Page 63 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Miss Hutton and Mr. Walker? I’m Andrew Grayson. Please come in.”

“Thank you,” Leonora said.

Thomas held out his hand. “Call me Thomas.”

Andrew took the hand Thomas offered. His grip was firm and confident. He studied Thomas’s black eye.

“Mind if I ask?” he said.

“No, but it will be easier to explain in context.”

Andrew nodded. “This way, please.”

Thomas followed behind Leonora as Andrew led the way through a wide, two-story-atrium center hall.

The hall opened onto an expansive great room. The floor-to-ceiling windows captured the sweeping, panoramic view of the lake. A green lawn rolled down a gentle incline to the water’s edge. A sleek yacht was tied up at the private dock.

A man who looked to be about the same age as Andrew, but with more weight and far less hair, was working on the dock. Thomas watched him hoist a coil of rope and disappear inside the large craft.

“My partner, Ben Matthis,” Andrew said. He motioned toward a pair of black lacquered chairs upholstered in tan leather. “Please sit down.”

Leonora turned away from the window and sat down beside Thomas.

“Thanks for agreeing to see us on such short notice,” Thomas said.

Andrew lowered himself to the cushions of a black leather sofa and leaned back into the corner with negligent ease. “I must admit, you said just enough on the phone to make me curious. I went online while I waited for you and I found nothing in the reports of the deaths of the two women you mentioned to connect them to the murder of Sebastian Eubanks.”

Thomas glanced at Leonora and then clasped his hands loosely between his knees.

“We’re not sure there is a connection,” he said. “But we do know that, shortly before she died, Bethany Walker was interested in the details of the Eubanks murder. The second woman, Meredith Spooner, found some clippings of the murder that Bethany had apparently tried to hide. A short time later, she, too, was dead. Both women spent a lot of time at Mirror House before their deaths and both women were rumored to have been using drugs.”

“We don’t believe that last part,” Leonora said. “We’re very sure that neither Bethany nor Meredith was into the drug scene.”

“That’s all you’ve got?” Andrew asked.

“There’s more.” Thomas gestured toward his shiner. “Some guy in a ski mask tried to throw me off the footbridge last night. He was high on drugs at the time. The chief of police says the kid probably won’t remember much about the assault.”

“But you don’t think it was a random act of violence, is that it?”

“No,” Thomas said. “I think a con man named Alex Rhodes is involved in this thing. He doesn’t want us digging any deeper.”

Andrew looked thoughtful. “The fact that you found me means you’ve already dug very deep. The college trustees went to great lengths to keep my connection to Eubanks a dark secret after I was asked to resign.”

“We had a little help from Margaret Lewis,” Leonora said.

Andrew’s expression first showed surprise and then quiet amusement. “Ah, yes. The department secretary. That explains everything. I’m delighted to hear that she’s still alive. An amazingly competent individual, Mrs. Lewis.”

“What can you tell us about the murder?” Thomas asked.

“About the murder? Nothing.” Andrew moved one hand, palm up. “Except to say that I didn’t do it. And I don’t know anything about this Alex Rhodes person you mentioned. But I can tell you a few things about Sebastian Eubanks, if you like.”

“Margaret said that Eubanks had turned very eccentric towards the end,” Leonora said.

Andrew snorted softly. “He was a math geek. He was born eccentric. You had to remind him to change his underwear on a regular basis. But it’s true that, in those last months of his life, he got very strange. He was more than just consumed with his work. He became obsessed.”

“Obsessed is a heavy word,” Thomas said.

“It’s appropriate in this case,” Andrew said. “To be honest, at the time I thought he had lost his grip on reality. He was a genius, you know. Few realized it because he didn’t live long enough to prove himself. But I was close to him for several months and I was able to observe his incredible mind at work. Astonishing, really. Absolutely astonishing.”

“He wouldn’t have been the first genius to get lost in his own brilliance,” Leonora said quietly.

“True. It was the paranoia that drove us apart, though, not his brilliance. But after he was killed I decided that maybe he’d been right to be paranoid.”

“You don’t buy the interrupted burglary story?” Thomas asked.

“I did at the time.” Andrew propped his left ankle on his right knee. “I knew I wasn’t the one who had killed him and there didn’t seem to be any other logical suspects. But I’ve done a lot of thinking over the years. I’ve arrived at some private conclusions. Pure conjecture and wild speculation, of course. I have not one shred of proof.”

“We’re here to listen to pure conjecture and wild speculation,” Leonora said. “We’re used to it. That’s about all we’ve had to go on so far.”

“I can see that,” Andrew said. “But I warn you that you won’t get anywhere trying to prove my theory.”

“Why do you think Eubanks was murdered?” Thomas asked.

“For the oldest reason in the academic world.”

Thomas frowned. “Someone caught him in bed with the wrong person?”

“No.” Andrew said. “Someone wanted to steal Sebastian’s work and publish it as his own.”

“Good heavens,” Leonora whispered. “Publish or perish? Literally?”

“The academic world is very Darwinian,” Andrew said. “But, then, you know that, don’t you? According to the online check I did before you arrived, you work in an academic library. Piercy College, I believe?”

“Yes.” She pushed her glasses up on her nose. “And I’ll be the first to admit that things can get a little rough in the academy. But I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of anyone murdering someone else in order to publish a paper.”

“Any cop will tell you that some people will commit murder for virtually any reason,” Andrew said. “But in this case there was far more than the publication of one minor paper in some obscure academic journal that only a couple of dozen people would have read at the time and which would have long since been forgotten.”