"Cordelia Botkin, 1898," Jane hissed triumphantly. She'd come up behind me as I was reshelving books that had been checked in. I was at the end of a stack close to the wall, about to wheel my cart around the end and onto the next row. I drew in a breath down low in my chest, shut my eyes, and prayed to forgive her. Tuesday morning had been going so well. "Roe, I'm so sorry! I thought you must have heard me coming."
I shook my head. I tried not to lean on the cart so obviously.
"Cordelia who?" I finally managed to say.
"Botkin. It's close enough. It doesn't actually fit, but it's close enough. This was so sloppy that I think it was an afterthought, or maybe this was even supposed to come off before Mamie Wright was killed." "You're probably right, Jane. The box of candy took six days to get here, and it was mailed from the city, so whoever sent it probably thought I'd get it in two or three days."
I glanced around to see if anyone was in earshot. Lillian Schmidt, another librarian, was shelving books a few stacks away, but she wasn't actually within hearing distance.
"How does it fit, Jane?"
Jane flipped open the notebook she always seemed to have with her. "Cordelia Botkin lived in San Francisco. She became the mistress of the Associated Press bureau chief, John Dunning. He'd left a wife back in..." Jane scanned her notes, "... Dover, Delaware. Botkin mailed the wife several anonymous letters first, did your mother get any?"
I nodded. With a very stiff upper lip, Mother had told Lynn Liggett something she'd never thought significant enough to tell me: she'd gotten an incomprehensible and largely nasty anonymous letter in the mail a few days before the candy came. She'd thought the incident so ugly and meaningless that she hadn't wanted to "upset" me with it. She had thrown it away, of course, but it had been typed.
I was willing to bet it had been typed on the same machine that had typed the mailing label on the package.
"Anyway," Jane continued after checking her notes, "Cordelia finally decided Dunning was going back to his wife, so she poisoned some bonbons and mailed them to Dunning's wife. The wife and a friend of hers died." "Died," I said slowly.
Jane nodded, tactfully keeping her eyes on her notes. "Your father is still in newspapers, isn't he, Roe?"
"Yes, he's not a reporter, but he's head of the advertising department." "And he's living with his new wife, which could be said to represent 'another woman'."
"So obviously the murderer saw the outline was roughly the same and seized the opportunity."
"Did you tell Arthur Smith about this?"
"I thought I had better," Jane said, with a wise nod of her head.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He wanted to know which book I'd gotten my information from, wrote that down, thanked me, looked harassed, and told me goodbye. I got the impression he's having trouble convincing his superiors about the significance of these murders. What was in the candy, do you know yet?"
"No, they took the box to the state lab for analysis. Arthur warned us that some of the tests take quite a while."
Lillian was moving closer and looking curious, a chronic state with Lillian. But all my co-workers were regarding me with more than normal interest. A quiet librarian finds a body at the meeting of a pretty odd club on Friday night, gets a box of doctored chocolates in the mail on Saturday, turns up dressed in all-new and uncharacteristic clothes on Monday, has a whispered conference with an excited woman on Tuesday.
"I'd better go. I'm disturbing you at work," Jane whispered. She knew Lillian quite well. "But I was so excited when I tracked down the pattern, I just had to run down here and tell you. Of course, the Communist man's murder was patterned after the Marat assassination. Poor Benjamin Greer! He found the body, the newscast said."
"Jane, I appreciate your researching this for me," I hissed back. "I'll take you out to lunch next week to thank you." The last thing I wanted to talk about was Morrison Pettigrue's murder.
"Oh, my goodness, that's not necessary. You gave me something to do for a while. Substituting at the school and filling in here are interesting, but nothing has been as much fun in a long time as tracking down the right murder. However, I suspect I will have to get a new hobby. All these deaths, all this fear. This is getting too close to the bone for me." And Jane sighed, though whether over the deaths of Mamie Wright and Morrison Pettigrue, or because she had to find a new hobby, I could not tell.
I was on the second floor of the library, which is a large gallery running around three walls and overlooking the ground floor, where the children's books, periodicals, and circulation desk are located. I was watching Jane stride out the front door and thinking about Cordelia Botkin when I recognized someone else who was exiting. It was Detective Lynn Liggett. The library director, Sam derrick, seemed to be walking her to the door. This struck me unpleasantly. I could only suppose that Lynn Liggett had been at the library asking questions about me. Maybe she had wanted to know my work hours? More about my character? How long I had been at work that day?
