If Books Could Kill, page 7
He stood, too, and blocked my escape. “You’re jealous.”
“No, I’m not.”
“And I live to delight you.” I turned and walked out of the pub.
He caught up and took hold of my arm. “Listen to me, those people are not my-”
“ Brooklyn, is that you?”
I turned at the sound of my name. “What? Oh. Hi, Helen.”
Ignoring Derek, she threw her arms around me. “I’m so glad the police let you go.”
“Well, of course they let me go,” I said with a nervous laugh as I pulled away. “What did you think?”
“But I saw you leave with that detective,” she said, wringing her hands. “Nobody’s seen you for hours. I was so afraid they’d arrested you. I don’t know what I would’ve done if-”
“I’m fine,” I said, rubbing her arm consolingly. The woman was turning into a basket case. “Helen, this is Derek Stone. Commander Stone, this is my friend, Helen Chin.”
He frowned at me, then turned to Helen and smiled politely. “How do you do?”
“Oh. H-hello, er, nice to meet you, Commander,” she said, her eyes wide, clearly intimidated by Derek. She looked back at me. “Please say you’re free for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“I can meet you at the concierge desk at eight or eight thirty.”
“Can we make it nine?” I asked, desperate for all the sleep I could get.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Thanks. I’ll meet you at the concierge desk at nine.”
She cast one last anxious look at Derek, then said good night.
Derek turned to me. “What was that all about?”
“What do you mean?”
“Commander Stone? You’ve never called me that.”
“That is your title, isn’t it? And it was kind of weird how she reacted, don’t you think?”
His eyes narrowed. “Don’t.”
He pulled me to a quiet corner so nobody could overhear us. “Don’t tell me you suspect that tiny woman is capable of bludgeoning a man of Kyle McVee’s height and weight.”
“Of course I don’t suspect Helen, but I’m no more capable of bludgeoning Kyle than she is. So why am I number one on the suspect list?”
“I’m sure you’re not.”
“I would appreciate your putting a little more enthusiasm into that.”
“I’ll talk to Angus.”
“And just to be clear, your friend Helen is not on your imaginary list of murder suspects. Correct?”
“Absolutely.” I folded my arms across my chest. “There’s no way I would suspect her of murder.”
I fudged. “Well, I guess anyone is capable of murder under the right circumstances.”
“Here we go,” he said.
“Okay, no,” I whispered. “Of course not. I would never suspect Helen of killing a fly, let alone another human being.”
“Then why’d you pull the ‘commander’ nonsense?”
“I don’t know.” That wasn’t entirely true, so I started over. “I wanted to see her reaction. I’m tired of being the first one accused of murder once again. I know I didn’t do it, but that doesn’t mean MacLeod will listen to me. So it’s in my best interests to figure out who might’ve done it before the police toss me in the dungeon and throw away the key.”
“That won’t happen,” he said firmly.
“Easy for you to say,” I muttered. “Look, Helen thought Kyle was going to marry her. What if she brought up the subject and he laughed in her face? Maybe he’d just broken up with her. Maybe she saw him with me and it pushed her to the edge of insanity and she couldn’t take it anymore, so she broke into my room and stole my tools. Or maybe she… are you listening to me?”
He was gazing upward, toward heaven, I supposed, as though praying for divine intervention.
“Fine,” I said. “I know it’s not Helen, but it’s somebody out there besides me.”
“Yes, but you’re grasping at straws, darling.”
“It’s all I have.” I was close to tears, but I refused to lose it in front of him and everyone else in the hotel lobby.
He wrapped his arms around me. “I realize you’re upset, love, but don’t start looking for murder suspects behind every potted plant. It could get you into trouble, in case you’ve forgotten what happened last time you tried it.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I checked my wristwatch. “My goodness, look at the time. It’s after midnight. I’m dead on my feet.”
“You scare me to death with this dangerous game you’re playing.”
“Game?” I repeated. “If this is a game, I should be having more fun.”
He shook his head, then linked my arm firmly through his. “I’m walking you to your room.”
“Not necessary,” I demurred, though I was secretly pleased that he’d offered. “I’ll be fine.”
He tightened his grip on me. “Believe me, it’s not you I’m worried about.”
Not surprisingly, I didn’t sleep well that night. Sometime around three thirty a.m., I awoke and jumped out of bed, ready to boogie. When I realized what time it was, I groaned and walked to the window, just to make sure the alarm clock wasn’t lying. I pushed back the curtains and saw that it was indeed still dark outside, and raining, which fit my mood perfectly. The city seemed to shine in all its wet, fog-shrouded, shadowy glory. The lights from the castle reflecting off the clouds cast an eerie glow over the streets. I worried that I might not be able to enjoy the city as much as I had in the past. So far, the trip was kind of… well, to call it a bummer would be putting it mildly.
My eyes slowly focused on the space just outside my window, and I noticed with some alarm that my room was right on the path of the hotel fire escape. Iron stairs ran past my window, and a narrow platform made a perfect little perch for someone to stand on as they jimmied my window open. How damned convenient.
If I hadn’t been wide-awake before, I was now.
Shaken, I carefully checked the window locks. They seemed secure enough, but the killer had entered my room by one means or another, and I wasn’t going to take any chances. I would demand a new room when I went downstairs for breakfast.
“Now what?” I paced the room, knowing I couldn’t go back to sleep. Back at the window, I stared out at the darkness for a few minutes, then suddenly wondered if the killer might be watching me. A little moan escaped my throat and I shoved the curtains closed.
I’d had my reasons for requesting a room on a lower floor, but giving a determined killer a shorter climb wasn’t one of them.
But who had broken into my room? So far, the only person I could think of was Perry McDougall, but how would he have gained access? The windows were locked, and besides, I had a hard time picturing him crawling up a fire escape, just to get my hammer. Yes, we’d had our little altercation earlier, but was that enough to use me as a pawn in some weird game of death and revenge?
I knew it wasn’t Helen. I’d already decided she had nothing to do with it, even while I’d laid out her possible motives to Derek in the lobby earlier.
But who could’ve done it? Who hated me so much that they’d risk danger and exposure and arrest to somehow break into my room and steal my stuff in order to frame me for murder?
An image of her sneering face caused shudders to vibrate clear down to my bones. Minka hated me enough to do almost anything to destroy me. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to have her thrown in jail, and sadly, it probably wasn’t her anyway. But I recalled with fondness how the San Francisco police had arrested her for a short time while Abraham’s murder was being investigated. In the end, though, Minka had been a dead end. Still, it was fun to imagine her living behind bars, forced to hook up with a cell mate named Big Marge.
The alarm went off four hours later, and this time I had to drag myself out of my warm bed. Stumbling around the room, I tried to figure out what to do first. Instinct led me to the compact coffee butler on the dresser, where I found packets of coffee, decaf, tea and hot chocolate. I knew the powdered coffee would be awful, but hot chocolate sounded yummy. I filled the small pot with water and plugged it in to heat.
Remembering my discovery of the night before, I stared across the room at the curtains. With some trepidation, I peeked outside, then pulled them open and winced at the glare of morning sunlight that poured in. There was frost on the windowsill, but it was no longer raining. The city looked refreshed and alive-and cold. Ordinarily, it would’ve been a perfect day to sneak out of the hotel and wander for a while, but I was hoping that the book fair committee would arrange some sort of memorial for Kyle. It was the least they could do.
I was halfway through my shower when I remembered that Robin would be here sometime today. I almost wept with happiness. I could really use a good friend by my side.
