OUT OF SIGHT INVESTIGATIONS, INC.
ANOTHER KIND OF JUSTICE
“Oh, I’m sorry! I must have gotten the address wrong.”
The smartly dressed young woman had nearly backed completely out of my office before I was able to stop her. I rose from the comfortable recesses of the overstuffed sofa as quickly as my old bones would allow.
“You’ve got the right place, honey. That is, you’ve got the right place if you’re in the market for a private investigator.”
She answered me with the same shocked expression I had come to expect from prospective clients. And who could blame them? Who would ever expect an overweight, over-seventy, blue-haired grandmother to be a P.I? And therein lays the secret to my success!
“Well, I…but you see, I need a real detective…”
“Come. Sit. We’ll have a cup of tea. We’ll talk. Who knows, I just might surprise you.”
Before she had a chance to think, she was sitting beside me on the sofa, a cup of tea in one hand, a sugar cookie in the other and my old yellow tom cat, Bruno, curled up beside her, his chin resting contentedly on her thigh.
“Now, you’ve got a problem, or you wouldn’t be here. Why don’t you tell me all about it?” I picked up my knitting as I settled back into the pile of embroidered pillows I used to support my back.
I could see the poor girl was nearly beside herself with worry. She was so tense, if she’d been a rubber band she’d have surely snapped in half! Well, a little tea always helps, don’t you think?
“Why don’t you tell old Mabel what’s got you so het up. By the way, you could start by telling me what your name is.”
As upset as she was, she just barely managed to tell me her name, which was Jennifer Mathews, and that the police suspected her of murdering her own mother, before huge tears welled up in her beautiful brown eyes. The poor girl was on the ragged edge of hysteria, I can tell you!
“I can hardly believe it. My mother, dead. Oh, it’s all too awful.” I handed her a couple of tissues, fearing that the dam was about to burst.
“But why would the police suspect you?” I asked after she’d taken a couple of deep breaths and seemed to have gotten her emotions under control.
“That’s the worst part of it, everything points directly to me. I was at her house last night and we had a horrible argument. Maud, that’s her housekeeper, heard our voices and told the police all about it. And then there was the golf club. It was one of mine. It must have been taken from the golf bag I’d left behind I the garage when I moved out last year.”
“But what does a golf club have to do with your mother’s murder?” I could imagine well enough, but I wanted to get all the details as clearly as possible right from the start.
“It was the murder weapon. Maud found her this morning, still in bed, lying in a pool of blood. Her head had been crushed. The golf club was lying on the floor beside the bed.”
I refilled her tea cup, giving her a chance to gather the strength to go on.
“Well, if that’s all the police have to go on, I’d say they’ve got a very slim case against you,” I said, trying to calm her fears. “So you two had a little argument. What mothers and daughters don’t? And anyone could have found the golf club in the garage and used it.”
“Oh, there’s more. Whoever killed Mother yanked a necklace from her neck, a family heirloom that I was supposed to have inherited on my twenty-first birthday. Mother’s never been known for her generosity, and she never would let me have it. Also, Maud swears she saw me running from the house. She said that I ran to my mother’s car, jumped into it and sped down the street. She said she was sure it was me because she recognized the red dress I was wearing.”
“Now, let’s back up for a moment.” I held up my hand to stop the words that seemed to flow compulsively from her. “This red dress, were you wearing it last night?”
“No! And I can’t imagine why Maud said I was! In fact, as far as I know, Maud never even saw me last night. I know I didn’t see her there.”
“And the car, did you in fact drive it away?”
“Of course not! I had driven my own car, so there would have been no reason for me to have left in her car. But the strange thing is, the police found the car this morning in the cemetery, its lights still on. When they opened the door on the driver’s side, a scrap of red silk fell out.”
I have to admit, the more Jennifer told me, the more concerned I was becoming. One or two of these bits of evidence against her wouldn’t have been too damning. But the list was getting a bit long.
“But what motive would you have had? Just how serious was this argument you two were having, anyway?”
“It was about my Grandfather Roscoe. I’d come up with irrefutable proof that she’d cheated him out of his real estate business. Her own father! Oh, it was all nice and legal. But she forced him out of the business and his heart was broken. I’d come there to try to get her to back off, to at least let him keep his dignity. He might not be the manager he once was, but he’s still the most honest real estate broker you’ll ever meet.”
“So your mother was a business woman. Might she not have made other enemies in some of her business dealings?”
