©03 The Media Desk
I thought it was a rather unusual situation, one for, as they say, the books. And I was sure nothing that noteworthy would happen to me for the rest of my career.
Boy, was I wrong.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, let me back up.
It started just about two years after I closed the bank robbery case we called 'the Professor's Withdrawal' which turned out to be a very carefully worked retirement plan by a local FBI agent.
I was working more or less routine investigations when something unusual crossed my desk.
Out on one of the local lakes was a small 'Sun Club' it had opened in the fifties as a 'Naturalist Retreat' to some small fanfare and a few protests. But it gradually faded into obscurity, changed hands a couple of times, got renamed now and again, and became, for all intents and purposes, part of the scenery. They had two events a year where it was open to the public, a mid-winter festival where you could run around in your skivvies, or less, in the snow and see their light displays and snow sculptures, and eat spaghetti and listen to a band perform in the nude. And their summer extravaganza where afternoon thunderstorms and evening mosquitoes got about equal billing with the music and folk art.
By rights, the club was under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff, and his office had done a fair amount of background investigation on the case, but had come up empty. So the sheriff called the metropolitan department to ask for assistance.
I was the assistance.
The case involved the recent sale of part of the club's holdings on the far side of the lake. They had owned some rental cabins over there since the beginning and finally taxes and upkeep had conspired to force them to sell four plots of the more desirable property to pay down some debt to forestall the need to sell parts of the club's primary site. Rumors still ran rampant though that at least one anonymous bid had come in for the club itself.
Of the four lots being sold, only two had actual lake frontage, the other two were opposite them on a dead end driveway. From the map it was hard to see why anybody would want all four. Especially at the asking price which I regarded as a little inflated.
Well. The buyer, one Mr. Pennrose, a local developer with a minor interest in the club had bought the property for cash.
Then the cash, something on the order of three hundred fifty thousand dollars, vanished into thin air.
The deputy doing the investigation with a staffer from the district attorney's office had chased themselves in circles for weeks trying to pin down exactly who had had control of the funds and when.
There were records of bank transfers. Certified receipts. The banks involved could not account for the money at all. It had been transferred someplace, but nobody could say for sure where. Documents from every aspect of the deal except when all the concerned parties went to the closing, the cash simply was not there.
I read through the interviews they had done with everybody involved. Some of them seemed to have only rubber stamp authority over the club's accounts, others were on the developers side with no direct ties to the checkbook, yet the investigators had been very thorough, they suspected, and checked out, everybody.
The developer was claiming that since the funds had been transferred out of his account and the closing had officially begun, the property was now actually his and he could begin his planned conversion. The club countered with the statement that they hadn't actually been paid, the closing had been halted, and the property was still theirs.
That matter was on its way to the courts, my job was to find the money.
The first thing I did was subpoena every account in everybody's name who was involved in any way. Hoping against common sense that somebody, or several somebody's would show a massive deposit around the time involved.
It was a shot in the dark and it missed.
Only normal type transactions were reported. One unusual deposit of just over a thousand dollars turned out to be a lucky lottery ticket. And yes, they had the applicable taxes withheld.
I drove out to the units in question.
There was a court order tacked up to the first cabin to stop any and all demolition and construction on the premises until the case was resolved. One unit was still in use by an older couple that thought the whole thing disgraceful.
"But those nudists always took good care of the property." The lady said.
"We liked watching them cut the grass and tend the flowers." Her husband grinned.
They hoped the developer wouldn't ruin the place.
Their bank account showed only his pension being direct deposited and their car insurance automatic debit.
I knew it would come to it. So I sucked up my courage and drove to the sun club.
No I did not go in the buff.
And not everybody there was naked anyway.
Being a weekday the place was rather sparsely populated. But I found some interesting and informative people to talk to about the club, its history, and more importantly, scuttlebutt and rumors about the developer, the board, and their plans for the future.
The lady was in her mid forties, well built and curvy, but not overweight by any reasonable standard, and only wearing a short tennis skirt and sandals. She had introduced herself as the 'Visitor Hostess' and said she'd answer any questions I asked or would find somebody that could if she couldn't.
It was all I could do to remain a consummate professional and focus on the investigation at hand.
"So. Tell me something you didn't tell Deputy Burnside." I asked her after we had taken a tour of the main compound and were standing looking out at the lake.
It seemed to catch her off guard.
"Anything. Mr. Pennrose. The club. Anything at all."
"Sometimes I don't wear my skirt on tours. But since you're a policeman..." She smiled nicely.
"Well thank you ma'am." I nodded. Actually during our tour I had seen the majority of what her tennis skirt was barely hiding.
Then she seemed to think of something. "Mr. Pennrose voted against our being part of the contract to restock the lake with trout last year."
I blinked. I had read something else that had struck me as odd like that. "Didn't he also fight the move to update the floodgate on the dam?"
She thought about it. "I think so."
I nodded. It fit a pattern. He was trying to keep the property values around the lake down. Something that wouldn't matter much in the sale of four small parcels on the far side. But if he made a move for the club itself, which had almost half of the lake frontage, it would be a sizable savings. But how did that fit in with the missing money on that smaller sale? Staring at her profile as she stood on the dock didn't help me think. I asked her another question.
"How's the plans look for the winter festival this year?"
"Pretty good so far. We just heard back from another vendor, we're going to have a whole new building of crafts and merchandise." She smiled and nodded to where a brand new pole barn sat with brand new gleaming vinyl siding.
We chatted some more, then we walked back up to the main office.
I spent the walk looking at the buildings. They were all in remarkable shape for their age. As was my guide. The club and its members took good care of the place, and themselves. My bet would be that any appraisal for this property would come back as quite a bit more than the developer would be willing to pay.
When we got back to the office my hostess introduced me to a tall elderly gentleman wearing a business suit whose name I recognized immediately as one of the executives of the club.
"Mr. Sharp. A pleasure sir." I shook his hand. His grip was warm and firm.
"I would think you'd enjoyed meeting Mrs. Rush more." He nodded to the hostess.
"In some ways, yes sir."
They both grinned at my obvious discomfort on the subject.
"I take it this is an official visit?"
"Yes sir. I have been assigned the investigation into the missing funds."
"Excellent." He nodded. "In fact, I have a letter in my office I had called Sheriff McAirly about. But I guess you can read it too."
"Thank you sir." I followed the man into his office.
He went through a neat stack of papers on his desk and handed me a printout of an email.
It was a response from the office of one of the developer's partners, Ms Parch, about their displeasure that the club had obtained an injunction against their construction plans.
In it was a line that could only be called a threat.
'Our hotel will open on time or you and your pervert friends will pay hell.'
"Fascinating." I said. "I can't believe they'd send you something like that."
"That's not the first one I got from them. But I didn't save the rest of them."
"Mind if I keep this copy?"
“Not at all.” He watched me fold it up and put it in my pocket. “If there’s nothing else I need to … well, get undressed for a meeting.” He grinned.
“It must save you a lot on dry cleaning.”
I shook his hand again and thanked him for the information. Then I went out to the reception area. Mrs. Rush had shed her skirt and was handing a young couple, equally undressed with a small child in training pants, their mail and then waited on another member.
