the heron island mystery (part eighteen)

This story started here.

Rhonda turned back to Becky. “So, the three of you rushed downstairs?”

Becky nodded. “I wouldn’t say ‘rushed’ — we were all a little…”

“Scared,” Jo said. “Understandably. I remember I was thinking about last night…”

Becky shrugged. “Anyway, we got downstairs, and Kim and Elsa were on the deck, and Mary was there. I examined her, and she… I did CPR, because you’re supposed to, but she was dead. Murdered, obviously, stabbed… like Manfred.”

“Becky said somebody should call the police, but I was already doing it,” Elsa said quietly. She sipped her soda.

“Becky,” my employer put in, “what was your estimate of the time of death? What time did you examine the body, and how long did you think she’d been dead at that time?”

Becky sighed. “I wasn’t wearing my watch, but while Elsa was on the phone I went into the kitchen to note the time. Three twenty-seven in the morning. I… I’m not really…”

“When I examined the body, at four-seventeen, I thought she’d been dead for at least an hour and a half. Did you see anything which would contradict that?”

She shook her head. “No.”

Rhonda moved her shoulders around as if she was stiff.

“Would anybody like more coffee?” Elsa asked.

The assent was muted but general, including from those of us who hadn’t been offered any before, and she turned to go into the kitchen.

“Elsa,” Rhonda said, “I would very much like some coffee, thank you, but first please give us your experiences.”

She turned her wheelchair back around. “I heard the scream, but I waited. I thought maybe somebody had had a nightmare, or–” She paused.

“Perhaps one of your housemates had enjoyed a particularly pleasurable late-night personal experience,” my employer put in, and Elsa laughed, followed immediately by Becky, and a minute later by Jo. Rhonda smiled, and I saw the deputy snort and then quickly compose herself. Li turned beet red but otherwise she did not react. Kim frowned, as if this levity had been a breach of proper protocol.

“I waited, and then I heard someone open the door and go out on the deck. I wondered what was going on, so I pulled on some clothes and then I heard Kim yell for Becky. I went out onto the deck, a moment before the others arrived from upstairs. Kim said she thought Mary was dead, and then Becky confirmed it…”

She waited a moment and then she turned to go. “I’ll make more coffee,” she said as she wheeled herself out of the room.

Rhonda turned to Kim. “Kim, everybody heard a scream, but your story didn’t include a scream. You saw the body, you went outside, you saw who it was and that she was hurt or dead, and you called for Becky, the only person in the house with medical training. What about the scream?”

Kim shrugged. “I must have screamed when I turned on the floodlights and looked outside. When I saw the body.”

“But the way the body was lying, on its side, facing the house, you wouldn’t have seen the knife in her back, or the blood. It would have looked like she was passed out, or asleep. That would have justified going out to check on her, of course, but a scream? To be blunt, this is a house full of college students — has it never happened that anybody passed out or dozed off anywhere other than in her own bed?”

“Also,” my employer put in, stubbing out her cigarette, “even if you saw the body, screamed for whatever reason, and then went outside to check, there would have been only a few seconds between the scream and the shout for Becky. That doesn’t jibe with everything else we’ve heard. You screamed, Li ejected Becky out of her bed, Becky landed on the floor, Li asked how Becky was, then they said a couple of other things. Significant time passed between the scream and the shout.”

“You need to tell her,” Li said to Kim, leaning forward. “Tell her the truth — what you told me. Or I will.”

To be continued…

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