The red and blue lights of the police cars clashed with the orange and black decorations that festooned the neighborhood. Halloween night. A body in the bathtub. A hysterical housekeeper. Sergeant Higgs sighed and walked inside the home, up the stairs, and in to the bathroom.
“Who would have thought the lady to have had so much blood in her?”
“What?” Higgs asked irritably. He bent down by the bathtub and looked at the dead woman’s right wrist. Slashed to hell, he thought. Suicide was his next thought.
“Shakespeare, sir. Macbeth. I paraphrased, of course.”
“Lakewood, I’ve known you for two days and I already don’t like you.”
Lakewood nodded at the back of his head and smiled.
Higgs stood up and examined the other wrist, also slashed violently. The bath water was deep pink, verging on red. Blood had run down from the dead woman’s right wrist in a small rivulet of crimson and rust. She had been dead for over an hour, probably less than three, Higgs surmised. He had seen enough suicides to know how long it took blood to dry and turn color.
“Right. Well, let’s wrap this up. Suicide. Poor woman. Wonder why she hated her life so much? Nice house and fancy doodads all over the place.” Higgs started to walk out of the room when he was arrested by detective (third grade) Lakewood’s voice.
“No, sir. It’s murder.”
Linda Markham was forty-seven years old when she died, leaving a husband and a daughter behind. In life, she had been a stay-at-home mother who had dreams of being a chef when her motherly duties were lessened. She had started culinary school during the summer, which pleased no one at all except herself. Roasted capons in a buttery herb sauce with truffled mashed potatoes went largely untouched. Filet mignons with Béarnaise sauce were met with studied indifference. Dishes of coq au vin, mushroom risotto, and beef Wellington met similar fates.
Although Caroline, her daughter, didn’t care for such culinary fare (Taco Bell and Diet Cokes were good enough for her and her friends), she encouraged her mother to pursue her passions. She was much closer to her mother than her father; her mother met her rather eclectic and strict standards for being a good parent. Her father fell well short of the mark.
Linda’s husband had a different view altogether; she needed to take care of the household duties while he was out making money. He showed his displeasure by missing dinner at home as often as possible.
All of this information came about in the course of the investigation, but it was detective Rose Lakewood’s pronouncement of murder that had detective sergeant Higgs’ immediate attention. He slowly turned towards Lakewood and glared at her.
“Explain yourself Lakewood,” he said between gritted teeth. He had been saddled with this new detective after his partner of over two decades had retired last month. He was due to retire in a few years himself, and the thought of working with a greenhorn detective caused his ample stomach to churn and his balding head to hurt.
Even worse, Lakewood was college educated and she showed it. She wore stylish clothes to crime scenes and always smelled of perfume that he was sure cost more than his shoes. The only thing he approved of so far was that she kept her hair in a spinster-like bun while working.
“It’s the knife, sir. See how it’s under the tub? That knife didn’t get there by her own hand, I’d say. It dropped two feet, at most, from her hand. It couldn’t bounce through the blood all the way there.”
“The suicide, you mean,” Higgs retorted, but in a voice much softer than before. Yes, that was odd.
“And the handle, sir. Very little blood on it. Those cuts that were made to her wrist would have spurted blood all over the knife. These anomalies point to murder, not suicide.”
Higgs grimaced at Lakewood. Anomalies indeed. Can’t the girl just speak in plain English like the rest of the world? Still, well spotted.
Higgs’ manner and tone changed instantly. He ordered the room to be cordoned off, called in a full forensics team, and scheduled an autopsy for the following morning. Find the husband and get his ass in here, he yelled at no one in particular. He stomped off to the car, Lakewood following close behind.
“So, Lonny. Our maiden collaboration,” Lakewood said. She was excited. She had seen her first dead body as a detective, and had contributed vital information. She was about to ask Lonny Higgs out for a celebratory drink when he turned to her and hissed (yes, hissed!) his displeasure with the way she addressed him.
“You will not refer to me by my first name, detective third grade Lakewood. You will call me ‘sir.’ Only ‘sir.” Nothing but ‘sir.’ You don’t have enough dirt in your spikes to call me anything other than ‘sir.’ Is that clear?” He was almost yelling at this point.
“Oh…well…of course. Sir. Yes sir. Uh…what does that mean?”
“Not enough dirt in your spikes.”
Higgs grinned in spite of himself, but he made sure Rose didn’t see it.
“It’s a baseball reference. It means that you’re not experienced in these matters.”
“Yet,” Rose added.
“I’m not experienced in these matters yet. But I will be, with your tutelage.”
“Shut up, Rose.”
Forensics returned what Higgs and Lakewood considered compelling evidence of murder: a single, clear fingerprint on the knife. It was a murder meant to look like a suicide. And it was poorly done.
Blair Markham was not a happy man. He had a dead wife on his hands, a daughter who blamed him for her death, and two stone-faced detectives asking him embarrassing questions. Well, one embarrassing question.
