Read Devil May Care Online

Authors: Elizabeth Peters

Tags: #American fiction, #Fiction, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Virginia, #Mystery & Detective, #Romance, #Fiction - Mystery, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery, #Psychological, #Witches, #General

Devil May Care

DEVIL-MAY-CARE [026-142-066-4.6]

By: Elizabeth Peters

Category: Fiction Mystery

Synopsis:

Ellie, house-sitting for her aunt, encounters ghosts galore--but are they TRULY ghosts, or is someone playing a dangerous practical joke? Who amongst the neighbors would do such a thing, and for what reason?

Last printing: 10/22/02 `@-71' DEVIL-MAY-CARE

By ELIZABETH PETERS

TOR

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK

NEW YORK

A TOR Book

Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

ISBN: 0-7146-812-50789-4 Can. ISBN: 0-812-50790-8

First Tor edition: June 1989

To the Washington Redskins

with thanks for all the hours of viewing pleasure they have given me; and especially to the greatest of them all, Number Nine

CHAPTER ONE.

Henry Danvers Willoughby was an extremely fortunate young man. On a marital eligibility scale he ranked slightly below millionaires and well above promising young doctors. He was aware of his status, but was rather inclined to resent people who described him as lucky, for he felt that he owed his success to his own abilities--intelligence, honesty, hard work, and charm. His family connections had nothing to do with it. Undeniably his branch of the family was not overly endowed with money; it had taken every penny his father could save, borrow, or beg to get Henry through Harvard Law. The question of how he got into Harvard Law was one Henry did not discuss. The other branches of the family were happy to use their influence, so long as it didn't cost them any hard cash.

At the age of twenty-seven Henry was a junior partner in one of Washington's dullest and most influential law firms. (It was his uncle's firm, but Henry did not stress that fact.) In twenty years he could expect to be a senior partner and a very wealthy man. He was already comfortably situated financially; he was healthy, reasonably good-looking, and socially popular. His schedule included a daily workout at the gym, for, as he sometimes said to his

2 Elizabeth Peters fiancee, "Mens sana in corpore sano ... " He had forgotten the rest of the quote, if there was any more, but the point was clear.

Henry looked complacently at the aforementioned fiancee, whom he considered another of his assets.

He did not entirely approve of her casually bizarre clothes, but that would change when she became his wife, along with several other defects. They were minor flaws; he had selected Ellie because she met his requirements in all major areas. She was extremely pretty--that went without saying. Blond, of course.

Blue eyes, widely spaced; a neat, pointed nose; and a mouth with the full lower lip which, Henry believed, indicated a passionate nature. Henry's smile widened as he contemplated his bride-to-be fondly.

Ellie sensed his smile and turned her head to smile back at him. She had excellent teeth--another of Henry's requirements. Good teeth were hereditary and orthodontists were expensive.

"Don't take your eyes off the road, darling," he said.

Ellen returned her gaze to the windshield. Henry had let her drive, although the car was his. Ellie's driving technique was one of the minor flaws he meant to correct before he put her in charge of his car and his handsome, intelligent, white-toothed children. When they had married and had moved to the suburbs, he would buy a station wagon. Ellie would drive the children to their exclusive private schools, wearing slacks and a tailored shirt, her hair tied back in a pony tail.

At the moment her hair was too short for Henry's taste. He was working on that point too, but had grown rather fond of the clustering golden curls.

Yes, he had chosen well. One of his criteria had been Ellie's physical appeal, for he considered sexual attraction important in marriage. Ellie was also intelligent--for a woman--and he certainly didn't mind that; he was careful not to put her down when DEVIL-MAY-CARE 3

she tried to talk about intellectual topics. After all, children inherited intelligence from both parents.

And now to discover that, in addition to Ellie's other attractions, she had a rich, childless aunt! It was almost enough to make him believe in luck.

Sweet, silly little girl, she had been afraid he would be angry when she told him her Aunt Kate wanted her to spend her two-week vacation housesitting while Kate went off on some jaunt or other. He had agreed to forgo their planned trip with such magnanimity that Ellie had flung her arms around him and kissed him enthusiastically. They were on their way now to Kate's mansion in Virginia. Henry had offered to come along and on his way back drive Kate to catch her plane at Dulles. As he had explained to Ellie, he wanted to meet the dear old lady. Wasn't he about to become a member of the family?

