Read In Search of the Dove Online
Authors: Rebecca York
“Do you like it?” he questioned gruffly.
“It’s remarkable. Where did you ever find it?”
“Designed it myself and had it made up in New York. You deserve only the best.”
“Amherst, you shouldn’t have.”
So the Falcon was coming as close as he ever would to acknowledging that he’d been rather difficult to work with lately. How like him, she thought, to give her a jeweled parrot instead of kind words. But if she were wise, she’d accept the apology graciously.
She saw him visibly relax and was unable to keep a slight smile from flickering at the corners of her aristocratic mouth.
Before moving toward the table, the Falcon paused and picked up the two folders he’d set discreetly on the sideboard.
“Back to business, I see,” Connie observed with a measure of relief as he set down his cane and pulled out the chair opposite her.
“Yes, Michael Rome hasn’t come up with anything definite in New Orleans, but Jed Prentiss reported in last night from Royale Verde in the Caribbean.”
Slipping the jewelry box into the pocket of her skirt, she asked, “Has he uncovered something on that end?”
“He wants us to dig up any information we can on a place down there called the Blackstone Clinic. It’s a private psychiatric sanitarium run by a physician named Jackson Talifero.”
Connie looked puzzled. “What does a place like that have to do with his assignment?”
“He’s not sure. But it’s been whispered around the island that something unsavory is going on there.”
Gordon shrugged. “Well, for one thing, the upstanding local people won’t go near the clinic. It seems there’s some sort of voodoo taboo associated with the place.”
“Voodoo. Now really!”
“It’s a good way to ensure their privacy.”
“That won’t keep Jed away.”
“No, it won’t.”
hat are you doing down there on the floor, girl, scrubbing like a slave?”
Jessica’s head snapped around to confront a pair of slender burgundy-hose-clad legs below the hem of a flowing designer dress. Her gaze quickly traveled upward to collide with a smiling fawn-colored face and a pair of familiar mahogany eyes.
“Simone? Is it really you?” As she spoke she scrambled to her feet.
Jessica laughed. “You always were a smart-ass.”
The two young women embraced warmly.
“Let me look at you,” Jessica finally said, inspecting her old friend’s chic clothing, neat chignon, and subtle makeup that brought out her striking looks. Simone was a good six inches taller than Jessica, but her lean figure had filled out in the right places since her adolescent years. “Well, you don’t remind me much of the scrawny little scarecrow who used to chase snapping turtles with me down at the bayou.”
Simone chuckled. “You do.”
Jessica glanced down quickly at her smudged white T-shirt and faded jeans.
“I don’t mean the charwoman costume. Jessica, I’d know you anywhere. But, honey, it sure has been too long.”
“Aunt Edna’s funeral.”
Jessica’s arms dropped to her sides. Both women were silent for a moment.
“You don’t come back here unless there’s trouble,” the black woman observed.
“Then you heard about Aubrey?”
“Uh-huh. New Orleans may be a big city, but bad news travels like it’s still a small town.”
Jessica wiped her soapy hands on jeans-clad thighs. Over the past few days, she’d been putting her brother’s apartment in order. Heaven knows, the place had needed it. Even though she hated house cleaning, she’d been glad to have something to do in the evenings after she’d come back from nosing around the Chartres campus. “Could I get you a cup of tea?” she asked her old friend.
“If you’re going to have one.”
“I was about to take a break.” She stopped and moved the scrub bucket into the corner. “Make yourself comfortable. I hope lemon spice is okay. That’s all I’ve bought.”
“Lemon spice is fine.” Simone pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat down. “So how is Aubrey doing?” she asked.
“They’re still pretty guarded in their prognosis. I guess I just have to wait and see.” Jessica put the kettle on the burner. “You know, I can’t figure this whole thing out. Aubrey is the last person I’d think would get mixed up with drugs. And almost everybody I’ve tried to talk to at the university is acting as if they’re afraid of something.”
“Maybe with good reason.”
Jessica’s brows lifted. “What do you mean?”
“Honey, organized crime controls the drug market down here. Poking into their territory isn’t good for your life expectancy.”
