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Another California Murder Mystery
By Helen Reed Lehman
*Editor's Note: This is the sequel to "California Murder Mystery."
In a beach town called El Encino, two lovers left their apartment drove to the office of a Justice of the Peace, and got married. Their names were Tyler Clarksdale and Teri Byron.Tyler was the first African-American sheriff the county had. Teri was the paid companion of Elliot Burns, famous for having directed film noir movies, in the 1940's and 50's. Teri and Tyler had invited many friends and colleagues to the wedding. Elliot Burns was there. He was in a wheelchair, piloted by Tom Duncan.
Burns heard the Justice say, “Kiss the bride, now, Sheriff.” He considered crying at weddings to be the prerogative of women, and a weakness in men. So why was he tearing up? Was it because he expected to loose Teri as his companion, now she was married? He told himself that loss was inevitable, especially if one was 96, as was he.
Tom Duncan stood smiling, behind Burns’ chair. Tom had worked with Teri, Tyler and Burns, to prove that Tom’s father was not a murderer. Handsome young Tom had been in love with Teri, when they went together, to interview suspects. From the vantage point of seventeen, Tom grinned ruefully at his 15 year-old self. He remembered the pain of finding out that Teri and Tyler were in love.
He had seen them looking at each other, not knowing they were observed. He had seen the hungry passion in their eyes. Tom had known that his was a hopeless case, a 15 year-old, in love with a woman of thirty, but seeing Teri and Tyler together had still hurt.
This afternoon, at the wedding, Elliot Burns teased Tom. “She’s married now, boy, out of your reach...Too bad! You should have done what that French boy did, in “Devil in the Flesh.” It was a mad affair, un affair fou, with an older woman. Incroyable! Sans soucee!”
Teri came up. She asked, “Why are you speaking bad French to Tom, Mr. Burns?”
“Bad French? I was saying that boys of seventeen should avoid weddings. There are too many jollies femmes around. Too many pretty women to fall in love with. Look at this place, Teri. Your friend over by the wedding cake, has been eyeing Tom lasciviously, for half an hour. So have three quarters of the women in the room.”
“I believe that my friend is watching you and Tom, thinking, ‘How nice of that young man, to wheel his great-grandfather around, so that the old letch can ogle the women.’”
Tom laughed. He moved Burns’ chair, and said, “That’s my cue to move you around, great-grandfather, I mean, Mr. Burns.”
Burns wiggled in his chair. He said, “Old letch, huh? I could tell you about the times I had when I was a young letch.”
Teri and Tom said, in unison, “Please don’t!”
Back at their apartment, Teri and Tyler continued a discussion they had been having.Tyler said, “If I quit the sheriff’s job, and you stay with Elliot Burns, we’ll be able to start our own detective agency. Will that suit you, honey?”
“Tyler, I told you, I know it’s a big risk, but I think we can do it. Working with you will suit me fine.”
They were curled together in a big chair. It was a wedding present from Tom Duncan and his father.
Teri said, “Let’s move from this poky apartment. And I want to have a regular office, like Sam Spade.” Tyler answered, “Renting an office is expensive.”
“Yes, but Mr. Burns pays all that money, for me to be his companion.” She went on, “I think he’s afraid I’ll leave him, now that I’m married. I need to reassure him.”
“Yes, you do.” Tyler answered. Then he said, “Say, this is called a love seat, isn’t it? What does that suggest to you, Mrs. Clarksdale?”
“I’ll show you what it suggests.”
They went to look at office spaces. The agent showing them premises was a woman named Millie Broadbent. She asked, “Why do you want to set up an office right now? You’re newly-weds, aren’t you? Take time for a honeymoon.” Then she said, “Oh, listen to me! I’m trying to talk you out of doing what I want you to do. My bad!”
Millie was a large woman. She would have been pretty, if she controlled her weight. Her voice was that of a child, high and lilting. She smiled often, displaying her dimples. Like a child, Millie was sometimes ingratiating, sometimes petulant. She was a fifty-year-old Shirley Temple, grown fat.
