Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

Chapter 12.

The piano quartet rehearsal went well. Branch helped Daphne improvise a temporary endpin for her cello out of a plastic pen, and Daphne did do a beautiful job with the solo in the third movement of the Brahms quartet in C minor. Branch and Margo meshed nicely in their duet passages, and Esme played with restraint.
“We’ll knock ‘em cold in master class tomorrow,” Margo said. “We’ll have the morning to polish the finale.”
Even Daphne was in good spirits. “It feels good to get into the flow of a good piece like this. I almost forgot I have a murder rap hanging over me.”
“Not for long you won’t,” Margo said. “Right, Aldo?”
“Keep hope alive,” Aldo said.
Later, Branch and Esme carried the enthusiasm of music over into their lovemaking. As they entwined afterward, Branch said, “Let me ask you something. I found a couple of sticky notes in Harriet’s room. They were signed ‘E.’ Could that have been you?”
Esme turned a puzzled look toward Branch. “I don’t know. What did they say?”
“One said ‘We have to talk.’ And the other just said ‘Please.’”
“Oh, that was me. I remember now. I wanted to help Harriet with her playing. I thought if we played some passages with her and the piano doubling it would help with her intonation. She wasn’t interested. The second note was me begging. She was so hard to play with, and she irritated so many people. Yet she was important to the Camdens and to the Music Party.”
“Forgive me if I sounded at all suspicious. I thought it might be something like that.”
“No problem. You have to check everything out.”
“Yeah, especially anything the sheriff missed.”
The next morning, Branch checked for messages. Nothing. The piano quartet assembled after breakfast and went over the finale of the Brahms. At the master class, they did well, and the members of the Camden Quartet praised them. The only thing that marred their performance was that the improvised endpin broke during the finale, for Daphne had become absorbed in the music and leaned into her cello too heavily. She recovered quickly and finished the movement squeezing the cello between her knees.
“I couldn’t do that for long,” she said afterward. “I guess the guys who played before the endpin was invented also rode horses a lot, which may have helped.”
“Maybe your tai chi helped you then,” Branch said.
They sat and listened to the other groups perform. Sharon had recovered enough to play in a string quartet that did the Haydn “Lark” quartet. Branch sought her out after the master class. Just a few questions, he said. They retired to one of the quiet alcoves off the lobby, where they could see the musicians gathering for lunch.
“So what are you going to do now?” Branch asked.
“I really don’t know. I have a small retirement and Social Security, so I’ll get by. I’ll probably have to find a new place to live. I’ve been living in Harriet’s guest cottage.”
“Don’t you know Harriet’s heir? He or she might let you stay on.”
“I’m not too proud to ask, but the thing is, I don’t know who to ask.”
“Oh?”
“Yes. There was this big lawsuit with Harriet’s family. There was a settlement, but I don’t know the details. A cousin was supposed to inherit her estate unless she had a child.” She smiled wryly. “Of course she didn’t. She was so estranged from her family that I never met any of them or even learned who they are. She hated talking about them. I guess I’ll find out when they kick me out. Or maybe I’ll just deal with the lawyers and never know any of the family.”
“Who were Harriet’s lawyers?”
“An old firm in Westerly, Lockhart and Leonard.”
“I guess you haven’t heard from them.”
“No, and I don’t expect to. Harriet was generous to me when she was alive, but she was clear that the settlement tied up her estate, and she had no say in any inheritance. So I expect nothing.”
“Can you think of anyone who gains by Harriet’s death?”
“The heir, whoever he is. Everybody else loses, as far as I can tell. The Camden Quartet, the Music Party, and several charities Harriet liked—all lose.”
Asa, Myron, Sheila, Margo, and Esme had lined up at the buffet. “Let’s get some lunch,” Branch said, rising. “Oh, one more thing. Did anyone approach Harriet—forgive me if this is indelicate—murder is indelicate—did anyone come on to Harriet sexually?”
