Category Archives: Mystery

Death Takes the Day

“ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER…”

“Murder.”

Detective Pat Bennet gave a start at the sound by his ear. He looked up from musing at the open file on his too small dark green smudged and chipped metal desk. His face broke out in a smile.

“Dave! When did you get in?”

“Just arrived. Wanted to see my bro before I went to the house.”

“Yeah.” Pat lost his smile. Their mother died three days ago. Pat lived with her. He notified everyone immediately. Family had been filtering in for the last two days. Dave came three thousand miles from California, the last of family that could make it. The funeral home had scheduled wake and service for late afternoon and burial for the following morning at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Death in the family didn’t mean Pat could take time off from the job. It went everywhere with him. He glanced at his case file and thought, one more homicide with a twist. Why couldn’t they be simple? Still, when the Captain called him in and offered his condolences yesterday, he didn’t offer to have another detective take this one on.

“Your baby, Pat. You’ll have to stuff in your personal time around this one. Sorry.”

He didn’t sound sorry. Everybody knew Captain Lance Kreska in and out of the police force. Tough, no nonsense, some said, a cold, insensitive man. He gained national attention six months before when, as a detective lieutenant he solved a vexing string of killings in Minneapolis by tagging an interstate murder-for-hire ring with the dirty work.

Next he coerced one of the thugs into spilling. He then dived in with a SWAT team and took the heart out of the organization, neat as you please. He refused to say how he did it to anyone. The commissioner himself couldn’t pry it out of him, even using the customary threats. Lieutenant Kreska simply stopped talking, removed his badge and handed it to the man along with his Glock 9mm sidearm and stood quietly at attention.

Commissioner Wright looked at the badge and the gun and met Kreska’s eyes. Elections weren’t far off. The commissioner knew what political capital his lieutenant had generated for him. He also knew that other problems in the department had eroded his support base. Winning the seat he coveted had become a crap-shoot with his opponent, a well-known district attorney whose popularity had jumped again a few days earlier.

“Was it legal?”

Steely-eyed Kreska replied, “Of course.”

The commissioner handed Kreska back his personals.

“Dismissed.”

A month later Homicide Captain Garson Waid died from an unsuspected embolism and the next thing they knew, Kreska got the job. Yeah, he passed the tests, nothing dumb about the guy, but no one in the department believed that Commissioner Wright hadn’t had a hand in it. Elections were last Tuesday and the commissioner won handily over his popular opponent.

“Damn Kreska,” Pat said under his breath.

“Boss tagged you again?” Dave said, not without sympathy.

“He’s right, of course. I’m the guy for this one. Just wish he had a little more human feeling.”

“Not the job for it, Pat.”

Yeah, yeah.”

Dave Bennet ran a security firm in LA. Ten years older than Pat, Dave took early retirement from LA homicide five years before amidst some controversy involving his police commissioner.

“Sick of it!” he’d said privately to Dave during one of their rare phone conversations. Pat understood then and understood now. Why a civilian had to head a police organization stuck in his craw. Deep down he knew it must be, but he hated politicians, thought they were worse than bad cops. Didn’t matter. He couldn’t change it.

Pat looked down at his messy desk. Papers and photos from a not too organized file covered it. The hard chair under him suddenly squeaked as he tried to get more comfortable. It came to him that he’d been eyeballing the material for too long and no longer saw it.

“What you got?” Dave said.

“Mercury poisoning.”

“Rare. Tell me?”

He and Dave had spoken for years about cases, sometimes hypothetically, sometimes not. Pat stayed within the letter of the law, but wasn’t too proud to seek alternative answers in tough cases. He believed in two heads being better than one and considered it his credo.

“Herbert Tessler. Lived over in the high-rise section of Mammoth Estates close to the north end. Well off, two estranged children, one living in Buffalo and the other in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, of all places.”

“Why?”

“No reason, I guess. Seems like a strange place to migrate to. Thurber Tessler the son works for DuPont Chemical Corporation and DuPont’s all over the place. They don’t use mercury in the processes he works around, but Thurber is a buyer for them, so all things are possible. The daughter, Maura Tessler, still unmarried at thirty-nine, works for CVS in Buffalo as a registered pharmacist. Again a possible.

