'Murder at the Brightwell' Chapters 15 & 16
MY FIRST COURSE of action after parting ways with Milo was to visit the police station to see Inspector Jones. I didn’t feel he had dealt fairly with Gil, or with me for that matter, and I intended to see what I could do about it.
Milo’s objective would be to gain whatever information possible from the rest of the guests. His usual lack of interest in what people had to say could prove invaluable in this situation. I hoped people would be willing to speak to him, thinking it of little consequence. There was always the possibility that someone might give away a telling bit of information without meaning to.
Inspector Jones was occupied when I arrived, but the helpful sergeant gave him my message, and it was only a few moments before I was ushered into his office. The space was well kept and orderly, as I would have expected his office to be. There were few personal items to be seen, save a photograph of the inspector with a pretty darkhaired woman I thought might be his wife. He sat behind a desk covered in neat stacks of paper. Everything about the place bespoke quiet efficiency.
He rose when I entered. “Mrs. Ames,” he said. Though he didn’t smile exactly, there was a pleasant expression on his face, as though he were not altogether displeased to see me. I had the feeling that he was amused by me, which I found grating, and the begrudging sense of admiration I had felt for his competence had been shaken by Gil’s arrest. Nevertheless, he was obviously an intelligent man, and I hoped that he would come to see reason.
The heat of anger with him had faded since last night. Nevertheless, I was still disinclined to be friendly. “I think you know why I’ve come, Inspector,” I said coolly, seating myself in the hard wooden chair he had indicated.
“You feel that I abused my position when you spoke in confidence to me,” he said without preamble. “That’s understandable, and I’m sorry you feel that way. Nevertheless, if Mr. Trent is guilty of murder, it is my duty to see that he is arrested and charged for it.” There was something in his calm logic that diffused my indignation. I couldn’t very well fault the man for carrying out his duty, however misguided he might be.
“Very well. I can accept that,” I replied. “But you’ve made a very grave mistake. Gil Trent no more killed Rupert Howe than you did.”
He regarded me for a long moment before speaking. “May I be frank with you, Mrs. Ames?”
“I wish you would be, Inspector.”
He chose his words carefully. “I think, perhaps, that you are letting your, shall we say, affection for Mr. Trent influence your judgment.”
I considered this possibility for only a moment before dismissing it. “I know Gil, Inspector,” I replied. “He didn’t do it.”
“Were you there when Rupert Howe was killed?”
“Then you cannot tell me with any certainty that you know what did or did not happen on the cliff that day.”
I realized then that anything I could say was only vain repetition of last night’s sentiments, but I could think of no other way to convince him of my sincere belief in Gil’s innocence.
“I am not just some meddling fool, Inspector.”
He met my gaze. “I don’t believe for a moment that you are, Mrs. Ames. Far from it. But consider it from my position. If you had reason to believe a man was guilty, would you take the word of a woman who had, if you’ll pardon my saying so, rather a vested interest in the outcome of this investigation?”
I wondered if he assumed there was more between Gil and me than I had let on. “There is nothing between Gil and myself but an old friendship,” I said.
“Whether it is an old friendship or something more is really none of my concern,” he replied smoothly. “The fact of that matter is that I did not arrest Mr. Trent solely on the information you related to me. There are other factors to be considered.”
I remembered then what he had said in my room the night before. “Who told you they had seen him on the terrace with Rupert that afternoon?”
He smiled placidly. “As I said last night, I’m not at liberty to divulge that information at present.”
He really was the most infuriating man.
I was not going to concede so easily. “Supposing someone did see him on the terrace. That doesn’t mean he killed Rupert.”
“That, in itself, is not sufficient, no. When combined with a good motive, supplied by you, and backed by an apparently long history of bad blood between the two men, it puts things in a different light.”
“But wasn’t his arrest rather premature? Did you even speak with the other members of our party? They all seemed startled to learn it was murder.”