“Stella Mathews, pillar of the community, Business Woman of the Year, make enemies? My mother was too clever for most people to ever know what a cheat she was. Oh, don’t get me wrong! She could steal like the best of them. Only she was so good at it, I can’t imagine anyone ever realizing what she’d done.”
I let that one lie. Apparently Jennifer believed her mother had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, but I’ve been around long enough to know that even clever con artists slip up eventually. If Stella Mathews was as devious as her daughter believed her to be, I’d be willing to bet that someone out there had been cheated by the woman and was all too aware of it—someone who was bitter enough to commit murder.
After getting the names and addresses of all of Stella Mathews’ family, friends and business associates from Jennifer, I sent her on home. She needed to get some rest, and I needed to gather my associates together.
I’d barely had time to pour old Bruno a saucer of cream and do up the tea dishes, when my two best operatives arrived. Peter Thorsen is a retired postal worker who has been working with me for six years now. Peter’s the kind of guy you’ve known all your life and forget as soon as he walks out of the room. You know what I mean? A completely nondescript guy with absolutely no distinguishing characteristics. I can’t think of a better recommendation for a private investigator.
Hot on his heels came Elsa. Just Elsa. No last name that I or anyone else knows of. Picture your typical bag lady, and you’ve got Elsa. Now don’t get me wrong! Elsa’s no street person. She’s got herself this little studio apartment a couple of blocks down the street from my place—been there for ages. But she does have her peculiar ways. And a perfect talent for going through people’s garbage is one of them. After she’s checked out their garbage old Elsa can tell you more about a person than their own family can. And believe me, in my business, there’s no better talent to have. .Anyway, the three of us huddled for a while, going over everything Jennifer had told me. We’ve been working together so long now it doesn’t take more than a word or two to get the message across to those two. Before they left I was certain we’d have Jennifer off the hook in not time.
The next morning Peter showed up bright and early at the deceased woman’s house. When Maud opened the door, there he stood on the doorstep in painter’s overalls.
“Morning, ma’am,” he said as he dipped his head politely, managing to project the perfect amount of servitude. “I’m here to do the painting.”
“Painting! I don’t know nothing about no painting. You must have the wrong house.” Maud would have closed the door on him, but he managed to slip a foot over the door seal just in time.
“No, ma’am, this is the right house, all right. Look here on the contract, 318 Devonshire Way, it says. And this is 318 Devonshire Way. See? It’s right here on the contract. Signed by Mrs. Stella Mathews herself.”
“Well, no matter. You can’t come in here painting now. Mrs. Mathews is dead. You can just tear that contract up.”
“No, ma’am, I can’t. She paid in advance, don’t you know? As far as I can see, I’ve got to do the painting she paid for, whether she’s alive to see it or not. I’ve got my scruples, I have.”
And that’s how he got the run of Stella Mathews’ house. Didn’t I tell you he was good? And that’s not the half of it. Before the first day was done, he had Maud eating out of his hand. He may not be all that impressive, but the man does have a way of ingratiating himself with the ladies.
Anyhow, carrying his gallon cans of white paint, he managed to go over that house with a fine toothed comb. And let me tell you, his efforts really paid off!
Meanwhile, I had to inveigle myself into the spot where I figured I could do the most good. And to my way of thinking, it was at Stella Mathews’ real estate office.
Used to be, when I was young, I couldn’t pull anything over on anyone. If I’d try to tell a story that was just the tiniest bit short of the truth, I’d get caught, sure enough. But now all that’s changed. Now that I look like everyone’s grandma, why I can get away with murder. Not that I’d want to mind you, but I bet I could.
Anyway, the next morning I showed up at the real estate office at 9:00 a.m., bold as brass, dressed in my best suit—cherry red worsted, pleated skirt, double breasted jacket. I’d just had my hair done, so I knew I was looking spiffy. That sort of thing really gives you confidence.
I walked up to the receptionist, gave her my most endearing smile, and told her I was ready to get started if she’d just point me toward the kitchen. I answered her perplexed stare with my brightest smile.
“Mrs. Mathews did tell you I’d be starting work today, didn’t she?” I asked. “I can’t tell you how pleased I was when she agreed to hire me.”
“But…I mean, what were you supposed to do? I wasn’t aware of there being any job openings.”
“Oh, just sort of make everyone comfy. You know, make coffee, run errands, keep the kitchen neat. I’m not telling you anything new when I say that Mrs. Mathews is a business genius. Why, who else would have thought of having an office “hostess?”
