Main Dark Exhibit

Dark Exhibit

Art means different things to different people. Sometimes the difference is deadly.


Nicole Tang Noonan, art historian, hopes to advance her career by curating an exhibit at the small college where she teaches. Her hopes are threatened when a visitor to the opening reception is murdered, and the artist becomes the prime suspect.


Desperate to prove the artist she brought to campus is innocent, Nicole studies the exhibit and becomes convinced the motive is encoded in the paintings on display. She must crack the code and catch the killer before he catches her.

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Dark Exhibit

Nicole Tang Noonan Mystery #2



By Rick Homan





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including internet usage, without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.



First published 2018

Copyright 2018 by Rick Homan

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, events, or locales is purely incidental.





Acknowledgements



I am grateful to my Sisters in Crime (and brothers); my fellow writers and the librarians at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco; and most of all to my wife, Ann.





Chapter 1


For forty-eight hours before the opening of the first exhibit in the college’s new gallery, I was like a perpetual-motion machine. Along with teaching my classes, I checked and double-checked my to-do lists and dropped by the gallery repeatedly to make sure the room was cleaned, and the chairs and serving table for the reception were set up.

I had to get this right. The president of the college, Roland Taylor, had placed a lot of faith in me last year when he created the gallery and made me, Nicole Tang Noonan, its director. He told me he wanted to bring cosmopolitan influences to the campus of Fuchs College in the Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio.

Edgar Yount seemed like the perfect artist to do that. He was from northern Ohio and had studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art. He had developed impressive skills in painting and photography and had built a solid resume in the first twenty years of his career. His subjects were mostly urban scenes and he brought to them a complex vision that grew from his own experience as a person of mixed race. His mother was white; his father, black. I especially appreciated this since my mother is Chinese-American and my father Irish-American.

At one o’; clock Saturday afternoon, I arrived at the gallery dressed in a knit sheath dress with a bold, asymmetric pattern in jade and cream. Faux-ivory necklace and bracelets set it off nicely. Black pumps with stacked heels added some much-needed height, and a silk shawl kept me comfortable.

I heard voices from the hallway and saw Edgar accompanied by a man and a woman. He kept his curly gray hair short, and it complemented his coffee-with-cream complexion. His grin was wide and sincere, but in his eyes I saw detachment, as if he weren’t entirely pleased with the way of the world. For this festive day, he wore a sky-blue silk shirt with a silver brocade vest and black slacks. “Nicole,” he said, “this is Mel and Rita.”

His male companion was a big man, probably near sixty years of age, with his gray hair pulled into a ponytail. He wore a sweatshirt, jeans and boots. His hand was more like a bear’s paw, yet he held my hand in a delicate clasp. “Hi. Mel Schrier,” he said.

“Welcome.” I smiled.

“This is a big day,” he continued. “We’ve waited a long time for this. Everyone who loves Edgar’s work has. Thank you so much for making this happen.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. “It’s my privilege.”

I turned to their companion who wore a shawl, t-shirt and skirt, all in earth tones. “Nicole!” she cried, as she wrapped me in a powerful hug.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” I said, separating myself and stepping back. “Have you known Edgar long?”

“Yeah, since his days at Cleveland Institute. Edgar and Mel and I were all part of a gang that hung out together. Some of us lived together for a while. Good times.”

“Are you also an artist?”

“No, I’m a model. And Mel . . .” She turned and smiled at the big man. “Mel just likes artists. He knows a lot about computers.”

“That’s wonderful,” I replied.

Edgar said to his companions, “Why don’t you guys go in and have a look around?”

When we were alone in the corridor, he turned to me and asked, “Are you expecting a good turnout?”

“We put the word out every way we could,” I replied. “Since this is our first exhibit, it’s hard to predict, but I think there’s a lot of interest on campus.”

“How is your security here?” he asked.

“During gallery hours we have a student here to welcome the guests and keep an eye on the artwork. Otherwise the room is locked, and, of course, the building is locked up at night.”

“I was thinking about today.”

That caught me by surprise. “Do you mean while we’re here?”

“Right.”

“The campus security office knows we’re having the event. They’ll patrol the campus as usual. I could ask for an officer to come by, but I don’t think they can have someone here the whole time.”

“That should be alright then.”

“Has there ever been a problem when you’ve exhibited your work?”

“No.”

“Is there anything about this exhibit that might cause a confrontation?”

“Nothing for you to worry about. I’m probably just nervous about this being my first career retrospective. It’ll be fine.”

Of all the events that take place on a college campus, from controversial speakers to beer-fueled athletic events, the opening of an art exhibit was in my experience the least likely to create any kind of disturbance. Nonetheless, I made a mental note to call campus security and ask them to make their presence known around the Arts and Humanities Building and the gallery in particular.

Paul Weinert came down the hall, wearing a black suit, white shirt, and gold tie.

“Would you excuse me?” I asked. “I need to speak with my student intern.”

Edgar nodded and went to join his friends in the gallery.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Paul. “I got held up.”

Looking at Paul’s elaborately styled blonde hair, it was easy to guess what had delayed him. “You were supposed to be here at 1:45.”

He shrugged. Apparently, it was too much effort to reply.

I led him into the gallery and walked over to the lectern with the guest book. “When our guests arrive . . .”

“I know what to do,” he said. He walked over to where Edgar, Mel and Rita stood by one of the early paintings. Gesturing toward the other end of the room, he said, “If you’ll follow me, I can point out a few of the themes we’re emphasizing in this exhibit.”

The three of them stared at him as if he were from another planet. Apparently, his career-oriented title, “gallery management intern,” gave him the idea he was in charge of the gallery.

I got over there as quickly as I could. “Paul, I need you by the door.”

His sideways glance indicated he meant to ignore me.

“Come with me now, Paul.”

We walked back to the lectern, and I told him, “Your job today is to greet our guests as they arrive, invite them to sign the guest book, and offer them a brochure.”

He glared at me. “In other words, busy work,” he said.

“Paul, if you pay attention, you might learn something about how galleries work. Who comes to them? What do people expect? How do they react? What kinds of questions do they have?”

“I know the drill,” he replied. “I’ve spent a lot of time in galleries.”

“Just give our guests the best experience possible.”

When I interviewed Paul for the internship, he convinced me that he loved art and had indeed “spent a lot of time in galleries,” but he hadn’t shown this attitude. Next week I would have to sit down with him and get a few things straight.

Fortunately, people started to arrive, so Paul was kept busy. I smiled at a few students from my art appreciation class carrying notebooks so they could get started writing their papers. Several couples arrived. I thought I had seen them on campus and assumed they must be faculty.

At the far end of the room, Rita was browsing the paintings, while Mel and Edgar stood in the corner engaged in conversation. Edgar’s face wore a dark expression. I couldn’t hear what Mel was saying to him, but Edgar looked worried. Recalling his concern, I stepped into the corridor and called campus security to ask for an officer to drop by the gallery as guests were arriving.





Chapter 2


When I returned to the gallery, I counted fifteen people on hand and hoped we would have a better showing.

Millard Haflin, a retired psychology professor, walked in, looking dapper as ever in a tweed jacket and corduroys. With him was Greta Oswald, biology, who wore a typically horrifying ensemble: a red cardigan over a purple blouse with a green-and-black plaid skirt.

Greta grinned and reached a hand out to me. “Nicole! The big day is here!”

“Yes, it is, Greta.” I grinned. “Hello, Millard.”

He smiled and nodded.

“Let me introduce you to the artist.” I walked them over to the earliest work, and waved Edgar over.

“Edgar, I’d like you to meet two members of the Gallery Advisory Committee: Greta Oswald and Millard Haflin.”

Edgar extended his hand to Greta.

She took it and said, “Oh. Are you African-American?”

“Yes, on my father’s side of the family.”

“Nicole didn’t tell us. I think that’s wonderful.”

Edgar’s smile erased the discomfort I felt over her remark. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m pleased with it myself.”

I admired Edgar’s easy way of handling an insensitive remark about his physical appearance and his race. I had dealt with such remarks all my life, especially since moving from my home in San Francisco to Ohio, and I hadn’t always been so graceful about it.

Next Edgar extended his hand to Millard, who asked, “Have we met?”

Seeing Edgar was taken aback by this, I jumped in. “Millard, this is Edgar Yount, the artist whose work we have here.”

“Good afternoon, sir,” said Edgar as they shook hands.

President Taylor came through the door, wearing the obligatory corporate blue suit. I grabbed Edgar by the arm and said to Greta and Millard, “Would you excuse us for a moment?”

College presidents put in fourteen-hour days, so Taylor’s appearance was a strong endorsement of the gallery. With Edgar in tow, I walked over to him and said. “President Taylor, thank you so much for coming.”

“I wouldn’t miss this,” he said.

I introduced them, and Edgar said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” said Taylor. “We’re so glad to have your work displayed on campus. I’m looking forward to spending some time with it.”

“Let me show you around,” said Edgar, and they walked off to the other end of the room.

I took a moment to appreciate Edgar’s instinct. That’s how you make a living as an artist.

When I got back to Greta and Millard, she was staring at one of the paintings, and he was looking at all the people in the room.

“These represent his early work,” I told them. “Edgar learned his photorealist technique at the Cleveland Institute of Art and developed it during the years he lived in Cleveland.”

We strolled past scenes set in neighborhoods and parks. One painting gave a view of a corner store. Signs filled the store windows. The sidewalks were full of shoppers, strollers, and joggers. Everyone was African-American except for one little girl with pale skin and blond hair who stood at the curb on the corner with an expression on her face suggesting she expected something wonderful to arrive in the next few seconds. No one in the picture seemed to notice she was there. The little plaque next to this painting gave the title: “Corner Store.”

“Is there a picture of the lakefront?” asked Greta.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Too bad. It’s so pretty there.”

Greta’s whining was especially grating on my nerves that day.

“I’ve never seen such large photographs,” said Millard.

“Actually, they’re paintings,” I said. “Edgar uses airbrush, underpainting, and other techniques to make them look like photographs.”

Millard nodded, looked at the one in front of us, and then back at me. “Are the paintings in another room?”

Greta groaned. “She just said these are the paintings.”

“Everything is in this room,” I told him.

I couldn’t blame him for being confused. Most people, when told a photorealist picture is a painting, still find it hard to believe it isn’t a photograph.

I took Millard’s arm and walked him over to the paintings in the corner. Greta followed.

“He did this series of paintings a little later in his career,” I said. “As you can see, he’s playing with some new ideas here.”

We stopped in front of a canvas which showed the rear-end of a large, old American car with a rusty license plate. The insignia on the trunk lid said, “Eighty-Eight.” The title on the plaque next to the painting said, “Dinosaur.”

