Archive for June, 2010

Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

June 15, 2010

Chapter 11.

There was a fine mist in the air. As Branch drove to meet the sheriff and LaMotte, he realized that he had not left the inn since he arrived. The village of Puffin Bay was nicely picturesque, with a small town square and a central green with a civil war monument; a grocery, a drug store, a restaurant, a post office, and a postcard and t-shirt shop for the tourists bordered the green. A road a few blocks long led down to the harbor, which contained a pier with a lobster pound and a dozen boats at anchor, about half working lobster boats and the rest pleasure sailboats. The Trap Tap was on the left, with a sign provided by a brewer and an old wooden lobster trap hanging underneath.
Branch entered and was met with the fragrance of stale smoke and stale beer. A bar ran along one wall, half with stools and half open, a classic brass rail running along the base. Behind the bar, a TV on the wall above the row of liquor bottles was tuned to the sports channel. Half a dozen men sat or leaned at the bar, drinking beer and watching the TV or discussing football or the weather. Sheriff Bacon waved to him from one of the booths along the opposite wall. Branch slid in beside the sheriff, across from Randy LaMotte, who smiled at Branch as he shook his hand; he was missing an incisor. He had a lean, tanned face covered with a week’s scraggly beard. Branch guessed he must shave on Sundays. A navy knit cap covered greasy black hair. One of his eyes seemed slightly askew, which may have contributed to his reputation as an eccentric.
Branch ordered a beer and another round for Randy and Bacon. The sheriff said to Randy, “Mr. Branch here is one of the musicians staying at the inn. He’s come all the way up from Texas.”
“Texas, huh?” Randy spoke with a lilt in his voice that gave his Maine accent a slightly exotic flavor. “Heah they have wicked good bow huntin’ down theah. Place called the Big Thicket.”
“Right. It’s northeast of Houston. I’ll bet the bow hunting here is pretty good.”
“Not here. Have to go inland. Don’t get theah as much as I’d like.”
“Jill at the inn says you practice a lot, target shooting.”
Randy ducked his head and grinned. “Jill talking about me? What did she say?”
Bacon nudged Branch and smiled at Randy. “I do believe Randy has a thing for Jill.”
Randy blushed under his tan. “Aww, sheriff. She’s a married woman.”
“Jill tells me you help the church raise money,” Branch said. “She likes that.”
“Aw, I have fun doin’ it.”
Bacon said, “He gets to dress up like Robin Hood.”
Randy glanced at the sheriff, but didn’t smile. He took a sip of beer and turned to Branch. “I’ve offered to give some archery lessons for folks at the inn. Be a little different from croquet and badminton. Couple summers ago some of them took me up on it. I thought they had fun. But Jill says nobody was interested this summer.”
The sheriff spoke to Randy in a tone of patient instruction. “That’s because you freaked them out when they wanted to quit and do something else. You wouldn’t let ‘em go. Just like those times on the square when I had to take your Robin Hood suit away.”
Randy scowled. “Just tryin’ to help,” he muttered. “You got to spend some time with the bow if you want to do any good. And I was just tryin’ to make a couple of bucks theah on the square.”
Branch tried to steer the talk in a more friendly direction. “I know what you mean about spending time with the bow. I use a bow too—different kind—but you have to spend some time with it if you want to make good music.”
Randy brightened. “That’s right, guv’nah.”
“Any of the musicians interested in archery?” Branch asked.
“Jill didn’t think so when I asked her. Guess everybody’d rather just do music.” He smiled his gap-toothed smile. “I did see some redheaded gal doing some kind of dance on the lawn one day.”
Branch recognized Daphne’s tai chi. “She’s doing Chinese exercises. Ever meet any of the other musicians up there?”
“Not that I recall. Haven’t been up to the inn in a while.” He looked serious. “Didn’t think they’d want me around after that lady got killed.”
“I don’t know,” Branch said. “We could use some distraction, something to take our minds off it. Did you ever see that lady around town?”
“Guess not. Wouldn’t know her if I saw her.”
They drank their beer in silence for a moment. Branch tried a new tack. “Ever been in the service, Randy?”
“Nope.”
“How’d you get interested in archery?”
“Saw that Robin Hood movie when I was a kid. Saw him split one arrow with another. Been tryin’ to do that ever since.”
“Ever succeed?”
“Nope. I think they used trick photography in that movie. Besides, you couldn’t do that with target arrows anyway. Might with a hunting arrow if you were damned good and damned lucky. But I don’t like to shoot hunting arrows at a target. They stick in too far and are hard to pull out. Makes the edges dull, too. And they’re dangerous to shoot when there’s people around.”
“Sounds like you’re careful. Ever had an accident, hit anybody with an arrow?”
“Only once when I was a kid. Hit a friend in the leg with a target arrow. He wasn’t bad hurt, but I got a lickin’ for it anyway.”
There was a pause; all took a drink. Finally the sheriff said,” Randy, don’t take this wrong, but I got to ask. What were you doing the night that lady got killed at the inn?”
Randy stared open-mouthed at the sheriff. “Shit. You know I wouldn’t do anything like that.”
“I believe so. But tell me anyway.”
Randy looked away and opened his mouth twice before speaking. “I never killed anybody in my life. I’ve gotten into some scraps. You know about most of ‘em. But I never gave nobody any serious hurt. And I’d never hurt a lady.”
