Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery) (8 page)

BOOK: Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery)
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Chapter 7

Injuries may be forgiven, but not forgotten.


A
ESOP

O
livia and Rawlings settled on opposite ends of the living room couch. Paperwork was strewn across the surface of the coffee table along with a bottle of sparkling wine and a glass of chocolate milk.

After waiting patiently to be let out, Haviland pushed the door to the deck open using his nose and front paw, and then looked back over his shoulder at Olivia.

“Go ahead,” she told him, momentarily glancing from the papers in her hands. Haviland wormed his head through the crack he’d made, widened it with his shoulders, and disappeared outside. Still holding on to the paper, Olivia got up, shut the door, and poured herself some wine before returning to her seat.

“Do you want me to tell you when I’ve come across something interesting?” she asked Rawlings.

He removed his reading glasses, rubbed his eyes, and shook his head. “No. Just make a note of it and we’ll talk later.”

She watched him circle a phrase in Hicks’s case file. A frown had appeared on his face, and a trio of deep lines were etched across his forehead.

He’s spotted an inconsistency
, she thought, having seen the expression before. Rawlings had discovered a detail that probably seemed insignificant to the sheriff’s department. But for some reason, Oyster Bay’s police chief thought it demanded closer scrutiny. He tapped his pen against his lips and stared off into the middle distance, and Olivia sensed he was on a snow-covered mountain on a cold January night, peering about in the moonlight in search of answers.

She returned her attention to the documents Laurel had brought to the station. The majority were press releases and reviews of Violetta’s performances, and though Olivia skimmed them, they were all similar. The reporters who’d attended one of Violetta’s shows were amazed by her ability to transport the listener to another place and time. But Olivia had experienced that for herself. She wanted to know what Violetta was like offstage.

“No wonder Laurel was so eager to obtain an interview,” she muttered under her breath.

Rawlings looked up from his file. “Not finding what you’re looking for?”

“No. I want to know why Violetta left home so soon after Elijah’s death. Was the grief too much? Was she haunted by his memory? I also want to know if she insisted on performing at night in order to hide her blue skin. And most of all, I want to know about the treasure she alluded to. It’s got to be the reason she was killed.”

“You’re making assumptions. Try to pick a question you can actually answer,” Rawlings suggested. “Take the treasure, for example. Lowell claims that Professor Hicks was following Violetta’s haint tale—that he was searching for the hollowed-out tree trunk where silver coins were hidden. Hicks believed he was close to finding the spot. He was so convinced that he was willing to stay on Beech Mountain alone on a cold and snowy night after Lowell and the guide, a local man named Dewey Whitt, had called it quits.” He tapped his chin with the pen. “Let’s say that Hicks actually did find the right tree trunk and someone wasn’t happy about that. So that someone pushed Hicks off the cliff to protect the secret location.”

Olivia tried to envision the scene. “Or to keep the coins for himself.”

“Are silver coins that valuable? Are they worth the price of murder? Now that’s a question you might be able to answer,” Rawlings said and turned back to his reading.

Reenergized, Olivia grabbed her laptop from her desk. She noticed Haviland at the deck door and slid it open. A waft of ocean-scented air snuck inside, and Olivia heard the faint
whoosh
of a wave curling onshore. She didn’t dare linger there, or the rhythm of the water would pull her out of her work and coax her to come closer in the manner of the moon manipulating the tide. Inhaling a deep breath of salt and sea, Olivia closed the door.

She launched an Internet search on the values of silver coins but was given too many results, so she narrowed the field by looking for rare silver dollars. After writing down some notes on the mint years and current market values, she paused to take another sip of wine.

“Find anything?”

Olivia shrugged. “The coins are worth as little as fifty bucks to as much as fifteen thousand for an uncirculated silver dollar from 1801. It’s pretty unlikely that the Devereaux family had one of those unless a distant relative worked at the mint.”

“We’ll have to look into the closest branches on her family tree—get a picture of her parents and sisters—but I don’t have the time or the men to spare investigating beyond that. There were more than the Denver and Philadelphia mints at one point, weren’t there?”

