She was sitting slumped back in a dinning room chair, a hand holding a cold compress on the back of her head. Dressed in a black skirt, black jacket and white silk blouse, with dark wine-red heels on slim. petite feet. A very expensive looking ruby necklace worth a small fortune adorned her long, perfectly chiseled neck.
She looked like old money.
Not in the sense of time or age. But old in the sense she rolled in dough. Lots of it. And had had it for years.
A mass of brown hair, curly, had been thrown over her left shoulder as she held the compress on the right side of her head. Maybe in her early thirties she was well built, trim. With an athlete’s body.
Behind her, in the next room, her husband laid on the carpeted floor of his private study. Head bashed in—blood everywhere—his desk trashed—paper and books scatted all over the room. The elegant French doors leading out of the study and into a park-like manicured lawn were wide open. Through the doors the sounds of the night—cicadas chirping, cops and forensics specialists moving about, radios squelching police jargon.
Just behind, and to her left of the dark haired beauty, was a mousey looking woman dressed in a yellow cotton dress with pearls around her neck. She had on white high heels. Lying on the table beside the dark haired woman were a pair of fancy white gloves she had tossed onto it the moment she entered the house and announced herself as the woman’s sister. On her plain looking face was a mask of concern for the woman sitting in the chair in front of her and flashes of anger, aimed in our direction, at the same time.
“How could this situation become so tragic? How? We warned you something like this was going to happen. Warned you over and over! But all you did was take another report and then immediately forget about it the moment you walked out the door.”
Frank—my partner in the homicide division down at South Side Precinct—and I looked at the mousey woman but said nothing. We’ve been working as partners in homicide for more than ten years. Worked all kinds of homicides. Knew when to ask questions and when to keep quiet. This was one of those times. To keep quiet. The woman wanted to do the talking right now. And we wanted to hear what she had to say.
“Sis and I’ve been trying to convince the police Hector Gonzales was going to come back and do something terrible to William. Pleaded for them to do something to get that madman off the streets! When he broke into the house last week and all the alarms went off we thought that would . . . finally . . . get you people off your lazy asses and do something! But did you? Did you? No! Nothing. Nothing! And now look what has happened!”
She was visibly shaking in rage as she fought to control her emotions. But her eyes glared at us venomously. Reaching she pattered her injured sister on her shoulder and then took the cold compress for her sister’s hand and held it as the more interesting sister lowered her hand and looked up at us with red rimmed, tearful eyes.
“Hector is a violent man, officers. He has, on more than one occasion, threatened William’s life. We’ve asked, as my sister says, repeatedly for some type of protection for the police. But the uniformed officer sent over here to take the report said there was really nothing they could do until a crime had been committed. Well, a crime has been committed. But it’s too late to help William.”
She collapsed onto the table top of the dining table and wracked her body with fitful sobs of weeping. We waited until she worked her way through her grief and then started asking questions.
“When did you see your husband last, Mrs. Winslow?” I asked.
“This morning,” the woman answered, taking a kerchief from her sister’s hand and wiping tears and mascara from her eyes. “I had to go up to the city for a meeting with one of charities I work with. William and I sat in the kitchen and had breakfast together.”
“What time was that?” my gorilla look-alike for a partner growled.
“Around six forty five . I had to be on the road by seven. So I’m fairly sure that was the time I saw him last.”
“And you discovered the body when?” I asked, eyeing both sisters.
“When I got home about forty minutes ago,” the dark haired Mrs. Williams answered, eyes beginning to fill up with tears again. “I let myself in—this is Friday night so the staff had already left for the weekend, and I found . . . I found William . . . in there.”
She buried her face in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably. Her sister mumbled something under her breath and then came around from behind her sister’s chair and confronted me directly on.
“Can’t these stupid questions wait? And why are they necessary? We told you who killed William. Hector Gonzales. Why don’t you go out and arrest him. What does it take to get the police in this time to do something! May god! A man’s killed and all you can do is badger his wife with senseless questions!”
“Miss . . . “I began, lifting a hand up to ask quietly for some silence.
“Patricia. Patricia Hughes. Of the New Hampshire Hughes to be precise.”
Like I said. Old money.
“Miss Hughes, we’re quite familiar with Hector Gonzales and his threats. We’ve arrested him several times on battery charges. If he’s the one who killed William Winslow, we know where to find him.”
“But before we collar anyone we need to make sure he’s the right man,” Frank growled, looking at Patricia Hughes with a mug that only the mother of a Neanderthal tribesman could love. “And its doubtful Gonzales is our man.”
“Doubtful?” the woman in the yellow dressed hissed, turning to glare at my partner like an ally cat about to pounce on a rat. “Doubtful, you say? You’re trying to tell me my sister and I shouldn’t have been terrified at a man who’s threatened us several times to cut our throats with a machete? Or drown us in a river? Or run us over in his truck?”
