California Murder Mystery
By Helen Lehman
Tom Duncan hid in the boxwood hedge which ran between the estate where he lived with his father and stepmother, and the property next door. The hedge was his refuge from the games of seduction and blame, which his parents played, using Tom as a pawn. The hedge was six feet high, and just as wide.
Teri Byron was a professional companion. She worked through a firm which advertised in high-end magazines, like The New Yorker. The ads said that these companions could converse about anything, from the poetry of William Butler Yeats, to Japanese flower arranging. Both men and women asked for these companions.
Teri was a good looking, intelligent woman, with red hair and freckles. She liked her job, because, as she said, “I’m paid to enjoy myself.” She was happy conversing with other knowledgeable people. The firm sent Teri to be a companion to Elliot Burns.
Rancho Felicia smells of oranges, horses and money. It is a wealthy suburb, where movie people, entrepreneurs, and the retired rich live. The brochure that Rancho Felicia sent out in 1937 told the reader, “Rancho Felicia is dotted with beautiful mansions, set among hills green with fruit trees, and verdant valleys, making Rancho Felicia a paradise on earth.”
Their 2016 web site employs language almost as fulsome; “Green with pastures and orange trees, Rancho Felicia welcomes the discriminating, would-be resident. ”
Greg Duncan was a resident of Rancho Felicia. So was his second wife, Alice. So was his son, Tom. His first wife, Barbara, had been a resident, but she died. Greg designed ads and web pages for fledgling companies.
Barbara Duncan had owned a floral acreage, growing poinsettias at Christmas, and lilies at Easter. She and her twin, Deborah, ran the business together.
Deborah Jergans blamed Greg’s second wife for Barbara’s death, but Barbara died after catching cold on a long trail ride. The cold turned into flu, which killed her.
So Deborah had to run the flower farm, by herself, without the twin whom she had loved obsessively. She didn’t run it very well. A hundred acres dwindled into ten, in her incompetent hands.
Deborah believed that, as Barbara’s heir, Greg could take the flower farm away from her, if he knew how badly she ran it. So she borrowed money from the man she lived with, to make it look as though she were doing all right.
The man Deborah lived with was Harold Jordan. He was the brother of Alice Duncan, who was Alice Jordan before she married Greg.
This all sounds a bit incestuous, but that’s Rancho Felicia.
Alice didn’t work. She had been Greg’s secretary, and his first wife’s friend, before Barbara died.
Elliot Burns had an estate next to the Duncan’s. Burns had been a movie director in the 1940s and ‘50s. He was famous for making movies full of intrigue and suspense-film noir-like Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. People who write about film called him an auteur. Now he was ninety-four years old, ancient, withered, almost beyond recall. He lived in a wheelchair, with a man servant , named George, to help him in the bathroom.
Teri Byron, intelligent and pretty, loved vintage movies. So she and Burns got along well.
Burns was looking at his scrap book. He said, “Teri, did you know that “Murderous Madonna” won the Film Guild Prize for Best Picture?”
“Yes, sir. And “Terror in Tacoma” won Best Suspense Film of 1949. I like that movie a lot.”
“You like “Tacoma”, huh? What do you like about it?”
“I think the second act, with its disparate elements, the various tropes, which contradict each other, is masterful.”
“My god, Teri, are you talking about my little movie? What’s a trope?”
“Stop pretending not to know what I mean, Mr. Burns. When it comes to suspense, you play with the form very well.”
“Play with the form, huh? I could tell you about some forms I played with. That Candice Dean had quite a form.”
“Sir, please don’t tell me about your peccadillos.”
“Being sort of judgmental, Teri?”
“No, I just don’t want to hear about your exploits.”
Burns didn’t take offence. He changed the subject. “What do you think about that couple next door, out on their lawn, yelling at each other?”
“I can’t tell what they’re yelling. Maybe it’s about the little boy.”
“Take me out to the hedge. Let’s see what we can hear.”
It was quite an operation, getting the wheelchair out the door, then down the path to the hedge.
“Can you hear what they’re shouting about?” asked Burns.
“Yes, some of it. They’re quarreling about the boy. I said that was it.”
“What are they saying?”
“Apparently she’s not the kid’s mom. The father says that she indulges the boy, then punishes him for doing what she said he could. I gather the boy is twelve.”
“No, I’m fifteen.” This came from inside the hedge.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” roared Elliot Burns.
Teri looked staggered. She said, “You startled me!”
“Serves you right for spying on us.” Tom Duncan came out on Burns’ side of the hedge. “Old man, you shouldn’t be so nosey. We don’t need you listening in on our talk.”
