If Books Could Kill, page 17
“It’s not every day you get to eat spotted dick.”
“You can say that again,” I said, as we passed the aged, turreted Tolbooth. It had been a wretched prison in the sixteenth century, with public hangings and all that fun stuff, but now it was a museum, with its ten-foot-high fancy clock hanging five stories up above the street. “And I guess you could say the same for tatties and neeps.”
“Oh, my God, don’t remind me. That waitress was trying to terrify me on purpose.”
I laughed at the memory of Robin’s expression when the waitress suggested tatties and neeps on the side, then gave her a break and explained that it was the local name for potatoes and parsnips. We figured she did that to all the tourists. At the end of the meal, Robin asked for the recipe and the chef himself came out to recite it, basically mashed root veggies with a touch of this and that-and tarragon, the secret ingredient.
When Robin invited him to move to San Francisco to cook for her, I knew it was time to leave.
“Look, puppets!” Robin cried, and hurried over to a storefront display of numerous stringed puppets in intricate costumes, all standing and ready to perform. There was a bagpiper, a ballerina, a golfer, three soldiers, all in different uniforms, a harlequin clown and a pirate. Their oversize faces were carved from wood and their cheeks were splotched with bits of red paint-to make them appear happy and healthy, I supposed.
“Kind of creepy, huh?” I said, struggling to keep a steady foot on the wily cobblestones after having shared a bottle of wine with Robin.
“I think they’re pretty,” Robin said.
“Oh, sure, until they come alive in the middle of the night and try to kill you.”
She frowned. “I hate when that happens.”
“Should we start back?”
“Do you want to walk up to the castle?” Robin asked as we headed west. “I still need to walk off dinner.”
“Sure.” It was a beautiful night, cold but not unbearable, and I didn’t want to go back to the hotel just yet.
“We can stop at a few pubs for a nightcap or two,” she added.
“That’s why I love you,” I said, weaving our arms together and pulling us to a stop at the red light.
“Well, we are in Scotland, after all,” Robin said. “Home of the best pubs in the world, filled with hardy, handsome hunks in kilts who drink Scotch all night and play rugby all day. That takes balls, you know. Big ones, made of leather.”
“And we’re back to our theme of the night,” I said with a laugh, then shivered from a cold waft of air that swept up South Bridge.
Robin continued singing the praises of hunky Scotsmen, but I tuned out as a sudden stinging awareness told me that someone was watching us. I’d felt that same eerie sensation once before, in San Francisco after Abraham was murdered. I’d brushed it off then, to my detriment. Now, after another murder and a day of near misses, I wasn’t quite ready to dismiss it.
I glanced around but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. People walked the streets, going from here to there, minding their own business. A group of college boys whooped it up outside a record store across the street. None of them cast a menacing scowl my way.
But there were shadows and dark alleyways everywhere along the Royal Mile. Was someone hiding, waiting, planning?
Beside me, Robin was humming and swaying to some internal groove, daydreaming of men in kilts, oblivious to any danger lurking nearby.
So okay, maybe it was my imagination. Let’s face it, I was slightly tanked and still on edge from the attack at the library earlier. And these narrow, cobbled streets of Old Town naturally conjured up ghosts and spirits and evildoers where there was really nothing, nothing but the whispers and sighs of the soft winds that wafted up the myriad lanes and passageways leading to the High Street.
Uh-oh. I was waxing poetic, and that was never a good sign. I shivered again, grabbed my gloves and put them on, then rubbed my hands together to warm up.
When the light turned green, I breathed a sigh of relief and stepped off the curb. A black car came screeching toward me.
“No!” Robin screamed, and yanked my arm. I fell backward and landed right on my ass. Again. Pain shot up my spine and I groaned as I lay back on the sidewalk.
The car roared away down North Bridge toward the New Town and disappeared. He never even slowed down.
“Damn, that hurt,” I muttered, staring up at the sky, trying to figure out why this kind of thing kept happening to me.
