Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries) (7 page)

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
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This presented another problem: What to do with the kids while Lindsey was working at the hospital? She knew nothing about sitters or day care here, and was reluctant to leave them with strangers. Lettie came to her rescue by offering to come over and babysit. As luck would have it, I had already booked a room at St. Ormond’s for this conference and knew that they rented vacant dorm rooms in the summer on a B&B basis as well.

Lettie had been here for two weeks before Larry and I arrived so she was already an old hand at getting around in Oxford. She usually took a bus, sometimes a cab, between the college and Lindsey’s flat. I told her she’d be better off to lease a car, but she reminded me that, since her unfortunate entanglement with a yield sign in Scotland, she’d sworn off driving in any country that drove on the left side of the road.

Lettie was breathing loudly as she undressed, the way she does when there’s something on her mind and she needs to talk about it. I had something I needed to talk about as well but I decided to let her unload first, as my news would probably take longer.

Lettie answered my question about the children. “Lindsey’s taking the day off so she’s with the kids. She got home at five-thirty this morning.” My friend looked at me with her head lowered, the way she would do if she were looking over the tops of her glasses but she didn’t wear glasses.

“Out with her new friend?”

“Right. I spent most of the night planning what I was going to say to her, but when she finally came wandering in, sneaking in, like she didn’t think I’d hear her—I lost my nerve. I didn’t say anything.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because there’s something wrong.”

“What?”

“I don’t know, but I got the feeling that if I said anything it would be the wrong thing. You know what I mean?”

“Are you hungry? Have you eaten today?”

“I’ve done nothing but eat. Nervous snacking. I ate a whole box of yogurt-covered pretzels. What I need is sleep.”

“I’ll let you sleep, but first I have to tell you what happened to the man in room four.”

“The big man with the long braid?”

“You saw him?”

“He and this woman—girl—heavy,” Lettie said, puffing her cheeks out, “were carrying their bags in yesterday as I was leaving. We nodded to each other, but I didn’t really meet them.”

“What was your first impression?”

“They looked like escapees from Woodstock, nineteen sixty-nine.”

I laughed, and then told her my story. Meanwhile Lettie donned her nightshirt, smeared green goo all over her face, crawled between the covers of her little bed, and propped her pillow behind her head. At first she was aiming to get rid of me, but became engrossed as I gabbed on, telling her about the state of Bram’s room and about my misgivings. As I wrapped up my story, Lettie was sitting, cross-legged and wide-eyed, with the pillow scrunched in her lap.

“But why, Dotsy? Why do you think there’s something else to it?”

“Why do you think there’s something wrong with Lindsey?”

“Okay, okay. But hypoglycemia sounds reasonable, considering how you say he was acting last night.”

“I agree. But the timing’s wrong and there’s something else. Something I saw. Maybe something someone—Daphne or Mi-gnon—said.”

“Woman’s intuition?”

“I don’t believe in woman’s intuition. You know that.”

“Do you know about Daphne Wetmore’s sister?” Lettie said in an abrupt change of subject.

“Her sister? I’ve heard her mention a sister, but no. What about her?”

“She’s like royalty or something. She’s married to a lord, so that makes her a lady.”

“That’s not royalty. That’s nobility. Royalty means you’re related to the queen.”

“Whatever. Lindsey was talking about her. Daphne’s sister, Lady Whoever.” Lettie put her hand up alongside her mouth as if she were whispering a secret to me but she wasn’t whispering. “Lindsey told me she was always in the news. There was a huge horse-racing scandal. She owns horses. And her husband, the lord, bought an island in the Caribbean somewhere, but there’s a problem with his taxes and the government and all. And some girl who was staying with him on the island drowned. And there are those who say it wasn’t an accident.”

“Hold on! What sort of horse-racing scandal?”

“Lindsey didn’t say.”

“What sort of tax problem?”

She shrugged.

“Who was this girl? Was she like a mistress or just a friend?”

“I’m just telling you what Lindsey told me. She didn’t go into any details.”

This sounded fascinating, but Lettie needed to sleep and I needed to see how my fellow conferees were reacting to the death of their afternoon speaker.

