the heron island mystery (part twenty-nine)

This story started here.

I didn’t want to get involved in a conversation with Li and Becky at that moment, so I followed Elsa to the front door.

“Come on in,” I said to the deputies. “I’m the one who called the sheriff. My name is Marshall O’Connor.”

I had never met these deputies before, and they didn’t seem particularly interested in meeting me now. They had a perp to pick up, and they wanted to get it done.

I led them back to Elsa’s bedroom. I could hear Elsa talking to Li and Becky behind us, but I couldn’t make out the words. That was fine with me.

Kim was still sitting on Elsa’s bed, her legs folded under her, and she didn’t look up as we came in. Her expression was somewhere between stoic and fierce.

One deputy, who seemed to be in charge of this two-man operation, asked for Kim’s name and she gave it. He handcuffed her, and then stood aside for me to remove my handcuffs, which had been keeping her attached to the bed.

They took her out, one walking in front of her and one behind. Li and Becky were sitting on a sofa, talking to Elsa, but Li jumped up and ran over as soon as Kim came into view. She tried to talk to Kim, but her friend was still as blank-faced as before and kept walking forward, her eyes on the back of the deputy in front of her. I was starting to wonder if her defense for her actions was going to depend on a claim that she was insane. (Which is not to say that I had some kind of worked-out proof that she wasn’t insane.)

In desperation, Li grabbed a pen from a small shelf by the door, yanked up Kim’s shirt sleeve, and wrote something on her arm. The deputies paused to allow this, and then they left with their captive.

I started to wonder where exactly the deputies were taking Kim, since the road to the mainland was going to be under water until morning, but I caught Elsa’s expression and I knew there were more important things to deal with now.

Li plopped herself back onto the sofa, looking upset but determined. Her thin face was sharp and angular in the light from the table lamp next to her. Becky was looking up at the ceiling, tears welling in her eyes, and Elsa was giving me a look that was somewhere between a demand and a plea that I come and help her out.

I pulled a chair over next to Elsa’s wheelchair.

“I wanted to help her,” Li said defensively. “I gave her my lawyer’s number.”

“But she tried to kill Elsa,” Becky said. Tears were dripping down her cheeks, which were creased with sleep wrinkles, and she still wasn’t looking at Li. Other than me and Elsa, nobody seemed to be making eye contact with anybody.

“She was probably confused,” Li protested. “She thought that Elsa killed Mary–“

“No,” Elsa said patiently, “She said she — Kim — had killed Mary because she thought Mary had killed Manfred.”

“But–” Kim began, but Becky turned to me.

“Mr. Marshall, do you know what’s going on?” She squinted at me and wiped her face with her sleeve. “Can you explain all this?”

As I started to explain, at least the parts I was willing to explain, I interrupted myself. “What about Jo?” I asked.

“She’s probably got her ear plugs in,” Becky said. “With those, she can sleep through anything.”

I hesitated. “Can you run up and check? It’s up to you whether you want to wake her up, but the way things have been going, I want to make sure she’s okay.”

Becky nodded and made for the stairs, ascending into the darkness. Our little corner of the dark living room was illuminated by two small table lamps — it felt almost like were were huddled around a camp fire together.

Li brought her legs up her chin and wrapped her arms around them. “You think Jo is dead, too?” she asked in a tiny voice.

“No,” I reassured her. “That is, I have no reason to think so, but this is not the part where everything gets explained. I don’t want to take anything for granted.”

Becky padded back down from the second floor and rejoined us in our little circle of light. “Fast asleep and snoring,” she reported as she sat next to Li again. I noted that she was wearing glasses now. “She has the covers pulled up over her head.”

Elsa caught my eye, her puckish grin starting to come back. “We must have been keeping her awake, poor thing.”

Becky looked a question.

“Mr. Marshall and I were in my room together earlier, loudly pretending to have sex. When Jo has a guest over, I can sure hear everything that’s going on up in her room. I guess it works the other way, too.”

I could tell that calling me “Mr. Marshall” was amusing Elsa, and it seemed to be helping to lift her mood, so I didn’t complain.

