The Obsession Page 127

“I washed him—for all the good it’ll do since there’s plenty of dirt out front for him to roll in again. Go take an aspirin and a nap.”

“The headache’s gone, and I’m not so tired. I earned the headache and the tired by forgetting to eat lunch and drinking too much caffeine.”

“I don’t get how people forget to eat. Your stomach says feed me. You feed it, move on.”

She let out a sigh. It surprised her as it wasn’t sad, frustrated, poignant. It was content. “Xander.” She went to him, reached down to take his face in her hands, kissed him. “You washed the dog. You bought a grill—one that looks like it needs its own zip code.”

“It’s not that big.”

“And you’re putting it together. I’ll go do the same with dinner.”

“What are you talking about? This is a grill. In about forty minutes I’m going to fire it up and cook those steaks I picked up on the way home.”

“You bought steaks? You’re going to grill steaks?” She looked at the partially assembled behemoth. “Tonight?”

“Yes, tonight. Have some faith. I had them put a big-ass salad together, and if you want to be useful, you could wash the potatoes I’m going to grill.”

Just as she started to prep, Mason came in. “Listen, I want to change, have what you’re having. Then we’ll talk. I saw Xander’s truck out front.”

“He’s on the deck, assembling a gigantic grill.”

“A grill.” Mason stepped out and said, “Whoa,” in tones of awe and delight. “Now that’s a grill.”

“It will be.”

“I’ll give you a hand.”

“You’ve never been mechanically inclined,” Naomi began, and got a stony stare.

“You don’t know everything.” Obviously primed, Mason stripped off his suit jacket, tugged off his tie, and then rolled up his sleeves.

Naomi stood in the kitchen, listening to them talk. There could be normal, she realized. There could be pockets of normal even in the middle of the awful.

She would prize it.

And she should’ve had faith. In forty minutes, despite what she considered Mason’s dubious assistance, Xander did just as he’d promised.

He fired up the grill.

“I’m duly impressed. And it’s beautiful. Big, but beautiful.”

“It gets covered.” Xander jerked a thumb at the cover, still in its package on the table. “You use it, it cools off, you cover it. Every time.”

“Without fail,” she promised. “And the side burners will be handy, plus it has all this storage.” She opened one of the doors. “That’s a rotisserie attachment.”

“Yeah. I’ll show you how to use it when you want to.”

“Restaurant kid. I know how to attach and use a rotisserie. And I will be. Let me get the potatoes ready.”

“You scrub them off, toss them on.”

“I’ll show you a trick. If I’d known this was happening I’d have picked up some liquid smoke.”

“I’ve got some. They threw in this thank-you package. There’s some in there. Why?”

“Why—get it and see.”

What he saw was her mixing up oil, the smoke, some garlic in a bowl.

“They’re just potatoes.”

“Not when I’m done with them.” In another bowl, she mixed salt, pepper, more garlic. Then she took one of her little knives and cut wedges out of the potatoes.

“Why—” he began, but she just waved him off and put pats of butter in the wedges, then sprinkled the salt stuff in it before fitting the piece she’d cut out back on.

“It’s a lot of trouble for—”

She made a warning sound, rubbed the potatoes with the oil mixture, used the rest of the seasoning on them, then wrapped them in foil.

“Have a little faith,” she said, and handed him the three massive spuds.

When Mason came down, they were sitting on the glider with the dog at their feet.

“That’s one beautiful bastard,” he said, studying the grill.

He sat on the deck, back against the pickets. “Do you want me to wait until later?”

“No. I’m good. I’ve had a lot of time to think it through, work it out. We all need to know all we can.”

“Okay then. We profile the unsub from late twenties to early thirties.”

“More my age,” Naomi said.

“He’d have blended on campus, we believe as a student.”

“What campus?” Xander demanded.

“You’re not caught up.”

“He was in assembly mode when I came down. I didn’t talk to him about it.”

“Okay. We now believe, strongly, the first kill was a student at Naomi’s college, in Naomi’s second year.”

He filled in the blanks quickly.

“I didn’t get to all your notes, Naomi, but I did read the ones on that time period. You were part of a photography club, casually dating one of the other members. You were still living on campus, and you worked at a place called Café Café—coffeehouse, casual dining. You paid extra to have a single room—no roomie—in your dorm.”

“I learned the first year I couldn’t handle a roommate. They wanted to party when I wanted to work, and I still had nightmares off and on. I could put in extra hours at the café and pay the extra.”

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