Read Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen Online
Authors: Vicki Delany
She gave me a look, but didn't ask again. Instead she reached for her radio and pushed buttons. “Dispatch, have there been any 911 calls reporting suspected food poisoning tonight?”
“Nope. Except for the call to the park, all's quiet.”
“Okay,” Simmonds said to me. “I'll take you home now. You need to get yourself into a hot shower.”
“I don't suppose I'll get my coat back anytime soon?”
The streets lining the town park were as busy as if the parade were about to pass by again. Police cars and fire trucks, uniformed officers keeping the curious at bay. Lights were on in many of the nearby houses, and people were gathered on the sidewalk to watch or standing on porches with their coats hastily thrown over pajamas. Simmonds pulled into the road. Many of the onlookers recognized me, and either waved or pointed me out to their neighbor.
Good thing I hadn't been stuffed into the back of the car, but had been allowed to sit in the passenger seat while we talked. Mattie had jumped into the back, and at a single word from Simmonds, hadn't tried to force his whole body between us.
“Christmas seems to be a big deal here,” she said as we passed the beautifully lit tree shining on the bandstand.
“America's Christmas Town,” I said. “You're not from around here.” It was a statement, not a question. I'd never seen her before.
“I'm from Chicago. I moved here a couple of weeks ago. After twenty years as a cop in the Windy City I was looking for some small-town peace and quiet. Guess I didn't find it, eh?”
“We're pretty quiet,” I said. “Most of the time.”
“âMost of the time' doesn't concern me.” Following my directions, she pulled up in front of my house. “I'm sure,” she said, “we'll be talking again.”
Lights were on in the first floor front room of the house. A shape moved behind the drapes: Mrs. D'Angelo, my landlady and the neighborhood gossip. Not a thing happened on this street without Mrs. D'Angelo knowing about it. And, I
feared, nothing happened upstairs, either, that escaped her attention. Not that anything happened in my apartment I didn't want the neighbors knowing about. Not yet, anyway. I shared the second floor with another apartment, which was now wrapped in darkness. That was good. Steve and Wendy had a new baby, and they were having a lot of trouble getting her to sleep at appropriate times.
I clambered out of Simmonds's car and opened the back door for Mattie. He gave his new friend a long look. Simmonds rubbed the top of his head and lavished praise on him because he hadn't ruined the interior of her car. He accepted her scratches and compliments, and when she said, “Go,” he leapt out. His big tongue hung out of the side of his mouth, and drool poured all over my pants. The sleeve of Simmonds's leather jacket, I noticed with a considerable degree of envy, was dry and clean. How on earth had she managed that?
The BMW pulled away. Before I could tiptoe around the side of the house, the front door flew open.
“Everything all right out there, Merry?”
“Perfectly fine, Mrs. D'Angelo.”
“Are you sure?” She came out onto the porch. She wore a long winter coat over blue satin pajamas. Her bare feet were stuffed into matching high-heeled mules. Her face was thick with face cream, and four huge, round plastic curlers were pinned to the top of her head. “I didn't recognize that car.”
“Someone new to town.”
“Has there been an accident? Several police vehicles and an ambulance passed by, heading toward the park. They were going very fast.”
“An accident. Yes, I think so.”
She peered over the porch railing at me. “Why are you not wearing a coat?”
The toasty warmth of Simmonds's car was rapidly depleting as I stood in the snow chatting. “Oh, gosh. Will you look at that? I am getting cold. Better get inside. Good night, Mrs. D'Angelo.”
“Good night, dear.”
After all the excitement of a walk in the park, coming across wonderful new smells (my stomach rolled over again), making a new friend, and riding in a police car, Mattie was ready to play.
I was not. I'd warmed up enough in Simmonds's car that I was no longer in danger of freezing to death, provided I got inside right away, but I was chilled right down to the bone.
I ran the shower and stood under the steaming spray until the hot water began to turn cold. I thought of Steve and Wendy with a twinge of guilt, and hoped they wouldn't need a sink full of hot water before morning. I wrapped a fluffy sea green towel around my hair and folded myself into a matching bath sheet. While Mattie licked warm water off my legs and I stumbled over him, I went in search of my phone. It was late, but I had a call I knew I had to make.
“If this isn't Ryan Gosling calling for a date, you're a dead man,” said a sleepy voice.