Inspector Jones reached to the corner of his desk and held up a file, thick with paper. “My dossier on the guests of the Brightwell, Mrs. Ames. Thorough histories, including those of you and your husband. Very interesting reading.”
I didn’t know what inference he was attempting to make, so I ignored it. “Then you must know there are others with motive.”
He looked at me speculatively for a moment. “I’d be interested to know what it is you think you know, Mrs. Ames.”
I mentally chided myself for revealing my hand once again. He really was much too perceptive, this inspector.
“I’ve heard things,” I replied evasively.
“Yes, I expect you have,” he said, leaning back in his seat. “Anything in particular?”
As if I should be inclined to take him into my confidence now. “I doubt rumors would be useful to you, Inspector.”
“Perhaps not. Then again, many a murderer has been caught with useful information gleaned from rumors.”
“Then you agree that Gil is not the only one who could have done it,” I said, pouncing upon his admission.
“Certainly ... which is why I’ve instructed all the members of your party not to leave the hotel just yet.”
This bit of news came as a surprise to me. I hadn’t heard that the guests had been told not to leave. “Then you’re not convinced it was Gil?”
“I arrested Mr. Trent because he appears to be guilty. I would be remiss in my duties if I did otherwise. I cannot ignore the evidence. But rest assured, Mrs. Ames. I have not closed the book on this investigation just yet.”
Was he trying to tell me something? I couldn’t be certain. He was so exasperatingly hard to read, almost as bad as Milo. One thing I did know: he wasn’t going to give me any more information at present.
“Is Mr. Trent all right?” I asked.
“He is being very well cared for.”
“May I speak with him?”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible just now. Perhaps if you’d come back tomorrow?”
I rose, knowing there was no point in detaining him further. “I shall be here in the morning.”
He smiled. “I am sure you will, Mrs. Ames.”
I was weary and disappointed as I returned to the Brightwell. If I had expected to swoop in and discover a murderer within a few hours, I had greatly overestimated my abilities. I had hoped to glean something from Inspector Jones, but he was determined to play his cards close to his chest. I would have to see what I could learn on my own.
The lobby was fairly empty, for it was a beautiful day and most of the guests were taking advantage of the beach after the day of rain. I knew that Rupert’s death had elicited great curiosity at the Brightwell, but thus far people had been content to watch and whisper from afar.
I stopped at the desk, where I was given a letter from Laurel. I put it in my pocket, looking forward to reading it. Laurel always had a way of lifting my spirits, and I was sorely in need of a bit of encouragement at the moment.
I was walking toward the lift when I caught the sound of conversation and laughter coming from a table in the corner. Almost immediately, I recognized the speaker was Milo. Curious to see whom he had engaged in conversation, and hoping it would prove to be in connection with our investigation, I walked to where I could have a vantage point without being seen. I was more than surprised to discover that the laughter belonged to Larissa Hamilton. She and Milo were seated where I could see them in profile. It was the first time I had ever seen Mrs. Hamilton look completely at ease. Her posture was relaxed as she sat across from my husband, a smile lighting her face, making her look prettier than I had ever seen her.
Milo leaned toward her and said something, and the soft peal of laughter broke out again.
If I had not heard it and not known Milo, I wouldn’t have believed it. She was positively aglow.
It seemed my faith in Milo’s charms was justified. I moved away before either of them could spot me.
I had just turned back toward the lift when I saw Mr. Rodgers enter the hotel sitting room. Now seemed as good a moment as ever to do a bit of investigating of my own. I might not possess Milo’s charisma, but I felt fairly confident that I could learn something ... if, that is, there was something to be learned.
I entered the room on the pretext of finishing the letter I had begun writing to Laurel. “Oh, Mr. Rodgers,” I said, feigning pleasant surprise upon encountering him. “How are you?”
“Well, thank you,” he replied. “Though I have some rather urgent business to attend to.”
I expected that was a hint that he wished to be left alone, but I pretended not to notice.