Sharon had risen, and she looked at Branch, head tilted. “Not that I know of. And I think I would have known.”
“Right. I had to ask.” Branch looked down, looked up at the grandmotherly woman before him, and asked again: “Uh, has anyone offered to—to comfort you that way since Harriet’s death? Or even before?”
Sharon spoke unemphatically but unequivocally. “No.”
They joined the lunch crowd.
For the afternoon session, Branch was assigned to a quartet with Margo, Sharon, and Eric Larson. Before going off to the boathouse to meet with them, Branch went to his room and called Chat.
“Hey man, it’s Saturday. Can’t you give me some time off?”
“Chat, our window here is shortening. If we don’t have a reasonable suspect next week, these people will all go home, except the person who I think didn’t do it.”
“Ok, but you gotta pay overtime.”
“So what you got on anybody?”
“Not much. Like I said the other day, they’re mostly boring solid citizens. The husband of one of the ladies is kind of interesting, though.”
“Oh? How so?”
“This guy Howard Pilkington.”
Branch recognized the name of Esme’s husband.
“He’s one of these Wall Street paper shufflers. Trades stocks and bonds. Messes with hedge funds. Makes a lot of money, then loses a lot. Gets his name in the business pages for some smart deal, then he’s in trouble for insider trading, then wiggles out of it. No indictments or jail time so far. Did have to pay a fine last year for breaking some obscure rule.”
“Any sense that he’s short of cash?”
“Hard to tell. Lives in a posh area of Connecticut. Bought some art recently. The missus doesn’t work.”
“Yeah, I know her.” He wouldn’t tell Chat how well he knew her. “Keep an eye out for anything else on him. I mean anything. Anybody else capture your prurient interest?”
“Looks like another lady has shared an address with a lady in Boston for a long time. Daphne Kennedy. Know her?”
“Uh huh. She’s the suspect I don’t think did it.”
“Hmm. This lady, Joan Lakewood, her mother or aunt?”
“No. Probably partner.”
“As in girlfriend?”
“Yeah.”
“Ohh-kay. So I guess you’re not defending her out of gallant protectiveness. I mean, you ain’t puttin’ your shoes under her bed.”
“No, I ain’t.” Branch scratched his chin. He needed more about Harriet. “I know you said you couldn’t find out who would inherit the victim’s estate. But try to find out as many names of her family members as you can. The whole family tree, if possible. Check the genealogical sites. I guess you don’t have to back further than her grandparents.”
“Ok.” Chat sighed under the burden.
“And I’ll call you Monday morning. Looks like I’ll have to go down to Rhode Island then. But I’ll want to know as much as I can before I go.”
“There goes my Sunday.”
“Think of me—I’ll have to sacrifice a whole day to the pursuit of justice instead of playing music.”
“Yeah, my heart bleeds.”
Branch called Sheriff Bacon and told him of his plans. “Tell you what,” Bacon said, “I’ll make you a temporary deputy and write you a letter. That might help you with the Rhode Island crowd, since you’re so far from Texas.”
“That would be great. Thanks. I’ll pick it up this afternoon.” After his quartet session, Branch drove to the sheriff’s office, a white clapboard house off the square in Puffin Bay. The office proper was a pair of rooms in the front part of the house; the sheriff and his wife lived in the rest. The mix of official and domestic Branch found pleasing. While he was chatting with Bacon, his wife came in and Branch met her. She was round-cheeked, just a little plump, with graying brown hair escaping from a ponytail; she wore an apron over sweatpants and t-shirt, and had come to consult with the sheriff about dinner. She invited Branch, who was grateful, and tempted by the idea of a change from the inn’s fare; but he felt he had to keep an eye on the people at the inn and politely declined.
When Branch expressed his admiration for the house and office arrangement, the sheriff explained it as a perk of office. The county didn’t pay much, so the sheriff could rent out his family house while he lived at the office.
