Read The Dead Don't Get Out Much Online

Authors: Mary Jane Maffini

The Dead Don't Get Out Much (24 page)

BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
2.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

We had. This was something unexpected. I found my eyebrows up. Ray's jaw tensed.

Prendergast said, “What I learned made sense of some of those wartime rumours.”

I bit my tongue. Guy Prendergast sure liked to drag out a story.

He said, “I knew Violet would have nothing but contempt for any dishonest dealings. Vi was all about King and Country. Duty. Straight as an arrow. I always kept tabs on her. I wrote her a letter letting her know I wanted to visit her. No response. I called her, and she said the past was the past. She didn't want to see me.” He stopped and chuckled. “Lots of spirit, that gal. Finally, I figured it was my last kick at the can. Not too many Canadian visits left in the old fella, far too comfortable here at Villa Rosa. To make a long story short, I made a trip to Ottawa, and I just dropped in on Violet, caught her unawares. I hauled out everything I knew about Harry and spilled the beans. I even had some photos of him and his boys in later years, with an Italian dealer known to be a slippery customer. I showed her that to prove Harry's no matinee idol now. Vi and I had been friends back in Canada, and I was hoping once she'd let me through the door, maybe one thing would lead to another, you know. Thought that might be more likely to happen if she didn't still half-worship that damned scoundrel. I figured I didn't have anything to lose, except the plane fare, and that's only money you can't take with you. I must have been nuts.”

Ray was sitting forward on his rickety chair, drinking in every word. He'd be registering it all in his police officer's brain. Sixty years of unrequited love. There seemed to be quite a bit of that going around.

I said. “What happened when you told her?”

“She threw the photo into the garbage and tossed me out like last week's trash. Not physically. She said I had nothing to go on. Talked about slander, libel. Threatened me with her cane. Still quite the woman. You never want a gal like that to get mad at you.” He chuckled sadly.

I didn't dare glance at Ray.

“When was this visit to Canada?”

“Just got back, not even a week ago. I'm not unpacked yet, suitcase is still on the table. Evelina never would have put up with that.”

“Then Mrs. Parnell turned up here last night.”

“Yes.”

“And what happened?”

He chuckled again. “Vi's not the type to turn down a glass of sherry. Not like you young pups, no staying power.”

“Why did she come here to see you, if she was so angry?”

“She'd given it some thought. Said she did a bit of research and decided I might be right after all. Wasn't too happy about it. Needed to know more about what he'd gotten up to. Wanted details, names.”

“Is she still in Pieve San Simone?” I glanced at the house. What if she were hiding in it? There'd been no sign of a car.

“She went on to Alcielo. Next stop. If I were that miserable bastard Harry Jones, I'd be shaking in my boots.” Guy Prendergast threw back his head and guffawed.

“He's near death in an English nursing home.”

“That a fact?”

Ray said, “Any idea where in Alcielo?”

“Annalisa's, I imagine. Wouldn't be surprised if she had a word with Sergio either.”

Before I jotted down Sergio and Annalisa at the end of my long list of Italian names, I asked. “Do you have last names?”

“Sorry. Alcielo's a small Italian town. Everyone knows them. Sergio's in restoration. Well, Annalisa's got a finger in a lot of stuff. Well, she did. She's getting on now, as we all are.”

I leaned over to Ray, “People might be on Mrs. Parnell's trail. Alcielo's not that far from here. I'll go ahead and find her. You stay here and get Mr. Prendergast to fill you in on Harry Jones' sins.”

“That won't be happening, Camilla,” Ray said. “We'll stick together. We'll be back to see Mr. Prendergast as soon as we make sure Mrs. Parnell's safe.”

“I'm not going anywhere,” Guy Prendergast said, struggling to his feet. “Hold on, what people might be on her trail?”

“We don't know. Whoever they are, they're connected somehow.”

He slumped back. The chair rattled and came close to tipping. “Thash terrible. Maybe I should come along too. I know Alcielo, and I speak the lingo.”

“No,” Ray and I blurted together.

I added, “Thank you. We'll be back if we need more information. Please be careful, and don't let anyone in.”

Ray glanced meaningfully at the empty wine glass. “In fact, don't drive anywhere.”

* * *

Alcielo, when we finally squealed into it, turned out to be a medieval fortified hill town, plunked in the middle of the sprawling tobacco fields. It had an almost magical quality. Alcielo meant something like “to the sky” or “to heaven”. That fit the place. Too bad I wasn't there to be charmed. I pulled the Ka into the piazza, stepped out and stretched as Ray parked the Citroën next to me.

“You ask around for Sergio and Annalisa,” Ray said. “There's an internet café right across the piazza. I'll see if Alvin sent that guy's photo. Don't go off by yourself.”

“Of course I won't.”

“I mean it. Do not. And don't bother to get huffy either. You ask in the shops. As soon as I check this, we'll head to the police station and see if we can get some help with finding Mrs. Parnell without alarming her. Maybe we'll have some luck on the Harry Jones front too. I want to take that photo image with me. The police will know who Sergio and Annalisa are too.

I said. “You know what? I'm not sure I trust and believe this Guy Prendergast. Maybe Mrs. Parnell's not here after all. What do you think?”

“I'm a cop. We don't really trust anyone.”

“That's a bad attitude. Do you trust me?”

“To do the most cautious and sensible thing, no. To go right out on a limb regardless of consequences, absolutely.”

“Sorry I asked. Okay, I'll make a phone call while you check the e-mail. Considering the circumstances, I don't think it's too early to call Canada. Alvin and I have been trying to reach Hazel. She seems to be out all the time, so early morning might do the trick. She might remember something more about this Guy Prendergast. I'll run the Harry Jones stuff by her too for a reaction. I'll try Betty too.”

“Sounds harmless.”

Betty's answering machine picked up. Since I was unreachable, there was no point in leaving a message. The phone rang on and on in Hazel's house, no answering machine this time. Just as I was getting ready to hang up, a breathless voice answered.

“Hazel?” I said. “Glad I caught you at home. We've been trying to reach you. Look, there's something I need to ask you about. It has to do with Harry Jones.”

“Who is speaking, please?” The female voice sounded middle-aged yet oddly shaky, although I figured that might have been the phone line.

“Camilla MacPhe,” I said. “Who is this?”

“Val Desrochers. I'm Hazel's step-daughter.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “May I speak with Hazel?”

“I'm sorry, she's…”

“Look, it's urgent really. Tell her it has to do with her old friend Violet Parnell. I'm sure she'll take the call.”

“I'm sure she would if she could,” she said.

“Let's let her make that choice,” I snapped.

“She can't. She's in hospital.
ICU
. She's been there for a couple of days.”


ICU
? What happened?”

“We don't know. One of the neighbours heard the phone ringing and ringing and eventually decided to check on her. He found the door open slightly. He came in and found her unconscious. They called the ambulance, then contacted us.”

“I'm sorry. That's awful. She seemed so lively. Did she have a heart attack?”

“A head injury. She must have tripped and hit her head on the corner of the fireplace hearth.”

I remembered that raised hearthstone in Hazel's living room. I shook my head at the image of pretty little Hazel crumpled against it with blood spreading on the cream marble.

I said, “That's terrible. It's a good thing the neighbour looked in.” I figured the phone calls must have been from Alvin. Maybe a couple from me.

Val's voice choked up. I waited until she could speak again. “Yes, it was. We don't know how long she was here alone, but she was very dehydrated,” she said. “We only got together once a week for lunch, and the rest of the time we stayed in touch by phone. I feel so guilty. She always insisted she didn't need a babysitter. She was so independent. She was getting ready to head for Florida.”

“She mentioned she liked her independence. I can't imagine anyone trying to interfere with her freedom,” I said.

“I wish I had. She might have died here alone. Perhaps we should have insisted she move to a residence with more supervision.”

“I'd like to keep in touch and see how she's doing. You may hear from me again or from my assistant, Alvin Ferguson. Is there a number where we can reach you?”

“MacPhee, you said? C. MacPhee?”

“Yes.”

“Your name was on the phone display. Quite a few calls. We wondered who you were.”

That must have been Alvin calling from my place. I'd been meaning to switch my new phone number to unlisted, but now I was glad I hadn't gotten around to it.

“When I visited Hazel, we talked about the war and some people we needed to contact.”

Val seemed to have regained control of her voice. She said almost cheerfully, “Oh, the war years. She would have loved that. Sure, you can call me.” She gave me her number, and I copied it down.

