The Suspect - L R Wright (9 page)

BOOK: The Suspect - L R Wright
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She pushed the cart across an open space furnished
with easy chairs and low tables to a row marked SOCIOLOGY. "Mostly
in the mornings,” she said, "but evenings, too, and sometimes
afternoons. It depends on the weather. He spends a lot of time in his
garden.”

Alberg walked aimlessly to the window. A tall plant
stood there, in a big white pot. Its huge wide leaves looked glossy,
almost wet; he touched one of them curiously.

"I can't imagine,” said Cassandra, "finding
a body. Well, I can imagine it .... "

He rejoined her just as she was ready to move the
cart again. He got out of the way and followed her to the fiction
section.

"
I can't understand why anybody would kill an
old man," said Cassandra, looking up at him from her crouched
position on the floor by a lower shelf. "What reason could
anybody possibly have for doing a thing like that?"
 
"
Same reasons people have for killing anyone."

"It wasn't robbery, was it," she said, and
added quickly, "that's what I heard, anyway." She was
standing, shelving books rapidly, confidently. The cart was almost
emptied. "Might have been attempted robbery," said Alberg.
"All we know is nothing seems to be missing."

"That means somebody might have gone to his
house meaning to do it, doesn't it?"

"
Could be. Right now," said Alberg grimly,
"anything's possible."

She reached for the last two books on the cart and
put them away. Then she pushed the empty cart back to the front desk.
Again Alberg followed, feeling inexplicably exasperated.

"
He used to be a teacher," said Cassandra,
lifting the hinged section in the U—shaped counter and pushing the
cart through. "So did George Wilcox. He's the one who told me.
They'd known each other for years. Since long before they came here.
But I assume you know all that."

"No," said Alberg. "I didn't know
they'd known each other for years. Not until today."

She adjusted some tall purple flowers that stood in a
vase on the counter. "They taught in the same school in
Vancouver for a while. A long time ago. That's how they met. Then
they must have lost touch, because I don't think they'd seen each
other for years when Mr. Burke came here to live."

"
Did they become friends again, then?"
Alberg wondered if she knew they had been brothers-in-law. If so, she
wasn't telling him. He found this mildly depressing, even though he
hadn't convinced himself yet that the old relationship between the
two men had anything to do with Burke's death.

Cassandra looked at the irises. Some of them were
beginning to wilt. She heard it again:
He got
exactly what was coming to him
. She had never
before heard George Wilcox say anything so unfeeling. It must have
been the shock, she thought. The poor man, he was probably still in
shock.

"Well?" said Alberg. "Were they
friends, here in Sechelt?"

She smiled at him. "Are you poking around for
information? Is this an interrogation?" She clasped her hands on
the countertop and put an eager look on her face. "Anything I
can do, Officer, to assist you in your inquiries—anything at all.”

Alberg was slightly flustered. "I'm just
curious, that's all. And I'm trying to find out who's committed a
homicide around here. Yeah, I'm poking around for information, of
course I am. That's not why I came in here, but—" He shrugged.

"To answer your question," said Cassandra
carefully, "no, I don't think they became friends again. George
didn't mention Mr. Burke often. At least, not to me."

She touched an iris, and the light stroke of her
finger against the petal of the flower suggested to Alberg his own
gesture to brush closed Carlyle Burke's eyelid; there was great
gentleness in it.

"He brought me these flowers," said
Cassandra. "George Wilcox did." She turned to Alberg. "He's
a very interesting man. He taught history. He's still curious and
impatient. Until his wife died a couple of months ago, they traveled
a lot." She smiled suddenly. "Only in winter, though. He
doesn't like to be away from his garden." She looked at Alberg
curiously. "Lf you didn't come here to ask me questions, why did
you come?”

Safe behind the counter, she seemed amused.

He had passed the library on his way to Wilcox's
house. He was driving slowly, not wanting to arrive early, and when
he saw the empty parking spaces, he drove in. He sat there for a few
minutes admiring the building. It had lots of windows, and greenery,
and he could see the low shelves filled with books, and this pleased
him. He didn't go to church, either, he told himself, but he liked
the fact that there were a few of them around.

"
I came for a library card," he told her.
He watched her push her dark hair away from her neck. It curled a
little, where it sprang away from her face. He noticed several gray
hairs. The skin next to her eyes was crinkled, and there were two
horizontal lines in her forehead. Character, he thought, with
satisfaction. Her eyes were wide and hazel. Her mouth was wide, too,
but her nose was small. He saw her face become pink and realized that
he'd been staring at her. He looked away, up at the clock on the
wall. "I've just got time, before I get back to work.”

She got a blank card from a desk drawer and sat down
at a manual typewriter. "Full name, please," she said
briskly.

"
Alberg, Martin Karl." He rested his elbows
on the counter and leaned over to watch her type. She was wearing a
blue and white pinstriped dress. There was a gold chain around her
neck and a gold watch on her wrist; gifts, he wondered? No rings, and
her nails were short; she used colorless polish on them. She was
tall, about five feet nine, and weighed about 140 pounds. He didn't
know why he said it. He didn't often act on his more mischievous
impulses. "Are you looking for a husband?"

He watched her face, knowing that his own was smooth,
expressionless.

She looked up at him quickly, and although her face
burned with embarrassment she didn't look away. Her hands were poised
over the typewriter keys. "Are you looking for another wife?"

He shook his head.

"Then you have come," she said coldly, "to
precisely the right place." She turned back to the card in the
typewriter.

"
Address, please."

"
The directors' house, Gibsons."

"
And is this the book you wish to take out?"
She pointed to
The Life of Catherine the
Great
, which lay on the counter between them.