“I appreciate that, Randy. But you ain’t answered my question.”
Randy looked at the sheriff with stubborn resolve. “I ain’t going to tell you where I was, ‘cause I was with a lady friend.”
The sheriff raised his eyebrows. “Oh? Not at the inn?”
“No, not at the inn.” He folded his arms. “You can throw me in the jail if you want, but I ain’t tellin’.”
“That’s real gallant of you. But you may have to tell at some point. We can keep it secret if you want to tell us now.”
“Nope.”
“We won’t tell Jill.”
“Don’t care. I ain’t sayin’.”
They had finished their beers. Randy looked at the clock behind the bar. “Got to go. Unless you’re going to lock me up.”
“I guess I won’t today.”
Randy stood and said to Branch, “Thanks for the beer. Nice talking to you.” He nodded to the sheriff. “Sheriff.”
“Stay out of trouble, now, Randy,” Bacon said.
After Randy left, Branch turned to the sheriff and shook his head.
Bacon nodded. “I didn’t think he’d do. But I’ll keep an eye on him anyway.”
“Maybe if something else comes up we can test his alibi for the night of the murder.”
“I think so. Actually, there’s only one woman I can think of around here who would take Randy to bed, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that she wasn’t pure as the snow. I could even ask her if we have to.” Bacon sighed. “So we’re back to Ms. Kennedy.”
“Maybe. I’ve asked my partner back in Houston to dig up information about the people at the Music Party. He’s a whiz on the computer. Maybe he’ll turn up something interesting. I like to follow the money whenever there is a considerable amount involved.”
“Ok. Keep in touch.”
Back at the inn, Branch checked for messages. None. It was almost dinner time, so he relaxed in the lobby with the local paper—that is, from the larger city a few miles inland. He scanned it for crime news. Nothing about a serial killer or deaths from mysterious stab wounds.
Esme approached with her liquid walk, and Branch felt a stab of desire. She sat in the chair opposite him. “Did you have some good music this afternoon?”
“Not bad. Brahms’s first quartet.”
She leaned forward smiling and whispered, “Are you ready for some good music tonight?”
“Ready and eager. You do mean the piano quartet, don’t you?”
“Maybe,” she said, and again she whispered, “but wouldn’t you be sorry if I did?”
Branch smiled. “Yes.”
“How is the investigation going?”
Branch held out his hand, palm down, and wobbled it. “Slow.”
“I still think it’s an outsider,” she said, “but I keep coming back to the fact that Harriet, Sharon, and Daphne are all gay. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand that inclination, but I wonder if that had anything to do with the murder.”
“What do you mean? How?”
She fluttered her hands. “Oh, that’s just it. I don’t know. I can’t imagine who would be attracted to Harriet. Poor Sharon, I guess, since she’s no young hottie herself. And I suppose Harriet helped her financially. But just suppose someone else was attracted to her and was rejected. And that person was enraged by the rejection.”
“You mean Daphne?”
“Not necessarily. There may be some other gay women among us. I don’t know.”
Branch was uncomfortable with this line of talk. But he said, “Well, it’s something to consider.”
Margo and Daphne joined them and invited Branch and Esme to share a table. As they awaited their food, Margo said, “Let’s ask Gerald if we can keep the piano quartet together for the morning session and play for the master class.”
Esme agreed. “Let’s do that third Brahms. Daphne does that slow movement solo so well.” She smiled at Daphne.
“Fine with me,” Branch said.
Dinner arrived, a hearty chicken pie with broccoli, and blueberry cobbler for dessert. Branch tried to put the murder out of his mind and enjoy the food and the prospect of good music and, after that, sex. But after dinner, he went to his room and called Chat’s cell phone.
“Chat, Aldo. Got anything for me?”
“Hey, man, I got Houston to clean up. We got criminals up the wim-wam down here, and you want me to do the yankee cops’ work for them?”
“I’ll see that you get a medal. So, anything?”
“You sure are running with a rich crowd up there. They almost all got trust funds.”
“I understand the victim was pretty rich. You find out how much?”
“I can give you enough to make a good guess. She has a huge house in a place called Weekapaug, Rhode Island, near the Pond View Raquet Club. That’s gotta be an expensive address.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“And one of the other people on your list lives in the guest house.”
“Probably Sharon Green.”
“You got it. These ladies kin?”
“More like a couple.”
“Ahh.”
“So Chat, so far so good. Who inherits the lady’s estate?”
“Don’t know, and not sure I can find out.”
“Really? You can’t get hold of the will? It should be a public record.”
“Usually I can pry info out of a bank vault or a clamshell. But there was a lawsuit between the lady and her family, and the judgment was sealed.”
“Sealed! I heard the lady’s family was supposed to inherit.”
“May be, but I can’t get any names. Not on the computer, anyway.”
“I wonder if I went to Weekapaug and flashed my badge I could find out.”
“Might be worth a try.”
“Anything else of interest?”
“Not yet. I’ve checked a few others on the list. Very boring, upright citizens, nothing crooked or kinky. Not even porno movie rentals.”
“What? You shouldn’t be able to get that kind of information.”
“Just got to know how to look.”
“And yet you can’t find Ms. Downey’s heir.”
“I ain’t no motherfuckin’ superman, can’t see through walls. It’ll come out eventually, but not yet.”
“Then this looks like a job for Superbranch. Better get out of this phone booth.”
“Ok. Don’t snag the family jewels leaping over no tall buildings.”

