S COTS ON THE R OCKS
A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery
Judith McMonigle Flynn put a fifty-dollar bill on the table,…
The rest of the week passed quickly, but that followIjg…
Good Lord!” Judith gasped. “It’s real? It’s not a mirage?”…
It wasn’t surprising that Renie wasn’t on hand when Judith…
As Judith and Renie finished a lunch of smoked salmon…
The fire was burning brighter. Judith and Renie were transfixed.
Alpin MacRae didn’t miss a beat. “It’s early days to…
The rest of the evening proved uneventful. Renie retreated to…
Moira Gibbs and the man named Patrick were holding hands…
Barry borrowed Judith’s cell and called his father to rescue…
Mrs. Gibbs looked as if she’d aged ten years in eight…
To her surprise, Judith slept soundly that night. Despite being…
Moira!” Beth cried. “Why would anyone want to kill you?…
The house Kate Gunn had confiscated from her late husband’s…
When the cousins reached the guest quarters, they went into…
Chuckie?” Renie said under her breath. “I don’t know.” Judith…
That bunch was in the dark in more ways than…
Jimmy Blackwell had disappeared in the vicinity of the dumpster,…
Moira let out an anguished wail. “No! Not Harry’s parents!…
What do you mean, ‘missing’?” Renie responded with an anxious…
Renie looked dubious. “Now you have the sight?” “No,” Judith…
I really do feel sorry for Moira,” Judith said as…
About the Author
Other Books by Mary Daheim
About the Publisher
Judith McMonigle Flynn put a fifty-dollar bill on the table, glared at her husband, Joe, and said, “I’ll take that bet.”
“Sucker,” said Joe, the gold flecks dancing in his green eyes. “Since when has your mother ever called me by name? It’ll be ‘Knucklehead’ or ‘Lunkhead’ or ‘Dumbbell’ before she ever refers to me as Joe. We’ve been married almost fourteen years. If you can remember when she ever used my real name, I’ll give you fifty bucks right now.”
“I can’t. But,” Judith went on, crossing her arms and looking mulish, “Mother’s mellowing. Last night she said your barbecued spareribs were delicious.”
Joe chuckled. “They came from Nicky Napoli’s rib joint.”
“Mother didn’t realize that,” Judith countered.
Joe pocketed his fifty-dollar bill. “Why bet against each other with our own money? Change the stakes. Who gets to choose our next vacation?”
Judith was still glaring at Joe. “Vacation? What’s a vacation?”
Joe pulled out a kitchen chair. “Sit. Look,” he said earnestly as Judith reluctantly eased herself into the chair, “I realize you’ve been under a lot of pressure lately. Except for St. Valentine’s Day, February’s always a slow month at the B&B. March won’t be much better, with Easter not until mid-April. Why not take some time off to go somewhere wonderful?”
Judith grimaced. “My state B&B board review is next week.”
Joe had sat down at the kitchen table opposite his wife. “It’s Tuesday, right? We’ll have the rest of the month for a getaway.”
Judith looked glum. “If I feel like it. For all I know, they’ll yank my innkeeper’s license.”
“Don’t think negative,” Joe admonished. “It’s not your fault you’ve found a few dead bodies in your career. It’s happened to me, too.”
“You were a cop,” Judith pointed out.
“True.” Joe looked down at the green-and-white-striped tablecloth. He seemed to be having trouble finding the right words.
“I’ve never gone out of my way searching for victims,” Judith asserted. “They usually come to me. Furthermore,” she continued, gathering steam, “not that many people have been killed on the premises in the sixteen years since I turned the family home into Hillside Manor. I’d guess that any inn, motel, or hotel would have a similar fatality ratio.”
“You’ve had your share of bad luck.” Joe didn’t sound convinced.
“I could use some good luck.” Judith reached across the table. “I’ll take that bet. I want to go somewhere with sun and a beach and rooms fit for royalty. What about you?”
Joe’s high forehead creased in concentration. “Somewhere I can fish. Fresh-or saltwater. I’ll research possibilities.”
Judith nodded. “Done.”
The Flynns shook hands.
“Done” was probably not a good choice of words for Judith.
I figured,” Cousin Renie said late Tuesday morning, “you needed cheering up before you get the verdict from the B&B board later this afternoon. I’ve made lunch reservations at Queen Bess’s Tea Shop.”
“That sounds nice,” Judith said in a small voice.
“That’s nice, too.”
Renie, formally known as Serena Jones, glanced at Judith. “How’s the bet coming?”
“It’s not,” Judith replied as they crossed the bridge that spanned the city’s ship canal. “Mother hasn’t called Joe anything since we made the bet. She’s so quiet lately. It worries me.”
Renie turned right off the bridge. “Face it,” she said, “our mothers are old. They can’t live forever.” She frowned as she braked for a five-way stop. “Or can they?”
“They may outlast us,” Judith responded with a wan smile. “When my artificial hip bothers me, I get so worn out going back and forth to the toolshed with Mother’s meals and medications and whatever else, not to mention my job at the B&B and keeping track of Mike and his family and going up and down, down and up all those stairs in a four-story house—”
“Tell me about it,” Renie broke in. “At least your mother is on the premises. Mine’s almost a mile away and you know how she phones me six times during my waking hours and expects me to jump whenever she needs a spool of thread or has a twinge in her neck. I average one trip a day to her apartment—and still work as a graphic designer.”
“You sound as if you need a vacation, too,” Judith noted.
Heading east, Renie steered the Joneses’ Toyota Camry—affectionately known to its owners as “Cammy”—above the city’s main freeway. “I probably do. January and February are always hectic with annual reports. But once my concepts are ready to be filled with useless, boring copy, things slow down. Did you choose your spot yet?”
Judith nodded. “Dana Point. Why don’t you two come with us?”
Renie made a face as she headed past the tree-lined streets north of the University. “I may not be a sun-and-sand person, but Bill, as a native Midwesterner, gets glum when the days are still gloomy. I’ll think on it.”
“It’d be fun,” Judith asserted as Renie started down a narrow street on a steep hill. “Dana Point has a whale watch during March. The beaches are wonderful and we could go over to Catalina.”
“It’s still California,” Renie said, and yawned. “I prefer a swanky mountain resort at Bugler in British Columbia.”
“At Dana Point, Joe and Bill could charter a boat,” Judith argued as Renie made a quick turn to park on the verge of the cemetery that was located by the tea shop. “The deep-sea fishing there is excellent.”
Renie parked across from the tea shop on the edge of the Catholic cemetery where both of the cousins’ fathers and several other Grover family members were buried. “We’ll toast them with an Earl Grey,” Renie said. “Let’s eat.”
The tea shop was busy, but Judith and Renie were seated almost immediately. The cozy comfort lifted Judith’s spirits only a trifle. Her dark eyes scanned the surroundings—flowered draperies, framed photos of English royalty, past and present, sketches of famous castles, stuffed animals, and live doves in a cage by the front window. Dana Point seemed a world away.
“Tea,” Renie said. “A brisk cup of tea will do you wonders. Stop acting like you’re on a permanent trip to the cemetery.”
Judith smiled weakly. “Sorry. I’m kind of tired.”
Renie glanced up at the white-aproned waitress. “A pot of Earl Grey with steak and kidney pie,” she said, closing the menu.
“Uh…the same,” Judith said, not having studied the selections.
“Okay,” Renie said, after their server left. “Pay attention, heed my advice. Cheat.”
Judith was aghast. “Coz! Our parents taught us never to cheat!”
The waitress returned with a bone china teapot that had a pattern of purple flowers. “Get your mother in on it,” Renie said, pouring tea through an antique strainer. “Cut a deal.”
Renie stirred cream and sugar into her Royal Worcester cup. “It’s March, baseball spring training. Bet Joe he can’t hit a ball over the Rankerses’ hedge.”
Judith was puzzled. “So?”
“Have your mother watch. When he hits the ball—doesn’t matter where—have her cued to say, ‘Good one, Joe.’ For DiMaggio, get it? Aunt Gert can remember that. It’s from her good old days.”
Judith shook her head. “It sounds complicated. Before I can set it up, she’s bound to call him some awful name. If she does, I lose.”
“Then act fast. Right after we finish lunch.” Renie paused to sip her tea. “Have you chosen a place to stay at Dana Point?”
“One of my weekend guests from San Diego suggested the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort,” Judith replied. “It’s pricey, but worth it.”
Renie gave a nod. “Maybe we could come along. Bill loves to walk the ocean beaches. Now eat, sip, and relax. Victory’s in the bag.”
Judith, however, had her doubts.
An hour and a half later, Renie pulled into the Flynns’ driveway. She insisted on staying until Judith heard from Ingrid Heffelman. “Bring the cordless phone,” Renie said. “Joe’s MG is gone, so he’s not home. Let’s tell your mother about our plan so you can win the bet.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Judith picked up the receiver and headed out the back door. “I tell you, Mother’s not herself lately. Last Friday night, she wouldn’t even play bridge with those retired schoolteachers.”
“Yes,” Renie said. “My mom had to get a sub for her—Nora Plebuck, who can’t drive and lives out north. I got stuck picking up my mom, collecting Nora, and taking them home. I felt like a damned taxi.”
Judith nodded in sympathy. “I figured you’d end up being the patsy. But I couldn’t talk Mother into going.” She tapped once on the door to the converted toolshed, then turned the knob.
Gertrude was in her chair behind the cluttered card table. The TV was turned off. It struck Judith that the old lady had been sitting and staring. Or perhaps catching one of her many catnaps.
“Hi,” Judith said cheerily. “Renie’s here.”
Gertrude’s faded old eyes focused briefly on her niece. “So?”
“So,” Renie said, kissing her aunt’s cheek, “you should be agog.”
Gertrude snorted. “I should be a dog? Louder, Serena. I’m deaf.”
“Never mind,” Renie said. “How do you feel?”
“With my fingers,” Gertrude said. “When I can bend ’em.”
“Is that why you didn’t play cards the other night?” Renie inquired.
Gertrude’s expression was glum. “Maybe.”
Renie and Judith exchanged anxious glances. Gertrude’s lethargy was upsetting. “Want to come for dinner tomorrow night at our house?”
“Why? You can’t cook.”
“I actually can,” Renie said. “Lamb steaks and greenie noodles?”
Gertrude shook her head.
Gertrude again shook her head.
Gertrude didn’t bother to respond.
“We could play cribbage after dinner,” Renie suggested.
Gertrude’s head jerked up. “Never!”
“Oh, come on, Aunt Gert,” Renie said, putting a hand on the old lady’s shoulder. “You know you’ll beat me. I haven’t played crib for so long that I’ll have to relearn the game.”
Gertrude pulled away from her niece’s touch. She was so upset that her head began to shake and she clamped her lips shut.
“Mother,” Judith said with concern, “what’s wrong? Are you sick?”
There was a long pause before Gertrude spoke. “Sick at heart.”
Judith leaned down closer to her mother. “About what?”
“I won’t tell you.”
“Okay,” Renie said, moving away from her aunt. “Don’t. But we’ve got something to tell you.”
Gertrude’s face brightened. “You’re both getting a divorce?”
“No, Mother.” Judith sighed. “It has to do with…” She frowned and glanced at Renie. “Maybe we shouldn’t.”
“Shouldn’t what?” Gertrude demanded, looking more like her usual prickly self.
Renie gave her cousin a warning look. “Make a bet. Judith against Joe.”
“I like that part,” Gertrude said.
“Good,” Renie said. “Here’s the deal and what we want you to do.”
The old lady listened attentively, but didn’t comment until Renie had finished relating her plan to have Gertrude refer to Joe DiMaggio’s hitting prowess. When she did speak, she sounded confused. “I don’t get it. I always liked Lou Gehrig better. You know his nickname?”
Renie nodded. “The Iron Horse, because he never missed a game.”
“Oh, that’s so,” Gertrude agreed. “But he had another nickname—Biscuit Pants. I forget why, but I like it.”
“Interesting,” Renie remarked. “I didn’t know that. Remember—all you do is say, ‘Way to go, Joe,’ when he hits the ball.”
“Sounds screwy to me,” Gertrude muttered. “Do I win a prize?”
Renie nodded. “You don’t have to eat dinner at our house.”
“Sounds good to me,” Gertrude said.
The cordless phone rang, making Judith jump. Swiftly, she picked the receiver up from the card table and answered.
“You got a reprieve,” Ingrid Heffelman announced. “Not that I agree with it.”
“What do you mean?” Judith asked, moving away from her mother and Renie to hear more clearly.
“The board deadlocked, with one abstention,” Ingrid said in disgust. “They’ll have to vote again next month. Consider yourself on probation. Meanwhile, if you find another damned corpse, your innkeeping goose is cooked.”
“I won’t,” Judith asserted. “I promise.”
What a relief!” Judith exclaimed after the cousins left the toolshed. “I was sure that Ingrid would convince the board that I’m a blight on the profession.”
“Now you can focus on your vacation,” Renie pointed out.
“I will,” Judith promised. She looked through the window over the kitchen sink. “Darn. It’s starting to rain. I won’t be able to coax Joe out to the backyard to hit baseballs until tomorrow.”
“That’s okay,” Renie said, picking up her big black handbag from the counter. “It’ll give you time to remind your mother what to say.”
“True.” Judith followed Renie as she headed for the back door. “I thought you’d mention why we were making the bet—like asking Mother why she hasn’t called Joe by any of her more insulting names lately.”
Renie shrugged. “I assume that’s part of her recent lack of pep. But she perked up after she heard our plan.”
“You didn’t specify what the bet was for,” Judith pointed out.
“Of course not.” Renie slung the handbag over her shoulder and opened the back door. “Then I would’ve had to explain about the usual names she calls Joe and she might’ve turned ornery.”
“Oh.” Judith nodded. “And just as well you didn’t mention the vacation part. Mother might have balked. She hates it when I go away.”
“So does my mom,” Renie said. “Like to my own house instead of her apartment. See you.”
When Joe arrived at five-thirty, Judith was preparing appetizers for the guests’ social hour. “Where’ve you been all afternoon?” she asked.
“Research,” he told her, hanging his jacket on a peg in the hallway between the kitchen and the back door.
“I thought you turned down your last two cases.”
“I did,” Joe said, kissing Judith’s cheek. “Defend me against the infidel. As in ‘infidelity.’ I’m sick of following husbands and wives who stray. Why don’t suspicious spouses just ask?”
Judith mixed hard-boiled egg yolks with mayonnaise and tiny shrimp. “So what kind of research were you doing?”
“For our vacation,” Joe replied. “Sporting goods stores, the travel agent on top of Heraldsgate Hill, checking with Bill and his resources.”
“Have you made a choice?”
Joe took a bottle of Harp lager out of the fridge. “I’ve narrowed it down to three places. Bill says he’ll go along with any of them.”
“The Joneses will definitely come with us?” Judith asked.
“So it seems.” Joe removed the lid from the lager and eyed the deviled eggs Judith was sprinkling with paprika. “May I?”
“Just one.” From overhead, Judith could hear some of the guests stirring. Four of the six rooms were occupied—not a bad number for a Tuesday in early March. “What about dates?”
Washing down a bite of egg with the beer, Joe strolled over to the calendar on the bulletin board. “That’s tricky, since we don’t know our destination. The third week of March would work. But,” he added, “the bet’s still on, so nothing can be firmed up.”
Judith shrugged. “We can’t force Mother to say what each of us wants to hear. Maybe,” Judith said, avoiding Joe’s gaze, “we should have made a different kind of bet.”
Joe chuckled. “You’re waffling. You know I’m going to win.”
“Well…given Mother’s history, the odds are in your favor.”
“You bet they are,” said Joe.
But, Judith thought smugly, Joe didn’t know the deck was stacked against him.
The rain stopped during the night. Wednesday, the third of March, dawned with mostly blue skies and only a thirty percent chance of rain. Of course the local forecast changed approximately every half hour. As a native, Judith trusted her instincts, not the meteorologists.
When her cleaning woman, Phyliss Rackley, arrived, Judith informed her that the plan for the day would be slightly altered.
“I’ve asked Joe to help clean out some stuff from the garage,” Judith explained, “so I won’t have time to fold the laundry when you get done. Leave it in the pantry and I’ll get to it later.”
“Later?” Phyliss’s beady eyes scrutinized Judith. “It’s later than you think. Saint Peter’s going tick-a-lock with those pearly gates for me even as we speak. I’m poorly. Very poorly.”
Judith feigned sympathy. “Really? That’s a shame. Maybe you should take the day off to see a doctor.”
Phyliss’s eyes practically bugged out. “Are you serious? You think I’m…terminal?”
Judith shrugged. “You know your own body. You’ve had so many close calls that I’m hardly surprised if The End Is Near.”
“Well.” Phyliss swallowed so hard Judith could see her Adam’s apple move on her scrawny neck. “I might be able to last the day if I take my tonic.”
“Good idea.” Having dismissed her cleaning woman’s latest bout of hypochondria, Judith headed outside to find Joe in the backyard, swinging a golf club.
“Where’d you find that?” Judith asked.
“In the cupboard on the side of the garage,” Joe replied. He took another swing. “There’s almost a complete set. They aren’t mine.”
“They belonged to my father,” Judith said. “He golfed. The clubs must be seventy years old.”
“They’re not exactly the latest graphite type,” Joe noted, looking up at the gray clouds that were gathering overhead. “It’s going to rain. We should put off this job until afternoon. Or tomorrow.”
“No.” Judith’s tone was unusually sharp. “I mean, it could rain until the end of June. We’ll be in the garage most of the time anyway.”
Joe looked resigned. “So what should I do with these clubs?”
“Get rid of them, I guess. Bill used to golf once in a while but he hasn’t done that in years.” She paused. “Let me show them to Mother. Did you find Mike’s Louisville Slugger yet?”
“I saw it in there,” Joe replied. “Does he want it back?”
“He might—for the boys,” Judith said. “Our grandsons are getting old enough to play ball.”
“Okay.” Joe handed Judith what looked to her like a club that might be some kind of iron. He went back to the garage; she hurried to the toolshed.
“Mother,” she said, “it’s time to strut your stuff.”
“What stuff?” Gertrude retorted, looking glum. “My stuff lost its stuffing a long time ago. What’s with the golf club? Are you going to beat me with it if I don’t do whatever I’m supposed to do?”
“It’s part of the set that belonged to my father,” Judith said, showing the club to her mother. “Remember?”
With a tentative hand, the old lady reached out to touch the club’s shaft. “Oh yes. I remember,” she said softly. “He was no Bobby Jones, but he tried. And he never cheated like some golfers do.”
“Ah…that’s true. My father was the soul of integrity.”
Gertrude nodded. “More than you can say for some.” She shot her daughter a sharp glance. “Well? What do I say when Lunk—”
“You say,” Judith interrupted quickly before Gertrude could finish the derogatory nickname, “‘Way to go, Joe.’”
“Huh. Okay, help me to the door. I can do it from there, can’t I?”
After getting Gertrude positioned in the doorway, Judith went back outside and retrieved the baseball she’d found in the garage and hidden under a fuchsia bush by the toolshed. Joe was coming from the garage with the baseball bat, an infielder’s mitt, and a pair of badminton rackets that needed to be restrung.
“I assume,” Joe called to his wife, “you’ve given up smacking the birdie around.”
“Yes,” Judith replied. “Toss those rackets. My hip has benched me. See if you can hit this.” She cocked her arm to throw the baseball.
“Whoa!” Joe cried. “Let me put this other stuff down.” He noticed Gertrude watching from the toolshed door. She had been joined by Sweetums, whose big orange and white body was curled up at the old lady’s feet. “Hi there, pussycats,” he said.
Gertrude didn’t say anything. Sweetums yawned.
Judith lobbed the ball to Joe. He swung and missed. “Oh, come on,” she said with a smile, “you can do better. How do you expect to coach Joe-Joe and Mac when they start Little League?”
“That was too low,” Joe complained, picking up the ball and tossing it to his wife. “It was so far out of the strike zone that it practically grazed my ankles.”
Judith tried to put more oomph on the second throw. Joe connected. The ball sailed off to the left, narrowly missing the statue of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Gertrude leaned forward, watching the ball land under a rhododendron bush. “Way to go!” she cried as Judith held her breath. “Way to go,” she repeated. “Good swing…Biscuit Pants!”
Joe stared at Gertrude. “What did you just call me?”
“Biscuit Pants,” Gertrude repeated. “Lou Gehrig’s nickname.” She looked at Judith. “What are you staring at? Lunkhead’s foul ball?” The old lady tottered precariously as she turned to go back to the toolshed.
“Mother!” Judith shouted. “Wait!”
Joe raised his hands, making a Churchillian victory sign. “I win!”
Judith barely glanced at him as she hurried to steady Gertrude. “What’s wrong with you?” she hissed. “You ruined everything!”
Gertrude took a couple of deep breaths and glared at her daughter. “I ruined you, that’s for sure!”
“That’s what I…how do you mean?”
With Judith’s help, Gertrude hobbled to her armchair. “By not raising you right,” Gertrude said in disgust. “For setting a bad example.”
Puzzled, Judith eased her mother into the chair. “I don’t understand.”
Gertrude let out a big sigh. “Didn’t I teach you never to cheat?”
“Ah…yes.” Judith grimaced.
Sadly, Gertrude shook her head. “But you cheated today. You pulled a shenanigan. No matter what I’ve done, I won’t have it.”
Still not sure what her mother was talking about, Judith sat down on the arm of the small sofa. “You didn’t do anything. I mean, you called Joe by the wrong name and then referred to him as—”
Gertrude waved a hand. “Hush! I…” She started to cry.
“Mother!” Judith got up and put an arm around the old lady’s shoulders. “You what? You haven’t been yourself lately. What is it?”
Tears slipped down Gertrude’s wrinkled cheeks. She took a handkerchief from her housecoat’s sleeve. “You better hear the worst.”
Judith hugged her mother gently. “Tell me.”
Clearing her throat, Gertrude made a swipe with the handkerchief. “Two weeks ago at SOTS bridge club.”
Judith recalled helping Gertrude get into Angie Mazzoni’s car for the card game with Our Lady, Star of the Sea—or SOTS, as the parishioners were more familiarly known. Afterwards, Gertrude had seemed glum even though she’d won the quarters.
“Go on,” Judith urged when her mother fell silent.
“You know what a blowhard Mary Clare O’Malley can be,” Gertrude finally said. “Bossy, too. On the last hand, she bid a small slam. I was pretty sure I could set her—if I knew if she was finessing on the second trick. She was bragging, and I hate showing off. Anyway…” Gertrude made a wretched face. “I peeked at her hand. She was finessing, so I played my high card and she went set, doubled and redoubled.”
“That’s it?” Judith said in obvious relief.
Gertrude scowled. “Isn’t that enough? I’ve never cheated in my life! Granted, she was waving her cards around along with her big mouth, but even so, I had to lean a little to see them all. I don’t know why I did it. I’ve been sick inside ever since. I’m probably going to hell.”
“Oh, Mother,” Judith said with a laugh and another hug, “don’t be so hard on yourself. Mary Clare is a pill.”
“That’s no excuse for what I did,” Gertrude insisted. “I feel like I should give back the quarters. They came to three dollars.”
Judith patted her mother and stood up. “You probably sensed she was finessing. I’ll bet you’d have played that high card regardless.”
“Don’t mention ‘bet’ to me,” Gertrude snapped. “And then you do the same thing—cheat. I couldn’t believe it, even if it meant you’d lose to Knucklehead. I couldn’t go along. What was that all about anyway?”
Judith sighed. “It was a silly wager about the names you call Joe.”
Gertrude stuffed the handkerchief back into her sleeve. “So? He should be used to it.”
“He is,” Judith said. “It’s not a big deal. The winner gets to pick where we go on vacation.”
Gertrude looked worried. “You’re going away? Where?”
“I don’t know yet,” Judith said. “Not too far. Joe wants to fish.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“We haven’t decided,” Judith replied. “A week or so.”
Gertrude grew thoughtful. “The Rankerses are coming back from California in a couple of days, right?”
Judith nodded. “I’m sure Carl and Arlene will take wonderful care of you. They always do.”
“You bet,” said Gertrude, and bit her lip. “Forget I said that. No more bets. Arlene and Carl are fun. They treat me right.”
“I know,” Judith said, grateful as ever for her next-door neighbors. “Are you feeling any better?” she asked as Sweetums seemed to appear from nowhere and jumped up onto the back of Gertrude’s chair.
“Well…maybe.” She smiled faintly at Judith. “I guess it’s true. Confession’s good for the soul.”
Judith had no intention of admitting to Joe that she’d attempted to sway the wagering odds in her favor. But her husband had seldom been fooled by liars and cheats during his career as a police detective.
“Nice try,” he remarked as Judith entered the garage.
“It was…sort of a…joke,” Judith said lamely. “Besides, Mother’s been down in the dumps lately. I thought it might cheer her up.”
Joe chuckled. “You’re a wonderful liar, but I’m not buying it. I’m going to call Bill after I finish this corner of the garage. We need to firm up our plans ASAP.”
“So where are we going?” Judith asked, wondering why they’d kept a rusty old lawn mower that must have belonged to Grandpa Grover.
“It’s a secret,” Joe replied. “We want to surprise you and Renie.”
“Can I have a hint?”
Joe wiped his grease-stained hands on a rag. “No.”
“Oh, come on!” Judith begged. “Renie and I have to know something about our destination or we can’t pack the right clothes.”
Joe thought for a moment. “You get three questions.”
“Is there a beach?”
“Good. Ocean view?”
He nodded again.
“Quaint shops and restaurants close by?”
A third nod confirmed Judith’s hopes. “Great!” she exclaimed, and kissed her husband’s cheek. “How soon do we leave?”
Joe frowned slightly. “I’m not sure. A week, maybe two.” He shook a finger at her. “No more questions.”
“That’s fine,” Judith agreed. “I’m going inside to make sure all the guests have left and to check on Phyliss. I’ll be right back.”
But the first thing Judith did was to call Renie. It was well after ten o’clock, and her antimorning cousin should be up and fairly alert.
“It’s not a sinus infection,” Renie shouted into the phone. “It’s my damned pollen allergies. Stop fussing, Mom. I’m naked.”
“I hope you’re inside the house,” Judith said calmly.
“Of course…Coz? Oh,” Renie said with relief, “I thought you were Mom calling me for the third time already this morning to make sure I don’t have a terminal sinus infection. She woke me up the first time at nine. I wanted to sleep in longer than usual because I went to the opera with Madge Navarre last night. It was Verdi’s Don Carlo—the uncut version. It was great, but I was really tired by the final curtain call.”
“Sorry I bothered you. Do you want to get dressed?”
“I didn’t want to get undressed,” Renie responded. “I was cozy in bed in my nightgown, but when Mom called—and you know Bill, he never takes calls—I had to answer it because I’m always sure that one of our three children who live in far-flung places is hanging by his or her thumbs from a steep cliff over shark-infested waters.”
“I’ll make this quick,” Judith said, hearing someone on the main stairs. “I lost the bet, but I’m almost certain I know where we’re going.”
“Going? Oh—the supposed trip. Where?”
“Dana Point! Just what I wanted! You will come, won’t you?”
“Well—if Bill wants to. I assume he does if he and Joe have been hatching plans. But I’m not sure we can afford any big expenditures. If only Bill wouldn’t have such hard luck with his inventions. If he could ever sell one, we wouldn’t be semi-broke.”
A month earlier Renie revealed that Bill had been spending part of his retirement not just counseling a few of his longtime mental patients, but also dreaming up inventions. He was embarrassed about the activity, especially since every time he tried to find a backer for ideas such as his circulating hospital mattress and lightweight collapsible Rollo-Bag for shoppers, he discovered they were already patented.
“Excuse me. I just heard the postman.” Renie hung up.
Judith smiled as she set the receiver on the dining room table. She hoped Renie would remember to put on some clothes before she went out to the mailbox.
After bidding farewell to her departing guests, Judith found Phyliss in the living room about to turn on the vacuum. “Moses and I are ready to roar,” the cleaning woman said with an eager expression.
“Wonderful,” Judith remarked, smiling slightly. Phyliss referred to the vacuum as Moses, and pretended she was parting the Red Sea or leading the Israelites out of captivity. “If you need me, I’m in the garage.”
“All I need right now is Moses,” Phyliss declared, turning on the vacuum. “On to Mount Horeb! We want to see that burning bush!”
Judith went back outside. As she helped Joe finish cleaning the garage and then attended to her other routine chores, she dreamed of California’s warm sun, sandy beaches, and fine cuisine.
The dream kept her going all through the busy day and into the evening. During the night she woke up once, thinking she could hear the soft surf caressing the pristine sands. The sound was only the rain pattering on the windows. She smiled, rolled over closer to Joe, and went back to sleep.
The rest of the week passed quickly, but that following Monday as the wind picked up and the rain slanted down, Judith’s mood turned sour. Joe had told her they’d be leaving in a couple of weeks, but he hadn’t mentioned a date or anything else about his plans. Judith had alerted Ingrid Heffelman about the need for a B&B sitter. Ingrid had been cantankerous, though she’d agreed to find someone reliable. Monday afternoon, Ingrid had called to confirm the dates. Judith was unable to tell her anything concrete. Ingrid had hung up in a huff. Judith didn’t blame her, but Joe wasn’t forthcoming. He merely went around the house humming and looking pleased with himself.
“At least,” Judith said to Renie the next day as the cousins met for coffee at Moonbeam’s on top of Heraldsgate Hill, “the Rankers are back from California, so Mother is taken care of. Thank heavens she’s in a better mood since she unburdened herself about the bridge game.”
Renie sipped her mocha and nodded. “I’ve rounded up the usual suspects to watch over Mom. She’s convinced we’re going to some ghastly place where we’ll need shots and mosquito netting and get kidnapped by white slavers.”
Judith blew on her espresso. “Bill hasn’t let anything slip?”
Renie shook her head. “You know how tight-lipped he can be. Bill’s the only person I know who could withstand any kind of torture before revealing a secret. Even threatening to make homemade soup for dinner won’t get him to open up. He’s very strong.”
Judith recalled many years earlier when Renie had made soup—for the last time. One of their children had thrown a dirty gym sock in it, hoping to improve the flavor. Renie had taken the hint.
“But,” Renie went on, “I’ve got the tax stuff in to our CPA, I’m winding up loose ends with my graphic design business, and I’m virtually packed. So is Bill, but I can’t tell what he’s taking because he locked his suitcase and probably swallowed the key.”
Judith smiled at two mothers who were pushing high-tech strollers between the tables. “Mike and Kristin and the boys are coming for St. Patrick’s Day dinner tomorrow, so I know we aren’t leaving before that.”
“You’re lucky,” Renie said for what Judith figured was the hundredth time. “Your son and his wife and the grandchildren live only an hour away at the ranger station. Our three and their unfruitful spouses are whole continents and oceans away.”
As usual, Judith commiserated. “Think of the bright side,” Judith said. “In probably just a few days we’ll be relaxing under the sun with margaritas at our side.”
“I’m not so fond of sun,” Renie muttered. “I’m the essential Pacific Northwest native. Gloom is good.”
“I’m a native, too,” Judith countered, “but I wouldn’t mind some warmth and clear skies. It seems like a long winter.”
Renie, who had a foam mustache on her upper lip, shrugged. “Fair enough. Getting away will be nice. So will being waited on. A spa session sounds good, too.”
Judith replied. “I printed out the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point web site and taped it to the bathroom mirror. It isn’t cheap, but we don’t go anywhere that often.”
“Nor do we.” Renie raised her cup. “To relaxation and pampering.”
Judith smiled. “My, yes. And to us.”
Mike and his family left Hillside Manor Thursday night full of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and soda bread. Judith was loading the dishwasher when Joe came up behind her and leaned over her shoulder. “Set the alarm for six o’clock.”
“I always do,” Judith replied, “so I can get the guests’ breakfast.”
“You’re not getting breakfast tomorrow,” Joe said, tightening his arms around Judith’s waist. “The airport shuttle’s coming at seven.”
Judith whirled around and angrily regarded her husband. “Joe! I can’t just walk out the door! I have to arrange for—”
He put a finger to her lips. “It’s covered. Your B&B sitters arrive at six-thirty. I talked to Ingrid Heffelman Tuesday. She’s a good sport.”
