SIMILARITIES TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD
From Forester’s, it was a short trip to Richard Taylor’s so we could shake him down and see what fell out. Like in most homicides, Sheila Taylor’s spouse was a primary suspect, of course, but the police cleared him. They bought his alibi, but I knew how lazy the local lawdogs could be. I was going to see how well Taylor’s alibi held up under the pressure of actual scrutiny. Either way, it had the possibility to lead somewhere and if he got out of line, I could always blow a hole in him.
Of course, if I disregarded the fact that Alex Gold was supposed to be dead, focusing on the fact that he’d been seen as recently as a week ago, he would’ve made a great suspect in Sheila Taylor’s murder, too. He was looking lively enough in the photo of him and Sheila, then she and the photographer ended up dead. There were lots of questions that needed answering. Something suspicious was definitely afoot. I let Harmony knock on the front door of the townhouse. It was a very sad-faced man who answered. He was unshaven and his hair was uncombed. His clothes looked like they’d been slept in and I was sure he could’ve smelled better.
“Richard Taylor?” I asked.
“My name is Brick Stone. This is Harmony Storm. We’re sorry we have to bother you, but we have some follow-up questions--”
“--about Sheila. Of course, come on in,” he said, moving aside to let us in. “I want to help any way I can. I want her killer found.”
“We understand,” Harmony said as we followed him into the living room. “Losing a loved one like that…It’s just so terrible.”
“Please, sit,” he offered, guiding us to the couch and then sitting across the coffee table from us in one of the expensive-looking chairs. “Excuse the boxes. They’re all over. I was just…putting away some of…Sheila’s things.”
“That must be hard for you,” Harmony said. “The two of you obviously made a beautiful home here.”
“Thanks,” he said, pouring himself more wine. “I’d offer you a drink, but it‘s early and you‘re working.”
In fact, there wasn’t anything I’d seen in the place that made it look like they had gone the discount route on decorating, certainly not the Persian rug or the fancy French chairs or the expensive collectibles. Even the wine glass Taylor was using to embalm himself looked like it was part of an expensive set. “No problem. I plan to be shooting people soon.”
“I’m not sure I follow. Oh, my goodness! Are you following some dangerous lead?”
“Possibly,” I told him, “but I just always plan on doing some shooting. Making room for some action in my daily schedule keeps the blood flowing--mine, at least, and sometimes other people‘s, too.”
“I don’t mean to get off-track, but I’ve never seen a wine glass like that before. Is that part of a set?” Harmony asked.
“It’s unique, actually,” Taylor said, holding it up. “It’s hand-carved from a single piece of bone, polished to be smooth as glass and there’s a ring of tiny, square-cut onyxes around the top of the stem.”
“It’s beautiful,” Harmony said. “It looks so elegant.”
“I know,” he said. “It was Sheila’s. She used to drink from it every day.”
“So you can drink to remember and forget at the same time,” I said. “Convenient. Where‘d she find it?”
“I really don’t know. Antique shop?” He took a sip and said, “I like port, but her favorite drink was this old spice wine. It was Roman, I think. I don’t know how she managed to find the stuff, but she loved it. It smelled like flowers and honey.”
“Sweet,” I said, looking around the room. “You collect coins, too?”
“What? Oh, no,” Taylor said, realizing I had noticed the different books on the coffee table and in one of the open boxes nearby. “Those were Sheila’s books. She didn’t actually start a collection, just did research a long time ago. She had a few different hobbies, liked to collect things.”
“That must make this all the more difficult for you,” Harmony said softly. “How long were you two married?”
“Three years,” he said sadly. “Three wonderful years. I swear she had to have been the funniest woman I‘ve ever known.”
“And yet, in spite of all the joy and laughter, you hired Lew Manning to follow her,” I said. “What made you think she was picking up outside action?”
