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“Later on I am going to ask you whether the level of crystals in the bottle seems to have gone down, but at the moment we are lifting fingerprints from the room and its contents. You could perhaps let Constable Collins have your fingerprints for elimination purposes. Did the housekeeper keep your darkroom clean?”

“No. Bettl disapproves of me and everything I do. She wouldn't volunteer to do anything she thought might help me. Besides, she only waddles down there when she has to get to the freezer.”

“What's in the padlocked room?”

“I'm not sure. Old furniture and stuff like that, I think. Aunt Clara said it was padlocked because the kids used to go down there to play and Theresa didn't like it. Dirt, you know, and that sort of thing.”

Sanders sat at the desk with the chair pushed back, stretching his cramped leg muscles in front of him. He looked around at the rows of books and wondered if Clara von Hohenkammer had chosen them. They were all in English and looked pragmatic and boring. Maybe an interior decorator had bought eight shelves of books for the study and the murdered woman kept whatever she actually read somewhere else. If she did read. He still had no impression of the woman beyond Harriet's clear but very sketchy portrait. Whatever anyone else said was canceled out by some other family member's contradictory account. And the brief, hostile, and unsatisfactory interview he had just had with her son-in-law hadn't helped much.

Milan Milanovich had presented himself as a hard-driving, successful businessman, a responsible corporate citizen, the president of the thriving Triple Saracen Development. That name rang a tiny bell in the back of Sanders's brain, but he wasn't sure whether it was a warning bell or simply one of recognition. According to him, his mother-in-law was a delightful woman, a devoted grandmother, gentle and affectionate, feminine, fragile and in need of protection, with no enemies. His wife had adored her mother; he himself had always been one of her greatest admirers; except for this unfortunate accident, their lives had all been perfect and harmonious. He dangled the accident hypothesis in front of Sanders as fetchingly as his wife had tried the suicide one. No doubt they had decided to present him with two safe theories he could choose between. Mr. Milanovich deplored the existence of cyanide in the basement, had had no idea before this evening that it was there, and opined that accidents will happen when people keep dangerous substances around the house. But he declined, his brown eyes cold, to offer any opinion on how the cyanide magically made its way from the darkroom to the kitchen and into the tea. He himself had not been near the kitchen. He had seen nothing; he knew nothing. He requested permission to return to his wife (also feminine, fragile, and in need of protection, clearly). Sanders shook his head and sent him away.

The inspector yawned and sent for the business manager. Perhaps he could present a more rational view, somewhere between Clara von Hohenkammer, tragic prima donna, and Grandma Clara, cozy but accident-prone.

When Frank Whitelaw arrived five minutes later, he was a study in bravery soldiering through trial. His face was red and puffy, his black tie askew, his hair damp and clinging thinly to his scalp. A powerful odour of brandy emanated from every pore. “My apologies, Inspector,” he said, “for keeping you waiting. It's been . . . difficult. Still . . . nothing like cold water to sober a chap up.”

Sanders stared in disbelief. Whitelaw sounded like a refugee from a British comedy series. The inspector waved him into a chair and tried to swallow his prejudices against the accent and the mannerisms. “You will have given us an account of your movements already.”

Whitelaw nodded.

“I am interested in what you can tell me as Mrs. von Hohenkammer's business manager. About her financial affairs.” Whitelaw developed a wary expression, as if information were something to be hoarded and doled out with great care. “Do you know, for example, who benefits from her death?”

“Benefits?” The business manager leaned back in his chair as if in shock. “How could anyone benefit from Clara's death?” He seemed to have picked up some of the family's acting techniques, thought Sanders. Any moment now he was going to launch into a soliloquy.

“Financially, Mr. Whitelaw. Who benefits financially from her death? All of this”—he waved his hand around him, taking in the house and all its expensive contents—“must go to someone, or did she leave it as a home for out-of-work actors?”

Sanders got a reproachful glare for that one. “Of course someone gets it,” he said. “As far as I know, the estate will be divided up between her two daughters in some equitable fashion, but you'll have to ask the lawyers in Munich about that. There will be small individual amounts going to people like her housekeeper, Bettl. Bettl has been with her for twenty years or so—a very loyal servant.” His tone was mournful.

“And you, Mr. Whitelaw. Do you qualify as a very loyal servant?”