“Doubtful,” Frank grunted, completely unaffected by the woman’s wrath. “I know Hector Gonzales—we know Hector Gonzales. He’s a hot headed old fool that talks tough. But he’s never killed anyone before. Never harmed anyone. So why would he kill your brother in law?”
“Money, dammit! For money! Is there any better reason to kill someone for?”
I eyed Mrs. Winslow who had now had composed herself. She was wiping tears from her eyes and sobbing quietly.
“Your husband hired Hector Gonzales for a major landscaping job, yes?”
“How the hell did you know that?” Patricia Hughes blurted out, surprise clearly written all over her face.
“That’s what Hector Gonzales does for a living,” Frank said. “Like I said, we know the guy.”
“William promised the man ten thousand dollars if he redesigned the back lawn and planted a number of trees within three weeks. The man and his crew worked night and day, putting in long hours, and got it down. But not in the time frame William specified. Gonzales was one day over the time frame laid down by William. Because of that William wanted to invoke a penalty clause in the contract he and Gonzales signed. A hefty penalty.”
“And that’s when Gonzales blew up and threatened us all,” the Hughes woman nodded, a severe frown cutting across her plain looking face. “Said he was going to come back with a shotgun and blow all of our brains out!”
“You said he’d threatened you other times,” I began, stepping around the yellow dressed woman and approaching the grieving widow. “Gonzales has worked for your husband before?”
“Yes, on several occasion,” she answered, nodding. “This is a rather large estate I inherited from our parents. It had not been taken care of for years when we moved in. William asked around for the best landscaping company available. Everyone said Gonzales was the man.”
“And your husband tried to stiff Gonzales each time?” Frank asked, in his usual blunt fashion.
Mrs. Winslow reacted like she’d been slapped from Frank’s bluntness. But she nodded silently.
“He broke into your house last week?” I asked.
“Yes, he did!” Patricia Hughes shot back, stepping in front of her sister protectively and glaring up at me again. “William found him waiting for him in the study. That had a huge row. The profanity the man used was awful! We called the police to come and arrest the man. But before a uniformed officer could arrive Gonzales slipped out through the French doors and disappeared.”
A shrill voice. A shrill woman. Angry. Hostile. Turning, I looked at Patricia Hughes for a second or two.
“We’ll go find Hector and have a talk with him. Hear his story. And then we’ll probably come back and ask some more questions,” I said quietly. “To both of you.”
I headed out of the big house with Frank following along in my wake. It wasn’t until we stepped out into the moon lit night and slid into the bucket seats of the Ford Shelby Mustang G.T. 350 before any of us said anything.
“Think Hector did it?”
“Maybe. That hot headed bastard is past due in doing something stupid like this. But something doesn’t feel right here. Something about the study,” I said, leaning forward and starting up the big V-8 and then pushing the gearshift up into first gear.
“Yeah,” nodded Frank in the night, his square-shaped cement block of a head turning to stare out the window. “Why trash the man’s desk and computer? Hector’s hot headed but he ain’t stupid. He wasn’t going to find ten thousand dollars just lying about.”
That was it. The destroyed desk and computer.
Through back streets and down empty lanes we drove until we rolled out of the city limits and turned down a paved county road. Bright moon light filled the countryside with a warm yellow-white glow. Not a breeze stirred. The summer’s was heat stifling. But two miles down the road we turned into the drive a rambling one story house. Filling the yard were tractors, blades, and various other equipment a landscaper might use in his trade. In back of the house was a long, wide garage with its double doors thrown open and all the lights blazing. Bent over the front fender of a Chevy Silverado pickup was Hector Gonzales. He was dressed in a greasy looking set of overalls and mumbling to himself as he worked on the engine.
He didn’t exit from his work when we stepped into the garage. He just turned his head and glared at us and then spit on the garage’s cement floor.
“What the hell do you two want this time of night?”
“Just want to talk Hector,” Frank grunted, looking the garage over before bringing his attention back to the man.
“About William Winslow,” I said.
“Winslow? That sonofabitch!” Hector shouted, coming out from underneath the hood of the pickup, turning, and throwing the wrench in his hand as hard as he could toward a garage wall. It smacked off the wall and rang loudly as it fell onto the floor and slid across the cement. “I suppose he has a warrant out for me busting into his house and demanding my money. The bastard. Jesus! I hate rich people!”
“William Winslow is dead, Hector. Head beaten in by a baseball bat,” I said, reaching for my cell phone as it vibrated in my sport inside pocket. I listened for a moment and then said ‘thanks’ and flipped the phone shut. “And you’re prints are all over the bat’s handle.”
“Sure they are, dammit! I grabbed the damn thing and was thinking about doing just what happened to him when the sonofabitch walked in and found me. But I didn’t kill the asshole. We had our words. We screamed at each other. I made threats. And then the bastard sat down at his desk and wrote out a check for ten thousand dollars. The money he owed me.”
“Got proof?” Frank asked.
