by Guy Belleranti
Morning Murder was originally published in the February 2009 issue of Big Pulp magazine.
My partner Detective Danny Dayton and I stared across the table at Larry Walton in his murdered sister’s kitchen. Apparently, Walton had discovered his sister shot to death in her living room and had then called 911.
“I’m Detective Perosi,” I said, “and this is Detective Dayton. What else can you tell us?”
“Not a lot,” Walton said. “But I did know something was wrong before I even came in the front door.”
“Why’s that?” Danny asked.
“Because I could hear Helen’s TV blasting away. She never played it like that.”
“It’s not loud now,” I said.
“That’s ‘cause I muted it.”
Danny scowled. “You shouldn’t have done that. Shouldn’t have touched a thing.”
“So I screwed up. I’d just found my sister shot dead for crying out loud. That and the TV’s blaring canned laughter made me want to puke, okay.”
Danny and I left Larry Walton with a uniformed cop and headed outside. Maybe someone from the neighborhood had seen something.
“You just didn’t like the guy,” I said.
“You’re not kidding there. But I don’t like his story either. He could’ve made it up to cover why he was in the house and supposedly finding his sister dead.”
I shrugged. “Could be, though it’s also possible the killer’s someone else, someone who did turn up the TV’s volume…maybe to mask the sound of the gunshot.”
A plainclothes detective named Collins called out to us from the road. A heavy-set woman dressed in bright pink jeans stood beside him.
“This is Sally Mackey,” Collins told us. “She lives across the street. She has some
information that could be important.”
“Not could be important,” the woman said. “It is important.”
I gave the woman a friendly smile. “I’m Detective Perosi, Ms. Mackey. And this is Detective Dayton. What information do you have?”
“Helen’s murder – I just know it has to be tied into the burglary!”
“So you haven’t heard. Last Monday night someone broke into Helen’s house. She was at her readers’ group. The thief stole money and jewelry. Of course, the police came, but after they left, Helen was less than impressed. She told me she was going to do her own investigating.” Sally wiped a tear from her cheek. “That’s the way Helen was. Took no guff from no one. And now the thief’s killed her!”
“You can’t be sure of that, ma’am,” Danny said.
Sally gave him a withering look. “Ha! Okay maybe not one hundred percent sure, but pretty darned near.” She turned back to Collins and me. “I’ve three suspects in mind. Want to hear them?”
“Certainly,” I said. I whipped out my notebook, and saw both Danny and Collins roll their eyes. Still, both leaned forward as Sally Mackey began talking.
“Her brother Larry tops the list,” Sally began. “That’s his beat-up red pickup parked in the driveway. Is he claiming to have found her?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Ha! Very convenient for him. He was always hitting on Helen for money. Then, last week, Helen told him no more. She’d learned he was spending the money on alcohol and gambling. So, that’s his motive for the burglary. He needed the dough and Helen cut him off. His being on the scene this morning could mean Helen connected him to the burglary. It could mean he came to silence her.”
“And then called 911?” Collins asked.
“Sure. Larry may be lazy and greedy, but he’s not dumb. He couldn’t just drive off afterwards. Someone might have seen his truck out front. So he had to do what an innocent man would do.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Who are your other suspects, Ms. Mackey?”
“Nancy Temple and her husband George. Nancy is Helen’s niece. They live up the hill in a falling down shack of a place. Nancy is Helen’s only other close living relative. George and Nancy aren’t any more responsible than Larry. Helen cut off her handouts to them last week, as well. I was there when she did it. Even heard her say she might change her will and leave everything to charity.”
“So one, or both, burgled her?” Danny asked.
“Wouldn’t surprise me. They both knew Helen kept quite a bit of cash on the premises. They also knew she had plenty of valuable jewelry. And to top it off, this morning I saw—”
“Spreading lies about us, Sally?” interrupted a male voice. A man and woman moved into our group. The man’s blue eyes glittered as he ground a cigarette under his heel.
