Since Catherine had met Joey two months ago, it seemed she’d never had enough time for the amount of living she wanted to do. But today she wasted nearly twenty minutes standing on the sidewalk outside Ivy at the Shore waiting to have lunch with two friends from college, Caitlyn Raines and Megan Stiles. They arrived together in Caitlyn’s Mercedes, a car Catherine thought of as not a real Mercedes. It was the type that was no bigger than a Honda, but it had a three-pointed Mercedes symbol in about five inches of chrome.
Seeing the other two come together in that car started things wrong for Catherine. She’d had to drive alone from the Valley. There was the hint that they had been together for some time and shared information, and that they would be able to talk about her on the way home afterward, or even go on to continue their afternoon without her.
They were the sort of friends who had not been friends out of affection or admiration of one another’s good qualities.
They had all been attractive—two of them hot, in the argot of that time and place. Caitlyn had been the Scots-Irish girl with coal black hair and blue eyes, big breasts, and an undiscriminating smile, and Megan was the tall natural blond, so they had both been sought-after, but Catherine had not. She had been born with strawberry blond hair, a face that was pleasant but not striking, and eyes that were hazel, not blue. They had all done the work in high school that was necessary to score well on the standard tests and get them certified as college material.
At UCLA they had all pursued impressive-sounding academic programs that were genuinely demanding and edifying but were not designed to lead to any sort of future compensation. They had met in a freshman dormitory and been selected together for pledging at Sigma Tau Tau, a sorority filled with young women of similar promise and limitations. Their friendship had been dictated by the situation, the role they were doomed to play in that place. They had competed against each other for three more years.
The competition was unavoidable. If you were in a university program you had a grade point average, whether you wanted one or not. And to refuse to divulge yours was an admission that it was lower than someone else’s. And when you went to parties or university social events, it was always painfully obvious who was of great value to the opposite sex, and who was the second choice, and who was the one being settled for by the boy who was shortest or a little bit chubby. These were primal competitions of the crudest sort. The males were choosing on the basis of the females’ pure mating potential. Although the males had no idea that was what they were doing, they chose in absolute sincerity. In general, by the time males made any sort of approach they had already been drinking. Nuance was lost. They looked, and they wanted. Or they didn’t want.
Catherine’s few victories in this competition were due to a particular, odd circumstance. Megan Stiles, the tall blond, was actually over six feet tall in bare feet, a woman whom some short—or even average—men wouldn’t approach. She was a golden prize, but it took a man with a great deal of confidence to believe he could interest her. So there were evenings when she stood around a lot, surreptitiously looking over the heads of not quite suitors and hoping for somebody of the right height to come into view.
Caitlyn too had her solitary evenings. She had a loud voice, and a louder laugh, so on a couple of occasions a man who had immediately drifted toward the black hair and the white skin and the seductive shape seemed to drift away, his ears battered by the voice.
Usually Catherine had won the GPA and academic achievement events in the competition, but lost the social and romantic events. Having Megan and Caitlyn show up together reminded her of all of those disappointments, and she wished she had said she was too busy for lunch today.
“Hi,” she said as they let the valet take the miniature Mercedes and Caitlyn slipped the car check into her wallet.
“Been here long?” That was worse than being late. It showed Caitlyn knew she was late, but didn’t plan to apologize.
“Not too long,” Catherine said. “I got here right at twelve-thirty.” Twelve-thirty was the time of their reservation, and the time they’d all promised to be here.
Caitlyn and Megan leaned in and delivered air kisses. Catherine hoped that her perfume and hair smelled as fresh and floral as theirs, but she couldn’t tell what they thought.
“My God, Cathy,” said Megan. “It’s been how long? At least two years.”
“At least,” Catherine said. She had arrived at UCLA seven years ago having never been allowed to be anything but a Cathy. She had made a conscious decision to be a Catherine. The refusal of her friends, her supposed sisters, ever to respect or even acknowledge the change had always infuriated her. She’d been sure it was a competitor’s ploy to rattle an opponent. If there was a group photograph, she would always be identified as “Cathy” Hamilton. If there was a roster or listing of names, one of her friends would alter it to make her “Cathy.” At one time, if they had greeted her this way, she would have said, “Actually, it’s Catherine.” But she found she had outgrown that, as she had outgrown them. “Shall we go in?”
