by Gary Hoffman
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
I had a million excuses never to attend funerals, but when Matt Scofield died they all went to shit. He and I went back further than even I liked to think about. When I was a rookie detective with the St. Louis Police Department, I was assigned to work with Matt. His old partner, Norm Price and two other cops had been killed during what was thought to be a small-time routine drug bust. Turned out, it was anything but routine. The bad guys had three times the fire power as the police. They were finally taken into custody, but at a massive loss to the department.
Whatever might have bothered him about that incident, he never took it out on me. He accepted me for what I was, a novice, and tried to teach me everything he knew. Nine years after we partnered up, Matt retired. Said he was goin’ fishin’. About four months later, I saw a notice in the paper announcing the opening of Scofield Investigations. I called the number just to make sure it was him. “Fishin’ not too good?” I asked.
“You know, Levi, a man can only drown so many worms and read so many newspapers and then he has to find something to do.”
My real name wasn’t Levi, but my father had been a cop and his name was Jacob. Matt took that from the Bible – Levi was the son of Jacob. Actually, it was a blessing since my given name was Amadeus Armstrong Delaney. I always accused my mother of being under the influence of heavy drugs when she named me, but she insisted there was a reason for each name.
The smell attacked me as soon as I walked through the door of Simon Brother’s Funeral Home. The air was full of sweet smelling flowers, lots of disinfectant and probably formaldehyde. Whatever it all was, I didn’t like it, and then there were the sounds. Organ music was being piped in softly over speakers spread throughout the building, people talking in hushed tones and I could even hear the pen scratching as people signed the guest book.
Matt had been divorced for many years, so his son had the dubious honor of greeting people by the coffin as they passed by. I took a quick scan of the room to see if maybe his ex had shown up, but didn’t see her. I did recognize bunches of current policemen, retired ones and private investigators like myself. After I retired, I took Matt’s lead and went into private work. That, along with my police pension and social security gave me a decent income.
I shook hands with his son, mumbled the usual crap people say at that time and looked down in the coffin. Some lady behind me was talking about how good he looked. I wanted to say if looking dead was good, old Matt was a “ten” right now, but I kept my mouth shut, for once. That’s one thing that always gets me into trouble. I saw a row with five folding chairs that were all empty, so I went and sat in the middle one. Figured that would keep other people away from me. I sat looking at the coffin and all the flowers I know he would have hated. I wasn’t even real sure what I was still doing there, but it just seemed like I should be. Something was telling me not to just walk away from this man who had such an effect on my life. Granted, there wasn’t a damned thing I could do, but I sat there anyway.
A couple of guys I had worked with at the department and lost contact with came over and shook hands; again, the usual chit-chat with promises to keep in touch. We all knew it was bullshit, but we did it anyway. Funeral talk; another reason not to attend these things.
I turned to my right and saw Chuck Smith talking with a group of people. He was a guy I worked with for a short time in homicide. He glanced my way. I saw him excuse himself from the group and head towards me. The first thing he said as we shook hands was, “You still smoke?”
Had to laugh. “Is the Pope still Catholic?”
“There’s a porch out that side door. Let’s go grab one.” No further invitation needed. I dutifully followed the leader. Someone had the idea before us because there were several folding chairs around the railings and two other younger guys were there puffing away. Chuck knew them. “Levi, this is Lonnie Hitch and Karl Matelly. They’re both in the department now.” We all shook hands.
“So you’re Levi Delaney?” Lonnie asked.
“Unless you’re a bill collector. You two know Matt?”
“Just heard of him,” Karl said. “You, too.”
Chuck smiled. “See, the legend lives on.”
“Not sure about the legend part, maybe a bad joke.”
“You do private work now, right?” Karl said.
“I heard you and Matt got tangled up on one case.”
“Not exactly tangled up, really sort of messed up.”
“How’s that?” Lonnie asked.
I tilted my chair back on the rear legs. “Well, this woman strolls into my office one day who thinks her husband might be cheating on her and she wants proof. Pretty standard stuff, right?”
“Sounds like it,” Karl said.
“Then she tells me what she knows so far. Her husband travels in his job – a week in St. Louis and then a week somewhere else. He’s a hot-shot consultant with some engineering firm. His last trip was to Boston, so she hires a PI up there to watch him. Only one problem, he never shows up at the hotel where he’s supposed to be staying. The guy there starts backtracking through some of his contacts and discovers the guy’s name was never on the passenger list for the plane he supposedly took. So, basically, the guy disappears for a week and nobody knows where.”
“So what does she want you to do?” Lonnie asked.
“She wants me to follow him from their house on a Monday morning and see where he goes. If he gets on a plane, I’m to try and get on it, too. If I can’t get on that one, I’m to catch the next one to wherever the hell the guy goes. Now keep in mind, she’s willing to shell out the cash for all of this.”
“Deep pockets?” Lonnie said.
