Count Catula (Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery Book 9) (10 page)

“Tara’s right,” Finn joined in. “You all need to be careful.” He glanced at Siobhan, who had a worried look on her face. “We all need to be careful. If the person who killed Amanda Lowman is the same one who killed those girls fifteen years ago we have a very sick individual on our hands. I’d like to finish our discussion this evening, but I think after this you should all leave the actual investigating to me.”

“Won’t
you
be in danger?” Tara asked.

“I’ve been trained and I have a gun.” Finn looked at Siobhan. “Who else do we still have on the board?”

“Patricia Davenport and Kevin Spalding,” Siobhan answered. “I spoke to them again, and while it did seem they were hiding something, I don’t think they were involved in the killings. I’d leave them on the board, although maybe not as suspects.”

We continued to go through the names and notes on the murder board until we ended up with two smaller lists: suspects: Toby Willis, Conrad Quarterman, and Christopher Blackwell; follow-ups: Rayleen Colby, Patricia Davenport, and Kevin Spalding.

“We have the fingerprints on the fork Cait found,” Siobhan reminded us. “Why don’t we see if we can get prints for Toby Willis, Conrad Quarterman, and Christopher Black?”

“We don’t have probable cause for a warrant,” Finn said.

Siobhan smiled. “There are other ways.”

 

Chapter 9
Friday, October 28

 

 

I arrived at Coffee Cat Books early the next morning and started restocking shelves while I waited for Tara to arrive and the store to open. It wasn’t often that I was the first one to get there in the morning, but I was hoping to take a few hours off to work on the murder investigation after the morning crowd dissipated. Once again I felt like the focus of our investigation was more on the cold case than on Amanda Lowman’s murder. Of course we all were operating on the assumption that her death was linked to her investigation into the cold case and that finding one killer would lead to the other, but I also realized there were times when the focus of a murder investigation became so tight early on that it was possible to end up missing the truth entirely.

I knew Amanda had spoken to several people prior to her appearance at the book club, which must have meant she’d been on the island for at least a couple of days before she was murdered. The clerk at the motel hadn’t been very forthcoming with information, but now that Finn was back I figured I could have him interview the man to find out if he knew what Amanda had been up to during her short stay on the island.

“Wow, you’re here early,” Tara commented when she arrived.

“I wanted to get the restocking done. I’m hoping to take some time off later to work on the investigation. I called Finn a while ago and he said he’s looking over Deputy Holden’s notes and will be talking to him sometime this morning. I feel certain Deputy Holden has been focusing on Amanda’s death, and it occurred to me that we’ve been focusing on the cold case, so maybe we can start to determine where the two intersect.”

My phone beeped and I looked at the caller ID. It was Finn. “Hey, what’s up?” I asked.

“I spoke to Holden. He says Amanda Lowman arrived on the island on the Friday before she was murdered. She checked into the motel that afternoon and the clerk who was on duty at the time remembered her asking for directions to Antonio’s. Holden checked with Antonio, who told him Ms. Lowman had dinner with Conrad Quarterman.”

So Amanda had been able to meet with Conrad before she died. I wondered how that conversation had gone. Based on what we’d been able to learn, it seemed Conrad must have been her number-one suspect.

“Do we know when Conrad left the island?” I asked.

“Monday morning, according to his wife.”

“So he couldn’t have killed Amanda.”

“Probably not, unless he only pretended to leave on Monday morning and didn’t actually do so.”

“Can we verify that he was on the ferry?”

“I’m having someone from the main office look at the security tapes. I suppose it’s possible he told his wife he was leaving on Monday morning but didn’t actually go until Tuesday. Holden had someone check his credit card activity and there are no charges at all for Monday. In fact, there are no charges between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening. Of course he might have had cash on him, or maybe he just wasn’t in a situation where credit was needed, but it seems suspicious to me.”

“Yeah, me too. Are you going to bring him in for questioning when he returns to the island?”

“I’m planning to meet him at the ferry to tell him I need to speak to him, but I don’t have enough to hold him yet.”

“Conrad seems like a strong suspect. Maybe he’ll say something that will lead to a real clue. Did you find out if Rhett Samson still lives on the island?”

