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Authors: Gwendolyn Southin

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Death on a Short Leash

BOOK: Death on a Short Leash
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DEATH ON A SHORT LEASH

Gwendolyn Southin

To my grandchildren—Karen, Paul, Trevor, Nicholas, Taylor, Adrian, Arlyss and Conner. May your lives be happy and full of adventure. And again, Betty, Dorothy, Maureen and Rosella—what would I do without your expertise?

PROLOGUE

A
sliver of golden sunlight filtered down through the branches of the old maple tree and onto the girl lying on her back, her long blonde hair spilling over the fallen yellow and gold leaves. And it would have been such a lovely scene except that the girl was so very dead.

The man kneeling beside her was surprised how clear his mind was. “You should have loved me,” he said. But as he rose to walk away, it suddenly occurred to him that he could not leave her here so close to the main road. She would be found too soon.

Taking no notice of the girl's limply trailing arms and her head bumping over tree roots and stones, he dragged her by the ankles back down the narrow path to where he had left the car. He opened the trunk and heaved her body unceremoniously inside. On his drive back to Vancouver, he thought of several locations for her final resting place. “But it has to be somewhere off the beaten track,” he told himself.

It was well after midnight before he drove to a remote part of Lulu Island. This was the perfect place to leave her, but when he opened the trunk again, he could see in the moonlight that the grotesque body with its bent arms and legs was now rigid and firmly jammed inside. Suddenly becoming terrified that someone, perhaps the police, would show up and discover what he was doing, he began clawing at her, trying to get her out of the car, but her arms had caught on the case holding the spare tire. Panic overwhelmed him as he wrestled with the foul-smelling corpse. “How could I have loved you?” he said through gritted teeth. He gave one more desperate heave, and the body shot out of the trunk and sent him flying backwards onto the dirt road, with the dead girl on top of him. Pushing her away, he scrambled to his feet.

Then, steeling himself again, he picked the body up, staggered to the edge of the bog and dropped her in. He expected her to float away but she lay there, bobbing gently amid the cranberries waiting to be harvested. At last he had to wade into the black water, pushing the body in front of him until he was satisfied that she couldn't be easily seen from the road. Wading back to shore, he could not resist a final look. Her streaming blonde hair was now decorated with red berries, and one stiff arm was lifted as if in farewell.

CHAPTER ONE

I
t was on one of her evening walks that Maggie first noticed the house on Fifth Avenue in Kitsilano, and now she found herself returning for the third time to gaze at it. Each evening she had looked through the latched wooden gate and imagined herself walking up the flagstone path onto the small porch and then opening the green front door. There were two fair-sized windows on either side of the porch that overlooked the weedy front garden and two smaller windows on the second floor. And it was for sale!

“Would you like to come in?”

Margaret Spencer, Maggie to her friends, had been so absorbed that she hadn't noticed the elderly, white-haired man vainly pulling up weeds. “Oh, I'm sorry,” she stumbled for words. “I didn't mean to stare. It's just such a dear little house.”

“Well, yes, I guess it is . . .” The man stood up and stretched his back. “Would you like to have a look around?”

“I'm not in a position to buy.”

He walked over and opened the gate for her. “Come and have a look.”

An hour later, after going all through the home and looking at the back garden, also in dire need of care, she knew that it would be just perfect for her and her white angora cat, Emily. Mr.

Andrew McKinley, a recent widower, insisted on serving her tea.

“It's just got too much for me,” he explained, placing a plate of shortbread in front of her. “My daughter wants me to go and live with her in Calgary.”

“But won't you miss it?”

“Too many memories.” His eyes misted over. “I see my dear wife everywhere.”

“What are you asking?”

“You understand it needs a few repairs—the roof should last another couple of years, though. It's solid otherwise.” He paused. “I thought fifteen thousand.”

That evening, when Maggie was back in her basement apartment, she tried to think of ways of raising enough for a down payment. She would need at least fifteen hundred. She could sell her 1954 Morris Minor, but she immediately discarded that idea. She wouldn't get enough for a six-year-old car, and anyway, she needed it for her work. And gazing around her small domain, she realized that she had brought nothing of real value from her Kerrisdale family home when she left Harry.

And then there was the problem of a mortgage! Mr. McKinley had explained that he was in no position to hold the mortgage, and in her single state, no bank would give her one.
I'll talk it over with Nat in the morning.
She knew that Nat Southby, her boss, lover and the owner of Southby's Investigations, wouldn't be able to help her financially, but he was a great one for advice.

She was still tossing and turning in bed when the clock in the living room struck two. “This is ridiculous.” Pushing her cat, Emily—who, with all of Maggie's tossing, was also having a tough time sleeping—over to the far side of the bed, she reached for the lamp and switched it on. “There has to be a way.” Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she felt for her slippers. “Perhaps a glass of milk.” She never made it to the kitchen. The answer lay on her dressing table. Her engagement ring! One thing she could say for Harry, he'd given her a beautiful engagement ring—a square-cut emerald with two diamonds on either side. It should give her enough to take care of the down payment, she thought, but there was still the mortgage. Although the detective agency's business had doubled in the three years she'd been there, she really couldn't ask Nat to help, as she knew he was struggling to pay support to his ex-wife. There was nothing for it—she would go to the bank tomorrow, and if they wouldn't let her have a mortgage, she would have to go to Harry.

