The Case of the Unfinished Mystery College sleuths must solve a fictional murder and a real one at the same time.

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Jul 19, 2018 No Comments ›› admin

By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: There were five original Duval Street mysteries written in the 70’s, and I think this one (#4) is the best of the bunch. The murder method had been used before (most have), but I think the story has some nice plot twists – and even a MacGuffin (secret manuscripts). I can’t remember where I got the idea – just that I liked the concept of my heroes solving a real crime while working on a fictional one.

Morgan Stewart breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the small apartment on Duval Street come into view. He wasn’t tired from the walk; it was just a short distance from the Dawson College campus to the apartments. But Stewart felt drained from a two-hour exam in his investigative reporting class. This was his last final, but it was also the most important to Stewart. He had become somewhat of a student lecturer in the class ever since he and his three companions had solved some local police cases and became known as the Duval Street Detectives.

Stewart unlocked the door of apartment 303 and walked right into the tail end of an argument between Howard Thornberry and Steve Larsen. (This type of discussion was status quo around apartments 202 and 303 of the College Inn.)

Photo: Lynn Woolley

Thornberry was pacing the floor and puncturing the air repeatedly with his index finger. “Look, Steve, you’d never say he’s number one if you didn’t have Swedish blood in you.”

“Swedish blood has nothing to do with it. I simply look at who has the best tournament record.”

Stewart dropped his books on the couch and smiled as he broke in on the conversation. “Not another tennis rankings argument. Can’t you guys ever find something else to argue about?”

“Like what?” Thornberry wanted to know.

“I don’t know. Maybe the poor people overseas. Maybe politics.”

“Politics? Now, you’re sounding like Rex.” Larsen was referring to his intellectual roommate, Rex Walton, who was a pre-law student.

“Somebody mention my name?” Walton said, entering the apartment with an envelope in his hand.

“Speak of the devil,” Larsen said.

“I just got here myself, Rex. These two guys were at each other’s throats again over tennis rankings. I was trying to get them to refine their conservation somewhat – maybe a discussion of politics or current events…”

Walton broke in. “Forget it, Morgan. After the exam I just had in Dr. Ledbetter’s business law class, I think I’d rather discuss tennis.” Walton took a seat on the couch, and began to open the envelope he had brought with him. “You guys were so busy arguing that you didn’t notice the postman came.”

Thornberry and Larsen began to argue again while Walton took a letter from the envelope and gave it a quick scanning. Finally, he murmured, “This is kind of interesting. It’s a letter addressed to all of us, care of me.”

“You mean it’s to the Duval Street Detectives?” Stewart asked.

“Uh-huh. From a publisher in Dallas named John Brickman. You’ve heard of Brickman Books.”

“What does he want?”

“Well, it looks like Terrence Oliver, the late mystery writer, left a novel unfinished. Brickman wants to publish the story posthumously, but he needs an ending to the story. Here, I’ll read you the letter.”


I’d like to hire you to solve a case for me. You may have heard that Terrence Oliver, one of my authors, recently died of a heart attack. He left his last novel unfinished. The bulk of the book is written, but the case needs a final solution. I’ve read of your success in solving local cases there in Cedar Falls, and I’d like to have you solve this one for me. I’ve enclosed a copy of Oliver’s manuscript. Please review it, and tell me if you’ll accept the assignment. If so, advise me by phone, and we can work out a pay arrangement that will be acceptable to you.

John Brickman,
President and CEO, Brickman Books

“Why not?” said Larsen. “if we can solve real cases, a detective novel shouldn’t be too hard.”

“All right, “ said Walton. “I’ll phone Brickman tomorrow and try to work out a deal. Meanwhile, I’ll leave the manuscript with Howard and Morgan.”

The next day, Walton called Brickman in Dallas, and it was decided that a good solution to the story would be worth $500 in cash to each of the DSD’s. They would type out a solution outlining all the clues, and then Brickman’s staff would formulate the solution into a final chapter for publication.

Two days later, Thornberry and Stewart were discussing the storyline.

“You know, it made sense up until the last few pages,” Stewart commented. “But right there at the end, the characters seemed to change personality or something.”

“You noticed it too?” asked Thornberry. “Maybe I’m reading something into the story that isn’t there, but I’d say Oliver was having problems when he wrote that last chapter. I’m anxious to hear what Rex and Steve think when they read the script.”

Two more days passed and the DSD’s met in Rex and Steve’s apartment to discuss possible solutions to the story.

“We’ve all four read the story,” Walton said. “Where did it seem to take you?”

“We were wondering what you read into it, Rex,” said Thornberry. “To us, it kinda got weird toward the last few pages.”

Walton shook his head in agreement. “Yes, in fact it brought up several points there at the end that seemed totally unrelated to the bulk of the novel. For instance, did you notice that Oliver’s detective names four suspects he thinks might have committed the murder?”

Larsen added, “Four suspects who didn’t play much of a role in the book to that point. Rex and I are certain that Oliver meant to reveal the gardener as the murderer. Yet, the gardener isn’t on the list of suspects.”

“A good point,” said Thornberry. “Maybe there’s more to this than meets the eye. Maybe Oliver was trying to put something across that’s unrelated to his storyline.”

