the apartment mystery

During the first spring after the founding of U-town, there was a generally optimistic feeling. The first winter had been difficult. It had required many innovations, quite a bit of outside help, and some blind luck to maintain any adequate supply of food, water, medicine, and heating oil.

But now, as the weather finally started to get warmer again, many people seemed to have the feeling that things would begin to get a little easier. Not a lot easier, as Doc always reminded everybody, but at least a little easier.

My employer had solved several difficult cases during the winter, including the murder of Felix of the Jinx (her solving that, and as quickly as she did, was a big factor in the Jinx deciding to stay and participate), the sabotage of the pirate radio station’s broadcasting equipment, and the vampire mystery.

Those cases were widely reported, but there was another case in the spring, which was deliberately kept quiet at the time, and I think it’s important to tell now. It illuminates several important aspects of my employer’s technique, and of her personality as well.

 
One day, after the usual morning meeting, we were about to leave for some appointment or other when we realized that Pat had stayed behind, looking very awkward and uncertain.

Pat was our aide and factotum. That would have been a position of influence for some people, but she never took advantage of it. I often thought that she got less out of us than the average citizen did.

Jan immediately sat down again, wanting to make it clear that we weren’t in any hurry to leave. I sat down beside her, and she said, “Pat, is something up?”

Pat nodded, and sat down across the big meeting table from us. “I have a problem,” she said slowly. She took off the baseball cap she always wore and held it in her hands.

Vicki had left the room with the others, and I know we were both wondering why she hadn’t stayed behind as well, but we didn’t ask.

“Before I met Vicki,” Pat said slowly, “I knew this guy, when I first came here. We’ve stayed in touch a little, and he’s… he’s been dating this other girl, and now she’s dead – the night before last – and everybody thinks he did it.”

“Why is everybody so sure?” Jan asked. She was leaning forward, her eyes bright, and I knew we were never going to make it to whatever meeting we were missing.

“He was the only one in the room with her. There was only one door, and his roommate Freddy was sitting outside it the whole time. Freddy claims he was awake, and I think there was somebody with him too. He saw the girl come home and go into the bedroom, after midnight.

“Then a runner came to the door around three or four in the morning for Leo – that’s the guy’s name – and when Freddy knocked on the bedroom door, Leo opened it and the girl was dead on the bed, and the knife was on the floor.”

“What did Leo say?” Jan asked as I lit her cigarette.

Pat shrugged. “He said he had been asleep when she came home, and he woke up when Freddy knocked on the door and found the girl dead in bed with him.”

“Did she kill herself?”

“She was stabbed in the back. I don’t think anybody could do that to themselves.”

Jan nodded. “Where are they? Leo and Freddy?”

“They’re still living there. But everybody looks at Leo as if he killed this girl, and he wants to know the truth.”

 
Pat said she had too much to do to come with us, so we set out alone.

My employer was wearing a snugly tailored black three-piece suit with a yellow silk shirt and a black tie. The yellow handkerchief in her breast pocket was folded to display three sharp points, and her glasses and cane were polished. Six feet tall and thin to the point of emaciation, she was a striking and unusual figure anywhere (or at least anywhere we’d ever been, and we’d been to a lot of places since I’d started to work for her), but especially so in U-town, where it sometimes seemed as though people were issued a T-shirt and a pair of jeans when they crossed the bridge.

I did wonder why the security volunteers apparently hadn’t been involved in this case. We would have to look into that.

The walk wasn’t very long, only about a dozen blocks, and I’d made sure my employer had eaten a good breakfast, so we arrived there in pretty good time. The front door of the spray-painted tenement building was unlocked.

She smiled as we climbed up the stairs to the second floor apartment. “You know the main problem with not having police?”

I shrugged. Her lame leg gave her particular trouble on stairs, so I was steadying her arm.

“There’s nobody to preserve the crime scene. It makes it a lot harder to reconstruct what happened.” She smiled. “Sometimes.”

She rapped on the apartment door with the head of her cane. After a moment, the door opened and a man looked at us curiously, then suddenly realized who we were. He glanced around behind him, probably noticing what a mess the place was. He wiped a hand on his jeans and held it out.

