“Bristol wouldn’t go for an extended personal leave unless I could give him a very good reason,” Leonora said.
“I see. Well, that would have been a bit difficult to manage on such short notice, I suppose.”
“I didn’t think he’d buy the concept of me playing Sherlock Holmes, either.” Leonora helped herself to one of the rich, buttery cookies. “The good news is that he made it clear that I was welcome to reapply for my position when I’m finished with my personal affairs.”
“That was very generous of him.” Gloria sipped her tea. “You say Thomas Walker has agreed to help you?”
“He’s not exactly enthusiastic about the deal, but he went for it.”
Leonora paused, the shortbread halfway to her mouth. “Hmm, what?”
“From what you’ve told me about your Mr. Walker, I have the feeling that he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be blackmailed unless it suited his own agenda.”
“He’s not my Mr. Walker.” She crunched down very hard on the flaky cookie and chewed grimly. “He was Meredith’s Mr. Walker.”
“Only for a very short period of time from the sound of it.”
“None of Meredith’s men lasted long.”
“True. Nevertheless, the fact that he was willing to assist you with your cover story makes me wonder about his own motives.”
Leonora shrugged. “I told you, his brother, Deke, apparently has a lot of questions about his wife’s death last year. Thinks there’s some connection to Meredith’s accident. I have a hunch that Thomas sees my plan as an opportunity to get some answers for Deke.”
“In other words, since you insist on getting involved, Thomas Walker has decided to make use of you.”
“I think that about sums up the situation, yes.”
“Don’t go there, Grandma.”
“Do you know, dear, you get a certain gleam in your eye when you talk about your Mr. Walker.”
“For the last time, he’s not my Mr. Walker, and that look in my eye is extreme caution, not lust.”
“With you, dear, I’m afraid those two things go together. One of these days you’re going to have to take some chances. That’s how it works, unfortunately.”
“I took a chance, remember?”
“With Professor Delling? Nonsense. You didn’t take any real risks with him. You just sort of dabbled your toe in the water. You never really took the plunge.”
Leonora wrinkled her nose. “Even if I did happen to find Thomas Walker interesting, I can promise you that he definitely does not think very highly of me.”
“Opinions can change.”
“Something tells me that Thomas Walker doesn’t change his mind very often.”
She looked out the window at the gardens. The morning exercise class was just starting. Three rows of seniors clad in loose-fitting sweats faced a zesty-looking young woman in tight spandex. The instructor was blond. Just like Meredith.
“She had such a difficult life and now it’s over too soon,” Leonora said quietly. “Talk about being born under an unlucky star.”
“She was a thief and a con artist, dear. She made a lot of her own bad luck.”
“That’s one of the things I love about you, Grandma. You have a way of putting stuff into perspective.”
“Unfortunately, it’s a talent that only comes with age.”
Leonora sat next to Thomas in Deke Walker’s darkened living room and tried to conceal her dismay.
Thomas had told her that Deke was suffering from some kind of depression but she had not been prepared for the grooming issues. With his bushy beard, long, uncombed hair and rumpled clothes, Deke looked a little like a troll sitting there in the sickly glow of the computer.
There was a general air of gloom in the shadowy house. The fact that all of the blinds were pulled shut gave her the creeps.
Easy to see why local opinion held that Deke had gone off the deep end.
It was Wrench’s casual acceptance of the situation that reassured her the most. The dog lay sprawled on the floor, nose between his big paws, and radiated a complete lack of concern for his surroundings.
She glanced at Thomas, seated beside her. He appeared accustomed to the morbid atmosphere, she thought. But unlike Wrench, he was worried. Maybe with very good reason, she thought. Deke Walker did not look like a prime candidate for National Mental Health Month poster boy.
“I have a good feeling about you being here, Leonora,” Deke said earnestly. “It’s like you’re a catalyst or something. I’m hoping that you might be able to help us stir things up a bit. Get us looking at the problem from a fresh angle.”
“Show Deke the book and the clippings,” Thomas said.
“Right.” Leonora rummaged around in her satchel, found the book and the photocopies and put them on Deke’s desk. “Meredith made it clear in her note that she wanted you and Thomas to see these.”
Deke shoved his glasses higher on his nose and pulled the book and the clippings closer. He studied the envelope with Bethany’s name and address on it for a long moment.
“Bethany must have made these photocopies and put them in this envelope,” he said. “I don’t think anyone else would have had access to her stationery, let alone used it.”
“The question is why?” Thomas stretched out his legs and lounged deep in his chair. “She couldn’t have had any reason to be concerned about a murder that took place thirty years ago.”
“Maybe it aroused her professional curiosity,” Leonora said. “The victim was a mathematician, after all.”
“But hardly an eminent figure in the field.” Deke shook his shaggy head. “He was just a junior member of the faculty who probably got the job because he was Eubanks’s son and heir.”
Leonora frowned. “Heir? I hadn’t thought about the financial angle. Was there a lot of money involved? Did someone get rich after Sebastian Eubanks died?”
“Eubanks left no heirs,” Thomas said. “His money went to the college endowment. That’s a well-known bit of local history. I suppose it’s just barely conceivable that one of the upstanding trustees murdered him in order to hurry things along, but I think that’s a bit of a reach.”
“And even if that did happen, why would it have interested Bethany?” Deke asked softly. “All she cared about was her work. I can’t see her bothering to investigate the details of that old murder case, even if she had some suspicions.”