Short Stories

Augustus’ Smarter Brother (2)

September 8, 2015

Pathetic Probe

 

Julius locked up the office escorting his brother to the front door. Traffic on 9th street whizzed by few, paying heed to the speed limit. He found his car in front of the building, a flapping parking ticket tucked under the windshield wiper. Len must have forgotten to feed the meter before he left.

Augustus slipped on his London Fog raincoat, though it was a comfortable sixty-four degrees outside. It made him feel like a real Sherlock Holmes. A pipe and a funny hat would make it perfect. He had to decide how to start his investigation.

Ah, yes the crime scene, he thought. That’s where all the evidence will be.

 

When Augustus arrived at the Schwartz house, there were still several police officers wandering around the property. They weren’t investigators but uniformed men. He tapped his coat pocket to make sure his identification was there. It wasn’t his real identification but a fake badge and card he had ordered from a mail order magazine. He would need that in the event anyone asked him what he was doing there.

The novelty magazine also provided fake college diplomas, doctor’s certificates, ordained ministers and a variety of other professional vocational certificates. For two dollars they would print you name on any of these and mail you the finished certificate. For an additional five dollars you could get a nickel-plated badge of your choice. They were careful to inform the recipient of the legal hazards involved with impersonating anyone of official status. The certificates and badges were actually meant to be gags.

Augustus removed the wallet with his fake ID and badge. It had exactly the correct number of points on the badge as the San Francisco Police. He found it surprising that different police departments had five, six and sometimes seven points on their star badges. It was details like this that made a difference. The ID had his name on it and a disclaimer at the bottom, should anyone want to question it. The badge said ‘Police Investigator’ on it with the logo of the company along the edge. At quick glance it was close enough.

In another half-hour, most of the uniformed police were gone. Rope with signs warning it to be a crime scene covered the whole length of the walkway and decorated the front door of the house. One officer sat in his warm squad car in front of the house. He appeared comfortable reading the newspaper and eating a sandwich. By the look of it, he was going to be there all night. This was the best opportunity. Augustus would have to move quickly and be careful.

“Good evening, officer,” he said as the police officer opened the window of the car. “I’m a little late but they sent me from downtown to go over the scene. You know how they are. Stomp all over the crime scene and then send in the expert.”

“Oh, I thought they were done,” announced the officer with a furrowed brow. “Nobody told me anything about it. Bad enough I have to sit on my ass out here all night.”

“Augustus Nero, homicide,” reported Augustus flashing his fake badge and ID. It was best not to use your real last name. That’s what the novelty, company suggested. “I just want to walk through quickly. See if they overlooked anything. You can come along if you like.”

Augustus was pretty sure the officer would not take him up on the offer to follow. The officer was too settled in the car and would probably stay put. And Augustus had guessed right.

“Nah!” said the officer. “I’m going to finish my meal. Not much to see in there. The bastard keeled over, deader than a doornail. No blood, no nothing. The earlier investigators combed the place. The sergeant should have told me. But you go ahead, if you have to.”

There was a long flight of stairs before getting to the door of the house. Some of these homes were built on the edge of slopes affording them a great view of the city. Augustus counted the stairs, jotting it down on a spiral note pad. Every detail should be noted, twenty-seven steps, exactly. One fact left out might mean the failure of an investigation. He took a few flash photos of the stairs and a picture of the front door. Photos were another important part of crime investigations. The cop in the car would expect that.

He snapped another picture on the jimmied doorjamb. Chips of woods had been torn away and small pieces still remained on the floor. It looked pretty obvious to Augustus that this was a case of ‘breaking and entering’ with the possibility of murder. It was still unclear what had killed Bernie. The investigator had not disclosed any of that information. That didn’t matter since Augustus would have this solved without viewing the body or any additional information.

The door of the study where Bernie was found was also roped off. It was helpful for Augustus since he did not know where the body had been found. He bent down in front of the door and brushed dirt and ashes in front of the door. Cigarette ashes and dirt from shoes might be something, he thought. Sherlock would not have missed anything so obvious. Everything was potential evidence.

The double pocket doors were made of handsome Mahogany, stained almost black from years of use. He observed the moldings and trim were also of the same Mahogany wood. These old homes in San Francisco really had style. With a ruler wedged between the two doors, he managed to open the doors enough to gain entry. The room was dark and it took him a few minutes to locate the light switch. The roomed smelled of stale cigar smoke.

Bernie must have spent a lot of time in this room, concluded Augustus with a sly smile. It isn’t so hard to figure these small details out, after all he concluded. Observation is the key to the whole process. He read that somewhere, perhaps in one of the Sherlock Holmes books.

Putting on a pair of leather gloves, Augustus began to search through the room for clues. An outline of Bernie’s body on the hardwood floor proved little help. It wasn’t a very good outline the arms and legs distorted and the head much bigger than it should be, He took a photograph, anyhow. There was a bank of bookshelves behind and on either side of the large desk. This is where all his training will pay off. With camera flashing away and a thorough study of the books, he noted one of them slightly different than the others.

