Once I had stepped away from the RV, Welmont crouched down and examined the area underneath the vehicle with wide sweeps of his flashlight beam.
He let out a low whistle. “He looks like two-day-old roadkill.”
I refrained from pointing out that he’d been under there for less than an hour.
Standing back up, he brushed imaginary dirt off his knees, even though they’d never touched the ground. “Anybody see it happen?”
“I came across him just lying there,” Ernie began. He banged his walking stick against his thigh as he spoke. “At first I thought Keith had just passed out. That young man had a habit of drinking too much and stumbling around camp. Why just last week—”
“And you believed him to have passed?” Welmont interrupted.
While they spoke, I surreptitiously scanned the surrounding forest, looking for the top hat, but it was nowhere to be seen.
“Did I believe him to have passed? Did you see that hole in his forehead?” Ernie scoffed. “Or did you miss that, Mr. Crack Investigator?”
The cop scowled. “Then what did you do?”
“I high-tailed it to the office to call the cops.”
Welmont turned on me. “And you ran him over?”
I winced remembering the thump-thump. “It’s dark,” I said, hating the way my voice cracked defensively.
He glanced around as though to determine whether or not my claim of darkness was valid.
“It is quite dark,” Marco confirmed.
I didn’t know whether he was defending me or trying to flaunt his stargazing acumen.
Welmont nodded. “And what were you doing in this part of the campground?”
“It’s the slot I was assigned.” I answered.
“That true, Tess?” The cop puffed out his chest, making it clear this wasn’t a casual conversation. This was a formal inquiry.
Tess covered her mouth as she yawned. “Yup.”
Welmont crossed his arms over his chest, making his impressive biceps bulge. “And you just drove past old Ernie here on your way?”
“I didn’t see him,” I replied quietly.
He gave me a hard stare, his eyes roaming over my face, searching for whether or not I was telling the truth.
“It was dark,” I reminded him, trying to prove my innocence without coming across as too mouthy.
“I’m going to have to get this mess cleaned up and take your statements. Why don’t you all go down to the office and wait there?” Welmont suggested.
The others turned and began to stroll down the road.
“Make ‘em a pot of coffee, Tess,” the cop called. “I don’t need anyone nodding off because their bedtime is an hour after sundown.”
She raised her hand in acknowledgment. I thought she raised her middle finger, but it was too dark to tell for sure.
I lagged behind. “The keys are still in the ignition if you have to move it, Officer.”
“Corporal,” he corrected testily, pointing at the stripes on his shoulder. “Corporal Welmont.”
I swallowed nervously, not wanting to get on bad footing with him. I knew from experience that I didn’t want a cop as my enemy. “My apologies, Corporal Welmont. It’s difficult to see in these shadows.”
“Yes, yes, you’ve already laid that out as your defense,” he snapped.
I blinked, then turned on my heel to follow the others back to the office.
Suddenly a blood-chilling scream ripped through the night.
Ahead of me, pajama-clad Norma let out a scream of terror and threw herself into the arms of her husband, Joe. At the same time Marco ducked and covered his head with his telescope and tripod, as though he expected an attack from above, while Ernie pushed Tess behind him and brandished his walking stick like a weapon.
Behind me, Corporal Welmont drew his gun.
There was another scream.
“Sounds like a wounded animal,” Tess said.
“A dying animal,” Ernie agreed.
Clinging to Joe’s neck, Norma stage-whispered, “Or Keith’s ghost.”
“Or another unhappy spirit,” Joe agreed.
“It’s the cat.” I gestured at the RV. “There’s a cat in there.”
“Is it yours?” Ernie asked.
“In a matter of speaking,” I answered carefully. On top of everything else that was going on, I didn’t need to piss off Millie by implying she belonged to me.
The cat screamed again.
“Horrible,” Norma shuddered, burying her head in Joe’s neck. “That poor lost soul. Damned to an eternity of suffering.”
“Can you make it stop?” Corporal Welmont asked through gritted teeth.
“I can try.” I hurried toward the RV, silently cursing my ex-mother-in-law with all my might.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the cop re-holster his weapon.
Millie yowled again.
“Try hard,” Welmont urged. “Or I’ll cite you for disturbing the peace. Everyone else go back to the office.”
Mumbling amongst themselves the crowd did as they were instructed.
I climbed into the camper van. “Millie,” I said, knowing full well that Welmont was listening to my every word. “What’s wrong?”
The Siamese pulled herself up to her full height and fixed her blue-eyed stare on me. “Nothing,” she meowed. “I just wanted to make trouble.”
“You what?” I whispered, fighting the urge to throttle her.
“I wanted to make things more difficult for you,” she purred, narrowing her gaze.
“Because I don’t like you.” The cat then turned her back on me.
Now you can probably see why I’m so keen to not be saddled with the witch for eternity.
Shaking my head, I grabbed the spray bottle of water from the cup holder and climbed back out of the RV to face the cop who was watching me. “I’ve done what I can.” I offered him the bottle. “Sometimes this helps.”
He snatched the weaponized water out of my hands. “Do you know how to get back to the office?”
“Then go. I’ll question you there.” When I didn’t move quickly enough for his liking, he made an impatient shooing motion at me.
Even though the rest of the crowd was out of sight, I hurried along the road to catch up with them. I could hear the distant strains of Marco singing an enthusiastic, if slightly off-key version of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”.
I wondered if Keith had been of magical persuasion. I can’t see shimmer in the dead, but Marco’s choice of funeral dirge made me wonder.
“You left Link,” Conroy reminded me, jolting me out of my thoughts.
“I know,” I muttered to the owl around my neck. I was well-aware I’d abandoned the penny when it had fallen onto the ground. “But I thought digging around in the dirt might me look guilty.” I glanced back over my shoulder and saw that the cop was leaning against his car, watching me go.
Turning my attention back to the road in front of me, I asked, “Do you think Millie set this up?”
“You turning a body into the equivalent of roadkill?” Conroy asked. “Doubtful. She doesn’t have that kind of power.”
“But she wanted me here,” I argued.
“Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence,” the owl countered.
I didn’t believe that.
But I didn’t get to tell him that, because all of the sudden, just ahead of me on the road, I spotted a lavender shimmer.