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by Virginia Winters
Description: Canadian doctor and amateur genealogist Anne McPhail finds a murdered woman on the floor of the library in Culver's Mill's, a small town in Vermont. Jennifer Smith, the dead librarian was a gifted genealogical researcher who had been collecting information about her clients, and using it to blackmail them. She had extorted money from all kinds of people: local wealthy families; Russian criminals, and quiet, unassuming grandmothers. Anne takes a dangerous journey, retracing Jennifer's steps through the small-town family histories find the murderer amongst her victims.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2009 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: December 2009
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [266 KB]
Reading time: 166-233 min.
The phone she held beat an erratic tattoo on her thigh. She steadied it, and breathed. Blood thickened where it oozed from the body's nose and out onto the carpet. The pale blue eyes stared into the spreading pool. A long navy skirt covered the body's legs to just above a pair of black flats. Anne knelt beside it, pushing back her own jacket to keep it out of the blood. The hand was cold and the only pulse she could feel was her own.
The skull was crushed in just above the right ear. She ran her fingers over the sharp indentation. How she hated trauma. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her and she sat for a moment, before making the call. The receiver of a telephone dangled from the desk. Best not to touch that, she thought.
Outside, she pushed 911 on her cell. "Operator, please send the police to the Culver's Mills Public Library. A death."
She went back inside and sat on one of those thick pale oak chairs that are supplied to libraries. The large clock on the wall ticked on - five minutes, fifteen, twenty. Perhaps she hadn't reached the right operator. Perhaps the police had to come from Burlington. She put the phone in her purse and leaned back against the wall and breathed and thought about why she had come here.
Three days ago she had slammed the trunk of her new Honda and taken a last look round her house. The cat was looked after. Eloise, her nearest neighbor on the lake and dear friend had promised faithfully to drop in and talk to Albert, her Siamese, as well as to feed him. The young woman who had come to take over her practice had fit in well with her staff (not an easy task) and was interested in the kind of patients she had. She was calling this retirement to the world, but she wasn't sure how long she would last without the daily rewards of medical practice.
She was tired. Her husband, Michael, had died 2 years ago. They had no children and she hoped carrying on in the routine of life would help her with her grief. It hadn't. Looking after so many children with behavioral and emotional problems took more than she had to give. She realized that she was only crawling through her days.
So she was through. Photography, painting, writing, and most recently, genealogy were interests she turned to. Her own doctor had encouraged her to take a long leave, try a different life-style. She had no money worries. She and her husband had both inherited wealth, in her case quite unexpectedly from a heretofore-unknown great aunt. That discovery had sparked her interest in genealogy and brought her to sitting on this chair, staring at a body. How long had it been? She checked her watch--20 minutes.
Enough, she thought, as she stood up and walked to the door intending to call again. A police car stopped at the curb and a young man ran up the steps of the library, pushed open the main door, and stopped as he reached her at the entrance to the adult section.
"Hello," she said.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Dr. Anne McPhail."
"Could I see some identification, please?" Anne handed him her passport and Canadian driver's license.
"What are you doing here?"
"Genealogy research," she answered, knowing that he likely didn't understand.
"I am looking for my roots, constable."
"Deputy Graham, ma'am.
"Deputy", she acknowledged.
"Could you just stay here?" He walked to the corpse without waiting for an answer.
"Was this exactly as she was? You didn't touch anything?" he asked.
"I'll have to see your purse and search your car, ma'am."
"That's fine." He could search her car and her purse all he wanted, she thought, as long as he didn't want to search her. Her dark blue jeans and casual yellow shirt didn't leave room to conceal any sort of weapon. She hoped he wouldn't insist that she be searched. At least he wouldn't do that himself. Or so she hoped. The deputy found only the usual assortment her purse contained: car keys, old Master-Card receipts, too many coins, and a lipstick.
More waiting and then came the arrival of several more men, some wearing Sheriff's Office jackets. Crime scene crew, she supposed. A stocky man, dressed in wrinkled khaki pants and a red plaid jacket hurried in. A medical bag proclaimed his profession.
