Reaper Walks the Garden: Ray Irish Mystery Case File #2
Her body fell across the top steps, splattering the stone steps with blood. Silence covered the area under the treed canopy while the killer carefully avoided the spreading blood to place the object in his hand upon the step. Then, the person turned and stepped back to look over the sprawled body. With a sigh of satisfaction, the shadow went behind the body and kneeled before lifting the dead woman’s dress. Frogs croaked louder as darkness spread, breaking the peaceful stillness of the patio.
On the far side of the garden, a door suddenly opened. As two people stepped into the dusk, the opening released the noises of the party going on inside that end of the mansion.
A quiet curse escaped from the killer, who quickly finished the last insult. The sound of the shadow’s footsteps hastily crossed the bricks, moving back into the shadows by the massive mansion. The click of a doorknob followed by the soft grating noise of a door opening and closing confirmed the escape of the killer into the building.
The simple conversation between a man and a woman overcame the night sounds as they walked along the garden path. When they came underneath the overhang of a second story terrace, they stopped. Above them, a single orange eye of a lighted cigarette increased in intensity, then ebbed. The orange glow slowly moved as the person behind the cigarette silently kept a watch over the couple.
The couple continued their conversation as they drifted past the landscaped box cedar on the moonless fall night. They remained unaware of the observer, who looked through the open curtains of the French doors leading outside. The smoker could only make out parts of the conversation.
“I don’t know why you sent for me,” Ray Irish told the girl who hooked her arm with his. “I’m not in the same league. You’re in a wealthy family with plenty of suitors. Even the newspapers back in Oyster City have articles about you and your new beaus in the society pages.”
“Oh, you’re such a sweet innocent, darling,” Raquel Monroe replied with her polished Virginia drawl. “You told me the same thing before you left Williamsburg. Don’t you know that most of those articles are nothing more than rumors? The Monroe’s and the McCabe’s are just like any other family. When did the Navy give you a complex about rich families?”
Her blue eyes were alight as she beamed a smile.
“I’m nowhere close to innocent,” he growled. “I’m just saying, it’s been a few years, and I’m not the same guy you remember.”
“Well, I’m still the same,” she reminded him as she leaned against his arm. “After you left, I really missed you. You only sent me a few letters, then nothing. Didn’t you receive my letters telling you I wanted you to come back to me?”
“Listen, I remember what we talked about that last night we were together. Marriage was never in the mix. You pointed out that I had to work my way into the family. I’m even less the type of guy now.” Ray looked at her in the moonlight. Her confident beauty always made him wonder what she saw in him.
“Well, people don’t have to be married. We had a lot of fun, and we can still have a great time together.” Raquel laughed, then she feigned a pout. “You could have sent me a letter.”
“Where I was, I didn’t get those letters. Besides, I can guarantee you I wasn’t worth seeing in the last couple of years,” Ray said flatly. “Things change for some people.”
“And you won’t tell me about the past, is that it?” Raquel stopped them, looking up into his eyes. “Alright, I won’t talk about it, but I know you missed me. I can tell by the way you looked at me when you arrived. I can read your mind. We’re still great together.” She slipped both arms around his waist and lifted herself to kiss him.
Ray wasn’t enough of a gentleman to resist such an offer. He pulled her close, and their lips met. Locked together, he tasted the sweet nectar of champagne on her tongue. He remembered the nights together, where she taught him more than a few tricks. When they unwrapped, Ray turned her along the path around the back terrace of the large home.
“Alright, I missed you as well,” he admitted. “You’re a hell of a kisser, and even better in the sack. After I washed out at Camp Peary, we both knew the government wasn’t going to let me hang around.”
“You didn’t have to leave; you let your temper get the best of you. My uncle would have helped,” she purred. The woman brushed her blonde hair back over her bare shoulders. The blue dress Raquel wore was expensive, and she had the body to fill it out just right.
“Yeah, probably so, but a few years in the jungles did me a world of good.” Ray couldn’t help the sarcasm. It was his nature.
Raquel nodded and leaned against him.
“And now you’re a private detective. You know that’s how I found you. The local paper carried an article about Ray Irish and those jewels you recovered for Naomi Collins,” she explained. “It happens that Victor knows the Collins family. You really should talk to my uncle. He’s got connections that could help your work. Lord knows he’s helped Julia and me.”
Ray frowned. She meant well, but growing up with a silver spoon had a way of blinding her at times. Raquel descended from James Monroe and other powerful families from Virginia to England. Her family was gone, and she lived at the McCabe estate.
He had major misgivings in the first place. Raquel’s letter came out of the blue about two weeks earlier. She was still the bell of the ball with plenty of men tripping over themselves to make her a wife. While Irish still had a hunger for her, he was not deluding himself that he could keep up with her expensive tastes. During his trip by train, Ray kept debating the wisdom of returning to mingle within her social circle. He didn’t fit in before, and he most certainly wouldn’t fit in now.
It was Ray’s first time to Colonial Beach, just across the Potomac River from Oyster City. Only a couple of hours away by plane, expensive family estates were a world away for a shamus like him who could only afford the cheapest train ticket. He borrowed his dinner jacket from a lawyer friend.
Raquel brought him to the estate for the engagement party for her cousin, Julia Crockett, and her fiancée, Willis Cooper. Ray met the couple briefly during his wartime fling with Raquel. When she picked him up at the train station and drove to the estate earlier that day, Irish immediately knew he was out of place. She explained that most of the guests were business associates of McCabe and his company. Still, when Raquel took his arm and led him to the house, he felt strangely at home. She had that way with him.
His eyes focused on the shadows along the path in front of them. Ray brought them to a stop. He didn’t like what appeared to be lying along the walkway in front of them.
“Stay here!” he growled out. “I’ll be right…” Ray was already moving forward.
Raquel placed her hand on her hips while she watched his long-legged figure moving quickly ahead. He was still the tall and burly man with rough edges that first attracted her. However, the war had changed him. She knew he’d been injured which was confirmed by his pronounced limping gait. But, like nearly every man who returned, Ray wasn’t about to talk about what he went through. Still, she recognized the darkness behind the eyes that weren’t there when they dated for those few weeks. The look showed her he could join their family.
“You really know how to show a girl a good time, you cad,” Raquel sang out playfully. She kicked at the ground, wondering what he was searching for.
Ray didn’t appear to hear the complaint. He kneeled by a pyramid-shaped shrub and shook his head. Then, the man started looking around the area. Raquel watched him and slowly grew curious. And frustrated!
There was nothing remarkable about Ray. She remembered he drank too much at parties, and he lacked the ambition to climb into her circle. Their time together during the war gave the woman a lot of insight into his personality. Easily bored and quick-tempered, she liked the unvarnished man. She sighed and walked toward him.
“Come on, Ray,” she said. “You’re breaking the mood.”
The sound of her voice broke through Ray’s concentration. He quickly stood and told her to stop.
“Raquel, go inside and get your uncle,” he demanded. Raquel arrived before he could cut her off from the scene. Her face went ashen when she saw the body.
Face-down on the top of the terrace steps that led to the swimming pool was a female dressed in a white satin dress. The low-cut back of the dress exposed the many stab wounds across her white skin. There was no head attached to the body. It lay at the bottom of the steps. Long red hair spilled down over part of the walkway, along with a long dark trail of blood that spilled down the steps.
“Oh, my God, it’s Julia!” Raquel cried out. She attempted to go to the body. Ray grabbed her by the arm and turned her to face him.
“Raquel, there’s nothing you can do for her! You need to get your uncle and the police out here,” he ordered her. “Go get him. Now!”
Finally, she reacted to his command and fled toward the French windows on the other side of the garden. The noise coming from that side of the house told him that the party remained in full swing. He stooped to pick up the remnants of the crushed cigarette he noticed before Raquel walked up.
He held the bits of paper and charred tobacco in his hand, sniffing the familiar aroma. The sounds coming from the party rose dramatically when Raquel opened the doors to go inside the house. The terrace lights suddenly turned on. Ray placed the remains of the cigarette into the silver cigarette case he carried in his dinner jacket as he started looking over the area again.
Julia’s head had landed on its side, her eyes were open, and her face still showed the shock of death. He crouched down and touched the skin of her arm. Despite handling the bodies that he buried during the war, Ray still felt his skin crawl from the touch. The woman’s skin was already cooling in the night air. He estimated the murder had happened not long before he and Raquel left the house. He looked at her face again. Unlike the mangled and destroyed corpses he saw in the Pacific, even without a head, this dead woman would probably have an open casket funeral.
Unfortunately, it’s not much of a legacy.
He gazed at the body as he considered her upbringing. The charming, red-headed woman carried all the best references. Her uncle had the wealth, and she had the proper background to live out a normal life in comfort. Now her lifeless body lay on the steps, ready for pickup and disposal. Her brief life left no real heritage, just a marble marker to give a name and dates. Nothing to show this person had dreams for the future.
Ray heard the voices and movement of people approaching as he stood. In front of the crowd was Victor McCabe. He was the leader of Colonial Beach society and a wealthy businessman who controlled McCabe Enterprises. His company owned railroads and factories along the Eastern seaboard. The other partygoers, from long habit, fell in behind Victor McCabe.
Balding and of average height, McCabe carried his heavy bulk with grace. He carried a lethal combination of charm and insight along with the knowledge that money amounted to power. His black jacket and starched white shirt tried to give a sophisticated flair while covering the man’s overweight belly. His dark eyes surveyed the scene.
“What’s happened?” he asked in a low growl. He appeared upset for the interruption. “Raquel was a pale as a…”
McCabe broke off as Ray stepped aside so that he could see the body. For a moment the tycoon of Colonial Beach simply stared. When he did speak, it was in a strained, harsh tone.
“Oh, my God!” he stood rigid. “What’s happened here?”
“I’m guessing it’s a murder.” The thick sarcasm in Ray’s voice immediately brought the wealthy man out of his stunned stare. He gave Irish a quick glare before he sprang into action. He ordered his butler, who just arrived to turn on the outdoor lights. The thin servant with graying hair hurried inside.
McCabe swung around and addressed his guests as they slowly came forward. Irish looked over the fashionable group that reminded him of a pack of sheep. Introduced to most of them during the afternoon, Ray saw an expensive baker’s dozen with names like Graft, Parker, and Madison. All of them carried Wall Street portfolios and had estates in the area. Most were McCabe’s age and invited by him for the party.
The lights above the patio suddenly came on, causing a few stifled cries. Some in the small crowd were already turning a pale green color at the gory sight.
Victor McCabe addressed his butler, who hastily returned.
“Harris, something tragic has happened to Miss Crockett. Go inside and phone the police station,” he ordered. “I want Chief Potter out here. Then find Willis Cooper. He’s somewhere inside. Also, inform my wife if she’s with him.”
Ray stepped past McCabe as he looked over each person carefully. He guessed that one of them might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing as he silently scanned their clothes. The shamus saw no traces of blood. Then again, he didn’t expect to see any. He already determined the murderer had time to slip inside to change, then either leave or return to the party.
McCabe waded into the group who parted for him like waves pushed aside by a boat. He was at his most charming when he took control of a situation.
“Everyone, please return to the house,” he ordered them. “Harris will bring you whatever drinks you want. I’m sorry, but you’ll need to be available when the police arrive. Please forgive me.”
Ray started to follow them, but McCabe grabbed him by the elbow.
“Not you,” he said, briefly at a loss to remember his house guest’s name. “Ray, that’s it. Please wait a minute.” McCabe paused while the others retreated inside.
“You’ve had some experience with this sort of thing,” he told Ray. “Our family might need your help in clearing up this matter.”
Irish looked at McCabe, unsure how to respond for a moment.
“Listen, I’m a private detective, and my type isn’t welcomed by the police when they investigate a murder,” he replied.
“That’s just my point,” said McCabe. “I saw you already investigating the people standing around. While I’m sure none of our guests did this, Colonial Beach is a small town with a small police force. We don’t have murders here. I want your help to protect the family and the McCabe name.”
“I’m not sure how much help I can give you,” the shamus warned.
“Never mind that,” snapped McCabe. “I want you to keep an eye on how the police are handling this. I will protect my family and my reputation. Look at poor Julia! This is bound to stir up the local yokels against us. There’s a crazy killer on the loose. I can’t afford the police to get this wrong. Just name your fee.”
Ray took a deep breath, looking around the quiet garden.
“Alright, since I’m already in this mess, I’ll agree to keep an eye out for anything that’ll cause you problems.” Ray glanced back at the body. “I have already seen some evidence which I’ll turn over to the cops. We’ll settle up when the police leave.”
When McCabe agreed, Ray pointed toward the French windows above the murder scene.
“What room is that?” He asked. McCabe turned to look.
“That’s the master bedroom,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
Before Ray could reply, he saw a couple rushing down the path toward them.
“You have more company coming.”
McCabe turned and scowled for a moment at the man and woman who hurried down the path toward them. It was Willis Cooper, the dead girl’s fiancé. The sheen of the man’s smoothly brushed brown hair gleamed in the terrace lights. He wore a handsomely tailored evening jacket. Willis stood a foot taller than his boss, with a dark complexion and brown eyes to match his handsomely sullen face. His unsteady gait as he walked revealed he had too many drinks.
Victor McCabe’s wife, Maria, arrived with him. She was clad in dark blue silk with cloth of silver belt and shoulder straps. Her hair bleach blonde hair looked almost grey in the glare of the light, and she had the green eyes of a cat. Her wide face attempted to remain calm beneath her pancake powder mask. Ray noticed smeared lipstick on her thin lips.
“My dear, what is it? Harris told us there was something wrong.” Her English accent appeared fitting to the murder scene, Ray thought as he looked over the additional cast.
“Don’t come closer, Maria,” Victor warned his wife. “This concerns Willis.”
“But, Victor, you know my curiosity,” she protested. The woman went quiet when her husband glared at her.
“Alright, what gives?” Cooper asked.
“Very well,” Victor told him bluntly. “Your fiancée is dead. Julia’s over on the patio.”
“Oh, no!” cried Maria McCabe. She placed her fist on her lips and stepped back a pace, appearing unsteady on her high-heeled silver slippers. When her husband stepped toward her, she rebounded.
“I’m all right, really. It—it’s just the shock.” She told them. “My God, who would do this?”
Willis walked over to the body and Ray followed closely. He watched the man grimaced. Then, Cooper quickly turned away. He uttered a pathetic moan before throwing up in the bushes next to the path. Desperately his hands sought his pockets, emerged with a handkerchief to wipe his lips.
“Sorry,” he mumbled out. For a moment, Ray thought the man might drop to his knees. However, Cooper remained standing, while refusing to look back at the body.
“Better go inside, Willis,” McCabe told him gently as he guided him away. “Take Maria with you and make sure you give her one of her tranquilizers. Harris will tend to the guests. None of us can do anything until Potter and his men get here.”
Irish walked next to McCabe.
“Make sure none of the guests decide to leave,” he warned. “It’ll be a long night.”
Irish watched the events occurring near the main staircase inside the mansion. He had just returned from a quick examination of possible routes the murderer took when the police arrived. There were three staircases inside the house, two of which were on the backside leading to servant quarters or near the master bedroom. Ray started from the doors leading from the murder scene and worked his way upstairs. He looked along the carpet, but he didn’t see any bloodstains. However, he did find a closet with a bloody raincoat and galoshes.
Ray followed the hallway back to find Raquel who sat on the cushioned window seat near the marble landing. He quietly sat next to her, and she leaned against him. Across the room, Ray noticed Maria passing by the closed door of the study. She was smoking a cigarette, appearing interested in the conversation inside the room. Ray couldn’t understand her glances at him and Raquel. Her expression appeared strained, yet curious. Raquel told Ray once that she and Maria had a bit of a rivalry. He wasn’t sure the reasons behind it.
“How is my uncle holding up?” She asked while fidgeting with the hem of her dress.
“Last I saw, he’s running the show,” he told her with surprise in his voice. “Potter and he spoke for a while, but I didn’t hear most of it. Why do you ask?”
“This whole thing will upset him so,” she explained. “He may not act like it at times, but he’s very sensitive about those in his family. Julia and I were nearly the same age. Victor always called us his daughters. Her death will hurt him terribly.”
Distracted, Ray nodded his agreement.
“I’m surprised Julia finally decided to marry Willis,” Raquel continued. The talking appeared to help her. “She’s always been headstrong about certain things. We’re very much alike in some ways. I mean Willis wanted to marry her for a while. In fact, I know he asked her several times. Maria hated Julia because of it. Funny thing is Willis would never get uncle to agree.”
“I thought Willis was the president of a couple of your uncle’s operations?” the shamus pulled back to look at her. “Isn’t he wealthy enough for Victor?”
She glanced up.
“Oh, it’s not that really. Like I said, Uncle treats us like he’s our father, and you know how fathers can be,” she explained. “He took us in when we were so young, and he’s raised us as his daughters. Victor always insisted that we were his family. Julia’s choice upset Victor. I believe he had other ideas about a suitable match. However, he’s been so good about it recently. He and Julia must have come to an understanding because my uncle insisted that I arrange this party and help with all the guests’ invitations.”
Ray was going to ask for more, but a uniformed policeman by the name of Brody arrived in the hallway. He was as big as Irish with a soft looking face. The cop also carried a swagger with his badge.
“Chief wants to talk with both of you,” he told them in a thick accent. “He’s in the study.”
Raquel rose, shook the wrinkled folds of her black crepe gown. Ray gave her a sympathetic smile, and they followed the policeman downstairs.
Chief Joe Potter was alone in the study when they entered. He sat behind a Jacobean desk with scribbled pieces of paper lying across the leather top. One corner had a large napkin covering something Ray couldn’t identify. The policeman rose and pointed them to the matching seats opposite of him. His peppered gray hair was cut short, giving up on the spreading bald spot. The police chief had a broad, sunburned face with heavy eyebrows. He wore a rumpled gray suit and a scarlet tie.
Potter explained that he already spoke with most of the guests, and he told them everyone was a suspect for the moment. He turned his attention to Irish first.
“Alright, I’ve already heard about you from Mr. McCabe,” he told Ray. “You just arrived today, and I know that you are friends with Ms. Monroe. That makes you suspicious in my eyes. I want your story starting when you arrived on the estate.”
Irish nodded, then gave Potter the complete story of his time with Raquel and their discovery of the slain girl’s body. The policemen appeared satisfied with the answers until Ray told him about sending a policeman to look into the backdoor closet.
