Table of Contents
Judgment Under Fire
His expression didn’t change, but the gray of his eyes looked ever more silvery in the dim light. “It’s Skinner, and those like him, that we’re here to defend.”
Bree felt her temper slipping. She held on to it with a mighty effort. “There’s more clients like Skinner? Cordially loathed by everybody while they’re alive? Demanding some kind of justice when they’re dead?”
“Exactly,” Gabriel said. He looked very pleased. “Skinner’s soul has been sentenced to purgatory. He’s filed an appeal. He claims his actions have been either misinterpreted or that they were legal to begin with.”
“What,” asked Bree, fascinated despite herself, “has he been convicted of?”
“Greed,” Bree said pleasantly, “of course. Naturally. You bet.”
“One of the Seven Felonies, as you know.”
“There’re only seven?” She smacked the palm of her hand against her forehead and answered herself. “D’uh. Sure there are. What could be more screamingly obvious? Pride, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, and the Damn Lazy. And his defense?”
Gabriel grinned at her. He had a perfectly charming smile, and Bree, to her annoyance, found herself smiling back.
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Mary Stanton
Beaufort & Company MysteriesDEFENDING ANGELS
Titles by Mary Stanton writing as Claudia Bishop
Hemlock Falls Mysteries
A TASTE FOR MURDER
A DASH OF DEATH
A PINCH OF POISON
DEATH DINES OUT
A TOUCH OF THE GRAPE
A STEAK IN MURDER
MARINADE FOR MURDER
FRIED BY JURY
A PUREE OF POISON
BURIED BY BREAKFAST
A DINNER TO DIE FOR
GROUND TO A HALT
A CAROL FOR A CORPSE
The Casebooks of Dr. McKenzie Mysteries
THE CASE OF THE ROASTED ONION
THE CASE OF THE TOUGH-TALKING TURKEY
THE CASE OF THE ILL-GOTTEN GOAT
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For Harry, who listened to it, and for Michelle, who believed in it.
What hangs people . . . is the unfortunate circumstance of guilt.
The Wrong Box
, Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
“Hanged by the neck until dead, every one of ’em,” Lavinia Mather said with enormous satisfaction. “Uh-huh. Got a pile of developers that’d give me a bundle for the place, if the Savannah Historical Society would ever let me dig ’em up. But nope, it’s the only privately owned, all-murderers’ cemetery in the state of Georgia and it’s smack on the Historical Register.” Her soft white hair formed a wispy halo around her mahogany face and she gave Brianna a smile of angelic sweetness. “You’re a lawyer, Ms. Winston-Beaufort?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Brianna said.
“Go on!” Mrs. Mather shook her head in admiration. “I’ve got great-grandchildren older than you.”
Brianna, whose Southern upbringing gave her an instinctive respect for the elderly, merely said, “Surely not, ma’am. As for me, I passed the bar five years ago. I’m twenty-nine.”
“If you say so, honey. Anyway. If you
a lawyer, maybe you could sue the pants off the Historical Society for me. You get those folks off my back, I’ll give you a break on the rent.” She twinkled roguishly.
Bree murmured an ambiguous “Hmmm.”
She’d tried not to let her dismay at the decrepit state of her surroundings be too obvious to the feisty Mrs. Mather. But the cemetery was a weedy mess. Not something you expected to find off the trendy West Bay Street area in Savannah. The sole magnolia tree was dead. The azaleas were undernourished. Pigweed obscured the headstones. The only horticultural reminder that this was part of the most beautiful city in Georgia was the live oak trees. The branches drooped with Spanish moss that hung silvery over the graves.
She’d thought she’d misread the ad, at first:For Rent. Prime Office Space. 600 sq. ft. Exciting Riverfront Area. $300 mo. 555-1225.
