High Rhymes and Misdemeanors (10 page)

BOOK: High Rhymes and Misdemeanors
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Silence.

Peter’s gaze shifted to Grace. “The young lady is with me now.”

A longer silence.

Peter’s jaw clenched but his voice was smooth and civil as he cut in, “Let me save you the trip, Chief Constable. I planned to drive into—” A pause. “I look forward to it.”

Peter slammed down the receiver.
“Bloody hell!

“What is it?”

“Why the hell did you have to go to the police?”

The unfairness of this attack had Grace spluttering, “What was I supposed to do? I was kidnapped; of course I went to the police. How could I know you have a—a rap sheet!”

“A what?”

“A police record.”

Peter pinched his bottom lip, scowling. Meeting Grace’s concerned gaze he said, “Suit up, Esmerelda. The cops are coming.”

Grace was coiling her hair in a French chignon when Peter tapped on her door.

“Let me do the talking, right?”

“What do I do if the constable asks me a direct question? Pretend to be mute?”

“There’s a thought.” He studied Grace critically, from the pristine white linen blouse to the Laura Ashley print skirt. It was the kind of ensemble Grace typically chose for parent-teacher conferences. She knew she looked feminine and sensible. The kind of woman who did not get involved in police investigations. Frankly, she thought Peter could do better than jeans and a lapis lazuli-colored shirt. Chaz would never wear such a shirt, she reflected. It almost looked like
silk
.

Peter had punctuated her dressing by calling bits of information to her: Chief Constable Heron had received a call from P.C. Kenton relating Grace’s misadventures and her concern for Peter’s safety. When Grace Hollister had promptly disappeared, the forces of law and order were perturbed in their phlegmatic British way.

“We simply need to let them see that you’re all right and everything’s under control.” It was the third time Peter had said this and Grace wondered whom he was trying to convince?

“Everything is
not
under control,” Grace had to point out.

Peter stalked away from her bedroom door.

Though everything was not under control, against her better judgment Grace was going along with Peter. She knew what she would say to one of her girls running around with a strange man (strange in more ways than one) conspiring to deceive the police force of a foreign country. No one who knew her would believe she was agreeing to this insanity voluntarily: not her family, not her colleagues, not Ms. Wintersmith, headmistress at St. Anne’s, who was grooming Grace to replace her in some far distant future—and certainly not Chaz, who on more than one occasion had praised her “dependability.” Grace found it hard to believe herself.

Of course it hadn’t helped that her morning phone call to the American Embassy had ended in the news that it would take several days to issue Grace a replacement passport—and this was assuming there were no “glitches.” How could there
not
be glitches in a situation like this one? Glitches were a guarantee. Grace could flee Innisdale, but for the time being she was stuck on this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England …

And to top it all off, it wasn’t like Peter Fox
wanted
her. The fact that he needed her help even to this extent clearly pained him.

From the landing she watched him admit the police. A rosy-cheeked constable started up the long staircase, followed by an older man who looked like he had escaped out of an Agatha Christie novel (right down to the wax on his handlebar mustache). This had to be the chief constable.

“Well, Miss Hollister, it’s a relief to find you in good health.”

Grace shook hands. “Sorry for the mix-up. I didn’t realize anyone was expecting me to turn up at a certain time or place.”

The chief constable shook hands with Peter. “Mr. Fox.” His tone was decidedly cooler.

They settled in Peter’s comfortable living room and the two policemen looked about themselves. The chief constable said, “You won’t mind showing me some ID, Miss Hollister?”

“That’s just it,” Grace said, “The men who grabbed me stole my ID. My passport, my money, everything.”

“Of course. I’d forgotten.” Heron twisted the ends of his mustache and Grace realized he hadn’t forgotten at all. Was it some kind of test?

Peter said lazily, “Perhaps you’d like Grace to recap her … adventures?” He apparently couldn’t help that tone of voice, but Grace noted it didn’t go over well with the officers of the law.

