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Authors: Aaron Stander

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

Medieval Murders (10 page)

BOOK: Medieval Murders
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19

Elkins met Sheriff Jack Kackmeister at the county storage yard, a fenced area behind the road commission building.

“As soon as I saw your name as a witness on the accident report, I knew that you would be over to have a look at this.”

Elkins gave him a questioning look.

“Since the victim is a faculty member, I knew you’d want to know everything about the accident. Here’s the report.” He handed a manila folder to Elkins.

After reading the report, Elkins handed the folder back to Kackmeister. “That’s a good piece of work, thorough and literate.”

“I made sure it was extra clean. I hold our interns to the same standards you held me to as an undergrad. Does the report jibe with your observations?”

“I think that’s essentially what happened.”

“Where were you at the time of the accident?” Kackmeister asked.

“I was at a party at Clifford Chesterton’s. He’s the chair of the English department. Do you know him?”

Kackmeister made a negative nod.

“I was standing in the front lawn talking when I heard the crash and ran over. The vehicle was quickly engulfed in flames. One of your road patrol cars was there almost immediately. The fire trucks arrived soon after. I left when they got there. Report says you didn’t find any skid marks.”

“I went over there yesterday with my accident specialist. There were no skid marks on Wimbledon or Townline Road. It doesn’t look like she touched her brakes. The driver of the truck, however, tried to stop, but he was fully loaded. The car is over here.” He led Elkins to the burned shell of the Jaguar convertible.

“Any possibility of some kind of mechanical failure?”

“There’s too much damage to reach any conclusions. The car is more than twenty years old. Ted, our chief mechanic, looked the wreck over. He said there is always the possibility of a catastrophic failure in the brakes, but even in a car as old as that one there is a lot of redundancy. We’ll never know if there was a mechanical problem. I talked with the pathologist who did the autopsy. Hendrickson was 0.23 or greater.”

“I know. I talked with Dr. Gutiérrez this morning. Hendrickson was rumored to be a very serious drinker. It’s hard to know how well she was functioning. So where does that leave us?”

“Will I be graded on my answer?” Kackmeister asked with a smile.

“No, as long as you get your dissertation done this year.”

“Well, we can’t rule out mechanical problems, and alcohol was a factor, perhaps the major factor.”

Elkins asked, “Who does most of the foreign car service in town?”

“Guy’s name is Kimber, Cecil Kimber. His place is on the far west side of town on the highway, Import Auto. It’s next to, but sort of tucked behind, the Big Top Truck Stop, small white block building.”

“Thanks,” said Ray. “There’s one more thing. Well, two more. First, Reda Rudd, the editor of the
Daily,
will be calling you. She’s been doing a story on Hendrickson’s death.”

“Last time I dealt with the
Daily
....”

“She’s all right, Jack. She’s smart, professional, and honest. You don’t have to worry about her. She’s the one who brought the athletic dorm scandal to light. I told her you’d be happy,” Ray emphasized the word ‘happy,’ “to provide her with your findings at the appropriate time.”

“I’ll do my best,” responded Kackmeister.

Ray noted the lack of enthusiasm in Kackmeister’s tone.

“What’s the second thing?”

“The Chancellor would like a statement from you on the accident. He’s going to have PR people produce a press release that unequivocally states this was an accident. He wants to make sure he has the documentation to back up the claim. Seems the
State News
is running an editorial suggesting this was the second faculty suicide in a week. I think a copy of that report,” Ray pointed to the folder, “would be more than adequate. If you would be good enough to fax it over, I’d appreciate it.”

“I’ll do that. Let me know if there is anything else you need.”

“Thanks,” said Ray, “How’s the dissertation? I haven’t seen you lately.”

“Lots going on right now. I’ll get on it again once the kids are back in school. Fall’s a better time for writing.”

20

R
ay’s first task on Wednesday morning was to interview Cecil Kimber. As he approached the cinderblock building, Ray smiled as he noted that the sign “Import Auto” also contained the line “and Sports Cars” in small faded blue letters. He entered through the door marked “Office.” Finding no one, he pushed open the door at the rear of the office and walked into the garage, a large open area. Decades of dirt and grime clung to the once white walls and steel framed windows. A few faded and yellowing Snap-on calendars hung at random locations around the dingy interior. Vehicles in various states of disassembly, some on jack stands, littered the opposing sides of the garage, the center a pathway to the large overhead door at the end of the building. The atmosphere was redolent of oil, gasoline, rubber, exhaust fumes, and mineral spirits. Rush Limbaugh ranted from a boom box at the back of a tool-cluttered workbench.Ray saw two mechanics. He approached the first one who was hunched over a Safety-Kleen tank busily scrubbing some parts. As the man looked up from his work, Ray asked, “Kimber?”

