I decide to check the rest of the house before doing anything else.
After a series of closets and storage rooms, the end of the downstairs north corridor opens to a large bedroom. A master suite, in my judgment. A sitting room with a fireplace, comfy chair and table form an entryway to another room with a large unmade bed in the center. On the side table closest to the door, under an Amish romance called It Won’t Be a Stylish Marriage is a yellow Quantum Physics for Dummies book. The opposite side table has a lamp and a cracked watch. Maybe an heirloom.
Something feels off in here.
A door by the top of the bed leads to a bathroom. The shower is still damp, as is the carpet. On the floor, a pile of clothes. Mr. Black had taken a shower before looking for his son. Must be his clothes. I shift through the pile and that pungent sulfur whiffs up. What is that smell?
I’ll call Thomas in here afterwards to log this as evidence.
Or should I? If it’s a suicide, collecting dirty laundry is wasting everyone’s time and the taxpayers’ money.
At the far end of the bathroom is a closet. I check for another red bathrobe and nothing hits my eye.
On the wall opposite the entry door is another door. I try the handle, but it’s locked.
Without a search warrant, I can’t go in, though I could easily pick the lock. I study the frame. It’s different enough of a door that it could be an addition.
Wait a minute. I scan the rest of the room and finally put my finger on the problem here. There are no windows. I glance at the door. Why would anyone sacrifice the master suite windows to build an add-on? I jot this down in my book.
But a person’s clumsy architectural decision has nothing to do with a suicide. Dirty laundry, not cleaning up after yourself, dropping a bathrobe tie on the ground. Not criminal.
Across from the master suite door is a stairway. I just start up when I hear a commotion at the front door.
Should I stop this survey again, or should I leave the commotion to the officers at the crime scene? I don’t have the luxury of all the time in the world. If it’s important, they’ll call. Everyone has to do their own job. CSI at the scene of the murder, me…hunting for anything suspicious.
At the top of the stairs is a long hallway, similar to the one underneath. To the left are rooms, to the right glass windows leading to a long balcony looking westward to the front gardens. Darkness pours in.
Dim lights spotlight parts of the yard, but is it really that late? My watch says five o’clock. I’ve only been here thirty minutes, but thirty minutes is enough for insurrection, under the right conditions.
I flip on the hall lights, but they bring little brightness. I open the doors one by one to find: an office, a billiard room, a greenhouse type of room, a ballroom. I’m just beginning to think of the Clue game board when I open up Noah’s bedroom. This is the one that will have all the answers, if anything does.
It is a typical teen room, and I get the feeling that his mother did not send servants in here to clean up after him, or at least very often. It has a smell, but not sulfur. A musky, lively young man’s smell. Poor kid. So much life ahead of him, to be snuffed out like a candle.
Across from the door is the bed with a messily-made blue satin bedspread. Near the foot of the bed is a desk. What I’m looking for is a diary or journal. Or a suicide note.
But I find nothing. I expect to find one. It’s the young men that share their woes before killing themselves. Girls more often just go “gentle into the night,” against Dylan Thomas’s poetic injunction, leaving chaos in the wake and a million questions for people to decipher with no clues.
Stuck into his mirror’s frame is a photo with him and a girl. I snap a picture of this. Usually the girl is the reason. His mother and father will certainly clear up that question.
I sit on his bed and try to think like a kid. If I had a journal, where would I keep it? Easily accessed by me, but not seen by the parents. I stick my hand under the bed right here and feel around.
I’m expecting a journal, but instead I find….no, it can’t be! Please, no.
I kneel down and peer under the bed. My shoulders hunch, and I stand without taking it out. This is not good.
My phone rings, jarring me from the direction this case is taking.
It’s Smith. “Detective, you really need to come down here. We have a situation.”
You’re telling me. “I’ll be right there.”
There must be a stairway at the far end of the hall, leading from the servants’ area and kitchen upstairs. So, to finish my survey, I stride south toward that assumed exit. I open all the doors, but they are all extra bedrooms. I return down the north stairs, very aware of the time it has taken.
At the front door is a white-haired man with the shape of a Nordic linebacker. The officers have pulled away from him, leaving him standing alone at the open front door with a look of fury on his face. A cold breeze blows in.
“Are you in charge here? Finally, someone who can talk sense!” He strides toward me and the floor shakes with each step.
I motion for the officers to shut the door.
The man hasn’t taken off his black Burberry trench coat, and the edges of his designer shoes track mud onto the Turkish carpet under us.
