Page 44 of Detective


"Is that essential?"


"Probably not. Though I think before this inquiry's over it will come out anyway."

There were several seconds of silence, then Felicia said, "It was two hundred and fifty thousand Dollars a year. Byron lived here for free as well, and all that exercise equipment he loved so much was paid for."

A quarter of a million Dollars annually, Ainslie reflected, and for doing nothing. The Davanal family, by not having to pay that anymore, would benefit from Byron MaddoxDavanal's death.

"If you're thinking what I think you are," Mrs. Maddox-Davanal said, "forget it!" Then, as Ainslie made no answer, she went on, "Look, I won't waste time or words for this family, that kind of money's petty cash." She paused. "The real point is that while I didn't love Byron, hadn't for a long time, I still liked having him around. You might even say I'll miss him."

The last observation was made thoughtfully, as if in confidence. Somehow, since their exchange began, her antagonism had evaporated; it was almost, Ainslie thought, as if having been defeated in a showdown, she had surrendered and become a friendly ally. He did not believe, though, everything Felicia Maddox-Davanal had told him particularly about discovering her husband's body. At the same time his instincts suggested she had not killed her husband, though she possibly knew or guessed who had. In any event, she was hiding something.

"I'm a bit confused," Ainslie said. "You've told me you still liked your husband despite your separate lives. Yet, just after discovering his death, his body even in the same room, you were more concerned about getting your TV crew in. It seems "

Davanal cut in. "All right, all right! I know what you're suggesting that I'm cold-blooded; well, maybe I am in part. But what's more important, I'm pragmatic." She stopped.

Ainslie told her, "I'm still listening."

"Well, I realized immediately that Byron was dead, and I had no idea who killed him. It was a fact; nothing I could do would change it. But what I could do was make sure that WBEQ my TV station, which I run personally broke the news ahead of every competitor, and that's what I did. I sent for one of my crews, then when they weren't allowed in, I got on the phone and gave our newsroom everything I knew. By now it's all over Florida, probably much wider, but we were first, which, in a competitive market, matters."

"With all your experience," Ainslie said, "you really did know that your TV people wouldn't be allowed in, didn't you?"

Davanal grimaced. "Oh sure. But I was . . . What's that macho phrase about pushing?"

"Pushing the envelope?"

"Yeah. Been doing it all my life. It's second nature."

"Nothing wrong with that, normally. Not a good idea, though, in a homicide investigation."

They faced each other, then she said, "You're an unusual kind of policeman. There's something about you, I'm not sure what, that makes you different . . . and makes me curious." The closing words were accompanied by her first smile and a hint of sensuality.

"If you don't mind," he responded matter-of-factly, "I still have more questions."

She sighed. "If you must, all right."

"At seven-thirty this morning the time yogi said you found your husband's body and during last night, who else was in this house?"

"Let me think." As she answered and they continued, more facts emerged.

Felicia's parents, Theodore and Eugenia Davanal, lived in the house but were currently in Italy. Theodore was, in effect, the reigning Davanal, though he delegated much responsibility to Felicia. A valet and lady's maid worked for Felicia's parents and lived in, but they, too, were in Italy. The oldest living Davanal was Wilhelm. Aged ninetyseven and the family patriarch, he had a suite of rooms high up in the house, where a manservant and his wife, a nurse, took care of him. "Grandfather is in this house now, and so are Mr. and Mrs. Vazquez," Felicia explained, "though we see very little of any of them."

According to Felicia, Wilhelm Davanal was senile, with moments of lucidity, "though they are becoming fewer."

The butler, Humphrey Holdsworth, lived in with his wife, who was a cook. Two gardeners and a chauffeur, all with families, lived in separate accommodations on the grounds outside.

All of those people, Ainslie knew, must be questioned about any activity they might have seen or heard the previous night.

"Coming back to the discovery of your husband's body," he said to Felicia. "I believe that when the police Officer Navarro arrived, you were in the study."

"Yes." She hesitated. "Well, after I first found Byron, I ran out and called nine-one-one from a phone in the hallway. Then . . . I can't really explain this . . . but I was drawn back. I suppose I was partly in shock. It was all so sudden and horrible."

"That's understandable." Ainslie was sympathetic. "My question is, during those two occasions when you were alone with your husband's body, did you touch anything, or change or move anything, anywhere in that room?"

"Absolutely not." Felicia shook her head. "I suppose my instincts were that I shouldn't. But I couldn't, simply couldn't, bear to go even close to Byron or that desk . . ." Her voice trailed off.

"Thank you," Ainslie said. "For now, I have no more questions." Felicia Maddox-Davanal stood as their session together ended, her composure once more regained.

"I regret we got off to a bad start," she said. "Perhaps we'll learn to like each other better as time goes by." Unexpectedly, she reached out and touched Ainslie's right hand lightly, letting the tips of her fingers linger for a second or two. Then she turned and a moment later was gone.

