The Case of the Deceased Detective A college sleuth challenges his friends to solve a contrived murder mystery.

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Jul 25, 2018 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: The 5th and final Duval Street mystery is an example of the proverbial “imaginary story” where you can kill off a character without killing him off. So I brutally murdered one of the Duval Street gang, just because I could. You’ll no doubt pick up the solution early in the story.

It was Friday – the best day of the week as far as Steve Larsen was concerned. On Friday, he could forget the books for a while, and concentrate on the social life on and around the Dawson College campus. Larsen’s last class was an elective – linguistics. He thought what a bore the class was as he picked up the telephone to dial his two friends who lived a flight above him and Rex Walton at the College Inn Apartments on Duval Street. It was one of those two friends, Howard Thornberry, who had talked him into signing up for linguistics. Larsen was contemplating ways to get even when he noticed an envelope with his name on it next to the phone. He stopped for a moment in mid-dial, and then finished the call. Two rings, and the voice of Morgan Stewart answered. 

“Hi, Morgan, this is Steve. Are you and Howard through with classes? How about some tennis to unwind? No, I haven’t seen Rex all afternoon, but there’s an envelope by the phone addressed to me. Looks like his writing. Okay, fine. I’ll check out this note while you two dress for tennis.”

Larsen hung up the phone, and in the same motion, began unsealing the envelope. At first, he appeared puzzled as he glanced down at the first page of typing. Then, a smile broke through, and he almost laughed out loud. Larsen folded the note and replaced it in the envelope and began dressing for tennis. A few minutes later, Howard Thornberry and Morgan Stewart had joined him.

“Before we go, “Larsen was saying, “I have something here from Rex that you should know about. Sit down, and I’ll read it to you.”

“Speaking of Rex, where is he?” asked Thornberry.

“Actually, he’s dead.” Larsen’s reply was quite calm considering the gravity of the statement.

“What do you mean dead?’ exclaimed Stewart jumping to his feet.

“Calm down. You’ll understand in a second. Let me read you the note.” Larsen read:

“To the Duval Street Detectives:
Gentlemen,

I know how much you love a good mystery – especially you, Stewart. I remember how just a few short months ago, you placed an ad in the campus paper, The Duckling, soliciting mysteries for us to solve, and how that ad did bring mysteries into our lives. And you, Howard Thornberry – I remember the pleased look on your face when you solved our first case, the riddle of the missing gold hidden by Roger Whitney’s grandfather. And Steve Larsen, I recall how pleased you were at the job you did in helping clear Terrence Oliver’s widow of murder when we took the case of the unfinished mystery. So, you all three think you’re pretty good. Well, I decided to see how easy you are to stump. Due to a legal seminar out of town, most of my classes were called off today so the profs could go study the latest test cases. So, I spent the morning typing up a mystery for you. Actually, it’s sort of an auto-obituary; you see, I’m the victim. Of course, all the facts in the following account are fictional. But I’ve given all three of you motives, and I’ve placed the necessary clues in the script. So, who killed Rex Walton? Even though you can consider me dead, I’ll tell the story from my own point of view. By the way, when you see this, I’ll be on my way home to visit my parents for the weekend. I’ll return Monday with the solution. You have until then to solve it.

“And from there, he begins his tale of how one of us murdered him,” Larsen concluded. “Here, Thornberry. You’re the speech and drama major. Why don’t you read it to us?”

Thornberry had a much-deserved reputation as a showoff, and he jumped at the chance to present the dramatic reading.

“Okay, everybody, get a front row seat. Here’s how Rex Walton tells the story of his own death…”

I didn’t realize how serious the situation had become until our landlady, Mrs. Smedley, told me what she’d overheard at the apartment swimming pool. My discussion with her came as I dropped by her first-floor office to pay the month’s rent. She had been cleaning some pool furniture and had chanced to hear a conversation among my three best friends, up until now. Steve Larsen, my very own roommate, had talked about my being a miser – talked about how I’d saved some money without telling him and had put it up in the apartment. I explained to Mrs. Smedley that Steve had known about the money for some time. I had saved five thousand dollars. The savings was to be used for tuition once I got into law school. I had told Steve about the cash in case anything ever happened to me. I didn’t know he was upset about it, though. He did tell me once that I should put the money in a certificate of deposit account and earn some interest. I had planned to do that, but never seemed to get around to it.

But that wasn’t all. Apparently, Morgan Stewart and Howard Thornberry, my two good friends who live upstairs, were also upset with me. Morgan, who prided himself on his grades, was upset at my A average. Morgan maintained a B average most of the time, which isn’t bad at all. But I must’ve said something about his grades, or about mine that made him angry. Mrs. Smedley said he was steaming. As for Howard, he was upset because I arranged for a date with a young lady that he was hung up on. Her name was Sonja Ericson, a tall, blonde-haired girl I had met at a school pep rally. She had met Howard in a speech class she had taken as an elective.

