I HAD ALREADY dressed when Gil stirred. Despite the fact I had dimmed the lights and that the weather had turned the sky a dismal gray, he squinted as he opened his eyes. Then he caught sight of me and jerked to a sitting position, grimacing as he did so.
“What ... Oh, no.”
“Good morning, Gil,” I said cheerily, trying to lessen the shock of it all. “How do you feel?”
“I kissed you last night,” he said, ignoring my attempts at polite small talk.
He dragged a hand across his face. “I’m sorry, Amory. I don’t know what to say.”
“You needn’t say anything.”
“You must abhor me, forcing my attentions on you like a drunken ...”
“You are never anything but a gentleman, Gil,” I interrupted sternly. “And that’s the last we need say about it.”
“Does anyone know that I ... spent the night here?”
“I sincerely hope not,” I replied. “Did you tell anyone you were coming up to see me?”
“Not that I remember,” he said ruefully. “I’ve never been quite that drunk before. I’m terribly embarrassed.”
“Please don’t be, Gil. We’ve all done things that we regret at one time or another.”
He looked at me for a long moment, my words hanging in the space between us, and then he stood gingerly to his feet. “I’d better go, before someone sees me.”
“Your shoes are under the table.”
He cleaned himself up as best he could, though his hair would not be tamed and he was in need of a shave.
He paused at the door. “I wouldn’t have come here like that if I hadn’t been drunk,” he said. “As much as I’ve wanted to talk about ... things since we arrived.”
“As I said, Gil, we needn’t say any more about it.”
“I’ll talk to you later, then?”
I closed the door behind him and sighed heavily. I couldn’t wait for this whole thing to be over so I could resume my normal life, or some variation thereof.
I spent the remainder of the morning and the early part of the afternoon in my room. I had little desire for company, but that did not mean that I had given up on the murder investigation. As tumultuous as my personal life had become, I realized there were more important matters at hand. If anything was to be resolved, it was absolutely necessary that we discover who had murdered Rupert and Mr. Hamilton.
Inspector Jones’s stern warning against further action had not escaped my memory. I was neither naive nor arrogant enough to dismiss his concern out of hand. He had warned me because there was a very distinct possibility of danger; the murder of Mr. Hamilton had made that abundantly clear. However, I was simply in too deeply to give up now. Someone among us had killed two people and had quite possibly attempted to kill two others, myself included. I found the very idea highly provoking. I did not intend that the killer should have another chance to harm me or anyone else.
I wondered again why someone should have given me sleeping tablets. I could not help but feel there had been something left unsaid in the inspector’s admonition that I be wary, some subtle message beneath his words. Did he know something that I didn’t? Did this mean he no longer truly suspected that Gil was involved? I did wish he wasn’t so frightfully reticent. He had kept very quiet about his own theories, and I suspected that he was very close to revealing some vital piece of information, perhaps even the true identity of the killer. But if he knew, or even suspected, that Gil was innocent, why hadn’t he acted?
I could only suppose he lacked evidence, which is why he had not yet made his move. If that was the case, I might be of help. If I were able to discover something, perhaps we could put this thing to rest. I sincerely hoped that, should I uncover something important, Inspector Jones would be willing to overlook my insubordination.
Pushing my doubts aside, I determined to focus on what I had learned thus far. My lunch tray nearly untouched, I went to the writing desk and picked up the list I had made with Milo. Obviously, Mr. Hamilton could be removed from the list of suspects. Why had he been killed? It seemed to me that, in order to discover the killer’s identity, it would be necessary to determine the link between Rupert and Mr. Hamilton. It was possible they had been involved in some sort of business venture, but I thought that Inspector Jones would have determined a link, had there been one.
No, I was fairly certain that Mr. Hamilton had been killed not because of something in which he was involved but because of something he knew. But what? It seemed to me that it must be connected with the item that he had found on the beach.
I had found absolutely nothing in his room that seemed a likely murder weapon. There were a few options. Either he had disposed of the item, or it had not been a weapon that he had found on the beach but something else.
In order to investigate the first option, I decided to walk down the path to the beach. I highly doubted I would be able to discover anything in the high grasses that lined the path, but it was worth a try. In any event, I was certain I would go mad just sitting in my room.
