Chapter 6 Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery

Prior chapters are filed in the Murder Mystery category.


As I drove back down the canyon, I tried to recreate the conversation and find the little lie.   That was often the first and best clue to a case.  No relationship can survive on a steady diet of the brutal truth, and the real test is whether the little lies can be woven seamlessly into the whole.  Almost by definition, anyone who needed to hire a private investigator had an imbalance of lies and truth.  The real test was whether tugging at the little lie would unravel a whole relationship and lay bare to the big ugly truth.  Simba and Sam clearly did not love each other as much as accommodate each other – his gruff disregard for her concerns, the testy bantering, her hand on his shoulder that was a statement and not affection – this was probably a pattern that had been perfected for the past 30 years.  To general public, theirs might appear to be a smooth and solid relationship – they would show up arm and arm at glittering black tie receptions and look like the picture of contentment.  I’d seen many such relationships – he made the money and in exchange she was in charge of their social life, spending and giving away money, and establishing connections that he exploited in his business life.  But these types of relationships were both rigid and creaky and typically couldn’t stand the harsh glare of reality.  

What was the Todd’s little lie?  They were certainly polished performers, but their lack of curiosity about Penny was a good candidate.  And Sam’s lack of concern about Dessa’s disappearance didn’t ring true.  And then there were my little lies – I liked to hold back information so I could test my clients in dribs and drabs.  So I did not want to tell them that Penny and Dessa were potentially partners, and that Penny worked in their coffee shop.  That would come later.  I was never proud of being manipulative, but it was part of the job.  I had no expectation that the Todds or any clients were being totally honest, and I was sure that the feeling was mutual.  This was the client dance, and I loved spending  hours with Ralph and Fanny discussing its dissemblings, intricacies and manipulations.

I pulled into the Clean Plate Club at about 1 PM and I immediately knew that something was wrong.  Fanny was standing at the front door as I walked in.   “I am so sorry Liza, it was really just an accident and Ralph had worked so hard all night on your paper scraps.  I just didn’t know.” 

She tried to block the door, but through the screen I could see Ralph frantically trying to pick up the papers, which were now scattered all over the floor.  “I came down to breakfast and turned on the fan before I started the bacon, just the way I always do, and then someone came in with a big gust of wind, and, well, they just flew everywhere.  I’m so sorry, Liza, and Ralph told me that you had to give the purse back right away.”

I opened the door and saw Ralph on his knobby knees crawling on the floor and peering under the radiator. “Ralph, don’t worry about it.  It was a long shot anyway, and we don’t know if there anything in the purse anyway.   Obviously Penny was looking for something in someone’s wastebasket and who knows if she had already found it.  Ralph, have a seat and relax with a cup of coffee.”

Ralph sat down in his seat with a plop as Fanny scurried off to get the coffee.  “Liza, I was making some real progress and then poof.  But I wrote down what I could remember.  That yellow lined paper, I think that I found a telephone number, it was incomplete, but it might help you.  Area code 215, then 234 and then the first two digits of the last part of the number were 3 and 1.  And then there was a thicker piece of white paper that looked like it had a partial address one it – perhaps 287 W. but I could not get the street address.  That was the best I could do.”

“Ralph you did a fantastic job, better than I could have done.  Lets recrumple and put everything back in the purse.  Fanny, why don’t we add a little extra.  How about some coffee grounds?”  We all smiled as Fanny sprinkled a few grounds in, we closed the purse and all shook it vigorously together. 

“How did I go up there in Toddville?” said Fanny.  “Are you officially on the case?”

I flourished my signed contract and said, “I just need to find Dessa, probably should take a couple of days.”

“You always say a case is easier if you can find a way to like your clients,” said Fanny.  “Any luck here?”

“Yes, you are right,” I said, “ but I have developed a very flexible definition of the word client.  There is the client that pays you – that would be Cymbaline and a begrudging Sam, but that doesn’t have to be the same thing as the client you work for.  And for the moment, I am going to say that I am working for Dessa.  She seems like the lost soul in this family.  I haven’t met Goddard yet, but he doesn’t seem like a good candidate.  He is either a pretentious prick, a creepy pederast, or as a long shot the solicitous brother who is actually holding the whole family together.  I need to get in touch with him today.”

“I have to go to the library today to return some movies,” said Ralph, “While I’m there why don’t I pull some old news stories about the Todds?  Might help you get some perspective.  I love looking through the archives, especially given my run-ins with the Todds.”

I loved Ralph and Fanny.  If I had more business I would have hired an associate to do this type of background research, but I have never been able to afford such a luxury.  They knew the value of their help, but I never felt like I was taking advantage of them since their offer was so genuine.  “Okay, Ralph, but only if it works out with your schedule.  As I say, I think that I should be able to find Dessa quickly.  I bet Goddard knows.  I am going to drop off the purse, and then go over to Dessa’s apartment, talk to Goddard, and if I have the time, I will go over and poke around the University.  I will give you a call if I wrap things up quickly.”


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