Cover image for Under suspicion
Under suspicion
Lee, Rachel.
Personal Author:
Warner Books edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Warner Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
355 pages ; 18 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Museum curator Anna Lundgren's career takes off with the success of the opening of her first exhibition. But elation turns to horror when the theft of an ancient Mayan jade dagger and the murder of a guard bring the police. Anna becomes the main suspect, and when her only ally, Detective Gil Garcia, starts to doubt her, Anna must find who took the dagger and killed the guard.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lee (A January Chill, etc.) is known for her romantic suspense novels, but this dry effort is short on romance and long on tedious technical detail. When a guard is killed and a Mexican dagger is stolen from a museum in Tampa, Fla., police detectives Clarence Tebbins and Gil Garcia team up to track down the culprit. The evidence implicates beautiful museum curator Anna Lundgren, but Gil and Tebbins soon realize that she may be a target, especially in light of her family's history with the dagger and its supposed curse. Whoever touches the jaguar-headed jade dagger is doomed, along with their descendents, to "die by fire in the jaws of the jaguar," and shortly after Anna's father discovered the dagger, an earthquake claimed his life. Instead of pinning down the killer's motive, however, Gil and Tebbins spend most of the novel trying to figure out how he bypassed the museum's high-tech security system. Anna's computer whiz twin sister finally determines how the system was circumvented, but the knowledge brings them only a small step closer to finding the killer. Although Gil and Anna are well-drawn characters, Lee (aka Sue Civil-Brown) puts little effort into developing their relationship. Readers will be disappointed by the novel's outrageous plot, lack of romantic tension and all too demented villain. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One At last! The night was at hand. Hiding in plain sight, the watcher saw the head curator come into the lobby of the Museum of Antiquities. Anna Lundgren was tall, slender, redheaded; dressed more like a woman than he'd ever seen, in her clinging black evening sheath and black high heels. She paused to share a few words with the security guard, then scanned the room. She looked nervous. He wasn't surprised. As her green eyes scraped over him, noticing but not noticing him, he saw the uneasiness there. It was supposed to be her night of triumph, and he thought she must be afraid that something would go wrong. She had absolutely no idea just how wrong it was going to go. He hugged the knowledge to himself, watching as she circulated among the early arrivals. Tonight was the big night, the private showing of the museum's new visiting exhibit: Mysteries of the Maya. Museum benefactors and university officials were arriving steadily and partake of the sumptuous hors d'oeuvres and open bar. Docents in dark green blazers with gold crests milled around, looking nervous in anticipation of their first public performance. Moving slowly, with apparent lack of direction, he eased himself steadily closer to Anna Lundgren. She was talking to Mike Armbruster, one of the museum's board of directors. He got close enough to eavesdrop in time to hear Armbruster tell her, "Sammy Doe walked me through a little while ago." Sammy was one of the student docents, a reliable, intelligent young man. "I'm impressed. You deserve every star in your crown tonight. Enjoy the triumph." Anna looked delighted. A smile sparkled on her face. He savored her delight. It would accentuate her fall. "You ought to wear black more often," Armbruster remarked as he turned away. "Brings out all the fire in your red hair." Anna's face fell, and the watcher figured she didn't like the remark. It seemed to threaten her. Well, she didn't know what threat was. Anna turned, her eyes grazing over him. A faint smile came to her mouth, acknowledging him, but the watcher knew she didn't really see him. People rarely saw him clearly, unless he made a point of getting their attention, and he liked it that way. Carefully, he followed her across the increasingly crowded room. Several state senators and legislators graced the crowd now, as well as the high muckety-mucks from the university and museum. The watcher barely saw them. He wasn't interested in them at all. They made an annoying background buzz, a series of elegantly clad obstacles in his path. Anna's hair made her easy to follow. The color of polished, new copper. She would make a beautiful sacrifice to end the curse, the watcher thought. Perfect. Exquisite. Fire to end fire. How appropriate. Elegant, too, he thought, as he continued to follow her, listening as she exchanged meaningless pleasantries with people she didn't