I made my way down to the lobby, where I met Veronica Carter, who was just about to enter the lift. She looked somewhat drawn, her features lacking their usual chilliness.
“They’ve brought Mrs. Hamilton back from the hospital,” she told me in an uncertain voice. “She looks dreadful. I wanted to talk to her ... but it’s so difficult to know what to say, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I agreed, feeling another unwanted pang of sympathy for Miss Carter. “Have they taken her to her room?”
She shook her head. “She didn’t want to go back there ... you understand.”
“They’re preparing another room, I believe. She’s in the sitting room now.” Miss Carter’s composure slipped ever so slightly, and the flash of vulnerability made her look prettier than ever, softer somehow. “I want to go home,” she said in a low voice.
“It won’t be long now,” I said, and I desperately hoped I was right.
I went to the sitting room to offer my sympathies and found Mrs. Hamilton alone. She was sitting in a chair, a blanket on her lap. It struck me how differently grief affects individuals. Emmeline had gone to pieces at Rupert’s death, but it seemed Mrs. Hamilton was made of stronger stuff than that. She was, if possible, paler than usual, but she was very composed.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Hamilton,” I said. “If there’s anything I can do ...”
“Thank you, Mrs. Ames,” she answered softly, her eyes glistening. “I suppose it’s wicked of me not to be in hysterics, but I just ... don’t feel anything. Does that make sense? I’m so numb; I think it hasn’t quite sunk in.”
“That’s perfectly natural,” I assured her, though I really had very little knowledge of such things.
“Poor Nelson ...” Her voice trailed off as the tears that had pooled in her eyes overflowed. “I hate this place. I can’t wait to get away from here. I’ve hated the seaside, ever since I was a child ... You see, I had a brother that drowned in the sea.”
It took the space of a moment for the quiet words to register, and when they did, I gasped, suddenly understanding so much. “How terrible,” I said.
I certainly would not have pressed for details, not at a time like this, but she seemed almost unable to stop herself from going on.
“Geoffrey — my brother — and I were the very best of friends. We were twins, you see. We were inseparable. We had gone with our parents on holiday to the Yorkshire coast, our very first time to view the sea. I had loved it so then, so wide and open and beautiful. We went out to swim. I remember the water was terribly cold that day, but we didn’t mind. It was a great adventure.”
Her eyes were fastened on the wall behind me as she spoke, and I wondered if she were seeing the events of that day again. “My parents ... well, I suppose they had other things on their minds. Geoffrey was right beside me, and the next moment a wave washed over us. I went under, and when I came up ... I remember I was laughing as I did, laughing with delight ... I realized that Geoffrey wasn’t there. And then suddenly I saw him. He was being pulled out to sea. I tried to swim toward him, but it wasn’t any use ... I couldn’t reach him, couldn’t get to him in time.”
Her blue eyes filled with tears as I sat, horrified by the story she was telling me. It was no wonder she hated the seaside and hadn’t wanted to visit the Brightwell. Had Mr. Hamilton known about this? Surely he must have, and if he had, he was even crueler than I had believed him to be.
She drew in a breath and continued. “I lost a part of myself that day, Mrs. Ames. Geoffrey and I were very close, and I suppose I never really recovered from losing him ... and now Nelson. To have water take him, too ...”
She began to cry quietly into her handkerchief.
Milo had been right; she was afraid of something, something she had been hiding. Now, I knew what it was, why she had stared out at the sea in that dazed way, why she had steadfastly refused to go down to the beach. Milo had astutely called it an aura of tragedy, and that was precisely what it was. The Brightwell, everything about it, had brought back those horrific memories of the loss of her brother. I felt the impulse to embrace her, but I knew it would only prove awkward for both of us, so I reached out instead to clasp her cold hand.
“I’m so very sorry, Mrs. Hamilton,” I said. I felt so helpless at the moment, and it was that very feeling that made me more determined than ever to find the killer.
After a moment, she dabbed at her tears and then looked up, her eyes meeting mine. “Someone killed him, didn’t they?”
It took me a moment to realize that she meant Mr. Hamilton. I hesitated.
“I was given a heavy dose of sleeping tablets ... almost a lethal dose, the doctor said,” she went on.
