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Robert P. Fitton

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The Applegate Murder, A Matthias Jones Mystery
by Robert P. Fitton   

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Books by Robert P. Fitton
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Category: 

Mystery/Suspense

Publisher:  Fitton Books Type: 
Pages: 

296

Copyright:  Aug 23 2000
Fiction

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The Fitton Chronicles

  In a lighthearted mystery series, Hamilton College coach, Matthias Jones, is aided in his investigations by a host of humorous small town characters, and solves murder mysteries set in and around the fictional town of Hamilton, New Hampshire. Jones' close friend is found dead inside a concrete foundation.

Leo Crowley is murdered and buried in a new home's cement foundation. Jones' own life is threatened when he confronts a wild, fasting talking builder. His investigation leads to the bank, the woman he is dating, and her wise guy brother.
Excerpt
Leo Crowley's compressed body was chipped out of a foundation north of town. Jones sat at the jet window somewhere over Nebraska. While at his brother’s Redondo Beach home, George Strickland's untimely call from the construction sight trailer shook him. Leo had helped Jones’ teams at Hamilton College by lugging equipment and performing duties such a painting the field lines before games or just providing support with a timely cup of coffee. Now, framers on one of the new houses in the Applegate Development had seen part of a boot sticking out of the concrete. Lee Anne Crowley wanted Jones to return from his California vacation to find her husband's killer.
  Everyone in the tiny hamlet of Hamilton, New Hampshire knew him as the coach of three sports at the college and he sometimes dabbled in murder investigations. He looked at fourteen-year-old nephew, slated to spend the summer back east, and remembered how he had emphatically promised his brother, Chip would not be a part of Leo’s murder investigation. Then he leaned back in the seat, remembering Zelda back in California. Jones thought she was one of his brother's excuses for a blind date, but her natural blonde hair blowing in the beach air lingered in his thoughts. She expressed an interest in visiting New England, but had other commitments in California. Why did Leo have to go and get himself killed?
 