“Since when?” Judith snapped. But the mischief in Joe’s eyes softened her temper. “You took care of everything? Ingrid was…nice?”
“Sure. You’re kind of hard on her. She has a cute giggle.”
Judith shook her head in disbelief. “I’ve never seen Ingrid smile, let alone giggle.” But she could understand the usually dour überführer of innkeepers melting under Joe’s Irish charm. “Where are we going?”
He grinned at her slyly. “It’s still a surprise. You’ll find out when we get there.”
Having waited this long, Judith stopped asking questions. She still had a lot to do, but first she had to call Renie.
“Don’t,” Joe said. “She won’t know anything until Bill wakes her up at five-thirty.”
“But…” Judith goggled at Joe. “At that time of day Renie won’t be fit to deal with anything that doesn’t include a pillow and a dark room.”
Joe stepped away from Judith and shrugged. “That’s his problem. After forty years of marriage, Bill can handle it.”
Judith considered. “So we’re flying. If Renie doesn’t realize that, she won’t be a nervous wreck and therefore won’t have time to drink herself into a stupor like she did before we flew to San Francisco.”
“Very true,” Joe said. “And don’t worry about your mother. I talked to Carl and Arlene. I also told Mike where we’re going.”
Excitement began to build. “Oh, Joe, this is going to be wonderful!” She hugged him and planted a big kiss on his lips. Suddenly she tensed. “Does Mother know?”
“She knows we’re going,” Joe said.
“Does she know where and for how long?”
Joe looked vague. “Not exactly. A few days at the beach was the way I put it. She may have the impression we’re…ah…visiting Auntie Vince and Uncle Vance up on the island.”
“Just as well.” She smiled. “Oh, this is going to be amazing!”
Judith had no idea how right she was.
Renie was clearly smashed when the Flynns boarded the shuttle. But at least she was smiling, which wouldn’t happen in the early morning unless there’d been several shots of Wild Turkey involved.
Bill acted as if he’d never seen his wife before in his life. The trip to the airport was uneventful, however. Judith had been impressed by the older couple who had shown up to take over the B&B. They’d owned their own establishment for years in Idaho, but had sold it and moved farther west to be closer to their two sons and their families. Full retirement hadn’t suited either of them, so they’d become substitutes for absent innkeepers.
As usual, the airport was under construction. Judith couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t being expanded or altered. When the Flynns and the Joneses got off the shuttle, she paid no attention to the overhead signs designating the various airlines. Judith was too busy watching Renie stagger slightly as she exited the vehicle.
“Thank you, doorman,” she said to the driver. “Put my purchases on the porch, okay?”
Bill was already at the curbside check-in desk. “Yes,” he said wearily in response to the woman who was checking their tickets. “She’s my wife. There’s nothing I can do about it. We’re Catholics.”
Joe was behind Bill. The process went smoothly except for Renie, who managed to get herself entangled in the ropes designating the passenger line. Judith managed to free her, and Renie managed a loopy smile and murmured, “…Crazy place for a jump rope.”
The husbands led the way to the escalators. Both men were walking faster than Judith could manage, but she thought it best to stay close to Renie, who was wandering this way and that.
“Hang on to me,” Judith said softly to her cousin.
“’Sa matter?” Renie asked. “Your hip hur’?”
Judith kept the husbands within sight, but was puzzled when they headed for the tram that went to the far-flung airline waiting areas.
“Odd,” she murmured. “The California flights are in the main terminal.”
“You sure?” Renie asked.
“Yes.” Judith thought for a moment. “But I think some of the Hawaii flights are on the tram route.” She beamed at Renie. “Do you suppose we’re going to the islands?”
“The…” But Judith had to hurry, hauling Renie along with her. The tram had arrived and the husbands were boarding. The cousins entered just before the doors slid shut. Recorded announcements were made while Judith scanned the stops listed above the doors.
“I was right,” she told Renie. “The first stop is for the Hawaiian-bound airlines. The second one, too. Oh, I’m so excited!”
“Unh,” said Renie.
But when the tram doors opened, Joe and Bill remained in place. Nor did they budge at the second stop.
“Golly,” Judith said, “we’re going to the international terminal.”
Renie gave a start. “Are you kidding?” she asked in what sounded almost like her normal voice. “You’re right. It’s the last one. Are we going to Polynesia or the Caribbean?”
“Australia or New Zealand, maybe,” Judith said. “It’s late summer or early fall down there, and we’ve had guests who’ve raved about the fishing—and the beaches.”
As the tram glided to its final stop, Joe nodded at Judith. The Flynns and the Joneses got off along with a half-dozen Asian businessmen, a couple of bearded Sikhs in turbans, an elderly cleric, and three exquisite young Japanese women whose beauty wasn’t the least bit marred by their giggles.
Only the cleric and one of the Sikhs headed in the same direction as Joe and Bill. Judith’s eyes grew huge as she realized they were going to the British Airways desk. She and Renie nudged their way in front of Joe and Bill as they waited to go through security. “London!” Judith gasped, and pointed to the departure listings. “Oh, I’m thrilled!”
“I thought you wanted sun,” Renie said. “The weather in London is the same as it here. Which, of course, is fine with me.”
Joe turned around. “London’s not our final destination.”
Judith stared at him. “What is?”
“You wanted beaches and an ocean view, right?”
“Yes, of course.” Judith jabbed Renie. “The Riviera—or Spain.”
“Really long flight,” Renie said under her breath. “Damn.”
Judith and Renie passed through security without any glitches. Joe and Bill, however, were stopped.
“Men,” Renie muttered. “Too many keys and other suspicious metal objects. It always happens.”
Joe was cleared after only a couple of minutes. Bill, however, was still being detained. But finally he was allowed to move on.
“What was that all about?” Renie demanded of her husband.
Bill frowned. “Do I know you? Are you a patient, or were you in one of my university classes?” He turned on his heel and walked away.
“Why have I not killed him in forty years?” Renie mumbled. “And why isn’t the bar open in this part of the terminal?”
For the next hour, Judith did her best to avoid Renie, who spent most of the time pacing around the waiting area. Joe and Bill had gone off to buy magazines. At last, the boarding call was announced.
“I wish I’d changed my will,” Renie murmured as she got into line. “I’d have left Clarence to Madge Navarre.”
“You know Madge hates animals,” Judith retorted. “She’d hardly want a bunny running around her condo. And don’t be so pessimistic.”
“Our husbands aren’t sitting with us,” Renie said as they moved up a few places in line.
Judith looked at her boarding pass. “You’re right. You and I are in a completely different part of the plane.”
“I can’t blame Bill,” Renie said. “The last time we flew I brought some small liquor bottles in my purse. The flight attendant said it was illegal and threatened to throw me off the plane. Bill offered to help.”
The cousins displayed their boarding passes and walked down the corridor to the plane. Inside the cabin, Judith saw Joe wave at her from his seat several rows away. Judith waved back but didn’t smile. Having Renie as a seatmate during a twelve-hour flight to London might be trying.
But as soon as she buckled her seat belt, Renie dug around in her purse, took out a pill caddy, extracted four small yellow tablets, and chewed them up. They had just begun to taxi for takeoff when Renie put her head on her cousin’s shoulder and said, “G’night.”
Judith also dozed off. The initial excitement had worn off and the long walk in the terminal had tired her. When she woke up, it was dark.
Renie also opened her eyes. “Where are we?” she mumbled.
“Thirty-five thousand feet above Planet Earth,” Judith replied.
Renie shuddered and went back to sleep.
Joe came by to check on his wife. “I saw you limp a bit when you went to the restroom,” he said, leaning across the aisle seat, which had remained blessedly empty. “Are you okay?”
Judith nodded. “Sitting so long bothers me sometimes. What time will it be in London when we arrive?”
“Around noon.” Joe checked his watch. “I’m already on UK time.”
“How much time between flights?”
“A couple of hours,” Joe said.
“How long is the second flight?”
“Not long.” He smiled mischievously. “See you at Heathrow.”
Judith couldn’t get back to sleep. She’d finished the novel she’d been reading and had flipped through the British Airways magazine. She was making a trek to the restroom when the pilot announced that they were beginning their descent.
By the time she reached her seat, Renie was awake. “I thought you left,” Renie said. “I heard the announcement. I like the descent part. If we crash, we don’t have so far to fall. Besides, we can jump up and down like people do on plunging elevators. If you’re up in the air when it lands, you won’t get hurt.”
Judith didn’t comment. Instead, she got out her compact and reapplied her makeup.
“You want to be a pretty corpse?” Renie asked. “I forgot—you can’t jump with that phony hip.”
“Shut up, coz,” Judith said. “We have only a two-hour layover. That means we can’t go into London. I’m kind of disappointed.”
“Maybe we can do that on the way back,” Renie said.
A half hour passed before the plane landed on the tarmac. Tired and stiff, Judith exited into the blur that was Heathrow. She didn’t feel as if she’d traveled ten thousand miles from Hillside Manor. She simply felt as if she’d had a very bad night.
“Sun,” she murmured to Renie as they waited in the customs and immigration line. “I can’t wait.”
This time there were no delays. The foursome was cleared in short order. Judith tried to hear Joe’s response when he was asked about their next stop, but he elbowed her out of the way and lowered his voice.
“Now what?” Renie demanded. “Hey!” She tugged at the sleeve of Bill’s jacket. “Remember me? We once took sacred vows in a church.”
But neither of the men would reveal anything. Judith didn’t pester Joe, conserving her energy to walk to their connecting flight.
Twenty minutes later, the cousins discovered the next stop.
“Aberdeen, Scotland?” Judith gasped.
“Why?” Renie asked in a bewildered voice.
“Sun-drenched beaches?” Judith muttered. “Not this time of year.” She turned to Joe, who was studying what looked like an itinerary. “Is Aberdeen our final stop?”
Joe didn’t look up from the printout. “No.”
Exasperated, Judith walked back to Renie. “We keep going.”
“How? By spaceship?”
Judith shrugged. “I’m beginning to lose my enthusiasm.”
The flight, however, was relatively short. By three o’clock, they were in misty Aberdeen. Renie complained that she couldn’t see the city from the airport.
“Don’t worry,” Bill said. “That’s not where we’re staying.”
Joe had rented a car. Fifteen minutes later, they were driving away from the city. Traffic was heavy. The Friday commute, Judith thought, and finally reset her watch.
“Are we there yet?” Renie asked sullenly from the backseat.
There was no answer from Joe behind the wheel nor from Bill, sitting beside his wife. After almost an hour, they left the highway where the mist began drifting onto the narrow, winding road.
“Are we there yet?” Renie asked again.
“Where is there?” Judith inquired.
“You’ll see,” Joe said.
“I won’t see anything in this weather,” Judith retorted. “As much as I hate to use the words ‘husbands’ and ‘idiots’ in the same sentence, this is some terrible practical joke, or else…” She left the rest unspoken.
It had grown dark. Joe rolled down the window. “Smell the sea?”
“I smell a rat,” Judith muttered, she sniffing at the air.
Joe began to slow down, obeying the road signs giving the legal speed not in miles, but kilometers. “We’re getting close.”
“I’m starved,” Renie declared.
Moments later, lights glowed through the mist. “The village,” Joe said. “St. Fergna.”
“Who?” Judith asked.
“Fergna the White,” Joe replied. “A seventh-century abbot.”
“Who was Fergna the Black?” Judith asked dryly. “Or maybe Fergna the Black-and-Blue?”
“Fergna better have started a restaurant,” Renie grumbled.
From what Judith could see of the village, it was small and probably had a certain charm if it hadn’t been shrouded in mist. She spotted a half-dozen people on the winding cobbled streets. But Joe didn’t stop. He kept going seaward until they were on a steep dirt road.
“We aren’t there yet?” Renie demanded.
Joe stopped the car on the flat sands. A thick fog hid everything but their immediate surroundings. She knew they were near the North Sea. Not only could she smell it, but she could also hear the surf.
“Didn’t I promise you beach with a water view?” Joe asked.
Judith stared at him. “We’re camping?” Her tone wasn’t pleasant.
“No,” he replied. “Just wait.” He sat behind the wheel, hands folded on his slight paunch. After a few minutes, a light glowed in the fog. Joe flashed the headlamps. “Here’s the ferryman.”
“The ferryman?” Judith asked, aghast. “We’re going to an island?”
“Not quite,” Joe said. “Only when the tide’s in.”
Judith saw an elderly man approach carrying a lantern. He wore a peacoat, dark pants, and heavy boots. A fisherman’s cap covered most of his longish white hair.
“Gibbs here,” he said with a Highland accent. “Ye be Flynn?”
“Yes,” Joe replied. “Flynn and Jones.”
Gibbs peered inside the car, gazing with sea blue eyes at Judith and Renie. “These be your ladies?”
“Yes,” Joe repeated. “Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Jones.”
“Come along,” Gibbs said.
Judith stepped out onto the wet sand and sank about half an inch. “I’m stuck,” she informed Joe. “Help me.” She refrained from adding, “Before I kill you.”
Renie disdained any assistance, her shoes squelching in the sand as she tromped toward a small skiff about ten yards away from the car. She swore several of her father’s favorites oaths along the way.
“Ah,” Gibbs said softly. “She be a rough ’un. Sounds like a sailor.”
“It’s hereditary,” Bill said.
Joe took Judith’s arm. She refused to look at him. When she was settled into the small craft, the wind changed and the fog began to roll out to sea. While Gibbs plied the oars, Judith could make out a rock formation with craggy, sheer cliffs. Her heart sank. She was sure they were going to stay in a lighthouse. With any luck, maybe the boat would sink, too.
Gibbs, who seemed very strong for his age, rowed the little group to the bottom of the rocks in less than five minutes. “Up ye go,” he said.
Joe helped Judith get out of the skiff and onto flat granite stones set in the sandy ground. “How,” she asked pointedly, “do we get up?”
“We follow these stones,” Joe said in a reasonable tone. “Look. There’s the lift.”
The elevator was an iron-grilled cage on cables that seemed to disappear into the clouds. Judith stared—and shuddered. “Is it safe?”
“Gibbs came down in it,” Joe said. “So now we go up in it.”
Renie was balking. “No way. I’ll sleep on the beach.”
“Move it,” ordered Bill, giving his wife a push. “Let’s go, let’s hit it, let’s boppin’, let’s—”
“Let’s shut the hell up,” Renie snarled. But she moved.
The foursome went inside the cage. Joe found a lever and pulled it. The conveyance rumbled and shook—and moved slowly up the face of the cliff. After about a minute, it stopped. They got out and took in the sight before them.
“My God!” Judith cried. “It’s a castle!”
Joe chuckled and put his arm around her shoulders. “Didn’t you want something fit for a queen?”
Good Lord!” Judith gasped. “It’s real? It’s not a mirage?”
“It’s real.” Joe offered Judith his arm. “Shall we enter, milady?”
“What’s it called?” Renie asked, looking suspicious.
“Ah…” Joe hesitated. “Grimloch, Gaelic for ‘green’ or ‘grass.’”
“No,” Renie countered. “It comes from Old English for ‘fierce.’”
“Are we waiting for a dictionary?” Bill asked impatiently.
Judith and Joe moved toward the arch. She noticed a raised portcullis and saw that the castle’s building stones were a weathered dark gray, covered in patches of lichen and moss. Indeed, water seemed to seep out of the masonry cracks. The outer wall was only one story, though the inner U-shaped section had at least two levels aboveground. Since the castle sat high on an outcropping of rock, there was a drawbridge and a moat. Judith noticed twin towers, the castle keep, the battlements, and a few narrow windows on the ground floor. The inner courtyard was planted with grass and shrubs.
“There’s only a couple of lights inside,” Judith said, then peered at her watch. “It’s a little after seven. Where is everybody?”
“I told you, we’re the only guests,” Joe replied. “Isn’t that great?”
The social animal in Judith reacted. “I don’t know if I like that.”
Joe ignored the comment. He had led the others to a heavy oak door on their right. The iron knocker was a boar’s head, which he banged three times.
Judith felt chilled as the wind picked up and the damp air crept into her bones. Like Renie, she was hungry, but she was also very tired.
Finally a rotund white-haired woman with pink cheeks opened the door. “Welcome,” she said with a tight little smile. “I’m Mrs. Gibbs, the housekeeper.”
The housekeeper didn’t offer her hand. She merely stepped aside with what might have been a little bow and allowed the visitors to enter. A shield showing three muzzled boars’ heads on a blue background hung on the opposite wall. Above it was draped a predominantly green and blue tartan plaid. Judith could feel a draft coming from somewhere in the narrow stonewalled passageway.
“You’re the ferryman’s wife?” Judith said, unable to restrain her friendly—and curious—nature.
“When’s dinner served?” Renie asked.
“Bide a bit,” Mrs. Gibbs replied.
“Bite a bit?” Renie retorted. “I’ll bite more than that if you—”
Bill tugged at Renie’s arm. “Mrs. Jones’s feeding time is past due.”
“We should probably change,” Joe put in. “Perhaps you could show us to our rooms.”
Mrs. Gibbs led them down the narrow passageway to a winding stone staircase. Judith regarded the steps with trepidation.
“How many flights?” she asked.
The housekeeper turned slightly. “Flights? Oh. One.”
The stairs were narrow but spaced close together. Judith realized that when the castle had been built hundreds of years ago, people had been shorter and smaller. That, she thought, was a blessing for her hip. She also noticed that the torches in the wall sconces had been replaced by electric lights shaped like flames. Maybe the accommodations weren’t as grim as the castle’s name implied.
Mrs. Gibbs stopped at the first door on their left. “Flynn,” she said, taking a set of keys on a metal ring from the leather belt she wore over her gray dress. Unlocking the door, she handed the key to Joe. Then she moved across the hall. Judith heard her say, “Jones.”
The Flynns’ room was large, with a huge fireplace ready for a match to light the logs. The windows were tall and recessed, with facing stone benches. A canopied bed stood opposite the fireplace. There was a desk, a table, two armchairs, and a settee.
Mrs. Gibbs returned. “The garderobe,” she said, pointing to another oak door.
“That would be the…bathroom?” Judith said.
Mrs. Gibbs left.
“Quite a view,” Joe said, looking out the double window with its ancient glass. “That is, when we can see it. We overlook the water.”
“How could we not?” Judith murmured. “This is a virtual island.”
“Shall I light the fire?”
“No. Wait until after dinner. I’m only semifreezing now.” Judith opened the garderobe door. “At least it’s a real bathroom. Toilet, sink, and tub. Even a shower, thank goodness. I won’t have to worry about getting in and out.”
“I know,” Joe said, admiring the tapestry of a hunting scene. “I made sure of that. And,” he added, “there is an elevator. I think it’s at the far end of this passageway.”
“Ah.” Judith was relieved. “What does a place like this cost?”
Joe grinned. “Nothing.”
Judith stared. “How come?”
Joe sat in one of the armchairs. “Remember when Bill and I fished in Scotland while you and Renie stayed with your English friends?”
“They weren’t exactly our friends,” Judith said. “The connection was my longtime pen pal from high school days.”
“Right.” He shrugged. “Anyway, while we were fishing, we met a Scotland Yard detective, Hugh MacGowan. He still works, but plans to retire in June. Great guy, an old-fashioned cop who doesn’t trust modern technology and relies on solid detective work and his instincts. He still uses a typewriter and won’t touch a computer. He knew about Grimloch, and said the owners took in summer guests. I wrote to Hugh even before our bet to ask if we could come earlier in the year. Being a canny Scot, he coaxed them into a free stay for us.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs own this place?”
“No. It belongs to a whiskey distillery owner,” Joe replied. “He spends his winters in Spain, but comes here for part of the year.”
“Good,” Judith said. “You didn’t have to plunder our savings.” A knock at the door sounded as she studied a handsome armoire.
Gibbs arrived with their luggage. Joe proffered a tip but was refused. “Butler rings gong at eight,” Gibbs said, tipping his fisherman’s cap. “A wee dram awaits in the drawing room near where ye came in.”
Judith hurriedly unpacked, hanging their clothes in a capacious wardrobe. Joe showered first. When Judith’s turn came, she was elated to discover that although the bathroom fixtures looked old, the plumbing was modern. She had no problem pulling the toilet’s chain as long as it flushed; she didn’t mind the outdated faucets if they poured hot and cold water. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, she might succumb to the castle’s charm. After all, the sun might come out in the morning.
“Good grief!” she cried, coming out of the garderobe wrapped in a large white towel. “I just realized I don’t have clothes for this kind of weather! I packed for California. Or someplace like it.”
Joe looked puzzled. “If you didn’t know where we were going, why didn’t you bring clothes you could wear anyplace?”
Judith heaved a big sigh. “Women don’t pack like that. I’ll bet Renie’s having a fit.”
“Renie was almost over the limit on her luggage,” Joe pointed out. “I’ll bet she’s brought along some…ah…warmer stuff.”
Judith was shoving garments this way and that in the wardrobe. “This purple and white orchid dress with the ruffled sweater,” she muttered. “That’ll have to do for tonight. I’ll call Renie and Bill to find out how soon they’ll be ready.” Judith looked around the big room. “I don’t see a phone.”
“Um…they don’t have one in the guest rooms. No TV, either, but,” Joe went on cheerfully, “that’s because there’s so much else to do.”
Judith started to dress. “Such as?”
“Well…the village, shops, history. Oh—dolphins. They call them bottlenoses—or something like that.”
“You left out fishing,” Judith said sharply.
Joe looked surprised. “You want to fish?”
“Never mind.” Judith applied lipstick and blush. “Let’s eat.”
By chance, Renie and Bill were leaving their room. Renie was wearing a wool emerald green sweater with a long black wool skirt.
“For sunny California?” Judith asked with sarcasm.
Renie shrugged. “Once the sun goes down, it gets chilly in Southern California.”
“Nice room,” Bill remarked as they headed for the staircase. “Too bad it’s not on the ocean. We see the village.”
“All those bright lights,” Judith retorted. “All four of them?”
“I built a fire,” Bill said.
“That must be pleasant,” Judith responded. “Joe’s going to try that after dinner. If he can find the flint.”
They started down the circular stairs. “I’m taking the elevator back up,” Judith declared.
“What elevator?” Renie asked.
“There’s one somewhere,” Bill said vaguely.
They reached the ground floor. “The gong,” Judith said. “Have we heard the gong signaling dinner?”
“It’s two minutes after eight,” Judith said, looking at her watch. “How could we hear it through these thick stone walls?”
“Good point,” Joe said. He gestured straight ahead. “That’s where we came in. The drawing room is—” He stopped. At the far end of the passageway, a small, furtive figure skittered into view, paused, turned around, and disappeared.
“Who was that?” Judith asked.
“What was that?” Renie said. “A kid? The butler? Our waiter?”
The door to the drawing room opened just before the foursome moved on. A man in proper butler’s attire beamed at them. He looked familiar to Judith.
“Gibbs?” she said.
“Aye,” he replied, still smiling. “The finest Scottish whiskey awaits ye. Did ye hear the gong?”
“Aye,” Judith said. “I mean—nae. No.”
Gibbs nodded. “I thought not. Nobody ever does.”
The drawing room made Judith catch her breath. Some of the furnishings looked very old, perhaps from the seventeenth or even sixteenth century, but they had been lovingly restored. Brocades, silks, and velvet covered the chairs and settees. Many of the pieces were heavy and solid. The walls were paneled in oak; the ceiling was coffered. Judith immediately moved to the fireplace hearth where logs were ablaze. The chimney, she noticed, was decorated with a stag’s head, proper.
“The family crest?” she inquired as Gibbs stood by a satinwood table where decanters, glassware, and an ice bucket had been set out.
The ferryman cum butler smiled. “Aye, the Forbes clan. The master is a Fordyce, a sept o’ the Forbes. There’s a Castle Fordyce to the southeast, but distant kin, ye ken. Now and again, folks get confused, come to the wrong one.”
“That’s understandable,” Judith said. “Did this Fordyce inherit Grimloch Castle?”
“Nae.” Gibbs’s face turned stony. “The master…bought it some twenty-odd years ago.” He cleared his throat. “Will ye be drinking his special malt?”
Judith, Joe, and Bill said yes. Renie looked apologetic. “Do you have any Canadian whiskey—or Pepsi?”
Gibbs nodded and reached into a glass-fronted cabinet next to the table. “Set aside for our colonial cousins.”
Judith accepted a flared crystal highball glass. “May I please have some ice?”
“Ah.” Gibbs’s blue eyes twinkled. “Yanks. Ye must have yer ice.”
After the drinks were poured, Gibbs announced that he’d retire to assume his other duties. “Cook serves at half past the hour,” he said.
Judith sipped her drink and explored their surroundings. “Some of these paintings must be very valuable,” she said to Renie. “Is that Venice scene a real Canaletto?”
“Could be,” Renie replied. “There’s a Turner Grand Canal on the other wall. The portraits are excellent, too.”
“Mostly ancestors, I suppose.”
“Maybe, but not all of them,” Renie said. “I spotted Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son James VI—James I, if you only count him as an English king.”
“Fascinating.” Judith looked at Renie’s wool sweater and skirt. “You were smart to pack at least one warm outfit.”
“Ah…well, you know…” Renie looked away, ostensibly studying an inlaid chess table on a pedestal. “The weather’s always unpredictable.”
Judith eyed her cousin suspiciously. “But wool?”
Still avoiding Judith’s gaze, Renie shrugged. “Wool…breathes.”
“Only when the sheep’s wearing it,” Judith snapped. “What else did you pack that you couldn’t possibly wear in eighty-degree heat?”
Renie grimaced. “A couple of other sweaters. Wool slacks. Hooded jacket. Furs.”
“Faux fur,” Renie said. “Except for my raincoat’s real fox lining.”
Judith moved closer to Renie, forcing her to back up against a mahogany settee. “You knew?”
Renie shot a quick glance at Joe and Bill, who were standing on the hearth at the other end of the room. “Bill had to tell me. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to get me on the plane. But he figured that if we were headed for Scotland, I’d be willing to fly. You know I love Scottish history. And,” Renie added lamely, “Scottish weather. It’s just like home, only more so.”
“You lied to me!” Judith exclaimed softly. “How could you?”
“I didn’t really lie,” Renie insisted. “Bill didn’t tell me until the night before we left. Please don’t let Joe find out. Until now, I had to act clueless. Bill felt terrible about breaking his promise to Joe, but he realized I might stay home even if I had to fake my own death.”
Judith shook her head. “I’m speechless—and flabbergasted.”
“Hey.” Renie wagged a finger at her cousin. “This whole thing started because of your dumb bet, and the—”
“It wasn’t dumb,” Judith interrupted. “At first, it was fifty—”
“Never mind that part. I mean,” Renie clarified, “the vacation stakes. Why on earth would you, a Pacific Northwest native, want to seek sun? It’s unthinkable.”
Judith considered her cousin’s words. “Honestly, I don’t know why I said Dana Point. I’d been there a couple of times with Dan, and it was very pleasant. For a few hours. Maybe when Joe asked me where I’d like to vacation, I didn’t think it through. Maybe I forgot how much I hate heat and constant sunshine.”
“That’s okay,” Renie said in consolation. “Everybody has an occasional lapse.”
The cousins’ attention was diverted as a tall, handsome young man in classic tweeds entered the drawing room. Joe and Bill nodded as the newcomer went directly to the cabinet where the liquor was stored. He poured out a generous measure of whiskey and rather insolently gazed from the husbands to the wives. “Do I know you?” he asked in a slightly drawling voice that sounded more English than Scots.
Joe offered his hand. “We’re guests. Joe Flynn and Bill Jones. Our wives are over there.” He nodded in Judith and Renie’s direction.
The young man’s handshake lacked enthusiasm. “Oh. I heard you were coming. Or did I?” He frowned. “I’m Harry Gibbs.”
Judith and Renie had approached the young man. “I’m Mrs. Flynn, and this is Mrs. Jones.”
Harry Gibbs’s hazel eyes darted from cousin to cousin. “Oh.” He drank his whiskey neat.
Judith was taken aback by Harry’s ungracious manner. “Are you related to the Gibbses?” she asked to cover the awkward moment.
“Grandson,” he said, and finished his drink in one big gulp. Harry returned to the liquor cabinet and poured a refill. Without another glance at the visitors, he sauntered out of the drawing room.
“Not exactly the warm and fuzzy type,” Judith remarked. “I wanted to ask him who we saw at the end of the passageway. Whoever it was almost looked like a child. I should’ve asked Gibbs.”
“Maybe,” Renie suggested, “it’s another—younger—grandson. Harry’s parents may dump their offspring on Grandpa and Grandma.”
“Harry’s no kid,” Joe pointed out. “I’d figure him for over twenty. And he was wearing a wedding ring.”
“He’s old enough to drink,” Renie said. “A lot, it seems.”
“Unbalanced,” Bill declared in his most authoritative psychologist’s manner. “Something’s off.”
Renie grinned at Judith. “Lucky us. Your husband notices details like wedding bands and mine diagnoses a nut job at fifty paces.”
“Hmm,” Judith murmured. “Maybe there are enough people around here to keep us intrigued.”
Joe put an arm around Judith. “People—my wife’s favorite hobby.”
Renie gazed at the drawing room door. “Dinner—my favorite hobby. Shall we dine?”
“I think,” Joe said, “we’ll be summoned. It’s not quite eight-thirty. Anybody want to freshen this most excellent beverage?”
Judith and Bill requested just a jot more. Renie shook her head. “I’ve hardly touched my Canadian. Liquor is off-putting after my bout with Wild Turkey. I can barely stand the smell, let alone the taste.”
“Serves you right,” Bill said.
At precisely eight-thirty, Gibbs reappeared. “Dinner is served,” he announced. “Cook will present.”
The dining room was long and rather stark with its stone walls, two recessed windows, and an open fireplace where logs burned fitfully. The single table for sixteen was covered with a white linen cloth. The settings were handsome, however, with gleaming silver, elegant plates, and sparkling crystal glasses. The chairs were quite plain, though upholstered with faded brown damask. A candelabrum burned at the end of the table where the place settings had been laid.
A swinging door opened. Cook appeared, delicately balancing two soup plates on each arm.
“Mrs. Gibbs?” Judith said in surprise.
“Aye.” Mrs. Gibbs, who was attired in a flowered frock protected by a big white apron, adroitly set Judith’s soup in front of her. “Feather fowlie. Granary rolls in covered bread basket.” She delivered the rest of the soup and presumably returned to the kitchen.
Judith tasted her soup. “It’s delicious,” she said, accepting the roll basket from Bill. “The fowlie must be chicken. I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs take care of this entire castle themselves.”
Joe shrugged. “Could be. It’s the off-season.”
Renie looked across the table at Bill. “Cute,” she murmured. “But not now. I’m eating.”
Bill looked up from the roll he was buttering. “What’s cute?”
“You,” Renie said. “With the kneesies.”
“Kneesies?” Bill looked puzzled. “I’m sitting five feet away from you. How could my knees stretch so far? You know I’m a thirty-inch long in the leg and a thirty-four waist.”
“I know the thirty-inch part,” Renie said dryly. “The waist measurement is…Hey!” She turned to Joe and then to Judith. “Who’s bumping me? Cut it out! I almost slopped my soup.”
“So what?” Bill inquired. “You’re a messy eater.”
“My knees aren’t near you,” Joe asserted. “I’m a thirty-two long and a…ah…um…”
“Forget it,” Judith snapped, almost saying that her husband couldn’t count that high. “It’s not me. You must be hitting something.”
“No,” Renie declared. “I haven’t moved my…Yikes!”
The table rocked and the fine white linen cloth flew up at the corner between Renie and Joe. A head of short, curly dark hair poked out and turned to gaze at the startled diners.
“Hello. I’m Chuckie.”
Judith gasped—and stared. The boy looked like a gnome, with small dark eyes, a long chin, and a big, cheerful grin.
Joe was the first to recover. “Hello, Chuckie. Do you live under this table?”
Chuckie shook his head before crawling out and sitting on his haunches. Judith guessed him to be in his early teens, but small for his age. She assumed he was the person who had skittered across the passageway earlier.
“I live lots of places,” Chuckie said. “I’m rich.”
“That’s good,” Joe said. “How about living somewhere other than where we’re having dinner?”
Chuckie scowled. “Where?”
