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"I think I put them in here." Ben opened a wooden drawer in the middle of an aisle, and began sorting through small glass-topped boxes and leather bags. "I found them last summer in a drawer of butterflies in the old science museum. Go ahead and look around. It's interesting, isn't it? I'm still amazed by what turns up."
"Are these things valuable?" Ellen's eyes swept the rows of busts and statuary and then turned toward the shelves of oversized fossils.
"Not those particularly, but there're a lot of things here that are. The alumni have donated whole collections of coins and paintings and rare books. Usually because they remember what it was like for them, and they want students here, kids from small podunk midwestern towns like they were, to be able to appreciate them too."
"That's a nice thing to do. When they could've sold them, or let their families have them."
"Of course, you have to remember that all artifacts are pieces of history even if they aren't valuable. What we tend to think of as 'History,' is basically the subjective interpretation of public acts, usually written from a considerable distance. Created objects are bits of real people's lives, and the day-to-day culture in which they lived. And I like that, for some reason. Ah, here they are. Finally. I was beginning to think they'd disappeared." Ben handed her a small, stained cardboard box.
Ellen took the lid off and carefully removed a layer of cotton, uncovering four crude, half-spherical copper coins which managed to give the impression of great age.
"They still have to be identified and dated, and I thought it would be an interesting project. Now what's the first thingyou'd do?"
"Look through the reference books?"
"Right. But what if you don't find them there?"
"Photograph them, I guess, and send the slides to whatever museums specialize in ancient coins."
"Good. I'd try the British National Museum, or the Berlin Museum maybe, or even the Vienna Numismatics Museum. And since you'll be working in the conference room, I'll keep them upstairs, in the safe in my office. I'll be around a few more weeks, so if you run into a snag, I can give you names of people who might be able to save you time."
"You aren't going back to England right away?"
"I have to settle Dr. West's affairs first." Ben followed her through the narrow hall and watched her bent head as she rubbed the coins between her fingers as though the feel of them was good against her skin. "So what made you want to become an apprentice?"
"Well, I'm a humanities major, but I want to be a writer. And I'm trying to learn all kinds of other things so I have something to talk about when the time comes."
"Good. That's what I would've done."
"And when I met you, when I was doing that paper on Branwell Brontë? It seemed to me that what you do must be great experience for a writer. Of course, my mother got me interested in historical things before that. She has an antique business that deals in small English pieces.
"I used to watch her with her barometers, and her pen and ink stands, and it was almost like they'd had lives of their own, and she could tell stories about them. That's what I did as a little kid. I'd go to the shop with her, and put paper in her typewriter, and use candlesticks and hourglasses as ideas for stories, the way someone else might use a murder weapon."
"I was raised in northern Michigan, and I called the hunting dogs when I was a kid and went to the woods." Ben grabbed a handful of cashews from the jar on Janie's desk and opened his door for Ellen. "So what's your father do? I'm sorry, that's none of my business."
"I don't mind. He's a judge."
"Ah. My dad's a tool-and-die maker. He's an inventor really, in his own way. Let me get those in the safe." Ben turned to the cabinet on the left of his desk and went through the combination, swinging the heavy metal door open on creaking hinges.
"So how was it that you and Dr. West and President Cook all ended up at a private university like Alderton?"
"My wife and I were teaching here, and Dr. West came to visit. He was working at the University of Michigan, and he liked the smallness of Alderton, the way you can really get to know your students and work with them individually. And then three years ago, when President Morrison retired, Dr. Cook applied for the position."
"So does that make you feel closer to President Cook than you would otherwise, having known him a long time?"
"Sure. I think so. We don't see each other socially a whole lot because we're both too busy, but yes. He and I even went down to enlist together during the war. Anyway, leave a message with Janie if I can help in the next few weeks. And when you need the coins, I can give them to her, if I know ahead of time."
"Could I make an appointment to interview you, like we talked about before? Especially now that Dr.--"
"Sure. How 'bout next week? After Thanksgiving vacation?"
"Fine. I'll arrange it with Janie. Did that man find you?"
