Authors: Marilyn Levinson
A Murderer Among Us
By Marilyn Levinson
Copyright 2013 by Marilyn Levinson
Cover photograph by Marilyn Levinson
Cover Copyright 2013 by Ginny Glass and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
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This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Also by Marilyn Levinson and Untreed Reads Publishing
And Don’t Bring Jeremy
Getting Back to Normal
Giving Up the Ghost
I’m Getting Married
A Murderer Among Us
Lydia Krause never made scenes, but tonight she longed to rip out the heart of the man approaching their table.
Her neighbor, Peg DiMarco, smiled as she introduced her to the monster. “Lydia Krause, this is Marshall Weill. Marshall, Lydia just moved to Twin Lakes. I persuaded her to come down to Bingo Night to meet her fellow residents.”
“It’s a pleasure,” he said, nodding with the self-assurance of a seventy-year-old male who had retained his trim physique and handsome demeanor. Everything about him was stylish and shouted “designer,” from his Italian loafers to the elegant suede jacket.
Marshall Weill? Could she be wrong? More than six years had passed. He stepped closer. Years of running her own company had sharpened Lydia’s B.S. sense, and this man was sleaze with a capital S.
She hesitated before shaking his extended hand then wished she hadn’t. His palm felt too smooth, almost as if it were slimed with sweat though her hand wasn’t damp. She jerked free of his grasp and lifted her hand to cover a false cough. At the same time, she questioned her visceral reaction. Was she suddenly psychic—able to detect sleaze with a handshake—or was her negative frame of mind getting the better of her?
“Marshall’s our HOA’s financial advisor,” Peg offered with pride. “He’s also handling several residents’ portfolios.”
Financial advisor? Portfolios? A frisson ran down Lydia’s spine. This couldn’t be a coincidence!
The growing certainty that she faced an amoral, malevolent fiend vied with her mind’s insistence that he couldn’t possibly be the person she supposed him to be. To cover her dismay, she spoke disparagingly.
“I didn’t realize the homeowners’ association has enough funds to warrant the services of a financial advisor.”
Marshall Weill gazed down at her. “Regardless of the amount, you don’t want to let money lie fallow in a bank. Put it to work, I always say.”
He smiled, revealing a gap between his front teeth. All doubt vanished. Lydia gasped.
“You’re Warren Mannes.” Suddenly lightheaded, she gripped the edge of the table.
The smile returned, but this time it was forced. “You’re mistaken. My name is Marshall Weill.”
The fear and anger Lydia read in his eyes empowered her. She’d recently moved to this Eden-like retirement community and felt obliged to protect her fellow residents from the serpent in its midst. She drew herself up and plunged ahead.
“You’re Warren Mannes, and you’ve no business handling anyone’s money.”
Though she hadn’t raised her voice, people sitting at nearby tables sensed something sensational was happening and paused in mid-conversation to gape and listen. Lydia, usually so in control, was too enraged—too outraged—to watch her words.
“You went to prison for stealing millions of dollars from people who gave you their trust. Innocent people, whose lives you destroyed. Not to mention that company you took down!”
He gripped her arm. “Stop it! You’ve confused me with someone else.”
She jerked herself free. “Oh, no, I haven’t!”
“Lydia, get a hold of yourself!” Peg hissed, grabbing her other arm. “You’re spouting nonsense.”
“I wish I were.” Her baby sister’s face flashed in her mind, causing Lydia to wince in pain. Here stood Warren Mannes, decked out in expensive clothes and a salon haircut, enjoying a lifestyle paid for with stolen money, while Allison lay dead in her grave!
Incensed, she went on. “Six years ago I attended his trial where victim after victim testified that this man stole their life savings. I’ll show you newspaper articles, Peg.”
A short, stocky woman who was undoubtedly the man’s wife pushed her way through the crowd until she faced Lydia. Her coiffed, stiffly sprayed hair bobbed as she exclaimed, “I hope you’re pleased with yourself, exposing a man before his friends and neighbors for a mistake best left in the past.”
Marshall Weill/Warren Mannes grimaced. “Thank you, my dear, for making a bad situation worse.”
“It’s all her fault!” his wife retorted, glaring at Lydia.
Taken aback by the woman’s fury, Lydia blinked. Her silence spurred the wife on. Ignoring the pleas of friends urging her not to upset herself, Claire Mannes’s voice rose higher.
“Who asked you to move to our quiet community and start trouble? We were happy until you arrived.”
Lydia found her voice and her indignation. “I suggest you put the blame where it belongs—on your husband, a convicted embezzler. How dare he handle anyone’s finances, here or anywhere else!”
Claire Weill/Mannes drew in such a deep gasp, for a moment Lydia feared she was about to expire. Instead, she retaliated.
“You’ve ruined our lives! I wish you’d never come here. Better yet, do us a favor and die!”
Furious, Lydia retorted, “Someone should put an end to you, you stupid cow! Open your eyes and face facts. Your husband destroyed lives. He’s the guilty one here, only you’re the loyal little wife and refuse to see it!”
A blonde woman with an incipient dowager’s hump came to stand beside Claire. “Claire, honey, don’t upset yourself. You know we have complete trust in Marshall.” She glared at Lydia through tortoise-shell cat’s-eye-shaped glasses. “Stop badgering the poor woman!” She spun on her heels and ushered her charge away.
