the bus station mystery — conclusion

This story started here.

 
Mr. Randall stood up as Stephanie and Kelly came into the waiting room. “Mrs. Coe went to the rest room,” he said, gesturing in that direction, “but she didn’t come back. When Miss Powell went to look for her, she wasn’t there. We were–”

“Mrs. Coe is outside, in the bus, handcuffed. And she’s not Mrs. Coe. Mrs. Coe is dead, in your office.”

Mr. Randall shook his head — almost a shiver. “What?” he demanded after a moment.

“Let’s sit down. Billy, is there any coffee? Or tea?”

Billy looked as if he wasn’t sure what to say, and Stephanie smiled. “The case is solved, the murderer is caught, and there’s no more danger.”

Billy nodded. “There’s some hot coffee, which is now lukewarm, and there’s iced tea, which is probably also lukewarm, and it’s nasty (the tea).”

Stephanie laughed. “You’ve sold me on the coffee, though feel free to make it a small cup if we’re running out.”

“Never mind all that–” Dr. Grassi began.

“You’re right,” Stephanie said. “The short story is this: Cody was killed by his wife, Amelia. She had climbed out the window of the ladies room and surprised her husband on the bus after the passengers all came in here. She was then surprised by Mrs. Coe when she climbed back into the ladies room.

“She — Amelia Nugent — killed Mrs. Coe and switched identification and outer clothes with her. She left Mrs. Coe’s body in Mr. Randall’s office and passed herself off as Mrs. Coe, who nobody here knew.

“When I said I knew who it was — who the murderer was — she went to the ladies room and climbed out the window again. She saw someone, or something, moving around in the bus — which was not lighted — and tried to shoot, but I subdued her. What she saw was Kelly moving an overcoat around, draped over a pole. Kelly herself was crouching down, to be safe.”

“Wait a minute,” Lombard said. “Was she just assuming that nobody would be in there? In the ladies room?”

“No. I don’t think she expected to come back, after she killed her husband. It sounded like her plan was to leave after the murder. Her car was in the parking lot. But she hadn’t planned on the storm getting so bad. She should have dropped the plan, but apparently she was determined to carry it through, no matter what. So, she snuck back into the ladies room, and then apparently had to kill Mrs. Coe.

“Then, as I said, she had her big idea — to switch places with Mrs. Coe. After all, if she was discovered here, as herself, everyone would figure out she was the killer. And they did look a little alike. So, she switched the clothes and so on, and she put the body in Mr. Randall’s office. She could move it there without being seen from most of the waiting room, and she wanted to shift attention away from the ladies room, so nobody would think too much about the window.”

Kelly frowned. “But that window is always locked. Last year there was a pervy guy who used to lurk around outside, trying to peek in.”

“The lock is on the inside,” Mr. Randall said. “It’s easy enough to unlock it to get out — the point was to keep people from getting in, not out.” He shrugged. “Fire regulations, too.”

Stephanie looked around. “Wait. Where are…”

Lombard held up three fingers, pointed at the rear of the building, where the garage was, made a hand gesture indicating drinking, and then, before he could bring his other hand into action for a further gesture, Kelly quickly brought up both of her hands to signal “Time out.”

“Is she dead?” Ms. Powell asked after a moment.

“Who?” Stephanie asked. “The murderer? No, of course not. As I said, she’s handcuffed on the bus.”

“Has she admitted anything?”

“No. She’s denied that she killed her husband, and she’s trying to figure out a reason she was lurking around in the rain with a gun in her hand. When I asked her about that, she decided that I didn’t have enough authority to question her, and she’d wait until somebody arrived who did — by which time maybe she’ll have figured out a story.”

“Where did you get handcuffs?” Billy asked.

“From my luggage. The same place I got my gun.”

“So, how did you figure it out?” Dr. Grassi asked. “Or were you just saying that you knew who did it?”

She laughed. “I was going to try to hide that part, because I really just got lucky, but here it is. I hadn’t been paying close attention on the bus — I didn’t know two people were going to be killed, after all — and I got Mrs. Coe and Ms. Powell mixed up.

“Mrs. Coe’s most obvious identifier was her bright yellow rain slicker, which of course she didn’t wear on the bus. Ms. Powell’s was her large purse, which she’d stowed away somewhere. I knew one of them had slept — fitfully — and the other one had been reading a book, but I got confused about which one.

“When I mentioned that Mrs. Coe had been sleeping — which she hadn’t — the false Mrs. Coe seized on that and added the very convincing bit about working in the hospital all night. She knew about the hospital job because she had Mrs. Coe’s wallet, including her hospital identification.

“But then Ms. Powell said she’d been sleeping also (though in fact it wasn’t ‘also’ — she was the only sleeper), and I suddenly realized that I’d made a mistake. I’d set a trap, entirely by accident, and she — Amelia Nugent, pretending that she was Mrs. Coe — had stepped into it. Because I knew one of the two women had not been sleeping. She’d been sitting right in front of me, her reading light on, reading her book, and she’d got up at least once to go to the toilet. But of course Amelia had no idea what had happened on the bus — she’d been right here, hiding in the bus station, waiting for her husband to arrive so she could kill him.

“But then what? That wasn’t exactly evidence. So, I said I’d solved it, and set up a trap, with the brave assistance of Kelly here, to lure her into making a move.”

“That sounds pretty dangerous,” Billy said, frowning. “Why not just wait for the police to come and solve it?”

Stephanie ducked her head. “I have reasons,” she said slowly. She looked up, smiling awkwardly. “Stupid reasons, maybe, but reasons.”

 
“So, ‘reasons’?” Kelly asked Stephanie later. They were sitting on a bench outside of the building. The overhang shielded them from the rain, which seemed to be letting up.

Stephanie nodded. “Yeah. I mean, there was also the possibility of another murder — that she’d kill again. So, I was trying to make sure that didn’t happen, too. I didn’t want to just wait around. But there were also the reasons.”

She made a face. “My father is the sheriff of Huron County. I grew up wanting to be his deputy. So, he got me the ID and everything, and he trained me, though I was too young to be a real deputy back then.

“But then… some things happened, and I ran away… I left home, and then I wasn’t going to be his deputy.” She paused, and Kelly made a “keep it rolling” motion with her hands.

“I would have been the first girl deputy in our part of the state — as far as I could find out. Anyway, my roommate — where I live now — is still in touch with her father, who is one of my Dad’s deputies, and she found out that one of my sisters is getting married.

“I decided to call, and maybe I’d go home for the wedding, if I’d be welcome. I called… and, well, my dad and I talked for a long time. He said that everybody would be very happy if I was there. So, I was going back for the wedding, and he knew which bus I was going to be on, because he was going to pick me up.”

Kelly nodded. “That was him on the phone before, calling you, right?”

Stephanie nodded. “When he found out that I’d made it this far, he wanted to make sure I’d shelter in place here until the storm died down. The flooding was really bad, he said, and they expected it to get worse.”

Kelly nodded slowly, then she looked up.

“So, you’re not a detective, right? Though you did pretty good here. And you travel with a gun and handcuffs — and who knows what else — even to a wedding.” Stephanie started to say something, but Kelly held up her hand. “So, you’re not a real detective — even though, yes, I know, you’ve met Jan Sleet — and you never really became a deputy. And I… I’m pretty sure you’re not a crook…”

“I’m involved in law enforcement, a little, in kind of an unofficial way, where I live, and…”

“And you knew your dad would find out what happened here. That’s the point. But let’s get back to you. Not a cop, or a deputy, or a crook, and you leap from tall buildings–”

“It was not a ‘tall building,'” corrected Stephanie, who was starting to turn pink. “It’s a bus.”

Kelly ignored her. “If it wasn’t for the fact that there isn’t any such thing, I’d almost think you were a…” Her voice trailed off.

Stephanie put her hand over Kelly’s mouth.

 
The End

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2 Responses to the bus station mystery — conclusion

  1. SB Roberts says:

    You know, I hadn’t realized who Stephanie was until now. Great ending!

    • I’m glad you liked it. These days I’m trying to write stories that stand alone — so that newer readers can just jump in, without feeling like they’re wandering into the middle of a movie. So, details like that, familiar faces and so on, are just a bonus for people who have read the earlier stories.

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