Exclusive Excerpt from No Good Men
by Thea McAlistair
I knocked, and a maid let me in. I recognized her, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name. I had never even bothered to learn it, figuring that Emma would dismiss her after a few months, just like all the others. The girl flitted into another room, and returned with Emma following.
“Hello Mr. Dawson! What brings you here?” she asked.
“I came around to see if you were doing all right.” Not a lie, but not anything resembling the truth either. Was I getting better at this investigating thing? “Is this a bad time?”
She hovered there for a moment, uncertainty in her eyes. Then she stepped to the side with a welcoming gesture. “Mrs. Green is here, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind an additional guest to tea,” she said. “And, well, you are no longer my employee.”
I winced at the dig. Was it even a dig? If it was, would I have to forgive her, since she was technically in mourning? She continued regarding me with blank pleasantness for a second, then led me toward the parlor. I’d been in that house about a million times, and yet it never felt like a home to me. It was so clean, and not in the way that Martin’s place was clean. Everything here was shiny and polished, new and untouched instead of worn and cared for.
The parlor was no different than the rest of the house, though there were a couple antiques that had belonged to Carlisle’s mother. She had been a collector of taxidermy, and there was a cache of overstuffed birds in a china cabinet, as well as fox that was mounted with its mouth pulled into a grimace.
Sitting on a chair next to the fox, also showing distressing signs of age, was Mrs. Green. She held a teacup with crooked but delicate fingers. “What’s this, Emma?” she sniffed. “Has this louse come looking for a bonus he didn’t earn? Failed in his duty, didn’t he.”
I closed my eyes against the insult, though it had hit harder than many a punch I’d taken. “Mrs. Green,” I said as politely as I could through clenched teeth. “It’s good to see you again.”
She huffed and sipped her tea.
Emma took a seat, but didn’t offer me a chair. “Oh, Elizabeth, do be kinder to my guest.” She looked at me. “Though she has something of a point. What brings you around unannounced?”
I cleared my throat. “Um, this probably isn’t the best time to ask, but are you keeping Mr. Carlisle’s records?”
Emma’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to be more specific. I have been asked for hundreds of records by at least a dozen people. Police, insurance agents, other employees…”
“What I’m looking for are letters? Not… not private ones. They came to the office every now and then? Political stuff and threats? The Westwick Journal has one now, and I’m helping them see if there are any more.”
“Ah. Those.” She sighed. “Mr. Dawson, being a public figure isn’t easy, and it certainly doesn’t endear you to people. We had at least two threats a day. Luckily we kept them all in case this sort of…” She paused to regain her composure. “The police have them now.”
“Oh.” Dammit, Vern. Sending me on a wild goose chase.
“Although,” Emma continued, “there was the one that came in the mail the next day, after the police had taken the others.” She stood. “Wait one moment, I’ll get it for you.”
She hurried past me and out into the hall, leaving me with Mrs. Green. The old woman sipped her tea in silence. Then she raised her head to stare at me with eyes that age hadn’t dulled at all. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck.
“So, you’re really here for letters?” she asked. “Because it seems to me there are better reasons for visiting a young widow.”
So that was her problem with me. “I assure you, ma’am, I have no interest in Mrs. Carlisle.”
“Pity.” She put the cup and saucer onto a table. “Truth be told, I never liked Roy much. He had a wandering eye, as I’m sure you noticed.” She looked in the direction Emma had gone. “I can’t imagine she’s too broken up about losing him. I wasn’t when my Henry died. A widow’s money and freedom…” She brought her gaze back to me, letting her eyes track me from head to toe.
I shifted. The last thing I needed was some old lady getting ideas that I was involved in murdering a man so I could sleep with his wife. “I should, um… I should go see if Mrs. Carlisle needs any help,” I mumbled.
Her puckered mouth twisted into what was probably supposed to be a wry smile. “By all means, run along then.”