the town hall mystery (part five)

This story started here.

“You’ve been doing me a disservice, you know.”

“Excuse me?”

Had I woken up because she’d spoken, or for some other reason? It was still dark outside, so it was not time to get up.

You think that I came to Main Street yesterday to detect things and to find out what you knew about the dead body and so on,” she continued. “I had no idea there was a dead body to investigate — how would I have known that? I came because there was a fire, and I knew you were probably in the immediate vicinity, and I was afraid you’d do something to put yourself in danger. That’s why I came.” She huffed. “Good night.”

I could hear her bed springs creak as she turned over.

In the morning, I was at first unsure as to whether this had actually happened. Then, as she took care of her morning ablutions, I noticed that I was sharing my pillow with a pack of her cigarettes, which she had apparently thrown at my head to get me to wake up (they came in a metal case). I got up and replaced it in the carton under her bed.

We usually had our free continental breakfast on the rear deck of the inn where we were living. We had decided on the deck as the best option for breakfast because 1) the living room was where the other guests ate, and they would often try to chat with us about our day’s vacation-related plans — which was awkward because we were living there, definitely not on vacation — and 2) eating in our room seemed unnecessarily antisocial.

Well, the more important reason was probably that smoking was not allowed in the living room, and my employer considered the essential components of any good breakfast to be a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Tiny muffins and pastries, and small pieces of fresh fruit, were pleasant side dishes, but they were not the main course.

My employer’s presence in the living room during breakfast hours also led to entirely too many conversations about how 1) she wasn’t dressed for vacation activities (her spindly six-foot frame being clad, always, in elegant three-piece suits), 2) “Oh, my. Aren’t you Jan Sleet, that lady detective? I’ve read about you!”

Not that my employer, the intrepid gal reporter and amateur sleuth, minded being recognized — quite the opposite — but she was resolutely not a morning person, and she preferred to delay any non-essential conversations until after she’d had her breakfast.

We ate our breakfast on the deck today, although the sky gave every indication of imminent rain. We did not mention her early-morning diatribe on my misreading of her motives.

“Today,” she said thoughtfully, tapping her cigarette ash into her empty coffee mug, “I need to get some writing done. I need to plan for the inconvenient loss of the town library. The college library is actually better, in some ways, and of course I am an alumna, but it’s more time-consuming to get there, so advance planning will be important.” She pursed her lips as she met my eyes. “Ah, yes,” she said, “the mystery. Today…” Her eyes widened. “You should go see Doctor Wright. That’s always fun.”

“The coroner,” I said, to show that I was paying attention.

“Exactly, We need to know more about our corpse. Tell him I said hello.”

So, obviously it was being delegated to me to figure out how we (as represented by me) were going to get the town’s coroner — who didn’t know me and and who didn’t seem to like my employer — to give us access to official information about a death.

Dr. Wright leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands across his middle. “So, Mr. O’Connor, what can I do for you?”

“We were wondering if there was anything significant about the dead body.”

He shrugged. “Your reason for asking?”

I gave him a shrug and a smile in return. “My employer is asking. I don’t know exactly why.”

“Presumably she’s preparing to sweep in, reveal the truth of the case, and leave local law enforcement baffled and embarrassed. She enjoys that.” He straightened up slightly. “Your ’employer’? You work for her?”

“I do. I’m her assistant.”

“You’re her Watson?”

I laughed. “Watson was a friend and roommate — he didn’t work for Holmes. I draw a salary.”

“What do you put on your tax return?”

“‘Writer’s assistant.’ She uses ‘intrepid gal reporter and amateur sleuth.'”

That got a smile out of him. “That’s a lot to fit into that tiny box on the form.”

“I can write small when I have to.”

He looked like he could have said more but he apparently decided not to. He leaned back again and tapped his finger on a piece of paper on his desk.

“The body,” he said, “is dead, and, as yet, unidentified. The skull was fractured when struck, it seems, by the pavement.” He met my eyes. “Your employer had a tendency, at times like this, to interrupt to say something like, ‘How can you tell it was the impact of the pavement? How do you know he wasn’t struck on the back of the head by a baseball bat while he was in midair?'”

I shrugged. “Was he?”

He laughed. “I’m only the coroner — how would I know?”

“Was he healthy when he died?”

“Compared to now? Absolutely.” He straightened up and leaned forward. “As far as I can tell, he was healthy. I believe the sheriff is considering this to be either suicide or an accident, probably the former, so I don’t imagine there will be an autopsy.” He shrugged. “At least not unless a family member should come forward and request one.”

“May I see the body?”

He shrugged again and got to his feet. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Dr. Wright presented the corpse to me as if waiting for me to react badly. Doctors sometimes think they’re the only people who have ever seen dead bodies.

I pulled down the sheet and looked, less because I had any idea what I was looking for and more to be able to answer questions later.

“Tattoos.” I observed after a few moments. “Is that a caduceus?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think so — it would be upside down if it is.”

“Good point.”

There were two tattoos: one the (possible) caduceus (two snakes twined around a staff) on the right bicep, and the other a small heart on the right ankle.

When I was done, or at least when I’d devoted enough time to the process, I covered the body again. He grinned, gesturing at a blue plastic tray on a nearby shelf. “She searched the pockets didn’t she?” He chuckled and waved a finger at me. “You should have asked about the contents of the pockets earlier.”

To be continued…

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