High Rhymes and Misdemeanors (8 page)

BOOK: High Rhymes and Misdemeanors
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“If Astarte isn’t a person …?”

“I don’t know if Astarte is a person,” Peter informed Grace. He flopped down in a chair and raked a hand through his fair hair. “I doubt it, since I’ve never met anyone named Astarte.”

“Maybe it isn’t ‘Astarte’?” Grace suggested suddenly. “Maybe the murderer was interrupted before he could finish writing out the message.”

Peter studied Grace as though she were from another planet. “Just out of curiosity, what message do you imagine he might have been writing? ‘A-start-e …?’ ‘E’ for what? Elsewhere? As in ‘A start elsewhere might be a good idea’?”

“No, but—oh, all right! It was just a thought.”

Peter shook his head. “What an imagination. You’re wasted teaching dead poets to hormone-riddled adolescents.”

Some connection between dead poets and Astarte clicked in Grace’s brain, but before she could pin it down, it was gone.

“Well, if it’s not someone’s name, and it isn’t part of another message, it must be whatever the murderer was after. Astarte. Maybe you have a statue of Astarte? Or maybe Delon did. Or perhaps the gewgaws, the jewels, are in a statue of Astarte?”

Peter put a hand to his head as though it hurt. “I don’t have a statue of Astarte. I don’t have anything connected to Astarte. I never did have the item, whatever it is. Delon did.”

“But Delon came here. Maybe he brought it with him?”

“In which case whoever killed him has it now, and wrote ‘Astarte’ to warn us off.”

That made sense. Grace liked that scenario. For one thing it meant the affair was now over—other than the minor detail of Danny Delon’s dead body. She smothered a yawn triggered as much by nerves as fatigue.

Peter said abruptly, “You’re dead on your feet. Why don’t you have a wash and a lie down. I’ll see about … dinner.”

Grace suspected he had been about to say something quite different. She shuddered and said weakly, “I don’t care about dinner. I don’t think I could eat a bite.”

Peter’s eyes fell on what remained of the cake. He said solemnly, “Naturally. But you have to keep your strength up.”

Meeting his gaze, Grace surprised herself with a laugh. Twenty-four hours ago she had believed she would never laugh again.

“You know, Mr. Fox, if you had been honest that first night you might have saved us both a lot of trouble.”

“I didn’t know whether you were involved the first night,” Peter admitted. “I didn’t know what was happening myself. I still don’t.”

“Well, I’m involved now.”

“Not for long. Tomorrow we’ll have you on your way home.”

Grace doubted it, but it was reassuring to hear. With both hands she smothered another of those engulfing yawns.

“Where are your keys?” Peter rose in one of those restless movements that had her overwrought nerves twitching like jumping beans. “I’ll bring up your bags. Where did you park?”

Grace told him, fishing her keys out of her purse. She tossed them to Peter who caught them one-handed.

“The bath’s through there. Towels are in the cupboard,” he informed her on his way out the door.

Despite the old-fashioned porcelain and brass fixtures, the bathroom was modern and utilitarian. The man believed in his creature comforts, Grace reflected. There was plenty of hot water, fluffy giant bath towels, and bars of vanilla-scented French-milled soaps.

A few gallons of hot water soaked the ache out of her tired bones and tense muscles.

Grace took her time, lathered in vanilla suds, leisurely massaging shampoo through her hair, and using a hot spring’s worth of H2O to rinse away the grime and fear of the past days.

Feeling pleasantly drained she wrapped a towel around her hair and padded into the bedroom to find her suitcases lying on Peter Fox’s four-poster bed. Rosy light from a silk-shaded lamp cast mellow warmth over the masculine furnishings. The bed looked big and inviting.

Grace changed into a fleecy pair of navy sweats with St. Anne’s logo, and poked her head out the bedroom door. The tea things still sat on the glass-topped curio chest. There was no sign of Peter. It didn’t take much imagination to guess where he was. Dismissing her queasy stomach Grace cleared away the tea tray. The man was mad. You couldn’t conceal a murder. What honest person would want to?

“Mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Wasn’t that what Lady Caroline Lamb had written about Lord Byron? It might as easily have been written about Peter Fox.

There was still no sign of Peter by the time Grace finished washing up the tea things. Weariness dragged at her like Jacob Marley’s chains. She felt as though she were moving in a fog. No wonder she couldn’t think straight.

Checking the front door to be sure it was locked, Grace wandered into Peter’s bedroom with its oyster watered-silk wallpaper and dark, heavy furniture. She shoved her suitcases off the bed, crawled on the too-firm mattress and snuggled into the eiderdown. In seconds she was fast asleep.

Grace came slowly back to consciousness.

It took her a few moments to think where she was. Her eyes traveled around a softly lit room. A woodblock print of a mill hung over a tall bureau. A man’s plaid bathrobe hung on the back of the half-closed door.

From the rooms beyond came mouth-watering aromas and the muted beat of rock music. Grace sat up in bed. She caught a glimpse of herself in the oval dressing mirror. Her cheeks were flushed with sleep, her long hair tousled. She looked more like one of St. Anne’s students than a staid instructor.

Wandering into the kitchen she found Peter cooking at the old-fashioned gas range. “There you are,” he greeted Grace. “I was just about to call you. How are you feeling?”

Grace pulled out a chair, sitting down, folding her arms as she studied Peter. “Much better. That smells great. What is it?”

“Grilled veal chops. Leek and brie soup.”

“You cook, too?” She had to admit she was impressed. Chaz, her sometime escort’s idea of cooking was reheating take-out. Surely a man who could cook like this and quote Romantic poets couldn’t be all bad?

“I find cooking relaxing. I do my best thinking when I’m cooking.”

“What a coincidence. I do my best thinking when I’m eating.” Absently she took note of the oak-leaf china, gleaming flatware and crisp linens on the table set for two. Everything in Peter’s flat, and even the shop below, was so perfect it was like a stage set. Peter had created an atmosphere so civilized it was unreal. Even murder couldn’t touch it.

Only the music seemed out of character. It should have been something classical, something refined and passionless. Instead it was a raw, primitive sound with a beat that had Grace’s foot unconsciously keeping time on the floor. She recognized the Irish group Waterboys’ version of “We Will Not Be Lovers.” Chaz was fond of Irish music. She tried to recall the lyrics. Something about words being weapons and lies being a defense.

Before she had time to explore this thought, Peter was serving dinner.

First came the soup made from new potatoes, leeks, spinach, brie and vermouth. Grace licked the tip of her spoon and sent her compliments to the chef. Next up: grilled chops and a salad of chilled artichokes, asparagus, and green beans in a ginger and carrot vinaigrette. The food tasted as perfect as it looked. As perfect as the setting looked. As perfect as the man looked.

“What did you do with the body?” Grace questioned.

Peter didn’t even glance up. “Let’s wait till we’ve eaten to discuss it.”

Probably a reasonable request, yet it struck Grace as bizarre under the circumstances. She finished her vegetables and remarked, “You do appreciate the finer things, don’t you?”

He read the underlying criticism of that correctly, and after a pause, replied, “I once spent fourteen months in a Turkish prison. I suppose you could say I’ve learned to value life’s little civilities.”

Grace, feeling that a piece of artichoke had lodged in her throat, swallowed hard, and got out, “I didn’t mean that as a—a—reflection—”

Peter’s smile was odd, his eyes the color one of Grace’s dead poets had once described as “the witchery of soft, blue sky.”

“No?”

“No. Of course not. Why shouldn’t you enjoy beautiful things?” She wondered what he’d done to get himself thrown into a Turkish prison. Smuggling drugs? That was the usual reason, wasn’t it?

Her discomfiture seemed to amuse him. “It’s quite all right. I’m not sensitive.” He refilled her wineglass. “Tomorrow, first thing, we’re putting you on a plane for home.”

“You keep saying that. It must be wishful thinking. What about my passport?”