“ Brooklyn?” Robin called out. Seconds later, her face appeared in my line of vision. “Are you okay? Did you see that? The guy didn’t even stop. Are you hurt? Can you talk? Oh, my God, please say something.”
“I’ll live,” I managed to say. But my butt was going to be bruised.
I heard footsteps running toward me. “Are ye all right, miss?”
I tried to focus as another pair of eyes stared down at me.
“Aye, it’s me,” said my cute, would-be kidnapper from this afternoon. “And the slightest bit too late coming, I see.”
“Excuse me, but who’re you?” Robin demanded, then looked back at me. “Who is he?”
“Long story,” I muttered.
“Are ye all right then, love?” Tommy repeated.
“Have you been following us?”
He ignored my question as he crouched down and slipped his warm hand behind my neck. “Let me help you up, miss.”
“We haven’t met,” Robin interrupted, holding out her hand to the handsome gunman.
Tommy, always polite, pulled his hand out from under my neck and stood to shake Robin’s. That was okay; my head barely bounced more than once on the hard cobbled surface.
“Tommy, meet Robin,” I said, waving in the air to introduce them. “Robin, Tommy.” It was about all I could manage between moans, what with my head reverberating from hitting the pavement.
“Pleasure to meet you, Robin,” he said with enthusiasm, then remembered his duty and knelt down on one knee, attentive once more. “Did you happen to get a good look at the car, miss?”
“My name’s Brooklyn, by the way.”
He smiled and took my hand in his. “’Tis a lovely name.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“The car, dear,” he reminded me gently. “Did you see it?”
“It was big and black, with tinted windows. Looked like a Mercedes.”
“No particular markings?”
“You mean, besides the creep driving it?” Robin pointed out, fiercely protective.
I had to think. Focus. I’d been in this position before, unfortunately. I should’ve been getting better at it. “No. In fact, it was conspicuously free of markings. I don’t think there was a front license plate. It was very plain, dark, almost somber. Then I fell, so I didn’t see a back license plate when it took off.”
“Okay, that’s good.”
Good? How was that good?
A dim lightbulb in my brain flickered on. “It was like one of the cars they use at the hotel to chauffeur people around.” Like the one Kyle had described when he was almost run down. My shoulders bunched up as I shivered. “I’m cold.”
“Can we get you up off the walk, then?” he asked, again wedging his hand under my neck to support my head.
“Um, ow, not just yet,” I said, trying not to groan as my lower back sent a spasm of pain up my spine.
“Jeez, Brooklyn,” Robin said, leaning over me. “Should we call an ambulance?”
“No, I just need a minute.” And a pillow. And an aspirin. Or twenty.
“Take your time, Brooklyn, love.”
“Robin,” I said feebly, trying to make conversation, “Tommy was one of the men I was telling you about in the cab this afternoon.”
“Ah, you’re a Freemason,” she said, and demurely touched his shoulder. “I’d love to discuss some of your secret handshakes sometime. I find them oddly arousing.”
Ah, jeez. Was there anyone she wouldn
Tommy whipped his head around to assure himself that no one had overheard her utter the name of the esoteric society. Then he frowned down at me. “Did you tell her, then?”
“She’s my friend,” I explained, giving Robin a warning glance. “She won’t say a word.”
“I swear I won’t,” Robin said, holding up her gloved hand in promise. “Although I don’t see why we can’t-”
Heavy footsteps pounded across the intersection.
“Oh, look, it’s Derek,” Robin announced gaily.
I groaned again. Of course it was Derek. Didn’t he always show up when I looked my absolute worst? I wondered idly if the cobblestones couldn’t just swallow me whole.
“What the hell happened?” Derek said, and quickly knelt down on my other side and grabbed my hand. “Are you hurt, darling?”
I smiled. It was hard not to when looking at Derek. “I’ll be fine, just a little tumble.”
“I’m handling things here,” Tommy said gruffly as he moved to kneel on my other side.
Derek cast a suspicious glower at Tommy, then looked at me. “Who is this guy?”