"Hello, Adam. What do you have for me?" the doctor said to one of the men in plain clothes.
Adam moved aside and showed the medical examiner the body on the carpet. The examination was brief but thorough. The real work would be done at the autopsy. The ME turned the head gently to reveal the deep depression in the skull that she had seen before. Odd, Anne thought, no real breaks in the skin. She shuddered again, imagining the blood and macerated brain that must lie just below the skin and broken bone.
"What do you think the weapon was, doc?" the detective asked.
"Heavy and smooth, other than that, I'll tell you after the autopsy. Didn't you say a doctor found the body? Where is he?"
"She." Adam turned towards Anne who stood up and put out a hand to the medical examiner.
"Anne McPhail, Doctor."
"Donald Roase." He shook her hand. "Any thoughts?"
"None whatever," she said. "I'm a pediatrician. I don't do much trauma, day to day."
The doctor nodded as the stretcher arrived for the body. "I'll let you know."
Adam turned to her. "Dr. McPhail, I'm Lieutenant Davidson." Medium height, tanned, thin, dark eyes, dark hair, straight nose and attractive, but with an edge to it, she thought.
"Hello. Could you tell me, Lieutenant, how much longer you might need me here? I told the deputy what I saw." As usual, Anne's nervousness made her sound curt and a little abrasive. Knowing her face was flushing a brilliant scarlet didn't help either.
"Could you tell me?"
"Sure." With a sigh, she went over it again.
The detective probed a bit. "Did you come here by chance?"
"No. I wrote to the librarian here, a woman called Nancy Webb. She told me that her assistant was very good at archival research and would be available today. The lady's name was Jennifer Smith. She is not by any chance...?"
"Yes she is. You've never been here before; never written to the deceased?"
"Yes, that's right." Anne could hear the anxiety in her own voice. He was asking another question.
"How did you find out about the library and Culver's Mills and the records?"
"Internet. The library is listed as one of the premiere sources for early French and aboriginal research in the Northeast. Ms. Webb's name is on the site. My fourth great grandmother was possibly aboriginal, married to a French Canadian. My third cousin in Elliott Lake found evidence that he had spent time in this area."
She stopped talking as the familiar, to her, glazed look came into the policeman's eyes. Not everyone shared her enthusiasm for the minutiae of family relationships.
"Yes, yes." Adam said impatiently.
Irritated by his tone, she stood up. "Lieutenant, I've had it. I'm tired, and I've been sitting on this hard chair for long enough and I am leaving." She had also had it with hard-eyed policemen.
"Where are you going?
"I'm going to Catherine's Bed and Breakfast where a very kind lady is waiting for me. I told her I'd be there before noon. So, if you will excuse me?"
"Dr. McPhail, don't leave town." Hard to believe but he really said it.
"I still have my research to do, lieutenant." Deliberately she made it left-tenant and got the look of disbelief that she expected.
The yellow tape, familiar from too many cop shows and too many newscasts, surrounded the building entrance. Her Honda was parked in the library parking lot, across from the fire station. She drove off, feeling the stares of the few people attracted by the commotion.
A five-minute drive brought her to a grey clapboard house, set back in a flower-filled front yard surrounded by low privet hedges.
A youngish woman, mid-thirties, with tied-back brown hair and intelligent dark eyes answered her knock. Somewhere inside a dog was barking an exuberant warning.
"Maggie, be quiet," the lady called back over her shoulder. "Hello," she said, opening the screened front door, and taking Anne's suitcase. She took one look at Anne's face and trembling hands, walked her into her large sunny kitchen and prescribed strong tea with sugar.
"I'm Catherine LaPlante," she introduced herself as she put a cup of fragrant hot tea into Anne's shaking hand. "You're Anne McPhail?" Catherine had the kind of thinness that comes from long hours of hard work, but her smile was sunny and her dark eyes welcoming.
"Yes," Anne answered. "Thanks for the tea. I started to get the shakes on the way over here."
"You're welcome. What on earth happened?"
"I found a body at the library. I feel so cold. Usually death doesn't affect me this way."
"I am sure the deaths you usually see aren't violent ones." She poured more tea into Anne's cup. "Who has died?'
"A woman called Jennifer Smith. Someone has murdered her, I think. Did you know her?"
"Oh yes, of course." Catherine was too shocked to go on.
"I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have been so abrupt in telling you."
"No, what else could you do? You're still shaking," Catherine said, as she got up and put a throw around Anne's shoulders.
"How well did you know her?" Anne asked, her gaze moving around the room from the yellow walls and cheerful botanical prints to the dog who watched her intently from her corner under the window.
"Just casually, at the library. I haven't had anything to do with her socially. Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not much. That policeman, Davidson? Is he an intelligent guy? I think he thinks I had something to do with it." Anne shuddered again.
"Don't worry about his intelligence. He's a bright guy and really fair."
"I hope so," Anne's voice slurred a little and her eyelids drooped. Reaction, she supposed.
"Perhaps a nap?"
"Oh, yes." A nap was just what she needed. Odd, how exhausting this all was. The horror of it and her own anxiety, she supposed, as she followed Catherine up the stairs to her room.
She woke from her nap with a startled memory of the woman's body lying still on the library floor. Thoughts of leaving immediately filled her mind. Fleeing across the border. She laughed at herself. She had come all this way to do some research and if they would let her in the library that is exactly what she was going to do.
The smell of fresh coffee led her from her lovely little room to the kitchen where Catherine was baking.
"Feel better?" she asked. "Would you like some coffee?"
"Oh, yes thanks. Much better, and I would love some coffee. Just milk, please."
As she sipped her coffee, she asked Catherine about restaurants in town for lunch and dinner and explained that she hoped she could still do her research.
Catherine directed her to Lil's Diner and suggested that if she liked, she could have dinner with Catherine and her sons.
They agreed on six thirty and Anne left for Lil's and the library. The short walk in the sunshine under the bright blue autumn sky lifted her mood until she saw the steps of the library. Nonetheless, this is why I came here, she told herself. Get on with it.
The main section was still taped off, but the stairs to the reference section seemed to be open. Her first stop was to speak to the librarian at the reference desk. Both the women behind the long counter seemed to be quite calm, in spite of the terrible event downstairs. Quite odd, she thought. I expected the staff to be too upset to work.
However, one of the ladies directed her back into the stacks to some books on local history. She wanted to learn what had been happening in Culver's Mills at the time her ancestor was supposed to have been living there.
Her own ancestor, the French-Canadian fifth great-grandfather was a voyager, a fur-trader and a soldier. He commanded a fort near the border and acted as a liaison between the French and the Indians. But Anne thought he had also spent time here in Vermont and had married here.
She knew that census and church records existed but were scanty for the years she was searching. The librarian had directed her to a tiny old book, the diary of a young French woman who had followed her soldier-husband to the area. She struggled with the archaic French, turning pages slowly, looking for proper names that might be a clue to the people living in Culver's Mills, at that time called Bon Chance.
Many Beauchamp names filled the pages, but in one entry, written in capitals with exclamations was the word scandale. She found the name of a Beauchamp man, Daniel, the word marriage, and what the writer had called a sauvage. The woman must have been baptized because her name was Marie.
However carefully she went over the tightly written pages, she could find no record of LaRonde. I wonder what happened to the Beauchamps, she thought as she closed the little volume and handed it back to the librarian.
After her lunch at Lil's she strolled back to Catherine's. She found her down on her knees in front of a long perennial border.
"Hi, Anne," she called. "I finally had to do something with these. I neglect them, I'm afraid, in favor of the vegetable gardens."
"Oh, let me help," Anne offered and went upstairs to change.
When she came downstairs she found the policeman waiting for her.