“I’ve been considering that,” Walton replied. “You look at the cast of characters in the book, and you see these four suspects as non-participants – at best, characters with cameo roles. One, in fact, was only introduced during that final disjointed chapter. On the other hand, Oliver spent the first ten chapters neatly spinning a web of guilt around that gardener. I can name you fifteen subtle clues that Oliver planted in the story that implicate the gardener.”

“Well, counselor,” Stewart said to Walton. “What do you suggest we do? Rewrite the ending minus that last chapter written by Oliver?”

“Exactly. And one other thing, too. Steve, read the paragraph in the script where the detective lists the suspects.”

Larsen picked up the script from Walton’s desk, flipped to the final pages, and began to read.
“All right,” he said, “At this point, detective Scott Simmons is meeting with the local police chief, and there’s the conversation:

‘Chief, I’ve narrowed it down to four. In one or two days, I think I’ll have the missing link – maybe it’ll take a week. But someone will slip, and I’ll have him, or her, or them.’
‘I have my own ideas, Simmons, but whom do you suspect?’
‘I think it was his secretary, his wife, his boss, or his lawyer.’”

Thornberry repeated, “His secretary, his wife, his boss, or his lawyer. And you’re absolutely right. None of those people played a part in the story.”

“I’ll take it a step further than that,” said Walton. “I’ve gone back and reread the whole thing, and I don’t see any way his secretary or his lawyer could have killed the victim. Here’s the clincher. In a conversation back in chapter three, something you wouldn’t think important in this particular story, it’s mentioned that the victim is a widower, and has been for over fifteen years. And detective Scott Simmons lists his wife as a suspect.”

Stewart looked thoughtful. “You know,” he said, “it’s like Oliver wrote that final chapter about an entirely different murder.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Walton said. “Maybe his own.”

“Now you’ve said what we’ve all been thinking,” Thornberry put in philosophically. “But it’s just an idea. What do we do about it?”

“The first step is simple,” Walton said. “We check to see if there was a wife, a boss, a secretary, and a lawyer in Oliver’s life, and if so, I say we investigate.”

Walton and Stewart met during the next couple of days, and made the necessary phone calls to determine the people closest to Terrence Oliver. They learned, mostly from the police and a cooperative news reporter, that Oliver had been associated for some years with an attorney named Dan Forsythe. Forsythe had represented Oliver in contract negotiations with his publisher. They also learned that Oliver was a married man – had been for over ten years. His widow’s name was Melissa, and it was general knowledge that she stood to gain a nice settlement from a life insurance policy, plus near complete inheritance of Oliver’s estate. Even though Oliver was for all practical purposes self employed, the DSD’s found that he hated to write at home, and he had rented office space in a downtown building. He had a young secretary named Patti Marshall who handled the typing on most of Oliver’s rewrites. Walton and Stewart concluded that “boss” could refer to Brickman himself.

This information was discussed at some length once all four men had gotten together.

Rex Walton was ready with a proposition. “Look, I’m convinced that Oliver knew his life was in danger. But I don’t think he knew exactly who from. So he wrote a chapter listing the suspects as he saw them. At any rate, I’ve outlined a solution to the mystery story, naming the gardener, and entirely leaving out this final chapter that Oliver wrote. Now what do you say we deliver it in person?”

“In person?” asked Larsen. “It’s a 300 mile drive.”

“So what?” Walton said. “ Finals are over, we’ve got two weeks off from school, and we each have $500 coming from Brickman if he accepts our solution.”

Thornberry said, “He’s right. I’m ready to head out and see if we can shed any light on the situation.”

When all had agreed, the plans for the trip were made, and they left the next morning. It was decided along the way that each member of the DSD’s would visit one suspect. But first, a trip would be made to the local police.

Actually, the police department was the third stop along the way. A fast food restaurant and a motel were one and two, respectively, but before too long, the DSD’s had deposited their car in a parking lot, and were on the front steps of the police station. Once inside, they inquired for homicide Lt. Tom Burnley, a man Rex Walton had spoken to by phone two days earlier. Soon, they were in Burnley’s office.

“Just what do you guys think happened in the Oliver case?” Burnley asked. “Really, I told you about all I know on the phone.”

Walton acted as the group spokesman. “We’re playing a hunch. We think there’s a chance that Oliver was murdered. We have no evidence; as I said, it’s just a hunch. But we were wondering what type of investigation you made.”

“Just standard procedure,” Burnley said. “Questioned those in the area, called in the Medical Examiner. But we didn’t take it any further than that. He obviously died of a heart attack.” His secretary found him slumped over.”

“Did you question her?” asked Walton.

“Sure, but like I said, no information to suggest foul play.”

“What about this lawyer, Forsythe?”

“What about him? He had nothing much to say.”

“How about the M.E.? What did the autopsy show?”

“No autopsy,” the Lieutenant said. “Mrs. Oliver asked that we not have one to avoid publicity in the matter, and like I said, obviously a heart attack. The M.E. ruled natural causes without conducting an autopsy.”

“Was the body buried or cremated?” Walton asked.

“Buried. Why?”

“Because I’m hoping we’ll find something that’ll make you want to dig it up. Lieutenant, I want your permission to question Forsythe, Patti Marshall, Brockman and Mrs. Oliver.”

“It’s a free country. You don’t need my permission,” the Lieutenant said. “But I think you’re wasting your time.”

The night passed quickly, and the next morning Steve Larsen found himself in front of what appeared to be a high-dollar mansion on the city’s north side. He paid the taxi driver, and walked down a winding sidewalk to the front door. He rang the doorbell.

“Mr. Larsen, I presume?” said a petite, attractive woman of about forty. “Won’t you come in?”
Larsen entered the house mumbling some sort of condolence about the death of Mrs. Oliver’s husband. He had explained who he was a bit earlier by phone, and had told the widow that he wanted to ask some questions about her husband’s death.

“Mrs. Oliver,” he began, “I’m not sanctioned by the police and I’m not a professional investigator. But my friends and I have a feeling that all isn’t known about Mr. Oliver’s death. As I said on the phone, I’d like to ask you some things about him – and you.”

“Heaven knows there are people who wanted Terrence dead. Personally, I agree with the doctor’s diagnosis of heart attack – but go ahead, Mr. Larsen. I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”
“Did your husband ever complain of heart trouble?”

“No. In fact, Terrence was quite athletic. I always assumed his tennis playing probably kept his heart pretty strong.”

“Your husband was a tennis player?” Larsen couldn’t help remembering his argument with Thornberry over tennis rankings.

“Yes,” she replied. “Some golf, but mostly tennis. He played for the exercise as well as the sport. He built a tennis court out back of the house.”

“So your husband’s health was generally good. Did he smoke?”

“No. In fact, he refused to stay in a room with people who did.”

“Mrs. Oliver, when did you last see your husband alive?”

She seemed surprised at the sudden change of subject. “I suppose the morning he died, just before he left for the office. Terrence liked to arrive at his office some time around mid-morning. He hated writing at home with all the distractions.”

“Did he say anything to indicate he was having problems with anyone? Brickman, perhaps?”

“No. Terrence and I hadn’t done a lot of talking for a couple of years. It seemed the more books he sold, the more Brickman wanted, and the farther apart Terrence and I became.”

“Did you see your husband alive at the office that last day?”

Melissa Oliver hesitated briefly, and then said, “No. I did drop by the office. I had slept late that day, and Terrence had left without any breakfast. So I prepared a sandwich and some fruit and took it to him. I had done that sort of thing a couple of times before, and he seemed to appreciate it.”

“What time did you arrive at the office?” Larsen asked.

“I’m not sure exactly, but I remember I wanted to be there before noon so I’d catch him before he left for lunch. I’d say about 11:30.”

“But you say you didn’t actually see your husband?”

“No. When I arrived, he had someone in his office. I believe it was Mr. Forsythe. They seemed to be at each other’s throats and I didn’t want to disturb them.”

“What do you mean ‘at each other’s throats’?”

“They were arguing about something. Probably some business deal. I mean it wasn’t a violent argument – more like a strong disagreement.”

“How do you know it was Forsythe if you couldn’t see into Mr. Oliver’s office?”

“I heard two male voices in the room, one of which I assumed was Terrence. And I had seen Mr. Forsythe’s car parked outside the office building. I thought he must be discussing some deal involving the publishing of his new book.”

Larsen thought for a moment. “So what did you do with the lunch you had prepared?”

“I left it with Patti Marshall, Terrence’s catty secretary.”

“Ah! So you’re not too fond of Miss Marshall?”

“I don’t like her,” Melissa Oliver stated matter-of-factly. “I always thought she played up to Terrence because of his money.”

Larsen contemplated that, wondering what Rex Walton would ask if he were here. Then he continued, “Mrs. Oliver, did you ever have any arguments – out in the open, that is – with Miss Marshall?”

“Of course not. Terrence was always worried about bad press. So I kept my dislike for her to myself. As far as I could tell, Terrence never played around with her. And anyway, I was hoping to patch up our marriage by talking Terrence into a vacation in Hawaii.”

“When were you planning to go?”

“I had arranged it for mid-summer. But actually, Terrence never knew about it. I was going to work out all the details, then surprise him with it. I was afraid he wouldn’t go unless I already had everything planned.”

Larsen couldn’t think of any more questions. “Mrs. Oliver,” he said, standing, “you’ve been a great help. I hope my friends and I will be able to shed some light on Mr. Oliver’s death.”

Melissa Oliver showed him to the door. “I don’t expect you will,” she said. “I feel certain that he did die of a heart attack. But I have no objection to your questions, Mr. Larsen.”

“Oh, yes, one more thing. I understand you asked the Medical Examiner not to perform an autopsy. Why not?”

“As I said, Terrence hated bad press. I saw so reason to call any extra attention to his death since the cause was so obvious. I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me – and him.”

Larsen wondered whether Melissa Oliver was telling the whole truth. But he had established a good relationship with her and he wanted to keep it that way in case he should need to ask her more questions. He thanked her, and returned to the motel.

