by Gary R. Hoffman
Enjoy this never before published Valentine’s Day mystery short story.
Maggie turned to see Richard’s expression as they approached the falls. She felt him pressing up against her just seconds before, but now he wasn’t there. She turned and looked the other way. “Richie?” A few people around her looked her direction, but Richie did not answer.
Well, he couldn’t have gone very far. This boat’s too small.
The tour boat Maid of the Mist was now getting closer to Niagara Falls. The mist boiling was up and hanging in the air making it difficult to see. She strained to hear over the noise of the falls; the roar was incredible.
She was finally where she wanted to be for her honeymoon. Ever since she was a little girl, Niagara Falls was her dream honeymoon destination, and this was not only supposed to be the most romantic place on earth, but she was there on Valentine’s Day. They were married on February first, exactly six months from the day they met. Now she was here with Richard, the person she told everyone was her soul mate. Many people tried to tell her soul mates didn’t exist, but even if he wasn’t her soul mate, he was her passport to everything she always wanted. The only down side was this was the last day of their honeymoon. Tomorrow they were headed back to work and reality.
Their decision to get married so quickly met some resistance. Several people, including her mother and father, tried to tell her to give their romance a little more time to grow, but she insisted on a quick marriage. She told everyone she needed to be with him forever and the sooner the better.
She took a couple of steps back to see if she could locate him. When that didn’t work, she climbed on top of a locker used to store lifejackets. She still couldn’t find him. Of course, it was also difficult because everyone was wearing the same ponchos issued by the people who ran the boat. All the passengers looked like they were standing around wrapped in blue Saran wrap. Most of them also had the hoods up and some were wearing sunglasses. None of that was aiding in her search.
She stepped off the locker and approached a crew member standing by the steps leading to the bridge. “I need some help. I can’t find my husband.”
The mate smiled. “I’m sure he’s around someplace. Not many places he can go out here.”
“Well, I can’t find him.”
“Let me go check the restrooms.”
Never thought of that. Maybe he got sick or something. Seasick on this little boat? Well, it has been rocking back and forth a lot.
She returned to the railing of the boat and stared at the falls. The sight of all that roaring water kept drawing her attention. She unclenched her hands and was glad she had worn gloves to ward off the cold from the water. Everyone on the boat was sharing her fascination with the falls.
The mate went to the men’s restroom door and knocked. There was no immediate answer, so he waited a few seconds and knocked again. He then opened the door and took a step back when he saw the body of a man crumpled against the wall. There was a small trickle of blood coming from the left side of his head. He put his fingers on the side of the man’s neck, but felt no pulse. He quickly shut the door and pulled out his portable radio. “Captain, this is Jones. We have a major problem down here. I’ve discovered the body of a man in the restroom. He may have been murdered.”
“Are you sure?”
“Hell, yes I’m sure. When a person has blood coming out of their head and no pulse, something sure as shit happened to them.”
“Okay. I’m turning around. I’ll radio security to meet us at the dock.”
Maggie stepped around the corner just as the mate and captain finished talking. “Well?”
“We’re returning to the dock now, ma’am.”
“Did you find my husband?”
The mate looked down. “I don’t know. We’re returning to the dock to find out.”
“Is he in there?” she asked, pointing to the door.
“I’m really not sure, but you don’t want to look in there, ma’am.”
“Oh, my God!” Maggie fainted on the deck. Her next memory was being pushed on a litter into the rear of an ambulance. She looked up at the woman facing her. “Is my husband OK?”
“I really don’t know. Are you Mrs. Richard Fivay?”
The woman said nothing, but glanced back at the male paramedic pushing the other end of the litter. “We’re not sure, yet,” the man said.
Once she was inside the ambulance, they connected an IV and gave her a shot of something to calm her down. “Ma’am, we’d like to take you to the hospital to get checked out.”
“No. No. I’m not going anywhere until I find out what happened to Richard.”
“We can’t force you to go, but we would recommend it,” the man told her.
“I’m not leaving without Richard.” She saw a shadow fill up the rear door of the ambulance. There was a man standing there in a suit.
“Mrs. Fivay, I’m detective Matt Morrison with the Buffalo Police Department.”
“Police? Will someone please tell me what happened to Richard?”
“Apparently there was some kind of an accident,” Matt told her.
“Accident? What kind of accident? Is Richard okay?” She raised her head from the pillow.
“No, ma’am. I’m afraid he’s not.”
Her head dropped back to the pillow. She felt like she should be crying, but tears were not coming. “What happened?”
