Short Stories

Augustus’ Smarter Brother

September 27, 2014

starfish bright

Tracking down a murderer takes , intuition, intelligence and experience. Augustus Rose has none of these but decides to be a detective in spite of his shortcomings, saved by his older brother, Julius and sister, Cleopatra.

Bob McMurtry

Augustus’ Smarter Brother 

Ugh! Another day of dog-eat-dog business, moments of boredom with unexpected disasters and my unpredictable brother, grumbled Julius as he maneuvered his car towards the 9th Street exit. I hope to God our card stock order gets here today. Otherwise I’m going to have to find a new supplier; too many back orders and we’ll lose business. That bastard Schwartz is just waiting for us to fail delivery on Business With A Smile. He’ll nab that account for sure if we don’t get their order quick. It will be another feather in his greedy vulture’s bonnet. One day I’m gonna bust him in the nose.

There were other competitors in the San Francisco Bay Area, who would jump at the chance to pick up new business, including the firm Schwartz & Cooke. Schwartz & Cooke Stationers was the largest competing paper company located near the San Francisco wharf. The city was a big place with plenty of business. However, it didn’t take much to lose your customers should they become dissatisfied with shortages or poor service. Julius and his brother, Augustus worked hard to keep the wolf from their door and Bernie Schwartz at bay.

The Cooke part of the business was Alan Cooke a silent partner who rarely had anything directly to do with the business. His father had originally owned the business before Schwartz came along. Alan didn’t have the temperament for business and so let Bernie Schwartz run everything.

Julius was clever enough to deal with Bernie Schwartz most of the time. Bernie had a reputation for ‘back stabbing’, which was all the more reason to watch your dealings with him. He would purposely take a loss on a product to steal a customer and then raise the price once he had taken the customer away. It didn’t work all the time. The smarter customers saw right through Bernie’s game. Nonetheless, there were enough people who would take the cheap paper until they realized their error. Then they came back running to Julius and Bond Paper Company.

Fickle people! He grumbled to himself as he took the parking place in front of the warehouse. It was metered and a nuisance because there was no other parking on 9th Street. That idiot mayor said he’d have the parking meter taken out, he remembered. Is he going to support commerce or make a few bucks on my lousy parking fine? That’s the last time I’ll vote for that jerk.

One of the drivers for Bond Paper Company waved a greeting to Julius.

“Hey Jul,” he yelled over the roar of a truck passing by. “Your brother ain’t here yet. And I don’t know if I have an order for Paperclip Inc. They usually get an order on Monday.”

“Damn him!” cursed Julius getting out of his car. “He should have taken care of that order by Friday. Go ahead Len and send them their regular order. And put a couple quarters in my meter for me. I better get upstairs and see what else he’s screwed up.”

“Yeah, Jul. Sure thing,” returned Len scratching his shoulder. “I’ll tell Mario to keep feeding the meter. He ain’t got nothing to do today. His truck’s broke.”

“Not the Ford again!” said Julius half way through the front door.

“Yeah, it was a good truck ten years ago,” answered Len. “Guys beat the crap out of her. She ain’t worth nothing now. Need to get a new truck.”

Julius said nothing but stormed into the building and up the stairs. There was an ancient Dr. Pepper vending machine at the top of the landing. It was four times the age of the Ford truck and still working fine after all these years. Julius lamented how they could build a Dr. Pepper machine better than a Ford truck. They no longer had the service company deliver the sodas. Back in ancient history, sodas cost a nickel per bottle. They had bought the machine years after elevating the price to a dime. That never changed after, though the vending machines elsewhere were fifteen cents and higher. The warehouse manager filled the machines weekly to keep the drivers and warehousemen happy. Dr. Pepper was still a favorite of several.

Julius stopped and reached into his pocket for a dime. He knew there wasn’t any change in his pockets. There never was. Though he had never liked Dr. Pepper as a child, he had developed a taste for it. The idea soon abandoned him as he moved toward the glass enclosure of the office. There was a familiar smell of the place. A hint of oil and gas from below and the mustiness of an old building hung in the air. The smell was a reminder to Julius. It always told him where his life was. No other place smelled like this.

“Diane, do we have anything for Paperclip Inc?” he questioned, pulling off his coat. “Augustus was supposed to write it up Friday. Could you check his desk? Len is sitting on his butt waiting for it. Could you crank out a quick invoice if it’s not there?”

She nodded familiar with the frequent omissions of dear brother, Augustus.

“Sure Julius,” she answered, pulling out an order form. Diane was the main order girl, spending her day on the phone taking orders and doing a little public relations with unhappy customers. Paperclip Inc. was not one of her regulars. Augustus handled that account, personally. Some of the salesmen did that. Augustus had several accounts that only he handled. The sales staff got a good commission on those large accounts. It was a small way to save money.

This particular Monday Augustus had only forgotten one account. In the past he had failed to write invoices for several others. It cost the company money and sometimes a client. Part of the problem lay in Augustus’ varying interests and side businesses. He had a mail order business for greeting cards, a real estate referral service, jewelry import business and a private detective agency, which had never had a real client. Augustus was a dreamer. And dreamers were not always suited for sound business ventures.