“That book is sticking out a half-inch farther than the others,” he said out loud. “I’ll bet they didn’t notice that when they came through before. I remember that scene in True Detective where the important papers were hidden in the bookshelf. The thief didn’t have a clue; and neither did the police.”

Augustus studied the book from several angles, taking photos as he did. It was hardbound with the title “Acute Obstacles in Business Management”. He knew this was the only book out of place, which meant it had been moved recently, a deduction only a professional investigator would know. The housekeeper would have put everything back in perfect order. He knew Bernie had a housekeeper and a personal servant. Neither of them lived there.

It struck Augustus that Julius should be there to witness the unfolding of this vital piece of information. Maybe then he can appreciate Augustus’ efforts to become a detective. The information could also throw suspicion off of the brothers as the killers, assuming they were talking about murder. The cop was not forthcoming with that fact. Augustus stepped to the phone on the desk and called his brother. His quick observation noted the cigar smell on the receiver, disgusting.

“Julius!” he said. “Guess what?”

“Did Peter die in the fish tank?” returned Julius. “Or has your cat learned how to do simple mathematics? I really don’t have time for this Augie. Ozzie and Harriet are on TV. I hate to miss that show, so be brief.”

“I believe I’ve found a clue to Bernie’s death,” he boasted. “I think this will break the whole case open. But I wanted to share this with you first, being my brother and all.”

“Where are you?” grumbled Julius.

“Where else?” answered Augustus. “Scene of the crime, Bernie’s house.”

“What?” returned Julius rattled by his brother’s statement. “You can’t do that. You’ll end up in jail, Augie. The police don’t like civilians messing with their cases. Get out of there now before you get into trouble.”

“No, no it’s true,” insisted Augustus. “I really have evidence and I want you to meet me here before I expose it. You know, witness to say what condition the evidence was in beforehand and all that.”

“Come down there?” snapped Julius. “Why? So we can both be arrested? You’re crazy.”

“Don’t worry, I got the cop in front of the house snowed,” reported Augustus. “He thinks I’m one of them.”

 

Julius’ light green Plymouth pulled in front of the St. Francis Woods residence fifteen minutes later. The police car’s windows were beginning to fog up but the officer saw the car pulling up. The officer stepped out of the patrol car and stood, stretching, observing the stranger. He wasn’t very eager to challenge the stranger but it was a necessary part of his job.

“Is there something I can do for you, sir,” he said slipping on some gloves to keep his hands warm. “This is a crime scene and no one is allowed in.”

“I’m here at the request of Augustus Nero,” returned Julius convinced it was the stupid name to use. “He wants me to see some evidence he has found.”

“And you are?” inquired the suspicious officer, patting his arm to stay warm. The temperature had dropped the possibility of a storm building off the coast.

“Julius,” he returned. Just Julius.”

“Huh! Weird!” responded the officer. “You guys downtown all have funny Roman names?”

“In this case, yes.”

“Okay, Julius. Over there.”

The officer pointed towards the stairs, stretched once more and slipped back into his car anticipating his relief that will show up in a few hours. The air had become chilly and the fog moving in fast. Soon it would make everything on the street wet. That was the usual pattern of San Francisco weather.

Julius found his brother taking photos of everything that didn’t move. Shaking his head he ducked under the crime scene rope. The grizzly outline on the floor reminded him of what had transpired. Death was an obscure concept only relevant when it was someone you know or cared about. He didn’t care about Bernie but he did know him. There was no joy in the reminder on the floor.

“I want you to look around and see if you notice anything out of place,” announced Augustus.

“I don’t want to look at anything, Augie. I’m not into games and riddles. I just want to go home. I already missed one of my favorite programs because of you. I wanted to sit quietly and watch but I couldn’t figure out how to get you out of here unless I came to force you.”

“Okay, I’ll make it easy for you,” said Augustus. “It has something to do with the books. I doubt you will see it. The cops didn’t or they would have removed it.”

Julius turned to the wall and pointed immediately to the book in question. “That book is sticking out a little,” he replied. “So what?”

Augustus was shocked how quickly Julius had picked it out. It took him a moment to gather his response. “It’s a clue. The book has been moved recently,” replied Augustus. “I think the killer was looking for this book.”

“Maybe Bernie was reading it and put it back,” suggested Julius. “That’s what books are for. Can we leave now?”

“No, I wanted you to see what I have deduced,” insisted Augustus. “Watch as I pull the book out. By he way, the book is foreign. I wonder where Acute is; I’ve never heard of it.”