“I was working late. I work late a lot,” Blair said. He was defensive, but that was understandable. He didn’t kill his wife and he certainly didn’t enjoy being treated like a killer.
“No sir, you weren’t at work,” Lakewood said stoically. She looked at Blair and then, after just the right amount of time, she looked down and pulled out one piece of paper from a pile of papers she had in front of her.
“You were at the Windover Hotel near your office. With this woman,” Higgs said. He gestured for Lakewood to hand over the indicated photograph.
Mr. Markham sagged in his chair and nodded miserably. He was caught.
“Don’t…” he leaned forward, ‘don’t tell my daughter. She hates me enough as it is,” Markham said forlornly. He wasn’t proud of his extramarital affair.
“She’s the wife of one of my colleagues,” Markham continued. “We’ve been seeing each other for about six months. Discreetly, of course.”
Higgs and Lakewood had their own views on affairs, and they were decidedly different than those of Mr. Markham. Higgs showed his disgust but Lakewood remained emotionless.
“There all night?” Higgs asked and Lakewood watched. Did he just hesitate an instant before answering? She wasn’t sure.
“Yes. All night. We both left around six the next morning. Today, that is. Her husband is out of town.”
“How were you going to explain this to your wife?” Lakewood asked.
“I told her I was on a business trip. I often am.”
“Hmmm.” Higgs mumbled.
“We have a search warrant for your house. We can give you a ride back if you want,” Higgs said. Lakewood was impressed. The man was a fat slob but he was on the ball.
Blair Markham declined the ride and walked stiffly out of the interview room. He was both angry and contrite. What he wasn’t was bereaved.
“She had enough fentanyl in her to kill Moby Dick,” Lakewood said, going over the autopsy.
“Who?” Higgs grimaced. He knew he wouldn’t like the answer, for it would point out some perceived deficiency in his education.
“Moby Dick. You know. The great white whale,” Lakewood said, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.
“Why didn’t you just say ‘whale,’ then?”
Lakewood shrugged. The man was a Philistine, no doubt about it. And he wore ugly suits. His paunch looked like it would stretch his shirt past the fabric’s ability to contain it, and his ties all looked like they had come from his grandfather.
“So, someone gets her all doped up, or she does it to herself, sneaks in while she’s unconscious, and slits her wrists. But they make a few mistakes. The knife, mainly.”
Lakewood nodded agreement. It all fit.
“And then there’s the blood on Mr. Markham’s shoe. Her blood.”
That was the second of the three bombshells in this case. Higgs admitted that he didn’t expect to find anything when executing the search warrant, but there it was. A slight smear of his wife’s blood on his $1200 Italian loafers.
“When did he do it, though? He was with a woman all night,” Lakewood said. She frowned.
“Unless they were both in on it,” Higgs said. He was lost in thought at this point, planning a course of action.
That action came in the form of a search warrant for the residence of Allison Roe, the woman in question. Another bombshell in the form of another smear of blood on a shoe. Stiletto heels, the ones she wore when she went to meet Markham.
Two arrests were made that afternoon.
“We still have to talk to the daughter,” Higgs said, sighing. He was tired and disgruntled. The depravity of humans never ceased to amaze him, not matter how often he saw it. People killed for money and for love (or the lack thereof). They killed because they had been slighted or rejected. They killed for pretty much anything, he thought.
“Do we, sir? I mean, we have the case all wrapped up. The poor girl is surely distraught,” Lakewood said. Higgs glared at her. She knew why by now.
“Sorry, sir. The girl is probably upset,” Lakewood amended.
“Then just say ‘upset.’ That other word sounds like it’s a disease.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll try to use my middle school vocabulary.”
Higgs wanted to yell at her. In fact, he started with a few choice words and then stopped. It would do no good to have an ugly shouting match in the office. He would look small and petty. She would look like the victim of an unjust attack. He would let it go – for now.
The drive to the Markham house was strained. Lakewood didn’t dare say anything and Higgs wanted dearly to say something. Higgs was sweating with the effort of keeping a close rein on his tongue by the time they got to the Markham house. Lakewood found herself a little unsettled as well. She had prodded Higgs too much, but the man was an oaf.
Lorelei Markham was a senior in high school. Her tear-stained face couldn’t hide her attractive features, and her shaky voice couldn’t hide her detestation for her father.
“I knew he was having an affair, but I didn’t know with whom until a couple of months ago. A married woman, no less. Both of them deserve to rot in hell,” she sniffed.
“Sorry, Miss Markham. I know this is difficult, but we need to know where you were on the night in question. Specifically where you were,” Higgs said softly. Lakewood looked at him in surprise. The man had a soft side, and not just his belly.
“Like I said before, I was out in the neighborhood with some of my friends. We patrol the streets on Halloween night to keep an eye on the kids and look for any weirdos. We didn’t have any definite route. Sometimes we’d split up into different groups and sometimes we’d be alone as long as we were in a crowded and well-lighted street.”
“That’s very commendable of you,” Lakewood said approvingly.
