‘I don’t need to be told what I need,’ Mildred answered crisply.
David had asked what she had in mind.
‘Seems to me,’ she said, ‘you could use a housekeeper.’
He was shocked. ‘I thought we were friends.’
‘I hope we are,’ she said. ‘Though I can’t see what that has to do with it.’
‘But we’re fine as we are,’ David said. ‘We take care of each other, muddle along. You, me, and Saul, of course, until he goes.’
‘You’re a doctor,’ Mildred said. ‘A busy man.’
‘I’m less and less of a doctor,’ David pointed out. ‘And you’re no housekeeper.’
‘You don’t know what I am,’ Mildred said. ‘Or what I have been.’
‘How could I know,’ he said, ‘when you won’t tell me?’
‘In time,’ she said, ‘perhaps I will.’
‘So setting the past aside, as always,’ David said, ‘what would you like to do now?
than cooking and cleaning for an old man.’
‘Not so old,’ Mildred said.
‘Thank you,’ David said.
‘I do have one other idea.’ Mildred paused. ‘Your office is a mess.’
‘Perpetually,’ David said.
‘I don’t want to clean it,’ Mildred said. ‘But it does strike me that your filing systems could use some organizing.’ She paused again. ‘If you’re concerned about confidentiality, I know how to keep my nose out of other people’s stuff.’
‘I don’t doubt it,’ David said.
She’d asked him to think it over, and he had, because the running of his office had, until her final illness three years before, been Judy Becket’s domain, and so David had felt he’d needed a silent word with her just then because it seemed to him that this smacked, a little, of infidelity.
Judy had sent down no thunderbolts, and Saul, when consulted, had said he thought it a fine idea.
So Mildred had gone to work.
‘The woman is a wonder,’ David had told Sam a week later. ‘She has energy like you wouldn’t believe, but most of all she has the greatest intelligence.’
‘Doesn’t surprise me,’ Sam said.
And after that, adding Grace’s office to Mildred’s schedule had seemed a natural progression.
The necessity of finding someone to help her keep order once she’d returned to practice after having Joshua had become a bit of a bugbear for Grace, her experiences with her last administrative assistant having turned into a nightmare.
David had made the suggestion.
‘It would solve all your problems,’ he’d told her. ‘Aside from her excellent organizational skills, Mildred could babysit Joshua on the premises while you see patients.’
‘Do you think she’d consider it?’
‘She’s had her eye on the job ever since I mentioned you could use some assistance.’ David paused. ‘Though I think she’s concerned that your patients’ parents or guardians might not be keen on your employing a former vagrant.’
‘Mildred wasn’t a criminal,’ Grace said crisply. ‘Seems to me they couldn’t ask for a more exemplary person.’
‘Sounds to me like she has the job,’ David said.
‘I think we’d better meet,’ Grace said. ‘Maybe agree a trial period, for both our sakes. And a salary, of course.’
‘I’m not sure she’ll be keen on taking money from you,’ David said.
‘If Mildred works for me,’ Grace had said, ‘she will most definitely be paid.’
‘She did mention to me once that she has a social security number.’
‘And knows it by heart, I’ll be bound,’ Grace had said.
wo representatives from Beatty Management, dug out of their respective Saturday activities, drew up in a Lexus outside the Oates Gallery just after noon, almost an hour after the unusually speedy arrival of the search warrant.
Larry Beatty, CEO of the company, thirty-something, tall, nattily turned out in a well-cut navy blazer, blue jeans and an open-necked blue and white striped shirt, was sober-faced as he emerged from the driver’s side, identified himself to an officer, then stooped to duck beneath the tape and finally introduced himself to Becket and Martinez on the front pathway.
‘Terrible thing,’ he said. ‘Whatever I can do to help.’
Beatty was handsome, fair-haired, hazel-eyed and even-featured, but there was, Sam thought, a blandness about the man that made him less attractive than he might have been.
‘We appreciate it, sir,’ he said.
The door on the passenger side of the Lexus slammed belatedly, and a harassed-looking young red-haired woman in a dark pants suit and sneakers, carrying a battered briefcase, came hurrying around the car and followed Beatty’s route under the cordon.
‘Ally Moore,’ she said breathlessly, quickly amending: ‘Allison.’ Her eyes were grey and anxious. ‘I’ve brought keys.’
‘And I’m here primarily to give the owner’s consent,’ Beatty said. ‘Her name is Mrs Marilyn Myerson, and I have her full Power of Attorney.’
‘I have certified copies of those papers, too,’ Ally Moore said, edgily pushing strands of curly hair off her freckled, lightly made-up face.
‘Ms Moore is responsible for regular checks on the property,’ Beatty said.
‘Though I imagine, sir,’ Sam said, ‘that as CEO of Beatty Management and as Mrs Myerson’s legal representative, you have overall responsibility.’
‘For using our firm’s best endeavours to care for the property, of course,’ Beatty accepted. ‘Though the security levels here have been somewhat limited by Mrs Myerson’s budget.’
‘There is an alarm system,’ Ally Moore explained. ‘But the power’s turned off most of the time, so security’s been down to locks and regular checking.’
‘Mostly to guard against trespassers or squatters,’ Beatty said, ‘since there’s nothing left to steal.’
‘So no alarm,’ said Martinez. ‘But they pay for a gardener.’
‘Poor Mr Mulhoon,’ Ally Moore said. ‘That’s right.’
She rummaged in her case, withdrew some papers and a bunch of tagged keys and, although the mansion had been entered within minutes of the securing of the search warrant, Martinez took them from her anyway.
‘Does Mr Mulhoon usually work weekends?’ Sam asked.
‘Sometimes,’ Moore said. ‘He comes on the most convenient day – to him, I mean – closest to the fifth of each month. A cleaning firm comes in too, around the twentieth.’
‘The aim has been to keep up basic maintenance,’ Beatty said. ‘As I said, fixtures aside, there’s nothing the average burglar would be interested in.’
‘Maybe the fireplaces,’ Ally Moore said. ‘You hear of things like that being dismantled and taken away.’
‘The side gate to the garden was unlocked,’ Sam said.
‘It’s always kept locked,’ Moore said quickly. ‘But I guess Mr Mulhoon would have unlocked it when he arrived.’
‘Did the Oates Gallery belong to Mrs Myerson?’ Sam asked Beatty.
‘She was the landlord,’ the other man said. ‘The place was run by a manager and staff, and my firm took care of the property requirements. If you need our files, I can send them over Monday.’
‘Today or tomorrow would be better,’ Martinez said. ‘We could come to you.’
‘Thank you,’ Larry Beatty said. ‘I’ll do my best, though it might not be easy to locate them over the weekend.’
‘When did the gallery close down?’ asked Sam.
‘Just over a year ago,’ Beatty said.
They were still on the front path, and the part of the backyard in which the deceased lay was entirely obscured from view, but Ally Moore’s eyes kept veering toward the gate leading to the garden and its new, apparently appalling contents.
‘Two people?’ she said softly. ‘Is that true?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ Sam said.
‘Do you know who they are?’
‘Not yet.’ Sam turned to Beatty. ‘We’ll need to speak with Mrs Myerson, sir.’
‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible,’ Beatty said. ‘She has advanced Alzheimer’s disease.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Sam said.
‘Does she have close relatives?’ Martinez asked.
‘None I’m aware of,’ Beatty said.
The structure having been pronounced clear of danger, the power back on and Crime Scene having given them the OK, the detectives finally escorted Beatty and Moore into the mansion.
‘So all you need,’ Moore asked nervously, ‘is for us to say if anything seems out of place, right?’
‘Main thing,’ Martinez told them, ‘is you need to be careful not to touch anything.’
‘We’ll be very careful,’ Beatty said.
Their footsteps echoed in the silent house, even the padding of Moore’s rubber soles audible. Picture lights and unevenly sized pale spaces on walls attested to paintings that had once hung there, and an absence of dust or cobwebs on the rather ugly chandeliers indicated a decent job carried out by the cleaning firm.
Its barrenness notwithstanding, Sam found the mansion unattractive, an architectural mishmash of Doric-style columns, ornate covings and fireplaces plucked from different periods and styles. Though as a showplace for paintings and sculptures it had probably served well enough, offering no competition to the art, and maybe it was just his head-cold making him so unappreciative.
Not to mention the bodies in the backyard.
They moved carefully and methodically through the house.
