The Two-Timing Corpse - The Number Mysteries


The Tarot was the perfect touch.

Eleven cards had been carefully selected. They were neatly spread in the ancient Keltic cross: four cards surrounding the central three, a vertical line of four more to the right. The final outcome-–Key 10: The Wheel of Fortune.

How appropriate.

But it was the Eight of Swords that had been deliberately chosen as representative of the man on the floor. That symbolic card was in position five—something that may happen.

Well, it had happened all right!

A laugh echoed in the cavernous building.

In a wash of blood on the cold cement floor lay the body of a man bound with heavy rope, the blindfold unnecessary over eyes that would never see again.

The black shrouded figure slipped the knife into a plastic bag, closed the door, and melted into midnight .


Chapter 1

"That’s when I decided to kill my husband."

Katherine Vandalay tapped an unlit Newport against a slim gold case engraved with her initials, "And I need some advice."

Sam had seen thousands of clients, but never had been asked how to successfully exterminate a husband.

"You came highly recommended," the woman said as she crossed long shapely legs. "And I did look at one of your books. It was rather interesting. Your simple premise that our lives repeat in nine-year cycles made me think." She said it as if her literary tastes had gone slumming.

Sitting in her stuffed rocker opposite the woman, Sam practiced her Mona Lisa smile and waited for the other exquisitely clad foot to drop.

Sam figured Katherine Vandalay was around thirty years old. According to numerology, that was the age when major events happened. Killing one’s husband certainly fit the criteria.

Samantha Blackwell, syndicated numerologist and author of acclaimed books on the subject, enjoyed her unhurried lifestyle in the town of Georgetown , nestled fifteen miles from the New Hampshire coastline. Whenever necessary, her recent introduction to the Internet put her in instant touch with the outside world, as she called it--although she found, at age forty-nine, that she was more of a recluse than ever. Especially since the incident last year.

The deep velvety voice continued. "I thought you might be able to help me. You did solve those…" Katherine’s slender fingers fluttered at the air "…what were they called? The Cowberry Necklace Murders?" A two-carat emerald-cut diamond flashed in the dim October sun.

Sam looked past the woman and out the window of her sun porch office, past the peeling white deck. She could see the maples blazing red and orange amongst thick pines in her back yard and waited for the flutterbys in her stomach to alight. Sparrows darted in and out of the large house-shaped bird feeder. Georgetown was in the midst of tourist season, and this year, Sam was President of the Cowberry Festival Committee. It wouldn’t do to slack off on this prime appointment from Agatha Beatrice Coldbath, owner and last remaining heir of the Coldbath Chutney fortune. How many times had the old dowager scolded her with the reminder that since the days of King George III, my chutney has graced the delicate palates of royalty and heads of state?

Sam was well aware that the town’s year-round economy depended upon the square, squat jars labeled Coldbath Cowberry Chutney--Chutney to the world since 1798. On the parchment-type labels, and beneath an artist’s rendition of old King George’s crown, was the large flourishing signature (digitally enhanced from the original) of the founder, William Hornblower Coldbath.

No mention was made that it was William’s wife who had come up with the recipe, gave two jars to her ailing neighbor, who then sent one of the chutneys to a brother in England, who then gave it to his lady friend, a royal maid to King George III. No one was quite sure how the maid got the king’s attention, but rumors were rampant.

Sam buried the fingers of one hand in her long fine hair and rubbed. Besides the Fair, she had clients to see and her weekly column to write. She didn’t want to get mixed up in another homicide…if that’s what this appointment was about.


She would never hear that word again without icy coils twisting around her spine.

She touched her left side as if she could feel the small scar beneath her sweatshirt. To Katherine, she said, "If you’d like to smoke, please step outside".

"What?" The woman frowned, then twisted a quarter turn to the right. She took a moment to examine the splintering white paint on the railings then faced Sam once again. A tiny spot at the corner of her left eye quivered as she looked down at the cigarette in her hand. "Oh. No, thank you. I don’t smoke".


As the woman continued to tap the unlit cigarette, Sam was reminded of an early television commercial--a red Pall Mall cigarette box tap dancing on human legs to some jingle.

"It’s a terrible habit," Katherine Vandalay added.

So’s denial, Sam thought, but hey, we all have our addictions.

Sam took a deep breath. She had to admit she was envious of the can’t-be-too-thin body encased in a creamy silk blouse and soft black suede skirt. The thick gold necklace at her throat matched her earrings. The woman smelled of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison and reeked of money.

She looked down at her own belly bulge under her gray sweat pants, and was reminded of her daily struggle with Ring Dings and the bathroom scale. She vowed (again) to start exercising tomorrow and to get rid of the thirty extra pounds. But not before she got rid of Katherine Vandalay.