“Do you have more than one castle?” Joe asked, his mellow voice even softer, as if he were interrogating a juvenile offender.
Chuckie shook his head. “Sometimes I sleep in a barrel.” He got to his feet and surveyed the table. “A roll, please.”
Bill passed him the basket. Chuckie studied the remaining rolls closely before making his choice. He began picking the roll to pieces, dropping the bits on the floor as he moved away.
“So I won’t get lost,” he said, and left the dining room.
“The short one’s crazier than the tall one,” Bill said.
“He’s certainly creepier,” Renie asserted. “How old?”
“Twelve, thirteen,” Joe guessed.
Bill disagreed. “He’s older, but very small for his age, barely five feet. I’d estimate him as closer to twenty.”
“Is he developmentally disabled?” Judith asked.
Bill, who rarely answered serious questions without a great deal of careful thought, considered the query. “That depends on what you mean. I’d have to study him much longer to decide.”
“Is he dangerous?” Renie asked.
Again, Bill took at least a full minute to respond. “I don’t know.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” Renie said.
Mrs. Gibbs entered the dining room, bearing prawn cocktails. “Ye done with yer soup?” she asked.
Judith nodded. “It was delicious. Thank you.”
“We had a visitor,” Joe said as Mrs. Gibbs removed the soup plates. “A young fellow named Chuckie.”
“Oh?” Mrs. Gibbs wasn’t surprised. “Was the wee laddie hungry?”
“He wanted a roll,” Joe said.
Mrs. Gibbs espied the crumbs on the stone floor. “Ah.”
Judith couldn’t resist. “Who is he?”
“The master’s son and heir,” Mrs. Gibbs replied. “Chuckie Fordyce.” She placed the prawn cocktails on the table. “The laddie will one day run Glengrim distillery.” She smoothed her white apron. “Unless…” She shrugged. “Main course is next.” She made her exit.
“Don’t buy stock in Glengrim,” Renie cautioned. “The company’s future looks…grim.”
“We have locks on our doors,” Bill said. “I think we’d better use them. The residents seem to show up without warning. Both of them.”
“There could be more,” Judith pointed out. “I must ask Mrs. Gibbs about the tall young man who told us he was the grandson. If Harry is married, maybe there’s a granddaughter-in-law living here, too.”
“According to the layout of the castle that I got from Hugh MacGowan,” Joe said, “the rooms in our wing are all for guests. There must be another section where the family quarters are located.”
“I’d like to see that layout,” Judith said. “Do you have it?”
Joe nodded. “It’s in the pocket of my big suitcase.”
The rest of dinner was uneventful. Since Mrs. Gibbs was looking harried from her exertions, Judith refrained from asking any more questions. After the Flynns and the Joneses had finished their excellent Angus beefsteak, partaken of Bonchester and Cadoc cheeses, and finished with a crème brûlée, they were stuffed—and sleepy.
Mrs. Gibbs had a final word for her guests. “Breakfast at five,” she announced.
“Five what?” asked an astonished Renie.
“For the gentlemen,” Mrs. Gibbs replied.
Joe looked sheepish. “Bill and I are meeting Hugh at seven to go over our fishing plans. Maybe we’ll try out a stream nearby.”
Renie looked relieved. “For a moment I thought…Never mind.”
“The ladies may come down anytime after eight,” Mrs. Gibbs informed the cousins. “Breakfast is served from the sideboard in the other part of the dining room.”
When they returned to their room, Judith was too tired to chide Joe about his early departure in the morning. “Just don’t wake me up,” she said, and kissed him good night.
She fell asleep before her husband could start the fire or even begin to undress. Judith had worried that her fatigue might bring on strange dreams, even nightmares, but she slept soundly. When she woke up the only dream she could remember was sitting in a beach tent looking at a gigantic thermometer that registered eighty-five degrees. That was as close to a nightmare as she got.
But of course they’d only been at Grimloch Castle for a few hours.
It wasn’t surprising that Renie wasn’t on hand when Judith went down to breakfast at nine o’clock. The food, including kippers, toast, rashers of bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit, and flat, soft rolls was tasty. When Judith finished eating, she couldn’t resist seeking out the kitchen.
It wasn’t difficult. She opened the door Mrs. Gibbs had used, and faced a second baize door. Judith knocked. Mrs. Gibbs responded.
“Aye?” the cook said. “What would ye want?”
“I shouldn’t intrude,” Judith apologized, “but I run an inn. I was curious to see how you manage your kitchen. I serve only breakfast.”
“Come along,” Mrs. Gibbs said with a resigned air.
The kitchen was huge, with an open fireplace and a spit that looked as if it was used regularly. The cast-iron stove had eight round cooking spaces of varying sizes, not unlike the smaller version Grandma and Grandpa Grover had used for years in the family home.
“Wood-burning?” Judith inquired.
“Wood and coal,” Mrs. Gibbs replied.
The counters were made of old, well-worn wood, fragrant from decades of cutting fruit and vegetables. There were two sinks, both enamel with old-fashioned faucets like the ones in the guest bathroom. The big black refrigerator, however, looked new. The only hint of nonfunctional decor was a framed tartan on the far wall next to a glass-covered cupboard.
“You do all this yourself?” Judith said with admiration.
“Aye. That is,” Mrs. Gibbs explained, “except for summer when the regular guests come. I have a daily or two to help.”
“I should think so. What about cleaning? This place is vast.”
Mrs. Gibbs agreed. “Daily help for that, too, in summer.”
“Does your grandson live here all the time?” Judith asked, admiring the heavy cookware that hung from a circular rack.
Mrs. Gibbs frowned as she used a wooden spoon to stir what looked like cake batter. “He’s paying us a visit.”
“Oh.” Judith smiled. “That’s nice. Where does he live?”
The frown deepened. “Close by.”
“Do he and his wife have children?”
Mrs. Gibbs dropped the spoon and bent down to retrieve it. “He told you about his wife?”
“No,” Judith admitted. “But he’s married, isn’t he?”
“Aye.” Mrs. Gibbs wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “They had a wee bairn, Jamie, last November.”
“That’s wonderful. You must be thrilled.”
Mrs. Gibbs didn’t respond. Judith changed the subject. “What are those flat soft rolls? I ate two. They’re delicious.”
“They’re baps,” Mrs. Gibbs replied, “from an auld recipe. Tomorrow I’ll make bannocks. You call them…what?”
“Pancakes or flapjacks,” Judith said. “I remember bannocks from when my cousin and I were in Scotland many years ago.”
Mrs. Gibbs nodded once and stirred the mixture in the bowl. “No lunch. High tea at four, if you like.”
“My cousin and I will probably go into the village to explore,” Judith said. “We’ll eat there. What do you recommend?”
“A tearoom, a Chinese restaurant, a curry house, two pubs, pizza. Take your pick.” Mrs. Gibbs kept her eyes on the dough.
Judith pointed at the tartan on the wall and moved for a closer look. “That’s different from the Forbes and Fordyce green and blue plaid in the hallway. I like all the red. Is that the clan’s hunting colors?”
“Nae.” Mrs. Gibbs still didn’t look up. “That’s my family, the MacIver tartan.”
“Oh.” Judith peered at what she assumed was the clan motto. “Nunquam obliviscar. What does that mean?”
The other woman finally glanced up, her eyes narrowed and her tone bitter. “It means ‘I will never forget.’” She turned back to the dough and gave it a hard thump with her fist. “I must finish this.”
Judith sensed that she was being dismissed. “Thank you.” Without another word, she returned to the dining room. Renie was at the sideboard, heaping food onto her plate.
“I thought you’d run off with Chuckie,” she said.
“I was trying in vain to befriend Mrs. Gibbs,” Judith explained.
Renie was surprised. “If you flunked, she can’t be human.”
“The only thing I found out is that Harry is just visiting, and his wife had a baby boy last November,” Judith said, pouring herself a third cup of coffee. “He lives nearby, which, I assume, given the smaller distances between places in Scotland, could be the village.”
Renie topped her scrambled eggs with a couple of kippers. “So?”
Judith shrugged. “Nothing, I guess.”
“I’m more concerned that our husbands will be arrested for poaching,” Renie said, sitting down and sprinkling salt and pepper on her food. “Land along the UK’s rivers and such are usually owned privately.”
Judith had also sat at the long trestle table. “Joe mentioned that MacGowan had permission to fish in certain spots around here. He’s going to serve as their ghillie, which is what the locals call a guide. Apparently you don’t have to buy a fishing license, only some kind of permit that gives you the property owner’s approval.”
“Good. So what do we do for amusement?” Renie asked.
“Explore the village? We may need Gibbs to row us ashore.”
“You could make it up that hill?”
“I think so,” Judith said. “It isn’t very far, though I couldn’t see much in the fog. I found Joe’s castle layout and a local map. We’re close to several interesting places and not all that far from Inverness.”
When the cousins were ready to leave, they found Gibbs by accident. He was in the courtyard, armed with a trowel and a rake, doffing his cap when he spotted the cousins. “Bulbs coming up,” he said. “Got to make way for crocus and daffodils.”
“Ours are in bud at home,” Judith said. “They should be blooming by the time we get back. Do you do all the gardening?”
“Aye.” Mr. Gibbs straightened up, a hand pressing his back. “Stiff I get, o’ times.” He smiled at the low gray clouds. “Spring’s coming.”
“Also true where we live,” Judith said. “We’re going to St. Fergna. It looks as if the tide’s out.”
“It is,” Gibbs agreed. “Harry can drive ye. Here he comes now.”
Harry Gibbs was coming out through a door on the other side of the courtyard. He was dressed casually, if stylishly, in a black jacket that displayed a Burberry plaid lining, and well-cut corduroy slacks.
“Do ye mind passengers?” Gibbs called to his grandson. “These ladies want to plunder the shops in the village.”
Harry paused to survey the cousins. “Well…why not?”
“We passed muster,” Renie murmured.
“I need to buy warmer clothes,” Judith said, indicating her navy blue linen jacket and white cotton slacks.
Harry snickered. “You thought it’d be warm in the Highlands?”
“She thought it would be seasonably warm in California,” Renie responded. “The plane forgot to make a right-hand turn.”
“Awkward,” Harry remarked. “Follow me to the lift.”
In the daylight, Judith could see the sheer cliff below the castle and beyond the sandy beach to the village. She could hear the surf and smell the salt-scented air. There were no dolphins, but gulls swooped above them, coming to rest on the castle’s watchtowers and battlements.
Time seemed to recede, two thousand years a mere tick on the planet’s clock. The Romans moving north to build the barrier of Hadrian’s Wall; Saint Columba setting foot on a nearby shore, bringing Christianity to the Celtic tribes; the Vikings come to raid and plunder; Robert the Bruce and William Wallace fighting for Scotland’s sovereignty; union with England under King James; the religious wars, the clan wars, the foreign wars—so many battles, leaving the land soaked in blood to make way for oil rigs and distilleries and pizza parlors. Judith sensed the irony.
“This is quite a view,” she said as they stepped inside the lift.
“I find it bleak,” Harry said. “I prefer the city.”
“Inverness?” Judith said as they began the slow, noisy descent.
Harry laughed derisively. “London. I grew up there.”
“Oh. Is that where your parents live?” Judith asked.
“Yes. When they’re not traveling the globe.” He yawned, as if the subject—or the cousins—bored him.
Judith wondered how Harry’s mother and father seemed to be living a life of leisure while his grandparents toiled away as virtual servants at Grimloch Castle. But she thought it best not to bring up the subject. In any event, the lift had clattered to a stop.
“That’s my Range Rover,” Harry said, pointing to a metallic silver SUV parked on a stretch of concrete in front of a small wooden shed by the narrow road to the village. “Where shall I let you off?”
“What should we see?” Judith asked. “We drove through St. Fergna after dark last night.”
Harry opened the back door of the expensive vehicle. “There’s not much of interest, in my opinion.”
“Where are you going?” Renie inquired. “We could get out where you park.”
“I’m not stopping,” Harry replied as the cousins settled themselves into the comfortable leather seats. “I’m going beyond St. Fergna.” He closed the door with a click that was more like a whisper.
Judith and Renie exchanged bemused glances, but kept quiet as Harry got behind the wheel. “There’s a very old church,” he said, “if you’re into that sort of thing. Presbyters and all that.”
“We may explore it,” Judith said. She looked around the beach where a couple of wading birds foraged for food. “Are those sandpipers?”
“They’re called turnstones here,” Harry replied. He suddenly took a sharp turn to the right. “That’s odd,” he muttered.
“What’s odd?” Judith saw nothing except for a couple of people much farther down the beach.
Harry slowed down. “That bird on the rock beyond the castle cliffs is a great northern diver. They’re rare around here. They go north to the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the summer. I hate them.” He honked the horn, but the big bird didn’t move. Harry swore under his breath and turned the car back toward the track from the beach.
“It looks like a loon to me,” Renie remarked.
Harry didn’t respond. He seemed to tense at the wheel as he approached the steep bank.
Judith caught a glimpse of fishing boats at anchor about a hundred yards down the strand and decided to change the subject. “Do they fish commercially around here?”
“Some do,” Harry said, cresting the hill in less than a minute.
The cobbled street was narrow and fairly steep. Harry drove past several small old shops that featured fish, meat, and woolens. Judith also espied a cobbler, a confectioner, and a draper.
“You can let us off at the woolen store,” Judith said as they reached an unmarked intersection. “We haven’t changed our money yet. Do they take credit cards?”
“Yes. I never carry cash. Too much bother.” Harry put on the brake. “There you go,” he said, stopping in the middle of the street. The SUV wasn’t blocking traffic. There wasn’t any, except for a small car coming slowly from the opposite direction.
The cousins thanked Harry and got out. Only a handful of pedestrians strolled past the shops.
“Nice,” Judith remarked. “Nobody rushing, no heavy traffic, no vying for parking places.”
Renie smiled. “They have cell phones, though.” She nodded in the direction of a young woman pushing a pram with one hand and holding a phone to her ear with the other. “We aren’t living in medieval Scotland even if we are staying in a castle.”
Judith paused to look in the fishmonger’s window. Mussels, salmon, crab, oysters, and plaice were displayed on beds of ice. “I wonder if our husbands have caught anything,” she said.
The woolen shop was small but well stocked. Judith perused the tartan skirts, wool slacks, and various types of sweaters. “Not cheap,” she murmured. “Don’t you talk me into buying more than I need.”
“I won’t,” Renie said. “I feel guilty for not warning you.”
After half an hour, Judith had purchased a lamb’s wool baby blue twin set, two pairs of slacks, a heavy ecru turtleneck, an eggshell ruffled silk blouse, a forest green cashmere sweater, a black mid-calf skirt, and a dark plaid hooded cape.
“I’ve always wanted a cape,” Judith said as the sales clerk rang up the bill on an old-fashioned cash register. But she was aghast at the total, which came to almost eight hundred American dollars. “Maybe I don’t need the cape,” she said to Renie.
“Coz.” Renie looked severe. “You have to wear something warm around here. The cape’s lined. Its dark colors won’t show dirt. At home, it’d cost twice this much.”
The young sales clerk, who had dark brown streaks in her fair hair, giggled. “That’s so,” she agreed. “We don’t have many visitors, so our prices aren’t so dear.”
Judith reached into her black handbag and handed over her Visa card. “Oh well. It’s Joe’s fault for not warning me I might need warmer clothes. At least our lodging’s free.”
“Darn,” Renie said, tossing a couple of cashmere sweaters she’d been fondling on the counter. “I can’t not buy something.”
“You’ve friends in St. Fergna?” the clerk asked in a chipper voice.
“Our husbands know someone from around here,” Judith explained, “but we’re not staying with him. He’s put us up at the castle.”
The clerk’s blue eyes grew wide. “The castle!” She pursed her magenta lips. “It’s said to be haunted.”
“Really?” Judith responded. “Who’s the ghost?”
The clerk looked disappointed. “You Americans are skeptical.”
“Not all Americans are,” Renie pointed out. “We have some of our own ghosts. Does this one have a name?”
The clerk nodded. “Some say it’s Mary, Queen of Scots. Others describe a child. He’s prankish.”
“What sort of pranks?” Judith asked.
The clerk handed over the receipt. “I’m not sure…” She stopped, china blue eyes on the door. “It’s Mrs. Gunn. She’s fussy but spends her money. I’d best see to her.”
A small, stout woman with graying dark hair entered the shop. The clerk hurriedly rang up Renie’s sweaters and greeted Mrs. Gunn. “A fine day, ma’am! I put aside those items you took a fancy to last week.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Mrs. Gunn said, eyeing the cousins with suspicion. “No pleats. Herringbone, not tweed.”
Judith and Renie took their parcels and left the shop.
“Definitely not pleats,” Renie said when they got outside. “Mrs. Gunn would look like a small ship sailing into port.”
“This stuff’s heavy,” Judith complained. “I don’t want to lug it all over the village. What were we thinking of? We should’ve left it at the shop and picked it up on the way back.”
“Here,” Renie said. “Give it to me. I’ll ask the clerk if that’s okay. You sit and wait.” She pointed to a stone bench in front of a crafts store.
Gratefully, Judith sat. The air was misty, but the sun peeked from behind gray clouds. Two cars and an ancient bus went by. There were still no more than a half dozen pedestrians. She considered what it would be like if they’d gone to Southern California: hordes of suntanned people, beach volleyball, endless sunshine, blaring rap and hip-hop music, cars everywhere, strip malls, outlet malls, supermalls…
Church bells rang the hour. Judith looked beyond the cluster of uneven roofs and spotted a steeple some fifty yards away. Maybe they could explore the church, as Harry had suggested. By the time they finished, it would be time for lunch. Across the street, Judith saw a green sign that read rose’s tea shop in flaking gold letters hanging above a canopied doorway. The windows on either side of the doorway had lace curtains. Judith watched two middle-aged women in sensible shoes enter. Yes, she thought, it was a perfect spot to eat.
Renie stomped out of the woolen shop. “Next time, I’ll bring a weapon!” she cried. “Mrs. Gunn is a real horror!”
“What happened?” Judith asked, surprised.
Renie rearranged her black trench coat and smoothed her short, disheveled hair. “She threw her purse at me. All because I interrupted her monologue about a present her ex-daughter-in-law had given her.”
“What happened to our new clothes?”
Renie checked her makeup in a compact mirror. “The clerk put them in the back while I held Mrs. Gunn down on a display case.”
“Good grief! You really went at it?”
Renie shrugged. “I didn’t have any choice. I couldn’t stand around listening to the old bag bad-mouth her ex in-law. If I’d had that woman for a mother-in-law, I’d have ditched Sonny Boy, too.”
“We’d better get out of here before Mrs. Gunn leaves the shop,” Judith said. “Or calls the cops. How about the church?”
“Seeking sanctuary sounds right,” Renie replied. “Where is it?”
Judith pointed to the steeple. “It must be off the village green.”
The cousins moved along, though Judith checked a couple of times to make sure that Mrs. Gunn—or the local constabulary—wasn’t in pursuit. They paused by the parklike green with its granite cross and memorial to various locals who’d fallen in battle from the days of Robert the Bruce through World War II. The list was mercifully short, considering that it spanned over eight hundred years.
The church, which bore the name of St. Fergna, looked almost as old as the castle. It was small and its stones were weathered, but, as Renie pointed out, it hadn’t suffered the cruel destruction that had befallen so many Scottish churches during the various wars of religion.
“It’s Protestant,” Judith remarked, noting the wooden sign that proclaimed united church of scotland. “We’ll have to find a Catholic church in Inverness for Sunday Mass.”
“Maybe they have a five o’clock today,” Renie said as they walked along a stone pathway that was partially covered by moss. “Then we could sleep in tomorrow.”
Judith paused halfway to the church entrance. “This cemetery is really ancient. You can hardly read some of the markers.” Several Celtic crosses were broken; many inscriptions had blurred with time.
Renie stopped by what looked to Judith like a worn gray slab. “This thing is really old,” Renie said. “It’s engraved with a late Pictish version of the Celtic cross. Eighth, even ninth century, about the time the Picts merged with the Scots. Look, you can hardly see the outline.”
“I wouldn’t know it was supposed to show a cross,” Judith admitted, but, as always, deferred to her cousin’s artistic eye.
“Crosses are fascinating. They’re one of the first symbols I studied in graphic design.” Renie took Judith’s arm and turned her to face the sea. “Did you notice the two flags at Grimloch when we came outside?”
Judith shook her head. As usual, she’d been more interested in people than things. “I can see the red and yellow national flag of Scotland,” she said. “What’s the black or blue one with white?”
“The yellow flag with the red lion is the national flag of the Scottish government and the Scottish monarchy,” Renie explained. “The national flag is blue with what looks like a white X but is a Saint Andrew’s cross.”
“Interesting,” Judith said, though her focus had been diverted by matters at hand. “On your right—someone’s putting flowers on a grave.”
Renie turned to see the tall, leggy redhead in a short fur-trimmed coat arranging red and white roses by a marker that looked quite new. Curiosity drew Judith like a moth to the flame. The young woman straightened up just as Judith got a few feet behind her.
“Are you lost?” the redhead asked in a lilting voice.
“You can tell we’re tourists?” Judith said with a smile.
“Oh yes,” she replied, pointing to Judith’s lightweight jacket. Her deep-set amber eyes seemed to miss nothing. “You must be freezing.”
“I am a bit chilly,” Judith admitted. “I bought warmer clothes at the woolen shop on the High Street. That’s what it’s called, isn’t it?”
“It usually is,” the young woman said with a charming smile. She was an inch taller than Judith’s five nine, and leaned gracefully when she spoke. Her manner might have been taken as condescending, but Judith assumed she was used to talking to people who were shorter. “At least in most Scots towns and villages. You’re American…or Canadian?”
“American,” Judith said. “I’m Mrs. Flynn and this is Mrs. Jones.”
The young woman put out a long white hand. “I’m Moira Gibbs.”
Judith shook Moira’s hand. “We’re staying at Grimloch Castle. We met your…relatives there.”
“My husband’s grandparents,” Moira said without enthusiasm. “However did you manage to go there? It’s off-season.”
“It’s a long story,” Judith said, “involving our husbands knowing a local fellow fisherman.”
“Who?” Moira asked a trifle sharply.
Judith was surprised at the blunt question. On previous visits to the United Kingdom she’d found most strangers to be reticent when it came to talking about themselves and consider it virtually taboo to exhibit anything that might be mistaken for nosiness.
“Hugh MacGowan,” Judith answered.
“Ah.” Moira nodded. “Our law enforcement chief. The MacGowan has a way with him.” She gave a last look at the roses by the grave. “I must go. My brother has come looking for me.” Moira made a face. “He thinks I’m scatterbrained and got lost in the graveyard.” She raised a hand and called out to the tall, bearded man who had entered through the lich gate. “I’m coming, Jimmy. Don’t get your knickers in a bunch!”
As Moira hurried off, Renie read the inscription aloud: “‘David Pietro Piazza. And Christ receive thy soul.’ He died last October first, at twenty-nine. An Italian in a remote village?”
“Americans aren’t the only ones who move around,” Judith said, gazing at some of the other graves. “There’s another new—and rather ostentatious—monument under that yew tree. It must be a local bigwig.”
The cousins trudged closer to the old stone arch. “It’s the Gunn family plot,” Renie said. “Same name as the pushy old bag in the shop.”
“You’re right.” Judith studied the monument, noticing that some of the letters were chipped, and ivy crept up its twin columns. Still, it was obvious from the neatly clipped grass that the plot was well tended. “Here’s Eanruig Gunn, who died four years ago at fifty-five. Maybe your Mrs. Gunn is his widow. There’s a ship on the marker.” She looked to her left where a statue of an angel overlooked another grave. “This one’s from three years ago, maybe a son, Francis Gunn, twenty-two. No wonder Mrs. Gunn is crabby. She’s had her share of tragedies.”
“I’ve had my share of graves,” Renie said. “Let’s eat.”
The cousins strolled out of the cemetery through the lich gate. Judith smiled. “Weird, huh? Our first tourist stop is a cemetery.” She paused, waiting for a couple of bicyclists to pass. “Nice,” she went on, breathing in the sea-tinged air. “No heat, no hurry, no murders.”
“That’s a dumb thing to say,” Renie chided.
Judith grimaced. “Yes. I wonder why…” She gave herself a shake. “That’s what I get for standing on top of a bunch of bodies. Oh well.”
Renie refrained from saying the obvious.
As Judith and Renie finished a lunch of smoked salmon tarts with cream cheese and capers, one of their cell phones rang.
“Yours,” Renie said. “Mine’s not on.”
Judith scrambled for the phone in her large travel purse. “Hello?” she said breathlessly.
The voice at the other end was faint and almost unrecognizable. “Joe?” Judith said so loudly that three elderly ladies at an adjoining table stared—discreetly. “I can’t hear you,” she said, lowering her voice. “Should I go outside to…What? You’ve been spayed?”
Renie was looking alarmed. “Where’s Bill?”
“Oh.” Judith slumped in relief. “You’re at Speyside. When will…Why not?…Joe, I can’t hear you very well…Okay, fine, goodbye.” She clicked off. “The husbands are fishing in the morning,” she informed Renie. “They’re on the River Spey and won’t be back tonight.”
Renie received the news with unusual calm. “Sure. The river’s probably hot. They can’t possibly leave. That’s why they’re there.”
Judith sighed in resignation. “Your father was an avid fisherman. Mine wasn’t. You understand the species better than I do.”
“My father considered fishing a religion,” Renie recalled. “He told me it was no accident that so many of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen, especially Saint Peter. Really, the whole fishing thing is a spiritual experience. It must be magic on these local rivers and streams.”
“You’re being too nice,” Judith pointed out, trying to calculate the tip for their lunch. “That’s not like you. We have no car, so how do we get to church for our own religious experience?”
“Don’t we get a dispensation when we’re traveling?” Renie asked with a quizzical expression. “We’re strangers in a strange land.”
Judith calculated an adequate tip and stood up. “Let’s collect our new clothes and go back to the castle. Frankly, I’m still tired.”
Renie checked her watch. “It’s going on three. The tide’s probably halfway in. Let’s call Gibbs to see if he can pick us up. Didn’t Joe say there was a chauffeur?”
“Who is also probably Gibbs,” Judith pointed out. “Strange—I didn’t see any other car parked on the beach except Harry’s.”
Renie frowned. “You’re right. But maybe we didn’t look far enough. For all we know, there’s a freight elevator somewhere on the cliff and they park their vehicles in the castle garage. Or stable.”
“I doubt that,” Judith said as they exited the tea shop. “Maybe the clerk at the woolen store knows how it’s done.”
The clerk was looking slightly frazzled. “Oh, hello,” she said in a voice that was no longer chipper. “I suppose you want your purchases.” She went to a door at the far end of the counter and disappeared.
“We’ll have to exchange our money Monday when the bank is open,” Judith said. “I can’t put everything on my credit card.”
“I saw a Royal Bank of Scotland on the corner by the village green,” Renie said. “I haven’t spotted an American Express office, but maybe there’s one off the High Street.”
“I don’t think there’s much more to the commercial section than what we’ve seen. The rest of the village looks like cottages and other private homes. I doubt that more than a few hundred people live here.”
“Probably not,” Renie agreed. “It’s off the beaten track.”
For a couple of minutes, the cousins waited in silence. Renie looked through a rack of tailored jackets; Judith resisted the old urge to bite her fingernails.
“What’s taking so long?” Judith finally said. “This place isn’t big enough to lose our packages.”
Before Renie could answer, the clerk reappeared. “Sorry,” she apologized, “but I had to lock your purchases in the safe. I use it so seldom that I never get the combination right the first few times.”
Judith was curious. “Do you have a problem with theft?”
“Oh no,” the clerk asserted. “Only in the summer when the visitors come to the beach. Especially the young ones. But…” She blushed and avoided looking at Renie. “Mrs. Gunn was a mite upset.”
“Who wasn’t?” Renie retorted. “What did she do after I left? Threaten to cut up our clothes with a cleaver?”
“Ah…” The clerk winced. “Rather like that, yes.”
Judith nudged Renie. “We must apologize. I hate coming across as typical rude American tourists.”
“Yeah,” Renie mumbled. “But Mrs. Gunn pushed me first.”
“Please,” the clerk said. “My name’s Alison, by the way. Mrs. Gunn is sometimes difficult.”
Judith felt compelled to play peacemaker. “We visited the church graveyard. Mrs. Gunn has suffered recent losses.”
“That’s so,” Alison agreed. “Her husband was killed in a hunting accident. Then her eldest son died very young. It was some sort of fever he’d picked up on a trip to Africa. He was never strong. His wife—still just a bride, really—had done her best to nurse him back to health, but…” Alison stopped and shook her head. “It was all so sad. I admired Moira’s devotion.”
“Moira?” Judith echoed.
“Moira Gibbs,” Alison responded, “now that she’s remarried.” The clerk’s expression had turned sour.
“We met her at the cemetery,” Judith said. “She was putting flowers on the grave of a man with an Italian name.”
Alison nodded. “Davey. He worked for her.”
“Oh?” Judith couldn’t rein in her natural curiosity. “Moira looks so young. What does she do?”
“She inherited Blackwell Petroleum,” Alison explained. “Her parents are both dead. Her father died young, and her mother ran the company for many years until she passed away about the same time that Frankie—Moira’s first husband—died. Moira’s half brother helps run the company. Davey was her personal assistant.”
“And now,” Judith said, “Moira’s married to Harry Gibbs. Does he work for Blackwell Petroleum?”
Alison frowned. “Well—Harry’s not one for working.”
After nineteen years with Dan McMonigle, Judith understood. She was about to ask how Harry’s parents could afford to travel so much, but two young women entered the shop. Renie hurriedly asked Alison if she knew how to get back to the castle when the tide was in.
“You can use this phone,” Alison said, bestowing a friendly smile on the newcomers. “Here, I’ll do it for you.” After a pause, Alison informed whoever had answered that the American guests needed transport. “Gibbs will be along shortly,” she told the cousins.
Judith thanked Alison and exited the shop with Renie, who was already standing by the door.
“Well?” Renie said. “Is your curiosity satisfied?”
“You can hardly blame me for wanting to get to know some of the locals,” Judith said in a defensive tone.
Renie shook her head. “Coz, by the time we leave you’ll be on a first-name basis with everybody in this village.”
“Never mind.” Renie paused as a midsize sedan came up the hill. “Maybe this is Gibbs.” But the car kept going. “Maybe it isn’t,” Renie murmured. “I wonder what he’s driving?”
“He can’t miss us,” Judith reasoned. “There are only about ten other people on the High Street.”
An older man on a bicycle went by and doffed his cap. A van that bore the lettering MACBEAN MEAT PURVEYORS came up the street and stopped in front of the butcher shop. The sun had come out again. Judith gazed down the hill toward the castle where the flags hung limp on their standards. “It’s fairly warm,” she remarked.
Renie nodded. “Probably fifty degrees. Still in my comfort zone.”
The quiet of the street was broken by the oncoming roar of a motorcycle heading in their direction.
“Bikers,” Renie said in disgust. “I understand they have problems with them over here, too.”
Before Judith could respond, the cycle slowed and stopped. She stared at the helmeted man leaning on the handlebars. “Gibbs?”
“Aye.” He pointed to a sidecar. “Who goes first?”
“Who,” Renie retorted, “doesn’t have to go at all?”
Judith considered her artificial hip. “Is the ride…bumpy?”
“Nae,” Gibbs replied. “I’ll drive slow.”
Renie nudged Judith. “You go. I’ll find an inn and stay here.”
Judith ignored the sarcasm. Gibbs dismounted to help her get in the sidecar. After securing her parcels with a rope, he started the cycle, and with a mighty roar they made a U-turn and headed down the hill.
Gibbs wasn’t going fast, though the cobbled street made for a rough ride anyway. But as soon as they left the High Street and started down the road to the beach, the track turned smooth. Gibbs assisted Judith in getting out of the sidecar, and then unloaded her packages.
“Be back anon,” he said, and hopped onto the motorcycle.
Judith gazed out to sea where a freighter sailed across the horizon. Far down the beach she saw children playing among the rocks. And before her, the castle loomed in its solid age-old mass.
