Tag Archives: detective

Going for Gold (L)

In the greeting hall of Vancouver’s Canada Place cruise ship terminal, twenty-nine-year-old Amy Sinclair tapped her toes like an Irish step dancer in training. More than twenty minutes had elapsed since the last passenger had walked the plank, and to say she was irritated would be an understatement. Her grandmother, Evelyn, insisted on announcing her exits as well as her entrances, so she made it a point to be the first to disembark. Fortunately, it was Saturday, and Amy hadn’t needed to request time off work to meet her grandmother. She imagined a scene where Evelyn was accompanied by staff laden with luggage her grandmother had refused to set outside her cabin door the night before. “This isn’t the navy, and I’m paying for this trip. If I want my luggage in my cabin, I’ll have it there.” Evelyn was the definition of high maintenance.

Amy glanced up at the sparkling white behemoth occupying birth two. Wasn’t that Evelyn hanging onto a railing and waving at her from a deck three floors up? She recognized one of her grandmother’s signature sari-length silk scarves caught in an updraft and billowing out toward the Pacific like an aspiring wind sock. She was reminded of the actress Isadora Duncan who had died ninety years earlier when her long scarf became caught in the wheel of her convertible. Evelyn didn’t drive. She had a granddaughter for that.

Amy approached the security guard to ask him if she could collect her grandmother, still waving. “Sorry, Ma’am. Only passengers are allowed beyond this point.”

“Then perhaps you could see if she needs help with her luggage?”

“I’ll phone for someone. You keep on with your Morris dancing, miss, and we’ll bring her down to you.”

Amy watched as ship’s security approached Evelyn. Lips were moving but little else, and her grandmother was shaking her head vigorously. This was not simply a need for help with luggage, and Evelyn was not about to disembark until she got her way. In time, the security officer would figure that out. Whatever it was she wanted seemed to involve Amy since she pointed towards her several times. Amy sighed. Nothing was easy with Evelyn. Her grandmother had raised her after her parents had died in her early teens. She loved her to bits, but their views of what was important in life were about ten generations apart, not two.

Evelyn was disembarking from her third cruise along the beautiful British Columbia and Alaska coastlines. It wasn’t the glaciers, gold fields or grizzly bears that lured her north. She cruised so she could dress up and play with the one-armed bandits in the ship’s casino. She claimed to be too old and too smart to bother with the two-armed ones. She also enjoyed music that was decades past it’s top ten date but popular with the older demographic on board the Alaskan Adventurer. If she wasn’t mistaken, Fly Me to the Moon was playing over the speakers in the hall.

This particular voyage had special appeal for Evelyn because it was advertised as a “period cruise” with the theme of the gold rush days in Alaska and the Yukon around the turn of the twentieth century. Passengers could rent costumes for the formal nights with women outfitted in dance-hall costumes that revealed more than one might wish to see of slack and mottled flesh. Men could dress as miners or dog-sled drivers although most were incapable of doing either in their prime. The brochures suggested bringing your own costume which was Evelyn’s choice, naturally. She dubbed her costume The Wife of the Mayor, a euphemism for Belle of the Ball. Dining rooms were decorated as dancehalls, bars sported brass spittoons, and tents and dogsleds were hung from walls. To Amy, the whole thing sounded ghastly, especially the dressing up part. Long days spent at the bank wearing fitted black suits and white shirts made her leery of anything called formal wear. She’d prefer jeans and a tee any day.

The security guard listened to his phone for a moment then told Amy she could go up to her grandmother. “What seems to be the problem?” Amy asked.

“Someone’s missing, ma’am, and your grandmother wants you to find her.”

 

Evelyn hugged Amy, and in the process, entwined her in her scarf and dusted her with face powder. She introduced her to Armando Vargas, Head of Security aboard the Alaskan Adventurer. Armando would have been gorgeous without that dark scowl, but Amy could forgive anyone a scowl caused by Evelyn. His black eyes gleamed into her blue ones.

“Your grandmother, she refuses to leave the ship until her friend is located. I’ve told her we have half the crew looking, and if the woman is aboard, we will find her.”

“It’s Diana Walsh,” Evelyn said, confiding in Amy. “She was in the next cabin and I saw her last night before the formal dinner. I was seated early but she chose the late seating so we didn’t dine together. She was wearing the most wonderful dress, Amy, and we both loved the pageant of it all. Believe me, Diana did not leave the ship, or jump off it, at least not voluntarily.”

“I’m sorry, Madam,” said Armando, “but you have only known Ms. Walsh for ten days. You may be mistaken about her state of mind.”

Evelyn ignored Armando and continued talking to Amy. “I know this woman as well as I know you, and she did not jump from this ship. I just wish I’d checked on her last night. Something’s happened to her, and I want you to find out where she is.” She turned to Vargas, arms crossed over her chest. “I’m not leaving until we do.”

Amy exchanged a look of commiseration with Armando Vargas. Did Evelyn really know this Diana as well as she knew her own granddaughter? She could try to dissuade Evelyn, but years of experience had taught her to capitulate to save time and stomach acid. Amy was forever searching for things Evelyn had misplaced, although usually it wasn’t a person. “Mr. Vargas, would it be alright if I have a quick look around Diana’s stateroom and the public areas. I assure you, it will be much faster if I do.” Vargas looked ready to object, but Amy’s smile must have changed his mind. Sometimes it could do that.

“I’ll take you to her cabin,” he said, broad shoulders sagging. His sigh echoed down the corridor. Before they reached the elevators, a crewman ran up and drew Vargas away. When he returned, he looked concerned. “They’ve found Diana Walsh.”

“Thank goodness. Where is she?” Evelyn was pressing her breast bone as if the action would shove her heart back into neutral. Armando looked at her, lips turned up in a most appealing way. He was probably anticipating jettisoning the cargo, in this case, Evelyn.

“I should not tell you this before the next of kin are notified, but Ms. Walsh is dead. There is no reason to believe that her death is suspicious.”

“How convenient for the cruise ship company,” Evelyn said, looking white around the cheeks in spite of layers of makeup and blush. “I must see her body before I disembark. Besides, you need someone to confirm her identity.”

“As she is the only passenger missing, and her cruise card has her picture, this is hardly necessary,” Armando said. Her grandmother was displaying her squinty eye look, and it was a little scary. Time to capitulate again, Amy thought. A long pause ensued. “All right, I will let you identify your friend, but then you must disembark immediately. Do you agree?” He waited until Evelyn said yes.

Ah, Amy thought, terms were established. Armando learns quickly. He led them to the top deck and into the spa where cleaning staff were liberally applying disinfectant to surfaces in the reception area and spa cubicles. The door to one of the cubicles was closed and a security guard stood outside. She straightened up when she saw Armando, then stepped aside.

“You must not touch anything, just look,” Armando said, blocking the door with his arm until they agreed.

“Why? Are you collecting evidence for a natural death? Amy attempted to look innocent. She could see Armando studying her as if wondering if he had two difficult women on his hands. Not much to wonder about there, Amy thought.

“The police will be here soon. I’d like to tell them that aside from the ship’s doctor, no one has touched her body.”

“Fine,” Evelyn said, now impatient to have it over. “Just let me confirm it’s her.”

Diana Walsh was lying on her back on a massage table. Her legs were outstretched, toes pointed. and her hands lay over her stomach as if prepared for a casket. Her location and her body position were hardly natural, Amy thought. Moreover, she was dressed as a miner, complete with wool pants, red plaid shirt and a pleather vest, all several sizes too large. No gold nuggets were visible, but diamonds dotted her fingers and lobes.

“That is certainly not what she was wearing last night. Her outfit is ridiculous!” Evelyn said.

At that moment, the police arrived. Two RCMP officers stood in the narrow hallway glaring in at them. “What’s going on here?” the taller one said, looking at the two women as if they were paparazzi.

“This passenger refused to disembark before she saw her friend,” Armando said, indicating Evelyn. “She has identified the body for us.”

It sounded like a pretty weak excuse to me, but the police didn’t seem concerned. They took contact information and suggested both passengers leave the ship. Armando was about to escort them to the gangplank when Evelyn turned to the detective and asked for his name and telephone number.

“I may need to contact you,” she said, in a conspiratorial whisper. The detective looked at her curiously and handed her his card. As they walked down the hall, they heard the detective phone for a Coroner. Good, Amy thought, he’s questioning natural death.

 

Amy went to check on Evelyn the next day, and they reviewed the circumstances surrounding Diana Walsh’s death. “Perhaps her murderer exchanged costumes with her,” Amy said, helping herself to a cookie.

“It was a beautiful dress,” Evelyn sighed, “but not worth killing for.” She reached for her tea cup and passed Amy another cookie.

“Perhaps her death was natural, but we’re being misled by the costume. There needs to be evidence of foul play for an autopsy.”

“That miner outfit is evidence enough, I should think,” Evelyn said. “In fact, I’m going to call that detective again and see if he’ll divulge any useful information.”

“He’s not likely to do that,” Amy said.

“Oh, I have my ways of making people talk.” Evelyn left her to find a phone, and Amy smiled. How many times had Evelyn wormed out all her secrets, typically under the guise of helping her with her problems? No doubt that ploy would work just as well on others.

When Evelyn returned to the living room, she was looking satisfied. “Such a nice fellow, that Detective Arnold. He says I can call him Roger. Yes, there will be an autopsy. He was kind enough to agree to give my name to Diana’s niece who will be handling the arrangements for her memorial service. Shelly’s the one from Vancouver, I think, but Diana has more in common with Monica. Also, depending on the results of the autopsy, there may be an inquest, and I will have to attend.”

Evelyn looked as excited by a summons to an inquest as an invitation to her favourite opera. She was probably considering what to wear. Amy chastised herself for the mean thought. Her grandmother was amazing. Most people would simply go on with their lives after such an event, but Evelyn wasn’t one of them, and she wouldn’t rest until she had her answers. That meant Amy wouldn’t rest either.

 

Later that week, Shelly contacted Evelyn to invite her to her aunt’s Celebration of Life on Sunday afternoon. Evelyn insisted that Amy accompany her to the memorial service, and Amy didn’t need her arm twisted. She was intrigued by the coroner’s conclusion that cause of death was suspicious and she hoped to learn more from the niece.

Amy entered Wimple’s Funeral Home with Evelyn clutching her arm. The room was organized like a wedding reception with small bites of tasty morsels and bottles of wine on tables along one wall and festive gathering tables in the centre. Shelly was standing at the entrance of the room, receiving guests and accepting condolences. “Is your sister here today?” Amy asked, studying Shelly who wore black beautifully. Shelly was about ten years older than Amy, blonde like Amy, but several inches shorter. It was obvious she was not enjoying the gathering. Her lips were pressed over her teeth as if anticipating a root canal. Fewer than a dozen people meandered around the room, enjoying a glass of wine or cup of tea.

“I suppose I should have submitted an obituary to the Sun, but I had my aunt’s email address book and I contacted local people, the ones I knew. I expected more to attend,” Shelly commented, her mouth forming a moue which was an improvement on the root canal look.

“Your sister?”

“Monica’s lives in London. She’ll be here in a couple of days.”

“You couldn’t delay the memorial for her?” Amy said, getting a scowl from Evelyn. She could imagine her grandmother saying, “Don’t be impolite, Amy.”

“Monica doesn’t believe in Celebrations of Life.” This was delivered rather spitefully, Amy thought. She tended to agree with the sister, especially with the small turn-out. There was a short eulogy by Shelly who said a few words about her aunt, praising her for her being caring and generous and providing a good role model for her nieces. According to Shelly, there were no other relatives attending, only a few work colleagues not one of whom shed a tear during the memorial. Who was Diana, and what had she done for a living, Amy wondered.

“Guess what, Amy. Up at the front table, there’s a photo of Diana wearing the dress!” Evelyn whispered.

“The dress?”

“The one she was wearing the night she died.”

“I thought it was a costume night?”

“Her dress wasn’t a period costume, but it was a floor-length, lovely dark green silk damask, fitted at the waste, with beautiful embroidery too, so it didn’t appear out of place that evening.”

Amy worked her way up to the table and studied the photo. It wasn’t a shipboard photo but was taken at some other event, perhaps a work-related affair. Dining tables were visible in the background with people sitting and imbibing. As she stared at the photo, a man came up behind her and coughed as quietly as a cat dislodging a fur ball. The image left her mind when she became engulfed in a wide smile.

“I thought you and your grandmother might attend.” It took Amy a moment to recognize Detective Arnold out of uniform and wearing an attractive dark gray suit. Those eyes of his missed little, she thought.

“I’m glad we came when so few others are here. What did Diana do for a living? Evelyn said something about working in research?”

“Ms. Walsh was CEO of a pharmaceutical company. They had several patented drugs and two are now used routinely in the clinic to treat certain types of cancer.”

“That’s Big Pharma. I’m surprized her niece didn’t mention that fact in her eulogy.” The involvement of pharmaceuticals rang a Big Bell for Amy who could imagine many reasons for removing a CEO in an industry that placed the price of shares far above that of rubies or a good woman. But was Diana a good woman, Amy wondered.

“I think it was a sore point with the nieces. Their mother, Diana’s sister, died last year from pancreatic cancer, and Diana’s new drug couldn’t save her. Shelly blamed her and wondered if her mother might be alive today if she’d received conventional treatment rather than a drug that was new on the market.”

“Clearly Shelly had no problem voicing her anger to you,” I said.

“Actually, it was her sister Monica who told me,” Roger said.

“You haven’t told me how Diana died,” Amy said.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the pathologist. That detail was released to the family yesterday.”

“How odd. Do you know how it happened?”

“No, and the time of death is turning out to be a problem. She was in sea water for a while after she died.”

“She went overboard?”

“The pools use sea water.” The detective’s smile fell short of a chortle.

“You’re telling me Diana Walsh, a powerful and wealthy woman wearing a lovely evening gown, is poisoned, unburdened of her gown, thrown in a pool, pulled out, dressed as a miner, and laid out in a spa cubicle on the Arctic Voyager.” It reminds me of a poem by Robert W. Service —

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

      By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

      That would make your blood run cold;

 

“Something like that.” Roger Arnold was not bothering to suppress his laughter. Amy turned her back on him and went to find Evelyn. It was time to leave.

 

Outside Evelyn’s condo building, Amy parked the car so they could exchange thoughts.

“There are three pools on that ship – small ones, mind you,” said Evelyn. “And they were drained just before arriving in Vancouver because they always do that between cruises. I’d bet she was in the pool outside the spa.

“It’s like someone was washing her. A good way to remove trace evidence.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, we’ve been invited to meet with Shelly and her sister in a few days. We’ll know more by then.”

Amy gave her a sideways glance, wondering what her grandmother expected her to investigate. In the past, she’d toyed with the idea of putting parental controls on Evelyn’s TV channels that featured crime dramas. “You remember that I work all week at the Royal Bank?”

“I’m sure they’ll be time time for, what do you call it, surfing the web? Look into her business affairs and find some dirt, why don’t you.”

“Why don’t you try to recall everything you know about your best friend Diana, and write it down?” She kissed her grandmother and agreed to call if she discovered anything. Amy pitied poor Detective Arnold who would have to tolerate Evelyn phoning him for daily updates until the mystery was solved.

 

On Thursday evening, Amy received a call from the luscious security officer, Armando. The Arctic Adventurer was docked in Ketchikan, and he had phoned to let her know the missing green evening dress had turned up. She wondered why she was receiving the call rather than Evelyn, but his invitation to meet him for dinner when he was next in port answered that question. He’d already informed the Vancouver police about the dress.

The dress had been dry-cleaned and left sitting in the housekeeping lost and found. She mulled over the reasons the dress had been removed from Diana. Did the miner costume hold some significance for the killer? Armando told her they’d also identified the passenger who had rented the miner’s costume Diana was wearing. The fellow had been confined to his cabin with a stomach virus and he had never had a chance to show off his outfit.

Eventually she felt obliged to do some online research. Diana Walsh was CEO of OnKor but her background was in business, not chemistry. Trying to understand why a gold rush cruise might be related to Diana’s death, she found a tenuous link to OnKor’s development of gold nanoparticles to treat cancer, and a stronger link between Diana’s great grandfather who made part of his fortune mining gold in the Yukon. Was that why someone had dressed Diana as a miner, or was the costume completely unrelated to her death? Without more information on how she was poisoned by carbon monoxide, who she might have known on board, and who would benefit from her death, she could go no further. Now she’d have Evelyn nipping at her heels every day until some answers came in.

