If books could kill, p.16

If Books Could Kill, page 16

 

If Books Could Kill
 


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  I wondered if the Bentley limo we’d driven in was his company’s car or provided by the palace. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out it was his own car. He really was a conspicuous consumer.

  But the suite was the most private place he could think of in which to have a conversation with MacLeod, so I was grateful he’d offered. Before MacLeod arrived, Derek had poured me a beer from the well-stocked minibar, then forced me to sit back on the luxurious white sectional sofa while he slipped off my boot and checked my ankle.

  “It’s slightly swollen, but not broken,” he reported, patting my ankle gently. “Just a bit twisted, I suspect.”

  Was he talking about me or my ankle?

  He grinned, having read my mind. “You’re more than a bit twisted.”

  “And you’re so cute.” I’d said it to be sarcastic, but it came out in a breathy whisper. Good grief.

  “Rest,” he said, and leaned in and kissed my forehead. Then he tucked a plush, soft afghan around me, and it must’ve taken only seconds before I passed out. At MacLeod’s arrival, I awoke feeling groggy and disoriented.

  Always the delightful guest, that was me.

  Before getting into the library attack, I told MacLeod about my discussion with Jack from Dublin earlier that day at the Fair Haven booth. “He was one of the people Kyle consulted about the book, but he couldn’t have killed him.”

  “And why not?” MacLeod asked, humoring me.

  “He’s shorter than me, and thinner,” I explained. “And I’d guess he was in his late sixties. I doubt he’d have the strength to bludgeon someone of Kyle’s size. And besides, he was excited to be getting a look at the book. Why would he kill Kyle?”

  As MacLeod wrote out his notes, something else occurred to me. “Did you ever find out who called Kyle’s cell phone?”

  Angus and Derek exchanged looks, something they did a lot when I was around. Derek merely lifted one eyebrow, and Angus sighed. “The call was made from a disposable cell,” he admitted. “Untraceable.”

  “Damn it,” I muttered. Whoever owned that phone was probably Kyle’s killer.

  “My sentiments exactly,” Angus said, then requested a full report on the library fiasco. When I was finished, he flipped his notepad to another page. “As far as your suspicion that Perry McDougall followed you to the library, my men interviewed a number of vendors near McDougall’s booth, as well as one of his employees.”

  “Yes?” I said.

  He sat across from me in a soft, buttercream leather chair, with his legs crossed in the manly style of one ankle propped on his other knee. “Everyone swore McDougall has been there all day. His alibi is ironclad.”

  I wondered about that. “Was Minka LaBoeuf one of the employees interviewed? Because she would lie at the drop of a hat.”

  He checked his notes and I saw his eyebrows lift. I took that to mean he’d found Minka’s name.

  “I can’t reveal the names of witnesses,” he said gruffly. “But why would you accuse this person of lying?”

  “She hates me,” I said gloomily. “If she knew it would screw me up, she’d lie without batting an eye.”

  I stood and started to pace, but my ankle was still a little tender, so I leaned against the wall. “I’m not making it up. Somebody tried to kill me at the library.”

  “I believe you, Miss Wainwright,” MacLeod said, and gave Derek a meaningful look. “After we spoke, I went by the library and saw the damage done. Someone went to great lengths to try to hurt her, with little regard for public property, I might add.”

  Derek hissed out a breath and his jaw clenched.

  Scowling, I turned to the picture window and stared out at the breathtaking view of Princes Street Gardens and the New City beyond. I wanted to enjoy the spectacular sight, but I was too furious to think straight. I couldn’t believe they were taking Minka’s word that Perry was innocent. It burned my butt to think that my fate might be in the hands, once again, of that deceitful, conniving Minka LaBitch.

  Chapter 11

  I left Derek’s suite shortly after MacLeod took off.

  Mom and Dad had decided to go to the Witchery restaurant for a romantic anniversary meal, and Derek had some business dinner thing to attend, so I blew off my scheduled cocktail party to hang out with Robin and catch up on all the news.