“I’m Leo,” he said, shaking our hands, then he abruptly turned, motioning us into the apartment. He had short, dark hair and wore round wire-frame glasses. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and his feet were bare. “Please come in,” he said. “Did Patricia send you, or are you–”

“Pat sent us,” Jan said, stepping inside and looking around slowly. The living room, if that’s what it was, looked like a particularly messy college dorm room. “We understand that people are blaming you for the death of your girlfriend. I’m here to investigate and find out the truth.”

Leo looked around as if a place to sit down might suddenly appear. It didn’t.

“A girl gets hurt, people think the boyfriend is Suspect Number One,” he said, “and plus, I know it looks like nobody else could have done it. But I know I didn’t do anything.”

Jan nodded. “Why don’t you tell us what happened?”

“Well, Freddy, he’s my roommate, he was–”

She held up her hand. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but I’ll talk to Freddy at some point. Why don’t you just tell me what you remember, what happened to you?”

Leo shrugged wryly. “This will be short, then. I was asleep. Charlotte was out somewhere. I’d gone to bed around eleven, I guess. The next thing I know, there was a knock at the bedroom door.” He gestured at it. “I was still half asleep, but I got to my feet and opened the door. It was a runner, and I could see Freddy behind her. I guess Freddy had let her into the apartment.

“The runner started to give me a message, but Freddy said, ‘Hey, man, what’s that on your hand?’ or something like that. I looked down, and I saw blood on my fingers. I guess I stepped back from the door, and then we saw her on the bed.” He paused and wiped his eyes.

“Was the bedroom light on?” she asked.

He shook his head. “No, I was asleep. I saw her in the light from the other room.”

She nodded. “What was the runner for? Who was the message from?”

He shrugged and looked down at the floor. “I never did find out. She split when she saw Charlotte’s body, and I wasn’t thinking that well. I didn’t even wonder about it until the next day.”

My employer looked around the room again, then looked at the closed door to the other room. “May I look at the bedroom?”

He moved quickly to open it. “Sure,” he said. He reached in to turn on the light, then he stepped aside so we could go in.

It was a small bedroom, not unusual in any way, but much cleaner and better organized than the room we’d just come from. Clothes were stacked neatly in piles, and there was a hamper for dirty laundry. A row of hooks on the wall held coats and jackets. There was a ceiling light, and the one lamp had a hand-painted shade. There were no windows.

The large mattress filled half the room, and the crumpled bedclothes were the only things in the room which weren’t neat and tidy. There were no chairs, so we continued to stand as my employer looked around. I could see her judging how the room would be illuminated with the lights out and the door to the other room open.

the first apartment

It took a moment for Leo to step into the room with us. “I’m sorry if this is upsetting,” she said to him, “but I need you to tell me where the body was, where the coat was, where the knife was, everything.”

He nodded. “I appreciate that you’re trying to help.” He gestured at the bed. “She was lying there, on the right hand side of the bed. That was her side. I tend to sleep on the left side by habit, even when she’s not there, so there was plenty of room for her to lie down without waking me up.”

“How was she dressed?”

He shrugged. “Shirt, jeans, shoes. She hadn’t taken her clothes off.”

“Was that usual? Did she often go to bed with her clothes on?”

He shook his head. “Never. And she always took her shoes off in the house, even if she wasn’t going to bed, unless it was really cold.”

“Speaking of which, it has been pretty chilly at night. Was she wearing a coat when she went out?”

Leo looked around, then he went to a small pile of clothes in the corner and picked up a large, tweed overcoat. He held it out. “I’m sorry the place is a mess,” he said. “She used to do most of the cleaning up, and I just haven’t felt like it.”

My employer nodded. “I completely understand.” She took the coat and looked it over carefully, inside and out. “Where did she get this?” she asked. She reached into one of the pockets and her eyes narrowed. She didn’t pull anything out, though, and I wondered what she had found.

He shrugged. “She’s had it for a while. She might have found it, I really don’t know.”

When we were outside, I had an idea what was next. “Hospital?” I asked.

She nodded absently, her mind far away. I wondered if she was going to start pretending she had solved it already.

 

One of the nurses came over as soon as we entered the hospital lobby.

“Ms. Sleet,” he said, “you’re here to examine the body?”

My employer laughed. “I do leave that to the experts. But I would like to ask a few questions.”

