Page 53 of Smoke in Mirrors

Deke shook his head. “Not that I can see.”

“You know, she was your wife, but I knew her, too,” Thomas said. “If you ask me, there’s only one reason why Bethany might have taken an interest in an old murder case. And that’s because it somehow impacted her own work in mathematics.”

Deke stiffened. “You make it sound like she didn’t care about people.”

Thomas shrugged. “I’m not sure she did. Not in the way you care about them. Oh, she liked to have people take care of her so that she could focus on her work, but she didn’t go out of her way to help anyone else. You know that, Deke.”

There was a short, strained silence. Leonora met Cassie’s anxious eyes. She knew they were both wondering if Deke would explode into a furious defense of his dead wife.

End of dinner party.

But to her amazement, Deke just scowled.

“She wasn’t cruel or mean or unkind,” he said, sounding stubborn but not angry.

“No.” Thomas leaned back in his chair and regarded his brother. “She wasn’t any of those things. She was simply self-absorbed. Most of the time she was off in her own world, doing her own thing. All she wanted was to be left alone with her work.”

“She was brilliant.” Deke took another swallow of beer. “A genius. Geniuses are different.”

He didn’t offer anything else in defense of his dead wife.

Cassie seized the bowl of soybeans. “Have some more?”

“Thanks,” Leonora said quickly. “I’d love another one.”

There was a small flurry of action as Cassie shoved the bowl in front of everyone, one by one. Deke and Thomas were both equally willing to be distracted. They helped themselves to more of the green pods.

Leonora released the breath she had been holding. “All right, it looks like the Eubanks connection is a dead end for now. We’ll have to concentrate on another angle.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Cassie said slowly.

They all turned to look at her as if she had just announced that she could fly.

“What do you mean?” Deke asked in surprise.

“If you really want to find out if there’s anything more to the Eubanks murder than what was in the papers,” Cassie said quietly. “I have a suggestion.”

“Go on,” Thomas said.

Cassie sat forward. “On Tuesdays I teach a yoga class for seniors at the Cove View Retirement Community. One of the members of that class, a woman named Margaret Lewis, used to be the chief secretary in the Department of Mathematics at Eubanks. She worked at the college for over forty years. She would have been there at the time Sebastian Eubanks was murdered.”

“Oh, my,” Leonora whispered. “The department secretary from thirty years ago is still alive?”

“And kicking,” Cassie added. “One of my best students.”

Deke stared at Cassie. “Holy shit. The department secretary.”

Thomas looked bemused. “I get the feeling I’m missing something here. So one of the math department secretaries is still around. So what?”

They all turned toward him.

“What’s wrong?” He looked down at the front of his shirt. “Did I drop a soybean pod or something?”

“Thomas,” Leonora said with exasperation, “we are talking about a department secretary. Don’t you understand? There is no one on a college staff who is more wired into what is going on behind the scenes. Only the good lord above would be a better source of gossip. And he’s not talking.”

“Leonora is right,” Deke said enthusiastically. “You’ve got to trust us on this one, Thomas.”

“If you say so.”

Cassie chuckled. “There are a lot of old jokes about the hierarchy of the academic world, Thomas. The general theme of all of them is that while the dean, department chair, professor, associate professor, assistant professor and instructor all have their place and a certain measure of authority, it’s really the department secretary who runs the show.”

“Okay, okay, I get the point.” Thomas contemplated them each in turn. “You think it might be worth talking to this Margaret Lewis, is that it?”

“Oh, yeah,” Deke said. “If there was anything unusual going on at the time of the Eubanks murder, the department secretary would have known about it.”

Leonora got up and went into the kitchen to check on the lasagna. “If this Margaret Lewis can’t recall anything more about the events surrounding the Eubanks murder than what was in the newspaper clippings, we can rest assured that there was nothing more going on at the time.”

Thomas concentrated on reassembling the bathroom faucet. Out of long habit he had arranged the various small components one by one on the counter in the order in which he had removed them. The theory was that all he had to do now to complete the leak repair was put the faucet back together in reverse order. It was a good theory and sometimes it actually worked. But plumbing was an art, not a science. It did not always respond to logic. In that, it had a lot in common with whatever was going on between Leonora and himself.

“I thought things went well,” Leonora said from the doorway behind him. “Deke and Cassie were getting along great by the end of the evening.”

He thought about how close together Deke and Cassie had been walking when they had gone down the steps to the footpath a short while earlier. They hadn’t been holding hands, but there had been a sense of intimacy that seemed new in their relationship.

“May have been the apple pie,” he said. He picked up a screwdriver. “Deke loves the stuff. Especially with ice cream. The lasagna was terrific, too, by the way.”

“Glad you enjoyed it.”

“Haven’t had homemade lasagna that good in years.” He jiggled the lever delicately a bit to reseat it. “Mostly I buy the frozen kind when I get a hankering for it.”

She folded her arms and propped one shoulder against the door jamb. “I have to tell you, I got a little worried there when you mentioned that Bethany wasn’t exactly the nurturing type. I wasn’t sure how Deke would react.”

“Neither was I,” he admitted. “But sometimes I get fed up listening to him talk about her as if she was a saint.”

“I also got the feeling that his rush to defend her memory tonight came more from habit than unresolved grief.”

“He’s changing. Moving forward, I think.” He went down on one knee, reached into the open cabinet and turned on the valves that controlled the water supply. “I just hope that he doesn’t slide backward again if we don’t get some final answers.”