Sure that the award-winning owner of a family-run vineyard was murdered, Cait shares her findings with Bud Anderson, a retired homicide cop. But he is convinced that the woman took her own life, whatever her grief-stricken sister might say. That is, until death strikes once again, in the neat rows of grapevines that clamber up the banks of magnificent Lake Okanagan. Uncovering obsessions that might have fuelled murderous thoughts among the victim's wacky neighbours is a start, but as Cait unravels the clues, she realizes that more lives are at stake. Can she think, and act, quickly enough to thwart the killer?
The Corpse with the Golden Nose is the second book in the Cait Morgan Mysteries, a classic whodunit series featuring the eccentric Professor Cait Morgan.
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The Corpse with the Golden Nose: Chapter One
Champagne and Orange Juice
Bud slapped the photograph onto the table in front of me as though it were a gauntlet.
“This photo showed up in my email a few days ago. From someone I...know. What do you read in it, Cait?” He looked grim.
I held the photo at arm’s length and squinted at the blurry image. I could make out two women, both with dark, curly hair. They were smiling.
I felt my multi-purpose right eyebrow shoot up as I asked, “Is just one of them dead, or both of them?”
“How’d you guess?” Bud asked, grinning.
“Oh, let me see, now...maybe it’s something to do with me being a criminologist who specializes in victim profiling and you being an ex-homicide detective. And the hope, on my part, that you’re unlikely to show me a photo of a woman, especially two women, in whom you have anything other than a professional interest. Those facts, when taken together with my amazing powers of deduction, have helped me reach the conclusion that I’m looking at either one or two victims, or, if not victims, then at least people who are now dead.”
I hurled a bright smile toward Bud and waited for him to tell me off for my cheekiness.
Bud shrugged. “You know me too well, Cait.” His voice warmed, and he looked pleased about something. Then his smile faded. “The taller of the two died about a year ago. The other one’s her older sister. But that’s all you get.”
“So there’s no point my asking if it was an accident, a suicide, or a homicide?” I asked.
Bud paused, refreshed our glasses, and took a sip from the champagne flute that looked almost too delicate in his large hand. “I can’t tell you that, because I don’t know, Cait, I can only be certain it wasn’t an accident. The whole local community, the cops, and the coroner, all say suicide. The sister says no way.
I have no idea. There was a note, and the sister says the cops won’t look into it any further as there are no grounds to suspect anyone else was involved.”
Ahso that was it. Bud had found a damsel in distress and he wanted to help her. Immediately, I wondered why he felt he owed this unknown woman anything. I mentally kicked myself for allowing a pang of jealousy to clutch at my satisfyingly full tummy. I swallowed deeply from my glass, and decided to play nice.
Bud and I had chattered happily through the delicious brunch I’d prepared in the small kitchen of my little house on Burnaby Mountain. We’d already managed to solve the world debt crisis and the problems in the Middle-East before I’d made the second pot of coffee. We’re good like that. Throughout the meal of creamy scrambled eggs draped over golden, buttered toast, Marty, Bud’s tubby black Lab, had waited patiently under the table, never taking his glorious amber eyes off us for a moment. Finally, his steadfastness had been rewarded, and I congratulated myself on saving at least a dozen calories by allowing him to lick my plate. It was then, when I was enjoying the memory of the food, and therefore at my most vulnerable, that Bud had produced the photograph. He knows me too well.
“You know I don’t like to assess individual photographs. They’re unreliable sources of insight,” I snapped, possibly a bit too sharply.
“Well, you might not like to,” Bud spoke slowly, “but you’re good at it. You were good at it when I hired you to consult for my integrated homicide team, and, even though I’m retired now, I reckon you’re still good at it. So treat this as a challenge if you must, sweet Caitlin Morgan”he was grinning wickedly, a sight that always makes my heart flutter and stutter“and tell me what you can?” He phrased it as a question, but we both knew it was the sort of challenge I couldn’t resist.
I scrabbled around under the copy of the Globe and Mail that lay on the table, hunting for my reading glasses. I don’t need them all the time, you understand, but I do seem to be using them more often these days. Since I’m almost forty-eight, I guess it’s to be expected. I believe they lend me an air of imperiousness when I glower over them. Frankly, if they help me to intimidate the students in my classes who need to be brought down a peg or two, then they’re worth every cent I’ve spent on all ten or twelve pairswhere do they disappear to?and the various cases, chains, and clips that are supposed to attach them to my body and prevent them from being lost.
I looked at the picture again: the frozen expressions, the way the women had been relating to each other at that point in time, and their setting. Both were around forty, and they bore a sisterly resemblance to each other; each was casually dressed in shirts, pants, and sandals; one had her arm around the other’s shoulders. They were standing at the foot of a grass-covered, stony hill between rows of vines.
