My wife made it so easy to plan her murder. She drank heavily, she occasionally used a cane to walk, and our live-in housekeeper had a boyfriend. That was all I needed to commit the perfect capital crime.
Other factors played into it, factors that would deflect suspicion from me. Whoever investigated the “accident” would see it as a true accident. I had science on my side. I am very good with science. Very, very good.
Seven years of marriage served to shatter our relationship rather than strengthen it. We slipped slowly, irrevocably, into comfort, then indifference, and finally acrimony.
I blame it all on cilantro and the Hallmark Channel.
“It’s a bad one, sir.”
The officer directed his remarks to Detective Sergeant Ridley “Rip” O’Neil. Rip nodded absently, poking around the wreckage, expecting to find nothing unusual. The reason for this is that there was almost always nothing unusual to find. Especially here. The road had inadequate lighting, the curve over which the driver traveled was sharp, and the drop-off to the canyon below was steep and rocky.
There was little to see inside the car. A broken cane. Lots of blood. A spot on the dashboard where something had come loose. Probably a radar detector, he thought. These rich people liked their toys.
“I notified the husband,” the officer said.
Rip nodded again, inspecting the broken cane. The head of the cane had lodged itself neatly between the seat and the console. Nothing odd there. Except that it didn’t feel right.
Rip made a decision that caused him to wince inwardly. He would treat this as suspicious and put in long, tedious hours of investigation. Nothing would come of it, he thought. The woman who died was probably drunk. Still, the cane bothered him.
Miles answered the door and stepped back, surprised to see both a blue-clad cop and a well-dressed detective standing before him. He had expected only a uniformed officer.
“Well, she does drink a lot. Did. Ah! That’s hard to say. ‘Did.’ It’s all so final,” Miles said sadly. He was smart enough not to feign crying, instead taking a sip of coffee and ducking his head in sorrow. Just right, he thought.
“Yes sir. Where were you last night, say after 8:00?” Rip asked.
Miles looked up in surprise.
“Surely you don’t think…”
“No sir. It’s just for our report, you see. The captain, he’s a stickler for dotting this thing and crossing that thing.”
“i’s and t’s,” Miles muttered.
“Just so. And you were?”
“Here. And before you ask, I wasn’t surprised that my wife was gone. She’s quite social and is often visiting her friends. Because they all drink quite a bit, she also often spends the night wherever she is.”
“What did you do last night?”
Miles considered how to answer this.
“Went for a bike ride, like I do almost every evening. Before it gets dark. Not many street lights way out here, you see. Got back, took a shower. Elsie fed me. I watched the football game then went to bed.”
“Our housekeeper. She lives here.”
Rip stood up and held out his hand to Miles.
“I think that’s all I need for my report, sir. My condolences on your loss.”
Miles shook his hand, inwardly relieved that the detective was so easily satisfied.
“I’ll need to speak to uh…” Rip flipped through his pad, “Elsie.”
“Of course. Say, where did your partner get to? He just disappeared.”
“No telling sir. He’s a rookie and doesn’t know which end is up yet.”
It was all so easy. Getting her to pass out from drinking, that is. I started an argument, and she drinks like a fish when we are arguing. I start in about the cilantro. She insists that anybody who’s anybody eats cilantro. Not me, I retort.
“It’s an acquired taste, Miles. Do try to at least act civilized. My God, it’s just an herb!” Miles’ wife tossed down a healthy portion of the wine in her glass and refilled it.
“It tastes like soap to me, darling. I have that special gene…”
“Damn your special gene. Does your special gene also make you dress like someone who picks clothes out in the dark?”
“And you keep on hiding it in my food. That’s a lack of class.”
I knew this would initiate another round of yelling and drinking. It’s so easy to push her buttons. One of the many she has is about being classy. Like she would know what that was. The woman used to be a salesperson for Dillard’s, for Christ’s sake!
“And I dress just fine. I’m a scientist at a major university. I dress respectably.”
“Cheap shirts and khakis. White socks. Striped ties. Please!”
Anyway, it went on like this for some time. She finally passed out. It was time to put my plan into action. It was time for someone to have a vehicular mishap. Ha!
Elsie was out with her boyfriend like she was every Monday night. She thought she was clever by sneaking out through the library door and parking her car down the road. Bless you, Elsie. You’re an alibi that really isn’t.
Rip was a little put out that Elsie was with Levi. They weren’t talking, but Elsie had tears in her eyes. She dabbed at her eyes as Rip approached the table, looking up at him with fear in her red eyes.
“I reckon Elsie here has a confession to make, sir.”
And she did. Last night, the night that Miles’ wife plunged to her death in her car, Elsie had sneaked out of the house to be with her boyfriend. His name was Antonio but everyone called him Tony, she sobbed. Now Mr. Sanderson would fire her, she wailed.
Amid the sobbing and wailing, Rip knew. He knew that Miles Sanderson killed his wife, but he had no idea how to prove it. Yes, it was a hunch, but a hunch born of years of experience in dealing with people who committed terrible crimes.
“You’re in luck, Elsie. You now have a great alibi,” Rip said, indicating to Levi that it was time to go. He didn’t want to listen to Elsie’s recriminations; all he wanted to do was to check her alibi and get on with investigating a murder. She could cry on her own time.
“She’s the housekeeper and the cook,” Levi said as they climbed into their vehicle.
“The thing is, sir, that she hears a lot of arguments between the two. And she says that Mrs. Sanderson was always sneaking into the kitchen and stealing her cilantro.”
“That’s all very interesting but I don’t see how cilantro plays into all this.”
Levi remained silent as the two cops pulled out of the driveway and onto the main road. Rip noted the ill lighting on the road, though the road was relatively new. It was wide and the center stripe was marked well. He wondered why the city hadn’t put in more lights.
“You know, the county should put in more lights here,” Levi said. Rip started thinking more highly of this young officer. The kid had a sharp eye.
“The county, huh? Not the city?”
“No sir. Outside the San Antonio city limits but within Bexar County. The wreck was barely inside the city limits so it’s our case.”
Which explained a lot. The county was loathe to spend money on such things when they could spend it on public utilities like water and electricity. Now that a rich woman died, it was inevitable that the newspaper would pick up on it and blame poor lighting. The county would be to blame. Someone would get fired. Street lights would soon dot the road.
“There’s also the bicycle, sir.”
Rip nodded and then frowned. What the heck was this kid talking about?
“Tell me about the bicycle, Levi. Did you find a confession written in code on the handlebars?” Rip’s sarcasm stemmed from the thought that maybe this kid was better at detecting than he was.
“No sir. I found absolutely nothing on the bike.”
“Then what’s so important about the bicycle?” Rip was irritated. The kid talked in riddles.
“Well sir, the man said he went for a bike ride. The bike was clean, sir. Even the tires were clean. Like he washed it down good last night after his ride. I smelled bleach on it.”
Rip paused before speaking. He pulled over to the side of the road and turned to Levi.
“First, stop calling me ‘sir.’ I work for a living, just like you. Second, you have an eye for detail. I want the bicycle confiscated and run through the lab. And then we’ll go talk to the boyfriend, Tony.”
“You think it’s murder, sir…uh…Rip?”
“I do, Levi. I really do.”
In my workshop, I had stressed the cane just enough that it would break on initial impact. I had calculated the force (in newtons, of course. I am a real engineer, after all) and I had it judged perfectly. The cane did indeed break and splinter.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I used the cane to press down on the accelerator. It took some effort to get my wife into the driver’s seat and to get the seatbelt just right so that the cane would fit at the correct spot.
As I had calculated, the car went over the edge of the cliff at between 47 mph and 51 mph. This allowed for enough front-end clearance so that the car would plunge nose first into an outcrop. I’m proud to report that it did just that. Thank you, gravity.
Rotational forces flipped the car over so that the next major impact would be to the roof of the car. Both major impacts should be fatal. I don’t know which one killed her. I don’t care.
Tony alibied Elsie. So did the security cameras in the restaurant where they ate. The bicycle was processed. It was clean. Very clean. The tires had been washed and the frame had been wiped down. Bleach residue was found all over the bicycle.
“It needed cleaning,” Miles said. He felt like the police were picking on him. They had absolutely no evidence that could tie him to the crime. Even the insurance policy couldn’t provide enough motive for murder. It was for only $50 thousand, a mere pittance compared to his worth.
“With bleach?” Rip asked.
“Certainly. Why not?”
Rip didn’t have any good answer to that. Levi did.
“Not good for the grease, sir. Plays hell with it.”
“Ah, but there you are mistaken, officer. I needed to strip the bicycle of all lubricants so that new lubricant can be applied.”
“Of course, sir. My mistake,” Levi said.
But he knew he was right. Just like Rip felt it in his soul, Levi felt it in his gut. They may never prove it, but Miles killed his wife.
Rip and Levi searched the house, much to Miles’ consternation. The search warrant was granted grudgingly, but Rip had a solid reputation. He didn’t want to abuse this trust, so he searched very thoroughly and took photographs of everything. Nothing. Nothing!
“It’s the vice, boss,” Levi said after they had pulled away from the house.
Sighing, Rip pulled into a roadside diner. They sat outside, eating very sketchy hotdogs and drinking very cold fountain drinks. Rip eyed Levi’s drink suspiciously. It was green. Rip relied on the tried and true Coca Cola.
“Okay, don’t call me ‘boss.’ Don’t call me ‘chief’ or ‘sir’ or anything resembling authority. Call me Rip. Just Rip. Think you can do that?”
“We are collaborators.”
Rip tossed half of his hotdog away, figuring that discretion would save him some gastrointestinal misery later on. Levi ate two hotdogs and drank about a gallon of green stuff. Rip shuddered.
“So, tell me about the vice. Is it a magical vice that tells you how to convict this guy?”
“It’s like the bike. Too clean. Everything else in the workshop has a little dust, a little grease on it.”
“So…” Rip had no idea how to finish the sentence.
“So, I reckon he used the vice to crack that cane a little. He could wedge it onto the accelerator and the cracks he put in it would make sure it broke. Pretty damn clever, that man is.”
“Yeah. I think I hate him.”
I had taken my bicycle with me, so I retrieved it from the trunk of her car before sending her on her way. I got back to the house rather quickly. I am good on a bicycle.
I cleaned it all up, spic and span. Cleaned the vice as well. Got rid of the clothes I had worn. It was like I was never there when the car went over the edge. Details matter. Every little one can do you in. I took care of all of that. I have to say, being an engineer gave me the perfect skill set to carry out a murder. The cops don’t stand a chance.
Can you believe that she stole my Einstein bobblehead and glued it to her dashboard? The damn nerve of that woman! I pried it off of her dashboard, gave her a kiss for luck, and sent her to the hell she deserves. No one touches dear old Albert.
“It’s the bobblehead sir…uh…ah…Rip,” Levi said. He was going through the traffic camera photographs. They were all exactly the same, but he had several printed up anyway.
Rip sighed at Levi’s statement. It was becoming a habit, this kid making a vague statement and expecting Rip to see everything in a flash of intuition. Detection just didn’t work that way.
Except that today it did work that way. Marvelously.
“Damn! You’re right. The bobblehead,” Rip said. He almost smiled.
“And this,” Levi put another photograph on top.
“You were right to take a lot of photographs in the man’s house. This’ll do it, I reckon.”
“It was the bobblehead, sir,” Levi told a handcuffed and irate Miles Sanderson. He got the man into the back of the squad car and climbed into the driver’s seat. Rip joined him after talking to reporters.
“What in the world are you talking about, you blithering idiot! There is no way you have any evidence of my culpability. Show me the forensics, young man.” Miles wriggled around in the back seat, muttering curses and imprecations under his breath.
“What’s ‘culpability’ mean?” Levi asked Rip.
“Why didn’t he just say ‘guilt’?”
“Because he’s a snob. He thinks he got away with it.”
“It’s the bobblehead, sir,” Levi repeated to Miles. “Your wife had run a red light on her way home, so we have a picture of her. The bobblehead is clear as day there on her dashboard. It wasn’t there when we got to the wreckage.”
“That could have come from anyone, my deluded friend. Even me. Proves nothing,” Miles said. He sat back, satisfied.
“We have that bobblehead that was on your desk down to the lab, sir. That glue on it matches the glue in your wife’s car.
“Circumstantial,” Miles retorted.
“And then there’s the ragweed, sir.”
Miles leaned forward.
“The forensics people are pretty smart, sir. And they have all this information about weeds and grasses and such. Seems there were ragweed spores on that there bobblehead of that scientist fellow…”
“Albert Einstein. Only the greatest mathematician and scientist that ever lived, sonny boy!” Miles seemed upset.
“Yes. That guy. Anyways, that particular ragweed only grows in three places in the county. Where your wife died is one of ‘em.”
Miles Sanderson fell apart after this. Within a week, he agreed to confess to murdering his wife in exchange for a life sentence. Better than lethal injection, he thought bitterly.
Rip met Levi outside the station after Miles started blubbering about cilantro and the Hallmark Channel. He lit a cigarette and offered one to Levi. Surprisingly, Levi took one.
“So what was all that about ragweed? They didn’t find anything on that bobblehead at all.”
Levi smiled faintly and gave out a soft laugh.
“You ever go fishin’, Rip? It’s basically lying to the fish. You get them to bite on a lie.”
Rip nodded his head in wonder at the kid’s tactics. Very smooth.
“Why aren’t you a detective yet, Levi?”
“I take the exam next week.”
Rip clapped him on the shoulder, causing him to wince. Rip looked soft but he had some steel underneath all those hamburgers and fries.
“Good. I’m retiring in seven years and I’d like to work with someone who isn’t a complete dolt before that happens.”
Before they parted ways for the day, Rip turned back to Levi.
“Say! What happens when the fish aren’t biting?”
Levi paused, hands in pockets.
“You eat bologna and cheese sandwiches and then try again the next day.”
If she wouldn’t have been so spiteful and sneaky about the cilantro, I might have forgiven her. If she hadn’t complained incessantly about how I wasn’t romantic enough like the men on the Hallmark Channel, I might have endured her for another few years. There are just some things a man can’t abide in a wife. I am an engineer, for God’s sake! Why would I possibly want to be like those vapid, stupid, handsome men on the Hallmark Channel?
I didn’t deserve to get caught, or convicted. Every little detail was meticulously planned out. Damn you, Albert Einstein. I hope you rot in hell, and all they feed you is cilantro!