She held the door and let the others inside. For an instant she hoped they would see some hint of irritation on the face of the maitre d’—some disapproval for being half an hour late. But no, as long as they looked the way they did, they would be permitted to behave the way they wished. He was delighted to lead them to an excellent table where they had a view across the street at the ocean, and his other customers had a view of them.
They sat in the light, airy atmosphere of the restaurant and ordered the things that the ocean suggested to the appetite—crab cakes and sole and swordfish, which they ate the way they had eaten in college, sparingly, only tasting, with no bread and salads with no dressing. They drank iced tea unsweetened. The bit of caffeine-helped burn off weight, and heavily iced drinks made the body use calories to warm them to body temperature.
Caitlyn said, “Well, here we all are, divorced and unattached almost four years after graduation.”
Catherine had never been married, but she felt no reason to correct her.
“I thought surely you two would be the first ones in our class to have it all and do it all.”
Megan gave Caitlyn a sly look. “I thought you’d be the first one to do it all, anyway.”
Caitlyn gave a little slap to Megan’s forearm. “I hope you meant that in some nice way.”
Catherine said, “How is the movie job?” Caitlyn said, “That was two jobs ago. The whole world got laid off two years ago, not just me. I decided that if studio work was that precarious, it wasn’t for me. I was taking a low salary and working insane hours, thinking I would pay my dues and then move upward. And it wasn’t fun, either. It was always, “Get this one on the phone,” or “Messenger this to that one.”
“What are you doing now?”
“I’m thinking about going to get an MBA.”
“Ah,” said Catherine, nodding as though she agreed that was a sensible thing to do, although she didn’t. “How about you, Meg?”
“I’m getting ready to open a business.”
“Fashion. I found an opportunity to get some things made cheaply downtown, so I’m doing my own line. I should be ready in the spring.”
More concrete plans that weren’t concrete. Their plans were always specific instead of true, because that was how they had learned to lie. She knew that if she pressed either of them for details they would invent as many as she could listen to.
Megan made it Catherine’s turn. “And how about you? Are you still in school?”
“No. I’ve been working as assistant to a lawyer whose clients are all businesses. It’s pretty dull. No interesting details of divorces, no suspenseful criminal cases. It’s all just agreements between companies—four copies, signed and countersigned, then filed in the client file.”
“Oh my God, Cathy. You poor thing. How did that happen to you?”
“I had been looking for over a year, and didn’t find anything. I needed a job. There was no other choice. I had to pay my rent and live while I looked for something else, then tried to keep up with my expenses and put a little away.” She laughed. “It’s not like I went to prison. I’m getting through hard times. When it’s over I’ll look some more.”
They looked at each other. “Good luck.”
Catherine could see that they thought she was making a mistake. To be an unemployed fashion consultant or unemployed business owner was better than being a secretary. Better to be something pretentious and never get a chance to work than to let go of the illusion—the pose—that they were better than other people. She could see them moving her down the hierarchy in their minds.
Caitlyn and Megan talked through the rest of the lunch about “losing” their husbands. She knew that was a lie, like most of what they said. Women didn’t “lose” husbands, they threw them away. Only later did they realize what they’d done, and some of them regretted it. What they regretted was losing the person who had supported them, but that wasn’t what they felt. They felt the loss of a world where they could behave in any way they liked, and there would never be any consequences.
Caitlyn prided herself on being a “spoiled bitch,” and had once owned a T-shirt that said so in sequins. Catherine wondered what Caitlyn would think of a man who had a T-shirt that said, “Overbearing Ass.” It became clear that they’d both lost romantic interest in their husbands after a year or so, and, as Caitlyn put it, “Stopped acting like a little concubine or something.” So the husbands had moved on, and found somebody else. Caitlyn had made up a story about how men were selfish and went after every new woman.
