Something Read Something Dead | Chapter 15 of 35

Author: Eva Gates | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1475 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter Twelve

Aunt Ellen drove me to the library. Only three vehicles remained in the parking lot: my teal Yaris, Bertie’s car, and one unmarked police car.

Bertie and Sam Watson were standing on the front steps, and they both looked over at us as we drove up. Aunt Ellen switched off the engine and opened her door.

“Why don’t I talk to Watson alone,” I said.

“I suppose that would be better.” She slammed the car door. “You’ll tell me what he says?”

“Of course.”

She drove away as I trotted up the path.

“We’re finished here, Lucy,” Watson said. “For now. I’ve told Bertie she can’t open the library today, in case we need to return later, but you can both go in.”

“That’s what I’m here about,” I said. “I’ve been to Josie’s and they’re searching the bakery.”

“That’s right. I can’t tell you if they found anything, because I don’t know.”

“I assume you’re doing that because you suspect Mirabelle was deliberately poisoned by something that was served at the shower.”

“I don’t know how she died,” he said. “But if it might have been caused by something she ate, deliberately administered or not, that’s something we’re going to look into.”

“I’m assuming you searched our garbage and took away what food was left for analysis.”

“Must have been a good party,” he said. “About all we found were crumbs, and yes, we’ve sent those to the lab along with the packets the bread and cheese came in and the tins of salmon.”

“What are you getting at, Lucy?” Bertie said.

“I took some leftovers to my apartment once everyone had left.”

Watson’s face tightened in anger. For a moment I thought he was mad at me, but then he said, “I must be getting sloppy in my old age. I should have asked you that straight up.”

“Stephanie Stanton, Grace Sullivan, and Josie came upstairs with me after everyone left. We had another glass of wine, but didn’t eat much. We were all stuffed. I threw the leftovers in the trash. They’ll still be there.” I glanced at Bertie. She gave me a slight nod. Watson, of course, noticed.

“What else, Lucy?” he said.

“Mirabelle was on a gluten-free diet. A plate of gluten-free desserts was prepared for her. It had a sign on it saying so.”

“Did you see her eating from that plate?” Watson asked.

“No. I can’t say I noticed what anyone ate. I was the hostess and kept busy the entire time.”

“Where,” Watson asked, as I feared he would, “did these gluten-free desserts come from?”

“Josie’s Cozy Bakery,” I said.

“Anyone could have tampered with them,” Bertie said quickly. “They weren’t kept under lock and key.”

“Did anyone else try them? Other than Mirabelle?”

“Again, I can’t say I noticed, but most of them were left after everyone had gone. No one who’s not committed to gluten-free is going to eat them when Josie’s pecan squares are on offer.”

Watson nodded. He’d eaten his share of Josie’s baking in his time.

I tried to remember what I’d noticed about them. “I took the gluten-free baked goods out of the box they’d come in and arranged them on a tray in the break room with the sign saying what they were. They were brought out along with the other food when we served. At a guess, two pieces of cake and one cupcake were taken.”

“Let’s get them,” Watson said. “Bertie, I’ll call you later and let you know if you can open the library tomorrow. Lucy, I’ll come with you.”

We walked through the empty library and up the spiral stairs in silence. I unlocked my door and Charles hurried to greet me. He narrowed his eyes and hissed when he saw Detective Watson behind me. Charles and Watson had never gotten on. Perhaps it was because whenever the good detective was here, Charles ended up locked in a closet.

I opened the cabinet under the sink and took out the trash can. Charles jumped onto the counter to watch. “I didn’t have anything for dinner last night,” I said. “I wasn’t hungry after the shower. I didn’t have breakfast this morning either, come to think of it.” Watson took the can from me and opened the lid. The three of us, Detective Watson, me, and Charles peered in. I’d taken my garbage downstairs Sunday morning, so the only things in the can were the unwanted cupcakes and slices of cake along with a few crumpled napkins and the last of the sandwiches.

“Thank you for telling me about this, Lucy,” Watson said. “Is there anything else I should know?”

“Nothing I can think of.”

“Tell me about Mirabelle. Your personal impressions.”

“I didn’t know her,” I said. “I met her for the first time the other day. She’s Josie’s cousin, second cousin, I think. She came with Josie’s grandmother to … uh … to help with the wedding preparations.” He gave me that look.

“Although,” I reluctantly admitted, “Josie didn’t want their help.”

“Was there tension between them because of that?”

Mirabelle had left a couple of her wedding magazines for me to read. I tried hard not to glance at the table where I’d tossed them. I guess I failed, because Watson saw them, but he said nothing. I suppose, to a man, a wedding is just a wedding. Not something requiring deception to a degree that would make a James Bond villain proud.

