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           Sue Grafton
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  ALSO BY SUE GRAFTON

  Kinsey Millhone Mysteries

  A is for Alibi

  B is for Burglar

  C is for Corpse

  D is for Deadbeat

  E is for Evidence

  F is for Fugitive

  G is for Gumshoe

  H is for Homicide

  I is for Innocent

  J is for Judgment

  K is for Killer

  L is for Lawless

  M is for Malice

  N is for Noose

  O is for Outlaw

  P is for Peril

  Q is for Quarry

  R is for Ricochet

  S is for Silence

  T is for Trespass

  U is for Undertow

  V is for Vengeance

  W is for Wasted

  and

  Kinsey and Me: Stories

  A MARIAN WOOD BOOK

  Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

  Publishers Since 1838

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street

  New York, New York 10014

  Copyright © 2015 by Sue Grafton

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Grafton, Sue.

  X / Sue Grafton.

  p. cm. — (Kinsey Millhone mystery ; 24)

  ISBN 978-1-101-61434-1

  1. Millhone, Kinsey (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—California—Fiction. 3. Serial murder investigation—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3557.R13X12 2015 2015025108

  813'.54—dc23

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  This book is dedicated to my children:

  Leslie, Jay, Jamie & Robert.

  Caring, hardworking, responsible; my pride and joy always.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the following: Steven Humphrey; Judge Brian Hill, Santa Barbara County Superior Court; Melissa Carranza, Assistant Office Manager, Executive Limousine; Santa Barbara FBI Special Agent Linda Esparza Dozer; Ventura FBI Special Agent Ingerd Sotelo; Will Blankley, U.S. Probation Department Supervisor; Dave Mazzetta, CPA, Ridgeway and Warner, Certified Public Accountants; Sarah Jayne Mack, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church; Louise Chadwick, Office Administrator, Montecito Water District; John Pope; Joel Ladin; Jamie and Robert Clark; Susan and Gary Gulbransen; Sean Morelos; Sally Giloth; and Robert Failing, M.D., forensic pathologist (retired).

  CONTENTS

  Also by Sue Grafton

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  IN THE BEGINNING . . .

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  AND IN THE END . . .

  IN THE BEGINNING . . .

  Teddy Xanakis would have to steal the painting. What other choice did she have? She believed it was a Turner—a possibility she couldn’t confirm unless she shipped it to the Tate in London, where the Turner scholars, Evelyn Joll and Martin Butlin in particular, could make a judgment about its authenticity. Unfortunately, the painting was currently in the basement of the house that was now solely in Ari’s name, where it had sat for years, unrecognized and unappreciated. She might have blamed herself for the oversight, but why on earth would anyone expect to find a priceless painting in such homely company?

  She and Ari had bought the house when they moved from Chicago to Santa Teresa, California. The estate had been owned by the Carpenters, who passed it down from generation to generation until the last surviving family member died in 1981, having neglected to write a will. The estate attorney had locked the doors and put the house up for sale. Teddy and Ari had bought it fully equipped and fully furnished, right down to the rolls of toilet paper in the linen closet and three sets of sterling flatware in the silver vault. The antiques, including several exquisite Persian carpets, were appraised as part of the purchase price, but in the process a small group of paintings had been overlooked. The attorney had paid the taxes owed, handing the IRS and the State of California the hefty sums to which they were entitled.

  Teddy and Ari had made use of a number of the antiques in furnishing the mansion’s first and second floors. The rest they’d moved into the complex of storage rooms below. The paintings were in a cabinet in an upright rack, each leaning against its neighbor. Teddy had come across them shortly after they moved in. Over the years she’d developed an eye for fine art, but these paintings were drab and uninteresting. The subject matter was classical: nymphs, mythological figures, Roman ruins, a seascape, heavy-legged peasant women bringing in the harvest, a still life with a dead duck and rotting fruit, and a floral arrangement in colors she didn’t care for.

  It was after she and Ari divorced and they’d both signed off on the settlement that she’d realized one of the paintings she’d so carelessly dismissed might be an original by Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose work sold at auction in the millions.

  Her rationalization for the contemplated theft was as follows:

  1. Ari had no appreciation of art. The collection she’d put together comprised the works of a group known as Les Petits-Maîtres—minor Impressionists like Bartoli, Canet, Jacques Lambert, and Pierre Louis Cazaubon, whose paintings were still affordable because the artists themselves had never achieved the legendary stature of Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and their ilk. The collection had already been awarded to her in the settlement, so why not this one small additional painting?