He nodded. “Of course. Come this way.”

We followed him down a corridor and into a small office. We all sat down on folding chairs, and he held out his hand, “I’m Vic.”

She shook his hand and introduced herself, though he had already addressed her by name. She didn’t introduce me, which was not unusual.

“Did you examine the body?” she asked, lighting a cigarette.

Vic nodded. “I went to the apartment when we got the call. A runner came here and told us somebody had died. We rushed over there, in case there was a chance of saving her, but it was much too late. Then the body was brought here and I examined it. Do you want to see the report?”

She shook her head. “No, it will be better if you tell me. What did you find?”

“One deep puncture killed her. Right into her back, deep, between the ribs.”

“Did she die instantly?”

He shook his head. “Almost certainly not. The heart and lungs weren’t touched. She hemorrhaged and died of internal bleeding.”

“Would there have been a lot of blood on her clothes?”

“Probably not. The edges of the wound adhered, and there may not have been much external bleeding at all.”

“Evidence of sexual intercourse?”

I think he and I were both surprised at the question, but he just shook his head. “No evidence of it.”

“Did you do an autopsy?”

He shook his head. “We don’t, usually, unless there’s a request or a reason. Should we have?”

She shrugged, puffing thoughtfully. “Not that I know of. Any other wounds?”

He nodded, and I could see her attention becoming focused. “A couple of small cuts on her right hand. Nothing major, and possibly not related at all.”

“Was she cut before or after death?”

“Before, definitely.”

As we stood up, I said, “You know the other question we’re going to ask.”

He nodded. “I was supposed to tell the security volunteers, I know. There weren’t any runners here right then, and it just slipped my mind. We were really understaffed that morning.”

My employer nodded. “We’ll have to come up with a better system.” I made a mental note of this, because when she was on a case her focus was on that, and other things, from governmental responsibilities to regular meals, tended to slide.


We had lunch at the hospital, then we walked back to Leo’s apartment. I could tell she was thinking hard, so I kept fairly quiet.

When we knocked on the door this time, a skinny man with bushy blond hair and a wispy beard opened the door. He held out his hand right away. “Ms. Sleet,” he said, motioning us in, “I’m Freddy. Leo left a few minutes ago, but he said you’d be coming back to talk to me. Anything I can do to help, just name it.”

Someone had cleaned up the living room considerably, though it was still pretty dirty. But there was an armchair and a sofa cleared off for us to sit on. My employer went right to the armchair and sat down, so Freddy went to the sofa. I didn’t really want to sit on the sofa next to a suspect, so I perched on the arm. It was padded and fairly comfortable, but I knew the flakes of old foam rubber which were bursting through the worn fabric would end up on my slacks.

My employer lit her pipe and said, “Freddy, please tell it to me as it happened, as clearly as you remember it. Take your time; we’re in no hurry.”

Freddy leaned back on the sofa, and I could see he was tense. I reminded myself that this was not necessarily evidence of anything guilty. We were from the government, of course, and some people got nervous around us by reflex.

“I was awake,” he said slowly. “I was working on a song,” he gestured at the guitar leaning in the corner. “I was playing very quietly, just trying to work out the melody and the chords. I knew Leo was asleep, so I didn’t want to wake him up.”

“Very considerate,” she said, her pipe finally going to her satisfaction. I knew she was thinking of a few of the people we’d had rooms next to at the hotel where we lived.

Freddy shrugged. “Leo’s a good guy, and I knew he was stressed about Charlotte being out. He didn’t know where she was, and I think she was later than she’d said she would be. That usually got him tense, so I didn’t want to bother him.”

She nodded.

“Anyway, around midnight there was a knock on the door. I got up and asked who it was.” He shrugged. “I figured it was probably one of my buddies, but I don’t like to take chances. It was Charlotte, though, and she sounded upset. I opened the door and she rushed in. She looked kind of stressed.”

“Was she crying?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. Just upset, like she was late for an appointment or something. I figured she was just thinking about Leo being mad at her for being out late. She thanked me for opening the door and rushed into the bedroom. She closed the door behind her, and I locked the apartment door again.”

My employer held up a finger. “Eight questions, please, before you continue. One, how was she dressed?”

