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Alex Peres Mystery 4 - Murder Came Second.docx
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Chapter 18

I wrestled my way into yesterday’s jeans and tucked in the T-shirt I had slept in. One boat shoe was at the edge of the bed. I slipped it on and began feeling under the bed with the other foot. There! Glancing at the clock, I noted it was six twelve a.m. I thought I might want to remember that.

Cindy was making her way up from sleep. “What . . . ?”

“I don’t know, somebody’s screaming next door.” The screams subsided to a somewhat hysterical sobbing as I spoke.

“What should . . . ?”

“You should get dressed and make some coffee. If Fargo wants out, take him in the front yard on lead. Don’t let him loose in the backyard. Don’t let him loose anywhere. Keep him right with you. And you stay here!”

“You’re so bossy. Are you mad?”

“No, sweetheart, scared.”

“Then come back to bed.” She pulled Fargo down beside her and began to quiet him. “See? We’re okay.”

“I see and I’m glad.” I couldn’t resist a grin and a kiss for both. Then I ran through the early morning light.

I cleared the wall at a leap and took a good skid on the wet grass and damn near went down. I pulled up limping, with an ankle that hurt. Fine. Heroic Alex races to the rescue, unfortunately breaking her ankle in the process. How dear Terese would love to write that blurb!

I burst through the back door and into the Brownlees’ kitchen, to find Ophelia clutching the side of the refrigerator and sobbing, and Elaine in her nightgown, kneeling on the floor by a pool of blood.

It occurred to me fleetingly that Terese wouldn’t care if I broke my ankle or my neck or made a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. She was lying on the kitchen floor, in what looked like buckets of blood, barefoot, shortie nightgown pulled up around her waist and a large chef’s knife sticking out of her chest.

“Elaine! Don’t touch that knife! Don’t touch anything! This is a crime scene. Anything we do will just fuck it up. Come here!”

“Don’t be mean, Alex.” The tears started to roll. “I just wanted to see if there was a pulse . . . if we could help her somehow . . . or get help, but I think she’s gone. My God, she looks so frail.”

And so she did. Face pale and pinched, eyes expressionless, like one of those old Queen Elizabeth I portraits. White, white arms and hands at her sides, palms up as if in some mute acceptance of her fate. Bony white feet, skinny white legs and hips, and a tiny tuft of orange pubic hair that seemed more a pathetic afterthought than a guidepost to any past sexuality.

Elaine began to stand, and I noticed a small rim of blood on a portion of her nightgown’s hem. Immediately, the thought flashed into my head and lingered: how long had it been there?

Once again she bent over Terese. “I’ll just straighten her gown. This looks so . . . so violated.”

“Elaine! For heaven’s sake just come over here and leave things alone! You can’t just rearrange the body to suit your genteel feelings. The police need to see things as they are, not as you think fitting. How long have you been down here? And how did you get that blood on your gown?”

She stepped past me, chin in the air, great actress about to perform, I thought. “Only a minute. I heard Teri scream and ran down to see what was wrong. And I haven’t rearranged anything. I guess I touched the blood when I felt for a pulse. I did not put that knife in her chest!”

Turning to Teri, I said, “Oh, so you were the one who found the body?”

That resulted in renewed sobs and a collapse into my arms. At that moment, Noel fortuitously stepped into the little alcove by the refrigerator, and I shoved her into his arms.

“Here, Noel, throw some cold water on her and take her over to my place for some coffee. Cindy is up.” I hoped.

“Yeah, okay. Just let me go get some shoes and a shirt on. What’s going on? What’s all the racket?”

“Terese is dead, apparently killed. You don’t want to see it.”

“Good God, what did she do, manage to electrocute herself? Slip and hit her head?”

“No, she was stabbed.” I had the feeling I’d be using that sentence a lot of times throughout today.

“You’re kidding!” That call of disbelief came from Nick Peters, standing on the bottom step clad only in a pair of rumpled khakis, revealing a surprisingly hairy chest. “What was all the yelling? Who was she fighting with? Who did it?”

“The yelling was Teri having hysterics from finding her. Nobody is fighting. We don’t know who did it.” And we never would if I didn’t get on the phone to the Ptown cops. But I did want to try to keep the area as clear as possible. It seemed as if people were coming out of the woodwork.

I had one of those absurd moments, which I tend to do in crises, remembering a fellow on TV who complained to a reporter, “Originally I was leading a small group in a peaceful anti-war protest. Then all of a sudden I was running for my life to keep ahead of the mob.”

Figuring Noel was the sanest, I spoke to him as he was coming down the stairs, now wearing shoes and struggling into a shirt. “Please get everybody out of here as soon as you can. This place is a madhouse.”

Elaine put her arm around Ophelia. “Come, my dear.” She looked at me coldly. “We will infringe on your hospitality as little as possible.” They turned, and I watched them move slowly across the wet grass, barefoot and in their nightclothes, looking like a pair of bedraggled evicted angels that had suffered a long and painful fall.

Now dressed, Nick pushed silently past me and started across the lawn. Once over the wall, he used a handkerchief to wipe down one of our wet lawn chairs, and then sat in what had to be a great deal of leftover dampness, staring thoughtfully after Elaine and Ophelia. But apparently he didn’t feel sociable. Not my problem. I felt much the same.

