Danielle Deveron thought of herself as an outmate. She liked the expression, because in the word there was an element of outcast, as well as the notion of being mated. It was accurately descriptive, she thought, of those carrying on a relationship with a prisoner.
Not that Danielle thought she had much in common with other outmates. Most of them she considered pathetic, women with no self-esteem. As she saw it, their relationships with prison inmates offered them little more than a perverse nunnery. Danielle was sure her situation was different. Her wealth, reputed to be in the neighborhood of fifty million dollars, was only a part of what Danielle believed distinguished her from the other outmates. Perhaps she’d read too much Fitzgerald, who insisted that the very rich “are different from you and me.” Or perhaps she was just being realistic.
Her money had brought Danielle to the prisoner. Helen Bernard had been the inadvertent matchmaker, guilty Helen who’d always been somewhat ashamed about her own vast wealth. Helen believed it was her duty to sit on philanthropic boards and work for the betterment of society, and was always dogging Danielle to become involved with one do-gooder organization or another. Usually Danielle escaped such duties by writing a check. In the end that’s what they always wanted anyway. But on this occasion Horse-face Helen had piqued her interest. She had wanted Danielle to accompany her on an afternoon outing to San Carlos Prison.
Prison. Not some luncheon, or fashion show, or gathering of serious looking people talking about addressing some pervasive wrong. Danielle had never been to a prison before. And what truly intrigued her was that Helen was scheduled to meet with a murderer. In her thirty years on the planet, Danielle had never met a murderer. She had dated the gamut of males, including poets, stockbrokers, race care drivers, royalty, near royalty, surgeons, CEO’s, and even a junior senator from the state of Colorado, but she had never spent any time with a murderer (or at least with anyone who boasted of having made a killing in anything other than the Market).
What did they see in their first look? There was an immediate attraction for both of them that went beyond the physical. Clay Potter had been on death row for a dozen years. He was thin and pale, had sunken cheeks and a consumptive cough that caused a lock of his long dark hair to fall up and down on the bridge of his nose. There was a scar running along his right cheek. His arms, exposed to his elbows, were a canvas of tattoos, displays mostly of naked women, but his painted ladies, even in their exaggerated forms, disappeared in the presence of Danielle. Preternaturally pale, her milk complexion set off her dark lashes and blue eyes. Her pressed, shoulder length golden hair, glittered.
Gold, he thought. The hair, the woman. She personified his dreams, and his fantasies of wealth. He had always had visions of what it must be like to be wealthy, and had pursued lucre, Jason after the fleece, Jason willing to fleece, or worse. Clay’s problem was that he had never been able to distinguish fool’s gold from the real thing.
The attraction wasn’t one-sided. Clay didn’t have the looks of the pretty boys Danielle usually associated with, but there was something about him that beguiled. She remembered attending a party replete with movers and shakers. There were familiar faces everywhere, household names from the entertainment industry, superstars from the sporting world, but the person that drew the most murmurs and looks was a mobster. “He’s arranged murders,” were the whispers.
Clay had done more than arrange murders. He had committed them, Danielle thought, though as might be expected, he still proclaimed his innocence. His pronouncement was made to the two women without any enthusiasm, words from a tired old scripts, words that had been uttered too many times to audiences that never listened or believed. Anyone who works in the criminal justice system knows that most inmates proclaim their innocence as a matter of course. Though lock-up wasn’t anything new to Clay, he tried to explain to Danielle and Helen that murder was.
“I’ve always been a B & E man,” he said, explaining that meant “breaking and entering.” It was just his bad luck to have broken into the wrong house. Everything had been quiet, he said, too still. It was one of those Hillsborough mansions, the kind where there should have been noises. He had been cruising the neighborhood, looking for some easy pickings, when he stopped at this one house. “Just a feeling,” he said. He said his suspicions should have been aroused by the off-line burglar alarm, but he had encountered lots of homes where people had deactivated their systems just because they didn’t want to be bothered with them.
“I’m an opportunist,” Clay said. Was he warning Danielle? “I take advantage of circumstances.”
He told them how he quietly went through the house, relieving it of rare coins, stamps, jewelry, and silverware. He took his pickings from the den, dining room, and family room. Clay said he was not a confrontational thief, wasn’t the kind to hold a gun on the occupants. He liked his houses unoccupied, and he began to wonder whether anyone was home. He decided to sneak a peek into the master bedroom, and that’s where he saw the blood and what looked like bodies.