“I can get you a replacement. I called a mate of mine while you were dead to the world.”

“You mean a
forgery?
” Grace gawked at Peter who stared back unmoved. “No.
No
. I can’t do something like that! Something illegal. What if I was caught? I’d go to jail. I’d lose my job.” Grace realized this probably did not impress a man who’d spent time in a Turkish prison.

“You won’t be caught.”

“Yes, I will. I could never pull off something like that. One look at my face, and they would instantly know something was up. I have that kind of a face.”

“Criminal?”

“Yes. I mean, no! You know what I mean. Besides, my getting caught isn’t the only consideration. I don’t
want
to do something illegal. I’m—I’m a law-abiding person. I’ve never even had a parking ticket. I turn my library books in on time.”

Peter’s mouth twitched with some private amusement. No doubt he was the kind of person who found ethics impractical and morality comical.

“Besides,” she finished quietly, “I’m not a total coward, you know. I don’t want to give in to intimidation or—well, terrorism. I don’t want to flee the country because of a case of mistaken identification or something. You said yourself, it’s probably over; that they probably have whatever they were looking for.”

“I never said that.”

Hadn’t he? She thought he sort of had, but maybe she had been hearing what she wanted to hear. “You said whoever killed Delon probably has whatever they were looking for.”

“I was speculating.”

“It makes sense.”

“Then why kidnap you?”

“Who’s to say it was the same person? The Queen Mother …” Grace broke off at Peter’s expression. “The men who grabbed me aren’t necessarily the men who killed Delon.”

“ ‘Ask your mate Delon?’ “ quoted Peter. “I think they were watching me, which is how they hit on the notion of using you as bait when they let me slip.”

“But if they were watching you, who tried to kill you? Mutt and Jeff?”

Peter shrugged.

“Who are all these people? You said Delon was a small-time thief. What could a small-time thief have that would interest so many other crooks? What could be worth
murdering
him over?”

“You’d be surprised,” Peter said cryptically. “Look, that’s what I intend to find out, and—I can’t put this more tactfully—your presence restricts my options.”

“If we went to the police—”

“No police. How many times must I say it?”

“Then what
are
you going to do?”

“That needn’t concern you.” He spoke with cool confidence. “Believe me, I’ll handle it.”

She was silent. “I could help you,” she said at last.

The winged brows rose.

“Seriously,” Grace said. “I could help. I’ve seen these men, you haven’t. I got a better look at Mutt and Jeff, too.” At his expression, she said defensively, “One thing is definite: I am not trying to board any plane with a forged passport, so either let me help, or send me on my merry way.” Into his formidable silence she added, “Frankly, I think once I’m away from the Lake District I won’t have any more problems.”

“You really don’t get it, do you?” he commented. “Listen, my dear, I owe you for saving my neck. Allow me to repay that debt by getting you back home in one piece.”

Irked, Grace replied, “Believe me, my dear, it was
nothing
. And I don’t need you to break more laws in order to shove me on a plane like I’m some half-wit who can’t take care of herself, merely because you don’t wish to feel guilty if I get hit by a bus or something.”

She stopped for breath, but before he could respond, she was off again, “And furthermore, I take full responsibility for my actions and my safety. I don’t need you limiting your ‘options’ on my behalf. I came to warn you, not ask for your help.”

“Am I arguing?”

“You’re too busy trying to think of something to convince me. Or scare me.”

Peter laughed. “Why, Esmerelda!”

“Oh save it!” Grace shook her head. “I’m really not as naive as you seem to think. I prefer honesty to that facile charm you dish out with the Gypsy Queens.”

For a split second he looked taken aback. Then he said simply, “We’re both in trouble here, Grace. Believe it or not, I am doing my best to get you out of it.”

The sincere way his eyes held hers, the huskiness in his voice, had an undermining effect on her that was very aggravating. Grace said gruffly, “Well, we’re going to have to think of another way. My friend Monica is over here. I can’t just abandon her. What if these thugs go after her?”

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