“When Edgar painted this,” I said, “the Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight hadn’t been manufactured in years. It was extinct, like the dinosaurs. He’s capturing a moment in American car culture.”

“I had an Olds Eighty-Eight,” said Millard.

Greta rolled her eyes, but I thought it was sweet the way Millard related personally to the work.

“This one is more mysterious,” I said, stopping in front of a painting of white bed sheets on a clothesline with a house in the background. “Nov. 11, 2011” was superimposed on the lower right corner in the style of numerals on a digital clock. “The subject is something very ordinary, and the title, ‘Hung Out to Dry,’ reminds us of that. By adding the date, Edgar makes us wonder if there was something important about this particular day when laundry was done. It makes me think that every day is important, even if we do only ordinary things.”

“My wife used to hang the laundry out,” said Millard, “before I bought her a dryer.”

I wanted to hug him.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Greta, peering at the plaque on the wall. “It was painted in 2005, but he put 2011 in the picture.”

“That’s a good point, Greta. I wonder what he was up to.”

“Was he predicting the future?” she asked. “It doesn’t take much imagination to predict people will keep on hanging their laundry out to dry.”

I pointed to the largest canvas in the series, entitled “Cheering for Losers,” and said, “This one is really challenging.” It showed nearly empty bleachers with a scoreboard looming above, which read, “Home: 0, Losers: 14.” Scattered on the bleachers were six sad-looking cheerleaders, who all had different initials on their varsity sweaters. The R, H, and W were red. The A, O, and A were yellow, blue and green, respectively.

I explained, “The scoreboard makes no sense: It says ‘Losers’ instead of ‘Visitors’ but they actually beat the home team. The cheerleaders are all sad, as if their team lost, but, judging by their varsity letters, they all cheer for different teams, so they can’t all be cheering for the home team.”

“Maybe the artist is confused,” said Greta. “Or maybe he wasn’t being careful.”

“Let’s look at his most recent work on the other wall,” I said. “He’s been working in Youngstown for the last several years.”

“I hope he found something a little nicer to paint,” said Greta. “These are depressing.”

I did my best to point out how his career concerns had come together in the Youngstown series: the social realism, the satire, and the instinct for magical moments. I also pointed out that the ironic titles and fascination with letters and numerals prominent in the middle period had disappeared and that his technique had continued to improve. None of that made an impression, so I walked them over to the refreshment table.

The room felt warm, partly because of the lighting, but also because we now had a respectable crowd of perhaps forty. As I strolled into the corridor to cool off, I was glad to see a campus security officer on hand, watching people arrive. “Thanks for coming by,” I said.

“No problem,” he replied. “I’ll stay here until all your guests have arrived. That should reassure everyone. After that, if you have any concerns, just give us a call.”

I thanked him and checked my watch. It was two o’clock, time for Edgar’s gallery talk.





Chapter 3


I went back into the gallery and asked everyone I passed to take a seat. When Paul saw what I was doing, he walked to the door and switched the lights on and off three times. In the silence that followed, he announced, “Please take a seat for the gallery talk by Edgar Yount.” A few guests went to the table to pick up a glass of wine and a snack, but most headed for the chairs. I had to admit: Paul was not wrong about everything.

“Thank you, Paul,” I said as the room fell quiet and the last few chairs filled. “I am delighted that you all have joined us to celebrate this career retrospective of works by Edgar Yount. Edgar is an Ohio artist, but his visions of Cleveland, Youngstown, and other places achieve universal significance. His photorealist technique is impressive. Getting to know him over the past few months has been an inspiration for me. I am sure you will enjoy meeting him too. I give you Edgar Yount.”

I felt the adrenaline hit me as I walked to the back of the room. I limited myself to a cracker with some cheese and a glass of seltzer from the table, hoping that would steady me for the next hour or so. Settling on a chair in the corner, I exhaled, knowing I had done all I could do.

Edgar walked to the front of the room, squared himself before his audience, and spoke to them as peers.

“Thank you, Nicole, for that introduction. I don’t know what I could have said to inspire you, but working with you has shown me what a disciplined intellect can accomplish.”

I was so glad to be sitting in the back of the room. Only a few people glanced over their shoulders at me, but still I felt self-conscious. I nodded to Edgar so he would go on with his speech.

“Every day I look at the world around me until I notice something that makes me want to say to my fellow human beings, ‘Look at this!’ Then I ask myself how I can make people notice it. My teachers taught me to answer that question by understanding how artists in the past made people take a new look at their world.

“What about the Impressionists? Everybody loves them now, but, back when Monet and Renoir and Pissaro were painting, everybody hated them. Nobody could understand why their paintings didn’t look like paintings that had been done in the previous thirty years.

“There were very good reasons why their paintings looked different. People like Darwin and Heisenberg and Einstein changed our scientific understanding of reality. Suddenly physical objects didn’t seem so solid. They were made up of atoms, and everything was relative. So, the Impressionists painted their changing impressions of things, rather than the things themselves.

“As Nicole said, I’m a photorealist. Photographs are part of the reality in which I have lived my life. Everybody has photo albums, shoe-boxes full of snapshots, and now photos on the internet. Most people will spend more time taking a selfie in front of a building than they spend looking at the building.

“So, my paintings look like photographs because we pay more attention to photographs than to the things pictured in them. That’s our reality. If I make the people around me more aware of that, I’ve done my job.

“Thanks for coming to look at my paintings today.”

Edgar brought his speech to an end so quickly he caught me by surprise. Fortunately, the applause was generous, so I had time to walk to the front of the room.

“Thank you, Edgar, and again our thanks to all of you for turning out today. Please have some refreshments and enjoy the paintings.”

Edgar and I had a firm, two-handed handshake. “That was wonderful,” I said. “They were fascinated with what you were saying.”

Edgard shrugged. “That’s my usual gallery talk.”

“And what a friendly crowd! I asked campus security to keep an eye on the things, but it probably wasn’t necessary. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble.”

My words did not have the desired effect. Edgar glanced around the room and said, “Thanks for doing that,” but he didn’t seem reassured.

Not wanting to keep him from the others, I suggested he thank Greta and Millard before they left.

As people got up from their chairs, about half of them filed toward the door. I stood nearby to make myself available, but off to one side so no one would feel obliged to speak to me on the way out. Again, my energy was flagging, but I was pretty sure that if I stayed strong for another half hour, I could call this opening a success.

President Taylor was the first to approach me directly. “Just wonderful, Nicole. It means so much to have an event of this quality on the campus. We must have more like this.”

I noticed I’d been holding my breath. “Thank you,” I said and wished I could think of something else to say.

Taylor nodded and left the gallery, no doubt on his way to his next promotional event.

Over in the corner, the other member of the Gallery Advisory Committee, Matt Dunkle, mathematics, was listening to Edgar with wide-eyed intensity. I hadn’t seen him come in, but then it was always easy to overlook Matt despite his tall, thin frame. I couldn’t tell if he and Edgar were talking about “Dinosaur,” the painting next to them, or about art in general. I would have to catch up to Matt, get his reaction to the exhibit, and thank him for his work on the committee. When we started planning for the spring exhibit, it would be good to have him on my side.

I saw, walking toward me, a tall, pale, blonde, dressed in ankle-high boots, black wool pants, a white V-neck tee, and a denim jacket embroidered with Mexican folk art. Something inside me relaxed at the sight of her. Since the day I arrived on campus, Abbie had been my best friend: helping me cope with the rigors of living on campus, explaining who was who in campus politics, giving me a sounding board in my darkest hours, and sustaining me through the horror of my first semester.

I stepped toward her, ready for a hug, which was how most of our conversations began and ended, and was surprised when she turned slightly to her left and said, “Nicole, I’d like you to meet Sharon.”

Next to Abbie was a petite, dark-haired woman who looked like she was about to step into a limo and be whisked away by her chauffeur to a high-society fundraising event. She was dressed in heels, a tight miniskirt, and a blazer that was cut so well it probably cost about half my monthly salary. I had never met Abbie’s partner because she lived in Pittsburgh, which was why Abbie spent most of her weekends away from campus.

“So good to meet you,” I said, extending my hand.

Sharon took it and said, “You, too.” Her eyes sparkled and in her expression I read affection and a hint of amusement.

“I feel like this is overdue,” I said.

“It sure is,” she replied. “You should come up to Pittsburgh sometime.”

“Thanks, I will.” With my other hand I reached out to Abbie. “I’m so glad you both could come today.”

“I know this is a big one for you,” said Abbie.

I took a deep breath. “You have no idea.”

“Can we take you to dinner when you’re done here?” asked Sharon.

“Thank you, but I have a feeling that when the last guest leaves I’m going to collapse. I wouldn’t be very good company. Can I take a rain check?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Way to go, Noonan,” said Abbie. “I think you nailed it with this one.”

I thanked her and they left, looking like two friends strolling out of a social event. It would have seemed more natural for Abbie, who was half-a-head taller, to put an arm around Sharon’s shoulders or for the two of them to hold hands, but apparently, they thought Fuchs College was not ready for that yet. Too bad.

Meanwhile the crowd had thinned to the point where I assumed anyone who wanted to talk to me had done so. It looked like a good opportunity to escape to the restroom.

The mirror over the sink did nothing to cheer me up. Clearly, I was at the end of my rope. I took my time giving my hands a thorough wash and dry, combed my hair, put on a happy face, and headed back to the gallery.

In the corridor, I noticed the campus security officer had left. I was glad we hadn’t needed him. I made a mental note to thank the Chief of Security for sending him.





Chapter 4


As I approached the door of the gallery, I saw Matt Dunkle coming out. “Matt, I wanted to thank you for your work on the committee.”

He glanced at me without slowing down, nodded and waved, and headed for the stairway. I guessed he had somewhere to be.

In the front of the gallery, Edgar was gathered with his friends, Mel and Rita, and another woman about my age with curly brown hair. I hadn’t seen her earlier. She stood close enough to Edgar that I sensed theirs was more than a casual friendship. Paul was hanging out with them too, but for the moment at least was listening rather than trying to impress.

Edgar called out to me. “Nicole, this is Jess.”

I walked over to her, shook hands, and said, “Hi. I’m Nicole Tang Noonan.”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t get here earlier,” she replied. “There was a truck overturned on the highway. I tried to backtrack and find another route, and I ended up getting lost.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Take your time and look around.” I waved to the refreshment table. “Would you care for anything to eat or drink?”

She shook her head.

“Actually, we were just going to get some dinner,” said Edgar.

“There’s no place in Blanton,” said Paul, referring to the small town near the campus. “I know of a place in Chillicothe that’s decent.”

