Murder Will Speak
It was a bloody nuisance. A short, yacht cruise this time. I inhaled Sandra’s freshly shampooed hair and held her close. She’s a moody devil, remote one minute then over me like an affectionate child the next. This was one of those loving moments and I determined to enjoy it while it lasted. I loved her and she seemed to love me. It was just that sometimes she didn’t show it. A cheeky glint in her eyes, a quick hug, and she was off across the deck. Sherbrooke to the Irish Coast and back again wasn’t all that far. I shrugged and looked around me. I knew nobody on the deck that morning.
It was much later that Sandra described it all to me. She’s no mug when it comes to reading people. She should have been a copper like me. She remembers even trivial things and so I rely on her a lot. Sometimes her ability to remember can be helpful, other times embarrassing. No man wants his girlfriend to recall too much. Her words echoed through my head – Felix McGill tucking into his third buttered scone not knowing that he would soon be dead …. he and his wife, Irene, on a holiday paid for by a business client, Solomon Levin.
“Irene hated the way Felix ogled my breasts whenever I brought him a drink,” Sandra told me as we snuggled up in bed. “I used to let him look just to watch her reaction. Then came that horrible day I won’t forget. I heard Irene interrupt Felix’s droning on about some deal he’d made. I recall their conversation exactly. ‘Let’s finish up here, Felix. I’m tired and I think I’d like to take a rest in our cabin. Come on, let’s go and lie down for a while.’
‘OK, let’s just do that,’ Felix agreed, and there was a roguish glint in his eyes. He glanced at his watch and told her, ‘We’ve plenty of time before dinner.’ I saw Irene suppress a shudder, something she had become expert at recently.”
“I got very busy then and it must have been hours later that we all heard Irene’s screams. It was horrible, Stuart.” Sandra sobbed in my arms.
“Take your time, darling,” I consoled her. “Just tell me what she said.”
Sandra gulped, brave little soul that she is, and told me, “Irene sobbed out loud and said, ‘My husband. I just came in and found him. What’s wrong with him? Is he …tell me, is he dead?’ And then the purser took one look at Felix’s contorted face and bulging eyes, and hurried Irene away.”
I held her tightly, trying to ease the pain. Sandra went on. “I sneaked a look, Stuart. It was horrible. His body lay twisted, his back arched, the sheets sodden with fluids. He’d messed himself. Felix’s face was just empty, ugly and pale. His arm drooped from the edge of the bed. The jewels on his watchband gleamed as if in mockery. In life I detested him but I felt so sad to see him just lying there. It was the worst moment of my life, Stuart. Hold me, just hold me,” she murmured and I felt the tension in her slender frame. Sandra had disembarked at the moment the ship docked and hurried to our flat. Opening the door she’d called for me. When I didn’t answer, she’d rummaged in her pack for her mobile and rang me at Police Headquarters.
I’d answered immediately and she’d snapped, “Where are you?” I knew immediately she was distraught about something.
“Sorry, darling,” I’d replied. “There’s a bit of a flap on. I expect to be held up for another hour at least. Have a shower and smell pretty for me. I’ve really missed you. I’ll be as quick as I can.”
“Damn you and your work,” Sandra had answered. “When you get here, you’d better be prepared for some action. This is your tigress, and she wants to mate. Grr-rr!” She’d then hung up, my laughter ringing in her ears. I handed over a few jobs to my subordinates and, as soon as I could, I rode my motor-bike home through the traffic.
I called her name. No answer. I stepped into the bedroom to find her stretched naked on the sheets. I could feel my face light up and I dropped my clothes and joined her. Through her tears, she loved me as if there were no tomorrow. Sated, we lay still and she twirled one of my chest hairs with her index finger. “So what was the big flap about, hmm?” she asked. “What took you away from my savage claws?”
“Oh, nothing much,” I told her. “You knew some fat bloke died on that boat you were on? I had to escort his body to the morgue.”
“You? Why you?” Sandra asked. “That’s what junior constables are for, surely?”
“Everyone’s off sick and we’re short staffed. I was trying to keep out of sight but I got sprung and so, Inspector Stuart Lanham became a constable for a short while.”
“But we all thought he’d had a fit and suffocated.” She peered into my face. “Was it something else?”
“Did you know him?” I asked her.
“No, not really. He was horrible. He kept looking inside my blouse. Ugh! Not my favourite person, that man. But to die like that … what was it?” It was then that she told me the details of what had occurred on the yacht. At that moment, my mobile phone rang.
“No, no,” protested Sandra but I was already answering. I listened, broke the connection, and dragged my body out of bed.
“Sorry, love. Duty calls. I have to go. Think about what I want … about marrying me.”
“Oh, can’t it wait,” Sandra snapped. “Jeez. You’ve just come off duty. Why can’t we have some time alone? Your bloody job’s taking over.”
“The guy on your boat?” I answered. “The Medical Examiner says he was poisoned. I’ve got to look into his murder. That’s my job, remember.”
Sandra watched me as I dressed. “I’ll bet it was his wife,” she said. “She glared at him when he was looking into my shirt.”
“It probably was,” I agreed. “Anyway, you should talk. Always running out on me at a moment’s notice. Women’s business, you said. Well, now the shoe’s on the other foot.” I reached over and kissed her. “Seriously, I’ve gotta go, darling. Love you!” and I hurried from the flat.
“It was a drug, Stuart, probably in a drink or one of his capsules. Very nasty. My report will identify it, but I’d suspect a cyanide derivative. I saw him too late to witness signs of cyanosis. Death would have been agonising.” Dr. Mathieson shook his head. “Healthy as the proverbial horse if a bit overweight. Would have lived for years.”
“Could he have meant it for himself?” I asked, but Mathieson scotched that idea.
“Unlikely, laddie,” he said. “He’d never have had access to this stuff. If I were you, I’d be looking for somebody who has a contact in the drug manufacturing companies. They can be a vicious lot. Your killer has a connection somewhere, I suspect.”
“So, I’m looking among the passengers or crew then?” I asked.
“Not necessarily. It could have been placed among his medication. He’d have taken it eventually. On the boat, after he came home, any time at all. The field’s wide open. But you’re looking for a killer, Stuart.”
I went back to my office and thought deeply. Sandra’s suggestion was the obvious place to begin. I hesitated. A little research before I interview the lady or anybody else, I decided. I knew what the McGill couple were doing there. I would not need to investigate Sandra. But I’d need to find out what names appeared on the passenger manifest? What could I find out about the crew? I’d need to check out Felix’s business acquaintances and friends and I knew that would not be easy. I’d begin with the victim’s business records – my actions would have to be carefully considered. The rich tend to make the Chief Constable’s life unhappy when I upset one of that crowd and can’t make a charge stick. Hours later one name interested me. Samuel A. Cohen appeared to have no history – no driver’s licence, no record of birth, no traffic convictions, not even a parking ticket. All explainable, no doubt, I decided, but still very curious. It was a place to begin. But despite all my efforts, no Samuel A. Cohen took on flesh. A single mention in Felix’s private diary. His address an empty allotment in North Sherbrooke. Unknown to any neighbour. The mystery man’s name had surfaced, but not the man. I was left troubled and uneasy. I hate loose ends.
Mrs. McGill’s residence lay in one of the more exclusive of Sherbrooke’s suburbs. I handed a maid my card and was soon ushered into a plush living room where my hostess waited. A short, olive-skinned gentleman dressed in a smart, grey three-piece suit accompanied her. She introduced him as Solomon Levin.
“Authority at last,” Irene said. “What can you tell me about my husband’s death, Inspector?”
“May I sit down please, madam? I have a few questions to ask,” I replied.
She waved me to a lounge chair. Her eyelids were red and her face heavily powdered and I deduced that she had been weeping. I decided to keep the interview short.
“Please, ask your questions,” Irene said.
