If books could kill, p.13

If Books Could Kill, page 13


If Books Could Kill

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  As I wandered the aisles, I had the uncomfortable thought that Kyle might’ve shared the book’s history with Jack and Perry only in order to titillate them in hopes of raising the selling price. I hoped it wasn’t true. I hated to think that his death was caused by his own greed.

  I decided to let go of my immediate worries over Kyle’s personal motives and his death, as well as the attack by Perry McDougall, not to mention possible jail time or the fact that my parents were staying for the whole week, and simply enjoy the book fair.

  I passed a booth featuring original French movie posters from the fifties and decided on the spot I had to have one. I spent twenty minutes trying to choose which of them would look more fabulous on my living room wall back home. I narrowed it down to either a tormented Doris Day starring in Piège à Minuit (Midnight Lace), or an almost whimsical poster for a horror movie, La Nuit de Tous les Mystères, or House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price. This one featured a scary skeleton grabbing at a lady’s flimsy negligee.

  In the end, the decision was easy. The randy skeleton won the day. I grimaced at the price tag of four hundred dollars but happily paid it when the wily owner offered to ship it back to San Francisco for free. It occurred to me when the transaction was completed that my recent inheritance of Abraham’s six million dollars hadn’t sunk into my brain yet. I might not have balked so much at the price if I’d remembered.

  It was occasionally startling to realize I could buy almost anything I wanted now. I’d never been much of a shopaholic, much to Robin’s exasperation. She was a shopping connoisseur and made no secret of her desire to drastically improve my wardrobe, while I really didn’t see the need.

  I turned at the last booth and headed down the next aisle. I was approaching a stall that sold beautiful sheets of Asian book cloth when I spotted Helen a few booths away. She was talking animatedly to someone I couldn’t see. I walked toward them, then abruptly stopped. The other woman was Serena, Kyle’s wife, the wispy woman Minka had dragged into the memorial service yesterday.

  The two of them bonding seemed so wrong in so many ways that I wanted to turn around and run. But Serena was just the person I needed to talk to, so I steeled myself and walked over to them.

  “Oh, Brooklyn,” Helen said, waving me closer. “Have you met Serena McVee, Kyle’s wife?”

  “No,” I said, holding out my hand to shake hers. “Hi.”

  “How do you do?” she said in her softly chirpy British voice. Her eyes were wide and friendly, but how could I trust them? I still couldn’t believe Kyle had been married. She dabbed her nose with a tissue and I remembered my manners.

  “I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, then thought, What a totally lame thing to say. I sounded like a cop.

  She didn’t seem to notice as she thanked me. “You’ve all been so very kind.”

  “I didn’t know Kyle was married,” I said, and immediately wanted to slap myself for saying something so idiotic and thoughtless. But again, Serena didn’t seem to take offense.

  “I didn’t know many of Kyle’s friends,” she explained. “We came from two different worlds, and I suppose we simply continued to keep those two worlds apart. I’m embarrassed to admit I only just met his cousin Royce earlier today.”

  “You just met Royce,” I repeated. “That’s, um, nice. And comforting,” I added.

  “Oh, he’s wonderful, isn’t he? So supportive. So kind.”

  Royce? Were we talking about the same uptight, chinless businessman?

  Serena giggled. “I’m sure he must’ve thought I was a madwoman, coming at him from out of the blue.”

  You have no idea, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.

  “You see,” she continued, “Kyle and I have been in love since we were teenagers, but I’d never met his family.”

  “Since you were teenagers?” I repeated again. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t know what else to say. Royce’s furious words were still fresh in my mind.

  She smiled bashfully. “Young and foolish, I suppose. But the feelings never went away.”

  Okay, that was weird. I’d practically lived with Kyle for those brief months back when we were dating. We would go out and see friends all the time. We’d had cocktails with Royce more than once. What the hell had Kyle been doing with me if he’d had a wife all that time?

  I managed to swallow a shriek to ask, “So you and Kyle have been married since your teens?”