Catherine didn’t know if that story ever happened or not. Probably it did. But it had never happened to anyone she knew. The woman had simply turned off the affection like a water faucet. Then she devoted herself to the house, though she didn’t clean or maintain it; the children, though she saw them for only a couple of hours a day; her friends; and her activities. Sometimes there was an enterprise of some kind, an almost-business the women conducted, but usually not. They didn’t give much thought anymore to their husbands, so their husbands were “lost.”
Catherine didn’t worry about Megan or Caitlyn. They would find more husbands. They had already learned that it was possible to make a lot of money in a divorce, and the quicker the divorce came after the wedding, the easier the money. If the dissolution of the marriage came really fast, there was almost no emotional investment lost, and their assets—smooth skin, thick hair, a good figure—sustained little depreciation.
Catherine took the check. There were a couple of feeble murmurs that started as a mild protest, then shaded into unenthusiastic thanks. She had done it because she had heard things in the conversation that she’d recognized as signs of money trouble. She too had once used Caitlyn’s “I’m too busy to take a job.” It meant she couldn’t find one. And Megan’s “My ex-husband is late with the check” meant more than late. Catherine didn’t care anymore, and so she didn’t begrudge them their lies.
In her profession, she had heard a lot of excuses like those. There were very few girls who hadn’t gotten started because whoever was supposed to be supporting them had stopped.
She went outside with Megan and Caitlyn and exchanged the usual hugs and near-miss kisses that they had traded since freshman year. She was acutely aware of the way the three of them looked on the sunlit sidewalk in front of Ivy at the Shore. As they were at this moment, three young women who were sophisticated, graceful, and just reaching the late peak of their beauty, they would have made a wonderful painting—one head light blond, one strawberry red, one coal black. As the valet parking attendant brought the little runt of a Mercedes and the other two got in, Catherine waved. As she watched them drive off along Ocean Boulevard she thought how nobody in LA called the place where the land met the ocean “the shore.” And then, without consciously turning her thoughts in their direction, she found herself deciding she would never see those two women gain. Everything she had ever wanted to know about them she had known before graduation. Now, four years later, they were the same, as they would be forever.
There was no reason to see them again. She handed the valet her parking receipt, and he ran off to get her car. He came back with the sleek black Mercedes S600. She had felt glad she had arrived first so they hadn’t seen the car. Because they were Megan and Caitlyn they would always assume she’d arrived on time because she drove an old Nissan or something, and not a car that cost five times what Caitlyn’s had. She heard a set of police sirens just as the car stopped and the valet got out and opened the door. She listened, and decided they were moving away.
She drove along Ocean Boulevard toward the end of Montana so she could get back into west LA. It had been a long lunch. It would be after three by the time she got home, and four by the time she was ready to work. She took out her phone and listened to her messages on the speaker.
The first one was an “I can’t help thinking about you all the time” call. She recognized the voice. Billy? Bobby? It was that kind of name. He was sweet, and kind of handsome. She would return his call when she got home. There was an “I saw your pictures on Backpage.com, and I thought I’d call and see if we could work out a deal.” No, she thought. If you saw the ad, you saw the prices. Nothing to work out. “Hi. It’s me, George. I’ll call later to make an appointment.” George was in his sixties, older than her father. But he was exactly the kind of regular that made girls rich. He was a widower who missed his wife and loved women. The old ones were gentle and patient, much easier on the body, and George gave her big tips.
She drove into the short driveway and waited while the heavy iron gate rose to admit her, then drove in, pressed the button to close it, and swung into her parking space. Catherine stepped to the inner door and went up into the first-floor lobby. There was a thick carpet, so her high heels made no noise. She stepped into the elevator, and went up to her apartment.
When she walked in, she could sense he was in the bedroom, even though he was very quiet. It sounded as though when he’d heard the door open he had stopped to listen to be sure it was Catherine. “Hi,” she said, and stepped into the bedroom.
He smiled. “Hi.” He had a great smile—boyish and unguarded, and yet there was a sly, knowing look in the big, beautiful eyes that revealed he was a really bad boy. It made her want to jump on him. She stepped toward him and saw he had a gym bag half open on the other side of the bed, and he had folded clothes inside.