  2. If Ari realized the true value of the painting, they’d only get into another wrangle as to which of them was entitled to it. If they couldn’t agree, which seemed inevitable, a judge could force a sale and divide the money equally between them. In this one tiny instance, money didn’t interest her. The Turner was a treasure she’d never see again in her lifetime and she was determined to ha
ve it.

  3. Ari had already screwed her over once, quite literally, by having a dalliance with Stella Morgan, the woman Teddy had once considered her best friend.

  Stella’s husband, Douglas, was the architect who’d designed the remodel of a condominium Ari and Teddy owned in downtown Santa Teresa. It was while he was overseeing construction that he was stricken with a fatal heart attack. Months passed. After the remodeling work was finished, Ari and Teddy continued to see Stella, who had adjusted to her widowhood as best she could with all that money as compensation.

  Then came disaster. That September Teddy spent a weekend in Los Angeles, attending a seminar at the Getty on the Plein Air Painters. On Monday when she arrived home, she hadn’t been in the house an hour before an acquaintance rang her up and gave her a blow-by-blow. Teddy’s options were limited: fight, flight, play dead, or screw him. She’d slapped Ari with divorce papers within the week.

  He got the house, which she couldn’t afford to maintain in any event. She got the flat in London. He got a sizable chunk of jewelry, including the necklace he’d given her for their tenth anniversary. She freely confessed she was bitter about that. The stocks and bonds had been sorted out between them. The division was fair and square, which pissed her off no end. There was nothing fair and square about a cheating husband who’d boffed her best friend. In a further cruel twist of fate, in the division of their assets, Teddy had been awarded the very condominium where the architect had breathed his last.

  More real estate was the last thing she needed. Her broker priced the condo at a million plus and assured her of a quick sale. After the apartment sat for eighteen months without a nibble, Teddy decided the place would be more attractive if it were properly furnished and decorated. She’d hired a Santa Teresa stager named Annabelle Wright and instructed her to cherry-pick the items in Ari’s basement for that purpose. He agreed because the hostilities had gone on long enough and he wanted her out of his hair.

  Once the condo was suitably tarted up, Teddy had hired a photographer to do a shoot, and the resulting four-color brochure was circulated among real estate agents in Beverly Hills. A well-known actor had snapped it up—all cash, no contingencies, and a ten-day escrow. The deal was done and all that remained was for the two of them to sign off so Teddy could collect her check.

  In the meantime, and this was Teddy’s final rationalization:

  4. Ari and Stella had gotten married.

  Teddy had moved to Bel Air by then, living in the guesthouse of a friend who’d taken pity on her and invited her to stay for an unspecified period of time. It was during the ten-day escrow, while papers were being drawn up, that someone spotted the painting that appeared in the brochure, a seascape shown hanging above the fireplace in the living room. This was a dealer who owned a gallery on Melrose and had an unerring eye for the finer things in life. He’d glanced at the photograph and then brought it closer to his face. A nanosecond later, he picked up the phone and called Teddy, who’d long been a customer of his.

  “This looks like a Turner, darling. Could it possibly be genuine?”

  “Oh, I doubt it. That’s been sitting in the basement for years.”

  “Well, if I were you, I’d send color photographs to the Tate to see if someone can establish the provenance. Better yet, take the painting yourself and see what they have to say. What harm could it do?”

  Heeding his advice, she decided to retrieve the painting and have it examined by the experts. She returned to Santa Teresa, where she signed the final papers on the sale and then drove from the broker’s office to the condominium. She’d been told the new owner would be taking possession the following weekend as soon as the place had been emptied, so when she let herself in, she was astonished to see the apartment had already been stripped to the bare walls. No furniture, no art, no Persian carpets, and no accessories. She’d called Ari, who was gleeful. He said he’d known she’d dash in and confiscate any items she took a fancy to, so he’d made a preemptive strike and emptied the place. If she wanted to dispute the move, she could have her attorney contact his.

  As she no longer had access to the painting, she approached the photographer and asked to see his proofs. There were several clear shots of the painting, which was really quite lovely now that she had the chance to examine it more closely. It was a seascape with a flat beach and a sky streaked with clouds. In the background, cliffs were visible; probably the Margate Cliffs, a Turner favorite. In the foreground, a boat appeared to have foundered. The boat itself, she learned later, was known as a xebec, a small three-masted ship having an overhanging bow and stern and both square and lateen sails. The tonal quality was delicate, gradations of browns and grays with touches of color here and there. She asked for and was given four prints.

