Read Death Leaves a Bookmark Online

Authors: William Link

Death Leaves a Bookmark

Death Leaves a Bookmark

William Link

A
MysteriousPress.com

Open Road Integrated Media Ebook

T
ROY
P
ELLINGHAM
hadn’t read a book since college. He had better things to do with his life, but so far none of these had turned out to be profitable. The irony was that his uncle, Rodney Haverford, was an antiquarian who dealt in rare books, having an exclusive shop on Melrose Avenue. Uncle Rodney was so snooty, so nose-in-the-air, that Troy jokingly wondered how he blew it. The old man was healthy as an ox, was in his eighties, and never had suffered a head cold. This presented Troy with a problem.

His uncle always dressed in Saville Row bespoke clothing, imported from London: heavy tweeds with vests and watch fob pockets, even on sizzling summer days. And he never seemed to sweat. Perspiration would be unseemly to the old snob, something only blue collar laborers were forced to endure. Or other members of the lower class who worked with their hands.

Of course Uncle Rodney had a trust fund, set up by his father, whom Troy’s late mother had once told him was another snob.

Genetically, Rodney was cut from the same bolt of disdain. Like father, like son, both elitist snots who might wipe their fingers with a scented hankie after shaking hands with someone below their status.

Troy had degradingly flattered his uncle, licked his posterior daily and twice on Sunday. He always metaphorically got on his knees to the wealthy, especially if he knew he could inherit some of their vast riches when they croaked in a comfortable bed.

The only family Uncle Rodney had left were a niece by marriage and his nephew Troy. The niece, Marcella, was attractive and spent money as if she could always print more because she knew the printing press was her uncle. Uncle Rodney and Marcella had formed a close relationship during the summers she and her mother had stayed with him when she was a child. Later she came to live with Rodney in his Beverly Hills home while studying at UCLA. Their bond remained so strong that she stayed on after college.

Once the old man had learned that Troy was no book worm, and was a failure in his business endeavors, he wrote the lad off as if he were a bad investment. He had even threatened to cut him out of his will, but Troy knew for a fact that he hadn’t gotten around to it yet and probably wouldn’t. After all, to Uncle Rodney, family ties were sacrosanct.

Troy also knew he wasn’t going to allow the old snob to die peacefully in his comfortable bed, surrounded by sycophantic doctors and nurses, all with greedy, outstretched hands. That would take too long. Now, how was he going to work it? That was the question. Since all his business plans had gone awry, he knew that this undertaking couldn’t. It had to be the most carefully well-thought-out scheme of his life. He had heard that some mystery books had beautifully worked-out murder plots, but he was no reader. He had once thought that he could pretend to read a book but he knew his uncle would ask him some well-chosen questions and prove him to be a liar.

Rodney seemed to dote on Marcella. She was a little flighty and self-centered, but Troy didn’t mind splitting Uncle Rodney’s fortune with her. Perhaps they would wind up married and he would then have it all. Stop dreaming, he cautioned himself. You’re still a long way from driving a Rolls and flinging money around like confetti. First he needed a fool-proof plan.

His uncle had him working in his bookstore, wrapping books to send out to book lovers here and in Europe, going to the post office to mail them, keeping things tidy, and overseeing new purchases. Uncle Rodney had reduced him to a gofer, a member of the same working class that he despised. Lately, as Troy worked in the store, he found himself trying to come up with a murder plan. One that would require an air-tight alibi, something that couldn’t be picked apart. He thought, jokingly, that maybe the old man was the perfect person to work the plan out for him.

As it turned out, serendipitously, he didn’t need a plan at all.

It was a slow afternoon, Uncle Rodney reading at his desk in the back of the store. Troy didn’t know what the hell to do with himself. He could only stare out at the few passers-by on the street, most looking as bored as himself.

Scanning the store while his uncle was engrossed, he noticed that there was a small space behind the large bookcase on the west wall. The bookcase held a random collection of large art books, crime novels, and some law books. God, what a mess. He would have to reorganize all of those next. If he slipped behind the bookcase and his uncle came looking for him, he might …

But that meant he had to have a lot of strength in his arms and shoulders, and he had stopped going to the gym because of his money problems. Suppose someone came in at the wrong moment? It just might be worth it, though.

On an impulse, he closed the blinds on the street door and moved into the space behind the tall bookcase. God, am I really going to do this?

He gathered his inner strength and then called out: “Uncle Rodney!”

Querulous: “What do you want?”

“Could you please come here a moment?”

He could hear the old man’s footsteps moving toward the front of the store. Annoyed: “Where the devil are you?”

Troy stood behind the bookcase placing both arms and his strongest leg behind it. It was the most difficult thing he had ever attempted in his soft life. He got the bookcase to move—and then with a push, it toppled over on the old man. The clatter could probably be heard in the adjoining stores and on the street.

He moved out immediately. He looked down through the empty shelves and saw the old man still twitching, just barely alive. He’d better finish the job and be damn quick about it!

He anxiously looked around. Several large art books were laying splayed open on the floor. He reached down to grab the heaviest one and almost dropped it. Fumbling again, he picked it up and closed the covers. This would do nicely. Death of a bookseller, ironically by one of his own books, he thought. Then he battered the old man’s head through the space between two of the shelves. Satisfied now that he was dead, he wiped off the blood and his prints on the front and back covers of the volume with his handkerchief. And also the spine, just in case. He threw the book down on the floor, right next to his victim’s head. He would have to remember to get rid of the handkerchief later.

He stood still, out of breath, listening for a moment, hoping against hope that the clatter went unnoticed and that nobody was too near-by. Then he took a deep breath. Held it for a bit. Waited. Frozen. Thank God there was still no response from anyone outside.

