Copyright @2016 by Anna Drake
“You aren’t supposed to come,” I muttered between clenched teeth. I ducked my head and swept a nervous eye over my fellow travelers. Approaching my mid-sixties, I didn’t want people seeing me babbling to myself—not even strangers striding beside me on a chilly Amtrak platform.
The source of my angst drifted along beside to me. He claimed he was the ghost of my college sweetheart, Andrew Peters. I suspected he was more probably proof of my decaying mind.
Andrew grinned. “Hetty, you know I’m real and that you’d be lost without me.”
I pressed my lips together and flicked a quick glance over my companion. He had the same dark eyes, dark hair, and killer smile as the Andrew I’d known in college. Yet since then, I, Hetty Fox, had developed gray hair, wrinkled skin, and fallen arches.
“You still look beautiful to me,” Andrew replied.
That Andrew was aware of my innermost thoughts didn’t surprise me. I wasn’t sure why or how, but somehow my mind had invented an imaginary playmate to keep me company in my old age. How sick was that?
Andrew scoffed. “I’m real, Hetty, and deep down you know it.”
“Even if true, I told you to stay home.”
Andrew looked at me in disbelief. “You want me to spend my days locked up with Blackie?” He cast his gaze heavenward. “That cat hates me. He’d be at me day and night. Hetty,” he whined, “I’m defenseless without you.”
Still, Blackie’s reaction to Andrew was the only point in favor of this ghost being real. I mean, cats can’t read minds, can they?
Glancing up, I saw we were nearing the end of the platform. My pace quickened. I’d lived in Chicago since birth but had moved downstate a few months ago to be nearer my daughter. Today, I was back in the city to visit a dear friend. My heart pounded with excitement at the thought of seeing Eva again.
Andrew, his gaze locked on the people on the other side of the gate, asked, “Which one is she?”
My eyes scanned the crowd and my stride faltered. “I… ah…. I don’t understand. I don’t see her.”
“You don’t need to sound so worried. She’s probably just running late.”
A niggle of worry bloomed in my gut. “No, you don’t understand,” I said. “Eva’s a very disciplined woman. Being tardy doesn’t happen in her world. At least not without a phone call to explain things.”
Andrew shrugged. “So she left her cell phone home and ended up caught in traffic. It happens.”
My brows slammed together. “Not to Eva, it doesn’t.” I stepped forward again.
Within seconds we plowed through the gates and barreled into the corridor. My head swung back and forth scanning the hallway at both ends. I still saw no sign of the woman. The nugget of concern in my stomach grew larger. This behavior was not like my friend.
Spotting a bench along the far wall, I made for it. I piled my purse and my suitcase on the seat. And after pulling my cell phone from my purse, I punched in her number and paced back and forth despite the crowd.
The phone rang, then eventually switched over to voice mail. “Eva, this is Hetty. I’m at the train station. Are you okay? Call me. I need to know what’s happening.”
Andrew inched closer. “What should we do?”
“We wait.” I listened to my words and shook my head. “Correction. I wait. You can either go home or vanish.”
He laid a hand on his chest. “Hetty, you wound me.”
I was just about to shoot back a retort when I noticed an elderly gentleman giving me a strange look. I slammed my lips closed and slumped back onto the seat.
Really, I thought as I slipped the phone back in my purse. Andrew could be so juvenile. But then why wouldn’t he be? He’d only just turned twenty-one when he’d died in a fiery car crash. His death had devastated me, and it had taken me years to recover from his loss. And now, here he was back in my life.
What further surprises did old age have in store?
Ten more minutes passed. Eva still hadn’t called or shown up. Butterflies invaded my stomach and started dancing around my expanding nugget of worry.
Andrew shoved his hands in his pockets and asked, “Why don’t you try calling her again?”
I nodded and whipped out the phone, but still no one answered. I sighed and left another message. “Eva, I’m still waiting. Call me.”
Another five minutes passed without a response.
Unable to sit still one more minute, I sprang to my feet. “I’m going to her apartment. I feel so out of it here. At least there, I may find some answers.”
“You’ll get no argument from me,” Andrew said
I grabbed my bag and set off. Irritatingly, Andrew floated along beside me, but striding into heavier foot traffic now, I was reluctant to utter one more word. And so we moved up past the food courts with their tempting scents of pizza, and hamburgers, and tacos. We marched on through a babble of restless commuters and through the cries of worn out children tired of being cooped up on trains—or trapped inside train stations.
Finally, we came to the taxi stand, a dark hole of a place one floor below street level. A heavy scent of diesel fumes wafted around the long line of cabs. The roar of speeding traffic bounced down from the street above, as did a mist from the day’s pounding rain.
Beside me, Andrew faded from sight. He had never traveled in a car with me nor had he showed himself on the train during my journey this morning. I’d never discovered if his absence was because of a lingering trauma from his accident. Or if it was physically impossible for him to ride inside moving vehicles. Or if, and I considered this much more likely, he just plain didn’t exist.
A cab pulled forward. I hurled my suitcase onto the back seat and followed it in. After giving the driver Eva’s address, he grinned and gunned the gas. And like a bull released from a holding pen, we roared up the ramp and rushed east on Jackson Street. A spray of rainwater splashed onto us from the speeding tires of fellow drivers. Traffic was heavy and moving fast. My driver appeared to feel right at home.
We screeched to a stop at a traffic light at Michigan Avenue. I glanced north and eyed the lion statues guarding the entrance to the Art Institute. Even from a block away, the sight delighted me. Visiting the institute had been one of my favorite delights when I’d lived here.
From the front seat, the driver made a comment about the unpleasant weather. By his accent, I figured he was from the Middle East. I also suspected he was padding my bill. If I’d been driving, I would have headed straight north on LaSalle Street. Yet, I didn’t protest his taking me the long way. I was reveling at the sights, and sounds, and smells of my old hometown.
The light changed. The cabbie slammed the gas pedal to the floor. The cab lunged forward. My backbone pressed hard into the seat.
Ahead of us, white-capped waves pounded across the surface of Lake Michigan. My stomach churned. The sight of the dark rushing waters only added to my unease over my missing friend.
We raced through Grant Park with its drenched, greening grass. Then, the cabbie whipped the car left onto North Lake Shore Drive. His speed was such that I slid across the slippery seat and had to brace myself to keep from crashing against the door handle. He straightened the wheel, and at last I found myself rushing north to the Gold Coast, one of the city’s most prestigious addresses.
Despite the crowded roadway and pounding rain, we made excellent time. The driver pulled in front of my friend’s apartment building in just under twenty minutes. I paid him off and with a sigh stepped out into the day’s downpour.
A doorman jumped forward to greet me. He carried an umbrella aloft. I ducked under it and noted his name tag. It identified him as Tony Spinoza. Squarely built with dark hair and eyes, the man, who looked to be somewhere in his forties, escorted me to the entrance. “I’m here to see Eva Whitstone,” I explained.
He whisked me through the doors smiling broadly. “You have a good day,” he said. I thanked him and headed to the elevator. Seconds later, I stepped out on the fifteenth floor.
Andrew popped up at my elbow. “Miss me?” he asked with a devilish grin.
My hand flew to my chest. I gasped. “Would you please cut that out? You’ll give me a heart attack.”
“Sorry,” he said, almost looking contrite. “I’ll see you after you settle in.”
I stuck forth a hand. “No, you won’t,” I proclaimed, but my words were too late. He’d already vanished.
I stomped down the hallway, mumbling. The last thing I wanted was for Andrew to make himself comfortable in Eva’s home. I grabbed a deep breath and vowed that I would not let Andrew spoil my visit.
Reaching the door to Eva’s apartment, I made a fist and knocked rapidly several times, but still no one answered. I rapped several more times, again without success. After a few more tries, I gave up and went in search of the building superintendent.
Thanks to directions from the doorman, I found Harley Stokes in a cramped and cluttered basement apartment. “I’m sorry,” he said looking me over while he stood in his open doorway. “We ain’t got no apartments to rent.”
He was broad, and bald, and wore a white T-shirt paired with faded blue Dickies.
“I haven’t come to rent an apartment,” I said. “I’m here to see Eva Whitstone. She isn’t answering her door or her phone. Since I’ve been trying to reach her for nearly an hour, I’m worried. I want to check on her.”
Stokes’ fists landed on his hips. “Lady, what do you expect me to do?”
“You have a key to her door, right?”
“That’s true,” he snapped, “but I’m not using it to let you into her place. Not without some kind of note. Best I can offer is to pound on the door,,, which you say you’ve already done. I doubt I’ll have different results.”
“Will you at least try?”
His flinty gray eyes studied me for a minute. “Okay,” he finally answered. “I got a soft spot for that old dame. What will it cost me?” He raised a stubby finger. “Hold on a minute.” He padded back into his apartment and put out the cigarette he had left burning in a metal ashtray. “I’ll call her,” he said over his shoulder. “If she don’t answer, I’ll go up. Give her door a bang for you. But I still think you’re wasting your time… and mine.”
He scowled and dialed the phone, but his call went unanswered, as I knew it would.
“Maybe she’s in the shower,” he grumbled replacing the receiver. “Or she coulda forgot when you would get into town. She ain’t young, you know. Or she could be out running errands.”
“Forgetting things isn’t like Eva,” I protested. “I’m worried she’s in some kind of trouble.”
He padded back to me. “Okay, we’ll go up. I’ll pound on her door. But that’s all I can do.”
“Oh, thank you. I’m so grateful,” I lied.
“Yeah,” he said pulling his door closed. So together we trooped back to the elevator with me still dragging my suitcase behind me. On reaching Eva’s door, Stokes slammed his good-sized fist on it a couple of times. The sound reverberated up and down the hall. “Eva?” he bellowed. “Are you in there?”
Across the hall, the facing apartment door swung open. “Is something amiss?” asked a tall, slender man with snow-white hair and a wonderfully charming goatee.
The super’s gaze swung the gentleman’s way. He pointed at me with his thumb. “This lady says she’s come to visit Eva. I don’t suppose you know if she’s home?”
The stranger frowned. “I don’t believe I heard her leave.”
“And you are?” I asked.
“Martin Coletree,” he said extending a hand. I shook it and identified myself. “It’s very nice to meet you,” I said. “Eva didn’t by any chance keep a key with you?”
He flashed his white teeth at me. “Unfortunately, she did not.”
“I ain’t opening this door for you,” Stokes repeated for what seemed like the umpteenth time.
Coletree stepped forward. “She has a son. Do you think this is serious enough to contact him?”
“I don’t have his number,” Stokes answered.
“That’s a wonderfully good idea,” I said. “But although I have my address book with me, his name isn’t listed in it.”
“That’s all right,” Coletree said. “I have it. Eva gave me the number to use for emergencies. I’ll give him a call. Let’s see what happens.”
When Brian Whitstone joined us outside Eva’s door some twenty minutes later, he looked flushed and worried. “What’s going on with Mom?” he asked, his expression drawn and tight.
I explained about my visit and Eva’s failure to meet me at the train station. “Since then, I haven’t been able to raise her, nor has she returned any of my calls. I hate to drag you from work, but I’m terribly worried.”
Brian nodded. “That’s okay. This is not like Mom.” He inserted his key in the lock and gave it a twist. Then, he pushed the door open. The apartment lay empty before us.
“Mom?” he called out. There was no reply. He turned his head toward me. “Wait here.”
I nodded. His suggestion sounded perfectly acceptable to me. The silence that greeted us when we opened the door had sent a chill up my spine.
“You’re my witnesses,” Stokes babbled to Coletree and me. “It’s not my fault we’re standing inside Mrs. Whitstone’s apartment. If management comes after my tail, I’m sending them straight to you guys.”
“Yes, yes,” I said. “No one is blaming you. This is entirely down to Brian and me.”
I glanced about the living room and noted all was in order. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed or knocked askew. I couldn’t help but hope that was a good sign.
Ahead of me, Brian continued on through the apartment. But when he came to the entrance to his mother’s study, I saw him stagger backwards. His hand flew to his chest. His face darkened. “Mother,” he called out, “what have they done to you?”
“Oh nuts,” Stokes said as he collapsed onto a chair. “This ain’t good.”
A short time later, Stokes, Brian, and I followed Coletree into his apartment. “It’s pointless to stand in the hall when we can wait in comfort here.”
I glanced about my surroundings. The living room was a mirror image of Eva’s, but there the similarity ended. Her apartment was sun-drenched and soaring, while Coletree’s had a decidedly masculine air. Thick drapes blocked out most of the sunlight. And where Eva’s furniture was delicate and upholstered in satin and velvet, Coletree’s was heavy and covered in dark leather.
“Make yourselves at home,” he said waving a hand toward the impressive couches and chairs scattered about the enormous room. “I’ll see if Helga can scrounge up coffee.”
“Thank you,” I said, as he headed toward the hall.
In his absence, Stokes turned his surly gaze toward me. “Management’s not gonna like that a tenant was killed here. It’s gonna give the place a bad name.”
“This isn’t your fault,” I responded. “Eva’s death is a fact. We’re not responsible for the murder.”
If I had come up yesterday, I suddenly wondered, would my presence have changed things? Would Eva have escaped this awful fate? The thought struck me with sickening force.
Stokes squirmed in his chair. “My employers are gonna see this mess the way they want to. And fairness toward yours truly ain’t gonna be part of their view.” He lowered himself into one of the oversized chairs, his face openly displaying his distress.
I followed his lead and sank onto the nearest couch. My arthritic knees instantly appreciated the move. Some days, it was nearly all I could do to stand upright for twenty minutes.
Brian crossed to one of the large front windows and pushed the drapes aside. He stared down at the street. “The cops are here. A patrol car just pulled up to the curb.”
I pulled in a deep breath and expelled it slowly. I suspected we’d feel better after telling the police what we’d witnessed. I doubted, though, that we knew enough to be helpful. We’d only been in the apartment a few minutes, and Brian was the only one who had seen the body.
He turned away from the window. “I’ll step into the hall. Let them know where to find us.”
“That’s good,” I responded. “I’m sure they can’t wait to get at us.”
Brian grimaced and headed for the door, shooting me a grim smile on his way out. “I’ll let you know what they say.”
A short time later, Coletree returned to the living room. He bore a tray laden with a steaming pot of coffee and four cups. “It’s hot and strong. It should help,” he said, filling a cup and handing it to me.
“Thank you. It smells good.” I blew across the rim before taking a deep sip.
Coletree chuckled. “Don’t thank me. The credit goes to my housekeeper.”
My hand flew to my forehead. How could I have failed to notice that Eva’s housekeeper was missing?
I glanced at Stokes. “Why didn’t we find Dotty Stepkowski in Eva’s apartment? Monday is a weekday. She should have been doing her usual chores.”
Stokes shrugged. “It’s not my job to keep tabs on the hired help.” His eyebrows drew together in a puzzled frown. “Now you mention it, Sybil wasn’t there, either. That’s also off the usual pattern.”
Sybil Keen was Eva’s recently hired secretary. I’d never met the young woman, but Stokes was right. She also should have been in the apartment. I shook my head in bewilderment. There were two women missing?
I had just finished my second cup of coffee when there was a knock on Coletree’s door. Martin crossed the room and swung it open. Brian stepped into the apartment with an unknown man and woman entering alongside him.
“I’m Detective Michael Donovan,” the man said as he flashed his badge. With dark hair and eyes, a broad chest, and wide shoulders, he looked more like a linebacker than a detective. I guessed him to be somewhere in his mid-thirties. After putting the badge away, he swung an arm toward the woman who appeared to be a bit younger.
“This is my partner, Detective Mary Moran.” She was tall and slender with narrow lips, pale hair, and frosty-blue eyes. She looked about as warm and cuddly as dry ice.
Donovan studied the four of us for a minute before turning to Coletree. “Is there a room where we can conduct our interviews in private?”
Coletree extended his arm toward a door to his left. “Yes, yes. Please, you must use my office.”
“Many thanks,” Donovan replied. “Brian? I’d like to start with you, please.” Donovan strode to the doorway with Brian and Moran in tow.
As the door swung closed behind them, I shuddered. He had come to investigate, to discuss in detail Eva’s horrifying death. Tears formed at the thought as I thought of the ordeal ahead. I pulled in a breath, trying to calm myself.
“More coffee?” Coletree asked.
“Yes, please. It’s very thoughtful of you to open your apartment to us.”
He shrugged off the compliment. “It was the least I could do. Eva was a dear woman and a good neighbor.”
While he poured the coffee, I rose and walked to my suitcase which still sat in the foyer. Bending over, I laid it on its side.
From behind me Coletree asked, “What are you doing?”
I unzipped a compartment. “Im after my address book. Eva’s housekeeper’s phone number and home address are in there.” I withdrew the book and straightened. “I don’t suppose you have a phone number for Sybil Keen?”
With a slight shake of his head, he said, “Alas, I do not, but I have a phone book. I’ll look it up.”
I smiled my thanks and punched Dotty’s number into my cell phone. I let it ring for several minutes, my heart pounding. But there was no answer. Finally, I ended the call. My earlier nob of worry in my stomach expanded another inch or two at being unable to locate the woman.
Coletree wandered back into the room, a massive Chicago phone book spread open in his hands. “She doesn’t seem to be listed,” he said scowling.
“Maybe she only has a cell phone,” Stokes offered. “That could be why she’s not showing up in the book.”
“That’s true,” I said thinking how sometimes these modern conveniences failed us. I redialed Dotty’s number, but again without any luck. I returned to the couch and placed my cell phone on the end table. No point in calling every couple of minutes, I thought. I’d wait. Perhaps I’d have better luck later.
We sat that way for at least another fifteen minutes, saying little, our attention apparently focused on the tragedy we were caught up in and the interview to come. My thoughts drifted over old events and happenings, looking for some clue that might explain Eva’s death. Yet I failed to find anything certain.
There appeared to be nothing that pointed to a logical reason for Eva’s senseless murder. I only knew one thing. No matter how small, I’d lay every thought that occurred to me out for the detective. I wanted Eva’s killer caught. I wanted him or her to stand before a judge and a jury.
Eventually Brian emerged from the office. He drummed up a small smile for me, but otherwise he looked thoroughly spent.
Donovan appeared in the doorway behind him, “Mrs. Fox,” he said, “will you join me, please?”
I rose from the couch and approached the detective. He offered me a reassuring smile. “I only have a few questions. You’ll be out of here in no time.”
“That would be good,” I replied. I’d risen at four to catch the train to Chicago. It was now going on 2 p.m. Despite all the coffee, I was feeling more than a little bit drained.
I followed Donovan through the doorway into another large room. He led me to a magnificent antique desk in the far corner. This room, like Eva’s, had tall windows, but again they were heavily draped. A small desk lamp provided a yellow pool of light which offered some warmth in the otherwise dark room.
Donovan waved me to a chair. “First, may I tell you how sorry I am for your loss. I understand the deceased was a close friend?”
“Yes, we grew up together.” I said, placing my clenched hands in my lap. ”I can hardly believe she’s gone.”
Moran, who was already in the room when I entered, sat to my right. Her pen was poised over a small notebook. We exchanged a brief smile before I turned my gaze back to Donovan.
His dark eyes held my attention and seemed to silently offer me support for this ordeal. “Brian said you’d come for a visit?”
I nodded, “Yes, that is correct.”
“And where do you live?”
“Hendricksville,” I said. “It’s a small town located along the Illinois River about halfway down the state. But I grew up in Chicago. I have a lot of friends here.”
Donovan wanted my home address and phone number which I supplied. “I’d like to be able to reach you if I have more questions.”
“I’ll be staying on in Chicago for awhile,” I said. “There’s a hotel not too far from here that I thought I’d check into. I have other friends I’d like to see. Plus I thought I’d stay for Eva’s funeral.”
“The name of the hotel?”
“The Clairmont, but I’m not sure if I’ll get in. I don’t have a reservation.”
“That’s fine. Just let me know where you end up, okay?”
He then turned to the usual questions, wanting to know details about my friend and her life. I told him what I could, although my information came, in my mind, to very little. He asked for a list of her known friends and acquaintances. That took a while. Eva had been an active person, engaged not just in the social swirl of the city but in the business world as well.
“And the children?” Donovan asked. “What are they like?”
I frowned. “The children?”
The phrase follow the money popped into my thoughts. My heart hammered. I blinked. “You can’t for a minute believe either Brian or Nina killed their mother?”
His eyes darkened. He shrugged. “I’ve seen the inside of the victim’s apartment. It looks like there’s a lot of money at play in this case.”
I frowned. “That may be, but you’ll be wasting your time if you try to connect this murder to the children. They loved their mother. They would never have harmed her.”
“Then give me some help. Tell me about them and their lives. What do they do? What kind of people are they?”
I damped down my fury and applied my waning energy to answering his questions. “Brian owns a small investment firm. From what Eva told me, it’s a very successful operation. On a personal level, he is in his middle thirties and married. He and his wife have two young boys. But I have to tell you that Brian adored his mother. He is not a killer.
“And the daughter?” Donovan asked.
“Nina, is the younger of the two. She’s an artist who lives and works in a loft apartment on the city’s near west side.”
“Is she married?”
“No, but I believe she has a live-in friend.”
“And what does he do?”
“It’s something to do with insurance, I think. I don’t know for certain. I’ve never actually met him, and Eva didn’t mention him often.”
“How are Brian and Nina doing financially?”
“As I understand it, Brian’s investment firm does quite well. As I told you, Nina’s an artist. I have no idea how she fares with that effort. However, they both inherited a significant portion of their father’s estate when he died. Neither of them are hurting for money.”
Donovan held up a finger and consulted his notes. “The father. That’s Benjamin Whitstone, right?”
“He died when?”
“About a year ago.”
“He had cancer.”
“And what did he do for a living?”
“He owned a manufacturing firm along with interests in several other businesses.”
“Is the plant still in operation?”
“Who owns it now?”
“Eva and the children still hold controlling interest, I believe. There are other shares, but none of them amount to as much as the family holdings.”
“So the kids are due to get another financial boost with their mother’s death?”
I felt my blood pressure surge. “That’s probably true,” I managed to get out without telling him what I thought of his questions. “But again, I know the children. They did not do this.”
Donovan shook his head. “So when his dad died, Brian stuck with his own investment firm?”
“Why didn’t he step into his father’s shoes?”
“I don’t know, although Eva had no qualms about taking a lead role in the operation.”
“Was there friction in the family? Was that part of what was going on?”
“I doubt it” I answered tersely. “As Eva explained the situation to me, Brian didn’t want to abandon his own business. He’d started the consulting firm on his own and it had expanded several times over. In the end, Eva named one of the senior executives to the CEO post at the plant.”
“And the daughter? You say she’s an artist?”
“A successful one?”
I stared at him. “As I’ve already told you, I don’t know.” I rubbed my forehead in frustration. “Are you always this rude?”
A smile played around at the corners of the detective’s mouth before he sobered and said, “Probably.”
I shook my head and grabbed another deep breath. “Nina’s had a couple of private shows at small art galleries. What that means as far as success goes in the art world, I couldn’t say.”
“Where were these shows held?”
“I’m not sure. Small galleries someplace near here, I think. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but I’ve never attended any of them, and I don’t remember the galleries’ names.”
His dark eyes narrowed speculatively. “Artists don’t usually earn much in their lifetimes, right?”
My head pounded. “Maybe not,” I managed to say without snapping. “Even so, I doubt Nina’s starving.”
“So who do you recommend for the killer?”
I sighed. I’d been asking myself that question since we’d found the corpse. “I have no idea,” I replied. “My friend was a strong and outspoken woman. I’m sure she upset a great number of people. Still, I can’t picture anyone wanting to kill her. We hadn’t talked much lately. I’ve been very busy since the move. There are others who could provide more recent details.”
“Of the list of names you gave me earlier, who would you suggest I see first?”
“Victoria Longston. She and Eva were old friends, and then there’s Eva’s housekeeper, Dotty Stepkowski.”
Donovan nodded at Moran, who made note of my answer in her little book.
“Oh, and someone I’ve forgotten to mention,” I went on, “her personal secretary, Sybil Keen. She should have been here today. But she wasn’t. The same is true for her housekeeper. They are both scheduled to work Mondays through Fridays. Yet neither was in the apartment when we arrived.”
“Do you have any idea where they might be?”
I shook my head. “I don’t have a clue, but I find their absence worrisome.”
Donovan smiled at me reassuringly. “Don’t worry. We will look into it.
Within twenty minutes of leaving Eva’s apartment, my cab pulled up in front of Dotty Stepkowski’s house. The home was a brick bungalow, the kind popular with Chicago homebuyers in the mid-1960s. Low, long, and built of blond brick, the house had a side drive bordered by a chain-link fence. The fence stretched all the way to the rear of the lot. A pink crabapple tree bloomed in the small front yard, and a greening honeysuckle vine promised to cover the dull metal fence soon with colorful flowers.
I directed my steps to the front stoop with its three concrete stairs and hoped I’d find Dotty home. There’d been no sign of violence this morning other than in Eva’s study, but two women were missing. I couldn’t help but be concerned. And if Donovan didn’t think I’d follow this up on my own, he wasn’t as bright as he looked.
In addition to being worried about Dotty’s whereabouts, I wanted to learn if Dotty had heard or seen anything suspicious in the weeks leading up to the murder. She might very well have an idea of who wanted Eva dead.
I pressed the doorbell and breathed easier when Dotty swung the door open.
“Mrs. Fox,” she beamed. “What are you doing here?” She pushed the storm door wide. “Come in. Come in.”
“I’m so glad to see you,” I said, stepping into the house. “I’ve been trying to contact you for nearly an hour.”
Dotty issued her trademark, tinkling laugh. “I’ve been out running errands.” She wore her usual combination of knit slacks teamed with a loose top. Today’s offering featured a pink flamingo on a black T-shirt. The top contrasted nicely with her pink cheeks and curly gray hair. As she studied me, her brows scrunched together. “But why aren’t you at Eva’s place?”
I bit my lip and slipped my purse from my shoulder. Being the bearer of heartbreaking news was not my favorite role. “Ah,” I mumbled, “this morning when I arrived at Eva’s apartment… I… er… I encountered a few problems. Shall we sit down?”
Dotty’s frown deepened. “Problems? What’s happened? Is Eva okay?” she asked leading me deeper into the living room.
I felt tears forming. “No, she isn’t okay,” I said sinking onto the couch.
Dotty sat in a small chair opposite me. Her gaze bored into mine. “Mrs. Fox, what is it? Please, tell me what’s happened.”
I cleared my throat. “Ah… this morning Eva failed to meet me at the train station. When I showed up at her apartment no one answered. I called Brian. He let us in, and we found Eva dead in her study.”
“Dead?” Dotty made the sign of the cross over herself before shaking her head in disbelief. “How can that be? MIss Eva, she always looked so healthy.”
“No,” I responded, my voice shaky. “You misunderstand. The police say she was murdered.”
Dotty’s hand flew to her throat. “Murdered,” she whispered. “Who would do such a thing?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I was hoping you might tell me. At any rate, I’m sure the police will ask you the same thing.”
Dotty’s eyes grew round. “You think they’ll come here?”
“They’re bound to.”
Tears gathered in Dotty’s eyes and slid down her cheeks. She let them flow unheeded. I opened my purse and withdrew a small packet of tissues and passed them to her.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling free a couple tissues and mopping her cheeks with them. “Why would the police come here?” she asked, balling the tissues up in her hand. “Do they think I killed her?”
“I’m sure they’ll want to make certain you’re safe. I mentioned that you were normally in the apartment on Mondays. Plus, they routinely talk to people who were close to the victim. They’ll want to know if you were aware of any enemies, or if Eva had seemed anxious or alarmed.”
Dotty’s eyebrows flew upward. “Goodness, I don’t know nothing about her murder. I worked for Eva, but she never confided in me.” She pursed her lips a moment, then added, nodding. “I hope it didn’t have anything to do with the spats between Nina and Eva.”
My stomach clenched. “They weren’t getting along?”
“They were fighting like a pair of old witches.”
“What was the problem?”
“Money. Eva had it. Nina wanted some.”
I managed to keep my jaw from sagging open, but it was a near thing. Nina had inherited a fortune at her father’s death. How could she be short of money? Obviously, I needed to touch base with the young woman and soon.
