Once she’d finished her surveillance of the situation on the beach below, my employer had put down the binoculars, resumed her seat, finished her coffee, and, as far as I could tell, eaten her tiny muffin. At least, by the time I made it back up to Heron House the muffin was gone, and she was alone on the deck. If she had eaten the muffin herself, then something must have been going in a direction that pleased her.
(I’d again traveled by way of the neighbor’s yard — the stairs had looked even worse from the beach than they had from the deck.)
The next few hours were pretty standard. Rhonda had made a radio call to headquarters and an ambulance had arrived quickly, followed by deputies and a photographer.
My employer relocated to the front room and watched all of the activity with interest. She was basically motionless, except for occasional forays back to the deck to reacquaint herself with the situation down on the beach. But then, when the dead man’s body was on the front lawn, covered with a tarpaulin, she quickly got to her feet, limped outside, and kneeled to examine the body.
The deputy who was apparently in charge protested, and she stood and told him to check with his boss, the sheriff, if he had any doubts about her authority in this matter. She did not say, explicitly, that she had permission to make an examination of the body, but she strongly implied it. He seemed unsure, and she gestured impatiently, looking stern. He must have been impressed by all this, because he scurried off, rather than using the radio on his belt.
By the time Rhonda came up to see what was going on, the body had been loaded onto the ambulance, which was gone. My employer was leaning against a tree, smoking a pipe, looking once again as if she was having a very pleasant morning, thanks so much for asking.
The sheriff looked around. “Where is everybody?”
“Inside, probably in the kitchen,” my employer said. “Something was mentioned about breakfast.”
Rhonda nodded. “We’re going to start interviewing the residents now. I want to talk to you, also — to find out why you’re here — but that will be after the others. If you don’t want to stick around — if you want to go and get some breakfast — I could stop by your place later…”
Her voice trailed off because my employer was still smiling.
“We have been asked to stay, by Miss Mary Sanders, the young lady who invited us here in the first place.” She gestured with her cane. “We’ll wait on the deck. Whenever you’re ready for us.” She smiled again. Rhonda’s expression was noncommittal, which was probably the best she could manage at that moment.
I followed my employer down the narrow path that ran beside the house. She walked slowly and carefully — the ground was quite muddy. After we climbed the three wooden steps to the deck, she looked down at the state of her boots and frowned, but she didn’t say anything.
When we were seated, I waited a moment, then I said, “You seem pretty sanguine about how things are going so far.”
She shook her head, and her expression told me that she had just made a joke about the multiple meanings of the word “sanguine” three days before and she wasn’t about to make another one this soon.
Given a choice at that moment between information and breakfast, I would have chosen breakfast. However, since no food was being offered, information was better than nothing.
I tried another tack. “Were you expecting Manfred to be dead? Is that why we’re here?”
She looked at me with some surprise. “No, not at all. I had no idea he was even on the island (though the fact that he was here is interesting), but it did seem possible — perhaps even likely — that some crime was being planned for last night.”