Bloodcircle

Chapter 8

chapter
Chapter

I QUIT THE car, found a way around to the back of the jail, and slipped inside, too nerved up for the moment to worry about my sore head.

The place was all linoleum and painted metal; nothing to get excited about. The open door at the end of the cells led to the outer office, and I crept up to it with my ears flapping, only nobody was talking. I got in the angle created between the door and the wall and peered through the crack made by the hinges.

Within the narrow strip, Escott's profile and part of a uniformed deputy leaning his butt on a big desk were visible. The other man was out of view, but a squeaking chair placed him a few feet in front of Escott.

They were all motionless except for breathing, and sometimes one of them turned that automatic body pattern into an expression of impatience by an occasional sigh. They made no offer to get coffee, which I interpreted as a sign of Escott's ambiguous status with them. A guest gets coffee and a prisoner you talk around like he's not there; Escott was neither and that put my nerves up even more. I couldn't tell what Escott was feeling.

A phone rang and the guy at the desk answered. He said, "Yeah," and hung up. Five long, silent minutes later a car rolled up and another man walked in. The deputies stood up and made room for him.

"Thanks for coming down, Escott," he said.

"I had little choice in the matter, Chief Curtis," was the dry reply.

"What is this all about?"

"We want to know what you did with your friend."

"I don't understand."

And it went on like that until the cop got around to revealing the embarrassing fact that my body had taken a powder. Escott hadn't been kidding on his moral outrage. He was a real treat to watch, but Curtis expected an act and wasn't buying any of it.

"Put the lid on for a minute, Escott, and just tell us everything you've done today since four o'clock."

Escott choked a little. "You really think I did it?"

"You were the one so dead set against an autopsy."

One of the deputies snickered at the inadvertent joke.

"Yes, out of respect for his religious beliefs–

"Which I think is a lot of crap. You know as well as I do we throw that out the window in a homicide case. Don't you want to find who killed your friend?"

"Of course I do–"

"Then tell us where you stashed the body."

"I didn't 'stash' it anywhere because I never took it. I've done nothing."

"Then tell us what you have done."

He gave out with a loose schedule of a walk around the town, dinner at the inn, and another walk ending with a drink at The Harpoon. As stories went it was pretty lousy.

"Anyone see you on these walks?"

"I suppose so. I wasn't paying much attention."

"Did you go past the funeral parlor?"

"I did. It's on the main street and I recall going down that way once."

"Did you go into the parlor, like maybe to pay your respects?"

"No."

"Did you want to?"

"Are you charging me with anything?"

Curtis ignored the question and hit him with a dozen more of his own, which Escott handled the same way; the truth, but not all of it. If I hadn't been the missing body all the fuss was about, I'd be starting to believe him.

I wanted a look at Curtis and chanced taking a peek around the other end of the door. It was safe enough, one man was watching Escott and the other was out of sight.

Curtis was smaller and slighter than his help, but with the kind of tough stringy body that reminded me of tree roots. He had short gray hair, a narrow face, and wore steel-rimmed glasses that caught the light and hid his eyes. He looked like the kind of person who could spot a lie and be ready to deal with it before it was out of your mouth. Escott was in for a hard time.

The deputy glanced up and I ducked back behind the door. Talk lagged while he came across the room for a look. I vanished, sensing his close presence for a moment as he checked the cells and turned away.

"What is it, Sam?" asked Curtis.

"Thought I saw something."

He'd left the door wide open so it was flat against the inside wall and I no longer had a place to hide and watch. I shifted to one of the cells and materialized on the lower bunk. Escott's bag was still with me and I took care not to let the stuff inside clink.

Talk in the next room resumed. Escott stuck to his bad story, Curtis let him know in very precise terms just how bad the story was, and neither side gave an inch. Having been in the same situation only a few days ago, I was all sympathy. Too bad Escott couldn't hypnotize his way out of this one. I seriously speculated on walking in the front door with a sad tale of concussion and a family history of catalepsy and amnesia.

The consequences would have been amusing, but maybe not too productive to a low profile. I was distracted from further planning when the station door opened and another man entered.