“Tessler’s wife Hannah died six years ago, allergic reaction to peanuts. I got strange vibes reading that one. She knew she couldn’t eat them, but autopsy showed a half-pound of the things, masticated and partially digested in her stomach. Suicide or something else? Doesn’t smell like accident to me but there are lots better ways to cash out. I got questions coming out the ying-yang on that one, especially now.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But this case, when’s the last time they could have been around the old man in town?”

“Like I said, they don’t have anything to do with the old man, but curiously, they both got together while they were attending separate chemical and pharmacy conventions in Minneapolis not two weeks ago.”

“That is interesting.”

“Both kids, as I said, she’s thirty-nine, he’s forty-two—the old man was seventy-six—got together on the evening of the sixth at a small, intimate lounge called the Red Deacon on the south side.”

Pat lifted some papers and pulled a statement from the mess. He waved it at Dave.

“Maura’s statement. I called Buffalo PD. One of their guys went out and got it. Faxed me a copy this morning. Pretty good background. Thurber, on the other hand, refused to give a statement. No time, he said, but talked to an officer at his facility, who, fortunately, took good notes. Thurber said nothing about meeting his sister, which I find odd, but neither officer was armed with clairvoyance, so they couldn’t ask all the right questions. We’ll get another go at them a bit later and compare them.

“Meantime, I talked to the two Minn cops who went to the old man’s place initially on a call from the high rise super at Mammoth Estates. Makim Razthan got a call from a tenant below Thurber, water leaking through the ceiling. Said the woman was exercised and demanded him come immediately. Traced it to Thurber’s suite. Sink running over, old man on the floor, dead. That’s when he called the cops.”

“It fits,” Dave said. “Anyone else?”

“Yeah, neighbor told the arriving officers that they heard a big row early evening the day before. Said the old man fired his cleaning lady, something about stealing monogrammed handkerchiefs.”

Dave smiled at his brother. “Doesn’t sound like much, but you know the rules.”

Pat smiled wearily. “Yeah, I’ll check her out, too. Who knows?”

“No other suspects?”

“Not yet, but the floor is open for nominees. Razthan told the officers Tessler wasn’t well liked in his building, either.”

“You need some time away, bro. Coffee?”

“Not the dregs we get here. Let’s hit Mickey D’s. I need to clear my head. We got to talk about Mom and the estate, too.”

“Yeah. Never rains but it pours.”

A Cincinnati Story

Claude’s my boss. This one average morning I showed up at work ready and rarin’, as they say. He walked in and I did a double take. That great drooping mustache that defined him, gone!

He’d cut away all but a pencil-thin vestige of the bushy stash hairs I knew so well. The man wasn’t David Niven or an Italian barber, for crying out loud. He was French Canadian!

We’d learned from Claude’s rousing stories of the great north of Canada that men wore wild and unkempt full-faced beards. Style follows function, right? It did a hell of a job keeping a man’s face from freezing off, so he said. Sure, when he first arrived in our office he’d trimmed it enough to avoid being arrested for vagrancy, but it looked good. Not long after he let the beard go, and then the big brush he cultivated under his nose was him! Now this? C’mon!

Claude came from Hudson’s Bay. Friendly guy, great boss, but we were more than that. We were friends. We loved his stories; his English sported a pronounced French accent that drove me to fits of laughter. I’d make good-natured fun of him – in private, of course.

Twelve years ago North Country Vellum, the paper company we worked for decided he had more than brawn. He had a brain up there, and they’d seen him use it, as in saving the company money, and what was more important than that?

The company up and ups decided to give him a career change. Now he lived in Cincinnati, a qualified, proper transplant. The beard came off and the bush under the nose on his craggy face became his hallmark.

Today he sported this abomination into the office.

“What did you do?” I stared at the space above his lip.

“I wanted a change. Like it?”

“Who are you?”

His brow crinkled and he frowned. He glanced at me and I thought I saw hurt in his eyes. He snorted and moved away. I stood with my mouth open. Maybe I’d said a wrong thing. Others in their cubicles and stragglers who’d barely managed to punch in on time looked him over. Some shrugged, like, what’s the big deal? Worker bees, I thought disparagingly. They didn’t know Claude like I did.