From the looks that passed between Edgar, Mel and Rita, I guessed they hadn’t intended to include Paul in their dinner plans. “Paul,” I said, “would you tell the caterers they can start packing up and see if they need us to do anything.”

Paul shot me a look full of venom and marched to the back of the room.

“You’ll have to count me out,” I said to Edgar. “I have to make it an early evening. Mel, Rita, Jess, it’s was very nice to meet you.”

They all said their goodbyes and left.

Paul came strolling back to me. “Maybe you can explain to me why you need a gallery intern.”

“I’d like you to write five hundred words on what you learned today about gallery openings.”

“Is that my punishment?”

“No. It’s a chance for you to learn something by collecting your impressions and summarizing them. Drop it off at my office by noon on Wednesday. You can go. I’ll lock up.”

With an eye roll and a head shake, he was off.

When the caterers were gone, I switched off the lights, locked the door, and went to upstairs to my office. There I changed from my gallery-director outfit back into the sweater, wool pants, and boots that, along with my full-length, down-filled parka, would keep me warm on my slog across campus to my Rabbit Hutch. That’s what we called the factory-built cabins, each about the size of a studio apartment, provided by the college for single faculty members.

It was exhilarating to know I was at the high point of my professional life so far. With this exhibit and each one that followed, I could form professional relationships with artists that would allow me to write about them and their work. If I chose each artist well, I could write a series of articles that would establish my reputation and might ultimately be published as a book. By doing so I would build a resume that might be my ticket to a job at a more prestigious school.

If no such job came along, my publications would help me earn tenure at Fuchs. I had four years until I would be evaluated.

If I didn’t receive tenure, I would have to move back to San Francisco, live in my parents’ house and become something other than an art historian.

The idea of doing that in my early thirties made my blood run cold.



On Sunday morning, the electric heaters in my Rabbit Hutch kept me from freezing to death, and long underwear, sweatpants, sweatshirt, a down vest, wool cap, and sheepskin slippers kept me comfortable, as I sat by the front window with a cup of tea. After working about half of the New York Times crossword puzzle with liberal use of a dictionary, I gave up and faced the question of how to spend the rest of the day.

It was too early to call Mom and Dad since the time zone in San Francisco is three hours earlier.

Perhaps I would review the editor’s suggestions for revising my article on the mural in the college’s chapel. This article had been rejected by two of the top journals in art history, probably because the panorama of community life painted on the chapel’s north wall sometime between 1851 and 1883 was not a masterpiece. Rather, it was the creation of an untrained artist, the kind of work sometimes called folk art. On my third submission I had found a journal that had a more open editorial policy.

My phone rang. The name that appeared on the screen, Mason Adams, gave me a chill. I had a lot of respect for him, but I had met him last year, during an ordeal that was one of the darkest of my life. I answered. “How are you this morning, Sheriff?”

He spoke in a baritone voice with a slight Appalachian drawl. “Just fine, Doctor. How are you?”

“I’m tired. I’ve had a busy week.” My stomach started to ache. I couldn’t imagine a reason for him to call me that did not involve bad news.

“I’m sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, but I would like to get some information on this art exhibit on campus. I understand you’re involved with it.”

That got me up out of my sling chair. An inquiry about the exhibit was the last thing I expected from Sheriff Mason Adams.

“Yes, Sheriff. I’m the director of the college’s gallery. It opened last fall and this is our first exhibit: a career retrospective on Edgar Yount, a local artist. What would you like to know?”

“I’d like to get a look at the gallery and the exhibit if that’s possible.”

“The gallery is open from noon to four on Sundays. A student will be on hand to answer questions, but I would be happy to meet you there and tell you about the paintings.”

“I’m more interested in who was there yesterday. This is an official visit.”

My stomach ache deepened. I hated to ask my next question because I was afraid of what his answer would be. “Is there a problem?”

“I have several questions for you. It would be easier if I could ask them in person. At what time would it be possible for you to meet me at the gallery?”

“Whenever you like.”

“I’m in the area. Let’s say twelve forty-five.”

“All right. I’ll see you then.”





Chapter 5


After the call from Sheriff Adams, I paced around my Rabbit Hutch. Even using both rooms, that didn’t give me much to work with. The larger room, fifteen by fifteen feet, had an all-in-one set of kitchen appliances in one corner, my café table by the back window, two bookcases, and two canvas-sling beach chairs and a lamp by the front window. The bedroom was smaller, ten by fifteen feet, part of which is taken up by a closet and bathroom.

The sheriff had authority to investigate all crimes against state and local laws, but I doubted he would personally attend to a traffic violation or a missing pet. I hoped I wasn’t about to find out that someone close to me was the victim of a serious crime.

I stopped pacing and got dressed in a white blouse and dark green sweater with black wool pants and high-topped boots. After sending Mom a text saying today looked busy and I would catch up with them mid-week, I put on my parka, hat, and gloves and walked across campus, to the Arts and Humanities Building.

I had met Sheriff Adams during my first weeks of teaching at Fuchs College when he investigated the murder of a student who was in my art history class. For a number of reasons, I got involved in the investigation. The sheriff thought I was interfering and resented it when really I was just trying to understand some things that made no sense to me. Eventually we learned to cooperate partly because I learned to show him more respect, and partly because, as Abbie explained to me, in rural areas such as Edwards County people with professional degrees—doctors, lawyers, professors—are given a lot of latitude. By the time the murderer was caught, we were on good terms.

When I looked in the door of the gallery I was pleased to see the facilities crew had removed all the folding chairs from yesterday’s reception and given the place a cleaning. Two backless benches with padded vinyl seats were back in place, lined up in the middle of the room.

Beverley, one of my work-study students, was on duty, minding the gallery. She had dressed, as I asked my gallery workers to, in business-casual clothes: slacks, a blouse with a collar, and a sweater. She sat at a table near the door with her laptop open, no doubt working on an assignment for one of her classes. When she heard my footsteps in the corridor, she looked up and smiled.

“Have you been busy?” I asked.

“A few students came in just after I opened.” She looked at the guest book to refresh her memory. “Dr. Metzger came in a little later. Other than that, it’s been quiet.”

“I’m meeting someone here in a few minutes, so you can take off. I’ll lock up later.”

“I don’t mind staying.”

I shook my head. “That’s all right. I doubt we’ll have many visitors this afternoon.”

I didn’t want her around to see the sheriff arrive, and I certainly didn’t want her overhearing our conversation. Perhaps there was still a chance to avoid an outbreak of gossip about law enforcement showing up at the gallery.



True to his word, Sheriff Mason Adams appeared in the doorway at twelve forty-five. He impressed me as he had when we met for the first time last year. He was tall, but that alone did not create the sense of authority he projected. He was also physically fit and the gray hair at his temples suggested decades of experience. His sheriff’s uniform was pressed with sharp creases and his shoes somehow looked polished even in mid-winter, when salt from the roads and sidewalks seems to coat everything. The insulated jacket made him look even bigger around the shoulders. He carried his campaign hat under one arm.

We greeted each other, and Adams paused for a moment to take in the paintings with a sweep of his eyes, after which he opened a file folder he had with him, pulled out a sheet of paper, and handed it to me. “Do you recognize this woman?”

The photograph filled half the sheet. It had been digitally enhanced, but it was still blurry. It showed a woman in her thirties, with long, brown, curly hair. “I can’t be sure, but it does look like someone who was here yesterday.”

“Did you meet her?”

“Yes. Edgar—Edgar Yount, the artist—introduced us, but he only told me her first name, Jess.”

Adams nodded. “Her full name is Jessica Fabrizio. She was found murdered in her motel room this morning.”

I took a moment to control the sinking feeling in my stomach. “How did you know she came here to the gallery yesterday?”

“I didn’t. When we notified her parents, we asked if she knew anyone out this way. They said they didn’t think so. Since she was a professor at the University of Louisville, I decided to check colleges in the area. Neither of the schools in Chillicothe had anything special going on this weekend, and, if they had, she could have stayed closer to them. When I checked the Fuchs College website, I saw you had this gallery event scheduled, and decided to check with you. What else can you tell me about her?”

“Nothing, really.”

“So far as you know she had no connection to Fuchs College?”

“No.”

Adams studied the photo in his hand for a moment. I could see his jaw muscles flexing. “You said the artist introduced her to you. Were they acquainted?”

“They must have been. He told me her first name.”

“Did you see her talking to anyone else?”

“She and Edgar were standing over here.” I walked a few steps away from the entrance to the gallery. “A couple of Edgar’s friends were standing here with them. They seemed to all know each other.”

The sheriff had his notebook out. “Do you have the names of these friends?”

My head was spinning from all the new information. “Mel and Rita. Let me check the guest book. If I see them written down, I’ll recognize them.”

I walked over to the lectern and flipped the pages back to yesterday’s entries. “Here they are,” I said. “These two arrived with Edgar and were the first to sign in.”

Adams copied the names “Mel Schreier” and “Rita Cruz” into his notebook. “Does everyone who comes to one of these events sign the guest book?”

“Not necessarily. We invite people to sign in, but it’s not required.”

He ran his finger down the list of names and turned the page. “Looks like about thirty-five names. How many people would you say were here?”

“Maybe a few more. Altogether, about forty.”

“Is there any way I could get a copy of these pages?”

“Sure. I can go upstairs and copy them for you.”

“Before you go, can you give me contact information for the artist?”

I gave Edgar’s phone number to Adams and headed upstairs. As I went, the sadness of the situation weighed on me. A woman had made the journey from Louisville, Kentucky to see friends at an art opening and had been murdered. Now those friends were going to get some very bad news. I hated knowing that Edgar’s moment of success would be stained by this personal loss, and that the joy Mel and Rita had expressed yesterday would be shattered. I couldn’t make this any easier for them. My only comfort came from knowing Adams would handle the matter with his usual competence and authority.

When I returned from making the photocopies, I found the sheriff looking at the Youngstown series. “These are very unusual photographs,” he said.

“They’re actually paintings. The artist assembles images from several photographs onto one canvas and then paints the picture so that it looks like a single photograph.”

Adams nodded. “Impressive.”

“Did you speak to Edgar?”

“I left him a message to call me.”

I handed him the copies.

He studied them for a moment and asked, “Other than Schreier and Cruz, are all these people from the campus?”

“No.” I took the copies back from him, walked to the lectern and wrote a question mark next to the names who were not, so far as I knew, students or faculty at Fuchs.

After glancing again at the list, he said, “So any of these people could have seen Jessica Fabrizio here at the reception and then followed her to her motel?”

“Actually, no. Now that I think of it, she arrived when the reception was mostly over. A lot of people had already left. I went down the hall to the restroom, and when I got back she was here with just a few others. She said she was late because a truck overturned on the highway.”