• • •

GRASSIE JEWELLERS HAD
just opened for the day when Maggie's red Morris drew up outside the store on Dunsmuir. She had no idea how one went about selling jewellery instead of buying it, but taking a deep breath, she opened the glass doors and marched up to the main counter, presided over by a very young man.

“What can I do for you, madam?”

Nervously, she opened the purple velvet box. “Do you buy rings?”

“Ah!” The young man bent down and looked at the ring. “Ah!” he repeated. “You need to see our Mr. Weissman,” he said reverently. “Please have a seat.”

Maggie, feeling like a criminal trying to sell her loot, sat on one of the high stools and waited with trepidation for “our Mr. Weissman” to appear. By the hushed and respectful tone of the assistant, she expected someone tall, distinguished and elegantly dressed, so she was totally unprepared for the stooped, grey-haired man dressed in an ordinary charcoal-striped suit who extended his hand to her.

“So what have we here?” He fitted a jeweller's eyepiece into his right eye. “A beautiful piece,” he breathed. “How much do you want for it?”

“I thought about fifteen hundred dollars . . .”

“Um! The most I can offer is eleven hundred, Mrs. . . .”

“Spencer. But my husband paid much more than that,” she said, dismayed.

“Yes . . . but you see . . . resale . . .” He left the rest unsaid. “I'm sorry. That's all we can offer.” Carefully, he replaced the ring in its box and handed it back to her.

“But I need fifteen hundred.”

“I'm sorry.”

She held the box in her hand, wondering if she should accept, then looked down at her left hand. “What about this one?” She wrenched her wedding band off and placed it before him. Like the engagement ring, it was white gold and embedded with small diamonds.

“Are you sure you want to sell your wedding ring?” he asked.

She nodded.

He picked it up and examined it through his glass. “I'll give you thirteen hundred for the two pieces.”

A little later Maggie sat in her car, looking at the bare patch where her wedding band used to be. “My God, what have I done?” Still in a daze, she reached a hand toward the ignition. “Harry will kill me if he ever finds out.”

She had no luck with the bank. As she expected, the bank manager pointed out that she had left her husband, that he wasn't supporting her in any way, that she had a low-paying job and that—to top off her crimes—she was fifty-three years old! So she would have to depend on Harry, after all.

• • •

MAGGIE TOOK A DEEP BREATH
before entering her husband's law office.

“Oh! Mrs. Spencer,” Miss Fitch-Smythe, Harry's long-time secretary and self-appointed protector, said in surprise. “Is your husband expecting you?” She looked at the appointment book.

“I don't seem to have you down here.”

“No, Miss Fitch-Smythe, I do not have an appointment. Just tell Mr. Spencer that I'm here.”

“He's very busy. You should have called.”

“Is anyone with him?”

“No . . . but . . .”

“Thank you.” Maggie walked over to the door of Harry's inner sanctum, turned the handle and marched in. “Harry, I need to talk to you.” And she firmly closed the door on Miss Fitch-Smythe's carefully made-up, astonished face.

“Margaret, what on earth are you doing here? Is there something wrong?”

Maggie sat down and looked across the desk at her husband of nearly thirty years—though they had been estranged for the last three of them. Actually, she thought, the years had been quite kind to Harry. He still had most of his sandy, wavy hair, he'd kept his slim build, his little ginger moustache that quivered whenever he was agitated, and he was still as fussy as ever. “Nothing's wrong. I just need you to sign some papers for me.”

“What papers?” he asked suspiciously. “I'm not giving you a divorce, if that's what you're after.”

“No. I need a mortgage and the bank won't give me one.”

“Ha!”

Maggie could almost see the wheels turning in his brain.

“What did you expect?” he demanded. “I hope now, Margaret, that you realize what a mess you've got yourself into by leaving our home on this independence lark.”

“It's not a lark. I want to buy a small house I've seen in Kitsilano and I need you to co-sign a mortgage.” She looked straight at him. “Will you sign or not?”

“No, Margaret, I will not. You've made your decision to leave me, so you can now take the consequences.” He leaned over the desk and patted her gloved hand. “My offer is still there for you to come home. You know I don't hold grudges, Margaret, and I'm willing to forgive you.”

Margaret got slowly out of the chair and gathered up her purse. “Okay, if that's your decision, Harry, that's just fine. I thought I would ask you first before accepting Nat's offer.” His moustache quivered as if on cue.
That got him!

“Admit it, Margaret,” he replied, “that sleazy detective you supposedly work for hasn't got two pennies to rub together. How could he sign for a mortgage for you?”

“Actually, Harry, the Southby's Investigations' business has more than tripled in the last year,” she lied as she opened his office door. Holding her head high, she strode past his smirking secretary. Maggie knew she'd listened to every word.

Harry called her that evening. “Margaret, I've decided to sign the mortgage agreement for you. I've looked into this and I think that a house in the Kitsilano district could turn out to be a very good investment for me.”

Maggie would have dearly liked to have told him to stuff it, but she desperately wanted that little house. “Thank you, Harry,” she said sweetly.

BOOK: Death on a Short Leash
11.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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