'Murder at the Brightwell' Chapters 13 & 14
I GASPED, COMPLETELY stunned by this latest and completely unforeseen development. “You can’t possibly mean it, Inspector.”
He regarded me coolly. “I’m afraid I never jest about such matters, Mrs. Ames. I am perfectly in earnest.”
“But this is absurd,” said Gil, finding his voice after the moment of surprise. “Why on earth would I kill Rupert Howe?”
“To prevent him from forming an undesirable attachment to your sister. Mrs. Ames heard you threaten him while standing outside her window,” he said, nodding in the direction of the windows that faced out to the sea. “The night before he was murdered. You warned him to leave your sister alone.”
I was both angry and upset at this betrayal of my confidence. “I said no such thing!” I exclaimed. “You have mistaken what I told you, Inspector.”
“Mrs. Ames, I realize this is uncomfortable. No doubt you are also angry that I have taken into account the information you gave me. However, you did tell me that the two of them were having a heated discussion outside your window.”
I turned to Gil. “I didn’t mean for this to cause trouble, Gil. I was trying to find you today, to let you know that I had spoken to the inspector.” I turned back to Inspector Jones, my voice cold. “I had thought you would be inclined to interpret that information in a reasonable manner.”
“It is very reasonable, Mrs. Ames,” he said, unfazed by my anger. “Unfortunate as it may be.”
Gil took my hand and squeezed it. “It’s all right, Amory. I’m sure this will all get straightened out in time.”
I turned back to the inspector. “You haven’t any evidence against him, not really.”
“I’m afraid that’s incorrect,” he said calmly. “Mr. Trent was seen on the terrace in the company of Mr. Howe not long before the time Mr. Howe was believed to have been killed.”
This was another piece of news that caught me completely off guard.
“By whom?” I demanded.
“That is something I would rather not disclose at this time.”
“This is outrageous!” I said. “I understand how you might think so,” Inspector Jones answered in that irritatingly calm way of his. “But I am inclined to see it somewhat differently.”
“You can’t possibly ...”
“Never mind, Amory,” Gil said, gently interrupting my protest. “We’ll sort it out. I’m ready, Inspector. We may as well go.”
“I don’t believe you did it for a moment, Gil,” I said, clutching his arm. “I’ll do what ever is necessary to clear this matter up. Don’t worry.”
He smiled. “I know you will, Amory. It will all be all right.”
“I apologize for the inconvenience, Mrs. Ames,” said the inspector. “I realize my intrusion may have been inopportune.”
“I shall be taking this matter up with your superiors, Inspector,” I said.
The man actually smiled at me, an amused little smile that I found to be highly annoying. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Ames, but you must do what you feel is necessary.” He nodded slightly in Milo’s direction. “Good evening, Mr. Ames.”
“Inspector,” he returned. He sounded almost bored, as if this whole thing had been a scene in a play that he didn’t find particularly interesting.
Inspector Jones and Gil reached the door, and Gil offered me one last feeble smile before they left. The look in his eyes clutched at my heart. He was worried, despite his assurances to me. Murder was no small charge. Determination welled within me. I certainly wouldn’t let him be hanged for a crime that he didn’t commit. I would find out who killed Rupert Howe if it was the last thing I did.
“An unpleasant business,” Milo said from behind me. He had remained quiet throughout the climactic scene, and for that I was grateful. If he had uttered one of his little bon mots, I may have lost my temper.
I turned to face him. “This is madness. Absolute, utter rubbish.” He rose from his seat. “Let me get you a drink.”
“I don’t want a drink, thank you.”
I paced toward the sofa and then back toward the door. This was terrible. “I should never have told the inspector what I heard. If I’d have thought for a moment that Inspector Jones would misconstrue what I was saying, I would never have spoken with him. Gil didn’t kill Mr. Howe. It’s utterly preposterous.” Despite my shock, the irony of the situation was not lost on me. I had been terribly afraid that someone might implicate Gil, and I had managed to do it myself. How dreadfully stupid I had been.