The cigarette tapping stopped. "Of course, I didn’t kill my husband. Someone else did," the woman said. "I could never do such a thing. I loved Henry."

Sam tried to remain impassive. Again, her thoughts flipped back to last year. She closed her eyes for a moment as that terrifying scene roiled in her mind.

"But I’m afraid I’m a suspect," Katherine said. Shaking death from her mind, Sam fastened her attention on the woman before her. Katherine Vandalay’s nostrils flared and the skin over perfect cheekbones grew taut as she continued. "Henry was thirty years older than I am, so naturally everyone thinks I was after his money."

Sam felt her insides shudder. She pondered the high-maintenance woman and wondered what really went on behind those violet eyes. Was this woman capable of killing another human being?

At some level, Sam thought, everyone is capable. Even me, the animal-loving vegetarian, the one who stops at every little kid’s lemonade stand, the first place winner in the Miss I-Can-Fix-It-For-You, Don’t-You-Worry Contest.

She let out a puff of air and wondered why she couldn’t have an ordinary client--like the woman having an affair with the local priest or the crazed New Hampshirite plotting the downfall of Vermont . She didn’t need to be reminded of the night that she shattered a man’s skull with a fireplace poker.

"I’m a numerologist, not a detective or a lawyer," Sam said.

Katherine Vandalay sighed and, with the back of her cigarette hand, brushed at the spun gold hair that fell in folds to her shoulders. "Look. I have a lawyer, and private investigators can be troublesome. I want you."

The old World War II poster flashed through Sam’s mind--a determined Uncle Sam pointing that finger of fate. Too many young people died in that war. Had fate singled her out to be involved in more death?

Katherine leaned forward. "I want you," she repeated.

Sam thought about that for a moment then said, "What do you think I can do for you?"

"Mrs. Blackwell, I’m desperate. I thought you could, um, see something?"


"Yes. You know, like a psychic impression. Something that would clear me of my husband’s murder." She floated back against the rocker cushion and resumed tapping the cigarette.

Sam took a deep breath as a wave of heat prickles washed over her upper torso. "First, my name is Samantha. Everyone calls me Sam. Secondly, I’m not a psychic."

Katherine Vandalay’s penciled eyebrows rose. "Really? Oh, I thought…given what the newspapers said about you…"

"You can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers, Mrs. Vandalay." That fact had been driven home after last year’s fiasco.

The woman’s fingers fell silent. "Please. Call me Katherine."

The heat was intense now, but Sam refused to flap the front of her sweatshirt in front of this woman who belonged on the cover of Elle.

How do they stay so thin? she wondered as she did when she stood in the supermarket check-out line surrounded by magazine covers with high-cheekboned, full-lipped, twenty-year-old faces gazing at her. She knew (if there were a just Creator in the Universe) that those impossible hairdos would fall flat as yesterday’s birthday balloons as soon as the camera clicked and the fan stopped blowing.

To make matters worse, it seemed that every magazine promised the easy, super simple, last-one-you-will-ever-need, eat-all-you-want-and-lose-ten-pounds-a-week diet. Sam was an authority. She had tried them all and had come to the rather distasteful conclusion that the only thing that might work was sewing her lips shut for five months. But she hated needles.

Sweat beaded on her forehead. Instead of flapping her sweatshirt, she reached out to finger the ficus beside her, one of many plants in her jungle, as her daughters called the sun porch.

Katherine bit a tiny piece of her top lip as if considering her next move. Even beneath the makeup, dark half moons under her eyes attested to sleepless nights. Sam wondered if Katherine had been wrestling with incubi or flesh and blood demon lovers.

Be nice, she told herself. A gorgeous young woman could be in love with an older wealthy man. She smiled inside. Sean Connery is a pretty sexy guy.

Katherine pulled out her ammunition. "Charles Burrows told me about you. I’m his wife’s second cousin, twice removed, sort of. Charles has a high regard for your problem-solving abilities. He agreed you could help me."

Sam tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear, then lowered her hand into her lap. "Really?"

She had a vague memory of Brun telling her about a distant relative who married into the Vandalay fortune. But she thought Brun had lost contact with that side of the family years ago. Even so, Katherine’s connection complicated matters. Brun’s husband, Chief of Police Charlie Burrows, was Sam’s childhood friend. Sam realized she was going to have a hard time getting out of this one. She pulled on her right ear lobe. "I see."

Katherine settled back. Sam suspected that Katherine Vandalay was one of those women who always got what she wanted. One way or another.

"What were the circumstances surrounding your husband’s death, Katherine?" Sam had read the papers and heard about the murder on the six o’clock news, but the devil was in the details. Especially those Tarot cards.