 

“No one will miss Aunt Diana, I can tell you that,” Monica said sullenly. Her sister Shelly nodded in agreement. The four of them were seated in a hotel bar that overlooked the cruise ship terminal. Mid-week, none of the berths was occupied. The two sisters weren’t anything alike, Amy thought, and not just in appearance. Monica was hard where Shelly was soft, inebriated where her sister was sober, self-absorbed where Shelly was open and giving, tall and dark where Shelly was rounder and blonde. Evelyn was giving Monica her squint-eyed look which didn’t bode well.

“I’m surprized that Diana wasn’t well liked.” Evelyn said. “I enjoyed my time with her a great deal, but she may have behaved differently at work.”

“To be honest, she was a bitch,” said Monica, taking a sizable swig of Chablis that was half-price on Wednesdays. “Always demanding the impossible.”

“From people at work?”

“She had no head for the realities of business or drug discovery. And she was hard on us too, eh Shelly?”

Shelly shrugged. “Neither of us lived close to her, so I’m not sure why Monica is complaining. We rarely saw her.”

“But those incessant emails interrogating us on our lives?”

“She said was doing that for Mum—making sure we were living up to our potential.”

“Whatever, but I can’t say I’ll miss her.”

“You’ll miss her yearly cheque,” Shelly said, smirking.

“Surely Diana will leave you girls something in her will?” Evelyn asked.

“We get her jewelry, that’s all,” Shelly said.

“Who gets the rest?”

“Charity,” Shelly said. “I never asked which ones.”

“I did,” Monica said, and she gave an odd bark-like laugh. Monica finished her Chablis in a gulp and motioned to Shelly that they should leave.

“You will let us know what you learn, won’t you?” Evelyn said.

“Learn?” Monica asked.

“Who might benefit from your aunt’s death?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll call you after we meet with the lawyer,” Shelly said quietly, no doubt uncomfortable with her sister’s sour attitude, Amy thought.

After the sisters left, Evelyn looked decidedly glum, a rare descriptor for a vibrant older woman who let little get her down. The two people who should have been most interested in learning who had killed Diana seemed indifferent. Amy sighed, realizing she would have to find a way to support Evelyn’s mission to solve the murder. It was time to call in the troops.

 

Marvin answered his phone after the first ring. “What’s up, boss?”

“Marvin, you’re my dog walker. You don’t need to call me boss.” Amy said.

“Just practicing for when I get a real job.”

“You’ve a few more years of university, don’t you?”

“Summer job, then.”

“And I’ve got a perfect interview lined up for you. I need information about a local drug company called OnKor. They’re advertising for summer students with programming experience. I thought you could get an interview and snoop around a bit.”

“Are you talking undercover work?” Marvin didn’t try to disguise the excitement in his voice. He was as bad as Evelyn. In fact, that’s how she’d found Marvin. Evelyn’s poodle, now deceased, had been Marvin’s first client. Amy didn’t know whether Evelyn or Marvin was the enabler of their mutual fixation on crime drama. Listening to the two of them try to identify the culprit in a Midsummer Murder episode was better entertainment than the show itself.

Marvin was in his first year of university, and he had a passion for attention-grabbing clothes. To help support his lively habit, he’d taken up dog-walking and he also made extra cash by helping impatient adults set up their new computers. He’d been walking Oatmeal for the last two years. Amy’s feisty Norfolk terrier was named after the cookie it inhaled, not its caramel coat colour.

Marvin was also willing to take on assignments, as long as he found them interesting, so Amy made sure they sounded interesting. He loved challenges and he’d like this one too. As she explained Diana’s death, Marvin’s eyes popped open at the sequence of strange on-board events. Then she told him her theory that someone at OnKor might have wanted Diana dead.

“If the murderer was on a cruise with her, he must be really old. That limits things.”

“You can start with the list of executives, and we can compare the names with those on the passenger list.”

“Won’t the police have done that?”

“They’ve been busy checking into the pump and hunting down the fellow who rented the miner costume Ms. Walsh was wearing.”

“Could he have done it?”

“Not likely since he was confined to his cabin with norovirus. While you’re in for the interview, see if you can get a tour of the place and talk to anyone who worked with Diana.”

“You don’t need to tell me. I’ve studied Evelyn’s tricks for wheedling out information, and I can hang out in the cafeteria.”

The two of them came up with a list of questions they’d like answered, including who else was away for the ten days that Diana was gone, who took over as CEO, and whether any new changes had taken place that Diana might not have supported.

“I may get a summer job out of this.”

“That’s the idea, Marv. I’m doing this for you.”

 

The next day, Evelyn swayed into the Royal Bank during the noon hour rush and waited dutifully in the seating area until Amy was available.

“I finally got something out of the detective, and all it took was a fresh batch of my scones.”

“Any left?” Amy’s stomach was grumbling like a 7.5 quake.

Evelyn ignored her request. “The fellow who rented the miner costume, Walter, didn’t have gastroenteritis after all. He had mild carbon monoxide poisoning. It turns out it causes nausea and vomiting too.”

“Where was he exposed to carbon monoxide?”

“He spent the afternoon panning for gold.” Evelyn took one look at Amy’s eyebrows that had merged with her hairline. “Don’t give me that look. The crew made a pretend creek using one of the inner hallways next to the spa area. They fitted it out with a plastic pipe cut in half so water could flow. A gas-powered pump was used to circulate the water, and they seeded their river with pebbles painted gold.  The passenger who could pan the most nuggets in a given period of time earned a prize. Anyway, the engineers on the ship figure there could have been a build-up of carbon monoxide because the water pump was used in a partially enclosed space, and that’s what poisoned Walter because he spent all afternoon in there. No one else was that dedicated to the game.”

“That doesn’t explain Diana’s death. Somehow I can’t see her in her lovely green dress panning for fake nuggets in a fake creek.”

“Yes, that’s puzzling.  Besides, Roger said the doors to the display were locked before the first seating for dinner.”

“If the pump was left running and the doors locked, carbon monoxide would build up to toxic levels,” Amy mused. “Maybe Diana was shoved in there? You’ve got your sea water and carbon monoxide both in one place. No need to drop her in a pool. Why didn’t the police or Armando figure this out right away?”

“The display was dismantled later that evening, so when Diana was found the next morning in the spa cubicle, no one made the connection,” Evelyn said. Except the person who moved her body, Amy thought.

A tap on Amy’s shoulder was a reminder that she was at work. “Your one-o’clock is waiting, Miss Sinclair.” So much for her lunch hour, and she didn’t even get a scone.

 

Amy spent the few minutes of her free time that afternoon mulling over how Diana ended up in a miner’s costume. The only scenario she could come up with was that the miner outfit in Walter’s room was sent off for cleaning. It was left in a dry-cleaning bag somewhere, and whoever removed Diana’s dress found the bag and used it for Diana’s gown. But why change her clothes? Why move her? She decided to give the detective a call. It would make a change for him to listen to her rather than Evelyn.

As soon the detective answered the phone, she told him that she knew about the miner display and had a theory. “Suppose I was in charge of locking the doors to the gold panning display and I left the pump running by mistake,” she said. “Later, when I go to remove the display, I find a woman’s dead body in the water, and I realize what I’ve done. To avoid losing my job, I move the body into a spa cubicle, take off the wet dress which would be a giveaway, and put her in a miner’s outfit that I find in a dry-cleaning bag. Then I go back and clean up the display.”

“Why don’t you pass out when you open the door to the display?” Detective Arnold asks.

“Good question. Maybe I hear the pump running and realize there might be a huge gas build-up in an enclosed space. But even so, I suffer the same symptoms that Walter developed.”

“I’ll find out who was in charge of the pump, and if one of the engineers went to the infirmary complaining of nausea and vomiting.”

“That doesn’t help with motive or killer. Do you have any leads?”

“Still following the money.”

 

Evelyn phoned Amy that evening with a bee in her bonnet she had to share. “Remember when Ivy Monroe left all her money to a Victoria rabbit retirement home?” Evelyn said. Amy recalled laughing at the time, but Ivy’s daughter was furious. A court battle was fought for years, and the daughter eventually got what money was left, minus a large chunk to the lawyers who had also multiplied like rabbits.

“Are Shelley and Monica contesting Diana’s will?” Amy asked

“No. The lawyer convinced them they had no grounds.”

“What about the beneficiary? Is that person likely to kill Diana to get their bequest?”

“I’m waiting to hear from Detective Arnold. I don’t know who inherited her estate.”

“The motive could have more to do with her position as CEO.”

Marvin must have been listening because he appeared at just as she ended the call, pulled in by Oatmeal who ran to Amy and slobbered on her hands. He always did that because she smelled of cookie crumbs.

“How did your interview go?” Amy smiled at Marvin’s attire – today a bright red shirt and tightly-fitted black trousers.

“Looking good, but they won’t tell me if I got a summer studentship until March.”

“But did you get a sense of how her co-workers viewed Diana’s death?”

“Her secretary, Lily, was the only one who gave up any gossip. It seems Diana isn’t missed except by Lily who is unhappy with her new boss. She says, and I quote, “He’s an incompetent dolt.”  This Matthews was an inside promotion and is “acting” CEO. Lily thinks they’re looking outside the company for a permanent CEO. I guess that means no one was waiting to swoop in and fill her position.”

“What about any changes in projects that Diana might have opposed.”

“You’ll have to talk to Matthews about that, and I doubt he’d say much to you. Maybe the detective could question him?”

“Detective Arnold doesn’t exactly take me seriously,” Amy said. “I’ll get Evelyn to call him. What do you think? Scones, muffins, or brownies?”

“What’s wrong with donuts?” Marvin asked.

“Too cliché.”

Marvin shook his head vigorously as if trying to dislodge a thought to help him interpret Amy’s comment. “We’re treating him like a paid informant, Marvin,” Amy said, hating to disillusion the young man. Amy tossed him an Oreo. They were the only cookies Oatmeal refused to eat so had become a staple of Amy’s diet. Marvin tossed it back.

“Eat something healthy, will you! You’re a bad influence on your dog.”

 

The next day after work, Amy, Marvin and Evelyn were squashed on folding chairs on Amy’s small balcony overlooking other condos with better views. The sun was setting, but the October air was still warm thanks to the urban heat island effect. “What do you mean? There’s nothing left. No shares, no condo? No car, even?” Amy stared expectantly at Evelyn but her grandmother shrugged and continued sipping her chamomile tea, which was, purely by chance, Hercule Poirot’s favourite.

“No to the first, mortgaged to the second, and leased to the third. Not much jewelry left for the nieces either.”

“Diana must have had investments. Where did it all go?”

“Roger is trying to identify a hidden vice, like one of the 3Gs.”

“3Gs?”

“Gambling, gigolos, and generosity. That last one is when you give all your money away which I don’t consider a vice, although her nieces might. She had a substantial salary of course, so she certainly wasn’t destitute,” Evelyn said.

“It sounds as if someone was blackmailing her,” Amy said. There was an ominous silence while they listened to Oatmeal crunch down on a cookie.

“A miner, perhaps?” Marvin piped in. The boy insisted on tying up loose ends, like any crime drama aficionado. Amy and Evelyn ignored him.

“Why would a blackmailer kill his victim?” Evelyn said.

“Maybe she threatened to go to the police?  I’ve got another question,” Amy said. “Monica laughed when she said she knew who her aunt left her money to.  If there was no money left to bequeath, why did Monica pretend to know the beneficiary?”

“Maybe Monica knew Diana was being blackmailed,” Marvin said.

“Ah,” Evelyn and Amy said in unison as they savoured the idea.  Amy had to admit how much she’d enjoyed this last ten days. Why the hell was she working at a boring job in a bank?

“OK, Evelyn. Could you ask Detective Arnold if he’s considered blackmail, and whether Monica might have some information.  Tell him how she admitted to knowing the beneficiary.

“And have him look at Walter the miner more carefully, since he may be in the frame for blackmail.” Marvin said.

“He asked if you could call him next time, Amy,” Evelyn said.

“Why?” Amy wondered if her grandmother had become too irritating.  No, Roger seemed to actually enjoy Evelyn, but he would have a hard time saying no to her and might think he’d do a better job manipulating Amy, which he would.

“Maybe Roger wants a change of scenery.” Evelyn was being obtuse.

“We’re talking about a phone call, not video-chat.”

“I don’t know, Amy. Just phone him.”

 

Amy phoned Roger Arnold and they agreed to meet at her favourite bakery — Sweet Passions. She had been slowly eating her way through their list of two dozen delectable deserts, but had chosen chocolate hazelnut zucotto one day and never felt obliged to move further down the menu. Roger opted for an apple pecan muffin, and they sat on rickety chairs at a table outside the bakery.

“For someone with such a trim figure, you manage to consume a lot of calories,” he said.

“I blame Oatmeal. Offering cookies as a reward was the only way I could train him.”  Amy looked down at her dog who was noisily chomping on a cookie she’d bought to distract him from her zucotto.

“He’s trained?”

Amy ignored the remark. “We, that is, Evelyn and I, and my dog-walker, Marvin, were wondering if someone could have blackmailed Diana.  It would explain her estate, or lack of one.”

“We had a good look at her finances, and there were no large money transfers and none consistent with a recurring payment.  But she did sell her company stocks late last year. We’re trying to find out where those shares went.

Amy explained that Monica knew more than she was letting on about her aunt`s will, and Roger agreed to ask her if she knew where her aunt’s money had gone.  When Amy asked about Walter, the so-called miner gassed with carbon monoxide, Roger couldn’t see the connection. She explained that they were looking for someone blackmailing Diana, who she might want to kill.”

He was smiling at her again. “Most people don’t try to kill the blackmailer after they’ve paid the ransom.”

“Wouldn’t that depend on what the blackmailer was threatening to reveal?”

“What would you kill for?”

Amy glanced down at the crumbs of the zucotto. “I think maiming is more my style.”

“Good to know,” Roger said, smiling and brushing the muffin crumbs from his attractive craggy face. “But if her secret was about to be leaked, that leaves suicide a possibility.”

“Evelyn won’t like that idea. Besides, why not jump overboard?  And who changed her dress?”

“I’m not sure I should tell you this because it might swell your head, and I like it the way it is.” Damn, Amy thought. He was laughing at her again and she wanted to pound him. “The engineer in charge of the pump denied having anything to do with Diana’s death, and he swore he didn’t leave the pump running.”

“You believe him?” Amy tried to imagine being interviewed by Roger.  She’d tell all, she thought.

“Yeah. I do because I don’t see a motive and he wasn’t sick. I’ve had a headache all afternoon,” Roger said, rubbing his temples. “The only way this might be resolved is if the blackmailer, assuming there is one, reveals Diana’s dark and dirty secret, and somehow it leads us to him.”

“There may be another way,” Amy said, twirling the end of her ponytail.

 

When Armando arrived in port mid-week, Amy met him for a lovely dinner at a downtown Vancouver restaurant where the waiters were inconspicuous until the wine level in their glasses grew low. Armando let her know that the gold panning display had been permanently shelved to avoid more “accidents”. Amy nodded, appreciating that it would be company policy to assume no blame, and without an arrest, it would be difficult to prove Diana hadn’t died accidentally. She asked Armando if he could give her the green dress.

“Yes of course. The police aren’t interested after it was dry-cleaned, so I was planning to have it sent to the nieces, but if you could take it to them, that would be appreciated.”

“Had you met Diana before the last day of the voyage?”

“No. I generally only meet people when they’re in trouble.”

“Does that include me?” His eyes smiled all by themselves. How did he do that?

“Would you like to tell me your troubles, Amy?”

“I think that will require another bottle of wine.”

 

True to his word, Armando had the dress delivered to Amy the next day, dry-cleaned and pressed. Evelyn was sitting on her sofa, and they had just finished eating Thai take-out that Amy had picked up on the way home.

“You honestly don’t expect me to wear this dress after she died in it?” Evelyn was fingering the silk and studying the sequins and embroidery. From the look on her face, she was ready to leap into it.

“You said you loved this dress. Of course, we’ll need a makeup artist and the perfect wig to match Diana’s hair. Marvin has connections.”

“I’m supposed to appear in the dress and make people believe Diana is alive?”

“Why not? Believe me, people are gullible. Monica’s back in England, but Shelly will play along. We’ll say it was misidentification of a miner.”

“Where does this “viewing” occur?”

“At the perfect occasion for the dress, of course. OnKor is hosting a gala tomorrow night to introduce their new CEO.”

