Authors: Sheila Connolly
Praise for the Museum Mysteries
“Sheila Connolly has written another winner in her Museum Mystery seriesÂ .Â .Â . The facts and history that Ms. Connolly provides certainly adds to the charm of the storyÂ .Â .Â . [A] real page-turner
“A witty, engaging blend of history and mystery with a smart sleuth who already feels like a good friendÂ .Â .Â . [Connolly's] stories always keep me turning pagesâoften well past my bedtime.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the White House Chef Mysteries
“The archival milieu and the foibles of the characters are intriguing, and it's refreshing to encounter an FBI man who is human, competent, and essential to the plot.”
“Nell is a mature and intelligent sleuth, who works with historic treasures and takes her responsibilities seriously. Great pacing and placement of clues build tension as Nell uncovers the truth in this enjoyable and sophisticated mystery.”
RT Book Reviews
“The practical and confident Nell Pratt is exactly the kind of sleuth you want in your corner when the going gets tough. Sheila Connelly serves up a snappy and sophisticated mystery that leaves you lusting for the next witty installment.”
âMary Jane Maffini, author of the Charlotte Adams Mysteries
“[The] mystery intriguesÂ .Â .Â . The best is the relationship between Nell and James, two people who thoroughly enjoy each other's company day and night.”
Kings River Life Magazine
“The mystery is great, and will have readers guessing all the way until the end.”
RT Book Reviews
“[An] engaging amateur sleuth filled with fascinating characters, interesting museum information, plenty of action including a nice twist, and a bit of romance.”
Genre Go Round Reviews
“Skillfully executedÂ .Â .Â . It's a pleasure to accompany Nell on her quest.”
“A terrific new cozy museum mystery series with a dynamic accidental sleuthÂ .Â .Â . Nell's strong, smart, and sassyâthe kind of person you wish lived next door.”
The Philadelphia Story
Â .Â .Â . Secrets, lies, and a delightful revenge conspiracy make this a real page-turner!”
âHank Phillippi Ryan,Â Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awardâwinning author of
The Other Woman
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Sheila Connolly
ONE BAD APPLE
N TO THE CORE
RAISING THE DEAD
T'S PLAY DEAD
T TO THE DEAD
G THE DEAD
County Cork Mysteries
IN A BOG
AN OPEN BOOK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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RAZING THE DEAD
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2014 by Sheila Connolly.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14317-3
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / June 2014
Cover illustration by Ross Jones.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Most writers use people and places they know when they write a bookâit's so much easier than starting from scratch. This was particularly true for me with this book.
Anyone who has spent time in the Philadelphia area in the past few decades or who is familiar with the skyline will most likely recognize the man who inspired the character of Mitchell Wakeman in this book. Likewise, anyone who knows the township of East Goshen in Chester County should be able to name the individual who inspired Ezra Garrett. As it happens, I knew and respected both of them (they're both gone now) and I hope they'd be pleased with the characters I created for them.
My family lived in Chester County for decades, close to the Paoli Pike, so it was easy to write many familiar places into the book. But despite that long association, until recently I had never explored the site of the Battle of Paoli, also called the Paoli Massacre, even though I drove past the historic marker for it hundreds of times. Nor had I ever studied the story behind that event, but to put it in simplest terms, that small battle had a significant impact on the early course of the American Revolution. Today there is little more to see than a level grassy field, but the war memorial there is one of the oldest in this country.
Like many battles, it was chaoticâmade more so because it was a sneak attack fought by nightâbut that gave me the opportunity to ask, “what ifÂ .Â .Â .Â ?” As a result, I created a plot element that I believe is consistent with what we know. My apologies if I have offended any purists who dislike authors who tinker with historyâI have been one of you.
Many details of the story reflect real places. The Chester County Historical Society is a delightful institution with excellent collections, but I have given the place a director who is neither based upon nor resembles any actual employee there. Ezra Garrett's farm did indeed belong to a single family for at least two centuries, until it was sold to QVC in the 1980s. The portion that lies along the Paoli Pike looks much as it always has.