“Did you knowingly take any tablets?” I asked, thinking of the ones that had been placed in my aspirin bottle.
“No, that’s just it. The doctor said they may have been ground up and put in my coffee or some such thing. Nelson must have been drugged, too.”
“I ...” I tried to decide what I should say. The truth would come out soon enough, but I hated to be the one to tell her that her husband had been held down in his bathtub.
“But why would anyone do such a thing?” she asked, taking my silence for confirmation.
“I’m not sure, Mrs. Hamilton.” I paused. She knew that he had been murdered; there was no point in denying it. “Can you think of any reason why someone might ... view your husband as a threat?”
She shook her head, almost too quickly. “No. Certainly not.”
I wondered if there was more she knew but was too afraid to tell.
“Mrs. Hamilton, if you know something ...”
She shook her head again, a gentle but firm shake this time. “I don’t know anything, Mrs. Ames. Perhaps it was an accident, after all. I may have taken something accidentally. Nelson may have slipped and fallen.”
My eyes met hers, and I knew that neither of us believed it, not for a moment.
After leaving Mrs. Hamilton, I made my way to the terrace without encountering anyone else I knew, which was a relief. I was so very tired of these people. And I never again wanted to lay eyes on the Brightwell Hotel.
The wind, which had been high yesterday, had increased in velocity. The sky had taken on a leaden hue that seemed to bode ill. In fact, the seascape gave every indication that we were in for some nasty weather.
Though dusk was still hours away, the light was dim as I made my way down the wooden steps. The grasses swayed wildly in the wind, and my eyes scanned the ground as thoroughly as possible, looking for anything that might have been used to hit Rupert before he fell.
I reached the beach and found it deserted. Those guests who had not left the hotel after the murders would not find the sea welcoming today. The weather was not at all amenable to bathing. The waves crashed heavily on the shore, the sound echoing off the stone wall of the cliff. I walked to the pile of debris I had seen Mr. Hamilton inspecting. I doubted I would find anything significant, but it didn’t hurt to look. There were stones and shells and bits of things that had drifted in from the sea, but I saw nothing suspicious.
A glint of something caught my eye. I reached down to pick it up. It was just a scrap of shiny glass tossed up by the sea, but its presence had caused me to remember something. Whatever Mr. Hamilton had picked up had glinted, just momentarily, in the moonlight before he had slid it into his pocket. It was unlikely, then, that it was a stone or piece of brick. Perhaps it had not been the weapon after all. But if that was the case, why had Mr. Hamilton felt it necessary to sneak about in the dark searching for it?
A droplet of rain landed on my shoulder as I stood thinking. Then heavy drops began to hit the ground all around me. The storm that had been hovering on the horizon seemed to have made up its mind to approach. I decided to abandon my search and head back to the hotel, before I was forced to make my ascent in the pouring rain.
By the time I reached the terrace, it had begun to rain in earnest. I was more than a little wet as I entered the hotel and saw Inspector Jones. I would have avoided him, if possible, but he spotted me the moment I entered, and I had the suspicion that he had been expecting me.
He stood and waited for me to approach as I walked inside, brushing the rain from my arms.
“Ah, Mrs. Ames. Just the person I was wishing to see,” he said, as though he hadn’t been lurking there waiting for my return.
“That sounds ominous,” I replied.
He smiled, not quite pleasantly, I thought. “I was wondering if you might tell me where your husband is.”
“Milo’s gone to London,” I said, though I was fairly certain the inspector knew this already. I had discovered that the police seemed to enjoy asking questions to which they already knew the answers.
“Indeed,” he said. “And may I enquire as to the nature of business important enough to pull him from the scene of a double homicide?”
I felt myself bristling at his officiousness. I reminded myself that he was no doubt attempting to set me on edge. Perhaps he thought I would give away something important.
“You may enquire if you wish,” I replied, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to enquire of Milo. If you can find him, that is. I’ve no idea where he went.”
“And what has become of your recent camaraderie?”
I met his gaze rather coldly. “Inspector, I wonder if we might finish this conversation after I’ve had a chance to change my clothes. I’m very wet.”
We looked at one another for a long moment before he gave a slight nod. “Of course. My apologies, Mrs. Ames. Might I come to your room in, say, half an hour?”
“If you must.”