I started to go through the dining room to use the phone in the living room. My attention was immediately drawn to mud, tracked on the light beige carpeting, opened French doors, and a shattered pane of glass in one of them. Uh-oh. What had we here? Intruders in the night?

My God, had someone decided to rob the place, perhaps not knowing the Brownlees had stored most of their valuables? Or perhaps figured actors were rich and would have cash and jewelry lying around? Had Terese simply gotten hungry and come down to the kitchen at the wrong minute for a snack? Had a burglar, suddenly realizing he was discovered, simply grabbed a chef’s knife out of the block on the counter, stabbed her and run for it?

I pulled a pack of cigarettes out of my pocket and then shoved it back. I could hardly light up, much as I could use one, when I’d screamed at everyone else about preserving crime scenes. As I stood there, a movement to my left caught my eye. It was Paul Carlucci, about to come from the Brownlees’ bed-sitter, which he was temporarily occupying, into the dining room.

“No! Paul, stop! Don’t come in here. It looks like somebody broke into the house and tracked in mud. It looks like there are shoeprints. Don’t mess it up before the cops can make photos.”

He did stop. And he stared at me through very red eyes, as if I were a long distance away. He pointed toward the kitchen and croaked, “Is that . . . ?” He cleared his throat and tried again. “Is that Terese in there? Is she hurt? We must get some help, Alex, she’s bleeding, and she’s probably in pain.” He sounded as if she might have cut her finger.

“Oh, Lord, Paul, did you just go into the kitchen?”

“No, I saw her from my other door . . . the one into the kitchen. I was planning to get a cup of coffee, but no one had made any. They never seem to think of the comfort of others around here.” He now sounded thoroughly petulant, and I had the strong feeling he was still at least partially drunk and definitely in shock.

“Well, there’s coffee at my place.” I might be accused of false advertising. I hoped there was coffee, I could use some myself. But I had remembered that Cindy was due at work this morning. She must be really pleased to have Carlucci’s stunned and frightened group filing into our house and demanding room service, if I judged them rightly.

“However, you’re going to have to climb out your window and go get it. You can’t use either of your doors until the cops clear them.”

Carlucci clutched the doorjamb and leaned his head against it. “Don’t be silly. I can’t climb out a window. I’m not well.”

“Of course you can, Paul,” Noel answered over my shoulder. “I’ll go around the outside and help you through the window. Put on some clothes and I’ll meet you there. We need to get out of the way for the cops to look around.”

Noel turned to me and gave a mock salute. “All the passengers are off the ship, Captain, or will be in a minute. You wouldn’t believe David Willem. I found him sitting in his room, showered, shaved, fully dressed in a lovely double-breasted Glen plaid suit, shirt, tie and wingtips. I don’t know how he managed it in so short a time! He has decided that Terese had a stroke or something, and that, as lead actor, he should be properly dressed when issuing a statement to the press. I think he’s dead-ass drunk.”

“Jesus, I hope they don’t get into our booze. Our cabinet doesn’t lock.” That would be all Sonny needed. Or Cindy.

“I’ll go sit on it.” Noel smiled. “See ya!”

Now what was he so cheerful about?

I went on into the living room, noticing that the front door seemed properly closed. A mantel clock told me it was still only six forty. Somehow I thought it was approaching noon. Sonny would not yet be at work. Would he be “home” at Mom’s or with Trish? I picked up the living room phone with my shirttail—my bow to possibly interesting fingerprints—and dialed Mom’s number. Looking out the window as the phone rang, I noticed Noel and Paul making slow progress. Paul was making frequent stops to throw up. Poor Noel kept trying to look elsewhere. I wondered if he were smiling now?

Mom answered with a sleepy hello. I first told her I was okay, so was Cindy, so was Fargo. Only then did I ask for Sonny.

“Yeah. What’s up?” He sounded wide-awake. How did he do it?

“Sonny, we’ve got what certainly seems to be a homicide at the Brownlees.’ Terese Segal has been stabbed, I think more than once, and is definitely dead. No need to send an ambulance with sirens screaming.”

“You sound calm enough. I take it nobody is standing over the body with a bloody knife or hatchet.” I heard him make sitting up noises.

“Nope, just a bunch of hysterical actors. I sent them all to my house for coffee to get them out of there. They kept wandering around and wanting to rearrange the body more comfortably. A pillow under the head and a little makeup would have been next. I couldn’t make them stay put anywhere. The bloody knife is still in her chest. I think it may be part of a set kept in a block on the counter. Looks like someone may have come in through the French doors in the dining room. They are wide open, with mud tracked in, and a pane of glass is broken by the latch.”

I looked thoughtfully at a half-drunk cup of coffee somebody had conveniently left by the phone, God knows when, by the color of it. No, I wasn’t that desperate.

“Okay. Good job.” Sonny sounded brisk and rested. “We’ll be right along. Stay there till the first car arrives, will you? And keep everybody out. When you go home, keep them there until I can talk to them.” I could almost hear his mind racing. “Put them all in your dining room. Don’t let them get off in corners and get their stories straight, if they haven’t already. I’ll get a uniform over there as soon as I can.”

