Brooke Black is grieving; it’s understandable. Getting her through an interview is time-sensitive. But knowing—the big “why” of her son’s death—will bring her the most relief. She must know something I need to know. Certainly she knows the girl in Noah’s picture. Maybe even why he hid…. No. He’d have kept quiet on that. She’d know why her husband left the library, maybe even what the banker needed.
Meanwhile, these witness statements can help me identify what to ask the victim’s mother. It can also help me recognize any lies.
“Which people need to leave?”
Mendoza points out their statements. I get it: school buses don’t wait, and kids get scared from being alone. Skimming the words, I flip from page to page. Nothing stands out, so I dismiss those five for now.
I sit down at the kitchen work table and study the rest of the statements, pulling together a mental timeline.
Before Noah was discovered, several people were in the kitchen, including the butler. Two were upstairs. Gardener and son were pruning the rosebushes. Chauffeur was in the garage.
I first call the butler, Jack Rinshaw, and learn that he saw Mr. Black pass by the kitchen in his robe and followed him to be on hand, in case he needed something.
“Did he have a key?”
“I don’t recall.”
“How many hands did he use to open the door?”
“One, I think. It’s usually unlocked. The young master would play piano with the door open, usually.”
“When was the last time you saw Noah Black alive?”
“I heard him playing piano thirty, maybe twenty minutes before Mr. Black came by.”
“Were there any guests?”
“No. One of my primary jobs is to open the door to guests, and I wait in the kitchen for the bell.”
“Anything else you think is relevant?”
“Does Mr. Black often wear a bathrobe around the house?”
“He seemed concerned people would see him in his bathrobe.”
“No, evenings he wears a robe.”
“I see.” I shuffle through the statements. “Was everyone at work today?”
“Yes, everyone was here today.” He lists the people who work at the mansion. I have statements from them all.
“So we lost two or more people who were supposed to be in the library. Can you think who they might be?”
He shakes his head.
“Okay, how about this? Who else was here except those who work here?”
A knock at the kitchen doorframe stops his answer.
Smith apologizes, then says. “Boss, there’s a lady here I think you should see.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rinshaw. If I have any more questions, I’ll let you know.”
He leaves and I step out to the hallway.
“Wait a minute,” I ask Smith. “Did this lady knock or ring the doorbell?”
“Knocked, I guess.”
I jot it in my book, then call her over.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“My daughter. She’s supposed to be here. Her car is here, but I can’t find her.”
“Who is your daughter?”
“Jamie Lewis. She’s Noah’s girlfriend. What happened to Noah?”
“Hmm.” I usher her into the makeshift interview room. “Noah was found dead this evening at four thirty.”
She gasps, hand over her mouth. “No. Is Jamie…” She starts to stand.
“No. She’s not here. We usually interview at the station, but as there are so many potential witnesses, we’ve set up shop here in the kitchen. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
I start the recorder again. “Your name?”
“Did you say your daughter Jamie is supposed to be here?”
“She has to be here. Her car is just outside.” I write that in my book.
“And when was the last time you saw her?”
“At three o’clock or so. She said she was coming over to see Noah. When I heard there were police here and she still wasn’t home, I rushed over to see if she was okay. So where’s my daughter?”
I ask her to describe the girl, then show the photo I took in Noah’s room.
Had I seen her when I did my headcount? I don’t believe I had.
So where would she be?
I glance at my watch. I’ve been here an hour. We’ve got a dead body and a missing girl and no clues. I need to review the rest of the statements, but at least this is something I can ask Mrs. Black about.
Handing her my card I promise to put some officers on it. “But call me when she shows up. Nobody knew she was here, at least as far as I’ve seen. Which I think is good news because she probably wasn’t here long.”
She nods and stands up.
I shift the statements then call the gardener, Jose Garcia.
I ask why he’s pruning roses in rainy weather. “We needed a job for my son, so I told Mr. Black we needed to prune. I didn’t plan for it to rain.”
“Did you prune the roses by the front door?”
“My son did.”
I close up with Garcia and send for the son, Reuben.
“When you were pruning the roses by the door, did you hear the piano?”
“Yes, I heard Noah playing Chopin. I stayed close to hear the whole piece.”
“You like Chopin?”
“Noah introduced me to classical music. He was a great pianist. I didn’t even get to hear the end of it, because he stopped playing right before the girl came.”
I look at his statement. “You didn’t mention a girl here.”
“I didn’t think it was related.”
“When did she come?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How much time was there between her arrival and your being summoned to the library?”
“An hour, maybe? Or less than an hour.”
“Did the butler, Jack Rinshaw, open the door for the girl?”
“He must have. Doesn’t he always open the door?”
I shrug. “Did you see Noah?”
“No. But I heard them talking in the music room.”
A solid piece of evidence here. “Did you hear what they were saying?”
“No. But it was serious. They talked for a long time. Then she raised her voice. And he yelled something, and she screamed for a second, but she stopped quick-like. How girls do when they get what they want. Then I didn’t hear anything else, and I figured they’d left the music room. It’s not my business, so I finished up the front roses. It was a long time later that they said he was killed. But he must have gone back there afterwards. I’m sure he left the room.”
I dismiss Reuben, then close my eyes and try to reconstruct the event.
Jack Rinshaw could see who came in or out of the corridor to the front hall, yet he said he saw nobody until Mr. Black. In the kitchen, I also hadn’t heard Jamie’s mother knock on the front door. So if Jamie had knocked, only Noah might have heard it, if he was expecting it. Anyway, these days young people send messages instead of knocking. He stopped playing before she knocked.
