The Republican Corpse
~ A Sarah Kim Escapade ~
Apr 21, 2007
It’s not every day that you find a Republican corpse stuffed upside down in a broom closet on Capitol Hill. The fact that the head of the victim was rudely jammed into a dirty mop bucket caused even more stir among the faint of heart gathered that morning in the Ways and Means Committee room on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building.
Randolph Ward, the elderly janitor working in the committee room that morning, had been whistling cheerfully as he walked through the room and opened the walk-in broom closet in the far back corner. He prided himself on being “shiny and bright”, as he called it, even when the weather was much too foul for a July morning. His whistle stopped abruptly as the door of the closet swung open. Everything was in order in the broom closet. All of his mops were there. Equipment was stacked neatly on each side. Nothing to complain about really, except that the head of a very dead man was wedged into Randolph’s best mop bucket.
Randolph was working hard at the task of opening his mouth to yell for help when he was interrupted by the shrieks of a group of female interns behind him. He turned, scowling, to see them pointing at the body hysterically. The next few minutes were quite chaotic. Peace wasn’t restored until a group of Capitol police arrived and quickly cordoned off the back corner of the room.
One of the officers approached Randolph and took out a notebook as Randolph muffled a cough. The policeman’s body odor was almost as unpleasant as the smell of the corpse in the broom closet. The officer pointed at the closet with his pen. He spoke with a thin, reedy monotone.
“I’m Captain Sanders. This your closet?”
The officer grunted, scribbling. He looked Randolph up and down carefully and grunted again.
“Did you kill him?”
The man nodded. “Didn’t think so. You’re too old to turn the body upside down like that.” He looked at Randolph without smiling, and pointed to another officer. “Go tell your story to Walker over there.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked into the mop closet, nodding at the police photographer snapping pictures.
Randolph sighed. He was struggling very hard, without succeeding, to feel shiny and bright. Officer Walker, he gratefully discovered, was much more polite and seemed very patient as he led the janitor to a table and sat him down.
• • •
Captain Ted Sanders, gazing down at the body in the closet, was feeling distinctly unhappy. Not that he was normally a happy man — quite the opposite in fact. He was usually sour, and frequently mean. His body odor, his junior officers secretly said, reflected Sanders’ unpleasant view of the world. He trusted no one, and liked only one or two people that he could think of, although liked was perhaps too generous a term. His superiors put up with him because he was coldly efficient and worked like a machine. He got the job done, although in an unimaginative fashion.
The higher tension of unhappiness that Sanders felt as he stared at the corpse in front of him was produced by his recognition of the victim. Two officers had gingerly pulled the victim’s head out of the mop bucket and had laid the man on the floor. The man’s face was greasy with old mop water and blood. His features were clear, however, and made Sanders feel more depressed every moment.
Sanders looked at the photographer. “You recognize him, Vince?”
The photographer stared at the man’s face and then tried to catch his jaw as it dropped slightly. “Oh no.”
Sanders nodded. “Oh yes. The Mayor’s son. Clarence Price.”
Sanders spat into the mop bucket as he unclipped his walkie-talkie, causing a yell of dismay from one of the forensic men. Sanders ignored their glare. He was unhappy and getting angrier by the minute. The Mayor had the ear of the top brass in the Capitol police. Sanders knew in his gut that the Mayor was going to insist that one of his own people from DC Metro be brought in to work with the Capitol staff. Sanders hated working with other departments. It meant that he had to try to be nice. Nice was a waste of time. He never bothered with nice with his own men, and wasn’t his team one of the most successful on Capitol Hill?
He grumbled into the walkie-talkie. “Williams.”
“Call the Mayor’s office and tell him his no-good Republican son is dead, upside down in a broom closet in the Ways and Means room in Longworth. Tell him to send one of his men over right away, if he really has to.”
“Yes, Captain. Shall I use the phrase, ‘no-good Republican son’? You know the Mayor’s a Democrat. He won’t like that.”
“Make the call.”
Sanders sighed, and stared at the body. He wrinkled his nose. The broom closet really stank.
• • •
The photographers and forensic men were packing up when Sanders turned to see an unfamiliar face in front of him.
“Who are you?”
“Detective Sarah Kim, DC Metro. Are you Sanders?”
Sanders stared at the woman. “You’re a woman.”
“And you’re Chinese. I don’t like working with women and I don’t like Chinese. I’m a xenophobic misogynist.”
Sarah Kim glared at him. She was around thirty-five, tall and striking, with her long black hair pulled into a pony tail.