“Are you leaving?”
“I think I’ve taken enough advantage of your hospitality. Thanks, Catherine. Thanks so much for putting up with me.”
“And for putting out with you?” She shrugged.
His smile renewed itself. “That too. No, that especially.”
She stepped closer. “I forgot to tell you the meter was running. You owe me seventy thousand roses. Just kidding.”
“If I had that much, I’d be happy to give it to you,” he said. He sat on the bed and put something else into the gym bag.
“Did you find an apartment?”
“I’d never move out for that,” he said. “I finally agreed to take that job in Phoenix. I’ll be back from time to time on weekends, and the job will end in the late spring.”
“Okay,” she said. “Sounds fine.”
“It gets a little hot for construction around then, and the jobs taper off.” He reached down, picked up a nearly empty two-quart plastic bottle of Pepsi, took a drink, and offered it to her.
As she looked at him it was unbearable to imagine the Phoenix sun shining down on a construction site, ruining his unlined, beautiful complexion. She accepted the bottle, took a drink, and handed it back. “Ugh. That’s real. I thought it was diet.”
He took another deep draft, emptying it; set it down; then went back to packing his gym bag.
She walked into the bathroom and took off her new skirt, then the expensive silk blouse. “Will you send me your phone number and address?”
“Of course. But you’ve already got my cell number and e-mail. Those will always be good.”
While Catherine was in the bathroom he took a roll of duct tape out of his bag and tore off a long strip. He reached in again and pulled out a Beretta M92 pistol. He pushed the muzzle of the pistol into the neck of the big plastic bottle and taped it there. He said, loudly enough for her to hear, “I also plan to see you whenever I can get back for a visit.”
“Make sure you call a couple of days ahead. I’d hate to have you come and be too busy to see you.” She regretted having said that. It had just been a way to sting him for leaving her.
She came out of the bathroom barefoot, dressed in a bra and a thong, passed by him, and stepped to her closet to hang up her lunch clothes.
He stepped close behind her, raised the pistol and the plastic bottle, and pulled the trigger. There was a smothered pop sound, not much louder than their voices. The second shot was slightly louder because of the hole in the bottle, but still not enough to worry him. He watched her collapse onto the carpet, then touched her carotid artery. Dead.
He went back to searching the apartment. In-call escorts didn’t have time to rush off to the bank every time they accumulated a lot of cash, and they couldn’t deposit big sums anyway. At least Catherine couldn’t. She had no way to explain to the IRS where she was getting more than two thousand dollars a day. He had found about thirty-five thousand in the apartment while she had been out with her friends today. Predictably, she had hidden it in her bedroom. He wished he could search the rest of the apartment thoroughly, but the moment he had pulled the trigger, he had given up that option. It was already late afternoon, and as he took her purse from the bed and pulled out the cash in her wallet, he could hear her cell phone buzzing.
While he’d searched the apartment he had been cleaning it too. Now he stopped searching and turned to cleaning in earnest. Lately, he had become extremely careful about the way he left a woman. He made certain that there were no fingerprints, hairs, or fibers. There were people in this world who were too dumb to think of all the devices that were able to prove that a person had been somewhere. He always cleaned out the drains—even opening the traps where there were hairs in the pipes. He vacuumed the floors and the furniture, emptied the canister into a trash bag, and took the bag with him. He laundered the sheets, pillowcases, and blankets. None of the women he left had ever given her apartment a more thorough cleaning than he had.
He knelt behind Catherine’s body; unclasped the gold chain around her delicate white neck, carefully freeing a couple of strawberry blond hairs from the clasp; then went to her right ankle and unclasped the matching anklet. He put them into his pocket. He picked up his gym bag, set it on the bed, unwrapped the duct tape from the gun, and removed the bottle. Then he put them into the bag, zipped it shut, and went to the bedroom door. He looked back once. It was a shame. She was so much more beautiful than she knew, and so kind. He picked up his trash bag, went out to the hall door, stopped there and listened, then opened it a crack and looked out to be sure the hall was clear. He locked the door and walked out the front entrance toward his car.
