Murderville: The End Of- Episode 6

Upstairs, Downstairs

Detective Josh Carpenter sat across the table from Calvin and Audrey Connolly and the three of them tried to look inconspicuous.  The only time that Josh could interview the couple together was during their lunch breaks.  Audrey Connolly, of course, worked at the coroner’s office.  Calvin Connolly was a high school math teacher and since the beginning of a new school year was looming, he was busy prepping.  Josh had considered interviewing them separately, but decided to interview them as a couple first.  He wanted to gauge how they interacted during questioning knowing what he knew.  So, the meeting at the McDonald’s during the lunch rush on Monday was the best way to go.  Well, not the best, but the option Josh decided was best out of the limited, not-so-great options.  Thankfully, most of the folks in Munsterville that bothered to get out of their cars to come inside the fast food joint were just grabbing their lunch to-go.

“I did have a date with Starla,” Calvin Connolly said and practically flinched at the sound of the woman’s name coming out of his mouth.  Next to him, Audrey Connolly sat stone-faced, a good gap of physical distance between them in the booth.  “’For the night she was…was murdered.”  He added quickly, emphatically, “But I cancelled it.  Days before.  I cancelled it.”

“Why did you cancel it?” Josh asked, making a note in his notebook.  He’d already known that Calvin Connolly was the cancelled date thanks to Merry Miller’s code key.  It was the why that currently eluded him.  Starla James made no note of that.

“Because…” Mr. Connolly sighed heavily, “because Audrey found out about it.”

“And how long had you been seeing Miss James?” Josh asked, watching the husband squirm and the wife imitate a statue.

“Only a few months,” he said.  “We’d only had sex a couple of times.  Honest.”

“I see,” Josh said, making a note of the duration of the affair, but not of the number of times Mr. Connolly claimed to have had sex with the victim.  That was clearly meant for his wife to hear.  “And when did Mrs. Connolly find out about the affair?”

Now, Audrey Connolly did move, a slight flinch at her name and the word “affair” in the same sentence.

“Last week.  Monday or Tuesday, I think.  Days before I was supposed to see Starla.  She found a text from her on my phone and confronted me.  I cancelled my date with Starla right then.,” Mr. Connolly said, sounding sullen and remorseful.  Josh wondered if it was because he’d hurt his wife by having an affair or because she found out.  “That’s why we were out of town this past weekend.  We were trying to work on our marriage.”

Mrs. Connolly made a little noise as if to suggest that the weekend hadn’t been all that successful.

“And when did you leave for this weekend retreat of yours?” Josh asked.

“Friday evening,” Mr. Connolly said hurriedly.  He looked at his wife for confirmation of that.  “Right?  Right after you got off of work.  You had to work late so we left late.  Right?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Connolly said, sounding reluctant to speak at all.  “We left Friday after I got off of work.  It was around seven-thirty.”

“And you work at the coroner’s office, correct?” Josh asked.

“I work for the coroner’s administration,” Audrey Connolly corrected.  “Yes.  I work upstairs.  I’m their public relations consultant.”

“I see,” Josh said and he made a show of flipping through his notebook as though he were looking for a piece of information that wasn’t already cued up in his head.  “So, you would have been at work when Starla James was discovered and brought in for examination and autopsy.”

Audrey Connolly shifted her weight in the booth a little.

“Yes.  Like I said.  I work upstairs.”

“Why were you working overtime that day?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Mrs. Connolly snapped.

Josh stared at her hard.  She managed to stare back with equal intensity for a few seconds before she shifted in her seat again, nervous.  That might work on her husband, but Josh was immune to it.  Except from his own husband.

“Mrs. Connolly, I’m investigating a homicide,” Josh said, business-like and professional with just a touch of no-nonsense.  “I would appreciate your cooperation in answering my questions.  Why were you working overtime that day?”

Mrs. Connolly glanced at her husband.  “I had to stay late due to a late-breaking development that needed to be addressed.”

Josh nodded at her.  “From my understanding, it was due to the results of Miss James’s autopsy.”

Mr. Connolly looked at his wife with wide eyes.  She never took her eyes from Josh, her look hardening.

###

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Murderville: The End Of- Episode 5

The Mistress’s Men

Lu really wanted to spend her entire shift tagging along with Josh, watching him be a detective, getting elbowed in the ribs for not keeping her word about not asking any questions or saying anything sarcastic, but unfortunately, she did have work to do.

A whole pile of it was waiting on her desk.

“You work weekends now?” Melanie asked as she strolled into the office.

The death investigator’s office was situated down the hall from the autopsy room.  It had two desks, two phones, several filing cabinets, a couple of chairs, a police scanner, a coffee pot, and a television.  The official break room was on the second floor, but most everyone just hung out in the death investigator’s office because it was closer.

Melanie poured herself a cup of coffee.

“Jerome is off and someone had to cover,” Lu said, sitting down at her desk, looking at the stack of files in the center of it not unlike she might look at pile of dog shit on her lawn.  And Lu didn’t own a dog.  She gestured at them, careful not to touch them.  “Is this my pain?”

“Yep,” Melanie said, reading her look.  “Those are the files that upstairs,” Melanie looked up, “wants reviewed.  Dr. Pascal was ranting about it last night.  I thought his head was going to pop off.”

“He’s got about as much skin in this audit as I do.”

“Neither one of you have anything to worry about,” Melanie said, giving Lu a pat on the shoulder.  “You two are the best at your jobs.  Upstairs is crazy to think otherwise.”

Melanie sat down at the other desk, turning on the TV, but keeping the volume low.

Lu wanted to believe that Melanie was right, but just the fact that she was working for Jerome on a weekend because the city was too cheap to hire as many death investigators as they needed didn’t boost her confidence any.  Lu knew all too well that being good at your job didn’t meant that you weren’t expendable.

With a heavy sigh, Lu pulled the first file from the top of the pile and opened it up, looking for a mistake she knew that she hadn’t made.

###

Simon Sidney lived in a large house on the lakefront, only a few miles down the road from End Of, on Lake Shore Drive.  The house was practically a wall of windows on the side that faced the lake, which was no doubt picturesque most of the time, if you didn’t think about how many cars were probably at the bottom of Lake Munster.

Josh sat on the white couch in the white living room wondering why so many people with money insisted on white living rooms.

Simon Sidney was a handsome man in his sixties, his hair long gone silver, his age starting to show in his golfer’s physique.  His wife, Carlotta, was easily twenty years younger than he was and held up to a much different standard.  Her hair was bleached an unnatural blonde and it was clear by the lack of movement in her forehead that she’d had a round or twelve of Botox.  Her lips looked overly filled and her clothes were a size too small.

They sat on the couch opposite Josh, a low glass coffee table between the detective and the couple.  Simon Sidney sat on the couch, looking relaxed in his dress shirt and slacks.  Carlotta Sidney was perched next to her husband, right on the edge of the sofa.  Josh didn’t think she could relax in the dress she was wearing.

“Mr. Sidney,” Josh began, sparing a glance at his wife, “I need to know about your relationship with Starla James.”

“She was my mistress,” Simon Sidney said so bluntly that if the words had been an anvil, a cartoon coyote would have been flattened instantly in a comical way.

“One of your mistresses,” his wife patiently corrected and a second anvil dropped on that poor coyote’s head.

Josh nodded and quickly jotted down the unnecessary information into his notebook to hide his wide-eyed shock from the couple.

###

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Murderville: The End Of- Episode 4

A Little Family Support

Haskell and Leora Jones were big on family.  So big on family that they had five children: Drusilla (Dru), Nicodemus (Nico), Tallulah (Lu), and twins Dashiell (Dash) and Dartagnan (Tag).  They ran a successful family business that only their daughter Lu didn’t work in, much to their displeasure.  And they had a family dinner most nights of the week even though their three oldest children no longer lived at home and in the case of the two oldest, had families of their own.  But that didn’t stop Haskell and Leora from cooking huge dinners nor did it stop any of the children or their husbands or their children from stopping by for the evening meal without invitation nor forewarning.

Lu walked into her parents’ house in a foul mood wanting nothing more than to eat until she reached peak food coma, but without the effort of actually cooking.  Her foul mood fled as soon as the door closed behind her, not because of the impending food, but because no foul mood of hers could withstand the cute of her two nephews, Ezra and Roman.  Aged five and three respectfully, the two biracial boys were biological half-brothers adopted by Nico and Josh when they were tiny.  Their dads got a kick out of people saying that the boys looked like them.

