This story started here.
My employer lit a cigarette. There was an ashtray on a small table near her.
“Jennifer,” she said slowly, “please outline, in general terms, what happened yesterday. I saw your father at the book sale. Did anything unusual happen before that? Did you see your father in the morning?”
“We had brunch together. We usually do that on Saturday. Then I did the dishes while he read the newspaper.”
“And the Globe. Yesterday’s Globe. He said he was going for a walk, and then he’d go to the book sale, to see Uncle A. And maybe buy some books.”
“Was there anything special about the way he left?”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Did he say or do anything unusual? Did he seem preoccupied or worried?”
“No, just like normal. ‘Stay out of trouble, kitten.’ And he said he’d try to find some good books at the sale.” She smiled. “We both like mysteries.”
“As well you should. Did you see or hear anything from him after that?”
“No. I thought he’d be back for supper, but he wasn’t. So, I heated up some leftovers, then I studied for a while, then I got ready for bed.”
“Was… Is it unusual for your father to be away like that, not letting you know his plans?”
“I asked him once… Anyway, he said that a father needs to keep track of his daughter — not the other way around.”
My employer drew deeply on her cigarette. She was suppressing a smile.
“I had a theory,” Jennifer said hesitantly. “I… A lot of people were probably at the book sale. He might have run into some of his friends and they decided to go out afterwards…” Her voice trailed off.
“Forgive me for being blunt, but does your father often go out on Saturday night?” She held up a hand. “I’m conducting an investigation — I’m not moralizing. I need to know the facts.”
My employer was aware that announcing that she herself was a teetotaler — even apart from it not being strictly accurate — would not have been helpful at this moment.
“Yes, he sometimes goes out drinking with his friends. Usually on Saturday night, or Friday… ‘A man has a drink.'”
“What happened next?”
“I was getting ready for bed, and I heard the phone ring. I ran downstairs, but I wasn’t fast enough, and it stopped. But then it rang again and I picked it up. It was a man’s voice, and he — he didn’t say hello or anything, he just said that my father was…”
She shook her head. “They didn’t say that, not that word. He said they wanted money and then I’d get him back. Then they hung up.”
“And you called the police.”
She looked uncomfortable. “I don’t have any money, or I don’t know where there is any.”
“What about your sister?”
“I didn’t know where she was.”
“Any more phone calls, last night or today?”
“The sheriff has called a couple of times, to check in. Nobody else.”
“Shall I state the obvious?”
Her mouth quirked. There was a brief period of intense internal struggle as we reached the corner of Main Street, and then she said, “You usually do.”
The snort of laughter she’d been suppressing finally erupted.
“I’m sorry,” she said, not looking even remotely sorry. “You walked right into that one.”
I smiled as she looped her arm through mine. “I know. I threw it right over the plate–”
“Oh, please. No sports metaphors.” She gestured with the head of her cane. “Please proceed.”
“1) Rhonda didn’t tell Miss Deacon about your conversation with her father at the book sale.”
“Agreed. She wouldn’t.”
“2) Mr. Deacon offered you substantial money to hire you, but his house is very small and shabby, and one of his daughters is attending Claremont College — which has very inexpensive tuition for townies — and it sounds like his second daughter may go there also, although I got the impression that she’d rather go somewhere else. There were brochures on the table for Harvard and Yale.”
She nodded. “And?”
“This is Sunday. Did she go to church this morning, perhaps to see if her father would be there, or to ask her uncle what happened at the book sale? Or, if she was afraid to leave the house, worried about missing a phone call, why not call the church?
“Also, I do not believe she was being entirely truthful with you.” Her eyes widened expectantly. “She’s in high school. Yesterday was Saturday. Who studies on Saturday night?”
She snorted a laugh and punched me, very lightly, on the shoulder.
“Very good. I might consider handing this entire case over to you.” She smiled and squeezed my arm. “If I had something more compelling to think about right now, of course.”