the marvel murder case (part seventeen)

This story started here.

My employer and I described the “gathering of the suspects” (though not using that phrase, of course), and the aftermath.

She did not emphasize that I had possibly saved her life – her crediting me with clairvoyance came in later tellings, in more social settings. This was business.

“How is Rhonda?” the former sheriff asked when we were done.

I shrugged. “They’ll know more in the morning. They may decide to transfer her to Mass General.”

He nodded slowly.

“Phil,” Mr. Arkright said, “I asked Miss Sleet to work on this, and I’m hoping you can help also. Those deputies I met today…”

Phil Baxter shrugged. “I’ll do what I can, of course.” He turned to my employer. “I’m sure he didn’t have to work too hard to convince you.”

“No, of course not. It’s been slow going so far, though.” She shrugged. “And I don’t know what Rhonda may have found out, or figured out, that she’d decided not to share with me.”

He sighed. “And probably nobody else does either. Do you think that’s why she was shot? Because she knows something?”

My employer stubbed out her cigarette in a small basin that I’m sure wasn’t intended to be an ashtray. “That’s quite possible. I’m more puzzled by Barbara’s death. The Arkright family was together in Austria when Marvel was killed, and they had just returned home a few hours before the shooting – so it seems unlikely that Barbara would have been a threat to anybody. And even if she was a threat, how would the killer have found out about that threat?”

Mr. Arkright looked up. “Do you think this was some sort of… random violence? Some lunatic or something? After all, we didn’t know the murdered girl, and…” His energy seemed to fizzle. “Maybe it’s all just a coincidence.”

My employer nodded. “That’s quite possible. Someone had some reason to want Marvel dead, killed her somewhere and dumped the body in your house – maybe the only unoccupied house in town.” She leaned forward. “But then where are her clothes, and…” She turned to Nate. “One thing I do need to clarify. As I said, Marvel was found wearing a bikini that was evidently not hers. Bright green. You know where that came from, don’t you?”

Nate looked like he didn’t care one way or the other. “It was on my closet door, hanging from some… What do you call them? “

“Thumb tacks.”

“Yes. I… Last summer, I met this girl at the beach. We… Well, we got along, and there was a sudden thunderstorm as we were walking to Arturo’s – I was going to buy her lunch. She… to get out of the rain, we went to the house…”

He was not looking at his father, who was hanging his head, apparently barely listening.

“Later, when she left, she wore some of my clothes – her bikini was still wet. She said she’d come back for it, but she never did.”

My employer lit another cigarette. “So, you kept it, hung it up as something of a souvenir, or a trophy.”

He shrugged.

She gestured. “This illustrates the… apparent lunacy of Marvel’s murder. Even if we buy the idea that Marvel’s clothes and ID were taken in order to conceal her identity – which seems very unlikely, given her fame – why put a bathing suit on her? Why not just leave her body naked?”

Phil Baxter frowned.” Do you think it was some sort of sex crime?”

She shrugged. “Her body was thoroughly checked – there was no evidence of recent sexual activity, consensual or forced.”

“Of course,” I put in, “whoever killed her may not have known her as Marvel at all – maybe only as Madeleine, or maybe just as a pretty woman on the street.”

My employer nodded. “Very true. And that would make it even harder to solve.”

To be continued…

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