"Does this mean Mrs. Smart was murdered?" Hector was the first to speak.
"It would seem so," McAllister answered.
The crack in McAllister's voice frightened Hec. "That's no' right," he said to one in particular. He rubbed his hands through his sticking-up carrot-colored hair, and sniffed. "That canny be right. She was a really nice woman."
"McAllister, how did it happen?" Rob looked at the editor, the man who knew almost everythingin Rob's eyes. "And why?"
"I don't know. All I know is I saw her body. That she was stabbed is news to me."
McAllister looked at Joanne, who was sitting with her head in her hands saying nothing. Rob too looked lost, fiddling with his pencil, staring at the table. Hector was sniffing, trying his best not to cry.
The shrill ring of the telephone made everyone jump.
"Rob. Beauchamp Carlyle here. May I speak with Mr. McAllister?"
Rob thought that Beech, as he was known, had no need to introduce himself. His voice alonethat educated upper-class born-to-rule drawlwould identify him. His guffaw that passed for a laugh and always made the listener join in even when they didn't get the joke endeared the man to all he met. Rob passed the receiver over.
"There's a disturbance at Mr. and Mrs. Smart's house," Beech said. "I'm at my sister'sshe lives next door. It seems Mr. McLeod is involved."
"I'll be right over." McAllister hesitated before asking, "Have you heard? No? Mrs. Smart died last night. Yes. Terrible news. I'll see you in five minutes."
"I'm coming too." Rob was off before McAllister could stop him.
"Joanne. Could you hold the fort?" McAllister asked. "Any calls about Mrs. Smartjust say nothing."
It took Joanne a minute or so to realize Hec had sneaked out. She looked at the long expanse of empty table, wondering how they would be able to meet this week's deadline without Mrs. Smart, when the phone rang.
"Gazette. Oh, hello, Betsy. No. Mrs. Smart won't be in." Hearing the panic in the Gazette secretary's voice, Joanne knew she would have to break the bad news. Knowing that Busty Betsy, as the printers called her, hated climbing the narrow stone stairs in what Joanne considered too high-heeled shoes for a workday, she said, "You'd better come upstairs."
Thanks a lot, McAllister; dealing with a hysterical Betsy Buchanan is just what I don't need. But deal with Betsy she must; she had assured McAllister that knowing that her husband, Bill, was living with Mrs. Betsy Buchanan, war widow and assisted blonde, was not a problem.
It keeps him away from me, she had told McAllister. She would never admit her niggles of resentment; Betsy could wind Bill Ross round her little finger, whereas all Joanne had managed in ten years was to rile him, provoke him into hitting herand worse.
* * *
The disturbance was over by the time Rob came roaring down the hill on his red Triumph motorbike. He parked on the pavement and went through the open gate leading to the back garden. The back of the large turreted mansion house faced the road leading to the south side of Loch Ness. The substantial gardens, bound by high stone walls, faced the river.
When he came in the garden gate, Rob saw three policemen: one talking to Mr. Beauchamp Carlyle, the other two talking to a man in a wheelchair. Holding onto the handles of the wheelchair stood a slight, Asian-looking man who seemed half the height of Mr. Beauchamp Carlyle's six foot five. Beech wrote the "Countryside" column for the Gazette, and unknown to most, he was a major shareholder of the newspaper. There was no sign of Don.
Rob waved to Beech, who mimed Two minutes. Rob saw the man in the wheelchair, guessed he was Mrs. Smart's husband, and wondered if it would be too crass to approach him. The arrival of a police car with Detective Inspector Dunne and a taxi with McAllister solved his dilemma.
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