“Talk? Sonny, your folks were telling the world, not talking.”
“Yeah, they are sort of loud,” acknowledged Tom.
“Yeah, sort of. What’s eating them?” Burns asked.
“Like the lady says, they’re fighting about me.”
Alice and Greg Duncan were the quarreling couple. They had married after the death of Greg’s first wife, Barbara, Tom’s mother.
Tom was not treated well by life. His mother died when he was thirteen, and it was strange to have this capricious stepmother. At one moment, she would smile indulgently at something Tom said or did, and the next moment, punish him for doing the same thing.
However, Tom’s cheerful nature stood him in good stead.
That is not to say that Tom was a Pollyanna. He was an only child, forced to be around adults more than kids. In school, he had a circle of friends, who liked him because he was funny. They thought of adults as strange, exotic sea creatures. Tom was out of school for the summer, so he had to walk or bike, to see his buddies.
Tom knew that his Aunt Deborah, his mother’s twin, was not truthful. He kept his childhood trust in his mother’s veracity and goodness. Not so with his aunt, who was living with Harold Jordan. Tom thought that Harold wasn’t helping Deborah in her losing fight for the moral high ground.
Harold had cheated his parents out of $12000. He told them that it was to start a gambling web site, which “didn’t work out.” He kept the money.
Harold, Alice,, and their sister, Dolly, had an ancestor living in 1872, one Hiram Jordan. He purveyed a patent medicine, which he called, “Elixir of Life. Cures Female Complaints, Cancer and Flatulence.” It contained green tea, and enough alcohol to convince the marks that, even if they weren’t cured, they enjoyed being sick.
This elixir made $400,000 for “Doctor” Jordan. Reluctantly convinced that he couldn’t take it with him, he left the money to relatives. Invested by wiser heads, it became $16,000,000 in 2016. The naïve, trusting parents of Harold, Dolly and Alice had inherited it. Harold figured they didn’t know what to do with it, so he might as well cheat them out of some of it.
“Tom, where are you?” shouted Greg Duncan. He and Alice stood in antagonistic intimacy on their lawn. Tom didn’t want to be seen coming through the hedge, so it took him a while to answer, “I’m right here.”
“Let’s play with your Mercedes for a while.”
They had given Tom a miniature car for his fifteenth birthday, a month ago. . He used it on the driveway.
“You play with it, Dad.”
This prompted Alice to say, “Don’t sass your father.”
“He wasn’t sassing me, were you, son?”
Tom didn’t know how to answer that. He was fresh, but he didn’t want to be on either side of their endless quarrel. The fights made his stomach hurt, and caused him to tremble.
Tom said, “I’m going over to see Larry.” That’s not where he went. As soon as he was on the street, he ran to Elliot Burns’ front door. The porch was impressive. It had a colonnade, like Tara, in “Gone With the Wind.” When Tom pressed the doorbell, it played the theme from “Sophie,” one of the thrillers Burns directed.
Tom was not impressed. He was used to large, pretentious houses. His own house was in the style called, “Spanish Renaissance.” In the great room was an ornate fireplace, big enough to burn several heretics.
He rang the bell again. He heard Burns yell, “Alright, alright. She’s coming.”
Teri was at the door. She was surprised to see Tom. She said, “Hello.” She meant, “Why are you here?”
“Hello. Could I talk to you and the old man?”
Teri answered, “Come in. I’ll tell Mr. Burns you’re here.”
Teri went into the living room, with Tom at her heels. “Mr. Burns….” she began.
Tom darted around her. He spread his arms in a ‘ta da’ gesture, and announced, “It’s Tom Duncan, star of “Hedge Boy!”
Sitting in his wheelchair, Burns looked to Tom like Yoda, from, “Star Wars.” He didn’t sound like a wise guru, though. He said, “Did you come to give me that heart attack, finish ths job, boy?”
Tom answered, “Yeah, I thought I would. Before I do though, I’d like to ask you something.”
Tom cleared his throat nervously, “What I want to ask is, does having a pistooot somel in your dining room cupboard mean you’re going to shoot somebody? I know you made movies about people shooting people, so I thought you’d know.”
“Are we talking about real life, Tom?” asked Teri.
“Yeah. One of my parents has a gun in the cupboard. “
Elliot Burns was astonished. “Don’t you know which one?”
“No. I saw the gun when the cupboard stood open. Somebody closed it, but I didn’t see who.”
