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Detective Randall Part 2

2004-09-14

Category: prose

It was Tuesday morning when I got the call out to Cole-Bright Manor. I remember that I had a bran muffin for breakfast and wanted to finish things up before the bran kicked in. The call said the victim fell out his bedroom window in the night. Probably another rich slob killing himself over the guilt of an empire built on the back of the little man.

The fog and mist made it a perfect morning for a death. I drove up in my little foreign car. I can't pronounce the name of the maker but it's something French. I drive it because all the high-class mystery novel detectives drive things like it and so I get that sense of legitimacy. Not all of us can speed around San Francisco in sports cars and shooting bad guys. Some of us have to baby-sit rich people.

The old gardener, Theodore, met me at the door. He looked like all the old gardeners in this neighborhood. His skin was tanned and leathery. His hands looked like stone. His cover-alls were new but still looked weathered and gray. All gardeners wear old boots.

"I'm Detective Randall. Where is the decedent?"

"He's around back. Follow me," he answered.

The old man led me around the far side of the house through a maze of shrubs, flowers, and short stonewalls. Sometimes the path took us close to the crumbling sides of the house. Other times it was like we were lost in the forest. The trail eventually led to an opening that I learned was the back lawn.

My eyes followed the pointing finger to the body on the ground. Mr. Cole had a bad night. He was 68 years old, five and a half feet tall and about two hundred pounds. "Who found the body?" I asked.

Theodore pointed to a woman in a housekeeper uniform. She sat by herself on a bench several yards away from the body and facing away. I figured her to be in her mid thirties and probably from some other country. She wore her long, dark hair in a bun like every other housekeeper I ever met.

I always had a thing for housekeepers. In this community the rich stay with the rich and the help stay with the help. No detective ever got rich. My only social prospects were housekeepers, nannies, and rich girls slumming to spite their parents. I wouldn't turn down a rich girl, but housekeepers pick up after themselves.

I walked to her. "Excuse me, ma'am, I'm Detective Randall. I understand you found the victim."

She looked up from her hands. Tears left her eyes and face red and puffy. She swallowed and then nodded to confirm my information.

"I understand this is a difficult time for you but I need to ask you a few routine questions." I moved around to sit beside her while digging out my notebook and pencil. It's best to show a little sympathy in these situations. It puts the person at ease and they're more likely to answer your questions. Besides, if I made her miserable she'd spread it around that I'm a jerk. Those housekeepers all talk.

"What brought you out here this morning?"

She swallowed again and smeared a few tears across her cheek. "Mr. Cole liked to have breakfast outside if the weather was good. I always came out to clean off the tables in case he decided to."

I was shocked. Her accent wasn't foreign at all. She could have come from any middle-class American street. No family in the community had American servants. It just wasn't done. I didn't let my amazement last long. "Is that when you found him?"

She nodded. "I saw him lying on the grass in his pajamas. I went over to him and? and? he was like that." She dropped her head back into her hands and sobbed ferociously.

I gave her a moment to get it out. Crying interviews can take a while. Fortunately the victim is rarely in a hurry in these cases. When the sobs no longer required small lurches forward, I resumed my questions. "Has anyone moved him sense you found him?"

She shook her head no.

"Do you know of any reason why anybody would want to hurt Mr. Cole?"

Again, she shook her head no.

I dug in my pocket for a business card. "Here, this has my phone number. If you think of anything important, call me right away." I slid the card between two of her fingers and got up. It was time to study the body.

Cole landed on his back. His arms and legs spread out in the strange hieroglyphic dance that falling victims always seem to do. Glass shards glistened in the neatly trimmed grass of the lawn. That was also normal for a window dive.

What wasn't normal was the trowel. People who fall out of buildings often land on things. I have a file of bizarre photos showing all sorts of impalings. Hey, I'm a detective and those photos are educational. This was different.

He fell only three stories onto a soft lawn. That meant he shouldn't have bounced. The glass on his front supported that idea. If he fell on the trowel, it should be in his back. Instead, it stood proudly in his chest. There was only a small amount of blood on the handle, so it didn't come through handle first from the back. Of course, if he fell on it he probably wouldn't have fallen on it the other dozen or more times.

I could easily see the puncture wounds on his torso. Each wound was a slit about the width of the trowel. The bloodiest was over his heart. The other scattered randomly around his chest and abdomen. His arms showed no slashes or bruises associated with self-defense. I would have to wait for a formal coroner's report for the cause of death, but I had my suspicions.

A quick tap on speed dial and I had the office on the phone. "This is Randall. I'm out at Cole-Bright. Yea, that's the call. It looks like this one had some help. Send out an evidence unit with the coroner."


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