©08 The Media Desk
"When you find out who killed Mr. Barnes let me know. ..... I wanna contribute to their legal defense fund."
Once again I found myself assigned to an unsolved case.
My Captain said this one may be the "perfect crime" and I know for certain that the boss does not use terms like that often or lightly.
As with the Sun Club Murders from a couple of years ago, this one had suspects all over the place. Dozens of them. Indeed, there were almost a hundred people we knew of who had a motive. And many of them had the opportunity. And a good number of those also had access to the means to commit the crime.
How do you investigate a crime when you interview four or five suspects over the case of two days who say something to the effect of, "Well damn, I didn't know he had been murdered. I didn't do it, but I almost wish I had. Tell you what, when you find out who did do it, let me know, I'll make a donation for their defense."
I'm not kidding.
One of those I interviewed was amazed that it had taken this long for somebody to do the victim in.
"He was the meanest, nastiest, most unhappy person I've ever met," The woman said. "I don't mean to speak ill of the dead. But I can't say it any other way. He was a nasty bastard."
"I've not heard it put quite like that before but it seems he didn't have a lot of friends?"
She actually laughed. "Friends?" She continued to laugh. "If Ebenezer Scrooge was alive he'd have more friends than Clifford did."
And so the sentiment ran through the entire town.
Mister Clifford Barnes Junior. Aged seventy-six years. Businessman, former city councilman, college board trustee, life long member of a community service group, and all around leading pillar of the community.
At least that was how the newspaper wrote his obituary.
One of the editors on the paper said they had never had so many angry letters, emails, phone calls, and even visitors in the office over an obituary as they did his.
Fortunately, he said, they had a policy of not allowing rebuttals to obituaries. "Otherwise we would have had to have run a special section in the paper."
Even I had to admit that I knew the deceased gentleman by reputation.
He had been the landlord for one of my friends for a year or so. I had never met the man, but I had seen the repercussions for the way he ran his businesses.
To say the man's business practice was cut-throat would be too kind.
My friend's apartment thermostat was locked to sixty five degrees for heating and eighty-five for cooling, even though the tenants paid for their own utilities. Mr. Barnes's rationale was that the air conditioner and the heater were part of the building, and excessive wear caused by a resident running the unit more than he thought it should be would cost him more money in maintenance and eventual replacement of the equipment before what he felt was the normal lifespan of the units. The same was true for the refrigerator and water heater. And he refused to install stoves with a self cleaning feature even though he required the residents to clean their ovens once a month.
Needless to say, my friend had a great incentive to find a new apartment as soon as his lease was up.
Mr. Barnes ran his other business interests with the same mentality.
Through a series of buyouts and takeovers he ended up with some of the most desirable commercial and retail property in the city. He owned two connected shopping centers, a hotel, a car dealership building, and one of the two roller skating rink in town among some other properties such as the apartments and warehouses.
Yes his retail spaces were usually fully occupied, sometimes on long term contracts. But nobody dealt with him because they wanted to, most rented from him because, like my friend and other college students, it was a matter of necessity. Others dealt with him for other reasons, some of them sordid, but again, it wasn't because they wanted to.
The stores fronted on two of the main roads in town. The parking lot had traffic lights to get customers in and out easily. And there were ongoing events already scheduled far in advance to increase interest and foot traffic in the centers such as the yearly home show and a classic car rally every spring.
The flyer for the center said it all, 'if you're not here, you're not anywhere'.
On the college's board of trustees, he was known to be a contrarian and there were times when the board would schedule a vote when they knew Mr. Barnes couldn't be there. Sometimes they did it to simply make progress instead of having Mr. Barnes raise endless objections and carry on in pointless arguments, even when the matter being discussed had been his original idea.
His reputation in the community service organization was essentially the same. He would vote against continuing an award winning program just so they could not promote it saying the vote for it had been unanimous.