"Henry was in construction."

"Vandalay Enterprises," Sam acknowledged, stifling a crazy impulse to laugh as a vision of Seinfeld’s George Costanza, the latex salesman for Vandalay Industries, popped into her mind.

"Yes. He owned Vandalay Enterprises. It seems everyone’s building today."

Sam often passed the ten acres covered with metal buildings as she drove to Manchester on Route 101.

"How did he die?"

"Oh, yes, that," Katherine said. Her outlined melon lips pursed. She looked down at the still unlit cigarette between her fingers. "He, ah, he was found in the shop a week ago. Tied up with rope and wearing a blindfold." With her chin down, Katherine lifted her eyes. Long black lashes curled out from eyes that resembled dewy crocuses. "He had been stabbed. Many times."

A moment hung between them as Sam waited for Katherine to tell her about the cards. When the silence became prolonged, she said, "I see. Who found your husband?"

"Kenneth Ash, one of Henry’s employees. He called me first, and of course, I went right over. As I pulled into the entrance, a car went tearing past me. Kenneth said it was a reporter. The man must have had his police scanner on and been in the area. I’m sure that’s how the story got into the newspaper so quickly." She shook her head in disgust. "The police arrived right after I did. By then, there were half a dozen employees standing around. It was just awful." Her violet eyes lowered for a moment.

"Can you tell me more about that morning?" Sam said gently.

Katherine pursed her lips, then said, "Yes. Whoever did this terrible thing left Tarot cards beside Henry’s body."

Finally. "Really?"

"Yes. Are you familiar with the Tarot?"

"Somewhat." Sam had written a series of columns a few years back on the subject.

"I didn’t know what the cards were at first, but I did make notes," Katherine said.

Sam couldn’t imagine having the presence of mind to take notes when standing over the murdered body of a beloved husband.

Katherine must have noticed her surprise because she added, "I was so distraught that I couldn’t just stand there, so I went into the office for a piece of paper and sketched the design. I’m sorry I didn’t get the numbers on the cards but they were laid out in some sort of a cross. I thought it might help me in the future to figure out who did this."

That could be helpful, Sam thought. But wait a minute. I haven’t agreed to take this case. Case?

Now she was talking like Parker’s Boston P.I., Spenser. She wasn’t about to get involved again, so why did she find herself saying, "Did you bring that information with you?"

"Oh, no. I’m sorry. I should have. If you think it will be helpful, I will get it to you."

Sam blinked a few times as she wondered about the woman’s inability to recognize important facts. Then she asked, "Why exactly did you want to kill your husband?"

Katherine tossed her head. "Oh, I would never have done it. I just wanted to plan it, to have the satisfaction of knowing I could do it. I had just decided I was going to plan to murder my husband when someone actually killed him."

Strange pastime, Sam thought, as she nodded. Plus, the word murder didn’t seem to bother Katherine. She thought about her own horror and repulsion when the word had almost come home to roost. Again, she asked, "Why did you want to kill your husband?"

Katherine looked up at the Siamese wooden angel suspended from a gold hook on the ceiling above their heads, then out the window at the sparrows fighting for position on the bird feeder. After a moment, she looked back at Sam. "A number of reasons."

"Name three."

Katherine’s smile revealed a row of perfect white teeth that, Sam figured, bought some orthodontist and his family a Caribbean cruise.

"I know there were other women. I often smelled perfume on his clothes, and it wasn’t mine."


"Isn’t that reason enough?"

"Not for some women."

Katherine thought about that for a moment, then said, "There was his abuse."

Sam clenched her lips then said, "Did he beat you?"

Katherine laughed, a winged fluttery sound at odds with her throaty voice. "No, nothing like that. It was verbal abuse. He would rant and rave about how much money I spent on myself. As if he didn’t like it. He was always showing me off like I was some kind of trophy."

"And the third?"

"Third what?"


Katherine didn’t hesitate. "The absolute end was when he sold my silver Ferrari. We had a terrible fight, and the next day, my car was gone. He did it out of spite. He knew I loved that car. I will never forgive him for that."

Sam figured the man didn’t need her absolution now. Tension bunched in the muscles behind her neck. Taking a deep breath, she placed a hand on each thigh and rolled her shoulders once, then focused on the woman before her. She wondered how many men found that dewy look irresistible. "Since I’m not a psychic, you want me to do what?"

"I want you to help me find the person who killed my husband."

"That can’t be done through numerology."

Katherine shook her head. "No, of course not. Charles said you are very--what’s the word he used? Oh yes. Intuitive."

"I see."

"And you’re a woman. I knew you’d understand." She leaned forward again, the cigarette in one hand, the case in the other. "Please, Sam. I’ll pay whatever you ask."