 * * *
  Jones studied the white caps churning under the plane as the jet approached Logan in mid afternoon. Then he looked up at Boston, under a sunken haze. With a bounce and a jolt the plane touched down. Chip leaned across his lap and looked out the window.
Jones rapped his shoulder. " It's not L.A., Chippy. Listen, I'll see if I can get you into Fenway Park again. Maybe when the Angels are in town."
  " Uncle Matthias, whoever stuffed Leo Crowley's body in that cement must have worked at Applegate."
  " Listen, Chip. " Jones pulled him back from the window as the jet braked abruptly. " I told your father. No investigation. You're going to summer camp and maybe find a girlfriend."
  " You told him that?"
  " Well, not the part about the girlfriend. Listen, when you get older you can help me."
  " How much trouble could I get into?"
  " I don’t want to even address that question. Lots…"
  " Uncle Matthias, I’m fourteen years old. "
  " I rest my case. George Strickland is going to meet us here. You remember him, Hamilton's police chief..."
  The jet slowed and taxied toward the terminal. " I remember that weird old guy who coached before you."
  " Lark Larsen."
  " Yeah, that's the guy. He brought me fishing, remember?"
  Jones pinched the bridge of his nose. " Yup. Lark fell in the Pocquanticut River when he was casting off."
  " But he held onto that log for fifteen miles!"
  " I know. I chased him the whole way along the river bank."
  " You broke you ankle."
  " Let's forget about Lark. Leo is dead… and even worse George says he has no suspects."
  The jet nudged back to the terminal. Once they were safely in place, Jones stood, retrieved the carryons from the overhead and moved within the passengers toward the ramp. He patted Chip on the shoulder and talked about the college baseball season, just concluded last month.
  Strickland, still in his blue police shirt, tie loosened, stood at the top of the ramp. His round face looked pensive as Jones brought Chip up the ramp, but managed a smile as he met them. " Matthias, having a good vacation?"
  " Was... Three thousand miles across the country and-" He blocked Chip's ears. " And leaving a gorgeous, but intelligent blonde haired beauty."
  " I know about Zelda."
  " Zelda?" asked Strickland. " Sounds interesting."
  " It was."
  " George, you know my nephew, Chip."
  " You going to help us solve this crime?" asked Strickland as they moved in the crowd toward the baggage section.
  " George, don’t encourage him. "
  " It's like getting your license, Mr. Strickland, guess you have to be old enough."
  Strickland grinned as they moved through the airport. " Chip, you're even getting Matthias' sense of humor."
  Jones rolled his eyes. " Ha. Ha. If he gets into trouble, I get into trouble with his father. Listen, this Leo thing is bizarre. What did he ever do to anybody? Leo was a nice guy."
  " No sign of a murder weapon. No sign of a struggle. No sign of blood on the sight. They took Leo's body to Clayton Morris's office. What a mess."
  " What was going on in his life? Obviously, he wasn't tending his orchards or farming anymore. I want to know what he was doing for the last two weeks. I'll ask Lee Anne."
  " I don't think she would know that answer, Matthias. She's been at her sister's house in Florida for the last month. I kept telling Bobby Bonner that..."
  " Bobby Bonner?"
  " Bonner is the builder at Applegate."
  Jones nodded and moved across the terminal toward the baggage stairway. All the way to the baggage carousal he remained several steps ahead of Strickland and Chip. He stopped at the carousal and put his foot up on the edge. " What do you know about Bobby Bonner, George?"
  " Bonner is based in Prince William. Hasn't built much in Hamilton and is associated with Bill Haywood, the developer."
  " I'm surprised they squeaked that development into quiet and sleepy Hamilton."
  " I guess Leo wanted to sell his apple orchards."
  " Who else is involved here?"
  " They're in this thing together with the bank, Prince William Credit Union. Bonner is a typical loud mouthed salesman."
  " Is he on the up and up?"
  Strickland squinted and ran his teeth over his lip. At that moment the baggage carousal started turning. Jones lost his footing and quickly stepped back. Chip smiled. Jones grinned and pointed at his nephew. " LA is one ticket away, Chippy."
  Strickland’s half smile dropped. " Bonner has been involved in some questionable activities. I've checked with Dom Pacheco and some of the cops in Prince William. You know the usual. Not paying the subs. Sleazy materials in construction. There are reports from his Prince William developments that he never follows up on any complaints with the houses."
  " Doesn’t make him a murderer, George… Anything else? Did he ever threaten anybody? Specifically Leo. What kind of guy is he?"
  " Loud. Pushy. Very pushy," said Strickland.
  " Uncle Matthias..."
  " One second, Chip."
  Strickland nodded and raised his finger. " That could be something to look into. Subcontractors would know more about him."
  Jones turned to Chip. " Yeah, Chip."
  " Your luggage, it just went around."
  " Nuts," said Jones. He raced after the brown suitcases and scooped up each of the five suitcases on the other side and handed Chip two of the suitcases.
  " Matthias, you could have just waited until they came around, " said Strickland. " Your uncle is hyper, Chip. "
  " George, I can send you to LA, too. "
  " Good, Mary and I can use the vacation. "
  " Where is your cruiser, Mr. Strickland?"
  " Parking garage. We’ll walk unless you want to run, Matthias."
  " Very funny. Come on. Let’s go home. "
  * * *
  Outside Jones stepped onto the curb, gazed at the busy underpass and stepped between the parked taxis and cars. Strickland spoke from behind. " I just want to give you the heads up, Matthias: Arnie Dewars is running around telling everybody you had a blow-out with your brother and that’s why you’re coming back to Hamilton. "
  " Arnie doesn’t affect me, " said Jones, but his right eye twitched.
" When I called you at your brother's house, I was going to tell you that Lark was on his way out to Los Angeles."
  Jones thought about his bumbling predecessor, the white hair, glasses, and gaudy clothes. How everything Lark touched started chain reactions that usually ended in disaster. " You’d do that, too."
  " There is some very spicy news about Lark though."
  Jones led the way to the parking garage. " Spicy? Let me guess, Lark’s gout is acting up again…"
  " Lark and Flo have broken up..."
  " What? " Lark and his girlfriend of twenty plus years were like two halves of a horse costume with Lark taking up the rear. They were virtually inseparable and talk of them breaking up made no sense. He turned to Strickland. " I don't believe it."
  " That's not the upshot, Matthias."
  " There's more? What more could there be?" Jones smirked and started walking again. " George, this must have hit the Boston papers... Time Magazine... Cable news..."
  " Lark is sweet on Cora Jefferson."
  Jones stopped again and set down his suitcase. " Who in their right mind could be sweet on Cora Jefferson? Plus, she hates Lark..."
  " They're dating. Really. The old boy still has it."
  " Yeah, he's got it all right." Jones picked up the suitcase and moved forward again. " It's what he's got that's the problem."
  Strickland chuckled from behind. " Oh, the town is buzzing about it, too."
  " Why would Lark and Flo break up?"
  " Something about money. Actually, something about her buying a house in Bonner's development. Nobody is saying much, Matthias. You know how Lark is when it comes to money."
  " The moths come out of his wallet every time he opens it."
  " He made me pay for my ice cream at the beach when I was eleven years old," said Chip.
  Jones nodded as he led them across the road and toward the parking garage elevator. " Yup... that's Lark. When he passes the birds on the common, they're all chirping... Cheap. Cheap. Cheap."
  Strickland and Chip laughed as the elevator doors opened. Strickland let them move inside. " And he's walking around town with Cora Jefferson, the world's most cynical woman."
  Jones shook his head. With summer’s arrival he would have no coaching or school responsibilities and could find out who killed Leo. The loud mouth, Bobby Bonner came to mind. But Bonner would not have direct responsibility for the land sale to Leo Crowley. That might fall to lawyers, the bank, or Bill Haywood.
  Strickland stepped out of the elevator and into the parking garage. The cruiser was a few spaces to the right. He quickly opened the trunk. " Everything should fit in back. "
  Jones hoisted his suitcases and then lifted Chip’s two cases. " George, what do you know about Haywood?"
  " You know, I should have an answer to that and I don't. " Strickland unlocked the doors and headed to the driver’s side, thinking as he got in the car.
" I've seen his yellow and blue FOR SALE signs in Hamilton and Prince William and I've heard he has an elaborate office in the city filled with woman."
  Chip slipped across the back seat as Jones nodded and got inside. He looked out the window as Strickland backed around. Finding out how much they paid Leo Crowley for his apple orchard was a good starting point. Land deals could cause hard feelings. Somebody always came out on top or there were complications. He took out his little black notebook and wrote down Bill Haywood's name in bold red letters.
  On the next page he started a column called, " Homeowners. " He needed to know who lived in that development, where they were last week, and what they thought about Leo. As a veteran, Leo and spent time with his friends at the VFW hall near the town dump and marched in all the town parades, carrying the flag with his fellow soldiers. Jones pressed his lips and tightened his fists. He liked Leo Crowley.
  At the attendant booth he handed Strickland some money for the parking, but the police chief waved him off. Jones stared at Boston's skyward buildings over the water, but soon looked northward. An hour and a half away, Hamilton was racked by Leo’s murder. Leo’s easy goin personality was an enigma. The man had no real enemies. Yet, somebody had murdered him and dumped his body into foundation forms.
 