“You’ll want to see the evidence in there,” the shamus stated.
“You two stay here,” the policeman ordered. In a flash he was out of the room, yelling for Brody.
After Potter returned, he started to say something to Irish but though the better of it. Instead, Potter turned his questions to Raquel, specifically about her relationship with Julia.
“We were the best of friends, almost like sisters,” she told Potter. Raquel sniffed, trying hard to keep from breaking down. “She was so excited about getting married to Willis. It surprised me, of course. It’s all she talked about when she came home this week.”
“I understand that your cousins to Mr. McCabe. What do you mean by the term home?” Potter asked.
“Oh, both of us considered the mansion as our home. Victor insisted on that. We both have rooms here and the arrangement about…” The woman paused to compose herself. “What I mean to say is that we spent a lot of time here. Both Julia and I lost our parents when we were young, so Victor was the only one who could raise us.”
The policeman looked up from his notes.
“I’m sure your fathers might have had a say in that?”
Raquel looked down.
“I’m afraid neither of us knew our fathers,” she told him. “You see, Victor told us that his sisters had us out of wedlock.” Ray watched the discussion with interest and was about to ask a question as Potter’s face turned red.
“Oh, I see! It doesn’t matter. Let’s get back to Julia. Did she have any boyfriends before Mr. Cooper?” The policeman went back to scribbling his notes on a sheet of paper.
“Well, there is Harry Pitts,” Raquel told him. “They dated several times. However, Victor didn’t approve of him. The Pitts are union supporters. I’m afraid that they did not make a good impression with my uncle. Then, there were others, but I’m afraid she hasn’t seen any of them for quite a while. There were others at the club who approached her. However, I can’t say that she dated them.”
When both had finished the responses to Chief Potter’s questions, he thanked them. When Ray rose to leave, Potter told him to stay.
Raquel departed, carefully glancing back at Ray while his gaze followed her out of the door.
“Now, let’s have it. Mr. McCabe says you have evidence. Your little charade earlier with the closet isn’t going to make you my friend. You know you’re not supposed to touch anything.”
“I opened the doorknob using my handkerchief, but I’ll bet it was already wiped to remove fingerprints. You’ll find out as soon as your men dust it. As for this evidence, I didn’t want it to get lost with all of the people running around the crime scene before you arrived,” Ray explained smugly.
He drew out his cigarette case, then put the shaggy remnants of the butt on the desk. Potter smiled at the candy cigarettes he noticed in the rest of Ray’s silver case.
“You like to hang out at the candy store?” Potter mumbled out his joke.
“No, I chew on these candies instead of hacking out my lungs. It was the only way I found to break the habit,” Irish explained. He was used to the cracks.
Potter gave him a scowl, then poked at the evidence in front of him with his forefinger.
“Well, hotshot, it doesn’t look as if we could get much from that,” he replied.
“Chief, take a smell of that tobacco. It’s mentholated, and the brand name is near the filter,” Ray reminded him.
“So, it’s menthol,” the policeman agreed. “That company makes them by the thousands.
“It may not mean a thing,” agreed Ray. “I just suggest that you have your guys look around the house. Whoever killed Julia might have made a mistake. Maybe one of the guests may have used that brand of cigarettes and could have hidden the box. Maybe the same person might have left something in that closet.”
“That seems reasonable,” the chief told him carefully. “Just so we’re clear, I’m running the show. No more surprises from you. The way I figure it, the killer changed out in the closet, and they either went to mix with the other guests, or they left. That makes me darn sure someone in this household did it. I’ll give ten to one on that idea.”
“I wouldn’t take your bet, Chief.” The shamus stated. “It also makes me a suspect.”
“Just finding evidence that you might have planted won’t get you off my list,” he warned.
“Fair enough,” Ray agreed. “Now, here’s a bet for you. I’ll lay money that this murder is premeditated. Someone felt a need to butcher Julia, not just kill her. Otherwise, why display her head that way. Just slitting her throat would have been enough.”
Potter scowled at the thought, then looked down at his notes.
“You know most of the people, is that correct?” he asked Irish. “How well did you know the victim?”
“I don’t know anyone really,” Ray told him. “I’m like a fish out of water with this group. I briefly met Julia and Willis in ’43 near Williamsburg at the navy base there. I met some of their friends at the time, but they wouldn’t know me either.” He paused thoughtfully. “Raquel did introduce me to her uncle one evening, but I didn’t think he was terribly impressed with me. He had a contract with the navy at the time. That was before I…well, it was before I shipped overseas. Raquel is the only one that I know very well.”
“Yeah, I guessed that,” Potter gave a knowing smile. “Was she with you the whole time this evening?”
“She and I were together since I arrived this afternoon. Raquel stepped away for a few minutes here and there to chat with people who arrived late or others who were going to the next party down the street. It seems your town has standing parties within all the rich estates.”
“Yeah, tell me something I don’t know,” the cop agreed. “What about Raquel? Did she leave you for an extended time?”
“No, she was dragging me from one couple to the next couple to introduce me. You can tell she’s been raised with social standing. From the looks I got from Victor McCabe, he wasn’t happy how much time I was spending with Raquel,” Ray replied.
“Did you see Julia at any time?” the policeman asked.
“Yes, only once when I arrived. Raquel was talking with Julia at the time.” Irish frowned as he thought about the people he saw. “In fact, other than Raquel and these couples I was getting introduced to, I didn’t see much of the rest of the family during the evening.”
“Yeah, that matches what I know. By the way, Victor told me about your work. I remember that newspaper article about the case in Oyster City. He also told me you’re on the case as well. I don’t know that I like that.”
“Yeah, I get it. Just so you know, McCabe hired me to keep an eye on you and your men,” he told the policemen. “He claims that he’s nervous about his reputation.”
Potter’s eyes narrowed, then he chuckled. The policeman looked over to ensure the door was closed.
“I should have expected as much. Alight, you seem on the level. I don’t hear about too many honest private dicks. Hell, I was just an air warden during the war, and it helped get me elected to this job. We don’t get murders like this,” he admitted.
“Doc Simon is our medical examiner and the closest thing we got to a detective. Simple killing down at a bar over a jealous boyfriend is the only one I can remember around here in the last ten years,” Potter explained to Irish. “I hate to admit it, but on top of that, most of my deputies are part-time and wet behind the ears. You can imagine what’ll happen if they start running around, turning things upside down with these rich people.”
“Yeah, I think I get it,” Ray said. “You’re looking for a backup as long as I’m quiet and give you everything that I find out. Is that it?”
“You do that and let me handle the press. One thing though, I can’t rule out you or your girlfriend yet,” he warned Irish. “I’ve got some friends back at the capital who’ll check up on you.”
“That suits me. Do you mind if I listen in on the next interviews? I’ll keep out of your way.”
Potter stared at him for a moment before finally agreeing.
“I have Mr. Cooper coming in next,” the cop told him. “I’m curious how he’ll react to you getting involved. McCabe suggested the idea.”
“Did he? It appears Mr. McCabe is full of surprises. What about the million-dollar portfolio of guests at the party?” I take it that they’re on the list of suspects as well.” Ray suddenly wondered about all the twists behind the murder.
“I’ve spoken to several of them. The guests are naturally in a hurry to leave town. I think they sense a scandal coming. However, I don’t think I can put a bunch of rich businessmen high on the list. According to McCabe, he invited them to the estate as a last-minute thought. He and Cooper have a business idea that they’re keen on getting investors involved with.” Potter scratched his head thoughtfully, then leaned forward. “Do you know if McCabe’s company is having financial issues?”
“No, I haven’t heard anything like that. What have you heard?” Ray asked, genuinely surprised by the question.
“Just reading between the lines, mind you. But several of the supposed investors pointed out that Mr. McCabe was a little too eager in their discussions about money.” The policeman gave him a knowing smile. “Well, anyway, I doubt that has any bearing on this murder. While I can’t rule the investors out, I don’t see any reason they would want to kill Miss Crockett. From what I’m hearing, they barely even knew her.”
“That seems reasonable, but I would still get a wire out to the state police with their names just to make sure who everyone is,” Ray suggested. “You never know if someone is lying to you.”
Potter smiled at him.
“That’s a good idea! I’ll do that along with you and Ms. Monroe’s names,” he agreed with a self-satisfied smile. “Alright, before I bring Cooper in, I want you to have a look at this.”
He flipped back a napkin on the desk. Several objects lay there. The first thing Ray noticed was the blood-stained curved blade dagger with a silver handle. Delicate engravings covered the handle and the blade. The fingerprint dust remained on the weapon, dulling the shine.
“Damn!” said Ray. “That’s an expensive ancient weapon. Where was it? I didn’t see it by the body.”
“That’s right,” said the chief. He flipped over to a page of his notes. “The doc said the dagger blade was deliberately slid into the woman’s vagina. It fell out with they picked up the body.”
Ray whistled at the news.
“That meets my definition of insanity,” he told the cop. “I assume no prints?”
“Yes, you can see Doc had my men dust it,” Potter replied. “You can see the rest of her items don’t give us much to go on.”
The contents of Julia’s evening bag made up the rest of the inventory. A first glance, they appeared to be the normal items, money, lipstick, handkerchief, cards, along with a sterling silver compact.
“By the way, Doc told me that his preliminary examination showed Miss Crocket must have been killed sometime right after sunset. That means about six thirty.”
“How can you know that?” Ray asked.
“The kitchen window overlooks that part of the patio,” Potter said. “The maid was cleaning dishes and stated she didn’t see anyone there.”
“Did your doctor come up with anything more about Julia’s murder?”
The policeman nodded his head.
“Yes, he thinks that she had her throat cut, then her head was removed. The killer stabbed her multiple times in the back with that dagger after she was dead. I’m guessing you saw those wounds.” Irish nodded slowly as he recalled the scene.
“By the way, the weapon came from this room. According to Harris, that’s McCabe’s butler, the dagger remains locked in a drawer as part of his collection of weapons. I guess he’s got a blood relation over Oyster City that collects these things as well.” Potter pointed to the shelving on the wall.
“You can see there’s no damage to the drawer on the display case. I’ve had my men make sure to do an inventory. Nothing else is missing.”
Irish looked at the blood-stained blade, already turned black, with a detachment he did not feel. Overseas he had seen plenty of Japanese instruments of murder and torture. But even though he barely knew Julia Crockett, there was something personal about this. He tried to picture her as she had been earlier, a pretty girl who beamed a big smile and ready for her upcoming wedding.
“Something is wrong here. That tells me that we have cold-blooded planning on this,” Ray told the chief. “Someone has the key or knew where the key was for unlocking the drawer.”
“According to the servants, the key stays on the shelf right above the cabinet,” the policeman told him. “That means anyone could have done it.”
Potter pointed to a business card.
“We found that in the dead girl’s bag,” he said. Ray looked at the card.
COLONIAL BEACH MOTOR COURT
Clean Rooms – Swimming and Beach Accommodations
$3.00 for one - $4.00 for two
Sam Phillips, Proprietor
Call Colonial Beach 655-AC
“Don’t know the place,” Irish said. “You think she was meeting someone out there?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Potter shook his head. “We get calls from upset wives about the place. We think it’s become a place for lonely hearts and drug deals. I’ve had my men pull a few bad apples out of there. I can’t imagine that the Crockett girl would want her reputation sullied by getting caught in a place like that.”
“Still, you never can tell.” Ray loosened his collar. “In my experience, women can play a part when they want something. Maybe she was meeting Willis out there?”
“You’re a cynic, Mr. Irish,” the chief told him with a grin as he covered the evidence again with the cloth. “I guess that possible. I don’t know why they would bother. There are enough places to hide out on this estate with all of the buildings around. Well, let’s get Cooper in here. Maybe he can give us some ideas.”
The policeman called out, and one of his uniformed officers briefly looked in, then exited after his instructions.
A cool and calm Willis Cooper entered the room a moment later. He was close to forty, if not older. Ray was sure women would consider the man to be a handsome devil. The age difference between Cooper and his never-to-be bride suddenly struck Irish. According to Raquel, Julia recently turned twenty-five. Why the attraction to an older man?
Ray noticed Willis demeanor remained composed although his lips moved to an annoyed thin line when he saw the shamus remaining in the room.
Cooper spoke to the chief politely.
“You know Mr. Irish, I believe,” said Potter. At Cooper’s nod, the cop continued, “He’s watching our proceedings on behalf of Mr. McCabe for the moment. Mr. Irish also found the remnants of a menthol cigarette. It appears you are the only one in the party who uses that brand. Do you know who else might smoke that brand?”
“Sorry, I don’t know,” said Cooper.
He was perfectly cool as he sat there, awaiting the next question. Ray recognized suspect was playing it too casually. He just wasn’t sure what it meant.
“It was recently left near where the body was found,” Potter explained. “Now, were you on the patio today before the body was found?”
“I was nowhere near that side of the house,” Cooper insisted. “After I arrived in the afternoon, I was with Maria, I mean Mrs. McCabe much of the time. If I took a break, it was through the doors on the other side of the house. I believe many people will vouch for that.”
“Then, can you provide an account for why your cigarette ended up on the ground there?” Potter’s face was growing redder.
Cooper smiled smugly, directing his gaze at Ray, “I believe you know that I am required to say nothing until I have seen my lawyer.”
Ray nodded, and the man turned back to the policeman. Potter grew livid at the implied slight.
“I’m in charge here, don’t you forget that, Cooper.” The policeman asked again about the evidence.
“I do want to cooperate in bringing Julia’s murderer to justice. But, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think I would hurt my fiancé. I have no reason to hurt her.”
He frowned as his focus darted between the remnants of the cigarette and Potter’s face. Then, his smug look returned.
“I remember, just before I went into the pantry, someone at the party asked for one of my cigarettes. I didn’t think anything off it. That’s all.”
Ray’s eyes narrowed at the sudden recall. Willis was either in earnest or decidedly clever. The shamus decided it was the latter.
“Who was this person?” The policeman asked suspiciously. Ray was glad he wasn’t the only one who remained doubtful.
“Sorry,” the suspect replied. “I fear I was a bit stiff at the time. Too many martinis I’m afraid. I’m starting to pay for them now, I can tell you.” He grimaced with the pain of a headache as he put his hand to his face. Ray wasn’t sure if it was an act. “That’s part of the reason why Maria hauled me into the pantry. She knew I was inhaling too much of the firewater.”
“You said it was him, then you’re sure it was a man?” Ray interjected.
“Yes, I’m pretty sure,” said Cooper. “Wish I could do more.”
“Perhaps you can,” Chief Potter placed the business card across the desk. “We found this in your fiancée’s handbag. Does it mean anything to you?”
Cooper glanced at it before he leaned over and looked at the white card. Then he gave a raspy, unpleasant chuckle.
“I can’t say I know anything about this card,” he said. “A man of…my experience does not find women to be especially honest, even after marriage. I knew Julia had a man or two in the background.” He paused and glanced at Irish. “Very close in the background.”
“Then, you were never out there with Julia?”
Cooper shook his head.
“Didn’t her past associations with these men concern you?” Potter asked with surprise at the candid response.
Cooper flashed his million dollar smile.
“Why should it? The marriage would bring me into Mr. McCabe’s family. Not the other way around. You probably know that my Cooper ancestors weren’t exactly rolling in dough. Victor pays me well but becoming part of the family would ensure my future.”
Chief Potter glared, then let his suspect go. After Cooper left, the policeman scribbled down several lines, underlining the lines several times.
“He’s a piece of work. A gold-digger in reverse,” Potter muttered as he wrote.
“When I saw him show up to see the body, Cooper appeared pretty stiff. It doesn’t mean he couldn’t have killed Julia, but he has a point about not killing his golden goose.
“I don’t trust him,” the policeman stated.
“Cooper is too honest and still deceitful at the same time. The few times we’ve spoken, he struck me as a man who holds his cards close,” Ray stated. “I wonder if he’s playing clever to get the suspicion off him. Who’s next on your list?”
“Mrs. McCabe,” said Chief Potter, rubbing his chin. “We spoke briefly while I interviewed her husband. She appeared too willing to explain her time with Cooper. Rumor has it that she and Cooper are very chummy.”
When the thin blonde wife came into the room, she moved like she was on a fashion runway. Her thick makeup was successful in hiding most of her emotions. Ray guessed she tried to maintain a vice-like grip on the age of twenty-nine. While the body still held up, the hint of wrinkles was fully exposed by the low cut of her dress, which she made sure to use to its full effect.
“I know it’s getting late, but I need a statement about your whereabouts around the time Miss Crockett was killed.” The policeman went back to his notes on the desk. “That was just after sunset. Where were you at that time.?”
Maria McCabe shuddered visibly. It was an act. She gave the two men her best doe eyes. The action merely confirmed Ray’s suspicion.
“I’m not sure. I wasn’t outside, and you know how time just flies during a party. You see I was helping with some of the refreshments. Later on, of course, Willis needed my help with the punch. We were in the pantry for quite a while,” she explained.
“I thought you had staff for keeping the drinks and appetizers going at this party?” Ray’s irony caught her attention. The police chief noticed her icy glare.
“Yes, that’s an interesting point, Mrs. McCabe. Are you always helping your servants?” He asked. Maria immediately gave the policeman a smile.
“You misunderstand. Harris was called away by Victor, so I had to ensure that the staff kept things moving.” Ray thought her smile was as fake as a two-dollar bill.
“And you say you spent much of the time making a punch?” The policeman observed. “Normally, that shouldn’t take much time.”
“Oh, just finding Willis when he’s been having martinis can take quite a bit of time. You see, he is a master with the drinks,” she explained. “After I made sure the servants were staying on top of things, I went to get Willis so everything would be completed in time for Julia’s grand entrance. You see, he can be frightfully forgetful, especially when he’s been dipping into the punch as they say.”
“If you went looking for him, that must mean he was away for a while. Did he leave when you were together?” Ray queried.
“No,” she replied with a careful wariness of him now. Irish smiled at her answer.
“What about Miss Crockett?” Potter looked up from his writing. “How well did you know her?”
“I didn’t know her well,” Maria stated as she put her mink wrap over her bare shoulders. “I’d hardly have taken her for the type to get murdered on other people’s terraces.”
“That’s an interesting statement,” said the policeman. “I was under the impression Julia and Raquel practically lived here. Mr. McCabe considered them as his girls. One would think you bumped into Julia a few times.”