Alice would tell you, “The less said about my sister, the better.” Her sister had been named Doris Jordan, but called herself Dolly Jewel. She also called herself an actress. The way she made her living had nothing to do with the acting profession. She had been invited to Alice and Greg’s house only once. This was because she brought her pimp, John Badger, with her on that occasion.
After that, she hung around, whining, “Why can’t I stay? I didn’t bring Johnny.”
Alice felt bad about the way she dealt with Tom. She got angry at him for mild transgressions. Then she tried to make up for scolding him by fawning on him. She told herself that all stepmothers must have such dilemmas.
She had insisted on selling Tom’s horse, along with his mother’s. Greg objected feebly. It made Tom furious.
Tom’s horse was a Running Quarter horse, whose stable name was Talisman. Tom called him Tall Man.
Alice’s decree went into effect, and Tall Man was sold. When the new owners were coming to take him, Tom went to the barn. He entered Tall Man’s stall, and put his arms around the horse, and said, “Tall Man, we won’t be seeing each other any more.”
Then Tom began to cry. This made Tall Man curious. The horse nuzzled the crying boy, which made Tom cry even harder. Tom sat down in the straw, and gave himself over to his grief. Then he wiped his eyes, and went up to the house for lunch.
Elliot Burns, Teri Byron and Tom Duncan sat in Burns’ living room, talking over Tom’s having seen the pistol.
“Are you sure you don’t know who put it there?” asked Teri.
Tom shook his head. “My dad had a gun before now. He told me he was in the National Guard, in the nineties.”
Elliot Burns said, “I have a pistol. I don’t hide it. I keep it in my dresser. The housekeeper, sees it whenever she puts my clothes away.”
Tom looked scared and concerned, so Teri told him, “Don’t worry. If it is your father’s gun, there are lots of reasons he might hide it.”
Burns thought, “such as….”, but didn’t say it.
Tom said, “They’ll miss me. I better go home.”
When Tom started up his driveway, he saw a sheriff’s car standing by the house. He ran to the door, and into the great room. He found his father, giving a statement to a deputy.
“Hello, son. You missed the excitement!” Greg exclaimed.
“What happened, dad?”
“I walked in on a guy in the dining room. He ran, and I chased him. This woman says I shouldn’t have.”
“Sir, it’s dangerous. You should have called us first.”
“My dad isn’t afraid of burglars,” Tom bragged.
Alice walked into the room. She asked, “What’s going on here?”
Tom said, “Dad chased a burglar away!”
Greg said, “I ran after a burglar.”
Alice gasped. She said, “Harold!”
Greg laughed. He said, “No, Alice. This guy looked like a bum off the street.”
“Harold might hire a bum off the street, to invade our home!” came from Alice.
“Who is Harold?” asked the deputy.
“My brother. He would rob us, if he could.” answered Alice.
“Alice, don’t give the officer the wrong idea about us.” admonished Greg.
“It doesn’t matter what idea I get, sir. Please go over the house, and tell me what’s missing. I’ll come with you.”
Tom watched them go past the dining room cupboard. Neither Greg nor Alice stopped there.
The deputy asked, “Shouldn’t you look in here?” indicating the cupboard.
Alice said, “Oh, yes..” Tom heard tension in her voice.
The deputy watched Greg open the cupboard with a key. It held silverware and vases, nothing else. Tom thought he heard a gasp from Alice. Was it a gasp of relief? Who had taken the pistol? If it was Alice, why would she gasp with relief? Greg and Alice led the deputy through the rest of the house. Nothing was missing.
Tom thought he had better talk with his new friends, Elliot Burns and Teri Byron. They would help him figure this out. He ran to the hedge, slipped through it, and went to Burns’ back door. The house keeper answered his ring.
“Could I see Mr. Burns?”
The house keeper said, “They’re having lunch. Could you come back?”
Teri came into the kitchen. She smiled and said, “Hi, Tom. Come and have lunch with us.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that.”
So Mrs. Delgado fixed another B.L.T.
Tom told them what had happened in his dining room. He said, “Alice let something out of the bag, but what?”
Elliot Burns said, “Well, Tom, you said it was your dad’s gun. Wouldn’t he be the one to freak out, when the cupboard was empty?”
Tom answered, “He didn’t seem to. He’s good at pretending, though.”
“He is? Why do you say that?” asked Burns.
“Because he pretended not to be in love with Alice. Alice was his secretary, and my mom’s friend. Well not such a good friend!”
Burns squirmed in his wheelchair, as though wanting to get up, and wrestle Tom’s fear to the ground. He said, “That’s awful, boy!”
Teri thought, “So young, and so knowing about adults. Wise beyond his years.”