It was very routine, and unremarkable. Except for the fact that I was the only adult in the room who was fully clothed, and was also the most self conscious and embarrassed of them all.
“Yes sir?” Mrs. Rush asked me as the members left.
“I was wondering if I could get a map of all the club property. Just for my benefit.”
“Sure.” She said and went to a filing cabinet. She shuffled a few folders and brought out a sheet. “Would you like me to label some of the main buildings?” She laid the sheet on the counter. It was two aerial photographs cut together to show the majority of the lake and the surrounding properties.
I told her I’d appreciate it and she found a red pen to write with.
“This is the dining hall, we saw it earlier, but it is pretty central so we all use it as the landmark.”
“And Mr. Autross is rather memorable too.” I said.
She smiled at the cook’s name.
I had only met a few of the regular paid staff of the club. But Mr. Autross was one that I had, and he was the most memorable as well.
He was a partially bald man easily over sixty years old and slightly built although in fairly good shape. He was also not altogether nude. He was wearing a badly worn and patched leather cook's apron and a pair of leather workshoes with no socks and a grease and sweat stained FDNY ball cap. He greeted me with a big smile and a damp handshake, invited me to stay for dinner, told me the life story of the dining hall and its menu and some of the pickier members, and voiced his opinion of the county health inspector in one long rapidly delivered speech. All the while half-leering at Mrs. Rush and feeding celery and carrots to a chopping machine.
"Oh yes sir." Mr. Autross said when I asked him if he knew most of the members. "A lot of'em don't play volleyball or rent canoes. But they all eat!"
I nodded and told him I'd be in touch.
Mrs. Rush laughed at my assessment of the cook as a 'slightly bent but harmless busybody' but admitted it was pretty close to the mark.
"I think we caught him on a good day." She added and finished my map.
One thing on the map caught my attention. Across the small inlet where the rental properties were was a large open space that looked like a cornfield on the photograph. But when I drove in there was a fence along the road. On a hunch I drove over to the site.
"Property under development by Kline and Associates." I read out loud to myself. "No Trespassing. Call site manager for admission." I wrote down the site manager's number and went back to the office.
My hunch was correct. The contractor's company was owned by one Mr. Joseph Kline. But one of the associates was Ms Parch. Listed as an 'interested party', was Mr. Pennrose.
Then just before I closed the file another name caught my eye. Mr. Sharp of the Sun Club was listed as a 'minority investor'.
This web was already getting so complicated I could see why the Deputy and the DA had run themselves ragged trying to track it all down.
But why any of them would misdirect the payment for the property and open up this can of worms was something I couldn't fathom at all. Something else was missing.
I looked over my notes and wrote down a few ideas, then I went to get a cup of coffee before I called the deputy to see if she could help.
My desk phone was ringing when I got back to it.
"Well, Deputy Burnside, I was just getting ready to call you."
"About the Parch murder?"
"No." I said with a pause. "I was going to call her about an email somebdy sent to Sharp. Somebody killed her?"
"Not her. Mister Parch, her ex. He's, or he was, a silent partner to Pennrose." She cleared her throat. "He was found dead about two hours ago. They tried to make it look like a suicide but didn't do a very good job of it."
"Where can we meet? This is bigger than just missing money now."
There was no doubt about it, Tim Parch had been killed, then left in a running car with the windows up to make it look like a suicide. Except when the murderer had suffocated him with a piece of heavy plastic over his face, Parch had managed to bite it. There was still some plastic in his teeth and marks on his face from what could have been a hand.
The team went over the car looking for fingerprints and came up with some smudges, but like as not they'd come back belonging to a parking valet at the country club. For the record, Mrs. Parch had been in a meeting with several impeccable individuals since early that morning. When they interrupted the meeting to tell her her ex had bought it, she screamed and cried and asked all the usual questions about how and why.
"He was fresh. He'd been dead less than an hour when they found him. The paramedics even tried to revive him." The coroner said. "But it was a little late for that."
"What about that plastic?" Deputy Burnside asked.
"Heavy construction type plastic tarp. Maybe a rain poncho. It's a little thick to be a trash bag. I'll know more about it when we get some tests back."
I had a question. "Do you think they had a hand over his face over the plastic or just pulled it tight across his mouth and nose?"
"From the marks on his face I'd say they held a hand over his face at least for part of it. But it doesn't look like he put up much of a fight."
"Was he drugged or drunk or something?" The Deputy asked.
"We didn't smell booze on him. But we are running his blood and stomach contents for drugs."
"Let us know what comes back." I said.
We went back to the Sheriff's office to go over what was now a murder investigation.
"So what's your gut feeling?" She asked me.
"He either knew what happened to the money and was going to talk. Or…" I didn't know how to phrase it.
"Somebody had other plans and he got in the way."
"That too." I opened my notepad and looked at my beginnings of a web of names and lines. "But I was going to say that with all these connections and who's into who for what, maybe he just created one enemy too many."
"I got one of those too." Deputy Burnside said. She used her mouse and brought up a drawing on the monitor.
"We need a chalkboard." I said.
We walked down to the briefing room and 'borrowed' their whiteboard. Much to the amusement of some Scout Explorers who were having a meeting in the room. They watched, fascinated, after we told them this was an official investigation and swore them to silence. They really got wide eyed once we mentioned to each other the fact that one of the names was now deceased.
She called the DA's representative who came down and added her own lines and names to the board. One of the Explorers took over the task of writing on the board because what I had written nobody else could read.
Then we had to start adding abbreviations for who was what in which company, and in the club, and in the county government.
Something that took all three of us to put together was that the eccentric cook, Mr Autross, was also a silent partner in the ownership of the club, and one of the real estate outfits. His partners included several of the minor players, all of them, were women.
Layer after layer built, it started to get overwhelming.
"Oh geeze." Deputy Burnside said at one point.
"What? Which one?" I asked.
"Frank Hornaker. He's the husband of Marilyn, she's on the county law enforcement supervisory board."
Our Explorer made the appropriate line and wrote the name.
"I've seen her name somewhere." I said and dug through my folder. "Here it is. She's an agent with the realtor who was handling the other properties, SunDown Associates. Up the street from the ones that were being sold." I pointed to the map I had tacked up next to the white board.
"Wasn't that one cabin leased to MacLaren?" One of the Explorers asked pointing to some side notes we had made.
"Yes it was." I said looking at my own list. "And MacLaren is Pennrose's lawyer… no…"
"MacLaren is Pennrose's partner's lawyer under the development company." Our white board artist was keeping better track of it than I was.
"Anybody else need a cold drink and some fresh air?" I asked the group. "I'll buy."
Luckily for my change purse the Deputy and the DA helped finance the operation.
After our break I had our artist fill in with dollar signs who on our web was involved with the cash transfer for the four units on either side of the transaction. Then we highlighted and pondered where the lines converged between the dead man and his associates and the money and the property transfer.
There were some links, but nothing really stood out. No single person had been directly involved with all three, including the dead man.
“How about the bosses of those involved?” The deputy asked and referred to her list and ran off a few names.
Then a surprising pattern emerged. Four individuals, including Ms. Parch, had at least some control over at least two of the three aspects from one side to the other.
“Any bets on that one or more of them get really nervous when we start asking questions?” I asked.