“Yes, there was one yesterday afternoon,” said Adams. “Do you remember who was here with her?”

“Edgar, Mel Schreier, Rita Cruz, Paul Weinert, and me. Also, Matt Dunkle—he was just leaving the gallery as I came back from the restroom.”

Adams scanned the photocopied list, check-marking the names. “So, it’s possible only these six people saw her here at the gallery yesterday?”

I nodded. “I would even say it’s likely.”

He drew a line through one name. “I’ll take you off my list.”

“Thank you.”

He marked another name. “Rita Cruz also. I’m doing that because of the way Ms. Fabrizio was killed: stunned by a blow to the face and then strangled by someone with large hands. It would have taken considerable strength.”

That sinking feeling came back. I flashed back to shaking hands with Mel when he arrived yesterday. He shook hands so gently, but his hand was large and no doubt powerful. I chased the image from my mind. “Let’s sit down for a moment,” I said as I walked to one of the backless benches in the middle of the room.

Adams joined me. “That leaves Yount, Schreier, Weinert, and Dunkle. You said Schreier is a friend of Yount’s?”

“That’s right.”

“And he’s not from the campus.” He made a note. “What about the others?”

“Paul Weinert is my student intern. Matt Dunkle is a math professor, and he serves on the Gallery Advisory Committee.”

As Adams made notes by their names, his cell phone rang. “Adams, Edwards County Sheriff’s Department . . . Where are you right now, Mr. Yount? . . . Would it be alright if I came by there to speak with you? . . . Alright, I’ll see you then . . . I’ll explain everything when I see you . . . Alright, thank you.”

Adams ended the call.

“You’re going to talk to Edgar?”

“Yes. Thank you for your time, Dr. Noonan.” Adams left the gallery and disappeared down the corridor.

My heart sank as I imagined Edgar learning that his friend being killed.

I knew thinking about it all afternoon, would drive me crazy, so I decided to drive up to a mall near Columbus and play movie roulette, in which I buy a ticket to whichever show is about to start. Usually I end up seeing something I would never have chosen, and sometimes it broadens my horizons. Other times I leave before it’s over. Either way, I figured time spent in the mall plus driving each way would keep my mind busy until I could phone Edgar to find out how his interview with Adams had gone.





Chapter 6


My movie du jour turned out to be a space opera whose story had no point that I could see, although that might have been because my preoccupation with the murder of that unfortunate woman kept me from concentrating. But I watched it all the way through because it had some interesting iconography, some of which I sketched in my pocket-size notebook. I was thinking about writing an article on the blend of ancient and medieval visual motifs in popular culture.

When I got back, I took a deep breath and called Edgar. He answered on the second ring.

“Nicole?”

“Yes, Edgar. Has Sheriff Adams been there?”

“Oh, God! The news about Jess . . . it’s bad, Nicole. It’s really bad.”

“I know the sheriff told me. I’m so sorry.”

“And the sheriff is saying . . . I can’t even believe what he’s saying. It’s insane.”

“Edgar, if you can, just talk to me for a minute. When you introduced us yesterday, it seemed like she knew Mel and Rita too, like you were all friends.”

“That’s right. We were.”

“Was that from when you were at Cleveland Institute of Art?”

“Yeah.”

“So, you’ve known her a long time. I’m so sorry. This must be so hard for you.”

“It’s not just that. We were together.”

I could hear him choking up and sniffing. “You and Jess?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you mean in a relationship?”

“Right.”

“That makes it worse. I am sorry, Edgar.”

“And the sheriff,” he said, much louder, “he’s saying these crazy things. I mean he was asking me all kinds of stuff like he thinks I did it.”

That took my breath away for a moment. “What?”

“But I didn’t. I mean I couldn’t ever . . .”

“Edgar? Where are you right now?”

“My studio.”

“I want to talk to you in person. This is too difficult to do over the phone. I’m going to drive up there so we can talk. Is that okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Will you be alright until I get there?”

“Yeah. I was just about to call Mel and Rita. I don’t want them to hear about it on the news.”

We hung up. I threw on my hat, coat, scarf, and gloves and ran out to my car.

As I made my second trip of the day up Route 23, gathering clouds darkened the winter twilight. I gripped the steering wheel so hard my knuckles hurt. When I relaxed my fingers, the tension relocated to the center of my forehead. So much for taking the day off to get over the stress of opening an exhibit.



I arrived at Edgar’s studio a little after five. I had visited it once before when Edgar showed me some paintings so we could decide which to include in the exhibit. It was a one-story, flat-roofed, concrete-block building a couple miles outside Circleville. It might have been built as an auto shop or a small factory. The windows were guarded by steel bars and the exterior had a recent coat of white paint.

A line of trees behind the building separated it from a gully with a creek at the bottom. They were young trees. The trunks of the largest were no bigger than my leg. Among them many saplings had sprouted like weeds. Beyond the gully was a cultivated field, which had been tilled and left fallow for the winter.

I parked where the gravel drive widened, several yards from the building. When I knocked on the steel door, Edgar opened it and said, “Come on in. I don’t want to let too much cold air in. It takes this place forever to warm up.”

Inside I paused to hang my coat on a hook by the door.

I had never seen Edgar looking so distraught. He said, “I’m making tea,” and went to the kitchen counter under the window across the room.

While he was busy, I sat in an easy chair by the coffee table. There was also a sofa and another easy chair, all mismatched, probably picked up second-hand. He had this end of the room lit with three floor lamps.

The center of the room, which had his computer station, photography equipment, and work table, was in shadows. All the cabinets and tables were custom-built of ordinary plywood. Everything was labeled: the drawers built into the work table, each shelf in the bookcases, each vertical file on the shelves. Each piece of equipment—computer, projector, enlarger, and so on—had its own plastic slipcover. The top of the work table was completely clear, nothing left out. As I recalled from my previous visit, Edgar did not believe in creative clutter.

At the far end of the room was his painting studio and storage space for canvases. Though the light was dimmest there, I could see the outline of an easel and some stands with flood lights on them.

Edgar brought a tray to the table and sat in the chair facing me. He poured tea for both of us. I added milk and sugar.

“Do you know how she happened to come to the gallery yesterday?” I asked.

“Mel, or Rita, or one of our other friends must have told her it was the opening. I was really surprised to see her. God! I wish she’d stayed home.”

“How did you two meet?”

“Jess was doing her graduate degrees at Case Western Reserve. We met through friends of friends. We’d see each other at parties.”

“And then you were in a relationship?”

Edgar sat back and hugged himself as if he were cold though the room was comfortable. “Yeah. We lived together for a while. Then, when I finished up at the Institute, I got a fellowship to go to Europe for two years, so we broke up.”

“Was that difficult?”

“No. We knew we’d be going in different directions for a while. We talked about getting back together when I came back.”

“But you didn’t?”

“When I got back eight years ago, and got this place, I went up to Cleveland to see some of the old gang. I heard she’d gotten a job in Louisville. We emailed a few times. That was about it.”

“So, when you saw her yesterday, how long had it been since you’d heard from her?”

He leaned his head back and thought for a moment. “Quite a while.”

“A few years?”

“I can check.”

Edgar went to his work table in the middle of the room and switched on a pair of overhead lights. In a bookcase against the wall were two shelves full of notebooks, each with a white label on the spine. He pulled one out, flipped through it, put it back on the shelf, and chose another. He repeated this several times, until he found what he was looking for.

After turning several pages and scanning them, he said, “It was about six years ago. We checked in with each other on how we were doing with our careers. It seemed like we didn’t really have a shot at starting a relationship again.”

He put the journal back in the bookcase and joined me again at the coffee table.

“Edgar, when you introduced me to Jessica yesterday, didn’t I hear you and Mel talking about going to dinner?”

“That’s right. We were going to that Italian place on route 35. Mel and Rita were in one car. They said they’d go there and get us a table. I told Jess I’d drive her there since I know where it is. She went to her motel to park her car, and I stopped back at my motel to pick up some money.

“When I got to her motel, she wasn’t out front so I knocked on her door, but she didn’t answer. I thought maybe she decided to take a shower, so I went back outside and sat in my car for a few minutes. I called her on my cell phone, but she didn’t answer, so I went back in and knocked on her door again. She didn’t come to the door so all I could think was maybe she changed her mind about having dinner with us. I texted her the name and address of the restaurant and went to meet Mel and Rita.

“When the sheriff called me today, he said they found her this morning. The manager of the motel opened the room when she didn’t check out at eleven.”

I had a bad feeling about the scenario Edgar had just described. “So, if the room wasn’t broken into, do they think she opened her door to someone last night?”

“It’s even worse than that, Nicole. She could have been dead already when I was knocking on the door. The sheriff asked me a lot of questions about how I could have done it when I went to pick her up. He was coming down on me really hard.”

I felt bad for him. Hard as it must have been to lose a friend and former lover, it must have been so much worse to also be accused of killing her. “I’m sure he just has to question everyone that way.” It sounded lame even as I said it.

“I could never hurt Jess,” he said with his eyes closed.

“Edgar, I know Sheriff Adams. He’s tough, but he’s fair. He’s not interested in making a quick arrest. He’s going to investigate other people who knew Jessica in Cleveland and in Louisville.”

“I hope you’re right.”

I walked over to Edgar and hugged him. “I’m sorry the news is so bad.”

“Thanks,” he said, but it seemed his mind was elsewhere.

“We have to stay in touch. If you hear anything else, or if the sheriff talks to you again, please call me. I’ll help any way I can.”

He thanked me. I got my coat and let myself out.





Chapter 7


Before driving away from Edgar’s studio, I called Abbie. “Are you home?”

“Yeah. What’s up?”

“Is Sharon with you?”

“No. She went back to Pittsburgh this afternoon.”

“Can I drop by?”

“Sure. Come on over.”

“I’m driving back to campus from Edgar’s studio. I’ll be there in about forty-five minutes.”

“Okay. Take all the time you need. There could be black ice on the roads tonight.”

We hung up and I drove away.

Last year Abbie helped me gain the confidence to get out on the highways. Growing up in San Francisco, I had never learned to drive because I could take buses and trains to everything with an occasional cab ride thrown in. When I visited Fuchs College for an interview, I recognized that one couldn’t live on a rural campus without a car.

After accepting the job, I took driving lessons during the summer and bought a car when I got here. When I started traveling around the area, I found out that most people regard the rules of the road as no more than suggestions. Abbie coached me on short trips so I could learn to anticipate what she called “bonehead moves.”

