The Girls He Adored: A Novel

Free The Girls He Adored: A Novel by Jonathan Nasaw

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Authors: Jonathan Nasaw
Tags: Fiction, thriller, Mystery
cigarette in the ashtray with his mouth.
    “What's that?”
    “It's the feeling that there's somebody else listening .”


    P ENDER HAD NO TROUBLE locating the Monterey County courthouse complex on West Alisal Street in Salinas. Three buildings surrounded a courtyard with curved walkways and waist-high hedge mazes. Glass catwalks atop pillared porticos connected the older east and west wings to the ugly rectangular box of the north wing at second-floor height. Stone heads of figures from California history—helmeted conquistadors, Indians with pageboy bangs, pioneer women in bonnets, ranchers in narrow-brimmed hats— stared down blankly from the cornices of the exterior walls, and the windows of all three buildings were trimmed in a surprisingly festive Aztec blue. In the center of the courtyard was a garden island of tall purple flowers and orange bird-of-paradise.
    The old jail, a crumbling three-story, yellow-beige fortress with arched, grilled windows and a false parapet, was located next door to the courthouse, separated from the west wing by a narrow alley. The thick walls and straight rise of the front of the building reminded Pender of the Alamo, but the ornate dark green, wrought-iron window grilles and ornamental lamppost-sconces set into the front wall evoked old New Orleans.
    Pender parked the Toyota in the county lot behind the jail and placed the paper placard he'd been given at the sheriff's office in the windshield. He checked his watch and realized he had a couple of hours to kill before he was to meet his assigned liaison, Lieutenant Gonzalez. Then he remembered how his mother used to correct him when he talked about having time to kill. Don't kill it, she would say, spend it!
    Right, Mom. Pender set off to explore the courthouse complex.The first thing he noticed was an egregious lack of security. There were no metal detectors in use—he was able to wander freely through the entire complex carrying a semiautomatic in a shoulder holster.
    Nor was he challenged when he stationed himself in the alley to observe the chained prisoners in red, orange, or green jumpsuits being convoyed back and forth between the white GMC vans stenciled with the motto “Keeping the Peace Since 1850” and the holding cells, or marched across the courtyard between the holding cells and the courthouse, in full view, and reach, of the public.
    Shaking his head sadly—the place was a disaster waiting to happen—Pender reentered the west wing of the courthouse and took the elevator up to the snack bar on the second floor.
    There was an embarrassing delay at the cash register—it took Pender a moment to realize that the cashier was stone blind.
    “I have a tuna fish sandwich and a cup of coffee,” he said, handing the man a five-dollar bill. Another pause. “It's a five.”
    “You must be from back east,” said the cashier as he made change.
    “Upstate New York,” replied Pender, wondering how many customers in the course of a day handed the man a single and told him it was a five—or a ten, or a twenty. “How could you tell?”
    “You said tuna fish. Out here, we just assume if it's a tuna, it's a fish.”
    Pender sat alone at a corner table. He felt surprisingly calm, for a man who was preparing himself to be locked into a cell with a murderer. It had been years since Pender had conducted an undercover interview—as he sipped at his black coffee, looking out over the pleasant courtyard, he mulled over his approach.
    It would be best, he knew, if the subject initiated a conversation. If not, Pender planned to start out either by bitching about his lawyer—every con in every cell in America had a beef with his attorney—or by talking about his travels: nothing suspicious in chatting about places you'd been to. He'd drop a lot of place names, sprinkling in mentions of one or two relevant towns— Plano, Texas; Sandusky, Ohio; San Antonio, where the knife had been purchased—and seeing if any of those elicited a

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