"I came out of the conference room about an hour and a half ago, and Janie was out to lunch, and someone was sitting at your desk. He said he was using your phone while he waited for you to get back."
"What did he look like?"
"He wasn't very old. He could've been a professor, or he could've been a graduate student. He had dark hair and he was good-looking, but his clothes were rumpled and kind of dirty. I did notice one thing, though. He was wearing leather gloves, and I thought that was odd, if he was using your phone like he said."
"That's interesting. Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned it. Thanks."
Ben slid the key into Richard's lock and opened his kitchen door. Something smelled funny already; probably the cheese on the counter under the glass dome. He'd come back later and clean out the refrigerator and the cupboards, and maybe Maggie would come too and help salvage whatever was still good.
Richard had more kitchen equipment than Ben could believe possible, having specialized in French, Greek, and Chinese cuisine. And it took Ben a while to look through it.
He walked into the bedroom next, without noticing anything unusual. There was a double bed with a blue-striped Greek spread, a chest of drawers, a closet door with nothing behind it of particular interest, a disreputable Chesterfield chair and footstool, the two infamous brass floor lamps from the Salvation Army, and the Russian icon of the crucifixion Richard had bought in England during the war--which, aside from its artistic and religious value, was now worth an incredible amount of money.
The bathroom was what Ben had expected. Everything was put away, the same way it was in the bedroom and the kitchen. There were clean towels, shabby but still serviceable, and old nondescript fixtures. There were no sleeping pills, and no other medications in the cabinet except nitroglycerin, aspirin, and Alka-Seltzer, in addition to the usual first aid supplies and shaving equipment.
There was only a bed, a small chest of drawers, and a closet in the guest room, and that was filled with Richard's writing and memorabilia, which Ben sorted through superficially without finding anything that seemed significant. He pulled down the attic stairs and poked around up there, but nothing seemed unusual or out of place.
The dining room was on the other side of the hall from the guest room, and it was full of furniture Richard had inherited (a round, gateleg table and Queen Anne chairs, and an armoire filled with blue and white china). It looked just like it always had, with a single straw place mat and the family silver, and a book (Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson) open on the mahogany stand to the left of Richard's napkin.
Yet the living room was where Richard had really lived, and Ben could almost see him there, sitting in the dentist's chair he'd brought home from England, blowing smoke rings at the ceiling while he talked.
He'd combined the original two front rooms, turning one half into an office that he always kept stripped for work, and the other into a sitting room full of books and records and journals, stacked around two tan chairs and an old leather sofa covered with an African spread.
It didn't take Ben long to inspect the office, to go through the drawers in the worktable, and the picnic basket full of papers, and glance at the books in the bookshelves before turning to the clutter in the sitting room.
The desk Richard used for paying bills was on that side too, and it was another family piece, a tall bureau cabinet with doors at the top and drawers at the bottom and a writing surface in between.
Ben slid his hand across the smooth polished walnut and smiled to himself as he remembered the wording of the will he'd read that morning. Incorrigible old Richard. He'd left his money to three different charities, but he'd given Ben his Russian icon, his furnishings, his kitchen equipment and all his books, with one stipulation--Ben had to keep his collection of cookbooks intact in perpetuity, or forfeit the rest of the bequest. It was one of Richard's little jokes. He'd been trying to teach Ben to cook since Jessie died, as consciously as Ben had been avoiding it.
Ben sat at the desk and went through Richard's drawers, humming snatches of Mahler's Ninth and something by Bach he couldn't place.
He looked at his watch and put Richard's checkbook in the breast pocket of his trench coat. Then he gathered up five leather books Richard had bound himself, along with the leather-covered loose-leaf notebook he'd found beside Richard's typewriter, and put them in a cardboard box along with one French cookbook and the last two years of Richard West's personal papers.
"Come on, Journey! You know you want to do some work. Hurry up and get over here!"
The chestnut thoroughbred with the four white feet was gazing at Ben across the paddock. If there'd been any grass underfoot he would've made Ben come after him, but as things were, he sauntered toward the gate looking studiously unimpressed.
