Epilogue: How Two Happy Reunions Occurred, and Deputy Haskill Was Puzzled
“In the conventional epilogue to a story like this,” the Saint mused, gazing meditatively at his Peter Dawson as he turned it to catch the afternoon sunlight, “a fellow is expected to explain patiently that the antagonist was really just an unfortunate madman, driven by his delusions to commit unthinkably inhuman crimes. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit… I don’t quite rest easy with such a simple answer.”
He was seated comfortably in a wicker chair on the front porch of Ron Josselin’s house, his long legs stretched out and his feet propped on the ornate wooden railing. At his left sat Tania; in her eyes there still lurked a somber shadow of the shock she had endured the night before, but her natural warmth and resiliency were steadily reclaiming the usual light in her gaze. Beyond her sat the master of the house, for once looking amicable and not at all unkind. Perhaps it was because Josselin was waiting now for Deputy Haskill to bring home his beloved dogs—but Simon liked to hope it was something more than that.
“Then you figure something different might have happened… if that hadn’t been a silver knife you picked up off my table?” the artisan of the lethal weapon asked somberly.
Simon tilted his hand slightly, in lieu of a shrug. “I wouldn’t venture to say. But I doubt it.” Then he glanced past Tania to meet the other man’s eyes. “By the way, I apologize for blipping you on the mandible. And for so unceremoniously borrowing your handiwork—Haskill had taken my knife, and I didn’t feel I had the time to contrive something else.”
“Don’t even think of it,” said Josselin, and although he winced as he rubbed his jaw, his gruffness lacked its usual harsh edge. He reached over to pat Tania’s hand, receiving an appreciative smile in return. “You put it all together in time to get Tania back safe—and you got my dogs off the hook by finding the real killer. That’s all I care now.”
“Alex’s paintings are going to go up in value now,” Tania said thoughtfully, her tone edged with cynicism in contempt of human morbidity. “The Arts Club is going to handle what he left in his studio. Since he didn’t have any family…” She trailed off briefly, as if the unanswered questions of Cordona’s life had once again reached the tip of her tongue; but then she merely gave a sad shake of her head. “We’ve decided to donate the proceeds to the restoration work here in town. History was Alex’s passion. I think it’s what he would have wanted.”
“I think so too,” the Saint agreed, without malice. He was rarely sorry for a life he had extinguished, but in the case of the unique yet twisted mind of Alejandro Cordona, he could make an exception. Even after the madness of that final encounter, he still found himself remembering most of all the knowledge and quiet enthusiasm of the man—qualities he had observed during one all-too-brief evening of thrilling tales about swashbuckling and savages and long-lost ways of life.
Tales described so vividly, one almost felt Cordona had seen it all with his own eyes…
At that moment, a car with the markings of the sheriff’s office slid up outside the open front gate. Josselin was on his feet and bounding down the porch steps even before Deputy Haskill emerged. The lawman moved to the rear door of the vehicle and opened it—and in a scene worthy of any circus clown car, three enormous Scottish wolfhounds rocketed out of the back seat. Josselin was bowled over in a joyous tsunami of dark gray fur, and for the first time since Simon had met him, the big man laughed with genuine happiness as he wrestled in the grass with his canine friends.
Simon glanced at Tania, and found her gazing back at him with conflicted emotions in her eyes.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “And I’m sorry.”
She understood even more than he had given her credit for. The Saint smiled gently and reached out to squeeze her arm.
There was no time for the moment to fully flower, as Vernon Haskill was striding toward the porch, carefully skirting the playful battlefield taken up by Josselin and the dogs. Tania rose and sauntered down the steps to greet the animals herself, giving the deputy a warm smile and a nod as she passed him. He returned the salutation, but there was a distracted look on his face as he continued up to the porch.
Simon stood up, extending his hand. “Good afternoon, Vern. Am I to presume you were overwhelmed with eagerness to see the happy reunion?”
The deputy shrugged as their hands met. “Well, it’s not every day you get to bring somebody good news in this job. Anyway, I had another reason to come when I heard you’d be here.” He disengaged from the handshake and reached beneath his jacket, withdrawing a slim ivory-handled blade. “Now that the case is wrapped up, I think this belongs to you, Saint. What did you call it again?”
“Belle,” the Saint replied, gratefully accepting the cherished weapon. “Thanks, Haskill.”
For a moment he was preoccupied as he slipped the knife into her customary home beneath his sleeve. When he looked up at Haskill again, the deputy was gazing ponderously toward nothingness in the general direction of the ground, with his hands on his hips and a troubled look on his face.
“Your expression falls short of the rapturous glow of an agent of the Law reveling in a closed case,” Simon observed pointedly. “Is something wrong, Vern? If there are any questions I can still clear up for you—”
“Oh, no. Nothing to do with you,” Haskill replied, and tipped his hat forward to scratch the back of his neck with a frown. “It’s just…”
Familiar ghostly fingers of ice caressed the Saint’s nerves.
Haskill sighed and shrugged. “Well… as it turns out, the coroner found some coarse gray hairs clutched in Gilbert Giddens’ hand. They obviously came off an animal. I don’t know what it means, but…” The lawman hesitated, then spread his hands in a hapless surrender to bewilderment.
“The lab swears up and down that they’re wolf hairs.”
For a moment, there was a profound silence. The Saint’s eyes widened slightly, and his gaze wandered away to the wide blue sky beyond the ancient oaks.
2007 Jordanna Morgan – with gratitude to Leslie Charteris