by Patricia Della Valle
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
The big black Mercedes was entering the town of Fitzville. It was preceded by the sounds of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The townspeople recognized the car and its musical horn and watched as it stopped in front of the Cigar Emporium. A tall, fat man emerged. He walked through the front door of the shop and soon reappeared, a chubby Cuban cigar in his mouth. He blew out a cloud of smoke and waved to the people. The man was a private detective often called by the Fitzville police when a major crime took place. His name was Eugene Oregon.
From the cigar shop, Eugene drove to the town police station where he was expected. Sargent Tom McNamara’s office was on the first floor, and the door was open. McNamara stood up when Eugene entered the room and the two men shook hands.
“Good to see you, Gene,” he said.
“Same here,” the fat man said. “It’s been a while. Now tell me what’s going on.” The jovial man was all business when it came to murder. Tom crossed his fingers as Gene lowered his massive frame into a waiting chair.
“You know, Gene, Fitzville was named after the Fitz family. Old man Timothy Fitz was the founder of the town in the 1890s, and his grandson Billy still lived in the mansion until last night when his houseman found his body after a day off.”
“How was he killed?” asked Oregon.
“Curtis found him sitting in a half tub of water, naked. It looked like he had a heart attack, but Curtis said there was no way Billy would have tried to take a bath alone. He was too frail. He could hardly walk by himself, even with a cane. I got the M.E.’s report a few minutes ago. There was water in Billy’s lungs. He was drowned.”
“I’d like to see the murder site, Tom, the old man’s bedroom and bath. I’d also like to talk with the man who found him. Then see if you can round up the family and anyone else who had something to gain by Billie’s death.”
“This a good time to go,” Tom said standing up. “The family was just informed, so they’re probably gathering at the house. Leave your car here. We’ll take a cruiser.”
“Where’s the moat?” he asked the Sargent.
Tom laughed. “They were very wealthy people—still are, and were always paranoid about intruders, but between the stone walls and the steep hill, I don’t think they had much to worry about.”
They parked the car close to the entrance and walked towards the huge worm-eaten wood doors. Tom utilized the lions-head brass knocker, but did not wait for someone to come. He turned the knob, and they walked in. The house smelled musty. Oregon noted that the Persian rug at the entrance was threadbare.
There were voices coming from the dining room, but he followed Tom past it and went up the stairs.
The bathroom, easily accessible from the bedroom was something from the thirties. A footed tub sat in the middle of the room. The commode was half hidden by a door for privacy. A white sink stood next to it. The flooring was the typical tiny white squares, like that of a prison or asylum bath or shower. Not something a very wealthy man would choose.
Eugene made some notes, and they went back down to the dining room.
Most of the little group acknowledged Tom. Then Tom introduced Eugene as an out-of-town detective called in to find who murdered Billy.
Fiona Fitz, Billy’s younger sister, was in her eighties. Her face was wrinkled as a prune, and her lips were pursed so tight, Gene wondered if it hurt her to smile.
“What makes you think my brother was murdered?” she asked Tom angrily. “He was an old man and could have died of anything.”
“Fiona. The medical examiner has already looked at the body and established there was water in his lungs. He was sitting up in the tub when Curtis found him. A drowned man cannot then sit up by himself. Someone helped him.”
Fiona backed down.
Next to be questioned was Brian Booth, a man in his late forties and son of Billy’s youngest sister who died of the flu several years ago. He was a good-looking man dressed in the latest style. Booth could have modeled for G.Q.
“When was the last time you saw your uncle?” the detective asked him.
“About a month ago. I checked on him every couple of weeks. We’ve had some nice chats.”
“How did you get into the house? Do you have a key?”
“No. Curtis always let me in. I came during the day.”
Next to be questioned was Anne, Brian’s sister. She was a petite woman with a sweet demeanor. Her husband, standing next to her was a burley man with a scowl on his face. He had a protective arm around his wife.
“I don’t know why my wife has to be questioned about this. Do you really think she could be the murderer…that she could lift that old man? Look at the size of her.”
“I have to interrogate everybody who has something to gain by Mr.Fitz’s death.” Oregon replied.
“Yes, I do. I went grocery shopping for Curtis. He rarely left my uncle alone during the day. He feared Uncle Billy might fall and hurt himself if he tried to get out of his wheelchair.”
“Did you visit with your uncle when you delivered the groceries?”
“Yes, but it was not easy. His mind was not what it used to be. I don’t think he even knew who I was the last few times.”
“Thank you. One more question. Did your husband ever accompany you on these visits?”
“No. My husband was working.”
Oregon looked at Tom. “Where is Curtis? I assume he was one of the beneficiaries after years of service.”
“He’s upstairs putting things in order. I’ll get him.”
The houseman entered the room teary-eyed. “Come in, Curtis,” Tom said taking the elderly man’s arm. “This is Mr. Oregon. He has some questions for you.”
“You were fond of Mr. Fitz, were you not?” Oregon asked.
“Yes, sir. He was a cantankerous old man, but I’ve worked for him for over thirty years. I got used to his ways.”
“Did Mr.Fitz ever say he would take care of you after he died?”
“Now, tell me about the night you found him,” Oregon continued.
“Well, I took a few hours off every Thursday after dinner. I went to the Houndstooth Pub. I know many of the regulars there so I would have a beer and some conversation and then go home. First thing I did was check up on Mr. Fitz, but last night he wasn’t in his bed. I ran to the bathroom to see if he had fallen. That’s when I found him.”
“Curtis, at what time did you get home?”
“Just about ten, sir.”
“At what time did you leave?”
“Was Mr. Fitz’s body warm or cold when you touched him?”
“He was slightly warm.”
“Did you happen to touch the bath water.”
“It was tepid.”
“You mean slightly warm?”
“Yes. Like it was cooling off. Not cold from the tap.”
“Did Mr. Fitz have any visitors yesterday?”
“Yes, sir. Mr.Brian Booth was here. He spent some time with his uncle.”
“At what time did he leave?”
“At around six.”
“Did you see him out?”
“No. Mr. Booth lets himself out. As soon as I can, I go down and double-lock the door.”
“Thank you, Curtis.”
The fat man turned to the Sargent. “Tom, I have a very good idea who killed Mr. Fitz. May I speak with you privately?”
They went into the hallway.
“Gene,” Tom said. “The only one who could have done it is Callahan. His wife would come into a lot of money if Billie died. Also, she had a key so he would have no problem getting into the house.”
“No, Tom. It was Booth.”
“I knew he was lying when he said he was chatting with the old man. I trust the sister who said he was demented. But, Gene, there was no way Booth could have gotten into this fortress without a key.”
“He didn’t need a key. He never left. He slammed the door, so Curtis thought he had gone. He hid, probably in a closet until Curtis left. Then he came out, and did his dirty work. He must have told Billy he prepared a nice, warm bath for him.”
They went back to the dining room where Tom handcuffed Brian and read him his rights. Brian protested loudly. “You’re crazy. Why would I kill Uncle Billie? I would get his money soon enough. He wasn’t going to live forever.”
Sargent McNamara escorted him out of the room.
In the morning, as the shopkeepers were outside their stores sweeping the entrances and putting on lights in preparation for another day, the sound of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony made them look up. A big, black Mercedes was heading out of town. Blowing on his horn and waving at the townspeople, Eugene Oregon made his exit.
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