“Deposited the check this afternoon, Frank. It’ll be on the books. Hell, every time I worked for the bastard I had to go through this dance and pony show. But he paid up every time. There’s no reason for me to kill the fucker. I hated his guts. I hated yelling at him. But he was a steady paycheck for me and my men.”
Scratch Hector Gonzales as a suspect.
“You wanna know who had a motive to kill the bastard?” Gonzales growled, a wicked smirk creasing his lips as he walked over to a work table and wrote down something on a paper towel. “Here, go check this out. It’s a porn site. You’ll find it interesting.”
It was interesting. But it became more interesting as we worked on a new angle. Police work is nothing but asking questions. Lots of questions. It’s also about patience. It takes time to come up with the right question. It takes time to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. A couple of the pieces to the puzzle were these;
The porn site Gonzales gave us had some rather graphic photos of a flat chested mousey looking women posed in some rather athletic looking sexual positions. Several of them in fact. All with the same man. The man’s face was never revealed. But from the background scenery where the photos were taken we could guess.
The second piece of the puzzle was that William Winslow died between three and seven p.m. Which was a sudden brick wall thrown up in front of us in considering our new suspect. She happened to be several miles away at that time, standing in front of forty people, telling them in her shrill voice just exactly what she thought about Democrats in general and Liberals in particular.
“So, if she didn’t do it. Who did?” Frank asked, sitting in his wooden office chair behind his desk in the squad room and staring out me.
I grinned and came out of my chair and tilted my head toward the door in a sign he should come along. As I turned I swept off my desk a folder containing some of the more creative photos we had found on the porn site.
We found the sisters sitting in the mansion’s lavish living room. Mrs. Winslow sat on the couch and stared out a large window with a look of pure agony on her face. Patricia Hughes sat directly across from her sister in a large leather chair. She was wearing a pants suit, her legs crossed, her foot slapping the loose fitting sandal on the back of her heel in a bored fashion.
“Did you arrest that foul mouthed killer?” she said, the moment we walked in.
I shook my head no and walked over to stand between both women. Without saying a word I handed the folder containing the photos to her and waited. The anger and defiance drained from her face as fast as her complexion did. She sucked in her breath, her eyes widening in fear, and then threw the folder angrily from her.
“How did . . . why . . . he promised me he wouldn’t do anything stupid with these!”
“He lied to you,” I said, nodding, and then turning to look at Mrs. Winslow. “Just like he lied to you.”
“Lied to me? About what? Pattie, what were those photos about?” the woman with the dark hair and beautiful eyes said, looking alarmed, and looking first at the discarded photos and then back to her sister.
“He told you year in and year out how much he loved you. How devoted he was to you. That he’d never leave you. All lies. You found out what he really was like. And you exploded in rage.”
She came flying off the couch angrily, eyes filled with fury. But the fury wasn’t aimed at me. It was aimed at her sister. She stepped past me swiftly and slapped her sister—twice—as hard as she could. Patricia Hughes’ head snapped one direction and then the other with a vicious fury.
“You slut! You whore! You bitch! You two have been screwing each other behind my back for months. Months! Thank god the police finally figured out who killed my husband! I hope you burn in hell for your sins!”
Tears filled her eyes as she stepped back and threw hands up to her face. It was perfect. A performance worthy of an Oscar.
“Somebody is going to burn in hell, Mrs. Williams. But it won’t be your sister,” I said, grabbing the woman by one arm suddenly, twisting her around and slapping handcuffs across her wrists.
“What? What . . . what are you saying?” Patricia Hughes stammered, wiping tears from her eyes and coming out of her chair to stare at her sister and at me in genuine confusion. “I didn’t kill William. I couldn’t have killed William. I loved him!”
“Love. Love!” Mrs. Williams spit out venomously, her eyes filled with hatred as she looked at her sister. “Love! You didn’t love William. All you were interested in was in the erotic thrill he could give you! You’re one lucky bitch, sister. If my plans worked I would have killed you a few months later. Killed you and dumped your body in the ocean for the sharks to feed on!”
“How . . . how could my sister kill William? She was up north at her charity conference. It was to last all day.”
I nodded. And smiled.
“We checked. On both of you and your whereabouts. Your conference, Mrs. Williams, was to last the entire day. But it broke up about noon . That gave you just enough time to drive home. My guess is you walked into your husband’s study and found him gloating over the photos of him and your sister he had uploaded on the porn site. That’s when you lost it. You picked up the bat you knew would have the prints of Hector Gonzales on it and you used it to smash in your husband’s head. And his desk. And his computer in one moment of mindless fury.”
She looked at me with an icy smile on her trembling lips. But the look she gave her sister was one so filled with hate and venom it’ll be hard for me to ever forget. As we took her out of the house and stuffed her into a waiting patrol car I thought to myself I was damned glad I was an only child. Living with a brother who was a lot like me would have been a murderous experience.
B.R. Stateham is a sixty-one year old kid. A kid who likes to write. That’s about all that needs to be said.