“We get service hours for it at school. Sure beats washing cars or selling homemade brownies.”
Higgs nodded in comprehension, for he had been through this with his daughter when she was in high school. Lakewood wrote it all down. Higgs seemed to be doing a fine job of questioning without her help.
“It was the knife that mom and I used for carving pumpkins. She was a chef, you know. Well, almost. She laid this knife aside specifically for the pumpkin carving. Her chef knives were sacrosanct,” Lorelei said tearfully. Her voice still quavered from emotion.
Higgs grimaced but tried to hide it. He had no idea what ‘sacrosanct’ meant, but he could figure it out. Lakewood smiled. Maybe the man will realize that even high school kids had a better vocabulary than him.
“Thank you, Miss Markham. We’ll be in contact with further information when we get it. I understand that you aunt is here with you?”
Lorelei nodded her head and started to cry again. Lakewood gave her a brief pat on the back and left, trailing Higgs. He had no intention of staying any longer than he had to.
Higgs suddenly and inexplicably froze on the Markham sidewalk, his eyes wide and uttering words that did not come from any SAT list. Lakewood ran into him. Even his back is squidgy, she thought, quite ungraciously.
“What’s happening, Higgs? Having a stroke from eating too much meat?” Lakewood enjoyed saying that. A lot.
“What has your briefs in a bunch? Sir,” she added the last word quickly.
“I…I…we arrested the wrong people, Lakewood. We have to get back in there and break that girl!” And he fit the word to the deed, running (after a fashion) back to the front door to confront a teenager.
“You stay here and let me talk to her alone.”
“You have to trust your partner on this one, Lakewood. Let the old man do what he knows how to do.” Higgs took her by the shoulders and sat her down on a sofa.
“And what is that, sir?” Lakewood, it would be fair to say, was mystified. She, however, obeyed, remaining on the sofa.
“Get the truth out of a teenage girl.”
Rose Lakewood looked at the beer in front of her with mild suspicion. It was dark and foamy and foreign-looking. Higgs had the same type of beer in his glass, and he wasted no time in downing half of it. Rose shrugged and did the same thing. The taste was wonderfully deep and complex. She was impressed with Higgs, in spite of herself.
“How did you know?” Lakewood had asked earlier. Higgs had remained silent on the subject until he made a few calls and then escorted Rose to a nearby pub. Rose was so floored by the invitation that she didn’t think to decline.
“The knife. The smears of blood. The husband’s inner nature. All of it.” Higgs finished his beer and ordered another. Rose suspected that he would down more than two before the night was over. Future events proved her correct.
“Explain, sir.” Rose was baffled. At everything.
“Do you know what ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ means?”
Rose laughed and clapped her hands. The man was full of surprises today! Her Neanderthal partner knew something!
“Of course. It means that once you get to a certain point, there’s no going back. How did you know about that? Sir.”
Higgs waved her question away and simultaneously quaffed down another beer.
“So, the daughter. She mentioned the knife.”
“It was under the tub. How did she know it was there? Mrs. Markham was found by the housekeeper.”
“Yes, ah! And then there was the single fingerprint. Now, Mr. Markham doesn’t strike me as a stupid man, and only a stupid man would have left such an obvious clue. And then there were the smears of blood.”
Lakewood gazed at Higgs in fascination. The man was good at this, even with a poor vocabulary.
“The blood wasn’t splattered. It was smeared. Lightly. As if someone had deliberately put it there. And I doubt that the two adulterous people would have neglected the blood on their expensive shoes had they been the culprits.”
“When did you realize all this? I mean, something felt a little off to me, but the case was so solid…”
“Yes! Solid. Too solid. Too clean. Like you, I believed that the man and the woman did it. Until the girl mentioned the knife. Then it all fell into place.”
“Damn!” Lakewood finished her beer and ordered another. This was tasty stuff.
“It’s the Rubicon, you see. The husband would not cross that sort of line, no matter how much he despised his wife. He got back at her by sleeping with another woman. That’s the depth of the Rubicon he was willing to cross. Shallow.”
“But Mrs. Markham was willing to cross a much darker line. She did kill herself. Her daughter found her first, and she was willing to implicate her dad. That was the Rubicon she would cross. Deep, because she hated her dad and believed that he was to blame for her death.”
“And you got her to confess this to you? How in the world…”
Higgs looked at Lakewood and smiled humbly. Again, the man surprised her.
“I have a daughter that used to be a teenager. I have lots of experience in breaking her down, and this kid was no problem. All it takes is gentleness and a soothing yet commanding voice.”
Rose nodded, impressed at the man’s resourcefulness.
“Uh, Lakewood. From now on, call me Lonny. We’ll be…what’s that word…collerboners.”
“Collaborators, sir. Lonny.”
“Maybe you can teach me some of those fancy words you know,” Lonny added a few seconds later, after he finished another beer.
“Sure thing, Lonny. Let’s start with the word ‘I want another beer.’”
“That’s a good word, Rose. One of the best.”