Steal Away: An Adam Dutton & Beverly Laborde Mystery
Winner of the 2020 Virginia Indie Author Project in the Adult Fiction CategoryLibrary Journal/Biblioboard
Named the 2020 winner of the Virginia Indie Author Project
Revenge is best served ... BOLD.
When Beverly Laborde becomes a con artist to exact vengeance on the man who shut down her grandmother's antiques business and sent her to an early grave, she comes face to face with the handsome but haunted Vermont police detective, Adam Dutton—who doesn't know whether to arrest her or ask her out on a date.
But Beverly and Adam soon face an even worse problem than their inconvenient growing attraction toward each other: they've both incurred the wrath of the wealthy and formidable Reginald Forsythe. Forsythe's criminal tendrils seem to reach into all areas of Vermont politics and the Northeastern Antiquities League. And he'll do anything to keep his dark secrets safe.
Beverly and Adam enlist the help of a sympathetic antiques dealer and the mysterious “Mr. X,” but will it be enough to prove Forsythe is guilty not only of theft and bribery but possibly murder? Beverly and Adam soon learn that even though they may not be able to outgun their nemesis individually, together they just might have a fighting chance.
Release date: February 3, 2020
Publisher: Crimetime Press
Print pages: 288
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Steal Away: An Adam Dutton & Beverly Laborde Mystery
Monday, September 13
Beverly yanked her luggage through the revolving doorway in annoyance. Already worn out from the trip, the ticketing hassles, and trying to appear inconspicuous, that damned door was one more obstacle she didn’t need.
But this place, oh this place, was everything she’d expected it to be. It was the quintessential symbol of luxury pamper-porn.
The sprawling Vermont resort spa bustled with autumn looky-loo tourists, or “leaf peepers,” as the train conductor had called them. Syrupy music from hidden speakers matched the complimentary bottles of maple syrup handed out to guests. The columns were marble, the brocade fabric chairs had gold threads, and the light pendants looked like Swarovski crystal. The air reeked of Chanel No.5, sandalwood oil, and money.
All told, it was the perfect place for her to hide in plain sight.
Her gaze landed on a Japanese ceramic vase that she stopped to examine, then she grimaced as she noticed the backstamp. Just a contemporary Prouna piece, probably cost a couple grand, but hardly interesting. Not like the treasure she was in town to steal.
Heading toward the reception desk, she paused to study the people around her. No one seemed to be interested in her. Good. She waited for the group closest to her to move on until she gave her name to the clerk, “It’s under Beverly Laborde.”
After the too-cheerful clerk verified Beverly’s reservation and checked her in, the clerk motioned to a valet to take the bags. Beverly stepped between her luggage and the valet, saying, “That won’t be necessary. They’re not heavy,” and waved him off. She gripped the maroon leather overnight case in one hand—no rolling along a hard floor for that one—and headed to her room.
Stepping inside, she nodded her approval. Four-poster bed, elegant sitting area with two turquoise and gray damask chairs, a Jacuzzi tub near the fireplace, and a stocked bar in the mini-refrigerator that greeted her with an alluring humming. She scanned a card on the table beside the bed that listed the à la carte spa services. The body wrap with neem black clay and skin-cupping was seven hundred dollars.
Much better than last week’s cramped box-of-a-room or the hotel next to the railroad tracks the week before that. She looked out the windows toward the White Mountains. Other areas around the world could boast of snowy-sand beaches or historic pyramids or Amazon rainforests. But in Vermont, it was the autumn leaves in their fluorescent glory.
She gently laid the overnight case on the bed, dialed in the security code on the lock, and unzipped the top, holding her breath as she peered inside. Still there and undamaged. She reached into a pocket in the front of the case, pulled out a manila envelope and map, and settled in one of the padded wingback chairs.
The notes she’d jotted down in the margins on the papers from the envelope were scribbled hastily, and she strained now to read them. Instead of fake reading glasses, maybe she was way overdue getting a real pair.