Filled with uneasy speculation, I rounded the corner of the next stack. I began shelving books automatically, still brooding over Detective Liggett's visit to the library. There was nothing bad Sam Clerrick could tell her about me, I reasoned. I was a conscientious employee. I was always on time, and I almost never got sick. I had never yelled at a member of the public, no matter how I'd been tempted - especially by parents who dumped their children at the library in the summer with instructions to amuse themselves for a couple of hours while mommy and daddy went shopping.
So why was I worried? I lectured myself. I was just seeing the down side of being involved in a criminal investigation. It was practically my civic duty not to mind being the object of police scrutiny.
I wondered if I could reasonably be considered a suspect in Mamie's murder. I could have done it, of course. I'd been home unobserved for at least an hour or more before I left for the meeting. Maybe one of the other tenants could vouch for my car being in its accustomed place, though that wouldn't be conclusive proof. And I supposed if I could have found a place that sold Mrs. See's, I could have mailed myself the candy. I could have typed the label on one of the library typewriters. Maybe Detective Liggett had been getting typing samples from all the machines! Though if the samples did match the label, it wouldn't be proof that I typed it myself. And if the sample didn't match, I could have used another machine - maybe one in my mother's office? Now the murder of Morrison Pettigrue was another kettle of fish entirely. I had never met Mr. Pettigrue, and now never would. I hadn't known where he lived until one of the other librarians had told me, but I couldn't prove either of those things, now that I came to think about it. Ignorance is hard to prove. Besides, if he'd been killed late Sunday night after the abortive last meeting of Real Murders, I had no alibi at all. I'd been home alone feeling sorry for myself.
However, if by some miracle the killing could be proved to have occurred during the hour we were all together, we'd all be cleared! That would be too good to be true.
I was so busy trying to imagine all the pros and cons of arresting me that I bumped into Sally Allison, literally. She was looking at the books on needlework, of which the library had scores, Lawrenceton being a hell of a town for needlework.
I murmured an apology. Sally murmured back, "Don't think about it," but then she stayed glued to her spot, her eyes all too pointedly on the titles in front of her. The past couple of months, Sally had been a frequent patron of the library, even during what I supposed were her working hours. I didn't think she came to check out books, though she did leave with some every time. I was convinced she was checking on Perry. I wasn't surprised after what Amina had told me. Sometimes Sally didn't even speak to her son, I'd noticed, but eyed him from a distance, as if watching for some sign of trouble. "How's your mother, Roe?" Sally asked.
"Just fine, thank you."
"Gotten over your scare about the candy? I didn't get to ask you last night." Sally had called both Mother and me for an interview when she'd read the police blotter after the candy incident. Mother and I separately had been as brief as was congruent with courtesy, we discovered later when we compared notes. I thought my name had been in the paper enough recently, and Mother thought the whole incident too sordid to discuss. (Mother also, in her career-woman mode, thought an attempted poisoning would be bad for business.) "Sally, I wasn't scared, because I didn't know then and I don't know now that someone was actually trying to hurt me or my mother. I'm going to say frankly, Sally, that you're my friend and you're a reporter, and I'm not sure recently just who I'm talking to."
Sally turned to face me. She was not angry, but she was determined. "Being a reporter on a small newspaper doesn't mean I'm not a real reporter, Roe. You're a Teagarden, so what happens to you is doubly news. Your mother is a very prominent woman in this town, and your father is a well-known man. The owner of our newspaper will not keep this police gag order agreement much longer. Does that answer your question? Lillian's coming. Have you read this book on bargello?"
I blinked and recovered. "Now, Sally, I can't sew on a button. You'd have to ask Mother if you want to know about needlework. Or Lillian," I added brilliantly, as my co-worker wheeled her own cart past the other end of the stack. Lillian, whose ears are as fine-tuned as a bat's, heard her own name and turned in, and right away she and Sally were embroiled in an incomprehensible conversation about French knots and candlewicking. A little sadly, I returned to my shelving. When I was no longer news, I wondered whether Sally would decide she was just a friend again.