“Josie’s grandmother can be the imperious type,” I said, deflecting the question about any tension between Josie and Mirabelle.

“I’ll take this,” he said. “I’ll let you know when you can have your trash can back.” He headed for the door. He paused on the landing and then turned around. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in me telling you not to interfere in this, is there?”

I smiled innocently at him.

“I’m not going to be the lead detective on the case. The state police have brought someone in because I’m acquainted with many of the people who were at the shower. I’ll do what I can to advise him, but he doesn’t have to listen to me. I’ve found that sometimes it helps when an investigator knows the people involved. CeeCee’s reading that book for your book club, the one about the old-time English detective. She’s enjoying it, she says. I might give it a try. I can see myself out, thanks.”

He clattered down the stairs, gripping my garbage to his chest. When he was gone, I turned to Charles. “Did you hear that? Did Detective Watson actually ask me to interfere in imitation of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane?”

In the past, I’d always been told, sometimes politely, sometimes not-so-politely, to mind my own business and leave the detecting to the detectives.

That this time Watson seemed to have almost invited me to ask questions made me feel rather good.

Until I realized that if such was the case, it had to be because he thought things looked mighty bad for Josie.

*   *   *

I hadn’t had dinner last night and not so much as a cup of coffee this morning. Any hunger I might have had fled at the sight of the contents of my trash. If I’d eaten some of those desserts last night, they might have killed me.

I checked my watch. It was coming up to eleven. A good time for a social visit.

“Won’t be long,” I said to Charles.

He rolled his eyes.

I decided not to call ahead. If Florence was out, I didn’t have her cell phone number, and if she was at the hotel, I’d find her there.

I ran downstairs, got my car, and drove into town. The Ocean Side is one of the nicest hotels on the Outer Banks south of the causeway to the mainland at Kitty Hawk. It’s where my mother always stays when she visits, and I know it’s not cheap. A few months ago it had been looking as though the hotel was going into decline, tattered and worn around the edges, but the owners had poured money into it since and everything had been modernized and spruced up over the fall.

I walked up to the reception desk. The woman behind it gave me a professional smile. “I wonder if you can put me through to …” And I realized I didn’t know Florence’s last name.

Some detective I am.

I didn’t know Mirabelle’s surname either. Florence and Mirabelle were a daughter and a granddaughter of Amos’s mother’s brothers, so assuming O’Malley was Amos’s mother’s married name, their names wouldn’t ever have been O’Malley, never mind that Mirabelle had been married twice. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t know the last name of the person I’m looking for. Florence?”

“I can’t check the guest register without a last name.”

“Give me a sec.” I pulled out my phone and called Aunt Ellen. She answered immediately. “What’s Florence’s surname?”

“Offhand, I don’t remember. I don’t know if she’s ever been married. Hold on, Gloria’s here. I’ll ask. We’re having lunch.” I heard muttering voices and then Ellen was back. “She says it’s Fanshaw, which is her maiden name and thus the name of her brothers, and Florence still has it because she never married, although it’s getting long past time and if she doesn’t hurry up she’s going to be left on the shelf, and why do you want to know anyway?” Now I remembered: Festivities by Fanshaw was the name of Florence’s event-planning business.

I didn’t answer Aunt Ellen’s question. “What about Mirabelle?”

“Hold on again.”

“Sorry, won’t be a minute more,” I said to the receptionist.

Aunt Ellen came back on the line. “Henkel, the name of her second husband. In contrast to Florence, in danger of being left on the shelf, Mirabelle has had two husbands already, which is one too many for a woman not yet out of her thirties. Or so Gloria tells me. Hold on, she’s waving at me. She wants me to hand over the phone.” Ellen’s voice was muffled as she took the mouthpiece away. “Lucy’s busy, Gloria. She doesn’t have time to talk. All right, I’ll tell her.” She spoke to me. “Speaking of women in their thirties, Gloria is wondering if you have prospects.”

“Tell her I’ve taken a vow of chastity. Thanks.” I hung up and turned back to the receptionist. “Florence Fanshaw. I’m Lucy.”

“Why would you do that?” the clerk said.

“Do what?”

“Take a vow of chastity.” She studied me—jeans, T-shirt, earrings. “Are you wanting to become a nun? You don’t look like one.”

“Just making a joke. My call?”

“One minute. I’ll check her room.” She picked up a phone and pressed buttons. “There’s a lady here to see you, Ms. Fanshaw. A Lucy? Yes, thank you.” She hung up. “She’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Thanks.”

