If books could kill, p.12

If Books Could Kill, page 12


If Books Could Kill

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  My mother shot to her feet. “I object!”

  I gasped.

  MacLeod was clearly taken aback. “What?”

  Derek snorted with laughter.

  I managed a chuckle. “Mom, it’s okay.”

  “Sorry,” Mom muttered, waving away her outburst as she sat again. “Wrong number.”

  “Oh, God,” Robin whispered, then covered her face with both hands, but I could see her shoulders were shaking with laughter.

  MacLeod stared at me in disbelief. Hey, it wasn’t my fault my mother lived in a parallel universe.

  The “wrong number” reference came from Mom’s belief that everyone had a sort of tape recorder inside their brains that played the everyday phrases people used. According to Mom, each phrase on this imaginary tape recorder was numbered, and, at appropriate times, our brains pushed a button to allow us to say something appropriate. It took very little conscious thought to say, “How are you?” or, “Fine, thanks,” “I’m sorry for your loss,” “You’re not wearing that,” “Because I’m the mother,” and so on.

  Apparently, “I object!” was also one of Mom’s catch-phrases. And why not? She was a Law & Order junkie, too. Not to mention she had six kids. That gave her plenty to object to on any given day.

  So Mom was apologizing for playing the wrong number on her “tape recorder.” In essence, it all had to do with cosmic consciousness and being present in the moment, but I wasn’t about to go there with MacLeod.

  I blew out a breath. “I tried to tell you about the book, but we kept being interrupted and I forgot to bring it up again.”

  MacLeod thumbed through his notes, then tapped a page with his pen. “Ah, I do remember you starting to tell me something, when my investigator came to the door.”

  “That was it.” My stomach twitched at the memory of the investigator walking in with my bloody hammer.

  MacLeod put down his notebook and picked up the Robert Burns again. Resting his elbows on his knees, he studied the book some more. Then, almost under his breath, he said, “I dinna ken why anyone would murder someone over a bleedin’ book.”

  Was that another book insult? I told myself not to pursue it, but when was the last time I listened to my own good advice? “People have killed for much less than a rare, priceless book, Detective Inspector.”

  Oh, why didn’t I just shut up and stop provoking him? I glanced at Derek, whose firmly set jaw indicated he was wondering the same thing.

  But MacLeod just nodded and said absently, “Yes, of course they have.” Still holding the book, he said, “Excuse my ignorance, but what did you mean in your lecture when you talked about mythology as it pertains to a book?”

  I settled back in my chair, finally comfortable with a question. “A less than scrupulous bookseller will occasionally take a book’s history and provenance and embellish it in hopes of stirring up interest and raising the price of the book.”

  “So they lie to get a better price.”

  “Basically, yes,” I said, though my terminology sounded classier. “They don’t see it that way, of course. Anyway, that’s why I included this book in my fraud workshop. It’s got a truly bizarre and exciting mythology to go with it.”

  “Something about star-crossed lovers and a secret baby?”

  So MacLeod had actually been paying attention to my workshop talk. It made me smile. “Yes, something about that.”

  “What else?”

  “It’s just a theory,” I said hesitantly, moving back into my discomfort zone.

  “It’s obvious that something you said set McDougall off,” he said. “So let’s hear the whole story.”

  I could’ve lied. I was getting better at it. I peeked at Derek’s frown and realized that, no, I wasn’t. Fine.

  I took a deep breath and said, “This book is supposed to contain love poems by Robert Burns never before seen anywhere else, poems dedicated to an English princess. In theory, one of King George the Third’s daughters, Augusta Sophia, came to Scotland and had an affair with the poet Robert Burns. She went back to England and soon gave birth to a son. That young son took his place in the line of English succession and was never acknowledged to be the child of Robert Burns. But he was, according to some, and the proof is in the extremely graphic, never-before-seen poems in this book.”

  I sat back, feeling a little dizzy with all that I’d divulged in one breath.

  There was stunned silence for a few brief seconds; then Robin whispered, “Cool.”

  MacLeod burst into laughter. “You’re pulling my leg, Miss Wainwright.”