“You’re as pale as death, Amory,” he said, pressing the glass into my hand. “But perhaps that is the wrong expression to use at present.”
“I don’t want it,” I said, pushing the drink he had given me back toward him.
“It’s only soda water,” he replied. “I haven’t forgotten your aversion to stronger beverages.”
“Thank you, then.” I took a sip. Strong beverage or not, the cool crispness of it seemed to help clear my head, which had begun to throb. I pressed my fingertips to my temple.
“And why don’t you take these.” There was a bottle of aspirin lying on the table, and he picked it up, opened it, and handed me two of the tablets.
“I do have quite a headache.” I took the pills and then set the water down before moving to the sofa. I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the events of the evening.
“Gil didn’t kill Rupert Howe,” I said again. My eyes met Milo’s. “You know he didn’t.”
“I don’t know that for certain and neither do you.” “I’ve known him for years, Milo. Much longer than I’ve known even you. I know him. He wouldn’t kill anyone.”
“You’d be surprised by what you don’t know about the people closest to you,” he replied, settling onto the sofa beside me.
“Take me, for example. How much do you know about me, really?”
I looked at him. It was an odd question, but I considered it.
“Not as much as I should, I suppose,” I said at last. That wasn’t the half of it, but now was not the time to engage in that particular discussion.
“But I know that you wouldn’t kill anyone.”
He raised a brow. “Do you?”
“Would you?” I challenged.
He contemplated. “I might. If the occasion called for it.”
“Don’t be absurd,” I said. “In any event, we’re not talking about you; we’re talking about Gil. Something must be done.”
“Well, there will be plenty of time to fret over it tomorrow,” he said. “How’s your head?”
“It seems to be a bit better, thank you.” I reclined against the sofa pillows. For some unaccountable reason, I felt much more relaxed than I had a few moments before.
“Shall I turn down your covers?”
“I can manage. You should probably go to your room,” I said with a yawn. “I assume Miss Carter’s given up on you by now.” Despite my distress, I was suddenly so very sleepy that I could barely keep my eyes open.
“I think I’ll wait around a bit longer,” Milo said.
I was too tired to argue. “Suit yourself,” I said and closed my eyes.
I awoke to the sound of the sea and the warmth of sunlight shining through my window. I lay perfectly still with my eyes closed, enjoying the feeling of being deliciously relaxed and refreshed, as though I had slept for years. When did I fall asleep? What had gone on the night before?
It came back to me in a rush. Gil had been arrested. My eyes opened.
I was vaguely startled to see Milo lying in the bed next to me, his dark hair contrasting with the soft pastel of the pillow, the covers pulled up to his chest. He was wearing his undershirt and, I assumed, the rest of his underclothes. I wore my nightgown, minus negligee. How had we ended up in bed together? Clothed or no, I should have remembered going to bed with him. And then I realized what had happened.
I sat up. My head swarmed momentarily, but the sudden rise of anger quickly cleared it. “Milo,” I shook his shoulder. “Milo!” He turned his head on the pillow, not opening his eyes. “Hmmm?”
I shook him again, more aggressively. “Wake up.” He opened one eye.
“What is it, darling?”
“What did you give me last night?”
He sighed. “What?”
“What did you give me?”
“No, those pills. What were they?”
“Oh, those.” His long black lashes fluttered open, and he looked up at me. “Aspirin. What’s the matter with you?”
A fresh wave of anger pulsed through me at the attempted deception. “They were not aspirin. They were sleeping tablets.”
He frowned. “Why do you keep sleeping tablets in your aspirin bottle?” I grabbed the blankets and pulled them off of him.
“Get up and get out of here.”
“I wondered why you fell asleep so quickly.” He folded his hands behind his head and regarded me with a sleepy smile. “I normally don’t have that effect.”
I was not at all amused.
“You’re sure you didn’t give me sleeping tablets?”
“I did no such thing.” He favored me with a semi-serious expression. “Why would I want to put you to sleep?” Then a wicked grin flashed across his face. “If you’re worried, I can assure you nothing untoward occurred. I was the perfect gentleman all evening.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Milo. What are you doing in my bed?” “Sleeping ... or trying to. It’s awfully early.”
“For heaven’s sake.” I tossed aside the portion of the blanket covering me and stood up. The sudden movement sent a wave of dizziness through me, and I clutched the bed for support. For a moment, I was afraid I was going to topple to the floor.
Milo propped himself up on his elbow and regarded me. “Really, Amory, perhaps you better lie down. I think you’re overwrought. This murder business has been rough on you.”
“I tell you there was something in those pills. I feel as though I’m wading through molasses, Milo. That isn’t a common aftereffect of aspirin.”
He sat up. “Can I get you something?” “I’ll get some coffee in a bit,” I said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “I’m all right. I ... I just need a moment.”
“Let me ring for coffee.” He got up and went to the telephone and called for coffee to be brought to my room.
I made my way into the bathroom. I turned on the sink and washed my face in cool water. I felt strange and not at all well. A glance in the mirror showed that I was also very pale. It was all quite disconcerting.
I returned to the bedroom. Milo had pulled on his trousers and was buttoning his dress shirt. He pulled his cigarette case from his pocket. “Smoke? It may clear your head.”
I shook my head as a wave of nausea passed over me. “I feel as though I may be sick.”
“Can I do something?”
“Thank you, no. I’m sure it will pass.”
“At least sit down,” he said.
He came to me and took my arm, leading me over to a chair. Then he sat across from me and watched me as he smoked. “You do look terribly pallid, darling.”
“I’ll be all right,” I replied. “It’s just so very odd. I don’t know what’s come over me.”
“Perhaps you’re pregnant,” he suggested casually.
Our eyes met. It was not a very subtle way of inquiring just how much had been going on between Gil and me while Milo had been away.
I regarded him with raised brow. “Not unless there has been some change in procedure of which I haven’t been informed.”
Was it my imagination, or did something very like relief cross his eyes? “Well, one can never be certain.”
“Sometimes one can.”
We looked at one another, neither of us willing to address the elephant in the room. What a farce this marriage was.
We were spared any further awkwardness by a timely knock at the door.
“It’s the coffee,” I picked up my negligee and pulled it over my nightgown. “As you said, it will be just the thing.”
He rose from his chair and went to open the door. The maid came in with a tray, setting it on the table. If she noticed Milo’s dishabille, the fact that he was in my room wearing last night’s clothes, she gave no sign of it.
“Your tea, sir.”
“I rang for coffee,” Milo said. “I’m sorry, sir,” the maid replied. “Things are all askew at the moment. Everyone is in a flutter. You see, one of the guests tried to commit suicide this morning.”
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“ATTEMPTED SUICIDE? WHO?” My heart began to pound as I feared the worst. “Not Gil ... Mr. Trent?”
I felt Milo’s eyes on me even as the color drained from my face. The thought that Gil might have harmed himself while in police custody made me feel weak with fear. Would he have done such a rash thing? I didn’t think so, but I was beginning to believe there was much about Gil I didn’t know. I was not the same as I had been five years ago; neither was he.
“No, madam,” the maid answered. “It was a woman, that Miss Henderson.”
“Olive Henderson?” I sat down on the sofa. “Why would she do such a thing?” I cast my mind back to the conversation we had had in the sitting room. She had been very unhappy, that was true. But I shouldn’t have taken her for the kind of girl to take such drastic action.
The maid shook her head knowingly. “Some women are like that, madam. One never knows what they will do next.”
“Yes, I suppose,” I commented absently. It just didn’t make sense.
The maid would have been happy to go on telling tales, whether or not she knew any further details, but Milo adeptly ushered her to the door and rewarded her handsomely for her gossip.
As the door closed behind her, he turned to me. “I suppose you’ll have to settle for tea.”
