the heron island mystery (part thirty)

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"Is she deranged?" Rhonda demanded.

Ordinarily, my employer would have pretended that she had no idea who the sheriff was referring to, but Rhonda had slid an ashtray across her desk as we'd seated ourselves, so she was grateful for that. This was the first time Rhonda had relaxed her rule about smoking in her office, so it was no time to be pedantic (or at least not that pedantic).

"I don't know," my employer said. "That's not my area of expertise." She waved a hand. "I'm not convinced that Kim killed Mary, either, although everybody's stories certainly don't rule her out. But proclaiming that you're guilty of a crime which you did not actually commit does not necessarily indicate mental imbalance. It can be a very sane and clever move, under certain circumstances."

"Mr. Barris is hoping that I – we – can give him more information so he can decide how to charge Kim Daniels." Elsa looked up. "I know she tried to attack you, Miss Peabody – and threatened to kill you – but that's complicated by her confession that she killed Mary Sanders, which as far as I know we can't prove. And she said she killed Mary in revenge for a murder that I can't see how Mary could have committed."

"Since I'm here," Elsa said, "can I say what I'm wondering?"

Rhonda nodded. "Please do."

"Sitting where I'm sitting – figure of speech – I'm worried about what's going to happen next, much more than who's going to prosecute who for what." She paused before continuing. "There was a murder near my house on Monday night, there was a murder in my house on Tuesday night, and one of my friends tried to kill me last night. To be honest, I don't know if I want to go home tonight. And I'm scared for my roommates. The ones who are left."

The sheriff leaned back in her chair. "I can understand that. I had deputies on the island last night, and I'm considering having someone inside your house tonight." She tapped the papers on her desk. "I have your statement about last night, Miss Peabody, and I will be in touch later today. But first I want to talk to Miss Sleet and Marshall, to pool our information."

Elsa put her hands on the arms of her wheelchair. "I understand. Please let me know what the plans are for tonight."

She started to turn, but my employer said, "Elsa, here's one fact which might be helpful. What you seem worried about sounds like a serial killer. As I said before, serial killers are quite common in movies, for obvious reasons, but they are very rare in real life. This is, apparently, a series of murders, but I very much doubt that someone is methodically and systematically murdering, or attempting to murder, the inhabitants of Heron House."

Elsa nodded. "Thanks. That is helpful, actually." She turned and wheeled toward the door, which I held open for her. She winked, visible only to me, as she left. I closed the door and resumed my seat.

My employer took out her cigarette case and I made sure I had my lighter ready. "What I said to Elsa is true," she began, "but I am also worried about possible future violence, so, to anticipate your question, I am willing to share the facts that I know. I have, needless to say, some ideas as well, but they don't lead anywhere conclusive and I'm going to hold them for the moment."

Rhonda nodded. "Okay, let's put Mr. Barris and his job to the side. He's been county attorney for a long time – he can solve his own problems. I was elected to prevent the things that have been happening at Heron House... God, I sound like I'm campaigning, don't I?"

"I know what you mean, and you're right. Nobody has ever elected me to do anything, but I've been in that position, looking down on a corpse that I could perhaps have prevented if I'd done something differently, and I don't want to be there again." She held up a finger. "But I do have some questions myself, five in number, which I'm hoping you will answer for me, if you can."

"Can you list them for me?" Rhonda asked.

My employer smiled and took out a cigarette, which I lit for her. "Of course. Some of them have more than one part."

Counting them off on her fingers, she said:

"One: Why was Manfred on the island on Monday night, during the storm? Assuming he wasn't wandering around in the rain all night, where was he staying?

"Two: Where did Mary spend that night, the night of Manfred's murder?

"Three: Where did Kim spend that night, the night of Manfred's murder? Was she with her professor lover, and does her professor lover really exist?

"Four: On the night Mary was killed, was there any physical evidence on or around the deck to support the idea that somebody in Manfred's clothes – Manfred or not – had been on the deck?

"Five: Your deputies – the ones who were on the island last night – where were they?"

To be continued...

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