The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest (10 page)

BOOK: The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest
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C
hanging the tire in the dark delayed him another half-hour. By the time he reached the hospital, Susan had been awake for some time. She looked exhausted, and, oddly, angry.
“Oh, Andrew,” Lydia seemed at the end of her rope. “Please talk some sense into this child.”
“Grandmother, nothing you or he can say will change my mind. I don't want you to sell the farm. I won't let you.”
“But look what's happened. Who knows what may happen next. I can't subject you to more danger.”
“Doctor.” Susan's eyes were pleading. “Please talk to her. Make her understand it was just an accident. Not some sinister plot to do me in. I did a foolish thing. I stayed under too long, tiring myself. Then the air hose wasn't working properly. It sprang a small leak and water seeped into my mask. It happens now and then. It was old. They don't last forever.”
“And she leaves it lying in that boat in all kinds of weather,” Lydia added grumpily.
“I should have checked my equipment. But if I hadn't been tired—”
“And alone,” Fenimore interrupted, suddenly angry himself. “Where is the air hose now?”
She thought a minute. “Still down at the wharf, I guess. I yanked the mask and hose off all at once to get some air, and …”
“Don't talk anymore, dear,” Lydia said. “I've worn her out, Andrew. You'll just have to save your questions until tomorrow.”
The girl sank back into the pillows. Fenimore acquiesced. Damned tire, he fumed to himself. Now all the information he would get would be stale—or secondhand. The least he could do is go back to the wharf and look for that air hose. A nurse came in to take Susan's pulse and blood pressure.
“Get some sleep now.” Lydia bent and kissed her. “I'll be back first thing in the morning.”
Already asleep, Susan didn't answer.
As they went out, Lydia told him, “They want to keep her overnight for observation.”
“Of course. I'll drive you back to the farm. There's something I want to attend to before I go home.”
“Amory was supposed to come … .” Lydia paused in the lobby, looking vaguely around.
“I told him I was coming here and asked him to take Jennifer home.”
“Oh.” She let him take her arm, seeming relieved to have someone to lean on.
An episode like this is the last thing Lydia needs, Fenimore worried. It could spark angina—or even an attack of
torsade de pointes.
After he had seen Lydia safely into her house, he made his way cautiously through the dark down to the wharf. It was rough going. The ground was uneven, and he had only a vague idea where the wharf lay. Groping his way down the bank, his hands were scratched by thorns and nettles. Once he stepped in a hole—probably the home of some rabbit or woodchuck—and nearly turned his ankle. By the time he reached the river's edge, he could see the outline of the dock a few yards ahead and the silhouette
of the small motorboat moored beside it. A flashlight would have helped, but that would draw attention to himself. He stepped on something hard lying in the grass. Susan's goggles. The air hose should be nearby. Trying to stuff the goggles into his jacket pocket, he found it filled. A book. The copy of
Northanger Abbey.
Had that lighthearted episode occurred today? He shifted the goggles to his other pocket.
Getting down on his hands and knees, he began feeling methodically from left to right. Inch by inch, he moved his hands over the surface of the grass until he had meticulously examined about four square yards. Of course the hose could be lying just outside the perimeter of the area he had searched. But he couldn't keep this up all night. And there was no point waiting until dawn, because if someone saw him in daylight it would cause suspicion. No. He had to be satisfied that someone had been there before him and removed the defective air hose. But who?
As he stood up, he thought he saw a flash of light downriver. Lightning? But the air was dry, not heavy with humidity as before a storm. He scanned the horizon for more lightning. None came. Instead, mosquitoes came. He slapped at them and, for the second time that day, ran to his car. Once inside, he glanced at his watch. Nearly midnight. He drove back to the city alone, depressed, and itching—a far cry from the euphoric state in which he had driven down.

H
ow come you never married, Doc?” Rafferty was on his second martini.
It was Sunday evening, the day after the Strawberry Festival, and they were settled in their favorite booth. Fenimore felt extremely lucky to have found Rafferty available. Sunday was usually a family day for him. But this weekend his wife had taken the children to visit relatives out of town and Fenimore had the detective to himself.
