"Maybe," Robin speculated between bites of a pretzel stick, "there's more than one murderer."
If we ever spent a night together, it wasn't going to be tonight. The mood had faded.
"Oh, Robin! I can't believe that for a minute. There couldn't be two people that evil in Lawrenceton at the same time, doing the same thing!" One was bad enough; two would get us in the history books for sure. He waved the pretzel stick at me emphatically. "Why not, Roe? A copycat killer. Maybe someone, for example, wanted the Buckleys out of the way for some reason, and after Mamie got killed he saw his chance. Or maybe someone wanted to do in Pettigrue, and killed Mamie and the Buckleys to cloud the issue." There was a certain amount of precedent for that, but more often in mystery novels than in real life, I thought.
"I guess it's possible," I conceded. "But Robin, I just don't want to believe it."
"Maybe, then, there's more than one killer. I mean, a team of murderers." "Jane Engle said the same thing," I recalled belatedly. "Two people? How could you look at anyone who knew you had done that, Robin?" I could truly not imagine saying, "Hey, buddy, look at the way I socked Mamie!" I felt almost nauseated. That two people could agree on such a plan, and mutually carry it out.... "Hillside Stranglers," Robin reminded me. "Burke and Hare." "But the Hillside Stranglers were sex murderers," I objected, "and Burke and Hare wanted to sell the bodies to medical schools." "Well, true. These killings are apparently just for fun. Just to tease." I thought of Gifford and his hatchet. The killer was teasing in more than one way. "Wait till you hear this!" I exclaimed.
Robin felt better when I'd told him he and Melanie and Arthur had company in the category of Implicated Innocent. "Though it would be clever of this Gifford," Robin cautioned, "to use his own ax, and then claim its use proved him innocent."
"I wonder if Gifford is that clever," I said. "Gifford is crafty, I think, but I believe he's pretty limited in imagination."
"And how well do you know him?" asked Robin, with a tiny edge to his voice. "Not well," I admitted. "Just through seeing him at Real Murders. He's been coming about a year, I think. And he brings a friend named Reynaldo. Who apparently doesn't have a last name ..."
The phone rang, and I reached out to pick it up, surprised at getting such a late call. People in Lawrenceton do not make phone calls after 10:00 P.M. At least, not the people I know. Robin tactfully took the occasion to go into the bathroom.
"Oh, God, I just looked at my watch, were you in bed?" Arthur asked.
"No," I said, feeling ridiculously awkward with Robin in my place. Why should I?
I asked myself. I could see two men at one time if I chose. "I just finished work and got back to my place. I don't suppose there's any chance you want to come over?"
The idea sent a certain tingle down my spine, but all the conditions that had applied to Robin were still valid; plus, Robin was showing no signs of budging. In fact, he'd just gone to the refrigerator and refreshed his drink.
"I have to work tomorrow," I said neutrally.
"Oh. Okay. I get the message. Roller skating or nothing." Ohmygosh. I had almost forgotten. Well, I had some pretty good reasons for not thinking about a Saturday night date.
"You think you will be able to get off?" I asked cautiously.
"I think so. I have some amazing news for you. You sitting down?" Arthur sounded strange. Like someone who was trying to be excited and happy and just couldn't manage. And he hadn't mentioned the discovery of the hatchet and briefcase.
"Yes, I'm sitting. What?"
"Benjamin Greer just confessed to all the murders."
"What? He what?"
"He confessed to killing Mamie Wright, Morrison Pettigrue, and the Buckleys." "But what about the box of candy? Why did he do that? Mother doesn't know him at all."
"He says Morrison did that, because your mother is an example of what is worst about capitalism."
"My mom - Morrison Pettigrue? I don't believe it," I sputtered disconnectedly.
"You don't want this case to be over?"
"Yes, yes! But I don't believe he did it. I wish I did."
"He's convinced a lot of the guys down here."
"Did he know where the hatchet was hidden?"
"Everyone in town knows that now."
"Did he know what it was in?"
"Pretty much everyone knows that, too."
"Okay, who'd he steal the hatchet from, that he used to kill the Buckleys?"
"He hasn't said yet."
"Gifford Doakes told me tonight that it was his hatchet."
"He did?" And for the first time Arthur's voice showed some life and enthusiasm.
"Gifford hasn't been in here yet. As far as I know." "Well, he told me tonight at the library that his hatchet had been missing, and he asked me about that tape around the handle. I didn't bring it up, in fact I'd forgotten about it."
"I'll pass that on to the men who are questioning Greer," Arthur promised. "That can be one of our test questions. But for some reason, Roe, this guy is convincing. He believes it, I think. And we have a witness." Robin had abandoned being polite and was beside himself to know what I was talking about. His eyebrows were winging around his face in interrogation. I kept waving my hand to keep him quiet.
"A witness to the murder?"
"No, a witness who saw him leave the hatchet in the alley." I remembered Lynn's excitement when she'd talked to the young mother in the apartments. I was willing to bet that that was the witness. "So what did she see?" I asked sharply.
"Listen, this is police business that I can't tell you about in detail," Arthur said flatly.
"I'm sorry if I'm trespassing, but I'm deeply involved in this, up to my neck, according to Lynn Liggett and your boss Jack Burns." "Well. You're off the hook now."
"This is hard to soak in. I can't believe it's all over."
"I'm going home to sleep," Arthur said, and the exhaustion made his voice slur. "I'm going to sleep and sleep and sleep. And when I get up, we're going to talk about going roller skating."
"Okay," I said slowly. "Listen, I just remembered that my little brother Phillip is coming tomorrow and spending the weekend."
"Then we'll take him with us," Arthur said smoothly, scarcely missing a beat. "Okay. Talk to you later." I was smiling as I hung up; I couldn't help it. "It may be over, Robin," I said, almost crying.
His mouth fell open. "You mean, we don't have to worry anymore?" he asked. "So it seems. An eyewitness places Benjamin Greer, the member of Real Murders who wasn't there the night Mamie got killed, depositing the briefcase in the culvert. And he has confessed to everything, except sending the candy, which he says Morrison Pettigrue did before he killed him. I'll have to call Mother. Pettigrue thought Mother was a terrible capitalist." We discussed this truly stunning development up and down and sideways and forwards, until I began to yawn and feel drowsy. "Did I hear you mention that your brother is coming?" Robin asked tactfully. "Yes, his name is Phillip, he's six. From my father's remarriage. Dad and his wife are going to a convention in Chattanooga this weekend, and I've been scheduled for a long time to keep Phillip. Things were getting so grim here I was thinking about calling Dad and cancelling or going to keep Phillip at their house, but now I guess it'll be okay to have him here." "You two get along? What do you do when he's visiting?" "Oh, we play games. We go to the movies. He watches television. I read to him, things he can't read himself yet. One time we went bowling. That was a real disaster, but fun, too. Sometimes he brings his ball and glove and we play catch in the parking lot. I'm not very good at that, though. Phillip is a real baseball freak, he brings his cards every time he comes and we go through them, while I try not to yawn."
"I like kids," said Robin, and I could tell he was sincere. "Maybe Saturday we can all go to the state park and have a picnic and hike one of the trails." That would be an hour drive to and from, plus allow maybe three hours for the hike and picnic, I figured rapidly. I could be back in time for roller skating, but Phillip would probably be exhausted from the park, and I might be, too. "Maybe playing - is it called goofy golf? - would be better. I noticed a new place out on the highway into the city when I drove in Monday." That felt years ago now.
"I saw that, too," Robin said. "Maybe Saturday afternoon?" "Okay, he'll love it. Come meet him tomorrow night," I offered. "I promised to make pecan pie - that's Phillip's favorite. What about 7:00?" "Great," said Robin agreeably. He leaned over to give me a casual kiss. "I'll see you then." He seemed preoccupied as he left. I locked the back door after Robin left, and checked my front door, though I seldom used it. If this whole imbroglio had had one effect, it was to make me permanently security conscious.
It had been a busy day even without the constant strain of living with a murderer in close proximity. Today we'd found the hatchet in Robin's briefcase, I'd had the weird confrontation with Gifford Doakes and the eerie scene in the library with Perry. I wondered if Sally was right in her optimistic belief that no one at work besides me had noticed that Perry was unravelling. I hadn't exactly been in the current of office gossip the past week, being mostly the subject of it, I was sure.
Then Arthur had called with the bombshell about Benjamin.
Benjamin the loser. Benjamin the murderer?
As I made up the bed in the guest room for Phillip - though he usually ended up getting spooked at spending the night in a strange place and came in my room - I realized anew how abnormal the week had been. Usually, when I knew Phillip was going to make one of his four or five annual weekend visits, I spent several days preparing. I stocked all his favorite foods, planned lots of activities, checked out an armful of children's books, consulted the local movie schedules. I overdid it.
This was probably the appropriate amount of preparation for a six-year-old's visit; I made a bed for him, checked to see if I had the ingredients for his favorite dessert, and decided to take him to his favorite fast-food place for lunch on Saturday. And I looked forward to seeing him, this unexpected brother I had acquired after I'd become an adult. In the middle of the awfulness I'd seen lately, and the anxiety I'd suffered in so many unprecedented situations, having Phillip to visit seemed like a welcome return to normality. Benjamin Greer.
I tried to believe it.
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