The deputy shook his head. “I don’t bet on sure things. It’s no fun.”
But then a couple of us noticed two names that seemed wrong. "Is Margaret Davies and Margaret Davies-Parmathon one in the same?"
We did some fast checking. She was the same person. Our artist erased one name and redrew some lines.
"And she has direct involvement with all of them."
She was on the board of trusties for the club, she worked at the real estate office as senior office manager, she was a part owner of the development company, and so on. And she had been on the county council as well at one point.
"She's a very busy lady." I sucked on my teeth for a second. "Add her to the list of people that we really need to talk to." I closed my notebook computer. "In fact, she is the list."
The next day we were back out to the club to meet with a couple of the people on our list who had direct contact with Ms. Davies. Two of them lived at the club. One of them with his girlfriend in an older but very nice travel trailer. The other one in a cabin best described as ramshackle.
Mr Shadeam was most accommodating. We sat at his kitchen table and sipped slightly weak coffee, and he told us everything he could about Ms. Davies.
"She's not a very nice lady." He said several times. Then one time, he continued. "She has always struck me as the kind that wouldn't even slow down if they saw a kitten walking across the road."
I wasn't sure where that fit in with the investigation, but I noted it anyway.
Afterward we went up to check in at the office and talk to Ms. Rush. She knew Ms. Davies, but that was all. She checked for us and found out Miss Naples was out. "But she's always back before dinner."
Within the hour a young woman drove through the camp out to the line of small cabins. The car stopped beside the last one. The one with the mismatched tarpaper and shingle roof and plastic stapled over a cracked window.
"Why would a girl like that live there?" The deputy asked me.
I looked at the cabin that was almost a shack and shook my head. "Well, she's not paying a dime for rent or utilities, and if I read the spreadsheet correctly, she's getting most of her meals free."
"I wonder how she got that fixed?" The Deputy said as we walked toward the cabin. The young woman we were there to talk to walked back out of the cabin to her car and carried in a bag, still in her skirt and heels from work. "Forget I said that." Deputy Burnside said in a knowing voice.
Miss Naples was tall and leggy. But her face conveyed a tiredness usually expected from one twice her age, and her eyes gave me the impression that she hadn't had an easy life.
We introduced ourselves and assured her she was not a suspect when she started asking those types of questions.
"How well do you know Ms. Davies?" Deputy Burnside asked.
"Well enough to know she's a lousy manipulative bitch, if you'll forgive the expression."
"Will you answer some questions we have about her?" I said as I got over the venom in her voice.
"Will my testimony send her to the gas chamber?"
"No ma'am. This state doesn't use the gas chamber any more."
"Oh well." She said, then nodded and led us into the cabin. It was hard to connect the inside with the outside. Ms. Naples asked if we minded if she got comfortable and we both begged her to make herself at home. She immediately removed her shoes and belt, but nothing else.
We turned down more coffee, but I did accept a glass of ice water. She asked us what we thought of her place and I had to admit I had been very surprised. Outside, it looked like a leftover prop from a remake of a Hatfield and McCoy feud movie. Inside, it was positively charming. Evidently she spent a considerable amount of the money she saved on rent and food on very tasteful and very feminine decorations.
"It's not much, but it's home." She gave us the grand tour of the three room house from where we were sitting. Over her shoulder was a tiny bedroom, she said off it was the bathroom that was about half the size of the bedroom, we were sitting in the room that made up over half the cabin acting as kitchen, living room, and one area best described as an all purpose corner with a narrow table holding a computer, a file divider of paperwork, some nick-knacks, and just enough room for two place settings for a meal. But I saw no other indication that anybody else spent much time there.
"So how long did you work for Davies-Parmathon.?" The Deputy asked her.
"Mister or Missus?" Ms Naples asked.
"I worked for her first, before… you know… then I sort of worked for both of them. After Mr. Parmathon died she kept me on, but I knew I was better off finding another job."
"How did she find out about you and him?"
"She didn't tell you?"
I shook my head. "I've only spoke to her briefly, but we intend to have a more formal interview with her."
She looked at me with a steeliness to her eyes I did not want to ever have to challenge. "Trust me, you'd rather go to a dentist with shaky hands." Then she softened and smiled a little. "Well. OK. I'll tell you the truth so when she lies to you you'll know it." Now she smiled broadly. "It was her idea. She encouraged me to do it."
"To sleep with her husband?"
"I don't think anybody ever slept, but yes. It was all her idea. She even paid me to keep it up. Although I would have on my own. He was a wonderful man. Shame he had married a nasty piece of business like her."
The Deputy seemed puzzled. "I don't get it, why would she pay you to…"
"She hasn't spread her legs for anybody except her doctor in thirty years."
"She did seem rather cold." I said remembering my few minutes with the woman before she became a 'person of interest' in the investigation.
"Cold. You really don't know her do you?" I shook my head and she continued. "Listen Inspector. Some women play tough and frigid to get ahead, or maybe they just don't enjoy being a woman. Marge is the one woman I can say is just a mean old bitch because she's just a mean old bitch who can be the sweetest thing on earth if it suits her purpose of the moment. She is a past master at manipulation and politics."
I just sat there and nodded slowly. Then Ms. Naples went on to describe a series of schemes of her former boss lady that wound through political intrigue and court maneuverings that finally put her in the middle of the power structure of the county while minimizing her exposure to risk and liability.
Until that is, her name ended up in the center of our web of names and lines.
"So how is it you live here for free, if you're on the outs with Davies?" I asked her.
"Her husband left me a lifetime membership and this cabin. Except as private property the club won't maintain it. I let it look like it does outside to spite her. The roof doesn't leak and it has enough insulation that sometimes I go half the winter without running the heater." Then she grinned widely. "And Mr. Sharp appreciates a good time as much as Mr. Parmathon did, which keeps him from invoking the 'property value' clause on me." She re-crossed her legs giving us a nice view of thigh from knee to hem. She did have remarkable legs.
"But Ms. Davies holds considerable interest in the club." I observed.
"Yeah. She does." Ms. Naples grinned. "But there's other men on the board… and a woman or two… that have other interests."
"I'm not that indiscrete with my affections. But I can be very persuasive."
"Where did you go to school?" Deputy Burnside asked. "You don't talk like anybody else around here."
"It shows huh? Sometimes I forget to take it down a notch." She pointed up and to one side of the Deputy.
On the wall behind her was a presentation diploma, a master's degree in classical studies from a big university on the East Coast.
"Not something every secretary has. Why aren't you teaching?" I asked her admiring the scrollwork around the official seal.
"I might go into it sometime, but right now, I like what I'm doing, I'm putting away over half my paycheck every week, and I'm having a blast here. Why change?"
"Good points." I conceded. I had met my match that was for sure.
"Now if you will excuse me I need to undress and go see what Autie saved me from dinner." She stood up and we followed.
"Autross, the cook?" I asked.
She nodded and to our amazement, began undressing as casually as she had taken off her shoes. "He'll do anything in the world for me. And I've never, as you put it, slept with him." She was now removing her bra and the Deputy's face was a mask fit for any poker game as she glanced sideways at me, I hoped my face was equally professional. "If I'm not there on time, he always saves me a plate of the best he has. All I have to do is go into the kitchen and smile to get it."