“It's not Ryan, but you need to hear this,” I said.
“Go ahead,” Vicky said with a groan.
“Nigel Pearce, remember him, the English guy from
“Of course I remember him. If you're calling to tell me he wants a date you really are a dead woman, Merry.”
“I found him in the park earlier, when I was walking Mattie.”
“You took the dog for a walk? That's great, Merry. I told you that regular exercise willÂ .Â .Â .”
“Listen, this is serious. He's dead. At least he seemed dead.”
“Dead? In the park? Why? How?”
“He'd been sick. Really sick.”
She was silent for a moment. “He hadn't looked unwell at the party. He seemed to be having a good time.”
“I mean sick as in throwing up.”
“I hadn't noticed him drinking, had you?”
“No, and I think that's the point, Vicky.”
She said a very bad word. Vicky never swore and that she did now showed me that she understood what I was saying. It was entirely possible the
magazine reporter had contracted food poisoning at the post-parade reception.
The reception catered by Victoria's Bake Shoppe.
“Are you feeling okay?” Vicky asked me.
“I'm fine. The new detective in town called the dispatcher and asked if anyone else had reported taking sick. And no one had.”
“That should be goodÂ .Â .Â .”
“But it's not. We don't know for sure that Nigel Pierce did get sick from something he ate, but if he did, and no one else did, then he was poisoned.
f my iPhone had a hook, it would have been ringing off it. I cracked open one eye and glanced at the bedside clock. Ten. I'd been so upset, first at finding Nigel, and then fearing he'd been poisoned by Vicky's Charles Dickens cookie, I'd forgotten to set my alarm.
Mattie had been so tired after his nightly excursion that he'd slept a dreamless sleep at the bottom of my bed. I grabbed the phone, and almost dropped it again, as my sore wrist reminded me of last night's discovery. I passed the phone to the other hand. “I'm on my way.”
“It's not that urgent,” said my mother.
“Oh, hi, Mom. I've slept in. Thought you were Jackie.” I threw off the covers. “I can't talk now, I really am late. Hey, why are you calling this early?” My mom rarely got out of bed before noon. All those years in the opera world, she said.
“Your father was roused at some ridiculous hour.” On the sleep schedule, as with many other things, my parents were total opposites. Dad was an early-to-bed, early-to-rise sort while Mom still lived a theater routine.
“Roused about what?” I asked. I carried the phone with me as I followed Mattie down the stairs. I let him out, pleased to see a brilliant blue sky and a bright sun throwing diamonds across the fresh snow. Exactly the sort of day to get people into the mood for Christmas shopping. I studied my hand. The wrist looked to be a bit swollen. I swiveled it, and only felt a slight twinge as it loosened up.
“An emergency meeting of the town council,” Mom said.
I stopped enjoying the day and Mattie's antics. “What's this about, Mom?” I feared that I already knew.
“It seems as though that English fellow, the one who was taking pictures yesterday, died. In the park. The police suspect he was poisoned. At the post-parade party, of all things.”
“Gotta go!” I said.
I dashed upstairs. No time today for the Mrs. Claus getup. I pulled on the first outfit I saw: a plain black knee-length skirt, opaque black tights, and a red sweater. I'd gone to bed with damp hair and it had dried overnight to something resembling Mrs. Claus's mop, but I had no time to wash it. I stuffed the unruly mess into a clip at the back of my head.
Back downstairs, Mattie was waiting to be let in. He might not be well trained, but he knew his schedule. Morning pee was always immediately followed by breakfast.
How on earth, I wondered for about the hundredth time, had I allowed myself to be talked into getting a dog anyway?
I tapped my foot impatiently while he inhaled his food. At least he wasn't a picky eater. Then I dragged him, protesting all the way, into his crate and closed the door. Giant liquid brown eyes gazed through the bars at me. “I'll miss you,” they seemed to say.
I tried not to say, “I'll miss you, too.”
Last of all, I pulled on my boots and began hunting for my coat.
Oh, right. No coat.
The lightweight tattered old jacket I wore to shovel the path would have to do.
My phone rang as I was heading out the door. This time it was Jackie, wondering why I wasn't at the shop for opening time. “On my way!” I shouted.
I bolted down the street. Conscious of our reputation as a tourist town, most homeowners are pretty good at keeping the patch of sidewalk in front of their homes neatly shoveled and well salted.