Heron’s black-cherry eyes rested on Peter’s face. “Hmm. We’ve got it on record. Miss Hollister, you’ve known Mr. Fox how long?”

“About three days.”

“What has that to do with anything?” Peter inquired.

“Just wondering why, after all she’d been through, Miss Hollister would come to you rather than ourselves.”

“I believed Peter’s life was in danger.”

At last Heron looked her way. “Why?” he asked bluntly.

Grace chose her words carefully. “They—well, someone had tried to kill him once. I gathered the only reason they were bothering me was they believed I was involved with Peter.” She began to see the danger in this line of questioning. “They seemed like dangerous men,” she said at last. The young constable smiled at her sympathetically.

“You didn’t trust the police to warn Mr. Fox?”

“I—yes, but I wasn’t sure you would be in time.”

Peter reached across and squeezed Grace’s hand. “I’d told Grace the night before she had a standing invitation.” The sheen of violet silk made his eyes shine like amethysts. “I was delighted she took me up on it.”

Grace smiled feebly. “Yep,” she said.

Heron cleared his throat. “I see.” He glanced at the constable who handed him a sheet of paper. “And what may I ask is this item you were supposed to exchange for Miss Hollister?”

Peter’s thin strong fingers tightened unconsciously on Grace’s. “There was no item.”

“Come, come, Mr. Fox. It’s right here in Miss Hollister’s account of her abduction.” He ran a thick finger along the typewritten sentence.

Grace interjected, “I … might have misunderstood on that point.”

“Why should you say so, miss?”

“Because she was rattled,” Peter said. “These yobbos abducted her, terrorized her—are her listening skills really the issue?”

Peter’s sarcasm had little effect on the stalwart minions of the law.

“No, Mr. Fox.” Heron returned equably. “No, I believe the young lady reported exactly what she heard, and I believe she heard the truth. You have something these miscreants want.”

Miscreants? Grace felt her confidence in local law enforcement waning. These gentlemen were so different from the trim, efficient LAPD back home. Plus they seemed convinced that Peter was the biggest threat to her safety.

“I have a question for you,” Peter said. “Did you happen to discover the identity of the owner of the farmhouse where Grace was held?”

Heron took this one in stride. “Indeed we have. The house was formerly owned by a Miss Barbara Hopkins. Miss Hopkins was an elderly spinster lady, and when she passed on, she had no relations to bequeath the property to. There was a housekeeper who apparently lived on there for some time, but she’s also long since deceased.”

“What was the housekeeper’s name?”

“Why?” Heron asked bluntly.

“Mild curiosity. These chaps seemed to know me. I wondered if I might recognize a name that could help the police in their investigations.”

The last bit was mockingly said, but instead of being offended Heron said quite cordially, “The housekeeper went by the name of Ames. Ring any bells?”

“No.”

“Quite certain of that, Mr. Fox?”

“Granted, life is full of uncertainties, Chief Constable, but I’m fairly certain the name Ames carries no special significance for me.”

Peter rose. “If that’s all, Grace and I have some business to attend to.”

“Actually, Mr. Fox, there is one thing more.”

Grace, who had started to rise, sat back down as though the strength had melted from her legs. She looked at Peter. Peter was watching Heron with narrowed eyes.

“And that is?”

“Do you know a Mr. Danny Delon, sir?”

After a moment, Peter said, “He’s a former business acquaintance.”

“When was the last time you saw Mr. Delon?”

Peter flicked an imaginary speck of lint from his sleeve. “Why?”

“Answer the question, Mr. Fox.”

Grace’s heart began to pound so hard she could hardly hear Peter’s indifferent, “About a week ago.”

“That was the last time you saw Delon? You haven’t seen him since your trip?”

“No.”

Grace inwardly cringed at this lie. Something in Heron’s tone warned that this was not a casual question. That it was, in fact, a trap.

“Are you going to tell me what this is about?” Peter sounded just right, a little bored, a little impatient. He seemed unconscious of the three pairs of eyes pinned on him.

