Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

Chapter 25.

Branch approached Ellsworth, Maine. He interrupted Esme’s erotic flow and told her. “Now what?”
“Take a right on number three.”
“Toward Bar Harbor?”
“That’s right. Now, do you like it better on the bottom or on top?”
“Are you in Bar Harbor?”
“Don’t be nosy. Answer my question.”
“Which do you prefer?”
“Top, of course. Don’t you remember when I . . .”
“Should I go on to Mount Desert Island?”
“Yes. And stay on route 3 at the fork. Speaking of forks, that word reminds me of …”
“Ok, I’m on the island and I just passed the fork.”
“Now. When you get to the Acadia Park entrance on the right, take it. If you pass a ranger station, stop and pay the fee. And when you get to the next fork, take the one-way road to the left. And aren’t you glad there isn’t just one way to fuck? Wouldn’t that get boring? Just think, there’s . . .”
Although he wouldn’t have believed it possible, he had grown numb to Esme’s talk. She might has well have been reading recipes. He made the turn into the park, and made the turn at the fork. The signs told him he was on Park Loop Road.
When he came to a ranger station, he paid his fee and got a map. The ranger was a young woman in a Smoky Bear hat and green uniform. As she handed him the map, she said, “Sir, we don’t recommend that you talk on a cell phone while you drive.”
“I agree. I won’t be on much longer.”
“You don’t know that,” Esme said. “I like long foreplay.”
Branch could see buildings away to his left, which he thought must be the town of Bar Harbor. Or as Sheriff Bacon would say, “Bah Hahbah.” He passed a turnoff with a sign indicating that “Wild Gardens,“ a nature center, and a museum were nearby. The road then curved to run parallel to the shore; a mountain rose up on his right. “Pretty landscape here,” he said, when Esme took a breath. “How far do I go?”
“Let me know when you pass Thunder Hole.”
“Ok. Signs point to an overlook and a sand beach.”
“Keep going.”
“Thunder Hole coming up.”
“A little further.” She paused in her erotic monologue. “You’re in that cheap little blue rental, right?”
“Yes.”
“Ok. Just a minute. Now, stop. Pull over and park.”
“Where are you?”
She chanted, “I see you, but you can’t see me. Wait a minute.” The tone of her voice hardened. “Who’s in that truck behind you? Why, I do believe it’s our beloved potbellied Sheriff Bacon. Appropriate name, the pig. Now listen here Aldo—“
“I swear I didn’t know he was following me.”
“Oh yeah? Well, you know it now. Go tell him if he doesn’t clear out, neither of you will ever see me again.”
“If he wants to catch you, he can block the exits.”
“That’s what he thinks. Now go tell him.”
Branch got out of the car and approached the sheriff’s truck, still holding the phone. “I didn’t expect to see you, sheriff,” he said, winking hard. “Esme spotted you. She says I can’t see her until you go away.” He nodded trying to say that he meant it.
The sheriff shrugged and said, “Ok. Hope I’ll see you later.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” he said, winking again. The sheriff put the truck in gear and drove slowly down the road, scanning the hills above.
“He won’t see me. Now do you still want to see me?”
“Might as well, since I’ve come this far. Of course I want to see you.”
“Ok. See that path across the road, leading toward the sea? Take that and bear right. When the path runs out, just follow the rocks along the edge of the cliff. This is Otter Cliff, by the way. Eventually you’ll find a cozy little spot where I’ve prepared us a nice picnic. There’s a blanket, and a basket, and everything. You must be hungry.”
“Not really, just eager to see you.”
“How sweet. When you find the spot, just relax. I’ll be along soon.”
“This sounds nice. But it’s getting cold. Couldn’t we go to a motel?” Branch carefully moved over the uneven rocks. The sea splashed and roared below.
“We’ll see. We need to talk, as we women say.”
“I think I’ve found your picnic spot.” Branch found the blanket and picnic basket behind a large outcropping of rock. It was partly sheltered under another large rock. It was essentially invisible from any angle until one was only feet away.
“I’ll be there soon. Don’t be impatient, now. Save it all up.”
Branch sat with his back against the rock. After what seemed a long time, he heard a loose rock rattle, and Esme appeared. She was in jeans and a fleece jacket; her hair was tamed in a practical ponytail. Binoculars hung around her neck. She wore her canary-eating cat expression. She didn’t kiss him or say anything, but sat across the blanket from him, looking him over.
“You look great,” Branch said, “very outdoorsy.”
She smiled but didn’t speak. Finally, she reached for the basket. “Hungry?”
“I’m ok.”
“Look,” she said, taking items out of the basket, “a baguette, paté, cheese, apples. Wine. Sancerre. It means ‘sincere,’ which means ‘without wax.’ Did you know that?”
“I do now.”