  “Angus kissed you?” I asked as I laid out my clothes for the evening.

  “Yes,” Robin said. “We’d walked about a block from the hotel and he stopped and apologized. I asked him why and he goes, ‘Because I’m going to do this.’ And then he kissed me.”

  “Wow. I’ve got goose bumps.”

  “I know,” Robin said. “So then he says he took one look at me and felt like he’d been struck by lightning, and if I didn’t marry him, he’d spend the rest of his days tracking me down until I relented.”

  “Wow,” I said again. “Good lines.”

  “I know.”

  “I need a shower.”

  “I need a drink.”

  While I took a shower to wash off the day’s craziness, Robin popped open a half bottle of red wine from the minibar and poured us each a glass. After the shower, I felt wide-awake and about two hundred times better than before. More relaxed and less achy. The wine might’ve helped a little, too.

  What was I thinking? Of course the wine helped.

  We decided to get out and explore Edinburgh. About time, too. I loved this city and hadn’t had a single minute to enjoy it.

  I pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a pink long-sleeved knit top; then Robin filled me in on the news from home while I blew my hair dry. The big news from Dharma, our hometown, was that another store was about to open on Shakespeare Lane, the town’s main drag. Well, “main drag” was a bit of an overstatement. Shakespeare Lane, or “the Lane,” as we locals called it, was a quaint, narrow two-lane street of charming shops, cafés and restaurants.

  Barely two blocks long, the Lane had become something of a wine country mecca, thanks to the small luxury hotel and spa that capped one end of the street. It also helped that two world-class restaurants had moved in over the past year. Our commune’s excellent winery now had a tasting room on the Lane. There were clothing shops, a baby store, an antique shop. My sister China owned Warped, a high-end yarn and weaving shop next door to the town bookstore.

  “Who’s opening the new shop?” I asked after I turned off the hair dryer and grabbed my brush.

  “Annie.”

  Startled, I dropped the hair dryer and the brush flew out of my hand. I scrambled to catch the hair dryer, but it was attached to the wall by a curly cord, so it just bounced up and down instead of crashing to the floor.

  Robin stood in the doorway, laughing at me. “I knew that would get your attention.”

  Annie, or Anandalla, as her mother had named her, was Abraham’s long-lost daughter. The week before Abraham died, Annie showed up to meet the father she’d never known. Then he died and left me his entire estate, along with a boatload of guilt I’d been dealing with ever since. Once paternity was established, I asked the lawyers to change the title deed to Abraham’s home in the hills from my sole ownership to joint tenancy with Annie.

  Annie moved to Dharma and the community took her under its wing, especially my mother. Annie was quickly becoming the third sister I’d never known I needed.

  As I slipped on my walking boots, I frowned at Robin. “Wonder why Mom didn’t say anything about it.”

  Robin shook her head. “She’s too worried about you to think of anything else.”

  “Yeah, I guess she gets distracted.”

  “Your mom? Really?” She smiled. “You think so?”

  “No, of course not. What was I thinking?” I grinned. “So what kind of store is it?”

  “Kitchen stuff.”

  I thought about that as I finished my wine and grabbed my gloves from the drawer. “Not a bad idea. We don’t have anything like that in the area.”

  “Yeah, and did you know she cooks?”
>
  “I had no idea.”

  “She’s going to give cooking classes and mix it up with wine pairings from the winery.”

  “Smart.” I wrapped my ankle with an elastic bandage Derek had given me, then slipped on my sturdy boots. Most of the pain was gone, but I didn’t want to take any chances of twisting it again on the cobblestone sidewalks. I zipped up my fleece hoodie, then checked that the windows were still secured before grabbing my purse and jacket and leading the way out the door. “I’ve only been gone a few days. Why didn’t I hear about this before?”

  “You’ve been involved with this trip for weeks. Guess it didn’t register.”

  “So how do you know so much about it?”

  “Hey, it’s my town, too. I do get up there every so often.”

  “Especially recently,” I said, studying her. “You’ve been talking to Austin.”

