Every Thursday night, Bea Wentworth follows the same routine. She visits the bookshop, the discount store, and the supermarket, and she’s home by nine o’clock. It’s utterly innocuous, but Bea Wentworth is a state senator, one of the most powerful women in Connecticut, and for that she must be punished. The kidnapper has been tracking her routine for weeks, and soon he’ll make his move.
When Bea is abducted, she awakens in a damp, underground dungeon, tied to a table and left to die. It falls to her husband, gentle children’s book author Lyon Wentworth, to save her from a horrible fate. With the help of the local chief of police, Rocco Herbert, Lyon must rescue the woman he loves—and determine which of her many enemies is sick enough to perpetrate this horrible crime.
Few authors understand how to balance suspense and emotional realism as well as Richard Forrest does. His Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries are classic, page-turning thrillers, anchored by the genuine emotional bond between the two main characters. In all of mystery fiction, there’s absolutely nothing like them.
Death Under the Lilacs is the 6th book in the Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Death Under the Lilacs
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
By Richard Forrest
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1985 Richard Forrest
All rights reserved.
He decided not to rape her.
It might be interesting to force himself upon her and watch her humiliation and degradation, but that wasn't part of the plan. He couldn't help but be attracted to her. She exuded a sexuality in the simplest of her movements that he found disconcerting. Erotic images kept recurring, but he forced the thoughts back into the tight mental compartments where they belonged.
The days of following her every movement had forced her into his dreams, and that hadn't been in the plan either. There would be time. If he changed his mind later, there would always be the opportunity to do with her what he wanted.
But this had to be done tonight.
The plans were complete. Necessary peripheral events had been set in motion, and the whole complex was building up an internal velocity that would fly out of control unless he proceeded with its final execution.
Yes, it had to be tonight.
The location was not of his choosing, but dictated by her personal habits. He had followed her carefully for three weeks, charting her moves and timing her actions with a stopwatch clenched in a damp fist until he had reached a point where he could accurately predict nearly every movement of her day.
As with most people, her actions fell into a predictable pattern.
It couldn't be done at her home. Although the house was located on an isolated tract of land wooded on three sides, with the fourth overlooking the Connecticut River, there were inherent risks. He had observed the house through binoculars, but had never actually been inside, and he knew from experience that people who lived in rural areas often had various weapons close at hand. Then there was her husband, who seemed to be constantly at her side while she was home.
Her weekdays were spent at the State Capitol, where she was never alone. Her activities at the Capitol were at a frenzied pace: senate sessions, committee meetings, or a party caucus that surrounded her with fellow legislators, lobbyists, or constituents.
He had briefly considered making the attempt on an isolated stretch of road. It would be possible to force her car off the highway onto the shoulder and continue from there. He had discarded that possibility after calculating the probability of passing motorists who might come to her aid or later identify his van.
It was logical that it be done at the shopping center where she stopped every Thursday evening from seven until nine.
The Murphysville, Connecticut, shopping mall was located on the outskirts of town. It was anchored on one end by a Stop and Shop supermarket and on the far side by a branch of Caldor's discount house. The interior of the leg of the center was occupied by a pharmacy, liquor store, and bookstore.
Bea Wentworth followed the same pattern each Thursday evening. She parked her car at seven, then spent ten minutes browsing in the bookstore and half an hour in the discount store. She finished by doing a week's grocery shopping at the supermarket. She pushed her grocery cart to the small station wagon and loaded her items through the tailgate, after which she drove briskly back to Nutmeg Hill, arriving around nine o'clock.
On the first night he followed her, he had gone into the bookstore knowing that he could safely browse without appearing conspicuous.
He had fled the store when he had come upon the large display of Wentworth children's books. A man-size cutout of a Wobbly monster had stared at him with red accusing eyes. A dozen of Lyon Wentworth's childrens' books with gaily colored dust jackets were clutched in the creature's paws.
He had left the store hurriedly and huddled in the shadows of a nearby phone booth.
Tonight she had parked two dozen feet from the nearest light pole. Her car was partially in the shadows and he had been lucky enough to find a space two removed where he could park the van.
He would do it while she fumbled with her keys to unlock the tailgate.
He watched Bea enter the supermarket and then returned to his van. He had promised himself a cigarette, and stripped the cellophane off a new package and slowly extracted one. He tapped it methodically against the steering wheel, ceremoniously lit it, and leaned back against the headrest to savor the mellow glow of anticipation.
Lyon Wentworth sighed. The Wobblies were gone.
They had retreated to some dark, secret place where they now rested with limpid eyes and slowly thumping tails. They were quiet, nearly comatose, and he barely felt their vitality. They had been missing for several days now and he needed them. They would not speak or let their presence be known in any manner, and that made it impossible for him to translate their adventures onto the typewriter that sat so disapprovingly before him.
He looked out the window. Far below the parapet that surrounded the patio, the river moved sluggishly, colored in dark hues from the dying day. A bleak gray sky pressed down on the high ridge lines, and the house sat under a teacup of low nimbus clouds.
His benign monsters were gone. He had tried to recall them by performing the ritualistic chores: He had replaced the ribbon in the typewriter and seen to it that a ream of clean yellow paper was piled neatly to his left and that gold paper clips glinted from a small cup on the right. Nothing had worked. The words wouldn't come.
He wished Bea would come home and give him the necessary excuse to leave his work, cover the typewriter, and mix drinks.
He had last seen her that morning when he found her engrossed on the kitchen phone. Her eyes had followed him as he poured coffee from the electric percolator, and she had wedged the receiver between her shoulder and ear while miming for him to pour her a cup. He had pretended not to understand until her eyebrow had arched in exasperation and he had finally given in and poured.
He had leaned against the kitchen counter with the large mug cupped between his hands and observed his wife. Bea's figure was trim and well proportioned. She spoke with an energy that seemed to possess her slight frame. Occasionally, as if to emphasize a point, her hand would ruffle the edge of her closely cropped hair.
If Lyon had been asked to identify his wife's most salient characteristic, he would have replied that it was her energy. She was a vital person, with strong opinions that she defended on the floor of the state senate and a robustness that intruded into nearly every facet of her life. He loved her very much and sometimes felt guilty that he drew so much of his own sustenance from her.
"I think, Senator, that we are in agreement," she had said in conclusion that morning as she hung up the phone.
"You're looking very political this morning," Lyon had said.
"Wingate is resigning from the state senate to run for the vacant congressional seat."
"Who will be majority leader?" Bea smiled. "It's gonna be a tough one."
"Ramsey will oppose you."
"He always does."
"He still thinks that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant."
"About time he learned," Bea had said as she drank from her mug and smiled at him over the rim.
"This state has never had a woman majority leader."
"We're on our second woman governor."
"Objection withdrawn. I wish you luck, hon." He kissed her on the forehead and refilled her cup from the percolator. He was actually ambivalent toward her new goal. While he knew that she was a courageous politician and had chits to call upon for support, he worried that she might lose. He wanted nothing to touch his wife. He wanted no harm or pain to come her way, and he would protect her from all that he could.
She gathered her pocketbook and keys. "I'll be late tonight. I have to do the shopping."
"I can do it."
"Oh, no. It would give you an excuse for not working."
"It's just not coming."
She had kissed him. "It will. Give it a chance."
And then she was gone, and the whole day and part of the evening had stretched before him.
A thumping on the front door broke his reverie, and he almost knocked over the desk chair in his eagerness to leave the study.
Rocco Herbert was slouched against the door frame and gave Lyon a casual salute as the door opened. "Happy-hour time yet?" "You know it!" Lyon replied and yanked his large friend inside the house. "I'll get the ice. You mix."
In the kitchen, Lyon levered ice-tray partitions and dumped loose cubes into a silver ice bucket. "Martha must be out of town," he yelled into the living room where the large police chief mixed a pitcher of martinis at a portable bar cart.
"She is," the chief replied. "Hurry up with the ice."
Lyon placed the full ice bucket on the cart, and Rocco immediately scooped up half a dozen cubes for his pitcher. Lyon poured a snifter glass half full of Dry Sack sherry. He waited for his friend to finish his drink ministrations.
Rocco carefully stirred his martini and poured himself a double. He held up his glass in a toast. "Cheers."
"Skoal," Lyon replied and both men drank.
"Martha's at her sister's for the night. I thought you and Bea might come over, and I'll throw a couple-three steaks on the fire."
"Sounds good." Lyon sipped his sherry. "It will be an improvement to an otherwise lousy day."
"Mine wasn't exactly a winner either." Rocco leaned back on the couch, his six-foot-six frame overlapping the furniture. "Do you realize that the proportion of drunken housewives is increasing arithmetically? They get a snootful and then, for reasons I do not comprehend, call my office and insist that I throw them in a cell."
"The spouses call?"
"Hell, no! The drinkees. Booze seems to bring out all the original sin syndromes."
"I won't ask who it is. Murphysville's too small and I would probably know them."
Rocco's gigantic proportions presided over the town's constabulary, which sometimes reached a peak force of twelve men, or, more recently, ten men and two women. He and Lyon had been friends for decades, a friendship formed during the Korean War, when Rocco had been a young Ranger officer and Lyon the most junior officer on Division G-2. Their relationship had started with symbiotic necessity; the young intelligence officer needed the eyes and ears of an aggressive patrol leader. Out of this contact a friendship had germinated and still flourished.
They were silent as they sipped their drinks; self-conscious small talk was unnecessary. Rocco slouched farther back on the couch and examined the ceiling.
"Ceiling needs painting," he said laconically.