He stepped aside, and I walked past him without further comment. As much as I liked the man, almost against my will, he was severely trying my patience. In fact, I was fairly close to infuriated. He was using my uncertainty about Milo to his advantage. It was not at all a nice thing to do.
I stopped at the desk to see if I had any mail. Perhaps Milo had sent a telegram, though I knew that was unlikely. I wondered why he had set off for London so quickly. Surely he could have waited to tell me about it.
As I had expected, there was no word from Milo. There was a letter from Laurel, which reminded me of the one I had neglected to read. I determined to go to my room and read them both.
First, however, I decided I should perhaps try to locate Milo. With his usual foresight, Gil had given me good advice about warning Milo to return. Unfortunately, I had no means of doing so. As was typical, he had left no indication of where he was headed. It was possible that he would go to our London flat, but I had been hesitant to call him. I had a great aversion to being a pestering wife, but now that I knew Inspector Jones was looking for him, I felt that I should try to contact him. If I could reach him before the inspector came to my room, so much the better.
I went to my room and placed the call. As I waited for the operator to connect me to London, I retrieved Laurel’s first letter, the one I had so long neglected to read.
I thought I must warn you that I believe you may have the makings of a scandal on your hands. After you left for the seaside with Gil, I went to the post office. As I left, I saw Milo at the train station. He seemed to be waiting for the southbound train. I believe he may be following you. You naughty thing. Your love triangle is likely to be the talk of the town by the time you return.
This was not news. I would have been happy to have been warned of Milo’s impending arrival, but it made very little difference now. I turned to open the letter that had arrived today.
“Hello?” I was somewhat startled to hear the soft, low voice on the other end of the line. It belonged to a woman, and we kept no staff at our London flat.
“Who is speaking, please?” I asked.
I did not imagine the hesitation. “This is Winnelda,” she said at last.
I knew of absolutely no one with such a preposterous name. “Well ... Winnelda, this is Mrs. Ames. May I ask what you are doing in my flat?”
“What am I doing in your flat?” she repeated dumbly. I could fairly hear her trembling on the other end of the line.
“Let me speak to Milo,” I said at last. This really was the final straw.
“Milo?” she repeated. I wondered if she could possibly be hard of hearing.
“Is my husband there or not?” I demanded.
“No ... no, madam,” she answered. “He is out of town.”
A likely story. I drew in a calming breath before I spoke. “If you should happen to see him, would you kindly inform him that Inspector Jones wishes him to return to the Brightwell Hotel. I believe he has some questions related to the recent murders.”
I heard her gasp before I hung up the phone.
For just a moment, I sat completely still, digesting what had just occurred. I hadn’t the faintest idea who “Winnelda” might be, but I could guess that she had been the reason for Milo’s hasty departure. That was it, then. He had made the decision for me.
I determined then that I would not try to contact him again. If he chose to flee like a guilty man, he deserved the consequences. It would serve him well to spend some time in prison. At least I would know where to reach him when I began the divorce proceedings.
Inspector Jones was, alas, punctual to the minute. If I had been disinclined to speak with him before, the idea was absolutely abhorrent now. My nerves were on edge, and it was only by the sheerest force of will that I was able to keep from breaking down in tears.
“You haven’t changed your clothes,” he observed as he came into my room. He was right; I had forgotten. “Have you contacted your husband?” he asked when I failed to respond to his comment.
“I couldn’t reach him.”
“Mrs. Ames, I needn’t tell you the implications ...”
“No, Inspector,” I interrupted, somewhat rudely. “You needn’t tell me. You seemed to operate under the misconception that I have some say in what my husband does. Our marriage isn’t like that.”
He was watching me closely, and I hated that I could see something very like sympathy in his gaze. “I’ve decided not to notify the London authorities at this point. However, if you hear from him, you will let me know?”
He was still hesitating, and I knew that there was something else on his mind. “You don’t know why he left?” he finally asked.
“I ... He left me a note that said he had to go to London and he wasn’t sure when he would return.” I hesitated and then decided that I should tell him the truth. “You may as well know, Inspector. I called our London flat, and a woman answered. That probably explains his sudden absence.”
Nothing showed on his features as I spoke. “I find that rather surprising, Mrs. Ames. He seemed devoted to you yesterday.”