None of Augustus’ ventures ever made a dollar. He managed to spend far more than he could ever possibly take in. Julius had convinced him to have a multi-purpose business card printed instead of a set for each business. He did not want to spell out the truth to his brother. Augustus will never amount to anything in these endeavors. Even in designing his business cards, Julius had to edit the content. ‘Private Dick’ might seem fine for a cheap novel, but it was not suitable for a business Julius reminded him.

Julius couldn’t entirely blame Augustus for his straying interests. The brothers had inherited the paper business from their father. The Will stipulated that both brothers would run the company. Augustus never wanted to be in the family business. But he agreed in order to let Julius have his part.

 

“Diane?” asked Julius. “You got a dime for a Dr. Pepper? I’m all out of change. Oh, and take some money out of petty cash for Len and Mario. They’re feeding the damn meter in front.”

Julius never liked Dr. Pepper but his father loved it. It had been a challenge for Julius to drink the stuff when he was younger. And he made an effort to like it because of his father. Strange how things were like that. The machine brought back those old days with his father. As a child he had opted for the root beer wimping out on the Dr. Pepper adventure. The stuff tasted like medicine or so his father had said many times. He also remembered it was his father who came up with the company motto: We Sell Service.

The tinkle of the dime in the machine and loud clunk produced a Dr. Pepper when he pulled it free from the selection window. His first sip made him wince as the carbonation went up his nose. That was another memory he had as a child. Some things just didn’t change with age.

Julius was one of three children. There was Augustus, Cleo and himself. His father had a passion for Roman Emperors and also Shakespearean plays. That’s how each of the children came about their names. Of course, Cleo did not go by her full first name, Cleopatra. That would have been impossible to live with in school. And further more she did not quite fit her namesake, her squared off frame less than delicate. Though Julius loved his sister, she was reasonably unattractive as an Egyptian Queen or any other queen for that matter. All children had inherited their father’s large nose and a tendency towards a double chin, as they matured. Cleo inherited most of the less attractive traits while the boys were more fortunate.

Julius tapped his chin at the thought of his growing paunch an obvious projection. His looks never prevented him from dating or being in the company of women, though he never found one to his liking except the woman he finally married. His work and constant rescue of his brother gave him little time to enjoy his marital bliss. One might expect him to resent that fact but he didn’t. His wife was a very understanding woman and knew enough about Augustus not to blame Julius for the shared time. He was not a rich man by the standards of San Francisco businessmen; he did make a decent living and owned his own home.

“Marsha!” he yelled out to an open door next to the main office. “Are we ready for statements to go out by the end of the week? “

The distant voice from the small office called back. “Julius, it is always ready in time,” she grumbled with a hint of a German accent. “But not all of the salesmen have reported their sales. I won’t have the commissions done until they do. Your brother hasn’t turned in anything for two months. I’m a accountant not a magician, Julius.”

“Okay, okay,” he replied. “I’ll talk to him today about it.”

Ja, you better or none of the financial reports will be done by June,” she added.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about Paper Palace,” he said. “They were slow in paying last month and the word on the street is that they are filing for bankruptcy. From now on we deliver only if they pay in cash. I’m not about to eat the loss.”

“That’s Augustus’ account,” she answered. “Won’t he be upset?”

“Augustus hasn’t paid them a visit in six months,” continued Julius. “He’ll never know the difference.” As an after thought he added, “And if they call, direct them to me from now on. I don’t want to take a chance my brother sells them a bunch of stuff.”

Julius stepped quickly to Augustus’ desk noting the various bills and invoices, partially filled out. He scooped up the pile and carried them back to his desk where he would filter through the pile and sort out the ‘immediate’ paperwork from the ‘later’. He was grateful that the stack of papers was small. It wasn’t always this way. Augustus had a habit of stacking things and then forgetting them.

He found a few orders that needed to be processed soon. An old check from a small company was among the pile. It will have to be deposited before the 90 days expiration. It had already been 64 days since the check had been cut. Julius had told his brother to let the girls in the office deal with incoming checks. As usual, Augustus simply forgot.

 

 

The downtown weather in San Francisco was so different from the more residential areas south of the city. The sun elected to favor the downtown while the southern residences basked in fog and overcast. Augustus had a small place on 15th Avenue, off the main, 19th Avenue busyness. He liked his place because it was close to Stern Grove and not far to drive to the beach. He went to both places often to read his books on being a detective and taking in some of the events they had for free there. The quiet allowed him to focus and absorb small details of crime detection.

He had read every Sherlock Holmes book and a few fictional mysteries. Many times fiction possessed more information than the, so called instructional manuals. Augustus knew the authors of the fictions had obviously spent time studying real crime or their stories would not be believable. At least this was what Augustus perceived as a good resource.

The house was overrun by these books; he needed to have someone in, to clean and organize. Moving about in his living room Augustus looked for his latest edition about white-collar crime. This was hard stuff to prove since the intelligence of these crooks was superior the common thief. But crime always left a trail. That’s what Holmes had said. It was only a matter of discovering the tracks and following them to their conclusion. Sherlock had many good saying that should not be discounted.