“My, my, my, what big words you use, Captain. Very impressive. I’m Korean-American, if you want to know. Although it’s none of your damn business.”
She handed Sanders her card. “Now that we know all about each other, what have you got?
Sanders scowled at the card and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. He waved his pen in the direction of the closet. “The body’s in there. Have a look.” He looked down at some paperwork, sipping a cup of coffee, pretending to ignore her.
Sarah never had much time for men like Sanders. She wasn’t a feminist, particularly. It was simply that she was, in the best sense of the word, modern. She often went against the pack, setting her own course in life. At Georgetown University, where she had majored in criminology, she had tended to scorn the group-think of her classmates, who spoke alike, dressed alike and went goo-goo eyed over witless men with tans.
Sarah had kept to herself most of the time, earning the sobriquet of “weird Korean egghead”. She didn’t care; much. Well, perhaps a little. She nursed her bruised ego after a run-in with her classmates by going to a coffee shop and downing chocolate lattés while reading the latest detective fiction that caught her eye. She’d read all the Poirot, Holmes, Marple and Father Brown stories before she even got to Georgetown. Growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, she had impressed her family with her penchant for analysis. Becoming a detective was an inevitable decision for Sarah.
Having proved herself for over a decade, rising through the ranks of the DC Metro Police to the position of Detective, Sarah had become tougher than she was in her college days. She let most negative things slide past her, paying attention only when it really mattered.
Looking at the unattractive face of Sanders that morning, Sarah filed his remarks away in a special box marked “hmmm” and turned her attention to the broom closet.
She walked over to the body and scrunched down on her heels to look at it more closely. Clarence Price had been a handsome man. A little too pudgy around the waist, but still quite a hunk. She pulled on some latex gloves and turned his head to look more closely at his skull. He had been stabbed once, in the back of the head, at the base of his skull. Sarah studied the wound carefully, gently turning the head to one side to see the wound better. The incision was deep, and entered the neck on the left side, at an upward angle.
Sarah stood up, stripped off her gloves and glanced at a young officer standing at the door of the closet. “Can you show me what was in his pockets?”
He smiled at her and held out his hand. “I’m Walker. Sergeant Robert Walker.”
She shook it and smiled back. He was handsome, and looked reasonably intelligent. “Hello. Detective Sarah Kim, DC Metro.”
Walker handed her a plastic bag filled with small items. “We’ve catalogued everything. Your usual mix of things. Money, credit cards, keys. Stuff like that. A photo of his wife and kids. The body was discovered by the janitor - a Randolph Ward. We call him Mr. Shiny and Bright.”
“Why is that?”
Walker smiled. “Every time anyone asks him how he is, he always says, ‘shiny and bright, shiny and bright.’ He’s quite a character, although he was awfully upset today.”
“As well he might be.” Sarah pulled the photo from the packet. It showed Price hugging his wife and three young children. “I wonder if Price had a happy marriage.”
Walker nodded. “Captain Sanders thought so.”
Sarah looked back at Sanders, bent over his paperwork. “Sanders knew him?”
“A bit. Price worked for Congressman Lawrence from California as a Legislative Assistant. Something to do with international trade. Sanders met Price a few times, in Lawrence’s office.”
“Congressman Lawrence is a leading Republican. I’ve heard that the Mayor hates him.”
Walker nodded. “It’s because the Mayor is upset that his son was working for him. Kinda like he stole his son.”
“Well, the Mayor’s a long-time Democrat. He hates all things Republican.” Sarah fished through the plastic bag and picked up a key. “I wonder what this goes to. It looks like a locker key.” She handed it to Walker.
Walker turned it over in his hand. “It wasn’t in his pocket. It was in his shoe. His foot was jammed behind a pipe. His shoe came off when we unjammed his foot and then the key fell out. Maybe it’s from a health club.” Walker studied the key for a moment. “It has the letters ‘WHC’, and a number - ‘45’. Maybe Washington Health Club? There’s one over on M and 18th.” He handed it back to Sarah.
Sarah carefully pocketed the key, winking at Walker, who rolled his eyes in Sanders direction, and winked back. She walked over to Sanders. “I’m done here. What’s your next step?”
Sanders looked up at her. “The normal routine. Notify the wife. That kind of thing. Look for the knife. This and that.” He looked at Walker. “Walker, get the body out of here. We’re done too.”
Walker nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Sanders stared at Sarah. “Well?”
Sarah stared back. “I’ll be in touch.” She turned and briskly walked out of the committee room, sniffing slightly.
