The Crossword Puzzle (#7)
To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
The Crossword Puzzle
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
PART 7: ELIMINATING THE IMPOSSIBLE
Meanwhile, the Thanksgiving Day holiday had ended and there was no need for Mrs. Eglington to keep trudging up and down the old attic steps or for Gladys to stay in her upstairs room, either. They stayed in the house to serve Paige for whom they had no affection or respect. They agreed to stay on until the probate procedure was concluded; “I’m going to see about moving into the master bedroom,” Mrs. Eglington confided to Gladys, “and you can see about taking Nola’s bedroom. I’ve got enough money of my own saved to buy a new mattress… and besides, he wasn’t killed in that room. Master Roland is a kind man. He’ll understand.”
The two women approached Paige who definitely did not want her servants going around town telling tales about life at Ghent house, and she was also lonely living alone on the second floor. At first she seemed reluctant and didn’t quite know what to say. “You can’t use my room or the children’s rooms; and I don’t know what to do if one of them brings a friend home to spend the night. And I miss my sister,” she began to cry. ”When she returns she will be given her choice of bedroom so one of you will have to leave the room immediately.”
Mrs. Eglington allayed her fear. “If you ever require the rooms, we’ll move back into the attic in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Have no fear, Madam. And no one in town will know that we’ve come down to the second floor. You have our word. It’s just that the stair to the attic is so difficult for me,” she pleaded.
“All right,” Paige agreed. “But tell no one.”
Telling no one did not include Gregor, Jules, or Hines. Jules waited for his inheritance, but Gregor and Hines had no specific reason to stay. Jules knew only that he had been named as a beneficiary. He did not know to what extent Hines had lied to him. The atmosphere in the house did not conduce to contentment in any form. Often the servants did not reply normally, but snapped or snarled, or said something sarcastic in response to each other’s questions or comments.
Hines Whitman was furious when he heard that Mrs. Eglington was moving her things into the master’s bedroom. “I wanted that room for myself!” he announced as if what he said had any significance.
No matter how he grumbled about having to live in the turret, the others each had a remark that sealed him in the uncomfortable quarters. Gladys said, “When Nola comes back, I’ll have to move out of her room and I’d just as soon stay in the carriage house as go back to the attic.” Gregor grunted but did not voice an objection.
“Carriage house? You can live there but I can’t?” Hines complained.
“Maybe you have attic to yourself,” Gregor grinned malevolently.
“You can continue to live with Jules over the Four-car garage,” Gladys noted.
“I’d leave today but I have to think about references,” Hines countered. Since he had been needed to stay on to help with the unusual paperwork associated with a death in the family, Paige had asked Roland to let Hines use his room, but Roland declined saying that he did not want his privacy violated. Gregor had not wanted his privacy invaded either and so he had drapes hung on the windows that faced the turret.
At the beginning of December, Paige called Nola and asked to meet with her to get some needed advice, and despite Ellis’s advice not to meet with her, she agreed. “Let me do a little more investigating,” he insisted.
“I can be investigating at the same time,” Nola said. Paige came to the house.
“After the funeral but before the kids left for school after Thanksgiving,” Paige anguished, “all hell broke loose. Previously Pierre had blamed you for causing trouble between Spence and me. And then the Will was just read and he found out that I control all the assets except the house. Spence assigned a huge amount of our liquid assets to furnish that clinic. We’re far from broke, but nowhere near where we used to be. The house is now Roland’s – but we all have the right to live there as long as we stay single. Pierre didn’t know this. He thought he’d get a big chunk of cash and wanted an expensive Italian sports car for Christmas. He told all his friends who laughed at what they considered his fantasy. So he asked me for money to buy the car and I refused. It’s outrageous. He’s not even a freshman in college!”
“What was his reaction?”
“He called me every name in the book.” Paige began to cry. “He says he doesn’t care who knows what a tramp I am. One of the servants must have told him about Gregor and me. He keeps referring to the pain I must have caused his father by carrying on with Greg right under his nose.”
“You brought me on board,” Nola said. “You’re responsible for Spence’s recovery. Prior to my coming there Spence was being killed slowly by his well-meaning servants.”
Ellis’s car pulled into the driveway and Paige, not wanting to talk to anyone else, decided to leave. “Pray for me,” she said as she left the house and gave a nod to Ellis who met her in the doorway.
Later that day, Pierre Ghent went to the police station to recant his earlier statement. Dave Rowan called Ellis to tell him. “He now wants to be truthful and reveal that it was his mother’s sexual relationship with numerous other men that caused the trouble. Nola was innocent. She actually helped his dad.” Rowan chuckled. “We’ve taken his statement. You can drop by and read it whenever you want.” He paused, “Listen, do you have any idea why he reversed himself so completely?”
“My guess would be that the kids knew that originally their mother was going to control the purse strings, and they regarded that as history from back in the days that Spence loved her and she was honorable and they were little. Spence did a lot of talking to his attorney recently and the kids probably thought he’d rectify that outdated provision and let them inherit the money directly. I doubt that they were aware of just how much money Spence had spent lately. He let his partners buy him out and didn’t have a personal income from his investment company for years. But while he worked, the family could have lived on his salary alone. Without it, they dipped into their considerable portfolio. He lost a lot in the last recession, too, and didn’t have the wherewithal to recoup his losses. Then in the last year, Nola and Hines were hired and Spence went flying first class around the world and made a Swiss Spa his home away from home and committed a fortune to the new clinic addition… and the woman who went with it. Big bucks, all told.”
“So Pierre thinks that by discrediting his mother he can have her removed as executrix. Nice kid.”
“What’s flesh and blood compared to money?”
“Why am I surprised?” Rowan grimly chuckled. “Listen, Ellis, in some of Spence’s papers there were other puzzles – normal ones – that he seems to have started just before he died. They don’t have themes listed, but there are clues. I’m stymied but maybe Nola can give us some answers. I’m gonna see about bringing her back here to have a look at them. Is that ok with you?”
“Sure… just let us know. I’ve got to go out again to Corbin’s office. You can reach me there if you need me.” Ellis disconnected the call. He felt good about Rowan’s attitude. Clearly, Nola was not seriously considered the prime suspect any longer, despite the legal machinery that was still chugging away.
Nola called Paige to tell her about Pierre’s recantation. “He’s just a kid,” she said, “looking out for his own interests in the only way he can figure.”
Paige cried and blew her nose. “They have no respect for me. Spencer poisoned them.”
Nola switched to another related topic. “I’ve been thinking about the study. There are ground-level windows on two sides of the room. At the far end there are drapes between the windows and Spencer always used to keep a loaded rifle behind one of the drapes. Tell me about that.”
“There are lots of feral dogs and coyotes that come out of the woods and attack our goats. While Spence was sick in bed, Jules would sometimes check the area and if he saw the goats being threatened, he’d lower a window and ask Gregor to shoot the dog and then dispose of the dead animal.”
“Did you say, ‘Lower a window?’” Nola asked. “Why not raise it?”
“Because they’re all near ground level. If you lower the top, you can lean on both window frames for stability when you take a shot. Since the windows are so easy to raise and lower, anybody could have climbed in and out without the rest of the house knowing it. i just thought I’d mention it.”
“So,” Nola noted, “any servant could have climbed in to help carry Spence into the bathroom.”
“It needn’t have been a servant,” Paige said. “The windows at the far end are close to the rocky hill that was too steep for us to use. But the workmen did rig a rope at the side. They pounded down a few posts and strung a rope to help them get up. They’d often throw stuff down that side to save them the extra steps of going all the way around the estate to approach it from the front. Anybody could have climbed up without being seen on the driveway.”
“Jesus,” Nola said. “We have to start someplace and the sooner, the better. Paige… talk to whichever one of the servants is still on good terms with you.”
“That’s probably Mrs. Eglington,” Paige said. “I’ll see what I can learn.”
“Give me an honest answer. How do your children care for you and Spence?” Nola asked with Incredulous concern. “There doesn’t seem to be much mourning for his loss or sympathy for you.”
Paige sighed as tears filled her voice,“There was a time when we were a loving family… a unit. But kids have a way of taking their own path. They want to create their own personality and make themselves appear to be independent. They don’t want to walk beside you anymore. They separate themselves by letting the only things they have, love and loyalty, convert to disloyalty and hate.”
“Do you believe that Spence killed himself because Ingrid Hesse died in a car crash? Between losing her and investing all that construction money, I think he believed life was over for him, and that it’s possible one of your servants took the gun. I don’t believe that someone entered the study and just shot him.”
Paige sighed. “It’s always a mistake to think that because you pay someone, they feel love for you. Sure… all of them were capable of such mischief. Everybody looks out for Number One, even people who cash a paycheck you signed. It might help if we found out what plans Spence had for him and Ingrid. They must have had domestic plans… respectable ones. He never asked me for a divorce, but maybe that was one of the things he talked to his attorney about. They’ve been waiting for the Lucerne execs to return from Europe to question them. And as far as moving Spence’s body into the bathroom to wash the gun shot residue from his hands and arms, I might as well admit that Gregor is my candidate for the job. He used to think that he had some sort of power over me… well… I might as well specify it… photos and videos. But miraculously he seems to have lost the pictures. He accused me of stealing them, but I didn’t do it. I have a guardian angel someplace. I’m so sorry I started seeing that bastard. Gregor thought that with Spencer out of the way, he’d have me to himself.” Paige shuddered. “Or even since I was in control of the money…” she hesitated and then sighed again. “It’s not worth talking about.”
“All along I’ve thought that he must be taking photos or videos of you – whether or not you knew it. I don’t know why he’s sticking around unless he’s waiting for a payoff for helping one or more of the servants who got an inheritance. He’s the type who would stoop to gaining control over someone no matter what it took.”
Paige began to cry. “Yes,” she whispered, “he had many photos and videos of me. Some of the photos I knew about, but not until he accused me of stealing them did I learn about the videos. He wasn’t above blackmailing me about them. How would my children ever have lived it down? He won’t speak to me now. I’m so alone.” She began to sob.