The woman’s face blanched behind the makeup.
“Yes, that’s true.” She stammered out. “You see, Julia and I were not really friends. I’m not one to speak ill of the dead, but I’m afraid that Julia had a problem with me from the time that I married Victor. I didn’t know many of her friends, any more than I know Raquel’s acquaintances.” She pointedly looked over at Irish.
“We’re not what you call a close family. Victor has his own ideas about such things.”
“And what did you think about Mr. Cooper marrying Julia?” Potter asked with a sigh. Ray noticed the cop wasn’t expecting a truthful answer.
“I was quite stunned when she told us that she accepted Mr. Cooper’s marriage proposal. I mean, they’re so incompatible. And Julia strung him along for years.” The woman had regained her composure and purred out the lines.
“How did your husband react to the marriage proposal?” Irish asked.
“You could tell he was surprised, quite astonished actually. However, he’s been a whirlwind of help to the girls. I’ve hardly had time to him for myself.”
After a few more questions, the police chief dismissed McCabe’s wife. He looked over to Irish as she closed the door behind her.
“She’s a barrel of information,” he sighed. “More like a barrel of lies. I was wondering how she kept them straight.”
“She didn’t. I believe she’s not worried. After all, Maria’s married to a wealthy man, and that position carries power for her. It gives you an idea of how she’ll handle any pressure,” Ray replied.
“Yeah, but which lies do you start with? She doesn’t make any bones about her and Cooper’s friendship,” Potter observed. “I should have asked her about the Colonial Beach Motor Court.”
“She would have lied about it. However, it’s a good place to start,” the shamus agreed.
Since you’re working for McCabe, why don’t you run over there and earn your paycheck,” Potter suggested suddenly. “Maybe you can check out how many of our suspects stayed at the motor court?”
Irish stared at the policeman with the skepticism covering his face.
“I would think your men can do a better job than I can.”
“No, we know the owner too well. He’s not talking without a warrant. And I’m not going to old Judge Byer for one. It’s gotten to the point that he has his lawyer stopping by my office anytime my men go out there.” He paused and looked over Ray again. “I thought you were protecting McCabe and his family. If his wife and Julia were out there, it might be related to the killing.”
“I guess somebody needs to check on it,” Ray reluctantly agreed. He looked at his watch, and it confirmed why he was getting tired. “Are you going to put a man on Cooper?”
The man behind the desk laughed.
“I’ve only got three guys on the force,” he told Irish, “And Cooper knows each of them. Don’t take it so bad. At least you’re not hanging around here while the servants give me their statements next.”
“Then, it appears I need to find a car and have a chat with this guy named Sam Phillips,” the shamus stretched after rising from his comfortable chair.
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Ray Irish slowly opened the door to the vast living room, lost in thought. He quietly stepped across the carpeted floor, absently cast his gaze around as he looked for Raquel. After he left Potter, Irish ran into Harris who told him that he hadn’t seen her. Making his way through the long and silent room, Ray thought of the clues and the motives he knew or surmised. Nothing was clear.
Above him, costly tapestries and garish looking paintings looked down on the wreckage of the party. It was after midnight, and the room smelled of filled ash-trays along with vapors of booze from the empty and half-empty glasses sitting everywhere. A rose-colored punch in threatened to overflow at any minute upon the mahogany table which supported it. Ray picked up an empty glass and dipped it into the punch for a drink. It tasted like watered down fruit juice.
As he took a seat on an expensive gold couch to clear his head, Ray heard Victor McCabe’s whispering voice. Raquel’s voice answered, causing Irish to look around. It took several moments before he realized Victor and his niece were sitting at the far end of the room in an isolated alcove. Unseen from either end of the room, the alcove was nearly surrounded by strategically placed décor of thick plants and Japanese screens.
Ray was about to speak up, but something in the tone of the voices made him strain to listen. He crooked back his head to see that their whispers carried across the room from an air vent just behind Ray’s couch. The words weren’t always clear, but the whispered tones and clipped snippets revealed the actions. Then, he heard the familiar noise of a zipper. Irish shook his head, his mind caught between incredulity and revulsion. He stood and quietly made his way closer to the alcove.
What the hell was going on?
When he reached the corner, the whispers were only coming from Victor now. Ray saw a pair of high-heeled pumps first which led up a pair of calves exposed below the folds of a black crepe dress. He peeked around the corner, pushing silently far enough to see two people reflected in a mirror hanging on the wall. In front of the sofa, Ray witnessed Raquel on her knees, positioned between sprawled legs of her uncle. Her location explained the noises the two people were making. The young woman serviced her uncle like a pro skirt in the back alleys of Oyster City.
“You’re such a good girl,” the fat man kept whispering with his hand grasping the back of her bobbing head. His other hand held a glass of brandy.
Ray’s mind reeled at the display, and he slowly backed away until the scene was invisible to him. The sounds continued while Ray quietly retreated to the other side of the room.
Well, I guess Raquel learned her tricks at home!
For a long moment, the shamus remained in a state of stunned disbelief. As he tried to decide what to do, a brief wave of resentment nearly sent him back to expose them to the world. Then, he remembered something that Raquel said about competition with Maria. The thought of a family rivalry amid the question of who killed Julia made him discard his shattered image concerning Raquel. Everyone was a suspect. And he decided that motives weren’t clear yet.
In the end, lies always catch up with you.
Ray quietly went back to the entrance door to the room. He opened it and then shut the door loudly. He slowly and loudly retraced his steps back toward the alcove. When he arrived, Victor was relaxed on one corner of the sofa with a brandy glass in his hand. Raquel had just made it back to the other side. She was applying her lipstick as Irish scowled at them.
“Oh, I figured Mrs. McCabe was here from the noise I heard,” he told them with intended irony. Neither of them reacted to his quip.
“Harris told me that she drove Willis home,” Raquel replied smoothly. She rose from the sofa and came next to Ray, slipping an arm through his. He looked at her, forcing himself not to pull away. Still, her touch gave him caused him to feel goosebumps rise on his arm.
“He doesn’t have a car?” Ray wondered aloud.
“Yes, Maria explained that his Packard is in the shop,” McCabe explained with a chuckle. “She’s always taking him to places. He says he ordered a new car since he can’t keep that one running.”
“Cooper’s been with you for a while now,” Irish observed.
“Don’t know what I’d have done without him. Willis has keen business skills, and he’s got that killer instinct you need to run my operations. That’s why my plants turn profits despite all the labor problems.” McCabe frowned. “The damn defense conversation is killing us.”
“Ray, I’m a good judge of people. That means I’m not above using a person’s skills to my advantage. You need to remember that when you work for me.” The shamus glanced at his niece and nodded.
“Now, did you get anything from Potter?” McCabe asked.
“We have lots of alibis and the clues point back to a weapon everyone had access to so far. The motives are hard to pinpoint at this point. No direct evidence comes back at your family so far. I’ve been asked to check on something for Potter,” Ray told McCabe. He tried to remain vague. It was hard not to explain to a guy that his cheating wife and her lover were the top suspects.
“That’s good news. Potter trusts you,” McCabe said as he rubbed his chin. “I didn’t expect him to take you into his confidence so quickly. What are your plans?”
“I need to get over to the Colonial Beach Motor Court? I’m here to borrow a car.”
Raquel leaned close against him.
“You can use my car as long as I drive,” she said with a smile. “I know where it is.”
Her uncle chuckled again. “She’s curious, isn’t she? Watch out, Raquel has grown up knowing how to get what she wants. She’s a woman of ambition, much like poor Julia.”
Ray glanced at her, but he couldn’t think of an excuse to leave her.
“Alright, but it’s your lack of sleep,” he grumbled.
They left the mansion by a side entrance and walked to the garage. Raquel slid in behind the steering wheel of her Buick Super convertible.
“Tell me about Harry Pitts,” Ray insisted as they drove the long driveway to the main road into town. “I didn’t meet him out in Williamsburg.
“Oh, he and Julia were smitten at one time. She broke it off when Victor objected, of course.” She turned on the main highway.
“Why would she defer to your uncle?”
Raquel glanced over, her surprised expression catching Ray off guard.
“I suppose you couldn’t have known but Victor gave Julia part of the company. She helped him with the business in many ways. I know that’s unconventional but Julia had a real business sense. Still, I wouldn’t put it past her to have kept seeing Harry,” she told him. “Julia could be pretty headstrong at all the wrong times.”
“You seem pretty sure of that. Did she tell you something?” Ray kept avoiding glances at the woman. He grew determined to fish out all the dirty details of the family.
“Nothing directly, but we’re going to the motor court she mentioned to me before. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she was doing,” the woman told him. “Also, I saw Harry several times at parties. He likes to talk when he’s drunk.”
“Any details?” He asked.
“Just that Harry believed Julia would run away with him,” she replied. “He’s a fool who thinks about love. It’s never in the thinking for a member of uncle’s family. It’s taking advantage of opportunities.”
“I see. But Julia marrying Cooper wasn’t about status. It was something else,” he replied as he thought aloud.
Raquel looked at him strangely.
“You’re correct about that. Willis Cooper’s family doesn’t come close to the social status but he’s handsome and close to Uncle Victor. I’m not sure the reason but both of them saw marriage as an opportunity.” She pushed away her hair that blew across her face from the open window.
“I take it that Pitts didn’t understand that type of thinking,” he said.
“No, he was pretty upset,” Raquel agreed. “Are you going to this motor court to confirm that Harry and Julia went here?”
“Yeah, and to verify other things,” he said.
Ray went quiet for a while, staring into the darkness.
“This looks off the beaten path. How do you know where this place is at?” the shamus asked. He had a pretty good idea of the answer. He glanced over at her pretty face lit up by the dashboard lights.
“Julia wasn’t the only one who likes to spread her wings,” she said with a mysterious laugh.
He scowled, then turned the conversation back to the suspects.
“I never did know much about Willis Cooper when we were together. Tell me about him.”
“Oh, he’s been Maria’s devoted lapdog since he arrived,” Raquel told him.
“Why? I thought your uncle hired him for his business ability.”
“He did but Maria obviously took a liking to him. Everyone knows she’s got her claws into him for more than just being her tennis partner,” she explained. “That’s why everyone was surprised when he began dating Julia.”
“Where did he come from?”
“Cuba, he worked for a shipping company there,” Raquel stated. “Back in Forty-one, when I finished college, Uncle Victor and Maria met me in Baltimore. Victor gave a party for me at the hotel. Willis showed up a friend of Maria’s. And he made quite an impression. Apparently, Cooper knew Maria from the theatre group she used to tour with. I remember he joked about seeing Maria in a theater in Argentina before the war. I could tell by the way Maria glared at him that something was up between them. Anyway, Victor liked him, and he offered him a job after he got to know him. He’s been more like one of the family than Maria.”
“Funny, you talk a lot about being a close family. Maria doesn’t see it that way,” Ray commented.
“Well, she’s too competitive around everyone. Maria likes to be the center of attention. I think my uncle gets a kick out of it because he likes to play me and Julia against her some of the time. You should see her reaction,” the woman laughed.
Ray kept quiet as he started to understand the dynamics in the people around Victor McCabe.
“Well, your uncle knows how to pick them,” he said. “She’s pretty and a terrible liar.”
“I guess I should be jealous if you think she’s pretty,” the girl beamed a smile the same way as her uncle. “Yes, she’s not close with the rest of us. My uncle claims he fell for her when he was in New York and saw her on stage. I never believed it.”
“Why not?” Ray couldn’t resist the question.
“Because my uncle wanted her in the family. I told you, he likes to play people off one another. Maria was happy because she was looking for security. Money brings the worst out of people.” She paused.
“I guess I sound like I resent her, but I really don’t. Actually, I understand her. When I was in college, I learned about a zero-sum game theory,” she explained. “Maria didn’t go to college but she knows all about that game. She always sees the world like that, Julia does…I mean, she did, as well. They never understood that things will work out in the end. It just takes cooperation among everyone involved. People let their emotions get in the way.”
She smiled like her explanation solved the problems of the world.
“Maria was upset about Julia taking Willis. I went to her one day and told her that the marriage didn’t matter. Willis Cooper was never going to stay with only one woman. I’m pretty sure his goal is to become the top dog in the family. He’s uncle’s right-hand man so it’s pretty obvious.” Her matter-of-fact tone caught Ray’s attention. He wondered how much of Raquel’s pessimism was self-inflicted.
The shamus tugged at his ear. “I’m surprised that your uncle doesn’t care about her closeness with Cooper if it’s so obvious.”
“Victor McCabe is not like most people,” Raquel declared with a tone that caught his attention. It sounded like a cross between envy and resentment.
“I know him as well as anyone. Victor refuses to follow any convention. That’s how he made his money and how he runs things. He knew Maria was from the wrong side of town before he married her. He told me once that he had a private investigator check on her. That’s one thing about my uncle. He knows so much about everyone in the family. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already had someone check up on you.”
“I’m not sure how much I liked that,” he grumbled. His driver laughed.
“I guess that’s why he has such a good nature about emotions that would cause other people problems. He understands what drives people and he guides them for the interest of the family and the business,” Raquel pointed out. “I guess that’s kind of surprising to a lot of people. But, like Victor says, it’s better to know about someone before finding out that they’ll never fit in.”
Ray grunted his agreement with her statement. He’d already caught on that McCabe liked to manipulate and control people, always with a broad smile. He also noticed that Raquel became less enthused as she talked.
“Willis came into the company at the right time. Victor was too old to keep up with the war production pace after his best men got drafted,” she continued. “Since Willis was over age and had a business background with a manufacturer on the West coast, Uncle Victor gave him the job. He might be a bit of a cad, but he’s done his job well. Willis fits right in with the rest of us in so many ways.”
“Yeah, apparently he’s just the right fit,” Ray granted sarcastically. He was trying to get this whole strange situation straight in his head.
A rich elderly husband with plenty of charm had a beautiful wife who wasn’t faithful. Willis Cooper apparently kept Maria happy and Victor McCabe kept him employed running the plants. Then again, Victor had one, maybe two, pretty nieces who apparently kept him company at night. Maria must know about those dark secrets. An old poem from his school days came to mind.
What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!
Ray tried to add it up all the angles and found plenty of suspects but only Pitts had a motive so far. And he didn’t even know anything about Harry Pitts. He leaned his head against the coolness of the side window, deciding the whole thing was giving him a headache.
Silently, Raquel drove her car hard as they followed the dark shores of the Potomac. The moon was above the pines that rimmed the opposite shore. Rays of moonlight gave a subdued silver sheen to the tops of the trees. The car turned into a white gated entrance. About fifty yards inside the property along a gravel road, they reached a building with two gasoline pumps. On their right was a wide unpaved driveway with two rows of six cabins on either side. The car stopped by the hand painted office sign. Yellow light through the window revealed a man sitting behind the counter inside.
“Thanks for the ride,” Ray growled as he opened the car door. “I’ll see you later.”
“No, I’m going with you,” the girl countered.
“Like hell! If he remembers you, then it’s likely he won’t talk.” Irish slid out of the car. It was an excuse, but he didn’t care. He paid no attention to the foul look she gave him.
He stepped around the back of the Buick, barely paying attention to a revving car engine near one of the cabins. As the shamus walked by the gas pumps, the dark car immediately pulled out of the parking area between the cabins. It gathered speed along the driveway.
There was the sudden roar of a racing engine and Ray glanced back to see the vehicle was swerving directly at him. He ran toward the nearby gasoline pumps. As he passed through the dark shadows, his foot tangled with an air hose lying in the way. He tripped face first into the ground. Instinctually, he rolled away from the car. The turning front wheel barely missed his head. However, the rear bumper came close enough to catch his coat. Instantly, Ray was being dragged behind the car on the rough gravel. The stifling exhaust and dust flew in his face as he skidded along. The fishtailing rear end of the dark car finally released him, sending Ray tumbled into the ditch.
Irish lay there in a state of shock for a moment. Battered and bruised, he started cursing as he lifted himself to a sitting position. Then, he heard Raquel’s voice panicked swearing. Although her language was not quite as salty, he was surprised by the display.
“Ray, are you alright?” She yelled out.
“Yeah, damn it. Did you get a look at who was in that car?” He stared down the dark road. The only thing he saw was the dust settling. Raquel took him by the arm, and he got to his feet.
“No,” she told him. “The car had no lights and it was too far away to read the license plate. I did see that two people were in the car.”
“I’ll be alright,” he pulled away from her. “Damn, I guess I’m paying for this jacket now.” Ray used his hands to brush off the dust. The breast pocket of his jacket flopped forward, ripped as he was being dragged.
“Was it an accident?” She asked.
“Hell no, someone is playing for keeps. They must have known that I was coming out here to ask questions. I’m lucky I glanced back,” he grumbled, then looked at the light in the window of the nearby building. A figure moved inside.
“Now, I’m going to ask questions.”
He went to door of the main building. Raquel followed him and Ray didn’t stop her. Without bothering to knock, Ray tried the door. It was unlocked. He flung it open and walked in.
The man inside backed away from the window where he was looking out to see the spectacle. His skinny frame sported dark wool vest that was partially unbuttoned. The man’s white shirt had splotches of dirt. He judged Ray’s dirty-face and torn coat before he looked over his bifocal glasses at Raquel. Ray noticed the man did a doubletake when he saw her.
“I ain’t got no room tonight. All full up,” he snapped in a nasal voice.
“Don’t give me that. One of your damned patrons tried to run me over. You’re telling me who it was.” Ray told him in an ominously low pitch. “
Phillips grinned unpleasantly. “I don’t get interested in what goes on in the cabins. You a cop?”
“Suppose you tell me who was here last?” said Ray, stepping close to him. “I’m sure they were warning you that someone might stop by asking questions about your business.”
“In a place like this, it’s kinda hard to remember,” he said with a chuckle. Phillips stopped when Ray grabbed him by the collar.
“Hey! You can’t hit me. I’ll have the cops on you.” Phillips nearly shouted.
“You’ll be happy to know that Chief Potter sent me. Before I mess up your face, maybe you’d like his men to come out and go through those cabins of yours tonight?” He warned him as his grip closed hard around the collar.
“I can’t tell you, mister, honest I can’t. Nobody comes out here with their real names,” Phillips choked out.
Ray slapped him hard with a backhand. He heard Raquel inhale. He didn’t bother to look back at her.