“Very deep. So, anyway, I pick up the guy as soon as he pulls away from their house, up in Hazelwood. He gets out to I-270 and heads south, but goes right past the airport exit like a bat outta hell. A few minutes after that, he gets off the interstate and pulls into a Mickey-D’s. He goes through the drive-thru, parks in the back lot and eats his breakfast in his car. When he’s finished, he walks across the parking lot to a trash can, drops the paper stuff in and goes back to his car, only he doesn’t get in the front. He unlocks the trunk, opens up his suitcase, and starts pulling out clothes.”
“Clothes?” Lonnie said.
“Yep. He takes the clothes out, wads them up and puts them back in.”
“Guy crazy or somethin’?” Karl asked. I crushed out my smoke on the bottom of my shoe and put the butt in my coat pocket. Sometimes I had a good collection there.
“Not really. Just hear me out. After doin’ this wonderful repacking job, he heads back for the interstate. He takes it all the way down to Tesson Ferry Road and turns towards the city. I follow him into a neighborhood in Afton and he pulls in a driveway like he owns the place. A woman meets him at the door and they proceed to play sucky-face.
Okay, now I figure I got the creep, but something just ain’t right. If nothin’ else, this guy’s got my full attention.
Two hours later, he takes off again. He goes downtown to an engineering firm, but not the one his wife told me he worked at. Now he’s really messin’ with my mind. He stays until six that evening and goes back to Afton. I’m sittin’ ’bout half a block down the street from his house when somebody taps on my passenger side window and scares the crap out of me. After I figure out it’s Matt, he climbs in and we get to talkin’.’
“What the hell you doin’ here? he asks. The usual tryin’ to catch the cheatin’ husband bit. You? I said. Same. Funny we should end up on the same street. Who you tailin’? he asks. I tell him James Johnston. I’m after John Jackson, he says. Where’s your mark live? That brown house about half a block down with the porch across the front, I say. Now if you guys remember, Matt quit smokin’ those god-awful cigars several years before that, but he always chewed on an unlit one?”
“We were all glad to get rid of that stink,” Chuck said.
“Well, when I told him what house I was watching, he bit off the end of the one he was chewin’. That’s the house Jackson lives in he said. No, that’s the house Johnston is visiting, I say. Describe Johnston, he says. Tall, maybe six-two, dark brown hair, good solid build. Got a tattoo on his left hand he asks. Yeah, of an anchor. Wife said he got that when he was in the Navy. Well, at that point, Matt takes the stub of his cigar out of his mouth and looks at me like I’d just grown another ear.” I grinned.
“This is really sounding weird,” Lonnie said.
“That’s kind of what Matt said, but he used a few more flowery words. The more we talked, the more we figured out we were following the same guy. He had been hired by Mrs. Jackson, and I had been hired by Mrs. Johnston.”
“So what did you do next?” Karl asked.
“We decided to do a little leg work the next day. The guy – and we still weren’t sure if his name was Johnston or Jackson, but found out later his real name was James Jakari – was married to two different women. He worked part-time at two different engineering firms. He worked a week for one and the next week went to the other. He really was a consultant. That’s how he got away with working for both companies.”
Lonnie was frowning. “So why did he always use names with two j’s in them?”
“That part was simple. He had a lot of stuff that was monogrammed, shirts, suitcases, things like that. Everyone he knew, including his wives, called him J.J. It was easy for him to remember when someone was talking to him.”
“Okay, now,” Karl said while sitting up on the edge of his chair and pointing a finger at me, “the guy is breaking the law by committing bigamy, but that’s really it, isn’t it?”
“So what did you do?” Karl asked.
“Well, we had both been hired by the wives, so we were ethically bound to report what we had found to them.”
“Know what they did next?” Lonnie asked.
I looked over to Chuck. He lit up another cigarette. “That’s where the police got involved,” he started.
“You arrest the guy for bigamy?” Karl asked.
“Yes. He was arrested, but posted bail the same day. We know he moved into a motel that night. We were keeping pretty close tabs on him because we didn’t know everything he might be involved in. We do know the following day both of his wives filed for divorce, but discovered they didn’t need one. They got annulments because the man they married didn’t exist. We couldn’t find anything else Jakari was doing wrong, so we pretty much cut him loose and waited for his trial on bigamy to start.”
“Sounds like there’s more to this story,” Lonnie said.
“Oh, there is,” I told him.
“Yeah,” Chuck said, “two weeks later we get a call about a male being stabbed to death in an alley behind a night club on Ninth. My partner and I caught the case; the dead guy turns out to be James Jakari.”
“Oh, boy,” Karl said, “lots of possibilities here.”
“That’s exactly what we figure. He’d been stabbed twice in the belly and twice in the back. Of course, since I knew about his screwing around with these two different women, they popped into my mind first, but then it could have been someone he tried to pick up in the lounge. It might have even been that he tried to hook onto a pro and either her or her pimp didn’t like his offer. Could have been just a plain old robbery!”
“So he had been robbed?” Karl asked.
“Yep, wallet, watch, and a ring he always wore.”
“Ever find them?” Lonnie asked.