Nola tried to redirect her emotions. “Then you better stop whining and start taking control of that house. I’m willing to bet that the turret hasn’t been renovated. Even if Hines doesn’t live in it, the house will belong to Roland and you might as well not incur his displeasure by leaving it in any shabby way. People say it was once the pride of the estate. And notice what your servants are doing.”
“All right! All right! I know that Gladys has a crush on Gregor. Ever since he first came here she looks at him with those kewpie-doll eyes. I’ve seen her staring at him when he works in the patio or garden with his shirt off. If the men are working outside in the heat and Mrs. E. makes a pitcher of lemonade for them, Gladys will squeeze an extra half lemon into the glass she hands him. She gets a thrill out of changing his bed linens and picking up his dirty clothing. It’s sickening. And Hines is the same way. Any excuse to talk to Greg is a good excuse.”
Nola grinned. “That’s the kind of thing you need to notice… special friendships between any two of them. So toughen up! Start running things properly; and if you find anything about Spencer’s future plans with ingrid, let Ellis or me know. How he defends me will depend on all this little stuff that’s in his lawyer’s head.”
Ellis sat with Dave in the cafeteria. “I expect that you’ll not be filing any charges against Nola. That house was a real snake pit. None of them appreciated the good work that Nola did nursing him. I think everyone of them expected him to die within a matter of weeks or a few months at most.” Before picking up his cup, he asked, “Have you looked into this Doctor Hesse? Did anyone around her stand to gain or lose, financially or romantically, with Spencer Ghent in or out of the picture?”
“Yes, we looked.” Dave got out his notebook. “We even ran her through Interpol. She was forty, a widow of a poor poet who, for some reason, she stuck with for 16 years. A hard worker. No scandal whatsoever. She worked for the Lucerne people for five years. The investigator over there said people wept when they found out she died. Years ago she inherited some money from a patient, but she donated it all to the clinic. The Minister of Health plus a bunch of other bigwigs attended her memorial. She was related to Austrian aristocracy but didn’t acknowledge it. She liked to ski and ice skate. Beyond that there was her job as an officer at the clinic. Nothing… you will find nothing in her past. After ten years doing hands-on medicine, she went to college at night or on the net, studying economics. She had a few office positions and then became Chief Financial Operator and you don’t deal in other people’s money in Switzerland but that you are vetted with a capital V.”
“Nola also reeks of competence. If Paige didn’t like Spence’s improvement under her care, she’d have found a way to get rid of her. She gave Paige complete control whenever she was out of the house. She didn’t want him dead and I don’t think she killed him.”
“Ok,” Ellis finished half of his coffee. “What about that Japanese kid who was released early?”
”He’s been in federal custody waiting to be deported but I don’t know when that will be. He was here on a Japanese student visa which expired when he was incarcerated. I’ll have to check with Immigration.”
“The guy from India might have wanted to get Spence out of the way. When Nola didn’t come up with the money, he faced fraud charges. Spencer wouldn’t have given him a nickel but Paige might have saved him. We need to find out if he crossed the border and returned to the U.S.”
“I still want Nola to look at those partially done crosswords. Let’s go to your place and I’ll release her ankle bracelet and let the sergeant know.”
Nola was delighted to get the bracelet removed. “When I walk I often bang it with my other ankle and I can’t get my skinny jeans over it. What a relief!”
They left in Rowan’s unmarked police car.
Nola and Paige greeted each other as though they hadn’t seen each other in years. They began to babble and Rowan had to step in and remind Nola that she had a job to do. She and Paige went to the dining room where all of Spence’s loose papers had been boxed once Mrs. Eglington moved into his room. Paige summoned Mrs. Eglington and told her to prepare an extra special afternoon tea for all her guests.
After tea, everyone attended to other chores or business. Detective DeFazio and Jules went into the Four-car garage to inspect the vehicles; Rowan and Ellis were examining the windows in the study; Mrs. Eglington put the “good” tea service away in a special cabinet; Gladys put a clean apron on and went to build a fire in the living room fireplace; and Hines and Gregor were out of sight somewhere on the premises. The presence of the pickup-truck and cars indicated that no one had left the area. It had begun to rain and low clouds shrouded the hilltop in mist. The temperature had also dropped. In the study, Rowan looked at his watch. It was after four o’clock. “I’ll call my wife and tell her I’m running late. We have to check to see if Nola’s gotten anywhere.”
Paige and Nola had been in the dining room, but a member of Paige’s “Fun Lovers Club” (as it was unofficially called) called and was driving up to the house to pick her up for an “impromptu.” Paige began the conversation with a solemn reticence but her caller seemed to be somewhat intoxicated and insisted that he was going to make her cease mourning; and rather than have him come to the house and encounter the police, she agreed to meet him down on the road at the base of the steep incline. “I’ll try to get back within two hours,” she said to Nola and slipped out of the kitchen door.
Nola was working on a puzzle and read a clue that referred to a “Logo of farrier’s major equipment” and went to see if an old blacksmith’s anvil or hammer was stored in the farrier’s shed.
