Authors: Richard; Forrest
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Death Through the Looking Glass
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
He awoke with a start.
A stream of early-morning day through the easterly window brushed across his face as he stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling. Alarmed at his momentary disorientation, he sat up abruptly. The other half of the bed was empty. Bea was gone.
The feeling dissipated as he remembered they were spending the weekend at Damon Snow's beach house. He yawned and looked out the window, where a slowly circling sea gull nonchalantly rode the air currents in easy sweeping motions.
The bedroom door cracked back against the wall.
Lyon Wentworth's muscles tensed as he involuntarily shrugged back against the headboard.
They tumbled into the room like rampant children and swirled around the bed in a dervishlike dance. Rocco Herbert's six-foot-eight bulk loomed at the foot of the bed as he lifted its legs from the floor and dropped them.
“Wakey, wakey!” the large man's voice boomed.
Robin Thornburton grasped the edge of the sheet as Lyon clutched it to his neck. “Come out of there.”
“If that sheet comes down any further, we'll have a second surprise party,” Bea Wentworth said.
“What's going on?”
Bea leaned over to kiss him. “Happy birthday, darling.”
A beach robe hurtled across the room and entwined itself around Lyon's head and shoulders. “You've got three minutes to get downstairs,” Damon Snow said.
They trooped from the room, laughing. Robin turned at the door and gave him a long look. “Hurry up, now.”
He leaned contentedly against the pillow and let the luxury of early-morning sluggishness engulf him for a few moments before he jackknifed to the floor and reached for his clothes. He pulled on a rumpled pair of khaki slacks and a tee shirt and stepped into scuffed boat shoes.
In the cramped bathroom Lyon brushed his teeth and made a few comb passes over a shock of sandy-brown hair. He paused as his eyes caught themselves in the mirror. They had a mildly troubled look, which deepened as he frowned at himself. After thirty, birthdays seemed to arrive with alarming frequency, and he wasn't quite sure he was ready for another one. He refused to accept the possibility that today's artificial demarcation might mean life's midpoint. He felt twentyâhe gave a short laugh and amended that to twenty-fiveâand decided to live to ninety so that today would not be a halfway point.
He and Bea had occupied a rear bedroom, so he took the narrow back staircase down to the kitchen. The room was empty, although the stove and counter space were cluttered with used pans and dishes. A piercing laugh, followed by raised voices, echoed through the house from the area of the dining room, and he walked in that direction through the pantry.
Built near the turn of the century for some now-forgotten Hartford scion and his family, the massive frame house was perched at the end of a point overlooking Long Island Sound. The carpenters had obviously served their apprenticeship in nearby shipbuilding yards, to judge from their use of heavy timbers. The construction had stood the house well, and it was one of the few in the area to survive the ravages of the 1938 hurricane.
Lyon entered the dining room to find the others standing behind their chairs as if awaiting the signal for a formal seating.
“Everyone's here,” Rocco said, while eyeing the dishes strewn across the table.
“Where's Giles?” Bea asked.
Damon Snow raised a glass of champagne. “To Lyon. May he have many more years, with a new book in each one.”
“Hear, hear!” Martha Herbert clinked the edge of her glass with a spoon.
At the head of the table was a large crumb cake with one lone flickering candle. “Blow it out,” Bea ordered.
Lyon bent over the candle, coughed, and finally managed to expel a breath that extinguished the flame. A glass of champagne was thrust into his hand. “What time is it?”
“In the morning?” He looked down at the sparkling wine. “Oh, what the hell.” He drained the glass as the others applauded and took seats. The wine caused a small glow in his stomach that gradually reached toward the rest of his body with slim tentacles of warmth.
Eggs Benedict appeared from under chafing dishes as Lyon sliced off thick slabs of crumb cake and Damon poured more wine. Everyone ate ravenously, and Lyon suspected they had been up long before him.
Tapping his glass for silence, Damon stood at the foot of the table. “And who will do first honors?”
“I will.” Robin went over to a lowboy and pulled a long, thin package from its place behind it. She marched solemnly toward Lyon, handed him the package, and stood by his side awaiting his response.
As he accepted the package, he looked up into Robin's smiling face. She shifted her weight slightly, and with arms akimbo and hands along the bottom edge of her black bikini, she allowed her elbow to brush lightly against Lyon's shoulder.
Robin was the exuberant eighteen-year-old daughter of Lyon's illustrator, Stacey Thornburton. While chasing over the hills of North Carolina after some beast or other, Stacey had managed to fall from his jeep and fracture his leg in two places, and Robin had been dispatched north with the latest batch of preliminary sketches for Lyon's next children's book.
The proximity of the young girl's bronzed body made Lyon regret that he and Bea hadn't locked the bedroom door and been late for breakfast. The thought was shattered when a sneakered foot careened off his ankle.
“Open the package, dear,” Bea said.
The gift wrap fell away to reveal a charcoal portrait. “Hey, that's marvelous. The way I'd like to look, or maybe the way I looked ten years ago.” He half-stood to give Robin a buss and felt her lips linger on his a brief moment.
“NEXT!” Bea yelled and leaned over to whisper in Lyon's ear, “For a moment, I thought you were going to have her for dessert.”
Rocco Herbert handed him a package. “To help on the next case.”
“THERE WON'T BE A NEXT CASE!” Bea said as Lyon unwrapped a book containing the complete works of Dashiell Hammett.
“Thanks, Chief. Next time we'll both be as hard-boiled as Sam Spade, right?”
“WRONG!” Bea said.
“And now for the
piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance.
” Damon stepped through the door and returned in a moment carrying a bulky package as tall as himself. “Actually it's not just from me,” he said as Lyon began to remove the wrapping surrounding the oversized gift, “but from everyone at Cedarcrest Toys.”
“My God!” Lyon said as the last of the tissue fell away to reveal a six-foot Wobbly doll. The benign monster, a creation from his first children's book, stared out over the group with a ferocious but essentially kind visage.
Robin clapped. “That's fantastic.”
“Isn't it,” Bea said with a half-smile at the young girl.
“The first of its kind,” Damon said. “A couple of department store buyers saw it in my office the other day and are fighting to have orders filled.” He poured more wine. “This time a toast to Robin's father, designer of the first Wobbly.” He raised his glass. “And at the risk of sounding mercenaryâthe most successful item I have in all our lines, although most aren't as big as this fellow.”
Lyon looked over the rim of his glass toward Damon Snow at the foot of the table. The toy manufacturer and their weekend host was tall and thin to the point of gauntness. The deeply etched features on the elongated face often made Lyon think of Ichabod Crane.
As Lyon admired Kimberly Ward's gift of a bottle of Dry Sack sherry, Bea left the room and returned with a live white duck in her arms. As she thrust it toward Lyon, the outraged bird voiced its indignation.
“If this is lunch, count me out.”
“Darling, you've forgotten the Montgolfiers.”
“The French balloonists?”
“Uh huh. And what did they send up in their first hot-air-balloon flight?”
A broad smile creased Lyon's face. “A duck and a chicken.”
“Let's look outside.”
The empty hot-air-balloon bag of the Wobbly II lay properly stretched out along the ground. A wicker gondola, with teakwood control panel and leather along its base, stood upright at the end of the balloon envelope.
Lyon stared awestruck at the new basket. “My God, it's beautiful! Where did you get it?”
“I had it made. BALLOON GONDOLAS ARE NOT EXACTLY SOLD IN THE SUPERMARKET!”