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Authors: Heather Graham

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BOOK: The Death Dealer
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“Just like Washington,” Genevieve said.

“How?”

“He
slept
everywhere, and Poe
drank
everywhere.”

Their waitress, a gum-cracking woman of about fifty, offered them a tired smile. “What’ll it be?”

“What’s good here?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she told him honestly.

“A Coke—in a bottle—then,” Joe told her. “Gen?”

She opted for the same, and then the woman smiled and told them that the home-style meatloaf and mashed potatoes were actually quite tasty, so they went ahead and ordered food.

“So…” Genevieve said, when the waitress had gone.

“So?”

“What were you doing all morning?”

“Talking to the police.”

“And?”

“They don’t have any answers.”

“Do
they
think the Poe angle is a smoke screen?”

He tilted his head thoughtfully. “If they have any ideas right now, they’re not sharing. And I think they would if they did. I know the two lead detectives on the case, and they’re both solid guys, good at their jobs. The killer was careful and seemed to know how not to leave any clues he didn’t want to. Maybe a professional, or maybe just someone who reads or watches television and has learned how not to leave trace evidence behind. There was no forced entry, and Bigelow apparently had a visitor earlier, so it’s likely Thorne Bigelow knew his killer. But as far as the Poe connection goes, though he was killed via his beloved wine, he wasn’t walled up.”

“What about Sam Latham?”

He hesitated. “They’re looking into the accident, as well, trying to find out exactly what happened. Lots of people apparently saw the same car I did, but no one can agree on the details of what it looked like, and no one caught the license plate. Maybe a better witness will come forward in the future.”

It was inevitable that she asked him, “What about that psychic?”

And dammit, she knew him well enough to catch something in his hesitation.

“You think she
does
know something!” Genevieve exclaimed.

Luckily their meals arrived just then and saved him from having to answer.

But the minute their waitress moved on, Gen pounced on him again. “Well?”

He shook his head. “Who knows? I sure don’t.”

“I want to meet her.”

“She
can’t
know anything,” he insisted.

“But I want to meet her anyway.”

He glanced at his watch. It was already nearly six.

“Too late. We have to go pick up your mother and get to that New York Poe Society board meeting.”

“Tomorrow, then,” she told him.

He shrugged. “We can stop by and talk to her, if you like.”

“Tomorrow, definitely. And you won’t put me off. Promise me, Joe.”

“Yes, all right, I promise. You can really be a pain in the…butt, you know.”

“I work hard at it,” she assured him solemnly.

“I’m not at all sure you need to make much of an effort,” he said.

She shrugged, and silence fell between them.

“Hey,” she said softly a little while later, and smiled a little crookedly.

“What?” He’d sounded gruff and impatient. He knew it.

“The meatloaf wasn’t half bad.”

He offered her a half smile in return. “Actually, I think it was more than half good.”

When the check came, she reached for it, but he got there first.

“You agreed to take the case. We’re talking about the case…working, so I should pick this up,” she told him.

“I’ll take the check,” he said in a tone that brooked no interference.

“Chauvinist,” she accused, but her tone was light.

“Exactly,” he assured her.

“But you’re on the clock.”

“I’ll bill you, then. But I’ll still take the check.”

A few minutes later, as they waited by the register for his credit card to be returned, he noticed the large wooden plaque over the doorway. It had a giant etched raven on the right side, with just a few words of Poe’s immortal poem on the left.

Quoth the raven

CHAPTER 6

Not everyone on the board of the venerable society was in attendance.

Thorne, of course, was dead.

Jared Bigelow, Thorne’s son, and Mary Vincenzo, his sister-in-law, were understandably absent. Because Thorne’s body had been held at the morgue, the funeral was planned for Monday, so both Jared and Mary had sent their regrets to Brook Avery, who was chairman of the board.

Sam Latham wasn’t there, either. He was still in the hospital, but even if he hadn’t been, he might not have been in the mood to attend.

Four missing. Eight in attendance, including Eileen.