Augustus moved a stack of books off the coffee table searching for the missing book. He found a small box of business card, a thousand per box from a previous enterprise the year before. In fact, there were two boxes of cards for two separate purposes. His mail order doorknob business never took off as expected. The “Write Your Own Will” business fared just as poorly. The instant dog wash had also fallen flat on its face leaving him several hundreds short. He knew it was just a matter of bad timing, not his fault.

He scanned the paper every morning for mysteries that might be solved by his growing expertise. Augustus prided himself on the short-term detective study program he had undertaken. It wasn’t so easy to step into the role of a detective. There were plenty of detective agencies in the city. He will have to gain a reputation before people recognize his superiority as a gumshoe.

This particular morning he read about someone very close to home in the paper. It was not a relative or friend but a significant business associate. Julius would surely be interested in this bit of information. The Chronicle spelled out few details about the incident. Augustus will have to dig deeper to discover the true mystery of it. Holmes had also said there was not such thing as an open-and-shut case.

His attention was quickly diverted when the mantle clock chimed 9:00 o’clock. He was supposed to be at work at eight. He did not look forward to the lecture his brother was sure to give him. It was Monday, though. Things will run smoothly since everything had been taken care of by Friday.

Doubt set in. Augustus couldn’t remember if he had processed all the paperwork at the end of the week. He recalled leaving early to get to the post office on 3rd Street. Their pick up was at 4:30, a stupid time since most people worked until five. He wanted to get his credential application in before the forty percent discount expired.

 

 

Nathan Knox looked at the information received early this morning. He hated Mondays because crimes often happened on the weekends, leaving a backlog of work for the Monday morning shift to sort through. Homicides were especially impacted by this time delay. Most murders were often a simple matter of a jealous husband, wife, lover or whatever. The usual suspects were lined up, leads were followed and the perpetrators were usually apprehended. It was up to the courts to decide the rest.

Robberies led to shootings and other mayhem inflicted upon the persons involved. Some of the shootings were accidental. No real thief wanted to kill anyone and be set up for a murder charge. The careless thief had a drug problem or some other condition, which did not allow caution. He shot without thought and took money. These robberies often left distinct calling cards of the criminal. Nathan could not believe how stupid some thieves were. One thief had made a snack in the kitchen, accidentally leaving his wallet on the table when he left. That was good news for the homicide division. Identification in the wallet and fingerprints all over the glass the thief drank out of.

The bad news was when someone of importance was murdered. Sloppy work with this bunch was not be tolerated by the department. The newspaper thrived on screw-ups by the police department. Establishing a motive that would stick in court took clean, accurate compilation of facts and evidence. And on this Monday, there was a tough one with no leads to a killer. It was still up in the air if it was a killing at all. The victim was old enough to have died of natural causes. On the other hand, initial indications of a break-in prevented simple resolution to the death.

“Nate, you gonna get Niners season tickets this season?” hollered another police officer.

“Nah, my old lady wants to redo the kitchen this summer,” he answered. “It’ll cost me an arm and leg to get it done. Besides she was really pissed last season when I didn’t spend enough time at home. You know how that goes, Art.”

“You could moonlight on the side for a few extra bucks,” suggested Art. “They’re always looking for officers to do security at some of the hot spots in town. It’s easy. Of course that’s still going to keep you out of the house.”

“No way, pal!” returned Nathan. “I’ll be damned if I’ll put on a uniform to watch a bunch of stupid kids act like assholes. My uniform comes out for inspections and funerals. That’s it.”

“Hey, married life, I guess,” said Art with a smirk. “I can almost see that ring in your nose.”

“Well, it’s better than that dumb redhead you’re dating, Art. Don’t you get tired of stupid women? I mean, what do you talk about?”

“Who said anything about talking?” answered Art laughing. “She thinks we have some spiritual link in a past life. I don’t believe in that crap but I’m game when it come to the bedroom Olympics.”

“You’re a whore,” accused Nate not wishing to discuss the matter further. “But we still love you. So do you know anything about this our stiff in St. Francis Woods? All I have is a name, address and a few sketchy details. Hardly enough to go on.”

“Some wheeler and dealer, I heard,” returned Art. “Night shift said there was no apparent violence against the stiff; but the place was rifled through. Maybe robbery or something like that. Guy probably dropped dead because of stress. I hear he was a high-roller in town.”

“God, I hate these vague deaths,” Nate muttered to himself. “I’ll waste the whole day getting basic information. And then I might get a crack at a potential suspect. All I got is a dead body and some suspicious circumstances.”

Art ignored him, moving on to his own project. He had been on the police department for eight years, beating the streets for five of those years until he got the job as an investigator. He had worked himself up from vice to homicide, the prestige of the latter his carrot. On the side he was studying law, not for the police department but to become a lawyer. Others in the department had done the same, making better money, than they could ever hope for as a cop.

Nate began to pour over the information about case number SFPD182237, St Francis Woods, deceased male, unknown circumstances, forced entry observed. There was something distressing about looking at the file. It seemed so impersonal and unemotional. A man had died and all he got for it was a case number and a few words scribbled behind his name. But emotion was not a part of Nate’s job. To do a decent job one had to remain detached and completely, objective. Conjecture was not a part of police work. Objective facts were the only thing that held water.

