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Page 12

When I got home that evening, cooking was the bottom thing on my list of desirable activities. The day after Thanksgiving is just not a day to slave over the stove. That's pretty much been done. So I was delighted to discover, among the messages on my answering machine, one from Robin inviting Phillip and me out to dinner. I almost dropped the phone in my haste to punch in his number so I could accept.

Phillip, back from a day out with another teenager, was less excited. The company of three adults seemed less appealing to him after a long afternoon with Josh, eyeing girls at the mall. I suspected my brother was lapsing back into his normal self, becoming more relaxed around me, rather than being so anxious to mind his manners and be helpful. He'd absorbed the fact that I wasn't going to throw him out.

"Can't I just stay here and eat leftovers?" he said in a voice suspiciously close to a whine.

"No, you can not," I said in a voice suspiciously close to a direct order. I wondered again why my father hadn't called to set up the return of Phillip.

Robin's message was the third I'd listened to. The first two had been from, respectively, Cara Embler (who said she had found Moosie and would keep him at her house until we decided what to do with the cat), and the Clean Scene guy, Zachary Lee (who hoped we had found his service satisfactory and would recommend him to our friends). I looked at my watch and decided not to listen to my remaining messages. I was dusty, dirty, and badly in need of a general cleanup. I was thrilled Moosie had been found, and I made a mental note to call John David the next day and tell him the whereabouts of the little cat.

I told Phillip he looked fine. He hadn't any more clothes anyway, and I hoped Robin would take that into consideration when he picked out a restaurant. I threw my clothes into the hamper, reflected that laundry day would have to be really soon, and tossed the small Wal-Mart bag I'd brought home with me onto the bathroom counter. Maybe tomorrow morning, I thought. Now was the worst time in the world.

The shower was blissful. I was clean all over, and relaxed, and much more optimistic when I emerged. I looked at myself in the mirror carefully. My bosom looked a little different, the aureoles darker, and when I put on my bra, I noticed that I was very sore indeed.

It took all I had to walk past the small bag, leaving it unopened.

Corinne was really fond of Italian food, and there was a new Italian restaurant about halfway between Lawrenceton and the interstate, an area that was beginning to run together in a big blur of commerce. Actually, the restaurant was not too far from the Grabbit Kwik, the filling station where Sandy Wynn had filled her car's tank with gas on Monday.

I pushed the death of Poppy out of my mind. I tried not to think of all the unpleasant things Melinda and I had learned today. I forced myself not to think of the bag on the counter of my bathroom.

All that not thinking left my mind pretty empty. I'm afraid I wasn't a very good conversationalist that night. I made an attempt to be a good listener, to encourage Corinne to talk, so I wouldn't seem stupid by my silences. And I asked Robin a lot of questions. Phillip decided to talk about drug use in his school in California, to impress us unworldly southerners, I suppose. Robin reminded him in a few well-chosen anecdotes that he had spent the past two years living in Los Angeles among the movie crowd, and any stories Phillip chose to tell, Robin could easily top.

Corinne, as it transpired, had left her Chihuahua and her toy Manchester in the care of one of her daughters, and she had called to check on their well-being that very afternoon. Corinne was one of those women who had to have something to mother; for all I knew, that made her like most women. Now that her children were very much grown and gone, and her grandchildren visited from time to time but not for days in a row, the dogs had filled that gap for her. Though she was intelligent enough to realize not everyone wants to listen to detailed animal stories, she was besotted enough not to care, and we heard many anecdotes about Punky's little trick with the bouncy ball, and Percy's little wake-up routine.

That reminded me that I hadn't laid eyes on Madeleine in a couple of days, and during a lull in the dog worship, I asked Phillip if he'd seen the massive old cat.

"No," he said. "Maybe she didn't like me and so she's staying away until I leave."

"Nothing would make Madeleine miss a meal," I said.

"Was your cat named for the little girl in the books?" Corinne asked brightly.

"No, for the poisoner," I answered, abstracted. "Madeleine Smith, Glasgow, 1857."

