by Helene Baron-Murdock
The operations briefing was scheduled for 8 AM in Conference Room Two adjacent to the squad bay. Donovan had been in the office since 5. Now he was seated at the long table watching Lieutenant Jackson tack the mug shots of the three suspects and the reconstructed sketch of O.R. Phineas onto the white board.
Rick Nelson was there too, staring into the steam of a hot cup of coffee. He had that new-baby-no-sleep look to his bleary eyes. In answering “How’s the baby” he’d offered “I think she’s a vampire. She only sleeps during the day and stays awake all night. I could be catching a few precious winks if the Loot hadn’t called me in.”
Mike Jackson looked away from what he was writing on the white board. “Boss said he wanted everyone front and center. He even had me call Bobbie back.”
Lanky Townsend stopped at the doorway about to step in. “What? Bobbie Delyn? That’s cruel and usual punishment. I thought she was still going through rehab.”
“Boss’s orders,” Mike said to the white board and drawing a line connecting what he had written to the picture of O. R. Phineas that Donovan had printed out from an array of available images online. The victim had not been camera shy.
Stubby Burdon found a place at the table and set a paper hot cup down next to his file folder. “You’ll never guess who I saw in the breakroom.”
Nelson and Townsend turned to him and said “Bobbie” in unison.
“Taking my name in vain, are you?” The older woman in the doorway glared at them with mock displeasure.
“Not me, Sarge,” Burdon held up his hands in protest, “Just surprised to see you back is all.”
Sergeant Roberta Delyn had that tough cop look that only a woman can have. She was all business. No tolerance for boy games and pranks. If you messed up, she was the one who read you the riot act. At five foot five her square shoulders balanced a not exceptionally pretty face due to the white scar that ran from beneath her left ear across her cheek to the tip of her chin. A boyish dyed blond bob tucked under a ballcap, she was dressed in her usual puffy green down vest over a checked man’s shirt, a pair of Levi’s, one leg of which was wrapped in a brace, and a three toed aluminum cane. She passed behind Donovan’s chair to get to the end of the long table and casually asked, “Why are you still here?”
Donovan and Bobbie didn’t exactly have a history. Not that kind of history anyway. She’d been in Violent Crimes longer than he had. She was the Loots right hand and sometime his left foot. “Sergeant Delyn, always a pleasure.” Donovan raised his coffee cup in salute.
Jackson faced the detectives from the white board, sleeves rolled up, folder in hand. “Ok, let’s get started. Captain Voss will be delayed so we’ll start without him. Let’s hear what forensics came up with. Pete?”
“I have a question.” Bobbie had raised her hand. “Why am I here?”
“Come on, Sarge, as I explained, it was not my call.”
“I’m on sick leave, for cry’s sake!”
“You could have said no.”
“Well,” she said glaring at the other detectives at the table, “don’t expect me to ride your asses in my usual capable and efficient manner. If anybody needs me, I’ll be in the cafeteria.” At that she pushed her chair back and lifted herself, obviously in pain, to stand, and slowly shuffled her way out of the conference room and in the direction of the elevators.
Jackson shook his head. “Pete? You were saying?”
“Uh, not much new from the lab except that some of the bits and pieces are testing positive with non-human traces. Blood from the clothing of the gals matches the deceased, but other than that nothing. Samples from under their nails show no indication that they used their hands to rip the vic apart.”
“Maybe they washed their hands after,” Burdon offered.
“Jackson shook his head. “I don’t think so, Eric. Their clothing was bloody but I’m guessing it was transient. They may have handled some of the body parts. And not one has a broken nail, chewed maybe, so I’m leaning toward the idea that maybe they were bystanders, witnesses, if you will, not actually physically participating in the rendering.” He addressed Townsend again. “What kind of non-human traces? Are we talking about foxes or big cats? Bear?”
“They ruled out most of the local critters. They’re thinking something more exotic. They’re still waiting for confirmation on the sample but something along the lines of,” Townsend checked his notes, “pan troglodytes.”
“Chimpanzee.” Donovan offered.
“I know that!” Jackson retorted.
“Our closest animal relative.”
“Yours maybe.” Which drew guffaws around the table. “Ok, Pete, anything else?”
“Dispatch got a call from a fisherman downstream from Sharon’s Crossing. Seems like we might have found the victim’s hands. Deputy’s on the way. We should know within the hour.”
“Alright, might as well have the coroner’s guys head that way, too. If they’re his hands we can get a positive id. His prints are in the system.” He turned address the white board. “Now our terrible trio here, dumb, dumber, and dumbest.” He tapped each of their photos with his pen. “Melanie, Dora, and Laurel are not being very forthcoming about what they saw and how they were involved.”