I put out my hand. “I’m Detective Reynolds. Yes, this is my crime scene. Your name?”
“Briggston. I demand to talk with William Black immediately. I do not like waiting.”
“Of course, of course, Mr. Briggston. You can talk with Mr. Black as soon as our initial investigation is over. He is under temporary custody until we have interviewed him about the suspicious death of his son, Noah. You are aware, are you not, of the death of his son?”
His face flushes and he silences, briefly.
“Yes, I am aware.” His mouth twitches with words he wants to say, so I wait. He turns toward the library. Black is at the doorway, watching.
They face each other. Briggston cocks his head and raises his eyebrows, as if to say, “Well, what happened?” And Black shakes his head, as if to say, “I don’t know.”
“No communication with the witnesses, sir. You can talk with him when we’re done here. If you would please leave the crime scene, I’m sure he’ll call you when we’re done.”
“I’m not leaving. This is my house.”
I scratch the back of my neck. “Your house?”
“I own the mortgage.”
I don’t have to look at Black to know he is not happy with all these people knowing his business. Which means, somehow, he is either someone with old money who hocked his house in desperation, or someone who had enough clout to get a loan for a mansion. Money is a motive for murder. But the direction is wrong. Would a son be killed for a father’s debt?
To appease the intruder, I pat him on the shoulder. Then I turn to Officer Smith at the library. “Everyone accounted for?” He nods. I scan the room. No one has moved since I went upstairs. “They’re not talking with each other, right?”
“No, sir,” he says.
“I’m going to start interviews. Call the station and ask for five more officers, then get a list of all these people. And find out who left.”
“Right away, sir.”
“Mr. Briggston, I’d love to talk with you. Wait here for a minute.”
I duck into the piano room. A fly rests on Noah’s temple and I chase it away. For the briefest second, I imagine it’s Sophie with a fly on her dead face, and my stomach squeezes in revulsion. Please, God. All I can ask is please. Heal her. I shake away the thought.
“Should we bag the body, Detective?” CSI lead, Barbara Lambert, runs through the evidence so far: hair, fingerprints, scorching on the carpet. After giving them a thumb’s up on taking the victim to the coroner, I look at the scorching on the carpet, near the piano. The paint on the side of the piano is also scorched. I point it out and they document it, scraping off some of the bubbling paint into a plastic tube. Something is still here, I feel it.
“Send an investigator to the master bathroom, far end of south hall. We need to get Black’s clothes tested, just in case. And upstairs, fifth room down, is the victim’s bedroom. A thorough check is needed up there.” I whisper in her ear what’s under the bed. She balks, then hurries a team out.
“Smith, did you make a list?” He tears off a sheet from his notebook. I glance around the entry. “Wait a minute, where is Briggston?”
His hulking body is at the back of the library, next to William Black. Not good.
“Mr. Briggston, would you come with me, please?”
“We’ll take care of it,” Briggston says and turns from Black. Black’s eyes flash when Briggston turns from him. But as he catches me watching him, the anger drops away as if a facade.
Four other officers have arrived, and I put two on library duty and two on taking statements from everyone except the victim’s mother and father.
I lead Briggston to the front door. “I expressly told you you could not meet with Mr. Black. You will leave these premises. When our initial investigation is over, you can have your meeting with him.” I send one of the officers to escort him to his car.
“Mr. and Mrs. Black, please come with me.”
I take them, and an Officer Mendoza, to the kitchen and set up a quick interview area.
After seating Brooke in the dining room to wait with Mendoza, I bring William Black to the kitchen and sit across from him.
Before I can ask my first question, Mendoza enters, face strained.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“The lady started crying as soon as her husband left, Detective.”
“Tell her I’ll keep it short. Don’t leave her alone.”
Surrounded with her servants, the woman most likely has had no chance to grieve. I tremble, knowing my time of losing a child is soon, pending a miracle. Oh, God, please intervene.
Mendoza, uncomfortable, leaves the room.
I start my phone’s recording and set it between us, “Mr. William Black, this is a preliminary statement on the death of your son, Noah Black. Please tell me how you came to discover his body.”
“I came out of my office, took a shower. Was wondering where my son was, so I went to look for him. I found him in the parlor.” His face shuddered with the memory.
“What time was this?”
“I left my office at three forty-five. Shower took about fifteen minutes. So I found him at four fifteen, four thirty.” He glanced at his cell phone. “I called 911 at four twenty-two.”
I jot that down in my notebook. I got here ten minutes later.
“Why did you look in the parlor?”