“This woman is going to see your blood soon, Phillips. You get my drift? I’ll make it look like you had an accident.” The shamus threatened. “Just like those people who tried to run me over outside your business. You know who it was.” The man’s widened, then he glanced over behind Ray. Raquel was rummaging through his desk.
“Hey, she ain’t got no right to go through my stuff” the man cried out. “That’s stealing.” Ray smacked him again.
Then Raquel interceded.
“Ray, don’t hurt him. He’s not lying,” she told him. “There are a quite a few names in this blotter named Smith.”
“See! She knows what I’m talking about” Sam Phillips tried to twist away from his captor.
Raquel brought Ray the ledger. The shamus glanced at book and his scowl deepened.
“Do you know Willis Cooper?” He asked Phillips.
“Sure, everyone in Colonial Beach does.” The man kept looking at the ledger the woman held.
“Does he ever come here?”
Phillips hesitated. Ray let go of him and took the guest list from Raquel. Not all of the names were Smith; one last name caught his attention. He also found five C notes in the back of the book. He took the money and held it up. Sam’s eyes followed it.
“Five hundred just showed up tonight,” Ray told Raquel. “I guess I need to declare that to Chief Potter.
“No, you can’t do that,” Phillips insisted.
“Then answer the questions. I know Cooper used this motor court. Was there a pretty, red-haired woman who came out with him as well? She would have been about same height as her.” Ray nodded at Raquel. “She would have been dressed pretty classy.”
“Yeah, I saw her a few times. She came with the same guy but it wasn’t Cooper.” Phillips kept his eyes on the money.
“Alright, describe the other guy,” Irish glanced over at Raquel.
“He was a tall, skinny guy with brown hair showed up with that red head.” He licked his lips as he stared at the money Irish was holding. “I never got the name.”
“What about Cooper?” Ray asked. “Who comes out here with him?”
“Well, he usually showed up with a blonde. But not all the time,” Phillips told the shamus.
“Let me guess, the blonde had an English accent along with the look of model,” Ray replied.
Sam Phillips suddenly went quiet, avoiding looking at Ray.
“I guess I need to give this money to the police,” the shamus growled. “It might be stolen.”
“Alright, I’ll tell you, the fancy foreign lady you described just left. She gave me the cash to keep quiet. I don’t know why she bothered. The cops already know it. They were out here earlier. But you didn’t find out from me. I don’t need the cops coming back here,” Phillips declared. He glanced over at Raquel. “You give me the money, I’ll tell you everything.”
Ray gave him a long stare, then handed Phillips the cash.
“You’re right, the blonde with Cooper was married. I saw her big diamond. There was another woman who showed up with Cooper I saw several times as well,” the owner confirmed with growing confidence. He placed the money in his pocket.
“Alright, who was the other woman?” Ray asked.
“Why don’t you ask her?” Phillips replied with a smirk at Raquel. “The little lady over there knows Cooper really well.”
Irish glanced over at Raquel. Her face remained impassive.
“Christ!” Ray turned away and left the small office.
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Chapter 2: Ties that Bind
“I warned you that I’ve spread my wings,” Raquel pointed out as they drove back to the estate. She was tired of his sullen silence.
“Yeah, don’t remind me,” he growled back.
“You’re jealous,” she said. After a pause, she smiled.
“I like that!”
Ray looked over at her self-satisfied expression in disbelief.
“Like hell!” He finally sputtered out. “Lady, you’ve got some nerve. I’ve learned more than I wanted to know about you and your family.”
Irish felt only partial satisfaction at her puzzled frown.
“Ray, please trying to hate me. We are great together. Besides, I know why you’re upset!” Raquel stated.
Ray remained quiet but he suspected he knew.
“Don’t!” he told her.
“I saw your face in the mirror of the alcove. You should have seen your expression when you realized what I was doing,” Raquel stated with an almost detached calm. “It was sweet of you not to interrupt. It would have been quite embarrassing. I always thought you were a gentleman despite that gruff exterior."
Ray lost his voice for a moment. He was thoroughly perplexed by her attitude. Her serenity served to make him angry.
“I learned not bother an incestuous whore when she’s with her uncle," Ray finally lashed out. Her smug smile went away at the comment and she sighed.
“Come now Ray. You mustn’t think that about me,” she insisted. “We’re not kids and the world is tough. I thought you would understand. I have my reasons for keeping Victor happy.”
“And I damn well don’t want to hear them,” he growled out.
Ray remained quiet for a moment. He wanted to call her an incestuous tramp, worth less than a two-dollar whore in the Philippines. That was how much Raquel had gotten under his skin. The whole thing grated on him.
“Listen, at this point, I’m just a shamus working for your uncle. Whatever you and I had is over. You’re nothing more than a suspect. Victor’s wife just tried to knock me off and you had to know that car. That means I don’t trust you,” he pointed out.
“Do you really mean that?” Her hurt tone forced him to glance over. “I swear that I didn’t betray you. I wasn’t sure it was her car. I couldn’t see it well with all the dust flying around.”
He knew she was lying.
“Alright, you didn’t see it,” he replied. His tone was a tired as he felt. “You and your family are lunatics. Which puts you, Maria, and Cooper as major suspects. You said it yourself, you and Julia were like sisters.”
He paused waiting for her to say something. Raquel remained silent as she kept glaring at him.
“You might want to reconsider who you trust, lady. You could get the same treatment as Julia,” he said.
“Come on, you don’t think someone’s after me?” Raquel asked. “For what reason would someone hurt me?”
“Maybe for the same reason Julia got it. Nobody but the killer knows the real motive to why she had her head cut off and a dagger…well…stuck in her. Whoever did it had a real hate for her. Think about that before you get on your knees again!” Ray leaned back in the seat, tired of the twisted woman and the family.
“You’re a bastard!” she replied.
“Yeah, well be happy I don’t bring this up to Chief Potter,” he told her smugly. “This small town would love that gossip.”
They arrived back at the mansion a little after 2 AM. The house was dark, and Potter had already left. The police chief had left one of his men who was snoozing on the side porch when they arrived. The policeman told Ray that Potter would be back in the morning. Raquel waited until they were inside.
“You will leave after breakfast,” she told him coldly. “You’re no longer welcome. And if you spread any malicious rumors, you’ll regret it. I’ll make sure Victor knows who started them.”
“Yes, I’m sure you will,” Irish said as he went into the room and shut the door.
The sunlight peaked through the window, causing Ray to roll over. Drowsily, he opened his eyes and jerked up at the sight of someone standing next to his bed.
“My, you’ve been dossing all morning,” Maria teased him. He noticed her accent sounded less refined.
Ray looked her over carefully. When he moved, his body ached from the bumps and bruises caused by the woman only a few hours earlier. Now he tried to decipher why Victor’s wife was in his room wearing a negligee. The early morning sun showed him that the woman wore little else under the sheer cloth.
“Are you planning on killing me with a little kindness?” he asked.
“I heard you had an accident last night,” Maria purred out as she sat on the edge of bed. “Raquel told me about it. I was concerned.”
Her close proximity brought the scent of expensive citrus and floral perfume to him.
“Mrs. McCabe, we both know you didn’t speak with Raquel. It so happens, she didn’t tell me that was your car that tried to run me down. However, I did find out that you gave five hundred bucks to a guy who’ll rat you out when the cops come for him. Fortunately, I haven’t told Chief Potter…yet. You might be an actress, but you’re not very good at this game.”
Maria’s expression lightened at the news and she nodded.
“You’re right, I’m not good at this,” she admitted with a sigh. “I wasn’t much of an actress, as you can see. I just couldn’t let you get evidence against Willis. He’s not a murderer.”
“What did you do, listen in while Potter questioned Cooper?”
The woman nodded again.
“Yes, I convinced Willis to go out to the motor court with me. I gave Phillips money to keep his mouth shut about us. It was better not to let the police know since it might be a motive. We were leaving when Willis saw Raquel’s car. He wanted to scare you away.”
“I’m still not buying it,” he told her bluntly. “Convince me.”
“It was Willis who did it.” Maria laid her hand on his arm. “He thought you would be so mad you would come after my car. That’s why I’m here. Please forgive me,” she pleaded.
“No, the police finding out about you and Cooper isn’t the problem. That’s already well known through the local rumor mill,” Ray pointed out as he removed her hand from his arm. “In fact, no one really cares which includes your husband.” Irish removed her hand from his thigh but he held her wrist.
“Instead, I believe that you and Cooper set me up. That five hundred was sufficient for Phillips to not look out the window when I bought it. I’m guessing your boyfriend convinced you that I might make trouble for him. This was a way for me to have an accident. Now, let’s go explain this to Potter.”
Maria’s eyes widened at the suggestion and she tried to jerk away. He held her wrist firmly.
“Ouch, that hurts, I swear I didn’t try to kill you,” she pleaded. He let her go and she stood, rubbing her wrist. Her fear was clear. Maria slowly paced in a circle by the side of the bed. Ray couldn’t help but watch how her body moved under the thin fabric.
“Alright, you’re correct; Willis told me he didn’t like the idea of you working on this case. He insisted that you would pin the blame on him for Julia’s murder, especially after finding the cigarette on the patio. I overheard you and the copper talking to Willis. He had no reason for the cigarette being there. I’m not a killer,” she told him. The tears started to well up in her eyes but Irish didn’t buy the front. Her expression changed as if she suddenly recalled something.
“Raquel looked at us as we drove by. I was convinced she told you it was us in the car. I was up all night, expecting you to tell my husband about what happened.” Maria stopped, still holding her wrist.
“If she didn’t tell you then you need to be careful. She’s not what she pretends to be,” Maria warned him suddenly. “Her and Julia liked to run the estate. They hated me because I knew about them.”
Ray stopped her.
“Yeah, I know all about how your husband works. Let’s get back to you being in this room. To save your hide, you’re here to ensure I don’t tell everything about last night to Potter.”
Maria glared at him, then her features softened, and she slid down on the edge of the bed again.
“Alright, that’s most of it,” she admitted. “You must know that I didn’t want you to be hurt. If you go to the police, they’ll arrest Cooper, maybe even me. Willis couldn’t kill Julia. He’s not the type. Someone tried to frame him, I know it.”
“First, you need to keep your story straight. You indicated that Cooper came up with the idea to knock me off. That means he’s capable,” he stated smugly. “You’ve got the protection of your husband so the cops better have good evidence before they come after you. We both know that Willis might have been drunk enough to kill Julia if they got into an argument.”
Suddenly, Ray laughed at the situation.
“Talk about birds of a feather. I’m willing to lay money that Willis doesn’t trust you either. That must mean neither of your alibis about your whereabouts during Julia’s murder are bullet proof. Alright, I’m through with this charade. We’re going to see the police right now!” He moved to get out of the bed. She stopped him by grabbing his arm as she sat next to him.
“Stop, I’ll tell you everything. But you must promise it stays with you. Remember, you still work for my husband.” Maria implored him as she sought a way to escape. Ray grinned.
“Alright, you tell me the truth and I’ll keep Potter out of it,” he said. “But if I catch you in a lie, you’ll spend your time in a cell.”
“It’s true, Willis left for a while. You saw how much he was drinking. Victor was upset with him for his attitude with the investors they brought in for the party. Then, we had a bit of an argument, I’m afraid. It was over Julia and his marriage. He went to talk with her.”
“You didn’t like the idea,” Ray observed. “That’s an open secret.”
“I told him that he’s being a fool. Julia was using him to get at Victor. For some reason, Julia and Victor were having a major disagreement about the business. She planned to marry Willis to prove something,” the wife explained, looking down at the floor.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “The business is run by Victor but Julia has become a major part of it.”
“Did you see Cooper after he went to find Julia?” Ray asked as Maria looked over.
“Yes, he was still angry. He told me that they met on the patio, but she didn’t want to talk with him. Willis said she was in a hurry for him to leave. He came back to the party and started drinking more.”
Ray remained skeptical but he decided to flesh out more details.
“I noticed his tuxedo still looked pressed late in the evening. Did he change it at any time?” Ray could guess the answer, but he needed to know her reaction. She didn’t surprise him. Maria paused, thinking back. She suddenly brightened.
“Yes! I see what you’re getting at. He never changed clothes. I’m sure of it. That mean he couldn’t have done it,” Maria said.
“Well, you have just helped your boyfriend. That raincoat they found wouldn’t stop blood on the trouser legs. And it still doesn’t leave you an alibi,” he pointed out. “You could have changed out quickly. That what actress’s do in the theaters after all.”
“You can come to my room later and check the closet. No clothes of mine will have blood on them,” she stated confidently. “But since you’ve done me a favor, I’ll do the same for you. How much do you know about Victor and his nieces?” Maria leaned close and ran her fingers across his bare chest.
“We already spoke about that,” he remained guarded.
“But you don’t know about Julia,” she looked back at the door and lowered her voice. “I’m sure you discovered that Victor likes to control people. Julia was a smart girl. I’m pretty sure that she got tired of the control and saw Willis as a possible way to get away from Victor. Whatever you think of me, I kind of envied Julia,” Maria’s voice grew emotional. “I certainly didn’t hate Julia enough to kill her. I had no need. I’m married to the person in charge. I can get what I want without violence. Surely you can see that.”
“No Maria, you would kill if someone became an obstacle. Just like when you and Cooper hatched a scheme to get me out of the way. Potter might put you in separate rooms and let you sweat it out,” Irish stated. “My bet is Willis caves and claims you did it. He’ll probably claim that you could have left the cigarette on the patio to frame him.”
“You wouldn’t let him. You promised!” There was genuine panic in her voice.
“Why won’t you leave your husband for Cooper?” Ray watched her while glancing at the door. He didn’t relish the idea of explaining her presence if someone walked in.
“Victor is worth millions and he’s fine with how I handle things as long as I’m quiet about it. However, Victor told me that I get nothing when I leave this house. That’s how he keeps control. I keep him happy when he wants and I play the loving wife for the guests.” Maria laughed ruefully. “I guess I’m like one of the servants in a way. Anyway, Victor needs Willis as well. I keep them both happy. Sure, they’ve hit a rough patch recently but there’s too much at stake for sentimentality.”
Irish shook his head.
“Yeah, you’re an indispensable lady.” he grumbled in sudden small sympathy for Cooper. “You sound a lot like someone else I know.”
Maria placed her hand on his forearm again. “Yes, Raquel and I do have the same goals. But, I warn you that she’s more ruthless than me. You will realize that when she brings you into the fold.”
Ray scowled at the comment.
“Oh, don’t act so surprised, Mr. Irish. That’s the price for entry. We each get what we want,” Maria told him confidently. “The only difference between Raquel and I is the fact she’s never seen poverty. I have!”
“You really are a servant then,” he grumbled.
“You’re also working for the family,” she replied smoothly. “Victor hired you for that and he will pay you well.” She placed her hand on his thigh.
“You want compliant lovers hanging around you, just not hanging from the gallows.” Irish looked down at her hand after she nodded in agreement. She looked down self-consciously, then nodded.
“I noticed that you can see into people, Mr. Irish,” she said as her acting took over again. “Like I said, I get what I want without the need for violence. I’ve been watching you. You appear to be a fair man. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement?”
Maria leaned over and kissed him. Ray didn’t resist. In fact, he pulled her closer.
“Don’t kid yourself about my fairness. I’m still pretty bruised up from your poor driving skills last night,” Ray whispered to her. “It’ll take quite a bit to for me to forget.”
“Let me start with tending to those scrapes.” She stood and went to the bedroom door. Maria turned the lock, then smoothly returned to the bed. As she walked, the wife let her negligee drop to the floor with polished skill.
“Mr. Detective, I can see why Raquel finds you interesting.” Maria told him after she pulled back the sheets. There was a satisfied grin on her face when she slid next to Ray.
“And your negotiation skills look pretty good to me,” he replied.
An hour later, a servant’s cart with a wobbling wheel passed by the locked door. Maria waited until the sound went away and she opened the door. She looked out, then turned back to blow a kiss at Irish before she slid through the door and into the hallway.
Ray gave a low whistle and got out of bed. As he suspected, Maria proved an expert at fulfilling a guy’s desires while trying to work him to her side. For his part, Ray pledged not to expose her attempt to run him down. He also told her that Chief Potter wouldn’t know about the time lapses in their alibis from him. That was an easy call since Ray planned to tell Potter about the bribe money Maria left at the motor court. It wouldn’t take Potter long to put Maria and Willis at the top of the suspect list after that.
As he went into the bathroom, Irish rationalized his motives. It was double-dealing but, surprisingly, he didn’t feel like a heel. Duplicity and backstabbing along with sex seemed to be the prime methods to work things within the McCabe family. He told himself that his approach was just going along with their cynical and decadent ways.
Yeah, you’re a heel just like the rest of them.
He also realized that Maria was his prime suspect just because he guessed that it was Victor’s wife, not Cooper, who pushed to kill him. But it didn’t make sense. He knew Maria still wore the same dress when she came back into the garden. It was nearly impossible for her to commit the bloody murder. As Maria slid into her negligee, she told Ray that he fit right into the McCabe house. As he turned on the shower, Irish realized her statement scared him the most.
Ray arrived downstairs wearing his blue suit that a servant had pressed for him sometime during the night. As he passed by the dining room, he heard Raquel’s voice. He entered the room to find her and Maria sitting across from each other at a large inlaid table. Chief Potter was sitting next to Victor McCabe and already finishing his second plate of food. Victor and he appeared in high spirits. Irish soon understood why.
“You’re behind everyone whose already heard my news. We caught our killer,” Potter said between bites of toast.
Ray went to the silver coffee pot and filled up a fine porcelain cup. He didn’t like them since they were too delicate and didn’t hold much coffee.
“Really? Who is your culprit?”
“Harry Pitts! He killed her for simple jealousy. We caught him trying to leave at the train station this morning,” the policeman stated as Ray took a seat. “I guess I didn’t need to send you out to the cabins.”
The shamus looked at Potter and realized the cop sent him away from the estate for a reason. He wondered who paid Potter to send him on the wild goose chase.
“You have a confession?” Irish asked as he noticed the self-satisfied grin on Mrs. McCabe’s face when he caught her glance.
“No, he’s being stubborn,” Potter confessed. “But we have a witness who stated Pitts arrived at the front door last night. Harris refused to let Pitts inside on the standing orders of Mr. McCabe. We figure that Pitts just came in through a side door and got the dagger. He knew the place well enough. He also smokes methanol cigarettes.”