“Servant?” he said coldly. “Clara certainly did not consider me a servant. I was a friend who happened to manage her business affairs for her. Her death represents a terrible loss to me, a personal loss that goes beyond description, and, I suppose, a loss in the business sense as well. No, I do not benefit from her death. Not at all.”

“And so her estate,” said Sanders, “except for individual amounts to loyal servants, and so on, will be divided equally between her two daughters.”

“Not necessarily,” said Whitelaw with a faint touch of glee in his voice. “I said equitably, not equally. Clara didn't feel that the two girls were equally capable of handling a large amount of capital or that each one deserved half of the estate.”

“Which one gets cut out?” said Sanders abruptly.

“Oh, I don't suppose that either one gets cut out. But she battled a great deal with Veronika and certainly didn't think she was very stable.” He glanced around as if he expected to see the young woman glowering in the corner, and then went on. “Veronika was—or is, I should say—mixed up with the Society for Peace and Justice in Munich. Do you know who they are?”

Sanders shook his head, although with that name, he thought he could guess how they generally planned to achieve peace and justice.

“They are the organization responsible for the bombing of a train station a couple of years ago in which twenty people were killed. Very dangerous people.”

“She's been going around bombing people? And she isn't in jail?”

“Well, I don't think she's been an active member in that sense. But her mother worried that if she had money she would funnel it into the organization. They could become very dangerous if they had access to half the von Hohenkammer estate. I believe she was going to change her will in some way to prevent Nikki from being able to fund them significantly. You would have to check on that. I was her manager, not her solicitor,” he said by way of justification. “I was responsible for the current state of her finances, not for their ultimate disposition.”

“And so, as far as you know, most of the money goes to the other daughter?”

Whitelaw nodded.

“Did she know that?”

Whitelaw gave a judicious shrug of the shoulders. Now he began to look a financial man, rather than a brokenhearted old family friend. “I believe so. Theresa realized that Veronika was irresponsible and had discussed the problem with her mother. In fact, Clara forced Veronika to spend the summer in Canada because of her involvement with one of the members of the society.”

“How did she manage that?” asked Sanders, incredulous.

Whitelaw smiled with pink and unctuous affability. “A combination of coercion and persuasion. Veronika is still—was still—entirely dependent on her mother. She gets a modest share of her father's personal estate when she reaches twenty-five.” Sanders looked at him with distaste. He had a sudden very clear idea of who told Clara von Hohenkammer what kind of man her daughter was sleeping with.

“Had this change in her will taken place yet?” Whitelaw shrugged his shoulders again. “Did Veronika von Hohenkammer know about it?”

“I don't know. You'd have to ask her that. If she'd be willing to discuss it with you.” The sweetness of his tone invested his remarks with an extraordinary amount of malice.

“How does Klaus Leitner fit into the household, by the way? He lived with his aunt, did he?”

“Certainly not,” said Whitelaw. Now his voice throbbed with open venom. “He's just another worthless drifter who's been sponging off her for the summer. He turned up in Toronto in June, before she left for the country, and talked her into letting him stay here, when he wasn't lolling around in Muskoka, and look what it has led to. A useless parasite, that's what he is, and the idea that he could ever make a living from playing around taking pictures is ludicrous. Clara would never have believed it.” As his indignation level rose, Frank Whitelaw's plummy middle-class accent slipped here and there in a most interesting way.

“What had she to do with it?”

“Nothing at all,” he said firmly. “Klaus merely announced to us that he was going to stay in the city and become a photographer. He was probably planning to sponge off Clara indefinitely, but it wouldn't have worked. She was too clear-headed for that.”

“Did you notice that Mrs. von Hohenkammer had been depressed lately?”

Whitelaw paused a long time before answering. “I wouldn't have called it depression,” he said at last. “But she was behaving in slightly odd ways, not dealing with her affairs in her usual manner. Nothing you could put your finger on.”

“I see.” What he saw was that Whitelaw was sitting on some fence or other. Waiting to find out what Theresa had said? “One last thing,” he said. “Did Mrs. von Hohenkammer support both her children? Mrs. Milanovich seems to live very well,” he added, thinking of the nanny. “Or is Triple Saracen a very prosperous concern?”

“I'm afraid I couldn't say,” replied Whitelaw carefully. “You'd have to ask her husband. These development companies can be very deceptive.” And with a slight bow of the head, he took his dismissal from the room.

Ed Dubinsky yawned his way into the study as soon as Whitelaw was gone. “I've done with the rest of them,” he said. “That housekeeper is a pretty nasty piece of goods. By the way, the gardener is in there with her now.”

“The gardener? What gardener? Where in hell did he come from?”

“He's been here all the time, only no one thought to mention him. His name is Paul Esteban, and he patrols the grounds at night, usually. With a pair of dogs, but he has them chained up right now because of the guests. He wants to know when he can let them loose.”

“That's all we need,” said Sanders. “Tell him to go to bed and take the goddamn dogs with him. I wish we could do the same,” he added, getting to his feet.

Chapter 5

At nine-fifteen on Friday morning, John Sanders stalked into the office. It had been five o'clock when he had turned the von Hohenkammer house over to the specialists and tried to pick up his night's rest where he had left off. Now, with three hours of restless sleep behind him and the prospect of a hideously long day ahead, he could see little good in the morning. He set a container of coffee and a soggy Danish on the desk and looked blankly over at his partner. Dubinsky, as always, was in before him; the delicate but formidable Sally Dubinsky was ruthless about tossing him out of bed. “Autopsy report come in yet?” was the only question that percolated in Sanders's befogged and resentful brain. Dubinsky shook his head.

“Not as far as I know,' he said. “But I got in only a couple of minutes ago. I was out late last night,” he pointed out in case Sanders had forgotten. His reward was a red-eyed glare.

Sanders pulled the phone over in front of him, narrowly missing his coffee, and dialed. After much holding and shunting and querying, someone finally put Dr. Braston on the other end of the line. “Melissa,” he growled, “where in hell is that autopsy report?”

“Come on, John, who do you think I am?” said a cheerfully aggressive voice back at him. “I only got here a little before six. I know I'm brilliant and swift, but I'm not superwoman.” She relented. “It's being typed. You'll get the prelim as soon as it's done.”

“Give it to me over the phone,” he said, yawning. “I need it now.”

“Then meet me for breakfast.” She sounded unbearably wide awake. “And I will tell all. I'm famished and haven't had a man to talk to over my orange juice for three days. Al's away.”

Sanders swept his soggy Danish into the wastepaper basket. “Okay,” he said, yawning again. “Jerry's? Five minutes?”

“Give me seven,” she said. “I should wash the blood off.”

“Melissa, you're disgusting,” said Sanders, and hung up.

“So that's it,” said Melissa Braston. “Cyanide. Very neat. Potassium cyanide, I imagine, and probably about three hundred milligrams at least, I would say. But lab techs sleep at night, and we won't have that for a while.” She finished off her orange juice and began looking around for her bacon and eggs.

“That's a hell of a lot, isn't it?” asked Sanders.

“Oh, not really,” she said, picking up the sugar. She poured about a quarter of a teaspoon into the palm of her hand. “About that much, more or less. Not a whole lot to have to carry around with you.” She dropped it from her palm into her coffee and stirred it absentmindedly.

“Wouldn't she have noticed that the tea tasted funny?” said Sanders. “She tried it, to see if it was too hot, and then drank it.”

“She wouldn't have. Most people can't taste cyanide.” Melissa Braston shook her head. “Poor thing. She was in marvelous condition. You said she was fifty-five? Amazing. Beautifully muscled, lovely elastic fibers, liver in great shape . . . May the pathologist who carves me up find my remains so aesthetically pleasing.” Sanders looked greenly at her.

“She didn't look so hot to me when I saw her,” he muttered. “But I guess you're probably right. Didn't drink, didn't smoke, exercised, and lived on health food. I find it all very depressing.”

do? What about me? Just once I'd like you to send me someone riddled with disease and foul living. Someone who if she hadn't been strangled or whatever would have died in six months anyway. In agony,” she added, starting to butter her toast. “Then it wouldn't seem such a waste.”

It wasn't like Melissa to take cadavers personally. “What's the matter with you?” asked Sanders. “You start getting gloomy over corpses, you'll have to take up another line of work.”

“Nothing serious,” she said, pushing aside her empty plate and waving her coffee cup pathetically in Jerry's direction. “It always happens to me during the cardiologists' convention. I get introspective when Al's away. No one to squabble with, I think, is the problem.” She waited while Jerry gloomily filled her cup. “Maybe I should import my mother for the week. Except that it might be too much of a good thing.”