Millie’s husband was the broker she worked for. Millie was his loyal ally in the cut-throat real estate business.
Tyler and Teri sat at Millie’s desk, holding hands. They could display affection in public, now, free of constraint. Tyler told Millie, “We’ll spend our honeymoon finding a place where we can work together, and moving in.” Teri added, “And that’s how we want it.”
Millie shrugged, “You know your own minds. Let’s go look at spaces.”
Millie waddled out to the parking lot, Teri and Tyler behind her. She opened the door of her Cadillac, and said, “Hop in.”
El Encino was a typical beach town. It was bisected by the old highway, which had been the only road to San Diego, before the freeway slashed through the back country.
The old business district occupied both sides of the road. This district was now given over to boutiques and restaurants, catering to the new rich of El Encino, and the old rich of Rancho Felicia. It was in this area that Millie showed Teri and Tyler potential office spaces.
They agreed on a suit of rooms in a rustic building, meant to look as though upscale cowboys stabled their paints and palominos there. Millie dimpled at Tyler, and said, “You’ll feel right at home here, Sheriff.”
“I don’t ride in to town on my trusty cayuse, Mrs. Broadbent.” Tyler answered. Showing more dimples, Millie said, “Please call me Millie.” She wanted to turn a business transaction in to a love fest.
Teri cut in, “Let’s go back to your office, and write up an offer.”
They were at Millie’s car, when a woman ran out of the building. She shouted, “My boss’ door is locked. I can’t get him to answer my knock. Please come help me!”
Teri and Tyler sprinted to her aid. Millie came waddling after them.
Teri noticed that the ersatz barn theme was carried out in here, too. The receptionist’s desk had branding irons for drawer pulls. The walls held prints of Frederick Remington paintings.
Tyler knocked at the inner door, tried one of the keys he always carried, then slammed himself against the door. Teri rushed to his side, and hit the door with her body.
The door burst open, to show a man sitting slumped at his desk. Tyler’s cursory inspection revealed a stab wound in the man’s chest. The knife had punctured his heart.
Tyler decided he had better tell the receptionist who he was. She was sobbing in Teri’s arms. Millie was standing by, looking concerned.
Tyler said, “I’m the county sheriff, Miss….”
The receptionist was crying so hard, she could hardly get the words out. She gasped, “I…I’m Miss Carlson…Greta Carlson.”
“What was your boss’ name, Miss Carlson?”
“Mike…I mean Michael…Manson.”
Tyler asked Greta Carlson, “Do you know who did this? Who did you let in to this room?”
“Nobody. Nobody came in through the outside door,” she replied.
“You mean that you didn’t see anyone. Could anyone slip past you?”
“No….maybe…How could he get past my desk?” she stammered defensively.
Tyler brought everybody into the outer room, where Greta’s desk was. He locked the door to the inner room. He said, “I’m going to call the medical examiner, Miss Carlson.”
He went outside to phone, beckoning Teri and Millie to come with him. When they were out of Miss Carlson’s hearing, Millie said, “She’s lying.” Millie was excited by being treated like a colleague, which wasn’t exactly how she was being treated.
Teri asked, “Why do you think Miss Carlson is lying, Millie?”
“When Tyler asked her who she saw go in to the inside room, she said ‘nobody.’ That was a lie. I saw it in her evasive body language. So, sobbing and carrying on, that’s lying too.”
“Maybe not. It could be genuine remorse. People do that use their real feelings in the service of trickery.” said Tyler. Teri heard respect for Millie’s opinions in his voice.
Tyler and Teri were in Tyler’s office. It was as spare and severe as ever. The golf clubs were still there, as was the photo of Tyler’s parents.
“We’ll have to start the agency after I finish this job.” Tyler told Teri. “Damn it! I hate to do this to you, honey. But I’m obliged to the county.”
“I’ll play the loyal, supportive little wife,” said Teri. “Might even enjoy it.”
Dan and Bob, the deputies whom Tom Duncan had called Tyler’s ‘dumb ass help’, went to interview people whose names were in Michael Manson’s client list. Manson was an attorney, whose patrons were said to conduct shady enterprises.
They went to see Julian Bastiano, predictably called, ‘Julie the bastard,’ by those who knew him. Sitting at a table in his restaurant, Bastiano gestured to Bob and Dan and said, “Take a chair, gentlemen. What can I do for you?”
Bastiano owned three restaurants, a construction company, and an enterprise which distributed drugs for a Mexican cartel. He was a handsome man, a snappy dresser, and as crooked as they come. But he loved his mother.
This restaurant was the flagship of his fleet. It was in the same area as Manson’s office, and had similar rustic décor. The paintings of gondolas on Venetian canals seemed uneasy, next to Navaho blankets and pictures of San Ildefonso pots.
Bob and Dan sat down. Bob asked, “What do you know about the death of Mike Manson, Julie?”
“Mike’s dead? I’m sorry to hear that. How did he die?”
Dan said, “Somebody stabbed him in the heart. What do you know about this?”
“I swear to God, Bob, I had nothing to do with it.” said Julie.
“My name’s Dan. This is Bob. Tell me who you think did it.”
“I wouldn’t want to point the finger at anybody, but that Sam Harris is a dark horse. No pun intended.”
Sam Harris had a stable, where the wealthy of Rancho Felicia and other areas, kept Thoroughbred horses. These horses raced at a nearby track, and at tracks around the country.
Harris was rumored to be a ‘horse candy man.’ That is, he was said to give some of the horses a substance which made them friskier, made them run faster. It also gave healthy, young horses heart attacks, which killed them.
Dan told Julie the Bastard, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll see you again.”
Julie replied, “I’m tempted to say, ‘not if I see you first’, but that would be a rude cliché. Good bye, gentlemen.”
Dan and Bob reported to Tyler. Bob said, “He really is smooth. Didn’t give anything away.”
Tyler said, “Except Sam Harris’ name. Go talk to Harris.”
Teri was sitting next to Bob. She said, “Wouldn’t it be good to send Tom Duncan? He loves horses. He had one of his own. He knows how to talk about them.”
“Isn’t Tom at the university? He told me that he was going to do criminal justice. I don’t want to interrupt his studies.” This came from Tyler.
“Spring break is coming up.” Teri was determined.
On a sunny day in April, Sam Harris took Tom on a tour of the horse farm. The pastures were green. Sprinklers were whirling. Mares and foals played in the spray. The rest of Southern California was drought-ridden, dry as dinosaur bones. This was an oasis, created by wealth.
Tom had told Harris that he and his father wanted to buy a race horse, and he wanted to see what Harris had.
Harris half believed Tom, but Harris had seen a news program, calling Tom a ‘boy detective’. The commentator said that Tom had saved his father from prison.
They looked at a filly called Miss Mischief. She and five other yearlings raced across their field, halted at a fence, and raced back, Young horses organize themselves into groups, like that, and vie for first place.
Harris smiled at the antics of the yearlings, and said, “Miss Mischief’s always first in this game, or a close second.”
Tom opened the pasture gate, and went over to Miss Mischief. Miss Mischief nuzzled Tom, who scratched her ears. Tom asked, “Will she stay this roan color?”
“No, she’ll turn dappled grey, by the time she’s two.”
Tom thought, “I’d better get on with it.” He said, “Did you hear that Mike Manson is dead?”
Harris stiffened, thinking, “Here we go.”
Miss Mischief saw him stiffen, and felt his tension. She tossed her head nervously Tom took her halter, patted her neck, and said, “Easy there, girl. “
Harris replied to Tom. He said, “ Mike’s receptionist told me.”
Manson, known as Miracle Mike, to those whose relationship with the law was not a friendly one, had helped Harris, but Tom wondered how. Harris told him, “People say I dope my horses, to make them faster. How could I do that to my babies? It isn’t true, Mr. Duncan.”
“Then why are you on Manson’s list of clients?”
