Chapter 8


Shivering from the cold, Peta pulled open the door to Danny's Seafood Grotto. She had made eighteen visits to New York, trips punctuated by high school and college graduation, the beginning and end of medical school, and taking over Arthur's Grenada practice during his long visits to Manhattan and his absences when he sojourned to destinations unknown. By now she should have expected it to be cold, but she was never quite prepared for its reality.
"Peta! Welcome back." Danny's maitre d' took her coat. "Stunning as ever." He hugged her like an old friend. "Lucky man, Arthur. He's waiting for you over at the piano. I'll take care of your coat."
It didn't surprise Peta that George greeted her by name, not after this many visits to the West Forty- sixth Street restaurant. On the one hand, she thought, it was boring to be that predictable; on the other, to be welcomed so effusively in a city like this made her feel rather like a celebrity.
Arthur sat at the piano bar, his back to her. To her surprise, he was engaged in earnest discussion with his buddy, Raymond Arno. She felt a spark of annoyance. This was her time, her part of the evening. Bad enough that she was excluded from their damn Daredevils Club meeting that started at midnight every New Year's Eve.
She felt herself pouting and stopped. With Arthur, there was no use making a fuss. Ever. He did what he did, and generally for what he believed was good reason.
At that moment, the piano player looked up and saw her. Grinning happily, he switched gears into "Happy Birthday to You," played a few bars of "Hot, Hot, Hot," then segued into a lively rendition of "Dollar Wine."
Peta broke into the sensual steps of the Caribbean soca. There was a round of applause. Arthur looked up and waved. Even at a distance, his expression softened. If only he looked that way more often, she thought. She moved to the rhythm for a moment longer before pushing her way through to the piano.
"You two look as if you're plotting a world takeover," she said.
"You're early." Arthur kissed her. "And beautiful."
"I'll second that," Ray added. "You're a lucky man, Marryshow." He pecked her on the cheek.
Ray and Arthur exchanged a quick glance, then Ray gestured in the direction of the men's room. "Too many beers," he said, though his tough, firm body belied the statement. "Think I'll leave you two to conduct your annual birthday meeting and slip out the back way when I'm done. Happy New Year, Peta. Nice to see you again. Quick, take my seat before someone else does. Happy birthday - to both of you. See you later, Arthur."
Arthur patted the seat. "Don't be angry with me, Peta. Ray and I had some things we had to discuss. Seemed like as good a time as any to do it."
Peta watched Ray disappear into the dimly lit passage that led to the rest rooms and the storeroom in the back. She knew the layout well: a right into the alcove with the two rest-room doors; a door straight back to the "family" exit through the storeroom and into the back alley. Turning to Arthur she said, "Get me a drink and you're forgiven. I was surprised, that's all. I didn't think he'd be here at all this year. Isn't he supposed to be opening a new casino in Vegas about now?" She snuggled up to her mentor and friend. "In case you don't know it, it's cold as a witch's tit out there."
Though he was more than half again her age and a little craggy, Arthur was a handsome man, very tall and, like her, elegantly dressed. They blended seamlessly into the crowd as Danny's grew dense with New Year's Eve partygoers. The bodies around the piano bar were two and three deep and it took influence, bribery, or a very loud voice to so much as order a couple of drinks.
"I see you wore it," he said, fingering the exotic pendant he'd given her earlier in the day. She wore it around her neck, a smooth and somehow oily-looking irregular blue-green disk, bezel set and hung upon a twenty-four-carat gold chain.
Peta placed her hand over his and pressed it against her. She could feel the pendant against her skin. It was as if it were sucking the heat from her body, and yet it didn't feel uncomfortable. "What the devil is it, Arthur?"
"That's my secret. Just take good care of it."
"You and your secrets."
He smiled. "Call it a lucky piece. That's what I call mine." He opened his hand and showed her his stone. "I use it like a rubbing stone."
An hour passed with Arthur and Peta sometimes silent, often animated, always affectionate. Yet despite her best efforts, something was making Peta uncomfortable. Searching to find a reason for her discomfort, she noticed that Arthur was playing the time-conscious physician's game of glancing a little too frequently at his watch. When he did so twice within two minutes, Peta covered the face of the watch with her hand.
"You just looked," she said. "You'll have plenty of time to get to your meeting at midnight. This isour celebration. I get you for another hour."
While Arthur had many mysterious missions in his life about which he said little to her, the Daredevils Club bothered her more than the others. She resented the fact that he would say nothing about the club's activities and that she was not welcome there. After all, she had been the instigator of the adventure that created the club. Her exclusion seemed personal.Was personal, all the more so since at least one woman had been admitted. And died.
"You're a bunch of nasty little misogynists," she said, knowing he would understand the reference.
"I've told you over and over that I swore to your father I would not ever knowingly encourage you to endanger your life. Not while I was alive. So stop thinking about it, darlin'," Arthur said. "The meeting is something I do and you don't. It's that simple." Yet one more time, he glanced at his watch.
Peta sipped her wine. "If it's that simple, what are you so nervous about?"