“He does. I had a phone conversation with him, and he swears he doesn’t know anything about what went on the night of the murders. He did admit to not getting along with Dracon Moon. He said he found Dracon snooping around on his property on several occasions. He admitted he was glad Dracon was out of his life, but he denied killing him or knowing anything about whoever did.”

“He lived right next door. You’d think he would have heard all the commotion when the house burned down.”

“I agree, but on those large lots on the north shore
next door
can be as much as a quarter mile away, depending on the shape and the placement of the homes. Mr. Samson is still on my list, but I really don’t have enough to do much more than I already have.”

I sighed. This case was getting more and more complicated. “What else have you learned?”

“Deputy Holden also spoke to Lisa Kellerman. It sounds like Lisa spoke to Amanda Lowman on Sunday.”

I looked at Tara. “Did Lisa mention that she spoke with Amanda on Sunday when you spoke to her about the night Bronwyn died?”

“No, but then again, I was focused on the murders fifteen years ago and didn’t think to ask about Amanda.”

“Did you hear that?” I asked Finn.

“Yeah, I heard. According to Deputy Holden’s notes, Lisa told him pretty much what she told Tara. Other than the fact that we now know Lisa knew Amanda was on the island and asking questions, I don’t see any reason to suspect her of any of the deaths.”

“I agree. She doesn’t seem the sort at all. What else did Holden find out?”

“There’s an entire page about you. He really seems to think you could be a suspect.”

“Great. That’s just what I need.”

“Luckily for you, Holden has returned to San Juan Island and I’m taking over the investigation.”

“Thank goodness for small favors,” I said. “Did Holden’s report say anything else?”

“His report also states that Amanda Lowman spoke to Tripp, which we knew, and that she spoke to Father Kilian on the phone, although they hadn’t met in person before her death. Still, the phone conversation was enough for Father Kilian to know she was on the island and looking into the cold case, and no, I don’t believe either Tripp or Father Kilian are suspects.”

“What about Toby Willis? He was checked off Amanda Lowman’s list and he seemed to know she was here and what she was doing.”

“Holden was never able to track Toby down. I intend to do just that today.”

“I’ll be taking a couple of hours off at the store today. I thought I’d try tracking down Amanda’s movements on the days she was on the island. It sounds like that was pretty much what Deputy Holden had started doing.”

“Finding out who murdered Amanda Lowman was the focus of his investigation,” Finn confirmed.

“Who else did he speak to?”

“Rayleen Colby on the phone. She mentioned Conrad Quarterman to him as well. I think Conrad was right at the top of Holden’s suspect list. He also spoke to Tim Palmer, who confirmed that he spoke to Amanda Lowman the morning before she died.”

Tim Palmer had been the principal at the high school fifteen years ago. Speaking to him about the murdered students seemed like a worthwhile thing to do, although I didn’t remember seeing his name in Amanda Lowman’s notebook. I supposed now that Finn was back I should turn that notebook over to him. No need to bring it up now, however. Tonight would be soon enough.

“Holden also had a copy of Ms. Lowman’s phone records. She made twelve calls during the three and a half days she was on the island. The first call was made within minutes of her checking into the motel and the last was made at around eight o’clock on the night she died.”

“She must have made the call from her car after the book club meeting. The storm blew in, so we ended things pretty abruptly at about ten minutes to eight. I wonder who she called.”

“I’ll track it down as soon as I have a minute.”

“Are you and Siobhan still planning to come over tonight to update the murder board?”

“If I don’t have this solved by then, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

By the time I hung up it was time to open the store doors and begin serving the first of our morning customers. Although traffic from the ferry had dwindled over the past few weeks, the local coffee crowd still kept things hopping in the mornings. The rush had come and gone after noon, and I was more than ready to set out to do some investigating.

My first stop, I decided, would be the diner down the street. It was a decent place and the closest place to eat to the motel where Amanda had been staying. It made sense that if she’d been on the island for three days before she died she would have stopped there for at least one meal along the way.

“Yeah, she was in for coffee on both Saturday and Sunday,” the waitress, who also served as the hostess, told me. “She added honey to her coffee. No one has ever asked for honey for coffee before. Tea, sure, but not coffee.”