In crafting this story, what I wanted to convey was how much our history is still with us. The past is not dead but lives on in unexpected ways.
Thanks as always to my tireless agent, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, and my eagle-eyed editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez of Berkley Prime Crime, for sustaining this series and giving me an excuse to visit Philadelphia regularly. Thanks, too, to the wonderfully supportive mystery community, including organizations such as Sisters in Crime and the Guppies as well as the great crowd of writers I count as friends. And of course, thank you to all the readers who follow Nell Pratt as she grapples with managing a Philadelphia museum, trying to sort out her love life, and solving those murders that keep springing up around her.
Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
I was standing at the sink making a stab at clearing up
the breakfast dishes when Special Agent James Morrison of the Philadelphia FBI came up behind me, wrapped his arms around my waist, and kissed my neck. So much for dish washing.
“When do you have to leave, Nell?” he asked.
“Ten minutes ago, and I still have to get dressed.”
“Anything important on your calendar this morning?”
I turned to face him, which put us in contact from the neck down. “I don't want to be late.” I was lucky that I held a job that let me call my own hoursâI was president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, so in theory I could come and go as I chose. But I preferred to set a good example for the rest of my staff, which meant that under normal circumstances I arrived early and left late. But circumstances over the past month had been anything but normal.
Actually, I would be happy to be lateâagainâbecause time with James feltÂ .Â .Â . precious. It was barely a month since he had nearly bled to death under my hands, and the scar that curved along the inside of his arm was still raised and red. The Philadelphia FBI office had been generous in allowing him a month's leave to recoverâin tacit recognition that it was their fault he'd gotten injured in the first placeâbut we were nearing the end of that grace period, and I had noticed James becoming increasingly restless as his health improved.
But for now? It looked like I
going to be late again.
I was surprised a while later when he rolled to face me,
and said, “I think we should look for a bigger place.”
? Admittedly, I had been spending most of my time at his apartment near the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, returning to my own small house in the suburbs only now and then to swap out clothes. Until now we'd been careful not to talk about anything long-term. We'd been living in the present, waiting until he recovered. I'd originally moved in to take care of himâI've always acknowledged to myself and anyone else who would listen that I'm a lousy caregiver, but I'd felt I owed it to him. Besides, there was no one else to do it. While he might have deep Philadelphia roots, on a day-to-day basis he was as much of a loner as I was.
But a serious discussion had been looming on the horizon, like a coming storm. After all, we weren't young, and we should be old enough to know our own minds. On the other hand, I'd been married once for about fifteen minutes and it hadn't worked out, and I'd lived alone since, and James had never been married, a fact that continued to mystify me. I mean, he was smart, good-looking, held a responsible job, and could be tender and funny and sexy when he took off the strong-silent-FBI-agent mask.
There was no question that the last month, here with James, had beenÂ .Â .Â . like nothing in my life. James hadn't been a demanding patient. If anything, he'd been too stoic at first, never admitting when he was in pain, never asking for anything, not even a Tylenol. Thank goodness that phase hadn't lasted more than a week or two. After that a new and unexpected James started to emerge, one with a sense of humor and an element of playfulness that his serious FBI persona hadn't previously let him show.
? As in
, with our names on a lease? Or even a mortgage? I fought a moment of panic and realized he was looking at me oddly because I hadn't answered him. I scrounged up a smile, and said, “Are you asking me to move in with you? Like, officially?”
“For an intelligent woman, you can be kind of dense. Yes, Nell, I think we should look for a place for both of us, together.”
“Oh. Well, then, yes, you're right.”
Damn it, Nell, you were going to try to get over your fear of commitment, weren't you?
I took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “Yes, James, I would be delighted to live with you. But right now I need to leave for work, and I can't blame my late entrances on your medical crises forever. Because you're about ninety-seven percent back, right?”
“I am, and I don't want you to use that as an excuse to move out again. My lease is up the end of August, and I'm sure someone would grab this place in a minute. So we've got a little time to work out the details.”
