He took the fifteen curving steps up through a flowering garden of herbs and brightly colored blossoms and stopped at the top to check out the view behind him, which was, if anything, grander and more expansive than he'd imagined. Even the entry floor here was higher than the tops of the residences across the street, so the vista included the dome of the Palace of the Legion of Honor (in the lagoon in front of which Mickey had found Como's body) and, beyond that, the greenery of the Presidio.
He tarried a moment longer, taking it all in, and was just about to turn and ring the doorbell when the door suddenly opened behind him.
"Mr. Hunt?" Ellen Como waited expectantly. "I didn't hear the bell but I saw you standing out here."
Hunt shrugged an apology. "I'm afraid I got mesmerized for a minute. This is quite a view you have."
Cursorily glancing behind him, she nodded. "I tend not to notice it much anymore. It never changes, you know. But, please." She stepped back and pulled the door with her. "Do come in."
They sat on matching chairs with a table between them. The table held a plate of chocolate chip cookies, a floral pitcher of water, a coffeepot, sugar and cream, two cups and saucers, and two gla.s.ses.
Ellen was very nearly beautiful, obviously fit, and exquisitely turned out. Here in the midafternoon, she wore a demure, dark brown, tailored evening dress. Not a perfectly dyed reddish-brown hair on her head was out of place. Hunt thought it was possible that she'd had a face- lift and maybe other cosmetic surgery, particularly around the eyes, but if so, the work was all but undetectable. He noticed her hands-usually a giveaway of age-and they were smooth and graceful-looking. She might equally have been thirty-five or forty-five and, at whatever age, a product of wealth and breeding.
"Before we get started," Hunt began, "I wanted to express my condolences to you. I realize that this must be an incredibly difficult time, and if at any point you don't feel up to talking . . ."
She acknowledged him with a small nod, a tiny lift of her cheekbones that might have been an attempt at a smile. "Thank you, but I asked you here, if you recall. I'm very grateful to you for coming out."
"Of course. So how can I help you?"
She gathered herself, drew in a breath, folded her hands together on he
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