If books could kill, p.21

If Books Could Kill, page 21

 

If Books Could Kill
 


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  Okay, erase that. My mother would call that tempting karma. I wasn’t cynical enough to disagree, so I shook my head and quickly erased that thought. If only it were that easy, as if my brain were an Etch A Sketch and the screen were now blank.

  So maybe I didn’t want her dead, but I did want her to go away and leave me alone.

  I considered that new change in thinking a sign of personal growth.

  The crime scene investigators took over the room, and Angus moved our little group to the far corner. He grilled me again, implored me to search my mind for any other people Kyle might’ve spoken to about the Robert Burns book.

  “And more important,” he added, “who’s most likely to have stolen your bookbinding tools for the purposes of implicating you?”

  “Exactly,” I said emphatically. “That’s the key to this puzzle.”

  I pulled out the book fair program and went down the list of exhibitors, pointing out the names of experts who might’ve given Kyle some feedback.

  “I would’ve thought his cousin Royce would have an opinion of the book,” I said, “but he seems completely uninvolved in that side of the business.”

  Angus flipped through his notebook. “Royce McVee was interviewed and had a strong alibi for the night his cousin was killed. He was speaking to a group of underwriters that afternoon, and everyone proceeded directly to a cocktail party and dinner that evening.”

  “Shoot,” I muttered.

  As he continued to read his notes, I stood and paced. It helped me think.

  I felt a twinge of guilt but finally said, “Have you talked to Helen Chin’s husband, Martin?”

  “Martin?” He skimmed back over his notes. “Martin Warrington? I’ve got his name listed, but I didn’t talk to him.” He called Terrence over and asked him to track down whoever interviewed Martin. It turned out Martin had a number of people who’d vouched for his whereabouts the night Kyle died.

  “Helen Chin was with you on the ghost tour,” Angus said.

  “Yes,” I said. “But there’s no way she could’ve dragged Perry under the table. And she was in our car on the way back from Rosslyn Chapel.”

  “Yes, it’s doubtful she’d get in the car after sabotaging it,” Angus said, frowning. I couldn’t blame him, as we were running low on suspects.

  “The cousin was also the partner, wasn’t he?” Derek said.

  “Yes, partner in a very lucrative company,” Angus added.

  “He had a lot to gain by Kyle’s death,” I mused aloud. “I would talk to him again. He might’ve started out at the meeting, then sneaked out, then returned for the cocktail party.”

  I looked up to see both Derek and Angus staring at me with some apprehension. Angus turned to Derek. “You did warn me.”

  “What?” I asked.

  Derek shook his head. “It sounds like you’re running your own investigation, darling. It almost got you killed once before, remember?”

  “I’m just helping,” I said defensively, then thought, Screw it. “In case you didn’t notice, I’ve got a stake in the outcome here. Some clown is trying to frame me for murder.”

  Derek’s lips twisted in a wry smile. “She has a point.”

  Angus scowled.

  I felt tears of self-pity sting my eyes and sniffled and blinked a few times to get rid of them. But it wasn’t fair. I’d just wanted to teach my book-arts class this afternoon. It would’ve been an easy, fun way to distract myself and forget my worries for two hours. I’d always loved teaching the craft. Showing someone how to take a few scraps of cloth and ribbon and paper and turn them into a tangible piece of art was immensely satisfying. The students’ excitement and pride in their finished work were always a great high for me.

  Besides, the Edinburgh Book Fair was supposed to be about books. Not murder.

  Wherever she goes, someone dies.

  I shivered and zipped my down vest as Minka’s words played over in my head. Damn her for saying that. Even if it was true, it was so unfair. And in my precarious-okay, whiny-state, I wasn’t quite capable of breezing over it.

  I used my mental Etch A Sketch again to wipe away the thought that any of this was my fault. It was ridiculous and untrue, not to mention destructive to my psyche. After all, wherever Minka went, people died, too. It wasn’t just me.

