The Extreme Ironing Convention was infamous in Preston. For the last eight years, extreme ironers from around the world fell upon the city. Their antics in the streets caused emergency calls for days. Ironing on top of city buses. Ironing while hang-gliding over downtown. Ironing while belaying down the cupola of City Hall. Every year, there was one incident that truly left its mark on Preston. This year, the incident would be the death of Shawn Morrison.
I looked down at Shawn’s body, his face brutalized by a blunt object. In any other situation, identifying the murder weapon might have been tricky, but not here. Not at Ex-Ir Con.
There was no mistaking the iron-shaped dent in the dead man’s head. I had seen it before. I clenched my fists, remembering the day that my wife had been murdered eight years ago. The image of her face haunted my nightmares, beautiful until it had been ruined by a Bosch TDA 2650 GB Quickfill, the highest rated iron of 2012.
Preston’s coroner had estimated the time of death at about 2:15am. The murder weapon had not been found yet, and the trail of blood leading out of Shawn’s hotel suite had run cold quickly. No witnesses had come forward. The extreme ironing community was notoriously tight-knit and likely to protect their own. They had done so in the past.
“Detective Clay, they’re ready.” A police officer on scene had separated the suspects, and she handed me a list of names. I squared my shoulders and got started with the interview process.
Anna Krueger, the hotel manager, was already in Shawn’s suite pacing around and surveying the extensive damage. Pieces of drywall and broken glass littered the carpet, and the tell-tale burn marks of overly hot irons defaced the furniture and carpet.
I watched her until she stopped mid-pace near the end table next to the couch and knelt down. Anna stuck her arm in a hole in the wall and pulled out a Panasonic NI-A66-K Automatic iron.
“I never would have allowed these Extreme Ironing United States assholes to have Ex-Ir Con here again if I weren’t so hard-up for money. At least they rented out the entire place.” Anna glared at the iron-shaped hole in the drywall. “They always ruin something. They leave burns and run up the electric bills plugging in all their stupid irons.”
She raised her eyes to meet mine and brandished the iron. “But this time, Shawn went too far.”
“When was the last time you saw him, Ms. Krueger?”
“He came down last night around 11 asking for more towels.” She pointed at a pile of charred towels near the couch. “I can see why he asked.” Anna held out the Panasonic iron, her hand shaking. “The temperature gauge is on the highest setting. He was burning things on purpose. If he were still alive, I’d sue him into oblivion!”
“Ms. Krueger, do-”
“Check with that ironing board vendor, Detective. I had to chase him out of the storage room around 2:30 this morning. Mighty suspicious, if you ask me.”
Erroll Fleming, the owner of the Cleveland Ironing Board Company, leaned against the wall in his room. “That damned Shawn,” he growled, German accent thick on his tongue. “He ruined me. He posted negative reviews of my new ironing board design and used his extreme ironing championship fame and influence to boost them.”
“The Cleveland Steamer. It was a board made specifically for steam irons. Shawn is - was - a proponent of steam irons, but he said my board had a shitty design. His was the number one review on Amazon! Everyone saw it. My profits tanked. No one bought! I am glad he is gone.”
“I’m sure his negative reviews were the only reason no one bought the board.”
Erroll’s eyes widened, and he straightened his back. “I am not happy he is dead. That is a terrible thing to say. I am innocent, of course.”
“Mr. Fleming, can you tell me what you were doing in the storage closet last night?”
Color rose to his cheeks. “I cannot say. It would ruin me!”
“I thought your business was already ruined by Mr. Morrison.”
“Yes, my beautiful Cleveland Steamer, but I had other boards in development.”
“What does this have to do with your excursion?”
Erroll sucked in a breath and held it until I thought he might faint. Finally, he breathed out and answered. “I was looking at the hotel’s ironing boards.”
“I couldn’t come up with any good ideas!” he wailed. “I was looking for inspiration. You can’t tell anyone that I’m an ironing board design fraud!”
Erroll slumped back against the wall. “Gottverdammt,” he whispered.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Fleming. Please-”
“Wait! You should talk to the tall man with curly hair. I saw him sneaking out of Shawn’s room last night after 2.”
“The tall man with curly hair” was Thomas Prince, a long-time advocate for the use of steam irons over dry irons in the Extreme Ironing competition world. Thomas was a prolific donor to Kickstarter campaigns for new steam iron technology, and he wielded a Rowenta DW5270U1 Focus Excel steam iron during competitions.
He looked up from the hotel bed when I walked in, eyes red and puffy. “Detective?”
“I hear you were out late.”
“Yeah, I went to see Shawn.”
“Any particular reason?”
“We’re friends.” Thomas frowned and corrected himself. “Were friends.”
“Mr. Prince, your visit makes you the last person to see Shawn alive.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Have you talked to Noah yet? He was going to drop some major news on us tonight, and Shawn got wind of it yesterday. He was so upset.”