“Thank you,” I replied, as graciously as I could. For some reason, people born rich irritate me. I forced myself to remember that she was recently bereaved. I apologized for taking up her time. “It’s the policeman in me, I guess. I get paid to be nosey.” My attempt at levity received a frigid response from the toffee-nosed bitch. Mentally, I cursed myself for letting my feelings kick in and I ploughed on, trying my hardest to be civil.
“I wondered if you knew of any reason why somebody would want to take your husband’s life, Mrs. McGill,” I asked. “Did he have any personal enemies, any business worries he might have confided in you …?
My attempts to be the professional policeman were interrupted. “My husband never spoke about his business and he certainly showed no signs of worrying about it. He worked hard all his life. He had no enemies, everybody loved him,” Irene declared. “That’s right, Solomon. Tell him that’s right.”
“I would have to agree with Irene, Inspector,” Solomon replied. “Felix had many friends and spent all his time among his antiques. I can think of no one who would want to harm him.”
“Someone mentioned a watch, Mr. Levin. There was no watch among his effects,” I remarked.
“But, he never went anywhere without it! You must be mistaken, Inspector.”
“Definitely no watch. That’s very interesting. I’ll look into it. Well, that seems to be that. Thank you for your time, Mrs. McGill.” I stood up, preparing to take my leave. I knew there was fertile ground here. One of these two was going to help me with this case.
“I’ll see you out, Inspector,” Levin offered.
As we walked to the front door, I made conversation. “Mr. McGill seems to have done rather well for himself,” I remarked as I waved my hand at my surrounds.
“He was very successful at business,” Levin replied. He stopped me for a moment. “Are you quite certain about the watch, Inspector? That it’s missing, I mean?” He waited for an answer.
“I understand that you’re in shipping, Mr. Levin,” I commented, my hand on the doorknob. “I see that you actually own the ship on which Felix McGill died.”
“You’ve been doing your homework, Inspector,” Levin answered, obviously chagrined that I had not answered his question. “Yes, I own that ship and several others. It was I who gifted Felix and Irene their holiday.”
“One name interests me. A Samuel A. Cohen. Do you know anything of him?” I waited, hoping for information that would allay my unease. I like to have every block in place, and Cohen had not slotted in to the pattern.
“Never heard of him,” Levin replied, but a glimpse of something like surprise flickered in the impassive face before me. “I know hundreds of people,” he continued. “I’ll see what I can find out. Goodbye.” Levin closed the door.
When I let myself into the flat that evening, an aromatic meal was bubbling away on the stove and I realised how ravenous I was. Sandra emerged from the rear of the flat and hugged him, but her heart wasn’t in it. Uh-oh, I thought, she’s in one of her moods again. Washed, I did justice to the meal. Over coffee, I told her of my day.
“Samuel A. Cohen,” she remarked. “I don’t recall ever hearing that name before.” She began to clear the table.
“I need to ask you. When you waited on Felix McGill, did you notice if he was wearing that watch you told me about?”
She shuddered and said, “Yes, he was wearing it.”
“Can you remember when you last saw that watch? It’s missing,” I asked.
Sandra stared and then bristled.
“Hey, what is this? You’d better not be thinking what I think you’re …”
“Wait a minute, darling. You were on the yacht and I have to question everybody. I’ve got to …”
“Hold it right there, Mr. Inspector,” Sandra interrupted. “You’re not questioning me. I told you about that watch in the first place. What happened to trust?”
“Sandra,” I began, but she had stormed from the room. The bedroom door slammed and I heard the turning of the key in the lock.
“Damn! Damn! Damn!” I shouted, knowing a cold night on the couch now beckoned.
Next morning at the station, I reviewed what information I had. There was very little to go on. There was something about Solomon Levin that raised a mild suspicion in my inquisitive mind. Levin’s only family, a brother, lived in New York. Frustrated, I rang my friend, Barnaby Walters, a sergeant in the NYPD, and was lucky to find him at his desk.
“Barney old son! How’s it hanging?” I greeted my friend and former colleague. I had spent a short time at a seminar in New York on investigative techniques and we had become sharers of similar points of view.