Then came my first winter. Last year, at the end of fall semester, a few inches of snow fell one Friday evening. Abbie called and said she would pick me up at six o’clock the next morning. I thought we were going sightseeing, because to me it was amazing to see the world turned white, but instead she took us to the parking lot around a mall. It was empty at that hour.

She put me in the driver’s seat and told me to drive straight ahead and get it up to twenty miles per hour. Then she told me to step on the brake without slowing down. What happened next was like a carnival ride. I was terrified.

“Turn around and do it again,” Abbie told me. “This time take your foot off the gas and count to five before you step on the brake.”

We must have repeated that drill twenty times, each time letting the car slow down a little more before I hit the brake. By the end, I was no longer terrified. I knew what it took to stop a car on slippery pavement. For the rest of that winter, I tried to avoid going out when there was snow on the ground, and, when I did, I was always the slowest driver on the road.

I was glad she had some free time this evening. Learning that a guest at the reception had been murdered and the artist was a suspect had me feeling crazy and confused.



When I got back to Montgomery Avenue on campus, I parked by my Hutch and ran inside to make sure my electric baseboard heaters were set on high and used my own bathroom before walking over to Abbie’s Hutch. Before I could leave, my phone rang.

“Nicole? Who’s this woman who was murdered?”

The nasal whine of Greta Oswald’s voice was unmistakable. The last thing I wanted to do was discuss the matter with the member of the Gallery Advisory Committee who made my life miserable. I bluffed. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“I’m reading about it in the news.”

She gave me the name of a local TV station, and I pulled up their website. They had a straight-up crime report about the gruesome scene at the motel.

“Greta, it says right here that she was a professor at the University of Louisville. Why are you calling me about this?”

“She was at the gallery on Saturday.”

The report included a portrait photo of her, much better than the one Adams had shown me. Hoping there was still a chance to end this call, I said, “I don’t think so. She doesn’t look familiar.”

“It says in the article she came to the opening.”

I scanned the story, and there it was, about half-way down. “. . . earlier in the day had attended the opening of an art exhibit at Fuchs College.” Not good.

“Oh, yes. I see what you mean, Greta. Hmm, that is unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate? Is that all you have to say?”

“I’m very sorry this happened to her, but I’m not sure what we can do about it.”

“We have to meet.”

“Who has to meet?”

“The Gallery Advisory Committee.”

“Why?”

“To decide what we should do.”

“Do about what?”

“There could be a murderer on campus.” Greta put extra emphasis on the word, “murderer.”

“The murder took place at a motel.”

“But they think Edgar Yount did it.”

“Why would you say that?”

“It’s in the article.”

As I scrolled further down the page, what was left of my hope evaporated. The relevant passage read, “authorities have questioned the artist, Edgar Yount, who is known to have a prior association with the murdered woman.” So, the cat had exited the bag.

“Greta, it does not say they think he did it. It says the sheriff questioned him.”

“They just put it that way to avoid lawsuits. Why else would the sheriff question him?”

“For the same reason he’ll talk to everyone who knew her.”

“I’m free tomorrow afternoon. Do you want me to see if the others can meet then?”

“No. We are not meeting. This is not the committee’s business, especially since we don’t know whether this has anything to do with the gallery.”

“Nicole, I can think of several ways this could play out. I would feel better if we could meet and go over these scenarios . . .”

“No. We are not going to sit around and imagine all the horrible things that might happen.”

That shut her up for a moment, but she soon caught her breath. “Well, I must say, I think you are leaving us unprepared.”

“For what?”

“We could be in for some very bad publicity.”

Since saying no wasn’t going to work, I decided to try another approach. “Greta, I have an idea. Now that you’ve brought this to my attention—and thank you for that by the way—I’ll stay on top of it. For instance, I’ll call the sheriff’s office. Maybe I can find out what’s going on before it gets in the papers.” I thought about telling her I had Adams on speed dial, but that seemed like laying it on too thick. “I’ll let you and the other members of the committee know if anything comes up that concerns the gallery. How would that be?”

“I suppose that might work. Are you sure they’ll talk to you?”

“Once I tell them I’m director of the gallery, I’m sure they will.” That really was laying it on a bit thick, but I was desperate.

“All right then,” she replied. “I’m glad you’re willing to act on this. I think it’s for the good of the gallery. That’s really my only concern.”

“Of course, it is, Greta. I know that. And there is something you could do to help me and to help the gallery. If anyone else mentions this article to you, would you tell them that we have this under control? You know how some of our colleagues can blow things out of proportion.”

“You are so right,” she replied. “I hate to think what some of them would make out of a report like this. Before you know it, they’d be saying Edgar was stalking students, and . . .”

“Oh! Greta, I have another call coming in. It’s my parents calling from San Francisco. I have to take this.”

“Alright, but . . .”

I hung up.

Of course, there was no call from my parents.

As I walked over to Abbie’s Hutch, I calmed myself with the thought that the news report meant only that more people knew what had happened. It made my situation more uncomfortable, but it didn’t make it worse.

I hoped a chat with Abbie would show me how to start making it better.





Chapter 8


Abbie let me in and walked to the fridge. She was wearing sweats and two pairs of socks. “Are you going out in your car again this evening?”

“No.” It was such a comfort to take off my shoes, step onto her carpet in my stockinged feet, and sit in one of her easy chairs. Maybe I would get real furniture one of these years. She must have had the electric heaters running all afternoon because her living-dining-kitchen room was at a comfortable temperature.

She handed me a beer. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit by the reigning queen of art on the campus of Fuchs College?”

I took a sip and got a handful of peanuts from the dish on the table. “Before I get into all that, thank you for coming to the opening and bringing Sharon with you.”

“Sure. It was the highlight of our weekend. The paintings are amazing, and I really liked Yount’s talk. Sharon enjoyed it too. Besides she was eager to meet you.”

“That’s sweet. I’m glad I finally got to meet her, and I’m so glad you two patched things up. I remember things were a little shaky for a while last year.”

Abbie smiled as she took a moment to remember. “Yeah. When we finally got around to talking about that, it turned out she was afraid I was having a little chop suey on the side.”

When I understood what she was saying, I half-inhaled a peanut and had to cough it back up. “Thanks for the racist nickname!”

“You’re welcome.”

“Why would she think that?”

Abbie shrugged. “Apparently for a while I was coming home on the weekends and talking a lot about my new friend on campus, ‘Nicole.’ I guess I sounded a little too enthusiastic. I wasn’t even aware of it.”

“You told her I’m not gay, right?”

“Once she told me what was bugging her, yeah, I told her. Even then it took a while to convince her. When she met you yesterday, she thought the whole thing was pretty funny.”

Falling in love with a woman has never been on my agenda, but I was a little insulted by the suggestion that someone would think it was funny. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You saw her yesterday: maybe an inch taller than you, slender, black hair, cute little nose.”

I groaned. “I get it. Why cheat on her with someone who looks just like her?”

“Right. It’s all good now. Really. When she said you should come up to Pittsburgh some time, she meant it.”

“Okay, I’ll take you up on that.”

I took a long swallow of my beer to clear my throat for talking business. “When you were at the opening yesterday, did you notice a woman in her thirties, almost your height, curly brown hair? She was hanging out with Edgar and his friends.”

Abbie shook her head. “I don’t remember anyone like that.”

“Doesn’t matter. The sheriff called me this afternoon about her. Her name is Jessica Fabrizio. She was murdered in her motel room last night.”

Abbie’s jaw dropped.

I went on. “I’ve just come from Edgar’s studio. He’s broken up about it because he lived with her for a while when they were in college, eight or ten years ago.”

Abbie sat back as if hit by a wave. “This news would be horrible no matter what, but coming the day after his exhibit opened? Talk about irony!”

“It gets worse. Sheriff Adams questioned him earlier this afternoon. Edgar told the sheriff that after the reception at the gallery, he went to Jessica’s motel to pick her up for dinner. He says she didn’t answer the door or her phone, so he just went on and met his friends. That doesn’t look good because that’s about when she was killed.”

“So, the sheriff thinks Edgar might have done it?”

“Apparently so. The fact that Edgar and Jessica were lovers once upon a time makes him look more suspicious.”

“That’s definitely worse. The poor guy!”

“And, to make matters even worse, the first news story on the murder has come out. It says she was killed after she left the reception and the gallery, and it focuses on Edgar as the most likely suspect.”

Abbie shrugged. “That’s not good, but how does it make matters worse?”

“I’m pretty sure this is not what President Taylor had in mind last year when he proposed opening a gallery on campus and putting me in charge of it.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“He said he wanted to bring cosmopolitan influences to the campus. Instead the first artist I bring to campus is in the news linked with a murder investigation.”

“You couldn’t have foreseen that. Nobody could.”

“True, but what if Taylor decides having the gallery is not worth the bad publicity?”

Abbie thought about that for a moment. “I think you’re probably getting ahead of yourself, but, okay, what if he did?”

I took a moment to think. “The gallery is my best chance to make my job here worthwhile. Without it I’m living in the middle of nowhere, getting paid very little for teaching a few courses. I could be living downstairs in my parents’ house, getting paid about the same for teaching part-time at the community college, and I’d be home in San Francisco with my friends and surrounded by museums and galleries and other good things.”

Abbie frowned. “Yeah. I’ve had the same conversation with myself, only in my version I’m living with Sharon in her fancy condo in Pittsburgh. In fact, she has suggested I do that. But, so far at least, I’m not willing to give up on full-time employment to be supported by my wealthy girlfriend.”

“Yeah, I’d hate to give up too. After investing all those years and all that money in getting a PhD, I can’t believe I’m even thinking about living off my parents. It’s humiliating.” I drank some beer and let it settle. “So that’s why I’m frustrated. I just wish I could do something.”

“About what?”

“The investigation.”

“What could you do?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t do nothing. This feels like waiting for an accident to happen.”

“Maybe it’s not that bad. Are there any other suspects?”

“Sure. This woman, Jessica, was a professor at the University of Louisville, so I imagine the police are trying to find out if anyone there had a reason to kill her. Same with her friends in Cleveland. Since she was killed near here, and she was at the opening, the sheriff is looking into other people who saw her when she arrived at the gallery toward the end of the reception. That would include Edgar’s friend from Cleveland, Mel Schrier; my gallery intern, Paul Weinert; and Matt Dunkle.”

“Dunkle? From the math department?”

“Yeah. He’s on the Gallery Advisory Committee and he was at the opening yesterday. They all would have seen her at the gallery.”

“Want another beer?”

“No. I haven’t finished this one.”

Abbie drained hers and rinsed the bottle at the sink.

After she had returned to her chair and folded her long legs under her, I said, “Help me think of something, Abbie. There has to be something I can do.”

“What about Matt Dunkle and . . . what’s his name? Your student in the gallery?”