“It’s a shame it must interfere with your holiday,” I said, taking a seat at the writing table.
“Yes, well ...” His voice trailed off as he began to read over the paper in his hand.
This was not working as well as I had hoped. He seemed to have very little interest in conversation. I decided perhaps a direct approach would fare best. “What do you think of this murder business?”
He looked up at me. “I think it’s highly unlikely that Gil Trent had anything to do with it,” he said. “I’ve wired Sir Andrew Heath, one of the best barristers in London.”
“Gil will be grateful you’ve selected someone for him,” I said.
“Gil asked me to send for Sir Andrew,” Mr. Rodgers replied, his eyes back on the document before him.
This bit of news caught me by surprise. “Gil asked you ... when?”
“Before he was arrested?”
“Yes,” he looked up at me again, very little interest in his tone or expression. “He must have guessed that that inspector suspected him. He asked me right after breakfast if I knew of a good barrister. I suggested Sir Andrew at once.”
I was silent while I digested this latest bit of information. Why would Gil have requested the advice of a barrister before he knew he was going to be arrested? It just didn’t make sense. It must have been something to do with what Gil had been trying to tell me last night. I would need to see him as soon as possible. Perhaps he could tell me what was going on.
Mr. Rodgers and I lapsed into silence. He seemed disinclined to continue our conversation, and I felt that any further attempts on my part might be perceived as intrusive. I began a second letter to Laurel without opening the one she had sent me. I knew she would be intrigued by the latest developments. I had just finished writing it when Veronica Carter entered the sitting room.
She acknowledged me with a nod, not the least bit self-conscious that she had tried to seduce my husband only the night before. Under the circumstances, I found my feelings were barely civil. I returned her nod because I was bred to be polite.
She glanced at Mr. Rodgers, but he did not look up from his papers. I was rather surprised when she came and sat in the chair beside the writing desk. She said nothing for a moment, and I wondered what this was leading up to.
She looked a bit less haughty than usual, as though she had deflated somehow, and I felt an unwanted twinge of sympathy for her.
At last, she seemed to have formed the words she was seeking. “It’s dreadful about Olive, isn’t it?” she said. Though her features were perfectly composed, there seemed to be genuine sadness in her eyes, and the usual cool confidence of her voice had faded into a sort of soft uncertainty.
“Yes,” I agreed. “I was sorry to hear about that. I understand she should be all right, which is good news.”
“I went to the hospital. They wouldn’t let me see her.” I was surprised that she should have gone out of her way to visit Olive, but perhaps I was judging her harshly.
“I can’t understand why she would do such a thing,” she went on, almost as though she was speaking to herself.
“Perhaps ... because of Rupert?” I suggested.
Her gaze came up to me, somewhat sharply, I thought. “No, it couldn’t be. Olive didn’t care for Rupert,” she said.
I wondered how well Veronica really knew her friend. Olive had seemed quite upset when I had spoken to her in the sitting room. Perhaps she had loved Rupert more than anyone was aware. Or perhaps she had another reason ...
“I understood that they cared for one another before Rupert met Emmeline.”
“Oh, perhaps a little flirtation, but nothing serious. But Rupert was like that. Even in Monte Carlo, he ...” She stopped, as though aware she might be saying too much, but then finished airily. “He was always something of a flirt.”
Rupert had been in Monte Carlo as well? Milo had never mentioned that to me.
“And now he’s gone, and Olive ... It’s dreadful here now, isn’t it?” she said. “I would leave at once, if that awful inspector hadn’t insisted we remain.”
“It will be over soon enough,” I said.
“Yes, I suppose it will.” She stood then, and the indifferent mask had slipped back into place, but not before I realized that perhaps we were not so very different, after all. For the first time, I realized that Veronica Carter was much like me: a young woman from an affluent family, facing a difficult situation without the benefit of anyone on whom she could completely rely.