“Stuart. Good to hear from you. The Aussies thrashed you at cricket again, I see? Change to baseball,” he joked.
The American expressed surprise when Solomon Levin’s name came up.
“Well, there’s a coincidence,” he said. “We’ve become very interested in that guy’s brother, Ernie. His laboratory seems to be unable to account for some chemicals that have gone missing; some of them real dangerous, too. We’ve been shadowing Ernie but coming up empty. Apart from an interest in the ladies, he lives a clean and blameless life. Too clean in my experience.”
“What sort of ladies?” I asked.
“He’s not fussy is Ernie. Most of them are in their twenties, but he did have one that must be fifty if she’s a day. We did a background on all of them but they’re all clean. Hookers mostly. We did wonder about the old duck. She’s not really Ernie’s style but she checked out OK. The wife of some antique dealer over your way.”
I took a sharp breath. It couldn’t be.
“Barney, the older woman. You didn’t get a name by any chance, did you?”
“Sure, buddy. Let me look it up for you … yeah, here it is … Irene McGill. Mean anything to you, Stu?”
“Oh Barney, my friend. I owe you a drink, I really do. Thanks buddy! You’ve made my day.” On impulse, I threw in the name Samuel A. Cohen. There was a sharp intake of breath and then a short silence.
“That name has cropped up in our investigation, Stu.” Barney was whispering. “Each time I try to track him down, I hit a brick wall. He’s a mystery man, Stu, and I hate mysteries. What have you got?” he asked. I told him the circumstances and the frustration at not unearthing the man. Barney was distinctly uneasy. I quickly severed the connection. Samuel A. Cohen had just zoomed up the ladder of importance.
The rain was bucketing down as I rapped on Irene McGill’s door and was admitted by the maid who had shown me in on my previous visit.
Irene McGill was alone and apparently more than a little inebriated. I greeted her and explained that I wished to conduct a formal interview. She waved away my suggestion that I return at a more suitable time.
I opened with, “Mrs. McGill, I understand that a few months ago you were in New York.”
She reminded me of an owl in the bright sunlight as she squinted in my direction.
“I was,” she slurred.
I continued, “I understand further that while you were in that city, you met with a Mr. Ernest Levin, the brother of Solomon Levin, whom I met last time I was here. I have reason to believe that you might have transacted some business in Mr. Levin’s apartment.”
“So?” Irene McGill replied.
“I believe that your business included buying or otherwise receiving a drug from the hands of Mr. Levin. Is that true?” I made my voice as uncompromising as I could.
“Why of course I did,” Irene giggled. “What’s that got to do with you?” She paused, and then laughed in my face. “You believe the drug I bought from Ernie killed my husband. That’s rich, that really is!” She rocked in her chair, howling and hiccoughing with laughter. Finally, she regained a semblance of control. “My dear Inspector! You’ve got it all wrong. Come, I’ll show you what I bought.” Irene stumbled her way to a bathroom and retrieved a bottle from the medicine chest.
“Look closely, Inspector. It’s from New York all right but I haven’t opened the bottle yet.” Irene began to cry. “But I will, Inspector, I will.”
“What is this medication for, Mrs. McGill,” I asked. The interview was not progressing as I expected.
“I have inoperable cancer, Inspector.” She stumbled over her words. “I’ll die very soon. Felix never knew about me. Not that he would have cared much. Only Sol and his brother knew. Take the medication, Inspector. I’ll get more when I’m ready.” She led me to the doorway. “I did not kill my husband, Inspector,” she told me as she closed the door. I had no reason to disbelieve her.
Sandra appeared to be out when I returned to the flat. I took a quick shower and, unable to settle, wandered around. Opening a drawer, I found Sandra’s briefs and skimpy bra. I returned them to the drawer and then, on impulse, buried my face in their softness. My heart ached with desire. She will marry me, I whispered to the empty flat. “She is my life,” I shouted, careless of who might hear me.
