the heron island mystery (conclusion)

This story started here.

Professor Frederick Drake was convicted of second-degree murder, and the jacket was a key piece of evidence. Manfred had owned two of them, and they’d been custom-made for him, by hand, by an admirer (a lady, as she was described during the trial), and the fact that Drake had ended up with the second one placed him in Manfred’s rented room, where the evidence indicated that the murder had taken place.

Professor Drake had insisted, however, that he had only gone to Manfred’s room to confront him about his relationship with Kim Daniels, and that Manfred’s death had happened as a result of the struggle between the men, with no premeditation. Which might have been true, of course.

Kimberly Daniels was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Mary Sanders. Now that Manfred’s murder could be explained, it was pretty straightforward, since means, motive, and opportunity were established, plus there was her confession, and her attempt on Elsa’s life. Mary’s murder had clearly been premeditated. Li offered to pay for a lawyer for Kim, but she declined, using the court-appointed attorney instead.

After Elsa’s testimony in Kim’s trial, she had been annoyed to find out that one wire service report had described her as a “crippled girl.” She made several attempts to register a complaint about this.

The situation at Heron House was becoming increasingly tense, and it looked like the other homeowners on the island might finally get their wish to be rid of the college students in their midst. The four remaining women in the house couldn’t manage the rent alone, and, after two murders, it seemed unlikely that any new students would want to jump in.

More importantly, the mood in the house was getting increasingly tense. Li was still conflicted about Kim, and Elsa, who had come close to being Kim’s second victim, was not sympathetic. Becky was stuck in the middle, and apparently Jo stayed in her room as much as she could, with her headphones on, typing away.

I told Elsa that if she needed to move that I would help her to find a new place which would suit her needs.

When my employer and I arrived home after the end of the second trial, she sat at her desk for a few minutes, looking out the window, and then she turned her chair around to face me. “We need to talk,” she said, “about the… the plan. The variation on the plan — my plan — which you and Miss Peabody apparently, from all reports, from your own report… Well?”

“We performed–“

“You performed — apparently ‘performed’ is being used in the theatrical sense here — a sexual act, or a series of sexual acts, while putting her in the position — a ‘position’ … In any case, that was not part of the plan. My plan, as you and I discussed it.”

“Elsa — Miss Peabody — felt–“

“You know, of course, that I never interfere in your personal life.” She made a heroic effort to say this with a straight face, and I graciously allowed it to pass without comment. “But I should point out that she was, at that moment, a suspect. Well, not in the attack on herself, obviously, but in two murders.”

“I think it amused her,” I said carefully, “to imagine the conversation which you and I are having at this moment.”

“You and she have discussed–“

“Of course not. But she has apparently been speculating.”

“Well, she can speculate away.” She sighed and drew her glasses down her nose, regarding me over the rims. “In any case, the case is over, so I think a celebratory dinner would be appropriate at this point, don’t you?”

I nodded. “I do indeed. That’s why I called and made a reservation at La Serata.”

She looked surprised, since I had always vetoed the idea of eating there before, because of the cost.

Then she smiled. “Che pensiero meraviglioso.”

The End

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the heron island mystery (part forty-five)

This story started here.

It was dark, and I stayed close to my employer in case she lost her footing on the dirt road. Rhonda and the deputy were apparently slowing their pace to match ours.

My employer turned to the sheriff. “Are we about to have another exciting boat ride?”

Rhonda smiled. “Sorry to disappoint you. The boat was here, but they used it earlier, to take Professor Drake to jail.”

“A worthwhile purpose,” my employer said with a smile. “And traveling by auto is fine with me.”

We reached the spot where the main road split into three, and, a short distance past that, there was a small clear area to the right, where a van and a car were parked. Cheryl the deputy unlocked the van and turned to look at Rhonda.

Rhonda waved. “I’ll take Miss Sleet and Marshall. You can drive the van back and sign out for the night.”

Cheryl nodded and climbed into the van. She turned on the engine as Rhonda unlocked the sedan and got behind the wheel. I helped my employer into the rear seat and then sat beside Rhonda.