Heron also rose, saying bluntly, “We received an anonymous tip, sir. The caller said that if we searched this house we would find Mr. Delon’s body.”

6
G
race could not help the squeak of alarm that escaped her. All three gentlemen turned her way and waited politely. When she did not continue, there was a sort of pause.
“Be my guest,” Peter drawled with a languid wave of his hand. One of Georgette Heyer’s Regency bucks couldn’t have done it better.

Heron glanced at his trusty constable. “We have your permission to search the premises?”

“If it will amuse you.”

“Amuse us? No, sir. We’re simply doing our duty.”

Peter’s expression grew mocking, and Heron reddened.

“I’ll just finish packing,” Grace suggested, edging off toward the guest room.

“Packing, miss?”

“Miss Hollister hopes to meet up with friends in Scotland.”

“I see.”

“Is there a problem?” Grace asked nervously.

“I’m not sure, Miss Hollister.” Heron turned to Peter. “Will you accompany us downstairs, Mr. Fox?”

“Certainly.” Peter headed for the door, impatience vibrating in his step.

Grace watched them out of the room. The official march of feet on the stairs sounded ominous.

They did not expect to find anything, Peter thought, and that was all that saved him.

They did not like anonymous phone calls, but they were conscientious and thorough. He watched them opening cupboard doors and checking in cabinets, even looking down the neck of a man-sized Satsuma vase. When the constable lifted the lid of a fan-shaped Yixing teapot, Peter could not restrain himself.

“Are you searching for bodies or bargains? Because I’ve a business to run here, and it seems only fair to let the other shoppers in.”

The youthful constable blushed.

“What’s in this room, Mr. Fox?” asked Chief Constable Heron.

“It’s the stockroom. I store all my murder victims there.”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic, sir.”

Peter followed them into the stockroom, watching them poke around. His nerves tightened as the constable glanced over the shelf in front of the passageway, nearly knocking over an art deco figurine. Peter had learned the hard way how to conceal his feelings. He swallowed over the rock in his throat and remarked, “You break it, you buy it.”

The constable and his chief exchanged looks, having seen some of the price tags in Rogue’s Gallery.

Some more poking and prying, and then at last Chief Constable Heron said, “Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Fox.”

“Satisfied?”

The older man eyed him levelly. “No sir. That I am not. Not by a long shot.”

Peter closed the door on them and leaned against it, eyes closed, breathing hard and fast, and very quietly, as though he’d run a mile and was still being pursued.

When he’d had a minute to gather himself he went upstairs. Grace was in the guest room. For a moment he observed her. She was painstakingly packing everything in little uptight bundles that couldn’t breathe. Wedging them in together …

With an effort he controlled himself again.

Grace was staring at him. “What is it? Did they find something?”

“No, of course not. There’s nothing to find.”

“You look …”

He probably looked like he felt: ill. Just the thought of it, the thought of being locked up, confined, closed into a small space. Sweat popped out on his forehead in memory.

“Everything’s fine.”

She did not look reassured, and he did not blame her.

“You moved the body?”

“Last night.”

She pressed her hands to her eyes for a moment. “This is bad: not telling the police, disturbing evidence. We could go to jail for that alone.”

“I know.”

She closed the neatly packed suitcase. Locked it. “I think I should try to locate Monica as soon as possible, and then go to the embassy. They must be able to fix me up with some kind of temporary passport.” She lugged the bag toward Peter, who took it from her.

More curious than anything else, he queried, “What happened to not running away?”

“That was before I was facing jail time.” She tried to imagine Ms. Wintersmith receiving a phone call that Grace had been arrested. The picture this conjured caused her to blurt out, “Given the circumstances, I don’t think I have any choice.”

“I’m not so sure.”

He had to be the most contradictory creature on the planet. One minute he couldn’t wait to get rid of her, the next … A little exasperatedly, Grace questioned, “What aren’t you sure about?”