Looking to her right, she noticed Harry Gibbs’s Rover. Apparently he hadn’t spent very long wherever he’d been going after dropping off the cousins. Perhaps he’d met his wife Moira for lunch. Judith frowned. Harry had said he didn’t intend to stop in St. Fergna. She couldn’t help but wonder about the younger Gibbses’ marriage. They were virtual newlyweds, judging from the date of Moira’s first husband’s death. They also had a new baby. Her curiosity couldn’t be squelched.
At that moment, the Rover’s door opened and Harry got out. To Judith’s astonishment, he was stark naked. He didn’t look her way but walked straight into the sea and began swimming.
Or, Judith thought suddenly, was he trying to drown himself?
But Harry seemed to be staying close to shore, bobbing up and down on the occasional wave, backstroking toward the beach, diving briefly underwater. Maybe he was a member of what they called the Polar Bear Club at home: hardy souls who went swimming no matter how low the temperature dropped.
Harry was still splashing about when Gibbs returned with Renie.
“Wow,” Renie said softly, “that was kind of fun. Thanks, Gibbs.”
Judith waited for Gibbs to help Renie get out of the sidecar. “Does your grandson often go swimming this time of year?” she finally asked.
“Och,” Gibbs said with a nod, “the madness of youth. Better than taking those devilish drugs. Into the boat with ye, ladies. I’ll come back for Beams later.”
“Beams?” Renie said.
“Aye. ’Tis an older BMW bike.”
“You don’t have a car at the castle?” Judith asked, still watching Harry swim hither and yon.
“Aye, we do, but ’tis in the shop. Brakes need fixing.” Just as he was about to help Judith get into the skiff, he looked up. “Och! The Master has arrived!”
Judith turned toward the road where a handsome wine-colored sedan was creeping onto the beach. “Do you mean Mr. Fordyce?”
Gibbs suddenly seemed agitated. “Aye, I do. Lord help us!” He glanced out to sea where Harry was still frolicking. “We must bide.”
“Sure,” Renie said. “I’ve always wanted to meet a master.”
Gibbs was hurrying to greet the newcomer. The middle-aged man in the dark-colored windbreaker looked ordinary to Judith—close to six feet, graying black hair, a mustache, and a long, lean face.
The woman who got out on the passenger side was far from ordinary. She was young and slim, with long black hair floating over her shoulders. Her features weren’t perfect, but the slanting brown eyes were lively and she exuded self-confidence.
“Phil!” she cried in an amused voice as she pointed toward the water. “Is that Harry?”
Philip Fordyce peered in the direction his companion had indicated. “Damn fool!” he exploded. “Reckless and stupid!”
Harry swam toward shore. Gibbs muttered to himself. Philip swore under his breath. His companion laughed so hard she had to lean on Philip. Judith and Renie felt like excess baggage.
Harry floated a few more feet before standing up.
“Oh, he’s starkers!” the young woman cried. “How terribly funny!”
Harry walked nonchalantly toward his car but stopped halfway, turned around, and mooned the little gathering.
“What a prat!” the girl cried, and laughed some more.
“Despicable,” Philip declared, refusing to look at Harry. “To the castle, Gibbs.” He scrutinized the cousins. “Are these…ladies with you?”
“Er…aye, they’re the MacGowan’s friends, Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Jones from the States.”
“I see,” Philip said, his keen hazel eyes surveying the cousins.
“We didn’t ken ye’d be back from the islands so soon,” Gibbs said.
“Cyclone warnings,” Philip replied. “Come, Beth, get into the skiff.”
Judith overcame her awkward feelings. “Mr. Gibbs, are we a problem?” she whispered as Philip and Beth climbed into the little boat.
“Nae, nae,” Gibbs said softly. “The Master can be a wee bit tetchy.”
As Gibbs gave Judith a hand, she looked for Harry but he wasn’t in sight. Maybe, she thought, he was getting dressed in the car. Certainly he wouldn’t have gone into the village in the altogether. Or, she wondered, would he? Harry Gibbs seemed unpredictable.
The girl called Beth was sitting next to Philip, clinging to him like paste. “I’m glad we came back early,” she said. “I was bored at Palma.”
“I noticed,” Philip said dryly. But he smiled and patted her hand.
“Hospitality,” Renie murmured, and sighed. “Scotland is famous for it. We thank you for yours, Mr. Fordyce. Or do I call you ‘Master’?”
Judith tensed. Renie didn’t like being ignored. Trouble was already brewing.
“Mr. Fordyce will do,” Philip replied. “The title is honorary.”
“And deferential,” Renie noted. She smiled, the phony, toothsome smile that usually spelled impending disaster. “How quaint.”
The little boat plied the waters in silence for the rest of the short trip. Judith was relieved that Philip Fordyce hadn’t risen to the bait. After all, Renie couldn’t swim.
The cousins immediately retreated to Judith and Joe’s room.
“Trophy wife,” Renie said. “Big-shot CEO dumps wife number one and lands beautiful raven-tressed bimbo.”
Judith stretched out on the bed. “I’m not sure she’s a bimbo. The only thing I was sure of was that you were trying to provoke Philip Fordyce. Wasn’t decking Mrs. Gunn enough brutality for you today?”
Renie shrugged. “Did Mrs. Gibbs say they had high tea?”
“She did, in fact,” Judith said. “At four. It’s a few minutes after.”
“Better late than never,” Renie said. “Let’s go.”
“Oh, coz, I’m tired! You go. I think I’ll take a nap.”
“Yes. Head for the trough. Let me know when you’re finished.”
It didn’t take long for Judith to fall asleep. Maybe she was still suffering from jet lag. Maybe she’d walked too much in the past couple of days. Maybe the excitement of the trip had tired her. But, she’d told herself when she stretched out under the down comforter, the reason she’d gone on vacation was that she was already worn out. It was time to relax and recreate. Sleep was necessary; sleep was healing.
Upon awakening, Judith looked at her watch. To her astonishment, it was going on six. She’d slept for almost two hours. Even Renie couldn’t take that long to gobble up high tea.
Judith cautiously got out of the canopied bed and stepped onto the furry area rug instead of the cold stone floor. After slipping on her shoes, she went across the passageway to see if Renie was in the Joneses’ room. There was no response to Judith’s knock, so she opened the unlocked door and called her cousin’s name. No one answered. Perhaps Renie was still enjoying a hearty tea meal. Or she’d gotten into a row with Philip Fordyce. Maybe there was a note. Judith glanced at the parcel containing Renie’s new sweaters. There was nothing on the bureau except for Bill’s assortment of small change, travel information, and a new pair of shoelaces. The empty suitcases were stored in the wardrobe. The mantel revealed nothing. Judith gave up.
Halfway to the door, she was startled by a voice. Judith stopped to listen. “Open the gate,” said the high-pitched voice. “Open the gate.”
There was no one in the room and the tall windows were shut, so Judith assumed the voice was coming from the passageway. She went to the door. The corridor was empty. The other guest rooms were supposedly vacant. Judith stood on the threshold and listened. But there was no further sound. Puzzled, she crossed the passageway just as Renie came up the stairs.
“Wow,” Renie said in an awed voice. “That was some tea! Scones and shortbread and sandwiches and…What’s wrong? You look weird.”
Judith shook herself. “Nothing. I was looking for you in your room and I heard somebody talking. But nobody was there.”
Renie laughed. “Are you nuts?”
“No. No, of course not.”
“Come on,” Renie said. “Let’s go into my room so I can put away my sweaters.”
“I haven’t put my own things away,” Judith said, indicating the summer clothes she was still wearing.
“Okay,” Renie said, “I’ll come with you. Opening bags and boxes of new wearables is one of my favorite things, right next to buying them.”
As Judith removed her items from their wrappings, she asked Renie if Philip and Beth had shown up for tea.
“No,” Renie said, sitting on the bed and dangling her feet over the side. “They’re staying on the other side of the castle. For some reason, Philip wanted to see Chuckie, but he couldn’t be found. The Fordyces are definitely married. And that’s a Daimler Super Eight that he drives. They’re really expensive. The whiskey business must be good.”
“I suspect it is,” Judith agreed, hanging up one of the pairs of slacks she’d bought. “I think I’ll wear the other slacks and the twin set for dinner tonight. It’ll seem strange eating without Joe and Bill here. Do you think the Fordyces will join us?”
“I doubt it,” Renie replied. “Mrs. Gibbs mentioned that they might drive into Inverness tonight. The lovely Beth wants to go to a jazz club. I’m kind of full. Will I be hungry by eight-thirty?”
“Probably,” Judith said. “It just drives me nuts that your metabolism lets you eat like Petunia Pig and you never gain an ounce while I constantly wage the weight battle.”
Renie shrugged. “It’s not my fault. My hair won’t turn gray, either.” She twirled a short strand of her chestnut curls. “Freak of nature, that’s me.”
Judith ignored the remark. “Did you find out how we’re going to get to Mass tomorrow?”
“Oh—yes,” Renie said. “I almost forgot. The castle’s original chapel is still in use because Philip is a Catholic. They row a priest from somewhere, usually around eleven.”
“Good.” Judith shook out the mid-calf skirt. “This is really handsome. The workmanship is excellent. Aren’t we lucky to end up in such a cool, interesting, and quiet place? I think I can hear the sea.”
Renie cocked her head to listen. But it wasn’t the sea she heard. A sudden loud noise shattered the peaceful evening.
“What was that?” she asked, jumping off the bed. “It sounded like an explosion.”
Judith and Renie went to the tall windows in the alcove.
“I only see water,” Judith said. “Was it inside the castle?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was fireworks.”
Judith suggested that they investigate from Renie’s room. “It overlooks the village.”
The cousins trooped across the hallway. Even from across the room, they could see an ominous glow outside. “A fire in the village?” Judith said as they approached the window embrasure.
Her guess was only partly accurate. The fire was on the beach where the high tide was beginning to ebb. Judith and Renie stared at the orange and red ball of flame.
“Isn’t that…” Judith began in a hushed voice, “where…?”
“I…think…so,” Renie said. “But,” she added quickly, “we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It could be just a bonfire. Maybe somebody threw a battery or an aerosol can into it. You know how they explode.”
“You’re right,” Judith said. She laughed, though the sound was jagged. “I’m so used to foul play that I assume…you know.”
“Right.” Renie’s smile was forced. “Who’d want to blow up Harry Gibbs’s car?”
The fire was burning brighter. Judith and Renie were transfixed. After a couple of minutes had passed, they could see figures running on the beach, coming from the direction of the castle and the village. Moments later, they saw the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle.
“It’s not just a bonfire,” Judith declared. “Something bad has happened. We should go downstairs and find out what’s going on.”
The cousins hurried out into the passageway. Judith stopped. “Maybe I should get my jacket, in case we go outside.”
“Where would we go?” Renie asked. “The tide’s still partially in.”
“I’m getting my jacket anyway. This place is drafty, especially in the hallways.” With Renie trailing, Judith went into her room and opened the wardrobe where she’d hung her lightweight jacket. She was reaching for it when a curly head popped out between Joe’s sports coat and flannel slacks.
“Hallo!” cried Chuckie. “What went bang?”
Startled, Judith put a hand to her breast. “You scared me! What are you doing here?”
“I took a nap,” Chuckie replied, crawling out of the wardrobe. “So did you.”
Judith was flabbergasted. “You were here all the time?”
Chuckie brushed some lint from his corduroy pants. “Time? I don’t believe in time. What does it mean? It’s always passing.”
Renie looked as if she was about to pounce on Chuckie. “Why don’t you pass out of here? If your family owns this castle, your rooms must be somewhere else. Try to find them.”
Chuckie looked unperturbed. “Someday I’ll own all this. And more, when I marry my true love.” He grinned at Judith, skittered past Renie, and went out into the passageway.
“Really, really weird,” Renie murmured. “I hope he’s harmless.”
“Maybe he’s the voice I heard,” Judith said, putting on her jacket. “No—I heard it from your room, not ours. Let’s go.”
As they descended the winding staircase, they could hear voices. It took Judith a few seconds to realize that Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were in the passageway near the foot of the steps.
“We must know!” Mrs. Gibbs cried, leaning against the stone wall for support. “I feel faint. It canna be!”
“Becalm yerself,” Gibbs exhorted. “We’ll hear soon enough.”
“But if…” Mrs. Gibbs began, and broke off.
“It should be Moira,” Gibbs said.
His wife didn’t respond but dabbed at her eyes with her apron. She finally looked up and saw the cousins.
Judith hesitated before approaching the distraught couple. “I’m very sorry,” she said, “but what’s happened?”
Gibbs set his face in stone. “We dinna ken. We must bide.”
“Bide for what?” Judith asked. “Can’t you call someone from St. Fergna? Like the police?”
“Nae!” Gibbs cried. “Not wi’ The Master here!”
“But…” Judith’s patience snapped. “We saw an emergency vehicle arriving. The police may be there already. What’s wrong with you people? Where is the…Mr. Fordyce?”
“Gone,” Gibbs replied without expression.
“Then,” Judith said emphatically, “he’s not here.”
“I’m getting my cell phone,” Renie muttered.
“No!” Mrs. Gibbs wrung her hands. “Ye’ll cause only harm!”
“Shove it,” Renie snarled, and rushed back up the stairway.
Judith didn’t blame her cousin, but Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were in obvious distress. “We only want to help,” Judith said quietly. “It’s frustrating not to know what’s happened.”
Mrs. Gibbs was sobbing, her pink cheeks pale and her fingers pressing her forehead. Ignoring Judith, Gibbs moved closer to his wife.
“Come, come, lass, let’s have a wee dram.” Gently, he guided Mrs. Gibbs down the passageway.
Judith heard their footsteps echo on the stone floor even after they were out of sight. She guessed they had retreated to the kitchen. The walls seemed to be closing in. Her thin cotton jacket didn’t ward off the drafts. She tried to imagine nobles and servants, soldiers and clerics, all engaged in their routines in the castle precincts. Grimloch had been built for protection, but its old stones felt menacing to Judith.
A sudden sound startled her. She let out a little yip before she saw Renie coming from the stairwell.
“This phone doesn’t work well inside these walls,” Renie declared. “Here,” she said, tossing Judith’s new cape at her. “We’re going outside.”
Judith saw that Renie was wearing her fur-lined raincoat. “And?”
“We call the cops,” Renie replied, leading the way to the main entrance. “We look over the ramparts to see what’s happening on the beach. We find out what blew up. We get chilled and catch bad colds and ruin our vacation.”
Mist was settling over the courtyard. There was no moon, but Judith could still see the fire’s glow lighting up the night sky. She could hear voices but couldn’t make out the words.
“I should’ve brought a flashlight,” Renie muttered. “Oh well. Let’s take the lift down to the beach.”
“I thought we were going to watch from the ramparts,” Judith said.
“We can’t,” Renie responded, “because of the mist. Oops!” Renie stumbled on an uneven stone but caught herself. “Aren’t you curious?”
“Well…” Judith paused. “I had this crazy idea that I was going to relax and enjoy myself. No worries. Just R&R instead of B&B.”
“You’d be bored,” Renie pointed out as the lift doors opened.
“It may be nothing serious,” Judith said as the cage rattled and clattered. “It may not have been Harry Gibbs’s car that was on fire. For all we know, this is a public beach.”
“It doesn’t work that way over here,” Renie asserted. “It’s staked out with the cement parking areas for the castle’s visitors’ cars. Didn’t you notice the ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’ sign at the top of the beach road when Gibbs brought us back from the village?”
“No,” Judith answered as the lift lurched to a stop. “I was too busy trying to hang on in the sidecar.”
Stepping onto the beach, the cousins saw that the tide had receded several yards since their return from St. Fergna. It was, however, still impossible to reach the mainland without getting soaked to the knees.
“The fire’s burning out,” Judith said, peering through the mist. “Is that an ambulance or a fire truck parked off of the road?”
“I can’t tell,” Renie admitted.
She had barely finished speaking when more flashing lights could be seen coming down the track to the beach.
“Damn!” Judith swore softly. “This is frustrating. If that was Harry’s car that caught fire and—or—blew up, where’s Harry?”
“Harry—and his car—may have left a long time ago,” Renie pointed out. “It’s almost seven o’clock. For all we know, it’s a prank.”
Judith looked at Renie. “You know it’s not.”
Grim-faced, Renie nodded once.
Judith rearranged her cape, which she’d donned in a hurry. “This is very warm. The tags are still on it.”
“I didn’t have time to cut them…” Renie stopped. “Can you row?” She pointed to the skiff that was tied up near the lift. “Why don’t we go ashore? Frankly, we could almost wade through the water.”
“Not in my new cape we don’t,” Judith replied. “And we can’t row with your virtual shoulder replacement and my artificial hip.”
“We don’t have to,” Renie said. “The shore’s coming to us.”
Two men were moving toward the cousins through the outgoing tide that splashed no higher than the ankles of their mid-calf boots.
“Hallo!” one of them called. “Stay as you are, please.”
As the pair came closer, Judith saw that they were both in police uniform. Constables, she guessed, as the mist cleared enough so that she could see firefighters extinguishing the blaze on the far shore.
“What’s happened?” she asked when the men were closer.
“Names, please?” the shorter policeman queried in a soft burr.
The cousins spoke simultaneously:
“We’re guests at Grimloch Castle,” Judith explained, noticing that their name tags read adamson and glen.
“From the States?” Glen inquired.
Judith nodded. “We got here yesterday.”
“You’d best go back to the castle,” Adamson said.
Judith noticed that they were both young, probably not yet thirty. “Can you tell us what happened? We heard an explosion.”
“No need for concern,” Glen said stoically.
Judith persisted. “Was it a…bomb?”
“Please return to Grimloch.” Adamson’s voice turned sharp.
“But,” Judith countered, “we must tell Hugh MacGowan.”
The policemen exchanged glances. They seemed surprised that Judith knew the name. “Detective Inspector MacGowan?” said Adamson.
Judith assumed that was MacGowan’s title. “He’s our host. Right now he’s fishing with our husbands. Have you spoken with him?”
Renie brandished her cell phone. “I’ll call Bill so he can tell Hugh.”
“No!” Glen turned red. “That is, we’ll do it. It’s police business. Ma’am,” he added, and tugged at his cap, “there’s been an accident.”
“We realize that,” Judith said calmly. “Did it involve injuries?”
“Yes.” Adamson grimaced. “A fatality.”
“Who?” Judith asked.
“I’m sorry,” Adamson said. “We can’t say until next of kin are notified. We’re waiting for assistance.”
Judith looked over to the bank where the fire had practically burned out. Flashlights played around the area, probably wielded by emergency personnel. “Was it Harry Gibbs?”
Neither constable replied.
“If so,” Judith said, “you must inform his grandparents.”
“Regulations,” Adamson said. “Next of kin first.”
“Of course.” Judith nodded. “Moira, his wife.”
Again, the men said nothing.
“How very sad,” Judith said softly. “With a new baby and all. He had everything to live for.”
The constables both touched their caps in salute. “If you’ll excuse us…” Glen said politely.
“Sure,” Renie said. “I guess it’s over for Rover.”
Adamson looked puzzled. “Eh?”
Renie waved at the sputtering flames. “The Rover. Harry’s car.”
The policemen walked away. Up by the track that led to the beach, several people had gathered to gawk. Apparently they weren’t being allowed to come closer. Of course, Judith realized, the sands weren’t only an accident scene, but private property.
She flipped the cape’s hood over her head as a breeze picked up off the water. The salt air was strong; the receding surf was muffled. “The victim must be Harry. He’s so young. Moira’s a widow twice over.”
“Are you thinking ‘accident’?” Renie asked.
Judith frowned. “Just once, I’d like to avoid a murder.”
Renie laughed harshly. “With your track record, don’t count on it.”
Judith’s expression was bleak. “I won’t. What should we do? We can’t go back and face the Gibbses,” Judith said. “They suspect the explosion involved Harry, and we have no official word.”
“Are you up to walking into the village?” Renie asked. “It’s either that or spending the night on the beach.”
Judith considered their options. “I suppose we could have dinner in St. Fergna. But we still have to get back to the castle.” She stared as another vehicle drove onto the sands. “Somebody else just arrived. Let’s see who it is. The tide’s out enough that we won’t get our feet wet.”
Judith and Renie proceeded with caution in the wet sand, watching for rocks or any debris that might cause them to stumble. As they grew closer to the accident site, they saw the constables’ footprints. Adamson and Glen were approaching the car that had just come to a stop. A man wearing a raincoat and hat got out from the driver’s side.
Judith assumed he must be the local detective chief inspector—if that was indeed the correct title. But as the cousins moved closer, it was apparent that the newcomer was arguing with the constables.
“Don’t patronize me,” he warned in a stern voice. “If it’s Harry, I’ll tell Moira.”
Judith recognized Jimmy, Moira’s brother, from seeing him at the cemetery. The constables were trying to reason with him, but he brushed them aside. “Where’s the body?” he demanded.
Adamson glanced at the other emergency personnel who were finishing their part in the disaster operation. At that moment, Jimmy spotted the cousins. “And who are you?” he asked in an imperious tone.
“Does it matter?” Renie shot back.
“Of course it does!” Jimmy exploded, striding closer to Judith and Renie. “Are you witnesses?” he asked in a calmer tone.
“Are you a cop?” Renie asked.
“No.” He jammed his hands in the raincoat’s pockets. He was over six feet tall, with a dark goatee and hooded dark eyes. “I’m an attorney.”
Renie smirked. “We call them ambulance chasers in the States.”
“You’re not in the States,” Jimmy said dryly. “I understand the pejorative term. I represent Blackwell Oil, as well as my sister, Moira Gibbs. Did you witness the accident?”
Judith tried to nudge Renie out of the way. “We heard it. We’re staying at Grimloch Castle.”
Jimmy looked displeased. “You’re friends of Philip Fordyce?”
“Not exactly,” Judith said. She hesitated mentioning Hugh MacGowan. “It’s complicated.”
“But you saw nothing? Were you here or at the castle?”
“The castle,” Judith replied, as Renie wandered toward the track leading to the village. “You’re here because Moira’s husband is—”
Before Judith could finish, Jimmy turned swiftly and raced to meet a man wearing a leather jacket and Levi’s. “Patrick!” Jimmy shouted. “Where…?” The rest of the question was lost in the mist.
The two men engaged in deep conversation. After a minute or two, they walked over to the place where the Range Rover had burned into a smoking hulk. Judith noticed that the crowd at the top of the bank had grown. Half the village’s population had come to learn what caused the big bang.
“Do you expect Bill and Joe to come back tonight?” Judith asked.
“Only if MacGowan is called in because of this mess,” Renie said. “I don’t know the Highlands very well. Everything’s much smaller than at home in terms of distances. I don’t do kilometers.”
“Neither do I,” Judith admitted. Her attention was diverted by the man in the leather jacket who was storming away from Jimmy and heading in the opposite direction from the track to the beach. “Jimmy must have said the wrong thing to that guy, too. He seems angry.”
“He disappeared,” Renie noted. “There must be another way up from the beach.”
Judith gazed at the steep track. “I don’t want to try climbing up that tonight. We’d have to go through the spectator section and then get back to Grimloch. I won’t pester Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs when their grandson has probably been killed. Let’s walk back to the castle and try to avoid the Gibbses until they get official notification.”
“What about dinner?” Renie asked. “You must be starving.”
Judith gave Renie a wry look. “I tend to lose my appetite when tragedies occur. You, on the other hand, could’ve eaten your way through a torture session with the Inquisition.”
“I like Spanish food,” Renie said.
“What do you suppose happened? Did Harry stay in his car the rest of the afternoon after his swim? Or did he go somewhere and come back later? Did you see him at the castle while I was napping?”
“No,” Renie said. “His name wasn’t mentioned.”
Judith slowed her step as the mist grew thicker. “I can’t see the castle but we must be almost there.”
“We’d better be.” Renie finished speaking when the cousins were able to make out the dark stone walls rising above the rocky cliff. “Let’s hope we can summon the lift. It strikes me as problematical.”
Judith grimaced at the sheer cliff with its rugged face covered in moss and lichen. Despite the darkness, a movement about ten feet above the ground caught her eye. She looked up.
“It’s that bird Harry hated,” she said, “perched above us on a rock.”
“Where? I can’t see it,” Renie complained.
At that moment the great northern diver let out an eerie, haunting cry and flew off into the night. Judith shivered. “Never mind. It’s gone.”
The lift arrived a few seconds later, heralded by the contraption’s creaks and groans. Moments later, Judith and Renie were moving across the courtyard. To their relief, the door was unlocked.
“They must not need much security here,” Judith murmured.
An eerie silence echoed through the empty passageway. Despite her cape, Judith could feel a draft. “Let’s go to your room,” she suggested as they wound their way up the stone staircase. “Maybe we can watch what’s happening on the beach.”
After the cousins reached the Joneses’ room, Judith checked her watch. It was almost eight o’clock. She wondered if she should call Joe to tell him what had happened, but decided against it. If he and the other two men didn’t know, the news might ruin their fishing expedition. They’d find out soon enough, when they got back Sunday afternoon.
“Where are Philip and Beth?” Judith asked as the cousins sat in the window embrasure. “Where’s Chuckie?”
“Have you looked in the bathtub?”
Judith sighed. “Beth can’t be his mother. She’s too young. And what did Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs mean when they said something about ‘it should be Moira’?”
“Oh, coz,” Renie said resignedly, “you’re already turning this into a murder case. You don’t know if foul play was involved.”
“Range Rovers don’t blow up on their own.” Judith resumed her speculations. “It should be Moira who blew up Harry? It should be Moira who was blown up? It should be Moira and Harry?”
“Any or none of the above.” Renie leaned closer to the window. “Somebody’s coming. A car’s driving onto the beach parking area.”
Judith peered through the old, irregular glass. “An unmarked car, dark color. But it’s not the Fordyce Daimler.”
Two men got out and walked toward the lift. “Cops?” Renie said.
The men disappeared, hidden by the cliff’s outcropping. “Should we go downstairs after they deliver the bad news?” Judith asked.
“Wouldn’t that be intrusive?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs aren’t young. No one else seems to be around except for Chuckie,” Judith reasoned. “We may be virtual strangers, but we could offer some kind of support.”
Renie considered. “And forage for food. Okay. Ten minutes?”
“That sounds about right. Besides,” Judith went on, “we have to find out what happened.” She looked at her watch again. It was 8:06. Renie got up and began pacing around the room. Judith stayed by the window. The mist thinned and thickened, blown to and fro by the wind. The activity on the beach appeared to have diminished, and the onlookers on the bluff had dwindled to only a dozen or so curious souls.
At fifteen minutes past eight, a knock on the door startled the cousins. Renie hurried to answer it.
“Alpin MacRae,” the older of the two men announced. “Detective chief inspector, Moray division headquartered in Elgin. This is my sergeant, Malcolm Ogilvie. You must be the guests, Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Jones.”
“Right,” Renie said as Judith joined her. “I’m Jones, she’s Flynn.”
“No matter,” MacRae said easily. “We won’t tarry. The constables told us you were on the beach after the explosion.”
“Yes,” Judith said. “Would you like to sit?”
“No, thank you,” MacRae said politely. “This won’t take long. Do sit.” His keen blue eyes studied Judith. “You look quite tired.”
“Well…I am, I guess,” Judith said, and sank into an arm-chair near the hearth. “I have an artificial hip. Walking too much wears me down. Not to mention the long flight.” She stopped speaking. MacRae was a big man whose solid presence invited confidences. His sergeant was no more than thirty, with fair hair and a skimpy mustache. He seemed somewhat intimidated, either by his surroundings or by his superior.
MacRae had moved to the hearth, hands clasped behind his back. “You know Hugh MacGowan, I understand.”
“Our husbands do,” Judith replied. “They’re on a fishing trip with him now. My husband is a retired police detective.”
MacRae nodded and looked at Renie, who was sitting on a large oak chest at the foot of the bed. “Mr. Jones is a psychologist, I believe.”
“I believe that, too,” Renie said hastily. “I mean—yes, he is.”
MacRae smiled slightly. Judith figured he was accustomed to rattling even the most hardened of criminals. Obviously he’d done his homework on the Flynns and the Joneses.
“I’m afraid,” MacRae said in an appropriately somber voice, “that Harry Gibbs was killed this evening.”
“We guessed as much,” Judith said quietly. “It’s very sad.”
“Indeed.” MacRae paused. “We understand you heard the explosion. What time was that?”
“A little after six,” Judith answered. “I’d taken a nap and woke up just a few minutes before the hour.” She looked at Renie. “You came in a few minutes later.”
MacRae nodded and glanced at his subordinate. “That agrees with the other reports, eh, Mal?”
The DCI gazed at the cousins. “You met Harry Gibbs?”
“Yes,” Judith said. “Not long after we arrived yesterday. He came into the drawing room while we were having our predinner cocktails. He didn’t talk much—he had a couple of quick drinks and left.”
“He was friendly?” MacRae’s question invited candor.
“Friendly?” Renie echoed. “Not really. I thought he looked at us as if we were some kind of virus.”
MacRae chuckled; Ogilvie’s smile was tense.
“That was the only time you saw him?” MacRae asked in a tone that indicated he already knew the answer.
“Mr. Gibbs—his grandfather—had Harry give us a ride into the village,” Judith explained. “He dropped us off and told us he was going on beyond St. Fergna. Later, when we came back to the castle, he was on the beach, swimming in the nude.”
Again MacRae nodded. “That was a habit of his. No harm in it, really, but rather foolish this time of year. Did you see him after that?”
“No,” Judith said, “not after he came out of the water and went back to his car. At least I assume that’s what he did, probably to dress.”
“You didn’t see him drive from the beach?”
“No.” Judith shook her head. “We returned to Grimloch with Philip and Beth Fordyce, who’d just arrived.”
“Harry mooned us,” Renie said. “Is that a motive for murder around here?”
MacRae regarded her curiously. “You think Harry Gibbs was murdered?”
Renie grimaced and shot Judith a quick glance. “Well…it usually is when my—” She broke into a coughing fit.
But Judith knew that Renie had already said too much.
Alpin MacRae didn’t miss a beat. “It’s early days to render an opinion,” he said smoothly, covering Renie’s gaffe. “When an explosion is involved, it’s natural to conclude there was foul play. We prefer to err on the side of caution.”
“Very wise,” Judith said. “How are Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs doing?”
“They’re shocked,” MacRae replied, “and grieving. Mrs. Gibbs asked us to tell you that she won’t be serving dinner tonight, but breakfast will be ready by nine tomorrow morning.”
“Please tell her that’s not necessary,” Judith asserted. “We can manage our own. We won’t burden them at such an awful time.”
“The Gibbses appear to be practical folk,” MacRae said. “Harry’s parents will be informed, though that may take time. They’re surviving.”
“Surviving what?” Renie asked.
MacRae was impassive. “Apparently they enjoy going to exotic locales and living off the land. Mr. Gibbs thought they might be somewhere on the Amazon River.”
Renie shuddered. “How horrible. My husband refuses to go anywhere that doesn’t have digital cable. Except for fishing, that is.”
“It seems Harry’s parents are adventurers,” MacRae said.
Judith couldn’t help but raise a hand, as if she were a student and MacRae the teacher. “Have the Fordyces been notified?”
“Yes,” the DCI answered. “They were contacted on their cell phone. They’d gone into Inverness for the evening. We expect them back soon.”
“What about Chuckie?” Renie inquired.
MacRae looked puzzled. “Chuckie? Who is that?”
“We understand,” Judith said cautiously, “that he’s Mr. Fordyce’s son. He lives here—at least part of the time—at the castle.”
“You’ve met the laddie?” MacRae asked.
“Y-y-yes,” Judith said. “He’s a bit…odd.”
The detective seemed faintly amused. “And how might that be?”
Judith frowned. “He seems small for his age. That is, his face looks older than his size would indicate. I doubt that he’s much over five feet tall. His behavior is…unusual.”
MacRae gazed at Renie. “Has your husband met him?”
“Briefly,” Renie replied. “Chuckie tends to pop up unexpectedly.”
MacRae nodded. “Has Dr. Jones made any sort of evaluation?”
“Yes,” Renie said. “Bill says he’s nuts.”
Ogilvie had to put a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing, but MacRae merely nodded again. “Not a clinical diagnosis,” he remarked, “but evocative. Unstable, in other words.”