Once he was on the road, he felt confident. He knew that if the cops found a man’s hair, prints, or clothing fiber in Catherine Hamilton’s room, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. There were probably forty guys a week leaving physical traces of themselves in that apartment, and none of them had any lasting relationship with her.
She had been very pretty, with bright catlike eyes and that strawberry blond hair. She’d had her hair done in a salon that was full of movie actresses who were still perfect specimens and hadn’t gotten famous enough to have the hairdressers go to their houses yet. She had fitted in. She was one of those girls who had started taking money for sex because it was so easy that one night the temptation had just pulled her in. She never took drugs or even drank, so that wasn’t even a small part of her decision. She had gone to college, and she was smart.
She had been seduced by arithmetic. If she had been a lawyer, she could have charged clients about four hundred an hour, and given back two hundred and fifty on office rent, taxes, secretaries, and student loans. Instead she charged three hundred an hour, and about once a month she’d buy some new thongs and thigh-high stockings. She’d told him once she liked men well enough close-up, so the job hadn’t been a huge chore.
Selling sex was a profession that put girls in a position to control men—promising, teasing, coaxing. It made some girls jump to conclusions. Because they could manipulate men so easily, they imagined they must be smarter or stronger. A lot of them died of that. Catherine had been wiser. She had lived within the bounds of reality, not getting overconfident or foolhardy, and not taking anything for granted.
Her only problem was that she had run into him. She had liked him and let him sleep in her apartment for a few weeks while he was in Los Angeles doing a job. He had told her that when the job was done he would move on. He hadn’t told her that the nature of his job made it necessary that when he moved on he would have to kill her.
As he got on the eastbound freeway he accelerated rapidly and changed lanes to place his car behind one truck and in front of the next. In a minute, by gauging the speeds of the other cars on the freeway and inserting his between two of them to his left, he found the perfect speed in the perfect lane and relaxed. He did not think of Catherine again. She was gone.
Jack Till knew the essential skill was to exert total control over his hands. He held the pistol steady and breathed evenly while he kept the sights lined up and even across the top. At the end of an exhalation he pulled the trigger. The Glock had a long trigger pull, and he knew there was going to be a bang and the gun would jump a little, but he had to pretend he didn’t know that—make his mind think past the jump while he completed the squeeze. There was a Bang! And then there was the ring of the brass casing that was ejected onto the concrete floor to the right.
It was hard to see a nine-millimeter hole in the paper at this distance. If what you were shooting at was a man, you knew right away. When the bullet hit his body anywhere, it was really bad news for him—about the worst news the body ever got—and it showed. The man went down and became immobile, and there was still a shooter with some more rounds just like the first one in his magazine, and his hands were settling the front sight between the two rear ones right within the outline of the body again. Bang! Till got the round off into the center of the target again, but there was definitely barrel drift to the right. There was no need to adjust his aim. It was his trigger pull tugging the gun to the right. He had to concentrate on bringing the trigger all the way back without letting the sights move. Bang! Then the jangle of brass.
As Till went through the next six rounds he knew he had solved the problem, because the pattern of holes in the ten circle in the center was dense enough to show daylight. Bang! That was the last round, so he released the empty magazine and set it and the pistol on the counter in front of him. He took off the ear protectors, then reached up and pressed the button, and the target skittered toward him on the wire and stopped. He had carved the center out pretty well, with only the one hit a half inch to the right of the bull’s-eye. Gunfights were hardly ever at twenty-five yards. They tended to be close-in and sloppy. Nonetheless, bad habits had to be strangled the day they appeared.
Till supposed he needed some time on a combat range, walking through an unfamiliar course to keep his skills sharp. Most people didn’t identify visual cues quickly enough or open fire early enough, so it didn’t matter what they might have hit if they had fired. He would try to get around to a combat range soon. Right now he had an appointment.
He packed the Glock, the earphones, and the spare magazines into his aluminum case; locked it; opened the door; and left the range. He put the case into his trunk and drove.