Olivia turned back to the computer for an answer. “Washington, DC, Carson City, San Francisco, West Point. And we have no idea where Violetta’s grandparents or great-grandparents were from. I’m sure Harris could be persuaded to trace her lineage. If the coins are the motive, then the Devereauxes must have owned a handful of Liberty Busts or Morgan Silver Dollars minted in a particular year. Those coins are worth over two grand apiece.” She shook her head in disbelief. “If they truly owned something this valuable, why wouldn’t they spend it?”

Rawlings grew thoughtful. “I have no idea. Forty or fifty thousand dollars is a huge sum of money to people living in poverty. But a tenured professor? Would he venture up a mountain at night for that kind of money? Based on a tall tale?”

“I don’t know,” Olivia admitted. “I still don’t believe that Hicks waited for darkness because he wanted to relive Violetta’s story. For some reason, he needed secrecy. I’d bet my house that he offered Lowell and this Dewey Whitt fellow money or a share of the spoils if they agreed to accompany him.” Warming to her subject, Olivia touched Rawlings on the knee. “Think about it. Lowell had a criminal record. He was a professional thief, but he was no outdoorsman. He and Hicks needed a local. What do you have on Whitt?”

“As of this point, very little.” The chief put the file down and took off his reading glasses again. He curled his fingers around Olivia’s hand. “It’s getting late. I can’t focus anymore.”

“I’m going to make two calls before we turn in,” Olivia said. “I’ll have Harris search the genealogy sites and I thought I’d ask Grumpy to talk to his parents about Violetta’s family. You and your team can cover the facts and statistics while—”

“His people will provide the gossip.” He smiled. “It’s a good idea. There are always little seeds of truth in the stories people tell about each other. I need to know Violetta’s story. She’s a complete stranger to me at this point, but somewhere between the hard, raw data and the memories of those who knew her lies the truth.”

Olivia considered this statement as she walked to the kitchen. She’d burned the copy of her birth certificate that her mother had hidden in a safety deposit box, but that action couldn’t permanently erase the record of her parentage. Those facts, unrelenting and irrevocable, were available through the state’s vital records database. And though Olivia planned to conceal the truth in order to protect her relationship with Hudson and his wife and children, it existed all the same. It was out there, waiting to be found should anyone care to look for it.

With a sigh, Olivia dialed Dixie’s number, her hand tracing the wrinkled edge of a painting her niece had made for her in May. It showed a park bench positioned in the center of a garden filled with dozens of flowers. Caitlyn had painted herself flying a kite in the background, a smiling Haviland at her side, while Olivia read a book on the bench. The kite strings wound across the upper half of the painting, loop-de-looping through fluffy white clouds and golden sunrays. Butterflies hovered over the flower petals, and one had landed on the pages of Olivia’s open book. Caitlyn had written, “The Perfect Day” in her little girl block lettering along the top edge.

“You all right?” Dixie said when she answered the phone. “It’s late for you to be callin’.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but the chief needs some help with Violetta’s case.”

Normally, Dixie would jump at the chance to be in the middle of a police investigation, but this one was too close to home. After a pregnant pause, she said, “What can I do?”

“Actually, it’s Grumpy we need, but I have a feeling you’ll have a better chance of convincing him to get involved than I will.”

Dixie snorted. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that. He’s real unhappy about Lowell stayin’ here.”

Olivia could understand Grumpy’s reservations. Like her, he probably sensed that Lowell knew more than he’d admit to about Hicks’s death and Violetta’s treasure. His very presence could put the entire Weaver clan at risk. “I can book him a hotel—”

“He’s my cousin,” Dixie interrupted. “We take care of our own in my family. And I need this to be ironed out real fast, so tell me what you want Grumpy to do.”

Olivia did. She then called Harris, who was delighted to assist with the case.

“Immediate family only?” he asked when she explained what she needed. “Or are you going to give me a challenge?”

“We’re looking for skeletons in closets,” Olivia said. “If some dark secret was passed down through the generations, we need to know what it is. If there’s nothing sinister, then maybe you’ll find some clue about the silver coins. Violetta was either killed because someone wanted to silence her or—”

“Because she wouldn’t speak,” Harris finished for her. “Millay’s kind of turned me into a night owl, so I’ll get started tonight. I should have something for you by tomorrow afternoon, but some of the genealogical sites will take longer. Maybe two or three days for copies of certain documents.”

