the deacon mystery (part five)

This story started here.

The following morning, as my employer took a shower, I went outside, ostensibly looking for footprints or other clues.

The large laundromat across the street had just opened for the day, and a few energetic souls were already tending to their washing. The sound of the machines, and the smell of detergent, filtered out through the plywood walls as I scrutinized the gravel in the driveway beside the building.

Had somebody stood there the night before, hidden from us by the building, and thrown a knife across the street at the woman on our front porch?

I had no idea.

Several cars passed by as I pretended to investigate, but I didn't pay much attention to them, except to try to listen to each one to make sure it wasn't the softly purring vehicle of the night before.

Then, having failed, as I'd anticipated, to discover anything useful or interesting next to the laundromat, I crossed the street again and went to the driveway to the right of the inn.

The mystery woman who had been on the front porch the night before had been dressed in dark colors, and she'd only been clearly visible to me when her pale face had been turned in my direction. I'd been looking at her face when the knife had landed in the door jamb next to her, and then I'd lost sight of her, probably because she'd turned her head away from me. But how had she got off the porch?

With the street light on, she couldn't have walked down the steps to the sidewalk (and, in any case, that would have meant walking directly toward whoever had just thrown a knife at her). It seemed most likely that she'd gone off the far end of the porch, over the railing and down to the driveway where Mrs. Jessup parked her car.

Possible? Yes, easy to visualize. Had it happened that way? I saw no direct evidence, but it seemed likely.

Having come to that conclusion, for whatever it was worth, I was unsure how long I needed to maintain the fiction that I was doing vital investigative work. So, it was something of a relief when a police cruiser pulled up in front of the inn and Sheriff Rhonda got out. She saw me, and she waited for me to come over to her.

"O'Connor," she said.

"Sheriff White. Good morning. What a pleasant surprise."

"Is your employer at home?"

"As far as I know." I nearly went into a bit of banter, but her expression dissuaded me. I opened the front door and held it for her, and as she entered I heard my employer's voice.

"Sheriff," she said cheerfully. "Good morning."

I stepped into the front hall behind the sheriff and I saw that my employer had three mugs on a tray. She was fully dressed, with her hair brushed.

"I do indeed want coffee," Rhonda said slowly, "but how did you know I was coming? Frankly, under the circumstances, that looks suspicious."

My employer laughed as she handed me the tray. "This is not for you, Rhonda, although you are welcome to pour yourself a mug of the nice, fresh coffee which our wonderful landlady, Mrs. Jessup, provides for us every morning, which we very much appreciate, of course." She gestured at the urn and then started to ascend the stairs.

I was tempted to put the tray back down and pour coffee for Rhonda, but she moved to serve herself.

I looked at the three mugs on the tray. Two of them had coffee, and the third apparently contained tea with lemon. My employer and I usually drank coffee, so who was the tea for? And where had my employer obtained a slice of lemon?

And, if a visitor had arrived while I'd been outside investigating, how had I failed to notice?

Of course, someone could have entered the inn via the rear deck and the kitchen and the parlor, but how would he, or she, have got past Mrs. Jessup, who always had her breakfast in the kitchen?

And, at least as important, I didn't think I had ever seen my employer get coffee, or tea, for anybody.

I held out the tray so Rhonda could add her mug to the others. She preceded me up the stairs, and as I followed her, making sure the mugs didn't slip around on the tray, my eyes seemed to be drawn to the pearl-handled revolver on her hip.

Our visitor – my employer's visitor – was wearing a striking yellow three-piece suit, and she sat in my employer's desk chair, with the morning sun streaming in through the window behind her. It seemed to make her clothing, and her long, strawberry blonde hair, glow. The details of her face were difficult to see clearly, but already I knew what she looked like. I had a vivid memory of being cross-examined by Miss Tamara Nelson, Esq., in court.

Rhonda paused, but she was far enough into the room that I was able to squeeze around her and bring in the tray.

It took a moment, but Rhonda came up with a line. "Miss Sleet, I do want to question you in connection with a possible crime, but is there a reason you have an attorney with you?"

To be continued...

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