the heron island mystery (part thirty-nine)

This story started here.

The most immediate problem was that the dirt road I was on didn’t go to Heron House. It would eventually meet the road to Heron House, along with the road to the mainland and the road to the other houses on the island (which I thought of as “the rich people’s houses”), but if I traveled by that roundabout route “Manfred” would definitely make it to Heron House before I did — if that was where he was headed — and that was not acceptable.

So, as I walked quickly along the road, I tried to keep one eye on the road itself, so as not to trip on a root or something, and the other eye to my right, looking for some sort of path through the thick trees to the other road.

Then I saw it — at least it looked like a rough path. It could have been just a natural gap between the trees, but I took it. It was difficult to follow, especially since the sky was getting darker and darker, but I’d committed to this course, so I pushed forward.

I knew I was going in the right direction. The worst that could happen was that I’d miss the Heron House road (which ended at Mrs. Bannister’s house) and run right off the bluff and fall down to the beach below.

Well, that seemed rather unlikely, and then I saw a light ahead of me, so I walked faster.

The light was from Mrs. Bannister’s house. Her car was in the driveway, but there were no signs of life.

I reached the road and turned left, trotting up the hill to Heron House.

Most of the front windows in the house were lighted (except for Mary’s room, of course), but I didn’t want anybody to know I was there, so I ducked around the vehicles parked in front of the house and tiptoed down the path that went beside the house toward the deck and the water. I didn’t go onto the deck, though, but I walked beside it, keeping low, until I was near the edge of the ground, where it fell off abruptly toward the beach.

The deck lights were on. I had no idea if that was going to be a good thing or not, but at least nobody was on the deck.

Holding still for a moment, I heard a noise from below. It sounded like somebody climbing the rickety “stairs” from the beach to the deck. I wanted to peek over the edge, but the sky was not completely dark yet, and there was too much chance of my being seen.

One thing in my favor, I thought, was that even if “Manfred” was armed after all, he wouldn’t have a weapon in his hand when he reached the deck — he’d have needed both hands free to hold on while he climbed up from the beach.

Then he appeared, poking his head up cautiously to see if anybody was on the deck. He looked at the house, at all the various windows, then he eased his way up onto the deck, moving slowly and carefully.

I was quite close to him, keeping still and controlling my breathing as I crouched beside the deck, and at this distance his wig and makeup were pretty obvious.

Once he was away from the edge, before he could turn and see me, if he was going to, I fired a shot into the air.

He turned so quickly that he slipped and half stumbled, grabbing the railing to steady himself.

I hadn’t bothered to come up with something clever to say, so I kept quiet, my eyes steady on his. I held my gun in both hands, pointed at his heart. He raised his hands, and I stayed where I was. He tried to say some things, or ask some questions, but I wasn’t paying attention to that.

It did occur to me that it was probably to my advantage that he had no idea who I was. I was just a man with a gun.

The door opened and people came out on the deck and said things, but I didn’t look at them. I kept my eyes on “Manfred,” who was also not looking anywhere but at me.

Breaking the stalemate, a welcome figure, tall and spindly, limped forward, ordering everybody else to stay back.

She searched “Manfred” carefully, standing behind him and reaching around so as not to come into my line of fire. She pulled out a small knife and a wallet and keys, plus some other items, all of which she put into her own pockets. Then she looked at me over his shoulder and smiled, a broader smile than she usually allowed herself.

“Marshall,” she purred. “It’s very good of you to join us, and so thoughtful to bring Professor Drake with you. You have exceeded my expectations.”

  To be continued…

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