I knew right from the get-go that Harry couldn’t have done the deed. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that he isn’t capable of mayhem Our Harry has a bit of a temper, as you may have gathered. Not that he’d ever kill anyone, but I suspect that if you got him pissed off enough, you might want to watch your back. It would take a lot, though.
The murder of Miranda Wilson? Nope, no way (even if he were capable of it, which I doubt), if for no other reason than there is absolutely no motive. She was just a client, another disgruntled wife in an army (well, OK, maybe just a platoon at this point in our company’s evolution) of disgruntled wives. Harry handled her account, but he barely knew her.
So I knew the cops would clear him. You know that cop-shop drama thing about what makes a likely candidate for murder? Means, motive and opportunity? Harry didn’t have a one. So I have no doubt that his tenure as a suspect will be a short one. But our boys in blue sometimes get mired in their own prejudices and opinions, and can’t see the forest for the trees, especially when they find a guy standing over a still-warm body. The way I see it, best not to sit on our hands waiting for them to ferret out the truth. We’re detectives, after all. So we should detect. And that’s what I tell Harry. Eager as he is to put all this behind him, he quickly agrees.
Besides, he is still pissed that his shiny new kitchen has been sullied. You’d never guess it from looking at him, but Harry is an accomplished cook. Some might say he is a gourmet cook, but he’d be quick to reject that description. “Too damn high falutin’.”
Anyway, we decide over our drinks that, beginning tomorrow, we’ll do our thing and find out what the hell’s going on.
After checking in with Steve, Harry and I head down to our favorite coffee shop a block from the office.
“Okay,” Harry begins as we walk, “you know I met Miranda for breakfast in Van Nuys a couple of weeks ago.” He rolls his eyes. “Best damn eggs I’ve had in a long time.
“Anyway, she filled me in on her husband’s schedule, addresses, etc. I kept an eye on him for a week.”
Miranda Wilson had been convinced her husband was fooling around. She was ready to leave him, but she wanted something to hedge against his tendency to be a tight wad when it came to discussing a divorce settlement. She hired us to get the goods on him. Thank goodness she paid in advance.
Harry jumps aside to avoid a skateboarder, muttering. “People should have to get a license to ride those damn things.
“So, I stayed with him door-to-door for a week, from the time he left for work in the morning until he came home at night. Tony took over from six o’clock ‘til lights out.” Tony is a retired cop and a long-time friend of Harry’s dad. We throw a little work his way now and then.
“I think she was right that her husband had something going on the side. He acted like a guy with a secret, but we never caught him with another woman. Or man, for that matter.”
We turn into the coffee shop, grab a table against the window, and give our order to Dodie, our favorite waitress: coffee and a full stack for Harry, and coffee for me.
After she heads to the kitchen, I ask, “If you never caught him at anything, what makes you think there’s anything going on?”
“He acted pretty squirrelly, Marty. The guy’s a bean counter, for heaven’s sake. He spent precious little time in the office counting beans and an awful lot of time outside in the parking lot talking on his cell. Seemed like he was out there at least once an hour. What kind of accountant does that?” Harry shakes his head. “I’m telling you, squirrelly.”
Dodie appears and sets down a couple of thick diner mugs of steaming coffee. “Here ya go, fellas.”
Thanks, Doll.” Harry winks at Dodie, then dumps four sugars and a healthy dollop of cream into his coffee, giving her time to move out of earshot.
“I’m convinced I woulda found something with more time. I told Miranda when we met that a week wasn’t long enough, but she wasn’t up for more. I planned to talk to her about extending the surveillance when I delivered the report yesterday, but we know how that turned out. Mark my words, though, that guy’s up to something.”
“Yeah, maybe. Still…” I say. “OK, well, he’s obviously the place to start. If he got wind that Miranda planned to drag him into divorce court, with a stop at the cleaners along the way, that could be motive.”
“Yep. Like they say, it’s usually the husband.”