My phone again. This time I checked the display before answering. Vicky.
“I'm heading to the shop now,” I said.
“The police are here,” she said in a very low voice.
I stopped running. “Why?”
“They were waiting when I opened up. Asking all sorts of questions about what I served at last night's party. Who'd done the baking, had I bought any of it, who served. They told me Nigel Pearce was found dead last night like you said. They hadn't been able to revive him at the hospital.”
“Yeah, my mom called to tell me he didn't make it. Dad's at an emergency meeting of the town council. Did the police say anything about, well, how he died?”
“They didn't have to. They're in the kitchen now, poking through bags of flour and nosing around inside the refrigerator.”
“Your health department inspection's up-to-date, right?”
“Top marks, as always.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about,” I said. I'd stopped opposite the park. Yellow crime scene tape had been strung between trees, but last night's activity was over. A lone cruiser was parked at the curb with a single cop inside, keeping an eye out and chasing away the mildly curious as well as the outright ghoulish. More citizens than normal for this time of day were walking their dogs, very slowly, down this stretch of the sidewalk.
“I don't share your optimism,” Vicky said. “I've been told I can't open the bakery until they're finished, and goodness knows how long that's going to take. Not that I'd want to be open while cops dig through my sugar and sniff my eggs and call out, âBring that poison test kit over here, will you, Bob?'”
“Have they said they're looking for poison?”
“No. They haven't said much at all.”
“Is the coffee on?”
“Yeah. I figured it would do my standing with the police some good to provide them with coffee and the pastries I'm not going to be able to sell. Funny enough, they don't seem to fear that the cinnamon buns are stuffed full of arsenic. Not if the rate they're going through them is any indication.”
“I'll stick my head in the shop door, check to see if Jackie's managing okay, and be right there. A cinnamon bun sounds mighty nice, too.”
The death of Nigel Pearce had reached the ears of the locals. The sidewalks were crowded with shop owners exchanging the news in low voices. Business still seemed to be good though. Most visitors wouldn't bother switching on the local radio station when they got up. We could only hope the details wouldn't reach the big city papers.
Habit took over as I reached my shop and, despite my worry, I cast my eyes over the window display. There were a couple of gaps where we'd sold items, but everything looked festive, pretty, and very inviting.
Inside, two women were examining the wooden toys. “A hundred dollars for this train set seems excessive,” the older one said to Jackie.
“It's handmade by a local artisan,” my assistant said. “Look at the grain and the color of the wood. You'll never get this quality in a big-box store.” The trains were beautiful, and crafted with a great deal of care. Each box came with two railway cars, an engine, and a bright red caboose, each piece about three inches long, as well as a stack of wood tracks that locked together to make a circle. Extension sets could be bought with more track and more cars. Alan Anderson made them, and they were hugely popular.
“I don't knowÂ .Â .Â .”
“Well, I do,” her companion said. “Remember that tractor you bought him for Christmas last year?” She turned to Jackie. “Isaac opened the box, slid the tractor across the floor, and one of the wheels fell off. You get what you pay for, Mom, and isn't your only grandson worth it?”
Jackie gave me a wink as she carried the train set to the counter. The women continued browsing.
“Sorry I'm late,” I whispered to my assistant. “Rough night. I have to go out again. Can you manage for a while?”
“I'll bring you something back from Vicky's.” I studied her face. Her eyes were clear and her skin dewy fresh. “Did you happen to catch the news this morning?”
“I never listen to the news. Much too depressing.”
“Do you have this ornament in blue?” one of the customers asked, and Jackie called, “I'll have a latte with extra whipped cream,” over her shoulder as she went to help.
I never did understand how Jackie could have whipped cream on breakfast coffee, nor how she kept so thin despite consuming several cups of it a day.
The now-familiar silver BMW was parked in front of Victoria's Bake Shoppe, between a cruiser and an unmarked van. I'd seen that van last night, disgorging men and women in white suits carrying evidence boxes. I climbed the steps and hammered on the door. Through the frosted glass I could see people moving about inside.
The door opened a crack. “Closed,” said a uniformed officer.
“Vicky!” I called.
My best friend's pretty heart-shaped face topped by a shock of purple hair peeked around the cop's broad back. “This is my friend. Can she come in, please?”