  Not the reaction I’d expected, but it was better than a poke in the eye, as Dad would say.

  “No, I’m not,” I said. “That’s exactly what Kyle told me. Now, whether it’s true or not, I can’t say. I’m not an expert in British and Scottish history. But Perry is, so that’s why Kyle asked him about the history behind the book. Perry went ballistic, and the next thing Kyle knew, someone was trying to kill him. And they succeeded.”

  MacLeod shook his head. “So you think Perry McDougall killed Kyle McVee.”

  I opened my mouth but quickly shut it. Who was I to accuse someone of murder?

  “Miss Wainwright?” he coaxed.

  “Kyle said he talked to three people about the book. Perry was one of them.”

  “You were another.”

  I grimaced. “Maybe. I guess so.”

  “Who is the third person?”

  “I don’t know. Kyle rushed off before he could tell me.”

  “Bummer,” Mom said.

  “Indeed.” MacLeod checked his notes. “So when you began besmirching the monarchy during the workshop, were you goading Mr. McDougall?”

  “I wasn’t besmirching anybody, and no, I wasn’t goading Perry.”

  His eyes narrowed. “Honestly?”

  “I wasn’t besmirching anybody,” I repeated impatiently. “I was just making a point about slightly improper bookselling practices. I wasn’t going to reveal the whole King George connection to the workshop participants.”

  “You were skirting a bit close, though.”

  Jeez, whatever. “Maybe. I didn’t think so.”

  “I’ve got to go with the Man on this one, sweetie,” Mom admitted.

  “Mom! Not helpful.”

  She pointed to the middle of her forehead, to her third eye. “Justice is blind and the truth hurts, Pumpkin.”

  Huh? I caught Derek grinning and I glared at him.

  “Okay.” I waved my hands in defeat. “I just didn’t think it would be that big a deal. I mean, the Scots aren’t all that enamored of the British monarchy, are they?”

  “To most Scots,” MacLeod surmised, “it would be more of a killing offense to besmirch the memory of the beloved poet Rabbie Burns than the English monarchy.”

  “I know, right?” I said, grinning, but the grin was not returned and I groaned inwardly. It would help if I remembered whom I was talking to, namely, a cop who might want to drag me off to jail. Nice.

  With some reluctance, I said, “Okay, I suppose I might’ve gotten an eensy bit too close to the real story, and that must’ve upset Perry.”

  “You think so?”

  I exhaled resignedly. “Okay, it definitely maybe did.”

  He tipped his head, accepting my answer, however much I’d tried to obfuscate it.

  “But,” I added quickly, “the only reason I mentioned the Burns book in the workshop was that it was a perfect example of a story that could be exploited in order to raise the price of the book.”

  Dad gave me two thumbs-up, as though I’d made a wickedly smart move in a game of checkers. Dad’s standards were overly generous where his kids were concerned.

  “Yes, so you’ve said,” MacLeod said.

  “Well, it’s true.”

  “That’s all well and good for the purposes of your presentation,” MacLeod said philosophically, shutting his notebook and sitting back in his chair. “But who’s to say your words didn’t inflame a
killer? You might want to consider that, and perhaps think before you speak next time.”

  I bristled at first, hearing only his insult-which was so unfair. I often thought before I spoke. Then a chill speared my shoulder blades at the thought that at this very minute, Kyle’s killer might be roaming the book fair, looking for me.

  It took another beat before the meaning behind his words hit me. He thought the killer was still out there. “Wait. Does this mean I’m no longer a suspect?”

  “No.” He shoved his notebook in his pocket and handed me the Burns.

  “Uh, no, I’m no longer a suspect?” I asked hesitantly. “Or no, I’m still a suspect?”

  He smiled indulgently. “You own the murder weapon and you have no alibi, Miss Wainwright. What do you think?”

  My shoulders slumped. “Right.”

  “You’re free to go for now,” he said, then stood and held out his hand to help me up. “But don’t leave town.”

  “I think that went well,” Mom said as we walked down the hall to the escalators. Dad and Derek were trailing behind, deep in conversation.

  “He thinks I’m capable of murder, Mom.”

