Gunned an alex harris my.., p.1
Gunned: An Alex Harris Mystery, p.1Elaine Macko
Copyright © 2015 Elaine Macko
All rights reserved.
Other Books in the Alex Harris series
For my mother, who at age eighty-seven is still giving me sage advice
When I started writing this series I never thought I would have seven books written—and hopefully more to come! Thank you to all the people out there, who despite the closing of bookshops and the changing times, manage to find my books giving me the encouragement to continue.
The first time I met Sheldon Spiegel was in my office a few days ago. He sat across from me, a handsome man in his early to mid-sixties. He had a head of dark hair flecked with gray, and a face with a prominent nose and chubby cheeks. He was polite and soft spoken. He had an accent; soft, not very pronounced. Maybe North Carolina. I spent some time going over the services my temp agency Always Prepared offered, though I was not quite sure whether he wanted to hire some temps to work for him, or whether he was in the need of some work for himself. He listened to me politely, but I had a feeling his mind was elsewhere.
He left my office on that breezy spring afternoon, the wind catching a chunk of his hair and blowing it back from his face. I watched as he walked down the street, eventually leaving my sight. A nice man, I remember thinking, if perhaps a bit mysterious.
Today was the second time I laid eyes on Sheldon Spiegel. He didn’t look the same as the first time I had met him. It was the bullet hole in the center of his forehead that made the difference.
I looked at Mr. Spiegel on a video screen at the morgue. They, or I should say, the police, contacted me because my business card was in the man’s pocket. It was the only thing found on him, and the police didn’t know who else to call. I was tempted to tell them in no uncertain terms that the next time they found my card in the pocket of someone with a bullet hole in his head, they really must take the time to find his next of kin before dialing my number. But I wanted to help. And, unfortunately, I was no stranger to dead bodies. I seem to have a real knack for finding them. A gift, really.
The only problem, aside from the fact that poor Mr. Spiegel was dead, was that the detective who caught the case is my husband, John Van der Burg, lead detective for our little hamlet nestled along Long Island Sound, and the surrounding towns. I could already tell from the intense way he stood next to me, back straight, his arms crossed, and his greenish gray eyes boring into me, that he really did not want my help.
“Alex, tell me again how you know Sheldon Spiegel?”
I gave a quick look once again to the video screen and then pulled my eyes away from the image and sighed. “I don’t know him. I mean, he came into my office a couple of days ago. I talked to him for about a half hour. That’s it. I told him about the agency, gave him some information and my card, which you obviously know about. Period.”
“And you’re sure this is Mr. Spiegel?”
“Yes. This is the man who told me his name was Sheldon Spiegel. He could have been lying, but why would he?”
“What did he want?”
“I don’t know exactly. It was all very strange. Millie had left early to go to the dentist, Sam went to pick up the kids, and Marla was off that day,” I began, referring to the three women with whom I worked. “The truth is I’m not sure what he wanted. He never gave me any specifics. He asked a few questions about the agency and what we did exactly, and he seemed very nice, but he was more interested in looking around. If I had anything valuable I might have thought he was casing the joint, but he did seem nice and nothing’s missing from my office, so I don’t think he’s, was, a robber.”
John shook his head. “He might have been casing the joint? Alex, you can’t just let anybody walk in.”
“Of course I can. That’s my business. It’s what we do. Come on in and we’ll find you a great job.” I shook my head. “You know, come to think of it, it seemed like maybe he was waiting for somebody. I had my door open and he kept looking out like he expected someone to walk in. Maybe the same person who did this. Maybe he just ducked into my office to hide from someone and then left when he felt the coast was clear.” I turned and gave the video screen another glance.
“And then what happened,” John asked.
“Nothing. That’s it. I gave him my card. I gave him a couple of brochures, and told him if there was anything we could help him with, to please give us a call. Then he left and I watched him walk down the street because, well, because his visit just seemed very odd.”
My husband closed his eyes for a moment, most likely counting to ten. It’s a habit he has perfected since meeting me. When the needed seconds had ticked by, John opened his eyes and stared at me again. “Wait a minute. He walked down the street?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
I thought about this and then shook my head. “No. He walked and I watched until he was out of sight. He may have had a car parked further down the street or around the corner.” My business is on the bottom floor of an older house in town. We have several parking places in front of the building and a few around back. It’s a quiet street and most people park in their driveway or garage. “With everyone gone for the day, there was only my car so we had plenty of parking open right in front.”
“Maybe he lived in the area and walked over,” John suggested. “We didn’t find any ID on him. We’re running his prints and hopefully will get something from that.”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t think he lived around here. He had a southern accent. North Carolina, I think.”
John looked at me again, his eyes intense. “And how would you know that?”