• • •
Congressman Lawrence’s office was on the third floor of the Longworth Building. It was handsomely decorated, with dozens of photos on the walls, trumpeting his accomplishments. When Sarah walked into the office, the closed circuit television mounted high on the wall was on, with a Congressman from Nebraska expounding to a mostly empty house.
Sarah smiled at the intern behind the desk. “Is the Congressman in?”
The intern was an ultra skinny girl wearing a very short skirt and a white blouse. She pointed at the TV monitor. “No. He’s on the floor.”
“How ‘bout the Chief of Staff?”
The intern nodded. “Yes. Let me check if he’s available. Your name?”
“Detective Sarah Kim. DC Metro Police.” Sarah handed the intern her card.
The intern looked startled and scurried into the back of the office. After a short wait, a large, muscular man with a military haircut walked into the outer office. He looked at the card in his hand, and then at her. “Detective Kim. I’m Steven McAllister. The Congressman’s Chief of Staff. How can I help you?”
“I’m here about Clarence Price. I’m sorry to tell you that he’s been murdered.” McAllister just stared at her. She looked him over carefully, wondering about his reaction, looking for facial twitches or other clues to his feelings. His face was devoid of emotion.
“What do you mean, murdered?”
“His body was shoved into a broom closet in the Ways and Means room. He’d been stabbed in the back of the neck. Very skillfully done.”
“Why are you here instead of the Capitol Police? You’re DC Metro.”
“Yes, that’s true. Can I sit down?” He motioned to a couch, and she sat down, carefully smoothing her skirt over her knees. McAllister sat down in a leather chair at the corner of the couch, glancing at the intern at the reception desk. The girl was wide-eyed with shock.
“Rachel, calm down. I’ll handle it.”
She gulped and nodded weakly. “Yes, sir.”
He turned back to Sarah. “You were saying why you were here.”
“Yes. Well, you know that Price was the Mayor’s son. The Capitol police found the body and called the Mayor’s office, and they called us, and here I am.”
“Shouldn’t the Capitol Police have notified us first?”
Sarah smiled her most charming smile. “Normally yes. But this is now a joint operation. I’m sure they’ll be here soon, but since I was in the building, I thought I’d stop by to let you know and ask a few questions, if you don’t mind.”
McAllister scowled. “I do mind. You’re off protocol. But if you insist, go ahead.”
She took a tape recorder out of her pocket and turned it on. “What was Price working on recently?”
Sarah looked at him steadily. “Excuse me, Mr. McAllister. The Mayor’s son was just murdered. Shall I ask the Mayor to call you directly? You know how much the Mayor hates the Congressman. The Mayor’s going to be in flame throwing mode. It will be easier for you to talk with me.”
McAllister grimaced. “All right. Price was trying to create additional channels for famine relief to Zimbabwe that would actually get the food to the people instead of the government or the black market. Millions of people have died there in the last few years.”
Sara looked pensively at the map of California on the wall. “That doesn’t sound like an issue that would provide a motive for murder.”
McAllister nodded. “I agree. I can’t imagine who would want to murder Clarence. He was a really nice guy. A family man.”
“Had he seemed nervous or anything like that recently?”
He shook his head. “No. Everything seemed fine. Completely normal.” He paused. “Although it might have been a drug thing. At one time, Price had a problem with cocaine. Maybe he started up again and ran into trouble with a dealer.”
McAllister looked at the clock. “Listen, if you don’t have anything more, I’ve got to get back to my work. The Congressman’s expecting me on the floor in twenty minutes.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Good bye, Detective.”
Sarah stood and shook his hand. “Thanks for your time.”
She watched him as he went into the back office. He hadn’t seemed upset at all about Price’s death. Very curious. Sarah stepped to the reception desk and caught the intern’s eye. “Are you ok? You seemed quite shocked.”
The intern looked embarrassed. “I’m ok. I just never knew anybody who was murdered before. Mr. Price was such a nice man.”
Sarah patted her shoulder and smiled at her. “I’m sure he was. Take care.”
As Sarah closed the office door behind her and stepped out into the hall, she almost bumped into Captain Sanders with Sergeant Walker in tow. Sanders reared back and glared at her. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Sarah grinned at Walker, who was doing his best to hide a smirk, and then turned to Sanders. “Captain! How nice to see you again! So soon! I was just talking with the Chief of Staff.”
Sanders complexion was a deep red as he looked at her. “Detective Kim, you’re out of line! You should have consulted with me before you questioned him!”
Sarah put on her most sincere apologetic look. “Oh, I’m sorry! I thought this was a joint investigation between your team and DC Metro. I was just going to report to the Mayor how wonderful you’ve been and how impressed I was with your thoroughness.”
His lips were tight and he could hardly contain a snarl as he answered. “Don’t give me that crap. This is my jurisdiction. Stay out of my way, ok?”
She smiled again. “Of course, Captain! Of course. You’ll hardly notice me.” She winked at Walker. “Have a nice day, Sergeant.”
She overheard Sanders muttering under his breath as she walked down the corridor; something about a “damn bitch”. Sarah didn’t mind. In fact, she felt a bit gleeful. The joys of interdepartmental cooperation were many.
• • •
The Washington Health Club on M Street was one of those exclusive clubs that made ordinary mortals uncertain that they had a right to live. Sarah hated it immediately as she walked through the huge mahogany doors. Most noticeable was its lack of smell. Except for the discreet view of exercise machines through a small window in a side door, it could have been the anteroom to any major business. As the manager led her through the inner rooms toward the lockers, she plied him with questions about the club’s members. He knew Clarence Price, but couldn’t think of anything unusual about his behavior.
The manager stopped her at the locker room door while he checked the room. Motioning her in, he smiled sardonically. “Wouldn’t want you to walk in on any nude men, Detective.”
Sarah smiled sweetly. “You’re too kind. Thank you. Will you guard the door?”
He nodded. “Will do.”
She found locker 45 and turned the key, half expecting to find nothing more exciting than some old socks. She was very pleasantly surprised to find a large yellow envelope stuffed in the bottom of a gym bag. Other than that, the locker was empty. She started to open the envelope, but changed her mind as the manager poked his head into the locker room.
“Yes, thank you. I’m done.” She lifted out the bag and briskly closed the locker door. “I’ll be back, but this is fine for now.”
The manager stepped aside as she passed through the door. She sensed his eyes scanning her up and down, cataloguing her body, calculating her availability. As she walked down the hall, she idly imagined how he might react if she kicked him in his nether regions. She sighed. He’d probably sue the Department. She contented herself with a parting shot over her shoulder.
“If you look at my breasts again, I’ll have to arrest you.”
• • •
The drive to Flint Hill, west of Warrenton, Virginia, was brutal at the end of a long work day. What normally only took an hour turned into a long slow crawl down Route 29, made pleasant only by the glorious sunsets over the Shenandoah foothills and the strains of classical music that Sarah usually listened to. The drive also offered a splendid chance to think and contemplate, to be still, and know that beauty still existed after a day of blood and murder.
Sarah’s home was a modest farm house, hidden on a tiny road between pastures munched on by sleepy cows whose busiest activity was flicking the Virginia flies off their hides with their tails. It seemed a very long way from DC, and suited Sarah perfectly. She had been spoiled by growing up in the countryside around Charlottesville and had sworn to never live in the city. She had told her parents that Flint Hill was a gift from God. They had nodded, happy that she was only forty-five minutes away. Her mother had then asked, with her special Korean mother’s smile, “And a husband? You’re not going to live alone, are you?”
Sarah had shrugged. “When I meet, him, Oma, you’ll meet him, too.”
Waiting for that day, Sarah consoled herself by adopting a death row dog and a cat from a neighboring farm. Their affections were limitless, and constant.
As she turned her car into the drive, her dog, a pointy-eared terrier mongrel, came racing out to meet her. She had named him “Orange Julius” because of his long golden coat. His tail was wagging so fast that his whole body wiggled.
“Hey, Jules. You been good?”
He followed her into the house, and promptly attacked the cat, a slinky panther type who loved roughhousing with Julius almost as much as sleeping on Sarah’s bed. The cat pressed against Sarah, purring loudly. She tickled his chin and picked him up. “Hello kitty. Did you knock anything off the shelves today?” Mouch, short for Scaramouche, ignored her question, since it was, after all, quite beneath him.
Sarah laughed, and put him down. “Ok, guys. Time for dinner.”
Dinner came and went, and Sarah curled up on her bed with a cup of tea, and leafed through the contents of the envelope that she had retrieved from Price’s locker.
Her tea grew cold as she examined the contents. Price had left an extensive array of papers documenting his famine relief efforts. Sarah’s immediate question was why Price had left such an important packet in a locker at his health club. She glanced at Orange Julius, who was curled at her feet. “Why’d he do it, Jules?” She rubbed his nose affectionately. “You’re no help, are you?” His tail thumped the bed in total agreement.
“Wait a minute, Jules. Maybe this is it!” She lifted a single page, her eyes widening as she read it. It was a printout of a “Private and Personal” memo from Price to Congressman Lawrence, about some of Price’s food shipments that had never reached Zimbabwe.
