by Gary Hoffman
Enjoy this fun unusual holiday mystery that has never before been published.
“I’m sure you can see why we might have a problem here, Mr. Paulson,” Detective Roger Greene said. “Mrs. Hatfield died from a dose of arsenic and we found a jar of anchovies in your refrigerator that have been laced with arsenic.
On top of that, your fingerprints are the only ones on the jar. You still have no explanation?”
Gerald Paulson swallowed hard and shrugged. “No, sir, I’m afraid not. I wish I did.”
Detective Greene had been standing, but he pulled a chair up to the table in the interrogation room and turned it around so he was leaning on the top of the chair back. “Okay, let’s start from the beginning again.”
“I’ve told you all I can remember,” Gerald said.
“Well, sometimes retelling a story can bring up a different detail that you might have forgotten before,” Detective
Irene Summers, Greene’s partner, said.
“Like I said before,” Gerald started, “I was having a party. The crowd I run around with is always having parties for each other. We have one about once a month, each taking turns at hosting. It’s nothing organized, just an understanding among ourselves that one of us will have a party sometime. I hadn’t hosted a party for a while, so I decided to go away from the usual stuff.”
“What’s the usual stuff?” Summers asked.
“We usually follow set holidays when they are close. Like someone has a Fourth of July party or a Christmas party. Halloween was coming up, but that was pretty obvious, so I decided to change mine. I went on the internet and found out November second is National Deviled Egg Day. So I thought I’d throw a party and celebrate National Deviled Egg Day. I boiled four dozen and two eggs and did the two extra, because I figured some of them might mess up and they did. I also found recipes for all different kinds of deviled eggs, so I made special eggs from seven foreign countries and one regular one from the United States. It turns out many different countries have special deviled eggs.”
“So what country has anchovies?” Greene said.
“Actually, Sweden is the main country that puts anchovies on deviled eggs, but I decided not to use them. I know these people pretty well from being around them, and I only knew of one person who likes anchovies on anything. That was Dorothy Hatfield, the woman who died. I heard her order anchovies on her pizza once.”
“The coroner said she had anchovies in her stomach when he did the autopsy. How do you explain that?”
Gerald looked down. “I can’t. I can’t even explain how a jar of anchovies got into my refrigerator, let alone have my fingerprints on it. It might have happened when I moved the jar or something. I might have pushed it out of the way to find a different jar or something. I had a whole bunch of assorted jars of stuff left after the party, stuff I don’t usually buy. Maybe that’s how my prints got there.”
“Explain again why you bought some arsenic at Ace Hardware.”
“I told you. There was a problem with rats in the basement of my apartment building. Stuff in my storage unit was being destroyed and as the manager didn’t seem to be in any hurry to solve the problem, so I took things into my own hands. Someone told me arsenic was the best thing to buy.”
“And who was this “someone”?”
“I honestly can’t remember. Probably someone from the crowd I run around with. Maybe a woman.”
“So you didn’t buy anchovies, but you did buy arsenic?”
Gerald sighed. “Yes.”
“You know anyone who would like to harm Dorothy Hatfield?”
Greene and Summers glanced at each other. “We’re going to let you go home for right now, Mr. Paulson, but don’t even think about leaving town.”
“Not a problem.”
“And one other thing, Mr. Paulson – you are the only one who was at that party who knows what caused Mrs. Hatfield’s death. We had to tell you because of some of the circumstances. Even her husband doesn’t know yet. He still thinks she had a heart attack. We told him we don’t have a report back from the coroner yet, so keep that information to yourself. If we hear it from any of the others, we will know you told them and that won’t look good for you.”
Greene and Summers sat at their desks after Paulson left. “Well, what’s your take on this guy?” Greene asked.
“It’s really kind of crazy. I want to believe him. He just doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would kill someone. And what’s his motive? We’ve talked with everyone who was at that party. Where’s a motive for any of them to kill Hatfield?”
“So far, we do have the opportunity and the method used, but that’s about it. Someone might have brought in that jar of anchovies, put one on a special egg and then put the jar in the fridge. Paulson could have moved the jar like he said – and how would the killer know Hatfield would eat that particular egg?”
“Maybe it wasn’t even meant for Hatfield. Maybe she got it by mistake and the killer didn’t want to take another chance on trying again?”
Greene tossed his pen on his desk. “Well, that theory helped a lot.”
Summers picked up the file they had started. “Look, let’s go over what we do know right now. Maybe something different will click if we try again.”
“Okay, give it a shot.”
“We know most of the people in this bunch are pretty affluent. Four of these guys have jobs where they can take off every Wednesday afternoon and play golf. And it almost seems like they tried to put together a politically correct group. There’s eight couples, one of the couples is black, one is two gay men and another is two gay women. The other five are white and straight, at least as far as we know. Most of them attend the same church. That seems to be where they met. One of the guys and two of the women attend a Wednesday afternoon bible study group at the church and five of the women have a book club that meets on Tuesday nights.”
Officer Janet Marshall came up to their desks. “Here’s the information you wanted from the phone company. Most of these women, as expected, called each other a couple of times a week. Even the men golfers seldom called each other.
I got ahold of their country club and they have a set tee time for every Wednesday afternoon. There is one interesting pattern though –”
“Yeah, every Tuesday, Mike Ipsen called Mrs. Hatfield. Then he made a call to another number, but always right after he called her.”
“And you checked on the other number?”
“Yep. Keller’s Motel over in Springtown.”
