“A person of any mental quality has ideas of his own. This is common sense.”
Perhaps it wasn’t too late to make things right. Judith felt a desperation to do the right thing. Tomorrow she would call.
It occurred to Stevie that Alexander Patchett, the neighbor, was likely still watching out the window. He was shaking with excitement when they used his house as a lookout to watch the three suspects come home. She walked over to talk to him about access from the house to the beach. Before knocking on his door, she made a quick call to the police station asking for a detective to contact the Washington State Ferries. She requested that a technical advisor call her back in regards to the boats in use between the island and Seattle last Tuesday night.
Alexander opened the door before she had a chance to knock.
“You took three people away in police cars! Which one of them killed Judith?” His eyes were open wide with anticipation. He stepped out of the door and then back in, like an overexcited pup.
Stevie moved away slightly. “I can’t comment on an open case, Mr. Patchett. But, could you tell me if you saw Dominik Horak’s car come back very early Wednesday morning?” Stevie retrieved her phone from her pocket and checked to see if the ringer was on. She didn’t want to miss the call from the precinct.
“Are you talking about in the middle of the night?” Alexander paced on the porch, scratching his head. “I can’t remember hearing a car in the middle of the night. When I got up around seven only Judith’s car was there in the open garage.”
“I am curious. Can you approach your home from the beach at low tide?”
“Sure, I walk the beach all the time and do a little circle by coming up on a neighbor’s boat launch and then up to the main road. Oh….” Alexander stopped talking and Stevie guessed he knew where her question was headed. “You are thinking the killer came by way of the beach?”
“Yes, I’m exploring that idea.”
“Here, let me get my shoes and coat and I’ll take you down the path.”
Before Stevie could agree, Alexander shut his front door. She stood on the stoop perplexed about where he had gone.
A voice came from the back of the house. “Come down here.” She carefully stepped over the small bushes to reach the backyard. Alexander handed her a trekking pole and together they walked to the edge of his property. There a small dirt path, worn by frequent use, wound from side to side, slowly descending to the beach below.
“It gets steep so use the pole for stability.” Alexander said. He was starting down the path ahead of her. His shoulders were back and he walked tall.
The pole was handy as Stevie dug into the sandy, wet soil pushing until she felt a firm surface. Her loafers took on sand like a sinking boat takes on water. Tiny grains were already working their way into her socks and pressing up into her feet. The path to the beach was very steep. She moved her body sideways to step her way down. Each footfall required her to stabilize and prepare for another. The tide was coming in. She could hear the water lapping ever higher onto the shore.
“Can we make it to the neighbor’s with the tide this high?” Stevie called out. She was moving much slower than Alexander.
“Yes, we have a few minutes and we’ll walk right along the rocks.” He stayed a ways in front of her, making large strides from one rock to another.
The beach was not sandy. Shells and stones were digging into the balls of her feet. Stevie tried stepping over the barnacles on the rocks searching for sandy patches to offer more level round. Her ankle painfully rocked to the side as she lost her footing. The trekking pole saved her from falling over completely. She finally reached Alexander and stopped to stretch her foot back and forth, straightening and flexing.
“Were you going to ask me whether the tide was out the night of the murder? I have a tidal chart on my phone. Hold on.” Stevie saw Alexander pull his phone from a deep pocket in his rain jacket. While he searched she leaned on the sea wall of Judith’s house giving a rest to her aching feet.
“Oh boy, yes, Detective, the tide was out. It was at it’s lowest point at 1:00 am Wednesday morning.” Alexander came to stand next to her at the wall. “If someone came along here they would have had to go back by 4:00 am to avoid the rising tide. Is Horak your main suspect? If he did this in the dead of night I……I don’t know what to say.” He shook his head looking across the water. “Poor Judith.”
They continued in silence, passing several more houses. Stevie spotted a cement driveway ahead. It looked like a car could drive right into the water.
“Is it possible to park anywhere along that neighbor’s driveway?”
“Well, not without blocking their cars. But if I wanted to hide a car in plain sight, so to speak, in the middle of the night, I would park it in front of the bed and breakfast garage just north of here. There are cars there all the time. No one would pay any attention to a new one.”