"Oh," Corinne said.

We didn't hear any more dog stories for a while.

When Robin dropped us off, Phillip loped ahead to get in the house to watch some television show he was dying to see. Robin came in the foyer with me and shut the door behind him. He had a big, long, smoochy kiss on his mind, but when he pulled me to him, my sore chest protested.

"Not so tight," I said, trying to smile.

"What's wrong?" Not too surprisingly, he was bewildered. I'd been Passionate Woman the night before, and now I was practically pushing him away. But I was so averse to the idea of sex that I would have kicked him in the shins if he'd suggested it. I answered him by bursting into tears.

"What?" Terrified, Robin gripped my elbows. "What's wrong? Are you upset about Poppy? Madeleine? I'll look for her tomorrow, I swear, baby."

"No, not that." I wanted to tell him about my long, unpleasant day, and I wanted to tell him what I was beginning to suspect might be the truth. But this wasn't the place, and his mother was waiting out in the cold in the car for him to return.

"Your mom leaves Monday?" I sobbed.

"No, I forgot to tell you. Before she left home, she changed her reservation, because the airline called her with a last-minute cancellation," Robin said. "She leaves tomorrow afternoon. One of her best friends lost his son in an accident overseas, and the memorial service is scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Mom wants to be back for it. It's just amazing she was able to get a seat on the plane. She was on the phone for hours, she told me, but she got it done." He sounded admiring. "But tell me what's wrong."

"I can't tell you right now," I said. I wasn't actively crying anymore, just kind of giving the occasional sob or gasp. This was crazy. I had no control over it whatsoever. I was just along for the ride. "Lots of stuff happened today. We need to talk tomorrow, after you take your mom to the airport. Call me."

"Sure," he said. Hesitantly, he leaned over and gave me a peck on the forehead. That was easier for him to reach anyway.

I was almost too tired to take off my clothes. I wished my brother good night, asked him to check the doors before he went to bed, cast a disconsolate look at Madeleine's food bowl - still full - and tucked myself into bed. I thought I might lie awake a little and rehash the day, but the minute my head came into contact with my pillow, I was out.

Someone was shaking me.

Someone had hold of my shoulder and was saying, "Roe, wake up!" in a terrified voice.

I opened my eyes to sunlight. I had not slept two hours or so, as I'd assumed - I'd slept the night through, and then some. Phillip was standing by the bed, his face full of horror.

"What?" I asked, sitting up. My heart was racing and my mouth felt like a herd of something dirty - maybe mud-covered water buffalo - had wallowed in it. "What?" I asked again, more sharply this time. I was fully awake.

"My mom has gone and your cat is dead."

I started to say something, closed my mouth, and opened it again. "Say that again," I demanded.

"Those messages you didn't listen to last night?" This was definitely said with an accusatory edge. "One of those messages was from our dad. He says my mom left and he doesn't know where she's gone. He says she's gone off with some guy."

For a wild moment, I wondered if Betty Jo, too, would hitchhike over to Lawrenceton. Then I came to my senses.

"That's really awful," I said. "But he doesn't think she's in any danger? I mean, there's no question but that she left voluntarily?" Phillip looked blank. "She arranged to run off with this man," I said, trying to clarify. "He didn't abduct her."

"Right," Phillip said, calming down a bit. "She definitely left because she wanted to. She told Dad she'd get in touch with him soon. She told him to call me. She said she knew I was safe with you."

That was rich, coming from the woman who'd whisked Phillip off all the way to California to keep him from my contaminating companionship.

"I'm glad she feels that way," I managed to say, wanting a cup of coffee more than I had ever wanted any beverage in my life. "Now, I want to talk more about that later, because I know that's definitely the more important thing, but did you say Madeleine was dead?"

Personally, I considered Madeleine much more important, but I was trying to be sensitive to Phillip's pain.