“That will be lovely, thank you.”
He poured me a cup and brought it to me, dropping into the seat across.
I took it absently, still lost in thought. “Thank you. Why would Olive Henderson try to kill herself? Surely not for love of Rupert?”
He shrugged. “I assume the story will come out. You know these people can’t go any length of time without sharing what ever it is they know.”
“It’s all so very strange.” I took a few sips of the tea as a fresh determination settled within me. “We shall have to go down to breakfast, Milo. I need information.”
“Amory, you’re not well. You should lie down, not traipse about the hotel embroiling yourself in matters that do not concern you.”
I had felt vaguely that way until Gil’s arrest, but things were different now. Gil had been wrongfully accused, and I could not stand by and do nothing while a killer went free. Until last night, I had been driven by my own curiosity and a vague sense of unease, but Gil’s arrest had raised the stakes considerably. My fears had come to pass, thanks at least in part to my own foolishness, and there was nothing to do now but devote myself completely to the cause of justice, as it were. I had waded into this investigation thus far; now it was time to dive in — headfirst.
“Nonsense.” I felt revived by the hot, strong tea and the newfound zeal for my cause. I set my cup and saucer down on the table and stood. “This may have something to do with the murder. We should investigate.”
I looked down at him, surprised myself that I had included him in my plans. He could prove useful, perhaps, but I suspected his potential usefulness was not what had fueled my impulsive invitation. However, now was not the time to contemplate my personal motives for enlisting the aid of my wayward husband. Instead, I forged ahead.
“Aren’t you at all interested in solving a murder?” I asked him.
“In clearing Trent, you mean?” he replied easily. “I’m not sure that I am.”
“He’s innocent. I’m certain of it.”
“I don’t particularly care.”
“Nonsense, Milo. I know you want to help me.”
I didn’t, of course, know any such thing. Milo was not generally inclined to be cooperative when it didn’t suit him. Nevertheless, he rose, albeit somewhat reluctantly, from his seat.
“Amory darling, I ...” I patted his arm, effectively cutting off any sort of protest. “Go put on something appropriate and we’ll go down to breakfast. And for goodness’s sake, don’t let anyone see you skulking out of my room in your evening clothes.”
It occurred to me as Milo left my room that our party was diminishing day by day. First Rupert’s death, then Gil’s arrest, and now Olive Henderson’s suicide attempt. It was an alarming prospect.
Yet another reason why I should do what I could to investigate. I bathed and put on a smart dress of navy chiffon with white polka dots over a navy underdress. Though I still felt a bit under the weather, my reflection revealed that, though a bit wan, I looked rested. I still couldn’t fathom what might have put me into such a deep sleep. I was fairly certain that the tablets had not been aspirin. In fact, it felt as though I had been given a strong sedative.
I picked up the bottle and opened it, pouring a few of the round, white tablets into my hand. I studied them closely, and I was soon convinced that I was right. They were very similar to aspirin tablets, but I was fairly certain that they were not, in fact, aspirin. How had they come to be in my bottle? Perhaps it wasn’t even my bottle. Had I somehow acquired someone else’s tablets by mistake? I tried without success to think how such a thing might have happened. It didn’t seem at all likely.
The alternative, however, was much less appealing. If it wasn’t a mistake, then someone had deliberately tried to drug me. I could think of no reason why Milo should have done such a thing or why anyone else would have. It was very odd. Another piece of the puzzle that I could not seem to explain.
I dropped the pills back into the bottle and slipped it into my handbag. Perhaps I could find some way to have them examined. Apparently, they had been harmless enough, but it was chilling to think the bottle could easily have contained something much less anodyne than sleeping tablets.
If they had been giving some such medicine to Emmeline, it was no wonder she had been unable to see anyone. Thinking of Emmeline, the thought suddenly occurred to me that she was no doubt in a state this morning. If, that is, she had heard of Gil’s arrest. If she hadn’t, it would probably be best that I break it to her gently. I needed to see her immediately.