Julius shook his head without comment. With care and reverence, Augustus removed the book as if expecting something to jump out at him. He had read where a man had booby-trapped a book, which send out an axe splitting the victim in two. Augustus watched for signs of mechanical devices that might just repeat that scenario. Nothing of course, happened and the book came out easily. Upon examination there was nothing unusual about the book except for several papers stuffed unceremoniously inside.

“This has got to be it,” declared Augustus. “I’m positive the killer wanted these papers inside the book.”

He opened the book allowing the paper to fall on the desk. Some were handwritten papers but most were photographs. Julius picked up the pile and scanned them.

“Good work, Augie,” he announced with insincere excitement. “You’ve discovered Bernie’s dirty pictures. This is all porn, Augie. From what I can tell from the written stuff, it’s equally disgusting material. No one but Bernie would be interested in this junk.”

Augustus was taken aback, picking up the photos and gazing at them. “This one’s not bad,” he replied sheepishly. “But maybe they are important in some way, suspects perhaps.”

“I doubt it,” returned Julius. “The back of the pictures says Stargazer Adult Store, Hollywood, Calif. It’s just pornography, Augie. Let’s go home now. We both have a busy day tomorrow at work.”

“One of these girls could be the killer,” announced Augustus studying a photo of an ample brunette. “Think about it.”

“Really!” grumbled Julius. “There are dozens of stores off Market Street that sell these kind of pictures. This is not evidence.”

“Maybe, Maybe not,” conceded Augustus. “Aren’t you going to at least stick around while I look for other pieces of evidence? Just a few more minutes, then we can go.”

Julius did not want to leave his brother alone. He sat in the desk chair tipping it backward in a rocking motion. It was ridiculous to humor Augustus but Julius had always been the one to rescue his brother, even as a child. Leaving him here, alone would surely amount to trouble later.

“You suppose Bernie was sitting in this chair planning how to screw us?” asked Julius toying with a large paperclip on the top. “Makes me mad to think about it. Damn! And this place stinks too. I don’t know what the man saw in cigars. Reminds me of a burning trash can.”

Augustus did not answer but scanned the bookshelf for another clue. He didn’t even know what he was looking for. Julius opened a drawer or two pretending to be interested. Bernie’s desk and surroundings were very tidy and neat. There wasn’t much to see. In the center drawer Bernie had a ‘hit list’ of names on a sheet of paper. These were clients or competitors he was going to screw one way or another. That didn’t surprise Julius. There was another drawer on the lower left-hand side containing a small neat stack or erotic books and photos, similar to the ones they found in the book.

Julius did notice something peculiar, though. For someone as orderly and perverted as Bernie, a tiny pile of wood shavings inside that drawer stood out as unusual. One might think it normal to find pencil shavings in or around a desk but there were no pencils or pencil sharpener in the proximity. All documents were either typed or written in ink. Nothing was even scribbled in pencil. Curiosity got the best of Julius.

He picked up the shavings and smelled them. Pencils had a distinctive cedar smell Julius rather liked. This smelled nothing like a pencil. He pulled the drawer completely out and saw there was something hidden inside the drawer on the right side. It was hard to make out but upon closer examination he found a thin sharp razor spike embedded in the wood. It wouldn’t be noticed unless you pulled out the drawer completely. There were fresh marks where someone had dug it out and inserted the sharp object, which stuck out a fraction on an inch. This did not serve any purpose other than to be a nuisance to the owner of the drawer, Bernie Schwartz.

Julius wanted to be done with the cloak and dagger game. He was sure his brother would not be so easily ejected from the scene.

“Augie, I think I have found something. It could be nothing at all but it’s not normal. Don’t touch it, though.”

Julius showed him the tiny razor edge and the shavings. Augustus-Sherlock-Holmes wrinkled his nose at his brother’s discovery.

“Nah! I don’t think it’s anything,” reported Augustus. “He just booby-trapped his supply of dirty pictures. That little thing could hardly kill anyone. Probably kept his man servant from sticking his nose into them.”

“I don’t know about that, Augie. It sure looks strange to me. But I think that’s enough for one night. Let the police figure it out. They know what they’re doing. I want to go home, watch a little more TV and drink a beer. Clara doesn’t let me drink when she’s home; says it’s bad for my heart. Besides, we’re not doing any good here.”

“I beg to differ,” responded Augustus. “The police missed that book. What else might they have overlooked?”

“Yeah they missed seeing the naked women,” said Julius. “What a loss that was. Let’s stop wasting time. We’re not going to find anything.”

Julius was pushing the desk drawer back in when the police officer from the car appeared. He held a gun in one hand and a no nonsense expression to match.

“Hold it right there, you two,” he ordered. “I don’t know who you are but I called in to verify and they never heard of you guys. So now we will wait until another car comes to pick you up. In the meantime, put these on.” The officer threw a pair of handcuffs at Julius and Augustus. He instructed them to put one cuff on each of them.

 

Hot Stuff

“What I really want is one of those big commercial stoves,” said Gladys. “You know the kind where you can stick a big turkey in with room for other dishes. It has six burners and a griddle. Isabel told me you can get them at one of the specialty outlets down the peninsula. They’re not that much more, really. And I can put more than four pots on top. I hate it when I don’t have room for pots and pans. Won’t that be something?”

“Yeah, yeah, as soon as I become a millionaire,” replied Nathan. “I don’t understand. We seemed to manage for twenty some years without a monster stove. I don’t see why we can’t get along with the stove we’ve got. You’re not exactly a gourmet chef, darling, no complaints, though.”

“You’re just being a pooh,” she pouted. “I had to go next door last year to fix the yams. Luckily, Sheila wasn’t cooking that year. You promised you’d let me get my kitchen fixed. And my stove is a big part of it.”

“Dear, there isn’t any room for a stove that big,” Nathan reminded. “This little kitchen wasn’t built for it. We’d have to take out some of the cabinets. And I know you have all of them stuffed.”

“It’s simple Nathan,” she declared. “We could move the fridge against that wall and put cabinets where it used to be. The breakfast table can be taken out. That will make the kitchen spacious. It will be so much better.”

“Then we’d have to eat in the dining room all the time, dear. I can’t see you dragging dishes and food back and forth from the kitchen.”

She folder her arms, leaned on one hip. Nathan was familiar with this pose. It was the ‘I mean business’ pose.

“Okay, we’ll go and price the stoves this coming weekend,” surrendered Nathan. “But I need some flexibility. I’ve got a rotten case and it might go into overtime. I might have to postpone the shopping, if I can’t get it resolved. You know how it is.”

“Yes, I do,” she acknowledged, grudgingly. “You purposely work something out with killers so you don’t have to take care of things at home.”

“That’s not true, darling,” he answered, smiling. “I’m completely in the dark when it comes to their murdering schedule. They never let me know ahead of time. They do it at will, inconsiderate of them, don’t you think?”

“Oh, Nate now you’re being silly,” she complained. “You’ll have to let one of the young men do it for you. You’ve done enough already for that department. They idolize you.”

“Ha, young guys, indeed,” he grunted. “Art will have to get serious to do his job right. He’s more into chasing women than solving murder cases.”

“Art is a sweet guy, Nate,” she returned frowning. “He likes the company of women. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t know why you pick on him so much.”

“Art has the talent but lacks the discipline,” reminded Nathan. “I’d turn over all my tough cases to him if I thought he’d follow through with things. He’s still just a kid.”

“Maybe so, but I like him,” replied his wife. “By the way, did you get any information from that woman you interviewed? She was the dead man’s ex-wife?”

It was odd to hear his wife say ‘dead man’ in such a casual tone of voice. He had promised himself many years before that he would never discuss murder in his home. A lot of officers did and suffered the consequences. Wives did not like hearing about the brutality of mankind. And there was no doubt man is a violent species. Nathan was careful to exclude the graphic nature of some murders. There were times when he needed to confide in someone, not his wife. Other officers vented to one another about such things. It was a way to remain sane in an insane world. The pain of man’s inhumanity to man took its toll.

“Not much that I could use,” he answered sighing. “She confirmed that a lot of people were happy to rub him out. The list was pretty long from what she indicated. We found a list in his desk of possible suspects. Most of them checked out fine. The ex-wife is set up pretty well, no motive to kill the guy.”

“He sounds like a nasty man,” she declared pulling the drapes closed. “I know you’re not supposed to take sides. But you reap what you sow, as they say. I don’t think anyone should take it on their own, to kill someone. That’s immoral.”

“Honey there are a lot of immoral people out there,” he responded. “That’s one of the reasons I have a job. Though sometimes, I’d rather be out of a job than witness what I people do to each other.”

“Well, enough shoptalk,” she announced. “I kept your meatloaf in the oven. It turned out really nice. I tried a new recipe and I think I like it better than my old one. You go and eat. I’ll tidy up the kitchen.” She stopped for a moment, adding, “Maybe we should start eating in the dining room. Sort of get used to the idea.”

Nathan smiled at his luck, having a good marriage. He had met his wife in college, she an art major and he a business major. She was free in her heart, seeing beauty everywhere in the world. He was the serious type, career minded. Like many young men, his prospects of getting a good job were difficult. An opportunity came up to join the police department and he jumped at the chance. That same year they married.

 

Da Slammer

This new, unpleasant experience did not endear Julius to his brother. Having the muzzle of a gun in your face was not exactly the sort of thing one looked forward to, while missing Ozzie and Harriet. Being treated like a criminal handcuffed and being tossed into the back of a patrol car was equally demeaning. The arresting officer was rather large and imposing. Reason and negotiations with this sort of person was very unlikely. They were going to jail; and that was that.