“Because Greta Carlson, Mike’s receptionist, came here for riding lessons. It’s a sideline to the racing stable. We became friends. Oh, not romantic friends. I’m gay. She asked Mike to help me. A groom was suing me. One of the horses kicked him. “
Tom went to Tyler with this information. He said, “I don’ know whether to believe Harris. Do you want me to check the story about the groom?”
“Don’t you have to be back at the U?”
“Next week. I can give you the benefit of my lack of expertise, for a few more days.”
“I can use my dumb-ass help to interview the groom. I’ll send Dan and Bob. I’d like to give you a more sensitive mission. I want you to see Greta Carlson for me. Ask Millie Broadbent to go with you . She’s shrewd about people . Don’t be put off by her dimpled charms."
Tom and Millie went to see Greta Carlson at her apartment. She stayed away from the office, because, as she told Millie, “No one is paying me to be there. Besides, I’d have to look at that awful door.”
Greta Carlson was good looking, the way that Scandinavian blondes are. She drew on brown
eyebrows. She was nervous now. She said, “I told the sheriff what I know, when he had to force the door.” She shuddered, and seemed about to cry.
Millie asked gently, “Are you sure nobody got past you, in to Manson’s room, without you seeing?”
“No, I’m not sure. He could have been outside, watching me, and snuck in to Mike’s office.”
“You’ve said ‘he’ more than once. Do you know it was a man?” asked Millie.
Greta started crying. She appealed to Tom, “Why am I being harassed? Adam told me to let you in, but I don’t want to talk to you any more.” Then she put her hand over her mouth, in the classic gesture, which means, “I didn’t say that!”
Tom pounced, “Who is Adam?”
Millie tried to soften the question. She dimpled, which was grotesque, under the circumstances, and said, “You might as well tell us, dear. Who is Adam?”
“Adam Gates. We’re in love. At least, I think he loves me. He got me to let him in to Mike’s office. He told me not to say anything to Mike about his being there.” Then she sobbed, “Oh, I don’t know why I trusted him!”
Tom gestured to Millie, “Come into the hall.” He said to Greta, “Excuse us, Miss Carlson.”
In the hallway, Tom said to Millie, ‘This guy is dangerous. He has a knife. He’ll kill her to shut her up.”
Adam Gates worked for Anthony Bastiano, Julie the Bastard’s brother. Anthony was Julie’s partner in the reception and sale of drugs. He thought of this as a sideline. His main business
was a whorehouse, where ‘lovely young ladies’ accommodated every taste. Gates lured many women in to the trade. He used his seductive skill to woo Greta Carlson, and persuade her to let him into the inner room.
Manson had told Anthony Bastiano, “What you do is too dirty, even for me. I’m going to sic the law on you.” Thus he conjured Adam Gates and his knife.
Millie and Tom told Tyler and Teri all this. Teri said, “Here’s what I think you should do, if Greta will go along with it.”
Greta asked Adam Gates to come to her place, which he did. The knife was in a secret pocket in his pants.
“Sit by me, Adam. Tell me that you love me,” said Greta.
Gates came to the sofa. Instead of sitting, he stood over Greta, and showed her the knife. He said, “This will show you how much I love you. It will enter you, and be your lover. “
Greta trembled in fear. She sat vulnerable. Gates raised the knife. Suddenly, Bob ran out of the bedroom.
“No you don’t!” Bob shouted and grabbed Gates’ arm.
Tyler, Teri, Greta, Tom, Millie, Dan and Bob met in Tyler’s office. Dan said to Bob, “Left it to the last mini-second, didn’t you?”
Greta added, “I was so scared, I almost wet my pants.”
Bob said, “I wouldn’t have let him hurt you!”
Greta was standing with Millie’s capacious arm around her shoulder. Tyler told her, “You conspired with Gates, when you let him in to Manson’s room. I won’t press charges, if you promise not to do it again.”
Teri saw the puzzlement on Greta’s face, and said, “He’s joking with you, Greta.”
After the meeting, Bob took Greta out for a drink.
#Unreal #Fiction #MurderMystery #Love #HorseRacing #Suspense #Clues
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