“Good.” I leaned over and planted a kiss on him, then backed away so he couldn't pursue it. “Then I'm going to work. Shoot, look at the time!”
“I can drop you off,” James volunteered.
“Then you'd better put some clothes on.”
Ten minutes later we were out the door. Normally I could have walked to the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society from James's apartment, especially in the nice summer weather. I'd found I enjoyed the walkâunless it was raining, in which case I could driveâand all the walking was doing wonders for my waistline. Well, that and all the worrying I'd done over the past month. If you're not a stress eater, worrying is a rather good way to lose weight.
“You have plans for today, apart from your meeting with your boss?” I asked, as he pulled up in front of the bluestone portico of the venerable Society building. It was only an hour later than my normal arrival time. Well, maybe an hour and a half.
“Get a haircut. See if any of my suits still fit. Talk to Cooper and see when I can start back at work. I feel ready, and my doctor's okayed it. You want me to call a Realtor?”
“Oh. Uh, yes, I guess.”
Nothing like showing unbridled enthusiasm, Nell
. “See you later.” After a serious kiss, I climbed out of the car and went up the steps. I nodded at Front Desk Bob, a retired policeman who staffed our reception area, and headed toward the back hall. While I waited for the balky elevator to make its stately descent, I greeted the massive marble statue of Edwin Forrest in his role as Coriolanus that guarded the back hall. “Don't worry, EdwinâI'm going to see to it that you get moved to a better place, where more people will see you.” Luckily, there was no one around to hear me talking to a sculpture, but I had a lot of strong feelings about Edwin.
Upstairs on the third floor, I stopped by my assistant Eric's desk. “Good morning, Eric. Anything I need to know about?”
“Mornin', Nell. Actually, there is. Mitchell Wakeman called and asked for an appointment with you, so I penciled him in for eleven. Is that okay?”
That left me all of half an hour to get my head around this meeting. I didn't know Wakeman personally, but I knew that he was a major player in Philadelphia development and constructionâhe'd had a finger in every major building project that had happened in the city for the last couple of decades. I'd have to Google him to remind myself of the details. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“No, he just said there was something he wanted to discuss with you. The man himself, not his assistant. I can cancel if you want.”
Based on his comment, Eric must have recognized the name, and Eric was a lot newer to Philadelphia than I was. Maybe Wakeman wanted to give the Society a whole lot of moneyâor upgrade our creaky century-plus-old building. Hey, I could dream. But his visit could be an opportunity, and if it was, I was going to grab it. “No, that's fine. I'll be happy to talk to him. Do you know if Latoya's in?” Latoya was the Society's vice president for collections, who managed all the stuff that was inside the building, and there was a lot of it.
“I believe so.”
“Then ask her if she can come see me ASAP.”
I barely had time to sit down behind my desk when Shelby stuck her head in the door. “Everything okay?” she asked. “'Cause you've been keeping kind of irregular hours. For you, that is.”
I gestured her in, and she pulled the door shut behind her. Shelby had been one of my first hires at the Society. In fact, she had replaced me as development director when I was unexpectedly bumped into the corner office. But more than that, we were friends. “Everything is peachy-swell. Hunky-dory. Pick your own term.”
“Things are going well with Mr. Agent Man?”
“Swimmingly.” I hesitated, then said in a lower voice, “He wants us to find a place together.”
“About time!” Shelby said, grinning. “So, he's back in fighting form?”
“He is, and he's talking with his boss today about going back to work. I have to say we're tripping all over each other at his place, and mine's not any better, plus it's kind of out of the way for him. We need more space. And more closets.”
“Well, congratulations. I'm happy for you. He's one great guy.” She cocked her head. “But you don't look exactly thrilled.”
“Is it that obvious? Look, I know he's a terrific guy and we get along pretty well, butÂ .Â .Â . what happens if it doesn't work out?”
“Then you find another place to stay. You gonna sell your house?”
