The Mystery of Seagrass Island (Chapter 8)

Margie and Lloyd sat on their front porch, enjoying the aroma of their coffee and the slight island breezes. It was just the perfect temperature as the palms swayed in the early morning sunlight.

“What do you intend to do today, dear?” Margie asked.

Lloyd looked up from his coffee. “Well, I thought I would go to the mainland today and ask the coroner some questions. There might be some clues that we have missed. How about you?”

“After I spend some time talking to our daughter, I was thinking I might hunt Bettina down and try to make amends. The rumor around town is that she sometimes has lunch with Richard Normandy. Maybe I can see both of them at the same time,” Margie said.

“Well, good luck with that, but I don’t think you’ll be able to make amends with Bettina unless you can avoid mentioning the infamous thank you card,” said Lloyd.

“I’ve said my piece, I guess.”

Lloyd laughed and shook his head.

“What else do you know?” said Margie accusingly. “I can tell when you’re holding back.”

“Now, now,” Lloyd said. “I might have heard something from my fishing buddies down at the pier but it’s wholly unreliable.”

“I know, I know, but tell me anyway,” Margie said.

“Well, the word is that Bettina isn’t really mad about the thank you card.”

“I knew it! It just wasn’t logical that someone would get that mad about a thank you card,” Margie said.

“Yeah, but it did miff her a bit. I hear that she was just looking for an excuse to break the bonds with her niece and family,” Lloyd said.

“Why?” Margie asked.

“Well, her niece, the one she isn’t talking to, has got some big shot scientist in Cleveland doing heart research on their family and they want blood samples and stem cells from all of her family members. They are hoping to find a cure for the hereditary heart problems in their family,” Lloyd said.

“I’m not following,” Margie said, a confused look on her face.

“Well, you remember Bettina’s son, Jack? Do you remember how when we first met him, we joked privately of course, about how the postman must have been busy around there,” Lloyd said sheepishly.

“Oh,” said Margie as realization dawned on her. “Oh my. Well, that’s how sin works. Eventually everything comes out in the light. What a shame. I will try to not mention it at all now that I know. That is something that she will have to deal with I guess. ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys,’” Margie said, using one of her favorite quotes. The corner of Lloyd’s mouth turned up in a smile as he and Margie clinked their coffee cups together in agreement.

They both heard a stirring in the kitchen and figured that Bess was awake. “Well, I am going to take off so Bess doesn’t think that we are ganging up on her. Let me know what you find out,” Lloyd said, standing up.

“Of course, dear,” said Margie as she gave him a peck goodbye.

“Good morning, Bess,” Lloyd yelled into the house. “I’m heading off to do some sleuthing. See you tonight!”

“Good morning, Dad. See you later,” Bess replied.

Bess brought her cup of coffee to the porch and took her dad’s chair. She looked out at the beautiful blue sky and the waving palms and took a deep breath before drinking her coffee. “This is so nice, Mom. I see why you and dad wanted to retire here. What I don’t get is why you are still working.”

“Oh, it just gives us something to do, I guess. What are you up to these days dear? We are so proud of you for getting a job straight out of college but we hardly ever hear about your work,” Margie said.

“Being an environmental engineer really isn’t that exciting Mom. You know our motto – ‘At the EPA, every day is Earth Day’…and you know how exciting Earth Day is. Seriously though, lately all I’ve been doing is taking a lot of water samples and doing a lot of paperwork.” Bess cringed at the thought of all of the paperwork piling up on her desk.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love living in Atlanta. It is so busy and there is always something to do. I just had some time off and wanted to come home. It really upset me what happened to Seth. Even more than I realized.” Bess looked off into the distance to gather her emotions.

“I never heard. Is that how you met Seth? Through your work? I heard he was an amateur environmentalist,” Margie asked gently.

Bess looked quizzically at her Mom. “Yes, that’s right, Mom. Seth cared about the environment. It wasn’t a job to him, it was more like a passion. He contacted my office about some dead fish he had spotted around the island. He was concerned about pollutants. I came out here to talk to him and explore the situation. Seth and I were instant friends. We had a lot of the same interests.” She lowered her head for a moment as the emotions overwhelmed her. “We were planning to start dating as soon as the investigation was closed. Only when it would look appropriate.” Bess let out a little sob.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, honey,” said Margie as she leaned over and hugged her daughter. They sat that way for a minute as Bess cried in her mother’s arms.

“Bess, I have to ask you something. There was a note left in the room where Seth died. It was taped to the back of one of the paintings. It said, ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Fish. Ask Bess.’ Does that mean anything to you at all?”

