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

“So you knew him fairly well.”

“I wouldn’t say well, but we chatted whenever I went by. He told me he’d moved to the island to find an isolated place to live out his life. He’d suffered some great tragedy he never would speak of, but I could tell he was a man who lived with a deep and eternal pain. As far as I know, I was the only person who ever visited him, although he seemed to prefer it that way.”

“So the girls were murdered and everyone blamed Dracon because of his odd and unsettling ways.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I believe happened, and the more I thought about it the more certain I was that his neighbor was the one who framed him.”

“Why would his neighbor frame him?”

“Dracon told me that he and his neighbor didn’t really get along and that this neighbor had threatened him on several occasions for the smallest things. He also said the man had an empty stare.”

“Do you remember the man’s name?”

“I believe it was Rhett Samson.”

 

Chapter 8

 

 

By the time Max, Renfield, and I got home it was time to start getting ready for my dinner guests. I whipped up a casserole, made a green salad, buttered some sourdough bread, and opened several bottles of wine. Then I ran upstairs to change clothes one last time before Cody and the others arrived.

“Something smells good,” Tara said as she walked into the cabin with a box of cookies.

“It’s my cheesy chicken casserole. Finn loves it, and I figured he’d be looking for comfort food after eating out all week.”

“I saw Cody walking down the beach when I pulled up. I imagine he’ll be here any minute. Do you know if Finn made it back?”

“No one has called to say he didn’t, so I’m just assuming he did. It’s been an interesting day. I can’t wait for us all to share. I feel like we’re beginning to narrow things down a bit.”

“You have news?” Tara was obviously intrigued.

“I do, but let’s wait until the others get here. The casserole is just about ready. I figured we’d eat first and brainstorm after, like we did the other night.”

“I really hope we can get this wrapped up in time to enjoy the weekend.”

“Me too,” I agreed. “Cody suggested we go to the Halloween Festival, and as corny as it is, I really want to.”

“One of the women on the publicity committee brought flyers for us to hand out at the bookstore and I couldn’t help but remember the fun we had at the festival when we were kids. Remember that year we hid in the haunted house and jumped out at everyone who came by? We made more than one little kid cry.”

I laughed. “I do remember that. It was sort of mean, now that I think about it. It was supposed to be a family-friendly haunted house, but we wanted to spice it up. I ended up getting grounded for a week, but it seemed worth it at the time.”

“My mom wasn’t too happy about it either.”

“I had my first kiss on Halloween night in the hay maze the year I was in the fourth grade.” I smiled at the memory. “It wasn’t much of a kiss, but I can remember my heart pounding and my hands sweating. I was simultaneously intrigued and terrified.”

“I remember that night. After you got out of the maze we went for candy apples, and when you bit into one your tooth came out and there was blood everywhere. The lady at the candy stand thought it was fake blood and you were pulling a prank and she yelled at you until you started to cry.”

“I’d forgotten all about that part. It’s funny how I blocked it out of my memory. If we do go to the festival we should all go together. It’ll be like old times. After the last several days focusing on nothing but murder and mayhem, hanging out with friends at the festival will feel like an old sweater I can curl up in.”

“I’m in as long as some of the others come along. I’ll feel like a third wheel if it’s just me and you and Cody.”

Poor Tara had been through a rough time in the romance department of late. She’d hinted that she’d entered into a new relationship the previous summer, but before I even found out who the guy was he seemed to have vanished from her life. “I bet Finn and Siobhan will come, and I can invite Danny. Cassie might even want to come along if she isn’t going with her friends.”

“How’s she doing with the move?” Tara asked. My younger sister had been displaced along with the rest of my family when our house burned to the ground.

“She’s dealing. It’s been hard on her. Everything she owned was destroyed, and I know there are times she finds it hard to move on, but I think she knows that’s her only choice. She says that when she thinks about all she lost she tries to remember that Mom and I were saved, and in the end that’s what’s most important.”

“It seems she’s really matured since the fire.”

“Yeah, she really has. She went from being rude and rebellious to thoughtful and gracious. I feel bad for her and wish things had worked out differently, but it’s like the fire was part of some overall plan, so I try not to dwell on it. Do you think cookies are enough for dessert?”

