By Donna Easto
Angus chortled, “Sergeant! There’s no way Maddie will be playing the organ while we play detective! She’s up to something! I’ll take my leave gentlemen, I’ve got a hunch the answer to the charred bit of paper lies in Vernon. Shall we regroup over lunch?”
“Sorry, Angus, a murder investigation is too gruesome for the weaker sex.”
John tracked her down, striding toward the hotel, “that copper’s a fool, don’t let him get to you, Madeleine. He doesn’t know you as I do. What’s on that quicksilver mind of yours? What have we mere mortal men overlooked?”
“Don’t patronize me, John Murray. Of course, I have a theory, but sweet-talk won’t get me to share with you. And, don’t be so familiar – that was ages ago and worlds apart. Angus knows nothing of Montreal.”
“He’ll find out eventually, it might be better if you told him before he proposes.”
“John, just go. I’m off to speak with the hotel owner’s wife – her husband hosts those Thursday poker games.”
“Aye, I’m away. Maddie, please be careful. This person has already killed twice. Meet us back at the cafe for lunch. We’ll compare notes.”
First, Maddie paid Tom Coughlin a visit. He’d been largely discounted by the men as a reliable witness. “Tom, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions. There’s no money in it for you, but I’ll buy you breakfast.” It was as good an offer as the man would get that week.
“Whattaya wanna know?”
“Tell me everything you remember about Thursday evening and anything you know about Sidney. I wager not much passes by you.” Maddie’s praise worked. Over bacon and eggs, Tom spun an imaginative tale.
After speaking with Coughlin, she walked downstairs to the hotel office. Esther and Abner Pennington, owners of the hotel, were an unlikely couple. She, a thirty-something blonde with a devil-may-care personality. He, sixtyish, balding, curmudgeonly, and possessive. Esther was absent, but she found Abner at the desk entering figures in a ledger. “Ah, Abner, so glad to find you in. I’m helping the constabulary with the investigation into the murders. They wanted me to ask you a few questions about Mr. LaForest.” Abner answered guardedly or simply grunted, especially when it came to his Thursday night back-room poker games. “Thank you, Mr. Pennington. You’ve been…….well, see you in church!”
“Not likely, missy. Here’s Esther. She don’t got nothing to add.”
“Esther, join me for tea and biscuits in the hotel restaurant?” Maddie asked sweetly, “You must be shaken up by this awful matter with one of your boarders.”
“I hardly knew the man, but it is upsetting….the police and now the Vernon newspaper asking all sorts of questions. Don’t have time for tea.”
“I understand. The Sergeant thought you might be more comfortable talking with a woman. I’ll let him know you prefer to talk directly with him.”
Esther threw a panicked look at her husband. Abner simply shrugged, “Miss Arnold is this absolutely necessary? We’re busy.”
“Afraid so, it’s just routine. No need to get anxious. Unless you have something to hide, which I’m sure you don’t.”
“No, no,” Abner answered hastily. “Esther, better her than Zander.”
Esther was as tight-lipped as her husband, responding in a halting and barely audible voice. However, her sighs and hand wringing spoke volumes.
On route to lunch, Maddie stopped to send a telegram to a friend in New Westminster and chatted with the youngsters lounging about the telegraph office. Largely unnoticed as they skulked about at all hours, the lads saw a lot of what went on in the Village. She was counting on these little spies to confirm her evolving theory.