Margie carefully watched Bess’s expression as a look of shock passed over her. “It can’t be,” she said.

“What can’t be, dear?” Margie asked.

“Seth was so sure that the pollutants that were killing the fish were coming from the research facility. In fact, he warned me that Richard Normandy was purposefully polluting the water. Seth called Richard the king of peanut butter, because of his family fortune that he used to subsidize all of his research. I cared for Seth a lot but I wasn’t sure that I could believe that theory. There wasn’t any motive. You and Dad taught me that there is always a motive. Seth must have found out something that cost his life. Oh Mom, it’s not fair that this happened. Who would do this?”

“I don’t know, but you can be assured that your father and I will find out,” Margie said, standing up. “You stay here and rest dear. I have some errands to run, okay? I love you,” she said as she rubbed Bess’s shoulder.

“Thanks, Mom. I love you too,” Bess said.

Margie went back into the house to pick up her purse and waved goodbye to Bess who was still sitting on the porch as she backed her car out of the drive.

Margie headed straight for the research facility. As she neared the large iron gates, she had to stop to speak to a security guard. She flashed the temporary badge that she had been given by Sargent Martinson and the guard reluctantly waved her in, while notifying someone of her presence on his radio. She parked her car and got out, taking in the magnificence of the facility which had only been here a few months. A three-story dark glass-encased modern-looking building almost jumped out of the undergrowth. She wondered how deep the building was but it was impossible to tell since there weren’t any easy paths around the sides of the building. Margie grabbed her purse and walked up to the largest opening on the front of the building. Yet another security guard pushed the door open for her just as she reached the mat.

“Good morning,” Margie said as the guard tipped his hat. There was a desk with a secretary front and center. Margie walked up and asked to speak to Richard Normandy. The young woman behind the desk said, “Yes, he is expecting you.”

“Oh, okay,” Margie said with a bit of surprise.

“Go on through the double doors and up the elevator on the right and his office is the first one on the right on the third floor,” the woman continued undaunted.

“Thank you,” Margie said.

As she walked down the hallway, Margie noticed that there were several paintings of local wildlife displayed prominently on the walls. Other than that, it was a very sterile environment. As she entered Richard’s office she was a bit taken aback by the amount of color that confronted her. Many larger paintings and brightly colored furniture set this room in contrast with the rest of the building that she had seen so far. She could hear voices coming through the open door framing the balcony. Margie walked toward the balcony and recognized the back of Bettina’s head.

“Hello,” she said and a gentlemen with graying hair and an expensive suit stepped into the room.

“Hello, you must be Margie McDonnell. I have heard all about you. Won’t you join us? I believe that you already know Bettina,” he said.

“Yes, thank you. Nice to meet you, Mr. Normandy,” Margie said.

“Please, call me Richard. May I call you Margie?” he asked.

“Of course,” Margie said. Bettina smiled slightly in her direction as Margie took an empty chair across from her.

“I wondered how large the building was from the parking lot but I couldn’t tell,” Margie said.

Richard smiled across the table at Margie. “It seems bigger on the inside, doesn’t it? I wanted to camouflage the building as much as possible and take up as little a footprint as I could. You can barely see the building from an aerial view. It’s just a small square on the map.”

“What a beautiful view you have here also,” said Margie as she gazed out over the tops of the palm trees to the ocean beyond.

Richard’s phone buzzed. He looked at it and sighed. “I need to take this. Can you ladies excuse me for just a moment?” He left the room before either of them could respond.

Margie looked across at Bettina, who was studying her coffee. “Bettina, I’m sorry I came down so hard on you the other day. I don’t know what you are going through. I just want you to know that I am here for you.”

Bettina sniffed a little and said, “Don’t worry about it, Margie. I just wish people would stop spreading gossip about me.”

“I’m sure some of it is gossip, Bettina. But some of it is probably just people trying to figure out what you’re thinking. If you don’t communicate, people start developing their own theories about what is going on. That’s just how human nature works. Everybody likes to play the detective at some point,” Margie said as she reached across the table and patted Bettina’s arm.

“I guess you’re right. I probably need to talk to my niece and quit avoiding her,” Bettina said.

“That’s the spirit, Bettina. Now, can you excuse me for just a bit too? I need to use the little girl’s room. I think I saw one in the hallway on the way here,” Margie said.

“Uh, okay, don’t get lost though because Richard doesn’t like people wandering around here,” Bettina said.

“Really?” Margie said.

“Yes, really! He is just concerned about safety, that’s all.” Bettina looked a bit nervous, as though speaking from personal experience.

