Washed Down the River: Part Five

woman sitting on chair
Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

“It’s for you,” Officer Torres said to Price. “I’ll carry on in here.”

Price thanked him and exited the small one-room office that was home to Guzman Charitable Services. Just outside of the room Maria sat in a chair, silently fuming, with her arms crossed so tightly that Price thought it must be painful. He ignored her, though, and went to the end of the hall where a receptionist held a receiver aloft.

“Thank you,” Price said as he took the phone. “Hello?”

“Hello, Price,” Daley’s voice came in brightly. In the background Price could hear a lot of other voices and the clinking of plates. Daley must have been calling from some diner.

“Wasn’t expecting to hear anything from you,” Price scowled, not even trying to keep the resentment out of his voice.

“Yeah, well, I’ve been watching the clock, and I figure right about now you should have gotten underway with searching Maria’s business?”

“Yes. Going to take longer without your help, of course.”

“Yes, probably an hour at least?”

It seemed a strange question. “What’s that got to do with anything?” Price asked suspiciously.

“Oh, and you have Maria there with you, of course?”

“Yes, of course. Was there any actual point to your call, Daley?”

“Um…no, that’s all. Thanks.”

And then he hung up. Price stared at the receiver in utter confusion as it slowly dawned on him: Daley wanted to be sure that Maria was being occupied for a while longer…so that he could raid her place while Torres and Price searched the office.

“Why would you tell me that?” he said numbly to the earpiece. “Why not let me live in ignorant bliss?”

“Señor?” the receptionist held her hand out for the phone.

“Sorry, never mind that. Gracias.” He handed her back the phone. She took it and then extended out a manila envelope. It was the building’s lease information on Maria’s office, which he had asked to be retrieved when they first arrived. He took it, thanked her, and made his way back down the hall.

Maria was fidgeting as he approached, struggling between her equal desire to lay her fury into him, and also to continue the indignant silent treatment she had maintained since they summoned her. Just as his steps brought him level with her the first side won out.

“Why do you choose to disbelieve me?” she snapped. “I already told you, I turned down this man’s money. Call whomever is in charge of disposing the will, they’ll tell you.”

“Oh we did, right after our chat with you. They confirmed it.”

“And?”

Price sighed. He knew he should just move on. It was more than stupid to ever discuss your reasons for suspicion with a person of interest. The directive given to all investigators was that the less you said, the less the precinct might have to apologize for. And yet…

“It’s funny how–” Price began, then snapped his mouth shut so forcefully that Maria stared back at him in shock. He cleared his throat. “Excuse me,” he strained, then ducked for refuge into the office. What had he been thinking?! To distract himself Price pulled out the three papers from the manila envelope and examined them while walking towards Torres, who was flipping through Maria’s business ledger.

“You find anything yet?” Price asked.

“No…everything appears as it should be. She registered for the charity, paid for her license, linked it to a bank account opened in her own name…all appropriate, all without so much as a single reference to Otto Davies. I assume the office was leased in her name, too?”

Price turned the page he was reviewing to the back, then quickly again to the front. “I wonder…oh, yes she licensed it herself…but–there’s this phone record that the building kept, and…” he used his free hand to pull out his pocketbook.

“What is it?” Torres asked.

“Look at this record of the first call. My Spanish isn’t very good, what does that say?”

“Uh…’Representative for Ms Guzman querying for availability and prices.'”

“Alright, and then this phone number given here, is that the callback number that was given?”

“Yes.”

“But notice it’s different from the number given in all the other phone records.”

“Hmm, so it is. And this number is from the states.”

“Not only that, it sounds familiar to me.” Price flipped through his pocketbook until at last he found the number Mrs Davies had left to reach her at home. They matched.

“You did know Otto Davies,” Price pronounced to Maria an hour later, after the two men had finished their search. It had only been appropriate, of course, to finish gathering any additional evidence the office might have held before coming out to confront her. “He made the first call when you were looking for an office space.”

