Some stories are fun because of the way they poke at other stories. Then, even murder can be fun.
A Case Of Murder was published in the literary magazine of Yolo county (California), The Yolo Crow in April, 2007.
A Case of Murder
I was sitting at my desk nursing my third cup of coffee, trying to forget last night’s friendship with a bottle of cheap bourbon when she came into my office. She entered like she owned the joint and I was behind in my rent. She was dressed all in black: 4-inch spike heels, long-sleeved dress belted at her narrow waist, netted hat that covered her face down to her lips. Those smackers were full and wide and red enough to make a tomato feel pale. Her silken blond hair swirled about her shoulders like an ad for shampoo. She reeked of money, and it wasn’t just her fancy perfume. I guessed she was in mourning except when I saw the plunging neck-line of her dress, a feeling of sympathy was not the first thing that arose. She showed enough cleavage to stop a freight train.
“Dick Pistol at your service.” I stood up and gripped her extended hand. It was soft, with nails that matched her lips. I motioned her into a chair. “Please sit down and tell me what I can do for you, Ms … ?”
“Goodbody. Iva Goodbody. A friend of a friend recommended that I retain you for this case. My fiancé has been killed and I want you to find the murderer.” She settled into the walnut-colored leather armchair to my left as I sat back down, leaning forward on my desk.
“That’s usually a job for the police, not a private eye. You should talk to them.”
“I did. They said it was suicide, but I don’t believe it. He had too much to live for.” I nodded. I could understand how any man would want to live each day if Ms. Goodbody were waiting for him at the end of it.
“Who was your fiancé?”
“Dilbert. Dilbert Gates.” Her voice softened.
“Dilbert Gates, the business tycoon who made his fortune on office cubicles and has the out-of-control neck ties? I saw something about that in the papers.”
“He’s the one.”
I told her I would look into it for her, but that I was sure the police had their best detectives on it. I told her my rates. She responded with words I love to hear: “I don’t care what it costs.” I managed to suppress the smile struggling to get out.
“Do you know anyone who might want Dilbert dead?”
“There were some people who didn’t like him, but I don’t know if any would want to kill him. His business partner, J. R. Ewing, always acted like he liked him, but he always wanted to control the whole business. He’s power hungry. He’s got shifty eyes and a tin smile. I never did trust him.”
“He owns half the business?” I started jotting down some notes.
“No. I think he owns only forty percent. So he never has final control.”
“His ex-wife. She now uses her maiden name, Mary Worth. She looks like a white-haired grandmother, but she’s not as nice as she looks. She’s always meddling in other peoples’ affairs and has a vicious side. She tried to squeeze every nickel from him during their divorce. I think she wanted him dead, so she could get control of the business before he was able to change the paperwork and leave it all to me.”
“A will can be changed pretty easily. Hasn’t he done that already?”
“The will, probably. But he had other paperwork that has to do with taxes, inheritance, hostile take-over of the company and other complicated business matters. At least that’s what he told me. And that takes a while to get changed and updated.”
“I see.” I leaned back in my chair. The morning overcast was burning off and the sunlight made her hair shimmer. “Were you the cause of the divorce?”
“No. I met him after the divorce.” She dabbed at her eyes.
“And is there anyone else who might hate Dilbert?”
“Well, my ex-boyfriend is insanely jealous. Normally he’s a mild-mannered guy, but when he gets worked up he is really strong, like he’s made of steel or something, and I keep thinking he may be dangerous.”
“Who is your ex-boyfriend and where does he work?”
“His name is Clark Kent. He’s a reporter for the Daily Planet.”
I was taking notes again. “Did you two break up because of Dilbert?”
“No. I met Dilbert after we broke up. Clark started acting weird, so we broke up.”
“Weird, huh? What did he do that was so weird?”
“Well, for example, we were walking down the street on the way to lunch one day and Clark started chuckling to himself. I asked him what was so funny, and he said it looked funny to see everybody walking around in their underwear. When I pointed out that they were all fully dressed, he acted embarrassed and didn’t say anything more about it. I thought that was weird. But when I caught him standing in a window wearing blue tights and he wouldn’t explain why, that was it for me. I was his girlfriend. I cared for him. He could trust me with his secrets. But he wouldn’t. What kind of relationship is that? That’s when it was over.”
She wrote down the information I needed to contact her and her suspects. As she handed the note to me, she got teary. “I miss Dilbert terribly,” she sobbed. “Nothing will be like before but getting his killer will help.” I handed her some tissues, and she started to cry buckets. She took off her hat and veil so she could get to her eyes and nose better. Her face looked strangely familiar. Then I realized that her face reminded me of a horse I once knew named Armadillo. He was great for three furlongs, but he always faded in the back stretch. Anyway, I told her I’d get back to her in a couple of days. She pulled herself together, thanked me, and left my office, leaving behind the fragrance of her perfume and a pile of soggy tissues.
