The morning started rather chilly. As noon arrived it felt near summer in temperature. The leaves around Brewster Harbor and throughout Bellamy Island had lost their Autumn brilliance and began a death spiral from tree to earth.
Close to noon, Niles walked across the street to the Inn. Steve sat at the desk with his hands folded in his lap. He appeared almost asleep.
“Let’s walk out on the deck, Steve,” Niles said.
“I have to watch the phones,” Steve said.
“They don’t need watching,” Niles said sarcastically. “They make this annoying sound you can hear on the back deck and if you don’t make it in on time, they also have this thing called voicemail, all terrific inventions that allow you to do other things rather than just watching the phone. On the deck, please.”
Niles walked through the dining room and onto the back deck. Steve followed. They sat at a table.
“Nice and warm isn’t it, Steve?” Niles said.
“I hear they had snow in Canada,” Steve said.
“You see,” Niles pressed his lips tight. “we got an old lady snug in the ground in a graveyard north of town and an unsolved two-year-old murder and I have no more patients with small-town minds, secrets, and suspicions of outsiders. And above all, Steve, you are starting to turn my stomach. You know something and playing cat and mouse with me. It’s time to spit it out and answer some questions.”
“Okay, Chief,” Steve said eye to eye, “My imagination runs away with me a lot. I imagine the two murders are connected, Sam’s and Mildred’s. I’m scared, plain and simple. I honestly don’t know much and the mere fact we even talk to one another scares me. I don’t know who is watching and who will think I’m telling you something. I know that may seem like crazy talk, but that’s me. Everybody just thinks I’m cool and analytical.”
“Do you think that’s why Mildred was killed?” Niles said.
“I don’t know,” Steve said. “But everyone said she talked about you like the son she never had. She knew all the dirt on this town. The kind of dirt you might share with a son. And here we are talking like brothers. In my mind, it’s not a stretch to think I’m next.”
“Okay,” Niles said, “this will be simple; you said you were here when Petit was killed. Exactly where were you?”
“It was night,” Steve said. “I was working the desk for Mrs. Petit. She told me to go on home early. Instead of going home I walked out the front door and used the side dock to go out to the deck. I sat on a bench next to the wall. Mrs. Petit prepared a meal for Sam. It was sort of romantic meal. Sam started groaning, he said he was dizzy and weak. He kept on asking Mrs. Petit to do something. She said nothing. I didn’t know what to do. I was embarrassed; how was I supposed to explain what I was doing there?”
“What were you doing there?” Niles said.
“I’ve been a bachelor all my life,” Steve said. “I’ve heard husbands, wives, and lovers talk in movies, but I just wanted to listen. I know, that’s weird, but I just wanted to hear.”
“What happened next?” Niles said.
“It went silent,” Steve said. “I could hear Mrs. Petit. I heard the sound of silverware against the plate, you know like the sound of dinning. I moved around to the side window and looked over her shoulder. She was eating, calm, cool and collected. Sam was slumped in his chair. She got up and got dessert and sat there as if nothing was going on. Anyone that can do that, I don’t want to cross their path.”
“How much longer did you stay?” Niles said.
“After she finished her dessert she reached over and checked Sam’s pulse on his neck,” Steve said. “She sat down and sipped her coffee. She played with her hair, like she was primping. Then she got her phone from her purse and made a call.”
“Who did she call?” Niles said.
“I don’t know,” Steve said. “All she said was it’s over. He’s dead. Come on over.”
“Who came over?” Niles said.
“I don’t know,” Steve said. “I was about ready to crap my drawers. I sneaked down the dock and went home. I drank vodka until I passed out.”
“Have you told anyone else?” Niles said.
“Are you kidding me,” Steve said, “not a word to anyone.”
“Start laughing,” Niles said.
“Here,” Niles said. “like this.” Niles laughed and held his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t wait to tell it to my dad, he likes that sort of thing.”
Steve appeared confused and played along, “I knew you’d get a kick out of that.”
Niles smiled and with tight teeth said. “Just in case anyone is watching.”
“Thanks,” Steve smiled.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Steve,” Niles said and left the deck by the side dock.
“I have a witness,” Niles thought as he walked back to the office. “and I know the weapon, cyanide.”