“Yeah, that is a little different. Did she meet anyone or speak to anyone while she was here?”

“No. She just sipped on her sweet coffee and wrote in a little black notebook.”

“Did she speak to you or any of the staff while she was here?”

“Well, she spoke enough to order. And she asked for directions to the Harthaven Marina on Sunday. Guess she wanted to see a man about a boat.”

Maybe, but most of the boat rentals on the island came out of the marina in Pelican Bay. The one in Harthaven was almost exclusively used by large, privately owned fishing vessels. Of course Christopher Blackwell worked at Harthaven Marina. I wondered if she’d gone to see him even if she hadn’t checked him off in her notebook. As with the other suspects I’d spoken to, I’d been focused on the cold case murders when I’d spoken with Christopher and hadn’t asked him about Amanda at all. I could have another chat with him, but I’d need to be careful about what I said so I didn’t spook him if he was guilty of murdering Amanda Lowman and the others.

I thanked the waitress and then headed back to the bookstore to gather my thoughts.

“I probably should just call Finn to let him know it appears Christopher met with Amanda on Sunday,” I said to Tara.

“It might be a good idea.”

“Of course when I spoke to him this morning he already had a bunch of interviews to follow up on. I doubt he’ll have time to get around to Christopher.”

“Sounds like Cait logic to me.”

“Cait logic?”

“Logic that exists only in your mind to justify your doing what you already want to do anyway.”

I stuck my tongue out at Tara. I didn’t have a comeback because she was mostly correct, but she didn’t have to be rude enough to point it out.

 

When I arrived at Harthaven Marina I found Christopher wasn’t in the office, so I decided to take a walk out onto the docks to see if I could find him. I’d just completed my tour of dock one and was about to head over to dock two when I ran into Toby, who was preparing one of the boats for departure.

“Hey, Toby,” I greeted him in a friendly, nonthreatening manner.

“Cait.”

“Is that your boat?”

“No. The owner is paying me to get her ready to sail. Did you come looking for me?”

“Actually, I came to speak to Christopher, but as long as I have you, do you have a few minutes to chat?”

Toby shrugged.

I took a small hop onto the deck of the large vessel.

“Mr. S wants to head out before dark, so I’ll have to work while I chat,” Toby said.

“That’s fine. I guess you heard Finn is back.”

“No, I hadn’t heard.”

“He was going to contact you to talk about the cold case murders we believe are linked to Amanda Lowman’s death. He had a lot of people to talk to. I guess he hasn’t gotten around to calling you yet.”

“Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“No.” I shook my head. “No trouble. I’m not sure you know this, but it looks like you might have been the last one to see both Bronwyn and Ruby alive.”

Toby paled. I actually wasn’t expecting that. It’s true we did sort of consider him to be a viable suspect, but the look of guilt on his face actually threw me a bit.

“Did you kill those girls?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t kill them. But I was with them and I might know who did kill them.” Toby looked around. “Can we talk about this below?”

I hesitated. It didn’t seem like a good move to go belowdecks of a deserted boat with someone who had just sort of confessed to being involved in some way in a double homicide.

“I think we can talk here. Or I can call Finn and you can talk to him.”

“Look, I didn’t kill those girls. I swear.”

“Okay, then, what did happen?”

Toby took a deep breath. “As I already told you, I went to the party with Bronwyn, we got into a fight, and I left to meet up with Ruby. A short while later Bronwyn called and told me that she’d had a fight with Lisa and had left the party alone. She wanted me to pick her up, so I told her I would.” Toby took several deep breaths. He looked paler that anyone I’d ever seen. I wondered if he was going to be sick.

“Go on,” I said persuasively.

“I lied when I said Bronwyn wasn’t there. She was. When I picked her up she asked if I could give her a ride to a friend’s house. This friend knew where a major party was going down and he’d invited her to come as long as she brought a girlfriend to even things out because his cousin was staying with him. I told her that I’d be happy to drop her off but that I wasn’t exactly a girlfriend, so she’d need to find someone else to come along. She laughed and asked me if I thought Ruby or one of the other girls I’d been hanging out with would want to go. She said she was planning to bring Lisa, but after they fought she found herself short of a plus-one.”

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