Brook Avery was a tall, imposing man who was the publisher of a literary magazine. He had a full head of snow-white hair, broad, substantial shoulders and a muscular build, especially for a man of sixty-odd years.

As they gathered in a private room at the Algonquin, Joe noticed that, despite what Gen had said about guests being welcome, Avery was looking at him as if he were an interloper. But since Eileen Brideswell had insisted that they be there, the man limited his response to disapproving, even suspicious, stares.

Joe was happy to return suspicion for suspicion. In his mind, if the murder was connected to Poe, then everyone there, other than Gen and her mother, was a potential suspect.

Including Brook Avery.

Joe looked around the room and considered the attendees one by one, starting with Don Tracy. Because he had never done film or TV, his name wasn’t well-known, but he was seldom out of work as an actor.

Nat Halloway was a banker. Fortysomething, thinning hair. An interesting prospect, he had managed Bigelow’s investments.

Lila Hawkins was a perfect society matron, big-breasted, tall, with an imperious manner and voice. She was involved with charities all over the city. She didn’t work; her family owned several large buildings on Park Avenue. Barbara Hirshorn was her complete opposite: thin, shy, nervous and a working woman, a librarian.

Lou Sayles was actually Louisa Sayles. She was retired from the school board, an attractive woman with silver hair and bright blue eyes. Rounding out the list was Larry Levine, a newspaper reporter. The best word to describe him was
medium.
Medium height, with medium-colored brown hair and light brown eyes and a medium build.

His work was much the same. He reported on events in New York. He wasn’t bad, he wasn’t great. He specialized in facts, ma’am, just the facts, nothing more. He was a solid reporter. He was not imaginative.

Joe knew about Larry Levine because he read the paper and because he had met him a few times through the years at social events with his cousin Matt.

He knew about the rest of the group, because Raif had kept his word and had faxed over his files on the rest of the board members. Meeting them face-to-face, however, was interesting.

Like Brook Avery, they were all happy to greet Genevieve, but they looked at him as if he were some kind of alien. Eileen had introduced him as Genevieve’s friend; she didn’t mention that he was a private investigator working the case. His line of work was hardly a secret, though; his name had been all over the media when Gen’s rescue and the truth behind the killings had come out.

Larry Levine definitely knew his line of work. He greeted Joe curiously as the group mingled over drinks. “So, Connolly. You working this?” he demanded.

He shrugged. “I’m just keeping an eye on Genevieve.”

“Good gig, eh?” Larry asked, looking appreciatively in her direction.

Joe couldn’t help the tension and anger that rose in response to the other man’s comment.

“She and her mother are fine people,” he said, and changed the subject. “Very sad about Thorne Bigelow.”

“You think?” Larry lifted his glass. “Can’t say this too loud here, but Thorne was a pompous ass. Should anyone be murdered? Hell, no. But I doubt most people here are going to miss him much.”

“People! Shall we get down to discussion?” Brook Avery called.

There was a moment’s confusion as they all took seats around the large oblong table.

Joe was between Genevieve and Eileen. Brook Avery remained standing at the head of the table.

“Tonight’s discussion is slated to focus on the financial feasibility of planning a tour to follow the route Poe took in the days before his death.”

“Brook!” Lila Hawkins interrupted sharply.

He was clearly displeased, but he paused and said patiently, “Lila?”

“Surely you’re joking!” she accused.

“I assure you, my dear Lila, I am not.”

“Then you should be,” she informed him. “Let’s face it. We shouldn’t be discussing business tonight. We should be discussing Thorne’s death.”

“Lila, what is there to discuss?” Brook Avery asked, then cocked his head meaningfully, indicating that they had guests in the room.

Lila Hawkins rose. She was clearly a woman who could stand her ground. “Oh, let’s all stop pussyfooting around. Genevieve is Eileen’s daughter. And Mr. Connolly—” She looked at him, and she had made it sound as if his name were a curse word. “—Mr. Connolly is here as a private investigator.”

They all stared at him. It was obvious he was being given the floor to speak.

He shrugged. “I should think you’d all want to know exactly what happened to Thorne,” he said quietly.