“That was quick. I thought it took ages to negotiate a contract like that.”

“Someone was waiting in the wings after all.”

“I still don’t understand what you hope to accomplish with this charade.”

Amy studied her savvy grandmother whose bright eyes were focused on hers.  Should she tell her she hoped to lure out the killer? “Why do you think we’re doing this?”

“To give the murderer another opportunity to kill me, of course.”

“Exactly. But Roger, Marvin and I will be right there, and you’ll be in disguise for a few minutes, and only seen from a distance.”

“Long enough to aim and fire?”

“The killer may not even attend the gala, but he’s going to hear about it because I’ve alerted a journalist friend of mine that something interesting will happen.”

 

“I thought Monica went back to England,” Marvin said. Below them in the atrium, Monica was weaving her way around the packed room at the OnKor gala, shaking hands and stopping to chat.

“Damn. What’s she doing here? She could ruin everything. I’ll see if I can find Shelly to tell her what we have planned.”

“Too late. They’re about to announce the new CEO.”

From the second-floor balcony overlooking the atrium, Marvin and Amy were watching the crowd mill about and then stop in place.  The Chair of the Board was at the podium and had started with a lame joke —scientists were making progress in cancer research every day by discovering something new that caused it. He had a few kind words to say about Diana, but Amy noticed that he failed to mention she would be missed. Then he launched in on new company directions and the type of person they now needed as CEO.  Amy saw Roger pointing vigorously at the other end of their balcony.

Evelyn, dressed in the notorious green silk dress with convincing make-up that included a new nose and a streaked gray and blonde wig, was poised at the top of the circular staircase.  Her grandmother’s timing couldn’t be worse. No one would look at her when the new CEO was being introduced.  Amy wasn’t paying attention when Monica moved to the podium and thanked the Chair for his introduction, but when the clapping died down, it was her grandmother who stole the show.

“A little premature to replace me, isn’t it, Monica?” her voice boomed out from the top of the staircase. A hush fell over the crowd. The name “Diana” was whispered by several in the audience, and there were a few camera flashes.

“Diana’s dead!” Monica said, her response amplified by the microphone.

“Sorry to disappoint.” Evelyn had dramatically changed the tone of her voice, but would it be good enough to fool Monica?

Monica was visibly shaking. “I know you’re dead.”

Detective Arnold made his way to the podium through a hushed crowd. He gently took Monica’s arm and led her away.

 

“Monica’s is not admitting to anything,” Evelyn said. “Roger says she’s lawyered up and isn’t saying a word. Now he’s looking for evidence that she was on board the Arctic Adventurer.

“She must have been on that ship,” Marvin said. He sliced an ambrosia apple while Amy licked the icing from one side of a Oreo.

“Detective Arnold’s examining the cruise ship photos. If she had a really good disguise, maybe she could fool the facial recognition software, but most things, like hats or fake noses, are easy to spot,” Marvin said.

“I heard Monica was on vacation in the wilds of Scotland when Diana died and has receipts to prove it. Isn’t that alibi good enough?” Amy asked.

“We’ve forgotten all about shore excursions.” Evelyn said. There was a long pause while everyone considered this possibility. The killer didn’t need to be onboard. He or she could meet the ship at any port of call.

“Did you and Diana take any excursions together?” Amy asked.

“We went to a museum in Skagway and had our picture taken with a stuffed bald eagle. I snapped a few photos with my cell phone. Want to look?”

Amy took the phone and flipped through the photos, hoping to see Monica lurking in the background. No such luck. She did find a curious picture of a burning building.

“Oh. I forgot about that. We’d been sitting in that tea shop right before it exploded. They said it was a natural gas leak. Diana was freaked out but fortunately no one was hurt.” Evelyn paused and looked at the dropped jaws on Amy and Marvin. “OK, we were both a little shaken.”

“Any other near-death experiences?” Marvin asked, eyes fixed on Evelyn.

“Now that you mention it, I talked Diana into a canoe trip on Chilkoot Lake. We were near the middle of the lake when I heard a ping and water started coming into the canoe through a small hole. I put my bum over the little hole, and we paddled back, safe and sound, except for me with a frozen bum, looking like I’d peed my pants.”

“I don’t suppose you found a bullet in the canoe?” Evelyn shook her head and looked bereft. Amy gave her a comforting hug.

“These could have been accidents, you know,” Evelyn said.

“Then we have nothing,” Marvin said, rubbing his eyes as if that would help conjure up ideas.

“I hate to ask, but did Diana tell you about any other ‘accidents’, maybe when you weren’t with her?” Amy asked. Evelyn pondered a bit.

“There’s one more possibility.” Evelyn was oddly quiet under their scrutiny.

“She took a helicopter tour to a glacier. A bit too rich for my blood, and I’m not a fan of slippery ice anyway. Diana said there were only six people on the tour, and one of them, a woman, almost knocked her into a crevasse. She thought it was an accident, but these mishaps seem to be adding up.”

“Only six people on the tour? We can get their names,” Marvin said. “And there could be group photos.”

“I’ll call Armando,” Amy said, smiling as she recalled their last evening together. She’d tell him she was in trouble.

 

Roger Arnold led them into his inner sanctum at work when they told him they had new information about Diana’s death.

“Why didn’t you mention this before, Evelyn?” the detective asked. “It would have been useful to know there were other attempts on her life.

The three of them were perched around his cluttered desk like a posse, and they’d taken turns explaining some of the odd occurrences during the shore excursions. Roger kept shaking his head, but it didn’t stop him from taking a large bite from one of Evelyn’s cranberry scones. “They all looked like accidents,” Amy said. “Even the cruise ship is calling her death an accident.”

“Who is this person?” Roger asked. He was holding a picture sent by Armando that showed a group of six people beside a helicopter, one head circled in red ink.

“There’s Diana, and there were two other women on the glacier tour with her. One of them tried to push her into a crevasse. But only one of the two women was also on the canoe excursion. She pointed to a shorter woman in sunglasses and a cap, the one with her head circled in red. This woman is Min-Jee Park, and she doesn’t look at all like Monica.”

“Shelly!” Evelyn shouted, attracting the attention of the other officers in the room.

“No way. This woman’s Korean.” Marvin said.

“She’s about the same height and size as Shelly. She could be using makeup and wearing a black wig,” Evelyn said.

“That outfit looks Korean – mid-calf, a floral sort of romantic pattern, high neckline. Not something I’d expect Shelly to wear,” Marvin said. Amy gave him a thumbs up. That boy knew his fashion.

“Shelly said she was in Vancouver the week of the cruise,” Roger said. “She does free-lance work for various publications, and works mostly from home, and she showed me an article she’d submitted that week.”

“Submitted from where? Ketchikan?”

“Good question.” Roger was quiet, lines forming between his brows. “Pushing Diana into that hall would have made Shelly sick too, and that was their last night aboard ship. I went to inform her about her aunt’s death the next day, and she was under the weather. She said she was getting over the flu.”

“Ha,” Evelyn said. “Flu my eye.”

“Circumstantial,” Marvin said, causing Evelyn to dismiss his comment with a wave of her manicured fingernails.”

“Still, if we could prove she was on the ship…” Amy said.

“Not good enough,” Roger said. “Monica has taken Diana’s job, which is motive, but I can’t see a motive for Shelly, unless the sisters did it together.”

“We need a confession.” Amy said.

“That would simplify things,” Roger said, smiling and about to laugh at her, again.

“What? Evelyn can extract secrets from a mummy,” Amy said.

“I am pretty good at wheedling out information from the unwary. But it would have to be Shelly, not Monica. Monica is too astute.”

“Are you saying I’m not astute?” Amy said, poking her aunt in the arm as she recalled how often her grandmother had wrested information from her. She knew what the opposite of astute was, and she didn’t like it.

“I mean crafty and cunning which comes from being a CEO. Shelly’s a writer, and you, my dear, work in personnel relations in a bank.” Amy looked somewhat mollified, more so when she realized how much information her grandmother had managed to wring from Detective Arnold.

Evelyn said she would find out what she could, and Roger offered to supply her with a small tape recorder. “This isn’t admissible, but you might learn if Shelly is hiding something.

“I may be old, but I can still remember things,” Evelyn said haughtily. “Keep your little machine.”

 

“How did you know where I live?” Shelly asked. Amy and Evelyn were standing in the doorway of Shelly’s apartment. Shelly was dressed in a black silk shirt and pants, probably because she looked good in them, not because she was mourning her aunt.

“That nice detective gave me your address when I told him I wanted to return Diana’s dress to you,” Evelyn said.

Shelly took the dress from Evelyn but made no move to invite them into the apartment. “You never explained that little charade of yours at the gala,” Shelly said. “Why would you do that? It’s so—rude— and cruel.” Shelly looked more hurt than angry, Amy thought.

“I’m sorry about that, but you see, someone killed your aunt, and Monica had the best motive.”

“Monica didn’t need to kill Diana to get her job. She’d been promised it for more than a year. It was all hush-hush of course. Companies like to keep that kind of thing under wraps. My aunt gave Monica her company shares last year.”

“Did Monica tell you that?”

“Yeah, and why shouldn’t I believe her?”

“I’m sure your aunt must have said something to you about giving Monica such a big gift. That doesn’t seem fair. Did you receive anything comparable from her?”

“No. I expected something in her will, but she died unexpectedly.” Shelly sighed, opened the door wider, and invited them in.

“I’ve been told it was probably an accident,” Shelly said. “Do you know something more?”

Amy eyed Evelyn. Shelly was pretty good at wheedling out information herself, so she was curious what her grandmother would say.

“The miner outfit she was wearing when she was found has now been explained. It was that outfit that made me question accidental death in the first place,” Evelyn said.

“So now you think it was an accident?”

“No, my dear. Now I’m convinced it was murder. Someone locked her in that display with the pump running and left her to die.”

“Why?”

“Maybe Monica was tired of waiting to be CEO. Or maybe you, dear, were angry that your aunt hadn’t helped you out financially, the way she did your sister? Is that why you killed her, Shelly?”

“Of course not. I had no interest in killing Aunt Diana, but I’m not sorry she’s dead.”

“You have no idea who wanted her dead?” Evelyn asked.

“If you ask me, she wanted herself dead. Why do you think she gave her shares to Monica? I think she was planning on dying.”

“Did she talk to you about this?”

“No, but I knew something was up. She acted strangely when I dropped her off at the Cruise Ship Terminal. The way she said goodbye was odd, hugging me for a while, as if I wouldn’t see her for a long time. It wasn’t like her.”

 

“Just because she was acting out of character didn’t mean she was planning to kill herself. She could have been considering eloping or starting a new life.” Evelyn was perched on the lump in the backseat of Amy’s car so she could talk more easily to her grand-daughter and Marvin.

“That’s true,” Marvin said, twisting around to pat Evelyn’s hand. “She might have been planning an escape.”

“Who escapes on a cruise ship going to Alaska?” Amy asked.

“OK, a cruise to Rio would make more sense,” Marvin said.

“I just don’t buy Shelly’s idea of suicide,” Amy said.

“I thought it was Roger’s idea,” Marvin said.

“He only considered that because of the blackmail angle, but now we know she gave the shares to Monica,” Amy said.

“Sorry, but that’s Shelly and Monica’s story. We don’t have Diana’s.”

“Evelyn’s right. Shelly might be feeding us a bunch of lies, including the idea that she acted strange at the Cruise Ship Terminal,” Marvin said.

“And we haven’t even considered a hired killer,” Evelyn said.

“Someone who knew exactly what amount of carbon monoxide would kill, and how to make it happen. It was the last night of the cruise, so the last chance to do her in,” Marvin said.

“You need to get back on that ship, Amy,” Evelyn said.

A round of arguments followed with Amy asking why was it up to her to do anything. What more could she expect to learn, and why didn’t Evelyn go herself if it was that important to her? Amy began with the upper hand but ended up with the scissors when her grandmother already had a firm hold on the rock. Marvin kept well out of it, so paper didn’t come to her rescue. Evelyn always won their arguments, but one of these days…

 

Armando met Amy at the top of the gangplank after the last of the passengers had disembarked on Saturday. “You couldn’t wait until tonight to see me?” he said, smiling with those beautiful eyes of his.

“You are a difficult man to wait for,” Amy said, attempting to bat her eyelashes but suspecting she looked more like she had soot in her eyes. “But I had another reason for being here early. I’m curious about the hall with the gold panning display.”

“There’s nothing to see but walls and carpet now, however, I’m happy to show you.” He led her to the fifth floor, walked through the spa and into the hallway.

“Were both doors locked before dinner?” Amy asked, pointing to the doors at either end of the forty-foot hall.

“That order was given, and the engineer, Eduardo, swore he turned off the pump and locked the doors.”

“Then where does this lead?” Amy asked, pointing to a door half-way along the corridor.

“Ah, this is the storage closet where we keep the pump and spa chemicals.” Armando tried the door and found it locked. He pulled his key chain from his belt loop, found the key he wanted, but he couldn’t unlock the door. “Strange. I’ll get someone with the key up here. He’ll be able to explain the ventilation system we used for the pump.” Amy was confused, thinking the pump lacked proper ventilation, and that had caused the problem in the first place.

Within minutes, an engineer appeared and apologized for changing the lock. “Supplies for spa going missing,” he said. His voice sounded a bit shaky, and he gave a somewhat obsequious smile.

“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” Armando asked, his neck reddening. “Come and talk to me after your shift.” Eduardo nodded, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. Armando turned to Amy, introduced her to the engineer, then asked Eduardo to explain how the pump and ventilation system worked. Then Armando excused himself saying he was needed in the security office.

Amy walked into the closet. Cleaning chemicals and spa supplies occupied three shelves on both sides of a small room. An 8-horsepower gasoline-driven water pump sat on the floor against the far wall, and several feet of black rubber hose were looped beside it.

“Did water flow through this pump into the gold panning display?” Amy asked.

Eduardo nodded, and demonstrated that the two one-inch diameter hoses connected to the pump would fit through the two holes cut through the bottom of the door. “Was that to keep the exhaust fumes in this closet?” Amy said, confused by the system. Again, he nodded and he pointed to a grill at the back of the closet next to the pump.

“Vent,” Eduardo said. Amy put her hand next to the grill and felt the room air being efficiently sucked through to somewhere, and she wanted to see how this was accomplished.

“How did the carbon monoxide build up in the hall if the pump was in this closet, the door was closed, and the exhaust goes out there?” Eduardo shrugged, looking confused by her question. “Can you show me where the gas was vented? All I see is a grill behind the pump.”

“Follow, please.” Eduardo left the storage room, walked back through the spa and along a parallel corridor. He unlocked the door to a smaller room that apparently backed onto the one with the pump. The engineer stood with his back against the door when Amy moved into the small space and squatted down to examine the grill on the far wall. A metal cowl vent faced the grill, and a fan inside the vent ran with a vengeance. The suction pulled out her pant legs out and made it difficult to hold her position. The suction seemed more than adequate to pull the carbon monoxide from the adjoining room. Even so, a woman had died and a man was made ill from the exhaust. When she asked if the fan was always running, Eduardo looked puzzled, answering again with a shrug. Surely the carbon monoxide would build up in the other cupboard if the exhaust fan were turned off. “Is there a switch that controls this fan?” she asked, pointing to the exhaust pipe with its fan. She mimed turning on and off the light switch and then an imaginary switch next to the fan, and when that didn’t work, she mimicked the noise of a fan going on and off. She finally got a response.

“Fan run always.” Eduardo stood still as if becalmed, his forehead beaded with perspiration in spite of the rapid movement of air into the venting system. He was nervous about something, Amy realized. “Where is the electrical panel that controls the exhaust fan in this closet?” Again, she rephrased her question several times, finally saying a word that he understood.

“Ah, breaker?” He rubbed his chin, then pointed down the hall. “I ask. You stay.”

When Eduardo left, the door closed behind him. Amy went to open it and realized she was locked in. Had Eduardo done that on purpose, or did the door automatically lock when closed? He had been standing against it, as if knowing it would close. She felt trapped and pounded on the door. “Open this door. I’m locked in.” When the exhaust fan stopped, she relaxed thinking he’d located the breaker switch and would be back soon. But as she stood waiting for him to return, she heard noises in the adjoining room and the sound of the pump running. She prayed that Eduardo was trying to prove something to her, or perhaps he didn’t realize she was locked in and would breathe in the fumes that she could smell coming through the grill. She pounded on the wall, then the door, and kept shouting. A few minutes went by, and she began to feel dizzy and nauseated, but she never stopped pounding and shouting. To her immense relief, the door suddenly opened and Armando pulled her out of the room. She shouted, “Eduardo tried to kill me.” Then she fell into his arms and sobbed.