“It was southern, definitely. Not as pronounced as say, Alabama. It was a bit softer. He probably lived in the Raleigh area. But I don’t think he was a southerner. I think he picked up the accent because he lived there for a while. But not a native. What?” I said, giving my husband a smile. “My agency gets a ton of people from all over the country. They move here for whatever reason and they need to find work. Plus, we use a lot of students from Yale and they come from all over. I’ve learned to pick up on different accents.”
John seemed skeptical at my accent-deciphering gift. “Okay, well, thanks for coming in. I’m sorry you had to see the body. We’ll be in touch if we have any other questions.”
I shook my head at my husband’s formality. “Sure. Whatever. If you need anything further, I’ll be at home cooking your dinner and laundering your underwear.”
“Did you see the paper today?” my sister Samantha asked the following morning. She was seated across from me, said paper spread out on the edge of my desk.
We live in a newspaper-reading kind of town. The rest of the country, indeed the world, turns to the Internet for their daily dose of the inhumanities we humans inflict on others, but here in Indian Cove, Connecticut, newspapers still get tossed onto front porches each morning by kids on bicycles. My grandmother even has milk delivered. It’s just that kind of town, and I like it that way.
“I try not to read the paper very often. Well, just the Sunday Times. Too depressing. Or watch the news,” I said, though this last bit was almost impossible to ignore as our local news cast came on right before Jeopardy, and sometimes I caught the tail end despite my best efforts. It’s not that I dislike the television news; it’s more that I dislike the people reading it. Why is it that producers think we
“Well, you should,” my sister continued. “There’s an international food festival this weekend in Stamford. Maybe Gerard and Annie would like to go.”
I smiled. Sam was right. An international food festival might be fun for my guests, but I had a feeling one of them would be busy working with my husband. Last year on our honeymoon to Europe, which my sister and brother-in-law attended as well, John and I got caught up in a murder and became good friends with the Belgian police detective who was assigned to the case. Tomorrow he, Gerard Willix, and his wife Annie, would arrive for a visit. I couldn’t wait to see them and introduce them to my goofy family, but now with the murder of Sheldon Spiegel, I knew John would be busy, and if I knew Gerard, he’d probably think we arranged the murder just for him.
“We can take Annie, but Gerard, no doubt, will be helping John with the murder.”
Sam folded the paper and moved it aside. “What murder? Alex, you can’t go getting involved in anything. You have guests arriving tomorrow. You’re going to have to put it on hold. Alex? Did you hear me? What murder? Who’s dead?”
“Sheldon Spiegel. He came into the office on Monday. Everyone was already gone so I spoke with him for a while and gave him one of my cards. His body was discovered yesterday with my business card in his pocket, and the police, or more specifically, John, called me to identify the body. They’re keeping it quiet until they can find his family, if he has one. That’s why it wasn’t in this morning’s paper.”
“Oh my God. How horrible.”
“And you can’t put murder on hold. You have to jump right in and get it solved or you risk never finding out who did it,” I said.
“How did he die?”
“GSW to the head.” At my sister’s blank look I explained. “A gunshot hole in his head. Right here.” I put my index finger smack dab in the center of my forehead. “Poor man.”
“Yes, it’s tragic. Horrible. But stay out of it. I mean it. No playing Nancy Drew while we have company.” Sam grabbed her newspaper and left my office.
I reached across my desk and pulled a big jar I keep full of M&M’s closer to me. I took off the lid and scooped out a handful. As I sat back in my chair, gently turning it from side to side, popping small pieces of chocolate into my mouth, I had to wonder. What was the chance of a man dying in our little town right after he came to see me?
“The man’s name is Sheldon Spiegel,” John began, while he tossed some chopped kale into a salad bowl. “Why are we eating this?”
“Because it’s full of all sorts of good stuff, and after you add all the other things you won’t even notice it. And I know his name is Sheldon Spiegel. I told you. Remember?”
“Right. Well, it’s been verified. He was staying with his brother in Danbury.”
“How did you find out? Fingerprints?” I took a vegetarian lasagna out of the microwave and put it on the table with the salad.
“His brother went to the police in Danbury when Mr. Spiegel didn’t come back home. They contacted us about the body we found and it turned out to be the same guy.”
“Where did you find him?” I asked.
“Not too far from the beach. It looks like the body may have been dumped there. A couple of cyclists found him.”
I munched on a mouthful of kale and a few dried cranberries. The kale was an acquired taste to be sure, but a versatile one, and I planned on using the remainder of the bag in a sausage soup. “Do you think there’s a connection with his coming to my agency and getting killed?”
“Not that I can think of unless you’re dealing with people with guns who go around killing visitors from North Carolina.”
I hit the table with my hand and flinched. I had recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and though I was feeling quite well and handling the medication fine, I probably shouldn’t be hitting my hand against a hard surface. “I knew it! Told you he was from North Carolina. Native? I bet not.”
