Sometimes you don’t realize how tense things are with a group of people until something suddenly breaks that tension, at least for a moment.
Everybody seemed to relax when Becky took over from Li, so much so that I had to wonder why. So far we’d learned that Kim had a lover who should have been off limits for her (and vice versa, of course), and that Li sometimes slept with Becky. This was pretty penny ante stuff, especially in the context of an investigation of two murders. Was there a big secret still to come — other than the solution to the murders (I would have had a rough time believing that all of the residents of Heron House already knew who had killed Manfred and Mary)?
Becky sipped her coffee and then, as she began to speak, my employer finally opened her case and took out a cigarette. As she reached for her lighter, Kim leaned forward and my employer held out the case so she could take a cigarette also.
“The first thing I remember,” Becky said, “I was lying on the floor, and my head hurt.”
Li winced. “I… sort of freaked out when I heard the scream, and I…”
“Booted me out of my own bed and onto the cold, hard floor,” Becky went on. “I didn’t hear the scream, but I did hear Kim calling for me a few minutes later.”
Li continued, looking rather sheepish. “I heard the thud as Becks hit the floor. I looked to see that she was okay, and I told her I was sorry, and then she… Anyway, I told her that I had heard a scream, and then we heard somebody yelling her name.”
Becky took over again. “It sounded like it was from outside, so we went to the window, but my room is in the front of the house, so we couldn’t see anything. We put on our robes and hurried out into the hall.”
“And they ran right into me,” Jo put in.
“Had you been awakened by the scream also?” Rhonda asked.
“No. I was awake — writing.”
It was not clear that Rhonda wanted to know what Jo had been writing, but she began to provide this information anyway, just in case.
“I’m a novelist,” she said, adjusting her glasses. “I’m writing a novel, and I find the best time to write is late at night, when everybody else is asleep and things are quiet. So, around midnight, I made myself a big mug of coffee–“
Rhonda held up a hand. “So, you were awake between midnight and the scream?”
“And your bedroom is in the back of the house, overlooking the deck?”
She nodded. “Next to Kim’s.”
“And did you hear anything before the scream?”
Jo shook her head, then she shrugged. “I was concentrating on what I was writing, but I wasn’t aware of hearing anything.”
“But you certainly would have heard any sort of fight on the deck, right below your window.”
“Oh, yes. It was very quiet.”
“Was the light on in your room?” Rhonda asked, and then she laughed. “Okay, that’s a dumb question.”
“My light was on.”
“So, obviously, anybody who was on the deck would have seen the light from your window and they would have known they had to be quiet.”
“I guess so.”
“What about cars? Would you have heard a car?”
“We always hear cars coming up the hill. When we hear one, sometimes we try to guess if it’s coming here or just going past us to Mrs. Billingsley.”
My employer, in these sorts of situations, was never reluctant to draw attention to herself, if she thought it would be to her benefit. Sometimes she was quite theatrical about it, which she enjoyed (though she didn’t like to admit that).
But she was being very quiet now. She was smoking calmly, looking at whoever was speaking, reacting very little. I wondered if she had seen something and was waiting for the right moment to reveal it.