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Eighteen

Murder On The Eightfold Path

Morag was making herself right at home. It was not a pretty sight. The contents of Elysias purse were scattered across the kitchen counter and in the sink. The trash bin had been turned over, the contents of the silverware drawer were scattered over the floor-along with less benign tokens of the ferrets presence.

Yikes, A.J. said, watching Elysia deal quickly, if grimly, with the mess. The pointy-faced culprit gazed down at them from the recipe books on the shelf above the stove. Is that-?

It is, Elysia said darkly. Were working on potty training.

Uh oh.

Oh, shes not so bad, Elysia said quickly. A little mischievous, perhaps. In fact I was thinking Monster might like a little sister. As convincing performances went, shed given better.

Youve got to be joking, A.J. said. A little snack maybe. A little sister, no. Hes definitely an only child.

They both studied the ferret peeking out at them.

Shes very cute, A.J. said.

Yes. I suppose shes missing Maddie.

Well then shell probably settle down, dont you think?

I think shes a fiend from Hell in cuddly clothing, Elysia stated for the record. On the bright side, Ive been reading up and they dont live that long. Usually six to ten years, and I believe Maddie said something about her being seven years old.

Mother.

Im just being realistic, pumpkin. Shes as adorable as a stuffed toy, yes, and if she were stuffed, wed get along beautifully. As it is, shes one hell of a nuisance.

A.J. had to bite her lip to keep a straight face. Look at that little face. That little pink nose, those little beady eyes.

Elysia sniffed. Morag sniffed back. Or perhaps she hissed. It was uncertain at that height.

Maybe next time youll think twice before you nab someones pet.

Elysia ignored this and went back to restoring order to her ransacked kitchen. A.J. found a sponge under the sink and scrubbed the granite counter as she filled her mother in on everything Jake had told her the evening before.

Perhaps we should go see Dora Beauford, Elysia said thoughtfully, tossing the soiled sponge in the trash bin.

Her kitchen was once more immaculate. However, if the sounds of tinkling glass from the dining room were anything to go by, Hurricane Morag was striking the west wing of the house.

A.J. thought it might be in Morags best interests if she were to otherwise occupy Elysias attention. Im not sure theres a point. Jake seemed to think Beaufords alibi was pretty much unshakeable.

Elysia shook her head in the manner of Holmes lamenting Watsons general obliviousness to the significance of tropical flowers. One doesnt question suspects merely to eliminate or convict them. Suspects often have useful information about other suspects. We need to gather as much information as possible to form an accurate picture of what really happened to poor Dicky.

Dora might not want to talk to us.

We wont know unless we ask, will we?

A.J. used her Palm Pre to look up Dora Beauford on the Internet. There were two Dora Beaufords. One was an elderly South Carolina widow who had passed away in 2001 and one was a professor at Warren County Community College.

Got her! Elysias smile would have given Snow Whites stepmother pause for thought.

How do you want to approach her? Drop her an e-mail or call the college?

Why shouldnt we call her directly? Shes in the phone directory. Still smiling that alarming smile, Elysia held the book up.


Dora Beauford lived in a very old brick apartment building in the small, historic borough of Washington. A.J. had been lucky and caught the archeology professor just before she left the college campus for the day: mention of Dicky Massri had apparently convinced Dora to see them. Within a few minutes of walking into the relaxed but stylish clutter of Doras apartment it was immediately clear to A.J. why Dora loved to talk. Especially about herself.

Coffee, tea, mineral water wine? Dora inquired as they seated themselves on the long zebra-striped sofa. The rooms furnishings were modern and eclectic: tailored, upholstered furniture, oriental tables and chests, lamps of blown glass and bronze, and a quantity of Egyptian-looking statues and objets dart.

Replicas?

The long, low, carved table in front of the sofa was covered with papers, books, folders. Dora appeared to have been grading papers when they interrupted.

Tea would be lovely, Elysia said.

A.J. agreed.

Well, Im having a glass of wine, Dora stated. She disappeared in the apartment cubbyhole of a kitchen.

Elysia nodded at the resin cat statue on a low bookshelf. She raised her eyebrows.

A.J. shrugged. She whispered, Do you think her voice sounds anything like the voice we heard in Dickys apartment when we were searching it?

Elysia considered. She was still considering as Dora reappeared with a glass of wine and sat down on a blue tailored chair across from them. The kettles on. Chin chin. She sipped her wine.