“Milo is very good at ... exhibiting remarkable enthusiasm for whatever interests him at the moment. Unfortunately, his interest wanes very quickly ...”
“Surely a murder investigation is sufficient to hold his attention.” He was trying to speak lightly of the situation, though I sensed he was still peeved about it. “I know investigation seems to agree with you.”
“It doesn’t agree with me at all,” I said. “When I think that we might have prevented Mr. Hamilton’s death ...” I pressed my lips together, barely managing to stifle a sob. I was suddenly unbearably miserable.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and he sounded sincere. “I should have realized how difficult things have been for you. Sometimes, as a policeman, I neglect to take into account the profound effect such things can have on civilians.”
“It’s quite all right,” I said, wiping the tears away as fast as they came. “I’m just so very tired. And I did discover both of the bodies. It’s been rather a shock.”
He handed me his handkerchief, and I took it, dabbing at my eyes. His sympathy only made me feel worse, and I was having a hard time stopping the steady flow of tears. I took a seat on the sofa, and he sat at the other end.
“I know it has all been very distressing,” he said, “but it will be over soon enough.”
Something about his tone captured my attention. I looked up at him. “Do you really think so?”
“These things have a way of working themselves out eventually.”
“May I ask you a question, Inspector?” I asked suddenly.
“Certainly, Mrs. Ames.”
“Do you know who the killer is?”
He watched me for a moment, as though trying to determine exactly how much he should reveal. At last, he said, “I have my suspicions.”
“You don’t believe that it was Gil anymore, do you?”
“I arrested Mr. Trent because of the evidence,” he said carefully. “Time will tell if that arrest was premature.”
“That’s an evasion, Inspector. You aren’t answering my question.”
He smiled. “You’re feeling better then, Mrs. Ames.”
I returned his smile with a weary one of my own. “I haven’t meant to be a bother. It’s just that I am so certain Gil is innocent; I feel I must do whatever I can do to prove it.”
“Do you mean that?” There it was again, the subtle indication that there was something more he was keeping just below the surface, something he was either unwilling or unable to tell me.
“Of course I do.”
Still, he hesitated. I waited; perhaps if I remained silent long enough, he would choose to tell me whatever it was. My patience was rewarded.
“Mrs. Ames,” he said at last. “There is something I am going to tell you that I am not at all sure I should.”
My interest was immediately piqued, my emotional outburst all but forgotten. “I am intrigued.”
He went on, carefully. “You told me that your husband arrived the night of the murder, and he confirmed that he came down on the afternoon train.”
“Yes,” I said, wondering where exactly this line of inquiry would lead.
“That information has proven to be false.”
A frown flickered across my brow as I struggled to understand what he was telling me. “You mean, Milo didn’t arrive on the train he said he did.”
“Mr. Ames, in fact, arrived on the train directly following yours.”
This newest revelation took me a moment to digest. “I don’t understand,” I said at last. “Milo didn’t arrive until ...” Laurel’s words hit me suddenly. Milo had left immediately after I did. But he hadn’t arrived at the hotel until the following night. Where had he stayed? More important, what exactly was the inspector trying to tell me?
“I didn’t know,” I said at last.
“No, I don’t expect you did.” He smiled wryly. “Your husband is an excellent liar.”
Somehow, I felt that this information was not the extent of what he was going to tell me. There was still wariness in his expression, and I sensed an unwillingness to continue.
“There’s more, isn’t there?”
“I’m afraid so.” The hesitation vanished suddenly, as though he had made up his mind. He leaned forward slightly, as though charging ahead before he thought better of it. “You recall that there was a witness who had seen Mr. Trent on the terrace shortly before the murder.”
“Yes, you wouldn’t tell me who it was.”
“At the time, I didn’t think it wise. Now, it seems there is little choice. You see, your husband was that witness.”
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I SAT BACK in my chair, my head spinning. Milo had informed Inspector Jones that Gil had been on the terrace before the murder? It seemed almost impossible that it could be the truth, but if it was not, what reason could the inspector possibly have for saying such a thing?
“I understand why he kept it from you, of course,” Inspector Jones continued in that calm, formal way of his. “It wouldn’t look at all sporting of him to accuse his rival of murder.”
