small picture of Iris Thorne’s face in the corner. She picked up the heavy metal receiver of the old telephone. Her father, Gabriel, had installed that telephone. It had been the first one in the house. She looked around the desk for something to help her turn the rotary dial that had round openings above each number, which were too small for her fingers. She used a pencil.
A recording answered. It told her what to do if she had a Touch-Tone or a rotary phone and Delores became confused and hung up. Her eyes again teared. She steeled herself and tried again and finally reached a real person, who put her through to Iris Thorne’s number.
“Iris?” she asked apprehensively at the sound of Iris’s voice. It was another recording. Determined not to hang up, she clutched the telephone handset with both hands and listened carefully until it was her turn to speak.
“Iris! It’s Dolly. Dolly DeLacey. I don’t think he knows I know. I don’t know who I can trust. He’s turned my children against me. He knows everyone on the police department and at City Hall. I think he knows the governor and even the president and the president runs the FBI. Who can I turn to?”
She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She was getting hysterical. She knew firsthand that no one paid attention to a hysterical woman. “Iris, he’s trying to kill me. Bill’s trying to kill me. There’s a rope in the garage and some saws and poison, Iris! It says it’s for rats but there’s a skull and crossbones on the box. It’s deadly poison! Then in his desk I found a metal box with my will in it. But I don’t remember it, Iris. How could I leave him everything? What about my children? And my father’s ring is there, too…”
She paused and listened. “It’s him! There’s his car. It’s him. Oh my goodness!”
She quickly hung up, put the box back in the drawer, slid the drawer closed, pushed the chair underneath the desk, and with trembling hands tried to return the clutter on top of the desk to its original position. She started to leave the room, then rushed back to grab the ad that she’d forgotten on the desk. Hurrying out, she bumped against the stacks of newspapers. She felt more and more out of breath. Ducking into her bedroom, she closed the door and tried to compose herself. When she heard Bill go into the kitchen, just like she expected him to do, she began to calm down. Everything was going to be fine, she told herself. Everything was going to be fine because over the years she’d finally learned to think like he did.
He walked into his office and said, “Huh,” when he saw that she’d straightened it up. Standing behind his desk, he reached down and picked up a small, carefully folded square of white paper that lay on the carpet. A self-satisfied smile crossed his lips as he wedged the paper between the desk and drawer, down low on the far side. This was the best location—confirmed via many tests—for it to drop to the ground almost unseen when the drawer was opened.