  “Married? Oh, no, no, no,” she said quickly. “We only married last year. But we’ve known each other, were pledged to each other, for… goodness, it must be more than ten years.”

  “I see.” Well, that was something. At least he hadn’t been married to someone else while he was cheating on me. But “pledged” to each other? Good grief, I’d always known Kyle was a cad, but this was ridiculous.

  If it was true. Royce’s angry words continued to swirl around my brain, gathering strength.

  I coughed to clear my dry throat. “So you said you’ve never met Kyle’s family before?”

  “He wanted our love to be ours alone.” She smiled sweetly. I hated to admit it, but she seemed naive and innocent, not the lying tart Royce had insisted she was.

  “This weekend was to be my coming out, so to speak.” She began to tear up and blotted her eyes with the tissue. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

  “Neither can I,” Helen said, gripping Serena’s arm. “It’s so awful.”

  “But it’s been wonderful meeting so many people who loved Kyle,” Serena said.

  “Yes, we all loved Kyle a lot,” I said, then bit my lip as Helen shot me a dirty look.

  “It’s almost made this trip worthwhile,” Serena continued. “If only… if only…” She gasped, tried to catch her breath, then dissolved into tears.

  Helen hugged her close. “It’s okay,” she whispered, then met my gaze and shook her head in pity. “Poor thing.”

  I gave her a look of complete disbelief. I couldn’t help it. Helen was too sweet for her own good. And Kyle had betrayed her in the worst way. Yes, he’d betrayed Serena, too, but I was more concerned about Helen.

  And frankly, I was a little concerned about myself, too. Had Kyle really known this woman since high school? Had he pined for her all that time? Even while we were dating? Maybe I was deluding myself, but I couldn’t believe it. Okay, Serena was pretty, yes, but in a vapid, pasty-faced way. Not Kyle’s type at all.

  But as I stared at Serena, I had to question whether I really knew anything about Kyle’s type of woman. He’d been a cheater, a player. How could I claim to know him at all?

  Oh, hell, of course I knew him. Yes, he was a player. Yes, he was dangerous to a woman’s heart. No, I couldn’t claim to know his every thought and reason for doing what he did. But I was still willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that he never would have fallen for this insipid woman.

  And that was my final answer.

  “Let’s get you something to eat,” Helen said, still rubbing Serena’s back.

  “I would love that,” she said. “You’re so thoughtful, Helen.”

  “ Brooklyn, can you join us?” Helen asked.

  “Uh, no,” I said quickly. “Thank you. You enjoy your lunch. I’ve got some research to do before my workshop.”

  “Maybe we can have a drink later,” Helen said in a hopeful tone.

  “Absolutely,” I said. “Leave a message for me. Nice meeting you, Serena.”

  “You, too.”

  I took deep breaths and tried to think good thoughts as I walked away. I considered exploring more of the book fair, but meeting Serena had sucked the joy out of the day. And speaking of joy sucking, I suddenly realized I might run into Minka if I stayed here much longer.

  I rubbed my arms as goose bumps broke out. Just thinking about Minka made me uneasy. What if I saw her here? I’d deliberately avoided walking near Perry McDougall’s booth, where I thought she would be working, but now it occurred to me that she could be anywhere.

t was when I remembered there was something I needed to take care of. Something that would take my mind off Serena and the possibility that Kyle had been married to her all this time.

  I walked a little faster and exited the wide doors of the book fair pavilion and entered the hotel lobby, where I stopped at the front desk to pick up the Robert Burns. With nothing on my schedule until a cocktail party later that afternoon, I went to my room and spent forty-five minutes checking online sources in hopes of verifying Kyle’s story and finding a connection between Robert Burns and Princess Augusta Sophia.

  I found very little online and began to wonder if Kyle or someone in his family had made up the whole story. I preferred to think someone had lied to Kyle rather than deal with the possibility that my old pal had blatantly lied to me.

  Of course, if he’d truly been involved with Serena for all those years, “blatant liar” was the nicest thing I could think to call him. But with Royce’s insistence that Serena was the liar, I would hold my judgment until I had further proof.