The thing about gunfights was that they were all motion. Nobody just stood there like a dueler. A shooter’s eyes and ears were distracted by bangs, shouts, and muzzle flashes. There seemed to be no time, no place to hide, no incentive to stick his head up into all that flying metal long enough to aim and fire. The mind had to insist that he had to do it if he wanted to be the one who went home.
Jack Till parked his car in the municipal lot behind his office and took the aluminum case with him. He didn’t want to face even the minuscule chance that somebody would pick today to pop his trunk when it was full of guns and ammunition. He walked around the block to the doorway at the front of the building between the jewelry store and the dentist’s office and climbed the stairs to the second-floor hallway. His office was the one just at the top of the stairs, and on the door was a sign, till investigations. He put away his gun case, sat at his desk, and looked at his watch.
He still had a few minutes to kill before the potential clients arrived for their appointment. He wished he didn’t feel nervous about this. He knew that they were the parents of a girl named Catherine Hamilton who had been murdered. That meant they probably wanted him to accomplish something the whole police force couldn’t. He needed money right now, and the only way to get it was to get a case, but he had to reserve the right to refuse.
He heard them walking up the stairs, the woman’s high heels making a sharp sound on the wooden stairs while the husband’s leather soles went shuff, as each one slid onto the next step. He stood and opened the door. The husband was much shorter than Jack Till’s six feet three. He was in his early sixties, barrel-chested, with bristly white hair and a lined face. His wife seemed about ten years younger, with light reddish hair and white skin. They both had the look of people who had been mourning for a month or two and were beginning to sense that the pain would never decrease. Till said, “I’m Jack Till.” He shook Hamilton’s hand, then accepted Mrs. Hamilton’s and gave it a gentle shake, then sat down behind his desk. The Hamiltons took the two empty chairs in front of it, and told him the story he had expected to hear.
Many times in his life Jack Till had sat across a table from a person who had lost someone to a crime. The experience was always a proof of the inability of speech to comfort anybody and the inadequacy of any attempt by human beings to institute a decent civilization. “I’m sorry for your terrible loss,” he said. He had said the words hundreds of times when he was a younger man with a gold badge. He had always meant it.
He was sorry. He felt all of it—the way the death of a beautiful daughter would turn a family to stone, leave all of the survivors wishing they had died too, and make them unable to develop or even change after that. He could feel all the memories cut off at the instant when they’d heard she had died, sealed off as though behind glass. And he knew much more than they did about parts of it. For the first few hundred times, he had gone to the scene and seen the body and the mess, and smelled the coppery smell of all that blood. And as though he could ever forget, he had been duly provided with a full set of color photographs of the body as it lay there, and the whole of the place where it had happened.
He had often been the one to arrest the person who had brandished the gun or surreptitiously held the unseen, often unimagined, knife. And he had heard all the excuses—and the confession and the recanting of it. He was always sorry. And then he had stopped. He had been a Detective 3 in Los Angeles for twenty-three years when he filed for retirement. He had become a private investigator, partly because he never wanted to look across a table again and see the same kind of faces shocked by the cruelty and unfairness of violent death.
“Mr. Hamilton,” he said. “I have been a police officer, but that was long ago. I’m only a private investigator now. Almost all of my work is gathering evidence for civil cases.”
“Please,” said Hamilton. “I’m not under the delusion that you’ll suddenly sign up again and fix this. I’d like some advice. Just advice.”
“I think your best bet is to try to work with the detectives on the case. Try to make lists of her contacts, her acquaintances. If there’s a Facebook page, an address book, the detectives will talk to everybody, and they’ll try to develop leads. Finding the perpetrator will do nothing for your grief. But it will make you feel you may have saved someone else from going through this.”
“We’ve already met with the detectives. They were very open about the way things were going to work. Our daughter Catherine was a professional escort, I believe that was the word they used. That means she had a variety of false names. She moved from city to city. She met and made herself vulnerable to many men, all strangers. The police have done four weeks of it. They’ve spoken with a few other girls. They’ve got the coroner’s report on how she died. They’ve examined her bank records, credit card bills, and so on. They’re done. It was a robbery. She was shot.”
“How did she get involved in that work?”
