Death and the Maiden, by Edward Doughtie

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Chapter 26.

 

Esme, lying face down with Branch’s knee in her back, was showing as much of a talent for profane abuse as she had for seductive fantasy.  He was not only a bastard, but was accused of all sorts of perversion, incest, and bad habits.  Branch was getting uncomfortable in this position as well.  “Shut up.  Your hands will stay tied, but you can sit up if you’ll stay put.  Deal?”

“Shit-eating maggot.”

“Guess not, then.”  He called out again for Sheriff Bacon.

Esme groaned.  “Ok, ok.  Let me up.”

“No tricks, now, or I’ll hog-tie you with my belt.”  He jumped up, dodging Esme’s vicious kick.

She scooted back to rest against the rock, panting.  “Peace,” she said.

“Up to you.”  Branch looked at the remains of the picnic that was scattered during their scuffle.  He picked up an apple and took a bite.  “You do make one work up an appetite.”  He finished the apple and began to gather up the blanket, water gun, and other debris and put it in the basket.  Taking off his belt, he used it to tighten the strap binding Esme’s hands and to secure her bonds to her own belt.  “Doesn’t look like the sheriff is nearby.  Let’s go back to my car.”  He grasped her under one arm and pulled her to a standing position.  She kept silent.  “You walk ahead.  If you try anything, I’ll tackle you and sit on you until somebody finds us.  Now move.”  He picked up the basket and followed her.

“By the way,” he said to her back, “you are under arrest for the murder of Harriet Downey.  You have the right to remain silent. . . .”  He finished the Miranda warning from memory.  She remained silent, but flipped him the bird with both her bound hands.

They struggled over the uneven rocks.  Esme’s balance was affected by having her hands behind her, and Branch was lugging the basket.  When they reached the path, the going got easier.  Some tourists walking along the road stopped and stared at the sight of the disheveled couple.  We must look like we’ve had a really bad picnic, he thought.  When one of the tourists watching them realized that Esme’s hands were tied, he said something to the woman with him.  He was a hefty man in his thirties who, despite the cool air, was wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed his loyalty to Harley motorcycles.  He had a dark beard, tattoos, and a baseball cap on backwards.  He stopped and blocked their way.

Esme turned to him and whined, “Please help me.  I’m being kidnapped.”

Branch dropped the basket.  “Sir, she’s a murder suspect and I’m a police officer.  Please don’t interfere.”

“How do I know that?” the man asked, rolling his shoulders and balling his fists.

Branch pulled out his Houston shield.  Esme said, “It’s a fake.  Don’t believe him.  Please help me get loose.”

The man moved closer, scowling.  Knight, hero, thought Branch; who’s he going to believe, a scruffy old guy or a beautiful woman?  “I have other identification I can show you, but I have to secure this prisoner.  Please move aside.”

Instead, he stepped closer.  Branch sighed and reached into the basket and pulled out Esme’s water pistol.  “It’s just a water gun,” Esme said.  But the man hesitated.

“Please don’t make me use this.  If it were just a water gun, how do you think I captured this suspect?”

“He assaulted and raped me!” Esme cried.

Just then the man’s woman friend called out.  “Henry!  You better stay out of that.”  Henry looked unsure of what to do.

Sheriff Bacon appeared from around a curve.  “Branch!  You ok?”

“Ok, sheriff.  Please convince the citizen here that I’m not a kidnapper.”

Bacon approached the man and showed his credentials.  “Believe it or not, this lady—this woman—killed somebody down to Puffin Bay.  Sergeant Branch there is a homicide detective from Houston, Texas, sent up special to help us.”

Henry held up his hands.  “Ok, sorry.  It just looked funny to me.”  Branch noticed that the sheriff allowed his civilian jacket to open enough to reveal his pistol in its shoulder holster.

“Come on, now, Henry!” the woman called, and Henry shrugged and walked off.

“Good timing, sheriff,” Branch said.

“You read Mrs. Pilkington her rights?”  He put real handcuffs on Esme and returned Branch’s belt.

Branch tried the local affirmative.  “Ayuh.”

Bacon smiled.  “My truck’s around the bend.  Do you want to haul her back, or should I?”

“Please take her.  I’ve had to listen to her all day.”

Branch followed them to the sheriff’s truck and threw the basket in the bed.  The sheriff ran the handcuffs through the armrest of the truck.  “You weren’t planning to go anywhere, were you, Mrs. Pilkington?” the sheriff asked.

Esme glared at him.  Branch blew her a kiss.  “Behave, now.  The sheriff’s a married man.”  She stuck her tongue out at him.

Branch walked back to his car with a huge sense of relief.  He looked around at his surroundings with new appreciation.  The sun was setting, throwing shadows from the rocky banks out onto the water.  The islands offshore were illuminated by the slanting light.  Branch was suddenly tired and hungry.  He was on his own now, in no hurry; he would give himself a mini-vacation.  Continuing around the loop road, he enjoyed what he could see in the fading light, and followed the signs into Bar Harbor.  A tourist town, it was full of motels, most of which had vacancies since the main season was over.  He chose a modest one that had huge rusting anchors imbedded in the parking lot.  After checking in, he stripped off the wire, wincing as the tape pulled hair from his arm and torso.  He strolled into town and found a seafood restaurant near the harbor.  A beer, a big bowl of clam chowder, and a lobster salad further improved his mood.

Back in his room, he called Chat.  “Hi, it’s Aldo.  Still alive.”

“Damn.  Promotion delayed again.  What’s up?  You finally get something on that ho with the dough?”

“Yes.  She’s safely locked up.  She tried to knock me over a cliff with a rock.”

“You must have royally pissed her off.”

“It’s too bad.  She was a good musician, smart and pretty.  We had some good times.”

“Oh?  How good?”  Branch heard the familiar insinuation in Chat’s voice.  He was too tired to tease him.

“I’ll be back in a few days.  Got to meet with the grand jury.  Maybe visit a friend in Boston.”  Branch was not aware of that plan until he spoke it.  But why not visit Margo before flying home?

“Guess you’ll have to go back for the trial.”

“I guess so.”  Have to fly into Boston, he thought.

“Well, I hope it’s in January and you freeze your lazy white ass off.  We’re melting down here, and I’m still up to my eyebrows in work.”

“I’ll check with Sandy.  Don’t want to come back too soon and complicate the Mattingly case.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout that.  Lots of other things have everybody’s attention now.”

“Ok, hold the fort.”

He called Margo.  “Just wanted you to know that I’m alive and Esme is in jail.”

“Great.  That’s a relief on both counts.  How did you find her?  Did she give you any trouble?”

“Some.  It’s a long story.  My plane leaves from Logan when I finish up here and make a reservation.  Can I take you to dinner before I go?”

“Sure.  But why don’t I fix you something here?”

“That would be great, but I don’t want to trouble you.”

Her voice dropped.  “You do trouble me—but I don’t mind.”

“Well.”  What should he make of that?  “Thanks.  I’ll call and give you warning.  Don’t change any plans for me.”

“I have no plans.  It’ll be good to see you.”

Branch turned the conversation over in his mind until he could read it favorably.  He read for all of ten minutes before falling asleep.

The next day he enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, checked out and started the drive back.  He looked forward to coming back to Puffin Bay with the prospect of a few hours of quiet solitude.  On the road, he found some good music on the radio most of the way.  But when the reception faded, he was content with road noise and silence.

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