The first thing I had to do was to talk to the cops and find out what they knew. I drove down to headquarters and found the homicide section. Joe Friday was working the case. His desk was in a long room crowded with other desks. Cops and clerical employees were walking back and forth on the dusty checkered floor to get to whatever room was at the other end from where they were. It was, basically, a wide hallway with scratched-up file cabinets, old desks and poor lighting. I found him filling out paperwork under a dim desk lamp. He was clean-shaven as usual and with his dark hair in a Marine Corps hair cut even after all these years.
“Yeah.” He looked up. “Hi, Pistol. You here to talk about a case or do you want to owe me a cup of coffee?”
“Both.” I poured some coffee into a dirty mug I found nearby. I needed something to chew. I pulled up a chair and spun it around, so I could sit on it and rest my arms on the back. “I’ve been hired by Dilbert Gates’ fiancé to track down his killer. She said you guys think it was suicide. Can you tell me anything I can use?” I tried sipping the coffee, but it was too hot.
He put down his pen with the Dunkin’ Donuts logo. “It wasn’t suicide. We just let out the word to try to throw the killer off balance. He was shot in the parking garage when he went back to his office in the evening after dinner. No witnesses.”
“That means someone was following him or they knew his schedule. Robbery?”
“What about the weapon?”
“A bow? He wasn’t shot with a gun?” I blew across the top of my mug to cool the coffee.
“Nope. Two arrows in the right side of his back. One penetrated his heart. The way the body was laying, we figure he was getting out of his car when he was shot. Whoever did it was an expert with a bow. He used narrow hunting arrow heads for deep penetration or to fit between the ribs. They did both.” He sat back in his chair, resting his arms in their white shirt sleeves on the chair arms. His coat, a coffee-and-cream colored tweed, was on a hanger hooked through a file drawer handle behind him.
“He shot through the glass window?”
“Gates had the top down on his Ferrari.”
“Oh.” I blew across my mug again. “Why do you suppose the killer used a bow?”
“The only thing we can think of is that it’s quiet.”
“That’s for sure, but it’s also kind of big, so it’s hard to conceal. Are you trying to trace the arrows?” I tried sipping my coffee, but it was still too hot.
“Yeah. But if he’s that good, he’s probably been shooting a long time and could have bought those years ago in another state. I’m not optimistic.”
“And nobody but you guys knows about this?” I blew across the mug again.
“That’s right. An off-duty cop found him, and we managed to control the information to the press. We said only that he was shot and that suicide was a possibility. We’ve already talked to his business partner and his fiancé, your client, and they have air-tight alibis. His ex-wife has been in Monte Carlo for a month, so she has a pretty good alibi, too.”
“If he has a personal attorney, his knowledge of wills, insurance, and similar documents might shed some light on things, especially with the wife and fiancé. Who’s his attorney?” My coffee was still hot but I could sip it.
“An old guy. Mason. Perry Mason.”
“Didn’t he work for the Mob?” I took a few swallows of coffee.
“Yeah. A long time ago. When he saw what happened to police chief Ironsides, though, he decided he should get some distance from the Mob and changed his clientele. He’s strictly legit these days. We talked to him, but attorney-client privilege kept getting in the way. It looks like we’re going to have to earn our pay on this one. Got any ideas?”
“Just a couple. I’ll poke around and let you know what I find out. I’ll give you a call.”
“Don’t leave me phone messages. They always get lost around here. Use the FAX, just the FAX.”
I nodded as I swirled the last of the coffee. I took a few more swallows, put the dirty mug back where I got it and left.
I made my way the short distance to the Daily Planet. The main room had a floor that was covered with a clean, red carpet and had rows of desks with people working at most of them under bright overhead lighting. There was a bustle of activity but the sounds were muted. Clark Kent was a big guy starting to show a middle-age paunch, and his dark hair had a bald spot growing in the back. He was hunched over his keyboard as I sat down next to his desk. I cleared my throat. He looked up.
“What can I do for you?” He peered at me through his dark-rim glasses and put on a friendly face.
I introduced myself and gave him a vague explanation about looking for Gates’ murderer and asked him if he knew Gates. I didn’t say I was a cop, but if he thought so, I let him.
“I know who he was but I never met him. Didn’t he commit suicide?”
“We’re not sure. Isn’t his fiancé your old girl friend?”
“Yeah. And I used to be jealous of him after he started going with Iva. But I have a new girl friend now. Lois, over there.” He nodded his head across the room to a tall brunette going through a file drawer. “I’ve got no personal interest in Gates anymore.”
I asked him a few more questions and talked to Lois. She gave me the same story. They were at dinner together in a very public restaurant at the time of the murder. Another dead end.
I decided to go over to Mary Worth’s place and see what I could find out chatting up the household help. She lived in a fancy neighborhood in a big white house with columns in front and acres of front lawn. I put on some blue coveralls with a gas company name tag and parked a little ways from the house. I walked to the door indicated by the “service” sign and rang the bell. When it opened, a man dressed in a butler suit and with his dark hair pulled back into a short pony tail was on the other side. He had a head band, high cheek bones and didn’t smile. He held up his hand with its palm facing me. “How.”
