the heron island mystery (part eleven)

This story started here.

We got off the jitney at the Main Street stop, and, after a brief discussion of the options available to us, we had a light supper at the Wagon Wheel.

Then, after coffee, we strolled in the direction of home. The weather was pleasant — dry and cool, with a nice breeze

“I think Rhonda is wrong,” my employer said suddenly as we turned the corner onto Ocean Drive.

“In general, or about something in particular?”

She stopped for a moment and allowed herself a small snort. “About the case,” she said, tapping the side of my shoe with her cane. She looked in both directions, then she led me across the street and down a little path to the water’s edge.

“She thinks the body came by sea,” she said, looking out over the water in the rough direction of Heron Island. “She thinks Heron House is irrelevant, except perhaps as a target — that someone came ashore in a boat, during the storm, dumped the body there on the beach, and then left the same way.”

“A ‘target’?” I asked.

She took out her cigarette case and I put my hand in my jacket pocket, where I carried my lighter, but she didn’t immediately take out a cigarette.

“Well,” she said, “if Rhonda’s theory is true — and it’s certainly not impossible — then it would have been quite a coincidence that the mysterious murderous mariner just happened to select a stretch of beach right below a house where the victim was so well known.”

She took out a cigarette and I lit it for her.

“But it wasn’t intended to be a frame, I would think,” I said.

She nodded. “Of one of the girls? I agree. Far too lackadaisical…” She shrugged. “Unless there’s something yet to come, of course — to narrow down the focus, to point us in the direction of a specific who, and why. That’s possible.” She turned to look at me. “I noticed at supper that you’ve adapted.”

“To what?”

“The Town Hall site. It used to bother you — the scorched ground and that blackened safe where the building used to be — but now you don’t even think about it.”

I shrugged and nodded. She was right.

“I had a thought about it, though,” she said. “I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at the Wagon Wheel. There’s going to be a used book sale next Saturday, to raise money for the new library. I’m going to donate my books.”

“All of them?” I asked, keeping my voice as neutral as I could.

She sighed. “That’s going to be your assignment. Please insist, as we go over the books, that I donate every single one. I’m sure for each one I will be able to find some excuse why I could never part with this particular book — its contents or its history or both.” She sighed. “Be firm with me. I haven’t looked at any of those books since I left college, and…”

“And this is a good cause. A worthy cause. Also, books should be read and used and cherished, not left in boxes to get moldy.”

She nodded and stubbed out her cigarette with her toe. “That was good, though the part about them getting moldy may have been a bit much.”

We turned to go home. This time we had to wait for a couple of cars to pass before we could cross the street.

“If Rhonda is right,” I said, “she’ll have a heck of a time investigating this one. Boats don’t leave footprints and the beach was swept clean by the storm.”

She nodded. “It will depend on investigating Manfred. Who knew him, where he was staying, who had a grudge against him… all that sort of thing.”

My gun is always carefully locked up (I’m not telling you where), except when I know I’m going to need it, but I do keep a baseball bat under my bed. When the pounding on our door started at three in the morning, the bat was in my hand before I was even aware of where I was or why I was on my feet.

I moved to the door as the pounding stopped and Rhonda bellowed, “O’Connor! Sleet! We’ve got an emergency!”

I glanced at my employer, who was putting on her glasses. She squinted at the clock and said, “Well, poo.”

I opened the door, and regarded the sheriff. She was in full uniform, and Mrs. Jessup was behind her, in a robe, nightgown, and slippers, her gray hair in considerable disarray.

“Mrs. Jessup,” I said, leaning the bat against the foot of my employer’s bed, “please accept my apologies, on behalf of all three of us. I’m sure we can handle things from here.”

She shuffled off without a word. I turned my attention to Rhonda. “If she kicks us out, we’re moving into your house.”

She shook her head. “I’m not any happier about being awake at this hour than you are. Mary Sanders is dead, at Heron House. The island is cut off, of course, but I’m going out by boat. Do you want to come?”

“Yes,” my employer said, grabbing her cane and getting to her feet. “We’ll be downstairs in three and a half minutes.” She started to pull off her nightgown.

I got Rhonda out the door and we dressed quickly. I left the bat behind, but I brought the gun.

To be continued…

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