  Still, it was disturbing to once more find myself in the middle of a murder investigation. Why? Was there something in my auric field that was attracting all this nastiness to me? Was I somehow paying for past sins by becoming a witness to violent death?

  Maybe I needed a high colonic, after all.

  Oh, hell, maybe I just needed a drink.

  My book-arts class was postponed until tomorrow afternoon, so I took an hour and strolled through the book fair to relax. Derek was kind enough to walk with me, possibly afraid I might cause a scene or accuse somebody of murder if left to my own devices.

  As we walked, I was surprised to realize I was starting to chill out.

  Was it wrong of me to enjoy being in the hustle and bustle of book land with a gorgeous British commander holding my hand? Maybe I should’ve been off hiding in my room after discovering another body, or maybe I should’ve been in church praying for poor Perry, but the truth was, he just hadn’t been a very nice man.

  Strangely enough, even with the gruesome news of Perry’s murder, the book fair was thriving. We passed booths where people talked in hushed tones, then stopped as I approached. I could only figure that Minka had spread the word about my finding the body, probably adding that I was about to be arrested for murder. The possibility should’ve annoyed me but it didn’t.

  No, for some reason, despite stumbling over yet another dead body, I felt good. Calm. I didn’t think I could blame it on Derek’s presence, because I rarely felt calm around him. More like fired up and ready to go. So maybe it was simply because I was in my element, surrounded by books.

  I spied an illustrated Alice in Wonderland and rushed over to examine it. It was a 1927 edition in spring green leather, mint condition, with heavy gilding around the edges and on the spine. Ornate dentelles decorated the inside front and back covers. There was a wonderful gilt-tooled White Rabbit on the center of the front cover, checking his pocket watch, and a scolding Queen of Hearts on the back. It was delightful. Expensive, but worth it.

  “Curiouser and curiouser,” I said to Derek, grinning as I repeated Angus’s words. “I have to buy this.”

  “Interesting how staring at books and paper seems to soothe your nerves,” Derek noted.

  “I was just thinking the same thing.”

  “I’d thought it was only food that perked you up this much.”

  “Food always helps.” And since he’d mentioned it, I reached into my purse for the small bag of Cadbury Clusters I’d brought with me. I held out the bag to him, but he just rolled his eyes.

  “More for me,” I said, and popped one in my mouth.

  I paid for the Alice and waited while the bookseller wrapped it for me. Then we continued walking. I stopped and introduced myself to a few booksellers I’d never met and handed out my business card. Derek ended up purchasing a small, leather-bound edition of The Enchiridion by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. It was a handbook of aphorisms, he explained.

  “Yes, I know,” I said. “My parents have one at home.”

  “Ah, yes, no spiritual commune is complete without one.”

  “Right.” I smiled. “Guru Bob gets all his best lines from the Stoics.”

  “I’ll bet.” He studied the book more closely.

  “It’s a beautiful binding,” I said, admiring the rich, golden brown calfskin cover and matching cloth slip-case.

  “Yes, it is.”

  “Sangorski and Sutcliffe does excellent work.”

  “I was given a paperback version of The Enchiridion by a favorite professor in school,” he said softly. “I always admired its philosophy and practical application to daily life.”

  “Figures a former intelligenc
e officer would find pleasure in Stoic philosophy.”

  “Indeed, looking inward to find truth and justice never gets old.”

  “That must be why my mother likes you so much. Careful, or she’ll sign you up for one of her colon cleansings.”

  He actually shuddered.

  I grinned. “So you’ve purchased a philosophy book while all I’ve got is Alice, a children’s story. You’re trying to make me feel shallow, aren’t you?”

  “Is it working?”

  “Yes, but I should warn you, I’m perfectly comfortable with my superficiality.”

  He laughed and I quivered with some kind of joy at that sound. I was happy, I realized.

  “You don’t really believe Alice in Wonderland is a children’s story,” he said as we continued walking. “All that symbolism?”

  I smiled. “Guru Bob believes that every character in the book is a different part of man’s psyche.”

  “Ah, I knew you had a method to your madness.”

