It was around six-fifteen in the morning. The trees, the ground, the grass, and the windows of the car were still dripping wet from the thunderstorm which had ended after four-thirty.
There were three of us in the car, and we were waiting for a road to appear so we could proceed.
The driver – the owner of the rusty white station wagon – was named Mary Sanders. She was a college student, and she was the reason for our being there. She was slim and blonde, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans.
I was in the passenger seat, and, in the back seat, frowning, with her arms folded, was my employer, Jan Sleet.
There were several reasons for my employer's rather dark mood:
- She'd had to get up early.
- She'd had to get up unnecessarily early (there was no reason for us to have arrived here before the moment that the road was scheduled to appear, after all).
- Mary, our hostess – so to speak – had made it clear that she did not want anybody to smoke in her car. (I could tell that my employer was getting some small satisfaction from her mental countdown to the moment when she was going to light a cigarette anyway.)
- There was apparently going to be a case for her to investigate, but it was not (based on what we knew so far) going to be her preferred kind of case.
- Nobody had laughed at her joke about Tir-na Nog'th.
- She'd had to get up early.
My employer suddenly leaned forward and pointed. "It looks like some people are as eager to get off the island as we are to visit it."
"That's not surprising," Mary said. "With the storm, and the power and the phones out all night..." She leaned forward also, her voice trailing off, then she reached across to the glove compartment, popped it open, and took out a pair of binoculars.
I heard my employer grunt at the convenience of binoculars suddenly appearing when needed, but I found out later that one of Mary's housemates was enthusiastic about "birding" at a nearby wildlife sanctuary.
"I see Jo," Mary said. "Waiting to get off the island." She put the binoculars away. "We'll have to let the other cars come this way first, before we go across. That's the rule – it's only a one-lane road." She started the car and backed up out of the way.
When the water was down to just an inch or so, revealing the narrow dirt road through the marsh to the island, the first car started to cross toward us. It was the blue sedan that Mary had identified as belonging to one of her housemates. Mary got out of the car and waved, making sure that Jo saw her and didn't just drive past us.
Jo's car pulled into a space on the far side of the road and two women got out. They looked very upset and one nearly bolted across the road to our side, even though cars were passing (very slowly) between us.
My employer looked across at the other car and motioned to me. I quickly got out, opened her door, and helped her to her feet. She was so impatient that she almost slipped on the muddy ground, but I steadied her and we moved to the side of the road, next to Mary.
I could tell that my employer was thinking about barging into the middle of the road, relying on an imperious gesture to stop the traffic, but she glanced at me and I shook my head. Whatever had happened, she could wait another forty-five seconds to find out what it was.
Then the last car passed and the two women rushed across to us.
"He's dead! Stabbed!" the taller one blurted out to Mary. "Knifed! And we– The phones are out–"
"Please," my employer said, stepping forward, "I am Jan Sleet–"
"You're Jan Sleet!" the shorter woman said. She'd been driving, so I assumed she was Jo.
"The sleuth, yes. First, the person who was stabbed – is he alive or dead?"
"Dead, ma'am," the taller woman said. "Some time last night. Becky checked him – she's pre-med – and she said he was stabbed hours ago..." She looked like she was about to cry.
"So, you were not leaving the island in order to obtain medical assistance?"
"We were going to call the police – if we could find a working phone–"
"The phones are out – all over the island – and the power–"
My employer held up her hand, and I knew what was coming. And, I had to admit, it did make sense.
"The police do have to be called, obviously," she said, "but you don't have to call them. This is Marshall, my assistant, and he will go and make a preliminary report from the first available telephone.
"Meanwhile, the rest of us will go to the house and I will start to ask questions. To help the police, of course. And I'll take charge of the crime scene and the evidence."
She glanced at me, and we both smiled. I had no counter-argument, and she knew it.
She turned to Mary. "We can go back with your friends. Please give Marshall your car keys."
Mary looked somewhat stunned. She nodded and reached into her pocket, pulling out a ring that held several keys, a whistle, a very small plastic teddy bear, and a tag with her name and phone number on it.
I waited for Jo to get the sedan turned around, then she backed up off the road again to let another mainland-bound car pass by, then she pulled out to return to Heron Island.