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Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

June 5, 2010

Chapter 10.

Branch called the sheriff from his room. “Branch here. Any idea when the DNA test might come back?”
“Maybe Monday. Depends.”
“Is Daphne going to be back tonight?”
“Probably. The judge didn’t set a huge bail, and that’s in the works. I’ll bring her back when we’re done.”
“Look, you really don’t think she did it, do you?”
“I just don’t know. I’ve heard that nice people can do violent things if they are pushed too hard. You’ve probably seen more of that than I have. And this whole queer thing—I just don’t understand it. No telling what goes on.”
Branch didn’t want to get into that topic just now. But he thought that, just as the sheriff wouldn’t be attracted to a middle-aged sourpuss like Harriet, neither would an attractive young woman like Daphne. Instead, he asked, “What do you know about Randy LaMotte?”
Branch heard the sheriff snort. “Oh my, Randy. What have you heard?”
“I heard that he’s a bit ‘off’, and that he likes to shoot bow and arrow.”
“Ayuh, our own Robin Hood. You heard about that?”
“I heard that you have to confiscate his costume now and then.”
“He can be a wicked pain in the butt, but I think he’s harmless.”
“You know, a target arrow would fit the description of the murder weapon—a pointed shaft about the size of a pencil.”
Sheriff Bacon was silent. Finally he said, “Hadn’t occurred to me. He probably hadn’t had any contact with Ms. Downey, though.” He sighed. “I guess we ought to talk to him.”
“Might be a good idea.”
“He works on Joe Blanchard’s boat. They should get back this afternoon between four and five. I’ll ask the harbor people to give me a call when Joe gets back. We can buy Randy a beer and talk informally. Be best not to spook him.”
“Sounds good. Call me on my cell.” He gave the number.
There was still some time before lunch. He could practice a bit before the afternoon music session. Or take a walk. Instead, he got a key from Jill and went to Harriet’s room.
The sheriff had gone over the room pretty thoroughly, if not scientifically. He had allowed Jill to dispose of the bloody bedding, and Harriet’s clothes, viola, and other personal items had been boxed to send to the lawyers handling her estate. But the room had not been scrubbed and vacuumed. There was no point, really, until the current crop of guests left, since no one would want the room. So Branch hoped there might be some shred of evidence left.
He turned on all the lights and looked around. There was the bare double bed, the nightstand, the lamp, the chest of drawers, the small table and chair by the window. He parted the curtains; Harriet had a bay view. The closet, empty. The bathroom. A used towel still on the shower rod. The door to the bathroom swung inward. Branch looked behind it and found a bathrobe on a hook. Nobody had looked behind the door. It was a lightweight summer robe of white terrycloth. There was a piece of paper in the pocket, a yellow sticky note with a message in pencil: “H—We have to talk. E.” “H” was Harriet. Who was “E” and what did they have to talk about? Elsie? Esme? Branch wrapped the note in toilet paper and put it carefully in his shirt pocket.
With a slight grunt, Branch got down on his hands and knees and began going over the bathroom floor. There were strands of hair, as he expected. Almost certainly Harriet’s, though some might possibly be Sharon’s. He put them on more sheets of toilet paper, and crawled back into the bedroom. The carpet was dark, so he felt for hair and anything else that might be there, threads, fingernails. He was especially thorough going over the area between the door and the bed. He found more hair and a few bits of thread and a blade of grass. He wrapped up everything in toilet paper.
He stood and looked around once more. Surely all the drawers had been thoroughly searched, he thought, but it wouldn’t hurt to take another look. They had missed the bathrobe. The nightstand held only the Gideon Bible. Branch picked it up and riffled the pages, looking for slips of paper, bookmarks. Nothing. The chest of drawers was empty as well. Branch remembered the time he moved to the house in the Houston Heights after his divorce. He had taken the drawers out of a bureau and had found a sock and a glove that had been squeezed out of the back of a drawer and had fallen on the floor. He now took out the bottom drawer of the chest and felt the floor underneath. Dust. And a slip of paper. Another sticky note. It said only “Please. E.”