  “Oh, no,” she said, waving her hand to dismiss my fears. “His sixth chakra was practically glowing indigo, which means he’s highly intuitive and clear-sighted.”

  “Well, that’s something.”

  “And in combination with his rather stunning Martial essence, he’ll make a passionate lover for some lucky woman.” Mom winked at Robin, who made a strange gargling sound.

  “Do you need a Heimlich?” I asked her.

  “Stop looking at me,” Robin said between gasps.

  I grinned and turned back to Mom. “I’m happy for that lucky woman, whoever she may be. But the fact remains, he still thinks I’m guilty.”

  “No, he doesn’t,” Mom said with perky assuredness. “He let you go, didn’t he?”

  “He knows where to find me,” I muttered, stepping onto the escalator. When we reached the lobby, Mom and Robin went to the pub, Derek left to take care of dinner reservations and Dad went off to talk to the concierge to get directions for their trip tomorrow. I headed for the front desk to put the Burns book back in the hotel safe.

  As I crossed the lobby to join Mom and Robin in the pub, I saw Perry talking to three other men near the entrance to the shopping arcade. So I guessed the police hadn’t detained him, either. He didn’t see me, and I planned to keep it that way.

  Mom and Robin had already grabbed a table and ordered our beers, so I sat down and filled them in on some of the details about the murder, such as why I was the prime suspect. When I mentioned the bloody hammer, Mom shrank in horror.

  “Honey, you’re attracting some awfully bad juju lately,” she said in a worried voice. “I recommend a spleen wash PDQ.”

  “Mom,” I started, just as the waitress brought our beers. I guzzled mine down as Mom studied me.

  “Or maybe you should get a cat,” she said finally.

  “Cats fix bad juju?”

  “No,” she said with a smile. “But they make such sweet companions.”

  I glanced sideways at Robin, who looked as baffled as I felt. I took another sip of beer. “Thanks for the suggestions, Mom, but that’s a big ‘no way’ on the spleen wash.”

  “You say that now, but it’s obvious that your chi is stagnating, and nothing clears that up like a good old-fashioned spleen wash followed by a granola enema.”

  “Ouch,” Robin said. “Granola?”

  “It’s a finely ground blend of oats, crisp rice and sesame seeds infused with mineral oil,” Mom assured us.

  It was a miracle I didn’t choke on my beer. “I’ll get back to you on that.”

  She shrugged. “Or you can always get a cat.”

  Chapter 9

  The next morning I dressed in jeans, boots and a forest green turtleneck sweater, then went downstairs to meet Mom, Dad and their stalwart spirit guide, Robin, in the hotel restaurant. I slid into the booth next to Mom and gratefully accepted a cup of coffee from the passing waitress.

  As I poured cream into my coffee, I said, “Wasn’t that a great dinner last night?”

  “Oh, yes,” Mom said. “Derek is the perfect host, isn’t he?”

  “He was too generous,” Dad said.

  I took a sip of coffee. “So, are you all packed up and ready to go?”

  No one responded. Robin wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Dad busily stirred honey into his tea. That was when I knew something was wrong. Dad hated tea.

  “What is it?” I asked. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

  “I knew she’d make a fuss,” Mom said with a flustered wave of her hands.

  “What fuss? Who’s making a fuss? What aren’t you telling me?”

  “We’re not going anywhere, sweetie,” Mom said defiantly. “And that’s final.”

  Dad reached across Mom and patted my hand. “How can we leave you when you’re going through such trauma?”

  Alarmed, I turned to Robin, who said simply, “They want to stay.”

  “But… but what about the druidic triad?” I asked. “And the vibrating yew tree thingie? Dad?”

  “We’ll get there sometime,” he said. “But right now, you need us more than my dosha needs an alignment.”

  “Are you sure, Dad? Because you look a little bent.”

  He chuckled. “Now, see, Becky? There’s her sense of humor coming back.” Dad wrapped his arm around Mom because she looked about ready to cry. That couldn’t be good.

  “Mom, I’m thrilled that you want to stay,” I said quickly, and really hoped I sounded sincere. “But I won’t be able to spend much time with you. I’ve got the book fair.”