“Hell, Sonny, we’re probably out of coffee and milk by now, and they’ll be getting hungry. Cindy is supposed to go to work and is probably going nuts as we speak. I can’t stand guard and go shopping, too!” I heard my voice climbing, my cool fading.

Mother had obviously stayed on the line, and now interjected, “Tell Cindy to run along, dear. I’ll do the shopping and be there shortly. Don’t worry, I’ll replenish your stock of food and drink for the Huns.”

Sonny intervened. “Hang in, see you soon.” He hung up, and apparently Mom did, too. In a second I got a dial tone.

I knew the first car would arrive in two or three minutes. Wondering if there were any obvious clues other than the knife itself, I wandered back into the clear corner of the kitchen. It wasn’t exactly neat, but looked reasonable for a kitchen used by five or six people with no real interest in keeping it clean. After all, they knew the maids would be in during the morning.

The maids! Ellie and Betts! We couldn’t have them walking in on this scene! They’d faint dead away. I turned back to the living room and got Ellen Hall’s number from Information. I started her day with a real bang, and ended our conversation by suggesting she have a disaster-cleaning crew on tap, and call the Brownlees, so they didn’t pick it up on the noon news, just in case it merited a national mention. I left her moaning, “Yeah, yeah. Oh, God, why me?”

Indeed, Ellen, why any of us? Most especially, perhaps, why Terese? And by whom?

Provincetown’s finest arrived and took over my lonely outpost. I was glad to leave it. Terese and I hadn’t had much to say to each other, and I will admit, her presence was beginning to make me shaky.

Cindy was wide-eyed and wild haired and not thrilled by our full house. “I can’t even get dressed. People keep coming to the bedroom door and asking where things are! That damned Hamlet first announced he needed a brandy to steady his nerves. I told him we hadn’t any liquor. He already smells like a distillery. Then he had to have tea, his sensitive stomach would not tolerate coffee this morning. I told him where it was and two minutes later he was back asking if we didn’t have any English breakfast. I was damned if I’d tell him where it was! Let the snooty bastard drink Lipton.”

“A perfectly adequate black tea, and certainly good enough for the likes of him and his terminal hangover,” I soothed her and gently kissed her cheek. “Keep the good stuff for us. Can you give me ten minutes to shower? Mom is on her way, and we can free you up to get out of this bedlam.”

“Bless her. I don’t know why I’m even going in. Do they really think I’m going to be able to concentrate on stock options with a murder next door and the killer probably lounging in our dining room?”

Then she had her arms around me. “Darling, is it too awful over there? Are you all right? I remember last summer when you—”

“I’m fine. I may join Snooty in a mug of tea just to coddle my stomach a bit, but I’m all right. She just looks . . . pitiful. All that energy, curiosity, intensity, that inquisitive nose, that tight little mouth . . . just gone, turned into a mannequin doused with red paint.” Suddenly I found myself wishing fiercely that Terese were still alive. “You know, she could surely have used a big dose of humility, and maybe some humiliation as well, but not this . . . not this . . .”

Cindy held me long and hard and then said, “Go shower, darling, I’ll make you your own little pot of English breakfast tea. No one will ever know it’s Twining’s best. Then I’ll go to work, I guess, at least for a little while.”

Showered, shampooed and dressed in fresh clothes, I entered the living room to find Cindy and Mom fending off a mutiny. The merry band had decided they would all return to the Brownlees’ to bathe and change clothing, and then go out for a proper breakfast to stabilize them after their ghastly experience. Even Nick had joined them, apparently recovered from whatever had prompted him to sit alone outdoors on a rain-soaked chair.

They were all talking at once and my mild, “Excuse me, everyone,” had gotten me nowhere.

“Shut up, all of you, right now!” I banged a metal wastebasket down on the coffee table.

That got me their attention. “I spoke with Detective Lieutenant Peres, who has directed that all of you go into the dining room and relax until he can join you. My mom has brought pastries, and we have coffee or tea. Lieutenant Peres says he’ll try not to detain you longer than necessary.”

Only Noel and Ophelia made any attempt to help Mom and me get stuff out onto the buffet. The others sat in sulky silence, although they had no difficulty in making quick inroads on the pastries.

After asking again about a serving of brandy, Hamlet irritably announced himself ready to leave. He said he needed his morning orange juice, probably with a healthy shot of vodka.

“You can’t,” I explained for what seemed like the hundredth time. “The police need to learn anything you can tell them about last night and this morning.”

“I know nothing,” he answered haughtily, “And I can tell them that anytime, anywhere.”

The others began to grouse along with him, and I sensed another mutiny in the forecastle.

“Anyone who leaves without police permission will probably have his or her interview held in one of our local cells,” I said.

“Oh, that’s rich.” Hamlet forced a laugh over what doubtless was a pounding headache. “Why would we be in a cell?”

“Because you are all murder suspects.”

“Unfortunate but true,” Sonny agreed from the kitchen doorway. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” they chorused, like the good little children they suddenly were.

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