She took out two glasses and poured the wine. She put the glass in front of him. She picked up hers and took a slug, not a sip. “Go ahead. Afraid I’ll poison you?”
“No. To your health.” He took a sip. It tasted all right.
She tore off a piece of bread and smeared paté on it. She took a bite and handed the rest to him. He took a bite. He scratched his wrist and squeezed the switch of his recorder. She ate silently.
“Are you all talked out?” he asked. She nodded and chewed. “What can I do for you? How can I help?”
She wiped her hands and mouth on a napkin and took another gulp of wine. “Why don’t you take your clothes off? Nobody can see us here.”
“It’s too cold.”
“I’ll warm you up.”
“No. Let’s find a room.”
She reached into the basket again. This time she came up with a small black automatic pistol—a Beretta, Branch guessed. “Take ‘em off,” she repeated.
“No.”
“Well, if you won’t bare your body, how about your soul? Be sincere, be without the wax. Be straight with me.”
“All right. And I really want to help you—I want you to give yourself up.”
“I think you want me to say something I’m not going to.”
“All right. You’re holding a gun on me, so—“
“What gun?” She raised it and pointed it at him with a smile. “I don’t have a gun.”
“I’ll be straight with you. I’ll tell you what we have. Then, if you’re as smart as I think you are, you’ll see that it would be in your best interest to give yourself up. You could make a good case for compulsion. First, the blood on your robe is Harriet’s. And we have a witness that saw you, in that robe, carrying a cello that night. I think you came to Harriet’s door and asked something about Montagnana. Maybe you wanted Harriet’s opinion on whether the cello could be a Montagnana. When she opened the door, you stabbed her with the cello endpin.” Esme smiled, shook her head, but remained silent. “And I know your husband, Howard Bracken, also Pilkington, is Harriet’s heir, and that he is in deep money trouble. The notes you left for Harriet were not about music, but about trying to borrow money. She turned you down, didn’t she?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She raised the gun. “You’re trying to get me in trouble. I guess I’ll have to shoot you.”
She pulled the trigger. Branch flinched, but the stream of water hit him anyway. She laughed, and kept laughing. Branch, when he caught his breath, laughed too. “I didn’t know Beretta made water guns. I thought toys had to have orange tips.’
“They do now. I’ve had this since I was seven.” She came over the blanket and kissed him. “I really am going to miss you,” she said. She stood and pulled him up, and pulled him into an embrace and kiss. “You don’t really believe I did those bad things, do you?”
“I don’t want to. But I have to.”
“No, you don’t. I didn’t do it.” She turned him so they faced the sea. “See that island out there?” She pointed, and put her arm around his waist. He moved so that she wouldn’t feel the wire and recorder. “That’s Baker Island. It’s practically deserted. Why don’t we rent a boat and go over there? We could get naked and you could chase me around until we get really warm. Then you could catch me.”
“Sounds like fun. Maybe in a few years. You might get off, you know.”
“I’m going to get some more wine.” She let go and stepped back. “Can you see the lighthouse on the island?”
Branch was looking for the lighthouse when he heard the slight noise of a stone scraping under the clink of the wineglass. He turned just in time to see Esme lunging toward him gripping a large rock aimed at his head. He ducked and hit her arm; the rock bounced off the edge of the cliff and fell into the sea. Esme pushed at him—he was surprised at how strong she was. He slipped out of her grasp and got his back to the rock. She came at him, her mouth grimly set, making no sound. He grabbed her. She tried to knee his groin. They struggled until Branch’s strength allowed him to get her arm behind her back and force her to the ground. Then with his knee in the small of her back, and both her arms forced toward her shoulder blades, she relaxed.
Then she called out, “Rape! Help!”
“I should have brought handcuffs. Keep hollering. Maybe the sheriff will find us.”
“You bastard.”
“How about some more sweet talk? You really are a praying mantis.”
“I’ll charge you with assault and attempted rape.”
“I’ll charge you with chutzpah, as well as murder.” Branch looked around for something to use as a restraint. With one hand he reached for Esme’s binoculars and pulled the thin strap loose. He bound her wrists with the strap.
“Ouch. Not so tight.”
“I thought you liked bondage games.”
“Fuck you.”
“I won’t comment on that. I really did enjoy it while it lasted.”
“You’re not very good at that, you know. Very little staying power.”
“If you won’t call for help, I’ll have to. Sheriff Bacon! Over here!”
“No telling where he is. How long do you think you can keep me like this?”
“As long as it takes. I have some staying power.”

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