Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

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.”


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