by Claire McNab
TV star Madeline Shipley is being stalked, but is she really the prey of a psychotic fan? Investigating the suicide of businessman Hayden Delray’s wife, Carol receives threats that could be meant to lever her off the case. As she becomes more involved, the danger widens to include her family.
Seventh in the Carol Ashton Series.
Originally published by Naiad Press 1995.
|November 15, 1995
You haven’t given me that special, private smile lately, and you know I’ve been watching every show. And when I turned on the set Friday night you weren’t there. I don’t want to see that bitch Kimberley filling in for you again. I want you.
Where were you? You never said you wouldn’t be there. I don’t like that. Not telling the truth can hurt you, hurt you so much.
Pain is so hot, isn’t it? Feelings and sounds. From shrieks to a final whimper.
“Stalkers fall into three categories,” said Carol. “First is the rejected lover—someone you had a personal relationship with, but told to get lost.”
Madeline Shipley leaned back in the dressing room chair submitting to the ministrations of a makeup woman. “All my rejected lovers are delighted to be rejected. What’s the second sort?”
Carol watched as Madeline’s copper hair was brushed into sleek curves to accent the symmetry of her face. “Second is the stranger stalker, who’s simply doing it for crime—rape, robbery, that sort of thing.”
“Nothing so normal. I’d say this guy’s getting a real charge out of it—first flowers with a note, and now he’s writing letters to me.”
“Therefore, as is entirely appropriate, this one’s in the third category, the celebrity stalker.”
Madeline grinned at Carol’s dry tone. “You’re a celebrity in your own right, Carol. You can have a stalker of your own.”
Irritated by her levity, Carol said coolly, “It isn’t anything to laugh about. Whoever it is has a relationship with you only in his head, but to him it’s absolutely real, although he may never have actually met you.”
A promo for Madeline’s show flashed on the screen of the on-air monitor mounted above the makeup mirrors. Chin high, gray eyes wide, she stared soberly from the screen. The voice-over was muted, but Carol had heard the familiar words often enough: “At seven the award-winning Shipley Report! Madeline Shipley brings you the news behind the news…the stories, the information, the insights you must have for today’s changing world…”
“I’ll finish. Thanks, June,” said Madeline to the makeup woman. When they were alone she leaned forward to check her teeth for lipstick, then smiled provocatively at Carol’s reflection in the mirror. “You’re looking good, darling. Of course, I’ve always had a weakness for blondes.”
Carol refused to be deflected. “You called me because you said you wanted my advice.”
Madeline’s smile faded. “I do.” She rummaged in a blue leather briefcase beside the chair. “This one came in the mail today. I saved the envelope too. It was posted locally.” As she handed Carol the typed letter enclosed in a plastic sleeve she added, “And aren’t I smart to think about fingerprints?”
Carol was frowning over the letter. “You’re brilliant,” she said absently.
“He’s getting a bit tiresome, whoever he is. I’ve had obsessive fans before, of course. And I suppose it’s exaggerating to say he’s a stalker—he’s only written to me.”
“He could be watching you, too.”
“You make me feel so secure, Carol.”
“And there have only been letters? No phone calls?”
“Everything’s been in writing and he always signs himself Marquis. The first ones got thrown out, but once I realized I might have a genuine fruitcake writing to me, I got Jim to start a file.”
Madeline made a face at her. “If you ever went to the trouble of coming to the station, you’d know Jim Borlie was my new personal assistant. Would you believe Jim and I went to school together? We’d lost touch, but he contacted me a few weeks ago and I gave him a job. Anyway, he’ll be here in a minute to brief me on any last-minute changes, so you can meet him.” She passed over a black folder. “Here are the rest of the letters. You will stay, won’t you? We can have dinner afterwards.”
“I don’t know, Madeline, I’m very busy…”
Madeline carefully removed the tissues protecting the neckline of her tailored pale green dress from the heavy studio makeup. “You always seem to get the high profile cases. I can’t imagine why they don’t assign you to some ordinary, grubby little murder for a change.”
Carol grimaced. “I wish they would. Tala Orlando’s death has the media sharks in a feeding frenzy.”
“I can’t believe she killed herself.” Madeline swung around in her chair, her expression somber. “At the dinner party the night before she died she was in great form. Suicide seems so out of character. I’m sure it was a stupid, pointless accident. Don’t you think so?”
“I don’t know yet.” Carol knew that many people who later committed suicide would exhibit quite cheerful behavior after they had made a firm decision to die because they felt relief that their emotional suffering was going to end.
