Maggie Dove's Detective Agency, page 11
Maggie had been raised to believe that if a minister told you to jump, the only possible response was to respond, “How high?” So there was no question in her mind that she would do what the reverend asked. But she had to voice a mild protest.
“He’s not going to like this,” Maggie said. “He’s a proud man and he’s going to feel betrayed.”
“I know,” the reverend said. “That’s why I’ve chosen you. If anyone can do this tactfully, it will be you, Maggie Dove. I’ll call him later today and explain.”
That’s going to have to be one heck of an explanation, Maggie thought as she trudged out of the church. Walter would be so upset, and she couldn’t blame him. He was not a man who bent with the times. Not a man who bent, period. But he was a good man, and that should count for something. She felt awfully low as she headed toward Main Street, and she was surprised to find Mercy Williams walking toward her, scowling.
Automatically, Maggie smiled. “How are you?”
“You think it’s funny, do you?”
“What?” Maggie asked.
“It’s you,” Mercy said.
“You’re the one who told the superintendent that I should be looking for a tarantula. You’re trying to get me killed, Maggie Dove.”
Maggie sensed disaster was about to rain upon her head, but meanwhile she had a job, and the only thing she could think to do was go back to her office and figure out how to find Grant Winfrey. He was her great clue and she wanted to pursue it. Detective Grudge had all sorts of advice for tracking down suspects, but Maggie thought she’d try the phone book first. And there he was, on Broadway in Yonkers.
She jotted down the address and phone number, and wrote a list of questions, starting with, How did you know Domino? Building up to, Why were you skulking on her lawn? She’d come up with five questions when she saw Agnes walking down Main Street, holding a heavy box. Maggie got up to open the door, and when Agnes entered she saw the box was filled with bowling trophies.
“Are we sponsoring a league?” she asked.
“No,” Agnes said. “I want to have some gold in this office. People are more likely to hire us if they think we’re winners.”
“Winners at bowling?”
“People don’t care what you’ve won, Maggie. They just want to know you can win.” She set three of the trophies on top of the bookshelf, and turned them slightly, so that the bowling ball was less obvious. “What have you been doing to keep us solvent?”
Maggie told her about her interview with Lucifer and how Grant Winfrey’s name had come up and that she was planning to call him. She explained that she’d seen him lurking at Stern Manor and that Lucifer said he and Domino had argued. She went on to say that she’d come to think that the answer to what happened was in Domino’s past, and she wanted to research it.
“When are you going to call him?” Agnes asked.
Agnes was not a person who believed in giving a lot of positive reinforcement, Maggie thought, but perhaps that was only natural. Agnes had worked for a superstar corporate mogul, who had married her and then died, leaving Agnes all her money, but Maggie suspected the mogul had also left Agnes with an understanding of the harsh rules of corporate America. She demanded perfection, which was fine if you were perfect. Maggie would have to learn to deal with this attitude. She couldn’t get upset every time Agnes yelled.
“Call him now,” Agnes said. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
So Maggie called, and got his receptionist, and asked if she might speak to him. Maggie told the receptionist that she was a private detective and wanted information about Domino Raines.
“Just a sec,” the receptionist said. “I’ll connect you.”
She put Maggie on hold. Classical music came on. Maggie waited for a minute and then the receptionist was back. “He said no,” she said, and hung up the phone.
Stupidly, Maggie sat there. She noticed streams of high school students heading down Main Street. There must be a program at the park.
All Maggie could think to do was call the number again, but this time the receptionist said that he was busy and couldn’t talk.
There was no point in calling back.
“What are you going to do?” Agnes demanded.
Maggie considered stopping by the bakery and getting a scone and then heading home and going to bed, but she suspected that was not the answer Agnes was looking for.
“I could go there. To his office.” She looked around at all the bowling trophies, which seemed to mock her. “Though it seems sort of late. It’s past four o’clock.”