Next, she picked up old man Kornelson’s treasure map and turned it around to compare it to her notes. The yellowing map’s edges were only slightly smudged, and the lettering was remarkably vibrant and the printing legible.
She’d looked at the thing hundreds of times—what had she missed? She was just tired, that must be it.
Tossing the map, papers, and envelope on the coffee table in front of her chair, she rubbed her temples. When was the last time she’d traveled with someone else? She couldn’t remember. It must have been her grandmother, that trip to the antiques fair near Boston, six, no seven years ago. Three months before Grammie died. Beverly ran a hand across her eyes. She was not going to cry. Not now.
The room phone rang and made her jump out of her chair. No one could possibly know she was here, could they? It was a call transferred from the front desk, a call that made her forget all about crying.
“Is this Beverly Laborde?” the baritone voice asked.
“Who is this?”
“I’m Detective Adam Dutton with the Ironwood Junction PD. I’d like to come by and ask you a few questions.”
“If this is about that parking ticket in Hanover, I paid it off,” she forced a laugh. “Although I think a hundred dollars was a tad steep.”
“Not a parking ticket, no. Would four o’clock be convenient?”
“Of course. I’ll meet you in the lobby.” Beverly hung up, battling with the part of her that wanted to run away. She’d expected something like this might happen but hoped it wouldn’t. Oh well, another cop, another performance.
She picked up the notes and map again, but her blurred vision from lack of sleep made it hard to concentrate, so she gave up and headed to the mini-bar to pour herself a glass of wine. Maybe it would help give her some bottled courage before her appointment with Detective Dutton.
Glancing at her watch, she noted with chagrin that four o’clock was only ten minutes away. She hated to rush the Chablis but took a few hurried gulps of the flinty liquid with its pleasant aftertaste of green apples.
Well. Those few law enforcement types she had not been able to avoid were much the same. This being a smaller town and not Boston or New York, Dutton was bound to be a fat, dumpy, slow-witted Cro-Magnon type with a beer belly and low brow ridge. He probably went home every night to his cold-fish-of-a-wife and four rambunctious kids, two boys who were into Little League, and two girls who were cheerleaders.
She slid the wine glass onto the table where it made a disapproving ping. Fine, then, have it your way, Chablis. She grabbed the glass, took a few sips, walked to the door, and then stopped and listened. Was that someone coming down the hall? It was, but when the steps came and went, she relaxed and gulped down the rest of the wine.
After a quick touch-up of face powder and perfume, she headed downstairs, ready to bat her eyelashes coated in sapphire mascara and to smile with lips plumped with Fuchsia Fever. The poor unsuspecting detective wouldn’t know what hit him.
She spied the receptionist talking to a man and then turning to point at Beverly. That must be the cop she was expecting? If so, he was hardly a Cro-Magnon and definitely no low brow ridge. He was actually quite . . . appealing. Part of her hoped it was him, part of her hoped it wasn’t. She sucked in her stomach and straightened up.
The man in question headed toward her, his lean frame sporting a casual suit and tie. He strolled with a lanky, confident walk, not so much a caveman as a panther in an urban jungle. His thick sandy-colored hair, combed carelessly to one side, matched the light stubble on his face. Handsome in a well-seasoned, combat-carved way. At least, she’d have something nice to look at during her ordeal.
“Miss Laborde?” he asked, and she nodded. “I’m Detective Adam Dutton. Is there some quiet place where we could go to talk?”
“I just checked in, myself. But I noticed a tea room over there.” She indicated a room off to the right.
He looked in that direction and studied the room for a moment. “That’ll be fine.” He held out one hand, indicating the way. “Shall we?”
She maneuvered around him to get in front. Beverly Laborde never followed anyone. Looking around, she spotted a table in a corner away from other diners and headed for it.
“Tea room” was a misnomer since the place also served coffee, smoothies, and alcohol. She craved more Chablis but opted for a staid serving of chamomile. After all, suspects never drank chamomile, did they?