“She had on that ratty coat she always wears. I didn’t notice anything else. Jeans and sneakers, I suppose.”

“Did she have her own key to the apartment?”

He nodded. “She did.”

“Did she say why she hadn’t used it?”

He shrugged. “She didn’t say, and I didn’t get a chance to ask her. She just rushed into the bedroom.”

“Did she look like she had been crying earlier?”

“No, just in a hurry, like she was late for an appointment.”

“When she opened the bedroom door to go in, could you see if the light was on in there or not?”

He thought about this for a moment. “I couldn’t tell,” he said finally, gesturing at the apartment door, which was not visible around the corner. “When you’re by the door, the front door, you can’t see the bedroom door at all.”

“And you don’t know where she came from?”

“No idea.”

“Is there someplace she might have been which would have annoyed Leo?”

He shrugged and hesitated, smiling slightly. “He doesn’t like her brother,” he said finally. “He’s in a gang, her brother, and Leo thinks he’s no good.”

“How was her complexion when she came in? Was she pale, or flushed, or sickly, or normal?”

Freddy hesitated, clearly not expecting the question and not sure how to answer. “Kind of normal, I guess,” he said finally. “Maybe a little flushed, but it was chilly outside that night, and she was breathing kind of hard, as if she’d been walking fast.”

“You’re an excellent witness,” Jan Sleet said, then she leaned back and waited for him to realize that this had been eight questions.

After a moment, Freddy continued. “I went back to my guitar, and I smoked a joint. I thought that might help, but it didn’t.”

“Did you hear anything from the bedroom?”

He shook his head. “Nothing at all, not after she closed the door.”

“Can you hear through the door? How thick is it?”

“If they’re talking low, I can’t hear anything. When they have a fight or something, you can hear it.” He rolled his eyes. “More than you want to.”

“So, what happened next?”

“Someone knocked again, a little later, and I went to answer it. It was Ace, a friend of mine. He came in and we talked a bit. Smoked a joint. I was just as glad he came over, the song wasn’t working out, and I kept expecting Leo and Charlotte to start fighting. I was sure that as soon as I decided to try to sleep, they’d start yelling and so on.”

“What’s her brother’s name?”

“Jasper.”

“What gang is he in?”

“The Dragons, I think. Leo says they’re no good.”

She nodded as if she knew all about the Dragons.

“Anyway, a couple of hours later, someone else knocked on the door. I made a joke to Ace that this was a very busy night for this place. It was a runner, with a message for Leo and Charlotte.”

“The message was for both of them?” He nodded. “Do you know what the message was?”

He shook his head. “No, she was only going to tell it to them.” He looked at my employer as if she had just dropped in from another planet, the only person who didn’t know how runners worked. “I went to Leo’s door and knocked.”

“Did the runner come in?”

“Yes, she was standing behind me.”

“Where was Ace?”

“He didn’t get up. He was in the chair, where you’re sitting. I think he was rolling another joint.”

“You knocked, and then what happened?”

“I had to knock a couple of times.”

“Did you try the door?”

He shook his head. “I just knocked. Finally I heard a couple of thumps from inside, like someone had fallen over, then Leo opened the door.”

“How did he look. How was he dressed?”

“He was wearing a pair of sweatpants. He looked like shit, and not too happy about me waking him up, so I quickly pointed at the runner and said, ‘You got a message, man,’ or something like that.”

Freddy’s voice got quieter, and he was starting to look upset. “Leo nodded and lifted his hand to rub his face, like he was still not awake. That’s when I saw the blood on his hand. I think he saw my face, and he held out his hand and looked at it himself.” He mimed Leo holding out his hand and looking at it.

“Had the bedroom door been locked?”

He started to answer, then he stopped and frowned. “I think it was,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m pretty sure I heard him tug on it a few times and then unlock it.”

“Was it usually locked?”

“No, never.”

“Was it locked when Charlotte came home?”

“Oh, no, she just went right in.”

It was obvious that this question was bothering Freddy. And it had taken his mind off of the discovery of the body, which might have been her intention, though I didn’t know why.

My employer got to her feet and limped to the door. She leaned over to examine the lock. As far as I could tell, it was just a latch which you locked from the inside. There was no keyhole to lock or unlock it from the living room side.