Let me give you an example of his personal demeanor. Several years ago Mr. Barnes had been selected, God knows why, to be on the initial selection committee to pick the finalists for a 'Miss Community Service' pageant. The applicants were all between the ages of 16 and 21, local residents, never married and in school, and so on. Of the fifty or so applicants for the twelve pageant positions, Mr. Barnes did not recommend ANY of the applicants that the committee interviewed. During the discussion he rejected one because she had dyed her hair, he rejected another because she didn't. He was never asked to be on the committee again.
Why was he still a member of the two groups? The answer was simple. Money.
Through his various entities he donated prodigiously to the various charitable causes.
But not a single dime was out of the kindness of his heart. He made sure that every bit of it was tax deductable, and even then, that he profited from them. Various events for the groups were held at his skating rink or at the conference center in his hotel. While he would give the groups a discount, he deducted the lost revenue on his taxes, and still saw an actual bottom line profit from the increased revenue at his restaurants and other interests.
Even a charity fund raiser at the skating rink was no picnic. There were strict guidelines, a damage deposit was required that was never fully refunded, and the prices in the snack bar and gift shop were not reduced at all. For events at the hotel, there was a surcharge to guarantee a certain 'participation level' for use of hotel services.
And then on top of all of that, if there were two events at the same time, say a kid's birthday party and a church group outing, both at the skating rink, both using the same floor at the same time, and skating to the same music, both groups would have to pay full price for a 'private' event unless they paid considerably more for exclusive use of the entire facility. The only thing private on the private party was the side room with the cake and balloons for the birthday party.
During the investigation the other detectives had learned that he had one direct employee. She was Mr. Barnes's sister. She acted as his receptionist and scheduler and paid various bills from her home. She hadn't been inside his office in over two years.
Mrs. Jackson was indeed his sister, and she couldn't stand him.
"The last time I talked to Cliff was..." She had to stop and think. "Last month, I needed his approval to pay an extra charge from the post office for a COD delivery. He said no, and I paid it out of my pocket, then had it taken over to him by the courier the next day."
The officer had asked her why Mr. Barnes had declined to pay for a delivery if it was for him.
"That was just him. And I think he did it just to spite me. But I always got my money back in the end, he just didn't know it."
Mr. Barnes also had one part time employee who would actually work for Mrs. Jackson. That was Ben Jackson, her son, who would do odd jobs and help out when needed.
Ben was quite clear on his relationship with his uncle, he would work for him, as long as he was paid cash, and that he only dealt with his mother unless he had to absolutely talk to 'Uncle Cliff'.
And of course I checked where Ben had been at the time of the death. He was clocked in at work, with a parade of witnesses and even couple of security camera tapes to back it up. The nephew didn't do it.
So, given the man's charming personality and winning ways...
Who would go out of their way to pump truck exhaust into his office after having glued his door shut with construction adhesive?
From the background material I had... almost everybody in the phone book.
Why didn't anybody think it was unusual that nobody had seen him from Thursday afternoon until his body was found Tuesday evening by the weekly cleaning crew?
From the background material I had... everybody thought his absence was a blessing.
Of the individuals on that extensive list of suspects, who stood to profit from his untimely demise?
From the background material I had... nobody.
His will stated that his assets were to be liquidated and divided among a laundry list of distant relatives and various charities. His sister only received a minor stake in the hotel to see to her future security. Mr. Barnes had no children, no intimate friends that anybody knew of, and didn't even seem to want his name on a large display case at the college that he had given them last year.
After the autopsy his remains were cremated and he was interred in a quiet and out of the way spot in a local cemetery after a small service that was attended by nine people: his sister, the funeral director, representatives of the college and the community service group, two police officers, a manager from the hotel, and a reporter.
Oh, the ninth guest? The guy from the cemetery that closed the grave.
It would seem that Mister Clifford Barnes Junior wanted to be forgotten.
Except that conflicted with my orders.
I had been charged with learning everything there was to know about Mr. Barnes, including who had taken the general dislike for the gentleman one step further and had glued his door shut.
I started in his office.
And I got my first shock from who the man was.