"Well, Doc?" said Curtis expectantly.

"Brought 'em."

A chair squeaked and bodies moved.

"Out with your mitts," someone instructed, and there was a concentrated silence. I whisked from the cell and peered past the door with one eye, trying to be thin. Escott was standing at the desk having his fingerprints taken. He was given a towel to wipe off the ink, but they ignored his request for soap and water. Curtis ordered him to be taken to the next room.

I jumped back into the cell, grabbed up the bag, and went away for the minute it took to lock him in.

"This is too bloody much!" he exploded as the key turned. "Am I under arrest? Answer me!"

I followed the deputy out as he shut the door, listening while they examined and compared. They were disappointed.

"Well, what did you think?" Curtis growled at them. "If he's smart enough to move a stiff and not be seen, he's smart enough to wear gloves. What about the others, Wally? Did McGuire take yours?"

"Yeah, and none of the prints match what we found on the table."

I grinned invisibly. Any prints on that metal table would be mine.

The doctor continued. "I'd just like to know why he did it, if he did do it."

"Who else? You said he threw a conniption when you started to cut."

"People are like that, they don't like to think about what we have to do"

"Like hell. This bird's no virgin, he's been in the business long enough. As for that religious scientist craphe's hiding something."

"Then you try wearing him down. In the meantime I think you should see if there're any students spending the weekend in the area."

"Students?"

"As in medical. We got up to games in med school that would curl your hair."

"Students?" Curtis repeated unhappily. He had badly wanted to pin it on Escort and now had a new distraction to trouble him.

"Where do you want this stuff?" asked Wally.

"In the file over there."

Wally went over there and shuffled away the fingerprints.

"Now what?" asked the doctor.

"We let him wait and think. I'm going for my supper. I've been running my ass off since yesterday. Want to come?"

Curtis and the doctor left, and the two remaining men discussed their own dining plans. I drifted back to the cell, took the top bunk, and re-formed.

'You all right?" I whispered.

He was standing at the locked door, less than two feet away. He whirled, drawing a quick breath. "Not just then. You should knock or something, I nearly had a cardiac."

"Sorry."

"Have you been here long?"

"With you all the way."

"1 thought as much when that deputy got cold and then started seeing things."

"1 just came from the other room. They were trying to match your prints with some from a table. I think it's the one I'd been lying on at the parlor."

"With little success. I imagine the prints they found were your own."

"That's what I figure."

"I suppose I could suggest it to them"

"Don't be funny. The chief's gonna let you stew here for a while."

"I expected no less. They'll have to release me in twenty-four hours, though, or charge me."

"Only if they're nice about it. Some of these small-town cops can be regular dictators."

"One can hardly blame them in this case, as they are very much out of their depth–"

The outer door opened and I got scarce fast.

"Awright," said the deputy, "who you talkin' to?"

"My lawyer, if I'm allowed the chance. Where is Chief Curtis? He can't just shut me in here without"He went on and on until the deputy left, slamming the door on his tirade.

"All clear," he whispered.

I reappeared on the floor, next to the lower bunk with my back against the wall. He was still at the cell door, his fingers threaded through the bars. They weren't the vertical type, but inch-wide iron strips in a latticework pattern that made the dark cell a claustrophobe's nightmare.

The walls and ceiling were metal as well and covered with institutional green paint marred by graffiti. It was thickest along the bunk wall, with the usual initials, scratches to mark off passing days, and a crude figure of a woman to remind inmates of what they were missing.

"Not too terribly cheerful, is it?" he asked, reading my face.

"I'll get you out of here."

"A jailbreak?" He shook his head.

"No, I'll find Curtis and have a little talk with him."

"I'd rather hoped you might. Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah," I said, with some surprise. "It's funny, but I think my disappearing act seems to help–like taking an aspirin."

He was interested. "You do look improved."

"Will you be okay here?"

"Safe as houses." He removed his coat, folded it neatly, and stretched out on the lower bunk with a sigh.

"But aren't you worried?"

"Over what?"

"If Curtis checks your story at the inn, Barrett could hear about it.

You're a sitting duck in this cell."

