the bus station mystery — part five

This story started here.

When Billy heard Mr. Randall yell, he started to run to the office, but Stephanie got there ahead of him. He has always maintained that she picked him up bodily and moved him aside in order to get there first, but that’s not how she tells it.

Mr. Randall’s office was small and spare. There were no pictures on the wall, just a company calendar. There was a cheap desk chair behind a cheap desk, two straight-backed chairs that didn’t match, and a file cabinet. And a dead woman, lying across the desk.

Stephanie went and took her pulse, but that seemed to be a formality, since she had a knife sticking out of her chest.

Mr. Randall was sitting on one of the chairs, looking like he might be about to be sick. Some of the passengers were crowding around the doorway, as if there were an invisible force field there preventing them from stepping into the room. Only Stephanie, Billy, and Kelly had come inside.

"Does anybody know this woman?" Stephanie asked. Mr. Randall shook his head, not looking up from the floor. Some of the others shuffled into the room, staying some distance away from the desk, getting just close enough to look and shake their heads and then back up again.

"Was she on the bus?" Stephanie asked.

The general consensus was that she hadn’t been, though nobody seemed to be entirely certain.

"The tickets that Cody collected are probably still on the bus," Kelly said. "We can compare them to the stubs that the passengers have."

Stephanie nodded. "That makes sense. First, I’m going to see if she has any ID."

She and Kelly looked at each other. In a moment, they both understood some things. Their conversation, unspoken, took but a fraction of a second. Laid out in words, it would have gone like this:

Stephanie: If you don’t trust me, then why are you letting me be in charge?

Kelly: Because, with Mr. Randall here, I can’t be in charge. He’s my boss. And better you than him.

Stephanie: This is his office, right? Do you think he did it?

Kelly: No I don’t think so, but I know he shouldn’t be in charge. Not of anything important. If he gives you trouble, feel free to accuse him of the murder.

The dead woman was wearing jeans, a sweater, and a corduroy jacket. Stephanie went through her pockets and pulled out a wallet. She looked at the cards, and then she turned to face the others.

"Her name is Amelia Nugent," she said slowly, watching for reactions.

This didn’t mean anything to the passengers, as far as she could tell, but Kelly, Billy, and Mr. Randall all reacted.

"Cody’s ex-wife," Billy said, frowning.

"Wife," Mr. Randall said, looking up. "They were separated, but not divorced."

"He always called her his ex-wife," Billy said.

"Wishful thinking." He looked at Stephanie. "They hated each other."

"He hated her…" Kelly said slowly. She shrugged. "We never heard her side of the story."

"Nobody knew her here, except for Cody," Mr. Randall said slowly. "And he did hate her…"

"But if he killed her, then who killed him?" Billy asked.

Stephanie shook her head. "The knife is here, and I didn’t see a knife on the bus. The wound in Mr. Nugent’s body looked about the same size. Unless there are two knives, this murder must have happened second."

"Somebody should search the bus more carefully…" Kelly’s voice made it a question.

"We have quite a few things to do," Stephanie said slowly, looking around the room. There was another crash of thunder.

"And there’s going to be a lot of time in which to do them," the older man said, turning away. "I’m going to go finish my coffee and have another donut."

The young man with the glasses came back into the room and reached around the dead body to pick up the phone. He listened for a moment and then hung up. He shrugged. "Dead. Imagine that."

He caught Kelly’s eye as he left the room and winked.

to be continued…

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