This story started here.
My employer sat at her desk and brought the meeting to order.
“First item on the agenda,” she said, slowly filling her pipe. “We need to address the coffee situation.”
I nodded. She really wanted a cup of coffee (as did I, I confess) and we had no easy way to get any. I could have gone out and got coffee for us, and on other nights I had done just that, but we needed to figure out what kind of danger we might face if either of us went outside at that moment.
We needed to buy a coffee machine. We agreed on that.
I had pulled down the window shade as soon as we’d entered the room, of course, but I found myself glancing at it from time to time, wondering what, if anything, might be going on outside. I didn’t hear any sounds, but of course one feature of the evening so far had been a very quiet car.
“Moving on,” she said. “I cede the floor to you.” She glanced at the window shade as she fired up her lighter.
“Three things,” I said. “One: The incident on Pine Street. We need to assess that as fully as we can. Two: The incident on the porch. The woman who was sitting there, whoever she was and whatever she was doing there, and whoever threw a knife at her.”
“Unless she staged that herself.”
“Unless she staged that herself, yes. And, three, to be blunt–“
She nodded impatiently. “Yes, I had a… disagreement at the book sale, when you were chatting with Jo and Phyllis and so on. When I… Anyway, and you think that I may have annoyed somebody to the point that he decided to seek, or at least threaten, retribution?”
She shrugged and drew slowly on her pipe. “My knee-jerk reaction is to say no, but we need to thrash it out and figure out if I’m right about that.”
I nodded. “I listed it third, but I think we should start with that, since it came first.”
“Cause — possible cause — before possible effect. That makes sense. As you did observe, I had a spirited epistemological debate with Dr. Deacon, which was quite enjoyable, and then he introduced me to his younger brother, Fred.
“Dr. Deacon moved away at that point, and Fred Deacon immediately… buttonholed me I believe is the term.” She considered and discarded the idea of pausing to speculate on the origin and history of the verb “to buttonhole.”
“His daughter, he said, had vanished, very suddenly, at the same time that a large sum of cash went missing. He wanted to hire me.”
“To find the daughter, or the money?”
She shook her head — almost a shiver. “I have no idea, nor do I want to know. He offered to pay me, I started to decline his offer, he interrupted me in order to suggest that he might offer me even more money. He actually seemed to be about to pull out his wallet right then and there, so I turned my back on him and walked away.”
She puffed thoughtfully on her pipe.
“First of all,” she said firmly, “I want to put aside, at least for the moment, the idea that Fred Deacon, rejected by me, perhaps somewhat rudely, decided to threaten or injure me. He is, I gather, quite well off, and prosperous people, the law-abiding ones anyway, when their initial offer of money is rejected, almost always react to this by offering more. They may move to some sort of Plan B later on, but their first instinct is to view rejection as a bargaining tactic.”
I nodded. “That’s a generalization, of course, but it’s a good one. At least for the moment, as you say.”
“Shall we start with the knife, the woman, or the knife thrower?”
“The knife is the most solid of the three — let’s start with that.”
I took it from my jacket pocket and unfolded the handkerchief I’d used to pull it from the door jamb. She held out her hand and I let her take them.
She was careful not to handle the knife directly, of course. She sometimes acted disdainful about physical clues like fingerprints, but she didn’t want her prints on a weapon unless she knew exactly where it had come from and who it had belonged to.
She studied the knife, but I knew she had seen the word on the haft right away.
“The interesting thing — or at least one interesting thing — is that it was etched into the wood some time ago. That’s easy to see. So, the knife was not modified just to deliver this message.”
“If it was a message, do you think it was a message to you, or to the woman on the porch?”
“How close would it have passed to the woman’s body?”
I squinted, trying to remember the exact details of a scene I’d been looking at, at a moment when my focus — the focus of my mind and my ears, at least — had been on the tap of my employer’s cane on the sidewalk behind me.
“The knife thrower was probably on the far side of the laundromat — that’s why we didn’t see him, or her. So, the knife…” I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll look at the scene tomorrow morning, in the daylight, and see if there’s anything I can figure out. And, you know, look for footprints and so on.” I took the plunge. “And maybe try to figure out who the woman was, the woman who was waiting on our porch, presumably for us.”
Then we both waited for a moment, to see what I would say next. I decided to remain silent about the fact that I thought I had recognized the woman, and I was fairly certain that I hadn’t been the only one.