“You think he might beat me to a pulp. Gee. You really don’t have much faith in my manly skills, do you?”
“Your manly skills are not the issue here,” she said. “I don’t want you to take that kind of risk on my account. I mean it. You can’t do this by yourself and that’s final.”
He hesitated. “I guess I could take along some backup.”
That stopped her for a heartbeat or two.
“Backup?” she repeated cautiously.
“A guy I know. He’s big. Had some military training. Worked construction for a while.”
“Do I know this man?”
“Tell me again why we’re going to drive all the way into Portland to see this guy, Witley,” Mitchell said, buckling his seat belt.
“Long story.” Gabe put on his dark glasses and turned the key in the ignition. “It’s just barely possible that Witley is stalking Lillian. She’s going to have an investigator check out his movements in the past few days, but I want to talk to him myself. Lillian made it clear that she didn’t want me meeting him alone. I refused to take her along. You’re the compromise.”
“Well, shoot and damn,” Mitchell said cheerfully. “This sounds like fun. Any chance of a fight?”
“Probably not. But there’s always hope.”
She stared at the blank canvas, knowing that she was even less likely to get into the zone now than she had been earlier in the day when Gabe had interrupted her.
All she could think about was that he and Mitchell were on their way to Portland together to confront Witley.
The phone rang in the living room. She turned away from the canvas and went to answer it.
“Lillian? This is Nella. I got your message. What’s up?”
“Thanks for calling me back.” She sank down onto the arm of the sofa. “I’ve got a little problem here.
Remember that guy Witley I asked you to check out?”
“Sure.” Nella paused. “Something happen?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Can you find out if he left town sometime during the past few days?”
“Shouldn’t be too difficult. What’s going on, Lil?”
“I’m not sure.” She gave Nella a quick rundown of events.
“I’ll get right on it,” Nella said. “Meanwhile, watch yourself, okay? These guys tend to escalate.”
“What do you mean?”
“The incidents get more serious. It’s a progressive thing. Do me a huge favor. Lock all your doors and windows and keep them locked until your friend Madison gets there or until I give you the all-clear. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have something solid.”
Lillian ended the call, put down the phone and went back into the studio.
The blank canvas might as well have been sitting in another universe, a place where she could not go today.
A red compact pulled into the drive just as she was about to pour herself another cup of tea. Her fourth that afternoon. She went to the window and saw Claire Jensen, dressed in a navy blue shirt and a pair of jeans, get out from behind the wheel and walk up the front steps.
Just what she needed. Another interruption. She put down the cup and went to open the front door.
“Hi.” Claire looked and sounded as if she had not slept much in recent days. “I need to talk to someone.
Mind if I come in for a few minutes?”
More sisterhood stuff. How much of this kind of thing was a woman supposed to do to retain her politically correct status?
“No, of course not.” Lillian held the door open. “I made tea. Want some?”
“That would be nice. Thanks.”
Claire walked into the front hall, took off her coat and gave it to Lillian to hang in the closet.
“Come on into the kitchen,” Lillian said.
“I assume you know that Marilyn fired me.”
“It’s not exactly the end of the world.” Claire folded her hands on the table and looked out the window.
“Campaign managers get canned a lot. Goes with the territory.”
“I’m sure you’ll find another position.”
“Sure. Something will turn up. That’s not what’s bothering me. It was the scene in the Crab Trap. It’s all over town. I have never been so embarrassed in my life. The worst part is that I have no one to blame but myself.”
Lillian took another cup down out of the cupboard. “It’ll all blow over in a few days.”
“I still don’t know what made me track her down at the restaurant and confront her like that. I guess I was just so angry that I wasn’t thinking straight. She actually accused me of sleeping with Trevor, can you imagine?”
Lillian poured tea. “I take it you didn’t have an affair with him?”
“Are you kidding? I admired Trevor’s political agenda, but that was as far as it went. I’m a pro. I don’t sleep with my clients.”
Lillian set the cup down in front of her. “Probably a good policy in your line of work.”
“You bet.” Claire blew on her tea. “Besides, according to the rumors, Thornley likes to dress up in women’s lingerie and prance around in high heels. Don’t know about you, but personally I don’t find that type of thing a real turn-on.”
“I can see where the lingerie and heels might be a little off-putting. What happens now?”
“I’ll be leaving town in a couple of days. I plan to go to Seattle and regroup. I’ve got contacts there. But I didn’t come here to whine today. Well, maybe just a little.”
“Why did you come here?”
Claire put down her cup. “Marilyn has always been a little overcontrolling and a bit paranoid. I never worried about it too much. You expect that in a strong candidate. But I have to tell you that after those crazy accusations about Trevor and me, I’m starting to wonder if maybe she’s gone off the deep end. If that’s the case, I think you should be careful.”
“Me? Why should I worry?”
“Because I’ve noticed that she’s become a little fixated on your relationship with Gabe Madison. Maybe it’s because she’s divorced now. But I think there’s more to it than that.”
The phone rang. On the off chance that it might be Nella reporting back with the all-clear, Lillian lunged for it.
She heard the muffled noise of a car in motion.