Apparently, detectives on duty didn’t drink anything, even if it was non-alcoholic. Dutton refused a drink at first until the waitress recognized him and offered him a cup of coffee on the house. Beverly watched him closely as he stirred in some sugar, his spoon clinking rhythmically in the cup. Then she said, “I didn’t know I was meeting with a local celebrity.”
He shrugged. “I arrested her husband once.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t throw the coffee at you. Unless she’s trying to stay on your good side.”
“She was glad to get rid of him.” Dutton took a sip of the coffee.
“You must see all kinds. And get all kinds of cases. I can’t imagine it ever getting dull.” This is where she’d ordinarily bat her eyelashes. But in this instance, she didn’t. His steady gaze was unsettling, and her sixth sense was telling her that he wouldn’t fall for the vixen routine.
He replied, “The work is interesting enough. And as for the cases, let’s say I don’t think I’ll be out of a job anytime soon. You’d be surprised at how much trouble is attracted to this area.” He studied her over his cup with a half-smile.
“And here I was thinking a nice spa vacation would be pleasantly dull.”
“You don’t seem like the spa type.”
“Oh? And what exactly is the spa type?”
“Middle-aged, married,” he glanced at her bare left hand. “And a little heavyish.”
“Sexist and ageist, Detective Dutton?”
He laughed. “Profile-ist. I’m only talking about the law of averages. It’s the outliers you have to watch out for.”
“Outliers like the mild-mannered Lizzie Borden?”
“Not that extreme.”
Beverly traced the rim of the warm cup with her finger. Dutton was wearing a cedar musk cologne or aftershave. Why did he have to smell so distracting? She cleared her throat. “I assure you I’m no Lizzie Borden, Detective. Just a tired girl in need of a massage and a pedicure.”
“Maybe if Lizzie had gotten a massage and pedicure, she wouldn’t have taken an axe to her parents.”
Beverly bit back a laugh. “Touché.” She needed to focus, play along. But the caution alarms were screaming inside her head, and the urge to flee was overwhelming. Should she stay? Should she run? For the first time in quite a while, she didn’t know what to do.
Then she remembered her grandmother sitting in the nursing home, not eating, staring out into space with unfocused eyes that were like cloudy window glass. When they ruined her grandmother’s antiques business, they ruined her life—she hadn’t lived long after. Even the hospice nurse said it was clear she died of a broken heart. Beverly was doing all of this for her, and she wasn’t going to back down now.
She took a deep breath, counted to five, and batted her eyelashes at Dutton. Just another performance, another day, another town. But she didn’t have the chance for any more stalling tactics because he got right down to the point. “I’ll tell you why I’m here today. I’m looking for a scam artist. Perhaps you can help me find her.”
Beverly Laborde kept staring at him after he dropped his little bombshell question, and Adam Dutton decided to let her sweat for a moment as he looked around the Apple Valley Resort. This was only the third time he’d set foot in the pricey spa where rooms started at two-fifty, and he still wasn’t sure he liked it.
Okay, so it wasn’t the typical folksy decor in the lobby, but this looked more like a set out of a sci-fi film. Clinical, cold, impersonal. Fortunately, the tea room had soft chairs instead of some hard metal contraption. And it smelled like coffee and muffins, not fake potpourri.
Beverly Laborde wasn’t what he’d thought she’d be, either. She was hardly the model of a con artist, with her knee-length gray skirt, starched white blouse, and flat-heeled shoes. Throw in the brunette hair pulled into a bun contrasting against her porcelain skin, and she could have stepped out of a 1930s photo, the demure debutante.
But an air of sophistication about her made Detective Adam Dutton all too aware of his JC Penney suit and tie, complete with a mustard stain from his hot dog lunch. He pushed those thoughts aside. Let the interrogation begin.