I took a seat in a comfortable wingback chair upholstered in red damask. An enormous bowl of peach roses and trailing vines sat on the table in front of me. A few hotel guests walked across the lobby, many dressed in waterproof jackets and heavy boots with binoculars around their necks. The Outer Banks in January is a great destination for birdwatchers, and we get a lot of them coming to explore the marshes around the lighthouse.

I didn’t have long to wait before the elevator button pinged, and Florence emerged. She looked, I thought, dreadful. Her face was blotchy, her eyes and nose red, her hair mussed and unwashed. I got to my feet to greet her, and to my surprise, she threw herself into my arms and burst into tears. “Oh, Lucy. It’s so nice of you to come. This is dreadful. Absolutely dreadful.”

I patted her back and mumbled something sympathetic. Finally, she pulled herself away from me and forced out a tight smile. “I haven’t spoken to Aunt Gloria today. Mary Anna went to Amos’s house this morning when she heard he’d arrived home, but I didn’t want to go. I don’t think I can bear it right now. Is Gloria okay?”

“She’s fine. Handling her grief in her own way.”

“As she does everything.”

“Would you like a coffee or something? I haven’t had breakfast yet.” I still didn’t feel like eating, but as I sat in the comfortable chair waiting for Florence, my body reminded me I was seriously undercaffeinated.

“That would be nice, thanks.”

“How about right here in the hotel?”

“Sounds good to me.”

It was lunchtime, but this being the off-season, we had our choice of seats in the restaurant. I led the way to a table for two by the window overlooking the spacious veranda. The pool was closed and covered, the umbrellas and lounge chairs put away for the season. In the summer this hotel has beautiful gardens, but even in the winter they managed to make the outdoors attractive with a variety of colored grasses in giant terra-cotta pots. A wooden boardwalk led from the pool deck, across the dunes, and through the long waving sea oats to the wide beach. Today being a Monday in January, the grounds were empty.

“Except for the pool,” Florence said, “this must be the same view they had from this spot two hundred years ago.”

“I never tire of it,” I said. The waitress took our orders. Two coffees.

“Weren’t you planning to go home today?” I said. “I suppose your plans have changed.”

“Mary Anna and Gloria are staying, so I might as well.”

“Can you afford to be away from your business much longer?”

“Andrew, that’s my assistant, can handle anything that comes in. If anything comes in, and there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. He can call me if he needs to. Mary Anna and I are checking out of this hotel and going to stay at Amos’s. I can’t afford to stay here any longer and Mary Anna doesn’t want to, so we’ll share the second guest room. I’ll just have to put up with Mary Anna’s snoring. A freight train coming through the bedroom would be quieter. Mirabelle’s dad asked Gloria to travel with her remains when she goes home. Do you know anything about when that can happen?”

“Sorry, no. Were you and Mirabelle close?”

“We’re similar in age, so we grew up together, but we hadn’t seen much of each other over the years until recently. We didn’t … well, we didn’t always get along. I … I mean we, have an event-planning company. Weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary celebrations. That sort of thing. It’s a small company, only me and Andrew.”

“And Mirabelle?”

“Oh, yes. And Mirabelle. About a year ago, we got talking at Aunt Gloria’s birthday party, and Mirabelle seemed interested in my business. She’d recently gotten divorced, again, and was looking for something interesting to do, so I agreed to take her on as a partner. Mirabelle didn’t want us to remain small. She had big plans.”

I read the look on her face. “And you didn’t like that?”

“I liked her plans just fine. Until I realized she had no idea of what she was doing to make those plans a reality. All this nonsense about getting a cover spread in Weddings on Water.” Florence snorted. “Running up and down the coast visiting yacht clubs and the like. It was all for show. She loved being treated by the event managers at those places as though she had hundreds of thousands to spend.”

“You didn’t agree?”

“Even if Festivities by Fanshaw did manage to snag the contract for the wedding of the season, we couldn’t pull it off. We’re not big enough and we have no contacts in North Carolina.”

This, I thought, is more interesting than I expected. A falling out of business partners. I leaned back to allow the waitress to put a pot of coffee on the table. “Surely Mirabelle would have come to realize that, soon enough.”

“Sure she would. After she’d ruined Festivities by Fanshaw’s reputation. The only good thing about it is that we don’t have a reputation in North Carolina to ruin, and I could hope no one back home would hear about it.”

“Why did you keep her on as your partner then?”