“Never met the right woman,” Fenimore answered his question.
Rafferty laughed. “That never stops anybody today. Look at the divorce rate.”
“I'd like to think it was going to last—at least in the beginning.”
“Well, Mary and I are still together—for better or worse.” Rafferty had married Mary Reilly right out of high school. They had five children. Most of them were in high school themselves now.
“How is Mary, Dan?”
“Busy. With her job, the kids, her relatives, and every now and then she finds time for me.” He sighed. “But I can't complain. God knows, I'm never home since this gang thing escalated. They've started attacking innocent bystanders, all over the city.
We've organized a task force that's on call twenty-four hours a day. And they put me in charge.”
The lines around his friend's eyes had deepened since Fenimore had seen him a week ago. He looked weary. The reason he was so valuable to the department was because he gave all of himself. But it was hard on him—and on his family. Here they were on their second drink and Raff hadn't told him a single joke—a sure sign that he was deeply involved in an assignment.
“What about that Ashley woman?” Rafferty asked.
“She's all right. This time they went for her granddaughter.” Fenimore told him about Susan's diving accident and the warning note he had received.
Rafferty put down his drink. “Be careful, Doc. What about that lawyer? The one that was pushing her to sell. Have you checked him out yet?”
Rafferty's memory was better than his own. Fenimore was still kicking himself for forgetting about Bannister. “I'm going to see him next week. He's with one of those gargantuan law firms with fifty names spread over the door. I'll get a lot of polite chat and very little information.”
Rafferty nodded. “Let's see that note.”
After examining it, he said, “This is different from the other one. Looks like the person was in a hurry and took something he had on hand and doctored it up. Pardon the pun.” He rubbed his chin, thinking. “See this ragged edge at the top, as if it were torn from a longer sheet—maybe a list of some kind.” Rafferty was enjoying himself, happy to deal with someone else's problems for a change. “Who would want you off the case? That fellow, Tom? The caretaker couple? The headmaster? The librarian? Or that co-worker from the Colonial Society? What was his name?”
“Amory Barnes.”
“Yeah. That's the one.”
Fenimore thought of Amory with his courtly manner and old world courtesy. “I don't think …”
“What about the boyfriend?”
“Peter?”
“And don't forget the lawyer,” Rafferty concluded. “Eight possible suspects …” He leaned back. “Now you've got to get handwriting samples from all of them.”
He nodded. “I almost forgot about the hoodlum.”
Rafferty was all ears.
“This fellow in dark, city clothes was leaning against a tree taking in the scene. Jennifer and I both wondered what he was doing there.”
“So you're still seeing Jennifer.” An incurable romantic, Rafferty's eyes brightened for the first time that evening.
“Anyway,” Fenimore hurried on, “this city dude was a jarring note in an otherwise pastoral scene. When you wear black in the city you blend in, but in the country you stand out like a sore thumb. He definitely didn't belong.”
“Hmm.” Rafferty was diverted by the steak the waiter had just dropped (literally) in front of him.
But Fenimore knew the policeman had tucked the information about the hoodlum away in his data-bank memory and would be able to call it up anytime. The same way he had called up those eight suspects after hearing about them just once.
When they had finished their steaks, Rafferty finally told him a joke.
T
he next morning Fenimore was too busy to give much thought to the Ashley case. He and Mrs. Doyle had an office full of patients and the phone never stopped ringing. It was after one o'clock when they ushered the last patient out. As soon as they were alone, Fenimore called Lydia. After inquiring about Susan and learning that she had been released from the hospital, he followed Rafferty's advice and asked Lydia for handwriting samples of the eight people. One by one he ticked them off.
“Agatha will be easy,” Lydia said. “I have one of her grocery lists. And Alice Cunningham is always sending me nasty little billets-doux, accusing me of something or other. Oliver is no problem. He sends me an invitation to the Academy graduation every June and always scrawls a personal plea at the bottom for those playing fields. Now Tom Winston is another matter … .” She paused. “No, that's all right. He sends us a Christmas card every year.”
“And you still have it?”