The road from the island to the mainland was still dry, so obviously we’d had plenty of time. Cheryl crossed first in the van, and once we were on the paved road she quickly pulled away from us.

Rhonda smiled. “She’s in a hurry because once she drops off the van she gets to go home. I’m in no hurry, because as soon as I get to headquarters I’ll have a lot of work to do.”

“And you may have a question or two for me,” my employer put in.

“Well, the girls at the house were mostly concerned with Kim, and with Mary’s murder, understandably. But what about Professor Drake? How did you fixate on him…”

“Or did Marshall produce him through his own magical efforts, and then I managed to create the idea — after the fact — that both the rabbit and the hat were actually mine? To be honest, I had no idea that Marshall was going to run into Professor Drake, let alone deliver him to Heron House as masterfully as he did.” Rhonda glanced at me, and I adopted as modest an expression as I could manage on short notice.

“You didn’t want to reveal his name, at least to me,” my employer continued to the sheriff, “but Claremont is a small school, and it wasn’t too difficult to find out which professors were sleeping with which students. When I saw you earlier today, I already knew his name.

“I sent Marshall to search the two cabins because they were the only buildings on the island which could be searched, and I wondered if they were being used for anything scurrilous during the off-season. To tell the truth, I was thinking of assignations, not disguise storage. By the way, when you were trying to establish where Kim was on the night Manfred was killed, you called Professor Drake?”

Rhonda smiled. “Yes. And I asked him — after making it clear that the fact that he’s involved with a student was no concern of the police department — if he knew where she’d spent the night on Monday night. He immediately said that she’d been with him, and that his wife was out of town for a week.”

My employer laughed. “He took a risk, but it was a good move on his part. After all–“

“I’d just handed him an alibi for himself. Obviously.”

“Well, it might have exploded in his face, but it was a good gamble.”

“And, besides,” I put in, “if it was established later on that Kim was actually somewhere else, it would just look like he’d been lying to protect his lover.”

I felt something touch my right arm. I glanced over and I saw a long, bony forefinger, with which I was very familiar, pressing the side of my arm for a moment and then retreating.

“At the risk of stating the obvious…” I began after a moment.

“Oh, go ahead,” Rhonda said. “Take the risk.”

“I examined that jacket pretty carefully — the Manfred jacket — when I found it under the cabin. I’m not an expert, but it looked to me like it had been sewn by hand, very carefully, by somebody who knew what they were doing.”

“That was exactly my conclusion,” my employer said, “about the jacket Manfred was wearing when he was killed.”

“So,” Rhonda said as she pulled out onto the highway, “it looks like Manfred had two — or at least two — of those jackets, and one of them somehow ended up with Professor Drake. That’s interesting.”

  To be continued…

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the heron island mystery (part forty-four)

This story started here.

“I have a question,” Elsa said.

I wondered how things would go if her question turned out to be something like, “Miss Sleet, why do you always call me ‘Miss Peabody’ when you’re on a first-name basis with everybody else?” but I needn’t have worried. After my employer nodded in her direction, she said, “You mentioned that Kim thought that Manfred would somehow get her a lot of money. I know Kim is… she’s always looking for money, but why would she think Manfred would get it for her?”

“That’s a good question. Manfred was known to promote the idea, in various indirect ways, that he was an illegitimate son of the Loomis family. This theory is visible in his book, too, if you read between the lines. My opinion is that he told Kim he was going to be rich because of that connection.”

Elsa frowned. “Is that true?”

“That he was going to become rich? Of course not. Even if he were a relation of the family, legitimate or not, that wouldn’t automatically entitle him to any money. And it wasn’t true, as far as I can tell. If it had been true, I think he would have tried to do more with it. He was not one to let any opportunity for profit slip by him.”

She looked around. “Are there any more questions?”

Li shrugged. “What happens to Kim now?”

My employer gestured at the sheriff, ceding the floor to her.

Rhonda sighed. “She’s in jail. I don’t know beyond that. We’ll have some investigations to pursue, based on what I’ve just learned here, and then I imagine she’ll be charged. That’s all up to the county attorney.”