John shook his head and gave me a small smile. “No. From right here in Connecticut, but he’s been living outside of Raleigh for about twenty years. Some well respected civil engineer. You were right. Is your hand okay?”
I reached over and touched John’s arm. “It’s fine. So what was he doing here and why did he get killed?”
John took another slice of the lasagna and put one on my plate as well. “The brother, Jerry Spiegel, said Sheldon showed up last week out of the blue and asked if he could stay. Jerry’s trying to get in touch with Mrs. Spiegel down in North Carolina, but so far she hasn’t returned any of his calls.”
“Sounds like marital problems,” I said. “He takes off, the wife follows him up here and kills him.”
“Maybe. Or maybe she hired someone to do it for her.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could solve this murder by tomorrow, say around noonish?”
John laughed. “I seriously doubt it, but stranger things have happened. Besides, it’s probably only fair that I return the gift and have a red hot murder waiting for Gerard.”
I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “I was afraid of that.”
Who was I kidding? I liked a good murder same as the next guy. The only problem I could see was how would I be able to work the case with house guests? It was a given Gerard would jump right in and go off with John every day, but what was I going to do with Annie? I had a few things planned, and my entire family wanted to meet her, but I knew myself too well. There was no way I could keep from getting involved in this murder. I mean, the man died after talking to me. I was asked to identify the body. It didn’t get any more involved than that. With any luck Annie might like bingo, and I could send her off with my grandmother and her gang of cotton-haired cohorts a couple of times.
I put the murder out of my mind while I tried to get some work done. With our guests arriving in a few hours, I needed to finish up a few things and then would leave the day-to-day stuff in the very capable hands of Millie and Marla. Sam would also be working and I could stop by the office if need be during Gerard and Annie’s visit. They would be arriving in their own car, rented up in Boston after their visit with some friends in the area, and they had been to New England numerous times. I had a feeling they would be very self sufficient, and if I got really busy, I could send them off for a day of sightseeing, but still, I wanted to be a good hostess and spend as much time with them as I could.
An hour and a half later I felt quite pleased with myself. I put the finishing touches on a speech I would be giving next month at a career fair, and pushed away from my desk, ready for another cup of tea. I drink a lot of tea. It started when I was little. My mother would give me a cup of tea every night with a light snack before bed. My grandmother tried to get me hooked on her strong Italian coffee, but the one and only spoonful she fed to me as a child turned me off the stuff, and since then I’ve never tried coffee again. Ever. Have no idea how to make it, and no interest in getting to know coffee better. Tea is just my thing.
I had just carried a steaming mug of Earl Grey, my tea of choice, back to my desk when a woman walked into my office, closely followed by Millie and Marla. They stood in the doorway like two sentries; Millie, with her dark hair and pale skin, and Marla, a tall woman in her early fifties, with beautiful skin the color of milk chocolate.
“Sorry, Alex,” Millie began. “We tried to stop her, but she insisted on speaking with you directly.
“Has my husband been to see you?” the woman asked. I judged her to be in her early sixties. She had dark brown hair, worn shoulder length in a similar style to Millie’s. She was medium height and weight, if a little heavy in
Sam had come down the hall at the sound of all the commotion, and stood in the doorway with Millie and Marla.
The woman was clearly frantic and probably had us confused with another company. “Why don’t you have a seat and we can sort this all out, Mrs.—?”
“Spiegel. Jackie Spiegel.”
Maybe she wasn’t as rattled as I had thought.
“Spiegel, did you say? Millie, could you get Mrs. Spiegel a cup of coffee or maybe a water?” I looked at Jackie Spiegel.
“A cup of coffee would be nice. A bit of sugar, no milk. Make sure it’s fresh brewed.” She turned and looked at Millie for a long moment, taking her in from head to toe.
Millie gave me a what-the-hell look and then left to get the coffee.
“She’ll bring that right in. Mrs. Spiegel, why don’t you tell me what this is all about?”
Millie came back with the coffee and then took up her sentry position just outside the door where Sam and Marla still stood.
“It’s my husband, Sheldon. The putz. I knew I shouldn’t have gone away for most of a week and left him alone.” Mrs. Spiegel shook her head. “But I do it every year. The man couldn’t wait to have a crisis until I got back? He promised he would just forget all this foolishness. The kvetching. All he does is kvetch. It’s enough to drive a person crazy. He’s upsetting our daughter. Causing arguments. You see, I just had to get away before I killed him. My friend, Lorraine, and I have a rule. When we go on our annual retreat, we turn off our phones. Once a year a little peace and quiet. Then I get home and see all these messages on my phone from my brother-in-law, so I knew Sheldon was here. He’s gotta be driving Jerry nuts, too.”
Gunned: An Alex Harris Mystery by Elaine Macko / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes