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Incident In The Widow's Chamber

 

Incident In The Widow’s Chamber

By James Hold

 

[Copyright 2015 James Roy Hold
Shakespir Edition]

This ebook is the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Shakespir.com where they can discover more work by this author. Thank you for your support.

 

INCIDENT IN THE WIDOW’S CHAMBER

 

It was a quarter past nine when O’Ryan set aside the paperback novel and stretched out in the plush armchair. The Out of Texas story was interesting, only he was tired of reading. Still, it was too early for bed. He considered taking a stroll when the telephone at his elbow rang sharply.

O’Ryan lifted the receiver. “Yes? O’Ryan speaking.”

A deep voice answered. “This is Inspector Donovan of the Bellville Police. Sorry to disturb you, but we understand you paid a recent visit to the home of NC Dent?”

“That’s right, I did. Only he wasn’t in so I left a message saying I’d call again tomorrow.”

“So we understood.” There was a slight pause before Donovan continued. “Could you come over to his place straight away?”

Wrinkles of bewilderment formed between O’Ryan’s eyes. “Why, sure, if it’s necessary. But why…?”

The deep voice said levelly, “Mr Dent committed suicide in his living-room an hour ago.”

“Suicide!” Shocked amazement dulled Ryan’s mind. “Of course, I’ll come right over.”

Slowly he replaced the receiver. He did not notice his hand was trembling.

His ostrich, nestled in the opposite chair while watching TV, clacked her beak, asking what was up.

“I’m not sure.” He forced a smile, not wishing to tell her the truth. “It has something to do with our visit this afternoon. You finish your movie while I see what they want.”

It was later, as he sat behind the wheel of his rental car that the full realization of the tragedy came to him.

NC Dent a suicide? But that was impossible. At least, it was impossible to O’Ryan’s way of thinking.

NC Dent was a genie, the one responsible for O’Ryan having a female ostrich instead of a female human being. He had searched long for this genie, hoping to get him to correct this error. Earlier that day he came across the name in a city telephone directory, and as he told Inspector Donovan, called on the address given and learned that Mr Dent was not in. Now they were telling him Dent was dead.

But was such a thing even possible? Could a supernatural being actually kill itself? More importantly, why would a supernatural being want to? Worse of all, if Dent really was dead, what was to become of his ostrich? Would she never become the beautiful woman she was meant to be?

It was all too much for O’Ryan to take in. The only thing he could do was go there as the inspector requested.

#

O’Ryan drew to a stop. Pressing the footbrake, he eased the vehicle to the curb. Climbing out, he stood before a lighted block of townhomes. From one floated music from a radio, a Rolling Stones song about a spider and a fly. Had O’Ryan been one to believe in foreshadowing, he would have turned around and gone back. Only seeing as he was not, he crossed the lawn and rang the bell of Dent’s residence.

A stranger ushered him inside, a firm-jawed individual who introduced himself as Inspector Donovan. Hushed silence told its own story as the two stood in the entrance hall.

“Good of you to come, O’Ryan,” Donovan spoke quietly. “Mrs Dent asked me to ring you. It’s a terrible blow to her.” The Inspector’s eyes slid toward an adjoining door. “She walked in and found the body.”

O’Ryan nodded, not knowing why, then stopped. “Mrs Dent?” he asked. “I didn’t know he was married.”

“Really?” Donovan looked puzzled. “Just how well did you know Mr Dent?”

O’Ryan considered the question, wondering just how much he could, or should, say. “Actually, I only met him twice. I was hoping this would be the third and final time.”

Donovan replied with a grunt and led O’Ryan into the living room. Not exactly a “living room” anymore, he told himself when he saw Mrs Dent standing at the far end of the room.

Officer Lawrence, the police constable who had first responded to the call, stood by her side.

Despite the tragedy, Chineka Dent presented one of the most beautiful women O’Ryan had ever seen. A large green necklace complimented the ebon sheen of her soft skin and threw reflective glints into her large round eyes.

“Oh, Ryan…Ryan…” She gave a choking cry and ran to him. O’Ryan, acting from instinct, put a comforting arm about her shoulder. “I can’t believe it—I can’t! Not Nicholas…of all people…” He could feel her slim body tremble under his arm.

“How did it happen?” asked O’Ryan quietly.

Then, conscious of the Inspector’s eyes on him, and realizing he had no idea what he was doing, he dropped his arm and stepped away from her.

