Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

Chapter 16.

William John Bracken was not at home. Branch had driven to his house and was told by his wife that he was at work. Mrs. Bracken was around fifty, and was still in her robe at three-fifteen in the afternoon. She had puffy eyes and uncombed gray hair; one hand held a cigarette. She didn’t have the breath of a Scotch or bourbon drinker; Branch guessed vodka. She did not volunteer information, but answered direct questions. Her husband was a lawyer; he had an office downtown; she gave the address, and closed the door before Branch could thank her. Probably William John would rather be at his office.
This office was in a smaller, less elegant building than that of Lockhart and Leonard. The directory listed only William J. Bracken, Attorney. Branch found the number and knocked on the frosted glass door. Bracken answered. He was in his fifties, grayer than Branch and heavier around the middle, but they both had moustaches and hair of similar length, so he could see how old Amy could have confused them. Bracken stood in the door and listened to Branch’s story without much expression. Finally he said, “You’d better come in.”
Bracken, in white shirt and tie, but with his jacket draped over his chair back, sat and motioned to the client’s chair across from his desk. The desk was a mess of papers and files, with a thick law book lying open face down on one pile.
‘You want to know who inherits Harriet’s estate,” he said. “Well, it’s not me. Wish it were.”
“Your cousin Amy thinks it’s not a Downey.”
He laughed, or rather snorted. “Poor old Amy. I must be the only one who ever visits her. You know she’s out of it.”
“I know she has Alzheimer’s. She thought I was you—she called me Billy.”
He snorted again.
“I know her memory is not reliable,” Branch said. “But sometimes older memories that are significant will turn out in these patients to be true.”
“That may be. But I can’t confirm it.”
“How do you know you’re not the heir?”
“Mason Lockhart told me, the gloomy old bastard.”
Branch saw a glimmer of hope. “Do you think he told the individuals who were not the heir?”
“He told me. I don’t know how many of the others he told.”
“Maybe if he told all those who were not, I could find out who was by elimination.”
“Maybe. But some might be hard to reach. I have no idea where my cousin Ellen is. And I’m not sure about Mary Rose.”
“Not a close-knit family.”
Another snort. “Some too close.”
“Who’s too close?”
Bracken sighed. “Tommy.”
“Thomas Edward?”
“Yeah.” He rubbed his forehead, swiveled around and looked out the side window at the building next door. “You’re discreet, I hope. What the hell. With any luck I won’t run into you again. You met my wife?”
“She gave me your office address.”
“Was she still in her robe?”
“Uh, yes.”
“Well, you get the picture. My cousin Tommy is my wife’s drinking buddy. Used to be more, but I expect with all the booze, he can’t get it up any more.”
“Sorry.”
“Yeah, me too. Tommy was more like a brother to me than a cousin. I should have fled that scene long ago. But I didn’t. I felt I ought to try to keep them alive.” He faced Branch and shrugged. “What ya gonna do?”
They were silent a moment. “I have to ask,” Branch said. “Do you think Tommy is the heir?”
“No. He told me Lockhart told him. So you can check him off.”
“Do you have any guess who it might be? Or could you guess what other cousin might know?”
“I don’t know who might know. If I had to guess, I’d say Howard.”
Branch was instantly alert. Howard was Esme’s husband. No, his last name was Pilkington. “You mean George Howard?”
“Yeah. You know how it is. The ones who don’t need get.”
“So you don’t think he had motive to see Harriet dead.”
“Not from what I hear. I hear he’s rolling.”
“Tell me about him.”
“I haven’t laid eyes on him since we were about twelve. Now and then I see his name in the Times for some business deal or other. So he must be doing well.”
“Why do you guess he’s the heir?”
He rubbed his chin. “I recall around the time of the lawsuit against poor old Harriet, that Howard’s father was making deals with the other relatives. My father got a house—the one I live in now, in fact. That’s why I remember it. Now I assume my uncle was buying out other possible heirs in favor of Howard.”
“Sounds plausible. If I wanted to talk to any of the other cousins, who would you recommend?”
“I’d try Mary Margaret. Mrs. Spielmann, in Weekapaug. She may not have positive information, but she’s smart, and would have interesting thoughts about it all.”
“I’ve already talked to her. But I may again.”
“Good. About the others—Jane and Fran—I just don’t know. They live a long way away. We send Christmas cards, but that’s about all the contact I’ve had with them for years.”
Branch rose. “Thank you for your time. I think what you’ve told me might turn out to be very helpful.”
“I hope so. Harriet was a pill, but nobody should get away with killing her.”
Branch returned to his car. Four-thirty. It would be a long slog back to Puffin Bay. At least the rain had stopped. He looked at the faxes. George Howard Bracken lived in Danbury, Connecticut. Esme’s home town. If only his name were Pilkington, we’d have a connection. Esme’s Howard might be in money trouble—one of his financial flyers may have crashed. He could have come up to the inn, found an unguarded cello, stabbed Harriet with the endpin, and sat back waiting for the money to arrive.
Branch’s phone chimed. It was Mary Margaret Spielmann.
“I’ve thought about your problem, made a few calls, and checked some things. I’m pretty sure that my guess was right, so I don’t mind telling you now that my candidate for the heir is my cousin Howard.”
“George Howard Bracken.”
“Right.”
“He lives in Danbury, Connecticut.”
“That’s him. Now he may be innocent, right?”
“True. We’d have to place him at the scene, or link him to another person who did the deed, a hit man, say.”
“I doubt if Howard would dirty his hands with such a job.”
“This is a big help. And your guess is confirmed by your cousin William.”
“Good. Poor William. Did you meet his wife?”
“Yes.”
“Well.” They paused.
Branch spoke. “Thanks again. Please call if you think of anything else.”
“Oh. One more thing. You might have been confused by something. Howard’s parents divorced when he was young, and his mother remarried. The family always thinks of Howard as a Bracken. But when he was a teenager, he started using his stepfather’s name.”
“And what was that?”
“Pilkington. So you may hear of him as Howard Pilkington.”

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