"Oh, yeah, I went out in the backyard this morning, since the weather is good, and I was like kicking around this pine-cone, and when it landed on something in the bushes around the wall" - my backyard, like Poppy's, was enclosed by a solid wood privacy fence, though mine was definitely shorter - "I went to see why it sounded so funny, and your big old cat was lying there on the ground, and she was all wet and everything, and she's dead." Phillip looked at me pathetically. He had had a tough morning, and it was only...

"What time is it?" I asked.

"Nine-thirty," Phillip said. "See? There's a clock right by the bed, Sis." He may have been a tad sarcastic.

"Okay, so I didn't look." I groped for my glasses on the night table and put them on. I took a deep breath, then went into the bathroom to wash my face, trying to prepare to content this day.

I'd slept until 9:30 a.m. maybe four times in my life, and one of those had been after my senior prom, when I'd stayed out all night, as was the local tradition. I was dazed by so much sleep, and wondered what had prompted it. Then, glancing at the Wal-Mart bag, I suspected I knew, but I thrust the knowledge away from me forcefully. I had enough to deal with just at the moment, thanks very much. Pulling on the heaviest bathrobe in my closet, I slid my feet into my Birkenstock clogs and ventured out into the backyard. The day was clear and cold, and my ankles stung in the chilly breeze.

Madeleine was lying under a bush. She was nearly invisible, and I wasn't surprised we hadn't seen her from the house. She looked as peaceful as any dead thing can look. Apparently, the old cat had just lain down and died.

I believed that Madeleine was now in heaven with her original mistress, my friend Jane Engle. This conviction came to me so simply and naturally that I knew I would never question it.

"Phillip, I need you to go get a shovel from the garage," I said. "You can bury her right where she is; maybe move the hole away from the bush a little so you won't hit too many roots."

"Me?" Phillip sounded absolutely amazed. "She was your cat!"

"Point noted," I snapped. "But the one who loves the animal least gets the hole-digging duty. I loved this old cat, and I'm really upset, and you're twenty years younger than I am, and you get to dig the damn hole!"

I spun on my heel, as much as you can do that in clogs, and stomped back into the house to listen to my phone messages.

I sniveled and wiped my eyes and nose on a napkin before I poked the play button on my answering machine. The first message (after the three I'd listened to the night before) was from my father, and it went as Phillip had said. What Phillip hadn't said, of course, was that my dad sounded both stunned and indignant, as if he'd never expected his straying from fidelity could have such dire consequences. And, apparently, Dad had never considered the fact that his wife might have followed his example. I noticed right away - and Phillip hadn't mentioned this, either - that my dad said nothing about Phillip coming home.

Hmm. Dad and I needed to talk.

The next message was from my mother, confirming that Poppy's body would be back in Lawrenceton on Saturday, today, and would be ready for burial on Monday. John David had set the service for ten o'clock at St. Stephen's, and the interment would follow immediately.

I'd have to check the work schedule and see if I needed to arrange for the morning off. At this rate, Sam would cut me from the payroll. The library budget was always tight. I'd been picked to take a course in Atlanta about computer usage for librarians, and I was very excited about it. I'd been on the verge of asking Sam if I could come back on the staff full-time. Maybe now I'd better not make that call, I thought.

Melinda had left a message to say Aubrey could see us at ten-thirty this morning.

"Oh my God," I muttered, glancing at the clock. I washed my face again and put on some makeup, though my eyes looked red and swollen behind the rims of my glasses. I wore black ones today, with gold decorations on the earpieces. These made me look serious but fun-loving, I thought. I pulled on a pair of cerise pants and a cerise-and-white-checked sweater, so I wouldn't look funereal. Then I thought I looked too cheerful, but there was nothing I could do about it. I had to go so I wouldn't be late. I hate being late.

Besides, I thought as I backed out of my driveway, the day would probably take care of obliterating any cheerfulness.

Melinda got out of her car as I pulled into the lot by the church. She was wearing sweats today, jolly red-and-green sweats that had a huge reindeer head on the front of the shirt. With this outfit, she wore cute little red sneakers with green laces, and her red coat. The Christmas buildup had begun.