“Paul Weinert.”

“They’re right here on campus. You know a little about each of them already. You have easy access to find out more. Why not find out what you can about them?”

“What good would that do?”

“The sheriff will want to know if they were acquainted with the victim before she showed up at the gallery. If you can feed him some information that shows they probably weren’t, that may speed up the process. The less time he spends on people from the campus, the quicker he’ll catch the real killer, and the quicker the bad publicity will end.”

“That seems like a long shot.”

“Sometimes a long shot is the only shot you have. You said you want to do something.”

“I guess you’re right. I could find out what’s on file here and pay attention if one of them comes up in conversation. I’ll also check what they have on social media.”

“But remember, Nicole: Either Weinert or Dunkle actually could be the murderer. So, keep a low profile. You don‘t want whoever did it to see you coming after him.”

I felt a chill at what Abbie said. “I’ll be careful. Thanks for the beer.”

As I went back to my Hutch and got ready for bed, I thought about how unlikely it was that Weinert or Dunkle had some reason to kill this woman who showed up at the gallery yesterday. Of course, it was also unlikely that someone, who knew her in Louisville and had a reason to kill her, followed her all the way up here to do the deed. And it was unlikely that Edgar killed an ex-girlfriend he hadn’t seen in several years, or that Mel, a friend of theirs from back then, had done it. It was not likely that anyone had killed her, but someone definitely had.





Chapter 9


Looking into Weinert’s and Dunkle’s backgrounds was postponed by a swarm of academic chores. Class preparation, grading quizzes, and other things kept me busy Sunday evening and all day Monday. Because I was still catching up from a week of restless sleeping, I got up late Tuesday morning, leaving me only enough time to eat a piece of toast and get to my morning class.

After class, I glanced at my calendar and saw my department was scheduled to meet. Though I had hoped to have a hot meal in the snack bar at the Student Center, I had to run in, grab an egg-salad sandwich and a bottle of water, and run back to the seminar room on the second floor of the Arts and Humanities Building.

Unlike our offices, this small room with a conference table and eight chairs had no view of the wooded hillside. In fact, it had no windows at all. In my opinion, this was a stroke of genius by the architect. There’s nothing like a creeping sense of claustrophobia to make people sitting around a table decide to keep it short.

On this particular Tuesday, the art department met for further discussion of the college’s new emphasis on preparing students for careers. “Further discussion” is the academic term for “looking busy.” So far in our meetings on the subject, we had made great progress in defining the word “career.” I fully expected that any day now we would begin reaching a consensus on the meaning of the word “preparation.” Conducting these discussions without the use of a dictionary made them all the more thrilling.

We were pursuing this topic because sixteen months ago, at the beginning of my first year at Fuchs College, President Roland Taylor announced that the trustees had decided to add a School of Business to the institution. A few months later all departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were asked to assess their programs and write a statement describing the ways in which they prepare students for careers and proposing ways in which they could do more to prepare them.

This shift to career preparation was not the only change we faced. With the addition of a School of Business, Fuchs College would become a university. Although the school’s name was pronounced as it would be in German so it rhymed with “spooks,” the idea of an institution of higher learning called “Fuchs U” seemed ridiculous to most people.

But, when President Taylor called upon the faculty, alumni, and students to come up with a new name, sides were taken, battles were fought, and wars were waged over whether to keep the old name or look to the future with a name such as “Reliance University.” Of course, the students proposed names like, “Can’t Afford U.” The way things were going, it looked like the new building for the school of business would be done before the new name was chosen.

When I got to the seminar room, the other members of my department were already gathered round the table. Wilma Halberstadt was, as always, dressed in beige with brown accents and seemed worried, though that may have been an illusion created by her thick glasses. Her art education courses were part of the teacher certification program. She spent a lot of time showing students how to cut things out of construction paper and had them quoting Piaget’s developmental psychology from memory.

Irving Zorn made huge sums of money painting vast canvases that were pale imitations of the great Jackson Pollack. He was a tall man, always in need of a shave and a haircut. He wore brightly colored shirts that strained to cover his pot belly.

Frank Rossi, our chairman, was a competent landscape painter. He wore a dark green suit and a persimmon-colored silk shirt. I suspected he had his clothes made for him, though he could not have afforded that on his faculty salary.

He called us to order in his usual style. “All here? Good. Short agenda. One item. Career preparation. Nicole?”

I gave them the speech I had prepared. “As you all recall, I proposed a gallery internship last fall and we approved it. My first gallery intern, Paul Weinert, has been working very hard and shows great potential. I think the internship could become a permanent position with a new student taking over each semester. As the reputation of the gallery grows, we should find it easier to place our interns in entry-level positions with galleries, museums, and perhaps historic homes. The possibilities are endless.”

In other words, I lied through my teeth. And I left out the part about Paul being a murder suspect.

“Excellent, Nicole,” said Rossi. “Very promising. Real growth potential. Irving?”

He turned to Irving Zorn for his report, but Wilma Halberstadt spoke up before Zorn could swallow his mouthful of sausage pizza. “I just want to remind everyone that the department has a very successful program for preparing art majors for careers in teaching,” she said.

Wilma never stopped reminding us that she, the only member of the department who was neither an artist nor an art historian, ran the program about which parents loved to say, “at least you’ll have something to fall back on.”

Frank nodded to her. “So important. A great asset. Irving?”

Having cleared his airway, Irving Zorn spoke. “I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with something very exciting. Animation. Disney pioneered it as an art form, took it to heights never seen before. The digital revolution has created animation tools Disney could never have dreamed of. Animated feature films are now more exciting, more expressive, and more numerous than ever before.

“I propose that we fast-track our students into one of the most promising careers the twenty-first century has to offer. I look forward to the day when our alumni will include some of the biggest names in Hollywood. That should generate some donations to the college, and”—here he allowed himself a chuckle—“I’ll always have someone to stay with when I take a vacation to L.A.”

“Brilliant. Just brilliant,” cried Frank. “Enormous potential. Comments?”

Wilma had none, since that would have required an interest in something other than state teacher certification requirements. That left me to respond.

“Animation certainly is able to do amazing things” I said. “Even in live-action films, CGI is very effective.”

Zorn scowled at me.

“Computer-generated images,” I explained. “They blend it in with what the actors are doing. Most of the time you can’t even tell.”

Zorn relaxed and sat back, but remained wary.

“I am wondering about one thing, though.” The room was not only silent but also motionless as I took a breath. “Personally, I don’t have any background in animation. Do any of us have any experience in the industry?”

My art-department colleagues looked at me as if I were an alien life-form. Clearly “experience in the industry” was not a phrase that came naturally to any of them. At that moment, I understood why this idea of career preparation made me so uncomfortable. I had experience of only one career: college professor.

A knowledge of art history is necessary to a number of careers—in museums, galleries, auction houses, etc.—and helpful to many others such as design, advertising, marketing, journalism, and so on. I knew I could help students acquire that knowledge, but I could do nothing further to prepare them for those careers. Apparently, the same was true for my colleagues. Yet we were talking as if we were going to teach our students to do jobs we had never done.

Zorn spoke with a quiet intensity that was not typical of him. “I teach my students to use line, space, and color to create meaning. Would you not agree that these are fundamental to visual communication? Therefore, are they not fundamental to the art of animation just as your art history courses are fundamental to running a gallery?”

Frank nodded. “Valid points.”

Zorn pounced. “I am a practicing artist with a long list of credits. That means I have a lot to offer my students. I didn’t show up yesterday and charm the president into giving me my own room to play with.”

Frank started waving his hands. “Time out. Different approach. Nicole? Thoughts?”

It didn’t matter what I said so long as I didn’t let my voice quiver. “I agree. Drawing and painting are fundamental. As I recall, Walt Disney offered his employees in-house drawing classes.” I had seen a wonderful exhibit on this at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. “I’m just wondering if we can also offer our students some practical experience in animation, just as we’re offering some practical experience in gallery management.”

Zorn almost turned purple. “You think you know something about practical experience? Let me tell you . . .”

Frank yelled. “Excellent. Everything on the table. Reports: practical applications. To me. Irving, animation. Nicole, gallery management. Meet again next week. All very promising. Adjourned.”

Zorn was up and out of the room before Frank had finished speaking, and he almost overturned a chair as he went.

Wilma glanced at me, then at Frank. “Are we done?” Without waiting for an answer, she gathered her tote bags and left.

“Good thinking, Nicole,” said Frank on his way out.

What had just happened? I wasn’t surprised to see Zorn acting like a bully, but the intensity of his reaction shocked me, especially since we really had no disagreement. Drawing and painting were obviously necessary for working in animation, and I had said so. I didn’t see why he was so angry about the idea of adding practical work in animation as we had in gallery management. Since we were being required to go beyond the traditional subjects in preparing students for careers, it seemed the least we could do.

As I walked up to my office, the stairs seemed steeper than usual.

An idea for a peace offering occurred to me. Hari Kamat, a friend of mine from San Francisco State, worked at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’s special effects company, which had studios in San Francisco. I hadn’t kept in touch, but perhaps I could find him on BudStem,“The Buddy System,” or on some other social media site, and ask him about what he had learned by working in the industry.

If I shared his experience with my colleagues perhaps they would see that I only wanted to make Zorn’s proposed program more effective and more attractive to students. Maybe, if I supported Zorn’s idea in this way, I could ease tensions, and we could avoid wasting a lot of energy fighting over nothing.

I picked up my pace and arrived at my office on the third floor with a spring in my step. It wouldn’t take me long to send Hari a message and then I could start my research on Fabrizio, Weinert, and Dunkle.





Chapter 10


I told BudStem I was looking for a new buddy named “Hari Kamat,” but none of the three people who turned up was the friend I knew from my days at SF State. Rather than spend a lot of time searching the web, I decided to tap the old-style social network by picking up my phone and calling my friend since childhood, Irene Gonzalo.

I got lucky. She answered after a few rings. “Is that ‘Nico Tang?’”

“Yes,” I replied. “Is that ‘Rene Zalo?’”

We laughed like a couple of school girls, which is what we were when we decided to become the next, great, female, singer-songwriter duo. We knew we would need stage names, so she shortened “Irene Gonzalo” to “Rene Zalo,” and I shortened “Nicole” to “Nico” and decided to use my mom’s family name, “Tang.” Once that was settled, we tried writing some songs.

Irene expected to get a guitar for her tenth birthday, so we started rehearsing with my grandfather’s ukulele, which he brought from Hawaii a long time ago. The first song we wrote was, “Cowgirls on the Run.” We came up with two verses and a chorus but couldn’t think of a third verse, so we started working on our next song in which we sang “We are free,” over and over with different harmonies. That’s as far as we ever got, but the dream lived on.

