High society can be murder!
Detective Tina Sharpe and her partner, Ollie Rogen, drove up to the only entrance to the exclusive gated community of Briarwood. It was noon when they showed their badges to an overweight security guard whose name tag read Max.
“I hope you find whoever killed Mrs. Dixon,” Max said. Even though it was a cool day, he wiped perspiration from his upper lip. “She just got home this morning at nine, and now this has happened. It’s terrible.” His hand trembled as he pressed the button to open the gate so they could drive through.
“That guard seemed pretty nervous,” Rogen commented as Tina pulled into the driveway of the victim’s mansion and parked behind the coroner’s van. “I guess it’s not every day that somebody gets murdered on his watch.”
“Yeah, probably not.” Tina got out of the car. Rogen, a decade younger, had to scramble to keep up with her.
The uniformed officer manning the front door nodded in recognition as Tina and Rogen ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and stepped inside. A young couple stood in the wood-paneled entry hall, being interviewed by a second officer. The detectives moved past them into the large library.
“What have we got, Jenny?”
The medical examiner, Dr. Jenny Hollister, looked up from her clipboard. “Hey, Tina. Still with Rogen, huh?”
“Yeah, lucky me.” Tina gestured toward the body of a fashionably-dressed, silver-haired woman lying on the plush carpet. “So, what’s the story?”
“Mrs. Angela Dixon, wealthy widow, age seventy.”
“No apparent GSW or stab wounds,” Rogen noted. “Could it be death from natural causes?”
“Do you think I would have called you here if it were, Detective Rogen? See the bruising pattern on her neck? She was strangled.”
“Estimated time of death?” Tina asked.
“Lividity and body temp indicate no more than a few hours ago, so I’d say between eight and eleven a.m.”
Tina led the way back to the couple still waiting in the front hall. “Were you related to Mrs. Dixon?”
“Hardly,” the man said. “I’m Steve Marshall and this is my wife, Emma. We housesit for the old lady when she goes on vacation. She wasn’t due back until tomorrow, so we decided to drive over to The Pancakery at seven this morning for breakfast and then go shopping at the mall. We got back about thirty minutes ago and found her lying dead in the library.”
“So you alerted the security guard and asked him to call the police?” Rogen asked.
“No, we dialed 9-1-1 directly. We haven’t talked to anyone else,” Emma said. “If we hadn’t gone to the mall after breakfast, we might have gotten back here in time to save the old biddy. Although I doubt she’d have even given us a bonus for that.”
“It sounds as if you didn’t much like Mrs. Dixon,” Tina said.
“Nobody did, really,” Emma agreed. “But we didn’t kill her, if that’s what you’re suggesting. She attended charity events around town wearing her expensive diamonds, so maybe it was a robbery.”
“Did she keep the jewelry here in the house?” Rogen inquired.
“Yes,” Emma said. “She mentioned having a wall safe. It’s somewhere in the library, I think. She often complained that the neighborhood security guards were no better than trained monkeys, so she also had an alarm system installed and insisted we set it every time we left the house. She would have had to turn it off when she got home this morning, but she still wouldn’t have opened the door to someone she didn’t know.”
Tina and Rogen slipped on gloves and looked behind a dozen framed paintings in the library before they found the concealed safe. The door wasn’t locked and the jewels were gone.
“Looks like a motive to me,” Rogen said.
“Sure does.” Tina nodded. “And I think I know who the killer is, too. Let’s go talk to another suspect.” She led the way back to their car and got behind the wheel. “No need to even buckle your seatbelt, Rogen,” she said. “We’re aren’t going far.”
Two blocks and they were back at the front gate. There seemed to be a changing of the guard in progress. A young woman in uniform was talking to Max, the plump and nervous guard they’d seen on the way in. He had his lunch box and jacket in hand. When he spotted Tina and Rogen pull up to the gate, he nodded to his replacement and strode off to his parked car.
Tina drove past the guard booth and stopped behind Max’s car, blocking him from backing out.
“I guess we’re questioning Max now?”
“You catch on quick, Rogen,” Tina said.
The guard set his lunch box on the passenger seat and tossed his jacket over it before turning back to the detectives. “What did you find out, Detectives? Any idea who killed old Mrs. Dixon?”
“We’ve got a few good clues,” Tina answered. “In fact, you could make our day a whole lot easier if you just tell us why you did it.”
“Me?” The guard’s eyes widened. “Why would you think I’d want to kill her?”
“C’mon, Max,” Tina said. “No one likes hearing that they’re no better than a trained monkey, do they?”
Max’s innocent look faded. He grimaced, glanced around, then pushed Rogen out of the way and ran for the street. Rogen staggered back, but kept on his feet. “Where does he think he’s going?”
“No idea,” Tina said, reaching for the guard’s jacket. “But if you don’t hurry, he might get away.”
Rogen took off, caught up with the plump guard in seconds, tackled him and slapped on the handcuffs. He walked the man, huffing and puffing, back to Tina, who held his lunch box in one hand and her cell phone in the other.
“Yes, that’s right. We’ve recovered the victim’s jewels and we’re bringing in the suspect now. No, I think we’re good, thanks.”
Rogen stashed Max in the back of their car, buckled him in and closed the door. “Okay,” he said, turning back to Tina, “school me. How’d you know?”
“It’s simple, really. That young housesitting couple, the Marshalls, had a pretty good alibi, one that we could easily check on security cameras at the restaurant they went to and at the mall. But even when we first drove in, I picked up on nervous Max already knowing the name of the victim and recalling exactly when she’d returned home. Later, when Steve Marshall said that they’d called 9-1-1 themselves and hadn’t spoken to Max, I realized the only way he could know Mrs. Dixon was the victim was if he’d murdered her himself or at least knew who did. Let’s take him in for questioning. I think he’ll confess that he knew the Marshalls had gone out, so he followed the old lady to her house, waited a few minutes for her to go inside and turn off the alarm, and then rang the doorbell. Since she knew Max, she let him in. He forced her to open the safe, then strangled her, took the jewels and returned to the guard gate.”
“So, a crime of opportunity, then?” Rogen said.
“Probably. He likely had no way of knowing the victim was coming home from vacation a day early.” Tina opened the guard’s lunch box and showed it to her partner. Inside, sitting on an empty sandwich bag, was a mound of glittering diamond necklaces, earrings and rings. “And, like I told Max, no one appreciates being compared to a monkey, right?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rogen said and grinned. “I kinda like monkeys.”
They got in their car, drove back to the station and turned Max in to be booked. “You write up the report, Rogen,” Tina said, “and I’ll go get us some lunch. Your usual?”
“Sounds good,” Rogen said.
Tina started to walk away, then stopped and turned back with a smile. “Want me to get you a banana with that?”