“So, you arrived on the Amtrak train this morning and checked in at the Apple Valley Resort, not more than an hour ago. Is that correct, Miss Laborde?”
She smiled and picked up her chamomile tea from the table between them. “Such a lovely view, don’t you think?”
He followed her gaze out the wraparound windows to the Presidentials in the distance, across the New Hampshire border. Ah, that kaleidoscopic quilt of autumn leaves. Easy to take for granted, which is why he never did. “Is that why you’re here—for the view?”
She inhaled the chamomile aroma, then slowly exhaled with a smile. “I’m as much here for the view as you’re here to chat about the architecture of this place.”
Her cornflower eyes studied his face so intently, he felt as if he were the one suspected of passing off fake artifacts. The thick emotional skin he’d evolved, thanks to his ex-wife and a string of ex-girlfriends, wasn’t much of a shield against Beverly Laborde’s soul-piercing gaze.
“I’m here, Miss Laborde, because a disgruntled collector was bilked out of forty-thousand dollars. A woman approached the guy saying she had a genuine Paul Revere silver bowl. Even let it be appraised. Once she sold it to him, he discovered she’d switched it with a replica.”
“What did this woman look like, Detective?”
He leaned back. “The victim, Reginald Forsythe the Fourth, described her as tall, slightly heavyset, with red hair and dark glasses.”
Beverly set her cup down, took a mirror out of her purse, and held it in front of her. “No red hair. I’m only five-eight. And I do try to adhere to caloric restriction, so I hope I’m not heavyset. Your description doesn’t sound like me, does it?”
“Forsythe got the impression it might be a disguise. At the risk of sounding like a TV crime show, I have to ask where you were two evenings ago, around eight?”
Without hesitation, she replied, “Two nights ago, I was at a play by myself. I think I have the ticket stub around here somewhere.” She dug into her purse. “Here you go.”
He took it from her, wrote down the info, and handed it back. The theater wasn’t anywhere near Boston. She couldn’t have met with Forsythe at his shop there and made the two-hour trip to Hanover in time for that play. Unless she simply tore the ticket in half and never attended the performance.
Laborde added another spoonful of organic honey to her tea and stirred. “Have you ever played Fox and Geese, Detective Dutton?”
“Fox and Geese. A board game popular in Colonial days. One piece represents the fox, and thirteen pieces represent the geese. The geese can’t capture the fox but can win by hemming him in. For the fox to win, he has to capture and remove geese one by one, so they can’t trap him.”
Okay, maybe Adam’s first impressions of Beverly Laborde hadn’t been on the mark. Maybe she was one brick shy of a full load. “I don’t see the connection with our female thief.”
“This collector of yours, the one who made the complaint. Do you know much about him?”
“The basics. Middle-aged, very rich. Owner of a successful art and antiques gallery near Boston. Again, I really don’t see—”
“Is it likely that someone that successful could be duped? And why didn’t your female suspect just take the money and run? Why the switch?”
“To sell it twice. Two con jobs with the same item, and you’ve turned forty-thousand into eighty.”
“The art world isn’t all that large, Detective. Don’t you think someone would spot this scheme? The FBI has a division for art fraud now. So I’ve heard.”
“It’s possible our thief is planning to sell the Revere bowl to one of those collectors off the grid. Someone like a rich Wall Street inside trader who buys artworks just to have them around. The status of it all.”
“Sounds like you speak with the voice of experience, Detective.”
An image of Adam’s father sprang to mind, the once-proud carpenter fading into a dried-up husk of a man after sinking all his savings into a Ponzi scheme. He lost every dime. The rich bastard who ran the operation escaped to South America and was undoubtedly living the high life—wine, women, and more gambling. With prized artwork hanging on his walls, and a Paul Revere bowl or two on a credenza, no doubt.
Adam turned his attention back to business. “The buyer told Boston police officers he saw an Amtrak ticket receipt in the con woman’s purse. We’ve been warned to keep an eye out for women arriving on the train from out of town. Primarily those asking about antiques. And you’re the only one so far who fills the bill.”