By the time I left the sitting room, Milo and Mrs. Hamilton were no longer anywhere to be seen. I wanted to know if he had learned anything from Mrs. Hamilton, but there would be time for that later. I simply didn’t feel up to Milo at the moment
I returned to my room, contemplating the events of the morning. The inspector’s criticism had done little to shake my confidence in Gil’s innocence, but this newest development regarding the barrister was difficult to explain away. Perhaps Mr. Rodgers was correct. Perhaps Gil had been aware that suspicion was likely to shift in his direction and had chosen to be prepared.
And then there had been something in the inspector’s manner that had puzzled me. He seemed as though he knew more than he was saying. I could not rid myself of the feeling that he had meant to tell me something, though I couldn’t begin to imagine what it was. I hoped that he would prove to be my ally in this; if he was not set on Gil’s guilt, perhaps he could find who had really killed Rupert Howe.
I opened the door to my room, still lost in thought. Then I stopped. Something was amiss, out of place. It took me only a moment to realize what it was. It was not that something was missing but that something had been added. A glance into the bathroom confirmed my suspicions. Stepping to the wardrobe and flinging it open, I felt a surge of indignation.
Milo had had all of his things moved into my room.
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I CHECKED IN ON Emmeline before I went downstairs and found that she was eating a quiet dinner in her room. Her color had improved, and she seemed in slightly better spirits. “I don’t know how I shall make it without . . . without Rupert, but I couldn’t bear it if something should happen to Gil,” she said. “I feel so much better knowing you’re doing what you can to help him.”
I only hoped it would be enough. I felt the great weight of her confidence upon my shoulders.
“Emmeline,” I ventured after a moment, “can you think of any reason anyone might have killed Rupert?” I had been hesitant to ask her anything concerning his death, but who was in a better position to know?
She paused and, to my relief, appeared to calmly consider it. “I’ve thought and thought about it, but I just don’t know why anyone would ... would do such a thing. He got along with everyone, except perhaps Olive. They had been ... close at one point.”
“You knew about that?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes, it was common knowledge, though Rupert said there was really nothing to it. And I don’t think for a moment that Olive would have done anything so dreadful.”
I thought of what Mrs. Hamilton had told me and decided to press ahead with my questions. “But didn’t Olive say she wanted to meet with Rupert that night? I was given to understand they were talking as you all came up from the beach. Perhaps they met and quarreled.”
Emmeline frowned and shook her head. “No, I don’t think she said any such thing. We all walked up at the same time and perhaps Olive and Rupert fell into step together, but they usually tried to avoid one another. I’m certain they cared nothing for each other. You see, she ...” She hesitated a moment, as if about to say something, and then shook her head again. “Well ... they just didn’t care for one another. They certainly wouldn’t have wanted to meet.”
I kept my opinion on this to myself. I was relieved she didn’t ask where I had acquired my information. I knew how uneasy Mrs. Hamilton had been in relating the story. Perhaps she was right in doubting herself. She may have misheard, or perhaps she had been correct in her assessment that the noise from the sea had been too loud for Emmeline to overhear the conversation.
Still, I could not convince myself to dismiss it.
I was early for dinner. Edward and Anne Rodgers were already at the table when I arrived.
Mr. Rodgers still appeared preoccupied, but Anne Rodgers and I chatted about mundane things for a few moments. I had the impression that she was chatting on to fill the silence. We discussed neither the murder nor Olive, and I found I didn’t have the will to bring either topic up at the moment.
The rest of the guests trickled in to the dining room, and soon our usual group was all in attendance. It was somewhat strange how we all marched on, as one by one our members dropped away to one unfortunate fate or another.
“You’re looking lovely this evening,” Milo said, sliding into the seat beside me, eyeing my sleeveless, fitted gown of sapphire-colored satin. “I’ve always fancied you in blue.”
“You’re looking rather lovely yourself,” I replied. “I see your dinner clothes were not among the things you had transferred to my room.”
“Ah, so you noticed.”