It hadn’t been quite so easy for Morgan Stewart. His assignment was to interview Dan Forsythe, the man who served as Terrence Oliver’s private attorney. Forsythe declined to meet with Stewart until the DSD assured him that the other three people involved had readily agreed to discuss Oliver’s demise. Stewart had told Forsythe how bad it would look if the DSD’s were able to prove that Oliver was murdered and Forsythe was the only suspect that wouldn’t talk. Finally, as much to get Stewart off his back as anything else, Forsythe agreed to the interview if Stewart would keep it to half an hour.

“Not much time, Stewart thought to himself as he arrived at Forsythe’s office.

Stewart was met by a secretary who informed him that her boss was on the phone long distance and that he’d have to wait a while. Stewart got the impression that Forsythe was trying to wear him down, but finally, the phone buzzed, and the secretary told Stewart to go on into the office.

Forsythe was a large man, about 225 pounds. He had dark hair that looked greasy, and he had it combed back very conservatively. He wore a dark gray suit with a vest and certainly looked the part of a lawyer. On the wall, Stewart noticed, were framed facsimiles of the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.

“Mr. Forsythe,” Stewart began. “I really appreciate your letting me drop by. I’ll make it as short as I can.”

“Have a seat and ask your questions,” replied Forsythe who obviously doubted that any college student from Dawson could come close to asking an intelligent question.

“All right. I’ll get right to the point. As I told you on the phone, my friends and I think Terrence Oliver may have been murdered. We think there are several people who could have done it, and you’re one of them.”

“Go on.”

“For starters, I’d like to know what type of legal work you did for Oliver.”

“Basically, I represented him in contract negotiations. I made sure he got fair deals with his publisher. I handled his copyrights, took care of his original manuscripts, and fought any traffic tickets he may have gotten.”

The sarcasm was lost on Stewart. He continued. “So you dealt with John Brickman for Oliver?”

“Most recently. I’ve also dealt with several other publishers. But for the last four years, Oliver was published exclusively by Brickman.”

“What about this last book that Oliver was working on – the one he never finished. Was everybody happy with the publishing deal?”

“Sure. Actually, there was nothing to work out. I negotiated a 5-year contract for Oliver just over 4 and a half years ago. That meant that any scripts Oliver published for 5 years were to be published through Brickman. All the particulars had already been worked out, and all the fees and royalties were set. That’s how Brickman was able to hire you to work out the solution to the book. It was already committed to Brickman.”

“So there was no chance of any disagreements over this book?”


“You said ‘any scripts Oliver published.’ What if he wrote a script that he didn’t want to publish at the time?”

“There were some other scripts.”

“Tell me about them.”

Forsythe paused. He had his head resting on his hand, his elbow on his desk, and his lips were pursed. “All right. I’ll tell you about them. Why not? Oliver had been working on three stories – a trilogy. Three big mystery stories that all fitted together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I read one of them, and thought it was great stuff – the kind of story that would lend itself well to a movie. Oliver bragged that the two follow-up stories were as good. He called the stories his magnum opus, his masterpiece – the best he had ever done. And the best part about them was that Brickman knew nothing about them.”

“Why was that good?”

“Because the 5-year contract was about to expire. And with Oliver under contract, I felt I could negotiate a much better deal on those three scripts. I wanted to get away from Brickman because he had given me a hard time when we wrote that first contract. That was before Oliver’s books really began to sell.”

“How did Oliver himself feel about changing publishers?”

“He was lukewarm. There were times I thought I had him convinced. Times I wasn’t so sure. But I felt like I could secure a deal on movie rights for those stories. And I wanted to maintain more control over them than we would have had under Brickman.”

“Changing publishers – exactly what would that have involved?”

“Nothing more than waiting until the 5-year contract with Brickman was up. Then, we could renegotiate with him or with anyone we chose. But Oliver had this damn loyalty to Brickman. He said he hated to leave the publisher that made him a bestseller. Once he even said he wanted to go ahead and let Brickman publish the manuscripts now.”

“Brickman knew about the stories?”

“Oh no. I made sure that Oliver kept them quiet. If Brickman had known about them, he would’ve pressured Oliver to go ahead and let him publish them. Brickman would have instantly recognized those scripts as money in the bank.”

“Did anyone else at all know about the scripts? Mrs. Oliver, perhaps?”

“No, I don’t think so. Oh yes, his typist may have known about them. Patti Marshall – she types all his finished manuscripts. But she wouldn’t recognize anything different about them. She’s probably typed fifty of his novels and short stories.”

“Mr. Forsythe, what happens to those three stories now?”

“Under terms of the contract, they go to Brickman Books. He’s going to make a fortune out of them, and he doesn’t even know they exist yet.”

Stewart had been taking notes in a tablet. He looked up. “And you, Mr. Forsythe. Will you make more out of those stories with Oliver dead than you would have with him alive?”

“Yes, I guess I have to admit that I will. But that’s not a contractual matter. Oliver and I had become friends over the years, and he put me in his will. I’ll get a percentage of the royalties and the rest will go to Mrs. Oliver.”

“I realize my half hour is about up, Mr. Forsythe. So I’ll move right along. Exactly when did you last see Terrence Oliver, and what were the circumstances?”

“Simple enough. I dropped by about noon to see if Oliver wanted to have lunch. He said he didn’t because his wife had brought him something to eat and he was about to snack on that. He asked me to fix some coffee and join him. I made the coffee, and then we discussed his new book – the one you’re writing an ending to.”

