the marvel murder case (part six)

This story started here.

We ordered dinner, and as we waited I told my employer about the room I’d secured for that night.

I shrugged. “I guess tomorrow we’ll have to find another place — in addition to everything else I’m sure we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said, waving a hand. “It’s all taken care of. I made a call.”

The cases were bubbling around in my employer’s mind for the rest of the evening, so I mostly just let her think, not talking unless she started a conversation.

I made a point of thinking of them as “cases,” by the way. I did not want to assume that everything — the book theft, the dead woman, the mysterious live woman — would all magically tie together into a single case at the end.

The interesting — and somewhat disturbing — thing was that my employer was bothered by something in this situation, and it wasn’t the dead body. This was early in the years that I worked for her, but I’d already seen her with more than a few dead bodies — both murder victims and casualties of war.

They sometimes bothered her more than she let on, but this was something different. And it had been bothering her since we’d arrived in town, if not longer.

So, maybe it really was her (possibly) stolen books? Even for someone as “bookish” as she was, this seemed unlikely.

Our room at the inn had at least one disadvantage. My employer liked to end her days with a long soak in the bathtub, but the room only had a shower. And there was a television, which she asked me to turn to face the wall (I declined — insisting that our will power would be sufficient, which it was).

Coming out of the bathroom, surrounded by clouds of steam, wearing her floor length flannel nightgown and a bathrobe, she sat on her bed and lit a cigarette.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to search the rest of the house,” she said, looking at the dark window. “Maybe Sheriff Rhonda will let me do it tomorrow.”

She looked up, waiting for me to express my opinion about how likely I thought this was.

“How well did you know the family, when you lived here?” I asked.

“Not well. I knew that the wife was having an affair with Mr. Beasley who runs the library, but that was from observation and deduction.”

“So, there’s a couple, of retirement age? Any children?”

“Several. Let me think…” She drew deeply on her cigarette.

“A daughter and a son, in college. Well, the daughter might have graduated by now.” She caught my expression. “Mrs. Arkright–“

“The one with the well-used library card.”

She snorted a laugh. “Yes, exactly. She is Mr. Arkright’s second wife. Much younger than her husband. He had… a son, I believe, with his first wife. We’ll have to check on that. He’d be… maybe in his forties by now.”

“We’ll have to get the details from Sheriff Rhonda tomorrow.”

She nodded. “There are a lot of details that we need. Starting with the identity of the corpse.” She drew herself up and said, “I’m thinking categorically now. If the body had been a townie, it’s likely that the sheriff, or the doctor, or somebody, would have recognized it by now.” She held up a hand, overruling my unspoken objection. “Not inevitable, but, as I said, likely. A lot of the people you’re seeing around now are summer people — the people who live here year-round, and who aren’t students or faculty, that’s a much smaller number.”

“How many?” I asked.

She squinched up her nose at me. “How should I know? I’m a detective, as you well know, not a census taker.”

I waved a hand, indicating that she should proceed.

“Okay, so if our corpse wasn’t a townie, then she was either connected with the college, or a summer visitor, or something else. That would make it likely…” She emphasized the word and gave me a stern look. “Likely that she was not intimately connected with the Arkright family. They didn’t have anything to do with the college–“

“Who did they rent rooms to?”

“Okay, objection sustained. They rented rooms, when I lived here, to students, once Nate and Barbara went to college. But not in the summer, because the ‘kids’ (if we can call them that) were home then.”

“So, as soon as Nate and Barbara went away to college, their parents rented out their rooms, during the school year.”

“Exactly. And the word around the campus was that it was not a great place to live. They — the Arkrights — liked tenants who were quiet, well-behaved, and willing and able to pay rent that was higher than market rate. Mostly nobody stayed there longer than a single semester.”

She anticipated my next question. “Why did they rent out the rooms? The story was that they needed the money.” She looked at me. “What’s on your mind?”

I shrugged. “Just idly wondering how the family is fixed. Probably not relevant.”

She nodded slowly. “Probably not. Could be worth knowing about, though. As you say, we need to know a lot more than we do now.” She looked around. “Get me the newspapers, from the blue suitcase. I’m sure everything isn’t in there, in the newspapers, but a lot probably is, and I do have questions…”

I woke up and blinked — the room was so full of smoke that some people, people who haven’t lived with my employer, might have jumped to the conclusion that the building was on fire. I knew better, and quickly got up to open a window a little.

