Rhonda looked around the living room, and then she glanced at the windows. The sky was starting to get light. She stood up as Elsa wheeled herself back into the kitchen.
“I need to make some calls,” the sheriff said. She gestured at the phone on the small table by the front door. “Is there an extension, more private than this?”
“There’s a wall phone upstairs,” Jo said. “Next to my room.”
Li leaned forward. “Don’t you want to–“
“No,” Rhonda said, moving toward the stairs. “We’re going to continue this at headquarters, with stenographers and signed statements. Everybody should get dressed and be ready to leave as soon as the cars get here.” She looked at the deputy. “Nobody goes outside or onto the deck.” The deputy nodded.
Li tried again.
“Later,” the sheriff told her, climbing the stairs. “And nobody makes any phone calls, to anybody,” she said over her shoulder. As her feet vanished, she called down, “O’Connor–“
“I’ll bring you some coffee,” I called back.
My employer caught my eye and nodded, and then she inclined her head toward the kitchen. I interpreted this as expressing admiration for Rhonda reasserting control over the investigation, and also suggesting that Elsa might appreciate some help.
Elsa looked up as I came into the kitchen. She was filling up a large tray with fresh mugs of coffee, plus milk and sugar. Each mug seemed to be completely unlike the others in size and shape and color.
She smiled as I came in. “Thanks,” she said simply as I quickly rinsed out the mugs I was carrying and picked up the tray to carry it into the living room. She followed me with a fresh bottle of soda for herself.
The living room was deserted except for the deputy, who yawned. I held out the tray for her, and she studied the variety of mugs available and selected the largest one. I put the tray on the coffee table, which rested on gaily painted cinder blocks, and looked around for my employer.
She was in the dining room, sitting at the head of the big table. I took her a mug and then went up the stairs to the hall, where Rhonda was leaning against the wall and talking on a phone with a very long cord. I handed her a mug and she nodded.
The only other person in the hall was Jo, sitting on a chair with a towel over her shoulder, obviously waiting for the bathroom to be available. I wondered if there was going to be enough hot water for everybody to manage a shower before it ran out.
I went back downstairs and I saw that Elsa was now in the dining room with my employer. I took a mug of coffee for myself and went to join them.
“Will you be at police headquarters, for the questioning?” Elsa was asking her.
My employer sipped her coffee and shook her head. “I’m not a suspect, and I have certainly not been invited to assist, so no. And I have some other avenues I want to pursue. I do have a question for you, though. This is, obviously, a house of college-age women. Presumably — to put it delicately — there may have been situations where eligible young men…”
“Do we ever have boys over?” Elsa said, grinning. “Is that the question?”
“Well, I was sort of assuming the answer to that question was yes. My real question is about the protocol. Do young gentlemen stay over whenever invited, or are some of them considered more acceptable than others to the residents of the house? Is there some sort of voting process to determine whether each particular swain is allowed specific privileges here?”
Elsa laughed. “There are no formal rules. In general, we… it works out better if we stay over with the boys — for those who enjoy the company of boys — rather than have them stay over here, just because the island is cut off from the mainland for half of every day. But sometimes… we adapt. Frankly, the main problem is the limited number of bathrooms, for those girls who aren’t me or Kim. Why do you ask?”
“Because I’d like to find out what would be involved in having Marshall” — she gestured in my direction, as if Elsa might not be sure who she was talking about — “stay over here tonight.”
Elsa looked me up and down with a critical eye, as if seeing me for the first time.
“He’s quite tidy,” my employer assured her. “He’s mannerly and unobtrusive, and he makes a very good omelet if requested. I’ll make sure he shaves before he arrives.” She held up a hand. “He will sleep on the sofa, of course.”
Elsa was controlling herself, barely. “Oh, that’s good,” she said, not meeting my eyes. “My bed is quite narrow.”
My employer lit a cigarette and looked at me. She leaned over to whisper to Elsa, not exactly sotto voce, “It’s been at least a year since I’ve seen him turn that particular color.”