Sanders managed a small laugh. Not much to start the day on.

When eleven o'clock came around that morning, Mr. Charles Britton was standing at the von Hohenkammers' imposing front door. He ought not to have been there at all. At nine-ten that morning the firm of Johnson and Carruthers, Chartered Accountants, had received a telephone call describing last night's tragic accident and canceling Mr. Britton's appointment. The receptionist commiserated politely with the caller and promised to relay a message to the absent Mr. Britton. And that should have been that, but just as Miss Christianson was flipping through her desk file to extract the name and number of the company where Mr. Britton could be found this morning, old Mr. Carruthers, at eighty-three the only surviving original partner in the firm, staggered out into the front office, complaining of slight discomfort. He asked for a glass of water and an aspirin and then collapsed onto the floor. The staff nurse, a doctor, an ambulance, all were summoned by the flustered receptionist. By ten, Mr. Carruthers was grumbling in the hospital, the office had returned to normal, and Miss Christianson was heading out for her coffee break. As she reached for her purse, however, her eye fell on the message for Mr. Britton. “Damn,” she muttered, and went back to looking for his current location.

“Oh,” said the receptionist at Millven Industrial Products. “He just left. His team was here terribly early so they could finish up before we started, and he said he was off to get some breakfast. I haven't the faintest idea where he could be. Was it important?”

“Probably not,” said Miss Christianson with a sigh. “I was only trying to save him a trip. It doesn't matter.” She hung up the phone as her replacement walked in. “If Britton calls in, Alice, tell him not to bother going to the von Hohenkammer place, will you? It's too complicated to explain. See you.” And off she went, conscious of having covered all her bases.

John Sanders and Ed Dubinsky had been in the conservatory when the front doorbell rang. It was exactly eleven o'clock. “Good morning,” the man standing at the front door said briskly. “Charles Britton of Johnson and Carruthers. Are you Mr. Milanovich?”

“No,” said Sanders. “Were you expecting him?”

“Why yes,” he said. “Mrs. von Hohenkammer wanted us to go over the books with him this morning. Perhaps if I could have a word with her . . .” He was beginning to sound a trifle testy.

Sanders gave him a calculating look. “You haven't seen a paper this morning?”

“I was out of the house before the paper arrived,” said Britton with definite irritation in his voice. “This is a very busy day.”

“In that case,” said Sanders, “come in. We have some explaining to do to each other.” He led the way into the study. Briefly and economically, he outlined the events of the previous night.

Mr. Britton paused a moment to register shock. “A terrible thing,” he said, “to happen to a charming and gracious lady. With some awkward implications for Mr. Milanovich,” he added after a longer pause. “Mrs. von Hohenkammer called yesterday and insisted that I see her today. She was so insistent, in fact, that I arranged to finish up early this morning so I could fit in this visit. Not that it matters,” he added. “Accountants often work strange hours. Like policemen, I suppose. But my impression was that they were in urgent need of financial advice.”

“Was this common?” asked Sanders. “I mean, for her to call and ask you to drop everything and dash over?”

“Not at all,” said Britton. “We do have wealthy clients who feel that every utility bill is a potential financial crisis, but Mrs. von Hohenkammer was not like that. She was a wealthy woman, with large holdings in Canada, and elsewhere, and a complex tax situation. Generally, though, she went at things rationally, took excellent advice, and never panicked. This is the first time in three or four years that she has asked to see me right away, and so I made a great effort to comply.” He nodded soberly. “She was the sort of person you enjoyed working with. Very pleasant and reasonable.”

“Didn't her business manager handle her financial affairs?” asked Sanders.

Charles Britton shook his head thoughtfully. “I wouldn't say so.” He paused to consider his next sentence. “She may have called him a business manager, but basically she employed him as a personal secretary. I think that is the best way to put it. He made appointments and wrote letters and so on. And paid bills or looked after minor accounts. But he didn't make the day-to-day decisions, except as her theatrical agent.”

“Who called you yesterday and asked for the appointment?”