I turned and regarded the limp form of the great detective. Still dressed in her nightgown and robe, still wearing her glasses, she was stretched out across the bed, lying on top of the covers, surrounded by the collection of issues of the Claremont Crier that we’d brought with us, and the new issue she’d bought the day before.

Looking at her, I thought about what I was learning on this case.

I had always assumed that she’d been exaggerating, at least a little, when she’d told me about her exploits as a small-town amateur detective, but it was looking like she’d been telling me the pretty literal truth.

Then, turning to reach for the light switch, I saw that there was an envelope tucked under our door. I picked it up and opened it.

Inside, there was a clipping from a supermarket tabloid, about a young, wild debutante named Marvel Phillips. She had been a feature in the more sensational press for some time.

There was a small note clipped to it, on notepaper which said “Sheriff’s Department” at the top, and the note, signed, “Rhonda,” said: “The coroner found out who our corpse is. Please come see me in the morning.”

To be continued…

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phones and me and notebooks

Two observations about phones (by which, I maybe need to clarify, I mean smartphones).

1) Yesterday I took a bus trip. I last took this trip two years ago (and the year before that, and so on). What was striking this time was that apparently a memo went out (which I didn’t get) and now nobody uses paper tickets anymore.

Except me.

Everybody else had some thing on their phones that the bus driver scanned with another thing that looked like a phone (but may not have been). And there I was, with my multi-part perforated ticket, that I bought at the bus station, just like always, and the bus driver didn’t even rip off the first section and take it, as in days of old. She just scanned it.

2) On the other hand, now, for me, writing is a thing that happens on my phone. I used to be really into good notebooks and good (Lamy) pens and so on, but even though I bought a new notebook for this trip, it’s sitting in my bag, unused, and I’ve written a lot the next installment of my current story in the last few days, all on my phone.

I’m writing this on my phone, sitting in a comfortable lawn chair, looking out over the harbor, sipping iced tea, and I’ll probably post it before I stand up.

I’d even include a photo, except that that’s one of the things my phone does that I don’t know how to do. Like buying bus tickets.

But I know how to write mystery stories on it, and that beats photography, at least for me.

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the marvel murder case (part five)

This story started here.

The deputies and the corpse were gone, and the house was sealed. We were standing on the front porch with the sheriff.

“Do you have any way of reaching the Arkright family?” my employer asked.

Sheriff Rhonda shook her head. “I’ll try to find out, but I don’t think so. People don’t usually inform us when they go on vacation, or for how long they’re going, or how to get in touch with them. I’m going to ask the neighbors, to see if they know when the family is coming home.”

My employer nodded. “And you’ll let us know when you get an ID on the corpse?”

Sheriff Rhonda shrugged. “Where can I reach you? Where are you going to be staying?”

My employer looked at me, raising one eyebrow.

“That’s not entirely worked out,” I said. As she well knew, of course.

Sheriff Rhonda nodded. “Well, good luck.” She reached into her pocket and handed me a card. “Call me when you’re settled. Somewhere.”

My employer turned to me as the sheriff walked toward her car. “Let’s go back to the Wagon Wheel, and I’ll think about all this while you make our arrangements.”

The good side of this, of course, was that I could leave the luggage with her while I attempted to “make our arrangements.”

Walking down the hill to the restaurant, I realized that it was now late afternoon. The sun was very low in the sky, and there was a cool breeze, which was pleasant. I’d lost track of time in the murder house. There were more people on the streets than there had been earlier — quite a few looking as if they had spent the day at the beach and were now ready for drinks or dinner, or a movie, if the town had a movie theater.

“Can I ask you the most obvious question?” I asked as as we approached the Wagon Wheel.

She looked at me in some surprise. “No,” was her answer, though her expression said, “Are you kidding? Of course not.”

I tried another tack. “I did notice that you left the body in a slightly different position than you found it.”

She nodded. “Yes, I did.” She smiled. “Speaking of the corpse,” she continued, “I have a question for you. With your experience of women, which covers three continents, that I’m aware of, would you describe the corpse as… voluptuous?


“If you were describing it to somebody other than me, of course?”

“Well, ‘curvaceous,’ perhaps.”

“I’ll accept that. ‘Curvaceous.'” She nodded and smiled, trying, with only partial success, not to look smug. “That will prove to be important later.”

We stepped aside to let a large family leave the restaurant, and she gave me a stern look over the rims of her glasses. “In response to your earlier comment, by the way, about my having to ‘break in’ a new sheriff, I do have to point out that the situation is _quite_ different, and in some ways it may turn out to be more favorable. With Sheriff Baxter, I cultivated him because I needed him, certainly more than he needed me, at least at first. With Sheriff Rhonda, we’ll see…” She turned to enter the restaurant.

