A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (9 page)

"Yes, I'm sure he will. We're having trouble with one of the lifts. He's out there with the crew."

"Great. I mean, that's too bad. But thanks." Maggie hung up and turned back to Dyna. "If we drive over to Big Bear we should be able to talk to Paul face to face."

"Sounds good. Just let me change into something warmer. Oh, and maybe I better do something with my hair."

Maggie didn't answer. She was already half way up the stairs to do the same.

 

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Maggie sat at the edge of a metal chair in front of the desk in Paul's office, Dyna on one next to her. She had had to remove a stack of papers from it first, which now lay lopsidedly on the floor beside her. Paul came in, bringing cold air with him, his face red from the wind. He zipped off his jacket and tossed it into the corner of the small room whose cluttered desk nearly filled it. "Carol said you've been waiting to see me?"

He looked at Dyna as he said it, but Maggie answered. "It's about Elizabeth." His face clouded over.

"We're sure she's being framed," Maggie hurried to explain, "and that she needs help. But we can't get hold of her. We hoped you might be able to fill us in on what's happening."

Paul sat down in his chair and leaned back slowly. "You're right. She needs help. But I can't seem to convince her of that."

"You've talked to her then?"

He nodded. "I wanted to get her a lawyer, to pay for him. She refused."

"Has she been charged?"

"Not yet. She feels since she's innocent, there's no chance of being charged and therefore no need of a lawyer."

Maggie nodded. Elizabeth was being naive and trusting and very much like Maggie would have expected. "Do you know what they have on her so far?"

"Elizabeth told me they found a small, clear, unlabeled bottle containing a small amount of liquid at the back of a kitchen cabinet she seldom uses. There was also a paperback book on poisons, with a bookmark at the section on household poisons. She says she never saw either before."

"Does she keep the doors to her apartment locked?"

"The back door, yes, but not the one that opens off the shop. It's at the back of the shop, out of view from the front register."

"So if she were busy with a customer, someone could slip in to her place?"

"Exactly." Paul's face looked grim.

"But John must know that," Dyna put in.

Paul's eyes shifted back to Dyna. "He must, but until someone can say they actually saw that happen, he has only the facts of the bottle and the book to deal with. They must be testing the contents of that bottle right now, and if it contains the same poison that killed Warwick, Elizabeth will be in serious trouble."

"Well," Maggie said, "then our job is to find out who put those things there. Do you know of anyone who would want to do this to Elizabeth?"

"I can't imagine anyone wanting to hurt her like this, but whoever killed Jack Warwick wanted to cover his or her own butt. Probably Elizabeth seemed the most vulnerable."

Maggie nodded. Her own thoughts precisely.

 

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Maggie sat behind the wheel of her car, silent and staring forward.

"What are you thinking?" Dyna asked.

Maggie turned towards her. "Lots of things, one of which I don't like very much."

Dyna's eyebrows went up questioningly.

"Paul seems like a good guy, wanting to help Elizabeth. But we both know he had a very good motive for eliminating Jack Warwick himself. If the poison used was a common one, something found in the average household, as the bookmark seems to indicate, then it's likely available to anyone. He also must have been to Elizabeth's apartment a few times, been somewhat familiar with it. It's very possible he could have planted those things in Elizabeth's cabinet to cover himself."

Dyna's face looked pained. "But he loves her. You told me that yourself, and I think you're right. He couldn't do such a thing to someone he loves."

"I hope not. For Elizabeth's sake. She doesn't need any more betrayal. We can only hope he didn't decide he loved Big Bear even more." Maggie took a deep breath. She thought about what to do next. "Well, we really need to talk to Elizabeth. Why don't we drive over to her place, pound on the door and make her let us in?"

"Got the battering ram in the trunk?"

"Of course. But only to be used if necessary."

"Aye-aye, Captain," Dyna responded, saluting briskly as Maggie put the car in gear.

 

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It turned out they didn't need a battering ram against the door, just a few light taps of Maggie's knuckle on Elizabeth's window. Finding, as expected, the book shop closed and dark, they had followed a trampled path in the snow around to the back. Maggie peered in and saw Elizabeth sitting with her back to the window in an overstuffed chair, wrapped in an afghan, feet drawn up. She appeared to be staring at a blank television, and her head turned slowly at the sound of Maggie's taps.

Elizabeth pulled herself out of the chair and opened the door.

"May we come in?" Maggie asked. "We need to talk." She took Elizabeth's silence as assent and she and Dyna kicked off their boots, padding in on sock feet as Elizabeth stood aside.

The kitchen/sitting area felt bleak to Maggie, although with its braided rug and pillow-strewn chairs it should have felt cozy. It must be Elizabeth's mood filling the room, she thought. She looked at the kitchen counters which were clean and bare.

"Have you eaten today?" she asked.

Elizabeth appeared to have to think about it. "No," she finally said, "I guess I haven't. I'm not sure when I ate last."

Dyna pulled open the refrigerator door. "There's some eggs here. How about I scramble you some?"

Elizabeth smiled a little. "You don't have to take care of me. I'm all right."

She looks anything but all right, Maggie thought. "Sit down," she directed. "I'll fix some tea." A small cannister near the sink yielded a bag of the same spicy tea that Elizabeth had served Maggie the day before, and she put a mug of water in the microwave. Dyna cracked eggs into a frying pan and popped some bread in the toaster. Between the two of them they set a hot breakfast before Elizabeth in a short time.

A little color came back to her cheeks as she ate, and Maggie smiled at Dyna's chatter about a lot of nothing which she was sure helped Elizabeth relax some. Elizabeth polished her plate, obviously hungrier than she had realized, and Maggie began washing up as Elizabeth sipped at her tea. Dyna found a box of cookies, and brought it over, pulling one out for herself.