When Milo tapped on the door of my room, I was ready for him.
“I’ve forgotten Emmeline,” I said as I stepped into the hallway, trying not to notice how very handsome he looked, cleanly shaved and wearing a light-gray suit. “The poor dear probably has no idea what’s become of Gil. I’m going to speak with her.”
“Before breakfast? First, you have me up at this absurdly early hour, and now you want to deprive me of sustenance.”
“No, dearest,” I told him. “You shall have your breakfast. It will be your duty to spy upon our fellow travelers.”
“Really, darling ...” He was protesting, but I was certain I saw amusement in his eyes. I suspected that the idea of inserting ourselves into a murder investigation appealed to his reckless streak. Though it was entirely possible he would be more of a hindrance than a help, I thought we just might yield results if we collaborated. Together, we were quite a capable pair.
Though I didn’t like to admit it, I suspected that this was at least part of the reason I had drafted him into service; it would be nice to feel like partners in some endeavor, however fleeting it might be.
“Come now,” I said. “You know you will enjoy it, and you may as well make yourself useful.”
“Very well. I’m sure I shall be able to provoke Mr. Hamilton into making some sort of revealing statement.”
He grinned. “Shall I take notes?” He was going to enjoy this, perhaps too much. “Just see what you can find out,” I said, walking toward the lift.
“And after breakfast, your room or mine?”
“Mine. Veronica Carter may still be hanging about yours.”
“I didn’t invite her to my room, you know.”
I turned, wondering if I could trust the sincerity in his expression. “Let’s not talk about it now, though I’d like very much for us to finish this conversation at some point.”
“Yes, Amory. I should like that, too.”
Milo dispatched to the breakfast room, I went to see Emmeline. She opened the door to her room almost immediately when I knocked.
“Oh, Amory,” she said. An aura of distress hung about her like a cloud. Her face was pale and taut, and she was visibly trembling. The poor thing looked as though a slight breeze could topple her.
I entered the room, shutting the door behind me, and took her arm, leading her to the sofa. “Do sit down, dear. You look all in.”
“Amory,” she clutched my arm with frigid fingers. “Have you heard about Gil?”
“Yes, I’ve heard. It will be all right.”
“The inspector came by last night to tell me ... Gil didn’t kill Rupert. He would never ...”
“I know, dear.”
“How could anyone believe that he could do such a thing?” Though I was no medical expert, I thought she seemed on the edge of nervous collapse.
“Has the doctor been here this morning, Emmeline?”
“I ... think so, yes.” She rubbed a hand across her face. “I ... I’m so tired, Amory.”
The poor thing was extremely distraught. She seemed as though she might break down completely at any moment, and I found the prospect a bit alarming.
“Have you eaten, Emmeline?” I asked.
“No. I’m not hungry.”
“That will never do,” I said. “You’ve got to keep your strength up.” I moved to the telephone and ordered a light breakfast. It was only a matter of minutes before the food was brought up, a little tray with some porridge, toast with butter and jam, and a dish of fruit.
“Now, dear, you must eat some of this,” I said.
“You must keep your strength up. For Gil’s sake. He may need you.”
She wavered, then nodded. “Yes, you’re right, Amory.”
I supervised while she took tiny bites of each of the dishes in turn. It was not a hearty breakfast by any means, but at least it was nourishing. Emmeline looked as though she had lost a good deal of weight in just the last few days.
I wondered if she had heard about Olive Henderson, but I felt that this was not, perhaps, the best time to bring it up.
“Why do they think he did it?” she asked.
I hesitated. There was really no need to conceal the truth. “They think he didn’t want you to marry Rupert.”
“Oh, I know he didn’t,” she said, to my surprise. “Gil never liked Rupert, not from the start. The day they met, there was a noticeable coolness between them, as though Gil had already made up his mind about Rupert ...”
“Did you ...” I hesitated, not wanting to upset her. “Did you ask him what he had against Rupert?”
