Elsa sighed. “I… I guess you’re an expert at this sort of situation, but it just… It seems like we shouldn’t be making jokes right now.”
My employer nodded. “I’m not an expert on the subject of grief. I’ve seen quite a bit, and I’ve experienced it myself, of course, but I haven’t studied it. It’s not… My best advice is to allow yourself to go in any direction that seems necessary or useful at the moment. I would say that it’s important not to act out, or to feel that you should act out, any emotions which you’re not actually feeling.”
She grimaced. “In my — rather atypical, I know — experience, some of the most powerful and emotive expressions of grief I’ve ever seen have been performed by people who turned out later to be murderers. People who are hiding a guilty secret seldom allow themselves to joke around after a death.” She frowned. “I guess that’s excluding psychopaths, but psychopaths, like serial killers, are much more common in fiction than in real life.”
“So, you think I’m innocent? I guess that’s something.”
“To be frank, I have no idea — not yet. It… I can imagine how you might have murdered Manfred, with the body ending up down on the beach, but it would take a lot to sell me on the idea that it really happened. As for Mary, anybody could have done it. Nobody is excluded at this stage.”
“Also,” I put in, “I think one of the difficult things about your situation right now is that the natural tendency would be for Mary’s friends to pull together, but of course it’s complicated by the fact that one or more of you may well have killed her.”
She nodded. “It’s funny. We all had dinner together last night, which doesn’t happen very often during the week. Nobody said why, but I think we all knew why we wanted to.”
“Will you feel like doing that tonight?” I asked. “I imagine that’s become a more complicated question now.”
She nodded. “That makes sense. Is that why you’re going to be staying over tonight — to check out how we’re reacting? Maybe provide some counseling, therapy… that sort of thing?”
I laughed. “What makes you think that I have any idea why I’ll be here?”
She laughed also, and my employer stubbed out her cigarette and sipped her coffee, looking pleased with herself.
Elsa drank some more of her soda and yawned. “Police headquarters. Questioning. Signed statements. I don’t suppose they have regularly scheduled nap times?”
“Unlikely,” my employer said. “Oh, by the way, I do want to ask about those malignant manifestations — the footprints and the Latin writing and so forth. When did those last appear?”
Elsa frowned. “Let me think. Not last night. Not the night before — the night Manfred died… Oh, that’s terrible. I’m starting to remember which day is which based on who was murdered that night. Okay, today–” She gestured at the window. “It’s daytime, so it’s Wednesday. There was nothing last night — Tuesday night. There was nothing the night before, Monday night, when Manfred was murdered. But Sunday night…”
“Mary told us about the Latin message –‘Change will come tomorrow.’ But she wasn’t here Monday night, the night she came to get us at our home. Was that Sunday night?”
Elsa nodded. “That’s right. We found it Monday morning. I remember because I overslept and missed my first class — more or less by accident.” She looked out of the front window, stifling another yawn. The sky was much lighter now, and the woods around the house were clearly visible.