"I'm aware of that possibility, but pacing and tearing my hair will not help the situation."

"You still don't think Barrett is behind any of this?"

"Before forming an answer, I need more data."

I let it slide for the moment. "Speaking of which, you haven't filled me in on what happened today."

"What about Chief Curtis?"

"He's having supper with the doctor. I can't do anything until there's a chance of getting him alone. I can catch him when he comes back."

He nodded, approving. "That will be Dr. Evans, who is also the local coroner. He fancies himself to be a criminologist–"

"And nearly sliced me up for salami from what I've just heard."

"Erm, yes. Wellthe less said on that the better."

"Sure, but thanks for heading him off. So, how did you spend your day?"

He squeezed his eyes shut. "I have the strangest feeling of deja vu."

'Maybe you could tell me how I spent my day instead."

He jumped at the chance. "To summarize: you and Banks were discovered at about seven forty-five last night by a Mr. and Mrs. Malloy. Malloy was reluctant to leave the scene, tried to flag down a passing car for help, and succeeded on his second attempt. He sent the driver on to call the police. They arrived and the official investigation began.

" The two of you were pronounced dead at the scene and photos were taken. The hurricane delayed things and it was several hours before they could move the bodies. The worst of the storm hit around dawn. I was awake at the time along with a few other guests and beginning to wonder what happened to you. I thought you might have found it necessary to go to ground because of the weather, or that the car had broken down some-place. A deputy showing up to drive me to the funeral parlor to identify your body was the last thing I expected."

"Did you think I was dead?"

"Not after I saw you, but I knew you weren't at all well."

"How so?"

"That horrible shrinking and aging had not set in, so it seemed likely you would recover, given time and a little help. I was then invited to aid the police in their inquiries–' "How did they know to find to you?"

"They traced the registration of the car to its hire firm, then to our Manhattan hotel, and ultimately to the Glenbriar Inn. They were less than satisfied with my story of a vacation, but had to settle for it, as it was all the information I was pleased to give them. They released me and I returned to the parlor in time to begin the first arguments against your autopsy. Dr. Evans was exceptionally busy because of the aftermath of the storm, and that helped. All he managed to get into the record was that you were probably dispatched by a blunt wood instrument of some sort, and the odd fact that after a period of more than eighteen hours, rigor mortis and livor mortis had not set in. He was mightily puzzled over that."

"We'll just make sure we keep him that way."

"I'm all in favor of–"

The door crashed open and the deputy bulled in. I barely squeaked out in time.

"Where is he?" he yelled.

"What are you talking about?" Escott's voice was mild.

"There's a guy in here, I heard you gabbing. Where is he?"

Escott didn't bother replying to that one and the man tore the place apart, which didn't take long, since it was pretty short of hiding places. In the end, he took Escott from his cell and locked him into another.

"Anything, Wally?" he called to his partner, who was outside beating the bushes by the jail windows. Wally came back distantly with a negative answer.

'What is the problem, Deputy?" Escott asked, with the polite blandness one reserves for idiots.

"You shut up," he ordered, and marched out, leaving the office door hanging wide open.

I resumed shape in the most sheltered corner of Escort's new cell. His face was grotesquely crisscrossed by the shadows cast from the bars, but he was silently and heartily laughing.

"Guess I forgot to whisper," I murmured.

He recovered enough to say, "We both did. I never thought jail could be so amusing."

"I'll get going before we drive them nuts."

"Good luck," he wished, and I winked out, taking the fast way through the front. Both men were very quiet and still, probably listening for more conversation from the cells. Unless Escott decided to treat them to a Shakespearean soliloquy, they were out of luck.

It wasn't late, but the streets were empty and had that post-midnight feel to them. Hard blue light from lamps around the station picked out broad puddles left by last night's storm, and a cool wind made the water shiver and stirred fallen branches. Not feeling it even in my thin shirt, I stood motionless under the shadow of a tree. I had nothing to do but wait and hurt and think and grieve. Down the block the windows were still lit at the funeral parlor where John Henry Banks waited to be buried.

A slow hour passed before the chief's car chugged up to its slot in front of the station. He was alone, which was exactly what I wanted. As he got out, I put myself on the sidewalk and called to him.

