the deacon mystery (part seventeen)

This story started here.

My employer opened her eyes, just enough to see the morning sun streaming into our room. She groaned and threw her forearm across her eyes as she said, "Your tasks for this morning: One: Get me some coffee. Please. Two: Take your coffee and have it somewhere other than here. I'm expecting at least two callers this morning, and you're going to talk to them, not me. I'm far too busy. Deadlines and so on.

"If you have your coffee on the rear deck, please leave a note on the front door saying that's where you are. And make sure this door is locked."

"Who are you expecting?"

"Rhonda, and Kate Lane – probably in that order. Rhonda will want to give you information. You can take it or not – that's your call. I have nothing for her, and I don't care about the case – any case she may want to talk to me about."

Some time later, I was sitting on the front porch, in the rocking chair. My coffee mug was on the worn two-by-six of the porch railing.

No note on the front door would have discouraged Kate Lane from ascending the stairs and knocking on our door (at a minimum). Better to head her off on the ground floor.

The sky was slowly becoming overcast, and the air was damp and a bit chilly. I thought, idly, about going upstairs to get a sweater, but now that I was seated I was comfortable and reluctant to move.

Contemplating the easy availability of more coffee in the hall, whenever I needed it, I noticed a thin layer of condensation on the glass of the front door. I could still see the notch where the knife had landed the night before last.

My employer's coffee was ready on her bedside table. She had apparently gone back to sleep. I'd put a saucer on top of the mug, to try to keep the coffee warm for her.

I did wonder who had washed the four dirty mugs from the conference yesterday morning. They were clean and back among the collection in the hall, so somebody had dealt with them. I would have wagered a modest amount of money that it had not been my employer

Sitting in the rocking chair, sipping my coffee, enjoying the cool breeze, I remembered the woman who'd been sitting there two nights before.

She'd appeared to be tall and slender, with long, dark hair, wearing dark clothes and, possibly, wire-rimmed glasses.

Could she have been mistaken for my employer in the darkness? Is that why someone had thrown a knife at her?

I thought this was likely.

Had we met her before? I was pretty sure we had, but of course this was just... Well, my employer would have called it guessing, and "guess" was a dirty word in her lexicon.

A little while later, Mrs. Jessup, our landlady, poked her head out to wish me good morning, and I rose to return her greeting.

Kate Lane drove up and parked in front of the inn. I wondered if my employer had been right about Rhonda visiting this morning as well.

"Hey, Marshall," the reporter said cheerfully as she reached the three steps up to the porch.

"Good morning, Miss Lane," I said. I rose and offered her the chair, but she declined and half-sat on the flat railing.

"What brings you here this morning?" I asked as I sat down again.

"I wanted to find out what Miss Sleet thinks of the new case, at the college."

"As far as I know, she's not aware of any new case, at the college or anywhere else. I know I'm not. In any case, she's not available – she has deadlines."

She digested this. "Do you know how the Deacon case worked out?"

"Sheriff White interviewed me last night, and I know that Dr. Deacon is dead, but I don't know anything beyond that."

Of course, if the window in our room had happened to be open, my employer (if she were awake) would have been able hear this conversation. I was tempted to glance up and check, but obviously I couldn't do that with the reporter in front of me.

Kate Lane paused, as if this conversation wasn't going in the way she'd anticipated. As she started to speak again, I held up a finger and pointed as a police cruiser pulled up and parked behind her car.

To be continued...

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