 

That evening, Amy was curled up on her sofa, smiling at the concerned faces around her, especially Oatmeal’s. She’d lost interest in eating anything since her carbon monoxide exposure, and the dog was worried that cookies were not on the menu. “I knew something was off about that engineer,” Amy said.

“Yeah, he offed the exhaust fan and could have killed you.” Marvin said, frowning. She’d explained everything to Marvin and Evelyn, who kept patting her hands fondly and asking what they could do for her.

“You said Eduardo had a new key cut for that pump closet,” Marvin said. “I imagine he was hiding something in there. My guess would be illicit drugs, maybe something he could sell to passengers.”

“Does it matter what Eduardo was selling if Diana stumbled onto his secret and she had to be silenced?” Evelyn asked.

“Would you two please stop talking about this,” Amy said. She knew the police had caught Eduardo at the airport and had him in custody. Eduardo was still maintaining that Diana’s death happened by accident, but Detective Arnold was thrilled to inform us that he had followed the money — not Diana’s as it turns out, but Eduardo’s. He’d amassed a small fortune working on that ship and selling something illicit from that closet that the detective wouldn’t reveal to Evelyn.

Roger had also told Evelyn that Diana was probably locked in the pump closet, not the panning display area or the room with the exhaust fan. Eduardo killed Diana by leaving the pump running and turning off the breaker switch for the exhaust system. That way he could avoid being exposed to the exhaust fumes himself. All he had to do was wait, then turn on the exhaust fan, turn off the pump, and move the body. The police had found a couple of sequins from Diana’s dress under the coiled hoses. Filled with water, the hoses were responsible for soaking her in sea water.

 

The doorbell rang, and Marvin went to answer. Detective Arnold clutched a colourful bouquet of flowers.

“I thought you’d all like to know how Diana died. Eduardo overheard Diana talking about drugs to one of his customers, so he took her to his stash in the pump room to see if she’d buy from him. Unfortunately, she’d been talking about C drugs as in cancer, not C as in cocaine, and when she threatened to expose him, that’s when he locked her in the pump room and turned off the exhaust fan.”

“I thought he was denying everything,” Marvin said.

“He couldn’t deny traces of several illicit drugs in that room,” Roger said, “And he couldn’t explain why he was the only one with a working key.” He handed the bouquet of gerbera daisies to Amy with a conciliatory look. “I’m sorry about your exposure to that gas, but without your determination, we never would have caught Eduardo.”

“Oh, Roger. You can thank me for that,” Evelyn said, sidling up and almost simpering. “I convinced Amy to check out that pump. Of course, I didn’t expect her to become another victim.”

Amy rolled her eyes on hearing the subtle recrimination for getting herself locked in that closet. “Evelyn gets the credit for everything,” she said.

“Now I suppose I’ll have to apologise to the nieces for suspecting them,” Evelyn said, staring fixedly at Amy, a hopeful smile on her lips.

“Oh no you don’t. If you’re going to take the credit, you can be the one to say you’re sorry to those two women,” Amy said.

“Well, in that case,” Evelyn said, reaching for the bouquet, “I’ll take these.”

 

***

Bumper Stumper (L)

It was past noon, and Amy and Marvin were driving back to their detective office after loading up on sustenance from Costco.  The tiny Bolt electric car could barely hold their month’s purchases.  Amy’s carry bags contained a high sugar and fat content while her young employee, Marvin, chose fresh fruit, nuts and veggies. Marvin was smirking because Amy had a piece of Danish on the left corner of her mouth, and he had no intention of telling her.  “Look at that weird bumper sticker.” Marvin’s index finger pointed  at the hybrid car stopped in front of them at a red light on Granville Street. “What do you suppose it means?”

Amy squinted through the wet windshield at the sticker, her middle-aged eyes crying out for progressive lenses. STOP the POP was written in pink lettering on a blue background. No line of small print indicated who had sponsored the slogan or what it might mean. She considered pop music or pop-up ads on websites, both sources of annoyance, but the three Ps looked more like bellies in the late stage of pregnancy. “I bet it means stop population growth,” she said.

“Whoa! That’s the first one I’ve seen like that. I wonder if they get much flak.” As Marvin uttered those words, the passenger door of the Prius swung open and the driver pushed a woman out onto the road. She rolled towards the curb and didn’t move. The door slammed, the light turned green, and the hybrid sped off.

After a second of paralysis, Amy shifted from drive to park, turned on her emergency flashers and jumped from the car. She ignored the horns from cars behind her beeping at the delay. The woman at the curb was young and attractive, dressed in blue jeans and a fitted black blazer.  She wasn’t breathing and her neck was frosty to the touch. Marvin, seeing Amy shake her head, told the 911 dispatcher that there was no rush. Amy had seen dead bodies before, but something about this one hit her hard.  To be tossed out like garbage at the curb made her blood boil.

 

Amy recognized Detective Roger Arnold when he showed up a few minutes later and loomed above her. She’d bumped heads with him on a couple of cases, and from the look on the detective’s annoyingly attractive face, he wasn’t thrilled to see her. In fact, he pretended not to know her and asked for her ID.  Meanwhile, a traffic cop was diverting the cars in the lane behind her Prius, and two cops had hastily erected a small tent enclosure around the woman’s body.  The coroner’s car parked pull around the corner. The body would be removed soon, but the image of a discarded woman would be with her forever.

“I’m Amy Sinclair, and we’ve met before. Here’s my business card, and I’ll jot my home phone number on the back for you.” He took the card, brow furrowed, and started to say something, then changed his mind. She handed him her driver’s license and told him what she could remember about the car, which wasn’t much.

“You call yourself a private detective and you missed the plate number?”

Amy shrugged. “Sorry about that.” Her disappointment was reflected in the detective’s weary face. “But what about the bumper sticker?”

“Useless, and there are too many green or blue hybrids in this city.”

Amy chewed on the end of her pony tail, something she did when she was annoyed. Marvin, her boy wonder, said she looked like a rabbit when she did that. Mind you, a very attractive rabbit, he’d added. “Any traffic cameras?” she asked.

“Not near this intersection, but maybe we’ll get lucky and see someone speeding through the one at 70th. Is this your son?” Marvin smiled and Amy scowled. Marvin wasn’t young enough to be her son, although his dress choice was that of a preteen trying to find a unique style. Today he was wearing tight black jeans, a black knit V-neck sweater and a white bow-tie spotted with rain.

“I’m Marvin Brenner. I work for Amy, and here’s my address and cell number. I’m pretty sure the first letter on the license was an H and they were Beautiful B.C. plates.”

“Thanks. That’s something useful.” The detective closed his notepad and returned their licenses. “We may have follow-up questions.”  Amy watched with more than curiosity as he turned and got back into his unmarked car. The man was damn good looking, she thought, but she couldn’t interpret his parting expression, a strange mixture of embarrassment and annoyance.

“I think he likes you,” Marvin said, “but not at his crime scene.”

 

Back at their office above the Pet Food Store Amy asked Marvin to look into missing persons. As usual, Marvin’s desk on one side of the room was annoyingly tidy.  Hers at the other end looked like a tornado had landed and she hadn’t the insurance to cover the cleanup. She had no luck tracking down the bumper sticker on the internet. It annoyed her that the detective had discounted what she saw as a critical clue. It was a unique slogan and could help identify the car. Most of the environmental messages available as bumper stickers were negative, but she caught herself chuckling over one: If environmentalists breathed their own exhaust, there’d be no global warming.

There wasn’t a website for Stop the Pop, but there were dozens of sites that sold bumper stickers made to order. “Marvin, when you get a moment, find out if there are local groups interested in population control.”

“I could make a Stop the Pop website with a comments page.”

“Not a bad idea, Marv. And you’re the guy to do it.” Marvin enjoyed web design just a little too much. Amy still felt guilty when he fell so easily into her traps. To be honest, she also found it easy to be sidetracked from the jobs she was paid to do.

 

The whole episode slid to the back burner. Meanwhile, Amy tied up a couple of loose ends for a customer who might just pay their bills this month. Marvin’s new Stop the Pop web site had attracted two regular visitors a day — Marvin and his mother who suffered from dementia and enjoyed clicking on Marvin’s site to see the changing colours and expanding bellies. She wouldn’t have been pleased with the written content that suggested couples consider adopting or going childless to reduce the human burden on the planet. Marvin was slumped down at his desk, looking as if he’d just heard that vegetables cause cancer.

“I guess the web site’s a bust?” Amy asked, lounging on the corner of his desk and narrowly missing squashing a SpongeBob SquarePants collectable doll.

“Apparently if people don’t find your site, you don’t find them,” Marvin said, spouting a slightly modified version of their agency’s motto. “I’ve tried getting other websites to link to mine, but there’s no interest.”

“Hardly surprising. It’s not an acceptable position to take, although it’s one I’d support. Maybe that’s why she kept chewing on the relation between the body and that bumper sticker. Was there one?  She’d love to show Roger Arnold that he’d missed an important clue.

Marvin pulled out a long envelope and placed it on Amy’s lap. She slid out two pink and blue bumper stickers. As far as she could recall, the stickers looked much the same as the one they’d seen on the Prius. “Two stickers? Is one for your bicycle?” Amy asked.

“Ha.  There’s one for the front and one for the back bumper,” Marvin said, “so they’ll see you coming and going.”

“Just as long as they don’t see me coming and keep going,” Amy said. “And thanks for this.” It was a long shot, but the price was right.

“I still think it’s a waste of time, but hey, go for it,” Marvin said, as his shoulders rounded the third thoracic vertebra and headed home to his desk.

 

Five days later, Amy pulled off the bumper stickers, or what was left of them. They’d been defaced several times.  The first change had been STOP the POOP accompanied by two used doggie-bags tied to the back bumper. Later this morphed into WE STOOP to POOP. The front bumper sticker lasted a little longer, having gone through various iterations and paint-overs that eventually led to the simple command: POO. Then some imaginative kid had added the letter H and an outline of a bear. The age of the defacers was pretty obvious.

“Apparently the medium is the message,” Marvin quipped.

Amy leaned back against the door of her parked car and studied the courthouse that was being consumed by green vines growing from an over-fertilized roof garden. The inquest into the death of the woman had just ended. “OK. I guess they were both bad ideas,” she said. “But the inquest concluded that Carla Perez died a suspicious death.”

“Yeah, I’d say it’s suspicious to die from poison and be shoved from a car in broad daylight the middle of a city. It’s almost as if the guy wanted us to see the car with its bumper sticker. Did you catch the name of the drug?”

“A mixture of two drugs. One was an opioid, fentanyl. The other I’d never heard of.”

“Carla was an environmental activist, but her sister, Shauna, couldn’t say what groups she was associated with. I guess they didn’t spend much time together.”

“She’d never seen her in a hybrid with that bumper sticker,” Marvin said, perching precariously on the tiny bumper of Amy’s little electric car. “Mind you, Shauna didn’t look like someone who’d know a hybrid if she saw one. Did you see that fancy outfit Carla’s sister was wearing at the inquest? Prada if I’m not mistaken, and bedecked with jewels to die for,” Marvin waved his hand like a fan to cool his fevered brow.

“Apparently the car is still a non-person of interest,” Amy said, ignoring his blather.

“Ha. A hybrid driver against population growth. Got to be an environmentalist,” Marvin said.

“The dreaded E-word. Yes, they’re all terrorists, or so sayeth our government,” Amy said, wondering if she should remove her own bumper sticker: May The Forest Be With You. “With our new anti-terrorism legislation, there could be files on all the environmentalists and we might know who’s sporting that particular bumper sicker.”

“I’ll pass that brilliant idea on to Detective Arnold, shall I,” Marvin said, looking skyward and flicking a bit of bird poop off his pants.

“Shelve that one, kid. I’ve got another brilliant idea instead,” Amy said, sliding into the car. Marvin moaned and followed, and they headed back to the office.

 

“Our perp won’t come to us, and we can’t find him. What do we do?” Amy had assumed her teacher’s pose in front of Marvin’s desk. This required carrying around an ancient wooden yard stick to rap knuckles when required.

“Give up?” Marvin replied, eliciting a sigh from Amy followed by a poke in the ribs.

“Think, don’t just cave. The sister’s got access to much more information from the police than we have, and as you so droolingly noticed, she’s loaded. I say we get her to hire us.”

“Just how do we get her to do that?” Marvin said, twisting SpongeBob’s arm and provoking a yodel.

“I’ve done my research. Shauna has already hired someone, so that means she’s motivated to find out more about her sister’s death. And before you ask why she needs us, I already know which detective she’s hired — Blakley.”

“That ass? Why would she hire him?”

“Blakley’s an ass but his ass is connected,” Amy replied.

“Yeah, to his frontal lobes.”

“Granted, but that means we can move in on his turf and she’ll be more receptive. And after all, we’re the ones who reported the incident. We can tell Shauna what we discovered with the fake bumper sticker ploy.”

“And what would that be? Doggie doo comes in little baggies?”

“No. The stickers annoyed people. Maybe the perp in particular.”

“I’ll give you one thing. That idea is thin enough to be called transparent.” Marvin said.

“Well, we do have something else. The only thing they didn’t talk about at the inquest was the temperature of the body,” Amy mused. “I touched her and she was as cold as Pluto. Blakley won’t know that.”

“They did say Carla had been dead a while before she was tossed out,” Marvin said.

“Dead where? In outer space?”

“She couldn’t have been dead long. She’d only been missing two days.”

“Why put her body in a fridge or freezer if you’re going to toss her out?”

“Good place to hide it?”

“I happen to know you haven’t got room for ice cubes in your freezer,” Amy said.

“Maybe the perp was in the cold storage business,” Marvin suggested. “He put her in with the sides of beef for a while.”

“Until he came up with the brilliant plan to shove her out of the car on Granville Street?”

“OK, there are some parts of the scenario that don’t fit yet.”

“We’re getting nowhere. Let’s just talk to Shauna and see whether she’s interested in telling us what she knows.”

“And if she’ll pay us,” Marvin said, whipping out his wallet to display the sad lack of folding money.

 

“Well, that worked out better than expected,” Amy said after they returned to the office. She crunched down on her reward for a job well done, the contents of a large bag of caramel corn with yummy caramel-coated almonds.

“If you’re expecting nothing, then I suppose you’re right,” Marvin replied. Amy waited for him to say something about her junk food choice. He opened a bag of raw almonds and waved them at her instead. “She won’t pay us unless we find something out. That doesn’t seem fair.”

“That’s because she won’t fire Blakley.”

“Yeah, she already bought the bull,” Marvin said sourly.

“Still, we have more information than we did before. She was willing to lend us Carla’s computer. Blakley got it after the inquest and said it was a blind end. Of course, that just makes me more interested to find out what he missed.”

“You and me both, but it’s going to take a lot more time to go through all the stuff on here. Maybe I’ll start by doing a quick search for STOP the POP.”

The office was quiet with the exception of the crunching of almonds, so Amy jumped when Marvin shouted, “It’s here. A big document on STOP the POP. It’s inside a folder inside a file on carbonated beverages.”

They both looked at each other and said simultaneously. “Carbonated beverages?”

“Like pop.” Marvin said.

“Yeah, like pop. You know, there’s a lot of evidence linking soda pop to heart attack and stroke, not to mention diabetes. Why didn’t I think of that? Remember when the mayor of New York tried to ban the stuff? But that bumper sticker, the pink and blue, the swollen bellies. What was that about?”

“I’m having trouble remembering what the sticker even looked like, except it was damn hard to make out. That website I made? I’m such an idiot.”

“And I’m not an idiot? I just rode around with poo on my car for a week.” For a few moments, the room was dead silent, not even a jaw chewing. “Let’s start again and think about what we know. A dead woman was thrown from a car. Her body was cold, as in kept somewhere cold after she was killed. The car she was in was a hybrid with a logo that promoted banning carbonated drinks. Her sister says she was an activist, and the file you’ve found proves she was working against the soda industry. I’d say she knew whoever was driving that hybrid car.”

“OK. I’ll read everything in the file and see if I can come up with some names, or at least a place to start looking,” Marvin said.

 

“Carla belonged to a group called the Food Police, and she has an email contact with them called Jake. She’s also got the names of two soft drink lobbyists in her file,” Marvin said.