"Chief Curtis?" I used a light, friendly voice. I was someone with no real problems or gripes.

The car was between us. He shut the door and looked up. "Yes? Who's there?"

That reminded me about my superior night vision. He was squinting to see my face against the harsh, inadequate light of the street lamps.

"I need to talk with you, if you have a minute."

He didn't know my voice and was trying to place my body shape, comparing it with others in his memory to identify me. I was familiar, but he didn't know why.

"I got a minute, come into the station." He remained on his side of the car, unconsciously on guard. Some deep instinct within had raised the tiniest of alarms. I rounded the front of the car–a natural enough move–but it put the light squarely behind me and kept my face in shadow. His glasses picked up the brightness and threw it back.

"No need to go to any trouble, sir, I just had a question for you." I was almost close enough to start, but had to move to one side so he could see my face, half in light, half in shadow. He didn't know me, but I was now very different from the rain-sodden corpse on the roadside under the glare of his flashlight.

"What is it?" He was expectant. In another second he'd be impatient.

"I want you to listen to me," I said, focusing onto him.

Light flared over his glasses as I closed in.

The stone bench was cold and unforgivingly hard, but Escott cheerfully maintained its superiority over his padded bunk at the jail. His vest and coat were tightly buttoned and he was pretending not to feel the chill in the wind as we sat watching the Glenbriar Inn. The white Studebaker was still where Barrett had left it hours earlier.

My head had started its dizzy thumping again, adding to my worries. I hugged my precious packet of earth and longed for total rest deep in my quiet trunk. Chief Curtis had been less trouble than I'd anticipated, but it had been very draining.

A minute after I'd finished with him and faded into the night, he shook himself and completed the journey from his car to the station, unaware of its interruption. Escott was brought from the lockups and released, much to the puzzled annoyance of the deputies. Sometime tomorrow Escott would return to collect his car keys and my personal effects. I could have managed it all tonight, but didn't want to push things too far or too fast. There was always the chance that Curtis could be talked out of my influence by some familiar, sensible voice.

"I'm going inside," said Escott. His tone was relaxed and conversational, as though he'd only commented on the weather.

Prom this end of the place we could see the window of our room. If Barrett was up there instead of in the lobby, he hadn't bothered with the lights. I could easily imagine him sitting very quietly in the dark, facing the door and waiting for it to open. Escott had made his mind up and nothing short of my hypnosis could change it. I wasn't going to do that, but I couldn't let him go up there alone, either.

"All right." I stood up. Slowly. The nagging dizziness made the ground lurch. I'd used up a lot of precious energy dealing with Curtis.

"You don't have to, you know."

"I know. Let's get moving."

We left the park, going the long way around to avoid being in direct sight of our window. I kept my eyes wide open as we approached the back door to the inn, scouting likely corners and shadows for his presence.

The memory of that amorphous gray blob so invisible to human eyes was still with me.

He was in the room and heard us come up the stairs. He could distinguish us from other guests by the sound of two pairs of feet, but only one pair of working lungs. Our door opened suddenly and he stepped into the hall to look us over with his candle-flame eyes. He nodded and stood to one side, inviting us in.

Damn few things ever ruffled Escott; he murmured a polite good evening and did so, turning on a light. It took me a little longer to follow.

Our room was undisturbed. If for any reason he'd bothered to search it, he'd been careful. Without thinking, I went straight to my trunk and sat on it; the soil within tugged at me like a rope. Escott sank onto one corner of the bed nearest the door and Barrett took a hardwood chair next to the window.

"I read the paper," he began. "I read ail about the double murder and saw the name John R. Fleming, so I thought I should check it out and see if it was you. I'm glad you're all right."

My face must have been stone. "Are you?"

His lips thinned and his own expression hardened. "Yes, I see that you are. I'll go now."

"Wait." Escott arrested his move to leave. "Something else must have brought you here as well."

"It was the story in the paper," he stated, his voice even.

"Indeed."

Barrett didn't like his look and started to rise again, and again Escott stopped him.