  “No,” she said a little too quickly. “Well, of course. I mean, no more than usual, which is rarely.”

  “Liar,” I said, grinning.

  “I’m rubber, you’re glue.”

  “And you’re so mature.”

  “Just don’t be blabbing to him about Angus,” she said darkly.

  “Hey, a little competition might do him some good.”

  My brother Austin had been Robin’s secret crush since we were in fifth grade. I’d seen them together at Mom and Dad’s anniversary party and they looked perfect. I just hoped Austin didn’t blow it. Because if he broke Robin’s heart, whether he was my brother or not, I would have to kill him. And that would play hell with my karma.

  As we turned the corner to the elevator banks, Robin changed the subject. “I stopped by your place before I left town and talked to Suzie and Vinnie.”

  My neighbors had been indispensable to me when Abraham’s killer made a shambles of my studio and apartment. Suzie and Vinnie were wood artists, specializing in redwood burl. Burl was a growth or deformation of a trunk or root of a tree. I hadn’t known this, of course, until Vinnie had taken a long night and two bottles of wine to tell me all about it. Anyway, depending on the tree, the hunk of burl could be huge, weighing hundreds of pounds. The girls worked only on trees that had fallen by nature’s hand, as they liked to put it. They billed themselves as the all-natural chain-saw-wielding lesbian artists, and it seemed to be paying off for them.

  “How are they doing?”

  She smiled. “They insisted on feeding me, so I totally get your devotion to them.”

  “Aren’t they great?” Suzie and Vinnie didn’t cook, so they were always eating out and always bringing me their leftovers. They knew I would eat anything. Really, anything. Apparently, I had been malnourished as a child.

  “Yeah, they are,” she said, grinning. “I’m supposed to tell you that Pookie’s fine but Splinters hurt his front leg and had to get four stitches.”

  “Poor Splinters! What happened?” Pookie and Splinters were the girls’ beloved cats. I was proud to be their designated cat sitter, a fact that had brought Robin to near fits of laughter when she first heard. Not that it was my fault, but despite my love of animals, I’d never been very good with pets. I hadn’t mentioned that to Suzie and Vinnie, and I didn’t want them finding out the hard way.

  Robin grimaced. “He lost the battle trying to take down the vacuum cleaner.”

  “Ouch, I thought Splinters was the smart cat.”

  “I guess not. And Suzie said you received some certified letter from France.”

  “It’s probably my contract,” I said. “I’m scheduled to teach another class at Lyon this summer.”

  Lyon, France, was considered by many to be the heart and soul of bookbinding and all things book related. The city had an entire museum dedicated to book art, and the Institut d’Histoire du Livre in Lyon was a top school for advanced study in book history, conservation and restoration. It was the same place I’d last spent any time with Helen.

  “Cool,” Robin said as we rode the elevator down. “You’ll get to see Ariel and Pascal again.”

  Years ago, Ariel Hodges had come to Sonoma to work with Abraham on some big book restoration projects, and we all became her surrogate family. Then she moved to Lyon to run the institute, where she met Pascal, a curator at the Musée de l’Imprimerie, the printing museum.

  “I can’t wait,” I said. “Maybe you should plan a trip while I’m there.”

  “I’ll do it,” Robin said. “I suppose Pascal is still as sexy and annoyingly French as ever.”

  “I imagine so.” I laughed. Pascal was totally hot but completely in love with our friend Ariel, which naturally made him even more adorable in our eyes.

  We walked outside and I breathed in the crisp, clean Scottish air and admired the odd shadows of the Old Town rooftops as the sun set behind the castle. Was it silly to think that air and light were different depending on the part of the world you were in? If so, call me silly, but the northern lights and the arctic air that passed over Scotland seemed to transform me. Everything was different here. I loved San Francisco, but as I took in the sights and sounds and views from the top of the Royal Mile, I knew I could be happy living here for the next few years.

  As we passed St. Giles’ Cathedral, Robin pointed across the street at Mary King’s Close. “Isn’t that where you found Kyle’s body?”