Li frowned, and Becky turned to her. “Li-Li,” she said softly, “Kim killed Mary, and she tried to kill Elsa. She was our friend, but…”

Li nodded, looking down at her hands, which were folded in her lap.

“If I may,” I put in, “it might be helpful to consider that she, your friend, is suffering from an illness.” I shrugged. “I’m not saying she’s insane, and I’m certainly not proposing insanity as a defense — I’m neither a psychiatrist nor a lawyer — but in human terms she’s clearly not very well connected to reality at the moment. She murdered Mary in revenge for something which Mary didn’t do — and there was absolutely no direct evidence that Mary was guilty — and which would not have justified Mary’s death even if it had been true.”

Li nodded, still not looking up. Becky reached over and took her hand.

Elsa turned her wheelchair to face me. “Mr. Marshall,” she said, “you said ‘which wouldn’t have justified Mary’s death even if it had been true.’ Does that mean you think that there are circumstances which would justify murder?” She managed to raise her eyebrows in question and to wink (with the eye which only I could see) at the same time.

Rhonda glanced at Cheryl, and the deputy said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but we should think about leaving now, or we’ll be stuck on the island all night.”

I winked back at Elsa.

  To be continued…

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the heron island mystery (part forty-three)

This story started here.

Elsa looked up. “But if that guy on the deck killed Manfred, why did he do it? What was his motive?”

“Professor Drake — he’s an adjunct professor, really — was Kim’s lover. And Kim was Manfred’s accomplice — responsible for all the weird footprints and Latin writing and spooky stuff, here and in other places. She thought her association with Manfred was going to make her a lot of money (that’s a long story) but I don’t know if they were lovers. For the purposes of this explanation, it doesn’t matter.” She looked at the sheriff. “You’ll have to look into this, but I believe Professor Drake found out about Kim’s affiliation with Manfred, and he assumed that his lover was two-timing him.”

“We’ve seen some of his letters to Kim,” Rhonda put in, “and… well, they are love letters, but they do sound like he was pretty serious about her.”

“I expect you’ll find that he was distressed to discover that his young girlfriend was attached to a shabby middle-aged con man. And he decided to remove that part of the triangle.”

“But Kim always told us that her professor was married,” Becky pointed out. “That’s why he could never come over. He had to hide their relationship from his wife. And of course it could mess up his career.”

My employer nodded. “It’s true — he is married. I have sources, and friends, on campus, and it was fairly easy to figure out which professor was Kim’s lover. When I started to investigate Professor Drake, I found out about his wife, and I also learned that he has a sailboat, and a small rowboat. Which made me think that Manfred was never on the island on the night he died. Professor Drake killed him, and then dumped his body on the beach below this house, probably as a message to Kim.”

“But then why did he come back the next night, dressed like Manfred, and kill Mary? That makes no sense,” Li protested.

“That would make no sense, I agree. And that’s not what happened. Kim killed Mary, as she confessed to Marshall and Miss Peabody, because she blamed Mary for Manfred’s death. Professor Drake was going to show up and freak Kim out — he may have thought that her professed belief in the supernatural was sincere — to get back at her for betraying him with Manfred.”

“Of course,” Jo said slowly, “Professor Drake was married, so him feeling betrayed by Kim’s ‘infidelity'” — she stuck her hands out from under her quilt for a second to make finger quotes — “was hypocrisy. Definitely.” I could tell that she was making a mental note of this, filing it away for her own writerly purposes.

My employer nodded. “Hypocritical, yes, but, from his point of view, understandable. But imagine his surprise upon ascending to the deck here, in his Manfred disguise, and finding a dead body. That was certainly not part of his plan. And then he heard Kim scream, because she’d seen a ghost in the middle of her crime scene, which was certainly not part of her plan. It’s no wonder he got out of here quickly at that point, relying on the fact that nobody likes to use those stairs down to the beach. Let alone climbing them in pursuit of a dead man.”

“But then why did he come back tonight? Kim’s not even here — she’s in jail.”

Rhonda shrugged. “We haven’t released that information to the press. He probably doesn’t know.”

