Archive for May, 2010

Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

May 31, 2010

Chapter 9.

Branch looked at the two women facing him and felt helpless. “I’m going to try to find out who might have used Daphne’s endpin. Assuming that the blood is Harriet’s. I’m also assuming that Daphne and Margo remember accurately that Daphne left the cello in the music room.”
Margo burst in: “Assume! It’s a fact.”
“I believe you,” Branch said, raising his hands as if to ward off a blow. “We need to find something that will convince a judge and jury.” He looked both women in the eyes. “We need evidence that will be better than that against Daphne. We need a motive that is compelling. And we need something that will clearly link an individual to the act.”
“What if,” Esme began, “it really is some random attack by a madman or serial killer?”
Branch herded the group to some chairs in one of the bay windows, giving him a moment to think. “We may not be able to solve the crime. Or, worse, Daphne will be convicted.”
“Why not focus on the possibility of an outsider?” Esme asked. “Do you really want to think it was one of us?”
“No, I don’t want to.” Branch did not say that, however distasteful it might be, it was more likely. “But I guess we should pursue all possibilities.”
Margo was insistent. “We’ve got to clear Daphne. I don’t care who it turns out to be.”
Branch nodded. But if it did turn out to be Daphne, Branch knew he would do what he had to do. “I’ll talk to the owners and the sheriff and see if they can think of any outside possibilities. But remember—if we’re prejudiced against it being one of the Music Party, the locals will be prejudiced against the possibility that it is one of them. Motive and evidence. Motive and evidence. That’s what we need.” Branch glanced at his watch. A few people were beginning to drift in for lunch. “I’ll start asking some questions. But now, let’s get some lunch. And you two try to have a good music session this afternoon.”
Asa joined them for lunch, and though he asked if any progress was being made on the investigation, Branch gave noncommittal answers and didn’t mention Daphne or her absence. Margo and Esme followed his cue, and Asa was easily distracted by a question about his opinion of the Schumann string quartets.
When Gerald appeared, Branch went to him and asked not to be assigned an afternoon session. “Got to do some sleuthing.”
“Ok. Say, where’s Daphne?”
“She had to go somewhere—I forgot where. And I nearly forgot that she asked me to tell you that she wanted out of the afternoon session too.”
Returning to the table, Branch saw that Asa had finished and left. Margo and Esme were dawdling over coffee. They clearly had more to say to him.
Margo began. “I didn’t question you while Asa was around, but I wonder why we don’t tell everybody what happened to Daphne, and how wrong it is. Let’s get the whole Music Party involved. Somebody might come up with something.”
“Two heads are better than one,” Esme said.
“And too many cooks spoil the broth,” Branch responded with a half smile. Esme didn’t smile back. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be flip. We may want to do that. But we should get Daphne’s permission. Somebody might come up with something damaging, or something that sounded damaging, as well as something helpful. So let’s wait and talk to Daphne when she gets bailed out.”
“She will make bail, won’t she?” Esme asked.
“She should. The evidence is weak, and the motive weaker. Margo would make a strong witness to the fact that Daphne left her cello in the music room.”
“And Esme too,” Margo added.
“Esme didn’t remember, unfortunately,” Branch said.
Margo stared at Esme. “You don’t remember? You were there. You must have seen her leave the cello. You must have heard me ask about it.”
Esme shrugged and smiled ruefully. “I’m sure you’re right. But I couldn’t honestly say I remembered. I think I had something on my mind. I think something reminded me of one of Howard’s problems. Sometimes I just zone out.” She slapped her head and waved her hand, suggesting some thought flying out of her head.
Margo looked skeptical. “Well, she did leave it. I’ll swear to that.”
“Good,” Branch said. “You go make music. I’ve got to make some calls.”
Branch retreated to the solitude of his room. He lay on his bed and thought for a few minutes. There’s money involved, he thought, and where there’s money there’s often a motive. He picked up the phone and called Chat Jackson, his Houston partner.
“So Chat, you got all that Mattingly case paperwork done?”
“Branch, you lazy mother. I hope you get sunburn. Or a damn lobster bites your johnson off. No, I’ve been flailing my ass off, but I’ll leave some for you. When you coming back?”
“Not for a while. Guess what? There was a murder up here.”
“What? Up there with all that cultured white bread?”
“Yeah. There’s a sheriff in charge. He means well, but he doesn’t have our experience or equipment. So we need to help him out.”
“What about the Maine state boys? Why didn’t you just play your fiddle and keep your nose clean?”
“I wish I could have.”
“I’m beginning to suspect you called ‘cause you want me to do something.”
“I do, actually.”
“I’m going to fax you a list of people, names and addresses. You get on your computer and find out about them. Please. Pretty please. The victim is one of them, named Harriet Downey. She’s supposed to have money. Find out who gets it and if there are any connections with anybody else on the list. Ok?”
Branch heard a heavy sigh. “Ok, but you’re gonna owe me big time.”
“I am ever in your debt.”
“No shit.”
Branch took the list of Music Party participants to the office of the inn. Jill, the owner, was at her desk, punching a calculator.
“Mind if I send a fax?”
Jill looked up. “Not at all. Any news about the investigation?”
Branch grimaced. “Nothing to talk about yet. We’re waiting on a lab report from Augusta. And I’m faxing some stuff to someone in my home department who might be able to help.”
Jill looked around and said softly, “Didn’t I see Daphne go off with the sheriff before lunch?”
“Yeah. She went to look at some stuff with him. Let me ask you something, if you have time.”
Jill turned off the calculator. “Shoot.”
“I’m just exploring all possibilities. The killer might be one of the Music Party. But some of the folks here wonder if it could be someone from outside.”
“It’s hard to think that it could be any of the Party. I’ve known most of them for years.”
“I agree. So have you heard about anyone local who might be a little unstable? Has anyone harassed any of your guests? Any burglaries?”
Jill brushed back a stray wisp of hair and tapped her pencil on the desk. “That’s hard. It’s so quiet here. We did have a burglary a few years ago, but that was during the season. It was a pro from Boston. Sometimes they come up here and look for big cars from Florida, and break into rooms, steal cash, jewels, cameras, credit cards. This guy broke into a room during an after-dinner party and stole a bunch of stuff from a rich guest. But he got caught later, and some of the stuff he had was from our burglary.”
“Anything else?”
She frowned and shook her head. She grimaced slightly and said, hesitantly, “Well, there’s Randy—nah.” She made a dismissive wave.
“What were you thinking?” Branch leaned forward, catching her eye.
“Well, you mentioned someone unstable. Someone occurred to me. But I can’t imagine him doing anything like this.”
“But you just did.”
“I don’t want to get anyone in trouble if they didn’t do anything.”
“Neither do I. But I do want to get the murderer, and I want to consider all the possibilities. So tell me about this Randy.”
“Randy LaMotte. He works on a lobster boat. He’s a little ‘off’.” She made quotation marks with her fingers.
“Has he ever been arrested?”
“I’m not sure. Sheriff Bacon has had to talk to him a few times. I don’t know if he’s ever been actually arrested.”
“What does he do that makes him ‘off’?”
“He’s always striking up a conversation with strangers. And whenever he can, he brings the conversation around to bows and arrows. He’s a big bow hunter, though I don’t know if he’s ever bagged a deer. But he’s an obsessive target shooter.”
“That’s interesting.” Arrows, Branch thought. Pointed shafts about the diameter of a pencil.
“Yeah,” Jill continued, “every year we have this Fourth of July fair, you know? A little parade, a picnic, games for the kids, all that. Well, somebody got the idea of having Randy do a thing to raise money for the church. He gets dressed up like Robin Hood—tights, a green shirt, and that funny hat with a feather. People pay a buck to see if they can get a better shot at the target than Randy. He’s not that great himself, but he usually beats the other guy, so he makes some money, and Father Pierre pats him on the back, bless you my son, and so on. Randy loves it.”
“Sounds like a model citizen.”
“But it never stops there. Some days when he gets off work, he puts on his costume and sets up his target out on the square and harasses customers at the store to shoot with him. When too many people turn him down, he gets pushy, and sometimes he gets mad. I think he’s lonely. But it upsets some people, and the sheriff has had to confiscate the costume a few times. He always gets it back on the Fourth, and then it starts all over again.” She smiled shyly. “I think he has a little crush on me. One summer he wanted to give the guests archery lessons. We let him, and a few took him up on it. But he pestered the others so much we had to stop him. He’s come around every year since then wanting to give lessons, but we tell him there’s no interest.”
“I might like to talk to him. Maybe take a shot at his target.”


Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

May 23, 2010

Chapter 8.

After talking to the sheriff, Branch sat on his bed thinking. Did he really want to know Esme better? Although he was flattered by her choosing him, and though he enjoyed the sex, there was no future in becoming attached. And knowing her better might lead to attachment and thus to loss and pain. He had had enough of that. At first he had had some reservations about Esme’s character. Her queenly attitudes and her easy infidelity to her husband made it easy for Branch to keep some detachment. But her reaction to the murder aroused his protective instinct, and her description of her marriage aroused his sympathy. He almost wished he were more of a cad.
He returned to the lobby and they played the Schumann piano quartet. Daphne got into the lush cello solo in the slow movement. Branch thought her aversion to children was a flaw, but she was a good musician. He hoped her cello did not contain the fatal endpin.
Afterward, Branch and Esme took more time than usual when they made love, and both seemed more satisfied. Esme actually gasped when she came, instead of her usual small sigh. She lingered longer in Branch’s arms, snuggling and running her fingers through his chest hair. Neither had much to say, though at one point she said, “I’ll miss you.”
The next morning after breakfast the sheriff drove up and came in with a long orange extension cord and a work light. Branch met him at the door.
Bacon smiled and held up a bulb in a cardboard container. “Had to go to that hippie shop in Rockport,” he said. “Bet most of their customers are potheads. Think I gave them a scare when I walked in.”
Branch looked at the bulb. “This should do. I hope this gives us a lead. Any word from the medical examiner?”
Bacon said nothing, but pulled a paper from his coat pocket and handed it to Branch. The report said that death had been caused by a sharp instrument penetrating the heart. The wound suggested that the weapon was a round shaft about a quarter of an inch in diameter, about the size of a pencil.
“This looks like what I had in mind,” Branch said.
The sheriff looked around. “What is it that you want to check?”
“Part of a cello. Let’s get the coach to call all the cellists in with their cellos. You could take the black light into the bar and test them there.”
“Ok. Maybe one at a time.”
Gerald was found, and agreed to pull the cellists from their sessions. He looked worried and wanted to ask a lot of questions. Branch put him off.
Asa was the first cellist to appear. Branch immediately saw that his endpin was not a candidate, for it was wooden, and larger in diameter, with only a short metal tip. Gerald brought his own cello in. It had a metal endpin, but the black light showed it to be clean. Frank Baldassare, a cellist Branch didn’t know, also had a clean endpin, as did two other cellists, Eric Larsen and Phyllis Sacks.
Daphne was last. “What’s all this about, Aldo?” she asked as she handed him her cello.
“I’ll explain in a minute,” he said. He hoped hers would be clean. While she waited outside, Branch took the cello into the bar and took the endpin out, holding it carefully with a paper napkin. The sheriff turned on the black light and aimed it at the metal shaft. Two, three small spots glowed faintly. Branch and Bacon looked at each other and nodded. Bacon dropped the pin into a large plastic bag and sealed it.
“I guess we’d better talk to her,” Branch said. “I’ll be the good cop.”
“I don’t mind being the bad.”
Branch went to the door and spoke to Daphne. “Come in here, please, Daphne. We need to talk.”
A frowning and puzzled Daphne went in and sat at a table. Branch closed the door.
Branch turned on the lights, which had been dimmed while they used the black light, and sat across from Daphne. Bacon stood leaning against the bar, arms folded.
Daphne noticed her endpin in the plastic bag. “What are you doing with my endpin? I can’t play without it.”
Branch sighed. “Daphne, the medical examiner’s report said that Harriet was killed by a weapon that sounds like a metal endpin. We’ve been using black light to see if any endpins here had traces of blood. Everybody’s cello was tested. There’s something on yours. It will have to be tested in the lab in Augusta to see if the DNA matches Harriet’s. Do you want to tell us anything?”
Daphne’s eyes and mouth opened wide. “Are you saying I killed Harriet?”
“Did you?”
“No! This is crazy!”
Bacon leaned forward. “You had a fight with her the night she was murdered. There’s blood on the endpin of your cello. We have to suspect you. If you did it, it would be better for you in the long run to tell us now.”
Branch reached out his hand. “Daphne, I believe you. But you need to help us come up with a reason not to suspect you. The lab will tell us for sure if the blood on your endpin is Harriet’s. Can you offer an explanation as to how it got there?”
