Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

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?”


One Response to “Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie”

  1. Lee Anderson Says:

    Exciting!! I am really enjoying your novel Ed – just finished a wonderful Chamber Music Workshop up here in the Pacific Northwest – not nearly as exciting as yours but musically wonderful – Death and the Maiden with two maidens on violins 🙂
    I am really enjoying getting a chapter at a time like this – otherwise I’d burn through it without stopping and savoring!! Can’t wait for the next chapter – Thank you!! … Le

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