I finished my shower, then did the hair-and-makeup routine. Twenty minutes later, I was feeling a bit more alert, thanks to the two cups of Cadbury hot chocolate I’d sucked down while getting ready. Ever the optimist, I dressed for brisk outdoor weather in jeans tucked into boots, a turtleneck and my sage-colored down jacket. I slipped a collapsible umbrella into my bag in case the rain returned, then headed downstairs to meet Helen.
It was a few minutes past nine but I didn’t see Helen in the lobby yet, so I stopped at the front desk to request a new room.
“May I be of service, ma’am?” the young clerk asked in a charming Scottish accent I could listen to all day long.
When he informed me that the hotel was full, I frowned and explained, “My room was broken into yesterday, so I was hoping there might be something available that’s not directly on the fire escape.”
“Yer wha…?” he said.
“My room was-”
“Brooken inta?” His eyes widened. “Ach! Om sartin gash! Wuh cana low tha! Wuh canna lehti gon.”
“Um, pardon me?” I asked.
“Sa cram!” he cried, pounding his hand on the counter. “Wartha police anya naidem?”
“Um, hmm.” I could pick out little phrases here and there but really had no idea what he was saying. I did think his level of excitement and concern was sending the right message, though. On the other hand, he was starting to get strange looks from his fellow clerks.
He grabbed the telephone, then slammed it down. “Wa kana chanty wrassler wuh dit?” He whipped around, looking for someone, then shook his head. “All gie heid bummer.”
Bummer. Yes. I caught that word but wondered if it meant something different in Scottish.
He continued muttering as he walked back to an anteroom. I was completely lost on the words, but I got the gist of what he was saying and appreciated his enthusiasm. Despite my problems, there was something sexy and wonderful about a volatile young Scotsman.
I could see him on the phone in the small office behind the desk area. He hung up and walked back.
“I’m sorry to say we have no more available rooms,” he said, and I could tell it pained him. “My manager will send security to your room to make sure the locks are in working order, and they’ve already added an extra guard detail because of the unfortunate death last night.”
He spoke with barely a trace of the heavy dialect he’d used only seconds ago. Did he slip into dialect only when he was excited? Interesting.
“My manager has alerted our people to keep an eagle eye on the fire escape as well. That’s the best we can do for now, Ms. Wainwright.” He placed his hand over his heart. “But I promise you, it won’t happen again.”
I felt strangely disappointed by his upstanding British accent. Weird. But I also had a feeling he’d stand guard on the fire escape himself, if he had to.
I thanked him for his trouble, then asked, “What’s your name?”
“It’s Gregory,” he said, with just a touch of a lilt in his voice. It sounded like gray-gree. He was so cute.
Meanwhile, I was stuck with my same room off the fire escape.
I thought briefly about changing hotels, but that would take me away from my friends and colleagues and the book fair ambience. If the hotel management was serious about fixing my windows and stepping up security, that would have to be good enough. But I’d be sleeping with one eye open from now on.
As I crossed the lobby, I saw a signboard announcing that all book fair activities had been canceled this morning. A memorial service for Kyle McVee would be held at noon in the Triton Room on the conference level.
I still didn’t see Helen anywhere in the lobby area. I waited a few more minutes, then took a chance and wandered into the restaurant. The room was a massive, open atrium with a ceiling as high as the hotel itself. There were at least seventy or eighty tables and an enormous breakfast buffet spread along one wall. The room was loud and lively with chatter this morning. Pale yellow walls and floor-to-ceiling windows added to the cheery brightness. Staring at the buffet, I realized I was famished. I walked past rows and rows of people eating and talking, searching for Helen, hoping maybe she’d found a table and was waiting for me.
I stopped when I spied her at the far end of the room, sitting in a comfy booth, snuggled up with someone. And by snuggled up, I mean they were hugging each other as though the world were about to end. Perhaps in Helen’s case, that was true.
Except that the guy hugging her was Martin, her ex-husband. I was a few steps away when he opened his eyes and saw me. He huffed in exasperation as he let go of her.
This was going to be awkward.
“What is it?” Helen asked him, then followed his gaze and smiled when she saw me.
