“You think this wasn’t a suicide?” Price asked skeptically.
“I think he wanted it to look like a suicide, but yeah, didn’t intend to actually die in the process.”
Price chuckled. “And all because that guy–”
“Yeah, all because that guy was told to come pick someone up and get him out of the country? I thought you said Gene didn’t even know the name of the passenger he was supposed to carry. Could have been someone else and it’s just a coincidence that Otto washed downstream the same day.”
“Then where’s that someone else?”
“No doubt scared off when he saw two Coast Guard boats sweeping the area!”
Daley closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to think of how to explain himself. Every now and then he would have a flash of clarity where he could almost express what his intuition was telling him, but then it would fade away as soon as he tried to do just that. “You really don’t think its weird that Otto waited until a public event with a ton of witnesses, demanded that the party be held right here, walked himself to the edge of the stage over the river, shot himself in the chest instead of the head–”
“Why does that matter?”
“Everyone would think it was weird if they saw a guy shoot himself in the head and there wasn’t a fountain of blood, but if he shot himself in his jacket and they didn’t see anything? Not so surprising. So yeah, shot himself in the chest, was swept down towards the gulf, where there happened to be a boat waiting to pick up someone, and Otto had a pocketful of cash… You’re telling me you don’t see anything suspicious in all of that?”
“It’s odd, sure. But none of it matters.”
“Because Otto is dead! If you had all this conjecture and we hadn’t turned up a body, I might say you were on to something. But there is a body, and it was honestly and truly shot through the chest.”
Daley shook his head, unconvinced.
“Hey look, I think I’ve got it figured out,” Price said enthusiastically. “No really, I’ve got it. You’re right, Daley. The man was sick of his family and he wanted out. He planned this grand getaway and set everything up just like you say. Who would think twice if we didn’t find a body? We would have just said it was lost at sea and confirmed the case as a suicide, which was just what he wanted.”
“But then he woke up this morning and said ‘maybe I should just go ahead and do it for real.’ Huh?”
Daley weighed the theory for a moment. “It might be.”
“No, that’s it. I’m sure of it now. Anyone who is miserable enough to consider faking a suicide is miserable enough to consider the actual thing.”
“Well, even if you were right then you still ought to keep the case open to verify it. Let’s find out for sure if it was Otto who hired Gene, find out where he got that gun and ammo, find out if there was some haven in Mexico with his name on it.”
“All in the hopes that we’ll find something to implicate foul play, no doubt. Give me a reason why you don’t like my theory.”
“Well…this is weak, I know. But like I told you from Quincy’s testimony: Otto looked surprised when he shot himself. I think he felt the bullet and was surprised that it wasn’t a blank.”
“Or like Quincy said, just shocked that he had the nerve to do it.”
“Or, second theory, he did everything like you said, but he messed up and bought actual bullets instead of blanks! Idiot messed up and killed himself on accident.”
“In which case it would be an accidental death, not a suicide.”
“Is it?” Price’s face was one of genuine curiosity. “I mean in this case it would seem more like he was trying to make an accident, but succeeded by mistake!”
“Huh, yeah,” Daley grinned. “I dunno how you’d rule that…. But anyway, it’s obviously still worth keeping the investigation open a little longer.”
Price sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Daley knew what he was thinking: that there was a lot more important work he could be doing than differentiating between a suicide and an accidental death. Price had ruled out the possibility of foul play entirely. Daley didn’t even know why he himself thought it might still be involved, nor why he was so interested in exploring this case any further. Well, maybe it was because now that he didn’t have to worry about reports and red tape there wasn’t anything to prevent him from being genuinely curious. Being off the force had truly unburdened him.
“Do it for me,” Daley said. He could tell there wouldn’t be any convincing Price, so it would just have to be an appeal to friendship. “One week.”
Daley grinned and clapped Price on the shoulder.
“Where do you want to start?” Price sighed. “Go question the family?”
Daley frowned. “Otto hated those people. And from the little bit I’ve seen, they didn’t care for him much either.”
“If you want to know someone’s secrets you have to talk to the person that cared about them most. They’ll conceal things if the person’s guilty and be forthcoming if they’re innocent. Either way it lets you know where the truth is at…. Problem is, I don’t know what person cared most about Otto.”
Four days later Price was seated in his Chevrolet Vega, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. He was parked outside of the grocery store, waiting for Daley to come out. Daley’s wife had told Price where to find him. Five minutes later he emerged.
“Hey, you done with the pharmacy?” Price leaned over and called out the passenger window.
“Pharmacy?” Daley wrinkled his nose. “No, just getting a doughnut. Yeah, I’m done. What are you doing here?”
Price shrugged. “Couple things came up with that Otto Davies guy, thought you’d want to hear about it.”
“Oh yeah,” Daley stuffed the small, white bag he carried in his coat pocket and opened the passenger door. “So I was right?”
“You’re getting way too ahead of yourself,” Price said after Daley had taken his seat and closed the door. Price started the ignition and drove out onto the street. “Just some…interesting stuff, may not mean anything at all. First thing is that we got his credit card records and found the shop where he bought the gun and the shop where he bought the bullets.”
“Wait…were they not the same?”
“Nope. Not even in the same city.”
“I’m guessing the shop where he bought the gun carried ammunition for it?”
“Oh yeah. And in fact the store owner remembered Otto because there was a funny moment where he asked for the gun and ammo, then said ‘no wait, I just want the gun is all.'”
“And then he did something else funny. He paid for it with cash, and then just as the transaction finished he said he had done it wrong, could they please give him the money back and let him pay with his credit card instead.”
“Hmm…same credit card he used to buy the bullets?”
“Yeah,” Price raised an eyebrow. “Why? What does that mean to you?”
