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Authors: Gillian Roberts

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BOOK: The Bluest Blood
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Havermeyer raised, then lowered, his arms. The applause died down. “I have therefore,” he continued, “returned to our library the collection that was part of what is known as the Roederer Grant—”

Sakes alive. I thought they’d rescinded it. How desperate was this man? Would he
kill
to keep his school attractive to applicants, get his tiny empire out of jeopardy?

The thing was, I couldn’t imagine Maurice Havermeyer doing anything as direct and to the point as murder. It was his nature to fuddle, fester, circle, hem and haw. To bore somebody to death. But to assert himself definitively—and a deliberate, premeditated murder is surely an assertion—seemed emotionally impossible.

At the news that the books were being returned, the students applauded again, but Havermeyer plowed on resolutely. It wasn’t like him to minimize whatever rare burst of adulation came his way. Therefore, it seemed that despite his verbosity, he hadn’t yet made his point, and I suspected that it would have nothing to do with the First Amendment.

“—and this action therefore negates the necessity for further public demonstrations, as they are now without foundation and cause.”

And there we had the point. The students directly in front of me looked at each other in search of interpretation, and then turned to me. “He means go back to class,” I translated. “There’s nothing left to protest.”

How quickly we’d disposed of Harvey Spiers, though his afterimage still swung above me, hovering low and casting chilly shadows.

The students moved toward the building as slowly as possible. Havermeyer gestured toward the door. The Roederers gave tight shakes of the head. With a few unanswered parting words—I was certain they were begging words—Havermeyer reentered his fiefdom. The Roederers stepped down from the entryway to make way for the students. I found it peculiar that they had come in from the suburbs for the announcement, but would not deign to enter the building.

I looked across the street at the Square, but the Moral Ecologists, presumably in mourning, were not standing across the way like ghouls. Except for one, the round one in the Russian hat, he who’d turned his back to me the day before. Now, seeing me watch him, he ducked behind a tree. My inner alarm bell went off—why was he here? Was he a Moral Ecologist at all? We’d have to check out anyone acting so strangely, lurking near a school.

The Roederers nodded at me so I paused. “I’m glad he changed his mind,” I said, hoping they’d tell me whether they, too, had changed their minds.

Tea didn’t seem eager for small talk. Her smile was the bare minimum required for civility. Her nod had probably been meant to suffice.

“Things have gone entirely too far.” Neddy peered at me intently, as if I would understand his meaning, but I wasn’t sure I did. “This has gotten out of hand.”

“The demonstration?” I asked.

“Edward,” Tea said. “Really.” She looked at him, then at me. I felt put in my place—not somebody to whom confidences should be made. Not their peer.

“But not anymore,” I answered him. “Now that the books will be returned—”

“All the same,” Neddy said. “In the wake of the death of that…” He shook his head, as if unwilling to put the shape of the man’s name in his mouth.

“Reverend Spiers?” I asked, and when he nodded, so did I. “Awful. But I can’t believe that was why Dr. Havermeyer—”

“So much fuss. Your Dr. Havermeyer stirred things up. A TV special. Escalated everything, that show, going public with grievances, putting antagonists face to face. Things spin on, intensify...”

“Edward,” Tea said again. I didn’t blame her. He was falling apart. She looked at me. “We came in to take care of the loose ends of Griffin’s transfer, pick up his records, because we’re off to visit schools the next few days. We didn’t realize we’d be ambushed and involved in his announcement. Neddy is quite shaken by it. But rather than say things have gone too far, I would say it’s a matter of too little, too late.”

Neddy looked at her with the same alarm I felt. Was she dismissing Spiers’ murder as insignificant and belated?

She looked from one to the other of us. “The
book
thing,” she said. “Frankly, I’m sick of the whole library issue, of the pressures on all the libraries and the curriculum by ignorant people. We tried to do a good thing…”

I always forgot her odd pronunciation, the occasional rough edges, the way she added a syllable and made the word
liberary,
or dropped one and turned
tried to
into
tryda.
I wondered again who had taught her English, or whether this was an affectation, slightly Bertie Wooster, like Lord Peter Wimsey’s
ain’t.