"Avery's got the kids," she said. "He's pretty miffed at me because I wouldn't tell him why we needed to talk to Aubrey. He's very obviously trying to be brave about hiding it. I can't think of the last time I had a secret from Avery." She sounded mildly amused.

"Have you seen John David?"

"Yeah, he's over at our place, too. He's asking questions about baby care and what to do when. I feel like a big fat traitor, coming here to ask Aubrey if we should tell."

"It seems to me this was your idea," I said somewhat indignantly. I sure had better ways I could spend my morning, what was left of it.

"I know, I just... I guess I didn't foresee how complicated this would be. Emotionally."

"Well, we're here now," I said, acting ungracious and grumpy. I started down the sidewalk to the outside entrance to Aubrey's office, which was at the back of the church.

Aubrey seemed maybe a little less than delighted to be seeing us on a Saturday morning, since Saturday and Monday were his days off. Well, tough. We had a major moral dilemma.

Realizing I was definitely in a truculent mood, I advised myself to put the brakes on.

Catch more flies with honey, I reminded myself, glancing around to make sure that reminder had been given mentally rather than out loud. Since Aubrey and Melinda were discussing the Altar Guild rotation, I was pretty sure I was in the clear.

"Aubrey," I said rather sharply. "Melinda and I have run into a problem."

We began to explain.

Thirty minutes later, Melinda and I were leaving Aubrey's office, none the wiser. I had considered Aubrey pretty much unflappable, but I found I'd been wrong. Aubrey seemed to be as confounded as we were, and his parting words had been that he planned to pray about the problem and hope God would give him guidance. He had raised more questions than we already had. How could we be sure either of the samples had come from John David? (That one floored us.)

"This is extremely serious," Aubrey said. "We should not do anything in a hurry. I tend to think you should turn this piece of paper over to the police. If Poppy was putting pressure on the father of her son, he might have reacted with violence. But let me think another day."

Waiting for God to give us guidance seemed as good a course as any.

The only resolution I'd formed was that it would not be me who told John David what we'd discovered. No sir.

I dropped by to see my mom and John. They certainly seemed in better spirits now that the plans for the funeral were definite. Mother was just buzzed at the idea of finally having something to do, at some conclusion having been reached. True, Poppy's murderer had not been named, but at least the family could go through the ritual of burying her. John, she said, had just returned from the funeral home, where he'd gone with John David to select a casket and make all the arrangements with the funeral director.

"I offered to go with them, and so did Avery," Mother said. She was wearing a blouse and skirt featuring a lot of dark blue, and she looked as neat and elegant as always, but the sun coming through the window hit her squarely in the face and I noticed, as if for the first time, that my mother was getting an enlarged network of tiny wrinkles at the corners of her mouth and eyes. She was still impressively attractive, and I was sure she always would be, but there was no denying that age had laid its hand on her.

"I was glad to go with my son," said John very quietly. "John David was with me when I ordered his mother's casket. Avery was too upset that day. Of course, I never thought I'd have to return the favor. Poppy was so young, so full of life."

She had been. She had looked forward to every day of her existence, at least over the past few years. I was willing to bet on that.

No matter what her faults, she had been robbed. So had John David and Chase.

I said good-bye without telling Mother about my father's phone message. I'd have to tell her sooner or later, but right now, until I knew what I was supposed to do with Phillip, I thought I'd just keep Dad's marital problems to myself.

"I guess it would look bad if I went out to the club for round of golf," John said longingly as I paused in the doorway. My mother patted his hand.

"I don't think there would be anything wrong with that," she said, and I wondered again at my mother's late-in-life love affair. "You need to get out of the house, and the funeral is two days away. The exercise will do you good, if you bundle up."

"You're nagging," John said fondly.

I smiled but tried to hide it. "I have to be going," I said. "I left Phillip at home, busy doing a job for me."

"I'll talk to you soon," Mother said automatically.

"I'm sure you will." I smiled openly.

I was thinking of Madeleine on the way home. Though I felt temporarily wept out, I was grieving about the old orange cat. I had spent a lot of years with Madeleine, as many years as Jane Engle had had with her. I remembered how cute Madeleine's kittens had been, and I wondered how many grandchildren she had. Probably great- and great-great grandchildren, come to think of it.

That reminded me of Cara's call about Moosie. It wasn't right that Poppy's cat should be in the care of a neighbor, not when I could take the cat in until John David could get back on his feet. After all, I had a fenced-in backyard and cat food, though possibly my fence was low enough for Moosie to leap over, claws or not.

To get to Cara's house, which faced onto the street parallel to Swanson, I had to drive past Poppy's house once again. To my extreme irritation (I didn't seem to be able to be moderate about anything these days), Arthur's car was parked in front of the house.

This was tacky, to say the least. After all, the house had been released to John David, and he and Chase might arrive at any moment to resume living in it again. John David couldn't stay in a motel forever, and now that the initial shock of Poppy's death had passed, he might be ready to return to his very clean home.

I parked behind Arthur's car in the driveway and marched up to the front door. I still had the key I'd borrowed from John David, and I opened the door and went in.

"Arthur!" I bellowed.

He appeared at the head of the stairs, looking considerably startled.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I asked, surprising even myself.

"I'm the detective in charge of the investigation into the death of the home owner," he said evenly. "I have a right to be here."

"Now that you've given John David the green light to move back in? I don't think so," I said with more confidence than I felt.

"Are you jealous because I came to love Poppy rather than you?" Arthur asked as he came down the stairs. I remembered that yesterday I had wondered if I should be afraid of this man, and I'd had a friend with me then.

"No, I'm not jealous of Poppy, especially over your affections. I think Poppy loved life, but I think she lived it badly. I don't think she ever appreciated what she had, or what she could do with it."

Arthur stood right in front of me, looking down at me, and he was maybe a little puzzled. "What could Poppy have wanted that she didn't have?" he asked.

Smarter lovers, for one thing.

"Poppy could have wanted stability, but instead she created instability. She could have wanted to heal from the badness in her past, but instead she clung to the ... the emotional problems that caused her to live so... dangerously." Maybe I sounded a tad pompous.

"She was wonderful," Arthur said, unbelievingly. "She was smart, and she was funny, and she was pretty. Like you."

"But unlike me, she liked to sneak," I said bluntly. "Unlike me, she liked multiple partners. This isn't about how great I am in contrast to Poppy. This is about you letting go of a dream of Poppy, a Poppy who never really existed. You can't afford to pin her down this tightly, Arthur. Let her go, so you can look for who killed her."

I wondered how much sleep Arthur had been getting. He was definitely on the smelly side, and he certainly needed a shave. That curly pale hair was dirty, and his shirt was rumpled.

"Was it you who searched the house after she died, Arthur? The one who searched her bedroom?"

"I think it was Bubba Sewell," Arthur said. "He seemed awfully concerned with how long the house would be off-limits to the family. I don't know what he was looking for."

I did. "She didn't take pictures of you?" I said, unwisely.

"Pictures? What the hell are you talking about?"

"When were you with her? It's been almost two years, right?" I'd just had the worst idea in the world. I was wondering if you added Chase's age, plus nine months...

"Less than that," he said, and my heart sank. Arthur was a candidate for Chase's father.

"Oh, well, doesn't make any difference," I said bracingly. "What were you actually doing here today, Arthur? Were you just mooning around, or were you working on the investigation?" Poppy must have had a higher regard for Arthur than for the others, but I wasn't up to explaining to Arthur why that was so.

"A little of both," Arthur said. His voice was mild, which was a relief. "I've been talking to Sandy Wynn. She called Poppy that day, said she was coming to talk to her. She admits she was here the morning Poppy was murdered."

"Did she do it?"

"She says that when she got here, Poppy was already dead."

"Where did she park her car? Did anyone see her car?"

