When a Scottish professor dies of "natural causes" after writing a letter that makes it sound like murder, legend Ben Reese steps in to investigate. Book Three of the series!
About the Author:
Sally S. Wright is the author of the Ben Reese Mystery novels Publish and Perish and Pride and Predator. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she earned a degree in oral interpretation of literature, and also completed graduate work at the University of Washington. She and her husband live in Ohio and are the parents of two children.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Wednesday, June 7th, 1961
They stood on the sidewalk in front of The Eagle and Child and stared past each other at the night. They both looked like they'd been slapped, as the door snapped shut behind them. Or as though they were reeling from some recent event that made them question their hold on reality.
The thin, tailored Scotswoman, who looked like she was in her early sixties,
seemed more composed than the male American (who must have been a foot taller and was probably thirty years younger). And when he said, "You never get intimidated when you're teaching and I can't understand why you're running now," she just looked at him as though he were a spoiled child she was having to humor.
He was too young not to bristle, before he crushed his cigarette under a heavy boot and tugged on his black leather jacket. "You're letting other people make up your mind for you, and that's not the Professor Georgina Fletcher I've spent most of my life looking up to."
"I do see that it must be frustrating for you. Since you'd prefer to make up my mind yourself."
"I don't get it. I don't. Why won't you listen?" His face looked hot and red, even underneath his two-day stubble, and yet his stare was cold and controlled when he set his hands on his hips.
"It's a terribly complicated situation, and I can't explain fully at the moment. But if it's any consolation a-tall, if I could do as you ask, I would."
"Is it reasonable to be belligerent, do you think, when you, as I understand it, are the one seeking the favor?" She said it quietly in a soft English-educated Scottish voice, while looking him right in the eye.
"I'm trying to get your attention!" He glared down at her and shook his head, before he lunged at her and grabbed her purse. He shoved something into it he'd already pulled from his jacket pocket and tossed the bag back to her. Then he was gone without a word, loping south down St. Giles toward the Ashmolean Museum.
Georgina Fletcher had backed away from him before she had time to think, and she stood leaning against a narrow stuccoed strip of wall between the pub's door and the window on her left. She lowered the hand that had caught the purse and rested her head on the cool wall. Then she pulled her suit coat closer, while she stared at the very old hand-painted sign hanging above her head--the eagle snatching up a naked baby who hung by an arm from its claws.
She'd always thought it an odd choice for a quiet respectable family gathering place, frequented by civilized darts players and Oxford dons. But at that moment, she empathized with the dangling child even more than she had before.
She herself was unscathed, of course, only shaken and slightly embarrassed.
And it was that sense of exposure in far too private a moment that led her to glance up and down the street to see if anyone had noticed. There are always crowds coming and going in Oxford, certainly at ten o'clock at night,
but no one appeared to have stopped in his tracks. And that was a relief for someone who likes to live tucked away far from the public eye.
She took time to feel through her purse, for whatever had been shoved inside it, and found three folded carefully typed sheets of paper, which she read while the creases in her forehead fought and her narrow mouth tightened. She slipped the pages in her purse, pushed a hairpin back in her French roll,
smoothed her green wool skirt, and then turned to her left, walking north on St. Giles toward the Woodstock Road.
She crossed Little Clarendon Street, and drew up between a bakery and Grey's Restaurant. Then she waited for oncoming traffic before she crossed St.
Giles and slipped into the narrow stone path between St. Giles Church and its cemetery.
It was cool and dark and slightly unnerving there at night in the shadows of the cedars and the standing stones. And it irritated Georgina immensely that her first reaction should be so absurdly irrational. Which in turn made her refuse to pick her way out to Banbury Road any more quickly than usual.
She turned left on the uneven sidewalk, telling herself as she did many times each day to pull her shoulders back and stride briskly, in spite of all the creaks and crackles that had come with age and arthritis.
Then she was home, opening the wrought-iron gate in the stone wall that wrapped around The Parsonage, the small stone inn next door to St. Giles Church, where she always stayed in Oxford.
She'd lit a fire in the fireplace of her large cream-colored room, and she sat staring at the flames from the desk between the two front windows. She'd addressed a letter and written the first sentence, but she couldn't think how to proceed.
There are moral decisions to be made. As always. And these are more critical than many. How much ought I to tell? How much should I imply? Should I draw attention to the person I suspect? And how much history should I dwell upon?
When I may be entirely wrong.
Pray God I am. For the pretense and the deceit, the sickness and the selfishness, hardly bear thinking upon.
Of course, even if I am right about the danger, and the outcome I fear from my own intervention, I may well be wrong as to the person responsible.
I don't think I am. There are too many threads pulled tight in that direction. And yet one must be fair and not prejudice the case.
For if one were wrong, one could mislead the investigation from its inception. Thereby endangering the innocent, and enabling the guilty to go free.
No, one must err on the side of mercy.