Her eyes darkened. He could see she was about to deny it, so he cut her off by extending both the phone record and his open pocketbook.

“They kept a record of this?!” Maria said incredulously.

“So it would seem. I’m sure you understand that we need to bring you with us for more questions now.”

She sighed, but stood up, resigned to follow them.

“Oh, and to answer your question from before,” Price continued. “We were suspicious of you because you turned down the money.”

*

An hour later Price and Torres were seated in the interrogation room with Maria. Right as they were about to begin, another officer poked his head in and said something that Price couldn’t understand to Torres. Torres turned to Price and relayed it in English.

“Your friend is waiting at the receptionist’s desk. He wants to come join us.”

Price sighed. “Would you mind?”

Torres turned to the officer and asked for Daley to be brought in. Two minutes later he arrived and took a seat next to Price. Then the three men focused on Maria, who was sitting on the opposite side of the table. She had her arms folded in front of her, and her eyes were steeled in defense.

“Please tell us the nature of your relationship with Otto Davies,” Price said gently.

“We were…close,” Maria said haltingly. “I met him in the states while at a bar about…eight months ago.”

“Please, go on,” Price encouraged after it was clear she had finished speaking. Sometimes it was good to leave it to a suspect’s own imagination where they were supposed to fill in the details.

“Well, so, his family had no knowledge of me. He was…a very miserable man. Not happy at home.”

“Did he ever talk about leaving his ‘not happy’ home?”

“Perhaps he would say something angry like that in passing. But never anything serious about it.”

“Or about ending his life?”

“No, of course not,” for the first time some genuine sadness seemed to creep into Maria’s face.

“What did you want him to do?”

She shrugged. “That was never my decision to make.”

“That wasn’t the question.”

“Well, then I don’t know. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

“Why did he help you setup the charity?”

“Just…thought it would be something good for me to do.”

“According to the books in your office your charity hasn’t done anything, well, charitable in the three months since you founded it.”

“I’m still trying to secure funding for my initiatives.”

“Which also are not clearly spelled out anywhere. The only thing resembling a charter that I can find is the line you filled out when you applied for your license…’to help the poor of the city.'”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“You don’t think that is a worthy cause?” she returned.

“Well if you are lacking funding, then it would seem the money Otto tried to leave you in his will would have gone a long way to help. Why did you really reject that?”

“Obviously to avoid the scandal.”

“Oh his family felt plenty scandalized anyway.”

Maria looked down at her feet. Daley used the opportunity to look sideways at Price and slowly raise a finger, signalling that he would like to speak. He had a shy, but winning smile, like a boy who is in trouble but asking for a new toy even so. Price’s didn’t try to withhold the disdain from his face. Daley had enjoyed taking Price down a peg or two that very morning, but now he was in an official interrogation room and knew that Price could deny him any access to the case whatsoever. So now he would smile, now he would be polite, and do whatever it took to satisfy his curiosity. Price entertained the thought of throwing Daley out right then and there…but though he hated to admit it, he genuinely did want to hear what Daley was so anxious to bring to the table. So he rolled his eyes and shook his head in a long-suffering way, but then waved his hand for Daley to proceed.

“Mmm,” Daley cleared his throat. “Ms Guzman, surely you can see that things aren’t quite adding up for us. The notion that you didn’t want to upset his family feels…weak.”

“You think I would want to profit from the death of the man I loved?!” she spat out.

“See, now, that would have been a much more convincing answer…if it had been the first one you had given. It feels to us like you’re making up answers–thinking of better and better ones as you go, I’ll admit–because there’s something you’re still trying to hide.”

Maria’s eyes went wide and her nostrils went narrow. Price genuinely felt uncomfortable being in the same room as her, but at least Daley was finally getting a reaction. That was something. In any case, words failed her, so Daley simply plowed on ahead.