Burdon who’d been on the interrogation team volunteered, “Here’s what we’re dealing with. The Captain is sitting in. Out of nowhere, he says “Will you admit that you tore the limbs off this man because you were high on mushrooms and you floated his head down the river on a raft made of sticks.’ This is when we were grilling dumber, there in the middle. I had no idea where the heck that came from. So Dora, dumb Dora, it fits, goes ‘I dunno about the first part, I was pretty high, but yeah, his head, it seemed like the right thing to do.’ And I about. . . .”
“Uh, good, good, looks like Captain Voss is on his way,” Jackson held up his hand glancing toward the doorway. Conference Room Two became very quiet as Voss stepped in.
The Chief of Detectives nodded at his lieutenant and briefly glanced at the others at the table. “Continue Jackson, you can fill me in on what has already transpired. How is the questioning of the women going?”
“Ah, yes sir, we were just getting to that.”
Donovan knew the Loot well enough to know that when he put on that poker face, he was seething inside. He should have seen it coming when Jackson broke a little smile.
“But first Detective Donovan was going to brief us on the narrative he has developed of our victim’s movements before his murder.”
Donovan blinked, ok, Mike, you owe me one, and gathered the folders with his notes in front of him. “Yesterday, approximately 1700 hours we receive a call from the proprietor of Sharon’s Corner, Dane Carson, who said he could identify the composite broadcast on the local evening news. Earlier, approximately 1300 hours, a facial recognition search I had initiated came up with a possible id of the victim. The names matched, and in the process of questioning Mr. Carson, I learned that the victim had presented a poetry reading at his establishment, less than a week ago, last Sunday. There were approximately twenty people in attendance that evening. I interviewed one of them so far, the organizer of the event, Faye Angeli, and plan to interview the others on the list of attendees. I learned or confirmed that the victim, O.R. Phineas, was a kind of literary celebrity, a poet. Mr. Phineas was last seen driving away from Sharon’s Corner in a silver BMW convertible accompanied it would seem by our first suspect, Melanie, who had come to the reading with May Naddy, as had the other two of our charming trio. That would indicate that she has prior knowledge of the poet perhaps leading up to the time of his death.”
At Jackon’s nod he continued. “In my interview with Ms. Angeli, who is a real estate agent, she admitted to at one time being a part of the following of radical women around May Naddy known as The Bear Cult, but had left the group after what she termed an ‘unnerving incident.’ She wouldn’t say further what she meant by that but I’d guess that she witnessed something that still leaves her shaking. It’s her contention that May Naddy is a witch, evil, at least.”
Donovan pulled a print out of a photo from the folder and slide it across the table to the Loot. “Tack that one up next to the author’s photo of Phineas.” It was a picture of May Naddy from her last major film, Mistress of the Beasts. She wasn’t wearing a lot of clothes in that one either.
“Is this your idea of a joke, Detective, a pinup on the murder board?”
“The relevance of May Naddy in all of this is in the fact that she is well acquainted with Phineas. I did a little digging on the internet and you’d be surprised with what you can come up with. Before she moved her animal rescue operation to Weston County, May Naddy had a similar enterprise on an island off the coast of Croatia. She was also a patron the performance artist, Yuri Dicey.”
“I don’t see how any of this is relevant to our investigation, Detective.” Voss wasn’t the patient sort.
“Yuri Dicey was married to Oscar Reynaldo Phineas. She was killed when one of her stunts went wrong. He was suspected at first but was eventually cleared. But if you read the comments on stories about Dicey’s death, there are people who believe that Phineas in fact had something to do with his wife’s death.”
“That’s gossip, you’ve been wasting your time reading tabloids instead of doing police work!”
“One of those people is May Naddy. She has been quoted as saying she believes Phineas killed Yuri Dicey because he was jealous. I’ll just throw this out, Naddy and Dicey were rumored to be lovers.”
“And I’d throw that in the trash where it belongs. I don’t know where your reputation comes from, Donovan, but this certainly isn’t police work!”
“Hey, look at that!” Townsend held up his smart phone. “They found the hands and printed them! He’s our guy. O. R. Phineas, poet.”
Donovan sat opposite Bobbie Delyn at the table in the cafeteria with a paper cup of steaming caffeinated brown water and watched her chew the end of her pencil.
“What’s a four letter word for ‘martinet’?”
“Too many letters.”
“That fits, and completes the cross word ‘retired police officer,’ ‘excop’.” Bobbie gave what passed for a smile that creased her white scar like an odd punctuation. “The investigation not going well?”
“Our new chief of detectives is intent on charging the three, I wouldn’t say undeserving but nonetheless not culpable, with murder. Unfortunately other than the bloody clothing nothing indicates that they were directly responsible for the victim dismemberment. Personally, and I’m not alone with this, I think it is physically impossible for them to do it.”
“Because they’re women.”
“Of course not. Even a very strong man would be incapable of ripping a torso to shreds like that, even with tools. This guy was practically confetti.”