When I looked at my watch and discovered it was four o'clock and I was due to get off at six, I realized I'd better think about what I was going to wear to the Carriage House with Robin. He had mentioned picking me up at seven, which gave me a scant hour to get home, shower, redo my makeup, and dress. Reservations had been no problem; Tuesday was not a heavy night at the Carriage House, and I'd told them 7:15. Now I had to decide what to wear. My dark blue silk was back from the cleaner's. Had I ever taken the matching sandals to be repaired after I'd noticed the strap coming loose? Desperately I wished I had bought the black heels I'd seen at Amina's mom's shop that morning. They'd had bows on the back of the heel, and I'd thought they were ravishing. Would I have time to run by and get them?
Gradually I became aware that someone was humming on the other side of my stack with a droning, bee-like monotony.
It could only be Lillian. Sure enough, when I pulled out a veterinarian's "humorous look at life with animals in and out of the house" which had been thrown in with the 364's, Lillian's round face was visible through the gap. "I think we should be earning more money," Lillian said sulkily, "and I think we should be asked before being scheduled to work nights, and I think they should never have hired that new head librarian."
"Sam Clerrick? Nights?" I said foolishly, not knowing where to begin with my questions. Lillian had been a big Sam Clerrick fan before this moment, to the best of my knowledge. Mr. Clerrick seemed intelligent and tough to me, but I was reserving judgment on his ability to manage people. "Oh, you haven't heard," Lillian said with pleasure. "What with all the excitement in your life lately, I guess you haven't had too much time to pay attention to ordinary everyday stuff."
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. "Lillian, what?" Lillian wriggled her heavy shoulders in anticipation. "You know, the Board of Trustees met two nights ago? Of course, Sam Clerrick was there, and he told them that in his view staying open at night hadn't been tried sufficiently four years ago, when it was such a flop - you remember? He wants to reinstate it for a time, with the present staff. So instead of being open one night a week we'll be open three, for a four-month trial."
Four years ago Lawrenceton had been a smaller town, and remaining open more than one night a week past six o'clock had only resulted in a higher electric bill and some bored librarians. Our one late night was a token bow to people who worked odd hours and couldn't get to the library any other time. Business had been picking up on that night, I thought fairly, and in view of Lawrenceton's recent population boom, another try at night opening was reasonable. Still, I felt mildly perturbed at the change in my schedule. On the other hand, it was hard to regard my job as the most important thing in my life lately.
"How's he going to do it without increasing staff?" I asked without much interest.
"Instead of being on two librarians at a time, we'll be on in teams of librarian and volunteer on an open night."
The volunteers were a mixed bunch. Mostly they tended to be older men and middle-aged to elderly women who really enjoyed books and felt at home in a library. Once they'd been trained, they were a godsend, excepting the very small percentage who'd taken the job to see their friends and gossip. That small percentage soon got bored and quit the program, anyway. "I'm game," I told Lillian.
"We're going to find out more about it officially today," Lillian went on, looking disappointed at my mild reaction. "There's a staff meeting at 5:30, so Perry Allison's going to relieve you at the circulation desk. Hey," and Lillian looked at her watch obviously, "isn't it time for you to get down there now?" "Yes, Lillian, I see that it is," I said with elaborate patience, "and I am going." We took turns on circulation as we did on almost every job, since the staff was too small for much specialization but definitely full of individuals who didn't hesitate to make their preferences known. I was darned if I was going to scurry downstairs because Lillian had looked at her watch, so I continued, "I'm willing to give night hours another shot. More time off during the day might be nice, too." Since my night social calendar is not exactly crowded, but I didn't feel it necessary to share that thought with Lillian. I was relieved that the meeting wasn't going to be after the official library closing at 6:00.I suddenly recalled for sure that the sandals that went with the blue silk dress had a broken strap. "Crumbs," I muttered, shelving the last book on my cart with such force that one on the opposite side shot out and landed on the floor.
"My goodness," said Lillian triumphantly as she bent to retrieve it. "What's put us in such a snit, huh?"
I said something besides "crumbs," but I only moved my lips.
I usually enjoyed my tour in Circulation. I got to stand at the big desk to one side of the main entrance. I answered questions and accepted the books, taking the fines if the books were overdue, sliding their cards back in and putting them on book carts for transportation back to their shelves. Or I checked the books out. If there was a lot of traffic, I got a helper. Today was a slow day, which was good since my mind wouldn't stay on my work but meandered down its own path. How close my mother had come to eating a piece of that candy. How Mamie's head had looked from the back. How glad I was I hadn't seen the front. Whether the importance of being the finder of the body had given Benjamin a new lease on life after the death of his political ambitions. How pleased I was about going out with Robin that night. How exciting I found Arthur Smith's blue eyes.
