If books could kill, p.5

If Books Could Kill, page 5

 

If Books Could Kill
 


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  “I don’t think I can do this,” Helen whispered.

  “I can help you,” I said, clutching her hand.

  “Not yet,” she said. “I… I don’t think I can move yet.”

  “That’s okay. There’s no hurry.”

  “Oh, God, he’s just lying there in that horrible place, cold and alone.” She buried her face in her hands and wept silently.

  “Helen,” I said gently. “You know Kyle and I were old friends, right? We talked this afternoon. I don’t think you’d be betraying any secrets if you wanted to tell me why you’re so upset.”

  She blinked away tears to look at me. “He told me he ran into an old friend, and that’s why he was running late.” She sniffled. “It was you?”

  “Yes,” I said. “We ran into each other up by the castle, so we stopped at a pub and had a beer together.”

  “That sounds wonderful,” she said wistfully. “He was such a loving, friendly person.”

  Ah. Friendly, yes. Especially when he was trying to coax you out of your pants. And no, I didn’t think that qualified as speaking unkindly of the dead. On the contrary, Kyle had often said that his skill at removing a lady’s clothing was one of his most admirable abilities.

  “You know we used to date, right?” I said cautiously.

  She hesitated, then let out a tiny sob. “I’d forgotten.”

  I persisted. “I’m going to assume from your reaction to his death that you two were involved?”

  She choked back a sob. “We were in love. We were going to be married.”

  It was my turn to choke. Was she kidding? Sure, I loved Kyle, but I’d suspected all along that he was a total player. Of course, I’d thought at the time that I was special enough to be the exception, so I was in no position to judge Helen.

  “Kyle asked you to marry him?” I asked. “He proposed?”

  “We were in love,” she repeated softly, as though that were all anyone needed to know. It wasn’t.

  “Ladies,” Detective Inspector MacLeod said from directly behind us.

  Helen clutched my hand.

  Damn. I’d been so wrapped up in Helen’s shocking disclosure that I hadn’t noticed him sneaking up on us. For such a big guy, he sure moved quietly. Thank goodness we were whispering. How much could he have heard?

  “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”

  Crap. I rubbed Helen’s cold hand, hoping I hadn’t gotten her into too much trouble.

  “Miss?” he said, looking at me.

  Why was he looking at me?

  “I heard you say you met with the deceased this afternoon.”

  Oh, crap again. “Yes, sir?”

  “I’ll speak with you now, if you please.”

  Me? What did I do? I had to pry my hand away from Helen’s before I could stand. MacLeod helped me up as if I weighed almost nothing. Once I was standing, I still had to lean back to look up at him. The man was extra large. His eyes were the type that twinkled when he talked, but I doubted he’d be jolly enough to let me slide simply because I happened to know his old buddy Derek.

  And speaking of his old buddy, where was Derek? Figured he’d disappear when I needed him most. It wasn’t the first time he’d left me to fend for myself with the cops.

  MacLeod allowed me to go before him up the stairs of the close, but he kept his hand on my elbow the entire time. It should’ve been comforting but felt more like he was coaxing a turkey to the chopping block.

  When we reached the area at the top of the close, I saw Derek talking to one of the investigators. As I walked past in MacLeod’s wake, Derek shook his head in resignation. Hey, it wasn’t my fault I seemed to find dead people on a regular basis.

  Angus MacLeod led me inside a nearby office building where, apparently, a few offices had been commandeered for the investigation. We walked down a short hall to an open office and he indicated a chair in front of a mahogany desk. “Please do have a seat, Ms…”

  “Wainwright. Brooklyn Wainwright.”

  “Ah, yes, Ms. Wainwright. You know our Commander Stone, I understand.”

  “Yes, I do,” I said, starting to sit. “We’re acquaintances from-”

  “A previous murder investigation in which you were also the prime suspect.”

  My butt had barely hit the chair before I bounced back up and blurted, “Also the prime suspect? What’s that supposed to mean?”

  And what kind of stupid question was that? I knew exactly what he was insinuating, and I wasn’t happy about it. How had I become the prime suspect again? It was so unfair. This probably wasn’t the best time to throw a tantrum, but I wanted to pout and kick something.

  “It simply means that you have some experience with murder,” he said a little too cheerfully.

  My inner alarm meter rose quickly. “No, I don’t. I mean, yes, I’ve been unfortunate enough to have come across a few victims of murder, but I have no experience with murder personally. I mean, I’m not a… Well, I would never…” Oh, God, I just needed to shut up.

  “Please sit down, Ms. Wainwright,” he said again.

  I stared at the threadbare visitor’s chair, then glanced at him. He had already seated himself in the deluxe boss’s chair behind the intimidating desk, clearly in charge. This wasn’t looking at all friendly. Good thing he wasn’t really carrying a claymore.

  Did he think I did it? That this was a slam dunk? Was he picturing this investigation all wrapped up with a bow on top? I pulled my jacket a little tighter around me, feeling a distinct chill in the air.

  “Fine.” I sighed as I sat. I could learn to hate the police, despite my sincerest efforts to love my neighbor and all that.

  “Thank you,” he said. “Now, what I meant by experience was that you, Ms. Wainwright, of all people, may be the most accommodating of witnesses, having been on both sides of a similar situation in the past, and thus able to shine a clear light on the sad events of this evening.”

  My eyes narrowed. His dialect was almost lyrical, his words were lovely and I should’ve been charmed, but I had this twitchy feeling that it was all a bunch of smoke he was blowing up my kilt. Not that I was wearing a kilt, but really, wasn’t he just flattering me before his henchmen showed up and dragged me away in shackles?

  “So… you want my help?” I ventured.

  He smiled brightly. “Aye, now you’ve got the right of it.”

  I took a deep breath and channeled my mother, trying for one of her cheery Sunny Bunny smiles. I would’ve succeeded were it not for the sudden nervous tic in my cheek. “Okay, sure. Of course I can help. What would you like to know?”

  He asked questions and I answered, telling him everything that had taken place from the beginning of the tour until the police arrived on the scene. I tried to remember everyone’s comments, every room we walked into, Helen’s first screams, then mine, then me racing out of there and straight into Derek’s arms.

  “You can imagine my shock,” I said, “when Derek Stone appeared out of the blue, just as the body was discovered.”

  I hastened to add, “Not that I’m accusing him of murder or anything.”

  He barked out a laugh. “Of course not.” He was remarkably boyish and cute when he smiled. Nevertheless, he didn’t take the bait and rush off to arrest Derek. Instead, he sat back in his chair, folded his hands together and asked, “What was your relationship with the deceased?”

  “Kyle and I were old friends,” I said. “Good friends. Okay, we used to date. But it’s been almost four years since we broke up.”

  “I see.”

  “We stayed friends, though,” I said quickly. “I ran into him this afternoon and we had a beer together.”

  “Where was this?” he asked as he wrote notes in a small tablet.

  “The Ensign Ewart.”

  He excused himself and left the room but was back a minute later. I assumed he must’ve sent someone to check out my Ensign Ewart story.

  “What did the two of you talk about?” he asked.
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  “Books, of course,” I said. “And also, Kyle was in some trouble and asked me to help.”

  MacLeod leaned forward. “Trouble? What sort of trouble?”

  There was a knock on the door and MacLeod swore under his breath. He jumped up and opened it, listened to his man, then closed the door and returned to his chair behind the desk. He folded his hands together and stared at me through narrowed eyes.

  “What?” I finally demanded.

  He shook his head. “It’s nothing. We have a witness who saw you and the victim at the Ensign Ewart earlier today.”

  “I just told you I was there,” I snapped, then exhaled heavily. “Sorry. I’m a little stressed out.”

  “No harm done,” he said, and probably meant it. He seemed a cheerful sort. He checked his notepad, then said, “You were saying that Mr. McVee thought he was in some bit of trouble?”

  I debated how much to tell him and decided on the whole truth, since he’d be checking up on everything I told him anyway. “Kyle said someone had tried to kill him. Tried to run him down with a car. It happened right outside the hotel.”

  “Which hotel would that be?”

