Amanda had been convinced that Masterson had been behind her sister’s death until she stumbled across the information regarding him and Conrad Quarterman. Based on what we could make out from her notes, she had all but decided that Conrad and Masterson had acted together to sacrifice the girls both in Kansas and on that long-ago Halloween night on Madrona Island.
If she was correct I wondered how Dracon fit into the whole scenario and how he had ended up dead, assuming the skeleton I’d found belonged to Dracon, which I strongly suspected. Had Conrad and his partner killed him, dumped the body, and burned down his house, or had something else happened?
“One thing is for sure,” Cody stated. “If Conrad killed those girls he didn’t kill Amanda too. He left the island more than a week ago.”
Cody had a point. If Conrad was Bronwyn and Ruby’s murderer, Amanda’s death couldn’t be related, which meant we were no closer to finding her killer than we’d ever been. While reading through Amanda’s notes had been interesting, they hadn’t revealed anything we hadn’t already known, although there were entire pages written in a different language we hadn’t been able to translate.
“So what do you think?” Cody asked after we’d done what we could.
“I think there’s a missing piece to the puzzle. Even if someone named Masterson killed the girls in Kansas there hasn’t been any mention of anyone by that name in relation to the murders on Madrona Island. I suppose Dracon and Masterson could be the same person, but even if that’s true and he was the killer, which I’m beginning to doubt, how did the girls end up with him on the night they died?”
“Maybe Amanda was right and Conrad was his partner. Conrad was the same age as Bronwyn and Ruby; maybe he lured them to their death.”
“Maybe.” I wasn’t convinced but had no real reason to doubt that theory either.
I took out the photos I still had from my field trip that morning. I showed them to Cody and explained that the background didn’t seem to match the general topography of Dracon’s property.
“It’s pretty hard to make out any detail,” Cody commented.
“Yeah. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to tie down a location based on the photos, but I thought I’d try. I realize they were taken fifteen years ago and things could have changed, but the hill behind where the girls are tied is devoid of trees. I keep asking myself where there’s a hillside without any trees.”
“What about the old dump?”
Currently, trash was removed from the island and disposed of elsewhere, but the old dump that had been used for refuse long before Cody and I were born still existed. Our forefathers had dug a pit that was devoid of trees or other shrubs, and I guessed if you were standing inside the pit, its walls might look like a hillside.
“That could be it. I doubt there’ll be anything to find at this point, but for curiosity’s sake let’s check it out to see if we have a match.”
It took fifteen minutes to drive out to the site of the old dump. The garbage that had been left there all those years ago had been buried and the pit partially filled in, but there was still a pretty big crater in the middle. Cody and I climbed down into the pit and looked at the photos again.
“I think we have a match,” Cody said.
“It looks like we do. I doubt there’s any evidence to find at this point, but I’m sure Finn will be interested to finally discover where the girls were most likely killed.”
Cody looked around. “If I remember correctly the bodies were found less than a quarter of a mile from here.”
“So chances are they were never even on Dracon’s property.” I looked at Cody. “If that’s true I wonder why the evidence was hidden there.”
“My guess is that either Dracon was the killer or someone intentionally set him up.”
I pulled out my phone and looked at the time. “We still have a couple of hours before we need to head back to meet up with the others. Let’s see if we can track down Christopher Blackwell. I’d like to ask him about his recollections of the night of the party.”
“The last time I ran into him he was working at the Harthaven Marina.”
“Okay, let’s head there to see if he’s around.”
Harthaven has a working marina where most of the fishing vessels that still work the area dock. The marina in Pelican Bay, where Coffee Cat Books is located, tends to cater to much smaller private vessels and tour boats. My oldest brother, Aiden, still fishes for a living, and when he isn’t at sea his boat can be found in slip 39 at the Harthaven Marina. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed that his slip was still empty, although he was due back from his latest fishing trip any day.
“Let’s check in the marina office,” Cody suggested.
We were lucky to find Christopher there and not busy.
“How can I help you?” he asked after he’d determined we weren’t looking for Aiden, as he’d initially assumed.
“We wanted to ask you about the night Bronwyn Hampton and Ruby Collingsworth were killed fifteen years ago. We heard you were at the party where Bronwyn was last seen,” I began.
“Yeah, I was there.”
“I understand you lent her your letter jacket,” I added.
“I never lent anyone my jacket. It was warm in the house, so I left it on the bed in the guest room with everyone else’s outerwear. Bronwyn saw it laying there and put it on without my permission.”
“I see. When did you realized she had taken it?” I asked.
“After she left. One of the guys I was hanging with came to find me and told me Bronwyn had left with my jacket. I was furious.”
“Did you go after her?”
“I tried, but I didn’t know where she went, and when I tried to call her cell she didn’t answer.”
Christopher ran his hand through his hair. He diverted his eyes in such a way as to clearly communicate his discomfort with the conversation.
“I spoke to a couple of people who told me you had the jacket back at school the next day.”
“So I was wondering how you managed to retrieve it if you’d been unsuccessful in tracking Bronwyn down the night before.”
“When I went out to my car the next morning I found the jacket on the passenger seat.”
I frowned. “Do you have any idea how it got there?”
“None. I didn’t know Bronwyn was dead at that time, so I assumed she left it there herself.”
“Was your car locked?”
“No. It was a convertible with a soft top, so I never locked it. Everyone knew that.”
“And the car was parked in front of your house?” I asked.
“In the driveway, where I always parked it.”
“And what time would you say you got home that night?”
“I guess around one.”
So either Christopher was lying to cover up his involvement in the murders or someone had returned the jacket to Christopher after one a.m. Chances were Bronwyn and Ruby were already dead by that time.
“And you never found out who returned the jacket?” I asked.
“No. I was just happy to have it back. Now, if that’s all you want to know, I have a lot of work to do.”
I looked around the office. It was pretty quiet and I highly doubted Christopher was that busy, but I said good-bye and Cody and I left.
“If you ask me, the idea that someone dropped Christopher’s jacket off in his car in the middle of the night seems ludicrous. I mean, the only person who would have done such a thing at that hour would have been the killer, and why would a person who had just killed two teenage girls bother with a jacket?”
“Something smells fishy and it isn’t just because we’re at the marina. Even if someone other than the killer ended up with the jacket somehow, why not just wait to return the jacket the next day?”
“Unless whoever dropped it off didn’t want Christopher to know they had it.” I rubbed my head. “This whole thing is giving me a headache.”
“I need to go pick up Harland to get him settled at Mr. Parsons’s. I’ll take you to your place first. Why don’t you take a nap or take Max for a walk? Sometimes it helps to create a little distance between yourself and the thing that’s stressing you out.”
“Yeah. A walk does sound good.”
Cody dropped me off at my cabin and I called to Max with the idea of taking a leisurely walk down the beach. It seemed, however, that Renfield had a different sort of outing in mind. When I opened the door to leave he darted out and started down the beach in the direction of Francine Rivers’s property.
He stayed just far enough ahead of me that I couldn’t grab him and Max really didn’t care in which direction we walked, so I decided to go with it and follow my feline tour guide. I was surprised when he trotted right up to Francine’s back door.
“If you’re here to court Juliet,” I said, referring to Francine’s show cat, “I’m afraid she’s already taken.”
“Meow.” Renfield pawed at the back door.
“I’ll knock, but Romeo isn’t going to like you trying to move in on his territory.”
I knocked on the back door and waited. If Francine was home we could chat on the back deck, away from the beautiful Juliet and jealous Romeo.
“Cait. How nice to see you. Would you like to come in?”
“I have Max and Renfield. Perhaps we can talk on your deck for a minute.”
“It’s a nice day. Just give me a minute to grab a sweater. Would you like some iced tea?”
“I would. Thank you.”
Renfield hopped up onto a lounge chair while Max found a sunny spot to wait. I took a seat at the patio table while I pondered a reason for a visit with my elderly neighbor. If Renfield had brought me here he must think Francine had information about either Amanda Lowman’s death or the death of the teens fifteen years ago. Romeo had been one of my helper cats before he came to live with Francine, so she was aware of how this whole thing worked.
“What can I do for you today?” Francine asked after setting a pitcher of tea and two glasses filled with ice on the table.
“This is Renfield. He’s one of Tansy’s cats.”
“We’re looking into the death of the writer who was investigating the Vampire Murders fifteen years ago. Renfield brought me here, so he must think you have information to share.”
Francine poured tea into each glass before answering. “I was of course on the island when those teenagers were killed. It caused quite an uproar. I didn’t know either of the girls personally, although Bronwyn’s mother had been on the library board with me, so I’d met her a number of times. The poor woman. I can’t imagine how truly horrifying the whole thing must have been.”
“It really was a tragedy.” I looked at Renfield and wondered why he’d brought me here. “Do you remember hearing or seeing anything at all that could be relevant?”
Francine tapped her chin with her index finger while she considered my question. It had been a long time ago, but Francine had been born on this island and was involved in a wide range of community activities. She definitely knew a lot of people; probably as many as my Aunt Maggie, who it suddenly occurred to me I should interview as well.
“I don’t know how much help I can be. The entire thing was very odd. Not only were two girls who didn’t seem to have any sort of relationship murdered on the same night, and apparently by the same person, but the method used in the murders was something out of a horror movie. People were terrified for quite some time afterward. Almost every family with teenagers placed very strict curfews on their children and unplanned activities like hanging out with friends became a thing of the past. And it didn’t just affect those of us with teenagers. Doors and windows across the island that had previously been left open were locked up tight. The murders really did change the environment for quite some time.”
Now that Francine said it, I did remember there being a veil of nervous energy on the island. “Did you have any theories on who might have killed those girls?”
“It seemed to me the murders must have been orchestrated to frame Dracon Moon. I remember asking myself at the time who would want to frame Dracon.”
“So you think Dracon was framed?”
“I do. All clues led back to him, which seemed proof enough to me that he was a victim as much as those girls. I wonder what became of the poor man after his home was burned to the ground. Some say he died in the fire, but his remains were never found. Others thought he simply took off under the cover of night.”
I had a pretty good idea of what had become of Dracon but decided not to say anything until we were certain. If the skeleton I’d found was Dracon the idea that he was framed made perfect sense.
“You sound like you knew him.”
“I did. He was an odd man; that much is true. He was thin and pale and had eyes that seemed too big for his face, but he wasn’t a monster. He was just an extreme introvert who valued his privacy. He lived in a big old house in an isolated location and was rarely seen in town. He almost always wore a black suit I felt must have belonged to his father, it was so old. Dracon wouldn’t have murdered the girls, but he did make the perfect patsy.”
“Okay, wait. Back up a bit. How exactly did you know Dracon?”
“Years ago I served on the church outreach committee. Our mission was to go into the community and invite those who didn’t seem to have a place of worship to attend one of our events. I like a challenge, so I decided to approach Dracon. I took him a loaf of my pumpkin bread as a gesture of friendship. He was of course not at all open to attending the event or joining the church, but we got to talking, and I discovered that his mother had made pumpkin bread for him when he was a child. The bread I brought him seemed to bring back fond memories, so he agreed to allow me to stop by every now and then to deliver a loaf.”