“I thought you didn’t know he was married,” Donovan observed.

“I—I didn’t. I mean, I—” Again O’Ryan stopped. “You said ‘Nicholas’?”

“Just what are you trying to pull, O’Ryan?” The inspector stared suspiciously. “It’s a little late to pretend you didn’t know the guy.”

O’Ryan could feel a trap closing in, although the why and what of it was a mystery.

To stall for time, he asked, “Can I see the body?”

Donovan nodded. “Of course. This way…”

The Inspector turned. O’Ryan glanced at the woman huddled in the chair, then followed the inspector across the room. Positioning himself to block Mrs Dent’s view, Donovan lifted a sheet from the sprawled figure on the floor.

“It’s not pretty,” he said briefly.

O’Ryan was not an overly emotional person. He had seen dead people before. Still, one look at the body and his throat felt as though he had swallowed a spoonful of dirt. He shuddered and turned away. Feeling his way to an easy chair, he sat down.

“One bullet did all that?”

“Not one. Three. It was an automatic.”

“Then he must have had a death grip on the trigger. Odd that he didn’t empty the clip.”

“Yep. Odd too that his ‘death grip’ came loose after he fell down.”

It was a gruesome sight; yet, in its own way, a welcome one. A mixture of regret and relief left O’Ryan somewhat giddy. Regret that a man was dead, yet relief that—

“Never saw him before in my life.”

“Explain yourself,” Donovan demanded.

“The ‘NC Dent’ I’m searching for is a slight, sandy-haired Caucasian. This man is—”

“None of the above,” Donovan finished.

O’Ryan made a weak smile. “I’m sure I would have noticed had he been in when I first called.” He waited a minute, then added, “I suppose the ‘NC Dent’ phone listing came from their combined names, Nicholas and Chineka.”

It all made perfect sense, O’Ryan told himself; a simple, albeit tragic case of mistaken identity.

“Well,” he said, getting up, “I guess I can go now.”

Inspector Donovan held up a hand. “Not so fast, young fellow.”

Now O’Ryan did not think of himself as a young person. On the other hand, being in his early-thirties, he did not regard himself as old either. Still, the “young fellow” comment did appear to be directed at him, so he complied and sat back down.

“If you’ve never been here before…” Donovan hesitated as he rubbed his chin, “why did Mrs Dent act like she knew you? In fact, she acted as if she knew you quite well.”

O’Ryan had no answer for that.

#

Five minutes passed during which O’Ryan kept a stony silence. His eyes took in his surroundings, hoping to get a clue as to what was going on.

To all appearances, Nicholas Dent had been a fundamentally simple man. The living room was adequately furnished, but there was nothing fancy about it. An old-fashioned desk with a roller top sat in one corner. Beside it was a sparsely populated bookcase with some volumes on Oriental philosophy and yoga. Above that hung an old sideshow poster, framed, advertising a circus geek who could stop a cannonball with his stomach and catch bullets with his teeth. Everything about the place screamed masculinity and there was not a trace of Chineka Dent to be found anywhere.

Inspector Donovan broke the silence. “By the way, we also found this.”

“This” was a clear plastic envelope containing a letter. The letter was a mushy love note. The lower left hand corner of it was torn, yet enough of it remained to read the word “ryan” in lowercase letters.

“Officer Lawrence caught Mrs Dent trying to get rid of it and took it from her.”

O’Ryan said nothing and the inspector continued.

“Basically it says for Mrs Dent not to do anything hasty and to let him take care of things.”

Donovan gave that a moment to sink in. Then:

“And, considering it has your signature, it suggests you knew Mrs Dent a lot better than you claim to.”

Faced with such evidence, O’Ryan was on the verge of nodding when he caught himself. “Now just a minute,” he protested. “Are you saying you think I—”

Then Chineka Dent rushed to his side and again threw her arms around him.

“Oh, please, Ryan,” she pleaded. “Tell me you didn’t do it!”

She said it loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Didn’t what?” O’Ryan struggled to free himself from her grip as Inspector Donovan and Officer Lawrence regarded him with ever-growing interest. Their glances met, locked. For five dragging seconds the tension stretched.

#

O’Ryan realized he was in a real pickle and it was a welcome relief when there was a sudden commotion outside the room. A man pushed his way in. From his rumpled appearance, it looked as though he had dashed over.

He went straight to Mrs Dent’s side. “Chineka!” he cried. “Um, I mean, Mrs Dent. I heard the news and came right over.”

“Thank you, Bryan. I mean, Mr Beagle.” She looked at Donovan. “This is my attorney, Mr Beagle.”

Donovan grunted. “I’ve heard of you.” His tone implied what he had heard was nothing good.

Beagle nodded. “Yes, well, as I said, I was listening on my police scanner and hurried over. Please excuse my appearance. I tripped over the curb in my haste.”

“Oh?” Donovan eyed him squarely. “I thought perhaps an ambulance backed up.”

Bryan Beagle may or may not have taken offense at the insult. He did not get a chance to reply because just then O’Ryan’s ostrich burst into the room.

“What the heck!” Donovan exploded. “Isn’t anybody watching the door?”

“How?” Officer Lawrence asked. “There’s only the two of us.”

“Then call for backup!” Donovan ordered. He looked the bird over. “And exactly what is this?” he demanded.

“She’s my ostrich,” O’Ryan explained. “She must have gotten worried and came looking for me.”

Donovan rubbed his temples, feeling a headache coming on. “You…have a pet ostrich?”

“It’s a long story.”

Donovan had no desire to go into a long story.

“Okay… So… how did she get here?”

“Well, since she didn’t have money for a taxi, she must’ve used her skateboard.”

“Her skateboard.” Donovan repeated flatly.

“Uh-huh. She would have needed help to buckle her roller skates.”

Donovan clenched his fists but said nothing.

#

“Ya know, Inspector,” O’Ryan said after a while. “It seems to me there’s something screwy about this case.”

Donovan put his hands to his face and groaned.

“Really? You don’t say.”

“Sure. You saw the way Mrs Dent was carrying on with me. The woman was so traumatized she mistook me for her lawyer. It’s only now that her real lawyer is here that she sees the difference.”

“Chineka Dent may be a lot of things, but stone blind isn’t one of them.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

“Face it, O’Ryan. Your hair and chin whiskers make you look like something out of Eek & Meek and The Wizard of Id. No woman on Earth could ever be that traumatized.”

“Hmmf! My bird likes me.”

“And she can have you.” Donovan took a moment to calm down. “Anyway, nobody shoots himself in the face that way; not with a pistol anyway. No, this was murder.”

“Sir?” Officer Lawrence joined the discussion. “Do you think the lawyer could have done it; perhaps acted while she was out?”

Officer Lawrence was young, fresh-faced, and impressionable, and the inspector appreciated him as a sounding board. Donovan gave the matter a moment’s thought, but then shook his head.

“No. He acted too genuinely surprised at the news. No doubt, the two had been carrying on behind Mr Dent’s back. I’d say she did it and intended to frame the lawyer. Only then O’Ryan showed up so she switched tactics. By tearing off a corner piece of the signature from the love note, she lost the ‘B’ and made it look like O’Ryan was the guilty one.”

“Maybe we should take her downtown for a paraffin test,” Lawrence suggested.

Again Donovan shook his head, no. “I doubt we’d find anything. You can see the woman’s hair is damp, which means she probably took time to shower and douse herself in perfume before calling us in.”

O’Ryan, who had been listening—and thinking—suddenly spoke up.

“There could be another explanation, you know.”

Donovan’s face reddened as though he were ready to explode. Remembering his headache, he restrained his emotions, controlled his face with an effort and looked at O’Ryan with what he hoped was great calm.

“Okay, spill it,” he said in a weary tone.

“It could be sweat. Her hair, I mean. Consider this: Nicholas Dent discovered the love note Bryan Beagle sent to Chineka and in his rage tore off the bottom corner. Faced with the realization of his wife’s infidelity, he waited for her to come home, intending to shoot her. Only his aim was unsteady. He missed, and the bullets ricocheted off a fireplace poker, coming back to strike him in the face.”

“That would explain why she’s sweating,” Officer Lawrence seconded. “Who wouldn’t after such an experience?”

“Right,” O’Ryan went on. “And, being a woman, she would not want to stink of sweat when the police arrived so she doused herself liberally with perfume before calling you. Of course, she wouldn’t put perfume in her hair, so she left that to dry on its own.”

Inspector Donovan regarded O’Ryan with amazement.

O’Ryan smiled back.