“Or you’re not saying.” Madeline was clearly exasperated.
Of course Tala Orlando’s death would have been big news at any time, but as it had been a particularly slow news week, the media excitement had been even more frenzied when her body had been found, seated in the front seat of her burgundy Rolls, its engine still purring reliably, in her locked garage. MEDIA MOGUL’S MYSTERY DEATH, the headlines had screamed.
It could have been a standard suicide, but the evidence wasn’t conclusive and persistent rumors that there was something sinister about her death had kept interest in the case hot. That afternoon Carol had attended a media briefing where she had made calming “our inquiries are continuing” noises to impatient reporters.
The media interest was understandable. Tala Orlando had been a larger-than-life personality with a rags-to-riches career as an independent television producer. Now, Carol thought soberly, she was chilled flesh in the morgue refrigerator, waiting for Carol to decide whether a crime had been committed and when to release her body to the family.
Madeline put her hand on Carol’s arm. “Tala and I were friends, even though professionally we were at war over the time slot for her new quiz show. She was so vital—I have trouble believing I’ll never see her again.”
“I can’t say you’ll be the first to know, but I’ll tell you when there’s something concrete.”
“Why do I bother cultivating you, Carol?” Madeline’s tone was sardonic. “You never give me an exclusive on anything. I mean, one of my best friends dies, and you won’t even give me any details, in spite of the fact I’ve answered every question you asked about her.”
“Could it be that the Shipley Report will be doing a special on Tala Orlando? Is that why you want to pump me?”
Anger flashed across Madeline’s face. “Look, Carol, I’m not pumping you for information to put in some program. I was close to Tala and I’m terribly upset that she’s gone. I miss her and I don’t understand how she could have died. That’s why I want to know.”
Embarrassed by her own cynicism, Carol said placatingly, “Forgive me, but it seems everybody wants to get the inside word.” Wanting to change the subject, she picked up the black folder Madeline had given her. “Who’s touched these letters?”
“Just Jim and me.” Madeline looked a little smug. “You’ll be wanting to fingerprint us both, I know.”
“I won’t be involved, Madeline. This should go to the locals. I’ll call and make sure they take it seriously.”
Madeline was obviously taken aback. “But I expected you to do something about it…”
“I’m sorry. It just isn’t possible.” Carol flipped over a page in the folder. “It could be someone who has a grudge against you. How about your ex-husband?”
“He’s not ex, Carol. We’re separated. Permanently. I just haven’t got around to divorcing him.” She stood to brush any specks of makeup from her dress. “I don’t think for a moment it’s Paul sending these letters. He’s overseas, and besides, it’s not his style.”
“Have you spoken lately?”
“No, and I don’t intend to. We’ve got nothing to say to each other and—”
She broke off as there was a soft knock at the door. The soft-bodied man with rounded shoulders came into the dressing room. He smiled broadly when he saw Carol. “Inspector Ashton! I’m Jim Borlie.” He shook her hand warmly. “It’s great to meet you. Frankly, I’ve admired you from afar for years.” He looked at the folder in her hands. “Madeline’s told you about our little problem with the letters.”
“I’ll be taking them for analysis.”
She regarded him with interest. Jim Borlie was new at the station, and Carol automatically considered him as a possible source of the letters. Even if Madeline had gone to school with him, she couldn’t know what he was like now. Neatly dressed in tan slacks and a blue pullover, he was about Carol’s height but with disproportionately small hands and feet for a man. He had wide-set brown eyes and very even white teeth that made his smile particularly attractive. His manner was amiable, easy-going.
He handed Madeline a metal clipboard. “No probs. Everything’s going smooth as silk tonight, but just to make sure I’ll go and check the studio.”
At the door he was shouldered out of the way by a tall, strongly built man who barged into the room. “Jesus, Madeline!”
Composed, Madeline said, “Carol, do meet our station manager, Gordon Vaughan. Gordon, this is Detective Inspector Ashton.”
“We’ve met, briefly.” He gave Carol a perfunctory nod. Vaughan’s dark hair was flecked with gray and he had a predatory face, with a hook nose and a heavy jaw. Shoving a sheet of paper at Madeline, he said, “This just came through on my personal fax machine. The guy’s obviously a psycho.” While Madeline read the fax, Vaughan said to Carol, “The media briefing about Tala was the second item on our six o’clock news.” His mouth curled cynically. “I must say you’ve made an art form out of saying nothing much, Inspector. You’ll understand that as a close friend of the Orlando family I’m very interested to know what you really think about her death.”