“I say we hit the Food Police first and see what they can tell us,” Amy said.

“They’ll tell us not to drink sugary beverages.”

“Too late,” Amy said, slurping down the last of an energy drink. She had a quick glance at the sugar level printed on the side of the can while avoiding Marvin’s stare. “The lobbyists may be strong-arming the Food Police.”

“Sugary syrup doesn’t get you killed,” Marvin said.

“Tell that to the bugs swimming in my hummingbird feeder,” Amy said. “Besides, this could have nothing to do with the job and everything to do with the people she knew.”

“Is this Jake guy at the Food Police suspect numero uno?”

“I wonder if Detective Arnold might tell me whether he interviewed him.”

“I don’t think Arnold is going to tell you anything,” Marvin said.

“Why not? If he hasn’t looked at Jake yet, he might thank us for the idea.”

Marvin shrugged. “I think he’s shy with you. Why don’t I call?”

“I saw him first,” Amy said, and they both laughed and grabbed their phones.  Amy glared at Marvin and he put his phone down. The call was short and Amy frowned.

“They’ve already got a suspect. It isn’t Jake, and he says to leave it alone.”

“Did the police even interview Jake?”

“You just heard what I heard. I have no idea.”

“See. He gave you nothing.” Marvin gloated.

She wondered why the detective had been so gruff with her. What had she ever done to get under his skin? Her phone beeped a minute later with a text: Sorry, boss hovering. Jake wasn’t interviewed.” She lifted her head up to tell Marvin the good news, but he was laughing and waving his cell phone. Looking down at her phone, yup, the text was from Marvin. She really needed those progressives. She let her annoyance die down before grabbing her bag and heading for the door.

Marvin jumped up to follow. Amy glared at him to stay put, but he said, “You need me. I know where Jake lives.”

 

Jake Cain occupied one of the condos built for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and abandoned when the athletes’ feet left town They took the elevator to the second floor and Jake was waiting at his door when they exited. He was thin, young, and skittish. Amy introduced them as private investigators looking into the death of Carla Perez. His clammy hand handshake complemented his sweat-beaded forehead.

“I told the police what I know,” Jake said as he twisted a woven friendship bracelet around his wrist.

“Maybe you can tell us about the Food Police,” Amy said, trying to appear friendly and calm when she felt like helping him twist the bracelet tighter. She followed him into a tiny bachelor pad loaded with electronic stuff and not much else. There were takeout boxes spread liberally around the level surfaces like objets d’art. Clearly, he didn’t police his own food, she thought. They all squeezed down onto the sofa.

“I joined the Food Police a couple of years ago. A few of my friends joined, and we all thought it was important. Safeguarding the food supply, making sure industry looked at nutrition and not just cost. Anyway, Carla joined a year later. She wanted us to be more active, but the Food Police have their ways of doing things. Slow and steady. After a while, she didn’t bother coming to the meetings.”

“Did anyone else want to be active?” Amy asked.

“Nah, not that I remember,” Jake said.

“Well, did anyone else stop attending meetings when Carla left?” Amy asked.

“Now that you mention it, there was one guy who stopped coming about the same time Carla left. Mind you, that’s not uncommon. Some people lose interest when they find out they can’t manipulate the group. We have our own agenda.”

“Did this guy had his own agenda?” Marvin asked.

“Yeah, he wanted us to make bumper stickers. We have a tiny budget, and some of the slogans he came up with were pretty lame.” Amy pulled out a print of the bumper sticker Marvin had made and showed it to Jake. “Yeah, that was one of them, although the Ps didn’t look like these ones, they were just regular Ps.” Amy heard Marvin snicker from his end of the sofa. “It took everyone too long to figure out what Stop the Pop meant, like pop culture, popcorn, soda-pop, or even fireworks.”

“Do you remember his name, maybe where he lives?” Marvin asked.

“Sure do. He’s in this building, two floors up. Name’s Ivan something. I see him in the basement parking lot. He has a new bumper sticker on that Prius every other week, and they’re still lame.”

Amy and Marvin looked at each other when he mentioned a Prius. They thanked Jake and took the elevator back to the lobby. Marvin headed outside to get the apartment number and buzz Ivan. When he didn’t get an answer, Amy let Marvin back in and they both took the elevator to number 404. Ivan didn’t answer their knocks so Amy sent Marvin down to the underground parking lot to look for the hybrid. He returned a few minutes later.

“There’s a blue hybrid with a sticker— I drive fast for slow food — so either he’s in there or out somewhere on foot.”

Amy knocked loudly this time, rousing a neighbour who said he hadn’t seen Ivan in days. When asked if he knew where Ivan worked, the neighbour said he thought he had a job at a bottling plant in Surrey. Amy and Marvin took the elevator back to the ground floor. The dragon boats in the small harbour were dragging their loads back and forth under the Cambie bridge.

“Do you think he took a runner after he killed her?” Marvin said.

“That, or maybe he’s been put into cold storage,” Amy replied. “I suppose I should tell the detective what we’ve discovered.”

“First we should go to the sister and let her know we’ve found the Prius and have the name of the person who might be driving it. She might agree to hire us now. Marvin’s body spoke in a language that didn’t need translation.

 

“Well, that worked out better than expected,” Amy said, sensing déjà vu. She licked the icing off half of the Oreo before consuming the cookie parts. The bag was half gone.

“Not much cash for our effort,” Marvin said, placing a slim bit of folding money into his wallet.

“We’ll get more money if we locate Ivan. That’s what she agreed.” Amy dangled the Oreo bag at Marvin and got a grimace in reply. “They do tours in that bottling plant. You could take the tour and keep an eye out for cold storage facilities. I’ll go talk to the employment office and see if they know where Ivan went.”

“I’m surprised you don’t want to do the tour and get free samples of their healthy beverages,” Marvin said. Amy gave him the finger. It was her pinky finger because she considered herself a lady, but they both knew the pinky held the same meaning as the middle finger.

“Let me finish my repast and we can be off. There’s a tour at two o’clock. Wear something warm.”

 

The employment office confirmed that Ivan was employed by them but hadn’t appeared at work since the day Carla was shoved from his car two weeks earlier. His job was to drive the refrigerated sample truck around the city. Meanwhile in the factory, Marvin discovered the Cola challenge was rigged. The company sample he was given was colder than the other brand.

“There’s only one cold storage unit on site, and it’s mobile. There’s a little truck they drive around and hand out samples of their beverages, and they ask people to fill in comment cards. Guess what? It’s been missing for a couple of weeks,” he said.

“Guess what back at you? Ivan drove that truck,” Amy said. “Find the truck, find Ivan. The timing’s right. Carla could have been in the truck for a while before she ended up in Ivan’s car and he tossed her out.” Amy looked at Marvin, eyebrows raised expectantly.

“Why transfer her body?” Marvin asked.

“Maybe he had to return the truck to the warehouse.”

“We can talk to Arnold. But leave him a message that you’re coming in with information.”

“Why? So he can avoid us?”

“No. So he can prepare for you.” Marvin said cryptically.

 

“We found the hybrid, we know who the owner is, and he’s been missing for two weeks, just like Carla,” Amy said, allowing herself to enjoy a moment of satisfaction at their masterful sleuthing. The detective was nibbling on one of the donuts she’d bought to the police station at Marvin’s suggestion, and Arnold was ignoring her. She wouldn’t have picked him for a sprinkles man. “I need to know if you’re even looking for Ivan, or maybe the police have run across the soda truck? He could have been driving it.” The detective kept nibbling and examining his donut, probably hoping the hole would fill in. “It was the bumper sticker that led us to him. Remember when you said that was next to useless information? Clearly it wasn’t. Well?”

“Are you done yet?” Detective Arnold asked, wiping his lips. A couple of sprinkles clinging to his upper lip made Amy smile. His eyes lit up.

“Are we done what? Solving your case?” Amy asked. Marvin let out a small gasp behind her. OK, she was doing it again. No wonder the detective reacted to her the way he did. But he was so patronizing, even when he didn’t speak.

“Maybe you’d like to know that our suspect, not this Ivan fellow you’re talking about, has just confessed, and we didn’t need a bumper sticker.”  There was a stunned silence while Amy absorbed this revelation.

“What about Ivan? He’s missing. The pop truck’s missing. His car fits the description.”

“Maybe he pushed a dead woman from his car. But he didn’t kill her.”

“You seem pretty sure.”

“We have the drug used to kill her, handed to us by our suspect.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of nailing it, I suppose.” Amy’s shoulders drooped, more in annoyance than surrender. “What’s the motive?”

“The suspect won’t give us a motive.”

“But you need a motive to make your case.”

“Don’t worry. One will turn up.”

“Maybe it’s in the back of that soda pop truck?”

“OK. We’ll put out an APB for the truck. Let me guess. You don’t have a description or a plate number.”

“Get them from the company. I don’t work for you. I work for Carla’s sister.”

“Carla’s sister? You mean Shauna, the woman who just confessed to killing her sister?”

 

“Wow. I didn’t see that coming,” Marvin said, squeezing SpongeBob for support.

“Why did she offer to pay us to find Ivan? It doesn’t make sense.” Amy said, noticing a slight whine to her voice which she was trying to hide by filling her mouth with a chocolate donut. All she could think about was the grin on the detective’s face. He clearly loved it that she’d screwed up big time. Then, how pitiful was it for her to grab the box of remaining donuts when she left?

“It makes sense if she wanted to keep us busy and out of the way,” Marvin said.

“Why did Shauna confess? And why hold back the motive after you confess?  How did Ivan get involved with disposing of the body? What’s his relation to Carla’s sister?” Amy was pacing fast now, the sugar in the donuts doing their usual thing with her neurons.

“Ivan’s got to be the key to this. Find the truck. Find Ivan.”

“And find the motive,” Amy added.

“Amy, maybe we should let this one go. The money’s dried up.”

“Don’t be so sure about that. She said she’d pay a reward if we found him.”

“That was before they arrested her.”

“Also before she got out on bail. I just checked and she’s been released and gone home.”

“Well, I’m not going over there to question a murderer.”

“I didn’t ask you. I’m going alone.” Amy picked up her bag while Marvin said what sounded like a final farewell to SpongeBob before reluctantly following her.

 

“Shauna’s not home,” Marvin said, his face pressed against the bars of the wrought iron gate. The buzzer had gone unanswered, and the driveway was empty. “Do you think she jumped bail?”

“I’m surprised she got bail, but maybe she killed Carla accidentally,” Amy said.

“She accidentally gave her sister an overdose of fentanyl?”

“Could be she made a mistake?”

“She thought she was giving her botox, maybe?” Marvin said. Amy started to smile at the thought until she remembered poor Carla lying next to the curb. Then her gaze focused on the refuse lying near the gate. She bent to pick up one of a half a dozen cards, smeared with dirt and tire tracks. She was about to drop it when Marvin took it from her.

“These are the cards we filled out at that bottling plant when we did the sampling,” he said. “What are they doing here?”

“This could be a link between the sister and Ivan,” Amy said.

“Or Ivan’s truck,” Marvin said. They both peered through the gate hoping to get a glimpse of the truck. “It could be around back or in a garage.”

“No way,” Amy said. “The police would have searched this place.”

“Maybe it wasn’t here when they searched.” Amy watched as Marvin pulled himself up, using the iron curlicues to support his trim frame. He was over in an instant.

“A quick look, that’s all,” Amy said, but she didn’t think it would be quite that quick. Marvin was back over the gate in less than a minute, followed at the heels by a black Scottish terrier with an angry bark.

“What? It’s big for its type,” Marvin said. “And look at those teeth. Well, OK, maybe it likes you.” Amy was scratching the dog’s head between the bars of the gate.

“Now it’s your turn to say hello and scratch her head.” After the Scottie passed approval on Marvin, he hopped the fence again and walked to the back of the property. Amy watched Marvin talk to the dog, and the dog appeared to be listening. He was gone longer this time.

“No truck, but there are tracks too big for a car, and there are a couple more of these sample cards round back.”

“The soda truck was probably here, and maybe not that long ago.”

“It hasn’t rained for a couple of days, and the cards are muddy.”

“Do I see more cards over there?” Marvin said, pointing down the road. They walked over and kept walking for half a mile, finding a couple of cards littering the curb every hundred or so feet. “Let’s go back and get the car.”

They followed the trail of cards, lost it twice and picked it up again. The trail ended in a parking lot under the Granville Street Bridge. “I’m beginning to think we’re going to find that truck pretty soon,” Amy said, scanning the line of hybrid taxis, parked cars and delivery trucks filling a huge area. “What a mess under here.” She turned to follow Marvin’s gaze. He was staring at a truck under a tarp, bumper exposed, with a sticker that read: Friends don’t let friends drink Coke.

“Hmm. Double meaning there for someone against the soda industry,” Amy said. “That looks like our truck.” They walked over to the vehicle and pulled up the tarp on the driver’s side. The door was open and the keys were in the ignition. “Try the back,” Amy shouted.

“Don’t need to. I can smell him. It’s too bad we didn’t find the trail sooner.”

“Let’s look inside anyway. It could be a pack of dead Scotties,” Amy said. Marvin grimaced and they opened the door. The once-refrigerated truck, now at ambient temperature, was replete with bags of test sodas ready to fit into sample dispensers. Wedged into a far corner was a curled-up human body with a distended belly. “Don’t go in,” Amy said, covering her nose. Marvin’s face to turn from green to white. “I’d sure like to know if it’s Ivan and how he died.” Marvin turned green again.

“Overdose of botox maybe?” Marvin suggested when his colour had normalized.

“It could be Shauna’s handiwork since we followed the truck from her house, but we need to know the timing. Maybe she was in police custody when this happened.  Could you call the detective?”

“What? We’re not going to fight over who gets to call him?” Marvin said.

“The detective and I aren’t speaking,” Amy said, emitting a small sigh.

 

“I have to admit, that’s good work,” Detective Arnold said, standing next to the soda truck. He was still avoiding her eyes, and Amy gave him a cool reception right back. “It’s lucky the guy in the back of the truck, Ivan as you probably guessed, was able to leave that trail of cards for you to follow. He was sitting on another hundred or so cards.”

“Thanks,” said Marvin, turning to Amy and popping his eyes. She knew he wanted her to acknowledge the compliment, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. She nodded instead which didn’t mean much when he wouldn’t look at her.

“I’ll let you know when we find out the time and cause of death,” he said.

“You will?” Amy blurted, incredulous. She couldn’t believe he would give up information without her even asking.

“It’s probably the work of Shauna, and we have her for one already.”

Amy bit her tongue and tried to smile. It probably looked more like a grimace, she thought. Marvin wasn’t fooled, but apparently the detective was because he blushed and then left in a hurry to talk to the Crime Scene Investigation Unit gathered around the soda truck.

“I’m going home,” Amy announced. “I’m bushed from following the berry trail through the forest.”

“What about us getting paid for finding Ivan?”

“You still think she’s likely to pay us after what the detective just said?”

“What if she’s not responsible for Ivan’s death? What if the death has the same signature as her sister’s but she didn’t do it?

“That’s a lot of ifs, Marvin. She confessed, remember? Besides, we’d need to find her first.”

Marvin took off on the run. Amy watched as he caught up with the detective, they exchanged a few words, and he ran back to her. “She’s been arrested again,” Marvin said.

 

Amy sent Marvin to the lawyer’s to try to extract some information. When Marvin returned, Amy was searching her desk for something sugary or salty or both. She’d already consumed the rest of the Oreos, but something more was required to stimulate her pink brain cells. She figured she wasn’t old enough to have little gray ones.

“I was right, boss,” Marvin said, bowing low in either respect or mocking, she could guess which. “Shauna recanted her confession when she heard that fentanyl was only one of the drugs her sister had in her system, and probably not the one that killed her. Her lawyer says finding Ivan was key to her defense, and she’ll be writing us a check. And before you ask, I couldn’t get any information from him about why she confessed in the first place and handed over the fentanyl.”

“What about the trail of sample cards leading from her place to Ivan’s body?”

“She’s got an alibi for every minute, so if Ivan went to her place in that truck, maybe to implicate Shauna, someone else must have taken him or maybe found him there. Guess the best news?” Marvin was rubbing his hands together. “The lawyer said she’ll pay us the big bucks if we find out who killed her sister and Ivan.”

“That’s great. Any bright ideas about where to start? Assuming she’s innocent which seems a bit unlikely at the moment?”

“No. You’re the boss. I just do what you say.”

“Since when?” Amy said, waving her pinky. “But I do have one idea. It has to do with someone we’ve met and we should look at more closely.”