“Did you discuss those secret manuscripts?”

“Only briefly. We mainly talked about the new, unfinished mystery, and Oliver showed me some publicity brochures that Brickman had prepared for it.”

“Had Brickman been by that morning?”

“Yes, to drop off the brochures. But I didn’t see him. That was just as well with me because there was no love lost between the two of us. He knew I was pushing for another publisher.”

“Okay. You say you arrived precisely at noon?”

“Right around noon. I had to stop off to see another client in the same building about 11:30, but I remember it was right at noon when I saw Oliver. I remember because that’s what made him think of the sack lunch.”

Stewart noted that his time was up, and he rose to leave. “Mr. Forsythe, thank you for talking to me. I hope I didn’t offend you in any way.”

“Not that you accomplished anything, kid. I was about to let Mrs. Oliver know of those three manuscripts, but I saw no harm in telling you.”

Stewart took the elevator to ground level, and caught a cab back to the motel.

Rex Walton was the one member of the Duval Street Detectives that was used to asking tough questions in an adversary situation. Stewart had taken a class on interviewing techniques, but as a pre-law student, Walton had had some practice in courtroom situations. He had carefully thought out what he intended to ask John Brickman. And a step further than that, Walton had theorized what Brickman might say, and had mentally prepared his follow-up questions. He supposed he might be having an easier time of it than Larsen or Stewart. Unlike them, he already knew his subject. He had talked to Brickman on the phone several times before, and Brickman had been most cooperative when Walton asked for a personal interview.

Brickman stood to shake hands when Walton entered the office. He offered Walton a chair, and then sat down himself to a desk that was covered with brochures, manuscripts, and stamped, self-addressed envelopes. Brickman seemed to be a jolly sort. He was rather pudgy; he parted his hair down the middle; and his too-thin necktie was loosened so that his collar button could be left undone.

“Mr. Brickman,” Walton began without beating around the bush, “did you see Terrence Oliver on the day he died?”

“Yes, I think I was the first person to see him that day. Except for maybe his wife and his secretary. I had some publicity brochures I had been working on concerning his new book. I dropped by his office, and left them to be approved and then mailed to the New York office.”

“Was that the usual procedure on the brochures?”

“Yes. We’d prepare the brochures here, get them to Oliver for his scrutiny and that of Mr. Forsythe, and then he’d drop them off to New York to be printed and distributed in advance to newspapers, radio, and TV.”

“To let them know the book was coming?”

“Yes, for reviews and for talk shows. We always tried to get the publicity campaign going well before the book was actually on the stands or in the stores. So even though Oliver was still working on the book, we were well into the PR end of it.”

“So you saw Oliver — what time?”

“Between 10:00 and 10:30. I guess I was there an hour or more discussing the publicity brochures.”

“Did you discuss anything else, Mr. Brickman?”

“No, not that I recall.”

“Were you and Oliver seeing eye to eye? I mean, were you having any disagreements in those final days?”

“No, nothing more than minor details here and there. Really, Mr. Walton, I wouldn’t have called you boys in if I had something to hide. And by the way, I hope the papers don’t know you’re conducting this little investigation.”

“We haven’t told them.”

“ I don’t think Mrs. Oliver would like it in the papers. She specifically asked them not to conduct an autopsy to avoid publicity. I’m hoping that sales of the last book aren’t damaged by the circumstances.”

“Did you agree with Mrs. Oliver’s decision not to have a post mortem?”

“I saw no need for it. Oliver obviously died of a heart condition. Why go to the trouble and expense just to find out that very thing?”

“You don’t think Melissa Oliver, or Patti Marshall, or Dan Forsythe had any reason to kill Oliver?”

“I don’t think anyone killed him, Mr. Walton. And I really don’t see why you do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to get done.”

“Very well. Thank you for your time.” Walton left the office, taking his un-asked follow-up questions with him.

Howard Thornberry didn’t bother to call ahead like the other three. He knew, from talking to Lt. Burnley, that Patti Marshall would be at Oliver’s office taking care of some chores and preparing to vacate the building. When he arrived, she was typing.

“Miss Marshall? I’m Howard Thornberry. I’m one of the college students that Brickman Books hired to finish Mr. Oliver’s last story.”

“Come in,” she said.

Patti Marshall was an attractive girl of about 28 years. She wore bell-bottom pants that touched the floor, and a matching blouse that didn’t fit too tightly. Her hair was blond and shoulder length. She stared at Thornberry with a look that questioned why he was invading her space.

“What can I do for you?” she asked.

“My partners and I came to town to try to get some insight into Mr. Oliver’s death. Frankly, we have reason to believe he may not have died of natural causes. I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“You mean you think he was murdered?”

“It’s possible.”

“Possible, but not likely,” she said softly. “But I’ll talk to you about it.”

“Was Oliver here when you arrived at work – on the last day, I mean?”

“No. I got here about 9:00. He arrived maybe an hour later. That’s usually the way it was.”

“Did anything unusual happen?”

“No, the usual people came by. First, Mr. Brickman. He stayed about an hour. Then Mr. Forsythe dropped by during lunch. He was here until about one or so. In fact, I walked out the door with him because I had to mail a package for Mr. Oliver. When I returned a short time later, Mr. Oliver was dead.”