I had read where the man was a miser in some things and a spendthrift in others. But I hadn't seen an example of it. But I did now.
And it was an eye-opener and no mistake.
First let me give you a couple more examples of his spending habits. He drove a fifteen year old car, on worn out tires, and would use discount coupons to get the oil changed. But he wore tailor made suits and imported Italian shoes.
His cellular phone was one of those pay as you go minute plans on a phone that was about three years old. But his wrist watch was from one of the most expensive nameplates on the market.
He carried a sack lunch to the office, but on his way home he would stop by one or another local restaurant to sit down to one of the finest meals on their menu.
But the office.
Let me give you the flavor of the office.
It was in the back corner of one of his smaller retail units.
The office itself was windowless, with a long hallway leading back to it from an unmarked metal exterior door. The reason it was his office was obvious, he probably couldn't have rented it to anybody else. The hallway was dingy, and the interior door to the office space itself was in serious need of several coats of paint.
I went to the interior door and looked at it and moved it back and forth. Even after the fire department had forced it, it was still hard to open. Whoever had sealed it had done so with enough adhesive that even now the door wanted to adhere to its frame.
The room was square, with two doors to one side. One led to a half bath, the other to a small closet. There were no other built in features. The computer on a side table was several model years out of date, the fax machine looked like the one we had had in the precinct twenty years ago, even the telephone was a relic from another era. The room itself was only partially finished, with little to suggest that the occupant was one of the cities most successful businessmen.
Until you looked at certain things.
His desk for one.
The desk in the center of the room was a work of art. It was huge, made of a couple of types of dark wood with ornate inlays and hand carved features all around. On each corner was a carved figurine of a goddess holding the top of the desk up. In the center of the front panel was a richly appointed family crest and coat of arms.
One of the things I was going to find out was how he had gotten that desk into this room.
Then there was the clock on top of the filing cabinet.
The cabinet itself was in worse shape than some of the ones we had back at headquarters. One of the drawers was crooked and looked like it was off its track. There were notes stuck to it with aging tape that were curled and faded with dates from years ago. Unidentified phone numbers were written on other notes held up with magnets promising 'fast free delivery' from a pizza shop that I know has been out of business for years.
The clock belonged in a museum instead of a dumpy office. It appeared to be an antique, with intricate animated figures and multiple dials telling everything from the tides to the moon phase.
I could have spent a hour just admiring the desk and the clock, but then I would have missed the framed artwork on the far wall.
He had collected, if that is the word, three oil paintings, signed by the artist, of three different Golden Era of Hollywood actresses. All three showed the gorgeous women in glamorous, and slightly suggestive, poses, in costumes from their most famous movies. They too, were amazing considering the office itself. But fit right in with the man who would sit at that desk in his custom made suit and eat a bag lunch.
But then I noticed something. There was a missing painting.
The three were spaced equally along the wall so as to allow unobstructed viewing, but given the way they were hung, it was obvious that there had been a fourth one in the far corner.
I stopped and looked at them in turn.
"Who would be the fourth?" I asked the wall trying to think of what the three had in common. "Maybe Audrey Hepburn? Or somebody else." I looked down the row and found a sturdy nail right where it should be to hold the fourth painting, with a light coating of dust that outlined the missing frame when you caught the light just right.
I thought maybe there was a clue for the missing clue.
I carefully opened the filing cabinet and looked at the folders. There was no system that I recognized. In fact, most of the material was seriously out of date. Evidently his sister took care of things at her place. I wrote a note to myself to have the photographer get good shots of the paintings and the space where the fourth would have been.
One thing I did wonder if perhaps the theft of the painting was the motive for the murder. But that didn't make sense because the other three were still there, and unless there was something special about the missing painting, there was other stuff of more value in the office.
Then I continued my long slow look around.
And I noticed something else.
"There's no lunch bag," I said to myself.
Mr. Barnes carried his thermos and sack lunch every day. It was one of the things everybody had mentioned. Except that in spite of the room having been sealed and the only thing removed since when the door had been forced open had been the victim, there was no lunch bag nor thermos. I looked in the bathroom and the closet and in the desk.