People were milling around the West Quad lawn when I got there. Claudia’s speech was over and tea was being served. Heads turned as I stepped through the archway, and several hands caught my arms as I walked across the grass searching for Claudia. I wanted to tell her I was sorry I’d missed her talk. Apparently it was obvious I’d come from the area where, they’d just learned, Bram Fitzwaring had died.

“What happened?”

“Were you there?”

“Who called the ambulance?”

“Is the, er, the ambulance still here?”

I answered all their questions because there seemed no reason to be obscure about it. Nothing was amiss, at least as far as I or anyone else actually knew. Bram, an overweight diabetic, had died in his sleep. Everyone’s assumption, including my own, was that there would be an autopsy and we might or might not learn what it revealed. How sad it was that a human being’s death so often elicited a few gasps of surprise, a few kind but perfunctory remarks like,
I feel so bad for his family
and
he’s in a better place now,
followed quickly by a return to business as usual. In this case business as usual was, “Milk please. No sugar.”

I couldn’t find Claudia Moss but I did find Larry Roberts, who grabbed my elbow and pinched it between his thumb and middle finger. He pulled me away from the knot of people in front of the tea table. His hand on my arm felt shaky.

“Tell me what happened.”

I pulled his hand off my elbow with my free hand. “Mignon—his companion, you know—found him. She went to his room because it was noon and she thought he was still asleep, but he wasn’t. He was dead.” I repeated the whole story much as I had told it to Lettie.

“Bummer. Are they sure it was low blood sugar? Did he take insulin?”

“Yes. In fact, I saw his used syringes in an old plastic water bottle.”

“Have you had . . . ? Of course, you haven’t had tea yet.” He glanced down at my empty hands. “Hey. I’d rather have tea at the Randolph. Come with me. We can talk.”

Larry, rather than staying in one of the college rooms, was staying at the swanky Randolph Hotel, across the street from the Ashmolean Museum. I’d walked past the hotel several times and longed to see what it looked like inside but had been afraid to go in without a legitimate reason. I’d heard they had a Morse Bar, themed on the Inspector Morse TV shows starring the late, great, actor, John Thaw. I’d also been told the author, Colin Dexter, still lived in Oxford. The series had been filmed in Oxford. The Randolph was within easy walking distance, so I told Larry I’d go with him.

Once there, I got a quick glimpse of the lobby—a tasteful, business-like space quite unlike the glitzy caverns you see in most of the newer hotels—before Larry nudged me toward the tea room. The menu had a bewildering variety of teas, all described in flowery prose, so I chose the most expensive one. I assumed this was going on Larry’s bill. The tea came with a pretty arrangement of little sandwiches and cakes.

“So. You didn’t hear anything last night? Do they know when he died?”

“I heard a commotion about two this morning. It woke me up and I went down and knocked on his door, but I got no answer. I knocked on Mignon’s door as well. She was there, but it was pretty obvious I’d woken her up.”

“What makes you so sure you woke her up?”

“She had that gravelly voice people have when they first wake up.”

“She could have been faking.”

“What?” This statement sort of shocked me. “Are you suggesting she was upstairs, on the next floor up, battling Bram, knocking over furniture, killing him in some way that left no marks, then, while I’m running down from fourth floor to third, she’s running from third to second, into her own room, closing the door and calmly opening it for me?”

“Could be, if she heard you coming.”

“Who commits murder in footie pajamas with teddy bears?”

Larry grinned, slipped some more sugar into his tea. “Really? Teddy bears?” Larry wanted to know more about the strange noises I heard before I went to sleep. “I told you not to stay in that spooky old building. You should be staying here, where it’s not haunted.”

“Oh, really? I rather feel like it is, by the ghost of Inspector Morse.”

“Too bad, isn’t it? Did he have a family?”

“He wasn’t married, and as far as Mignon told me, no children either. He had a mother and a couple of siblings.”

Larry raised an eyebrow at the last little cake on our shared plate. I’d eaten all but one of the little sandwiches and he’d eaten all but one of the cakes.

I said, “Go ahead. I don’t want it.”

“Very sad. In the prime of life.” He popped the little cake in his mouth all at once and sucked icing from his manicured thumb. “To be taken so suddenly. I’m very sorry it happened.”