“It wasn’t a matter of keeping her on, Lucy.” Florence studied me over the rim of her coffee cup. “Mirabelle got a lot of money in her latest divorce settlement. She wanted to invest a good chunk of it in my company. I wasn’t too sure that was a good idea right from the beginning, but to be honest, we weren’t doing so well. It’s a highly competitive business and we weren’t getting enough contracts to keep afloat. Andrew’s constantly out on the street, pounding the pavement, trying to drum up work, but we’re simply not getting enough. I was in danger of having to lay off Andrew, close the company, and get”—she shuddered—“a job. Whereupon Aunt Gloria would tell me she always knew I was a failure. I went to my dad and asked him to help me out, but he’s temporarily embarrassed, as we say in the South. Much politer than saying he’s broke. Again.”

“You’re being very forthright,” I said. “Telling me this. You hardly know me.”

“Maybe that’s why I’m telling you. Because I hardly know you. I’m not going to tell anyone in my family I’m about to be tossed out onto the street, now, am I? No secrets in the Fanshaw and O’Malley families are kept from Gloria, not for long. Besides,” she added, “I got the feeling you were no fonder of dear cousin Mirabelle than I was. She didn’t exactly endear herself to Josie either, flirting with her boyfriend and rearranging her wedding plans.”

I sipped my coffee, said nothing, and tried to look sympathetic. In the meantime, I was planning on making a call to Sam Watson before I’d even left the hotel.

Mirabelle had invested in Festivities by Fanshaw, Florence’s failing company. Mirabelle had been causing problems that threatened to destroy Florence’s business. Mirabelle had died.

Cui bono? is what they ask in the mystery novels I read.

Who benefits?

I smiled at Florence sitting across from me. Sometimes this detecting stuff is pretty easy.

“I thought things couldn’t get any worse,” she said. “But they have.”

“Why?”

“Now I’m truly up the creek. I wanted to take out partnership insurance for Mirabelle and me. I made appointments at the insurance company; she’d fail to show up. I’d ask her to suggest another time; she’d say she was too busy. She always said we’d have time later.” Florence sighed. “So I have no insurance. Mirabelle decided our offices needed to be upgraded to reflect the modern, forward-thinking, hip young company we are. We spent fifty thousand, out of the company account, on an interior decorator, and I haven’t even made the final payments yet. Never mind that I can’t stand what she and Mirabelle did with the place, so I’d like to rip it all out. We were supposed to be doing a big sixtieth-wedding-anniversary party, but just last week the customer pulled out.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and she wiped angrily at them with the back of her hand.

“Why’d they do that?”

“They couldn’t get on with Mirabelle. The family wanted their party to be homespun and casual. Mirabelle didn’t think homespun and casual suits our image and kept nagging at them to upgrade. Words were said and the customer walked. Mirabelle had paid the deposit on the hall without waiting for the client’s check to clear. They contacted the bank and canceled it.”

“Didn’t you say Mirabelle put money into your business?”

“Sure. But not up front.” Florence fumbled in her purse for a tissue. “She’s supposed to pay monthly. She hasn’t given me anything in the last two months. I wasn’t too worried about it, not yet. She always was an airhead with her money. And now she’s left me with all those debts and I’ll never see another cent from her. Look at this place.” She threw her arms out to indicate the hotel. “I can’t afford to stay here. I wanted to share a room at least, but Mirabelle doesn’t share, and Mary Anna snores dreadfully. Mirabelle said it would be okay, we could charge the stay to the company, as we’re here on business. She put all three rooms on the company credit card.” Florence burst into tears. “The only thing worse than having Mirabelle as a partner is not having Mirabelle as a partner.”

I drank my coffee and let her cry. My theory lay in ruins. Mirabelle’s death did not bono Florence.

Finally she blew her nose and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry, Lucy, you don’t need to hear all my problems.”

“It’s okay. You needed to talk.”

“Maybe you have a sympathetic face.”

I cracked a smile. “Did Mirabelle have any allergies or a heart condition or anything?”

“No. She complained about catching everything going, but that was nothing but the usual attention-seeking histrionics. She didn’t like going to the doctor, which was part of the reason she dragged her feet at taking out the partners’ insurance. It would have required a full checkup. ‘Doctors don’t know what they’re doing,’ she always said. When Ellen called Mary Anna and me from the hospital with the news, she said the ER doctor was asking a lot of questions about what Mirabelle had eaten recently. The police came and talked to us last night. They asked about what we’d had to eat. Mary Anna and Mirabelle had lunch here at the hotel. I didn’t join them, because I knew there’d be food at the shower and I’m sorta trying to lose some weight.” She picked up a teaspoon and stirred her coffee. “I told the cops a little white lie. I didn’t have lunch with them because I couldn’t bear to spend more time than I had to in Mirabelle’s company. All she ever does is talk about herself or all the great plans she has for my company—which she soon started calling her company. She wanted to change the name to Mirabelle and Florence Presents. Aside from the fact that anyone seeing that in writing would think we were a gift-shopping service, her name would come first. I tuned her out most of the time. Sounds mean, doesn’t it, saying I didn’t like her now that she’s dead?” She shook her head with such force her heavy bangs moved. “I still can’t believe it.”

