If books could kill, p.20

If Books Could Kill, page 20

 

If Books Could Kill
 


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  They walked with me down the hall to the elevator.

  “Will you be stirring up the crowd again?” Derek asked, his lips pursed in a smirk. I wished I didn’t find that look so damned attractive.

  “No, this is a book arts class.”

  “Sounds interesting,” Angus said, clearly lying.

  “It’s arts and crafts,” I explained. “Everyone gets to make a small, accordion-style album.”

  “Are there weapons involved?” Derek asked.

  I thought about it. “If you consider X-Acto knives and bone folders weapons, then yes. Oh, and glue sticks.”

  “Ah, then I’ll be there,” he said.

  I laughed. “Oh, good times for you.”

  “Be careful, Brooklyn,” Angus said as the elevator door opened. “You’ve an enemy here who’s growing more reckless by the hour.”

  With that happy thought, Derek and I stepped into the elevator and rode it up to my floor.

  Once inside my room, he watched as I gathered my supplies and materials for the twenty participants who’d signed up for the class to make their own small, accordion-style album. I’d packed everything in one satchel: forty four-by-four-inch pieces of neutral book board; the acid-free paper used for the book pages, already scored; twenty sets of decorative Japanese papers for the covers, already cut to size; and ribbon to tie each album closed. In addition, I would supply all the tools necessary to complete the project, including twenty sets of glue sticks, X-Acto knives and bone folders, which were lightweight tools usually shaped like tongue depressors and often made from bone, that were used for folding and scoring paper and to give the fold a sharper, more professional crease. I also had plenty of scrap paper, pencils and rulers.

  If the police didn’t know I was teaching a bookbinding class, they would think I was carrying a small arsenal. I supposed a glue stick could be considered a dangerous weapon if you used it to poke somebody’s eye out.

  We rode back down to D level and Derek held the door to my workshop conference room open, then left me to my task. Alone in the room, as I set up individual places at the worktables with tools and supplies, I worried about Perry. Where was he hiding? Did he really have a legitimate alibi or had Minka been lying to the police?

  And who else besides Perry and Jack had Kyle talked to? The number of experts in British history and Scottish poetry at this book fair probably ran in the hundreds. On a hunch, I pulled out my book fair program and checked the back pages, where the exhibitors were listed by their specialties. A number of names appeared under both categories, including Perry McDougall and Royce McVee.

  Royce. It stood to reason that Kyle would’ve asked his own cousin for advice on the Burns book.

  Had he killed Kyle to stop him from discussing the book? Had he wanted to gain control of the lucrative McVee businesses? If so, then finding out Kyle had a wife would really put a crimp in his style. And he’d been so angry about Serena, the “lying tart.” I wondered if I should warn Serena that Royce might come after her. But did I honestly think Royce was capable of murder? He was so bland.

  What did I know about Royce, really? During the blissful six months Kyle and I were dating, we’d had drinks with Royce a few times. He was a big man, not overbearingly big like Perry, but at least six feet tall. Realistically, he was probably strong enough to bludgeon a grown man with a hammer, but he seemed weak and insubstantial.

  I hadn’t seen him in a day or so and wondered if he had indeed stayed in Edinburgh. Had he had more words with Serena? Had he accused her to her face of lying?

  And speaking of Serena, was she a lying tart or not? Something about her really bothered me. It probably wasn’t her, specifically, but the simple fact that Kyle had had a wife all this time and I never knew. Either way, I didn’t get a feeling of connection between her and Kyle. That bothered me, too.

  I munched on chocolate buttons as I arranged each student’s workspace with decorative papers and book boards. As I laid out tools and supplies on the third table, I had a sudden sick thought: If Kyle had been “promised” to Serena when he was dating me, had she known about me? Had she arrived in town and followed him to the castle? Had she seen him greet me with kisses and hugs, then watched as we popped into the nearest pub?

  I stopped in my tracks. Was it hatred and jealousy of me that had driven her to follow me back to my hotel room, sneak in while I was sleeping off jet lag, and steal my tools? Jealousy was a powerful motive. If she was angry enough, she could’ve killed Kyle using my bookbinder’s hammer and pinned the murder on me.