Daley shrugged. “Probably nothing, just if he was trying to hide the purchase, like so his wife didn’t know he was buying a weapon, cash would have made more sense. But specifically getting each with a card leaves a nice paper trail for anyone like us to follow.”
“Yeah, I had the same thought. But then I realized I was just being paranoid like you, and probably he just needed the cash for something else that day.”
“Yeah probably,” Daley smiled. “So how long ago did he get the gun?”
“About six weeks.”
“And the bullets?”
“The very next day.”
“So he went and bought the gun…then went and bought the bullets in an entirely different city one day later? Huh. They’re not blanks I take it?”
“Fully functional .45 ACP rounds.”
“They remember anything about Otto there?”
“Nah, but, uh, something else interesting happened just this morning.”
“They read out the will and apparently seven weeks ago Otto changed it. Sent all the money to some charity in Mexico.”
“Yeah, knew you’d like that. Course it isn’t surprising that he cut out his family, but choosing somewhere in Mexico corresponds nicely with your theory of him wanting to run down there.”
“What do we know about the charity?”
“Nothing. That’s why you’re coming with me to the registry. We’ll see if they have anything on file about it. Doubtful that there’ll be much, given that it’s international…”
“Unless it was actually started by an American!”
“That is the question…. But uh, you know that means we’re quickly running out of jurisdiction here. And it’s not like I’m going to get approval to go out of country to keep pulling on a suicide case.”
Daley was quiet for a minute.
“That’s alright. If the trail goes to Mexico, I’ll go there myself.”
“What?! You’re crazy!”
“Wouldn’t take me more than a week. Tickets are pretty cheap, and I’ve got loads of time.”
“And you’re telling me Marcine would be okay with this? Brother, she hated anytime you had to stay out past six!”
“She might not be happy about it,” Daley shrugged. “But she’s always made do.”
“Listen man, is everything alright between you two? Way I’ve heard you talk, Marcine’s always done right by you.”
“Oh she has.”
“You doing right by her?”
“You think I wouldn’t?!” there was a bite to Daley’s tone now.
“Hey look, I know I’m crossing far into ‘none of your business’ territory but I’m worried about you, man. I care!”
Daley looked down and nodded. “I know you do, Price. You mean well. I appreciate that.”
“So why don’t you listen to me?”
“And why don’t you talk to me?”
“I…now’s just not a good time for that.”
Price shook his head incredulously. “That’s not how friendship works, man. You’re just gonna push everybody away.”
“I hope not,” Daley said softly. “Or maybe that’s for the best…I dunno…”
He stayed silent and Price glanced out of the corner of his eye every few seconds to see what Daley was doing. Every time was just the same. Daley’s eyes were pointed down at the dash, but they were glazed over as he intently weighed some private debate in his mind. It was worrisome, but Price didn’t want to interrupt unless he had to. After a full three minutes Daley finally spoke up again.
“I know that quite a few people are concerned about me right now. You, Marcine, even Commissioner Howell has reached out a couple times. And I really do appreciate everyone’s consideration, I wouldn’t want you to think that it goes unnoticed. And I know I haven’t been responding to any of the concern you’ve all been showing, and I get that that’s frustrating. It has to be. Like talking to a wall I would imagine.”
He paused, and Price could hear the “but” coming from a mile away. Daley continued. “And I’d like to make things easier on you all if I could…but the simple truth is that I can’t. There is something going on, but I’ve got to figure it out for myself. Talking to someone isn’t going to help me, actually I think it would only get in the way. Maybe you can accept that, maybe you can’t, but either way that’s how it’s got to be. Are you able to understand that? That some things you have to work through on your own? No matter if it seems right to anyone else, sometimes you just have to.”
Price only grunted.
“But even while I can’t make sense of my own self, I am able to make sense of this,” Daley tapped the case file laying on the dashboard. “This stuff makes sense to me. I can work it and I can uncover its secrets and I can find definitive answers if I just keep pushing long enough. And right now that feels so fulfilling to me. I need that right now. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you, but if the trail leads to Mexico, then that’s where I’ve got to go. I hope Marcine understands, I hope you do…but even if not…”
Price shook his head. “No, I don’t understand…. But so long as you’re so dead-set on it, I might be able to help. Otto’s family is very upset about the changed will, and they wanted me to look into it. Even offered to pay for travel and expenses. I imagine they’d extend the offer to any private investigator I put them in touch with, too.”
“That would be nice.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what friends are for…for whatever that’s worth. Looks like we’re here.” Price pulled into an available parking space and stopped the car. The registry building awaited them.
On Monday I talked about how a mystery can distract the audience from some points while focusing in on others. I talked about how this can be used to hide major revelations in plain sight, so long as you can get the audience to look the other way. On the other hand, I also talked about how mysteries can pause to make sure the audience is on the same page as the detective. Many of these stories will have distinctive moments where the action halts and the characters talk through everything plainly, just to make sure no reader was left behind.
In the case of today’s post, I opened with just this sort of scene. Price and Daley talk about the clues, theories, and conclusions in great detail, reminding the audience of exactly what is known, and exactly what is not. By the end of the conversation I intended for the audience to have in mind the exact same questions that Price and Daley do.
And then I started to lead into the next development in the case, but I interrupted it with a moment of character development. For a brief period the case sinks into the background and the story is now all about two friends and their relationship. Then the conversation comes to a close, and the case comes back to the fore.
I’d like to take a closer look at these sorts of narrative interruptions more closely. Why do we tell stories that shift gears like this, rather than hold to just one thread from start to finish? What makes the difference between a clunky transition and a seamless one? We’ll explore these points and others when we come back on Monday. I’ll see you then!