Lydia grabbed her parka and fled. Noting that neither Marshall nor Claire and her staunch supporter were in pursuit, she headed for the ladies’ room where she leaned heavily on the marble counter until her heartbeat returned to normal.
You’re losing it, kiddo, she told herself, appalled by the way she’d outed Warren Mannes in a public display of histrionics. Maybe early retirement was having an adverse effect on her brain. As president and CEO of Krause Gifts and Furnishings, she’d contended with her share of frustration and had never vented her fury in this manner. Never! Then again, she’d never encountered the man who had deceived and ruined her sister.
Lydia splashed cold water on her face and decided to put her unit on the market first thing tomorrow morning. No matter that this would upset her daughter, Meredith, who lived five minutes from Twin Lakes.
Still, she didn’t regret having exposed Warren Mannes/Marshall Weill as the embezzler he was. She’d forfeited whatever peace and serenity she hoped to enjoy at Twin Lakes. So much for the quiet life of Suffolk County!
The sound of retching emerged from the next-to-last stall, which stood ajar. As Lydia wondered if she should disturb whoever was in distress, a woman staggered out, her face as white as chalk. She lowered her face to a sink and drank greedily.
Lydia recognized Barbara Taylor, a woman she’d met the week before and had intended to call.
“Barbara, what’s the matter?”
“Either the fish I ate tonight was bad or I’m coming down with a stomach virus. Argh!” She clamped a hand over her mouth and dashed back into the stall.
Lydia shuddered. “Can I call your husband?”
“No husband,” Barbara managed between pants. “He died two years ago.”
“’S all right. I’ll be all right.” She turned back to the toilet and retched. When she emerged, she was shaking.
Instinctively, Lydia put an arm around her shoulders. “You’re not well. Let me drive you home.”
Barbara’s nod was barely perceptible. “All right, but we’ll take my car. In case I throw up again.”
Lydia yanked paper towels from the dispenser. “We’ll take these along, just in case.”
On their way out, Lydia asked the woman at the desk to tell Peg, with whom she’d come to Bingo Night, not to worry about her, that she was going home. She helped Barbara out to the parking lot and slid her into the passenger seat of her car. Barbara handed her the car keys. “I live on the east side of Lake M. Number 32.”
“We’re on our way,” Lydia said. She drove slowly down Lake Boulevard, which bisected the community of Twin Lakes. The long, man-made lakes stretched out behind houses and trees on either side. Named Lake Montaukett and Lake Nissaquage in honor of Long Island Indian tribes, they were more familiarly known as Lake M and Lake N.
“Oh,” Barbara moaned as Lydia pulled slowly into her driveway.
Lydia stepped on the brake. “Feeling sick again?”
“No. I just realized I’ll have to drive you home. Or you can borrow my car.”
Lydia thought a moment about her own car, parked in her driveway. She always pulled the Lexus into the garage at night, but this was a gated community. Surely nothing would happen if she left it out one night.
“Not to worry. I can walk home.”
“Certainly not! The path along the back of the complex is desolate. Oh!”
Barbara covered her mouth and ran from the car to the front door. Lydia followed her into the house.
“Don’t you lock your door?” Lydia asked, shocked.
“I do when I go to sleep for the night,” Barbara called from the bathroom.
Her unit was a ranch like Lydia’s, but considerably smaller and decorated in Country French. Lydia called to her from the cheerful blue, yellow and white kitchen. “Do you have any cola?” she asked. “That should settle your stomach.”
“In the fridge.”
Gingerly, Lydia helped Barbara out of her jacket. Barbara said, “Just toss it on top of the washing machine. I’ll wash everything I’m wearing tomorrow.”
“Well, all right,” Lydia reluctantly agreed. She was all set to wash them now.
Barbara looked up at her. “I’ll be fine. Really.”
Only she wasn’t. She sipped some soda then dashed into the bathroom to upchuck again.
Lydia wiped her mouth with wet tissues. She felt her forehead. “You have a fever.”
“My head aches,” Barbara complained.
Lydia escorted her to her bedroom and helped her into a nightgown. She didn’t like the sheen of sweat forming on Barbara’s face. “I think I’d better stay.”
“Oh, Lydia, I feel terrible!” Barbara gave a weak laugh. “I mean it both ways. I feel lousy, but I hate to make you play nursemaid.”
“You’re too sick to stay alone. I’ll find a blanket and sleep on the den sofa.”
“No need. The spare room’s made up. Towels are in the linen closet.”
“I’ll be fine. Now get some rest.”
Barbara slipped between the covers. “Thank you. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Lydia turned out the light and returned to the kitchen. The evening’s events ran through her mind like a surreal movie. She’d encountered Allison’s nemesis and blasted his cover, then ended up spending the night nursing a woman she hardly knew. She glanced at the clock. It was barely ten o’clock. She had the entire night to get through.
An hour later she was dozing off in the spare bedroom when she heard rustling, then Barbara’s cry of distress.
“I’m coming,” she called out.
The next time Barbara was sick, Lydia suggested she call her doctor. Barbara insisted there was no point in disturbing him; she’d call in the morning. She kept repeating how very sorry she was. Lydia, fearing dehydration, fed her tea and soda, most of which she couldn’t keep down.