 

 

Augustus rushed into the office, not because he was late, but because he had interesting news. He had forgotten his tie and the shirt he wore had some telltale stains of having been worn before. Neither Diane nor any of the other girls in the office looked up. They knew Julius was burned about Augustus’ screw-ups and would surely hear the butt chewing that would ensue.

“Julius, have you heard the news,” reported Augustus pushing his way into Julius’ office.

“What, that you forgot about Paperclip Inc. again?” he suggested coolly. “And a few others, I might add.”

“No, the news in the Chron,” blurted Augustus still radiating excitement.

“Augie not all of us have the leisure to sit at home and read the paper when they are supposed to be at work.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that,” returned Augustus not making an apology but side stepping the issue. “You won’t guess who just died,” he continued.

“If you tell me it’s one of your prize goldfish, I’m gonna hit you over the head with this ledger book, Augie.”

“Julius they’re not goldfish,” he reported indignantly. “They’re tropical fish and there’s only one left, I’m sorry to say.”

Augustus had purchased some exotic fish to breed and make money with. He began with three, calling them, Peter, Paul and Mary. Paul and Mary died months ago and only Peter remained in the tank. Unsuspectingly, he had bought three fish of the same sex and would have never been able to reproduce anything except algae.

“No, it has nothing to do with Peter,” he continued. “It’s about Bernie Schwartz. He’s dead!”

Julius rose to his feet, shock etched in his face. “There is a God! What happened?” he asked.

“The Chron didn’t give out details,” recounted Augustus. “They just said he was found dead on the floor in his house.”

“I don’t wish bad things for most people but I can’t say I’m terribly upset about it,” admitted Julius. “Bernie has been a pain in the butt for years.”

“Yeah,” agreed Augustus. “The Chron also said there was going to be an investigation. Maybe that means he was murdered. Wow! Wouldn’t that be something?”

“The bastard probably dropped dead from smoking those hideous cigars,” added Julius. “I could never understand why he wasted his money on those Cubans. Cost him an arm and a leg to smuggle them into the country. He won’t be doing that anymore.”

Just about that moment, Diane called out to Julius from across the office. The office intercom had been broken for three years; not that anyone bothered to use it anyhow.

“Julius, Augie, there’s some guy on line one for you. Said he would only speak to one of you guys. Doesn’t sound like a customer. Sounds like a real stiff to me, maybe IRS. Geez! Darn people can squeeze blood from a rock. I ever tell you about my sister and her audit?”

“Yes, you have, Diane,” answered Julius. “I don’t want to hear about it. I’ll pick it up on my phone.”

“Good morning, Julius Rose here,” he said politely. “How can I help you?”

“My name is Nathan Knox with the San Francisco Police Department,” returned the voice. “We are investigating the death of a competitor of yours, Bernard Schwartz. I would appreciate it if I could come down to see you today for a brief interview. We have very little information at the moment and would like to expand our investigation.”

“Uh, I’m not sure what I could tell you, other than what you already know,” returned Julius. “Bernie was a competitor. That’s about all I know.”

“I would like to come down, anyway,” continued Nathan. “You’d be surprised how some small detail can come up. It’s a pretty standard thing.”

“I see,” returned Julius. He was becoming uncomfortable with the idea of the police asking questions. There was no love lost between Bernie and Julius. That would have to come out sooner or later.

“About an hour from now would be good for me,” suggested Nathan. “Unless that is a problem, of course.”

“No, an hour would be fine,” answered Julius. “It won’t be inconvenience for me.

“Oh, yes and I would also like to speak with Augustus if he is available. You know how it is with investigations, no stone left unturned.”

“Yes, Augustus will be here too,” reported Julius stiffly. His brother stood inches away, eagerly awaiting details of the conversation.

“I bet they think we killed him,” said Augustus. “Bernie screwed us time after time. Everyone knows that. We’d be the prime suspects, Jul.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” snapped Julius. “I’m sure it is just routine.”

“Exactly!” returned Augustus, triumphantly. “That’s the way it starts. I read that somewhere. First it starts with simple questions and then it turns into, where were you on the night of, kind of thing. You might remember that I am a part-time detective; or at least I will be.”

Julius let out an involuntary sigh. “Augustus, I doubt we are suspects and I also doubt you will be much of a detective. You can’t even detect the overdue orders on your desk. I’m tired of fixing your messes. Let’s just get back to work before this investigator shows up. We still have a lot to do today.”

 

 

Nathan leaned back in his swivel chair. It squeaked every time he rocked forward or back. A little dash of oil would probably take care of it, though it was unlikely that would happen. Nathan didn’t seem to notice anymore. He had called everyone associated with the dead man and was about to call the coroner. Something might turn up from his examination. At least, they might find out the cause of death.

“Hi Wally,” said Nathan in a lackluster tone. “How’s business?”

“Dead!” he answered a standard joke in the morgue. “People are just dying to see us. Funny, huh?”