These notes probably had an innocent explanation. He would ask Esme if they were hers. Back in his own room, he put his findings in a plastic bag and noted the date and time on the bag. It was time for lunch. Maybe he could get Esme aside before the afternoon music session. Music. He looked forward to having some music after the morning’s distractions. It would clear his mind to play.
On his way to lunch, he met Margo, who pulled him into one of the little alcoves formed by the bay windows in the lobby. “I’ve wanted a quick minute with you for a while. I hope you won’t take what I say the wrong way.”
“I’ll try not to,” Branch said.
“Well.” Margo looked away, then directly into Branch’s eyes. She was an attractive woman, Branch thought. Wide brown eyes, nice lips, now set firmly. Margo said, “I know you and Esme are seeing each other after quartets. Fine, enjoy. I like Esme ok—she’s a good musician and fun to play with. But she’s not someone I’d confide in or share secrets with. I can’t explain why—just intuition. I guess I’m saying don’t let your relationship make you overlook anything that might make you suspicious. I mean that about me as well, about any of us. That said, I repeat my belief that Daphne is innocent.”
“Thanks. I appreciate what you’re saying. I’ll try to keep an open mind.”
“Good. Any developments?”
“You’ll be glad to hear that I’m exploring a possibility that leads away from Daphne. Can’t say any more just now.”
“Let me know what you can. And if I can help in any way.”
“I will. Going to lunch?”
They found a table with Myron and Sheila with whom they talked briefly about the case, Branch avoiding any specifics and Margo saying little. Then the conversation got into music, a more comfortable topic for them all.
They talked about changes in personnel in various professional quartets, and how that changed their music. Myron wanted to know at what point it was not the same quartet. “By the fifties nobody in the Budapest Quartet was from Budapest. Eventually there will be no one in the Tokyo Quartet from Tokyo. Reminds me of the guy who said his axe was the same one his great grandfather had; it had had two new heads and four new handles, but it was the same axe.”
For the afternoon session, Branch was assigned a quartet with Myron, Sheila, and a cellist he had met only briefly, a retired schoolteacher from Minnesota named Eric Larson. He had a full head of white hair and a prominent overbite—probably couldn’t afford an orthodontist growing up, Branch thought. He noted that his cello had a long metal endpin like Daphne’s. But it had shown no traces of blood.
They worked on the first Brahms quartet. Alan Markham, the first violinist of the Camden Quartet, coached them. He listened as they sawed away on the first movement. When they finished, he sat for a moment and then spoke softly. “The glory of Brahms is also a source of trouble. Every part is interesting, and you think your part is important and should come out. So everybody plays too loud. Let’s try it again. Play the fortes forte, but play the pianos pianissimo, and the double p’s as triple p’s.”
They focused on balance through the rest of the quartet. As they were packing up around four-thirty, Branch’s cell phone chimed. It was the sheriff.
“Blanchard’s boat is in. I’ll invite Randy over to the Trap Tap. It’s easy to find—just go down the harbor road and look for the sign. We’ll get a booth.”
“Fine. I’ll be along in a few minutes.”
As Branch was going through the lobby, he saw a sheriff’s car pull up and let Daphne out. He met her at the door.
“Everything ok?” he asked.
“Not yet,” she said with a grim smile. “If you mean did I make bail, yeah, here I am. Didn’t get to talk to the sheriff. He had a deputy bring me back.”
“You can take some comfort in that I’m going to meet him now to pursue a possibility that may take some of the heat off you.”
“That’s good. But I’m pissed that when I get off, as I should if there’s any real justice, I’ll have a pretty big bill from the bondsman.”
“That’s a problem. I wish I had been able to talk the sheriff into that informal arrangement.”
“Yeah, well thanks for trying. So what have people been saying about my arrest?”
“I don’t think anyone really knows except Margo and Esme. Margo wanted to tell everybody and make the Party a support group. Maybe picket the sheriff’s office or something. But I said they should get your permission.”
“Good. Thanks.” She smiled at the idea of pickets. “Let’s hold off on that for a while.”
“Talk to Margo at dinner. I’m off to see the sheriff.’
“Good hunting.”