  I laughed again as we passed the large glass cabinet that displayed all the entries in the bookbinding contest. Derek stopped to look. I’d forgotten all about the contest and the fact that I had a book entered.

  “Which is yours?” Derek asked.

  I pointed it out, taking a moment to admire the work I’d done. Win or lose, I was proud of that book. Then I realized that tomorrow night was the annual dinner and awards ceremony. The week had gone by quickly.

  “That’s lovely work,” he said, giving me a smile that dazzled my brain.

  “Thank you.”

  “Did you design the cover yourself?”

  “Of course.” I had designed a stylized W and had sculpted it into the leather cover, then inlaid thin bands of gold and tiny amber stones to form the letter, and gilded the edges. It had taken me hours to get it right.

  “It’s stunning,” he said after studying it for another few moments. “Well done.”

  My eyes widened. It was the first time Derek had truly complimented me on my bookbinding skills, and surprisingly, it meant a lot. “Thank you.”

  “But Waverley?” he said, staring at my navy blue, leather-bound version of Walter Scott’s epic work. “I’m surprised. Not Rob Roy or Ivanhoe?”

  “It wasn’t my choice,” I admitted. “I was going through some old books, looking for ideas, and this old, beat-up edition of Waverley called out to me.”

  “Did you read it, as well?”

  “If I say yes, will you be impressed?”

  He looked appalled. “Of course not. Horrible book.”

  “I read it,” I said, laughing. It had taken me three long weeks. Slow going, to say the least. There wasn’t a lot of action, but the story was romantic and the writing was lyrical. And by lyrical, I meant convoluted and wordy, but in a good way, really.

  “Not as shallow as you appear,” he said, eyeing me with suspicion.

  “Don’t be silly, of course I am.”

  Tucking my arm through his, Derek gazed back at the entries and pointed to another book on the lower shelf.

  “Is that our own Minka’s entry?”

  “Yes.”

  Minka had chosen to bind a copy of Robinson Crusoe in padded black leather with palm trees embossed on the front and spine. I understood the use of palm trees based on the subject matter, but black leather? And padded? It suited Minka, but I wasn’t sure it suited Defoe’s classic work.

  “Interesting choice,” Derek murmured.

  “Mm-hmm.” What else could I say? I was feeling too good to go for the meow moment.

  We were walking down one aisle, then up another, when I stopped and grabbed his arm.

  “What’s wrong?”

  I angled my chin in the general direction of the nearby booth where Serena and Helen stood talking and laughing. What was even weirder was that the booth belonged to Kyle McVee’s company. I wondered if Royce was somewhere in the vicinity, seething. Or maybe he was whooping it up with them. Stranger things had happened lately.

  “I agree, that’s an odd pairing,” Derek said.

  “It’s totally weird,” I said. “And it’s not the first time I’ve seen them chatting.”

  Helen looked up, saw me and waved. “Hi, Brooklyn! Commander, come meet Serena.”

  “Tell her to stop calling me that,” Derek grumbled.

  “No way,” I said as we approached the booth. “Maybe I can get her to salute you.”

  Helen introduced Derek to Serena, who said a shy hello.

  “I’m sorry for your loss,” Derek said. It didn’t sound at all lame when he said it.

  She clasped her hands at her breastbone. “Oh, thank you, everyone has been so nice.” Her voice was high and breathy, like a little British bird who’d run out of air. “I didn’t think I would stay after Kyle… Well, I’m glad I decided to stay and get to know the people in his world. I’m enjoying the book fair immensely. Royce has made me feel so welcome. Everyone has. Minka and Helen, and you, Brooklyn. You’ve all been so kind.”

  Really? Minka? Kind? And Royce? Welcoming? Were we all living on the same planet?

  “That’s great,” I said, ill at ease with all the perky, shiny “aren’t we all one big happy family” stuff. “Well, we have to be going. It was nice to see you.”

  Helen piped up, “I should probably go, too. But we’ll get together later for a drink, right?”