“I hardly think antiquing is a crime, Detective. If that were the case, then my sainted grandmother and thousands of others like her are guilty.”
“Harlan Wilford, who owns the local Tossed Treasures shop, said you’d telephoned asking about silver artifacts. That you’d been doing some research. What kind of research would that be?”
“It’s quite fascinating. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Rogers’ Rangers in the eighteenth century?”
He shook his head. History was never one of his strong suits.
“They were dead set on preventing Indian raids on Canadian and New England towns. So, some of the Rangers slaughtered the natives in a French-built Indian village.”
He blinked at her. “I don’t see the connection to a silver statue.”
“The Rangers stole a silver plate, candlesticks, and a solid silver statue of Our Lady of Chartres from a church. As the story goes, an Indian guide leading the Rangers back through Mount Adams abandoned them. Only one Ranger made it out alive, his knapsack filled with human remains.”
“The survivor turned to cannibalism?”
Laborde waved her hand in the air. “There were rumors to that effect.”
“And I take it the silver pieces were in that knapsack, too?”
“No one ever said. However, the candlesticks were recovered near Lake Memphremagog in 1816. The statue was never found.”
“Your research hasn’t turned up anything?”
“Not much other than spirits of the Rangers are said to cry in the woods. And a hunter once had a ghostly vision up on Mount Adams–of Indians in a church under a floating silver statue.”
“Why all this interest in ghost stories?”
“I’m a student of history. I think it’s a fascinating subject, don’t you? I mean it was either that or philosophy. If it hadn’t been for my art history classes at the Hood, I might be another Susanne Langer or Simone de Beauvoir.”
“The Hood? You mean the Hood Museum of Art? Dartmouth?”
“It’s the main reason I got my art history degree. Are you a Darty, too?”
“Too rich for my blood. I worked my way through community college.”
Miss Laborde’s gaze had rarely wavered from his face, and he’d gotten more at ease with her scrutiny. Now he was aware of a change, a look he interpreted as pity. Or amusement. Or both.
Deciding this interview was going nowhere fast, and not entirely convinced it wasn’t a dead-end, he quickly drained his coffee and got up to leave. “I think that’s all for now, Miss Laborde.”
“You’ll be keeping an eye on me, I presume. At least I hope you will.”
He stopped in his tracks. “And why is that?”
She tipped her cup in his direction. “Because you have such nice eyes, Detective.”
He put those eyes to good use to stare at her, to remind her who was in charge here. He nodded at the waitress on the way out, and a quick look back at Laborde told him she remained sitting there looking through the window.
Was she only here for the spa as she’d said? Somehow, he didn’t think so. It was entirely possible she had nothing whatsoever to do with Forsythe and his damned Revere bowl, but her arrival was a thorny coincidence. And having that ticket stub to prove her alibi was too convenient.
Out in the parking lot, he grabbed some Black Jack chewing gum from the glove box and popped one of the aniseed-flavored sticks in his mouth. It was times like this, he missed his Marlboros. He’d have to settle for an after-work beer, or maybe he’d indulge in some of that Cognac he’d been saving.
He cranked up the engine as he took in the landscape. From here, the resort rose up like a miniature city sculpted out of white pine siding, red clay tennis courts, and azure pools. Red, white and blue. Rah. Not the type of place to make him want to stand up and salute.
Okay, so he’d interviewed Beverly Laborde as he’d promised the chief this morning. Why this was the department’s problem all of a sudden, he hadn’t a clue. No, that wasn’t entirely true, was it?
Forsythe reported the bowl switch at his store in Boston, but his primary residence was in this county—or half of it since it straddled the border with Hartford. Everything was local when you were dealing with the Vermont version of William Randolph Hearst. But squirrelly investigations or not, Adam wasn’t about to be outsmarted by a smug high roller. Or a beautiful scam artist.
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