“Now what would you have to hide? Well, let’s consider the situation. Otto Davies was miserable with his life. You claim he had never voiced an intention to leave it, one way or another, but whether that’s true or not, we still know that he was miserable. Add to that fact that he helped you to setup a charity, only a matter of weeks before he changed his will to send all his wealth to that charity. Any idea why he would do that?”

Maria’s lips remained pursed, so still Daley continued.

“Here’s a theory, then. If Otto had simply left his family, then the prenuptial agreements would have been executed, which sharply favored his wife. But he knew there was a chance to still cut her out through his will, though it would be unlikely for that will to be honored if it left everything to his mistress! But if he left it to a charity? Suddenly Otto’s reasons for helping you to set this business up seem pretty obvious, don’t they? I guess the only question is whether you shared in those plans?”

No answer.

“No really, Ms Guzman,” Price interjected. “We do need you to respond to that.”

She paused, picking her next words very carefully. “I was not aware of any intention like that. It was not my intention.”

“Yes, well, if you did share any such intention it would be difficult for you to admit it,” Daley nodded. “Because then you’d be afraid that we would accuse you of being complicit in his suicide.”

“If that had been my intention, then why would I turn down the money? I did that before there were ever police attached to the matter.”

“Ah, well done, that is a very good point,” Daley thumped the table. “And you are absolutely right, it wouldn’t make any sense that way. So it must be just as you say: that if he helped you setup the charity with the intention to leave you the money after his suicide, then you, at least, were never aware of such a plan and never would have approved of it.”

“At last you’re talking sense.”

“Unless…of course, the suicide was never actually the real plan. Perhaps there was another strategy that you were involved in…one that wasn’t supposed to end in Otto’s death. One that you still don’t want to tell us about.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Perhaps he only wanted to stage a suicide and slip away to Mexico? He could live with you off of the wealth he funneled into your fake-charity, and no one would ever come looking because, well, he was ‘dead.’ Maybe that was a plan you would have been able to accept, one you would even help him to set up. But then…he actually did die, and whether out of fear or guilt, you tried to wash your hands of the entire thing.”

“I am finished here,” Maria hissed. “I will not be insulted anymore.”

“Did you help Otto buy bullets for his gun?”

“Just stop!” Maria stood up and started towards the door. Torres glanced nervously at Price, wondering if he was going to intervene. “Of course I didn’t!” she cried as she reached for the knob.

“That’s a lie.” Daley reached into his pocket, pulled something out, and slammed it down on the table. It was a box of bullets.

 

On Monday I spoke about stories that are sensational and stories that are grounded. I discussed how this mystery story has featured a little bit of each. Price is grounded in the realities of life as a detective, constrained by all the mundane elements of paperwork and red tape. Daley meanwhile is free to chase a more idealized version, a game that is stripped of all the rules. Each of these perspectives shade the story, and mix across it in ways that are hopefully interesting.

At the start of the interrogation Price is direct and procedural. He asks clearly defined questions, and he receives short, unhelpful answers in reply. The process is slow and uninteresting. Then Daley has his turn and things quickly become heated, long-winded, and spiraling out of control. It even ends with a dramatic flourish at the end because that’s the sort of story Daley is trying to make this into: a sensational one.

Something else I wanted to point from this piece was how I wrote all of Maria’s responses to be extremely brief. The intention is to build up a sense of terseness, even before any adjectives are employed. This ability to imply details is something that I’m still learning how to utilize, and would like to dive into more deeply with my next post. Come back on Monday where we consider the ways authors can make dialogue self-descriptive, and then on Thursday we’ll have the conclusion to our mystery.

Washed Down the River: Part Four

flag of mexico
Photo by Hugo L on Pexels.com

 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

The two men walked into the building and soon found a secretary to help them in their research. Price provided her what little details he had about the charity, and she went to look through a wall of filing cabinets, flipping through index cards at random.