“No one else came by?”

“No – oh, yes, Mrs. Oliver dropped by about 11:30 or so with a sack lunch for Mr. Oliver.”

“I see. What type of relationship did you have with your boss?”

“Look, I know you’ve probably heard rumors that there was an affair going on. But there wasn’t. Even if I had tried. Mr. Oliver and his wife didn’t get along too well, but he wasn’t interested in another woman. Just in his writing.”

“Okay. During the morning when Brickman, Forsythe, and Mrs. Oliver came by, did he seem upset with any of them, or say anything unusual about them?”

“No. In fact, he had someone in his office – I don’t remember who – when his wife came by. She left the lunch with me, and she didn’t see him.”

“Miss Marshall, did you ever see Mr. Oliver’s will?”

“No, that was between his wife and him. And I guess Mr. Forsythe. I think Mr. Forsythe made out the will.”

“But you don’t know what’s in it?”

“I have no idea.”

Thornberry asked a few more questions, but couldn’t seem to get any more information out of Patti Marshall. So he thanked her for her cooperation, left the office, and headed back to the motel.

Thornberry was the last to arrive back at the motel. As he entered the suite, he found Larsen, Stewart, and Walton watching television. Walton explained that they decided to wait for him to compare notes so they wouldn’t have to repeat themselves. Stewart suggested they take turns and each one disclose what he had learned from each of the four suspects. This was done, and a general discussion followed.

“One thing Mrs. Oliver told me seems to reinforce our theory,” said Larsen. “According to her, he had no history of heart trouble, he was an avid tennis player, and he didn’t smoke. That suggests he may not have died from a heart attack.”

“True. I’m glad you thought to check into that, Steve,” Thornberry said.

Larsen continued. “Another thing she said that I thought was curious was the argument she heard going on in Oliver’s office – the one between Oliver and Forsythe. Morgan, you say Forsythe never mentioned an argument?”

“He never did, but what’s even stranger than that is Patti Marshall never mentioned an argument. Right, Howard?”

Thornberry’s ears perked up. “Say, that’s right. She never did, and that would seem to be something unusual enough to mention to me.”

Rex Walton joined in the conversation. “It looks like to me that Patti Marshall may very well be the key to this whole mystery. At any rate, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Terrence Oliver was murdered. If we can just put our facts together, and make them all fit, I think we’ll have it. Morgan, did Forsythe seem perfectly willing to disclose the existence of those three new manuscripts?”

“Not at first. But then he seemed to me to feel as if he’d be lifting suspicion from himself if he did tell me.”

“You said Forsythe mentioned that Brickman doesn’t know about those stories. That could be – he never mentioned them to me.”

Larsen had been listening to the others attentively. Suddenly he said, “Rex, since there were no marks on the body, I take it you think Oliver was poisoned.”

“That’s my theory,” Walton answered.

“Have you considered how?”

“It obviously had to be someone who was near Oliver that last day,” Stewart said. “Somebody who could have had access to poison him.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Larsen continued, “Mrs. Oliver brought a sack lunch. It could have been poisoned. But she left the lunch with Patti Marshall, so SHE could have poisoned it. Dan Forsythe, however took coffee into Oliver’s office, and he might have poisoned the coffee.”

“Are you letting Brickman off the hook because he never took any food or drink in?” asked Thornberry.

“No – not really. I guess he could have taken something in.”

Thornberry got out a pen and a notepad. “I think maybe some sort of timetable might help. I believe we all found out as much as we could about who was where on that last day.”

Thornberry began to work on the timetable with the other three helping with their respective interviewees. Then, about twenty minutes later, Rex Walton, who had been contemplating what everyone had been talking about, rose with a start.

“Hey, you three,” he said. “I’ve got an idea. Listen, Steve, I want you to phone Mrs. Oliver’s travel agent. I’m going to pay a visit to Patti Marshall, then we’ll all get together again with Lt. Burnley.”

A day later, the Duval Street Detectives gathered with Lt. Burnley, and the four people closest to the late Terrence Oliver. They met in a conference room at police headquarters – a room with a long table in the middle that police officials used for planning sessions and news conferences. Burnley was talking.

“I see you’ve all arrived. First of all, I’d like to thank you for coming. You didn’t have to. Personally, you all know that I feel Mr. Oliver died of natural causes. I don’t think Mr. Walton and his friends are going to convince me differently, but I’m giving them this one chance to try. Mr. Walton has promised me this won’t take long. Walton, go ahead with whatever it is you propose to do.”

“Thank you, Lt. Burnley. And thank you for all showing up here on such short notice. As I told you when I called each of you, my friends and I think we’ve gathered some information that may be of some significance in this case. When we came here to investigate Mr. Oliver’s death, we had only a hunch. We were basing our suspicions on subtleties found in the final chapter of a Terrence Oliver mystery that was never finished. We had no solid evidence, so we asked you all for interviews. We were looking for several things – first and foremost, a motive. I believe we’ve established that all four of you may have had some sort of motive to kill Terrence Oliver. We were also trying to find out how Oliver was killed, and who, potentially, could have done it. That could be approached two ways: directly, or by process of elimination. We decided to use both methods. Steve…”

Larsen pulled his 220-pound frame from his chair as he began to speak.

