Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen (9 page)

BOOK: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen
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“You're assuming no one here knew the man, Merry. ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.'” With that parting quote from the Great Detective, Dad opened the car door and got out.

We'd reached my house long ago. I'd parked in my assigned half of the double garage and we'd sat in the car for
a few minutes. I got out and walked Dad to the sidewalk. Mrs. D'Angelo was on the porch, washing the windows. She had the cleanest front windows in Upstate New York.

“Noel. Merry.” She waved her cleaning rag at us. “I heard the news. That nice Englishman murdered. Right here in Rudolph. I shudder to think what this town is coming to. And at Christmastime at that.”

“Have the police confirmed it was murder?” Dad asked.

“No, but everyone knows they like to keep things to themselves. That way they can tell who the killer is when he reveals things only the killer would know.” Mrs. D'Angelo was a big fan of murder mysteries. “Imagine, a poisoned cookie.”

“Who told you that?” Dad said, his voice sharp.

She waved her cloth. “I don't remember. My phone hasn't stopped ringing all morning.” She was interrupted by Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.” “There it goes again.” She dug the latest model smartphone out of her apron pocket.

“Louise! Have you heard? Yes, it's true. A poisoned cookie. I don't blame dear Vicky Casey at all—clearly the poison was added after the cookies were baked. Hold on, honey, just a minute.” She took the phone away from her ear. If children could see the look on Santa Claus's face right now, they'd spend Christmas Eve hiding under their beds rather than trying to catch a peek of him over the banister. “Don't worry, Noel,” she said. “Irene Matlow”—one of the town councilors—“called earlier. She said we don't want news of this to get around. I'm only telling people I trust to keep a confidence.”

Dad growled. “I'd better go,” he said to me. “Clearly the
cat is out of the bag. The news is spreading, and fast.” He threw a glare toward Mrs. D'Angelo, who'd leaned up against the snow-covered porch railing all ready to settle into a nice long chat.

I headed around the back to my own apartment, freed Mattie from his crate, and prepared to take him for a short walk. The temperature was dropping and the wind off the lake was picking up. I still didn't have a coat to wear. My jacket would be adequate for keeping the rain off, but little else. But it was the only one I had, and would have to do. I found a big sweater to wear underneath, and at least I still had my heavy scarf and mitts. I got Mattie's leash and we headed out.

At the end of the driveway, I turned right rather than left for our usual route through the park. I didn't feel much like returning to the park today.

Mattie ran on ahead, straining at the leash, sniffing under every bush, barking greetings to everyone we passed. The sun shone through the fresh snow on the tree branches, creating an exquisite winter wonderland. As we walked and I watched the happy dog overflowing with excitement at everything he came across, I felt my spirits rising. All would be okay, I told myself. It was Christmas in Rudolph.

I was so deep in thought that only gradually did I become aware that a car was creeping along behind me, matching my pace. My heart leapt into my mouth. I jerked on the leash, pulling Mattie closer to me. I turned around.

It was a silver BMW. The car pulled up beside me and stopped. The engine was switched off, and Detective Simmonds got out. “I was on my way to your shop,” she said.

“How do you know which is my shop?” I demanded.

She lowered her sunglasses. “I am the police, Merry.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Not that it's any great secret. I only had to ask anyone, officers or civilians, at the station.”

“Oh. Why?”

“Why am I looking for you? I have some questions, that's all. It's a nice day and I could use some fresh air. May I walk with you?”

I might not have wanted this woman to spoil my walk, but Mattie turned traitor. He gave a single joyful bark in greeting and rushed toward Simmonds. She crouched down and gave him a hearty scratch behind the ears. His rear end wiggled with pleasure. “May I give him a treat?” she asked me.

“I guess,” I mumbled.

“Let's see what we have here,” she said, digging in her coat pocket. She found a dog biscuit and held it out. “Sit,” she said. Mattie dropped. Simmonds held the biscuit in front of him. He didn't move. “Good dog,” she said, and the biscuit disappeared in a flash.

I tried not to look impressed. I'd been attempting to teach him to sit. He would let his butt hover over the floor for a fraction of a second and then lunge for the offered treat and snap it up with enough force to rip off my hand if I wasn't careful.

Simmonds gave him a final pat and pushed herself to her feet.

“You can't park there,” I said, pettily. “It's a no-parking zone.”

She gave me another one of her looks. “I suspect my car will be all right for a few minutes.”

We continued our walk. Mattie trotted respectfully between us.

“Have you thought anything more about Saturday night?” Simmonds asked me.

“I've thought about little else,” I said, suppressing a shudder. “But nothing new. Sorry.”

“Tell me about the party earlier. You were there.”

“The post-parade reception. We do it every year. Ply the tourists with small amounts of Christmas baking and nonalcoholic drinks to get them into the mood to spend money. Let their kids meet Santa. Pretty much everyone comes, townspeople as well as tourists.”

“This town has a mercenary attitude toward Christmas.”

“We're trying to keep Rudolph afloat. Provide people with a good living. Stop families from moving away in search of jobs or opportunities like they've had to in so many other places. Do you have a problem with that?”


“Good. Because if you're going to live in Rudolph, you need to realize that Christmas is how people like me, like Vicky Casey, and almost everyone else in town, make their living, in one way or another. But Christmas is above all what we love. Maybe we seem to go overboard at times, but that's like criticizing my mother for going overboard because she sings opera arias rather than advertising jingles. Opera is what she loves.”

“I'm not criticizing. Just trying to get a handle on what makes this town and its people tick.”

Mattie woofed softly in agreement. I didn't know he could do anything softly.

“Speaking of Vicky,” I said. “She needs her bakery open.
Next weekend should be our busiest of the year, probably even busier than last weekend. Most of us rely on December to see us through the rest of the year.”

“I'll keep that in mind.”

“Besides, it's pretty obvious that the drug in the cookie that killed Pearce didn't originate in the bakery. Not if no one else who ate her baked goods got sick.”

“How do you know what killed him?”

“Everyone knows it. They all think they're only telling one or two friends, but then those friends tell one or two friends and in a flash it's common knowledge. Something else you're going to have to understand if you want to live in a small town. Rather than, say, Chicago.”

The edges of her mouth turned up. “I get your point. Tell me about this reception, Merry. I've been to the community center, had a look around. Big kitchen, counters open to the main room. A second door off the kitchen leading to the smaller meeting rooms. Door to the outside near the kitchen.”

“People came and went all evening. Platters of cookies and gingerbread were laid out on the table for anyone to help themselves. Same with the cider.”

“No one did any cooking in the kitchen, did they?”

“Vicky always does the baking at the bakery and drives the food down in her van. She's very conscious of safety requirements and proper hygiene.”

“Did you see Nigel Pearce leave?”

“No. I didn't.”

“Did you notice him talking to anyone in particular? Arguing with someone, maybe?”

He'd been paying a lot of attention to Jackie. Jackie had
argued with Kyle about that. Kyle had spent the entire party in a sulk. “No,” I said.

“This one special cookie was prepared exclusively for him, I've been told.”

I nodded. “And the tray was left out on the counter all evening where anyone could get to it. Find a moment when everyone was busy, lift the edge of the plastic wrap, sprinkle a bit of poison, cover it up again, and then sit back and wait for Pearce to bite into it. I hope you're investigating people who might have had cause to wish Pearce dead. No one in Rudolph even knew the guy.”

“We're keeping our options open. Thanks for the walk. I enjoyed that.” She gave Mattie a scratch.

“One thing you might not know,” I said.

“What's that?

“Someone called the
Rudolph Gazette
around eleven this morning. Anonymously. They told Russ Durham, the editor in chief, the results of the autopsy.”

One well-sculpted eyebrow lifted in surprise. “That is interesting. I wonder who would do that?”

“That's the question I have. Not someone who has the interests of the town of Rudolph at heart, I can assure

Chapter 8

uesday morning, Vicky was waiting for me at the door of the shop when I arrived for work. She had two lattes, which I was pleased to see, and a very sour face, which I was not at all pleased to see.

“Any news from the cops?” I asked, unlocking the door.

“No,” she said. “And in this case, no news is definitely bad news. My dad's going to talk to Simmonds this morning. He's going to tell her that keeping my business closed is tantamount to an accusation, and the police will either have to charge me or let me open.”

I stopped in the act of taking the first welcoming sip. The lattes were in Cranberry Coffee Bar take-out cups, not from Vicky's own bakery. “That doesn't sound good. You don't want him hinting that they should arrest you.”

“I trust Dad.”

“I haven't heard anyone accusing you,” I said. “We all
understand that the police and the health department have a job to do.”

“It's not locals I'm worried about. Dorothy gave me these drinks for no charge. She said she knows I wouldn't do anything in the least bit unsanitary, never mind dangerous. It could have happened to her, if Pearce had had his lunch at the coffee bar.”

“That's the spirit of Rudolph,” I said.

“Yeah, it is. But the good people of Rudolph don't keep my business going at the busiest time of the year. I'm worried about the upcoming weekend. Midnight Madness. I have plans to be open all evening and to put a stand out on the street selling cookies and squares. Even if I'm open, will the visitors come, knowing my baking might have killed a man?”

“You're worrying about nothing,” I said, worrying for her. “Tourists don't read the local paper. Everything will be back to normal by Friday. You'll see.” I smiled.

“Thanks, sweetie,” she said, prying the lid off her cup.

The shop door flew open and Betty Thatcher fell in. Her face was very pale, making the overly applied blush on her cheeks look like the dots of paint on one of Alan's wooden soldiers. She held a copy of today's
Rudolph Gazette
in her shaking hand. “Have you seen the paper?”

“What's happened?” Vicky and I spoke in unison. “Have they caught the person who killed Nigel Pearce?”

Betty thrust the paper toward us. Vicky grabbed it. I read over her shoulder. The paper was folded open to an inside page, and the main item of news was about an upcoming vote to expand the town dump. I hadn't known the handling of garbage was of such concern to Betty. She
must have read the confusion in our faces, because she jabbed one long red nail at the bottom of the page. “That!”

It was a half-page advertisement for the Muddle Harbor Café. “Nestled on the peaceful shores of Lake Ontario” was their slogan. Today something extra had been added to the usual advertising copy. Giant black lettering proclaimed, “We serve SAFE baking in an environment SAFE for your family.”

Vicky let out a very bad word.

“You can say that again,” Betty said. So Vicky did.

“None of our visitors read the
,” I said, trying to sound optimistic. “They won't see it.”

“Perhaps not,” Betty said, “but I doubt the Muddites will limit their advertising to this one ad.”

“Probably not.”

“Why are you upset about it, anyway?” Vicky said. “It's my bakery they're attacking.”

Vicky had a point. Betty was one of the few business owners in Rudolph not known for her community spirit. If it didn't affect the Nook, she didn't care.

“This is bound to be the opening salvo in a full-on attack. If people start going to Muddle Harbor for lunch, why, they might never get back here to shop at my store!”

“I'm going to wring Russ Durham's neck,” Vicky said.

“You'll have to get in line.” The man in question stood in the doorway. “I hear a lynching party is forming even as we speak. In my own defense, I have to say that I'm not in the business of censorship. The Muddle Harbor Café is a regular client of the paper. If they want to change their ad and take out a bigger one, I can't tell them no.”

“Yes, you can!” Vicky stamped her foot.

“Russ is right,” I said. “If their ad had mentioned your bakery by name as unsafe, then he would have been within his rights to refuse to accept it. But, on the surface, it's just an ad.”

“On the surface,” Vicky muttered.

“You're nothing but trouble, Vicky Casey,” Betty said.

“Hey!” I said. “That's unfair.”

Betty snorted. “This was a respectable town, once.” With that parting shot, she stalked out.

Russ, Vicky, and I burst out laughing the moment the door was shut.

“What's Christmas,” Vicky said, “without a grinch or two?”

“I wonder if she was born miserable,” Russ said.

“Her heart is certainly two sizes too small,” Vicky said.

My laughter didn't last long. Betty didn't like many people, but she particularly didn't like Vicky or me. Betty had a son named Clark. The word “layabout” had been invented to describe Clark Thatcher. As he was past thirty, it wasn't likely he was going to change his ways, either. Clark had worked for Vicky last summer. That hadn't lasted long. He showed up at work drunk one morning and, especially since he was supposed to be driving the delivery van, she fired him on the spot. Betty had not been happy about that. Betty knew how to hold a grudge.

Russ must have read my face. “Forget Betty. She'd love to destroy every other business in town, but even she's smart enough to know that she needs a prosperous town for her own business to succeed.”

I wasn't so sure.

“I gotta run,” Vicky said. “I'm off to my dad's office to
hear what Simmonds had to say.” The good mood of only a few moments ago had died. “Don't you dare report that, Russell Durham!”

“Headline news.
Well-known Rudolph baker visits loving father

Vicky harrumphed.

The morning was quiet. I left Jackie to handle what few customers we had and made my preparations for Midnight Madness weekend. I'd gotten in plenty of stock, but as always I worried that I'd bought the wrong stuff. Should I have passed on the felt Santas and gotten more of the glassware? I studied the box of Santas. Rows of identical embroidered faces smiled up at me. Somehow they'd looked more appealing in the advertising brochure. En masse they put me in mind of a horror movie.

“Merry!” my dad's voice boomed from the front of the store.

I picked up one of the dolls and carried it out. “I'm glad you're here, Dad. I'm not sure about these things. What do you think? Oh, hi, Mom. You're up early. Is something wrong?”

Dad didn't look much like Santa today. The sparkle was gone from his eyes and his mouth was set into a tight line. My mom had, shockingly, come out without makeup. She probably hadn't done her hair, either, as she had a wool hat pulled down over her head. My heart almost stopped for a moment. I thought of my three siblings. “What's happened?”