“Perhaps we can discuss it tomorrow, Mr. Vaughan. I’ll be calling to make a time to see you, just to clear up a few matters.”
“I hope this whole thing can be wrapped up soon, Inspector. It’s very hard on the family and friends.” He switched his attention to Madeline. “Well? What do you think?”
Madeline was pale, but she said nonchalantly, “It’s not a big deal. He’s written to me before.”
“Why wasn’t I told about it?” Vaughan sounded aggrieved. “That’s why we have security at the station.”
Madeline shrugged. “I asked Carol to have a look at the letters—”
“We can handle this internally.” Vaughan took a deep breath. “There’s no reason to get the police into the act.”
Madeline was matter-of-fact. “Gordon, if I ran to you every time a would-be fan sent me something like this I’d spend most of my time in your office.”
“Your safety is my responsibility,” he said flatly.
“At the least the local police should be advised,” said Carol. “And it’s quite conceivable another media personality has been his target before. If so, tracing him might not be difficult.”
“Carol, I’d like you to be involved.”
Carol tried not to show her impatience. “Madeline, I’ve already explained why I can’t.”
“Perhaps you’ll change your mind,” said Madeline as she handed her the fax, “when you know that he mentions you.”
TO: GORDON VAUGHAN
Madeline wasn’t there Friday night at seven. You should make her obey you, Gordon. She needs to be punished, don’t you agree? I’ve asked her, over and over, to smile for me, to say, hello, Marquis, I’m thinking of you. That’s all, but she won’t do it.
If I were you, I’d whip her, a little harder each stroke, to show her who’s boss. Or battery acid in her eyes. Her wide open eyes. Then she’d be sorry.
That blonde whore cop can’t protect Madeline, no matter how often she’s with her. Night and day, it makes no difference.
Perhaps I’ll get them both in a crowd. They’ll think it’s water first, then the burning will start. And the screaming.
Carol looked up as Mark Bourke came into her office. She gestured to a chair. “How were your holidays?”
“Great. Roughing it in the Outback in a four-wheel drive is the way to go. We went right up to the very top of Cape York. Forgot all about work and got a suntan.”
“A suntan?” Carol inspected the blistered red of his nose.
He showed no resentment at her amused tone. “So Pat got a suntan. I sort of colored up.”
“I’m delighted you’re feeling fresh and ready to go. That’ll be a help on the Orlando case, which is turning out to be a headache. I’m being politely leaned on to hurry up and make up my mind why she died.”
“It boils down to accident or suicide, doesn’t it?”
“It’s true the mixture of tranquilizers and alcohol she’d taken would have made her confused and disoriented, so she could have started the car and then passed out. I get the impression that’s what a lot of people want to hear.”
“You’re not considering murder?”
“I’m considering everything.” She picked up a videotape from her in-tray. “I taped the program on Tala Orlando that went to air on Sunday night. Did you see it?”
“Nope. We only got back home that afternoon and Pat made me water all the indoor plants and then help with the laundry we’d accumulated.” He grinned at Carol. “She’s got me so domesticated that I worked until I dropped exhausted into bed.”
“It’s good for your character,” said Carol, thinking that Mark Bourke had been home-oriented even before Pat had married him the year before. He had always been reticent, even with Carol, but she knew he had lived alone for years after his first wife and child died in an accident. She’d called in to his house a couple of times, always on business, and found it almost sterilely neat. Bourke had never socialized much with other cops, but now that he had married Pat James he had been becoming progressively more outgoing.
She slid the videotape into the player but before starting it passed him a copy of the fax that had been sent to Gordon Vaughan the evening before. “Have a look at this before we get to Tala Orlando. It’s the most current communication from a stalker Madeline Shipley’s been getting stuff from over the last few months. Flowers and then letters before. This is the first fax.”
He rubbed his chin as he studied it. “He’s canceled the top line giving the originating fax number. Could have been sent from anywhere. The fact he used a typewriter could help, but I wonder why he did. He must know it could be identified where an inkjet or laser printer can’t be. Seems pretty well educated—I’m always impressed by people who can use apostrophes.” He looked up. “And he has some inside knowledge. He knows you and Madeline Shipley are close friends.”
Carol looked at her sergeant sharply, but his blunt, good-natured face was without guile. She said dismissively, “It’s not a secret.”