know. Gracious. They should only know her as he knew her. They'd never imagine her grubby with sweat and grime over the past months as they'd struggled to build the exhibit's framework. They couldn't imagine how she looked with her hair in her eyes as she unpacked the artifacts when they arrived, or the way she swore when she nicked a finger or made a mistake on a catalogue entry. But he knew. He'd been watching her for months, tucked away among the crews that had labored so mightily to bring vistas of the Yucatán to the museum. He saw a great deal to admire in her, much to respect. Otherwise, she would have been a poor sacrifice. The watcher was a smart man, though, and he knew he had to set things up in a way that would let her know what was happening, but conceal his part in it. Toward that end he was patient, and tonight would only start the ball rolling. He saw Anna try to slip past Reed Howell, a reporter from the Sentinel, but she didn't make it. He snagged her, and looked at her with those opaque shark's eyes of his. The watcher nodded; Howell was just another of his tools. He made sure he was close enough to overhear. "Hi, Anna," Howell said. "Exciting night, yes?" "Very," she agreed, smiling sweetly. The watcher knew she was faking it. "We're all thrilled to see our dreams come to fruition." But Howell was looking at Anna as if she were bait in the water. Good. It would begin. "I can imagine," the reporter said pleasantly enough. He pulled a notebook and pen out of his pocket, but he didn't write down what she'd already said. Instead he looked at her, his pen poised. "I was wondering how you feel professionally about hyping the Pocal Curse to increase public interest in this exhibit." Her face stiffened, but the smile remained. "The Pocal Curse is part of the story of some of the items we're exhibiting, Reed. I don't have any qualms about exciting the public's imagination. Times have changed; museums can no longer rely on dusty exhibits and neatly typed little cards. As I see it, we're merely enhancing the educational process." He nodded, and this time scribbled at least part of her remark on his pad. She waited with apparent patience, but the watcher could see she was dying to escape. Reed looked up from his notes. "That's the standard explanation for this kind of showmanship," he said. "Yes, and it's a good one. We'd like to share these exciting artifacts and all this wonderful history with a broader audience. And that's why we're highlighting the curse in our promotional materials." "And not to make money?" The watcher thought he detected tension in her face, as if she were holding in irritation. "Money? We're a non-profit organization. What we hope to get out of this is enough public interest to pay the cost of the exhibit. If we do, we'll be able to bring other exciting exhibits here." "And you have no professional qualms about touting a curse. You don't find it the least bit unscientific?" "What's unscientific about it? We're reporting a fact. It is part of Mayan lore that there is a curse on Pocal's burial site. And we state quite clearly that it is folk legend that says there is a curse on the jade dagger." She paused, taking a breath and visibly relaxing. "You will tour the exhibit tonight, won't you? You can see for yourself how we've handled it, rather than take my word for it." He smiled, but his eyes were still opaque. "I've seen how you handled it all right. Pictures on every local TV station showing how the staff unpacked some of the items without touching them, supposedly because of the curse. Pure hype. Great promo, though." Her tone grew faintly defensive. "I'm not responsible for how the media choose to portray things." "No." Howell kept smiling. "Don't you feel at least a personal qualm about hyping this curse?" Her smile slipped, and she looked dubiously at him. "I already told you how I feel. The curse is simply a tool to get attention. A little showmanship has to be part of the modern museum." "I know, I know. But I'm talking about you, personally, not Anna Lundgren, curator. Don't you feel at least a little trepidation or disgust about using the curse?" "Why should I?" "Because it killed your father sixteen years ago." At that Anna clearly gave up all pretense of pleasantness. She took a quick step away, her face red and her mouth tight. But it seemed her anger wouldn't let her leave without having the last word. Pausing, she fixed him with an icy glare. "Stick to the facts, Reed. An earthquake killed my father." Soon. The thought kept him going through the endless hour of cocktail-party banter. The watcher waited for Anna to go to her office, where he knew the index cards for her speech were waiting, but she kept right on smiling and talking to everyone who had come. It was her job, of course, to keep the money people happy, but the watcher was growing just a little impatient as the minutes ticked by. Finally, he settled near a hallway marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. That was when he realized he might have made a mistake. A small, odd-looking man wearing a dark, out-of-date suit with a polka-dotted burgundy bow tie, wandered over and stood on the other side of the hallway entrance, leaning back and folding his arms. The watcher observed him surreptitiously, wondering where this relic had come from. The man's dark hair was slicked back, and his moustache, stiffened with wax, curled at the ends. It was an odd thing to see on someone who couldn't be over forty, if that. Not only was the man odd-looking, but he didn't fit the current crowd at all. In a room aswirl with evening gowns and tuxedos, he looked like a man who'd lost his way. Maybe he was some faculty member. The watcher had noticed that a surprising number of professors seemed to eschew fashion of any kind and take pride in dowdiness. It was then that the man, who seemed to feel the watcher's gaze on him, turned and looked at him. The watcher wanted to draw back, but forced himself to remain outwardly indifferent. Unlike most people, however, the little man's gaze didn't glide over him without seeing him. Instead those two dark eyes fixed on him, measured him, acknowledged him. "Quite a squeeze, isn't it," the little man said. "Uh, yes." "This isn't the kind of thing I ordinarily like to do." The man seemed to expect some response and waited until the watcher gave it to him. "Why not?" The man shrugged. "Just not my cup of tea. Oh, I'd come to see the exhibit as a regular visitor, but these society splashes...Well, I wouldn't be here except for my aunt. She wanted an escort." The watcher nodded as if he understood, then looked out toward the crowd, pretending to have lost interest. He wondered if he should move away, then decided that was unnecessary. The silly little man didn't know what he was thinking, and would have forgotten him five minutes after he left tonight. Where was Anna? For an instant he feared he'd lost sight of her, but then her copper-colored hair emerged from behind an extremely tall man, and she began to head toward the office. Good, she was coming to get her notes for her speech. And there she would find the gift he'd left for her. Anticipation filled him, drying his mouth and moistening his palms. This was it. Unfortunately, he thought with a sidelong glace at the little man, he wasn't going to be able to dart down the hallway and listen to her reaction. Not with that guy watching.... Anna breezed past, glancing at neither of them. She was looking really nervous now. It was nearly time to give her speech. He'd heard her say several times over the last week that she hated to give speeches. The watcher enjoyed knowing that. He enjoyed knowing her every weakness, and figured over the next days he would learn many more of them. "Beautiful woman," remarked the odd little man. The watcher nodded, then returned his attention to the gathering. Go away, he silently ordered his unwelcome companion. But just then, from down the hallway, he heard Anna's cry. He hesitated, unwilling to dash back there when the man would notice. But then, strangely enough, he was rescued by his companion, who rushed down the hallway. As soon as the footsteps stopped, the watcher peered around the corner. The man was in Anna's office, the way was clear. Soundless in his rubber-soled shoes, he made his way back there. Beside Anna's office there was an alcove, meant to hold vending machines that had not yet been installed. It gave him a perfect cave from which to listen. "It's nothing," he heard her say. "I was just surprised." "What is it?" "It's nothing," she said more firmly. "A joke." A joke? The watcher didn't want her to think it was a joke. It was meant to frighten her. Annoyance pricked him. "Is that a dagger?" the little man asked. "It must be old. From the exhibit?" "It's a replica. I cried out because for an instant I thought it was the real one." "Ahh." Unfortunately, to the watcher it sounded as if the little man grew even more interested, not less. "It's probably just a gift from someone," Anna said firmly. "A memento. Or a joke. Here's an envelope. I'm sure the card inside says who sent it." "Don't open it," the stranger said sharply. "There might be prints on it." The watcher smiled to himself. He had taken great care not to leave any fingerprints. "Prints?" Anna sounded startled. "Why would anyone be worried about that? Are you crazy?" "Oh. I forgot." The little man paused, and there was a rustling sound. Pulling out his wallet? Opening his coat? "Clarence Tebbins, Tampa PD." The watcher started a bit, and felt his heart slam. He hadn't expected the police to get involved this soon. "Oh, for heaven's sake," Anna said a little sharply. "This isn't a police matter. It's just or a joke." Unfortunately, the cop seemed to disagree. "You look pretty pale to me. My guess is that you don't really think it's that