“Your feelings toward her are real,” I said. “You don’t have to pretend.”

“Doesn’t everyone say you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead?” She stared off into space and I sipped my coffee, giving her time.

“I came back to the hotel to get ready to go to the shower. I drove Mary Anna, while Mirabelle went to get Gloria.” Florence lifted her head and looked directly at me through her thick glasses. “You and your friends made the sandwiches, didn’t you?”

“Yes, we did, but there can’t have been anything wrong with them. No one else got sick.”

She lowered her eyes again. “I don’t suppose your cousin made anything especially for Mirabelle, did she?”

“I don’t know,” I lied. If Florence was suggesting something Josie made had killed Mirabelle, I didn’t want to do anything to encourage that thought.

“Mirabelle and Jake seemed to get on real well the other night. Josie didn’t like that, did she?”

“Hey! What are you implying?”

“I’m just wondering. I’m sure it’ll turn out to have been an accident, but we all know how women can turn into Bridezilla over their wedding, don’t we?”

“No, we do not. Josie’s the furthest thing from …”

“And Mirabelle had plans for her wedding Josie didn’t like.”

I was about to tell Florence that Mirabelle was being led on a wild-goose chase to keep her from bothering Josie and that Jake was only showing good manners, but I didn’t get the chance. A man came into the restaurant. He spoke to the hostess, and she pointed directly at our table. He thanked her and crossed the room in a few quick strides.

Detective Yarmouth.

I smothered a groan. I couldn’t risk Florence talking to him, not immediately after the idea had popped into her head that Josie might have had reason to kill Mirabelle.

Yarmouth loomed over our table. “Good day, ladies. I believe we met earlier. Ms. Richardson, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

He turned to Florence. “Are you Florence Fanshaw?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Detective Yarmouth. North Carolina State Police. You spoke to one of my colleagues yesterday, but I’d like to talk to you myself about the death of Mirabelle Henkel.”

More tears began to flow. Florence wiped her eyes.

“Ms. Henkel was your cousin, I understand. You traveled here together from New Orleans for the wedding shower of your other cousin, Josephine O’Malley.”

“We came to help plan the wedding at the invitation of Josie’s grandmother,” Florence said. “We didn’t hear about the shower until we got here. Josie didn’t want Mirabelle coming to her shower.”

“Hey!” I said. “That’s not right. The shower was for Aunt Ellen’s friends. Her local friends. A small get-together. Not a big deal.”

“Mirabelle wanted to make Josie’s wedding into a big deal,” Florence said. “Josie didn’t like that.”

“If you’re finished here”—Yarmouth eyed the two empty coffee cups and unused plates—“I’d like to go someplace we can talk.”

I threw money on the table. “Good idea. I was at the shower also, so I was one of the last people to see Mirabelle. You’ll want to talk to me as well. You can do us both at the same time.”

His small dark eyes studied me. “I’ll interview you privately, Ms. Richardson.”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “It’ll save you wasting time.”

“It’s my time to waste,” he said. “You live at the lighthouse, I’ve been told. Where this party took place. I intend to check it out next.”

“That’s true, but I’m not going there now. I’m going … out of town. For a few days. To Boston. My father’s ill.” Realizing I was babbling, I forced myself to shut my mouth.

“Sorry to hear that, but you’ll have to change your plans. I need to see this library, and I can talk to you then. Or—” He glanced toward the door. I ventured a peek and saw a uniformed officer watching us. “I can ask my colleague to take you down to the police station, where you can wait until I’ve finished what I have to do. Which might be around midnight.”

Florence had stopped crying. She watched us carefully.

“I guess I’ll go home then,” I said.

“Good idea,” Yarmouth said. “If you’re not there when I arrive, I won’t be happy. The restaurant seems empty enough. We should be able to talk here in some privacy. Would you like more coffee, Ms. Fanshaw?”

Florence shook her head. I hesitated.

Yarmouth looked at me. “Would you like to wait for me at the station, Ms. Richardson?”

“No.” I fled.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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