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Authors: Melanie Jackson

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“He isn’t. This
isn’t his thing. He’s more about cathedrals and palaces. Dolph wanted him to
paint a mural in the dining room, but he is really here to advise me.”

“About
the yoga room?”

“Yes.”
Manoogin looked down at her though she had answered without hesitation. He
really was very perceptive.
“And to figure out why the room
was … bothering me.
You’ve seen it now. Yes,
it’s
dark and the acoustics are weird and I was feeling.…”

“Haunted?”
There was no judgment in his voice. Had he felt something too?

“No,
not exactly.
Creeped
out
though—maybe because I smelled something and it bothered my subconscious?
In any event, I wanted that damned fireplace gone. Raphael knows the British owner
and also Dolph Kingman so it seemed best to enlist his aid when Dolph started
dragging his feet.”

They started
up the back stairs that had been used by servants and other staff. It was dark
and narrow and they couldn’t walk two abreast. The stone steps muffled their
tread.

Juliet had the
feeling that he was walking her to a particular location and not exploring
randomly.

“And you were
certain he would side with you?”

“Of
course.
Raphael has
exquisite taste and the add-on fireplace is an out-of-period aesthetic
abomination.”

“I see. Well,
I think we have taken care of that problem for you.” He sounded amused. “These
are all bedrooms up here in this wing?”

“Yes, with
baths in between at two-room intervals. The bathrooms are almost all new.”

“So,
bed, bed, bath?”

“Yes. These
are guest rooms. The master suite is elsewhere.”

“You know, and
it is probably just my ignorance, but this place doesn’t strike me as being
anyone’s home. It’s more like a hotel, or one of those historic homes they have
on tours of the Old South.”

Juliet stepped
into the first bath. Wisely, no effort had been made to hide the modern
appliances. If there was one place where people appreciated things being out in
the open and easily accessible, it was the bathroom.

The room was
beautiful, with a peacock mosaic of broken glass covering the wall with the
small window. A quick touch with her finger assured Juliet that it was real
broken bottles and that the edges were still sharp, something that seemed quite
dangerous in a room where there was water and condensation. How had this gotten
past the insurance company? Perhaps they hadn’t seen it yet. Taking it down
would be a huge bother.

“That’s actual
broken glass?” Manoogin sounded perturbed.

“Yes. I can’t
imagine that the insurance company will let that stay up. Maybe she means to
cover it with a sheet of glass.” They backed out of the bathroom. “As for the
place feeling institutional, that’s partly because of the size, but it was a
hospital and then a reform school and long ago probably a barracks for medieval
soldiers and an army of servants. A hotel would be a step up the institutional
ladder. This is the first bedroom. Let’s see how bad it really is.”

The antique latch
depressed under Juliet’s hand as she pushed the first bedroom door wide. The chamber
was decorated in a theatrical version of the Arabian Nights—assuming that this
was the all-purple satin and velvet version of Arabian splendor.

Juliet didn’t
like it, though it would have appealed to an eight-year-old girl with princess
fantasies. The proportions and color were wrong for a smallish, dark chamber
that resembled a monk’s cell that was being used for textile storage.

She was also
noticing something else in a lot of the rooms. She assumed that the designers and
artists wanted to make the castle feel livable, but going with modern looks was
all wrong for the architecture. Excepting the purple bedroom, the rooms were
also failing in more subtle ways. Castles were hung with tapestries, had rushes
(or rugs) on the floor, and were filled with large furniture for reasons other
than pure aesthetics. The tapestries and rugs were there to absorb the
uncomfortable echoes and drafts that filled up the dark spaces when no one else
was there, spaces which made one feel distinctly unwelcome. The artists weren’t
thinking big enough. All the furnishings were scaled for modern houses.

“Clara Moore
is the artist. She works in textile arts.”

Manoogin made
a note.

“These
artists, they’re pretty well off?”

“You are
considering financial motives in this case?” Juliet asked. “I can’t answer for
all of them. Generally, the rewards of an artist’s career are more spiritual
than financial.
Unless you are Raphael James or Esteban
Rodriguez.”

“People pay a
lot for puppets?” Manoogin was startled.

“His
puppets, yes.”

Manoogin was
silent as he considered what to ask next.

“I gather you
didn’t care much for the deceased.”

“Not much.”
Juliet closed the door and went to the next one. There was no need to open it
since the rooms had been searched for hiding suspects, but she was curious
about what the other artists were doing and most of the designers were being
secretive about their projects.

“Would you
mind sharing why?”

“There were
three reasons.
One socio-economic, one aesthetic, and one …
intuitive.”

“Please begin
anywhere.” He sounded amused.

“Dolph was
like a cheap port wine. Rich, full bodied, and sweet at first taste. For those
with no palette he probably remained acceptable company.”

“But you
prefer a better vintage?” the lieutenant asked, entering into the metaphor.

“Oh yes. But
that wasn’t the main problem. He also had grabby hands. It’s not chance that
almost all the artists on this project are young and female. I am, obviously,
an exception.”

“So he had a
thing for young women?”

“After
a fashion.
I think
it was a lot about exercising power and only a little about genuine sexual
attraction. I haven’t actually encountered this type in a couple of decades—a
sort of Hugh Hefner wannabe.” Manoogin raised a brow. “That would be trouble
enough in itself, but I came to see that Dolph was a sexist who felt outraged
when he was rejected. Because everyone knows that the function of all women
everywhere is to be flattered when a man of his stature bothers to proposition
them. He could cover up this retrograde belief when he had to. And Dolph could
be very charming with women he respected because of their fame or relatives or
whatever else lent them that certain useful glow, but his essential nature
shone through when he thought the person he was dealing with was his social
inferior. Some women object to this.”