“Yeah, right. You got any news on that guy from the ‘Woods’? I’d like to clean this one up quick, if I can.”

“Sure Nathan,” answered the coroner. “The fat guy wasn’t in the best of shape to begin with, too many steaks, pork rinds and cigars by the look of it. But there is no evidence of heart failure, strokes or any other reason for our fat friend to croak. I sent a sample of his blood to toxicology. We’ll see if there’s something I missed. Initially, he had alcohol in his bloodstream but not enough to be drunk. My guess is he had a shot or two of something before croaking. There were no contusions or any obvious signs of trauma to his body. Our boy dropped where her stood. I did find one small cut on his left thumb, thin paper cut, figures, for man in his line of business. Couldn’t find anything obvious that would kill him.”

“So, you’re saying this wasn’t natural causes?” quizzed Nathan, knowing the answer before he asked.

“Nope, Nate. The guy might have died on his own in a year or so but this one is a mystery to me. I’m writing this one up as a suspicious cause. Wish I could give you better news.” There was a brief silence before Wally added, “You gonna get Niner season tickets? I’ll buy whichever ones you don’t use.”

“No, Wally. Not this coming season,” he returned. Nathan did not want to go into it again and opted to cut it short. “Talk to Art. He’ll be able to help you out. I’ll get back to you later, Wally.”

 

Okay, so now it turns into a murder investigation, thought Nate. So much for a quick and easy solution.

 

Julius, Augustus and Nathan exchanged greetings, shaking hands politely as they closed the door to Juilus’ office. Nathan’s suit was clean but a little threadbare and shiny in the seat. His thick neck looked out of place in a dress shirt, whether by genetics or the college football he had played.

“What sort of man would you say Mr. Schwartz was?” asked Nathan.

“He was a cheat and jerk,” blurted Augustus. “He’d steal the pennies off a blind man’s eyes.” Julius’ chin dropped to his chest over this comment. Augustus did not possess the finesse needed to respond in a proper manner.

“So, you hated him?” probed the investigator.

“No, not exactly,” interceded Julius. He wanted to be sure to answer the questions before his brother opened his mouth again. “Bernie was not an ethical businessman. To say I hated the man would be a little strong. I did not agree with his strategies in business. I would say I disliked him more than hated him.”

“Hmm! Disliked,” muttered Nathan writing in his notepad. “Is there anyone who might, err, dislike him enough to kill him?”

Julius’ tired eyes looked blankly at Nathan. “I’m afraid the list of people is very long,” he said. “In any business, you make enemies. Bernie made plenty of enemies with other suppliers and disgruntled customers. Like I said before, it’s a matter of poor business ethics.”

“Disgruntled customers,” muttered Nathan, again writing it down. “Just for the record, where were both of you last night?”

“Home,” answered Julius.

“Me too,” added Augustus.

“Wives or girlfriends to substantiate that?” pressed Nathan.

“Uh, no. Actually my wife is visiting her mother and won’t get in at the airport until a day or two,” answered Julius shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

“I live alone,” responded Augustus. “I had a girlfriend a few months ago but she was allergic to my cat. Or maybe it was me?”

“You have a cat?” inquired Nathan casually.

“Yes, and he was with me all night,” answered Augustus. “Nice big orange tabby cat. I named him Norman. I don’t think he really knows his name, though. He never comes when I call him.”

“Yes, cats tend to be that way,” returned Nathan giving Augustus a sideways glance.

“Of course he does come to me, when he wants to,” amended Augustus. “Norman likes to curl up and sleep in my lap.

“Yes, I understand,” replied Nathan. “Gentlemen, that is all I have for the moment. I may have to question you again. I take it that you will be available, if that is the case.”

Julius nodded, his brow wrinkled by the tone of the investigator’s voice. The latter questions regarding their whereabouts bothered him.

The investigator did not glance back once. There was purpose in his step as he descended the stairs, the front office doors swinging back and forth once he passed through. Augustus looked out the front windows noticing the pink ticket on the windshield of the unmarked police vehicle. Nathan plucked it off the car and tossed it to the ground without showing any emotion. Undoubtedly, the ticket would never have to be paid.

 

 

“Hey, Nate,” yelled Art from down the hall. “Your boy was killed. Forensics came back with a positive on poison. Some exotic thing they haven’t figured out yet. Said they’d let us know, when they made a few more tests.”

“Damn!” returned Nathan. “I hate poisonings. I gotta track down the way it was administered and then find the poison. Then I have to link it to someone. Damn!”

“How’d it go with the Brothers Grimm?” asked Art smirking. “They look like your killers?”

“Hard to say,” replied Nathan scratching his head. “The one brother did all the talking. He seemed to want the other to shut up. I wouldn’t count them out; but my gut says they’re not the ones.”

“You and your gut feelings. Gotta keep looking, pal,” reminded Art. “Don’t want to spend more time than needed with a dead end.”

“Art, I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you. Remember, I was the guy that showed you the ropes,” complained Nathan. “Why don’t you take care of your own mess. I’ll manage mine.”

Nathan was in a bad mood. It wasn’t unusual since he was always in a bad mood when he had a tough case ahead of him. His wife was used to this routine and knew better than to annoy him about petty things that would pass in time. Gladys was a good woman and smart as well. She knew when to be supportive and when to be quiet. A police investigator did not deal well with a spouse, when they were always in their face.

Nathan picked up the phone and redialed the earlier number. He was scheduled to talk with Alan Cooke in the evening and needed to question Bernie’s ex-wife. Though divorced for three years, his ex could be a likely suspect. In fact, Bernie had three exs, the other two remarried and moved away from the city.

Phone interviews were a frustrating way to pry information out of people. Nathan liked to look the person in the eye to see if they were telling the truth or lying. There were signs given off by the questioned, which challenged the credibility of some answers. It was a fine line between nervous habits and true signs. That was the part Nathan had to sort out.

“Hello,” announced Nathan. “My Name is Nathan Knox of the San Francisco Police Department. We’re investigating the death of your partner Bernard Schwartz. We believe there are some suspicious circumstances which may require a full investigation.”

“I’m glad you called, Mr. Knox,” returned Alan Cooke. “I just heard about it on he radio. I though he had a heart attack or something like that. The newspaper didn’t say. He wasn’t a very healthy man, you know. His doctors pressed him to stop smoking and drinking. He ignored them, of course. Bernie was a difficult man, sometimes.”

“Yes, so I am led to believe,” replied Nathan waiting for any other details. “Would it be possible for you to come to the station or I can meet you somewhere that is convenient. I have several questions I’d like to run by you. You, being his partner, might have some insight I might miss.”

“I would be happy to come to the station Mr. Knox. I exercise everyday and enjoy a good walk. That will kill two birds with one stone.” Alan paused for a second, “My, my, I guess killing is not a good word to use at the moment.”

“When ever it is convenient, sir,” returned Nathan. “Say an hour or so from now?”

“That would be excellent Mr. Knox. I’m sad to hear about Bernie and will be happy to shed light on any unanswered questions you might have. I guess we never know when it is our last day on earth. Perhaps I’ll buy a donut on the way. I don’t often indulge myself. I am overly fond of sweets and particularly donuts with chocolate. I will see you in an hour.”

Nathan was sizing up each of the potential suspects. Alan Cooke was a man in his late sixties and in reasonable health. Profits from the business were split right down the middle according to their partnership agreement. Bernie worked the business with Alan supplying the initial money to maintain the company. Contact between them was limited to a board meeting once a every quarter. They did not mix socially.

 

As promised, Alan Cooke arrived at the station. His white hair was neatly cut and combed, crowning a medium built man. He wore a nice pair of slacks with an expensive windbreaker jacket. In contrast, his footwear bore the name Keds, a bargain shoe. Nathan imagined the shoes were as good as any when it came right down to it.

The interview did not take long. Alan made no overt movements or reactions to sensitive questions. He answered each deliberately and with poise. He was happy to supply Nathan with his location on the night of Bernie’s demise. Everything would be easy to check out and verify. The conversation was more pleasant than helpful.

“Yes, I don’t get out as much as I’d like to,” stated Alan. “My heart, you see,” he added patting his chest. “My doctor said I should get plenty of exercise but not to over do it. I can’t complain though. My wife and I see a movie now and then and I play bridge with my friends at the Elks Lodge. My wife does not enjoy the game and is glad to see me get out with my friends. Sad that we must get old, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Nathan. “Are you sure there isn’t anyone who might have wanted Bernie dead?”

“Bernie was not well liked,” returned Alan looking Nathan in the eye. “I suppose I wouldn’t have cared for him either if I were on the operating end of the business. I can give you a list of people who he took advantage of. He was rude and sometimes dishonest. We spoke about the dishonesty on a few occasions at board meetings. Bernie claimed his actions weren’t illegal, but aggressive in nature. Our dividends tended to support his claim. And like I said, he ran the business and I made sure we were solvent.”

“I would be interested in that list you spoke of,” replied Nathan. “If you could jot them down on this piece of paper before you leave, it will be helpful. Any other thoughts about your partner that come to mind, call me at this number,” he added handing Alan a card.

Fifteen minutes later Alan Cooke had finished the list of names. It was several pages long with vague information attached to each name.

“Can I give you a lift back home?” asked Nathan. “I’m heading out anyway.”

“Oh, no that won’t be necessary, Mr. Knox. I need to put another hour on these tennis shoes to get my proper exercise. Doctor’s orders, you know.”

 

 

Julius was physically and mentally sagging by the end of the day. He had repaired all the damage from his brother’s omissions and had set up a new account for a small company in Sausalito. Deliveries had to be scheduled once a week, only, since the truck went to the north on Wednesdays. Unscheduled deliveries cost money and time, pleasing the client and making ends meet a constant challenge.

Meanwhile, Augustus managed a few hours of work coupled with a couple hours of reading up on investigation methods. He was also debating on whether to sell Peter, the fish and putting that money towards one of his other businesses. Peter was not likely to become a father or mother alone. And money could be put to better use.

