A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (18 page)

"But brother dear, it's Karin I'm thinking of. She must be heartbroken to see ol' Dan here moving in on someone else. You should know how that feels, watching Jack and Elizabeth...."

Paul's fist would have connected with Alexander's face if John hadn't moved quickly, grabbing it f
rom behind. John immediately stepp
ed between them, facing Paul and firmly pushing him back.

"It's not worth it, Paul. Just let me get him out of here. Go on over to the den and cool down. Let's not let him ruin the whole party."

John continued talking to Paul in a calm, steady voice, until Paul turned and walked away. John then took Alexander firmly by the arm and, over his drunken protests, marched him to the kitchen, and, Maggie assumed, out the back door.

Maggie moved toward the foyer and saw Paul helping Karin with her coat, and could only imagine the emotions coursing through each. It seemed, however, that only the guests closest to the unfortunate incident were aware of it, as lively chatter continued in the farther reaches of the party. Maggie had no doubt, though, that the details of it would soon spread, perhaps with a few extra added for good measure. With that thought she looked around for Annette, and saw her, as expected, jabbering animatedly, with many significant looks toward the front door, as Paul and Karin departed.

Maggie was glad the noise level of the crowd was such that Karin wouldn't have heard most of what was being said. She probably was acutely aware of it anyway, as on other occasions, which likely accounted for her usual air of cool detachment. Maggie wondered just what really went on inside Karin's head, and what her next move, after this latest humiliation, would be.

She was standing alone, thinking these thoughts, when Regina, passing by, stopped and correctly read her mind.

"Pity, isn't it?" Regina said.

When Maggie nodded, Regina looked away and added in a quieter tone, as though to herself, "Some people the world would be a lot better off without."

 

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Alexander's embarrassing outburst didn't break up the party. There was still plenty of food left to consume, drinks to drink, and gossip to relish. But Maggie, in her continued roaming, was learning little more than that most of the townspeople had had a low opinion o
f Alexander for quite some time
and weren
't too surprised at how he'd behav
ed. Since they were in Leslie's home, they generally avoided comment on
what he had said regarding her
and confined their remarks to Alexander's drinking problem, his gambling problem, and quite likely his marriage problem.

Elizabeth's name was brought up a few times, though, and to Maggie's dismay it seemed to be generally assumed that Elizabeth would soon be charged with Jack Warwick's murder. If anyone felt to the contrary, they were keeping silent, and since Maggie's aim was only to overhear, she had to bite her tongue more than once to keep from defending her friend. It was depressing to learn that so many of Elizabeth's neighbors were finding it that easy to believe in her guilt.

Maggie looked around more than once for Regina, hoping to get a few minutes conversation with her. But after that disconcerting comment she had made after Alexander's exit, Regina seemed to have disappeared into thin air, and Maggie's frustration grew.

When guests began drifting to the foyer to leave, Maggie mentally threw up her hands. There was nothing more she could accomplish. Since she hadn't had much to eat the whole evening, she grabbed a few quick bites, then joined Dyna in asking for their coats.

Outside, as they waited for her car, Maggie shivered from the cold.

"It must have dropped twenty degrees since we came," she complained, shifting her weight from one foot to another in their thin-soled pumps, hands jammed in her pockets and shoulders hunched against the cold wind blowing.

"Here comes your car."

Maggie climbed in
and waited for Dyna to buckle up. She made a U-turn and headed home, waiting for the heater to raise the temperature at least a few degrees. Her breath puffing visibly as she talked, Maggie shared what little she had learned.

"Did you do any better?" she asked Dyna.

Dyna admitted she hadn't, her snooping activities having been largely diverted by John. Maggie's mood slumped further.

They arrived home, and as soon as she stepped inside Dyna pulled her shoes off. "I'm exhausted. I think I'll just go to bed."

"Don't you want to have some tea? Talk a while?" Maggie asked, not feeling ready for bed herself. She hoped Dyna would stay up with her, chase away some of the gloom she felt descending on her.

Dyna, however, seemed ready for pleasant dreams. She shook her head with a sleepy smile. "
Sorry.
I can hardly keep my eyes open. See you in the morning."

Maggie watched Dyna disappear up the wrought-iron steps.  She wandered into the kitchen, feeling physically tired, but mentally keyed up, the evening's events running through her mind. She wasn't sure she had learned anything that would be in any way helpful to Elizabeth, and that, along with the encroaching fatigue, depressed her.

She remembered her plan to call Rob and picked up the phone. Talking to him would help. It had been too long. She wanted to feel his hug reaching through the line. She needed him t
o tell her that she was doing okay
, that all would be well.

What she got was, "This is Rob. I'm sorry I'm not here right now. If you leave a message after...."

Maggie hung up without leaving a message. She walked over to the sliding glass door and gazed out at the dark which seemed endless and empty. Maggie leaned her head against the glass, feeling its chill against her skin.

Was she doing any good at all, she wondered? Was Elizabeth any better off now than she was three days ago? Maggie sighed. She just didn't know.

CHAPTER 16

 

M
aggie dragged herself out of bed the next day. Somewhere in the middle of the night her brain had finally stopped tossing around its store of conflicting thoughts and allowed her to have a few hours of sleep. She stumbled down the steps to find Dyna seated at the kitchen counter, sipping her tea.

Dyna looked up. "Wow, if I didn't know better, I'd think you had a hangover. Was that really just ginger ale you sipped all night?"

Maggie smiled. "I had a rough night. Just give me a minute."