“Nope. None of the stuff taken from him ever was found and none of his credit cards were ever used. We know he had a credit card on him because he used one in the same club he was killed behind just an hour earlier. But, there was a twist to this that we usually don’t get in most homicides. We had a witness, but one that didn’t do us much good. There was a homeless drunk in a cardboard box beside a dumpster a few feet away. He had crawled in there because it was raining. He thought he heard three or four people talking. They were saying something about “wee sum,” and they were counting something.”
“That doesn’t make much sense,” Karl said.
“You got that right. We thought the counting might have something to do with paying a pro, but never could really put that together. Of course, the rain helped to wash away any real evidence we might have found. The coroner also thought he had been dead for almost two hours before he was found and reported.”
“So your prime suspects have to be one of the now ex-wives, right?” Karl said.
“Oh, yeah. We brought them both in and interviewed them separately. They both had good alibis.”
“Good, not airtight?” Lonnie said.
“Depends on your point of view,” Chuck said. “Let me go back a bit. These two crazy chicks have now become friends, sort of a mutual Let’s Hate James Jakari Society. The night he was murdered, we placed them at another night club ten miles away. Bartender and several other people in the club could remember them being there, but they left two hours before he was killed. Plenty of time for them to get to the Blue Diamond where he was stabbed. They both say they left the club, went back to Mrs. Jackson’s house and drank coffee until the early hours of the morning. They basically alibi each other.”
“Anyone see them in the Blue Diamond?” Karl asked.
“Nope and no one there can remember when Jakari left the club or if he left with anyone. The bartender said he remembered him being there and hitting on a couple of women, but he struck out.”
“So maybe he was leaving the Blue Diamond to try his luck somewhere else when he hooked up with someone outside the club. Maybe they got him back in the alley,” Lonnie said.
“That was another one of our problems with the whole case. Why would he go back in the alley? No light to amount to anything back there and it’s raining. What would make you do something like that on such a crappy night?” Chuck asked.
“Maybe he was forced,” Lonnie said.
“Possible. Even probable, but if it were me, I’d sure be putting up a fight. We found no signs of that. Remember it was raining pretty hard, so any evidence could have been washed away,” Chuck said.
“Autopsy give you anything?” Karl asked.
“The ME said he could have been stabbed by one or two people. If it was one person, they would have to have shifted around. He felt the wound to Jakari’s right side was made by a left-handed person or someone who was right-handed and moved to his right side. He was basing this on the angle of the wounds.”
“Either one of the women left handed?” Lonnie asked.
“So did you arrest her?” Karl asked.
“Never had enough evidence. Still don’t. The case is still listed as a homicide committed in the commission of a robbery.”
“Do you believe that?” Karl asked.
“I’ll tell you what I believe,” Chuck said. “Now keep in mind this is pure speculation. I think the two women got together to take revenge on Jakari and I think they followed him to the Blue Diamond.”
“How did they know where to find him?” Karl asked.
“Not sure. He was still going to work, so maybe they followed him from his job to the motel. And this may not have been the only time they tailed him. Maybe this was just their first opportunity to do him in. Anyway, they wait for him outside the club. They tell him they have something they need to talk to him about, but they want some privacy.”
“That would explain why there was no signs of force. He knew both of them,” Lonnie said.
“Exactly,” Chuck said. “Once they’re back in the alley, they talk and our drunk witness says they say ‘wee sum’, but they’re really saying ‘three some.’ They con him into believing they both want to get in the sack with him at the same time. He’s probably so cranked up by then that he doesn’t see or hear anything they’re doing. Then they count –one, two, three and both stab him. Who kills him? No one knows. He bends over and they each stick him in the back. Then they’re smart enough to take his valuables and make it look like a robbery.”
“Okay, now wait a minute,” Lonnie said. “If they got away from there in one of their cars, there should be some
“I don’t think they used their own cars. When we checked with the cab companies, two women had been picked up by a Yellow Cab in front of the Blue Diamond a short time after we figure Jakari was killed, but they were dropped off a couple of miles later at another club. We checked that vehicle, but found no clues in it. It was just too long after the fact, and the driver couldn’t ID them. If they were the two we were looking for, we lost them at that time. Maybe they took another cab from that club, but didn’t travel together. We just don’t know. Somewhere along the line, they could have changed clothes – like in the restroom of a bar – and tossed it in some dumpster. We just found no blood evidence in either of their homes.”
“Wow, sounds like somebody got away with murder,” Karl said.
“Well, you know the thing Shakespeare said about “Hell hath no fury…I think fury drove these two to some damned good planning, but it will probably always be an open case.”
The side door to the funeral home opened and one of the Simon Brothers stepped out. “Gentlemen, we are closing for the evening. Mr. Scofield’s funeral will be tomorrow morning at ten, if you wish to return at that time.” He smiled and bowed slightly before starting to gather up the chairs.
“Listen,” Chuck said to me, “we should try and get together more often.”
I mumbled something back that was more bullshit, shook the hands of the two new guys and walked down the steps of the side porch. I didn’t feel like going back through the building and telling any more lies. I knew Matt would appreciate that.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.