“Well, just odd behavior, I guess,” he said. “She didn’t seem as happy as usual, very stressed and tense. She seemed preoccupied, started making mistakes and forgetting things. There were strange phone calls and she started getting more secretive about how she was spending her time. I got concerned, at first, and then suspicious…afraid that…Well, none of that seems to matter so much anymore…now that she’s gone.”
“Believe me, it ain’t over yet,” I told him. “Manning’s dead, too, and we’re trying to figure all this out before someone else ends up in the morgue.”
“You think his death had something to do with Sheila? How?”
“That’s part of what we’re working on figuring out,” I said. “Whatever was going on, though, my instincts give me a pretty strong feeling that it was more than just some cheap affair.”
“You mean, my Sheila wasn’t cheating on me?” he asked with a glimmer of confusion and wide-eyed optimism.
“Well, I can’t really rule it out yet,” I told him. “The pictures of her at the fancy hotel sure don’t help.”
“The hotel? You mean, the Ambassador?” he asked. “We have a special deal with them. We keep rooms rented there for visiting performers and such.”
“Had any of your VIPs in town in the last couple of weeks?” I asked.
“Well, yeah,” Taylor said. “We had five or six in the last month.”
“And Alex Gold was among them?”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“The pictures you hired Manning to take put them together,” I said, “and if she wasn’t stepping out on you, I’m betting that whatever was going on, there was also a lot of money involved.”
“Money? How do you mean?”
“What did Sheila do with her days and nights?” Harmony asked. “I mean, the parts you knew about. Did she work?”
“With me,” Taylor said. “We own…I own The Looking Glass. Sheila came in a couple of years back and started doing the books.”
“Aha! So, suddenly you were losing money! She was cooking the books and feathering a love nest with some other slob! You couldn’t take it when you found out, so you iced ‘em both!”
“Uh…What? No. No!” he insisted. “Actually, its one of the busiest restaurant nightclubs in The City. It’s very successful and only seemed to get better once Sheila left her old job and we started working together. I’ve never seen better kept accounting records than hers. She was positively meticulous. I mean, look at this place. Try to ignore the boxes and my stumbling through here in a half-lit, grieving stupor. She was so great. I don‘t think…the club would be where it is today without her. I wouldn‘t be what I am…I don‘t know how I…”
I could see he was about to start blubbering again. That was about all I could handle of that touchy-feely nonsense. I could feel my hand reaching for my gun when I asked, “Hey, what was her old job? Where was she working before?”
“She was at…at…Corvus,” he said. “She was in their accounting department.”
“Corvus. Corvus,” I said, prodding at my brain. “That sounds familiar.”
“Don’t they do a bunch of weird sciencey stuff?” Harmony asked.
“That’s it!” I remembered. “They isolated the shaving cream molecule!”
“Oh, yeah,” Harmony said. “There was a thing on the news. They just moved that guy out to Wardenclyffe with the mad scientists.”
“Umm…I don’t watch the news much,” Taylor said. “Really, I was never sure what they did, but I always got the impression that they did good things.”
“Why?” Harmony asked.
“Well, because they said they did, I guess.”
“Sound business theory,” I said. “Doing good by using your resources to tell people you’re doing good.”
“What?” Harmony asked me.
“It’s like giving somebody money for food,” I explained. “You may doubt that it’s actually going for food, but if you can convince yourself that it is, then you feel better about it than if you believe it’s for booze and drugs. That makes you feel better about giving your support.”
“So people feel better about dealing with a company they believe does good things,” Harmony said. “So even if they spent all their money telling people about the good things they did, they’d be doing good just because they told people about it.”
“Wouldn’t that mean that they’d also be doing a public service by keeping any bad stuff they did covered up?”
“Sure,” I said. “A big company doing big things is gonna have big secrets. If they’ve got big secrets, it means they’d go to great lengths to keep them. Someone in accounting could‘ve found the clues of a trail that others might not.” And if I’d been able to find my copy of the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue), I could’ve shown them some blurb about how bean counters rather than cops brought down Al Capone.
“Sounds like Corvus could stand a closer look,” Harmony said.