He looked at it in astonishment, unable to remember
how it had gotten there. "Yes," he said humbly. "I'll
start with this one. Has it got anything about pruning in it, do you
know?” She gave him not the glimmer of a smile.
 

CHAPTER 10

He went from the library to George Wilcox's house and
parked his car on the verge of the road twenty feet from the gate
leading to the old man's front yard. It was his own car, a 1979
four-door Oldsmobile, nothing splashy, nothing special, except for
the police radio.

Alberg crunched along the gravel shoulder toward the
gate. The fence was sturdy, but in need of painting. There was a
well-trimmed evergreen hedge behind it, and between the hedge and the
front of the house was five feet of neatly clipped lawn. The house
itself was short and squat, with small windows and a small square
porch; it, too, could have used a few coats of paint. And who am I,
thought Alberg gloomily, to talk about decrepit-looking houses. At
least this one had a neat border of flowers in front of it, instead
of a tropical thicket.

He turned into the yard, closing the gate behind him,
and went up a cracked concrete walk to the porch. The door was opened
before he could knock. George Wilcox peered up at him. He didn't say
anything.

"
Hi," said Alberg, finally.

"Why don't you ever wear a uniform?"

"
It's distracting.”

"No uniform, no police car. How am I supposed to
take you seriously?”

Alberg thought about it. "I've got my badge,"
he said, and showed it to him. "Does that help?”

"
What about a gun? You got a gun?”

"
Not with me. Why, do you think I'll need one?"

"
No need for sarcasm, sonny. The badge will do."
He stepped back and opened the door wide.

Alberg squeezed through the tiny hall and into a
narrow living room. The high small windows admitted very little
light. An oatmeal-colored sofa and a matching armchair, and two
occasional chairs upholstered in red wool, sat on the dark brown
wall-to-wall carpeting. The windowsills were cluttered with objects:
two fat-cheeked Toby mugs; a brass candle snuffer and two brass
candlesticks, empty; what appeared to be a wooden salt shaker and
pepper mill; a pair of shell casings—standard mementos of the
Second World War, except for some unusual decorative work; a pipe
holder containing no pipes; two china figurines, possibly Hummel;
three china roses in a marble base. There was a television set in one
comer, and a collapsed card table leaned against a wall. Everything
seemed very dusty.

"
Don't use this room much,” said George
Wilcox. "Come on into the kitchen.” He waved Alberg on toward
the back of the house.

The kitchen was a bright, sunny square, painted
yellow. A worn leather chair sat at an angle to the large window,
which looked out upon a small garden and the sea. Next to the chair
stood an old-fashioned tobacco cabinet. There was a footstool in
front of the chair, piled with magazines and a section of newspaper
folded to the crossword puzzle. A TV tray stood nearby. There was no
table in the kitchen. The yellow walls were grimy with accumulated
dust and splotched with grease near the four-burner electric stove.

"
You might as well see the rest of the place,
now you're here," said George. He opened a door and Alberg
followed him into a small beige-carpeted room. Two walls were lined
with bookcases, a desk and chair sat by the window, several
comfortable chairs were scattered around, and there was a fireplace.

"
This is where you live,” said Alberg.

"
Here and in the kitchen.” George went through
a doorway in the corner of the room, into a short hall. "Here's
the bathroom," he said, waving to the right, "and straight
on here is the bedroom."

Alberg stood in the doorway and looked around. Small
windows again, almost as though the room were in a basement. A large
four-poster bed, two dressers, a half-open closet door. On one of the
dressers was a framed photograph of a woman. It was angled slightly
away from him, and Alberg couldn't see it clearly.

"That's it,” said George, reaching in front of
Alberg to close the door. "The grand tour." He went back
down the hall and through another doorway which led into the living
room, then turned left back into the kitchen. "Fellow who built
this place," he said, "was awfully fond of doors. I took
some of them down, you probably noticed. Doorways is one thing, doors
is another. Take up too much room. Sit down there, by the window.
I'll make some coffee. Eight of them, there were, when we bought this
place. Not counting the outside ones, or closets. Eight doors, in a
house this size."

He filled a percolator with water, poured coffee into
the basket, and set the pot on the stove. Then he went into the study
and hauled out the desk chair. Alberg, standing by the window, made a
move to help. "Sit down, sit down,” said George Wilcox. "No,
not here—in the leather chair, there. Sit.” I

Alberg sat. George took the straight-backed chair.

"Now,” said George. "What questions?"

He was alert and unruffled. Alberg glanced wistfully
at his thick white hair. He himself was sure to be bald, eventually.
All the men in his family had gone bald. He checked once or twice a
week, and his hairline had already begun to recede. It had started
about twenty years ago.

"What do you know about Carlyle Burke?" he
said.

George Wilcox sighed. "What's this in aid of,
anyway? I can't figure it."

"
When you're trying to find out who killed
somebody, you've got to poke around in his life a bit.”

"Is that so?” said George. "Is that the
way it's done, then." He rubbed one scuffed slipper against the
linoleum. "Got any suspects?"

Alberg hesitated. "Not really. Not yet."

"
You're pretty damn calm about it," said
George? "If I were a cop, and I had me a murdered body and no
suspects, I don't think I'd be so damn calm about it."

"I'm not calm,” said Alberg. "I just look
calm. Actually I'm irritated. And extremely curious."

"
Curious." George chortled. "I'm
curious, too." He leaned forward. "I supposed you've looked
at the obvious. You know, milkman, postman, paperboy—that kind of
thing. And of course the most obvious thing of all, your basic
hoodlum, possibly drug-crazed." He sat back, complacent.

"Yes, Mr. Wilcox," said Alberg. "We've
looked at the obvious."

"How?” said George. The water in the coffeepot
began to burp. He got up and turned down the burner.

BOOK: The Suspect - L R Wright
11.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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