She returned to her chair and lowered herself into it, though I could tell that her attention was now elsewhere. If Freddy had kept silent, she might have forgotten about him completely.

“It looks bad, I know,” he said, and her attention floated back from outer space. “She walked in, I was sitting here, nobody else went in, and then she was dead. But I don’t believe he did it.”

“Why not?” she asked curiously.

He shrugged. “I think he loved her. Would he have killed her for staying out late? She’d done that before, and the worst they ever did was fight about it. This time, they didn’t even fight. We would have heard it.”

She nodded. “What did the body look like?”

He sighed heavily. “Awful. She had her clothes on, but you could see blood all over her shirt.”

“What happened then?”

“The runner split. I didn’t even think about her, I just realized later that she was gone. Leo looked like he couldn’t believe it. He went a little crazy then, demanding who could have done it, who had come in.” He looked down at the floor. “I finally had to shake him and tell him that nobody had come in, that I had been here the whole time. I told him that I didn’t think he’d done it, but that other people might think that he did.”

“What was his reaction to that?”

“That got his attention and slowed him down. He thought about it, and I could tell that he was figuring out that I was right. Ace was there by then, looking at her body, and we went into the living room and sat down. Then, a few minutes later, the medic arrived.”

“How did the medic know to come?”

“The runner, I think. I think he said that she’d gone to the hospital when she saw the body.”

After we’d said goodbye to Freddy, as we were walking down the stairs, she suddenly said, “I’ll meet you outside, I just thought of something,” and turned around to go back up to the apartment.

Long experience told me what this was. She had one more question to ask Freddy, a question she didn’t want me to hear. I went outside and looked up at the cloudy sky, wondering what she was up to now, and why she didn’t want me to know about it.

She came out again a moment later and asked “So, what do you think so far?”

I shrugged. “I do hate to say it, but this all seems fairly straightforward.”

She often looked arch and mysterious when I said this, but this time she just nodded.

“It does,” she said. “But I do want to cover every possible angle. Pat does a lot, for everybody, and she doesn’t get much in return. I like doing something for her, and doing it as thoroughly as she would do it for any of us.”

She started to walk slowly, in the opposite direction from the hotel and the hospital and anywhere else I could think of that we might want to go. “And there are a couple of circumstances which are not completely explained by the facts we know now,” she continued. Then she smiled and looked modest. “Besides, I have another reason for thinking that Leo may be innocent.”

“I know,” I said. “You do have a certain reputation. So, if Leo is guilty, why would he try to get you on his trail?” She was about to interrupt, still smiling, but I continued. “The answer is that he didn’t. He complained to Pat that everybody was thinking he was guilty of murder. And maybe the main thing he’s afraid of is that her brother, the gang member, will come around to take revenge. It was Pat’s idea to come to you, she never said Leo asked her to do that.”

She nodded. “All very true. And in fact he may not have been aware that she is so close to us. She certainly doesn’t seem like somebody who would brag about it.” She shrugged, taking out her cigarette case.

“But I’m wondering where Charlotte was,” she continued, “before she came home so late. I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until I know that. And what was the message the runner had for Leo?” I lit her cigarette. “I suspect she might have been with her brother. Her agitation when she came home could mean that not only was she out later than Leo liked her to be, but she was with her brother, who Leo didn’t approve of. So, let’s go see her brother, and maybe we can sound him out on the revenge question, too.”

“And I guess we know where he lives.”

She smiled and said, “Of course we do,” as if it had been an incredible feat of scientific deduction to go back to the apartment and ask Freddy one additional question.

Then she gave me a look I knew very well, and I thought for a moment. Then I shrugged. “Vic did say that the wound probably wouldn’t have bled very much. He didn’t say definitely.”

She nodded. “But he seemed pretty sure. And, if he was right, whose blood was that all over her shirt?”

Of course, I tried to get her to go back and bring some sort of security with us, and of course she wasn’t going to. She followed the rule about not leaving U-town without security; that was obviously necessary and the others would have thrown a fit if she hadn’t gone along with it. But not inside U-town.

So, we set out into the heart of gang country, with only our wits, such as they were, to protect us.

