From the McCarty Files:
The Poisoned Cup
A FGB offerning for HMonster4
"So give it to me one more time, beautiful," I say, holding out the cigarette case to her.
"Are you trying to waste my time, or are you simply incompetent?" she asks.
She reaches out a perfectly manicured hand and takes a fag. She holds it between her lips and looks at me expectantly, so I push the matches across the desk at her. She keeps staring at me, so I cock an eyebrow at her and then look away as the peon at her side lights the fag for her.
"Look lady, you came to me," I say, standing up. "Now give it to me one more time or get out."
"My husband was murdered three nights ago," she says, drawing deeply on the cigarette before continuing. "We had dined at my in-laws' estate earlier in the evening and returned to the house around a quarter to nine. Royce still had work to do and I was exhausted so I retired for the evening. At approximately three in the morning, I awoke with a splitting headache and found Royce's side of the bed empty. This was odd; as a rule, Royce never worked past eleven. I went down to his study and that's where I found him. I rang the police immediately."
She shrugs her shoulders delicately and looks up at me. It's damn near perfect. I mean, she repeated herself almost word for word. She might think this is a good thing, but now I'm suspicious.
"So, Mrs. King," I say.
"Ms. Hale," she corrects me and then immediately looks away. "Mrs. King is my mother-in-law."
"You and Mr. King were tight?" I ask, leaning against the desk so I can look into her eyes better.
"We were married, you idiot. What do you think?"
"I'm trying to get a full picture here. Your marriage was fine? No problems?"
"My husband was a monster, Mr. McCarty," she says coldly, flicking the ash from her cigarette in agitation.
"Ms. Hale," the peon says, fluttering his hands in the air like a ninny. "As your attorney I must remind you…"
"Shut up, Newton," she says icily. "I don't pay you to talk…now. Besides, Mr. McCarty is in my employ as well. It's in my best interest to be up front with him."
"I'm not in your employ yet, Ms. Hale," I say quickly.
"But you will be."
Her tone is sure and cocky and it makes my gut crawl. This dame is used to getting her way.
"Right," I say, rolling my eyes for effect. "'Cause money talks. You were saying about your dearly departed spouse?"
"I won't blow smoke up your ass, Mr. McCarty. I grew to hate my husband after we were married and it became clear that his only use for me was an adornment for his arm. It was a marriage of convenience; and frankly, I wasn't finding it very convenient any longer. He was brute and a tyrant."
"So did you off him?" I ask bluntly.
The peon lawyer gets all flustered and starts sputtering about his client's rights. Blondie and I both tell him to can it at the same time. She looks up at me and smirks so pretty I almost forget she's accused of murder. But then her eyes turn to ice again.
"No, I did not 'off' him. Though I won't say I'm sorry that someone did." Her voice is flat, passionless, like she's got nothing left.
"Did you hire someone to kill him?" I ask, my voice a bit softer now.
"I just don't understand, Ms. Hale," I said, raising my hands in the air. "You've got all this money to your name. You could easily buy your trial. Why are you here? What do you want from me?"
"I suppose you're right," she says, stubbing out the spent fag and smiling angrily. "I could buy the trial; it would be easy. But getting off isn't going to solve my problem, now is it?"
"How do you mean?"
"Someone killed Royce," she says, and I hear it for the first time. The dame is leaking fear. "And whoever he is, he's still roaming the streets of Rochester. Now that my name's been in all the papers, he might come back for me if he isn't caught."
She stands now, her hard blue eyes softening as she looks up at me. I begin to understand why the broad is used to getting her way. It's damn near sinful what's she doing to me just looking so helpless like that.
"Won't you help me, Mr. McCarty?"
I want to say no, but she's owned me since she walked in the door. This case and this doll are screaming trouble at me, but she's right about one thing: her money certainly has a way with words.
"Yeah, darlin'," I say finally. "I'll take the case."
"Fine," she says, suddenly all business again. The change is immediate and it leaves me reeling. She throws a file folder on the table. "Those are the official police reports; you might find them useful. Newton, give him your card and mine while you're at it. Inside the folder you'll find your first payment. You'll get the remainder when the case is closed."