Larissa and Nelson Hamilton arrived at our table, and Milo rose with the other gentlemen until Larissa was seated. He spoke to her, and her face lit up. She said something too quiet for me to hear, and Milo laughed. They seemed to have developed quite the camaraderie over the course of the afternoon.
Taking his seat again, he turned to me and said in a low voice, “I thought, perhaps, since we are partners in this endeavor, we might make your room our headquarters, so to speak.”
I placed my napkin in my lap. “Does that necessitate your sleeping there?”
“Don’t you want me to sleep there, Amory?” he asked. He was speaking so close to my ear that I couldn’t see his face. I couldn’t be sure if the low caressing tone was meant in earnest or if he was merely teasing me.
“What do you think about them keeping us here against our will, Ames?” For once I was grateful for Mr. Hamilton’s intrusiveness. This was not a conversation I wished to have with Milo at the dinner table.
“Are we here against our will, Mr. Hamilton?” Milo asked, picking up his wineglass. “I thought we were here on holiday.”
“They sent a policeman round to inform us that we aren’t to leave, didn’t they? I’d say that’s being held against my will!”
“In any event, it’s usually best to cooperate with the police,” Mr. Rodgers put in.
“Well, I don’t like it!”
“It isn’t as though they’ve locked us up, Nelson,” Mrs. Hamilton said quietly.
“Nonsense, Larissa. You don’t know a thing about it. They’ve caught their man. Why should we be forced to remain here?”
“You can’t mean you think Gil is guilty of Rupert’s death,” Mrs. Rodgers protested. “He’s much too sweet-tempered to do any such thing.”
“One can never tell,” Mr. Hamilton said.
“I shouldn’t think Gil capable of any such thing,” I said mildly. “I have no doubt everything will be straightened out directly.” Though I longed to speak heartily in his defense, I thought perhaps I could best serve my aims by maintaining the pretense of confidence in the police. To protest too loudly might draw attention to the fact that I was somehow involved in the case. It would be better for me to say as little as possible, though I hated not being able to speak more heatedly of my indignation at Gil’s wrongful imprisonment.
I looked up and found Milo was watching me with a sardonic gleam in his eyes, a thinly veiled smile of mocking hovering on his mouth. He knew perfectly well what I was feeling, and he was relishing my discomfort.
“I’m sure Mrs. Ames is right,” Anne Rodgers concluded. “It was probably an accident ... or ... or some stranger ...” Her voice trailed off, and I knew what she was thinking. If, in fact, it wasn’t Gil, it was most likely that it was another one of us.
“Did they say what the weapon was?”
“A blunt instrument,” I replied, recalling what I had heard at the inquest. “Not too thick and probably with a smooth edge. I don’t believe the police have found it.”
“This is horrid dinner conversation,” Anne Rodgers said suddenly. Of course, she was right.
The conversation eventually turned to trivialities, as though everyone had wearied of such dreary topics. Talk turned to the weather, and most members of the party were making plans for sea bathing in the morning. How quickly they forgot the calamities that had befallen their friends.
Though Mr. Hamilton had protested the need to remain at the Brightwell, I felt that it was more the idea of the thing with which he disagreed. After all, he had told me himself that he intended to finish out his holiday. None of the group seemed much inconvenienced by the inspector’s order, and it seemed that, for the most part, life would continue to go on as usual.
The last of the plates was cleared away, and, as the dancing began, the others rose to take coffee and drinks in the sitting room. As they began to take their leave, I remained in my seat. The events of the day and all that I had learned were weighing heavily upon my mind, and I sat for a moment, lost in thought.
Milo turned to me, draping his arm across the back of my chair. “What are you thinking about?”
I turned my attention to him, noticing how very close he was. “Why do you ask?”
“Your eyes go all blue at the edges when you’re preoccupied.”
“Do they?” I was surprised he had noticed such a thing.