"He did seem to like the ladies."
"He loves them. Except he can't do anything about it. He's totally impotent." She kicked her panties toward the hamper while shooting a grin at the Deputy. I took a deep breath and blinked.
"Too much information for this investigation." The Deputy said. I was making a point of ignoring Miss Naples. And she was loving every second of it.
"Maybe not." I said. Something clicked from my visit with the cook and his vegetables. "He does like to look. But he's never touched you, or even tried?"
She thought about it for a second. "Just casually, but nothing serious. And I've never even heard of him making a pass at anybody here. Male or female."
"Fascinating." I said. It fit. I was beginning to understand some of the dynamics of the paid staff, and more importantly, the board and its members. It seems they didn't 'screw' each other in any way other than financially or in court.
She picked up a small purse and held her hand out toward the door.
"We're going that way, mind if we walk with you?" Deputy Burnside asked her.
"How could I be safer walking to dinner starkers?" She smiled and closed the cabin door behind her. I noticed she locked it. Something not too many around here had been doing from what I'd seen.
"So how many single people live here?"
"About thirty or forty, but I'm one of the few fulltimers. And I mean full time. This is my only address. Most of the others have cabins or campers here but live in town or someplace most of the year. And yes I do walk to dinner naked most of the winter. Except I'll wear sneakers. It's a blast walking through a snowstorm like this." She shook her hair back and smiled at the sky waiting on snowflakes to hit her face.
"I bet." Was all either of us could say.
We left the nude young woman at the kitchen door when Mr. Autross opened it to let her in. The dining room was about half full even though he had stopped serving dinner. There were people fully dressed, if that's the word, in swimsuits or shorts and tank tops, and at least half the crowd was nude. Nobody gave us more than a quick glance even though I suspected they all knew who we were and why we were there.
We stood next to the building and discussed the next move. We stopped talking as two men carrying putters walked by. They nodded to us and asked if we were coming down to the putting green. I told them I had checked it out and was looking forward to trying it sometime. They walked on, oblivious to the fact they looked a little odd in socks and golf shoes, and nothing else. Now it was my turn to evaluate the Deputy's professional expression. She did quite well, most likely, better than I did in either situation.
Back in the office Mrs. Rush had a message for us, and she wasn't wearing her skirt again.
"Milton Fullbright. Junior." I said slowly. I knew the name but had trouble placing it in our web. The Deputy was thinking as well.
"Milt's one of the associates at Carnegie and Son." Mrs. Rush said.
"Was." I showed the Deputy the ten code she had written down without knowing what it meant.
Mrs. Rush's face blanched. "No. He was just here this morning. What happened?"
"As soon as we find out we'll let you know." I knew it was a fatal auto accident from the code, but I couldn't say any more yet. "Why was he here?"
She nodded and went to the filing cabinet. "He looked at these and made a few copies…. Oh my…" She pulled out a file. When she handed it to me her hand was shaking.
I took the file and handed it to the Deputy, then I held the lady's hand and nodded to her reassuringly.
Deputy Burnside opened the file and looked through the papers inside. From what I could see it was a random collection of receipts and invoices for services to the club. "Can we take these and make some copies? I'll make sure you get the originals back."
"Sure. Sure." She said weakly.
"Are you going to be OK?"
"I think I need to sit down." Mrs. Rush said. I walked her back to a chair, and with a face of stone, leaned her back, elevated her feet and put a paper towel damped from the water cooler on her forehead. She relaxed and thanked me.
"My ride's on their way." The Deputy said. "I'll go out and wait on them."
I nodded and she went out.
"Do you want to know anything about poor old Milt?"
"Only if you feel like telling me."
"He wasn't like the others. The other partners you know. Him and his wife Dottie were…" She hushed her voice and whispered. "Swingers."
A red light blinked in my head, and it wasn't the sheriff's car pulling up outside. "I've heard that the partners didn't… do things."
"Oh, most of them don't. Or at least they don't let anybody know about it. When they did things around here anyway." She grinned wickedly. "But some of them do like to…. And I should know." A little color was coming back to her face now. "But Milt and Dottie were open about it. They went to some of the parties some of the younger folks have." Then she blanched again. "Or at least he did…. Are you sure that's what that meant?"
"Yes ma'am. Deputy Burnside confirmed it. As soon as I leave here I've got to go to the coroner's for the report."
"Oh dear me. This is getting just awful." She put her hand over her eyes with the damp paper towel in it.
"I need to get going Mrs. Rush. If you're going to be OK."
She nodded and said it had just been a shock.
I wasn't going to leave, but then the young mother I had seen in there before came in, without kid this time and wearing only a silver chain around her waist from her neck to her ankles, I told her Mrs. Rush had gotten some bad news and asked her if she'd watch over her until she felt better. The woman nodded and said she'd take good care of her. I gathered up my papers, and after thanking Mrs. Rush for her help got out of there.
"There's no doubt about it, he had been dead for at least two hours before the accident."
The news was a little surprising to say the least. The car was beyond totaled, most of it was simply gone. It had hit a bridge abutment then bounced into the path of a dump truck, which had slammed it into a concrete wall.
"How could you tell?" I asked the coroner.
"Well." He went to the examining table and pulled back the vinyl sheet. "I'll show you."
Years before I had gone into an autopsy room as what my 'trainer' called 'a virgin' without apology. During the investigation I had puked three times, he told me the record was six. Now I was the one trying to calm the Deputy while she leaned over the garbage can. "I thought I was done." She said.
"That's her third." The coroner said with a smile. "Here, he's got severed arteries where there wasn't any bleeding. Not only was he dead, he was cold."
Fullbright had seen better days that was for sure. But what was of interest was the damage to his upper left arm where it had been all but severed from his body in the accident. There had been only minor blood leakage around the wound. If he had been anywhere near alive the ruptured vessel would have bled like a geyser.
Deputy Burnside nodded at the news, then walked out of the exam room.
I caught up to her after asking the coroner some more questions, the most important one being, what had killed 'poor old Milt' in the first place.
"Too early to say, but it wasn't that." He pointed to an X-ray of the battered corpse. "He had a tumor on his left kidney I'd bet he didn't even know about."
I examined the small shadow on the organ and nodded. "Well. Call me when he tells you what did him in."
"I don't think you'll ever get your partner back in here."
I looked out to where the Deputy was washing her face with water from the drinking fountain. "She'll be all right, she's a good cop."
The coroner turned to go back to work and I went out in the hall.
"I'm OK. That was a lot worse than my last one." The Deputy volunteered.
"Sometimes it can be nasty."
"So now what?" She asked me.
"You sure you're up to it?"
"I think I need to work for awhile."
"Good therapy. Let's see if we can find Margaret Davies this late in the afternoon."
She wasn't hard to find. She was at her home office downtown, and still open for business according to the man who answered her phone.
The lady had taken up residence in a suite that occupied almost half of an entire floor in one of the older but classier buildings just off the old town square. It was a premium address and I thought our investigation needed to know how much the space occupied by one of her real potted palms was worth, about three square feet, so I made a note to myself to look it up later.
