This is Part 4 and the conclusion of my Christmas short story. If you missed previous installments, here are the links for Parts 1, 2, and 3. Hope you enjoyed reading it, even if dividing it into four parts disjointed the continuity. Enjoy the holiday, and may it bring you peace. E. B. Davis
I drifted through the crowded police station. The heating had gone berserk and sweat poured off everyone and their woolen clothing. A bedraggled Santa looked wasted, his fake beard pulled down past his chin, which featured dark stubble. A woman arrested for shoplifting screeched nearby. Floating upstairs, I found Detective Graham interviewing Crofton’s receptionist.
“That woman stormed into our offices just today. You can see her on the security camera,” she said.
“Do you know what she wanted, Mrs. Carter?” Graham asked. Carter was a common name, but I wondered about her relationship to Mr. Carter, the security manager.
“No, she didn’t give me an explanation for demanding to see poor Mr. Taylor. Just came in with a bad attitude and then started shouting at him. Ask my husband, Don, he’s head of security and saw her on the monitor.” Ah-ha! The wife.
“My partner’s questioning him now,” Graham said.
Pin the tail on the donkey, I thought, and Janet had dressed herself in the donkey suit. I perused the offices and found Graham’s partner sitting in another office with a guy I saw at the loading dock. Listening in, I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Yeah, she caused a real ruckus in Mr. Taylor’s office. But what you don’t know is that I saw her driving her SUV behind the store a few nights ago, after hours.”
“Mr. Carter, what are you saying?” the detective asked. I now had a name to go with the face.
“I’m saying that we’ve had a big theft problem at the store. The thefts upset Mr. Taylor. I had tried to find the culprits, but now I’m starting to put two and two together.”
“You suspect Mrs. Gavin’s involvement.” I couldn’t tell if it was a statement or a question.
“Hey, I saw her in an SUV behind the store. One of our dock workers went over and talked with her.”
“What’s his name?”
“Joe Smith. Hired on as seasonal help.”
“Not a distinctive name. You submit his prints to NCIC?”
“We don’t bother checking out seasonal help if they don’t use a cash register. By the time we’d find out anything, January would have come and gone.”
“You submitted his data for a criminal-records check?”
“Yes, normal procedure, but with a name like Joe Smith, there were fifty-four possible matches, none of which confirmed a criminal record.”
“So you think Joe Smith and Mrs. Gavin were working together.”
“They seemed chummy. I saw them smiling at one another. We knew that some of the stolen items were too large for normal under-the-coat shoplifting. With the seats down, her SUV could hold a bunch of TVs, which were missing, and other high priced electronics.”
“She has no criminal record.”
“Maybe she’s having financial difficulty.”
“Hmm…Mrs. Gavin’s listed as a widow on the form my partner made her fill out. Maybe her old man didn’t have life insurance,” the detective speculated. “You have information on Joe Smith, a picture and where we can find him?”
“Sure, when we realized someone killed Mr. Taylor, I brought his personnel folder with me. There’s a picture in there that’s on his security badge. Here you go.”
The detective opened the folder, blinked with what looked like surprise, and then stood up. “Wait here, I want my partner to see this.”
Before the detective got out of the office, I rattled the window blinds, but the two dummies didn’t notice. They ticked me off with their stupid assumptions. Not only had I left Janet financially able, I’d made sure Ashley had the funds for college. If only the detective would check, rather than jumping to conclusions. After their accusations against Janet, I knew Carter and his wife were scamming, scheming murderers. Dimples, aka Joe Smith, would serve as the gang’s fall guy with Janet implicated in the frame. But how could I prove it?
I wandered through the station and saw Janet and Bea being led up the stairway. Detective Graham ushered Mrs. Carter down the hall. As Janet and Bea passed her, she pointed at Janet. “There’s your murderer. I’d swear she killed Mr. Taylor. We have her on the hard drive.”
Janet flinched from the accusation. Bea put her arm around Janet while looking outraged at Detective Graham. After stashing Mrs. Carter in another room, Graham gestured for Janet and Bea to take a seat in his office. He closed his office door. “Sorry, we’re playing musical rooms at the moment. Please don’t talk with one another—“
A knock resounded on Graham’s door, to which he responded. “We’re ready for Mrs. Goodwin,” an officer said from the doorway.
“Thanks, Charlie.” Detective Graham stood and asked Bea to go with the other officer. Bea had no sooner left the office then another knock resounded on the door. Graham’s partner came in and whispered to him.
“Make yourself comfortable, Mrs. Gavin. Do you want a cup of coffee?”
“No, thank you, I’m fine,” Janet answered. I knew if she drank coffee after noon, she couldn’t sleep at night. Waiting with Janet seemed to take forever. The clock on the wall advanced an hour. I heard phone calls, terse messages, laughter, and finally Detective Graham came back into his office.
“Please come with me Mrs. Gavin.” Janet stood and walked to a conference room. We both saw Dimples sitting at the table. I tried to temper my temper. Who was I kidding? I’m a lousy angel.