Daphne looked from Branch to the sheriff, shaking her head. “I can’t think. I know I didn’t do it. Sheriff, when I told you about the fight, you didn’t take it seriously. Why now?”
“Because there’s blood on your endpin.”
Daphne beat her fists on the table and then on her forehead. “Wait. Wait. I left my cello in the music room off the lobby that night. Anybody could have used it.”
“Good,” Branch said. “Did anyone witness that you left it there?”
“I don’t know. Did you? We’d been playing piano quartets.”
“Sorry. I can’t say that I did. I left before you and Margo did.”
“I’ll ask Margo and Esme.”
“No,” the sheriff said. “I’ll ask them. In the meantime, I’d better read you your rights.” He pulled out his wallet and fumbled out a tattered card. Slanting it to the light, he read the familiar litany: “You have the right to remain silent….”
“You’re arresting me?” Daphne asked, not believing.
“Got to,” Bacon said.
“Sheriff,” Branch said, “I’m sure Daphne could make bail. Rather than go through all that, could you just release her in my custody? I’ll guarantee that she won’t leave the area.” He turned to Daphne. “I can guarantee that, can’t I, Daphne?”
“Of course,” she said.
“This ain’t regular,” the sheriff said, frowning. “Especially with a murder.” He scratched his head. “Let’s talk to your witnesses. Then I’ll decide.”
Branch left and found Margo, who was waiting for Daphne to resume the session.
“Please tell me what is going on,” she said.
“In a little while. First, the sheriff and I have to ask you something.”
They entered the bar. Daphne looked up at Margo and shrugged. They sat.
“Margo,” Branch began, “think carefully before you answer. Do remember what Daphne did with her cello after we played, the night Harriet was killed?”
Margo frowned and replied promptly. “Sure. She left it in the music room. Her room is upstairs and she didn’t want to shlep it up there. I remember asking if it would be safe. She said, this is rural Maine, there’s no crime here.”
“That’s right, I had forgotten I said that,” Daphne said.
“So what’s this about?” Margo asked, looking at Branch.
Branch looked at Bacon with a question. He shrugged. “We think that Harriet was killed with a cello endpin. Daphne’s endpin had traces of blood. We don’t know yet if it’s Harriet’s blood. But we were trying to determine if anyone besides Daphne could have used her cello.”
“That’s got to be what happened,” Margo said emphatically. “Daphne wouldn’t kill anybody.”
Bacon glanced at his notebook. “Was Mrs. Pilkington present when Daphne here left the cello?”
“I think so. Let’s ask her.”
“All right,” Bacon said. “I’ll have to ask you to wait somewhere else and not talk to her before we do.”
“I’ll fetch Esme,” Branch said. “You go wait in the music room, please, Margo.”
Branch found Esme playing a piano trio. She left reluctantly, and was irritated when Branch wouldn’t explain right away.
They entered the bar. Esme and Daphne exchanged looks, Daphne’s anxious, Esme’s puzzled. Branch asked Esme what Daphne did with her cello that night.
“I don’t remember. Took it with her, I guess.”
“Were you there when Daphne and Margo left?”
“I think so.”
“But you don’t remember Margo questioning Daphne about leaving her cello and Daphne saying something about there being no crime in rural Maine?”
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t remember. They may have said that, and my mind may have been elsewhere.” She gave Branch a tiny smile, which he hoped did not say to the others what it was intended to say to him.
“The point of these questions is that somebody may have used the endpin of Daphne’s cello to kill Harriet. We’re trying to establish where the cello was. If it was out of Daphne’s possession, somebody else could have used it. If not, we have to suspect Daphne.”
Esme was indignant. “Surely you don’t suspect Daphne! She may have a temper, but she’s not capable of murder.”
“I think so, too,” Branch said, holding out a calming hand. “But we have to deal with the evidence. So you see why we’re interested in where her cello was.”
“I understand. Daphne probably did leave the cello. I always thought it was an outsider who killed Harriet. But I can’t say I remember when I don’t, as much as I’d like to. I said my mind was elsewhere.”
They released Esme and Margo. Branch and Daphne turned to the sheriff.
“What about this informal bail, sheriff?” Branch asked.
Bacon looked away, shaking his head. “Don’t know. One witness for, another not.”
Daphne looked beaten. “I’ll call a lawyer and make bail. Do you need to take me in, sheriff? I can’t play without my endpin anyway.”
“Guess I’d better. Judge’ll be available after one. You may be able to make bail and be back here by dinnertime.”
“Daphne,” Branch said, “I’ll help however I can. I’ll start by trying to improvise a substitute endpin for your cello.”
Branch watched Daphne and the sheriff, coiled orange cord in hand, walk out to the sheriff’s car. Esme and Margo confronted him when he returned to the lobby.
“We all know Daphne is innocent,” Margo said, her lips set in determination. “What are you going to do about it?”

Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

May 16, 2010

Chapter 7.

Gerald posted a fresh assignment sheet for the afternoon session. Phoebe Payne, the Camden Quartet second violinist, would be coaching Branch’s group, which included Daphne and Margo. They would work on the string trio by Dohnanyi, the “Serenade.”
That would be a challenge, Branch thought. He could manage his part pretty well, he thought, but the scherzo movement was tricky. He hoped they wouldn’t want to go too fast. The others were good players. It would take concentration, which would take his mind off the murder investigation. Sometimes when his mind kept circling around the same aspects of a problem without a solution, it helped to get away from it and come back fresh. Besides, the medical examiner’s report might come in and suggest something.
Daphne and Margo looked a little better. Both had had time to rest, and Daphne had welcomed Branch’s report that Bacon was not taking her words about Harriet too seriously. The coach, Phoebe Payne, was a quiet, serious young woman, a fine musician, and attractive in a young mother way, which she was. Her husband, Gerald, the cellist, had brought one of his students along to spend time with their daughter, Elsie. Elsie had become a mascot of the group. Besides showing her drawings, she liked to tell the participants about the imaginary adventures of her stuffed dolphin, named Ariel after the Disney mermaid. The many gray heads in the group were charmed.
Today, Elsie had come to the session with Phoebe. Phoebe apologized, saying that the student sitter had an unbreakable appointment. Elsie, who had obviously been told to sit quietly, did so for a while, but then began humming audibly to Ariel. Branch and Margo smiled, but Daphne looked irritated. When she missed an entrance, she said she was distracted by Elsie’s humming. Phoebe admonished Elsie and told her to keep quiet and look at one of the books she brought. This worked for a while, but during a soft passage, Branch could hear her reading the book to Ariel in a whisper. Daphne turned to Elsie and said “Shh!” angrily. Elsie began to cry.
Everything stopped. Phoebe was distressed and apologetic. Margo tried to calm Elsie and stop the tears by complimenting her sweater. Daphne was quiet, but with compressed lips and frowning brow.
Finally Daphne burst out: “Phoebe, why don’t you take Elsie for a walk. We’ll just practice on our own.”
“Maybe I’d better,” Phoebe said. “This won’t happen again.”
After they left, Daphne said, “Can’t stand kids.”
“I thought she did pretty well for a five-year-old,” Margo said. “Did you sit quietly all the time when you were five?”
“Ahh, lay off,” Daphne said. “Let’s get back to some music. Why aren’t we a quartet, anyway?”
“Guess Gerald had to do some juggling with the groups. I’m not sure Sharon has been up to playing,” Branch said. “Don’t you like the Dohnanyi?”
“It’s ok. I’d rather do the Mozart Divertimento or one of the Beethoven trios.”
“I wouldn’t mind. How about you, Margo?”
“I’d like to finish this, now that we’ve started. Then maybe we’ll have time for something else.”
“Oh, all right.” Daphne was still irritated, and showed it by digging in the floor with the endpin of her cello. “Damn. Where’s that hole? I keep slipping.”
Branch looked at the metal pin that extended from the bottom of Daphne’s cello. It was about the diameter of a pencil, with a fairly sharp point at the end. It could be raised or lowered, or even removed, by loosening a thumbscrew on the end button. The sound of a string, followed by a stab wound that didn’t leave a slash—could Harriet have been killed with a cello endpin? So many thoughts tumbled along after that question, that Branch went into a kind of trance; he was surprised when Margo nudged him.
“Are you with us, Aldo? We’re ready.”
“Sorry. Just thinking.”
“Don’t think,” Daphne said with a crooked smile, “play.”
They played through the Dohnanyi, and then played the Beethoven C-minor trio. It was an early work, but that key seemed to bring out Beethoven’s power, as it did later in the Fifth Symphony and other works. The three players ended the session in a better mood.
Branch eagerly took off for his pre-dinner walk. He had much to sort out. He’d better call the sheriff and see if he heard from the medical examiner. But who could have used a cello endpin to kill? A cellist? Duh. But that depends on who had access to the cellos. Which cello provided the pin? Maybe there would be enough of a speck of blood that it would fluoresce under black light. Maybe the sheriff could get hold of a black light.
Esme caught up with him and grabbed his arm. A little breathlessly, she said, “I guess everybody suspects we’ve been fooling around. Might as well enjoy each other’s company while we can.”
“Fine with me,” Branch said. “Did you get some rest?”
“A little.”
“Coming to visit tonight?”
She didn’t answer for a moment. Looking at the ground, she said, “I finally called my husband. He’s worried and wants me to leave.”
“Did you tell him that the sheriff might not allow it?”
“He said he might talk to his lawyer. He said if I’m not a suspect or material witness the sheriff can’t keep me.”
“Do you want to go?”
She squeezed his arm. “No.”
“You’re not still scared?”
“Yes, but your presence helps.”
“So come visit tonight. I’ll keep you from the foggy, foggy dew.”
“It’s an old song. About protective males and the price of their protection.”
“Ah. What’s your price?”
Branch squeezed her hand and leered, wagging his eyebrows. Esme laughed.
They walked silently for a moment. Branch said, “Tell me more about your husband. I don’t know whether to abuse him or feel sorry for him.”
“Oh, feel sorry for him. He’s not cruel. Not physically, anyway. He’s just wrapped up in himself and his work.”
“Which is?”
“Ugh. Business.” She made a dismissive wave. “Stocks, bonds, hedge funds. Real estate. Whatever he thinks will make money.”
“So you don’t have to work.”
“No, not exactly. I have to put on fancy dinners and smile at a lot of boring men. But music helps, and I have time to practice.”
“What did you do before you married?”
“This and that. I was a practical nurse. Not an R.N.”
“So you knew how to treat Daphne’s faint.”
She looked surprised. “Doesn’t everybody know about that?”
“No, apparently. How did you meet your husband?”
“You’re getting boring.”
“I’m not bored.”
“I am.”
Branch grabbed her and kissed her hard.
“That’s better,” she said, with a gasp.
“Better get back. It’s almost dinner time.” They walked back in silence. Branch savored Esme’s kiss and the feel of her body. It was easier to cuckold Esme’s husband since he was an unknown, and, at least according to Esme, neglectful. But he still itched at Branch’s conscience, though not enough to detract from the pleasure Branch took in Esme’s body, and to a somewhat lesser extent, her music.
Gerald tried to seem jolly as he addressed the group waiting for their food. “Folks, I know we need a little cheering up after our tragic loss. So I asked for the lobster tonight instead of Saturday. Enjoy!”
The staff ran in and passed out plastic bibs, nutcrackers, and picks, followed by platters of boiled lobster and dishes of corn on the cob. A hearty, messy dinner ensued. One of the cellists, Eric Larson from Minnesota, had never tackled a whole lobster before. He got advice, some of it conflicting, about how to disassemble the lobster and get the meat. Blackberry pie with ice cream ended the meal.
Before playing piano quartets, Branch excused himself to wash his greasy hands. In his room, he called the sheriff.
“Sheriff, it’s Branch. Have you heard from the medical examiner?”
“I heard, but I don’t have any news. He said he hadn’t got to Ms. Downey yet. Expects to in the morning.”
“Too bad. I’m eager to hear. By the way, do you have a black light?”
“A what?”
“A black light. Traces of blood will fluoresce under black light.”
“Do tell. Is it the light that makes those kids’ posters glow?”
“That’s it. Think you can get hold of one?”
“What for? We know there was blood on the body and in the room.”
“There might be some on the murder weapon. I have a notion about what that might be, depending on the medical report.”
“Hmm. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Bring it out tomorrow as soon as you get the medical report. Or call me and I’ll come get it.”
“I ain’t that busy.”
“And sheriff, I know most of the folks here are of no use to the case. But repeat your order that they all stay put for a while longer.”
“Can’t hold ‘em forever.”
“True. But the Music Party has another week to run. Most don’t want to leave. Maybe we’ll know something by then.”

Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

May 9, 2010

Chapter 6.

John, the funeral parlor director, had not taken the time to shave, but he had put on his professional dark suit and tie. His assistant, a gangly young man with acne, looked as if he were sleepwalking. They wheeled in a collapsible gurney, took it to Harriet’s room, and gently laid her on it, covering the body with a sheet. The people assembled in the lobby watched silently by the window as they slid the gurney into the waiting hearse. After it drove away, the group turned and looked at the sheriff.
The sheriff took off his hat and scratched his graying uncombed hair. “Well, folks. Sorry this business has to interrupt your music and fun. Maybe you can get back to your music later today. Fact is, I can’t let anybody leave for a while, so you might as well get back to it. Now I will need to talk to everybody, and I’ll start soon’s I get another cup of Jill’s good coffee. Don’t wake up any more people. I’ll talk to as many of you as is already up. Then I’ll talk to some more. Don’t know who done this, but we’ll do our best to find out. May be one of you, maybe not. May be somebody outside, somebody from away. I know it’s human nature to talk about this, but I wish you wouldn’t. Just get rumors going.” He looked around. “Jill, we’ll use the bar, if that’s ok.”
“Sure, sheriff.” The bar was a small room off the lobby with two tables, padded chairs, and a door that could be closed.
“I’ve already heard from a couple of people, but I’d like to hear them again.” He nodded at Sharon. “You first, please ma’m.”
Branch spoke. “Would you like me to sit in with you, sheriff?”
The sheriff looked hard at Branch for a moment. “Thank you, but you’re on vacation. I’ll talk to you after this lady, if you please.” Sharon followed him into the bar.
So I’m a suspect too, Branch thought. Well, that’s as it should be. Esme came and sat by Branch. “I’m scared,” she whispered. “Suppose it’s a serial killer who will just pick somebody at random?”
“I think whoever did it would not try here again. Everybody is too alert. Just keep your door locked. Want some coffee?”
“Yes, please.”
As he went to get coffee, Branch looked around to see who was not yet up. He didn’t see Asa or Myron. Or Daphne. Gerald and Alan Markham, two of the coaches, were just coming in, brows contracted. They came straight to Branch. He led them to the table and gave Esme her coffee, and told them what he knew. Their concern became more and more evident. “If you’re worried that the sheriff will shut down the Music Party,” Branch, said, “don’t. He wants us all to stay, so he suggested we resume regular activities.”
“That’s good,” Gerald said, “but it’s still a terrible thing with bad implications for the future. Harriet’s support was very important to us, and this—this tragedy may affect attendance next year. This quartet isn’t getting rich.”
“Well, if we can solve the murder promptly, and it’s clear that it’s unlikely to happen again, it might not be so bad.” Branch understood their commercial worry, but he wanted to say that a human being, however flawed, had been brutally killed, and that should be their main concern. But he kept quiet.
Esme said, “I’d better call my husband.”
“Wait and ask the sheriff. Do you want him to worry unnecessarily?”
Esme gave a half smile. “Maybe I would.”
Gerald and Alan went to get coffee. Sharon emerged from the bar, wiping her eyes. Without speaking to anyone, she headed toward the rooms.
“Guess it’s my turn,” Branch said, and approached the door of the bar. He looked in. The sheriff was seated at one of the tables writing and scratching his head. “Are you ready for me?”
“Ok. Come have a seat.”
Branch sat. The sheriff kept writing for a while. Then he looked up. “Tell me again from the time the lady woke you up.”
Branch repeated his story, including what Sharon and Margo and Sheila said to him.
“Got any ideas why anybody would kill the lady?” He looked at a note. “Miss Downey?”
“No. She was not popular. She was a bad musician. But none of us would be alive if people got killed over wrong notes.”
“But she pissed people off.”
“Sure. She didn’t try very hard to get better. The kind of music we like to play is a team effort. If one person is bad, it makes the group sound bad, and that irritates the rest. But I’ve been playing for years, and I’ve never heard of anybody being slugged, much less killed, for playing badly. In Houston, I’ve known people to kill for strange reasons, like because they had too few beans in their chili. But these musicians just don’t do that.”
“So you think she was killed for some other reason.”
“Yes, but I don’t know what.”
“I gather from the lady I just talked to that she was a lesbian.”
“Sharon—Ms. Green–admitted that to me.”
“You think that might be a motive? Jealousy?”
“I doubt it. She and Sharon seemed to be a committed couple. I can’t imagine that Sharon had any competition.”
“You ain’t gay, are you, Sergeant?”
“Me? No.” Branch wondered where this was going.
“Any other gay folks here?”
Branch hesitated. Daphne had said she was, but was it his job to out her to the sheriff? “You’ll have to ask them,” he said finally.
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t know,” he stressed. “I don’t want to encourage suspicion or rumor.”
Sheriff Bacon grunted and scribbled a note. He looked up and asked, “If this were your case—and it ain’t, by the way—what would you do now?”
“Pretty much what you’re doing now, while you wait for the medical examiner to give you an idea of what the weapon was that killed her.” I’d dust for prints and look for hair and fabric, he thought, but he’d already suggested that.
“Who’s your boss down in Houston?”
“Lieutenant Narciso Sandoval.”
“That Mexican?”
“He was born in Texas.”
“Spell that name for me, please.’
Branch spelled the name and gave a phone number.
Sheriff Bacon wrote briefly, scratched his head, and said, “Guess that’s it for now. Send me in that lady who heard something, if you please.”
“Ms. Mackay—Sheila.”
“Ok. I’ll talk to you again later.”
Branch left and nodded to Sheila, who got up wearily and entered the bar. Branch was suddenly sleepy, despite the coffee. Margo got up and went to him. Esme watched them.
“Any ideas? Do you think he has a clue?” Margo asked.
Branch couldn’t help but smile. “How do you mean that?”
She smiled back. “Do you have a clue?”
“Maybe one. But I’m going to try to get back to sleep. I’d recommend that to you too.”