About to return the briefs, I noticed that the drawer stuck for a second and then shut. I must fix that, I thought. I studied the drawer with great care. It was crucial that it be right. I knew Sandra was meticulous about her things, almost as careful as I was. We were well matched in some ways. The drawer had a false bottom. With great care, I eased it from its resting place. What I expected to see, a watch, jewels sparkling in the afternoon light, winking up at me, was not there. Stunned, I staggered backwards until the bedroom wall stopped me. The woman I loved had found it. I shuffled to the lounge room and slumped into a chair.
“There has to be another explanation,” I mumbled, but I knew there wasn’t. In a sudden rage, I faced the conclusion that unless I could find another answer, Sandra was lost to me. I needed to think fast. The mystery man, Samuel A. Cohen, had to somehow wear the blame. But how? I racked my brain but little in the way of a viable plan emerged. I faced my destiny. Sandra’s love for me would keep her quiet or, I faced the ultimate truth, if she were not strong enough in her love, I would have no option but to kill her. I cursed Solomon Levin and his millions. If he had not offered me half a million pounds to relieve him of a blackmailer, I would never have tinkered with Felix McGill’s medication. Distraught, I awaited Sandra’s return.
Sandra drove into the garage and entered the flat. She stopped when she saw me, and I caught a flicker of pain in her eyes. “Hi, Stuart,” she said, “you’re home early. Have you come to interrogate me?” Her look was fierce; there would be no co-operation.
“What’s up?” she asked, when I did not respond.
“You tell me, Sandra,” I replied, deep sadness in my voice. “I missed you this afternoon and so I went snooping around. McGill’s watch is missing.”
“Why did you have to do it, Stuart?” Sandra whispered.
“How long have you known, Sandra?” I asked.
“You have to know now, Stuart. I’ve been working undercover for two years. I’m a policewoman.”
“Who’s Samuel A. Cohen, Sandra?” To my own ears, my voice was strained. I had no choice. I would have to kill her.
Tears trickled from her lovely eyes. “Why did you kill Felix McGill?” she asked. “I have to know. Please, this is very difficult for me. I fell in love with you, Stuart. It started out as just a job for me, but we became lovers. I could not believe what we all suspected … until I found the watch.”
“We?” I snapped, as I pulled a gun from the rear waistband of my slacks. “Who’s we, Sandra? Has Levin shopped me now that I’ve killed McGill for him? I have to see him tonight, Sandra. He owes me half a million pounds. We could live abroad all our lives with that sort of money. Come with me, Sandra. I don’t want to have to kill you.”
“But what about Barney Walters, Stuart? Won’t he be always on our track? We could never be happy, knowing that one day he might turn up.”
“Oh, so you know about my NYPD buddy. You are a clever girl. Congratulations. But don’t you worry about Barney, my darling. He looks after the New York end of things. He’s got the screws into Ernie Levin. Barney’s the hit man for the mob over there. He won’t bother us. Come with me, darling. Let’s collect the money from Solly and head to Brazil We’ll be safe and rich there.” I could feel a great weight move from my shoulders. She was going to co-operate. I lowered the gun.
“But there’s still a big problem, Stuart,” Sandra replied, the sadness in her eyes hitting me in the pit of my stomach.
“What now, Sandra?” I was becoming frustrated with her objections. “I love you. Don’t you care about me?” I asked. “What’s this problem?”
“I guess she means me,” a deep voice from the doorway to the garage answered.
“Who are you?” I began, before noticing the revolver in his steady hand.
“I believe you’ve been searching for Samuel A. Cohen, Inspector Lanham.” His Virginian brogue left no doubt of his origin. “Well, buddy, that’s me. The FBI asked me to look out for you and your dirty bunch. By the way, that lovely young lady relieving you of your hardware is my niece. She’s badly hurt, heartbroken because of you. She loved you, you miserable murdering scum. Oh, I wouldn’t try to deny our little conversation,” he added, as Sandra clicked the handcuffs on my wrists.
He gestured to a wall unit where a recorder kept on taping as it had done for the previous three hours.