  “Oh, sorry. The Royal Thistle, we’re all staying there for the book fair.”

  He wrote it down in his notebook. “And ‘we’ would be the antiquarian book fair people.”

  I nodded and he continued to write, then asked, “Did Mr. McVee tell you why he thought someone was trying to kill him?”

  “Yes, he did.” And he’d been right. Someone had been after him and they’d succeeded. My mind flashed back to a picture of Kyle in the pub, laughing and teasing, then flipped to see him curled up on the hearth in that awful, dark room. My stomach clenched in pain and I shook my head to get rid of that dreadful image.

  “And…?” MacLeod coaxed. “I know it’s difficult, but please go on.”

  “Yes, it is difficult. Sorry.” I gulped in air. I couldn’t lose it now. Not in front of the police. No, I’d have to wait until later to have a nice little psychotic break. “Kyle thought someone was trying to stop him from showcasing a…” I hesitated, asking myself how much I was willing to reveal about the Burns book. Would anyone believe it? Did that matter? I owed it to Kyle to tell the whole truth. I inhaled, exhaled, focused, became one with the Bodhisattva warrior within, as my upbringing on the commune had taught me to do, and said, “Kyle had a special book he was going to present at the fair. There was some history behind it, and some dispute over-”

  Somebody knocked on the door and blew my whole inner-warrior pretense to hell.

  “Enter,” MacLeod called.

  One of the police investigators opened the door. He was dressed in a white jumpsuit with disposable white cloth booties over his shoes. In his hand he held a large manila envelope. “Sir, we believe we’ve found the murder weapon.”

  MacLeod gave his subordinate a severe frown as he jumped out of his chair. “Outside, McGill.” To me, he said politely, “Pardon me, won’t you, Ms. Wainwright? I shouldn’t be long.”

  “No problemo.”

  The door closed and I muttered, “Don’t mind me. I’ll just sit here and envision my life in a Scottish brig.”

  Would they force-feed me haggis? I wondered. Would there be portions of rum for the condemned? Oh, God. Rum always gave me a headache.

  With my elbows resting on my knees, I rubbed my face. I was frustrated and scared, and really wished I’d brought the bag of chocolate with me. How had I gotten myself involved in another murder investigation? In a foreign country, no less? Should I have called the American embassy before spilling the beans to the chief cop?

  And Kyle, my darling Kyle, was dead. My eyes burned as I realized his worst suspicions had come to pass. And as far as I knew, the only person who had as much knowledge of Kyle’s book as I did was Perry McDougall.

  Had Perry killed Kyle? It wouldn’t surprise me. Kyle had claimed that Perry threatened him.

  Kyle had also said that two other people besides Perry knew about the Robert Burns book, but he’d never told me who. If he and Helen were as close as she insisted they were, he might’ve told her about the book and the story behind it. But I didn’t think Kyle was the type to upset Helen with talk of death threats.

  Helen’s reaction to Kyle’s death had been so painful and over-the-top, it convinced me that she really had thought Kyle would marry her. Call me cynical, but I couldn’t believe he would’ve gone through with it. He was an incorrigible player and cute as could be, but dangerous to a woman’s heart. Poor Helen. I knew I shouldn’t talk, but the woman had seriously atrocious taste in men. First she’d married that jerk Martin, and now she thought she’d be marrying bad boy Kyle? Not too smart.

  Again, I didn’t have a whole lot of room to criticize, especially since I’d been led on by Kyle, too. But I never would’ve fallen for Martin, so as far as I was concerned, that made me a genius compared to my friend.

  I shifted in my chair, wondering where MacLeod had run off to. Was Helen being interrogated somewhere nearby? If so, was she telling the cops that she and Kyle were to have been married? And had she honestly bought into the fantasy that they would live happily ever after? Apparently, yes.

  I rubbed my eyes, feeling more tired than ever. Who was I to judge Helen, just because Kyle had never promised me anything more than a good time? Why wouldn’t he propose marriage to Helen? She was sweet and smart and very pretty. And very rich. Couldn’t forget that. But Kyle was rich in his own right, so I didn’t think money would be much of a motivator for him.