‘Everything looks the same,’ Ally Moore said, partway up the broad central staircase. ‘Though I guess I’ve never looked at it quite this closely before, you know?’
‘Sure,’ Sam said, easily.
‘When were you last here, sir?’ Martinez asked Beatty.
‘About three months ago,’ Beatty said. ‘For a formal check.’
‘I come in the middle and at the end of every month,’ Moore volunteered.
‘And how does it
to you?’ Sam asked her.
She stood at the top of the stairs. ‘It feels OK.’ She took another moment. ‘The same as before, I guess.’ She gave a small grimace. ‘No offence to Mrs Myerson, but it’s always felt a little spooky to me.’
‘Some old houses do seem that way,’ Sam said.
‘But you do always check over the whole place?’ Martinez asked.
They moved into a large room, its walls similarly patchy, but though the shutters had been opened, the chandeliers were switched off and the light was poor.
‘Always,’ Moore said.
‘Do you think you might know if someone else had been in here?’ Sam asked.
‘People sometimes get a feel for such things,’ Sam said. ‘If they know a house really well, as you must do this one.’
‘I guess, maybe if it’s your own home.’ Moore shook her head. ‘Not me – not here, anyway.’ She glanced at Larry Beatty. ‘But I’m no clairvoyant.’
‘We’ll need a list of keyholders,’ Sam said.
‘I have that with me,’ Moore said. ‘I should have given it to you right away.’
‘You’ve been very efficient,’ Sam told her and thought he saw a faint flush, guessed that praise from her boss might be hard to come by.
‘It isn’t a long list,’ she said.
‘What should I tell the insurers?’ Beatty asked. ‘I presume you’d prefer them to wait until your people are through.’
‘Have you seen any damage?’ Martinez asked.
‘Only to the area around the gate,’ Beatty said.
‘Really?’ Martinez was dry. ‘I didn’t notice.’
‘Still,’ Beatty said, ‘this whole thing could harm the property’s potential.’
‘Dead people’ll do that every time,’ Martinez said.
Sam waited until they were back outside before he asked if they’d mind looking at some photographs of the deceased for identification purposes.
‘Oh.’ Ally Moore grew pale.
‘Just their faces,’ Sam reassured her. ‘It could be helpful.’
She nodded. ‘OK.’
They looked at the Polaroid headshots together.
‘I’ve never seen either of them before,’ Beatty said without hesitation.
‘Ms Moore?’ Sam asked.
She was still looking, taking her time, her eyes troubled, though no more so than was reasonable, Sam figured, considering what she was looking at.
‘You doing all right, ma’am?’ Martinez asked.
‘I’m OK,’ she said. ‘And no, I don’t recognize them either. It’s just . . .’
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Except it’s just so horrible, so sad.’
‘That it is,’ Martinez said.
‘One more thing,’ Sam said. ‘We’d appreciate it if you’d consent to being fingerprinted.’
‘Really?’ Beatty looked shocked.
‘For elimination purposes,’ Sam said.
‘Is that really necessary?’ the other man asked.
‘All persons with legitimate access to a crime scene should be fingerprinted,’ Martinez told him. ‘In case your latent prints are found.’
‘In your own interests, sir,’ Sam said. ‘But if you have an objection . . .’
‘Of course not,’ Beatty said.
‘Me neither,’ Allison Moore agreed. ‘It makes sense.’
‘What about the cleaners?’ Beatty asked.
‘We’ll be in touch with them,’ Sam said.
‘They’re on the keyholder list,’ Moore said.
The Lexus having driven away, and the Crime Scene truck en route to remove the plastic dome from the lawn – from where it would be transported to the ME’s office – Sam and Martinez stood in the garden exchanging first thoughts.
‘He’s a cold fish,’ Martinez said.
‘Nice woman, though,’ Sam said.
‘A little nervy,’ Martinez said.
‘Hardly surprising,’ Sam said. ‘But we’ll check them both out.’
‘Better make sure Mrs Myerson’s Alzheimer’s is for real,’ Martinez said.
Nothing and no one taken at face value in the early stages of a homicide investigation, not even an absentee sick old woman.
‘If it weren’t for the glue and the dome, or whatever the hell that thing really is,’ Sam said, ‘I guess I could buy them having been dumped on vacant land for no special reason. But this being a former art gallery . . .’