As Rowan and Ellis left the study, expecting to find Nola and Paige in the dining room, they saw that the room was empty but before they could even comment on the absence of the women, a shriek came from outside the house, a shriek that kept repeating. The two men ran out of the house towards the source of the noise. Hines was screaming. Nola came out of the farrier’s shed to see what the commotion was about. Gladys scrambled down from the attic where she had gone to get some personal things she had left there when she prepared to move into Nola’s room.
On the ground under the turret’s corner Gregor Nikolov’s body lay crushed from having fallen four storeys. The back of his head had stuck an upright edging stone and had split his head almost into two parts. The sight was hideous and the man who had seemed so sturdy and solid, now seemed like a bloody heap of blood and skin covered by a denim shirt and pants.
DeFazio was calling for additional police detail as he ran to the fallen man. When he reached Rowan and Ellis, who could barely look at the body, he announced, “So Gregor Nikolov has just committed suicide. Think it was guilt?”
“Suicide?” Rowan asked with anger and incredulity.
“What else?” DeFazio answered. “The roof of the turret is conical. He wasn’t sun-bathing up there.”
“You stupid ass,” Rowan said, walking back towards the house as the other servants began to appear.
“What’s wrong with him?” DeFazio asked Ellis.
Ellis pointed up at the turret. “Suicides do not usually stop to shut the windows after they’ve defenestrated.”
“Oh, Jesus,” DeFazio whispered. “I didn’t notice that they were all shut.”
“Live and learn,” Ellis said and began to follow Rowan. He turned and saw Nola standing in the doorway of the farrier’s shed. “What are you doing out here?” he shouted.
“I’m trying to find a clue that Spence left in one of the puzzles. ‘Name of smith’s important tool.’ I thought it might be the anvil.” Her eyes immediately followed the direction of the screaming. “Is that Gregor on the ground?”
Ellis spoke harshly. “Yes. You were not supposed to leave the dining room. Gregor’s been killed and you have no alibi. What the hell is wrong with you?” Ellis pulled her from the shed and told her not to look at the bloody heap on the ground beside the main house.
“I’m sorry,” Nola whispered.
“Don’t go near the body,” Ellis hissed, “and just give yes and no answers. It looks like somebody pushed him out of a turret window. Where’s Paige?”
“She went out on one of her Fun Lovers prowls. She didn’t want to go, but he was drunk and on his way. He apparently picked her up about half an hour ago. She’s supposed to be back within another hour and a half.”
“You shouldn’t have been left alone,” Ellis snapped. He looked at the clouds, “It’s going to rain.”
Inside the house, Rowan did a head-count. “Where’s Paige Ghent?”
Ellis answered. “Some friend picked her up about thirty minutes ago. I didn’t see the car so she must have… I don’t know… is it possible to descend that steep hill. She could have met them down there.”
“Let’s go see,” Rowan said, before the rain or other police vehicles destroy any tracks. DeFazio!” he shouted, “call the coroner and forensics and when the uniforms come have them secure the scene… from down on the road all the way up here. I’m gonna check the hill in back.”
Paige’s heel marks were clearly evident as she held the rope and descended the sharp decline. “Well, that’s how she left without us seeing her,” Rowan said. There were fresh tire marks in the road. He took off his trench coat and laid it over one set of tire prints. Ellis did the same for another.
In a few minutes two police cars with flashing red and blue lights came up the road and were stopped by Rowan. “Wait here until forensics can take tire impressions.” In another minute the forensics van arrived and took the needed tire impressions.
Rowan herded everyone into the living room. “Am I missing anybody besides Mrs. Ghent?”
“Pierre,” Hines said meekly.
“Good Christ! I forgot about him. Who’s the last person to have seen him?”
“You… probably,” Hines offered.
“Brilliant! Where are the other two kids?”
“They went back to school. Pierre was too upset to travel, he said,” Jules answered.
“Call him and Mrs. Ghent and tell them both to get the hell home now! Does anybody know why Gregor was up there in the tower?” He looked at Gladys whose red eyes and nose indicated that she had been crying.
“I know,” Mrs. Eglington said. “Gladys said that he was going to tighten the leaded glass to the window frame. The trim that held it came loose. I think Gregor must have tried to hold onto one window frame while he stood on the sill and worked on the upper frame. Upper or down, who knows?”
“Was Gladys there when he fell?” Dave asked her, ignoring Gladys.
“No. As far as I know she was alone in the attic. Gladys came scrambling down when she heard the shouting. She started screaming, ‘Call 9-1-1!’ I was a bit confused because of the smoke I had just seen. I didn’t know which way to turn.” Mrs. Eglington tried to comfort Gladys. “And in case you’re interested, Nola wasn’t here and neither was Mrs. Ghent. Pierre was home but he drove away this morning to see you. I saw Hines on the stairs leading up to Gregor’s apartment.”
“That was early,” Hines snapped. “Then I thought that before I bothered him I ought to check the turret to see if it really would be fit to live in once the renovations were made. Gladys was with me and I approved of the changes. And then I went to my space in the Four-car apartment. I don’t know about anybody else. I was looking out the window and saw Gregor with a screwdriver standing on the sill outside the stained glass window he was trying to fix… tighten the screws that held the panel to the frame.”