* * *

While still alone in the drawing room, Ainslie made two calls on his police radio. Then he returned to Byron Maddox-Davanal's exercise room and study, now bustling with activity. The ID crew had arrived and was working, and the ME, Sandra Sanchez, was closely studying the corpse. The assistant state attorney, Curzon Knowles, who had worked on the Elroy Doil serial killings, was observing, questioning, and making notes.

Outside it was raining, Ainslie saw, but Rodriguez assured him, "We got pictures of those prints in time, good plaster casts, too.'' Now photos were being taken of the muddy earth behind the curtain with the unfastened sash, after which the mud would be removed and a sample preserved. Elsewhere, fingerprints were being sought.

"Let's talk," Ainslie said. Taking Jorge aside, he described his interview with Felicia Maddox-Davanal, then dictated the names of all others to be questioned. "I've called in Pop Garcia," he told Jorge. "He'll work with you, help out with interviews and anything else you need. I'm leaving now."

"Already?" Jorge regarded him curiously.

"There's someone I want to see,'' Ainslie said. "A person who knows a lot about old families, including this one. Who maybe can advise me."

8

Her name was legendary. In her time she had been considered the most outstanding crime reporter in the country, her reputation far wider than her Florida readership and regular newsbeat of Miami. Her knowledge about events and people was encyclopedic not only people in crime, but in politics, business, and the social milieu, remembering that crime and those other groups often overlapped. She was now semi-retired, meaning that when she felt like it she wrote a book, which publishers eagerly printed and readers grabbed, though recently she had felt less like writing and more like sitting with her memories and dogs she owned three Pekingese named Able, Baker, and Charlie. Her intellect and memory, though, were sharp as ever.

Her name was Beth Embry, and while she kept her age a secret, even in Who's Who in America, she was believed to be well past seventy. She lived in the Oakmont Tower Apartments in Miami Beach, with an ocean view, and Malcolm Ainslie was one of her many friends. The second phone call Ainslie had made from the Davanal house was to Beth, asking if he could pay her a visit. Now she greeted him at her apartment doorway. "I know why you're here; I saw you on the morning news, arriving at the Davanals'. As usual, you were shafting a reporter."

He protested, "I never shafted you."

"That's because you were scared of me."

"Damn right," he told her. "Still am." They laughed, then he kissed her on the cheek while Able, Baker, and Charlie bounded and barked around them.

Although Beth Embry had never been conventionally beautiful, she had a bright vitality that was evident in every body movement and facial expression. She was tall and lean, still athletic despite her age, and invariably wore jeans and colorful cotton shirts today's was a yellow and white check.

The two of them had met ten years ago when, as a newspaper reporter, Beth began showing up early at the homicides Ainslie was investigating and asking for him personally. At first he was wary, then discovered he open got as much from her in background and ideas as he gave out in information. As time went by, a mutual trust grew, prompting Ainslie to direct a few "scoops" Beth's way, knowing she would conceal their source. Then, once in a while, Ainslie would go to Beth for information and advice, as he was doing now.

"Wait a second," she told him. Gathering the three barking Pekingese into her arms, she took them to a back room and closed the door.

Returning, Beth said, "I read that you went to Elroy Doil's execution. Were you making sure he got his just deserts?"

Ainslie shook his head. "Wasn't my choice. Doil wanted to talk to me."

She raised her eyebrows. "A pre-death confession? Do I smell a story?"

"Maybe someday. But not yet."

"I'm still writing occasionally. Do I get a promise?"

Ainslie considered, then said, "Okay, if I'm involved, I promise you'll be the first to know any outcome. But deep throat."

"Of course. Have I ever let you down?"

"No." Though, as always with Beth Embry, there were maneuvers and trade-offs.

The mention of Doil reminded him that by now Ruby Bowe would have begun her inquiry. Ainslie hoped he could quickly resolve this new case. Meanwhile he asked Beth, "Are we off the record now, about the Davanals?"

She answered, "Non-attributable, okay? Like I said, I'm not writing much the kids on the crime beat are pretty good but once in a while I get antsy, and I especially might about the Davanals."

"You know a lot about them? And okay, non-attrib.''

"The Davanals are part of our history. And Byron Maddox-Davanal, as they made him call himself, was a sad sack. Doesn't surprise me he's been killed; wouldn't have surprised me if he'd killed himself. Do you have a suspect?"

"Not yet. Superficially it looks like an outside job. Why was Byron a sad sack?"

"Because he found out the hard way that 'Man cloth not live by bread alone,' even when it's thickly buttered." Beth chuckled. "Any of that familiar to you?"

"Sure. Except you've a couple of different sources in there started out with Deuteronomy, then finished with Matthew and Luke."

"Hey, I'm impressed! That seminary put its brand on you for life. Any chance you'll flip again and be reborn?" Beth, a churchgoer, rarely failed to needle Ainslie about his past.

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