“That was rather odd,” said Britton. “First of all, Whitelaw called and set up an appointment at eleven a.m. today. I was to examine the books of a firm called Triple Saracen Development with Milanovich, its principal, who is Mrs. von Hohenkammer's son-in-law, and with Whitelaw. Then Mrs. von Hohenkammer called me herself later in the day and said that she wanted to discuss the results of this appointment and to go over some other matters with me alone. She suggested that it be over lunch. I was looking forward to this with some interest.” As he paused for breath, his eyes narrowed, and his normally imperturbable face betrayed signs of excitement. “Triple Saracen is rather notorious at the moment. One hears that the bottom is about to fall out of it, although people connected with it still insist that it has the capacity to become extremely profitable.”

“What do you think?”

“Since I don't suppose I will get to look at the books, I couldn't really hazard an opinion.” He cocked his head slightly to one side. “I wouldn't advise you to sink much money into it right now, though, if you were to ask me.”

That seemed to be a joke, and Sanders smiled.

“If there is nothing else I can help you gentlemen with, however, I suppose I should be going. It doesn't seem likely that there will be a meeting today, does it?” Mr. Britton eased himself out of his chair.

Sanders shook his head. “Where did she keep her financial records?”

“Not in here,” said Britton, “although you'd think this would be the logical place for her office. She worked either in the conservatory or up in her sitting room. I generally saw her in the sitting room. You should find everything you need in the filing cabinets and drawers up there.” He picked up his briefcase. “It was quite a promotion to get to do business with her upstairs, by the way. For the first couple of years I came here, she had all her records and statements brought downstairs.” He shook his head in mild wonder at human peculiarities. “She had her oddities, I suppose, but they were fairly mild ones. I can see myself out, gentlemen. If you need any information, just get in touch with me through the office. I left my card on the desk.” Mr. Britton smiled. “Oh,” he said, turning back, “do you think anyone would mind if I used this phone to call in? Don't go, gentlemen—nothing private.”

Sanders shook his head and pushed the telephone across the desk.

“No, no, don't worry about it,” Charles Britton was saying firmly into the mouthpiece a moment later. “It's just as well that I came over here. Thank you.” He hung up and pushed the phone back toward Sanders. “Someone called in this morning and canceled this appointment. Didn't give his name. It was just by chance that the office didn't reach me. Goodbye, gentlemen.”

“Must remember to ask Mr. Milanovich about that canceled appointment,” said Sanders, watching Mr. Britton's retreating back. “I wonder if he was afraid we'd find out about the meeting. Interesting.”

“Or why he was afraid,” Dubinsky said. “Isn't Fraud doing a thing on Triple Saracen?”

“Fraud? How in hell do you find out about all these things?” asked Sanders. “Because I haven't the faintest idea. Better give them a call before we have a go at the sitting room. Then maybe someone in the family will tell us about this meeting. Where are they, anyway? This place is like a morgue.”

“The housekeeper is sulking in the kitchen,” said Dubinsky. “And I think the daughter and the nephew are still upstairs. I don't suppose they're used to getting up in the morning.”

In fact, Dubinsky was maligning the entire family by assuming that they were all sleeping the long morning sleep of the rich and idle. While he and his partner were standing in the middle of Clara von Hohenkammer's bright and sunny sitting room, trying to decide where to start, all of that lady's closest relatives had been awake for hours.

Theresa Milanovich was sitting in the dining room of her sprawling suburban-style house, staring out into the back garden, her attention apparently entirely absorbed by a pair of squirrels chasing each other up and down trees. It would have been more tactful of her to have devoted some of that attention to her husband, who was pacing up and down the room and addressing her in vehement tones, but if the expression on her face was anything to judge by, she was not concerned with trying to please him. “I don't see why you're being so bloody unpleasant about it,” he was saying. “Or were you just waiting for the chance to see me in jail?”

“For God's sake, Milan, don't be so stupid. What good would it do me to have you in jail?” She whirled around from her contemplation of nature and looked at him. “If I had wanted to get rid of you, it would have been easy enough the ordinary way. I didn't need to try to get you arrested.” Her eyes narrowed to thin cracks in her face. “You certainly have given me enough grounds to ditch you. And if I haven't chosen to get rid of you up until now, I'm not going to start while the whole world is watching us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that there was cyanide in Mamma's tea, and it sure as hell didn't get there by mistake, did it? Somebody went down to Klaus's little lab in the basement, took it out, and put it in that cup. When did you get it from the basement? While we were at the reading? Because you were in and out of the kitchen all night. I saw you. Wandering around like a restless cow. Did you poison Mamma?”

BOOK: Murder in a Good Cause
13.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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