"Have you heard anything from John since yesterday?" Maggie asked from the sink. Elizabeth shook her head.

"Did he give you any idea how things stood as of last night?"

"No, but I'm sure he realizes those things he found in my kitchen weren't mine." She said it with a vagueness that told Maggie she was refusing to face the situation.

"Did he actually say so?" Dyna asked, a look of hope on her face.

"Well, no. But they're not. They're so clearly not."

Maggie put down her dish towel and came over to Elizabeth. She sat down on the hassock near her. "Elizabeth, you know they aren't yours, and you can tell John they aren't yours, but you can't prove it. They were found here in your kitchen. A book on poisons. And a bottle whose liquid may prove to be the poison that killed Jack Warwick. Unless someone else's fingerprints are found on those items, which I very much doubt will happen, you are in a very bad situation. Dyna and I want to help you, and we will do everything we can. But you will have to help yourself too."

Elizabeth stared at Maggie for what seemed like a long time. Finally she put her mug of tea down and said, "What should I do?"

Maggie took a deep breath. Good. "First, call Paul Dekens and tell him he can get you that lawyer." When Elizabeth started to protest Maggie held up her hand to stop her. "I know you're innocent, but that's all the more reason to have a lawyer. If the District Attorney starts putting together a case against you, you've got to have someone on your side."

"But I can't let Paul go to that expense. He needs every penny to keep Big Bear afloat."

"Let him do it. Maybe you can pay him back later. We'll worry about money later." To herself, Maggie thought that if Paul was innocent himself, he would be doing it out of love and wouldn't mind the expense. If he was guilty and just playing Mr. Nice Guy, well, then the more it cost him the better. Maggie would check out the lawyer herself, to make sure he was competent.

"Next," she continued, "think very hard and tell me if there is anyone who you think would set you up like this."

Elizabeth looked down at the floor, and Maggie saw her pale face take on tinges of red. She looked back at Maggie.

"I can't really imagine anyone doing that. But then I couldn't imagine anyone murdering Jack, and someone did. If I had to guess as to who would want to hurt me, it would have to be Leslie, Jack's wife."

Elizabeth's eyes had filled with tears at this, and Maggie knew they were not tears of anger but sorrowful tears of regret. She could almost read what was going through Elizabeth's mind. Apparently Dyna could too, for she grabbed one of Elizabeth's hands.

"Hey," Dyna said, "I know you probably feel rotten over the affair, but don't go thinking you deserve the chair for it. Someone else killed Jack, not you, and someone else is going to pay for it. Got that?"

Elizabeth wiped her eyes. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and blew her nose. Then she smiled up at Dyna. "Got it."

 

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Back in the car Dyna looked over at Maggie. "Do you think she'll be all right?"

"She's coming around. Tomorrow we can take over some groceries - her cupboard looked pretty bare. Then maybe we can talk her into reopening the book shop. She needs to stay busy." And I need to add a few more pages on my book, Maggie thought. She hoped she could squeeze in a couple of hours of work later on that night. But for the moment she would concentrate on the murder.

"Where to now?" Dyna asked, as Maggie turned on the ignition.

"Where else," Maggie said, "but to see the one person Elizabeth could bring herself to suspect. Mrs. Jack Warwick."

CHAPTER 8

 

M
aggie pulled up to the large, Federal style house.

"Is this it?" she asked Dyna.

"I'm pretty sure it is. I remember Annette telling me at the town meeting that the Warwick's had rented the old Kirby place, the best house in town that was available."

Maggie stepped out of her car
and looked at it thoughtfully, taking in the character and gentility the home exuded and wondering just how well Jack Warwick had fit into it. She climbed the few steps with Dyna to knock at the door.

Leslie Warwick answered it herself, looking surprised but pleased to see them. She was dressed in form-fitting pants topped with a bright green silk shirt, which set off her tawny hair beautifully. Not exactly mourning clothes
, Maggie thought, but then decided that any outfit Leslie wore would have a hard time looking funereal, especially with that amazing hair.

"How wonderful to see y'all," Leslie said, stepping back to welcome them in. "Don't worry about your boots, just come on in. It seems like ages since I've been able to really talk to anyone. Mrs. Hanson!" Leslie shouted, causing Dyna, who stood closest to her, to jump.

A grey-haired woman in a navy dress, who must have been Leslie's housekeeper, bustled into the foyer and took their things. Worry lines creased he
r face, but she smiled pleasant
y when Maggie handed her her jacket with thanks.

"Come in, come in," Leslie sang cheerily, her voice lilting in the southern accent Maggie had forgotten about, and led them into a formal living room decorated mainly in white, with a touch of icy blue. "Let's get comfy. What can I get y'all to drink?"

Maggie noticed for the first time that Leslie had a glass in her hand, partly filled with ice cubes and a dark amber liquid. Iced tea? Maggie hoped it was, considering the time of day, but Leslie's manner seemed livelier than simple tea would induce. Maggie also remembered this woman's unsteadiness at the town meeting.

Leslie stood at a portable bar,
waiting for their answers. "Pepsi
is fine for me," Maggie said.

"If you have mineral water I'd like that please," said Dyna.

Leslie wrinkled her nose but smiled and rooted around to find the items. "This cart reminds me of my days with the airline, pushing one down the aisle, smiling, smiling, smiling." She dropped ice cubes into
Maggie's glass, poured her soda
into it and held it out to her.

"You were a flight attendant?" Maggie asked, taking the glass.

"For a while. I thought I would see the world. What I saw was a bunch of airport terminals. After that I did some modeling. Evian all right?" she asked Dyna, who nodded.

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