innocent." "Look, I don't have time for this. I have to give a speech." A chair creaked. Tebbins sitting? Then the little man spoke again, ignoring Anna's objection. "Do you have any idea who sent this?" "I could open the envelope," Anna said acidly. "Or I could speculate that it's a gag gift from the staff." "Why a gag gift?" "Well, there's supposedly a curse attached to the real dagger. Anyone who touches it will die a horrible death." "I see. Not a very friendly joke," Tebbins remarked after a moment. "Or possibly a juvenile one." Tissue paper rustled. Was she handling the dagger or was he? Or was she just rewrapping it? Tebbins spoke. "You're sure it's a copy?" "Of course. The blade isn't even real jade. It's glass. And the handle appears to be electroplated. The carvings aren't exactly the same. Someone worked hard on it, but not hard enough." She said it emphatically. "I'm sure it's nothing you need to worry yourself about, Officer." "Detective," he corrected her. "Well, if you're going to insist on handling all the packing materials, you might as well open the envelope. But let me do it for you. No sense smudging more prints than we need to." "I told you, it's just a prank." "Then the card will say so, yes?" Anna sighed audibly. "Be my guest." "Do you have a letter opener?" he asked. There was the sound of a drawer opening, and the watcher knew she was pulling out the ivory-handled letter opener that was her family heirloom. "Lovely," Tebbins remarked. There were some other sounds, too faint to make out. "There is no card--the envelope is empty," he announced with the air of one who is smugly satisfied that he was correct. "Empty?" The watcher heard the doubt, and the faint undercurrent of fear in Anna's voice. Most others wouldn't have heard it, but he knew Anna well. The almost inaudible note of fear was there. Good. He hadn't failed. "Generally," Tebbins said, "when people intend no harm, they don't hide." "But this is harmless," she said, still protesting the whole idea. "In and of itself," he agreed. There was a silence. The watcher strained his ears, wondering if they might be whispering. But no, the way the hall echoed and amplified sounds, he would have been able to tell. "Well," Anna said suddenly, her voice brisk, "I've got a speech to give. I just came in here to get my index cards." "A moment," Tebbins said. The tapping of her heels on the tile floor stopped and she said, "Are you always so persistent?" "Of course," the cop answered, sounding surprised that anyone would doubt it. "I want to take the package and its contents to be examined." The watcher's heart stopped, and he had to grind his teeth to keep from crying out. This was not part of the plan. "But it's nothing. A prank. There's no evidence of anything criminal. Why do the police need to be involved?" "One never knows," Tebbins said. "Sure," said Anna, impatiently. "Take it. What harm could it do?" "Thank you. Can I leave it here until after the presentation?" "No problem. Let me lock up." The watcher shrank backward into a small L at the rear of the alcove and listened to their footsteps fade away. He had time. He had time to rescue the dagger. But for long moments he just stood, shaking and shaken, waiting for his strength to return. He could get the dagger. He would get it. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with his plan. Narrow jungle paths opened into nooks and crannies containing objects of stone and gold. Tangled vines cloaked a doorway, giving way to a vista of stone pyramids rising amidst vegetation, beneath a concealing canopy of trees. Later, a climb down into the depths of a pyramid, into a small, dark chamber where beautiful artifacts lay carefully arranged around an ornately carved stone sarcophagus. And always in the background, the distant call of exotic birds, even the rumble of faraway thunder... The exhibit was an unqualified success. As the guests emerged in groups at the end of the manufactured trail, they congratulated Anna and other museum personnel enthusiastically. The watcher nodded approval. Anna had worked hard on the exhibit, as hard as anyone. And it was a masterpiece. He himself had felt as if he were back in the jungles of the Yucatán, although the exhibit was not nearly as threatening. She deserved the kudos. He hoped she enjoyed them, since they would probably be her last. But at an opportune moment, while the crowd swirled and attention seemed to be focused on Anna, he slipped down the now-darkened hallway to her office. Weeks ago he had stolen a master key from the janitor and duplicated it, returning the original before the lazy janitor had even noticed it was missing. Now, as easily as he had earlier in the evening, he let himself into Anna's office. It was dark, but not nearly as dark as the hallway. Light filtered through the closed horizontal blinds from the parking lot outside. It was enough to see the replica dagger, the box and tissue in