  Could Serena be the one who’d called Kyle while we were at the pub together?

  I shook myself out of those thoughts. But it creeped me out to think about how friendly Serena and Minka had become. How did they know each other? Maybe Minka had helped her do the deed. Minka would be up for anything that might ruin my life.

  I decided I would track down Serena after my workshop and try to schmooze her. I needed to do the same with Royce. Maybe I could get one of them to reveal something. Anything. Just for my own peace of mind. I wasn’t conducting an investigation. Just trying to find answers to a few burning questions.

  I looked around the room. The four long worktables were now arranged with five workspaces each.

  At the front of the room was a larger worktable with a conference-style tablecloth over it. It was set up on a platform to act as a dais of sorts.

  I stepped up on the platform and started to lay out all my own tools and supplies I would need to instruct the students, but almost tripped over something sticking out from underneath the table.

  It felt like a heavy pipe. Maybe someone had thought it would be okay to store it here, but I knew I’d break my neck if it stayed there. I tried to kick it back under the table, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see myself tripping and tumbling off the platform in front of the class, so I knelt down to push it out of the way.

  But it wasn’t a pipe.

  It was a foot, connected to a leg, connected to a dead body.

  I scrambled to my feet, jumped off the platform and ran out of the room, screaming bloody murder.

  Chapter 14

  I would’ve slammed right into Derek in the hall, but he managed to escape being steamrollered by simply grabbing hold of me and crushing me to his chest.

  I was still screaming.

  “What is it?” he demanded. “What’s wrong?”

  “He’s dead!” I cried.

  “Who?” He shook me a little, and ordinarily I would’ve smacked him for that, but this time it stopped me from screaming and forced me to breathe.

  “Oh, my God,” I whispered. “Why does this keep happening to me?”

  “Show me,” he said. He took my hand and led me back into the conference room where I pointed a shaky finger toward the front of the room.

  “Under the table.”

  “Stay here.”

  “No problem.”

  He walked over to see what the fuss was all about while I stood in the back sniveling like a scaredy-cat.

  Derek stared at the foot, then knelt down and stared at the body for a good minute. Then he stood, pulled his cell phone out and made a quick call as he walked back to me.

  “Who is it?” I asked. “Whose body is it?”

  “You didn’t see?” he asked.

  I shook my head vigorously as he pulled me by the hand out of the room and shut the conference room door.

  Out in the hall, he held my shoulders as he said, “It’s Perry McDougall.”

  I gaped at him. “No way.” I moved away to pace up and down the empty hall, muttering and swearing to myself.

  “You do have a proclivity for finding dead bodies,” Derek said. “It’s almost as though somebody knew you’d be here.”

  “Damn it,” I said for the tenth time. Was I being set up again?

  “My sentiments exactly,” Derek said. “Guess we know where Perry McDougall disappeared to.”

  “Yes.” I should’ve felt bad for Per
ry, but I confess I felt worse for myself. Perry had been the best suspect we had for Kyle’s murder. Now what? Or more precisely, who?

  “And why me?” I asked myself for the hundredth time.

  Within five minutes Angus was running down the hall toward us like a wild-eyed Highlander, followed by a small phalanx of constables.

  Seconds later, inside the conference room, Angus stared down at the body. He pursed his lips, then glanced across at me and Derek and said, “Curiouser and curiouser.”

  Without his warm Scottish accent, he never would’ve gotten away with using that silly Alice in Wonderland phrase. He looked around for his second in command and in a much more grim manner said, “Terrence, clear the outer hall area. We’ve got ourselves another crime scene.”

  As Terrence took off, Angus muttered, “We’re going to bloody run out of tape.”

  The crime scene people made quick work of closing off the doorway to interested passersby and dusting every last surface in the room. Then several men picked up the heavy wood table and moved it to the side of the room.

  Perry’s body lay uncovered on the platform, ignored by the technicians who worked the scene, taking photographs and combing the carpet for possible clues.