Ezra and Roman barreled into their aunt as soon as they heard the front door slam shut.

“Auntie Luuuuuuuu!” they squealed, crashing into her legs and hugging her around the knees.

“Hello, my minions,” Lu said, giving each a hug in turn, kissing them both on the top of their heads.  “What evil have you done on behalf of your overlord today?”

The two boys answered in only giggles.

“Are you heathens here alone or is Nan and Pop around?” Lu asked.

“Inna kitchen makin’ dinner,” Ezra said and then wrinkled his nose in disgust. “It’s gross.”

“Yes, but you also don’t like pancakes,” Lu said.  “Your opinion can hardly be trusted.”

Roman giggled while Ezra stuck his tongue out at his aunt.

“Get away from me,” she said, giving her nephews a playful nudge.  “Go hassle Pop for quarters or something.”

“Hooray!”

The two boys tore off through the house.  Lu knew they passed through the kitchen because her mother yelled at them to slow down.  Lu followed them at a much calmer pace.

Leora was at the kitchen counter.  Four different pots were going on the stove, something was in the oven, and it looked like there was something in a bowl that was in the process of being prepared.  Her mother moved like a whirlwind amongst all of it.

“Are you here for dinner, Lu?” she asked.  “I think I might just have enough to feed you, too.”

“Good God, I hope so,” Lu said, looking at the ensuing feast.

“She started throwing more food into pots as soon as Josh walked through the door,” her brother Nico said.  He was sitting on the other side of the kitchen with said Josh at the table.

When it came to Lu and her siblings, an argument could be made that Haskell and Leora took home the wrong baby at some point, only no one was quite sure which one.  None of the Jones children looked like their parents.  And with the exception of the twins, none of them looked like each other, either.  Lu was short with a witch’s nose and hazel eyes that looked like they could see through anything.  Nico was tall with gangly limbs and soft blue eyes that looked almost like he was on the verge of crying all the time.  The only thing Lu and Nico had in common appearance-wise was they both had brown hair, but Lu’s was much darker than Nico’s.

Lu sat down heavily at the table with Nico and Josh.

“And how was your day, dear?” Nico asked with a sly little smile.

“My cases are being audited,” Lu said bitterly.

Nico’s eyes went wide and Josh’s jaw actually dropped.  Lu heard a pot lid rattle harshly across the room.

“Yes, exactly,” she said, pointing at them both.

###

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Murderville: The End Of- Episode 3

To Complicate Things

Josh and his partner Vince sat on the couch in the living room of Stella James’s sister, Brandy Everly.  Her husband, and Stella’s brother-in-law, Lance sat in a chair opposite them.  Mrs. Everly was in the other room, finishing up a phone call.

The search of Starla James’s luxurious apartment quickly revealed that it wasn’t the site of her death, but also revealed little in the way of clues as to who the culprit might be.  Everything was neat, tidy, orderly, and there was no sign of any of the men that Starla James might be connected with, either currently or in the past.  The most Josh and Vince were able to recover was the name of the victim’s next of kin.

The Everly’s living room was done up tastefully enough in dark wood and white, which let Josh know that this couple didn’t have any children or pets.  The white couch he and Vince sat on was spotless.  Lance Everly sat nervously on the edge of his chair, waiting for his wife so the couple could receive the bad news that Josh and Vince had brought them.  Not that they knew at the moment they’d be receiving bad news, but what good news do two plain clothes detectives ever bring?  Mr. Everly was a thin man, young with an older cast, like he worked too hard for too little.  Josh watched him fidget as he waited, his hands unable to remain still, the only attempt at small talk to fill the time unsuccessful.  Josh wanted to keep this serious and direct.

“I’m sorry about that,” Mrs. Everly said as she entered the room.  “I’m trying to organize a girls’ night out for next weekend and you would not believe how involved it is.”

She smiled at the two detectives as she perched herself on the arm of her husband’s chair, putting an arm around his anxious shoulders.  Brandy Everly didn’t quite have the exotic, sexy beauty that her sister had, but she wasn’t unattractive.  Instead of black hair, hers was red, and kept about shoulder length in an easy, flattering style.  She was thinner, less-curvy than her sister, and whatever bosom she might have had was discreetly concealed beneath a modest dark purple blouse that matched her light purple capris.

“Now, what’s this all about?” Mrs. Everly asked.

Josh felt Vince shift beside him.  This was a tough part of the job, informing someone that their loved one had died and not in a natural manner.  The reactions to such news varied from person to person and there was no clear predictor of what to expect.

“Mrs. Everly, I’m sorry to inform you that your sister was found deceased early this afternoon,” Josh said.

He waited while the words found their meaning for the couple.  Mr. Everly looked up at his wife, reaching back to grasp her hand that rested on his shoulder.  Mrs. Everly stared at the two detectives for a moment, her face somewhat neutral, as though the full weight of her sister’s death hadn’t quite hit yet.

“What happened?” she asked softly.

“Your sister was found hanging from a tree at End Of,” Josh said.

“She killed herself?” Mrs. Everly asked.

“Right now we can’t say,” Josh said, watching as Mr. Everly squeezed his wife’s hand hard.  Lu called it a homicide, but Josh wanted to be careful with that information for now.  It hadn’t been confirmed.  “We have to wait for the autopsy results before a cause of death can be conclusively stated.  But as an unattended, suspicious death, we have to investigate it.  Are you up for answering a few questions?”

Mrs. Everly nodded.

“Do you know of any reason why your sister might have wanted to take her own life?” Josh asked.

Mr. Everly looked down at the white-carpeted floor, considering.  Mrs. Everly sighed and looked at Josh.

“Maybe she was finally tired of being a whore.”

###

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Murderville: The End of- Episode 2

A Little Bit Suspicious

Lu Jones looked up at her brother-in-law as he gaped down at her.

“You look like a fish,” she said.

Detective Josh Carpenter’s mouth snapped shut.

“How can you tell she was murdered?” Josh asked, narrowing his eyes at her.

“It’s kind of the whole point of my job to be able to do that,” Lu said.

“Lu.”  It was a warning and Lu shrugged it off as easily as if it had come from one of her siblings.  The curse of the two of them working together for almost as long as Josh had been with Nico.

“Well, it’s nothing so obvious as the rope done wrong,” Lu said, walking towards the body.  Josh followed her.  “But, there’s antemortem bruising under the rope inconsistent with hanging.  And her face is the wrong color.  It’s a little too red.  That implies force.”

“So, she wasn’t hung?”

Lu shook her head.  “Not by this rope and this tree.  Though, if I had to guess, I’d say she was strangled.  Dr. Pascal will make the final call on that.”

“What do you mean about the rope being done wrong?” Josh asked, peering as closely at the noose as he could bear to get.

Lu grinned.  “The movie The Black Cat?  Remember?”

Josh frowned.  Lu and Nico were big horror film fans, a fitting favorite genre for their lines of work.  They’d often get together to watch them and many of their conversations featured references to them.  Lu was a little disappointed that more of this hadn’t rubbed off on Josh.

“Isn’t that the one where Bela Lugosi skins Boris Karloff alive?” Josh asked, squinting the way he did when he was trying to remember something.

Lu heard Vince mutter something under his breath and she was pretty sure it was in response to the mention of skinning, not the overall topic.  Vince was green, but he’d been on enough death scenes with Lu and Josh to know how they operated.

“No, this one has Bela Lugosi, but he plays a gardener that gets shot as a scapegoat.”

“I don’t remember that one.”

“That’s a shame,” Lu said with a shrug and went back to business.  “I’ll bag the vic’s hands and we’ll see if we can get anything off of her clothes, but she looks pretty clean.  There are a couple of smaller bruises on her forearms that could be defensive marks and most people who are strangled put up a fight unless they can’t.  I’m not seeing much evidence of a fight around here, though.”

Everyone standing in the little clearing at the end of the path looked at the ground.

“So, this is a dump scene, not a crime scene,” Josh concluded and Lu nodded.  “Well, give me whatever you can get as quickly as you can.  If this is a homicide, then we’re on the clock.”