I even looked in the trash and found where he had discarded some mail the day he died, but there was no evidence of him having brought anything to eat or drink to work with him that day. I thought that maybe he had left it in his car and made a note to check his car in the impound lot on my way to his house.
After another good look around, I left to go check his car and the truck that had produced the exhaust through the heating vent that was the cause of death.
At least with this one I knew what to expect. And it was exactly what I expected.
The car was a basic four door sedan with the faded paint and parking lot dents one would expect for something of its age. I got the key from the lot sergeant and went and checked it out inside.
The interior wasn't either super neat and tidy, nor was it a mess. It was serviceable, and that was it. I looked through the interior and the trunk. Neither the missing picture nor the man's lunch were in the car. In the glove box was a receipt for the last oil change, and on the receipt was the note that he had used a 'buy five quarts get a filter free' coupon.
On the floor of the passenger seat was a few casually discarded receipts from different donut places, from several different days, but all with about the same time on the receipt. All within a few minutes of six thirty in the morning.
I checked with the sergeant and he looked up the records on the car. It had been brought in on a rollback and the lab guys had gone through it for prints and other evidence, but nothing had been taken out of the car.
As for the truck. It was an older panel truck, and it was nothing special as well.
The truck was used by Barnes's company to do everything from help renters move in and out to sit in front of a building with a banner on it announcing an available space.
It had last been signed out to his nephew Ben who had used it when he rented a pressure washer to clean the deck behind his mother's house. Ben had taken it, hauled the equipment back and forth, refilled the fuel tank, and turned it back in.
All known three sets of keys were accounted for. Barnes had one set on him when he was found. Mrs. Jackson had the set that Ben had used. And the 'extra' set that was kept at Barnes's office in the closet on the hook was in the truck's ignition. But there were no fingerprints on those keys.
According to the mileage in the log at the office, the truck had not been moved since that weekend except when it had been taken to the police lot after the murder as evidence, with an empty fuel tank.
Inside the truck's cab the lab crew found fingerprints from Mr. Barnes, his nephew, the landscaper, and a few others in it. All of them could account for why they had ever touched the vehicle.
So I left for his house.
Except it wasn't a house.
Mr. Barnes lived in a small second floor apartment with an exterior entrance in one of his own buildings.
The apartment was small, with two little rooms and a tiny bathroom in a peculiar layout that led me to believe that, like his office, he lived here because he couldn't rent it.
Did I mention the apartment was small?
When you walked in, you entered the kitchen. More than anything else the kitchen in the apartment reminded me of the galley area in the RV the salesman had been killed in. There wasn't even a table in the kitchen. No wonder the man ate dinner in restaurants most of the time.
The bedroom was slightly larger, but it was still small. There was a twin bed, a table and two straight chairs, a TV stand with a few books and a laptop on it. The older small screen color TV had basic cable and was set on the local 'best news and sports' station.
But there didn't appear to be anything here that made the statements of the clock, desk, or paintings that were in the man's office. Even the man's bathroom was serviceable. His electric razor was several years old and well used. He seemed to prefer unscented shampoo and used an old classic aftershave with a mild scent. His apartment wasn't Spartan, but it was.... serviceable.
Given the paintings in the office, I expected there to be a collection of movies with those actresses in them in the apartment. There weren't any. No, I mean, there wasn't a recorded movie or TV show on tape or disc of any sort in the apartment that I could find. He simply didn't own any. Nor did he rent them. There wasn't a VCR or DVD player in the room.
I checked his laptop and found it to be plugged in and ready to go. I used my pen top to turn it on and checked what he had done on it last.
The last file Mr. Barnes had opened was an email from his insurance carrier. Curious I opened it up and read it. It was nothing, they were congratulating him on his renewing the fire policy on two of the retail properties. The disc in the CD drive was bookkeeping software. Not exactly clues to a murder.
Before that he had checked the young artist concert series schedule at the college. But he hadn't bought a ticket to a show.