Li grimaced. “Forget all that, please,” she said, waving her hands. ‘Why did those cops take Kimmy away? What did she do? How can we help her?”

Calmly and matter-of-factly, I laid out what was known:

1) Manfred had been murdered, by person or persons unknown, his body dumped on the beach below Heron House during the storm on Monday night. The weapon had been a knife, which had been left in the body.

Mary was not on the island on Monday night, and Kim claimed that she hadn’t been there either.

2) Mary had been murdered, by person or persons unknown, on Tuesday night, her body left on the deck of Heron House. The weapon had been a knife, which had been left in the body.

3) Tonight, Wednesday night, Kim had threatened to kill Elsa, with a knife, claiming that she (Kim) had killed Mary the night before. Kim had apparently believed that Elsa knew this and was a threat to her. Kim said that she had killed Mary because Mary had killed Manfred.

I shrugged. “Did Kim really kill Mary last night? I have no idea. I’m no detective, but I’m not aware of anything that rules her out. If she did kill Mary, was it for the reason she said? I have no idea. If she did think Mary killed Manfred, why did she care enough to seek vengeance? That I’d rather not say — I have no direct evidence.” I didn’t glance meaningfully at Elsa, but I was pretty sure she was paying attention to what I was, and was not, saying. Whether she was going to follow my lead or not was another question, of course. “And here’s the real stumper. If Kim does think that Mary killed Manfred, how is she getting around the fact that Mary was not, as far as anybody can tell, on the island at the time of the murder?”

To be continued…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

even good memories can be exhausting

I don’t usually read the “Personal History” pieces in the The New Yorker. I mostly read the articles (I never read the fiction), based on whether a) the articles are about things that seem interesting, including (a New Yorker specialty) things that seem interesting but which I’ve never thought about in my life before, or b) the writer is someone whose work I’ve found interesting and/or particularly well written in the past. (As I’ve said here before, I read every piece by Joan Acocella, even though they’re mostly about dance and I have no interest in dance.)

And I read the humor pieces and the cartoons. Usually first, of course.

But I did read this: “Living in New York’s Unloved Neighborhood” by Rivka Galchen. It begins: “For ten years, I have lived in a neighborhood defined by the Port Authority Bus Station to the north, Penn Station to the south, the Lincoln Tunnel to the west, and, to the east, a thirty-one-foot stainless-steel sculpture of a needle threaded through a fourteen-foot button.”

(By the way, if you’re looking at the print edition, where I read it, the headline was “Better Than a Balloon,” which is a stupid title. I can see why they changed it.)

Okay, I felt drawn into that beginning, because I know that area (though not from living there). Every block described is a block I know reasonably well, though I haven’t been in that area for almost a year, for obvious reasons.

But the reason I wanted to write about the piece here is that last paragraph contains this:

I used to wonder about people who were born in New York and who still lived here. Did it not annoy them that any block they walked down, any business they passed, was liable to bring up a ghoulish or irritating memory? Even good memories can be exhausting. Maybe especially good memories…

“Even good memories can be exhausting.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this put so well. This is why, when I go to Cape Cod for vacation (as I did not do last year but hope to do this year, depending on… well, you know) I don’t go to Wellfleet, the town where I spent all my summers as a youth (with a few visits later on).

Wellfleet still exists in my mind (it is basically the map for the town where my detective Jan Sleet is currently solving murders, though I’ve added a nearby college and made a few other changes — even Heron Island, where the murders are currently taking place, exists, though not under that name and it’s not as close to the town center), but I have no desire to see the town and to think about all the (mostly good) memories and all the places and what’s changed and what hasn’t and so on.

I’m tired just thinking of it.

Going there now, as opposed to elsewhere on the Cape, would really go against my mantra when I’m there: “Less doing, more being.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Other | Leave a comment

the heron island mystery (part twenty-eight)

This story started here.

I called my employer first, of course.

I reported to her in detail, although I confess that I withheld the fact that Elsa and I had made a few minor — very minor — adjustments to the original plan for the evening. That fact would come out eventually, I knew, but I decided that this information was not essential at the moment.