With my employer safely ensconced in the Wagon Wheel, sitting on the deck again, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking, I set out to find us accommodations.

I suppose I could have got a local phone book and made calls from the pay phone next to the Catholic church, but I had the urge to stretch my legs, and to see more of the town than I’d managed to see so far.

The town seemed to have two main thoroughfares, Main Street, where the Arkright house and the Wagon Wheel were, along with the town hall, the general store, and so on, and Ocean Drive, which ran parallel to Main Street, down by the water.

I went to a couple of places that the waitress at the Wagon Wheel had suggested, but they were full up.

We had often shared rooms in our travels, to save money. I was used to assessing which types of places would hesitate to rent to an unmarried couple. In those places I would present us as husband and wife, which allowed the owners to relax, at least until they observed the age difference and my “wife’s” rather masculine attire — and by that time they usually shrugged and accepted us as peculiar, perhaps, but at least respectable.

I was heading down Ocean Drive toward the docks, when I saw a small sign in front of a large house, saying they had rooms to rent. The little sign hanging below said they had no vacancies, but I decided to try anyway.

I had no reason to think that the sign was wrong — no elaborate clues that would have impressed my employer, the great detective. But I strode up to the front door and knocked.

The scent of baking (something with cinnamon, maybe muffins…) had reached me down on the sidewalk, and it was stronger on the front porch. I was prepared to count it as a successful effort if it produced a muffin, even if there really were no rooms available.

A pleasant looking, gray-haired woman came and opened the screen door, smiling.

I introduced myself. “I realize that this may be a bit of a long shot, but do you have any rooms to rent?”

She smiled. “For how long, sir?”

“Frankly, whatever you have. We’re pretty desperate at this point.”

“Well, we do have one room available for tonight – just for tonight. A couple was planning to stay the week, through tomorrow, but they decided to leave last night, because the weather’s been so bad this week. This is the first nice day since last Saturday.” She shrugged. “You’re welcome to the room for the one night, if you want. It’s booked again Friday night through the weekend.”

“I’ll be–”

She looked up at the sky. “I did tell them that it would be nice today and tomorrow, but they probably thought I was just trying to keep the booking.”

I stepped inside and she showed me the room (which was basically a formality, given the lack of other options in town). It was small, but pleasant and clean, with a private bath.

Walking back to the Wagon Wheel, eating a very good muffin, I stopped at the pay phone beside the church and called the sheriff. It took a few moments for her to come to the phone, and I began to try to remember which suitcase held my jackets. The weather was still pleasant, but it was getting cooler, and the sky was dark now.

“Hello, Marshall,” the sheriff said. “Is it solved yet?”

I laughed. “Not that I’m aware, but I haven’t seen my employer for over an hour. So, maybe. Any ID on our corpse?”

“Not yet. I’ve checked with the State Police about missing persons. I’ve called the college, though she looks like she was rather old for a student and very young for a professor. I thought maybe the office staff there, that sort of thing, or maybe the cleaners, but there’s… The cleaners are mostly not…”

“Attractive young blondes?”

“Yes, exactly. There doesn’t seem to be anybody missing among the office staff. So, this may take a while — if she’s single. Sometimes single people can vanish for a few days before somebody notices. Especially heading into the weekend.”

She paused. “Do you two have someplace to stay? Is something ‘worked out’?”

“I found a room for tonight. That’s it so far.” I gave her the address.

“And you don’t have a car?”

“No, we came by bus.”

“Well, it is August, and the tourists are as thick as flies these days. Not that we should complain about that. I’d offer to put you up at my place, but if you start being an embarrassment that could make me look bad.”

“An embarrassment?” I protested. “Us?”

“Your… employer, is she? (I think I won’t ask about that.) She was pretty well known here in town when she lived here. Vinnie was well liked, and that helped, and she solved some tricky crimes. But she was pretty determined to get into everybody’s business.

“The locals were okay with that, up to a point, but the fundamental rule around here is that we don’t upset the tourists in the summertime. And a couple of her investigations–”

“Excuse me,” I said, “my employer is trying to get my attention.”

The great detective was leaning out of the door of the restaurant. “We should have dinner!” she called.

“Your mistress calls,” Sheriff Rhonda said. “I understand. Talk to me tomorrow.”

To be continued…

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okay, i’m excited

In 1975, the American Film Institute gave Orson Welles its Lifetime Achievement Award. I remember watching the ceremony on television — I was a huge fan of his even back then.

It’s always bittersweet to get a lifetime achievement award, of course, when your lifetime is still underway. In fact, Welles was one of the youngest recipients of the award, only 59 years old.

He took the opportunity to show footage from his work-in-progress, The Other Side of the Wind, hoping to raise money to complete the film. He lived for another ten years, but he never did finish it. I own a book about the making (or the almost-but-not-quite making) of the film, but I’ve never read it.

I don’t need to know why I can’t see the film; I want to see the damned film!

There have been many twists and turns over the last thirty-plus years, but, amazingly enough, here we are (unless something else goes wrong…).

It’s not going to be as Welles would have finished it, of course, but this is as good as we’re going to get. and, after these decades of waiting, that’s pretty exciting.

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the marvel murder case (part four)

This story started here.

Waiting for the police to arrive, I took advantage of the time to move our luggage into the front hall.

The police car pulled up and stopped in front of the house, the siren dying down. The blonde woman who stepped out looked very much like my idea of a small-town sheriff. She wore mirror sunglasses, a khaki blouse with short sleeves, brown trousers with a stripe down the sides, and large, carefully-polished boots. She wore a badge, of course, and the sidearm in her holster was a pearl-handled revolver — an old-fashioned six shooter.

She looked up and down the street and then strolled toward me. When she stepped up on the porch, I assumed she was looking at me, but the sunglasses made it impossible to be sure.

“Are you the gentleman who called in the report?” she asked.

I nodded. “I am.”

“Let’s see some identification.”

I handed over my driver’s license. She examined it and handed it back. “Okay. Please show me the body.”

I led her through the house and out into the garage. My employer was standing up, looking out one of the small windows that showed the rather scruffy back yard.

“Sheriff,” she said, turning, “I think you’ll find… Rhonda?” She glanced at the badge pinned to the woman’s shirt. “You’re the sheriff now? What happened–”

“Hello, Janice,” she said, removing her sunglasses. “Sheriff Baxter retired last year, and I won the election to replace him.” She allowed herself a smile. “I guess you didn’t keep up with your subscription to the town newspaper.”

My employer glanced at me. “They were in the post office box,” I reassured her. “Fifteen or twenty issues. They’re in the blue suitcase.”

That got another brief smile from Sheriff Rhonda. Then she squatted and looked at the body. I got the impression that she was reluctant to actually touch the corpse.

“Two of my deputies are on the way, and the coroner. Let’s go inside and I’ll get your story.”

We went back toward the front of the house as another police car pulled up. Sheriff Rhonda gestured that we should go and sit down in the living room as she walked with her deputies back to the garage.

We sat on the sofa together and I leaned over to whisper, “I guess you had Sheriff Baxter nicely broken in, and now you have to start all over again with a new sheriff.”

Sheriff Rhonda came back in and sat down facing us.

“So,” she said, “let’s get caught up. Of course, I’m not saying that you’re suspects…”

“But obviously we’re not not suspects,” my employer said.

“Exactly. I find you with a dead body, in a house which is locked up while the owners are away skiing, and I have to ask some questions.”

“Of course, you found us with a dead body after I called your office to notify you about the existence of that dead body,” I pointed out.

“That’s true.” She leaned back. “Please tell me how you came to be here, in an empty house, with a dead body.”

My employer took out her cigarette case and I stood up. There were no ashtrays in the room, so while she said, “To begin, when I left college…” I ducked into the kitchen, found an appropriately shaped serving dish, and brought it back in. I could tell that the sheriff was wondering about our exact relationship. This was not unusual.

“But it is relevant, Rhonda — thank you, Marshall — because it’s why we’re here in town. There are several cartons of my books in the garage, which Vinnie left there when he moved away. Until then, they had been in his basement.” She nodded at me and I took the letter from my pocket and handed it to the sheriff.

She read it carefully and said, “So, that’s why you came back to town?”

She shrugged. “It was really somewhere between a reason and an excuse to come back and visit. And, although it was polite, the letter did have a certain… tone.”

I nodded. “It seemed to be secret code for ‘When are you going to come and get your damn boxes out of my garage?'”

The sheriff smiled. “That’s pretty much how I’m reading it. And you didn’t think it would be better to come visit at a time when the family would actually be home?”

“I didn’t write in advance, I’m afraid. We just came, rather on impulse. After all, if we got here and they were away, we could spend some time here in town, which would be enjoyable. And I didn’t remember them traveling much.”

