the heron island mystery (part thirty-one)

This story started here.

Rhonda sighed. “Well, here’s what I know. I have no idea why Manfred was on the island during the storm, or even if he was there at all, as opposed to being dumped on the beach from a boat. We’ve talked to the other homeowners on the island, but nothing has come from that. Without a lot more than I have now, I can’t get a warrant to search anybody’s house or property.”

“And the people who live on Heron Island are…”

“They have money, and influence, and more than one of them has made it pretty clear to me that they didn’t think I was up to the job of replacing Sheriff Baxter in the first place.”

My employer nodded. “I understand. Do you know where Mary spent the night?”

Rhonda shook her head. “No idea. To tell the truth, until now, until Kim Daniels’ accusation, I hadn’t been giving that question very much attention. Your own statements place her off the island the night Manfred was killed. You didn’t ask when you saw her in the morning?”

“No. It did not occur to me at that moment that she would end up being either a murder victim or a murder suspect, let alone both.”

(And, of course, she’d been busy being grumpy about having to get up early, but I didn’t mention that.)

My employer leaned forward and tapped her ash into the ashtray. “What about Kim’s theoretical lover, the professor?” she asked. “Does he exist (and is he a ‘he’?), and was she with him the night Manfred was murdered? “

Rhonda nodded. “He exists. I know his name, but I want to withhold that, since I gave him some assurances about protecting his identity if I could. His wife is out of town, and he says that Kim did spend the night with him, at his home, but there’s no direct evidence supporting that, as far as we know so far. So, it’s not much of an alibi.

“And I remember you asked about the evidence on the deck. Nothing that pointed toward Manfred or his jacket.”

“And the deputies? Where were they staying?”

“Why does that matter?”

My employer shrugged. “Testing one of my ideas.”

“Which you’re not sharing. Fair enough. They were in an unmarked van, parked in a small lot near the road to the mainland. Well, the ‘lot’ is actually just a little clear area where people park during the day when they’re going clamming. That’s it?”

My employer stubbed out her cigarette. “For now. What do you want from me?”

Rhonda smiled and turned to me. “It’s what I want from both of you. Marshall, I’ve read your statement. Was there anything you observed while you were in the house which you left out of the report?”

My employer held up a hand. “That’s too general.” She smiled. “Marshall observes a lot. You remember his testimony during the Emily Armstrong trial. We’d be here all day.”

Rhonda made a face. “Okay. After Daniels was taken into custody, did you search her room?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied, after getting a signal from my employer.

“Did you find anything that seemed pertinent?”

“A few notes from a lover — signed with a pet name, but, based on the content, probably from her professor lover. A couple of clippings from the college paper, and one from the Crier, from a few years ago, about Manfred. A Latin textbook, although her class schedule didn’t list any classes where Latin would be involved.”

“I’ll put something together with that,” my employer said. “Mary was a journalism student, and she was doing research on Manfred so she could write an article about him, for the college paper. He was such a notorious character around here that she thought it would make a good story.”

“I didn’t see anything like that in her papers. I admit I didn’t read everything…”

“She didn’t keep any of that material at Heron House,” my employer explained. “She kept that research in her old dorm room, because she was suspicious of her roommates and their possible connections to Manfred. I read it all today, and I read Manfred’s book as well.”

“Does any of this tie in with Kim’s statement that Manfred was going to get rich?”

“Mary was pretty sure that someone connected with Manfred was doing the spooky manifestations in the house — the footprints and the Latin writing and so on — with the idea that one of her roommates could be suckered into hiring Manfred to ‘lay’ the ghost. He’s provided that ‘service’ to the prosperous and gullible in this area before. She didn’t know who the accomplice was, but she was pretty sure it was one of her roommates. So, I assume that’s why she stored the papers related to this particular assignment in her former roommate’s dorm room.”

“That makes sense.”

To be continued…

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