"The woman across the street. Almost everyone on this street goes to work in the morning, but this woman, the one who also described the Sewells' van, incidentally, was home with the runs that morning. In between trips to the bathroom, she sat in her living room and watched television, with the front curtains open. She didn't get a good look at Lizanne, but a better one at Sandy. She picked her picture out of a photo array. Sandy parked down the street, in the driveway of a house for sale, and walked up to Poppy's."

"Why would she do that if she didn't plan on doing something bad?"

"She planned on talking Poppy into giving her something, something that belonged to Marvin Wynn. Of course, thanks to you and Melinda, we know what that thing is - the letter. Sandy broke down when I showed it to her. She said Poppy forced Marvin to write that letter by threatening to tell John David and the rest of the world what Marvin had done when Poppy was a teenager. Poppy swore that if Marvin would write such a letter, she'd never tell. He did what she demanded, but as time went on, Marvin regretted it more and more. He began to lose sleep, and slide into depression. Sandy got scared for him."

"Why would Poppy do such a thing, stay silent? Why wouldn't she tell? Why make any bargain? He was in the wrong, and she was so young."

"Her word against his. No evidence. Poppy was in her thirties, way beyond her teens. Nothing would have come of it."

"Nothing but the ruin of his reputation," I pointed out. "No matter if it came to court or not, Poppy would have ruined him forever. Plenty of people would have believed her."

"But it would have ruined her, too, in the process. At the very least, it would have made her life, and John David's and the baby's, very painful for a few months."

I mulled that over. "So this way, with her demanding he write the letter, he could believe she'd never tell, and she could believe he'd never make passes at young girls again?"

"I guess that was Poppy's thinking."

"Do you believe Sandy? Do you believe she didn't kill Poppy?"

"Yes. She was too stricken to think about stepping over Poppy's body to search for the letter that morning. I believed her when she said it just didn't occur to her. She did her best to get the letter back once Poppy was dead, but I don't believe she killed Poppy for it. I think she did walk to the gate in the front of the fence when Poppy wouldn't come to the door, which Sandy says was then locked."

But it hadn't been locked when I tried it. I was getting more and more confused.

"So she walked over to the fence at the side of the house, came in the gate, and walked around to the sliding glass doors," I said. "And there she saw Poppy's body?"

"Yes. She says she cried for a while, then left the way she'd come, and drove back home. By the time she got there, she was hearing from us here that Poppy was dead. She and Marvin packed up and returned to Lawrenceton. She never told Marvin where she'd been."

"Okay," I said slowly, trying not to get sidetracked by my rush of disgust at having put them up in my house. "So, Sandy leaves, the front door is locked, and she doesn't have the letter. Then Lizanne comes?"

"No, Lizanne came first. She, too, knocked on the front door, got no answer, went to the fence and heard a quarrel, heard Poppy's radio, decided she couldn't ream Poppy out, not with someone else here. She threw something onto the ground." Here Arthur gave me a very sharp look. "Something that later vanished. And then she left. Then Sandy walked up, left within five minutes. Then you and Melinda came, and you found the front door open."

I had a sudden idea, and I walked down the little hall to the kitchen. It was in better shape than it had been when we arrived yesterday. Melinda and I hadn't searched it, but we had straightened it and cleaned the counters and stovetop. Poppy's little radio still sat on the counter, though now it was dustless.

I pressed a button to turn it on, and when the music came on, I looked at Arthur expectantly.

"What?" he said. His voice sounded quite businesslike, brisk. He's back to being himself, I thought.

"When Lizanne described her experience here that day, the day Poppy died, she said she'd walked to the fence." I gestured to my left, which was where the gate in the fence was at the front. "She said the music was so loud, she couldn't hear what the voices were saying, but she said the music was classical, that the radio was broadcasting NPR. This radio isn't on a classical station. I checked it the other day. So if we assume that the person Poppy was talking to was the person who killed her, and Poppy therefore didn't survive after that visit to change radio stations, then it wasn't Poppy's radio that was on."