“So does the family think they’ll get the money back somehow?” Daley asked Price while they waited. “I mean this can’t be too great of a shock after he told them off, can it?”

“Well there were the prenuptial agreements, so yeah, Mrs Davies was expecting her payday. Apparently those agreements highly favored her, and the judge decided they were unfair, so he’s superseding them with the will.”

The secretary came back, carrying a single index card back with her.

“I don’t have very much,” she said to the men. “The only reason I have anything at all is because yes, the institution was set up by an American.”

“Otto Davies?”

“No, someone named Maria Guzman.”

“But she’s an American?”

“Yes. Not by birth, this mark right here means a naturalized citizen. You can go check the census records for more information if you need it, I’m afraid that this is all I have.”

“Oh this is plenty,” Daley smiled.

The two men did indeed follow up on Maria Guzman, and Price presented the information they found on her to Mrs Davies the next day.

  • Maria Guzman is a woman (obviously)
  • Thirty-seven years old
  • Born in Mexico, but went through the immigration process in her twenties
  • Maintains dual citizenship, and has a home both in Mexico and in the states
  • Florida specifically
  • Within five miles of the Davies’ residence to be even more specific

“And you…spoke to her?” Otto’s wife asked, her face pale as a sheet.

“No, can’t,” Price shrugged his shoulders. “Well I mean I could, but it would have to be over the phone and that’s just never very effective. She’s in Mexico right now, has been for the past month.”

“Mm,” Mrs Davies pursed her lips together. “And you can’t go to Mexico?”

“Not officially, no. Well I mean I could, if we had an understanding with their government, but I highly doubt that my superiors are going to approve me continuing to chase this case any further.”

“So…not officially.”

One week later Price and Daley were on a plane out of the country. Price had introduced Mrs Davies’ to his “private detective” friend, and she had readily agreed to send him to follow up on things. Then, the next day, Price decided he might as well sit down with Commissioner Howell and request permission to go to Mexico just in case. At first Howell dismissed the notion entirely, but took it under more serious consideration when he learned that Daley was already planning the trip.

“I know you’re worried about what he  might do down there, same as me,” Price said. “You know we can’t leave him alone. He needs…looking after.”

“So that’s the official police business now?” Howell snorted. “Looking after rogue private detectives?” But even though Howell was shaking his head, the corners of his mouth twitched with concern for his friend. “However…” he said slowly, “I am worried about how this might blow back on the rest of us. I can’t stop Daley from going, obviously, and I’m worried he’ll foul things up royally! It’d be a PR nightmare if he did something stupid and people learned he was an ex from our department!”

“Yes, that’s my thought as well.”

Howell narrowed his eyes as he weighed his options. “Of course…I wouldn’t want you starting to think that this is how things are done now. That Daley can keep pulling these crazy stunts and we’ll be there to save him all the time…”

“No, of course not. I understand you completely, this would just be a one-time thing.”

“And if I did send you, it would only be because I know you would do your job right. You would be there as a bright and shining example of proper, decent, police procedure. Hopefully so bright as to prevent Daley from summoning all unholy Mexican wrath on our heads!”

“That’s all I want. One week.”

“Just one.”

And so Daley and Price flew to Mexico on the same flight, Daley in first class on Mrs Davies’ dime, Price in coach on the precinct’s. Daley breezed through customs without any wait, while Price showed his documents and had a long conversation with an official. Then the two grabbed an unlicensed taxi and made camp at a nearby motel. The next day they went to the address they had for Guzman Charitable Services, which was a single room rented out of a dinky office building in the heart of the city. They knocked on the door but no one answered.

“Not in the office at 10 am on a Thursday?” Daley clicked his tongue. “Doesn’t sound like a very reputable institution if you ask me.”

“I’d be curious to see how many charitable services Guzman Charitable Services has actually done since being instituted,” Price nodded. “We need to check in with the local precinct anyway, let’s see if we can’t get a warrant to look at this place’s books.”