Her receptionist was a tall well built and actually handsome young black man who spoke with a slight Island accent. The appointments of her waiting area were elegant and showed that somebody had excellent taste in understated refinement. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, the young man showed us into an interior waiting area and said that Miss Margaret would be right with us. Again, this small but well used space showed a decorator's touch. I recognized a painting that I had seen in the county museum some time ago and tried to figure out if this one was the original or a litho of the one in the museum.
"Good day officers." A lady's voice said from the other door. "Please." She indicated we were to come with her.
I had been in a lot of offices like Miss Margaret's. And I had never seen anything like it before in my life. It belonged in New York or LA or someplace. She had arranged it so whoever came in would be impressed, both by the view of the downtown, her desk, the surrounding artwork, and even the thickness of the carpet beneath their feet. There was just enough paperwork and mail on her desk to give you the impression she was very busy, but not overwhelmed, the phone had several buttons lit to indicate busy lines.
"Please." She said indicating the matching antique straight chairs in front of her desk. We sat down and instead of sitting behind her desk, which would give the impression she was being defensive, she joined us in the other old chair. "What can I do for you?"
I had seen pictures of Margaret Davies from publicity releases and marketing flyers. There were photos of her, fully clothed, with the club's directors and partners. But they didn't do her justice at all.
Davies, whom I knew to be nearing sixty, was an attractive woman with piercing intelligent eyes and a bearing that exuded refinement and high class in every way possible. She was dressed in a fine designer business outfit with small tasteful accent jewelry of which I had no doubt were real stones.
"We're looking into the Sun Club case." Deputy Burnside said.
"Oh? How interesting. Mr. Jourgins was as well."
"Mister Jourgins from the State's Attorney's office?" I asked. She nodded. "I've been in touch with him, but I didn't know he was going to call on you."
"Oh, it wasn't official or anything." She smiled charmingly. "We're old friends. I've worked on his campaigns from time to time. He just wanted to know a few things about the club for his assistant."
"Anything in particular?"
"No. Just how long it had been open. Was it a publicly held company, those kinds of things. Background, I believe he called it."
From her tone and facial expressions she knew exactly what he had called it and why he wanted the information. I decided then and there that what she didn't say would be just as important as what she did.
I asked her what she could tell me about Mr. Fullbright. Her expression never wavered.
"He's old man Carnegi's protégé, even moreso than his own son. A very good agent, although I've only dealt with him on a couple of occasions."
I nodded and made the note. "How about Miss Naples?"
"Of course. She worked for me and my late husband for several years. A nice enough girl, but I think she is wasting her fine education in dead end jobs." Her face stayed the same, although there was a slight edge to her voice.
"Did you know Tim Parch?" The Deputy asked.
"Barely. He was an associate of Mister Pennrose. I went to the memorial service of course." She looked at us. "You're not asking me the things you really want to. My lawyer is just downstairs, should I have him come up?"
I looked at the Deputy. She left it up to me. "Sure, why not?"
"Let me call him." The lady simply reached over to her phone and touched a button, in a second a woman answered over the speaker and Ms. Davies asked if either Bert or Jake were free could run up for a moment, the woman said she would see if they were available. "While we wait I have a pot of excellent Japanese tea brewing, would you like a cup?" She smiled knowingly, "I'll warn you ahead of time, it is very sweet."
I said I'd try it and the Deputy nodded in a second and said she was game.
Ms Davies touched another button and asked for three teas.
In just a minute a tall muscular white man in a 'Davies and Partners' T-shirt brought the tea in. He nodded to Ms. Davies and sat the china service on a silver tray on a small table evidently used for just this purpose. He poured out and served the Deputy first, then myself, and lastly Ms. Davies. She told him to have cups ready in case Mr. Henderson joined us. He nodded sharply and left, he had not said a word.
We tried the tea and agreed that it was very sweet.
I was about halfway through my cup when two men, both appearing to be around forty and dressed just as smartly as you would expect Ms. Davies' lawyers to be arrived through a side door.
She rose to greet them and we did as well. The taller of the two was Mr. Bertrand Henderson, the other was Jake Smalls. Both had the firm grip of health club regulars and smiles perfected by hours in front of the mirror. And both treated Ms. Davies with absolute deference. But now when she sat back down she was behind her desk, and her chair, I noticed, was on a slightly raised platform to give her a slight height advantage as well. Mr. Smalls took a side chair and brought it over to us, the young man in the T-shirt appeared and poured everybody more tea. Then he was gone, again, without a word.
She asked them how it happened to be that both of them were free. Mr. Henderson said he had been just getting ready to leave and Mr. Smalls had just come in from court.
She nodded and we all had some tea.
"Now, shall we begin?" She said after everybody had sat there silently for a minute. The lady was sitting with her hands folded neatly on the desk in front of her, looking all the world like a very cultured woman being patient with some boisterous children.
"Certainly." I said and opened my notebook. "When's the last time you had contact with Mr. Milton Fullbright Junior?"
"Do not answer that." Mr. Henderson said. "Did you inform her that Mr. Fullbright was found dead under suspicious circumstances earlier this afternoon?"
"That's not public knowledge." I said.
"My firm represents the Carnegi partnership as well. We were called as soon as his family was notified."
Ms. Davies hasn't even batted an eye.
"Has a cause of death been determined?" Mr. Smalls asked.
"No." The Deputy answered.
"It's OK Bert." Ms. Davies said in a minute. "The last time I saw Milton was last weekend, he was at a dinner for one of the charities. His wife was with him too. But I did talk to him briefly by phone last Thursday about a permitting issue for a project in Sheffield Estates."
I looked at the lawyers. "When was the last time either of you spoke to him?"
They looked at each other. Then Mr. Henderson answered. "My secretary talked to him just this morning for me. He had requested some copies of some documents."
I played a card. "Contracts, receipts and things relating to the club? Or would that be privileged information?"
"It is, but since we wish to cooperate. Yes. They were club related."
"Did he get them?" Deputy Burnside asked before I could.
"No, he was supposed to pick them up in the morning."
"We may have to subpoena those documents." I said, "If they appear to be related to the case."
"If and when you do, we'll review the matter."
"That's all I ask."
Mr. Henderson looked at the Deputy as if it were her turn to speak. It evidently was. "How many of the partners and board members of the club does your firm represent?"
Mr. Smalls took that one. "Several, it is public record."
We nodded, we had most of it on our board, but we had missed the connection between them and Davies.
"I think most of us use either Marsters and Henderson or Fromwell and MacLaren." Ms Davies was playing it perfectly. Marsters and Fromwell were originally partners and represented the original board when the club opened. As things grew and changed, it was just natural to stay with the people we knew."
Over the course of the next hour, we got as many questions answered as we didn't, and on the whole, learned very little of value to the case. Except one very important point. If Ms Davies was the prime suspect, we'd have to have an absolutely airtight case against her or it would never see the light of day.
This was confirmed the next day when my supervisor, Captain Rogers called me into his office and told me Ms. Davies had been very impressed with the way I had conducted the interview on the 'sensitive matters' we had discussed.
"Who did she call?" I asked him.
"The mayor's office of course."
Deputy Brunside had also gotten the compliment. Ms. Davies's office had talked to the Sheriff and complimented him for the excellent training his young officer had had.
"So she's making sure we know she has connections." She said to me as we prepared for another day's sleuthing.