“We’re not sure yet. I will tell you we have detained all the passengers from this particular cruise. They’re being questioned. I’d like you to rest now. We’ll need to talk much more later.”
Maggie did not wake up again until the next morning. The hospital was doing a good job of keeping her sedated. She looked around trying to focus on where she was. She saw a lot of white and suddenly heard her mother’s voice. “You okay, baby?”
She turned her head to her right. Her mother was standing beside her bed; her father was sitting in a chair by the bed. “What happened to Richard?”
Her mother looked at her father. Her father stood up. “Margaret, Richard is dead.”
The room suddenly started spinning out of control. She grasped onto both sides of the bed. “Oh, no. No, no, no,” she screamed. Her mother hugged her. Her body was shaking. A nurse came in and gave her another shot to help her relax.
Two hours later, Detective Morrison came in to talk to her. “I’m sorry to have to bother you now, Mrs. Fivay, but there are some things we need to know. You feel up to answering some questions?” Maggie nodded. “Let’s start with some background about Mr. Fivay. Where did he work?”
“He was a stock broker for Finney and Smith.”
“In what town?”
“How long had you known your husband before you were married?”
Maggie looked up at her mother. “Six months.”
“Had either of you ever been married before?”
“Do you know of anyone he was having problems with? Like maybe a dissatisfied client?”
“Not that I knew about. He really didn’t talk much about his work.”
“Any personal contacts he may have had an argument with lately?”
“Again, not that I know. And we spent a good deal of time together, so I would probably have known that.”
“Okay, you rest some more. I’ll be back later.” He left the room and Maggie’s father, George Olsen, followed him into the hall.
“That wasn’t a lot of questions to aid in an investigation, detective.”
Morrison stopped and looked at him. “Enough.”
“Something I need to know?”
“Well, I guess you have the right. I just wouldn’t pass it on to your daughter right now.”
Morrison took a note book out of his inside pocket. “First of all, Richard Fivay is an alias used by a man named Robert Farris. He also used the name Ronald Fisher.”
“He never worked for a stock broker, in Kansas City or anywhere else.”
“Oh, wow. We tried to get Margaret to wait longer before she got married.”
“He was also married before, at least twice that we know of. In both of those cases, he never bothered with the formality of a divorce. He may have married other women under different names.”
“He sure has done a lot in twenty-eight years.”
“Is that how old he said he was?”
“He was actually forty-two, but he’s had some pretty sophisticated plastic surgery to make him look younger and change his appearance. He’s fairly well known to the police in the Midwest.”
Maggie’s father hung his head. “Looks like she really got into a mess, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but it was really not your daughter’s fault. The guy was apparently very slick. He knew what he was doing, like bringing his new bride here on Valentine’s Day. Now, one of the questions is why? And why with your daughter? Something I really need to know, did Maggie have any money?”
“Hardly. She was a working girl. Everybody in our family was, just to make ends meet.”
“Where did Maggie work?”
“At Union National Bank. That’s where they met. He was a customer there.”
Detective Morrison left the hospital and went directly to a meeting with all the other people in his department who had been working on this case. It had now been twenty-four hours since the murder was discovered, and they all knew they were now working in a critical time window. Most evidence tended to cool off quickly, especially after forty-eight hours. As soon as the meeting started, Dr. Frank Montana, the medical examiner, spoke up. “Before any assumptions are made, there is something you all need to know. The murdered man was killed by a small explosion from the inside of his head.”
“What? From what I saw, that looked like a bullet wound,” Morrison said.
“Well, it almost looked like an exit wound. Major problem, there was no entry wound.”
“So how did that happen?”
“Two possible ways. Someone shot him with a small bomb that blew up in his skull. The projectile would have had to be small, but broad so as not to penetrate very far. Once it was shot, it exploded. The second theory is that it was placed inside his head at some prior time, possibly when he had some of his plastic surgery done.”
“Now wait a minute, Doc. If someone placed this ‘bomb,’ as you call it, in his head at a prior time, why did it go off now?”
“No idea. Little evidence of the bomb was left inside his head. Most of it was blown away with the explosion. Possibly, it had a timing device on it or maybe a device when it could be detonated by radio or something. We may have more evidence when forensics finishes with the rest room on the boat.”
“Wouldn’t this thing have to be rather large to have a timer on it?”
“Probably. I would go with the exterior detonation theory. Something like that could be made as small as a grain of rice.”
“Yeah, wow,” Dr. Montana said. “Electronics today are mind boggling.”
“And apparently mind blowing.”
“Bad joke, Matt.”
“Okay,” Detective Morrison asked, “what else have we found out?”
