The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest (6 page)

BOOK: The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
fter Horatio left, Fenimore was restless. It was too early to meet Rafferty. He decided to take a walk. Whenever he was upset or frustrated, he gravitated toward Nicholson's Bookstore. Its atmosphere was soothing. It also happened to be the home of Jennifer Nicholson, his frequent companion.
Nicholson's was one of the last independent bookstores in Philadelphia. So far it had successfully fended off the mega-chains bent on gobbling it up. The entrance was two steps below street level. When he opened the door a small bell tinkled overhead. He scanned the scene before him with approval. Poor lighting, towering shelves of books divided by narrow aisles cluttered with more piles of books, and, snoozing on the window sill—a tortoiseshell cat. This bookstore met all his requirements for a sanctuary to get his nerves in order and plan his next move in the Ashley case—er—puzzle. The only jarring note was the unfamiliar figure sitting behind the counter. A sallow youth with long, lank locks.
“Is Ms. Nicholson in?” Fenimore asked.
The youth looked up languidly from his book. “Jen's out on an errand.”
Resenting his familiarity, Fenimore asked abruptly, “When will she be back?”
He shrugged. “I have to leave in half an hour.”
Fenimore decided to hang around until she returned.
Dr. Fenimore had met Jennifer Nicholson three years ago when he had dropped by to pick up a book he had ordered. There was a new clerk working the cash register. She had black, closely cropped hair, gray eyes, and the fair skin he usually associated with blondes. He asked for his book.
“Your name?”
“Just a minute, please.” He watched her slight figure disappear among the shelves as she made her way to the storeroom.
In less than a minute, she was back. “Your book is in, Doctor.” She held out a newly minted copy of Auden's poems. Protruding from its pages was the store bookmark with “Dr. Fenimore” scrawled on it in Magic Marker. “Is Auden a favorite of yours?” she asked. Then, as if some explanation was needed, added, “I wrote a long paper on him once and I feel as if I knew him personally.”
“I did know him personally,” he heard himself say.
Her eyes fastened on his. Fortunately none of the other customers in the store needed immediate assistance. They would have been out of luck. “Where?”
“College. He was a visiting professor when I was there.”
“What was he like?”
“Rumpled, affable—a bit vague. He wore his bedroom slippers to class.”
“And … ?” She was lost.
“And he had martinis every night at the local rathskeller with the head of the English Department. My roommate and I used to take the booth behind theirs whenever possible and eavesdrop … .”
She simply waited for more.
“ … and they discussed whether the department meeting should be held in Schuster Hall or Butler House, and whether Digby Jones, the new instructor, should be allowed to lecture before Christmas or …”
“Don't … tease.”
“They did discuss those things, but they also talked about Joyce, Yeats, and Eliot—all his buddies. Gossip on a high literary plane. I learned more in that pub than in all my English classes put together.”
At this point an impatient customer broke in. The clerk dragged her attention back to the cash register. The moment she finished she turned back to Fenimore. “Go on … .”
This was beginning to get sticky. He didn't know much more. It was a long time ago. He had been in a lecture class with about a hundred other students and he had only spoken to the great man once. He had gone to see the poet about a paper he had written on which he'd received a B—a rare occurrence for Fenimore. He told her this.
She hesitated, then asked, “Was he pompous—or nice?”
Realizing his answer was important to her, he was glad the truth was what she wanted to hear. “Nice,” he said. “He didn't treat my poor paper like the garbage it was. He made one or two helpful suggestions, then joked about it being time for tea. ‘Do you like tea?' he asked, as if inviting me to join him. I said, ‘I prefer beer.'” He laughed heartily.
She was laughing too. A lovely laugh—soft, low, conspiratorial—exactly right for a bookstore. Suddenly she remembered where she was and began waiting on the line of disgruntled customers. Fenimore toyed with the idea of making up further anecdotes about Auden, but decided against it. When she was done, he asked, “Are you working here for the summer?”
“No. I'm permanent.” There was a twinkle in her eye. “I'm helping my father ward off the chain stores.” She held out her hand. “Jennifer. Jennifer Nicholson.”
“I see.” Her hand was cool and firm. “Good luck,” he said. “I'd
hate to see Nicholson's go under.” She was off again, ringing up sales.
He had gone several blocks before he realized he had left his book behind.
When he returned to retrieve it, the store was empty and she was putting things away. She looked up as he came in. “I thought you'd be back.”
“I'm getting absent-minded in my old age,” he said, only half in jest. He was suddenly aware of the difference in their ages—at least fifteen years, he calculated. Why, he was old enough to be her father.
