Bobbing for Clues: a Cozy Mystery
November 16, 2012
Oh, the writer's block hit and finally lifted. Here is the next chapter. The plot thickens as more characters are introduced. Do you know who the bad guy is?
Spotting the Bad Clam
The morning seemed to stretch on forever. Steven kept looking at the clock. Was it was really only 9:45 a.m.? Every time he looked up, he expected it to be 5:00 p.m. Disappointment loomed large on his horizon.
He and Carl had rounded up nearly everyone with a connection to Jack Hamilton. That turned out to be nearly everyone in Walker.
Sarah McCoy had been there before 8:00 a.m. She was there voluntarily to the surprise of no one. Together, with her husband Paul, they ran The Watering Hole. You might be impressed that a bar owner would be up that early, but then you wouldn’t probably know that neither she nor Paul ever touched a drop of the stuff. Sarah believed she had the inside track on Jack’s state of mind and considered herself his therapist…of sorts. She’d been filling his glass nightly for over eight years. She was one of his few remaining female companions after the last divorce was declared. She also enjoyed the lone incidence of rent control in Walker.
"Make of that what you will," Bonnie McCreedy had told Steven one day not long after she closed her beloved beauty shop.
"What I’m telling you is he was deeply depressed and very intoxicated," Sarah reiterated. "I think you have a suicide here, Sheriff."
"Duly noted, Sarah." Steven acknowledged her as best he could. "It’s not that we’ve ruled that out, I’m just trying to get a feel for when you last saw him."
"I guess he left around six, and that was early for him," Sarah added. "So, I guess he wasn’t as drunk as usual, but I’d still say three sheets." Steven thanked the town barmaid and sent her on the way. He had the other councilmen, Jack’s assistant…his daughter, all yet to be interviewed. Sarah was funny in her own environment, but she was simply sucking up time that belonged to so many others.
The little 15-minute escape he was planning to the Seaside Café for a to-go cup of coffee was definitely off the docket for this morning.
He started to look up at the clock again just to further torture himself, but was deterred by a knock at the door.
It was just the distraction he had hoped for – Alice. Steven smiled in spite of himself. The librarian could chase away any bad morning. The situation moved from good to great when he realized she had coffee and a book for him.
"I realized you’d be too busy to stop by for the next book in the series," Alice said. "And if that was true, I knew the coffee would have fallen off the list as well."
"I wonder sometimes if you are a mind-reader," Steven’s regular joke with Alice about her supposed clairvoyance. She had claimed her ability to read a person well enough to find the perfect book for them. It was her super power. Over the last several months, he’d come to believe her.
At very least, he admitted to himself that there was something special about her.
"I guess I should have brought lunch instead of the coffee by the looks of your waiting room." Alice had walked over from the library. Her parking lot had been overtaken by the throngs of Walker residents lining up to speak with Steven about Jack.
"I’ve been interviewing nonstop this morning and haven’t managed to turn up anything useful," Steven said.
Sensing his guard was down, Alice decided the urge to snoop was too great. "Yes, I saw Sarah leaving. She was giving me an earful at the library yesterday," Alice continued. "And I see you have Katie still to see. I can’t imagine what this is like for her, to have lost both parents and still be so young. I know she and her dad hadn’t been getting along, but you still…"
"They weren’t getting along?", Steven asked.
Alice unraveled one of her juicier bits of gossip about Jack. It was common knowledge that he loved the ladies, but no one had seen him out publically with anyone in particular in quite a while. That’s because his current love interest was his 21-year-old assistant Shelley Peterson.
"Wow," Steven admitted. "I think she’s younger than Katie. I had better get Katie in here. Shelley will be down soon and I don’t want a cat fight."
Alice said her goodbyes, and Steven braced himself for the grieving daughter.
The interview with Katie Hamilton was just awful. Here was a local girl who lost her mother before she started the third grade, and now her father was gone before she could finish her graduate program. Steven was braced for the tears, and instead found a very different Katie Hamilton.
"So the old sot fell in the river?", Katie said without inflection. "I can’t say I’m surprised. He was probably scouting new locations to make out with his latest tramp."
Steven tried to sidestep the comment. "That’s Ms. Peterson… I’m assuming."
"Right, Ms. Peterson." Katie said the name as though it left bitterness behind. "She and dad have been going at it for over a year. It’s disgusting, but nothing that I wouldn’t expect from him."
"When was the last time you saw your father, Katie?" Steven asked, trying to move away from the subject of Shelley Peterson.
"I haven’t seen him in a couple of weeks. He tried to swing by campus for some family time, but I wasn’t available. We only talked for a few minutes."
Steven sensed there was more. "Katie, can you tell me what you talked about?"
At this, she flushed, stammered, and seemed to be visibly working up a story. She didn’t want to tell him what they had talked about, or argued about was more likely the case.
"Not much to tell," she finally said. "He wanted to have my full attention so he could brag about what a stellar businessman he was and how much I needed to try to be just like him, and I didn’t have to let him run on."
The sheriff felt there was more, and meant to press the issue, but Carl interrupted them. "Your next appointment is here, boss," Carl said. They had previously agreed that Carl would let Steven know when Shelley had shown and would offer her a tour of their small precinct while Steven escorted Katie away.
It didn’t matter though. Steven still had to share his suspicions with Katie. She was the next of kin and may be more forthcoming if she knew her father’s death was not an accident. "Carl, we’re going to be a few more minutes." Steven told Katie that her father’s cause of death was drowning, but that his life preserver had been compromised and not by anything in river. Also, there were the rope marks on his ankles. He waited for her to react.
"What are you telling me Sheriff?"