“Old man, I don’t want to bad mouth my dad, or, for that matter, my stepmother. I just want to find out what’s going on, which one hid the pistol.”
Teri said, “Of course you do.”
Elliot Burns asked, “Wouldn’t you be better off not knowing?” He was concerned for Tom’s peace of mind.
“How would I be better off? I’d wonder who was going to get shot. Could be me.”
Teri asked, “Who would shoot a kid?” She saw Tom bristle, and added, “Sorry I called you a kid...”
“Well, isn’t he a kid? We treat him like an adult, but he isn’t one. He’s still in junior high.” said Burns.
Teri frowned. She said,” That isn’t important. Could we please pay attention to Tom’s dilemma?”
“It reminds me of my movie, ‘Who Found Flora’” said Burns.
“You mean the part where Flora’s portrait is missing, and the cop finds a key, and tries it on a closet door, and finds the picture?” asked Teri..
“Yep, but the film ends with Flora’s lover shooting her.” Burns was worried. He thought he had made a faux pas. He said, “No resemblance to your case, Tom.”
Tom went home more confused and afraid than way up Tom’s drive ever. Teri went with him, wanting to reassure him further. They took the road, Teri not wanting to brave the hedge.
She tried to comfort him, saying, “Tom, you’re not in one of Mr. Burns’ movies. People in those thrillers get killed, but not ordinary folks, like us.”
Half way up Tom’s driveway, they heard a shot. The sound came from inside Tom’s house. Tom ran toward the sound. Teri sprinted after him, shouting, “Don’t go in there, Tom!”
They stopped in the doorway to the dining room. There stood Greg Duncan, holding a pistol. He was staring at the body of his wife, sobbing, “Alice, don’t be dead! Don’t be dead, Alice!”
Teri tried to shield Tom’s eyes. She realized it was futile, and put her hands down. Tom, the realist, said,”You can’t make it not so, dad.” He was trembling again.
Teri called 911 on her cell. She said, “There’s been a shooting here.” She gave Tom’s address.
The officer who answered the call was not the deputy who investigated the burglary. This was the sheriff himself, Sheriff Tyler Clarksdale.
The sheriff saw Greg hovering over Alice’s body. Greg had dropped the pistol to the floor He was sobbing incoherently.
The sheriff asked, “Who made the 911 call?”
Teri answered, “I did.” She was holding Tom, but let go of him.
The sheriff asked, “Who are you, please?”
Teri noticed with pleasure how handsome he was. He was an African-American with honey colored skin, and a mustache. She said, “I’m Teresa Byron. I work for the man next door.” She added, “That’s Mr. Duncan, standing by his wife’s body.”
The sheriff walked over to Greg. He said, “Sir, I need to examine this area, and I want to know what you can tell me about the shooting.”
Greg stared at the sheriff. He seemed to be in shock. He had stopped sobbing, and was standing with limp hands and arms. He said, “About the….”
The sheriff said gently, “Sir, step aside.” He knelt down, and bagged the pistol. He saw that Alice was lying in blood. The bullet had entered her chest, and made a large exit wound in her back.
Tom saw that both Teri and the sheriff were absorbed with the body. He took advantage of this, and surreptitiously grabbed a piece of paper from the top of the cupboard.
Teri still thought about Tom. She couldn’t lie to Clarksdale about what Greg had been doing, before the sheriff arrived. She had to tell him. Would Tom feel betrayed?
“Sheriff, Mr. Duncan was standing over the body, holding that pistol on the floor, before you got here.”
Sheriff Clarksdale asked, “Is that true, Mr. Duncan?”
Greg shrugged in confusion. He said, ”I guess so.”
Tom raised a warning hand. He exclaimed, “You don’t have to say anything, dad!”
“That’s true,” said the sheriff, “but what you do say can be used against you.” Then he grinned at Teri, and said, “I hate clichés.”
Teri grinned back, one conspirator to another. Then she felt like taking back the grin. To make up to Tom for grinning, she looked serious, and said, “Mr. Duncan probably picked up the gun that someone else had used.”
The sheriff asked, “Mr. Duncan, did you see another person?”
Greg answered, “I ran into the room, but I only saw him jump out the window. I rushed to the window, but he disappeared into the trees.”
Clarksdale said, “Got your memory back, did you sir? And why did you say ‘he’? Could you tell that it was a man?”
“I don’t know why I thought that. Maybe because the killer wore pants.”
Teri said, “Women wear pants.”
Tyler Clarksdale said, “And you’re living proof, aren’t you, Miss Byron?”