“I brought a few different kinds. The chocolate ones are as rich as candy. They’ll be good with red wine, and I have sugar cookies for Finn because we know those are his favorite.” Tara glanced out the window. “It looks like his car just pulled into the drive and Cody is heading across the deck as we speak. I’ll grab some plates if you want to set everything out. The casserole looks delicious.”

“Thanks. I added extra cheese. It won’t be low calorie, but it should be delicious.”

 

After dinner we all gathered in the living room, where Siobhan once again took charge of the murder board. Because Finn was home and he was the actual deputy, he took charge of the meeting. I felt bad that he had to walk into this mess after being away for almost a week, but I guess confusing murder cases and lack of sleep were what he signed up for when he decided to take the job.

“Let’s all share what we know and see where we end up,” Finn started. “It seems like there’s a lot of information, so let’s try to approach this in a linear fashion rather than skipping around.” He glanced as Siobhan. “Why don’t you start?”

“I spoke to Billy Simpson today,” Siobhan informed us. “I contacted him because he was the only member of Ruby’s group who was on Tripp’s list. He said he’d seen Ruby leave that night. She didn’t announce that she was going, but he noticed her fall back when the others started to go across the park. She went out to the road and was picked up in a dark-colored car. He didn’t see a license plate, but he thought the car was some sort of old Chevy or possibly a Dodge.”

“And he told this to Tripp at the time?” I asked.

“He said he did. I guess Tripp was never able to track down the car because I’ve read his entire report and the owner of the car was never identified.”

We all looked at Finn. “I’ll try to meet up with Tripp tomorrow to see if I can get additional information about the car and anything else we feel he should know about. If any of you speak to anyone in Ruby’s group please do ask about that car. This could be an important clue.”

Everyone agreed that identifying the car Ruby got into could be the clue to solving the whole case.

“By the way, Billy told me that he spent the night Ruby died with Vince Long, so I wouldn’t consider him a suspect,” Siobhan continued. “Finn, you can track down Vince if need be, but Billy seemed to be telling the truth. I also spoke to Matt Morrison, who was Lisa’s date at the party that night. He really didn’t have much to add. In fact, he didn’t seem to remember much about the party at all, though he admitted he’d been drinking pretty heavily. I have no reason to believe he was lying or hiding anything, so I think we can cross him off the list at this point.”

“Okay; who else has anything?” Finn asked.

“I do.” I raised my hand, although I didn’t think it was actually necessary.

“I spoke to Deputy Holden and he told me about the skeleton you found this morning,” Finn answered. “He told me it’s
fortuitous
that you keep stumbling across bodies and seems to believe you may somehow be involved in both murders.”

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t know about my magical kitty. Do you know if the skeleton in the cave was Dracon Moon?”

“While we don’t have an absolute identification yet, the age and physical features of the victim you found does match that of Dracon Moon. Right now we’re operating under the assumption that he was murdered and his body was placed in the cave while his house was burned to the ground to make it look as if he killed the girls, burned the evidence, and split.”

“Which is exactly the way it looked,” I pointed out.

“So if Dracon was framed and framing him was the intention from the beginning, why would you hide the murder weapon and other evidence on Dracon’s property so well that it wasn’t found for fifteen years?” Siobhan asked. “And if someone other than Dracon hid it, how did they know about the hidden key and the vault in the side of the rock formation?”

“Good question.” Finn smiled at his fiancée.

“If someone intentionally framed Dracon by hiding the evidence on his property, why not make certain his fingerprints were on the murder weapon and then leave it in an obvious place for someone to find?” Siobhan added.

“The points you make have occurred to me too, and I spent some time thinking about them.” I stood up and began to pace as I worked out the scenario in my mind. “Let’s suppose someone other than Dracon Moon killed the girls. He somehow found out what had happened and stole the box with the evidence in it. He took it back to his place and hid it. The person he stole it from realized he did it and came to Dracon’s house to retrieve it. Dracon wouldn’t turn it over, so the person who murdered the girls killed Dracon too, dumped the body, and burned down the house. Everyone thought Dracon killed the girls, burned down his own home, and split, so the real killer figured he was off the hook. Then Amanda Lowman came to town and started nosing around, so the killer silenced her as well.”