They started up the driveway passing very close to a backdoor. Stevie glanced in the window, wondering if anyone was home. There was no sign of movement inside. Just as her breath began to be labored they reached the top and were on the main highway.
Stevie felt her heart pounding. It was pounding from exertion but also from an inner sense of knowing that her idea was plausible. It was entirely possible that the murderer had walked along the beach to get to Judith’s house and without being seen came back this same way. When the facts came together for her she could always trust her heart to let her know she was on the right track. Detectives don’t usually listen to their heart. The facts drive a case. But Stevie knew that physically she would the feel truth right around her heart. Call it intuition but it had not failed her, so far anyway.
Stevie stood next to Alexander looking up and down the road. She could sense his previous exurberance waning.
“Where is the bed and breakfast?”
“Just an eighth of a mile further north.”
“So how many minutes to walk from that location down this neighbor’s driveway and along the beach to your house?”
Alexander stood on the side of the road, his legs far apart and his eyes closed. Stevie assumed he was calculating the exact amount of time. “Fifteen minutes or so. But it was really dark. You would have to walk slowly and carefully, with a flashlight.”
Stevie imagined the effort and preparation that Dominik had made to execute this plan of coming here unseen in the middle of the night. He had the perfect alibi in Seattle, or so he wanted us to believe. This was not a crime of passion. This was a deliberate and well thought out strategy. But Stevie still needed evidence and if her hunch was right, there would need to be proof that he was on island during the approximate time of death.
“Thanks, Alexander. Can we walk back along the main road? My car is parked further north in the parking area near the lookout.” They walked in silence until the road went back down towards Judith’s house. Moisture collected under Stevie’s nose. She sniffed and wiped her nose on the top of her hand. She felt her legs ache. When they reached the road back down to Alexander’s house, he paused.
“I hope they are convicted, the whole lot of them.” Alexander said. His eyes looked sad. “Judith did not deserve to die.”
She thanked him and put her hand on his shoulder. “You helped very much by showing me this route. We will do our best to solve this case.” They separated, Stevie walked south towards her car, while Alexander turned, head down, towards his driveway. It was time to get back to Seattle. Reggie would be pleased with her for using her own initiative to investigate this idea. The phone in her pocket vibrated as she reached her car.
“This is Detective Dangerfield. Yes? Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. I need some information regarding the ferries serving the island Tuesday night. First of all, how many boats left Seattle after 11:00 pm?” Stevie listened carefully. “Three boats? The first at 11:40, then 12:55, and lastly 2:10? Any surveillance cameras on the boats?” Stevie felt the tempo of the investigation take a turn and start to accelerate.
“Please, would you send the surveillance footage of all three ferry runs before you leave today to the Seattle Police Precinct, attention Jay Edwards.”
Next she phoned Jay. She would be at the station shortly and she asked him to prepare the footage for her review.
Stevie planned to see the surveillance footage at the station before the interviews started with the suspects. She was more than an hour behind Reggie. He might have started without her.
Jay was waiting for her when she arrived.
“Who are you looking for in these videos?” His chair swiveled around and almost made contact with her knees. The computer screen showed footage of a ferry boat passenger deck.
“Dominik Horak’s alibi was that he was in Seattle as late as 11:00 pm. I just want to know if by chance he came over to the island after that?”
They watched the videos of teenagers talking in small groups and tired commuters napping on benches. Stevie didn’t recognize any faces.
“Let’s watch the 12:55 am footage. Go slowly through the front cabin.” Still no one caught her eye. “What about the camera that is set below on the car deck? The one that is pointed at all the cars driving off.”
Jay changed screens and together they watched car after car drive off the boat and up the ramp.
“Stop! Back up the video.” Stevie’s eyes were riveted to the screen as the cars moved in slow motion. “There he is! The Toyota Camry that just passed. Rewind and stop. Let’s see if we recognize him through the driver’s side window.” She leaned very close to the screen. “Gotcha!” Stevie saw Dominik look right at the camera. “Can you take a screen shot of that and print it, please? I believe we have probable cause for arresting Dominik Horak.”