Just then Daphne entered, and looked around, surprised that so many people were up so early, some in their pajamas. “Did I miss a slumber party?” Then the grim looks on most faces seemed to register with her. “What happened?” She approached Margo and Branch.
“Sit down,” Branch said. “Harriet was murdered last night.”
Daphne sat when she absorbed the news. She shook her head with a half smile. Then her eyes widened. “You’re not kidding. Oh my God.” She went pale and sagged in the chair.
Esme stepped quickly to her. “Lean over,” she said, holding Daphne’s shoulder. “Head between your knees.”
Esme held her in that position for a while. Daphne soon revived, leaned back, and looked pleadingly at Branch. “You know I was just joking. What I said last night. I didn’t really want her dead.”
“Sure. Everybody says things they don’t mean literally.”
“I admit I was pissed off. But I wouldn’t kill anybody.”
“Sure. But be prepared. The sheriff is here, questioning everybody.”
“Oh God.”
“Don’t worry. But be sure you tell him about what you said and explain. Don’t leave anything for him to find out from somebody else.”
“Oh. Ok.” She held her head in her hands. “I just have trouble getting my mind around this.”
“You need some coffee,” Margo said, and went to fetch some.
Branch said to Esme, “You and Margo take care of Daphne. I’m beat.”
“We all are. Go rest while you can.”
Branch went back to his room, kicked off his shoes and lay down. He thought sleep would come quickly, but it didn’t. One detail bounced around his head. The sound of a string that Sheila heard. Somebody could have been carrying an instrument back to a room and brushed a string in moving it; but if Sheila had the time right, it would have been late for anybody to have been playing, or to have had any reason for carrying an instrument. And if it were in a case, it wouldn’t have sounded. And if the other sounds Sheila heard were related to the murder, the sound of the string would be related too. It didn’t make sense.
A knock on his door woke Branch up from a dream about an angry quartet poking at Harriet with the points of their bows. He staggered to the door.
Margo stood there, looking tired and worn. “The sheriff wants to talk to you again.”
Branch sighed. “Please tell him I’ve got to get a shower first so I’ll be conscious. How’s Daphne?”
“Coming around. She’s talked to the sheriff.”
“Did she say anything?”
“She said he was curious about her sex life.” She made a face. “She said he didn’t make much of the fight last night.”
“How are you?” He had an impulse to reach out and touch her cheek, but he resisted.
“Ok. I didn’t have much to tell him. He asked me to tell about the fight and what Daphne said.”
“Thanks. You going to get some rest?”
“I’m going to try.” She gave a weary smile.
“See you later.”
Branch stripped and stepped into the shower. He soaked a long time, gradually clearing his mind of cobwebs. He thought about his dream. You couldn’t kill someone with a bow—it would break before it penetrated. Maybe if someone had a blade in a hollow bow, like a sword cane. No, that’s absurd. And who would do it? No likely suspect came to mind. The string sound still plagued him.
He dressed and returned to the lobby, where he poured a fresh mug of coffee. A few people were sitting around talking quietly, waiting to be interviewed. Branch thought of a doctor’s waiting room. It was now about nine. Branch grabbed a bagel and ate it with his coffee. The door to the bar opened and Myron emerged, shaking his head.
Branch looked in at the door. Sheriff Bacon waved him in. He looked tired and frustrated. “I like doing for myself,” he said. “I’ve run this county just fine with two deputies for a long time.” He looked at Branch and frowned. “But we have to deal with people from away now. Tourism is big business here. So I called your boss in Houston. He says you’re pretty good, and not likely to kill any civilians. He said you should cooperate with me.”
“I’ll do that. How?”
The sheriff rubbed his head. “I wish I knew. I can’t see a clear motive. But I wonder if it has anything to do with her being queer?”
“I couldn’t say.” Branch looked into his empty cup. “There’s a big gay community in Houston. They rarely gave us any trouble. They figured in crime mostly as victims. Some young toughs would think it fun to beat one up or roll one now and then. I guess I can think of a few violent episodes between gays, and I remember one homicide. Jealous lovers. But they weren’t in the same league with straight murderers. I’ll bet that at least one of your homicides up here was an estranged husband or boyfriend killing his ex-wife or girlfriend.”
“You’re right. Both of ‘em, actually.”
“Only two homicides?”
“Ayuh. Only two murders of any sort in my twenty years in the business.”
“And neither involved gays.”
“No. We’ve had a few queer folk come up here from the cities and get into fights. No murders yet.”
“And we’re talking about men, right? I never heard of gay women fighting or killing each other,” Branch said.
“Guess I haven’t either. But that’s all I’ve got.”
“How about money? I understand that Ms. Downey was rich.”
“May be. But it don’t seem like anybody here was in line to get any of it. Ms. Green, her—whatdoyercallum—her partner, says that her money goes to the family. Nothing to her. Course we’ll have to check that out.”
“Sure. If anything, the people here lose,” Branch said. “She gave money to the Camden Quartet and to this Music Party. Now that she’s dead, that’s gone.”
They sat silently. “Will you let me know when you get the report about the wound and the possible weapon?” Branch asked.
“When do you think that might come in?”
“Maybe this afternoon, maybe tomorrow. Depends on how busy they are.”
“Anything from your interviews so far?”
“Not much, except from the lady who heard noises.” He glanced at his notes, turned a page, and smiled. “That redheaded Irish girl, Daphne Kennedy. She told me about the squabble last night, and about saying things about the victim. I don’t take that too seriously. Other folks confirm what she said, and everybody thinks she was just blowing off steam. My wife’s like that. Says she’ll kill me in my sleep if I track dirt in her parlor.”
Branch smiled.
“Only thing,” Bacon said, looking more thoughtful, “she’s queer too. Too bad, pretty girl like that.”
“I think Daphne’s irritation with Harriet was musical, not sexual.”
“Probably. But I just don’t understand those queer folks. Maybe she had a thing for Ms. Downey. I don’t know.”

Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie (see archives for previous chapters)

May 3, 2010

Chapter 5.

Branch pulled on a sweatshirt and stepped into his shoes. He followed Sharon down the hall to an open door. Inside he saw the body of Harriet sprawled on her back sideways on her bed. A wet bloodstain spread across her nightgown, centered on her heart. Branch knew she was dead, but he felt her carotid artery to make sure. “Don’t touch anything,” he said. “Go to my room and call the police.”
“An ambulance?”
“No. Too late for that. I’ll stay here and secure the scene.” Sharon hurried off. Branch looked at the body. Harriet’s eyes were open, and her expression seemed caught between surprise and pain. She was a bad musician, Branch thought, but not so bad that she should be killed.
He looked around the room. There was no sign of forced entry. No sign of struggle. From the position of the body, Branch gathered that she had got out of bed to face her attacker, and the force of the blow had knocked her back on the bed. She must have been stabbed. He could smell no gunpowder, though it could have dissipated by now. But if she had been shot without a silencer, someone would have heard. And there was no sign of the bullet having gone through her into the wall or window behind her. He could confirm his guess with a look through the hole in her nightgown, but he thought he should wait for the local police and medical examiner. He could tell that the hole in the gown was round, not the slash a knife would make. Maybe she was shot with a silencer and the bullet was still inside. No, a caliber small enough to stay inside wouldn’t have had the force to knock her back—she would just have crumpled to the floor.
Sharon reappeared. “Is she really dead?”
“I’m afraid so. Are the police on the way?”
“The sheriff is. Puffin Bay is too small for a police force.” Sharon made as if to sit in a chair in the room.
“Sorry. Better not sit there or touch anything.”
Sharon backed out of the room and leaned on the corridor wall. “I can’t get it in my head that she’s gone. Who would do such a thing?”
“I hope the police can find out.”
“I know some people didn’t like her. They didn’t know her good side. But who could kill her?” The shock had begun to wear off and Sharon started to weep. “Oh, God. What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to have to tell how you found her many times before this is over,” Branch said. “You might as well start with me. What made you visit her at one in the morning?”
Sharon looked at Branch and spoke with bitterness. “The same thing that makes Esme visit you.”
Branch was taken aback. He had thought they had been more circumspect. “You were lovers.”
“Yes. We knew everyone knew, but Harriet wouldn’t share a room. So we would arrange little visits when—when we felt like it.” She looked down and her mouth curved in disgust. “So I guess I’ll have to tell this leering sheriff.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“So did you have a key?”
“No. She didn’t lock the door. I just walked in—and—and found her. I knew you were a policeman, so I came immediately to you.”
“You didn’t touch anything.”
“I spoke to her, and then I felt her pulse. But all that blood—“
“So you felt her wrist? Which one?”
“There. Her left wrist.”
Branch pondered. She probably hadn’t disturbed much. “How far away is your room?”
“Three doors down. On the left.”
“And you didn’t hear anything?”
“Not a sound.”
“Do you know who’s in the rooms on either side?”
“I’m not sure. Sheila, there, I think. And Margo there.”
“I guess it’s time to wake them.” Branch knocked on Margo’s door. He heard movement inside.
“Who is it?”
“Margo, it’s Aldo.”
She opened the door, blinking, but with an expression of almost pleasant anticipation. She had on a short, sleeveless nightgown. Branch had a second of male interest. Then she saw Sharon. “What is it? It’s late.”
“Serious business. Harriet has been murdered.”
Margo’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God. Are you serious?”
“Yes. Did you hear anything at all next door?”
“I don’t think so.” She frowned. “No. Nothing. I sleep pretty soundly at first.” Then she looked again at the distraught Sharon. “Sharon, I’m so sorry.”
“You may as well dress and get ready for the sheriff, who should be along in a while.”
“Ok. Sharon, you look like you’re about to drop. Come rest in my room while I dress.”
“Thank you,” Sharon said, and went in.
“Is that Sheila’s room on the other side?”
“Yes. I’ll get dressed.”
Branch knocked on the other door and roused Sheila, who also reacted with shock and dismay. But when Branch asked if she heard anything, she answered, “I may have.”
“What?” Branch asked.
“Well, around half-past twelve, I thought I heard voices, but I couldn’t make out any words or tell who it was. But I had heard voices before, so I didn’t think anything about it.” She raised her eyebrow and Branch thought about Sharon. “Then I heard the bed creak, but that’s not unusual either. But then I did hear something strange. It sounded like a string.”
