I waited in the kitchen as my employer searched the Arkright house. I sat at the counter, sipping a coffee and reading a newspaper. I had purchased the coffee and the newspaper at the little convenience store by the bus stop.
Mostly my employer worked by herself, but occasionally I was summoned to provide assistance, usually by lifting or moving something. She had a coffee also, which she carried with her from room to room as she worked, always careful to place a napkin under the cup wherever she set it down.
Beyond the coffee and the newspaper, and the physical labor, I occupied myself by trying to make deductions about my employer.
What I could tell, watching her work her way through the house, was that her heart wasn’t in it. She was being thorough, as always, but there was no glee and also no frustration — just, as she would have put it, amateur professionalism.
I didn’t know how she was currently reconstructing the crime, but apparently this house was not at the center of it. Which made it possible that she’d taken the sheriff’s offer of the campus because she thought the solution to the murder was there.
Or it was possible (quite possible, actually) that she’d shifted her focus primarily to collecting material for a book about Marvel herself, figuring there would be a market for such a book (and, if she wrote and published that book, and it sold, then she’d have leverage to help get her book about the civil war in Bellona published).
I had a feeling that at some point I’d have to intercede to get her back on track to identifying the murderer, but that would have to be carefully timed and cleverly done. I was thinking of something along the lines of “Who would read a book about a famous murder victim, by a famous amateur detective, that doesn’t include the solution to the murder?”
Another question, of course, was how she would handle the subject of the garage and the cartons of her books. She’d been pretending that she hadn’t investigated them on the day we’d found the corpse, but I was pretty sure she had. Would she keep up the pretense?
She came in and sat next to me at the little kitchen counter. “How would you feel about going out and getting us some sandwiches?” she asked after a moment.
So, either she wanted me out of the way for some reason, or, possibly, she wanted a sandwich. Or maybe both. Or she was teasing me because she knew I was thinking too much about her possible schemes and motivations.
Also, of course, how I felt about the idea of going out to get sandwiches had no bearing on whether I was about to go out and get some.
“Any preferences?” I asked.
Later, as we ate our (lobster salad) sandwiches on the front porch, with more coffee, I asked, “So, what are the top ten most interesting things you’ve discovered so far?”
She made a gesture of punching me in the shoulder, but our chairs were a couple of inches too far apart. “There are times, I confess, very occasionally, when I remember why I hired you. Okay, I’ll give you five.”
She stuck up one bony finger for each point.
“One: I know where the bathing suit — the bikini that was placed on Marvel’s body — came from. It’s been in this house, probably for some time.
“Two: It does not belong to either Mrs. Arkright or Miss Barbara Arkright.
“By the way, I am avoiding the obvious — things that I’m sure the police would have discovered, like the fact that the story of Mrs. Arkright’s inheritance appears to be true, and the fact that Marvel’s clothes and ID are apparently not in this house (although I have not yet searched the basement or whatever small attic or crawl space may be above the second floor bedrooms).
“Three: Robert Arkright, known to the family as ‘Robbie,’ Mr. Arkright’s son by his first wife, sent a birthday card to his father four days ago, giving at least some evidence that he was in California, where he lives, at that time. As opposed to being, for instance, here in Claremont, killing Marvel Phillips.
“Four: Mrs. Arkright’s affair with Mr. Beasley appears to still be going strong. Six months ago she had a pregnancy scare, but she was not actually pregnant. (I’m counting this as part of number four since her main worry was that Beasley might have been the father, and the baby might exhibit his red hair and freckles.)
“Five: There’s no evidence tying either of the “children” — Nate and Barbara — to Claremont College. They both go to schools out of state. Neither of them even applied to Claremont.
“I’ll give you one more; that was a good sandwich. Six: None of my books are missing. Only one box was opened, and every book on the inventory list is there.”
She carefully folded her sandwich paper and placed it on the arm of her chair so that she would remember to throw it in the trash when we went inside again.
She looked around as I leaned forward to light the cigarette she was about to take from her case. “If I ever have a house — which seems unlikely at the moment, I know — I will make sure there’s a small wastebasket on the porch. Thank you, Marshall.”
She leaned back in her chair again.
“Infidelity,” she said slowly. “I wonder if Mr. Arkright knows, about his wife. I wonder if their children know, or suspect.” She made a fluttering gesture with her long fingers. “Not relevant, really. Nothing to do with the murder — but I do wonder why it’s so often such a big deal.
“Remember the Amado case?” She paused, politely, in case I wanted to make a defense of my memory, which, while not as good as hers, was certainly capable of remembering a case from earlier in that same year.
“All that…” She tapped her forefinger on her paper coffee cup. “All because of one extramarital event — not even a pattern. Certainly not like Mrs. A. and her amour des livres, which has been going on for years now.”
She glanced over at me, her mouth quirking. “How would I feel, I wonder, if I found out that you were sneaking off to light somebody else’s cigarettes and make somebody else’s travel arrangements behind my back?”
After a moment, she laughed and grabbed her cane, using it to get to her feet. It was more difficult than usual, since the chair was quite low, but I held her arm to steady her.
“Well,” she said, “I know your weakness now: muffins. If a young and comely wench should offer you a muffin tomorrow…” She shrugged. “Come on, you. I’m going to search the basement while you handle the attic. The ladder looks rather rickety, so it will be interesting to learn if it will hold your weight.”