the heron island mystery (part forty-five)

This story started here.

It was dark, and I stayed close to my employer in case she lost her footing on the dirt road. Rhonda and the deputy were apparently slowing their pace to match ours.

My employer turned to the sheriff. “Are we about to have another thrilling boat ride?”

Rhonda smiled. “Sorry to disappoint you. The boat was here, but they used it earlier, to take Professor Drake to jail.”

“A worthwhile purpose,” my employer said with a smile. “And traveling by automobile is fine with me.”

We reached the spot where the main road split into three, and, a short distance past that, there was a small clear area to the right, where a van and a car were parked. Cheryl the deputy unlocked the van and turned to look at Rhonda.

Rhonda waved. “I’ll take Miss Sleet and Marshall. You can drive the van back and sign out for the night.”

Cheryl nodded and climbed into the van. She turned on the engine as Rhonda unlocked the sedan and got behind the wheel. I helped my employer into the rear seat and then sat beside Rhonda.

The road from the island to the mainland was still dry, so obviously we’d had plenty of time. Cheryl crossed first in the van, and once we were on the paved road she quickly pulled away from us.

Rhonda smiled. “She’s in a hurry because once she drops off the van she gets to go home. I’m in no hurry, because as soon as I get to headquarters I’ll have a lot of work to do.”

“And you may have a question or two for me,” my employer put in.

“Well, the girls at the house were mostly concerned with Kim, and with Mary’s murder, understandably. But what about Professor Drake? How did you find out about him…”

“Or did Marshall produce him through his own magical efforts, and then I managed to create the idea — after the fact — that both the rabbit and the hat were actually mine? To be honest, I had no idea that Marshall was going to run into Professor Drake, let alone deliver him to Heron House as masterfully as he did.” Rhonda glanced at me, and I adopted as modest an expression as I could muster up on short notice.

“You didn’t want to reveal his name, at least to me,” my employer continued to the sheriff, “but Claremont is a small school, and it wasn’t too difficult to find out which professors were sleeping with which students. When I saw you earlier today, I already knew his name.

“I sent Marshall to search the two cabins because they were the only buildings on the island which could be searched, and I wondered if they were being used for anything scurrilous during the off-season. To tell the truth, I was thinking of assignations, not disguise storage. By the way, when you were trying to establish where Kim was on the night Manfred was killed, you called Professor Drake?”

“Yes. And I asked him — after making it clear that the fact that he’s involved with a student was no concern of the police department — if he knew where she’d spent the night on Monday night. He immediately said that she’d been with him, and that his wife was out of town for a week.”

My employer laughed. “He took a risk, but it was a good move on his part. After all–“

“I’d just handed him an alibi for himself. Obviously.”

“Well, it might have exploded in his face, but it was a good gamble.”

“And, besides,” I put in, “if it was established later on that Kim had actually spent the night somewhere else, it would just look like he’d been lying to protect his lover.”

I felt something touch my right arm. I glanced over and I saw a long, bony forefinger, with which I was very familiar, pressing the side of my arm for a moment and then retreating.

“At the risk of stating the obvious…” I began after a moment.

“Oh, go ahead,” Rhonda said. “Take the risk.”

“I examined that jacket pretty carefully — the Manfred jacket — when I found it under the cabin. I’m not an expert, but it looked to me as if it had been sewn by hand, very carefully, by somebody who knew what they were doing.”

“That was exactly my conclusion,” my employer said, “about the jacket Manfred was wearing when he was killed.”

“So,” Rhonda said as she pulled out onto the highway, “it looks like Manfred had two — or at least two — of those jackets, and one of them somehow ended up with Professor Drake. That is interesting.”

  To be continued…

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