  To be continued…

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the heron island mystery (part forty-two)

This story started here.

My employer looked around the room, apparently confirming that nobody else was going to interrupt, and then she began.

“I’m going to start with Mary, because that’s how the case started for me, and because she did some research which helped me to figure it all out. And because I made a mistake about her, at the beginning, which I want to explain.

“As you all know, Mary came to our house — Marshall and I — on Sunday night, in the middle of the storm. She wanted me to drop everything and rush over here because she said there were ghosts, and Manfred was trying to ‘lay’ them (I believe that’s the technical term).

“Because of the hour, and the storm, and the ridiculousness of the whole idea, I declined, but I agreed to come here on Monday morning. As you know — Jo and Li — we were waiting in Mary’s car when the road became passable, and you told us that there had been a murder.

“I saw immediately what this sequence of events had accomplished. It had given Mary an alibi for the time of the murder. I thought that she had concocted a complicated scheme to murder Manfred and to use me as her alibi, since she had been with me at the moment when the road became impassible for the night, and she was with me when the island was again accessible in the morning.

“To use me in this way would have been audacious, but that was not what actually happened.

“Mary was taking a journalism course, as I’m sure you know, and when she met Manfred, and learned things about him, she decided to write an article about him, exposing him and his various schemes. I’ve read all of her notes, and some of them were written rather cryptically, but it’s pretty obvious that her first plan was to write the article and expose him in that way. But then she thought of a better plan, one which would have made for a much better story.”

She sighed. “What if Manfred was exposed, not by some unknown journalism student at a small liberal arts college, but by a… an internationally known amateur detective and war correspondent, who happens to be living in this town at the moment? Mary’s visit on Sunday night was not to get me to go to the island right then — it was just to start the process of getting me hooked so that I would be the person who would eventually expose Manfred for the fraud he was. After all, if I had decided to drop everything and charge out into the storm to fight the brave fight for science and rationality that night, I would have found that Manfred wasn’t even on the island, or at least he wasn’t here performing any sort of ‘ceremony’ or anything. But she’d been pretty sure I wouldn’t come, and I didn’t.”

  To be continued…

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the heron island mystery (part forty-one)

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So, there we were in the living room of Heron House. Becky and Li were sitting together on a small love seat. Li looked nervous and Becky looked tired. The sheriff was on the sofa by herself. Jo sat cross-legged in a large armchair, a quilt wrapped around her. She looked cold, and even smaller than usual. My employer was sitting in a straight-backed chair I’d brought in from the dining room for her, and I’d made sure she had an ashtray within easy reach. Elsa had placed a chair next to her wheelchair, apparently for me, so I thanked her as I sat down. She had a bottle of soda, and the rest of us had coffee.

There was a deputy standing by the door — the same woman who had come with us in the boat two nights earlier. Her name was Cheryl, but I didn’t learn that until later.

My employer lit a cigarette and was about to begin when Li said, “Miss Sleet? I…”

She seemed to fold in on herself as everybody turned to look at her, but my employer nodded in her direction.

“Yes, Li?”

Li seemed unable to speak for a moment, but then she gathered herself up and said, “This has all been very confusing — and terrible, mostly terrible — but… I know it’s complicated, yes?”

In other circumstances, my employer would have held forth for a while on the difference between “complicated” and “complex,” as she enjoyed doing, but now she simply said, “Yes, Li, it is quite complicated. Would you like the short version, the simple version, first?”

Li nodded.

“On Sunday night, Professor Drake killed Manfred and left his body on the beach below this house. Nobody from Heron House was involved. On Monday night, Kim killed Mary on the deck here, and then later pretended to discover the body. In between those two events, entirely by coincidence, Professor Drake appeared on the deck, disguised as Manfred. Last night, Marshall and Miss Peabody staged a performance on the deck to convince Kim that they knew she was the killer — Mary’s killer — and she attacked Miss Peabody and was apprehended by Marshall.

“There were two murderers and both of them are in custody. There is not now, to the best of my knowledge, any danger to anybody in this house. And, if it needs to be said, nothing that has happened has been the result of supernatural forces.”

  To be continued…

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