“Then there was all that trouble down at the plant,” Dotty added.
Again, my jaw wanted to sag open. “What kind of trouble was that?” I asked, managing to keep my voice even.
Dotty shrugged. “I don’t know much about it. Only what I overheard when Eva was yelling at one guy or another. But it was intense. She was madder than heck.”
“Didn’t you manage to pick up anything?”
Dotty raised her shoulders. “I think that head guy Eva put in charge when her husband died? He wanted to change things. You know, run the plant his way. He had Eva so mad one day she was yelling loud enough to be heard three blocks away.”
“What did he want to do?”
Dotty shook her head. “You’ll have to ask her friends… or maybe the kids. They’ll probably know.” She cast a curious glance my way. “Eva never mentioned this fight to you?”
“No,” I replied. “But then we hadn’t spoken much lately. I’ve been so busy, settling into the new house, dealing with Blackie, who’s been pining after his old haunts. Maybe Eva wanted to save the story to share during my visit.”
My conscience gave me another poke. Had I been so wrapped up with my own concerns that I’d ignored my friend and he problems?
“Eva was really excited about your coming,” Dotty said with a nod.
Ugh, I thought as guilt struck again. “What about Sybil?” I asked, reminding myself there was another woman I needed to track down.
Dotty’s head pumped up and down. “Yeah, she probably knows all about the fights.”
I shook my head. “No, I mean can you tell me where Sybil is today?”
Dotty gave me a quizzical look. “She wasn’t at Eva’s apartment?”
“No, she wasn’t.”
“That’s what I thought.” I paused a second, then asked, “I also wondered why you weren’t there?”
Dotty’s blue eyes twinkled briefly despite her tears. “You aren’t suspecting me of murder now, are you?”
I felt my face flush. “Of course not but…?”
She offered a half smile and nodded. “Don’t worry. I understand. You aren’t happy unless things add up. I know.”
She grabbed a breath. “Well, just so you understand, I had to take my daughter to the airport this morning. She flew to a business convention in Cleveland. Then, this afternoon. I need to pick up my granddaughter at school. So, I asked for the whole day off.” Dotty’s lower lip suddenly quivered as the impact of her statement hit her. “Now, I wish I had gone to work today. Maybe I coulda saved Eva.”
I reached over and squeezed her hand. “Dotty, don’t blame yourself. From what the detective said, Eva was killed late last night or very early this morning. She was likely dead a long time before you were due to turn up. I’m just glad you are okay.”
“You were worried about me?”
“Hey, I’m a tough cookie.” she said with a half-smile. “I don’t go down easy. If I would have gotten my hands on the person who killed Eva, she’d still be alive.”
I smiled at her certainty. “And Sybil? Do you know where I can find her?”
Dotty’s mouth turned down at the corners. “I don’t know her address. I’m sure Eva had it written down. My guess is it’s in her address book.”
“True enough, but I don’t think the police will let me back into Eva’s apartment.”
Dotty’s expression brightened. “Try Nina. She and Sybil are good friends. I bet she has it.”
The mention of Nina put a knot in my stomach. If she and her mother had been fighting, Donovan would soon be on her case..
Once outside, I pulled my cell phone from my purse and punched in Nina’s number. She answered on the second ring. I could hear tears in her voice. I figured Brian had informed her of Eva’s death. At least, I thought, that was one message I wouldn’t have to deliver.
“Oh Hetty,” she gushed. “Isn’t this awful. I’ve talked to Brian. I’m so glad you insisted on getting inside Mom’s apartment. I would have hated her lying there dead without anyone knowing.”
“I only wish the outcome could have been different.”
“Me, too.” She went quiet for a minute, then said, “Hetty, I can’t lie to you. Mom and I had been fighting like dogs recently. Still, I didn’t want her to die. I want you to know that.”
She didn’t need to convince me, but Donovan would be another matter. I took a breath and pushed on. “Nina, I know you loved your mother. I’ve never doubted it, but right now I need a favor.”
“Absolutely, I’ll do whatever you need.”
“It’s Sybil,” I said. “She wasn’t at Eva’s apartment. Can you tell me how I can find her?”
“She was supposed to work today, right?”
There was a slight pause before Nina finally answered. “It’s Monday, so I assume she’d have been on duty. Of course, she might have taken the day off.”
“Does she have a key to Eva’s apartment? Can she let herself in?”
“Yes, she was expected to do that whenever Mom was away.”
So much for her being locked out of Eva’s apartment, I thought. “What about Sybil’s home address? Do you know it?”
Nina rattled it off. “Let me call her,” she added. “That’s quicker.”
“Good idea, but I’m going to go over to her place anyway. Call me back if you find her, okay?”
About fifteen minutes later, my cab arrived at Sybil’s apartment building just as my cell phone beeped.
It was Nina calling.
“Yes,” I said, skipping the normal greetings.
“Sybil isn’t answering,” Nina responded. “I’ll keep calling. Plus, I’ve put out feelers with some mutual friends. One of them may know what’s what.”
“Good idea. I’m just arriving at her apartment now. I’ll let you know what I learn.”
Sybil lived in an U-shaped, brick building on the city’s far north side. The unit boasted tiny balconies and possessed the added plus of being on the east side of Lake Shore Drive. This meant she had a half-block hike down an alley that would dump her onto the beach. I couldn’t help but admire her choice of locations.
The tree-studded neighborhood surrounding her apartment contained a mix of buildings. They were almost all three stories tall. And they all appeared to have been built during the early twentieth century. Sybil’s building looked to be among the oldest. But the age of the structures appeared to mean little to the health of the neighborhood. The cars parked along the street were new and pricey. The people glimpsed going about their daily routines on the sidewalks looked solidly middle class.
Entry to the building required passing through a vestibule. I stepped inside and pressed the button. No one buzzed me back to unlock the interior door. I tried again. Same result. I sighed and set off in search of the superintendent. I spied a man entering a vestibule across from Sybil’s. As he was dragging a vacuum cleaner through a doorway. I figured he was my guy, I tromped off in his direction.
“Yes?” he grumbled, when I reached him. “What do you want?” He was short and wide and sported at least a three-day growth of dark whiskers.
“I’m looking for Sybil Keen,” I explained.
“She’s across the way.” He jerked his head in the direction from which I’d come.
“I know that, but she’s not answering the door.”
He smirked. “Wild guess on my part. But since it’s a Monday, maybe she’s at work?”
“I know for a fact she isn’t,” I replied managing to keep myself from offering him a sharper retort.
He lifted his shoulders. “Then, I can’t help you.” He turned his back to me and switched on the vacuum cleaner.
I tapped his shoulder.
He swung around to face me. “Lady,” he roared, “can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Yes, I see that,” I yelled back in an effort to be heard over the noisy machine. “But can you tell me the last time you saw Sybil?”
He switched off the vacuum. “Listen,” he said, pointing his plump finger at me. “I’m not her keeper. If she’s done a bunker, it’s not my affair. If she sticks me on the rent, that’s another matter.”
“The woman Sybil works for was murdered,” I replied. “Now, Sybil’s missing. I’m concerned.”
“I’m sorry to hear it, but there’s nothing I can do.”
“The police will come.”
He sighed in exasperation. “And I’ll tell them the exact same thing I’m telling you. I don’t know nothing about it.”
I turned in a huff and walked off.
Frustrated at my failure to locate Sybil, I flagged down a taxi and headed for Nina’s apartment. After traveling a couple of blocks, I wondered if Nina’s search for her friend had been more successful than mine.
But just after pulling my cell phone from my purse to check in with her, the cab screeched to a sudden halt. I glanced out the window. Apparently an accident had snarled traffic. From what I could see, we were trapped in the middle of the block with no way to break free.
I bit back an impatient sigh and punched Nina’s number into the cell phone.
“Hetty,” she exclaimed upon answering. “Can I call you back?”
My stomach clenched. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. The detectives are here, that’s all.”
My grip on the phone tightened. I knew Nina. She was a people pleaser. I suspected she would tell the two detectives whatever she thought would make them happiest. “Nina,” I cautioned, “whatever you do, don’t lie to them. Tell them everything you know. Be open and honest. It’s the only way to get along with the police.”
“We’ll see.” she chirped, obviously taking their visit as something of a social affair.
“Nina, listen, please. Donovan and Moran are hunting for a killer. If you lie to them, you’ll end up at the top of their suspect list.”
“Hetty, you worry too much. They’re very nice people. Really,” Nina said before hanging up.
I shoved my phone into my purse and rubbed my forehead. Cops thrive on suspicion. Didn’t Nina know that? Feeding them lies was the last thing a person should do. Unless they were arresting you. Then, as most people knew, your best move was to say nothing. I wondered if anyone had ever informed Nina of that fact..
“You all right, lady?” my driver asked, his penetrating gray eyes studied me in the rearview mirror.
“I’m fine.” I sagged back in my seat and stewed. I could do nothing to help Nina sitting here in the midst of a traffic jam. After what felt like hours, ambulances finally arrived, and lanes were gradually cleared.
About twenty minutes later my driver whipped the cab off Lake Shore Drive and headed it toward the West Loop. On the outskirts of the trendy young neighborhood, we passed one of the new high-rises with its offering of plush condos.
Then we roared past a new, upscale restaurant. It had blossomed into existence, as had many others around here, to cater to the young and upwardly mobile folks who had recently moved in. They’d flooded into the neighborhood after it’d morphed from its lowly manufacturing roots to today’s hot new location.
Finally, the cabbie slammed on his brakes, and I climbed out before the converted, red-brick warehouse that contained Nina’s expansive loft. I studied the old building, paying extra attention to its industrial-sized windows. The windows provided the daylight Nina claimed she needed for to pull off her paintings.
My mind drifted back to Donovan’s question about Nina’s artistic success. and I shook my head. According to Eva, that Nina lived in this prosperous location spoke more of her inheritance from her father than to her accomplishments in the art world.
I yanked open the metal door, stepped inside, and found myself staring at an aging freight elevator. I studied it uncomfortably a moment, but after screwing up my courage, I entered and pressed the up button. The contraption shimmied to life, its metal shifting, grinding, and carrying me upward at a turtle-like pace.
At some point it shimmied and my hand flew out, grasped onto the support rail with a white-knuckled grip. I’d never cared much for elevators, and this particular model was doing nothing to improve my opinion.
I tried to reassure myself that it was safe. That it would not crash into the basement. The building, I told myself, was full of enough wealthy residents to replace the thing if it were a danger. And that attempt at bucking myself up almost worked. Almost.
At last the clanging cage ground to a halt. With a sigh of relief I rushed free and raced to Nina’s door. She answered my knock quickly. “Hetty,” she exclaimed upon seeing me. She pulled me in her arms. “Thank you so much for coming,” she said as she patted my back.
When we pulled apart, I clung to her hand and admired the young woman she’d become. Tall and slender, with long, blonde hair, she looked more like an artist’s model than the artist. She had on faded jeans under a man’s large, white, oxford-cloth shirt. On her, the outfit looked stunning. Yet I also knew she lacked the conceit that often accompanied such beauty.
“How are you holding up?” I asked.
She pointed to her tear-stained face. “Swell, I’d say.”
I patted her hand. “That’s as it’s supposed to be. Losing a parent leaves a hole. I hope you shared your grief with the detectives.”
“Goodness,they arrived so quickly, I was still sobbing openly when I let them in. They probably think I’m a candidate for the loony bin.”
“More likely, they took you for a daughter who loved her mother.”
She offered me a half-smile. “I hope so. I’ve made coffee. Would you like some?”
I thanked her. “That sounds good.”
Nina led me to the far end of the loft where a couch and chairs and tables had been set up in a living room sort of arrangement. “Make yourself at home,” she said waving a hand toward a white leather couch.
Across from me, the large, many-paned, industrial windows that Nina admired so much marched down the three outer walls. The inner wall was constructed of faded red brick. A U-shaped area half way down provided the cupboards, countertops, and appliances necessary for a highly modern and efficient kitchen. Off in the far corner a large bed lay completely exposed and unmade. A box-like set of walls near it, I suspected, enclosed the bathroom.
As I studied the setup, I couldn’t imagine myself living in such a vast, open space, but I figured the apartment suited the artistic Nina well. The furniture was stunning. The colors vivid. The result was impressive.
“I take it you didn’t locate Sybil?” Nina called out from the kitchen.
“No, wherever she is, it’s not at home. And I couldn’t find anyone to let me in. If she doesn’t turn up soon, maybe Donovan can find an excuse to search her apartment. How about you? Did you put out more calls?”
“A few,” Nina said, pulling two coffee mugs from a cupboard. “But nobody has seen her since Sunday, and she hadn’t mentioned going on vacation or needing time off, either.”
“Is missing work normal for her?”
Nina shook her head as she began filling the cups with the steaming brew. “Sybil would never blow off work. She likes that job, and she enjoys working for Mom.”
“Did you help her land the position?”
Nina let out a sharp bark of laughter and shifted her gaze to me. “Me, help Sybil? I didn’t even know she’d applied for the job. Besides, I’m not sure my recommendation would have helped anyway.”
Nina’s cheeks flushed. “As I told you, Mom and I were going through a rough patch.”
“Because of the money, right?”
Nina cast a questioning glance my way. “How did you hear about the money?”
“Dotty told me,” I confessed.
“Oh good grief,” Nina said, her brows pulling together. “I forgot all about Dotty. Of course she’d know. She probably overheard us arguing a dozen times… or maybe even more.” Nina joined me in the living room area and handed me my coffee. “Do you think the police will visit her?”
I set the mug on a small table by my elbow. “Oh, I’m certain they will. She was a major player in your mother’s life.”
Nina let out a breath and thought about it. “I guess I should have mentioned the fights to the detectives, huh?”
Nina stared at me silently for a minute. “I didn’t mean for it to come out this way, you know. I just thought with the cops looking for a killer, it was pointless for them to waste their time on my silly problem with Mom.”
I picked up my coffee mug. “If you need money, Nina, I wouldn’t call that a silly problem. In fact, I’d say it could be seen as giving you a strong motive to commit murder.”
Nina’s blue eyes grew wide. “You can’t think I killed Mom.”
“No, of course I don’t, but the police may see it differently. What I can’t figure out is why you needed your mother’s money. From what Eva told me, you inherited an impressive sum from your father at his death. What happened to all that money?”
Nina’s shoulders sagged, her head drooped. “A man named Troy Chandler happened to me,” she said, her words uttered so softly that I had to strain to hear them. She pulled her head up and meet my gaze full on. “I thought he loved me. Can you believe that? Then, two months ago he cleaned out our checking account, cashed out all our investments, and ran off to God knows where.”
“Oh, Nina, I am so sorry.”
“Thanks.” She blinked rapidly as fresh tears glistened in the corners of her eyes.
“And what about the man who robbed you?”
“Troy Chandler?” Her brows pulled together into a scowl. “I wasn’t to worry about him. Mom hired a private investigator. She intended to track him down.”
“You sound displeased.”
“I’m not so much displeased as disappointed. Wherever Troy is, you had better believe the money is well hidden. The guy knew what he was doing. He knows how to take care of himself.”
“Do you know the name of the private detective?”
“No, Mom never shared his name with me. I know she’s used him before. Don’t ask me for what, though. It doesn’t matter. There will be no getting that money back. Troy might be a jerk, but he’s a smart one.”
“You’ll have to own up to the fight with your mom, but can you think of other people who may have wanted Eva dead?”
Nina crossed her arms over her chest. “You mean besides her penniless daughter?”
I smiled at her fondly. “I do.”
Nina’s face scrunched up in concentration for a minute. Finally, she shook her head and sighed. “I can’t really come up with anyone. Mom was at war with a couple of men in Dad’s business. But I can’t see them being killers.”
Nina’s family owned a plant that manufactured brewing equipment. Some of the nation’s top beer makers were among their best customers. “Who are the men?”
“Doug Parmer and Herbert Ridling.”
“What are their positions with the firm?”
“Parmer is the CEO. Ridling is corporate counsel.”
“You told Donovan about them and about their war with Eva?”
Nina smiled. “What a ridiculous idea. They’re two highly respectable businessmen. No matter how much they might disagree with Mom, they’d never stoop to murder.”
I heaved an internal sigh. I suspected Nina was extremely naive. “What was the fight about?”
“They want to replace most of our workers with robots. Mom was violently opposed. She said many of our employees had been with us for generations. She argued most of our them relied on their jobs for their very existence.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand. Where’s the problem? Between you, your mom, and Brian, you three must own the majority of the company stock, right? By voting as block, you three could have defeated Parmer’s suggestion anytime you liked.”
“Yes,” Nina responded as her face flushed. “But… ah… if I sold my shares to Parmer that balance would shift.”
An internal light bulb flashed. “He’d made you an offer?”
Nina hung her head and shrugged. “Yeah, and because I need the money, I’ve been mulling it over.”
“Had you told your mother that you were considering selling?”
Nina folded her arms over her chest. “Why bother? It wouldn’t have changed her mind. So I figured, if she wouldn’t willingly bail me out, I’d sell my stock and dear old mom could go scratch.”
She blinked rapidly to keep fresh tears from falling. “I know. Now that Mom’s dead, I feel like a heel.”
“But if you could recover your money from Chandler?”
She lifted her chin. “I’d be fine. As it stand now, though, I still have to worry about how quickly Mom’s estate moves through probate.”
I made a mental note to check with Brian. Maybe he knew about the hunt for Chandler. His mother might even have shared the name of the investigator. Brian and Eva had always been close. Besides, I felt it was important to track this man down.
If Chandler had pulled off such an enormous haul, the last thing he’d want was his victim’s mother tracking him down. And Eva had been just the kind of woman to do that. It didn’t seem such a stretch to imagine Chandler murdering her to protect himself from prosecution.
Shortly after leaving Nina’s place, I settled myself into a pleasant hotel room on the seventh floor of the Clairmont.
It was an old, upscale hotel with a prestigious address on North Lake Shore Drive. I’d often longed to include myself among its guests just to see how the other half lived, but I’d never had a sufficient reason to check in, until now.
Although the accommodations were pricey, the hotel had the advantage of being located close to Eva’s apartment. The lodging was also a popular place to stay for a host of visitors. So I considered myself lucky to have snagged a room here, especially without a reservation.
After unpacking, I walked to the large east-facing window and studied the world beyond the glass. Below me, traffic barreled in both directions at breakneck speed along North Lake Shore Drive. The drivers had abandoned all restraint now that the day’s drenching rain had ended. Beyond them, the restless waters of Lake Michigan stretched eastward eventually blending in a hazy blur with the pale sky.
Gradually, my thoughts shifted to all the things I had learned the past few hours. I’d always known my friend Eva had lived a rich and complex life. But now I realized it have been much more challenging than I’d imagined. She’d been struggling to rein in a company in turmoil and, at the same time, attempting to set her daughter on a more self-reliant path. That she was also intent on tracking down the swindling Troy Chandler just added another brick to her load.
Had one of those battles cost Eva her life? And what of Sybil? Where was she, and what did her apparent absence mean?
I pulled in a deep breath as I longed to take my bag of knitting from its drawer and settle in for a restful couple of hours of letting my needles fly. But I had to touch base with Brian. I needed to learn his take on what was going on in his mother’s life—and Nina’s.
Without warning Andrew popped up beside me. I gasped.
He said, “I’m sorry about your friend.”
I waved him off. “Not now. I’m busy.” Why, I wondered, would my imagination drag him into my vision at a moment when I was so pressed?
He glared at me. “You surely aren’t planning to go out? It seems to me that you could use some downtime. And how long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
“Later,” I muttered to myself, grabbing my purse and heading for the exit.
“Hetty,” Andrew called after me. I ignored him and slammed the door behind me. The last thing I needed was a conversation with a person who didn’t exist.
A few minutes later I streaked north in a taxi which was carrying me at breakneck speed to Evanston. As my driver wove in and out among the other vehicles, I recalled that Brian had fled Eva’s apartment while the police were still questioning me. I hadn’t spent a moment alone with him. I hoped he wouldn’t mind my showing up on his doorway unannounced. But I simply couldn’t let my list of questions go unanswered until tomorrow.
With at least a nod to some semblance of good manners, I asked the taxi driver to recommend a good deli. He nominated a small, neat shop only three blocks from where we were and rapidly delivered me there.
Once inside, I found the lighted cases stuffed with meats and salads that looked and smelled heavenly. I struggled to restrain my drooling. As Andrew had pointed out, my last meal had been breakfast, and that had come all the way back before I’d stepped foot on the train.
I had the clerk package a whole ham for me, then scrambled back to the cab.
When we finally reached Brian’s house, I found several cars parked in the driveway. Obviously the family’s friends had learned of Eva’s death and had turned up to offer their condolences. I was grateful. I felt their presence made my appearance seem less rude.
The house I stood before was a large Georgian affair constructed of red brick. Its second-story windows were framed with dark green shutters, and three dormer windows extending across the roof announced the presence of extra living space in the attic. A portico with two tall, white columns provided an impressive entrance.
The home was located on the highly revered Sheridan Road across the street from Lighthouse Beach. The total package made a very clear statement that here lived a family of substance.
I made my way to the entrance and knocked. Brian’s wife, Alicia, answered the door. She was a stunning woman, tall, with auburn hair, and a slender frame. She wore a tasteful light blue sweater set off with a choker of enormous pearls and navy slacks.
“Brian will be so pleased to see you,” she said. “He mentioned how awful he felt leaving you and the others this morning without offering a word of farewell. But he was so upset.”
“I assure you no one was offended, least of all me,” I responded.
Alicia accepted my packet of food and directed me to the living room.
Their home was as lovely inside as out. Oriental carpets and a smattering of antiques gave the living room an elegant flair.
“Hetty,” Brian exclaimed upon seeing me. He rose from his chair and enclosed my hand in his. “I’m so glad you’ve come. Please, let me take you someplace where we can talk. If you’ll excuse me?” he said to his guests. The five people made the appropriate noises. Brian thanked them and led me down a hallway to a door on his right.
The room we entered turned out to be a small library filled with books, comfortable chairs, and family memorabilia. There were photos of Brian and Alicia on a sailboat with their two small sons standing beside them. Several tennis trophies occupied a place of honor on the bookshelves while stacked beside them was a pile of children’s games.
In all the room told me it was a safe, personal space for the family, a comforting counterpoint to the more formal, public rooms beyond its door.
Brian walked to a massive desk beneath a small window and sat. I occupied one of the two chairs facing him.
“First,” he said, “let me say how sorry I am for leaving you so abruptly at Mom’s apartment.”
I raised a hand to cut him off. “Alicia has already offered your apology, and believe me, it’s unnecessary.”
“It was just seeing her like that,” he continued, apparently unable to abandon the issue. “I never dreamed anyone was capable of such hatred.”
“I’m sorry you had to find her like that.”
Brian’s mouth turned down at the edges. His voice trembled. “I don’t think I’d have wanted anyone else to see her that way.”
“Did the detectives ask you who you thought might have killed her?”
Brian nodded. “I told them I could think of several candidates. Mom was never the easiest person to deal with.”
“But you got on well with her,” I pointed out.
“I think that’s because I reminded her of Dad.”
“What about Parmer and Ridling? I’ve heard they were locked in a battle with Eva. What was that about?”
He studied me a long moment, his brow furrowed in puzzlement. “How did you know about them?”
I laughed. “I’m not clairvoyant if that’s what you’re thinking. Dotty and Nina filled me in, that’s all. I guess what I’m wondering is where you stand?”
Brian’s expression darkened. “To my mind, Parmer and Ridling are evil through and through. What they want to do to the company would devastate so many lives. If they think I’m abandoning Mom’s battle, they’re in for a nasty surprise.” He studied cocked his head inquisitively. “You’ve seen Nina?”
“How is she holding up? She sounded absolutely devastated when I spoke with her.”
“She’s struggling, but deep down she’s tougher than she suspects. Is there some way she could help you win this battle?”
He straightened in his chair. “Probably not. Nina needs money. I understand that. But I’m terrified she’ll sell her shares to Parmer or Ridling. Then, Dad’s business, as we know it, will be wiped out.” He rubbed his chin. “I’m more than willing to buy her shares, but she’s touchy. She always thought I was Mother’s pet.” He shrugged. “I think she’s bitter.”
“I’ll talk with her. Maybe I can help with that,” I replied, “but her need for money doesn’t help her with the police.”
Brian frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I’m afraid they’ll see it as an excellent motive for murder.”
He straightened in his chair and a look of disbelief spread across his large, even features. “Oh, come on. You can’t suspect Nina of killing Mother?”
“I can’t, no. But I’m not the detective in this case.”
“I’ll get back in touch with her,” Brian said. “Maybe she’ll listen to me this time. I have my family. I don’t know what I’d do without them. But Nina is going through this all alone. I’d like to convince her to team up. And if she needs a loan, I can float her one.”
“What about the will? Is it likely to move through probate quickly?”
Brian shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m listed as the administrator. But I have no idea what that means. The attorney says I’m not to worry. But you know how that goes, right? Basically, I suppose the whole thing could take months to sort out, but I’m just guessing.”
“Nina could go down in that amount of time.”
“I’ll let her know I can help.”
“What about this Chandler fellow? is there anything that can be done to recover Nina’s money?”
Brian leaned forward and rested his hands on the desktop. “Mom hired a private investigator. She was determined to track the lowlife down. But I have no idea what he’s uncovered… if anything. Plus, I’m not sure there’s even a way Nina can recapture the money.”
“What’s the investigator’s name?”
Brian’s brows drew down. “I don’t know. Mom didn’t fill me in. I’m sure there are records in Mom’s apartment that could reveal his name, but the police aren’t about to let me in there.”
I tried but failed to suppress a sigh.
“I’ll take a look around here,” Brian said. “Maybe I can come up with something that will identify the investigator.”
“Thank you. I’d appreciate that.”
His penetrating gaze locked onto and held mine. “You think Chandler’s important?”
“I think he could be,” I said noncommittally. “Which brings me to another topic.”
Brian’s forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. “What is that?”
“Sybil should have been at Eva’s apartment this morning.”
Brian’s head dipped briefly before his returned his gaze to me. “Right, I didn’t even notice.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. You were in shock. But I’ve been to Sybil’s apartment. She’s not there. Nina has called everyone she can think of, too. We haven’t found a trace of her.”
Brian released a lungful of air. “Meaning?”
“I have no idea. But I doubt it’s anything good..”
Brian placed his palms on the desk. “You don’t think she’s in trouble, too?”
“I hope not, but it’s possible,” I said. “It’s also possible Sybil is the killer.”
Brian sank back in his plush leather chair, his normally composed face collapsing into a worried frown. “Mom dead. Sybil missing, and possibly guilty of murder? I thought I knew this world. How can all this be happening?”
Back in my hotel room, I crossed to the window again. Night had fallen. The racing cars and vans and trucks below me now boasted white headlights flashing past in one direction and red taillights going the other way.
Their movement painted a colorful picture of a restless humanity below me, while overhead, stars twinkled in an inky sky. Meanwhile, whitecaps rolling in from Lake Michigan glittered brightly in the glow of nearby streetlights. I stood quietly watching the waves crash onto the shore’s pale sand before the water was sucked back out into the dark lake again.
“What’s wrong?” Andrew asked gently from behind me.
I lifted my head and twisted around to see him. “Nothing.” I shrugged. “And everything. My best friend is dead. Police are considering her children as possible suspects, and one of Eva’s most valued employees is missing.”
“Not to worry.” Andrew offered. “You’ll sort this out.”
I snorted. “Right. I have no idea what you mean.” I didn’t know which was worse. Being comforted by a ghost, or believing myself to be. If my daughter ever found out about Andrew, I’d be in deep trouble. And from where did his confidence in my detecting abilities come?
“I mean,” Andrew replied, “you’re a bright woman. If the good detective takes after the wrong person, you can solve the case for him.”
I had leant a quick hand in one local murder after moving to Hendricksville. But my role was only as a witness. Andrew, as always tended to inflate my abilities. “I think Donovan will handle this well on his own, thank you.
Yet it was an intriguing thought. I loved mysteries. I read them constantly. But me as Miss Marple, well it just wouldn’t work.
I rose from the chair and stretched out on the bed. No matter what Andrew had said, I was a widow of average intelligence with no background in sleuthing.
