At the end of the Mackenzie-Wilson interview, Constable Terry Becker had taken their phone number and advised them to stay in place until further notice. Bob wasn’t interested in being told what to do, not even by the police, so Detective Harry Harp took a chance and told him the murderer would be in custody by the end of the day. That bit of news quieted him and made Harp pray his gamble would work.
Batting away a cloud of mosquitoes, Harp stepped onto the dock with the Mackenzie-Wilsons and Becker trailing behind him.
“Do either of you ever use the shore path?” he asked.
Bob spoke first, as usual.
“No way. Too buggy. I take the boat or the car. Why?”
Harp turned to Heather Mackenzie-Wilson. She looked at her husband, then back to Harp.
Bob rapped his knuckles on his wife’s head.
“See what I got to put up with?” he grinned.
Back in the boat, Becker rowed on a course towards the next cottage. He said, “running the fireworks show, that’s a pretty solid alibi.”
The sun was high and Harp wiped sweat off his forehead. Loosening his tie, he considered the Mackenzie-Wilsons’ comments regarding the night of the murder.
“But he could have done it before the fireworks – there’s an hour window. And she could have done it anytime.”
The sudden sound of an accelerating motor made Harp turn. A police boat carrying the Spruce County Coroner, his two assistants – and a small shape on a stretcher – sped across the water towards the boat launch. Harp knew the small shape was the body of Ida Calvert and felt a sudden sadness.
“In the middle of all this natural beauty – murder,” the detective said. Just then, laughter came from another direction and the two men turned. They were approaching a raft, which was anchored off a dock in front of a vinyl-sided cottage. On the floating platform a woman crouched over, fumbling with the straps of her bikini top. Beside her, a man lay on his back laughing. Finally, the woman snapped her top in place and stood up.
“Hi,” she said, eyeing the rowboat suspiciously.
“Spruce County Police,” Harp called as Becker pulled the boat close. “Can we have a word?”
The sunbathers swam to their dock while Becker tied up next to a motorboat and a red canoe. Harp glanced in the canoe and noticed bits of wrinkled plastic. Condoms, he thought. The woman introduced herself as Sally Cutts and told Harp the cottage belonged to her parents who were in Tuscany on a wine tour. She introduced the guy as Lance Niblitsky—or ‘Nibbles”. They were both in their late 20s, tanned and fit in a vacant sort of way. Nibbles rested his arm around Sally’s shoulder.
“So what’s up?” he askd.
“I’ve got this.” Sally cut in.
“Maybe we could talk in the shade?” Harp suggested.
“Sure. You know, I’ve never seen anyone wear a suit at the lake. Hilarious.”
When they were seated in a screened-in gazebo next to the dock, Harp asked, “Do you know Ida and Grace Calvert?”
Sally smirked. “Yeah. I know them. The witches. What about them?”
Harp frowned. “Ida Calvert was murdered last night.” Sally and Nibbles exchanged glances.
“Is that my problem?” Sally said.
“It could be. Where were you both last night between 10:00 and midnight,” Harp asked.
Again Sally looked at Nibbles.
“We were in the canoe – watching the fireworks.”
“Rocking the boat, man.” Nibbles grinned suggestively and Sally shushed him. For a moment, the only sound was Becker’s ballpoint pen scratching the page of his notebook.
Harp said. “Why do you call them witches?”
“What about the curse?” Nibbles looked at her questioningly. Sally gave him a ‘how could you?’ look.
“Curse?” Harp asked with feigned innocence. Sally sighed loudly like a kid forced to admit that they broke something.
“Ida Calvert put a curse on me. She hates our family! I mean, we just like to have fun, play music, go tubing – everyday cottage stuff, right? But one time, when I was a teenager and I was partying in the boat with a bunch of friends, well – she came out on that point and said …” Sally’s eyes welled up at the memory: “Sally Cutts, I curse you to never know success.”
Becker looked up from his notebook, incredulous.
“From that moment on, nothing, I repeat, nothing has ever gone right for me. So you know what? I’m glad she’s dead.”
Nibbles put his arm around her.
“Hey babe – it’s not so bad. You’ve got me.”
She ignored him and brushed away her tears. The wind had picked up and the red canoe banged against a strip of black rubber that ran around the perimeter of the dock.
Harp said, “When did you finish in the canoe?” Nibbles laughed and made air quotes, “We finished – .” Sally kicked his foot and again he stopped talking. Harp suddenly thought of his own dismal love life. Then he recalled how Grace Calvert brushed her hair away from her face and how the light caught her features – then he remembered the pine needles in her hair. Sally’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“After the fireworks, we drifted around the point then came back here. About 1:00.”
“Why go to the point? Why not watch from your end of the lake?” Becker asked.
Sally smirked. “To bug the old witch, that’s why.” Then a panicked look spread over her face. “Look – I didn’t do it. I may be cursed but I’m not a murderer.” Nibbles nodded to some internal beat and Harp wondered if he was high.
“You two ever use the shore path?” the detective asked. Sally shook her head and Nibbles looked confused. Sally said, “I told you, the path around the lake.” Nibbles nodded some more then suddenly blurted out, “wait – I saw a light.” Sally turned to him. Gone was the crying, cursed child; her face was all business now. “What – are you talking about?” She demanded.
Nibbles squirted some lotion into his palm and rubbed it slowly over his chest. “When we were in the canoe, I saw a light in the trees. Just for a minute. Then it was gone.”
Harp leaned forward. “What time was this?”
Nibbles shrugged. “I’m not great with time.” He massaged the lotion. “Wait – it was during the fireworks. Yeah.” Sally looked out at the water. Her face was set hard but she forced it into a smile.
“Are we done here?”
Becker said, “Did anyone see you in the canoe? Did you speak to anyone?”
“No, but we saw people arriving – so they must have seen us, right Nibbles?” Nibbles put down the lotion and turned to Sally.
Her eyes flashed. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?
“The curse,” he said slowly. “That’s why these men are here. Ruining everything for you. I’m just like – thinking this through now.” He rubbed the blonde hair over his temples. “You really are cursed.” Sally let out a short, sharp cry, jumped up and ran out of the gazebo. A moment later, the sound of a slamming door echoed over the water.