My employer hung up the phone. “We’re gathering the suspects,” she said. She looked like she was going to start vibrating from excitement.
“Hang on,” I said. “What–“
She made a moue. “Okay, Mr. Literal. They’re not all suspects, and we — you and I — are certainly not the ones doing the gathering. Satisfied?”
Professor Lebrun put down his newspaper. “This gathering — suspects or not — isn’t going to be here, is it?” He looked around the room. “It has been some time since I dusted.”
She smiled. “No, Professor, you don’t need to worry. Various people, including some suspects–” She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, looking stern. “–are being gathered at the Arkright house, apparently at the request of the family, who are now back in town. Sheriff Rhonda is cooperating with this, presumably for reasons of her own, and she’s sending a car to pick us up.”
The professor leaned back, relieved, and picked up his drink. “I suppose I’m not invited,” he said with a shrug.
She smiled. “You suppose correctly. After all, why would a person like you, who knows nothing about the case beyond what he’s read in the newspapers, who certainly hasn’t heard a word about it from either of us…” Her voice trailed off as the professor picked up his newspaper (not the Claremont Crier) and resumed his reading.
I had begun to think that Monday might have ended up a wasted day, but apparently not.
A few minutes later, much to my relief (since my employer’s impatience was… increasing), there was a brief honk of a car horn outside and we hurried out. The sun was down, and I suddenly wished I’d eaten a more substantial lunch — dinner might be a ways off.
To my surprise (mostly, I confess, because I hadn’t thought it through), the driver was Sheriff Rhonda, and there was nobody else in the car. It made sense that she’d want to talk to us alone before the big confab — whatever it was to be. As I say, I just hadn’t thought it through.
I held the door for my employer, of course, and then I got into the back seat. Rhonda pulled out of the driveway and headed down the narrow road back to the highway.
“This is all at the request of the Arkright family,” she said as she waited for a break in the highway traffic, “by which, of course, I mean Mrs. Arkright. They want to have a clear idea of what’s being done, and what’s already been done.” She pulled out onto the highway, and I could see my employer and the sheriff exchange a glance.
“You may be thinking that Sheriff Baxter didn’t set up meetings like this at the request of the victims of a… Well, I guess technically they’re not the actual victims.”
“They’re not dead, and, as far as we know they never knew the victim — the actual victim.” My employer shook her head. “They’re just the hosts.”
Rhonda seemed to be suppressing a laugh as she ran the siren for a second so she could cut across oncoming traffic and enter the town center.
“So…” my employer prompted.
“They know who the victim was — I have no idea how. It seems that if they’re not satisfied that we’re close to wrapping this up, they may release her identity to the press.”
“And you’re thinking that it will help us in solving this if that fact is not generally known?”
She shrugged, pulling into the church parking lot. There were two other cars there near the Arkright house, at the far end from the church itself, and apparently it was accepted by Reverend Deacon that this corner of the lot was for the family.
“I have the idea that it may help if not everybody knows who she was, but my biggest concern is the press. Once it gets out that the famous hellraiser Marvel Phillips was murdered, mysteriously, in an empty house, while attending college here under an assumed name, we’ll have so many reporters here that they’ll outnumber the rest of us. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines…”
My employer smiled as I got out of the car and opened her door for her. “Rhonda,” she said, “I do understand your point, and I think you’re probably right, but please do remember how I earn my living and pay the salary of my excellent assistant here.” She leaned on my arm as I helped her to her feet. “Once this is solved,” she said cheerfully, “you can bet that I’ll be writing all about it. Je suis la presse. Let’s go in.”
She certainly did enjoy the idea of a good gathering of suspects.