But this wasn’t the time to ponder linguistic quirks. I had enough on my plate getting ready for tomorrow’s critical visitors, particularly since almost half my classes hadn’t met—except on the pavement—for two days, and they were sure to capitalize on that with bluster. I was positive there’d be general amnesia as to what their last assignment had been.

Feeble but mean-spirited flurries began. I bade farewell to the Roederers, and turned to face the day.

Instead, I faced Griffin Roederer barreling into me. I fell down onto the pavement. “Sorry,” he said, helping me up. “I came down the steps too fast, slippery patch there. I didn’t mean—”

His father rushed over and took my arm. I felt like a behemoth as they tried to right me.

“Jeez,” Griffin said. He blushed a painful-looking cerise. “I guess I wasn’t looking. I’m so—you okay?”

I nodded and brushed the front of my coat. Only my pride had been bruised.

“Griffin!” his mother said, and after another burst of apologies, he went over to her.

Neddy Roederer still held my arm. “I’m fine,” I assured him. “Truly. Thanks.”

He didn’t release his grip. “Miss Pepper,” he said, his voice so low, it was almost inaudible. “Do you think Caleb could spare me a minute?”

“Who?”

“Your friend, the police officer.”

Oh, mercy. Caleb Mackenzie, indeed. “Yes?” I asked.

“Would you know how I could get in touch with him?” He spoke still more rapidly. “Privately. I need information, professional advice, and seeing you reminded me of him. Do you know his phone number, or where he lives?”

The phone was listed under my last name. Having his number go public was the last thing Mackenzie would want, but I couldn’t see the harm in this. “Want me to write it down?” I said, scrabbling in my purse.

“Just tell me,” Neddy Roederer whispered. “Now. I have a good memory for numbers.” He leaned close as I spoke.

Tea advanced on us, looking at me oddly. I’d been having a tête-à-tête with her husband and it was not seemly. “Sorry to interrupt the two of you, but we need to talk, Neddy.”

“Were you able to hear me?” I asked him.

“Yes.” His tone was sharp as he turned away from me, toward his wife. He lost his gloss under stress. Havermeyer, Griffin, all too much.

“Goodbye, then,” I said.

He looked surprised that I was still there.

What was that about? An aristocratic dismissal, or a sign of mental illness, something more egalitarian and strange?

The bell rang. No time. Like Scarlett, I’d think about this tomorrow.

Eight

“It is when the gods hate a man with uncommon abhorrence that they drive him into the profession of a schoolmaster.” Alex Fry grinned. Too apt to be acceptable. I shook my head and poured myself a cup of disgusting coffee.

“Hey,” he said, “I thought you’d like it. Been saving it for you ’cause it’s literary. I didn’t make it up. Seneca did, two thousand years ago. That is what is known as the wisdom of the ages.”

Four minutes until homeroom began. I sat down in a wing chair I was sure had been salvaged from a vacant lot. “Did Seneca teach math?” I asked.

“Seneca taught Nero. Until Nero grew tired of him and ordered the teacher to take his own life. At least our students don’t demand that we commit suicide. We do it of our own free will here, and that’s what I love about this country.”

I shook my head again. Alex does that to me, gives me a mild palsy. I finished my coffee, and as he again proposed that we run away together, and detailed how we’d fill our time, I excused myself.

“Jake!” I said, when I saw him in the hallway. “I thought—I didn’t expect to see you here to—”

“She said I didn’t understand her grief.” He walked upstairs with me. “She just about accused me of having ruined her life, and of killing Harvey, so I left. Maybe I’ll go home later. Maybe not.”

I unlocked my door and ushered him in.

He looked dazed. The shadow of Harvey was on him, too.

“I’m sorry,” I said, as I entered. “Sorry,” I repeated as I emptied my briefcase and readied the room. “I know you didn’t care for him, but his death is nonetheless traumatic to your mother and your life.”

I could have been whistling, or pressing my nose into the board for all he noticed. “That thing I told you?” he asked.

