MURDER AT THE CLUB
C. G. Prado
Published 2017 by C.G. Prado
©2017 by C.G. Prado
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations to books and critical reviews. This story is a work of fiction. Characters, businesses, places, and events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
The First Interlude
The Second Interlude
The Third Interlude
The Fourth Interlude
The Fifth Interlude
The Sixth Interlude
The Seventh Interlude
The Eighth Interlude
The Ninth Interlude
The Tenth Interlude
The Eleventh Interlude
The Twelfth Interlude
The Thirteenth Interlude
The Fourteenth Interlude
The Fifteenth Interlude
The Sixteenth Interlude
The Seventeenth Interlude
The Eighteenth Interlude
The Nineteenth Interlude
The Penultimate Interlude
The Last Interlude
The First Monday
Meredith University was changing. It remained private and as wealthy as ever, but student attitudes were taking disturbing new directions. Charlie Douglas lamented recent changes in student views on course work and marks. Students seemed to think their classes redundant because of the availability of information on the Internet, giving no thought to integration and deep understanding. As for marks, they seemed to feel that their high tuition should ensure equally high grades. The ambience of university teaching was definitely changing and Charlie didn’t like it. To make matters worse, a practical problem had arisen that could seriously jeopardize an establishment that offered respite from dealing with students: The faculty club was in trouble.
Meredith’s faculty club was known on campus simply as “the Club.” It offered good food, a relaxing atmosphere, and most important, the opportunity to meet and talk with colleagues from other departments. Charlie lunched at the Club pretty much daily and thoroughly enjoyed the banter at the so-called Club Table, a table seating twelve and intended for those who turned up to lunch on their own. The table, though, was actually frequented by a group of regulars. Allowing for early afternoon classes, lunches at the Club table often ran well over an hour and provided conversations covering an impressive range of topics and contributed to by a mix of people from different disciplines. However, Club members who were retiring were not being replaced by new members. Younger academics tended to find a sandwich in their offices preferable to lunch at the Club, both because of cost and being able to desperately key in a few paragraphs on their latest publishing effort. The result was a diminishing membership that threatened the Club’s survival.
Charlie had been optimistic when Albert Devereux became manager because of his enthusiasm, rapport with the staff, and innovative policies, but over the longer run things were not looking good. This was the dark thought Charlie entertained as he walked down from Lipson Hall to the Club for lunch that Monday.
It was getting on to twelve-thirty when Charlie entered the main dining room and made his way to the Club table. The first thing he noticed as he approached was that Alan Jeffries was holding forth. Jeffries was lecturing the others on the Latin origins of words in the daily menu, as he often did despite communal lack of interest. Jeffries was a classicist and obsessed with his specialty, which had to do with the flow of ancient Greek concepts, particularly religious and political ones, into later Roman ideas and values.
Charlie took a seat and looked over the menu.
“Hey, Charlie. What’s new in the philosophy department. Any more feuds going?”
The speaker, Paul Andrews, was originally from New Zealand and some sort of chemist. He had a good enough sense of humor to participate in the Club table banter, but perennially ran down the Humanities departments. Charlie tolerated the jibes because he felt sorry for Andrews, who was approaching retirement and stuck in an empty nest that was much too big for him and his wife but which wouldn’t sell because of its size, poor location, and bad repair. The Andrews had lowered the asking price for the house four times over three years to no avail.
“I wouldn’t know, Paul; I pay no attention to the politics.”
Though exaggerating a bit, Charlie did try hard to stay out of the ongoing feuds in the philosophy department: feuds fueled largely by one member and her supporters. But he had no intention of providing Andrews with fodder by telling him even the little he knew. Happily, just then Will Billings, carrying a bowl of soup he regularly served himself to the consternation of the servers, joined them at the table and the banter picked up.
After lunch, on his way back to Lipson Hall and his office, Charlie admitted to himself that if the Club closed, staying at Meredith would lose some of its attraction for him. But he had a class to get to and put the thought behind him. After gathering his books and notes, Charlie headed for a classroom one floor down and met the thirty students who were taking his course on Michel Foucault.
The First Tuesday Morning
Charlie had no classes on Tuesday. He did some overdue shopping for shirts and didn’t arrive at his office until eleven-thirty. Charlie fired up his laptop to check his email and to work up some enthusiasm for the paper he was working on. Charlie was staring at the screen when he had a surprise: Pam DeVries was suddenly in his doorway.
Charlie had worked with then Detective DeVries twice before (Murder at the Break, Murder in the Dorm) but had heard she’d been promoted and assumed she’d become deskbound. Yet here she was.
“Charlie. How are you?”
“Fine, fine; sit down. Would you like some coffee?”
“No, thanks, I’m just here to introduce you to someone. Leslie, come on in.”
In response a younger woman stepped rather shyly into Charlie’s office.
“Charlie, this is Leslie Marlow. She’s doing what I used to do and I’m hoping you’ll help her as much as you helped me. As you may have heard, I got the promotion I was in for last time we worked together, and now I spend most of my time at the precinct. Leslie took my slot and is working on her own for a while. My partner transferred out and we haven’t gotten a replacement for him quite yet. One thing you’ll be interested in is that Leslie graduated from Meredith.”
For the first time, Marlow smiled and looked more self-assured. She still hadn’t spoken.
“Well, Detective Marlow, I’m afraid I don’t remember, but did you ever take one of my courses?”
“Oh, no, Professor Douglas. I was warned against doing that. Besides, philosophy always scared me.”
This was said with a faint smile and Charlie thought he was going to like Leslie Marlow.
“Well, now that introductions are out of the way, perhaps we should get down to it.”
Charlie was perplexed and no doubt looked it, given what DeVries then said.
“Charlie; you’ve not heard? One of your Faculty Club staff members was killed, murdered, last night.”
“Murdered? Who was it?”
DeVries checked her notepad.
“One Bernard Kostavo; the chef. He was found in the kitchen this morning by one of the staff.”
“This is hard to believe. Found dead at the Club?”
“Yes. He was struck on the head. Hard to say if someone meant to kill him because he had an abnormally thin skull. The blow would probably only have knocked him out, otherwise. The best forensic estimate is that he was killed quite late yesterday afternoon or early evening. I’m surprised you didn’t hear. I know how word travels in this place and the Club is closed today, being a crime scene.”
“Well, I came in late; just a few minutes ago. But tell me, do you know more about what happened? Bernard was a bit of an oddball but I can’t see anyone wanting to kill him. Have you any idea about the motive?”
“It’s not my case, Charlie. It’s Leslie’s. That’s why I brought her to meet you. I told her that if it had anything to do with Meredith, you were the man to see. In fact, I’ve got a lot on so I’m going to take off and leave you two to get acquainted.”
With that DeVries shook hands with Charlie and left. Charlie asked Marlow, who was still standing by the door, to sit down and repeated his offer of coffee. Marlow agreed to a cup. Charlie went to the main office, returned with two coffees, and sat down, looking expectant.”
“Okay; Charlie. What can you tell me about Kostavo?”
“Not a lot. I only saw him occasionally. I said he was an oddball because he kept coming up with weird names for the dishes he served as specials. It got to be a game to figure out what you’d get if you ordered the special.”
“He was killed late enough yesterday afternoon that he was the last one working. The manager said there was no special function on last night and no one in the bar, so he let everyone go early, at five-thirty. The best guess is that Kostavo stayed to prepare stuff for today’s lunch because there were sandwiches in the fridge that other members of the kitchen staff say weren’t there yesterday. Do you know of anyone with whom he might have had problems?”
“I don’t, but I’ll ask around and let you know anything I learn.”
The First Tuesday Afternoon
Charlie settled for a sandwich and coffee from the Student Union snack-bar and tried again to get going on his paper. He was halfway through typing a paragraph when Jeffries called.
“I’m sure you’ve heard about Bernard. I assume your detective friend visited you?”
“Yes, she did, though she’s apparently not working this case. She’s been promoted out of that line of work.”
Charlie thought it better not to fill Jeffries in on Leslie Marlow.
“Well, I can tell you this much, it was Kim, that pleasant enough server who can’t remember an order from one end of the table to the other, who found the body. Kostavo’s head was bashed in. Apparently, Kim arrived earlier than usual for no particular reason and there was Kostavo on the kitchen floor by the table where dishes are finished off with sides of salad or fries. She was apparently quite emotional when the police arrived. Kostavo was divorced—twice—and lived alone, so no one missed him overnight.”
“Thanks for filling me in, Alan, but I’ve got to go now.”
The last thing Charlie wanted was to encourage Jeffries to start speculating on who might have killed Kostavo. His being bashed on the head didn’t sound premeditated, but Charlie wondered if there’d been a struggle. If not, it meant Kostavo had probably turned away from his killer at some point, perhaps to get something or because they knew one another well, or possibly with indifference, and been hit on the back of his head. Charlie hoped Marlow would tell him.
Just as Charlie was about to get on with his paper, Mike Sanders appeared in the doorway. Sanders was more friend than colleague and, as was his practice, he held two cups of coffee. As it turned out, what he handed Charlie was a foamy latte. Sanders sat down and waited patiently.
“What a con artist; you think a latte is going to get you everything Marlow told me?”
“Who the hell is Marlow? I wanna know what DeVries had to say.”
“Well, you paid too much. All she did was introduce me to Leslie Marlow, her replacement. Now, if you have things to do I’ll sit here and enjoy your generous gift.”
“Okay, okay, what did Marlow say?”
“Not a lot. After we were introduced DeVries left and Marlow let me know she expected the same sort of help I’ve given DeVries. Poor Kostavo was hit on the head. What I’d like to know is if he was hit from behind or from the front. If it was from the front, then there likely was some sort of struggle. But if he was hit from behind, then it was someone that Kostavo felt comfortable with or was being rude to. It could be important.”
“That sounds right. Now, do you know enough about Kostavo to guess at what the motive might have been? Was he perhaps smuggling yummy fish tacos to some attractive but slightly married woman?”
“Haven’t a clue. When I talked to him it was always about food. I know next to nothing about his private life. I just learned that he was twice divorced. Do you know of anyone who might tell us a bit more about him?”
“You’re going to play detective again?”
“No; it’s just that I told Marlow I’d pass on whatever I learned.”
That evening Charlie told Kate about what had happened and his meeting with DeVries and Marlow. Her reaction was deliberately exaggerated acceptance that Charlie would once again play sleuth. After dinner Charlie went to his laptop and searched for information about Kostavo. All he found was that the chef had won an innovative cooking prize a year or so before he got the job at the Club. There was nothing about his family or background. The little write-up about the prize mentioned that Kostavo had worked in restaurants in New York and Montreal, but gave no details. Charlie then tried searching for the origins of the name, but learned only that it was originally East-European, though there might be a connection to the Spanish first name, ‘Gustavo.’ All in all, no help. The next day he’d have to cozy up to one or other of the servers he knew best to see if there was some gossip around that might be informative. That was assuming the Club would be open for lunch on Wednesday. But thinking of Wednesday reminded Charlie that he had class notes to review.
THE FIRST INTERLUDE
Where could the file be? A lousy print-out that could cost him dearly. He should never have given it to Kostavo. Even with the mark’s name deleted and listing only the initial moves, the file provided details of his scam, an inventory of his maneuvers that a forensic agent could turn into a courtroom triumph. If the cops ever got it and linked it to him, they’d have what would be tantamount to a confession. Kostavo had been so hesitant, and the file had convinced him, as intended, but it had been stupid to hand it over. He had to find it.
The First Wednesday
Charlie’s Wednesday class was a once a week morning seminar that ran from eight-thirty to eleven-thirty, with a break at ten. The class consisted of only six students, but they were the most dedicated Charlie had. The subject was difficult but engaging: theories of truth. As usual, the discussion was lively and time passed quickly. At eleven-thirty Charlie apologized to the students that he couldn’t stick around for questions, dropped his books back at his office, and hurried to the Club. Assuming it was open, he wanted to be early to talk to either one or both of the two servers he knew best to ask about Kostavo. Charlie got to the Club at eleven-forty-five and, as he’d hoped, it was open. He found Cassie, one of the servers he was looking for, distributing chits on the tables in the main dining room.
“Cassie, sorry to interrupt, and I’m sorry to bring this up. I don’t know if you were close to Bernard, but I’m trying to help the police and I’m wondering if there’s anything you can tell me about him that might be of some use to them.”
“Professor Douglas, you just won a bet for me. I bet a couple of the other staff members that you’d get involved in this case. All I can tell you about Bernie is that he had a lot more money than I’m sure he made as a chef. He had two ex-wives and that’s got to have cost him, and he drove around in a pricey BMW. When we went to our Christmas party, he was dressed in stylish clothes and was lavish in buying drinks for people. I remember seeing him pull bills from a fat roll that Maxine thought had to be ones rolled up for show but I think were twenties. The cops might want to find out where the money came from. I’m certain it wasn’t from his salary here. He never talked about himself, though. Like all chefs I’ve ever worked with, he was egotistical and the staff were just so many lowly minions. I can’t think of anything else. Now, I’ve got to put out bread baskets and water pitchers.”
Charlie thanked Cassie and was the first at the Club table. He mused over Kostavo’s apparent deep pockets. Cassie was right. If he was paying or did pay alimony but was now buying BMWs and flashing rolls of bills, it wasn’t on what the Club paid him. Marlow would be interested in this information as Kostavo apparently had more going on than devising exotic daily specials.
“Charlie. You’re earlier than usual. What’s up?”
Billings was discrete so Charlie told him he’d been trying to learn something about Kostavo to pass on to the police. He also told Billings what he’d learned from Cassie.
“Um. That does sound a little out of line with what one would expect. Maybe it’s quite innocent; he may have had a substantial inheritance. I don’t see what he might have been up to that would bring in big bucks if he spent all his weekdays working here. And even if a chef were in a position to embezzle, he certainly wouldn’t get a lot from this place.”
“First thing one thinks of these days is drugs. Would a chef’s position facilitate anything to do with drugs? Meredith doesn’t have a drug problem, so students and faculty wouldn’t be his market, but I can’t think of anything else.”
At that point, Albert Devereux entered the main dining room and called for attention by tapping a spoon on a glass.
“Ladies and gentlemen, members, I regret to announce that as some of you may know, our chef, Bernard Kostavo, was killed late Monday. We were closed yesterday because of police activity here at the Club. The Board of Directors is working on a fitting tribute to Bernard and you will be informed of what they decide. I’ll let you all get back to your lunch, now. Thank you for your attention.”
As Devereux left the dining room, Jeffries entered and joined Charlie and Billings at the Club table. He was followed by several others and talk focused on Kostavo’s murder. Ideas were tossed around but none of them caught Charlie’s interest. Billings soon tired of the speculating and changed the subject. Jeffries, as was his way, tried to change the subject back, but failed to do so.
On his way out of the Club, Charlie ran into Cindy, the other server he wanted to talk to.
“Cindy, I’d like to ask you if there is anything you can tell me about Kostavo?”
“Dr. Douglas, Cassie told me you were asking about Bernie. I think she told you he seemed pretty well off. What I can add is that he was a regular at The Clip Joint, that bar on Lake Street. I saw him there with a good-looking redhead. I’m afraid that’s it.”
Charlie thanked Cindy. He and Kate had been to The Clip Joint once and not gone back because of too-loud music and patrons in their thirties and forties trying hard to party like twenty-year-olds.
Back in his office Charlie wondered: Where did Kostavo get the money? Who was the redhead Cindy had seen him with?
The First Wednesday Evening
When he got home Charlie talked Kate into going to The Clip Joint for just one drink so he could ask a few questions.
“I knew you’d be into this sleuthing business again.”
“Look, I just promised Detective Marlow to pass on what I could. I helped DeVries in two cases; the least I can do is try to do the same for Marlow this one time.”
“‘This one time’; oh, sure. Okay, I’ll go to that dive, but I get dinner after.”
The bar was every bit as noisy as Charlie remembered. He and Kate looked for a table and Charlie led the way to a booth well away from the crowd around the bar. They sat down and Charlie looked around for a redhead that might be Kostavo’s drinking partner. Just then one of the busy servers came to the booth.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t take a booth if there are only the two of you.”
“We’re waiting for some friends. Perhaps you know Bernard Kostavo?”
“Oh, Bernie? Well Lydia’s at the bar. I’ll call her over. Now, what can I get you?”
Kate ordered a dry martini and Charlie a scotch on ice and the server went off.
“Thanks for not acting surprised and giving me away.”
“Oh, I expected something like that. Actually, it was a good move.”
It wasn’t long before the server was back with their drinks and accompanied by an attractive woman with what Charlie thought was more auburn than red hair. Charlie stood as best he could in the booth and invited her to sit down.
“You’re expecting Bernie? Oh, sorry; I’m Lydia.”
“Hello. I’m Charlie; this is Kate. Do sit down. What would you like to drink?”
“Thanks. I’ll have an Appletini, Margie.”
The server went off and Lydia sat down. Charlie then got to the hard part.
“Lydia, I’m afraid we have some bad news. Coming here was a way of finding you because we didn’t know your name. You probably saw it in the paper, but if not I’m sorry to tell you that Bernard, Bernie, was killed on Monday.”
“Killed? Bernie? No; I rarely read the local rag. What happened?”
Lydia looked shaken and Charlie wished they were somewhere quieter.
“He was killed at the Meredith University Faculty Club where he worked as its chef.”
“Bernie was a chef? I didn’t know that’s what he did. Are we talking about the same person?”
“Well, ‘Bernard Kostavo’ isn’t a common name, but he was in his early to mid-forties, about five eight or nine, and a bit heavy set. I was told that he came here and was seen with a redheaded companion, so I’d say we’re talking about the same person.”
“Yes, yes; I guess I was just hoping. Bernie and I used to meet here a couple of times a week. I first met him here four or five months ago. But I thought he was a broker or financial type. He never talked about himself; I got the idea he was a broker because, well, because of some discussions we had. But you say he was killed. What happened? Was it a car accident?”
“No, I’m afraid it was much worse than that. Someone murdered him.”
“Murdered…? I can’t believe this.”
At that point Lydia looked like she might break down and Kate tried to sooth her while Charlie went to the bar to get Lydia a brandy. When he returned both Lydia and Kate were quiet. Charlie gave Lydia the brandy, told her to have it. She did, and seemed to relax a bit. Charlie asked if she needed a lift home.
“Thank you, but no. My car’s around the back. I do think I’ll go home, though.”
“Probably a good idea. Look, here’s my card. Do get in touch.”
“Thank you, again. Yes; I may. I think I’d like to learn a bit more about Bernie. I’d also like to know about funeral arrangements. I’m Lydia Heath, by the way. Goodnight Kate, Charlie.”
As soon as Heath left Charlie waved the server over, paid the bill, and he and Kate got out of the noisy environment and went to dinner.
THE SECOND INTERLUDE
The file wasn’t in Kostavo’s apartment. Where else should he look? Kostavo surely wouldn’t have defied him and handed the file over to one of the marks instead of just showing it, would he? But he might have, to convince one or the other of them, as Kostavo had himself been convinced by the file. It had to be found, but he had to be careful. His search of Kostavo’s apartment would be reported to the police.
The First Thursday
The second weekly meeting of Charlie’s Foucault course was that afternoon and he spent most of the morning preparing his lecture and deciding on questions to raise for the students to work on for Monday’s class. At a little after eleven he got a call he’d been half expecting but had put out of his mind that morning.
“Mr. Douglas? This is Lydia Heath. We met last evening? I wonder if you have a little time to speak with me?”
“Certainly, Ms. Heath, but call me Charlie. I have a class this afternoon, so we could either meet for lunch or I could meet you after my class—say, about five or five-thirty?”
“That’s very kind of you. Given my work schedule, lunch would work best. I’m free till three. Where could we meet?”
“How about the Meredith Faculty Club? Ever been there?”
“No, I haven’t, and I must say I’m curious to visit. Is noon okay? And no need for directions; I know where it is as I often drive by it.”
“Noon is perfect. There’s visitor parking. I’ll wait for you in the foyer.”
Charlie was delighted and hurried through his work to be at the Club in plenty of time.
At ten to twelve Charlie was just inside the front door of the Club, watching out for Heath. It was precisely noon when he saw a car drive in and recognized Heath. She parked and made her way to the entrance.
“Very punctual. Now, let’s get a glass of wine before going up to the dining room.”
“That’s a marvelous idea. Pinot grigio for me, if I may.”
Carrying their glasses, Charlie led the way upstairs, but instead of heading into the main dining room, as was his habit, he led Heath to a smaller and quieter room at the back of the building. There he took her to a table for two by a window and set down their wine. Heath sat down, as did Charlie. She then looked a little doubtful about what came next.
“Look, the best thing is for you to relax. Let’s look at the menu, try our wine, and you can begin when you feel like it.”
“Thank you. Is there something you recommend?”
Charlie and Heath opted for the special, toasted each other, and he sat back trying not to let his anticipation show. Cassie was working the rear dining room and took their orders, giving Charlie a knowing look, but he was glad it wasn’t Cindy, who would have recognized Lydia Heath.
“Well, Charlie, what I wanted to discuss with you has more to do with me than Bernie. As I told you, I knew almost nothing about him even though we met a fair number of times and had some good conversations. Thing is, I saw him only at The Clip Joint and, ah, one other place, and when you told me he’d been killed I was initially quite upset. Now that I’ve calmed down, I need to deal with a problem. About a month ago, Bernie invited me to invest in a project he had going. He was very convincing, and I’d always been impressed with how free he was with money, so assumed he had plenty. Unfortunately, while I’m not hurting, I don’t have a lot and I quite foolishly gave him what I had in my savings. I suppose it wasn’t that much, except to me, but now I’m concerned I’ll never see any of it again.”
“That does sound like a problem. Can you to tell me how much we’re talking about?”
“I gave him a check for twelve-thousand dollars, the sum total of my savings.”
“Ouch; that’s a lot to lose. What was he going to do with it?”
“He didn’t tell me much; said he couldn’t. It had to do with buying calls, you know, options to buy shares, on a stock he knew was going to rise significantly. The problem was that he said he had information he shouldn’t have, so couldn’t talk about it. He did tell me he’d done several similar deals and had made out very well. What he was going to do was add my money to what he was investing himself, buy all the calls he could at a set price, buy the stock, then resell it at the higher price and give me back my money plus the percentage of the gain. He said he was sure of making twenty-five to thirty percent, perhaps more. That would mean my making three or four thousand over the twelve I gave him. I felt I couldn’t pass it up.”
“Lydia—if I may—I’m trying to help the police by gathering and passing on information. Your situation is something the detective on the case needs to know about, and it could possibly do you some good. I hope you have no objection to my telling her what you’ve told me?”
“No. In fact, I’d appreciate it. That way there might be a chance of me getting back some of my savings.”
Heath and Charlie finished lunch and were on their way out when Charlie had the bad luck of running into Jeffries in the hall. He knew Jeffries would make the most he could out of seeing Charlie with an attractive woman too old to be a student.
The First Thursday Evening
Charlie’s class went well and he went home a little earlier than usual. He was anxious to tell Kate what he’d learned at lunch. He decided that doing so merited dinner out. Kate, as usual, was all for it and they decided to try a new bistro not far from their condo. They chose to walk, as it was a pleasant night, and were pleased as they entered to find that quiet baroque music was being played and that the interior of The Cosseted Lamb was not as odd as its name and was quite gracious. The place wasn’t busy and they were given a table by the window. Charlie looked over the wine list, settling on a California zinfandel. He then told Kate about his conversation with Heath.
“I assume you’re going to pass all of this on to Marlow?”
“Definitely. I think it’s important she track down what Kostavo was up to. I’ll call her first thing tomorrow. Now, let’s see what this menu is all about.”
Kate and Charlie enjoyed dinner. Both had an excellent blackened salmon dish and they planned to soon revisit The Cosseted Lamb. The fact that it was close to their condo was a serious plus. When they got home the phone was ringing. By then it was a little after nine o’clock and Charlie wondered who could be calling. He picked up the phone just as it went to voice-mail and heard Leslie Marlow identifying herself. Charlie said hello and interrupted the voice-mail.
“Prof…, Charlie. This is Leslie Marlow. I’m sorry to call so late but I’ve just learned that Kostavo’s apartment was broken into and searched, particularly a small filing cabinet he had by his desk that was totally ransacked. We’re not sure when this happened, but it was certainly after the forensic people left. Because of the cabinet, I’m betting what was looked for are letters or files of some sort. What I wanted to ask you is if you have any idea of what Kostavo might have been into that would involve keeping something that someone could seriously want. Again, I know it’s late, but I’d appreciate it if you have any thoughts on this.”
“As it happens, I do think I can help. I was going to call you first thing tomorrow. I suspect what is being searched for are papers having to do with stock or stock-option trades.”
Charlie then told Marlow what he’d learned from Heath and who she was.
“Impressive, Charlie; you seem to have done some good work. This is a real help because now I can track down which broker Kostavo dealt with and get copies of his trades. I’ll need a warrant, but that’s routine. It’ll give me something to work with. Thank you, Charlie. You’re certainly living up to the reputation you have with Pam DeVries. Goodnight.”
Charlie filled Kate in on the call and decided that their dinner wine should now be followed up with cognac. He poured two snifters, and they sat down for their after-dinner drink.
“I’m surprised Kostavo’s apartment wasn’t being guarded, Charlie.”
“Well, it’s been three days since the murder. Kostavo wasn’t killed there, so the forensic team probably didn’t spend much time in the apartment. And there really was no reason to keep a guard there. It’s probably been turned over to the manager, unless it’s a condo. Then it’d be more complicated. Marlow didn’t say.”
“What are you going to do next?”
“First thing is to try and find out if anyone on the Club staff or the faculty was doing deals with Kostavo. He may have done what he did with Heath with other staffers or faculty members. I’ll ask around.”
“Do you know if Kostavo was particularly close to anyone working at the Club?”
“No. Cassie, one of the servers, told me that all chefs are egotistical, including Kostavo. He looked down on staffers and kept to himself. But I’ll ask Cahill, the sous-chef—or now acting chef—as he’s the likeliest to have gotten chummy with Kostavo.”
THE THIRD INTERLUDE
It seemed more and more likely that Kostavo had not just shown but given the file to one of the marks to overcome reservations. The file was convincing because he’d printed only the first part showing the initial lucrative trades and not the denouement, the eventual massive loss. But it was still highly incriminating.
The First Friday
On Fridays Charlie paid his dues for teaching only two courses. He was supervising two PhD candidates and three MAs and saw them all on Fridays. Their work was at different stages, so he had to adjust to dealing with anything from tidying up a nearly finished thesis manuscript to discussing a suitable topic for one. He had no fixed schedule, seeing the five students as they turned up. Some Fridays they all turned up; some Fridays only one or two did. Charlie was in his office by eight-thirty, but there was no one waiting. More to kill time than anything else, Charlie booted up his laptop, checked his email, and then started in on his paper. By nine-thirty no one had turned up. It wasn’t until quarter to ten that one of his MA students appeared in the doorway. Charlie motioned for her to come in and sit down.
The next hour was taken up with a sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious discussion. By eleven Charlie was again on his own, wondering if another candidate would turn up before lunch. He returned to his laptop and was just starting again on his paper when his best PhD candidate showed up. From then till noon they did a little serious work and a fair bit of joking around. Charlie had no doubts that the nearly-done thesis would be an excellent piece of work and the oral would be a done deal. By twelve-fifteen Charlie was on his way to the Club for lunch.
Much of the conversation at lunch was about Kostavo’s death but Charlie learned nothing new. He raised the topic of stock and option trading, but no one at the table could make a connection with Kostavo. On his way out of the Club Charlie ran into Clyde Cahill, Kostavo’s sous-chef who was now acting chef. Cahill was in his early thirties and was either blessed or burdened with five children.
“Clyde. How are you coping with the new situation?”
“Okay, Dr. Douglas. It’s really not much more work. The main thing that’s new is making up the daily specials. I heard from Cassie that you’re helping the cops like you’ve done before?”
“Well, trying to. Let me ask you just one question. Do you know anything about Bernie playing the stock market?”
“He sometimes interrupted what he was doing to call his broker; I know that much.”
“Did he ever invite you to take part in one of his deals?”
“Nope, he knew better. I barely make it on my salary and don’t have any cash to play with. But now that you mention it, I do remember Bernie talking with a prof in chemical engineering about stocks. I don’t know his name; he doesn’t come to the Club often, but I know he’s in chemical engineering because he was wearing one of those Meredith jackets that have a department logo. This was maybe a month ago; I really don’t remember.”
“Thanks, Clyde. That might prove useful.”
When Charlie got back to his office there were two MA candidates waiting for him and that took care of the afternoon. On his way home he thought through the names of the chemical engineers he knew from the Club table. One was a woman, so that left two possibilities. Of course there had to be eight or ten in that department, and they might all visit the Club on occasion, but he’d start by contacting the two he knew.
Kate met Charlie at the door of their condo, wearing her coat, and informed him that they were going to the Casa Santini, an excellent restaurant they’d discovered on Charlie’s last venture into sleuthing (Murder in the Dorm). The newly discovered restaurant had replaced Sandoval’s, their old favorite, which had closed rather abruptly. Charlie had no objections.
Santini’s served a veal scaloppini that was one of Charlie and Kate’s favorite dishes and they had a bottle of excellent merlot with it. Dinner was pleasant, the owner and manager of Santini’s being that rare contemporary restauranteur who kept the background music low and strictly classical. Charlie forgot all about Kostavo.
THE FOURTH INTERLUDE
Fortunately, the woman worked late hours and lived alone. She was perhaps the likeliest to have wanted some sort of evidence, so a good bet that Kostavo had given her the file. He’d have plenty of time to do a search, but he had to be careful not to leave any trace of his visit. He’d do the other place early tomorrow.
The First Saturday
Richard Ferguson was an assistant professor in chemical engineering at Meredith. Though relatively junior, he augmented his salary with well-paid consulting work. Ferguson was single but lived in an attractive house in one of Kingsford’s better neighborhoods. He was also a dedicated jogger. Every day at 6:00 AM he jogged three miles. As usual, he left promptly on time that Saturday morning, quite unaware that he was being watched.
Charlie got up and realized he’d slept in as it was getting on to nine o’clock. Kate was obviously up and he smelled coffee.
“Well, well, look who’s finally up. I assume you’d like some of this delicious coffee I’ve prepared?”
“Yes, please, and an order of eggs Benedict.”
“Right; toast it is.”
“Okay, do you have some nefarious plan or are we going to enjoy a Saturday at home?”
“Just two things: we need some basics, like bread, and I want to buy some shoes.”
“Fine, but we don’t leave before eleven.”
Charlie finished his breakfast, checked his email, showered, dressed, and eventually he and Kate set out for the shopping center. The shoe purchase took a good while, as Charlie had expected. The food-shopping went quickly, and they decided on The Cosseted Lamb for a late lunch. They got back to their condo at four o’clock. Kate sorted out their shopping stuff and Charlie booted his laptop to have a go at the paper he was writing. The phone rang at precisely five.
“Charlie; it’s Leslie Marlow. I’m in a bit of a hurry but have a question. Do you know an engineer at Meredith named Richard Ferguson?”
“I know who he is, but we’ve only chatted once or twice at the Club. He’s one of the people I intend to talk to about Kostavo.”
“Well, while he was jogging this morning his house was broken into. I’ve just learned that from the beat cops who responded to the call about the break-in. I’m going to see him a bit later, but I’d appreciate it if you could follow up. A filing-cabinet in his study was thoroughly rifled, desk-drawers, too. Very like Kostavo’s place. Sorry; I have to go.”
Charlie thought about what Marlow had said and came to the conclusion that whatever the killer was looking for, it wasn’t stock or option-trading confirmations or statements because items like that would only be Kostavo’s personal copies of originals held by his broker and eventually available to the police. It followed that the files the killer was looking for—and surely it was the killer doing the searching—were personal ones: probably lists or records Kostavo had kept of where money he had scammed had gone and likely names of those scammed.
Charlie put thoughts about the case aside and returned to his laptop, but as he sat down something else occurred to him. He’d assumed Kostavo was the central figure in whatever was going on and that the killer was someone Kostavo had swindled or cheated. But suppose Kostavo had himself been scammed. Just because he’d invited Heath and likely Ferguson into a deal didn’t mean that he was the initiator of the deal. He could have lured in others to build up the amount of money he was going to turn over to the actual scammer. He’d undoubtedly had intended to take a part of the others’ promised returns for himself or maybe he just needed more money to make a deal work. One advantage to thinking Kostavo was a victim rather than the scammer was that then it wasn’t necessary to explain how he’d learned whatever he had to know to make the scam work and put enough money together to suck in the first marks. Charlie wondered if it had occurred to Marlow that Kostavo was the mark and not the scammer. That could make a big difference regarding suspects and especially motive.
THE FIFTH INTERLUDE
Heath’s place had posed no problems. She’d left a window unlocked and slightly open. But the apartment had been such a mess that while he was certain she’d have no idea he’d been in it, he’d not been satisfied with his search. She had no tidy filing cabinet or desk in which to keep what he was looking for. He should have another shot at her place. But he’d had to search Ferguson’s house, too, and there he’d had to break a window to get in and he’d found nothing. Even if he’d left no trace at Heath’s apartment, and there was no obvious connection, the cops might link the break-in at Ferguson’s with the search of Kostavo’s apartment on the basis of information they’d learned that he didn’t know about.
The First Sunday
Charlie awoke on Sunday feeling confident that he was on the right track. Kostavo was almost certainly a victim of a stock scam, not himself the scammer. It hadn’t been him trying to scam Heath. He had lured her into a scam of which he was the target. This way of looking at things explained how Kostavo had cash to throw around. It was the classic case of a pyramid or Ponzi scheme producing good results at first to lure the target into forking over more money. If Kostavo had been throwing money around, he’d already been through the initial pay-out stage of the scam when he was killed. It would be useful, then, to learn when Kostavo had come into money to establish a rough time-frame for the scam.
Kate and Charlie spent a pleasant morning doing nothing at all before getting dressed and thinking about lunch. Kate had really taken to The Cosseted Lamb and they decided to have lunch there again. When they arrived the restaurant was not busy and as they took the window table they’d had before, Charlie noticed that Roslyn Applewhite and her husband were at a table nearby. Applewhite was an associate dean at Meredith, but what interested Charlie at the moment was that she presently served on the Faculty Club’s board of directors. As things worked out, the timing was nearly perfect. As Charlie and Kate placed their orders, Applewhite and her husband got up and started out. Charlie waved them over and Roslyn Applewhite led the way to Kate and Charlie’s table.
“Roslyn, hello. Won’t you two sit down and have an after-lunch drink?”
“Hi, Charlie, Kate. You remember Brian? Actually, we could do with another coffee. We never did get our refills.”
The Applewhites sat down and Charlie waved the server over and ordered coffee all round. Then he dived right in.
“It won’t surprise you, Roslyn, but I’m helping the police with Bernard Kostavo’s murder. One thing that just occurred to me is that you could well answer an important question.”
“Oh, Charlie, are you going to drag me into your sleuthing? Brian, you may have to help me out of here fast if Charlie starts interrogating me.”
“No, no; this is very simple. It’s just that I was told by someone at the Club that Bernie Kostavo had clothes and a car they thought out of his financial league and that he sometimes flashed a fat roll of bills. I’d like to know if you noticed any of that. The detective handling the case needs all the information about Kostavo that she can get and I’m calling her tomorrow.”
“That’s an interesting question, Charlie. I remember telling Brian that our chef seemed to be doing better than I am. We saw him a couple of months ago parking a smashing BMW in the Howard Center lot just before one of the concerts. I saw him again at intermission and he was wearing a flashy suit. He was with an attractive woman that looked half his age. But the more telling point is this: Last year, my first on the board, Bernard was the ring-leader of those demanding salary increases from the board. This year, not a peep out of him about salaries.”
“So it sounds like the money was a fairly recent thing.”
“Yes, I’d say so. But I’m sorry; we really have to get going. Thanks for the coffee.”
With that the Applewhites left and Kate commented that Charlie had a grin on his face.
“Well, that was really lucky. I thought I was going to have to question a bunch of people to confirm what Cassie and Cindy told me, but Roslyn’s point about the salary complaints is a clincher. Marlow will be interested in what we’ve learned, but on another point, I think she’ll get little from Kostavo’s broker. I’m feeling more and more sure that he was the one being scammed, which means he wasn’t handing money over to his broker but to the scammer, who almost certainly is the one that killed him.”
“If you’re right, the killer is looking for any records Kostavo might have kept of their dealings which would be incriminating.”
“Sure, and they wouldn’t be brokerage confirmations. Now, let’s forget the case and enjoy lunch.
THE SIXTH INTERLUDE
Kostavo dead was proving to be a bigger problem than Kostavo alive. He’d been an utter fool to resort to drugs and gotten exactly what he deserved. But now the cops were seriously involved, which made it all that much harder to find the damn file.
The Second Monday
Charlie awoke, got up, made coffee and toast, and mused about the Kostavo case. He reviewed events and retraced what he’d learned himself and what Marlow had told him. Nothing new jumped out at him, so he let it ride and went to shower and shave.
Monday was a class day, so Charlie called Marlow as soon as he got to his office. Fortunately, she was in and he suggested they meet for an early lunch, since he had an afternoon class. She opted to meet at the small diner near the police station where he and DeVries had met before and they settled on eleven-thirty. Charlie hung up and got out his notes for that afternoon.
Charlie drove to the diner to meet Marlow. She was in a booth, talking to a heavy-set man, when Charlie arrived. She introduced Charlie to Seth, a fellow detective, Charlie sat down, and Seth went back to a table with two other men. After a quick look at the menu and placing their orders, Charlie got to it, telling Marlow about his idea that Kostavo was a victim rather than himself the scammer.
“Charlie, I think that’s an interesting idea, but there’s a problem I’ll outline in a sec. First, I’ll admit your idea would explain Kostavo’s new-found wealth because the scammer would have provided enticing initial returns to lure Kostavo deeper into the scheme. But here’s the problem: I wouldn’t think a chef at a faculty club a likely target for a scammer running something like a pyramid or Ponzi scheme. The scammer would be looking for more money—a lot more money—than Kostavo likely had. Quite aside from the scam’s initial returns, Kostavo would have to have had significant funds available to be targeted in the first place.”
“Well, the scammer might have been counting on Kostavo sucking in others.”
“Yes, but that surely would come later, after the scammer provided Kostavo with a big cash return on some initial so-called investment to lure him in further. And if Kostavo went out and bought a BMW, expensive clothes, and started flashing money around, the ensnaring return had to have been substantial, which means Kostavo’s initial so-called investment also had to have been substantial. Where would Kostavo get that kind of money?”
“Yes; I see the problem. I didn’t give that enough thought and I should have. Well, if Kostavo was the scammer, and the killer the victim, the killer is most likely looking for a file or files regarding where his or her money went with a view to maybe getting some of it back.”
“That is my view. Trouble is, we just don’t have enough to work with. All we can do is wait for the killer to make a more serious mistake than giving away that he’s looking for something.”
“Do you think I could talk to Kostavo’s ex-wives? I’m sure you’ve spoken to them, but they might tell me something they wouldn’t tell you.”
“Only one is in Kingsford. I had a routine talk with her and she doesn’t seem to know anything, but I’ve no objection to you talking with her, so long as you don’t let on where you got her name and address.”
Having said that, Marlow wrote Kostavo’s ex-wife’s name and address on the corner of her placemat, tore off the corner, and gave it to Charlie. Both had finished their lunch and were having coffee and Charlie worked up his nerve to press Marlow a little.
“There’s one thing I’d like to know but have been reluctant to ask, since it’s probably confidential, but can you tell me whether Kostavo was struck from the front or from behind?”
“Why do you want to know that?”
“Well, if he was struck from in front, he must have seen it coming and tried to defend himself. If struck from behind, he either knew the killer pretty well or deliberately turned his back on the killer, perhaps in dismissal.”