"Where did you get this?" I ask as I flip through the file folder, slipping the wad of cash into my top drawer. "How did you get a hand on this file?"
"It doesn't matter," she said firmly. "Now be a good detective and don't show that to the asinine police force. They don't need another reason to want to lock me up."
She turns and sashays toward the door, her swaying hips drawing my attention as she walks away from me. She turns, flipping her hair over her shoulder and looks haughtily at me.
"The trial's in two months. If you wrap it up before then, there'll be a bonus for you."
She walks out the door, leaving the sniveling lawyer standing there rummaging through his briefcase to find the cards he needs.
"Please direct any inquiries to me," he says in his nasal voice. "I do not want to see my client's name sullied."
"You mean any more than it already has been, what with the murder rap and all," I say, taking the card from his trembling hand. "Where's Ms. Hale's card?"
He pushes his glasses up his nose and puffs out his chest a bit. His head reaches almost to my shoulders now and he squints as he tries not to look up my nose.
"If you wish to speak to R—Ms. Hale, you will go through me."
"Rose?" I ask, laughing. "You think if you get her acquitted she's going to bone you? She's using you, just like she's using me, fancy pants."
He splutters, almost dropping his briefcase. I reach down and grab it quickly, plucking out a card with elegant writing on it and an embossed red rose.
"Seriously, Mike, is it?" I ask.
He nods and tries to reach for the card, but I hold it out of his reach.
"Don't mess with my investigation, punk. You do your job, which seems to be everything from driving Ms. Hale around to lighting her ciggies. And I'll do mine, which is clearing her name. Are we clear?"
He splutters again, this time with less feeling and drops his hands at his side, resigned to taking orders again. I feel bad for the poor sap. He's probably got more brains in his noggin than most fellas, but he's got no backbone to speak of. He thanks me and then walks out of my office, leaving me shaking my head.
The police file is complete, which shocks the hell out of me. I expected to find a bastardized copy with all of the important things missing. Instead, I find the detailed carbon copied notes and sketches of one E.A.M.
"Talk to me, E.A.M. Tell me what you know," I mumble, leafing through the splotchy papers.
He's a meticulous SOB, that's for sure. Reading his notes gives me a full picture of the crime scene, complete with sketches of the fatal injuries and a list of likely weapons. As Ms. Hale, Rosie as I like to think of her, told me earlier, Royce was killed in his study. The body was sprawled across the floor and there was no sign of bodily injury. A tea cup lay broken beside the body and the contents had spilled on the rug. The features of the body were distorted and E.A.M. noted that it was likely a "painful" death. I note that E.A.M. likes to make assumptions.
I turn the page and I am amazed to see an original crime scene photo. The palms must have been greased but good for Rosie to get her hands on this. I have no love for the department, but even I know they don't let stuff like this slip out to murder suspects and their private dicks. This is either a monumental screw up or a monumental payoff; either way, Rosie was right to ask me to dummy up about it. Anyone of those officious screwballs at the department catch wind of me having this and they'll railroad her and me as quick as look at us. Yeah, the ol' department has always been good at that.
I rub my hands over my face angrily as I remember just how easily those impatient bulls at the department ran me up the river when they had no more use for me. My methods have always been…deliberate. Some called me slow, but I always got my man. And I prided myself on always getting the right man. The young bucks that came out of the academy were all about their fancy profiles. As long as a suspect fit the profile they were ready to bring him in and throw the book at him. They never bothered to pound the pavement; they didn't even bother to make contacts. They said my "friends in low places" were unnecessary and turned their pasty white noses up at those contacts I'd spent my career building up.
I gather up the scattered police report and tuck it under my arm. There's nothing more I can do here tonight so I lock up the office and head out to the street. Trash litters the ground and I nearly stumble over all the bums lining the back alley I'm walking down. There but for the grace of God go I, I always remind myself. After the great crash last year, I couldn't help thinking that maybe I was lucky after all that the department kicked me out when it did. Now, I get all my payments up front and in cold, hard cash. I've never had much use for banks myself and the crash only proved me right. Still, my "brotherhood's" rejection stings fiercely.
