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Authors: Mary Kennedy

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

Stay Tuned for Murder (9 page)

BOOK: Stay Tuned for Murder
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“I think it was a shrewd marketing move on Althea’s part. She needed to raise money and public awareness about the historical society, and she hoped Chantel would be able attract an audience.”
“Althea was single?”
“Yes, widowed. I heard her husband died years ago. I really don’t know much about her personal life. I’m pretty sure she was born in Cypress Grove, and I think she’s lived here her whole life. I know she’s had an apartment at the historical society for at least thirty years.”
“I think I’m next,” a sultry voice interrupted me.
Chantel.
The woman had the stealth of a Florida panther. She was standing in the doorway to the break room (
posing
in the doorway would be more like it), and her flashing eyes were riveted on Rafe.
Rafe immediately switched off the recorder and got to his feet. “Ms. Carrington,” he said politely.
“Are you ready for me?” she said expectantly. Without asking for an invitation, she plopped herself down at the table with us, her gold bracelets jangling on her wrist. “That handsome young man has finished with his part of the interview, and he told me to find you.” She steadied her elbow on the table, cupped her chin in her hand, and gave Rafe a long, languorous look.
Rafe stared at her for a moment, stony-faced, and then turned back to me. “Was there anything you wanted to add to your statement, Maggie?”
“No, I think we’re done here,” I said lightly.
As I got up to leave, Chantel added, “Oh, I nearly forgot. Detective Martino, I was supposed to tell you that one of your crime scene techs called and left a message for you and Officer Brown. Something about a cat? He wants to know if he should call Animal Control.”
“A cat?” Rafe looked blank.
“At the crime scene,” Chantel said. “It seems they just discovered a cat hiding under the bed in a little apartment upstairs at the historical society. An orange tabby cat.”
My brain finally kicked into gear. “An orange tabby. That’s Mr. Big!”
Rafe’s lips twitched. “Mr. Big?”
I wondered whether he was a fan of
Sex and the City
. It seemed improbable. I happened to know that Althea had come up with the name after her beloved female cat, Miss Tiny, passed away.
“Yes, that’s Althea’s cat. The poor thing must be terrified.” I thought swiftly. “Can I take him home with me?” I glanced at my watch. “I can go down there right now and pick him up. He knows me, and Althea even has a cat carrier in the hall closet I can carry him in. I used to take him to the vet for her.”
“I’d take him, but I’m allergic to cats,” Chantel said. She treated Rafe to a dazzling smile, hoping for a response. Chantel is never happy unless she’s the center of attention, and I knew she was trying to worm her way back into the conversation.
“But you’re certainly not allergic to dogs,” I said snarkily, thinking of how she’d bonded with Barney the Ghost Dog, who had appeared in the studio yesterday.
“Well, not really,” she sniffed. “How sweet of you to remember.”
Rafe reached for his cell and flipped it open. “Maggie, if you can take care of the cat, that would be great. I’ll call down there to the detectives, and they’ll let you in the front hall. They can put him in the carrier for you. I don’t want you contaminating the crime scene.” He smiled at me. “Thanks for offering. That’s one less thing I have to think about.”
 
The good thing about living in a small town is that everything is close together. I zipped out to the WYME parking lot, and ten minutes later, I pulled up in front of the historical society. There were two uniformed cops standing at the entrance, and I gave a little shudder when I saw the ME’s van parked in the lot behind the building.
Poor Althea is still in there,
I thought with a pang. I tried to will the thought away, without much success.
“Dr. Maggie?” one of the uniforms asked. I nodded and he burst into a wide smile. “My wife is a big fan of your show. Do you think I could trouble you for an autograph?”
An autograph?
Another perk that comes with living in a small town is that people roll out the red carpet for local media personalities. Because of my little gig at the radio station, I’m often treated like a major celeb. As a psychologist in Manhattan, I was invisible.
I quickly scribbled my name on the back of a WYME business card and handed it to him.
“Mr. Big?” I prompted him.
“He’s right here, all set to go.” I stepped into the front hall and saw the cat carrier with Mr. Big inside. He was me-owing indignantly and scratching on the mesh door, trying to escape. I spoke soothingly to him and took a quick glance around the hallway. It looked just the same as it had last night; it was hard to believe that a tragedy had taken place. I thought about Althea. I knew she’d been murdered upstairs in her apartment. I gave a little shudder when I remembered how she’d died.