“Was the clear glass window open or closed?”
“I don’t know. He had to open one to get outside so I guess I just assumed the window he came through was open. But then I saw him fall.”
“Describe his actions,” Rowan asked gently.
“He fell backwards… the way a person looks when he goes to sit on a chair and it isn’t there. Then his arms started flailing. So I screamed and ran down the side stairs and kept screaming.”
“Detective DeFazio and I were in the garage when we heard Hines shout,” Jules said and DeFazio nodded affirmatively.
Mrs. Eglington thought for a moment. “I was in the kitchen and Gladys came down from the attic when we both heard the screams.”
“People around here like to die mysteriously,” Ellis said.
The forensics’ and the coroner’s van both arrived. Dave Rowan looked at DeFazio. “Stay with the uniforms and get statements from everybody. Think you can do that?”
Ellis touched his arm. “I could use a Jack Daniels along about now,” he said.
“I saw some in the study,” Rowan whispered. “It’s after 5 p.m. I’m off duty. Let’s go.”
Dave Rowan poured a couple of inches in each glass. “Every one of those sons-of-bitches, including the son and the widow, could have killed that man.”
As they stood in the study, a car pulled up to the portico and a sleepy, staggering Pierre got out His eyes were half closed and he had to hold onto the wall as he climbed up to the entrance.
“He’s wearing the same clothes he wore when he came to my office this morning,” Dave Rowan said. “But he’s not feigning being swacked. The kid is stoned… or loaded.”
“Maybe both,” Ellis said.
Two new detectives appeared in the parking spaces beside the portico. “Yeah,” Rowan said,
“I’m officially off. I’ll go talk to one of them and tell them all that I know which ought to take me
about four seconds.”
DeFazio stayed to guard the servants in the living rooms. “No talking!” he kept repeating.
Paige got out of a car and stomped up the portico steps. She went directly into the living room and sat beside Pierre on a Victorian love-seat. Until she and Pierre arrived, DeFazio did not want to start the interview process which proved to be as pointless as the previous one. This time, however, the servants did not want to disrupt the probate process by finding Paige guilty. If the Will was voided what would happen? Would Pierre, Roland, and Samantha get the money as natural heirs and just discard the provision that gave them their bequest? They didn’t know.
One after the other they gave their statements. Everyone was someplace else and didn’t know anything about the incident. Paige and Pierre, though embarrassed enough to try to be vague about their whereabouts, finally named names and their alibis were verified. Pierre had been smoking marijuana and drinking with his friends and his clothing had carried the smell of marijuana and beer into the living room.
Dave Rowan, calmer and more disposed to be logical, re-entered the living room. He called Ellis Foyle aside and said, I’m trusting you to keep Nola in your house without the use of phones or visitors. We’ve got her driver’s license and passport but please, for Christ’s sake, don’t make things any more difficult.” Ellis agreed and Nola left the house with them.
Before Dave Rowan left the scene he ordered the carriage house; the main house; the steep hill behind the house; the farrier shed; and the garage wrapped in yellow crime scene tape. “I’d put you each in your goddamned rooms and put yellow tape on the door,” he hissed. “Fucking death house. So you’ll stay incommunicado. It’s either that or I’ll let you spend the next forty-eight hours at the police station writing your alibis in detail.”
Ellis was still angry with Nola. “Why the hell didn’t you two stay put? This is a murder investigation. If you had to leave the dining room you should have called one of the uniforms who were on duty not that far from here… or called me or Dave. Jesus, now you’re a suspect in two murders.”
All the cell phones in the house were collected and despite the protests the land lines were disconnected. Leading Detective Rowan was definitely disgusted.
Nola did not try to offer an explanation. She remained silent and wondered when she would be able to speak to Paige again.
Ellis cancelled several appointments so that he could stay home and verify her movements. He went so far as to ask Rowan for a spare set of handcuffs to secure her to a bed at night. Rowan thought it was a great idea and gave him his own cuffs to use. “Let’s see what the D.A. says,” Rowan responded. “He may want her back in a cell.”
Ellis kept Nola handcuffed during the day… re-securing her to the bed during the night. “You brought this on yourself,” he said, still angry as he snapped the second cuff around a headboard post
“Ooh,” Nola teased, “bondage.” Ellis was still smiling as he left the room.
Dave Rowan lent Paige his phone to make funeral arrangements for Gregor once the coroner had finished with the body. “You can do everything you need to do from home. You’re not under arrest so you don’t need lawyers, but if you want one, now’s the time to call. We have to straighten out some if this mess before one of you kills somebody else.”
Court was back in session and the District Attorney was no longer so friendly. He said that he intended to order Nola to return to the county correction facility but, at Rowan’s request, he held off 24 hours before signing he order.
Ellis Foyle was depressed. With Nola, her right wrist handcuffed to Ellis’s left, sitting silently beside them as if she were not there at all, Ellis and Dave Rowan sat in a cafeteria and grumbled about ungrateful people… people whose self-interest takes precedence over promises. “God damn it!” Ellis said. “All she had to do was stay put. I put myself out for someone and get crapped on.”