“Come
on,
Larry. Sorry? He was a thorn in your side! Get real.” I could hardly believe I was talking to my major professor this way.

Larry stared at me a minute. “I may have felt he didn’t have the stature to participate in a conference like this one, but I certainly did not want him to die.” He signaled our waiter for the check and signed it. “I was looking forward to a good old debate with the guy. I would have crushed him beneath my chariot wheels!” With a twinkle in his eyes, he folded his napkin and placed it on the table.

I had no answer for that. Or, more accurately, I had no answer that wouldn’t have eliminated any chance I had of getting my PhD.

I left the Randolph Hotel alone and hiked a couple of blocks to Waterstone’s bookstore. I automatically headed for the history section, then had another thought. Mignon Beaulieu had mentioned going out to see some friends today. Where might they be? Where might I find someone who might know someone who knew her? I was still thinking about Larry’s comment that Mignon could have been faking. That she might not have been asleep at all, but rather, engaged in combat with Bram Fitzwaring. It was a stretch, but still, I had nothing better to do this afternoon, and it occurred to me that owners of an occult bookstore or a shop that sold the sort of esoterica Mignon and Bram went in for might know them. They might have connections to the Glastonbury New Agers.

I talked to a man at Waterstone’s checkout counter.

“Right you are,” he said. “Are you walking or driving?” When I told him, he gazed out one of the big plate-glass windows for a minute, and then said, “You might want to try The Green Man, just down the High, a bit past Logic Lane. All sorts of incense and things of that nature.”

I followed his directions and walked eastward down the High. My watch said ten minutes to five. Most stores on the High closed around five-thirty or six, so it was getting near closing time. I found The Green Man and smelled the aroma of burning incense through the open door. I stepped inside.

No one was minding the store apparently, but I heard chatter from a back room. It sounded as if a half-dozen or more people were talking, gaily, like a party. The little shop was claustrophobic, with glass cases and racks of the sort of thing I expected to find in a place like this: A wicker basket full of pagan posters in rolls, a rack of greeting cards with fairies and pentagrams all done in a pre-Raphaelite style. Jewelry with spiders. Shelves full of oils and essences. A purple skirt with sewn-on spangles and tiny bells had fallen to the floor under a circular stand of black T-shirts with air-brushed designs.

I strained to hear what was being said in the back room. All I caught was a woman’s voice saying something like “holy thorn tree.” I detected both male and female voices. A gaunt, slightly stooped man slipped past the velvet curtain separating the back room from the front of the shop.

“Ehh. Didn’t know anyone was out here. May I help you?”

“Just browsing,” I said. That sounded inadequate. “I’m looking for a card for a sick friend.”
Couldn’t you come up with something better than that, Dotsy?
“These are so nice.” I turned to the card display and picked up a random one.

“Indeed,” the man crept behind the jewelry case and began fiddling with the earrings, positioning himself to make it impossible for me to shoplift any of their more expensive items.

I found myself actually searching for a card that would make a sick friend feel better.
Aha. This is a good way to introduce the real reason I’m here.
“This is so difficult,” I began. “A couple of friends of mine—acquaintances actually, but we’re staying on the same staircase at St. Ormond’s College—well, the man died this . . .”

A raucous belly laugh shook the curtain to the back room.

I stopped in mid-sentence, forgetting all about what I was trying to say. It was Mignon Beaulieu’s laugh. No doubt about it.

C
HAPTER
S
IX

I rushed back to St. Ormond’s in time to shower and change clothes before dinner, aiming to be ready for cocktails at six-thirty but failing to notice our schedule said nothing about pre-dinner drinks. It said dinner at seven. I stood outside the garden door of the Master’s Lodgings, hearing nothing but silence from within. No light peeked through the curtained window beside the door. When I realized my mistake I wished I could take back my knock, fearing Harold Wetmore would open the door, wrapped in a towel and straight from the shower.

I turned and hurried back toward the East Quad, now wondering what to do with the extra thirty minutes before dinner. Lettie was still asleep, and I assumed she’d set her alarm for whatever time she wanted to wake up. After the night she’d had, I didn’t want to wake her.

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
3.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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