  At the unwelcome memory, I felt a chill and tugged my jacket tighter. “Yeah. In one of the tenement rooms.”

  “Ugh.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Whoa.” She stopped to stare at a store window filled with every kind of tartan pattern imaginable. It was dizzying.

  “Looks like Brigadoon on acid,” Robin muttered.

  I snickered. Not that either of us had ever dropped acid before. Looking at this place now, I was assured we never would.

  Dozens of people passed us on the street, their conversations rising and falling around us like music. There was something spectacular about a rolling Scottish burr. And speaking of rolling, the sidewalks were a little uneven, so we had to watch our step or that was what we would be doing. The cold wind kept pushing at us, as if determined to drive us back to the hotel.

  We continued walking, but stopped again to look at another wondrous storefront filled with lace items: doll clothes, a wedding gown, a little girl’s starched, high-collared dress that looked horribly uncomfortable, napkins and doilies and petticoats and curtains and all sorts of table runners strewn like crepe-paper ribbons across the ceiling.

  “God, that’s bizarre,” Robin said, but she couldn’t look away. The store window was practically hypnotic.

  “Come on, sweetie, let’s keep walking,” I said, nudging her out of her stupor.

  She blinked and nodded. “Thanks.”

  “That was close,” I muttered, knowing that if Robin actually went into one of these stores, she’d leave with her credit card sizzling.

  Back to her old self, she said, “Would you mind if I take your mom and dad on a ghost tour this week?”

  “Oh, they’d love it. You should do it.”

  “But you won’t be joining us.”

  I shuddered. “No way.”

  “I could contact a different tour than the one you used.”

  “I don’t even want to think about it.” I would never be able to take a ghost tour again without half expecting Kyle to be one of the ghosts.

  We stopped at a corner and Robin looked around. “Where are we going, by the way?”

  “Dinner. There’s a good restaurant another block or two from here.”

  “Great.” She shoved her hands in her pockets as we maneuvered along the cobblestone sidewalk. Robin’s heels were wobbling over the ancient stones, and she looked almost drunk as she walked. “I was reading about Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. It’s supposed to be good.”

  “Sort of touristy,” I said. “It’s back toward the castle a few blocks.”

  She turned to look up the street. “Do you want to go there?”

  I shook my head and winced. “I mad
e the mistake of reading about it. Brodie was this upstanding citizen-a deacon, as you might’ve figured-who took up burglary at night. So they hanged him-or maybe he escaped. Since this is Scotland, the legends go both ways, depending on the day of the week. But he was supposedly Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

  “You know way too much history for someone who never liked high school.”

  “It’s a curse.”

  “Maybe I’ll take your parents there tomorrow.”

  “Don’t tell them about the icky Mr. Hyde part.”

  “I think they might like that aspect.”

  I chuckled. “You’re probably right.”

  We passed through the long shadow of the Tron Kirk spire and crossed the High Street.

  I’d heard that many people in Scotland considered Glasgow, not Edinburgh, to be the garden spot to visit, because Edinburgh was rife with counterculture, drugs,

  AIDS and crime. But the public perception outside Britain was that Edinburgh was the jewel in the crown of the British Isles. In that regard, it reminded me a lot of San Francisco, and maybe that was why I loved it so much. It was the scruffiness around the edges that appealed to me, as well as the fact that, to my mind, the view from every direction was picture-perfect.

  I pointed out a cheery, wide-windowed pub with flowerpots hanging from the tops of each of the tall columns. “That’s where we’re going.”

  “The Mitre. Looks nice, but what about that place?” She pointed to another pub two doors down.

  “Do you really want to eat at a place called Clever Dick’s?”

  “Depends,” she said with a grin.

  Do I know how to pick a best friend or what?

  “I’m stuffed,” Robin groaned as we walked out of the Mitre. “Let’s walk for a while.”

  “You didn’t have to order dessert,” I said, as we walked east along the Royal Mile, in the opposite direction of the hotel. It was cold, but the air felt good. The sky was studded with stars and the sidewalks were crowded with people out looking for a good time.

 
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