I knew the boot was coming long before the Evenson case came in; that was just the nail in my coffin. Pretty Esme Platt Evenson, with her bruised and battered face and her frightened eyes, was so easy to love. I just wanted protect that woman, something her husband clearly never did. One look at her and I knew that lady wasn't a killer, but damn if those boys at the station weren't all in a hurry to lock her up and throw away the key.
"You're a damn fool, Crowley!" I bellow at the tall cop looking back at me with a cocky smirk. "That lady couldn't kill a fly let alone her husband. Look what he did to her face, for God's sake."
"Exactly," he says. "That's precisely why she fits the profile, Emmett my friend. She's a battered woman who finally had enough. She snapped. It's not that I don't feel bad for her, but she's still guilty as sin."
Mrs. Evenson is still locked in our own small jail cell. I look over at her, knowing she can hear every word we're saying about her. She doesn't move. She sits there worrying her skirt over and over and looking up at the corner of the jail cell. I notice that her lips are moving, but no sound is coming out.
I walk over closer to her. Her wide, petrified eyes roll in her head until she is looking at me in pure fear. I look back at Crowley angrily, but he just shrugs his shoulders. She fits the profile; he's not looking at anything else.
"Hey, honey, I'm not gonna hurt you," I say as quietly as I can. "I just want to ask you some questions."
No one has been able to get her to talk. We found her kneeling over the shards of a broken tea cup next to her her dead husband's body. She was shaking her head and saying "I'm sorry" over and over again. Everyone assumed she was apologizing for killing him, but I wasn't convinced.
She never answered me; she started screaming when I pulled my chair up to the bars and sat down with her. She was scared stiff of every man in the place. It was kind of a comfort to me knowing that she was now in a women's prison; there wouldn't be any men there to bother her.
Her case has always haunted me. And it's not only because I got kicked off the force because of her case. I never believed that she was a murderer and I worked every angle of that case looking for a lead that led away from Esme Evenson. After awhile, it was all I was doing. I didn't care. No one listened to me anymore anyway. I figured I was doing something useful for someone and I was out of my superior's hair for a while. Of course they didn't see it like that.
"McCarty, the chief wants you in his office," Crowley says with a smirk.
I wonder what it is. As I walk there, I hope that he's found out something that will help with my investigation. It's a blind hope; I know this. And still I'm obsessed with the idea that I might get that poor woman out of jail somehow. I don't know why she matters so much; maybe because I know it's the only time in my career I've someone who's innocent has been sent away on my watch.
They canned me that day; said the force was growing and I wasn't showing a "willingness to grow with them." It was all bullshit and I saw that for sure when the chief lost his temper with me.
"You've been wasting the department resources for too long with that ridiculous pipe dream of yours! And for what? A filthy murderess? You know I like you, son, but you…you're just not right here anymore."
I left that day and not one of the blokes who used to call me brother ever once called to see how I was making out. None of them ever bothered. As for me, I've never looked back…much.
I wake up after only a couple hours of sleep; Rosie's case is starting to get to me. I was up until nearly three in the morning reading and rereading the case files. Stumbling out of the bathroom, I bring the files over to my bed and lay them out so I can look through them again. E.A.M.'s interview with Rose is very—enlightening—and I immediately pull it out. I keep looking for traces of the woman whose forceful personality had taken over my office and cannot find her in the carbon-copied transcription of the conversation.
She told E.A.M. pretty much what she told me, but she left out a few key points. When asked about her marriage, Rosie lied through her teeth.
E.A.M: Please tell me about your marriage.
R.H.K: Royce was just the best husband a girl could ask for. What more could I want? He bought me anything I wanted.
I can almost hear her sarcasm, and apparently so could E.A.M. He notes it in one of his asides. Suspect shows signs of disdain and sarcasm when discussing the deceased. She shows classic signs of being abused though there are no overt bruises on her skin. She fits the profile for a battered wife seeking retribution.
"Did you wait till you were back in the office to judge her or did you do it in front of her?" I mumble.