His favorite websites included a time share company with properties on the beach in South Carolina and Texas, the local TV station's weather page, and a professional baseball team 'dugout insider' page. When I checked those, he hadn't been to the time share he owned in ten years, his nephew had taken his family down there last year, and Barnes had made him pay for the time from his own pocket. As far as the ball team, the last game Barnes went to was three years ago, and that had been to a game he sponsored as a promotion.
As far as I could find, he had not received a personal email in six months or more. He didn't visit social sites. And his idea of a good time on his laptop was playing blackjack against the computer. According to the score, he was ahead by three hundred dollars.
His thermos was sitting in the sink, upside down. Empty.
The small canvas bag he used for his lunches was on the counter next to it. There was no sign that he had made a sandwich the morning of his death. In the cabinet over the sink was an economy box of various lunch sized bags of chips and pretzels. He had two bags of corn chips, a bag of potato sticks, and one of cheese curls left.
I checked the entire apartment from end to end. The painting was not there.
I put together a profile of the victim while I sat on one of his chairs and watched the weather radar loop on his laptop.
Mr. Barnes always seemed to get up at six in the morning. He made his lunch from cold cuts and cheese that he had here. He would stop at one or the other of a couple of donut and bagel shops on the way to the office and have his thermos filled with coffee, and he would buy a sweet roll or something for breakfast.
Then he would work all day, and go out to a meeting if he had to, but otherwise he stayed in his office and did what he had to do. Then about four, he would leave and stop and eat dinner at a restaurant. And if there wasn't a college board or a community service group meeting, he would come back here, read a few emails and check the baseball standings, play a bit of blackjack, and go to bed.
Barnes had appeared to be healthy. As a matter of course I had requested a summary of his medical records and found that he hadn't been to a doctor other than an insurance physical two years ago, but at that time, he was as healthy as a man in his mid-seventies should be.
From what I could tell, Mr. Barnes was happy with his life as it was and he had no intention of retiring.
Now I had to figure out who was unhappy with him.
My only clue for the time being was that he hadn't taken his lunch that day, and the missing painting.
I went back and checked his appointments for the day he was killed.
The Thursday he was killed he had had two meetings. One in his office with the general manager of the hotel, and the next with a representative from his landscaping contractor at the shopping center. Just on a whim I checked Wednesday and Tuesday as well.
On Wednesday he had gone to the Community Service Group general membership meeting and that appeared to be the only commitment on his calendar for that day. Tuesday morning he had a meeting with the car dealer with the subject 'lot lease renewal' in the space. Finally for Tuesday evening there was a dinner meeting at the college to discuss the provost's retirement.
As far as I could tell, his Friday was clear of appointments.
I copied down the information to arrange my own meetings with the community group and the manager and the landscaper and the rest. It would seem we had a lot to talk about.
It was the manager at the hotel who said that he'd contribute to the defense of the killer once we made an arrest.
The manager had an air-tight alibi collaborated by everything from witnesses to video cameras that showed him at work until well after the coroner said Mr. Barnes had passed on.
He also helped me understand the working relationship some of these people had with Mr. Barnes.
"No. You can't say that I hated Barnes. I didn't like him, but I try not to hate anybody as that's not the Christian thing to do. But. Barnes didn't make it easy on me that's for sure. There's been a lot of times I'd be in confession and have to tell the priest that I could feel it coming on me. I had to pray a lot to Our Lady to help me with that."
I thanked him for his attitude in a difficult circumstance.
The shopping center landscaping foreman had a good alibi as well. And just as enlightening of an attitude toward the late owner of the center.
Mr. Barnes had been seen walking through the mall well after his meeting with the landscaper. And the landscaper even had a receipt from where he and his wife had gone out to dinner during the timeframe when the deed was done.
"Barnes was an ass. But he was a successful ass, and he usually had good reasons for what he wanted done and how he wanted to do it. And I hate to admit it, but he was usually right in the end. But damn he could piss you off in the meantime."