“Let her in,” a woman's voice called. The big cop stepped back.
“Good morning, Ms. Wilkinson.” Detective Simmonds looked as fresh and bright eyed as Jackie had, but she was wearing the same jacket and jeans as last night. “What brings you here?”
“Vicky's my friend. I popped in to say hi.” The bakery was full of its usual smells of warm pastries, bread hot from the oven, sugar, and spices, but this morning a thin layer of something else lay over it all: chemicals, harsh and unwelcome.
I glanced at the top shelf. The light that usually illuminated the golden Rudolph parade trophy was switched off, and the statue itself was wrapped in gloom.
“I heard that Nigel Pearce died,” I said.
Simmonds nodded. “Yeah. They couldn't bring him back.”
“HowÂ .Â .Â .” I began.
“Autopsy's this afternoon,” Simmonds said. “Until then, we are not going to speculate. And until then, we're finished here. You can have your bakery back, Ms. Casey.”
“I can open?”
“For now. Let's go, people.”
They began trooping out. Simmonds was last. “Please don't leave town, Ms. Casey. Until I tell you otherwise.”
“This is the busiest time of year. I'm hardly going toÂ .Â .Â .”
I placed a hand on my friend's arm. “She won't.”
“Good,” Simmonds said. She gave us both a long, piercing look before following her colleagues.
Vicky dropped into a chair.
“Are you going to open the bakery?” I asked.
Purple hair flew as she shook her head. Her sleeves were rolled up and the matching dragon tattoos on her forearms moved as she rubbed at her face. “No point. The breakfast rush is over, and I can't get ready in time for Sunday brunch. I called the staff and told them not to come in. The cops have eaten most of what I'd already baked, and I haven't
started on anything else.” Her blue eyes studied me. “Do they think I poisoned Nigel Pearce?”
“I don't know what they're thinking. Simmonds told you that you could open, didn't she? That means they didn't find anythingÂ .Â .Â . uhÂ .Â .Â . incriminating.”
We both started at a knock on the door. “Tell them to go away,” Vicky said.
Alan Anderson's handsome face was peering through the window. I hurried to the door. “Bakery won't be opening today.”
“Just checking if you guys are okay.”
“We're okay. Come on in.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, I felt myself grinning at him. He grinned back.
“Would you like a cinnamon bun, Alan?” Vicky asked. “I think the cops left one or two.”
“Forget the cinnamon buns,” I said. “Did you hear?”
“Bun would be nice, thanks. About Pearce? Everyone's talking about it.”
“What are they saying?”
“Town council had an emergency meeting this morning. Soon as they broke up, word started going around that Pearce got drunk and went for a walk in the park, where he fell asleep and froze to death.”
“Do you believe that?” I asked.
“No. But that story doesn't make anyone in Rudolph look responsible.”
“Anyone like me,” Vicky said.
“Anyone,” Alan said firmly. “The police aren't saying, and until they do there's no point in speculating.”
“But people will.”
“Speculate? Sure they will. Already are. The mayor and the councilors just gave them a hint of what to speculate about.”
“Is anyone wondering why the cops were here?” I asked. “At the bakery, I mean.”
“Some are. They went through Pearce's room at the Yuletide Inn and were asking where he'd eaten earlier.”
Vicky groaned. “Here. Not only my baking at the party, but he had lunch here.”
Alan put a hand on Vicky's shoulder. “Don't worry about things that haven't happened yet. Things that might never happen. The autopsy'll show he had a bad heart or something. I didn't think he looked like a well man. Right, Merry?”
“Right,” I said cheerfully. “He was definitely too thin and kinda pasty white.”
“Come to think of it,” Vicky said, “he only had a couple of sips of soup and never finished his sandwich.”
“As we suspected. He was sick already.” Alan gave me a smile. I grinned back, pleased at our logic.
Vicky reached up and patted his hand. “Thanks, guys.” She pushed herself to her feet. “Now get out of here. You must have work to do. I know I do. This is a chance for me to get ahead of myself and do some prep for tomorrow. It'll be nice to have the kitchen to myself, like when I first started the business. I might even be able to get home early for once and enjoy a glass of wine and a good book. If you're up to it, Merry, pop on over when you close the shop. Good thing today's Sunday. Some of the tourists won't think anything of us not being open.”