“Of course. I keep all our cards for a year. How else would I know who to send cards to the next year?”
Fenimore sighed over such unsentimental efficiency. “What about Fred Jenks?”
“He's a problem. I leave notes for him sometimes, but he always calls me when I'm in the city and something comes up at the farm.”
Fenimore considered a moment. “How do you pay him?”
“By check.”
“No problem, then. Photocopy one of his endorsements.”
“Brilliant.”
“Then there's Amory.”
“Amory?” She was horrified. “But he's practically a member of the family!”
“Sorry. We need a sample from him too. You must have one of his memos from the Colonial Society.”
“I suppose.” She was still reluctant. “Next you'll be asking for Susan's … or mine.”
Fenimore smiled, remembering that Jennifer's list of suspects had included them both. “That won't be necessary.” He coughed. “This time.”
“Beast.”
“How is Susan feeling?”
“Too well. Her friend, Peter, was down and wanted her to go diving with him. Can you imagine?”
“Unfortunately, I can. By the way, I need a copy of his handwriting, too.”
“That's easy. He sends her a letter every other day.”
“How long do you two plan to stay down there courting disaster?” Fenimore's tone became stern.
“Don't worry. We're quite all right.”
Fenimore ground his teeth. “Well, send me those samples by FedEx. I want to get them to a handwriting analyst right away.”
“Yes, Andrew.”
When he hung up, Mrs. Doyle made no pretence of not having heard the conversation. “What's this about handwriting?”
He took an envelope from his desk drawer and gently shook
out the slip of paper with its threatening message. “Don't touch,” he cautioned unnecessarily. After she read it, he told her how it had come.
“I don't like it.” She frowned. “Whoever's behind this is going to slip up someday and one of these ‘accidents' will …”
“I know. Susan came close. They shouldn't be down there alone. But I have a practice to look after. I still have a few patients that depend on me. I shouldn't be fooling around with this part-time, Doyle. If anything happens to either of them …” He slammed the drawer shut.
After a brief silence, Mrs. Doyle said, “What if I go down and keep an eye on them?”
He looked at her as if she had presented him with the Holy Grail. “God bless you, Doyle. You're brilliant. A genius. Why am I so blessed? Go home this instant and pack. Where's your coat?” He looked frantically around.
“It's June. The temperature's ninety degrees,” she said dryly.
“Here's your handbag.” He grabbed it from the back of her chair. “Goodbye, goodbye.” He was escorting her to the door.
“Doctor! Wait a minute,” she protested. “How am I getting down there? I don't have a car, you know.”
He paused, but only for a fraction of a second. “Bus. There's a bus to Salem which is just a few miles from Winston. I'll call the terminal and get the schedule. Run along now. I'll call and let you know the time. You can take a cab to the terminal. Charge everything to the office.”
“But …” She was still there. “What about Mrs. Ashley? Don't you think we should let her know I'm coming? I don't want to surprise her. Besides, somebody has to meet me at Salem.”
“Details, details. I'll take care of everything. Don't worry about a thing.” He was almost singing with relief. To express his gratitude, he planted a big kiss on her cheek.
“Why, Doctor!” She beamed.
He threw her another kiss before he shut the door.
Within minutes he had learned the departure and arrival times
of the next bus to Salem. He had called Lydia and convinced her that she and Susan needed a companion (cum body guard) for an indefinite period of time. And that his nurse, Mrs. Doyle, was the perfect candidate. Not only was she a good sleuth, but she had been a Navy nurse during the Korean War and was trained in the martial arts. She was an expert in karate. Perhaps she could even teach Lydia and Susan a few moves.
Exhausted, but satisfied, Fenimore made himself a liverwurst on rye and washed it down with a Coke.
After making his hospital rounds, his good mood was still with him. He was even humming to himself. “Dear Doyle. Sweet Doyle. What would I do without you, Doyle?” He stopped. What
would
he do without Doyle in the office? All those insurance forms! He groaned. But his mood remained light. Before he left the hospital, he found a pay phone and called Jennifer. “Are you free for dinner?” he asked.
BOOK: The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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