“Yes, and they turn a peculiar silver shade when you’re angry. You’ve lovely eyes, Amory.” His tone, though light, lacked its usual quality of artificial affection.
My gaze met his. There it was again. That sudden spark of something between us. I never knew how to take Milo’s little bursts of sweetness. It was not that I suspected him of insincerity. It was just that his sincerity was so short-lived I dared not become accustomed to it.
“Thank you,” I said, passing lightly over the compliment. “You’re right. I was lost in thought. I went to visit Inspector Jones today.”
“Ah. And what does the good inspector have to say?” He removed his arm from my chair and sat back, the subtle shift in his posture indicating that we had lost the intimacy of the moment. Though that had been my goal, I found that I felt vaguely disappointed.
“Not much. He’s a tight-lipped sort of person. He ... he wouldn’t let me see Gil.”
Milo said nothing to this. It was probably the wrong thing to say. For some reason, I seemed to find myself saying all the wrong things as of late.
I noticed you have formed an acquaintance with Larissa Hamilton,” I went on.
“Yes, we had rather a long chat today.”
“And what do you make of her?”
“She’s not so retiring as people think, not once she’s been warmed up.”
“Indeed.” I could just imagine Milo’s flattering attentions, just the kind of thing to warm a neglected woman like Mrs. Hamilton.
“She’s quiet because she’s unhappy and she hates it here, but that’s not all of it. It seems to me there’s something she’s hiding. She’s afraid of something.” He was relating these things in an offhanded sort of way, and I sensed that the conversation was losing his interest. His eyes had drifted to the doorway, through which the rest of the party had departed, and his sun-bronzed hand toyed with the napkin on the table.
“Odds are, it’s her husband,” I said. “Does he harm her, do you think?” Though we were quite alone at the table, I had lowered my voice and found that I was leaning toward Milo in a conspiratorial way. His gaze flickered back to me.
“She wouldn’t, of course, have confided in me if he did.”
“I think women find it easy to confide in you,” I said lightly.
There was no amusement in his eyes as he looked at me. “You don’t.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Ames,” called Lionel Blake suddenly from the doorway. “Would you care for a rubber of bridge? We’re two short.”
Milo stood and turned to me, a bland, pleasant expression on his features. “Care to, darling?”
“Well, I ...” There was little use. It was perfectly clear to me that I had lost Milo for the moment. I stood, managing a smile. “I would love to.”
I quite liked to play bridge. I found I enjoyed the mental challenge. Milo, I knew, didn’t particularly care for the game, but he was very good when he set his mind to it. As in most things, he was perfectly capable of excelling when he felt so inclined.
I partnered with Lionel Blake, and Milo partnered with Mrs. Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton and Mrs. Rodgers were East and West to Mr. Rodgers’s and Miss Carter’s North and South.
There was little talk during the game, and nothing of consequence. A Bakelite radio sat on a table in the sitting room, and Mrs. Rodgers turned the dial until she tuned it to BBC, the cheerful strains of an orchestra spilling out into the room. Everyone seemed determined to ignore the fact that there had been a murder, an arrest, and an attempted suicide in the past few days. I couldn’t exactly say I blamed them. The mounting stress of it all was beginning to prove trying to my nerves, and I felt constantly on edge, as though waiting for the next calamity to befall us.
The game progressed, but my mind was not in it. I was preoccupied, and I’m afraid I wasn’t the best of partners. Lionel Blake and I couldn’t seem to make a go of it. Milo, it seemed, was served well by the combination of a competitive streak and genuine skill, honed by years at the roulette wheel and baccarat table. He and Mrs. Hamilton bid rather aggressively and trounced us soundly.
“I’m afraid I was rather a sorry partner this evening,” I told Lionel Blake as we tallied our defeat.
“I think you play very well,” said Mrs. Hamilton. It was gracious of her, considering she and Milo had just managed a small slam.
