She felt her jaw drop. “You checked?”
“First thing after I found your name in Meredith’s email address book.”
“I told you, my brother is good with computers.”
“That kind of invasion of privacy is illegal. I could have you arrested.”
“No shit. I’ll have to remember that for future reference.”
She glared. “And you have the nerve to accuse me of criminal behavior.”
“I don’t believe this.” She felt dazed. “It’s beyond bizarre.”
He looked almost amused. “Be grateful. You’ve got the easy part. All you have to do is help me find the money.”
She watched him warily. “What’s the hard part? Getting it back into the endowment fund?”
“No. That will be simple. The hard part is going to be convincing my brother that Meredith Spooner wasn’t murdered.”
She felt the air leave her lungs in a rush. Stunned, she gazed at him, her mind a complete blank for about three full seconds.
“The police didn’t say anything about murder,” she finally got out.
“That’s because they didn’t find any evidence to indicate the crash was anything other than an accident,” he said. “Probably because there wasn’t any.”
She got the feeling he’d had this conversation a number of times in recent days.
“But your brother takes another view of the situation?” she asked.
“Deke is—” He broke off, apparently searching for the right word. “Some people think he’s a little obsessed with his theory that his wife, Bethany, was murdered a year ago. When he heard about Meredith’s accident he leaped to the conclusion that the killer had struck again.”
“Good grief. What do you think?”
Thomas was silent for a time. Wrench leaned heavily against his leg, as though offering support.
She thought that Thomas might brush off the question with all its horrifying implications. But to her amazement he just shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he said eventually.
“You don’t know? What is that supposed to mean? We’re talking about murder, here.”
“Look, all I can tell you is that a year ago when Bethany died, I didn’t think there was any question about what had happened. The official verdict was suicide. Unfortunately, it seemed to fit the circumstances and there was no evidence of violence.”
“Was there a note?”
“No. But that’s not as unusual as people think.”
“Suicide is always so difficult for those who knew the victim. No wonder your brother is looking for other answers. But what is it about Meredith’s death that makes him think there’s a connection?”
“Not much,” Thomas admitted. “Meredith didn’t arrive in Wing Cove until six months after Bethany died. The two never even met. But Deke is trying to see patterns where none exist. The only thing Meredith and Bethany had in common as far as I know was that each of them spent a lot of time at Mirror House.”
“What is Mirror House?”
“The headquarters of the Eubanks College Alumni Association.”
“That’s it? They worked in the same place? That’s the only connection you’ve got?”
He hesitated briefly. “The only solid one.”
“No offense to your brother, but that’s extremely weak.”
“I’m aware of that, Miss Hutton.” Thomas’s voice was grim. “Like I said, Deke has had a difficult time coming to terms with Bethany’s death. I’ve done my best to discourage his conspiracy theories. I thought I was making progress in the past few months. He seemed to be coming out of his depression, at least. But Meredith’s death has set him off again.”
She replayed his earlier comment in her head. “Wait a second. You said the fact that Bethany and Meredith worked in the same place was the only solid link between the two deaths. Are there other, less substantial connections?”
“Maybe,” he said slowly. “One possibility, at any rate.”
His obvious reluctance told her that he was not buying into his brother’s conspiracy theory completely, but that he felt obligated to give it some credence. A family loyalty thing, probably. She knew only too well how that worked.
“What?” she asked when he offered no further details.
“After the funeral, there were rumors.”
“Some local gossip that Bethany may have been experimenting with drugs at the time of the suicide,” he said reluctantly. “Deke and I agree that would have been completely out of character. She never did drugs so far as we know.”
“Were any drug tests run at the time of her death?”
“There were some routine things done, but there was no reason to go looking for anything exotic that would have required a lot of unique and expensive testing. Small-town law enforcement and medical examiner budgets don’t allow for extensive tests unless there’s a serious question about the cause of death. She had no history of drug use. Deke had questions about the suicide, but they didn’t revolve around drugs. And there’s no going back now. Bethany was cremated according to the stipulations in her will.”
“Meredith’s death was ruled an accident. There was no indication of drugs or alcohol involvement. How do the rumors about Bethany Walker link to her death?”
“After the news of the crash reached us in Wing Cove, there was some gossip that Meredith had been doing drugs while she lived there.”
“No,” Leonora said flatly.
He narrowed his eyes. “No? You’re sure of that?”
“Oh, yes. Very sure. Lord knows, Meredith had her faults, but doing drugs was not one of them. Her mother killed herself with them, you see.”
Thomas said nothing more. Just looked thoughtful. Wrench looked bored.
“Traffic accidents happen all the time.” She wondered if she was trying to convince him or herself. “And there’s no motive for murder.”
“I wouldn’t say that. One-point-five mil is a lot of money. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Meredith did have a partner. Someone who didn’t want to split the profits.”
She felt as if she was falling down the rabbit hole. This was getting worse and worse.
“For the last time, I wasn’t Meredith’s partner,” she said tightly. “I knew nothing about this scam you claim she was running at Eubanks College.”