“Blakley, the private dick.”

“No. I can’t see a connection there.” Amy gave Marvin time to ponder while she continued her search for a sugar fix.

“Ah-ha. Jake, the guy in the same building as dead Ivan, the guy who knew Carla.”

“Bingo.”

“I could do my pizza thing,” Marvin said. “You saw all that junk food in his apartment, and it’s almost dinner time.”

“Remind me again? What’s your pizza thing? An impersonation based on that shirt you’re wearing?” Jackson Pollack could have designed the shirt to look like a pizza with all the fixings, and she chuckled when Marvin stuck up both pinkies. “Let’s save that talent for a special occasion,” she said. “This time, I want to do a little more research and some pre-planning before we go knocking.”

 

While Amy spent time on the phone with various members of the Food Police, she sent Marvin to surf the web for Jake, the guy he had first picked out as suspect numero uno.

“We had that all wrong. It turns out Jake was the one pushing the bumper stickers, not Ivan,” Amy said. “Ivan was just trying to interest Carla in going out with him, according to two of the Food Police members. When Carla left the group, so did Ivan. I suppose Jake could have given bumper stickers to Ivan at some point. When I asked about the STOP the POP sticker, both people I talked to couldn’t remember that specific one. They did remember the one that read I drive fast for slow food and they didn’t like it because they said it advocated speeding.”

“I found out something interesting about Jake,” Marvin said. “He’s got a degree in organic chemistry and he’s working on a Master’s. That would make him a good fit for the drug angle.”

“Fentanyl’s a street drug. The sister could have bought it. But there was another drug in the mixture, so you could be right. What we really need is a link between Jake and the sister.”

“The police could get phone records,” Amy said, “although they probably don’t know about Jake because we didn’t tell them.”

“Jake would have a burner phone anyway, if he’s involved in the drug trade.”

Amy imagined Marvin honing his detective skills by watching Breaking Bad and The Wire. When her phone rang, Arnold’s name popped up and she signalled to Marvin that the detective was calling. She listened for a while, but when she started to ask questions, he hung up. “Great,” she said. “Conversations with him have to be one way. His way. There wasn’t enough fentanyl in Carla’s system to have caused her death. It was the other drug that did it. I scribbled down the name, 5-thio-D-glucose, and apparently it killed Ivan too. See what you can find out about it.”

 

“That poison is interesting, boss. It tastes just as sweet as sugar but it causes convulsions and death at high doses. Not a sweet way to go at all.”

“They both died of a toxic sugar overdose?” Amy’s eyes had bugged open.

“Looks like it, and the detective says they’re hunting for the chemical now. Without it, and with the retraction of the confession, they’ll have trouble holding Shauna. They’re also having a problem with the time of death because of the refrigeration.”

“Sounds like Jake is still in the frame,” Marvin muttered as he pulled up information on the modified glucose molecule from the web. “Gee, you can buy this poison from a dozen chemical companies, if you have an account.”

“Can you find it in a university chemistry lab?”

“OK, I see where this is going. But even if the police find it in a lab where Jake worked, how will that help us tie him to the deaths?”

“Where would you hide a tree?”

“In a forest,” Marvin said.

“Where would you hide something that’s as sweet as sugar?”

“In the second drawer down, left side of your desk.”

“Snooping again, Marvin? Actually, I was thinking about the sample truck that Ivan drove. I know it’s full of bulk bags of sugary soda, but what if the poison was in one of the bags, hidden in plain sight.” Amy said.

“The police have the truck. Won’t they be looking for the poison?”

“They definitely will if we tell them what we know. They can check for Jake’s fingerprints in the truck while they’re at it.”

“You go girl,” Marvin said. “We’ll still collect from Shauna if Jake’s the killer, right?”

“Yeah, but we’d have a better chance of getting paid if we can figure out why Jake did it,” Amy said.

“We still don’t know why Shauna confessed,” Marvin said.

“I’m thinking she shared an opioid with Carla and she thought that’s what killed her, so she confessed out of guilt. Then, when it turned out fentanyl wasn’t responsible, she retracted her confession.” Marvin’s head moved back and forth before he nodded agreement. “Now let’s say Jake hides the poison in the truck. We don’t know why yet. He doesn’t mean to kill Carla and Ivan, but they drink the Kool-Aid by mistake.”

“I’m supposed to imagine that Ivan’s idea of a fun date is taking Carla for a ride in the sample truck and sharing a cola?”

“I’ve had worse dates,” Amy said, glaring at Marvin. “Can you call the detective and tell him about Jake?”

 

“Look at that dragon boat. I didn’t know they could to move that fast.”

Amy glanced around. “That’s a two-seater kayak, you fool.”

“Who’s the fool. Jake’s sitting up front.”

They both watched Jake reach behind him to lift up a plastic bag occupying the front cockpit, open it, and dump the contents into False Creek. Then he grabbed his paddle and made for the dock at the False Creek Community Centre.

“That’s a littering offence,” Marvin said.

“More like a poisoning offence,” Amy said. “He’s now officially a serial killer if the poison was in that bag and we see fish pop to the surface.” She phoned the detective whose name now appeared at the top of her popular list. When he answered, she didn’t say a word, just listened and hung up. It was becoming their thing.

Marvin was pointing. “Arnold’s standing across the street and he saw it all. The police cruiser will be there in a minute.” She watched as the detective gave her a lame wrist wave. Even his wave irritated her.

Amy watched as Marvin ran across the road to touch base with his new buddy. They laughed at something, then talked a lot. Marvin finally ran back with a smile on his face. “I told him that the poison is very soluble. It’s too late to recover it but they should get a water sample to test,” Marvin said.

“Well, what did he say?” Marvin could be really annoying too, she thought.

“Oh. Sorry. They’re going to take Jake in for questioning while the lab does the tests for the poison.”

“No. I mean, did they find poison in the soda in the truck?”

“No. No poisoned bags of soda, and the truck had been wiped clean of prints.”

“Damn. I liked that idea too,” Amy said.

“But,” Marvin said and stopped talking until Amy gave him the evil eye, “there were traces of the 5-thio-D-glucose dried on the floor, maybe from a liquid spill.”

“Goodie. Jake cleaned up and left Ivan in the truck.”

“Why not leave Carla there too?” Marvin asked.

“Maybe they didn’t die together,” Amy suggested. “Can you go back to Dudley Do-Right and find out how long Ivan’s been dead.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” he said, looking contrite. “The detective said they could have died at the same time, but because they don’t know how long Ivan was in the refrigerated truck before the refrigeration died, the time of his death is fuzzy. Shauna could have done it, I suppose, but Ivan had the sugar toxin, not fentanyl, in his system.”

“Maybe the combination killed Carla sooner,” Amy mumbled, pulling her iPad out of her bag. “My little list here is going to come in handy,” she said. “You should keep one too, if you want to grow up to be a detective.”

“I’ve got a brain instead,” Marvin replied, tapping his temple. “Just ask me a question.”

“OK, why did Jake lie to us about the bumper stickers. If they were his idea, why not claim them? Why did he give Ivan the credit?”

“Because you showed him Stop the Pop. Maybe he realized that someone saw the sticker when he pushed Carla from the car. Ivan became the fall guy.”

“That’s OK as far as it goes. But remember what Jake said? All Ivan’s ideas were lame. Why did he say that?”

“To make us think they were lame?”

“Now go back to the first day. What did we think that bumper sticker meant?”

“You thought it meant stop population growth.”

“And what did Jake say people at Food Police thought it meant?” She watched Marvin hum and haw.

“I don’t remember.”

“And that’s where my notes come in. Jake said no one at Food Police could figure out what it meant, and he mentioned pop-music, popcorn, soda-pop, and fireworks. What he didn’t mention was population. Plus, there was something very odd about those Ps that made me see swollen bellies, but Jake said the Ps on the sticker were normal. I know they were weird, so why did he lie? When he said that Ivan made the stickers, it didn’t bother me, but now we know it was his design. What does that tell you?”

“He’s a lousy artist?”

“It tells me that I was right all along. The sticker was advocating a stop to population growth.”

“Why would the Food Police be interested in a sticker like that?”

“They wouldn’t, and the people I spoke to don’t remember seeing that sticker. That’s in my notes too.” Amy patted her tablet. Notes are good things.”

“There is something interesting about this sugar poison that isn’t in your notes,” Marvin said, tapping his head and smiling. Amy shrugged, hoping that his memory was better than it seemed. “The poison sterilizes mice.”

“What? You said it caused convulsions and death.” She knew she looked scary when her eyebrows met in the middle and tried to merge with her hairline.

“If you eat a lot of it, sure, but just a little bit sterilizes mice.” Marvin said defensively. He was looking anxious about the monobrow, she thought.

“Does it sterilize humans too?   No forget that. No one would know.”

“Yeah, it’s not exactly been tested. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it worked the same way.”

“This could be our motive. Say Jake’s plan is to sterilize people because the world is overpopulated, and he has to guess what concentration of poison to use. He puts too much into Ivan’s cola bag. His plan may be to use Ivan’s sample truck to test it, then who knows, get a job in the bottling company to spread it further. Ivan and Carla are the first to sample the stuff and they die.”

“He jettisons the rest of the poison in False Creek so he won’t get caught with it?”

Amy nodded. “I think he should confess to the lesser charge of killing sperm,” Marvin said. “Look, there’s the police cruiser taking samples of the water.” Amy got in her car and motioned for Marvin to follow.

They drove up Burrard towards their office. I’m just going to make a quick stop at that nice little restaurant,” she said, waiting for Marvin to groan when he saw her choice: Death by Chocolate. “While I’m gone, why don’t you give the good detective a call and see if they’ve got Jake in custody yet? Then we can let that lawyer know we’re expecting payment,” Amy said.

 

When she got back in the car with a suspiciously large cake box, Marvin was smiling. “Jake’s in custody and he already admitted to adding the poison to the cola.”

“And? Was I right about the population part? We’re you right about him using the poison to cause sterility?

“Right on both counts. We make a good team, boss. Detective Arnold wants you to come in for debriefing,” Marvin said, giggling. He loved the term debriefing.

“Now? Before I have my cake?”

“You have your cake. You just can’t eat it too. It shouldn’t take long and we’re only a few blocks from the station.

Amy backtracked to Sixth Avenue and drove to the police station near the Cambie Bridge.

“You’re going to give him your cake?” Marvin said, when he saw Amy reach into the back seat for the cake box.

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling bad about taking back my donuts the other day. It’s a peace offering. Besides, there’s another one in the display case at the restaurant.”

“Lucky it’s a big cake is all I can say.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are we feeding the force?”

“No. Just a detective’s ego, and that’s even bigger than a police force.”

 

When they exited the elevator, Detective Arnold was waiting to escort them to his office. His eyes looked into hers and he smiled. His smile grew wider when his eyes landed on the large cake box. Amy laughed to think how the competition engendered by those who worked within a command structure and those who avoided one, like Amy and Marvin, often ended up in a quicker resolution to a case. “What’s that? More donuts for me? Oh, I mean donut,” the detective said.

“No, a cake this time, and sorry about that,” Amy said, deciding not to finish the sentence. That way sorry could be used for anything offensive that she’d done. She handed over the box, sending her saliva back where it started. There would be other cakes.

“Jake has confessed to accidentally poisoning Carla and Ivan, but I need you to go over how you worked this out.”

“You mean, how a useless bumper sticker led us to the suspect?” Amy said. Marvin coughed.

“OK. You got lucky there. A license plate would have been even better.”

“Except you might have missed finding Jake that way.”

“How did you find Jake?”

“On Carla’s computer that no one bothered to search properly. It was Jake who lied about Ivan being responsible for making the bumper stickers, but the third bumper sticker was how we found Ivan.”

“The third?”

“The second one was on Ivan’s car in the underground, and the third was on the sample truck under the bridge.”

“What are you, a bumper sticker buff?”

“No, just observant,” she said, trying to look demure. Thank goodness Marvin had hounded her into peeling off May The Forest Be With You a few days ago. You never know when you might want to hurl someone from your car, and at the time, Marvin was a candidate.

“Marvin, you picked up on the fact that the poison causes sterility?” Detective Arnold asked.

“Yeah, not that it matters if you’re dead.”

“It’s important because it looks like Jake’s motive wasn’t to kill but to sterilize,” the detective said.

“I supposed they’ll have him evaluated by a psychiatrist?” Amy asked.

The detective shrugged, as if he’d lost interest in what happened as soon as his part of the job was done. Amy figured that might let him sleep better at nights, especially when a perp got off on a technicality. Amy and Marvin filled in what details they could, signed their reports and stood up to leave.

“Yeah, well thanks for your help on this case. The lawyer’s pleased his client has been released, so I expect you’ll get paid for your efforts,” Arnold said.

“Just what we deserve, not what we want,” Amy said, wondering what it would be like to have the security of a regular salary. Oh yeah, she’d done that and this was way better.

“Before you go, would you like to have a piece of your cake? A piece, mind you?”

“Well, if you insist, I won’t say no,” Amy said, sitting down faster than he could change his mind.

“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to leave. I hear my mother calling,” Marvin said. Not outside the realm of possibilities, but Amy knew exactly what he was doing.

“Are you sure, Sugar?” she said, getting a flash of pinky from Marvin on his way out, and a stunned look from the detective.

“It’s just a little joke. About the case.”

“Yeah. Around here, they’ve started calling it Sugar Blues.”

“Good one. Talking about sugar, should I cut?” Amy said, whipping out a large Swiss Army knife. “It’s got a special blade just for cutting cake.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Yup.” He had a smile to die for, and if that wasn’t worth a Black Forest cake, what was?

 

***

 

My Mother’s Foot (L)

Amy‘s streaked blond hair was pulled up in a pony tail, her sunglasses fit snugly on top of her head, and her iPOD was delivering Leonard Cohen’s raspy voice. She muttered to herself as she flipped  through piles of dusty newspapers, computer print-outs and case files. A track shoe could go missing here for weeks, she mused. She flopped down on a weathered old sofa to get a different vantage point for finding the missing runner and her eyes were drawn to Marvin’s end of the room. Everything was organized and spotless. Even the dust glinting in the Monday morning sun shunned his space. “I should have lost it over there,” she muttered.

The door flew open and Marvin entered carrying a coffee cup and waving a newspaper. Amy envied him the energy he exuded. Was she ever like that? He’d recently celebrated his twenty-first birthday, but no way was that boy moving into adulthood without a fight.

”Guess what, boss? Page three has an article on the ‘Sleuthing Duo’ from Southlands. They’ve messed up the story as usual, but they spelled our names right. This article will pull in more clients for us.”

Marvin’s shirt was more outlandish than usual but it suited his personality. ‘Web Master’ was written in fluorescent pink script across his chest. When she was his age, Amy remembered wearing black suits to work and thinking she looked hot. Her smile was for his shirt and the memory, not for the article in the paper. ”Do we really want more clients like the last ones? When I started this business, I had visions of a Vancouver version of the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a little spying on truant kids or wandering husbands, but that last case was in the big leagues. We should draw the line at murder.”

“Yeah, we’ve moved up a notch, boss. But it should be the sleuthing trio. We couldn’t have solved the case without Jim”.

Marvin was referring to their neighbor across the hall. Three years earlier, Jim sold Amy his private investigator’s business. It amounted to an office in a reasonable location and a handful of previous clients who might bring in more work. But Jim wasn’t ready to retire, so he took over a pet insurance business, avoided most of the leg work and could spend enjoyable hours perusing the internet. His new occupation gave him time to show Amy and Marvin the ropes and lend a hand on a couple of their more interesting cases. Marvin was right. They owed Jim a lot more than the occasional bottle of 12-year-old malt scotch.

Amy’s blue eyes lit up when she spotted her missing runner in the paper recycling bin. She was just tying the laces when her 70-year-old grandmother came storming into the office, silk scarf flying, high heels tapping, and lines of concern marching across her aging face. She waved a rolled up copy of the newspaper.

As usual, Evelyn was dressed in the latest fashion. Amy would never forget her motto that you might as well be dead when you can’t wear your heels. It made Amy groan at the time, but she had to admit that her grandmother had grit and a body that refused to act its age. Amy patted the seat beside her but she wasn’t surprised when Evelyn ignored the niceties and appeared ready to launch into a tirade.

“I see you’ve found the article,” she said, jabbing at the paper Marvin was reading. Her lip curled up slightly when she saw his shirt. She picked at the corner of the collar to confirm the fabric. “What does web master mean? Do you make spider webs?”

