My employer, restored to herself (more or less) by a nourishing meal and a cup of strong coffee, lit her pipe and began to tell us what she’d found out.
* * * * *
My first step was to search Marvel’s room. I got a key from the housing office and let myself in. I left the door open, to see what attention I might attract.
(I know, I know, I’ve always said that one principle of detection is to talk to the people before searching the premises, since the conversations may give an idea of what to search for. The problem, in this instance, was that I didn’t have any people to interrogate, so I needed to get some, to draw some to me.
(By the way, as far as I could tell, the room had not been searched by anyone before me, though we do have to assume that the killer — or somebody else — has Marvel’s keys.) )
So, I went to the housing office and displayed my letter (I’ll explain that later, Professor) and they gave me a key. They knew all about Madeleine’s death — by which I mean that they knew she was dead — so they were glad to help, as far as I could tell.
And so, I started to search.
The room was… somewhat generic, if you see what I mean. She was playing a part, and, it seemed, trying to live like somebody who had not had servants for her whole life. The room was clean and quite well organized, but impersonal. Clothes in the closet or in the dresser — not all over the floor — school books and notebooks, information from research she’d been doing for her classes, and so on. No diary or personal letters or anything like that.
She was here for the spring semester, as we know, taking Economics 101, Beginning French, Intro to Philosophy, and Beginning Anthro (excuse me — of course I mean anthropology).
(This shows that she was not living entirely on the straight and narrow, by the way, since she was already fluent in French.)
For the summer she was studying James Joyce. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was taking the summer class just so she could continue to live here on campus — this was her life now, and I’m sure she didn’t want to shuttle back and forth between Madeleine and Marvel.
Anyway, there was a briefcase, locked — one of those expensive aluminum ones. It contained legal and financial papers, addresses and phone numbers, and so on — everything she needed to function as Marvel when she had to, to be in touch with her bankers and lawyers and so on. She had a typewriter, and she kept carbons of every letter she sent — or so it seems. No personal correspondence there either.
There was no evidence that she was in touch with anybody from her social life as Marvel — unless she was making phone calls, and there wasn’t a phone in the room. The dorms, as I well remember, only have pay phones, at each end of each hall.
Anyway, not to get distracted (yes please, Marshall — I would like some more coffee),
I didn’t get a chance to go through all the papers in the briefcase because that’s when I got my first — very much desired — interruption. A girl was passing by the door, and as she passed she looked in and stopped.
I’ll spare you all the back-and-forth — she questioned my right to be there, I told her who I was, she had apparently heard my name but couldn’t recall from where, I showed her my letter and explained my mission, she looked doubtful but then another girl, from across the hall, came out to see what all the palaver was about, and she knew who I was, so she vouched for me… Well, modesty forbids, but let’s just say that she was not unfamiliar with me and my work. Meanwhile, I locked the briefcase again and asked if they would be willing to help me with my investigation by answering some questions.
They were very willing, but they didn’t want to come inside the room (for the whole conversation, they had stayed in the hall — which I thought was a little extreme, since it’s not like it was even a murder room or anything like that (you still make very good coffee, by the way, Professor) ), but the last thing I wanted to do was to make them uncomfortable, so Penny (the girl from across the hall — the other girl was Linda) said we should go to the lounge, because she didn’t want to talk in her room since her roommate was there and it sounded like they didn’t get along… I’m not sure about that, actually. Not that it matters.
So, anyway, I locked the room and we went to the lounge area to talk. I was afraid that we might be overheard, but there didn’t seem to be anybody else around. Certainly very different than when I was a student here, during the regular academic year.
Neither of them knew Madeleine well, based on what they said, but they had lived on the same hall — except for one girl, Betty, who hadn’t been there during the spring semester (I forgot to mention that she joined us — they invited her as we passed her room, I think mostly because she had some wine).
The general opinion seemed to be that Madeleine had been friendly, and definitely willing to help in different areas — both academic and domestic — but not… familiar, so to speak. They generally wrote this off to her being somewhat older than they were — when you’re that age, a couple of years can seem like a lot of distance.
As far as any of them knew, she hadn’t made any close friends while she was there, and they knew of no romances, or even any casual flings. They were somewhat puzzled by the latter.
Betty, who had apparently been into the wine somewhat earlier than the rest of us, leaned forward conspiratorially at one point and whispered that she’d figured out that Maddy was, for sure, a “dyke.” Then, belatedly, she thought about how I dress and started apologizing, having made the assumption that people seem to make from time to time, just because I carry myself with a certain undeniable authority while wearing very elegant bespoke suits… Where was I?
Oh, yes. Based on my reading, Marvel had been pursued, and not always unsuccessfully, by a wide variety of representatives of the international jet set, including young men from three different royal houses. I’m not surprised that the seduction techniques of the Claremont social elite — fraternity boys and so on — barely attracted her attention, let alone her interest.
Over breakfast, we should consider how to best spend our time tomorrow. It’s a little hard to tell, but I don’t think I got that much from the girls — if I can call them that. I’ll have to go through the room again tomorrow. Then we’ll see what I can find. And I’ll find out if any of her professors are on campus for the summer.
* * * * *
My employer fixed me with a somewhat bleary eye.
“When can I get into the house — the Arkright house?”
“I would imagine–“
“This is, I think,” she said slowly, “not going to be an easy case…”
I took the pipe from her hand before it fell to the carpet, knocked out the dottle into a convenient ashtray, lifted her unconscious form in my arms, and carried her off into our bedroom.
(If that last sentence sends your mind in an inappropriate direction, you should probably be ashamed of yourself. And, based on the sidelong wink Professor Lebrun gave me as I left the living room, carrying the limp body of my employer, who, despite her height, was, as always, very easy to carry, he should have been ashamed of himself also.)