Then Donovan frowned and O’Ryan stopped smiling.

Gathering the gun and the love note, Donovan walked back to the sofa where Mrs Dent and Mr Beagle were sitting.

#

“Mrs Dent, I’m glad you have your attorney present, because here’s the way I see it. In all likelihood, your husband did discover your affair with Mr Beagle. I’ll accept Mr O’Ryan’s explanation of the torn note on that point. Your husband then threatened you with divorce. This being Texas, a state with no alimony, you knew you’d end up with a poor settlement, if any, once your adultery was exposed. So you came home early, shot him, cleaned yourself up, and then called the police, hoping to make it look like a suicide.”

“Oh, no, Inspector,” O’Ryan tugged Donovan’s coat from where he sat on a nearby ottoman. “That’s not the solution we worked out at all.”

Donovan told O’Ryan to be quiet and went back to addressing Mrs Dent.

“Only then you learned of Mr O’Ryan’s earlier visit and you devised a new plan. You had us call him over, and when he arrived, you threw yourself all over him in an effort to implicate him as both your lover and the murderer.”

“She didn’t exactly ‘throw’ herself at me,” O’Ryan hastily explained to the ostrich, fearing she get the wrong idea. “It was more a friendly hug.” He tried to stand but the deep-cushioned ottoman on which he was sitting made rising difficult.

Again Donovan glared O’Ryan into silence.

“In rubbing yourself against him—”

“It wasn’t really ‘rubbing.’ It was more like—”

“Shut up!” Back to Mrs Dent: “You hoped any traces of gunpowder residue still on you would transfer onto him. That way you could claim the powder on your own body came from his.”

“Would that actually work?” asked Lawrence.

“I don’t know,” Donovan admitted. “But she was desperate and it was worth a try. Your story then, Mrs Dent, would have been that O’Ryan killed your husband without your knowledge and staged it to look like a suicide. Oh, and by the way, his name is ‘O’Ryan’, not ‘Ryan’ as you keep calling him. One would think if he were your lover you’d at least get his name right.”

Wow, O’Ryan closed his eyes dreamily, me and Chineka Dent, lovers. After all, she was a desirable woman and he had been celibate a long time, ever since he had gotten the ostrich. Somehow the ostrich sensed what he was thinking and gave him a sharp peck on his ear.

Then Bryan Beagle spoke up.

“This is all very interesting, Inspector, and it might make for a good murder mystery story someday. However, the problem with your theory is you have no proof Mrs Dent ever handled the weapon. Not one single…” His voice trailed off. “Not one…”

From out of the bedroom strutted the ostrich. In her beak was a long white glove. Even from there, they could all see it had dark smudges on the palm and fingers.

Donovan took the glove from her, held it by the tip of a pencil, and sniffed the fabric. The smell of gunpowder was unmistakable.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Bryan Beagle bugled. “That’s inadmissible. You had no search warrant.”

“That,” declared Donovan, “is something for the court to decide. I don’t know how the law applies to animals and their innate curiosity for digging up things.”

#

A new emotion showed on Chineka Dent’s face. A look of terror tinged with anxiety. Her eyes went wide with fright. Her jaw hung limp. Tears rolled down her ebony cheeks. Until finally:

“I didn’t mean to do it!” she protested wildly.

“Hush, Chineka,” Bryan urged. “Don’t say anything.”

“Keep talking,” Donovan ordered.

Chineka fought to control herself. She went on:

“It was never easy living with Nicholas. It was always about him. My wants, my needs, didn’t matter. So yes, I found comfort outside of marriage with Bryan. Then Nick was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors said it was inoperable, but Nick insisted on being treated. The chemotherapy would have eaten all our money. I begged and pleaded with him to think of me, of my future, but he refused to listen. Don’t you see? I had no choice! I—I—”

She broke down into uncontrolled sobbing.

O’Ryan listened sympathetically. His eyes searched the room.

“Of course!” He jumped up. The ottoman on which he had been sitting slid across the uncarpeted floor and banged Donovan’s shin. Donovan hopped on one foot, cursing, while O’Ryan pointed to the circus poster on the wall. “There’s the answer—right before our very eyes!”

“Shut up, O’Ryan,” Donovan ordered.

“No, no, go on,” Bryan urged.

So O’Ryan did.