I picked up the carrier and turned to leave when something struck me. Something felt a little bit off, a tad different. What was it?
I glanced into the front parlor. The same oppressive drapes, heavy furniture, and tired Oriental rugs. Crime scene techs were wandering around dusting for fingerprints and probably looking for trace evidence like hair and fiber samples.
And then it hit me. It wasn’t the parlor that was different; there was something about the front hall that wasn’t quite right. But what was it?
My eyes roved over the grouping of paintings hanging on the burgundy-colored walls. They were an uninspiring collection of faded portraits and muddy landscapes, nothing memorable. Just like the ones I’d looked at last night. And the same pile of paintings was still on the floor, the ones Althea hadn’t decided what to do with.
I took another look at the wall. Suddenly I knew what was wrong and gave myself a mental head slap. The Joshua Riggs was hanging in a different place. It had been switched with a delicate watercolor of a pond scene. Interesting. It used to be to the right of the watercolor and now it was to the left. I wondered why Althea had moved it. She’d told me she’d planned on getting it reframed. She obviously hadn’t gotten around to it.
I held my breath while my brain arranged the data. I felt certain the painting was another piece of the puzzle but I had no idea how to fit it in. I heard the techs coming down the stairs just then, so I grabbed the cat carrier and decided it was time to make my getaway.
I dropped Mr. Big off at the town house and locked him in my bedroom with a plate of tuna fish, a water bowl, and a cardboard box with shredded newspaper. That would have to do until I had a chance to buy some kitty litter for him. Pugsley came running over to greet me when I came in the front door, but when he spied Mr. Big in his carrier, he stopped dead in his tracks, his tiny feet skidding on the wood floor. He flared his nostrils, probably getting the full scent of Mr. Big.
His joyful expression immediately changed to a look of stark betrayal, his dark eyes filled with reproach. Pugs are masters at this. Something about the dark eyes and the intelligent expression makes you cringe with guilt.
You brought a cat in here?
he asked silently. I rubbed his head, promised him a Frosty Paws treat after dinner, and dashed back to the station.
I wondered what Vera Mae had decided on for the afternoon show. The truth was, I’d be happy with anything except Chantel and her spirit guide. I was relieved to see my producer standing in the lobby, talking with Mildred Smoot, the librarian whom I’d chatted with at the séance last night.
Vera Mae looked at her watch and raised her eyebrows. “Cutting it close, as always, Maggie.”
I grinned at her. “I knew you’d pull a rabbit out of a hat for me. You always do.”
“Well, here’s your rabbit,” Vera Mae said. “Mildred was a good friend of Althea’s, and she knows a lot about the historical society. She’s agreed to be your guest today.”
“That’s wonderful, Mildred,” I said warmly. “I know you’ll have a lot to share with the listeners.”
“I’ve never been on the radio before,” Mildred said in a quavery voice. “I hope I don’t freeze up. I’m only doing this because I feel I owe it to dear Althea. What if I suddenly go blank?” She looked pale, and I knew her anxiety was cresting.
Uh-oh.
I’ve learned the hard way that when a guest tells you they’re going to be nervous on the air, it often turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Oh, I’m sure that won’t happen.” I gave her my standard spiel, the one I give to reluctant guests. “Just pretend you’re talking to a friend,” I said, walking her back to the break room. I was happy to see the break room was empty, because it would give me time to calm Mildred down. I knew Rafe had left the station because I hadn’t seen his car in the parking lot and there was no sign of his faithful sidekick, Officer Brown.
“So that’s the secret to doing a radio show?” she asked tentatively. “Pretend that I’m talking to an imaginary friend?”
“Well, it works for me,” I confessed. “Just act like you’re chatting with someone you enjoy talking to, and everything else will fall into place.” I didn’t tell her that I’ve never had stage fright in my life, so my situation was a little different from hers.
I always felt a little buzz of excitement as Vera Mae counted down the seconds before we went live, but I’ve never felt the tiniest bit nervous. Just happy and excited, eager to start the show.