  I stared at Perry’s exposed neck and saw for the first time the knotting awl sticking out of it.

  “Oh, shit.” Fumbling for the nearest chair, I slid down and sat with my elbows resting on my thighs, breathing deeply, trying not to look at poor dead Perry. Or the bloody knotting awl.

  I knew it was a knotting awl because I used one all the time to pierce holes in paper before sewing them together to make books.

  By now I should’ve been used to finding dead bodies, but I wasn’t. And it wasn’t even Perry’s body that freaked me out as much as it was the blood that was pooling beneath his neck and spreading out into a tiny lake-or maybe it was a loch-around his head.

  The sight of blood has always been an issue for me. I don’t mind needles. Even spiders don’t freak me out as much as blood. I’m kind of a wimp that way. And hey, that was how Derek and I met, which should’ve made it all touchingly romantic. But not even the fond memory of me fainting and waking up in Derek’s arms as he smacked me back to consciousness could help relieve the wooziness I was feeling.

  “What have we here?” MacLeod said, and knelt down next to Perry to study the apparent murder weapon stuck in his neck.

  I had a really bad feeling about that knotting awl.

  Clearly, so did he. Looking up, he said, “Miss Wainwright, can I ask you to come here?”

  I grimaced. “No, thank you.”

  Derek sat down next to me. “I’ll help you.”

  I looked at him beseechingly. “Please don’t make me go over there. Remember that little issue I have with blood?”

  Derek looked across the room at Angus. “She faints at the first sign of blood. You won’t want to deal with that.”

  “Thanks a lot,” I muttered.

  “I’d like her to identify this weapon.”

  I frowned at Derek. “It’s a knotting awl.”

  “She says it’s a knotting awl.”

  “Can she describe it for me?” Angus asked.

  “I can hear you,” I snapped.

  “Steady, love,” Derek murmured close to my ear.

  “Sorry, Angus,” I said quickly. I was starting to shake but took some deep breaths and managed to stay upright.

  “It’s cherrywood,” I began. “Very hard. Pear-shaped, with lines carved in waves. It’s used to pierce holes in the folds of the pages of a book before they’re sewn to linen tapes. It fits nicely in my hand. I’ve had it for years.” My throat was closing up, so I stopped talking.

  MacLeod grunted. He didn’t have to say anything. I knew it was mine, knew someone had used my tool as a murder weapon in order to implicate me again.

  I forced my hands to relax by splaying them on my knees. I imagined the awl in my left hand. I’d used it hundreds of times. It was an old favorite tool, an old friend. One of the woodworkers at the Fellowship had handcrafted it for me a long time ago. Over the years, I would occasionally hone the shaft to a perfect point, but that probably wouldn’t help my case if I mentioned it now.

  I had all different shapes and sizes of awls for use with paper and leather and boards, but this knotting awl was my favorite. It was actually designed to thread the knots in string between beads, thus the name, knotting awl. The shaft was narrower and more tapered than a typical bookbinder’s awl, and that was why I liked it.

  Evidently, the killer had liked it, too.

  I was frustrated and angry. What was MacLeod going to do now that a second murder had been committed? There probably weren’t that many murders in Scotland in a whole year, so I figured his superiors would be clamoring for an arrest. And I was looking better and better for it. And why not? Not only had my awl been used to kill Perry, but the police could make a case for motivation, as well. After all, with Perry dead, there was no one else to challenge my version of the Robert Burns book mythology.

  Except for the killer.

  Whoever that was.

  I almost moaned in aggravation. Why couldn’t Perry have been Kyle’s killer? It would’ve been so much more convenient all around. I rubbed my face in frustration. I was all about convenience, damn it.

  I’d racked my brain to figure out who would benefit from Kyle’s death, and my only conclusion-before this moment-had been Perry. Perry had wanted Kyle to shut up about the Robert Burns legend. He’d attacked me almost before I’d made it through the door of the hotel. He was the perfect suspect. Damn it, I wanted to cry.

  Now I had to start over, studying my suspect list for someone with enough motivation to kill twice and set me up to take the fall. And I had to find someone quickly, because there was no way I wanted to go to prison for someone else’s crime.

