Gardner watched him probe the organ. ‘If it gets hard, yell.’

‘Don’t worry. I will.’ Whit felt uneasy embarrassment again. No doubt Gardner would gossip back in the police station: Jesus, Mosley felt up the dead guy’s dick, can you believe it?

Whit noticed a frame turned down on the bedside dresser, and he righted it. It was a photo of a young boy, on the verge of the teenage years, with a scattering of freckles and mischievous brown eyes. Hints of Pete Hubble lay in his face: the square jaw, the crinkled smile, the brown hair. Signs of Faith Hubble were the small ears, the slink of the raised eyebrow. It was an old photo of Sam Hubble, Pete and Faith’s son. Sam was now fifteen, a bright kid Whit had always liked. He wondered how on earth the boy would take this news.

‘The only suicide I’ve worked,’ Whit said, ‘the fellow turned every family picture to the wall before taking the big gulp.’

‘Another vote for suicide.’ Gardner loaded another roll of film. More flashes filled the room.

Still wearing his gloves, Whit flipped open the video camera’s housing. No tape inside.

‘Was there a videotape in here Claudia took?’ he asked.

‘Don’t believe so.’

‘Did you take it?’

Gardner frowned. ‘Nope.’

Whit shut the case. Discarded clothing lay piled in the corner of the room. Still wearing the gloves, Whit picked through the mound. In the pile were faded men’s jeans, a cowboy belt still threaded through the loops; a white T-shirt; and men’s black briefs that must have clinched the family jewels in a vise grip. Nestled with the shirt were a pair of cotton women’s panties, decorated with little intertwining violets. Whit hooked the panties with one gloved finger and raised them toward Gardner.

‘Looky, looky, there must’ve been nookie.’ Gardner glanced behind him to make sure Claudia Salazar hadn’t returned to the room. ‘Ought to check to see if the girl’s got her delicates. I’ll volunteer.’

‘A hero in her darkest hour,’ Whit said. ‘What has the witness told you?’

‘Her name’s Heather Farrell. Got that scared-goat look of a runaway. We’re running a check on her to see if she’s got a record. She said she met Hubble on the beach over the course of the last week, and he asked her to come over tonight.’

Whit studied Pete Hubble’s face. Little of the boy he had known remained in the dead man’s looks. A memory bubbled up: Whit, barely twelve, hanging at the edges of one of Whit’s brothers’ birthday parties, full of raucous teenagers, and Pete sneaking Whit – youngest of the six Mosley boys – slugs of prime bourbon. He’d thrown up at the party’s end, on the shoes of his oldest brother’s date, and gotten the last whipping he’d ever received from his father. Pete. Mr Fun. At least before his brother vanished.

‘I wonder how many fuck films he made,’ Gardner said.

‘Don’t go broadcasting details of that career around town just yet.’

‘Not a chance in hell that’s gonna be kept quiet,’ Gardner said. ‘I guess all the pussy in the world can’t make a boy happy. Think of all the women he must’ve had doing the movies.’

‘Think of all the venereal disease.’

Gardner pondered this. ‘Might suck the wind out of your sails.’

Whit opened the small closet that faced the bed. A small collection of men’s clothes hung loosely on hangers: pants, sweatshirts, a stacked collection of baseball caps, captioned with ADULT ENTERTAINMENT AWARDS and HOT AND BOTHERED PRODUCTIONS and, oddly, UCLA FILM SCHOOL. On the opposite side of the closet blouses, women’s T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans were neatly folded across hangers. Below was a box of loosely stuffed papers. On the floor a leather bustier, designed to rein in a majestic-size bosom, and a collection of hot-pink thong underwear lay in an untidy heap.

‘A woman’s been staying here.’

Eddie Gardner shrugged. ‘Imagine. A guy who fucks for a living keeps a lady handy.’

Whit returned to the combined galley/sitting area. He heard Claudia and another officer detailing and bagging the evidence out on the deck, which was most in danger of being affected by the threatening weather.

Opposite the couch was a brand-new television, and videotapes were wedged into an open cabinet. Whit pulled up a tape from one stack. Cleopatra’s Love Slaves featured an elfin-faced platinum blonde in a golden, vaguely Egyptian costume. She was about to lick a rubber asp caught in her cleavage. Behind her loomed an oiled, chesty fellow in a toga with a lusty stare: Pete. A list of performers covered the left side of the tape cover: Dixxie St Cupps and Rachel Pleasure and Love Ramsey. After several female names were listed ‘Big Pete Majors’ and another man; the casting wasn’t split evenly by gender. But then, men generally weren’t the main attractions. Velvet Mojo was credited as the producer and director.

Whit pawed through the rest of the cassettes: Mixin’ Vixens, More Lovin’ Spoonfuls, Oral Arguments XI. ‘Big Pete Majors’ was listed as a performer on every tape. Velvet Mojo was listed on all of them as producer and director, all under the Hot and Bothered label. Whit counted twelve tapes and noticed they were all done in the past year. Pete and his harem believed in hard work.

Whit sat in shock. He wondered if Pete’s mother, the senator, knew of her son’s career. Or Faith, who never mentioned her ex. Two extraordinarily bright, accomplished women – the shame would burn them both like acid. Personally. Politically.

He noticed books piled on the sofa. There were several books on screenwriting basics, dialogue, technique. Porn didn’t require much in the way of story structure, Whit thought, but the books looked well worn.

The other collection of tapes – twice the size of the porn collection – was a world away from the adult tapes, and Whit recognized some titles only because he’d taken film appreciation years ago at Tulane for an easy A. City Lights, one of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces. The Battleship Potemkin, a long-ago classic of Russian cinema. Abel Gance’s Napoleon, D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Gone With the Wind. Films by Alfred Hitchcock, by John Ford, by Stanley Kubrick. And a bevy of obscure foreign cinema, films from Australia and Sweden and Italy that Whit had never heard of. Combine the two stacks and you would have the world’s most bizarre film festival.

Whit peeked into the VCR and found a tape already in the drive. Still wearing his gloves, Whit powered up the television and the VCR.


The tape snapped into sudden focus. Pete Hubble walked along a curve of rural road, sauntering backward, talking into the handheld camera with the earnest patter of a tour guide. The time stamp in the corner of the screen indicated the footage had been shot ten days ago.

‘Here’s where my brother’s car was discovered,’ Pete said in his rumbling baritone. The camera panned over a clutch of small white frame houses with a private, ratchety pier jutting into the water. ‘Before this was just beach and field, and kids parked here.’

‘I’m sure you never did,’ a woman’s smoky voice commented, off-camera. She apparently was operating the camcorder.

Pete smiled. ‘I was too shy.’

‘You triumphed over your phobia.’ A pause. ‘Were the keys in his car?’

‘No. Never found.’

‘Any sign of foul play?’

‘No. Mom made Corey work for the car. I couldn’t believe he’d just abandon it.’

‘They find anything in it?’

‘A gas receipt, from Port Lavaca, was under the seat. So we know he or someone had been driving the car and had been up the coast.’ Pete shaded his eyes against the sun. ‘No prints in the car that weren’t Corey’s. Everyone thought at first that somebody kidnapped Corey. But never a note, never a call.’

‘So start theorizing. Then we’ll go slam some coffee.’

‘Corey dumped his own car because it would have been traced too easily and he wanted to disappear,’ Pete said.


‘To make my mother suffer.’ Pete shrugged into the camera lens. ‘I don’t know how to make that part work in

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