“Very good, Charlie. I’ll trust you to keep this to yourself. Kostavo was struck from behind. We didn’t find the murder weapon, but it was likely a metal bar a bit less than an inch across and probably a couple of feet long. It doesn’t seem the sort of thing that would be lying around the Club kitchen, so the killer may have brought it with him, which suggests premeditation. Now, I’ve said too much, so we’ll leave it at that.”
Charlie and Marlow left the diner, she to return to the precinct and Charlie to walk the block to where he’d found a parking place. Back in his office, Charlie decided he would visit Kostavo’s ex-wife the next day. He then checked the Meredith phone listing and called Ferguson. They agreed to have lunch on Wednesday. He then hurried to his class.
The Second Tuesday
Tuesday morning Charlie was amazed to wake up alone in bed. Incredible as it seemed, Kate was up early. Then again, she might just be groggily in the bathroom, but when he reached the kitchen he found her drinking coffee.
“Has there been some disaster or maybe a miracle? What are you doing up?”
“I have to be ready at nine-thirty. Josie and I are going to go look at a condo she’s thinking of buying and the appointment is for ten. In fact, I’d better shower and dress.”
Charlie had a leisurely breakfast and didn’t get dressed until Kate left at nine-thirty. He then drove to the address Marlow had given him. He’d decided not to call ahead; it would be easier for the ex-wife to beg off on the phone. The woman bore the somewhat pretentious name of Autumn Winston-Schuyler. ‘Winston’ was no doubt her family name and ‘Schuyler’ her second husband’s name. ‘Kostavo’ had not survived in the name department.
Charlie had no trouble finding the house and, noting that it was now eleven, rang the bell. The door was opened by a woman who looked a little harassed.
“Ms. Winston-Schuyler, I’m Charles Douglas, a professor at Meredith University. I’d appreciate five or ten minutes of your time as I have some questions about your ex-husband, Bernard Kostavo. It’s really quite important, otherwise I wouldn’t impose on you.”
“Well, I was in the middle of something, but come in, though I doubt I can help you.”
Once seated in a pleasant living room, Charlie complimented Winston-Schuyler on her home and went on to give his explanation.
“Ms. Winston-Schuyler, I knew Bernie as the chef of the Faculty Club. I was quite shocked when I learned he’d been killed. The problem is that whoever killed Bernie has been searching for a file or files in Bernie’s apartment and other places. The police have been onto me about whatever it may be that the killer is looking for, but I haven’t any idea. I know you’ve spoken with Detective Marlow, but thought perhaps you might share some speculation with me that you thought too problematic or awkward to share with her.”
“Um. I see. I did speak with her, but briefly. The problem is that as I told her, Bernie and I have not had any contact since our divorce. That was over five years ago.”
“While you were together, did Bernie play the stock market or even talk about it?”
“Oh, he talked about it, certainly, but he never had enough money to do anything other than talk. He seemed to think you could make a fortune, not with stocks, but with orders to buy or sell stocks; I don’t remember what they’re called.”
“They’re ‘options’ or ‘puts and calls’ and provide ways of buying and selling stocks at a set price at a later date than the option trade date.”
“I’m certain that’s what interested Bernie. But as I said, he didn’t have the money. All he did was talk with Mitch, my husband. Mitch is a broker.”
“Your present husband is a broker? How did Bernie know him?”
“Oh, we used to be part of a small group of friends living in the same apartment building. Bernie and I were still married and the group was a sort of dining club. Bernie started it because, as a chef, he was interested in trying different restaurants without, you know, anyone knowing he was a chef. He also said a restaurant was best assessed by the service to a group of six or eight. At the time we were living on Crescent Street and Bernie got Mitch and Mitch’s first wife and another couple, the Swainsons, in on the thing. The Swainsons were the first to leave; they moved to somewhere in Colorado before our two divorces.”
“Ms. Winston-Schuyler, thank you for speaking with me. I just have one more question. I know you said you didn’t have any contact with Bernie, but he seems to have come into some money not too long ago. Do you know if he might have received an inheritance, perhaps?”
“Definitely not. His parents were both dead when we married. There were no brothers or sisters. Bernie’s parents married late and he was an only child. No uncles, either, rich or otherwise. There was an aunt, but she died the first year we were married and certainly didn’t leave Bernie anything. He ended up paying for her funeral.”
Charlie thanked Winston-Schuyler and left. As he drove to his office he reviewed what he’d learned: Kostavo hadn’t had big bucks, but Kostavo’s ex-wife’s second husband was a broker with whom Kostavo had been friendly long enough to have learned a good deal about options. It looked like Marlow was right and Kostavo was the scammer, not the mark.
THE SEVENTH INTERLUDE
There was one more obvious though tricky place to look. But wait a minute: could Kostavo have approached his ex-wife? Kostavo had groused about his first wife having left Kingsford after their divorce but especially about the second one marrying a wealthy guy and moving into his house in a pricey neighborhood. She might have looked like a good target for a little revenge, and with their history, she would have needed serious convincing and that’s what the file was for.
The Second Tuesday Evening
Charlie went home at five, stopping at his favorite deli. When he got to the condo, he was relieved to find that Kate wasn’t dressed to go out. They sat down and had a glass of wine before delving into the salad and meat-pies Charlie had bought. Kate amused Charlie with a funny story about her online editing work. After dinner Charlie was deciding whether to work a bit more on his paper or read the book he was halfway through when the phone rang. It was Marlow.
“Charlie. Just to let you know; the Faculty Club has been broken into. There wasn’t anything going on this evening and they shut down about four-thirty. I just learned about the break-in from the patrol car that answered the call. One of the night janitors went in to do the floors and found a side door had been jammed open. Kostavo’s old locker, which had a combination lock like the others, was pried open. It still had his name on it. There’s a raincoat and some overshoes in it but we don’t know if anything is missing because we don’t know what was in it. Nothing else was disturbed.”
“The killer obviously hasn’t found whatever he’s looking for. By the way, I was going to call you tomorrow. I learned that Kostavo’s ex-wife’s second husband is a broker and that he and Kostavo discussed stocks and options before the divorce. Apparently, there were three couples that went to various restaurants and Kostavo and his then-wife and this Mitch Schuyler and his then-wife were part of the group.”
“Thanks, Charlie. That could prove useful to know.”
“The fact that the Club was searched means the killer is desperate to find whatever it is he’s looking for, but it can’t be stuff like the trade confirmations one gets from brokers. Anything like that would merely be copies sent to clients. The originals would all be on servers at the brokerage houses and available to you. The sought-for file or files are something special, something compromising to the killer. This is making me think again that Kostavo was the victim, not the scammer, since what I suspect the killer is looking for is something provided to Kostavo to lure him into turning over his money. The problem is what you pointed out before: Kostavo didn’t have the kind of money that would make it worth the effort to scam him.”
“Don’t you think it more probable that Kostavo was the scammer and the killer is looking for files that identify him or possibly her? That’s the simplest answer, and in my experience, that usually is the right answer.”
“You could well be right; I’m just not ready to let go of the other possibility. In any case, I should mention that I’m having lunch with Ferguson tomorrow and may learn something.”
“Good. Let me know what you find out.”
Charlie agreed and he and Marlow hung up. Charlie then laid things out for Kate. She agreed with Marlow that it made little sense that a scammer would target Kostavo in the first place.
“What you and Marlow don’t seem to have thought of is that Kostavo being the scammer also raises the money question. Where would Kostavo get the bucks for the initial payouts to his marks except from other marks? That means he had to have been working several of them, all the while working as a full-time chef.”
“Well, it’s not the kind of thing that would take more than two or three hours a day, and if he lived alone, he had all his free time to do it.”
“I guess so. Okay, you and Marlow are likely right: Kostavo probably was the scammer. That makes the killer a mark, and most likely one that lost big time and is desperate to find some way of recouping something.”
“Well, now that you put it that way, I think I have to grant you one point: if the killer was the one being scammed, it seems foolish to add the risk of getting caught for these break-ins to the loss of funds. Worse still, doing the break-ins is virtually confessing to being the killer.”
“That’s an excellent point. I’ll have to raise it with Marlow.
THE EIGHTH INTERLUDE
The Faculty Club locker had been an obvious bet, but he wasn’t surprised to have found nothing there. He had to find out Kostavo’s second ex-wife’s name. Kostavo had never mentioned either of his ex-wives’ names and neither would be using Kostavo’s name if they’d remarried. He needed the second one’s name, the one who’d stayed in Kingsford, to find her address.
The Second Wednesday
Charlie was in his seminar room at a quarter after eight. His notes ready and a discussion topic selected, Charlie let his mind wander back to the case. Scammer or mark? There did seem to be good reasons to think Kostavo didn’t make a very credible victim because of lack of enough money to attract a scammer. So, as Marlow seemed to think, Kostavo made a more credible scammer, thereby casting the killer as one very unhappy mark. Maybe Ferguson would be of help. But it was eight-thirty and Charlie put the case aside and the seminar got started.
Back in his office Charlie did a quick check of his email, most of which were questions or requests from students, and then went to meet Ferguson. They met and recognized one another in the Club foyer and opted for a table for two in the rear dining room. Charlie offered Ferguson a drink and they both got glasses of wine. Both placed their orders and with that out of the way, Charlie laid out what he knew and what he was trying to learn.
“I’m not going to be a lot of help, Charlie. Here’s what happened. I was griping about a bad stock purchase to a colleague as we were leaving the Club toward the end of last term. Bernie Kostavo was in the hallway, tacking up the next day’s special and he overheard me. A little rudely, he injected himself into our conversation and started telling me about options. My colleague was running late and left but I was curious and stayed. We talked for a few minutes and then Kostavo said he could prove to me that options were the place to be. He told me he was buying calls on a stock he had information about and looked to make thirty-percent on the purchase and sale. He said if I wanted to, he’d let me in on his trade. It was up to me how much. He didn’t tell me how much he was putting in or even suggest a figure. He was somehow very persuasive and I told him I’d check out his idea with a thousand-dollar investment. A week later, he gave me a check for twelve-hundred-ninety. I was impressed. We did it again later that month. I put in another grand and got back thirteen hundred in just four days. Damn good return for the time involved.”
“That’s impressive. Was that the end of it?”
“Unfortunately, no. I stayed out of it for a bit, not wanting to push my luck. Then, about six weeks ago, I went in with him again, this time for a significant amount I prefer to keep to myself. I didn’t hear from him for over two weeks and when I tried to talk to him here, he was always too busy, telling me to hang in. Next thing I knew, Kostavo was dead and my place was broken into. I’m sure it had to do with my dealings with Kostavo because I learned his own place was searched.”
“Do you happen to know if anyone else went in with Kostavo on that last deal?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. He did mention that some woman he knew had put in a bit more than I did. He never said how much he himself put in.”
“Hmm. I’m pretty sure I know who the woman is. So that’s all you know about what Kostavo was up to?”
“I’m afraid so. I very much resent losing what I lost, but I know better than to try to pursue it. It’s like a bad bet on a horse. Done. I certainly don’t want to go to the cops with my problem, not after what happened to Kostavo. Is this woman going to pursue the matter?”
“I don’t know. My guess is that there’s not much she could do, anyway, as you’ve pointed out. Now, let me ask you the pivotal question: do you think Kostavo was doing this on his own, or do you think someone else had sucked him in like he sucked you and this woman into the deal?”
“Interesting. I never thought of that. No, I assumed he was doing it on his own. He claimed he had special information but didn’t say how he got it. The only indication I have that there was anyone else involved is the searching of my house. Well, at least nothing was taken.”
“Richard, thank you. This has been helpful and I will pass on the pertinent information to Detective Marlow.”
Charlie and Ferguson finished their coffee and left the Club. Back in his office Charlie acknowledged that he was no further ahead on whether Kostavo was the scammer or was being scammed. Charlie thought it a bit odd that Ferguson wouldn’t say how much he’d given Kostavo on his third shot, but that was his business. The only thing certain was that if Ferguson had put in a significant amount, which was likely since he wouldn’t say how much, and Heath had put in twelve, then assuming Kostavo had put in additional money, the deal did seem worth some scammer’s time.
THE NINTH INTERLUDE
How stupid of him not to have thought of it immediately. Of course: the divorce! The divorce would be in City Hall records and give the woman’s name. With her name, all he’d have to do was consult the telephone directory.
The Second Thursday
Charlie had called Marlow on Wednesday afternoon and relayed what he’d learned from Ferguson. That morning he was distracted from preparing his class by puzzlement about the murder weapon. It was a bit hard to buy that if it was a premeditated murder, what the killer had taken with him was a metal bar. It was more likely that the murder weapon was something found in the kitchen.
Charlie managed to get some work done and to help a student who dropped in asking for clarification about an assignment. At noon he trekked down to the Club and had no sooner sat down at the Club table than Clyde Cahill hurried out of the kitchen and approached him.
“Dr. Douglas, I’ve a big favor to ask. Could you see your way to writing a letter to Devereux endorsing my appointment as chef? I’d really appreciate it if you would.”
“Sure, Clyde; not a problem. But listen, as long as you’re here, I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes after lunch when you’re not so busy.”
“Sure; I can do that. See you later.”
Cahill hurried back to the kitchen and others soon joined Charlie at the table.
Charlie took his time over lunch, had a second cup of coffee, and allowed just enough time to get to his class before getting up and looking for Cahill.
“Okay, Clyde; I don’t want to take too much of your time, but I’m wondering about what was used to kill Kostavo. Detective Marlow said it was something narrow, like a bar. Can you think of what might have been in the kitchen that fits the bill?”
“Not really. Killer probably had it with him. It’d be different if Bernie had been hit with a pan or knifed. We have plenty of both.”
“Okay, but is there anything else you can think of that might be relevant?”
“There is something I might mention. We order beef and pork from Aurora Meats. Our standard order is delivered on Monday. About a month ago, the Aurora truck left two cases. Bernie said he’d called Aurora but they wouldn’t pick up the extra case for a couple of days so he called some delivery outfit to haul the extra box back to Aurora. I thought it odd because we could have stored it with no problem. Anyway, the outfit Bernie called came within a half-hour. Then it happened again a couple of weeks later. Same thing; two boxes instead of one, and Bernie had the extra one picked up by the same outfit. It stuck in my mind because when I mentioned the screw-ups to the Aurora rep, she didn’t know anything about them.”
Charlie returned to his office thinking that Kostavo at least twice had something delivered by Aurora Meats and picked up by someone else. If it hadn’t been a straightforward mix-up, what had it been? Did it have something to do with what Kostavo was likely up to regarding the scam? Charlie tried to let his mind go blank to see what might pop up. After a few minutes an idea occurred to him, one that could explain where Kostavo got enough money to be an inviting mark or even an accomplice in a scam.
Just suppose the extra cases had held drugs secretly packed by someone at Aurora Meats? Aurora no doubt imported meat from all sorts of places, and bringing in the odd box of drugs would probably be a fairly simple matter for one of its employees. Then, delivery of a couple of cases of drugs to the Club would look innocent enough as part of regular deliveries. When the extra cases arrived, Kostavo could pretend the cases were sent back to Aurora when they were actually taken to a drug dealer. Acting as a go-between in that way would have resulted in Kostavo getting some serious pay-offs for facilitating the sale of the drugs. And he’d never have to even open the cases. The Aurora employee had only to alert Kostavo and put some innocuous mark on the appropriate box and it was a done deal. Charlie had to talk to Marlow about this, but not now. He had a class to get to.
THE TENTH INTERLUDE
Autumn Winston-Schuyler. Now, there was a name for you! The address was quite upscale, so the neighborhood might make casing out the house a little risky. No option, though.
The Second Thursday Evening
After his class Charlie called Marlow. She wasn’t in and he was told she’d call him back. Charlie drove to the condo. He wanted to tell Kate what he’d learned. Kate, of course, wanted to go out to dinner but he told her he needed to wait for a call from Marlow. He then laid out what Cahill had told him.
“Charlie, you’re right. If Kostavo was moving drugs, that would explain where he got the money to participate in the scam.”
“Precisely. I’m sure there’d be significant payoffs for moving a couple or more cases of coke, say, to whoever was actually dealing the drugs. It’s ironic that Kostavo may have been scammed on options while he was moving drugs for the money.”
“It hangs together, even if it makes him sound rather desperate.”
“Let’s wait and see what Marlow has to say about all this. We’ll go to the Casa Santini a little later than usual.”
It was nearly seven-thirty when Marlow called. Charlie explained what he’d learned and laid out his idea about drugs.
“So you think Kostavo was moving drugs to deal in options?”
“That’s how I see the odd business with the extra cases from Aurora.”
“Yes, it actually sounds reasonable. It does sound like he was keen to play the market, and if he was approached by someone, the scammer, he could well have taken advantage of his position to provide safe delivery of drugs to a dealer in exchange for substantial payments. It’s definitely credible.”
“My guess is that all Kostavo wanted was enough money to get started, thinking once in he could stick to options and forget about the drugs.”
“That sounds reasonable, too, since Kostavo seems to have had a history of interest in the market. I think you’ve got something important here, Charlie.”
“One last thing. The murder weapon. I find it a bit hard to take seriously the idea that the killer intended to murder Kostavo and armed himself or herself with a metal bar.”
“I know. We keep thinking it had to be something lying around the kitchen, but don’t know what. As I said, two or three feet long is what we think it would take for the right leverage. And the wound was fairly deep but only about an inch wide, so whatever was used had to be narrower.”
“Nothing like that in the kitchen?”
“No. Closest we came was a metal ladle with a long handle for the deep soup pot, but it wasn’t heavy enough to do the deed. There were a couple of rolling-pins, one wood and one metal, but they were both much too wide.”
With little more to say, Charlie and Marlow said goodbye and Charlie and Kate went off to the Casa Santini. Over dinner Charlie amplified a bit about the murder weapon and how unlikely it seemed that the killer would be carrying some kind of bar.
“Maybe it wasn’t a bar.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there are those collapsible metal self-defense rods you see advertised in some magazines. You know, some police carry them. They’re about six or eight inches long but you push a button and they extend to a couple of feet.”
“Kate, you just may have hit the nail on the head, so to speak. I know the rods or truncheons you mean. One end is weighted. I’ve seen the ads, too. Some gun-makers manufacture them for the police and for self-defense purposes. Marlow needs to be told about your idea. And if the killer normally carried the thing, the murder might still have been unpremeditated. It also explains why the police didn’t find the murder weapon. That gets you an after-dinner drink of your choice.”
THE ELEVENTH INTERLUDE
Didn’t the woman ever go out? The husband was no doubt at work but she hadn’t budged. He couldn’t go in till she went out. At least her block wasn’t as exposed as he’d feared; there were several cars parked on the street and his could be just one more.
The Second Friday
Charlie was keen to call Marlow, but he breakfasted, showered, and shaved before he did. She answered after a couple of rings and apparently had just arrived at her office. Charlie told her Kate’s idea.
“Charlie, I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of that. I know exactly what Kate has in mind, one of those self-defense collapsible truncheons or batons. And if as you say, the killer habitually carries one of those batons, the murder could still have been unpremeditated. There is one problem, though, which I think rules out a baton: they are too wide for the wound in Kostavo’s head. There might be some that are a tad less than an inch, but I rather doubt it. Nonetheless, thank Kate for me.”
Charlie went to his office and found a doctoral candidate waiting for him who was doing a difficult thesis on Foucault’s shift from ‘genealogy’ to what he had called ethics. That took care of part of the morning and then two MA candidates turned up, with the result that Charlie was late to lunch. When he got back to his office, out of curiosity he searched for ‘collapsible baton’ on the Internet and came up with a couple of dozen sites where the things were described and could be ordered. From what he found he could see that Marlow was right. None of the ones shown were thin or narrow enough to inflict an inch-wide wound. He’d have to tell Kate, but just then another MA candidate turned up and Charlie had to put the matter aside.
At five Charlie packed up his laptop and went home. When he arrived, Kate was pouring some Mendocino Valley chardonnay and had laid out some snacks.
“What’s this? Expecting someone?”
“Yes; you. I don’t feel like going out but thought we should celebrate giving Detective Marlow a good tip.”
“She said to thank you, but it didn’t work. Those batons are too wide for one to be what killed Kostavo.”
