Maggie Dove's Detective Agency, page 10
“No,” she’d answered, puzzled.
“That’s the only other time I’ve ever seen a spine so clenched,” the masseuse had explained.
Whatever Lucifer had done or not done, Maggie thought, his grief was sincere enough.
“Someone told me once that everyone has a favorite brother.”
His eyes gleamed a little. “Ivan, of course. How could I not like the brother who talks to the devil?”
“The one who argues that evil is subjective.”
“Yes, that people do what they wish without any regard for morality. And let me guess, Maggie Dove. I imagine that your favorite character is Alyosha.”
“Of course,” she said. “How can I not love someone so pure hearted? Though to tell the truth, I love them all. Sometimes when I’m reading it I imagine they’re all my Sunday School students.”
How funny, she thought, how books could connect you to another person. She’d gone there expecting to dislike Lucifer, and yet it was impossible to dislike someone who read the same books you did.
“Even the father?” Lucifer asked. “You could imagine him in your Sunday School class?”
“Perhaps not him. And not Grushenka either. She scares me.” For much the same reason as Domino had, she supposed. Such unbridled passion.
He laughed. “I had a Sunday School teacher like you when I was a boy. Not one of her successes, I’m afraid.”
“Sunday School teachers are a forgiving lot. After all, we’re all sinners.”
“Do you really think that?”
“I had a minister once who said that the only people who went to church were sinners. I’ve always liked that.”
He was quiet for a moment. She wanted to speak, but held back. Detective Grudge said that silence was the most important part of an interview. Their silences were when people spoke most eloquently.
“This book belonged to Domino,” he said. “I felt I needed to read something she enjoyed. I can’t let go of her yet.”
“There’s no reason you should. You hold on to her for as long as you can.”
He ran his hands through his hair. His long hair was pushed back off his head and dyed dark black, and he had a dramatic widow’s peak. He should have been ugly, Maggie thought, but there was something in his expression that drew you in. There was something vulnerable about him, in just the same way Edgar seemed vulnerable when he got into trouble. Something child-like. A man who needed to be protected.
“I’m sure Racine told you that she hired me to find out more about what happened. She feels like there are people in this village who believe she killed Domino.”
Lucifer shook his head. “That’s ridiculous. No one killed Domino. I read the autopsy report. It’s quite clear her death was accidental. Unless you’re suggesting I gave her the ergot, that I put it on the broomstick?”
“Quite honestly,” Maggie said, “even if you did, I don’t know how you could know she would go over the railing. But do you think it’s possible that Domino wanted to kill herself? Could her death have been self-inflicted?”
“No,” he said. “She was happy.”
He ran his finger up the spine of the book. Long fingers. Was he a witch too? she wondered.
“She was happy in her marriage?”
“It was an…unusual marriage,” Maggie said, feeling a need to be diplomatic. She supposed “unusual” was as good a word as any to describe living with your wife and your mistress.
He looked up at her. He had the face of angel, she thought, the same sweet details, the soft eyes and thin lips. But there were also parts of him that made her think of the devil. Just like Ivan. Good and bad.
“She was an unusual woman,” he said.
“She never felt jealousy?”
“About Passion?” he asked. “Why should she? I wasn’t going to leave her. There were no boundaries between us. What I wanted, she wanted. What brought me pleasure pleasured her.”
He said it as though he were saying that he would have milk with his tea.
“That flies in the face of everything I know about human nature,” Maggie said.
He laughed. “Perhaps you know the wrong humans.”
Leaving aside the mechanics of the whole thing, she simply could not imagine her husband, Stuart Dove, coming home and saying he wanted to bring another woman into their relationship. She would have been terribly hurt. It would have suggested to her that she alone wasn’t good enough for him. She would have felt embarrassed. Plus, she couldn’t imagine how that conversation would begin. By the way…
“Are you planning on marrying Passion now?”
“No,” he said decisively. “I’ll never marry again.”
He shrugged. His eyes closed slightly. She thought of what Detective Grudge said in his episode on lying, that it’s almost impossible for a liar not to give himself away. He will blink, fidget, sweat, have dry mouth. Lucifer was doing none of those things. Oddly enough, as she thought about it, the only person who had exhibited that behavior was Racine.
“Does Passion know you don’t plan to marry her?”
“Yes,” he said levelly. “I never lie. I’ve been very open about my expectations.”
The house suddenly shook with the rattling noise of a train going north. The only disadvantage to living on the Hudson River. Washington Irving, who’d lived only a mile or so north, had fought hard to stop the train from coming, but hadn’t succeeded. Always hard to stop the onslaught of a train. She thought of Domino again. Of the way she’d kissed that girl and bit her lip. Of the look on Passion’s face when she left the room. Whatever expectations Lucifer had of Passion were not necessarily the same ones Passion had of him. There were parts of human nature you couldn’t eliminate no matter how much you wanted to.