I was using the living room phone, and fortunately I was alone, except for Elsa.

My employer listened, asked a couple of questions, drew thoughtfully on her pipe, and then said, ”Call Rhonda. If she’s going to travel to the island tonight, I wouldn’t mind going also. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the morning. Comporto-se.” She hung up.

I called police headquarters next. I was patched through to Rhonda, who seemed to be at home.

“Good evening, sheriff,” I said. “I thought you would want to know that there have been some developments in the Heron Island case.”

There was a pause, then she said, “Please tell me about them.”

“I’m at Heron House. Kimberly Daniels attacked Elsa Peabody with a knife, threatening to kill her. Elsa is fine. During the attack, Kim said that she — Kim — had killed Mary Sanders, and she thought Elsa knew something incriminating about it. Elsa and I both heard the confession. Kim said that she killed Mary in revenge for Manfred’s murder, which she blamed on Mary.”

Rhonda digested this. Elsa ran her fingers through her mass of red hair, looking in the direction of the kitchen. Now that the danger was over, she seemed to be trying to find a way to think about what had happened.

I’d seen that look before.

Before and during the confrontation with Kim, Elsa and I had been very much on the same page. Now, there was somewhat more distance between us, since she was inside the events and I was outside, both because the people involved were her friends and not mine, and because I had been through this before, more than once, and she hadn’t.

“I know you’re at Heron House,” Rhonda said. “The house is under observation. Where is Miss Daniels now?”

“Handcuffed to the bed frame in Elsa’s room. She’s not talking.”

“Is anybody injured?”


“Hang on.” She put me on hold for a moment. “Deputies will be there in a couple of minutes. Please turn Miss Daniels over to them.” She sighed. “Please come to headquarters in the morning, to make a statement. I…”

“I can ask Miss Peabody to drive me there,” I said. “Once the road is open.”

There was a knock at the front door and Elsa went to open it.

“I’ll need her statement, too, obviously,” Rhonda said.

As Elsa opened the door, Li poked her head down the stairs and asked sleepily, “What’s going on down there?” I could see Becky behind her.

To be continued…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

the heron island mystery (part twenty-seven)

This story started here.

Based on what we know now, the murderer was watching, and listening, as Elsa and I talked on the deck. The following morning, footprints revealed that she stood for some time on the muddy path that led from the deck to the parking area in front of the house.

Then, after we’d moved into Elsa’s bedroom, the murderer heard the sounds of prolonged and enthusiastic lovemaking, and then (maybe) the quiet, happy, and affectionate conversation that followed, until I dressed, moved into the kitchen, took a beer from the refrigerator, and went out the front door of the house to smoke a cigarette in the parking area.

The murderer then moved silently across the deck and through the kitchen to Elsa’s small bedroom, where she put a knife to her throat.

“What did you see last night? What lies did you tell Marshall? Did you lie to him to get him to fuck you?”

The bed springs creaked as Elsa sat up.

“Do you think I’m going to be as easy to kill as Mary was? I could break you in half.”

“Not before I cut your throat. Mary had legs, and I killed her.”

“How many people are you going to kill because of that creep Manfred?”

“He was not a creep — he was going to be rich, and… that fucking bitch Mary killed him.”

I thought that Elsa could probably have overpowered Kim without my assistance, but I’m cautious by nature, so I stepped out of Elsa’s tiny bathroom and took Kim’s knife away from her.

To be continued…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

the heron island mystery (part twenty-six)

This story started here.

It was not unpleasant to talk with Jo, but I had to remind myself a few times that patience needed to be my watchword here, since I had a pretty good idea she hadn’t murdered anybody.

I could imagine, fairly easily, a person who would be able to grill me about how different people react to dead bodies as a way of concealing the fact that she had produced a corpse or two herself recently, but I had a strong hunch that Jo wasn’t that person.

My best guess was that she was was collecting background information because she was planning to incorporate a murder into her novel.

Finally, Jo thanked me for my time, and she headed off and back upstairs to her typewriter.

After a few minutes, I saw Elsa through the glass doors to the living room, and I gave her the high sign we’d agreed on. She came out onto the deck, closing the door behind her to keep the heat inside the house.

