Though I didn't know it until I left work, that afternoon had been a busy one for the news media, as well as the police.
Mamie's death had not aroused much interest in the city, though it had been front-page news in Lawrenceton. The box of candy had rated a couple of paragraphs on an inside page locally, and had failed to register at all in the city. But the murder of Morrison Pettigrue was news; the strange and off-beat murder of a strange and off-beat man, spiced with Benjamin's charge of political assassination. Benjamin may have been a local butcher who very obviously desired attention of any kind in the worst way, but he did deserve the title "campaign manager" and he was quotable. The two local stringers for the city papers enjoyed a couple of days of unprecedented importance. As Sally had told us so indignantly at the meeting at my place, she'd been asked by the police to keep the Julia Wallace speculations out of the paper. An account of the Julia Wallace murder would have little appeal for twentieth-century American newspaper readers, the police told Sally and her boss. And it would hinder their investigation. Sally was on an inside track with the Wright murder, no doubt about it, being a club member and actually present when the body was found, so she was furious to see her exclusive knowledge stay exclusive. But her boss, Macon Turner, agreed with the local police chief that it should be withheld for "a few days." It was from Macon Turner I pieced all this together later; he'd been wooing my mother for some months before John Queensland gained ascendancy, and we'd become friends. Sally became frantic after the Pettigrue murder; the minute she'd learned from her police sources that there had been paper scattered on the surface of the bathwater, and that Pettigrue had been placed in the tub after death, she mentally scrolled through the assassinations of radicals and easily came up with Charlotte Corday's stabbing of Jean-Paul Marat in revolutionary France. Corday had gained entrance to Marat's house by pretending she would give him a list of traitors in her province. Then she killed Marat while he sat in the bath to alleviate a skin disease.
After Sally had thought it through, she exploded into Macon Turner's office and demanded to report the full story. She knew it would be the biggest story of her career. Turner, a friend of the police chief, hesitated a fatal couple of days. Then the Buckleys were slaughtered, and Sally, instantly drawing the obvious conclusion, prepared her story with full disclosure of the "parallel" theory, as it became called.
Turner could no longer resist the biggest, best story that had come along since he'd bought the Lawrenceton Sentinel. By chance, the two stringers were not acquainted with any Real Murders members, who at any rate had not been doing a lot of talking about Mamie Wright's murder especially since the Sunday night meeting at my apartment. For example, LeMaster Cane told me later he'd decided even before the meeting that the murders in Lawrenceton were too much like old murders for it to be coincidental. But as a black man, he'd been too scared of being implicated to come forward. He'd already found by that time, too, that his hammer - with initials burned into the haft - was missing. He figured it had been used to kill Mamie.
The same afternoon the Buckleys were found slaughtered, the state lab phoned the local police to say that though the report was in the mail, they wanted Arthur and Lynn to know that what was in the candy my mother had received was a product called "Ratkill." If my mother had swallowed the candy without noticing the taste in time to spit it out, she would have been very sick. If by some wild chance her taste-buds had been jaded enough for her to eat three chocolates, she might have died. But the Ratkill had a strong odor and flavor by design, to prevent just such a thing happening; so the poisoning attempt seemed half-hearted and amateurish.
Then Lynn Liggett found the open box of Ratkill in Arthur's car. The officer who had taken the telephone message from the state crime lab to relay to the detectives was a man named Paul Allison, and he was the brother of the man Sally'd been married to years before. He was a friend of Sally's, and he didn't care for Arthur. Paul Allison was standing in the police station parking lot when Lynn, reaching in Arthur's car to retrieve her forgotten notebook, found an open box of Ratkill under it. Lynn assumed that Arthur had gotten a sample for some reason, and lifted it up where Paul Allison could see it, before she sensed something was wrong and instinctively tried to conceal it. After Paul Allison had seen the Ratkill, there was no possible way to conceal its finding, and Arthur had a lot of explaining to do; so did Lynn, who had been riding with Arthur off and on.
Paul Allison decided to do his own explaining - to Sally. He called her an hour later, and her full story was in print the next morning. Sally's story created a sensation, which it fully deserved. Sally Allison, middle-aged newswoman, had finally gotten the story she'd hankered for all her life, and she went for it, no holds barred.
The stringers had not known about the "parallel theory," but they did know something strange was happening in Lawrenceton, which normally had a very low murder rate.
When the Buckleys were killed, one of the stringers was listening to her police band scanner. While the police cars converged on the Buckley house, she was loading her camera. She stopped at the gas station to fill up her car, then drove slowly up Parson until she spotted the house. In front of the house was slumped a tall, lovely woman with blood on her legs, and sitting with her arm around that tall, lovely woman was a little librarian with big round glasses and a grim expression. I had been trying to ignore the heave of my stomach, because Lizanne smelled of vomit.