After our game dissolved, we took seats about the room and Mr. Blake and Milo fetched us coffee while the others continued their play. Mr. Rodgers and Miss Carter prevailed, much to Mr. Hamilton’s obvious dissatisfaction.
He patted his pockets irritably. “Confound it. I haven’t any cigarettes. Larissa, give me yours,” he snapped.
“I ... I haven’t got them.”
“What do you mean, you haven’t got them?” He grabbed her handbag and rummaged in it as the rest of us tried not to increase Mrs. Hamilton’s mortification by appearing to pay attention. He apparently located her cigarette case and found it empty, for he shoved her bag back at her. “Why bother keeping a cigarette case if you can’t remember to put cigarettes in it?” he grumbled.
“I so rarely smoke, Hamilton,” she said softly. “I simply forgot.”
“Have one of mine,” Milo offered.
Larissa smiled her thanks at Milo as Mr. Hamilton proceeded to sit down and smoke sulkily.
I was waiting to see if I could catch a moment alone with Lionel Blake. I was very curious to learn the outcome of his recent expedition. He seemed very at ease, and I wondered if perhaps some of his employer’s financial difficulties might have been resolved.
He proposed another round, and Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers agreed, which left them one short.
Veronica Carter declined, excusing herself for the night. She had paid very little attention to Milo this evening, and I assumed that his spending the night in my room had been a clear enough message.
“Mr. or Mrs. Ames?” Lionel asked.
“I think not,” Milo replied. “I’m anxious to retire.” His eyes met mine, and I was certain I saw a definite challenge in them. Neither of us had forgotten that he was expecting to share my room this evening, but I had not yet decided if I intended to allow it.
“I think I shall also call it a night,” I said. “I’m rather tired.”
“Mr. or Mrs. Hamilton, then?” Mr. Blake questioned.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Hamilton declined. He had not relished his defeat, and I felt sure he would not give his foes another chance to triumph. “No, I suppose it’s time for bed,” he said, rising from his seat. “Ready, Larissa?”
“Not just yet, Nelson,” she answered. “I think I shall play another rubber with the others.”
She didn’t look at him as she spoke, as though she were worried that a disapproving glance might change her mind. I dare say she was right. Something like displeasure crossed his face, but it was instantly smoothed away, and he smiled. “Very well, old girl. Suit yourself. Goodnight, all.” And with that, he turned and left the room.
“Oh, blast,” Lionel Blake said. “My pencil’s gone dull. Have you another, Mrs. Ames?”
“In my handbag, I think.” I looked around me, suddenly conscious of the fact I had not seen my handbag in some time. “I must have left it in the dining room,” I said, rising. “I’ll just go get it.”
“Shall I fetch it for you, darling?” Milo asked.
“Thank you,” I said, “but I’ll get it.”
I went back to the dining room. They had cleared the tables, so I ventured to the front desk, where the clerk returned it to me.
Turning back toward the sitting room, I stopped as I caught sight of Mr. Hamilton. Something about his manner struck me as strange. He was standing in an open place in the middle of the lobby, and he seemed to sway slightly, as though his body could not quite decide the direction he was going to take. He hadn’t spotted me, and I slipped behind a potted palm in a shadowy corner, knowing he was not likely to see me unless I called attention to myself.
I thought for a moment that he was entering the hotel from the terrace, perhaps having taken in a bit of evening air before retiring. However, I quickly saw that he was not approaching the lift. In fact, as I watched, he glanced back toward the sitting room, as if to be sure that no one had observed him. Then he opened the door and slipped out onto the terrace.
Had it not been for the glance over his shoulder, I might have thought nothing of it. As it was, it seemed a very strange and furtive thing to do. Without a further thought, I moved toward the doors leading out to the terrace. If I should encounter him, I would merely say I was getting some air.
There were few guests about at this hour, though the strains of music still floated out from where dancing was going on in the dining room. A couple sat talking in the lobby, but they were engrossed in conversation, and I slipped out onto the terrace unnoticed.