“Oh. I didn’t think of that. Well, it was a thought. I’m just sorry we bothered her with a bad idea.”
“Hey, it could have been a good idea.”
Charlie put away his computer and hung up his jacket. He then sat down and they toasted each other. The wine was excellent and both sat for a bit content just to savor it. After a few minutes Charlie sampled the snacks and decided they lived up to the chardonnay.
“Not to beat a dead horse, but aside from the baton idea, do you think Marlow’s investigation will really get a boost from your drug idea?”
“If I’m right about those extra cases being drugs, it explains where Kostavo got enough money to either himself scam some marks like Heath and Ferguson or to give to a scammer, dragging Ferguson and Heath into the deal. What puzzles me more is what the killer is looking for. Something incriminating, no doubt, but what?”
“Charlie, look at this from another perspective. Suppose it isn’t the killer who is looking for something but whoever sent Kostavo the drugs. Maybe when Kostavo was killed that person realized that Kostavo might have kept something to do with the drug deliveries, something that would incriminate them both or just him, the drug guy.”
“That’s a good thought, but the question is still what it was. I’d assume drug deals, even just deliveries, are all done in cash and very much doubt receipts are provided.”
“Maybe we’re assuming too much about those extra cases. Can you think of anything else they might have held other than drugs?”
“No. I can’t think of anything else that would pay Kostavo as much, unless it was gold ingots or piles of jewelry, but I don’t think either of those is realistic. I’m betting it was drugs. Two or maybe three tidy deliveries would be enough—and enough of a risk—to get Kostavo started either as the scammer or a mark. And it’s pretty clear Kostavo was only a middle-man, so Marlow has to look into the Aurora Meat Company and find out who was in a position to prepare and send those extra cases.”
THE TWELFTH INTERLUDE
She was finally going out! But how long would she be gone? He had to be quick and it was a large house; certainly bigger than Ferguson’s. Well, no way around it.
The Second Saturday
Charlie awoke vaguely irritated. He got up, brewed coffee, decided to scramble a couple of eggs, and sat down to breakfast. Kate intuitively knew it was Saturday, even while sound asleep, and wouldn’t be up for a good while. Charlie ate his eggs and stared out the window. He finished his coffee, got his laptop, and checked his email. He then dawdled over some news sites long enough that Kate eventually wandered into the kitchen.
“Hey, I had scrambled eggs; want some?”
“Oh, no; too elaborate. Coffee and toast will be fine.”
Charlie sat very still for a moment, then thought to himself: too elaborate. That’s what was bothering him. Kate’s idea of a collapsible baton not only didn’t work because of a width inconsistency; it was too elaborate. Kostavo’s killing was simpler; he was killed with something that was in the kitchen, not something the killer brought with him—or maybe her. If the murder had been premeditated the killer would have used a gun, or even a knife. The blow to the back of the head had been spontaneous. The killer had hit Kostavo with something that was just there, in the kitchen. But what?
Charlie waited till Kate was into her second cup of coffee and had finished her toast before telling her what he’d just thought through and why.
“Charlie, I think you’re right. I came up with that baton idea, but really only prompted by the coincidence of having noticed an ad for them and you being puzzled about what could have killed Kostavo but it had to be something simpler.”
“Okay, think a minute. What would there be in a kitchen that would do the job and not leave a wound wider than an inch?”
“What if Kostavo was hit with something on-edge? You know, like a tray?”
“I don’t think that would crush his skull; it wouldn’t kill him.”
At that point Kate thought a moment, stood, and walked around their little table into the kitchen. She stopped in front of a drawer, opened it, and took out a knife-sharpening steel, turned, and showed it to Charlie. He took one look and jumped up, taking the steel from Kate. He opened another drawer, rummaged in for a moment, and pulled out a tape-measure.
“It’s a bit over fourteen inches long and a hair over half an inch thick, and feels heavy enough to have done the job with some force and leverage. Something this narrow would leave a wider wound, but not one wider than an inch or a bit less. Kate, this is great. Marlow didn’t find the murder weapon, so if a sharpening steel is standard kitchen equipment, as surely it is, the killer must have taken it. No doubt worried about fingerprints.”
“Do you think you should call Marlow?”
“It can wait till Monday. Or maybe I’ll weaken this afternoon.”
Charlie and Kate later went to lunch, bought some essentials, and got back to their condo a little after four o’clock. There were two messages on their phone. Charlie played the first and it was from Marlow, left at one-thirty, asking him to call her. The second was also from Marlow, again asking him to call. Charlie called and Marlow picked up after a single ring.
“Hello; this is Charlie. I just got your messages.”
“Charlie, we’ve learned something that seems to confirm your idea about the dubious deliveries Kostavo rerouted. The guy at Aurora Meats who oversees the loading dock is missing. We tried to contact him about those supposedly mixed up deliveries to the faculty club. He lives on his own in an apartment on Pine, but no one there has seen him since Thursday. He wasn’t at work on Friday but didn’t call in. The man’s name is Mike Pollard.”
“Thank you for letting me know. Now, I may have something for you. When you checked the crime scene, did you find a knife-sharpening steel in the Club kitchen? You know, one of those stainless-steel bars with a handle used to hone carving knives?”
“I know what you mean. Didn’t think about one since there wasn’t one there. Oh. That could be the murder weapon! One of us should have thought of that. The killer must have taken it, but it’s an oversight on our part.”
“Kate thought of it when I told her that the collapsible baton thing didn’t work.”
“Thank her, Charlie. This does sound like a solid idea. I really should have thought of it myself.”
THE THIRTEENTH INTERLUDE
He’d have to go back; too many rooms. He’d been lucky on Friday to feel he should leave when he did because the ex-wife had returned just minutes after he’d left the house. Maybe now, on the week-end, they’d both go out?
The Second Sunday
Charlie slept in and was finishing breakfast when the phone rang. It was nine-forty-five and seemed early for a call on a Sunday. He picked up and there was a moment of silence. Then a hesitant voice.
“Professor Douglas? This is Autumn Winston-Schuyler. I’m sorry to call early on a Sunday, but I need to speak with you.”
“Not to worry, Ms. Winston-Schuyler; what did you want to discuss?”
“Well, I’ve been dithering about this and finally made up my mind to call you. Richard and I were both out of the house for a while on Friday afternoon. When I got home everything seemed normal until I got to the kitchen. I felt a slight draft and found that a window near the back door wasn’t quite shut. I usually lock everything when I go out, but I was in a bit of a hurry Friday. Still, I’m sure I left the window closed. I also found a light mark on the sill. At first I didn’t think much of it, but yesterday morning I was thinking about I again and I carefully looked over things downstairs and upstairs. Richard thought I was wasting time, but I found one of the drawers in a desk in the den not quite closed. Richard and I are both very neat people and it struck me as odd when added to the slightly open window and the mark on the sill. I’m sure someone was in the house. I was only gone thirty or forty minutes on Friday, so whoever it was wouldn’t have had a lot of time. Nothing is missing, including jewelry that was on the top of my bureau. Whoever was in the house was looking for something specific. I can’t call the police with so little to go on, but I needed to talk to someone about it.”
“This is very interesting, Ms. Winston-Schuyler. I think I should let Detective Marlow know about it because another person had his house searched and the Faculty Club was also searched. She will no doubt contact you for more details. In the meantime, I strongly recommend you lock all your windows and doors. Do you have a cellphone?”
“Yes, I do. Why?”
“I suggest you carry it with you when at home in case you need to call the police.”
“I see. That’s a little frightening, but you’re quite right. Thank you for the suggestion.”
Charlie called Marlow as soon as he finished with Winston-Schuyler. She wasn’t in, so he left a detailed message. By then Kate had come into the kitchen and Charlie told her what he’d just learned.
“Do you think Marlow could set a trap for whoever it is?”
Before Charlie could answer, the phone rang. It was Marlow.
“Charlie, I got your message, but first, you should know we found Pollard. His body was in the trunk of his car in the long-term parking area out at the airport. He was shot twice in the head with a small caliber gun at very close range. It looks like a professional hit to us.”
“It’s a jump from bashing Kostavo on the head in anger to coolly shooting this Pollard. Do you think it was the same killer?”
“Good question. My gut says no. Now, about Winston-Schuyler. I’m going to call her next and go over to speak with her and her husband. As for you, I’m beginning to be concerned someone might know about your interest, so be careful.”
Charlie decided not to tell Kate about Marlow’s concern but he did tell her about Pollard being shot. Kate, however, came to the same conclusion as Marlow.
“This is getting scary. I think you should stop asking questions about Kostavo. Do you think it was the same killer?”
“That’s what I asked Marlow. She said she had a gut-feeling it wasn’t. I think that’s right. Consider this scenario: X is arguing with Kostavo about the drugs or the split. Kostavo dismisses X, turns away to get on with what he was doing, X grabs the steel and bashes Kostavo on the head. X then gets out of the Club, taking the steel. Next, X starts searching for something incriminating. By this time whoever is dealing the drugs is getting worried about the police looking into Kostavo’s murder and Pollard becomes a liability, so he’s dealt with, but not by X.”
“That sounds credible, but I don’t want to talk about the case anymore. Let’s go for lunch.”
THE FOURTEENTH INTERLUDE
This wasn’t good. He’d twice seen the ex-wife checking the street from her downstairs window. Despite taking care, he must have left some sign he’d been in the house. He’d hoped on a Sunday they might go out together, but if he’d spooked her, that wasn’t likely to happen.
The Second Sunday Evening
After a pleasant lunch at The Cosseted Lamb, Charlie and Kate spent the afternoon reading. Charlie wanted to talk about the case but respected Kate’s wishes. That evening they decided to settle for something light for dinner and Kate surprised Charlie by saying she felt like a martini instead of wine. He hadn’t made martinis for a good while but managed to produce a couple of pretty good ones. Charlie was again surprised when Kate then brought up the case.
“Okay, Charlie, going along with what you outlined before, try this on for size: Kostavo gets involved with Pollard at Aurora Meats because he wants money to get into a deal offered by a scammer. He sucks in Heath and Ferguson. Then something goes wrong and the scammer goes to see Kostavo at the Club when he’s sure there’ll be no one else there. They argue and the scammer kills Kostavo while in a rage. Then, whoever was responsible for sending the drugs to Kostavo kills Pollard or has him killed. Without Pollard or Kostavo, the police can’t get a line on the drug supplier or the dealers. The loose end is that the scammer starts searching for something incriminating. Now, what would there be in writing between Kostavo and the scammer? Cancelled checks? Or is there something I’m missing or don’t know about options or whatever?”
“No; I think that’s right. As I reminded Marlow, trade contracts and notifications would be public in the sense that a broker or brokers would have the originals and be able to provide them to the police. And there wouldn’t be agreements signed between them, not if it was a scam, whether Kostavo was the mark or the scammer.”
Kate didn’t respond immediately, thinking about something. When she spoke there was excitement in her voice.
“Charlie, we’ve been assuming these files the killer is looking for had to do with Kostavo. What if they didn’t? What if they’re records of others’ successful trades that the scammer showed Kostavo to convince him to invest money?”
“Kate, that’s brilliant! If that’s what they are, they’d be incriminating because they’d show big wins and if Kostavo was the one being scammed, it wouldn’t surprise me if he held out for evidence the scammer could do what he claimed he could do.”
“Charlie, I think I deserve another martini because I have a feeling I got it right. You have to call Marlow tomorrow and see what she thinks. I’ll bet you a dinner that I’m right.”
“Hang on, though. If the files showed people making big money, wouldn’t that be asking for Kostavo to contact one or another of them? And wouldn’t he then find out they’d been scammed?”
“Um. I didn’t think of that. You’re right. Maybe not such a great idea, after all.”
Charlie didn’t answer; instead he got a faraway look in his eyes and was silent for several moments. Kate was just about to ask what he was thinking when he spoke up.
“Kate, I think I’ve got it, and this Idea also answers the tricky question of whether Kostavo was a victim or the scammer. Suppose the scammer was recruiting Kostavo? Suppose Kostavo was in the process of becoming a scammer. Maybe when he sucked in Heath and Ferguson he didn’t put in any of his own money at all!”
“Charlie, that makes the most sense. Call Marlow first thing.
Just about the time Kate was agreeing with Charlie, Autumn Winston-Schuyler was fretting. She had been checking the street earlier in the day and noticed a car across the street that she could not connect to any of the houses on their block. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought there was someone in the car. Later in the day it was still there. It wasn’t until five o’clock that it was gone.
The Third Monday
Charlie didn’t wait to get to his office. He called Marlow promptly at eight-thirty, hoping she’d be in. She wasn’t. He left an urgent message, got dressed, and went to the University. He had notes to work out. In mind of his doctoral student’s project, he was going to raise the tricky question in class of whether Foucault had in effect lost his nerve when he moved from his ‘genealogical’ to his ‘ethical’ period. Charlie wanted to strike just the right note and have the students think through the possibility rather than just take it as a given because presented in class. By noon he felt satisfied with what he’d prepared, but Marlow had not yet returned his call. He went off to lunch and as he entered the Club he found Devereux, the manager, showing a young woman with a cascade of curly blonde hair the many pictures of former Club presidents that hung on the foyer walls.
“Ah, Professor Douglas. Let me introduce Ellie McGraw, our new sous-chef. Ellie used to be with Wellington Catering and will be specializing in desserts.”
“Glad to meet you, Ms. McGraw; hope you enjoy working here and I look forward to some tempting creations.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry the opportunity came for such a terrible reason, but I will try very hard to do a good job.”
With smiles all around, Devereux and McGraw walked toward the kitchen and Charlie made for the main dining room. After lunch, Charlie checked his cell yet again, but he needed to talk to Cahill and on his way out he ducked into the kitchen. Charlie looked for Cahill, whom he found talking to McGraw. Charlie nearly didn’t recognize her as the woman he’d met earlier because all her great hair was bundled up in a chef’s hat.
“Ms. McGraw, Clyde. I know I shouldn’t be in here, Clyde, but I wanted to congratulate you on Ms. McGraw’s joining your crew. I’ve heard excellent things about Wellington Catering, so I suspect you’ve acquired some real talent.”
McGraw blushed and smiled, but Cahill looked a little suspicious.
“Thanks, Dr. Douglas. I’m sure Ellie is going to work out just fine.”
Charlie then confirmed Cahill’s suspicions.
“Clyde, there’s one small question I need to ask you.”
McGraw clearly read the signals because she told Cahill that she’d better check there were no late lunch orders and left them to talk.
“So what’s up, Dr. Douglas?”
“Just this. Has Detective Marlow or someone else from the police asked you about the kitchen’s sharpening steel?”
“I knew it. It’s about the case, but no, no one did. Why the steel?”
“I’ll explain; could you maybe let me see it?”
“Well, it’s mainly for show when we have a beef or ham or turkey buffet and carve it at the buffet table. For practical purposes, our knives are picked up every other week by a service we use. They leave a newly sharpened replacement set and take the used set, then two weeks later they reverse the process. Works very well. The steel is kept over here, in this drawer.
So saying, Cahill walked over to a cabinet and opened the top drawer.
“Oh; it’s not here. It’ll be somewhere around.”
“How big is it? We have one that’s fourteen inches, but I assume yours would be bigger.”
“Yeah, I think so; never measured it, though. But why the interest?
“Did the police ask about the steel?”
“The police? No; it didn’t come up when they talked to me. Why?”
“I think it was used to hit Kostavo and that the killer took it.”
“You think he was killed with our steel?”
“I think it’s likely, but I’ve got a class to get to. Thanks, Clyde.”
Charlie hurried back to his office. Once there, he dithered about whether to call Marlow again or wait, but he was pushing the time and he wanted to talk with Marlow at some length, so decided to go to his class.
When Charlie called Marlow after his class she was still not in. He left another message saying he had something important to tell her and to call him at home. With that he packed his laptop and went to his car. Back at the condo, Charlie explained to Kate that they couldn’t go out until Marlow called. They sat down and over a glass of wine Kate told Charlie about what she’d been up to in the latest of her ongoing online editing projects. This time she was copy-editing and formatting a mystery novel she thought would sell well.
The Third Monday Evening
Marlow did not call until eight that night. She explained to Charlie that she’d been busy at a crime scene the entire day and was only now about to go home. She then asked what he’d learned. Charlie told her the sharpening steel was missing from the Club kitchen and how it was used only at buffets so no one had thought about it. He added that the fact that it was missing tended to confirm it was the murder weapon and that the killer had taken it. Charlie also told Marlow about the idea that Kostavo was being recruited as a scammer and what the killer might be searching for. Marlow was silent for several moments.
“Charlie, I think Pam DeVries actually sold you short. This is really helpful. The sharpening steel just never came up, and it should have—especially when we learned about the width of the wound. And if Kostavo was neither simply a victim nor the scammer but sort of becoming a scammer, then his killer is most probably the real scammer. As for what the killer is looking for, it is very likely what you say: material used to convince Kostavo and therefore incriminating. I’m going to talk this over with my captain. I’ll get back to you when I have something I can share.”
Charlie hung up and told Kate what Marlow had said. He thought a moment or two and then articulated what was going through his mind.
“Pollard was killed to break any connection with Kostavo and the Club. It was a coolly done execution, not at all like Kostavo’s killing. Unless they get the whole drug bunch, I doubt Pollard’s murder will be solved. I’m convinced that whoever bashed in Kostavo’s head with that sharpening steel is the one searching for something incriminating. Pollard’s killer is surely a pro with no worries about evidence and in any case long gone. What interests me is who killed Kostavo. The rest is Marlow’s concern.”
Kate and Charlie had something to eat and forgot about going out. The phone rang at one minute to nine, just as Charlie was settling down with a new mystery and a glass of a highly recommended New Zealand sauvignon blanc that he’d not tried.
“Professor Douglas, I’m truly sorry to call so late and to bother you again, but I’m worried. Yesterday there was a car on the street that doesn’t belong here and someone in it may have been watching the house.”
“Ms. Winston-Schuyler, did you see the car today?”
“No, I didn’t, and I looked several times. I believe whoever it was yesterday could have noticed my checking the street. I checked several times and I never thought to do so carefully. Stupid of me. But my concern is that if whoever it was did see me checking, what are they up to next? Since I’m sure the house was entered, whoever was in the car was likely waiting for us to go out yesterday so he could come in again. What frightens me is his breaking in while I’m here.”
“Did you speak with Detective Marlow?”
“Yes; she called, but I had no more to tell her than I’m telling you and all she had to say was that I should lock all the doors and windows and keep a sharp eye out for anyone approaching the house. She did add that she’d ask the local police to check out the house when cruising the area. I suppose that’s the best she can do, but it’s not very reassuring.”
“Have you discussed this with Mr. Schuyler?”
“Yes, but he doesn’t believe anyone actually broke in. I’m sure he thinks I just noticed things I’d overlooked before. For my part, I’m quite certain someone was in the house. And that car out there can’t be a coincidence.”
“I will speak to Detective Marlow again. In the meantime, be careful and keep your cellphone close. Call me if you see that car again.”
Charlie gave Winston-Schuyler his cell number and said goodnight. He had no doubt she was right and her husband wrong.
THE FIFTEENTH INTERLUDE
He hadn’t gone near the house today. Was it worth the risk to try again? He was sure Winston-Schuyler was looking out for another intrusion. What were the odds she had the file, anyway? And if Winston-Schuyler seemed to rarely go out, she was less likely to leave the house now.
The Third Tuesday
Charlie got to his office at nine. He checked his email and then settled in to work on his paper. He’d been letting it slide and that had to stop. He couldn’t allow his excellent publication record to deteriorate. At a quarter to eleven his cell rang.
“Dr. Douglas, this is Autumn Winston-Schuyler. You told me to call if I saw the car again. I just now saw it parking across the street and down the block.”
“Can you see the license plate?”
“No; that’s the first thing I looked for but it’s too far away.”
“Can you describe the car?”
“I’m not sure about the make, but it’s that very popular silver-grey color. It’s a sedan and looks quite new. I can’t make out who is in it, but the driver has not got out of the car. From where he’s parked, he could well be watching the house in his rear-view mirror. Looks more innocuous that way, I suppose, if that’s what he’s doing.”