“In what country is that late?” Agnes said. “Get going and you’ll get there before they close.”
“But they know my name now. The moment I say it, he’ll clam up.” She shouldn’t have been so direct, Maggie thought. She should have just gone down there in the first place.
Agnes sat across from her at the table. She clasped her hands together and locked Maggie into her gaze. Heat seemed to come off her. Agnes didn’t have big eyes, but they were focused. Concentrated.
“We’re private detectives, Maggie Dove. We’re not bound by the same rules as the police. They don’t know what you look like at the doctor’s office, and there’s no reason you have to tell them your real name. You can make up a name. Tell them you’re someone else. Why don’t you pretend to be Estrella Watson and say you’re with a pharmaceutical company and you want to sell him drugs? That will get you in.”
“But I don’t have any drugs to sell.”
“All you need to do is to get in the door. Once you have him alone, then you can ask him what you want.”
Just then Helen slipped in. She had a knack for appearing out of nowhere. You thought she was in Syria and next thing you knew she was sitting right alongside you.
“What do you think would be a good undercover name for me?” Maggie asked.
“Estrella Watson,” she replied.
“What?” Maggie said, startled. Things were getting too spooky. There were tarantulas in town and ghosts at Stern Manor and now maybe Helen could read her mind.
Helen laughed. “The window was open. I heard you two. Pick something that feels natural,” she said. “What about ‘Mary’?”
“Maybe a little obvious,” Maggie said.
“If you don’t want to say you’re a drug rep, why don’t you say that you’re with the FBI?” Agnes suggested. “You’re doing a background search on someone. People will always talk to you if you’re with the FBI.”
“Won’t they want to see a badge? Isn’t it a crime to say you’re with the FBI if you’re not?”
“Now you’re just thinking of problems,” Agnes said. “Your job is to think of solutions.”
She had a point, Maggie thought. She didn’t want to be negative. She tried to think. “I like the idea of saying I’m doing a background search. Maybe I can say I’m with the IRS. That wouldn’t be a crime, would it?”
“Now you’re talking,” Agnes said. She began rustling around in her bag and pulled out a billfold. Then she snapped it open to reveal a silver badge. “Use this if anyone questions you. If they want ID. No one looks at these things too closely.”
“Okay,” Maggie said, putting it in her own pocketbook. A fake identity, a fake badge. Oh God. “Then I think I’m going to go.”
She sort of hoped someone would stop her, and tell her this was all too much for her and she would be better off going home and reading. But no one did. “All right, then. I’m off.”
Helen was on her phone, but she gave her a thumbs-up sign. Agnes smiled. “Don’t screw this up,” she said.
“Love you, Mary Dove,” Helen called as Maggie walked out the door. “Hey, why are there bowling trophies here?”
“Okay,” Maggie said to herself. She was about to go on her first undercover mission.
In her previous life, when she was young and hopeful and foolish, Maggie wrote myster
There was no need to be Estrella Watson. Why not choose a name she liked? Beth. She’d always thought it a pretty name. Beth Hawke. She would be 61 years old, because why not make herself a year younger? She would be with the IRS, but the head of a division. She’d give herself a nice cat, one of those fluffy ones that sat on your lap and purred. She piled on backstory as she drove south on Broadway. Perhaps someone in her family had won a lottery a few years ago. There was bad feeling. Relatives jealous. Beth tried to be a peacemaker. She sponsored an orphan.
Maggie drove south, past the construction that had been going on for ten years, past the quaint houses of north Yonkers with the incredible views of the Palisades, sheer cliffs of rock that dropped off into the Hudson. No vegetation grew on them, and there was something hypnotic about knowing they looked just the same as they had when early Americans had paddled their way on this river. Soon enough, Broadway became congested. The views were blocked by apartment buildings, pawnshops, check cashing places, White Castles and then blocks of brick apartment buildings, and in one of them was Grant Winfrey’s office.
She parallel parked and got out of her car. Two men were standing by the adjoining gas station.
