Interrupted was as good a word as any, she decided.
She cleared her throat. “I followed Roberta Brinks’s student assistant, Julie Bromley, and her boyfriend, Travis, up to the third floor today.”
“Thought that floor was closed to the public,” Deke said.
“It is.” Leonora munched a cracker. “Nothing like labeling something forbidden to make it absolutely fascinating to a couple of nineteen-year-olds. Meredith must have found the staircase at some point also. It’s in the wall on the other side of the library office.”
Deke’s brows bunched together. “Think she went exploring out of sheer curiosity?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me. Certainly within character for her to do that kind of thing. If she found that staircase she would have climbed it just to see where it led. She wouldn’t have been able to resist. It’s quite possible that when she came back down she noticed the second door, just as I did.”
“And opened it?” Deke asked.
She recalled the bracelet sticking out from beneath the door and nodded. “I think so, yes. She didn’t work in the library so she might not have known that the card catalog had been shoved up against the wall on the other side. The bracelet must have snagged on something. A nail or a splinter, perhaps.”
“Bethany spent a lot of time in the library,” Deke said quietly.
She looked at him and then at Thomas. She thought about the possibilities that had occurred to her when she looked in the steamy mirror a few minutes ago.
“Did you take a good look around the library after Bethany’s death?”
Deke’s lips disappeared into a thin line. “No. I went through her office desk and her files with a fine-tooth comb and I took her laptop apart. I always figured that if Bethany had left any clues behind they would show up on her computer. But I didn’t search the library. Never saw any reason to do so.”
“It occurred to me,” Leonora said carefully, “that the reason Meredith lost her bracelet was because she saw something when she opened that servant’s door. Something that maybe had slipped off the top of the card catalog and gotten wedged between it and the wall.” She waggled her fingers. “I can see how, if she pushed her hand between the catalog and the wall to retrieve the object, the bracelet could have snagged and snapped. Maybe she didn’t even notice at the time.”
Deke sat unmoving, his hand locked around the beer bottle.
“Oh, shit,” he whispered. “The envelope? You think maybe she found that envelope stuffed with the Eubanks murder clippings behind the card catalog?”
“Maybe the book, too,” Leonora said. “The catalog of antique mirrors in the mansion’s collection. Maybe they were both there.”
There was a short silence while they all contemplated those simple facts. Leonora took a sip of wine. Deke and Thomas both drank some beer.
“The night Bethany died, everyone assumed she had been in her office on campus,” Deke said. “She often worked there until very late. Sometimes stayed there all night, working. But what if she was at Mirror House that evening?”
“The place would have been locked up at night,” Thomas reminded him.
Deke brushed that aside. “Bethany had a key. They gave her one because she liked to go to the library at odd hours.”
Thomas drew the bracelet toward him across the counter. “Okay, say she was there that night. Why would she have hidden the clippings and that book?”
Deke’s hand clenched around the bottle. “Because the killer had followed her. Maybe he cornered her in the library.”
There was another brief silence.
“This is all wild speculation,” Leonora said after a while.
“Not entirely.” Thomas looked at the bracelet. “Whatever else we can say, we know that Meredith opened that door behind the card catalog.”
“What made you decide to go exploring today?” Deke asked.
“I was playing detective,” Leonora said. “I’ve noticed that Julie and Travis have a habit of disappearing together at lunchtime. I followed them today. They’re using one of the empty rooms on the third floor as a, uh, trysting spot.”
Thomas cocked a brow. “Trysting?”
“I believe that would be the correct technical term for it, yes,” she murmured.
He whistled softly. “I do admire you academic types,” he said. “Must be nice to have such a wide-ranging command of the English language.”
She glared. “What would you call it if a couple of healthy young people disappeared at lunchtime for the purpose of having sex?”
“A nooner,” Thomas said.
Deke grinned fleetingly. “Gotta love the English language. Such nuance. Such subtlety.”
Leonora blinked, startled by the flash of humor. Deke’s amused smile brought home the family resemblance between him and Thomas as nothing else could have done. The grin was gone in the next moment but not before it gave her a whole new insight into the real Deke.
“Something else happened today,” she said. “I’m not sure what it means, but given that we are all trying to weave a conspiracy theory, it may be important. Then again, it might mean absolutely nothing.”
“What’s that?” Thomas asked.
“I have reason to think that one member of our trysting couple went through my satchel. Julie, to be precise.”
Thomas and Deke both looked at her.
“She was in the library office while I was in the stairwell on the other side of the wall. I could hear her opening drawers. When I went back into the office I checked my things. It was obvious she had gone through them.”
“She take any money?” Thomas asked. “Credit cards?”
Leonora shook her head. “Nothing was missing as far as I could tell. But it made me recall something she said to Travis when the two of them left their little hideaway upstairs.”
“What was that?” Deke asked.
“I think she told him that they had to hurry because there was something she had to do today if she got a chance.”
“Well, hell,” Thomas said softly. He took a sip of beer and put down the bottle. “Well, hell.”
She looked at him. “Now what?”
“This Julie Bromley. She have a ponytail? Wear a red leather jacket?”
“How did you know?” Leonora asked.
“Because I saw her this afternoon. Visiting Alex Rhodes. I told Wrench I didn’t think she was a client.”