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Authors: Mary Jane Maffini

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BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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“I suppose I'm missing some details. But you figured it all out after Guy Prendergast contacted you. Guy thought he was doing the dirty on his old rival when he showed you the picture of Harry and his boys meeting with someone he considered to be disreputable.”

“You're right, Ms. MacPhee. He had no idea.”

“But you worked it out as soon as you saw the photo. The grandson, William, was the spitting image of Perce Connaught, except for the thinning hair. Must have got that from poor Dorothea. That's the face that Hazel recognized too. I can see what you meant by being ‘troubled by a dead man'.”

“Full marks, Ms. MacPhee.”

“It made you sick. You weren't faking that faint. Now I can understand why.”

She opened her mouth to speak.

“Let me finish,” I said. “You decided to do something about it. You thought that Alvin and I would try to stop you. Why was that? What were you planning?”

“Sergio is a man of honour and integrity, but he has some information that will help. He knows everything there is to know about trade in antiques and art in this area. He has been troubled by aspects of this business.”

I said, “Ah, Annalisa Franchini's activities, perhaps, and those of her grandson, Dario. A very handy connection to funnel art and artifacts, with iffy histories, out of Italy.”

She said, “He will help me wrap things up. Then we can approach the authorities. I don't believe he will give me that information when you are here, so I must ask you to leave.”

“Sergio's not going anywhere. You can come back later. We have plenty to go on. I think enough people have been hurt. My friend Ray Deveau is in Alcielo too. He knows most of the story. He's talking to the local police right now.”

“Do what you must, Ms. MacPhee. Regrettably, you will find the police think you're a crank. So long ago, so little evidence. Such important people, those wealthy Joneses of Brockbank & Brickle. Some minor functionary may possibly give you the time of day, may even be intrigued, but they will not put any amount of effort into it.”

Maybe she was right. So far the locals had been useless, if not worse.

Mrs. Parnell said, “I must insist that you leave, or Lucia will make a complaint. She may even hint you have been light-fingered. That will be very inconvenient for you, spending hours at the
posto di polizia
before that silly misunderstanding has been cleared up.”

Lucia was leaning on the door back to the shop, scowling at me. I think she liked the idea of shopping me to the police. She hadn't liked the lie about my grandmother. Perhaps it was time for a strategic withdrawal. I planned to be back with Ray, and some local police presence, before Mrs. P. could finish up. I worked hard at looking defeated.

“Fine. There's nothing more I can do.”

I took the back exit into a dark, narrow alley, barely wider than I was. The key scraped in the door behind me. I navigated around boards and boxes and debris and found my way back to the street. It would take me a couple of minutes to find Ray and the police. I admit I was angry and puzzled. What was I missing? How many car accidents and accidental falls and fires would there be before it was all right to pounce on the Jones boys? I stopped just as I emerged from the alley into the cobbled street. A small workman's van whizzed by on the narrow cobblestones, and I pressed myself against the wall to avoid being squashed.

Too many car accidents. Way too many. Another puzzle piece clinked into place. Walter Parnell had died in a car accident in England in 1954. Both Betty and Hazel had sent condolences.

I stopped, my head spinning. Walter Parnell had known Harry Jones, it said so in his letter. Had he also known Perce Connaught? I tried to remember from the letters. Was this the thing that I didn't understand? Was Mrs. Parnell seeking revenge for her husband's murder?

I had to know.

I turned back into the dank alley, but, of course, Lucia had locked the door when I left. That left the shop entrance.

The sign on the door said
CHIUSO
. The shop was empty. Why would Lucia close it? I peered through the glass into the shop. No customers, but a large chrysanthemum tote bag leaned against the side of the desk, almost out of sight, telling me just how stupid I'd been. How much time did I have? Not much if history was anything to go by. Not enough to run for Ray. I twisted the door handle, holding my breath. Yes, closed but not locked. Lucia would have that key, but she would never leave the shop unattended. I slipped inside. The door to the workshop was open a few inches.

I reached for the phone on the desk and dialled the number for
EMERGENZA 113
. Luckily for me, Lucia had it pasted on the phone. Would it do any good? How could I get the attention of the police quickly in this part of the world?