“You aren't old. You just act old.”
“I mean—all young doctors do,” she added hastily. “They have to, to gain the confidence of their elderly patients. I knew a young doctor once who decided to grow a beard just so he would look older.”
“And did it work?”
“I don't know. I didn't wait around for it to grow.”
“Do you mean, under this wise and dignified exterior,” he struck his chest, “there's a brash, fun-loving youth yearning to get out?” Why didn't she give him his book? Could she possibly want to prolong this interview? Actually, there weren't too many fifteen-year-old fathers around, were there? “Would you like to go to a movie?” he blurted.
She hadn't even asked which one.
“But we have to eat first,” she said. “I'm starving.”
“Er.” Fenimore, an inveterate homebody, was not familiar with the city's restaurant scene, although he'd heard that Philadelphia's was above average.
“Come upstairs. You can talk to Dad, while I see what's in the fridge.” She opened a door he hadn't noticed before, revealing a narrow flight of stairs. A real city girl, he thought—lives over the store. Completely captivated, he followed her.
“Where did you come from?” Jennifer roused Fenimore from his reminiscences as she staggered in lugging a huge cardboard box.
“Let me …” Fenimore reached for it.
“Don't touch.” She swiveled it out of his way. “It's very delicate,” she explained.
Fenimore read the label: APPLE IMAC
“What's this?”
“I've been planning to get one for a while. It's time we got the store online.” Gently, she set it down, and looked for a sharp instrument. Grabbing a pair of scissors, she began carefully to cut the binding tape.
Fenimore grimaced. Everybody was getting wired. He wasn't really a Luddite, but he wasn't ready to embrace cyberspace either.
“Where do you want it, Jen?” Languid Lanky Locks suddenly appeared from the back.
“In the office, Greg.” Apparently, she had no qualms about letting
put his hands on it.
Like a windup toy that has been suddenly activated, Greg marched with his burden to the back office. Jennifer followed quickly. By the time Fenimore reached the office, Greg had the instruction book out and was flipping through it. After a quick glance at the main diagram, he began jamming wires into holes at lightning speed.
What had happened to his half-hour deadline? Fenimore thought, irritated.
“Where did you learn all this, Greg?” Jennifer was looking at him with admiration.
“Oh, we used to hack around in the dorms.” He plugged in one last wire and pressed a button. Miraculously, the screen glowed, a gong sounded, and the IMAC icon grinned at them. “Up and running,” Greg said.
That all-too-familiar phrase grated on Fenimore's ears.
Casually, the youth offered his seat to Jennifer.
“Wow!” She slid into it. “And I thought this would take weeks.”
Greg shrugged, and Fenimore resisted the desire to slug him. Instead, he asked Jennifer, “Are you free Saturday?”
“Hmm?” She was rapidly typing her name in a wild, exotic font.
“So long, Jen.” Greg slouched toward the door, back in languid mode.
“Thanks Greg.” She looked up and bestowed her most radiant smile on him. “What were you saying?” She turned to Fenimore with the remains of the smile.
“I wondered if you'd like to go to a Strawberry Festival next Saturday?”
“Where is it?”
“South Jersey. An old friend of mine …” (He should have omitted the “old.”) “She's having it at her farm.”
Her eyes caressed the computer. “By Saturday, I'll probably be all teched out.” She sighed. “Sure, I'll go.”
Her smile, although several killowatts lower than the one she had bestowed on Greg, restored Fenimore's good humor.
etective Rafferty had chosen a quiet table in a corner of the Raven. This dim bar and grill, on Spring Garden Street, was their favorite hangout. It was supposed to owe its origins to Edgar Allan Poe, who had once lived nearby.
“You've got a pager.” Rafferty was quick to notice the box on his belt.
Fenimore had forgotten about it. He gave it a pat. “Yep. Finally took the plunge and entered your world of high tech.”
“And high time. Your patients must be tired of sending those smoke signals.” Rafferty's work as Chief of the Detective Division required the use of highly sophisticated electronic equipment every day. “You'll get used to it, Doc. Pretty soon, like the lady who's just discovered shopping on the internet, you'll wonder how you did without it.”
A waiter plunked two perfect martinis in front of them, followed by a plastic bowl of peanuts. The doctor and policeman were regulars. They didn't need to order. Rafferty grabbed a handful of peanuts. Only a few escaped his grasp. That was OK—Fenimore hated peanuts.
The first thing you noticed about Dan Rafferty was his size.