Dodie puts an obscene plate of pancakes in front of Harry. As I watch him smear butter carefully on each pancake in the stack and then douse the whole thing in maple syrup, I shake my head.
“You’re a heart attack waiting to happen, my friend,” I warn.
“Yeah, and you’re just jealous.” He turns his attention to his breakfast, while I watch. Well, OK, maybe I am a bit jealous…
As Harry shovels a week's worth of calories and fat into his mouth, we agree that he will dig deeper into Jack Wilson’s nefarious activities, and I will look into our late client. The lady didn’t get herself killed and dumped on Harry’s kitchen floor by accident. There has to be some kind of connection other than the obvious.
I take a ride up to Santa Clarita. I have a sympathetic chat with the Wilson’s tearful housekeeper, and leave 30 minutes later with a list of her friends, a copy of her calendar for the past month, and a knock-your-socks-off homemade blueberry muffin. Didn’t somebody say that good things come to the righteous? I’m glad now that I resisted those pancakes.
About a few miles away from the Wilson house, I pull into a Vons parking lot. Unable to resist a minute longer, I take a bite of the muffin. Heaven. As I chew, I glance though the stuff I was able to wheedle out of the housekeeper. A little charm goes a long way, I always say.
A quick perusal of Miranda’s date book reveals one interesting tidbit. There are several notations about meeting her sister at a place called The Wine Bar. In the afternoon. Either the ladies are (oops, guess I should say were, at least in Miranda’s case) secret winos, or there's more to that than met the eye. It bears looking into. I finish my muffin and head back to the office to make some calls
When I walk in to the outer office, I find a decidedly nervous-looking Steve.
“There’s a cop in your office, Marty. I asked him to come back this afternoon, but he insisted on waiting. I hope you aren’t mad that I told him to wait in your office.”
“No, that’s fine. I’ve got nothing to hide,” I tell her.
Nothing that’s not locked up, anyway, I think to myself.
Handing my briefcase with the information about Miranda to Steve, I say, “Here, hang on to this out here until he leaves.” Then I head in to see what bad news awaits me this time.
Sitting in one of my client chairs one of the better cops in the LAPD. We’ve worked with him before, and Mike Sullivan’s a good guy. He gets to his feet as I walk in.
“Marty. How the hell are you?”
“Mike, this is a bit of a surprise. I’d ask you what brings you here, but I guess I know.”
I shake his hand and take a seat behind my desk.
“You here about Harry’s situation? I wouldn’t have thought you’d catch the case. Isn’t Venice a bit outside the Wilshire Division borders?”
“I’m on temporary assignment to Pacific. When I saw who was involved, I made sure I got the case,” he says. “I know Harry, and I know there’s no way he’s going to shoot some woman in his kitchen.”
“You’ve got that right,” I agree. “You guys ready to drop the charges?”
Mike smiles broadly. “That’s why I’m here. First thing I did was check Harry’s alibi.” He pauses, pulls a small spiral-bound notebook from his jacket pocket, and flips it open.
“He had lunch at an Olive Garden in Santa Clarita, just like he said. The server remembers him because he was his first customer of the day, sometime around 11:30. His check was cashed out at 12:05. The ME put Wilson’s time of death at 12:30, give or take. With the traffic on the 405 that time of day, there’s no way Harry could have gotten to his house much before we arrested him, which was at one o’clock. And even then, he must have been flying. I should give him a ticket for speeding. But he’s off the hook for the murder. No brainer.”
I exhale sharply. “That’s a relief. Harry’s going to be…”
Just then, the door to my office opens, and Harry walks in and sees Mike sitting in front of my desk.
“Oh, shit.” He walks over to Mike Sullivan and shakes hands with the big detective.
“Under any other circumstances, I’d say I was glad to see you, Mike. But right now? Not so much.”
He sits in the other chair. “So what am I ‘going to be,’ Mike?”