Renie shrugged. “Probably.”
“We’ll have to speak with this Chuckie,” MacRae said, more to Ogilvie than to the cousins. “That will be all for now, ladies. Thank you for your cooperation.” The DCI led the way out but paused to turn back to Judith and Renie. “We understand you’ll be staying here for at least a fortnight. If you see or hear anything of interest, please keep us informed.” His expression was somber. “And do be careful.”
Well,” Judith said after the detective and his sergeant had left, “MacRae certainly knows more about us than we do about him. I wonder if MacGowan filled him in before we ever got here.”
“You mean MacGowan expected somebody to get killed just because you arrived at Grimloch?”
Judith was annoyed. “Of course not! I mean, conversation. You know—MacGowan is taking two Americans fishing, and their wives will be staying at the castle—and so on.”
“Possibly,” Renie said. “What do we do about dinner?”
“You have a one-track mind,” Judith chided. “I’ll admit I’m getting hungry. The Gibbses may expect us to forage for ourselves. Shall we?”
“You bet,” Renie said, sliding off of the chest. “Let’s go.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were nowhere to be seen in the passageway that led to the ground-floor guest area. “I know how to get into the kitchen through the dining room,” Judith said. “Follow me.”
“Can’t you walk any faster? I’m practically stepping on your heels. Good thing I’m not wearing shoes.”
“You know I can’t walk much faster,” Judith replied, hearing her cousin’s feet slap against the stone floor like scattered applause. “It’s been a long day. And why aren’t you wearing shoes?”
“My feet got wet. I think my shoes are ruined. I left them to dry out on what looks like a heater in our room.”
The dining room was dark. “We’ll have to feel our way,” Judith said. “I’ve no idea where the light switch is located.” She began groping her way toward the table and chairs. Renie kept a hand on her cousin’s back. “I found a chair,” Judith said. “When we get to the end of the table, we keep going almost straight ahead. There are two doors.” She reached the end of the long table, proceeding more slowly since there was nothing to grasp. “It’s not far,” she reassured her cousin, and touched the wall. “I think the door is a little to the—”
“Open the window.”
Judith gave a start. “What?”
“I didn’t say anything.” Renie moved closer to Judith. “Who’s there?” she called.
“Open the window.”
Judith tried to figure out where the voice was coming from. “Except for the window instead of the gate part, that’s what I heard in your room,” she whispered to Renie. “Who is it?”
“Chuckie?” Renie guessed.
“That’s not how he sounds. Too high-pitched, even for Chuckie.”
The cousins didn’t budge, standing in silence. But they heard nothing more.
“Where did that voice come from?” Judith murmured.
Renie hazarded another guess. “The far end of the room?”
“The fireplace is there,” Judith said, no longer whispering. “There’s a door, too, as I recall.” She edged along the wall. “Ah! The kitchen.”
Both the door into the dining room and the baize door into the kitchen were unlocked. The lights were already on in part of the big kitchen. Renie headed straight for the refrigerator. Judith took time to stroll around the area, discovering a pantry, a scullery, and a large cooler stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables. She took out a head of lettuce, a tomato, scallions, and a rosy apple.
“I’ll make a salad,” she volunteered.
Renie was slicing a big ham. “Hot or cold?” she asked.
“A sandwich is fine with me,” Judith said. “I’ll find bread.”
She was looking for the bread box when Beth Fordyce entered the kitchen from a door off of the old scullery.
“Oh!” Beth exclaimed. “You’re the guests. I wager you’re sorry you ever came to Grimloch.”
“We’re so sorry about Harry,” Judith said. “Was he a close friend?”
“No,” Beth replied. “I know Moira. She married my brother.”
“You mean,” Judith said, “her first husband?”
Beth removed a bottle of bicarbonate of soda from a cupboard. “Yes, Frankie. He died.” She gave the bottle several hard shakes, careful to keep it away from what looked like a very expensive pleated cream jersey top and putty-colored cropped pants. “I don’t know why Phil doesn’t bring his own medicine when he knows he’s got a bad stomach.”
“So your maiden name is Gunn?” Judith inquired, recalling the headstone marking Francis Gunn’s grave in the local cemetery.
Beth nodded. “Poor Moira. She’s had horrid luck with husbands.”
Judith found the bread. “What caused the explosion that killed Harry?”
Beth looked at Judith curiously. Her features had the kind of animation that indicated she wasn’t as empty-headed as Renie had guessed. “It wasn’t the explosion that killed him. Who told you that?”
“Well…we inferred it, I suppose,” Judith said. “We heard the big bang. The police were here and they didn’t say otherwise.”
“The police are still here,” Beth said, making a face. “Why do you think Phil’s stomach is upset?” She shook her head and departed the same way she’d come into the kitchen.
Renie was gazing at Judith. “So how did Harry die?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Judith said, finding a tub of butter in the cupboard by the bread box. “Maybe he drowned.”
“So why was his car blown up?”
“I don’t know.” Judith buttered the bread and started searching for mustard. “He may not have been in the car when the bomb went off. That would make sense. If he’d been…well, literally blown up…nobody at the scene would be sure how he died unless it was the result of the explosion. They might not even know if the remains were Harry’s.”
Renie had found a bowl for the salad. “I wonder how Moira’s faring on this latest voyage into widowhood. She must feel hexed.”
“I wonder where she lives,” Judith said. “Not always with Harry, since he seemed to spend time here at the castle.”
“The rich are different,” Renie pointed out, “as we have discovered. They don’t live conventional lives like the rest of us poor persons.”
“Maybe Joe can learn more when he and Bill get back tomorrow,” Judith said, cutting up the tomato. “I gather MacGowan hasn’t been called in on the case.”
Renie had returned to the refrigerator. “I see five kinds of salad dressing. What’s your choice?”
“Okay. Me, too.” Renie brought out a small crock. “This is homemade. See the handwritten label with the fancy letter G?”
“Very nice. Mrs. Gibbs, I suppose.”
“Who else?” Renie spooned the thick dressing into the salad bowl. “Do we eat here or in the dining room?”
“Let’s not do either,” Judith responded. “We don’t know where the dining room lights are and there’s really no place to sit in here. We should check out the drawing room and maybe have an after-dinner drink from the liquor cabinet.”
Judith and Renie put their meals on a pewter tray and carried them out through the door Beth had used. They found themselves in a small hallway by the indoor elevator. Around the corner was the passageway that led to the drawing room. The lights were on. Someone had recently used the room. Cigar smoke hung in the air.
“Philip Fordyce?” Judith said as they settled onto a Regency sofa covered in dark green velvet. “I can’t imagine Gibbs sitting around smoking cigars.”
“Maybe it’s Chuckie,” Renie said. “He’d do just about anything.”
“I wonder if the police have tracked him down for questioning,” Judith mused. “Want half of this apple?”
“No, thanks.” Renie took a large bite of sandwich. “AhwunnerufChuggienosowtomakabum.”
“Chuckie may be the type who’d not only know how to make a bomb, but would enjoy setting it off to hear it go bang,” Judith said, accustomed to hearing Renie talk with her mouth full. “Although he did ask what the noise was, indicating it surprised him.”
The drawing room door opened. A tired-looking Philip Fordyce entered, appearing surprised to see the cousins. “Pardon,” he said, going to the liquor cabinet. “Did I leave my drink in here?”
Judith scanned the large room. “I don’t see it. Do you remember where you were sitting?”
“I wasn’t,” Philip answered tersely. “Never mind. I’ll pour a fresh one.” He went to the cabinet and got out a bottle of Scotch.
“I understand,” Judith said, “you own the Glengrim distillery. I had some of your whiskey last night. It’s excellent.”
Philip didn’t look up from the glass he was filling halfway. “Yes.”
Judith glanced at Renie, who was chomping away at her sandwich. She hoped her cousin would keep her mouth shut about her dislike of Scotch. Philip remained by the liquor cabinet, savoring his drink.
“How long will you be?” he inquired after a long pause.
Judith turned to look directly at him. “In here?”
“As long as it takes,” Renie said, fortunately not with her mouth full. “Why? Isn’t this the guest part of the castle?”
“I’m expecting someone momentarily,” Philip explained.
Judith was interrupted by Renie. “Anybody we know?”
“Doubtful,” Philip replied with a severe look for Renie. “You arrived only yesterday, did you not?”
“Right, but my coz and I get around. You’d be surprised.” For emphasis, Renie wiggled her eyebrows.
“If you don’t mind…” Philip began, but at that moment the door opened and a haggard Gibbs showed Mrs. Gunn into the drawing room.
“A fine mess this is, Philip,” she declared, though her manner seemed almost jubilant. The sparkle in her eyes dimmed when she saw Judith and Renie. “My word! What are they doing here?”
“Told you so.” Renie chortled and flexed her bare toes.
“You’re acquainted?” Philip asked Mrs. Gunn, who was eyeing Renie’s unshod feet with disgust.
“We’ve met,” Mrs. Gunn said through taut lips. “I’d no idea you were offering them hospitality.”
“It’s rather involved,” Philip said. He raised his voice and addressed the cousins. “Would you mind? Mrs. Gunn and I have private matters to discuss.”
Judith gathered up the remains of her dinner. “Of course,” she said, wishing for once that she could be as rude as Renie. There was nothing she’d like more than to hear what type of “private matters” Philip Fordyce and Mrs. Gunn wanted to talk about. “Is it possible that we could take a small bottle and glasses to our rooms?”
“Please.” Philip took a backward step, as if he was afraid the cousins might contaminate him.
“No Scotch for me,” Renie said. “I’d rather drink motor oil.”
Judith went to the cabinet and got two glasses, a pint of Glengrim Scotch, and an airline-sized bottle of Drambuie. Renie was already out of the room. With her hands full, Judith had trouble closing the door before she joined her cousin in the passageway.
“You were awful,” Judith declared. “Though I don’t actually blame you. Despite your loathing of Scotch, I got you some Drambuie, which, as you damned well know, has Scotch in it.”
“The other ingredients disguise the taste,” Renie replied blithely. “Here, let me take your food. I finished mine and left the dirty plate in the drawing room.”
Judith handed over everything but the Scotch. She and Renie were almost to the stairs when Judith stopped. “I’m going back to take your plate to the kitchen. I’m also going to apologize for your big mouth.”
Renie sighed. “You’re going to listen at the keyhole. If there is a keyhole. Go ahead. I’ll see you upstairs in your room.”
Judith didn’t care if a keyhole existed. She hadn’t been able to shut the door tightly because of her burdens. Her only concern was if Philip or Mrs. Gunn had closed it after the cousins’ departure.
But, no doubt because of what Judith perceived as their sense of urgency, the door remained slightly ajar.
“Journalists!” Mrs. Gunn was saying in her husky voice. “If that’s all you’re worried about…” The rest of the sentence was lost to Judith.
“Harry must have died on our property,” Philip said. “I don’t like scandal attached to Glengrim. It’s rotten publicity. Why couldn’t he have stayed at Hollywood?”
“Because of his flu,” Mrs. Gunn replied impatiently. “Moira didn’t want Harry near the baby. She’s very protective, a natural nurse. Moira was a pillar of strength for my poor Frankie when he became ill.”
“Come, come, Kate,” Philip said so loudly that Judith figured he must be near the door. “Harry seemed quite recovered when Beth and I arrived this afternoon. He took one of his bare-bum swims.”
Mrs. Gunn chuckled. “I didn’t say he was clever. Harry has always behaved foolishly. What would you expect with his parents half a world away most of the time he was growing up? A poor choice on Moira’s part, I must say. Still, the lad had charm and looks.”
“That’s all he had,” Philip said as Judith heard the sound of glassware and pouring liquid. “Some might be relieved that he’s dead.”
A brief silence followed. “True,” Mrs. Gunn finally said. “I don’t trust Moira’s judgment. She may act imprudently again.”
“He has a wife. Jeannie’s a lovely girl. Wealthy in her own right.”
“Not as wealthy as Moira.”
“Not many are,” Mrs. Gunn pointed out. “Where does Harry’s death leave us? If he was an obstacle…” Her words became inaudible.
Judith could only catch phrases of Philip’s response. “The plan is…Jimmy’s influence is…if Beth can…out of the way…”
Judith had stood still for so long that her joints were stiff. Lurching slightly, she fell against the door, causing it to open.
“Excuse me,” she said as a startled Philip and Mrs. Gunn looked up from their chairs near the unlit fireplace. “I came to collect my cousin’s things. I don’t want to make more work for Mrs. Gibbs.”
“By all means,” Philip said.
Judith didn’t dare look at him—or at Mrs. Gunn. She sensed they were both suspicious. She also had the feeling that suspicion of others was only one of the traits they shared.
“I must apologize,” Judith said as she gathered up Renie’s plate, silverware, the pewter tray, and the salt and pepper containers. “Mrs. Jones was ungracious. She’s very distraught, of course. My cousin and I,” Judith added, lying through her teeth, “aren’t used to violence.”
“Oh?” Mrs. Gunn said with irony. “I thought you were Americans.”
Judith glanced at Kate Gunn. “Contrary to media reports, we don’t live in constant dread of finding corpses on our doorsteps.” Oh, Judith thought, I really am telling a whopper, but I have to defend my country.
The other woman said nothing. Judith left the drawing room and headed for the kitchen via the door near the elevator. She had just entered by the old scullery when she heard voices from somewhere in another part of the kitchen.
“Forget about it, Chuckie,” a woman said firmly. “You always think you’re falling in love. I don’t care how old Phil is. I married your father because I wanted to. Please leave me alone.”
“You’re unkind,” Chuckie said. “Now I won’t tell you my secret.”
“You always have secrets, Chuckie,” Beth said in a weary voice. “You shouldn’t listen at doors or hide in closets.”
“I don’t always have to do those things to have secrets,” Chuckie declared. “But I won’t share my secrets with you anymore because maybe I never loved you. Maybe I love Moira. Maybe I always did.”
“Then I’m pleased for you. I wish you well.” Beth Fordyce was coming straight toward Judith, who was forced to duck inside the scullery. Beth sailed by and went out of the kitchen. A moment later, the dining room door closed. Beth and Chuckie were gone. Judith put the dinner things on the counter and went back the way she’d come. The elevator seemed like a good idea. She was extremely tired.
But Judith’s brain wasn’t ready for rest. “Philip and Mrs. Gunn are conspiring,” she announced upon arriving in her room.
“About what?” Renie, who was setting off a fire in the grate, stood up. “Are you saying that’s relevant to Harry’s death?”
“Maybe,” Judith said, setting the bottles and glasses on the dresser. “I don’t know what they’re up to.”
“What would Harry Gibbs have to do with Glengrim distillery or Mrs. Gunn?” Renie asked.
“It sounds like it’s all connected to business,” Judith explained, pouring the drinks.
“You know,” Renie said, taking the Drambuie snifter from Judith, “this isn’t any of our business. For once, can’t you back off?”
Judith thought for a moment. “No. For me, that would be morally reprehensible.”
“Be practical,” Renie urged. “You’re a visitor in a foreign country. You’re the guest of a local cop. The police in the UK are very competent. You don’t know any of the people involved. Let Scotland’s criminal justice system do the job. Otherwise you’re just in the way and probably in danger. You know how Joe’s going to react to that. It’d spoil the whole vacation. This is our long-planned getaway.”
“That’s the problem,” Judith said bleakly. “I can’t let anybody get away with murder.”
The rest of the evening proved uneventful. Renie retreated to her room around eleven. Judith set her travel clock for eight-thirty. But it was well after midnight before she finally settled down. Upon awakening, she couldn’t remember what she’d dreamed, but knew she’d passed a restless night. The comforter was half off the bed and one of the pillows had fallen on the floor. Maybe, she thought, she’d been haunted by poor Harry and the life that had been cut so short.
After showering, putting on her makeup, and dressing in her new slacks and twin set, she went across the hall to Renie’s room. There was no response to her knock. The door was locked. Judith didn’t blame Renie; she’d locked her own door, too. Her cousin must be sleeping in, as was her habit. It was after nine, and if they were to eat breakfast before Mass in the chapel at eleven, Renie had better get going. Judith knocked harder and called out. “It’s me! Wake up!”
A full minute passed before Renie staggered to the door. “Is the sun up yet?” she asked in a groggy voice.
“It’s cloudy, but it’s not exactly dawn. You missed that,” Judith said, closing the door behind her. “Come on, we have to eat.”
“Oh. Eat.” Renie was wandering around the room in her flannel nightgown. “Breakfast. I remember. Good concept.” She wove her way to the garderobe.
When the cousins arrived in the dining room half an hour later, the sideboard held another generous repast.
“Porridge,” Renie said. “Real Scottish porridge. I read somewhere that they have an annual porridge-off around here. Inverness, maybe. They go for the Golden Sprutle.”
“The what?” Judith asked.
“Sprutle,” Renie repeated. “It’s the stick used to stir porridge.”
“Only you would know that,” Judith said, shaking her head.
“True,” Renie agreed. “I’m a font of useless knowledge.”
“I’m going to try the tangerine marmalade,” Judith said. “It’s in another crock like the salad dressing with the fancy G on it. Mrs. Gibbs must be a wizard in the kitchen.”
“Putting up preserves is a lost art,” Renie noted. “Remember how our mothers did it every year? I tried it when I was first married, but it was too much trouble. Canning was always in August, the hottest time of the year, standing at the stove and getting even hotter.”
“You’re babbling,” Judith declared. “I like it better when you don’t talk before ten o’clock.”
Just as the cousins were finishing, Mrs. Gibbs entered the dining room. Her cheeks were pale and there were dark circles under her eyes.
“Father Keith will arrive before eleven,” she said in a toneless voice. “Do ye know where to find the chapel? It’s in the southwest tower. Look for the cross over the door.”
Judith’s expression was compassionate. “We’re so sorry about your grandson. If there’s anything we can do—”
Mrs. Gibbs cut her off with a sharp gesture. “What’s to be done? The laddie’s gone to God. Pray for his poor soul, that’s what to do.”
“Of course,” Judith said. “Have you reached his parents?”
“An impossible task,” Mrs. Gibbs said. “They never should o’ had the bairn. Free spirits, they call themselves. Worthless, I call them.” She turned and went back to the kitchen.
“Not fond of Sonny,” Renie remarked, stirring sugar into her tea. “Why can’t parents take responsibility for ending up with rotten kids?”
Judith shook her head. “Sometimes kids are just bad apples.”
“Maybe.” Renie checked her watch. “Ten-twenty. I wonder how many people attend Mass in this Scottish Reformed Church country? Which reminds me, speaking of parents. It was Saint Margaret of Scotland who had six kids, and three turned out fine but the other trio was awful. She once remarked that even Ted Williams never batted five hundred.”
Judith smiled. “I doubt she used those words, since she must’ve died about nine hundred years before Ted Williams was born.”
“Oh?” Renie feigned innocence. “Maybe Saint Margaret meant shooting from the field. Or pass completions. You get the point, though I’m not sure I agree with it.”
The dining room door from the passageway opened. Beth Fordyce entered, wearing a very short yellow nightgown. “Coffee!” she exclaimed, her slanting brown eyes widening. “Where?”
“Try the silver urn,” Renie said. “We’re drinking tea this morning.”
“What a ghastly night,” Beth said, taking a cup and saucer from the sideboard. “I hardly slept. I’ve never been interrogated by the police. What do I know about Harry’s death? It’d be like him to blow up his own car, from what I’ve heard. He craved attention.” She poured her coffee and sat down a couple of places from Judith. “Phil is wild.”
Judith was puzzled. “You told us the explosion didn’t kill Harry.”
Beth nodded. “That’s what I was told. The autopsy’s tomorrow. The Sabbath is sacred around here.” With delicate fingers, she picked up her cup and saucer. “I must dress for Mass.”
After Beth left, Judith looked at Renie. “So she’s RC. Who else?”
Renie shrugged. “We seem to have fallen into a nest of papists.”
“Ordinarily, that’d be fine with me,” Judith said, “but at the moment, I have my doubts about whether these people practice what they preach. Especially,” she added grimly, “‘Thou shalt not kill.’”
Father Keith was elderly, white-haired, and rail-thin, but he zipped through the liturgy at top speed. The only reference to Harry Gibbs was during the intercessions when the priest asked the small congregation to pray for the dead man’s soul.
Despite the brevity of the service, Judith had time to take in the age-old beauty of the chapel. The statues of Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Fergna probably weren’t the originals, but they definitely dated from the eighteenth or even seventeenth century. The Stations of the Cross in bas-relief also looked as if they’d been added later. Behind the altar the stained-glass windows depicted various saints Judith couldn’t identify. The workmanship looked very old, though a few sections looked as if they’d been replaced after attacks by enemies or Mother Nature. The tabernacle was crafted from ancient gold and studded with jewels.
Philip and Beth Fordyce, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs, and—to Judith’s surprise—Mrs. Gunn were in attendance. So were a dozen strangers, though she couldn’t help but notice a pretty young woman in the back pew wearing a gorgeous sable coat. As Father Keith concluded the Mass after the final blessing, he all but darted out of the chapel. Judith surmised that he was a kind of circuit-riding priest who still had at least one more Mass to celebrate in another nearby village or town.
As the worshippers left the chapel, Judith noticed that Beth had paused to light a votive candle.
“Hold it,” Judith whispered to Renie.
“Why?” Renie shot back. “Father Speedo skipped the sign of peace. I wanted to take the opportunity to deck Mrs. Gunn again.”
“She might have decked you,” Judith said. “Here comes Beth.”
“Is there a priest shortage in Scotland, too?” Judith asked.
“Oh yes,” Beth replied, “especially in the Highlands. The few younger priests who are ordained all seem to want to teach. Pardon, I must speak with Will and Marie.”
The cousins trailed behind Beth as she called to the couple Judith had noticed in the last pew. The woman, who apparently was Marie, exuded a lush air with her fair skin, masses of auburn hair, and all that expensive fur. The man at her side was of average height, with a receding hairline, a long, lean face, and a slightly hooked nose.
Judith’s observations were cut short by a commotion on the cobbled walkway to her left. Philip and Chuckie were arguing. Or rather, Chuckie was screaming at his father and jumping up and down.
“I’m not going to hell!” Chuckie shouted. “I get bored in church! That’s why I threw oranges at the priest during Christmas Mass!”
Philip grabbed his son by the collar, dragging him away from the others. Judith couldn’t hear what Philip was saying, but Chuckie wore a truculent expression and kept shaking his head as he leaned against the half-timbered wall. Judith noticed that Beth had abruptly stopped talking to Will and Marie. Except for Mrs. Gunn, the rest had left.
“Phil!” Beth shouted. “Let me speak with Chuckie!”
Chuckie took a couple of swings at his much taller father but missed. With a weary expression, Philip walked off. He’d gone only a few feet before Chuckie raced up from behind and tackled the older man. Philip fell flat on his face. Chuckie sat on him and hooted in derision.
Beth headed toward her husband and her stepson. “Chuckie, Chuckie, what are you doing?” she asked in a resigned voice. “Get up. I’ll make you some cocoa.”
“Really?” Chuckie grinned at her as Philip tried to dislodge his errant son. “With biscuits?”
“Of course. Come along now. Be my good boy.”
Chuckie sprang off of his father and hurried to take Beth’s outstretched hand. “What kind of biscuits?” he inquired.
“Your favorites,” Beth said, leading Chuckie away.
The man called Will was helping Philip get up. The woman named Marie strolled over to Judith and Renie. She spoke in an undertone. “Chuckie’s quite mad, you know.”
“No kidding,” Renie retorted.
“He should be institutionalized,” the woman said, brushing her chin against the sable collar of her splendid coat. “These days they treat crazy people with pills. I don’t think it works very well.”
Philip was brushing himself off while Will looked the other way, perhaps to save them both from the embarrassment of the moment.
“Are you friends of the Fordyces?” Judith inquired.
Marie smiled slightly. She was several years younger than her husband who appeared to be close to forty. “Beth and Moira and I all went to school together. My husband, Will Fleming, is the Blackwell Petroleum comptroller. That’s how we met.” Her smile widened, showing dimples. “Will’s very clever. Believe it or not, he can be quite funny.”
Judith glanced at Will, who was looking anything but amused at the moment. He’d finally walked away from Philip.
“We should go, Marie,” he said. “The tide will be changing shortly.”
Marie nodded. “Of course, darling.” She turned to the cousins. “Beth says you’re guests here. You’ve had rather a rude welcome.”
“We’re used to it,” Renie said.
“Really?” Marie giggled, then suddenly sobered. “I shouldn’t laugh. It’s quite dreadful about Harry. Still, it’s the sort of thing one would expect of him.” She scooted away to join her husband, who was already at the arched entrance to the castle.
“Harry’s not getting a lot of sympathy,” Renie noted. “I’m beginning to think I was right the first time—he was a jerk.”
“I pity him,” Judith said, but shut up as Philip approached.
“I apologize,” he said stiffly, “for my son. He’s unwell. You mustn’t think ill of him. He has a genetic defect, causing physical and emotional growth problems. I’ve sent him to the best doctors and clinics. When he takes his medication, he’s well behaved and quite bright.”
“It must be very hard on you,” Judith said before Renie could open her big mouth and spoil what must be a difficult admission for a man like Philip Fordyce. “I sympathize.”
“Very kind of you,” Philip murmured. “Excuse me, I feel a need to walk the beach.”
Judith watched him move away, hampered by a slight limp. “Maybe we should go someplace, too,” she said.
Renie frowned. “Where?”
“The village? I think I can walk that far.”
“Everything’s probably closed on the Sabbath,” Renie pointed out.
“True.” Judith gazed around the courtyard. The sun had come out from behind the clouds. Judith noticed an old sundial in the flowerbed near the door where Beth had left with Chuckie. She strolled toward it with Renie following her.
“No hands,” Judith noted. “It’s symbolic, don’t you think? This place is really timeless.”
Renie disagreed. “It’s marking time, a millennium’s worth of centuries. So many people have come and gone, yet the castle remains.”
Renie stopped as a strange, eerily familiar sound captured the cousins’ attention. Judith looked up. Near the top of the castle’s second story, the great northern diver was perched on a corbel, emitting his haunting cry. The bird preened a bit before flapping its wings and sailing off over the courtyard and out of sight.
“That weird call,” Judith said softly. “It sounds like the bird is mourning.”
“Maybe,” Renie allowed. “Or uttering a cry for help.”
Despite the sun, Judith shivered. “I’m not a fanciful person, but there is something spooky about this place. Maybe it’s all the history.”
“History is nothing but old gossip,” Renie declared. “Who did what to whom and why and how it all turned into a war or a revolution.”
Judith frowned. “Maybe. I wonder if there really is a ghost here. Certainly there’s a voice, telling us to open the gate or the window. Where does it come from?”
“TV,” Renie said. “For not being fanciful, you’re sounding a little loopy. Remember on our first trip to Europe we reached Deauville the night before taking ship for home, we got to the cheap B&B and were terrified before we rang the bell?”
Judith’s mind traveled back to that chilly October night in Normandy. “Yes. The house was dark, it looked run-down, and when we finally rang the bell nobody answered. We almost grabbed our suitcases and ran off.”
“Oh yes. It was raining and blowing like mad. We were sure the owners were inside plotting our imminent demise.” Renie grinned. “Instead they had the lights out and wouldn’t come to the door because they wanted to finish watching a rerun of I Love Lucy. In French.”
Judith smiled. “So I’m imagining the atmosphere at Grimloch?”
Renie was studying the daffodil and hyacinth greenery that was poking its way out of the peaty ground. “I can’t dismiss the murder that’s occurred since we arrived, but we should be used to it.”
“If people knew about my track record when it comes to dead bodies,” Judith said, “they’d avoid me like the plague.”
“But they don’t,” Renie pointed out. “As I told you years ago when the first homicide happened at Hillside Manor, it was good advertising.”
Judith grimaced. “I’ve never been convinced of that. Most people don’t pay attention to anything that goes on outside of their own little world.” She looked around the courtyard again. All seemed quiet except for the flags that fluttered gently at half-staff in the occasional wind from the sea. “There’s a third flag today,” Judith noted. “It’s got the stag’s head on it. They must hoist it when The Master’s in residence.”
“Makes sense,” Renie said. “So what are we going to do with ourselves until Bill and Joe get back later today?”
Judith considered. “Do you suppose there’s a taxi?”
“Land or water?”
“We can walk to the beach now,” Judith pointed out. “Let me use my cell. I’ll call local directory information. I wonder if I just dial zero…”
Renie was sorting through her wallet. “I’ve got a number on my bill from the woolen shop. Try that.” She handed the invoice to Judith.
“They won’t be open,” Judith said, but tried the number anyway. There was neither a live response nor a recorded message. “Drat.”
“Hold on,” Renie said. “Bill gave me a list of helpful contacts before we left home. You know how thorough he is. I forgot I had it in my…Ah!” Renie read from her husband’s hand-printed list. “Directory assistance for Scotland is 192.”
Judith dialed the three digits. An operator answered, asking for what city or town. Judith said St. Fergna. The ring changed to a different sound but was picked up on the third beep. The voice at the other end sounded strangely familiar.
“I’m calling from Grimloch Castle,” Judith said. “Is there a taxi service in the village?”
“Mrs. Jones? Or is it Mrs. Flynn?” asked the female voice on the other end. “This is Alison, from the woolen shop.”
Judith laughed. “I thought you sounded like someone I knew,” she said. “It’s Mrs. Flynn. We feel stranded. Are you the local directory service person in addition to working in the store?”
“I have two jobs,” Alison said. “I’m saving to get married. There’s not much to do here in winter. There’s no taxi as such, but my fiancé, Barry, can give you a lift. He’s bored. Where do you want to go?”
“We’re not sure,” Judith admitted, “but we’ll make up our minds by the time he gets here. How soon, do you think?”
“Let me ask him.” Alison turned away from the phone. Judith could still hear her voice, followed by a brief male response. “Five minutes, if you like, Mrs. Flynn.”
“That sounds fine,” Judith said. “We’ll pay, of course.”
“Well…you don’t have to. Barry’s not a very good driver. But we can use the money.”
“Of course,” Judith said. “We’ll head for the beach. Thank you so much.” She hung up and grinned at Renie. “A local lad who apparently has no connection to the castle and its crew. He may prove very helpful.”
Renie sighed. “Here we go again.”
When Judith and Renie got out of the lift, they noticed that there were several people on the beach in both directions. Families, couples, young, old, and in-between—but no one was within a hundred yards of the strand in front of the castle. Although there was no visible barrier, apparently there was an understanding between the villagers and Philip Fordyce. It might be the twenty-first century, but when his flag flew over Grimloch, The Master still reigned in his fiefdom.
The cousins had almost reached the parking area when a small old car came rattling down the track. Judith couldn’t distinguish the make or model, but parts of it were painted blue, other parts red, and the rest of the exterior was rusted out.
“Hallo!” called the driver, leaning out through the window. Except, Judith realized as she approached the beat-up vehicle, there was no window. A clear plastic flap was held in place by a big piece of masking tape. “I’m Barry MacPherson. You must be the American ladies.”
“We are,” Judith said. “Thanks for coming to get us.”
“Gives me something to do,” Barry replied cheerfully. “Which of you is which?”
The cousins introduced themselves. Barry nodded. He was in his early twenties, with a crown of dark red hair shaved into a mullet. He had freckles, and although he was sitting, he struck Judith as the lanky type, with long fingers and big knuckles.
“So,” Barry said, “you being the tall one, Mrs. Flynn, sit up front, please. Mrs. Jones, you’ll have to make do in the backseat. Just move the trash. I didn’t take time to tidy up as I wanted to collect you before the tide came in much higher.”
Judith glanced at the backseat. Or in the area of the backseat, since it wasn’t visible, but was covered with discarded fast-food boxes, CDs, items of clothing, and a small cage containing a dwarf hamster.
“That’s The Bruce,” Barry said. “He bites. Mind your fingers.”
“I bite, too,” Renie said, showing off her large front teeth. “And I’m much bigger.” Reluctantly, she crawled into the backseat and started making room for herself. “The hamster’s cute,” she said. “He smells like fish and chips.” Seeing the grease-stained newspaper wrappings, she went on: “Everything smells like fish and chips. Or worse. We have a dwarf lop bunny named Clarence. We keep him very fresh. He doesn’t bite, but he’s got a mean left hook.”