Henry had no doubt of his ability to charm the dear old lady. Old ladies loved him. They liked his short hair and honest, candid look, and his championing of the good old-fashioned virtues. And yet ... The faintest of frowns creased his high, tanned brow (a little too high; Henry would be bald as well as wealthy in twenty years) as he remembered the letter Kate had written her niece. He amended his description: dear old eccentric lady. It had been a rather peculiar letter, and he had taken exception to the postscript when Ellie read it to him.

" T.S. Are you sleeping together? I need to know because of the sheets.' "

"What does she mean, ''?" Henry had demanded.

"Oh, you know. She doesn't want to put clean sheets on two beds unless it's necessary."

"How peculiar." "I think it's funny," Ellie said defensively.

"Certainly." Henry smiled. "But for a woman of her generation to speak so casually of--"

"It does go on, you know," Ellie said seriously.

4 Elizabeth Peters

"Hmmm," said Henry.

Remembering this letter, Henry's frown deepened.

It might behoove him to learn a little more about Aunt Kate. Eccentric old ladies had to be handled with care.

"Darling," he said. "No, don't look at me, sweetheart; how many times have I told you--you must never take your eyes off the road. A simple '?"

will suffice." "Yes?" said Ellie.

"Your aunt. Is there anything I ought to know about her? Any little foibles or prejudices I should consider? Perhaps we might stop along the way and get some flowers for her."

"She has masses of flowers," Ellie said. "She's an enthusiastic gardener."

"Ah," Henry said. This hobby was quite in keeping with his idea of sweet little old ladies.

"Anyhow," Ellie went on, "I bought her a present.

It's from both of us."

"That old book? I don't know, Ellie--"

"She collects old books. Among other things." Ellie was silent, but Henry did not speak, recognizing the silence as one of concentration. Finally Ellie said, "I don't know how to describe her. She's rather-- er--"

"Eccentric," Henry suggested.

"Oh, yes, she's damned eccentric! There are a few things you might--well, you might avoid. She's somewhat opinionated on certain subjects." "Politics?" Henry suggested.

"I don't know what her political opinions are. I mean, they change a lot. She voted for Wallace once."

"George?"

"Henry. And she campaigned for Shirley Chisholm." "Liberal," said Henry. "Women's lib." "I wish you wouldn't do that," Ellie said.

"Do what?"

DEVIL-MAY-CARE 5

"Label people."

"Darling, I'm not. I'm simply trying to sort her out.

I shall be careful not to criticize Shirley Chisholrn or Gloria Steinem. What else?" "Well ... I told you about the cats."

"I can't believe it," Henry said, with genuine feeling.

"How many does she have?"

"It varies. Between ten and twenty, most of the time. And the last time I heard from her she had four dogs. Plus the raccoon and the Siamese rabbits and the chickens. The ones that look like Ringo Starr."

"Look like--"

Ellie chuckled. She had a delightful laugh, low and throaty and infectious.

"You know, hair over their eyes and long thin beaks. And she had a lot of hamsters, but I think they got away. And a rat--"

"Never mind," Henry said resignedly. "She's an animal lover. Fine, that gives me considerable insight.

What about religion?"

"Oh, Henry, she isn't like that! I mean, religion, politics, and things ... "

"I don't understand."

"You don't have to avoid whole categories like religion or politics. She gets excited about specific things. And people. Like Lorenzo the Magnificent." "Is she for him or against him?" Henry asked wittily.

"For, definitely for. She thinks he's great."

Henry considered asking who Lorenzo the Magnificent was. But that would have been admitting ignorance. It was not really necessary that he know the man's identity--some Italian or other, obviously.

"All right," he said. "No rude remarks about Lorenzo the Magnificent. I doubt that the subject will come up, dearest."

"Aunt Kate brings up subjects like that," Ellie said darkly. "Oh! I almost forgot, and it's very important.

Don't say anything rude about Sonny Jurgensen."

6 Elizabeth Peters

"Who?" Henry stared.

Ellen stared back. This necessitated her removing her gaze from the road again, to the imminent peril of a pickup truck and two bicyclists. Henry pointed out the peril, somewhat acrimoniously, and Ellen swerved the car back into her own lane.