“What’s his story about what happened when Harris wouldn’t let him in?” Ray sipped on the coffee while watching the expressions of the people at the table. McCabe appeared more interested in his food while Raquel refused to look at Ray.
“That’s the laughable part,” Potter said. “He told me that he drove away. He claimed someone called him to let him know about Julia’s party. He says he got cold feet and left. Then, he met up with friends and they went to the bar. Pitts claims he passed out and woke in his car this morning. Apparently, a friend of Pitts overheard one of my deputies blabbing at the diner. He admits trying to get out of town after he heard the news.”
“I’ll bet so,” Irish agreed.
“Well, that takes care of that,” Victor declared happily. “Chief, I can’t tell you how much this takes a load off my mind.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. McCabe. I wanted to let you know first thing. I guess I should go back and finish with Pitts. He’s already asking for a lawyer, but I’ll get a complete statement out of him,” Potts told him as he rose from the table. “Thanks for the breakfast.”
“Not a all,” McCabe said with a broad smile. “Be sure to keep us up to date on your progress.”
After the policeman left, Victor asked Irish for his thoughts.
“It appears Potter has arrested the obvious person,” Ray shrugged.
“And you don’t agree?” Victor’s dark eyes narrowed at the question.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I can’t reason against the logic. Just feels too pat for my taste.”
“Well, I’m sure you have your reasons. However, Raquel and I spoke this morning,” he said affably. “I appreciate your service to the family. I don’t imagine you need anything further from us.”
Ray glanced over. He heard the dismissal loud and clear.
“I’ll tell you how we can settle up. I need a train ticket back to Oyster City,” Irish told him.
McCabe nodded his agreement.
“I’ll have Harris call the station for you,” he said.
“It’s too bad you didn’t find the person?” Raquel spoke up. Ray looked over and saw her gloat.
“Yeah, well win some and lose some,” he said.
Ray was just closing his suitcase when he heard a knock on the open bedroom door. Raquel stood at the entrance.
“Harris called the train station and you have a ticket waiting for you,” she told him in a tone filled with frost.
“Thanks,” he said while continuing to buckle the leather straps.
“Do you think Potter got the person?” She asked, now right behind him.
“Nope! But that’s alright with you.” He said.
“No I don’t,” she replied with a frown. “I know Harry, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Well, it’s not my concern,” Ray replied. “I’ll let you worry about Pitts getting framed by someone in this house. That is if you really have a conscious.”
“Don’t be so sanctimonious,” she countered. He expected her to leave but she walked into the room.
“You implied there was a danger to me because Julia and I were like sisters. You believe I could be in danger still.” Her voice carried a hint of fear.
Ray walked into the bathroom. He’d already cleared out his few items, but he didn’t want to talk with her. Raquel followed him.
“Didn’t you hear me?” She pouted.
“Yeah and still not my concern,” he told her.
Ray glanced over.
“Don’t tell me your afraid, I won’t believe it. You’ve already gave me a pack of lies. Maria told me this morning that you recognized her in the car last night but you didn’t tell me. Your uncle hired me to cover up if anything went wrong. With Pitts framed up, you can go back to your life.”
He picked up his suitcase.
“I thought you were something special. I was wrong,” Raquel’s stated as she went to the door. Her expression turned bitter.
“Babe, I don’t care about your family’s money. I’m not going to act like Cooper or the others who are alright with someone debasing herself. You’ve already been bought and paid for and back where I’m from, we have a term for that. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get Harris to drive me to the station.”
Raquel left the room without another word. She hurried down the stairs and was standing next to Harris when Ray reached the final step of the grand staircase on the main level.
“Harris, this person will no longer be staying with us!” she announced. “Please show him the door. He can walk to the train station.” Raquel stomped away.
“Make sure you give your love to your uncle,” Ray called after her with a smirk. He followed the servant to the door.
“Harris, I understand that you had standing orders not to let Harry Pitts into the house. When you refused him entry last night, did you see where Pitts went afterward?”
“Yes, sir. I saw him walking back to his car,” he told Irish. “He was parked right out front.”
“Did you see or hear the car leave?”
“I heard an engine start but I was already attending to other duties so I can’t be sure that he left,” Harris admitted.
“That’s what I suspected. Best of luck to you,” Irish said as he put on his fedora. The man opened the door. “You’ll need it inside this insane asylum.”
Irish didn’t see Harris crack a smile as the servant closed the door behind him.
The trip to the main square of Colonial Beach took about an hour between hoofing it most of the way before a sympathetic farmer let Ray ride inside his battered pickup truck for the final couple of miles to the train station. While he was heading to the train station, Ray listened to the farmer talk about the recent murder which had the town abuzz with rumors. When they turned at the main square, Ray saw a peeling sign announcing Jack White Esquire, Lawyer. On the way into town, the farmer mentioned to him that White was Harry Pitt’s lawyer. Ray suddenly asked the farmer to stop in front of the building.
Irish entered the lawyer’s office which smelled of musty books and tobacco smoke. He found a weathered looking gentleman in a black vest sitting behind the large desk that nearly filled the room. Rows of thick books filled the hand-built shelves around the room. The bespectacled Mr. White looked up with a grimace and a half-chewed stogie in his mouth.
“Are you in trouble?” White asked. His blue eyes showed their excitement at the prospects of a client.
“No, but I’m looking for information,” Ray told him as he moved a chair closer to the desk.
“Bah, I’m not a damn information desk,” the man scoffed.
“Let me put it another way, do you handle anything for Victor McCabe? I’m looking for information about some of his business dealings.”
The man shook his head.
“No, he has a lawyer near his office in Baltimore. What are you looking for?”
“I was told you’re Harry Pitt’s lawyer?” Ray took off his hat and fanned his sweat beaded face.
White nodded and his cigar wobbled like it was about to fall out of the lawyer’s mouth. He pushed back a hand full of long silver hair that gave him a wild, scholarly appearance.
“Then, you and I have a similar interest,” Ray continued. “Let’s just say that I don’t believe your client killed Julia Crockett. One of the servants told me that Pitts was going back to his car and probably left the estate before the woman was killed. Somebody else on the McCabe estate murdered her.”
White looked at him for a moment. “That’s an interesting point and I appreciate you pointing out a potential witness for me, Mister…?”
“The name is Ray Irish and we’re talking on a strictly confidential basis. Until this morning, I was a guest of Raquel Monroe at McCabe’s estate. However, certain things have happened to make me curious about the intrigue and secrecy and it probably involves the frame up of your client.”
“Mr. Irish, the local gossip already has you working for McCabe. What happened? Did they kick you out?” White looked over the shamus one more time before he leaned back in his chair.
“Let’s say I was encouraged to pack my bags,” he replied. “I held on to one of my few scruples and they didn’t like it.”
The lawyer laughed. It was a reedy noise that reminded the shamus of a bad clarinet player.
“Well, not many leave that place with any scruples left from what I hear. I’m the only lawyer in this one-horse town, so naturally, Harry Pitts is my client. I’ve known him and his family for years. He’s a hot head, but that’s bluster. Why do you think it was a frame job?”
“Chief Potter told me that Harry claimed someone called him and invited him to the party. That matches up with the way Harris told me. I’m sure that the murder was pre-meditated, and Pitts was the fall guy.” Ray leaned back in his chair as well. “The only common thread in the family is the relationships between everyone with Victor controlling the strings. I’m looking for the dope on who benefits from Julia’s death. There’s something there with how Victor McCabe holds everything together,” he emphasized to White.
“What are you driving at?” the lawyer asked.
“I’m not sure,” Ray admitted. “Guests consisted mostly of business people who knew Victor and his right-hand man, Willis Cooper. It seems odd that there weren’t many of Julia’s friends at this party. I overheard some of the conversations among the guests and they confirm something Chief Potter pointed out. Victor put a strong push to influence investors on something he was planning. Perhaps it’s related to the murder, maybe not. All I know is for you to put doubt in the jury’s minds, it might come directly from the McCabe Company.”
The man nodded.
“It’s possible that I can find out more about that. Your suggestion also gives me another idea. Word is that you’re a shamus. If I’m helping you, then you can follow up about my client’s lack of an alibi. Harry told me that he passed out in his car until just past sunrise over on Hallmark Street. I know Chief Potter; he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
“Is he corrupt?” Ray asked.
“Why do you ask?”
“I was strongly encouraged by him to take a trip out to the motor court cabins. It just happened. I nearly got run over for my trouble and it smells,” Irish explained.
“I’ll admit I’ve heard Potter takes cash under the table,” White told him. “Nothing big, mind you but it sure would explain why Potter’s men failed to follow up with potential witnesses for my client. I know the police didn’t bother to question anyone on the block where Harry fell asleep in his car,” he explained. “I’d like you to follow up with them as well as Harry’s friends.”
“All I’ve got on me is a Lincoln in my pocket and a one-way ticket out of town waiting for me at the train station. Raquel knows how to let a guy down easily,” he said.
White gave a thin smile at the sarcasm.
“Seems to me that you want a little payback but that’s your business. You can bill me for your time and expenses. I’ll just bill it back to Harry. His old man may not be as rich as the McCabe’s but their honest thieves. You’ll be looking for accommodations as well.”
“Well, I guess I am now,” Ray agreed. “Any cheap places to stay? I know about the motor court and I don’t think that will work for me. The owner and I don’t see eye-to-eye.”
From the way White smiled, Irish guessed word had already spread about Ray’s encounter with Phillips overnight.
“Just go over to Martha Dietz’s house. She’s just around the corner on Front Street. You’ll see her sign. She takes in boarders and makes a great apple pie,” he told Ray. “I’ll have a messenger drop by a list of his friends so you can check on their stories. Also, stop by the houses on Hallmark Street and do the work the cops should have. Maybe someone saw his car.”
It was early the next morning when a messenger boy finally showed up at Mrs. Dietz with an envelope. It contained the list from White, along with other details about the case for Ray to investigate. Harry Pitts drove a green 1938 Ford Woody Station Wagon, which should be easy to remember. Luckily, the timely arrival of the messenger allowed Ray to escape the clutches of his temporary landlady, who appeared to have his day planned for him. Mrs. Dietz happily took him in when he used Jack White for a reference. While White was correct about Mrs. Deitz’s pie making capability, he soon found the large woman was a chatterbox. She liked to keep up with the rumors and embellishing upon those she wanted to spread.
Ray walked over to Hallmark Street, where neat bungalows lined the street of trees and white picket fences. Unable to determine where Harry Pitts might have parked, he started at the first house and worked his way down the street. It was tedious and unfruitful as he met with nearly every person along the street. At first, they were wary of his questions, but when he mentioned Jack White, they shared many details of their life. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with Harry Pitt.
After covering the short block, Ray was walking back to Mrs. Dietz when he noticed a car pulling into the driveway of a house. As he got closer, he recognized the man’s uniform. The stranger worked for the power company. Ray called out and hurried to introduce himself.
“Say, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m trying to identify anyone who might have noticed a woody station wagon yesterday morning. It would have been before daylight. It involves that murder that happened the other night,” he told him.
The man in the uniformed looked tired as he rubbed the stubble on his cheek. He shook his head.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” he replied. “I’m kind of bleary-eyed after pulling this last shift.” The man turned away. Ray’s shoulders slumped as he slowly headed toward the main square.
“Say, what color was that car?” the man called out.
“It was green, probably parked along this street. A guy claims he was asleep inside.” Ray felt his hope rising.
“You know, I seem to remember a woody car over across the street,” he came out on the lawn as Ray came back. He pointed over to a tree a couple of houses down. “It was right there with one wheel on top of the curb. It struck me as odd at the time. The car could have been green, but it’s hard to tell at night. I had an emergency call that came in after midnight. I didn’t look inside to see if anyone was there. Why are you looking for it?”
Ray explained it helped to confirm an alibi for the person arrested on murder charges.
“You mean that guy Pitts? I heard about that case in the diner.”
“Hell, if I would have known, I’d already told the cops,” the uniformed man stated. “Do you want some sort of statement?”
“Yes, I’m working for Jack White,” Irish assured him. “I’ll have him stop by and get the information he needs.”
He got the man’s name and telephone number before hurrying back to the boarding house. As he got closer, Ray thought he could smell breakfast, and he started whistling. After breakfast, he’d check on Harry’s friends.
Raquel was sitting at the table when Victor entered the dining room that morning. He looked cheerful as took his seat. Valda, the cook, brought him his customary breakfast of eggs and toast. She poured his coffee while Raquel kept glancing at the scene.
“You seem in good spirits,” she told her uncle.
“Yes, I must say I’m in fine form on this glorious day. I’m expecting great news.” He replied, after sipping on his coffee. “Do you have any plans today? Perhaps with that Irish fellow?”
“No, he’s quite a bore, actually. He’s already left.”
“Funny, he didn’t strike me that way. A little too intense perhaps, but that’s expected after his experiences during the war,” Victor remarked. Surprised, Raquel looked over at him.
“I didn’t know you knew that much about him.”
“I know about everyone who interacts with my family,” he declared. “Just as I knew about Willis and Maria before they came to us, I had someone check up on Mr. Irish after you became enamored with him a few years ago. More recently, I had someone give me a background report on him when you invited him to the party.” Victor took a bite of his toast as he watched his niece. “You know, he strikes me as a hard-headed individual who will not stop until he figures out little mysteries. It might have been a mistake to hire him at the time. I underestimated his determination to solve mysteries. Apparently, he has a bit of a moral streak from what you tell me.”
“Tell me, why did you really hire him? It wasn’t for me, was it? I mean, he’s hardly someone you would approve of,” Raquel pointed out.
“No dear, it most certainly wasn’t for you. I hired him simply because he found evidence. One must ensure cooperation and what better way than to have the person employed by you,” he smiled to himself. “Chief Potter can be a bumbling fool. However, now that he’s resolved that issue, we can go on after Julia’s unfortunate death.”
He dismissed the cook as he continued eating. Raquel waited until the cook left the room.
“An unfortunate death? That’s what you think of Julia’s murder?” She finally blurted out.
“No, of course not! You really shouldn’t take my words so literal. I’m still quite upset at her death,” he countered. “I can only hope that Harry Pitt gets what he deserves.”
“I see,” Raquel said, then lowered her head. Her plate remained mostly untouched. “You’re convinced that he committed the murder.”
“Of course, he never accepted the fact that Julia could never marry him,” he stated.
The room went silent for a moment.
“Victor, I’ve been thinking about Julia. She was much more involved in your ideas with the company. You don’t have any plans to change what we discussed when I turned sixteen?” She asked. “I mean, with her gone, I believe I need to become more involved.”
He finished his last bite of food and smiled at her.
“I think you’ve been reading my mind. As you’ve come to realize, Maria is quite unsuitable for business. I do value a quick mind. Are you sure you’re up for the challenge?”
“What do you mean? I’m as smart as Julia was,” she cast a glance at him.
“Yes, you are a bright girl and you’ve proven yourself quite adaptable.” There was a throaty tone in his suggestion. She glanced at him again and nodded in agreement.
“But do you have the ambition of Julia?” He stroked his fat cheek. “Of course, you realize that your share of the estate is now larger.”
“That’s a rather morbid thing to say,” she said.
“Is it? Raquel, please don’t play innocent with me. You would not have asked me about the future unless you want the truth,” he observed. “Julia’s shares of the McCabe Company go to you. This means you control almost as much of the company as I do. It’s an unfortunate fact that her death gives you an opportunity.”
“I don’t understand why you are telling me this. It seems you’re trying to give up control.” Raquel pointed out.
“Does it?” his face showed surprise at the thought. “Now, to the task at hand, you will need to show your abilities to move people to your will. You failed with Mr. Irish. I’ll guide you in your next task.”
“What do you mean? What task?”
“Willis Cooper, of course! I noticed how he spoke with you before he left the house last night. He’s quite smitten with you, just as he was with Julia.”
The shock rendered Raquel silent for a moment.
“It was nothing,” she insisted.
“For you perhaps, but for a man wishing to control a company, he will attempt to seduce you, given the amount of shares you now control,” Victor McCabe explained. “You’re quite valuable to his plan. You will need to encourage action as soon as possible.”
“Uncle, Julia hasn’t been buried yet,” Raquel stood up from her chair, starting to walk away.
She paused when she heard her uncle’s reaction. He sighed loudly while he narrowed his eyes and clasped his hands together. Raquel glanced back, and she knew it was not a good sign.
“You will do as I ask, young lady. We established the rules on the day of our agreement. It’s a simple equation, my dear. You can arrange for a change to your position within this estate if you wish.”
His tone was fatherly, but she wasn’t fooled. Raquel knew Victor far too well.
His bulging eyes gazed at her for a moment, then he stood. As he walked to the door, her next question stopped him.
“Alright uncle, you win.” The tone in her voice forced Victor to turn back. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but I don’t like Willis enough to marry him.”
“My dear, don’t worry. There will be no need for you to go through with it. Haven’t I always had our best interests at heart? Cooper will woo you while thinking about how your combined shares will take over the company. You will have complete mastery over him, but you can’t play Willis along too much. Suggest to him you are tired of being told what to do. Marriage is a means of escape from under my grip. He’ll understand. We need to wrap him up in a nice, tidy package for you. I suggest you call him today. I will make arrangements to ensure they occupy Maria at the club. That should give you plenty of time to work your magic. We’ll discuss further details later tonight when I stop by your bedroom. Time is not on our side with the death of Julia.”
He turned and left the room.
It was nearly dark when Irish stepped out of Charlies, one of two dive bars he could afford in the town. The drinks were cheap and tasted that way. But he was on a tight budget with only a day’s worth of work he could bill White for. He took the alley between the two buildings, heading back to his boarding room.
Ray was in a good mood. His witness, along with Harry’s friends, gave Chief Potter no choice but to free Pitts. The policeman wasn’t pleased, but he had no choice. Once Jack White produced people willing to testify that Pitts was sleeping in his car and that he had no blood on his clothes at the bar. Still, it took the district attorney finally to force Potter to let his prime suspect out of jail.
Still, as he walked along, Irish wasn’t sure why he was hanging around Colonial Beach. He had no clients anymore. The girl who invited him was an incestuous nut, and her uncle shafted him. He wanted to leave, but the thought of revenge felt good when he drank. However, the mystery of who killed Julia bothered him. He had his ideas, and he was confident that Chief Potter lacked the fortitude to press on the McCabe family.
Turning the dark corner, he came to a stop. Two men were standing in the middle of the narrow alleyway. Ray glanced back and noticed another dark figure came into view. He couldn’t see their faces, hidden by the shadow of their hats.