  I pulled out my paperback book of Robert Burns poetry and looked through the index of poems. I laid it next to the Cathcart edition and compared the two lists. There were several poems in the Cathcart that weren’t in the paperback, but that didn’t mean anything. Different editions of any poet’s works often omitted some and included others. But when I checked the questionable poem titles online, I found no references for them. It was just as Kyle had said.

  I searched for more information on Princess Augusta Sophia and found that she’d led an extremely sheltered life, never marrying or having any children. So where were the husband and baby Kyle had mentioned? There was one Web site that suggested she gave birth to an illegitimate son sometime before 1800. But that same site called her by a different middle name, so I certainly had to question its credibility.

  Added to that, there was the niggling little fact that Robert Burns had died in 1796. So a child of his would’ve definitely been born well before 1800.

  “Duh,” I said. Sitting back in my chair, I tapped my fingers on the desk. At this point, I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for or why it mattered anymore. Well, except for the fact that if it were true, it would literally change history. Did it matter? Did I care?

  I did. It would be one last tip of the hat to my old friend Kyle to prove the story true. It might allow him to rest in peace, if only in my own mind. And I could rub that in Perry’s face, which was always a plus. Yankee bitch, my butt. He had no idea what a bitch this Yankee could be.

  That thought made me smile.

  Figuring a visit by a royal princess would’ve been all over the newspapers of that day, I started a search for Edinburgh papers in business in the late seventeen hundreds. That led me to the National Library of Scotland Web site, where they’d digitized every newspaper in the country from 1600 to the present. The problem was, the information had to be accessed in person.

  “Oh, great,” I murmured. But I checked the library location just in case, and as luck would have it, the main library was just a few blocks from the hotel. Looking out my window, I decided it was a perfect day for a walk.

  I locked up my computer, grabbed my purse and warm jacket and went downstairs to return the book to the safe. I stopped at the concierge to get directions, and he was nice enough to insist on calling the library to verify that, as a book fair presenter, I could obtain a reader’s ticket immediately. It was like a temporary pass, which I would need if I wanted to use their computer system. I thanked the concierge and took off for the National Library.

  Outside, I breathed in the clear air of the ancient city. I had a moment of guilt, knowing I should be inside, meeting booksellers and talking up my business, but the thought of running into Minka or Serena or Perry made my stomach churn. I loved books and I loved my work, but I seriously needed a break.

  The haunting sound of bagpipes drifted up a narrow alley, and just for a moment I felt transported to another time. I took another deep breath. Intellectually, I knew the man in the kilt was playing the pipes for the benefit of tourists, who would throw coins in the box he’d placed on the sidewalk, but it didn’t matter as the wail of the pipes moved me to tears.

  Yes, I seriously needed a break.

  The wind was brisk as I turned the corner at George IV Bridge. I zipped up my jacket and shoved my hands in my pockets and walked until I found the big square building that housed the National Library of Scotland.

  At the front desk, I showed my passport to the assistant librarian and filled out the necessary forms; then the librarian issued me a short-term ticket and a password. I followed her directions to the North Reading Room and logged on to one of the available computers.

  After an hour of searching through their database of local newspapers, I knew plenty about the royal family of King George III but next to nothing about a possible liaison between Robert Burns and Princess Augusta Sophia. And my shoulders were beginning to ache from hunching in front of the computer screen.

  There were vague indications that the family might’ve traveled to Scotland, but there was no mention of the princess specifically. And even if she had been allowed to visit the rough northern capital of Scotland, Queen Charlotte, her mother, was reported to have protected her six daughters fiercely-and not in a happy, friendly mama-kitty kind of way.

  Evidently, Kyle was right about that.

  The girls had been sheltered, of course, but this was ridiculous. The queen had assigned them all to be her ladies-in-waiting. They were rarely allowed to attend dances.

  I tried to imagine a spirited Augusta Sophia sneaking off to do some quality flirting with the darling bad-boy poet of Scotland. But it wasn’t working. As much as I’d have liked to make it true, it just didn’t fly for me.