Two of the people that had been at the meeting Barnes had gone to with the Community Group were next.
It was one of them, Miss Lavern, who had compared him to the Charles Dickens character of Scrooge. The lady appeared to be well over eighty, but she was well dressed and well spoken and carried herself with style and dignity. That is, she had style and dignity until she got started on Barnes' lack of the same qualities.
"I hated sitting in meetings with him. He'd complain about why we had spent two hours arguing about something that wasn't important. Something that he himself had forced the discussion about."
Ms. Lavern didn't have much of an alibi though, she didn't remember where she was that Thursday afternoon, but she was sure she didn't kill him.
The other contact had a very good alibi. He had been on duty at the hospital, in fact, he was almost positive that at the time of the murder he had been in surgery performing a hip replacement on a patient. I told him that those kind of details were fairly easy to check out and thanked them both for their time.
The car dealer group was even more direct than some of the others.
"I would stress for a day before I had to talk to him, and sometimes two days afterward. Even if it was a good meeting, he'd just get you to..." The manager reached into his jacket pocket and took out a roll of antacids. "It was the only time I needed these."
The general manager had been in the meeting with Barnes, and made sure that he said that the man had been alive and kicking when he had left the office. He also had a very good alibi for that afternoon. After he left Barnes he went to the dealership's lawyer's office, then to their insurance man's office, then he came back to the dealer and put together a did the dry run through for a new TV ad so he could sell enough cars to pay for it all. He even showed me a tape of the commercial with the date and time on the bottom.
"I think Barnes wanted us to move out. He had been talking about tearing this place down and building a new hotel with a convention center. But he never made a decision, and once he renewed our lease, he was locked out for another three years."
I asked the gentleman who was holding the lease now.
"Since it is current, we have an option to buy the property from the estate. And I think we will."
Then I asked him about Mrs. Jackson, even though I thought I already knew the answer.
"Oh she's a doll. I can't believe they were brother and sister. Did you have their DNA tested?"
I had to say no, but that might not be a bad idea.
One other thing I asked the manager was had he noticed the paintings in Mr. Barnes' office. He said that was usually the best part of meetings with the man. He could look up at them and smile regardless of what Barnes was saying.
"Who's picture is in the far corner? You have Monroe on one end, but who is it on the other."
"I think its Grace Kelly, but I don't know for sure. I never asked. Why?"
"I just wasn't sure. Thanks."
My last meeting was with a couple of members of the college board of trustees. They had agreed to meet me in the faculty dining room later that afternoon, and I found myself strangely looking forward to it. I had never been in a faculty dining room.
Doctor Samantha Roberts was the faculty representative to the board. She and board member Reverend Miller were there waiting on me and we walked up to the dining room together. The third member I was to meet with was a lawyer that I already knew through the last one of these sorts of cases, Mr. Malcom Esq.from the Malcom and Smith law firm. He arrived a few minutes later and said he had to park in the art center and walked about three blocks.
I greeted Mister Malcom and said it was good to see him again as we shook hands.
They had met Barnes in the next dining room over to discuss the pending retirement of the college's Provost. And there was my first question.
"Just so I'm clear. What does the Provost do here?"
Doctor Roberts answered with a very warm smile. "That was something Mister Barnes kept asking. Why we needed a Provost and why we paid her so much since she didn't actually teach classes and things like that." She shook her head. "And he just refused to accept it."
"He was like that." Reverend Miller said. "And try as I might, I couldn't get him to be reasonable. On anything. He was absolutely brutal to the servers here, he said they were trying to poison him. And to me, the food here is pretty good."
Roberts nodded and continued her answer. "In short, the Provost oversees all academic matters at the college. She sets the academic calendar as far as when grades are due, and the requirements and standards for those grades. She also is the ultimate overseer and approving authority for the library, the art center, and the school computer network and all of their support staff as far as they relate to the academic curriculum."
"Oh, OK, so she is rather important and her retiring would be something the board of trustees would need to deal with." I said.