“Nice job, hon,” one said.
“Thanks,” she said. Beth Hawke was a good parker. Her brother raced cars and he taught her how to park.
Maggie strode into the doctor’s office and there she found a scene out of Dante’s Inferno. Patients were everywhere. They were sitting and standing and crouching and kneeling and reading and whispering. Most of them were old. Most of them looked like whatever was going on with them was bad. At the hub of it all was a receptionist, and Maggie walked up to her. This must be the woman she’d spoken to.
“Hello,” she said. “I’d like to speak to Dr. Winfrey.”
“Do you have an appointment?” She was a middle-aged woman with a stain on her shirt, not something you usually saw at a doctor’s office. There were Post-it notes all around.
“No,” Maggie said. “But I’m happy to wait.”
“What is this about?” the receptionist asked, but then the phone rang, and she grabbed up a Post-it note and began writing things down, and then a nurse came by and waited, arms crossed, and the receptionist got flustered and hung up. “Did you get the information?” the nurse asked her.
“Yes, yes,” the receptionist said. Maggie figured every office had an Agnes, and she thought she might do better sitting for a little bit and waiting for things to calm down. An older woman limped off and Maggie swooped into her seat. She looked around, wondering, as she did so, what you could deduce about a man from looking at his office. Pay attention, she could hear Detective Grudge muttering.
This doctor had a lot of magazines. More than usual. Maggie was of an age where she spent a fair amount of time at a doctor’s office and she knew the general list they had, and this far exceeded that. But what did it mean? Grant Winfrey had varied interests or he had Boy Scouts in the family. He overbooked his patients, that was for sure. Was it because he was greedy, or compassionate? There was a water stain on the ceiling. She had the sense that the doctor was overwhelmed. She’d noticed that often receptionists were the faces of doctors. The receptionist had a photo of three children on her desk. They looked young, and Maggie saw no wedding ring on her hand. For a moment she was tempted to go home and leave this poor soul alone. She remembered how overwhelmed she’d felt when she had a young child, and she didn’t have to go to work…but right now there was Racine to think about. Racine had concerns. Plus, Maggie was a private detective. So she went back to the desk.
“Yes,” the receptionist said, clearly not recognizing her at all. “How may I help you?”
“I’d like to speak to the doctor,” Maggie said.
“What’s your name, please.”
Maggie was on the verge of saying Beth Hawke, when all of a sudden a different idea occurred to her. “Would you tell him my name is Mary Stern? I’m a relative of Domino Raines.”
She almost shivered with the thrill of it. Saying a name that was not your own felt heretical, and exciting. She remembered the look on her husband’s face when she wore a red dress one afternoon, pushed the books off his desk and pounced.
“Mary Stern,” the receptionist repeated.
“Yes, and please tell him I’m related to Domino.”
“You don’t look like her,” the receptionist said.
“You knew her?” Maggie asked, before realizing how foolish the question was. Domino had been a celebrity.
Behind her a crowd of patients watched her in that half-awake state people go into when they’re at the doctor’s. No one was reading through the magazines. No one was on the phone. This was a serious sort of doctor’s office. One of those places where you were not going to get a happy diagnosis. The phone started to ring again and when the receptionist picked it up, her whole face went red. “I told you not to call here,” she said, and slammed down the phone, and then the nurse popped her head out and asked where were the charts, and the receptionist looked at Maggie and snapped, “If you were related to her, wouldn’t you know if I knew her?”
Maggie didn’t get upset. She could see the poor woman was under stress, and there was no point in adding to her burden. Maggie fell back on a trick she’d learned to use in Sunday School when she had an unruly student. She forced her eyes to twinkle.
“I work with someone like that,” she whispered. “She’s on my case all the time. No matter what I do, she finds fault with it.”
That was actually true, Maggie thought. Always best to draw on the truth. Maggie noticed the receptionist’s name tag read “Tami.”
“They should really hire an assistant for you, Tami. This is more than any one person could do.”
“Right,” the receptionist said. “Nobody could be expected to stay on top of this. The patients just keep coming and coming, and I ask for help. They say they don’t have enough money. But how is that possible if there are all these people here?”
“Malpractice insurance?” Maggie tried, which was something she knew doctors talked about a lot.
“I don’t know,” she said. Her phone started to ring. She looked around, lifted the handset and slammed it back down.
Tami took a breath, wiped her nose with her hand and looked at Maggie. “She was here. Your cousin, Domino. A few days ago. She was a piece of work.”
“What did Domino do this time? I’ll tell you, she wasn’t easy to have as a relative. Always doing something.”
One of the patients wandered up. “Do you know when the doctor will be ready?”
“Just ten more minutes,” she said, waving him back to his chair. “First of all, she came slamming in here. Didn’t say a word to me, just went right into his office. I got in a lot of trouble for that. Thought I’d lose my job right then and there.”
“They couldn’t possibly fire you,” Maggie said sympathetically. “What would they do with all these phone calls?”
“Right,” Tami said.
“What day was that?” Maggie tried.
“Last week. Let me see. It was the day of the audit. No. It was the day they had spinach on special and it was $2.99. No, that was Thursday. No, no, no.” She wagged her finger. “It was Tuesday. Because that was the night Dylan got the Tic Tac up his nose. You wouldn’t have thought that was possible. Yes, it was Tuesday.”
“So did they start to argue? I know they were having an argument about something, and my cousin has a temper.”
“No, she stayed pretty calm. It was the doctor who was yelling.”
They both jumped. Maggie peered into the eyes of a woman who looked like she’d seen it all and hadn’t approved of most of it.
“I was waiting to speak to the doctor,” Maggie said. “My name is Mary Stern.”
“Mary Stern,” she repeated. Maggie felt confident she knew it was a made-up name. “I’ll tell him you’re here,” she said. Then she looked at Tami. “Would it trouble you to answer the phones?”
“No ma’am,” she said, and rolled her eyes, and Maggie went back down to sit. She hadn’t been sitting long when she noticed a man who looked exactly like the doctor walking quickly by the window, presumably to his car.
She ran up to Tami, “Is that the doctor?”
“Yeah,” Tami replied. “Hey, where’s he going?
“Thank you,” Maggie said, and dashed off. She wasn’t fast enough to catch him. He got into a Hyundai, and without even thinking about it she ran to her car and pulled out after him. A day of firsts, she thought. Her first undercover assignment and her first surveillance. Anyone would think she was a private detective.
Maggie followed Dr. Winfrey up Warburton Avenue. It was a two-lane road, the traffic slow. She made sure to keep a few cars between them. She was doing okay. Even the lights were going her way—fresh green after fresh green. Only one stale red light, and it didn’t last long. Best thing was that she was familiar with the area, so if he turned and confronted her, she could tear out of there. She kept an escape route in her mind at all times.
Her only concern was that she was driving a bright red Audi TT. There was no question it was the type of car a person might notice, which was why she bought it in the first place. The detective in her mystery series, Inspector Benet, was the sort of man who liked flashy cars, and she absorbed his habits. Some of them.
Maggie figured Dr. Winfrey was heading home. She planned to follow him to his house, then ring his bell. She couldn’t imagine he’d slam the door on her. One of the advantages of being Maggie Dove was that people did not slam the door on her. But to her surprise, he veered off onto the Saw Mill Parkway. Now the pursuit became a little trickier because the road was empty. She trailed back as far as she could. There weren’t many exits, so she didn’t have to worry that he was going to disappear. She kept following until he turned onto the Cross Westchester Expressway. Now she began to feel more flustered. Following somebody onto a major highway felt like more of a commitment than following them onto a road. She began to feel nervous, but excited too. She wondered where he was going. What if he was driving to Canada? How far would she follow him?