As she spoke she thought with irritation of last night. Madeline had insisted they have dinner at her home after she had finished the show, saying she was too tired to go out and that Edna, her housekeeper, had prepared a meal. “Don’t you want to be seen with me in a restaurant? Doesn’t it fit your image?” Carol had snapped. Ever since Carol had been forced to acknowledge publicly that she was a lesbian, it had seemed to her that Madeline had tried to avoid being seen one-to-one with her.
Madeline denied it, of course, but the idea sat like a stone in Carol’s mind and instead of staying the night she had said she was tired and had gone home. She had paid a price for her stand, having vividly erotic dreams, and waking tense and unfulfilled.
She came back to the present as Mark put the copy of the faxed threat back on Carol’s desk. “Who’s on the investigation?” he asked. “The local cops, or has it been escalated because you were mentioned?”
“Would you believe Tom Brewer?”
“Brewer’s handling the investigation?” Bourke raised his eyebrows. “Someone’s got a sense of humor.”
“Seems that way.”
Years ago Tom Brewer had been in the same intake of cadets as Carol, but although they had joined the Police Service together, she had risen steadily up the ranks while his career had stalled. He was a mediocre officer but his real problem had always been his penchant to hit first and ask questions later. Although nothing concrete had ever been proved, internal investigations for brutality and evidence tampering had not helped his career. Brewer himself seemed convinced that there had been some conspiracy to deny him advancement. When Carol was promoted to the rank of inspector, Tom Brewer’s resentment had boiled over. He had not only confronted her, accusing her of sleeping her way up the ranks, he had even registered a formal objection, which had been summarily dismissed.
“Have you warned Ms. Shipley that Brewer is heading her way?”
Carol smiled wryly. “Madeline can look after herself.”
She punched the remote control of the video machine. As Tribute to Tala came up on the screen, she said, “You might have seen the original program that went to air several months ago. It was called, I think, The Real Tala Orlando and was so critical of her career and business tactics that she threatened to sue Channel Thirteen and the rest of the network.”
Bourke raised a cynical eyebrow. “They seem to have made up. She just recently signed a program deal with them.”
When Carol had watched it on Sunday night she had been coldly amused at the skillful way the critical slant of the first program had been changed. Retitled A Tribute to Tala, the channel had tacked on a glowing introduction, shots of grieving relatives and associates and an effusive conclusion where the announcer had referred to Tala Orlando as “a flower cut off before her full blossoming.”
Watching the screen, Carol said, “We get a full cast of characters in a moment.” After the laudatory introduction, Tala Orlando appeared on the screen at one of the media events she had regularly attended.
“To me she always looked brittle enough to break,” said Bourke.
Carol agreed. Dressed in her trademark black, anorexically thin, with a gaunt, high-cheekboned face and a narrow mouth, Tala Orlando was shown at a recent media conference where she had announced her television production company’s latest coup—the sale of a new quiz show as a concept package to television networks in both Britain and the United States. She didn’t mention the embarrassing fact that a previous associate had recently surfaced with claims that the original idea for the quiz show had been his.
Like her body, Tala Orlando’s voice lacked weight. She announced her independent company’s achievements in a soft, almost colorless monotone, trailing off at the end of sentences as though out of breath.
The screen switched to a series of news shots taken just after her death, most being of friends or relatives as they hurried from cars to the safety of their homes or offices. Bourke grunted as a well-groomed man, good tailoring almost managing to disguise the extra weight he was carrying, emerged from a burgundy Rolls-Royce.
“The broken-hearted husband, Hayden Delray. That isn’t the car she died in, surely.” Bourke glanced at her.
“It’s a twin. They had matching Rollers.”
Carol thought Delray was handsome in a fleshy, gone-to-seed way. They watched Delray smooth back his sandy hair as his lawyer fended questions from the swarm of reporters.
“I suppose you know that when Delray married Tala he conned her into changing Orlando Productions to Orlandel to include his name,” Bourke said derisively, “even though she was the one who’d built the company up from nothing.”
“If it was fame Delray wanted, it didn’t happen, Mark. Tala Orlando was the one who got all the publicity and made all the announcements about the company.”
“Well he’s getting all the attention now. Hayden Delray can’t possibly be his real name.”
“It isn’t. Apparently he changed it by deed poll in his early twenties.”
Bourke grinned at her. “He was John Smith, or something like that. Right?”
“Bruce Schnell, actually.”
“Delray’s as fake as his new name.”
His scorn was so apparent that Carol was interested. “You’ve met him?”
