The storm lasted nearly a full 24 hours, it then turned bitter cold. Niles did not bother to meet at the inn. He felt the atmosphere may be tense after sharing he suspected Steve, Charley, and Shelly. Instead, he ate breakfast at home alone. He walked on crunchy snow to the office and started a fire in the stove and remained in his coat until it warmed.
A week passed. Niles sat in his chair flipping through notes made in his legal tablet. “Sometimes when your bluff is called the cards are laid out and then you get to see what the guy sitting in the catbird seat has.”
Niles punched Lute’s number on his cell phone.
“Hi, Niles, what can I do for you/”
“Is there someplace private we can talk,” Niles said, “where we can’t be overheard.”
Lute paused. Niles heard a pencil tap.
“How ‘bout the deck of the Harbor Inn,” Lute said.
Niles paused. “Sure, half hour?”
“See you in a half hour,” Lute said.
A cold fog hung over the frozen harbor. A couple lobster boats chugged from their mooring and swallowed by the fog. Niles stood at the deck railing stoically looking out over the harbor. Within minutes Lute arrived through the dining room door to the deck. He held a cup of coffee.
“Fresh coffee,” Lute said, “sure you don’t want a cup.”
“”Maybe later,” Niles said.
“I have the feeling this is not a social call,” Lute said.
“No,” Niles said, “it’s not.”
“You’re not resigning are you?” Lute said. “You look sort of forlorn.”
“No,” Niles said. “It’s really a good day.”
“It’s foggy!” Lute said.
“The fog will lift,” Niles said.
“So what is it?” Lute said.
“I think you know,” Niles said.
“Know, what?” Lute said.
“Then again, maybe you don’t know,” Niles said.
“I’m starting to get dizzy,” Lute said.
“Well, let’s stop spinning around,” Niles said. “I know you killed Beauchard and Mildred.”
“What!” Lute said. “Beauchard, I didn’t even know him.”
“Everybody knows everybody in this town,” Niles said. “That’s one lie; I checked with some of the insurance companies you represent. He had life insurance and auto. A buddy of his kept some papers that belonged to him. There were receipts for premiums, sighed by you. You sold him insurance and took his money; you knew him. You paid a death claim to his family.”
“I do that with a lot of people,” Lute said. “I was never good with names. That means nothing.”
“You got involved with Pauline Petit,” Niles said.
“Baseless rumors,” Lute said.
“The day Mildred was murdered, your car was in the town halls driveway,” Niles said. “Yet, you came running from the other end of the street.”
“I came from the pump station,” Lute said.
“Besides the Sheriff Spencer and me, you were the only one who knew there was a bullet aimed at my head,” Niles said. “I told only Spencer. You knew there was a bullet fired, because you fired it.”
“You must have said something,” Lute said.
“No, I didn’t,” Niles said.
“You have no proof,” Lute said.
“One thing I really wondered about is how someone was able to fire two shots and disappear?” Niles said. “No one saw anyone on the streets immediately after the shooting. It was like whoever fired the shots vanished into thin air. The manhole cover; the shot came from there. You are one of the few people in this town who know about the storm drain under Main Street. You used it as a kid. You fired two shots, ducked back down the storm drain, and traveled it to the end of the street. You came up and ran to the town hall as if you didn’t know what happened.”
“You can’t prove any of that,” Lute said.
“You’re right,” Niles said, “I can’t, but someday you’ll slip up and I’ll be there.”
“It better happen in the next few days,” Lute said. “I sold my business and moving. When I leave, there will be no trace of me. I’ll be on some South Seas or Caribbean beach. I won’t be around for you to catch me in a slip-up.”
“Why?” Niles said. “How did you fall into this?”
“Pauline and I fell in love,” Lute said. “She confided in me.”
“She used you,” Niles said. “She’s as cold as this harbor.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Lute said, “married to a plain lobster fisherman’s daughter who has no ideas of the world around her with absolutely no interest in it or curiosity; and then meeting Pauline who wants to live every moment. It doesn’t take a flip of a coin. Mildred was getting close, she had to go. Logically, how many years did she have left?”
“I wish I could prove it,” Niles said.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Lute said, “but what crime is?”
“Was there any other reason why you shot Mildred?” Niles said.
“Mildred and I knew where the Bellamy treasure was,” Lute said. “She had enough on me and Pauline to put us away for life. Treasure or no treasure, Mildred had to be dealt with. Now it is all mine.”
“Have a lousy life,” Niles said.
Lute looked into his coffee cup. “I thought I would need this,” he said and swirled the coffee around in the cup. “I thought there was a chance you really might have something, but you’ve got nothing.”
“You may need it after I tell you something,” Niles said.
Lute smirked. “I really thought about cutting you in on this. You were so devoted and honest. What about it, is there still a chance of collecting a couple of million and all you have to do is forget and lose everything?” He held the cup over the water and began to tip it.
“What I wanted to tell you is that I got here before you.” Niles reached on the harbor side of the deck piling that stood in front of them. He pulled a cell phone from a cloth pouch hidden from their view fixed to the piling. “I tested this before you arrived to be certain it picked up everything. I recorded our entire conversation,”
“You were pretty confident I’d spill it, weren’t you?” Lute said and heaved a huge gulp of coffee and sat it on top of the piling.
“Criminals are narcissists,” Niles said. “They can’t wait to tell how clever they are and how stupid everyone else is. You always liked this place. I knew you’d be comfortable talking here and I knew if the conditions were right you would just die to tell me.”
“I’ll never go to trial,” Lute said. He swayed as if losing his balance. “Cyanide in the coffee, old friend.”
“Lute, why,” Niles said.
“One last thing, Niles,” Lute struggled to speak. “I purposely missed you.”
“I know,” Niles said. “That’s how I knew it was you.”
Lute choked, coughed, and collapsed to the deck floor.