  “Oh, yes,” Serena said, grabbing Helen’s hand and squeezing it a bit too desperately before letting go. “Please, Helen, I would love that.”

  “I’ll see you in the pub at five, then,” Helen said.

  “Super!”

  Helen waved with real enthusiasm as we walked away.

  I slipped Helen’s arm through mine. Once we were out of Serena’s earshot, I said, “Helen, isn’t this getting a little awkward?”

  “What do you mean?” she asked.

  “You’re acting like you’re best friends with your dead lover’s wife.”

  Helen swallowed. “But she’s sweet. It’s not her fault Kyle was a beast.”

  “I know, but don’t you think it’s a little odd that she’s still hanging around? Her husband was murdered and she’s here, going around making friends with everyone he knew.”

  “But she said she wanted to get to know Kyle’s friends.”

  “Including his secret lover?”

  Derek nudged my arm.

  “Okay, okay,” I said. “Derek thinks I’m being rude. And he’s probably right. But honestly, don’t you find it uncomfortable being around her?”

  “You’re so sweet to think of me,” Helen said, and took my hand. “But she’s an interesting girl, Brooklyn. And I know it sounds odd, but I feel like I’m connected to Kyle when I talk to her.”

  So Helen still wanted that connection to Kyle. Did she even realize what she’d just said? And what did that say about her future with Martin? I bit my tongue to keep from asking her.

  Helen kept talking. “You and I didn’t have a chance to hear Serena’s eulogy at the memorial service, but everyone’s been telling me it was heartbreaking. Did you know they’ve loved each other since grade school?”

  “She mentioned something about that before.”

  “Right. Doesn’t that just break your heart?”

  “Not really. It seems kind of creepy.”

  She smacked my hand. “I’m serious. By the time they married, Kyle was traveling so much, and she’s a kindergarten teacher, so she never got a chance to meet his friends. This weekend was supposed to be her entrée into his world; then they were going to have a long, romantic Scottish honeymoon. But then he was… you know. Killed.”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “She’s being very brave,” Helen said, getting a little choked up.

  “And so are you,” I said staunchly. “Don’t forget, you are the injured party through all of this.”

  That brought fresh tears to her eyes. “Your loyalty and friendship mean so much to me.”

  “Helen, please don’t
cry.”

  Derek stepped back a foot at the threat of tears, and I shot him an evil look.

  “I’m okay,” she said, sniffing back the emotion. “But I’m going to keep trying to get you two to be friends. She’s really a dear, and I think you’ll like her once you get to know her.”

  “You think?”

  “Definitely.”

  “Well, good luck with that.” As we passed a booth specializing in horror posters, I asked, “How did you meet her, anyway?”

  She smiled. “The first time I met her in the hotel store, we both reached for the same package of mints. Then we laughed and introduced ourselves and she said she loved my hair, which was endearing, don’t you think?”

  Helen unconsciously played with the ends of her hair. She did have great hair, but good grief, here was a big secret: If you ever want to get a woman to do anything for you, just compliment her hair.

  Was I being a bitch for suspecting that there might be an ulterior motive for Serena’s complimenting her dead husband’s lover’s hair?

  Maybe I was just jealous that Helen had a new BFF.

  I thought about that for a few seconds but concluded that Helen’s having a new BFF had nothing to do with it. The truth was, I was concerned that this Stepford person in front of me had done something with my friend Helen. I’d always admired her well-honed sense of humor, but that part of her was completely missing this time around. Maybe the trauma of Kyle’s death had pushed her over the edge. Or maybe the last few years spent with Martin had dulled her ability to recognize irony when it stuck its tongue out at her.

  “Well, Serena sounds like a peach,” I said finally, trying for lightness. “I hope you have fun at the pub.”

  “Why don’t you join us?”

  I touched her arm. “Thanks, but Derek and I are having an early dinner. After that, I have to prepare for my workshop.”

  “Okay, but if you get free, come on by.”

  “I will.” Not.

  “So,” Derek said when she was gone. “Where are we having dinner? Do we have a reservation?”

 
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