A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (8 page)

 

M
aggie hovered over Dyna, who had staggered to the couch and collapsed on it, pulling off her hat to fan her flushed face.

"Tell me what's happened!" Maggie pleaded.

"I just can't believe it," Dyna said, shaking her head back and forth.

Maggie wanted to grab her shoulders and shake the words out of her. She controlled her impulse, though, chewing at her lips, and waited, giving Dyna time to come
to grips with her emotions, willing that to
happen swiftly. Finally Dyna sat up straight and took a deep breath.

"I was coming off the slopes, just racking up my skis and thinking I'd take a break indoors for a while, when I overheard these guys talking. One was telling the other he just came in from town and saw "the SWAT team", as he put it, moving up Main Street. He said they were closing in on the book store. Maggie, this was a guy about fifteen, sixteen years old, so I figured he'd just been watching too much television." Dyna got up to throw off her jacket. She started pacing.

"Anyway, I went inside, and as I walked around I picked up a couple of whispers that sounded like Jack Warwick's name, and Elizabeth's. And that, with what I heard the guy outside say, got me plenty worried, so I threw my things in the car and drove to town.

"The Book Nook had a big CLOSED sign on it, so I went into the insurance place next door. The old guy there told me he saw John and a deputy go into the book shop - no SWAT team of course - but they stayed a pretty long time, poking around. Then he saw John drive Elizabeth away in his car and that's so awful I just can't stand it!"

Dyna stopped her pacing and looked at Maggie with a face full of distress. Maggie was sure hers looked the same. Elizabeth! That couldn't be!

"Did they find something? Is she being charged?"

"I don't know, but it sure looks bad, doesn't it?"

"How can we find out?"

"Should I call John at his office?"

Maggie thought for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't think the sheriff
will be giving out information
to anyone." She took up the pacing Dyna had ended, thinking hard. Dyna plopped back down on the sofa, picked up her hat and sat twisting it, her eyes following Maggie as she moved about the room.

"Annette!" Maggie cried. "What about Annette? She'd know all there is to know, don't you think?"

"Yes, Annette! Sure she would. Should I call her?"

"No, let's go see her. Where does she live?"

Dyna scrambled to the end table that held the phone book on its lower shelf. She flipped through pages. "Radke, Raeling... here, Raison. Shoot, what's her husband's name? Why do they make it so hard to find women in phone books? Oh, here it is, Raison, Byron. I remember meeting him once, this total no
personality guy, and thinking,
Byron
? They live at 238 Timber Drive. I can find that."

Maggie had already zipped up her jacket. She held Dyna's out to her. "Let's go."

Maggie jumped into Dyna's car, barely managing to buckle herself up by the time Dyna had the car in gear and had backed out of the driveway. As they drove down Hadley, Maggie's mind continued to grapple with this turn of events. Could the sheriff taking Elizabeth away mean something else? Could there be some interpretation other than the one she and Dyna put on it? She found herself wanting that very much, even though she couldn't come up with anything reasonable.

Half way up Main M
aggie suddenly cried out, "Oh!" Pointing, she said,
"There she is!" Annette stood on a corner, talking animatedly to a small group, hands gesturing and arms waving. Maggie was sure what the subject was. "I should have known she wouldn't be sitting home alone at a time like this."

Dyna pulled over, and Maggie was out of the car the instant the ignition was turned off.

Annette's round, bright eyes lit up even more as she saw fresh, news-thirsty individuals approach. She waved them over as she continued to expound, clearly relishing the moment, but occasionally injecting at least a modicum of concern for the center of the excitement - Elizabeth. Maggie listened for a few moments, hearing basically what Dyna had already told her, then when Annette paused, jumped in with her question.

"Do you know if they found anything in their search?"

Annette looked triumphant. "Oh yes, yes they did! Of course I wouldn't dream of imposing
myself into their investigation.
" Maggie immediately picture
d Annette
lurking closely, eyes an
d ears moving like radar dishes. "B
ut I did happen to overhear one of them say something about a small, suspicious bottle found in a very unlikely place."

Maggie's heart sank. That sounded bad. A bottle of poison? But something was wrong. It had to be wrong. Another woman began shaking her head and moaning about the terrible things going on in this town. Maggie interrupted.

"What sent them there? What made them decide to search Elizabeth's place?"

Annette looked at Maggie, and Maggie was startled to see a certain secretiveness appear in the woman's eyes for just a moment. Was she imagining it? This was a woman who could barely wait to spread the latest news about her neighbors, good or bad. The look vanished as quickly as it appeared, though, and the more familiar Annette answered Maggie's question with a hint of her usual all-knowing smugness. "Why, it must have been because of their affair. Elizabeth and Jack Warwick's. I'm only surprised it took the sheriff this long to get there."

 

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Maggie had been tossing and turning in her bed for so long that she finally gave up and threw back the tangled covers. Not wanting to wake Dyna in case she had managed to fall asleep, she found her robe in the dark and tip-toed down the winding staircase, thinking she might have some of Dyna's caffeine-free herbal tea. They had shared a somber dinner earlier, and Maggie tried with little success to work afterward.

Rob had called
,
and she had been happy to hear his voice and glad of the distraction. She listened to his enthusiastic descriptions of his work at the tennis camp, letting herself be lulled by what sounded like a much simpler life in the Florida sunshine. When he asked about her activities, though, she told him only of her afternoon skiing and the start of her book.

After she hung up she had a twinge of uneasiness. She hadn't been completely open with him. She tried telling herself it was only because she didn't know the whole story yet, and that it was no use telling him things in bits and pieces. But the uneasiness, along with thoughts of Elizabeth, had kept her from sleep.

