David spent the next hour pacing his room, typewriter and the promise of a story for Miss Walker forgotten. I’ve known Mr. Barrow for three years now, I think I would have spotted if he was a killer. Thinking back on those years, he cataloged what he knew of the man. Mr. Barrow often woke early, ate breakfast early and left for work early. He worked long hours, often not returning until nine or ten at night, when the rest of the house was turning in. On weekends, he talked about the stories he had in the works, with a knowing smile and a secretive whisper. David only saw him lose his temper once in the last three years, when another journalist scooped his story. Even then, he didn’t think Mr. Barrow capable of murder, and he couldn’t imagine Tommy trying to pull a fast one on Mr. Barrow.
Yes, Tommy was a headstrong boy, David assessed. But even Miss Walker, who was ever gentle in her criticisms, claimed that Tommy’s strongest skills did not include the written word. That Mr. Barrow would murder anyone, least of all Tommy, was an impossibility in David’s estimation. Tommy did not take his own life, he thought, repeating the words in his head like a puzzled mantra.
David left his room again and went to the common room down the hall. The only sounds emanating from the room was the rustling of newspaper and the wind, but the wind was present everywhere today. “McCullough,” he greeted, attempting a non-committal sort of friendly tone, though he worried his voice sounded a little too high not to come across as nervous. Clearing his throat, he added, “Just the fellow I was hoping to see.”
McCullough looked up from the paper, which stretched suspended between his scrubbed-clean hands. Did they move Tommy? Or was he scrubbing them clean from something else? David wished he’d bothered to notice when he saw him earlier in the stairwell. When he said nothing, David moved into the room and hovered near one of the two sofas before ultimately deciding it was best to remain standing. He rested his arm upon the mantlepiece. “What were you up to after breakfast,” he asked curiously. “I mean, did you see anything odd, or, did Tommy seem strange?”
McCullough laughed, throwing his head back. “You want to know if I thought Tommy seemed strange? All of you seem strange—I only just arrived here, after all.”
David felt his face heat up. He’s trying to make me look like a fool. “Very well, I can see that…but did you see him, at any rate?”
“So you’re playing detective now, are you? Yes, I saw him. I was sitting here, looking for job postings—as I’m doing now—and saw him walk by toward the stairs. I presumed he was going up to his room.”
Frowning, David pressed on. “Did you speak to him, or vice versa?” He decided to ignore McCullough’s snide remark about playing detective. I need to pick my battles, he determined, and finding out about Tommy was more important.
“No, we didn’t speak. Look, I’ll say it plain: I didn’t kill the lad. Maybe you did.” McCullough lifted the newspaper again; his face disappeared behind its pages.
David bristled. His back straightened and he felt his shoulders tense like a giant was pressing them together with its vice-hands. “I did no such thing.” Walking from the room, he decided McCullough must have killed Tommy, and was now trying to turn the tables around on him. I have to warn Miss Walker. But Miss Walker wasn’t in her room, or, if she was, she didn’t answer when David knocked five minutes later. He checked Tommy’s room too. He even went to his room to look outside, hoping she’d not decided to brave the weather in hopes of finding Mr. Barrow or the police.
The snow swirled so fast that he might as well have been staring at a white wall. He caught sight of a flake or two, but only for a second before it flitted back into the flock of weather. Pressing his nose to the cold glass, David squinted his eyes in an effort to see better, but with no success. He turned from the window with a sigh and jumped several inches into the air when he saw her standing in his doorway. “Miss—Miss Walker.”
“I was resting. I figured it was you knocking on my door because McCullough’s in the common room and says it wasn’t him.”
“Are you alright,” David crossed his room toward her, welcoming her in from the doorway. “Please, sit.” He pulled his desk chair into the middle of the room and gently guided her into the seat.
“After what happened with Tommy…I went back to my room for awhile. I was starting to doze off. I…can’t believe you just found him like that.” She looked down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap.
“I wish I hadn’t.” David lowered himself onto the edge of his bed. “Miss Walker, I think McCullough was responsible for Tommy’s death.”
“I know,” she answered instantly, eyes darting up to meet his gaze from across the room. “You defended Mr. Barrow so vehemently.”
“But you think it could have been him?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. How well do we really know people?” Miss Walker sniffed at the air. “Do you smell burning?”