 

As we turned the final corner, I saw several gang members around the front stoop of an abandoned-looking brownstone. My employer strode right up to them and they closed ranks between us and the door.

“I’m looking for Jasper,” she said.

Two of the men exchanged a glance, and one of them said, “You can’t–”

“Miss Sleet!” came a voice from over our heads.

She took a step back and looked up.

“What is your interest here?” the man demanded, leaning out of a third-story window.

“I have a mystery to solve,” she called. “Jasper’s sister was murdered last night.”

There was a long pause, and we waited patiently.

“Please come up,” he said. “I have a mystery to solve as well.”

We climbed the two flights to the long, dark hallway, where the only light was from an open door at the far end. Two more gang members were standing beside the door, and one motioned us in. Her expression indicated that she didn’t approve of us being admitted.

Inside, the man who had called from the window was standing in the middle of a slaughterhouse. Well, it was a normal one-room tenement apartment, with shabby furniture and dirt everywhere, but the furniture was all turned over, and there was a lot of blood.

One body was stretched out on the floor right inside the door. With the general carnage and disorder, it took a moment to see the second body, on the other side of the room. Both were male, as far as I could tell, and both were clearly dead.

“This is Jasper,” the man said, indicating the other body, the one lying near the sofa.

“Who is this?” Jan Sleet asked, indicating the body in front of us.

The man shrugged. “Some creature.” I wondered if the Creatures were another gang, or if this was just a generic description of anybody who wasn’t a Dragon.

My employer turned slowly, looking at the whole room. The body of Jasper was lying in front of the sofa, near the window. The other man was lying full length in the middle of the room, his head toward the door, blood soaking the back of his leather jacket.

“The weapons?” Jan Sleet asked.

The man gestured. “Jasper died holding his weapon. The other knife was by the window, under the radiator.”

My employer leaned over to examine the knife still in Jasper’s hand, then she went to look at the other one, which was lying on the edge of the rug by the window, half hidden by the rusty radiator. She had to get down on her knees to reach it, and I went over to help her back to her feet.

She held the knife with her handkerchief, holding it by the very tip, and I was pretty sure she was trying to angle it so that I couldn’t see it very well.

My employer turned back to the man. “What time did you discover the body?” she asked.

“Late last night,” he said. “Around two or three in the morning.”

“And you sent a runner to let Jasper’s sister know.”

“Charlotte and Leo, yes.” He shrugged. “It was the right thing to do. And I thought Leo would prefer to have a runner come to his place, rather than one of us.”

She nodded.

“Have you informed the hospital?” she asked.

He shook his head. “We handle our own problems.”

“Understandable, but they have to be involved” He was smiling, shaking his head, but she limped over and whispered something to him. He looked around the room, then he motioned her to the farthest corner.

She leaned over him and they talked quietly for several moments, then he nodded and turned to the other Dragons. “It is as I suspected,” he said. He shook his head. “We have no more business here.”

One of them started to protest, probably at leaving the body with us, but he silenced her with a look.

“It was not an honorable death,” he said simply. “Come.”

He was the last one to leave, and, without looking back, he said, “I will do as you have asked.”

“Thank you,” Jan said quietly as he left.

“What now?” I asked after a moment.

She shook her head and sat down gingerly on the cleanest part of the sofa. “Waiting,” she said simply. “Vic will come as soon as they give him the message. Pat will come soon after that. It’s solved.”

She leaned back and closed her eyes, and it was clear that there was no triumph in this case. Then she looked at me, smiling a very wan smile. “You could make yourself useful, you know,” she said quietly. “There is one thing that I’d like to find in this room somewhere. Of course, it might not be here…”

Then I got what she was talking about, and I started searching the room, straightening up the mess as I went.

the second apartment

I searched until I found a key, tied to a long piece of string. The string was frayed, as if it had been snapped, and I was pretty sure that it had once been used to carry the key around someone’s neck. I didn’t remember the lock to the apartment, but I was pretty sure this was Charlotte’s missing key.

When Vic arrived, my employer asked him to examine the two bodies. I helped him remove their clothes and lay them out side by side on the floor. This was not pleasant, but it was far from the most distasteful job I’d ever done for my employer. Over the years, I’ve developed the ability to disengage my feelings for short periods of time while doing that sort of work.