“Mr. Arkright retired at the end of last year. Since then, they’ve been doing a lot more traveling.”

My employer smiled. “I’ve heard of that. Perhaps when I retire I’ll stop traveling, just for a change of pace.”

The sheriff wasn’t distracted. “So, arriving here and finding no one home, you let yourself in so that you could get to the garage and your books?”

“No. We knocked on the door, and we received no response. So, we strolled down the hill and had a very pleasant lunch at the Wagon Wheel. When we came back and knocked again, a woman answered the door and admitted us, once we’d explained our mission here.”

The sheriff pursed her lips. “Describe her.”

“Thirty-five to forty, maybe a little older. Slender and maybe five feet, nine or ten inches. Dark brown hair, about the same color as mine, but thicker, hanging straight to around the bottom of her shoulder blades, wire-rimmed glasses.”

“You knew the Arkright family?”

“Not all of them, but I looked at the family photos on the mantle over there, and she’s not in any of them.”

“Did this woman introduce herself, when she let you in?”

“No, she did not give us her name.”

“Did you think of asking her who she was?”

She laughed. “Of course I thought of it. But if I’d asked I would have missed out on the fun of seeing how far she was going to go with it. And I was fairly sure she’d have given me a phony name anyway, if I’d pressed her. I decided to let the situation play itself out.”

The sheriff paused, then she nodded.

“From you, I suppose that seems plausible.”

“Thank you.”

An older man, dressed in civilian clothes, stepped into the room. He was about to speak, but then he saw my employer. “So, it’s you,” he said with a studied weariness. “Where have you been? And why don’t we ever get any murders around here except when you’re in town, hmm? Makes me wonder…”

My employer smiled. “I have to say, dear Doctor Wright, that this is one reason, of many, that you’re the doctor, rather than being the detective.”

He sighed and turned to Rhonda. “Sheriff, the dead body in the garage is, in fact, dead. It is dead from strangulation, said strangulation having been achieved with, perhaps, some sort of soft cloth. There are no finger marks on the throat, or abrasions from rough rope or twine. The body has apparently been dead for at least twenty-four hours. I’ve called for the ambulance, and I’ll let you know more after the autopsy, which I’m assuming you’re about to ask me for.” He turned and left.

The sheriff nodded slowly. “So, to recap, somebody murdered the blonde woman over twenty four hours ago. And someone was in this house today, pretending that she lived here. Had she brought the body here today, for some reason, and your arrival interrupted her? Interrupted her… doing something in the empty house?”

My employer shook her head. “Unlikely. For one thing, I’ve looked out the garage windows. Every side of this house is clearly visible from at least one other building. To carry in a dead body during daylight seems very risky.”

“Particularly risky for someone who was, apparently, a stranger here herself,” I added. “But here’s the other point. This woman was shocked when we discovered the body. She ran into the kitchen, apparently to be sick. Now, maybe she’s a good enough actress to feign that level of surprise and distress, but she did actually vomit in the sink.”

“Maybe she was just putting on a very thorough act.”

My employer shook her head. “To get away from us, knowing the police would appear soon and reveal that she had no business here? Why stop and induce her distress into the sink? Why not simply act sick, rush from the room, and continue on out the front door and away?”

The sheriff nodded slowly.

“So, we have an unidentified victim, and unidentified murderer, and an unidentified impostor and break-in artist…”

My employer extended a bony finger. “And, remember” she said, “an unidentified book thief.” She paused. “May I ask a question?”

Rhonda leaned back in her chair, the first time she’d seemed to relax, at least somewhat. “Go ahead.”

“How involved do you want me to be, or can I be, in the investigation?”

“In other words, am I going to let you run wild, like Sheriff Baxter did during that surfer case?”

Her smile gave a certain context to her words.

My employer smiled, too. “I wouldn’t have put it in exactly those terms.”

“I’m sure.”

“But, yes–”

“The surfer case, which you solved, where Sheriff Baxter got most of the credit in the press, even though everybody in town knew the real story, at least in a general way.

“I’ll be honest. This is the first murder in town since I took over this job. My predecessor, with your help, had a very good track record in that area. That’s what people expect from me… That’s the standard that’s been set, for me to live up to.

“So, on one hand, I want to solve this, and you can probably help.” She shrugged. “On the other hand, you’re here in town, and if I look like I’m rejecting your help, I’m going to look like an idiot.”

She leaned forward. “However, I need to make one point.

“This house is a crime scene. It’s going to be locked up, at least until the forensics boys from the state police get here and get done. And that, if you care, includes the cartons with your books.”