Josh walked over to Detective Carthos, the other two uniforms, and the forensic team to hatch a game plan while Lu went on with her work.  She picked up her clipboard from the gurney and started making notes about the case.  Murderville was living up to its reputation this time.  A homicide at the local suicide spot.  Dr. Pascal was going to love this twist.

###

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Murderville: The End Of- Episode 1

Hanging at the End Of

It was a typical day in Munsterville, the industrial city of 70,000 (give or take), with people on lunch break or hurrying to start second shift somewhere or running errands, the general business of a typical city running at its typical hum.  The sky was blue and the day was warm without being oppressively hot like late summer had a tendency to be.  And since this was a typical day in Munsterville, that meant that the city was living up to its jaunty nickname: Murderville.  Weird deaths abound in Munsterville.  And weird deaths require creative clean-ups, which was why the family business of Jones Cleaners had steady work.

Lu Jones sat in her parents’ office, eating a roast beef sandwich.  Lu had agreed to “mind the store” during her lunch hour while her parents picked up some cleaning supplies.  Her older siblings, Dru and Nico, were cleaning up the death scene of an elderly gentleman who’d died in his home and had gone undiscovered for over a week.  Her younger siblings, twins Dash and Tag, were cleaning up the scene of a suicide by shotgun in an apartment.  So, Lu was left to sit in the office and answer the phones as she ate her lunch while everyone else was out.  It was purely as a favor; Lu was the only one in the family that didn’t work the family business, a bone of contention picked at every family gathering in which there were more than two Joneses, which happened multiple times a week, so that bone was cleaned of meat years ago.  Instead of cleaning up death scenes, Lu investigated them.  She worked as a death investigator out of the city’s coroner’s office.  Same general area of the family business, but different line of work.  Horseshoes and hand grenades, her family said.

Kicked back at the reception desk in the tiny front area of the office, feet up, sandwich in the process of being devoured, Lu nearly choked in her scramble to right herself when the door opened.  They didn’t get many walk-in customers (she was really just there to answer the phone), but people did come in to pay their bills and Lu didn’t want to hear it from her mother that she was being unprofessional when someone did.

In strolled her brother-in-law, Detective Josh Carpenter, looking dashing and handsome as always.  Truly, the man looked like he should be playing the lead in some big budget Hollywood action movie that called for a good looking, tough, but charming and sensitive African-American man instead of investigating curious deaths in a no-name city like Munsterville.  How her goofy-looking white boy brother Nico ever landed him, Lu would never know, but the couple had been together for fifteen years, married for close to six of them.

“What are you doing here, Lu?” Josh asked with a grin as the door swung shut behind him.

There was no sense in Lu trying to recover her cool now.  She picked up her discarded sandwich.

“Watching the phones for Mom and Dad while I eat,” Lu said, sitting back and kicking her feet up on the desk again.  She took another bite of her sandwich and asked her question around it.  “What are you doing here?”

“Hoping to catch Nico while I had a minute,” Josh said with a bit of a wistful sigh.

He sat down in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the desk.

“He’s cleaning an undiscovered scene.”

Josh made a disgusted face.  Lu didn’t need to give him any details.

“Been busy?” Lu asked him, this time without a mouthful of sandwich.

“After that whole thing with the Harmon case, I feel like I’ve been on garbage detail.”

Winchester Harmon was a rich guy with a warped sense of humor who decided when he received a terminal cancer diagnosis to kill himself, make it look like a murder, and send a whole bunch of poor people on a wild goose chase.  Josh had been lead detective on that case and took the whole thing very personally.  Lu couldn’t quite blame him; she would have clocked Harmon for what he’d done if he hadn’t already been dead.

“You’re imagining things,” Lu said.  “Your ego is bruised because that big murder case turned out to be a weird suicide practical joke thing.  You really think the chief is going to hold that bizzaro twist against you?”

Josh looked at Lu like she must have been out of her mind.

“Have you met this woman?” he asked.  “She does not take failure lightly and to her, this looked like a huge, public failure because we didn’t immediately conclude it was a suicide, not a homicide.”

“Oh, please,” Lu said with a roll of her eyes.  She sat up, leaning on the desk with one elbow.  “It was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.  The gun was found half a block away under some bushes.  It was staged to look like a murder and it was pretty convincing.  It took an anonymous tip to sort it out.  That’s how convincing it was.”

“That’s not how the chief sees it.”

“Well, she needs glasses.  You did good work, you did it by the book, and anyone would say so.  It was a weird case to crack.”

Lu ate the last bite of her sandwich and chewed it in a determined fashion.  Josh shook his head, entirely unconvinced.

The tone of a pipe organ, mournful and funeral-like, emanated from Lu’s back pocket.  She pulled out her cell phone.  Before she could look at it, Josh’s cell chirped from the depths of his suit jacket.  He fished around for it.

“Dead body at End Of,” Lu said, reading her text.

###

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Murderville: The Last Joke–Episode 7

To Find a Crime Scene

Drew tried to find Chester R. Ewins.  He searched the name after work for three nights.  Pam was unable to help in the investigation.  She was swamped with bookkeeping work, spending most of her time hunched over rows and rows of numbers laid out on the kitchen table, muttering to herself about the values of basic math and calculators.  Drew left her alone for the most part, only bugging her to make sure that she ate the dinner that he usually found in the crock pot when he got home and to pull her away from the table at night when it was time for bed.  As soon as he got his wife away from her work, Drew did his best to get her to relax and unknot her brain, staying up later than he really should to make love to her and make sure she was going to sleep and not sneaking back out to the kitchen to work because she would.  When Pam was dealing with a bookkeeping mess like this, that’s what she was prone to do; Drew had to rescue her from herself before.

Add to this the impending family dinner that they were forced into hosting and Pam was teetering dangerously close to overload.  Drew was dragging ass himself, but he’d run himself into the ground to make sure his wife was well away from the edge of that cliff.

As a result, Drew hadn’t mentioned anything about his fruitless search.  There was really no reason to add to the weight she was already carrying, even if it was the light weight of finding nothing.

Because that’s what Drew had.  Nothing.

It seemed that Chester R. Ewins didn’t exist.  Despite being a city of 70,000, there wasn’t one person in any directory that Drew could find that had that name.  Not even close.  If he widened the search to the state or the country, he came close, but never exact.  By the second night, Drew began to believe that whoever pawned the watch used a fake name, but Drew just had to be sure.  He spent one more night of searching before he gave up.  Chester R. Ewins as an actual person was a dead end.  He had to be made up.  But who did it?

Drew came home from work to find the kitchen table free of the bookkeeping mess and a full dinner going on the stove and in the oven.  Pam, the beautiful, happy, carefree woman he’d married ten-plus years ago, was singing in the kitchen as she stirred whatever was in the pot on the stove.

“Who are you and what have you done with my surly wife?” Drew asked with a grin.  He walked over and kissed her on the neck, feeling her shiver beneath his lips.

“Your wife has been freed of her torment,” Pam said, smiling at him as she turned and kissed him on the lips.  “I finally got that mess straightened out, they paid me extra for all of the hard work, and I didn’t have any other work to do today.  So to celebrate the end of my torture, I cleaned the house for that stupid family dinner next week.  And I made you a wonderful dinner because I appreciate the way you put up with me when I’m at my worst.”

“Food is a great way to show me that you appreciate me,” Drew said, going in for another kiss.  “Among other things.”

They would have gotten carried away and perhaps carried down to the bedroom had Pam not pulled away and said, “The cheese sauce is going to burn and you smell like dirty socks.”

Drew laughed, gave her one last kiss, and hurried down to the bathroom to hose off the day’s grime.  When he returned, he found that dinner was ready and he had a plate waiting for him on the coffee table in the living room; Pam sat on the couch with her own plate in her lap.

“I’m tired of looking at the kitchen table,” she said, patting the spot on the couch next to her.  “Besides, this way we can cuddle and eat.”

“My two favorite things,” Drew said sitting down next to his wife.  He kissed her again and then picked up his plate, balancing it in his lap.

Pam had gone all out: baked chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, green beans, and rolls.  She usually saved this sort of cooking for Sundays when she had the time and the energy to use that time.  This was a true mid-week treat.

“So, tell me,” Pam said as Drew shoveled mac and cheese into his mouth, “did you find out anything about Chester R. Ewins?”

Drew shrugged as he chewed.  As soon as he swallowed, he spoke.