"The other man who was killed, John Henry Banks–what do you know about him?"

"Only what they said in the paper. Why should I know anything about him?"

"He was the man who chauffeured Maureen away from the Francher estate five years ago."

The revelation did no more than raise one eyebrow. "He was?"

"We spoke to him at length. He remembered a small woman wearing a veiled hat who hardly spoke to him."

"What a remarkable memory he must have had."

"Only because of the unusual nature of his fare."

"How so unusual?"

"Because it had been a very long drive for them and she bestowed a rather large tip for his trouble."

Barrett shrugged. "It's a long road back to the city."

"But he did not take her to New York, he drove her to Port Jefferson."

"Port–"

"Why would anyone want to go to Port Jefferson?"

"To use the ferry to–" He broke off, his brows coming together.

"Would Maureen have had any reason to go to Bridgeport?" Escott asked, putting a very slight emphasis on her name.

"I don't know." He wasn't sure, though, and we both picked up on it.

"We saw you earlier tonight," I said. "You were going to the funeral parlor, weren't you?"

He all but grabbed at the change of subject. "Yes, when I read about your–your trouble. I thought you might need help."

"Did anyone spot you?"

He looked slightly embarrassed. "I'm afraid they did."

That explained why Escott had been picked up so fast.

"I got away and thought it best to come back here to wait for you."

"So you could be neat about things and take care of Escott, too?"

As a shock tactic it didn't work very well. He was surprised, but not in the way I'd expected. He gaped as though I was mentally deficient and looked to Escott for an answer.

"Jack believes you tried to kill him last night," he explained quietly.

Any breath in him had seeped out and he struggled to replace it to speak, only he couldn't speak. His face was eloquent. Unless he was a better actor than Escott, he was an innocent man. In-noc-ent of my attempted murder, at least.

"No," he finally whispered. "Why ever should I want to kill you?"

Escott didn't answer directly. "Banks was the intended victim, Jack only arrived at the wrong time and was attacked in order to shut him up. He might have seen or heard something that would have identified the killer."

"Why do you think it was me?" he asked, honestly puzzled. "Is it because of Maureen? Because we were once lovers?"

I hated him for being right. I hated the thought of Maureen in his arms, holding to him, responding to his touch-however long ago it had been. I hated that when she'd been in trouble she'd gone to him for help and not to me. I realized with shame that I could hate her for that as well.

Escott shifted uneasily and I looked away from them until the emotions cooled off. Given a chance, they lose their terrible intensity, but until then I'm not safe to be around.

"The paper said it was a robbery." Barrett was speaking to Escott. "You obviously don't think so. Why?"

"There's too much coincidence involved for my peace of mind. The day after we spoke with him, the man was murdered. I believe the killer found out about our investigation into Maureen's disappearance. That person did not want anyone looking too closely into things and cut off a source of information. This, of course, presupposes that Maureen is dead."

The only sound was Escott's heartbeat and the soft tick of his watch.

Barrett was utterly still. Eventually he looked at me, hoping I'd deny Escott's words. I'd lived with the possibility for so long on the edge of thought that I felt nothing. Barrett had never once considered it and was having to deal with the idea as one solid blow.

He shook his head slightly, barely moving. "You think she's dead?"

I looked past him out the window, not wanting to see a mirror of my own old fears on his face.

"Why do you think that? Where's your proof?"

Escott stepped in and answered for me. "Jack has no other proof than his knowledge of Maureen and her feelings for him."

"But she was terrified of Gaylen, of facing her."

"If Maureen were still alive, she'd have returned to him despite Gaylen's possible interference." He switched back to me. "She loved you, Jack, she would have returned to you."

I nodded my thanks to him for that piece of comfort.

"Then who killed her?" asked Barrett. "If she has been killed."

"You could have."

Barrett wasn't threatened by the accusation. "Why should I?"

"To maintain your position in the Francher household?" he suggested.

"Maureen could have upset that for you, especially if she ever suspected you of setting the fire that killed Violet Francher."

I felt the wave of pure shock roll from Barrett and flood the room.

"Easy, Charles"

Escott was staring at the deceptively simple quilt pattern on the bed, using it as insulation between his mind and Barrett's feelings.

Barrett said clearly and slowly, "The fire was an accident."

"And a very convenient one for you, was it not?"

He was up and across the room faster than thought. All I could do was stand and take a step toward them, knowing that I'd be too late to prevent anything. At the most I might just be able to pry his fingers from Escott's broken neck, and I wasn't sure of doing even that much in my condition.

But Barrett stopped and did nothing more than stand over him. Unmoved, Escott continued to study the quilt, and Barrett's fists trembled for want of action.

"It probably was an accident," Escott continued, "and if not, then it was someone else who arranged it, not you. You have other means by which you may deal with such awkward problems. We know that. It would have been child's play for you to have influenced Violet Francher into accepting you. Why did you not do so?"

The answer was slow in coming, Barrett was still dealing with his emotions. "Emily asked me not to, and after my experience with Gaylen it seemed best to allow things to run their natural course."

"Did you know about the psychiatrists being brought in?"

"Yes, and if it came to it, I was more than ready to influence them. How did you come to know all of this?"

"Servants' hall gossip can be most enlightening."

Barrett snarled something obscene and returned to stand behind the chair, resting his hands on its tall back. I withdrew to the trunk. If he'd wanted to kill, he'd have done it by now.

"What was Emily's reaction to her mother's death?" asked Escott.

"What do you think?"

"I'm asking you."

"I don't know how to answer."

"Was it normal grief?"

"What's normal? I don't know."

"I think you do."

Barrett appealed to me. "How do you put up with him?"

"I usually tell him what he wants."

He shrugged. "For what it's worth, Emily took it very hard. She all but fell apart on us. Why do you ask?"

"Because she could have killed her mother."

He smiled. "No, that's impossible."

"You are very certain."

"I am absolutely certain, I was with her that whole night."

"But not during the day."

"No, but–"

"She could have rigged it all during the day, delaying things."

"No." He shook his head decisively. "No, she couldn't have done anything like that. You're completely wrong there. The fire started because of an old lamp wire shorting out."

Escott nodded, encouraging him to go on.

"Emily knows nothing about mechanical things. She's always had servants to do everything for her. She only has the vaguest idea of how to change a light bulb. Last year I tried to teach her how to drive and she was utterly hopeless at it. Besides, she's too gentle of heart. She could never kill anyone, nor even think of it."

Escott tilted his head to one side, looking directly at him. "Besides, it was an accident, as you said."

He scowled, knowing that Escott was patronizing him. "Why do you insist it wasn't?"

"Because it brings sense to what followed after: Maureen's disappearance and why she disappeared."

Things tumbled and lurched inside me that had nothing to do with my injured head. "Charles"

He looked at me.

"No more," I said. "Leave it as is."

"You won't, by God," said Barrett. "You'll be telling me, and the sooner the better." His voice was low, but he meant every word and would tear it out of Escott if he thought it necessary.

"I can only tell you what I've been able to deduce from the inadequate data I have at hand."

"No, Charles. What's the point? What's the good of it? Maureen's dead, this won't bring her back."

"I know." He was surprised, but not offended at my attitude. "Maureen, Banks, and nearly you–who's next? That is the good of it. That's the purpose and point, the one that I have to justify it all for myself–to stop her from killing again."

"Stop who?" Barrett demanded.

Escott started to speak, but his words could mean his own death, so I interrupted. "He's not talking about Emily, but Laura."

Her name echoed silently on his lips. The color had gone out of his already pale face, leaving him a cold, bloodless statue until he began to shake his head again. "No. You're both wrong again. You're too inept to find Maureen, so you invent nonsense to excuse your lack."

"Was Laura home last night?"

He stared me up and down, then sense and disbelief took over, and he smiled. "You're wrong, laddie. What you're thinking is impossible."

"It is not," said Escott. "Very sadly, it is not."

Barrett's finger found a seam in the wood of the chair back where two different grain patterns met. He ran the edge of one nail along the join, unaware of the nervous movement. "Right, I've nearly had my fill of this. Come and finish your terrible tale."

"It is terrible," Escott agreed. "And I am sorry to bring this upon you."

"Get on with it."

"I will speculate that in 1931 a fourteen-year-old girl returned to her adopted home for her school holiday and found herself in the middle of a very tense emotional situation between yourself, Emily, and Violet.

Laura did meet you for the first time that spring, Mr. Barrett?"

He nodded.

"Did she like you?"

"Yes, but you know how schoolgirls are."

"Schoolgirls grow up to be women. A person's age does not invalidate the depth or sincerity of their feelings–you can certainly understand that from your own experience. You may not have been interested in her then, but she was interested in you. Is that correct?"

"She may have had an infatuation, puppy love–

"And Violet was trying to send you away." Escort held up his hand to stem any comment. "We'll pass over the subject of the fire. Whether or not it was an accident, it happened and removed any threat to your remaining on the estate. From Laura's point of view, there was the secondary advantage that she no longer had to return to school. She was needed at home to help care for her grieving cousin.

"It was probably the best summer she'd ever knownand then one night another woman came into the house–a former lover, and a woman you were still very attached to in ways that Laura could only understand by instinct. You invited Maureen to stay as long as she liked."

"You're saying Laura was jealous of Maureen, but not of Emily? The girl wasn't deaf or blind, she knew we were sharing a bed."

"Emily was also much older looking than you. To Laura's young eyes she was no competition at all, but Maureen was young, beautiful and well acquainted with you. Laura must have eavesdropped on some of your conversations together, enough to see her as another threat."

"And for that you think she killed Maureen? Is that the whole miserable story?"

"The most important part, yes. Was Laura then aware of your nature?"

"She knew only that I was allergic to sunlight. Some people are so and are not vampires–"

"But what might she have heard if she'd been listening to you and Maureen?"

Barrett shut up. His face pinched in thought, he paced the room up and back, then sat in the chair. "Go on."

"She apparently learned enough from the two of you to figure things out easily enough. If there is anything like a decent library in that house she'd be able to pick up some basic data about your condition and your special weaknesses. She would know how to take advantage of them."

"But she was a child."

"And very intelligent? Precocious, perhaps?" Escott's voice dropped to a gentle, toneless murmur. "Sometime during the day she murdered Maureen."

"She did not! Maureen left the next night. Mayfair saw–

"Mayfair and Banks only saw a woman wearing a hat and a veil; a hat to cover her blond hair and a veil to conceal her face. A woman was seen arriving on the estate and a woman must be seen to leave. There was no reason for Maureen to want to go to Bridgeport. Can you think of one for Laura?"

"Her boarding school is in Connecticut," he whispered.

"The route would then have been a familiar one to her and a logical one for her to choose because of its familiarity."

"How would she get back?" I asked him.

"She must have hired another cab in Port Jefferson. We only failed to find it."

"And what happened to her trunk?"

"I don't know. We shall have to ask her."

Barrett had been staring at the floor and looked up after he noticed the silence. "What?"

"I said we shall have to ask her."

It took a while to sink in and he was shaking his head slowly but decisively. "No. You're not going anywhere near her. You're both going to leave us all alone."

"And if we leave you alone, what will you do?"

But he wasn't ready to consider that. "No, you just get out of here and leave us."

"She's murdered two people, Barrett, possibly three."

"She has not. You've no proof for any of this. Only speculation, and what good is that?"

"Where was Laura last night?" I asked.

"At home in her room," he said too quickly, then realized it.

"What time? Was she in her room at seven-thirty or taking a swim? Was she out shopping or visiting a friend or just taking a drive in a hurricane? Or just maybe she was swinging a club at the back of Banks's head. There was a lot of blooddid she get it all off? Did the storm wash it away before she got home? Was her hair dry by the time you went up to her? Was she even in the mood for your company? Or maybe she was all excited and needed you to help work it off–

The shock had come back to his face, then it swiftly evolved into white-hot fury. He was in front of me in one step, hauled me up, and knocked a fist square into my face before I could vanish. The room swung sharply to one side and a wall slammed me hard all over; or the floor, or both. I didn't care. Maureen was dead and I didn't care about anything at all.


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