“What’s up, girl? When you coming back?” she asked.

“I was just back there over the summer. I can’t fly back and forth every few months. I’m trying to live on a professor’s salary.”

“Poor baby. Did you just call to hear my melodious voice?”

“No. I called to see if you’ve talked to Hari recently.”

“Hari from SF State?”

“Yeah, I looked for him on BudStem, but he’s not there.”

“No, he doesn’t do social media. The last time I mentioned it to him he went off about living in a police state.”

“Is he still at ILM?”

“Industrial Light and Magic? Yep. Lives in Cow Hollow and rides his bike to the Presidio every day.”

“I need to ask him something and I don’t have his email.”

“Hm. Let me look . . . No. I don’t have it either. You want me to track him down?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

“No problem. What’s this about?”

“My department is thinking about starting a program to help art students get jobs in animation. I need to ask him what the students should know when they graduate, beyond the obvious like, how to draw.”

“Very cool. I know somebody he was seeing. I’ll call her. She’ll know how to get his attention.”

“Thanks. I owe you.”

“Got that right. And, hey, any time: text me your flight info and I’ll meet you at SFO with a bag of pork buns and a six pack of Anchor Steam.”

I had instant hunger pangs. “That sounds so good right now.”

“Get yourself back here before everybody forgets about you.”

“Talk to you soon.”

“Soon.”

After we hung up, I sat in my chair for a moment, thinking about those fluffy buns with a few bites of spicy barbecue pork in the middle. We used to take two buses to get to Chinatown and buy them hot from the oven at the old bakery. My hunger was as much emotional as it was physical.

When Irene said, “before everybody forgets about you,” I felt like I’d swallowed an ice cube. Of course, that’s what was happening back in my hometown. People saw me less often, so my name came up less in conversation. How much longer before they started asking, “Whatever happened to Nicole?”

The thought of losing touch with my home and my friends made me ask, “What am I doing here?”

On a personal level the answer wasn’t encouraging. I was living in a plywood box in a part of Ohio where people like me—people who look Asian—are scarce. Life seemed a little brighter last year when I had Lionel to keep me warm. Dr. Lionel Bell, assistant professor of French language and literature, used to live around the corner in one of the duplexes on Ohio Avenue. We shared trips to neighboring cities, occasionally staying overnight on the weekends, and had great conversations about art, literature, and history.

But Lionel got a job at Northwestern University in Chicago and moved there last summer. I visited him for a few long weekends in the fall, and we talked about keeping up our exclusive relationship while we waited to see where the job market might send me, but by December it was clear we had to part. Frankly, I didn’t see how a good-looking single guy on a tenure track at a great university in Chicago could stay tied down to a girlfriend who lived a ten-hour drive away. I decided to let him go before someone stole him from me.

Once Lionel was out of the picture, the pickings looked slim. With fewer than one hundred faculty members at the college, and most of them too old or already married, I didn’t like my chances of meeting another single guy near my age. All in all, on a personal level, other than my friendship with Abbie, things looked bleak.

On a professional level, I had a job, and it was good for a woman who had spent most of her twenties getting a PhD in art history to have a job that involved art history. For that I was grateful.

On the other hand, art would never be a big department at Fuchs. The college’s resources were going into creating that school of business, scheduled to open sometime in the next academic year. For the foreseeable future, I was stuck with the three colleagues in my department, who were eccentric to say the least, and I was teaching students who were mostly starting from scratch when it came to understanding works of art. While I enjoyed introducing people to the wonders of visual art, I was missing the satisfaction of helping students explore beyond the fundamentals.

The gallery was the one bright spot in my professional situation. The chances of an academic job in San Francisco were almost nonexistent, but there were Cal State campuses within a day’s drive and a few private colleges. If I could land one of those, I could spend weekends at home. That way people wouldn’t forget about me.

Whenever I thought about it, the solution came out the same: teach, research, publish, curate a better exhibit, and apply for better jobs. But first, I had to stop this murder investigation from spoiling Edgar’s reputation and endangering funding for the gallery. My next step was getting information that would prove Paul Weinert and Matt Dunkle hadn’t known Jessica Fabrizio.





Chapter 11


I left my office around three o’clock and walked back to my Rabbit Hutch. Once I had changed into sweats and made a cup of tea, I set up my laptop on the café table in the corner of my living-dining-kitchen room. Since Paul Weinert seemed least likely to have any past connection to Jessica Fabrizio, I decided to start by comparing his background with hers. Quickly crossing him off as a suspect might raise my spirits.

On the website for the University of Louisville, I found Jessica Fabrizio’s biography on the page for the sociology department. She had earned degrees at SUNY at Albany and Case Western Reserve and had joined the faculty at Louisville four years ago. Since Weinert was now about twenty, he would have been sixteen when she started teaching. I couldn’t imagine how he would have come into contact with her during his high-school years unless he was inquiring about a sociology major at Louisville. Since I’d never heard Paul express any interest in sociology, that seemed unlikely.

It was possible there was some earlier connection through their families. I couldn’t recall ever hearing Paul speak about his hometown, but I could easily drop by the gallery sometime this week when he was there and casually ask where he was from. Unless it was someplace where Jessica had a history—Albany, Cleveland, or Louisville—Paul probably had never met her prior to her appearance in the gallery on Saturday, and I could forward that information to Sheriff Adams.

Encouraged by this result, I looked up Matt Dunkle on the Fuchs College website. He had a math degree from Michigan State, and an MS and PhD from SUNY at Albany, the latter completed eight years ago, in the same year he started teaching at Fuchs.

I felt a distinct thump in my rib cage, right where my heart lives. Dunkle and Fabrizio both attended SUNY at Albany. Comparing the dates of their degrees, I saw that their times there overlapped by about three years.

An internet search told me that SUNY at Albany has about 19,000 students and that the campus covers 586 acres. On a campus that size, everyone would not know everyone else. Since Dunkle and Fabrizio were in different academic fields, they had no obvious reason to meet.

Still they were in approximately the same place at the same time. If they knew each other during those years, Dunkle was a suspect because, as Sheriff Adams would say, “he had a prior association with the deceased.” This was not what I had wanted to find.

I could think of only one way to find out quickly whether two people knew each other more than fourteen years ago, and that was to tap into the absurd amounts of personal information people put on social media sites such as BudStem. I opened my account and asked to be grafted to a buddy named “Matthew Dunkle.” If he and I became buddies, then I could see his list of buddies and see if Jessica was among them.

I hit a dead end. Only two people with the name Matthew Dunkle sprouted, and neither of them was my colleague at Fuchs. Apparently, the Matt Dunkle I was interested in didn’t use BudStem.

On a whim I asked to be grafted to a buddy named Jessica Fabrizio. She was there, and the universities she attended with years of graduation were visible for anyone to see, as was her employment at Louisville, and her hometown, Albany, NY. But, I couldn’t get any more information about her without asking her to be my buddy, and of course that was no longer possible.

I thought some of her friends from back in her days at SUNY at Albany were probably on BudStem, and one of them might know if she knew Matt Dunkle, but I had no way of knowing who they were. I asked for buddies with “Sociology SUNY at Albany” and had my choice of several dozen, but I couldn’t buddy up with all of them in hopes of finding with the ones who knew her.

For the moment, I was stuck.



I had a restless night and slept later than usual Wednesday morning. Downing an egg and toast made me late leaving my Rabbit Hutch and I tried to make up for it by jogging as I went along Montgomery Avenue. When I came to the downslope on Ohio, I hit hard-packed snow and my feet went out from under me.

I had learned how to take falls like this during my first winter in Ohio. The trick was to stay loose and roll. I’d gotten so good at this that falling didn’t bother me anymore. I just rolled onto my side, got my legs under me, and went on.

It also helped that I was wearing my calf-length, down-filled, parka. In effect it was a sleeping bag with sleeves and a hood. Early last winter I had worn a hip-length canvas coat with a zip-in lining. Coming from San Francisco, I thought it was a winter coat because it was warmer than anything I’d worn at home. By the middle of last December, I was tired of shivering every time I walked across campus, so I tried some department stores in Columbus, but their stock of winter coats was low by then, and I refused to shop in the junior miss department.

Abbie told me to find something down-filled and directed me to a store that handled consignments and remainders. There I found this wonderful parka, cut for a woman, in my size, and it was significantly marked down. The first time I wore it outside I fell in love with it. It was lightweight and it kept me warm in the winter wind.

The only thing I didn’t love about it was the color. Since I bought it at a remainder store, I got the color no one wanted: lime green. I swore I would get through my first winter with it and then shop earlier in the season the following year, but, when my second winter rolled around, I felt a certain affection for this coat, even though it made me look a beetle skittering across campus.



In my Wednesday classes—history in the morning, appreciation in the afternoon—I enjoyed seeing some enthusiasm from students who had visited the exhibit. I could tell others had not visited because they tried to sound informed by repeating things they had heard about the paintings. At least they were trying. But I must admit I was preoccupied with the thought of dropping by the gallery that afternoon when Paul Weinert was scheduled to work.

Around three o’clock, as I walked down the corridor on the first floor of Arts and Humanities, I could see Paul was not at the desk by the lectern. Instead he stood at the far end of the room by the first painting in the Youngstown series. He wore the same black suit he’d worn at the gallery opening on Saturday. Students working the exhibits were required to wear business casual clothes, and most wore slacks and a sweater, but it seemed Paul had decided to present himself as if he owned the gallery.

There was no rule that the student on duty had to stay by the door, and I was always happy to see a student paying attention to the art, but at first I couldn’t tell what he was up to. He nodded his head as if he were listening to someone, but there was no one there. He gestured to his left and to his right as if referring to different paintings. As he turned in my direction, I could see his lips moving. Apparently, he was showing imaginary guests around the exhibit and practicing his gallery talk.

There was only one way to avoid the embarrassment of catching him rehearsing. I ducked back from the doorway, hoping he hadn’t seen me, and tiptoed away. Then with heavy footsteps I walked straight into the gallery and paused to glance at the guest book so he would see me before I saw him. After a few moments, I looked around the room as if I wasn’t sure at first he was there. “Oh, there you are. Good afternoon, Paul.”

“Good afternoon, Dr. Noonan.”

Mission accomplished: I saw no embarrassment on his face. “Quiet this afternoon?”

“I had a few visitors after lunch, and an older couple came by an hour ago.”

I looked back at the guest book and saw the couple had filled in the “From” column, with the word “Dayton.” I tapped that line in the book and said, “I don’t think we’ve had anyone else from Dayton.”

Paul nodded. “They were on their way through to Athens. They have a daughter at Ohio U.”