“Okay, I remember where you live and I’m driving over right now. I should make it in about fifteen minutes. Call my cell if the car leaves.”
Charlie closed his laptop and hurried to his car. It actually took him twenty minutes to get to Winston-Schuyler’s block, but she hadn’t called. He turned into her street and drove to the intersection just before her block. He was barely into the intersection when a silver sedan ahead pulled away from the curb and drove fairly quickly to the next corner and turned right. Just then his cell rang. Charlie ignored the cell for the moment while he got to the corner and turned in the same direction as the sedan. He then picked up his cell and answered.
“Yes, I saw him pull out. I’m following, so have to get off the phone.”
The silver sedan was at the end of the block when Charlie turned and too far for him to read the license plate. The neighborhood being residential, there were no street-lights so Charlie sailed through the next intersection just in time to see the sedan turn left at the end of the next block. By the time Charlie got to the corner and turned left the other car had already crossed the next intersection, clearly having sped up as the neighborhood became less residential. The street they were now on had four lanes. Charlie also sped up and had the sedan in sight for three more blocks. Then things went wrong when he was stopped by a red light while the silver sedan continued on its way. Charlie wasn’t about to risk running a red light; there was enough traffic to make that dangerous. When he crossed the intersection he could not see the sedan. Coincidentally, the street he was on was the one he would have taken to return to his office, so Charlie kept going. He’d call Winston-Schuyler when he got back to the university.
Back in his office Charlie noted that his little adventure had taken just under an hour. He called Winston-Schuyler and explained what had happened and told her to call him again if the car returned. By then it was noon and Charlie headed to the Club for lunch.
Walking out of Lipson Hall Charlie ran into Billings, who was also heading to the Club. Charlie told him about his latest thoughts on the Kostavo case and about his car-chasing efforts that morning. Billings responded by telling Charlie that what he’d said made good sense and commiserated on the failure to follow the silver sedan.
After lunch Charlie returned to his office. He was frustrated that he’d not only lost the car he was following but had at no point been close enough to make out the license plate. He tried to recall if there had been anything distinctive about the car but couldn’t think of anything. He thought about calling Marlow but decided against it. He really didn’t have anything to tell her. In any case, the car he’d followed could well be incidental to the whole affair. Winston-Schuyler’s description had hardly been definitive, so it might have been an innocent coincidence that a silver-colored sedan had pulled into traffic just as Charlie got to her house.
THE SIXTEENTH INTERLUDE
Had he been followed that morning? He’d noticed the white Camry after he’d pulled out of his parking place. He’d seen it again after that first turn. He noticed it because there weren’t a lot of white Camrys around. Then he’d seen the Camry a third time just before he’d made his next turn. Winston-Schuyler could have been watching the street and called someone when he first parked. Being realistic, the chances that Winston-Schuyler had the file were low. He’d best leave her alone. More important was a more thorough search of Heath’s place. Given her hours, he could do that now.
The Third Tuesday Evening
“Charlie? We’ve had another break-in. Lydia Heath’s apartment was searched just a couple of hours ago. She was at work but a neighbor called the local precinct.”
Marlow had called as Kate and Charlie were sitting down to try a new wine.
“I’m surprised it took this long.”
“Well, that’s just it. Heath thinks maybe there’d been an earlier break-in. She found the door unlocked when she got home a few days ago and assumed she’d forgotten to lock it, but now thinks perhaps not. It’s a flimsy lock and anyone with a little expertise would have no trouble opening it, but relocking might seem an unnecessary risk to anyone who didn’t want to hang around. In any case, this time a lot of stuff was moved around. Her apartment is a disaster, but she’s one of those people who know where everything is despite the untidiness.”
“Was anything missing?”
“Yes. It appears that Kostavo lent her a file that she looked at before giving him her money. She had it on a shelf in her closet with a bunch of letters. The letters were all over the closet floor but the file was gone.”
“So the killer got what he’s been looking for.”
“Worse still, he left nothing for us to work with so he—or again, possibly she—may get away with murder.”
Charlie filled Kate in on Marlow’s call. She agreed that it looked like Kostavo’s murder might go unsolved. Charlie concurred and felt an unexpected depression about it. His mood spoiled, Charlie decided that the wine they were trying wasn’t helping, collected their half-full glasses, set them on the sink, and opened a bottle of reliable New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Kate willingly accepted her glass. So much for that particular Chilean.
“You know, Charlie, if the killer got rid of that steel, the finding of the files really does put an end to Marlow’s chances of ever convicting him and probably even of identifying him—or her.”
“Right. There were no witnesses and neither Winston-Schuyler nor I got the plate number of that car. There must be a couple of thousand silver-grey sedans in the area. And now that he’s got the file or files, the killer won’t be going back to Winston-Schuyler’s street to provide us with another chance. Not good. I wonder what Marlow will do now.”
“You know, there’s one thing I’ve wondered about: why pick Kostavo? The scammer wouldn’t go after Kostavo as his main target because Kostavo didn’t have enough money of his own, so why him? Most likely to get at others. Kostavo, given his position at the Club, was a doorway to well-off academics. Add to that Kostavo’s interest in options and he starts looking like an ideal target.”
“Good point, Kate. Marlow should have thought of that, as should I.
“Do you think the scammer will approach someone else at the Club or at Meredith?”
“He’d be a fool to do so now.”
“So there’s really no chance of catching him.”
“Not unless Marlow has something we don’t know about, and I’m afraid that my sense is that she doesn’t. Well, let’s drop it; it’s getting depressing.”
On that note, Kate and Charlie stopped talking about the case. Kate went off to put something together for them to eat and Charlie stared at the wall while he finished his wine. He couldn’t recall ever feeling this defeated in either of the two cases he’d worked with DeVries. Maybe he’d just been lucky; maybe he really didn’t understand crime-solving. Then again, to be fair, he simply had nothing to work with this time around. But it was no good grousing about the case. He had a book to read and course stuff to think about.
THE SEVENTEENTH INTERLUDE
He’d found the damn file! He should have known Heath was the likeliest to have it. Now he had to be careful. He’d keep a low profile and not even think about options, stocks, or likely targets. The printed file was ashes flushed down the toilet, the original on his laptop was digital history. What nagged at him was that white Camry. At least whoever had followed him hadn’t been close enough to get his license-plate number as he’d never been closer than a block.
The Third Wednesday
Charlie swore to himself at breakfast that unless Marlow raised the issue he would not give the Kostavo case another thought. He had nothing to work with other than a kind of generic image of the rear of a silver-grey sedan, and that wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He hoped Marlow had something she’d been unable or unwilling to share with him that might lead her to Kostavo’s killer, but had his doubts she did. It’d be great if she found the steel complete with blood-stains and fingerprints, however unlikely that seemed.
Kate drifted into the kitchen surprisingly early and started in on her first cup of coffee. Knowing better, Charlie said nothing while he finished his breakfast. After her first cup. Kate uncharacteristically asked Charlie if he’d thought of anything new about the Kostavo case. He answered that he hadn’t and again expressed regret he’d not gotten the license number of the car in front of Winston-Schuyler’s house.
“Did you recognize the make of the car?”
“I’m pretty sure it was an Altima. I’ve seen a lot of them in that silvery-grey color. But there was nothing distinctive about it, like a broken tail-light or noticeable dent. Looked cleaner than our Camry, though.”
“That wouldn’t be hard, but from what you say you don’t sound like you’d recognize that particular car if you saw it again.”
“Probably not. I saw it mainly from the rear with just a couple of distant glimpses of its sides when it turned right and then left. No; I think the car is probably a dead end, but speaking of the car, I haven’t called Winston-Schuyler about it. Surprising she hasn’t called me. I’ll do that as soon as I can after my seminar. Now I’ve got to get going.
The seminar went well and Charlie gave it his full attention. He was pleased that the points raised and questions asked by the students were increasingly more thoughtful and reflected deeper understanding of the material. This was one class he would be sad to see over at the end of term. After answering a couple of questions after the seminar, Charlie got back to his office just short of twelve. He put down his books and laptop and made the call he should have made some time earlier.
“Ms. Winston-Schuyler, this is Charlie Douglas. I apologize for not calling yesterday, but I wanted to tell you that though I followed that silver-grey sedan for several blocks, I eventually lost it. I wasn’t able to make out the license plate. I also saw it mainly from the back. Did you happen to notice anything about it from the side you could see, you know, like a dent or something a little distinctive?”
“Thank you for calling. I was curious but didn’t want to bother you. As for the car, no, it was quite ordinary from what I could see. I should add that I’ve not seen it since you followed it, and I’ve been careful to look.”
“Well, there’s an outside chance that the driver spotted me. I did follow the car around three turns, so you might not see it again. On the other hand, the driver might not have noticed me. In any case, do keep an eye out for the car and call me if it does turn up.”
Charlie finished his call and instead of walking to the Club as he usually did, he went to his car and drove down. He had to go out to one of the malls for a pair of shoes from a shop he liked but that had emigrated from the downtown area to the edge of town and decided he’d go straight home afterwards. Happily, Charlie found a parking place in the Club lot and went in to lunch only a little later than usual. Conversation at the Club table was lively. Billings was telling about an incident where he’d had to deal with a student who had defended herself against charges of plagiarizing an essay by claiming she had a dual personality affliction. She’d claimed great surprise at finding the essay finished and had handed it in, assuming her other personality had written it, and expressed great disappointing her other personality had actually plagiarized it.
THE EIGHTEENTH INTERLUDE
He’d known for a while that Charlie Douglas had been snooping around about Kostavo’s killing, but seeing Douglas parking a white Camry in the lot made him think that Winston-Schuyler had very likely been in touch with Douglas and it had been Douglas who’d followed him.
The Third Thursday
Charlie woke up with an idea. While he waited for his coffee to brew and for the toaster-oven to breathe life into one of yesterday’s apple turnovers, he fired up his laptop. The site he went to was one maintained by the large car dealership where Kate and Charlie had found their Camry. The dealership, well out of Kingsford, was huge and carried a great many cars. Charlie typed in “Altima” and waited the several seconds it took for the dealership’s stock to come up. There were some dozen cars listed, starting with the newest and most expensive, and Charlie worked his way through just four before he found what he was sure was the model he’d followed. Fortuitously enough, the car was silver-grey, but then he’d seen many like that. Clearly a very popular color. The car was a 2015 Altima sedan and one of the five or six pictures of it showed the car from the back. Charlie was certain that was the model he’d followed. Just then the toaster-oven pinged and Charlie read the good timing as confirmation of his lucky find. Unfortunately, Kate did not get up before he went to shower and shave, so he’d have to wait to tell her about what he’d discovered.
Once in his office Charlie was thinking about the car again when Mike Sanders turned up carrying two lattes.
“Surely there’s some news?”
“Well, if you’ll hand over one of those lattes I might tell you.”
Charlie filled Sanders in on the business about the car and waited for a response.
“That’s a pretty common car, that model and color. Without a license number, you haven’t got a whole lot. I’d bet serious bucks there are a half-dozen of them in our parking lot.”
“I know. That’s one reason I was pleased to find a white Camry instead of one that beige color you see all over town. I actually thought about talking a little tour around our lot, at least the main one, but I’ve nothing else to go on besides the color and make. That’s why I haven’t even thought of telling Marlow about it. Any bright ideas?”
Sanders didn’t have any ideas and after they’d finished their lattes he left Charlie to prepare his afternoon class.
At lunch Charlie thought he’d have a shot and asked the others at the table if any of them owned an Altima, claiming he was thinking of buying one he’d seen on sale. Only one of the seven at the table owned an Altima and he said he’d had it some five years and was quite satisfied with the car. That sounded too old to be of interest and Charlie did not pursue the matter and after a moment or two Jeffries started in on his endless Greek and Latin fixation but stopped short and turned to Charlie.
“You know, it just occurred to me who you should talk to. Albert Devereux, our manager, drives an Altima that’s only a year or two old. He can fill you in.”
Charlie barely listened as Jeffries went back to relating an elaborate comparison of Greek and Roman deities while he thought about how he might check out Devereux’s car without alerting him. To start with, he’d check out the Club lot on his way back to his office.
Back in his office and gathering his books for his class, Charlie put aside his disappointment at not spotting the car he was looking for in the Club lot. There had been an Altima there, and it was a silvery-grey, but it was much older and the trunk bore a substantial rust-edged dent he would have noticed if it had been the car he followed.
Later, at home, Charlie told Kate what he’d learned about Devereux and his car, commenting how surprised he was to actually have been told something useful by Alan Jeffries.
“What will you do next?”
“I’m going to check the main parking lot tomorrow, as well as the Club lot. If I find a car that looks right, I’ll make a note of the license number, even if there are several.”
“Sounds tedious, but good luck. Now, how about dinner at the Cosseted Lamb?”
THE NINETEENTH INTERLUDE
Douglas had definitely been checking out the parking lot and had noticed the Altima owned by Georgina, a part-time server at the Club. Douglas was looking for an Altima. He was glad he’d been parking in the main lot, but Douglas would look there, too. The car had to go, but not to a local dealer. He’d go to that big car mall in Riverdale.
The Third Friday
After a morning of a mix of interesting and tedious questions and discussions with doctoral and Masters candidates about their theses, Charlie left his office a little before noon and went to scour the main parking lot. By twelve-twenty he had found three silver-grey Altimas that were 2014 and 2015 models according to the pictures he’d saved in his cellphone. He’d made a list of the license plates and now walked to the Club. In the Club lot he found only the old, dented Altima he’d seen before.
The Club table was more crowded than he usually found it, but then he was later than most days. Conversation was lively and the special that Friday was an excellent haddock and chips dish Charlie enjoyed. Billings was at lunch and he and Charlie stayed after the others left and ordered more coffee. Charlie told Billings about the car and what he’d been doing.
“Pity you didn’t get even a partial plate number. Even one or two letters or numbers would help you sift through the plate-numbers you got.”
“Okay, now here’s the intriguing part: Alan Jeffries mentioned that our manager, Devereux, drives an Altima.”
“Wow; that’s either an interesting coincidence or very bad news.”
“I know, but I haven’t been able to confirm Jeffries’ claim. And it certainly could be just a coincidence.”
“On the other hand, the Club connection makes Devereux a more credible suspect than an outsider.”
“I thought of that, too. The thing that strikes me as most notable is that Devereux would almost certainly know where that sharpening steel that I told you about was kept.”
“He’d also be in a good position to get the steel out of here.”
It was well after two when Charlie and Billings left the Club table. As they were exiting the Club, Albert Devereux hurried up behind them, greeted both, and explained his rush.
“I’ve got a pressing errand to run, but can I give one or both of you a lift back to your buildings?”
Charlie and Billings thanked Devereux but said they’d walk and let him stride quickly past them. Both slowed a bit, with exactly the same thought, and sure enough Devereux went to a car parked in the lot, but instead of a silver-grey Altima it was a red Prius.
Charlie and Billings kept walking as Devereux pulled out of the lot. When the car was gone Billings turned to Charlie.
“Well, that was rather a convenient encounter, wasn’t it?”
“You’re obviously thinking what I’m thinking: a little too convenient?”
“It would have been no trick for him to watch for when we left, would it.”
“Certainly not. I’m glad you had the same thought or I’d be wondering if I wasn’t being paranoid. If Devereux’s intent was for me to see him in a car other that an Altima, that worked fine.”
“Could he have two cars or have borrowed or even rented this one? And if it was his intention to have us—or you—see him in a different car, how would Devereux have known you were looking for a silver-grey Altima?”
“Well, I’m sure he’s heard about me nosing around Kostavo’s killing, and if he was the person driving the Altima I followed, he could have seen me parking my Camry in the Club lot and recognized the car that followed him. There aren’t many white ones. Plus, he also could have seen me checking cars in the lot. It does seem a bit odd, though.”
Later Charlie told Kate about the car incident and she agreed that it seemed a stretch for Devereux to pull the stunt Charlie and Billings thought he might have pulled. Still, if Devereux did think Charlie had followed him, it was a good move.
The Third Friday Evening
Charlie had thought of calling Marlow on returning to his office, but he really didn’t have anything for her. His idea about Devereux was just that, an idea, and the way he’d acted when he offered a lift had been quite natural. Charlie stewed about his and Billings’ suspicion that Devereux had tried to manipulate them. When he noticed it was nearly four-thirty he did something that he was afraid he’d later regret. He called the Club to see if Devereux was still there. Devereux was not only still at the Club, he answered the phone himself.
“Albert, this is Charlie Douglas. Glad I caught you. Did you get your errand done?”
“Hello, Dr. Douglas. Yes, I did; I only got back about a half-hour ago and I’m closing up. What can I do for you?”
“You can answer a trivial question but one that’s been bugging me. When Will Billings and I saw you drive off, I said to him that I was sure you drove an Altima. Do you, or did you?”
“Well, I did. The lease was up some two months ago and I thought I’d give a hybrid a try. I recommend it.”
“I see. Well, thanks. It was just nagging at me the way these things sometimes do.”
“Not a problem, Dr. Douglas. See you next week; have a good weekend.”
Charlie put the phone down and went home, all the while thinking that Devereux had again been very natural in how he answered the question about the car. And if he’d swapped cars even a month earlier, it hadn’t been him watching Winston-Schuyler’s house.
Because it was Friday, when their favorite restaurants were busy, Charlie and Kate decided instead of going out to dinner they’d go to the Club’s T.G.I.F. On the way he told her about his and Billing’s encounter with Devereux and then his calling Devereux asking about the Altima.
“Devereux seemed a good bet, his Club connection, knowledge of the kitchen layout, Jeffries mentioning Devereux drove an Altima, and a possible and perhaps even likely feud with Kostavo. Additionally, yesterday I drove to the Club and parked in the lot and he could easily have seen me and recognized our car as the one that followed him. But I just don’t think it was him, unless I’m foolishly letting how he sounded sway me. After all, what I just listed are good reasons to suspect him.”
“Should you tell Marlow and let her consider whether Devereux ought to be a suspect?”
“No, I don’t have enough for her. I’m going to keep looking for that car; it’s all I can do.”
Kate and Charlie arrived at the T.G.I.F. a little early, got a bottle of zinfandel at the bar, and went into the main sitting-room to see what was on offer. The snacks table was laid out with some appealing items and both got plates before sitting down at a corner grouping of easy-chairs and a love-seat, expecting others to join them. It wasn’t long before Mike Sanders and his wife, Patricia, sat with them. Charlie poured Patricia a glass of zinfandel while Sanders poured Kate one from the bottle of prosecco that he had. A few minutes later Paul Andrews and his wife joined the group. Drinks were poured and the conversation was entertaining. Then things took an interesting turn, in Charlie’s eyes, when Emma Leighton (Murder at the Break) joined them. Emma was on her own and carrying an empty wine glass. She sat down between Mike Sanders and Paul Andrews and immediately started flirting with Sanders as he poured her some prosecco. After a few minutes she turned to Charlie.
“Well, Charlie, how goes the sleuthing? I know you’re involved in our chef’s murder. Anything to share?”
“Sorry to disappoint, Emma; I got nowhere. I thought I had a lead but it didn’t pay off.”
“What was the lead?”
Charlie hesitated and decided it was pointless to keep it to himself since the car business had played itself out.
“I followed a car that seemed to be checking out Kostavo’s ex-wife’s house, but it came to nothing.”
Emma made some remark Charlie altogether missed because he was struck by the look on Paul Andrews’ face.
The Third Saturday
Over breakfast Charlie thought more about the previous evening. When he’d answered Emma’s question he’d been looking at her, but Andrews had been comfortably in his field of vision, sitting as close to Emma as he was. When Charlie answered about the car Andrews had gotten a very brief but striking look on his face that Charlie couldn’t quite pin down. It had been a combination of surprise and something else. His inclination was to say surprise and fear, but that seemed rather bizarre. He dwelt on the image of Andrews’ face until Kate wandered into the kitchen and poured herself coffee. Charlie waited the requisite time and then spoke to her.
“Did you happen to notice Paul Andrews’ reaction when I told Emma about following that car?”