She heaved a little sigh, and her green eyes moistened over. “I hope you’re right, dear. I know I have to do this for Althea.” She tightened her lips, drawing them inward for a second before releasing them. “I told Candace Somerset I was doing the show today, and she was pleased.”
“Candace Somerset?”
“Althea’s sister. She’s coming to town to settle Althea’s estate.” She paused and wiped a tear from her eye. “Anyway, I have to pull myself together. It’s the right thing to do.”
“That’s the spirit.” I felt a wash of relief. I could see that Mildred had some steel reinforcement under her mint green pantsuit and ruffly schoolmarm blouse. I made her a cup of tea and offered her a jelly doughnut. I figured the sugar and carbs might help to calm her nerves a little, and it would keep her occupied for a few minutes.
She seemed to relax as she sipped her tea, although her hands still trembled a little as she brought the cup to her lips. I decided it was better not to draw her attention to it.
“I feel a little better,” she said gratefully.
“That’s good. Just sit here and relax for a few minutes, Mildred. Try to think of your favorite memories about Althea and the historical society. That’s the kind of thing the listeners love to hear. Vera Mae will come and get you when it’s time to do the show.”
“All right,” she said. “I’ll do my best.” Her voice was tremulous, but she managed a faint smile. I wondered whether she was going to be a total disaster on the air but decided it was too late to do anything about it.
I glanced at the clock. We were already counting down to showtime.
Chapter 9
Chantel left the station in a huff, right before airtime. Vera Mae told me Chantel had made a last-ditch effort to ingratiate herself with Cyrus, pleading to be on today’s show, but he wasn’t having any of it. Apparently he’d told Chantel in no uncertain terms that we’d scheduled a memorial show for Althea today and that we already had a full roster of guests.
This was music to my ears. The last thing I needed was a pushy medium hijacking my show on a day like this.
Mildred was already settled in the studio when I breezed in to do my afternoon show. Vera Mae was in the control room, watching from the window, holding up two fingers. I knew the drill
. Two minutes till airtime.
I sat down next to Mildred and was pleased to see that all the lines were already lit up; it looked like plenty of listeners wanted to share their memories of Althea and the historical society. Vera Mae lowered one finger, curling it toward her palm. Okay, we had one minute to go. I slapped on my headphones and smiled at Mildred.
“Live in ten!” Vera Mae opened her mike. “Stand by!” Her scratchy voice ricocheted around the studio, and Mildred gave a little squeal, jumping in alarm.
“Five, four, three, two,” Vera Mae yelled and then mouthed “Go!” as she pointed her finger straight at me.
We were live. Showtime. I slid into my standard opening (“You’re on the couch with Maggie Walsh”) and then read a quick intro that Vera Mae had written. It was a nice tribute that described Althea’s life, how many people she’d befriended, and how she’d played an important role in the town’s history.
And of course, it mentioned her lifelong devotion to the historical society. I fervently hoped that we could concentrate on Althea’s life and not get bogged down in the grisly details of her death. I knew a lot of people had loved Althea, but sometimes the public has a morbid curiosity when it comes to violent crime. I wanted to make sure today’s show was a tribute, not an exercise in voyeurism.
“We have Karen on line one, Maggie,” Vera piped up. “She wants to know if Althea had planned to take part in the time capsule celebration.” Vera Mae extended her hands, palms up, and gave a little shrug as if she wasn’t sure of the answer.
“Oh, yes, she was looking forward to it very much.” Mildred said, leaning in toward her mike. Then she looked flustered and said to me, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped in like that. Was it my turn to speak?”
“Go right ahead, Mildred.” I was glad to see she’d recovered from her bout of nerves and actually seemed to be enjoying herself sitting in front of the console, her headphones clasped over her tight gray curls.
“Karen, to answer your question, Althea talked about the time capsule ceremony all the time.” Mildred’s voice grew stronger, more confident. The best way to get over stage fright is to concentrate on the task at hand, and that was exactly what Mildred was doing. “In fact, we used to try to figure out what was inside it.” She gave a girlish little laugh. “I have to confess, we came up with some pretty outlandish suggestions. Maggie, do your listeners know the history behind the time capsule?”
BOOK: Stay Tuned for Murder
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