Sarah whistled softly. Price had been doing some detecting himself, tracking his lost shipments. The memo suggested that a man named Kenneth Mugabe had colluded with someone in Lawrence’s office to divert the shipments of corn meal to the black market, where meal was being sold for ten times the official price. The note was brief, but to the point. It was a plea to the Congressman for help.
It was now clear to Sarah why Price had left the papers in the health club. Sarah riffled through the documents. Price had left an address for Mugabe as well as a small scrap of paper that caught Sarah’s eye. It had just one word scrawled on it, with a question mark, “Salvino?”. She looked at it for a long time, thinking, and then stretched and stood up. Going to a book case, she leafed through a directory, and ran her finger down a list of names. Salvino, Anthony. Legislative Assistant to Congressman Lawrence. Could it be so simple?
Sarah looked at Orange Julius. “What do you think, Jules? Have we found our murderer? Shall we get him?” Jules snored on, unworried. He was no help at all.
• • •
At ten the next morning, Sarah was standing outside of a nondescript warehouse off Florida Avenue. It was a very disreputable section of DC — not a comfortable place to be for a woman, even when the woman had a gun. Since many of the young men in the area had guns themselves, Sarah felt distinctly outmatched. The warehouse looked closed, but she decided to knock anyway. Much to her surprise, the door swung open abruptly, revealing an obese and greasy looking man standing in the doorway.
He looked her up and down, quite rudely, and growled, “Whaddya want?”
Sarah tried to smile, but thought better of it, and said, “Kenneth Mugabe?”
“Yeah. Waddya want?”
She showed him her badge, and he scowled even more. “So?”
Not wanting to tax the limits of his conversational ability, she got right to the point.
“I understand you spoke with a Clarence Price recently about grain that you diverted from starving children in Zimbabwe. What kind of a man lets children die, just for a few bucks?”
Just in time, her well placed shoe stopped the door from being slammed shut.
She pointed her finger at him reprovingly. “Mr. Mugabe, that was rude.” She looked at his suddenly sweaty face curiously. “By the way, are you any relation to President Robert Mugabe? You know, the guy who’s ruining your country?”
He cursed softly, in a dialect she couldn’t understand. His knuckles were tensed, straining to shut the door. Just as she started to say, “Can I come in...,” he managed to kick her shoe out of the door, and slammed it shut.
Sara whistled as she walked to her car. Mugabe hadn’t confessed, but he might as well have. “Progress, progress...,” she murmured. “Now for Mr. Salvino.”
• • •
Stuck in traffic on New York Avenue, Sarah made a call to Sergeant Walker. His voice was warm and slightly surprised when he heard her voice.
“Well, hello Detective. How can I help you?”
“Sergeant Walker, I just wanted to thank you for your help yesterday. I really appreciate it.” No harm in buttering up the competition. Besides, she liked him. After a few more pleasantries, she came to the point.
“Any news on the autopsy? I’m interested in the wound. The stroke was at an unusual angle.”
“Yes, it was,” he replied. “Not only that, it was an unusual weapon.”
“What do you mean?”
“They found the tip of the knife stuck in the skull bone. Only it wasn’t a knife. It looked like it might have been a letter opener. The edges were dull on both sides.”
Sarah thought about that for a moment, before replying.
“The killer must have jammed it in really hard to break off a piece in the bone.”
“I figure he was ex-military or at the very least trained in knife-fighting. It was an almost perfect thrust. Price must have died instantly,” Walker said.
“I think you’re right,” Sarah answered. “By the way, Sergeant, I may have some closure on this soon. Can you tell our favorite Captain that I may be calling him soon?”
Walker laughed. “Certainly! Favorite Captain, indeed.”
Sarah chuckled and said good-bye. Pulling up to the Longworth Building, she parked and spent the next hour making calls. She started by calling Steven McAllister.
“Hello, Mr. McAllister. This is Detective Kim. I’ve got a tough request, but I’m afraid it’s necessary. I need to meet with you and the Congressman and Anthony Salvino this afternoon. What’s the best time?”
There was a long pause and then McAllister said, “The Congressman is in meetings all day. It’s impossible.”
“Then he has to cancel something. How about three p.m.?”
She could hear the tension in his voice as he answered, “Under duress, Detective Kim. He won’t be happy about it.”
“Thank you, Mr. McAllister. Murder is an unhappy business. See you all then.”