Glancing at the clock, I realized I should be in my nightgown and preparing to crawl beneath the covers. But I feared my mind would never cease racing long enough for me to fall asleep.
Andrew chuckled softly in the darkened room. “You’re going to be good at detecting, Hetty. I can tell you have a knack for it.”
And what did Andrew know about real life? I wondered. Besides, he was a figment of my imagination. The questions and answers that had come at me all day raced through my mind.
I sighed, rolling over. Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow was soon enough to begin sorting through this mess. For tonight, with my stomach finally filled with the hamburger I’d wolfed down in a nearby cafe, I’d try to sleep.
My eyes jerked open the next morning to an earsplitting clap of thunder. I rolled over and glanced at the hotel window.
Rainwater streamed down the outside of the glass. I lay back and watched vivid flashes of lightning dance in jagged lines over the lake. After pounding my pillow, I shifted under the weight of the covers.
The weather, I thought, matched my mood. A good friend dead, her killer at large, and Blackie waiting for me at home all alone.
I sat up and shoved the covers aside.
“Good morning,” Andrew chirped from across the room.
“Ugh.” I raised a hand in protest. “It’s much too early for anyone to be that cheerful.”
“Oh, come on, what can’t be changed must be faced. You know that,” he said with a flash of his brilliant smile.
Right, I thought, uncharitably.I forced myself out of bed and padded my way to the washroom. Once there, the eyes staring back at me told the story. In the mirror they looked puffy and red-rimmed from yesterday’s tears.
Leaning over the basin, I splashed cold water onto them but saw little improvement. Only later, as hot water poured over me in the shower, did I feel some small spark of energy course through me.
“Today will be better,” I muttered as I leaned my head back and rinsed the shampoo from my hair.
After toweling off, I donned my bathrobe and walked back into the main room. The television was on. A smarmy-looking newsman was delivering a report on a devastating earthquake someplace. Its shell-shocked survivors staggered into and out of the frame, while others didn’t move at all. My heart bled for them.
As the story ended, I muted the TV. I needed to call home and tell my daughter of the change of plans. I snagged the cell phone from the dresser and punched in her number.
“Mom,” Megan said cheerfully, “I hope you’re having a wonderful visit.”
I put off delivering the news of Eva’s death. “How are my grandkids?”
Megan had provided me with two of them: Hugh was five, and Jeremy was not quite one. They were the joy of my life.
“They’re great,” Megan replied. “Hugh has a party at school today. I’m taking cupcakes. I let Jeremy taste the frosting last night. His smile literally stretched from ear to ear,” she laughed. “As did the frosting.”
“And how’s Blackie?”
Andrew huffed from behind me, “I’m sure he’s as mean as ever.” I flapped an arm over my shoulder to shush him.
“Blackie’s not being very friendly,” Megan said. “Every time I take the boys with me to feed him, he hides. He won’t play with the kids or let them make over him. I can understand with Jeremy. He keeps trying to catch Blackie’s tail. But Hugh is as gentle as can be.”
“Blackie’s used to living life on his own terms, I fear.”
Megan laughed. “Your cat, spoiled? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Blackie might be difficult, but he had been my lifeline after my husband died. He’d rousted me out of bed in the mornings. He’d insisted I cook dinner at night even when I wasn’t hungry. “I wouldn’t call him spoiled,” I said now. “But I do appreciate your looking out for him.”
“He isn’t that much of a bother, Mom. He’s just a little disappointing for the boys. Meanwhile, Blackie treats the space under your bed as his man cave. I have a feeling he’s looking forward to your return home.”
I took in a breath and released it. “That’s why I’m calling. I’m afraid there’s a change of plans.”
“What’s happened?” Megan said, her voice registering concern.
I explained about Eva’s death. “Oh Mom,” she exclaimed, “How awful. I liked Eva very much.”
“I know you did, dear.” I paused to draw a deep breath. “The bottom line is I’m not sure when I’ll come home. I’ve taken a room at the Clairmont. I’m very comfortable here. I feel I should stay at least until after the funeral. Brian and Nina are devastated. I want to do what I can to help them through this.”
“Of course you must,” Megan responded. “Don’t worry on our account. Blackie and I will be fine. But you sound stressed. Is there a problem?”
“There could be. The detective can’t see past the size of Brian’s and Nina’s potential inheritance. I fear he suspecting one of them of killing her.”
“Oh, Mom, how unfair. Give Brian and Nina my love. Tell them I’m thinking of them, and when you get a chance, let me know the name of the funeral home. I want to send flowers.”
“Absolutely. I’ll get in touch the minute I find out.”
“I’ll see you whenever, then,” Megan answered. “And don’t spend a second worrying about that silly cat. He’s managing quite well on his own.”
I thanked Megan for covering for me and disconnected the call.
“So what’s on your agenda today?” Andrew asked.
“First breakfast, then I’m off to see an old friend.”
My cab pulled up before Victoria Longston’s apartment building shortly before nine that morning. I paid my fare and rode the elevator to the tenth floor. Victoria lived in a small but stunning apartment not far from Eva’s place.
“Thanks for siccing the police on me,” Victoria spat when she swung open her door. Hers had been one of the names I’d shared with the Donovan.
Victoria a tiny woman with red hair and smooth skin wearing an emerald caftan and low-heeled, white slippers. Her jewelry was gold, her nails long, and polished an eye-catching red. She’d been a good friend of Eva’s for nearly as long as I had.
“I’m sorry,” I said stepping inside her apartment. “The police demanded a list of Eva’s friends from me. I thought you’d be happy to help.”
She lifted a brow. “Yes, well, it wasn’t helping so much that I minded as them sticking their noses into the company’s business.”
“Is that what they did?” I asked as she ushered me into the living room.
She rolled her eyes. “And how. I thought they’d never let up.”
“This is Eva’s company we’re talking about?”
I felt hope bubble up inside me. Maybe the company fight would draw Donovan’s attention away from Brian and Nina. “So you were aware of the kerfuffle going on at the plant?”
Victoria’s eyebrows rose. “‘Kerfuffle?’ Is that what you call it? I say it’s more like an effort to drag that old plant of hers into the twenty-first century. Anyway, grab yourself a seat. I just made coffee. Would you like some?”
“Good. I’ll be right back.”
As she bustled from the room, I sank onto her cream-colored couch and admired my surroundings. The layout of the apartment was nothing special but the view of the city from her enormous windows was amazing. Her furniture was modern, her colors pale, and the bright morning sunlight bathed the whole with a warm glow. If I didn’t love my old house in Hendricksville so much, I could picture myself living quite comfortably here.
“So, shall we have at it,” Victoria said, returning with a tray bearing our drinks along with two slices of cheese Danish. She lowered the tray to the coffee table and frowned. “Did you tell the detective about the fight over the company?” she asked passing me my coffee.
“It wasn’t me,” I responded. “When I gave the detective your name, I didn’t even know there was a problem.”
Victoria sighed. “It was probably Brian, then. He’s nearly as opposed to Doug’s plans as Eva was.”
“What did you tell them?” I asked, hoping to learn more about the company battle..
A sly smile spread across Victoria’s face. “Well, you know how much I dislike gossip, but I had to tell them about the full-out war raging between Eva and Nina.”
I set my cup down. “You didn’t?” I gasped. “Oh Victoria, how could you?”
She lifted her chin. “You hadn’t been around the two of them lately or you wouldn’t be looking at me like that. I’ve never seen so much hostility between two people. A mother and daughter, no less.”
“Did you tell the police what they were fighting over?” I asked cautiously.
Victoria visibly deflated. “Eva never told me that part. She could be tight lipped when it suited her. But their battle was as big and as ugly as anything going on inside the company. I can tell you that.”
So Donovan didn’t know yet that Nina was desperate for money. I closed my eyes and hoped it remained that way for a while longer.
Victoria looked at me quizzically. “You seem awfully anxious to defend Nina.” Victoria picked up a fork and sliced into her Danish.
“No more than you are to stick up for Doug Parmer,” I shot back.
Victoria patted her lips with a napkin and swallowed. “And why not? Doug’s plans should have been put in place ages ago. I mean with this move, the value of my stock will go up. I see nothing wrong with that.”
“But all those workers?”
She issued a brittle laugh.“Hetty, change is part of life. They need to deal with it. Nothing lasts forever.”
She paused for a breath and then rushed on. “I’ve got my children and my grandchildren to think of. I want to leave them as much money as I can, and this move will push stock values up. Besides, if anyone thinks Doug would stoop to murder, they should go see a shrink.”
“But you think Nina could?”
Victoria shrugged. “Not necessarily. It could be someone else, and I hope it is. I truly do. But as I’ve said if you’d seen them together lately….. Who knows?”
“But to point a finger at poor Nina….”
“Poor Nina?” Victoria snickered. “Maybe that poor girl should grow up and get married or find a real job or something. She thinks she can make a living painting? Seriously?”
“Have you seen any of her work?
Victoria nodded, setting her plate down. “Yeah, I went to one of her shows. Her paintings were okay, I guess.”
“What about Sybil?”
Victoria sighed. “The detective asked me about her, too. He said she’s missing. I have no idea where she is, and that’s what I told him.”
“Had you met her?”
“Sure. A time or two. Over at Eva’s place.”
“What was your impression?”
Victoria raised a shoulder. “Nothing much one way or the other. The girl was clean and polite. As long as Eva was happy with her, what did I care?”
“Brian says Eva might have hired a private investigator recently. Did Eva mention anything to you about that?”
Victoria’s eyes grew round. “No. Did she really? For what? Do you know?”
So much for prying the investigator’s name out of Victoria, I thought, as I set my fork down and rose from the couch.
“That’s an interesting friend Eva had in Victoria,” Andrew said when I arrived back at the hotel.
I chuckled and slipped out of my jacket but said nothing.
“If she’s so thrilled with Parmer’s proposed changes,” Andrew added, “maybe she’s the killer. Hmm?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Look, for now, I don’t have enough information to believe anyone is guilty. And Victoria seems a stranger suspect than most.”
“She’s my age and not in very good shape. Despite her hard-nosed exterior, I doubt she has the physical strength or the mental toughness to stab a friend to death.”
“I can’t figure why you’re so eager to rule everybody out. Take Brian and Nina. There are millions of dollars about to flow their way with their inheritance from their mom right?”
“Probably, but I’ve known them since they were babies. Trust me, they’re not killers.”
Andrew snorted. “Like murderers come with the word killer tattooed across their foreheads.”
“There’s a thought. Why don’t you float into a penitentiary and make that suggestion? See if the idea catches on.”
I inwardly kicked myself in the fanny. I was only arguing with myself. If this didn’t end, heaven only knew what would come next.
But that question would have to wait as at that moment my cell phone beeped. And when I answered, Brian came on the line and gave me the name, address, and phone number of Eva’s private eye. I set down the phone and instantly knew what my next move was.
Arnold Thatcher kept an office on the second floor of a modern bank building. The reception area was clean, well lighted, and came with a decently clad secretary. She glanced up from her paperwork and smiled.
“May I help you?” the young woman asked politely.
I explained my connection to Eva and asked if Mr. Thatcher was free to meet with me. Within minutes she ushered me into an inner office where I was told to take a seat by a swarthy man perched behind a tidy desk.
“I’m Arnold Thatcher,” he said with a tight smile. “What’s this about?
Thatcher was more in line with what I had imagined a P.I. to be. He had broad shoulders and a nose that looked to have been broken several times. Given the wisps of gray showing in his dark hair, I guessed him to be somewhere in his early forties. His suit was rumpled, his tie utilitarian.
I cleared my throat. “I believe you may have been investigating the theft of money from Nina Whitstone?”
Thatcher stared at me with his green eyes displaying a keen interest. “To set you straight,” he said, “I don’t discuss a client’s business.” He smiled at me apologetically. “Not even with a person claiming to be a friend of my client. So other than that, I’m open to considering whatever request you have for me.”
I blinked. “I’m sorry, you misunderstand,” I said. “I’m here because Eva Whitstone is dead.”
Thatcher sagged back in his chair in what appeared to be genuine surprise. “I’m sorry too. When did this happen?.”
I shook my head. “Sometime this past weekend. Her son found her Monday. She’d been strangled.”
Thatcher’s jaw sagged. “She was murdered? Eva Whitstone?”
“Yes. I’m surprised you hadn’t heard. It’s been one of the lead stories in all the media outlets.”
“Ah… I was out of town. I just returned this morning.” He straightened in his chair and leaned toward me. “Do the police have any leads?”
“They’re not exactly telling me much. But their investigation appears to be ongoing.”
He picked up a pen from next to a notepad. “Who’s the detective handling the case?”
“I’ve met two of them. Michael Donovan appears to be the lead investigator. Then there’s a second detective named Mary Moran.”
He jotted the names down.
“Have you ever met either of them?” I asked.
He glanced back at me. “I’ve heard of Donovan. He enjoys a good reputation from what people say. The woman is new to me.” His gaze swung back down to his notebook. “Look, I’m grateful for the information, but why are you here? What are you expecting to get from me?”
“I’ve come on behalf of Eva’s daughter, Nina. As you may know, she met up with a man who ran off with her money. I’ve been told Eva hired a private investigator to track him. I hoped you might be the one.”
His gaze bored into mine. “And what’s your interested?”
“I like Nina, and I’d like to know if the man’s been located. And if not, would you be open to letting me keep you on the case?”
He leaned forward propping his elbows on the desk. “First, as I told you, I don’t blab my client’s business to strangers. Second, I’m reluctant to become further involved now. There’s an open homicide investigation underway. It would be different if Nina had hired me, but she didn’t. Eva did. Now Eva’s dead and the police will wonder what kind of work I was doing for her. I’d like to help you, but I’m sorry. I’m not going to pursue anything further.”
“Fine,” I said standing. I’d thought this would be an easy deal to set up. One client was dead, another one, namely me, was willing to carry on with the investigation. Instead, I’d offended the man’s sensibilities.
He gazed up at me, his expression neutral. “I will share one bit of information, for what it’s worth. From what I’ve learned about Troy Chandler, he seems an unlikely killer. So if you’re hoping to pin the murder on him, it won’t wash. I didn’t uncover even a hint of violence in his past. Sure, he’s bilked women out of their money, but then he dumps them and walks away. Sound familiar?”
“But it’s also possible that none of those women hired an investigator to track him down.”
Thatcher turned his hands palms up and shrugged.
I gave him a tight-lipped nod, snatched my purse from the floor, and left.
I hadn’t been back at my hotel long before my cell phone rang.
“Oh… Hetty.” It was Nina. She was sobbing. “Donovan’s just left here. He’s furious with us.”
My stomach clenched. “He found out about your missing money?”
“How?” Since I hadn’t mentioned it, nor had Brian or Victoria, who was left?
“Some private detective named Arthur Thatcher apparently squealed on me,” Nina said between sobs. “Donovan’s threatening to throw us in jail. He says we’ve withheld evidence in a murder investigation.”
The air rushed out of my lungs. I’d exposed Nina to this risk. I’d gone to Thatcher, and he had run straight to the cops.
Why would he do that?
“You better brace yourself,” Nina warned.
“Because when Donovan left here, he was babbling about what he’d do when he got his hands on you.”
I grabbed a deep breath. There was nothing for it, but to wait to see how bad Donovan’s anger would be.
“What did you think you were doing?” Donovan demanded a short time later. He paced the room, his face red, his eyes containing a wild glint which I’d never seen there before. “I can understand Nina,” he went on. “She’s young. What does she know about murder investigations?”
I considered explaining that I’d encouraged Nina to confess her need for money to him, but I decided to hold off. I didn’t want to get us into even more trouble if I could avoid it.
“And worse yet,” Donovan ranted on, “you knew there was a private investigator going after the thief, and you didn’t mention that to me, either? Didn’t it occur to you that anything he learned might be helpful to our investigation, too?”
His flushed face was now inches from my own.
I raised my chin. “I wasn’t aware that Eva had hired a P.I. when you interviewed me at the apartment. Nor did I know then that Nina was in desperate need of money.”
“But I gave you my phone number, right?” he sputtered. “I told you to call me if anything else turned up?”
I glanced down at my hands which were balled together in a white-knuckled grip. “Yes, yes you did. I don’t know what to say. It never occurred to me the investigator would be important to you.”
“I guess I should also have told you not to think.”
“Are you aware I can charge you with obstruction of justice for what you’ve done?” he demanded.
I flinched. “I am now.”
He glared at me. “I have half a mind to do it, too.”
“And what does the other half of your mind tell you to do?”
Donovan expelled a huge lungful of air and his fists landed on his hips. “Lady, you are so close to going to jail.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand this would be such a big issue. But I promise to bring anything else I learn to you. Right away.” I said as I hoped the word liar wasn’t flashing in neon on my forehead.
His gaze softened. “At least, it’s a first step.” Then he raised a finger and shook it in my face. “But if you set one more foot wrong, you’re off to jail. You got that?”
“You keep my card close, and if you stumble across any more information, you call me. Understood?”
“Good,” Donovan snapped, as he spun on his heel and headed for the door.
As the door slammed closed behind him, I let loose a lungful of air and slumped into a chair.
“Well, that was fun,” Andrew quipped after Donovan had made his exit..
“Oh, shut up.” IMy cell phone rang. I flopped my feet to the floor, shoved myself up out of the chair, and grabbed the phone from the desk. I glanced at the screen. “It’s Victoria Longston,” I said.
“Tessie Parmer just called asking me to join her for lunch,” Victoria gushed. “You two should meet. How about it? Can you be ready in ten minutes?”
With Eva’s company on a war footing, chowing down with the opposing general’s wife made good sense to me. “Absolutely,” I replied.
I was waiting by the curb when Victoria pulled up in her gray Mercedes. “Thank you for the invitation,” I said, climbing in.
She nodded. “Don’t thank me, thank Tessie. She’s thrilled to meet you.” Victoria pulled out into the late-morning traffic. Our destination turned out to be a charming restaurant about five blocks away from the Clairmont. Ferns sat scattered about the dining room, and the magnificent windows, through which sunlight streamed, were huge and beautifully draped. Tessie Parmer sat beside one of them, looking every inch as regal as her surroundings.
Her chestnut hair was feathered. Her green pantsuit looked to be the work of a top designer. And her makeup looked as though it had been crafted by a professional. Whatever Eva had been paying Tessie’s husband, I suspected it was way too much.
Victoria introduced us, after which we exchanged pleasantries until the waiter arrived. We ordered salads. I had a chicken Caesar, Tessie opted for shrimp and strawberries, Victoria ordered a Cobb salad. They had wine. I had ice tea.
Talk stayed neutral while we waited for our food. Tessie focused on her children, two of whom were off at college. She also spoke of a mother who was struggling with several health issues. Victoria and I were given few opportunities to share our tales.
Our orders arrived. The conversation shifted to Eva’s death.
“Victoria tells me you and Eva were close friends,” Tessie said. “I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” I picked up my fork. “Her death is hard for me to take in.”
“Well, the murder is causing quite a stir. A policeman even interviewed Doug today. Can you imagine?”
“I’ve heard he and Eva were locked in a dogfight over the company’s future.”
“Nonsense, it wasn’t that bad,” she answered.
“What would you call it then?”
She smiled. “A little disagreement?” She speared her fork into a strawberry.
“From what I’ve heard,” I said, “their differences went well beyond just a disagreement.”
“What’s in a word?” Tessie asked, delivering the strawberry to her mouth and chewing.
Victoria shifted in her seat and shot me an uncomfortable glance. “In my opinion, Hetty, calling it a dogfight is a bit of an exaggeration.”
I stared into her hazel eyes and pressed my point. “The truth is that they were on differing sides of a very important issue, and passions were running high.”
“Sad though it may be,” Tessie cut in, “Eva’s gone now, may she rest in peace. It does little good to dwell on the past.”
“And if the fight for control of the company is not over yet?” I asked.
Tessie dredged up a half-smile. “I doubt either Brian or Nina are about to take up Eva’s battle. They’re nowhere near as strong as she was.” Tessie speared a lettuce leaf and glanced back up. “No, Hetty, if you want to help Nina, you should encourage her to sell us her shares. She needs the money. Doug has made her a more than generous offer. I can’t imagine why she hasn’t closed the deal.”
“She just lost her mother,” I snapped. “That might have something to do with it.”
Victoria ran a quick glance around the room. “Please, can we keep our tone civil?”
“I will if she will,” I said.
Tessie shot me a glance which clearly told me to drop dead. I set my napkin down beside my plate. “Victoria, If you invited me here to get me to persuade Nina to agree to Tessie’s deal, you’ve wasted your time.” I picked up my purse, rose from my chair, and marched to the exit.
And even by the time I reached the hotel, I was still seething. “Who does that arrogant woman think she is?” I thundered. I unlocked my door and vowed to block any attempt by her or her husband to woo Nina into selling.
Later that afternoon the aging freight elevator at Nina’s apartment building rumbled to life. It lifted me up in a trip that again felt life threatening. All I could do was grit my teeth and remind myself that my visit was worth this terrifying ride.
I’d come to talk sense with Nina. I wanted to change her mind about selling her stocks.
Take that, Tessie Parmer, I thought as I rattled my way upward inside the clanking cage.
“Hetty,” NIna exclaimed, when I showed up at her door. Today she wore black leggings with a long, flowing black top. She looked as fetching and artistic as the last time I’d visited.
“I appreciate your taking time to meet with me.”
Nina laughed. “Those who conspire to withhold evidence from the police, must stick together.”
Nina leveled a concerned eye at me. “Was Donovan terribly angry when he showed up?”
“Facing a rampaging bear who’d had a stick poked at him for hours might have been preferable.”
Nina grinned. “His behavior was just as bad here. He sputtered, and spat, and strode back and forth, and threatened to jail me.” She chuckled. “He looked so cute.”
I did a double take. “You do realize Donovan is hunting a killer? He’s a dedicated cop who won’t hesitate to arrest you if he decides you killed your mother.”
Nina smiled. “Then I’m safe. He can’t arrest me if I haven’t killed anyone.”
I did an internal eye roll. “Nina, all I’m saying is to be careful. Donovan seems like a good guy, but we don’t know him all that well.”
Nina’s face sobered. “You’re right. After what I went through with Troy, I shouldn’t ever look at another man.”
“I don’t think you need to go that far, but you should be careful of cops hunting down a killer. That’s all I’m saying.”
“How about some coffee?”
“Sounds like heaven.”
“Good. Take a seat.” She waved me toward the living area.
As I crossed the room, my gaze fell on a small table containing a collection of carefully arranged fruit. There were grapes, a cantaloupe, plums, a lemon, The table sat near the windows. A partially finished canvas rested on a nearby easel. I glanced over my shoulder toward Nina. “Have I interrupted your work?”
“Not at all,” she said with feeling. “I was ready for a break. But what brings you my way?” She pulled the carafe free from the coffee maker and began filling a pair of mugs.
I sat down on her soft, comfortable couch. “I wanted to talk about the company and the battle going on there.”
“Ugh. That’s not my favorite subject,” Nina said, swooping up the filled mugs.
“I know, but I talked to Brian last night.”
Nina’s face drooped. “I’m sorry about Brian. I feel so guilty. I know he dislikes the idea of me selling my shares. I suppose he believes I’m letting Mom down. But what choice do I have? I have to eat.”
“Why haven’t you finalized the deal, then?”
Nina set my mug down on the coffee table. “What do you mean?”
“I was waylaid by Tessie Parmer at lunch. She and Doug are growing impatient. They want you to get back to them with an answer. She asked me to persuade you to carry through with the deal.”
Nina glanced down and stared into her coffee. “She’s right. I have been putting it off. I find the thought distasteful. But I don’t know what else I can do.”
“Brian is willing to loan money to carry you until the will’s through probate. He told me so last night.”
The corners of Nina’s mouth turned down. “Dear old Brian, ever our Dudley Do-Right.” She shook her head. “I don’t want to depend on Brian. Can you understand that? He’s my brother not my parent. We’re siblings. I’d like to believe I’m just as capable of standing on my own as he is.”
“Those are noble sentiments, but Nina, Brian loves you. Plus he doesn’t want to see the company pushed in a direction your father would have hated.”
Nina’s eyes filled with tears. She lowered her head.
I leaned forward. “Now that both your mom and dad are gone, Brian’s worried about you. He wants the two of you to remain close.”
Nina gave out a sharp bark of laughter and stared off into the distance. “Like we were ever tight.”
I recalled their constant bickering as children and smiled. “Nina, all children fight. But at some point those childhood differences can be put away. Brian says he doesn’t want you to go through life alone.”
She blinked rapidly. “The Parmers have made me a generous offer.”
“But what will selling out to them cost you? Will you be happy to see the changes put into place at the plant? How will you feel when the employees are laid off? Is that really what you want to happen to them… or to you?”
Tears pooled in Nina’s eyes. She waved them off and stared out the window. “If only that gigolo hadn’t run off with my money.”
“Troy’s behavior is far from fair, and it’s my hope he will be tracked down and punished. But that doesn’t change the fact that it happened. The only thing that matters now is how you decide to handle it. Your brother wants to help. But whether you accept his offer is your decision.”
Nina pulled her gaze back to me, her blue eyes locking onto mine. “Brian was always Mom’s favorite, you know.”
I chuckled softly. “And you never did any wrong in your father’s eyes… if I remember correctly.”
A rosy blush spread over Nina’s chiselled cheeks. “That’s true enough.”
“You could do Brian a favor.”
Nina shot me a suspicious glance. “What’s that?”
“Hold onto your shares. If you don’t want to use Brian’s help, then you’ll have to do what the rest of the world does.”
“Get a job.”
Nina scoffed. “Me? Who in their right mind would hire me? Beyond my art, I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
“I don’t know. Maybe one of those art gallery owners you hang around with might need an assistant. You’re attractive. Articulate. You make a wonderful first impression.”
“Money,” Nina said, pulling a face. “Isn’t that what life always comes down to?”
“It’s difficult to do much without it,” I agreed.
She shrugged. “If you see Brian tell him I’m still sitting on the fence. But I’m making no promises about which way I’ll jump.”
At least she’d said she was on the fence, I thought. I’d worry about the jumping part when it came up.
A short time later as I was marching down the hotel hall my cell phone rang.
When I answered, a man’s voice crooned, “Hetty? Martin Coletree here. How are you?”
“I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.
I stumbled to an abrupt halt. “You have?” My thoughts drifted back to our last meeting, the day we found poor Eva’s body. “I hope they’re good thoughts.”
“The best,” he said with warmth reverberating in the two words.
I rubbed my forehead. What was this?
“Has it struck you how sad it is that our meeting was so brief?” he continued. “I hoped we might have breakfast together tomorrow, so we could come to know each other better. I’m convinced Eva would approve.”
“Really?” I couldn’t imagine Eva caring one way or another. My mind sorted through my short list of duties, plus my reluctance to become involved in something I didn’t understand. “Ah…, I’m kinda busy just now,” I offered. The excuse sounded lame even to me.
“You’re too busy?” he asked, disbelief ringing through his words
“Ah… I need to keep an eye on Eva’s kids. They’re reeling from their mother’s death.”
“But they’re grown-ups, are they not?” Coletree argued. “And it’s only breakfast for heaven’s sake. Besides, I shall be crushed if you refuse.”
“Eva and I were close,” Coletree explained. “It pains me to think of such a good friend of hers rattling around this town alone. What do you say?”
Unable to think of a reasonable excuse to dodge him, I yielded and said yes.
“Is eight too early for you?” he asked.
“No, not at all.”
“Good. My driver will pick you up then. I look forward to seeing you again.”
Still wondering what had just happened, I put the phone back in my coat pocket and resumed my trek down the hall. Arriving outside my room, I unlocked the door and let myself in expecting peace. But when I glanced up, I found myself staring at Andrew, who was looking daggers at me.
“You’ve accepted an invitation to go out with a stranger?” he demanded.
My eyes grew round. “You were in the hall? You were listening to my private conversation?”
“Don’t change the subject,” Andrew snapped.
I felt my face flush. “It’s none of your business with whom I eat. Besides, Coletree’s not a stranger. He was Eva’s next-door neighbor and good friend.”
Andrew scowled. “You don’t know anything about this man. How come he has so much money? Where does that money come from, huh? Can you tell me that?”
I stared at Andrew open mouthed. “What are you going on about?”