“He likes to play piano.” His face paled. “Used to. I can’t get used to the idea that he’s gone. It can’t be true, officer. Did anyone check? Are you sure he’s actually dead? Is it possible he’s in…a coma or something?”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Black. The M.E. declared him dead at the scene. They’ve taken him for an autopsy, to determine cause of death.”
His eyes met mine. “Isn’t it suicide?”
“We have not determined that.”
“Is autopsy really necessary?”
I scratch my head and then fold my arms over my chest. What kind of question is this?
“What did Briggston need to talk with you about?”
“Business,” he wagged his head. “The man gets what he wants.”
“Why couldn’t it wait?”
Black shrugs a shoulder. “He’s a banker and has no patience.”
I ask him about the mortgage.
“He owns the deed. I…uh…got backing for my research from his bank. I don’t know why he had to come today. I felt it was very untimely for him to insist on seeing me about his investment at a time like this, but that’s Briggston for you.”
“So you mortgaged the deed to back your research?”
“Yeah. Like that.”
“You realize I can find this out from the bank itself.”
“Is this your family’s property?”
“When did you purchase this property?”
“Three years ago.”
I’m taken aback. Three years? Now I need to reframe my questions.
“Did you build the extension on the master bedroom?”
“What is in the extension?”
“I’ll need to search your lab.”
His eyes lock onto mine, nervous like he’s trying too hard not to hide something. “Okay.”
“What kind of research do you do?”
“Quantum entanglement.” He throws out the word like I won’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t realize my wife is, or was, a physicist. Our dinner conversations included quantum entanglement and its philosophical implications. But I pretend to not know.
“It’s mostly theoretical. About photons being connected to each other even when they’re not in proximity to each other.”
Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance,” but I play it dumb for now.
“How can you do photon research in a lab on the side of your bedroom?”
My wife would—or would have—liked me to fill her in on a case like this. I shake my head to focus on the case. “Never mind. I’m sorry. Why did you go look for your son right after your shower in your bathrobe?” I glance at his robe. It’s tied.
“I don’t remember. Why wouldn’t I want to see my son?” He waits for my answer.
The timing seems off. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s too clean of a find.
“How did you get into the room?”
“I opened—I mean, I unlocked it. I have a key.”
“You just had the key on you?”
“Do you have it with you now?”
He patted his bathrobe. “I must have left it in the door. It was pretty crazy when I found him.”
“Now about your son. Are you aware of any reason he would kill himself?”
“No reason at all. He was a cheerful young man. Everyone loved him. Me, especially. I spoiled the boy, there’s no doubt about it. But he had everything to live for and nothing to die for.”
“Did he have a girlfriend?”
He paled. “No. Why?”
“Does the question make you uncomfortable?”
“Well, girlfriend implies potential wife. So, yes. It makes me uncomfortable.”
“Do you own any weapons?”
“Did your son?”
“No…why are you asking about weapons?”
“Was your son afraid of anything? Did he mention any conflict he had with anyone?”
“Oh.” Black scratched under his chin. “Yes, he had a recent conflict. Maybe two days ago with my son, his step-brother Benjamin.”
“What did he argue about?”
The father’s face went pallid. “Uh…”
He swallowed and shrugged, resignedly. “They were arguing about this house. About who would get it as an inheritance.”
The motive is almost as old as time itself. “Where is your son, Benjamin? Is he downstairs?”
“I’ll need his contact information. When was the last time you saw him?”
“Two days ago?” he asked more than answered.
“Okay. Do you know who left the library between our first meeting and when I returned after I checked on the victim…I mean on your son?”
“No, I’m not aware of anyone leaving.”
Does nobody but me count heads? “So, everyone who was supposed to be there was there?”
“One more question, Mr. Black, does the library have a secret passageway?”
“Is there a hidden exit out of the library?”
“What? No…not that I’m aware of.”
I’m sure there has to be. Two people or more are missing, and if Smith is telling the truth, Black got out without being seen. I determine to get a search warrant to check for one.
“Thank you, Mr. Black. That’s all for now.”
I look at my watch. It’s been an hour since the victim was found.
Before calling the victim’s mother, I jot down some inconsistencies. I’m almost sure her answers will echo her husband’s, and there’s much to document from everyone else before calling it a wrap here. I send Mendoza to bring me the completed witness statements. He comes back with a stack of statements, and some news: two of the servants need to pick up their children at the school bus, others are running late for their night jobs.
Interview Brooke Black, especially about secret passages.
Read over the witness statements then interview persons of interest.
NEXT: Chapter 1 scene 4
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Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek