by Gary Hoffman
Sadly Gary Hoffman passed away earlier this year, but his family asked if we would help them fulfill his goal of having 500 stories published so we will be publishing several of his stories over the next few months. This story has never before been published.
“I’m very sorry Judge Blankenship, but there is a young woman in the waiting area who insists on seeing you now,” the maître d’ said as he handed the judge a business card.
The judge glanced at it. There was a lot of information printed on it, but the things that stood out were Susan Harrison, Asst. District Attorney, St. Louis County, Missouri. He held the card in his right hand and tapped it against his left thumb. “Well, crap. I can’t get away from them no matter how hard I try.” He looked at his wife. “I’m sorry, Ellen. I’d better go see about this. I’ll make it as short as possible.”
Susan got out the first words when the judge approached her. “Thank you for seeing me, Your Honor.”
“Well, congratulations, sir. How long have you and Mrs. Blankenship been married?”
“Forty-three years, and don’t try to make polite conversation. At this point very little would be polite. What do you want?”
“I need your signature for a search warrant, sir.”
The judge straightened up and pulled his vest further down over his ample stomach. “Probable cause?”
“Yes, actually Blue Springs, just outside of Kansas City.”
“So why are coming to me?”
“The main suspect, her ex-husband, lives in St. Louis County. There are two Blue Springs detectives down here now, and they’re working with two of our detectives on this case. They need to search the living quarters of the ex, Ron Aarons.”
“And why is this Aarons a suspect?”
“His finger prints and hair samples were found in her apartment.” She left out the part about the woman being shot from outside the apartment.
“Have our people interviewed him?”
“Not yet, sir. They wanted to execute a search before doing so. They feel it would give him less chance to dispose of any evidence.”
“You have a pen?”
She smiled. “Of course, sir.”
“Turn around.” The judge put the paper against her back and signed it.
“Thank you, Your Honor. I hope you will still enjoy your meal. And send my congratulations to Mrs. Blankenship.”
He waved a hand at her like he was swatting at an annoying bug. “Yeah, yeah.”
Susan made the call when her feet hit the pavement of parking lot. “Got it. Signed, sealed, and delivered as soon as I get to his place.”
Ron Aarons was only wearing an old pair of cut-off jean shorts when he opened the door for the detectives. It was eight p.m.
“We have a warrant to search your house, Mr. Aarons.”
He blinked. “What? Why?”
“You have no idea, sir?”
“No. Should I have?”
The detective showed him the warrant. “Just please step aside, sir, and let us in.”
“Sure, I guess. What’s this all about?”
“We have a warrant, so that’s really all you need to know.”
The four detectives entered the house. Three of them fanned out to start the search while Detective White from Blue Springs stayed by Ron Aarons. This was standard procedure: make sure the suspect didn’t do anything that might destroy evidence.
“You live here alone, Mr. Aarons?”
“Yes. Why are you searching my house?”
“Ever have anyone over to stay the night or anything like that?”
“Why would you ask something like that?”
Ron curled his upper lip. “You guys get off listening to other people’s stories?”
“Are you aware that your ex-wife was shot to death two nights ago?”
“Yeah, my daughter called me about that. Can’t say that it makes me totally unhappy, though.”
Ron took a step back and dug his hands deep into his pockets. “I think I better have my lawyer present before we talk anymore.”
“Usually only guilty people need their lawyers.”
Aarons smiled. “Nice try, detective, but I still want my lawyer.”
Ron sat on the couch and Detective White spent his time going around the living room. The first thing White noticed was how clean everything seemed to be. There were bookshelves and all the books had their spines pulled out the same distance. He could find no evidence of dust. The magazines were in a small rack by a lounger, but they were stacked neatly and in alphabetical order. Marks on the carpet showed where it had been vacuumed recently.
“You’re a very neat housekeeper, Mr. Aarons.”
“Can’t stand messiness. Put things back where they belong, and they’re easy to find.”
White chuckled and thought about how his house might look if his wife were to move out. The detectives knew the basic story about the divorce of Ron and Linda Aarons. It happened three years ago. Linda had wanted no part of the house or its furnishings. She moved to Blue Springs and got a job with Hallmark Cards. She did, however, demand, and got, a large alimony check from Ron every month. That was her settlement from the marriage of twenty-seven years. There was one child, a twenty-three-year-old daughter, who now lived in Denver.
“So what do you do for a living, Mr. Aarons?”
“I’m sure you already know, but I work as a CPA for Boxall and Renkey.” White did already know, plus the answers to most of the other questions he would ask him.
“How long you been there?”
“Fifteen years. How long you been a cop?”
“A little less—thirteen years.”
“I guess. You like being a CPA?”
“A few. I might be able to devote more time to my writing now.”
“And why’s that?”
“I think I’ve said enough. I want my attorney present from now on.”
White shrugged. “Have it your way. Just trying to make conservation.”
Aarons coughed. “Right. Just like insurance companies are always there to help you.”
Detective Jerry Bates from St. Louis County came through the living room carrying a box.
“What’s he doing?” Ron asked.
“We’re collecting evidence. Some of your printed files are probably in here.”
“That’s private stuff.”
“And that’s why we’re collecting it.”
“You guys think I shot Linda?”
“Seems possible,” White said.
“What the hell is that?” Bates asked.
“Just an unfortunate thing about living here,” Aarons said. “It happens at least once a night, usually between eight-thirty and nine-thirty. There’s a railroad switching yard about three blocks from here.”
“Guess it’s something you get used to.”
“I usually don’t even hear it anymore. It just goes with the territory. Bugged the hell out of Linda, though.”
Bates left to put the box in a squad car, but was quickly followed by another detective carrying a computer. “Hey, you can’t just take everything,” Aarons protested.
“Well, actually we can, but don’t worry. You’ll get it all back as soon as your name is cleared.”
“That computer has a lot of my writing projects on it. It won’t be erased, will it?”
“No. In fact, I want you to start making a list as people are carrying things out. We want to make sure you get everything back in the same shape it left here in.”
“Real big of you.”
“Hey, this isn’t a dictatorship where they just take everything, and you’re out.”
“You could have fooled me.”
For the next two hours the detectives carried out boxes and other objects they thought might contain evidence. Aarons and White both made lists of what was taken. They both signed the lists when the search was over.
The sound of a large truck was heard outside.
“What’s that?” Aarons asked.
“Probably the tow truck picking up your car. We’re going to need to impound it for a couple of days.”
“You guys damned well be careful with my baby. I’m the only one who has ever driven that car.” He paused. “And just
how am I supposed to get to work?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Aarons. That’s up to you to figure out.”
“So I’m not under arrest.”
“No, sir. Not at the moment, but we might want you to come down to the station for questioning tomorrow or the next day. Just don’t make any travel plans for the near future.”
Two days later, Captain Ed Moore of the St. Louis County Police called all four detectives in a conference room.
“Okay, you’ve had a chance to look through the materials collected with our search warrant and talk with any people of interest. I understand the ex-husband is the main suspect. Let’s start with the big three: motive, means, and opportunity.”
“Having some problems here, Captain,” Detective Greene from Blue Springs said. “He’s got an alibi, but not a strong one.”
“He says he was home alone the night his wife was killed. From talking with his neighbors, he is usually home alone most nights. Not a problem neighbor. Takes care of his yard, has no loud parties, no barking dogs or anything else irritating.”
“But he can’t prove he was home that night?”
“And basically, we can’t prove he wasn’t,” continued Detective Greene. “He did get a phone call from his daughter that night somewhere between eight and nine. She calls at least once a week usually on Monday evening. We talked to her and she did call. But the guy doesn’t have a land-line phone at his house. Just uses a cell phone.”
“So he could have been anywhere?” the captain said.
“The daughter said while she was talking to him she heard the railroad noises in the background, noises that come from a switching yard three blocks away. She said they even had to stop talking for a few seconds while the train whistle was blowing.”
“Why does the daughter usually call on Monday night?” the captain asked.
Detective Greene referred to his notes. “She works full time and attends college classes at night. Monday is her only week night off. She also knows her dad will probably be home because he likes to watch Monday Night Football. Of course, the dad knows all about the game Monday night, but he could have gotten that from recaps on the web.
“The one thing he did know that was not publicized much until later was the fact that Hank Williams, Jr. didn’t sing the regular song on Monday night. He was pulled for some remarks he made.”
“Okay, means may take some more work. What about motive?” the captain asked.
“Gobs. His ex was costing him a large chunk of change every month. According to his daughter, he was also very jealous. Maybe his ex had started dating again, but three years is a long time to wait for something like this.”
“Yeah, but this guy is methodical. Everything he seems to do is planned and documented,” Detective Barb Grant from St. Louis County said.
“How so?” asked the captain.
“Well, one thing is a file we found where he put warranties on everything he’s bought. The cash register receipts are then stapled to the files. All of the warranties are current, so he must go through them and throw out the ones that have expired. I mean, how many people really keep track of the warranty on a blender when you know it is going to be crap in a year or so anyway?”
“What about any credit card records? They show any charges he made around Kansas City?”
“None. The charge sheets are on file in his cabinet, but nothing recently, anywhere. Like I said, he’s methodical. It looks like he puts his check in the bank every two weeks and pulls two hundred out for himself. The amounts don’t differ, even if the amount of his check does.”
“So over a long period of time, he could have saved enough money for his trip to Kansas City?”
“Possible,” said Detective Grant.
“Find any guns at his place?”
“No guns and no records he ever bought any. He seems to be a study in boredom. His life seldom changes. The only vacation he has taken in the last three years, from what we can find, is a week trip to Texas. That was last year. According to his boss, that’s the only time he has ever taken off. He hasn’t even missed any work for sick days in fifteen years.”
“Did you question him about that trip?”
“Yep, said he always wanted to see the Alamo. Records on his charge cards back that up—lots of charges in and around San Antonio. Also gas down and back. Told me all about some live oak tree that’s growing in the middle of the old fort.”
“If this guy drives to Texas to see a tree, he is a study in boredom.”
“So the only thing you guys are coming up with is motive. That about it?” the captain said.
“You got it.”
“How was this woman killed again?”
“She was standing at the kitchen sink of her first floor apartment doing dishes. Someone walked up to the window and shot her once in the head with a .22 caliber pistol or rifle—probably a pistol with a silencer. None of the neighbors heard a shot or even glass breaking, although glass breakage was minimal. Just a small hole in the window. The shooter probably then just walked to his car and drove away. Maybe even walked into another apartment for all we know.”
The captain frowned. “So we can’t even place the ex-husband near the apartment or even near Blue Springs?”
“And why were his prints in the apartment?”
“He had made a couple of visits to her trying to reconcile. According to the daughter, her mother wouldn’t have been interested.”
“How recent were these trips?”
“Within the last month. None before that. We think he was trying to case the entire area and her apartment to see how he was going to kill her.”
“What about his car?”
“Told us nothing. He keeps it as clean as he keeps his house. He told us he washes and waxes it at least once a week. Then keeps it in his garage. The thing smells brand new. It even has four new tires on it. I’m tellin’ you, this guy’s a freak.”
“How about his computer?”
“The techs downstairs can’t really find anything. Emails to his daughter, a cousin in Minnesota, and an old army buddy in Chicago. He goes to a few web sites probably to research his stories. Also a couple of porn sites. Shows he’s an all American male.”
The captain shrugged. “So you’ve either got the wrong guy or the right guy who’s pretty damned smart.”
“Keep digging. No secret ever stays hidden. If he’s the guy, he made a mistake someplace.”
“Now what?” Jerry asked.
“Not a damned clue. I’ve been through this stuff so much I think it’s mine.”
“Sorry, Barb. I’ve been to your house. Aarons and you are not the same kind of person.” Bates grinned at her.
“A clean house is the sign of a boring woman. I read that somewhere.”
“Probably on one of those little plaques they sell near cash registers.”
“Probably. At least I know I’m not a boring woman.” She flopped in her chair. “What are we missing?”
Jerry shook his head.
Both detectives were silent for a few minutes.
“Maybe we should try looking at something he hasn’t done. We’ve been looking at everything he does,” Barb said.