He walked sedately as Ben led him to the barn, since the wind wasn't blowing particularly hard, and Walter's dogs weren't running around. Journey always tried not to step on people or kick them, even when he was startled by a sudden noise. But he didn't humor them, and he didn't go out of his way to make them feel important.
Sometimes, if no one else was watching, he relaxed his standards. He might let his head rest on Ben's shoulder when his face was being brushed. He occasionally let Ben see that he did like to have his withers scratched; even that rubbing his nose on Ben's chest felt good, when they'd finished their work and he'd had his dinner.
But Ben was different than the ones he'd had before. He couldn't remember exactly what had happened, but he'd learned when he was young that humans take speed and pain and pay you back with neglect. Ben never slapped his flanks with a lead shank when he went into his stall, and he kept clean shavings under his feet, and his meals arrived regularly, which Journey, having nearly starved to death in his youth, knew only too well was the most important thing. There were actually times when he almost liked being around Ben. But that didn't mean that he'd let Ben see it.
"Journey's such a good boy. And you're a very good mover too, aren't you?" Ben leaned over and kissed the soft, delicate muzzle. And then he leaned toward a front hoof, and Journey, having anticipated it, held it up and offered it to Ben so he could pick out the mud on the bottom.
"We have to do the rest of them too, you know. That's right. Now let me brush your snoot. There, doesn't that feel good?"
Journey was standing quietly in the crossties and Ben was brushing the white patch on his forehead, when Journey lowered his mouth into Ben's upturned hand and closed his eyes and sighed.
The woods were deep with leaves, crackling in the wind and piled against fallen trees. The light was beautiful, dappling the soft ground, pillars of poured light and patches of shade. It reminded Ben of the ruined abbeys of England, the stone cathedrals broken into arches and empty spaces, of light places and dark corners carpeted with moss and soft green grass and grazing cream-colored sheep.
Ben was concentrating on the smells in the woods while Journey twitched underneath him with his head in the air and his ears pointed. He never did relax when they went cross-country. It probably had something to do with being on the track when he was young and having empty space in front of him and being expected to cover it as fast as he could.
A rabbit flew across the path and he bolted, briefly, settling back down to a hot quiver when Ben pulled him up. "It's okay, Journey. Nothing's going to hurt you. Just settle down, and we'll go home in a minute."
Ben's shoulders were tired, and he rolled them backward and forward, while he tried to remember what he'd been thinking about when Journey had lost control.
It came to him eventually and made him wonder what had happened to his concentration. He'd been trying to place the man Ellen had seen at his desk, the one who'd appeared in the office while Janie was out to lunch, who was good-looking and had dark hair and was wearing gloves and had said he was using the phone.
Not quite two hours later, Maggie had seen someone walking around the house, looking in the kitchen windows. His jacket was wrinkled and scruffy looking, which bothered Maggie. And when she'd opened the door to ask what he was doing there, he had beer on his breath in the middle of the afternoon.
Which means what? That the physical description narrows the field. And somebody was looking for something. The only personnel folder in Richard's desk, perhaps?
A lot of people know I'm the executor of Richard's will and have access to his personal effects. Bernard Greene wouldn't have much trouble finding that out, if he wanted to.
But neither would anyone else, and I refuse to jump to conclusions. Who was that criminologist from Mount Holly, New Jersey? He tried more than two hundred murder cases and had a much better conviction record than Scotland Yard or the Sûreté General of France. Ellis something. Ellis Parker. He was the one who used to say, "Facts don't lie. They can only be misinterpreted."
Even though that's not to say that there isn't a place for intuition.
But why did Richard have to be so inscrutable! What did he mean when he said, "You and I are the only people who can incriminate the guilty beast?" And when he quoted Johnson, when I was leaving for England, was that related to any of this?
Not to mention the fact that he could be more circuitous than anyone I've ever met, seeing it as an art form, as he did. If he'd gotten to the point a little sooner, I'd know what I was doing. But ... life is like that.
"Right, Journey? Come on, let's go home and get your dinner. It's getting dark faster than I thought it would."