  “We can amuse ourselves,” she said with a sniffle. “We’ll have our own minitour around Edinburgh.”

  “I’ll take care of all the details,” Robin said.

  “Thanks, sweetie,” Mom said, then looked at me. “We just want to stay close by in case you need us. In case they put you in… in… oh, God, we won’t let you go to jail.”

  “I’m sure that won’t happen,” I said, not so sure of anything. I gave her a hug before she started wailing. “But thanks, Mom. I’m happy you’re staying.”

  “I love you,” she whispered as she dabbed her eyes with her napkin.

  “I love you, too.”

  She composed herself as the waitress brought her a bowl of fruit and rushed off. Mom speared a chunk of pineapple, then said thoughtfully, “You should schedule a high colonic while you’re here. You know how travel affects your nama-rupa equilibrium.”

  “Mom, please, not before breakfast.” According to the most basic tenets of Buddhism, nama-rupa was the coexistence of mind and matter. Both contained combinations of elements and sensations. I could go on and on, but seriously, before breakfast? I needed food first.

  Mom pointed her fork at me. “It might bring you to moksha; I’m just saying.”

  “Come back, Mom,” I said, teasing her. Some believed moksha was comparable to nirvana, or ultimate peace. I was all for that, but didn’t really think I’d attain it with a high colonic.

  “I could go with you,” Robin said, winking at me. “I’m always up for getting hosed.”

  “I’m having the waffles,” Dad said helpfully, passing me the menu.

  Over breakfast, Mom and Robin planned their little tour of Edinburgh sites. Mom said she’d heard from a woman in the elevator that there was an energy convergence circle halfway up the back side of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh ’s highest peak, that was rippling with powerful soul medicine. Robin suggested that maybe after their tour of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, they go on a hike up the mountain to find it.

  Dad and Mom were both up for the trip.

  Then Robin announced that she knew of a shaman out near Rosslyn Chapel who conducted drum circles and occasionally manifested as a crow. Mom started twittering with excitement.

  I gave Robin a grateful smile. I hated seeing tears th
reatening to gush forth from Mom’s eyes. She might be loony, but she was mine.

  Once breakfast was over and they’d taken off for the palace tour, I hit the book fair. It was barely ten o’clock, but the great assembly hall was already crowded with people wandering up and down the aisles, checking out some eight hundred booths of booksellers, art gallery owners and vendors hocking ephemera, engravings, posters and maps. Some sellers earnestly discussed their wares, while others bartered and kibitzed with the passing crowd. Many in the mass of people were serious buyers, others just book lovers hoping to see something beautiful, unique or odd.

  I stopped at one counter to admire a beautiful copy of Sense and Sensibility. The navy blue leather cover was inlaid with an exquisite miniature painting of the author framed by rows of tiny pearls. I checked the price. Eight thousand dollars.

  “A real bargain,” the bookseller said, tongue in cheek.

  I laughed. “I don’t know how, but I’m going to pass.”

  He chuckled good-naturedly, and I took the opportunity to ask if he knew anyone who had been close to Kyle.

  “I’m just looking for people to commiserate with,” I said, which was true, sort of.

  He pointed out two booksellers I should talk to, so I thanked him and headed their way. The two older men owned Fair Haven Books in Dublin, and I was pretty certain they were innocent of murder, but I asked them a few questions anyway. The first man, Duncan, didn’t know Kyle, but the other one, Jack, told me that he and Kyle were old friends and that he had, indeed, discussed the Burns poetry book with Kyle. He was enthusiastic and, given his own knowledge of British history, believed it was entirely possible that the story behind the book was true. He’d told Kyle he couldn’t wait to see it.

  “I was deeply saddened by the news of his passing,” Jack said.

  “Thank you,” I said. Walking away, I felt even more depressed than before. So Jack was the third person Kyle had talked to, if I was included in that number. I would let Angus know, and he’d probably want to question the Irishman, but I knew there was no way Jack had anything to do with Kyle’s death. First, because he was rather frail, but also because he was excited about the book, not angry like Perry was. Jack wouldn’t want to stifle the book being introduced to the public.

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