S is for Silence Page 1

Author: Sue Grafton

Series: Kinsey Millhone #19

Genres: Mystery



Saturday, July 4, 1953

When Liza Mellincamp thinks about the last time she ever saw Violet Sullivan, what comes most vividly to mind is the color of Violet’s Japanese silk kimono, a shade of blue that Liza later learned was called “cerulean,” a word that wasn’t even in her vocabulary when she was fourteen years old. A dragon was embroidered in satin-stitch across the back, its strange dog-shaped face and arched body picked out in lime green and orange. Flames twisted from the dragon’s mouth in curling ribbons of blood red.

That last night, she’d arrived at the Sullivans’ house at 6:00. Violet was going out at 6:15 and, as usual, she wasn’t dressed and hadn’t done her hair. The front door was open, and as Liza approached, Baby, Violet’s three-month-old buff-colored Pomeranian, started yapping in a shrill little doggie voice while she pawed at the screen, punching holes here and there. She had tiny black eyes and a black button nose and a small pink bow affixed to her forehead with stickum of some kind. Someone had given Violet the dog less than a month before, and she’d developed a fierce attachment to it, carrying the dog around in a big straw tote. Liza disliked Baby, and twice when Violet left the dog behind, Liza put her in the coat closet so she wouldn’t have to listen to her bark. She’d gotten the idea from Foley, who disliked the dog even more than she did.

Liza knocked on the door frame, a sound barely audible above the dog’s yap-yap-yap. Violet called out, “Come on in. I’m in the bedroom!”

Liza opened the screen door, pushed the dog aside with her foot, and walked through the living room to the bedroom Violet and Foley shared. Liza knew for a fact that Foley often ended up sleeping on the couch, especially when he’d been drinking, which he did almost every day, and even more especially after he’d busted Violet in the chops and she’d stopped speaking to him for two days or however long it was. Foley hated it when she gave him the silent treatment, but by then he’d be sorry he’d slugged her and he wouldn’t have the nerve to protest. He told anyone who would listen that she brought it on herself. Anything bad that happened to Foley was someone else’s fault.

Baby pattered into the bedroom behind her, a fluff ball of nervous energy with a party favor of a tail. She was too small to jump up onto the bed, so Liza scooped her up and put her there. Violet’s tow-headed daughter, Daisy, was lying on the bed reading the Little Lulu comic Liza had given her the last time she sat, which was the night before last. Daisy was like a cat-always in the room with you but busy pretending to be doing something else. Liza took a seat on the only chair in the room. Earlier in the day when she’d stopped by, there had been two brown paper bags sitting on the chair. Violet said it was stuff going to the Goodwill, but Liza recognized a couple of Violet’s favorite things and thought it was odd that she’d give away her best clothes. Now the brown bags were gone and Liza knew better than to mention them. Violet didn’t like questions. What she wanted you to know, she’d tell you outright, and the rest was none of your business.

“Isn’t she adorable?” Violet said. She was talking about the dog, not her seven-year-old child.

Liza didn’t comment. She was wondering how long it would take to suffocate the Pomeranian while Violet was out. Violet was sitting on the bench at her makeup table, wearing the bright blue kimono with the dragon across the back. As Liza watched, Violet loosened the tie and shrugged the wrap aside so she could examine a bruise the size of Foley’s fist that sat above one breast. Liza could see three versions of the bruise reflected in the trifold mirror that rested on the vanity. Violet was small and her back was perfect, her spine straight, her skin flawless. Her buttocks were dimpled and ever so slightly splayed where they pressed down against the seat.

Violet wasn’t at all self-conscious about Liza seeing her undressed. Often when Liza came to sit, Violet would emerge from the bathroom naked, having dropped the towel so she could dab behind her knees with the violet cologne she used. Liza would try to keep her gaze averted while Violet strolled around the bedroom, pausing to light an Old Gold that she’d leave on the lip of the ashtray. Liza’s gaze was irresistibly drawn to the sight of Violet’s body. No matter where Violet went, eyes were drawn to her. Her waist was small and her breasts were plump, drooping slightly like sacks filled nearly to capacity with sand. Liza’s boobs were barely sufficient for her AA brassiere, though Ty would close his eyes and start breathing hard every time he felt her up. After they kissed for a while, even if she resisted, he’d find a way to unbutton her shirt, nudging aside her bra strap so he could cup a budding breast in his palm. Then he’d grab Liza’s hand and press it between his legs, making a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan.

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