Niles trudged back to the headquarters amid a stiff powerful wind and blinding snow like a sandstorm. At times the wind nearly blew him over. He stomped the snow from his boots as he entered the office already warm by the fire he started earlier.
He pulled The Harbor Inn’s old ledger from a box in the cell. He opened it and ran his finger down the entries. Everything he came across indicated the business of The Harbor Inn flourished in the winter. Yet, Steve said the business was scarce and Charley and Shelly said the same.
“Two sets of books,” Niles murmured. “What Charley and Shelly have are the real books. This is the phony one. Petit was laundering money.”
Niles leaned back in his chair. “Motive for murder,” he thought. “Money, exposure, blackmail, drugs. How does it all tie together? What did Mildred know? She knew something and was about to expose it. Careful, Niles, don’t assume too much. Investigate, collect everything, corroborate, lay it out, and present the evidence to prosecutors. And I better get it right the first time, if I don’t, I’ll have to move on. That’s why some people in small towns can get away with things; everybody’s your neighbor, everybody’s your buddy, everybody’s your cousin. That’s why I can’t expect too much from Sid and Tom; I understand it. What a terrible position those guys are in.”
Niles slung on his coat, braved the treacherous weather and plodded across the street to The Harbor Inn. From a box beneath the front counter, Charley handed Niles the five-year ledger corresponding to the one at headquarters.
Niles returned to the headquarters. He asked Jessica to handle all of the calls meant for the police unless it was an emergency. The winds continued howling. There seemed to be no letup. Snow drifted high and streaked past the windows of the police headquarters as Niles calculated the difference between two conflicting ledgers.
Tom dropped in from patrol for a coffee and to warm up. Niles remained tight-lipped about the ledgers. Tom complained about the cruiser’s difficulty in the snow. Niles told him to drive the cruiser home and stay there.
Niles scanned the ledger. “Triple A Roofers,” he tapped the numbers into a calculator as he turned the pages. “$115,000 to repair a roof.” Niles fanned forward in the ledger. “Hmm, Triple-A five years later.” He added all the entries. “$122,500, I should be a roofing contractor.”
“Here’s something else strange,” he thought. “The offseason rates are higher than peak season. They’re triple!”
Niles ran his finger down the pages searching for the largest payout. “$202,882. That was to replace the deck. Hmm, Maine Coast Decks; I’m betting they don’t exist.”
“They had three fires in five years,” he said to himself. “Repair for fire damage, Down East Restoration.” He flipped through the pages and added the numbers. “$386,221.”
Niles called the chief of the volunteer fire department.
“Is the Jake Francis?” Niles said.
“Hi, Niles, what’s up?” Jake said.
“When was the last time The Harbor Inn had a fire?” Niles said.
“I’ve been chief for 15 years and another 10 as a fireman and I can’t ever remember going in there, except to inspect and check their extinguishers.”
“That’s all I need to know,” Niles said.
“Anything else,” Jake said.
“No,” Niles said, “that covers it.”
Niles hung up. He stood and tossed another split log in the fire. He sat and opened the blinds of the front window. He watched gusts of wind sweep clouds of snow down the street.
“Clever,” Niles thought, “the Davenports get drugs from a seaplane offshore, they sail into Brewster Harbor and stay at the Inn. It is left with Petit. She distributes it to people who come here under the cover as customers and leave with drugs to distribute elsewhere.”
“When Petit sells to Charley and Shelly a coffee shop opens. That’s the new distribution point.” Niles smiled. “I feel like lunch.”