"Probably. Something always needs to be done around here."
"It's turned into a fine house," Rocco said after a slight pause. "A lot of work, but a fine house."
Lyon remembered the day years ago when they had first discovered Nutmeg Hill. It was a fall Saturday, and the brisk air and autumn foliage had dictated an aggressive walk. Lyon and Bea had made their way along the ridge line that ran above the river. Their progress had been slow, impeded by rock formations, heavy shrubbery, and finally by the desolate looming house with boarded windows and doors that perched on the tip of the promontory overlooking the river.
The building had been unused for years. Initially constructed by a sea captain who had made a fortune in the triangle trade, it had suffered through the years by dissolute progeny who committed that prime New England sin — dipping into capital.
"I've got to have it," Bea had said.
"It's been vacant for years," he had replied. "The interior structure is probably completely rotted out."
"Find out, Wentworth. Find out if I can have it," his wife had demanded.
The New York law firm that handled the small remaining trust for the final descendant of the sea captain had been pleased to sell them the house for a price within their range. The interior had been a shambles, but an engineer's report had indicated surprisingly that the basic structure was still sound.
Their work had begun. Room by room, as time and money afforded, they had lovingly restored the house.
"Ceiling still needs painting," Rocco repeated.
"My day has been less than productive," Lyon replied. "You are forcing me into an untenable position."
"I'll get the drop cloths. You have paint in the cellar?"
"We always have paint in the cellar." Lyon went down into the basement for the necessaries, knowing that Rocco's suggestion was partial therapy for both of them. He shrugged as he walked down the steep steps. "So that the day is not a complete loss," he said aloud.
Bea Wentworth circled the supermarket aisles counterclockwise. This sometimes placed her in traffic jams with other grocery carts heading in the more conventional direction, but she insisted on doing her produce shopping last in order to coordinate salad and fresh vegetables with her choice of future main courses. She pondered over fresh mushrooms and delicately began to pluck the most succulent ones from their basket.
She ran a hand lightly over a mound of iceberg lettuce. A faintly perceived pressure seemed to tingle in the small of her back. It was the type of sensation she felt when someone stared at her. She wondered what sort of primeval brain stem still functioned inchoately within her.
The aisle behind her was empty except for a young couple who had just wheeled their cart through the front door. They seemed innocent enough. She saw a blurred movement through the plate-glass window, and then it was gone. Had someone been watching her from outside the store? She'd imagined for several days that she was being watched. She shook her head and smiled. Mild paranoia, she thought, probably caused by the upcoming battle over the senate majority leader position. She turned back to the iceberg lettuce.
Bea got in the checkout line with the diminutive blond checker she liked. She bent deep into the cart and began to line up her purchases on the conveyor belt. With her back turned to the front window, she again felt the nearly imperceptible pressure in the small of her back. She shook her head and continued unloading her purchases.
"How are you tonight, Senator Wentworth?" the checker asked with a smile.
"Just fine, Lena. But it's been a long day."
"You know it." The checker quickly finished tabulating the order, and together they bagged the groceries and loaded them back into Bea's cart.
The shopping center was closing down as the lights in the smaller shops began to wink off. Bea pushed the cart across the nearly deserted parking lot. One of the cart's wheels canted in a crazy angle, and she had to use force to continue her forward momentum.
The story of my life, she thought wryly. Shopping carts with broken wheels and post office lines with people ahead sending outsize packages to Hong Kong. She reached the small red Datsun station wagon, unlocked the tailgate, and swung it upward preparatory to unloading her groceries.
She heard the van door a few spaces away slam and then perceived footsteps rapidly approaching her. She half turned to look over her shoulder.
The approaching man wore jeans, a dark Windbreaker, and a multicolored ski mask pulled down over his face.
Bea instinctively reached into her shoulder bag and fumbled for the container of Mace.
The man's right hand closed over hers, while his left came up toward her face. In the dim light she saw cheesecloth clutched in his fingers. The cloth closed over her face, and she smelled the sweet odor of chloroform.
She turned her head rapidly back and forth to escape the anesthetic cloth and simultaneously brought her knee up into her assailant's groin.
The man gave a mild grunt as her kneecap connected painfully with a hard curved surface at his groin.
A single screaming thought shook Bea. He was wearing a cup!
The cheesecloth was again pressed over her mouth and nostrils — and then blackness.
Rocco and Lyon finished painting the ceiling without appreciable damage to the rest of the room. Rocco carefully folded the drop cloths while Lyon capped the remainder of a gallon of paint.
"I'm hungry," Lyon said. "What time is it?"
Rocco glanced down at the large watch strapped to his wrist with a heavy leather band. "Jesus Christ! It's after ten. Where in the hell is Bea?"
Excerpted from Death Under the Lilacs by Richard Forrest. Copyright © 1985 Richard Forrest. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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