“Ugh, now there’s a pretty picture.” Bobbie scribbled on the edge of the newspaper thoughtfully. “Some kind of animal, then?”
“Chimp. I know that one from doing the crosswords. But a chimp in R.K. Turis State Park? Who would. . . ?”
“Let me finish that thought for you. May Naddy and her anxious animal ark. I got Woody Ames, the animal behavior vet out of bed early this morning.”
“The County Dog Catcher as he so often calls himself. Bet he was happy.”
“Because she operates a wild animal sanctuary one of the stipulations for the permit was that Animal Control had to regularly inspect conditions on the ranch, make sure they weren’t being mistreated and such.”
“Yeah, I think I heard Woody complaining about that.”
“There’ve been problems before. One of her cheetahs escaped and went after the neighboring ranch’s sheep. Fortunately, the cheetah was defanged. It just gummed a lamb. Unfortunately the lamp died of a heart attack.
“Gummed a lamb. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase that from my memory.”
“So Woody has an inventory of what kind of animals she has out there. They’re mostly arthritic big cats who have seen better days, all defanged, or blind. A black bear that is so fat it can’t walk, it can only roll, a couple of dogs pretending to be wolves, llamas who’ve lost their spit, a giraffe that can’t stand, horses one step from the glue factory. . .the usual assortment of misfit four legged, feral cats, stray dogs, and two legged runaways engaged in some kind of throwback evolution. . . .”
“His words, I’ll assume.”
“And a crazed chimpanzee. Said when he did the inspection, the chimp was kept in some kind of cage away from everyone, including the other animals. And believe it or not, went apeshit whenever anyone came near her. May Naddy was the only one who could calm the chimp down. Female I think he said. Probably the most dangerous animal out there. His opinion.”
“If I were to draw a conclusion from what you’ve told me, May Naddy’s chimp is the perp.”
“May is linked to Phineas through Yuri Dicey who was both their lover.”
“Sounds like someone was working all the angles hoping to get to the point.”
“Naddy blamed the poet for Yuri’s death. Either she had Faye Angeli lure Phineas to Weston County or it was by coincidence. Either way, May sees her chance at revenge.”
“And uses the chimp as her hitman? From what I’ve heard they’re strong enough. But why involve the three runaways?”
“They were bait. From what I’ve read about O.R. Phineas, he was a lady’s man, left a trail of broken hearts and promises from coast to coast. The silver BMW he was last seen driving was reported missing by some gal up in Eureka. . . .”
“And who didn’t want to press charges because she was certain O.R. had just borrowed it but changed her tune to stolen when we told her we’d found it torched in a turnout off a dirt road down here. I think May used these three kids to lure him to her place. Maybe even tortured him. The lab is putting together a composite of the body parts that might show indications of torture.”
“Adding insult to injury. But wouldn’t she worry that the three women would talk if they were involved in any of it.”
“She’s got some kind of psychic grip on them. The experience was probably so horrific they’re suffering from amnesiac shock. If we let them stew a bit longer, one of them might loosen their hold on whatever false scenario they’re clinging to.”
Bobbie penciled in an answer with a grunt of satisfaction. “Might be a little complicated for the new guy.”
“He as much said I should be writing for TV cops shows. It was the most farfetched narrative he’s ever heard.”
“He won’t last long.”
“You don’t think so? I’ll be long gone, but you guys are going to have to put up with him.”
“He doesn’t fit. Who’s ever heard of a Derrick Voss. Helen Reddie over in HR told me that they had a much better candidate, guy by the name of Hendrix. He would have been a perfect fit, she said.”
Donovan took a sip of his coffee which had gone from scald to just hot. “You’re not thinking of jumping ship soon are you?”
“Me? No way. I’ve got half a dozen years before I’m eligible.” Bobbie pointed to her knee. “Unless I go out on a medical.” Then she frowned. “Wait! How old do you think I am?”
“Hey, Sarge. No offense, you just look mature for your age.”
“Geez, like I haven’t heard that one before.” She sighed and tapped the pencil eraser on the table. “So how are you going to deal with Voss the boss?”
“Mike’s getting a search warrant for the Bear Ranch. We’ll see if we can make a match with the chimp. If so, then it goes in that direction and Voss will have to follow it.”
“He was hoping for something cut and dried, this sounds sloppy and wet. So what’s the motive besides sheer cruelty and mayhem? Revenge for the girlfriend’s death?”
Donovan shrugged. “That’s one of them.” He retrieved a slim volume from his folder and passed to Bobbie.
“What’s this? Poetry? When Sunny Get Glue by O.R. Phoneas, er Phineas?”
“Yeah, Fay Angeli had an extra copy.”
“So your saying he was killed because of his poetry?” Bobbie leafed through the pages, lingered on some passages, winced, looked disgusted, sighed, and then passed the book back. “With something like that, anyone could claim justifiable homicide.”