Nola said nothing as she stirred her coffee with her left hand,
“People!” Rowan agreed as his cellphone rang. He listened to the call and shook his head and smiled. “Hold on,” he said to his caller, an expression of amazement on his face. “You cannot guess just what happened,” he said to Ellis. Paige was asked to go to the coroner’s office and pick up Soencer’s unneeded personal effects… clothes, watch, chain he wore around his neck. But because she was so susceptible to hysterics, Gladys was asked to go with her. Naturally, a uniform was with them. They opened the paper bag and Gladys says, “This isn’t Mr. Ghent’s stuff.’
“The tech pulls out a shirt and looks at the identity tag and says,’Yes it is.’ Gladys says, ‘Mr. Ghent wouldn’t be caught dead in this shirt. All his shirts had tails. This is one of those casual shirts…and it’s an ugly shade of green. I know his preferences because I do his laundry.’ So the tech looks at the label again and it was purchased in France.” Rowan grinned mischievously. “Do you know what this means?”
Ellis yelped and hit himself on the head to indicate that he had just realized his mistake. “Yes I do! Tell the uniform cop with them to tell Paige to sign for the stuff and for both of them to come back to the Ghent’s house immediately. We’ve just solved this stupid case… both deaths,” Ellis said. ”I’ve always wanted to do one of those ‘Get all the suspects in the parlor’ scenes. While you call the coroner’s office, I’ve got to make a few phone calls.” He unlocked Nola’s handcuffs with the warning that Nola was not to move or speak unless she had something valuable to contribute to him… in private.
With two uniformed officers guarding the exit, everyone gathered in the Ghent’s living room. Ellis and Dave Rowan both leaned an elbow on the mantlepiece.
“This is just like Hercule Poirot,” Hines said. “Will you be using an accent?”
“Shut up and sit down,” Rowan snapped.
Ellis looked at everyone who sat in the room. “We’ve got a few questions and need a few answers. I’ll let Detective Rowan do the honors.”
Rowan opened the paper bag and withdrew the green shirt. “First we’re going to consider Mr. Ghent’s death. This paper bag contains his personal effects that were not needed as evidence. His watch, underwear, jewelry and so on. Who did Mr. Ghent’s laundry?”
“I did,” Gladys said.
“Is this his shirt?” Rowan asked.
“‘He wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a shirt like that… not even on vacation.”
“Whose shirt is it.. this shirt that was purchased in Marseilles?”
“Mine,” Hines said. “It came from one of the best shops in Marseilles. I guess Mr. Ghent liked it so much that he borrowed it. I still have a few garments hanging in his closet. He would know that I wouldn’t object.”
“No. No,” Ellis said. “The reason it was on Spencer Ghent’s body is that the shirt he was wearing got wet when you washed the gun shot residue from his hand and arm. And you feared the GSR would also be on his shirt in the wrong place. So you exchanged shirts.”
“Ridiculous!” Hines sneered.
“I don’t know police procedures,” Gladys said, “but I do know Mr. Ghent’s wardrobe. And there is nothing like that ugly shirt in his wardrobe; but there is one in yours.”
Rowan continued, directing his comments to Hines. “My guess is that you and your accomplices intended to kill Spence and blame it on the Japanese kid. – as a home invasion or revenge. We called the Immigration Service and learned that they had just taken the kid in custody on Tuesday. So he had an alibi. You had to find someone else to blame. But then you saw that such plans were worthless. You entered the study and found Spence loading that old 22 from the collection. You knew how depressed he was so you quietly left and called Jules who called Gregor. At any moment there would be a gunshot… which would have invalidated the insurance policies; so you called Jules to help you make the suicide look like a murder. You knew that there would be gun shot residue on his hand, arm and shirt and you knew that to wash it off, he’d have to be taken to the bathroom You couldn’t carry him and Jules has a bad back and can’t carry anything heavier than a food tray and you probably couldn’t even carry that. So, since Jules thought he was going to collect a lot of money from the Will and needed Ghent dead sooner than later and knew that Gregor needed money, he offered to pay him well just to move a body back and forth to the bath room. Gregor never signed on for a murder even though he did involve himself in that letter business.”
Jules and Gregor protested the scenario Rowan had given, but Detective DeFazio silenced them.
“Nola,” Rowan continued, “was taking a shower and Mrs. Eglington was back in the kitchen with Gladys. So you, Hines, ran out to where Jules and Gregor were doing yard work and told them of the change in plans and asked them to move closer to the study. As soon as they heard the gunshot, Gregor was going to enter the study through a window. Jules would act as though he were continuing the yard work and maybe even say that he hadn’t heard any shot… while Gregor moved the body. After you cleaned Spence’s hand and arm, you’d go back to your room and then come back running to investigate the shot. You entered through the foyer while Gregor left through the window. Jules didn’t have anything to do but fix that letter of Nola’s in order to make her look guilty. He changed the date and Gregor gave it to Detective DeFazio during his interview.”