Jessica could sense undercurrents of fear in her words. There was something here that she couldn’t quite get a handle on, and she didn’t like the feeling. “That sounds like a warning.”
“It’s just a piece of friendly advice.”
“Well, what would you do if it were your brother?”
Simone’s mahogany eyes clouded for a moment. “Nurse him back to health and stay clear of more trouble.”
“The doctor says my coming to see him is making him worse.”
“His own kin?”
The teakettle whistled and Jessica was glad of the excuse to turn away to get mugs and teabags from the cabinet. “Sugar?”
“No, this is fine.” Simone accepted the mug of hot fragrant liquid. Leaning over it, she inhaled the citrus scent. “This reminds me of the time we decided to give our legs a hot-wax beauty treatment and melted down my mom’s favorite lemon-scented candles.”
Jessica laughed. “That stuff sure did burn! To this day I won’t let a beautician come near me with hot wax.”
Jessica took a meditative sip of her tea. She and Simone had met and become fast friends the first summer her parents had let her go alone to Aunt Edna’s summer place in the country. Simone was a full-time resident of the rural area. Every year the two girls had renewed the relationship right up until Jessica had gone away to college. “Those were good times.”
“Honey, we go back a long way. That’s why I stopped by when I heard you were in town. If there’s anything you need, and I mean anything, I want you to give me a holler. Let me give you my phone numbers.” She took a small lilac-colored card out of her purse and handed it across the table.
“I don’t suppose that means you’re going to tell me where to ask some questions about Aubrey’s drug problem now that I’ve drawn a blank at the university?”
“No way. Take my advice, girl, and stay away from that part of town.”
Jessica nodded. There was no point in getting into an argument with her old friend. Instead she scanned the ornate script on the front of Simone’s card. It advertised a boutique on Royal Street called This Is the Place. “Are you in business for yourself now?” she asked.
“Sure am. Selling cosmetics, soaps—” Simone paused “—and uh, charms. You know, things tourists want to buy and bring home as gifts.”
“Charms? Not as in charm bracelets?”
“You mean love potions, herbal medicines, hexes?”
“Well, love potions and herbal medicines, anyway.”
Jessica nodded. “I guess you always were interested in stuff like that.”
“You used to be, too. It’s in your Cajun blood. Remember the time we got the neighborhood kids together for a seance at midnight out in back of the corn crib—and you dressed up as a ghost?”
“I’m through playing around with ghosts!”
“Honey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. You’re thinking about what happened later, aren’t you?”
Jessica nodded tightly, feeling Simone’s speculative gaze on her face. “Let’s just forget about all that,” she whispered.
Silence hung in the air between the two women. Jessica took several sips of her tea, grateful for the feel of the hot liquid sliding down her throat. For a long time she’d told herself that she’d deal with the remembered pain in her life “some day.” Since coming back to New Orleans she’d felt “some day” licking at her heels like a cold, black fog.
* * *
put down his engraved silver fountain pen and adjusted the wooden blinds that kept the afternoon sun out of his spacious office. The view out the window of his psychiatric clinic reminded him of a very exclusive hotel complex. The two-story white stucco buildings with their Spanish-style roofs and wide verandas commanded a hill that swept dramatically down through the jungle to the ocean.
On the wide green lawn he could see old Mrs. Wallace waving her arms wildly at Perry Davenport as two attendants rushed to intervene. It wasn’t hard to imagine the stream of four-letter words pouring from the old woman’s mouth.
Mrs. Wallace suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and had become rather an embarrassment to her high-society daughter after biting the finger of an important dinner guest. That was why the woman was willing to pay 5,000 a month to keep her mother out of sight down here on Royale Verde.
Perry Davenport, on the other hand, was quite another matter. His problem was paranoid schizophrenia and, until coming to Blackstone nine months ago, there hadn’t been much hope of curing him. But he’d been responding remarkably well to the clinic’s exclusive new drug therapy. The last time his parents had visited, they’d been astounded by his progress and more than willing to up their monthly payment to 7,000.