Greene looked at the file. “Ipsen’s a dentist who doesn’t have office hours on Wednesday. His wife goes to a Bible study in the afternoon and Mr. Hatfield is out on the links on Wednesday afternoon.”
“So does Ipsen’s wife find out about this and knocks off her husband’s lover?”
“I’d go for the husband,” Officer Marshall said.
“Me, too,” Summers added.
Greene pointed to a page in the file. “According to what two of the other women told us, the only other person they saw leave the buffet table was Mrs. Ipsen. They said she picked up her purse and headed to a half-bath just off Paulson’s kitchen. They both just figured she was having female problems, but they remembered it because one of them made a joke about her acting like Estelle Getty on The Golden Girls.”
“Or maybe she had a jar of anchovies in her purse and dropped it off in the fridge before returning,” Summers said.
“We need to get Mr. and Mrs. Ipsen in here and have another talk with them,” Greene said.
When the couple was brought into the police station, they were put in separate interrogation rooms. Greene went with Mike Ipsen and Summers went with his wife, Betty.
“Okay, Mike here’s the deal. I know we’ve been over this before, but I want you to start from the top and tell me all about this deviled egg party on Monday night.”
“But you just said we’ve been over it.”
“Yes, but sometimes people remember small details they forgot the first time. Humor me. Let’s start at the beginning.”
Three rooms down the hall, Detective Summers gave the same spiel to Betty Ipsen.
“This is silly,” Betty replied. “These little gatherings of ours aren’t very earth shaking. I don’t have any earthly idea what I could remember now that would help you figure out who killed Dorothy Hatfield.”
“Well, we’re not positive she was killed. How come you are?”
Betty laughed. “Right. If she wasn’t killed, why are you homicide detectives all over this?”
Back in interrogation room one, Mike was now telling Greene how his wife is almost always late when they are getting ready to go out somewhere.
“Other than her being late, which is not abnormal according to you, did anything abnormal happen on Monday night?”
“Look, detective, these parties are just the usual bullshit about everyday life. We all have our jobs to do and very little that happens in my job interests any of the other men there.”
“So you usually separate into groups of men and women?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So did you all sit at the table to eat?”
“No. We usually stand at these affairs – nothing anywhere close to being formal. We put all the food on the largest table available, then load our plates and stand or find some place to sit.”
“You remember anyone leaving the dining room area while you were all eating?”
“No, but I’m sure I wasn’t trying to keep track of everyone.”
“You see anyone leave the dining room area as you were all eating?” Green asked Mike.
“It wasn’t my job to keep tabs on everyone. Let’s see – the only person I can remember leaving was my wife. She went to the john.”
“No one else?”
“Not that I can remember,” Mike said with his voice rising up an octave. He shook his head.
“So everyone just stood around and ate and made small talk?”
“That’s what almost every one of these things is all about, Detective Greene.” Mike poked his finger at the table as he talked.
“You talk to any of the women?”
Mike stiffened in his chair; his breathing quickened a couple of times a minute. “Sure, I guess. What does that matter?”
Greene paused and stared into mike’s eyes. “Just thought it might save you a phone call the next day.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Just wondered if you had any conversations with Dorothy?”
Mike slouched in his chair and studied the floor. “How’d you find out?”
“Find out what?”
“Come on, don’t play cat and mouse with me.”
“Let’s put it this way. You can delete the record of calls from your cell phone, but the company still has a record. Does Keller’s Motel give out any kind of discounts for frequent guests?”
Mike stared directly into Greene’s eyes. “As stupid as this probably sounds, I still love Betty, even though I was having an affair. Does this information have to get passed on to my wife?”
“Not unless it becomes part of this case.”
Mike suddenly put his hands to his face. “Oh, God! It was the anchovy, wasn’t it? I killed her.”
“I really don’t know. You tell me. Where’d you get that anchovy, anyway?”
“So you were good friends with all these people?” Summers asked Betty Ipsen.
“Want to define ‘good’?”
“I think you know what I mean.”
“Well, I didn’t lose a lot of sleep when we got the news that Dorothy Hatfield had died.”
“Care to elaborate?”
Betty tapped her long fingernails on the table. “Not really.”
“Got any beefs with anyone else at the party?”
“I thought it was pretty silly for Don and Louise to be calling them Angel Eggs because they didn’t want anything to do with the devil. I think they carry their religion thing a little too far.”
Mike Ipsen stood and started pacing the room. “When Betty came back from the bathroom, she brought some fresh eggs from the kitchen. She ate a couple and then handed the plate to me. Said she was full. I noticed one had an anchovy on it. I can eat them, but they’re not my favorite. I was actually relieved when there weren’t any eggs with anchovies on them when I first looked at the food on the table. I don’t know where she found that one. About that time, I noticed Dot – that’s what I called Dorothy Hatfield – was sitting off to herself. I went over to her to confirm she was still going to be able to meet me Wednesday afternoon. When she saw the egg with an anchovy on it, she asked where I got it. She said she loved anchovies, but hadn’t seen any on the table. I offered it to her and she gladly took it.”
Mike sat at the table and covered his face with his hands. “Oh, God! That egg was meant for me wasn’t it?”
“Could be, but why?”
“This is a second marriage for both of us. I’ve got a pretty tight prenup with Betty. If we’re divorced, she gets virtually nothing. If I’m dead, she gets it all.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Detective Greene walked into interrogation room four. “Betty Ipsen, I’m putting you under arrest for attempted murder and abetting with another.”
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