Detective Chapman spoke up. “There were twenty-one passengers and three crew members on the boat yesterday morning. We can’t find anything on any of them that links them to Fivay.”
“How about a list of people who might have wanted him dead?”
“The way I see it, one of his three known wives should be at the top,” Detective Wilson answered. “One of his exes, although none of them really are exes, said she worked in a bank. Fivay got into a bad deal on investments and wanted her to embezzle money from the bank where she worked. When she refused, he disappeared. She figured maybe he really was in trouble. She also has an alibi for today. The first wife we weren’t able to locate. You talked to the third wife.”
“She was lied to backwards and forwards, but she also worked in a bank. Maybe this was his angle. Marry someone who worked in a bank and get them to steal for him. We need to find that first wife and see what happened to her. Wonder if she could be in prison somewhere in the Midwest?”
“I’ll go make some phone calls on that,” Wilson said and left the meeting.
“What else do we know?” Morrison asked.
“Very little,” one of the forensic people said. “There was so much water washing across the deck from the mist, we really found nothing we felt was connected to the case. If there was any blood other than in the bathroom, it is gone.”
“Anything found on the body to give us any information?”
“Only standard stuff, wallet, some change. One strange thing was he had two sets of keys in his pocket, but they were for different cars and houses.”
“Any idea why?”
“Maybe because of different marriages, but other than that, no.”
“Anything from interviewing the passengers?”
Detective Chapman started. “No one even remembered seeing Fivay on the boat, but that’s not surprising. People were not on the boat to look at other people. Everyone was eyeing the falls. Maybe the guy had to use the rest room and someone waiting to set off the bomb saw this as an opportunity to set it off. He was out of everyone’s view.”
“Sounds possible.” He looked at his watch. “Well, let’s take a break for lunch and meet back here in an hour.”
Morrison was still eating his lunch when Detective Wilson came up to his table. “We got lucky on the first wife. She is in jail in Kansas. I talked to the prosecutor in the case. He said she admitted to embezzling money from the bank to help her husband. He told her he had made a mistake on some investments for the company he worked with. As soon as she was arrested, her hubby disappeared and has never been found, at least until yesterday.”
“So he probably married Margaret for the same reason. We know wife number one didn’t kill him. Wife number two has an alibi. Margaret was on the same boat, but surely he hadn’t approached her about stealing for him, yet. They were just married fourteen days ago. Next question, besides living high on the hog, what was he doing with that money? Let’s see if we can find the guy who did plastic surgery on him. He may have some answers but probably won’t be willing to say anything if he had anything to do with planting a bomb in the guy’s head.” Morrison took a bite of his sandwich.
“Look, call Kansas City and see if they can give us any help on this. Get everything they know about Richard Fivay. Let’s don’t rule out the present Mrs. Fivay. See what they can dig up on her. Tell the rest of the men I’m going back to the hospital to talk to her. I’ll get together with them again later.”
When Detective Morrison got to the hospital, Maggie was sitting up in bed. “You feeling better?”
“I think so. I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
“At least your parents are here to support you.”
“Yes, thank God for that.”
“Think you could answer a couple more questions?”
“I think so.”
“I understand you and Richard met at the bank where you worked. Is that correct?”
“Did he approach you about dating or did you approach him?”
Maggie looked down. “He approached me.”
“Did he ever ask you a lot of questions about your job at the bank?”
“Some. You know how two people talk about their day.”
“Did he ever ask you to do something that was illegal?”
“No. Why would he do that?”
“Just trying to get some background. What do you know about his financial situation?”
“Well, like I told you before, he was a stock broker. He did fairly well in his business. Whenever we discussed money matters, he seemed to have no trouble in showing me his bank accounts and other information.”
“And he banked at the bank where you worked?”
“And how long had he banked there? Do you know?”
“Yes, when we met, he was coming in to move his account to our bank from another bank.”
“You remember which bank he was transferring from?”
“No, I really didn’t ask. He just had a cashier’s check and opened an account with us.”
“Okay, I think that’s enough for now. You rest. I’ll be in touch later.”
When Detective Morrison got back to the station, Detective Wilson immediately approached him. “Got some strange answers from the boys in Kansas city. When they were trying to run down Richard Fivay, they could not locate a doctor who operated on him. They concluded it must have been done by someone underground. When I told them about our theory of the bomb being implanted at that time, they thought it was entirely possible. It seems they have another such case still on their books. The guy was from the KC area, but ended up being killed in Utah. Same method used.”
“Okay, but who’s paying the doc to plant these bombs?”