Her picture of us appeared on the front page of the Metro/State section of the evening city paper. Her sources in the police department had not been silent in the meantime, and the caption read: "Elizabeth Buckley sits stunned on the steps of her parents' home after she discovered their bodies. She is being comforted by Aurora Teagarden, who discovered the body of Mrs. Gerald Wright Friday night."
So that afternoon while I worked in a daze at the library, newspeople were watching my apartment and my mother's office. It didn't occur to anyone that I might just go on to work after "comforting" Lizanne. Of course, the paper was not yet out and I had not yet seen the picture, but by the time I got back to my apartment after leaving work, a television news crew was parked in my slot in the parking lot. They'd gotten early wind of the story, and since Lizanne was incommunicado in the hospital and Arthur and Lynn were embroiled in the Ratkill discovery at the police station, my mother and I were among the few remaining targets.
That is, until the news crew spotted Robin, who was arriving home from the university. The newsman was an avid mystery buff who recognized Robin, having read of his stepping in for the stricken writer who'd had the heart attack. The camera was trained on him in a flash, and the newsman came up with some hasty questions. Robin, used to being interviewed, handled it well. He was agreeable, without giving them much information. I saw him that night on the news. Unfortunately, they weren't looking hard enough at Robin to prevent one of them spotting me when I got home. I might think it my duty to talk to the police, but I didn't have to talk to these people. One of them was holding an early copy of the paper, and as I got hesitantly out of my car, stupidly determined on going into my apartment and taking the longest, hottest bath on record, he held it out to me. He said something, I didn't know what, because I was so appalled at seeing the picture of poor Lizanne I couldn't listen. I felt surrounded, and I was, though the three men of the news team were in my mind magnified to thirty. I was just worn out and couldn't deal with it.
"I don't want to say anything," I said nervously, and I could tell the camera was running. The newsman was a looker with a beautiful smile, and I wanted him out of my way more than I'd ever wanted anything. I felt I was teetering dangerously on the brink of hysteria.
Robin decided to rescue me. He loomed up behind them, and motioned me to just walk between them. I wondered for a moment if they'd let me, but they parted and I scuttled by straight for Robin. He wrapped his arm around me and we turned our backs on the news team and headed for the patio gate. I knew the camera was running still (the mystery novelist and his librarian landlady have adjacent apartments) and I had a flash of sense and a jolt of guts. I swivelled to face the camera.
"This is private property. It belongs to my mother and I am her representative here," I said ominously. "You do not have my permission to be on it. This is against the law." I said that like it was a magic charm. And indeed, it seemed to be. For they did pile in their van, and left! I was incredibly pleased with myself, and I was surprised on looking up to see Robin beaming like a fond daddy.
"Go get 'em, Aurora," he said admiringly.
"I appreciate your sheltering me out there in the parking lot, Robin," I said, "but dammit, don't you patronize me!" I did a little independent swivelling and got in my back door without bursting into tears. That night Arthur called me, to tell me the gloomy story of the Ratkill. "Whoever this asshole is, he's playing games and he just went too far," Arthur said savagely.
I would have thought murdering the Buckleys was going too far, myself. After I'd commiserated as much as I decently could, I told him about the media problems I was having. I'd gotten several phone calls during my wonderful hot bath, effectively ruining it. Only the chance someone I might want to hear from would call me was keeping me from taking the phone off the hook. For the first time in my life, I was wishing I had an answering machine. "I'm getting calls, too," Arthur said gloomily. "I'm not used to being the direct subject of all this news attention."
"Neither am I," I said. "I hate it. I'm glad librarians don't have to have press conferences as part of their job. Do you think you're clear now of any suspicion?"
"Yes, I'm not on suspension or anything like that. At least I've built up enough respect here for that."
"I'm glad." And I was. I felt like I had someone on my side in the police force as long as Arthur was there. If he'd been suspended, not only would I have felt bad for his sake, I would have felt powerless.
"Go on and take the phone off the hook," Arthur advised me now. "But first call your mom and get her to put a big sign at the entrance to your parking lot that says in great big letters, 'Private Property, Trespassers will be Prosecuted.'" "Good idea. Thanks."
We said goodnight uneasily. We were both wondering what would happen next, and who it would happen to.
My mother woke her handyman up with a phone call that night and told him she'd pay him triple if he had the sign in the parking lot by 7:00 the next morning. She begged me to leave town, or come to stay with her, until somehow this situation ended. She'd known the Buckleys, and was horrified by the sheer terror they must have experienced before they died; the Buckleys were her age, her acquaintances.
"John had to go in to talk to the police," she said. "If he can help them, that's wonderful, but I hated for him to go. I wish you'd never joined that damn group, Aurora. But there's no point talking about it now. Won't you come stay over here?"
"Are you going to defend me, Mother?" I asked with a weary smile.
"With my last breath," she said simply.
Suddenly I felt my mother was safer if I stayed away from her.
"I'll manage," I told her. "Thanks for taking care of the sign."
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