“A car almost ran her down, mate,” Tommy said, his tone defensive. “Damn good thing I was here to take care of matters.”
“Derek, meet Tommy,” I said, fluttering my hand in the air again. “Tommy, Derek.”
“Pleasure,” Tommy muttered.
I stared up at Derek. “What are you doing here?”
He continued eyeing Tommy as he said, “I got a phone call.”
“A phone call?” I was confused for a second; then it sank in. “You had me followed?”
“Of course I had you followed,” he said, also striking a defensive chord. “Someone already tried once to-”
More footsteps approached and Robin laughed. “It’s Angus! Whoa, he’s wearing a kilt.”
“A kilt?” I said, and struggled to sit up and see him.
“I think my heart just stopped,” Robin said, pounding her chest as she watched Angus’s kilt swing in the wind. “Medic!”
“You’re partial to a man in a kilt then, darling?” Tommy asked as he stood and brushed the sidewalk grit off his pants.
“What’s not to like?” Robin said, her voice breathy.
“Are you after wondering what a man wears underneath?” Tommy asked, grinning.
“Who the hell is this guy?” Derek asked me.
Oh, sweet baby James. What next? I fell back against the cobblestones, closed my eyes and prayed for divine intervention. And that aspirin.
“Figures it would be her,” some woman whined as she stopped to watch the activity. “What a drama queen.”
I stiffened in revulsion.
Shit. All this and Minka, too?
I finally forced myself to stand. My lower back ached, but I managed to keep from complaining as long as Derek kept his arm securely around me the entire two blocks back to the hotel.
Tommy refused to leave the party despite Derek’s best attempts to get rid of him, so we were quite the jolly crowd as we pulled several small tables together in the hotel pub, where I’d insisted we go for a nightcap, rather than heading straight to my room. For all I knew, I’d be attacked again. Best to be prepared. And I figured a wee dram was as good a remedy as a couple of ibuprofen any day.
When I realized that Minka and her new best friend, Serena, were still hanging with our group, I stared Minka down until she bared her teeth at me like a deranged hyena and flounced off to find her own damn table. Serena’s gaze lingered on Angus, Derek and Tommy, clearly the three best-looking men in the place. Her bottom lip formed a pout as Minka beckoned her away and she reluctantly followed after her new BFF.
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out that relationship. And I still didn’t know if Serena really had been married to Kyle or if it was just some twisted scheme of Minka’s. I made a mental note to track down Kyle’s cousin Royce tomorrow and see if he’d learned anything new.
We all sat down and ordered drinks. Angus and Tommy bookended Robin, who flirted outrageously with both men, neither of whom seemed to mind that they were competing for the attentions of the same woman. In fact, they seemed rather chummy for two guys who’d just met a few minutes ago out on the street.
As I watched the barmaid pass out the drink orders, I cautiously stretched my spine. The old-fashioned captain’s chair was comfortable enough, but I didn’t think I’d be able to sit too long. God, it was hell getting old. And come on, I wasn’t even thirty-three. Pitiful. I took a slug of the single-malt Scotch to ease my pain.
Derek turned to Angus. “Your man was good enough to call me when Brooklyn was injured, but I never did get a chance to thank him for his work.”
Angus’s eyebrows dipped in surprise, and he jerked his thumb in Tommy’s direction. “You’re drinking with him as we speak.”
Derek did a double take and I choked on a laugh, which led to a minor coughing fit.
“Will you be needing a Heimlich?” Derek asked, one eyebrow raised in mock concern as he watched me make a fool of myself.
“No, but thanks,” I said when I got my breath back. “But let me get this straight. You hired Tommy the kidnapper to follow me?”
Tommy’s ears perked up, but Robin said something and his attention was diverted.
Derek was indignant. “Angus, I asked you to find a responsible private investigator. This is the same man who abducted Brooklyn this afternoon at gunpoint.”
“He’s usually quite responsible,” Angus said, then cocked his head. “And he doesn’t carry a gun, do you, Tommy?”