Later in the day, I crossed paths with Sonja on the way to a class, and I asked her if she’d noticed the problem with Howard. She told me that she’d seen him the day before, and that he wanted her to break her date with me. She said she didn’t want to break the date, and that she didn’t feel obligated to anyone. She said Howard got mad, and didn’t seem to be himself.

Later, I was briefing cases in the law library when my old friend Roger Whitney walked by. Roger immediately asked me if there was something wrong with Morgan. I asked him what he meant, and he said he wasn’t really sure – that Morgan had been unusually worried about his grades. He said Morgan seemed to resent my A average. Roger expressed concern that I might be about to lose a friend. I sighed and told him the whole story – what I had heard from Mrs. Smedley, and what Sonja Ericson had said. Roger was astounded; he couldn’t understand why my three best friends had gotten so upset over some money I had saved, over my grades, and over a girl.

The next day was a Thursday. Normally, I had a two o’clock class, the same as Morgan, Howard, and Steve. But that day’s class had been cancelled because the professor was ill. I didn’t feel too well either. I had studied hard for a test the night before, and the situation with my friends wasn’t helping my feelings. I decided to go home and take a nap.

When I arrived at the apartment, I fell on the bed and went to sleep almost immediately. I left the door locked, but I didn’t latch the chain so that Steve could come on in when his class was over.
The next thing I remember was being awakened by footsteps. I was still half asleep as I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles. When I looked up I couldn’t believe what I saw. “Oh, no,” I said, “not you!” I had no chance to save myself as the butcher knife was plunged into my heart.

The next day, The Duckling ran this account of my death:

Rex Walton, a senior prelaw student, and member of the so-called Duval Street Detectives was found stabbed to death Thursday at his apartment at 3001 Duval. Police investigators said Walton had been stabbed through the heart with a butcher knife, apparently taken from his own kitchen. Walton was found lying on his bed, and officers theorize he was asleep when he was stabbed. The Medical Examiner has ruled homicide in the case. Police were questioning Walton’s roommate, Steve Larsen, and two other friends, Morgan Stewart, and Howard Thornberry late Thursday. The Duckling was unable to learn the results of that questioning before press time. Residents of the College Inn where Walton and the other three Duval Street Detectives live said an apparent rift had formed between Walton and the three surviving detectives. They noted several disagreements that had cropped up, including a controversy over five thousand dollars in savings that Walton was keeping in his room. Police informed The Duckling that a check showed that the five thousand dollars was not missing. A police spokesman wouldn’t comment when asked if Stewart or Thornberry had a key to Walton’s apartment. The spokesman did confirm that there were no signs of breaking and entering. All doors and windows were secured, apparently from the inside, when Walton was found. An assistant district attorney said more interviews would be conducted before charges are filed against any of the three men, if any are filed. It was thought late Thursday that the three would not be held overnight.

“That’s the end of the story,” Thornberry concluded. “Here, Morgan you read the epilogue.”

Stewart took the letter from Thornberry and read aloud:

“Okay, gang. That’s it, I know the report of my death is greatly exaggerated, but I sure had fun making it up. I feel sure that by now, all three of you can name my killer. If not, give it some thought. See you soon.”

“And he signs it ‘Mysteriously yours, Rex.’”

“Looks like he tried to pin it on me,” Larsen said melodramatically.

Thornberry glanced at the letter. “That’s the way it looks. But that seems too simple. I don’t think Rex would’ve gone to all this trouble for something that obvious.”

“But neither of you guys have keys to our apartment. The newspaper article said there was no forced entry. And Rex was sleeping. Any noise would have wakened him.”

Stewart broke in, “That’s a point. But I agree with Howard that the solution seems too easy. Possibly there’s something we missed that would connect two of us to the murder, or all three of us.”

It was Thornberry who suggested they head for the tennis courts before it got too dark to play. They still would have two full days to solve the riddle before Walton arrived back at Dawson.

The three DSD’s discussed the story several times over the weekend, but it wasn’t until Sunday night that Stewart snapped his fingers and said the he knew who killed Rex Walton.

“By golly, I think I know who did it! I’ve just re-read the story, and I think I see the vital clue that Rex put in there.”

“Good for you,” put in Thornberry who was less than thrilled that Stewart had spotted a clue when he hadn’t. “Well, tell us about it.”

“And spoil all the fun? I think I’ll wait until tomorrow when we get together with Rex, who I assume will return from the dead.”

Walton returned bright and early, and in time for class the next morning. There was no time to do any mystery solving early, so the four men decided to have dinner together and discuss the situation then. They met in Walton and Larsen’s apartment.

“Not bad fried chicken,” admitted Stewart as the meal came to a close.

“The Colonel,” said Walton.

“Oh.”

Larsen smacked his lips and took a final sip of iced tea. “The dishes can wait,” he said. “Let’s get on with Rex’s murder.”

“Good enough,” Walton said as they left the dining table and took seats in the living room. “Suppose I just sit back and listen to your theories.”