“Yes and no.”

“How definitive.”

“I found out that nobody with that name exists, at least not in Murderville,” Drew said, taking a drink of iced tea.  He cleared his throat.  “Somebody pawned that watch, we know that, but he gave a fake name to do it.”

“So, who do you think did it?” Pam asked, tearing apart her roll.

“I still think it was one of his business buddies,” Drew said with a shrug.  “Doing that revenge joke thing, giving a fake name so he wouldn’t be caught.  But I don’t know which one of them did it.  I guess I’d have to go back to the pawn shop to get a description from that employee.  Of course, that probably wouldn’t help me much.  Most of the business guys that I saw at the funeral looked like Winchester Harmon.  They’re practically interchangeable.  My only hope would be that it was the young guy that did it.  Or one of Harmon’s sons.”

“It’s probably a dead end anyway,” Pam said.  “You said that the pawn shop guy said something about it being a joke.”

“Yeah, that’s what it feels like this whole thing is,” Drew said with a chuckle.  “One big joke.”

###

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Murderville: The Last Joke–Episode 6

Finding Chester R. Ewins

For Pam, the crock pot might have been the greatest cooking invention of all time.  She could throw dinner in it in the morning when she was fresh and her mood was shiny.  That way, when she was sitting at the kitchen table glowering at the work she was forced to bring home with her because some of her bookkeeping clients’ attention to detail was similar to that of a tornado, Drew could still come home to a good meal despite the fact that Pam was in no mood for anything but flipping the kitchen table in frustration.

Today’s mood was further aggravated by the fact that she’d been fielding phone calls all day from her family and Drew’s family about having their monthly “big family dinner” at Pam and Drew’s house.  Pam knew that they were long overdue for their turn to host that nightmare, but she felt like they should be exempt from it until they at least made their last car payment.  It wasn’t that they didn’t have the money to feed everyone -these dinners were always potluck- it was that no one else in their immediate family had been hit hard by the sudden downshift in the economy.  Everyone else had cruised right along without so much as a blip on their financial screens.  And the support they gave came in the form of the most unhelpful advice imaginable.  Pam loved her family, of course, and she felt very grateful to have Drew’s family as her in-laws because they were wonderful people (all except Drew’s sister-in-law Daisy, who decided that Pam should be her rival for some weird reason that Pam didn’t understand or care about), but damn could they be tone deaf.

If we could just get that reward money…

But that wasn’t going to happen.  At least, not before the family dinner.  Not with Drew only able to check pawn shops on his lunch hour and Pam unable to do much of anything except crunch numbers.  Not with all of these little bits of information that didn’t seem to go together or make sense.

Pam heard Drew barrel into the house, front door slamming shut, and her mood darkened at the noise.  She was nowhere near finished with this mess of books and now her husband was home.

“Hey, Pam,” Drew said, coming in to the kitchen.  Pam could feel his energy, bouncing waves of it, and it made the black cloud over her head rumble.  At this very moment, she had no idea how anyone could be happy after a day of work without alcohol nor did she understand how grown adults didn’t know how subtraction worked.

Drew kissed her on the temple and then looked over her shoulder at the spread of papers and numbers.

“Rough day at the office?”

Pam glared at him, but sighed at the sight of his dirty face, the little hint of a sweet smile under the grime.  She shook her head and went back to her numbers.

“It is a wonder how high schools unleash people on society without the basic knowledge to add, subtract, or a work a damn calculator,” she said.

“If they did, you wouldn’t have a job.”

“Ha ha.”

Drew made his way to the counter and checked the contents of the crockpot.

“Smells good,” he said, replacing the lid.

“It’ll be ready in about half an hour,” Pam said.

“Are you ready for a break?” he asked.

Pam sighed irritably.

“My day has been filled with breaks.  I haven’t been able to complete a thought without my phone ringing because our families insist that we have the family potluck here this month.  Your mother has been driving me crazy and she’s had help from the consummate pro that is my mother.  And on top of all of that, your dingbat of a sister-in-law has been bugging me about what I’m going to make for the potluck so we don’t make the same thing.”