“You, gadding around town with a strange man.”
“He’s not strange.”
“How do you know?”
“This is silly,” I declared, my hands clenching tight into fists. “I’m having breakfast with a charming man tomorrow. And you are to remain here in this room and get over yourself. Is that clear?”
Andrew’s eyes narrowed to mere slits. “We’ll just have to see about that.”
For the first time since my arrival, my busy mind could pull up nothing needing my immediate attention. With a sigh of relief, I pulled out my knitting and seated myself in the armchair in front of the window.
Knitting had been my refuge since before Megan was born. The click of the needles, the need to focus to follow the pattern, the movement of the yarn around my finger. These things calmed me, settled me, gave me purpose. The hobby, along with Blackie’s ministrations, had helped me heal after my husband’s death. Additionally, knitting had let a nervous grandmother wait for the birth of her two grandsons in relative peace. And I’d passed many a chill winter night in comfort with a warm cat on my lap and a ball of yarn at my feet.
Back home, I belonged to a knitting group. We provided baby blankets for the local hospital and lap rugs to three nearby nursing homes. I often managed to finish at least one project a month.
I held the current blanket out before me. The cover’s pink and blue yarns meant it was gender neutral as I’d intended. I nodded my head in satisfaction. The colors looked good; the stitches were even. I kicked off my shoes, swung my feet onto the bed, and inserted the second needle into the first loop.
I’d been at work for about thirty minutes, when my cell phone rang. Andrew, who had been sulking near the window, turned his head my way. I swept up the phone from the table and glanced at the display. It was Brian calling.
“Hetty,” he said, “I’m glad I’ve caught you. The police have released Mom’s body. I wanted to let you know.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” That meant they’d be able to plan the service which was bound to bring closure to this tragedy.
“The family visitation is set at seven Friday night,” Brian said. “The funeral service will take place Saturday morning at eleven.”
“Thank you, I appreciate the information.” I scribbled the times onto a pad of paper and requested the name of the funeral home. “What can I do to help?” I finally asked.
I chuckled. “Beyond that?”
“I may have something you could lend a hand with later. I’ll let you know.”
“That sounds mysterious.”
He expelled a long breath. “As Mom’s executor, I need to settle her estate. I wondered if you might look over the book collection. Tell me what you think. Mom was the reader, but Dad was an avid collector. There may be several valuable books on those shelves.”
“I’d be glad to lend a hand, but I’m no expert.”
“Possibly not, but you may be able to tell me if I should hire one.”
I nodded. “Fair enough. Let me know when to show up.”
“Would late tomorrow afternoon work for you.?”
“I’ll be there,” I replied.
As promised, a long, black limousine showed up in front of the hotel the next day at eight sharp. The driver, a tall, slender man, dressed in a light gray uniform with a matching cap, stepped out of the vehicle and glided toward me. His name tag identified him as Billy Franklin. He flashed a brilliant smile.
“Mrs. Fox?” he asked in a wonderfully well-modulated voice. He touched the brim of his cap respectfully. “Mr. Coletree asked me to tell you he is looking forward to joining you at the restaurant. He’s been unavoidably detained. He hopes you can forgive him.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” I replied. “I’m fine.” I bent my head and stepped inside the elegant machine. I’d ridden in limousines before, but they’d mostly been the kind used for funerals.
This vehicle was of an entirely different order. Its seats were covered in soft white leather. A bar made of a beautiful burled walnut had been built into the back of the front seat, and sparkling crystal goblets peeked over the edge of its half-door.
After returning to his seat behind the wheel, the chauffeur turned his head my way. “Traffic may be heavy since we’re headed downtown,” he said. “Still, it shouldn’t take us much more than twenty minutes to reach our destination.”
And this is your captain speaking, I thought with a grin.
That said, the man powered up the window separating his space from mine and eased the mighty machine into morning traffic. The ride was smooth, my surroundings quiet.
“This thing’s not bad if you don’t mind being a showoff.”
“Eek.” My heart leaped inside my chest. My head jerked toward my left only to see saw it was Andrew who’d mouthed off.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded between clenched teeth. I turned a nervous eye on the chauffeur, but he didn’t appear to have twigged to my little performance.
“Relax,” Andrew said. “This thing is probably sound proof or close to it. I doubt old Martin would want little Billy Boy up there knowing what’s going on back here.”
“The chauffeur,” Andrew said. “He’s called Billy. It’s printed on his name tag. But I bet you forgot to check.”
“I did too,,” I hissed. “Besides, I told you to stay behind at the hotel.”
“Not to worry. No one but you can see me.”
I couldn’t figure what was happening. Andrew never sat, and he’d never ridden in a moving vehicle before that I knew of. I sighed. “Do you intend to keep me company all the way through breakfast?”
Andrew smirked. “Why not? I don’t have any other engagements on my calendar.”
I sagged back in my seat and wondered why my mind was doing this to me? Was it guilt from heading to a restaurant to have breakfast with a handsome man? If so, that was ridiculous. I’d never been a beauty, and age had not improved my looks. Coletree was a man of enormous wealth. He’d never be interested in the likes of me. Which again made me wonder what his interest was?
In the front seat the driver wove the limo smoothly through the morning traffic. Not a horn blared, nor a fist rose toward us in protest—which was a refreshing change from my recent taxi rides.
On schedule, the chauffeur delivered me to my destination, a discrete restaurant located on a quiet side street in a charming neighborhood. A doorman greeted me at the curb and escorted me through the entrance. Andrew drifted along beside me, and I wondered with my nerves jangling at a rate I’d never experienced before if I’d be able to keep my breakfast down?
Once through the large doors, I found myself in a small, wood-paneled room. The host, a large man with a lean face, inclined his head toward me and cocked an ear.
“I’m meeting Martin Coletree,” I told him.
He smiled. “Very good, ma’am.”
He led me into an elegant dining room. Sparkling chandeliers hung from a raised ceiling. Enormous vases of fresh flowers stood on pedestals placed here and there about the room. Tables were draped with white linen. Votive candles graced their tops. I couldn’t believe the restaurant took these kinds of pain for breakfast. And my head swiveled to take it all in.
I suspected the impressive setting was nothing out of the routine for Martin Coletree. He obviously had piles of money and enjoyed buying the perks it brought him.
He was seated, awaiting my arrival at a table. When my glance fell on his strong face, he immediately stood. He wore a dark, pinstripe suit and a blindingly white shirt. Gold cufflinks glistened at his wrists. His dark eyes caught my gaze and held it. If I were a younger woman, I could see how the man could sweep a person off her feet.
I extended my hand. “Thank you for your kind invitation.”
His hand was warm, his grip strong.
“I‘m so honored that you have elected to join me,” he said in his deep, melodic voice.
Meanwhile, Andrew let out a hearty harrumph.
I nearly collapsed to the floor.
The man who’d led me to the table pulled out a chair, and I sat. Smiling warmly, Martin’s hand hovered over one of two carafes on the table. “I didn’t know which you would prefer, tea or coffee, so I ordered both.”
“Coffee is fine, thank you.”
“Coffee it is then. Sugar? Cream?”
After pouring, he gently set the carafe down and passed me my cup.
I pulled in a breath. “It’s a lovely restaurant.”
He smiled. “I’m glad you like it. It’s one of my favorites. The eggs Benedict here is outstanding. Do you care for the dish?”
I smiled. “Very much.”
His smile broadened. “Shall I order it for us both, then?”
I nodded. He raised a hand. A waiter instantly appeared at his elbow. Martin requested the dish. The waiter nodded approvingly and departed.
“The food here is excellent. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
Andrew’s face appeared just above Martin’s head. Andrew held his nose and wagged his head left and right.
If I’d been a character in the funny papers, I suspect the cartoonist would have drawn steam coming out of my ears.
“I trust your accommodations are to your satisfaction?” Martin asked diverting me from the clown face floating above him.
“I’ve never stayed at the Clairmont,” Coletree said,but it enjoys an excellent reputation.”
“I’m very comfortable, thank you.”
“And your tears? I hope they’ve lessened?”
“I’m better, thank you. Although it’s still a shock to think Eva’s gone.”
“And the police?” he asked. “I hope they haven’t been bothering you?”
I recalled my last meeting with Donovan and smothered a grin. In my opinion it was a toss up as to who was bothering whom the most. “I only wish they’d find the killer.”
Martin smoothed his tie. “As we all do. Do you think they’re any closer? It’s not right. A woman as special as Eva dying in such a horrid way.”
“I have been wondering,” I said, “do you have any thoughts on who might have killed her?”
“She never said anything that might have raised your suspicions about her friends or contacts?”
A look of disappointment drifted over his features. “Unfortunately, nothing of that nature ever came up that I can recall. I enjoyed a good relationship with Eva, but she rarely discussed personal matters with me.”
Our food arrived. Along with two beautifully presented servings of eggs Benedict, there were also separate plates of crisply browned hash rounds and a large bowl of sliced melon and strawberries and peaches covered swimming in cream. I gaped. “This is impressive.”
“I’m delighted you approve.”
I picked up my knife and fork and sliced myself a bite of the eggs Benedict. The Hollandaise sauce was perfect, and I found myself smiling as I cut another portion.
“How is Brian?” Martin asked glancing up at me. “He looked like a whipped dog after the police finished with him.”
I took a minute to pat my lips with a napkin. “He was very close to his mother. Her loss is difficult for him.”
“Has he any idea of what triggered his mother’s death?”
“And what of the daughter?” Coletree asked. “How is she coping?”
“Nina has personal problems, so this was already a difficult time for her. With everything she has on her plate, I think she’s holding up well.”
“And what about suspects? Has she any?”
“No, she’s as mystified as the rest of us.”
Coletree’s brows slid together. “That’s a pity. I had hoped at least one of Eva’s children would be able to give the police a strong lead.”
“Have the police revisited Eva’s place?” I asked.
Coletree smiled. “Our apartments are very well insulated. They would have to rampage through the rooms like a herd of buffalo for me to hear them.”
“What about Sybil Keeny? Do you have any thoughts on why she hasn’t turned up?”
Coletree checked his watch and shrugged. “Not really. And I hate to eat and run, but I am running late for another appointment. I’ve so much enjoyed our time together. We must do this again. I hope you agree?”
I smiled. “We’ll see. Currently, the hunt for the killer and my efforts to keep Brian and Nina above water are taking most of my time.”
He flashed me a gorgeous smile. “I do hope you’ll keep an open mind about me.”
When I returned to my hotel room, I found Andrew staring out the window. Upon hearing me enter, he neither turned to glance at me nor bothered to offer a greeting.
I stared at his ramrod straight back and wondered what kind of a message my subconscious was attempting to send?
I turned and put away my jacket. “What did you think you were doing when you materialized inside the limo?”
“Only you could see me,” he answered keeping his back stubbornly turned against me.
“But why did you do it?” I pressed.
“Because somebody has to watch over you.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Nonsense. Plus, you’ve never appeared in any moving vehicle I’d ridden in. Why is that?”
He shrugged. “Riding in anything makes me nauseous, actually.”
As his answer struck me, I lowered my head. I was acting as though Andrew was real. I pulled in a deep breath and kicked my shoes off. This had to end.
Andrew chuckled softly. “So where do you think your little session with lover boy left you?”
I shook my head. “What are you talking about?”
He tossed his hands up in the air, yet kept his gaze focused on the view beyond the glass. “With solving the puzzle. With identifying the murderer. With wrapping up the whodunit.”
“I’m terribly flattered that you think I can do that, but I’m not Sherlock Holmes, nor are you.”
“I think you’re overlooking the obvious.”
Maybe this was the message my subconscious was trying to send.
He turned to face me. “You won’t consider the kids. You won’t look into Victoria or Tessie Parmer, and you won’t listen to a word I say about Coletree.”
“I admit four of the five might have motives. But I can’t think of any reason why Coletree would have wanted Eva dead.”
“Well, neither can I… yet.”
I did an internal eyeroll. A jealous ghost? Yeah, right. My imagination was getting weirder and weirder.
I was spared from contemplating that thought further when Brian called. The police had released his mother’s apartment. We were free to enter. Could I join him and Nina this afternoon as he began settling his mother’s estate. Was I willing to help?
How could I say no?
That afternoon at four, Brian, Nina, and I met outside Eva’s apartment. Brian inserted a key in the lock and twisted it. Then, swinging the door aside he and Nina stepped into the entrance way.
As I watched Brian and Nina enter, Andrew’s words came back to me. They added another layer of stress to my already unsettled world. I knew Nina couldn’t survive without her mother’s money. I understood how desperate she was. I had no idea if Brian had as urgent a need. It didn’t seem so, but appearances could be deceiving. Yet my opinion of Eva’s children held firm. No matter what their financial situation might be, they’d never have killed their mother.
“Didn’t happen,” I muttered to myself as I joined them inside.
Unsure of what we’d find, I stepped forward cautiously. Since I’d last entered Eva’s apartment, police had rummaged through it. It wouldn’t be, I thought, quite the same place I’d last visited. Fortunately my fears of a mess appeared overblown.
The foyer stood neat and empty, very much as it had on Monday. Its formal tables and hanging tapestries gave undisturbed witness to the tastes of the woman who had lived within these walls.
Beyond us the sight of so much normalcy in the living room was almost hard to face. Hers had been such a brutal murder. About the only indication that a deadly crime had taken place here was fingerprint powder darkening every possession..
For the sake of her children, I suppressed a shiver and asked as brightly as I could, “Well, shall we get started?”
Nina turned to me with a pained expression on her face. “I’d like to visit my old bedroom first. Would you go up with me? I’d rather not face it alone.”
I case a questioning glance at Brian.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’ll keep myself busy checking the drawers in some of these tables.”
I smiled and linked an arm through Nina’s. We fell in step in companionable silence and mounted the stairs to second floor slowly. I had a feeling this was a bittersweet trip for the young woman
As we advanced, I studied the living room laid out below us. It was a magnificent space. Enormous windows, stretching from floor to ceiling marched one after the other along one wall. They were streaked with the fresh bout of rain showers that had descended on the city. A massive fireplace consisting of white-painted bricks sat opposite. Furniture was delicate and done up in muted pastels. Impressive artwork decorated the neutral cream walls.
Nearing the top of the stairs, I shifted my attention to the landing ahead. I’d often visited Eva’s apartment, but I’d never set foot on the second floor. I discovered there were four bedrooms there, including Eva’s. They all stood ready to provide elegant, overnight shelter to anyone in need of it. The windows were all bare, which put me back a bit.
“This high up and with our windows facing the lake,” Nina confided with a chuckle, “there’s no one opposite us. Only the birds can see in. And they don’t really care what you’re wearing… or not.”
She lingered briefly in her bedroom, running her fingers over a dresser and swinging wide the closet door. “Nothing’s changed,” she marveled. “It’s as though I left here only moments ago.”
When we returned downstairs, we found Brian still pawing through drawers in the living room. “Everything okay upstairs?” he asked.
“Yes,” Nina answered. “I was surprised, though. Mom hadn’t changed a thing in my room. Even my discarded, old paint tubes were still there.”
Brian shrugged. “Mom loved you. She might not have expressed her love in ways you could feel, but if she hadn’t cared, she’d never have been so hard on you.” He glanced about the room. “I’ve been thinking maybe we could host a light meal here after the funeral. I suspect Mom would like that. She loved to entertain and adored having people appreciate her home.”
Nina squinted. “Is there enough time? After all, the funeral can’t be that far off.”
Brian shook his head. “I know. The police were slow to release the body, but I’m absolutely determined to bury Mom as quickly as I can. I don’t like to think of her lingering around in a casket above ground. As to the food, I can put Alicia on it. She has worked with at least a dozen caterers over the years. Plus, it doesn’t have to be a huge menu. Just a few cold dishes and some drinks would do, I think.”
“I’m glad you’ve mentioned caterers,” Nina said. “I doubt Dotty would want to pull an affair like this together. I’m sure she’s reeling from Mother’s death.”
“No doubt you’re right,” I said. “It really wouldn’t be fair to ask her.”
“The place also needs a thorough cleaning,” Nina said. “Mom wouldn’t appreciate our letting guests traipse through a week’s worth of dust, not to mention that awful black stuff.”
Brian’s brows pulled together. “I’ll get on it. We may be running late, but anything can be had if you’re willing to toss a money at it.”
“Yeah,” Nina said, shoving her hands into her trouser pockets. She cast an eye over the room, “So if I can’t afford to spring for the hired help, what can I do?”
Brian must have caught the note of self disgust in Nina’s voice. He tossed his arm about her shoulder and rested the side of his head against hers. “I’d like you to give me an estimated value of the prints and paintings,” he said after straightening and letting his arm fall. “Then you might take a go at the furnishings. I have an appraiser coming in, but I’d like your input to keep him honest.”
Nina turned and gave him a long, studied glare. “I never thought you were the suspicious sort.”
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you believe.”
“And me?” I asked. “Any changes in my assignment?”
Brian shook his head. “As I indicated, I thought you could sort through the books in the library. Mom told me you love to read.”
“It’s true.” I sighed. “Knowing Eva, she probably called me a book nut.”
Brian tried but failed to suppress a grin. “Not quite, he admitted, “but almost.”
I gazed at him wordlessly for a moment. “That day when you found your mom, you said something I’ve been wondering about. Do you recall?”
Brian shook his head.
You said, ‘Mother, what have they done to you?’ Do you remember what you meant by that? Did you have a killer in mind?”
His expression turned sheepish. “I suppose my first thought was of the company and the struggle going on there. But that was silly of me. I know Parmer and Ridling. They might be ambitious. They might even want to take over the plant and toss us out, but, deep down, I can’t see either of them turning to murder.”
Nina lowered her gaze to the floor for a moment, then pulled it up to face Brian. “They might not have killed mom, but they sure are dead set on having their way with the company.”
Brian smiled at his sister. “That’s why in the long run, I think you’ll refuse to sell out to them.”
“Yeah, and how do I eat between now and then? You want to tell me that?”
“As you know, I’d be happy to loan you the money.”
Nina folded her arms across her chest and plopped down onto a couch. “And be dependent on handouts from my brother? No thanks.”
Brian’s cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry. I know this is hard for you. But I believe in you. I think your paintings are good, exceptional even. And I think you’ll find a way to get through this whether you accept my help or not.”
Nina took a deep breath and let out a low chuckle. “I’m insecure enough that your flattery might work. You might even convince me to come after your money after all. I just wish everyone would remember, I’d have been fine if Chandler hadn’t ripped me off.”
Brian spread his hands. “I know that, Sis. I know your mess isn’t your fault.”
“Well,” I said, determined to move on, “according to you, Brian, I need to get at the books. Nina, you’re on the artwork and furnishings.” I turned to Brian. “And what will you be doing, then?”
His gaze flicked to mine and he smiled. “I’m in the office. I need to make sure the bills are paid. I figure it’s the best place to track down the financial stuff.”
I struggled to contain my disappointment. I’d have given a lot to be able to paw my way through the contents of Eva’s desk. It might contain an answer as to why my good friend was murdered. Or maybe it would provide an explanation for Sybil’s absence. “In addition to tracking down the bills,” I said, “you might want to see if there’s anything out of the ordinary. Something that might explain the reason behind your mother’s death.”
Brian grinned at me. “And share whatever I turn up with you, right?” He chuckled. “Would that be before or after I call Donovan?”
I did an internal flinch. Was I that obvious? “Call Donovan first, certainly,” I managed to get out. “Then come to me, your mother’s old, old friend and clue me in, too. Okay?”
Brian laughed. “Use guilt much?” Then he sobered. “But seriously. Mom mentioned you had given the local police a hand with a recent murder. If you can do the same here, I’ll not stand in your way. Besides, I doubt I’ll turn anything up. The cops have already been through the apartment. It’s unlikely they’d miss important evidence.”
I thought about protesting his estimate of my role in a prior murder, then dismissed it. What did it matter?
Nina scowled. “Hetty, after what we’ve been through, do you really want to risk ticking Donovan off again?”
“Brian won’t tattle on me, will you?”
He laughed. “Your secret will be safe with me,” he said and checked his watch. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll start in on the office.”
In his wake, Nina’s gaze swept over the paintings before us. “It’s funny,” she said, “In all the time I lived with these pieces, I’ve never given a thought to their value.”
“They are lovely things,” I said.
“They’re so much more than that for me. They talk to me. In my imagination they almost breathe.”
I gave her a quick hug. “That’s a lovely memory. You liked art even as a child?”
She hugged herself. “I guess so.”
I beamed at her. ”It’s wonderful that you’re giving Brian a hand. It’s a large estate. I know he appreciates your help.”
Nina bit her lower lip. “Maybe.”
“So tell me, have you decided yet if you’re going to sell your shares?”
She shifted her gaze back to the paintings. “Not really.”
“Don’t let Parmer push you around. The decision is yours, not his.”
She sighed. “I know.”
“Well, we’d best get to it,” I said, heading for the library.
I spent a long time in the grand room, which like all the others in this fabulous apartment was spacious and stylishly decorated. Windows here were also soaring and offered an impressive view of the restless lake and sky.
A collection of Persian rugs were scattered about on the wood parquet flooring. A couch and several comfortable chairs offered seating to those who cared to relax with a book, and an ornate carved desk dominated one end of the room.
Although I was supposed to be evaluating the books, I couldn’t quite keep my fingers from wandering through the desk’s large drawers. My motto is never overlook an opportunity to snoop.
But although I spend a large block of time exploring them, I found nothing that explained Eva’s death. On the plus side, after finishing my real assignment, I was able to tell Brian that the book collection was probably worth a lot of money. “You should hire a knowledgeable book appraiser for the job.”
“You think it would be worth the additional expense?” he asked.
Mission done, I set off for my hotel, my mind feeling better about Brian and Nina for having spent time with them. I didn’t really sense that they’d shifted that much from the honest souls they’d been as children.
Arriving back at the Clairmont, I trotted to the elevator doors just off the lobby and pressed the up button.
Andrew popped up beside me, grinning. “I’m proud of you. That was a good deed, helping out with the books like that.”
My hand flew to my chest. “You’re doing it again. Would you please cut it out?”
“Suddenly appearing out of no place like that. If you keep this up, you’ll give me a coronary.” Like a ventriloquist, I held my lips as still as possible. The first floor of the Clairmont was hardly the place to be seen arguing with myself.
“Unfortunately, coronaries are more of a guy thing,” Andrew responded. “Of course, for that to apply, I’d actually have to be alive.”
Ugh. If this thing were real, how would I feel about reminding his that he was dead? But then my rational brain rose up to protect me, and I said, “Nice try, but I know very well you’re not real.”
The elevator door slid open. I dashed inside.
Andrew grinned and followed my lead. “Yup, me, the Ghost of Christmas Past. I’m actually nothing more than an undigested piece of beef. You’ve found me out.”
I punched in my floor number, and ignored him. We shot upward, the elevator soon slowing to a stop. I stepped into the hall.
Andrew floated along beside me. “I’ve decided Nina’s not such a bad sort after all. Not once you get to know her.”
“That’s big of you,” I answered without bothering to hide the movement of my lips. After all, there was absolutely no one in the hallway. No one who could see my lips moving.
But Andrew stayed focused on Nina. “It is big of me, actually, considering what I first thought of her.”
I pushed in my room key, unlocked the door, and entered. The day’s rain had quit for now, but the clouds had lingered which left my room dark for this time of day. I scurried around, switching on lights to chase away the gloom. Lastly, I switched on the TV and collapsed into one of the armchairs. I soon found myself swept up in some strange story on one of the talk shows.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Andrew asked.
“Mm, not so much. I ate too much at lunch to be very hungry yet. If I change my mind, I’ll order room service.”
“Perhaps some juice, then?”
“What?” I shifted my gaze his way. “You think I need mothering?”
“No,” he spread his hands. “I just want to be sure you’re comfortable. This trip has been stressful. You need to take care of yourself.”
“I’ll manage just fine.” I slid down in the chair, leaned my head back, and tried to make sense of the story playing on the TV. I must have dozed off briefly, though, because when I next glanced at the screen, the TV station was running its evening newscast. I can’t imagine how I managed to wake up at that exact moment, but the words coming from the TV instantly jerked me to attention.
“The body of an unidentified young woman,” the blonde newsreader said with practiced ease, “was found by a passerby early this morning. Police say the remains were discovered in a Dumpster in the Gold Coast just off North State Street. The victim was described as having red hair and brown eyes. Police estimated her to be in her mid-twenties. Neither a wallet nor any credit cards were found with the body. Anyone having information on a missing woman matching that description is asked to contact the police.” The newswoman went on to read a phone number which had been scrolling across the bottom of the screen.
I bounded from the chair and snatched my cell phone from my purse. I didn’t know what Sybil looked like, but the age was right. I punched in Nina’s number only to listen to my call go unanswered. After leaving a message, I got up, made a pot of coffee, and paced the room while it brewed.
“Why don’t you forget coffee?” Andrew asked. “You’re already wired tight enough. Go downstairs. Get something to eat. They have that small cafe. It serves food all day.”
It wasn’t a bad idea. Staying here, waiting for Nina to return my call was bound to drive me send my nerves into overdrive. I double checked my billfold to make sure it contained Donovan’s card with his phone number. Then I headed to the lobby.
Since it was the dinner hour, the coffee shop was doing a brisk business. The ambiance was was sophisticated with white walls, large windows, and a black chalkboard listing the restaurant’s offerings. As with all things in the Clairmont, I knew the food would be exceptionally good. I spotted an empty table near one of the windows and made my way to it. And within twenty minutes, I’d managed to consume a bowl of corn chowder and a small salad. I had to confess, I felt much better for it. I followed the meal up with two helpings of espresso—Andrew be hanged.
As I sipped, between sips I rested my chin on my fist and studied the diners around me. Many of them were couples. I thought about my husband and wondered if my grief had pushed me into Imagining Andrew as real. I could on some small level understand that. But having him smitten with me and apparently jealous of Coletree? What did that mean?
I didn’t much like the answer that came to mind. A sixty-plus-year-old female pretending to have a twenty-two year-old man fawning all over her was not an obsession I cared to admit to. I shook my head and set my cup down. Maybe I really should go see a shrink.
My cell phone chirped. I’d placed it beside me on the table before ordering. I didn’t want to risk missing Nina’s call. I glanced at the screen and sighed with relief. It was Nina on the line.
“Nina, I don’t want to distress you,” I said after we’d said our hellos, “but I may have come across some sad news. Have you heard anything about a young woman’s body being found in the Gold Coast?”
“No, I’ve been out painting street scenes all day. I haven’t seen the news.” There was a long, long silence from the other end of the line. “Do you think the body might be Sybil’s?” Nina finally asked.
“I believe it could be. The victim was the right age, and the body was found only a couple of blocks from Eva’s apartment. I feel duty bound to call the police. That is if your description of Sybil comes anywhere near matching the woman described in the report.”
Nina pulled in a long breath. “Sybil is in her middle twenties. She’s tall, slender, and has auburn hair and brown eyes. Oh, and she has a mole on her left shoulder.”
My stomach clenched. The description sounded as though it could be a match. “I’ll get in touch with Donovan and let you know what he says.”
“Good luck with that,” Nina replied. “He’ll probably want to lock you up.”
We disconnected and I punched Donovan’s number into the cell phone.
“Detective Michael Donovan,” the man said a few moments later.
“It’s Hetty Fox. I’m sorry to be calling you so late in the day.”
“Not a problem.”
“You asked me to contact you if I learned anything more about Eva’s death.”
“I remember,” he said, his curiosity openly reverberating in his tone of voice.
“Well, I’m not sure I’m correct,” I continued, “but I heard on the news that an unidentified body has been found in the Gold Coast. From what Nina Whitstone has told me, it is possible the victim is Sybil Keen.”
I heard a click. “Donovan?” I asked, but the line was dead. I lowered my phone from my ear and wondered what had just happened.
Within a few minutes Nina called me. “Donovan just called me. He wants me to meet him at the morgue tomorrow morning to view the unidentified woman’s body.” Her voice trembled. “Hetty, I don’t think I can do this alone. Will you come with me?”
Shortly before nine the next morning, a taxi delivered Nina and me to the Cook County Morgue. The coroner’s operation is housed in a heavy-looking, concrete and glass building on West Harrison Street. It exists in a medically-oriented neighborhood being located near the Rush Medical Center and the Cook County Hospital.
Detective Donovan was waiting for us at the curb. The day had turned raw and a north wind whipped the tails of his overcoat and lifted one side of his hair. He smoothed his hair and stepped forward to greet us. “Thanks for coming,” he said, putting forth his hand and steadying Nina as she stepped from the cab.
“How could I not come?” Nina replied, her face pale, her voice little more than a whisper. “I have to know if this woman could be Sybil.” She gazed about herself as though she didn’t quite know where she was.
Donovan nodded his reassurance. “This won’t take long.”
I stepped out of the cab and linked my arm through Nina’s. “Ready?” I asked patting her arm. She bit her lip and nodded.
Donovan turned and led us to the entrance. As we approached, I couldn’t help thinking of all the suffering humanity who had walked through these doors. Chicago, last year, had experienced its highest murder rate ever. It also had earned the dubious honor of leading the nation with its number of homicides. This year, the city was on track to top even those numbers. The statistics were a sad commentary on a city I dearly loved.
Once inside the building, Donovan escorted us quietly and quickly to a viewing room, where when the signal was given and drapes were opened.
Nina’s lips quivered briefly, then parted. “It’s her. It’s Sybil,” she said dropping her gaze to the floor.
“We appreciate your coming to make the identification,” Donovan responded. “And I’m sorry the victim has turned out to be your friend.” He looked as though he’d like to reach out and give her a comforting hug, but, of course, he didn’t.
“I can’t believe she’s gone,” Nina said turning toward me with tears pooling in her eyes.
“Come on,” I said wrapping my arm around her shoulder. I turned my gaze to Donovan. “You don’t need us for anything more do you?”
“Not just now,” he said. “But Nina… ah…. Miss Whitstone, I will need to speak with you later. Meanwhile, I can have an officer drive you both home,”
“That’s okay,” I responded. “I’m sure we’ll be able to catch a cab from here.” Somehow piling into a police car at this moment didn’t sound appealing to me.
“I am sorry,” Donovan said to Nina, grasping her hand in his. “I wish you hadn’t needed to go through this.”
“That’s okay,” she responded after pulling in a quick breath. “I wouldn’t have wanted Sybil lying here known only as a Jane Doe.” Nina lifted her chin and faced him fully. “Now, at least, she has her name back.”
They smiled grimly at each other. But I’d seen the way he’d looked at her when we first arrived. And I’d seen the way she’d gazed back.
“Well, that was brutal,” Andrew said when I stepped back into my room.
“Yes, it was.” I swung the door closed behind me. “But Nina stepped up and did her duty. That took courage. I was proud of her.”
“Maybe the girl can grow into a woman after all.”
“I’ve never doubted that.”
“At least Donovan seemed to appreciate her effort.”
I smothered a smirk. “I don’t think it takes much for Donovan to appreciate Nina.”
Andrew chuckled. “So he’s as snookered as she is?”
“That’s the way it looked to these old eyes.”
I kicked off my shoes and sank into a chair. My bag of knitting sat on the table beside my elbow. I reached in and withdrew the baby blanket and needles and started to work.
“So why do you think Sybil was killed?” Andrew asked.
I tilted my head to the side while I considered the possibilities. “Maybe she stumbled in on Eva’s killer? Maybe they crossed paths in the hall? Or maybe we’ll never know,” I tossed out bitterly. “That’s also assuming Eva died sometime Monday morning which isn’t a certainty. I only hope she wasn’t killed while I was sitting like a dunce at the train station.”
“Even if that were true, which I doubt, it wouldn’t have been your fault,” Andrew offered.
I blew out a lungful of air. “At least Eva had lived a relatively long life. Sybil, on the other hand, died a young woman. She had her whole life ahead of her. What a waste.” I stabbed one needle into the first loop and started knitting the next row.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Andrew said. “It does nothing to help us.”
There is no us, I thought as I dismissed the thought of ghosts. Still, I failed to stop myself from asking, “What do you think?”
Andrew’s mouth turned down at the corners. “She knew something. That’s for sure. It could be as you said that she stumbled into the murder or saw the murderer in the hall. Or it could also be that she’d learned something while working for Eva that could expose the killer’s identity. So he… or she… felt the safest move was to take her out.”
“So we’re back to the original problem,” I said.
“Figuring out why Eva was murdered in the first place. Was she an accidental victim or the original target?”
“What a waste of time,” Andrew complained. “Canvassing the neighborhood is the first thing cops do. Don’t you know that?” He rolled his shoulders and pulled a face.
We were touring the alley where Sybil’s body had been found. I knew the odds were against me. But I so longed to identify the killer that I didn’t care. Besides, I’d recently read a murder mystery in which the sleuth had discovered an important clue near a Dumpster. And the Dumpster was one which the police had already searched in, under, and around.
“It’s my fault,” he continued with a swift shake of his head. “I should never have fallen in love with a Pollyanna like you.”
“Yeah, right,” I replied. “Love has nothing to do with this. My mental health is more the issue. And if you don’t approve of what I’m doing, you can go home.”
He cocked his head. “You mean I should go back to the hotel, right?”
“No, I mean you should return to Hendricksville.”
“Hetty,” he protested, clasping a hand to his chest, “you wound me. Besides, you’d be lost without me here, and you know it.”
I would have liked to debate that point. Instead, I kept silent and continued toward the all-important Dumpster.
I shook my head. Apparently my friendly ghost had elected to come with me for the sole purpose of expressing his displeasure with my plan. At times I suspected my subconscious, which obviously had invented this guy, seriously disliked me.
Ahead, a cat yowled and dove behind the big, green bin. If I had my coordinates right, the bin was the very container that had housed Sybil’s body. Overhead, darkening clouds threatened another downpour. Fearing the rain might wash away clues, I increased my pace.
Finally arriving, I scrabbled around the large, smelly, container on hands and knees, searching for something—anything—to explain Sybil’s death. But all I dredged up were candy wrappers, broken beer bottles, and some slimey other things I wouldn’t mention even on threat of life.
I climbed to my feet and felt my shoulders droop. Nothing I saw explained how a young woman had ended up dead with her body stuffed inside a Dumpster.
I looked down and gave myself a quick inspection. I was relieved to see no serious damage to my clothes from my crawl around the bin. I chalked that up as at least one small victory.
Shivering, I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets. A sharp north wind had come up. It barreled down the alley and cut like a knife into my exposed skin. I tucked my chin down and strode the few more steps that carried me out of the deserted alley and onto the bustling cross street.
Once free of the alley, I turned right, glanced into a shop window, and my feet glued themselves to the sidewalk. The display I gazed at open mouthed was chock-a-block with row upon row of beautiful yarns.
“Hetty, what’s wrong?” Andrew asked, his eyes wide with alarm.
“Absolutely nothing,” I replied. I forced my feet free of the sidewalk and started moving forward again.
Seconds later, I pulled the shop door open and listened to the jangling bell announce my entry.
A young clerk glanced up at me and smiled. She was razor thin with blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. She had on an elegant black dress, and the string of pearls hanging around her neck was memorable. I couldn’t help but think working retail in the Gold Coast must pay well.
“May I help you?” she purred.
“Twelve skeins of everything,” I replied.
Her mouth formed a large, round, ‘O.’
“I’m sorry,” I added quickly. “I was only kidding. It’s just that I’ve never seen such a well stocked yarn shop.”
She let forth with a smile which reached all the way to her eyes. “I assume you are a knitter?”
I thought of my monthly output, which some called astounding, and grinned. “You could say that.”
She waved a hand at her surroundings. “Take your time. Look around. If you have any questions, let me know. I’m here to help.”
I thanked her, then strolled the aisles, lifting tags, and pricing treasures. I learned the beautiful yarns came with premium prices.
There was yarn from goats, a true rarity in most shops. Breathtaking cashmere wool was also on offer in nearly every drool-worthy color. The wool was nestled next to a glorious display of baby yarns. I smiled to myself as I dreamed of the wonderfully soft baby blankets I could make from them. There was even a perfect heavier wool available to use for this year’s Christmas sweaters.
I glanced back at the sales clerk and felt a tug of guilt. I hated to darken her day with thoughts of murder, but I had to know. I turned back to my task among the skeins of yarn.
Recalling yardages for the Christmas sweaters and more yardages for a few baby blankets, I double-checked the amount of yarn in each skein. Then I scooped up the appropriate number, and carted my bounty to the checkout counter.
Setting the skeins before the sales clerk, I said, “From the news stories I’ve heard, you must have gone through a bit of excitement around here.”
She gave me a quizzical glance. “What do you mean?”
“That murdered woman found in a Dumpster? From what the newswoman said her body wasn’t discovered too far away. You must be brave to be working alone today.”
She nodded. “The victim was concealed in a Dumpster in the alley behind the shop.” The clerk shivered slightly. “But I’m not too worried. The police put her murder down to something personal between the killer and her. They assured me her death had nothing to do with me or the other people living or working around here.”
“The police came to your shop?”
“What did they want?” I asked, my eyes wide with innocence while my guilty conscience thumped me on my posterior.
She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “They wanted to know if I’d seen anyone suspicious or anything out of the ordinary.”
I fingered one of the skeins of yarn. “And had you?”
Her gaze fell to the pale, wooden counter she stood behind. “I didn’t. But I swept the sidewalk that morning before opening the shop.” She pulled her gaze back up to mine. “It pains me to think that poor woman was lying there so near me, and I didn’t do anything to help.”
My brows drew together. “I doubt she was alive by then… if that’s any comfort.”
She sighed. “You’re right. The police told me she’d been killed sometime in the early morning hours and her body dumped here. So there was apparently no local tie. Still, I’d have felt better if I’d managed to free her from such a dreadful tomb.”
“There was no way you could have known she was hidden there.”
“Yes,” she said nodding, “there’s that.”
“Wasn’t there another murder, too,” I said, plowing on shamefully. “Another woman who was killed in an apartment not far from here?”
“Yes,” she said somberly. “I saw her death covered on the news. But the police didn’t mention that the two murders were connected.”
“What about your neighbors? The other shopkeepers. What do they think”
The woman’s jaw tightened. “When we bump into each other, the topic does come up. I don’t want to be a busybody, but I guess despite reassurances from police we’re all a little worried.”
“Nobody saw or heard anything?”
“Not that they’ve mentioned. There is Ida, though. She works in the purse store across the street. She was out of town when the police came, but I saw her open the store this morning. I haven’t met up with her yet to ask what she knows… if anything.”
I tucked that piece of information away for later reference as she began ringing up my purchase.
“I’m so impressed with your store,” I said. “I wish we had one like this back home.”
“Oh, a small town about halfway down the state. You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s much too small to offer a shop like yours.”
She gave me a pleasant glance. “We have a website. You can order from us online.”
She reached beneath the counter and pulled out a brochure. “Here, this lists our web address. I’ll just tuck it into the bag with your yarn.”
I beamed. “Thank you.” I had no doubt I’d be ordering more yarn from the store.
When I returned to the sidewalk, Andrew’s foul mood had failed to improve. “You drag me down here and then you spend a half hour shopping,” he said glaring at my shopping bag that was stuffed to the brim. He lifted his hands and let them fall. “Why do women do that?”
“Aren’t you a doll for being so wonderfully patient?” I crooned. “And next, I’m off to wander through another shop across the street.”
The edges of his mouth turned down. “You can’t be serious.”
“Yup, I am, and if you were bright, you’d tag along.”
Andrew snorted in disgust. “Go on. You do whatever it is you want to do. But me? I’ll entertain myself here.”
“Your loss,” I called over my shoulder.
The handbag store I entered a few minutes later was filled with the most wonderful scent of leather. To my mind nothing denoted a fine purse like soft, supple leather, and I breathed in the delightful aroma deeply.
“Good morning,” a woman I assumed was Ida called out from behind the counter. The shop was long and narrow. The clerk stood about halfway down its length on the right side. She was a squarely built, handsome woman of indeterminate age with piercingly blue eyes. From the sharp gaze she focused my way, I guessed there was little happening around her or in her neighborhood that she missed. “May I help you?” she inquired.
I told her I was just looking. Then I went on to roam the store, examining the lovely offerings on display. I was in need of a handbag, but from a quick glance at the labels sold here, I suspected I’d pick one up someplace else. My husband had planned well for our retirement. I manage to live a comfortable life, but to shop here, my lifestyle would have to soar all the way up the scale to extravagant.
“Someone told me,” I said as I leaned over and examined the outstanding workmanship on a beautiful bag, “that a young woman was found murdered near here.”
“It’s not something I care to discuss,” the woman replied through tight lips.
My head jerked up. “Really? One of your merchant neighbors said most of the shopkeepers have been talking of little else.” It was a bit of an exaggeration from what the last sales clerk had said, but when it comes to solving murders all’s fair, as I tend to say.
Ida huffed. “They wouldn’t be so loose with their tongues if they’d seen what I saw.”
I felt my eyes fly open. “Really? What did you see?”
“Well,” she sneaked a glance about us. It was as though she thought someone might be hiding someplace and listening in. “I think I saw the person who dumped the body,” she confessed, her eyebrows rising nearly to her hairline.
No wonder she was whispering. “How dreadful.”
Her brows knitted in concern. “I know.”
“How did you manage to do that?”
She sighed. “It happened late Sunday night… or more precisely early Monday morning. Just short of three a.m., it was. I was up with a toothache. Couldn’t sleep, even with the help of a pill or two. I own this shop and have an apartment on the floor above us. It has a clear view of the alley that empties out across the street.”
“But at that hour wasn’t it dark? How could you see anything?”
“Oh, it was black as pitch.” she replied. “The only street light is at least a half a block away.”
By this time I was standing directly in front of her, and she leaned over the counter, her sharp gaze catching and holding mine. “I was sitting on the couch with the lights out and staring out at the world, trying to take my mind off my pain, when I saw a light flash in the alley. It looked like the interior light from a car had come on. You know, the way those things flip on when the door opens?”
I nodded. “And you saw a person climbing out of a car in the alley at three in the morning?”
Her eyelids rose and her head bobbed up and down. “Exactly…. Well, I flew from my seat. We’ve had trouble with kids around here. At least I suppose it’s kids, drinking beer, breaking bottles, leaving their messes behind in the alleys.”
“Goodness, how awful.”
Her eyes scrunched halfway closed. “I know. Anyway, by the time I reached the window, the light had gone out. I supposed they had closed the car door. But I stood watching anyway. Then I saw a sliver of light show up near where a car trunk might be.”
“Could you see the person?”
She shook her head. “Not really. But I did hear a thud later and something very like the sound of a Dumpster lid slamming closed. Then the overhead light in the car came on again and I saw a man climb in.”
“Oh, but I did.”
“Can you describe him?”
“Not really. He was too far away. But I could tell it was a man.”
“What did you do?”
She tossed her hands up. “Nothing. I mean someone had obviously put something in a Dumpster. Why would I complain about that?”
“Could you identify the car?”
“I wish, but I’ve never paid attention to cars. Don’t own one. Don’t want one. And they all look the same to me.”
“My, my, what a story. Have you told the police?”
She nodded, her lips locked between her teeth. “I caught the report on TV,” she said after sucking in a deep breath. “I was down at Mom’s place in Joliet, so I phoned them. Told them what I’d seen.”
What an earful her fellow merchants would get, I thought, when they finally met up with Ida.
The Pierson Funeral Home sat on a quiet side street four blocks west of Lake Shore Drive. Pierson’s was an attractive place heavily used by North Shore residents with good taste. The music played was subdued and classic. The stylish furnishings would have fit comfortably into most of the area homes. Carpeting was plush, drapes heavy.
Eva’s visitation was listed in the room to my right. When I arrived there, a small group of mourners had already assembled. Eva had been highly active in her world, and I knew the turnout for this visitation would be heavy. I had hoped to get in and out before the real crush began. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.
Brian and Nina stood at the front, just to the right of the open casket. A stunning blanket of red roses stretched across the casket’s closed half and cascaded to the floor. To the left a bank of floral arrangements lined up three deep. The scent of the flowers dominated the airless room.
My gaze fell on Eva’s face and my throat closed. I struggled to fight back tears. I’d arrived in Chicago only a few short days ago intent on a joyous visit with my friend, and now I had to say goodbye to her.
When I reached Nina, she extended a hand. Her grip was moist but firm.
“My dear,” I said. “I am so sorry for your loss.”
Nina’s mouth quivered briefly before she managed a half smile. “Hetty, I don’t know how I can thank you enough. I so appreciate what all you’ve done. This could have overwhelmed me if not for you. Mother always claimed you were an exceptional friend. Now, I know why.”
“Nina, you’re giving me too much credit. You’re a much stronger person than you know.”
Brian joined his sister. “I’d like to add my thanks, too. Mom would be very grateful for the way you’ve put yourself out for us… as am I.”
I waved his compliment aside. “It’s nothing more than your mother would have done for my children if the situation were reversed.”
“That may be true,” Brian said, “but I still want you to know how much we appreciate your assistance. And I wanted to ask. Do you have a way to the cemetery tomorrow?”
I shook my head.
“Then, please, ride with us.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind.”
A couple walked up behind me. I gave Nina and Brian a departing smile and moved aside to make way for them. Glancing about, I spied a vacant chair across the room and set out for it. I figured I only needed to stay for a few minutes more to meet my duty. The thought of relaxing in a quiet motel room and spending time with my knitting appealed very much to me.
But my escape was quickly put on hold. I’d no sooner sat than a stranger approached. “May I join you?” he asked.
The fellow looming over me was a huge man, both in height and girth. He had a cherubic face and a fringe of shaggy black hair surrounding his balding head. I instantly decided he’d make a perfect Friar Tuck in a production of Robin Hood. “Mrs. Fox,” he said, offering me his enormous paw, “ I’m Pastor, Alex Grant.”
My hand became lost in his, and when he released it, I waved it at the empty chair beside me to indicate he should have a seat. “Have we met?” I asked.
“No,” he responded easing himself onto the slender chair, “but I feel like I know you very well.”
His eyes twinkled as I felt my forehead crinkle in puzzlement. “Eva spoke of you many times. She told me repeatedly how much she valued your friendship.”
“Thank you. That’s kind of you to say. Are you the pastor here?”
“Please forgive me. I failed to explain. Eva was a member of our congregation at Bethany Baptist Church.”
“Ah,” I said. That made sense. Eva might have risen socially with her marriage, but she never forgot her origins in the blue collar neighborhood we’d grown up in. Nor had she ever abandoned her childhood church.
“You’ll be conducting the funeral service tomorrow?” I asked.
“No, I suspect The First Presbyterian Church is better represented by its own pastor. But I’ll be attending, as will many of Bethany’s members. Our humble church could never hold as large a turnout as I expect to see for Eva.”
I wondered if Grant resented Eva being buried from a Gold Coast church? Then, I wondered if the children had made a decision of which Eva would disapprove?
As though he could read my thoughts, Grant said, “It’s best the service is here. The Presbyterian church is an appropriate setting for a life well lived. That’s what I told her children.”
I’d have offered him a few comforting words, but I doubted Grant needed them. Plus, I was far more interested in learning how well acquainted he’d been with my friend. “Had Eva seemed herself in recent days?” I asked. “Did you catch any hint of problems in her life?”
His expression sobered. “You mean in reference to her murder?”
“I do,” I replied nodding encouragingly.
He crossed his arms and shook his head. “No, I caught no hint of anything of that sort. Believe me, if I had, I would have immediately delivered that news to the police. She was a wonderful woman. She hadn’t earned such an awful death.”
“How about other church members? Was there a friend she might have confided in?”
His facial expression slipped from outrage to doubt. “Eva came every week for services, but she didn’t return for midweek bible study or take part in fetes or get-togethers. She donated generously to church projects and never failed to extend a helping hand when it was required. But she kept herself to herself also.”
“And Sybil Keen?” I asked. “Did Eva ever discuss her with you?”
“Ah, there’s another tragedy.” He paused for a breath. “I know nothing about that poor young woman. Eva never mentioned her, and I don’t recall her ever visiting our church.”
I sank back in my seat and sighed.
He leaned closer to me. “Eva mentioned you have helped your local police track down a couple of killers. If that’s what your questions were all about, good for you. I commend you, and I wish you the best of luck. Someone has robbed the world of a very special person.”
“If you should hear anything?”
He smiled. “I’ll call the cops, and then I’ll share the information with you.”
He extended his hand again. “I just wanted you to know how much Eva valued your friendship. And please, be careful. Two people are dead. Eva wouldn’t want you taking unnecessary risks on her behalf. Well,” he said laying his enormous hands on his ample thighs, “I must get back to my congregation.”
“It’s been nice meeting you,” I said.
“Likewise,” he replied as he rose from his chair.
As he walked away, I turned my head and scanned the room. I had just about decided it was time to make my exit, when Martin Coletree landed beside me.
He looked splendid, as usual. Dark suit, brilliant white shirt, and large, dark eyes, the very kind a woman could get lost in. “This is such a sad night,” he said. “Eva was such an extraordinary woman.”
I nodded. “It was thoughtful of you to come,” I said. “I’m sure Brian and Nina appreciate it.”
He sighed. “I’m going to miss Eva. She was such a passionate person.”
I chuckled softly, picturing her manning the charge against the two men wanting to hijack her company. “That’s true.” I said. “Eva could be a real force when she was riled.”
“Oh yes,” Martin agreed. “I have seen that side of her, too.” He turned his dark eyes on me. “And you, what compelled you to leave your beloved city?”
I smiled. “My daughter wanted me to live near her now that I’m aging. After I thought her suggestion over, I decided she probably had a point. I’m not unhappy with the change. It also means I get to see my grandsons on a nearly daily basis. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
“And do you like your new life?”
I grinned with pleasure. “Oh, yes, very much. My neighbors have been warm and welcoming. The air is always country fresh. And I bought one of the oldest houses in Hendricksville.”
“I take it you like it?”
“Oh yes, my house was actually built shortly before the Civil War and has a charming cupola on the roof. It also has a wrap-around porch on three sides. Windows stretch from floor to ceiling. And it’s perched atop a tall bluff running along the west side of the Illinois River.”
“Sounds lovely. Am I right in assuming you have quite a view from up there.”
“I do,” I replied with a nod. “The whole town of Hendricksville is laid out on the flatlands across the river from me. Between glorious sunrises, the sparkling of river water on sunny days, and the town’s lights twinkling at night, I can spend hours staring out my windows.”
“It sounds like an idyllic life.”
The statement surprised me, as did my answer. “Yes, I think it is. But enough about me,” I said. “What about you? Are you only new to your apartment, or are you new to Chicago as well?”
He adjusted a cufflink on his shirtsleeve and smiled sadly. “I’m a bit of a nomad, I’m afraid. I dislike spending too much time in any one place. So, yes, this is my first Chicago dwelling.”
I thought about my recent move and my struggle to find new friends. “That sounds like a lonely lifestyle.”
He shrugged. “It is what it is. Besides, it has its compensations.”
“Where are you from originally?”
He laughed. “No place, really. Even my parents were nomads. So the life I have now is the life I knew as a child. Here today, gone tomorrow.”
“What do you do for a living?” I asked.
“Not much. My father’s father’s father did the earning. The rest of us have just skated along on his money.”
“That sounds lovely.”
He chuckled. “If anyone ever tells you the idle rich are bored, don’t believe them.”
“It sounds like you’re happy with your lifestyle.”
“My only regret is that I’ve never found anyone to share it with.”
I shifted in my seat uncomfortably. “I wish you luck, then,” I said
“Maybe you could make time to show me around your beloved city before you leave?” he replied. “I still don’t know Chicago very well.”
My eyes flew wide. “Certainly,” I said when I recovered my wits. “I’d be glad to.”
Then Andrew’s voice came booming into my ear. “Oh please, would you cut this out. You’re making an absolute fool of yourself.”
I felt my jaw drop, and I nearly fainted dead away.
Martin placed his hand on my forearm. “Is everything alright? You look so pale.”
Surely, no one else could see or hear my ghost, I thought. I dipped my head to hide the alarm in my eyes. “No, no, I’m fine, thank you. But I seem to feel the beginnings of a headache coming on.”
What I felt was a pounding need to escape. I pulled my gaze back up to meet his. “Would you excuse me? I should track down some water and take an aspirin or two.”
“Certainly. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, I’m fine… or at least I will be.” Offering an apology, I rose and beat a quick exit out of the room. When I reached the hallway, Andrew materialized beside me.
My feet came to an immediate halt. “Don’t you ever do that to me again,” I snapped as I slammed my fists onto my hips.
Andrew put on an innocent face. “What are you babbling about?”
“You startling me like that when I’m talking with someone,” I shot back.
“Nonsense, somebody needed to step up and save you from yourself. That dude is a no-goodnick. It’s too embarrassing to see you carrying on like that with a dilettante like him. I simply couldn’t bear it. So I made an appearance. Big deal.”
“You’re… you’re jealous,” I stammered.
Andrew pulled himself up to his full height and stared down his well-shaped nose at me. “I must say that was a brilliant comment. Is that the best you can do? Me? Jealous? Bosh.”
“Okay then, try this? You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, yeah?,” Andrew shot back. “Well, I certainly know a crook when I see one.” He rammed his hands into his pockets.
“Crook indeed,” I spat. I glanced around the hall and spotted a sign for the women’s restroom. I set off for the door at a furious clip and slammed through it.
Take that, I thought.
“Feel better, now?” Andrew asked revealing himself before me.
I shrieked and pressed my hand to my chest. “You can’t come in here. This is the women’s washroom.”
Andrew raised a shoulder. “Guess I missed the memo. Besides there’s no one in here but us.”
“But… but someone could walk through that door any minute,” I sputtered.
“And I can disappear before she ever sees me.”
“Ugh,” I replied tossing my arms up in the air. “You are impossible.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, at least you know who I am, and what I do. He’s probably just like Troy Chandler, a dude who cozies up to rich women and makes off with their money.”
“Martin is not a criminal.” I spat back.
Andrew shot me a worried glance. “I only hope you don’t have to eat those words.” And with that, he vanished.
Scaredy cat, I thought. “A real man would have stayed and fought it out,” I muttered.
Andrew’s voice sounded softly in my ear. “I’m not a man. I’m a ghost.”
I had assumed our spat ended there, but that night, back in my hotel room, Andrew was nowhere to be seen. As I readied for bed, I reminded myself that simply because I could not see him did not mean he wasn’t here. My imagination could summon him whenever it pleased, I thought, yet I also shivered. Somehow, the room felt emptier to me than it had. For a long time that night, I tossed in my bed replaying our argument in my mind.
Then sometime during the dark hours, I fell into a fitful sleep. In my dreams I chased down long corridors without doors. When I woke, I sighed and told myself that this frustrating case was doing me ill. I needed to knuckle down and figure out Eva’s murder. Maybe then, I’d find some peace.
Eva Whitstone’s funeral took place in the only Presbyterian Church located within the Gold Coast. I climbed out of the cab and stared at the mammoth structure. Its impressive, gray-stone spires stretched unflinchingly skyward. They led my gaze directly to the dark, roiling clouds overhead.
I shook my head in wonder. Another downpour looked about to descend.
Had there ever been a wetter May?
Still, I couldn’t help smiling. Eva would have been delighted by the somberness of the church and the dreariness of the day. She adored a good drama. I was certain she would have thought this the perfect background for her earthly send-off. I put my head down and entered the church.
Walking down the side aisle, I stopped about halfway into the nave and concealed myself behind a stone pillar. I wanted to observe the assembled mourners without them spying me.
I spotted Donovan immediately. He was seated near the back of the room, his face weighed down with suspicion. I saw it lighten only once. That was when his gaze fell on Nina. But it quickly slid into a dark scowl when he turned his attention to Brian.
My stomach clenched in response. Heaving an internal sigh, I reminded myself Donovan was free to suspect whomever he pleased. And the money that would come their way made Eva’s children look highly suspicious.
I couldn’t help wondering how Nina would feel if Donovan discovered evidence that landed her brother in jail? Would she understand then, I asked myself, what a danger Donovan was to her and to those she loved?
Donovan was only human, I thought. He was as capable of making mistakes as anyone. It would be so easy for him to overlook the real killer and arrest an innocent person. Not out of hatred, but from sheer error.