Marvin was about to answer when Amy interrupted. “Marvin was just going over the highlights of the newspaper article, but I’m not sure the sleuthing duo wants to specialize in locating dead bodies.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Evelyn asked, furrowing her brow again. She grabbed Marvin’s copy of the paper to see what he was reading. “No, not that article,” she said, dismissing their accomplishment with a single wave of her hand.” It’s the Sander Rudd exhibit on Granville Island.” She handed Amy her copy folded to the article.

Amy was amused. She should have realized that Evelyn wouldn’t have visited to congratulate her on solving a difficult case, even one that merited a headline above the fold. Evelyn was disappointed when Amy gave up her job as a bank executive to open a detective agency. For Evelyn, appearances were a substantial part of personal satisfaction, and she viewed Amy’s current occupation as a demotion. Amy glanced at Evelyn’s newspaper article. She stood up suddenly and stared more closely at the image on the page. “It’s my mother’s foot”, she announced loudly, confusion evident as she stared at Evelyn for an explanation.

“I know I’ve seen that painting before,” Evelyn offered, “but how could I?”

Marvin crumpled his brow and crossed the room to peer over Amy’s shoulder. “What do you mean, your mother’s foot?”

The article occupied an entire page of the weekend Sun and included a color photograph of a painting. The detail, even poorly reproduced was impressive. The painting showed the interior of a room decorated in a somewhat dated style, with stainless steel and black leather sofas, a glass-topped coffee table and two minimalist paintings. A large Persian carpet provided the only color and complexity. The variations in color and the central tree-of-life motif suggested a Kerman Ravar carpet. Marvin loved beautiful carpets and he recognized that one because it covered the floor in Amy’s apartment. The real shock was the foot painted in the bottom right corner. The rest of the body was lying, thankfully, out of the field of view.

“That was the night she died,” Amy said. “It’s etched on my brain. I was nine years old. I came home from school and she was lying at the bottom of the stairs. She’d been drinking”. She took a breath and added more quietly, “An awful accident.” Amy slumped back onto the sofa, handing Marvin the paper.

“What is your living room and your mother’s foot doing in a painting by this guy?” he said squinting down at the caption.

“How would I know? It’s a painting of a room thirty years ago, an exact reproduction, as far as I can tell.” Amy heard the frustration but also confusion in her voice.

Until he spoke, no one had noticed Jim standing in the doorway. He was wearing a baggy jogging outfit. “Does this mean the game is a-foot?” he asked, looking intrigued by the conversation.

“Good one, Jim,” Marvin snickered until Evelyn and Amy glared at him.

“I’m sorry, that was insensitive,” Jim said. “May I see the article?”

Marvin handed Jim his paper, and Jim started scanning, “There’s not much here. There are only twelve paintings in the show, apparently created here in British Columbia. The artist, Sander Rudd, is 72 years old. It says he painted them over a couple of decades. His paintings include a body part, considered to be his signature feature.” Jim looked up, “Just like a serial killer.” The stern looks he received sent him back to the article.” Rudd never shows the whole body because he says it’s not meant to be the focus of the painting. He hasn’t sold much though.”

“Probably too ghoulish,” Marvin said.

“He must have used a photo, Amy said, “but where did he get it?”

“Maybe a police photograph,” mused Jim.”Scenes of the crime, so to speak”. Amy and Evelyn both turned to glare at him again and he quickly added, “I mean accident, scenes of the accident.”

“Are there any photographs in my mother’s police file, do you think?” asked Amy.

“Roger could find out,” Jim offered. They’ve got him working in computer forensics these days. I’ll give him a call and ask.” Jim had been employed for several years by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before tiring of the politics and becoming a private investigator. His friend Roger Arnold was still with the Mounties and had occasionally helped Jim out with a case. Jim had introduced him to Amy when she took over the business. Roger and Amy had worked on a couple of cases and they dated briefly, but somehow they managed to bring out the worst in each other. Once Jim had suggested to Amy that they both wanted to lead when they danced.

“Yes, let’s ask Roger,” Amy said, “and I’m sorry Jim, but I’ll have to cancel our run. I want to see those paintings as soon as I can. You can jog over to the exhibit with me If you like.”

“No thanks. I’ll be more useful if I can find out more about the artist from the internet.”

Amy smiled at Jim’s excuse. Getting him to take up jogging had been her idea. Before she could ask Marvin whether he was coming with her to the gallery, the wunderkind had turned to Jim and offered to help. Amy shook her head at the pair of them, and when Evelyn showed no interest in accompanying her, Amy headed for the gallery alone.

*

The exhibit was located on Granville Island, a tourist destination under the Granville Street Bridge. Gift stores and craft workshops, boats for rent, and a great fresh food market drew the crowds. Amy entered the small gallery to find it deserted. Twelve oil paintings were arranged around the room, and the painting she immediately recognized as her living room was displayed closest to the door. She couldn’t bring herself to do more than glance at it. The gallery attendant appeared from a back room. She was an attractive if formidable looking woman in her late fifties dressed in black gothic clothing well-suited for the exhibit.

When the door closed, the attendant looked up at Amy’s jogging outfit and came close to a scowl. “Good morning. Please feel free to look around,” the attendant said with a pronounced accent. ”My name is Bettina if you have questions.”  She sat down an opened a magazine.

Amy examined a couple of the paintings before asking the woman if she were the gallery owner. “No, but I have worked for Sandor Rudd for many years. He is in Amsterdam now. I am overseeing this exhibit for him.”

Amy’s eyes scanned the room. “I don’t see any little red stickers. Have any of the paintings been sold?”

Bettina shook her head. “These are expensive paintings and the artist is not well-known in Canada. Sandor Rudd believes that the buyer should value the painting as much as he does, and he prices his work accordingly.” Amy examined a painting of a window that opened onto a small yard. There was a bare shoulder in one corner, and the skin appeared almost desiccated. She was frowning when Bettina crept up behind her and said, “You can appreciate the fine detail and the effort his work demands. See the individual tomatoes on the vine? Once the idea comes to him, Sandor works with little rest for many weeks to make everything perfect. He often becomes ill with his effort.”

Not as ill as his subjects, Amy thought. Then she noticed a yellow hold sticker next to one of the paintings and wandered over. Bettina followed her and her breath made the hairs stand up on the back of Amy’s neck. The painting showed a porch with a wooden glider and a corn field in the distance. At the edge of the painting, there was a thin leg clad in jeans and sporting a leather boot so old it should have been put out to pasture.

“Yes, a couple is anxious to buy this one and they have asked me to hold it for them.” Bettina’s face was flushed. “I understand that this porch was part of their family farmhouse. See the cows in the distance, and even a little greenhouse. So sweet.”

Amy considered the nature of Bettina’s relationship with this artist that could engender such enthusiasm for his oddly inspired work. They moved to the next painting that depicted a school room with rows of wooden desks. From the artwork on the walls, Amy guessed it was a grade three or four classroom, and the detail was so fine that she identified a likeness of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The edge of a small body, dressed in a sky blue sweater and skirt, was lying on the floor between two rows of desks. “The body of a child? Really?”

Bettina pursed her lips and nodded. “There was a visitor who was overcome with the entire exhibit, but with this painting in particular. He wrote one word in our gallery book: Gruesome. Rudd’s work elicits strong emotion, as should be the case for exceptional art.”

Give me a break, thought Amy. When Bettina invited her to add her name and comments to the gallery book, Amy took the opportunity to find the person who wrote ‘Gruesome’. The comment was signed by Doug Weyland living in Vancouver. She jotted down his name on her notepad and added her own comment to the book: Congratulations. I never knew I could be so taken aback by an art exhibit. She wanted the name of the couple who had placed the hold, and she wandered back to the painting with the yellow sticker.

“I find this painting truly exceptional,” she said, calling over to Bettina.”Do you think I might purchase it? For the asking price, of course.”

”I would have to contact the couple to give them first refusal,” Bettina said.

“Naturally. Would a deposit do, say fifteen hundred? I would like an answer as soon as possible.”

Bettina perked up at the prospect of a sale and rummaged through papers in a drawer, eventually settling on a piece of pink paper. Amy watched carefully as Bettina entered a phone number, and in spite of the woman’s low voice, she overheard what was said, including the name Mrs. Ferguson. The conversation continued for a while as Bettina explained that the price of the painting was non-negotiable since there was a buyer willing to pay now, not a year from now. There was an argument concerning a meeting with Rudd before the decision was made, but Bettina remained firm.

When she completed the call, Bettina joined Amy in front of the painting of her parent’s living room. To Amy’s annoyance, the artist had entitled it Slip-Up, and the scene elicited so many memories that Amy experienced a brief wave of nausea.

“The painting you admired can be yours,” Bettina said, smiling for the first time.” How would you like to pay the deposit?”

Amy hesitated and finally said, “Actually, I think this painting is a better choice for me. The interior detail is amazing, and I do love this carpet.” She almost added that it would match her décor just to elicit a reaction from Bettina. “If you don’t mind, I’ll change my mind and purchase this piece.” Bettina looked displeased for only a moment. “I’m sorry, but I make it a rule never to purchase a painting before I’ve met the artist. Is it possible to arrange a meeting with Mr. Rudd when he returns from Europe?” Amy slid out a business card from her wallet and handed it to Bettina, leaving no room for discussion. “Just put a hold on it, would you?”

*

Later that evening, Jim and Marvin appeared at Amy’s apartment to report on Roger’s findings and Marvin’s internet search. As they sat down with beer and chicken wings, Jim flipped open his notepad. “Using the phone number you lifted from the gallery attendant, Roger was able to locate the Ferguson family in Abbotsford, and he talked to the son. The father died five years ago right on that porch, but there were no photos taken at that time, and there are none in the file. He was seventy-four years old and had advanced liver cancer.” Jim put the notebook down and helped himself to another wing.

“How did Rudd do it? Do you think the Fergusons had a photo, and somehow he got a copy?”

“Roger was skeptical. The Fergusons were shocked at the idea of anyone taking pictures of their dead father, and they’d never heard of Rudd until they saw that painting.”

“I’d like to see that porch and confirm the details in the painting,” Amy said.

“Sorry, that can’t be done. The porch along with the house is long gone under a bulldozer.

“Then I need to know why that couple was so anxious to buy that painting.” Amy said. “Would you want a painting with your dead father’s leg?”

“You can answer that one better than I can,” Jim said. “Aren’t you the one who put a hold on a painting of your mother’s foot? Anyway, the Fergusons were pretty tight-lipped, so if there’s a story there, Roger didn’t manage to extract it.”

“I’m not planning to buy that painting,” Amy said, although she wished she could afford to buy it and destroy it. “I just wanted an excuse to meet Rudd. What do you know about the guy who wrote gruesome in the gallery book?”

“Roger hasn’t had a chance to talk to him yet,” Jim said as he smeared a greasy fingerprint on a page in his notebook. “Doug Weyland moved to Vancouver from Pemberton ten years ago. He’s thirty-seven years old, clean record. It occurred to me that this picture must go back much further, because of the school room you described with the old-style wood desks and picture of Trudeau. Maybe Doug was a kid then, and he was in the same classroom as the little girl in the painting.” He looked down again at his notes. “It turns out that Pemberton had only one primary school in the seventies. So I called the current principal, and asked if there were any student deaths recorded between 1970 and 1980. She said she would look into it and get back to me.” That’s all I have so far.”

“Roger found nothing in my mother’s file?”

“There were two photos of your mother in her file, but no details of the room. It doesn’t seem likely that these paintings could be based on police photos.”

“But the details in the painting weren’t just details of the room. They were details of that day in that room. There was a magazine, Architectural Digest on the coffee table. There were coasters and an ashtray that were placed just so, and they appear in the painting.” Amy realized that she was starting to rant.

“Let’s leave that for now,” Jim said, giving her a quizzical look. “Rudd’s story gets more interesting. Rudd is well-known in Europe, but not so much for his paintings. There was an incident in Germany where his exhibit burned down the night before the opening. There have also been two reported thefts of his paintings, and it’s rumored there was an attempt on his life – something to do with tampering with the brakes on his car.”

“I don’t find any of that surprising.”Amy said, wondering how Rudd could be so insensitive to paint what he did. Jim raised one eyebrow and continued.

“A room in one of the paintings was recognized as the site of a possible murder in England, and Rudd  was accused of using crime scene photographs to copy the details. He denied this vehemently saying that his paintings came to him as dreams and that he had never seen the actual bodies. There was some discussion that he might have an eidetic memory.”

“I don’t believe that dream stuff for a minute,” Marvin piped in. “Maybe he scopes out the places where deaths occur, takes photos, goes through old newspapers, talks to people, then he adds the body parts.”

Jim nodded. “It’s possible, Marv. The death in the school room and Amy’s mother’s death happened almost 30 years ago, and the paintings appeared years later.”

The doorbell rang and Amy led Evelyn into the living room. Her grandmother was wearing a breezy long evening gown and trailing potent perfume. “Oh, it’s you, Jim,” she said, sounding disappointed to see him. “I was wondering what you’ve uncovered concerning that strange painting,” she said to Amy. “That’s why I left the ballet early.”

“Do you remember where you saw it before?”

“Yes, and no. A few months ago I was in Choices getting my raisin bread – you know the loaf I like. I accidentally dropped it on the floor and a strange older man picked it up. When he handed it back to me, our hands touched for a moment. That’s when I saw the painting in my imagination. It was the same as the one in the newspaper today, each detail identical, and I felt transported back to the night your mother died.”

Amy wondered how many glasses of wine her grandmother had consumed. “Why did you say the man was strange?”

“He was wearing a black cape and a fedora. That outfit took me back a few years. Maybe that’s why I thought of your old home. He spoke to me in a strange accent, and I couldn’t understand him.”

“Was he buying gouda cheese?” Marvin said, smirking.

“What do you mean?” Evelyn said, her irritation obvious even to Marvin.

“He was just wondering if you bumped into our Dutch artist,” Jim explained.

“That’s easy to check. We’ll look on the internet for his photo,” Marvin said. Within a minute he had a picture of Rudd, and Evelyn confirmed it was the same man.

A moment later, Jim’s phone rang, and he moved towards the dining room to answer the call. He mouthed to Amy that it was the school principal from Pemberton. When he returned to the living room, he was scribbling in his notebook and looking pleased with his results.

“Patty Weyland, seven years old, died in November 1979 of a heart attack. Doug was her twin brother and he was in the same classroom. So there we go, a third  accidental death, in this case witnessed by the brother.”

“Maybe the deaths weren’t accidental,” Evelyn said. There was an uncomfortable silence until she continued in a hushed voice. “You heard that your mother had been drinking heavily that night, and I imagine that your father may have found her weaving around upstairs. I didn’t see anything, of course, and there were no raised voices, but I did hear a scuffle at the top of the stairs.” At this point she paused and looked down at her lap. ”My son never spoke of that evening. He could have been trying to help her when she slipped. At least that’s what I told myself. It’s what any mother would tell herself.”

Amy squeezed her eyes shut, trying to make sense of what she’d just heard. She was the one that found her mother. Her father wasn’t even there. No one was. When she opened her eyes, Evelyn was wiping away tears. Amy rose and put her arms around her grandmother. “Dad never recovered from that night and now he’s gone too.” Evelyn had taken care of her after her father died and Amy owed her a great deal, but she could not accept that her gentle father would push her mother down the stairs. She saw Jim eying Evelyn with admiration, for the first time.

“That was brave of you, Evelyn,” Jim said. “We can look more deeply into the stories behind the other paintings. These accidental deaths may not be quite what they seem, just like those paintings.”

“If these aren’t accidents that he’s painting, it could explain the threats and the fire,” Marvin said.

“It seems pretty unlikely that anyone involved in these so-called accidents would ever get to see these paintings,” Amy said.

“Yes, but we could give copies of the other local paintings to Roger,” Jim said. Some of the senior detectives might recognize a location or an old case.” Jim got up to leave, rubbing his eyes. “It’s ten o’clock and I’ve got to get home for some shut-eye. I have an appointment in Pemberton tomorrow morning, and it’s a three hour drive.”

*

The next morning Amy returned to the gallery with her camera. She was hoping to talk Bettina into giving her digital copies of the paintings to pass on to Roger. If Bettina would not provide them, she was prepared to take her own pictures, surreptitiously if necessary.

Bettina was startled to see her, and she looked pale and jittery. “Oh, it’s you. Why are you here?”

