Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery: Chapter 47

As I got back into my car, I realized that I hadn’t eaten all day.  I figured I would have a bite to eat, and then just sack out at Ralph and Fanny’s.  It really didn’t make any sense for me to cross town to my apartment, particularly if I had to head back into Cutter City tomorrow.  I was utterly exhausted, but at the same time experiencing the excitement of a breaking case, something that had not happened for a long time.  Cheating spouses were my bread and butter, and typically involved long, tedious stints of surveillance, punctuated by a few revealing photos.  Then there was the tearful meeting with aggrieved spouses, confirming what they already knew, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired me in the first place.  Runaways or skip traces could be more interesting, but mostly involved computer work, and if the runaway turned out up out of town, all I had to do was call the local authorities.  But this case was the liveliest I had in a long time.  I remember when my father got a hold of a breaking case – the pacing around, the endless cups of coffee, the sleepless nights, but most of all the excitement in being the only one to understand all of the pieces.  Sometimes the pieces would fall together on their own, and sometimes Dad was the master manipulator.  Occasionally, I would feel a little uncomfortable about Dad’s excitement, after all he was enjoying the misery of others, but now I understood it all.  I loved this case and all its moving parts.  I think that I was in command of more pieces of information of the intersection between the Todd’s, Murphy’s and Knox’s.  Well perhaps each of the individuals had more information than I did, but I don’t think that any of them – Sam, Simba, Henry – realized that I knew as much as I did, and that was a source of power.   I just had to make sure to use it carefully – using information to get information was one of Dad’s tips.

As I drove along the coast back towards Santa Teresa, I let an ambulance with a flashing light pass me, and I followed along, enjoying the traffic vacuum behind it.  The ambulance slowed as we approached the Great Days facility and then turned in.  Responding to some sixth sense, I followed it into the driveway.  Whenever I saw or heard an ambulance, I thought of the lives that were in that moment inevitably changed forever, with an ambulance providing a distinct line between before and after.  That was certainly the case when I was dropped off from school and saw an ambulance in front of our apartment.  As I walked up the steps, it never occurred to me that I would be touched personally, perhaps that nice old Mrs. Moody down the hall who occasionally baby sat in a pinch, or maybe one of those wild Myers twins who were always getting into trouble.  I was totally unprepared for the flung open door in our apartment and the scene of energetic but failed resuscitation.  Blood soaked tissues, rumpled up towels, and a couple of bare syringes were scattered on the floor.  And then of course there was my crumpled up father, who took me in his arms and could only say, “She’s gone.”  Ralph and Fanny arrived shortly afterward.  I didn’t see my father again for a couple of days, and then my new life started.  Perhaps at a nursing home the transition was not so traumatic, was maybe anticipated or even welcomed.  But I felt sure that an ambulance would always be a dividing line.

The attendants got out of the ambulance at a leisurely pace, and there seemed to be no commotion among residents and staff, so I assumed that the ambulance was making a routine run for a deceased resident.  But then I noticed a man slumped down in a bench alongside the entrance, and as I walked closer I recognized the sharp outlines of his profile.  I sat down next to him and said, “Goddard, is Chloe alright?”

He looked at me with weary eyes, “Chloe died about an hour or so ago.  A stroke or something.  Maybe a heart attack, they don’t really know, but they just said that it was quick and not painful, so that’s all that really matters.  Dessa was actually here visiting when it happened, and I hope that Chloe somehow knew that.  But why are you here?”

“Goddard, it was just a hunch when I saw the ambulance pulling into Great Day.  Can’t say why, but I am glad I’ve found you.  Where’s your sister?”

“Well, she went back to Henry’s to let him know.  Plus he is the guardian.   Turns out he has to make a decision about whether to embalm or cremate.   Nobody is answering any telephones, actually I am not even sure that Henry has a telephone, and we didn’t want to contact Simba just yet.  So anyway, they told me to stay here to sign papers and stuff, but then this place said that I am not allowed since I am not on some list.”

“Goddard, what do you mean by they.  Is your sister with Sylvia?”

“Sylvia, you know about Sylvia?  I just can’t keep everything straight, who knows what about what.  There is a lot of shit coming down right now.”

Goddard had turned his back to me and I knew that now was not the time to pry further and if I waited quietly, I felt sure that the information would just flow to me.  “Goddard, do you have a car?  I was on my way to your Uncle’s house.  In fact, that’s where your mother is staying tonight.  There’s a lot of shit coming down on them now and I was going back to check up on both Henry and your mother.  I can give you a ride if you like.”

“Well I can’t imagine seeing my mother right now, but I hate to think of Dessa walking into that unprepared, so sure, I’ll take the ride, but I’m not sure how I can help anyone at this point.   Can’t help Chloe, don’t want to see my mother, scared of my father, I’m just along for a very strange and terrifying ride.”

I motioned Goddard toward the car, and as I got into the front, he got into the back and looked out the side window.  As I started up the car, we both saw the a black, zippered body wheeled out of Great Days and slid into the ambulance.  Goddard murmured,  “I guess they’re just taking her to the morgue.   I don’t have the authority to send her to a funeral home, so she is just going into cold storage for the moment.  The one thing that Dessa asks me to do, and I’m no help.”

I didn’t attempt any conversation as we drove along the coast toward the Murphy house.  I punched in the code, the gate swung open, and as we drove up, I was surprised to see an empty driveway; there was only one light on in the back of the house.  Goddard quietly said, “Doesn’t look like anybody is home.  Why don’t you check it out, I’ll wait here in the car.”

There was no answer to my knocking, but the door was unlocked, so I stepped into the foyer.  I called Dessa and Simba’s names, but still no answer, so I walked back towards the light, which turned out to be the kitchen.  The doors of the kitchen opened out onto a back patio, and the smell of a cigar wafted through the kitchen.  Henry was sitting by himself, with a drink in his hand and a bottle of scotch on the patio table.

“Henry are you alright?  It’s Liza Blue,” and then I paused since I wasn’t sure how to self identify myself.  I didn’t want to call myself a detective, since that might set him off on his proclamations of innocence, and family mediator also sounded wrong, so I finally decided to sound like the family friend who helped out with carpooling, “It’s Liza Blue, Simba’s friend who drove you to the lawyer today.”   I was actually stopping by to see Simba, but I also thought that Dessa might have stopped by.”

“It’s strange to me how you always seem to know more about my family than I do.  Yes, Dessa did stop by, but just briefly, and yes she told me about Chloe, so you don’t have to pretend that you don’t know.  Chloe’s gone, and even though I have been waiting for this day for many years, and now the house is finally all mine and I actually saved this cigar for this very occasion, I can’t feel very happy.  I don’t know why, maybe it’s an end of an era thing, and now I will have to figure out what I want to do besides being angry at my sister and waiting for my step mother to die.  So for the moment I’m just going to sit here and drink.  Do you want some?”

“Henry, I am very sorry to hear about Chloe.  I did meet her once, and even though she was in her own world, she was a very lovely and dignified woman.”  My real agenda was Simba, but I didn’t want to brush over a death so quickly, so I framed my next question carefully.  “Is Simba alright?  I know that she had a wonderful visit with Chloe just the other day, and it must be very sad to lose her again so quickly.”

“Simba, I can’t tell you if she knows or not.  She left in the car hours ago, I think she went back up the canyon to talk to Sam.  She certainly had some bee up her ass, and I must say I didn’t discourage her.  Gave her a few more details you know.  Told her that Sam was a pimp.  I saw him in action you know, not a pretty sight.  She was the one that found this bottle of scotch.  I wouldn’t want you to think that I drank this all on my own.  She said that she wanted to know the truth, and what the hell I gave it to her, or at least some of it.”  Henry chuckled softly and took another swig.  “I hate to see the scene up there in the canyon. She was really fired up.”

I was appalled at Henry’s manipulations, and if I had the luxury of time to be a family mediator again, I would have tried to help him understand that he had made a volatile situation worse and that he was not acting in the best interests of his sister.  Henry the impotent victim had just morphed into Henry the vindictive brother trying to redress a decades long injustice.  Maybe that was the point and maybe the cigar symbolized victory of another sort.  “Henry, where did Dessa go, and was there another woman with her?”

“Oh, Dessa, I sent her up the canyon also.  Might have been another woman.  Oh yes and by the way, Dessa was driving my car.  Dessa is a nice girl and all, but I felt that it was my duty to call and let that Detective Grimes guy know, wanted to get him off my back.  He might be heading up the canyon also.  Should be an interesting meeting up there don’t you think?”  As he turned the light from the kitchen caught his face and I could see his grin, wide enough to reveal his rotten teeth.

“Henry, I hope that you know what you have done.  Right now, I think that you are potentially as cruel as Sam.  You think you like playing in the big leagues, but beware of unintended consequences and collateral damage.  You said that I seem to know more about your family than you do.  Well here is something else I know.  The other woman in the car with Dessa, well that was Sylvia Davis, yes the Sylvia that was your “special friend” in Cutter City so many years ago.  Yes, I know about her and much more, and now you have sent the whole bunch of them up into the canyon, while you sit and smugly sip your scotch here on the porch.”

“Sylvia, that was Sylvia?  What would she be doing with Dessa?  My Sylvia with Dessa?”  The glass of scotch fell to the ground and smashed, followed by the whole bottle.

I turned and quickly left the house, anxious to get up the canyon as quickly as I could.  When I got to the driveway my car was gone.  Henry had followed me out the front door, walking unsteadily.  “Ha, your car has gone missing also.  My driveway is turned into the black hole for cars.  Perhaps I can offer you something in the way of a scooter for your transportation needs?”

I pushed him aside and started walking down the driveway.  Gratefully, I saw him totter back into his house, his very own house at long last.  Well good luck to him.  I tried to remind myself of another of my father’s tips – you don’t have to like the people you are trying to help.  Remember they are paying you, and they have their own agenda, and friendship is probably not on it.  This morning, I had signed on to Team Henry, but now I could care less. But of course there was the tiny little detail that Henry was my client.  After all Jimmy Earle had asked me to do some additional investigating.  So maybe I could switch my allegiance to Simba, I was still on a retainer with her, but I also suspected that, depending on the outcome of the case, I might never get paid by anyone.  Maybe I should just call Grimes and get a ride with him up the canyon and be an interested bystander.  I tried to steady myself and by the time I got to the end of the driveway, I realized that there was no way that I could walk away from a breaking case.  Detectives lived for a messy case like this.  So what if Henry turned out to be devious manipulator, so what if Simba had gone rogue, and so what if Goddard, once so promising, had now stolen my car.  This was my case and I needed to see it through to the end.

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