"That's my take on it." I nodded and looked at my notes. Something in my notes reminded me of something from the email Mr. Sharp had given me. I dug it out of the pocket in my notebook and unfolded it. The last name on the list of the SunDown partners was Ms Davies as Mrs. Parmathon.
"I think we need a new angle." I showed it to the Deputy.
"That's in my file. I don't see a new angle there." She said.
"You don't think a new resort hotel out there would be motivation for murder?"
"No." Deputy Burnside said. "Two murders." She grinned at me. "Who's next?"
"Let's see who the partners in the hotel are and then go from there.
We'd saved our web of partners in the Club, and now we added the partners and others associated with the proposed hotel to it in a different color. Some of the names were the same, others weren't. One of the ones that seemed to have nothing directly to do with the hotel was Ms Davies.
"Oh geeze." I said shaking my head.
"You expected her to be in the middle of that too." Deputy Burnside said.
I nodded. Her ties to the hotel were indirect at best. Most likely, whoever had set up the deal for the actual development of the resort had left her out of it once the property had changed hands. And had probably done so intentionally.
Then something chilling crossed my mind. "Would being left out be motive for murder?"
"If you were setting up the place as your own kingdom and somebody cut you out of it. Yes." She answered. "But who?" She looked at the web.
"Or multiples thereof."
We tried to discern the primary movers of the hotel deal, but it seemed to be a genuine partnership between about six of the high rollers on our board. Even the property records were listed with all of their names. Fortunately, all the major players on that side were sill breathing. Parch and Fullbright had been minor leaguers. But, they were minor leaguers with direct connections between the Hotel Partners and Ms. Davies.
It was the kind of legwork they never show on TV. At least not the way we were doing it. Re-tracing the last day or so of both of the dead men and everything they had to do with everybody on the list. Where they were when, who they talked to, mail, phone calls, meetings. Everything. Up to and including what Parch had ordered for what turned out to be his last meal, and why he substituted the salad with soup.
The results from the two autopsies came back. But there wasn't anything damning against anybody. No DNA under the victim's fingernails, that's be too easy. Nothing to suggest Fullbright had killed Parch and was then killed himself to shut him up or anything so melodramatic. The chemicals and substances on and in the bodies were common to a dozen people and places, the booze Parch had been drinking hadn't been tainted, although other interviews said he was a real lightweight when it came to the sauce. If he'd had more than two drinks, he was almost helpless. Evidently the killer knew that, but so did everybody that had spent any time with him.
But because several of the partner's were being investigated in the murder cases, rumors started to filter in about how some of the financing of the hotel started to dry up. Then because of the delays in the start of construction the expiration dates of some of the permits and environmental studies began to loom large.
And then I got a call that broke the case wide open.
Ms Margaret Davies, AKA Margaret Parmathon, requested the Deputy and I meet her someplace where we could have a private conversation. She requested Deputy Burnside to be 'in civvies' instead of the uniform she usually wore.
So we were sitting on a bench next to the putt putt course at the club. Trying not to watch several members playing through 'our' hole. And then Ms. Davies got out of her car and walked toward us wearing what appeared to be a pool wrap over a swimsuit.
"Hello again." She smiled. "Thank you for agreeing to this less formal location."
"No problem." I said.
"I love it out here." She looked around and smiled at the members and called one of them by name. "Everybody is so relaxed and natural."
Evidently that included her. She was still the same polished businesswoman she had been in her office. She stood erect and was in total control of herself, but she really smiled now where before her smile had that 'used car dealer' fakeness to it- a smile of the mouth, but not the eyes.
"It is a very relaxing place." Deputy Burnside said.
"Oh well. We'll just have to enjoy it later. And I'd like to see you both out here for a 'friends and family night' cookout." She looked around and sighed. "OK, let's go for a walk."
She nodded off to the back of the putt putt course and we all walked that way. We were well away from everybody else when she stopped walking and looked around. "do you think we were followed?" She asked us.
"I was watching, I don't think so."
"I'm sure we will be, but that's OK." She looked around. "My man Cal will leave a package for you with Miss Naples. Believe it or not she really doesn't hate me that much. When you leave me here, stop by and see her. But make sure you're not followed."
"I've got a better idea. Is your man still in his car?" She nodded and I got out my cel phone.
We arranged it so Cal got pulled over by a marked Sheriff's car on his way to the club. Instead of getting a ticket, he gave the deputy our package. It would be waiting for us back at the station. We got the confirmation of the pick up in less than ten minutes. By which time we had followed the trail around and were looking out at the lake near the fishing pier.
"Just to make it look good to whoever's watching, we'll stop by and see Ms Naples anyway." I said.
Ms Davies' eyes lit up. "Are you sure you're interest here is purely professional?"
"Until this case is wrapped up. Yes ma'am." I answered professionally.
"I'll make sure of that." Deputy Burnside said with a grin.
Once again we looked around, but there didn't appear to be anybody actually watching us. But you never know.
"Now, part two." Ms. Davies said quietly facing away from us and actually talking to a large bush. "I'm going to get all loud and stupid and accuse you of trying to railroad me into prison and all. Can you play along?"
"Sure." I said nodding to the Deputy. "She'll be the good cop and I'll be obnoxious."
"Deal." Ms Davies turned around and started in. "You can't prove any of what you just said!" She said at about three times her normal speaking volume with appropriate arm gestures. She stomped out on the dock and turned around to face us quickly. "You know EXACTLY where I was when Milton was killed."
I went for it just as loudly. "We know where you SAID you were. But some of your witnesses seem to have bad memories." I pointed to my head and then waved in the air.
"They'll remember in court!" She stuck her nose in the air.
"MY PLEASURE." I shouted.
"Now come on. Nobody's headed to court yet." Deputy Burnside stepped between us and put her hand on my shoulder.
We did have an audience. Somebody in the main parking lot was watching us standing beside a car. I whispered to the Deputy. "Who's that next to the dark green two door?"
"I don't know." She whispered back but turned to Ms. Davies.
"Looks like Paul Jones." She said, then she went on with her act. "I've got PROOF of where I was. Can YOU prove where YOU were when he was killed?" She pointed an accusing finger at me.
"I'm not the one being questioned about a murder."
"Maybe you should be!"
"He's taking a picture." The Deputy said still between us but acting like she was trying to calm Ms Davies down.
"Everybody smile." I whispered, then followed up with. "Tell your fancy lawyers to polish their trial cases because when the time comes, they'll need them!"
"They're not just pretty boys." She grinned.
"I bet." I answered.
"He's back in the car."
"Well, you did good Inspector." Ms Davies said but she was still pointing at me and standing like she was getting ready to fight.
"You're not too bad yourself." I said with my hands on my hips.
"I think both of you should get a prize for that performance." The Deputy acted like she was scolding me. "Which of us should leave first?" She asked.
"We will." I answered. "Hot or cool?" I asked Ms Davies.
"Hot." She grinned.
"Be ready lady! Be Ready! I'm coming for you!" I said jabbing my finger in her direction while the Deputy backed me down the dock. "And thanks." I whispered and almost smiled.
"No Problem INSPECTOR!" She waved back.
I made sure my face was on fire when I walked by the green car. But I did get a good look at the driver who ignored my scowl. He was pretending to be looking at a newspaper. As I got in my car I looked back at the dock. Ms Davies was standing there looking out at the lake. Evidently waiting on us to leave.
We drove down around the dining hall and stopped at Ms Naples' place. I hate to refer to the building as her house, but it was. She was expecting us, but didn't know the package had been picked up earlier. I decided to continue the investigation in spite of the young woman wearing only a towel around her hair.
"So who's Paul Jones? I don't recall ever seeing that name before."
She paused at the question. "I think he's the private eye that used to work for Pennrose and them. But that's been a long time ago."
"Heavyset white guy, greasy hair?" I said as a description.
I wrote PI next to his name and added Pennrose with a question mark.
"So you and Ms Davies aren't mortal enemies?"
"I wouldn't say that." She smiled and rubbed at her hair. Making my eyes water. "We're still in touch on a professional basis. I still work part time for her company if not for her directly. But we don't have much good to say about each other outside of that. But who can you trust if not somebody that actually doesn't like you for something like that?"
"But she had nothing but good to say about you." Deputy Burnside said.
Ms Naples smiled. "But did she actually say anything substantive?"
I thought about it. "No. I guess not."
"There you go." She pulled the towel out of her hair. "Now it's my turn, has she said or done anything to contradict anything I said about her?"
"No." The Deputy said. "I know a scheming woman when I meet one. She's probably the best at that game I've ever met. And when she saw which way things would fall in this she changed sides and decided to work with us."
"Did she change sides? Or did she bring you over to her side?" Naples asked us.
"Good point." I said. "I'll reserve judgment until I see the information she gave us."
We ended the interview pleasantly and went back out to our car. The green sedan was sitting down by the office. Ms Davies was nowhere to be seen.
"Well?" I said to my partner. "Now what?"
"Let's go look at the package."
We got in the car. It was her turn to drive so I got in the passenger side with one last look at the green car.
"You betting it's the papers Fullbright had ordered?"
"You're too smart to be my partner." I said to the Deputy.
I watched the green car pull out to follow us in the visor mirror. I was tired of that part of the game. I called in to my dispatch and a few minutes later as we pulled out onto the highway the green sedan was cut off by two marked patrol units and pulled over.
I got out of the car just as the uniformed officers were ordering the driver out of the car.
"Not nice to follow homicide detectives who're working a murder investigation Mr Jones." I said walking up to the driver.
His frown told me I had the right name.
"The package was never delivered. Something pissed Davies off. Might that something be you?" I said.
Deputy Burnside played right into it. "Interfering with an official police investigation can get your license yanked."
It's hard to act tough when you have your hands behind your head. "I was just following my orders. They told me to see who she was meeting out there. And it just happened to be you."
He clammed up.
"Any outstanding paperwork on our friend here?" I asked the uniformed officer who was smiling at my partner the most.
"Some traffic citations he forgot to pay."
Now I had the trump card. "Exchange?" I looked him in the eye. "If your memory gets better, I'll take your word for it that you'll send Judge Friener a check as soon as you get home tonight. If not, you can pay him in person in the morning. Your choice."
He thought about it. As he did the officer got out his handcuffs. Nice touch I have to say.
"OK. MacLaren hired me to keep an eye on Davies."
"MacLaren as in Pennrose's attorney?" I asked.
"Yeah. Him and that Parch chick. They're partners." He grinned in spite of his position. "And more besides too." He winked at me.
Sometimes you really have to fight the urge to shout 'Eureka' and dance around like an idiot.
The package was exactly what we had expected. And a bit more besides.
Some of that had to do with the hotel and its partners.
Most of the receipts were duplicates of the ones we had picked up at the club. Except a lot of these had handwritten notes on them about what it was for, who ordered it, which account the funds had come out of and so on.
We started to fit the new names in with our now almost overwhelming web.
The late Mr. Parch's name figured prominently in it. And from what we could see from his papers and these records, he was trying to play all sides against each other while skimming whatever loose money was laying around unwatched. OK, that's pretty standard bad business practice. Especially when one of the heaviest lawyers in the state had the hots for your wife, or ex-wife as the case may be.
It was no mystery why Parch didn't die from natural causes. But how had Fullbright gotten in the way? And more importantly, whose way did he get in?
The answer had to be in the papers he had asked for from the lawyers and the club. We just had to see it.
Deputy Burnside picked up her cel phone and asked me what I liked on my pizza. "It's going to be a long night." She said.
I nodded and picked up the crinkled and slightly stained receipt and tried to read the printing describing what had been delivered. "It looks like it. Sausage and mushroom, but anything is fine."
She ordered a large with half sausage and mushroom and the other half pineapple and ham 'Hawaiian pizza' and a dozen hot poppers. Then we started sorting receipts by date, location, who ordered it, who signed for it, and every other way we could think of.
There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to them, they were all over the place, and for almost everything. From six cases of SPF 50 sunblock to a hundred and fifty pounds of dry ice. And had been signed for by every member of the staff and board over the space of the last five years.
The one thing I did figure out over the next few hours was that I liked the Hawaiian pizza just fine, but I wouldn't want a steady diet of it.
"We're not seeing something." I said looking at the piles of papers sitting all over the two tables and the desk. Then I looked at the board with its web of names. The dollar signs next to some of the names gave me an idea.
"Let's sort them by bottom line amount." I said to the Deputy who was picking the cheese out of a now cold popper.
"How do you want to break them up?"
"Let's see how it works. Maybe things under a couple of hundred dollars here, up to a thousand over there. Big ones there, then we'll go from there."
There were a lot more small dollar amount receipts than anything else. We had some that ranged from three dollars and change up. But it became obvious what Fullbright had been after almost immediately.
In the large dollar amount pile a trend developed. Some things had been signed for twice, by different people. On a couple of them, even the time date mark or stamp was within an hour or so, one from the club, signed for by Mrs. Rush or somebody, the other one from elsewhere, signed for by a board member.
"Oh boy." Deputy Burnside said. "Sixteen thousand five hundred dollars. Spillway resurfacing. Three different names signed for it."
"Wanna bet there was only one job done and the concrete guy only got paid once?" I said looking at them.
"Another sure thing, no way."
Then I found one. "Site work, doublewide for caretaker. Thirty grand. Back to back dates, two different names."
"What's the names?" She picked up her receipts.
"Somebody named Smitty… and Pennrose."
Two names cropped up the most. Parch, either Mister or Missus with about equal regularity, and Pennrose. And it wasn't just in the high dollar amounts either. They had been working their scheme with everything from ice deliveries for a staff picnic to some really major ticket items. All the receipts had been routed through the accountant for the partnership, who just happened to work directly for MacLaren. Evidently it all blew up when they tried it with the property sale, and something went wrong, with deadly results.
"The unfortunate Mr. Parch might have gotten cold feet."
I nodded to the Deputy, "Or got greedy and tried to blackmail Pennrose, or his ex. Or both."
We went through the vendors involved and found a few links. Usually to somebody associated in some way with our maze of names and lines. Most notably missing when everybody else seemed to be involved was Ms. Davies and her immediate associates.
"It looks like your girlfriend is in the clear." Deputy Burnside said with a grin referring to Miss Naples.