Vic examined both bodies carefully, then he turned to us. “It must have been quite a fight,” he said. “There are multiple wounds on both bodies. The Black man,” he gestured at Jasper, “he didn’t die fast. Just too many injuries and too much loss of blood. The white guy,” he gestured at the “creature,” “had a few cuts and scratches, but a single wound killed him. In the back, deep, right into the heart. That would have been fast.”

Jan Sleet nodded as if this confirmed a suspicion of hers, but that didn’t mean anything. She always did that, especially if she knew I was watching her.

“Would that wound have bled a lot?” she asked.

He nodded. “Almost certainly.”

She sat down wearily and closed her eyes. Vic waited a moment, then he said, “I have someone downstairs with the cart. Do you want me to–”

“Yes,” she said, opening her eyes. “Take the bodies.”

“Do you want–”

“No, no autopsy.” She shook her head. “I know what you’d find.”

After Vic and the bodies were gone, she leaned back and closed her eyes again for a moment.

Then there was a knock at the door and I opened it. Pat stepped in, and then she saw all the blood.

“Come on in,” Jan called. “This won’t take long, but we have to do it here.”

Pat came in and sat very gingerly on the edge of a straight-backed chair.

I lit Jan’s cigarette. She looked at Pat sadly for a moment. She blinked a couple of times, and I wondered what had got her upset.

“Pat, there are two possibilities. One is that Leo killed Charlotte.” She shrugged. “That’s obviously one explanation for the facts that we have. But there is one other possibility.

“But first, let’s back up. Why is Vicki not here with us, discussing this with us?” Pat started to speak, but Jan continued. “Is it because she would be jealous to hear about an ex-boyfriend of yours? Would she resent your trying to help him? Would she be upset that you had dated a man before you met her?” She shook her head. “Does that sound like Vicki? I don’t think so, and I know her fairly well.

“Alright, let’s leave that. There is one other possibility for Charlotte’s death. I asked at the hospital about her wound. It was deep, but it didn’t hit any vital organs. It would have taken a while for her to die of that injury.

“So, it’s possible that she was stabbed somewhere else. Out on the street? No, Freddy would have noticed cuts and blood on her coat as she passed him coming into the apartment, and there were none. Besides, unless there was a substitution, we’ve seen the coat.

“So, perhaps she was stabbed elsewhere, and then she put on her coat and went home. To die in her bed, beside her boyfriend.”

She pursed her lips. “But then, if she was stabbed, why not go to the hospital? Or why not go home and wake her boyfriend to get his help?”

I could tell this was difficult for her, but I remained motionless, listening.

“What this looks like, Pat, is fear. She went home because she was afraid not to. And you’re afraid, too, that’s why you haven’t shared this with Vicki, and why you wanted to help Leo but you didn’t want to see him. I think Charlotte was afraid of Leo, I think he probably threatened her and maybe beat her, and that’s why, even with a stab wound in her back, she went home and collapsed in bed next to him. She was afraid not to.”

Jan looked at Pat, who had started to cry. “You’re not afraid of Leo anymore, you’re too strong for that now. He’s out of your life. But you still have some feelings for him, and you know, or you think you know, Vicki’s reaction if she found out that Leo used to beat you. Or that he had even threatened you. You think she would kill him.

“She wouldn’t, you know. But you should tell her, because she would want to know, and because you would want to know, if your positions were reversed. And because it’s the only thing that will help you feel better.”

Pat nodded. “Okay,” she said, wiping away the tears. “You’re right. But who did kill Charlotte? And where?”

Jan got to her feet and started to describe the scene when we’d arrived at this apartment, including the position and condition of the bodies.

“The fight started near the door,” she said. “That area was very messy, but there’s very little blood, so that indicates that the fight moved toward the windows, since that’s where there’s more blood.

“Jasper had the worst of it – that’s why he got cut so many times and the other fellow didn’t. Finally, Jasper collapsed over there, and the other fellow would have finished him off, except that he got stabbed himself, in the back, by somebody he didn’t expect.”

“Charlotte?” Pat asked.

Jan nodded. “She picked up Jasper’s knife, which he had dropped, and stabbed the other man once, probably as he was leaning over Jasper. Then she ran for the door, but he managed to go after her and stab her before she got away, and before he died. That’s why he was nearer to, and facing, the door.”