  I had a sudden thought: Maybe Perry had killed Kyle. Then somebody else killed Perry. And now someone else would kill that someone else and pretty soon everyone in Edinburgh would be dead.

  Oh, yeah. That was plausible.

  There was a hair-raising shriek out in the hall. Then the door banged against the wall and someone pushed through the guards.

  “She killed him!” Minka screamed, pointing at me in an alarming case of déjà vu. “She killed Perry! She’s a murderer, and it’s not the first time!”

  “Oh, jeez,” I said, shaking my head in disgust. If I ever did decide to kill somebody, guess who my target would be?

  Angus rushed over and took hold of her arm. “Ma’am, you’re not-”

  “Let go of me, you big oaf!” She managed to shake him loose, which was a testament to her frenzy, because Angus was a really big guy.

  “Bloody hell,” Derek said, and instinctively shoved me behind him for protection, then tried to cage me as I attempted to move around him and confront Minka. I’m not sure why I wanted to. She scared me to death. But Derek’s caveman routine was too much. Maybe he thought I was going to kick the crap out of her. And what was wrong with that? She’d thrown a screaming fit once before, then smacked me in the face. I would’ve liked to have returned the favor, just once.

  “She’s like the angel of death,” Minka cried. “Wherever she goes, someone dies!”

  “Not fair,” I countered. True, but not fair.

  “Stay back,” Derek commanded.

  “No.” I twisted around and managed to escape Derek’s protective shield, then went for payback. “Angus, she was working for Perry. She had plenty of opportunity to kill him.”

  “Liar! I’ll kill you!”

  “I don’t think so.” But I knew the woman packed a wallop, so I threw my hands up to protect my face. Sure enough, Minka charged. As I prepared to take her down, Derek pulled me back.

  “Hey!” I cried.

  Angus caught Minka in a headlock at the same time. She squeaked like a bat and her arms flailed around as Angus held up his free hand and snapped his fingers. Two constables dashed over
to grab Minka and lead her out.

  “No! Not me,” Minka griped. “She’s the one.”

  “She’s crazy,” I said. As far as accusations went, it was weak, but I was wiped out. However, seeing Minka dragged out by the police went a long way toward making my day brighter.

  Derek gave me a warning glance as he took my arm and drew me closer.

  Minka saw the move. She whipped around and faced Angus, her lip curled in a sneer. “Oh, my God, you’re going to let her go, aren’t you?” She wiggled to escape the cops’ grasp, but they held firm. “Dumb-shit cops are always swayed by blondes.”

  Really? Then why was I always the prime suspect? “That’s enough,” Angus snapped.

  “Fine, I’ll go,” Minka said, “but don’t you dare release her! You’ll be sorry. I’ll report you!”

  “Get her out of here.”

  The door banged shut behind her and there was a sudden silence.

  “Well, she’s an angry one,” Angus finally said, brushing his hands off.

  “Thank you for intervening,” I said. “And I hope everyone noticed she threatened to kill me. Shouldn’t you make a note somewhere?”

  Derek chuckled.

  Angus sighed. “She was just overwrought.”

  “She’s a raving loon,” I said pointedly. “And dangerous. It’s not the first time she’s attacked me.”

  “Yes, I saw you both tangling the other day.”

  “No, before that,” I said. “Back in San Francisco. Never mind. Anyway, thanks.”

  “My job,” he said, holding out his hands. “Besides, she’s got no business in here. This is a crime scene.”

  “She really will try to report you.” Minka wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box.

  “She’s welcome to try.” Angus shook his head. “She seems more and more unbalanced every time I see her. We’ll hold her for questioning.”

  “Good,” Derek said.

  Minka had blamed me for another death after Abraham was killed last month. She’d attacked me and accused the police of playing favorites. I was getting a little tired of it.

  A little? I slumped into my chair as the adrenaline rush wore off. I felt like an idiot for behaving so wildly, but nobody in the world ticked me off like Minka did. Would I ever be free of her maddening presence in my life? I truly wished her dead.

 
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