“Faced with an uncertain future, and uncaring as to the feelings of his devoted wife, Nicholas Dent decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a circus performer, a sideshow attraction who catches bullets in his teeth.”

“What the hell,” Donovan sputtered.

“How do you know it was a childhood dream?” asked Lawrence.

“Well,” O’Ryan answered, “it’s an old poster so he must have had it a long time.”

“Oh, right,” Lawrence seemed to agree.

“So, Dent studied up on the subject by reading books on Oriental philosophy and studying yoga. The only thing he didn’t have was a stage assistant, someone to fire the bullet. So he forced his wife, Chineka, to do it. Chineka of course was frightened at the prospect, but Dent was such an overpowering tyrant she had no choice but to submit to his will. He forced Mrs Dent to fire the gun. Only as you can see, the practice session went awry. Mr Dent did not have the skill to catch the bullet and tragedy ensued.”

O’Ryan sat down and smiled as everyone, including the ostrich, gaped open-mouthed.

“It was like she said: she had no choice.”

Then Bryan Beagle gave Chineka a nudge with his elbow and nodded encouragingly.

“Why…why, yes!” Chineka spoke up. “That’s exactly the way it happened. Oh, Mr Ryan, how can I ever thank you!”

“Not so fast,” Donovan spoke, still massaging his bruised shin. “If that’s how it happened, why did you shoot him three times?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” O’Ryan answered. “The poor woman was nervous. She never handled a pistol before. Her finger simply froze on the trigger.”

“Which would also explain why her hair was wet with sweat,” Lawrence put in, hoping to tie up that loose end.

“Exactly,” O’Ryan seconded.

“Oh, God,” Donovan looked at the officer, “not you too?”

Suddenly the ostrich stretched out her neck and tapped Donovan on the shoulder. Her beak once again held the long white glove.

“Say, you’re right,” he told her, “thanks,” and he turned his attention back to Mrs Dent. “How then do you explain the fact that you were wearing this glove at the time of the so-called accident?”

Bryan Beagle looked at Chineka Dent.

Chineka Dent looked at Bryan Beagle.

They both looked at O’Ryan.

“Would you like to— ?” they asked.

“Honestly, Inspector,” O’Ryan smiled, “you amaze me. Long white gloves would surely have been part of Mrs Dent’s stage costume. All female circus performers wear skimpy eye-catching outfits. It’s part of the show. I’m sure if you go through Mrs Dent’s wardrobe you’ll find several items of clothing that could constitute such an outfit.”

Bryan Beagle was on the verge of seconding this when discretion got the better of him, so he let O’Ryan continue.

“But, to answer your immediate question, if Mrs Dent was required to wear such an outfit for their performance, it is only natural she should practice the act while wearing gloves.”

Chineka Dent mouthed a silent thank you.

Meanwhile, Inspector Donovan, seeing what should have been a case of first-degree murder knocked down to death by misadventure, placed his hand over his heart, muttered, “Glory be and saints preserve us,” and promptly fainted.

#

O’Ryan looked down at Donovan who was just starting to stir under the strong fumes of ammonia.

“You see,” he told the ostrich, “Inspector Donovan, despite his gruff exterior, really is a kind-hearted man, and the realization that he almost sent an innocent woman to the electric chair proved too much for him to handle. Now however, he can sleep soundly, knowing that justice has been served.

Donovan looked at O’Ryan with undisguised contempt while grinding his teeth loudly. He tried to raise himself to a sitting position, but Officer Lawrence restrained him and suggested it might be a good idea if O’Ryan were to leave now.

Outside, O’Ryan picked up the ostrich’s skateboard and led her to the car.

“You know,” he told her, “I handled myself pretty good there. Maybe I should consider becoming a private investigator somewhere along the lines of Sham Spade or Philip Barlow. Who knows what I could accomplish?”

The ostrich stepped in front of him, looked him in the eye, and shook her head, no.

Emphatically, no.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. We have to find the real NC Dent and turn you into a human before I consider other options.” He rubbed the ostrich’s fuzzy-feathered head and smiled. “C’mon. Let’s go back to the hotel and get some rest.”

 

 

 

15335

 

 

James Hold

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Incident In The Widow's Chamber

  • ISBN: 9781311251909
  • Author: James Hold
  • Published: 2015-12-04 17:05:06
  • Words: 4010
Incident In The Widow's Chamber Incident In The Widow's Chamber