by Gary Hoffman
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
“I’m sure you’re aware of some of my husband’s antics, detective, but this is totally unlike him,” Golda Holder said to Detective Scripps, as she dabbed the corners of her eyes with a tissue.
“Yes, ma’am. Frank and I have had some…er…dealings in the past.” Detective Scripps looked at his notes. He didn’t want to go into what happened in the past. Right now, Frank Holder was missing and he needed to concentrate on that. “So the last time you saw him was three days ago?”
“Yes. Frank did have occasion to stay out for a night now and then, but never this long without calling me.”
“And where was he headed when he left the house Tuesday morning?”
“He was going to the office. His secretary said he never showed up there, though.”
Scripps stood. “Well, Mrs. Holder, I’ll see what we can find. Please call me if you hear anything from him.”
Walter Scripps sat in his car thinking and rubbing his chin before he left. He had arrested Frank Holder several times in the past. As far as he could remember, only one case made it to trial and a mistrial was declared because some evidence was contaminated by the crime lab. Frank was scheduled to go to trial another time, but a prime witness disappeared and was never located. The state dropped the case.
It was assumed by Walter and the rest of the St. Louis Police Department that Frank had some pretty strong mob connections. Walter fired up the car and headed back to the precinct. It was Saturday and he knew his partner, Angie Holiday, who just had to be nicknamed “Doc,” would be there waiting for him to go over any other reports they needed to process.
“Anything exciting?” he asked Doc.
“I think you caught the most exciting one. Do any good talking to Frank’s wife?”
“No, and I didn’t figure I would. That’s why I didn’t wait for you to get here. Didn’t figure there was a need for
us both to waste our time. What else came in?”
“Couple of burglaries and something weird. A break in at J.T. Smith’s Funeral Home.”
“Sure hope they didn’t steal a dead body.”
“That’s the weird part. James Smith says they didn’t take anything as far as he could tell. Just broke in the basement door. I got a forensics team over there now.”
“Well, at least we don’t have to go looking for another dead body.”
“Another one? So you think Frank’s dead?”
“Don’t you?” he asked.
Doc looked at a paper on her desk. “Better than average chance. If he messed up with the big boys, a real good chance.” She sorted through the reports in front of her. “Let’s start with a car break in over on 14th.”
Walt and Doc split up and canvassed the neighborhood where the car break-in had occurred. The guy was a jewelry salesman and left some expensive samples in the car overnight. No one in the area saw anything. Once they got a description of the jewelry, Doc called dispatch and got them calling a list of pawn shops and other places in the area where jewelry might be sold. Walt did a u-turn in the middle of the block as they left. “Where we headed?”
“Frank Holder’s office is right down on the river. Let’s pay it a visit.”
Holder’s Boat Manufacturing was right on the river front. Frank’s office was on the west side of the complex, just at the entrance to the main manufacturing building. They got to park right up in front in a “Visitors Only” parking space. Walt and Doc showed their badges and introduced themselves to the receptionist. “Any word on Mr. Holder, yet?” she asked.
“Not yet, but I’m sure we’ll turn up something,” Doc said.
“This is really a worry,” the receptionist said. “Mr. Holder was such a nice man. So easy to work for.”
“So who are you working for now?”
“Mr. Witan. That’s Mr. Holder’s nephew, but he’s usually in charge of the day to day operations, anyway.”
“Can we speak to him?”
“I’m sure he’ll be happy to talk to you. He’s just worried sick, too. Let me call him for you. He’s probably out in the main plant now.”
Joe Witan took them into the main manufacturing plant so they could look around. Several new pontoon boats were on a line and being worked on by several different people. “Boy, I’ve always loved these babies,” Walt said. “Wish I could afford one like that.”
The boat he was looking at was called a Legend. It was a twenty-six feet long tri-hull with gobs of goodies. “Hey, I can put you onto a dealer who will gladly sell you one,” Joe said.
“Just bet you can, but we’re here to talk about your uncle.”
“He was in here Monday afternoon. Haven’t seen or heard from him since then.”
“Sorry to have to ask some of these questions, Joe, but we need to know. Your uncle have any women on the side?”
“I really don’t think so. Granted, maybe I just don’t know, but I would doubt it. He seemed to love Aunt Golda too much.”
“He have any big disagreements with anyone lately?” Doc asked.
“Again, not that I know of and definitely not around here. I’m sure I would know about it if it happened here.”
“Mind if we look around a bit?” Walt asked.
“Help yourself. Just go over to the safety bin and get a hard hat and some safety goggles. Okay?”
“No problem.” Walt and Doc spent two hours looking around the inside and outside of the building. They both decided it would be almost impossible to find any evidence because of all the activity going on there.
Before going back to the precinct, they went by the funeral home. “Still found nothing missing?” Walt asked James.
“Absolutely nothing. I’d say it was some kids wanting to play a prank or something, but your people who were here taking fingerprints said no prints were left. Whoever broke in did a very professional job.”
“Any possible idea why someone would do this?” Doc asked.
“None. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to vandalism. With the way things have been going lately, that would figure.”
“Well, I had a funeral this morning for a woman named Mary Ellen Hartwig. Poor dear had wasted away to almost nothing. The family provided four pallbearers, but they couldn’t handle the casket. I had to recruit two more from my staff. Then as we were lowering the casket into the ground, one of the straps broke. Fortunately, the family was gone by that time. Granted, the casket only fell about a foot, but it would have still been unsettling.”
Walt masked a smile. “Yes, I’m sure it would have.”
“Those problems in any way connected to the break in?” Doc asked.
“Not that I can see,” James answered.
“Now what?” Walt asked as they were headed back to the office.
“Tomorrow’s Friday. We know several places Frank used to hang out. Let’s give them a visit and see if we can talk to any of his old buddies.”
Friday morning, Walt got to the precinct before Doc did. When she came in, she threw her purse on the desk and flopped down in her chair. “Please tell me nothing urgent came in.”
“Long evening. Short night.”
Walt looked at her hair. “Looks like the mixer was working this morning.”
Doc started pushing her hair around. “Thanks. Just what every girl wants to hear. What are you reading, anyway?”
“A report from the 23rd precinct.”
“Oh, good. It doesn’t concern us then.” She let out a sigh and leaned back in her chair.
“Maybe or maybe not. Might be just a coincidence, but you know how I feel about coincidence. Doesn’t really exist.”
Doc leaned on her desk and put a hand to her forehead. “Walter, what the hell are you talking about?”
“They fished a body out of the river early this morning. Down at the 23rd, that is.”
“But it wasn’t Frank Holder.”
“No, but it was someone who worked for him. Worked out in the shop as a welder.”
“And this concerns us because…?” Doc asked.
“When one guy disappears and another is killed when they both worked at the same place, there has to be a connection.” He slapped the report with his fingers. “Not a coincidence–a connection.”
Doc moaned. “And I’ll bet we’re gonna get to drive down there today, right?”
“Bless you, my child.”
The coroner in the 23rd said the man had been in the water for three or four hours at most. He appeared to have a small caliber gunshot wound to the back of the head, like an execution of some kind. He still had his wallet in his pocket containing several hundred dollars and some credit cards, so they ruled out robbery as a motive. “Looks to me like someone wanted to shut him up,” the coroner told them.
“Looks like they did a good job of that,” Doc agreed.
Before they left, they got a picture of Carl Jenkins from his driver’s license. Once they were back in the car, Doc finished off the last few drinks of her third cup of coffee. “Remind me never to drink Rob-Roys again.”
“I think you already figured that out. I also think we need to get back up to that factory and see what this guy’s job was as a welder. We might get some answers from that.”
They both sat silent for awhile. “You know it has been theorized that Hoffa was welded into a barrel and dumped in a swamp,” Doc said.
Walt snickered. “Sorry, but at Frank’s size, I doubt if he would have fit into a barrel.”
“Yeah, but if he was welded into something, they had to get rid of the welder to keep him from talking. I noticed most of the metal they used at the boat place was aluminum, and I don’t think it is easy to weld. Not just anyone can do it. I knew a guy once who could weld aluminum. He went down to Lake of the Ozarks to see if he could find a job. His biggest chore was deciding which job he wanted to take. Everyone who worked with boats down there wanted him.”
“Well, it’s a thought, but I’m still not sure what they would weld him in,” Walt said.
Joe Witan identified the picture as the man who worked for him as a welder. “Really gonna miss him. He was one of the best in the business.”
“What did he work on?” Doc asked.
“Mainly fabricated the pontoons,” Joe answered.
Walt and Doc glanced at each other. “What is the diameter of those pontoons?” Walt asked.
“If it’s a duo-pontoon, they’re twenty five inches. The two outside ones on a tri-pontoon are also twenty-five inches, but the center one is twenty-seven inches. Why?”
“He still wouldn’t fit,” Walt said to Doc.
“Unless he was cut up,” Doc said.
Another police team was brought in with portable ex-ray equipment. They started ex-raying all of the pontoons in the building. “God, I hope he’s not cut up inside one of these,” Doc said. “My stomach still isn’t in the best shape.”
After forty-five minutes, the captain of the ex-ray team yelled out. “Something in here, detective.”
They gathered round the center pontoon on the big twenty-six footer that Walt had commented on before. “Can you tell what it is?” Walt asked.
“Not exactly, but there are bones in there.”
Walt looked at Joe. “Get someone over here to cut the end off this pontoon.”
“This boat’s supposed to be out of here by next week. We can’t just go cutting it up now.”
“Either you get someone to do it or I’ll have these guys do it. I’m sure your people would do a neater job so it will be easier to repair.”
“Hang on a minute. Norm’s working out back. I’ll go get him.” He started for the back door.
“I’ll come with you,” Walt said.
“No need. I’ll be right back,” Joe said.
“I said I’m coming with you,” Walt said again. As soon as they were out the back door, Joe turned and took a swing at Walt. Walt was ready. He ducked and planted a fist in Joe’s gut and then one to his chin. Joe crumpled. Walt rolled him over and handcuffed him.
When Walt looked up, another man was standing several yards away watching. “You Norm?”
“Good. Come inside with me.”
When Walt and Doc got back to the precinct, they were called into Captain Brown’s office. “So who was in the pontoon?” Brown asked.
“Lady’s name was Mary Ellen Hartwig. After Frank was killed, they broke into Smith’s Funeral Home and put his body in the coffin that was going to be buried the next day. Then they had to get rid of the woman’s body, so they put it in the pontoon. She would fit. Frank wouldn’t.”
“So why was Holder killed?” the captain asked.
“How did the nephew know all of this?”
“He was picked to take Frank’s place in the organization. He promised faithfully to do things the right way,” Doc said. “And that’s why James Smith had so much trouble at the funeral. Frank probably weighed four times what Mary Ellen did.”
“Have to say,” Walt chimed in. “This was a real casket case.”
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