Somewhat later, after Ms. Stapleton had departed, we were sitting on the front porch of Professor Lebrun’s house. It was probably mostly inertia that kept us – at least those of us who had not slept the night before – from going back to bed.
Professor Lebrun gestured with the stem of his pipe. “May I make a comment, and ask a question?”
My employer smiled. “Of course, Professor. I may not answer the question, obviously.”
“Understood. I did want to mention that I enjoyed how you told Miss Stapleton the story out of order, blurring cause and effect…”
“In order to avoid saying, to an officer of the court, that Marshall and I had deliberately committed a crime by entering Mr. Baxter’s home without his permission. Yes, that seemed prudent.”
He waited for more. She sat, very still, waiting also. He and I exchanged a couple of glances (my employer delicately averting her eyes), and then, with a very small shrug, he changed his mind.
I had been afraid that he would blow the gaff, but he held firm and moved on to a less controversial question instead.
“So,” he said, “I gather you’re planning on staying in the area here, at least for a while?”
“We’re witnesses in a murder trial, or we will be. It seems that we won’t be prosecuted for entering Mr. Baxter’s house without permission, but it was made clear to us that we are expected to be available when we’re needed.”
Professor Lebrun coughed delicately. “As you may remember…”
“Your new tenant is about to arrive. Next week, I believe?”
She turned to me. I waved a hand. “That’s taken care of. I made a call.”
“Ah,” she said thoughtfully. She smiled. “Your friend, the muffin lady?”
I nodded. “I got a good price when I told her we’d be living here in town for a while.”
So, she had shifted the narrative, eliding the possible book theft and especially the mystery woman who had admitted us to the Arkright house.
I hadn’t mentioned any of this because my employer hadn’t wanted me to. And because I already knew the answer, or at least part of it.
On Friday, the day I’d gone into town to fetch our luggage, the day I’d gone to the Catholic church to light a candle for Marvel, I’d also done something else, something my employer hadn’t deduced (or, if she had, she’d kept it to herself – which was always a possibility with her).
I’d gained access to the Arkright house and checked the open carton of my employer’s books in the garage. The books had all been there, according to the inventory, but one book was not lined up neatly with the rest. It was shoved down in the side of the box.
It was not a published book. It was a journal, about half full, written many years ago by someone named Alex (for Alexandra) Ross – apparently a teenage girl at that time.
I had skimmed through the contents. There were some fairly conventional journal entries, some poems (well, they seemed to be poems), and a fair amount of gibberish.
It had ended, abruptly, a couple of months before my employer’s birth date. The last few entries had been rather apocalyptic (though with no explicit mention of pregnancy). There had been some hints about Alexandra’s fear of some sort of pursuit, but it hadn’t been clear, at least to me, the extent to which this had been metaphorical, or literal.
The reporters – regional, national, international – who were probably already en route wouldn’t know, or care, about the unidentified woman who had been in the Arkright house when we’d arrived, and who had pretended to belong there. Sheriff Rhonda had apparently already decided that the woman had been a fiction. Professor Lebrun was obviously not planning to mention her. Thinking back, I didn’t think that the Arkright family had ever even heard that part of the story.
So, as always, my employer solved mysteries, and provided new ones. We were, apparently, staying in town for the foreseeable future. How much of that decision had been based on:
1) A desire to comply with the law and avoid any possibility of getting into trouble,
2) A desire to ensure that justice was done,
3) A possible desire to make sure that Sheriff Rhonda, once she recovered, kept her tendency toward political ambition under control or,
4) A desire, for whatever reason, to locate the mystery woman again.