  At that point, she realized she’d better buckle down to work. She moved back to town and embarked on a comprehensive self-education. She studied the J.M.W. Turner catalogue raisonné and any other biographical information she could get her hands on. Turner had died in 1851. The bulk of his artistic output he’d left as a bequest to the National Gallery in London. Three hundred and eighteen paintings went to the Tate and National Gallery, and thirty-five oil sketches to the British Museum. The remaining two hundred plus paintings were in private collections in Great Britain and America.

  Nine paintings were unaccounted for. The appearance of one such painting, whose whereabouts and size were unknown, had been mentioned in the November 1833 Magazine of Fine Arts. Described as “a beautiful little picture,” it was hung in the Society of British Artists exhibition that same year. Its owner was one J. Carpenter, about whom nothing else was known except that he had loaned a Hogarth and a Morland to this same exhibition. Teddy’s eyes filled with tears and she’d had to honk discreetly into a tissue.

  She drove to the Santa Teresa County Architectural Archives and then to the Santa Teresa Dispatch to research the family who’d had the painting in its possession for so many years. Jeremy Carpenter IV had emigrated from England to America in 1899, bringing with him a sizable family and a ship’s hold filled with household goods. The home he built in Montebello, which had taken five years to complete, was finished in 1904.

  Teddy made three trips to the house, thinking she could walk in casually and remove the painting without attracting notice. Unfortunately, Ari had instructed the staff to usher her politely to the door, which is what they did. Of one thing she was certain—she could not let Ari know of her interest in the seascape or her suspicions about its pedigree.

  She thought she had plenty of time to devise a plan, but then she learned the newlyweds had leased the house for a year to a couple from New York. Ari and Stella were taking a delayed honeymoon, after which they’d move into the contemporary home that Stella owned. Ari was apparently taking the opportunity to clear out the basement. His intention was to donate the bulk of the items to a local charity for the annual fund-raiser coming up in a month.

  She’d have to act and she’d have to do it soon. The task she faced was not entirely unfamiliar. She’d stolen a painting once before, but nothing even close to one of this magnitude.

  1

  Santa Teresa, California, Monday, March 6, 1989. The state at large and the town of Santa Teresa in particular were nearing the midpoint of a drought that had slithered into view in 1986 and wouldn’t slither off again until March of 1991, when the “miracle rains” arrived. Not that we dared anticipate relief at the time. From our perspective, the pitiless conditions were upon us with no end in sight. Local reservoirs had shrunk, leaving a wide swath of dried mud as cracked as an alligator’s hide.

  My professional life was in the same state—always worrisome when you are your sole financial support. Self-employment is a mixed bag. The upside is freedom. Go to work when you like, come home when you like, and wear anything you please. While you still have bills to pay, you can accept a new job or decline. It’s all up to you. The downside is u
ncertainty, the feast-or-famine mentality not everyone can tolerate.

  My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private detective by trade, doing business as Millhone Investigations. I’m female, thirty-eight years old, twice divorced, and childless, a status I maintain with rigorous attention to my birth control pills. Despite the shortage of new clients, I had a shitload of money in the bank, so I could afford to sit tight. My savings account had been plumped by an unexpected sum that dropped into my lap some six months before. I’d invested the major chunk of it in mutual funds. The remaining cash I kept in a money market account that I designated “untouchable.” Friends, on hearing about my windfall, viewed me as certifiable. “Forget about work. Why not travel and enjoy life?”

  I didn’t give the question credence. At my age, retirement is out of the question, and even temporary idleness would have driven me insane. True, I could have covered my expenses for months to come with enough in reserve for a lavish trip abroad, except for the following impediments:

  1. I’m miserly and cheap.

  2. I don’t have a passport because I’ve never needed one. I had traveled to Mexico some years before, but all that was required in crossing the border then was proof of U.S. citizenship.

  That aside, anyone who knows me will testify to how ill-suited I am to a life of leisure. When it comes to work, it isn’t so much what we do or how much we’re paid; it’s the satisfaction we take in doing it. In broad terms, my job entails locating witnesses and missing persons, following paper trails through the hall of records, sitting surveillance on insurance scammers, and sometimes tailing the errant spouse. My prime talent is snooping, which sometimes includes a touch of breaking and entering. This is entirely naughty of me and I’m ashamed to confide how much fun it can be, but only if I don’t get caught.

  This is the truth about me and you might as well know it now. I’m passionate about all manner of criminals: killers, thieves, and mountebanks, the pursuit of whom I find both engaging and entertaining. Life’s cheaters are everywhere and my mission is to eradicate the lot of them. I know this speaks volumes about the paucity of my personal life, but that’s my nature in a nutshell.