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WRONG BRANCH: JIGSAW

This novel will continue with the collaboration of Mary and Detective, Badge 2317 on a case that everyone else believes is suicide.

 

CHAPTER 1

Charles Everet Whitington sat with a small smile on his tear-streaked face, looking at his new twenty-one inch monitor.  For years he had denied needing a larger screen but today he had changed out the fifteen inch and was pleased with the detail he could now see with ease.  On the screen was a display of his own life in his database of over twenty-four thousand connected individuals.  He looked over the events of his life; birth, schools, military, college, marriage, degrees, jobs, children.  He slowly moved the cursor over to the ‘death’ button and hit ‘enter’.  With a wiry smile he typed in the day’s date.

Three hours later his wife, Martha, found him still looking at the screen with eyes staring, long dried of tears.

*   *   *

 It was spring and Mary both dreaded and looked forward to the next few minutes.  She stepped up on the temporary podium and held the pecan pie high over her head and slanted so everyone could see it.

“Who’ll start the bid?” she cried out.

“Seven-five dollars!” a voice called out from the back of the Library.

“Sold to Twenty-three Seventeen for seventy-five dollars!”  The small crowd in the Library looked at each other and Mary, with no one quite knowing what had happened.  Mary searched over the crowd for the familiar face she had spotted earlier in the back.  She smiled and the Detective, Badge Twenty-three Seventeen, smiled back.

Mary stayed on the podium as she watched him walk around the side toward her.  She stepped down as he got closer and as she did, Meg passed her to step up.  Meg said, “You win.  Ten dollars now or do you want credit at the Diner?”

Mary gave Meg a quick glance and answered, “Just add ten to your Library donation.”

Meg stepped up on the temporary stage and held over her head a book of ten coupons for Sunday Brunch for two and yelled out, “Soup’s on!”

The Detective was close enough to hear most of the exchange and asked, “Mary, what was that all about?”

She handed the pie to him and then turning, she went toward the stairs and said, “Let’s say you just made eighty-five dollars for the Library.”  She started up, “Come on up to my office.”

“An office now.  How’d that happen?”

“Long or short version?”

“Long,” he said as he looked back over his shoulder and realized that all eyes were on them as they climbed the stairs.  “They’re all looking.”

“And!…you maybe expected something else.”  She stopped at the second door along the balcony that looked over the lower floor of the Library and reached out to open it.  She bowed slightly and waved him in, “Enter said the spider to the fly.”

As he went in, he looked out of the corner of his eye, “And what does that mean?”

“Just an old saying.  Have a seat.”  She walked over to a counter in one corner of the overly large office and got two cups of coffee from a pump thermos.  “I brought this from home this morning.  It should still be good and hot.”  She turned to bring the cups over to the desk and noted he was still standing, looking around her office.

Along one wall a large bookcase was about half filled with books, some of which he recognized as being from Don Murphy’s collection.  The desk and side credenza formed an ‘L’ in the center of the office and behind that another bookcase was mostly filled with file folders stuffed with loose papers.

“Please sit.  It will be hard to have a piece of pie unless you do.”

“Sorry.  I was just noticing that your computer is here.  I remember that scratch along the left side and the smoke damage.”

“Good eye.  When I got the office, I brought most of my office stuff here and now after fifteen years I have a dining room with a dining table again!”

Before he sat down, he placed the pie on the desk, but noticeably refused to acknowledge the two plates, two forks and a pie server waiting.  “Tell me about the office.”

“Well, after the mess you left us last…”

“I left!”

“Don’t interrupt.  As I was saying, after the mess, the state sent down arbitrators and counselors.  The County Board of Supervisors set them up in the other three offices here in the library and hired me to represent the county’s interest in all of it.  It only followed that I should have an office here, close to the action.”

“Much fallout?”

“You could say that.  Eighteen lawsuits, three divorces, half the County Board resigned, four felony convictions, and a lot of embarrassment.  And it’s not over yet.”

“What about the old murder case?”

“Old man Coldham is in his eighties now.  The State Attorney’s office feels that with his age and the fact that there is no one alive that can bear witness against him, the case is probably un-prosecutable.  His family is working on a plea bargain.  Besides, he readily talks about what he did and almost every one who hears the tale thinks the victim deserved what he got.”

“State Attorney!  My, you’re stepping up.”

She leaned back in her chair, “Number six on my speed dial.”

“Number one on mine.”

“I’ll bet.  Now it’s my turn.”

“Your turn what?”

Now she sat forward and leaned on her elbows, chin resting on her fists, “Explanation!  Fourteen months!  What happened?  Did you fall off the edge of the world?”

“I…was…busy.  Too busy.”

“Too busy, your ass!  Too busy to call, to write a postcard, or send an email!”  Mary was having fun watching him squirm, but the twinkle in her eye gave her away.

“You’re having much too much fun at my expense.  I just didn’t know how I would be received after the ‘mess I left’.”

“Be honest at least.  You were scared, afraid.”

“No…Well…Yes…Maybe.”  He relaxed a bit and sat back in an almost slouch.  “It wouldn’t take you long to learn how to give a third degree.  Now it’s my turn.  What eighty-five dollars?  I’m paying only seventy-five.”

“First, the seventy five.  If you had been here earlier, you could have saved some money.  The first pie went for forty-seven.”

Now he acted miffed, “First pie!  You said you only baked one pie for the auction.”

“Well I baked two this year in case you were late getting here and missed the first one, which traditionally starts the auction.”

“And the other ten?”

“I bet Meg ten dollars you would show up.”

“Okay.  The coffee and two cups, plates and forks waiting, two pies and a bet with Meg.  How did you know I would show up after fourteen months?”

Mary straightened up and opened the lower right draw of the desk and pulled out five file folders.  She put them on the desk in front of him without comment.

The Detective picked up the top manila folder and read the tab, “Charles Everet Whitington”.

He laid the folder back on top of the others.  “So, tell me.  How did you know?”

Now both of them were leaning forward in almost a conspiratorial huddle.

“World famous genealogist dies after entering the date of his own death in his genealogy program, and you don’t think every serious genealogist wasn’t following the story?  And two weeks later it is declared a suicide.”

“Well?”

“You’re going to make me say it. Aren’t you?”

“If you’re going to eat a piece of my seventy five dollar pie, it’s the least you can do.”

“Okay then, and that’s two pieces of pie, thank you.  Charles Everet Whitington didn’t commit suicide, he was murdered.”

©July 2002 Fred (Woody) Hendrick

---------------

Detective 2317 and Officer Masterson are targets of a poison filled hypo, and Mary is charged with murdering her lover.

A picture of Booker T. Washington in a frame, hand carved by an ex-slave, starts a chain of events that threatens to topple a philanthropic institute responsible for the tuition of scores of college students and the administration of millions of dollars in trust funds.

Let me know what you think and don't worry, I have a thick hide.  Woody

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since posting on September 12, 2006