"Yes. Exactly. Especially since we are the ones that she works for."
"And Mister Barnes didn't see it that way." I asked.
Mister Malcom did not smile when he added his part. "Barnes knew very well what the position is responsible for, he just wanted something to, I'm sorry but it is the only word I can think of... He just wanted something to bitch about."
"Including why the Provost would need a secretary." Reverend Miller added.
All I could do was shake my head.
As a matter of habit I did check with them for their alibis.
Reverend Miller was leading an after school Bible study and prayer group during most of the critical time. Doctor Roberts was in a class. And Mister Malcom was seeing a client.... a client who was already in jail.
I had a ton of information. But no evidence that pointed anywhere near a killer.
One of the things you look for in a murder like this was personal and professional enemies of the victim. Well, Barnes had enemies of every description except personal.
As far as I could tell, he didn't have a personal life to speak of. His professional life was his life. His being associated with the various groups was all he did. He used those contacts to keep his rental properties full, and used his rental properties to keep himself on the boards of the groups.
From everything I heard and read, he hadn't had a personal relationship in many years. There were no personal photos in either the office or his apartment, nothing from a vacation or a family event. The photos displayed were him with other board members or were from the ribbon cutting at the shopping center. Not exactly overly warm and fuzzy memories from what I had seen.
I looked through the man's filing cabinet and closet. I went through his desk at home and looked under his bed. He didn't have a scrapbook or diary. His journal consisted of entries as to when taxes had to be paid and when the phone system was installed in the hotel. I even went so far as to talk to the jeweler that had cleaned and replaced the crystal in his watch last year. As far as the jeweler knew, Mr. Barnes was alone for most of his life.
I bought a thermos and retraced his route to work a few times and I stopped at each and every donut and bagel shop.
"Oh, you have to come inside to get a thermos filled sir." The girl at the drive-up said.
So I went inside.
They remembered Mr. Barnes, and identified both him and his thermos. He usually only bought one roll, but he would sometimes by an apple fritter or something to go with his lunch. They said he'd do that when he had a late meeting and he wouldn't be going to dinner when he usually did.
But to them, Mr. Barnes was pleasant and would tip whoever filled his thermos a dollar.
I went to his three favorite restaurants.
Mr. Barnes had been a great customer. He tipped well, told wonderful jokes, and seldom complained about his food.
"He always told the waitresses that they looked nice today and things like that. Just being pleasant. I don't think he ever tried to pick any of them up or anything like that. He was just a nice old guy." One of the hostesses told me.
The cook at another place said that Mr. Barnes had come back to the grill and given him a ten dollar bill one time because he said the steak he'd had that night had been one of the best he ever had.
At the Italian place I had found a receipt for the maitre de was sorry to hear that Mr. Barnes wouldn't be coming in any more. "He always called and asked if we were having the lasagna special. He loved it. Sometimes he'd eat one here and take another order home for later."
Mr. Clifford Barnes Jr? Funny, considerate, polite, a big tipper?
"Oh yes sir. He never drank or anything, but he loved coming here, and sometimes he'd sit for hours and just enjoy himself."
I walked out of the restaurant and sat in my car and looked at my notes.
I thought maybe the answer would be with Grace Kelly. So I tracked down the artist and called him.
"Oh yeah. I remember that. He had a very particular pose he wanted for each woman. And it had nothing to do with them or their movies. He just wanted them in very sexy poses. And, well, you know, Marilyn Monroe was the only one that was really that way."
The artist confirmed that the fourth image was the future Princess Grace and said he could send me a photo he had taken of the finished work before he sent it to Barnes.
But I couldn't get him to tell me how much Barnes had paid for the paintings, unless I had a subpoena. He gave me a hint that it was "a couple three grand each or so", but he wouldn't say anything definite. I said I might be back in touch with him with a court order if I needed more.
I went back to talk to Mrs. Jackson and her son Ben, and even his daughter Candi who had worked over the last summer as an assistant to her great uncle.
The one question I had for them was had he ever mentioned anybody having a special appreciation for the Grace Kelly painting.