Daley looked at his watch. “And then try and catch Ms Guzman at her home this evening?”

“Sounds good.”

They submitted their request for the warrant, killed a few hours walking the streets, and then that evening went to the residence for Ms Guzman, accompanied by a local officer named Torres. The house was in the suburbs, and though it was small, it was very well maintained. They knocked on the door, and a moment later a slender woman in her thirties answered.

“¿Sí?”

“Hello, Ms Guzman? My name is Detective Price, and this is my friend James Daley. We’ve been sent–”

“Yo no hablo inglés, lo siento.”

“Por favor señora,” Torres leaned forward, “esto solo tomará un minuto.”

The woman sighed. “Come on in.”

She turned her back and Daley flashed a grin at Price. The four of them walked over the tiled floor and into a receiving area that doubled as the dining room. The woman waved nonchalantly at the seats around the table. The three men ignored them, but she took the one at the head.

“You are Maria Guzman?” Price clarified.

“Sí…I mean, yes. And you are here about the money?”

“The money?””

“Some American sent some money to my institution the other day. I assume you are here to take it back, but it won’t do you any good.”

“Not to take it back, that’s not how we work…. Why wouldn’t it do any good, though?”

“I don’t take money from people I don’t know,” Maria said indignantly. “Rejected it as soon as I heard about it.”

“You turned it down?” Daley’s eyebrows raised. “My understanding is that it was quite the sum!”

“All the more reason to not get tangled in it. What do I want with a dirty fortune?”

“Well you might have left it to me,” Daley chuckled, which caused Maria’s eyes to narrow.

“I don’t think I care for your sense of humor, sir. A death is a terrible thing, and I have no wish to profit from that.”

“Yes, please excuse my friend,” Price piped up, “he’s incorrigible. But do you mean to say that you did not know Mister Otto Davies?”

“No.”

“No you don’t mean to say that, or no you didn’t know him?”

“No I did not know him.”

“At all?”

She frowned. “At all.”

“Why would he leave you all of his money then?” Daley asked.

“I would say you’d have to ask him, but apparently that’s impossible. Perhaps he saw our charity in the phone book and decided to do some good. I don’t know.”

“Saw your Mexican charity in a phone book from Florida? We barely found any record of your place at a business registry, and that was only because we were specifically looking for it!”

Maria’s nostrils flared, but she didn’t rise to the implied accusation that she was lying. “That does sound odd when you put it like that, but I don’t know anything about it.”

From that point forward Daley settled back. He folded his arms and patiently waited as Price and Torres covered the last of the formalities. Then the three left the place. As soon as they entered the car Price dropped his professional demeanor.

“Well that was useless,” he slapped the dashboard in frustration.

“What do you mean?” Daley asked. “That was great! She’s lying.”

“Yeah, you think? But so what? She knows this isn’t a murder case, and she knows we’ll have to drop it before long, so she has plenty of incentive to not cooperate. I don’t see what you have to be all happy about then.”

“Because we know that she has the information we want. This is the place to dig. Sure, I don’t know how we’ll get it out of her yet, but we’re going the right way…. I’d say we finally found the person who cared the most for Otto.”

“Well I’ll tell you one thing, I’m sure going to enjoy tearing her office apart once the warrant comes through. There’d better be something there.”

*

The next morning the two detectives checked in at the precinct and by noon they had the warrant ready to go.

“Officer Torres, could you get Miss Guzman on the phone?” Price grinned. “Tell her she needs to open up shop for us.”

“Let me know what you find down there,” Daley smiled.

“What, you’re not coming?”

“Nah, it’s a small space, I’d just be in the way.”

“Nuh-unh, that doesn’t fly. You came all the way to Mexico because you had such an itch for this case, and now you’re telling me you aren’t going to be there for a search? How come?”

“Not feeling so good. I was going to go lay down and hopefully feel better this afternoon. I’d rather be there for the interrogation after you find something to pin on Miss Guzman.” Daley turned and started to walk towards the exit.