"Looks like." I put down my stack of receipts. "Let's get the DA in on this again."
"At one in the morning?" She pointed to the clock.
But in the morning things took a sidestep. We called the DA first thing. But then put that on hold to run back out to the club.
The office had been burned down. My first thought was to check on Mrs. Rush, her bungalow was actually attached to the office building. She was shaken, but uninjured.
"I woke up when the alarm went off." She said. "I don’t know why the sprinklers didn't work."
The fire marshal was standing right next to Deputy Burnside. "I do." We all looked at him. "Somebody had shut the water off to the building."
"Some accident." I said.
"And how." He answered with a nod.
By noon we were back in the office. Still smelling of smoke. Explaining all this to the DA's people as well as my supervisor and Deputy Burnside's captain. They had their whole team down there now, including Ms Davie's friend Jourgins who assured us his connections with Ms Davies were tenuous at best and he had no problem seeing this through.
"Who's the mastermind?" The lady from the DA asked me.
"Well. At this point it would seem to either be Pennrose or Mrs Parch. But it wouldn't surprise me if there was somebody behind the scenes directing all of it."
"Why did they burn down the office if they knew you had their copies of the receipts?"
"They didn't know. We had gotten them right when we found out Fullbright had been killed. He just made a couple of copies. I took the whole file and brought it back here. There's the originals still in their folder."
"It's a good thing you didn't get to return it." Jourgins said.
We all nodded. Now that file was a central piece of evidence. A central piece yes, but against who or whom specifically was far from clear. It was obvious there would be multiple charges filed, but we had to get the right ones in order or they would all dodge it claiming everybody else had been the boss and they were just employees.
"This is all nice, but is there anything to link this mess to the murders?"
"It's indirect, but…" I said.
"Let's hear it." The Sheriff's Department captain said.
His deputy answered. "The plastic over Parch's face is exactly the same kind used to cover the walls of the gazebo at the club for the winter. It's an older plastic sheeting that's not used much anymore and is hard to find. There's a roll of it in the maintenance building at the club."
"Circumstantial, but OK. Next." Jourgins said.
Now it was my turn. "Parch had been out drinking with two of MacLaren's people at lunch that day. Both of them have iron clad alibis as to where they were the rest of the day, up to midnight in fact."
"Convenient." One of them muttered.
"I didn't expect any less. But. Both of them were seen at the club meeting with somebody who isn't on our list and has since vanished into thin air. Larry Finder."
"You're kidding…" The other man from the DA's office said.
"You know him too?" My supervisor said. "I remember busting him when I was a uniform cop myself."
"I think the last time I sent him up he drew eleven months on a plea to avoid Habitual."
"One in the same. But right now, he's missing. His P.O. hasn’t seen him in about a month, there's hot paper on him for violation now." I said.
My boss nodded to the captain then spoke firmly. "Let's upgrade that to a felony warrant. I'll get it taken care of as soon as we're done here. I'd like to hear him deny a few things just for old time's sake."
"With Fullbright we got luckier." Deputy Burnside said. "He had made a celphone call to Pennrose's office about an hour before he expired. The receptionist at his office remembers it being very loud and heated, at least on his side."
"We didn't find anything in the car to shed any light on what happened. But we did find something better." I grinned. "The security camera on the building next door caught somebody else getting into his car. It's a lousy picture, but we can tell it's a white man."
"So's about a third of the county, you got to do better than that."
"But we did ID the car he got out of."
"Get a number?"
"Most of one as it pulled out." I said and just sat there.
"Well?" The captain finally said.
"Belongs to the Developer's office as a company car. Matches make and model perfectly."
Several of them sat tapping on the table. Thinking.
Then there was a tapping on the door.
"Good. You're all here." The fire marshal said coming in. "We got a good one for you."
"Go ahead, make my day." The captain said with a grin.
"We got a clear finger and palm prints in the valve room. Evidently he couldn't turn the valve with gloves on. It's clean and there is no reason in the world according to Mr. Sharp he would have ever been in there that day. And he did have a copy of the master key that would open that door from the outside."
"Well damnit. Who does it belong to?" My boss asked without smiling.
"Wilson Pennrose, the prints were part of his military file. Perfect match."
The rest of the story was an anti-climax.
The next morning, multiple felony warrant in hand me and Deputy Burnside went out and arrested Mr. Pennrose.
He was cool about it. He got his lawyer to come in, and then we arrested Mr. MacLaren too on virtually the same charges.
Once they were in custody, the rest broke like a thunderstorm. Mrs. Parch told the whole story, blaming Pennrose for both her marriage breaking up and her husband's death. MacLaren said he was only following orders, until he read Paul Jones' statement, then he admitted to a little initiative, but only on behalf of his client.
Larry Finder turned up three states away, arrested on a DUI for driving into the side of a utility truck. When the good officers over there told him about the outstanding warrants on two murders and a felony arson, he sang like a bird about everything this side of Watergate, begging to turn state's evidence to avoid life without or worse. He had every pocket in his clothes full of money and a calling card that traced back to being purchased by Pennrose's secretary on a company credit card.
Fortunately for our case, all the witnesses from the club showed up at the trial fully clothed.
Because the case was so complicated, it took a long time. And several of the primary suspects went away for a long time. Mr. Finder went down as a habitual felon, but he avoided the death penalty by testifying for us about almost everything, including how he had worked day labor for the concrete contractor and had padded his time card to the contractor's full knowledge and approval.
But it was fascinating to watch the DA re-draw our web almost to a T there in the courtroom and explain it all. Including visual aids and very tasteful pictures of the club and all.
Later I spent a couple of weekends out there, only going buff in the swimming pool, and enjoyed one of Mr. Autross's dinners with Miss Naples. He was a very good cook all things considered.
Ms. Davies put parts of the group that had been backing the hotel back together, and started building it without any more odd corpses turning up to disrupt things. Now the entire region around the lake was officially zoned, through some fancy footwork by her and her cohorts in it, as an Adult Recreation Area.
Mrs. Rush got to oversee the construction of a new office building, with a fire system that could not be turned off, and a better place for the clients to get their mail than in a cardboard box on top of the vending machine.
Deputy Burnside joined up and found herself on the recreation committee. She loved it and even talked several of the others from her office to at least become associate members.
For some reason I found myself signing on the dotted line to buy one of the new cabins across the street from the older lady and her husband that liked to watch them cut the grass. It had precisely fifteen feet of lakeshore, enough for some serious fishing or to land a canoe. And it did not look like something that belonged on a movie set or in a third world country. I got a great deal on it from one of Ms. Davies' real estate associates.
End Sun Club
For more adventures with The Detective see:
1. The Robbery
2. murder and other fun at The Sun Club
3. The Water Murders
4. Amused To Death
5. Too many suspects spoil the case.
6. The Grand Conspiracy.
7. Murder isn't a Joke.
8. "Sometimes you can't arrest the perpetrator."
9. A Partner In Crime.
10. "Somebody is killing all the bad guys."
the Desk's Fiction Department
[NOTE: All characters, places, events, and businesses/organizations are FICTIONAL. NO inference to REAL anything is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended. This Piece Is FICTION, enjoy it as such. Thank You -the Author.]
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