“No, Pat has.” He added sardonically, “Delray likes to be seen at every social event, so Pat’s run across him at fund-raisings and openings at the Art Gallery. She says he’s a toucher—you know the sort. Can’t keep his hands to himself. She swears he’d feel up the Queen if she were visiting.”
Carol thought of Bourke’s wife with affection. She was a brisk, no-nonsense person with a penetrating laugh and an athletic build. Carol couldn’t imagine anyone touching her up without Pat’s retaliating, possibly with a well-placed blow.
“Any suggestions Delray is actually playing around?”
This amused Bourke. “Plenty of suggestions he’d like to, but the general consensus is that Tala would have his balls if he did.”
His attention was drawn back to the television screen. “Here’s Tala’s sister. She’s like a second-rate version, isn’t she?”
Robynne Orlando, dressed in an unflattering dark dress featuring flowing panels, was shown being tenderly led to a waiting limousine. Although facially she resembled her more famous sister, her build was heavier and she lacked the look of automatic authority that had been so characteristic of Tala Orlando.
Robynne Orlando’s companion was a young woman with masses of curly light hair and an exquisite profile. “Too upset to speak to us,” said a faintly resentful voice-over, “Robynne Orlando was comforted by a close personal friend, rising television personality Kimberley Blackland.”
Carol smiled to herself. A consummate self-promoter, Kimberley Blackland was a field reporter on Madeline’s show. Carol remembered Madeline saying with rueful admiration how Kimberley seized any opportunity to fill in for her during Madeline’s rare absences, and how she fought ferociously to have more on-air time than any other reporter. Carol had the cynical thought that the public comforting of Robynne Orlando provided her additional screen time.
“There’s the son,” said Bourke. “He’s from Tala’s first marriage, isn’t he?”
“Yes. His father died when he was about five.”
Looking at the young man’s bland, immature face, Carol wondered what he was thinking and feeling. The television camera held him in close-up for some time as the announcer said portentously, “Joshua Orlando, Tala’s only son, should inherit a substantial share of his mother’s production company. But the question remains, does he have the unique abilities of his mother? The abilities that took Orlandel Productions to the top?”
“I suspect Hayden Delray won’t take kindly to the idea of sharing the company with a kid like that,” said Bourke.
Having exhausted news shots made in the last few days, the program segued into the original expose, beginning with a couple of blurry shots of a slightly built man. “Once her brother-in-law, reclusive Nevile Carson accuses Tala Orlando of stealing his concept for the stunning new quiz show, Take the Risk, soon to appear on this station, Channel Thirteen,” said the voice-over breathlessly. “Could this be a crippling blow to Orlandel Productions if the threatened legal action is taken?”
The scene changed to show Tala Orlando smiling as she accepted an entertainment industry award. The clip included part of her acceptance speech, where she gracefully attributed her success to good luck and the hard work of her staff.
“She’s deceptive,” said Carol. “In business I gather she was absolutely ruthless.”
“Made enemies, of course. Any who’d resent her enough to want her dead?”
“Perhaps, but I’m still not sure whether it was an accident, murder disguised as suicide or she really did kill herself.”
“There wasn’t a note.”
“No, but there was an ambiguous message on her son’s answering machine.”
Bourke leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “Aren’t you tempted to say it’s a tragic accident and let the whole thing die down? Even up in the wilds of the Northern Territory Pat and I heard all about it, blow by blow.”
Carol didn’t return his grin. She indicated a thick blue file on her desk. “Here’s the Orlando file. After you’ve looked at it you can tell me what you think. And you’d better speed-read after we finish watching this program, because I’ve lined up some interviews for early this afternoon.”
Tala Orlando’s face gazed imperiously from the screen. The announcer was saying, “With everything to live for, why such a tragic end?” This was followed by a much-repeated shot of the gurney with the sheeted body being trundled to the waiting ambulance. “To die alone in her burgundy Rolls-Royce…” the voice continued sorrowfully.
From the moment the news broke that Tala Orlando had been found dead behind the wheel of her luxury car, speculation had boiled. On the surface it could have been suicide. The garage doors were locked, the engine of the Rolls was still idling with impeccable precision, pumping exhaust into the enclosed space. Tala Orlando, immaculately dressed in a black suit, had been slumped over the steering wheel as though overcome before she could activate the electronic garage door opener.