“Shamus, you need to leave town,” the smaller man in front of him said.
Irish heard the soft steps of the man coming up from behind him. Despite not seeing guns in their hands, they outnumbered Irish.
“That’s my plan, but I don’t need an escort,” he replied. Ray kept his focus on the man approaching from behind.
“We say different. You’re leaving tonight.” The tone wasn’t open to compromise.
The footsteps behind him stopped. Ray guessed the man was a couple of steps away. He glanced back for the shine of a weapon, but his follower was not giving anything away. The two men in front of Irish slowly moved forward.
Ray took a chance. He pivoted on a dime and attacked the man closest to him. However, his opponent expected Ray’s move. When Irish drew close, the attacker feigned a move to one side and struck Irish when he took the bait. The fist of Ray’s opponent held brass knuckles and the wicked blow struck the shamus in the side of his head. Stunned, Irish continued on for another step, then tumbled fell forward. He landed hard on the brick pavement. His attacker quickly kicked Ray in the ribs a couple of times for good measure.
“Leave some of him for me,” a voice growled out.
Still trying to catch his breath, Ray felt the instant pain of another blow to his side from another kick, this time from another attacker. He huffed out a groan as the largest man targeted his lower back. Ray’s body jerked back and forth with each blow while he desperately tried to breathe.
“Alright, shamus, you’ve had your warning. Leave town tomorrow morning, or you get worse!” The big man leaned over the shamus after they finished. “We’ll be watching.”
The three men quietly walked away while Irish slowly rolled around in agony. It took several minutes before he could finally get to his hands and knees. His head swam.
Ray climbed to his feet using a nearby stone wall for assistance. A crash of broken glass suddenly broke the quiet ally. Jenny, the waitress who served him drinks earlier, came out of the back of the tavern. She dropped the box of empty liquor bottles that she was carrying when she saw him.
“What happened?” The woman rushed over, and she helped steady Ray. “You’re bleeding pretty badly. Did someone attack you?”
Ray touched the side of his head. He felt the sticky liquid dripping down his ear and nodded.
“Yeah, a few of your local friends,” he coughed out.
“Did they rob you?”
“No, this was a warning,” he told her. “Point me to Mrs. Dietz’s house,” he told her.
“Are you crazy or do you have a death wish? Stay here!” she insisted. “I’ll be right back.”
Jenny leaned Ray against a wall and rushed back inside the tavern. She came back within a couple of minutes, carrying her purse. She remembered to get his fedora which still lay trampled on the pavement. Irish leaned against the small woman as she led him toward her car.
“We’ll stop by Doc Simon’s house,” Jenny insisted. “I’ve seen cuts like that before. You’ll need a couple of stitches. You might even have a cracked skull.”
Ray was too unsteady to argue but he tried.
“I don’t have much cash,” he warned. Ray attempted to let loose of her and nearly tumbled over before she caught him.
“Oh, just shut your mouth,” the waitress grumbled loudly as she guided him to a nearby parking lot.
Two blocks later, Jenny’s black Ford pulled in front of a small stone bungalow with a white picket fence around the front yard. The small sign by the street was difficult to make out in the faint light of the street lamp across the street. Jenny hurried to the front door while Ray trailed behind. When he reached the front porch, a silver haired man had already learned of Ray’s injury.
“Come into my office so I can see better,” Simon told him. The doctor placed a strong hand on Ray’s shoulder and guided him through the house. Simon pointed Jenny to the door that went to a room off the kitchen. She entered and turned on the light. An exam table and white cabinets greeted them.
“What happened?” the doctor asked.
“A few joes left me a warning. I think one might have been using brass knuckles from the way he rattled my brain.” Irish took a seat while Simon looked over the injury.
“Yeah, Jenny called it right. It’ll be a few stiches to close that wound. I take it you aren’t seeing double or having vision problems?” There was something in the man’s accent that caught Ray’s attention. He replied no to the question. The doc shined a light into his patient’s eyes anyway.
Ray watched the doc go to the sink and wash his hands. He was trying to remember the voices in the alley. They had the same local accent. Then, he remembered the big thug’s voice before he kicked Ray. It was somehow familiar, but he couldn’t place it. He glanced over and noticed Jenny watching him. Her brown eyes showed a careful sympathy and he guessed she’d seen a few bottles smashed across customer’s heads before.
“Thanks for the lift,” Ray told her. “I hope you won’t get into trouble at work.”
She gave him a half-hearted smile.
“You’re not the first guy I’ve found in that alley,” she replied. “It was closing time anyway.”
Fifteen minutes later, Ray’s head was stitched, and he paid the doctor. As he walked into the yard, he noticed Jenny’s car still parked at the curb. She leaned against the trunk. He caught the glow of her cigarette bounding into the street after she flicked it away.
“Why are you still hanging around?” Ray asked.
“I’d think that was obvious. Hop in and I’ll give you a ride to Mrs. Dietz’s house,” she told him.
He looked at the woman as she went to the driver’s side and gave her an instant reappraisal. She wore an unflattering blue dress over her slender frame. As he walked to the passenger side of the car, he noticed she had unpinned her dark brown hair which fell to her shoulders. Ray carefully slid in next to her. His ribs and back were feeling the effects of his beating. The dashboard light revealed a pleasant face with a slightly bent nose and full lips. She glanced over.
“Don’t get any ideas, I’m just driving you to your room.”
“Too bad,” he replied. “Then again, half my head and face remain numb from Simon’s work. So why are you waiting for me?”
“Are you leaving town?” she asked.
“Cut to the chase,” Ray told her. “You got something to say, I’m here.”
“I heard you’re a straight shooter, I like that. Like the rest of this cow town, I know you are investigating who killed Julia Crockett,” Jenny explained. “You must have realized that you were talking to the wrong people. Someone had a reason to beat you up like that. Did you get a look at them?”
Ray gave her a suspicious look.
“No, they were in the shadows. I did notice one guy was about my size. All of them had that damn Chesapeake accent so they’re probably neighbors of yours.”
“Maybe closer than you think,” she said somberly. “If I tell you my suspicions, do you promise to keep looking for the killer? Obviously, I can’t pay you but I’m asking anyway.”
“What’s it to you? While I appreciate your help Jenny, I don’t get your angle.” Ray noticed she hadn’t started the car.
“My last name is Pitts. Harry is my brother,” she said.
“Well, call me dumb but I still don’t get it. He’s off the hook.”
“How long before they pick up my brother again? Everybody in town knows that Potter takes McCabe’s money. He’ll never go after that family and everyone knows that someone in the big house did it.” She turned to him. “You need to understand how this town works. Every secret in that row of estates is always covered up.”
“I don’t know,” Ray said. “Chief Potter seems like a pretty straight guy.”
“What if I told you that one of his guys beat you up in the alley? You still think he’s a good guy?” She glanced around, then Jenney noticed Ray’s suspicious expression had returned.
“I work in a bar and I notice things. For instance, right when you entered the room, Officer Brody and his pals left the bar and went out the back door,” she stated. “Didn’t you see him?”
“No,” Irish growled. He was suddenly sure where he recognized that the voice in the alley. Brody was the big cop at the McCabe estate on the night of Julia’s murder.
“Alright, you’ve got my attention. I believe a little payback is in order. What else have you heard?” His anger grew.
“Oh, there are plenty of rumors running around. Some of the people believe McCabe’s wife killed Julia and Cooper helped her. Otherwise, your girlfriend, Raquel, did it.” She smiled at his surprise.
“You forget, this is a small town where everyone knows everybody’s business. You’re a stranger and the servants like to talk.”
“Well, she’s not my girlfriend. She’s a nut job like the others,” Ray grumbled. “Why would she want to kill Julia? Raquel told me they were best friends.”
“Do you believe everything someone tells you? It was not secret that the two women were competing,” Jenny stated with a smirk. “Add Maria McCabe to that estate and watch the fireworks.”
Irish had to admit he might have missed something. Raquel could be involved somehow. Nothing was clear to him. His thoughts focused on dealing with the cops and the McCabe family. As he leaned back in the seat, he groaned inadvertently from his soreness.
“If I’m staying, I need to give Brody and his friends a show tomorrow.” He glanced over at Jenny. “How committed are you to me staying around?”
“I’m not sure. It depends on what you’re wanting. What do you have planned?” Her suspicious tone forced him to smile. It hurt.
“Well, a couple of things are needed. I need a place to stay when I come back into town. It needs to be out of the way so I can lie low,” he told her. “And I’ll need a car to get around.”
His face brightened.
“We have an ally to help us as well.”
“Who’s that?” She asked.
“Jack White is no fan of McCabe. I get the sense they didn’t bother to use his legal services. That probably sticks in his crawl,” Ray explained. “Do you know how I can get all of these items to happen?”
“No but we have the rest of the night to plan how,” she said. She started the car. As she put it into gear, she looked over.
“Just so you know, I expect that you’ll owe me for this help and I ain’t cheap!”
“Hey, you wanted me to stay around. But I like the way you think, sister.” Ray tried to grin with his half-numb head.
“You son of a bitch! How dare you tell me that,” Maria’s face twisted in fury. “I’ve given you everything!”
“No, you’ve played me for a chump,” Willis replied calmly as he picked up his hat on the sofa. “I just spoke with Victor about this idea. Raquel’s available and she’s agreed to the idea. It’s the best for both of us. I admit what I’m saying is a bit distasteful so soon after Julia’s death. However, it’s a business decision and I’m the choice to fill her shoes with the company. You don’t have the ability to run things, I do.”
“Willis, as long as you stay with me, you can do anything you please,” she pleaded. “My husband doesn’t care what we do. We have everything now.”
“No, you have a damn dog to lead around at your convenience. I will control things from now on. I deserve it after all this time,” he turned to her with a vindictive smile. “All this time, I’ve been kowtowing to you but Julie’s death makes Raquel the natural fit for my ambition. To be honest, I’m tired of you.”
Maria slapped Cooper. When she tried again, he grabbed her firmly by the wrist. His instant anger immediately slipped away. Willis grinned.
“You know, you really show your age when you get angry.”
He pushed her back and placed his seersucker driving cap on his head.
“I’ll never let you betray me like this!” she warned him. “I’m the one who got you in here. It was my influence with Victor.”
“Maria, you know nothing. You shouldn’t make threats like that. People will believe that you killed my last fiancé,” he warned cheerfully. Willis turned on his heel and went to the library door. Maria was hot on his trail. She tried to hold the door as he opened it.
“I’ll see that Victor removes you from the company.” Her voice rose. “You forget that I’m the one who can influence him.”
“No, that’s the one thing you cannot do, my dear. Victor’s always been his own man. Besides, I’m much too valuable now, especially since Victor and I’ve have arranged everything. You think you can prance around here and pay no attention to what’s happening. Well, I’m not losing out and this is my chance.” He pulled open the door.
“Now, be a good girl and just accept what’s happening. At your age, you can still find some sucker to keep you happy. Just don’t forget that Victor is the one who rules you. You might want to find out what his plans are for you.”
Willis exited the room and walked down the hall to the main foyer. He passed the open door of the library as Harris walked out. Willis paid no attention to the servant as he quickly went out the front door.
Raquel sat in the morning sun along the house’s side portico. It was just after breakfast and she enjoyed the isolation. Left with her thoughts, the woman frowned as she mulled the events of the last few days. Before Julia’s murder, she remained content to keep her bank account full by keeping her uncle happy. There was nothing else she needed to worry about.
Now, Victor expected more. He laid down her options at the end of her sixteenth birthday party. Raquel made a choice that night, just like Julia did several months before. Both girls learned to live with the weekly visits from their uncle during the night. Acting as his house concubines gave the two women a chance at the complete fortune as long as they followed his instructions. Victor always made good on his promises. Soon, she would achieve everything. And there was one thing that Victor didn’t realize. Raquel understood much more than she let on and her ambition was just as large as Julia’s.
Raquel’s eyes followed Willis as he left the house and got into his new Jaguar convertible. She shook her head with a smug grin as the tires spit gravel when he drove away. Her uncle was correct.
The trap was sprung!
While she leaned back in her chair, she heard the side door open. Raquel knew from the red flush on Maria’s face that she was on the losing end of an argument with Willis. She knew what the argument was about.
Victor is right. She’s a fool!
Raquel smiled when she saw Maria stomp across the patio, standing just across the table from her.
“I see you’ve been speaking with Willis?” She called out pleasantly.
“Don’t think you’ve won, you little bitch.” Maria’s eyes shot daggers at Raquel.
“Now is that a proper way for a lady to talk?”
“You’re not getting away with this,” Maria spat out.
“It’s over and I win!” Raquel stated. “Once the board meets, Willis and I will control everything. You should be happy if I let you stay in this house after Victor leaves.”
“No, that’s not possible! You’re lying to me,” Maria’s voice became frantic. Raquel gave her a sweet smile.
“Julia’s position is vacant and it was you or me,” she replied. “Willis and I have agreed to use our shares of McCabe company stock to take control of the company. That means the estate and everything else is mine.”
“This can’t be happening. Victor wouldn’t allow it.” The shocked woman’s tone was almost pathetic as she looked over the courtyard.
“Who do you think came up with the idea?” Raquel mocked her. “Victor and Cooper are partners. Victor intends to sale his remaining shares to me, then he will move to Cuba. I’m afraid your shares are tied up with his. I doubt if you’ll be going along.”
“He wouldn’t.” Maria stated.
“Alright, then go ask Victor if you don’t believe me,” Raquel shrugged her shoulders. “Either way, you’re on the way out now.” She stood and went to the door inside. Raquel looked back.
“You know, it does feel good to put things like this to rest.”
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After going to her room, Raquel thought she heard Maria’s shouting voice downstairs. She paid little attention as she undressed for a shower. When Raquel stepped from her shower, she happened to look out the bathroom window to see Maria’s car roaring out of the courtyard toward the main road.
The large grandfather clock near the stairs began to strike out the time as Raquel went to the kitchen. When it finished the tenth bong, she made a mental note to get rid of the clock when Victor left.
Inside the kitchen, she found the cook finishing the dishes. Raquel nodded to her absently and went to the stove. As the woman poured herself a cup of coffee, she and the cook talked about lunch. She took her cup and went down the hall toward her uncle’s study. Raquel paused as she watched Victor leaving the house. He glanced at her and nodded. The fat man hurried passed his butler, ignoring his servant’s offer to drive. Raquel observed the scene. Everything appeared to be following the plan. She stepped next to Harris who still held open the front door.
“Did he say where he was going?” she asked. Harris shook his head as he closed the large door, but she stopped him to watch.
“He didn’t tell me. Mr. McCabe seems to be in quite a hurry.” The stiff servant offered.
After a short delay, Victor’s large Cadillac sped away from the garage.
“Yes, he is,” Raquel agreed absently. “Harris, can you take care of this coffee. I’m going to drive into town.” She turned and went to the study.
About fifteen minutes later, Raquel drove past Willis Cooper’s colonial style house. The house stood on a large treed lot. As she expected, Maria’s car was parked by the front door in the half-circle driveway. However, she didn’t see the large black vehicle that Victor drove. The woman turned her car around at the end of the block and parked across the other side of the street.
As she waited, Raquel kept looking around for Victor’s car. She believed that her uncle had something up his sleeve but she wondered if she missed something. She rolled down the window and leaned back against the seat. After waiting for fifteen minutes, Raquel got out of the car. She heard the music and voices from a house on her side of the street. Raquel recognized someone had a soap opera tuned on their radio. It was a radio show she enjoyed in the afternoon.
While she waited, Raquel grew curious. She glanced around before slowly walking up to Cooper’s silent house. The front door was closed so she drew close to the tall and narrow window by the side of door. Raquel looked inside and saw Maria sitting on the sofa. She had been crying, her mascara running down her cheeks. Then, Raquel saw Victor step in front of his wife. They were talking but Raquel couldn’t hear what they were saying. She quickly backed away and began go around the side of the house. As Raquel neared the back, she hesitated. Finally getting up her nerve, the woman carefully stepped around the corner. There was an open door by the terrace and she heard Victor’s voice.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing else to do, Maria. Of course, it’ll mean a scandal but I’m confident a jury will exonerate you of this. He obviously struck you. As you said, it was self-defense.”
Raquel felt a knot in her stomach and she lean over a bush to glance inside. She saw Cooper’s body on the floor behind the couch where Maria sat. Victor had his back to his wife as he stood looking out the large front window. He briefly glanced back at his wife.
“Obviously, I can’t be seen here. You’ll call Chief Potter. While you wait for the police, I’ll go home and contact our lawyers,” he told her. “Leave everything untouched. You should be home by dinnertime.”
“Please stay,” she pleaded with a trembling voice. “I’m not strong enough.”
“No, I can’t. The suspicion would point to me. You will be fine. Just tell them the truth. Like I said, it was self-defense. A small town will never convict a woman being abused by a womanizer like Cooper.” He turned and went back to his wife. “Just remember you don’t need to act. Tell Potter exactly what happened. You should even tell him that you called me. Just don’t mention that I was here.”
He patted her shoulder lightly.
“Go into the bathroom and compose yourself, my dear. I believe the British say to keep a stiff upper lip.” McCabe reached down and helped her stand. He coaxed her into the bathroom before stepping away. McCabe left the house through the back door. He paused to inspect the grounds before quickly walking to the back gate.
When he disappeared, Raquel stepped out from behind a bush. She quickly entered the house.
Behind a small warehouse near the railroad tracks outside of town, Ray Irish hurried to a waiting car. Jenny was waiting as he slid into the passenger side.
“Alright I’ve made my dramatic exit from Colonial Beach,” he told her. “Did you see Brody at the train station? I forgot how dangerous it is when you drop to the ground from between the cars on a train. I nearly broke my neck.”
“Yeah, you look a little dusty,” she confirmed as they drove away. “Brody was there alright. He’ll go back to Chief Potter and let him know.”
“Are you sure you won’t be missed at work?” Ray lowered the brim of his fedora and slid down in the seat. Jenny laughed when she glanced over.
“No, I called Betty, the other waitress, while you were going to the train. She’ll cover my shift this morning. She wasn’t happy about it so I promised that I would give her my tips for the day. That means you get pay me back.”
“If this scheme works I’ll do better than that. You get a nice dinner along with dancing at the best spot,” Ray told her. “Just don’t expect Fred Astaire.”