The police cruiser had an unpleasant smell in it. Julius did not even want to speculate what the odor might be. Everything from the door handles to trim had been removed from the back of the car. Even the barest cab was better equipped. From the scratches and discoloration on the backseat, one could almost see the various low-life individuals seated in these very positions. Though handcuffed to each other, Julius was too angry to speak to Augustus. His brother had really done it this time.

Julius and Augustus were then separately handcuffed to a bench at a substation awaiting, processing. They shared the bench with a man who was quite unclean and inebriated. The bench next to them held two women of dubious virtue, their clothes indicating a questionable profession, which required indoor and outdoor work, alternately.

Julius avoided looking at the women while Augustus smiled and winked at the slender brunette, who possessed slightly better looks than her bench-mate. The woman scribbled something on a bit of paper and handed to Augustus. She winked as Augustus read the slip of paper with a phone number written down on it. He smiled back at her, waving his free hand.

The officer working the desk seemed somewhat unaffected by the scene. Julius could only imagine this night’s haul to be the usual fare for the police station. Julius finally elbowed his dumb, smiling brother.

“Augie, do you what she is; what she does for a living?” snapped Julius trying to keep his voice down.

“I think so,” he answered. “The skinny one seems to like me. She looks nice.”

“They’re women of the red light district, dear brother, hookers,” declared Julius. The brunette smiled and nodded in accent. “We are among the dregs of society because you wanted to play detective. If mother was alive, this would kill her.”

Augustus rolled his eyes under the disciplinary tone of his older brother. “It’s been awhile Jules,” he whispered. “Remember my girlfriend split last month. Actually, I didn’t like her that much. I don’t think the cat did, either. She was so moody. I do miss the sex, though. Did you know she could….?”

“Ahem!” interrupted Julius. “Keep your voice down. We don’t need to add your personal perversions to whatever they are going to throw at us. I suggest you let me do the talking.”

Julius scowled at the brunette, who made the appropriate one finger salute in response.

Eventually, a police officer brought Augustus and Julius to a desk where they were to be booked. The man behind the desk rattled off a bunch of laws and ordinances relating to their crime. He took their names and verified the information by examining their wallets. All their belongings were confiscated, itemized and bagged for later retrieval.

“Pack these jokers in number three,” he said to the officer standing nearby. “Unless they would rather be separated. They don’t look too happy with each other.”

“I wouldn’t mind a separate cell,” Julius scoffed. “Can I have a cell by myself.”

“This ain’t the Hilton, buddy,” growled the officer. “You share like everyone else. I can give you nice accommodations with ‘Dirty Dan’, over there.” He pointed at the drunk on the bench.

“On second thought, my brother will do,” agreed Julius.

Jail was never meant to be a nice place. And neither Julius nor Augustus was disappointed with this small bit of information. The walls were painted a dark olive green to about shoulder height. The remainder of the wall was painted an unhappy, institutional pale green. Two bunks permanently mounted to the wall were the extent of the furnishings except for a commode without a seat. No sink or facilities were available in the holding cells.

“Gee! Jail isn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” said Augustus. “A little crowded, maybe.”

“Not too bad?” shouted Julius incredulously. “I managed to stay out of jail my whole life until now. And it’s all because of you that I’m here now. How is it that your need to be a detective got us into this predicament? Your tropical fish didn’t pose this much of a problem. They did the responsible thing and died.”

“They can’t hold us forever, Jules,” declared Augustus, his confidence eroding. “I know the law and they have to bring charges or let us go.”

Looking at the commode he added, “I wonder how you use the toilet without a seat. Seems unsanitary and cold. Do they expect us to wash out hands in there afterwards?”

At that point Julius folded his arm over his chest choosing to ignore his brother until someone came to rescue them. His wife was out of town and there was no one to call. Their lawyer prepared their taxes and didn’t know anything about criminal law, at least, not enough to deal with this situation.

Two hours passed before anyone came to check on them. The drunk in the cell next to them had an indiscretion while lying on his bunk. Perhaps that was why they had the drain in the middle of each cell. Julius did not want to think long about the reasons.

“You fellas are lucky,” reported the officer unlocking their cell. “Inspector Knox said to let you guys out. We gave him a call since you were poking around his case. But you still have to show in court or they’ll fine you for contempt. The sergeant will sign you out at the desk and give your stuff back to you.”

Julius made no comment but scooped up his coat and pushed past his brother. Augustus followed at a respectable distance. A little paperwork and a call for a cab got them back to where their cars had been parked. No further words were exchanged as Julius drove off leaving Augustus open-mouthed.

 

Who to Suspect

Nathan Knox scratched his head the next morning trying to figure out what the brothers were doing in Bernie’s house. They didn’t look the type of men to kill anyone. Perhaps he would have to amend that thought at a later date. Eliminating suspects was as important as finding one. Scrutiny wasted on the wrong ones cost time and money. Take too long and the trail got cold.