She came close to me, and then she put her hands in the sleeves of her sweater, clenching up her shoulders.

“Are you sitting out here in the cold to be unobtrusive?” she asked.

“I have no specific instructions about whether or not I should obtrude. And I’m definitely not going to sit out here all night — I didn’t bring enough sweaters for that. However, this is where the action has been focused.” I looked around. “Mary’s body was right here, after all, and Manfred’s body was found down there on the beach. Also, from here I can see the kitchen through those windows, and the living room over there, and I can see a little of Kim and Jo’s rooms up there.”

Elsa grinned. “You’ll like that — Kim does have a tendency to walk around in her underwear.”

I looked up at the second floor windows and sighed. “From this angle, even if she turns on her light I’ll be lucky to see anything below her neck.”

She snorted as I heard Jo’s typewriting resume.

“I’ve been thinking about… what we talked about in the car,” Elsa said slowly. “How did you know — how did she know — what I saw, the night Mary was murdered?”

“I have no idea. Miss Sleet never reveals that sort of information to me — not until the end, and sometimes not even then.” I smiled. “I sometimes get the idea that she enjoys keeping me in the dark most of all.”

Elsa leaned forward and beeped my nose. “It’s a good thing she’s not here to hear you being disloyal like this.”

I laughed a loud laugh. “It’s nothing I haven’t said to her, often in frustration.”

She smiled, but then she got serious again. She put her hand on my arm. “Yes,” she said. “That’s in answer to the question you’re about to ask. I’ve thought about it, and I think I should tell the truth, about what I saw last night. About who I saw. But then you’ll need to protect me, all night, until the police can get here in the morning.” She raised one eyebrow. “If that’s not a problem…”

I leaned forward and kissed her, at length.

“Try to keep me at a distance,” I said.

To be continued…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

none of the feels (but one of the clicks)

I have a high resistance to click bait headlines that contain phrases like:

  • “You’ll be amazed…”
  • “You won’t believe…”
  • “Fans are convinced…”
  • “____ will give you all the feels” (I never click on anything that uses the phrase “all the feels”)

Also, any article that claims to be able to say what some famous person is (or was) like based on body language and/or handwriting analysis.

But this headline seemed calculated to get me to click on it: “Is ‘Shadow in the Cloud’ ‘insanely entertaining’ or ‘deeply, deeply dumb’?

It may be a forlorn hope, but maybe, just maybe, it will be both? A movie that’s simultaneously “insanely entertaining” and “deeply, deeply dumb”? That’s worth a click.

And this particular one stars Chloë Grace Moretz? And it’s often described as “bonkers”?

I had to see it, so I did (not in a theater, of course).

Here’s the trailer.

It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s definitely insanely entertaining, and completely of a piece. For the last fifteen minutes I wondered if it would actually end with the image it was obviously heading toward.

And it did. If there had been a focus group, that ending might not have made it. But it did.

Tone makes a lot of difference. The thing that made Kick-Ass (also starring Moretz) work, and its sequel fail so completely, was tone. Every frame of Kick-Ass felt like exactly the movie that Matthew Vaughn wanted to make, and that can be huge, especially these days.

As Vaughn put it, every studio insisted that this scene had to be cut, but he knew that it had to be there, so he paid for the movie himself, finished it, and then sold it as-is to a studio.

X-Men: First Class, which Vaughn directed later, never had that consistency, though it had some good parts. Actually, it was pretty good until halfway through when obviously someone pointed out that an “X-Men” movie needed to have some X-Men in it, at which point things began to go downhill.

These days, no big blockbusters have that consistency of tone, thought the original Tim Burton Batman movie did, and I was recently reading an article which made the case that the Lord of the Rings movies did, too.

Not that this is always the index of a successful film (Zach Snyder’s movies are always — at least the ones I’ve seen — consistently Zach Snyder movies, but I’ve never really liked any of them). But when it clicks, as it does here, it’s a joy, even if it defies the laws of physics (as the Fast & Furious movies have cheerfully done for years).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Movies | Leave a comment