“A string?”
“Yes, an instrument string. You know, when you accidentally pluck the string when you pick up your fiddle.”
“Nothing else?”
“I may have heard the door close. Then everything was quiet, and I eventually got to sleep.”
“Better get dressed. I think I see the sheriff’s lights through your window.” Colored lights swept across the curtains in Sheila’s room across from the open door. Branch went to the door to guide the sheriff.
Jill, the owner, had been roused, and met Branch at the door. “What’s going on? Is that the sheriff?”
“Yes. Harriet Downey seems to have been murdered.”
Jill reacted as Sheila and Margo had. After the usual questions about who could have done it, she asked, “Will we have to close?”
“I don’t know. Depends on the sheriff.”
The sheriff at that moment came up to the door. He was hastily dressed in blue jeans with his uniform shirt not tucked in and a Smoky Bear hat on his head. He looked middle-aged, with a barrel chest and a fringe of beard and no moustache, like an old sea dog or Amish farmer. “Jill,” he said, addressing the owner, “what’s the trouble?”
“Sheriff Bacon,” she said, “this is Sergeant Branch, one of our guests. But he’s a policeman. I’ll let him tell you.”
Branch held out his hand. “Aldo Branch, sheriff. Looks like a homicide. I’ll show you.”
Sheriff Bacon shook Branch’s hand briefly, looking at his face skeptically. “How do. Let’s see what you got.” In his heavy Maine accent, the last word sounded like “go-aht” to Branch.
“I’ve talked to the woman who found the body, and I’ve warned everyone not to touch anything. I’m on vacation, but I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.”
“Where you from?”
“Houston, Texas. I’m a homicide detective.”
“You’re a long way from home.”
“I wanted a change. Here we are.”
Sheriff Bacon looked around the room before he looked at the body. Then he boldly grabbed Harriet’s wrist and felt for a pulse. “Dead all right.” To Branch’s concern, he pulled at the hole in the nightgown in order to see the wound. “Looks like a damn elephant gun. Wicked big hole.”
Branch explained his reasoning for concluding that it was a stab wound, however unusual.
“Big gun would knock her down.”
“Nobody heard a shot, and I doubt if you’ll see an exit wound.”
“You didn’t look?”
“I touched as little as possible and moved nothing.”
The sheriff grunted. Then he grasped Harriet’s arm and turned her on her side. “Yep. No exit wound.” He looked around at the anxious women watching him. Margo and Sheila had dressed; Sharon was still in her robe. “Any witnesses?”
Branch explained that Sharon found her, and that Sheila had heard something. They repeated their stories. The sheriff covered a yawn as he listened.
Esme appeared in her flowing silk robe. “What’s all this noise about? It’s only two AM.”
When Branch told her that Harriet had been murdered, she reacted more emotionally than anyone so far, immediately bursting into tears, grabbing Branch’s arm and pressing her face into his shoulder. “I can’t stand it. Who could have done such a thing?” She turned up her tear-stained face and said, “I’m going to call my husband to come get me.”
The sheriff looked up sharply. “Better not, ma’m. I can’t have anybody leave for a while. Got a lot of questions to ask.”
“Will you have someone guard us? There may be a serial killer loose.”
“Ma’m, we’ll do what we can. You folks just need to stay quiet.”
Branch asked, as deferentially as he could, if the medical examiner should be summoned.
“He’ll have to come from Augusta. I’ll just get John at the funeral parlor to come get the lady and keep her there until he comes.”
“Do you have any crime scene people to check for prints, hair, fabric?”
Sheriff Bacon turned to Branch and said with bite in his voice. “This ain’t no big city. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. I’ll see if they got anybody in Augusta they’ll let come down. If not, we’ll have to do without. We don’t have many murders around here. Not like TV.” He turned to the owner. “Jill, how about puttin’ on the coffee? Got to make some calls. Got to get something from the car. Meet you all in the lobby.”
Branch waited at Harriet’s door until the sheriff returned and did what Branch thought he might: drape yellow “crime scene” tape across the door. Branch followed the sheriff to the lobby and perked up at the aroma of brewing coffee. A few other participants had heard something and had gathered around, some dressed, some in pajamas and robes. Whispers rapidly spread the news, and some went to rouse those still asleep.
The sheriff got a mug of coffee and took a sip. “Wicked good, Jill,” he said to the owner. He picked up the phone at the registration desk. “John? Bacon here. Sorry to wake you, but I got a dead lady you need to take care of. No, better not wait, and no, you can’t do anything with her. Got to wait on the medical examiner. Yep. Murder victim.”