That I wrote down with more excitement, though I kept it from my face and my voice. “Could you speak to his mental state?”
“He’d thrown himself into his work for a few weeks,” replied Culpert. “Two years ago yesterday his wife left him, and he’d learned she wasn’t happy with Dalton Heath a month or two ago. It was a hard week or two, but he’s always been able to clear his mind with work, and so he did this time. Late nights. He seemed very focused.”
Culpert looked away and coughed, and I pretended not to see him wipe away a tear or two. His characterization of McKenzie could have torpedoed a theory I’d begun to nurse, so I gave Culpert a moment or two and, figuring to put my theory to rest for good, asked, “His mood did not strike you as unusual, then?”
He looked thoughtful. “It’s true I’ve rarely seen him so determined, especially not in the last few years.”
That sufficed for my purposes. I spent the rest of the interview, another ten or fifteen minutes, looking into McKenzie’s business rivals (many, but few of note, and none with particularly cutthroat reputations) and his relationship with Heath (strained for the last two years, cold more recently on news of Anneli Marchand’s break from Heath). Culpert knew that McKenzie had contacted Marchand, but didn’t know if Marchand had replied. I thanked him for his time and left him with my card.
We shared the high points from our interviews on the drive back. I let a pause develop, and Amber glanced over at me. “Yes?” she said.
“I have a theory,” I said. “You’ll call it crazy.” She didn’t contradict me, and I forged ahead. “Mr. Culpert painted me a picture of an Abbot McKenzie lost in his work, cold and unfeeling at a time when he should have been nursing a grudge worthy of an ancient epic. Then, he dies in mysterious circumstances on the day his wife left him, and all signs point to his rival in love, Dalton Heath.”
“Sam, you aren’t seriously suggesting a suicide?”
“I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. McKenzie’s wife, for whom by all accounts he cared for very deeply, runs off with his business partner. This he can accept, though it is painful; he will bear his unhappiness if it means her happiness, and he can hardly blame Heath for his own failures as a husband. Then, though, Marchand leaves Heath, too, and for this McKenzie can lay blame at Heath’s feet. McKenzie, a man intimately familiar with the art of the grudge, has little to live for.”