She lit a cigarette. “Then Charlotte did something very interesting. She stopped running. She came back and took the knife, the knife which had stabbed her, from the dead man’s hand. And she placed her brother’s knife back in his own hand.”

“How do you know that?” Pat asked. I was wondering if she was pulling all of this out of her hat.

“Her fingerprints were on it, in blood. She had placed it back in his hand.” She shrugged, “Why? Probably because she knew it was something he would have wanted, that his fellow Dragons would respect.

“Pat, the knife which was found with Charlotte’s body was the knife which killed both her and her brother. We’ve tested it. There was a second knife in the room here, but it was not involved. It was clean of blood, but dusty. If somebody had wiped off the blood, they would have wiped off the dust as well.”

“But,” Pat protested hesitantly, clearly wondering if she had missed something, “Who took it there, to the apartment? The knife was in the room with her, not here.”

Jan Sleet shook her head. “There’s no evidence that there was another person involved, and if we assume another person, we would then get back to the problem of how somebody could have got into and out of that bedroom with Freddy outside, in order for the knife to have ended up where it did. Remember, we no longer have to get somebody in and out of the room in order to account for the stabbing, we know she was stabbed here. If the only question is how the knife got into the bedroom, when she was the last person to have the knife, the logical conclusion is that she brought it there herself.”

“But why would she do that?” Pat protested. “And where’s your evidence?” I wanted to add. As I thought about it, though, I knew the answer, at least to the second question.

“The evidence is in the pocket of her coat,” she said. “There was dried blood in the pocket, quite a lot of it. Where did it come from, if not from the knife? I’m sure she put it in her pocket so that nobody would see it as she walked home.

“The question of why she did this is more interesting. It was very unusual behavior. People like Charlotte, not violent as far as we know, they tend to get rid of the weapon as soon as they can. So, maybe she intended to use it again. Maybe she realized who she really wanted to kill, and finally realized that she could.”

She shrugged. “We’ll never know that, and, if I’m right, we’ll never know why she didn’t do it. Did she change her mind, or did her body fail her at the last moment, slowly bleeding to death inside? Either way, it does explain why she locked the bedroom door behind her when she got home.”

Pat nodded, then she thought for a minute. She looked very sad, and somewhat nervous, as if still uncertain about her lover’s reaction to all this. Then she nodded and stood up slowly. She still looked sad, but she was under control. “But what about Leo?” she asked, frowning.

Jan shrugged. “The person who really stabbed Charlotte is dead. I have no problem with letting everybody go on thinking Leo did it. It’s the least he deserves.”

Pat shook her head. “I guess that makes sense.”

 

After Pat left, I sat down beside Jan. “You know there was one hole in what you said. If Charlotte went home to kill Leo, then the whole ‘she went home because she was afraid not to’ argument falls apart.”

She nodded, slumping down on the sofa, looking drained. “That’s why I brought out one point before the other. I had to get Pat to admit to what Leo is really like, and that was the only way to do it. Besides, if she went home to kill him, rather than out of fear, then why did she want to kill him in the first place? It’s still the only answer.”

I also knew that there hadn’t been time to run any tests, on blood or fingerprints or knives or anything else, but I didn’t mention that.

She closed her eyes, her head leaning back on the cushion. I took her hand, and she squeezed it.

“I never told you this,” I said after a moment, “but my sister used to live with a guy who beat her. On Saturday nights, when he’d had too much to drink, he’d come home and knock her around.

“She never told me, not until years later, long after she had left him. She told our mother, and our mother convinced her to leave, helped her to see that she could. And that took some time. But she didn’t tell me, she knew what my reaction would have been.”

She looked at me, knowing what I was going to say next.

“I would have killed him,” I said.

She put her arms around me and we kissed, and I could feel the tears fall from her eyes to my cheeks, and maybe some the other way, too.

That’s what it’s like when you’re married to a detective. You sometimes have moments like this on blood-splattered sofas in murder rooms.

 

Vicki was very quiet at dinner that night, but she sat beside Pat and even served her, and held her hand while they ate, which was very unusual.

 

The End


© Copyright 2012 Anthony Lee Collins. All rights reserved.

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