the deacon mystery (part three)

This story started here.

After finishing our supper, we strolled back across Main Street and continued on Pine Street, which would eventually take us home, or, depending on which fork we took at the Catholic Church, to the town pier.

Cars went by from time to time, but we didn't see anybody else walking. The houses had their front doors closed (it was too brisk out for just screen doors), but most of the living rooms were illuminated by warm, cozy-looking light.

In the early evening quiet, I heard a car approaching from a distance behind us. It was moving fast – much too fast for that road in semi-darkness – but the motor barely purred. Definitely not a hot-rodder.

We were passing a narrow side road which went down a steep slope. We'd always wondered what was down there in the thick trees, but we hadn't yet explored.

I quickly put my arm around my employer's narrow waist and pivoted, half carrying her down the hill and then pulling her behind a large tree. She was absolutely silent, and she rested her hand on my arm as she steadied herself.

We heard the car slow as it passed the road, but I was not going to poke my head out to try to see anything. After a moment we heard another car pass, and then the original car moved on also.

She was sitting on the porch of the inn as we arrived home, and she was hard to see in her dark clothes. The porch light was off. I could make out the shape of her pale face, but I did not immediately recognize her.

I was especially alert because of what had happened twenty minutes earlier, so the moment we reached the corner I slowed and stopped. My employer, her arm looped through mine, stopped also, and she waited.

There was a streetlight behind us, and it happened to come on at exactly that moment. Well, any attempt at a complicated maneuver would probably have failed anyway, so I moved forward, releasing my employer's arm. She fell into place directly behind me as I walked across the street and toward the inn.

Then, as I saw the woman's head turn slowly toward us – although I was sure she had been aware of us ever since we'd stopped at the corner – there was a thunk.

I had a hunch about what that thunk had been, but if I'd hit the ground – my most immediate and primitive instinct – it would have exposed my employer to possible danger, so I continued to move forward, aware of the steady tap of her cane on the sidewalk behind me.

On the porch of the inn, the rocking chair was still moving slightly, but it was empty. No one was in sight in any direction.

A car appeared and passed by the inn and headed toward the pier. It definitely wasn't the smoothly purring car from earlier.

The knife was around nine inches long, and it was sticking out of the door jamb. I was glad it hadn't landed a few inches to the right because then it would have shattered the glass of the door itself, and that would have attracted the attention of our landlady, Mrs. Jessup.

My employer looked at the knife, at the chair, and then all around. She used a fingertip to stop the chair's motion, then she looked at me.

"Where are my books?"

"I dropped them back at the corner, when the streetlight came on. To increase my tactical flexibility and freedom of motion."

"Hmm." She glanced pointedly in that direction. "Well, perhaps you should go back and get them now."

"After you're inside the house."

She nodded. "Yes, that makes sense." Our eyes met for a moment. "I'll wait in the front hall until you come back."

To be continued...

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