The tall, white-haired physician pursed his rather full lips and looked around the office, pausing to admire the Louis XIV sideboard that graced the center of one wall and the small Renoir that hung over it. Once fees like those from Wallace and Davenport had been adequate to support his style of living. But that was no longer true, and his expensive tastes weren’t the only reason he needed a great deal of money. He had other aspirations as well.
At Blackstone he was a ruler with absolute power. He’d come to like the knowledge that when he gave an order, it was obeyed without question. But the clinic was such a limited environment for a man of his leadership abilities. He’d made plans to extend his autocracy, and they’d been proceeding well until the squeamish Dr. Xavier had decided to bow out without even saying goodbye.
Of course, under the circumstances, sneaking off without asking permission had been a prudent move. The wayward chemist had sense enough to understand that had he made his intentions known, he would have ended up in one of the clinic’s padded cells for a bit of behavior modification. Xavier hadn’t waited around for the padlock to snap closed. Instead, he’d bribed a native houseboy to hide him in the van that made twice-weekly runs to Queenstown for fresh produce and meat. Naturally, the man had paid dearly for helping the doctor escape. But his punishment had served its purpose. The staff now understood that the front gate would remain locked and
would come in or out without the director’s personal knowledge.
Talifero glanced at his Rolex. Almost time to make afternoon rounds, he thought, standing up and taking a light-gray linen jacket from the coat tree in the corner. After slipping into the jacket and straightening his black tie, he gazed with satisfaction at his reflection in the mirror by the door. At fifty-five, he was still quite trim and athletic. Far from making him look older, the prematurely white hair and mustache gave his tanned face a properly distinguished look.
He had just crossed to the door when the phone rang. The Queenstown chief of police, Louis Barahona, was on the line.
“I wanted to let you know that we’re finished with the investigation of that unfortunate boating incident,” the police chief related, the lilting island cadence of his voice somewhat tamed as it always was when he spoke to Talifero.
“Yes?” The physician sat down in his comfortable leather chair again and crossed one linen-clad leg over the other.
“The coroner has found the death to be accidental. Your houseboy was obviously drinking when he took the sailboat out.”
“Thank you for taking care of it so expeditiously for me.”
“It’s an honor to serve you, Dr. Talifero. And I have another piece of information you will be interested in.”
“There’s a man in Queenstown who’s been asking questions about the clinic. He’s an American named Jed Prentiss. Do you know him?”
“No. But I assume you’ll keep me informed of his movements,” the physician asserted.
“Certainly. I’ve already assigned two of our best men to keep him under observation.”
“Well, Captain, some day soon your diligence will be rewarded.”
“Thank you, sir.”
* * *
IMONE HAD OFFERED
her help, Jessica thought as she looked out the window, watching the tall black woman walk gracefully down to the corner and disappear from view. But she’d drawn the line at getting involved with Aubrey’s drug problem.
Turning away, Jessica walked to the living-room couch and sat down heavily. There’d been a time when either she or Simone would have walked through fire to come to the other’s rescue. But that was in the past, and the breach was almost entirely her fault.
When she’d gone away, Simone had written regularly at first. Jessica had let the intervals between her answers stretch longer and longer until the other young woman finally let the correspondence dwindle to a card at Christmas. Doubtless the withdrawal hurt Simone. But Jessica hadn’t been able to help herself. Her friend from the bayou country was too much a part of the past she wanted to forget.
She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the séance Simone had mentioned. It hadn’t been an isolated incident. As teenagers they’d both devoured books on psychic phenomena and listened for hours to the country folks talking about strange goings-on in the swamps. They’d tried communicating with the spirit world, predicting the future, and visualizing faraway scenes with their mental powers.
To their surprise and delight, some of it seemed to work, and Jessica had felt as if she were standing at the doorway to a rich new world. But when her parents, with their strong fundamentalist beliefs, had found out about the girls’ occult studies, their disapproval had been immediate and severe. Jessica’s mother had been furious at Aunt Edna for countenancing such behavior. They’d dragged Jessica to their new minister, the Reverend Peter Ashford, for several stern lectures and warnings. She’d taken an instant dislike to the man, and it had been many months later before she’d known the reason why.