She’d only been in Savannah a week, but it hadn’t taken her long to discover that six hundred square feet of office space, anywhere near the Savannah River, in any condition, would run four times the rent asked for in the ad. She needed to work somewhere until the renovations on her Uncle Franklin’s office space were finished. She’d called for an early appointment, and discovered the address was even better than she’d hoped for; the building was between Mulberry and Houston, one block off East Bay. She could walk to work from her town house on Factor’s Walk to 66 Angelus Street.
“Thing is,” Lavinia acknowledged sadly, “the cemetery kind of puts folks off.” A breeze scented with the dank-water smell of the river stirred around them both. She shivered a little and drew her worn sweater tightly around her skinny frame. “Might not be so bad if I had the git up and go to tidy the graves up a bit. But my motor’s kind of slow starting these days.” She tugged at her lower lip a little sadly. “I suppose you’ve seen all you want to see, now.”
Bree put her own warm hand on the old lady’s shoulder, and said tactfully, “Nothing a few loads of mulch and a pile of azaleas won’t fix. I’d love to take a look at the offices. And I did tell you I wouldn’t need the space for long? Six months, at most.”
Mrs. Mather smiled that sunny smile. “You might find yourself likin’ it a lot more than you think right now.”
The space for rent was the first floor of a small house built in the early eighteenth century; a time when the streets of Savannah had been paved with mud and horse manure, and the air shrill with the cries of slave auctioneers. The house stood flat in the middle of a tiny cemetery of ill-tended graves. The general air of decay and dirt would put any prospective renter off, Bree thought. As for clients—Phew! A wrought-iron fence surrounded both house and cemetery; par for the course in a city where every house in the Historic District was wrapped with the stuff. The design of this fence was different from the usual magnolia or ivy leaves, though. Each panel was made of spheres so artfully created, they seemed to spin in the sunlight.
The house was sided in chipped, dingy clapboard that badly needed paint. But the roof was intact (or seemed to be) and the window and door frames were solid. Maybe the interior wouldn’t be as moldy as she feared.
Bree kept a steady hand on Mrs. Mather’s arm as the two of them negotiated the crumbling brick steps to the front door. The old lady fumbled successfully with the key and Bree followed her in to face a sudden burst of glorious color in the foyer.
“I don’t believe it!” she said, startled into rudeness. She bit her lip. “I do beg your pardon, Mrs. Mather.”
Either Mrs. Mather was a little deaf, or she tactfully chose to ignore Bree’s outburst. They were in a tiny foyer with a well-polished pine floor. On the right, a steep staircase led up to the second story. Brightly painted medieval angels covered the risers. Deep purple ribbons twined through the vivid crimson robes. Stiff gold halos stood up behind their heads like half-risen suns. Silver-gilt hair flowed over their shoulders to their booted feet. The angels marched in a stately parade up the stairs to a short landing, and then disappeared around the turn. Bree had a sudden, fervent desire to see the rest of the frieze. The contrast between this and the weedy mess outside was astonishing. She was halfway up the stairs before Mrs. Mather called her to her senses.
“Come on into the living room, honey.”
Bree abandoned the beautiful stairway with reluctance and went through the foyer to a small, bare living room. A white painted brick fireplace sat against the far wall. The walls were paneled in beautifully polished oak.
“Mind your head,” Lavinia cautioned from the living room as Bree followed her inside.
The ceilings were low, like the ceilings in Bree’s own home in Raleigh. Although, Bree thought a little ruefully, the only rooms at Plessey that were as small as this one were the old servants’ quarters on the third floor. And nobody used them anymore.
The living room was perhaps fifteen by fifteen. A brick fireplace with an Adams-style mantel took up one wall. The outside wall had one window that faced a tangled mass of weeds. On the wall opposite the window, two little archways led to tiny rooms on either side of a closed door.
“Kitchen’s off to the left there,” Lavinia said briskly, “and there’s a nice little dining room right through the archway on the other side of this door. And this door leads to the bedroom.” She opened the door to a space that could have held a single bed and a bureau, but not much more. “You could use this as your office, maybe. And put the sec-a-tary and what all in the front room and use the dining room as a meetin’ place.”