Sally flushed. “W-why should you think that, George?”
“Because we overhead you,” the woman beside him snapped. She turned to Danny and I. “I don’t care what trash Sally’s been telling you, but I wouldn’t have ever hurt my aunt. The same goes for George.”
“Then you know Helen Schaefer’s been murdered?” Danny asked.
Nancy Temple waved a hand, the bracelets on her wrist clinking. “Of course. Saw all the police cars and ambulances down here, then overheard what Sally was saying to you.” She gave the heavy woman an angry look. “That’s really vile, Sally, to try to pin such horrible crimes on us.”
“I’m not trying to pin anything on anyone,” Sally snapped. “I’m just stating facts. Which leads to what else I was about to tell these detectives – I saw you leaving Helen’s early this morning, Nancy. How do explain that?”
Nancy paled. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about seeing you from my bedroom window around 8:00.”
“Well it couldn’t have been Nancy you saw,” George said. He snapped his lighter and lit another cigarette. “She’s been home all morning. Haven’t you, dear?”
Nancy hesitated, and I pounced. “If you were at your aunt’s earlier you better tell us.”
Nancy clenched her hands. “So, what if I was.”
“Nancy!” George said.
“It was while you were out jogging, George. But I didn’t see Aunt Helen. I wanted to borrow some coffee, but she didn’t answer the bell.”
“Did you hear anything?” Danny asked. “Voices? A gunshot?”
“Gunshot? Is that how she….” She blinked her eyes and bent her head down, sniffling.
George put an arm around her. “There, there, dear.” He glared at us. “I doubt Nancy heard anything over the television noise. And just because Sally says she saw Nancy from her bedroom window doesn’t mean Nancy killed Helen. Sally, herself, could have done it. She might have been in Helen’s house, not her own house, when Nancy rang the bell. She could have seen Nancy through the front door’s peephole.”
“Why that’s not true!” Sally cried.
George shrugged. “I hope for your sake it’s not, Sally. But can you prove it?” He took his wife’s hand and looked at Danny and I. “We’re going back home now. If you want to speak to us further you can do so there…but without Ms. Big Mouth and her venom.” The two swung around and stalked up the hill, hand in hand.
“Oh, I hate that man!” Sally Mackey cried. “If Larry’s not the killer, then George is!” She gave me an imploring look. “Okay, maybe I didn’t see Nancy actually step out of Helen’s front door, but I did see her stepping off Helen’s porch. And I did see her from my bedroom window, not through Helen’s peephole.”
I studied Sally for a moment, then nodded. “Thank you, ma’am. You can return home for now.”
She opened her mouth then closed it with a “Humph!” sound.
Collins gently took her arm. “Come on, ma’am. I’ll walk you across the street.”
“What a group of suspects!” Danny said.
“Is that your only comment?” Danny complained.
“For the moment,” I replied. “There was something somebody said…Let me think a minute and maybe it’ll come to me.”
Danny waited. He’d worked with me long enough to know my quirks.
“Yes!” I finally said. I smiled. “Danny, I believe we can now haul someone downtown. We’ll want to get a search warrant, too.”
I nodded. “Exactly.”
“And just who is this killer?” asked Danny.
I smiled. “George Temple.”
“Hmm,” Danny said. “Okay, but how do you figure it’s him, Connie? Not that I’m disagreeing, but it seems to me that the brother, Temple’s own wife, and even the Mackey woman could’ve done it.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But Temple let slip an incriminating comment.”
“And that was….”
“That he doubted Nancy had heard anything over the television noise.”
“So. She probably wouldn’t have. You yourself said the killer might have used it to cover the sound of the gunshot.”
“That’s right, Danny. But how did he know the television was on, much less turned up to high volume?”
“Well, uh…” Danny blinked. “You’re right, Connie! How’d I miss that? He couldn’t have known…unless he was at the scene!” He grinned at me. “Nice work, partner.”
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