I waved weakly.
“ Brooklyn, hi!” she said, sliding over in the booth and patting the seat. “I’m so glad you’re here. Join us, please.”
Join us? Oh, no. Her tone bordered on anxious, but I had to be strong. Life was too short to spend a minute of quality time with Martin Warrington.
And Martin wasn’t budging.
“Um, I’m sorry, Helen, but I can’t,” I said. “I was just trying to find you to let you know that I got a call from a client who wants to meet this morning at the, um, the Balmoral. He’s a client; did I say that? Anyway, I didn’t realize he was coming in today, but then he called and I really should. Um, go. I should go. And, well, I’m sorry.”
I needed to learn when to shut up.
I glanced at Martin, whose lips thinned in his version of a satisfied smile. He knew I was lying. Everyone knew I was lying. I was the world’s worst liar.
Helen, on the other hand, looked simply crestfallen. “Are you sure?”
I felt like a horrible friend, but Martin’s slithery smile cinched it.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said softly. “Maybe we can do lunch?”
That earned me an exaggerated eye roll from Martin.
“What?” I asked him, my irritation rising. I couldn’t help it. He scraped my last nerve raw.
“I didn’t say anything,” he said, and gave Helen a look of injured innocence. Didn’t I say he was a jackass? I hated that I’d even acknowledged him. And I hated it more that Helen was too nice to tell him to leave.
“Yes, I’ll have lunch with you,” Helen said, which earned her another eye roll from Martin.
Ignoring him, I looked at my watch. “I’ve got to run. I’ll call your cell later.”
I took off at a fast walk. I couldn’t help but detest the man. And despite the fact that they’d just been hugging, I knew Helen didn’t want to be alone with him. On the other hand, she’d been married to the man, so I supposed she still might’ve had feelings for him. Didn’t mean
On my way out of the restaurant I was forced to walk past the enormous buffet. I could handle the scrambled eggs and sausage, the grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, even the eggs Benedict. But when I got to the gorgeous display of French toast and caught the aroma of warm maple syrup wafting up from the table, my knees almost collapsed from under me.
I reluctantly passed the coffee station, too, even though I needed caffeine like I needed my next breath. How unfair was it that I couldn’t stay and eat? Damn Martin for ruining my breakfast. And Helen’s, too, poor girl.
I pouted all the way out of the restaurant and across the lobby. Now what? Room service sounded depressing and slow. I could always walk a half block up to the Royal Mile and go to Starbucks, but talk about depressing. Travel ten thousand miles and eat at a Starbucks? Just shoot me. I was certain that the next astronauts to land on the moon would find a Starbucks there.
I stood outside by the valet station and wondered which way to go. I knew there were other hotels in the area where I could get breakfast. I flipped a mental coin and headed east. A short block away, I found the Monarch Hotel and ventured inside. The lobby was elegant in a slightly shabby, old-world sort of way, much like an elderly woman who still wore her 1950s-era Chanel suit to entertain her luncheon guests, but her lipstick was a bit smeared and her hair was thinning.
I took the elevator up to the cozy rooftop restaurant. The hostess led me to a small table by a wide bay window, and as I sat down, a waitress hurried over with a pot of coffee. As she poured, I thanked her profusely, pitifully grateful for the caffeine. Then she took my order for French toast, a side of bacon and a glass of orange juice and scurried away. Things were looking up.
As I waited for breakfast to arrive, I pulled out my notebook to study my workshop presentation. But instead of practicing my workshop spiel, I found myself thinking about Kyle. Or more precisely, his killer.
I flipped to a blank page, where I began to list all the possible murder suspects I could come up with. It was silly, really. Derek was right: I should’ve learned my lesson in San Francisco last month. I had no business sticking my nose in an ongoing police investigation. But I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t just about Kyle. Someone had gone to a whole lot of trouble to frame me, so the way I saw it, I was already involved.
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