Tom frowned. “What Teri wears is none of your business, Sheriff.”
Teri admonished Tom, “Don’t be fresh with the sheriff.”
Sheriff Clarksdale smiled, and moved to Tom’s side. He said, “Tom’s trying to protect you, Teri. He can’t save his dad from me, so he’s protecting you.”
Teri thought, “He called me Teri. What does that mean?”
Tyler Clarksdale said, “The body can’t be moved until my medical forensics guy looks at it. Mr. Duncan, can you tell me more about seeing somebody run away?” He stared at Greg intensely.
Greg shrugged nervously. “The person vaulted through that window, when I ran into the room. They dropped the pistol, and I picked it up.”
A woman’s voice came from the doorway. “Alice, Alice, where are you? It’s Deborah.”
Deborah Jergens walked into the room. She seemed unconcerned. Then she saw the sheriff. She took in the situation, including Alice’s body.
She cried out, “My god, what happened here?”
Sheriff Clarksdale asked, “Who are you, please?”
“Greg’s sister-in-law. I mean that’s what I used to be.”
Tom spoke up, “This is my Aunt Deborah. My mother’s sister, Deborah Jergens.”
The sheriff said, “Hello, Miss Jergens. Why are you here?”
“Because Alice…I mean, Mrs. Duncan…asked me to come for a drink.”
The sheriff saw that there were plates, and a tray of small sandwiches on the sideboard. He also saw two Martini glasses, vodka and vermouth.
Deborah was not one to suppress her feelings. She wailed, “Oh, Greg! I’m so sorry!” She tried to embrace Greg, but saw his stoney expression, and lowered her arms. She ran to Tom, who tolerated her embrace. She let a sob tell what she wanted to convey.
“Were you and Mrs. Duncan particularly close?” asked Tyler Clarksdale.
“Yes…well, no. We were friendly..”
Greg spoke up, “No you weren’t. Alice said that you and her brother deserved each other. You are as crooked as he is!”
Deborah shouted, “Harold isn’t a wife killer, like you!”
Greg started after her, fists up. He yelled, “I didn’t kill Alice, you crazy bitch. You did!”
Tyler Clarksdale stepped between them. “Hold on here, folks. We’ll find out who killed her.”
Greg and Deborah relapsed into hostile silence.
Teri wanted to smooth things over. She said, “Well, I told you that Mr. Duncan was holding the pistol when I called you. But Ms. Jergens was on the grounds soon after the gun was fired.”
Tyler asked, “Are you trying to do my job, Teri?” Teri heard the rebuke, and the friendly tone in which it was delivered. She said, “No. I wouldn’t want your job.”
The forensics man came to look at the body. Then Sheriff Clarksdale said, “I want you to come with me, Mr. Duncan.” Greg nodded in resignation.
Teri asked, “May Tom stay with us, while you question his father?”
Tom sighed with relief. He said, “I want to do that, Sheriff.”
“O.K. Just give me the address and a number where I can reach you.” Tyler would regret saying this.
Deborah asked Tom, without enthusiasm, “Do you want to come with me?”
“No, thanks, Aunt Deborah.” His aunt’s resemblance to his mother was off putting.
Greg tried to sound cheerful. “This won’t take long, son.”
Tom, the realist, said, “I’ll try to help you, dad, try to show that you didn’t do it.”
When they were out of ear shot, on their way to Burns’ house, Teri asked, “How will you try to help your dad?”
Tom answered, “I don’t know. I was hoping that you and the old man could help me come up with something.”
“Tom, the ‘old man’, as you call him, is named ‘Mr. Burns’ “
“O.K. I’ll remember that.” Then Tom said, “Maybe I should have gone with Aunt Deborah. If she did something fishy while I was there, I’d call the sheriff.”
“No. If your aunt is the killer, she will guess that you’re suspicious of her. She doesn’t want you watching her. She might do something to you, if you were there.”
They reached Burns’ front door. Teri said, “Let’s go square it with Mr. Burns. Then I’ll ask Mrs. Delgado to fix a room for you.”
When he saw them, Elliot Burns purred, “Well, well. The prodigal returns.” Then he yelled, “Where the hell have you been?”
Teri smiled, and sashayed over to Burns’ wheelchair. She wheedled, “Don’t be angry. Tom and I need your help.”
Tom said, “Anyway, don’t blame Teri. I’m the one who wants your advice.”
Burns asked, “What have you done, now, boy?”
“I haven’t done anything, old…Mr. Burns. I’m worried about what somebody else has done. Somebody shot my stepmother. She’s dead.”