“Which thing?” I meanwhile checked that I had paper. This wasn’t the morning to beg Helga for supplies. To my relief, I was safe.

“Yesterday. About”—he leaned close—“Harvey. And the Trashman. What he was going to do, you know? Blackmail?” Jake, standing still, looked as if he were spinning with tension.

I felt some of it myself. Of course. Yesterday. The question I’d deferred, and now…

“Do I have to—should I—” He took a deep breath. “Harvey’s
dead.
Do the police have to know? Should they? My mother—she’s—as soon as the police left, she goes, ‘Don’t tell, don’t tell.’ She didn’t say about what, but I knew. But if it made somebody murder him, wouldn’t she want the police to know?”

The tendons of his neck stood out. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but he looked brittle.

“She’s ashamed.” He paced the room as he spoke. “She wants his memory kept clean. That’s how she puts it. Says there’s no reason to stir up a fuss. What should I do?”

“Did the reverend follow through with his threats?” I asked. “The talk and bluster may not have gone any further. Did he say anything to Neddy Roederer?”

Jake shrugged. “There was the business at the TV station yesterday. That was harsh.”

Yes, but also inconclusive. More suggestive than concrete. “It felt like generic name-calling, to tell the truth,” I said. “What about after?”

He shook his head slowly. “I took my mom home, dropped her off. She let me have the car. Harvey went to a meeting. With Mother Vivien. My mom told me Harvey was getting rid of Vivien, kicking her out of the group. Said she was the past and he was the future.”

Showed how much anybody knows. He was the one who became history that night.

“It could have been Vivien, don’t you see?” Jake said. “She has a temper. She knows how the burnings work. She could do it—she could get people to light the fire, do the dirty work once she wrapped the body up and got it to hang. They’d think it was another dummy, a heavy one, wouldn’t they?”

“You’ve given this a lot of thought,” I said. All to direct suspicion away from his mother, who sounded like a woman with no alibi and a whole lot of anger about her husband’s behavior. It wouldn’t serve her claims of being the happiest of brides if the police knew that in addition to his beating her and having a flagrant affair, Harvey was dragging his wife into something she found as repugnant as blackmail. And did we have any outside source to verify that Harvey and his honey were splitting up?

“What should I do?” Jake asked again.

“I need to think about it.” Déjà vu all over again. I’d asked for time yesterday as well, and for the same question. Only now, one of the people involved was dead.

Was it worth it to raise an issue that was irrelevant—unless, of course, Neddy Roederer had found it so relevant he resorted to murder? But if he hadn’t, this would needlessly smear his name, create suspicion where it didn’t belong.

I needed Mackenzie’s sane approach. He didn’t dither over moral issues. He looked, he saw, he comprehended.

I missed him with all the poignancy of that old-movie heroine on the train platform. Except they don’t make movies about a heroine yearning for her man’s ability to make speedy ethical calls. Oh, I missed him other ways, too.

But whatever I wanted of Mackenzie was far away, and I was here with Jake, all elbows and ears, and visibly disappointed with my evasiveness. As well he might be. Still, with a flare of resentment, I wished he’d stop coming to
me
for Big Answers. The flare subsided. I was available, nonhysterical, and his friend. It wasn’t so much that he’d chosen me as that he had no options.

“I am honestly afraid to rush into a decision on this,” I said. “If you tell, then your mother’s going to be miserable and so will the Roederers, and most likely to no purpose. What if we wait a few hours and see what the police come up with before we decide.” Let the killer be Mother Vivien and let her be caught, tried, and convicted by sundown, I silently begged. And while you’re at it, disband the group, let no one succeed her as leader.

Jake looked as if he had plenty to say in response to my nonanswer, none of it complimentary. But living with his mother and stepfather had undoubtedly trained him to stifle his thoughts, and he did so now. “Am I still writing the article, then?” he asked, his tone bitter. “The one about this whole business? The grant and the picketing and everything? Griffin has the photos, even though they’re sending him away. It’ll be his last article. So can we at least do it?”

BOOK: The Bluest Blood
7.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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