I yanked my thoughts away from this half-pleasant half-frightening stream of thought to exchange desultory conversation with the volunteer sitting with me at the checkout desk: Lizanne Buckley's father Arnie, a 66-year-old white-haired retiree with a mind like a steel trap. Once Mr. Buckley grew interested in a subject, he read everything he could find about it, and he forgot precious little of what he read. When he was through with that subject, he was through for good, but he remained a semi-authority on it. Mr. Buckley confessed on this warmish sleepy afternoon that he was beginning to find it difficult to find a new subject to research. I asked him how he'd found them before, and he said it had always happened naturally.
"For example, I see a bee on my roses. I say to myself, Gee! Isn't that bee smaller than the one over on that rose? Are they the same kind of bee? Does this kind only get pollen from roses? Why aren't there more roses growing wild if bees carry rose pollen all over? So I read up on bees, and maybe roses. But lately, I don't know, nothing seems to jump out and grab me." I sympathized and suggested now that warmer weather would permit him to take more walks, a new subject would present itself. "In view of what's been happening in this town recently," Mr. Buckley commented, "I thought it might be interesting to research murderers." I looked at him sharply, but he wasn't trying to hint about the involvement of Real Murders members in the series of crimes.
"Why don't you do that?" I asked after a minute.
"The books are all checked out," he said.
"Almost all the nonfiction books about murder and murderers are out," he elaborated patiently.
That wasn't so startling, once I had time to mull it over. All the members of Real Murders - all the former members of Real Murders - were undoubtedly boning up and preparing themselves however they could for what might happen. But someone might be boning up to make the happening occur.
That was sickening. I looked it in the face for a second, then had to turn away. I could not visualize, did not dare to visualize, someone I knew poring over books, trying to select what old murder to imitate next, what terrible act to re-create on the body of someone he knew.
Perry came to the desk to relieve me so I could attend the meeting, which seemed so irrelevant I almost picked up my sweater and walked out the front door instead. I had a date tonight, too. Suddenly my pleasure in that date was ashes in my mouth. At least part of my bleak mood could be written up to Perry; he was definitely in the throes of one of his downswings. His lips were set in a sullen line, the parentheses from nose to mouth deeper. I felt sorry for Perry suddenly, and said, "Hi, see you later," as warmly as I could as I passed him on my way to the conference room. I regretted the warmth as he smiled in return. I wished he had stayed sullen. His smile was as vicious and meaningless as a shark's. I could imagine Perry as the Victorian poseur Neal Cream, giving prostitutes poison pills and then hanging around, hoping to watch them swallow.
"Go along to the meeting now," he said nastily. I gladly left as Arnie Buckley began the uphill battle of making conversation with Perry.
With no enthusiasm at all, I slumped in a dreadful metal chair in the library conference room and heard the news that was already stale. Mr. derrick, with his usual efficiency and lack of knowledge of the human race, had already prepared the new duty charts and he distributed them on the spot, instead of giving everyone the chance to digest and discuss the new schedule. I was down for Thursday night from six to nine, with Mr. Buckley penciled in tentatively as my volunteer; the volunteers hadn't yet been asked individually if they were willing to work nights, though the volunteer president had agreed in principle. Mr. derrick was going to put an advertisement in the newspaper telling our patrons the exciting news. (He actually said that.) "Going out with our new resident writer tonight?" Perry inquired smoothly when I returned to the check-in desk.
He took me by surprise; my mind had been firmly on work, for once.
"Yes," I said bluntly, without thought. "Why?"
I'd let my distaste show; a mistake. I should have kept the surface of things amiable.
"Oh, no reason," Perry said airily, but he began to smile, a smile so false and disagreeable that for the first time I felt a little afraid. "I'll take the desk now," I said. "You can go back to your work." I didn't smile and my voice was flat; it was too late now to patch it up. For an awful minute I didn't think he'd go, that the terrible gloom in Perry's head made him utterly reckless of keeping the surface of his life sewn together. "See you later," Perry said, with no smile at all.
I watched him go with goosebumps on my arms.
"Did he say something nasty to you, Roe?" asked Mr. Buckley. He looked as pugnacious as a tiny old man with white hair can look. "Not really. It's the way he said it," I answered, wanting to be truthful but not wanting to upset Lizanne's father.