Mrs. Jackson shook her head. Ben said he liked all four of them, but he didn't know anybody that had said anything about that one in particular.
It was Candi that shed some light on it.
"Uncle Cliff said that she was his favorite. He'd sit there and stare at her when he was on the phone to somebody."
Mr. Clifford Barnes Jr had a crush on Grace Kelly?
If so, then where was her picture?
Why hadn't he taken his thermos to work on that last day?
Then I had that flash of insight that I get once in awhile that I attribute to Divine Intervention instead of any special skill on my part.
I went back to his office and got on his computer and went through his schedule again.
I started with his appointments for the week after he died.
There were none. He had had several scheduled, and had either canceled them or rescheduled them for the week of his death. Like the one with the car dealer to renew their lease.
Barnes had a note on that meeting, he had requested they move it up and the car dealer had agreed.
The same was true for the following week. If it was a meeting that he had a direct bearing on, he had moved it up. Things like the Community Service group he didn't bother with canceling so his calendar had still looked busy. It had fooled Mrs. Jackson and me as well.
Now I looked at the Monday of that week. He had been booked wall to wall with meetings and conference calls. The same was true for the previous week.
The few days prior to his death were the busiest Barnes had been in ages. Barnes had been as meticulous in 'arranging his affairs' as he had been in conducting them during his life.
Now I had a chill.
"But still, where is Grace Kelly?" I asked myself. It was an interesting question, and I had a follow up question. "OK. Where IS Grace Kelly?" And I had an idea.
I looked through his envelope of recent receipts that had not been sent to Mrs. Jackson for filing yet.
There was one from the Thursday of his death. A cash transaction at the post office.
That afternoon, between his meeting at the shopping center and his being killed, he had mailed a package to Monaco and insured it for five thousand dollars.
I took out my cel phone and called the lab guys to come back out to the office.
"Did you dust the inside of the door to the office?" I asked them.
"We did the handle and the lock and all that." He said pointing to the door.
"No, I mean the door itself, from, here to here." I said judging where on the door would be about shoulder high to Mr. Barnes.
"No, that's not usual procedure, we thought it had been pulled shut from the outside. But we can do it now."
There were two hand prints on inside of door, full palm and fingers. And I would bet that they matched Mr. Barnes.
I sat and looked at the photo of the painting.
It was a very good image of the woman who was to become Her Serene Highness, and it had a great deal more sexiness to it than I ever remember Miss Kelly displaying in her movie roles, but I made a mental note to watch a couple of them and see for myself.
Then I thought about the pose and where it had hung in the office. If I wasn't mistaken, while Barnes stared at her while he was on the phone, she would be staring at him.
I called the receiver of the package from Barnes and inquired about what they did with the painting. As they had no idea what else to do with it, it was hanging in a side dining room of the hotel not far from the Cathedral where the Princess was buried next to her husband.
I told them that was a good place for it and thanked them for their assistance.
It wasn't the closure I had expected.
I had been expecting it to open up into a vast web of intrigue and deception which would ultimately point at somebody who would break down and admit that they just couldn't take it any more.
Except the individual who couldn't take it any more was Mr. Barnes himself.
From what I could put together Barnes had come back to his office after mailing Grace Kelly home and had run a seam of caulking from the supplies in the panel truck around the inside of his door, and then he had thrown the tube in the dumpster outside where it had been picked up before he was even discovered. There were several tubes of the stuff used around sinks and windows in the truck, but they were all brand new and unopened. If he had used one and tossed it, we'd never find it.
Then he had rigged the truck to vent its exhaust into his office through the heating duct, sealed the door, and simply sat there and died while the truck ran until its tank went dry.
But there was no suicide note.
Or was there?
I called the hotel in Monaco one more time and asked them to check the back of the painting for a name.
"Oh, I saw that when it arrived, Monsieur. We didn't know what it meant."
"What did it say?" I asked the man.
"Princess Grace Kelly. Now I finally get to meet her. CB."
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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