Sarah made a number of additional phone calls, and then walked into the building. Since it was already past noon, she took the elevator down to the basement and went to the cafeteria. She was feeling particularly pleased with her morning’s work, so she ordered a grilled chicken salad, followed by a large piece of deadly chocolate cake.
• • •
Anthony Salvino was a muscular young man with a broken nose and a Bronx accent that was broader than he was tall. If it wasn’t for his superior yellow tie, Sarah could have pictured him wearing pointed alligator skin shoes. She glanced at his shoes, just to make sure, and felt disappointed to see a pair of conventionally dull wing tips. He was talking to the Congressman as McAllister ushered her into Lawrence’s office a few minutes before three pm. Congressman Lawrence was middle-aged and weather-beaten, which wasn’t surprising given his obvious penchant for sailing. His office walls were covered with photos of fishing trips and various commendations. Sarah silently noted a large plaque honoring his retirement as a Navy Seal. As she scanned the Congressman’s desk, her eyes glinted every so slightly.
She walked up to the Congressman, and shook his hand.
“Good afternoon, sir. Thank you for taking the time for this meeting.”
He looked at her and shrugged. “I was very fond of Clarence. We almost closed the office, but there were too many things going on. How can we help you, Detective?”
She started to answer, but turned as the door opened and two Metro police officers entered the room, guiding in a handcuffed Kenneth Mugabe. Close on their heels were Captain Sanders and Sergeant Walker. Sarah had stepped back into a corner of the room so that they could all enter. As they did so, she watched everyone’s faces as surreptitiously as she could. Sanders was the first to speak.
“Detective, what’s going on?” He was angry, with his jaw almost quivering as he spoke. “Walker here calls me five minutes ago and tells me that you’re closing the case and I should meet you here? What the hell is this?”
Sarah smiled sweetly. “Captain Sanders, you know the Congressman, I believe.” She turned to the Congressman and motioned to the others. “This is Sergeant Walker, Captain Sanders’ assistant. Over there we have Bill Lanton and Mark Johnson from Metro.” Pointing to Mugabe, she said, “And there’s a gentleman you all probably know.”
Lawrence nodded to the policemen. “Sanders and Walker I know.” He looked at Mugabe, who stared back defiantly. “Who is this person?”
“Before I answer,” said Sarah, “why don’t you all sit down and get comfortable?” She turned to the Metro officers. “Except for you and your charge, if you don’t mind. I think he should stand.” They nodded silently.
The others sat down while Sarah crossed over to the window and turned and faced them, so she could see their faces clearly. She waited for a moment, and gazed at them one by one, until Salvino started fidgeting and exclaimed, “Excuse me, ma’am, but what is going on?”
She stared coldly at Salvino. “Ah, Salvino. I have some questions for you. For starters, how did you get your broken nose?”
Salvino flushed. “How is that relevant? In a fight, if you must know.”
“So you’re a fighter, are you? How ‘bout knives? You must be good in knife fights, right?” she asked.
Without waiting for him to reply, she turned to the Congressman. “I’m surprised, Congressman Lawrence, that you have such tough guys on staff. Why is that?”
The Congressman frowned and said, “I agree with Tony. How is this relevant, Detective? Tony is a good man; the son of a friend of mine. Do you have a point to all this?”
“We’re getting there,” Sarah replied. “But before I go on, let me do this first.” She opened her briefcase and pulled out a large card. Handing it to the Congressman, she said, “I’m sending a condolence card to Price’s widow. I’d appreciate it if you all sign it for me.”
“Now?” asked Lawrence.
“Yes, thanks,” said Sarah. “It will only take a moment.”
“Oh, all right.” Lawrence sighed and scribbled his name and then handed the card to McAllister. Sarah watched each of them closely as they signed it, studying them, gauging their reactions. When it got to Mugabe, she motioned to the officers to pass it by him. Mugabe gazed straight ahead, pretending not to notice. When the card came back around to Sarah, she put it in her briefcase and walked over to the Congressman’s desk. As she did so, Officer Lanton quietly left the room.
Sarah gazed at the group, and then turned to Lawrence. “Congressman, you asked earlier who that gentleman in handcuffs was.” The Congressman nodded silently. Sarah opened her briefcase and pulled out a piece of paper. Handing it to Lawrence, she said, “I’m puzzled why you would ask that, since you must have received the original of this memo from Price, telling you that Mr. Kenneth Mugabe here had diverted some of Price’s grain shipments, with the assistance of someone in this office. He asked you for help in finding out who that person was, and was murdered shortly afterwards. Can you explain that, sir?”
