Page 71 of Smoke in Mirrors

She and Thomas went over the details of the murders and speculated on how long it would take for the authorities to find Osmond Kern’s body. They discussed some of the loose threads that still dangled and wondered if they would ever get all of the answers. Probably not, Leonora thought.

“I wonder how much Meredith really knew and what she planned to do with the information,” Thomas said. He had one hand in the pocket of his jacket. He held Wrench’s leash in the other.

“My guess is, she knew enough to try to blackmail Kern. That’s the only way to explain her death.” Leonora watched Wrench investigate an empty latte cup. “But she obviously wasn’t careful about how she handled the matter.”

“Blackmail is dangerous work.”

“Yes, but she would have known that. I wonder why she didn’t do it anonymously.”

“Maybe she did try to hide her identity. She went down to California, remember? But Kern must have figured out that she was the one behind the extortion.”

“I still don’t see how Meredith could have figured it all out using just those clippings Bethany left behind.”

Thomas glanced at her. “Don’t forget she had that affair with Alex Rhodes.”

“Good point. Meredith, being Meredith, would have learned anything Alex Rhodes knew and he obviously knew about Kern.”

They stopped at the coffeehouse, left Wrench attached to a bicycle stand and went inside to get some caffeine to ward off the chill. The room was crowded. The atmosphere hummed with conversation. Leonora stood at the counter with Thomas and listened to snippets of gossip.

“. . . Heard they found Kern’s boat late last night. It washed ashore. The throttle was still set in the open position, but the fuel tank was empty. They think he jumped somewhere . . .”

“. . . Couldn’t survive more than twenty minutes at most in that water . . . . Hypothermia sets in fast, especially at this time of year . . .”

“. . . Who’d have figured it? I went to one of his lectures last quarter. Weird to think about him standing up there talking about his algorithm like everything was perfectly normal. I mean, the guy had killed a couple of people at that point. Two more to go . . .”

Leonora caught Thomas’s attention. He paid for the coffee and tea and some warm scones to go with the beverages. They went back outside.

Julie and Travis stood on the sidewalk, a cautious distance from Wrench.

“Hi, Miss Hutton. Mr. Walker. This is Travis.”

“Hello, Travis.” Thomas nodded.

“Good morning,” Leonora replied.

Julie watched Wrench warily. “We thought this was your dog. We’ve seen you out walking him on the footpath. He looks mean. Does he bite?”

Wrench paid no attention to the insult. He got to his feet, never taking his eyes off the paper bag in Leonora’s hand. Focused.

Leonora opened the bag, broke off a corner of a scone and fed it to him.

“Wrench wouldn’t harm an ant,” Thomas said. “I assume you both heard the news?”

“About Rhodes getting shot?” Julie shuddered. “You were right. He was dealing drugs. I never knew, honest. I just wanted to tell you that.”

Thomas nodded again and peeled the lid off his coffee cup.

“I heard you were there last night, Mr. Walker.” Travis regarded Thomas with unconcealed awe. “They’re saying that you and your brother went to Rhodes’s house just as Professor Kern was leaving. You could have been killed.”

“News gets around fast here.” Thomas drank some coffee. “Any word on whether or not they’ve found Kern?”

“No,” Travis said. “Heard they found his boat, though. Everyone says he jumped because he couldn’t stand having folks find out that he was a phony.”

“They’re also saying that he murdered Professor Walker last year.” Julie bit her lip. “And that lady who worked at Mirror House for a while. Meredith something.”

“Her name was Meredith Spooner,” Leonora said quietly.

“Yeah, her, too.” Julie shivered again. “It is so freaky, when you think about it. He keeps his big secret all those years and then it all starts to fall apart, so he starts killing people to keep them quiet.”

“Freaky, all right,” Leonora said.

Travis moved closer to Julie and put his arm around her shoulders in a protective way. “What really gets me is that Julie did some odd jobs for Rhodes recently. What if she’d gone there last night to pick up her money? She could have been there when Professor Kern arrived.”

Leonora gave Julie a pointed look. “Always a good idea to know exactly who you’re working for.”

Julie flushed and said nothing. Travis patted her shoulder.

Thomas untied Wrench. They headed across the street to join the crowds on the footpath.

“I’d better go home,” Leonora said. “I want to call Gloria. Let her know what’s been happening.”

Halfway back to her cottage they saw the small crowd of joggers and runners gathered on the footbridge. Everyone was looking down into the deep waters of the cove.

Ed Stovall’s SUV was parked across the path. An ambulance and another police vehicle were stationed nearby. Two medics were unloading a gurney.

Thomas studied the scene.

“What do you want to bet that they just found Kern’s body?” he said.

Deke showed up on Thomas’s doorstep late that afternoon. Thomas gave him a beer and opened one for himself. They sat in the recliners in the living room and talked.

“Stovall came to see me,” Deke said. “Don’t think the guy’s had any sleep for the past twenty-four hours. He looked exhausted. But he said he felt we had a right to be kept informed.”

“One thing you can say about Stovall. Man’s got a sense of duty.” Thomas swallowed some beer. “I like that in a public servant. Did he have anything more than what we already know?”

“Not much. They found some stuff they think might be drugs when they searched Rhodes’s house.”

“No surprise there.”

“No.” Deke drank some beer. “Stovall says they sent a sample to a lab for analysis, but he told me off the record that he’s sure it will turn out to be that hallucinogenic crap that’s been floating around since last year. He also said they’re going to do an autopsy, but that it looks like Kern wrote his note, had a few drinks, got into the boat and set the throttle on full. Then he just went overboard. The cold water did the rest.”