Barry chuckled good-naturedly. “The Bruce goes everywhere with me, even to work.”
“Where do you work?” Judith inquired, settled into the passenger seat despite the feel of broken springs poking her bottom.
“At Tonio’s Pizza,” Barry replied, gunning the car into gear before attempting the climb up to the village. “I deliver.”
Renie had settled into the backseat. “I smell pizza, too.”
Judith gritted her teeth at the grinding of gears. “I didn’t see a pizza parlor in the High Street yesterday.”
“One street off the High,” Barry replied, leaning into the steering wheel as if to coax the car up the steep track. “Where are we going?”
Fortunately, they were going up at the moment, slowly and noisily, but the hill was finally crested. “We’d like to know what’s in and around the village,” Judith said. “We arrived Friday night, so we couldn’t see our immediate surroundings.”
“Arrived just in time for the murder,” Barry remarked. “Very exciting for these parts. Just like the telly. I don’t think we’ve ever had a murder before, at least not in my time. Maybe the Mafia’s moved to St. Fergna.” The young man sounded thrilled at the prospect. “You’re not…what’s the term? ‘Mobbed up’?”
“No,” Judith replied. “We’re very respectable.” They were moving up the High Street’s incline. “Did you know Harry Gibbs?” she asked.
“Me?” Barry laughed. “Harry and Barry, a couple of mates. Not bloody likely. Excuse my language. Harry was a cut above. No chum for the likes of me.”
“Where did he live when he wasn’t at the castle?” Judith asked.
Barry glanced at Judith. “You don’t know?”
Judith shook her head. “We’re not friends of the family. Our stay was arranged by a fishing companion of our husbands.”
“Awkward,” Barry remarked, braking at the fork in the road by the village green. “That is, you must feel peculiar being caught up in this murder thing. What have we here?”
Barry was looking at the green where at least fifty people had assembled. A stout middle-aged man in tweeds appeared to be giving a speech from the bandstand.
“It’s ruddy Morton,” Barry murmured. “I’ll be frigged. He’s back.”
“From where?” Judith asked. “Who is he?”
“Jocko Morton,” Barry replied, letting the engine sputter and idle. “He’s Blackwell Petrol’s CEO, but he did a bunk a while back, called it taking a leave, and went to Greece. What’s he carrying on about?”
Judith tried to roll down her window but it was stuck. A florid-faced Morton was waving his pudgy hands. “Can you hear him?” she asked Barry, who was leaning his head out on the driver’s open side.
“Some. He’s telling the crowd how wonderful he is and what he can do for Blackwell Petroleum and for St. Fergna and for God and country. Full of wind, that’s Jocko Morton. He likes to be the pukka sahib, thinks he knows how to run everybody’s life better than they do.”
The gathering gave a great shout. Several people were pumping their fists in the air and others were jumping up and down. Barry’s expression turned curious. “Riled up, I’d say. Why, I wonder?”
“Flyers are being passed around by a man who looks like Jocko,” Judith noted. “Can you get us one?”
“That’s Jocko’s brother Archie,” Barry said, starting to get out of the car. “He runs the local garage. Be right back.”
Barry jogged off to fetch a flyer. The car started to inch forward, heading toward the green. “Why are we moving?” Renie asked.
“I don’t think Barry set the emergency brake,” Judith said, leaning across the front seat. “I found it.”
The car kept going, despite Judith’s hard tug on the brake. “Damn! I don’t think it works.”
The car kept crawling along, edging ever nearer to the oblivious gathering that spilled out almost into the street. Judith pulled again on the brake lever. It still didn’t stop the old rattletrap from moving. “Look out!” she cried in warning. But the crowd couldn’t hear her. Just as she was certain they were going to mow down a half dozen villagers, Barry sprinted back to the car and jumped in.
“Sorry,” he said, fumbling under the dashboard and pulling on a rope. “I should get this fixed, but then I don’t have many emergencies.” The car stopped six inches short of any would-be victims.
Judith was aghast. “You use a rope to pull on the brake?”
Barry shrugged. “It works, doesn’t it?” He handed Judith a flyer, his face grim. “Kind of ugly. They’re calling Mrs. Gibbs a murderer. Or would she be a murderess?”
“Let’s hope she’s not either one,” Judith replied.
Renie leaned over the seat to look at the white sheet of paper with the bold black lettering. “Jezebel? Whore? Scorpion? As in the critters that kill their mates?”
“Jocko Morton doesn’t seem to be in his company owner’s corner,” Judith said. “This is inflammatory.” She looked up from the flyer. Jocko used a bullhorn to call for quiet. The crowd finally stopped spewing what sounded like venom, but not before Archie Morton emerged from the fringe and appeared to make some threats.
“Save your strength for the inquest,” Jocko shouted. “Let the rich know that they can’t get away with murder!”
The crowd burst into another round of cheers and chants. Even from a distance, Judith could tell that Jocko looked smug. “I don’t get it,” she remarked. “He’s Blackwell’s CEO and he wants Moira arrested?”
“That’s not so mysterious,” Renie said. “There must be a fight over top-level decision-making, and Jocko thinks Moira’s an obstacle to his position and livelihood. I’ve seen it before with some of my graphic design clients. Dog-eat-dog, and it’s not always the money, but ego.”
Judith turned to Barry. “Where’s Hollywood?” she asked as the name suddenly popped into her head.
“To the left,” Barry said, and turned in that direction. “That’s where Harry lived when he wasn’t at the castle. It’s Moira’s house. Very nice, though I’ve only delivered there twice.”
The elderly car made several strange noises as they passed whitewashed cottages and a row of stone houses. Moments later they were going through the rather flat countryside. Judith didn’t recognize all of the trees that flanked the road, though she saw several tall rowans in bud and a few wild rhododendron bushes.
She judged they’d gone about two miles when Barry slowed down. “The gate to Hollywood’s on your right. We can’t go in, but you can get a glimpse of…Oh, bloody hell! I’m out of petrol!”
The car began to go even slower as Barry fought the wheel to reach the narrow verge. “Sorry. I’d have checked the gauge, but it broke.”
Judith turned to look at Renie, who had been unusually quiet during the ride. Her cousin was petting the hamster in her lap.
“He reminds me of Clarence,” she said. “He’s so soft, and he only tried to bite me once.”
“Great,” Judith murmured. Her thoughts weren’t with Clarence or the hamster or even Renie. She’d been given a golden opportunity and intended to seize it. “Would Moira Gibbs have any petrol to spare?”
Barry chuckled. “Aye, she does at that. But we mustn’t bother her at such a time. I can walk back to the village.” He snapped his fingers. “I forgot. The petrol pump’s closed for the Sabbath.”
“How far are we from the gate to Hollywood?” Judith inquired.
“Just up there,” Barry said, pointing to a stone marker less than twenty-five yards away.
“We have no choice,” Judith declared. “We’ll have to walk to Moira’s house. We met her yesterday at the graveyard.” She turned back to Renie. “Put the hamster in his cage, coz. Let’s go.”
Barry, however, proved reluctant. “We shouldn’t, truly,” he insisted. “Mrs. Gibbs must be all weepy and sad.”
“Then we’ll console her,” Judith said, getting out of the car.
The door fell off.
“Oh no!” she cried. “I’m so sorry!”
“Never mind. It does it all the time,” Barry assured her. “I can tie you in with the emergency brake rope on the way back. I don’t know what I’d do without that rope. Really handy, it is.”
Judith and Barry walked up the road. Renie trailed, having taken the time to restore The Bruce to his little wire home. Turning in at the stone marker, which bore the engraved name hollywood house, Judith noticed that the iron gates were shut. She could see a Georgian house with a circular drive where a red BMW sports car was parked.
She could also hear laughter.
It didn’t sound to Judith as if Moira Gibbs was mourning her late husband.
Moira Gibbs and the man named Patrick were holding hands as they started up the steps to the elegant three-story house. Judith recognized Patrick from his sturdy build and the leather jacket he’d worn when he met Jimmy on the beach after the explosion.
The couple apparently hadn’t seen the trio at the gate. Judith called to them while Renie looked for a buzzer or an intercom. Barry, however, simply gaped in disbelief at Patrick and Moira.
“That’s no way to act,” Barry muttered. “If somebody blew up Alison, I’d feel quite glum.”
Judith’s shouts were ignored by the couple, who headed inside the house without turning around. Renie, however, had found a keypad. She poked a button labeled visitor. Judith could hear a stilted masculine voice respond.
“You got gas?” Renie asked.
“Pardon?” the masculine voice said, sounding affronted.
“Gas, petrol, whatever you call it here. We’re stuck,” Renie said. “Tell Moira that Hugh MacGowan wouldn’t like us having problems. The name’s Jones, by the way. The other one is Flynn. Moira knows us.”
Judith was leaning over Renie’s shoulder. She heard a woman respond but couldn’t make out the words. After a brief pause the stilted voice resumed speaking. “You may enter. The mistress will see you.”
“Nice work,” Judith said to Renie as the gates opened smoothly.
“Amazing!” Barry exclaimed under his breath. “I wouldn’t have dared in a million years!”
“Pushy Americans,” Renie said. “That’s why everybody hates us. We have no manners.”
The cousins started up the drive until Judith realized that Barry was still standing outside the gate. “Aren’t you coming?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I’ll stay by the car. I wouldn’t want anyone to steal it. Ha-ha.”
“‘Ha-ha’ is right,” Renie murmured. “Nobody would steal that crate even for spare parts.”
“He’s obviously intimidated by his so-called betters,” Judith said.
“That’s the problem,” Renie said. “We think we’re better, too.”
“I think it’s called equality,” Judith pointed out.
Renie shrugged. “It’s the same thing.”
Moira Gibbs stood in the open front door, which was painted a bright blue. She was wearing a white wool dress with a glittering ruby brooch. “Come in,” she said, with a touch of warmth in her voice. “Pay no attention to Fergus. He’s beyond stodgy, but it’s difficult to find butlers these days. He’s been with the family since before I was born.”
She led the way past the colonnade and into the main hall with its soaring ceiling, marble statuary, and elegant plasterwork. “We’ll go into the library,” Moira said. “I arrived only a few ticks ahead of you.”
The library was large, complete with a balcony, wood paneling, and ladders to access books on the top shelves. Since no one was in the handsome room, Judith figured that Patrick was being discreet and making himself scarce.
Moira invited the cousins to sit in the leather chairs that formed a semicircle in the middle of the room. “A drink, perhaps?”
“We’re fine,” Judith said. “We want to offer our condolences. This must be a terrible shock for you.”
“Oh, it is,” Moira said, sitting down. “I’m muddling through on sheer nerve—and handfuls of tranquilizers.”
Judith wanted to believe that Moira was grieving. Surely a young woman with a baby who had been widowed twice would be devastated.
“I’ve been widowed, too,” Judith said with compassion. “I was left with a teenage son. That’s a difficult stage under any circumstances.”
“I would imagine,” Moira said. “Poor you. Now,” she went on, leaning forward and folding her hands on her knees, “you must tell me about your gas problem. Is it some sort of leak?”
Renie made a face. “I should’ve said petrol. We ran out. I keep forgetting that we’re two countries separated by a common language.”
Moira laughed. “Three,” she pointed out. “We have many Scots words the English don’t understand. I’ll have Fergus provide you with a five-liter can. Will that be enough?”
“Ample,” Renie replied. “Thanks. We’ll reimburse you.”
Moira waved a slender hand. “No, no. That would be inhospitable of me. We keep an extra supply on hand. Did you hire a car?”
“Not exactly,” Renie said. “It’s like a car…but…” She made a helpless gesture.
Moira frowned. “I heard the castle’s Morris saloon is being repaired.”
“It is,” Judith said, then changed the subject before Renie could lead their hostess further astray. “How old is your son?”
Moira smiled tenderly. “Almost five months old. He’s utterly adorable and quite good-natured.” A soft rap sounded on the library door. “Yes, Fergus?”
After the butler informed his mistress that her brother was on the telephone, he made a stately exit. Moira got up and went to a desk that looked as if it had been inspired by Chippendale.
“Pardon,” she apologized to the cousins. “Yes, Jimmy,” Moira said into the phone. “What is it now?”
Judith tried to pretend she wasn’t eavesdropping. “This is a wonderful room,” she said to Renie. “Look at all the leather-bound books encased behind glass.”
Renie gazed at her surroundings. “Valuable, maybe. Some are probably collectors’ items.”
Judith rose and walked over to the nearest bookcase, which was just opposite Moira.
“Oh, Jimmy, just take care of it!” Moira said testily. “You’re so good at handling this sort of thing. It’s hardly the first time. Don’t pester me with details. I’m sick of the whole thing.” She rang off. “I’m so sorry for the interruption,” she said, sitting back down. “My brother is extremely competent and very clever. I’ve no idea why he has to bother me with problems he can easily solve for himself. Where were we?”
Judith also sat down again. “Talking about your son?”
Moira smiled. “Oh—little Jamie. I named him for my father. He’s trying to crawl. I’d let you see him, but he’s down for a nap.”
“Never wake a kid from a nap,” Renie warned. “Mothers deserve some peace and quiet.” She grimaced. “Sorry. That’s an unfortunate thing to say, given what’s happened.”
“You mean to Harry?” Moira shook her head. “It was bound to. He brought it on himself.”
Judith tried to hide her astonishment. “He had enemies?”
Moira’s smile was ironic. “I suppose we all do, when we’re in business. But I can’t imagine…” She grew serious. “Like his parents, Harry was a risk-taker. Hang gliding, jumping out of airplanes, mountain climbing, rock climbing, hunting wild animals with a bow and arrow—he tried everything. He was fortunate not to have gotten himself killed long ago.” She noticed the curious expression on Judith’s face. “Please, make no mistake. It’s a terrible tragedy, but one has to face facts. Harry lived on the edge. He didn’t use good judgment.”
Judith began to understand. “You think it was an accident?”
Moira shrugged. “What else? We should have an official verdict after the autopsy. Jimmy set the funeral for Wednesday. I doubt that his parents will be—”
Another soft rap at the door interrupted her. “Yes?” she said.
Fergus stood stiffly in the doorway. “Mr. Cameron is here, ma’am.” His lips barely moved. Judith wondered if he could do ventriloquism.
“Tell him to wait in the west drawing room,” Moira said. “Would you please fetch five liters of petrol for these ladies?”
Fergus nodded and left.
Moira stood up. “This is awkward. I’d forgotten Mr. Cameron was coming by. He’s Blackwell’s head of engineering and also in charge of security. No matter what else happens, business must be done, with the oil world so vital and volatile. Fergus will get the petrol and see you out.”
“She’s smooth,” Renie remarked after Moira had left. “She must have inherited the petroleum company from her family.”
“I doubt that Moira’s more than twenty-five,” Judith said. “Jimmy looks quite a bit older. If their parents are dead, why didn’t he inherit the business along with his sister?”
“That is odd,” Renie agreed. “Jimmy mentioned he was an attorney for the company as well as for Moira. I wonder where the head offices are. I thought most of the North Sea oil business was around Aberdeen.”
“Let’s find out,” Judith said, going to the desk. “There must be a letterhead in here somewhere.” She opened the middle drawer but found only pens, paper clips, postage stamps, scissors, and other utilitarian items. The top drawer on the right yielded the company stationery. “The main offices are in Inverness, but there are branches in Aberdeen, London, and Copenhagen.”
“I suppose the family wanted the headquarters closer to where they live,” Renie conjectured. “Judging from the architecture, this house was probably built in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.”
Just as Judith moved away from the desk, Fergus appeared holding the five-liter gas can far away from his body as if he expected it to explode like Harry’s car. “Your petrol,” he said solemnly.
“Thanks, Fergus,” Renie responded, taking the can from him. “You’re a good egg. I’ll remember you in my will.”
Fergus coughed slightly. “Pardon, ma’am?”
“Never mind,” Renie said blithely. “We can let ourselves out.”
The butler seemed dubious. “I’ll escort you to the door.”
“Why not?” Renie retorted. “As my husband would say when he wants us to move along, ‘Let’s boppin’!’”
Looking pained, Fergus stepped aside as the cousins walked out of the library. He accompanied them through the entry hall and on to the front door. With a barely perceptible nod, he wished them good day.
“Right back atcha, Fergus,” Renie called over her shoulder.
“Coz…” Judith murmured. “Can it.”
“Can it yourself,” Renie snapped as they descended the steps. “This thing’s heavy and hard to carry with my bum shoulder.”
“Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open,” Judith declared.
“Because,” Judith said, “if you’d been paying attention instead of showing off, you’d have been able to peek into the parlor. The door wasn’t completely closed. I saw Mr. Cameron.”
“Mr. Cameron is Patrick,” Judith said. “The announcement of his arrival was a sham. Moira didn’t realize we’d already seen her with him from the road. She doesn’t want us—or anyone else—to know how chummy they are. Philip Fordyce and Mrs. Gunn talked about rumors concerning Moira and Patrick. Tranquilizers or not, Moira doesn’t seem overcome by losing husband number two.”
“How do we get out?” Renie asked as they walked down the driveway. But before Judith could respond, the gate swung open. “Ah—remote control from Fergus,” Renie murmured.
Barry was dozing in the car. Through the glassless window, Renie jabbed him in the shoulder. “Fill ’er up!” she called.
“Oh!” The young man awoke with a start and threw his hands up in the air, banging his fingers against the car’s roof. “Don’t shoot me! I haven’t got any money! I’m stony broke!”
“It’s us,” Renie said. “The American battle-axes. Go ahead, put the gas in the tank. I’m setting the can down here by the door.”
“Wow!” Barry exclaimed. “How’d you manage to get that?”
“Sheer charm,” Renie said, getting into the backseat. “Hi, Bruce. How are you doing?”
The hamster jumped onto his wheel and began to run like mad. Barry got out of the car. Judith stood watching him as he coped with the gas tank—no easy task, since it looked as if the original cap had been replaced with a cork.
“How,” she inquired, “did Moira inherit Blackwell Petroleum?”
“Her mum and dad died,” Barry replied as bits of cork broke off while he attempted to unplug the tank. “Mr. Blackwell’s been gone since before I was born. Her mum passed on two, three years ago.”
“But why didn’t Jimmy get the company?” Judith asked. “He must be at least ten years older than Moira.”
The cork finally came out. “Jimmy’s a bastard,” Barry said.
“You mean he was disinherited because he was…what?”
“A bastard,” Barry repeated, pouring gasoline into the tank. “His dad—Moira’s dad, too—played around.”
“Oh,” Judith said, enlightened. “Jimmy’s illegitimate.”
“Right. No way was Moira’s mum going to let Jimmy have part ownership. He could work for Blackwell, but no owning it for the likes of him, a mere by-blow. The missus was that put out.”
“That must rankle,” Judith said.
“Aye, especially after Harry got a plush job with the company.”
A Jaguar sedan had slowed to see what was going on by the side of the road. Judith thought the driver was Jocko Morton, the man who’d been giving the speech on the village green. He looked, he saw—and sped on. Curious, she followed the car with her eyes, wondering if it would turn in at Hollywood. But Morton kept going. “What did Harry do at Blackwell?” she asked, turning back to Barry.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” Finishing with the tank, he put the cork back in and screwed the cap onto the petrol can. “Anyway, Harry and Jimmy got into it at the Yew and Eye pub last week. A regular brawl, it was. What should we do with this can?”
“We’ll drop it off at the gate,” Judith said. “You mean a fistfight?”
“Aye, with chairs thrown and bottles broken and pints spilled.”
“Were you there?” Judith asked as Barry escorted her to the passenger side.
“Aye, me and my mates. Quite a show they put on until Will Fleming broke it up. Here,” he said as Judith got into the seat, “move a mite to the right and I’ll fetch the rope to keep you in.”
While Barry went to get the rope from the boot, Judith turned to Renie. “Did you hear that about Jimmy and Harry at the pub?”
Renie nodded. “I wouldn’t have known who to root for.”
“I don’t understand much about any of this,” Judith admitted. “I always think of the oil business as a Middle Eastern thing—or Texas.”
“I don’t think about it at all,” Renie said. “Bill takes care of Cammy. For all I know, gas could cost a hundred bucks a gallon.”
Judith shot her cousin a dirty look. “It’s a global concern. You shouldn’t be so cavalier.”
“Is there something I can do about it?” Renie demanded.
“No,” Judith allowed as Barry struggled with securing the rope, “but this Blackwell business may be the reason why Harry was killed.”
“Moira thinks it was an accident,” Renie reminded Judith.
“I don’t believe it,” Judith countered.
Barry finally fastened the rope and came around to the driver’s side. “What’s your fancy, ladies? We could drive to John O’ Groats with this much petrol. ’Course we couldn’t drive back.”
“Bill made a list,” Renie said, taking a small notepad out of her purse. “Culloden, where Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated. Cawdor and Brodie Castles. Moray Firth for dolphin sightings. Nairn, where the sun shines more than anywhere else along the northern coast. Culbin Sands, to watch a bunch of birds. We might also consider food. It’s been a long time since breakfast.”
“Um…” Judith stared out through the windscreen, which had several squiggly cracks. “Barry, why don’t you just drive us around this area? I’m a people person, not a nature or history lover. Where does Jimmy live? Or the Flemings? And tell us more about Jocko Morton.” She ignored Renie’s groan.
“Jimmy and his wife live on the other side of St. Fergna,” Barry replied. “Nice house, modern-like. The Flemings have a place down the road here. You can’t see either of them from the car. Morton has a condo in Inverness and a shooting lodge somewhere—I forget.”
“Oh.” Judith was disappointed. “What about Mrs. Gunn?”
“Ah, she’s got a grand house on Spey Bay. I hear she took it from her husband’s ladylove.”
“My, my,” Judith said. “Do all businessmen here have mistresses?”
Barry looked genuinely puzzled. “I don’t know. We could ask.” He turned a serious face to Judith. “Might be cheeky, though.”
“I mean,” Judith clarified, “Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Gunn both played around, right?” She saw Barry nod. “Who is Jimmy’s mother?”
“Lucy Morton,” Barry answered. “I forget her maiden name. Later on, she married Jocko’s cousin, Rob. They live in Inverness.”
“Please tell me that Rob doesn’t work for Blackwell Petroleum.”
“Nae—he’s a dentist.”
“And Mr. Gunn’s girlfriend?”
“She’s not a dentist.”
Judith sighed. “I don’t mean that. Who was she?”
“A ladyship,” Barry replied. “Let me get this right…the Honorable Diana Porter-Breze. Bonniest woman I ever saw, though not young, not at all. Older than Mr. Gunn, much older than Mrs. Gunn. Nice, too.”
“Does she still live around here?”
Barry shook his head. “She moved to Inverness. Or Paris.”
“Gee,” Renie said plaintively, “The Bruce and I are fading away back here. Any chance of finding a restaurant?”
“There should be pizza in one of those boxes,” Barry said.
“The Bruce may like cold pizza,” Renie said, “but The Cousin doesn’t. Try again.”
Judith checked her watch. “It’s almost three. When’s high tea?”
“How about the village tearoom?” Barry asked.
“We went there yesterday,” Renie said. “What else is nearby?”
Barry considered. “There’s a fine place down the road. Cummings House, it’s called. Alison and I ate there once. It’s pricey, though.”
“Money’s no object,” Renie declared. “I’m starved.”
Barry struggled to start the car, but eventually the engine caught and the vehicle lurched forward. They passed the gate to Hollywood and continued on the road for at least a mile. Judith admired the rowan and birch trees, though after another mile or two, the road climbed slightly. Now they were winding among alder and pine. Then the road dipped precipitously. The car sped down the hill into a glen.
Judith saw a two-story timber-fronted building up ahead. As they raced along the road, she saw the sign proclaiming Cummings House. “Is that the place?” she asked.
“Aye,” Barry said, and gulped.
“I thought we were stopping there,” Judith said.
“I thought we were, too,” Barry agreed, pumping the brakes, “but I guess not. The car won’t stop. Oh well.”
The road had flattened out. “You don’t have seat belts in this thing!” Renie shouted. “You’re going to get us killed!”
“Nae,” Barry responded, turning around to look at Renie. “Mind The Bruce. Don’t let his cage slip off the seat.”
“Watch the damned road!” But Renie put a steadying hand on the cage as the car began to slow down.
On the next bend, Barry aimed for a hedgerow. The car thudded into the barrier and groaned to a stop. Judith hazily guessed they were going only about ten miles an hour. She caught herself on the dashboard; Renie was holding The Bruce’s cage and cussing her head off.
Barry was slumped over the wheel. “Whew!” he exclaimed, and whistled softly. “Sorry. How’s The Bruce?”
“He’s filing a lawsuit for whiplash,” Renie snapped. “How are we getting to the restaurant? Afoot?”
Before Barry could answer, Judith’s cell phone rang.
“How’s it going?” Joe inquired in a cheerful voice.
Judith gritted her teeth as she peered through the windscreen and saw a goat peering back from the other side of the hedgerow.
“Uh…we’re not going at the moment,” she replied, mouthing her husband’s name for Renie’s benefit. An acrid stench filled Judith’s nostrils—no doubt, she figured, the odor of burning brakes. Or the goat. “Where are you?” she asked Joe. “At the castle?”
Joe’s chuckle sounded forced. “No. No, actually we’re at Invergarry by Loch Oich. We had some luck on the Spey, but Hugh thought we should try some of the other nearby streams and lochs. He’s on leave, you know, so he doesn’t have to get back to work for a week or so. We’ll go from here to the River Beauly and Beauly Firth, maybe on Tuesday. Hugh says the salmon fishing there is amazing.”
“You mean,” Judith said, looking at Renie, “you and Bill aren’t returning to Grimloch anytime soon?”
“Well…this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fish these waters,” Joe explained. “Not just anybody can access them. Since Hugh’s offered us the opportunity, we could hardly turn him down.”
“Hardly,” Judith said dryly. “Are you camping out?”
“What? Oh—no, you know Bill. He’s not one for camping.”
“Neither are you,” Judith pointed out. “Your idea of camping is a rustic five-star lodge with a jazz combo for your evening entertainment. Where are you staying tonight?”
“We just checked into the Glengarry Castle Hotel. Hold on,” Joe said. “Bill, you got the remote? Thanks.” There was a pause. “Great digital TV reception here. Tell Renie that Bill’s eating a banana ice cream sundae. I think I’ll talk him into giving me a taste.”
“I won’t mention that,” Judith said as the goat wandered away.
“Lots of other stuff around here, too,” Joe said. “There’s a ruined castle right by the hotel and we’re not far from Ben Nevis and—”
“Stop,” Judith interrupted. “You’re breaking up at this end.” It was a lie, but Barry had gotten out of the car and was trying to push it away from the hedgerow.
“Oh—sorry,” Joe said. “Everything okay with you and Renie?”
“It’s swell,” Judith replied. “We’ve gone for a country drive.”
“Great,” Joe enthused. “I knew you and Renie would find plenty to do around St. Fergna. Bill sends his love. Talk to you later.”
Judith shoved the cell phone back in her purse. “I don’t know whether to be relieved or peeved. Joe and Bill and even Hugh MacGowan don’t seem to know anything about Harry’s death. Hugh’s taking a short leave to cart our husbands around the Highlands—in style, I might add.”
“The Bruce doesn’t like that goat,” Renie asserted. “It sounds like the husbands have gotten our goat. Why are they having all the fun?”
Judith ignored the question. “Let’s get out of the car. Barry can’t budge it with us sitting here.”
“I’m not helping,” Renie warned Judith. “I have a bad shoulder. I’m also weak from hunger. I wonder how that goat would taste?”
“I have an artificial hip,” Judith said, undoing the rope. “Barry’s on his own.”
“That restaurant’s within walking distance,” Renie said, gesturing at the site, which looked about a quarter of a mile up the road. “I really don’t enjoy riding in a car with no brakes.”
“No window, no door, no—” Judith stopped as a car coming around the bend slowed down. But after taking a good look at the battered beater and the trio on the verge, he stepped on the gas pedal and sped away.
“Jerk,” Renie snarled. “Couldn’t he see we’re a couple of middle-aged ladies in dire distress?”
“I think that’s why he left,” Judith said. “Didn’t you recognize the Jag and the driver? It was Jocko Morton. I don’t think he’s a very nice man. I wonder why he left the country?”
Renie shrugged. “When in doubt, think Enron.”
Judith’s expression was ironic. “Or murder.”
Barry borrowed Judith’s cell and called his father to rescue him. After assuring the cousins that the brakes would be fixed in no time so that he could pick them up after they ate at the restaurant, Judith succumbed to Renie’s pleas and agreed to walk to Cummings House.
The road’s incline was gentle; the distance was short. They went slowly, though Renie had to stop several times to allow Judith to catch up. The cousins arrived at the restaurant just after three-thirty, and were seated immediately by a cheerful older woman wearing a ruffled apron and a broad smile.
“Tourists, eh? Lovely!” she exclaimed. “Do sit by the fireplace.”
The dining room was small and cozy. The decor was minimal, and on this Sunday afternoon, only a handful of the dozen or so tables were occupied. There was a bar, however, which was marked by a sign with an arrow pointing off to the right.
Cummings House didn’t offer a high tea, but Judith and Renie both found items that pleased them.
“Haddock and chips for me,” Judith said.
“I’ll have the homemade lamb and kidney pie,” Renie declared.
The cheerful waitress went off toward the kitchen. Sitting in the comfortable high-backed chair, Judith stretched her legs toward the hearth. “Nice,” she remarked. “Just the sort of place you’d expect to find in the Highlands.”
“As nice as where the husbands are?” Renie asked suspiciously.
“Well…I’m not sure. They have TV and good food.”
“What’s the place called?”
Judith jogged her memory. “Hotel Glengarry?”
“Don’t con me,” Renie snapped. “I’ve gone through Bill’s guidebook. It’s Glengarry Castle Hotel and it’s supposed to be one of the elite places to stay in the Highlands. Those creeps! They’re off having a wonderful time and we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere while you play Sherlock Holmes! Some vacation!” She leaned forward. “Tomorrow will be different. We’re going to hire a car from wherever we can get one and see the sights on our own. I refuse to sit around the castle and watch you try to solve a murder case involving people you never heard of until forty-eight hours ago. This is my vacation, too.”
Judith studied Renie’s obstinate expression. “You’re the one who always says that fishermen should be able to do as they please.”
“As long as they’re fishing,” Renie retorted. “Watching high-definition TV or whatever in a plush hotel and eating their way through a gourmet menu doesn’t count. That’s for us, not the husbands.”
“This is nice,” Judith argued. “The prices are reasonable and—” She paused as a hearty laugh burst out from nearby, followed by a masculine voice:
“What’s our advantage without Gibbs?” The man’s voice was deep and halting.
Leaning on the side of her chair, Judith tried to see who was coming out from the bar area. “Morton,” she whispered, “with a fair-haired man I don’t recognize.”
“Oh, damn!” Renie swore. “There’s no escape!”
Jocko Morton and the taller, younger blond man walked by the cousins and sat down in an inglenook across the room by the window.
“Morton must have parked in back,” Judith whispered. “I didn’t see his Jag when we came in the main entrance.”
“I don’t care if he parked on the roof like Santa Claus,” Renie snapped. “Could we eat a meal without a side dish of sleuthing?”
Judith sighed. “After all these years,” she said in a low, earnest voice, “you know that when somebody gets killed virtually before my eyes, I’ll try to figure out who did it. I can’t help it. It’s like you, studying everything you see with your artist’s eye. Just now, when you saw the menu, you frowned. I knew it wasn’t the food, it was the menu’s design.”
“Wrong type font for this kind of place,” Renie said. “Too modern. They should have gone with a Monotype Corsiva, not an Arial Black. There’s no warmth, no history.”
“You see what I mean?”
Renie looked faintly repentant. “Okay. You have a point. I just wish your talent wasn’t for finding killers. It’d be nice to go somewhere and not stumble over a dead body.”
“You mean and not care if I stumble over a dead body,” Judith amended. “Everybody encounters dead bodies every day.” She saw Renie start to protest. “Hold it, coz—let me finish. At home, the morning paper often has a homicide victim in the news. The obituaries may contain someone whose death is unnatural. We’re untouched by them. But when someone is killed within my purview, I have to act. Get it?”