  Of course, Martin had money, too, so that probably hadn’t been a consideration when he asked Helen to marry him. I’d always thought Helen appealed to Martin because he’d mistaken her easygoing nature for subservience.

  Now I wondered if maybe it was Helen on the other end of the phone call Kyle had received. He’d certainly run out of the pub in a hurry, and maybe that was a sign that he really did have warm feelings for her. I hoped so. I’d like to think that Helen had been happy with Kyle after putting up with Martin for as long as she did.

  I would have to remember to tell MacLeod about that phone call Kyle received. The police would be able to check Kyle’s cell phone. Sadly, they probably wouldn’t let me in on who’d called.

  The door opened and MacLeod came back in.

  “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said, his expression falling somewhere between disapproval and condemnation. He laid that same manila envelope on the desk, then reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a rubber glove and snapped it onto his left hand.

  “Can you identify this, please?” he asked as he pulled a blood-splotched hammer out of the envelope and dangled it carefully between two fingers. The look he gave me turned my toes to ice.

  “It appears to be a hammer,” I said cautiously, then took a slow breath. “Is that the murder weapon?”

  “Why don’t you look at it a little more closely?” he suggested, and moved the hammer so I could see it from several different angles. Icy tendrils slithered from my toes up to my spine and into my neck so quickly, I thought I might freeze and shatter into a thousand pieces.

  The hammer was a familiar style. Too familiar. Unlike a typical hammer, this one was lightweight, with a shorter handle, a longer claw with a blunt end, and a smaller, dome-shaped nose.

  A bookbinder’s hammer.

  There were initials engraved at the base. I didn’t have to look any closer to recognize them.

  The initials were BW.

  The hammer was mine.

  Chapter 4

  I coughed to clear my suddenly dry throat. “It’s a… a bookbinder’s hammer.”

  He looked at it more closely. “Odd sort of shape.”

  “Yes.” I took another breath. “Its shorter length and lighter weight allow for more accuracy and efficiency when pounding and rounding the spine of a book.”

  Did my words sound as dully rote to him as they did to me?

  “Thank you for the information.
He peered at the object, then pointed to something he saw near the edge. “There seems to be a design here on the end. Or are those initials? BW? Ach.”

  Now he was just showing off. He knew they were mine. Spots began to circle and fade in and out of my field of vision. I took a huge gulp of air and let it go. I refused to further disgrace myself by fainting.

  “Ms. Wainwright, have you ever seen this hammer before?”

  “Yes, of course. It’s mine. It was a gift from my teacher. Part of a set.”

  He nodded sagely. “I see.”

  “What do you see?” I shook my head, still not believing any of it. “What are you saying? That Kyle was killed with my hammer? Who would do that? I wouldn’t do that! What am I, stupid? Do you think I had anything to do with it?”

  “We’re still determining that,” he said calmly, and slipped the bloody hammer carefully back into the envelope.

  Great, they were still determining how stupid I was. Watch me burst with pride.

  “Did you loan your tools to someone recently?”

  “No, absolutely not,” I said.

  “They’ve been in your possession all along?”

  “Yes, they’ve been in my hotel room since I arrived yesterday.” So I was the only one with access to my tools. Could somebody lend me a shovel so I could dig a deeper hole around me?

  He started to make a note.

  “Wait,” I said. “Sorry. I’ve got my days a little wrong. I just arrived this morning. Around noon.” I shook my head, a bit dazed. Had it been only ten hours since I’d checked into the hotel? It felt like I’d been here a month.

  So in the space of a few short hours, someone had entered my room, stolen my hammer, then lured Kyle deep into that dark, bleak tenement and killed him in cold blood without anyone noticing?

  And they’d used my hammer?

  Why?

  Was it in incredibly bad taste to feel almost as sorry for myself as I did for Kyle?

  Obviously, I was being set up. Obvious to me, anyway. Detective Inspector MacLeod didn’t seem to be seeing it my way. No, he was eyeing me with barely concealed glee, as though he were picturing me inside my very own jail cell while he received the thanks of a grateful nation for saving them from a homicidal maniac who looked a lot like me.

 
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