Authors: Carolyn Hart
Annie's nose wrinkled at the sour, acidic smell. Was that an overlay of chlorine? Vials and test tubes glittered in shades of violet on long laboratory tables. A dozen or so students measured, poured, jotted notes.
Annie stepped inside, aware of quick curious glances. “Mr. Quinn?”
He stood with his arms folded, looking over a student's calculations. “Good work, Josie.” Josie's lips spread in a pleased smile and she fingered the four tiny rings that clung to one ear. He turned, looked sharply at Annie. “Yes?”
“If we could talk for a momentâ¦” She kept her hand on the door.
For an instant she thought he was going to send her away. Then, with a faint shrug, he jerked his head toward an alcove at the back of the room.
She followed him. He faced the room, his gaze moving swiftly about the lab. When he looked at Annie, his glance was cool, his eyes quizzical beneath dark brows. “Yeah?” He had an Alan Alda face, but there was no nice-guy charm here. “Gerry saysâ¦”
Gerry? Oh, Gerald Allensworth. Now, why had Jack Quinn talked to the principal?
“â¦that you think Kay had a problem at school. How so?” His look was brooding, intense.
Max always told the truth. Annie thought about that for a minute. Well, there were different ways to tell the truth and she didn't want this arrogant dude confronting volatile Maureen Riley. “We understand she was upset with someone at the lunch table. Would you know about that?” Was it you, buddy?
He frowned. “The lunch table?” His tone was puzzled. He looked sharply at Annie. “Who told you this?” He took a step toward her.
Annie realized Quinn was big, intimidating and worried. “I don't think that matters. What matters is Kay's quarrel with one of you.”
He rubbed his face. “With one of usâ¦” His tone was odd.
The bell rang. Students flowed out of the classroom, some of them glancing toward their teacher and his guest.
Quinn bent closer, spoke loud enough for her to hear. “So far as I know”âhis gaze was steadyâ“Kay had no trouble with anyone at the lunch table.” There
was relief in his voice. “Maybe you got the wrong information. So”âhe began to back awayâ“be sure and let me know the time of the service.” And he turned and hurried out into the hall.
Annie wondered where he was going. Most of all she wondered at the odd tone in his voice when she'd suggested Kay was distressed by someone at the lunch table. Whatever problem he'd expected to be told about, it hadn't included the lunch table.
Annie checked her watch. It was already a quarter past one. The assembly was set for two o'clock. But maybe there was time for one last stop.
comfortably in his reclining red leather desk chair. The vibrator hummed. He propped the phone between his head and shoulder. “This is Josiah Pilkington of Pilkington, Papillon and Porter. I wish to speak with Mr. Littlefield on a matter of some importanceâ¦. Oh, could you tell me when he will return? Next week. Is Mrs. Littlefield available? Oh, in Europe. I see. No, I will call again.”
So the Littlefields were off island. But Diane was here. Annie had spoken with her at the antique shop yesterday.
Max punched a button. The chair rose. He pulled the legal pad closer, marked through Curtis and Lou Anne Littlefield. After Diane's name, he wrote: Midnight?
He tapped the pen on the desk. Who would know where Diane had been at midnight? Was she staying home alone although her parents were out of town? She might well be. She was, after all, a senior in high school. Hmm. In any event, she had no alibi so far.
Except for Diane, he was through with the Littlefields. Now for his next quarry. Max flipped through his Rolodex, found a number, punched it in. “Ben? Max Darling here.” Max leaned over, turned on the speakerphone, turned off the portable phone. “Is
“Nope. Pulled out yesterday. Mr. Fleming's brother took it down to the Bahamas for some fishing.” Ben sniffed. “Don't see how the fishing could get any better than here. They brought in a couple of fifty-pound king mackerels this week. The
out of Charleston.”
left the harbor yesterday afternoon for the Bahamas, neither the captain nor anyone aboard had been on the island at midnight. “Mr. Fleming's brother took it out. Is Keith Fleming aboard?”
Ben gave a snort of laughter. “Not likely to be for a while. He married himself a mighty young woman and they're off to some island in the South Pacific.” He was scornful. “Here's the best island in the world and I don't see why anybody'd go anywhere else. Anyway, Captain Joe said the new Mrs. Fleming's not much for fishing. Except for fat wallets, is my guess.”
“Ben”âMax's voice was dryâ“you're such a romantic.”
“Well now, Max, there's romance and romance, and some women don't think they's nothing as romantic as crisp new dollars. But maybe turnabout's fair play. They always said Keith Fleming married Laura Neville for her money, so now somebody's married him for his as what used to be hers, if you get my meaning.”
Max did. But he was willing to consign the Flemings past and present to the world of their own making, since none of them were on Broward's Rock at the moment or had been at midnight last night. “What goes around comes around. Thanks, Ben.”
On his sheet, he marked through Captain Joe, Keith Fleming and Fleming's wife.