Renie nodded wearily. “I’ve always gotten it. I just…get fed up with it. Or maybe I get scared. It’s a dangerous avocation.”
“Life’s a risk,” Judith said. “Now will you shut up? Here’s the food, and I’d like to try hearing what Morton’s saying across the way.”
Renie was content to keep quiet as she delved into her lamb and kidney pie. But Morton and his companion were speaking quietly. Seriously, too, Judith noticed, except for Morton’s occasional hearty—if harsh—laughter. His companion was more solemn, rarely managing even a smile. Finally, they were eating what looked like puddings. Morton put aside the napkin on which he’d been scribbling some notes.
The waitress came over to Judith and Renie, asking if they were enjoying their meal.
“Very much,” Judith said. “The haddock and chips are excellent. My cousin would say the same about her meat pie if she’d stop eating long enough to talk. By the way,” she continued, dropping her voice, “the fair-haired man in the inglenook is familiar. Should I know him?”
The waitress glanced discreetly at Morton and his fellow diner. “You mean you know him from the States?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” Judith fibbed. “Maybe he reminds me of someone. Is his name…Rankers, by any chance?”
The waitress shook her head. “Nae. He’s Seumas Bell, an attorney for Blackwell Petrol. Comes here often when he has business with poor Mrs. Gibbs. But you wouldn’t know her, not being from these parts.”
“We do know her,” Judith said. “It’s a shame about her husband.”
The waitress’s eyes grew round as she leaned closer, exuding a lavender scent. “Oh, isn’t it though? That laddie met a cruel fate! And now Mrs. Gibbs has taken to her bed, a nervous wreck, I hear. She’s never had good health or good luck with men.” The waitress grimaced. “I mustn’t tell tales out of school, but you’re acquainted so you know.”
“Yes,” Judith said with compassion, ignoring Renie, who had spilled gravy on her new cashmere sweater. “Two husbands dead, her parents dying fairly young, and a big oil company with no one to lean on except her half brother, who strikes me as resentful of her inheritance.”
“I suppose you can’t blame Jimmy in a way,” the waitress said. “He’s very capable. Some would tell you he’d be a much better…what do you call them?…chief executive than his sister. She’s so much younger and hasn’t had his experience. But there it is.” The waitress looked up as a young couple entered the restaurant. “Pardon, I must see to these people. Will you be wanting a sweet?”
The cousins declined, and the waitress hurried off. Renie was dabbing at her sweater with a wet napkin. “Well?”
Judith frowned. “Who said that Moira took to her bed?”
“If she has,” Renie said, “Patrick’s in it with her.”
Judith shot a surreptitious glance in Morton’s direction. “Maybe he told the waitress. Or the other man, Seumas Bell.”
“It could be anyone,” Renie said. “Gossip travels fast in small towns. They all know each other and don’t have a lot of things to do.”
“True.” Judith chewed thoughtfully on her last chip.
Morton and Bell were getting up, making ready to leave. They paid no attention to the cousins. Morton’s small piglike eyes glittered with something that might be pleasure. Bell, however, looked worried.
“They left the napkin,” Judith said after the two men departed.
“Morton was writing on it.” Judith got up, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and went to the vacant table. With a swift gesture, she grabbed the napkin and returned to her seat.
“Let’s see what he wrote.” She unfolded the paper napkin and smoothed it out on the tablecloth. “Numbers, mostly. I don’t know what to make of them. There’s a name, though. Morton’s handwriting is wretched. See if you can read it.” She passed the napkin to Renie.
“They might be stock prices,” Renie said. She studied the jumble of letters. “The closest I can come is ‘Venus Goo.’ That can’t be right.”
Judith took the napkin from Renie and put it in her purse. “Just in case,” she murmured.
Renie didn’t comment.
The waitress presented their bill. “I have a message for you,” she said, looking apologetic. “Barry—the pizza lad from Tonio’s—rang up to say he can’t come get you. His brakes are bad, and must be fixed at the auto repair tomorrow. He said he hoped you could wait.”
“For what?” Renie retorted. “A bus?”
“There is a bus,” the waitress said. “It’s due here”—she paused to look at the watch pinned to her apron—“in six minutes.”
“It stops at the restaurant?” Judith inquired.
“If you flag it,” the waitress said.
Renie flipped her credit card onto the table. “We’re on our way.”
The cousins had been standing for only a minute or so when an old green and yellow bus lumbered around the bend.
“We’ll assume it has brakes,” Renie remarked, waving at the driver. “Windows and a door are a start.”
Only a dozen or so riders were on the bus, which was eventually going to Inverness. As she started to pay the fare, Judith suddenly realized she had only U.S. coins.
“We haven’t changed our money yet,” Judith whispered to Renie. “Do you have any we can use here?”
“No,” Renie said bleakly. “That change Bill left on the bureau was American.” She gazed inquiringly at the driver. “Do you take AmEx?”
The driver scowled. “No.”
“Bribes?” Renie asked.
“St. Fergna,” Renie replied.
The driver sighed. “Pay me next time.” He started the bus.
The ride was only slightly less jarring than the one in Barry’s beater. Ten minutes later, the cousins got off at the village green. Children were flying kites and playing soccer. One family was cleaning up the remains of a picnic. An amorous young couple nuzzled each other on a wooden bench. The air felt soft as a faint breeze blew through the rowan and birch trees that sheltered the green.
“When do you figure the tide will be back out?” Judith asked.
“It’s going on five,” Renie said, looking at an iron post clock a few doors down the High Street. “Between six and seven, I think.”
“So we’ve got an hour to kill,” Judith noted. “I wonder if the pubs around here are open on Sunday.”
“They are,” Renie said. “For some weird reason I remember that they finally changed the law back in the seventies to keep up with England. The Scots figured it was time to move into the twentieth century, at least as far as drinking was concerned.”
“Then we should have a drink,” Judith said, starting across the street. “The Yew and Eye is only a couple of doors beyond the tea shop.”
“Ah. The site of Jimmy and Harry’s brawl. I should’ve known.”
The weathered sign hanging outside showed a faded tree and a chipped eyeball. Inside, the pub was busy. Judith and Renie managed to find a tiny table near the restrooms—or water closets, as the cousins knew they were known in the UK. It wasn’t the decor that lured customers to the Yew and Eye, Judith realized, since the interior was singularly lacking in any attempt at charm. A string of Christmas lights with several burned-out bulbs hung across the back of the bar. Kewpie dolls wearing kilts lined a plate rail on one side of the room. Black-and-white photos of mud-spattered rugby players were displayed on the other. The windows facing the street were in need of washing, and somebody had left a crimson lipstick kiss on one of the small panes. Judith decided the attraction had to be the beer.
“I don’t recognize anybody,” Judith said, disappointed.
“Gee—and you’ve been here almost two whole days. Tsk, tsk.”
“Don’t be mean,” Judith retorted. “You know I love meeting new people. That’s one of the reasons I opened a B&B.”
Renie sighed. “I know. You’re the kind who’s never met a stranger.” She swiveled in her chair to look at the list of beers posted in chalk by the bar. “Not being a beer drinker, I’m doing what I do at the racetrack—picking by name. I can’t resist a brew called Old Engine Oil.”
“They have mead,” Judith noted. “I’ve always wanted to try it.”
The barmaid appeared, a far cry from the clichéd buxom, rosy-cheeked vessel of good cheer. She was as old as the cousins, scrawny and scraggly, with a lean build and graying hair that hung in listless strands. Her voice was gruff, her words were terse, her name tag identified her as Betsy.
“Drat,” Judith said after Betsy had glumly taken their order. “How can I chat her up about the face-off between Jimmy and Harry?”
“Try some of the regulars,” Renie suggested. “Play darts.” She gestured at the board on the other side of the crowded room. “I’d do it, but my bad shoulder benched me years ago.”
Judith shook her head. “With my luck, I’d hit Betsy.” She surveyed the other drinkers. They were of all ages, from very young to very old. At least two tables served what looked like three generations of drinkers, from a fresh-faced girl to a gnarled old man propped up by pillows in his straight-backed chair. Apparently the Yew and Eye was a family gathering spot. “This is a waste of time. Our next move is for you to apologize to Mrs. Gunn.”
“Whoa!” Renie held up her hands in protest. “No way.”
“Mrs. Gunn must know all the dirt about everybody,” Judith pointed out. “If we don’t offer a truce, we’ll never get to talk to her.” She paused while Betsy wordlessly delivered their drinks. “Maybe we could take her a gift as a peace offering. Seek her out where she’s most comfortable in the house she took from her late husband’s girlfriend.”
“For which we’d need a car to get to,” Renie pointed out.
“You said you were going to hire one.”
“I did?” Renie frowned. “That was when I was going nuts. I’m sane now. I suspect we’d have to rent a car in Inverness.” She sipped her Old Engine Oil. “Not bad. It tastes a little like coffee—or chocolate.”
“It’s very dark, almost black,” Judith remarked. “My mead is honey-flavored. It’s sweet. I like it.”
The cousins sat and sipped in silence. When Judith finally spoke, she looked apologetic. “I hate to mention this, but we should call our mothers. It’s nine o’clock at home. They should both be up.”
“Can’t we wait until we’re back at the castle? It’s noisy in here.”
“Okay.” Judith caught Betsy’s eye. “I can’t resist. I’ve got to try.”
“Oh boy,” Renie muttered, “I can’t wait to hear the whopper you’re going to give her.”
“It’s good,” Judith insisted. “Hello, Betsy. Can I trust you?”
The barmaid looked puzzled. “What?”
“We’re from the States,” Judith said, and feigned an embarrassed laugh. “You probably gathered that.”
Betsy was impassive. “Nae.”
“I’m here to look for my lost nephew.” Judith looked forlorn. “We heard he’d been seen in St. Fergna.”
There was no comment from Betsy.
“His name’s Jim. Jimmy, we call him.” Judith’s lower lip trembled. Renie stared off into the distance, apparently admiring the kilted Kewpie dolls. “He’s always had a drinking problem,” Judith went on. “He’s tall, in his thirties, dark, and often picking a fight.”
Betsy’s lean face showed only mild curiosity. “He’s a Yank?”
The barmaid shook her head. The strands of hair swayed listlessly. “No Yanks here since Christmas.”
“Oh. You see,” Judith said, sounding very confidential, “I heard there was a brawl here in the last few days and that a man named Jimmy was involved. I thought…you know, it might be my nephew. We’d like very much to find him and put him back in the Home.”
Betsy’s plain features finally showed animation. “He’s crazy?”
“We don’t call it that,” Judith replied. “Our family describes him as communally challenged. ‘Maniac’ and ‘outcast’ are such cruel words, don’t you agree?”
Betsy nodded. “Aye, cruel.”
“So you’re certain this Jimmy wasn’t my nephew?” Judith asked as Renie seemed to slip lower and lower in her chair.
“Aye,” Betsy replied. “I know this one—Jimmy Blackwell. Not a brawler by nature, but an attorney.” She lowered her voice. “He got into it with the lad who was killed yesterday, Harry Gibbs.”
“Really?” Judith evinced surprise. “What did they fight about?”
Betsy said shrugged. “I canna say.”
“Blackwell Petroleum?” Judith suggested.
Betsy stared hard at Judith. “Say, aren’t ye the ladies staying at the castle?”
“Yes,” Judith said, keeping her composure. “That’s why we came here. To look for Jim. Jimmy, I mean. My Jimmy.”
Betsy stood up straight. “Well, ye willna find him here. And it’ll do ye no good to ask about our Jimmy and poor Harry. I dinna tell tales about our own. Do ye want another pint or no?”
“Um…no, thank you.”
Sharp chin jutting, Betsy stalked away.
“Some sleuth,” Renie murmured, sitting up in her chair. “Even I wouldn’t believe your nephew story. You know how news of strangers travels in a small town. And even faster in a village like St. Fergna.”
Judith was studying the customers. “Ordinary folk. But close-knit. Clannish, in the true sense of the word. In the face of tragedy, do they all clam up and feel as if the rest of the world’s against them?”
“Probably,” Renie said. “It’s bred in their bones. In centuries past, they’d all hole up in the castle and wait out the siege.”
“That makes it hard to learn the truth,” Judith said. “Let’s go.”
“I haven’t finished my Old Engine Oil,” Renie protested. “Do they take credit cards or do we end up working off the tab as barmaids?”
“I saw logos on the door for Visa and MasterCard,” Judith said.
Renie took a final gulp of her beer. “What’s the rush? The tide won’t be out for another half hour.”
“Patrick Cameron just went by,” Judith said. “At least it looked like him. It’s hard to tell through those dirty windows.”
“So we’re going to chase him down the High Street?”
Judith was already halfway to the door. “Pay the bill with your AmEx card. I’ll see where he’s going.”
It was almost dark outside, though the old-fashioned wrought-iron streetlights were on. Judith saw Patrick disappear around the corner by the road that paralleled the shore. “What took so long?” she demanded when Renie came out of the pub.
“I couldn’t figure out the bill,” Renie replied. “Where’s Patrick?”
“Out of sight,” Judith said. “Let’s see if we can spot where he went.”
“This is absurd,” Renie declared, “like a bad spy movie.”
The road ended at a frame building that overlooked the beach. In between and just off the High Street was a whitewashed cottage behind a laurel hedge. The lights were on and smoke drifted from the chimney.
“Patrick must have gone in there,” Judith said in a low voice. “That other building is dark. It doesn’t look like a house anyway.”
“Gosh,” Renie mocked, “do you suppose Patrick might live there?”
Judith ignored her. “Can you read that sign over the porch?”
Renie moved closer to the hedge. “This isn’t nearly as ferocious as the Rankerses’s man-eating shrubbery. I still have all my appendages.”
“Never mind the smart remarks. What does the sign say?”
“It says ‘The Hermitage.’ People here like to name their houses.”
“Why would he live here? Somebody said he had a rich wife.”
Renie shrugged. “I don’t recall hearing that.”
“No,” Judith said thoughtfully. “I overheard Mrs. Gunn and Philip talking about Patrick. His wife’s name is Jeannie, and she comes from money. This is a small house, great view, convenient, but not what I’d consider the kind of place a wealthy young woman would want to live.”
“Can we go now?” Renie walked toward the track to the beach. “The wind’s come up and the mist’s starting to roll in.”
“You’re not cold,” Judith asserted, reluctantly following her cousin. “You never get cold. You’re just annoyed.”
“Yes, I am. This is silly. We’ve had a very long day. I’d like to—”
Judith grabbed Renie’s arm. “Footsteps,” she whispered. “Someone’s coming. Pretend we’re looking out to sea.”
A man turned the corner from the High Street. Judith tried to see who it was without turning around to stare. “Will Fleming,” she said softly, and glimpsed him turning in to the cottage.
“Poker night,” Renie said. “Maybe Patrick calls it The Hermitage because it’s where he goes when he wants time to himself. Or a night out with the boys. So what?”
“They both work for Blackwell,” Judith said. “They’ll be seeing each other at the office tomorrow in Inverness. Why now?”
“I told you, some perfectly innocent activity,” Renie persisted. “If these men are business colleagues, why shouldn’t they socialize?”
“I realize that…” Judith stopped. “Two more.” She strolled away from Renie, ostensibly watching the mist roll in off of the sea. But out of the corner of her eye she spotted the stocky figure of Jocko Morton and the taller form of Seumas Bell.
“They’re not parking by the cottage,” Judith pointed out after the two men had gone inside. “They don’t want their cars to be seen. I’ll grant that Patrick and Will and Seumas might hang out together after work, but Jocko Morton? The waitress at Cummings House told us he was Blackwell’s CEO. You know how those people keep themselves to themselves in the corner office.”
“True,” Renie allowed. “They have their own drawbridge and moat to keep out the riffraff underlings.”
“I’m trying to remember how many people we’ve met or heard about who work for Blackwell,” Judith said. “I realize there must be a ton of employees, but the ones at this cottage are top-echelon guys.”
“No Jimmy,” Renie pointed out. “Or Moira, for that matter.”
The cousins strolled back and forth on the cliffside path, keeping an eye on The Hermitage and occasionally looking through the vapors to see how far out the tide had gone. After ten minutes had passed, no more visitors had arrived at the cottage.
“I wonder,” Judith mused, “if we could hear them from the garden.”
“No!” Renie cried. “Don’t make me crawl through that hedge!”
“We don’t have to crawl,” Judith insisted. “The others opened the gate and went down the walk to the front door. The chimney is on this side of the house, toward the sea. The curtains or drapes on each side of the fireplace are closed. That’s probably the room where they’re meeting. If we got up next to the house, we might be able to hear them.”
“Be my guest,” Renie said. “I’m staying right here and watching the tide go out. If you get caught, I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“Fine.” Judith headed for The Hermitage. The mist swirled around her and the smell of the sea tingled in her nostrils. The village seemed very quiet, except for an occasional voice or car in the High Street.
The gate was a simple latch. Judith walked along the path that led through a fallow garden that looked as if it hadn’t been properly tended for at least a couple of years. The cottage itself was well kept, however, and a bird’s nest rested under the front eaves.
Judith moved carefully along the north side of the house, keeping low and trying not to step on anything that might create a noise—or cause a fall. Crouching under the nearest window, she listened intently.
She heard masculine voices but couldn’t identify the speakers. Nor could she make sense of what they were saying. Only a few words were distinguishable—“Blackwell,” “reserves,” “OPEC”—and “Harry.” Another ten minutes passed. Judith still could only catch an occasional word or phrase: “global market”; “Shetland and Orkney”; “outsourcing”; and “devastating disappointment.”
She was getting nowhere—except stiff in the joints. Cautiously, she started to stand, but felt a hand on her back. It was all she could do to stifle a scream. The hand pressed harder. Judith suddenly felt faint.
“Are you stuck?” Renie asked in a whisper. “Dislocated?”
Judith sighed in relief as the faintness evaporated. “Damn you,” she said softly. “You terrified me.”
“You have to see something odd.” Renie was still whispering as she helped Judith straighten up. “Come on. It’s the castle.”
The cousins crept out of the garden and back onto the path by the road. “Watch,” Renie said, pointing to the castle. “You have to wait until the mist rolls away.”
“Watch what?” Judith asked.
Judith and Renie waited for three, maybe four minutes. “I can barely make out the castle’s outline,” Judith complained.
At last the mist floated to the east, revealing Grimloch’s bulk on top of the steep cliff.
“Do you see the light on your far right?” Renie inquired.
“It’s in our room.”
Judith frowned. “Are you sure? Or did you leave it on?”
“This morning in broad daylight? You know I hate bright lights when I wake up. I’m a mole person. Think about the castle layout. That light’s coming from the second floor, near the stairway in the guest wing. Bill and I overlook the village and the beach. It’s got to be our room.”
“Maybe Mrs. Gibbs is cleaning it,” Judith suggested.
“At six o’clock on the Sabbath?” Renie shook her head.
Judith stared at the amber glow in the lighted window. Before she could say anything else, the light went out.
Mrs. Gibbs looked as if she’d aged ten years in eight hours. She was not only still pale, but her body seemed to have withered. Her hands shook and her lips trembled as she met the cousins at the castle door.
“How are you feeling?” Judith asked with concern.
Mrs. Gibbs didn’t answer immediately. She stepped aside, a hand clutching at the fabric of her gray dress. “How should I feel?” she finally responded. “Sad, helpless, angry. Who did this horrid thing?”
“The police will find out,” Judith asserted. “I’m sure they’re very capable. Have they contacted you today?”
Mrs. Gibbs shook her head. “The inquest is Tuesday. Moira called to tell us. Imagine, being too sick to come to Mass here in the chapel to pray for the poor laddie’s soul! She’s young, she should carry on, she’s not bowed down with age like some of us. Where’s her spunk?”
Judith didn’t dare look at Renie. Moira had seemed to have plenty of spunk when they’d seen her at Hollywood. “We heard she’d taken to her bed,” Judith remarked.
“Aye, Moira’s a great one for that when there’s trouble.” Mrs. Gibbs’s voice was uneven. “An excuse, that’s all.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “God help us, life must go on. Will ye want supper?”
Judith glanced at Renie. “I don’t know. We ate a late lunch.”
“So we’ll eat a late supper,” Renie said, adding hastily, “if it’s not too much trouble, Mrs. Gibbs.”
“In truth, work keeps my mind off my troubles,” Mrs. Gibbs replied. “Nine o’clock in the dining room?”
“We’ll come get it,” Judith volunteered. “We can eat in our rooms.”
“Say,” Renie put in, “was anyone in my room in the last hour?”
Mrs. Gibbs scowled at Renie. “No. Why do ye ask?”
“We thought we saw a light on in there just before we returned to the castle,” Renie explained.
“Oh.” Mrs. Gibbs hesitated. “’Twas probably a trick of the eyes. Oftentimes the lights from the village reflect on the castle windows. Excuse me, I must tend to The Master and his wife.”
“A quick question,” Judith put in. “Can we hire a car?”
Mrs. Gibbs shook her head. “Only if the garage has one to rent out. You might ring them tomorrow.”
“Your own car won’t be back by then?” Judith inquired.
Their hostess shrugged. “You must ask Gibbs. I canna drive.”
The cousins proceeded upstairs where Renie wanted Judith to help her inspect the Joneses’ room. “We don’t have anything worth stealing,” Renie said. “I suspect it might have been Chuckie wandering around. Unless his father grounded him after the debacle in the courtyard.”
There was no sign of anything missing or out of order, however. Judith sat on the bed, perusing a list of services and goods in the area.
“I’d forgotten what Barry told us,” she remarked. “The local garage is owned by Archibald Morton, Jocko’s brother.”
Renie sank into an armchair. “No luck eavesdropping at The Hermitage?”
“I’m afraid not,” Judith admitted. “Except for hearing Harry’s name mentioned, it sounded like business.”
“You’re working in the dark,” Renie said, and yawned. “By the way, if you want to talk to Mrs. Gunn, tell her I’m subject to fits of violence.”
“You are,” Judith said.
“Only when provoked.”
Judith slid off of the bed and went to the door. “I thought I heard someone out in the passageway.” She peered out into the empty corridor. “Nothing. I could’ve sworn I heard a noise.”
“I didn’t hear it,” Renie said with a shrug.
“I’d like to explore the rest of the castle,” Judith declared. “Of course I wouldn’t want to disturb Philip and Beth.”
“Beth seems okay,” Renie said. “Maybe she’ll give you a tour.”
Judith looked at her watch. “It’s going on seven. I’m going down to the drawing room for a drink.”
“You already had a drink at the pub.”
“I never finished it.”
“Too bad. I paid for it.”
“Are you coming with me?”
“I’ll see you in a bit.” Judith went out into the passageway and closed the door behind her.
The drawing room was dark. Judith found the switch and turned on the lights. It wasn’t yet seven. The Fordyces still might show up for drinks, though it was possible that, owning a distillery, Philip would keep his favorite Scotch in his suite.
After passing the time by studying the furnishings and other decor, Judith poured herself a small Scotch-rocks. If nothing else, it’d be a conversation starter if and when the Fordyces appeared.
At seven-fifteen, she heard voices in the corridor. Female voices, she realized. A moment later, Beth Fordyce and Marie Fleming entered the drawing room.
“Mrs. Flynn,” Beth said with a smile, “did you meet Marie?”
“Yes,” Judith said, putting out her hand to Will’s voluptuous wife. “We spoke while Chuckie was misbehaving.”
Beth shook her head. “I feel so sorry for Chuckie. He’s epileptic.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Judith said. “But I assume he receives excellent medical treatment.”
“When he wants it,” Beth replied, making drinks for herself and Marie. “He’s also had a growth problem, a lack of certain hormones. You’d never guess it, but he’s almost twenty-three. Naturally, he’s bitter, and blames his father for everything.”
“What about his mother?” Judith held up a hand. “I’m sorry, I’m prying. But I assume his mother was Philip’s first wife.”
Beth nodded. “Yes, Bella. She died. So did his second wife. Philip has had bad luck with wives.”
“Until now,” Marie put in, accepting her glass from Beth. “My Will’s first wife passed away, too. The early demise of spouses around here is positively frightening.”
“Phil’s second wife wasn’t really that young,” Beth pointed out. “She was older than Phil, and died of cancer. Phil and I hope that the third time’s a charm for him. Maybe it’ll be the same way for Moira.”
“I doubt it,” Marie said with bite. “Moira’s in love with love. She’s shown terrible judgment when it comes to men. If they’re good-looking and have a great body, she goes for them. Beth and I are smarter than that. We both married real men, not callow boys.”
Judith was reminded of Grandma Grover’s advice: “It’s better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave.” Marie and Beth might have agreed with her. “Didn’t you go to school together?” Judith asked.
“Ah yes,” Beth replied. “We three, we merry little band of lassies at a French boarding school. Moira fell for the headmaster, the gardener, and the man from animal control. She was always losing her dog.”
“On purpose, I think,” Marie said, and both young women laughed.
Judith smiled, thinking about the rich, pretty trio making mischief away from home. It was a world she’d never known, but imagined it as an enchanted life. And knew that it was no preparation for reality.
“I met Moira at the graveyard,” Judith said. “She was putting flowers on the grave of a young Italian man.”
The young women laughed again. “Davey Piazza was her personal assistant,” Beth replied. “She met him when he was playing in a rock band in Edinburgh, but the group broke up soon afterwards, and somehow he ended up in St. Fergna at loose ends. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to play the drums or race sports cars. Moira felt sorry for him—he had wrenching dark eyes—so she offered him a job.”
“And bought him a sports car,” Marie added. “He drove it over a cliff just beyond the village.”
“My goodness!” Judith exclaimed. “What’s the average age around here? About twenty-five?”
The remark had a sobering effect on both young women. “Well,” Beth began, “several people have died young. My brother Frankie was sickly from birth. My mum worried so about him. She’d waited so long to have children, and even consulted astrologers. She still does, in fact.”
“A fertility doctor would have been more to the point,” Judith said.
To her dismay, both young women again went into peals of laughter. “You Americans are always so practical,” Marie said after overcoming her latest giggle spasm. “Beth’s mum enjoys hocus-pocus. But she’s a wizard in the kitchen. You should taste her marmalade.”
“Maybe,” Beth said, “you have. She’s always giving it away.”
Judith remembered the jars of jams and condiments marked with the letter G. “Oh—yes, I thought the initial stood for Mrs. Gibbs.”
“No, for Mrs. Gunn,” Beth said, and looked at her diamond-studded watch. “It’s after seven-thirty. Want another, Marie?”
“Certainly,” Marie said.
“Mrs. Flynn?” Beth inquired.
“No, thank you. But your husband’s Scotch is wonderful.”
“Oh, he runs a fabulous distillery.” Beth poured refills from a cut-glass decanter. The Venetian chandelier over the bar created a sparkling effect on the glassware, the diamonds in Beth’s watch, the sheen of the satin trim on her tiered georgette halter dress, and even the luster of her fair skin. Judith felt as if she were watching a princess tend bar.
“What time do you expect Will to get here?” Beth asked Marie.
“For dinner,” Marie replied. “Poor man, he has to work on Sundays. It’s not fair.”
“You mean,” Judith said, “he has to go into the office? I understand that Blackwell’s headquarters is in Inverness.”
“It is,” Marie said, “but he’s working at home. He said he’d leave our house shortly before eight. I got here before the tide was all the way out. Poor Gibbs had to come fetch me in his funny little boat.”
Settled in with their second drinks, the young women began to talk of clothes. Judith had finished her own cocktail. She had no excuse to linger. Bidding Beth and Marie good evening, she left the drawing room.
Chuckie was in the corridor, rolling oranges on the stone floor.
“Hullo,” he said glumly. “Are you drunk?”
“Not in the least,” Judith replied, filled with compassion for the young man. “Where did you get the lovely oranges?”
“My father brought them from Spain,” Chuckie replied. “He says they’re good for me, but I never eat them.”
“Say, Chuckie, could you give me a quick tour of the castle?”
His face brightened. “Really? You want to see my secret places?”
“Sure. Where do we go first?”
“Outside,” Chuckie replied.
“Shouldn’t we collect your oranges?”
“No. Someone else will pick them up.” He paused, his small, bright eyes darting from orange to orange, a total of six scattered along the corridor’s cold stones. “My father’s very rich. Why doesn’t he hire more people here? Only old Gibbs and Gibbs until summer. I’d like a valet and a groom and…an orange picker-upper.” He smiled broadly.
“I thought you didn’t live here all the time,” Judith said.
“I don’t.” He turned slightly sullen. “Didn’t, I should say. But the last year or so, I’ve been kept here. I’m bored.” He stared at the oranges. “Oh, come on, let’s do the tour.” Chuckie scurried down the corridor and waited for Judith by the entrance.
“Hurry up!” Chuckie called. “You’re slow. You’d never escape the enemy marauders.”
“I’m kind of crippled,” Judith responded. “I have an artificial hip.”
“You do?” Chuckie frowned. “I thought you were normal.”
“Nobody’s normal,” Judith said. “The worst abnormalities,” she went on as she joined him by the door, “are inside.”
“But then nobody knows,” Chuckie argued.
“Oh yes they do,” Judith assured him. “They behave badly and cause trouble.”
Chuckie’s long face revealed intense concentration as he considered the statement. “You mean, like Harry?”
“Harry? Do you mean what happened to him or what he did?”
“Harry was mean,” Chuckie declared, leaning against the heavy door to open it. “He was nasty to me and unkind to Moira. He deserved getting blown up.”
“Nobody deserves to be killed,” Judith pointed out.
“Yes they do,” Chuckie insisted. “I’ll show you.”
He led the way into the courtyard. Judith felt the damp air on her cheek as soon as she moved outside. The only light came from a half dozen electric lanterns that hung from stanchions along the stone walls.
Chuckie pointed to their left. “See there, by the corner?”
Judith peered into the darkness at a wall fountain where water spewed from the mouth of a stone face resembling Neptune. “Yes?”
“That’s where the well was in the old days,” Chuckie said. “Sometimes bad people were thrown in to drown. Served them right.”
Judith refrained from making a comment.
“The guest rooms are where the barracks used to be,” Chuckie went on, strolling ahead and kicking at an occasional pebble. “There was a postern gatehouse in the old days when the castle was still connected to the land. It led to the barracks, where you’re staying now. Have you heard the horses stomping in their stalls at night?”
“Not yet,” Judith replied. She was tempted to say that she had, in fact, heard a voice saying “Open the gate” and “Open the window.” But she decided not to play into what appeared to be Chuckie’s fantasy.
“You saw the chapel,” Chuckie said. “Did my father make you go?”
“Of course not,” Judith replied. “I always attend Sunday Mass.”
“You do? Why?”
“I want to receive the sacraments,” Judith replied. “They give me the grace to try to lead a good life.”
“That’s bosh,” Chuckie declared. “I wager my father told you that.”
“I’ve been going to Mass since I was a child,” Judith said. “I didn’t meet your father until yesterday.”
Chuckie pointed to the second story of the castle’s west wing. “He and bonnie Beth live there, in the apartments for important people.”
“Where do you live?” Judith inquired.
“Wherever I want,” Chuckie replied. He gestured at the central part of the castle. “That was the great hall. It still is, in a way. It’s used for meetings. The kitchen adjoins it.”
“What kind of meetings?”
“Any kind. Sometimes my father holds them there. Sometimes strangers rent them. They go there and plot terrible things. Last month the Rotary Club came to conspire.”
“The Rotary Club?” Judith echoed, wondering if she’d misheard.
Chuckie nodded. “They came from Inverness for the weekend. The world is full of evil.”
“The Rotary Club does good things,” Judith pointed out.
“That’s bosh, too.” Chuckie nudged Judith’s arm. “Look up to the top of the wall,” he urged in an excited voice. “See the twin towers?”
“Not very well,” Judith said. “They’re hidden by the mist.”
“Just as well. Along the entire wall on both sides, there were stone spikes where they used to put the heads of their enemies to frighten anybody else who meant them harm. A fine idea, don’t you think?”
“I think it’s gruesome,” Judith said. “And I’m getting cold. I thought you were going to show me the inside of the castle.”
Chuckie cocked his head to one side. “Oh. Then…if you insist.” He started for the area he’d indicated was the original great hall. “Can you see the smaller towers?”
“I’ve seen them before,” Judith said. “I can’t see much of anything now except for the courtyard and the walkway.”
