Page 60 of Smoke in Mirrors

A large calendar hung on one wall. Thomas noticed that every square was filled in for the current month. He checked out a few of the entries. Bridge. Yoga. Bridge. Aqua Aerobics. Bridge. Current Affairs. Bridge. Dr. Appt. Bridge. Museum Tour. Bridge.

Margaret Lewis was a cheerful, self-possessed woman with dark-brown skin and a crown of tight, silver curls. She used a cane and looked trim and fit in a mauve polyester pantsuit that matched her décor.

Thomas glanced at a photo of a young black man standing on the steps of an imposing building. He was smiling at the camera.

“My son,” Margaret said proudly. “He’s on the faculty at the University of Washington.”

She lowered herself into a flower-print chair and nodded pleasantly at each of them as Cassie completed the introductions. When the formalities were concluded, she peered at Thomas with lively interest in her dark eyes.

“What happened to you?” she asked. “Get into a fight?”

“Accident on the footbridge,” he said. “Jogger ran me down.”

She made a tut-tutting sound. “Never understood the craze for running and jogging. Absolute nonsense. Hard on the knees. Knees wear out, you know.”

He nodded. “I’ve heard that.”

“Arthritis sets in fast. Eighty percent of the people down there in the pool doing water aerobics this morning have artificial knees. Why do you think I’m using this cane? Just had my second knee replacement.”

“I hear you,” Thomas said.

She rewarded him with another smile. “So nice when a young man has the sense to take sound advice.”

So nice to be called a young man, Thomas thought.

Margaret Lewis switched her attention to Deke. “Oh, dear, are members of the faculty wearing beards at Eubanks these days?”

Cassie hid a quick grin.

Deke flushed a dull red. “I’m on sabbatical.”

“I see. Well, take some advice from an old department secretary. If you want to get anywhere at Eubanks, you’d better shave off that beard. They’re a conservative lot there. At least they were in my day.”

“I’ll think about it,” Deke muttered.

“Doesn’t do anything for you, anyway,” Margaret said. “Makes you look years older than you are. Have some cookies.”

Thomas needed no urging. Neither did Deke. They both reached for cookies. Margaret looked pleased.

Cassie contented herself with coffee. So did Leonora but Thomas noticed that she took only a couple of polite sips from the delicate china cup that sat on the table in front of her chair.

Cassie cleared her throat. “It was very kind of you to agree to talk to us about the Eubanks murder, Margaret. As I told you on the phone, we’re interested in it because two people we know who died recently seemed to have been interested in it.”

“We’re starting to wonder if there’s a connection,” Leonora said. “We’ve read the old newspaper accounts but we can’t see anything obvious.”

“The Eubanks murder.” Margaret snorted gently. “You certainly won’t find much in the papers. The Eubanks College trustees exert a great deal of influence in Wing Cove these days, but it’s nothing compared to the power they wielded thirty years ago. They literally ran the town at that time. They could get a police chief fired or force a mayor to resign. They wanted the murder of Sebastian Eubanks kept quiet and that’s exactly what happened.”

“There must have been a lot of gossip at the time,” Deke offered tentatively.

“Of course there was gossip.” Margaret wrinkled her nose. “The wildest rumors you ever heard circulated for weeks. The official verdict, however, was that Eubanks had surprised a burglar in the old mansion that night. That is the version of events the administration wished to have prevail. So, naturally, it prevailed.”

“What can you tell us about Sebastian Eubanks and his death?” Leonora asked.

“Well, now, where to begin?” Margaret hooked her cane over the edge of her chair and settled back against the flowered cushions. “Sebastian Eubanks was something of an eccentric, to say the least. And getting more so by the day. Took after his father, I’m afraid. He had become quite reclusive and odd at the end. Downright paranoid.”

Thomas sat forward, resting his arms on his thighs. “Odd in what way?”

“He had stopped seeing his friends. Never left the mansion. That sort of thing. Word was, he had become obsessed with his work. He really was a very brilliant man, you know. Quite probably a genius, in my opinion. But we’ll never know because he died before he could make any significant contributions to the field of mathematics.”

“What were the wild rumors that circulated after his death?” Deke asked.

“Well, now,” Margaret said very deliberately, “we were all warned by the dean himself that we must not breathe a word about the gossip. Bad for the college’s image and so forth. Eubanks was even more conservative all those years ago than it is now.”

Thomas exchanged glances with Leonora, Deke and Cassie. He turned back to Margaret.

“It’s been thirty years,” he said. “Can you tell us the gossip?”

Margaret chuckled. “I’m retired, remember? I can do anything I please these days. Besides, the dean who issued the warning died ten years ago. I never did care much for him.”

Cassie smiled. “Don’t keep us in suspense, Margaret.”

“At the time,” Margaret said, lowering her voice to a confidential level, “several people in the department and in the administration were convinced that Sebastian Eubanks was murdered by his lover, not a burglar.”

They all stared at her.

“There was no mention of a lover in the newspaper accounts,” Deke said.

“Probably because the lover was a man,” Margaret said. “A very charming, rather good-looking instructor named Andrew Grayson in the computer science department. Grayson was forced to resign, naturally. The administration applied a great deal of pressure. I have always suspected that the trustees took steps to make certain that he never got back on the tenure-track at any other college.”

Leonora leaned forward and folded her arms on her knees. “Why did the administration work so hard to keep that theory quiet?”

“The silly fools were terrified of a wealthy alumnus who was, at the time, a major donor. He was preparing to endow a chair in the political sciences department and build a new wing for the library. He was rabidly antigay.”