Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

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

  1. room design Says:

    Nice chapter! Can’t wait for the next!

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