The day had scarcely begun. Pace is very important in our marketing department. That little confrontation threw me off. I went to my cubicle and angrily punched the start button on my computer. Familiar things surrounded me, but because of a hairline mustache on a good friend whom I’d evidently disturbed with an insensitive question, nothing seemed to gel. The familiar took on a foreign quality and damn it, I felt guilty.

How could I know the day would get stranger yet?

I chided myself. I couldn’t worry about it. I needed to get to work. I had quota calls to make and my job depended on it. I swallowed hard, flexed my fingers like I was about to run a glissando on the hall piano and when the screen came up I logged in and tried to get going. I set up my work from the previous day. I tried to be mechanical about it, but I was fooling myself. The usual fire had gone out and I couldn’t get it back.

I turned to my graphics program. No indexing or charts this time. I did this sometimes to calm myself while waiting for inspiration. Before long I’d programmed Claude’s face. I put his mustache back. It looked right! I studied his somber, somewhat homely face. I removed the hairy bush I remembered and replaced it with a hairline mustache. Then I removed the mustache altogether. Better, but not Claude. Surprising how different a person looks when you remove the image that’s burned in your mind.

I brooded. I couldn’t figure why he’d been hurt by my comment, but I had to solve the mystery. I knew the man. We’d partied together, had cookouts, our wives were great friends; we’d even gone on vacations together. Normally, I didn’t see Claude as a sensitive person. Something must be going on I’d overlooked, some small thing. Maybe…

I laughed at myself. Who was getting sensitive? But it troubled me. I waited until a little before lunch and then I walked to his office. His closed door meant he had a client with him. I retired to the water cooler where I could see his office door. I drew a cup of cold water. I stood around until other people began to notice me and make cracks, then I went back to my cubicle. Who could be in there with Claude so long?

I tried but I couldn’t concentrate, so after ten minutes I went back to the water cooler and got another drink. Standing behind the tall machine made me virtually invisible to Claude’s office, and I almost hit the floor when the door opened and out came my wife. She smiled at Claude, looked this way and that, and then walked away. My wife?

Something in what I saw made me pause. Instead of confronting her as Claude led her out, his hand on her elbow, I ducked a little further to be sure I hadn’t been seen. Once behind the nearer cubicles, I hot-footed it back to my place and waited for Joanne to arrive.

She didn’t. With two exits, a person could leave the office without my seeing them and that’s what she did. I’d get with her tonight; see what was up. It changed my mind about barging in on Claude. I like a little mystery, but this felt real close and personal.

The next stage in the mystery involved my call to Joanne at home. Okay, I couldn’t wait until evening. One thing I knew, she had left two hours before and should have been long home. No answer.

At lunch I had no appetite, so I went for a walk along West Street. Cincinnati Citicorp Plaza shined with newness. The granite slab construction imbued the building with a sense of authority and in an architectural setting of glass and stone created a beautiful backdrop for the city that, down as I was, I could still appreciate.

The rest of the day was a disaster. I missed my quota and Claude didn’t do his daily walk-through, highly unusual. I learned about mid-afternoon that he had already left the office and wouldn’t be back for the rest of the day. Also strange! Claude had earned his promotion by being in earliest and leaving latest, a regular workaholic.

Troubled by thoughts I didn’t want to think, I drove home. Joanne would have some answers, no doubt, and I couldn’t wait to hear them. Claude and Lisa were friends, the best, you know. So what stuck in my craw? Left out? Betrayed? I shouldn’t think those thoughts, but there they were.

I arrived home in the Andale suburb of Cincinnati and my house was dark. Oh man! More stomach acid. I touched my garage opener and the door lifted. My wife’s car wasn’t in the garage. Crazy bad feelings crept into my chest. Demoralized, I parked and went into the house through the kitchen. Silence greeted me, a charged silence, the pin drop kind. My stomach rolled.

I walked into the living room and flipped on the light and, “SURPRISE!”

Noise, commotion, smiling faces and a big banner across the top of the room from one end to the other said, “Happy Birthday!”
And there was Claude, ridiculous mustache and all, Lisa in arm. And there were many of our friends and neighbors with party hats and they’d all had a few and they were bursting to shake my hand and congratulate me.

Omigod, I totally forgot!

Joanne came over with the brightest smile, kissed me roundly, handed me a Scotch and soda and said, “Happy 40, George. Gotcha!”

My wife’s tilted sense of humor. Gotta love it.