Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

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.”


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