“I guess you’ll have to do but only on the condition that you take me to a place out of this town,” Jenny shot back as she turned on to the highway. “Then, I’ll really make you pay.” Ray noticed her determined grin as they were heading in the direction of the McCabe estate.
While they drove to Ray’s hideout, he thought back to their planning at Jenny’s well-kept apartment. He discovered his new partner worked in Washington DC during the war. Jenny was engaged to an Army major who never made it back from Europe. Like him, she drifted between cities for a few years before Jenny decided to return to her hometown. Now, she was bored with the smallness of the town and the people. He liked her. She had a direct manner and handled herself well when the chips were down. He yawned, wishing for coffee.
“I’ll get some coffee made at our hideout,” Jenny spoke up like she read his mind.
“A bed would be better,” he groused. “And it’s not a hideout, that’s only in the movies with gangsters.”
“I thought a shamus never slept and that you drink all the time. That’s the way the movies portray you detectives.” The woman smiled at him; her eyes lit up happily. She was enjoying their little adventure. He glanced over and Irish had to admit he enjoyed watching her.
“Well, the drinking part is what I do,” Ray joked.
They reached a cottage not far down the road from the McCabe estate. Jack White was sitting in his car, waiting on them. The silver haired lawyer greeted them with a nod. Ray believed the man had the same unlit stogie in his mouth from the other day.
“You can use this place for a long as you need it,” he told Jenny. “I’m warning you now that if people think you’re out here shacking up with this guy; you’ll never live it down.”
The woman rolled her eyes.
“Yes, I know how this place thinks. Don’t worry; we’re just helping each other. Like I wrote in my note, Potter is trying to push Ray out of town by using that goon Brody. You know what that means.”
“Yes I understand. Potter doesn’t do anything unless he’s told. It must be Victor McCabe,” White agreed. “Potter may be betting on the wrong horse.”
“Did you find something?” Ray asked.
“I’m not sure but let’s get inside to talk. We don’t need any people noticing Irish standing out here,” White said as he glanced around. The highway remained empty as they walked to the cottage.
Inside, they found a living room that included a kitchen along with a few pieces of worn furniture. A bedroom was in the back. White led them to the threadbare couch. Ray remained standing.
“I contacted some friends back in New York,” White explained while he took a seat. “From what they tell me, McCabe’s company is on the brink of going under. Apparently, they’ve had major cash flow problems since the end of the war. According to one of my sources, the family is lucky to have the house still. McCabe’s company has been trying to expand overseas and they actually set up a subsidiary down in Argentina.”
“It explains the number of investors at the party,” Irish said as he slowly paced in a circle. “No doubt that McCabe and Cooper needed help and that is why they were pitching so hard on getting money into their new venture.” He suddenly stopped.
“What a minute, Argentina is where Cooper met Maria. I wonder how much Julia was involved in this business venture.”
The lawyer shrugged.
“Well, she and Cooper have some control. They set on the board but Victor is the one who supposed to make the decisions. Anyway, another interesting thing I found out was about Julia’s will,” White told them. “She had Willis Cooper put into her will over a month ago.”
“Did Julia own some of the company? Who else is in her will?” Ray looked over.
“Julia controls about a third of the preferred stock but that goes to Raquel. Victor McCabe is in it as the executor to the estate. I guess he’s on everyone’s will, just like they are on his will. Not much motive there in my opinion. They all have an estate that consists of the same failing company along with the land around here. But it could soon be worthless.”
“I thought they had millions given the way they live,” Jenny observed.
“Victor’s been slowly selling off his and his wife’s stock to keep the company afloat,” White explained. “The share price has really dropped. According to my sources, he might not be the majority stock holder anymore. Next board meeting could force him out, along with Cooper.”
The room went quiet for a moment and Ray started his slow circle again.
“I wonder if Julia knew something.” Ray said aloud. “I’m sure she was hurt with the price dropping.”
What about her insurance?” Jenny suddenly asked. “Maybe her killer wanted that?”
“I thought of that as well when Mr. Irish first came to me. However, Julia’s policy was only worth twenty thousand. Certainly not worth killing someone in this family,” the lawyer replied.
“Definitely not here,” Ray mumbled in agreement. “Besides there was real hate behind the murder. It was planned and vicious at the same time.” He glanced at his partners.
“Well, we can speculate all day long but everything points to Cooper or Raquel. The question is do we go Potter with this information? If he ran me out of town on McCabe or Cooper’s orders, then he’s not likely to listen to me. And either one of you could be in Potter’s sights next.”
“Yes, it’s obvious we don’t have any proof. Let me get to my office and make a few phone calls,” White suggested. “Maybe I can turn up something that helps. In the meantime, Jenny can head down to the diner and listen to the latest news coming from the big mouths while she pours the coffee.”
After White left, Jenny stood at the open door. She glanced back to see Ray looking down at the floor.
“What are you thinking?” She asked.
“Everything suggests Cooper must be the one who killed Julia.” He scratched his head. “He’s a little too perfect as the suspect.”
“You don’t sound pleased.”
“I’m not,” he said with a sleepily yawn. Ray looked over his shoulder at the bed in the other room that was missing a mattress.
The couch will do.
“I don’t know how you are holding up but I got to get some sleep. Our all-night planning session is getting the best of me,” he admitted.
“Well, I’m not the one who got beat up and stitches put in my head. Go ahead and lay down for a while,” she told him. “I’ll stop by the tavern and see how Betty’s doing.”
Ray nodded and leaned against the padded arm of the couch.
“Better than the ‘Canal,” he mumbled. “I’ll sleep like a dead man.”
“You better not,” she told him. “If I found out anything, I’ll come running.”
Ray didn’t hear her car drive away.
The shamus also didn’t hear the car drive up into the drive way less than an hour later when Jenny returned. It was pushing on his shoulder that woke him.
“Ray, get up. I’ve got news,” she told him.
As the shamus shook the grogginess out of his head, Jenny explained what she knew. Willis Cooper and Maria McCabe were dead.
“I overheard one of the deputies say that Mrs. McCabe shot Cooper then killed herself with poison. The cops are over at the McCabe mansion right now.” She sat next to him on the side of the bed. “Oh, what I would give to be a fly on the wall at that house!”
Jenny looked at the silent man next to her. He looked half-asleep.
“Didn’t you hear anything I told you?”
“Oh, I heard it all,” he said as he rose from the couch. “Let’s just say I don’t believe what the cops might believe. First, it was a manic, then Harry Pitts.”
“Well, what’s your idea?” Jenny asked. “Doesn’t it prove Cooper killed Julia? Mrs. McCabe must have discovered the truth and killed him over it. Then, she couldn’t live without him.”
Ray smiled grimly as he looked back.
“Maria would step on top of all the bodies to keep her husband’s money. While she really liked Cooper, that relationship was on her terms. If Maria truly discovered he killed Julia, I’d wager she’d try to protect him first, then give him up to save herself.” He ran his hands through his hair.
“No, Maria’s definitely not the type of kill herself. If I’m right, we have only two suspects left.
He picked up his hat.
“Come on, we’re going to watch the McCabe house,” he told her.
“I know it’s been a difficult time for you Victor,” Chief Potter said as he finished the interview. He stood from the chair inside McCabe’s study. “All I can say is that I’m sorry for your loss. Maria’s suicide is just terrible.”
Potter looked down at McCabe whose face showed the strain of his grief. The man behind his large desk nodded and remained quiet.
“I’ll show myself to the door,” the policeman told him as he turned toward the door.
“Did Irish leave town?” McCabe asked. Potter stopped with his hand on the door handle.
“Yes, one of my men forcefully explained that he needed to leave. According to my deputy, Irish was on the train this morning,” he replied. “In a way, it’s too bad. He suspected Cooper was hiding something. But, you were right about him. When Irish started investigating on his own, it could only cause problems for your family. I wish I could have got him out of town sooner. Maybe, your wife…”
“No, there was nothing to be done,” McCabe said as he looked over. “I’ll send over a check for your extra work and your expert handling of this matter.”
The policeman nodded and left the room. After the door closed, Victor McCabe rose and walked over to the chrome and wood liquor cabinet. He grunted a laugh as he picked up a bottle of champagne. McCabe opened it and poured himself a glass. After toasting his dead wife, he drank it down in one gulp. There was clapping behind him.
“Quite the performance uncle,” Raquel said as she stood in the open side door to the study. “I didn’t hear all of it but you almost had me believing the story at the end.”
His broad smile didn’t fade as he poured another glass for himself.
“Thank you my dear. You should believe it since it was almost entirely true. It’s just as I told you. When you’ve completed your task, everything would fall into place for us. Please close the door and join me,” Victor said. She did as he instructed and came closer.
“Yes, the plan was executed to near perfection.” He swirled the drink before taking a large gulp.
“You never planned for the suicide of Maria,” she pointed out. “It was my conversation with her that sent her into such a tizzy. I believe I deserve praise for that.”
“Yes, you did exactly as I expected. As for Maria, we’ll celebrate your bonus touch,” he insisted. McCabe poured her a glass of the bubbly liquid.
“Now is the time to discuss your future,” he told her. “Let’s get comfortable and I’ll lay out everything for you.”
Raquel accepted the glass and he guided her to the couch. He laid his hand on her butt and squeezed.
“I don’t think this is the right time for that,” she replied coolly. “There are too many unanswered questions for me.”
“Of course, I see you’re still in the dark on some of this. I’m glad you’ve learned to trust me. Now have a seat and I’ll explain. After all, we benefit together.”
The man sat next to her and leaned back comfortably. He took another sip of his drink.
“Soon, I’ll be in the warmth of the sun. There is much to be thankful for.”
He held up his glass and they clinked their glasses together.
Raquel took a long sip. She felt the urge to spring her surprise on him, but she bid her time. Raquel amused herself by observing the self-satisfied expression on her uncle’s face.
“You asked the other day about your involvement in the company’s affairs. Now I can tell you. Within a week or so, there will be no way for my company to meet payroll. Money was diverted to offshore banks. Soon an audit of the company will begin. I’m afraid that the authorities will then step in to discover the name of that individual.”
He paused during his explanation.
“Come now dear, you’re not drinking. We must finish the bottle. It was Maria’s favorite. I don’t want to taste this inferior brand ever again!”
Raquel smiled, then sipped on the champagne as she leaned back.
“That means Willis was embezzling from us. That rat!” She glanced over to her uncle. “No wonder he came to me about marriage. He didn’t want my shares. It also explains why he kept talking about going to Cuba to run the new company. He was trying to cover everything up.”
“No my dear, I’m afraid not. Willis Cooper was doing exactly as I foresaw. He didn’t pay attention to the work that Julia did. He was focused on complete control of the company. It was something that I kept dangling out there like bait for a fish.” His smile faded slightly.
“Wait a minute, you wanted him to have control? That makes no sense.”
“Raquel, the McCabe Company has financial problems. On top of that, one of our most trusted employees transferred large amounts of the company’s cash to a bank account in Cuba. You see when the authorities finally investigate, they will find that the money trail leads back to Julia,” he told her as he rose from the couch. He took her half-empty glass and went to the bar.
“Willis Cooper had no idea of what Julia was up to for most of his time. For all of his supposed business skills, he failed to grasp our retirement plan. I kept that fool working for the company to keep Maria occupied. Before I married my wife, I had a detective check on them. Willis and Maria were partners in the scheme to have Maria become my wife.”
McCabe came back to the couch and handed her a refilled glass.
“If you knew about this, why marry her?” She asked.
“Because she provided me with a suitable wife for the public and she’s quite willing to look the other way at my unique relationship with you and Julia. It provided me with an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. However, I realized that I would need to deal with them in the future.”
“Then, they were working to take over the company from you. You knew about it the whole time. Why didn’t you tell me this?” Obviously surprised by her uncle’s admission, she thoughtfully took another drink.
McCabe’s smile broadened.
“A man must keep his secrets. Like Julia and Maria, I only give the information necessary to ensure trust between the thieves. One of the things I taught you was to know a person’s strengths and weaknesses.” He took a seat next to her. “For example, Let’s take you. You have always been my favorite lover. But I remained unsure of your temperament and suitability to stay with me once you came of age. Your fixation on wealth is only slightly stronger than your desire to get back at me for your sixteenth birthday. You still remember being forced to make that decision.”
He looked amused at the scowl that crossed her pretty face. Her eyes hardened.
“Yes, I remember that every time you come to me. But that still doesn’t explain why you wanted Willis and I to control your company,” she declared.
“Haven’t you guessed yet? I needed Willis to be the fall guy. You see Julia is the one who authorized the transfer of money and assets out of the United States,” McCabe continued as though he didn’t hear her. “I’m afraid much of what she did violated the law. It was under my instruction, of course. We knew that we had only a limited amount of time before an outside audit would discover problems. Exposure would bring the authorities which is never good for a company.”
“The mistake to all of the meticulous planning came when Julia became enamored with the idea of control,” he continued. “It was a terrible blunder for her to include Cooper in her plans. I’m afraid that’s what ultimately brought about her demise.”
“I’m not sure I’m following. Are you telling me that Cooper killed her because Julia told him about this?”
“Oh, in a way, that is true.” McCabe agreed. He got up from the couch.
“Come now, dear. You need to drink up. Harris will soon enter to let us know about lunch.”
“Please understand that I recognized Julia’s plan to betray me. She collected details in a diary which detailed the movement of money offshore as well as the plans for our subsidiary company. It included dates and correspondence that I approved. Late one evening, I accidentally heard her conversation with Cooper. Julia schemed with him to turn me over to the authorities along with her detailed notes,” the man told her as he crossed the room to the bar. He stepped over to the couch with the bottle. He refilled Raquel’s glass while she impatiently wanted him to stop rambling.
Oh, just wait until I spring my news!
“Yes, someone I took in as part of the family decided to double-cross me. I would be jailed while she and Cooper flew to Cuba. It was a clever twist on my idea. That’s the reason that I left Cooper’s cigarette stub by Julia’s body.” He stepped to the study’s main doors and locked them.
“Obviously, I had to deal with Julia’s disloyalty. You can see that I’m su.…”
“Uncle, I should tell you there’s no reason to continue this conversation,” she interrupted him. McCabe turned back to her with a smile. She couldn’t wait to wipe that grin off his fat face.
“I saw you at Willis Cooper’s house yesterday,” she interrupted him. “I know it was you who killed Julia. Then you set up Maria to kill Cooper. You even killed Maria.”
Victor continued to the side entrance to the room as though he didn’t hear her.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said I’m a witness to you being at Cooper’s house yesterday.” She raised her voice. McCabe locked the door and turned back to her.
“Oh, I heard you, my dear. But I’m afraid that you’re mistaken if you think you hold the advantage.” He smiled again as he came back to the sofa. He stopped by the side of the couch and placed the champagne bottle on the end table.
“I had no reason to kill Maria. She called me and told me that she shot Willis. That’s why I hurried over and parked behind the house. Chief Potter knows I received the call and I have the staff who will verify I never left this house.” He sat his glass down on the table.
“I can tell them. I will tell them what I witnessed! It will send you to prison,” she declared.
“What are you trying to tell me Raquel?”
“I followed you there and I saw you at Cooper’s house with Maria,” she told him forcefully. “That story you told Chief Potter won’t keep the police away from you. You don’t know that they have evidence against you.”
She glanced up at him and, for a split second, she thought he was the Cheshire cat with his large grin.
“You’re through uncle! This time I win!”
“My dear, my dear,” he said as he shook his head slowly. “Listen to yourself. Wouldn’t Chief Potter have arrested me while he was here?” He slowly leaned forward, placing his fists on the arm of the couch.
“Unfortunately, you made an error by parking your car across the street in front of Cooper’s house. I can assure you that my plans for Maria never meant her suicide. As I told you, you must know one’s strengths and weaknesses. Maria’s personality was a survivor so she would never consider suicide. She did not take two doses of her sedative on her own. Someone placed the powder in her glass of wine.”
Raquel leaned forward and sloshed the champagne on the carpet. She shook her head in confusion.
“It doesn’t matter; you left something there. Now I’m done with your damned arrangement. I’m the one calling the shots.” Raquel tried to sit the glass in her hand on the coffee table. The vessel fell from her hand and shattered on the floor. She felt the energy drain from her body. Her eyes widen as he stepped around the couch to face her.
“You’ve poisoned me!”
“No, my dear. I simply did to you the same thing you did to my wife. However, I put only one dose of her tranquilizer in your drink.” He stuck his hand into his pocket.
“Raquel, I have other plans for you. Potter and his men never found what you left.” McCabe held out his hand which held his silver cigar case.
“You bastard, how did you get that?”
“I simply stayed out of sight until you left. I watched you go into Maria’s purse. You gave her the filled wine glass when she came out of the bathroom. You were so supportive of poor Maria,” he explained. When I saw Maria fall to the floor I finally understood your ruthlessness. You even waited several minutes until she was near death before you picked up a pillow the sofa. I saw that look of satisfaction when you placed it over her face to ensure she never woke. Then, you went to the phone and called the police.”
“I slipped inside after you left where I found my silver case by Maria’s body,” he told her. “You knew I was going to Cooper’s house after I left my study. Do you really think I would be so sloppy? You’re really not as smart as you believe.”
“I wish I could spit in your face. You raped me whenever you want since I was sixteen. Do you think I wanted a pig like you pawing me and crawling on top of me? You deserve the hell of a prison cell and I deserve everything you have.”
She tried to lift herself from the sofa.
“Actually, you’ll finally get what you deserve Raquel.”
McCabe struck Raquel. She barely felt her head stick the floor.
When Raquel woke, she found herself in a cramped room with a dirt floor that smelled of oil. She slowly recognized the room to be the storage closet inside the garage. Raquel tried to lift herself only to realize that her wrists were tied behind her back.
Groggly, she glanced up and saw her uncle is sitting on a wood bench only a short step away. Raquel shook her head again but the image didn’t go away.
“Yes, Maria’s sedative did its job. You’ll find the grogginess will wear off soon enough.” His eyes are hard as he stood and took a step forward. He leaned over and roughly picked up Raquel by her hair. As she cried out, Victor viciously smacked her face with an open hand. The blow only served to whet his appetite as he struck her several more times before pitching her to the floor. McCabe knelt next to Raquel as she spit out blood. He quickly stuffed a rag into her mouth before standing above her. He panted from the brief exertion.
