the deacon mystery (part seven)

This story started here.

The sheriff, having discharged her responsibilities, departed (after thanking my employer, of course). The attorney left a moment later, nodding to each of us in turn, apparently in lieu of a spoken farewell.

As we heard our departing guests walk down the stairs, one and then the other, my employer regarded me with a frown.

She was not, I thought, expressing disapproval of my appearance or my actions. When that was the case, she usually pulled her glasses down to the tip of her nose and gave me a piercing look over the rims. But it was obvious that something about the sight of me was not filling her heart with joy, and I thought I knew what it was.

Before either of us could speak, however, if we were going to, there was a tap at the door.

The stairs in the inn were carpeted, but a couple of the boards usually creaked enough to alert us to any new arrivals, now that we were the only tenants.

There were exceptions, however — people who were not heavy, or who walked carefully.

My employer and I glanced at each other. Neither of us had forgotten the events of the night before.

I was moving to get my gun when we heard a familiar voice.

“Good morning! It’s Kate Lane, from the Crier!”

My employer’s shoulders slumped about a quarter of an inch. She gestured at the door with her eyes. I went over and pulled it open.

Miss Lane, a reporter from the local newspaper, looked up at me eagerly. “I saw the sheriff leaving, and I thought–”

“Miss Lane,” my employer said, getting to her feet, “I do not conduct business in my bedroom. We can talk on the deck.”

I saw the reporter’s eyes flick around our modest room, perhaps accumulating clues that it was in fact a shared room. We never made any attempt to disguise the fact that we lived together. People quite often appeared to be curious, but almost nobody ever asked directly.

In the downstairs hall, my employer poured two mugs of coffee. She made a face that the reporter couldn’t see — she knew that the impact of not offering anything to our guest was vitiated by the fact that Miss Lane had a container of takeout coffee in her hand.

The sky was clear but the air was cold on the rear deck, which was in the shade at that time of the morning.

Our regular table was pretty much as we’d left it after our breakfast the day before. Mrs. Jessup never sat out here now that the air was colder.

I brought over a third chair for our guest.

Since we’d met her, I’d had the impression that Kate Lane, in her mind, regarded herself as our friendly rival — the scrappy local reporter who spars with the gifted amateur sleuth who had moved into her town.

However, I do have to report that, in reality, we seldom gave her any thought at all.

“Jan–” Miss Lane started, but my employer gave her such a glare that she stopped immediately.

I wasn’t surprised that the reporter had blanched. My employer had looked as if she was about to call down a lightning bolt directly on the rear deck of the inn.

“So,” my employer said as I lit her cigarette, “Miss Lane, what can I do for you?”

The reporter recovered her composure and she smiled, apparently not entirely able to conceal how pleased she was with the situation, even after her initial faux pas.

“Miss Sleet,” she said slowly, “I’ve heard that Fred Deacon approached you yesterday to help find his missing daughter. Have you decided to take the case? Is that why the sheriff was just here?”

My employer shrugged. “Sheriff White was here to ask me about that conversation, yes. Under the circumstances, that’s part of her routine. I had no huge revelations to give her — I can tell you that much. I can also tell you that I declined Mr. Deacon’s offer yesterday — I refused, in no uncertain terms, to investigate his missing daughter, and that decision has not changed.”

Miss Lang shrugged. “I guess that answers my question. Does–”

“The answer to your next question, which you should have asked first, is that this is on the record. Please feel free to quote me.” She stubbed out her cigarette and used her cane to get to her feet as I pulled her chair out. “If you do decide to quote me directly, please quote me accurately and completely. Have a pleasant day.”

As we walked down the path to the front of the inn, my employer regarded me again, still displeased.

We were obviously going to investigate — or at least begin to investigate — the Deacon case, whatever that might turn out to be, and she had no possible justification for this action on our part.

She couldn’t claim that it was for the money, especially since the person who had offered her the money was the one who was apparently now missing.

If she had claimed that it was to help the poor, suffering members of the Deacon family, I would have reminded her that she was not — according to her — a public convenience.

She shrugged. “Well, come on,” she said, turning away and leading me down the sidewalk toward the corner.

I made a mental note that there were still four dirty mugs in our room, which I would have to remember to wash at some point.

To be continued…

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