Ellis picked up the charge. “Gregor carried Spence’s body into the bathroom and you and he washed his arms and hands and then you saw that Spence’s shirt was wet and so you exchanged shirts with him. Mrs. Eglington and Gladys had already seen Jules that morning and knew what he was wearing. But no one had seen you. So you took Spencer’s shirt and put a little cold water on the blood stains, washing them out of the collar, and tucked Spence’s shirt into your jeans and maybe put a sweater on. Nola walked in while you had Spence in the bathroom. You answered, ‘Left.’ She took the wrong envelope to the newspaper and you two put Spencer’s body back and went your separate ways.
“Gregor probably disposed of the gun. It will have to be here on the property. The police will find it along with a few sets of fingerprints I hope.”
Rowan asked, “And why is Gregor hanging around? Why was he suddenly in need of money? Why did our inspection of his apartment reveal so much camera equipment? Why does the drug store in town comment on the old-fashioned film that they still keep in stock for him? Who was he photographing that made him feel so secure?” He looked at Paige. “Whose photos were being developed in the farrier’s shed?”
“It’s true,” Paige admitted, wiping her eyes. “He had some embarrassing photos of me and intended to blackmail me into marrying him. He didn’t know that the house would belong to Roland or that Spence committed so much money to the new building. And then somebody stole the photos and, I hope, destroyed them.”
“How did any of the servants find out about the photos?” Ellis asked rhetorically. “No one really appreciated the view from the turret until Hines was slated to move into it. Then Hines and Gladys got that unexpected view of the interior of the rear rooms of the carriage house and saw Gregor’s hiding place for the photos. You all had seen his camera equipment and you all knew he wasn’t photographing goats or sunsets. Maybe you also saw him developing photos in the farrier’s shed. You all knew he was carrying on with Paige Ghent. You all knew that Spence had a new woman in his life and that he was about to fund an extension of the clinic for her… a very expensive building project. What you didn’t know were the terms in Spence’s last Will. None of you knew whether he had dropped the old $15,000 bequest in favor of a more up-to-date life-insurance policy – one that wouldn’t be paid if he killed himself. Paige was incontrovertibly alibied by the hairdresser. Also, Spencer was so in love he might have given all that was available to Ingrid Hesse where it was stashed in some Swiss bank. You didn’t know anything except it was better for you to have Spencer dead than alive, sooner than later, and by someone else’s hand than his own.
“So while some of you knew about the secret cache of photos, those pictures were particularly valuable to only one of you, one who was in love with him… Gladys or Hines. Who could get them first? Hines tried but Paige was in the apartment. So it was Gladys who got the photos and destroyed them and effectively severed Gregor’s connection to Paige. The police found the ashes in the barbecue pit… Mrs. Eglington got a whiff of the smoke, but Gladys knew that ultimately Gregor would blame Hines.
“And Hines?” he turned to him, “You wanted Gregor and saw a way that you could kill Spencer, make the bond even stronger between you two since he’d then be able to blackmail Paige or marry her and you’d be able to force Gregor to pay you for your copies of the pictures. When he got enough out of her you’d plan a more private future with him. So you told Jules about those imaginary bequests, money that would not come if Spencer killed himself. Jules believed your lies and more, he wanted Nola blamed so that she wouldn’t get such a large bequest from the will and jeopardize the money intended for him. Hines knew how Spencer was carrying on with Ingrid. Jules also knew about the phone traffic between Spence and his attorney. Money was getting tight. He didn’t want Spencer to short-change him or cut him out of the will completely. The three of you made a suicide look like a murder.”
Detective Rowan moved on to the second death. “Then we come to Gregor and the turret. It wouldn’t have taken long for Gregor to learn that Paige would never own the house and couldn’t live in it romantically with anyone. But she would get money, but when he tried to check his photos, they were gone. He probably looked up and could see that from the turret window it was possible to look down into the carriage house apartment. Both Gladys and Hines could see what was in those empty rooms… the junk Gregor stored there, among them a mysterious box he hid there. But Gregpr didn’t particularly like Hines, and he didn’t want him living with him. Yes, Gladys did have a crush on him and he knew it… but every woman he knew was vulnerable to him. He didn’t take Gladys seriously. She went to his apartment pretending to pick up his laundry, but she went right to the hidden box and took the contents and burned them. Now Paige was free of Gregor. The small amount of smoke Mrs. Eglington had seen coming from behind the carriage house was what confused her when Gladys told her to call 9-1-1 when Gregor fell. Hines was still staying in Jules’s apartment and when Gregor hit the ground, Detective DeFazio could give him and Jules alibis.
But Gladys surely had no intention to kill Gregor. When she asked him to tighten the screws that held the stained glass panel, he was happy to oblige because he was happy to remove any obstacle that prevented Hines from pressing him to move into the carriage house.