which it had come, and the giftcard envelope on which he'd typed Anna's name. Slipping on gloves, he scooped them all up. The box and tissue were a problem, he realized. He couldn't conceal them. Dropping them back on the desk, he tucked the dagger inside his slacks, slipping his hand into his pocket to hold it until he could find somewhere else to stash it until he needed it. Even through the fabric of his slacks, the glass blade felt warm to his hand. The original was a ceremonial dagger, about fourteen inches long, with a sharp jade blade and an ornately carved gold hilt. The Mayan king, Pocal, had probably worn it for important occasions. No one was certain if it had ever tasted blood, but the watcher thought it probably had. The thought gave him a thrill, and he clutched the dagger tighter, crumpling his slacks somewhat. No good, he reminded himself. It had to remain invisible. Sneaking farther down the hallway, he used the master key to get into a musty storage room and tuck the dagger into a file box. It needed to be concealed there for only a couple of hours. This would work. Then, slipping back down the hallway, he took up his post again. All that mattered, he reminded himself, was that he accomplish his mission. If the dagger were found...well, it wouldn't be a total loss. It would just muddy the message a little. He could live with that. It was just a little kink, and if he couldn't handle kinks, then what kind of a mastermind was he? The crowd began to thin out. He kept his gaze on Anna's coppery hair but didn't follow her. It might become too obvious as the guests left. But when he saw her speaking to Reed Howell again, he eased his way over there. This he didn't want to miss. The duel had begun. Even Reed Howell seemed to have mellowed, but the watcher put that down to the fact that the reporter had availed himself of some of the liquid refreshment. "Not bad, Anna," Howell said. "Not bad at all. I'd pay the fourteen bucks to come see it. One thing though... those stairs down into the underground chamber. What about the disabled?" "There's an elevator, Reed. Handicapped only." He nodded, appearing satisfied. Just as the watcher thought he was going to move on and leave her unscathed, Howell said, "Someday you gotta tell me about the curse and how your father died." Anna's face deadened. "It's a matter of public record, Reed. He died in an earthquake." "Yeah, but the curse says..." She shook her head. "No. It wasn't a curse. It was an earthquake. They happen all the time down there." "But don't you ever wonder?" "I'm a woman of science. I don't believe in curses." "Thanks," he said, and strode away. Moments later, Anna turned to a nearby woman, and said, "Oh my God, I walked right into it." Janine Mason, the art director, moved closer to Anna. "Uh-oh," she said. "You shouldn't have said that." "I know. I know. But I can explain it." "Sure." Janine shook her head. "If anyone gives you the opportunity. Look, I'll go chase the asshole down. Maybe I can clear up the problem." "I should do that." "Hell no. The guy's a demon, and he wants to skewer you on his little red pitchfork. Let me." Janine started to move away, then paused and leaned toward Anna. The watcher could barely hear her. "Who's that little guy with the greasy hair and weird moustache? He keeps staring at you." Anna glanced over. "Oh, don't mind him. That's Clarence Tebbins of the Tampa PD. He's a Hercule Poirot wanna-be." The watcher shifted his attention to the little man. A Hercule Poirot wanna-be? The idea tickled him, although he wasn't sure why Anna had said that. This mission could be more fun than he'd thought. He shifted his attention to Janine, who had caught up with Reed Howell near the door. Damage control. He hoped it wouldn't work. He'd spent plenty of time and effort to prime Reed's pump so that Anna's story would come out in the papers. He wanted the whole world to understand what had happened. And Reed Howell was his mouthpiece. It was time, though, to hide himself. He retreated to the musty storage room and sat in the pitch-dark, holding the dagger in his hands, fancying that the real one would glow in the dark, ever so faintly, with the power of the curse. He wished he could hear Anna's reaction, or Tebbins's, when they found the dagger was gone as mysteriously as it had appeared. The images that ran through his brain forced him to stifle a giggle of delight. Time passed slowly. He checked his Indiglo watch every few minutes, but 1 A.M. seemed to take a long time arriving. At last, though, he picked up the Thermos bottle he'd stashed there earlier, tucked the dagger safely away, and headed out to greet the curse's first victim. "Hi, Eddy," he said to the security guard at the front desk. "I brought you some coffee again. How ya doin' tonight?" Excerpted from Under Suspicion by Rachel Lee. Copyright © 2001 by Sue Civil-Brown. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.