Knowing he hadn’t left any prints on the back of the bookcase, he grabbed two parcels that had to be mailed, and ran to the back door of the store.

Outside now in the small parking lot, he moved past Rodney’s Rolls and jumped into his own car, an eleven-year-old Dodge. Only one car had come down the alley, but he had turned away just in the nick of time. He was flying on the wings of luck and there was no better carrier, not even FedEx!

As he sailed down Melrose on the way to the post office, he saw in his mind’s eye his future. It was lit up like neon. Uncle Rodney’s money, all millions of it, and half of it would be his. And who knew what his future would be with Cousin Marcella? It was about time he got married, anyway.

At a Dumpster far away from the bookstore he threw away the bloody handkerchief, covering it with the accumulated trash.

There was nothing that night on the tube about his uncle’s “strange accident.” Marcella called around eleven, worried to death that Uncle Rodney had not returned yet to the house. She had called the store but all she got was his answering machine. “Should I call the police?” she asked him.

“Definitely. Why didn’t you call me earlier?”

“I thought … I thought that maybe he had dinner and gone off with a friend to have a drink. Oh, God, Troy, something like this has never happened before!”

“Call the police. You want me to come over?”

She hesitated. “Well … yes. Why don’t you?”

“Be right there.”

He hung up, combed his hair, and put on his best sport jacket. With Marcella in a very vulnerable mood, maybe this was just the time to be sympathetic and slowly start a relationship. A romantic one.

My, what a greedy pig you are, he thought with an inner smile. Half a fortune isn’t good enough for you? You want the whole damn pie with a good-looking young woman serving it? Yes. I do.

The Rodney mansion was a Georgian Colonial, conforming to Rodney’s expensive and elegant tastes. Another asset that would be his and his cousin’s. It was all dark except for a light leaking through the blinds in the living room.

Marcella had been crying, her eyes red, but that didn’t obscure her beauty. She had almost snow-white blonde hair left long, the way Troy preferred. Blue eyes and a pale provocative mouth that started rumblings in his lower region. A very nice piece, indeed.

He gave her a hug, his hands just lingering a beat around her slim body. Smallish breasts, but that was fine. He was not a big breast man.

“Did you talk to the police?” he said, still holding her.

“Yes. They’ve sent somebody over to the store in case he’s still there, working late.”

“But you said you called him there.”

She broke slowly away from him, trying to regain her composure. “I know. But Uncle Rodney sometimes doesn’t answer if he’s in the middle of something. You know that from working there.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

She sat down on a plush, comfortable davenport. He joined her, keeping a safe, chaste distance. He had been wrong: this was not the proper time to approach her. But somehow, as never before, she had whet his appetite. She was wearing jeans and a simple gray pullover. In Troy’s mind, she could have been in a bareshouldered evening gown and he probably wouldn’t have been turned-on more.

He had begun to tell her to stop worrying when the doorbell rang. She jumped up to get it.

The guy who walked in was nothing special, to say the least. He introduced himself with a badge as Lieutenant Columbo. He was wearing a raincoat that seemed to have endured a million rainstorms, and he seemed to be a bit bowlegged as he walked further into the room.

“Have you found our uncle?” Troy asked. Marcella was still standing.

Columbo hesitated, his expression darkening over. “I don’t have good news,” he said finally, looking at Marcella. She was stunned into silence.

“What is it?” Troy asked, his voice intentionally muted.

“We found Mr. Haverford in his bookstore. A big bookcase had fallen on him …”

“Good God!,” Troy cried out. He was on his feet now, an arm around Marcella, who was staring in shock at the cop.

“I hate to say this,” Columbo said, “but there was something additional.”

Troy felt Marcella’s body tighten with tension.

“Someone had bashed his head in with one of the books,” Columbo added. “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this.” He looked sorry, as if it had happened to his own uncle.

Marcella shuddered and collapsed into Troy’s arms. God, he thought, what a lovely bundle. Her Chanel perfume floated up his nostrils like the fragrance of a garden of summer roses. He had to physically restrain himself from cupping her rear.

“Lieutenant … I don’t know what to say …” He tried to exhibit a deep grief, but he knew not to lay it on with a cement-worker’s trowel.

Columbo said, “We can’t do much at this time of night. All the other stores are long closed. What’s your name, sir?”

“Troy Pellingham.” He nodded at Marcella: “Marcella and I are distant cousins.” He didn’t mention he had been working in the bookstore. This guy would find that out in the morning.

Columbo took some time trying to locate his notebook, finally coming up with it in his back trouser pocket. He started jotting something down. Probably our names, Troy thought. He could feel Marcella beginning to tremble. “Marcella dear,” he said softly. “I think you better sit down.”

He guided her back to the davenport, helped her sit down, her head lowered as if she didn’t want to hear any more horrible news.

Columbo had closed his notebook, having trouble finding an empty pocket to put it back in. “I think that’s all,” he said, the dark look on his face again. “I know how you both must feel, and I have to tell you again I hated coming here to tell you this.”

Troy nodded. “That’s very good of you, lieutenant … Costello, was it?”

“Columbo,” Columbo said. He shuffled a little toward the door, stumbling a little, glancing back at Marcella. He wasn’t bowlegged, but his legs seemed tired as if he had been on his feet all day. “You better be sure the young lady gets to bed as soon as I leave.”

“Yes, lieutenant, I will.”

“Do you know if there are any sleeping pills in the house? She might need one tonight.”

“No, I don’t, but I’ll certainly check.”

Columbo was at the door. “Then I’ll say goodnight to both of you.”

“Goodnight, lieutenant,” Troy said. Marcella murmured something that was impossible to hear.

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