“Shawn wanted to take over EIUS. He thought Noah was doing a shit job, and he’s never been shy about voicing his opinion. Noah threatened him, so Shawn took a swing. Caught him right in the jaw. Good thing he has a weak punch.”
Thomas leaned back. “Not much else to say. I went to Shawn’s room to talk him down after that. He was pretty shaken up and talking about leaving EIUS completely. Noah had really gotten him riled up.”
“I appreciate the information. In the meantime, I would like you to stay right here.”
Thomas shot me an annoyed look. “Am I still a suspect?”
“You were seen leaving Shawn’s room last night, and his body was found this morning. I’d say you’re the primary suspect.
I called for additional officers to watch Thomas’ room while one officer remained inside.
I approached the sullen President of Extreme Ironing United States, Noah Bowers, in the hotel’s business center. He looked up from his seat at a small conference table. Before I could say anything, Noah spoke.
“You think I did it, don’t you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you know I threatened him, right? Well, he threatened me first. I didn’t want him to, like, think I was intimidated.” Noah stood up and spun one of the chairs. “Look, bro, Shawn was a dick, okay? That’s no secret. So he wanted to oust me and, like, take over as President of the EIUS. That doesn’t mean I killed him.”
I said nothing.
Noah grunted and crossed his arms. “If you really want to know who did it, you should talk to his fiancé Marin, bro. She was gonna, like, poison him or something.”
I visited Marin in her hotel room. She was sitting calmly on the hotel bed watching a reality show, and she didn’t bother to look up as I entered the room.
“I understand you found Shawn this morning, Ms. Knox.”
“Sure did. I went in to make sure he was up in time for the convention. He liked to sleep in.”
“You had access to his room?”
She stared at me. “Duh. We were engaged.”
“You don’t seem upset that your fiancé was murdered.”
Marin shrugged. “I’m not. He was an abusive, cheating piece of shit, and I was going to end things tonight. But now I have to thank someone for saving me the trouble.”
“I understand you were planning to poison Shawn.”
Marin cocked a thin brow. “Why would I poison him when I could leave him? That’s why I got my own room in the first place. I was thinking of putting eye drops in his food so he’d shit his guts out. So yeah, maybe that’s technically poisoning him, but he wouldn’t have died or anything.”
“It’s still an actionable offense, Ms. Knox.”
“Whatever. Like I said, I didn’t do it.” She paused in thought. “You should talk to Eddie. I saw him arguing with Shawn yesterday. It looked pretty heated, but I didn’t stick around to listen. Probably something to do with steam versus dry irons again. Eddie’s crazy for dry irons.”
Eddie Wu was doodling on hotel stationery, but he put the pen down as I walked into his room.
“I understand you and Mr. Morrison exchanged words yesterday.”
“We have the same argument every time we see each other,” Eddie said, sitting up a little straighter. “He’s always going on about steam iron superiority, but he fails to see the beauty and simplicity of a classic dry iron.”
“When did you last see Mr. Morrison?”
Eddie continued as though I hadn’t spoken. “Using a dry iron is an art form.” He walked across the room towards an ornate case. “Let me show you.”
“That’s okay, I-”
“My iron!” he cried out in panic. Eddie showed me the empty case. “Where is it?”
Eddie sank to his knees, tears spilling from his eyes. “My glorious iron. I can’t believe it’s gone.”
“Mr. Wu, I need-”
“I don’t care about your needs, Detective. What about mine? My iron is missing! The perfect soleplate, unblemished by steam holes, polished to a high shine. Did you know I had a custom handle built to fit my hand perfectly?”
My heart skipped a beat, and an image of my wife thrust itself into my head. The iron mark on her face wasn’t perfectly smooth. There were spots - steam holes - but Shawn’s mark had no holes. He was killed with a dry iron.
“Mr. Wu,” I said, struggling to keep my voice even, “who else here is a dry iron aficionado?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Eddie grinned like the Cheshire cat. “Shawn Morrison.”
“Did anyone else know?”
Eddie shrugged. “This is a small world, Detective. It’s hard to hide something so scandalous.” His grin faded. “You should talk to Thomas.”
Thomas jerked up in surprise as I walked in the door. He set aside the iron he was cradling and wiped a tear from his eye.
“Mr. Prince, how well do you know the others at this convention?”
“Well, me and Shawn go way back, of course. Eddie’s been around for a while. We don’t agree on irons, but he’s a nice guy. Marin came into the mix a couple years ago. Noah’s been the president of EIUS for a long time, but he mostly keeps to himself. I don’t know him that well.”
“Do you know if anyone might have a motive to harm Mr. Morrison?”
“Marin and Shawn have been together for a long time, but that’s been falling apart.” Thomas made a face. “She’s a real piece of work. I wouldn’t trust her with my iron under any circumstances. But I don’t really know the others well enough to say.”
I took a deep breath. “Did you know that Shawn was secretly into dry irons?”
Thomas winced. “I went to visit him after he argued with Noah. He was really stressed out. I don’t think he meant to tell me, but he slipped up. He told me about his preference for dry irons.”
“I was shocked, you know? We had spent years talking about the merits of steam irons over dry.” Thomas threw his hands in the air. “I mean, you can use a steam iron as a dry iron! But he just kept talking about how cool Eddie’s iron was.”
Thomas stood and walked to the window. “I asked him if I could have his championship winning steam iron.”
“I know it was kind of selfish to even ask, but it’s a steam iron.” He faced me, his mouth hard. “If he was so into dry irons, there’s no reason he needed to keep that one.”
I knew the answer already. “He said no.”
Thomas hung his head. “Yeah.”
That’s when I noticed it. A plug barely poked out from under the hotel’s dresser. Thomas noted my pause and followed my gaze. We lunged at the same time, but I reached the dresser first, knelt, and yanked the cord.
And there it was: the Oster Heavyweight GCSTBV4119 Classic, stained with what was surely the victim’s blood. Eddie Wu’s missing iron.
I expected to fight my way out of the situation, but Thomas sat down heavily and exhaled.
“I didn’t mean to kill him.”
I backed away from Thomas to the room door.
“Shawn had Eddie’s iron in his room. He was messing with it. I think he was trying to break it so Eddie wouldn’t win in today’s competition.” Thomas groaned. “And that was bad enough. If the sponsors found out, we’d lose all those investments. But when he refused to give me his steam iron, I just snapped.”
I stuck my head out the door and motioned for the nearest officer to assist me.
“Before I could even think about what I was doing, Shawn was on the floor, and I was holding Eddie’s iron. I brought it back here to hide it, but you see how much good that did me.” Thomas looked down at his hands. “I’ll never iron again.”
The officer casually entered the room.
“I won’t resist,” he said, looking straight at me. “I messed up.”
“Mr. Prince, please remain still,” the officer said gently as she bent down and handcuffed Thomas’ hands behind his back.
The officer led Thomas away, but the satisfaction of solving the case rang hollow in my heart. I returned to other suspects to tell them they were free to go.
When I got to Marin's room, she simply nodded and started packing her things. But there was something I had to know.
“Did you know your boyfriend was a dry iron promoter?”
Marin’s eyes widened. “Shawn’s been advocating the benefits of steam irons both in competition and in the home for years.”
The slight tremble in her voice gave her away. She was hiding something.
“What aren’t you telling me, Ms. Knox?”
She stared at the floor and bit her lip. “Look, he’d always use a steam iron for shows and competitions because that’s what people expected. He had a sponsor to please, a wealthy one. But behind closed doors, we-” Marin took a deep, shuddering breath. “Behind closed doors, we used a dry iron.”
She buried her face in her hands. “Oh god, you can’t tell anyone! His reputation would be destroyed. The sponsor would pull all their funding out of the projects he and Thomas were working on.”
“They had an idea to improve this older model steam iron, right? To make it more efficient and easier to clean. The steam holes on that model were tough to clean, but it was otherwise a great iron. I would even use it sometimes when he wasn’t at home. I liked it better than his dry iron.” She laughed sadly. “He would have been so mad.”
Marin stood up and started to pace. “Anyway, he never got a new steam iron, so he always used the same one. His championship iron. It was iconic. Blue and white. Have you ever seen it?”
Something in her voice made me uneasy.
“Let me show you,” Marin continued. “It’s beautiful, Xavier.”
“How... how do you know my name?”
She opened a decorative case near the foot of the hotel bed and pulled out an iron.
My blood ran cold.
It was a Bosch TDA 2650 GB Quickfill.
Marin smirked at my expression. “You recognize it, don’t you? Or rather, you recognize the shape of the soleplate. It was the same one that killed your wife eight years ago.” She stepped closer, her grin widening. “He did it, you know? Shawn killed her. She found out his secret obsession with dry irons, and he couldn’t allow her to talk.”
I inched my hand towards my concealed pistol. “Put the Bosch down, Marin. You don’t have to do this.”
Marin raised the iron, her pupils dilated with madness. “But I’ve always wanted to know what it felt like. What it could feel like to kill someone.”
She swung the iron towards my head, barely missing. I called for backup and pulled out my pistol to defend myself. “I don’t want to shoot you.”
Two police officers swept into the room before I had to take any further actions. Marin was quickly disarmed and handcuffed. She glared at me as the officers pulled her from the room, but she said nothing further.
My heart ached with memories of my wife. Whether he knew it or not, Thomas had given her a little bit of justice, but that didn’t excuse his actions. He would be behind bars for a long time. Marin would serve time for being an accessory to murder for covering up Shawn’s crimes. I would have preferred to see Shawn stand trial, to look into his face with satisfaction as the bailiffs hauled him away.
I would have to content myself knowing the truth of my wife’s murder had finally been ironed out.