“Let’s think about this for a moment. Someone kills Delon and leaves him in my home. First, why do they kill him?”

“To get the … the gewgaws.”

“Maybe. Then someone tips the police off that the body is here. Why?”

“To frame you.”

“Yes, but why?”

“To keep you out of the action?”

“I think so, but again, why?”

Grace studied him gravely. “Because he—she—they—think you could be a problem.
Or
because they didn’t get the gewgaws when they murdered Delon, and they think you have them—it—the object in question. And they want time to find it.”

“Which means someone thinks it’s still here.”

He watched the way her eyes widened; she was a rather pretty girl, although maybe it was an odd time to notice. A bit Victorian-looking with her Dresden doll face, rosebud mouth, wide eyes, and that veil of sorrel hair now done up in a sophisticated roll that made her look older and more conservative.

“In the shop?”

“Maybe. I suppose it’s possible.” He scrutinized her from beneath his lashes. “You see what I’m saying though? All this would indicate that they are watching me and this house.”

“And me.” Grace worked it out. “You think they’ll try for me again, when I leave here?”

“I don’t know. It’s possible. My inclination is to let them have what they want.”

“Me?”

His lips twitched. “No. Access to the house. The shop. If Delon hid something here, let them find it. Let them take it. Let them keep right on ’round the bend.”

This seemed to breach some suburban ethic. “But you can’t! It’s—it’s—Not only that, suppose they wreck the place during their search?”

“My guess is that they’ll try to be subtle about it. They won’t want us to know that they know that we’ve still got the goods. But if worse comes to worse—” He lifted his shoulders. “It’s insured.”

Grace was staring at him as though he hailed from another planet.

“Besides, Delon couldn’t have had much time to stash the goods. It won’t take them long to find what they’re after.” He loved this house, loved the beautiful, old things he had filled it with, but he had learned the hard way that these things were not important. Life and limb; this was what counted. And in the final instance: life.

Grace was still viewing him with consternation. “But you can’t just let these felons take what they want. You can’t give in to them.”

“I admire your spirit.” Actually he seemed amused by it. It seemed odd to her that someone who so obviously valued material things should dismiss the idea of fighting to protect them.

Grace opened her mouth, but he brushed her objection aside. “We’ll discuss it later.” He checked his watch. “It’s time to open the shop.”

“You’re working?”

“They don’t actually pay me to get knocked over the head and thrown in streams.”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“Do you know anything about antiques?”

“Well, no.”

“It’s your neck. If it were mine …” With a meaningful look he set Grace’s suitcase back inside the guest room.

“But what will the police think? I can’t just—” She was talking to his back.

It seemed to be business as usual at Rogue’s Gallery. Tourists came, they saw, and were conquered. Peter was an effective salesman. He flirted lazily with the women and rattled off appreciating values to doubtful husbands.

Late morning, a van rolled up filled with old furniture, the result of Peter’s recent buying trip. So at least he had not lied about that. Grace watched him unpack assorted pieces of china and pottery, a stack of fashion magazines from the 1920s, and various tables and chairs in all sizes and styles. Much of the antique business seemed to consist of tables and chairs.

Grace couldn’t understand him. She felt they should be searching the premises for the item Danny Delon had died for. Especially since Peter had indicated he didn’t plan on mounting any great resistance. How long could it take to find the item with both of them hunting? Granted, it was awkward not knowing what they were hunting for. And there were so many places to hide in Craddock House and Rogue’s Gallery. Then again, maybe Peter was right. If they
were
being watched, then perhaps there was some sense in pretending to carry on as though everything were normal. She just didn’t know. She tried to think how she would advise one of her girls, but frankly she hoped none of her girls was ever dumb enough to get into a situation like this.

Since Peter didn’t require her help downstairs, she returned upstairs to his living quarters, changed out of her skirt and blouse and into jeans and a T-shirt. She unpacked her suitcase and put her things away in the cherry-wood armoire in the guest room.