“Their theory was it was someone from the mob. Their guy owed a lot of money from gambling. They’re checking into Fivay on that end.”
“Anything on Margaret?”
“Yeah. Something interesting for a ‘working girl’ as her Dad described her. Five months ago, she rented a safe deposit box at the bank where she worked. Since this crime apparently crossed state lines, they got the FBI to open it. Two hundred thousand in cash.”
“Yep, two hundred big ones.”
“Where the hell did she come up with that kind of money?”
“Well, no one there knows either, but they did determine that all of it was counterfeit.”
“Yep, every dollar of it.”
“So where does our little Miss Goody-Two Shoes come with that much counterfeit money and why? And just six months after she supposedly hooks up with this Fivay guy?”
“One more little fly in the ointment.”
“Yeah. A week before they got married, they both took out life insurance policies for a million bucks, each.”
“And murder would be considered accidental death. She’ll get paid double for that.”
Wilson’s cell phone rang. After a few ‘yeses’ and ‘okays’ he hung up. “Fivay was into the mob big time for gambling.”
Morrison leaned back in his chair. “Okay, let’s set this scenario. The mob wants to knock off Fivay because of his debts. Sets an example for others.”
“They find out he is dating Margaret Olsen and offer her money to do the deed. They pay her off in funny money, but she probably doesn’t even realize that.”
“So now she sees a chance to make some extra money by taking out those life insurance policies.”
“Someone in the mob gets the detonator to her and tells her to make sure it’s done away from Kansas City. So she marries the guy to not only collect the insurance, but claim any other assets he has or she thinks he has,” Wilson said.
“One heck of a scenario. Now how do we go about proving any or all of it?”
“Been thinking about that. Let’s start with the funny money. I’d just bet she doesn’t know that.”
Wilson and Morrison entered Maggie’s hospital room. Her mother and father were still there. “We have a couple of things to tell you about this case,” Morrison started.
“Oh, did you find the person who did this?” Maggie asked.
“Possibly,” Wilson said. “Just some loose ends we need to tie up first.”
“What kind of loose ends?”
“Well, for one,” Morrison said, “all that counterfeit money in your safe deposit box.”
Mr. Olsen jumped up from his chair. “What? Counterfeit money?”
“Yes, sir. Your daughter rented a safe deposit box at Union National Bank in Kansas City and filled it full of counterfeit bills–two hundred thousand dollars worth.”
He looked at his daughter. “Is this true, Margaret?”
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Margaret said.
“That’s strange,” Wilson said. “You rented the box and signed for it. You mean someone else put the money in your safe deposit box?”
Margaret said nothing, but looked away from her parents and the detectives. “And what about the million dollar insurance policy on Richard? That’s a lot of reasons to kill someone.”
“Another thing,” Wilson added, “your husband’s real name wasn’t Richard Fivay. I’m sure the insurance company is going to balk at paying out a couple of mil for someone who didn’t ever exist. Even if they want to pay, they won’t until this case is closed. It may stay open for many years to come, and, you were never legally his wife. He was still married when he married you.”
“So what you’ve got, Maggie is a safe deposit box full of funny money that the FBI is going to seize, and a life insurance policy that probably isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He paused. “Want to tell us who paid you to kill Richard?” Genuine tears were now forming in Maggie’s eyes.
Her mother spoke up. “Baby, this sounds like you could be in a lot of trouble. I think you better tell them the truth, whatever it is.”
“So what is the truth, Maggie?” Morrison asked.
After a couple of deep sobs, she started to tell her story. “I was given the detonator built into a device to look like a car door opener. When we got here today at the falls and on Valentine’s Day, I had actually changed my mind. I was really starting to love Richard. I carried the detonator on my key chain. Two nights ago, Richard broke one of his fingernails. The only nail clipper we had with us was also on my key chain. I gave my keys to him to use the clipper. He must have just put them in his pocket. Believe me; I’ve been trying to figure out what happened. When he went to use the restroom today, the boat was rocking back and forth. The only thing I can figure out is that he lost his balance and hit the wall. He must have also hit the button on the detonator. I mean, even people make ‘butt’ calls with cell phones.” She started crying openly now.
Morrison and Wilson walked out of her room. “So what crime did she commit?” Wilson asked.
“Actually, nothing. Intent maybe, but she’s probably paid enough for that already. Accepting a bribe? In funny money? Intent again. He signed for the life insurance policy that I’m sure will never be paid off. She better just head back to KC and try to get her life back together again.”
“So a person is dead. What’s the crime?”
“Beats me. Accidental suicide? Caused from a broken fingernail? You want’a sign that report?”
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