There were still inquiries and interviews to be done before he could narrow down the suspects. Bernie’s personal servant was next on Nathan’s list. But wasn’t a manservant essentially the butler?

“Maybe the butler did it,” he laughed to himself. “Wouldn’t that be quick and easy. That’s what all the movies say.”

Since the murder, Bernie’s manservant had stayed at his home on Columbus. Parking was a bear in that area, Nathan parking in a red zone. He put his Official Police Business placard on the dash. It was a nuisance to get the ticket thrown out. The manservant’s house was two stories and built in the twenties, possibly earlier. They were modest homes but not cheap. He walked up the stairs and knocked on the door.

“Are you Charles Vincent?” asked Nathan as a man appeared behind the door. “I’m inspector Knox of the San Francisco Police Department.”

The man nodded and opened the door wider. “May I see some ID?” asked Charles. “I’m not in the habit of letting people into my home, I don’t know. One cannot be too careful these days.”

Nathan dutifully produced his badge and ID. “As I said on the phone to you, I’d like to go over a few things about your former employer,” said Nathan tucking his billfold back into his pocket. “Basically, was there anyone who might have born a grudge against Bernard Schwartz. Someone who had enough reason to kill him?”

Charles smiled ushering Nathan into the front room and pointing to a chair. “Bernard Schwartz was a despicable man,” began Charles. “He cared for no one other than himself and the bottom line in his business. He treated me poorly, though he paid me well enough. I nearly left several times. I suppose I stayed because of the money. It wouldn’t be easy for him to find another manservant. The word was out and it was doubtful he would find a replacement and I knew that. That’s how I negotiated my terms to the man. He understood and respected leverage.”

“I guess the goose that laid your golden egg is dead,” Nathan ventured. “Is there enough people in need of your services now?

“Yes, there is but I choose to retire, at present,” returned Charles unflinching. “I really don’t have to work anymore.”

“Save a lot of money?” asked Nathan.

“Not so much that I could retire,” answered Charles honestly. “I negotiated a retirement plan years ago with Bernard. It was set up legally and he couldn’t do a thing to change it. Of course being dead, I’ll draw on my retirement a little earlier than planned. Perhaps a little travel might be nice. I haven’t been out of the city for some time now.”

“Well, I hope you don’t plan on leaving soon,” warned Nathan. “Until we clear up this murder, I’d like you to be available for further questioning. Also I would like you to make a list of names that Bernard had dealings with. You have that kind of information?

“Of course, Mr. Knox,” replied Charles with a slight air of superiority. “I have intimate knowledge of his business and associates. That was part of the job. He kept a list in his desk drawer.”

“Yes, we have seen that one,” replied Nathan. “Any other names come to mind?”

“Mr. Knox,” began Charles, arrogantly. “I doubt you have the time or resources to deal with the plethora of people Mr. Schwartz has angered. Most fade into the background, salvaging what they have left. I will be happy to prepare a list for you.”

Nathan asked several other standard questions, to which Charles answered with ease. Charles was a little too at ease for Nathan’s liking. Charles was hardly grief stricken over the loss of his employer. On the other hand Charles himself had indicated the foul temper and shady dealings of his employer. Nathan was beginning to think Bernard deserved to get rubbed out. That, however, was not his decision to make.

 

Tuesday

One more stop had to be made on 9th Street. Nathan had to find out what the brothers were doing in the Schwartz’s household. It felt a little uncomfortable having potential suspects poking around his crime scene. Besides being illegal, it could be construed as an opportunity to destroy incriminating evidence. The arresting officer said that nothing was missing from the house and the brothers carried nothing with them.

Wally had also sent him a report on the autopsy findings. Traces of an exotic poison were found in Bernie’s blood stream. The poison had some six-bit word, which Nathan could not pronounce. Wally also mentioned that the poison was not something easily found. It degraded rapidly and could be easily missed. The victim would have little warning, keeling over dead before realizing he had been poisoned. The killer had to have an exceptional knowledge in regards to such poisons. The introduction of the poison had not been determined up until this point. There were a half-dozen theories on how it might have been administered.

 

“Julius, there’s a man to see you,” hollered Diane. “Same guy as yesterday.”

Nathan sat in Julius’ office and crossing his legs to get comfortable. He was sizing up the man before him. He couldn’t be the killer. There was something about the set of a man that told him. Nathan’s gut told him that over and over again. That gut feeling worked for him. Years of dealing with the bad guys had honed it to an almost science.

“Okay, I’m not going to beat around the bush,” said Nathan. “What were you doing at the scene of the murder last night? We don’t let people breeze in and out at will, just because they’re curious.”

“It a long story,” began Julius. “It was my brother’s idea, you see.”

“And where is he?” asked Nathan.