“Have you heard from Eve today?” Mom asked. Eve was my youngest sister. She was in LA these days, trying to break through as an actress. She was not, we all knew although never said, having much luck.

“No. Not for ages. Why?”

“Look at this.” Dad thrust his phone toward me. It was open to the messages screen.

I read:
Dad, Eve here. In ambulance heading for Good Samaritan. Car accident. Two broken legs. Please come.

“That's terrible,” I said, giving the phone back to him. “When do you leave?”

“I booked the flight immediately,” Mom said. “Out of Syracuse at three o'clock.”

“Give her my love,” I said.

My parents exchanged glances.

“What?” I said.

“We texted that number with the flight information,” Dad said. “It was delivered, but unread, which isn't strange. She might be in the ER or even in the operating room with the phone switched off.”

“I called Good Samaritan Hospital,” Mom said, “to make inquiries. They have no patient by that name.”

“Could the ambulance have taken her to another hospital?” I asked.

“But which one?” Mom asked. “We called the apartment and left a message.”

“And . . .”

“Lynette called us back a few minutes ago,” Dad said. “She knew nothing about any accident.” Lynette was Eve's roommate, another struggling actress.

“Maybe Eve was only able to make one call.”

“Maybe,” Dad said, “but Lynette said Eve has gone hiking and camping in the mountains with friends. They left two days ago and aren't due back until the day after tomorrow.”

“Eve went hiking?” I said, shocked. My sister, for whom spas and luxury hotels had been invented, was hiking? Exercise, to Eve, was what you did in a gym to stay thin, not something for fun.

“A new boyfriend,” Mom said. “The rugged outdoors type, apparently.”

“That's a relationship doomed,” I said. “I'll keep trying to get her while you're in the air.”

“We've decided that I should go alone,” Dad said while a grim-faced Mom nodded. “At least until I can figure out what's going on. This is all very strange. She's not in the hospital that was in the message. The number the text came from isn't Eve's phone. I tried calling it and reached a generic voice mailbox. I left a message, but have received no reply as of yet. Her own phone isn't answering. And her best friend and roommate knows nothing about this accident and says Eve is out of town.”

“Weird,” Jackie said.

“You think someone's playing a practical joke on you?” I asked.

“If so,” Mom said, “we are not laughing. I'm worried sick.”

“I'm leaving for the airport now,” Dad said. “Call me immediately if you hear anything.”

“Of course,” I said.

Dad gave Mom a hug. They clung together for a long time, and when they separated, Mom's eyes were wet.

“I'm sure it will all be okay, Mr. Wilkinson,” Jackie said.

“Thanks,” Dad said. “Merry, why don't you walk your mother home?”

“Sure,” I said.

“I'm fine,” Mom said. “You have work to do.” She dug in her coat pocket and found a tissue. She blew her nose.

“Store's not busy,” I said. “As you can see. Jackie doesn't need me.”

“I never do,” Jackie said.

Dad laughed. He gave my mom another hug and then he left.

“I'll get my coat,” I said. “Not that I have one. Speaking of coats, want to do some shopping, Mom?”


“I need a new coat. You can help me shop.”

“What happened to yours? You bought it at the beginning of the season.”

I wasn't about to tell her why I didn't have one, as that would bring us back to Nigel Pearce. I shrugged. “I decided I don't like it.”

My phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket and glanced at the display.


“Eve!” I shouted. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“Hi to you, too, Merry,” my sister's bright and perky voice said. “I'm fine. Although that is an experience I will not be repeating anytime soon. Do you know he actually expected me to sleep in a tent? On the ground? When I said . . .”

“Where are you?”

“Heading back to LA. Soon as I got in cell range, and let me tell you I'll never leave it again, my phone lit up like some sort of Rudolph Christmas display. I got a whole string of messages. I couldn't listen to them all, so I called
Lynette first. She said Dad's been trying to get me. I figured I'd check with you. Are Mom and Dad okay?”

My mom was practically jumping up and down. I gave her a thumbs-up. “They're fine. We're all fine. Have you been in an accident?”

“No. Why do you think that? Although I might have been in more than an accident if I'd stayed on that stupid trip. We had to hang our food from a tree to keep it away from bears. I told Craig he was to take me back to the city, or we were finished. Can you believe it, he said he'd take me as far as the bus station. A bus! I am, even as we speak, standing in line to get on a bus!”

I handed the phone to my mom, who promptly burst into tears; perhaps as much in sympathy with Eve having to ride on a bus as with relief that her youngest daughter was uninjured.

“Can I use your phone?” I said to Jackie.

She handed it over without a word, and I called Dad to tell him he could come

BOOK: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen
7.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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