Maggie Dove's Detective Agency, page 7
The next day was officially Halloween, and yet the town was quiet. No one had the heart for much celebrating, except the little kids, who didn’t know what was going on. From her office window, Maggie could see them darting around, little fairies and elves with their heavy bags full of candy. Reporters wandered around also, talking on their phones, darting into stores.
There was a brief account of the preliminary autopsy in the newspapers, reporting just what Agnes had said. Domino Raines died of multiple head injuries after plunging over the balcony at Stern Manor. She had had LSD in her system. Death was ruled accidental.
Maggie thought that was the end of it, but it wasn’t.
The first person to stop by her office that day was Betty Springer, who wandered in after having a root canal. She said it was shocking that Racine got away with murder. And could she have some water.
“What do you mean she got away with murder?” Maggie asked. She gave her the water in one of the cups Agnes had encouraged her to use, a pink one with their slogan on it.
“It can’t be coincidence that she was up on the balcony with her sister. She had to have done something. The rich play by different rules, don’t they? You throw enough money at a problem and you can get away with anything.”
Maggie thought Betty was just suffering from the ill effects of anesthesia, but throughout the morning, people kept coming by and murmuring about Racine’s guilt. Joe Mangione said he was sure Racine had had a mechanized robot push Domino over the balcony. “Like one of those Roombas. But with lethal intent.” He told her about how the reporters were coming into D’Amici’s and buying up all the sandwiches. They couldn’t get into Stern Manor, but they were camped out on the lawn, assaulting everyone who came by. They really wanted to talk to Lucifer, but he hadn’t emerged from the house.
“Mebbe he set the whole thing up as a publicity stunt,” Joe suggested.
Not until Maggie went to judge the poster contest with Hal Carter did she finally realize just how serious Racine’s position was. Hal had, up until a year ago, been considered the most romantic man in town. He’d devoted his life to his mother, a difficult woman. But after she died, he’d married his beautiful young girlfriend. Then it came out that he’d been carrying on with his girlfriend’s mother, and in a short period of time he’d gone from being revered to vilified. Maggie had never been that fond of the saintly Hal Carter, but she found herself enjoying the demoted one. He seemed more honest, more real. He was gentler. She used to think he had a bad temper, but suffering had softened him. She supposed in that way she could actually relate to him. It was depressing, but suffering did seem to make people kinder. She thought of a line from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that she liked so much:
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things…
Now Maggie and Hal wandered up and down Main Street, looking at the different posters. She was relieved that Edgar was not the only youth who had included violent zombies, but one thing did surprise her as they looked at the posters: all the monsters shared one particular feature. Whether zombie, ghost or witch, each one wore a red beret, and on Tuesday morning, when Maggie saw a familiar figure in a red beret striding toward her office, she had a pretty good idea what Racine wanted.
Racine stormed into Maggie’s office as though she owned it. She slammed herself down into one of the ergonomic chairs, which snapped up around her like a Venus flytrap. “Have you heard what they’re saying about me?” she asked. In her right hand she clutched one of the posters Maggie had seen only the day before, with the red beret on top of a witch.
“They’re calling me a monster. They’re saying I murdered Domino.”
Maggie felt slightly relieved to see Racine back to looking normal. She wore black, she had on no makeup, and she wore her usual lace-up black shoes. Whatever had taken hold of her was gone, and that was a good thing.
“It’s just kids,” Maggie tried to reassure her. “It’s a Halloween prank. It will pass.”
“They are accusing me of murder.” Domino grasped the table with her hands. She leaned forward. Maggie could feel the blast of heat coming off her. “And it’s not just kids. Those reporters. They won’t leave me alone.”
“Racine, the police don’t seem to suspect you of anything. It’s not like you’re going to be arrested, and the reporters will go away when nothing happens.”
Outside, one of the dental patients was taking a selfie in front of the ash tree. People seemed to feel a need to send a picture of their clean teeth to loved ones.
Racine pulled back her head and for a moment she looked just like Domino. Same blazing eyes, same certainty of expression.
“Would that be enough for you, Maggie Dove? Would you be satisfied to have your reputation damaged thus?”
Maggie sank back into her seat. She looked out the window at Main Street. She remembered the terrible night last April when she had found Marcus Bender’s body on her front lawn. She’d known no one would seriously think her a murderer, yet she’d felt diminished by her anger for him. She remembered feeling so ashamed to hear his widow railing about her to the police on her front lawn.
“No,” she said. “I wouldn’t be happy about that either.”
“Exactement,” Racine said. “This is exactly my point. They are mocking me, these people who don’t even know me. They shred my name.” Her face assumed a look of disgust as though she’d eaten something bad. She puckered her lips and Maggie noticed long dry lines on either side of her mouth.
“I want to hire you,” Racine said.
Maggie was on the brink of saying, Again? She wondered if the detective agency could maintain itself if they had just one client, who kept rehiring them.
“I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about it, Racine.”
“I want you to prove my sister killed herself.”
“Did she? Do you have proof?”
“Yes, I have proof—in my heart!” Racine said. She pounded her chest with the flat of her hand. Maggie tried to imagine Detective Grudge dealing with a client who felt something in her heart. She suspected he would want firmer proof.
“She didn’t seem like a suicidal sort of person,” Maggie pointed out.
“Pull down the blinds,” Racine said.
“Okay.” Maggie went over to the window and lowered the blinds. Immediately the room darkened and quieted.
“What I am going to tell you, I have not told to anyone else. I did not tell this to the police.” The drawn blinds cast her face in a reddish light. She looked like she might burst into flames. “I did not want to drag our family’s name through the mud with talk of suicide, though I never imagined that it would get worse. That people would call me a murderer.” She pulled a handkerchief out of her bag and dabbed her lips. Maggie noticed a tiny bit of blood on the white fabric.
“She told me she was going to kill herself.”
“Domino told you that?”
“Yes, right before she died, she told me she was going to kill herself.”
Maggie rocked back in her chair. “Forgive me, Racine, but it seems a little convenient. Do you have any proof?”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
Just then the door banged open and Agnes strode in. She wore a purple silk blouse that flowed around her arms like wings. There were two little cutouts that exposed her shoulders. She’d been frowning when she walked into the room, but at the sight of Racine, her face broke into a politician’s wide smile. “Ah,” she said. “Another client. Who is this?”
“This is Racine Stern,” Maggie said.
“Ah,” Agnes crooned. She looked like a purple balloon, ready to float into air. “What a pleasure to meet you at last. I’m very sorry for your loss. Can I get you something to drink? Has Maggie offered you refreshment?”
“No,” Racine said. “No, thank you.”
“You must be parched,” Agnes said, walking over to one of the closets and plucking from it a bottle of white wine.
“It’s only 11:00,” Maggie pointed out.
“It’s after 5:00 somewhere. Will you get us some ice, Maggie. Now.”
“From where?” Maggie mouthed. They had no freezer.
“From our friends next door,” she said, nodding toward the dentist’s office. “They’re all so helpful,” she said to Racine. “We professionals have to stick together.”
Maggie dashed next door and retrieved some ice from the hygienist, who wrapped it in a gauze pad, and when she got back to her own office she found Agnes with three glasses. She handed over the wad of ice. Agnes grimaced, but pitched a cube into each glass, popped the bottle, and poured the wine. Then she went to the closet and pulled out some Girl Scout cookies, which she put on a little pink platter.
“Now,” Agnes said, “what can we do for you?”
Racine swigged the wine right down. Then she burped softly. “As you know, my sister died. Everyone in town seems to be blaming me, and I would like you to prove it was a suicide.”
“I was just trying to explain to Maggie Dove that my sister told me just before she died that she planned to kill herself, but unfortunately I don’t have any proof.”
“How could you?” Agnes said, leaning forward—as she did so, knocking her knee into Maggie’s so hard, she thought it would bruise. “Pardon me,” she said. “So clumsy. You’ve come to the right place, Racine. We’re not the police. We are not bound by rules. We can do whatever our client wants us to do, and if you wish us to prove your sister’s death was a suicide, we can do that.”
“Ah, thank you,” Racine said. “This has all been so terrible. Domino’s death, the horror and my dear mother so devastated, and then these rumors about me, and the posters. All I can think of is my poor father and how he worked his whole life to build up his business. He told me over and over again that nothing was more important than your reputation. To think of losing it after forty years in this village, taking care of my mother, forty years of devoting my life to my family…Well, it’s unbearable.”
“Why do you think Domino would want to kill herself?” Maggie asked.
“That’s exactly what we’re going to find out,” Agnes said, planting her hand firmly on Maggie’s shoulder.
“Now,” she said to Racine, “you’ve given us a lot of money already, and I don’t want to pauperize you.” Racine tittered a bit at that.
“However,” Agnes said, “we do have an additional service that might interest you. A special one.”
Maggie felt curious herself. She didn’t know they had a special service.
“It’s our gold star service. For an additional $5,000, we guarantee that the full services of our agency will be dedicated to your project. We will take on no new clients until such time as you are satisfied. We’ll also give you daily updates. Naturally,” Agnes went on, “our regular services are superior, but this is the type of service we’ve geared toward a special clientele used to getting special attention.”
“That does interest me,” Racine said.
“Maggie, go get the gold star contracts out of the cabinet.”
“Where are they?”
“Under G,” Agnes said impatiently, and lo and behold, there they were. Regular contracts with a gold star at the top, which Maggie felt fairly certain had been stolen from Sunday School. She used them to mark attendance. Maggie wasn’t sure whether to be appalled or impressed. It occurred to her that she didn’t really know Agnes Jorgenson at all. Although she’d worked with her for four months, and considered her a friend, there were depths to her that defied Maggie.
“Now,” Agnes said, wresting the contract from Maggie’s grasp, “let’s just sign this and then we can get started.”
Racine opened her pocketbook, pulled out her checkbook and wrote the check without hesitation.
“Make sure to write gold star service on the memo line,” Agnes said. “We wouldn’t want it to get confused with anyone else’s.”
Racine stood. She smoothed down her black sweater, breathed in deeply. “So you can promise that I will have your full attention?”
“I can guarantee it,” Agnes said.
“Where are you going to start?” Racine asked.
Agnes pushed out her lips. “I think the best place to start would be with the police. Maggie has a special relationship with the superintendent of the Darby police force, and I’ll send her to him to get the inside scoop.”
“Then you’ll report back to me?” Racine asked.
“Of course,” Agnes said smoothly, though even she jumped when the door banged open again. This time it was Helen rushing into the office. Her pale face was flushed, her kerchief askew. She looked like she’d been running.
“Maggie,” she cried out. “I have an emergency.”
Then she noticed Racine, and started. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was here.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Racine said. “I can see this is a very busy office and I don’t want to interfere. You’ll be in touch with me soon,” she said to Maggie.
“I’m one of your new gold star clients,” she said to Helen. “You must be the third partner.”
“Yes,” Helen said. She put out her hand. “I’m Helen Blake.”
Racine peered at her closely and seemed to like what she saw.
“Gold star client?” Helen asked after she left.
“I feel so guilty I can’t even speak,” Maggie said. “What’s the emergency?”
“Oh,” Helen said. “I told Edgar I’d go apple-picking with him tomorrow but I can’t. Would you be willing to fill in for me?”
Maggie started to laugh. Agnes began laughing too, and then Helen joined in. It was a nice feeling, the laughter pulling them all together. Maggie felt something hard within her dissolve.
“Of course,” Maggie said.
“Just make sure to talk to Walter Campbell first,” Agnes said. “In fact, you should go talk to him now. You’re going to have to write up a report.”
Walter Campbell, Maggie thought, whom she had last seen on the grounds of Stern Manor, whom she had apparently left with the impression that she was about to declare her undying love. Now she had to interview him for a gold star report.
Once again Maggie tangled with the new police officer when she went to the station. “I saw you parked in the handicapped spot the other day,” Mercy Williams said as soon as she saw her.
“Well, yes,” Maggie conceded, “though in fairness, I was picking up a meal for Maureen O’Shea and she’s handicapped. I couldn’t find a parking spot and I knew she was waiting for me.”
Mercy Williams eyed her without mercy. “Superintendent Campbell said you’d have a good reason,” she said, sniffing. She was as tidy as she’d been the last time Maggie saw her. Closely cropped hair, uniform carefully pressed, shoes shined. Maggie knew this young woman had had to struggle to get to her position, and she wanted her to feel comfortable in Darby. Fact was, Maggie admired her ferociousness and honesty. Maggie shouldn’t have parked in the handicapped spot. Maggie suspected she took an awful lot for granted.
“I wonder if you’d like to go to dinner,” she tried.
“What?” Mercy flinched, as though Maggie had just punched her.
“Not with me. I mean, not just with me. But a bunch of us from the church are going. Not that you need to be a churchgoing person to join us.” Only as she spoke did Maggie realize a connection. “But the restaurant’s in the Bronx and you’re from the Bronx and maybe you’d know it.” How weird these synergies were, Maggie thought. It was almost as though…well, never mind that. Foolish to think God got involved with the Dining Out Club. “It’s called Kumasi and it serves food from Ghana. Ghanaian food.”
“I go there all the time, but why are you?”
“Our minister is from Ghana.”
“Oh,” she said. Maggie saw indecision play across he
“I suspect the superintendent will be coming too. And his wife,” she added. She thought, she hoped, she saw Mercy softening just a little bit. She truly did want her to feel welcome, and so Maggie was smiling when she went into Walter Campbell’s office.
“Maggie Dove,” he said, smiling as well. There was definitely something alarming about having Walter Campbell smile at you. He was so large and his smile so big, it was hard to escape the thought that he planned to eat you. He put out his hand and she shook it and then he took her hand with both of his and sat down. She noticed he’d put up some of his children’s art. There was a drawing of apples. Oh God, the apple-picking trip was tomorrow. She had to remember to buy Dramamine. It would not do to throw up on a bus with Edgar.
“This is a pleasure,” he said.
She sat down in front of his desk. It was one of those big aluminum desks that reminded her of ones her elementary school teachers used to have. Maggie was always the girl who brought in an apple for the teacher. Back then it wasn’t an ironic statement.
“Racine has hired my agency to look into her sister’s death.”
“Oh.” He clenched his hands together. The word “lockjaw” popped into her head, and she suddenly remembered a friend of her mother’s who got bit by a rabid dog and had to have shots in his stomach for the period of a year. “There’s no mystery to her death. The autopsy report was quite clear. She died of multiple head injuries.”
“Racine thinks she might have committed suicide,” Maggie said cautiously.
“No,” Walter said, shaking his head.
“Surely you can’t be 100 percent positive, Walter. There’s always a little doubt in any situation.”
He’d painted his office, she noticed. Hadn’t it just been white? Now it was more of an eggshell white and she wondered if his wife had come in to spruce things up. He looked neater too. Tidier. His hair more carefully brushed.