They didn’t pass the kitchen so they didn’t enter the far corridor. The only other place they could have gone is out the front door, or the library. But Reuben was at the front door. Then she disappears. The Clue gameboard again.
I stride to the library and inform all those waiting that they must stay in town in case we need more information, but they are dismissed. Then I call the station chief. The search warrant is ready. She sends it over, and I sit down next to Mr. and Mrs. Black.
“I really am sorry for your loss. I apologize for any inconvenience, but we will be searching your house, the library in particular. Are you aware that Noah’s girlfriend, Jamie Lewis, was here just before he was found?”
“Jamie was here? Oh, poor thing!” Brooke watches my face. “Is she okay? Was she hurt?”
“We don’t know where Jamie is.”
William Black sits quietly, trying to calm himself by folding and unfolding his hands.
“Because she is also missing, and due to the suspicious nature of the crime, we are keeping it open as a homicide, not suicide.”
Brooke groaned and dropped her face into her hands. “Noah, my boy. My sweet boy.” Her shoulders shake and she gets wrapped in her grief.
“I take it you were not aware he was dating Jamie Lewis?” I ask Mr. Black.
“I thought they’d broken up.” The answer doesn’t seem to explain away his earlier deception.
The crime lab should have updated me by now, so I excuse myself and call Maura.
“I’m going to need you to come down here, Tim,” she tells me. “The results are very puzzling and it will be too hard to go over on the phone.”
“Is it suicide, though?”
“I highly doubt it.”
“Give me thirty minutes. Let me finish up here.”
Across the entry hall, the team seals off the music room door with yellow tape. The search warrant arrives and I call the crime scene team over.
“Mr. and Mrs. Black, we will need to check the library,” I say. An officer ushers them out.
I can almost hear the team calculating all the contamination from an hour of the witnesses sitting here. I shut the door behind the owners and inform the team, “We need to disassemble the bookshelves and test all the walls. There must be a secret passageway in here. We’ve lost two or more witnesses, and a girl, and maybe even the murderer through there.”
I join the victim’s parents in the entry. “We’ll be posting an officer here, to keep the crime scene secure. Mr. Black, please take me to your bedroom. I need you to open the locked room there.”
“My laboratory? Why?”
Laboratory? Right off of a bedroom? Things are getting stranger and stranger.
“Is there a reason you don’t want me to go in there?”
“No! It’s just. Well, I have to keep it sanitized. I thought the crime was in the music room. What happened in the library? And now, why my lab?”
I’m not sure why he’s stalling. “I have a search warrant.”
“We’ll clean the lab afterwards, dear. You’re making a scene.”
His nostrils flare, but he turns toward the corridor. My mouth gapes open when I notice: his robe is tied securely. I follow the couple and puzzle over the sequence. The tie. Seeing him in the hall. The bathroom.Where’d he get the tie? I check over my notebook. Last I left him, in the entryway, he had no tie. Now he has a tie.
The bathroom. We need to check the bathroom for… Did the library passage lead to a bathroom?
We enter their bedroom and Black asks if he can get dressed. I permit this and he ducks into the back room, giving me a chance to interview his wife.
“Mrs. Black, I still haven’t been able to ask you. Would you tell me what you saw?” I start recording.
“I was here, reading a book. William came out of his lab and went to the bathroom. Turned on the shower. Took a long shower. The room was all steamy when he came out. Then he ran out the door and next thing I know, he finds Noah.”
“What kind of lab is it?”
“I have no idea. He’s back there day and night, almost. The reason I read on my bed is so I can hear him putzing around in there, and I feel less…I mean, I like to be near where he is.”
“Is he a chemist?”
“Uh…” her eyes widen like a deer in the headlights.
“You don’t know what he does?”
“I’m sorry. Something with gadgets.” She picks up the yellow book. “He tried to explain, but I don’t do science.”
I make a note to check for windows and a door in there. I look toward the dressing room. What’s taking Black so long?
“Mrs. Black, may I ask, why do you have a lab right off your bedroom?”
“William built on when we moved in here for his research. This suite has no windows or outer doors. He made sure of that. I thought, for resale value at least, that he should have made it more practical for the next owners. But he didn’t care about that. Only about his research.”
That confirms it is not old money.
“Are you sure he didn’t leave the room at all?”
“Well, I do get involved in my romances, I admit. But I’m in tune to where William is. He was in his office, or lab farther back. Which one, I don’t know. But he went into his lab at one o’clock and came out at three forty. I remember because I looked at the clock when he hurried past to take a shower. Then he took a long sh— Oh, I already told you that.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Did anyone see you reading on the bed?”
“During the time before your son was found dead.”
“Yes. Noah came in. He said…. “ Her eyes fill with tears. “Precious. That was the last time I saw my son.”
“No one else saw you?”
“Maria brought me tea. But that was…” She sighs. “Maybe an hour before my boy was found. I guess that makes me a suspect.” Her eyes tear up again. “Why do you think it’s a murder? How can it be a murder when the door is locked from inside?”
“If it was locked, how did your husband get in?”
“Uh. I don’t know.” Her eyebrows furrow. “I didn’t think about that.”
My phone rings. It’s the station, but not the crime lab.
“Excuse me.” I walk over to the sitting area and answer.
“Detective, there’s been another death.”
I draw in a slow breath. “I’m finishing up here. Isn’t there anyone else that can take it?”
“It’s that girl, Jamie Lewis.”
“She was found dead in her bedroom, in her own house.”
Go to the new crime scene at Jamie Lewis’s house and look for clues.
Wait for William Black and investigate his laboratory with him.
NEXT: Chapter 1 scene 5
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Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek