A police car sped up to the front entrance of the Empress Hotel and disgorged two uniformed officers. After that came an unmarked car containing Lieutenant Harper and another plainclothes detective, then Hardcastle's truck with the judge and his aunts, then the Coyote finished up the parade.
The parade continued, now consisting of people climbing the three steps into the lobby where they found an irritated Assistant Manager confronting them. Mr. Henley made it clear that he was unhappy with the official attention.
“I really cannot have the police constantly intruding on the premises. The tone of our establishment . . . the clientèle . . .” He shrugged his shoulders Gallicly and gestured at the empty lobby. “This is an affront to our patrons, our staff and, indeed, to our reputation.” He stopped abruptly and pointed directly at Harper. “I shall report this outrage. You may depend on that!”
“You do that, sir,” replied Frank cordially. “I'm sure the Commissioner would enjoy hearing from you.”
The rest of the group had filed past the Lieutenant and he hustled to catch up and try to take the lead from the aunts. He failed as they reached the manager's office and Aunt May opened the door.
Anne Poole was seated at her desk, rapidly typing. “Oh,” she said, looking up, still red-eyed, “can I help you?”
Harper moved to the front, everyone else bustling into position behind him. “Miss Poole, I was hoping you could maybe answer a few more questions we have.”
Aunt Zora peered around him to smile at the secretary. “It's just some small things that we were hoping you could clear up for us.”
Harper glared at her and stepped determinedly back in front of her. “Mi-ilt,” he warned, looking at Hardcastle.
May stepped behind McCormick and pulled Mrs. Howard into the background where she could see but not be seen, sandwiched between the two burly uniforms, then strode to the front of the gathering, neatly side-stepping the Lieutenant. Hardcastle reached for his aunt's sleeve, but Mark pulled him back, shaking his head.
“You see, Miss Poole,” May stated clearly, “we know about the embezzlement. All those small sums to get Mr. Howard's attention. Of course, you didn't need the money, but he was a good man and understood, so he repaid the amounts every time you took them.”
The Lieutenant took a firm grip on his temper and opened his mouth to speak.
Aunt Zora elbowed him gently to one side to add, “And, Miss Poole, you surely realize they're going to trace the sale of that hat? There aren't that many hat stores these days.”
Hardcastle nudged the Lieutenant. “You are working on that, right, Frank?”
Zora, stepping directly in front of the now bemused-looking Harper, continued to address the white-faced secretary. “You desperately wanted Mr. Howard's attention, didn't you? He was an attractive man, a good man, and you loved him. Wanted his love in return, but couldn't have it since he was devoted to his wife.”
“You must have tried all the little tricks before resorting to petty theft,” May joined in the confrontation. “But none of them worked. And now he was going to retire and leave you forever. That must have been devastating for you, and you decided you couldn't allow that to happen.” She leaned her palms on the desktop and fixed a piercing stare on the now-trembling secretary. “Did you give him an ultimatum? Give him a choice between you and his wife? And when he refused you bought the hat and the gun, didn't you?”
Harper closed his eyes, lifted his face, and seemed to indulge in prayer.
“Then you made up some excuse to get him into the alley,” Zora took up the thread as Harper opened his eyes again and threw up his hands.
“This is badgering a witness!” he whispered frantically to Hardcastle.
“Nah, that's something you do in court. And you asked them here to see if anything brought back any other clues, right? They're your witnesses and they're just having a conversation with her.” The judge leaned against the door frame and winked at McCormick.
May suddenly cocked her head and approached Anne Poole, hand held out. “You're so unhappy, aren't you? You've been miserable for so long.” She shook her head in commiseration. “But killing him wasn't the answer. You know that know, don't you?”
“I didn't mean to!” the secretary suddenly blurted out. “I just meant to threaten him, to show him how serious I was!”
Mark gave a sigh of relief and pushed Harper to the fore.
Aunt Zora went to the secretary, who had started to weep. “There, there. I believe you didn't mean to kill him.” She cast a glance of significance at May who handed Miss Poole a handkerchief.
Frank shouldered his way to the secretary and took her arm. “Miss Poole, I think you'd better come with us.”
She nodded, wiping her eyes with the handkerchief and sniffling.
The aunts joined their nephews, smiling contentedly, and beckoned to Mrs. Howard to join them.
“There now, Milton. That wasn't so hard, was it?” May patted the judge's arm. “I think they'll charge her with second degree, don't you? And the jury will agree with that.”
“I think you better stick to detecting and leave the judicial stuff to me,” was his reply.
Harper and the other police escorted Miss Poole past them, and the Lieutenant paused for a moment.
“You know, Milt,” Frank ran a hand over his head as he searched for the right words, “your aunts --”
The judge held up a hand, palm out. “Yeah, I know. But there's no reason to thank 'em.” He looked at his aunts and shook his head. “They just love to help out.”
Harper left, rolling his eyes, and the small group remaining began to follow them.
“Are you all right, dear?” Zora asked the widow. “This must have been very difficult for you.”
Mrs. Howard smiled sadly. “She fancied herself deeply in love with Myron. She was completely besotted with him. The attempted embezzlement was probably just a way of trying to get his attention. He always paid it back immediately, out of our own funds, you know, so she wouldn't get into trouble with the owners. Poor Anne. I'm certain she never meant to hurt him. In a way, she's a more tragic figure than I am. At least, I had Myron's love.”
The aunts, one on each side of her, patted her shoulders and silently escorted her out.