I explained that I worked for the gas company and was there to check the valve on the master pilot. Some of them were going bad and we were replacing those free of charge. He almost smiled. If he would show me the pilot light, I’d be out of his way in a couple of minutes and schedule a repair man at a time convenient for him if the valve needed replacing. He looked at my name tag and agreed.
“I have to report to my supervisor who I talked to at the house. You are Mr. Worth?”
“Me Tonto. Me butler here. Follow me.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Tonto.” As I followed him to the pilot, I noticed that he had a distinct limp. He opened a cabinet door and pointed at the valve. I got out a flashlight and small mirror to look at the back side of the valve. I acted like I was looking for a special marking and said things like, “Hmmm.” Just to get him talking, I casually asked about the limp, “I noticed your limp. Is that a recent injury?”
“No. That from many winters ago when Tonto just a young brave. We hunting wild boar and one got Tonto after bad shot.”
And then on a wild hunch, I looked over at him and I said, “Oh, yeah? I used to hunt boar. I always used a compound bow. Is that what you used?”
He seemed almost excited then. “Nnnn. You bow hunter, too? Compound bows good for hunting when there are many bushes because very compact, but still has big power.” He paused and eyed me. Then, more slowly, “Tonto hunt with rifle now. Not use bow for many winters.”
I tried to act like I didn’t notice anything, “Really? What caliber did you use for boar?”
He thought for a second. “It was a three fifty-seven magnum.”
“I know pistols shoot that size but I’ve never heard of a rifle in that caliber before. Who makes a rifle like that?”
His eyes shifted back and forth. “Nnnn. It belong to Tonto’s friend. You finished looking at valve now?”
“Yup. Everything looks fine here.” I put my mirror and flashlight back in my pocket and continued to press him about hunting. “If you can remember the brand of that rifle I’d sure be interested in checking one out, especially if it’s good for shooting boar.”
He wrinkled his brow as we walked back. “It not have brand. It special made.”
I tried changing the subject. “Have you worked here long, Mr. Tonto?”
“Tonto work for Ms. Kemo Sabe for almost twenty winters.”
“Twenty years, eh? She must be a good employer.” We approached the door and he opened it for me. “I have a long ..”
“You leave now,” and he closed the door after me.
It looked like I stumbled onto something. Twenty years working for Ms. Worth means that he worked for her when she was married to Dilbert and after the divorce, he chose to work for her rather than him. This was getting interesting. I shed my coveralls and waited outside in my car to see if my poking around would flush anything. I didn’t have to wait long.
In a few moments a brown and white Ford Pinto came down the driveway. Tonto was at the wheel. I followed him across town to a single-story apartment house. It was a luxury garden apartment house back in its day. The tile roof helped maintain the relaxed tropical air about it, but the garden part was overgrown and the building could use some paint. He parked his car and rushed into number three. The shades were all down but I slipped around the back and listened. I heard rustling sounds like he was looking for something. And then I heard a sawing sound. When it stopped, I went around to the front.
Tonto came out carrying a paper grocery bag. If he was getting rid of any evidence, I needed to stop him now or there would be nothing to link him to the murder. He saw me approach.
“Nnnn. No meters here.” He looked confused, probably because I wasn’t wearing my coveralls.
“I’m a detective, Tonto,” I said. “I’m looking for the murderer of Dilbert Gates and it looks like I found him. You have a cut up compound bow in that bag don’t you? The bow you used to murder Dilbert Gates.” His eyes narrowed and he looked me up and down. He started to slide his hand around to his back. “Forget it, Tonto. You’re caught.” I produced my Colt and he stopped moving his hand. I stepped around behind him and removed his knife from its scabbard. I took the bag from him and glanced into it. A cut up bow and some arrows were inside.
“Did Mary Worth put you up to this?”
He was silent. I pulled back the hammer on my Colt and held in front of his face so he could appreciate its big forty-five caliber bore. “Talk.”
He looked me in the eyes. “Tonto want lawyer.”
“I’m not a cop. It’s just you and me and my big ol’ Colt forty-five. Talk.”
He glanced at the bag I was holding and seemed to consider everything for a moment. Then, “Ms. Kemo Sabe know nothing. Tonto kill Dilbert Gates because he mean to her. Dilbert Gates is bad man to live with and give Ms. Kemo Sabbe only a pittance in divorce.” I thought about the big house and the month in Monte Carlo and made a mental note to check the definition of the word “pittance” later.
“How did you know he would be going to the office that night?”
“Tonto know Dilbert Gates go to office on some nights, so Tonto wait. Tonto wait three nights before Dilbert Gates come. Easy shot for Tonto.”
* * *
Friday made the bust and Mary Worth provided Tonto with a good lawyer. He pled guilty without going to trial and is doing twenty-to-life. Mary Worth got controlling interest in Dilbert’s business. I heard that she runs the place with an iron fist and after a few run-ins with her, J. R. Ewing decided to become a silent partner and uses his time to manage his oil business. And Iva Goodbody? Well, she met a horse breeder who saw in her everything he ever wanted in a woman. They are now happily raising colts on his ranch north of the city. As for me, with the fee and the bonus from Ms. Goodbody I paid off my bookie and moved up to a higher class of bourbon.