“I thought you’d ask me that. Yes, I did notice. I was sitting next to you so almost directly across from Andrews. I was looking at Emma when you spoke to her, but he was very much in my line of sight. He looked shocked; maybe shaken is a better way to describe his reaction. He covered up quickly, but it was hard to miss.”
“This is hard to believe even possible, but do you think he was the one driving that Altima I followed?”
“Charlie, you have to call Marlow. She can do something you can’t, which is to check those license numbers you took down when you were checking the parking lot for a silver-grey Altima. It’s just possible the owner got rid of the car, but records will show who owned it at the crucial time, and so who was most likely driving it.”
Charlie waited until ten and then called Marlow. She wasn’t in, of course, but he was told his message would be forwarded to her. Marlow didn’t call back until nearly noon.
“What’s up, Charlie? I’m working a case today, but have a few minutes.”
Charlie then told Marlow about Winston-Schuyler’s call, about the car he’d followed, his efforts to track it down in the main and Club parking lots, and about what had occurred the night before. Marlow’s first question was a practical one.
“How many plate numbers do you have?”
“Just three on cars that looked right the day I searched the main lot.”
“Give me the numbers.”
Charlie was ready for this and read off the license plate numbers.
“I’ll get back to you, Charlie, but this may take a little time. Depends who, if anyone, is working on a Saturday.”
Charlie asked Marlow to call his cell because he and Kate would likely go out. She agreed.
Charlie and Kate were just about to go out for a late lunch when Marlow called back.
“Charlie, despite it’s being Saturday I got hold of somebody and have three names for you. One of those Altimas belongs to a Margaret Beecham; another belongs to a Paul Andrews; the third belongs to a Julian Chen. Any help?”
“Yes. Paul Andrews. I just saw him last evening and in conversation about what I was up to he reacted in a shocked but quickly hidden way when I mentioned I’d followed a car from Winston-Schuyler’s house. I think he may be your man, at least regarding the break-ins.”
“That’s nowhere near enough for me to bring him in for questioning. Have you anything else?”
“No, but that steel was taken from the Club. I wonder if there’s any chance he might still have it.”
“That’s most unlikely, Charlie. Think about it. We’ll talk Monday. In the meantime, I’ll do a little tracing and see if there’s anything I can use. Thanks for the tip, anyway.”
The Third Sunday
Charlie had slept badly. He’d been stewing over Andrews. The chances he still had that steel were zero, but what about traces in the car? If he’d put the steel in the trunk, say, on his way to dispose of it, wouldn’t there be at least small traces of blood left? How could one get a look at his car?
Charlie got up and before starting breakfast got out the phonebook and looked up Andrews’ address. After a muffin and coffee, he shaved and showered. Kate still wasn’t up so he left her a note and drove to Andrews’ house.
It was obvious why the Andrews weren’t able to sell their house. It was large, run down, and located in a neighborhood that was going downhill. Charlie drove slowly by the house and the first thing he noticed was that the car parked in the driveway was a metallic grey very like the silver-grey of the Altima Charlie had followed but it was an Accord, not an Altima. Clearly Andrews had rid himself of the Altima and rather cunningly replaced it with a car that would not draw attention to the switch. Charlie wasn’t sure, but the Accord looked to be two or three years old, so Andrews had obviously swapped his used car for another used car. Again, the point was not to attract attention by suddenly having a new car.
On his drive back to the condo Charlie tried hard to think what Andrews had done. If it had been up to Charlie, he’d have gone to a big dealer where the exchange would have gone quickly and choices would have been plentiful. There were only two places where Andrews would have been likely to go. One was that big auto mall in Riverdale, the other was the nearly as large new and used car dealership on the edge of town. Without hesitation Charlie set out for Riverdale. He’d call Kate when he got there.
Some twenty minutes later Charlie pulled into the auto mall. Unlike most dealers, this one was open on Sunday and he was in the process of parking when a salesperson walked quickly to his car.
“Good morning, sir. Can I help you?”
“Perhaps you can. A friend of mine recently traded in his Altima, a silver grey one, that my wife really liked. I wonder if he brought it here.”
“An Altima? No problem. Do you know what year?”
“Not exactly, but it wasn’t more than a couple of years old; maybe even less.”
“Ah, that makes it easy. We have two nearly new Altimas, a 2014 and a 2015. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you both. I don’t remember which, if either, is silver.”
Charlie followed the salesperson and after the equivalent of a half-block walk they came to a collection of smart-looking imports. The silver-grey Altima was immediately evident and Charlie head directly to it. The salesperson pointed out it was a 2015 and said he’d go get the keys and hurried away. While he waited, Charlie looked the car over. It fit his recollection perfectly from the rear.
The salesperson was back in a few minutes and handed Charlie the keys. Rather than waste time on the interior, Charlie immediately opened the trunk and had a hard look. Unfortunately, there were no obvious tell-tale marks like blood-stains, but that didn’t mean a forensics expert couldn’t find something. Charlie then checked out the interior and noticed that the carpet behind the driver’s seat had been scrubbed. He then looked more closely and was both saddened and thrilled to see a couple of small spots on the back of the driver’s seat near the floor that whoever cleaned the carpet obviously missed. It seemed that Andrews had thrown the steel through the back door, rather than put it in the trunk. He’d very likely had then driven away from the Club, planning to get rid of the steel later. Charlie turned to the salesperson.
“I’m pretty sure this is my friend’s car, but could you check? His name is Paul Andrews.”
“Well, I really shouldn’t, but I guess it won’t hurt to check. I won’t tell you anything, but I’ll nod if you’re right.”
With that the salesperson walked back to his office and Charlie called Marlow, only to be told she would not be available until Monday.
The salesperson was back quickly and pointedly nodded at Charlie. For his part, Charlie didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t risk having the car further contaminated, much less sold twenty minutes after he left the mall. With some surprise he heard his own voice say:
“What’s my Camry worth if I buy this Altima?”
The Fourth Monday
On waking Monday morning Charlie was struck anew by what he had done the previous day. He got up and prepared an elaborate breakfast of bacon and eggs and muffins and timed it so everything would be ready when Kate appeared. He also dipped into their small treasure of Kona coffee. He wanted to make amends for the surprise he’d given her that Sunday evening when he’d driven up in Andrews’ Altima. His efforts paid off and Kate was mollified, asking when he’d call Marlow.
“I’ll call her as soon as I’m dressed. I’ll take a cab to my office; I don’t want to mess with that car until she’s seen it.”
“What you didn’t own up to last night is what the affair cost.”
“Well, I got a good price for the Camry, which, though a little older, was better equipped and cost a bit more originally, but we’re out just under six thousand for the difference.”
“You mean you’re out six-thousand.”
“Look, if things work out, we’ve got a car that’s two years newer than the one we had.”
“Sure, if and when we get it back. No, you’re going to be out more because I want you to rent a car till it’s all settled.”
Charlie dressed and took a cab to his office. He called Marlow immediately, keeping in mind that he had an afternoon class. As usual, he was told she’d return his call.
It was eleven-forty when Marlow called. Charlie filled her in on his conjectures and, saving the best for last, admitted having bought the suspect Altima.
“Charlie, you’ve really gone the extra mile. I could have impounded the car.”
“Sure, but today. We don’t know if it might have been sold or cleaned more thoroughly or what, if I’d left it on the lot.”
“Yes; I see your point. Okay, I will have it collected at your place. Where did you leave it?”
“I was careful to park it in our basement slot. Kate will let you in and give you the keys. And it’s costing me a rental car and a dinner out to have her wait for you or whoever you send.”
Marlow laughed, assured Charlie she’d get right on it, and hung up. Charlie sat and stared blankly for a while. Now that things were settling down he realized that he was feeling bad that it was Andrews who’d killed Kostavo. It made some sense, though, that if Andrews was approaching retirement, was stuck with that white elephant of a house, and was quite possibly hurting for money, he’d be attracted to pulling a scam. Another thing that suddenly occurred to Charlie was that Andrews’ teaching schedule probably would have allowed him good time to watch Winston-Schuyler’s house. It all hung together. Now he had to get his class notes organized.
Lunch came and went and Charlie held his class. He didn’t hear from Marlow until a little after five when he was getting ready to go home.
“Charlie. I owe you big time. We haven’t got an analysis yet on those spots on the back of the driver’s seat, but they may prove to be solid evidence. Finding the steel would be a blessing, but that doesn’t look promising. I also confirmed that Paul Andrews still owned the car on the day Kostavo was killed. Of course a lawyer will argue we can’t prove he was driving it that day, but that’s par for the course. We’re going through the prints on the steering-wheel and dashboard, but that’s not likely to help, given the number of people who were in and out of the car when Andrews sold it. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure I have enough to bring Andrews in for questioning to see what I might get. Thank you, again.”
Charlie took a cab to a rental agency and got a car for the coming week, hoping that would be enough. He then took Kate to a new restaurant he’d heard about. It was a chain place, but Charlie thought it worth trying. As it turned out it proved only so-so and did not make their list of favorites. Over dinner he told Kate about his conversation with Marlow.
“Well, I hope this thing is over.”
“Won’t be over till they arrest Andrews. I don’t understand what he did or thought he was doing, but I feel sorry for him. He was pretty good company at the Club table, despite his disdain for the Humanities departments. For one thing, he regularly gave Jeffries a bad time when Jeffries was in lecture-mode, which was always.”
The Fourth Tuesday
Again defying tradition and core-deep inclinations, Kate was up and having coffee when Charlie woke up. In fact, she’d warmed a muffin for him and poured him coffee when he sat down.
“Okay, so what’s this all about? New shoes? A new coat? A lavish dinner out?”
“I’m celebrating. I finished a very tough editing job and shipped off the file twenty minutes ago, as I promised to do.”
“Now, another little matter. What’s going to happen about the car. I’ll tell you right now I do not want to keep that car if it turns out to be the killer’s.”
“Marlow will no doubt return it eventually, and I suppose I can trade it in and be out some more money. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to keep it either.”
“Is there any chance Marlow or somebody might recompense you for the six grand you’re out?”
“That I very much doubt. I’ll have to consider it the cost of successful sleuthing. But I’ve got to shower and get dressed.”
Charlie arrived at his office determined to finish his paper. He got as far as booting up his laptop and opening the file when the phone rang. It was Marlow.
“Charlie, sorry to have to tell you this, but the rushed analysis came back. Those spots in Andrews’ car weren’t blood. They looked a little like it, but they weren’t; they were just dirt mixed in the cleaning solution the dealer used. I’m not going to admit anything to him, though. We’re still going to have him in for a talk. It’s just that I’ve got a whole lot less to work with now than I thought I had. I’ll let you know.”
Charlie wished Marlow good luck and hung up. He stared out the window. He’d been sure Andrews had tossed the steel on the floor of the back seat. It was looking like his six-thousand investment in buying Andrews’ Altima had been for nothing. Plus, he now was stuck with the Altima and was paying for a rental. His paper forgotten, Charlie tried to think things through. If there were no blood traces in the car, Andrews could have either wrapped the steel in something or not put it in the car at all. Could he just have dumped it in one of the large garbage bins outside the Club’s kitchen door? Andrews might not have been thinking straight or thought that to be a lesser risk than carrying the steel with him. For one thing, if his prints weren’t on the steel, tossing it in a bin would have seemed safe enough. But could he be wrong? Could Andrews be innocent of killing Kostavo? There seemed to be two possibilities: one, it hadn’t been Andrews he’d followed; two, maybe Andrews was looking for something and had been watching Winston-Schuyler but hadn’t killed Kostavo. The second possibility at least explained why Andrews had sold the Altima, but it reopened the case with respect to the murder.
Charlie started going through the various Club members who might have been involved with Kostavo. There was Ferguson, but nothing about their meeting or discussion prompted any suspicion Ferguson’s reluctance to give an amount was understandable. There was Devereux, the manager, but aside from that incident about the car there was again nothing that prompted suspicion. What about Clyde Cahill, the chef? But he’d not had the money to get involved and Charlie remembered his surprise about the steel. One of the servers? Could a woman have hit Kostavo hard enough with the steel to kill him? For one thing, they were all a bit or a lot shorter than Kostavo, which meant angle or leverage could have been a problem and there had been suggestion that Kostavo was sitting or bending down when hit. Then it struck Charlie who had put him onto Andrews: Jeffries had mentioned more or less out of the blue that Andrews had an Altima. Moreover, Jeffries had more than once tried to pump Charlie for information. He’d written that off as just Jeffries being his usual busy-body self, but perhaps it had been deliberately done to steer Charlie in the wrong direction. Could Jeffries have been a mark? Could he have lost a lot to Kostavo and Andrews, if Andrews was indeed mixed up in the affair. Charlie would take Kate out to dinner and see what she thought about all of this.
The Fourth Tuesday Evening
Charlie went home a bit earlier than usual and had no sooner entered the condo and called to Kate than the phone rang. It was Marlow.
“Charlie, worse news than earlier. As I said before, we didn’t have enough to bring in Paul Andrews, but I did call him and invited him in for a talk. He came willingly enough but admitted nothing, making out he couldn’t understand our interest. We have zip by way of evidence that he was in any of the places that were searched and there was nothing incriminating in his car. When I raised the question about the car he claimed he traded it in because he wanted something different. He also claimed not to know who Mrs. Autumn Winston-Schuyler is. His contention that he never met her is, in fact, true; we checked with her. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t watching her house, but we have no proof of that. In the end he walked out of here and we got nowhere.”
Charlie thanked Marlow and hung up, told Kate they were going out, and marveled yet again at the speed with which she was ready to go to one of their favorite restaurants. Over dinner Charlie laid out what he’d learned from Marlow and what he’d been thinking.
“I tend to agree with you on it all but have one reservation, and her name is Janice.”
“You mean Jeffries’ wife?”
“Yes, I do. If Alan was mixed up in this scam business, she’d know about it.”
“You think she might have been mixed up in it, too?”
“No; well, I don’t know, but I just don’t think Alan could have been involved without her knowing about it.”
Charlie realized that given his efforts to steer clear of Jeffries, he really didn’t know much about him. He had no idea of what his financial situation was. Unlike what he knew about Andrews being stuck in that dilapidated house, Charlie knew nothing about Jeffries circumstances. Whatever those circumstances, maybe he just wanted or more money. Kate was right, though, about Janice knowing about anything he might have been up to. No; it didn’t work to cast Jeffries as the scammer. It was just possible, though, that he’d been a mark himself. Janice would have known about that, too, but perhaps at first, they’d both been convinced it was a good idea. If Jeffries had been a mark, it was still possible he’d killed Kostavo when he learned he’d lost however much he’d put into the scam.
“What made you suspect Alan?”
Charlie realized his mind had drifted and Kate’s question brought him back to the point.
“I guess it really was just Jeffries fingering Andrews when I asked about the Altima. On reflection, there really wasn’t anything else other than the bare possibility.”
“I don’t think Alan is either the killer or was involved in the scam. I don’t see him working up a rage and hitting the chef, and he certainly wouldn’t have done it cold-bloodedly. As for the scam, I suspect Janice gives him an allowance and nowhere near enough to either work a scam or get lured into one.”
“You’re probably right. Jeffries is a talker, not a doer. It was just the car thing.”
“You’re looking depressed.”
“I am. I think I was stretching to make Jeffries a possibility simply because I’ve no idea what to do next or who to suspect. This third case, if I can call it that, seems to mark the end of my sleuthing efforts. I think I’ll leave it to Marlow. I’ll try to provide the info she wants and asks for, but forget the rest.”
Kate was smiling with what Charlie thought was relief as she got up and they headed home. Later, while both Charlie and Kate were into their new mysteries, the phone rang.
“Charlie? Leslie Marlow. I know it’s after nine but I had to tell you. We found the steel.”
“That’s great; where was it?”
“Tossed into the foliage at the back of the Club behind those bins outside the kitchen entrance. Someone may have meant to throw into one of the bins and overshot or didn’t care. It was found by one of the guys collecting the bins at the Club who spotted it and noticed the blood on the steel. He’d heard about the murder, so decided to play safe and called the local precinct. I just got word as I was packing up to leave. The blood is almost certainly Kostavo’s; we’ll know soon enough. Dusting already told us that there are no prints. Of course, everyone knows about fingerprints, so that’s no surprise, though the handle wasn’t really clean. There were some smears, but nothing close to a print we could use. The steel bar, itself, wouldn’t show prints; it’s serrated or whatever the right term is. Anyway, you and Kate were right about the murder weapon. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take us anywhere with respect to who used it.”
Charlie thanked Marlow and after hanging up told Kate what Marlow had said.
“Looks like you’ve got company at the dead-end, Charlie.
THE PENULTIMATE INTERLUDE
With the cops nosing around, no doubt thanks to Douglas, the game was over. Well, he had somewhat more than a year’s salary salted away and earning decent interest. Retirement was looming, but by that time he’d have a healthy addition to his pension. No more scams. He’d been lucky, both with the scams and in finding that stupid file. He wouldn’t push his luck. What he had to do now was play it cool. He hadn’t been to lunch at the Club for a while, but then he wasn’t a regular. He’d go in a day or two and act naturally. Whatever he knew or had guessed, Charlie Douglas wouldn’t bring anything up at the Club table and in a while he could relax. He might have made a lot more if it hadn’t been for Kostavo, but then there was always the chance that he might have been caught if he’d kept up the scams. No, Kostavo had been a mistake, for sure, and he’d like to tip his hat to whoever had done in Kostavo, but in the end, it’d very likely been for the best.
The Fourth Wednesday
Charlie just made it in time for his seminar. He’d slept in after a bad night plagued by sleeplessness due to puzzling about Kostavo’s murder. Fortunately, the students’ keen interest in the topic for that day, Foucault’s relativistic conception of truth, quickly captured Charlie’s full attention. Feeling much better, he made his way to the Club for lunch after class.
Jeffries was holding forth at the Club table and Charlie reflected on how he could ever have thought he was the killer or even the scammer. Billings turned up not long after Charlie and managed to start a conversation about the administration’s latest gaffe. Later, over a second coffee and alone at the table, Charlie told Billings that the police now had the murder weapon but that he felt he’d hit a wall regarding who’d killed Kostavo. Charlie also told Billings about Andrews waltzing through his interview with Marlow.
“I’m not surprised. I’d expect Alan to be careful about whatever he was doing.”
“I have a feeling that though Marlow was disappointed not to get him on something that she doesn’t see him as the killer. My bet is that Andrews was in on the scam and was looking for something that incriminated him. I don’t see him falling for a scam and don’t think he could have been as cool with Marlow as he apparently was if he’s the killer. Trouble is, I’m fresh out of suspects.”
“Could Kostavo have been killed for a reason having nothing to do with the scam?”
“It’s possible, but I’m literally clueless as to what that reason might be.”
“You don’t know of any enemies Kostavo had?”
“No; I just don’t know much about him or what he was up to, other than inventing oddly names specials. He’s ex-wife hadn’t seen him for years and I learned nothing about him from her except that he didn’t inherit any money.”
“Well, Charlie, win some, lose some. Leave it to the police and stop seeing it as a personal failure.”
Charlie and Billings left the table, but while Billings went straight back to his office, Charlie used the men’s room at the Club. When he was leaving he ran into Ellie McGraw, the new sous-chef. Charlie complimented her on the carrot-cake he’d had at lunch and asked how she was liking the job.
“I guess it’s okay. Not quite what I expected, but I think I can cope.”
“Now, that doesn’t sound very positive. What’s the problem?”
“Oh, Dr. …”
“Douglas; but call me Charlie.”
“Thank you, Charlie. I shouldn’t be complaining but it’s nice to get it off my chest. It’s just that working with Clyde, with Chef Cahill, has turned out to be very different from what I expected. He doesn’t talk much to the other kitchen-staff members, and rarely to the servers, so I get to listen to all his complaints. It wears me down.”
“Does he complain about the work?”
“No; well, indirectly. It’s all about trying to cover expenses for his wife and five kids on his salary. He thought he’d be much better off when he made head chef after Mr. Kostavo, uh, died, but it seems not to have made that much difference. His wife can’t work because of the kids. I told him if she got a job they could get a nanny, but apparently, Ms. Cahill won’t go for that. Anyway, I appreciate Clyde’s problem, but he does go on about it. But really, please forget I said anything. It’s just that you asked when I was feeling upset about it. Please don’t repeat anything I said.”