“In talking to Mrs. Oliver, I learned that her husband didn’t have any apparent heart trouble; far from it, he was an active athlete and kept himself in good shape most of the time. That lent support to our theory that Oliver was probably poisoned. But did Mrs. Oliver kill her husband? We don’t think so. It’s true that she stood to gain a lot from Mr. Oliver’s will and from insurance. But I believe she really wanted her marriage to work out. She told me about a vacation to Hawaii she had planned for the two of them. I checked with her travel agent, and he confirmed her plans. It’s unlikely that a woman planning to murder her husband would also be planning a vacation trip for him. Morgan…”

Stewart stood up as Larsen took his seat.

“As you all know, I had a brief question-and-answer session with Mr. Forsythe. I learned that Mr. Forsythe, as a long time friend, had been placed in Mr. Oliver’s will. I’m not sure for how much, but I’m sure it was substantial. I also found out about three hidden manuscripts written by Oliver that Mr. Forsythe felt to be Oliver’s best work ever. Mr. Forsythe was hoping to take those works to a new publisher for a better money deal once Oliver’s contract with Brickman Books expired. According to Mr. Forsythe, Mr. Brickman will now get the rights to those three scripts. But, Mr. Forsythe, you didn’t mention having an argument with Mr. Oliver. That’s strange because Mrs. Oliver told Steve Larsen that she didn’t enter her husband’s office because you were in there having an argument with him.”

Forsythe straightened up in his chair, “What? I never had an argument with Oliver that day.”
“Stay calm, Mr. Forsythe,” said Walton soothingly. “Morgan didn’t say you did.”
Thornberry took up the narrative.

“I dropped by Oliver’s office to talk to Patti Marshall. The interview was short, and Miss Marshall didn’t have much to say. She did admit to knowing about rumors that she played up to Oliver. She denied them. She also failed to mention any argument going on in Oliver’s office.”

Patti Marshall sat staring at the table. Brickman had been listening with great interest. Forsythe seemed to resent the whole thing. Mrs. Oliver was obviously relieved, and Lt. Burnley was still doubting that the DSD’s were about to prove anything.

“My assignment was you, Mr. Brickman,” Walton said. “Although I wasn’t able to find out much.” Addressing the group, he continued: “Mr. Brickman told me pretty much the same thing the others found out. He dropped by Oliver’s office about mid-morning with some brochures that Oliver was to thumb through, and then drop off to New York. I asked if there had been any major disagreements over those brochures, or over anything else; the answer was no. My colleague Mr. Thornberry has put together a timetable that we’ve found useful, and I’d like to run through it before I continue.”

“Actually, I’ve typed it up and made some copies, Rex.” Thornberry passed the copies, and everyone took a few moments to read over them.

10:00 a.m. Oliver arrives at office
(Marshall already there)

10:30 a.m. Brickman arrives
(Stays approximately one hour)

11:30 a.m. Mrs. Oliver arrives with lunch.

12:00 noon Forsythe drops by office
(Stays about an hour)

1:00 p.m. Marshall leaves to mail brochures
(Forsythe leaves with her)

1:30 p.m. Marshall returns to find Oliver dead

After a few moments, Walton spoke again. “Everybody keep this timetable in mind as I speak. Now, back to my process of elimination. I don’t believe Patti Marshall killed Mr. Oliver.”

She showed no emotion at the statement. Walton continued:

First and foremost, we’ve said that Miss Marshall could have poisoned the sack lunch because Mrs. Oliver left it with her to be delivered to Mr. Oliver. True, she had plenty of time to poison the lunch. But she didn’t know in advance that Mrs. Oliver was going to deliver a sack lunch. I think it highly unlikely that Patti Marshall would have had some type of poison ready and waiting for Mrs. Oliver to bring in a sack lunch. As I understand it, that wasn’t a common occurrence, but rather an attempt on Mrs. Oliver’s part to help out her marriage by doing some ‘little things.’ And even more important, Patti Marshall had little to gain from Terrence Oliver’s death. Of the four of you, she had, by far the least to gain. That leaves Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Brickman to consider.” Walton paused for effect. All eyes were on him as he went on.

“Now let’s do some supposing, and see if we can shed some light on that argument heard by Mrs. Oliver, but not by anyone else. If you’ll refer to your timetable, we’ve learned that Mr. Brickman arrived at the office at about 10:30. We’ve rounded most of this to the nearest half hour, because no one can be entirely sure of these times. All right, Brickman arrives, stays about an hour, and they discuss publicity brochures. We think he left somewhere round 11:30. You’ll notice that’s about the same time Mrs. Oliver dropped by with her sack lunch. Mr. Forsythe dropped by shortly before noon. He could have been there before Mrs. Oliver arrived, but I don’t think so. Mrs. Oliver saw his car parked in front of the building, but we’ve learned that he was there to see another client in the same building. Therefore, he wasn’t in Oliver’s office until after Mrs. Oliver left. No one mentioned anyone else dropping by, so we’re forced to believe that the argument concerned Oliver and Mr. Brickman.”