"I'm sure that was the name," she said, frowning.

"He's a football player. I thought you knew all about football."

"I do," Henry said, without false modesty. "Naturally I know who Jurgensen is--was, insofar as the active sport is concerned. Before he retired he was the Washington Redskins' quarterback. My exclamation of surprise was prompted by the question as to why your Aunt Kate should care what I say about him. Are they related?"

"No, no, nothing like that. Aunt Kate is a rabid football fan. Most football fans are excitable and when Aunt Kate gets excited, she ... oh, I can't explain it. All I know is, I never saw her so mad as she was the last time she visited me and one of my friends made a critical remark about Mr. Jurgensen.

The next day poor Tony came down with a terrible case of shingles. He had to go to the hospital." Henry thought seriously for a moment. Then he said, "I fail to understand the connection between the argument and the shingles." "I think," Ellie said thoughtfully, "it was what he said about Mr. Jurgensen's age. Kate seemed to be very sensitive about his age."

"That's the craziest thing I ever heard," Henry said sincerely. "You mean she's sensitive about her age.

How old is she?"

"I'm not sure. But I don't think she's sensitive about it. She got mad when Tony said--" "Wait a minute," Henry interrupted. "I have told you before, Ellie, that you must learn to concentrate on the thread of a discussion and not wander off into DEVIL-MAY-CARE 7

side issues. Let us return to my initial question.

Granted that your aunt was annoyed. What is the connection between that fact and the fact that the unfortunate gentleman came down with shingles?" "She gave them to him," said Ellie. "I forgot to tell you that. She's a witch."

"My dear girl!"

"A white witch, of course," Ellie said quickly. She frowned. "The shingles were--was?--an exception.

She doesn't do that sort of thing very often, only when she loses her temper, and she's always very sorry afterwards." "You're joshing me," Henry said. "I wish you wouldn't, darling, not when we're having a serious discussion. It is very important to me to understand your aunt. I wouldn't offend the dear old lady for the world. How marvelous that she is interested in football! I can help her understand the complexities of the sport. I presume she is a Redskin fan?"

"I suppose so," Ellie muttered.

Henry regarded her with affectionate amusement.

She looked cute when she was sulking, like an irritated kitten or baby chick. (Henry's figures of speech were not very original.) She would soon learn to accept his gentle corrections gratefully; in the meantime he simply ignored her ill hurnor until it went away. That was the way to train people, show them that temper tantrums and pouting didn't have the least effect.

"That gives me a good conversational lead," he said cheerfully. "I shall praise the Redskins."

"Why don't you make a note of it?" Ellie inquired.

"I think I can remember it," Henry said, chuckling to show that sarcasm did not affect him either. "Is there anyone I can safely criticize? There must be someone she dislikes. I always say nothing makes people friends more quickly than a shared enemy." "Oh," Ellie said, "well, yes. She does dislike quite a few people."

8 Elizabeth Peters

"For example?"

Ellie took a deep breath.

"Joe Namath and Dr. Joyce Brothers and Roger Mcgrath--he's the head of the local schoolboard and he has been trying to censor the high-school library --and All in the Family and TV commercials about deodorants--she adores the cat-food commercials, of course--and Howard Cosell, but I guess that isn't unusual ... "

"No."

"... and Norman Mailer and Plato--she says he's a fascist--and Tricia Nixon and Gore Vidal--"

"I'll go along with that," Henry said approvingly.

"But probably not for the same reasons," Ellie said, with a swift sidelong look. "She's mad at him because she says he is almost a great writer, and he won't take the trouble to be a great writer because he despises people so much."

"I see. Who else?" "Poor Henry," Ellie said, laughing. "Don't sound so depressed. I can't think of anything else at the moment, but I'll mention subjects as they occur to me. Oh, and, Henry, if you start to say something wrong, I'll raise my eyebrows, the way Meg did in Little Women. You just watch me." "All right," Henry said morosely. "Damn it, Ellie, this is ridiculous. Are you sure you aren't joshing me?"

"I wouldn't josh you, darling," Ellie said. Her voice had a peculiar note. Henry had heard that tone rather often in the last few months. It did not occur to him to wonder about it, which was perhaps unfortunate for him. On the other hand, things often turn out for the best--another of Henry's favorite quotations.

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