“What! Where did you get that?” Sarah turned to see Captain Sanders jumping from his chair, extremely red in the face. He lunged forward and grabbed the memo from Lawrence.
“In a moment, Captain,” Sarah said. She looked up as Officer Lanton came back into the room. He shook his head, ever so slightly. Turning back to Lawrence, she looked down at him. “Well, sir?”
The Congressman shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Yes, I received the memo. I was acting on it privately, investigating it. Of course it concerned me. I’ve never seen Mugabe, and I wasn’t sure if this was the same man. It seemed premature to say anything.”
Sanders interrupted, “Detective, where did you get this memo!”
Sarah fished the locker key out of her purse. Handing it to Sanders, she said, “From his health club locker, Captain. He left a whole packet of documents about his diverted grain shipments. Seems like Mugabe was working with someone in this office, finding out about different shipments in advance so that he could wire together his nefarious schemes.” She glared at Mugabe, who flushed. “Taking food away from starving children! You’re an evil man, Mugabe!”
Sanders was struggling to wrap his mind around her comments. “How did you get this key?”
“That’s just interdepartmental cooperation, Captain. Sergeant Walker and I figured it must be important. It was in Price’s shoe.”
Sanders pointed at Walker accusingly. His voice was cold as he said, “You gave her this, without telling me? That’s it, Walker. You’re finished. Fired. Kaput.”
Sarah glanced at Walker reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Sergeant. I’ve already talked to my boss about you. We’re happy to have you in Metro, where your talents won’t be wasted any longer.”
Sarah clapped her hands together briskly and looked at the others. “Enough of this. The real issues are these: we know that Mugabe worked with someone in this office. We know that Price warned Congressman Lawrence about it.” She paused for effect, staring first at Lawrence, then at Salvino and then at McAllister.
“We also know that Price was murdered, shortly after sending a memo to the Congressman, by someone very skilled with knives. The blow was an upward thrust in exactly the right spot to enter his brain and kill him instantly, and more importantly, quietly. To me, this means that any one of you three gentleman could be the killer. The Congressman is an ex-Navy Seal. Mr. Salvino grew up on the mean streets of the Bronx. And McAllister... well, my office told me this morning that McAllister is in the National Guard. One of you lured Price to the Ways and Means room two nights ago, where you wouldn’t be seen, and murdered him in cold blood.”
She looked at them as her words sunk in. Lawrence was the first to speak. “Detective, I find your remarks very offensive.”
McAllister and Salvino chimed in. “Very offensive indeed! ... You got that right.”
Walker and Sanders were quiet, watching her.
McAllister said, “You have no evidence for these allegations. You’re very much out of line, especially when you start accusing the Congressman.”
“Ah, evidence. You’re right,” Sarah replied. She looked casually at Lawrence’s desk. “Oh, look, Congressman. What a curious letter opener you have!” She picked up a large, ornate letter opener. Its handle and sheath were carved out of bone, creating one long sculpture of a shark. Balancing it in her hand, she said, “It’s very heavy, with a long blade. I’d hate to have this stuck in my skull.”
Ever so carefully, she slid the letter opener out of its sheath and held it up for all to see. Pointing at the tip, she said, “See? There’s a very tiny piece missing from the tip. You can hardly see it, but it’s gone. I’d be very curious to see if this matches the piece forensics found lodged in Price’s skull.”
In the ensuing babble it was hard to sort out who said what. Somewhere in between Sanders shouting at Walker and the Congressman shouting at McAllister and Salvino, Sarah banged the letter opener on the desk top to get their attention.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen. You needn’t fret. I already know who did it.”
Sanders raised an eyebrow. “You do?”
“Yes, of course,” she replied. She turned to Mugabe. “Mr. Mugabe.”
“I did not do it!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, yes, I know that.” She paused and walked up to him, very close, with her nose an inch from his and locked her eyes on his. She kept staring at him, without blinking, until he shifted his stance and looked away. She said, quite loudly, “Mr. Mugabe, you realize of course that the murderer is going to try and take you down with him. If you cooperate with us, and also work to replace those grain shipments, you’ll have a much easier time of it.”
Mugabe glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “I did not kill the man.”
Sarah turned back to the others. “Of course you didn’t. And neither did the Congressman, although at first I wasn’t sure.” She went to her purse and taking out an orange, she started to peel it. “I love oranges, don’t you Salvino?”
Salvino’s eyes narrowed and he looked at the floor, angrily.
Sarah stopped peeling halfway through the orange and suddenly turned and threw the orange toward McAllister. “Do you like oranges, McAllister?”