The sheriff had a Polaroid camera that made photo IDs; soon Branch had official deputy’s credentials plus a letter asking for cooperation from whomever Branch consulted.
He still had a few minutes before dinner, so he decided to take a short walk around the town. He read a notice on the t-shirt shop that listed shorter off-season hours. The restaurant, called “The Anchorage,” very much a local eatery catering to families and workers, also announced that it would close Sunday evening and Monday after lunch. The grocery seemed to be doing brisk business with local wives. He liked the feel of the familiarity the smallness imposed on the population. Everybody seemed to know everybody else. The people on the street greeted him with a brief “Evenin’.” Even though they didn’t know him. Or maybe they do, he considered; some of them may have heard that a cop from away was helping the sheriff, and figured that he was the one.
The evening continued without much change: dinner (roast pork, potatoes, apple sauce, salad, custard); piano quartet (the first Dvorak); and lovemaking with Esme.
Postcoital snuggling and conversation had lengthened recently. Tonight, Branch asked Esme, “Tell me more about your husband.”
“I’d rather think about you than him.”
“I’m just curious about what would make him neglect a woman like you.”
“You might too if you lived with me for ten years.”
“I doubt it. You’ve been married ten years?”
“Nine, actually. It seems longer.”
“Planning to stay?”
She shifted her position and looked away. “I suppose. As long as I get my little breaks. I usually get what I want.” She smiled at Branch and pinched his cheek. “I hate to admit it, but I guess some would call me ‘high maintenance.’ I like a nice house, nice clothes. Howard doesn’t make too many demands. I actually feel some affection for him. But his focus is on the big game, the big deal, the money score.”
“He does well, then.”
“Usually. I never know the details. I figure that when we go for a while without a trip or a dinner party, things are tight. If we have a party or I get some jewelry, things are ok.”
Once again as Esme was leaving, Branch heard her encounter little Elsie in the hall. Tonight she was much less indulgent than she had been before. “Elsie, you march right back to your room, get in your bed, and stay there.”
There was no music Sunday morning, in case anyone wanted to go to church. Some must have opted not to go, for Branch heard sounds of music from various rooms. Esme had not appeared by the time Branch finished breakfast. He reluctantly turned down an invitation from Margo and Daphne to play string trios. Branch wanted to walk into the village and get a stack of newspapers. He felt that he had been out of touch with the world, and he hoped that the local papers would run some crime story that would be helpful.
The morning was still chilly, so he pulled on a sweater before setting off. The restaurant in the square was full of Sunday brunch eaters; some were probably just back from mass, and others were on their way to church. The smell of bacon, sausage, and hash browns almost made him wish that he hadn’t already had breakfast. A counter near the register had stacks of papers, from the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Portland Maine Sunday Telegram, to the Lincoln County News and the York County Coast Star. He also picked up a copy of the Providence Journal, the only Rhode Island paper available.
Branch bought the lot and lugged them back to the inn. His room would be uncomfortable for reading newspapers, so he settled in the lobby with a fresh cup of coffee and began with the local weeklies. Lots of events—yard sales, Lions Club dances, church suppers—but no crimes of any interest. The Maine Sunday Telegram had a story about a stabbing that Branch cut out with his Swiss Army knife; the victim had been killed on a lobster boat with a fishing gaff. There were two other men on the boat, but they could not agree on who did the stabbing. No one seems to have been killed by an endpin or target arrow.
The Times was more interesting to Branch, for it caught him up on the continuing tragedy of Iraq and the incompetence of the Bush administration. The effects of Katrina were still being felt in New Orleans, the mention of which stirred in Branch a yearning for crawfish etouffé.
He checked the business pages to see if there might be a chance mention of Esme’s husband. He still had no clear idea of what he did. He found one small item: “Howard Pilkington, noted Wall Street figure, was reported to have been questioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning insider trading.” If he was a noted figure, Branch thought, he should be able to find out more about him. Maybe Chat would have more.

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