“That’s a good theory,” Finn admitted. “But we still don’t know who the killer was.”

“Or how Dracon knew about the box full of evidence if he wasn’t involved in the murders,” Siobhan added.

“I spoke to Francine Rivers today and she told me that Dracon didn’t get along with his neighbor, a man named Rhett Samson. I know it’s a long shot that this man had anything to do with the killings, but I thought it was worth mentioning.”

Finn turned to look at the murder board. “Let’s back up a bit. There are a lot of names on here I find confusing. Who can we eliminate?”

“Do we want to eliminate everyone other than suspects?” Siobhan asked.

Finn used his phone to take a photo of the board he could send to his computer and print so he’d have it to refer to. “Okay, let’s start at the top and eliminate everyone who isn’t a suspect and has already been spoken to,” he suggested. “I feel like our focus is too fragmented right now.”

Siobhan began at the top. “The first list we have is from Amanda Lowman’s notes: Tripp Brimmer, Orson Cobalter, Father Kilian, Toby Willis, Lisa Dalton Kellerman, and Conrad Quarterman. All of them have been interviewed except Conrad Quarterman, who’s off the island and won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“Does anyone have any reason to suspect any of these people?” Finn asked.

“Toby Willis,” I stated. “He was the last person to speak to Bronwyn that night and the last one to call Ruby. He didn’t seem to have a reason to kill either girl, but he had the most opportunity. He said he went to meet Bronwyn, but she didn’t show. He then returned to the kids Ruby was hanging out with, but she’d already left. Her phone records show that the last person to call her was Toby. What if he lied and Bronwyn
was
waiting for him? He picked her up and then called Ruby and arranged for her to meet up with him as well. Then he drove them both to the old dump and killed them.”

“Sounds like a solid theory,” Finn agreed.

“The old dump?” Tara asked.

I explained about the photos and the way Cody and I had determined that the murders at least could have occurred at the old dump.

“Okay, so Toby Willis stays on the list,” Finn instructed Siobhan. “For now, erase Tripp, Orson, Father Kilian, and Lisa. Conrad stays on the list. Do we know anything more about this Masterson he’s suspected to have been involved with?” Finn asked.

“No, but maybe Rayleen knows more than she shared with me. She might speak to you if you call in an official capacity,” I suggested.

“I’ll do that.” Finn looked at Siobhan. “Make a note for me to follow up with her. Okay,” Finn said after Siobhan had updated the list, “how about Victoria Edmonds and Eric White?”

I verified that both had been interviewed and neither seemed to be hiding anything, nor did they say anything that would lead me to believe they were involved in the deaths. Siobhan erased their names.

“The next list has Patricia Davenport, Kevin Spalding, Matt Morrison, and Christopher Blackwell. I recognize the ones from Tripp’s report. Have they all been interviewed?” Finn asked.

I nodded, “Matt didn’t seem to know anything and I didn’t pick up any sort of a strange vibe from him, so I think we can eliminate him. Christopher told me an odd story about his jacket that I feel keeps him on the list.” I went on to share the content of my conversation with Christopher earlier that day.

“Okay, that is strange,” Finn agreed. “If Bronwyn left the house with the jacket and then was kidnapped by her killer before Toby could get to her, the question isn’t only why the killer would return it to Christopher but how he knew it was Christopher’s jacket in the first place.”

“Unless Toby really was the killer,” I answered. “Toby and Christopher were friends. If Toby kidnapped Bronwyn with the intention of killing her, he might have recognized the jacket and had her take it off first.” I thought of the photos I’d found. “In fact, I’m fairly certain she didn’t have the jacket on when she was tied to the cross.”

“You’ve just killed two girls you know well and consider friends in some sort of a ritualistic ceremony and then you have the clarity of mind to drop off a friend’s jacket before you head home for the night.” Tara shivered. “If that’s what happened the killer is a real sociopath and we should all be worried.”

Tara had a point. I wondered if we were in danger. We’d been snooping around and we all assumed Amanda Lowman had been killed for doing the very same thing.

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