Bud petted Marty as I studied the photo. As I began to speak, he turned his attention to me.
“Okay. Sisters. The taller one, the dead one, is, or was, the more dominant. She’s clearly the more confident person, and she knows how to present herself to the camera. She’s better dressed, except her bra’s too small for her. She has a better haircut, good makeup, and she’s draping her arm around the shorter sister as though to push her forward. So, one confident and supportive, one less so, but loved. I’d say the tall one has, or had, some sort of public-facing role in life, the other some sort of backroom job. They’re in wine country, among vines, early in the fruiting season, but are not wearing vacation clothes, so I suggest that’s where they live, or at least spend a lot of time, and where they feel comfortable. In fact,” and as I thought it through it became clear, “the tall one looks proprietorial. Is this their land? Is this their vineyard?”
I glanced at the champagne bottle on the table. MT DEWDNEY FAMILY ESTATE WINERY ANEN ANGEL SPARKLING N/V. I wondered if I was looking at women who had some connection with the wine I was drinking: after all, Bud didn’t usually bring alcohol for brunch.
Bud shook his head. “No more questions. Keep going.”
Sometimes Bud can be a bit of a devil! I love it.
I allowed my eyebrow to arch disdainfully in Bud’s direction for a moment, but I think my smile lessened the effect somewhat. I returned my attention to the photograph.
“No rings on the left hand of either sister, so both single, though it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the taller sister was divorced, or maybe even had several relationships behind her: she’s worldly and she’s comfortable in her own skin, something that only really develops when you’ve been in relationships where you get to know yourself in a positive way. To be honest, Bud, it’s difficult to say more. I can’t tell exactly where they are, geographically, though I would suggest they are North American, given the way they are dressed, so maybe the Okanagan or Niagara, or maybe Sonoma or Napa. I can’t see the terrain, so I can’t say more. Age? Close to each other and around forty, I’d say. But a photograph is difficult to analyze more than that. It captures just a tiny fraction of a second and people adopt unnatural expressions in front of a camera. They’re both smiling at the photographer, but that could?.?.?.” I paused, and held the photograph closer, peering through my specs. I’d spotted something in the women’s expressions.
“What is it?” asked Bud. His tone suggested urgency, which surprised me. But I let it pass.
“I don’t know who took this photograph, but I can tell you that the dead sister liked the photographer a great deal, and the shorter sister didn’t like them at all. Yes, they’re both smiling, right at the camera and hence the photographerbut the tall one has a very positive connection with whomever they are seeing behind the camera. Her expression is soft and warm. But the short one, well, she’s smiling too, but there’s hardness in her face. She’s almost literally gritting her teeth. And there’s defiance in her eyes. She really doesn’t like what she’s seeing.”
“Now that’s interesting, Cait. And puzzling,” observed Bud.
“Sowho took the photograph?”
“No one. The sister who sent it to me told me they took it themselves. They’re looking at a camera on a tripod. Odd that you should infer such emotions regarding a tripod.” He smiled. It wasn’t an unkind smile.
I had to agree that it sounded odd but I could see those feelings on their faces. I was in no doubt.
Bud petted Marty absentmindedly as he thought about his next words. Marty didn’t care that Bud was thinking about something else, and reacted with licks and vigorous tail-wagging. I’m pretty sure he was smiling up at Bud, too.
As Bud wiped his Marty-dampened hand on his pants, he looked at me with a curious glint in his eyes. I knew that look. As a psychologist with a master’s degree in criminal psychology, who then wrote a pretty controversial PHD thesis about victim profiling, I had been bravely retained by Bud in the past to work with his integrated homicide team on many cases. I’d had the chance to see that same expression on the faces of various suspects he’d interviewed, as they tried to decide how to balance truth with lies before they answered their interrogator. Bud was weighing how to proceed. I trusted the balance would be in favor of the truth.
He sighed and sat back in the kitchen chair. The decision had been made. “Okay, I’ll come clean. The short one, she’s Ellen. I’ve never met her face to face, but she’s been my online ‘grief buddy’ for a few months now. After Jan was killed, I went for counseling?.?.?.”
As the words left Bud’s lips I could feel myself stiffen. I couldn’t help but be surprised. This was the first I was hearing about counseling, and we were supposed to be getting to know each other as a proper coupleor so he said. Not much chance of that happening if he kept things like counseling from me.
“Don’t get cross, Cait,” snapped Bud, correctly interpreting my expression. “I haven’t told you about it because I’m not really comfortable with it. I think the best way to get over the loss of a loved one is to dust yourself off and get on with life. But my wife was killed because some low-life scumbag thought she was me, so the Force didn’t suggest therapy, they insisted. I suspect it was some sort of liability thing in case I killed myself.”
I couldn’t let that pass.
“You told me that you’d only ever thought about...you know...” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words, “...for a fleeting second. That it wasn’t something you’d ever seriously considered.”