Julius leaned both elbows on the desk, cradling his head in his hands. Fatigue wasn’t enough of a word for what he felt. It was almost six o’clock and everyone else had gone home the hour before. He couldn’t blame them for their desertion. Their salary did not include overtime.

“Hey Jul,” chattered Augustus. “I bet you the cop thinks we knocked off Schwartz. He did say he might have more questions for us. In my book, they say that’s an indication we are suspects. Yep, I bet we’re number one on his list.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” barked Julius rubbing his temples. “The police officer was just doing routine stuff. Don’t add any more stress to a long Monday.”

“No, really. I’m positive we’re in the mix of suspects,” continued Augustus. “It’s only logical. Bernie screwed us over and over again. The last deal he swindled from us was worth thousands. We have the perfect motive for killing the putz. Worst part, neither of us has a good alibi for the night he was killed.”

“Good grief, Augie, sometimes I can’t believe you’re my brother. What do you think we should do? Start paying people to say they were with us all night? You’ve watched too many movies and read too many cheap paperbacks.”

“No, paying somebody to lie won’t work,” continued Augustus, quite sincerely. “We already told the flatfoot where we were. He’d catch us in a second.”

“Flatfoot?” questioned Julius shaking his head, producing an audible snort. “Where did you dig up that term? No, never mind. I don’t want to know. I want to forget this and go home for dinner.”

“I think we should start checking into this thing Jul,” insisted Augustus. “Before you know it, we’ll be wearing stripped pajamas in the slammer and then we won’t have the freedom to investigate on our own.”

“Slammer?” Julius frowned. “You do what you want. I’m finishing up here and going home. A TV dinner and a glass of wine are all I want tonight. Becoming a sleuth at night has no appeal for me whatsoever. We’re not detectives; leave that to the police.”

Julius ceased all conversation with Augustus, stomping to the other side of the office. Augustus did not take offense at his brother’s remarks. Julius always responded that way to his new ideas. Augustus knew Julius would see the logic, eventually. And he was wrong about neither being capable detectives. Augustus had been studying every night for six months straight. He had even compiled a few necessary items to analyze evidence. Sherlock Holmes would not be caught dead without his scientific tests.

 

 

Nathan had to make a late call to his wife, to be sure she knew he was be working late this evening. The interview with the late, Bernie Schwartz’s most recent ex-wife had to be done before beating his feet home. His wife understood it was part of his job but did not particularly like the idea of him being alone with some woman, whether it was business or not.

 

Balboa Heights was less than a block away from the more exclusive St. Francis Woods. Some of those from the ‘Woods’ looked down upon their neighbors as second best when it came to locale. One did not boast with living in Balboa Heights, though prices of homes varied by only a few thousand dollars. There was no shame in either address, however. At one time much of that area was considered exclusive. Inglewood Terrace had just as many fine homes as Balboa Heights and St. Francis Woods. Nathan could not afford to live in any of those areas.

Nathan had done a little research before arriving at the ex’s house. After the divorce, Sylvia Schwartz relocated to a four, bedroom house in Balboa Heights, five blocks from where Bernie lived. It was unusual for an ex-wife to live so close after a divorce. Generally, they tried to get as far away as possible. There were no children in the settlement for any uneasy circumstances. Most divorces were less than tidy, bad feelings often persisted.

“Thank you for having me in at this hour. I don’t like to bother people after a certain time,” apologized Nathan to Sylvia Schwartz.

She took his coat and hung it in a nearby closet. Sylvia was an attractive woman in her early forties, dressed for success. Her cashmere sweater was expensive and matched her satin lounging pants. The high heels were for decoration not walking. It was obvious she wanted to maintain a proper social image.

“I’m glad to help,” she replied, a slight frown developing on her lips. “It’s such a terrible thing.”

“What is?” he asked.

“Bernie! Him dying and all,” she said. “He was a coarse, calculating son-of-a-bitch but not unlikable when you got to know him. We had our moments, though they didn’t last. He could be quite generous when the mood struck him.”

“Yes, I get that impression,” replied Nathan, finding it hard to believe that Bernie had redeeming qualities. So far he had not heard a good thing about the man.

“So, getting to the point, how long have you been divorced from Bernie?” he began.

“Gosh, I don’t really know,” she answered. “I moved out before we legally separated. It seems like a couple years but I could be wrong.”

She smiled leaning forward to pick up a cup of tea she had poured earlier. Quite by accident or perhaps not, the front of her expensive cashmere sweater revealed a bit more of her than was prudent. Nathan could understand one of the things Bernie might have seen in this woman. She didn’t seem shy by any means.

“Was it a messy divorce?” he began averting his gaze. “Who was at fault, if that isn’t too personal a question?”

“Oh, dear no,” replied Sylvia smiling. “It was all my fault. I found his personal manservant quite attractive and slept with him, several times in fact. He was younger and more …….. well, let’s just say he possessed certain qualities and endurance that Bernie lacked. But that didn’t make for a messy divorce. Bernie fooled around too; there was never any secret about that. He felt that I should be less tempted than he was, double standard, I suppose. I’m sure it was a ‘man thing’ with him.”

“At first, it was a bit nasty,” she continued. “I mean the divorce proceedings. Bernie was being his usual sly self and tried to cut me short on the settlement. I called him on it and he became more reasonable afterwards. My lawyer pointed our several legal possibilities, which would not benefit Bernie. Eventually, we worked things out so both of us felt good about it. At least I felt good. In the end I don’t think he cared either. Bernie was the kind of man who liked to move on quickly, not dawdle.”

She sipped her tea adding, “I really think Bernie liked to edge people out of what they had coming. It was a game for him. It’s a little like the bartering you do when you’re in Mexico or some other poor place. No one should ever pay full price. Bernie said that often. Dicker and barter, that was what he always said.”

“You sure there wasn’t any bad feelings afterward?” pressed Nathan. “Did he ever threaten you?”

Sylvia laughed at the idea. “Hardly, Mr. Knox,” she answered. “I maintained good personal relations with him, even after the divorce. We still slept together, in fact. Only occasionally, however. Enough to keep him happy. And for that reason, I’ve never had to wait for my alimony check. So, I guess we never had bad feelings toward one another.”

“So, did you still love him?” pressed Nathan, hoping to find some flaw in her story.

She set her cup down, shifting to display her ample body, again. Nathan could see Sylvia enjoyed her ability to be a temptress. Needing to feel desired by anyone she chose was probably the reason.

“Love? No, not hardly. It was in my best interests, to fulfill some of his naughty needs, that’s all. Bernie was a realist. He had no illusions as to his appearance. He was not handsome, well built and surely not…. ahem!… the best lover in the world. Bernie appreciated our continuing intermittent sexual sessions. Of course, he still paid for bimbos now and then. Even then, he didn’t have that much luck. I suppose some prostitutes have standards. The whole prostitution thing never bothered me, as long as I knew I still got his blood up; it gave me an edge.”

“What exactly was your settlement?” inquired Nathan, more curious than official.

“This house was one,” she returned. “He bought it as an investment years before. He owned several properties, which we divided quite nicely. He kept the house in Tahoe and I got the house in Maui. There were other properties that I didn’t ask for. I wasn’t about to be greedy and ask for too much. I know Bernie. He would have fought harder, if I had. Besides, my alimony check allows me to live quite comfortably.”

Sylvia may have compromised her morality but she was no dummy. Sleeping with the enemy ensured a peaceful and profitable coexistence. Nathan had seen this before. A lot of women went back to their husbands for many reasons, some of which might be self-doubt. In some cases it was financially beneficial for the woman to return to the man she left, a sad commentary. Men who abused their wives tended to pick up where they left off. More often than not, the end result involved Nathan’s department.

“Was there anyone who might want to have seen Bernie dead?” said Nathan bluntly.

She giggled at the comment and leaned back in her chair. “Mr. Knox, almost everyone wanted to kill him. That’s how a good many people felt. I’m sure all of his business competitors would have liked him to disappear. There had been a few threats but nothing really serious, Bernie equally as nasty and would threaten back. We had to have our phone unlisted to avoid the vulgar calls.”

“Any specific names come to mind?” inquired Nathan. “Names might be helpful.”

“I’m sure you will find them, eventually,” she answered. “I stayed out of his business as much as possible. I was his trophy wife, only good for looks and to better his image, not much more. Business, well, I don’t have a head for that sort of thing.”

Sylvia slowly crossed her legs, placing one hand on her lap. “It sounds to me like you are investigating a murder, Mr. Knox. Do you think Bernie was murdered? The Chronicle said there were no signs of a struggle. Of course, the newspapers aren’t the best source of good information, I imagine.”

“Yes, we have reason to believe that Bernard Schwartz was murdered,” he replied in his official voice. “That kind of information isn’t always available to the papers. It hampers investigations when they report too many details. It’s a little like playing poker. Don’t want the killer to see our hand.”

“Ah, I see,” she said smiling and leaning forward offering a better view of her cleavage. “And am I a suspect, Mr. Knox? I have nothing to hide. Really!”

Sylvia was not kidding when she made that last statement. She was about to pour out of her sweater. The shiny material of her lounging pants pressed against her shapely legs. Bernie had chosen his trophy wife with care. But this trophy was not about to be put on a shelf. She was looking for another patron to pick up where Bernie left off.

“We have no suspects at the moment, Mrs. Schwartz,” he returned averting his eyes from her chest. “This is just the beginning of an investigation. We have a lot of ground to cover before we can start pointing fingers.”

“I’m so relieved to hear that,” she answered sizing up Nathan. “Fascinating all this crime detection process. I can rest easy now knowing you are on the job.”

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Schwartz,” announced Nathan standing to leave. “I may wish to speak to you, again. I hope that won’t be too much of an inconvenience.”

“Not at all Mr. Knox,” she returned rising from her chair. “Perhaps you would like to join me in a little dinner. My cook is quite good. I have an excellent wine cellar and would really appreciate the company.”

“Kind of you but my wife is expecting me,” he answered moving quickly to the door.

Sylvia scrupulously slit her eyes and said, “Pity, it might be nice to chat about something besides my dead, Bernie. Please come again if you wish.”

 

 

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