“We don’t really know. She graduated from college and got a job. She was very busy, didn’t come home much at first, and less after that. She never answered her phone so we got used to leaving messages. We had no idea she was doing this.”
“Do you think she might have been forced into it?”
Her mother spoke for the first time. “No. She was capable of calling the police. And she wasn’t the kind of kid to be vulnerable to coercion. She knew she had rights, and that there was plenty of help if she needed it.”
“What about drugs?”
The father said, “We don’t think that was it either. She didn’t take drugs in high school. She was an athlete—a gymnast—and they got tested before competitions and at random. She wasn’t with that kind of crowd in college. The coroner didn’t find any drugs in her system. And he went out of his way to say she looked healthy and well cared-for. No marks, nothing.”
“These are the wrong questions,” said Mrs. Hamilton. Till could see that she had reached the point of madness. She had listened carefully and answered thoughtfully, but had heard nothing that mattered.
Her husband put his arm around her shoulders and tightened it, as though he were trying to hold a bundle of sticks together. “I’m sorry, Mr. Till. We know those are the usual things. Judy is just . . . getting worn down.”
Till moved so he was facing Mrs. Hamilton. “What are the right questions?”
“There are no obvious reasons why anybody would kill her. She wasn’t working for a pimp. She was independent. She didn’t do drugs, didn’t have debts. The coroner says she wasn’t sexually assaulted, although she’d probably had sex within a few hours before she died. Look, we know this is awful. Nobody wants to think about it. Everything you learn about it is tawdry and degrading. There is no question at all that for at least the past year, Catherine was providing sex for money. But that doesn’t mean it was okay to kill her. I could see the detectives exchanging looks. I could read their minds. “This woman’s daughter was having sex with men who saw her Web site and called her up. What did she expect?” It’s all true. Everybody knows it’s a risky activity. And it’s illegal. But this was a young woman. She was twenty-six years old. She never in her life hurt anybody. But now she’s dead. And the police act like she’s not human. It’s like somebody’s scrawny old cat ran away and died. They feel some kind of sympathy for us, and I see it. But the truth is, our daughter’s death wasn’t a big deal. She should have known better. We should have taught her better.” She shrugged. “They’re right. Catherine made a mistake. Our family is broken and destroyed.”
“The police officers I know don’t automatically dismiss the murder of anyone,” said Till. “The questions can be insensitive. But I know they’ll try hard to find the killer.”
“Well, unless some new leads come up, they’re finished,” said Mr. Hamilton. “So I thought we’d try to develop new leads. We have a list of private detectives who have at one time or other taken cold murder cases and brought them to a satisfactory conclusion. I wonder if you could take a look at it.” He held out a single sheet of paper.
Till took it, and looked down the list of names. He ignored his own name, which was on the top. “Yes, I know this one. And this one. And . . . no, not this one.”
Hamilton looked at the name he was pointing at. “You mean you don’t know him, or wouldn’t hire him?”
“Wouldn’t hire him,” Till said. “He was removed from the police department for cause. I don’t imagine he’s improved much on his own.”
“Which one of these investigators is the best?”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Till said. “No matter how good he is, this kind of case is very difficult to solve. It’s also extremely expensive to pursue, and I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say this too. Even if he succeeds, it’s not going to make you feel better.”
“We’re aware of the expense. We accept the futility of it. We’re going to do this,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “It’s a direct question, and we’re relying on your honesty. Which one is the best?”
“That’s what we heard,” said Mr. Hamilton. He reached into his coat pocket and produced a check. “Here’s a hundred thousand dollars. And here’s my card. When you run out of money, call for more.”
“Please,” said Mrs. Hamilton.
Till sighed. “I’ll need all the information about her you can give me—pictures, social security number, bank records, anything that will help me trace her movements over the past couple of years.”
Mrs. Hamilton opened her oversize purse and placed a thick manila envelope on the desk between them. “That’s all in here. And a few other things we thought . . . you know. A lot of it is personal, things she said or wrote.” She began to cry. “I’m sorry. I just can’t help it.”
“I understand,” he said. “I have a daughter of my own.”