Six hours later we were back at Marilyn Toller’s mansion.
Mrs. Toller was flanked by two big guards in bulletproof vests watching the driveway “Elias! Oh my god . . .” She wrapped her arms around her nephew’s shoulders, even though he flinched in pain at her hug. Then she stepped back. “Hello, Meghan.”
“Hello, Marilyn.” They didn’t hug. “Long time.”
Halloway greeted us in the foyer. “Glad you’re okay. And you . . .” He nodded to Rachel. “This seems to be getting complicated.”
We sat around the same table in the dining room. A guard in black stood near the door. At least he wasn’t armed with an assault rifle. A maid served drinks—wine, beer, and Halloway had a scotch. Allan came down to join us, scowling, and ordered a whiskey neat. Mrs. Toller’s niece Janice grabbed a Coke and ran away. Elias drank soda water.
“Mr. Jurgen.” Marilyn Toller looked through her dark glasses. “What can you tell us?”
I sipped my beer. “Like I said before, the killer is some kind of ninja named Asha. We managed to escape her in Grand Rapids, so she’s not invulnerable. But—”
“I can’t believe this!” Meghan pounded the table. “After all this time? I was making a good life on my own. I don’t need your money, Marilyn! I sold a house today. I sold two this year, and I’ve got a good line on two more—”
“Mom.” Elias grabbed her hand. “Just chill out. All right?”
Marilyn Toller sighed. “Meghan, I’m sorry about . . . about everything. But this is a crisis. Can we please just concentrate on the problem? I don’t want to watch everyone in my family die before I . . . before it’s too late.”
The maid marched in from the kitchen. “Mrs. Toller? Should I serve dinner now?’
Marilyn lowered her head, “Yes, Sadie. Please.”
Dinner was a choice of steak and fish. Rachel’s a vegetarian, but she ate the salmon and didn’t glare at me for choosing steak. Marilyn and Meghan were civil, and Elias chatted with Allan about video games. Janice came late and mostly played with her tablet.
Sadie served coffee with a dessert of raspberry cheesecake. Then Halloway nudged Rachel’s elbow and looked at me. “Can we talk?”
“Uh, sure.” Marilyn and Meghan were suddenly laughing together. Allan was drinking more whiskey, and Elias was helping Janice with whatever game she was playing on her tablet.
In the living room Halloway pulled a chair over to the couch. “So what do you think?”
I’d had six hours in my Honda to think through the case. “Here’s the thing—Asha’s taken out the younger members of the family, one by one, starting with Brent two months ago. Randall was killed three weeks ago. Dean, two days ago. And she came after Elias today. So . . . .why is Asha speeding things up?”
Halloway lowered his head. “Mrs. Toller is dying. She has stage four cancer. Two months, maybe three.”
Oh god. Rachel and I looked at each other. “I’m so sorry.”
Halloway nodded. “Yes.”
We were silent for a moment. Mortality. It hits everyone.
But I had more questions I had to ask. “You said that Marilyn Toller’s estate is worth, what? Something like 20 million dollars? What if someone wanted all that money, and started getting everyone out of the way? Starting with the youngest, then going up the tree. So nobody’s left when Marilyn Toller dies? Her sisters, her nephews, until nobody’s left.”
Halloway shook his head. “No. This can’t be right.”
A scream burst from the dining room.
Usually I run away from trouble, but I couldn’t just now. I headed for the dining room, Rachel right behind me. “Don’t do anything stupid, all right?”
It might be too late for that. But I appreciated the support.
The dining room was a bloodbath.
Allan was on the floor, clutching his stomach as blood seeped out across his shirt. Elias slumped over the table, gasping.
One security guard was clamping a linen napkin over a gash in his wrist. The other flailed a black baton around, then dropped to the floor, bleeding from a wound in his leg.
Meghan leaned over her son, screaming. Emma sank back in her chair, her arms slack, waiting for whatever was coming.
Asha stood in the center of the room, spinning like a dancer again, her blades flashing around her body.
Marilyn Toller sat in her chair, her arms stiff.
And Janice—12 years old—waited in her seat with a smile on her face.
“Wait!” I plunged into the room. “Asha, no!”
The assassin turned. “You are not my target.”
Thank god. “You don’t have to do this!”
Her eyes glittered beneath her black hood. “I have a contract.”
“From who? Just tell us? Who hired you?”
Halloway staggered in behind us. “What’s going on? Is this . . . her?”
“Janice . . .” I glanced up at Asha, trying to keep my voice steady. “Did you do this?”
“Well, yeah.” The little girl laughed. “How else am I going to get the whole trust fund?”
“Oh my God.” Marilyn Toller clutched the edge of the table. “Janice? You?”
“I’m sorry, auntie.” Janice giggled again. “But not really. I would have waited, but then your doctors came and I didn’t have that much time. And your will is so complicated.”
Asha stopped twirling. “So who first? Remember our agreement.” She had knives in her hands, ready to kill. “Fifty percent.”
Janice nodded. “That’s fine. Start with—”
“Wait!” Marilyn Toller reared up. “No more! Peter!”
Halloway looked ready to drop from terror. “Y-yes, Mrs. Toller?”
“I want you to draw up a new will for me. Right now.” She gazed at me and Rachel. “You two will witness it.”
I nodded, staring at Asha. “Okay.”
“I leave my entire trust fund to Janice. Every fucking cent.” She leaned down on the table. “You can have it all, you little bitch. Just leave the rest of my family alone.”
Janice jumped up. “Yay!”
“Marilyn . . .” Emma pushed her chair back. “You can’t mean that! You can’t—She killed Brent! She killed Dean—”
“I want this to end!” Marilyn Toller jabbed a finger at Asha. “When it’s done, you will go away and leave my family alone!”
Emma dropped back into her chair, sobbing. “No . . . no . . .”
Halloway ducked out, then returned a moment later with a yellow legal pad. “Here.”
Asha looked at Janice. The young girl nodded. Then Asha sheathed her knives. The wall behind her shimmered. Then she was gone.
We had a hard time explaining everything to the paramedics and cops. Allan needed surgery, but Elias was only suffering from a fresh wound in his arm. The two security guards seemed more embarrassed than hurt.
Janice played a game on her tablet as everyone tried to deal with the mess.
An hour later Rachel and I sat in the living room with Emma and Mrs. Toller. Meghan had gone to the hospital with her son.
Halloway looked at the new hastily-scribbled will. “I should get this notarized. But it will stand up. Do you really want to do this?”
Mrs. Toller groaned. “No. But what else can I do? I needed to stop this. I just never thought . . .”
Emma patted her knee. “You did the right thing. To make it stop.”
“But I . . . I’m sorry, Emma, you deserve so much more . . .” She slumped over. “I’m so tired.”
“It’s okay.” She glanced up at Halloway. “I wasn’t depending on the trust fund anyway. Let her have it.”
The door opened. Janice stood in pink pajamas. “Auntie? I’m going to bed now.”
Marilyn Toller pulled herself up. “Janice? Let me tell you something.”
Janice cocked her head. “What?”
“Pretty soon you’re going to learn things.” She took a deep breath. “For the rest of your life you’re never going to know if anyone likes you or loves you. You’re going to be lonely. And you’ll always have to live with knowing what you did to get this money. That might not seem like much now, but I can promise you, you’ll wish you hadn’t done this.”
Janice giggled. “But I have the money."
Marilyn Toller sighed. “Go to bed, Janice.”
# # #