Impeccably dressed in a black suit with a red seasonal tie, he talked with another man at the conference table. Cool as a cucumber, I thought. What nerve!
Janet looked at Dimples with a confused look on her face. He glanced over at her, smiled and stood up, offering his hand and greeting her. Taken back, Janet went through the motions.
That’s right sweetie, he’s a conniving SOB!
Startled by my sudden intrusion into her thoughts, her eyes wandered around the room as if trying to find me.
“Mrs. Gavin, I’m so sorry you were caught in this mess. Have a seat.” Dimples pulled out a chair for Janet. She sat down facing the men at the table.
I found paperclips on a nearby desk, ready to menace those at the table. If they so much as frowned at Janet, I’d flick them in their faces.
Another man I hadn’t seen before spoke. “Mrs. Gavin, my name is Walter Campbell. I’m Chief of Police. Crofton’s security manager, Mr. Carter, tried to implicate you in theft and murder, but when he tried to implicate ‘Mr. Smith’ here,” he said with a chuckle, “he cooked his own Christmas goose. We recognized ‘Mr. Smith’ and called him. He’s actually Saint Bernard, regional program manager of the FBI’s Organized Retail Theft Division.” He turned to Bernard and said, “I almost bit my tongue laughing when I saw your picture. You haven’t gone undercover in years.”
“This Christmas, we were spread thin. Besides, it’s good practice.”
Janet sat perplexed. She asked, “I’m sorry, but I’m confused. What happened?”
Agent Bernard turned to Janet. “Crofton’s corporate office contacted us about four weeks ago. Shortages were escalating at the store. They weren’t sure of Mr. Taylor’s involvement, so they asked us to investigate. Since the store hired extra help during the Christmas season, I signed on and went undercover. Carter, his wife, and the dock supervisor were ripping off the store big time. While his wife kept track of Taylor, Carter arranged the location of his security officers, avoiding detection. The dock supervisor used the seasonal help, who had no idea what they were doing, to load merchandise onto the trucks. Using miniature cameras, I recorded their actions and documented the trucks used to haul the merchandise. We’ll have no problem convicting them, and within a few hours, their extended gang will be brought down.”
“What happened to the store manager?” Janet asked.
Campbell took over from Bernard, “After you left Taylor’s office, Carter or his wife turned off the security camera in the office area.”
“Carter must have recognized you from the night when you were teaching your daughter to drive stick. He feared you saw too much. We had placed taps on Taylor and Carter’s phones. In his last conversation with Carter, Taylor threatened to call the cops,” Bernard said.
“After you left, we believe Carter killed him. We’re working with the forensic team now to obtain evidence, and we’re confident we’ll get the evidence we need to convict. I’m not sure how he knew the location of your vehicle. When he saw you on the camera giving Taylor trouble, and then found your SUV parked near the loading dock, framing you for murder and blaming you for the stolen merchandise killed two birds with one stone,” Campbell said.
“I’m astonished. I had no idea what I saw that night,” Janet said.
The man, standing on the loading dock earlier in the day, must have been Carter, I surmised and then listened to what Dimples was saying.
I didn’t think you saw anything, but even so, I made up a quick story to get your daughter and you safely out of the area. We already got your friend’s statement. Let’s get yours so you can go home,” Bernard said.
I hung around to make sure Janet safely made it home. She composed and signed a formal statement. A patrol car took Bea back to the parking lot to get her car since Janet’s statement took longer. As Janet left the station with a patrolman, Bernard, aka Dimples, met her at the door.
“I’ll take her home, Officer.”
“That’s nice of you, Agent Bernard,” Janet said, with a smile.
I sat in the backseat because I still didn’t trust Dimples. After Bernard got on the road, he seemed nervous, like he wanted to say something to Janet, but didn’t know how. Finally, he came out with it.
“I understand you’re a widow.”
“Yes,” Janet said. “Two years.”
“I’m a widower, three years,” Bernard said.
“Heart attack,” she said.
“Cancer,” he said.
“I’m glad you drove me home because I wanted to ask you a question,” Janet said.
“The police chief called you Saint.”
Bernard laughed, “It’s an old nickname.”
“You’re that good?”
“No, I’m no saint, but I’m trustworthy, loyal and true—like a St. Bernard dog.”
“I’ve always liked St. Bernards,” Janet said.
“Good, because I’d like you to have dinner with me on Friday night.”
“You won’t serve dog food, will you, Saint?”
“No dog food, but I might show up with a cask under my chin. Something smooth, like Canadian Club.”
“It’s a date,” Janet said.
My mission seemed complete. Dimples met all the qualifications I had on my list, but the case and his lack of middle-age spread still made me suspicious. I decided to hang around, at least until Valentine’s Day. If Bernard doesn’t come through with a dozen red roses, I’ll perfect my skill with rubber bands.
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Sasscer Hill on 5/18 and Carolyn Mulford on 5/25. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.