Instinctively, he reached out and caught the orange. “Sure, detective. I like them.”
“Too bad, McAllister. You should have let that orange go right on by.”
She looked at the others, who were all staring at her, puzzled. “I had you all sign a condolence card earlier. Now my little experiment with the orange confirms it again. The Congressman and Salvino are right-handed. McAllister signed the card with his left hand, and caught the orange the same way.”
Lawrence interrupted. “So?”
Sarah replied, “It’s very simple, Congressman. The wound was thrust into the left side of Price’s skull. From the forensic evidence, it’s very clear that it was administered by a left-handed person.” She looked at McAllister. His face had grown hard, but he didn’t say anything. “It would have been very easy for McAllister to find that memo, Congressman. You should have been more careful.”
Lawrence had a look of profound shock on his face. His voice was emotional as he said, “Detective, it’s my fault. If I had locked it in my personal safe, Price might be alive today.”
Sarah nodded, sympathetically. “As it was, McAllister must have decided to use your letter opener as the weapon after he found the memo in your desk. He returned the letter opener to your desk so you wouldn’t find it gone. He must have figured that even if the police connected it to the crime, they would have thought that you had done the deed.”
She turned to Mugabe. “Well Mr. Mugabe, would you like to do less time breaking rocks in prison?”
Mugabe had a mixture of fear and defiance on his face as he pointed at McAllister. “You are right! He killed Price! I told him that Price came snooping around and he said he would take care of him. I didn’t think he would kill him.” Mugabe suddenly started to shout at McAllister. “If you hadn’t killed him, we wouldn’t have this problem today! You are a fool!”
The two Metro officers had to restrain him as he lunged at McAllister. McAllister lunged back and punched Mugabe in the chest. Contemptuously, he said, “You’re the fool, Mugabe. You left a trail behind you. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have had to deal with Price.”
Sanders jumped into the fray and pulled McAllister away from Mugabe. “McAllister, that’s enough!” Sanders looked at Sarah, bitterly, but admiringly at the same time. “Kim, you’re a pain in the ass.” He motioned to the Metro officers and Sarah nodded at them affirmatively. “Time to go, guys,” Sanders said.
Sarah shook hands with the Congressman and Salvino as McAllister and Mugabe were led away. Lawrence was still in shock, while Salvino looked immensely relieved that the whole thing was over.
“Congressman, I’m sorry for putting you through this, but I had to be sure,” Sarah said.
Lawrence nodded. “I understand, Detective. I understand.” He looked at Salvino. “I’m just glad it wasn’t you Tony. When I got the memo, I was afraid it was.”
Salvino bit his lip. “Sir, I would never murder anyone. I’m surprised you thought I could.”
Lawrence grasped his arm. “I’m sorry, Tony. I apologize.”
Sarah looked at Walker, who was still standing in the corner, unsure of what to do.
“Sergeant Walker, let’s go get a cup of coffee and talk about your new job.”
• • •
Standing on the sidewalk outside the Longworth building, sipping his coffee, Sergeant Walker gazed at Sarah with awe and admiration.
“You’re amazing, Detective.”
“Why is that, Sergeant?”
“You took such a big risk today. How did you know that the Congressman even had a letter opener?”
She smiled. “I didn’t. I saw it on his desk when I came in. I asked Officer Lanton to check McAllister’s and Salvino’s offices, to see if they had one. He came up empty. It was just the luck of the draw combined with intuition. My trump card was Mugabe himself. He was very afraid when I talked with him at his warehouse. I figured he would break and help us out.”
Walker shook his head again. “Amazing. You have more guts than I do. And the thing with the left-handed killer! You know as well as I do that the stab wound could have been delivered by a right-handed person, if the murderer was facing Price, and brought his right hand up from the side and behind Price’s back. Forensics didn’t say anything about that.”
Sarah laughed merrily. “Haven’t you heard the phrase, baffle them with bullshit? If they don’t know that I don’t know, then I might as well know, don’t you think? Anyway, I rolled the dice and gambled that the killer stood behind Price. It would have been harder to surprise him from the front.”
Sarah took one last sip from her coffee cup and threw the cup in a trash bin. Linking her arm through Walker’s arm, she looked at him and smiled. “May I call you Robert?”
He blushed and stammered. “If you wish, Detective.”
“Sarah. It’s Sarah.” She smiled again as she walked with him down the sidewalk. It was a beautiful July afternoon and she felt very shiny and bright indeed.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”
Did you like what you read?If so, leave a Tip, below, and join the ranks of our Renaissance Patrons!
>> Read More about becoming a Renaissance Patron