As if he'd made a sudden and difficult decision, Arthur said, "I'm going to tell you something, but you have to promise me that you'll keep it to yourself."
She nodded. It seemed odd for him to be telling her secrets in public, but she knew that sometimes an anonymous crowd made for more privacy.
"There's new trouble brewing in the Middle East," Arthur continued. "Big trouble. After the meeting, I'm going to Israel. I'll be teaching medics about frontline emergency burn treatment. God knows I've had enough experience. There'll be danger." He leaned toward her and stroked her cheek. "I'm getting tired, Peta," he confessed. "Tired is bad in my business."
Peta was thrown by Arthur's serious tone and flattered that he would risk the implicit danger of taking her into his confidence. She'd known for some time that he occasionally worked with some secret branch of the American government, but he'd never so much as whispered any of the details until well after the fact.
Not wanting to trivialize what he'd told her, yet knowing he would not want her to be melodramatic, she said, "Make sure you're back here next year, Doctor - if we don't cross paths again before that."
"I promise." His smile returned playfully. "In fact, I've already made reservations for dinner, instead of just drinks. Five o'clock won't be too early for you, will it?"
"Are you sure you can spare seven whole hours? Or does that mean you'll be leaving early for your meeting?" She tried to match his humorously sarcastic tone, but the words came out sounding petulant.
Immediately the smile faded from his lips. "I won't have to be there until midnight. Promise." He downed the rest of his rum and stood up. "My turn for the men's room." He took out his wallet and handed it to her. "Do me a favor, settle the bill."
To Peta's surprise, he kissed her hard on the mouth. He was a private man, and such overt displays of affection were not his norm. She watched him turn on his heel and head in the same direction as Ray had gone earlier. Fighting jealousy about his anxiety to get to his "meeting" on time, she counted out the money and handed it to the waiter. She stuffed a fifty-dollar bill in the piano man's glass, blew him a kiss, and wished him a happy New Year. Having retrieved her coat from the coatroom, she put it on and stood near the exit door, people-watching while she waited for Arthur.
He should have come out of the rest room by now, she thought. It occurred to her how much simpler it was to check on an escort in Grenada, where most bathrooms were unisex. She was seriously considering asking George to check on Arthur's welfare, when there was a flash in the bathroom hallway and a concussive blast shook the restaurant.
In an instant that seemed to last an hour, a man who had been walking toward the bathrooms staggered out, a gash on his forehead pouring blood. The fire sprinklers burst to life, like a sudden tropical storm trapped inside the restaurant.
Immediately everyone was in motion. Men and women alike screamed as they rushed for the exit.
Panicked bodies pressed Peta out of the door into the small foyer. She fought against the current, finally sidestepping into an eddy created by aVariety dispenser. "I'm a doctor," she called out. "Let me through!"
By the time the flow of people eased enough for her to get back into the bar, she could hear sirens approaching. Even under the circumstances, the thought flashed through her mind that the police and fire department were responding astonishingly fast.
Inside, she stumbled around the overturned furniture. As she made her way toward the hall to the rest rooms, George blocked her way. "You don't want to go in there, Miss Peta."
Stomach clenched with a painful sense of knowing, she moved past him into the cramped passage. Chunks of the bathroom door lay in the small alcove, covered with gore. Within the bathroom itself, she saw a portrait of blood and mashed body parts. One thing told her irrefutably that the victim was Arthur Marryshow: lying in the midst of the grisly evidence was the stone matching the one around her neck.
Her knees failed her and she sagged to the floor. Seemingly with a will of its own, her hand reached for what Arthur had called his lucky piece.
"Hey, lady. What do you think you're doing?" A policeman took her by the arm. "You have something to do with this?"
"I'm a doctor." Peta used all of her courage to stem her emotions. "The...victim...isa friend of mine. Dr. Arthur Marryshow."
"I'm sorry about your loss, ma'am, but there's nothing much you can do for him now." The cop took her arm and helped her to her feet. "Come on."
The torrent from the sprinklers had been shut off. The police officer led Peta across the wet floor to a chair at the far side of the bar. "I hate to intrude, ma'am, but I need to ask you a few questions." He took out his notebook. "What did you say your name was?"
"Whyte." Automatically, she spelled it.
He wrote it down. "Dr. Whyte. And you said the deceased was named Marryshow?"
"Yes. I..." Her voice trailed off into silence. George appeared at her side with a glass of scotch, which she downed in a single motion.
"No offense, Officer, but I really don't think she's in any condition to answer your questions right now."
"Yeah," he said. "Sorry. Is there somewhere we can get in touch with you, Doctor?"
Mechanically, she pulled a card out of her purse and handed it to the officer. "I'd like the piece that matches this." She held up the pendant she was wearing. "It's in there with...with - "
"If it's with's evidence, ma'am. When we're done with the investigation we'll get in touch." He glanced at the card. "Grenada," he said, mispronouncing it Gre-nah-da.
"Hey, John," a fellow policeman called out. "We need you over here."
"We'll be in touch, Doctor." The cop named John turned to the maitre d'. "Get her out of here. Now."