Turning on just one small light in the kitchen, Maggie heated up a mugful of water in the microwave, catching
the timer before it
ping
ed
. She let the tea bag steep for a minute or two, then cradled the fragrant concoction between her hands and wandered over to the sliding glass doors. With no clouds covering it, the moon cast enough brightness on the snowy outdoors to give a clear view of the woods across the road, and Maggie gazed at them, her mind busy.

Things looked bad for Elizabeth, and when more information came out they might look worse. John Severin struck Maggie as an intelligent man. She didn't think he would make baseless decisions. He must have had good cause to search the bookstore and Elizabeth's living quarters, something other than gossip, and good reason to take Elizabeth in.

But Elizabeth wasn't a murderer. Maggie felt sure of that.
Her thoughts flew back to the Elizabeth she had known so many years ago:

"Betsy, look, there's a hawk circling. I bet he's zeroing in on his prey, like Mrs. Jackson was telling us."

"Oh, I hope he doesn't get it!" Betsy had said.

"He has to eat, silly
. That's how he gets his food."

"I'll feed him. I just don't want him to kill some poor little bird."

And the girls had laughed, Maggie along with them, at th
e image of Betsy trying to paci
fy a hungry hawk with the camp's hot dogs.

Then there was the rescue of the Daddy Longlegs that Maggie had remembered in the book shop, something Elizabeth apparently was still doing, even with spiders. Most people were revolted by spiders, especially indoors. Elizabeth hovered over them.

And Elizabeth had cared for her ailing mother,
even foregoing college to do that
, something that clearly was a sacrifice. Could someone this selfless be a murderer?

Elizabeth had been flustered when Maggie brought up Jack Warwick, but that might have been only because of their past relationship - if they truly had an affair - and not necessarily guilt over his murder. Maggie suspected that Elizabeth was one of those people who agonized over things that others could rationalize away, things much less portentous than murder.

As far as the affair that Annette seemed so sure of, Maggie thought, from her impression of Jack Warwick, that if there had been one, he must have been the pursuer, possibly at a vulnerable time surrounding her mother's death. Elizabeth would have been an easy victim, helpless as a mouse to a cobra.

However, Annette had said a suspicious bottle had been found in Elizabeth's living quarters. If it turned out to contain the poison that killed Jack, what did that mean? Had someone planted it to throw suspicion on Elizabeth? Could Maggie live with herself if she didn't try to find out?

"Can't sleep either, huh?"

Maggie jumped and turned to see Dyna at the base of the stairs.

"I didn't hear you come down."

Dyna sniffed at the air. "Trying my lemon-ginger tea?"

"Uh-huh. It's good."

"The chamomile and mint is good for sleeping."

"I gave up on sleeping. I've been thinking."

"Yeah, me too."

Dyna looked at her, waiting. Maggie took a sip from her mug, knowing what Dyna wanted her to say. Could she? Had she made her decision? The visions of Betsy/Elizabeth she had just conjured up still floated through her head. Of course she had.

"I want to help."

"Yes! I knew you would!" Dyna rushed to Maggie and hugge
d her, almost knocking her over
and splashing tea on both of them. She stood back. "What about your book?"

Maggie puffed out her cheeks and blew out.

"Right now Elizabeth is a lot more important than any book, but maybe I can do both." She looked at Dyna. "With a little help. Can you stay around?"

Dyna frowned. She looked at the floor, hands on hips. "Can I stay around? Let me think. Well..., I don't know. There's that fantastic career waiting for me in the health food store, you know. Hmmm...." She looked up and grinned. "Of course I can, you dodo! I'll do anything I can to help out Liz. Just tell me where to start."

Ah, Maggie thought. Where to start. It's fine to have good intentions. But how to put them into action? Now that's the hard part.

CHAPTER 7

 

M
aggie poured a second cup of coffee as she chewed at her final bite of toast. After her talk with Dyna she had managed to get a couple hours of sleep, which her brain apparently considered plenty since it woke her with furiously busy thoughts. The rest of her body, however, was moving much more slowly. She had made the coffee strong.

She carried her mug over to the phone and punched in Elizabeth's number. Only one number had been listed in the phone book, not in Elizabeth's name but under Book Nook. Maggie assumed it also rang in the living quarters. Wherever the phone was ringing, no one was answering. She hung up in frustration.

"Still no answer?" Dyna's voice came through cascading strands of hair as her head hung down near her knees, her fingertips reaching for the floor. Apparently having suffered fewer effects from lack of sleep, she had enough energy to practice her Soorya Namaskas. Maggie shook her head.

"I can't believe John wouldn't talk to me about it," Dyna complained. "He didn't sound like himself at all." She straightened up and flipped her hair back. Her hair stood out from the static electricity, reminding Maggie of one of those eraser-faced rubber pencils she had as a kid, whose acrylic hair would fly out when she rolled it between her hands.

"He was being Sheriff John, not your friend John," Maggie said. "Sometimes I guess he can't be both. Possibly he's not able to give out information on an open case." She took a sip of coffee. "I wonder, though, what his own feelings on this situation are? Does he really think Elizabeth is guilty?"

"If he does, he won't be my friend any more." Dyna ran her fingers through her hair, calming it only slightly. She now looked, Maggie thought, like an enthusiastic rock-band drummer, minus the tattoos. Maggie's hand went to her own hair. After her restless night she probably didn't look much better.

She got an idea. "Why don't I call Paul Dekens? I wouldn't be surprised if he's managed to get in touch with Elizabeth." Dyna's face lit up in agreement, and Maggie picked up the phone.

A female voice at the ski lodge answered Maggie's call. "Paul's outside right now. Can I have him get back to you?" Maggie hesitated. "Will he be there for the next hour or so?"

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