“Huh? Want to clue me in on what that means?”
“I’m not even sure myself, but I read a quote by Miles Davis one time. He said in jazz you played what wasn’t there, not what was. Let’s see if we can find something that isn’t here.”
“Oh, that should be a snap.”
“Let’s start with this file of warranties he kept. We’ve got pictures of every room in his house. Let’s see if we can match the warranties with an item in the house.”
“And just what’s that supposed to tell us?”
“No idea, but it’s something to do rather than sittin’ around here with our thumbs up our butts.”
“I think you better cut down on caffeine.”
After two hours, they had gone through all the warranties and located most of the stuff in the pictures.
“Okay, you say there is a guarantee for a digital voice recorder. It’s not in the pics,” Barb said.
“We found that in his desk drawer, remember. He said he bought it to use for ideas he gets for his short stories.
According to the sales receipt, he bought it two months ago.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember it now. Nothing on the major appliances in the kitchen, but they look old enough to not still be under warrantee.”
“So what did we learn?” Jerry asked.
“Nothing, yet. Is his car still in impound?”
“Far as I know.”
“Let’s go have a look.”
Both detectives took several minutes looking over the car.
Barb suddenly stopped circling the car. “He’s got new tires on the car. We didn’t find any warranty slip on those, did we?”
“Not that I remember.”
“I’m gonna write down the serial numbers on the tires and do some checking.”
“What’s that going to tell you?”
“Not sure.” She wrote down the number on the Goodyear tires—DOTAKHR2AF5117. All four tires bore the same number. “I’m going to go make some phone calls.”
“That looks like Greek to me,” Jerry said. “What’s it tell you?”
“The important thing is the fourth and fifth letters. That tells me these tires were made in Akron, Ohio. The last four numbers tell me they were manufactured in week fifty-one of 2017.”
“How’d you know all of this?”
She patted him on the cheek. “My daddy taught me well.”
The Goodyear plant in Akron gave Barb the name and address of the wholesaler where the tires were shipped: N. KC Wholesale Tire in North Kansas City, Missouri. A call to N. KC Wholesale told her the tires were sold to Bill’s Service Station close to Blue Springs.
Barb called Bill’s and identified herself by name and badge number.
“I’m trying to locate a person who may have bought four tires from you on Sunday or Monday.”
“We’re closed on Sunday. It was Monday. Only set of four I’ve sold this week. He said he had just had a blow-out, and the tire that blew was in pieces. And, I’ll remember the guy who bought them for a long time.”
“Oh, why’s that?”
“I got the tires out and ready to mount when he wants to look at them. Then he starts going through my racks to see if he can find tires that we manufactured later. The ones I was going to put on were manufactured in week one of 2017. He found some with a week fifty-one date. He insisted on those. He did know something about tires but didn’t take into account the manufacturing time. Most products manufactured right before a major holiday, in this case Christmas, have a better chance of being flawed than at other times. People are thinking about what’s going to happen at the holiday than the quality of their product.
“Then he paid me cash, something not usually done on a set of four tires. When I asked for some ID to put on the guarantee, he said he left his driver’s license at home, but he would give me his name, address and so on. I had a feeling he was making it up as he went along.”
“I’m going to send some Blue Springs Police over to take down just what you told me, Bill. And thank you very much.”
“I think we got him,” Barb almost shouted at Jerry.
The captain listened as Barb started to put together her story.
“We can put Aaron’s car in Blue Springs last Monday.”
“Can we put him there?” the captain asked.
“By his own admission, no one else ever drove it. So let’s go with this scenario. This guy is methodical. He tries to plan for all contingencies. He goes on vacation to Texas because handguns are easy to buy there. He makes some connection to buy the silencer.
“He plans to do this on Monday night because his daughter always calls. He has a digital voice recorder that he uses to record the train noises that go on behind his house. He makes sure it’s with him and plays it when his daughter calls.
“The gun? He could dispose of anywhere, but he has to cross the Missouri River at Booneville on his way back. Easy to toss off the bridge as he’s driving back.”
“Issue a warrant for Aaron’s arrest. Good work.”
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