Charlie reassured McGraw, told her to feel free to approach him anytime she felt he might help, and went back to his office. Back at his desk he thought about what he’d just heard. Charlie knew Clyde had five children, but not hadn’t thought much about it. Now he could see that Clyde would have a problem since Charlie couldn’t imagine that the chef’s salary at the Club was overly-generous. He’d talk this over with Kate later.
The Fourth Wednesday Evening
Charlie took Kate to the Cosseted Lamb for dinner. Once seated he told her about his talk with the new sous-chef. Kate immediately picked up on what Charlie was thinking.
“You think maybe it was Cahill who hit Kostavo?”
“Well, suppose something came up that angered him or threatened his job or income. Kostavo was the head chef at the time. Perhaps he wanted to cut Clyde’s hours.”
“How might you find out?”
“The obvious thing is to talk to Devereux. I don’t think any of the servers I know well enough to ask would know. Then again, they might have heard something or sensed antagonism between Clyde and Kostavo. I just think if that were the case one of them would have said something to me when I asked about Kostavo.”
“Wouldn’t hurt to ask.”
“No, it wouldn’t, but it’s Devereux I need to talk to. They’re having an alumni affair there tonight, so Devereux will be there till they shut down. I think I’ll give him a call when we get home.”
Kate and Charlie got back to their condo at eight-thirty and Charlie thought that might be a good time to call Devereux. He needed a pretext thought. He thought about it and something came to mind almost immediately. Charlie organized his thoughts and dialed the Club. Since it was evening the receptionist wouldn’t be answering. He’d probably get one of the servers.
“Good evening; Meredith University Faculty Club. May I help you?”
Devereux himself had answered the phone.
“Mr. Devereux; this is Charlie Douglas. Sorry to bother you but I have a quick question. I know you’ve got the alumni there, tonight. Could you tell me if Stephen Frey is there and free to talk for a minute?”
“Ah, Dr. Douglas. Yes, the alumni are here, but you’ve obviously not heard. Mr. Frey and his wife moved to New Zealand some six weeks ago.”
Charlie knew that, but the ploy had worked.
“Oh; all I knew is they were thinking about it. Sorry to have disturbed you.”
“Not a problem. I’m actually just killing time till we wrap up the affair.”
“Ah, well then, perhaps you can help me out on something else. Detective Marlow has been after me about some details and asked a question I couldn’t answer. Was there any tension between Clyde Cahill and Bernard Kostavo? You know, competitiveness or problems with their shifts or hours worked?”
“No, not at all. Bernard actually tried to help Clyde, knowing he had to support a wife and five children. They got along fine. Was Detective Marlow thinking a promotion and a raise in pay might have motivated Clyde to hurt Bernard?”
“You know how cops think; always looking for friction to explain things.”
“Yes; I understand, but there was nothing like that between Bernard and Clyde. Bernard kept to himself, too, so I don’t think there was any staff member close enough to him to work up animosity. I discussed much of this with Detective Marlow myself. I guess she’s just checking things twice. As I explained to her, I don’t think Bernard was well liked by the kitchen or wait staff, but no one had reason to bear him ill-will of the sort that would explain what happened. Certainly not Clyde. No, I don’t think anyone working here at the Club is responsible for Bernard’s death.”
“Thank you, Mr. Devereux. I’ll let you get back to business, even if it is just waiting.”
Charlie mused a bit on his conversation before filling in Kate. He then added:
“You know, nothing Devereux said rules out a faculty member killing Kostavo. I wonder if I was too quick to pass on Jeffries.”
The Fourth Thursday
Charlie was in his office by eight-thirty. He wanted to prepare his afternoon class, but first he wanted to devote a good hour or so to reviewing what he knew about the Kostavo case. He felt this was somehow his last chance to resolve it—or at least come close to doing so. The first thing he did was lay out the bare facts on a sheet of paper. As he did so, nothing jumped up at him as suggestive or problematic. Next, he listed the people he’d spoken with about the case and wrote brief summaries of what he’d been told. Winston-Schuyler had provided only the information that Kostavo had no important money of his own. Lydia Heath had been scammed by Kostavo for twelve thousand. Richard Ferguson had made a little but then been scammed for an undisclosed amount. Other than that, Charlie had not learned anything of special importance about Kostavo’s activities or killing. He discounted the drug involvement and the execution of the man who’d been moving drugs for Kostavo to supply someone else. That was Marlow’s problem and almost certainly had little to do with the very unprofessional caving in of Kostavo’s skull. On reflection, Charlie’s idea that Jeffries might have killed Kostavo now looked a little silly. Paul Andrews had been a much likelier bet, but it seemed his role was limited to the scams and searching around for whatever it was he needed to find and had probably found, given his most recent behavior. It was clear that Marlow had nothing on Andrews and he’d get away with whatever he’d been up to. Again, nothing leapt out at Charlie. He dismissed his suspicions of Devereux and of Cahill as baseless. He was missing something. But now he had to work on his class material.
Charlie went to lunch a little early so as not to have to rush back to his class. He was the first at the Club table and, sure enough, Jeffries was the next to take a seat.
“Well, Charlie, how goes the sleuthing?”
“Oh, Alan, I’ve gotten nowhere. I think I’m just going to forget the whole thing. I’d really prefer not to talk about it.”
“That’s fine, because I learned something interesting this morning. Some days ago I saw you lunching with Richard Ferguson. Have you heard about his situation?”
“His situation? No, I haven’t. What’s happened?”
“Ferguson’s had to put his house up for sale. It seems he’s in quite serious debt.”
“Richard? I thought he was doing very well consulting, over and above his teaching.”
“He was, he was, but there was still a lot more money going out than coming in. He wasn’t gambling in the strict sense, you know, cards or horses. What he’s been doing is putting a lot of money into stocks and options. Apparently, things are bad enough that they’ve garnisheed his salary. Ferguson’s also tried to get some cash from his retirement fund. Oh, and he’s quit the Club.”
By then others had joined them at the table and Jeffries repeated the story. Happily, Jeffries didn’t know about Ferguson’s involvement with Kostavo and Charlie closed his mind to the conversation because what had leapt to his mind was that Ferguson had tried to get his money back from Kostavo. It wasn’t hard to imagine that if Ferguson had been stonewalled he might have lost it and struck Kostavo on the head in rage. Ferguson hadn’t owned up to how much he’d given Kostavo. Charlie had thought it was wounded pride, but maybe there was more to it. Ferguson might well not have wanted Charlie or anyone else to know just how much he’d given Kostavo, since a high enough figure could very well look like a motive for murder.
Back in his office Charlie called Marlow to let her know what Jeffries had told him about Ferguson. As was often the case she wasn’t in, so he left a detailed message. Charlie gathered his notes and went off to his class, forcing himself to put aside all thought about the Kostavo case. He also tried to squelch a certain elation at the back of his head that he might now know who’d killed Kostavo.
The Fourth Thursday Evening
Over dinner Kate made the obvious point after hearing what Charlie had to tell her.
“How could you—or Marlow—prove anything against this Ferguson? I agree with you that it sounds like he might be the killer, but there’s no evidence. It’s not as if there were fingerprints on the steel they finally found.”
“I know, I know. That’s been eating away at me all afternoon.”
Kate and Charlie had just finished dinner when the phone rang. It was Marlow.
“Charlie, I got your message but I’d like you to expand a bit on the Richard Ferguson.”
“As I said, I learned today that he’s in serious debt. Given that he was one of Kostavo’s marks, and given his circumstances, it’s not hard to imagine that Ferguson confronted Kostavo about the money he’d turned over, got nowhere, and clobbered Kostavo in anger. The fact that the steel was there, in the kitchen, suggests strongly that it wasn’t premeditated. The problem is that I don’t see how you can connect Ferguson to the killing. No prints, as you told me, and no witnesses. As a Club member, Ferguson would know the drill and no doubt went to see Kostavo when he was sure there was no one else there. He probably watched from the parking lot as the staff-members left.”
“Yes; those are all good points but there is a little about the crime-scene I haven’t told you for procedural reasons. The Club kitchen floor was dusty with flour in a couple of areas near Kostavo’s body and we found a shoe-print that was fairly complete. At least it was complete enough that our forensics people judged it to be a size ten man’s shoe. Now, that isn’t a lot, but it’s something, and I can always make it sound like more in an interrogation.”
“I don’t know Ferguson’s shoe size, but if ten is right, would that be enough to ask him in for a little chat?”
“The size by itself wouldn’t be enough. I need a connection; you know, someone having seen him at the Club in the late afternoon, something in their past encounters. If you think of something, let me know. Thanks again for letting me know what you learned.”
Charlie hung up and Kate asked:
“What did Marlow say?”
“Only that they have a size ten shoe-print. But by itself that isn’t enough. I can’t think of anything Marlow could use. Aside from that one lunch we had, I’ve only interacted with Ferguson when he occasionally sits at the Club table, and that’s just general conversation. This certainly hasn’t been as good a sleuthing effort on my part as the last two times.”
“You’re being unfair to yourself, Charlie. You may not have discovered Ferguson as a good suspect, but you put things together. Someone else might not have made much of what Jeffries told you.”
“Sure, but if Jeffries hadn’t told me what he did, I’d be nowhere at all. I just wish there was something else Ferguson said in our conversation that would give me a lead, but I’ve been over it a dozen times and there’s nothing there.”
“Do you know anyone who knows him well?”
“Not really. I have the impression Ferguson keeps to himself. He went to the Club for lunch only once in a while, and when he did, half the time he didn’t sit with us at the Club table. All I can think to do is ask one of the servers if they ever noticed Ferguson and Kostavo talking. It’d be great if one of them caught them arguing. That would give Marlow the connection she needs. Well, that will have to wait until tomorrow.”
Charlie didn’t sleep well that night. He’d gone to bed late, after stewing on the case, and then had several bad dreams about Ferguson getting away with murder. Some of the time he simply stared at the ceiling, thinking that he had to relax, knowing he had to be ready the next day for whoever of the students he was supervising showed up to talk about their theses. He simply couldn’t let the sleuthing interfere with his academic obligations.
The Fourth Friday
Charlie, feeling a bit hyper after all the coffee he’d had at breakfast to get over his grogginess from a bad night, was at his office by eight-thirty. Before students turned up, there was something he needed to do. He logged on to the Meredith website and printed a five-by-seven picture of Ferguson. He’d just finished logging off and putting the picture in an envelope when the first student turned up.
By noon, Charlie had spoken with three students: two productively, one less so. Putting aside his reservations about the third student’s MA thesis, Charlie hurried to the Club. He was in luck because Cindy, one of the server he knew best, was placing chits on the tables in the main dining room. Charlie went over to her and asked if she knew Ferguson. She said the name rang a bell but she couldn’t put a face to it. Charlie then showed her Ferguson’s picture.
“Oh, yes; I’ve certainly served him and I also remember him having some conversations with Bernie.”
Charlie was delighted at not having had to introduce the topic.
“With Kostavo? Did you ever hear what they talked about?”
“Oh, no. Dr. Ferguson always called Bernie into the hall. I don’t think some of their conversations were very pleasant because Bernie would come back into the kitchen looking upset. Come to think of it, my seeing them talking is fairly recent. Why are you asking? Do you think Dr. Ferguson was involved in Bernie’s death?”
“Cindy, please forget this conversation. I just wanted to confirm there was a connection between Ferguson and Kostavo. You need to keep all of this strictly to yourself.”
“Not to worry, Dr. Douglas. I know better than to blab. But I do hope you get somewhere with this. Now, I’ve got to finish with these chits.”
Charlie went to the Club table, deliberately not hurrying to call Marlow in case Cindy saw him. After perusing the menu and placing his order, he went to the washroom. Once there, he called Marlow. Luckily, she was in.
“Charlie; I was just going out to grab a sandwich.”
“This won’t take long. I’ve got a witness. One of the Club staff saw Ferguson and Kostavo talking more than once and, apparently, Kostavo not looking happy afterwards.”
“Charlie, that’s great. That’s enough to call in Ferguson. Give me the name of this witness.”
Charlie did, wished Marlow luck, and went back to the Club table. Billings and Jeffries were at the table and Jeffries was telling a lengthy and not very interesting story, going by the look on Billings’ face. Several others soon took seats and the lunch hour passed pleasantly. Billings and Charlie asked for more coffee and bantered till they were alone at the table. Charlie then told Billings the latest.
“I barely know Ferguson, Charlie, but I’m very sorry to hear both about his situation, but aren’t you pushing it to think he killed Kostavo?”
“Well, he seems to have had reason to get very angry at Kostavo. He probably didn’t intend to harm him, but hit Kostavo in a moment of rage. But aside from that shoe-print, which could be anyone’s, there’s nothing that would prompt an arrest, much less a trial. He may get away with it.”
“Do you think that if Detective Marlow confronts him with the charge, and given his apparently desperate if not hopeless financial situation, he might confess?”
“I don’t see what he’d have to gain from doing so. Of course…”
Charlie stopped to think a moment and Billings asked what he had been going to say.
“It just occurred to me that we don’t know who Ferguson owes money to. I suspect it isn’t a bank or banks, and if he owes money to a loan-shark or someone like that, jail could be a benefit in affording him protection.”
“Charlie, you’re right. If somebody is after Ferguson for what he owes, he could be better off in the cops’ hands.”
“One way to find out: ask him.”
The Fourth Friday Afternoon
Back in his office, Charlie got Ferguson’s phone number from the Meredith directory. Unfortunately, just as he was about to call, one of his supervisees turned up. Happily, their discussion didn’t take long and a little after three o’clock Charlie called Ferguson.
“Richard. This is Charlie Douglas. I’ve been hearing some disturbing stories about you. Could you make it to the Club a bit later for a drink and some talk?”
“Hello, Charlie. Yes, I suppose I can, though I’m not sure what good it will do.”
“We’ll see. How about four-thirty? Too early?”
“No; that’s fine. See you there.”
The next hour dragged and Charlie finally walked down to the Club. Fortunately, it was empty except for the staff. He took a seat facing the hallway and waited for Ferguson.
It was closer to five than four-thirty when Ferguson turned up. The first thing Charlie noticed is that he hadn’t shave in several days and looked haggard. They got drinks and went to sit near a window in the bar.
“So, I suppose you’ve heard that I’m up to my ears in debt.”
“Yes. Jeffries told me. The reason I wanted to talk to you was that I’m concerned about who you owe. Will Billings and I were talking about your situation and we both wondered if you owe money to anyone that might be, ah, risky about repayment.”
“No, Charlie, I’m not in debt to loan-sharks, but I owe two banks, my house is mortgaged to the hilt, and I owe my brother nearly a hundred grand. Every dime I’d saved is long gone. I don’t understand what happened. I was doing fine and then got into dicey so-called investments that looked great and turned out to be disasters. At one point I had a net worth of just about half a million. Now I have nothing and will be turfed out of my house in the next couple of months. But I know what you’re thinking. I did do some deals with Kostavo, and the last one cost me, but I didn’t kill him. The last deal I went in on with him was for thirty-thousand dollars and that’s all gone, but I wouldn’t kill him for that. It’s only a small part of what I owe. Detective Marlow wants to see me Monday morning, but I know when Kostavo was killed and I was elsewhere and have two people to corroborate where I was.”
Charlie saw that it was very likely true that Ferguson hadn’t killed Kostavo, but Ferguson’s reference to when Kostavo had been killed made something clicked in his mind: sandwiches. Charlie realized the thought had been at the back of his head for some time. They’d found freshly made sandwiches when they found Kostavo’s body. Everyone had assumed he’d been making them when he stayed late the day he was killed. But the head chef wouldn’t be making sandwiches. That would have been the sous-chef’s job. Clyde had been there, too!
Distracted, Charlie talked with Ferguson a little while longer. They finished their drinks and Charlie made the right noises about Ferguson’s situation and they both left the Club. Ferguson no longer had a car, so Charlie gave him a lift home. When Charlie got to the condo he explained to Kate what he’d heard from Ferguson and the thought he’d had about Clyde.
“I thought you’d written Clyde off.”
“I had. He doesn’t have the money to have been in the scam; his answers to my questions were straightforward; no one heard him arguing with Kostavo. There wasn’t any reason to think he’d killed Kostavo. But if he was there that afternoon, I have to rethink the whole thing.”
“Charlie, maybe it didn’t have anything to do with the scam. Have you considered that?”
“Not till now, but you’re right. It could have been something else. I have to talk to Clyde. If I stretch things a bit and tell him I know he was there that afternoon, he might come clean. But Kate, he has five children to worry about. If he did it and does come clean, what happens then? Clyde goes to prison and his wife and five kids are left destitute? I’m not sure I can do this. I’m not even sure I can tell Marlow what I’m thinking about Clyde.”
“Five kids or not, Charlie, he still may have killed a man.”
The Last Saturday Morning
Charlie woke up Saturday morning determined to get hold of Clyde. He’d get his number and call around ten, when Clyde was most likely to be home. This couldn’t wait till Monday.
Over a second breakfast coffee, Charlie told Kate he intended to call Clyde and intimate he knew Clyde had been at the Club the late-afternoon when Kostavo was killed. The point was to see how Clyde would react. Kate was still uncomfortable about pressing the matter because of the consequences to Clyde’s family. Charlie shared her concern, but could not look the other way if Clyde had in fact killed Kostavo. Soon enough it was nearly ten and Charlie looked up Clyde’s phone number. There were only two “C. Cahill” entries and one gave an address in a neighborhood that Charlie couldn’t imagine Clyde could afford. He dialed the other number. The phone rang only twice before it was picked up by a child with a strong lisp.
“Hello. Is your dad there?”
The phone was put down with no answer and Charlie waited two or three minutes before he heard Clyde on the line.
“Clyde, this is Charlie; Dr. Douglas. I need to speak to you for a few minutes but prefer not doing it on the phone. Is there somewhere we might meet today?”
“Dr. Douglas? Hello. Yeah, sure. I haven’t anything on except to look after the kids. Do you want to come by here?”
“I’d prefer it if we could have some coffee somewhere else. Have you got a favorite haunt near your place? We don’t need to meet for long.”
“Oh, okay. Well, there’s a coffee shop a couple of blocks away. It’s on the corner of Geary and Wellington. I could meet you there. It’d be best in the next little while so I can get back to looking after the kids when my wife goes grocery shopping. Is that too soon?”
“No. I’ll be there in fifteen or twenty minutes. You go when you can.”
“Fine. See you there.”
Charlie dressed quickly and drove to the street he’d recognized, Wellington, and followed it to Geary. The coffee shop was right on the corner and at that time of the morning on a Saturday, parking wasn’t a problem. Charlie went in, took a booth, ordered coffee and some pastries, and waited for Clyde.
“Dr. Douglas; good morning. What’s this all about?”
Clyde sat opposite Charlie and seemed nervous.
“I’ll keep it simple, Clyde. I have reason to believe you were at the Club when Bernie Kostavo was killed.”
“I thought that’s what this was about. Well, the staff was there till Devereux told us there was nothing on and we could go home.”
“I know that, but Kostavo stayed later and I believe you did, too. For one thing, I’m sure you’re the one that made the sandwiches that were found in the fridge the next day. Kostavo wouldn’t make sandwiches.”
Charlie couldn’t help notice how crestfallen Clyde suddenly looked.
“I was afraid of this. Look, I know what you’re thinking but I did not kill Bernie. I didn’t want to get into this at all, but I can’t risk being a suspect. What happened is that I left not long after the others did. Devereux told us we could go at five-thirty and everybody pretty much did. I stayed no more than a few minutes later, just finishing up the sandwiches I’d started on a while earlier. Now comes the hard part. When I left Bernie was still there, in the kitchen, putting stuff away and he was talking to Cassie. She hadn’t left.”
“Yeah. That’s what I didn’t want to mention.”
“Do you know what they were talking about?”
