Today's Reading


Inside, the house was small and boxy with an L-shaped living area feeding to a white-on-white kitchen on one side, a brief hallway on the other. Pink-beige tile covered every square inch of floor. The furniture was somber and angular: gray tweed stools pushed against a breakfast bar, three-piece sectional of the same fabric, two black leather deco-revival chairs, three occasional tables fashioned from a charcoal-tinted resin.

White walls were mostly blank, except for a few of the inoffensive abstract prints you see in chain hotels. A sixty-five-inch flat-screen faced the long arm of the sectional. On the floor beneath the TV sat a pair of squat little Sonos speakers. No attempt to hide wires.

I said, "Not much personal investment. A rental?"

Milo said, "You're on a roll. Found the lease in a nightstand along with the guy's wallet and an Italian passport." He consulted his pad. "Giovanni Aggiunta, twenty-nine a few months ago."

He spelled the surname. "In answer to your next question, don't know anything about him yet."

I looked around. "Don't see any sign of disturbance."

He pointed to the hallway, left me to follow. One door to the right, on the left a nondescript beige bathroom followed by a nondescript beige bedroom.

Giovanni Aggiunta's sleeping chamber featured the same tile floor. A pair of windows facing the backyard were blocked by accordion shades. I lifted a few pleats on each. Both casements were shut tight and held fast by latches.
Not even cheap art in here, no chest or dresser, the only furniture a pair of chromium-legged black marble circles serving as nightstands. Rust-specked chrome. I'd seen budget hotels given more consideration.

A pair of wide double doors took up most of the facing wall.

Milo pointed to the bed. "Guess this could technically be counted as disturbance but not the type I'm interested in."

The king-sized mattress was made up with plum-colored sheets and pillows that had seen recent use. The pillows were bunched up against a black lacquer headboard. A corner of fitted sheet had come untucked, exposing the mattress pad. At the foot of the bed, a quilted, purple-brown silk spread humped where it hadn't trailed to the floor.

On the floor, neatly arranged a few feet from the bed, were a pink velour jogging suit, padded mini-socks, black-and-pink Asics running shoes.

The nearer stand hosted a matte-gray vibrator, a box of ESP condoms, a jar of Nivea crème, and a vial of something called Sweet Touch Love Oil. On the farther stand, a pink leather fanny pack.

Next to the pack were a diamond tennis bracelet and matching anklet, a platinum cocktail ring set with two serious diamonds and an even larger sapphire, and off to one side, a simple chain necklace set with a small purplish amethyst. The necklace seemed markedly lower-caliber. Maybe sentimental value.

Milo said, "No reason to go for small stuff when this was in plain sight but doesn't look as if there was ever a laptop or a desktop, just that tablet in the living room. All that's on it are the apps it came with and one that turns it into a remote. No evidence the bad guy ever came inside. So much for classic motive number one."

He lifted the fanny pack, tweezed out the contents, arrayed them on the bed.

Three twenty-dollar bills folded in half, shiny gold Gucci lipstick tube, brushed-gold container holding one point six ounces of Gucci Guilty perfume, the California driver's license of Meagin Lea March, blond/blue, five-six, one thirty, DOB forty-one years ago.

I said, "No phone?"
"It was on the stand next to the jewelry, techies pulled up prints on the case so they bagged and tagged before I had a chance to eyeball. I asked for a call-dump and a zip drive."

I read the address on the license. Guarida Lane, 90077. "Right here in Bel Air.

This excerpt ends on page 20 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, April 29th, we begin the book First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston.

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