Max studied Frank Saulter's name. That was a poser. Frank lived alone. There wasn't going to be an alibi for him. Max's hand hovered over the phone. No. His hand fell. What good would it do to call Frank? If he had nothing to do with Kay Nevis's death, he'd say he was home asleep. If he'd shot Kay Nevis, he'd say he was homeâ
The phone rang. Max punched it on and smiled as Annie's voice flowed into the room over the speakerphone.
“Max, listen, I just have a minute.” She sounded breathless. “I'm at school.”
He frowned. “School? Is Rachel okay?”
“She's fine. I don't have time to explain everything, but Henny's sure Kay Nevis didn't write those flyers. Henny persuaded me to come here to see what I could find out. Because if the people in the flyers didn't kill Kay Nevis, then Pete's not hunting in the right places. Anyway, I've got to hurry. There's an assembly, but I'll tell you all about it later.” The connection ended.
Max clicked off the phone. The women in his life seemed to be making a habit of hanging up on him.
Barb trotted into his office, carrying a sheet of paper in one hand and a bowl of fresh fruit topped with a sauce in the other. “Want some fruit? I made a yummy dressing with vanilla yogurt, apple juice and poppy seeds.”
“Sure.” He smiled. “Thanks.”
Barb placed the bowl and a napkin and dessert fork
on the desk. “Here's what I've found.” She placed the sheet next to the bowl. “The Littlefields have a motorboat. They keep it at a dock behind their house. Let me know if you want me to check on anything else. That didn't take long.”
“Will do.” Max speared a chunk of pineapple.
Barb's sheet contained a list of names with brief notations:
Paul Marlow played poker last night. The game broke up around one in the morning.
Teresa Caldwell left the island yesterday afternoon, taking her daughter with her on a trip to visit her mother in Birmingham. Arrived in Birmingham about seven o'clock, still there. According to his office, Ralph Caldwell is in New York and has been there all week. Frank Saulter was home alone. No confirmation.
At the end of the sheet, Barb had printed in large block letters:
M LEAVING EMMA TO YOU
Max grinned. So who's afraid of the big bad mystery writer? He reached for his Rolodex. Slowly his smile slipped away. Yes, he'd call Emma in a moment, though it was rather the same thing as calling Frank. People who live alone are not likely to whip out unassailable midnight alibis. More to the point was the dwindling list of suspects from the fake flyers. Diane Littlefield, Frank Saulter and Emma Clyde. That was not a great field of choices. If Pete Garrett was seeking a murderer there, Laurel might well be in serious dan
ger from a hidden adversary. Dammit, what was she up to out in the Sound at midnight?
The faded redheadâAnnie tried to remember the nameâJames? Jennings? Jenkins?âleaned on the counter. Cutting her eyes toward the principal's office, she whispered, “Mr. Wilson's in with Dr. Allensworth. I don't know when he'll be free. I guess they're talking aboutâwell, you know.”
The murder? The assembly? Annie didn't know, but she understood that nothing would be running on schedule this day. In the open office area, the other secretaries murmured into telephones. Had calls from worried parents begun? More than likely news of the murder was now out on radio and television.
A freckled arm pointed toward a narrow hallway. “The counselors' offices are back that way, Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Heaston. I think she's available. Would you like to see her?”
“No, but thanks. The family is contacting the teachers who knew Mrs. Nevis well.” Annie had offered this story for so long, it almost seemed true. She checked her watch. A quarter to two. Perhaps Wilson would return to his office before the assembly. Annie could use the time to wonder about Jack Quinn. She couldn't quite define his attitude, but he was concerned about something. Apparently it had nothing to do with the lunch table. Or was that the impression he meant for her to receive?
“â¦one student already waiting. But you're welcome to take a seat.” Mrs. Jenkins nodded so vigor
ously, her lank red hair quivered. “I'm sure he'll see you first, since you're from the family.”
“Thanks, I'll do that.” Annie smiled and turned to the corridor, which was an extension of the long narrow space that ran along the counter of the main office. There was a wall with trophy cases to her left and office doors to the right. She passed a frosted door and realized it was likely another entrance to Dr. Allensworth's office. A plaque beside the next door announced:
. The plaque by the last door read:
A long green wooden bench was tucked between two trophy cases. A red nylon backpack was slung carelessly at the far end. A slender girl in a softly woven turquoise blouse and white capris stood at the end of the hallway, staring out the window at the long sweep of grass and marsh and green water. As Annie's shoes scuffed on the cement floor, she swung around, a hand at her throat.
The girl was strikingly lovelyâlong curling blond hair, deep-set violet eyes with dark lashes, smooth golden skin, high cheekbones, a rounded chin, lips that were made for laughterâand she was quivering with distress, her eyes huge with fear, her breath coming quickly, her face flaccid.
Annie reached out her hand.
The girl whipped her arms tightly together, hunched her shoulders, turned away.
Annie hesitated. There was trouble here and certainly this girl should have first call on seeing the counselor. But the other counselor was freeâ¦.
