My heart pounded so hard in my chest that I could feel the pulse of it in my throat. Miss Adell didn’t answer Cross’s questions. She just sat back in the overstuffed armchair, staring at him, no readable expression on her face.
“Let me see if I have everything,” Cross relaxed his stiff shoulders, leaning into the arm of the sofa toward Miss Adell. “I think I understand how nearly everything transpired. I may need you to fill in a few of the details, Miss Adell.”
Cross cleared his throat and then began. “You were engaged to Corbet Adams, whom you’ve stated wasn’t your father’s choice for an ideal mate, but, I don’t think your father’s disapproval bothered you much, at first. It was only after his constant badgering of the point did you finally relent a week before your proposed marriage, correct?”
Miss Mary nodded, again, no change in her expression.
“But, Corbet loved you and his persistence, your father became quickly aware, would eventually remind you that you loved him as well.” Cross’s shoulders tensed once more.
“Your father realized that if he were to be rid of a man whose lack of ambition might take what he and his wife worked so hard to secure for their daughter, more would have to be done than just breaking off an engagement.” Cross’s entire back went rigid. I imagined his searching face, scrutinizing every minutia of Miss Adell’s expression and body language, watching for signs that what he was saying might be wrong.
“Introducing the poison would have been simple for someone that grows and harvests his own tea. A special blend over a “no-hard-feelings” chat between father and ex-future-son-in-law would have been so easily and innocently ingested without a second thought.” I suddenly found I had stopped breathing myself, such was the effect of Cross’s story of what happened.
“Now, there is the difficulty in disposing of the body. It must not be linked to the Adell estate or nasty questions might reveal the truth. How to take care of things so that suspicions don’t fall back on such a respectable family? Your father is a shrewd man, Miss Adell, but from my friend’s description of him, he was not so stout a man to accomplish the second part of his plan without help.” I gasped softly as I started to put the pieces together myself.
“Who to trust? Who would help take care of such dreadful business?”
“Manuel Dison!” I blurted the name before I realized it. So many things were making sense.
“Exactly, Martin,” Cross turned back to me with a quick grin. “Of course, it would have to be Manuel Dison. There was nobody else as close to Jonathan Adell as the man who worked his gardens and precious greenhouse with him. And, for a man with so large a frame and so stout an arm, the business of hoisting a dead body from one place to another would be no great trouble. Once he had the full plan from Adell, it would be nothing for him to lay everything out exactly as needed.”
Each piece falling into place excited me. But, then I stumbled on something that completely puzzled me. Without thinking, I turned to Miss Mary, “One thing I don’t understand, Miss Adell. When the man you loved turned up dead, how could you so easily engage yourself to another? Specifically a man you knew so little about.”
“Ah, Martin,” Cross clucked his tongue. “Here we come to the stickiest part of the story.”