"Katie, do you know of anyone who would wish your father harmed?"
Alice was outside the library adding the last touches of spider web to the Boxwood bushes when she spotted Katie leaving the station. She remembered Katie as a little girl at her storytimes. She couldn’t resist saying hello. She flagged Katie down as she moved to her car. Alice met her halfway and noticed Katie was not alone. Jeffery Cassidy was in the passenger seat waiting. "Why was Katie with Jeffery?", Alice thought.
"Hi Katie, how are you holding up?'
"I’d be better if everyone stooped asking," she said bluntly.
"I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude," Alice said. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I care about you Katie. We all do."
Katie sighed. "I’m sorry Alice. I just left the sheriff’s office. I am just done with this whole thing, and I feel like it’s just beginning. Dad made some enemies I guess, but that’s no surprise…right? Nobody liked him anymore."
"He was a successful businessman, sweetie," Alice offered. "People can be counted upon to look on that covetously, but there are just as many who will miss him dearly."
Alice was putting forth a sentiment that she couldn’t back up, but her main pursuit was to try and comfort Katie. This didn’t appear to be working though. By the look on Katie’s face, she had been depending on Alice to say good riddance.
Before Alice could dig any deeper, Jeffery reached over and honked Katie’s horn.
"Babe, come on," he barked.
And like that, she was gone before Alice could ask more.
Steven’s conversation with Shelley Peterson proved to be an interesting one. Shelley was Jack’s Administrative Assistant and his lover. Steven had been surprised by Alice’s exclusive tip, but that she was his lover was likely known to some
Shelley had just gotten back from visiting her family in Pittsburg, so needless to say, she had a number of alibis. Steven didn’t plan to call any of them. She was really and truly distraught. Mascara was cascading down her cheeks. In the true style of any good widow, she was clad in black, right down to the large Jackie O. frames.
She believed Jack was going to ask her to marry him.
They had been cooking up a plan to take over the stalled construction of the defunct subdivision project off Wagner road and finish the job. They were going to make a killing and retire to Mexico. He was still trying to be the real estate king of Walker, and Shelley should have been his latest queen. Steven got that much from her, but some of the interview was noticeably undecipherable, thanks to her deluge of tears.
He posed the same question to her that he asked Katie – did she know of anyone who would want to hurt Jack?
"I don’t think he liked our attorney, but he would have made a fortune if we’d been able to make the purchase, so I doubt it was him," Shelley said.
"And who was that?" Steven asked.
"Jeffery Cassidy, but like I said, we’d barely started and the sale was all Jack. I wonder if Jeffery even knows. Losing Jack will cost him money."
Steven was sure he did know. If memory served, Cassidy had run against Jack during the last council election and lost. But, the two had worked together publically since without any visible skirmish.
"You know who I never trusted?", Shelley pulled him from his speculation. "That hippie guy, you know the sewage nut Bryan."
"Are you talking about Ryan Smith?", Steven asked. Ryan Smith was the town’s Sewage Enforcement Officer and was known to disagree with Jack Hamilton on every front.
"Yes, he hated Jack. He was a constant thorn in Jack’s side. He was all over Jack about his lack of green-thinking," she added talking quotations to the last part for emphasis. "You remember the protests he tried to put together last year? That guy is as angry as any zealot your likely to meet."
"We’ll be sure to talk to him," Steven promised.
Steven’s afternoon concluded with Jack’s former councilors and two of his tenants. Carl was talking with Ryan Smith in his office as the beleaguered sheriff stood to stretch his back when he heard the shouts, followed by the slamming of the door. As he peaked out into the hall, he caught sight of Ryan storming from Carl’s office to the front door.
"What was all that about?", Steven asked Carl.
"Well that was all about a man being given just enough rope to hang himself with," Carl said looking very pleased with his police work.
Carl had let Ryan vent about all the woes Jack had heaped upon Walker. Ryan had an opinion on everything Jack had done. His biggest gripe began with Jack’s criticism of his plan to fund a sewage infrastructure rehab. Ryan was deeply concerned about the volume of the town’s… leavings, how it was all being routed, and how much of it was actually ending up flooding into the Allegheny.
Ryan had referred to Jack as being evil and even called him a cancer upon the city.
"Best of all," Carl started. "He has no alibi, or at least none that he’ll give. He actually told me it was none of my business where he spent his time. Told me to get a subpoena! Sounds like a dare I should accept. He hated him and he won’t account for his whereabouts during the time that Jack would have been taking his last dip in the river. He did it."
The end of any truly long day calls for something soothing to help one relax.
Steven elected to return the favor and bring Alice a cup of her favorite Oolong tea from The Seaside Café.
"Well, we may have something," Steven hinted, knowing Alice’s love for clues. "I did pick up on something strange today." He hadn’t planned on giving away anything concrete.
"I am so glad to hear you say that," Alice exclaimed. "Katie was much angrier than I had thought a young girl would be at news like this and to see her with Jeffery Cassidy. He’s old enough to be her father and twice as likely to be up to no good. To think how annoyed she was about Shelley’s age…"
"Wait," Steven interrupted his friend. "She was with Jeffery? Are you saying you thought something was up…that they had something to do with this?"
Steven had his hands up like he was trying to calm a child on Christmas morning.
"We may actually have a suspect, but I can’t say who. I will tell you we aren’t looking at his daughter. I don’t think timid biology student fits the bill here," Steven said.
"Well, what about corrupt, shady attorney with investments in Jack’s affairs, who may be having a relationship with his daughter who clearly couldn't stand her father?" Alice countered.
"Have anything to back that idea up?" Steven asked.
"Not yet," Alice thought.