I hadn't traveled fifty feet down Coverdale Lane before getting Darraugh's point: neighbors couldn't spy on each other here. Horses grazed in paddocks; orchards held a few desiccated apples from last fall. With the trees bare, a few mansions were visible from the road, but most were set far behind imposing carriageways. Poorer folk might actually see each other's driveways from their side windows, but most of the houses sat on substantial property, perhaps ten or twelve acres. And most were old. No new money here. No McMansions, flashing their thirty thousand square feet on tiny lots.
After going south about a mile and a half, Coverdale Lane bent into a hook that pointed east. I followed the hook almost to its end before a discreet sign on a stone pillar announced Larchmont Hall.
I drove on past the gates to Dirksen Road at the east end of Coverdale and made a loop south and west so I could look at the complex where Darraugh's mother was living. I wanted to know if she really could see into the Larchmont estate. A hedge blocked any view into the New Solway mansions from street level, but Ms. Graham was on the fourth floor of a small apartment building. From that vantage, she might be able to see into the property.
I returned to Coverdale Lane and drove up a winding carriageway to Larchmont Hall. Leaving the car where anyone could see it if they came onto the land, I armed myself with that most perfect disguise: a hard hat and a clipboard. A hard hat makes people assume you're doing something with the air-conditioning or the foundations. They're used to service in places like this; they don't ask for credentials. I hoped.
As I got my bearings, I whistled under my breath: the original owners had done things on a grand scale. Besides the mansion itself, the property held a garage, stables, greenhouse, even a cottage, which I assumed was for the staff who tended the grounds--or would tend the grounds if someone could afford to have the work done. The estate agent wasn't putting much into maintenance--an ornamental pond, which lay between the mansion and the outbuildings, was clogged with leaves and dead lilies. I even saw a carp floating belly-up in the middle. A series of formal gardens was overgrown with weeds, while no one had mowed the meadows for some time.
The neglect, and the number of buildings, was oppressive. If you were grandiose enough to buy such a place, how could you possibly take care of it? Circling each building, trying to see if there were holes in foundations or windows, looked overwhelming. I squared my shoulders. Whining doubles the job, my mother used to say when I balked at washing dishes. I decided to work from smallest to largest, which meant inspecting the cottage first.
By the time I'd finished prying at windows, balancing on fence posts to see if any of the roof glass of the greenhouse was broken, and making sure that the doors to the stables and garage were not just secure, but showed no recent signs of tampering, it was past noon. I was hungry and thirsty, but dark still comes early the first week in March. I didn't want to waste daylight searching for food, so I grimly set about circling the house.
It was an enormous building. From a distance it looked graceful, vaguely Federal in design, with its slender columns and square façades, but all I cared about was four floors' worth of windows, doors at ground level on all four sides, doors leading off upper-level balconies--a burglar's paradise.
Still, all the windows on the two lower floors held the telltale markers of a security system. I checked some on the ground floor with a meter, but didn't see anyplace where the current was interrupted.
People did come onto the land: beer bottles, the silver foil from potato chip bags, crumpled cigarette packs, the inevitable condom, told their tales. Maybe Ms. Graham was only seeing local kids looking for privacy.
From Blacklist by Sara Paretsky. Copyright Sara Paretsky 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam Publishing.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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