So that's pretty much how it went. There wasn't a whole lot I could do to help Julie, but I couldn't just let things be, either. On the day of the big party I was still trying. Ann had closed the restaurant at eleven, so she and Julie could have plenty of time to get ready, which gave me the rest of the day off.
I wasn't exactly invited.
I had set up a beach chair just in front of the restaurant, looking out to sea, and had settled down in a new Hawaiian shirt, a pair of shorts, and a big straw hat, to wile away the afternoon. Julie had settled down beside me on a blanket, sunbathing. I think she was hoping to improve her tan for the party.
Ann called down to her from the deck above.
"Don't forget the time, Julie. You have to be ready to leave in just two and a half hours."
Julie called back without looking up.
"I haven't forgotten, Mom."
Like I said—I couldn't leave it alone.
"Why all the rush," I asked, "about announcing your engagement?"
I should have waited until I heard Ann go in.
Julie pretended not to understand me.
"All the rush?" she asked.
"Well," I said, "maybe I'm wrong about that. You know, I make assumptions. How long have you known Tim?"
Ann's feet thumped across the deck, and the door slammed behind her.
"Shit," I said.
Julie sat up.
"What's the matter?"
* * * * *
It was no coincidence that two minutes later, on the other side of town, Chief of Police Oakes was being flagged down by Sam, the officer on the desk.
"Chief!" he said, "I got a call—about Flipper."
Oakes crossed the room in two long strides and scooped up the reciever.
"Chief Oakes here."
The woman on the other end of the line spoke in a half whisper.
"One of your officers, Jim Barnes, showed me a picture—of a man with a goatee?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Do you know something about him?"
* * * * *
The door onto the deck had a slight tendency to squeak, so I held it firmly and opened it with a quick, smooth, movement. Once inside, I closed it behind me the same way.
Ann was talking on the phone at the front desk, just as I had feared. If I was right about that, I was probably right about who she was talking to. The wall hid me from her view, but also kept me from hearing her clearly. I crossed the room as quickly and quietly as I could, and slid along the wall until I was just around the corner from her.
There I could hear just fine.
"…and this is confidential, right?" she said, "I mean no one's going to tell him—afterward—who it was who called?"
That was all I needed to know.