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Authors: Richard; Forrest

Death Under the Lilacs

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Death Under the Lilacs

A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery

Richard Forrest

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

For Bo

… who toiled …

1

He decided not to rape her.

It might be interesting to force himself upon her and watch her humiliation and degradation, but that wasn't part of the plan. He couldn't help but be attracted to her. She exuded a sexuality in the simplest of her movements that he found disconcerting. Erotic images kept recurring, but he forced the thoughts back into the tight mental compartments where they belonged.

The days of following her every movement had forced her into his dreams, and that hadn't been in the plan either. There would be time. If he changed his mind later, there would always be the opportunity to do with her what he wanted.

But this had to be done tonight.

The plans were complete. Necessary peripheral events had been set in motion, and the whole complex was building up an internal velocity that would fly out of control unless he proceeded with its final execution.

Yes, it had to be tonight.

The location was not of his choosing, but dictated by her personal habits. He had followed her carefully for three weeks, charting her moves and timing her actions with a stopwatch clenched in a damp fist until he had reached a point where he could accurately predict nearly every movement of her day.

As with most people, her actions fell into a predictable pattern.

It couldn't be done at her home. Although the house was located on an isolated tract of land wooded on three sides, with the fourth overlooking the Connecticut River, there were inherent risks. He had observed the house through binoculars, but had never actually been inside, and he knew from experience that people who lived in rural areas often had various weapons close at hand. Then there was her husband, who seemed to be constantly at her side while she was home.

Her weekdays were spent at the State Capitol, where she was never alone. Her activities at the Capitol were at a frenzied pace: senate sessions, committee meetings, or a party caucus that surrounded her with fellow legislators, lobbyists, or constituents.

He had briefly considered making the attempt on an isolated stretch of road. It would be possible to force her car off the highway onto the shoulder and continue from there. He had discarded that possibility after calculating the probability of passing motorists who might come to her aid or later identify his van.

It was logical that it be done at the shopping center where she stopped every Thursday evening from seven until nine.

The Murphysville, Connecticut, shopping mall was located on the outskirts of town. It was anchored on one end by a Stop and Shop supermarket and on the far side by a branch of Caldor's discount house. The interior of the leg of the center was occupied by a pharmacy, liquor store, and bookstore.

Bea Wentworth followed the same pattern each Thursday evening. She parked her car at seven, then spent ten minutes browsing in the bookstore and half an hour in the discount store. She finished by doing a week's grocery shopping at the supermarket. She pushed her grocery cart to the small station wagon and loaded her items through the tailgate, after which she drove briskly back to Nutmeg Hill, arriving around nine o'clock.

On the first night he followed her, he had gone into the bookstore knowing that he could safely browse without appearing conspicuous.

He had fled the store when he had come upon the large display of Wentworth children's books. A man-size cutout of a Wobbly monster had stared at him with red accusing eyes. A dozen of Lyon Wentworth's childrens' books with gaily colored dust jackets were clutched in the creature's paws.

He had left the store hurriedly and huddled in the shadows of a nearby phone booth.

Tonight she had parked two dozen feet from the nearest light pole. Her car was partially in the shadows and he had been lucky enough to find a space two removed where he could park the van.

He would do it while she fumbled with her keys to unlock the tailgate.

He watched Bea enter the supermarket and then returned to his van. He had promised himself a cigarette, and stripped the cellophane off a new package and slowly extracted one. He tapped it methodically against the steering wheel, ceremoniously lit it, and leaned back against the headrest to savor the mellow glow of anticipation.

Lyon Wentworth sighed. The Wobblies were gone.

They had retreated to some dark, secret place where they now rested with limpid eyes and slowly thumping tails. They were quiet, nearly comatose, and he barely felt their vitality. They had been missing for several days now and he needed them. They would not speak or let their presence be known in any manner, and that made it impossible for him to translate their adventures onto the typewriter that sat so disapprovingly before him.

He looked out the window. Far below the parapet that surrounded the patio, the river moved sluggishly, colored in dark hues from the dying day. A bleak gray sky pressed down on the high ridge lines, and the house sat under a teacup of low nimbus clouds.

His benign monsters were gone. He had tried to recall them by performing the ritualistic chores: He had replaced the ribbon in the typewriter and seen to it that a ream of clean yellow paper was piled neatly to his left and that gold paper clips glinted from a small cup on the right. Nothing had worked. The words wouldn't come.

He wished Bea would come home and give him the necessary excuse to leave his work, cover the typewriter, and mix drinks.

He had last seen her that morning when he found her engrossed on the kitchen phone. Her eyes had followed him as he poured coffee from the electric percolator, and she had wedged the receiver between her shoulder and ear while miming for him to pour her a cup. He had pretended not to understand until her eyebrow had arched in exasperation and he had finally given in and poured.

He had leaned against the kitchen counter with the large mug cupped between his hands and observed his wife. Bea's figure was trim and well proportioned. She spoke with an energy that seemed to possess her slight frame. Occasionally, as if to emphasize a point, her hand would ruffle the edge of her closely cropped hair.

If Lyon had been asked to identify his wife's most salient characteristic, he would have replied that it was her energy. She was a vital person, with strong opinions that she defended on the floor of the state senate and a robustness that intruded into nearly every facet of her life. He loved her very much and sometimes felt guilty that he drew so much of his own sustenance from her.

“I think, Senator, that we are in agreement,” she had said in conclusion that morning as she hung up the phone.

“You're looking very political this morning,” Lyon had said.

“Wingate is resigning from the state senate to run for the vacant congressional seat.”

“Who will be majority leader?”

Bea smiled. “It's gonna be a tough one.”

“Ramsey will oppose you.”

“He always does.”

“He still thinks that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant.”

“About time he learned,” Bea had said as she drank from her mug and smiled at him over the rim.

“This state has never had a woman majority leader.”

“We're on our second woman governor.”

“Objection withdrawn. I wish you luck, hon.” He kissed her on the forehead and refilled her cup from the percolator. He was actually ambivalent toward her new goal. While he knew that she was a courageous politician and had chits to call upon for support, he worried that she might lose. He wanted nothing to touch his wife. He wanted no harm or pain to come her way, and he would protect her from all that he could.

She gathered her pocketbook and keys. “I'll be late tonight. I have to do the shopping.”

“I can do it.”

“Oh, no. It would give you an excuse for not working.”

“It's just not coming.”

She had kissed him. “It will. Give it a chance.”

And then she was gone, and the whole day and part of the evening had stretched before him.

A thumping on the front door broke his reverie, and he almost knocked over the desk chair in his eagerness to leave the study.

Rocco Herbert was slouched against the door frame and gave Lyon a casual salute as the door opened. “Happy-hour time yet?”

“You know it!” Lyon replied and yanked his large friend inside the house. “I'll get the ice. You mix.”

In the kitchen, Lyon levered ice-tray partitions and dumped loose cubes into a silver ice bucket. “Martha must be out of town,” he yelled into the living room where the large police chief mixed a pitcher of martinis at a portable bar cart.

“She is,” the chief replied. “Hurry up with the ice.”

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