She wasn’t sure at which exact point during her conversation with Peter she had made her mind up to stay. Or, more exactly, to postpone leaving. She was certainly afraid of the police and of getting involved in any kind of scandal, but she was even more afraid of bumping into the Queen Mother and his partner. (Or even Mutt and Jeff.) And it was difficult to get real protection from the police without revealing the extent of Peter’s involvement—which she didn’t want to do. It was pretty clear to Grace that Peter was not popular with the local fuzz.

So she told herself, as she emptied her suitcase, that her decision was of a purely practical nature. Grace prided herself on being practical. She dismissed the idea that perhaps there was some little tiny part of her that was sort of enjoying having an adventure.

Her bags unpacked, Grace decided to occupy herself by searching the Internet once more. Peter could scoff all he liked, but men in turbans indicated cults to her. This time she concentrated on the religious aspects of Astarte.

Astarte, aka Astoreth, Ishtar and Ugarit was a Phoenician fertility goddess worshipped around 1500
B.C
.

Considering how often her name showed up in connection with occult-related sites, Grace wondered if her hunch about cults wasn’t correct.

Astarte was the goddess of the Evening Star, of love and of war. And she was one of the earliest aspects of the Great Mother.

“What else is there?” Grace wondered aloud, clicking on a link.

The link opened on the image of a naked woman riding a horse. She wore a horned crown and brandished barbaric weapons.

“Hello, Muddah,” murmured Grace, and jotted down notes on a legal pad.

The sun made a brief appearance in the early afternoon, traveling slowly across the floorboards. The shadow of the wisteria outside the windows dappled the white walls. It was so peaceful that it was hard to believe only two days earlier she had been held prisoner in a dirty, drafty abandoned farmhouse.

She was leaving another message on Calum Bell’s answering machine when Peter carried in her lunch tray. Shepherd’s pie made with chicken and vegetables, and a cold lager.

“I suppose you don’t have any diet cola?” Grace inquired, eyeing the lager with misgivings.

“You suppose correctly.” He glanced at the computer. “Having fun?”

“On a scale of one to ten—ten being kidnapped—I’m having the time of my life.” Grace pushed her specs up on her forehead. “How’s business?”

He shrugged. “It’s a living.”

“A very nice one by all appearances.” She sampled a forkful of mashed potato topping. She recognized hints of Parmesan and buttermilk. If only this man would use his talents for good instead of evil.

His grin was wicked. “Do I detect a note of disapproval? Do you suspect I’m living off my ill-gotten gains? I assure you, I’m strictly legit these days.” He glanced at the phone receiver. “Who were you calling?”

Did he not trust her?

Grace explained once again about Monica running off to Scotland. “I don’t think they could track her, but I’m not sure. Maybe Calum’s neighbors know where he’s staying. Or maybe they’ll break into Calum’s flat and find some clue to tell them where they’ve gone.”

“Ease up,” Peter advised. “You’re flooding the engine.” He considered her troubled features. “I thought all you Yanks carried cell phones.”

A mouthful of potato made it hard to articulate. Grace swallowed and got out, “That’s just an ugly urban legend.” She ignored the memory of the cell phones that both she and Monica did carry when on home soil.

He shrugged and said, apparently untroubled by the thought of other people in danger, “You’ve done what you could. When they get back she’ll know where to find you.”

Peter only stayed to chat another moment or two. Grace could see that he didn’t expect her to find anything, but was relieved to have her out of his hair. Spurred on by the desire to prove him wrong, she kept on at the computer until it was getting dark.

Dusk was falling when she finally heard the last car drive away in the Cumbrian evening. This was followed by Peter’s quick light tread on the stairs. The living room lights came on and with them the stereo and the restless beat of The Waterboys once more. It was strange hearing music that she knew from another time in her life. She recognized the song: “Be My Enemy,” and the remembered lyrics brought a reluctant grin. Something about finding goons on one’s landing and thieves on one’s trail and nazis on the phone—at least they didn’t have to worry about nazis dialing in. Something to be grateful for!

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