“But where was everybody when he fell? Paige and Pierre were away from the premises. Nola was in the farrier’s shed. Hines was doing his chores in Jules’ place in the presence of Detective DeFazio. Mrs. Eglington was in the kitchen. That leaves Gladys to be the one in the turret who foolishly closed the window. No doubt Gregor was standing on the outside of the sill, tightening some screws, and the bottom window was up high enough for him to slide in and out of. Did Gladys proposition him? Did she say that there now was no profit to be had from a relationship with Paige? Did he tell her that she just wasn’t his type or laugh at her when she told him about how she’d share her inheritance with him which was peanuts to him? Or, go into the glamour shot business as partners? He didn’t need her for that. So it was all for nothing. And maybe he laughed at her love. And all she had to do was reach out and pull on his ankles and down he went. And then she shut the window and ran down the circular staircase to the attic floor, came through to the staircase and scrambled down it as if she were responding to the screams.
Gladys sat there and stiffly said, “And none of that fantasy can you prove. Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall and know what happened?”
“I’d like to know,” Rowan said, “and it looks like we’ll have to take a trip to the station for a little interrogation. I’m placing you under arrest.”
While he handcuffed Gladys, charged her with murder, and read her her rights, he asked, “Does anyone know what happened to the gun?”
Detective Martin DeFazio said, “If there’s a deal to be had, now’s the time to make it.”
“Cuff Mr. Whitman, charge him with obstruction of justice – we’ll add the rest later… and read him his rights.” Again he asked, “The gun?”
Hines whimpered. “If I tell you will I get a break with the D.A.?”
“All I can do is put a good word in for you,” Rowan replied. He turned to DeFazio. “Hook up Jules, too. He’s part of the conspiracy.”
“It’s buried under one of the rocks on the steep slope behind the house,” Hines said. “I saw Gregor put it there. Just remember, I didn’t kill anyone!”
The police left and Pierre went to bed while Mrs. Eglington served more tea and pastry to Ellis, Nola, and Paige.
“This is the time for Church,” Mrs. Eglington said, as she began her return to the kitchen.
“Or to go to a Zen Center and have a talk with a qualified master. We could always start a new group,” Ellis said.
Nora put down her tea and looked at him sternly. “Maybe they need one in the outskirts of Anchorage.”
“Look,” Paige said, “I need religion… something significant in my life. I’ve made a mess of things. I want to get away from here… to get a job, maybe as a salesgirl. I know shoes… clothes. I could be a receptionist at a hair salon or a restaurant. Roland will marry. It’s only a question of time. And then we’ll have family squabbles… historically it has happened that way with every generation.” She began to cry. “Pierre has turned on me and Samantha acts like she’s the only one who has a right to miss Spencer. I’m an embarrassment to her and I don’t blame her.” She sighed deeply. “So while I do have enough cash to start a little mission someplace… I could also work as a receptionist or an assistant to a doctor. Maybe the tropics. Yes, maybe taking care of poor people or animals in some distant outpost of the Amazon.”
Nola sighed. “Heaven and hell exist and they exist here and now and in your own head; and you can live in one place or the other. But wherever you go, unless you’ve been decapitated, you carry your heaven and hell with you. So if you’re truly inclined to ‘pick up the cloth’ even in a layman’s capacity, you can start right here in town. In the outskirts, there are a few abandoned churches. You can buy one of them cheaply and turn it into a little Buddhist temple. You’ll have to do a lot of studying and learning to love living the austere life.”
“I can do that,” Paige said without knowing what the austere life entailed.
“What about in Schuylkill County?” Ellis suggested. As Spence’s widow, you may have a claim on the other sixty acres. Maybe Roland will see to it that you get clear title to them. You’ve got a good case since they were obtained before the marriage. He’ll be cooperative. You can go ahead and build those retreats.
Nola interjected, “But the real thing, real Wabi Sabi and not this fashionable nonsense. Elegant simplicity, loyal useage. No more meretricious displays of wealth. Spencer committed himself to half a dozen pre-fab cabins. It could be a wonderful place to change attitudes and habits. Maybe people can conquer addictions there or just deepen their religious beliefs… some place that’s their own that they can get away to whenever life gets rough. Or just stay their forever, contented with his or her own self and the simple life.”
“Well,” Ellis said, “Paige has funeral arrangements to make. Probably Gregor didn’t have any relatives who’d care to furnish a coffin or plot. Cremation may be the answer after she looks for them.”
Rowan added, “And then Paige should pay back those depositors. Vikram is a lost cause in my opinion. He’ll get in trouble in Mexico and get what’s coming to him. But, hey… I’d like to have one of those cabins. Put me down for one.”
Ellis asked, “Will you allow a wife and kids to visit? Think about it. It’ll be like going to camp for the kids. It’ll be like going to prison for my wife… but what the hell…”
“You can give her a few conjugal visits and then let her escape, Rowan teased. “Just please… none of her boyfriends. You gals have a lot of work to do. I’ll get the list of depositors from Patricia Mahoney. Say… you could also make it a yoga retreat. My wife and I are both out of shape.”
“We could put in a weight room,” Paige contributed.
“So many choices,” Nola said. “God works in mysterious ways… but I still like the thought of Alaska.
(solution to the “theme given only”) puzzle
Theme: Nothing… nothing left at all.