Another reason, I decided, for me to track down the real killer. Otherwise an innocent person might get locked up for a crime they didn’t commit.
A couple rows ahead of where I stood, Victoria sat with her friend, Tessie Parmer to her right. I assumed the long-faced, gray-headed man beside Tessie was her husband, Douglas. What was he thinking now that Eva was dead? Was he counting the days until he could twist the firm in the direction he wanted?
And if so, where had Parmer been when Eva was killed? Did he have an alibi? That was something I still needed to check. Yet part of me thought him an unlikely suspect. He might engage in deadly boardroom games, but stabbing a woman to death is another matter.
Then I reminded myself that money sometimes pushed people to do things they’d never do otherwise. And if the stock prices soared, as Victoria thought they would, Parmer would rake in a huge profit.
My gaze shifted to the man sitting beside Douglas. I assumed he was Herbert Ridling. If they both showed up for the luncheon back at Eva’s apartment, I’d corner the pair. Maybe I could get a better feel for how far the two men would go to have their way.
Martin Coletree had shown up as I’d expected he would. He sat three rows in, but Harley Stokes was a bit of a surprise. In a tight-fitting, cheap suit, Stokes shifted in his seat and tugged at his collar. On some level, I couldn’t help sympathizing with him. It was a tough crowd to fit in with.
Taking in the entire room now, I noted how packed the church was. “It’s standing room only,” I whispered, hoping Eva could hear me. Considering my dear friend’s love of attention, I knew she would be pleased.
That thought reminded me of Andrew, who had still been missing this morning. Part of me was relieved to think I might be free of my silly obsession. But part of me also missed his constant nagging along with his oft-stated concern for me.
Now, the minister walked to the front of the nave. I slid into a nearby open seat and directed my eyes forward.
The pastor conducted a simple and uplifting service, following which Brian and Nina offered a few heartfelt words about their extraordinary mother. After leaving the church, I rushed to join them for the trip to the cemetery.
Once we arrived, right on cue, dark skies overhead grew even more so. A rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance. We scurried together under an enormous awning to no purpose as in the end not even one drop of rain fell.
I smiled. I knew Eva would have been delighted with the threatening storm. I was equally certain she’d have thrown a hissy fit if the rain had actually fallen.
Following the service, I bummed a ride with Nina to Eva’s apartment. Once there, I headed directly to the kitchen to oversee the caterers. But I found to my delight the food servers were already doing an outstanding job. The goodies they had unpacked looked beautiful and smelled drool worthy.
Very shortly after my arrival, Dotty Stepkowski descended on me and shooed me out of the room.
“You’re sure you feel up to this?” I protested. I had no doubt Dotty had to be missing her former employer.
“Are you kidding me?” she shot back. “I’ve never worked the front of the house, and I don’t want to start now. I’m much more comfortable here. What do I know of those people? The caterers? They’re the folks I understand.” She waved her arm at me to hurry me along. “You need to be out in the living room running Eva’s killer to ground.”
Dotty tied an apron around her generous waist. “Go get ‘em,” she said, again shooing me toward the door.
When I stepped into the living room, I immediately spotted my first interesting group. Victoria was sharing canapes with Tessie, and the man I suspected was her husband. My feet automatically engaged and carried me in their direction.
“Hetty,” Victoria exclaimed when I turned up beside her. She gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “Excellent turnout. Great food.”
“As to the crowd, I expected nothing less for Eva,” I replied. “She was a wonderful person. She touched and improved a great many lives.” I eyeballed the tall man I thought was Tessie’s husband. He wore a light gray suit and a confident expression. Victoria apparently noticed the drift of my gaze.
“Hetty,” she said smiling, “I’d like you to meet Doug Parmer.”
He stuck forth his hand, and I shook it. His grasp was both firm and dry. His blue-eyed gaze was level and his smile seemed almost genuine.
“This is Hetty Fox,” she explained. “She and Eva were very close friends.”
I nodded at the man and said, “I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
Parmer scoffed. “As Eva’s friend, I doubt much of what you heard about me was good.”
My brows pulled together. “On the contrary, Eva hadn’t mentioned your name once to me recently. However, she did have a great deal to say when she named you CEO of the company. And every word she uttered then was extremely complimentary. Are you telling me you two have had a falling out since then?”
The man at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Yes, well, recently we’d grown apart over the direction the company needs to move.”
“Come on Hetty,” Victoria cut in. “What are you doing? You know all about the battle for control of the company. You’ve even discussed it with me. What point is there to playing dumb?”
Well, thanks Victoria, I thought. “The company was still Eva’s. You will allow that, though.”
“That’s true for now,” Parmer replied. “What happens down the road may be a different matter.”
I couldn’t believe Parmer was standing here in Eva’s apartment openly suggesting that he might take over Eva’s company. And he was doing so on the day of her funeral—no less.
His lack of tact was almost enough to convince me that he had killed her. “And where were you the night Eva was murdered?” I asked.
The flash of anger my question sparked rose quickly. “How dare you?” Parmer demanded. He lifted his chin and stared down his long nose at me. If disdain could wound a person, I would have been shedding blood.
“It’s not an unwarranted question,” I countered. “You wanted her company, and you’ve already made her daughter an offer for her stocks. You didn’t even wait twenty-four hours after Eva’s death before making your move. That seems rather unfeeling to me.”
His face stiffened. “I can assure you, I would never kill anyone. Not even Eva Whitstone.”
“That’s so reassuring,” I replied.
Over the course of our exchange, our voices had risen, and several heads around us had swiveled in our direction. Parmer glanced about the room, muttered a word to his wife, who nodded, snatched her purse from the fireplace mantel, and together they stalked from the room.
Good riddance, I thought, although my conscience did give a rather sharp kick to my gut.
“Really,” Victoria spat, “there was no need for you to make such a scene.”
I stared at her, my gaze unfaltering. “If there’s any question as to whose side I’m on, it’s Eva’s. She was my friend. Her children are as dear to me as my own. I will side with them, whatever their decision is.”
Victoria dismissed my comment with a toss of her head. “Nina is nothing but a fool if she refuses Doug’s offer.”
“That’s her decision to make not mine… and not yours.”
“What decision is that?” Parmer’s friend asked as he stepped up beside me. He was long, and lean, and impeccably dressed.
“Hetty,” Victoria said, “this is Herbert Ridling. Herbert, Hetty Fox.”
“Delighted,” he said, rocking back on his heels. “I gather our efforts at the plant are disturbing you?”
Riddling lowered his sharp chin. His small, beady eyes locked onto mine. From the look of him, I wouldn’t trust him with my cookie jar, let alone a company. “I think you boss is putting pressure on Nina while she’s vulnerable.”
“Nonsense,” he responded. “Nina needs money to tide her over until her inheritance comes in. Doug has made her an excellent offer… case closed.”
“So where were you the night Eva was killed?”
His eyes narrowed, his expression turned stony. “Don’t be absurd.”
“I’ll try to resist that temptation. In the meantime, where were you that night? It’s a fair question.”
“If you were a cop, I might agree. But you have no more standing in a murder investigation than I do. Still, it’s a pity dear Eva won’t be here to reap the profits from our plan no matter who killed her.”
“You think your proposal will go through then?”
He pursed his lips a moment. “I’m reasonably confident Parmer and I will carry it off. It’s the right thing to do.” He raised and lowered his shoulders as his gaze slipped to the view beyond the living room windows. “Times have changed. The firm must move along with them.” He turned a questioning gaze on me. “Besides, with Eva dead, who’s left to challenge us?”
I decided not to mention Brian’s plans. I’d rather let this pair of self-satisfied plotters learn of Brian’s rebellion later, hopefully after he’d won over a few shareholders.
“If you’ll excuse us?” Ridling said without smiling as he grasped Victoria’s arm.
“Of course.” I watched wordlessly as the pair drifted off to join a group of people on the other side of the room.
I heaved a sigh thinking I’d done little good with my attempt to ferret out a killer. Turning, I sought someone else to chat up. I spotted Stokes standing off by himself, and I made my way to him.
“It was nice of you to come,” I said.
Stokes mouth turned down at the corners briefly. “You can blame Nina. She nagged me to come up to get some grub.”
“And I’m glad she did,” I replied. “Eva would have wanted you to be here. Besides, the day I arrived, you told me you liked her.”
A slow smile spread across his wide face. “I did. And that’s the truth. That woman didn’t take guff off of nobody.”
I nodded and wondered again if that wasn’t what had gotten Eva killed. “And do you know if anyone had been giving her guff?”
“No, ma’am. Not recently, anyway. Not that I heard.”
“But before then?”
He cocked his head to the side. “A couple of times, maybe. I told that detective about them, but nothin’s come of my stories. If they’d mattered, the cops woulda arrested someone. So I ain’t spreadin’ ‘em any further.”
I fluttered my lashes. “Not even to little old me?”
He laughed. “No ma’am. Not even you.”
“But seriously you don’t have any thoughts on who killed Eva?
“That’s not quite what I said, is it?” he answered as he launched into an extended coughing fit. I clapped him on the back, and he finally managed to drag in a deep breath. “The kids, probably?” he panted. “That’s what most of the staff working in the building say. They think the kids were tired of waiting to get their hands on the old lady’s money.”
I shook my head firmly. “Eva’s children did not kill her.”
He shot me a pitying glance. “And how would you know that?”
“I’ve known them all their lives. They’re not that sort of people.”
“We’re all that sort of people when circumstances are right.” He lifted his shoulders and let them fall. “Whoever did it, I just wish they’d done it someplace else. I mean who’s gonna want to move into her place knowing what happened? Just like what I told you would happen, my boss is layin’ this problem at my feet.”
“So who is your boss?”
Stokes shook his head. “You’ll not be hearing that name outta my mouth. When it comes to dealing with tenants, the guy likes to keep his head down.”
Martin Coletree suddenly appeared by my elbow. “Goodness, what are you two discussing?” he asked. “It looks like you’re trying to settle the fate of the nation.”
“Ah, Mr. Coletree,” Stokes said with a red face. He gaze up at the man. “Nothin’. We ain’t talkin’ about nothin’. At least, nothin’ important.”
Coletree glanced at his watch then shifted his gaze back to Stokes. “Haven’t you idled around long enough? It was one thing to come to the funeral, but don’t you think it’s about time you returned to work?”
“Yup.” Stokes said nodding his head vigorously. “I suspect you’re right about that.” He sent me a brief smile of farewell and departed.
“Silly man,” Coletree said. “I hope he wasn’t bothering you. He had no business showing up here, and he certainly shouldn’t have been hanging about.”
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Stokes. He’d been so curtly dismissed by Coletree. “I’m sure Eva would have been pleased he came. She was never one to stand on ceremony.”
Martin’s cheeks flushed faintly. “That may be, but he should still remember his place.”
As I stood there studying this handsome man, Andrew’s suspicion of him drifted into my thoughts. Considering Coletree’s outrageous behavior toward Stokes, I now wondered if Andrew’s dislike for this man wasn’t justified?
I woke Sunday morning to an uncomfortably quiet hotel room. Blackie wasn’t yowling and pawing at me, nor was Andrew floating past my bed and nagging me.
Raising my arm over my head and looking out the window, I found myself longing to get back to my real life. The one where Blackie was in bed beside me and the grandchildren were only a short drive away. I even missed the banter of our small-town, morning radio DJs—which meant I had to be really desperate.
I flipped over, punched the pillow, and tried to ignore the silence. But it didn’t take. As my mind turned from my surroundings, it became fixated with thoughts of the two murders. I became uncomfortably aware that I was missing some detail, something important, although what it might be still escaped me.
I release a lungful of air. I’d buried my best friend yesterday, and I was no closer to solving her murder than I’d been slightly less than a week ago. On top of that, I hadn’t a clue as to Sybil Keen’s murder. Had she just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. or was her murder key to them both?
I yanked the covers off me and set out for the bathroom. Perhaps a shower would wash away this foul mood.
As I waited for the water to warm, I considered Andrew’s absence. I wondered if he was gone for good and whether my subconscious had finally given up its unhealthy fixation?
There was no chance Andrew was real, I reminded myself. On the other hand, if he had been real, had I so offended him that he’d abandoned me? I listened to myself and shook my head. Was I actually hoping Andrew would reappear?
I climbed into the shower and stood there a long moment letting the hot water pound out the knots in my shoulders. Once clean, I toweled off and returned to the bedroom, where I found nothing changed.
As my gaze swept the empty room, I felt a twinge of guilt. Back home Blackie probably missed me as much as I was missing him. How long had it been since I’d checked on the poor dear? I reached out to the dresser and snatched up the cell phone.
“Mom,” Megan exclaimed when we connected. “It’s good to hear from you. How’s everything going?”
“Okay. I saw the floral spray you sent. It was lovely.”
“How was the service?”
“Packed. I think nearly every pew was full.”
“And Brian and Nina, how are they?”
“Holding up. How’s Blackie?”
“He’s missing you. He doesn’t seem quite his old self. He actually let the boys catch him yesterday. Can you imagine? And he let me pet him.”
“He must be desperate,” I teased.
“No doubt. When will you be home?”
“I don’t know yet. The police are still hunting for Eva’s killer. I have an uncomfortable feeling I need to hang around to make sure they don’t lock up the wrong person.”
“You’re worried about Nina and Brian?”
“Mom, they’re grown ups. They can handle this.”
“You’re probably right. But for Eva’s sake, I can’t just walk away.”
“Don’t wear yourself out.”
I smiled. “I’m not that old yet. And how are my grandsons?”
“They’re off to the donut shop with their Dad. You just missed them. They should be back soon.”
“I’ll give them a call later.”
“Please do. They’ll be so pleased.”
After a quick breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs in the hotel cafe, I hailed a cab and headed to the appointment I’d set up with Nina before going to breakfast. It was high time I pried more information loose on Sybil Keen.
“My, aren’t you an early riser?” Nina said when she answered my knock at her door.
“And apparently, so are you,” I countered.
She lowered her head, leaned closer, and said, “Don’t let that get out. I’m an artist. I’m supposed to stay up nights and sleep days.”
I chuckled as she straightened back up. “Like a vampire?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Nina said as I stepped over the threshold. “But I’m not only awake, I’ve made coffee. Want some?”
“Yes, thank you. And thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”
She waved me toward the living room section of the loft while she wandered back to the coffeemaker and filled two cups.
“I imagine you’re relieved the funeral is behind you?” I called out.
“Yes,” she said as she poured coffee into two cups, “but I was amazed by the turnout.”
“Your mother was a much admired woman.”
“So it seems.” Nina joined me in the living area placing my coffee on the end table by the couch. She slumped into a director’s chair opposite me. “So what can I do for you?” she asked eyeing me over the rim of her coffee cup.
I sighed. “It’s Sybil. I’ve come to the conclusion that I know almost nothing about her. Are you willing to fill me in? Not just the surface stuff, but the deeper details. What was her life like? Was there any reason she might have been killed other than her link to your mom?”
“Wow. I hadn’t thought about that angle. I just assumed she died because of Mom’s murder.”
“That was my thinking too. But this morning I found myself wondering if we had it backwards? At least, I don’t think it would hurt to look at the deaths the other way round for a minute.”
Nina’s gaze drifted to the long line of windows. Yesterday’s rain had ushered in a cold front. The morning was cool, the wind blasting straight out of the north, but at least the skies were blue and the clouds puffy. Nina pursed her lips and silently studied the scene.
“Sybil was,” she finally said pulling her gaze back to me, “crazy, maddening, impulsive. But when she turned to serious tasks, she operated with the clinical detachment of a mathematician.”
“She sounds complex.”
Nina lifted her chin. “Indeed, she was. Plus, Sybil made an excellent friend. If you had troubles, she was always the first one to turn up. Or at least, that was my experience”
“What about a social life?”
Nina’s brows drew down. “She had none that I know of, not in the sense of a boyfriend. Not just at this moment.”
“That sounds lonely.”
Nina picked up her cup and cradled it in her hands. “Sybil could be a bit standoffish.”
“What about enemies?”
Nina wagged her head. “If she had any, she never mentioned them to me.”
“Did she know about the war over your family’s business?”
“Oh, she had to,” Nina quickly responded. “My mom rarely talked of anything else in recent days…unless it was to berate me for not having settled down.” Nina sent me an uncomfortable smile.
“Parents always want the best for their children.” I answered. “And sometimes we don’t express that wish the best way possible.”
“Yeah,” Nina said unconvincingly, “that’s probably what it was.” Nina’s eyes twinkled. “Anyway, for my part, I’ve taken your advice.”
“I’ve found a job.”
I beamed. “That’s wonderful.”
She smiled again. “Starting in two weeks, I’m a sales associate at the Damon Art Gallery in Old Town.”
“I’m so pleased, and Eva would have been too.. Congratulations.”
Nina frowned. “It’s a good thing, as it happens.”
“Because Parmer ripped into me yesterday at the funeral. He claims we have a verbal contract. If I don’t honor it and turn over my shares to him, he says he’s going to sue me.”
“Okay,” I said placing my coffee back on the table.. “Enough is enough. We’re taking this news to Brian.”
In Evanston, occupants of the Whitstone home were as up and at ‘em as Nina and I that Sunday morning. Still in their pajamas, Adam and Mark sat on the floor in front of the television set with joysticks in their hands. An intensely colored Spider-Man glided across the screen. Glancing up briefly from their endeavors, they smiled and nodded at Nina and me before quickly returning their attention to the game.
Brian sat in a wide leather chair with a newspaper on his lap. He wore a navy polo shirt and a pair of faded khakis. Dishes from a recently eaten breakfast were scattered about the room. Alicia nodded us toward a pair of comfortable looking armchairs. “Have you eaten?” she asked. “There are scrambled eggs and bacon if you’re interested, as well as orange juice and coffee?”
“That’s kind of you,” Nina replied. “But I think Hetty and I are full up just now.” She looked over at me. I nodded my agreement. Then glancing back at her brother, Nina said, “I would like some of your time if you don’t mind. A problem has come up, and Hetty thought I should share it with you.”
Brian leaned forward in his chair. “Of course, what’s up?”
She glanced down at the boys. “Maybe we could talk about this privately?”
“Sure.” Brian laid his newspaper aside and rose. “We can go to my office.”
Nina glanced at me. “I’d like Hetty to join us?”
Brian smiled at me. “That’s no problem.”
I nodded my thanks.
“This way, then?” he said motioning us to the door.
We traveled down a short hall and walked into a spacious room with multi-paned windows on three sides, giving the office a light, airy feel. The morning sunshine poured through the uncurtained glass. Instead of heading toward his massive desk, he settled on a small couch beneath one of the windows. Nina joined him. I sat in a small chair angled toward them on their left.
“So,” Brian asked, his brow wrinkled with concern, “what’s up?”
Nina seemed to lose confidence and her words came out soft. “You know I’ve been considering selling my shares of stock. Well, Parmer came at me yesterday.”
“At Mom’s funeral?” Brian interrupted.
“Yes, while we were at Mom’s apartment.”
Brian frowned. “Go on.”
“He claims we have a verbal agreement, and if I don’t honor it, he’s going to sue me for breach of contract.”
Brian’s frown deepened. “Did you agree to sell?”
Nina shrugged. “I don’t think so. At least, not that I remember, and if I had, I think I would remember.”
Brian scowled. “But you say you didn’t sign anything?”
“Right. I am sure I signed nothing.”
Brian drummed his fingers on the couch arm and sighed. “Unfortunately, I don’t know much about verbal agreements.” He stared out one of the windows. “I’ll have to touch base with my lawyer.”
“I’m sorry,” Nina said, “please don’t do that. I can’t afford a lawyer.”
Brian swung his gaze back her way. “That may be exactly what Parmer’s counting on. He’s probably trying to bully you. He doesn’t believe you would seek legal advice.”
“And his plan just might work,” Nina said clasping her hands together tightly in her lap.
“Nonsense. You don’t have to pay. This is our family business he’s after. And the last time I looked, you were a card carrying member of the tribe.”
Nina closed her eyes. Her hand flew to her chest. “Oh, thank you, Brian,” she said with a sob in her voice. “I was so desperate. I don’t want to walk away from the family by selling my shares. You and Mom have worked so hard to keep things at the plant as they are. I was just mad at mom and desperate for money. But the bottom line is I respect what you and Mom did.”
Brian nodded. “Doubtless Parmer wanted you to feel isolated and on your own. He probably thought it would push you toward selling. But you’re not alone. You never have been, and if I have anything to say about it, you never will be.”
It wasn’t until Nina was driving me back to the hotel that she finally opened up about Sybil. “You don’t understand,” she said glancing at me from the corner of her eye. “Sybil was my friend… probably my best friend. It’s difficult for me to tattle on her.”
I grabbed the armrest and silently cautioned myself not to overreact. “There’s something you’ve not told me about Sybil?”
Nina nodded and steered her car into the left lane to pass a slow-moving van. She chewed her lip a moment before explaining. “It was drugs.”
I felt my jaw drop. “Drugs?” I croaked. “Sybil was on drugs?”
“Yeah, for a while. But she locked herself into a clinic and kicked them. Breaking free of the drugs was a torment, or so she said.”
“I can believe it,” I replied. “And you don’t think Sybil might have gone back onto them?”
Nina’s forehead creased as she searched for an answer. “I don’t think so. I saw no sign of drug use. Plus, Sybil said that period of her life was so awful she never wanted to go there again. She sounded so sincere, Hetty. I don’t think she was lying.”
“Did Eva know about the drugs?”
A tear glistened in the corner of Nina’s eye. She reached up and swiped it away. “I don’t know. Mom never heard about the drugs from me. Sybil had fought hard to overcome her addiction. I thought she deserved a second chance.”
My head rocked back and forth. “And I suspect your mother would have agreed. She believed in redemption,” I said. But, I thought, it might have been nice if she had been forewarned.
I leaned my head back on the headrest as I wrestled with this new information. Was it possible Sybil had returned to her old ways, I wondered? If she had, had Eva figured out what was happening? Had Eva perhaps badgered Sybil for the name of the dealer? That would be something Eva might do. Had she then gone after the dealer… threaten to turn him in to the police? Again, that move would be just like Eva.
Running a hand through my hair, I again wondered who had died first. Had Eva had been killed because of something Sybil had done? Or had Sybil died because of what she knew of Eva’s business problems?
I release a long breath. All this information on Sybil’s drug use had given me, I thought, was another blind alley to run down. I rubbed my forehead as I felt a headache threatening to descend.
The next morning, I woke to the sound of someone pounding on my hotel door. Worried that my neighbors would be pulled from their sleep, I bounded from bed instantly. “Who is it?” I asked.
“It’s me, Nina.”
My brows knitted together. Why would Nina show up unannounced at my hotel room… and at this early an hour? I rushed across the room, my gaze taking in the clock on the nightstand. It read 7 a.m.
After undoing the lock and opening the door, I hauled her into the room. “Nina, what’s wrong?”
“Hetty, please forgive me.” Her eyes were wide and tear filled. “I really shouldn’t be barging in like this. But I don’t know who else to turn to.” Her clothes were disheveled, her hair was a mess, and her face was without any makeup.
“Good grief.” I pulled her into my arms for a quick embrace. “Nina, what’s happened?” I asked as we pulled apart.
Her face collapsed in despair. “Oh, Hetty, it’s awful.”
I took her hand and led her to one of the armchairs in front of the window. “Okay now, Nina, slow down. Take your time. Please, tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s Brian,” she sobbed.
I blinked. “Brian? What about him?”
“He’s been arrested.”
I collapsed onto the chair next to hers. “What has he been arrested for?”
“For killing mom.”
Ice water raced through my veins. I sank back in the chair. “I can’t believe it,” I whispered. And yet hadn’t I been worried about this very thing?
Beside me, Nina pulled in a ragged breath. “Alicia called me… not fifteen minutes ago. The police came to the house. The kids heard the noise. They rushed out of their rooms and saw their father hauled out of the house in handcuffs. Alicia was falling apart on the phone, and normally she’s as solid as a rock.”
My gut clenched. I’d vowed to help steer Eva’s children through this disaster. Now, Brian was charged with Eva’s murder?
I struggled to tamp down my panic, but I also needed to offer Nina what comfort I could. “We all make mistakes,” I said. Every one of us.” I grabbed Nina’s hand and encouraged her to feel a confidence I couldn’t find within myself. “And that’s all this is,” I insisted, “It’s only a mistake. Try not to worry. Brian will beat this. He’ll be home soon. You wait and see.”
When I released her hand, Nina shivered. “I thought Donovan liked me,” she said, staring at me with a gleam of desperation in her blue eyes. “He even had me believing he cared about me and my family.” She reached up and wiped tears from her face with the palms of her hands.
I leaned over and grabbed a box of tissues from the dresser. Passing the box on to her, I said, “I don’t think Donovan’s the kind to go off half-cocked. He must have found evidence that points to Brian. Maybe it’s so strong he had no choice but to arrest him. But, like you, I don’t believe Brian killed anyone. Keep the faith, Nina.”
“I’ll never speak to Donovan again,” Nina said as she crushed a used tissue into a tight ball.
“What about bail?” I asked.
Nina looked at me blankly. “Bail?”
“Yes, there’s usually a hearing where a judge is asked to grant bail. If the judge does so, Brian can be released to wait at home for the trial.”
Nina’s shoulders sagged. “I didn’t even think to ask.”
“That’s okay. You were upset.” I grabbed the cell phone from the table and dialed Brian’s number. Alicia answered on the second ring.
“This is Hetty,” I said. “Nina’s here with me. She’s just told me about Brian. I’m so sorry you’re being put through this. Is there anything Nina and I can do?”
“That’s kind,” Alicia responded with a sigh. “Truthfully, right now, I have no idea what needs to be done. Everything is so up in the air.”
“Will Brian make bail?”
I listened while Alicia released a long breath. “There’s a hearing later today. Our lawyer, George O’Dyer, says he’ll argue for bail then. He intends to point out that Brian owns his own business and is a father to two small children. O’Dyer said those facts give Brian strong ties to the area, so he’s unlikely be seen as a flight risk. Plus, there’s no criminal record. Brian’s never had so much as a parking ticket.”
“That sounds promising,” I responded.
“Yes, but since the charge is murder, the lawyer says there’s also a good chance the judge will deny bail.”
My stomach churned at the thought of Brian being locked up with people who actually had killed their mother. “If the judge allows Brian to get out on bail,” I said, “it will probably be a very high one. Can you come up with that much money?”
There was a long pause from the other end of the line. “I… I don’t know yet,” Alicia finally said. “I’ve contacted Brian’s partners at the firm. They’re checking to see how much money the company can swing. There’s also our house. We could put it up as collateral, I guess.” She sighed. “Oh, I don’t really know. It’s all so confusing, so unreal. I’m trying very hard to be strong. I know Brian’s counting on me. But everything is overwhelming me at the moment.”
“If you have a good attorney, he should be able to tell you what needs to be done. Trust him. Do what he says.”
“O’Dyer has been helpful. He seems to know the law, and most importantly, Brian trusts him.”
“I’m glad to hear it. But are you certain there’s nothing Nina or I can do?”
“Actually, if Nina could come up and keep an eye on the kids that would be a huge help. They’re so upset… to have seen their Dad hauled off like that…. It was awful.” She pulled a deep breath, then said, “I would like to be able to come and go as needed without tracking down sitters.”
“Here’s Nina.” Looking up at my young friend, I said, “It’s your sister-in-law, she wants you to come up and watch the boys.”
Nina’s eyes flew open. “Me?” she croaked. “Hetty, I’ve never babysat anyone. I doubt I’ve even spent as much as five minutes alone with kids.”
My brows flew upward. “Not even your nephews?”
Nina bit her lip and shook her head. “Not even them.”
“Oh, well, babysitting isn’t hard.” I said reassuringly. “Just play some games. Keep their spirits up. Here, your brother’s wife needs you.” I handed Nina the phone.
I was just preparing to go out for lunch when my cell phone rang. “Hetty!” It was Nina with a voice that was in full-fledged crisis mode. “You have to help me. The boys have locked me inside a closet. They’re out there, wandering around the house. Alicia is going to kill me. Can you come up and let me out?”
In the background I heard little fists pounding on wood, which I assumed was the closet door. Their antics were accompanied by squeals of boyish delight. I shook my head in disbelief. “At least you had the presence of mind to take your phone into the closet with you.”