“Please let me know how she's doing,” I said.

She said, “Will do. I have your number on the phone. We'll let you know how it goes.”

“You'll have to leave a message. I'm out of town. And I hope everything goes well. Hazel seemed to me to be a very strong person.”

“She is. If anyone can recover from this, she'd be the one.”

After the phone call, I took a deep breath. I stood on the sunny piazza, thinking dark thoughts. The open door sounded a lot like our discovery of Mrs. Parnell's apartment. What if Hazel's so-called accident was a deliberate attack? My heart started thundering. Was Betty in danger too? Was it open season on elderly ladies who knew Harry Jones? I tried again. I left a message. “Betty, be careful of anything connected to Harry Jones or Guy Prendergast. Make sure you don't let anyone into your apartment. Please call my assistant as soon as you can. He'll fill you in. I'm in Alcielo in Tuscany, and I'll try to reach you later. Please be careful.”

Of course, next I had to fill Alvin in. At least he answered the phone. “Listen carefully,” I said.

“Me first. I have something to tell you.”

“It can wait. Hazel's in critical condition in the hospital.”

“Lord thundering Jesus. Critical condition!”

“Exactly. She was found unconscious. She'd hit her head on the fireplace hearth. The neighbour found her, because the front door was open, and the phone was ringing incessantly.”

“That must have been me. I told you I kept calling.”

“And it's a good thing you did. Otherwise the neighbour might not have gone in until too late.”

“The open door, that's what happened with Violet.”

“Exactly. And that's just creepy.”

“That reminds me, Camilla…”

“Hang on, Alvin. Another thing. Betty doesn't answer her phone either.”

“You think something happened to her too?”

“I have called quite a few times.”

Alvin said. “You think the same person who ransacked Violet's place hurt Hazel?”

“I don't know. It seems like a strange coincidence. It might mean there is more than one person involved. We have bad things going on over here too. They might be connected.”

Alvin said, “How?”

“Don't ask me, I've been wrong about everything so far. And there are liars everywhere, apparently.”

“Wait a minute. I've got something to…”

“Hold that thought. First I need you to keep checking on Betty and make sure nothing's happened there. I'm really worried. Then, as soon as you can in the morning, get down to Kingston with that picture and talk to Hazel's neighbours. See if that creep was anywhere near her. You can get in touch with her stepdaughter, Val Desrochers, to see how she's doing. If Hazel's okay, and I sure hope she is, maybe she can identify the guy. I'll call you back when I have anything to add. Write down this number,” I said, reading it out carefully.

“Got it, Camilla,” Alvin said, after a bit of scratching. “Don't hang up. I have good news.”

“What's the good news, Alvin? Were you successful in emailing the photo to Ray?”

“That's done. The big thing is that I found a lot of info on this Harrison Jones dude. He's a big deal in the art and antiques business. He was the Managing Director of a couple of English companies. Brockbank & Brickle is the main one. They're respectable international dealers. Art and antiques. Sort of like a smaller version of Christie's or Sotheby's. He made a pile of money from various things. His companies have diversified into different kinds of import/export. If the antique market's soft, then they have other interests. Lives in…”

“Hampshire,” I said. “I knew that.”

“He married into the Brockbank family, which had a solid business. That's about it. Not much help, really.”

“Any scandals?”

“I didn't read about anything like that. They sound like very respectable people. Why do you ask that?”

“Today Ray and I met Guy Prendergast, who suggested Harry Jones may have ‘liberated' some stuff, maybe lots of stuff during the war. That he'd turned into a sleazy sort.”

“That's bad. But it's also a long time ago. This Harry Jones guy is in bad shape. I called the company and spoke to his personal assistant. I said I was doing a project for business school on international art dealers.”

“What did you learn?”

“She doesn't think he'll live long. She started to cry when she was talking about him. She was really excited about my project and wanted me to talk to one of his sons. They run the business now. I guess they're in their fifties. Now that Daddy's sick, they're finally taking over.”

BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
2.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Plus None 2 by Emily Hemmer
The Court of Love by Zane, Serena
Voracious by HENDERSON, ALICE
Moron by Todd Millar
The Book of Transformations by Newton, Mark Charan
The Day to Remember by Jessica Wood