“Bitch, you got everything you wanted. And you repay me by trying to frame me. Do you think I can’t find another little whore to do my bidding?” Victor raged at her. “Julia thought she could betray me. When I killed her, picked up her head and knew the last thing she would see was my face smiling at her. I really enjoyed the thought of that.”
He stepped back and viciously kicked her. Raquel could only wriggle around in agony. The air was knocked from her lungs.
“You will wish for a quick death. Of course, you failed grasp the simple equation why you must die.”
He kicked her again.
“You’re killing of Maria actually deprived me of knowing Maria would rot in jail. Do you think I wanted Maria to get away with killing Cooper?” His mocking tone turned into a sinister laugh. “No, the plan was for her to accept a guilty plea while a corrupt judge would put her behind bars for the rest of her life. Then, I’d leave the country a devastated man with my consoling niece by my side.”
McCabe gave Raquel another kick.
“And you gave it all away. Unfortunately, you’re just like Julia. I picked you precisely because you came from nothing. Just like Julia, you were raised to follow your natural abilities. And just like her, you failed. You wanted control when it wasn’t needed. I taught you better than that.” He paused, then shrugged.
“Perhaps I taught you too well!”
Victor walked door of the closet.
“Don’t worry my darling; I’m not killing you right now. No, it has to look like an accident. While you wait, I want you to think long and hard about your betrayal of me. After you’re dead, I might even think fondly of you when the senoritas keep me company at night.”
He turned off the lights and closed the door behind him. Raquel heard the lock snap shut. Her muffled screams were not heard after Victor McCabe closed the garage door.
You’ll be another untimely death which drove me away from my home.
McCabe felt the smirk on his face as he walked into the house. His expression changed when he saw Harris.
“There you are. I just had a call about my business arrangements in Cuba,” he told the servant. “Go to the attic for my steamer trunk. Take it to my room and begin packing.”
“I will do that after I check with Miss Raquel. She wanted me to drive her to the club this afternoon,” Harris replied.
“That’s alright…you just follow my instructions,” McCabe grew agitated. Then, he forced a smile.
“I’ll drive her over since I was planning on going there to meet with some of my friends.”
After Harris left to complete his chore, McCabe walked into his study. He picked up the phone and dialed his lawyer.
“Fred, I’m sorry to bother you at home but I’m afraid I need to get away. This place has too many memories. I’m going on the next ship to Cuba. I’ll need you to handle my affairs while I’m gone.” He listened to the man complaining, then Victor interrupted.
“Fred, yes I know it’s Saturday. Just think of me as eccentric. You have full power of attorney to handle the business. I’ll wire you when I have everything in place. I’m sure nothing too exciting will happen while I’m gone.”
When he finished his call, McCabe drew a deep breath and left the room.
Jenny’s head rested on Ray’s shoulder as she slept. His head was nodding as well while they sat inside the car waiting for activity from the McCabe estate. The car sat under a large oak along a turnoff in sight of the main gate. They had been there since early morning and not much happened during the day. Only a delivery truck entered and left the estate.
As he sat there, Ray decided he was going to the house again. He believed McCabe was the killer, perhaps in partnership with Raquel. Somewhere in the study, he suspected there had to be information about why the murderer targeted Julia. The car roaring away from the estate and to the highway caught Ray’s attention. When he jerked upright, Jenny woke. Ray slid out of the car. As the car passed, he saw Victor McCabe driving alone towards town.
“Jenny, follow McCabe and find out where he goes. I’m heading to their house. I have an idea there’s information there for us.”
She gave him an uncertain look.
“He won’t pay any attention to you,” Ray told her. “McCabe might spot me if I’m with you. Hurry! I’ll be waiting when you get back.”
After she left, Irish walked across the highway and through the entrance into the McCabe estate. While he walked along the drive, he used the trees to keep out of sight. He passed by the closed garage, quickly peaking in the window of the garage door. Her car sat inside.
Hurrying across the courtyard to the side of the house, Ray carefully entered. He quietly moved through the hallway while cook whistled along with a song in the kitchen. He worked his way through the foyer and into Victor McCabe’s study.
Inside the room, the first thing Ray found were the notes jotted down next to the telephone. He quickly made copies of the names and numbers. However, the ship name, SS Florida caught his eye along with two train tickets lying on the desk.
Ray left the study through the side door and back along another hallway to the second floor. As he turned the corner toward Raquel’s room, he nearly ran over Harris and another servant come out of door to the attic. Harris dropped his end of a trunk in surprise.
“Who’s leaving?” Irish asked as nonchalantly despite looking like a man with his hand in the cookie jar.
“I’m afraid that’s the business of Mr. McCabe. I don’t believe you are allowed on the estate sir,” Harris told him after recovering from the shock.
“But Raquel invited me,” the shamus lied. “I can’t find her.”
“I haven’t seen Miss Raquel since after breakfast, sir. I believe Mr. McCabe drove her to the club,” the servant replied.
“That’s strange, I just saw him drive by and no one was with him,” Ray scratched his head. Harris wasn’t likely to lie about that.
“Tell me, is she going on the trip? I only see one trunk.” He glanced down as Harris picked up his side of the luggage.
“Mr. McCabe told me nothing about Miss Monroe joining him. Now, I must ask that you leave, sir. Mr. McCabe was very specific that you are not welcome in the house.”
“Alright, alright Harris, I’ll leave.”
Realizing he wouldn’t get more information; Ray went to the main stairs while the two men followed him. He waved as he opened the front door and left.
After leaving the house, Ray walked back to the garage and looked through the window again to verify Raquel’s car remained. He paused and slowly scanned the area, bothered by her absence. Finally, Irish walked back along the road to the waiting spot for Jenny.
About an hour later, Ray sat on the ground. His thoughts were working on what he knew as he tried to determine McCabe’s plan. He was leaning against the rough trunk of a large elm when McCabe’s car drove by. The vehicle turned on to the property as the shamus rose.
Jenny’s car turned into the open area where Ray stood a couple of minutes later. She pulled next to the tree where Ray waited.
“Did you miss me?” she asked after she rolled down the car window. The excitement of her adventure showed in her smile.
“Alright partner, what happened?” He asked as he leaned down to the window.
“Well, Mr. McCabe went to the bank first. I couldn’t really tell what he picked up, but he went back to the room where the safe deposit boxes are. I went back to the car and waited for him.”
“It confirms that he’s leaving town,” Ray told her.
“Why? What did you find?”
Irish told her about the tickets he found in the study.
“Where else did McCabe go?”
“He drove over to the police station,” she explained. “I made sure to walk by the building. I could see McCabe in Chief Potter’s office. He gave him something.”
“And that must have been the payoff to a corrupt policeman,” Ray offered.
“Well, what do we do now?” Jenny asked.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “The train tickets were for tomorrow morning. Right now, I’ve got nothing but a hunch. I thought that Raquel was working with Victor. But she’s not around the estate and we’ve not seen her leave.”
“Do you think she’s dead?”
Ray looked over at Jenny. “You’re thinking the same way that I do.”
It was after midnight when McCabe pulled Raquel from the room where she was imprisoned. While she struggled, he dragged her across the garage and forced her into the back seat of her car. After trussing his niece’s legs up with a length of rope, McCabe quietly closed the rear door. Then, he went to the driver side and slid inside the car. After starting the engine, he put the car into gear and slowly backed out of the garage with the lights off.
“Don’t worry my dear. It’s just a short trip,” he told her as he slowly drove away from the house. When he reached the front gates, he turned on the car’s lights. McCabe heard her struggling behind the seat and he glanced back over his shoulder.
“Unfortunately, high tide was several hours ago. Your body might drift into the bay,” he told her. McCabe smiled when he heard a frantic, muffled yell from her.
Turning on to the highway, Raquel’s car followed the road. He eventually came to a fork and continued on a winding, narrow road which soon ran parallel with Monroe Creek. The dark water of the large flat bay showed no reflections on the moonless night. Continuing through the low lying land, McCabe found the turn off to Robins Grove Point. At the top of the rise, he stopped.
Getting out of the car, he looked down the sloping path featured in the headlights. Just out of sight was a steep drop which ended among the rocks next to the water. The man looked back along the road where he saw lights in the distance and he froze. However, the headlights of the car turned away and soon disappeared.
In the quiet night, the rhythmic swell waves sweeping over the narrow beach in the distance reached the car as he opened the rear door. He pulled her to the edge of the seat by her hair, then McCabe pulled a silver flask from his jacket.
“I’ve already placed the last of Maria’s sedative in this cheap whiskey,” he said as he pulled out the rag in her mouth.
Raquel screamed and McCabe laughed before slapping her.
“No one can hear you!” His fingers clasped around her cheeks and he forced Raquel to open her mouth. She gasped when the liquor reached her throat and she started coughing. McCabe slapped her again.
“Drink up my pretty bitch,” he laughed as he forced more of the liquid into her mouth. Forced to swallow, she tried turning her head away but his fingers dug down into her flesh. He forced more down.
“That’s a good girl,” he said. “Drink up and pretty soon you won’t care when your car bounces off the rocks at the end of the road.”
It took several more attempts before the rest of the cocktail in the flash was consumed. McCabe stood and pulled out a cigar, the lit it. He watched while Raquel’s twisting and turning movements slowed. Her curses became unintelligible as the words melded into slurred grunts and moans.
Satisfied with her inability to resist, McCabe pulled her out of the car and untied her bindings. Shoving the rope into his pocket, he picked started to pick her up. Then McCabe heard the nearby footsteps. He backed away and nearly tripped over a rock.
“Don’t move,” Irish called out. “I don’t miss from this distance.”
Ray stepped closer with his .45 auto pointed at McCabe. Jenny joined him.
“I wondered when you would make your play,” the shamus told him.
“I’m afraid that you only have an uncle protecting his drunk niece from driving her car into the water,” McCabe replied with an unsure smile.
“Raquel will provide a different story when she sobers up.” Ray stepped near the woman lying on the ground. “I’m sure the servants will have to make a choice. The good news is I’ll let Potter sort it out. Either way, you’re missing your boat.”
Raquel suddenly growled out an incoherent sentence and attempted to crawl. Jenny knelt to help the woman who lashed out with a fist. She struck Jenny in the face and knocked her into Ray’s leg. The detective went down to his knee.
It was the opportunity that Victor McCabe was waiting for. The man bent over and grabbed the rock he tripped on. With surprising strength, McCabe threw the fist-sized piece of stone at Irish. The makeshift weapon glanced off Ray’s head and sent him to the ground.
McCabe charged Ray who struggled to rise. He glimpsed the man coming at him and he raised his gun. A shot roared out and McCabe kept coming another two steps before falling.
Jenny went over to Ray who fell back on his rear. He shook his head, trying to get past the cobwebs creeping across his eyes.
“Are you alright?” Jenny’s voice seemed to come from a distant valley.
He reached up a hand and she struggled to help the big man to his feet. Jenny helped him over to McCabe where they saw him still breathing and lying face down. Ray pushed the man over with his foot. McCabe looked up into the night sky. The dark spot of blood slowly spread on his shirt.
“Well, at least I’ll get a full night’s rest,” he glanced at Ray.
“No regrets?” the shamus asked.
McCabe shook his head as he ran his hand along his chest.
“I started this world in sin,” he scoffed. “I’m not a hypocrite now. Just bad luck actually. I didn’t plan on you coming back. I shouldn’t have involved you.”
The dying man looked as the blood on his hands and coughed. McCabe explained that he had plenty of money diverted to South American countries to live out his years.
“It’s too bad that nobody will get to it. I made sure nothing was written down. It’s all up here,” he pointed a bloody finger to his head.
“You’re a real son of a bitch,” Jenny said.
McCabe looked at her and smiled.
“Pretty lady, there’s one last thing you can tell Potter,” he said. “I didn’t kill my wife. Raquel did.” McCabe quickly recounted the events at Willis Cooper’s house.
“You’ll find my niece’s fingerprints on the glass Maria drank from,” he assured them. “I didn’t want my wife dead. She was to be my patsy. Raquel attempted to frame me with Maria’s death.”
“Why tell us this? Your reputation is already gone.” Ray carefully touched the bleeding wound on his head. “Hell, the whole place is falling down around you.”
Then he turned his attention to McCabe.
“Wait a minute; you really are a bastard. You want revenge against your niece,” he growled.
“No, she’s like me, and I’ll see her in hell,” he coughed out.
When he finished, Victor McCabe drew his last breath.
“You look better than the last time I saw you,” Irish told Raquel in the hospital room. It was two days later, and the shamus was heading to the train station.
The woman smiled at him. It was a false smile that Victor McCabe had once used. Her swollen and bruised face made the fake expression come off even worse.
“I’m much better, just sore. I guess I should thank you for saving my life. My uncle, being the killer, is just too much to believe,” she replied. Her tone remained reserved.
Ray gave her a half-hearted grin.
“Well, it was something only a super-bright shamus like me could determine. There were only two suspects left, so I waited outside the gates to see which one left.”
“Then let me apologize for throwing you off the estate. The whole thing might have come out better,” she admitted. “Victor always told me I would get nothing unless I followed his orders.”
Ray went silent, biting his tongue at the way she manipulated the story to her advantage. He wanted to say she was too much like her dead uncle.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. He’s dead and out of your life,” he assured her. Raquel wasn’t paying attention as she recounted her uncle’s abuse of her over the years. Julia and Raquel suffered at the hands of the beguiling fat man who had no soul.
“Victor made it clear I was never a Madison. I was only sixteen when he came to my bedroom. I had to make a choice. Either I did what he wanted or he would kick me into the streets.” She went silent, looking down at the twisted bedsheet in her hand. Raquel took a deep breath.
“Ray, I’m grown up and things are different now. You once told me you had changed. I saw that. Well, I’ve changed as well.” She looked at him. “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you the truth, but I couldn’t risk it. There was too much at stake.”
Her sudden expectation of his sympathy stirred Ray’s ire.
“Yeah, life’s tough and you got a raw deal. But I don’t buy that, you’re really sorry. You were already a changed person when we met. Yes, McCabe was a manipulative bastard, but he never put a gun to your head. You could have walked away at any time. You didn’t have the guts.”
He nearly growled out the last sentence.
She remained quiet, but she looked at him. Her eyes flashed with hate. Her expression turned bitter as she twisted the covers of her bedsheet again.
“I believe you suspected Victor committed Julia’s murder, but you didn’t tell me. Hell, you were ok with Cooper trying to run me over since it put you in a stronger position against Cooper. I really hoped you weren’t, but you’re just a copy of McCabe,” Ray continued with a growing fury.
“It was clear that you didn’t want justice or anything like that. Lady, you tried to blackmail a killer, so you made your choice. You get no sympathy from me for playing it like a two-bit whore.”
“You’re a real son of a bitch,” she exploded. “Alright, so I got my hands a little dirty. Do you think I would give up everything because of your damn morality?” Her voice fluttered with barely suppressed rage.
“Just remember that I’m the last one standing. The company, the house and bank accounts are mine. I know every detail about what Victor had in his will. The state can’t take that away. I made sure he was happy to keep my name above his wife and Julia. And I won’t apologize to you or anyone else. Now get out of here!”
“Oh, I’m leaving.” He put on his fedora. “But you’ve forgotten one little detail. Victor only killed Julia.”
“He killed Willis and Maria,” she replied quickly.
“No, Victor McCabe set up Cooper’s death. He used you to drive Maria into killing Cooper. However, he knew Maria would come to him to shield her. She would never commit suicide. I know the entire story. You poisoned Maria. Victor McCabe expected his wife to take most of the fall when he left on the ship to Cuba.”
Raquel leaned back in her bed.
“Unfortunately for you, nobody will believe that,” Raquel gloated. “No one was at the house but me. Victor put it in her glass while he was there. I’ve already told my story to the police, and Victor’s not around to dispute it.”
“I wouldn’t stake my life on it,” he warned. “You made a couple of mistakes. First, you left your fingerprints on the glass you gave Maria. Second, Potter is corrupt, and someone pointed out that the money McCabe gave him can be traced. Potter’s likely to throw you under the bus.”
There was no change in her expression. She didn’t believe him.
“You know nothing. The police have nothing. Victor owned them. You just can’t admit that I came out on top. Remember that on your trip back into obscurity. I’ll have a dozen men lined up and I’ll make them march to my tune with my fortune.”
“Will you now?” Irish gave her a condescending grin. He opened the door and went into the hospital corridor.
Ray nodded to Chief Potter and Jack White, who rose from the bench where they were sitting. Ray glanced back as they entered Raquel’s room and shut the door.
“Was it bad?” Jenny asked, as she stepped from around the corner.
He shook his head and took her hand.
“Let’s go to Oyster City,” he said as guided her away from the room. “I believe I owe you a steak dinner.”
“And a night of dancing,” she reminded him.
As they walked down the hallway, Ray went quiet. Raquel’s good qualities emerged when she was alone with Irish. However, her uncle’s lecherous ways left the woman with too many scars, turning Raquel into a terrible copy of Victor.
Irish only stopped by the hospital to confirm what he figured out. Now, as far as Irish was concerned, Raquel would learn that fall of the McCabe Empire was the least of her problems.
That was the irony of it all. McCabe’s will wasn’t worth the paper he wrote it on. The company stock was nearly worthless. The debt overcame any remaining assets. Victor recognized his time was up and he was leaving the country for a new life. The entire McCabe enterprise went under that morning. With the company shuttered, plenty of people lost their jobs amid the developing scandal.
According to Jack White, the insurance companies wouldn’t be paying out policies on murder. Legal claims would tie up the money and assets in Cuba and elsewhere for years. Even the estate held no refuge for Raquel. It was owned by the company. Lawyers dismissed the servants that morning and they planned to sell the house and lands at auction in ninety days to help pay the debts. The government would confiscate the money McCabe had in the states during the murder investigation. That meant it wasn’t likely to be seen by anyone for a while, if ever.
Chief Potter went into Raquel’s room to arrest her for murder, along with other charges. Ray forgot to mention that fact to the violent woman in the hospital bed. Jack White walked into the room with his attention on becoming her defending attorney. Irish suspected that the man would get whatever Raquel had left to keep her from the electric chair.
Irish started whistling, then paused his tune while he walked toward the exit. He wanted to feel sorry for her. Thinking back to those heady days before Raquel left his life, the shamus recalled the good times together. Then he remembered the twisted face of furious satisfaction she wore when he left the room.
Raquel is in for a real surprise!
His whistling returned.