“Hey, hey, hold up,” Price hurried to catch up to him. “You know that you’re fooling absolutely nobody, right?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” The two exited the building and continued their argument down the street.

“I don’t know where exactly you’re headed, but it’s to do some detective work that you know I couldn’t approve of.”

“If I were, then I wouldn’t be very motivated to tell you about it, now would I? Far better to just keep mum and not vex your poor, little conscience.”

“Listen Daley, I came here to do real detective work! To do things by the book!”

“And you are.”

“And I was the one who even introduced you to the Davies and told them they should send you to Mexico. So don’t pretend that your vigilantism doesn’t affect me! You get caught doing something indecent and it’ll all blow back on me!”

“Please, I’m a very delicate man!”

“And that’s to say nothing of the principle of the matter!”

“Well let’s say nothing of it.”

“Daley, come on!”

“No, you come on,” Daley finally stopped and turned to look Price in the eye. “You made it more convenient for me to be here, that’s all. I was already coming anyway, remember? So it’s not on your conscience that I’m here. And speaking of your conscience, you set the trip up this way to ease your anxieties, not to help me. Don’t pretend otherwise. Thus far I’ve indulged you in that, I’ve made you feel respectable for hanging around me. But now I’m not. That must be hard, and I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”

Price shook his head and took a step back. “You say all those words like you actually mean them.”

Daley shrugged and started to walk away again. He spoke without turning to look back at his partner. “What are you going to do, Price? Arrest me? You’re far outside of your jurisdiction here.”

Part Five

 

On Monday I discussed how the different parts of a story will interrupt one another in order to have their say. The hope is that these transitions will not be jarring, and that they will combine to form a unified message, but there’s no getting around the fact that all but the smallest of tales are going to shift gears now and again.

Last week I had a scene that changed its focus partway through, and then went back to its original intent later. In today’s piece things were broken up at a much more granular level. In short, each scene of this story is focused on one thing and one thing only. The transitions of focus only occur when the next scene begins. This approach is certainly simpler, though it perhaps lacks some of the immediacy of making the change on the fly. I settled on this approach because I wanted the story to move at a quick pace, and get through multiple settings in a hurry. This meant many short scenes, which are far more difficult to interweave multiple voices within. To put it another way, it is usually better to not paint an intricate landscape when you’re working on a small canvas.

Even with the simpler approach of separating focuses into different scenes, it was still important to ensure that each story moment made sense with where I put it. For example, I knew I wanted Price and Daley to have their argument at some point during this chapter, I knew the case needed to be pushed forward, and I knew that Maria Guzman needed to be introduced as a major character. Introducing Maria while advancing the case made sense, and so I dedicated that scene solely to those two tasks, and saved the argument for later. When I considered when I should put the argument, then, I realized that it would be the perfect final note to a piece of increasing tension.

Thus there was careful consideration for when each theme would take the reins from the others, and how they would build the overall experience.

There’s one other element of this story I’d like to take a look at. If my readers had not figured it out already, this is not one of those  mystery stories that is steeped very heavily in sensationalism. There’s nothing wrong with having sensational elements in a mystery story, but I wouldn’t want any of my readers to have the wrong idea about what they’re getting into.

I would like to examine this idea of sensationalism in stories more closely. Come back on Monday where we will discusswhat it is, how it is different from fantasy, and how to use it, or not use it, properly.

Washed Down the River: Part Three

close up photography of brass bullets
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Part One
Part Two

“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–”

“Gene.”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“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?”

“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.”

“Maybe…”

“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.”

“Just one.”

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.”

“So?”

“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.'”

“Huh.”

“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.”

“Oh?”

“They read out the will and apparently seven weeks ago Otto changed it. Sent all the money to some charity in Mexico.”

“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?”

“I listen.”

“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.

Part Four
Part Five

 

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!