Tommy struggled to look away from Robin. “A gun? Me? I’m a lover, not a fighter. I don’t own a gun.”
“But you put a gun to my back,” I said in protest. “You forced me into the cab.”
“Och, I wouldna.” He pulled out a small, cylindrical cigar case and waved it for everyone to see. “I prefer to rely on my charms, but occasionally I employ my traveling humidor.”
I frowned, then grumbled, “Felt like a gun, anyway.”
Robin slapped Tommy’s knee. “You scared her half to death.”
“I’m sorry, love,” he said, his hands splayed in apology. “But all’s well that ends well, right?”
Derek gave Angus a pained look.
Angus shrugged. “The man does good work on the whole.”
It turned out that Tommy, the very man who’d snatched me off the street that afternoon, was a respected private eye who regularly worked in conjunction with the police department. In the end, Derek took the news rather philosophically, but I was still miffed that someone in law enforcement would seize me off the street and scare the crap out of me like that.
But yeah, all was well that ended well, I thought, after another two more healthy sips of Scotch. Thanks to that ride in the cab, I was pretty well convinced that Robert Burns and the English princess weren’t the secret lovers Kyle had sworn they were. If Kyle had manipulated me, I hated to admit it wouldn’t have been the first time.
As far as the unknown poems in the book were concerned, I would need to talk to an expert in that area. Not tonight, though. I was well on my way to being toasty-roasty and ready for beddie.
Uh-oh, waxing poetic again.
Robin leaned across Angus to whisper to me, “What’s with the cow bitch?” She jutted her chin in Minka’s direction.
I leaned my elbow on Angus’s convenient thigh-he didn’t seem to mind at all-and shook my finger at Robin. “Do you remember what I told you about her?”
“Yeah, she’s the beeyotch who stabbed you,” she hissed, referring to an incident in my past when Minka had tried to injure me as a means of getting me out of the way so she could move in on my boyfriend at the time. She’d been dogging me ever since.
“Yeah, and did you see how she tried to sit with us?” I said, suddenly feeling as if I’d been transported back to high school, to the times when we used to gossip and giggle with our pals.
“You betcha.” I glanced at the three interesting men and was impressed despite myself. And maybe I had regressed to high school, because I suddenly felt like I might pass out. Whether it was from the Scotch, my aches and pains, or the men, I couldn’t say, but I had to take a few fortifying breaths to get myself back on track. Passing out would be tacky and a bad way to end a really fun day. Well, fun except for a murder attempt or two.
“Three cutie-patooties,” Robin said, slurring her words. So it wasn’t just me. She took a quick peek at the other table and rolled her eyes. “Minka keeps laughing too loud, then looking right at this table. It’s like she’s dying for attention.”
“That’s exactly what she wants,” I said. “Just don’t make eye contact.”
“Okay.” But Robin couldn’t help casting another glance Minka’s way, then flinched when the evil woman held up her claw and raked the air as she glared daggers back at Robin.
“Gah,” Robin said, staring wide-eyed at me. “Me scared.”
“I warned you,” I said, draining my glass. “Never underestimate the fearsome power of the cow bitch.”
As Tommy called the waitress over for a second round of drinks, I happened to make eye contact with Derek.
Without a word, he stood, held his hand out and helped me up.
The speakers in the pub were blaring vintage U2, so I waved to everyone and said loudly to Robin, “Good night.”
She pouted. “Does this mean I have to leave, too?”
“Absolutely not,” I said. As if she would. “I’m just beat, and I have a class to teach tomorrow afternoon, so I’d better hit the sack.”
“I’ll walk you up,” Derek said, as though anyone doubted his intentions.
“Thank you,” I murmured. I weaved my way around the tables scattered throughout the dark pub and Derek followed closely, his hand touching the small of my back.
Little sparks were igniting inside me, and I was pretty sure it was due to him. I wondered what was about to happen and had to take some deep breaths as we left the pub-and ran right into Mom and Dad.
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