“He’s out back,” the man motioned with his head toward the open garage door at the rear of the building.

Ray could see someone working under the hood of a small sports car. He walked out and approached the car. He looked under the hood from the opposite side. “Problems?”

“Idiot screws up the distributer and then has it towed here because it doesn’t start.”

“Kimber?”

“That’s me. What do you need?” he asked coming up from under the hood. Ray thought he looked mildly familiar, almost cherubic—albeit forty something—rosy cheeks, round face, blue-tinted John Lennon glasses, and a black Greek fisherman’s hat.“Information. I was wondering if Bobby Jo Hendrickson had her Jag serviced here?”

“Who’s asking?” Kimber’s voice suggested apprehension.

“Name’s Elkins, University Police.”

“We took care of it, solid car. Professor Hendrickson, she was a hell of a nice lady. Made me sick when I saw the picture in the paper.”

“Had you done any work on her car lately?”

“Yes, last winter. She only drove it in dry weather, that’s why it was so good, part of the reason, anyway. She also spent the money necessary to keep it safe and running good. Students don’t do that, and the faculty usually isn’t much better, sometimes worse.

“What kind of work did you do on her car?”

“As I was saying, last winter we did the front suspension, new bushings in the kingpins, all the rubber parts, and renewed the shocks.”

“Anything else?”

“Bob fitted a new top, pain in the ass job.”

“How about the brakes?”

“We did all the hydraulics, rebuilt the calipers, and put in new pads. Replaced the master cylinder. Put in new brake lines and rubber hoses. Everything first class, the way that kind of job should be done. Also did belts and hoses on the engine.”

“You do the work?”

“Yes.”

“There’s not a chance that the brakes might have failed?”

Kimber responded emphatically, “The brakes in that car were as good as when it left the factory. Other than the pads, that system would have been bulletproof for years.”

“Could she have hit something that damaged the system?”

“No chance. Everything’s protected. To damage a hose, you’d have to tear out the lower wishbone. If she had done that, the car would not have been drivable.” Kimber paused, his tone changed. “She was a nice woman. I’ll miss her.”

“How well did you know her?”

“Not well, but better than most of my customers. University people are strange, but she was different. She was respectful to the guys and me. Appreciated what we did. She never batted an eye about what something cost. Just wanted things done right, you know what I mean.

“Hendrickson always came by about noon on Christmas Eve with a bottle of Scotch, the good stuff. She was a bourbon drinker, but she knew I liked Scotch, so that’s what she brought. Last year we sat in my office and drank most of it. I could hardly walk, but booze didn’t seem to bother her much. She drove me home.”

“I don’t know much about mechanics,” said Ray, “so I’m going to cover the same ground again. It’s not that I don’t believe you. I’m just trying to understand what you’re telling me. In your professional judgment, there’s not a chance the brakes could have failed?”

Kimber looked thoughtful for a minute. “I won’t say it’s impossible, only a damn fool would say that. But the chances of a total failure would be one in a million.”

21

Char Pascoe spread the materials across the surface of Ray’s desk. “Here is Hendrickson’s HR file, and these are the transcripts of the interviews I conducted with the secretary in the English department and Hendrickson’s office mate, Seneca Carducci. What a smart, engaging character he is.”

Elkins looked up and smiled, but didn’t bother to explain. “I’ll read through them in a bit. Have a seat and give me a summary of what you’ve found.”

“Hendrickson was in her sixth year. She came here from Northern Illinois. She did her graduate work at Chapel Hill. Her specialty was medieval literature, but she mostly taught classes on Southern writers. I picked up this book in the English Department.” She pulled an 8 ½” by 11” Xeroxed booklet from the pile of documents. “This is published by the Association of English Majors. There’s a summary of student evaluations for every professor, including grade distributions and a sampling of comments made about instructors. Hendrickson was very popular.”

She continued, “I checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles. There are two autos registered to her. One is a five-year-old Toyota, the second is the Jaguar she was driving the night of the accident. Carducci told me that her father had given her the car years ago when she completed her Ph.D. She only drove it during the summer months.

“According to college HR records, she didn’t list a beneficiary on either the retirement or the life insurance the college provides. She did enter a next of kin on her initial employment application, an aunt. I called the number and got a retirement home in South Carolina. They said they had no one by that name and checked their records. Hendrickson’s aunt has been deceased for five years.”

“In sum,” said Elkins, “she has no living relatives.”

Pascoe nodded. “I asked Carducci about her friends, people she might have been involved with in a relationship. He dropped his very European way of speaking and said with a heavy Southern accent, ‘Why honey, she took on everyone: white, black, brown, men, women, old, young—didn’t seem to matter. Equal opportunity, honey, but no quotas.’” Pascoe started to laugh, then stopped and blushed. Ray chuckled, mostly at her embarrassment.

“Then I talked briefly with Alice Widdowson, Chesterton’s secretary. Do you know her?”

“I’ve met her a couple of times, and I’ve talked to her on the phone. Seems professional and competent. But sort of a tyrant type.”

“I’m sure she is. She told me that Hendrickson was a popular teacher, but—and I wish I could duplicate her tone—she said that Hendrickson wasn’t in control of her life. When I asked her to explain, she told me that Hendrickson never followed departmental procedures and didn’t do things like returning the Xerox key to the correct place in the office. Widdowson continued on with a whole litany of things: every semester Hendrickson was always the last faculty member to turn in her grades, she seldom attended department meetings, and she never picked up her mail.” Pascoe smiled, “I think it’s real easy to get on Widdowson’s wrong side.”

“Apparently. Anything else?” asked Elkins.

“Couple. Widdowson, when I asked if she knew anything about Hendrickson’s personal life, said that she had heard, and these are her words, that Hendrickson was a ‘shameless libertine.’ I really love the phrase. It’s something my great aunt, who is ninety-three, might say.”

“Rather strong language,” he responded with a smile.

“Also,” continued Pascoe, “Carducci told me that Hendrickson wasn’t a drunk, but she did like her bourbon. He said something like ‘devoted to her bourbon.’ I checked her driving records. She’s had two DUIs, one last year and one five years ago. She also had a speeding ticket several years ago. Nothing else. I wish I had majored in English as an undergrad.”

“Why’s that?” asked Ray.

“These people are so interesting and live such exotic lives compared to my stodgy old professors in criminal justice.” She pointed at Ray and snickered.

22

Elkins woke with a start. His pajamas were soaked with perspiration, and he felt tense and anxious. He looked over at the clock. It was just after 3:00 A.M. He got up, switched on the air conditioning, and went back to bed. Unable to sleep, he tried to organize all the facts in the Bensen case. He worked through the events two or three times. Eventually, he turned on a reading light and penned a list.

After turning off the light, he thought about the facts of the Hendrickson case. He organized and reorganized the data. He could do this better in the dark, clustering the different elements on a vaporous video, moving them around until he was satisfied with the pattern. Switching on the light again, he sketched the second pattern and then returned to darkness. He thought about Stephanie; he thought about Chesterton; he thought about Ellen. Yes, he would like to meet someone. He was attracted to Stephanie, but that would be too painful. He didn’t want a relationship like that.

When he awakened next, it was with a sense of urgency. He had overslept. It was long past 7:00. He started the coffee, took a quick shower, retrieved the paper, and popped two pieces of whole wheat bread into the toaster.

He carried the paper out to the deck and made a second trip with a tray containing the pot of coffee, a cup, the toast and a container of margarine. He sorted through the paper, first scanning the national, then the international news.

Ray had moved to the sports section, perusing a long article on the NCAA’s investigation of Division I football programs when the Chesterton’s terrier came crashing through the paper onto his lap. As he scratched the dog’s ears, Banquo rolled his head nonchalantly toward the table and picked the remaining piece of toast off the plate. He hopped off Ray’s lap and carried his prize to the edge of the patio, tore it in smaller pieces, wolfed down the chunks, wandered off to the edge of the deck, and looked back over his shoulder at Ray before scampering off to sniff under the deck.

Ray was almost through the article when the phone rang. It was Char Pascoe.

“Elkins, you’d better get over here. I’m at University Gardens. We have an apparent suicide. Are you ready for this?” She didn’t wait for a response. “The woman, Constance Dalton, is a member of the English department, and there is a suicide note.”

“Who found her?”

“A friend, they had planned to go to breakfast. When Dalton didn’t answer her door, her friend opened the garage to see if the back door was unlocked. She found Dalton behind the wheel, motor still running.”

“Get whatever help you need, get full photos, and have the place sealed off. Don’t move the body until I look things over. Where are you in University Gardens?”

“It’s the last unit on the left on Stadium Court.”

“I’ll be over in about twenty minutes.”

“She’s not going anywhere.”

“Char, have you thought about becoming a pathologist?”

“Pathologist, no. Why?”

“You’re getting that kind of a sense of humor.”

He switched off the phone and returned to complete the article. He stacked the sections of the paper and carried them into the kitchen.

Banquo watched Elkins go into the house. The terrier climbed back onto the porch and inspected the area around Elkins’s chair. Then he jumped up and walked around on the table. There were no additional scraps of toast to be had.

BOOK: Medieval Murders
11.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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