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Thirteen

Murder On The Eightfold Path

Whos Peggy Graham? Elysia asked blankly.

Peggy. Peggy Graham.

Yes, got that much, love. Who is Peggy Graham?

Medea hiccupped a half-sob. A friend. Ive 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 Medeas shaky, Well, shes killed herself.

Following a shocked silence, Elysia said, When?

Nearly a month ago. Theyre saying she took sleeping pills.

Do they know why?

Medea shook her head.

Elysia bit her lip. Im so sorry, Maddie.

Its not true! She wouldnt have!

Elysia patted her back. Perhaps she was ill. Perhaps-

No.

Then it was an accident.

No!

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?

Im saying it was murder.

Murder? Who killed her?

They did!

Who? A.J. and Elysia chorused.

Medea shook her head fiercely.

When she said nothing else and made no further move, Elysia said, Youd better let me drive, petal. Youve had a shock.

Im 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?

Medeas gaze stayed glued on the busy road before them. Its been a wee while.

Why the guilty look?

Had you and Peggy been friends long?

Years. Medea swallowed. Six years. We werent as close as we once were.

Had something happened between you?

No. Not really. But Medea didnt 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 shed said so far. If you know something about your friends 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 Medeas 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 wasnt saying much since Elysia hoped for mystery like most people hoped for winning lottery numbers.

I dont know. I dont remember her ever saying so.

Did she take any kind of medication?

I dont know. The usual things for blood pressure, I suppose.

She wasnt in ill health that you knew of?

No.

Or depressed?

Medea shook her head.

A.J. said slowly, I think suicide always comes as a shock to other people. Couldnt it just be something like that?

I I wouldnt 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 dont 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, Ill grant you sleeping pills are the kind of thing that could, in theory, be tampered with.

Im not following. If someone already wished to kill herself why would you need to tamper with the sleeping pills?

Well, but what if someone didnt? 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 were not in the way here? A.J. said. Maybe shed 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 doesnt have to cook for us.

I cant 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 wasnt a close friend.

Elysia said tartly, The fact that they werent as close as theyd once been doesnt mean she didnt still feel affection for her.

Did it seem like there was more to it than that?

What do you mean? Elysias blue eyes studied her.

Did she seem I dont know guilty to you?

No.

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. Its just that Maddies reaction isnt what Id expect. It seems extreme.

Mmm.

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? Peggys family? Maddie said she was unaware that Peggy had problems with anyone.

A.J. nodded though Maddies opinion didnt necessarily mean much since she hadnt been in contact with her friend for some time. She didnt want to confide in us. That was obvious.

True.

A.J. said grimly, Weve already got one murder case that were not equipped to handle. We dont need to take on another.

No, Elysia said reluctantly. I suppose youre 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 Lilys assertion that A.J.s presence was not essential to the success of Sacred Balance.

You know where to reach me if theres a problem, she told Emma.

Theres nothing here we cant handle for a day or two, Emma said with disheartening confidence. You dont 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 Medeas 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 oclock 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. Maddies 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. Elysias 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 didnt see her on the patio.

Maybe shes 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.

Mother!

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. Medeas 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.


Twelve | Murder On The Eightfold Path | Fourteen