Lila spoke up again. “Of course we want to know. The question is, just how honest are any of us going to be? Tonight. Here and now. Amongst one another.”

“I—I—I don’t know what you could possibly mean, Lila,” Barbara Hirshorn said. Her eyes darted around the room. “It was terrible, just terrible. The poor man was murdered.”

“She means that one of us might have done it, my dear,” Don Tracy said. Joe wondered if the man was capable of speaking without sounding as if he were delivering a speech on stage.

Barbara gasped, clapping both hands over her mouth.

The rest of them stared at each other, suddenly suspicious of people they’d known for years.

Then they stared as one at Gen—as if she had brought the real monster, because the real monster might be the truth—before turning to Joe again.

As they did so, he suddenly felt spotlighted, one degree removed from the people around him. It was almost like an out-of-body experience, as if this were just a scene in a film and he was watching it. A dead man had spoken to him, and then he himself had spoken to a girl claiming to be a psychic, and he had actually believed her. Which made all this totally unlike anything he had ever dealt with before.

Murder suddenly seemed so simple.

While death itself was not.

At last he stood. “You don’t need to look at each other as if you’ve all suddenly turned into the devil,” he said. “There are any number of other possibilities, and the police will be investigating all of them. Perhaps the murderer is counting on you all turning on each other. Perhaps he—or she—is hoping that the police will believe it’s a member of the society. Nothing has been ruled out as yet.”

“So why don’t
we
try to rule out a few things?” Barbara asked.

Everyone was silent.

“Seriously, who here would have anything to gain by Thorne’s death?” Larry demanded.

“No one,” Eileen said evenly, glancing at her daughter. “No one,” she repeated firmly. “I very much doubt any of us are in Thorne’s will.”

“But is murder always for personal gain?” Don Tracy demanded dramatically.

“Of course not. Think about Poe’s stories. Characters were killed simply because they made the narrator crazy,” Barbara Hirshorn said. “So…did Thorne drive any of us completely crazy?”

Lila let out a laugh that sounded like a bark. “Seriously?” she asked.

Barbara looked as if her feelings had been hurt, as if she thought that Lila was laughing at her.

But Lou Sayles set a hand on her arm. “Barbara, dear, I don’t believe Lila was laughing at
you
but simply because, well, which one of us
didn’t
he drive crazy?”

Nat Halloway cleared his throat. “He
was
a bit of a braggart,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Jared isn’t here to listen to what we’re saying, so we might as well be honest. Braggart? He was obnoxious,” Lila said.

“We shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,” Barbara said.

“Death doesn’t change the truth,” Larry said.

Don pointed at Larry and said, “Face it, Larry. You’ve always talked about writing a book on Poe, but Thorne went ahead and did it. You can’t tell me you weren’t at least a little bit jealous.”

“I wouldn’t have killed him for that,” Larry protested indignantly.

“Really? So what would you have killed him for?” Lila demanded.

“I wouldn’t kill anyone!” Larry said, his face suffusing with color.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Eileen said.

“People, really, there’s no need to start accusing each other,” Joe told them.

“It’s impossible not to talk about it,” Lila said.

“I’m not suggesting that you stop talking about it,” Joe said. “I just think there are more constructive conversations to have. So…Thorne Bigelow was a man who aggravated his friends. And when was the last time you each saw him?”

“I hadn’t seen him since our last meeting, a month ago,” Barbara said, relief in her voice, as if she now considered herself free from suspicion. “But, we would all have seen him the night he died. We were slated to attend a dinner to benefit a literacy foundation.”

“So everyone would have been at that dinner?” Joe asked.

“Everyone,” Eileen said. “Even Gen was going to go. With me.”

Joe nodded. “Okay, he died a week ago. Barbara says she hadn’t seen him in ages. What about the rest of you?”

“I had a meeting with him on Friday to discuss his finances,” Nat Halloway admitted. “I left him alive and well.”

Larry waved a hand in the air. “He was at the Whiskey Bar on Thursday night. I saw him there.”

“I saw him at the Whiskey Bar, too,” Brook admitted.