“I told him to stay home,” answered Julius. “After last night’s mess I can’t stand to be around him. It was his idea to go to Bernie’s house. He has some stupid idea about playing detective. He figured he’d find out what happened and clear us in the process. Mind you, I was never worried about any of this. I sell wholesale stationary products and don’t kill people.”

Julius explained the whole story about his brother’s smart ideas and how they always failed. The long list of failures took the wind from Julius’ sails. He loved his brother, Augie. It pained him to see him fail at so many things, but couldn’t think of what to do or say to change the man. Augustus wanted to be a detective and that was that.

“That’s not the way it works,” returned Nathan wrinkling his brow. “We don’t want amateurs poking around and disturbing potential evidence. Did he find anything?”

“No, he didn’t, Mr. Knox. I did notice something, however. It might not be anything.”

“Well, what?” demanded Nathan anxious for anything.

“Inside the left drawer of the desk I noticed some wood shavings,” began Julius. “I looked to see where it might originate from and located a tiny piece of razor blade tucked into the side of the wood. It didn’t make any sense to me why anyone would do that. My brother thought it was a booby trap for someone poking into Bernie’s stuff. He could be right. I didn’t think anymore about it and closed the drawer.”

“Hmm!” said Nathan. “I’ll have to check that out. Surprised the boys in the lab didn’t catch that.”

“It was pretty innocent looking,” returned Julius. “It was just so unlike a man who was neat to leave shavings in a drawer. Strikes me odd that he would do something like that to begin with.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” replied Nathan. He turned to the side noting the time on the wall clock. “Tell your brother to leave things alone from now on. I’ll square it with my people but you will have to pay a fine. The judge is not fond of people messing with police business.”

“By the way,” asked Julius. “Did you ever find out what killed Bernie? We never heard what it was. The newspapers made it seem like a murder.”

“I really shouldn’t tell you. Poison. Some pretty scary stuff by the sound of it. But that’s none of your concern. Now you boys be good or next time I’ll let you stay in jail.”

 

Hard Evidence

Nathan was not about to question the entire list of people on his own. Bernie’s shady practices extended, well beyond, the San Francisco Bay Area. With some persuasion he managed to recruit Art’s assistance and another young fledgling investigator, Shelby. Nathan will take the more likely candidates and leave the fodder for his associates. It will take days to talk to them all and he hoped to get a break in the case before then. He returned the Bernie’s house to check out the information Julius had given him about the tiny razor blade.

Sometimes it was good to go back to a scene to get a fresh perspective. And this case was getting stale by the second. Nathan immediately went to the drawer in question, noting the illicit material within. He pulled the drawer all the way out, careful not to disturb anything in it. He found exactly what Julius had noticed earlier. Rather than take a chance of damaging the evidence he took the drawer out of the desk and headed for the lab. They would be able to confirm if it was nothing. No stones left unturned, had been Nathan’s motto. It was better to be wrong than miss something vital.

Carefully, Nathan carried the desk drawer into the lab. He did not disturb the contents inside the drawer. A rather suggestive photo lay open on the top. He tore off a piece of paper, placing it over the photo to be discreet, avoiding the tiny blade inside. There were women as well as men working in the lab. A passing view Miss September might be a bit much for sensitive folks.

The lab was upstairs from the police morgue. Officials felt it was only right that they should not be placed in the basement with the dead. It was grizzly enough dealing with murder, rape and various assaults. The head of the police lab was Henry Fong, a bright, third generation Chinese. Nathan noticed how orderly everything was, unlike his own desk. Henry liked his office to be neat and clean, not tolerating carelessness or disorder. This was good for police investigations since it was so easy to damage evidence by misuse.

Nathan liked Henry because he was a little bit of the old school in police work. He saw what needed to be done and cut no corners, regardless whether they lead down dead ends. They were about the same age, which also gave them something in common. Henry smiled as Nathan walked through the door.

“What you think this is?” said Henry making a joke. “Wood shop?”

“Yeah, Henry,” returned Nathan ready to banter. “I was hoping you guys could build me a desk around this drawer.”

“Hmm! That’s a pretty fancy drawer, Nathan. It would take some expensive materials to put it together. But you leave it here and I’ll see what we can do.”

The men laughed out loud, a few serious assistants puzzled with the exchange.

“What you got for me?” stated Henry focusing on the drawer.

“This is from the Schwartz case, his desk drawer,” began Nathan, pointing to the razor spike in the side. “There’s something stuck in the side of the drawer that looks suspicious. I thought I’d run it by you and see if it’s anything to be bothered with.”

“Always happy to help a policeman,” kidded Henry. “Just finished with another case. I have a little time now. I took a look at the poison Wally sent. You want to stick around for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” replied Nathan.

Henry took the drawer to a workbench and began examining the tiny blade with a magnifying glass. He grunted and nodded several times as if to confirm his thoughts. He stopped to photograph the insides of the drawer. With a pair of needle-nosed pliers, Henry carefully removed the tiny blade and placed it in a sterile dish. He moved to his microscope and placed the sample under it to check further.

