“I blew it,” my employer said as we sat on Professor Lebrun’s front porch and watched the sun come up. “I should have been able to stop Barbara and Rhonda getting shot.”
“Do you know who shot them?”
She nodded, with none of the coyness which questions like that usually generated. “Yes. And who killed Marvel, and why.” She caught my expression. “I have no evidence – that’s been the problem. And now, in order to get some, we’re going to have to do something illegal.”
“If I had to guess, I think I’m about to be breaking into someplace I’m not supposed to break into.”
She smiled, a little. “No, both of us, this time. Maybe they’ll let us share a cell.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
She shrugged. “First time in this country, for whatever that’s worth. And no, we’re not going to get any sleep first. We need to move quickly now, before there’s another attempt.”
“On Rhonda? I saw you talking to the deputy–”
“Yes, Rhonda is being guarded, but consider this… Close your eyes and remember the shooting. Barbara raised her head as she turned to look out the window, and she was shot pretty much square in her forehead. If she hadn’t raised her head at that moment – putting herself, unintentionally, into the line of fire – who would that bullet have hit?”
I turned and regarded her.
“That’s where I blew it,” she said quietly. “I had figured it all out, and I thought I had a little time to come up with a plan for finding evidence. But I hadn’t calculated… You think my ego is too big, I know, but this time it wasn’t big enough. I didn’t see that my being here, in town, on this case… that changed the whole equation. So, yes, now we need to move, and quickly, as soon as I get my Irregulars together.”
“You have Irregulars?” I asked, wide-eyed. I knew that would help to cheer her up.
At seven forty-five that morning, someone broke into Madeleine Pontmercy’s dorm room and stole two bikini bathing suits and a locked aluminum briefcase. One of the women in her dorm called the police when she noticed that the door to Madeleine’s room had been left open and the bedding all pulled off the bed.
At eight o’clock, Professor Ernst Lebrun also called the police, to report that he’d heard a noise behind his house and that, upon investigation, he’d discovered an aluminum briefcase on the ground, open and empty.
Sheriff Rhonda White was still in the hospital, heavily sedated (and guarded), so Phil Baxter, the retired former sheriff, agreed to help out. He went from the town to the college campus in one of the police cars.
Several hours later, when Phil Baxter returned to his house, we were waiting in his kitchen.
We’d found three guns in the house – two handguns and a rifle. They were lined up on the kitchen table, with the ammunition beside them. He was a pro, after all, and I wanted him to know, immediately, that there were no loaded weapons in the house.
Other than mine, which was in my hand.
Also on the kitchen table was Marvel’s wallet, and, on one of the chairs, the clothes she’d been wearing when she’d taken the jitney from the college to the town, six days earlier, the day of her murder. The clothes and the wallet had been hidden in the basement.
As I say, he was a professional – he didn’t waste time with irate questions or futile protests. He admitted nothing.