I walked around the breakfast bar and looked out the sliding glass door. Arthur came to stand beside me. We exchanged glances.

"It was Mrs. Embler's radio," he said.

"I'm guessing it was. What did she tell you about that morning?"

"Just that she swam as usual. Didn't hear or see anything out of the ordinary. Not too surprising, considering the fact that she was wearing a swimming cap and the radio was on, and there's a privacy fence in between the houses."

"But the gate in the privacy fence had to be open at some point," I said. "She's got Moosie."

"The cat? You saw Moosie in the house after Poppy was dead?"

"Yes, I did." I stared at the boards of the high privacy fence, the fence the declawed Moosie couldn't climb. "You know, Arthur, I could swear that when I was standing here, looking out, the day Poppy died, Cara was swimming then. She had the radio on."


"Still swimming? In this temperature? From the time Lizanne got here, waited, left; then Sandy came, found Poppy dead, and left; until the time I came in and found her body?"

"That could be," Arthur said, but he sounded doubtful.

"And Moosie - who can't climb the fence because he hasn't got claws - vanished, between the time I came in the house and the time the police arrived."

Arthur stared at the back gate.

"What the woman across the street didn't see was anyone leaving," he said very quietly. "Anyone except Sandy and Lizanne, that is. Yet I'm fairly certain neither of them killed Poppy. So where did this talking person, the one Lizanne heard, go?" He turned to stare down at me. "I should have been taken off this investigation," he said expressionlessly. "I should have gone to the chief, I should have told him the whole story of my involvement with Poppy, and he should have put someone else on it. I thought I'd been away from her long enough, but I hadn't."

"Maybe someone did sneak out between the time Sandy took off and Melinda and I got here. Maybe Moosie got out the front door. Maybe I left it ajar while we were waiting for the police and ambulance after I'd found the body. But I don't think so. I think I shut Moosie in the house when I came out to tell Melinda. I think someone came in to check the backyard, maybe for something they'd left there, while Melinda and I were sitting out front. I think that person came through the gate in the fence, from the Embler's yard. I could hear Cara splashing while I stood here, with this door open, by Poppy's body. I remember that clearly. But Cara usually swims at ten in the morning and at three in the afternoon. Everyone knows that. When I was here, it was about one. And I know what I think I saw on the concrete of the pool area."


"Wet marks. I think they were wet footprints."

"You didn't remember until now?"

"I didn't realize what they were. I was so upset at seeing the body, I didn't think too much about the splotches on the concrete. But when I think of them in terms of what we just figured out, I realized that what I saw were footprints."

"That's hardly conclusive evidence."

"I know. Did you see any when you came?"

"I was so overwhelmed by the sight of Poppy dead - I owe your family my sincerest apology. I didn't notice half of what I should have noticed, didn't ask half the questions I should have asked."

"Arthur, just get the right person now. I'm glad you cared for Poppy. I'm glad someone who cared for her was there with her." I wasn't altogether sincere, but I didn't want Arthur to spend any more time bashing himself. I wanted action. "I'll bet she came back through the fence to dry up the water," I said absently. "That's why you didn't see it. And that's when Moosie escaped."

"Maybe, if I get a search warrant, we can find the knife."

"I'll bet she threw it away. It's in the garbage right now, and today is pickup for our part of town." At every house but Poppy's, garbage cans were sitting at the curb, waiting to be emptied.

"Then I'll have to hurry to get a search warrant." Arthur turned on his heel, ready to run out the front way, but I put my hand on his arm. I could hear the garbage truck coming down Poppy's street, and next it would turn onto the Emblers'. There wasn't time. I had to do something.

"Just wait a minute" I said.

"What are you doing?"

"Come with me, and wait on this side," I said. I'd had a sudden idea, and I was determined to carry it through. I remembered Poppy done to death on her own floor, in her own kitchen. I owed her this.

I walked around Poppy's pool, knocked on the gate, turned the knob, and walked through.

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