“Who’s Peggy Graham?” Elysia asked blankly.
“Peggy. Peggy Graham.”
“Yes, got that much, love. Who is Peggy Graham?”
Medea hiccupped a half-sob. “A friend. I’ve mentioned Peggy, surely?”
“Er… refresh my memory.”
“Peggy and I sat on the League of Historical Societies.”
As she began to speak of her acquaintanceship with Peggy, A.J. suddenly remembered the name of the woman who had been harassing Dicky before his death. Had the police investigated Dora Beauford at all? Did they even know of her existence?
Preoccupied with her own thoughts, she only vaguely heard Medea’s shaky, “Well, she’s killed herself.”
Following a shocked silence, Elysia said, “When?”
“Nearly a month ago. They’re saying she took sleeping pills.”
“Do they know why?”
Medea shook her head.
Elysia bit her lip. “I’m so sorry, Maddie.”
“It’s not true! She wouldn’t have!”
Elysia patted her back. “Perhaps she was ill. Perhaps-”
“Then it was an accident.”
Elysia stared at her. “What are you suggesting?”
Medea, face working, stared out the window.
“Are you saying someone killed her? What are you saying, Maddie?”
“I’m saying it was murder.”
“Murder? Who killed her?”
“Who?” A.J. and Elysia chorused.
Medea shook her head fiercely.
When she said nothing else and made no further move, Elysia said, “You’d better let me drive, petal. You’ve had a shock.”
“I’m fine.” Medea seemed to shake off her paralysis. She started the car engine. She drove carefully, slowly, out of the underground garage and turned onto the main street.
Elysia asked at last, “When was the last time you saw Peggy?”
Medea’s gaze stayed glued on the busy road before them. “It’s been a wee while.”
Why the guilty look?
“Had you and Peggy been friends long?”
“Years.” Medea swallowed. “Six years. We weren’t… as close as we once were.”
“Had something happened between you?”
“No. Not really.” But Medea didn’t sound convinced. “People change. Friendships… alter.”
Yet Medea and Elysia had stayed close even when they were not in regular contact.
A.J. questioned, “Do you have any reason to believe someone wished Peggy harm?”
Medea opened her mouth and then closed it again. “No.”
It was probably the least convincing thing she’d said so far. “If you know something about your friend’s death,” A.J. said, “the best thing to do is tell the police.”
Medea shook her head fiercely.
Elysia said, “Or tell us. You said ‘they.’ Who did you mean?”
Another fierce shake of Medea’s head.
Did Medea actually have someone in mind, or by “they” did she merely mean the usual suspects everyone referred to by “they”?
“Do you know if Peggy did take sleeping pills?” Elysia asked, thoughtfully. Clearly her sleuthing instincts were roused, but that really wasn’t saying much since Elysia hoped for mystery like most people hoped for winning lottery numbers.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember her ever saying so.”
“Did she take any kind of medication?”
“I don’t know. The usual things for blood pressure, I suppose.”
“She wasn’t in ill health that you knew of?”
Medea shook her head.
A.J. said slowly, “I think suicide always comes as a shock to other people. Couldn’t it just be something like that?”
“I… I wouldn’t have thought so.”
“Where are you going with this, pumpkin?” Elysia inquired, clearly displeased at the suggestion of an accidental death when there was a possibility of foul play.
“I don’t know,” A.J. admitted. “Sleeping pills seem like an unreliable way to kill yourself. But they also seem like an unreliable way to commit murder.”
“Sleeping pill overdose is the method most commonly used when women wish to commit suicide.”
“How do you know that?”
“I remember once on 221B Baker Street…”
A.J. quickly put up a hand. “Point taken. Anyway, I’ll grant you sleeping pills are the kind of thing that could, in theory, be tampered with.”
“I’m not following. If someone already wished to kill herself why would you need to tamper with the sleeping pills?”
“Well, but what if someone didn’t? What if-”
“Stop it!” Medea cried suddenly, jamming on the brakes. “I canna bear it.”
A.J. and Elysia lurched forward and then subsided into stricken silence. Medea shuddered over the steering wheel while cars behind them honked in outrage.
“Let me drive,” A.J. said quickly. She scrambled out of the car, holding the door so that Medea could trade places with her in the backseat.
When they were once more on their way, Elysia turned to the backseat. “Maddie, my dear…”
But Medea was shaking her head fiercely. “Let me be, Elysia.”
