Page 15 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Say for the sake of argument that she had uncovered some new information on that old case,” Thomas said. He steepled his fingers. “I’m sure she would have mentioned the facts to you, Deke.”

“Sure.” Deke scowled. “No logical reason why she wouldn’t have said something.”

Leonora looked at Deke. “I went through that catalog of the antique mirrors in the Mirror House collection but I didn’t see any notes. The only odd thing is someone circled one of the illustrations in blue ink. Whoever did it must have been very old or very young or drunk. The line is quite uneven.”

Deke opened the book. “What page?”

“Eighty-one.”

He flipped pages to a point near the end of the catalog and paused. He stared at the picture for a long time, as though trying to read runes.

“The ink hasn’t faded,” he finally said. “The catalog was put together some forty years ago, but this picture must have been circled at some point in the recent past.”

“Do you recognize the mirror?” Leonora asked.

She knew exactly what it looked like in the illustration. She had studied it a dozen times, trying to see whatever it was that might make it important.

The antique looking glass was an eight-sided, convex mirror, typical of a style that her research showed had been popular in the early 1800s. The frame was fashioned of heavy silver worked in a design that featured a variety of mythical creatures. Griffins, dragons and sphinxes cavorted around the edges of the dark reflective surface. A phoenix was perched on top, wings raised.

Deke shook his head. “No. But I never paid much attention to those old mirrors in the mansion. I’m not into antiques.”

“Neither was Bethany,” Thomas said. “I can’t see her marking one of those illustrations.”

“I suppose it’s possible that Meredith drew the circle around the picture,” Leonora said hesitantly. “But why?”

Thomas’s jaw hardened. “A lot of those old mirrors are very valuable. Maybe she planned to steal one or two on her way out the door.”

Leonora shot him a disgusted glare. “That’s ridiculous. Meredith wasn’t into the antiques market.” She paused and then exhaled slowly. “Besides, her attention was focused on that endowment fund money. She wasn’t the type to let herself be distracted.”

“I haven’t heard that any of the mirrors are missing,” Deke said absently.

“How would we know if Meredith or anyone else had ripped off a couple of looking glasses?” Thomas asked bluntly. “Every room and corridor in that old house is covered with antique mirrors. I doubt if anyone would notice if a half dozen disappeared. Especially if they were removed from some of the unused chambers upstairs on the third floor or the attic.”

“True.” Deke adjusted his glasses a little and slowly paged through the book. “We’d have to conduct a complete inventory to see if one of the mirrors has been stolen. That wouldn’t be easy.”

“It would also be a waste of time,” Thomas said. “It would take days, maybe weeks to organize and carry out a thorough inventory, always assuming we could talk the Alumni Council into it. And what would it prove if a couple of old mirrors did turn up missing? It’s been forty years since that catalog was put together. The theft could have occurred at any time since it was published.”

“Motive.” Deke yanked his glasses off his nose and jabbed at the book with his forefinger. “As you just pointed out, some of those mirrors are very valuable.”

“Take it easy,” Thomas said. “We’re talking about murder here. People don’t get killed over old looking glasses.”

“People get killed for all kinds of stupid reasons,” Deke growled.

Leonora waited a beat.

“Like drugs,” she said quietly.

Both men looked at her.

She spread her fingertips on the desk. “That’s one of the connections between Meredith and Bethany, remember? Rumors of drug use.”

“Bullshit,” Deke said. “Bethany would never have used crap.”

“Meredith didn’t use it, either. I’d swear to that.” She looked at Thomas and Deke in turn. “Do you have a source for those rumors you said circulated after Bethany and Meredith died?”

Thomas sank deeper into his chair. “Ed Stovall mentioned them. When I pinned him down about Bethany, demanding details, he said he’d heard the story from a kid he picked up for possession of pot. Stovall said the kid knew nothing solid. Just mentioned some gossip that was going around the local scene about a designer drug, a new hallucinogen that had appeared from time to time in the past couple of years.”

“Hallucinogen?” Leonora repeated.

“Something the drug crowd has labeled S and M, apparently,” Thomas said.

She frowned. “As in sadomasochism?”

“No. As in Smoke and Mirrors. Ed said that’s what the kid called it. There was no way to confirm the talk.”

“Because Bethany never used drugs,” Deke said fiercely.

“Take it easy, Deke,” Thomas said quietly. “No one’s arguing that point. Not even Stovall.”

“Ed Stovall is an idiot.”

“I don’t think so,” Thomas said. “He’s definitely anal-retentive, but that’s probably a good thing in a cop.”

“How, exactly,” Leonora asked, “did Bethany kill herself?”

“She jumped off a bluff on Cliff Drive,” Thomas said quietly.

Leonora studied her hands. “People have been known to think they can fly while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. A person might jump off a cliff or crash her car while under the influence.”

“But we’re all certain that neither Bethany or Meredith would have used heavy drugs, remember?” Thomas said. “And in this case, we’ve got the authorities on our side. They’re not saying the deaths were drug-related.”

Deke looked up from the catalog. “Doesn’t mean some bastard couldn’t have slipped some unique kind of poison into their food or a glass of orange juice. The routine tests done at the time of death wouldn’t catch something as new and exotic as this S and M stuff, anyhow. It takes a lot of expensive, time-consuming testing to pick up that kind of crap.”

“But why?” Thomas asked patiently. “Where’s the motive?”

They all looked at the book again.

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