"That boy's got snakes in his head, "Mr. Buckley pronounced.
"I think you must be right. Now about this new schedule..." We were soon busy again, and the surface of things was restored; but I thought Perry Allison did indeed have snakes in his head, and that his mother's frequent calls at the library were monitoring visits. Sally Allison was aware of the snakes, frightened they might slither through the widening holes in Perry's mental state.
Mr. Buckley and I were kept busy until closing time, with a spate of "patrons" of all ages, coming in to do schoolwork, returning books after they'd left work. Being busy made me feel more like myself again, more like there was a point to what I was doing.
Arthur Smith was waiting by my car. I was so intent on getting home to get ready, and was so short on time, that I was more miffed than glad to see him at first.
"I hated to interrupt you at work unless I had to," he said in his serious way. "It's all right, Arthur. Do you have any news for me?" I thought perhaps the lab had analyzed whatever was in the chocolates.
"No, the lab work hasn't come back yet. Do you have any time?"
"Um ... well, a few minutes."
To my pleasure, he didn't look surprised at my lack of time.
"Well, come sit in my car, or walk with me down the block." I elected to walk, not wanting Lillian Schmidt to see me in a car with a man in the parking lot, for some reason. So we strolled down the sidewalk in the cooling of the evening. I can't keep up with some men since my legs are so short that they have to slow considerably but Arthur seemed to adapt well. "What did you expect of that meeting Sunday night?" he asked abruptly. "I don't know what I expected. A miracle. I wanted someone to have an idea that would make the whole nightmare go away. Instead, someone went out and killed Morrison Pettigrue. My meeting really worked, huh?" "That death was planned before the meeting. What bites me is that I sat there in the same room with whoever killed that man, hours before he did it, and I didn't feel a thing. Even knowing a murderer was in that room .. ."He stopped, shook his head violently, and kept walking.
"Do the other police believe what you do, that one person is doing all this?" "I'm having a hard time convincing some of the other detectives about the similarities of these two cases to old murders. And since the Pettigrue murder, they're even less inclined to listen, even though when I saw the scene I told them myself it was like the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat. They almost laughed. There are so many right-wing loonies who might want kill an avowed Communist, only one or two of the other detectives are willing to accept that all these incidents are related."
"I saw Lynn Liggett at the library today. I guess she was checking up on me." "We're checking up on anyone remotely involved," Arthur said flatly. "Liggett's just doing her job. I'm supposed to find out where you were Sunday night." "After the meeting?"
"At home. In bed. Alone. You know I didn't have anything to do with Mamie's death, or the chocolates, or Morrison Pettigrue's murder." "I know. I saw you when you found Mrs. Wright's body."
I felt a ridiculous flood of warmth and gratitude at being believed. It was already late, and I did have to get ready, so I ventured, "Is there anything else you wanted to see me about?"
"I'm a divorced man without any children," Arthur said abruptly.
Taken aback, I nodded. I tried to look intelligently inquiring. "One of the reasons I got divorced ... my wife couldn't stand the fact that in police work, sometimes things came up and I couldn't make it on time for something we'd planned. Even in Lawrenceton, which is not New York or even Atlanta, right?"
He paused for a response, so I said, "Right," uncertainly. "So, I want to go out with you." Those hard blue eyes turned on me with devastating effect. "But things will come up, and sometimes you'll be disappointed. You'd have to understand beforehand, if you want to go out with me too. I don't know if you do, but I wanted to get this all out front." I thought: (a) this was admirably frank, (b) did this guy have an ego, or what?, © since he had said, "I don't know if you do," there was hope for him, though it had probably been just a sop thrown in my direction, and (d) I did want to go out with him, but not from a position of weakness. Arthur was a strength-respecter.
If took me a few moments to work this through. A few days before, I would have said, "Okay," meekly, but since then I had weathered a few storms and it seemed to me I could manage better for myself.
I watched my feet pacing along the sidewalk as I said, "If you're saying you want to go out with me, but that anything you're doing is more important than plans we might make, I can't agree to abide by such a lopsided - understanding." I watched my feet move steadily. Arthur's shoes were shiny and black and would last maybe twenty years. "Now, if you're saying the police department has priority in a crisis, I can see that. If you're not just providing a blanket excuse in advance to cover any time you just might feel like not showing up." I took a deep breath. So far those shoes had not marched off in another direction. "Okay. Also, this is sounding very - exclusive, since we haven't even been out yet. I would like to handle this one date at a time." I'd underestimated Arthur.
"I must have sounded too egotistical to swallow," he said. "I'm sorry. Will you go out with me one time?"
"Okay," I said. Then I didn't know what to do. I looked sideways at him and he was smiling. "What did I say 'okay' to?" I asked. "Unless I get assigned something I have to do, you have to remember this department is in the middle of a murder investigation..." As if I was going to forget! "... Saturday night? I've got a popcorn popper and a VCR." No first dates at a man's apartment. By God, he could take me out someplace the first time. I didn't feel like wrestling right away. My experience was limited, but I knew that much. Besides, with Arthur I might not wrestle, and I didn't want to start a relationship that way.
"I want to go roller skating," I said out of the blue. Arthur couldn't have looked more stunned if I'd told him I wanted to jump off the library roof. Why had I said that? I hadn't gone skating in years. I'd be black and blue and make a klutz of myself in the bargain. But maybe he would too.
"That's original," Arthur said slowly. "You really want to do that?"
Stuck with it, I nodded grimly.
"Okay," he said firmly. "I'll pick you up at six, Saturday night. If that's all right. Then after we harm ourselves enough, we can go out to eat. All this is assuming I can have an evening off in the middle of three investigations. But maybe we'll have it wrapped up by then."
"Fine," I said. I could accept that.
We'd circled the block, so we parted at our respective cars. I watched Arthur pull out of the parking lot, and saw he was shaking his head to himself. I laughed out loud.
I hated being late and I was late for my date with Robin. I had to ask him to wait downstairs while I put on the finishing touches. I'd bought the shoes and I was enchanted with myself. Robin didn't seem surprised or put out at having to wait; but I felt rude and at a disadvantage, as if I should have something better to show as the end result of all this preparation. However, as I looked in my full-length mirror before going down, I saw I hadn't turned out badly. There hadn't been time to put up my hair, so I wore it loose with the front held back with a cloisonne butterfly comb. The blue silk dress was sober but at least did emphasize my visible assets. I felt very unsure before I went down the stairs, very self-conscious when I saw Robin look up. But he seemed pleased, and said, "I like your dress." In his gray suit he didn't seem like the companionable person who'd drunk my wine, or the college professor I'd pelvically lusted after at the restaurant, but more like the fairly famous writer he really was.
We discussed the Pettigrue murder at our table at the Carriage House, where the hostess seemed to recognize Robin's name vaguely. Though maybe she was thinking of the book character. She pronounced it "Cur-so" and gave us a good table. I asked him to tell me about his job at the university and how it would jibe with his writing time, both questions he seemed to have answered before. I realized this man was used to being interviewed, used to being recognized. I only felt better when I recalled that Lizanne had "bequeathed" him to me, and right on the tail of that thought, Lizanne's parents, Arnie and Elsa, were seated at the table opposite ours. The Crandalls, who had the townhouse to the right of mine, sat down with them.
I had a social obligation here, so I identified them to Robin and we went over to their table.
Arnie Buckley jumped right up, and pumped Robin's hand enthusiastically. "Our Lizanne told us all about you!" he said. "We're proud a famous writer like you has come to live in Lawrenceton. Do you like it?" Mr. Buckley had always been a Chamber of Commerce member and unashamed Lawrenceton booster. "It's an exciting place," said Robin honestly.
"Well, well, you'll have to come by the library. Not as sophisticated as what you'll find in the city, but we like it! Elsa and I are both volunteers. Got to give our time to something now that we're retired!" "I mostly just help with the book sale," Elsa said modestly. Elsa was Lizanne's stepmother, but she had been as pretty as Lizanne's mother must have been. Arnie Buckley was a lucky man when it came to pretty women. Now gray-haired and wrinkled, Elsa was still pleasant to look at and be with. I hadn't known the Buckleys were friends of the Crandalls, but I could see where the attraction would lie. Jed Crandall, like Mr. Buckley, was no chair-bound retiree, but a pepper pot of a man, easily angered and easily appeased. His wife had always been called Teentsy, and was still, though now she certainly outweighed her husband by forty pounds or more. Teentsy and Jed now said the proper things to Robin about their being neighbors, asking him to drop in, Teentsy saying since he was a poor bachelor (and here she shot me a sly look) he might run short of food sometime, and if he did, just to knock on their door, they had a-plenty, as he could look at her and tell! "Are you at all interested in guns?" Jed asked eagerly. "Mr. Jed has quite a collection," I told Robin hastily, thinking he might need to be forewarned.
