Once again I found myself alone in my office on the third floor as a storm raged over the city outside my window. Alone with my thoughts, the white noise of the rain, and with the latest bottle from the cupboard that lately seems never to be empty.
The bottle and I were just getting acquainted when my door opened slowly.
One of these days I’ll remember to hang the closed sign and actually lock it when I’m done with people for the day. Apparently today was not that day. Or maybe I knew I would be wanted.
I looked up.
And then up some more.
The dame standing in the door was not familiar to me, and that made her more intriguing. From where I sat, there was a lot to admire as she made her way through the door and over to my desk and work table.
“Is there room in that bottle for one more?” she asked, her voice matching her body perfectly.
I pondered the question for a moment longer than it required.
“Certainly,” I replied. “Give your legs a rest and I’ll scare up another glass.” At a nod the other chair slid back just enough to meet her hand as shee reached for it. While she was distracted, I pulled a second glass out of my desk drawer and tipped the bottle at it.
She sipped, coughed, then looked closer at the bottle and smiled. Her second sip went down much more neatly.
“I need help,” she began. “My husband—”
“Are you sure you want my help? The P. I. upstairs is usually the right choice for problems that begin this way.” I’m a psychic not a detective, and have fount it better to set expectations early with new clients. I also knew she was in the right place. I am, after all, a psychic.
“My husband,” she began anew, “is dead. Detectives have been all over it. I think they suspect foul play, and the grieving widow is always at the top of their list.” She paused for another sip. “I found him at his desk this morning. He’d stayed up late writing, and never came to bed. I’m still numb, but I know I need help before they have made it impossible. Can you help me?”
“Was this his normal habit?”
“Dying? Hard to make a habit of that!”
“No, staying up late to write.”
“Yes. He was a night owl. But he always came to bed eventually.”
“And as you point out he hardly ever died at it.” She glared. Which was progress. Until this reaction, she was not behaving exactly as one would expect the widow to behave, especially not the widow who had found the body earlier that day. Perhaps I’d taunted her enough. “What was he working on when he died?”
“He writes mysteries, or about mystery, or just mysteriously. He doesn’t share everything he writes with me, and I don’t pester him about it. But I know he finished a big project recently, and has been casting around looking for inspiration for his next. He must have found something, there was a stack of paper nearby, and a page in the machine. And he was just sitting there, slumped across the desk. Dead.”
She sipped her drink again, and again, clearly lost in thought. I let the silence grow. She needed the space, I needed to consider my next move, and I had the feeling that she was still hiding something.
“There was this,” she blurted. “This page was balled up and clutched in his hand.” She pulled a crumpled and torn sheet from her purse.
I took it and smoothed it out on the table between us. It was handwritten, in what looked like brown ink but also could have been blood.
led author to afterlife
wrote final chapter
“Did the police see this?”
“No. I found it and kept it. They have whatever else he wrote, I didn’t get a chance to look any closer and he was sprawled on it.”
Time for some solid answers. I dug out a Ouija board and dusted it off. Naturally, the planchette had gone to wherever small things go to hide when they are needed, but the board was intact. An empty shot glass would do as a substitute, especially after we got the husband’s attention.
“What was his drink?”
“That is another odd thing. He liked an uncommon single malt with one of those authentic unpronounceable names. In fact, the very thing we’re drinking right now.”
I smiled briefly, I had wondered why the cupboard had coughed up this particular bottle tonight. It does seem to know what I need before I do. I’ll have to investigate how it does it sometime. But now is not the time.
I splashed a little in the shot glass, then lit it on fire with a gesture. (And a match, but allow me my little bits of theatre, it is all part of the process.)
I set the burning glass on the board. I looked up and past my client. “We need some answers. I know you have been listening, and she wouldn’t have been able to find me if you didn’t want her to find out.”
The glass rocked a little, then slid over to the word “Yes”. It paused there, then began to wander around the board, stopping from time to time.
H I E M I L Y S R Y
“How? Wha—” She went silent when it was clearly spelling her name.
Then she blanched. She knew that I knew, and that it was all going to come out.
B U T W H A T D I D Y O U E X P C T M E T O D O
She looked up at me briefly, but couldn’t tear her eyes away from the board.
U K I L D M E
It paused for effect.
P O I S O N
She passed out.
I signaled to the detective that had been waiting and listening from the other room.
“Did you get enough of that?” I asked.
“Yes, I think so.” He calmly put cuffs on her wrists.
“She poisoned him. Her reaction confirms it.”
“We could ask why.” I knew why, but wondered just how much they knew.
“We already know about the other women.”
“Yup. One for each city his book tours reach. And at least two here in town that we know of. Should be an interesting funeral once we drop a few names in the news.”
Behind his back, the glass had kept moving. I T W A S N T W H A T I T S E E M E D
“It never is,” I said to the glass, which wandered over to “NO”, then tipped over on “Goodbye”.
“What?” asked the detective.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”