“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.”
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?”
“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 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.