Larsen began, “I suppose I must be involved. I’m the only one of the three with a key to this apartment. Since there was no breaking and entering, I guess that means I must have had a part in it.”

“I agree,” said Thornberry. “My thought is that at least two – maybe three of us got together and did it. The story points out very plainly that all three of us were upset at Rex.”

“But wouldn’t we all have alibis?” asked Larsen. “According to the story, we all had classes during the time of the murder. Surely, we would have been seen in class, or our names would have been taken by our professors.”

Stewart, who had kept quiet up until now, leaned forward in his chair. “I don’t believe such an alibi would be air tight. Remember these were Thursday classes. Classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays are longer than classes on the other three days. There would have been plenty of time to be seen in class, then slip out and get back to the apartment. The guilty man might have even made it back to class in time to be seen again. Or what if two of us had a class together during that period. Then one man could have stayed in class and signed the register sheet for both. That would give them both an alibi. Dawson isn’t a big college, but many of our classes are held in auditoriums, and it’s not all that hard to leave during class without being noticed.” Stewart seemed pleased with himself for throwing a monkey wrench into Larsen’s theory.

“Well, then,” said Thornberry, “that’s it. We were in it together, and one of us sneaked out of class like Morgan said, used Steve’s key to get in, and stabbed Rex.”

Walton nodded his head in the negative. “A good argument. You’re thinking, but that’s not the solution I have in mind. How about you Morgan?”

“I think I know the answer. But before I present my theory, I want to make sure Howard and Steve are finished.”

“The only other answer I can think of is suicide,” Thornberry said. “We know that Rex was dejected because he thought his best friends had turned against him. So maybe he decided to kill himself.”

“Wrong again,” said Walton.

“Okay, let me take over.” Stewart said confidently. “To solve this case, you have to look at motives. With Steve, it was the money; with Howard, the girl; and with me, the grades. Remember it was Hercule Poirot who said the simplest answer is usually the correct one. So the way I see it is that none of us killed Rex.”

Larsen and Thornberry both had surprised looks on their faces as Walton said, “Very good. Go on.”

“Looking at the motives, grades and girls aren’t enough to make somebody kill his best friend – not even if he’s really mad. And I don’t think Steve would have killed, even for five grand. But Steve was cleared of that motive in the newspaper article because it said the money was still intact. Now look at it from another angle. If Steve had cut class to come to the apartment and steal the money, he probably would have waited until another time, after finding that Rex was home. If he had been planning to kill Rex, he wouldn’t he come to the apartment when the murder occurred because he would have thought Rex was in class. It would have to be too much of a coincidence for them both to have been out of class at the exact some time without planning.”

“But then who did it?” asked Larsen.

“Simple, Steve. Just look at the facts. We know it wasn’t one of the three of us, but it was somebody who had a motive for killing, and somebody who could enter a locked apartment quietly enough not to wake Rex from his sleep.”

“Of course, “exclaimed Thornberry! “Mrs. Smedley, our landlady.”

Walton nodded his head in the affirmative as Stewart continued his explanation.

“At the first of the story, we’re told that Mrs. Smedley overheard us talking. Then she must have known about the five thousand bucks and she planned to steal it. She decided to pick a time when all four of us would be in class. So, when she entered Rex’s apartment with her passkey, she began looking for the cash, but she didn’t know where in the apartment it was hidden. She began her search in the kitchen area of the apartment, which is near the door. Imagine her surprise when she heard Rex yawn. She became afraid that he would get up and catch her going through the kitchen drawers. She had too much stuff out to put it back and leave quickly and quietly. She grabbed a butcher knife and tiptoed to the bedroom. That’s about the time Rex heard a noise and opened his eyes. He had no time to protect himself as he saw the knife blade come down on his heart. Mrs. Smedley then became panicky. She replaced all the kitchen drawers as she had found them, wiped off any tell-tale fingerprints, and left.”

“And if anyone had seen her, she could have said that she entered the room to repair something, and that she had discovered Rex’s body,” Larsen added.

“Good detective work, Morgan,” admitted Walton. “But what really put you on to the solution?”

“Really, two things. First, I had difficulty in believing that any of the three of us could have murdered you – even in a fictional story. Second, you kept saying things like ‘who killed Rex Walton’ and ‘Oh no, not you!’ You never came out and said that it was one of us for sure. I noticed that right off and looked for clues to substantiate my theory.”

Just then, there was a knock at the door, Larsen opened it, and there stood Reuben Montemayor, a journalism major friend of Stewart’s. Montemayor had written several stories in the Dawson Duckling about the cases solved by the DSD’s.

“Reuben,” Stewart exclaimed. “What’s up?”

“Not much, Morgan. What’s this story you promised me?”

“Well we’ve just solved another case. Have a seat and we’ll tell you about it.”

Walton broke into laughter, followed by Larsen, and Thornberry. But Stewart rambled on.

“You see Reuben, Rex wanted to test our ability to solve mysteries. So, he wrote this fictional account of his own murder. Right off, I spotted several clues…”

THE END
© 2018 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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