I am beginning to really dislike E.A.M. I hate people who take the easy way out, and that's just what this cop is doing. Investigating Royce's murder would mean actual work; clearly, E.A.M. is content with fitting a suspect into a profile and calling it a day.
I toss the interview aside and reach for the detailed inventory of the crime scene. My eyes keep being drawn to the broken tea cup. I remember that the responding officer noted there are no signs of trauma on the body; it makes me suspicious about the cause of death. I begin flipping quickly through the file, searching for a coroner's report but come up empty. Damn. The stiffs in the morgue were never known for their speed. Guess I'll be making a trip there today as well as paying Ms. Hale a visit at home. I add Jas's "Tea" House in Tower Town to my mental lists of stops for the day and begin getting dressed.
Honestly, the prospect of spending a day out on the street greasing palms and pumping people for answers excites me. I've been spending too much time in that stuffy office or holed up somewhere doing surveillance detail on a cheating husband. This is a challenge and I'm more than ready to get it started. But first, I need breakfast.
The bell jingles as I walk into Leah's corner coffee shop and I hang my fedora on a hook by the door. The smells assault me immediately: frying grease, hot coffee, and burnt toast. I walk up to the counter and smile at the pretty, young waitress balancing three plates precariously in her hand.
"Be right with you, sir," she says, frazzled.
I nod and whistle lowly as she walks by me. Her skirt is high and her legs are long; I might be coming to Leah's more often now that this pretty thing would be here.
"Don't get your hopes up, big guy," a familiar voice croons at me. "She's already got a daddy. One of those fancy pants police officers you're so fond of."
"Thanks for the tip, Leah," I say, turning around to face her. She's heading back to the grill and smirking at me as she goes.
"What'll you have?" Leah calls over the half wall.
I take one last appreciative look at the waitress's fine backside and look at Leah's amused eyes. I shrug, dismissing her silent accusations, and then smile.
"I'll have the usual, Leah. How's business?"
She rolls her eyes and looks around the dining area. It's not filled as much as it used to be before the crash, but there's a generous amount of regular patrons here, even if most of them are only taking coffee. They're still here and that says something about them and Leah.
"How's your business?" she asks as she cracks some eggs for me. "Anything I need to know?"
Crime is a very real part of people's lives right now and since I often get wind of things before the locals, I try to keep my friends informed. But whatever is going on with Rosie and her dearly departed husband wasn't likely to affect these folk.
"On a murder," I say quietly. "No one special."
Leah understands that this means it is someone special and she won't be getting any more details out of me. She nods curtly and goes about fixing my breakfast. Leah's good like that. She's no gossip and only really cares if it affects her or her people. She knows I'd tell her if it did.
As I'm waiting for my breakfast, a uniform walks into the place. Bronze hair slicked and combed back underneath his shiny brimmed hat. His badge looks as though it's been spit and polished so that it sparkles in the sunlight. When he walks in, the pretty brown-haired waitress drops a glass of orange juice and he chuckles.
He sits two stools over from me at the counter and looks me up and down as he does. I'm used to it. A built man, dressed professionally; I look made. So I turn in my stool and smile at him.
"Good morning, officer," I say, extending my hand to him. "Name's Emmett McCarty. I don't believe I've seen you around here before."
He stares at my hand for a few seconds before reaching out tentatively to take it. His hands are clammy.
"Detective Masen," he says finally. "Edward Masen."
E.M., I think to myself. As he's leaning back to his seat, I check out his name plate above his badge: Edward A. Masen. Hot damn! It's the officious author of the reports that are lying on the counter next to me. Only years of training keep me from darting my eyes over at them and rousing his suspicions.
"Pleasure to meet you, Detective," I say. "First time at Leah's?"
"No, I come often to see my girl," he says, looking over at the shy waitress who is staring at him and blushing furiously. "You come here a lot?"
"As often as I can. No one makes breakfast like Leah!"
Leah sets my plate down in front of me and snorts at my compliment.
"Yours'll be up in a minute, Ed," Leah says and nods to him.