“No worries. I’ll be right back,” Margie said.

As Margie went out into the hallway, she checked to see if anyone was there. It was all clear. She knew the restroom was to the right so she went left through a set of double doors. There were offices and labs and some of them had small glass windows. She peeked into the first two and they appear unused. In the third one, she saw several people in lab coats having an animated conversation while standing around a tank that was about waist high. Margie immediately recognized the shock of red hair on the girl standing on the side. It was the same red hair as the girl in the van and in the restaurant with Seth.

Margie was fiddling with her phone in an attempt to get a picture when Richard’s voice boomed out down the hallway. “Margie! Are you lost? This area is off limits to visitors.”

Margie slipped the phone back into her pocket without being noticed and turned around. “I’m sorry, Richard. I was looking for the restroom but happened to see something exciting happening in this room and my curiosity got the better of me.” Margie smiled innocently up at Richard.

“I understand, Margie. After having your husband visit me yesterday and noticing that he had the same tendency, I figured it would be a family trait.” He smiled smugly. He took Margie by the elbow and led her back down the hallway to his office. “Shall we finish our coffee?”

“Yes, that would be lovely,” said Margie as she dislodged her elbow from his grip.

“Tell me about you, Richard. Where are you from?” said Margie after she was seated.

“I’m from Cambridge. I attended Harvard University and eventually became a member of the faculty where I have researched and taught for almost thirty years before I received the grant for this project on your lovely island to study the local jellyfish. Don’t bother asking me more about my research. I’m not at liberty to say right now. And there’s not really much else to tell,” Richard said, as he waved his hands to show emphasis. “How about you, Margie. What secrets do you have?”

Margie laughed. “Not as many as you, I’m sure. I’m just an old broken down, retired detective,” Margie said with a smile.

“Oh, I don’t think so. You haven’t retired yet, have you?” Richard said.

“Well, pretty much. Lloyd and I are just doing a favor but after this, we are done,” she said emphatically. “Speaking of work, did you know Seth Logan?” Margie asked.

“No,” Richard said quickly. “Well, not really. He had been here harassing my guards, ranting about pollution. I tried to calm him down but he wouldn’t listen. Finally, I just told the guards to send him away. In fact, he was here once with a lovely brunette that I am told favors you.” Richard raised his eyebrows and leaned back in his chair awaiting a response from Margie.

“As you must already know, that was my daughter. Seth contacted her office at the EPA about the pollution he had found.”

“Supposedly found,” Richard interjected.

“Supposedly,” Margie said. “Don’t you find it suspicious that he was murdered after he began this inquiry?” Margie asked while carefully watching his expression.

“Not at all. If you stick your nose in places that it shouldn’t be often enough, someone will try to cut it off,” Richard said.

“Where were you at on the night of Seth’s murder, the 13th of June? To jog your memory, that would have been the second night after the hurricane came through,” Margie asked.

“Why, I was here working,” Richard said.

“You didn’t evacuate?” asked Margie.

“This building is hurricane proof,” Richard said.

“Did you leave the building at any time?” Margie asked.

“No, of course not. I had too much work to get done,” Richard said.

“Was anyone else here that can substantiate this?” Margie asked.

“Well, my security guard, Ralph. He is always here,” Richard said.

“Fine. I will need a statement from Ralph,” Margie said.

“Not a problem. In fact, I think he already has made one at your husband’s request. I’ve already answered these same questions for him. I don’t mind answering them again though to such lovely company,” Richard said as his eyes narrowed and he smiled to show his teeth. His phone buzzed again. “Oh, I am so sorry but I have to go and this may take a while,” he said. “You ladies stay and enjoy your coffee. Just be sure to turn left when you leave my office,” he said purposefully directing his gaze at Margie.

“Of course,” Margie said and smiled in return.

After, he left, Margie turned to Bettina. “So how do you and Richard know each other?” she asked.

Bettina smiled. “Well, he invited me over for coffee one day and we have been friends ever since.”

“That’s nice,” said Margie. “Oh, look at the time, I have to run too. This has been wonderful.” She leaned over and hugged Bettina. “See you later, Bettina!”

“Bye, bye, dear,” said Bettina.

Margie headed back down the elevator. She figured at this point too many eyes were watching her to snoop around. As she got into her car and drove back out the gate, she again wondered about all of the security for studying jellyfish. Margie shook her head in confusion. She wasn’t any closer to discovering why Seth had been murdered than she was at the beginning. There just has to be a way to find out more about this secret research, thought Margie.

To be continued…