the bus station mystery — part nine

This story started here.

The birthday candles were doing a pretty good job of illuminating the waiting room, and it was surprising how quickly you got used to them.

Billy kept an eye on them, though. He didn’t want to start a fire, or to suddenly end up back in complete darkness.

One of the cousins stood looking out the window at the bus outside. "What do you think they’re doing out there?" he asked over his shoulder. Stephanie and Kelly had gone out right after Stephanie’s announcement that she thought she knew who had committed the murders.

"Do you think she really knows the answers?" his cousin asked, walking over to stand beside him, shading his eyes as he looked out.

"I’ll bet they’re making out in the bus," said Lombard. He saw the general reaction to this suggestion. "Oh, come on. You’ve seen how they look at each other."

"That’s disgusting!" Hilda Powell said. She looked around. "No, but if they’re on the bus, whatever they’re doing, there’s a dead body on that bus with them."

Lombard nodded slowly. "Okay, that is a point."

Dr. Grassi lit a cigarette, offering the pack to Miss Quest, who accepted one and lit up also.

* * *

"Does it really say that on the tickets, that you have to surrender them to somebody from the bus company?"

Kelly laughed. "How would I know?"

They were sitting side-by-side near the front of the bus.

"Something’s bugging you," Kelly said after a moment.

Stephanie slumped in her seat. "I should have figured it out sooner, by searching this bus, as you said before, and the body, and the other murder scene, much more carefully, before I started questioning people. As Jan Sleet — the great detective, yes, and yes, I know her — said to me once, if you don’t examine the scene, thoroughly, before you question the people, you won’t know what questions to ask."

* * *

Mr. Randall looked at Billy. "Come on. We should check the fridge."

Billy almost asked what fridge, but he followed Mr. Randall behind the ticket counter and into the office. Where he had almost never been.

As they moved through the darkness behind the counter, Mr. Randall reached up to a high shelf and took a flashlight.

"Those people are going to need something to eat besides donuts," he said as he led Billy to a far corner of the office, where there was a small, cube-shaped refrigerator, which made Billy think of his one year of college.

"Ah," Mr. Randall said, kneeling and pointing the flashlight beam into the refrigerator. "I guess I’ll have to reimburse Patsy for all this yogurt." He frowned. "I wonder if I can expense it…"

* * *

"Will your daughter worry, when she doesn’t hear from you?"

Mrs. Coe looked up. "Maybe. She’s pretty level-headed." She smiled and reached into her pocket. "Besides, she has other things on her mind these days." She held out a snapshot.

Ms. Powell looked and smiled. "How old?"

"Six months, almost. That’s why I’m going, to take care of the little one, so my daughter and her husband can get away for a couple of days. What about you? Is somebody going to be worrying about you?"

Ms. Powell nodded. "My boss, if I don’t show up tomorrow. My landlord, if I don’t pay the rent three days from now."

* * *

Mr. Randall and Billy came back into the waiting room, each carrying several containers of yogurt. As they stepped into the room, Mr. Randall slowed.

He gestured at where Miss Quest had been sitting. "Where’s…" his voice trailed off.

"Miss Quest," Dr. Grassi supplied, "along with the two young gentlemen, her admirers, has repaired to one of the busses, back in the garage. I gather there was a flask involved."

Mr. Randall glared at Harvey, as if this inappropriate behavior might have somehow been his fault, but Harvey continued to sleep quietly, smiling.

Mr. Randall and Billy put the containers of yogurt on one of the little tables. "These are for everybody," Mr. Randall said. "There are a few more, if we run out." Billy went to the coffee station and leaned way over, reaching behind the counter to grab a handful of small, plastic spoons. He brought these over, along with a napkin dispenser from the condiment stand.

"Thank you both," Dr. Grassi said, taking a container of yogurt and a spoon. Mrs. Coe and Ms. Powell followed suit.

Lombard took one also, though his posture seemed to be trying to convey his indifference to the whole idea of food.

Billy waited a moment to see what Mr. Randall would do. When he didn’t reach out to take a yogurt, Billy took one for himself.

Given his pay rate — and was he even going to get paid for this time? — he didn’t intend to go hungry, at least not until the food ran out completely.

He glanced at the front window. What were Kelly and Stephanie doing out there?

* * *

Violet Quest regarded her two suitors.

Greg took another pull from his flask. "What’s funny?" he asked her.

She hadn’t realized that she’d been smiling. She reminded herself not to drink too much more.

"Nothing," she said. "So, who do you think did it — the murders?"

They were sitting on a bus in the garage — the only one where the door had been left open. They had taken the same seats they’d had on bus number forty-two. Violet was on the right hand side of the bus, in a window seat, with Jason next to her, and Greg in the row in front of theirs, looking over the seat back at them. He handed her the flask and she took a small sip, tilting it way back as if she was swallowing more.

"I’ll bet you have a theory," Jason said. "I’ll bet that’s what that smile was about."

She handed him the flask. "The only thing I know is that he was a creep. The bus driver. He… When he looked at my ticket, when I got on the bus, he wasn’t looking at my ticket — let’s just say that. And I had to scoot around him to keep him from ‘helping’ me up onto the bus."

The cousins were looking sympathetic, to the best of their abilities, but she could tell they were imagining themselves in the position of the dead man.

"Here’s my theory, if that’s what it is. Unless this is some kind of… conspiracy, it was somebody alone. So, not either of you. You’re the safest people here, really, because there are two of you."

She frowned. "I’ve been trying to remember who was the last person off of the bus, but I can’t. We were all just rushing to get in out of the rain."

She looked up. "Gentleman service?"

Greg produced a cigarette and Jason lit it for her.

Greg sighed (she was reasonably sure it was Greg, though she was now starting to wonder if she’d remembered the introductions correctly… it was definitely time to ease off on the drinks). "What worries me," he said, "is whether this is the end of it. I saw a movie once, and it was kind of like this." He waved a hand and continued in a spooky voice. "Isolated location, a group of strangers trapped, unable to get away, murdered one by one…"

Jason shook his head. "We don’t need a movie to tell us that."

* * *

A little while later, a figure climbed out of one of the windows in the bus station and jumped down to the pavement. The rain might have been beginning to let up, but the sky was still dark, and of course there were no electric lights anywhere around.

The figure moved cautiously around the building to the side where bus number forty-two was parked. It stood motionless for a moment, facing the bus, until there was a movement in one of the windows. The figure pulled out a small pistol and aimed it.

The gun didn’t fire, though, because someone jumped down from the roof of the bus and landed on the figure, knocking it to the wet pavement. The pistol skidded away and went under the bus.

"Don’t move," Stephanie said. She was straddling the murderer’s back, and she cocked her revolver for emphasis.

to be continued…

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