2
  Jones looked over Hamilton Bay's smooth blue waters as Strickland turned left onto Shore Road. The land deal bothered Jones. How much did they pay Leo and where was the money? Jones would even suspect Lee Anne Crowley if she was out of town. Talking with Bill Haywood and Bobby Bonner as well as every subcontractor working at Applegate
  Jones had only a small meal on the plane. His stomach rumbled as he and Chip passed through his picket fence gate and up the brick walk to his white colonial on the common. The first thing he did was to make arrangements to meet Nigel Kent and his housekeeper at the Colonial House restaurant. He then punched in Clayton Morris’ number at the Medical Examiner’s office. The line rang as he reached in the refrigerator for a soda. He balanced the phone on his shoulder and poured the carbonated soda into a glass. Chip leaned forward as Jones pushed the tall glass across the counter.
Clayton picked up the line and Jones immediately began the questions, but Clayton was ready. " Matthias, Crowley was hit on the head with a long, blunt object. Things were messy, but... He was in that foundation over the weekend. Now, from what I understand, P. W. Concrete poured that foundation Friday morning. The men framing the house spotted a portion of Leo's work boot in the cellar cement. From what we can determine, Leo was killed Thursday night between ten-thirty and midnight, judging from his stomach contents."
  " What did he have to eat, Clayton?"
  " Roast beef. Probably a submarine sandwich. What concerns me is the head injury. One blow. Solid."
  " Somebody really clunked him?"
  " Yes. There was no sign of the body being dragged toward the foundation, but then again, it was raining Friday morning and the trucks crisscrossed the area. However, the marks on the body would coincide with impact points from being stuffed into the foundation forms. No pressure points on the back that you might see during transport. It is likely that he was killed on the lot and was dragged... Numerous marks under the arm pits."
  Jones tightened his jaw. He had hoped for something simple like a trail with footprints and a long line across the dirt where Leo's shoes had been pulled to the foundation, but only had speculation. The person who killed Leo Crowley possessed enough strength to kill Leo with a single blow and get the body into the foundation. Or the killer had help. " Any thing unusual in this, Clayton?"
  " Well, most of Leo's injuries were internal. A small amount of blood around the impact wound, but there was a spot on his pant leg, just below the knee."
  " I don't mean to be rude, Clayton. But so what?"
  " Blood on his pants doesn't match. Leo was type A. The blood on the pants was O."
  " Really?"
  " Not only that, the pants leg blood was fresh. I mean fresh in the sense that it had been there a short time. Maybe even the same night."
  That revelation baffled Jones, but Clayton mentioned nothing about a struggle. Leo was hit once from behind. Why was someone else's blood on his pant leg? A knock on the front door prompted Chip to head down the hallway. Jones continued speaking with Clayton and Chip opened the door. The afternoon light shot across the hallway wallpaper and Jones heard someone crying. He looked to his right. Flo Nightingale stood on his front steps, her face buried in a white lace handkerchief, and her blue-gray hair blazed in the sunshine. She would not stop whimpering.
  Jones had difficulty hearing Clayton's description of the head wound. He covered his right ear as Chip shut the front door and Flo shuffled into the hallway. Clayton described the swelling and what happened to Leo's cranial cavity when the object slammed into his head. " I'm sorry, Clayton... You're saying he went out, but not killed instantly. "


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