My employer nodded. “Very reasonable. Marshall and I aren’t going anywhere until this is solved, and we can certainly wait until then to go over my books.”

What this told me was that she’d already looked through at least the open box, enough to find out what she wanted to know.

To be continued…

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the marvel murder case (part three)

This story started here.

Walking back up the hill to the house — the family was named Arkright, my employer had told me during lunch — I was hoping that somebody would be home. It was important, it seemed to me, to settle the question of where we would be staying. Not only so that I could divest myself of our luggage — though that was a consideration — but because it was August, and Claremont was obviously something of a summer resort town. I was a bit concerned that everything would be booked and we’d end up sleeping on the beach or somewhere like that.

My employer glanced at me and raised an eyebrow as we stepped onto the front porch. She wanted to make sure that I’d noticed that the note she’d left earlier was still there, wedged between the screen door and the frame.

She knocked on the door anyway, and I started to put down the suitcases. “We do have to remember…” she began, but she was interrupted by a woman’s voice calling cheerfully from inside the house, asking us to come on in.

My employer’s hand flicked up, grabbed her note, and quickly slipped it into her jacket pocket.

She opened the screen door and stepped in. As I lifted the final suitcase again, she said, “Oh, you can just leave them out here for now.”

It did seem unwise to leave all of our luggage, all of our possessions, on the front porch, but, as she’d been about to remind me a minute earlier, we weren’t in New York any longer.

Inside the house, squinting in the sudden darkness, my employer was regarding a woman. She was fairly tall and slender (though not as tall and slender as my employer), with long dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses.

My employer introduced herself, using her birth name, which she didn’t generally use unless she had to. She didn’t introduce me, as usual.

The woman frowned. “I am sorry, but I don’t recognize the name…”

My employer smiled pleasantly. “I lived here, in town, when I went to college. My father and I lived down the hill, in the little house next to the Historical Society.”

“The little white one? Oh, and would you like to sit down?”

A few moments later, we were all sitting in the pleasant living room. I had placed myself on a sofa where I could see out one of the front windows and keep an eye on our suitcases.

“I haven’t been gone that long,” my employer said as she used her cane to lower herself into a straight backed chair, “but apparently it was long enough for the owner to paint our little house white. When we lived there, my father and myself, it was painted a red brick color.”

The woman nodded. “Oh, I think I remember that, when they painted it.” She frowned at my employer. “You do look familiar, though your name… You’re Jan Sleet, aren’t you? I’ve seen your photograph, with your articles.”

My employer looked pleased, as she always did when she was recognized, but also wary. I could tell by the careful way she was pressing the tips of her long fingers onto her thighs, adjusting the pressure slightly from moment to moment.

“So, you’ve read my work? That’s always good to hear.”

“I didn’t realize you were back in this country. Will you be going back to Bellona?”

“Probably not right away. I’m… sort of deciding where I want to go next.”

“I always thought that your columns on Bellona… They would make a very good book. The sort of thing that could even be used in schools, studying current events and Latin American history.”

My employer shrugged. “That is a possibility.” She smiled. “I can’t say more about it right now.”

The woman nodded. “Of course. So, Miss Sleet, may I ask why you’re here?”

“Of course. My father, Vinnie, before he left town, left several cartons of my books in your garage…”

The woman stood up. “Oh? Of course. Please come with me.”

She stood and led us toward the rear of the house. She opened the door from the kitchen into the garage and then stepped aside to allow us to go first.

But then we all stopped in the doorway, and my employer said, “Oh.”

Even though she was apparently as surprised as our hostess and myself, my employer was still the first one to move forward to examine the body. She grabbed a windowsill with her long fingers and lowered herself to a squatting position.

“Dead,” she said after a moment, not looking around. “Probably since yesterday. Strangled, apparently. Wearing a bikini bathing suit and flip flops, so there’s no identification on her. Do you recognize her?”

The last was for our hostess, who moved forward hesitantly, looked at the swollen and discolored face, and scurried away and out the door in order to be sick in the kitchen (based on the sounds).

My employer turned around to face me. I knew from experience that she was far from done examining the body, so I didn’t move forward to help her to her feet.

“Please call Sheriff Baxter. Give him my regards and let him know that there’s been a murder here.” She told me the phone number and turned back to continue her examination. I hesitated, and she spoke over her shoulder. “The ‘lady of the house’ won’t mind your using her phone. I have no idea who that woman was, but she doesn’t live here and I imagine she’s long gone by now. Go make the call.”

To be continued…

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