“No. Bernie and Cassie were the only ones left as I was leaving, and she was going at him about something. She must’ve gone into the kitchen when I went to the john and to get my coat. Cassie stopped talking when I re-entered the kitchen on my way out, so I didn’t hear what she was saying. I think Bernie was ignoring her; he was turned away doing something on the counter. But both were very much alive. I was out of there no later than ten to six. I’m telling you all of this because I just can’t have you or the cops thinking I might have hit Bernie.”
Charlie had a strong feeling that Clyde was telling the truth, especially because he seemed relieved to get what he’d said off his chest. But could Cassie have killed Kostavo? She was five-seven or eight, so tall enough to have hit him as he was hit. And with Kostavo’s thin skull, she wouldn’t have had to hit him all that hard to kill him. Maybe she hadn’t meant to kill him. The footprint Marlow had mentioned was probably Clyde’s, so it meant nothing, but that didn’t matter since it now seemed Cassie was the last one to see Kostavo alive.
The Last Sunday
Charlie was finishing his breakfast muffin when Kate struggled into the kitchen and poured herself coffee. Charlie would wait till she’d had her first cup. In the meantime, he poured himself a second cup. Charlie had called Marlow the previous afternoon only to learn she was off for the weekend and the receptionist answering the phone hadn’t been willing to give him Marlow’s home number. Charlie had planned to call her on Monday but was having second thoughts, hence his wanting to talk with Kate. He waited patiently, and when Kate started in on a muffin and her second coffee, he told her about his reservations. He had told her about his meeting with Clyde the evening before, so now he only went through the doubts he was having.
“I can’t believe Cassie would deliberately kill Kostavo. I don’t know what they were arguing about, but I’ll bet a large amount that Kostavo sucked her into the scam. She couldn’t know about his thin skull. I think she just wanted to hurt him. As Clyde said, Kostavo was ignoring her and that probably ticked her off even more.”
“Charlie, hitting someone on the head with a steel is a bit much. If she’d punched him or even shoved the steel in his gut, I could see your point, but she hit him on the head.”
“Yeah; that’s a point I was down-playing. But she still might not have intended to kill him.”
“Why are you so hesitant about Cassie when you were willing to go after Cahill?”
“I really don’t know. Even when I met with Clyde I was uncomfortable about it. You know, this isn’t a crime I’ve solved or even half-solved. It’s all fallen in my lap because of what others have said. I may have helped Marlow in a more-or-less incidental way, but not by solving anything. Even at this point, I’m not sure I can believe Cassie is the one that hit Kostavo.”
“Cahill told you they were the last two at the Club when he left. If you believe him, you have to accept she did it, or come up with someone who went in after she left. That’s what you thought about Ferguson and even about Andrews, only to give up both ideas.”
“Admittedly, Cassie would have known where the steel was kept. Or perhaps it was just in plain sight on a table. If she went in on one of the scams and was trying to get some of her money back, and Kostavo was ignoring her, I can see her losing it and hitting him.”
“With the steel? I’m not so sure about that. Hitting Kostavo with the steel seems more drastic or ill-intentioned than lashing out at him because he wasn’t listening. If she did hit him with the steel, she had to have intended to hurt him. She wouldn’t just have been expressing anger or demanding his attention. Why don’t you talk to Cassie?”
“I should, but I can’t now. I’m actually not even sure about her last name and have no idea where she lives. I think her last name is Dobson, but maybe not. And I’m not going to call Clyde again. It can wait till Monday. I’ll see her at the Club. I wish, though, I could think of someone else who might have gone to talk to Kostavo late that afternoon.”
“What about the manager? Wouldn’t he have stayed till everyone else left?”
“Now, that’s a point. You’d think he would.”
“Wait till tomorrow, Charlie.”
With that Kate got up and went to see what they might have for lunch, or, more likely, to cook up a reason to go out. For his part, Charlie put the case aside and went to shower and dress. Maybe going out was a good idea. Once dressed, he checked his email and answered a couple of messages. He needed distraction as he was feeling down about not getting anywhere with the case. He went in and told Kate they’d go out for lunch. That would take his mind of things. It looked like he wasn’t going to impress Marlow as he had impressed DeVries. Maybe it was for the best. He shouldn’t be playing detective, anyway. He certainly had enough work of his own to do.
The Last Monday
Charlie breakfasted, showered, and dressed that morning with only one thing on his mind: he had to talk to Cassie and settle what he could about Kostavo’s murder. He left for his office before Kate was in a talking mood, telling her only he’d call later. Arriving at his office just a little after eight, he put everything aside and worked on his notes for the afternoon Foucault class. He had to remember his priorities. By nine-thirty he felt ready for his class and dealt with his email. By ten-fifteen he was ready to turn his attention to the case. It was too early to go to the Club, but what he decided to do was talk to Mike Sanders. Luckily, Sanders was in his office. Charlie asked if he had a few minutes, sat down on getting a positive reply, and laid out for Sanders everything he had learned so far. He finished by voicing his intention to talk to Cassie at lunch. Sanders recognized the seriousness in Charlie’s delivery and didn’t joke around.
“Sounds like you have to, Charlie. At least you need to see if she’ll admit having been there that afternoon or evening. Mind you, if she does admit it fairly readily, she could well be quite innocent. I can see her not having said anything about being there late for fear of becoming a suspect.”
“Yes; that’s right. I thought of that myself. What I’m hoping is that if she admits she was there, and didn’t hit Kostavo, she might have seen someone else.”
“Who might have been there?”
“No idea. It could have been someone unconnected to the Club that Kostavo met with when the place was all but empty. It could have been a staff member. It could have been the manager, Devereux.”
“Well, I wish you luck with Cassie. I don’t know her well, but I know her enough to find it hard to believe she’d clobber Kostavo with a bar or whatever it was. But you’d better get down there. Maybe you can catch her before the lunch crowd wades in.”
Charlie thanked Sanders and walked to the Club. The main dining room was empty and there was no sign of Cassie in the rear dining room. Charlie looked in the kitchen, but didn’t see her. Sitting down at the Club table, he waited for some of the regulars to turn up. Cindy entered the dining room and started putting chits on the tables and asked Charlie if there was anything she could get him. He asked about Cassie and got a surprise.
“Oh, Dr. Douglas, you didn’t hear? Cassie quit last Friday. She’s moved into her mother’s house and is looking for a better-paying job.”
“Cindy, I need to talk to Cassie. Have you a phone number for her or know where her mother lives?”
“Not a problem; I’ve got her number.”
With that, Cindy wrote a phone number on a paper napkin, smiled at Charlie, and continued putting chits on the tables. Charlie sat quietly for a few minutes, thinking hard. If Cassie had quit and moved in with her mother, maybe she was broke because Kostavo had scammed her. That made what Clyde had told him about her still being at the Club when he left more worrying, but Charlie still found it hard to swallow that Cassie had killed Kostavo. He was missing something. He had to talk to Cassie. Charlie left the Club table and went to the washroom. There he called Cassie’s number on his cell. It rang just twice before Cassie herself picked up.
“Cassie? This is Charlie Douglas. Cindy told me you’d quit the Club and gave me your number.”
“Oh, Dr. Douglas, I was so sorry to have to do it, but I need to make more than the Club paid me. I guess Cindy told you I moved in with my mother.”
“Cassie, we need to talk. Have you any time later today? I have an afternoon class, but would you have dinner with my wife and myself? I’d pick you up and drive you back.”
“That’d be great, Dr. Douglas. It would pick up my spirits.”
Cassie gave Charlie her address and they agreed he’d pick her up at six that evening. Charlie started to go back to the Club table, thought better of it, and went back to his office. He had no appetite. Charlie called Kate to tell her about that evening. Then he went over his notes for his class.
The Last Monday Evening
Charlie and Kate picked up Cassie and went to the Cosseted Lamb. Since it was Monday, it wasn’t crowded and Charlie headed straight for one of Luna’s tables. An attractive, dark-haired woman, Luna was one of the pleasantest servers Charlie had ever had, and she’d quickly learned his partialities regarding wine. The three sat down and Luna was at their table a moment later with a glass of vinho verde for Charlie. She then asked what Kate and Cassie would like. Both asked for the same as Charlie and Luna went off to get their drinks. Charlie got down to it.
“Cassie, the very first thing I’d like to ask you is if Clyde left before you did the Monday evening Kostavo was killed.”
“Before I answer that, Dr. Douglas…”
“We’re at dinner, Cassie. First names, please.”
“Okay; I just wanted to say that I appreciate you inviting me for dinner like this, though it seems odd sitting with you rather than serving you lunch. Now, to answer your question, Clyde left before I did. I was talking to Bernie, but left not long after Clyde did. And since you’re no doubt wondering, Bernie was certainly alive when I left. I’ve been terrified that if it was found out I’d stayed a bit late, I’d be a suspect.”
“So the police don’t know you were likely the last to see Kostavo alive—other than his killer?”
“No; only Clyde knew, and I begged him not to say.”
“Didn’t the police ask when you left that afternoon or evening?”
“Yes; they asked all the staff. I didn’t actually lie, but said I didn’t remember the time; I just said that Bernie was in the kitchen, working, when I did leave. They didn’t press it; I think several staff members weren’t sure about the exact time they left, so the cops just took approximate times.”
“Okay, now think hard: was there anyone else still there when you left?”
“I’ve thought about that a lot but really don’t know. I went out the kitchen door straight to the parking lot after talking to Bernie. There could have been someone upstairs in one of the dining rooms or on the first floor in the bar.”
“What about Devereux, the manager? Did you see him leave?”
“No, but he wouldn’t have gone out through the kitchen.”
“Let’s try another tack. Can you think of anyone who might have hit Kostavo, perhaps not intending to kill him?”
“I’ve thought about that, too, and the answer is that I can’t see any of the staff doing it.”
Charlie reflected that so far Cassie seemed to be being frank, except for not admitting she had been angry at Kostavo as Clyde had said. But she didn’t appear nervous about not saying. He also noted that Kate had kept quiet. That changed in the next few seconds when Kate asked a question.
“Cassie, the steel that was used to hit Kostavo; did everyone on staff know where it was usually kept?”
“That’s hard to say for sure, Ms. Douglas, uh, Kate. Clyde and Bernie knew, of course. When we had roast beef or turkey or ham, whoever set up the carving table also had to know, so my guess would be that at least three or four staff members knew it was in that drawer, too. I knew because I set up the carving table several times. The steel was really more for show than anything, but Bernie insisted it be put out with the carving knife.”
“One last question, Cassie. Can you think of anything at all, regardless of how apparently unconnected to the murder, that you think odd about the goings-on at the Club?”
“Well, Charlie, the main thing was what I told you before, that Bernie had a lot more money than some of us thought he should have, given his likely salary.”
Charlie had waved the server away earlier, not wanting to interrupt the discussion. Now he felt there wasn’t any more to be learned from Cassie, so he motioned her over and they all ordered dinner. The meal went well enough, given the somewhat awkward circumstances, and eventually Charlie drove Cassie back to where he’d picked her up. On the way back to their condo he asked Kate what she thought about the conversation they’d had with Cassie. Kate was abrupt:
“Cassie is a first-rate liar.”
The Last Monday Night
Back at their condo, Charlie poured Kate and himself brandies and asked her to sit down.
“Okay, what did you mean about Cassie being a liar?”
“Just that. I think some of what she told us wasn’t true.”
“How do you know that?”
“Trust me. I thought her a fairly easy read. She has a way of looking you in the eye and widening her own eyes when she’s lying. She’s very good at it, but there’s just enough of a contrast with when she’s not lying to give her away.”
“I took her way of looking at me for frankness.”
“Of course; that’s what she intends to convey. But I’m certain she lied about when she left the Club and Kostavo being alive when she did. I also think that though she didn’t lie about talking with Kostavo, she certainly didn’t tell us enough about it. I think, too, that she tried to plant an idea about Devereux in your head. Finally, I know she didn’t look it, but she was nervous until we started eating and stopped talking about Kostavo. You couldn’t tell from where you were sitting, but her leg nearest to me was constantly jiggling on her toes while we were talking and stopped when the food arrived.”
“Wow. I thought she was pretty cool the whole time. In fact, I even wondered about that a little, thinking it’d be more natural if she’d been a little nervous.”
“There’s something else, Charlie, that doesn’t seem to have struck you. If she wants a better-paying job, fine, but why quit her present job before finding a new one? You know, one reason to quit, to move out of wherever she was living, and to bunk with her mother, is that she’s planning to leave Kingsford. Didn’t that occur to you?”
“No; it hadn’t. Kate, you’ve put a whole new face on Cassie’s involvement. If she did kill Kostavo, leaving town while she’s not under suspicion would be the thing to do. I just wish I knew what she argued about with Kostavo.”
“Well, I can think of two pretty obvious reasons: he scammed her or they were having an affair. Either would provide a reason for an argument and a bloody end to it.”
“I can see asking her about being scammed, but I don’t see myself asking her about an affair. I have some doubts about the scam, though. I don’t see Cassie having enough money to make her a likely target.”
“What about an affair? Do you see that happening?”
“Oh, Cassie is attractive enough, and my impression is that Kostavo played around, but wouldn’t it be risky to have it off with someone you work with? Can you think of anything else they might have been up to?”
“Do you know if Kostavo had any say about jobs? I mean, might he have been wanting Cassie fired? That would be a reason for an argument.”
“Good point, but I don’t know. I suppose Kostavo could always praise or blame a staff member to Devereux, but have no idea if he could go further than that. That’s easily fixed, though; I can ask Devereux.”
“You can, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the head chef didn’t have a fair bit of clout regarding staff and their jobs. So, three possibilities: maybe Cassie had savings, so let the scam ride; an affair with Kostavo; and her job.”
“I’ll see Devereux tomorrow and ask him about the job possibility. Okay, my brandy’s done and I don’t want more, so I’m going to read my mystery.”
Kate agreed and they both got up. Later that night Charlie mused over Kate’s point about Cassie quitting her job before she’d found another. That did seem quite odd. Her mother’s house hadn’t looked at all upscale, so it wasn’t likely that she had a lot of money to spare to help Cassie. Perhaps he’d contact Cassie again the next day.
The Last Tuesday
Tuesday being class-free, Charlie slept in a little. As he showered and dressed he decided to have another talk with Cassie. Perhaps if he visited her alone she’d be more open about her argument with Kostavo.
Charlie had no trouble finding Cassie’s mother’s house again. It was a few minutes before ten when he got there and waited in the car till it was just after ten. He didn’t want to be too early. He rang the bell and a minute later the door was opened by a woman in her fifties who was clearly on her way out.
“Good morning. I just wanted to talk to Cassie for a minute.”
“Well, good luck with that. She’s sitting inside, brooding. Now, I’m sorry; I have to go. And who are you?”
“I’m Professor Charles Douglas. I know Cassie from the University Club.”
“Yes; she’s mentioned you. Okay, go on in. I’m really running late.”
With that the woman hurried to an ancient Volkswagen parked at the curb, leaving Charlie standing in the doorway. He went into the house, calling Cassie’s name and found her sitting in the living room. Cassie looked up and muttered hello. She’d clearly been crying.
“Cassie. What’s going on?”
“Oh, Dr. Douglas; I don’t know what to do. I felt I had to quit my job, I’m broke, and…, and…”
“And what, Cassie?”
“I’m terrified the cops are coming for me. I wanted to leave Kingsford, but I’ve nowhere to go and my mom hasn’t enough money to lend me. I just don’t know what to do!”
“Look, let’s start with sorting things out. I have to tell you that Kate didn’t think you were being truthful when we talked at dinner. Why don’t you just tell me what happened and I’ll try to help.”
“I hit Bernie! Don’t you see? I hit Bernie. I never meant to kill him, but I did, I did.”
“Cassie, calm down. Tell me why. Had he scammed you? Was there something going on between you two?”
“Oh, no. It wasn’t anything like that. I had a sense about his scams, but he never approached me. He knew damn well I didn’t have money. And the idea of me and Bernie being involved is just nuts. No, no. It was about my job. He complained about my service. He thought I was playing favorites, that I delivered orders to members I liked and let others wait. That was all because maybe I did serve members like you first. But it wasn’t any big deal! Still, he was going on and on about it. Then, when I tried to explain he turned his back on me, said he’d speak to Devereux, and proceeded to ignore me. I kept trying to explain and then just lost it when he wouldn’t even look at me. I meant to hurt him, but not kill him!”
Charlie thought for a moment and then asked what he thought was an important question.
“Cassie, be truthful, now. Was the steel you used to hit Kostavo in its drawer?”
“What? The steel? Oh, no. It was on the table. That’s why I grabbed it. We, we were going to have a roast the next day. If it’d been in the drawer, I wouldn’t have grabbed it.”
Remembering Kate’s remarks, Charlie was watching Cassie closely, but she wasn’t looking directly at him with those wide-open eyes. She was staring at a tissue she’d been sobbing into. Charlie believed her.
“Cassie, I think you should turn yourself in. We can talk to Detective Marlow. I think it very important that the steel wasn’t in its drawer. If it was on the table, that shows you simply reacted rather than intended to strike Kostavo. I don’t think this was a case of murder. At worst it was manslaughter; maybe something less. You’re better off facing this than trying to run.”
“Oh, Professor Douglas, do you really think I’ve got something going for me?”
“I do. But we have to do two things: go to Marlow and get you a lawyer.”
The Last Tuesday Afternoon
Charlie had driven Cassie to the precinct and, fortunately, Marlow was there. He’d explained things to Marlow before letting Cassie speak to her and the detective had been reassuring. Marlow had then taken Charlie aside, thanked him, and told him it would be best if he left then. Charlie had driven to his office and now sat at his desk. He had called Kate to tell her about Cassie turning herself in. Charlie should have been feeling better but he wasn’t. Cassie’s explanation had somehow reduced Kostavo’s killing: it was no longer a mystery and had had a simple resolution. Charlie didn’t feel he’d solved anything, as events had more or less trundled along on their own. The only real contribution had been Kate’s assessment of Cassie’s truthfulness. This was not a sleuthing victory. But what bothered Charlie most was that the proceeds from Kostavo and Paul Andrews’s scams was long gone and Andrews seemed untouchable. Marlow had nothing at all on Andrews. Charlie also had to add the small detail of being out six grand and having a car he had to exchange.
At noon, Charlie went to the Club for lunch, less because he wanted to, than to try to distract himself. He didn’t mention Cassie’s confession.
Marlow called at three.
“Charlie, you’ve done it again.”
“No; no I didn’t. It fell in my lap. I was just brooding about Andrews, though. It looks like he’s getting away with whatever he did.”
“We have no reason to pursue the matter, Charlie. My concern was Kostavo’s killing. Another branch is looking into the professional hit, but I’ll bet a lot that will go nowhere at all. And, by the way, I got Cassie Dobson a good public defender I know a little. He thinks he’s got a good case for involuntary manslaughter and that Dobson will likely do only a little time. What I do regret is you buying Andrews’s car, but I can’t do anything about that. You go home, Charlie, and thank Kate for me for her ideas. I’m having coffee with Pam DeVries a little later and will tell her about your latest. I hope our next encounter won’t be over a murder.”
THE LAST INTERLUDE
Paul Andrews was livid. Three cents on the dollar!? That’s what he was getting for the money he’d stashed away? The off-shore bank he’d used had been highly recommended; now it had gone bust because of charges about drug money, a subsequent run on deposits, and the arrest of three top-level executives. To make things still worse, the three cents on the dollar was an estimate. The scams had insured a retirement he’d only dreamt of; now the profits were virtually gone. He and his wife were doomed to spend their so-called golden years in that wreck of a house, a house he knew in his bones would never sell at anything remotely like what they wanted—and needed—to get. He hadn’t the stomach to start again. The first measure he would take to save money was to quit the University Club. If nothing else, he couldn’t handle lunching with Charlie Douglas again.
– THE END –
Professor Charlie Douglas is at it again, sleuthing when he should be working on his classes and papers. After his successes in Murder at the Break and Murder in the Dorm, he's now working with a new homicide detective and hoping to impress her. Kate, Charlie's wife, is also getting involved. The chef at the University Faculty Club has been killed. The problem is that Charlie can't figure out why. He has suspects, but no motive. Perhaps this time he won't be of any use to the police, and that would be hard to take.