Brisk steps sounded behind them. Annie turned and
realized the girl, too, was swinging toward the doorway to the office.
George Wilson paused on the threshold. His round face was furrowed and grim. His sporty white polo shirt and pleated khakis weren't the right costume for heavy drama. He looked stunned, a man far out of his element. His gaze noted Annie, moved past her. His fair, freckled face changed, softened. “Meredith.” There was concern in his eyes.
The girl darted past Annie, skidded to a stop in front of the stocky red-haired counselor. He'd called her Meredith. Was this Meredith Muir, the girl who lived across the inlet from Mrs. Nevis? If so, no wonder she had come for help. The shock of learning that a neighbor as well as a teacher had been murdered was certainly enough to bring her here. The counselors were surely going to have to deal with distraught students in the coming days.
“Meredith, you've heard the bad news?” Wilson had a nice tenor voice, light and clear. “I know it's a shock. The last thing anyone would expect.”
“I came becauseâ¦” Her high, soft voice trailed away. She glanced toward Annie, a vacant, frightened look.
Annie took a step toward the main office. This was no place for her. This girl needed help and Annie was in the way. “Mr. Wilson, I'll speak with you later. I'm Annie Darling and I'm here from Mrs. Nevis's family. We're making plans for the service.”
Quick steps clattered into the hallway. Curly-haired Mrs. Otis, her round face red and worried, heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh, here you are, Mr. Wilson. Dr. Al
lensworth needs you. He wants you and Mrs. Heaston”âshe was knocking on the first doorâ“right now.”
The door opened. A middle-aged woman with frizzy black hair, a horselike face and bright green eyes stepped into the hallway. She held up a sheaf of notes. “I've got some ideas. It had occurred to me that Dr. Allensworth might expect us to be ready. Come on, George.” She moved quickly, her navy patterned silk dress swirling around her ankles.
Wilson hesitated. “Meredith's here. I need to speak with her.”
Mrs. Heaston looked back. “Later, George. Meredith, you don't mind, do you? We've some serious matters to discuss.”
Meredith took a step back, another. “Oh no. It doesn't matter. That's all right.”
In only a moment, the hallway was empty except for Annie and Meredith. The girl stared at the empty doorway, her face bleak. Abruptly she whirled, dashed to the bench and grabbed the backpack. She ran past Annie, head down.
Annie stared after her. Someone should have spoken to this girl, reassured her. Reassured her? Yes, Meredith Muir needed reassurance. It was fear that had permeated this long silent corridor, fear that had emptied the strength from the muscles of that beautiful face, fear that had leached all vigor from her voice. Annie took two quick steps, then stopped. She had no idea where Meredith had gone and the girl would very likely rebuff an approach from a stranger. Maybe she
would be at the assembly. If so, Annie would try and catch her, speak with her.
Henny finished her careful survey of the library shelves. “I don't see anything that looks like a journal or daybook. I suppose she might have a desk in her bedroom. Let's try there, Billy.”
She didn't look toward the scrubbed patch of wood in the entry hall but her memory of the morning was indelible in her mind: Kay, the most immaculate and carefully dressed of women, sprawled on her back, arms outflung, robe agape, nightgown drenched with blood, sightless eyes staring from a dead gray face. As Henny moved down the short hall, she tried to push the picture away. Kay would have hated being seen that way.
The bedroom door was open. Henny stopped on the threshold. This room must be straightened before the family arrived. She'd change the sheets. It wouldn't be hard to find clean bed linens. Her efforts had focused on the entryway and the kitchen. She had not thought this far. For the first time, she began to imagine the events of the night.
The bedroom was small but cheerful: bright yellow chintz on a love seat, a painted pine bed with a soft white chenille spread, old golden wood floors with a patchwork throw rug of red and blue and orange, more bookcases and, in a window alcove, a small white desk. The night lamp on the bedside table glowed, the covers were flung back. “Look, Billy, she'd gone to bed.” Henny pointed at the lamp. “It's on. Kay must have heard the bell ring and gone to answer the door.”
Billy's big face was somber. “That's what the chief thinks, too. It figures from where she was found. It looks like she opened the front door and pow! somebody shot her. Except for those flyers tossed around the hall, nothing seemed to be out of place.”
Those damn flyersâ¦Henny skirted the narrow bed, reached the white desk. “It looks like Emma's right.” An annoying habit of Emma's, but sometimes useful. “Those have to be journals, Billy.” Henny pointed at the small books with floral covers.
Emma Clyde gave a bark of laughter, a cross between the guttural cry of a sea lion and the creak of a dungeon door. “Max, is that a delicate way of inquiring whether I was gunning down my old friend last night?”
Max blinked at the speakerphone. “Your old friend?”
“Oh yes.” Emma's tone was pleasant. “I liked Kay. I suppose I sounded a little snappish at your office today. She did seem a natural to have done the flyers. But I gave it some thought and you'll be pleased to know I've urged our young police chief to see if Kay kept a journal. Serious people so often do, you know.”