the heron island mystery (part nineteen)

This story started here.

Until now, Kim had been managing to appear relaxed — unaffected by what was going on — but now she was stuck. She didn’t speak or move, apparently trying to calculate some way out of this. And I’m sure that she was aware that even if she thought of the magic words which would get her off the spot, it was already too late for those words to work.

It seemed unlikely that she’d bolt, in the middle of the night, barefoot, probably with no money, wearing just a T-shirt and boxers, on an island that was currently cut off from the mainland, but I checked her position relative to the various exits, and I watched her body language.

“There was somebody else on the deck with the body,” Li continued, speaking slowly and deliberately, still looking at Kim. “That’s why Kim screamed. He turned and looked at her and then he went to the stairs and down to the beach. After he was gone, it took a minute for her to get up her nerve to go outside. Then she checked the body and yelled for Becky.”

Then, looking triumphant, Li turned her gaze to the sheriff. “It was Manfred. And you’re never going to solve this if you don’t know that — if you don’t know what kind of case this really is.”

There was a pause and then several people started to speak, but Rhonda said, “Quiet! I’m asking the questions, and everybody should shut up until I ask the next one.”

Well, this answered the question I’d been asking myself a few minutes earlier. I was pretty sure I knew now why the residents had relaxed, en masse, when Becky had started answering questions instead of Li.

I did wonder about what Elsa had told us before — that Kim had been the main believer in ghosts, back when Manfred had been merely a ghost hunter, not (perhaps) a ghost himself.

Jo raised her hand, as if she was in school. Rhonda gestured at her, and she said, “I saw him also, or at least I saw somebody. I was writing, as I said, and I saw the deck lights go on. I got out of bed as Kim screamed, and I went to the window. I saw somebody — it looked like a man, in dark clothes, including a jacket with silvery bits, like that one Manfred always used to wear — going to the staircase and down to the beach.”

“You didn’t see his face?”

“No. His back was to me. After he was gone, I saw Kim go out onto the deck and then turn and yell for Becky. I pulled on some clothes and ran into Becks and Li in the hall.”

Elsa had started the coffee, based on the smell, but now she was in the doorway to the kitchen, listening and watching.

I looked around the room. Jo was leaning forward, frowning. She’d taken off her glasses and she was polishing the lenses with the bottom edge of her pajama top. Becky looked bored. She ran her fingers through her frizzy hair, and I got the idea that if it had just been the residents there she would have rolled her eyes and laughed out loud at the nonsense of a dead man prowling the deck of their house. 

My employer was at her most impassive. I wondered if she had expected this, but I’d learned not to waste my time asking that particular question. Elsa was hard to read, too. 

Rhonda had insisted on her right to be the one asking the questions, but I got the idea that she’d never — in her still comparatively brief career as a sheriff — encountered a situation quite like this one. 

“Did anybody else see anything that would corroborate this?” she asked after a pause.

Nobody responded. From the stories the others had told, it was pretty plain that they wouldn’t have had a chance to see the mystery figure on the deck — if that figure had existed in the first place.

To be continued…

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