Pam didn’t have to look at Drew to know he was rolling his eyes.  Daisy did this every family dinner, trying to figure out what Pam was making so she could make the same thing and make Pam look bad.  Pam started telling her she was making one thing and then would make another because it was an easy way to make Daisy mad enough she wouldn’t talk to Pam and Pam would get something she wanted to eat, but didn’t want to make at the potluck.

“I finally told her that I was making pulled chicken so she’d stop calling me with suggestions and questions.  I’ll make pulled pork.”

“So, we’re really having this thing at our house?” Drew asked, pulling out the chair next to her and sitting down.

“Unless one of us dies or the house burns down, neither of our mothers are accepting any excuses,” Pam said bitterly.  “If I’m feeling generous, I’ll clean before they come over.  But right now, I’m not feeling too hospitable.”

“Well, listen, I need you to stop and listen for a second,” Drew said.

“I really can’t right now, Drew,” Pam said.  She’d been looking for the source of this major number mess and she was sure she was getting close.  She didn’t want to stop now.

“Please, Pam.  It’s really important.”

Pam knew that tone of voice.  Drew wouldn’t relent until she paid attention to him.  With an irritated sigh, she put her finger on the column to mark her place and then looked at her husband.

“Guess what I found out?”

“That your wife doesn’t like to be stopped in the middle of her work to play guessing games?”

“Close!” Drew said cheerfully and Pam rolled her eyes, smiling in spite of herself.  “I found Winchester’s watch.”

Pam’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped.  Her shitty mood completely disappeared in favor of total shock.

###

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Murderville: The Last Joke–Episode 5

Puzzle Piece Pawn

The brain tumor information was both intriguing and possibly important, but neither Drew nor Pam could figure out where the information fit into Winchester Harmon’s murder, if it fit at all.  Pam wasn’t sure that it did, but Drew thought it must.  To Pam, it looked like it was a puzzle piece from a completely different puzzle, but it had the same color scheme of the puzzle they were working.

And then came the Sunday paper.

Since Winchester Harmon turned up dead on Pam and Drew’s front step, the police had been very mum about the investigation other than saying it was on going, they were doing everything in their power to solve the case quickly, and, of course, offering the reward for any information leading to an arrest.  But when Pam retrieved the Sunday paper from her corpse-free stoop (she didn’t want to admit that she kept expecting a fresh body to be delivered with the paper every time she opened her front door in the morning, but she did), she settled back in bed next to her lightly snoring husband, opened it up, and found a whole bunch of investigation information splashed all over the front page.

Anonymous sources, the only kind you would expect in an information leak like this, were quoted as saying that though police didn’t think robbery was a motive since Harmon was found with all of his cash, although his very expensive watch was missing.  The motive was still unknown, though the police had questioned the family and the mistresses.  The Frenchman wasn’t mentioned specifically, but there was something about Harmon owing money to a “golf buddy”, though it was said that the family were aware of this debt and didn’t consider it noteworthy, but police were looking for the unidentified buddy anyway.

And then there was the will.

Winchester Harmon’s will seemed to be a source of contention with his family after a reading with the lawyer.  According to the anonymous source, everything apparently went as expected until the end when the lawyer said that there was still a portion of the will remaining but that couldn’t be read.  The family reportedly became indignant about this little secret and boy, was it secret.  None of them had expected it.

Be careful of that money, Pam thought as she sipped her coffee.  No shit, Revolution Dude.

Pretty salacious for the front page, but Murderville did love a good, rich mystery surrounding a death and Winchester Harmon’s certainly played into that.

Pam was on her second read of the article (she didn’t want to miss any potential information) when Drew woke up.  He rolled over and snuggled into her side.  Pam stroked his hair absently.

“Morning,” she said, her eyes glued to the article.  She was almost finished.  “You want some coffee?”

“Do you come with it?”

“Always.”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay,” Pam said.  She finished the last lines of the article and then sat the paper on her husband’s hip.  “Read that while I get you a cup.”

Pam returned to the bedroom with Drew’s cup of coffee to find him sitting up in bed, hunched over the paper, reading intently.  She put the cup on her nightstand next to her own and then climbed gingerly into bed, not wanting to disturb Drew.  Pam sipped her cup of coffee and waited for her husband to finish the article.

“What do you suppose was in the will?” Drew asked, looking up at her.

###

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