Brickman sat up in his chair. “Then why didn’t Miss Marshall hear the argument?” He emphasized the word “argument” to make it sound rather sarcastic.

“I’m getting to that,” said Walton. “We learned from Steve Larsen’s conversation with Mrs. Oliver that Patti Marshall is, to use her words, ‘catty.’ We also know by Miss Marshall’s own admission that rumors have circulated that she and Mr. Oliver were having an affair. I submit that Patti Marshall and YOU, Mr. Brickman, have some sort of secret relationship. Patti Marshall kept quiet about that argument to protect you. Now — what was that argument about? I have a theory about that too. Forsythe says no one else knew about those three secret manuscripts. But what if you knew, Mr. Brickman? What if you found out from Miss Marshall who must have typed the scripts? And who must have assured Terrence Oliver that she’d keep the information to herself until he decided whether to switch publishers?”

Walton turned to Lt. Burnley. “I think he knew all about those scripts and confronted Oliver that morning with the fact that he did know about them. He probably told Oliver that he wanted to go ahead and publish them, and that he might go to court if Oliver tried to hold out on him. They got into an argument, and Oliver probably didn’t really know where to put his loyalties. That’s one reason he didn’t mention the argument to Forsythe when he dropped by.”

“Look, Walton, you said yourself this is all a theory. And even if it were true, you still haven’t proved that Oliver was murdered.” Brickman was beginning to look a bit more concerned now.

Walton continued undaunted. “All right then, so much for theories. After we had taken it that far, I began to search for something concrete. To be honest, I didn’t think the poison was placed in those sandwiches, or in the coffee. But. Mr. Brickman, I had the problem that you didn’t take anything into the office, until I remembered this.” Walton reached into his briefcase, and pulled out a large, ragged manila envelope. It was addressed to a firm in New York, had Brickman’s return address on it, and looked as if it had been through the postal service a couple of times. Walton waved it around for a second, and then handed it to Burnley.

“Lieutenant, I think you may have a case if you’ll analyze the seal on this envelope.”

Brickman put his head in his hands. His voice cracked as he spoke. “I really thought I could get away with it. I really did. But I guess it doesn’t matter what I say now. Sure. I coated the seal with a poison that I knew would finish Oliver shortly after he licked it. It seemed foolproof. I suggested to Mrs. Oliver that an autopsy would create unfavorable press, and she agreed. That’s when I thought I had it made. I knew the secret manuscripts would come out sooner or later, and I’d have the rights to publish them.” Brickman was sobbing now.

Burnley had called for a couple of his men. Meanwhile, he wanted to know how Walton and his friends had first become suspicious of Brickman.

“Simple enough,” said Walton. “All this talk of bad publicity. It made sense to me that the mysterious death of a mystery writer would sell a lot of books. That’s really why Brickman hired us to find a solution to the unfinished story. His writers could have done it, but he was quite aware that he could get some good publicity by using us.”

“One more thing about the timetable,” Thornberry interjected. “Between the time that Brickman left the office and Forsythe arrived is when we figure Oliver wrote he last chapter in his story – the chapter that’s so disjointed. Oliver himself must have been very mixed up at the time. He had just learned that his publisher knew about the stories he thought were secret. He knew that Brickman must have learned about them from his secretary – who he thought he could trust. He also knew that his attorney was upset with him because he hadn’t agreed to change publishers. Finally, he knew his wife was keeping a secret from him. He didn’t realize it was nothing more than a planned vacation trip. Anyway, somehow he got these vibes that he was going to be murdered; he just didn’t know who was going to do it, or if more than one person were going to do it. So during that brief half hour, he wrote a chapter naming the four real-life people as suspects in his fictional story.”

As Thornberry finished, a pair of officers came in, and were instructed to arrest Brickman, read him his rights, and take his confession. Burnley was considering whether to file charges against Patti Marshall when Walton suddenly took the manila envelope and wadded it up.

“You’ll have to make your case without this,” he said. “It’s just a fake.”

“What?” exclaimed Burnley. “You mean that piece of evidence isn’t real?”

“Not at all. You see, when I figured out that the poison must have been administered on the envelope seal, I called New York. But there was no way to obtain the real envelope; it had probably been thrown away soon after the brochures were received. But I was convinced the envelope seal was important. Brickman knew Oliver wouldn’t lick it until he was far away, and he also knew the poison would make the death look like a heart attack. So I called Patti Marshall and met with her at the office again. I explained to her a part of what I knew, and told her that if she’d cooperate, I’d testify in court that she helped solve the case. She agreed to help me out, so I asked her to find an envelope similar to the one she mailed. Then, I had her address the envelope, and stamp it as close as possible to the way it looked when she mailed it. Then I dropped by a post office, and had the stamps cancelled. All I had to do then was crumple it up a bit to make it look as if it had been through the mail. From across the room, Brickman couldn’t have noticed any difference.”

“Well, I’ll be,” Burnley said softly. “An amazing piece of work. You guys are really good. Of course, I’ll need all four of you to testify in court.”

“No problem there,” said Stewart. “And other than the trial, I guess that about wraps it up.”

“Not quite,” Thornberry insisted. “Mr. John Brickman owes us two-thousand dollars.”


© 2018 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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