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Fiction Crime Mystery

                                   Cutting an Artery

     “Curb appeal” really didn’t exist on the outside of the rundown cabin, so it had one strike against it even before Tom Cupiskin opened the creaky front door.  Then, after gingerly ascending the crooked front steps, he peeled back several layers of cobwebs and turned the ancient doorknob with his gloved hands. The knob then slipped out of the door and out of his hands onto the disheveled floor of the porch.

     What had Tom been thinking? Agreeing to pay $120,000 for this glorified lean-to in the middle of nowhere?

     Of course, the “fixer-upper value” of the house and the possibility of “living off the land” and “off the grid” increased rather than decreased the non-conforming spirit that motivated much of Tom’s newly-acquired pioneering lifestyle.

      That lifestyle began to sprout at the recent end of his loveless marriage to bed-hopping socialite Janie Cranston and blossomed more fully as his deadend job in the advertising game lost what limited appeal it had begun with after his graduation from Cornell.

      Five years ago, when everything in his existence started going South,Tom had taken the profits from his over-inflated salary on Fifth Avenue and started to invest in high-yield mutual funds–his only concession to the establishment lifestyle he grew to despise more and more each day.

      He felt the new path he had chosen finally would allow him to put his personal stamp on something rather than marching lockstep in line with the rest of the New York City robots. He had redeemed a substantial part of his “estate” in extensive research about the log cabin housing market surrounding Lake George, NY.

     Now, however, as Tom stood in the entranceway to his first investment in real estate, he began to wonder whether all his research had steered him in the wrong direction.   But he had, after all, determined to start “from scratch” and turn this humble abode into a showplace of the Adirondacks.   The cabin certainly fit the bill for a humble beginning, but Tom had no idea at this point if it ever would blossom into a showplace.

       Anyway, onward and upward.  As he walked slowly forward on the creaking floorboards he saw a staircase that appeared to lead up to a loft.    Steeling himself for more unexpected surprises, he ascended to the bedroom loft. It seemed like a pretty ordinary space, but, in the middle of the floor, he almost fell over a dusty wooden box. It had a carving of a wooden heart on its lid.

       This whole encounter began to get more and more creepy by the minute, but Tom wasn’t about to let a little touch of frightfulness interfere with his dreams of real estate Nirvana. So he opened the lid of the box and found a newspaper crumpled up inside.  The lead story in the five-year-old edition concerned a stabbing in the loft that Tom now found himself exploring.  A young man, who had no apparent skeletons in his closet and no known enemies, had rented the cabin for a weekend fishing trip and his murder remained unsolved.

       The only clues in the killing, according to the newspaper clipping, were several envelopes containing large amounts of cash found hidden in closets in the loft and underneath an old mattress. Although police suspected the involvement of the illegal drug trade or a blackmail situation, no evidence connected the victim to any illegal activities.

       In any event, the authorities had found nothing but deadends in the case and had seized the cash and chalked the case up to another entry in their unsolved files.

      Tom saw no reason to make a big deal of his discovery because publicizing it probably would make it even more difficult to sell the cabin once he finished with renovations.  Once his crew finished the improvements the loft, and its contents, probably would be unrecognizable anyway.

         The following Monday, he and his crew began demolition in earnest, tearing apart the age-scarred floorboards and hammer-clawing the walls to determine the difficulty of giving the cabin the open concept Tom believed his target millennial buyers had their sights set on.

      Just as they tore into some of the outdated wooden paneling in the small first floor living room, however, they found a well-hidden false panel that police apparently had overlooked.  Removing the panel, they found a metal box containing a well-worn ledger that looked like some type of diary.  Each of the weekly entries contained names highlighted with one or several asterisks. A notation on the “title page” of the diary said that each asterisk represented a “debt still outstanding,” and those names with more than three asterisks had initials signifying “c” for “completed” or “i” for “in process” next to them.

    Underneath the diary they uncovered a dusty and folded note that contained some of the “debt still outstanding” names listed in the ledger. Next to many of the “c” and a few of the “i” notations Tom’s crew found messages that resembled funeral arrangements often found in newspapers.

     Tom’s “fixer-upper” began to look more and more like a hiding place for a mob execution operation.    He called a halt to demolition for the day and called in the local police to look over what his crew had found in the cabin.

       Police Detective Sgt. Roy Tompkins looked over the history of the cabin before coming to the scene.   Apparently, noone had lived in the cabin for five years and the previous owner had no current contact information for the last tenants.

      Tompkins and his team reviewed unsolved murders for the previous half decade and newspaper clippings from the same time period.   Turned out a local casino operator, Harry Clawson, had become very aggressive in going after losers in his casino with large IOUs.  Supposedly, Clawson had hired a “collection agency” with mob connections and a few of Clawson’s debtors had mysteriously disappeared shortly after the “collection agents” paid them “final notice calls.”  

      In addition, about five years ago, two of the “agents” also supposedly had rented the cabin Tom’s crew had begun renovating. Police never found evidence directly connecting the collection agents to any of the disappearances.  Despite rumors of the mob connections, Clawson’s contracts with the collection agencies all appeared to be legitimate business transactions.   After a weekend of “fishing” it also looked like the collection agents had left the area for “parts unknown.”  

         Tompkins still “smelled something fishy” with the diary notations found in the cabin and decided to set up a fishing expedition of his own.   He brought in two undercover detectives from a nearby jurisdiction and had them pose as angling enthusiasts with a taste for gambling who rented Tom’s cabin. They didn’t mind that renovations were underway because “they only wanted to stay for about three weeks and wanted a place to flop when not fishing or gambling.”

       They started laying down heavy bets at Clawson’s establishment and purposely began losing heavily and accumulating large IOUs which they had trouble “retiring.”

       Soon the “collection agents” began meeting regularly with Clawson and soon started “leaning heavily” on the two cabin renters to pay off the IOUs quickly at usurious interest rates or face “more serious consequences.”

        The “tenants” continued to plead “financial difficulties” and the agents gave them a week to “pay up or live to regret it.”

      In the meantime, Tompkins and his detective squad compared handwriting on the IOUs approved by Clawson and samples taken from the diary found in the cabin. They matched.

      On the day Clawson’s “collection agents” set for the “final payup” Tompkins and his men raided the casino and arrested Clawson for first degree murder while other members of his squad closed in on the cabin and took away the “agents” on similar charges. 

February 13, 2022 22:25

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2 comments

Francis Daisy
01:35 Feb 24, 2022

Fabulous mystery! Very interesting take on the prompt. Want to check out my story also?

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Kay (:
20:08 Feb 19, 2022

Hey! I wrote a story in the same prompt, I would appreciate it if you checked it out^^

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