“The floors were mainly wood,” Chuckie said. “They were covered with rushes in the beginning and later overlaid with carpets, but the wood rotted, so it was torn up in the guest section.” He stopped by a narrow door with iron hinges and removed a small keychain from the pocket of his khaki slacks. “Do you know why this is locked?”
“Not really,” Judith admitted. “I doubt that you have much trouble with burglars.”
“To keep the prisoners in, of course.” Chuckie laughed merrily. “This smaller tower holds the dungeon. And the torture chamber. That’s my favorite place. Come on.”
“Ah…” Judith didn’t budge. “Can we skip that part? I’m not really interested in barbarity.”
Chuckie scowled and stamped his foot. “I thought you wanted to see my secret places.”
“Not if they’re…unpleasant. I should go back to meet my cousin. We haven’t yet had dinner, and frankly, you’re spoiling my appetite.”
Chuckie waved his fists. “I thought you liked me!”
Judith was slowly backing away, hoping she wouldn’t fall over some unseen obstacle. “I like you,” she insisted, though she wasn’t sure it was true. “But I don’t like tales of cruelty and suffering. I get upset.”
“Then you won’t know my secrets!” Chuckie asserted, his voice rising in pitch.
Fearing that he might have a seizure, Judith smiled. “Tomorrow my cousin and I will have a picnic with you if the weather’s nice. Would you like that?”
“No.” Chuckie’s voice dropped as he began to sulk. “I don’t like that other woman. She has an angry face. Yours is kind, like Beth’s and Moira’s. Go away. I’ll play with the rack in the dungeon.”
“Have fun,” Judith said, and turned toward the main walkway. “See you tomorrow.”
Judith heard Chuckie slam the tower door behind him. In spite of herself she shivered. Pity mingled with revulsion. Chuckie was a very strange young man in many ways.
She was almost to the guest entrance when she heard footsteps behind her. Had Chuckie changed his mind? Not wanting to turn around, Judith quickened her pace.
Whoever was following her also moved faster. She was almost to the door when she heard a voice:
“Allow me. That door is heavy.”
Judith finally turned around. She saw Will Fleming emerging from the mist with a faint smile on his long face.
“You must be one of the guests,” he said, removing his gloves. “I saw you at Mass this morning.” He opened the door and let Judith enter first. “I don’t think we met officially. I’m Will Fleming, the unworthy man who’s married to Marie.”
Judith put out her hand. “Yes. I was chatting with Marie and Beth a few minutes ago. They’re in the drawing room.”
Will was taking off his navy raincoat. A package the size of a toddler’s shoe box wrapped in brown paper fell to the floor with a clunking sound. “Sorry,” he murmured, picking up the parcel. “I was afraid I’d be late to dinner. It’s a nuisance to have to bring work home on the weekends—but there it is. A global economy never rests. Will you be joining us?”
“No,” Judith replied. “My cousin and I had a late lunch. We’ll dine later, probably in our rooms. It’s very good of Mrs. Gibbs to do the cooking despite her grief.”
“Indeed,” Will agreed, cradling the package. “They’re a wonderfully old-fashioned pair. Philip is fortunate to have them at Grimloch.”
“Apparently their son and his wife are quite different,” Judith remarked. “I haven’t heard if they’ve been notified of their son’s tragedy.”
“Hardly surprising,” Will said, taking off his mackintosh. “They prefer not to be found.”
Will’s chuckle seemed forced. “Let’s say they find it best to keep moving.” He nodded to Judith, and headed down the corridor.
When Judith returned to Renie’s room, she found her cousin reading a mystery novel.
“Research,” Renie said, putting the book aside. “I’m betting that the LAPD detective catches the killer before you do. Where’ve you been?”
Judith explained how she’d visited with Beth and Marie before running into Chuckie. “He’s very disturbed—and disturbing,” Judith said. “I wanted him to show me the castle, but he spent most of the time dwelling on the awful things that used to happen here.”
“‘Used to’? As opposed to happening since we got here?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do, and speaking of awful, we were going to call our mothers, remember? Your cell phone or mine?”
Judith shrugged. “We can each use our own. But remember, at home it’s almost noon. My mother will be about to have lunch.”
“Mine, too.” Renie got out her cell. “Let’s see if these things will work inside the castle. I have doubts after our first failure.”
Renie stayed on the bed; Judith took her phone to the window embrasure. This time there was static, but she heard the ring at the other end.
And more ringing. Gertrude refused to pick up the phone until the caller was ready to hang up—or pass out. Finally Judith heard her mother’s raspy voice, snarling an unwelcoming “Hello.”
“How are you?” Judith asked.
“Who is this?” Gertrude demanded. “Whatever you’re peddling, I don’t want any.”
“It’s me, Mother—Judith.”
“Speak up, young man. I’m deaf.”
“Mother! I’m on a trip, remember?” Judith was practically screaming. She saw Renie motioning for her to lower her voice.
“I can’t hear you, Mom,” Renie was saying. “Are you sick?”
“A drip in December?” Gertrude said. “The only drip I know of is my daughter’s dim-bulb husband. You want to talk to my daughter?”
“Did you call the doctor, Mom?” Renie asked as she rolled over onto her stomach. “What kind of pain?”
Judith tried to open the window to see if the reception would be better. But the panes were sealed shut. She moved toward the garderobe and slipped inside. “Can you hear me now?” she asked just as Renie said in alarm, “What ambulance?”
Judith shut the garderobe door. “I said—”
“Lunch is here,” Gertrude interrupted. “Mmm…tuna sandwiches with the crusts cut off, deviled eggs, strawberries from California, and oatmeal raisin cookies right out of the oven. You’re a doll, Arlene.”
Judith could barely hear her neighbor’s voice in the background asking who was on the phone.
“Nobody,” Gertrude said, and rang off.
Judith swore under her breath. It was pointless to call back. Her mother would be eating lunch, an inviolable occasion. At least the old lady sounded in fine fettle, which apparently was more than could be said for Aunt Deb. Judith exited the garderobe to find Renie tugging at her unmanageable chestnut hair.
“It’s probably gas,” Renie said in a testy voice. “Mom, you feel puny every time I go more than five miles from Heraldsgate Hill. It’s nerves. You’re trying to make me feel guilty. It won’t work.” She put her hand over the speaker part of the phone. “It does work, but I won’t let her know it,” she whispered to Judith, who’d come to sit on the bed. “No,” Renie told her mother, “I’m not taking you to the doctor tomorrow. Ask one of your friends. You’ve got dozens of them.”
Judith wondered what was worse—Gertrude’s ornery disposition or Aunt Deb’s martyrdom. She waited for Renie to finish listening to her mother’s complaints and queries. “Yes, the bed’s clean,” Renie replied wearily. “No bugs in the food. The white slavers went to Florida. My shoes are sturdy, my nose isn’t running, my coat is plenty warm. No contact with germs, I won’t eat food off the floor, I wash my hands after…I am grown-up. I stopped teething sixty-odd years ago…Why didn’t you say so? Tell Auntie Vance and Uncle Vince hello. I’m hanging up now.”
Looking drained, Renie clicked off the cell. “Auntie Vance and Uncle Vince came down from their place on the island and are taking Mom out to lunch. Then they’re going to see your mother. My poor ear!”
“I don’t even know if my mother knew it was me calling,” Judith complained. “She did her deaf bit, and I’m never sure if she really doesn’t hear or is just being contrary.”
Renie sat up. “Let’s eat in ten minutes, maybe have a drink first. That Old Engine Oil didn’t see me through the phone call.”
“Well…okay,” Judith said. “I imagine the Fordyces and the Flemings have moved on to the dining room. But…”
“What?” Renie said as she slipped into her shoes.
“I thought I’d call Mrs. Gunn about coming to see her tomorrow.”
“No apology!” Renie cried. “If you go, it’s on your own.”
Dialing for directory assistance, Judith shot Renie a look of reproach. “You have no remorse.”
Renie started shadowboxing.
Ignoring her cousin’s antics, Judith was again connected to Alison. “It’s me, Mrs. Flynn,” she said. “How long do you have to work?”
“I’m home,” Alison replied. “Nobody calls after I leave at five on the Sabbath. The rare request is trunked over to the phone in my bedroom.”
Renie continued punching at the air. “Remember the Alamo!” she cried. “Don’t Shoot Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes!” “Fifty-four Forty or Fight.” She frowned. “Or was it Forty-five Fifty?”
Walking to the window embrasure to get away from Renie’s distractions, Judith asked if Alison knew Mrs. Gunn’s phone number.
“Yes, she being such a good customer,” Alison said, and relayed the number to Judith. “Uh…is Mrs. Jones making amends?”
“Mrs. Jones doesn’t make amends,” Judith said with a stern look for Renie, who had removed a length of green and white twine from her luggage and was fashioning it into a garrote. “She’s unrepentant. But I’d like to apologize for her. I didn’t want to leave Mrs. Gunn with a bad impression of Americans. Most of us have good manners.”
“Oh,” Alison said, “I’m sure you do. I’m afraid Mrs. Gunn can be aggravating. And your cousin was in a hurry. Here’s the number.”
Judith thanked Alison before asking if Barry’s car had been towed.
“Aye,” Alison replied. “It’s gone to the shop. Barry’s on his way here now that he’s back on his bicycle.” She paused. “Well…almost here. He just fell off his cycle by the stoop. I must help him get up.”
Seeing that Renie was having some of her usual manual dexterity problems with the twine, Judith dialed Mrs. Gunn’s number. The voice that answered sounded like Kate Gunn.
“You may remember me from the drawing room at Grimloch last night,” Judith said after giving her name. “I’m calling to apologize for the altercation at the woolen shop with my cousin, Mrs. Jones.”
Renie had gotten the would-be garrote tangled on the bedstead and was uttering various obscenities.
“Can’t she speak for herself?” Mrs. Gunn demanded.
“Ah…she’s tied up right now.” Judith said as Renie stopped cursing and made a rude gesture. “May I drop by tomorrow to bring you a small gift to make up for your…inconvenience?”
There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Finally Mrs. Gunn posed an unexpected question: “When were you born?”
“You mean the date?”
“Year, date, time of day,” Mrs. Gunn said.
Judith rattled off the day and year, but confessed that she didn’t know the actual time. “I think it was in the morning.”
“It’s better to be exact,” Mrs. Gunn stated with a hint of reproach.
“I can’t,” Judith admitted, warily watching Renie, who had finally disentangled the twine. “Why do you ask?”
“So I can confer with my astrologer,” the other woman replied. “This information will have to do. I’ll ring you up tomorrow to let you know if and when I’m available.” She disconnected, leaving Judith with dead air and a puzzled expression.
Renie, who had been approaching Judith with a menacing look and the garrote in hand, stopped abruptly. “Now what?”
“Put that thing down,” Judith ordered, pointing to the twine. “Apparently,” she went on, as Renie backed off, “Mrs. Gunn has to confer with her astrologer to figure out if I’m worthy of an audience.”
“Why not? Like Bill, you enjoy the occasional nutcase.”
“Maybe her astrologer knows who killed Harry.”
Renie tossed the garrote in the direction of her luggage. “I leave that up to you. But I’m not apologizing. Now, let’s drink and eat.”
Judith looked worried. “This is all very strange. We don’t even know how Harry was murdered.”
Renie seemed about to dismiss the comments, but instead she put a hand on Judith’s arm. “Has it ever occurred to you that it might be better if you never found out? Safer, too.”
Judith took a deep breath. “I’m all for safety. But I’m against killers. Dead set against them, you might say.”
“That,” Renie responded, “is what I’m afraid of.”
To her surprise, Judith slept soundly that night. Despite being wound up in the homicide case, the long and taxing day had worn her out. She and Renie had brought their meal of lamb cutlets, green beans, and fingerling potatoes back to Judith’s room. It was after ten when they finished, and they agreed that an early night would serve them well.
Judith came down for breakfast at nine while Renie slept in, muttering that it was barely daylight and pulling the covers over her head. In the dining room, Judith found Philip Fordyce finishing breakfast and reading the Scotsman. He glanced up to wish Judith good morning and immediately turned his eyes back to the business section.
The sideboard contained ample offerings, indicating that Mrs. Gibbs was still trying to drown her sorrows in work. Judith selected rashers of bacon, coddled eggs, scones, and fruit compote.
Surreptitiously watching Philip between mouthfuls, Judith wished she’d brought something to read, too. It felt awkward to sit a mere six feet away from another human being and not converse. At home, after preparing the guests’ food, she and Joe read the newspaper while they ate and exchanged comments. It was a comfortable way to start the day, usually before the B&B visitors came downstairs.
Philip had finished his coffee—and, apparently, the business section. He folded the paper carefully and was about to rise when Beth appeared wearing a cream lace peignoir.
“Oh, Phil,” she began before noticing Judith. “Good morning, Mrs. Flynn. Sorry, but I’m in crisis.”
Judith offered the young woman a sympathetic expression. “Do you need privacy?”
“No,” Beth replied. “It’s nothing like that.” She sat down next to her husband. “Marie just called and she’s got flu. It’s going round. She can’t go with me to help Moira.”
Philip removed his rimless glasses. “Help Moira with what? The funeral plans for Harry?”
“Not just that,” Beth replied. “Moira collapsed. She frequently has some kind of breakdown. Marie felt we should help out. You know how Moira is when it comes to adversity. To be fair, she’s had more than her share. But without Marie, I’m not sure I can handle Moira on my own.”
Judith cleared her throat. “Would you like me to come with you?”
Beth stared. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly let you! You’re on holiday.”
“I don’t mind,” Judith insisted. “My cousin and I won’t do much sightseeing until our husbands get back from fishing. I’m glad to help.”
Beth glanced at Philip. “Well…what do you think, darling?”
Philip gazed at Judith for the first time since he’d greeted her upon her arrival in the dining room. “It’s a great deal to ask of a visitor.”
“Not at all,” Judith declared. “I’m an innkeeper by trade. I’m used to taking care of people. In fact, I miss it. The only thing is, I planned to see your mother today, Beth. I wanted to apologize for…an incident with my cousin in the village.”
Beth smiled. “Oh yes. I gather Mrs. Jones lost her temper with Mummy. A lot of people do. She’s used to getting her own way.”
“So’s my cousin,” Judith said.
“I can take you to call on Mummy,” Beth offered. “Thank you so much! I’ll meet you in half an hour in the courtyard.”
Judith went upstairs to deliver the news to Renie, who was still in bed. “Wake up!” Judith shouted. “It’s almost ten o’clock. We’re going to have adventures.”
Renie rolled away as far as she could while Judith jiggled the mattress. “We’re going to Hollywood!”
Renie’s head popped out from under the covers. Her hair went every which way and her expression was surly. “You’re going to Hollywood! I don’t give a rat’s ass!” She stuck her head under a pillow.
Annoyed, Judith left Renie’s room and went across the passageway to her own quarters. Maybe Renie wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. Maybe she’d get up, get dressed, and be able to grab some food from the dining room sideboard. Judith’s cousin could—apparently without the help of sorcery—make herself presentable in a very short time.
But twenty-five minutes later, there was no sign of Renie. Disappointed, Judith went downstairs and into the courtyard. It was a bright morning, with the sun peeking over the castle battlements. She strolled the path toward the inner gatehouse, keeping an eye out for Beth to come from the Fordyce wing. Five minutes passed, then ten. Gibbs appeared, keeping his head down and walking with a distinct shuffle.
“How are you, Mr. Gibbs?” Judith asked as he approached.
The old man merely shook his head.
Judith knew it would be awkward to pursue the query. “Are you taking us in the skiff?”
Gibbs nodded. Judith took a few steps toward the nearest flower bed. “The hyacinths are coming up. They have a lovely scent.”
Gibbs kept silent. Before Judith could say anything else, Beth came hurrying out of the door to the private apartments. “Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, hoisting her black hobo bag over her shoulder. “I’m a bit disorganized this morning.”
“Not to worry,” Judith assured Beth. “It’s pleasant here in the courtyard.”
Gibbs was already crossing the drawbridge and heading for the lift. Beth nodded at his stooped figure. “Very sad for him and Mrs. Gibbs.”
“It would help if Harry’s parents were here,” Judith said. “Surely they’d be some comfort, despite their own grief.”
Beth kept walking, her eyes straight ahead. “Perhaps.”
The descent in the lift and the short ride to the beach were made in silence. The section between the sea and the cliff that had been designated as the crime scene was still marked off. A lone constable stood guard, feet firmly planted in the sand, hands behind his back, and eyes staring straight ahead.
“Oh no!” Beth cried after she and Judith had gotten out of the skiff and were walking to the Fordyce sedan. “The vultures have flown in.”
Judith looked up to the cliff’s edge. A dozen or more people were congregated, at least two with camcorders and other TV devices.
“I was so hoping the press would keep away,” Beth said angrily. “Philip doesn’t need negative publicity. We’ll simply have to soldier on.”
She slipped behind the wheel while Judith sat in the luxurious passenger seat. After making sure that the windows and doors were secure, Beth set her face in an impassive expression and drove up the track. Members of the press immediately pounced, trying to stop the car and shouting questions. Undeterred, Beth kept going.
“Do they know who you are?” Judith asked as the Daimler purred along the High Street while a handful of reporters gave up the chase.
“Probably,” Beth replied, annoyed. “The villagers are gossips and some are open to bribery. I apologize for the inconvenience. This must be distressing for someone like you who must lead a very quiet life.”
“Uh…yes, certainly.” Judith stared out through the window to avoid looking at Beth. It wouldn’t do to admit that she was an old hand at dealing with the media, up to and including her televised life-and-death confrontation with a merciless killer. “I understand,” Judith said as they passed the village green and moved smoothly along the road to Hollywood, “Moira has a history of ill health.”
Beth shrugged. “Moira’s always been high-strung, even when we were children at boarding school in France. Some of her problems are probably due to stress, but the pains in her side and the fainting spells are no less real because they’re caused by emotion.”
“She must’ve gotten ill after I saw her yesterday,” Judith said. “Moira seemed in good spirits when Renie and I called on her.”
Beth darted a sidelong glance at Judith. “How kind of you.”
Judith ignored what she thought was a hint of irony. The sun cast filmy rays through greening foliage as they wound along the road. Judith changed the subject. “Was Chuckie born with his affliction?”
“You mean the epilepsy?” Beth saw Judith nod. “No. He had other problems, but he took a bad fall down a staircase in his early teens. A blow to the head can bring on epilepsy. Chuckie had the best doctors, but they couldn’t help him much. The damage was done.”
“Will he be able to take over the distillery when the time comes?”
Beth slowed to turn off the road. “Most epileptics lead quite normal and successful lives. But Chuckie…” She let the sentence fade as she rolled down the window and punched the intercom buzzer that opened the gates to Hollywood House. Judith could hear Fergus’s voice. Beth didn’t finish her assessment of Chuckie. “It’s a pity,” she said as the car glided to a stop, “that Moira and Harry didn’t patch things up sooner instead of waiting until Harry got sick.”
“I understand they weren’t married long,” Judith said.
“It was rocky from the start,” Beth said with a frown as Fergus opened the front door. “They hadn’t known each other very long,” she continued, ignoring the butler’s stiff stance on the porch. “You’re here to help me care for Moira, so you should understand the situation. It was a whirlwind courtship, and after they married, things started to fall apart. Harry wanted a big role with Blackwell Petroleum. Moira didn’t mind having him work for the company, but she didn’t feel he was ready to be in a decision-making position. Her brother Jimmy agreed with her—one of the few times that they agreed about anything.”
“Had Harry any experience in business?” Judith asked.
Beth’s expression was wry. “Harry had very little experience with work, let alone the business world. He grew angry with Moira and Jimmy for being kept in the background, and got it in his head that Moira was carrying on with her secretary, David Piazza.”
“Was she?” Judith asked.
“No, I really don’t think so. They were close, probably because Harry had gotten so nasty and Davey offered a sympathetic shoulder for Moira to cry on. When he had his fatal car accident, Moira almost miscarried. But the baby was born in November, and before Christmas she and Harry tried to smooth things out. Then he got flu about a month ago. Some of these viruses linger. Moira didn’t want him near the baby, so he moved to Grimloch. He was returning to Hollywood sometime this week, but instead he got killed. I’m sure Moira blames herself.”
Judith knew the blame game. She’d felt guilty for letting Dan McMonigle eat and drink his way into an early grave. “It’s natural.”
Fergus still hadn’t moved. Beth glanced up at the butler. “I suppose. He’s the second husband she’s had die, and both very young. I can understand why she feels that way. Come, we’d better go inside before Fergus atrophies.”
The butler greeted Beth with a formal bow. Judith swore she could hear his bones creak. “Madam,” he said in mournful tones, “is in her boudoir. Elise and Dr. Carmichael are with her.”
“Elise,” Beth informed Judith as they climbed the curving staircase, “is Moira’s French maid. She’s rigid, snoopy, and overly protective, but she’s definitely loyal.”
A short, stout older man was coming down the hall. “Dr. Carmichael,” Beth said in greeting. “How is Moira?”
“As usual, nerves,” the doctor replied. “I won’t overmedicate her.” His sharp gray eyes looked at Judith. “A family friend?” he inquired.
“Sorry,” Beth apologized, and introduced Judith. “Her husband’s gone fishing with the MacGowan.”
“I’m at loose ends,” Judith said, shaking the doctor’s strong hand. “I volunteered to help Beth with Moira.”
“Very kind.” Dr. Carmichael was completely bald and wore a plaid bow tie. “Don’t think me unsympathetic, Mrs. Flynn. My patient has had much grief in her young life. Both parents gone, widowed twice over, her secretary’s death—fate’s been cruel. But I also don’t want to tempt that fate.” He turned to Beth. “You understand.”
Beth looked pained. “Moira’s prone to extremes. She’d have been better off staying in France. She was so happy there. She loved everything French, and spoke the language like a native. She doesn’t enjoy living in rural Scotland.”
The doctor shook his head. “That couldn’t be helped after her mother passed. Nor would Frankie have lived any longer there than here. He was one of those poor souls born with a fatal flaw that wasn’t diagnosed properly, and even if it had been, twenty years ago, medical practitioners didn’t have the means to correct it. The fever he caught in Africa was the final blow to his weak constitution.” He sighed and removed his spectacles, wiping them on his sweater vest. “Born too soon, died too soon.” He made a little bow. “I must go.”
Beth watched him start down the stairs. “Quite a remarkable man. He had a fine practice in Inverness but gave it up after his wife died six years ago. He moved here where there weren’t so many memories. We’re fortunate to have him.” She led the way to Moira’s suite. “Dr. Carmichael still feels guilty for not saving Davey. The accident occurred a short way from the doctor’s cottage.”
“Had Davey been drinking?” Judith inquired.
“Yes, at the Dolphin, a pub about five kilometers west of St. Fergna,” Beth replied, her hand on the doorknob. “Not a lot, but that’s a treacherous part of the coast road at night, and of course there was mist. Patrick was lucky to survive.”
“Patrick was with Davey?” Judith said in surprise.
Beth grimaced. “That’s the oddest thing. I’ve never understood exactly what happened. Patrick was found near the wreckage, unconscious. He had several injuries, at least one that was quite severe. But he didn’t recall being with Davey. Phil and I wondered if Patrick had come upon the scene right after the crash and tried to rescue Davey. Patrick’s car wasn’t nearby, but his home isn’t far from where Davey went off the road. Patrick, you see, has a place in the village, and sometimes he’d walk the two or three kilometers from there to Hunter’s Lodge where he lives with his wife Jeannie.”
“So late at night and in October?” Judith asked, recalling the time of year Davey had died.
“Oh yes,” Beth said with a little laugh. “Patrick is the rugged outdoor type. Very virile, very tough, and yet…” She paused to find the proper word. “Very sophisticated. Well educated, too. Come. We can leave our coats and purses here. We must attend to the patient.”
Moira’s boudoir was part of a sunny suite facing west. The sitting room’s predominant colors were yellow, pale blue, and lavender, and furnished with handsome pieces that were both simple and elegant.
The boudoir, however, was in semidarkness with the yellow drapes closed tight. A pale and listless Moira lay with her head propped up by satin-covered pillows. Elise, who seemed to have taken posture lessons from Fergus, stood at attention by the foot of the big bed.
“It’s a lovely morning,” Beth said to Moira. “You should be sitting in the sunshine.”
“Oh, Beth,” Moira responded in a pettish voice, “I’m too weak. The pain in my side is almost as bad as being in labor. I couldn’t. The bright light would hurt my eyes.” She lifted her head slightly from the pillow. The silky cases and sheets were trimmed with delicate lace; the duvet was ecru damask with a rose design. The rest of the bedding was equally lavish, a far cry from the striped Hudson Bay blanket and clearance sale linens Judith had on her bed at home. “Who is that with you?” Moira asked. “Where’s Marie?”
“Mrs. Flynn, from Grimloch,” Beth replied. “You met her yesterday. Marie has flu.”
“Poor Marie,” Moira murmured. “Mrs. Flynn? Oh—yes, of course. You were here with your friend.”
“My cousin,” Judith clarified.
Elise regarded Judith with unconcealed animosity. “Strangers,” she murmured, “should keep away from sick rooms. Madam doesn’t need more visitors.”
“Now, Elise,” Beth said in a pleasant voice, “I invited Mrs. Flynn because Mrs. Fleming is ill. Make yourself some coffee. Take your time.”
Elise shot Beth a resentful look, but marched out of the boudoir.
“Honestly,” Beth said after the maid left, “Elise is too prickly.”
“You know I acquired her after my mother died,” Moira said. “She’s tenaciously faithful to our family.”
“I’m not here to quarrel,” Beth insisted. “What can we do for you?”
Moira sighed. “Nothing. I’d prefer to close my eyes and die.”
“Why?” Beth scowled at Moira. “Harry’s death isn’t your fault.”
Moira turned her head away but said nothing.
Judith tapped Beth’s arm. “Should I go into the other room?”
Beth shook her head and mouthed the word “drama.”
Judith spoke up. “I lost my husband when he was fairly young.”
Moira moved just enough to look at Judith. “Was he murdered?”
“No,” Judith said. “It was more like suicide. He purposely lived a destructive lifestyle. I have my share of guilt for what happened to him.”
“But nobody blew him up,” Moira said.
“He did blow up,” Judith asserted. “Medically speaking.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He weighed over four hundred pounds,” Judith explained. “He’d developed diabetes, he could barely walk, and his entire system went berserk. I felt it was partly my fault for enabling him. That very morning, I’d brought him a big bottle of grape juice before I went to work.”
Moira looked mildly interested. “But you didn’t drink it for him.”
“No.” Judith gazed curiously at the young woman. “You mean…?”
Moira looked at Judith and then turned to Beth. “That’s still not murder or suicide.” Her tone was bitter. “And,” she added, again focused on Judith, “you didn’t escape death along with your husband.”
Judith was puzzled. “No, of course not.”
Beth moved closer to Moira. “What do you mean?”
Moira’s fingers plucked fretfully at the lace on the sheet. “Harry asked me to meet him at the beach that afternoon. I thought about going, but changed my mind. I’d been invited to a wedding in Inverness. I couldn’t join Harry and get to the reception on time. If I’d gone…” She shuddered. “I might have been murdered, too.”
Moira!” Beth cried. “Why would anyone want to kill you? Or Harry, for that matter?”
“Don’t be naïve,” Moira retorted. “You know about the power struggle at Blackwell, especially now that Morton’s come back.” She looked again at Judith. “I’m sorry. You’re a stranger, so you have no idea what’s been happening. But it’s hardly a secret. We’ve had the media in the UK give us a great deal of negative coverage.”
Beth was nodding. “Will complains about how ugly it’s gotten. His own position is precarious. The press has hounded him mercilessly about the company’s financial status. He won’t discuss it, of course. After all, it’s a privately held company.”
Judith looked apologetic. “I’m ignorant of big business. I was a librarian before I started my B&B.”
Moira grimaced. “I wish I’d never inherited Blackwell.”
Beth sat down on a tufted satin-covered chair. “You don’t mean that. Neither you nor your mum wanted Jimmy in charge.”
Moira’s color began to rise. “We certainly didn’t want Morton. Why didn’t he stay in Greece? Why did he come back now?”
“That,” Beth said, “is a good question. When did he get here?”
Judith felt like an interloper. She edged toward a divan a few feet from the bed and sat down. It seemed that the two women had forgotten she was in the room.
Beth, however, appeared to have read Judith’s mind. “Oh, Mrs. Flynn, this must be so tiresome for you. Let’s get Moira up and take her out into the garden. We can have some tea or a cool drink.” She shot her friend a sharp look. “What have you eaten today?”
“Nothing,” Moira replied. “I couldn’t possibly keep anything down. I’m very queasy.”
“Nonsense!” Beth snapped. “You can eat toast. Or porridge. I’ll have Elise fetch you something. Come, you must get dressed.”
But Moira was adamant. “No. I’ll try to drink some tea.”
Beth looked disgusted. “Frankly, you…” She clamped her lips shut. “I’ll speak to Elise.”
Beth left the boudoir. Judith had been studying Moira. Except for her pale, porcelain-like skin and the dark shadows under her eyes, the newly made widow didn’t have the appearance of someone in misery. Certainly she’d been in good health and satisfactory spirits the previous day.
Judith dared to risk a question: “Are you taking medication?”
“A liquid digestive aid,” Moira answered. “Aspirin for headache.”
“No prescription drugs?”
“No.” Moira frowned. “Dr. Carmichael is strict about prescribing them. He’s very old-fashioned. He wouldn’t renew my tranquilizers.” She began plucking at the sheets again. “What’s taking Beth so long?”
“Maybe she couldn’t find Elise,” Judith suggested.
“Elise wouldn’t leave her post in the sitting room. I might need her at any moment.” Moira gave a start. “I hear voices. Who is it?”
Judith listened but couldn’t hear anything.
“They’re outside,” Moira said. “Look out the window. But don’t part the drapes and don’t open the casement.”
“I don’t have X-ray vision,” Judith said, getting up and crossing the room to the two tall windows. “You should’ve hired Superman.”
“Ohhh…” Moira wadded up the sheet in her fists. “Just see what’s happening. I can’t endure a disturbance.”
Judith peeked between the drapes. The boudoir opened onto a balcony overlooking the front of the house. She slipped through the door between the two windows. Directly below she saw a parked car that hadn’t been there earlier. A male and a female voice sounded as if they were arguing. A moment later, Jimmy moved into Judith’s line of sight.
“Just tell her I’ll be back when I’m able,” he said impatiently.
“She needs you,” the female voice called. “Don’t be so selfish!”
Judith saw Beth step out into the drive. Jimmy kept going, long strides taking him to the car that was parked behind the Daimler. Without looking back, he got in and started the engine. Beth ran up the stairs and disappeared under the overhang.
“Your brother is going away,” Judith said, closing the balcony door.
Moira sat up. “What do you mean?”
“Ask Beth.” Judith sat down again. “She tried to stop him.”
“Why was he here again?” Moira’s voice was shrill. “Why didn’t he come to see me? Where’s Beth?”
“Probably bringing your tea,” Judith said.
Moira sank back onto the pillows and covered her eyes with the back of her hand. “Go find her. Get Elise. I’m in pain.”
And I’m in a pickle, Judith thought. She wished Renie had come along. Her cousin would have some sharp words for Moira. It wasn’t in Judith’s nature to be rude, but her patience was wearing thin.
“I have an artificial hip,” Judith said calmly. “It’s not easy for me to go up and down stairs. Don’t you have an intercom or some way you can contact your servants?”
“It doesn’t always work properly,” Moira said in a sulky voice.
“Where is your pain?”
Moira grimaced and rubbed the right side of her abdomen. “Here. Why would anyone want to kill me?”
“Would it have something to do with your petroleum company?”
“People don’t kill people over business issues.” Moira bit her lower lip. “Or do they?”
“It’s been known to happen.”
“Maybe in the States,” Moira said. “Certainly not in Scotland.” She sat up again. “Where is Beth? Where is Elise?”
“I don’t know!” Judith snapped. “What can I do for you that doesn’t require searching all over this very large house?”
“Nothing.” Moira avoided Judith’s gaze. “Why did you come?”
“Beth asked me,” Judith replied. “She knew we’d met.”