Doorways shrank when he graced them and people of normal stature became puny by his side. The most solid chairs seemed suddenly flimsy when he sat on them, and silverware—even the blunt, substantial kind that the Raven provided—looked exquisitely fragile in his hands.
He had black hair and blue eyes. The hair was dusted with gray now, but the eyes had lost none of their intensity. The detective had risen through the ranks, starting as a foot patrolman like his father. His pet peeve was muggers—bullies and thugs who preyed on the old and the weak. He was famous for his ability to walk that fine line between protecting the innocent from harm and protecting the rights of those accused of harming. He had been happiest when he had worked on the street. But at forty-five, the department had decided he, like the aging athlete, couldn't move fast enough. They promoted him to Chief of the Detective Division—a desk job full of paperwork, endless meetings and bureaucratic red tape. He longed to be back on the street. Once he told Fenimore, “You're lucky, Doc. You can practice till you're in your grave.” Fenimore had agreed at the time. But that was a few years ago. Now he wasn't sure. More and more doctors were joining HMOs and moving their offices into the hospitals. He didn't know how much longer he could hold out as a solo practitioner.
When their steaks arrived, Rafferty said, “What was that thing you wanted to talk to me about?”
Fenimore shook out his napkin and filled him in on the Ashley case. When he finished, Rafferty asked to see the note. Fenimore handed it over. The detective felt the paper carefully, then held it up to the little table lamp, searching for a watermark. “Nothing here.” He handed it back. “Have you got the photograph?”
Fenimore produced it from a folder he'd brought with him.
“This is just a photocopy, you know.”
Fenimore knew.
Rafferty flipped it over. His expression didn't change when he
saw the inscription, but he said, “Let me take this to our lab and run some tests.”
Fenimore nodded, carefully drawing two more items from his folder—the piece of twine that had held the photo to the carcass, and the envelope with its ugly stain and perforations in the corner.
Rafferty studied these exhibits briefly. He poked the twine through the two perforations. A perfect fit. “What did you say that fellow wanted your patient's farm for?”
“A trash disposal plant.”
“Bullshit. The city's not planning anything like that. Jersey would have a cow!” He laughed at his feeble joke.
Chalk one up for Doyle, Fenimore thought.
They relaxed after that, exchanging views on the general news and last night's baseball game. Rafferty was an ardent Phillies fan. No amount of poor performances could dampen his enthusiasm. Fenimore rooted for them too, but more quietly. And he could never resist needling his friend after the Phils had suffered one of their inexplicable losses to an obviously inferior team.
“Ahh—just an off night,” Rafferty said. “They'll be back in form tomorrow.”
“They need some new pitching material,” Fenimore said.
“Nah, they're all right. Just saving themselves for later in the season.”
“The Christmas season?” Fenimore couldn't resist.
Rafferty bristled, but before he could come up with a retort, Fenimore's pager began to bleat. Fenimore nearly jumped out of his chair. People at neighboring tables stared. Rafferty laughed. “Thought you weren't on call tonight, Doc.”
Fenimore read the number on the pager's small screen. Mrs. Ashley. “Excuse me.” He went quickly to the pay phone at the back of the restaurant.
He returned in a few minutes.
“Have to go?” Rafferty looked up from the piece of leaden pie he was eating. Desserts were not the Raven's specialty.
“No. It was Mrs. Ashley. The lady I was telling you about. She couldn't find her nitros. Had to call her pharmacy for a refill.”
“Senile, huh?”
Fenimore laughed, trying to imagine that powerhouse of administrative ability senile. “No,” he said slowly. “Far from it. She never loses anything.” He was beginning to think Doyle's warning about the two women's safety was on target after all.
“Well, there's always a first time. How important are those pills?”
“You'd better get a cell phone,” Rafferty said, patting the bulge in his own jacket pocket.
“You'd better stay out of the rain,” Fenimore retorted. “You're so wired, if you step in a puddle you'll be electrocuted.”
Rafferty grinned.
Before going to bed, Fenimore checked on the blood sample he had left at the hospital lab. His guess had been right. It was stored blood. It had been taken from a hospital refrigerator where it was being kept to help some patient in an emergency. It had never pulsed through the circulatory system of a cow—aristocratic or otherwise.
BOOK: The Doctor and the Dead Man's Chest
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Drakon by S.M. Stirling
Sleepless in Savannah by Rita Herron
Sticks and Stones by Kerrie Dubrock
Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E. Kennedy
Little Klein by Anne Ylvisaker
Return to Cancún by Lena Malick
A Perfect Scandal by Tina Gabrielle
Arkansas by David Leavitt
Once an Innocent by Elizabeth Boyce