“I see.”

Juliet looked
in the next room. The walls had been papered in bright scraps of tapestry and
then glazed. There was a chandelier with garish prisms of glass instead of the
standard crystals. It reminded her of an elaborate origami which was
interesting but not especially restful. Perhaps it would be better when the
furniture was brought in. “He also had shifty eyes.”

“I see. That’s
damning. But you know, physiognomy is no longer in fashion in most California
police departments,” Manoogin said apologetically.

“No profiling
by eye shape?” Juliet asked lightly, closing the door without entering. She
began to question her idea about apothecary jars in the meditation room.

“Not
officially.”

“Okay, forget
the eyes being shifty. But I would still take a look at the books and see how
finances for this project were shaping up. It’s easy to point at his arrogance
and libido, but I usually like money as a motive better. Do you have a good
forensic accountant?”

“So I’m told.”

“Good. You’ll
probably need one if you have to do any deep digging. It might do to check in
with the IRS. They have gotten watchful about certain kinds of charities. Maybe
they’ll have something. Also—and I am just thinking out loud here—by the time I
came onboard the project Dolph was down to pinching pennies. Of course some
rooms in the castle needed larger budgets.
The kitchen and
gymnasium, for example.
There were all the appliances that needed new
wiring and the pool had to be repaired and retiled which ran into some real
expenses because the damage wasn’t merely cosmetic. And remodels have this bad
habit of acquiring cost overruns. It’s inevitable. But from conversations I
overheard among the artists and designers, I gathered that Dolph had a bad
habit of promising funds to one person and then reapportioning them as his next
conquest came along. No one believed stories about settling foundations eating
up the budget. People mostly assumed that what his right face
gaveth
, his left face would then
taketh
away when someone prettier came along.

“Lastly, and I
hate to bring this up since I don’t think it matters, but there was a carpenter
on the project—
DeeDee
someone—who had a run-in with
Dolph a couple days ago and had to repulse him bodily.”

She did no
more than glance in a bedroom that was supposed to be baroque but had crossed
the line into bordello.

“He touched
her physically? Here, on the job, with a witness?” Manoogin wasn’t looking at
the rooms anymore either. Perhaps he had reached his limit of bad taste.

“Like I said, he
had grabby hands, and she was working class. And he didn’t know that I was
there.” Juliet shook her head. “I doubt she would have reported the incident.
Women in the trades have a hard time being taken seriously so they tend to keep
quiet about things like that, especially if she didn’t know there was someone
to back up her story. Anyhow, she left the project that day and hasn’t been
back. That I know of.”

They were
silent a moment as Manoogin digested the information she had reluctantly thrown
at him. When he spoke, it seemed to be on another subject.

“Garret says you
have a tidy mind. He admires that about you.”

“And here I
always thought it was my sparkling sapphire eyes and tuna fish sandwiches.”

“Well, maybe
if your eyes were actually blue.…”
Manoogin
suggested.

“And what else
does Garret say? I gather he mentioned my old line of work?”

“Briefly.
And he says that if you have some
ideas about the situation that I could do worse than to listen to you since you
have a one hundred percent clearance rate on your cases.”

“I’m retired.
I don’t have cases. What I have is rotten luck when it comes to finding bodies.”

“Maybe you do
at that. I gather this isn’t your first homicide?”

“No.”

“Second?”

“No.”

He digested
this too.

“So did Mr.
Kingman want Raphael James on this project because he was a friend of yours and
it would make you happier if he was here?”

“No, keeping
me happy wasn’t a real concern. I am only the lowliest of the low. Dolph wanted
Raphael on the project because he is famous and would bring in publicity and
money.”

“Are the other
artists also famous?”

“Not that
famous. They are all respected in their fields, up and comers, but it’s the
difference between the Elect and the Damned. Put another way, a large mural
from Raphael would have tacked another hundred thousand on the value of the castle.”

Manoogin’s
brows drew down and Juliet was sure it wasn’t because of the overwhelming pink
marble and ceramic poodle on clamshell sculptures in the bathroom. Venus Rising,
with dogs. Juliet shuddered, though she made note of the shower enclosure made
of mismatched French doors.

“The air feels
damp,” she said.

“Yes. The
shower was used.”

“This room was
done by Stephanie Gillard. She also did the last bedroom. She works mainly in
ceramics and in the Southwest, though she has recently located to California.
She is one of the few women on the job who liked Dolph.”

“Is my lack of
knowledge about art going to hinder me in this investigation?”

“It needn’t.
Raphael, Esteban, and I are all more than willing to be consulted when you have
questions. And we will happily share our opinions, so long as they never end up
in print, since some of those opinions are probably actionable.”

Manoogin
suppressed a smile.

“Thank you. I’ll
bear that in mind. Was Mr. Kingman an artist as well?”

“Not
that I know of.
Certainly not a commercial one, though he may have had hidden yearnings,” she
added grudgingly. “His gift was investment and knowing what to buy and when to
sell. I’m prejudiced, but I doubt he could have painted a decent picture even
if it came with numbers and an instruction booklet.”

Manoogin
nodded his head.

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