“Thus far our discussion about this move has been about three sentences long, so I don't know.” I lived in what had once been a carriage house behind one of the gracious Main Line mansions in suburban Bryn Mawr. The exterior of the house was still gracious, but inside, it had been chopped up into offices by a succession of professionals. At the moment it was owned by a group of psychologists. I wondered how easy my place would be to sellâit was kind of small and had no land attached, and it was in somebody else's backyard. Something I'd have to think about. If James and I took the next step.
Shelby stood up. “Well, I'd better get to work. But let me say this: If you let him go, you're an idiot. Get over your fear of whatever and move forward.”
“Thank you, Doctor. That's what I plan to do.” Maybe.
We were interrupted by Latoya. “You wanted to see me, Nell? Oh, hi, Shelby.”
“Hi, Latoya,” Shelby said. “I was on my way out. You want to have lunch, Nell?”
“Let me get back to you on that, Shelby. I've got an appointment at eleven, and I'm not sure how long that will run.”
When Shelby left, I turned my attention to Latoya. We'd had a rocky relationship ever since she joined the Society a few years earlier, back when I was still director of development. As vice president for collections, she usually had conveyed the sense that fundraising was somewhat inferior to collections management. She'd had some difficulty adjusting to my unexpected promotion to presidentâwhich had made me her boss. I hadn't wanted to force the issue, but now that I was settled in the position, it was time for me to take a firmer hand. It was hard to do, but I knew it was best both for me and the Society. I just hoped Latoya would adjust to our new working relationship.
“Is this about the registrar position?” she asked bluntly.
“It is. What progress have you made?”
“Actually, we've had a lot of applications since we posted the position. Which I will say surprised me, but given the economy, I guess I ought to have expected it. Unfortunately, many of the applicants simply aren't qualified for a senior position here.”
“Have you considered moving Alice into the position?” Alice was an intern, very young but very talented.
“She hasn't said anything to me, and I'm not sure she wants it. To be honest, I really don't think she's ready. She has the ability, but not the depth of experience. I hope she'll stay on, though. Do you disagree?”
“Actually, no. I think you're right. Her job description may change a bit, depending on the skills the new registrar brings to the table. Well, keep looking and keep me informed. The collections here are still superb, and we're in sore need of someone who can work with the new software and finish sorting them out. We really need to dig out from under all the stuff we've got piled up.” Not only was the documentation of the Society's collections mired in the past, but we'd been handed a mountain of uncataloged material by the FBI recently, and we were bursting at the seams.
“I'll do that.” Latoya stood up, then hesitated. “Nell, we really do need to do something to improve our image in the public eye. Almost all of our publicity lately has been about theft and murder, and I can't imagine that our members are happy about that. Not to mention our donors and the board.”
As if that was my fault? “I recognize that, Latoya. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them. Maybe we should have an all-hands staff meeting devoted to this, to find out what people have been saying about us and figure out how to fix it.” Now that I didn't have to worry about James from day to day, I could devote more energy to my own responsibilities.
“Good idea. Let me put my ideas on paper, and we can talk.”
“Sooner rather than later, please.”
“Right.” Latoya left, but as soon as she had cleared the door, Eric stuck his head in.
“Mr. Wakeman is downstairs. Want me to bring him up?”
“Please.” The man was early, and I hadn't had time to check out what we had in our records about him or think through what he might want. When Eric left to retrieve Wakeman, I figured I had about three minutes, so I did a quick online search about my guest. My fuzzy memory was more or less correct: he was a big-time developer in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. Which didn't give me a clue about why he wanted to see me.
Two and a half minutes later, Eric ushered in a tall, greying man in his fifties, whose expensive clothes seemed to have a mind of their own and were flying in several different directionsânecktie loose, shirt coming untucked. But I was pretty sure he wasn't here for a fashion consult.
I stood up and extended my hand. “I'm Nell Pratt. What can I do for you, Mr. Wakeman?”
He shook it firmly. “I'm working on a new project, and I want you to help.”
Music to my ears.