But there were contradictory factors that disturbed Carol. Although the post mortem showed a substantial dose of tranquilizers, apparently she had never been known to take such drugs before; there was no note or prior evidence of depression; there were rumors that her marriage to Hayden Delray was in trouble; lastly, she faced a ferocious battle in court over the rights to her company’s new quiz show, Take the Risk.
Watching a rare smile on Tala Orlando’s pale face as she received congratulations from the Prime Minister for her efforts in earning export dollars for Australia, Carol thought of the police photos of the body, which showed the incongruous cherry-pink skin characteristic of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ironically, Tala had looked far healthier in death than in life.
She said to Bourke, “I’ve advised the family I’ll be releasing the body today. The funeral will be on Friday.”
“Do I break out my best dark suit?”
“You do. We’ll both attend. It will be an event, of course. Interactions could be interesting.”
She froze the action on the screen as the telephone on her desk rang. “Carol Ashton…Yes. Send him up.” Putting down the receiver, she said, “Hayden Delray’s here to see me. Says it’s urgent.”
“What’s your take on him?”
Turning off the television, she said, “See what you think of him. I’ve seen him twice and he’s been cooperative. I interviewed him the day after he found the body, and understandably he was shaken. He was upset when I asked him about his marriage, insisting that there had been nothing wrong and they’d been very happy together. In the second interview, I played him the message that his wife left on Joshua Orlando’s answering machine, and he was much more together.”
When Hayden Delray was shown into Carol’s office he gave the prosaic room a cursory glance before his attention settled on Bourke, who had chosen a strategic position near the window. He put out his hand. “We haven’t met.”
Carol introduced them, gestured for Delray to take a seat, and sat down behind her desk. “You said it was urgent?”
He gave a brief, apologetic smile. “Perhaps I exaggerated. It’s just with Tala’s death…Frankly, Inspector, I’ll be so relieved when you come to a final decision. I can’t believe that Tala killed herself, but equally, I can’t believe I’ve lost her because of some stupid accident…” His resonant voice trailed away.
“Why did you want to see me?”
Delray’s dark clothing accentuated the red flush of his face and his gut bulged against his discreetly striped shirt as he leaned forward to pass her an opened envelope. “You asked me before whether anything was worrying my wife. Deena, Tala’s assistant, found this in her office. Tala had it for days but hadn’t mentioned it to me. It must have upset her terribly. Maybe that’s why she took the Valium.”
Carol checked the envelope, then read the contents. As she handed the letter to Bourke she said to Delray, “It’s clearly a preliminary notification from a firm of solicitors of the intention to subpoena Robynne Orlando in the case of Carson versus Orlandel Productions. Would that be particularly disturbing for your wife?”
Delray’s face grew redder. “That bastard knew Tala would be distraught if her sister was forced to testify against the company. I suppose you know Carson is Robynne’s ex-husband. He’s going to claim he came up with the format for Take the Risk while they were married, and that she knows Tala stole it from him.”
Bourke said, “Surely the fact that your sister-in-law may be testifying against Orlandel wouldn’t be enough to drive your wife to take her own life.”
Delray swung around in his chair to look at him. “Take her own life? It was an accident. Everyone in the family thinks so. Tala was so upset she didn’t know what she was doing.” He ran a hand over his face. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Carol looked at him reflectively. “We will need to question some of your staff—just routine—and I’ve made an appointment to see your sister-in-law this afternoon. I presume you’ve told her about this letter.”
“Well, no, I haven’t.” He took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. “Inspector, you couldn’t know the special relationship Tala had with Robynne. After the break-up with Nevile Carson two years ago, Robynne became very depressed, had what I suppose you’d call a nervous breakdown. Tala helped her through, took her into the company, even bought the house next to ours for her. But my wife always worried that Robynne was particularly delicate. Fragile.”
“Your sister-in-law said that she had no prescription drugs that your wife could have found and used.”
“Did she?” After a moment, he added thoughtfully, “You know, Robynne’s always been very highly strung. I mean, if she did give Tala some Valium, she might not admit it, even to herself.” He rubbed his forehead. “You see what I mean? She might not be able to face the fact that she might be to blame for what happened…”
“We get the idea,” said Bourke dryly.
Delray ignored the comment. “I know you have to question her, Inspector,” he said, “but do please remember that Robynne has been shattered by Tala’s death.” He shook his head. “We all have been.”
After he had gone, Bourke said, “He’s a phony.”
“You wouldn’t be influenced by what Pat told you about him, would you?”
Bourke grinned at her. “Of course I would,” he said.