He had exited the terrace on the west side of the building, where we had taken tea the day I first arrived. However, when I glanced around, he was not there. I followed the terrace around to the south side of the building, facing the sea. A gentle, salty breeze rose to meet me, and I could hear the sound of the waves breaking on the beach below.
When I reached the seaward terrace, I discovered that Mr. Hamilton had not stopped to linger in the moonlight. In fact, I didn’t see him anywhere. It seemed highly unlikely to me that he should have followed the terrace around to the east side of the building. The only place he could have gone was down the steps toward the cliff terrace or the beach.
I walked to the top of the stairs and looked down. He was indeed making his way, somewhat surreptitiously it seemed to me, down the staircase. In his evening clothes, he was certainly not dressed for sea bathing, and a moonlight excursion seemed highly suspicious.
I decided at once that my only recourse was to follow him.
Gathering the hem of my gown in my hand, I began my descent. Of course, it would be difficult to make my way down the winding stairs toward the beach without being seen, especially as the satin of my gown seemed to fairly gleam in the dim moonlight. If he should catch me lurking behind him, I should have a difficult time explaining. I waited until he had made significant progress before I ventured after him. Luckily for me, the gentle lull of the wind and waves made enough noise to mute my footsteps as I descended.
Mr. Hamilton moved at a steady pace, with definite purpose, it seemed to me. I wondered, for a moment, if the cliff terrace might be his destination. Perhaps there was some reason he should want to visit the scene of the crime.
Truth be told, I had harbored hopes that Mr. Hamilton might be the guilty party. I had never cared for the man, and he seemed the type who would not be opposed to bashing someone in the head. I could think of little motive, however, unless Rupert had attempted to trifle with Mrs. Hamilton. That seemed highly unlikely. I had barely so much as seen Rupert glance Mrs. Hamilton’s way.
Mr. Hamilton reached the point where the steps led off to the terrace or toward the beach, and he continued down without a glance toward the terrace. I followed along behind. My shoes were not made for such strenuous activity, and more than once my heel caught between the slats in the wooden steps.
When the path gave way to pebbles, I reached down and removed my shoes entirely. The sensation of the stones beneath my stocking feet was not altogether pleasant. When I finally reached the beach, I could make out Mr. Hamilton walking at a brisk pace away from the path. The moon was not exceptionally bright, but I could still see him quite clearly. He seemed preoccupied, and I could only hope that, if he should choose to glance behind him, I would not be noticeable in the distance.
He stopped at the base of the cliff , just below the cliff terrace. His eyes were on the ground, and he seemed to be making a thorough search, kicking debris this way and that with his feet. He had not brought a light with him, and I could only suppose that he did not want to draw attention to his already highly suspicious behavior. The ground just there was littered with an array of flotsam and jetsam tossed up by the sea. There were rocks, shells, great pieces of driftwood, and an assortment of other things I had not taken the time to catalog.
Suddenly, he reached down and snatched something from the ground, examining it closely in the dim light. From this distance, I couldn’t make out what it was, but I saw it glimmer briefly in the moonlight before he shoved it quickly into his pocket.
Then he was walking rapidly back toward the stairs. I turned around and started up as quickly as I could.
I reached the steps and began taking them two at a time. I’m sure I made quite a sight, sprinting up the wooden flight in an evening gown and stocking feet. I knew instinctively that I would not be able to reach the top before he did. There was no way I could escape detection.
A glance over my shoulder showed me that he was making his way up the pebbled path toward the steps. He was watching his feet as he moved over the uneven ground, and I didn’t think he had spotted me yet, but it was only a matter of time.
Then I looked up and started as a figure appeared before me. Milo had followed me down and was on the landing. “Amory, what on earth ...”
There was no time to explain. Mr. Hamilton would be coming up behind me at any moment; we could not make it up without being spotted. There was nothing else to be done.
Dropping my shoes, I flung myself into Milo’s arms and kissed him.