Tom nodded. “I want you and Teri to help me find out who shot her. The sheriff arrested my dad. I want to get him off, by finding out who did do it.”
Burns was worried. He squirmed in his chair again, and said, “That’s a tall order, Tom.”
“But I think we can do it.”
Teri said, “Could we try, Mr. Burns?”
Elliot Burns asked, “What if we find that your father did do it, Tom?”
Reluctantly, Tom answered, “We tell the sheriff.”
They decided that Tom would visit the people who could be suspects. Teri would be liaison to Sheriff Clarksdale, and Burns would evaluate what the others told him.
Tom said, ‘I better get started. I’ll go see Aunt Deborah and Harold now.”
Burns objected, “Right at dinner time, boy?”
“I’ll be the poor, distraught kid, who doesn’t realize he’s bothering people.”
Teri offered, “Shall I come with you?”
“Wouldn’t that be suspicious?” Tom asked.
“Maybe so. But I’ll drive you over there.”
Teri had a bright red Volkswagen beetle, which she kept very clean. When Tom saw it in the driveway, next to Burns’ chauffeur-driven limo, “Nice wheels. Do you race this at rallies?”
“Sure, I take it to Raceway Park, in Anaheim.”
Harold’s house was a large Mid-century Modern palace, all windows and cement columns. Teri said, “Wow!” when she saw it. Tom said, “Yeah, Harold does well for himself.”
Teri said, “I’ll come to the door with you, to let them know that I know you’re here.”
Tom rang the bell. They heard footsteps. Harold was at the door. “Hello, Tom. Deborah told me about Alice. Tough luck, kiddo.”
Tom held back a retort. He said, “Thanks, Harold. This is my friend, Teri Byron. She drove me here.”
Teri said, “I’m sorry about your sister, Mr. Jordan.”
Harold said “Oh yeah, you walked in on Greg holding the gun, didn’t you, Miss Byron?”
Teri said, repressively, “I saw Tom’s father with a pistol in his hand.”
Deborah walked into the hall. “ Hello, Tom. Did you decide to take me up on my offer?”
Tom pretended to suppress a sob. “I feel awful, Aunt Deborah.” He embraced his aunt.
“I’ll leave Tom here, with you. I’ll come back when you call me, Tom. “ said Teri.
Back at the Burns mansion, Teri told Burns, “That kid is good! He played unhappy, unknowing child so well, you would have cast him in ‘Destiny’s Tot’, in a second.”
Burns worried, “Look what happened to the kid in ‘Destiny’s Tot’. He was murdered. Will that happen to Tom?”
“Not if we can help it.”
“But, Teri, can we help it?” Burns wriggled in the wheelchair, again.
They discussed it until Burns conceded, “Tom is a smart boy. He deserves a chance to find the killer, and get his father off.”
Burns and Teri agreed that she would be away from the house enough to keep track of Tom.. Tom would use his cell phone, to let them know that he was all right, when Teri couldn’t follow him.
Tom called Teri from Harold’s house, “Come get me.”
On their way back to the Burns place, Tom told Teri, “What a waste! I didn’t learn anything, except that Aunt Deborah is smarmy, and Harold is full of hearty shit. I guess they can’t be arrested for those misdemeanors.”
Then he said, ‘I’m not through with them. Harold could have persuaded her to do it. She was on the scene right afterward.”
Teri asked, “Where will you go next? I’d like to know if Dolly Jewel had anything to do with the murder.”
“Harold’s tacky sister?”
“I know she’s tacky, but I think you ought to see her. She’s Alice’s sister, too.”
Tom did go to see Dolly. He asked Teri to come with him.
Elliot Burns heard this request. He asked Tom, “Are you afraid of the big bad scarlet woman?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid she’ll seduce me, old…Mr. Burns”
Teri nodded her approval of the correction.
They pulled up in front of the duplex where Dolly lived. When Dolly came to the door, she saw the Volkswagen. She said, “What a cute little car. Is it yours, Tom?”
“I don’t drive yet, Miss Jewel.”
“Call me Dolly. I’m glad you came to see me. You and your friend, Miss…”
Teri said, “I’m Teresa Byron, Miss Jewel. I’m sorry about your sister.”
“Oh, yeah. The cop who came here a couple of hours ago, told me you walked in on Greg, standing over Alice’s body, holding a gun.”
Tom asked, “A deputy was here this morning?”
“Yeah. I told him I was sorry about Alice, and I couldn’t think of anybody except Greg who could have done it. I hate to say that in front of you, Tom.”