“Ah, ha!” he said suddenly. “Gillette! Blue blade! I thought so, older style but they still make them. Originally, a double edge blade, worked pretty good.”

“What you find?” asked Nathan fascinated by Henry’s concentration.

“I haven’t found out much, yet,” returned Henry. “It is a piece of razor blade, Gillette to be precise, blue blade. Someone broke it off and shaped it in a small triangle. The blade was cut, not broken. I can see the sheer marks. Only an eighth of an inch protruded from the drawer. There is some residue on the blade. Wally said something about no wounds or points of entries except for a small paper cut on the victims left thumb. No traces found in the stomach. The poison was not ingested. I bet I find that same poison on the tip of this blade. Won’t know until I run the tests. I’ll call you when I get the results.”

“Thanks, Henry,” said Nathan. “I appreciate your time on this. So far I don’t have squat except about fifty or more suspects.”

“You did a good job I finding this,” replied Henry indicating the blade. “Most people would have missed this. But that’s why they pay you the big bucks.” Henry laughed receiving no reaction from Nathan except a roll of the eyes.

Nathan didn’t want to admit it was an amateur who found the blade. Narrowing down the poison and the suspects was the real job, now. Julius Rose was either a very clever murderer or a very clever detective. It was obvious his brother, Augustus was in line to challenge for the village idiot’s position. Nathan continued to get that gut feeling; neither of the men was involved. That gut feeling isn’t enough to dismiss someone, though. He will have to keep his eye on the brothers.

 

Continuing Interviews

“Let me tell you Mr. Knox,” complained another possible suspect. “I would have killed Bernie myself. But I’d want him to suffer a lot. Shooting would be too easy, stabbing too messy. A little torture is what I’d have in mind, cattle prods. But as I said, I was in Sacramento at the time with high school class reunion. Can’t get over how old some of them look now. Ever notice that?”

 

Yet another female suspect said, “Bernie Schwartz was the biggest liar I have ever known. He promised he’d marry me if I do certain things with him. Once he got his way, he tried to get off the hook with a diamond necklace, fake ones they weren’t even real diamonds. The jeweler said they were all glass; and not very good quality glass, for that matter.”

 

“Bernie Schwartz?” questioned another suspect. “Someone finally rid us of that vermin? Wait, to call him vermin would be unfair to the vermin. I have more respect for rats. They are at least honest in their goals.”

 

“The man was evil,” said the real estate agent, Mr. Camissa. “My cousin warned me about him. Bernie screwed me out of my commission with some legal loophole he discovered. I negotiated a good deal for him and he stuck it to me in the end, Mr. Knox. I wouldn’t have killed him. That would be too easy. Break his legs, maybe?”

 

And so on and so on was the general response from people. There were plenty of people with motives out there, fortunately most had alibis. This was not making Nate’s job any easier. Not many disguised they were glad to see Bernard Schwartz dead. Bernie had stepped on a lot of toes over the years, with no love lost by those he screwed. The shocking part was their desire to make Bernie suffer. The killer didn’t share that sentiment, though that might be a small concession.

Art and the other young investigator canvassed the lesser collection of suspects. Bernie had been quite active reputation with prostitutes, none of which would admit to having sex with the man. It was not entirely surprising since their business transactions were illegal. A few of the braver ones complained about not receiving compensation for their services, not enough to base a case on.

 

“Hi Henry,” said Nathan on the phone. “You got something for me?”

“It’s hard to say for sure, Nate,” returned Henry. “There is no doubt there is some residual substance on the blade. It has been considerably degraded, as was the poison in the victim’s body. But it does have some of the same fingerprints as the other. I’d have to say it was the poison that killed our victim. Whatever the stuff is, it’s not your average rat poison, my friend. Somebody knows where to get exotic concoctions. I think the poison works on the nervous system, a little like nerve gas, shuts down the lungs and heart. Can’t be sure, though. I’ll send my report tomorrow. I hope this helps.”

Whether it helped or not, this narrowed down the field of those who might have access to such poisons. He could not see the Rose brothers finding such a poison. Julius was too levelheaded and Augustus too stupid to manage that. Yet it still stuck in his craw that Julius knew the small detail of the blade. Perhaps he also knew the poison was almost impossible to trace because it degraded quickly. He will have to field those questions with the brothers before speculating much more.

 

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6 Comments

  • Reply JudiBZuclich March 1, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Highly descriptive post, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2?

    • Reply Bob McMurtry March 2, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Augustus’ Smarter Brother has 3 stories in the series. I’m planning on polishing the others very shortly. Augustus is one of my favorite characters, his folly and poor judgements adding the humor we all recognize.

  • Reply RenaIFeagans March 7, 2016 at 12:39 am

    Keep this going please, great job!

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