“I’m so confused,” I said, trying desperately to string together the facts that Inspector Jones was giving me into some semblance of order in my mind. “You can’t mean ... Surely you don’t think Milo was attempting to implicate Gil solely on my account?”
“I’m afraid that is a possibility. At the time, I had no reason not to take his word for it. Now, other circumstances have arisen to put a different light on things. If it is the case that he gave false information, your husband may be charged with perverting the course of public justice. That is why I wish to speak with him.”
“Good heavens.” I breathed. “I know Milo is competitive, but I don’t believe it would come to anything like this.”
“I’m afraid that’s the way it appears.”
“I think you’re mistaken,” I replied. “You see, I’m simply not that important to him.”
He looked at me for a long moment, and when he spoke he did not acknowledge my doubts. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Ames. I know how difficult things have been for you as of late. That is why I hesitated to ...”
“It’s perfectly all right, Inspector,” I said, cutting him off as smoothly as I could manage. “I’m glad you told me.”
He rose, taking my cue that I would like to be alone. “If you hear from your husband, or if you have need of me, please call.”
“Thank you. I shall.”
After the inspector left, I changed into dry clothes as I tried to gather my thoughts. What he had suggested seemed completely illogical. I could conceive of no reason why Milo should falsely implicate Gil in Rupert’s murder. It was not at all the sort of thing Milo was apt to do. He preferred direct assault to underhanded schemes, whatever Inspector Jones might believe. In any event, I was not nearly grand enough a prize to risk legal ramifications.
For that matter, I still couldn’t understand why he had bothered to come to the Brightwell at all, especially if he only intended to leave again after a few days. Perhaps it had been to prove that he could still have me if he wanted me. Well, there he had succeeded admirably. I had let myself, once again, be too readily seduced. Once secure in the knowledge that I was his for the asking, he had felt it safe to leave again. Well, he would be surprised to learn that I did not intend to spend the rest of my life waiting for him to return. Five years had been long enough.
I realized I was gritting my teeth, and, in an effort to calm myself, I picked up the suspect list. Slowly and methodically, I began to read over it. There had to be something I was missing, some piece of the puzzle that had only to be discovered in order to make the entire picture clear.
My thoughts returned to poor Mr. Hamilton. He had picked up something on the beach. Somewhere along the way, he had disposed of it. I wondered if it would ever be found. I had thought it had shone momentarily in the moonlight when he picked it up, but perhaps that had been my imagination. If it had been a random rock or piece of brick, it was unlikely that it would be discovered. Even if someone should happen across it, the blood would no doubt be washed away by the torrential downpours that were beginning to fall. Then there was my suspicion that it had not been the weapon at all. If not, what could it have been?
I stared at the list, as though willing the murderer’s name to appear in red letters before my eyes. I felt I was so close to discovering something, if only I could find the right link, some bit of information that would point in the right direction. At least, that was how it worked in the mystery novels.
If only I had been able to peek at the inspector’s extensive dossiers on each of us. Of course, he had no doubt been poring over them, and it did not seem he had discovered anything substantial yet. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that more than one person was hiding something.
But people weren’t the only aspect of this case. There were things, mysterious objects, involved, too. For instance, the sleeping pills that seemed to be haunting so many of us. They were easy enough to obtain, so that particular bit of information was not necessarily enlightening.
Four of us had been drugged: Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, me, and Emmeline, the latter albeit by doctor’s orders. I knew Mr. Hamilton had been in possession of sleeping tablets. I also knew that the Rodgerses claimed to have misplaced theirs. Whether that story had been the truth or a ruse on their part in order to cover something more nefarious had yet to be determined.
I was missing something. I felt that I had all the pieces of the puzzle, but somehow I just could not make them fit.
Suddenly weary beyond all words, I set the list aside and sat down on the sofa. My head pounding, I leaned against the cushions and closed my eyes. Perhaps if I rested for just a few moments ...
A momentous crash of lightning startled me awake, and I sat upright on the sofa, momentarily unaware of where I was. Then I recalled that I was in my room. It took me a moment to realize I must have fallen asleep.
The room was black as pitch, illuminated only by the occasional flash of lightning. Night had come upon me as I slept, and with it had come the raging storm that had been threatening for so long. The rain outside pounded against the hotel, the wind rattling the windows like something from a ghost story. I reached out to switch on the lamp and found it didn’t work. The storm must have knocked out the electricity.
Rousing myself, I felt along the table and located matches. I struck one, looking around the room to see if there was a candle about. I didn’t recall having seen one, and I couldn’t locate one now. The match burned out, and I was about to strike a second when I heard a tap on my door. “Amory, it’s Gil. Are you there?”
“Yes, Gil. I’m coming.”
I felt my way to the door and opened it to find Gil, oil lamp in hand. Emmeline stood with him, her face pale in the flickering glow. They made a sort of sad little pair around the dull pool of light.
“The storm’s knocked the power out,” he said. “The hotel’s got a few odd candles and such in the sitting room. Shall I fetch you one, or would you like to come down for a bit of company?”
“Do come down, Amory,” Emmeline said. “It’s so dreary in the sitting room. I couldn’t bear for Gil to leave me there when he came to fetch you.”
The thunder rumbled again. I had no special desire to remain cooped up in my room in the dark, in the middle of a raging storm. “Yes, I’ll come down. Are the others there?”
“That’s what makes it so bad,” Emmeline said. “Mrs. Hamilton’s there, pale as a ghost. No one seems to know what to say to her. I ... even I can’t seem to think of anything ... and I know how she feels.” Emmeline looked on the verge of tears.
“You needn’t come down if you don’t feel up to it,” Gil interjected. “If you’d rather not speak to Mrs. Hamilton just now ...”
“It’s all right,” I said. “Perhaps we can cheer her up a bit.”
We ventured downstairs. The hotel was strangely quiet, save for noise of the storm and the pounding of the sea, which was audible even in the lobby. A few people sat around with candles and lanterns, talking in subdued voices. I supposed most of the guests had kept to their rooms.
Gil and I entered the sitting room. Emmeline was right. The mood in the room was strangely oppressive. Everyone was still and very quiet. It was almost eerie. Mrs. Hamilton sat near Mrs. Rodgers, neither of them saying anything.
“Perhaps we can get someone to light a fire in the fireplace,” I told Gil. “It would brighten the room.”
“I’ll go speak to the desk clerk,” he said.
“There’s a windup gramophone on the table there,” Anne Rodgers suggested as silence descended once again. “We don’t need electricity for that.”
No one responded, and she made no move toward it. Perhaps she realized none of us felt much like music.
I approached Mrs. Hamilton. “How are you feeling tonight?” I asked her.
“Not very well. The storm seems to make everything much worse.” Her eyes welled with tears that glimmered in the lamp-lit room.
She reached into her purse and pulled out a handkerchief. Wiping her eyes, she also removed a cigarette case. She put a cigarette to her lips and lit it with fairly steady hands. Despite her poise, I knew she must be unnerved, for I had not seen her smoke before this.
“I couldn’t sit all alone in my room in the dark,” she said.
“Of course not. No one would want you to.”
“I can’t wait to get away from this place,” Veronica Carter said suddenly, her voice loud in the room. “It’s simply ghastly here.”
“Yes,” agreed Mrs. Rodgers, emphatically. “If it wasn’t for this storm, I’d leave here tonight, that inspector be hanged.”
“That’s no way to talk, Anne,” her husband said in that perpetually dull tone of his. “There are legal formalities to be observed.”
“It’s the strain,” Lionel Blake replied, puffing at a cigarette. He appeared perfectly calm, as he had when we had spoken outside, but his voice sounded strange.
A sudden shriek startled us all, and a moment later Mrs. Roland flew into the room like a great bat. She was dressed head to toe in black, including the velvet turban wrapped around her head. Indeed, the long, draped sleeves of her dress flapped like bony wings as she waved her arms about. “I was almost killed coming down the stairs in the dark,” she said. “The lift isn’t working, and neither is the telephone. It was like wandering around in a cave.” She dropped into a chair and heaved a great sigh. “A cigarette, please. Someone give me a cigarette.”
Mrs. Hamilton offered her one. “What a lovely case, dear. I do so love gold things. Mr. Howe had a magnificent lighter ... but perhaps I shouldn’t speak of that now. I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, Emmeline. You probably bought the lighter for him.”
“No, I ...” Emmeline said, and for a moment I was afraid she was going to cry. Then she summoned up the courage to keep on talking in the same level voice. “It doesn’t upset me. It was a lovely lighter. He was very proud of it. From one of the better London jewelers, Price and Lord, I think he said it was. I don’t know how he acquired it ... I should like to have it, to remember him by.”
“Haven’t the police given it to you?” Mrs. Roland asked, the cigarette dangling between bright red lips.
“No, it ... it wasn’t on the list of things that they found ...” Her voice trailed off, and I knew that she meant the things that had been on the body. The poor girl. I felt it a good sign that she was able to discuss him without dissolving into tears.
“Perhaps it will turn up,” I said.
“He may have put it in his little treasure box.”
“Treasure box?” Mrs. Roland’s heavily penciled brows rose, and I sensed that the attention of the room had suddenly shifted in our direction.
Emmeline smiled, a sad little smile that made her seem very young. “That’s what I used to call it. He brought it with him when he traveled to keep his valuables in. He’d usually hide it about his room somewhere.” She frowned. “The police didn’t mention having seen it in his room, and I’ve been so upset that I didn’t think of it. I shall ask them, tomorrow perhaps, when the lights come back.”
“Speaking of light, has anyone a light?” Mrs. Roland asked, pulling a handkerchief from her bosom and dragging it across her face. “I’m so very flushed from my ordeal ... I feel as though I may combust and light it myself. Humans do that sometimes, don’t they? Combust, I mean. I’ve heard that, though it seems frightfully silly to me.”
Mr. Blake supplied a match, and Mrs. Roland inhaled deeply. Then she sat back and sighed out a great cloud of smoke. “What I really need is a good stiff drink. I’ve had quite a fright. The lights went out, and I couldn’t see a thing.”
The conversation resumed, but I barely heard it, my thoughts wandering in another direction. A gold lighter was an expensive gift, especially if it hadn’t come from Emmeline. Perhaps he had bought it for himself, though men like Rupert seemed very adept at getting things out of women. Unwillingly, my thoughts wandered to the gift I had bought for Milo yesterday, gold cufflinks, which had just happened to be engraved with an A. Engraved ...
Mrs. Roland had seen Rupert with a gold lighter. I had found a gold lighter among Mr. Hamilton’s things. It had been engraved with an H. Could it be that it had belonged not to Mr. Hamilton but to Rupert Howe? It was an interesting thought.
If only I could find some way to inspect the lighter again. Or, better yet, see if I could find one amid Rupert’s things. Surely the police would have mentioned a “treasure box” containing Rupert’s valuables to Emmeline.
Something suddenly occurred to me. Nearly all of our party was gathered here in the sitting room. What was to stop me from going to Rupert’s room to look around? It would only require a key ... and I felt fairly certain I could gain hold of one.
My sense of caution, heightened by recent events, warred with the desire to attempt to gain some vital piece of information. In the end, the impulse to follow my hunch was stronger than my more practical inclination to remain quietly sitting in the lamp-lit room with the other guests. One of whom was, in all probability, a killer, I reminded myself.
“Gil was going about collecting guests,” Miss Carter said to Mrs. Roland, and I realized they were still talking about the unexpected loss of power. “I’m surprised you didn’t encounter him.”
“He’s off to find Olive, I expect,” Mrs. Roland said. “Emmeline dear, you’re looking thin. I’ve a box of very good chocolates in my room. When the lights come back on, I’ll fetch them for you.”
“That reminds me, I’m going to fetch something from my room,” I said to no one in particular, rising in what I hoped was a passably nonchalant fashion. “I’ll be back in a few moments.”
I took one of the spare lights that rested on the table and set out into the lobby. The people who sat there had begun a game of cards and paid me no mind. I had hoped, because of the power outage and resulting chaos, there would be no one at the desk. Unfortunately, the desk clerk was there. I hesitated a moment in the shadows, feeling vaguely like some Victorian murderer waiting for a passing victim. If I could just create a minor distraction of some sort ...
Then a perfectly wicked thought crossed my mind, and before I had half thought it through, I dropped the oil lamp I was holding. It shattered on the marble floor, creating a small whoosh of flame as the fire hit the pool of oil, brilliantly lighting the dim foyer.