A.J. curiously scrutinized their hostess. Dora was a trim brunette in her mid-fifties with dark hair and brown eyes. She was very put together: designer jeans, a shortsleeved silk blouse, and ethnic jewelry.

So how did you know Dakarai? Dora inquired, looking from Elysia to A.J. with her bright, dark eyes.

Elysia said, We were seeing each other shortly before his death.

Dora gave an unexpectedly harsh laugh. Oh yes? She took another sip of her wine. Well, if you want to know my opinion, the little twerp got exactly what was coming to him.

It didnt get much blunter than that. A.J. had to wonder at such frankness to strangers. Once again she considered Doras voice. Had it been the voice of the woman in Dickys apartment? By now it was difficult to accurately remember those slightly harsh but definitely feminine tones.

What did he do to you? Elysia asked the other woman with genuine interest.

Dora said flatly, He lied to me. He cheated on me. He broke my heart-

Did he try to blackmail you? A.J. questioned.

Dora, mid-tirade, stopped. Blackmail? No. What could he blackmail me about?

Now there was a good point. Blackmail was only possible where the victim had something significant to lose by exposure. Dora did not seem like the retiring flower type.

The papers said something about extortion. Some women are sensitive to-

Some women are idiots, Dora retorted. If that little weasel had ever suggested blackmail, Id have She described in lavish and loving detail what she would do to any man foolish enough to, in Elysias vernacular, put the squeeze on her.

Two things became immediately clear to A.J. First, Dora had a slight impulse control problem. Secondly, Dora would be a very bad person to try and blackmail. If Dicky had been foolish enough to try, A.J. could believe that Dora might very well have killed him. Unfortunately, there remained the problem of Doras alibi.

Could it be broken? It seemed unlikely. If there was one person whom it would be all but impossible to fake out, it would be ones hairdresser. She-or he-would be bound to notice one disappearing in the midst of the cut or color.

Besides, Jake was thorough about such things. He understood what was at stake.

Elysia was asking, Where did you meet?

Egypt. I was part of an international professor exchange. My field is archeology. I met Dakarai in Cairo. He told me he was wary of involvement, a poor risk for a relationship; that he was getting over a bad marriage to a rich American actress. She sneered at some memory and took another swallow of wine. Oh, he did it beautifully, Ill give him that. I realize now none of it was true.

He was briefly married to a friend of mine, Elysia said. The actress Medea Sutherland. That was probably what he was referring to.

Dora the Explorer had no comment on that revelation. Anyway, we had an affair. The sex was incredible. Then it was over. Just like that. He dumped me. No warning. I have no idea to this day what went wrong.

Dora was a strange lady, but her pain and bewilderment seemed genuine, and A.J. felt sympathy-even if no one had tried to blackmail Dora, her life had still been disrupted. No one had the right to yank other people around like that.

How long did you see him for?

Five weeks. I was in Egypt for one semester. Frankly, I never expected to see Dakarai again, but one day I was coming out of the dry cleaners, and there he was. Her gaze zeroed on Elysia. With you.

Elysias eyes widened like a startled cat, but she said nothing.

Dora smiled. Oh, yes, I recognized you right away. I followed you that day, you see. And it was obvious that Id been played. Played from start to finish. She drained her wineglass.

So you started calling Dakarai, A.J. guessed aloud.

She wondered if they were about to have a Miss Marple in the Drawing Room moment, but Dora scotched that when she said briskly, Thats right. I started calling him. And following him. And, in general, harassing him. I didnt want anyone else to go through what I went through. To Elysia, she added, Not that you werent old enough to know better.

Elysia offered an acidic smile.

In fact I called the DHS to try and get him kicked out of the country. They said theyd look into it, but I dont think anyone ever did anything.

Did you ever try to talk to him directly?

I tried, of course. Oh, I admit when I first saw Dakarai I still had feelings for him. Embarrassing but true. They died fast. I realized he was just on the make. And apparently I wasnt in his target income bracket.

A.J. thought that was one possibility, but more likely Doras hostility and aggressiveness had made her a bad candidate for blackmail, regardless of her financial standing.

What did he say when you recognized him?

Dora laughed that edged laugh. His first instinct, believe it or not, was to pretend Id made a mistake.

Not the brightest bloke, Elysia had been right about that. Not even a very developed sense of survival if hed thought he could possibly get away passing that old line off on Dora. Why hadnt he just told her his puppy ate his homework and been done with it?

Dora said, Then he tried to suggest that we should relive old times. Her eyes were hard as onyx as they rested on Elysia.

Elysia said mildly, Well, he would, wouldnt he? Thats exactly the sort of thing hed try if cornered. He was a lover not a fighter.

He was a user. A liar, a cheat, a- Dora was on another roll.

A.J. interrupted, Did you ever hear anything about Massri being involved in the theft or smuggling of Egyptian antiquities?

Dora didnt answer for a moment, her gaze on her empty glass. There were rumors. Nothing overt. It was more a suggestion that he was lazy and not doing his job properly. He was lazy.

Apparently it was more than a rumor. He was fired from his position at the SCA.

Doras eyes narrowed. How do you know that?

A.J. lied. I contacted the SCA directly. She thought it would be better if Dora didnt know that their own relationship with the police was anything beyond adversarial.

Well, Im not surprised. The teakettle was whistling in the kitchen. Dora rose to get it.

She has the wherewithal to commit murder. Elysia kept her voice low.

The wherewithal?

The you-name-it. The gumption, the means, the motive.

But shes got an alibi. Plus

Plus what?

A.J. opened her mouth, but Dora poked her head out of the kitchen. Milk? Honey? Lemon?

Honey and lemon, A.J. said.

Milk, Elysia said.

Dora disappeared, but her voice floated back to them. Were you really going to marry him?

Elysias smile was odd. No, she returned. My experience was somewhat different from yours, Dora, but no.

Dora reappeared with two mugs, which she set on the piles of paper on the long table.

When was the last time you saw Massri? A.J. asked.

Months ago. She seemed definite on that point. After I turned him over to the DHS, I decided it was out of my hands.


Theres a colorful character, Elysia commented as they left Doras and walked back to where they had parked the SUV.

A.J. snorted. Boy, if that isnt the pot calling the kettle black-as the Bard would say.

Elysia gave her a cool look. I do think she was telling the truth, though. At least as far as she understands it.

A.J. agreed. It seems unlikely that if she had killed Dicky shed keep talking about how he got what he deserved and how angry she was with him.

Mmm. Elysia said thoughtfully, Perhaps. She doesnt strike me as a particularly wise woman.

True. A.J. remembered her impression that Dora might have impulse control issues. She did seem a little headstrong.

If someone is running some kind of blackmail scheme I cant imagine why theyd kill Peggy Graham and leave Dora running loose. Id kill Dora, given a choice.

A.J. said, hoping to discourage that line of commentary, First of all, we dont know for sure that Peggy was killed. Its still very possible she committed suicide. Secondly, if Dora wasnt being blackmailed, then she didnt have much in the way of ammunition. Thirdly, Dora seems like a woman well able to take care of herself.

She does. Very true.

If Peggy really was killed, she must have had possession of damaging information. Dora, well, she knew Dicky was a rat, but theres no law against being a rat, and however much a misery she made his life, she wasnt really threatening the business enterprise because she didnt really know anything.

Dora was working to have Dicky thrown out of the country. Had she succeeded, that would have been a disruption to the business plan.

True, I guess. Although there was still Cory. Besides, Dora didnt succeed in having Dicky deported.

We need to find Cory, Elysia remarked.

A.J. gave her an uneasy glance. One thing. I thought her expression changed when we mentioned Dicky was fired from the SCA. She sort of hesitated.

I noticed that, agreed Elysia.

Maybe it was just surprise, but what if it was something else? After all, her field is archeology. What if all those artifacts and objets dart in her apartment arent replicas? What if she was involved in some antiquities smuggling scheme with Dicky and he double-crossed her?

Elysia looked delighted. Pumpkin, thats very good. In fact its brilliant. Youre beginning to think like me. Just because Dicky was a blackmailer doesnt mean he was killed because of his blackmailing.

But we keep coming back to the problem of that alibi of Doras.

It is annoying.

Yes. I dont think its an easy one to break. You cant really rush out of a salon with those little foils on your head or hair full of glaze and not expect someone to notice.

Perhaps she has a twin sister. I remember once on an episode of 2-

I really doubt thats the solution. Besides, knowing Jake, he probably checked. A.J. considered their interview with Dora. Come to think of it, why wasnt she able to get Dicky thrown out of the country?

Perhaps he was here legally. Some people do enter the country legally. I did.

It would be one of the only honest things he did, A.J. said.


Seventeen | Murder On The Eightfold Path | Nineteen