I wondered if I knew Bud Anderson at all. This brunch was turning out to be something quite extraordinary.
He continued, looking grim. “Look, the therapist I sawthe therapist I had to seegot me to join up with this online community for people who’ve lost a loved one through violent or unexpected circumstances. They get you to buddy up as well as share anonymously in a blog. None of this was what I wanted to do, Cait. All of it felt strange and unnecessary. Ellen and I gravitated toward each other and became ‘grief buddies’ because she said she felt the same. As you know, I’m not a big sharer, and I’ll admit to you that I wasn’t very forthcoming with personal details. I even used a fake name. Ellen and I seemed to reach some level of quiet acceptance of each other, in writing. Online.
Then, when the trial of Jan’s murderer was all over the news, Ellen put two and two together and worked out who I was: that Jan was the wife I was mourning. So I opened up a bit more to her. Not emotionally. I talk to you about my feelings,” he patted my hand, much as he’d been patting Marty’s head, “but it seemed to give her the green light to write more about the facts of her sister’s death, and how unhappy she was about the suicide verdict.”
I nodded. I’ve seen how finding out that Bud was a cop, even a retired one, changes the way folks relate to him. We’d been to a few functions at the University of Vancouver, where I teach, and everyone had acted quite naturally when I’d introduced Bud as my “plus one.” When they’d found out he was a retired cop, their body language had changed completely. Trust me, I’m really good at reading people, and I can spot a telltale sign a mile off. For some, it meant they just watched what they saidall the jokes about drinking and driving would stop, for examplebut for others, they’d literally walk away, smiling politely, but, essentially, escaping.
Bud kept going. He knew I understood what he meant. “A few days ago Ellen emailed me this photo and wrote much more about her sister’s death. Now she’s invited me to visit her next weekend, over Easter, in Kelowna. I thought I’d let you use your deductive powers on the photo before I gave her a reply. I’m not sure what to do. I’m pretty certain that she wants me to look into how her sister died, but I’m not comfortable with that. Besides, I’ve retired, I have no standing, no ability to get hold of official reports or anything like that. I thought I’d turn to my Best Girl, and see what she has to say about the whole thing.”
Bud smiled and looked thoughtful as he took the photograph from me, folded it carefully, and put it back into his wallet.
I suspected that I, too, looked thoughtful as I studied Bud: his rugged features; his once fair hair, now almost completely snowy; his heavy, silvered eyebrows, brilliant blue eyes, slightly snubbed nose, and weathered complexion. Out of the corner of his eye he probably caught me looking at him, but if he did, he didn’t seem to mind. I sipped my champagne, grateful that this wonderful man wanted anything to do with short, overweight, indulgent, insecure, bossy me. At least I know some of my shortcomings.
They say you never truly know another person, but some of Bud’s words had really stung. Of course I’d known Bud’s wife, Jan. Not well, but in the way you come to know the wife of a colleague. You hear about their interests, their habits, their lives, through your colleague. Your colleague filters their being and presents it to you. Bud did that with Jan. He spoke of her frequently, and always with warmth and admiration. Every time Jan and I met, which was quite often, we got along well. Of course, we differed from each other: Jan was into groups, activities, hobbies. Me? Bit of a loner, I suppose. At least, that’s how I’ve heard folks describe me. Jan reveled in mixing, and Bud enjoyed hearing about what she’d been up to while he’d been chasing down villains. They had a well-balanced relationship. Bud always referred to Jan as his “soulmate,” which used to make me wince. When Jan was shot and killed, the shooter having believed he was targeting Bud himself, it came as no surprise to anyone that Bud’s life, and even the way he looked at life, changed completely. He’d tried to carry on in his then-role heading up a Canada-wide gang-busting police force, but he’d felt he was endangering his colleagues because he’d lost focus.
So, with a hefty pension, and unwanted but huge insurance and compensation payouts, he’d taken early retirement from the Force to which he’d given his entire professional life, and now he was “reassessing,” as he called it. A part of that “reassessment” had been to take himself off on a vacation last September, from which he’d returned and asked me to marry him.
That’s a good example of what I mean when I say you never truly know another person. He asked me to marry him, and I was completely floored! And as a psychologist I’m supposed to have a deep understanding of why people do what they do. But it seems that sometimes I don’t. We’d only ever worked together before that. I mean, we were friends, of course. I have to admit that I’d had quite strong feelings about Bud even before Jan had been killed, but only as far as a person can about someone with whom they work and who is totally, blissfully, happily married. It’s safe to admire, respect, and come to rely upon the advice of someone like that, because they’re completely involved, emotionally, with the person they are meant to be with. But when Jan was killed, all that changed. For Bud, and for me. Yes, I know it was nuts of him to ask me to be his wife just months after Jan’s death, but to him it made some sort of sense.