Nina moaned. “The phone just happened to be in my sweater pocket. Lucky me. Anyway, Alicia is at the lawyer’s office. I hate to ask, but you’re the only person I could think of who might come. Oh, please say you will. I don’t want the boys to be loose in the house doing who knows what… or to have Alicia find me locked in a closet.”
“I’ll be there as quickly as the cab will bring me. Depending on traffic though, Alicia may return home before I arrive.”
“That’s a chance I’m willing to take. And thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
I smiled inwardly. Nina might not be the tightest wrapped gift under the tree, but deep down, I was convinced she had one of the world’s biggest hearts.
When I arrived at Brian’s house, I found a half dozen cop cars in the driveway. With a fluttering heart, I tossed money at the cabbie and raced for the door. “What’s happened?” I said plowing into the house through the front entryway— where the door was hanging open.
A colossal officer stepped in front of me. I nearly slammed straight into him. “Who are you?” he growled.
“The children,” I huffed trying to catch my breath. “Where are they?”
“They’re safe,” he said. “That’s all you need to know. Now, again, I ask who you are?”
I gave him my name. “I’m a friend of the family,” I explained. “So what are you doing inside Brian’s house?”
“Hetty,” Nina exclaimed rushing to me down the long interior hall. “I thought I heard you.” She threw her arms around me. “It’s awful,” she sobbed. “They’ve come with a search warrant.”
“What are they looking for?”
She stepped back and stared into my face, her eyes large, her voice shaking with concern. “I don’t know. The boys let them in and then rushed up and unlocked the closet to let me out. By that time, the cops were all over the house.”
“That’s not true,” the officer standing beside us protested. “The search warrant is restricted. Our search is limited to the master bedroom, the laundry room, and the Dumpster. We have not been running all over the house.”
Alarm coursed through my body. “What are you looking for?”
He raised his enormous shoulders. “It’s not my job to say.”
“Donovan’s here,” Nina announced. “I’m sure he knows.”
I frowned. “He hasn’t even told you what they’re after?”
“I’ve only seen him from a distance. Come on. The boys are in the kitchen. There’s coffee.”
“You’ve called Alicia?” I asked, as we marched down the hall.
Nina nodded. “I’ve tried. She hasn’t been picking up.”
Adam and Mark glanced up at us as we entered the room. My heart went out to them. They’d seen their father marched out of their home in handcuffs, and now police were striding throughout their house like it was their own.
“Come on, boys” Nina said. “Eat your ice cream before it melts.”
Mark and Adam looked down at their bowls but appeared to have little appetite.
“It’s okay,” I told them. “This is all a mistake. You can count on it. This will all be straightened out soon, and your parents will both come home.”
They took in my words, but I saw little sign they believed them.
“I’ll get us coffee,” Nina said.
She had barely delivered our cups to the table when Donovan stepped into the room. He stared at Nina a long moment before turning his attention to me.
“Good morning, ladies,” he said keeping his voice neutral.
“How could you do this to us?” Nina snarled, a fist landing on her hip. “Can’t you see you’re traumatizing the children? You’ve gone too far with this.”
Rubbing his forehead, Donovan said, “I’m doing the job the city pays me to do. I have to follow where the evidence leads.”
Nina lifted her chin. “I don’t care where you think the evidence is taking you. You’re just plain wrong . Brian would never have killed Mom.” She threw her hands into the air. “Can’t you see that?”
“What evidence?” I asked.
“The murder weapon,” Donovan answered. “We’ve found the murder weapon.”
“Here?” I pressed.
“If you have the weapon,” I said, “then what are you searching for?”
“That will come out,,, eventually. For now, I wanted to tell you that we’re done. We’re leaving.”
“Did you find anything?” I asked.
Donovan frowned. “I’m not at liberty to answer that question, Mrs. Fox. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is.” He turned another longing glance on Nina, who sat at the table with her arms wrapped around herself looking like a wounded animal.
Alicia returned home shortly after the police left. Mark and Adam rushed into her arms. Nina and I stood and crept out of the kitchen, leaving mother and sons some privacy. On my way through the kitchen door, I heard a boyish voice informing his mother of the police search of their home. I could only imagine the fresh pain this news must have brought to the poor woman.
“Ugh,” Nina said as we proceeded on to the study, “I can’t see how Alicia’s managing to hold up.”
She’s a strong woman, but she’ll still be grateful for our support. Now more so than ever,” I said taking a seat on the couch.
Nina sank into an armchair and sighed. “I’m just lucky my job doesn’t start until next week. After that there’s only so much I can do. I need the income… especially now. I suspect Brian’s going to need to keep every dime of his money to cover his legal defense.”
I rubbed my forehead. “ Let’s think optimistically, shall we? Maybe by next week, this nightmare will be over.”
Nina released a breath. “That would be wonderful.”
“If not,” I responded, “at least you’re here now. That gives Alicia a chance to track down a full-time sitter.”
Nina shook her head, “I still feel like I’ll be letting her down.”
“You’re doing the best you can. No one should ever feel guilty over that.”
A few minutes later Alicia walked into the room. Her carefully composed face spoke volumes about the pressure she had to be under. “So this is where you made off to,” she said giving us each a whisper of a smile. “One minute you were in the kitchen. The next time I looked, you were gone.”
“We thought the boys needed you a lot more than we did.” I paused. “Um… I heard one of them tell you about the police search?”
“Yes,” Alicia said, “do you know what they wanted?” She walked over and joined me on the couch.
“Not really,” I answered. “We were told the warrant was only good for your bedroom, laundry room, and the trash.”
She shook her head and stared off into space for a moment. “They were probably hoping to find Eva’s blood on Brian’s clothes.”
My stomach clenched.“Why would they expect that?”
Alicia paused to take in a deep breath, her fingers working themselves into tight knots in her lap. “O’Dyer told me this morning the knife that killed Eva was found hidden in one of the files in Brian’s office. His secretary came across it yesterday. It still bore traces of blood. I assume police thought Brian’s clothes would have blood splatters too.”
Nina blanched. “Brian would never have killed Mom.”
Alicia studied the carpet at her feet. “O’Dyer thinks hiding the knife in the office was an attempt to frame him.”
I stirred uncomfortably. An attempt which appears to be working, I thought. “How does O’Dyer plan to fight this?”
Alicia sighed. “By proving Brian innocent, I guess. He’s hired a private investigator. O’Dyer hopes to come up with the real culprit.”
“That person had to break into Brian’s office,” I said. “Surely the Handrake Building has excellent security in place?”
Alicia turned my statement over in her mind for a minute before responding. “I suppose it would be fairly difficult to enter without leaving a trail. The owners keep a man on the front desk in the lobby during the day. Visitors have to sign in before heading up to an individual company’s office. There’s no one on duty at night, but the doors are locked, and there is video surveillance of the entire lobby and a security alarm.”
“So if anyone got in through the front entrance, there should be a video record?” I asked.
“At night, yes, and anyone coming in during the day should be listed in the visitor’s log.”
“And Brian’s company’s offices are on the eighth floor? How difficult would it be to break into them?”
“There’s an alarm system on the main door into the suite. It is activated after office hours. There’s one that covers the back entrance as well.” She shrugged. “During the day, visitors have to sign in with the receptionist.”
We all fell silent for several minutes. From what Alicia said, getting into the building undetected would have taken the skills of Houdini.
Alicia spoke up. “Hetty,” she said turning her gray eyes my way, “Brian wonders if you’d do him a favor?”
“Of course I will.”
Alicia wagged her head at me. “You don’t even know what he wants yet.”
“That doesn’t matter. I know Brian. He’d never ask me to take on a task that he knows I wouldn’t want to do.”
Alicia smiled sweetly. “You know him well.”
“I would hope so. I’ve watched him grow up since birth.”
Alicia nodded, batting her eyes to hold her tears in check. ”Anyway, he wonders if you’d go through Eva’s desk for him? He’d like it double checked. He needs to be sure he collected all of the outstanding bills. He doesn’t want any legal hassles on that front now that he’s locked up. And I’d be so grateful if you would. I’m afraid he’s sitting in jail obsessing over this.”
“Do you have Eva’s keys?”
“I’ll get them for you.” Alicia rose and left the room.
I thought about Eva’s estate and the mess it was now in. In Illinois, it was illegal for a murderer to benefit financially from his crime. If Brian were convicted of killing Eva, he’d be cut out of the will. I didn’t know if his share could be forwarded on to his children, but I hoped so. I glanced over at Nina and wondered what would happen if the administration of the estate fell onto her shoulders?
“Here you go,” Alicia said as she came back into the room. She handed me an open key case. “The large one is for the front door. The next key in line works the lock at the back.”
Walking into Eva’s apartment felt strange. The silence surrounding me brought back memories of waking alone yesterday in my hotel room. And the emptiness of the place also reminded me that I would never see my dear friend again.
I pulled in a thankless breath. The apartment already had the stale smell a space develops when it’s no longer lived in.
“Come on Hetty,” I muttered, as I determinedly shook off my angst and headed for Eva’s office, “get a grip.”
As I stepped into the room, I couldn’t fail to note the irony. The office I’d entered was the same space I’d desperately wanted to search on my last visit. Only now that Eva was buried and Brian locked up could my wish come true. I wondered if I’d be able to track down more than outstanding debts. I couldn’t help but hope so. I’d love to uncover evidence to prove Brian innocent.
The day’s bright sunshine streamed in through the broad windows. It highlighted the dust motes drifting on the quiet morning air. I crossed to the desk and sat down in the wide leather chair and wondered where to begin? I would do Brian’s bidding. I would double check Eva’s bills, but I wanted to do so much more. Where within this room and its massive furnishings might I find some small clue as to why Eva had died?
Deciding to put first things first, I searched through the desk drawers on Brian’s behalf until I located Eva’s checkbook. There were only a few envelopes in the same drawer. They all had been opened. There were several from credit card companies, and one from her energy supplier. I stuck my a fingers in the envelopes and withdrew the folded papers, but when I smoothed them out, I discovered all of them had apparently been paid. I tucked the items in an accordion folder. I’d take the checkbook and this stack of paid bills back to Alicia’s with me. It seemed a safer alternative than leaving them here. I sorted through another drawer and found a box of unused checks. I packed them up as well.
Better safe than sorry, I thought.
Leaning to my right, I pulled out the lower drawer. It was deep. I withdrew a few more envelopes and repeated my inspection of their contents. These appeared to be donation requests. I stuffed them back in the drawer. They could be dealt with later. Satisfied there was nothing more to be found, I slid the drawer closed and shifted in the chair to my left and gave that lower drawer a tug. It slid open. There was a stack of file folders all piled up. I lifted them up onto the desktop to sort through them and discovered they’d been hiding a beautiful large book bound in dark leather.
I pulled it from the drawer and placed it beside the stack of file folders. I ran my hand over the sumptuous cover. Eva’s initials in gold stood out in the lower left-hand corner. Wondering at the beauty of the object as well as its contents, I flipped the cover open—but not without a sense of guilt. I couldn’t avoid a belief that I was about to invade my best friend’s privacy.
I wondered if either Brian or the police had bothered to explore the book’s pages? For that matter, I wondered if they’d even discovered the thing?
Scanning the first page, which was covered in Eva’s large and ornate script, I quickly realized the book had served Eva as a sort of journal. The entry was dated April third of last year. It covered Eva’s Easter plans and contained notes on an upcoming charity board meeting. There were also mentions of her grandsons and of their most recent accomplishments.
Glancing up, I wondered how long Eva had been keeping a journal? I scanned the room looking for other similarly bound books. And I discovered them. They were lined up in a row on a long shelf above a deeply carved credenza.
I shook my head and returned my attention to the pages before me and read them avidly. It was all there. Eva’s appointment of Parmer as the new CEO of the company. The growing rift as their visions for the company drifted apart. Her oft mentioned joy and wonder at being blessed with two such darling grandsons. There was even a mention of Martin Coletree moving in across the hall.
She wrote for several pages on her hiring of Sybil, and her pleasure at being able to help a friend of Nina’s. It was coupled with the often stated hope that the move might draw her and Nina closer.
I sank back and studied the book wondering what I should do. I’d had a chance to skim it and nothing new had jumped out at me, nothing that gave me a bead on Eva’s killer. But part of me wanted to read through the pages slowly and attentively, looking for a small clue, perhaps, that I’d overlooked. I couldn’t help but feel that somewhere in these recorded histories there was a clue as to why Eva had died.
Pulling my cell phone from my purse, I called Alicia. She answered quickly, and we made our polite exchanges before I raised my request. “Alicia, I’ve discovered Eva’s journal in one of her desk drawers. Would it be okay with you if I took it back to the hotel with me to read more closely?”
“Sure, I can’t see why that would be a problem. The police have given us permission to be in there. I assume anything they left behind wouldn’t matter to them.”
I hung up the phone and thought about calling Donovan and telling him about my discovery. But if I did that, I suspected he might swoop down on me and carry off the book for himself. Besides, why would I want to be yelled at for having turned up something his troops had missed? I shrugged. Maybe he should have seen to it that his crew did a more thorough search in the first place.
So it was a short time later that I stepped from the lobby of the apartment building and out onto the sidewalk. I clutched the book and the accordion file to my chest and grinned at the brilliant, sunny world.
“Need a cab?” the doorman, Tony Spinoza, asked.
“Absolutely,” I replied.
“Somethin’ musta gone right for you in there,” he said, his lips curling up at the edges.
“It did.” I replied completely incapable of containing my joy. I glanced back up at Eva’s windows with a smile.
“This building,” Spinoza muttered in disgust, “it looks like a dream come true from the outside, doesn’t it? Well, lady, it’s all a sham,” he huffed. “You wouldn’t believe the kind of stuff that goes on inside this place. They may all have pots of money, but they’re all just as much messed up as the rest of us.
My gaze locked onto his dark brown eyes as my curiosity kicked in. “What kind of things are you referring to?”
“Oh, no you don’t,” he answered with a half-smile.“You’ll not get more than that outa me. I like this gig too good to risk losing it just because some old broad’s got knocked off.”
“What?” I screeched. I could hardly believe he’d talked about Eva’s death with such disrespect.
But Coletree exited the building just then, and Spinoza snapped to attention. The doorman instantly turned away, flagged down a cab for me, and I was whisked off before I could call out another question.
Yet Spinoza’s words haunted me, both during the cab ride and during my down time back at the hotel. And that night, I lay in bed, my covers snarled in a twisted heap about me, wondering what Andrew would have made of Spinoza’s remarks? Could Eva’s murder have been triggered by an activity going on inside the apartment building? If so, I told myself, it had to be something that also connected up with Sybil Keen.
First thing the next morning, I hopped into a cab for a quick trip to Eva’s apartment. I wanted Spinoza to explain what he’d meant yesterday by his odd comment.
Traffic was light and my cabbie delivered me to my destination in under five minutes, but Spinoza was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a young man, who couldn’t have been shaving for much more than a month, sprang forward and opened the cab door.
I hopped out. “Where’s Spinoza?”
The boy, tall with blond hair peeking below the edges of his cap, smiled pleasantly enough. “Dunno, ma’am. The boss called me this morning and told me to get over here, so here I am.”
“Who would know?”
“Mr. Stokes, maybe?”
I tipped the fellow and marched into the building. Stokes turned out to be at home in his basement apartment. After swinging the door open, he stood squinting at me inquiringly. “Ah Ms Fox, what’s up today?” Behind him, a radio blared an old Johnny Cash song and the scent of a burning cigarette drifted out to me.
“I’m looking for Tony Spinoza.”
He smirked. “Take a number, so am I. Didn’t show up for work. Didn’t bother to call or nuthin’.” Stokes shook a beefy finger at me. “You find him, you tell him not to come back. I told you that guy was no good.”
“How about sharing his address?”
He shook his head. “As much as I’d like to, I can’t.”
“His phone number, then?”
Stokes scowled. “Can’t do that, either.”
“Mr. Stokes, it’s urgent I speak with him.”
“You come up with a lot of emergencies, don’t you? I’m still trying to recover from the last one. Led me straight to a murder, you did.”
“I’m sure that won’t happen this time.” I was desperate. I even tried batting my eyes at him. “Please?”
A glimmer of good humor peeked through his stern expression. “Even if I gave you his phone number or home address, it’s pointless. I’ve tried calling him. Nobody’s answering.”
“Do you have any idea where else I might look?”
His dark eyes studied me a moment before responding. “You might try a few alleys. He’s sleeping off a bender, would be my guess.”
“He’s a drunk?”
“Has been known to be, yeah.”
“Why do you keep him on?”
Stokes shrugged. “Let’s just say he has friends in high places.”
He gazed at me as though he were trying to hold a conversation with a three-year-old. “Somebody upstairs likes him, capisce?”
I had the feeling Stokes would rather I let the subject go. But I had to ask, “Who’s that?”
He shifted his weight to his other foot. “Nope, ain’t goin’ there. Not even for Eva.”
“How about friends?” I pressed. “Do you know any of them. Maybe they could tell me where he is?”
He cocked his head at me. “Lady, he’s an employee, not my best bud.”
Realizing there was little chance of gaining further information, I thanked him for his time and stomped back to the elevator. Once outside, the young man standing in for Spinoza raised his hand to summon a cab.
“Do you have any idea of where Spinoza might be?” I asked.
“No ma’am,” he said, handing me into the cab. “But if he turns up, I’ll give you a call.”
“I’m at the Clairmont. The name’s Hetty Fox.”
He touched the brim of his cap. “Yes ma’am. I know.”
After arriving back at the hotel, I called the main desk and had them send up a Chicago phone book. It listed five Anthony Spinozas. Three of them answered my call, but none of them turned out to be my missing doorman.
I jotted down the addresses of the two remaining candidates.
My first stop landed me in a mixed neighborhood undergoing gentrification, which basically means the down-on-their-luck were being squeezed out of the neighborhood so the on-their-way-up could move in. But at least such places usually welcome ill-informed, wandering females, which turned out to be the case this day.
“A doorman, you say?” the red-headed, well-dressed woman said from behind her screen door. “No, that’s not my Tony. He’s a pilot. I’m sorry. He’s not the Tony you want.”
I thanked her and returned to the front sidewalk. Glancing about, I realized I was unlikely to find a cab in this residential a neighborhood. After craning my neck, I spotted what looked like a busy thoroughfare two blocks away and made for it.
But even on the busy street, cabs proved scarce, and I trudged along for several more blocks before I managed to hail down an empty one. Tossing myself onto the back seat with a sigh, I gave the driver the address and settled back to watch the scenery roll by.
A delicatessen, a Walgreens, and a couple of currency exchanges flew past the cab window. This neighborhood had almost more stores and shops on one block than we had in all of Hendricksville. On the other hand we had less traffic and crime. Plus the air nearly always smelled fresh.
As we neared my next address, retail outlets decreased in number, and storefronts started sporting iron bars over their windows.
After turning onto a residential side street, the taxi screeched to a halt, and my driver announced, “We’re here.”
A glance out my window showed me an asphalt shingled three-flat with a narrow yard and iron fence. The purpose of the fence was debatable as the gate leading to the porch was hanging from one hinge and could no longer be closed.
I fished through my billfold and plucked out the fee. “Would you wait for me? I shouldn’t be long.”
My driver’s gaze flitted over the neighborhood. He grimly nodded. “I can do that.”
“Thank you.” I opened the door and slid out. The shingles were covered in years of grime and the sidewalk leading up to the front steps was cracked. If ever there existed a dwelling in need of gentrification, this was it.
Inside the vestibule, I was assaulted by the scent of garlic and fried cabbage. The linoleum flooring was worn and buckled up in one corner. The mailboxes offered hand-written cards on their fronts. I tracked down the correct nameplate and rang the buzzer. A woman’s voice answered with the rasp of a two-pack-a-day smoker. “What do ya want?”
“I’m looking for Anthony Spinoza.”
She coughed, then said, “He ain’t here.”
“Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“Nope. He tells me as little as he can, so your guess is probably better than mine.”
I cleared my throat, turning her response over again in my mind. “This is the Anthony Spinoza who is a doorman in a Gold Coast apartment building?”
“You got the right one, sister. Only, like I said, he ain’t here.”
“Can you think where I might find him?”
She laughed. “I don’t have a clue.”
It seemed odd. Was I the only person concerned by this man’s disappearance? “Does he do this often?” I asked
“Now and again.”
“And there’s nothing more you can tell me?”
“Not a word.”
“Could you give him a message?”
“My name’s Hetty Fox,” I explained. “I’d very much like to speak to him. I’m staying at the Clarimont Hotel. He can reach me there.”
“Got it. I’ll try to pass it along.”
I returned to the cab. “That didn’t take long,” the driver said. “Where to next?”
I pulled detective Donovan’s card from my purse and read out the address.
“Yes, ma’am,” the driver said as he wheeled the car into the street.
Despite having lived most of my life in Chicago, I’d never stepped foot in a big city police station before. I couldn’t help but think that the police in our small town would revel over an office staffed with so many patrolmen and detectives.
“What can I do for you, lady?” a burly uniformed officer asked. Dark haired and erect, he stood large and imposing behind a wooden desk covered with piles of papers.
“I’d like to speak with Detective Michael Donovan, please.”
“Just a minute.” He picked up a phone. “Got an elderly woman down here. Wants a word.”
I flinched. I bet cop in Hendricksville would never describe me that way. Manners mattered in small towns where almost everyone was related to dozens of other people. Insult one, you risked offending the entire clan.
The officer listened a minute before glancing over at me with lifted eyebrows. “Name?”
He forwarded my response and nodded while replacing the receiver. “He’ll be right down. You can wait over there.” He pointed to a wooden bench directly across from his desk.
I pulled my purse tighter to my body and followed his directions. Keeping myself entertained during my wait, I watched the parade of people passing before me. Some were officers, their uniforms crisp, their tread purposeful. Others wore handcuffs and sad faces and stumbled their way through the hall. A few came in and approached the front desk like supplicants in search of solutions.
“Hetty,” a voice interrupted from my right.
I sprang from my seat. “Michael, thank you for seeing me.”
He smiled a friendly greeting. “How can I help?”
I explained about Spinoza having disappeared from his post.
His tried but failed to suppress a small smile. “And you’re worried about him?”
“Yes, you see, just yesterday he made the strangest statement.”
Donovan’s gaze swept the hallway. “Let’s go into this room,” he said, taking my arm and steering me to a small space, barely larger than a closet. He pointed to a chair, and I sat as he closed the door behind us.
“Now what’s this about what the doorman has said?” he asked.
“Yesterday Spinoza suggested that it was something going on inside that apartment building itself that led to Eva being killed. And today, the man is nowhere to be found.”
Donovan appeared to be weighing his words before speaking, then said, “Um… Hetty… I know you want to help. I really do. And I understand you don’t want to hear this. But we have our killer in custody. Trust me, Eva’s death was down to old fashioned greed. It had nothing to do with her apartment building or anything going on inside it.”
My hands curled into fists. “And Sybil’s death?” I demanded.
His brows pulled together and his eyes darkened.. “I can’t answer to that yet, but I’m working on it.”
I shifted my purse strap from one shoulder to the other. “I know you believe Brian’s guilty. You think it’s what motivated him, don’t you?”
“I can’t say anything more than what I have told you, except you need to let us do our jobs. It’s what we’re trained for.”
I glared at him. “And you won’t look for Spinoza?”
He flinched. “I can put out a couple of calls to ease your mind if you’d like. But even if he should happen to turn up, he’s not going to change my mind about Eva’s killer.”
I rose from my chair trembling with rage. “You’re wrong,” I hissed. “Brian did not kill his mother. I know him. He could never do that.”
Donovan chewed his lower lip a minute, then said sadly, “Ms Fox, you’re judging this case from emotions and instinct. I’m working from cold, hard facts.”
When I arrived back at my hotel room, I found Andrew perched in front of the window. My heart warmed at the sight of him. Real or not, his presence had become a comfort.
He crossed his arms and cocked a brow. “Glad to see me?”
“Yes,” I said, shrugging out of my jacket and hanging it in the closet. I saw no reason to lie, and I didn’t bother to ask why he’d disappeared. He wasn’t real. I knew that. This was my subconscious at work. I was only glad it had returned him to me.
I kicked off my shoes, padded over to an armchair, and sat. Tossing my feet up on the bed, I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. My spat with Donovan had drained me.
“Comfy?” Andrew asked.
“I’m working on it,” I sighed.
“I see you’re still no closer to figuring out Eva’s murder,” he responded.
I suppressed the first response that came to mind. “These things take time,” I said, forcing myself to speak with a patience I didn’t feel. “And you weren’t gone that long.”
Andrew drifted nearer. “Do you really expect Donovan to track down Spinoza?”
“A gal can dream, can’t she?”
“Dreaming doesn’t take you far without a good plan backing it up.”
I dropped my feet to the floor and sat upright. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Me?” he chuckled. “I’m just your friendly, humble sidekick.”
“Actually,” he continued unfazed, “I do.”
I bit back a sigh.
I crossed my arms. “Okay, let’s have it.”
“Spinoza claimed there was something going on inside Eva’s building. Something that had to be illegal or dangerous since it led to the deaths of two women. So why couldn’t it have been drug sales?”
My stomach clenched. “Drugs?” I croaked. Had I made a mistake? I hadn’t mentioned Sybil’s drug use to anyone. Not even Donovan. And I doubted Nina had either. I suspected Donovan would be furious if he learned of our omission.
Still, I found myself shaking my head. From where I sat, Andrew’s idea just didn’t add up. “I think that’s an interesting theory. But there’s no evidence to prove drug sales. Your suggestion is pure speculation.”
Andrew folded his arms across his chest.“And what proof do you have that their deaths were tied to the company? My idea is no more silly than yours.”
He had a point. I glanced up at him. “So what do you think happened?”
“From Spinoza’s comment, drugs make the most sense to me. Maybe Sybil started using again. Or maybe she just noticed what was going on. If she’d been a user, she would be likely to spot a drug dealer with ease.”
I raised a questioning eyebrow. “But what about Eva? How does she figure into this theory of yours?”
Andrew lifted his shoulders. “Maybe she caught Sybil with drugs, or maybe Sybil told Eva what she suspected.”
“And Eva told the drug dealer she would have him arrested,” I said finishing Andrew’s thought for him. I felt my stomach lurch. That was something Eva might do. She had the courage of a tiger. But one point bothered me. “The suspicious activity you’re making so much of comes from a single comment from an alcoholic doorman,” I pointed out.
“Doesn’t mean he’s a liar.”
“No, but Eva’s apartment building is one of the most sought-after addresses in the city. It’s filled with winners, with people who have climbed to the absolute top of their professions. You don’t pull off that kind of success while being stoned.”
“Maybe not,” Andrew countered, “but what about their spouses and children… or maids and secretaries… for that matter? Are they automatically counted among these winners of yours? Or could they be in need of a little chemical help to cope with living around all that success?”
“That’s absurd,” I muttered, but my words carried less certainty than they had a minute ago. I understood that hugely successful people could be difficult to live with or work for.
“But again Andrew, there’s no evidence to support either of those claims. And now I can’t find Spinoza.”
“So I noticed.” Andrew’s brow furrowed. “Was anyone nearby when Spinoza made his odd comment? Could anyone have overheard him?”
I thought back. “Only Coletree,” I finally said. “He came out of the building just about then.”
Andrew smiled broadly. “There you go.”
“What? Now, you’re accusing Coletree of being a drug dealer?”
Andrew beamed. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”
I lifted my chin. “You’ve never liked him.”
Andrew let out with a small laugh. “Maybe that’s because I’m good at reading people.”
I shook my head. “I know my subconscious would like to believe that if you were real, you’d be jealous of other men in my life. It’s an outrageous idea on my part, but there it is. Fortunately, my more logical side knows you’re not real. So all this jealousy talk of mine reveals is an embarrassing level of vanity.”
“I am real,” Andrew shot back. “And what makes you think I’d be the least bit jealous of you real or not? Which, by the way, I am. Real, that is.”
I offered up my softest smile. “Please, let’s not argue. I’m glad you’re back. I missed you when you were gone. I know you spring from a dark corner of my diseased mind. But in this case, I’m willing to live with it.”