“I’m sorry,” said Amy, more reaction than true apology. “I was planning to take another look at the painting and I wondered if you had a larger portfolio of Rudd’s work,” she said, noting Bettina’s red eyes.

“Unfortunately you have poor timing.” Bettina glared. “I have just heard horrible news. He was shot last night at his apartment. The police are investigating his murder. “She slumped down onto her stool and wiped at her eyes.

Amy was shocked. “Rudd was murdered in Europe?”

Bettina looked up, blanching. “No. Here in town.”

“But I understood he was in Europe,” Amy said, surprised and more than a little annoyed.

“I thought so too. But after you left, I contacted his office in Amsterdam to tell them he had a buyer. I was told that he was here, in Vancouver.”

Amy let out an audible sigh. She needed answers that could only be provided by Rudd. “Bettina, I know this is a lot to ask at this time, but I am still interested in purchasing this painting, from his estate now. Do you mind if I take a few pictures?”

“Go ahead. It makes no difference now,” Bettina sighed. She paid no attention as Amy took photos of the paintings. When Amy returned to her office, Marvin took one look at her face and asked what was wrong.

“Rudd’s dead, that’s what’s wrong. Now I’ll never learn the truth.” She handed Marvin her camera, and he started downloading the images.

“Someone was offended by one of his paintings and got rid of him, that’s what happened,” Marvin said, sounding oddly excited by the turn of events.

“You mean someone like me?”Amy said.”Or the Fergusons, or that guy from Pemberton? Maybe dozens of others too.”

Jim entered the office at the end of this conversation, looking concerned. “Marvin’s right, Amy, you’re a suspect now. The detectives on Rudd’s case know you’ve been interested in his paintings because I told them, and Roger has just warned me that we need to keep our distance. I filled them in this morning on the fires and possible attempt on his life in Europe, but Rudd was murdered here, not in Amsterdam, and just a few miles from where you live.” Jim shook his head. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“What do you think?” Amy said. “I can do a lot without getting in the way of Roger’s murder investigation. A friend in Amsterdam runs a travel agency, and I hope she can put me in contact with Rudd’s people there. But maybe you should sit this one out, Jim. One of us should stay on Roger’s good side.”

“Hey, things are just getting interesting,” he replied without hesitation.

*

The next day, Amy and Jim sat down in the office over a dozen printouts and as many freshly baked blueberry muffins. Amy opened a thick file of papers she had printed from a document supplied by Rudd’s office in Amsterdam. Marvin had been sent on a secret mission by Jim, and Amy couldn’t get Jim to elaborate.

“Let me tell you what I got from Amsterdam,” Amy said. “Would you believe that Rudd was here in Vancouver thirty years ago when my mother was still alive? That was before he became a well-known artist. He was supporting himself as a photographer and had a job with Architectural Digest. What I found most interesting is that the issue of Architectural Digest on the table in the painting contained some of his photos.”

“I don’t suppose that issue had pictures of your old living room?” Jim asked.

“No, not that issue,” Amy said. “But a few months later, one was published showing the exact scene in his painting, minus the foot of course. They keep records, and the photo was taken two days before her death. According to the gallery contact in Amsterdam, Rudd didn’t actually paint our living room until several years after my mother died.”

“If he had the photos, he could have added the foot to the painting much later, after he found out she died,” Jim said.

“Yes, that makes sense, but the death was ruled accidental.”

“Remember what Evelyn said, that there was an argument with your father?  Could Rudd have found out?”

“I’m not sure my grandmother is remembering accurately, but could Rudd have been involved in her death?” Amy liked that idea a lot better.

While they were mulling over the possibilities, Amy’s phone rang. It was Bettina, asking Amy to stop by the gallery as soon as possible. She said she had something important to show her.

Jim looked uncomfortable.” What could she want to show you?  Roger will be angry if you stray into his territory, Amy.”

“I can’t see any problem. She thinks I want to buy the painting. Roger can’t complain if I want to buy a painting.” Amy picked up her jacket and left for the gallery.

*

Standing in a downpour, Amy had to knock on the door several times to get Bettina’s attention. Bettina was pacing nervously, and looked relieved to see her. She unlocked the door and motioned for Amy to follow her to a back room. There was a new canvass propped against the wall. It was plainly the work of Rudd, but for some reason, it was not part of the exhibit. It was a painting of the gallery with the twelve paintings on the wall. “Rudd painted this?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yes, but it was not here last week, and it’s still sticky. I do not know when he brought it here.” She lifted it up and moved it under the light. They both examined the work carefully.

“There’s something missing.”

“I wondered how long it would take for you to notice,” Bettina replied. “There is no body part in this one.”

“What do you think that means?” Amy said.

“I think he had not yet decided what to add before he died,” she answered. She started to say more, but hesitated.

“I don’t understand why you phoned me, Bettina. Why did you think I would be interested in this painting?”

Bettina put her hands on her hips and tipped her head. “I knew what you were up to the first day you were here. You handed me your business card with Amy Sinclair, Private Investigator. What do you take me for? Rudd was constantly harassed in Europe because some people thought his paintings depicted murders. What if they were right? What if he was planning to murder someone and paint an arm or leg in this painting?” She was wringing her hands.”I thought you could help, or at least tell me if I’m being crazy.”

“Even if you’re right, we’ll never know now.” She wondered who might have been the intended victim, and she felt that Bettina was holding something back. Perhaps Bettina had reason to be worried that Rudd could be planning an accident for her. Then Amy made the mistake of telling Bettina that she was unable to help as she was considered a potential suspect by the police.

Bettina smiled slyly at this confession. “I wondered why you chose that painting to purchase. I thought you might have a reason to be interested in that particular one, a client maybe. But it seems that it is personal.”

Amy realized that she had said too much. Bettina didn’t press for more information and the woman seemed oddly relieved when she said goodbye at the door.

*

When Amy  returned to the office, Jim was still on the couch, asleep with the newspaper over his face. He stirred when the door closed. “So, what did Bettina show you?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.

“She showed me a new Rudd painting, recently delivered, with no body part.” Amy removed her wet jacket and tossed it onto the filing cabinet where it promptly slid into the recycling bin.

“A painting of what, exactly?”

“Of the gallery. With the twelve paintings. It was still wet.” Amy said smiling at his confusion.

“But there’s always a body part,” Jim mused. “Oh, I get it. He hadn’t added it yet.”

“Bettina seemed overly upset. I wonder if she worried that part of her might appear in the painting,” Amy said. “That would explain why the painting was taken to the gallery. He could finish it, and her, right there.”

They sat back to consider the new information. When Jim asked why Bettina had shown her the painting, Amy was embarrassed to admit that she had given Bettina her business card at the gallery, without thinking what Bettina would surmise. “She assumed I was investigating one of the paintings for a client. But I think she was really pumping me for information. I let it slip that I was a suspect, so she jumped to the right conclusion that I had a personal involvement with one of the paintings.”

“Hmm. You said she looked relieved when you left? I think she showed you the painting so that you’d conclude that she was the intended victim, but what if she brought the painting back with her from Rudd’s after she murdered him?”

“OK, I guess that’s possible too,” Amy said, “but what would be her motive?”

“The police will have to figure that out, and Roger should know of this new painting,” Jim said as he started texting the information.

Just as Jim was finishing, Marvin dashed into the office, smiling like the cat that hadn’t swallowed the bird so he could play with it for a while. “I have some intriguing stories for you two. After our conversation last night, I wondered how Rudd knew to paint those particular scenes. So Jim suggested I try to track down Rudd’s movements to find out if he knew the people in the other paintings. Other than your mother’s painting, we only have stories for two so far, but I can say for sure that Rudd knew them, and knew that he wasn’t painting natural deaths.”

“OK, out with the details,” Amy said, giving him her full attention.

“The Fergusons told me an interesting story, and Roger was right to suspect they were holding back. As we already knew, the father was dying of liver cancer and was told he had only a few weeks to live. What they didn’t tell Roger is that one evening when he was crossing the road from his mailbox, he was hit by a van right outside his farm and he died from a head wound. The driver offered to pay a lot of money if the Ferguson’s wouldn’t tell the police, so they agreed and they placed the father on the back porch just like you saw in the painting, and they told the authorities that he passed out and hit his head on the railing.”

“Marv, how in the world did you get them to tell you that?”Amy asked.

“Well, I kind of said that the police were considering reopening their Dad’s case because of new evidence that it wasn’t a natural death,” Marvin admitted. “I think they jumped to the conclusion that I was working with Roger, and they were worried they would be blamed.”

“Now I understand,” said Jim. “Rudd was the van driver.”

“That’s right,” Marvin smiled. “I showed them his picture and they confirmed it. He never did pay them, but they could hardly go to the police.”

“Amazing,” said Amy shaking her head.”It’s so simple. He knew it was an unnatural death because he was the cause. What about the Pemberton painting?”

“I visited Tim Wayland in Burnaby. He was just a kid at the time, but he remembered his sister dying. She died suddenly which is what the principal told Jim, but the parents never understood why their daughter showed no previous heart problems. They always felt that the Pemberton school was covering up something. When Tim was older, he did some investigations of his own and discovered another possible explanation. It turns out that a few of his classmates, including his sister, were part of a trial for a drug used to treat hyperkinetic syndrome, now called attention deficit disorder. They were given a drug now known to cause sudden death in rare instances. So yes, I’d say that painting may have pointed to another unnatural death.

“How was Rudd involved in this one?” Jim asked.

“I had to drive to Pemberton to find out. We knew Rudd worked as a photographer for Architectural Digest, but he took a second job as a school photographer. That fall he traveled to various schools in the province. He was there in Pemberton taking photos the week she died. I would never have known except that I caught his name beneath the class photo from that year. Then I found a caretaker who put me in touch with a fellow who was working at the school in the late sixties. He remembered Rudd because of his unusual style of dress.” He returned Jim’s smile, and said, “Yes, he wore a cape and fedora. Apparently Rudd was in the classroom that day because he knew how to perform CPR, although he wasn’t able to help the little girl.” Marvin paused and looked for their reactions. “I think it’s important that he was at both of these deaths and could have taken photographs to capture the details.”

Jim patted Marvin on the back.”I am truly impressed, Marvin. That’s great sleuthing.”

Amy looked puzzled. ”The farm case makes sense. Rudd knew that was not a natural death because he was responsible. But that girl? How did he know she didn’t die naturally from a heart defect?”

“Rudd told the caretaker that he didn’t think her death was natural, but he didn’t say why. Maybe he knew about the drug. Besides, it never seems natural when a kid dies like that.”

“We’re as close as were going to get to solving that particular puzzle,” Jim sighed. “Can we agree that we’ve solved the mysteries behind two of the paintings?”

Yes, and it’s a good start,” said Amy, “but there’s a possibility that each of these twelve paintings will tell us an important story. Do you think this is worth going further?”

“There’s one big problem,” Jim said. “Except for yours, we don’t have information on these other paintings, and with Rudd dead, I’m not sure we ever will.”

“There’s always the internet,” Marvin suggested. “Why don’t we put images of the paintings on an interactive web site and see if we get any responses?”

After  pondering the idea for a moment Amy said, “I like it. Of course, we’ll need to prime the pump with a couple of good stories of our own, which we just happen to have. And it would bring attention to Rudd’s work, so there would be more potential buyers. I can’t see his estate complaining. There is one small problem. We need someone to design and manage the web site. Marvin, will you agree to act as web master?”

“Would I ever,” said Marvin, with an ear-to-ear grin.”I’ll get right on it, boss.”

“First we need a release from Rudd’s estate. Jim, why don’t we drop down to the gallery before it closes and see if Bettina can give us a contact number in Amsterdam? I’d also like to see how she reacts to the web site idea.”

“Just as long as we don’t have to jog there,” Jim said.

*

Through the gallery window, they could see two older women, and when they opened the door, they heard Bettina and Evelyn arguing.

“What are you doing here?” Evelyn sputtered as soon as she saw them.

“Why are you two arguing?” Amy asked. “I wasn’t aware that you knew each other.”

“I showed her the last painting,” Bettina said, “after she told me she knew Sandor.”

“Amy, it’s that annoying painting,” Evelyn sighed. “Bettina will not tell me why the artist chose to paint the scene of your mother’s death.” Evelyn glared at Bettina.

“That is a old painting. How would I know anything from that time?” Bettina spat back. “I keep telling this woman I know nothing, but she will not believe me.”

“Bettina,” Amy said, “We’ve discovered that Rudd was present at three of the scenes that he painted. We know he was there at the time of death for at least two of them, and he actually saw the images he painted. They were not his dreams. So don’t tell me you knew nothing.” Jim’s eyebrows shot up but he said nothing.

With a nasty glint in her eye, Bettina stared at Amy.”It is his inspiration, not mine. But I do know that Sandor Rudd had an affair when he was here 30 years ago. “She sat back waiting for that to sink in. Evelyn held her hand to her eyes but was strangely quiet.

“Do you know with whom?” Amy asked.

“No, but I have an idea in my head,” Bettina said smirking.”His paintings were not selling back then, so he worked as a photographer for a magazine. I saw a photograph of that painting. Two years later, I know he painted the picture with the foot. The woman in that painting,” she said,.”I wondered. She was a relative, yes?”

“My mother, but that doesn’t prove she had an affair with Rudd. Why would she do that?  She wasn’t like that.”

“Oh, wasn’t she,” Evelyn interjected. “What would you know? You were only a child. Your mother did have an affair with Sandor Rudd, and it broke my son’s heart. She was planning to leave him.” Evelyn stopped short and paled. The gallery was quiet after this outburst.

“You knew this and didn’t tell me? Is this why you thought Dad pushed her down the stairs?”

“He should have. She deserved it. But the fool just cried like a baby when your mother told him she was leaving.” Evelyn seemed to shrink into her chair, but then she straightened her shoulders and looked directly at Amy.”Your father was too soft. I was the one who pushed your mother,” she said, her chin raised and without a hint of remorse.

Amy stared at Evelyn in disbelief. Her body felt oddly light. “Dad said nothing to me,” Amy whispered, but Evelyn heard her.

“I knew he suspected me, but he would never dare ask. He didn’t dare much, that boy.”

“How did Rudd know it wasn’t an accident?” Jim asked.

Evelyn shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “When I met Rudd in the grocery store, I was so angry when I saw him, I said too much. I told him it was his fault your mother was dead. He showed no surprise. I think he had already guessed that it was not an accident,” Evelyn shrugged, “or perhaps your father said something to him. So when Rudd phoned me late Monday night to continue our conversation, I agreed to meet him at his apartment to find out what he really knew.”

Jim stared at Evelyn, “You were in his apartment the night he was killed?”

“Yes,” Evelyn admitted. “I went there after I left Amy’s apartment. The man was out of his mind. He kept saying that I had ruined his life by killing the only woman he had ever loved. Then he caught me by surprise, pushed me into a closet and locked the door. He was gone for hours. It was a horrid place and reeked of turpentine.” Evelyn crinkled her nose with the recollection. “When he eventually opened the closet, he wanted to take me to the gallery. He said he had something important to show me.” She stopped talking abruptly and sat lost in her thoughts.

“Did you go with him?” Jim prompted her after a few moments.

”No, no. I refused to go anywhere with that man.” She stood up and paced the room. Can you believe that he used a gun to threaten me? He said I must go with him or he would shoot me. I just laughed in his face and grabbed for the gun.” Evelyn seemed unaware that she was miming the encounter with Rudd, and the absorbed look on her face startled Amy. “I twisted the gun in his hand. He wasn’t expecting it from an old woman. But he was an old man and it was easy for me. The gun went off in his chest and he dropped to the floor.” Evelyn slumped down in her chair, looking exhausted.

Jim shook his head in disbelief and walked quietly away from the table, pulling out his cell phone.

Bettina’s eyes never left Evelyn. “So, it was you he was planning to add to that painting”.

Evelyn’s laugh was high-pitched and frightening. “Yes, and now someone can paint his body instead.” When she glanced at Amy, her eyes filled with tears.

Amy shuddered.” Evelyn, where is the gun now?” she asked trying to keep her voice calm. Jim paled.

“This little gun?” Evelyn smiled strangely, sliding a shiny Beretta from her purse. “I considered dropping it into English Bay on my way home that night, but it’s so attractive, isn’t it?”

Before anyone could react, Evelyn bent over the pistol and fired into her heart. She grunted as her body lifted from the chair and slid to the floor. A foot enclosed in a Valentino patent pump lay in an expanding pool of blood.

***