“That’s O.K. I want to get your take on this, Dolly. If you didn’t know that Teri and I saw my dad with the gun, who would you suspect?”
“Why, Harold, of course. My brother’s not exactly a saint. That girlfriend of his, that Deborah, doesn’t sing in the choir, either. Could be her.”
A man walked into the room. Dolly said, “Hello, John. Miss Byron, Tom, this is my friend, John Badger.“
John Badger knew that people called him Dolly’s pimp. He would have preferred ‘procurer’, but he said, “I don’t care what you call me, as long as you don’t call me late for din-din.”
He dragged out this old saw as though it were the sharpest blade in the comic’s tool box. His persona was that of a harmless, bumbling, good-natured clown. It was a mask. He had ‘managed’ other ‘actresses, whom he abused, as he did Dolly.
With the introductions out of the way, Tom, Dolly, Teri and John were talking about what interested all of them, Alice’s murder, and who did it.
Dolly said, “That Deborah Jergens is a dark horse. She could be the one.”
John Badger said, “Dark horses butter no parsnips.”
Tom looked as though he were trying to figure that out. Teri said, “Don’t bother.” She asked,”Does anyone know why Harold and Deborah weren’t arrested?”
“I asked the cop who questioned me and Johnny that. He said there wasn’t any evidence against Harold. He didn’t answer about Deborah.” said Dolly Jewel.
Tom said, “It’s getting late, and I want to visit my dad today. Could we go now, Teri? I’ll say goodbye now, Dolly. Goodbye, John. “
Dolly said, “Tell your dad that prison’s not so bad. Johnny’s been inside, and he didn’t hate it, huh, John.”
John didn’t answer. He seemed anxious for Tom and Teri to go. He said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” and giggled idiotically.
When they were back in the VW, Tom remarked, “John Badger huh. More like Finky the Rat.”
Teri answered, “Don’t forget, badgers are related to skunks. There’s an effluvium about our John.”
Teri took Tom to see his father in jail, where he was being interrogated by Tyler Clarksdale. To give Tom and Greg some privacy, Tyler and Teri left father and son in the interview room, and went into Tyler’s office. Tyler told Teri, “You folks have been trying to do my job, going to see suspects. Please Teri, be careful. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Then Tyler embraced Teri, and they kissed. Teri said, “Wow! That was nice. Can we do it some more?”
“Yes, at my place. We can be private there. I do love you, Teri.”
Meanwhile in the interview room, Tom hugged his father and asked, “How are you, dad?”
“I’m O.K. The sheriff is very polite. I told him that anyone could have seen that gun in the highboy, and taken the key off Alice’s key ring. He seemed to listen to me.” Then sounding desperate, “I want out of here! “
“We’re trying to get you out, dad. We’ve talked to lots of people. Some of them, the deputies saw too. Everybody’s working on it.”
Greg tried to act encouraged. He didn’t succeed.
Tom wanted to see if they could find Dolly without the distraction of John Badger. They went back to the duplex on the beach.
Dolly heard the doorbell, but pretended not to. However, their persistent ringing brought her to the door. The cause of her reluctance was apparent. Dolly had a black eye. She said, “Come on in.” with shame. When they got to the living room, Dolly turned, and said, “Yes, Johnny hit me for telling you he’d been in the slammer.”
“Why do you put up with him?” asked Teri.
"Because he’s good to me, most of the time, if I do what he tells me to. He says I’m so dumb, I could never find another man who would put up with my stupidity, like he does.”
Teri thought, “That’s a complicated way of saying, ‘I’m in a sadomasochistic relationship’, but Dolly doesn’t know how to say that.”
Tom just looked outraged.
Dolly said, “Would you like a drink or something?” She meant, “Please go away.”
Tom said, ”No, thanks. Is this your handwriting, Dolly? I found it in the room with Alice’s body. It has your initials on it.”
Dolly looked at the note. She said casually, “No, it isn’t mine.”
The paper said, “I came to see you. I’ll be back. DJ.”
When they were outside Dolly’s house, Teri asked, “What was that business with the note?” Tom answered, “You’ll see.”
In the VW, they decided to tell Sheriff Clarksdale what they knew.
Tyler Clarksdale’s office was austere, especially compared to the ‘stately homes’ Tom was used to. On the desk was a large photo of an old couple. Teri assumed they were his parents. The room also held a bag of golf clubs, and prints of Daumier’s cartoons, making fun of lawyers.
The sheriff asked, “Have you come to apologize for beating my deputies to the post?”
“No,” said Tom, “we came to offer our condolences.”
“Did you really? What for?”
“For having such dumb-ass help. They can’t out detect rank amateurs like me and Teri.”
Teri said, “We really came to tell you what we found out, and whom we suspect.”
“O.K. I’d like to hear it. Let me get my dumb-ass help.” He went to the door, and called, “Bob, Dan, get in here.”
Bob and Dan appeared. Dan said, “What?” . Then he saw Teri and Tom. He said, “Oh, it’s you two. We’ve seen you around places we were surveilling.”
Tyler grinned and said, “Miss Byron and Mr. Duncan are here to tell you how to do your job.”
Teri waved a self-deprecating hand. She said, “We really want to share information. After all, we’re on the same side.”
“No, Teri. You’re on Tom’s father’s side.” said Tyler.
“So what? We all want to know who killed Alice. If it was my father, he will have to pay.” said Tom.
Sheriff Clarksdale asked the deputies, “Well, shall we take them up on their offer?”
“I would take Miss Byron up on any offer she made me.” said Bob.
Tom scowled. Tyler took note of that scowl. When he and Teri got together, they’d have to respect the boy’s feelings, and not be obvious. Teri was thinking the same thing. They looked at each other in silent communion.
Tyler said, “People, we’re hunting a killer, here. I suggest that Tom and Teri visit Harold and Deborah again, with Dan and Bob behind them, in an unmarked car..”
That’s what happened, but over Tom’s objections, “Why do they have to follow us? We can take care of ourselves.” Nobody paid any attention.
Teri and Tyler made love in Tyler’s apartment. It was as austere as his office. His love making was fancier than that...
They sat canoodling on the couch, each saying, “I love you.” Then Tyler carried Teri into the bed room. They lay undressing each other, until the need to get to it became too great.
They explored each other’s bodies with loving hands and tongues. Tyler entered Teri. Her orgasm was not over when he had his. They lay in the after glow, until time sent them away. Teri thought, “He’s such a beautiful color. I love café au lait.”
Teri and Tom showed up at Harold’s door, and rang the bell. Deborah answered their ring. She said, “Oh, it’s you two. What do you want, now?”
Tom put an arm around her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Aunt Deborah. I just want to know if you could have seen the person my dad saw, running away from the window?”
“No…well I could have…yes…maybe I did…”
Harold strode into the room. He said, “Maybe you did what, Deborah?” Then he yelled at Tom, “We’ve had enough bullying. First the deputies, and now, you.. You don’t have to talk to this nosey kid, Deborah!
His fists came up, and he started toward Tom. Tom said, “You want a piece of me, Harold?” He clenched his fists, and stepped forward.
Teri stepped between them, saying, “Come on now. This won’t do any good.”
“Any good! You don’t mean us any good! You want to get Greg off, and you want Harold to be the fall guy.” came from Deborah.
Harold stared at Deborah. He shouted, “What are you doing, woman? Are you implicating me in your crime?”
Deborah snarled. Then her voice became a purr of accusation, “You killed your sister. You are an unfeeling brother. I should have known you would do such a thing. Look at the way you swindled your parents.” The purr was unnatural, but the scream that came after it was weird, “You cheating , lying bastard! “
Bob and Dan ran into the room. Deborah and Harold were grappling. Teri was trying to break up the fight. Tom grinned in triumph. He said, “There you are, fellas. There’s your killer.”
Dan said, “Which one?”
Teri said, “Harold.” Tom said, “No, no. Deborah!”
In the confusion, Deborah ran out the door. Dan caught her, trying to start her car. He said, “No you don’t. This was a mistake. Now we have you.”
Elliot Burns asked, “Why did you think it was Harold, Teri? And, Tom, how did you know it was Deborah? “
Teri answered, “Well, I believed Deborah, when she accused Harold, She was so sure of herself."
Tom said, “I saw a piece of paper on the dining room cupboard, and I picked it up while no one was watching. It was signed ‘DJ’. I asked Dolly if she had written it. She seemed to be telling the truth, when she said ‘no’. So I concluded that Deborah had put it there, and that Deborah had killed Alice.” Then he remarked to Teri, “I guess your woman’s intuition failed you, for once. “
“Get out of here with that ‘woman’s intuition stuff! I can think as well as you can.”
Burns chortled, “There you are, Tom. Never contradict a lady.”
“Mr. Burns, he didn’t contradict me, and I’m not a lady. I mean…oh, what do I mean…?”
Tyler said, “I don’t want to be part of this, but she is definitely a lady.’
Tom scowled The dance went on.
#Unreal #Fiction #Murder #Mystery
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