“Last month,” Lila said. “I hadn’t seen him since the last meeting.”

“That’s a lie,” Brook said.

“What?” Lila demanded.

“You were at Dooley’s Pub the Tuesday night before he was killed. I saw you there, and I saw Thorne there, too,” Brook announced.

So much for this being a friendly group, Joe decided.

“Did anyone see him Saturday morning?” he asked. “Or do any of you know if he had any plans for Saturday morning or afternoon?” He wasn’t expecting any of them to admit they had seen the man; what he was interested in was watching the interaction between them. There didn’t seem to be any tight bonds here; it had already turned into every man for himself.

“I talked to him Saturday morning,” Nat said. “I called him with the answer to a tax question he’d asked me. He was excited about the evening, because the society was going to give him an award. He was in a good mood.”

“Did he say anything about seeing anyone before the dinner?” Joe asked.

“No,” Nat said. “Just that Mary and Jared were both coming to his place, and that they’d all be going over together,” Nat said.

“What about the butler? He was there, too,” Larry said irritably.

“The butler?” Lila scoffed.

“Why would his butler want to kill him?” Eileen asked. “They got along quite well. Thorne paid him a very nice salary.”

“Because he must have been wretched as a boss,” Larry said.

“Oh, darling,” Lila protested. “It’s not the butler. That would be far too boring.”

“Lila, a man is dead,” Barbara reminded her. “This isn’t the plot for a novel.”

“And I still say it wasn’t the butler,” Lila insisted.

“Having a meeting tonight is pointless,” Brook said with a sigh. “We should have cancelled. We’re all too emotional.”

Genevieve spoke up then. “Maybe being emotional isn’t so bad. What if whoever killed Thorne really does have something against the Ravens? Aren’t you all frightened?”

“Of course, we’re frightened, darling!” Lila exclaimed. “But we can’t let ourselves get carried away. I know Sam was hurt, but it’s ridiculous to think someone was able to cause that accident just to harm him, then get away unscathed himself. Good God, simply getting on that wretched highway is dangerous. So, Mr. Connolly, what do you suggest we do next?” She stared at him pointedly.

“My suggestion is to do what everyone should always do—be careful. Don’t park in dark garages, don’t walk in dark alleys. Keep your doors locked,” Joe said.

“Good advice,” Lou Sayles said, and offered him an awkward smile. “But what happens when the danger comes from someone you trust?”

“There we go again!” Brook exploded. “Accusing one another.”

“Be helpful to the police in any way that you can. The sooner Thorne Bigelow’s murder is solved, the sooner you’ll feel safe. And enjoy one another’s…society again,” Joe said. “No pun intended.”

And yet, it was hard not to feel as if this entire thing weren’t some kind of terrible joke.

The people here were…

Well, caricatures in a way, he thought. He had lived in New York City most of his life, and he loved New Yorkers. But tonight he felt as if he had walked in on a play satirizing the rich and the poor and everyone in between. They had the poor librarian, the angry columnist and several society matrons. Men who lived hard, men who thrived and men who were always thirsty.

A ripple of uneasy laughter reminded him of his last words.

No pun intended.

Too bad Thorne Bigelow’s murder was anything but a joke.

“I feel better just for speaking honestly,” Barbara said with a soft sigh.

“Why on earth would you feel better?” Lila asked. “All we’ve proven tonight is that we don’t trust one another.”

“Oh, come, Lila,” Lou said. “I refuse to believe that any of us is capable of murder.”

“Maybe not,” Joe said, and all turned to stare at him. “But someone out there is. So, all of you, be careful.”

“Yes, we all need to be careful.”

The statement came from the doorway. Joe turned around to see that a newcomer had joined them.

Jared Bigelow.

He’d seen the man’s picture in the papers and in the file Raif had faxed over. He was perhaps six feet in height, lean and wiry. He had dark, curling hair and a face with features so fine they were almost sharp. His eyes were deep set and dark. He was in his early thirties, casually dressed in chinos and a tweed jacket.

BOOK: The Death Dealer
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