I made a mental note to give him credit for taking an interest in the guests. I would jot that down in his folder when I returned to my office. “How nice,” I replied. “I’ve been teaching here a year and a half, and I still have so many places to visit. I’ve never been to Dayton. I hear the museum there is worth visiting.”

“It’s not a bad collection. Wide, but a bit shallow.”

“Oh? You’ve visited it then?”

“Yes, many times.”

“Is it a long drive from here?”

“I don’t know, a couple of hours I suppose.”

“You haven’t made the drive?”

“No, but I’m from Lima, so I’ve stopped there on my way down to Cincinnati.”

That settled that. Since Lima was nowhere near Jessica Fabrizio’s hometowns—Louisville, Cleveland, and Albany—Paul had no geographical connection to any of the places where she had lived, studied, and worked. Therefore, I could suggest to Sheriff Adams that Paul had no history with her.

Since Paul was in a pleasant mood, I thought I may as well extend our conversation. Glancing around the room and speaking as if thinking out loud, I said, “I suppose everyone’s talking about Jessica Fabrizio, that poor woman who was here on Saturday.”

“You mean the bitch?” The sneer on his lips was almost as disturbing as the word he had used.

“Paul! That’s a terrible thing to say about one of our visitors. Why would you say that?”

“She was just . . . She gave me a hard time about signing the guest book, and, when I tried to give her the brochure, she just blew me off, and walked right over to the artist.”

“Of course, she did. She didn’t need an introduction. They were old friends.”

“She was rude.”

“Let’s get one thing straight, Paul: You are here for the guests; they are not here for you.”

“Fine! You don’t have to make such a big deal out of it.”

His face flushed and his nostrils flared. With his arms crossed and his hands clasped over his biceps, I could see the tendons leading to his fingers stretched like cables.

I glanced at the door of the gallery to make sure it was open and shifted my position a few steps so I could look through the glass panels on either side and see if anyone was nearby in the corridor. “It’s after three-thirty. Why don’t you go now? I’ll lock up.”

He was out the door almost before I was done speaking, and I locked the door behind him. Then I fished my phone out of my purse and pulled up the emergency-call screen in case he came back.





Chapter 12


Paul had put himself back on the suspect list by admitting he started a feud with Jessica on Saturday afternoon, just before we closed the reception. I recalled that he also tried to join the dinner party Edgar and his friends were forming and got the cold shoulder from them. Could he have been so jealous of the attention Edgar showed to Jessica that he followed her to her motel room and killed her? I wouldn’t have believed that, but after seeing his reaction to the mention of her name it seemed all too possible.

Mission not accomplished: Paul was back on the suspect list, and closer to the top. I would have to report that to Sheriff Adams.

The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with a trip into Blanton for groceries, driving very slowly all the way on the snowy roads. Steadman’s was larger than a corner store back home in San Francisco but smaller than a suburban supermarket. It had all the basics, and it was convenient.

Pushing my cart through the aisles at Steadman’s, I remembered how last year I had discovered that for a third of the year fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce in Ohio. Growing up in California, I took for granted having fresh produce year-round. Now I bought most of my veggies in the frozen food section.

This week I treated myself to a frozen pizza to which I would add some toppings. Although it would take a longer to prepare in the tiny oven of the all-in-one set of appliances that came with the Rabbit Hutch, the baking would help to heat the room.

Once I had driven home, stowed my groceries, and started the oven, I called Abbie. “Have you eaten?”

“No.”

“I have pizza and red wine.”

“I’ll make a salad. Give me ten minutes.”

Knowing Abbie was on the way gave me permission to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. I closed my laptop, unplugged it, and put it away in the bedroom. I tidied up in there, in case Abbie had to come through to use the bathroom, and worked my way out to the bigger room putting some things away and neatly stacking others. As I did so, I breathed easier and stood straighter. With mats and napkins on the table, and a cutting board, knife and plates standing by for when the pizza was done, all I had to do was pour two glasses of wine.

I heard a knock and yelled, “It’s open.”

Abbie stepped in and paused by the door to look around at my outdoor furniture and the fake lawn made of green doormats stitched together, which took the place of a rug in the middle of the room. “This place still cracks me up.” She pointed to the center of the ceiling. “All you need is a heat lamp up there, and we could pretend we were on vacation in Florida.”

“Have a seat,” I said, taking the salad from her and dishing it onto the plates. “The pizza still has a few minutes to bake.” I brought the wine glasses to the table and handed her one. “Here’s to Groundhog Day!”

“Only two weeks away,” said Abbie.

We drank. I hadn’t been to Columbus recently to replenish my wine cellar (the cabinet under the kitchen sink), so I was down to the bottle labeled, “Red Table Wine.” It was drinkable and well within my food budget.

“You’ll have to forgive me if I seem a bit distracted,” I said. “My department met yesterday morning, and my attempt at being collegial blew up in my face.”

“What happened?”

“Irving Zorn said we should have a career track in animation. I asked if any of us has any experience in animation. Zorn went berserk and accused me of all kinds of things.”

Abbie smiled and shook her head. “Of course, he did. He wanted to keep doing what he does and slap a new label on it. You challenged him to use a little imagination and put some work into it.”

“I didn’t mean it as a challenge. If he didn’t agree, fine, but his reaction was way over the top.”

Abbie frowned for a moment. “What time was this meeting?”

“Lunchtime”

“I don’t know Zorn, but I’ve heard that if you want to have a reasonable conversation with him, it’s best to do it earlier in the day. Apparently by lunchtime he’s usually pretty well lubricated.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that Zorn might have been drunk. He certainly wasn’t acting silly like someone at a party, but maybe there were different kinds of drinkers with different kinds of symptoms.

After another sip of wine, Abbie asked, “Have you invited me to your Hutch so my sparkling personality can brighten the long, winter evening?”

“Of course. Also, to reboot that conversation we had Sunday evening.”

“The one in which it was revealed that the love of my life was jealous of you last year?”

“I’m not worried about that part,” I said. “I want to revisit the part where you advised me to dig up information about Weinert and Dunkle and feed it to the sheriff.”

“Right. How’s that going?” she asked.

“Downhill and the brakes have failed.”

“Oh dear. I hope you have more wine.”

“You know I do.”

The oven gave a ping, and I got up to get the pizza.

“Smells good,” said Abbie. What’s on it?”

“Italian sausage and Cantonese stir-fry.”

“God bless America.”

I brought the plates to the table and we ate for a few minutes.

Abbie paused, took a sip of wine, and asked, “So what seems to be the problem?”

“The general idea was to see if my intern, Paul Weinert, and our colleague, Matt Dunkle, had any connection to the woman who was murdered. The good news is I can’t see how Paul could ever have crossed paths with her before last Saturday.”

“And the bad news?”

“He’s still calling her nasty names because of something that happened at the opening.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing much. Paul has this idea that the internship is his chance to shine, to show everyone he’s a rising star in the art world.”

Abbie nodded. “Internship Syndrome.”

“So, he took offense when Jessica breezed by him to talk to Edgar instead of waiting by the lectern for him to do his welcome-you-to-the-gallery routine.”

“Oh my. He really is a diva. Why is this bad news?”

“If he’s still yelling insults at the mention of her name four days later, was he angry enough on Saturday to follow her to her motel and kill her?”

“Seems like a stretch.”

“Can we rule it out?” I asked.

“I guess not. Wounded pride can be a powerful motivator.”

“So, should I report this to the sheriff?”

Abbie pursed her lips and stared across the room. “It’s not your job to do any of this, but if you’re going to talk to the sheriff, yeah, I guess it would be wrong to ignore it. What did you find out about Dunkle?”

“Not much, but I am worried about one thing. He got his doctorate at SUNY at Albany.”

She shrugged. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Jessica Fabrizio got her BA at Albany.”

“And I’ll bet you’re about to tell me they were there at the same time.”

“For three years.”

Abbie sipped some wine and swished it around inside her mouth before speaking. “It’s a big school.”

“Almost 20,000.”

“It would be entirely possible for two people to be there and never cross paths.”

“Entirely.”

“Still,” she said, “their being there at the same time doesn’t exactly point in the right direction.”

“No, it does not.”

We ate in silence for a couple of minutes.

“What if I don’t talk to Adams?” I asked. “I didn’t promise him a report. Maybe I should sit back and let him do his job.”

“And go to bed every night knowing you might have information that might help him catch the murderer?”

I shook my head. “Nope. That’s not going to work.”

“You know what you know. There’s no way to not know it.”

“That sounds profound. More wine?”

“No thanks.”

We finished eating.

Abbie sat back and said, “I think you have to tell him.”

“Even though the part about Paul brings the investigation and the headlines closer to the gallery?”

“It will, for a while, but look at it this way: If Weinert or Dunkle killed her, the investigation will get here sooner or later. You may as well get it over with.”

I drank the last of my wine. “When I invited you over, I was hoping you could explain to me that all this was not as dark as it seemed.”

She smiled. “You wanted me to torture the data so it would say what you want it to say, and that is what we economists do, but in this instance we are not working with labor department statistics.”

“Mom always says, ‘Your friends are the ones who tell you the truth.’”

“Thanks for the pizza and the wine.”

“Thanks for the salad and the truth.”





Chapter 13


After Abbie went home, I called Sheriff Adams and left him a voicemail suggesting we meet the next day, Thursday, sometime in the afternoon. I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t depressed. For all I knew, at that moment he might have been arresting someone in Cleveland for the murder of Jessica Fabrizio. Likewise, police in Louisville might solve the crime tomorrow. But, if neither of those things happened, I would tell Adams what I had discovered and hope for the best.

Wondering if Paul had become so enraged with Jessica at the opening as to become dangerous reminded me of another possible source of danger. Edgar asked me about security when he arrived for the opening of the exhibit. When I asked why he was concerned, he said he was just nervous, but maybe he was aware of a real threat. If so, it may have had something to do with the murder of Jessica. At least it was worth asking him.

I called Edgar, and he answered. “How are you doing, Edgar?”

“Still pretty freaked out.”

“It must be hard.”

“I’m just spending a lot of time walking around with a sketchbook and a pencil. I can’t really work, but drawing seems to calm down the demons.”

He sounded shaken. “I’m glad that works for you. Have you heard any more from the Sheriff?”

“No. Have you?”

“No.”

“Good,” he said with bitter satisfaction. “Maybe he’s focusing on the person who really did murder Jess.”

“I hope so, Edgar. By the way, do you remember asking me about security for the opening?”

“Security? What about it?”

“When you and Mel and Rita arrived for the opening, you asked about security for the event.”

After taking a moment to think, Edgar said, “Oh, right. Yeah. Thanks f