Olivia shook her head, even though she knew Harris couldn’t see her. “The killer’s probably still in Oyster Bay, so do whatever you can but do it quickly.” She softened her tone. “Are you doing okay otherwise?”

Harris sighed. “I’m losing her, Olivia. And please don’t try to pretend that I’m not. I knew from the beginning that Millay wasn’t into long-term anything. Her job and the Bayside Book Writers are the only commitments she’ll make.” He chuckled humorlessly. “And come on. Look at me. How could I expect to hold her interest? I haven’t traveled cross-country on a motorcycle. I haven’t jumped from a plane or been arrested. My life is boring. I’m totally predictable. The two things she can’t stand.”

Because she didn’t know what else to say, she asked as kindly as she could, “What will you do?”

“I can’t stop where this is headed,” Harris answered miserably. “I am who I am.”

“I’m sorry, Harris.” Olivia wished she could offer him better comfort, but she knew there was nothing she could do except listen. “I know it hurts.”

Harris barked out a dry laugh. “Yeah, just a bit. But thanks for not telling me to fight for her. That’s what everyone else says. They don’t realize that she’s already gone. She just hasn’t said the words yet.”

Olivia could feel Harris’s pain coursing through the speaker and was suddenly very much aware of her own contentment. Rawlings was in the next room. Haviland was there too, curled up on the rug near the fireplace. She had friends and family. People to call her own. The sea stretched out beyond her back door, full of whispers and promises. “You’re not going to leave the Bayside Book Writers, are you?” she asked Harris.

He hesitated. “My company’s opening an office in Houston, and my boss approached me about getting the new software department off the ground. The money’s really good, and the people they’re bringing on board to design the games are the best and brightest. They’re going to change gaming forever.”

“You sound excited about the offer,” Olivia said, though she didn’t want Harris to accept it. She wanted their group to remain intact. The Bayside Book Writers meant more to her than receiving critique or inspiration for her novel. Other than Dixie, its members were her closest friends. She could be herself around them. They accepted her, flaws and all. Loved her even. After so many years without friends, she hated to lose one of them.

But she also understood that Harris needed to get away if he ever hoped to recover from his impending heartbreak and that he needed someone he respected to encourage him to leave. “Maybe it’s time for you to have an adventure, Harris. Texas is full of possibilities. Rodeos. Rib-eating contests. You could come back wearing a ten-gallon hat and boots with spurs.”

Harris laughed, and for a few seconds the hurt loosened its hold on him and he sounded as carefree as the boy he’d once been. The Peter Pan look-alike. Back before he’d fallen for Millay. Before he’d been shot trying to protect her.

That’s why she’s having trouble saying the words
, Olivia thought. Harris was a hero. The whole town knew what he’d done for her, and the whole town would judge Millay harshly if she dumped him.

“She’s going to make me do it,” Harris whispered glumly, as if he knew what Olivia had been thinking.

Olivia had to agree. “You took a bullet for her. She’d be despised by everyone if she left you.”

“That’s why I’m going to take this job in Texas. She needs me gone. So I’ll go because that’s how much I love her.” Harris’s voice was hoarse and world-weary. “Being with her was worth this agony. Every second she was near me I felt completely alive. She was like a drug. Maybe after six months in my self-imposed Texas rehab, I can come back and be the cool ex-boyfriend.”

“Or the one who got away,” Olivia said.

Harris gave a rueful snort. “That’s the master plan. But don’t tell anyone. I’d rather not look like a total jackass if it doesn’t play out.”

After promising to keep his confidence, Olivia hung up. When she returned to the living room, it was empty. Rawlings and Haviland had gone to bed. Olivia turned the lights off and climbed the stairs to the master bedroom. Rawlings was already stretched out with a pillow tucked under one arm, and Haviland had his head in his paws on the floor by her side of the bed.

Olivia got under the covers and moved closer to Rawlings. He slid both hands under her nightgown, his palms sliding up her thighs, over the hill of her backside, and he traced the slope of her spine. His lips brushed against her neck and then searched for her mouth. She met his kiss hungrily. Her conversation with Harris had created a need in her—a need to feel that what she had with Rawlings was safe. She plunged her fingers into his hair, demanding that his kiss be deeper, that his body respond to her desire faster.

BOOK: Poisoned Prose (A Books by the Bay Mystery)
5.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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