Jarrett had a key.
Mrs Erwin and I stood just inside the front door while he went into the kitchen. When he flicked on the light, he suddenly became visible in the diagonal wall mirror near the balcony doors. We watched him open the fridge. “No bottle!” he called out.
“Would you take a look too, please, Mr Manning? I need to be absolutely sure!”
I frowned at Mrs Erwin in disgust. So I was her number one suspect, was I? Two can play at that game! She should be locked away. Crazy old biddy, barmy or not, she was now my number one candidate. As for Sergeant Jarrett, he was so uncommunicative, I couldn’t puzzle him out. At the worst, he was a follower of Mrs Erwin’s superstitious theories and fantasies. At the best, he was pointlessly trying to humor the old zombie.
And as for me, I realized I’d suddenly been promoted to unwilling partner in this whole masquerade.
“Please, Mr Manning!”
Sighing to myself, I trudged into the kitchen and searched the fridge. Nothing of interest, of course, but Jarrett had made a list anyway. To satisfy Mrs Erwin, I read it aloud as I checked the items off: “2 bottles low calorie cola; 4 cans light beer; 1 carton skim milk; 1 weight-watchers margarine; 1 tub cottage cheese; 3 carrots; 3 small pineapple juice. That’s it!”
“Satisfied?” Jarrett asked.
“It’s not for me,” I whispered. “It’s for Mrs Erwin. She’s crazy as a loon!”
“I’m not so sure about that, bucko,” Jarrett whispered back. “If I were you, I’d start thinking about getting myself a good lawyer. A real good lawyer!”
“I don’t need a mouthpiece, but I know someone who will. Just snatch a look at Mrs Erwin, and take a note of what you see.”
Even Jarrett had to admit that Mrs Erwin was visibly shaking.
I decided to rub it in. “Her own creep-house doesn’t worry her a mite,” I whispered. “But a perfectly nice apartment – except for one thing: A girl was murdered here! No blood on the floor, no tables overturned, no windows smashed, nothing out of place. Yet a girl was murdered here, and she’s scared. Look at her! Real scared!”
“I hate to admit it, bucko, but you could be right. On the other hand, it could be just nerves. It catches up to you.”
“Just ask yourself, sergeant, what’s the reason for this masquerade? What are we doing here? Answer: She’s frightened – real frightened she left something behind. Something incriminating.”
“She’s already admitted she came into the apartment.”
“But she didn’t come into the kitchen, she said. Let’s give this place a thorough going-over.”
“Could be a ruse to get us out of sight while she checks the living-room. You go back and watch her.”
“I can watch her from here.”
“If she suddenly darts forward, where will you be? Go and stand right next to her!”
I sighed, but inwardly I felt a glow of satisfaction. I’d finally managed to divert his bovine attention to another suspect. “Okay, sergeant, you’re the boss!”
She seemed glad to see me. In fact, she grabbed hold of my hand. “Come back in the morning, please, Mr Manning. It’s so late. I must think!”
“Please think what you know of Miss Ford’s visitors,” I said loudly and distinctly. “Please try and write them down for us. That would be a big help.”
“Where is the sergeant?”
“He’s just checking the kitchen for you.”
“Where is he?”
“Sergeant Jarrett!” I yelled.
“What is it?” came his voice.
“Mrs Erwin wants to go home now.”
She fumbled around with her keys for fully three minutes, but finally managed to let herself back into her own apartment. Even through the heavy wood, we could hear her locking and bolting her door.