Had Emmeline paused before she spoke? Her eyes darted away for a moment before coming back to mine. “I suppose it was just in Gil’s nature to be protective of me.” It was a careful answer, and I realized that despite her distress she was still very much on her guard.
I was beginning to find it immensely frustrating to be met with such chariness at every turn.
“There must have been some reason.” I pressed. “Gil isn’t the type of man to take an instant dislike to anyone without reason.”
“I ... I don’t know,” she answered, and, to my horror, her eyes began to fill with tears. “I only know that I was the only one who really understood Rupert, and now he’s gone ...”
“I’m sorry, Emmeline. I didn’t mean to upset you,” I said. This was very distressing. Perhaps I should have sent Milo to speak with Emmeline. He would have handled the situation with much more finesse, I was sure.
“I don’t mean to cry. Everything is just so terrible.” She swiped at her tears. “But you must know that Gil’s innocent. He never would have killed Rupert just because he didn’t like him . . . He didn’t kill him. He didn’t.” “I know,” I said, rising from my seat. “And rest assured, Emmeline, I’m going to find out who did.”
Walking away from Emmeline’s room, I realized that I had made quite a commitment. Finding Rupert’s killer would be difficult, and there was every possibility that it could be dangerous. Nevertheless, I remained undaunted. I did not believe for a moment that Gil was guilty of this crime, and I did not intend that he should hang for it.
Milo was waiting in my room when I arrived, lounging on my sofa and thumbing disinterestedly through the novel I had been reading.
“Well,” I said without preamble, “did you learn anything?” He tossed the book aside. “It seems Olive Henderson went at her wrists with a razor blade. I had a tray sent up for you.” He indicated the silver tray that sat on the table. I lifted the lid. It was cold porridge, which I abhorred, but I thought it sweet of him to think of me.
“Her wrists? How ghastly.” I sat down on the chair opposite him, the rapid pace of the morning beginning to catch up with me. I was still somewhat drowsy, though the heavy lethargy seemed to have worn off.
“I thought it rather theatrical myself.”
“How terribly insensitive of you,” I remarked. “After all, the girl might have died.”
“Well, she didn’t. Eat your porridge, Amory. You look as though you need nourishment.”
“I’m not hungry, thank you. She’ll live then?”
“Yes, she did a poor job of it, it seems.”
“What do you mean?”
“Either she had reservations about actually seeing it through or she’s weak as a kitten. The wounds weren’t deep enough to do serious harm. They probably won’t even require stitching.”
I was actually quite impressed. “Milo, how in the world did you manage to discover all of this?”
He smiled. “A truly competent investigator never reveals his sources.”
“Oh, so you’re an investigator now, are you?”
“I thought I might as well try my hand at it,” he said, sitting back in the sofa, that familiar gleam in his eyes indicating one of his rare bouts of enthusiasm. It had been a long time since I had seen him look that way. I felt an unwarranted bit of satisfaction, as though I was somehow responsible for capturing his interest.
“Anything more?” I asked.
“Not much. Miss Henderson was the sole topic of conversation this morning; no one was talking of anything else.”
“Well, I must say you did well,” I told him.
He smiled. “This is shaping up to be more amusing than Monte Carlo. And what of you? Did you learn anything from Emmeline?”
I sighed. “She’s nearly gone to pieces. I’m not sure how much longer she shall be able to hold it all together. She seems to be in a constant state of near hysteria. Of course, she’s been through so much. Were our situations reversed, I’m sure I should not be in a much better state.”
“Nonsense,” Milo said. “You’d bear up.”
I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a criticism, so I replied with a light tone. “Do you think so?”
He tossed me a grin. “Naturally. If I were to be murdered, I would leave you with heaps of money and free to do as you please.”
I stood and turned toward the door. “You needn’t be murdered for that,” I replied, looking back over my shoulder. “I could just as easy accomplish it with a divorce.”
“Touché, my love,” he said.