“But, you don’t understand. Mrs. Mathews is dead. So I’m sure you’ll understand if…”
“That’s terrible! Why, I can’t believe it! And don’t you just know that my services will be more necessary than ever now? Why, here, let me put on my apron and I’ll get right in there and fix a pot of coffee. You certainly look like you could use a cup. Or would you rather have tea? I’ve brought along my own special blend.”
And that’s how I wormed my way into a job at the real estate office. Let me tell you, this “sweet little old lady” was just about everywhere in that office. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t get a big dose of my mothering.
And while I was at it, did I ever manage to get an earful! It’s amazing what people will say when the only other person around is a little old lady. It was as if I didn’t exist! I’d putter around the office, pouring coffee, dusting bookshelves, straightening pictures, and people would keep right on talking like I wasn’t even there.
It only took me two days to get the full run of the place. In addition to being able to listen in on phone calls, I found it amazingly easy to tap into their computers when they weren’t around. And can you believe it, they didn’t even bother locking their files when they left for the evening.
When I started out I wasn’t quite certain what I was searching for, but it didn’t take long before I was ferreting out some very interesting information. Although it appeared that most of the agents were quite honest, respectable people, Stella Mathews was as crooked as they came. Crooked and ruthless.
On more than one occasion her maneuvering had cost someone their home and several times, their businesses. It was amazing to me that she’d never been called on her dealings. But then, as her daughter had told me, the woman was extremely clever.
So clever, in fact, that without the records that I managed to dig out of the darkest reaches of Stella’s computer, I would never have discovered the deal she worked on poor old Jonathan Moorehouse. Before she was through with him, she had managed to not only get her hands on his jewelry business, but in the process she managed to drive him to such despair that he killed himself, leaving behind a grieving widow. And you know something interesting? Mr. Moorehouse’s wife’s name was Maud.”
The same day I discovered the story of Mr. Moorehouse, Elsa turned up a very interesting clue on her own. Rummaging through the garbage behind the Mathews’ house, she just happened to run across the remnants of a silk scarf. A red silk scarf, to be more specific. She was careful to put it in a plastic baggie. You’ve got to be careful with something you think might be evidence in a murder case.
Peter was the next one to come up with some really juicy stuff. As he worked around the house, he managed to strike up a very friendly relationship with Maud. He sensed how lonely she was, and found that with just the right touch of friendliness she was all too eager to ask him to lunch. And then to stay for dinner.
In his quiet way he managed to get her to talk about herself. About how she had only come to work for Mrs. Mathews a few months before. About how her own dear husband, Jonathan, had died tragically. About how she had vowed to “settle the score” with the person responsible for his death.
“And were you ever able to do that? Settle the score, I mean?” he asked, all innocence as he sat opposite her in Stella Mathews’ kitchen.
Her eyes glowed with satisfaction as she silently nodded her head.
Meanwhile, I had to get back to Jennifer with one last question. When I called her, dusk had already settled in. “Do you happen to know the exact spot where your mother’s car was located after she had been killed?”
“Yes, it was in the new part of the town cemetery. But why do you need to know?”
“Let me answer that question after I’ve checked out my hunch, okay? But first, I need for you to take me out to the cemetery and show me exactly where her car was found.”
Lucky for me I’m not one of those people who get the willies in cemeteries, because, let me tell you, the cemetery in our town is decidedly spooky. Anyway, I had Jennifer pull her car into the exact location her mother’s car had been in when it had been found. Leaving the headlights on, we both got out and followed their beam. Just as I suspected, directly in the center of the car’s lights stood a new headstone, a stone for Jonathan Moorehouse. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the meaning behind the placement of Stella’s cars healights.
I figured we had enough to go to the police. After all the years I’ve worked with them, they have become used to this old lady helping them solve their cases. So, after I gave them all the evidence we had dug up, it wasn’t any trouble at all to get them to check Maud out.
And you know what? Just as I had suspected, Maud had used Winthrup, her maiden name, when she had applied for a job as Stella Mathews’ housekeeper. She knew Stella Mathews might suspect her if she had revealed that her married name was Moorehouse.
I could understand her wanting to get vengeance on Stella Mathews, but why had she implicated Jennifer?
“I needed a scapegoat,” she explained to the police after she’d made a full confession. “I never had nothing against the girl. But she does carry Stella Mathews’ blood, doesn’t she? So, I figured justice would be served if both the mother and the daughter were punished.”
Well, justice has been served, all right. And thank the dear Lord it wasn’t Maud Moorehouse’s brand of justice!