"Well, sometimes, from a professional standpoint. I'm a mystery writer," he explained when the Crandalls looked blank, though the Buckleys were nodding with vigor, bless their hearts.
"Come by then, don't be a stranger!" Jed Crandall urged. "Thank you, nice meeting you," Robin said to the table in general, and in a chorus of "see you soon's" and "nice to've met you's" we retired to our table. The meeting nudged Robin's voracious curiosity, and in telling him about the Crandalls and the Buckleys I began to feel more comfortable. We talked about Robin's new job, and then our food came, and by the time we began eating, I was ready to talk about the murders.
"Jane Engle came by the library today with a pretty solid theory," I began, and told Robin about the likeness of "our" case to that of Cordelia Botkin. He was intrigued.
"I've never heard of anything quite like this," he said after our salad had been served. "What a book this would make! Maybe I'll write about it myself, my first nonfiction book." He had more distance from the case; new in town, he didn't know the victims personally (unless you could term Mother a victim) and probably he didn't know the perpetrator either. I was surprised that the crimes were so exciting to him, until he said after he'd swallowed a mouthful of tomato, "You know, Roe, writing about crime doesn't mean you have direct experience. This is the closest I've ever come to a real murder."
I could have said the same thing as a reader. I'd been an avid fan of both real and fictional crime for years, but this was my closest brush with violent death. "I hope I never come any closer," I said abruptly. He reached across the table and took my hand. "It doesn't seem too likely," he said cautiously. "I know the poisoned candy - well, we don't know yet if it was really poisoned or not, do we? That was scarey. But it was impersonal, too, wasn't it? Your mother's situation vaguely fit the Botkin case, even if not as well as Mamie Wright fit Julia Wallace's profile. That was why she was picked." "But it was sent to my address," I said, suddenly letting a fear overwhelm me that I thought I'd suppressed. "That was to involve me. My mother fit the pattern; though that wouldn't have been any consolation to me if she'd died," I added sharply. "But sending it to my place. That was a deliberate attempt to make me - die. Or at least a witness to my mother's dying, or getting sick, depending on what was in the chocolates. That doesn't fit any pattern. That's about as personal as you can get."
"What kind of person could do that?" Robin asked. I met his eyes. "That's the core, isn't it," I said. "That's one reason we like old murders so much. At a safe remove, we can think about the kind of person who can 'do that' without remorse. Almost anyone could kill another person. I guess I could, if it came to being cornered. But I'm sure, I have to be sure, that not many people could sit back and plan other people dying as part of a game the killer decided to play. I have to believe that." "I do too," he said.
"This really is someone who isn't acting for any of the famous motives Tennyson Jessie wrote about," I continued. "It must be someone acting out something he's always wanted to do. For some reason, now he's able to actually do it." "A member of your club."
"A former member," I said sadly, and told Robin about the Sunday night meeting. We had to talk about something else; didn't we have anything to discuss besides murders? Robin, bless him, seemed to see I couldn't take any more, and began telling me about his agent, and about the process of getting a book published. He kept me laughing with anecdotes about book-signings he'd endured and I responded with stories about people that came to the library and some of the wilder questions they'd asked. We actually had a cheerful evening, and we were still at our table when the Crandalls and the Buckleys paid their bill and left. Since the Carriage House was at the south end of town, we had to pass in front of our townhouses to turn into the driveway on the side. There was a man standing in front of the row of townhouses, on the sidewalk. As we went by, he turned his white face to us and by the light of the streetlamp, I thought I recognized Perry.
I was distracted though by the kiss Robin gave me at my back door. It was unexpected and delicious, and the disparity in our heights was overcome quite satisfactorily. Maybe his asking me out hadn't been quite so impersonal as I'd supposed; his side of the kiss was delivered with great enthusiasm. I went upstairs humming to myself and feeling very attractive; and when I slipped into my dark bedroom and peered out the window, the street was empty.
That night it rained. I was wakened by the drops pelting against my window. I could see the lightning flicker through my curtains. I crept downstairs and rechecked my locks. I listened, and heard only the rain. I looked out all the windows and saw only the rain. By the streetlamp out front, I saw the water racing down the slight slope to the storm drain at the end of the block. Nothing else stirred.
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