Suddenly Lucifer seemed to slump. All the energy went out of him as though he were a balloon losing air. The exhaustion of grief, she thought. The weight of being upset all the time.
“You must be tired,” she said. “I won’t keep you much longer, but there is one bit of information you can help me with. Is there anyone Domino was having an argument with?”
He smiled at that. “There were many people. Domino had a strong personality.”
“Maybe somebody who cropped up when she returned to Darby,” Maggie asked, thinking about how the past might have come back to haunt her. “Someone she hadn’t seen in a while.”
“There was Grant Winfrey,” he said.
Maggie started. She hadn’t actually expected him to come up with anyone. She wrote the name in her notebook.
“Who is he?”
“She knew him from school. I think they were having an argument about the coven. She told me not to worry about it, but he came by the house.”
The man on the lawn, Maggie thought.
“Do you have any idea where he is?”
“He’s a doctor, I know that much.”
“Okay, I can find him,” she said.
Always ask one last question, Detective Grudge said. You never know what may turn up.
“Just one last thing. When was the last time you saw Domino?”
He leaned back in the leather chair. “I saw her just before she started up the steps to the tower. She was magnificent,” he said. “She was beautiful. We…” He cleared his throat and looked at Maggie. “We were intimate and then she gave me Charlotte and went upstairs.”
“Why did she give you Charlotte? Why didn’t she bring Charlotte upstairs with her?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Didn’t she take that tarantula everywhere with her?”
“Yes,” he said, closing his eyes, keeping them closed for a moment. “That’s true.”
“But she might not have wanted to take Charlotte with her if she thought she was going to kill herself. She might not have wanted to kill her too.”
“Yes,” he said, staring at her with alarm. “That’s true.”
“Where is Charlotte now?” she as
“I don’t know.”
“How do you mean?”
For the first time in their conversation, Lucifer looked disconcerted. He began running his hands through his hair.
“Domino gave Charlotte to me, and I was holding her, but then Domino fell and I must have put Charlotte down. I forgot all about her.”
“You mean to say that there’s a tarantula roaming around Darby?”
“Yes,” he said, and bit back a laugh. “Domino would have loved that.”
He was right, Maggie thought, after she ended the conversation, as she tiptoed outside, watching very carefully where she planted her feet.
Maggie went back to her office and prepared to write up her report for Racine. She felt pleased that she had something to say. This was bordering on being a triumphal moment, Maggie thought. Perhaps not on the order of climbing Mount Everest, but she had overcome her anxieties to interview Lucifer Raines and in the process she’d uncovered new information. Perhaps there was a place for Maggie in this world. Perhaps her detective agency would flourish. She wished she had a cheering section, but perhaps that’s where God came in. “Thank you,” she whispered.
But before she could write up her first gold star report, she had to call Walter. She had to tell him about the tarantula on the loose. She could just imagine the Faraday sisters trodding on it. She had to call Walter Campbell and let him know, though from the flutter in her stomach, she had a foreshadowing that it would not go well.
So many phone calls for someone who hated making them.
“Walter,” she said when she reached him. “I just wanted you to know that I talked to Lucifer and he realized that Domino’s tarantula is on the loose.” She went on to give details, but Walter was so silent she thought the connection was broken.
“I thought you were done. I thought we agreed there was nothing here to investigate.”
She noticed then that the red light on the VCR was blinking. The teddy bear video camera must be picking up movement in Racine’s room. Probably Racine. She hadn’t had a chance to look at the tapes yet, but she made a note to watch them later.
“I didn’t agree to anything of the kind, Walter. I’m only calling because I think there’s a threat to the community. There’s a tarantula on the loose,” she said, and hung up because she truly wanted no more arguments. For a non-confrontational person, she was confronting a lot.
Maggie went back to typing her report. She pushed Walter out of her head. She focused on writing a detailed account of what she’d done, and she added in an action plan for the next day. She would hunt down Grant Winfrey and see what he had to say. She even added in Detective Grudge’s quote about the past. She was just about to send it to Racine when the phone buzzed. It was her minister.
“Maggie Dove. Would you come up here, please? I’d like to talk.”
Oh God, Maggie thought. What had she done? She’d not been called to the minister’s office for ages. Not since setting the church on fire, but that was long ago and a complete accident and had more to do with the state of the church’s oven than anything else. She supposed this time it had to do with the upcoming Dining Out Club. She wondered if Reverend Sunday was concerned about the logistics, or perhaps worried people might not come. Maggie was worried people might not come.
The Bronx was unfamiliar, the Ghanaian food was unfamiliar and Reverend Sunday was unfamiliar. A few people had switched churches since her arrival, transferring membership to churches they described as traditional. Maggie had no plans to switch churches, but she was getting her bearings herself. The minister played such an important part in her life that it was always an adjustment becoming used to a new one, and Reverend Sunday was different. No question.
But Maggie did want to get to know her better and she certainly wanted to help her, and so she dropped everything, brushed her hair, brushed her teeth, put on lipstick and headed up the hill to the minister’s office. On the way she passed Tim Harrison at D’Amici’s and made a note to herself to stop and talk to him later. She passed by Trudi at the candy store and waved. How she wanted a Snickers bar, but she knew once she gave in, that would be the end of it. Every day was a struggle with her weight. She wasn’t fat, but she could stand to lose a few pounds, and every so often she did lose a few pounds, and then she got so excited she had a big meal and she gained it right back.
As she always did when she saw her church, Maggie felt comforted. Here had her parents been married; here had she been baptized and then her daughter baptized, and then buried, as well as her husband, and someday she would rest here too. This was where she belonged. Automatically she looked up at the steeple, which was always a beacon for her. How different it was than the terrible tower from which Domino fell.
She found the minister and the church secretary examining the box of donuts that D’Amici delivered every day. That man was providing nourishment to the entire village, though he was also engorging them with calories.
“Ah, Maggie Dove,” Reverend Sunday said. “Chocolate glazed?”
“Thank you,” she said. It was pointless to resist, and she felt slightly relieved. Nothing too terrible could be coming if a chocolate glazed donut was on the table.
“Come into my office.”
The reverend wore a soft gray suit that hung loose on her. Her hair was tightly pulled back into a braid that twisted around her head, and she wore stockings and sensible pumps. She always wore suits, always looked ready to go to the hospital or lead a funeral service. She was ready, Maggie thought. A woman who was ready for anything.
The room soothed her. On the desk was a picture of a beach that she assumed was from the reverend’s home country of Ghana. She knew, only because the reverend often referred to it in her sermons, that Ghana was a beautiful country located in sub-Saharan Africa. It was also a country struggling with the AIDs crisis, and Reverend Sunday had left there after most of her family died of the disease.
Maggie noticed Reverend Sunday was reading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. She smiled at the sight of that old red book; one she’d not picked up in a while.
“No one has ever spoken more profoundly on the topic of evil,” her minister said.
“I haven’t read it in years,” Maggie said, as she settled into a hard-backed chair across from the reverend’s desk. She supposed the reverend didn’t want to encourage too much conversation or she’d be at it all week.
“You should.” Sunday opened the book to a passage she’d underlined. “I’ve always liked this: ‘She’s the sort of woman who lives for others—you can tell the others by their hunted expression.’ ”
Maggie laughed. It wasn’t what she was expecting. “I hope I’m not one of those horrible women. I always worry.”
“Not you, Maggie Dove.” The reverend flipped forward. “This is the passage I think of when I think of you: ‘Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.’ ”
Maggie felt profoundly touched. She barely knew this woman, and here she was giving her one of the nicest compliments she’d ever received. “Thank you,” she said. “Though I have to confess, I had no idea how much courage life would take. I certainly didn’t choose this path. Anyway, I don’t know if I’ve done anything as courageous as leaving my country behind and starting a whole new life somewhere else.”
“Of course you have, Maggie Dove. Isn’t that exactly what you’ve done with your detective agency? Isn’t that a new country for you?”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I like it,” Maggie said. Wasn’t she just thinking about that exact thing earlier, that she was pleased with herself for being brave? She’d also wished for a cheering section and lo and behold…
A chocolate glazed donut, a wonderful compliment and spiritual support. She felt energized. She felt empowered. She was ready to go. She would call Grant Winfrey. She would talk to him
“All right,” Maggie said, sitting.
“What do you think of Walter Campbell?” the reverend asked.
It was the absolute last thing Maggie would have expected her to say and she suspected her jaw dropped.
“As a man?” she answered. Was it that obvious, she wondered. She liked him, but she certainly had no intention of having an affair with him.
“As a Sunday School teacher.”
“I’ve never seen him teach,” Maggie said, “but I would assume he’s very serious and thoughtful about the subject.”
“Yes,” Sunday said. “Serious and thoughtful. You describe him very well.”
She sat quietly then.
Maggie glanced across the desk at a photo of several people who all looked like Sunday, standing on a vast plain, which must be in Ghana.
“This is a delicate subject. I hesitate to raise it, but I believe I can trust your discretion. We’ve had some complaints from some of the parents about Walter Campbell.”
“No one doubts his seriousness, of course. But he is not always sensitive to the children’s needs.” She sighed. “We live in strange times, Maggie Dove. When I was a girl, I was expected to listen to the minister. I was to memorize the verses of the Bible. I was not to question. But now, here, in America, we expect our children to be more outspoken. We want them engaged. Not to put too fine a point on it, there are parents who are threatening to leave the church if Walter continues to teach the class. Walter’s struggling and I would like you to help him.”
“You want me to teach the confirmation class?”
“I’d like you to co-teach it. You don’t mind working with Walter, do you? My understanding was that you are friends.”