Andrew scowled. “None of this means Coletree isn’t a crook… or that I am not real.”
I gazed at him and shook my head. “Nor does it prevent me from exploring my suspicions before checking out your far fetched thoughts.”
Andrew emitted a low, rumbling protest.
I woke that night with the clock reading a little short of 3 a.m. The room was black and silent. I’d never known what Andrew did with himself while I slept. I assumed that he retreated back into my subconscious. At least as I nervously glanced about the room, I didn’t see a ghostly glow coming from any of the inky corners. Which was a relief.
I sat up and grabbed my bathrobe from the foot of the bed. As I walked to the window I became aware of a thin line of moonglow flooding the area. Inching closer, I glanced up and saw the full face of a shimmering moon hanging overhead. It illuminated the beach and highlighted the frothing whitecaps slamming onto the sand below. Between Lake Michigan and the hotel, headlights and taillights sped up and down North Lake Shore Drive. The city was restless even at this haunted an hour.
Andrew’s argument drifted through my mind. Drugs? What would drugs have to do with Eva? But I had to admit drugs might explain Sybil’s death. Conversely, I thought, tugging the belt on my robe tighter, what in the company dispute would have put poor Sybil in a killer’s crosshairs? I sighed in frustration. Each of the theories explained one of the deaths but seemed miles off for the other.
And Andrew’s argument that all roads led to Coletree was just plain silly. Coletree was a successful businessman. Dealing drugs did not fit his image. I thought of his driver with his dark eyes and a smile that never quite reached the rest of his face. That man seemed a much more likely candidate for a drug dealer, or for that matter, a killer. Who better, I thought, with his dark eyes and swarthy complexion to creep into Brian’s office and slide a knife still dripping with blood into a file drawer?
How unfair of me, I thought as guilt raised its ugly head. I was judging the man based on his looks. I knew nothing about him other than he was a skilled driver who had navigated me through rush hour traffic without a single glitch or curse word. Still, when my mind pictured someone creeping into Brian’s offices, it was the driver’s face I pictured.
Shivering now, I retreated back to my warm bed. Besides, I thought, as I climbed in, how would the chauffeur have gotten into either Brian’s office or Eva’s apartment? Neither place showed any signs of a break in. He would have to be skilled at bypassing alarms and picking locks, which seemed an unlikely skill set for a chauffeur. I smiled at my fanciful thoughts and put them down to my waking in the dark hours of a restless night. I fluffed my pillow and yawned.
Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow, I would track down these threads and see where they took me. Above all else, I vowed as I slid back under the covers, I would hunt down Spinoza. I was still certain he held the key to these deaths.
The next morning arrived with bright sunshine. The golden rays streamed through my east window and spilled onto my bed. I rubbed my eyes and rolled over. It had been a late night and now my morning had begun all too early for my taste. I closed my eyes and tried to return to my dreams, but once wakened that almost never happened. And ready or not, I finally gave up and climbed out of bed.
“Good morning,” Andrew chirped.
I groaned as the man again sent off waves of boundless energy.
Good thing we’d never married, I thought. Mornings were not my best moments. A separation might have followed the marriage in short order.
The phone rang. I glanced at the clock. Wondering who would call at this hour, I reached out and snatched up the receiver, “Yes?”
“Is this Hetty Fox?” asked a male voice which I struggled to place.
“It is,” I replied cautiously.
“This is Arnold Thatcher.”
“The private investigator?”
“Last time I talked to you, you said there was nothing more you could do for me.”
“I know, but one of my operatives has come up with a bit of news I thought you’d appreciate knowing. There’s no need for you to give the police my name on this, right?”
“Not if you say so.”
I tamped back my amazement. “Well, what is it? What have you unearthed?”
“I would have called Brian about this, but well… that’s not really an option just now is it.”
“No, not currently. But I’m hopeful that condition will change.” I pulled in a deep breath and tried to tamp down expectations but failed. “Is there any chance your information may clear him?”
“It’s not quite that straightforward, I’m afraid,” Thatcher replied. “My source has managed to locate Troy Chandler, but there’s no evidence tying him to Eva’s death. Still, I would think the police will want to question him.”
“You have his present address, then?”
“I do. Would you like it?”
I grabbed a pen, a pad of paper, and grinned.
Michael Donovan showed up at my hotel room twenty minutes after I’d contacted him. “How did you track Chandler down?” he demanded.
I waved the detective to a chair. “Through a friend of a friend, but does that really matter? The important thing is I found him.”
Donovan shook his head in disbelief and sat. “Maybe I should put you on the payroll.”
I smiled. “That’s funny.”
He rewarded me with a lopsided grin before he sobered, placed his elbows on the chair arms, and tented his fingers in front of his face. “Now to Nina’s problem,” he said, his voice free of all attempts at levity. “Basically, Chandler should be charged with fraud. There’s all kinds of that stuff ranging from banking to home repair swindles, or what have you. Specifically, the type of case Nina would bring is known as a sweetheart fraud. That’s where the boyfriend or girlfriend makes off with the victim’s money. That is basically what I understand happened to Nina. Am I right?”
I rubbed my forehead and considered Nina’s present condition. “The money is okay for now. She’s landed a job. So her immediate circumstances are better than they were.”
“That’s good,” Donovan allowed. “But knowing the downside to all this, do you think Nina will still want to press criminal charges?”
His smile tightened. “Sweetheart fraud’s not an easy case to win. Trials often end up being little more than the victim claiming she was robbed, while the thief says she willingly gave him her money. It becomes a sort of he said, she said event.”
“Are you telling me Nina will lose?”
Donovan shrugged. “I don’t know. But to win a conviction, she’s going to need solid evidence. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for the jury to believe that the victim was careless. Or that she should have known better. In fact, if there’s not enough evidence, the state’s attorney might even refuse to take the case to trial.”
My head was spinning. “What kind of proof would she need?”
Donovan considered my question for a moment. “Let’s say he forged one of her checks? If Nina can produce the check alongside one with her valid signature on it, that’s a good start. Witnesses who will back up Nina’s side of the story are also a plus. There are other things. I can go over them with her when she comes in to sign the complaint. But understand, these cases are a long way from being a slam dunk.”
I sighed. “It doesn’t seem fair.”
“I agree, but it is what it is. If Nina files charges, I’ll go ahead and make the arrest. As to recovering her money, that’s a civil action, not a criminal suit. She’ll have to hire a lawyer and go after the man on her own.”
“I’ll certainly encourage her to. I think this man’s arrest will help Nina get a little of her self respect back. I also suspect it would do her good to stand up for herself for a change.”
“Okay, then. Give me Chandler’s address and have Nina call me. I’ll set up an appointment with her after which I’ll get the ball rolling.”
I knew I shouldn’t ask my next question. but I couldn’t restrain myself. “Do you think Chandler might have killed Eva? She had hired a P.I., you know, to track him down. That could have given him a reason to want her dead.”
Donovan gave me a sympathetic glance. “No, as I’ve told you before, I already have Eva’s murderer locked up. Now, I hope I can find a way to send Chandler’s tail in there along with him.”
Poor Brian, I thought. Donovan was still dead set against him. Oh well, I told myself, half a loaf was better than no bread at all. Yet I still found myself pondering the imponderables, as Donovan pulled the door closed behind him on his way out of my room.
With at least one of Eva’s children moving toward the resolution of some sort to her problems, I picked up the phone to give Victoria Longston a call. I hadn’t been pleased with our last discussion. Maybe if I pushed her harder, I could sort out Parmer’s role in this mess.
I released a long breath as I dialed. After the new drug angle that had arisen, Parmer killing Eva over the company dispute seemed an almost blissfully simple solution.
“Victoria,” I asked when she answered. “How would you like to join me for tea?”
Victoria Langston and I stepped into the hotel’s Blue Orchid restaurant at precisely four that afternoon. The host behind the lectern smiled at us warmly. He was a tall, elegant man who reminded me of Clark Gable from ‘Gone with the Wind.’
“Reservation, please?” the man asked.
His question was not without reason. Having high tea at the Blue Orchid was so popular that a person almost had to make a reservation at birth to get in. The only other guarantee for admittance was to be a registered guest at the hotel. Which, delightfully, I was.
“Hetty Fox,” I replied, glancing about the elegant room.
Having heard of this fabulous event since childhood, I’d always wanted to take part in person. But more importantly, today, I wanted to squeeze additional dirt out of Victoria on Douglas Parmer. I still considered him my top murder suspect. And his corporate buddy, Harold Ridling, remained a close second.
As our host led us to our table, I couldn’t help but notice how perfectly the restaurant’s decor matched my imaginings. Chintz fabric covered the chairs. Cream colored sheers peeked out from behind gracefully tied-back, raw silk drapes. The ivory carpeting was deep and lush, the lighting soft.
Table surfaces glittered. Sparkling crystal goblets reflected the rays of the room’s half dozen chandeliers. And highly polished silverware added its mellow ambiance to the setting.
Meanwhile, waiters glided about the room in black ties and tails and white gloves. They carried sandwiches on exquisitely patterned platters to tables draped with crisp, white linen.
Additionally, delicate, tiered cake stands sported a stunning display of mouth-watering desserts topped with dollops of cream, and custard, and chocolate. By the time we reached our table, I was determined to sample all of it.
“Oh, Hetty” Victoria exclaimed as we sat, “this is delightful.” She unfolded her linen napkin and placed it in her lap. “I’ve been wanting to come here for ages. But it’s terribly difficult to get in.”
I inclined my head. “If you should want to repeat this experience, staying at the hotel will do the trick.”
Victoria’s eyes widened. “Thank you, I didn’t know that.” She picked up a silver serving piece and slid a slice of Battenberg cake onto her plate. “I do think staying here might be worth it for the tea alone.”
I couldn’t resist the cucumber sandwiches on bread cut so thin it was little more than a whisper. I snagged several servings and followed them up with a sponge cake which featured a filling of strawberries and cream. Victoria for her second course helped herself to a cream puff stuffed with a decadent-looking chocolate custard.
We kept our conversation light while eating, discussing grandchildren and catching up on news of mutual friends. Finally, after pouring us both tea, I turned our session to meatier issues. “Truthfully,” I said, passing a cup to Victoria, “I was half afraid you’d refuse my invitation.”
“What,” Victoria asked, her gray eyes twinkling, “and miss all of this?” Her delicate hand fluttered at our surroundings. “Not on your life. I was surprised to receive your invitation, though. The last time we were together, I thought you’d soured a bit on me.” She picked up her napkin and patted the corners of her lips.
“That was at Eva’s funeral.” I shook my head and pushed past the lump in my throat. “It was a difficult day for me.”
Victoria’s brows drew together in distaste. “If that’s supposed to make up for how rudely you treated Doug Parmer, I’m afraid you’ve failed. Doug is only pushing changes he believes will improve the company. There was no call for you to almost accuse him of killing Eva.”
“You must admit the man is more than a little over the top,” I said pushing back against her defense of him. “From what I’ve observed, there’s not much he wouldn’t do to have his way… including murder.”
I bit my lip and instantly wished I could take back those last few words. I’d come today hoping to make up with Victoria, not to offend her. She was close with the Parmers. She had access to them I’d never be able to match.
Victoria cast a steely glance at me. “You can’t really believe Doug killed Eva?”
“It might be true,” I said trying to backtrack a little
Victoria offered up a mirthless laugh, then said, “It only shows how little you know. Even if Doug didn’t have a perfect alibi, he’d never murder anyone. The man might be driven in business, but he is not a killer.”
I blinked. “Parmer has an alibi?”
Victoria folded her napkin and smirked. “He does. You see, at the time of Eva’s death, Doug wasn’t anywhere near Chicago.”
“And how would you know?”
“Because I was with him.”
I felt my jaw drop. “You… you were with him?”
Victoria’s cheeks turned crimson. “Good grief,” she huffed, “what are you imagining? I certainly wasn’t there alone with him. We were a foursome. Tessie, Herbert Ridling, and me. We’d gone to Wisconsin on a weekend getaway. You know,” she said, waving her hand in the air. “Wine. Good food. Antique shops.”
I sat back in my chair my mind reeling. Victoria had just knocked my only murder suspects straight off the map. But another thought occurred to me. “Police say Eva could have been killed as late as Monday morning. Your group could have been home by then.”
Victoria smiled. “My, you are determined to lock one of us up aren’t you? Well, you’re right. We were intending to return home Sunday evening. But those plans flew out the window when our cab came up with a flat, and we missed the last train home. We didn’t make it back to Chicago until a little before noon on Monday.”
Ugh, I thought, that was well after Eva was killed. Swallowing my disappointment, I straightened in my seat. “Why haven’t I heard this story before?”
Victoria looked at me with disdain. “Why should you? We’re under no obligation to tell you anything. Hetty, you’re not the police.”
“But they know about your little trip?”
“Yes, that darling detective came to my apartment just as you said he would. Ultimately he spoke to all of us.” She shrugged. “And we all told him the truth.”
My gaze drifted to a window as I processed this information. Donovan, who I thought had overlooked key suspects, had talked to all four of them. It was enough to make a good woman swear. I sagged back in my seat and wondered who else Donovan had interviewed?
Victoria leaned forward, interrupting my musings. “I’m crushed that Eva’s dead, Hetty. I want you to know that, but I’m pleased Doug’s plans for the plant can move forward.”
My thoughts turned instantly to Brian. “Don’t be so sure of that,” I shot back.
Victoria gazed at me quizzically. “What do you mean? Eva’s dead. The only person capable of mounting a serious fight against us now is Brian. And he’s in jail on murder charges.”
“Brian is innocent,” I replied through clenched teeth. “He’ll never be convicted of killing his mother.”
Victoria lifted her teacup. “Or so you hope.”
Her statement sent me slouching back in my seat wondering how far hope could take me?
It was close to seven that night when the phone rang in my hotel room. “Is this Hetty Fox?” a gruff voice demanded.
“Yes, and you are?”
“This is Tony Spinoza.”
I sank down on the bed. “Mr. Spinoza, I’m surprised to hear from you.”
“Yeah. Well, I heard you wanna talk to me.”
“Then come tonight. I’ll be at Wilbur’s Place at eight.”
“Wilbur’s Place? Where’s that?”
“It’s a bar on the near west side.”
I leaned to my left and opened the desk drawer, withdrawing a pen and paper. “How do I find it?
He rattled off an address.
“Come alone.” he added. “I don’t want no one tagging along. You’re only gonna get this one chance. After tonight, I’m outta here.”
“You want to see me, you come tonight. That’s all ya gotta know.”
“Will what you tell me help me solve Eva’s murder?”
“Just be there.” The line went dead. I stood a moment staring silently at the receiver. Did this man have information that could truly make a difference or was this merely nonsense?
“Who was that?” Andrew asked from behind me.
I set the phone down and turned to face him. “Tony Spinoza.”
Andrew’s brows drew into a deep, questioning V. “What did he want?”
“To meet with me.” I placed the address on the dresser.
I rubbed my neck, trying to work out a sudden kink. “Some bar.”
Andrew bent over and studied the paper containing the address. He glanced back up at me. The V between his brows grew even deeper than it was before. “You know where this place is?”
I turned away and stepped toward the bed. “Spinoza said it was on the near West Side.” I checked the clock. I didn’t have much time between now and when it was time to leave.
Andrew blocked my path and gazed at me, stoney faced. “Have you ever been to that neighborhood before?”
“Not really but Nina’s place is very near there.”
Andrew scowled. “IAnd you know that in this city an area can shift from safe to lethal in a few short blocks?”
“Of course, but I can’t let that determine where I go. Besides, I doubt Spinoza would choose that bar if thought it unsafe.”
Andrew shook his head. “You have no idea what Spinoza wants or what he intends. He may be desperate. He could be playing you. For all you know, he could be the killer.”
All of which is true, I thought. “If he can provide information about Eva’s death, I have to go.”
“Well I don’t like it,” Andrew grumbled.
And he thought I did?
A cold, slanting rain greeted me when I exited the hotel that night. The wet street ahead glistened like dark glass under the glare of streetlights and passing traffic. A cab idled curbside. I lifted my umbrella and dashed for my ride.
“Where to, lady?” the driver, a swarthy-looking man of indeterminate years, asked as I climbed in.
Leaning forward to catch the light, I read off the address. The driver nodded and gunned the gas.
As we surged forward, I slid back in my seat and grabbed a deep breath. I needed to calm my rattled nerves. Andrew was right. Tonight’s mission might be risky, and my unease grew as the city sped past the car windows. Spinoza could just as easily be an enemy as a friend.
But with the only suspects I’d liked as Eva’s killers now cleared, anyone left near me could be the murderer. I shivered and pulled my raincoat more tightly about me.
I wondered if Donovan had leads I didn’t know about? I hoped so. I wasn’t out to win a prize for who tracked down the killer first. I only wanted Brian freed.
After a drive of about twenty minutes, the cabbie pulled to the curb. “We’re here,” he announced.
I paid his fare and stepped out into a rain that had now turned into a steady drizzle. I unfurled my umbrella and remained motionless taking in my surroundings.
The bar was housed in a building covered in dark asbestos siding. Its surface had been blackened even further by layers of unwashed grime. Overhead, a flashing neon sign with the W burned out lent a bright spot of hot-pink to an otherwise dark night. I suspected this city block and several more surrounding here had probably seen nothing but decay for decades.
The scent of a nearby pizzeria assaulted my nostrils as the roar of rowdy teens reached my ears. My head swiveled, and I watched a group of exuberant youth spill through the restaurant door and march off into the damp night.
As they sped down the street, my gaze drifted back to the ramshackle bar.
“Don’t you dare go in that place,” Andrew hissed from beside me. “I forbid it.”
I waved him off. “You’re wasting your breath.” And squaring my shoulders, I stepped through the door.
The interior of the bar was nearly as dark as the night beyond it. The place smelled of spilt beer and smoke. I suspected the smoking ban wasn’t much enforced here.
The heads of three drinkers seated at a long bar swung my way. Their quizzical eyes flitted over me. Their elbows were braced on the bar. I wondered how long they’d been sitting there, and if their elbows now helped them remain upright. Yet for all their staring, none of them appeared to be Spinoza.
A tall, fit-looking barman, towel in hand, stopped wiping the glass and joined his patrons in sizing me up. I suddenly had the feeling women were a bit of a novelty here.
Then, just as I began to wonder if Spinoza had stood me up, a fellow seated at a corner table at the far end of the room rose to his feet. He raised his hand and waved to attract my attention.
In the dark bar, I couldn’t quite make out the guy’s face, yet from his size and build I assumed I’d found my host. Clutching my purse close to my side, I warily approached him.
“It’s okay. It’s me,” he said as I drew near. “You came alone?”
I nodded and accepted a seat at his table.
“Russ,” Spinoza called out to the bartender, raising a hand and pointing his finger down at me. “Another beer here… for the lady.”
“Thank you, but that’s not necessary,” I protested.
Spinoza smiled. “That’s okay. You don’t want it? I’ll drink it. You want something else?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
I slid my purse onto the table. “Thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”
He grimaced. “I got enough bad stuff on my conscience. This is probably something I should do.” His dark eyes caught and held mine. “You believe in redemption?”
The bartender delivered my beer. I thanked him and pushed it over to Spinoza.
He inclined his head. “You can think of this session as my first attempt to save myself.” He gave me a sheepish grin. “It may take a few more. I’m not sure.”
“Was it your wife who convinced you to call me?”
He let out a brief bark of laughter. “That’s not my wife. She’s my sister. Lost my wife years ago. But I’m gonna go straight now. Get outta this town. Start over. Maybe I can find another woman brave enough to replace my Betty.”
“I wish you luck.”
“Yeah, I’ll need it,” he said staring down into his beer glass. “I know.”
“So why did you agree to meet with me? I asked, trying to push him back on track.
He dragged his gaze up to mine. “I thought since you bothered to track me down, I owed you. Besides Eva was a nice person. She always remembered me at Christmas. And she tipped me every time I helped her out with little chores.”
“Do you have information that can help me solve Eva’s death, then? Is that what you were hinting at when I left Eva’s apartment that day?”
“Yeah,” he wrapped his hands around his beer glass and let his gaze flick over the room. He sighed. “The lady, see, was on a witch hunt. She’d figured out drugs were being sold in the building. So Eva, she started snooping, you know, to see if she could nail it down? I told her to cool it. Told her it was a nasty business she was messing with.”
“She’d come to you with her concerns, then?”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, man, she laid ‘em out all over the building. She and that young girl, Sybil. What was they thinking? Didn’t they know that word would get around? Eva, I could see. She was clueless But Sybil, well, I thought she’d been around the block a couple of times. She shoulda known better.” He sighed.
“So you think it was the drug dealer that killed them.”
He snorted. “Lady, he’s not a dealer, that one. He’s the kingpin.”
“What do you mean?”
“This guy doesn’t sell little bags of the stuff to dopers. He’s the importer. Brings it in over the Mexican border. He sells blocks of the stuff to fools who push them on their users.”
“You’re talking about a major supplier?”
“One of the biggest in Chicago.”
“And you know this how?”
“Well, that’s where we’re gonna twist away from the plot a little bit. I may have played too big a part in the dirty game, see. But I’m ending it. It could be I’d be a better man if I went to the police and turned myself in, but I’m not that brave. So what I’m gonna do is lay what I know on you. Then, I go home, grab my sister, and run.”
“You’re taking your sister with you?”
“Lady, she wouldn’t last an hour after they learn I’ve flown the coop. I gotta take her with me.”
“But you know the identity of this kingpin?”
“Yes, ma’am. As I’ve been trying to tell you, I’ve been part of this whole stinkin’ mess.”
“You were a pusher?”
“Yes, ma’am. And I’m not proud of it.”
And once Spinoza finished telling me the full tale of his drug dealing past, I knew exactly what I had to do. The hard part would be convincing Donovan to go along with my plan.
Early the next morning, I raised my hand and rapped on an apartment door. A few minutes later, it opened revealing the attractive man who served as Coletree’s chauffeur. His dark gaze studied me a moment before he eyed the surrounding hallway. “Won’t you come in?” he finally asked. He stepped back and offered me a wintry smile.
“Thank you,” I said stepping forward. “Is Martin in?”
“Yes, ma’am. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to him.”
As we marched single file toward the office door, I sighed heavily. I’d taken quite a beating from Andrew over the past several hours. He’d protested that he didn’t want to stress too strongly that he was right and I’d been wrong. Then he’d proceeded to do so endlessly. At least I knew while on this mission, I was free of him.
“Wait here, please,” Billy said, opening a door and stepping into Coletree’s office. The door swung shut behind the chauffeur, and I was left standing on my own before it.
A grandfather clock in the distance chimed the hour. I shivered, then stiffened my resolve.
The door swung open. “Mr. Coletree will see you now,” Billy said. I stepped inside the large room, the one Donovan had used to interview us after Eva’s death.
Again, the drapes were tightly closed. The desk lamp provided the only pool of light. Coletree stood next to his deeply carved desk, his hands apparently clasped behind his back. “Hetty, to what do I owe this honor?” His puzzlement showed itself openly on his handsome face.
“I have come with concerns.”
His hand moved to his chest. “About me?”
“About your doorman.”
Coletree visibly relaxed and waved me toward the upholstered chair facing his desk. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
“Thank you, but I prefer to stand,” I replied evenly.
“Coletree crossed his arms and slanted a hip against the edge of the desk. “Hetty, won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“It’s simple, really,” I said blinking. I couldn’t believe I had the courage to stand before this man intending to make such serious allegations. Or maybe my unease had something to do with the police waiting just outside Coletree’s apartment door. I sucked in an enormous breath knowing they were hearing all of this. “You see,” I finally managed to spit out, “I believe your chauffeur planted the knife that killed Eva.”
Coletree bounded to his feet. “That’s a lie. Billy Houch is an outstanding employee. I trust him completely.”
I delivered my next line even though I was trembling. “I don’t doubt your faith in him. You see, I believe he did it on your orders.”
Coletree’s face flushed crimson. “Why you….” he thundered, his hands balling into fists. “Billy,” he screamed. “Get in here… now.”
“What? Are you going to have him kill me the way you did Eva and Sybil?”
“You old hag,” he bellowed shaking a fist at me. “Your days are about to come to an end,” he said, a vein now standing out on his forehead. “Billy!”
From beyond the office, I heard what I hoped was the sound of a police battering ram striking Coletree’s front door. Coletree’s head twisted toward the sound in confusion..
Andrew materialized at my elbow. “Run!” he shouted. “Get out of here, now.”
With the sound of blood pounding in my ears, I pivoted and took off for the door. I ran straight at Billy who was barreling toward me. He dove and wrapped his arms around my legs. I landed hard on the bare wood floor. My heart banged wildly in my chest.
Then, there was an enormous screech. Staring into Billy’s dark, unfriendly eyes, I hoped the sound meant the hinges on Coletree’s front door had given way.
“Freeze,” I heard Donovan yelled his voice dripping with concern. “This is the police.”
The sound of him was so welcome, I almost giggled with relief.
“I can’t believe you put yourself through that for my sake,” Brian said of my role inside Eva’s apartment. “You could have been killed,” he marveled.
It was the next day. We were gathered at Brian’s house: Nina, Donovan, Brian and his family and me.
Donovan had just completed a presentation making me sound like a brave but geriatric version of James Bond.
“No,” I said, “Michael never would have let that happen.” I cast an appreciative glance at the detective who stood beside me with his arm wrapped around Nina’s waist.
“And if you ever do so foolish a thing again,” Andrew whispered in my ear, “I’ll find some way to knock you silly myself.”
I sighed and appreciated the outcome of my daring-do. Coletree and his henchman, Billy, were locked up on murder charges. Coletree claimed he was innocent, but Billy had already confessed. Donovan said Billy’s testimony would be used against Coletree to convict him.
Under questioning, Billy admitted killing both Eva and Sybil on Coletree’s orders. He said the two women had discovered evidence tying Coletree to the drug running operation in the apartment building. What that evidence had been, none of us knew. Donovan said that was a small point, and I chose to believe him.
With the arrests of Coletree and Billy, Brian had been instantly freed from prison. He’d spent the past week working to defeat Parmer’s plans for the manufacturing plant. The company’s board of director’s meeting had taken place yesterday, and Brian had triumphed. I was so pleased.
But that wasn’t all that had occurred. Just this morning, Nina and Michael had announced their engagement. Nina had told privately of their plans last night, I had expressed reservations. I thought it too soon for Nina to make such a major commitment.
“Oh, Hetty,” she’d replied, gripping my hand in hers. “You don’t understand. All my life, the men I’ve dated have really only been interested in my money. But Michael’s not like that. He cares about me. He even says he likes my artwork, although I half suspect that might be a lie. But there’s one thing I’ll never doubt, his interest in me as a person is real.”
Now, as we stood here in Brian’s house, I observed the look on Michael’s face as he gazed at Nina and suspected she was right.
Well, life rarely comes with guarantees. We all must grab whatever chances come our way. That also includes Andrew, who had looked a little flat this morning, as he muttered something about his upcoming reunion with Blackie. The cat was and would probably always would remain Andrew’s least favorite housemate.
As for me, I couldn’t wait to get back to my charming, downstate, small-town home, and the grandsons who lived so near it. Chicago was a great place to visit, but I was happy to be content in my new home.
Anna Drake is grew up on a grain farm in North Central Illinois. After spending thirteen years in Chicago, she moved to small town in West Central Illinois where she still lives. Her favorite activities include writing, gardening and spending time with family, friends and hanging out with her cat, Jasper.
To learn when the next Anna Drake mystery will come out, follow her either on or at her .
Recently widowed Hetty Fox enjoys her life in a small, Illinois town. It's a far cry from her life in Chicago where she grew up, raised a family, and buried her husband. But now facing widowhood and old age, Hetty has moved downstate to be near her daughter and the grandsons who are the joy of her life. In A Rainy Day Murder, Hetty Fox returns to visit an old Chicago chum when murder raises its ugly head. But nothing has gone quite to plan on this trip. Her ghost, Andrew, who Hetty douibts is real, has foined her on this journey, while her cat, Blackie, remains at home giving his babysitters fits. But Hetty is nothing if not resourceful. And even in Chicago, she's determined to help police track down the killer of two innocent women. But this case may prove to be the investigative challenge of her life. The killer is cunning, and the city is huge.