  I rubbed my eyes and sat back. I’d always figured being a princess would be a kick in the pants, but for poor Augusta Sophia it sounded like drudgery. What kind of a life had she led if all she’d done was tote and lift for her pushy mother, never partying, never marrying or having kids?

  And to top it off, her dad, old King George III, had gone mad. That couldn’t have made for much merriment at the family dinner table.

  On the other hand, the king and queen managed to give birth to fifteen children, so it wasn’t like they didn’t have their own good times. Too bad their daughters hadn’t been allowed to have their own fun.

  I cross-checked King George’s other five daughters but nothing really clicked. The others were either married or too old or too young. No, if the story were true, it would’ve been all about Augusta Sophia. But some articles reported that Augusta Sophia had worked for her mother until the queen died. The princess was in her fifties by then.

  Could she secretly have given birth to a child out of wedlock? Without the knowledge of the people? Why not? She was royalty. Back then, they probably could’ve gotten away with anything.

  Maybe it was just me and my Yankee-bitch sensibilities, but I really liked the idea of the princess escaping the palace for one wild fling before being consigned to work as her mother’s glorified servant for the rest of her life.

  I sighed, knowing I’d spent too much time chasing this wild goose. I stood up and stretched my muscles, glanced at the twelve or fourteen people scattered around the North Reading Room, and asked myself what I was doing here. It was almost one o’clock and I was starting to get hungry. That was no big surprise. I was always hungry.

  But there was one more hunch I wanted to follow before I gave up.

  If Kyle had been telling me the truth about his relationship to the bookbinder William Cathcart, then maybe I could trust that he’d thought he was telling the truth about Robert Burns and the princess, too. Even if it turned out to be untrue. But if he was lying about Cathcart being his ancestor, then I would know it was time to let Kyle go.

  I ran a search on William Cathcart and found that his bindery had been operating during Robert Burns’s time in Edinburgh. Interesting, but it still didn’t answer any

  I began a genealogical search for any McVees living in Edinburgh around the time of William Cathcart. It turned out the city was crawling with McVees.

  “Hmm,” I said, and began to work backward from Kyle and Royce. I found a link a few generations back to an Edinburgh McVee named Thomas. Thomas’s ancestors could be traced back to the late seventeen hundreds, to a Douglas McVee who ran a paper mill.

  Paper and bindings. A perfect marriage there.

  I gave up on the McVee line and moved to Cathcart, working forward to see if any of his daughters or grand-daughters might’ve married a McVee. I felt a tingle and realized I was excited to think I might actually find a link.

  I boiled it down to a few possibilities. Either Margaret or Doreen Cathcart could’ve married Russell or John McVee. The computer showed a marriage certificate that was so faded I couldn’t actually read the names. But there was a reference to the actual document in the genealogy stacks.

  I wrote down the coordinates, grabbed my things and wandered off in search of the stacks. I found a bracket on the wall listing the different rooms, with arrows pointing the way. I realized at that moment that the arrow pointing to the ladies’ room was most appealing.

  Minutes later, refreshed and hands cleaned, I found the tall, heavy door leading to the genealogy room and entered. The door closed with a dull thud and I looked around. The room was dark, huge, high-ceilinged and deserted. Rows of waist-high map cabinets ran lengthwise across the room, the same type of cabinets I’d seen used for blueprints and ledgers. I had a similar, smaller cabinet in my workshop to hold the wide sheets of marbled paper I used for end sheets.

  Curious, I approached the nearest cabinet and opened the wide, shallow top drawer. It held five or six three-foot-long, thin, aged ledgers. I counted the cabinets in the room and did the math. There had to be thousands of ledgers in here. I pulled one out and laid it on top of the cabinet, then carefully opened it. There were hundreds of rows of names entered in old-fashioned handwriting. Names and dates, as well as some charts with lines indicating family trees. Some connected to more names and dates. One family listing began in the year 1477.

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