Madeleine slowed her car to a stop outside Ashwood's grocery shop. No wonder Edward loved her—she was fabulous! But why didn't she love him? Perhaps there was someone else.
"I am at your service, Ms. Meriwether," Edward said, bowing his head.
The young artist shoved him gently. "I'm serious. Don't leave me. Not for a moment."
"So Elliot isn't with you tonight?"
She shook her head, her brow creased just slightly. "No, he hates this sort of thing. He won't even go to his own openings." Edward said nothing. Elliot Kaufman was a selfish bastard, but Willow loved him.
She entwined her arm in his. "Shall we mingle?"
Madeleine contemplated the scenario. The corpse would have to, of itself, drag Edward McGinnity into an investigation. It would have to be someone he cared about or perhaps someone he might have reason to kill himself—the clear-my-name motive. She already liked Willow Meriwether too much to take the former route. It would have to be the latter. Perhaps Elliot Kaufman...but that would leave Willow unspoken for. No...too much depended on Edward's love being unrequited.
Who else would a novelist kill? And then the answer came, in a sharp, spreading burst of realisation. Of course.
"Oh, no." Willow tightened her grasp on Edward's arm. "Don't look now."
Edward swore, the same quaint, old-world form of cursing that Madeleine had heard before.
The man who approached them wore a kind of stylistic uniform that badged him as a man of letters and of means. A flamboyance that was both unique and standard. A screen-printed silk scarf draped around his shoulders like a shawl, and his bow tie sat askew. A burgundy felt fedora was set on his head at a studiously jaunty angle. He kissed everybody he met, man and woman, with loud exclamations of delight and a three-kiss ritual that didn't involve any actual contact.
"He's seen us. It's too late," Willow murmured.
"Courage, dear one: We'll face him together. Try not to be rude."
"Neddie, Willow, how are you, my darlings?" Geoffrey Vogel advanced upon them with his arms outstretched as though he was accepting applause. "My congratulations, beautiful lady," he said, kissing Willow. "Don't think I didn't notice your little tribute to moi." He pressed his palms together and bowed. "I am very touched and humbled."
"Really? Which piece was that?" Edward directed the question at Vogel as he doubted Willow would have the slightest clue what he meant.
Vogel pointed to a painting near the fire exit. It depicted a desk by an open window. The desk was untidy, strewn with handwritten notes and crumpled pages. A yellow-faced honeyeater had, it seemed, flown in through the window to perch on a pen. It was Edward's desk, in fact. Willow had refused to let him continue working until she'd made the sketches she'd needed. The bird had been a bonus attracted by the half-eaten honey sandwich left on top of a stack of notebooks. The use of light and shadow was characteristic of Willow Meriwether's work. It gave what essentially was a still life a life that was anything but still. She called the piece Literatum scripius excellio. It wasn't Latin; just some Harry Potter-inspired abomination that the artist had come up with after too much wine.
"Of course, vogel is the German word for bird," Vogel explained with a nod at Willow. "See how the dear little chap perches upon the pen, controlling the excesses and the folly of the writer. Notice that the light falls to create an illumination, which transforms the creature into a guiding light, towards which all the other writing instruments are pointed. Of course, I recognised the writing on these pages as that of a certain Mr. Edward McGinnity, whose debut novel I had the privilege of editing into shape." Vogel raised his brows and nudged Edward. "This delightful, insightful masterpiece is a very touching homage to my modest role. A wonderfully subtle work, quite breathtaking in its depth. As I said, Willow, darling, I am very humbled, but the tribute is, I assure you, unnecessary."
Edward drained his glass of Champagne and looked for another. "Do tell me about your latest project, Neddie. I understand that first novel we worked on together hasn't yet been published. Pity. I thought I'd done enough, but obviously not." Willow groaned audibly.
"I pulled it, not the publisher." Edward decided that there was no reason to keep the peace. No reason that was good enough, anyway. "I wouldn't put my name to that penny dreadful into which you turned my novel."
"Ned," Willow cautioned.
Vogel's lips curved up in a facsimile of cordiality, but they were white and pressed tightly together. "I understand. The editing process is brutal. Not all writers survive it. So what are you doing now, Neddie?"
Edward said nothing. Even if he were ready to share Madeleine with anyone, it would not be Vogel. The ruins of his first novel still smouldered bitterly—the characters, trapped in a manuscript defiled, haunted him. He'd abandoned them too easily, allowed Vogel to critique and strip and suggest them into silence. How he hated the man for that murder.
Madeleine nodded as she watched. She hated Vogel too.
Killing him would be a pleasure.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.
Monday, April 6th, we begin the book The Last Scoop by R. G. Belsky.