The short drive back to the house in Andover was accomplished in a tense silence that gradually grew heavy and then settled into abstraction.
Reaching the house, Medea apologized for her behavior and then excused herself, claiming she had a terrible headache. Promising to be down in time to fix dinner, she went upstairs with the ferret clinging to her shoulder.
A.J. and Elysia retreated to the kitchen. Elysia made tea and they sat at the oval table, talking quietly.
“Are you sure we’re not in the way here?” A.J. said. “Maybe she’d prefer to be on her own right now.”
Elysia waved this off.
“Well, at the least we should probably order takeout or a pizza so she doesn’t have to cook for us.”
“I can’t possibly think of food at a time like this.” Elysia sipped her tea, then put the cup down in its saucer. “Anyway, she likes to cook. Cooking will keep her mind occupied.”
A.J. opened her mouth, then gave up. She said instead, “She seems very upset considering Peggy wasn’t a close friend.”
Elysia said tartly, “The fact that they weren’t as close as they’d once been doesn’t mean she didn’t still feel affection for her.”
“Did it seem like there was more to it than that?”
“What do you mean?” Elysia’s blue eyes studied her.
“Did she seem… I don’t know… guilty to you?”
The phone rang. They both jumped, then turned, listening. The phone did not ring again.
Elysia amended, “I think everyone feels guilty when a friend or someone close commits suicide. You think you should have seen the signs, should have noticed something was wrong, should have prevented it.”
“I can see how that would be true. It’s just that Maddie’s reaction isn’t what I’d expect. It seems… extreme.”
A.J. instinctively dropped her voice even lower. “That comment about ‘they killed her.’ Did you have the impression she meant a general ‘they’ or that she had someone specifically in mind?”
“What specific ‘they’ could she have meant? Peggy’s family? Maddie said she was unaware that Peggy had problems with anyone.”
A.J. nodded though Maddie’s opinion didn’t necessarily mean much since she hadn’t been in contact with her friend for some time. “She didn’t want to confide in us. That was obvious.”
A.J. said grimly, “We’ve already got one murder case that we’re not equipped to handle. We don’t need to take on another.”
“No,” Elysia said reluctantly. “I suppose you’re right.”
They chatted a little longer about various things. A.J. went to call Sacred Balance and make sure all was well.
A brief phone call to Emma Rice seemed to confirm Lily’s assertion that A.J.’s presence was not essential to the success of Sacred Balance.
“You know where to reach me if there’s a problem,” she told Emma.
“There’s nothing here we can’t handle for a day or two,” Emma said with disheartening confidence. “You don’t need to worry about us. You just take care of yourself.”
Elysia and A.J. spent the remainder of the day quietly. A.J. enjoyed herself exploring the bookshelves in Medea’s library. In addition to Tolkien, Pratchett, Lewis, and Rowling, there were a number of young adult fantasy novels that A.J. remembered from her teen years: The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane.
For a time she lost herself in the exotic worlds of mages and magic. She was startled to realize how swiftly time had passed when her mother joined her at six o’clock suggesting it was time to start discussing possible plans for dinner with their hostess.
A.J. glanced at the clock behind the statue of Medusa and nodded, surprised that Medea had not put in an appearance before now. Elysia went upstairs.
She returned a few moments later. “Maddie’s not in her room.”
A.J. set down the copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. “Where would she go?”
“Nowhere. Her car is still in the garage.”
If Elysia had already checked the garage, she was obviously uneasy. A.J. joined her in a quick, quiet hunt through the house.
They reunited in the dining room. A.J. shook her head. Elysia’s face tightened. They both jumped at the clatter of a chafing dish on the heavy sideboard. Morag the ferret poked her head out from under the lid.
“Did you check the back?” A.J. inquired.
“I glanced out the window. I didn’t see her on the patio.”
“Maybe she’s working in her garden. I find it soothing sometimes just to pull weeds.”
Elysia led the way out to the back porch. It was empty, but A.J. spotted a dark form lying on the grass inside the garden.
At the sharpness in A.J.’s voice, Elysia turned, following her down the steps as she hurried across the lawn.
A few steps away, A.J. slowed and then stopped. Elysia joined her and they gazed in stricken silence. It was obviously too late. Medea’s harsh features were waxen and empty of all emotion. She looked like one of her own macabre statues-except for the blood-soaked blouse and the bullet hole in her chest.