“Aiuto,”
I whispered. Help. “
Fuoco! Fuoco! Restauro Giansante e Figlia.”
I figured a fire call would bring everyone. In this dense part of town, a fire could be a true disaster, despite all the stone. There was plenty of old wood and other flammables in these buildings. I left the phone off the hook and padded toward the workshop door. I grabbed a heavy silver candlestick and crept closer. I knew who I'd find. My stomach was knotted. I'd led the trail right to Mrs. Parnell. I crept up to the door, froze and listened to the voices.

“You've been most clever, Betty,” Mrs. Parnell was saying, cool amusement in her voice. No more of the quiet, heartbroken old woman. Had she been planning this encounter all along? Had she known Betty would show up? My head swam with the possibility. My old friend had done everything to keep me out of it, to keep Alvin out of it and to keep me from leading Betty or Dario or the Jones sons or grandson to anyone she knew or cared about. But I am not one to listen.

I leaned forward to hear better. I was rewarded by hearing Mrs. Parnell, sounding like her old self. “Allow me to congratulate you.”

“Ah, I remember that sarcastic tongue of yours, Violet. I regret to tell you it won't be enough to get you out of this.”

“You have so much to regret, Betty. Surely, you don't think you'll get away with this. Three people in the middle of town. What if one of us gets out alive?”

“That won't happen.”

Lucia's voice rose with a note of hysteria. “What will not happen? Who is this woman? Why does she have a gun?”

“I have a gun so that you will be quiet. Which you will be, dear,” Betty said in her best headmistress voice.

Mrs. P. said, “Come now, Betty. Answer a few questions. Where's your sense of sportsmanship? And that weapon is so gauche after those elegant falls and car accidents. And let's not forget the fires.”

“Please, let my
nonno
go,” Lucia sobbed. “He is old.”

“See what you've done, Violet?”

“What I've done? What you've done defies belief. Poor old Mr. Jones. He was always so kind to us children. He always liked you especially, Betty. Was it hard to set fire to his house? Did it cause you to lie awake nights? I am curious.”

“Fire is an excellent tool. And no, I did not lie awake nights.”

“You always had a tendency to gloat, Betty. Tell me about Dorothea and her parents and their tragic accident at the very moment when Harry, or should I say Perce, was in full public view in London.”

“It's a shame you didn't just stay away. You would have lived longer.”

“Had Dorothea become suspicious? Had she found out about Annalisa Franchini and her child over here in Italy? A divorce would have had your poor Perce out on his lazy manipulative rump.”

“I will not tolerate that kind of talk. Perce had the courage to do whatever he had to. He's a wonderful man who deserves his success.”

“You love your brother. As I loved Harry and later my husband, Walter. I've lost a lot because of you and Perce. Walter was on his way home from visiting Brockbank Manor, wasn't he?”

Betty said, “He wasn't as smart as you thought he was, your precious Walter. But even so, he took us by surprise coming by the house. Very bad manners that, showing up at the Manor without an invitation. Perce worried that Walter had recognized him, since his face had healed a bit. Walter asked sly questions, but he gave himself away. Never mind, he'd had quite a bit of Perce's fine port by the time he left. Perce was so generous with the drinks. An unfortunate accident for an inebriated tourist. I didn't think it was worth taking a chance with him, and I don't think it's worth taking a chance with you.”

“All those letters you sent letting me think Hazel was responsible for Harry breaking off the engagement. You didn't want us to get together and talk.”

“It couldn't have been much of a friendship, if you gave up on it so easily,” Betty sneered.

“There are three against one here, Betty. And you're no spring chicken, in case you don't know it.”

“Nor are you and Sergio. That snivelling girl isn't likely to take a chance at getting shot.”

“You can't just shoot us. Bullets show up easily.”

“A tragedy of course. Elderly man, early stages of dementia, naturally depressed, uses the pistol he'd had as a partisan to finish himself off and take his granddaughter with him. You, Violet, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Mrs. Parnell said, “A pistol belonging to a partisan? You don't think the police will be able to trace that to Annalisa?”

“That damned tramp,” Betty spat out. “She's at the root of our problems.”