"Edward," he mumbles quietly, but Leah hears him.
"Sorry, Edward." She walks back to the grill, rolling her eyes at me as she goes and I have to stifle a laugh in my napkin.
I eat in silence and think about what this information can buy me. E.A.M, Edward, comes here often. It's possible that could work to my advantage. I could get to know him and pump him for information…but did I want his answers? I'd already seen the way his little mind jumped to conclusions; did I need more of his conclusions clouding my judgment as I went forward with this case? Nope. Not in the least.
I finish my breakfast and fish a sizable tip out of my pocket for both the waitress and Leah. The number of bills I plunk down on the counter doesn't go unnoticed by Detective Masen; he gives me another look over before he hunches over his toast and eggs.
"It was good to meet you, Detective," I say as I get up. "Always good to know the local law enforcement."
He nods and grunts over his breakfast. The pretty waitress is fluttering around him and pouring more coffee in his half-full cup.
"Bella, honey, I'm fine," he whispers and gives her a genuine smile.
He seems like he treats her okay, but he still rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the notes he wrote; maybe it's just that he's a cop and I'm programmed to hate them. Either way, I'm ready to blow this joint and be on my way.
"Have a good day, Mr. McCarty," Edward says as I reach the door.
He's looking at me again, as if he's trying to commit my face to memory. The pretty waitress named Bella is looking at me suspiciously and I have to sigh. So judgmental. I shake my head and pop my fedora on my head as I walk back out into the biting Chicago wind. I need to stop at the office and call the morgue and Ms. Hale so that they know I'll be around today.
Jas's Tea House is tucked in a row of unassuming brownstone fronted stores in Tower Town. He doesn't open until mid-afternoon, but I know that he and Alice are somewhere inside. I'm unsurprised to see Alice's swaying skirt and happy face greet me on my first knock. This is a woman whose intuition and assumptions I trust. I'd never tell the other PIs I know, but I'd used the services of Jas's psychic wife on a couple of cases. She never steered me wrong either.
"Come for another reading, Em?" she asks pleasantly as she lets me into the dark room.
They've dressed the place up to look Mediterranean and exotic, with gauze and beads dripping from the ceilings. It isn't my type of joint, but they do a fairly good business so I guess that the bohemian crowd like it well enough.
"No, darling," I say, kissing her cheek. "I need to talk to Jas if he's around."
"Right here, Em," Jas says as he emerges from one of the back rooms holding some waxed paper with odd brown shavings on it.
Jas and Alice sell the finest tea in the city. What his upscale patrons don't know is that Jas probably knows more about poison than he does about tea. He had been my go-to man when I had a question about poison since I was a newbie on the force. I don't have anything other than the position of the body, but I am certain that Jas can narrow it down for me considerably. I'll at least know if the spooks at the morgue are pulling the wool over my eyes when I talk to them.
"What's the case this time?" he asks, gesturing for me to follow him into his private room.
This room always gives me the willies when I step into it. On one wall are bags and jars of imported tea. They sit up there, scenting the room with their strange and exotic perfumes. Just across the room is a locked glass case with a white skull and crossbones painted on it; it's Jas's collection of poisons.
"Murder," I say, sidling up to his table. "You mixing tea or something else?"
I sniff cautiously at what he's dumping in his mixing bowl.
"If I wasn't mixing tea, you probably wouldn't want to sniff it," he says, chuckling. "Who was murdered?"
"A real big cheese. His wife is accused of the murder and she came to me to clear her name."
"You think she's innocent?" he asks.
I hadn't really thought about that up until now. I'd been very busy poking holes in the shoddy detective work I'd seen in the police report, but I hadn't given much thought about whether I believed Rosie's story or not. The easy answer is of course I believe she's innocent; that's what she pays me for. But that's not what Jas is asking and I know it.
"Yeah," I say sighing. "I'm almost positive she's innocent. But there's a ton of evidence that says she's guilty, so…"
"Right. What do you need from me?"
"I have some pictures to show you along with some written descriptions. I want your impression."