Maggie poured out coffee, grateful that Dyna had brewed a pot. She held the mug between both hands, and, sipping slowly, wandered over to the sliding glass door. The day outside looked grey and cold. A Blue Jay flitted fro
m tree to deck and back again, its squawkings seeming to be
aimed directly at Maggie. She gave a sigh and turned away from the window.

"Dyna, I'm worried we're not getting anywhere. I had hoped to make much more progress than we did last night. It seems like this whole thing is just going in circles."

"It's not all that bad," Dyna said. She stood up and bustled into the small kitchen. "You're probably just having a blood-sugar low. You didn't eat much last night, did you? I was just thinking it'd be fun to make pancakes. I haven't made them in ages, and we've got all the stuff right here. I'll even fry a little bacon for you to go with it. How's that sound?"

"It sounds like my mother," Maggie said, smiling. "No problem is so bad it can't be fixed with good food."

"Sure doesn't hurt. You go up and get dressed, and I'll call when it's ready. We can talk more afterwards."

Dyna began pulling bowls and pans out of the cupboard with so much clatter and enthusiasm that Maggie couldn't argue. She carried her coffee upstairs with her, feeling her mood lift a bit with each step. By the time she had dried off from her shower
and dressed
, she could smell the tantalizing aroma of cook
ed bacon. She grabbed her
sock
s
and hurried on down to the kitchen.

 

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Maggie did justice to Dyna's pancakes, mopping up the last of the syrup on her plate with her final forkful.

"Where'd you learn to make these so well?" she asked, as Dyna watched with the satisfaction of a doting grandmother.

"Oh, we used to make pancakes every weekend. Sometimes waffles. Dad liked to make them, and he'd try different kinds - potato, blueberry, whatever. I guess I caught the bug. Or inherited the pancake gene, or something."

"You picked a good one to inherit."

"Yeah, but I sure picked the wrong gene for noses. Mom has this little turned-up nose, and Dad has the one with the bump in it. You see which one I got."

"Your nose is fine. And John seemed to think so too, last night."

Dyna's cheeks
on each side of her fine/bumpy nose turned pink, which made Maggie smile.

"He was probably just being nice."

"John doesn't strike me as someo
ne who is nice without the proper
feeling behind it."

Dyna smiled. "Yeah, maybe. He's a pretty up-front kinda guy. And he can be fun when he wants to. We were having a good time. At least we were until Alexander ended it all."

"Alexander spoiled a good time for a lot of people last night." Maggie remembered Paul escorting Karin out in a hurry, as well as the dismay Alexander's announcement of the imminent sale of Big Bear had caused to many.

"He said he was flying to New York today. I hope he has one doozy of a hangover to spoil his day. He deserves it."

Maggie picked up the dishes and carried them to the dishwasher. She ran hot water and soap into the sink and began washing up the skillet.

"I have the feeling," she said as she scrubbed at crusted grease with a soapy sponge, "that Alexander's life is one long headache. He's not a happy man."

"No, but, you know, he should be. I mean, he's got a great wife, and a terrific little boy. And look what he does. It's like," Dyna thought for a moment, "like someone who has a fantastic dinne
r in front of him, maybe duck a
l'orange, and then ruins it with catsup or hot sauce."

"Mmm." Maggie looked around for a wire scrubber, found it, and went back to work on the skillet. "Mentioning food reminds me that Alexander certainly seems to have something against Dan Morgan. I wonder if it's because he sees how Dan is able to appreciate what he himself has been so careless with."

"You don't think Karin and Dan are involved with each other, do you?"

"I don't know. Maybe just to the extent that Dan treats Karin like an intelligent, talented person and she responds to that."

"I didn't see them anywhere near each other last night."

"No, Dan stayed mainly with Leslie. Which was interesting."

Maggie rinsed and wiped the skillet, then turned on the dishwasher. As it started chugg
ing she left the kitchen and sank
in
to
one of the blue tweed chairs.
"I spoke with Karin a bit. She was as reserved as usual, but she was definitely unhappy with Alexander's push to sell Big Bear."

"Yeah, she's gotta be."

"Does she have any family here? Other than Alexander and Paul, I mean."

"Gee, I don't think so. Why?"

"I guess I was just wondering if she might choose to stay here."

"You mean without Alexander?"

"If she has to. Do you see her wanting to eagerly go wherever he decides to go?"

"Not the way he's been acting lately." Dyna moved to the floor and assumed the lotus position, tucking her legs and feet into what looked to Maggie more like the "pretzel" position. "But if he sells Big Bear," Dyna continued, "Cedar Hill will change. Karin might not want to stay in the new Cedar Hill."

"Mmm. And Regina won't like the changes that are bound to come either."

"That's for sure."

The phone rang. Dyna looked too tangled up to move quickly, so Maggie went to pick it up.

"Hello?"

"Maggie, it's John Severin."

"Oh, hi John." Maggie looked over at Dyna with a smile. Dyna's face had lit up at hearing John's name.

"Is Dyna there with you?"

"Yes, shall I put her on?"

"No, not now. I'm just calling to tell you both to stay put."

"Why?" Maggie asked, suddenly uneasy. John had spoken brusquely. He was definitely calling as 'Sheriff John', not as friend John.

"Lock your doors
and don't go out until I can come by."

"John, what's wrong. What happened?"

Maggie heard John take a deep breath. He clearly didn't like having to say what came next. "Alexander Dekens was found dead early this
morning. Killed by a rifle shot
as he was driving to catch his plane."

CHAPTER 17

 

T
he cabin's interior light, already grey from the sunless day, had become leaden with the news of Alexander's death. Maggie switched on lamps in the downstairs living area, which brightened the room but did little to relieve the gloom. She opened her laptop then snapped it shut. She knew she couldn't concentrate on math puzzles for now.

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