I recoiled, almost as shocked by the venom in her voice as I was by her cold-blooded discussion of wiping out the trio in the room.

Mrs. Parnell gave a throaty little chuckle. “Perhaps Annalisa had better start looking over her shoulder too.”

Betty managed to regain her cool. “Make noise if it suits you. No one will hear through foot-thick walls.”

I edged closer to the door. This was my chance. I had to act. Nothing in life really prepares you to sneak up behind an elderly woman who you'd have tea with and clout her with a candlestick. Even hitting Dario with the bricks seemed easy in comparison. I knew I had to act, but my body seemed frozen. My mouth still worked, though. “You were too affluent for a retired headmistress of a girls' school, the condo worth close to a million dollars, the paintings on your walls would have been beyond your reach. I wasn't the only one who noticed.”

Betty whirled. “Well, look who's here. Very good. That saves me going looking for you afterwards.”

“It's over.” I gripped the candlestick tightly behind my back.

“For you it is,” she said, gesturing with the gun. “In you come. Don't believe for a moment that I won't shoot you. The police in Alcielo are thicker than these walls. And no one knows I'm here.”

“On the contrary,” I said. “I have told several people.”

“Nice try,” she smirked. “I wasn't a headmistress for years without spotting a brazen lie. I don't think anyone would piece together what's happened. It's been too well organized. I know what I'm doing, and I have the right kind of help.”

“The so-called Jones sons? They stand to lose everything.”

“They are respectable middle-aged businessmen who can account for their presence at any time it might matter.”

“I think they might have to account for their involvement selling stolen art and artifacts,” I said. “Then there's the nephew you mentioned when I called you.”

“William has nothing to do with any of this.”

“William? Is that his name? William Jones, I imagine. He must be Perce's grandson, since you had only one brother, and you never married. He's been caught on camera in Mrs. P.'s building and identified as Hazel's attacker. Hazel's under police protection now, so no point in thinking you can send in reinforcements.”

“Bravo, Ms. MacPhee,” Mrs. Parnell said.

“You will not live to harm Perce or his boys, or William for that matter. And don't try to distract me with your cheerleading, Violet. I've had plenty of practice hunting at Huxtable Manor. I'm a crack shot. I'll get your little friend here. Then I'll get you and the other two.” Betty stared me down.

She meant business. I knew it, and I believed Mrs. Parnell did too.

Betty gestured to me. “I said, get in here.”

Damn. Betty was enjoying this. She'd kept the secrets of the very clever Connaughts for sixty years. She was obviously exhilarated at finally being able to brag to her doomed listeners.

Mrs. Parnell looked away from her. “Of course, you can't continue to get away with it.”

“I can and will.”

“Killing a fellow soldier and assuming his identity will get your precious Perce arrested, no matter how old and frail he is.”

Betty laughed. “It could never be proven.”

“A scrap of
DNA
is all it takes,” Mrs. Parnell said.

“Unfortunately for you, Harry's relatives are dead.”

Mrs. Parnell said, “But Perce's relatives are not. You are not, Betty. There is easily enough evidence to prove that Perce has misrepresented himself as Harry Jones all these years. There's plenty to link his sons. And his Italian grandson, who I believe gave Ms. MacPhee a spot of trouble.”

Betty said, “Dario is like his wretched grandmother, a lower life form, but useful in doing business in Italy. But it doesn't matter if you link Dario to Harry Jones. Harry could easily have had a bastard son by an Italian woman. There's no crime in that. Even in polite English society, that wouldn't dent Brockbank & Brickle.”

“There's still your
DNA
, Betty, which will be enough to link Perce and his sons and Dario and to prove that Perce faked his own death, murdered Harry Jones, and took on his identity. Brockbank & Brickle is a business built on murder and fraud.”

“You're not in a position to obtain my DNA, are you? And do you not think I realize you are all stalling? You seem to have forgotten that I'm the one with the pistol.”

Mrs. Parnell said, “I am well aware, and as a condemned woman, I feel entitled to one last cigarette, since I don't see any blindfold.” She extracted a cigarette from her package and flicked her lighter. I wished I felt as calm as she looked.

BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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