I slide the pertinent documents over at him and wait as he fishes out his large glasses to look them over. Alice stands silently beside him, looking at them just as intently. As much as I want to ask Alice what she thinks, I know it's best to let her take the lead.
"A broken tea cup was found next to the body and there weren't any signs of trauma on the body. It's likely some sort of poison that did him in and I need your opinion on what kind."
"So…where's the sample?"
"I don't have one."
"Of course you don't." He sighs deeply and then looks back at the pictures. "These are fair quality pictures at best and I obviously can't tell the color of the residue in the cup. However, if you can give me a cause of death, I can probably narrow it down for you. If you give me a sample of the poison, I can probably nail it for you."
"I have a meeting at the morgue today and I'm going over to the deceased's residence after that. I'll see what I can do."
Alice has been standing quietly throughout this exchange. She looks up and her eyes go glassy so I know what's coming. Jasper does too and he puts down his mixing bowl and turns to face her.
"You're right—the wife didn't kill him, but I can't see who did. It's a shadowy figure, not someone the deceased knew. It's very strange."
Alice closes her eyes and brings her fingertips to her temples. She's not really giving me much to go on, but I know her well enough to know I shouldn't interrupt. Her eyes open and they are clear again; she's back in the here and now.
"This is going to be a big case for you," she says with a smile. "I can't see the details, but I can tell this is the one you've been waiting for."
I wait, hoping she's got more for me but she just looks back at me with the same smile on her face.
"That's all you've got for me, honey? Are you sure?"
I came here not really wanting to use Alice; I wanted to use my contacts and work the street, but I wasn't going to ask for Alice's psychic advice. But suddenly I'm dying for more, something to go on to save me a little bit of chasing my tail.
"I'm sorry, Em," she says, reaching over and touching my arm. "You know I'd love to help you, but I can't see anything about this case."
"It's okay, Alice," I say, nodding as I speak. "You guys are only the first of many stops for me today. I should have lots more answers tonight."
Jasper walks me out through the dining area and stops me as I'm about to walk through the door.
"You're looking for a pretty rare poison," he says quietly.
"Why do you say that?"
I take out my notebook, ready to jot down what he has to say.
"This fella looks fairly healthy, apart from the fact that he's not breathing. He doesn't look like he's been poisoned over a long period time. There're precious few poisons that people can slip into a drink like tea and kill someone quickly like this; at least not ones that are readily available."
"You sold anything recently?"
He looks at me for a moment, arms crossed and eyes squinted slightly. I sigh and reach into my back pocket, pulling out one of the C notes I have reserved for greasing palms. I snap the money in front of him.
"Talk," I say with a frown.
He snaps the money out of my hand and tucks it into one of his pockets.
"I have a few receipts that might be of interest," he says. "Come back tonight. I'll have them ready for you."
"Right…so you have any fuzz activity lately?"
"Not a peep," he says. "You're the only one who ever picks my brain, Em, you know that."
"Yeah," I mumble, turning to walk out the door. "I'll be back tonight. Maybe I'll have something more for you then."
I walk out into the bright daylight that does nothing to warm the January air. It makes me a little bitter that I had to drop a C note on Jas; but I understand that by revealing his clients, he could lose a lot of money. It's only fair I compensate him. I still have a few hundred left from what Rosie gave me for "expenses." I make a note to try and palm any samples I can from the morgue for Jas to check out.
As I walk to my car, I find myself replaying Alice's words: this is the one you've been waiting for. Alice and Jas knew about Esme and what happened to me because of it. They also knew I never forgot about her. So when Alice said that, she knew what she was talking about. I wonder as I walk toward my car whether this really is the big one or whether Alice was giving me a lead without meaning to. Was this just my chance to show up the cops or did this case hold the key to clearing Esme Evenson?
A/N: I know, right? Emmett. It's out of my comfort zone, but when HMonster gave me the challenge, I just couldn't resist. I really hope you're pleased with the first installment, babe. Thanks for taking a chance on me! Anyone have any guesses or pick up on any clues? I can't wait to hear all of the theories! I've never written mystery before so you'll have to let me know as the story progresses how I'm doing. ;) ~Jen