The office seemed almost quiet for a police department. No phones were ringing, everyone was sitting around shifting papers from drawers or file cabinets, to their desktops. Crime apparently was taking a holiday, maybe for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, or didn’t someone mention it was St. David’s day??? Whoever St. David was, Welsh???—wouldn’t that be nice.
Detective Fiona Leister looked around with amusement at the different ways her fellow police were filling in the down-time of their normally busy work day. Even Fred and Leon, who should have been cruising around the streets of their small village, were sitting at their desks slowly typing up reports and casually drinking coffee. Occasionally they would mention the different people they always saw around town.
Troy Billings, her partner, was going through old files looking at cold cases that weren’t that old. Every so often he would proclaim “solved, last week,” “SOLVED! BY THE GREATEST DETECTIVES WE HAVE—US! Troy put all the copies into their proper folder, but the copies that didn’t need any folder got crumpled into a baseball size ball and tossed across the aisle like a basketball dunk into a waste basket that he had placed on Fiona’s desk.
Fiona saw Troy staring at one particular page with a puzzled look on his face. After intently reading the page, Troy folded the page carefully into a paper airplane and sent it flying across the aisle where it landed gracefully in the middle of Fiona’s desk. “Did we know about this?”
Fiona picked up the airplane and unfolded it to read the report. Apparently, the week before, an elder woman who lived on the edge of the town reported that some of her favorite paintings and objects were missing. Her name was Corine Breckly, and was 94 years old. In Fiona’s assessment, Fred, who typed up the report, suspected the woman was heading toward dementia and the objects were misplaced, or were never there except in the mind of the woman.
Fiona felt Troy watching her, as she thoughtfully processed the contents of the report. She looked up and gave Troy a questioning look and asked, “Want to take Corine Breckly some donuts and have a chat with her? We don’t seem to have any pressing cases to cover. I don’t know Ms. Breckly, do you?”
As soon as Fiona began asking her first question, Troy was putting on his jacket and picking up the keys to their SUV. “You drive” Troy shouted as he headed for the break room for a box of donuts (there was always a variety of donuts to be had in the office, what’s not to like about donuts?)
“Make sure you bring some chocolate glazed. I’ll bring the car to the front of the building” Fiona called as she hurried down to the parking lot. When she pulled up to the front of the police building, Troy was there with the small box of donuts, from Sally’s Diner—The BEST DONUTS IN TOWN.
They headed toward Corine Breckly’s house: 113 Orbit Street. When they got there, both Troy and Fiona just sat in the car staring at the house. Troy never turned his eyes off the house, but asked, “Did I just have a stroke that caused my mind to see a vibrant, multi-colored house?”
Fiona, herself, was wondering how she could have lived in the town, and not see this…..ahhhhh, how does one describe a large multi-colored victorian house that didn’t follow any normal painting scheme or rationale. Not to mention the vibrancy, no let’s call it what it was “psychedelic” oranges, greens, reds, blues, and chartreuse-yellow. Perhaps Fred was correct in his assessment of the situation-dementia. He should have included a picture of the house to back up his opinion.
All of a sudden, from the back seat came a shout “Well, are we going to gawk at the god-awful- ugly- house all day, or are we going to get to the bottom of this mystery?” Fiona shifted in her seat to glare at the ghost who followed her every place she went. His name was, Mortimer Finley, from Kindred Falls, Idaho, who died in a freak moose accident in their small town of Madena.
Unfortunately, Fiona was on call the night the moose-accident took place, and Mortimer took an instant liking to her. Who could have expected a moose would slide down a hill on it’s back and hit a car, sending the car careening onto the frozen lake. One would have expected the snow pack to stop the car, but as it happened the car slid across enough of the lake, to hit the weak spot where the ice broke and the car was caught in the tide going over the waterfall.
Mortimer had been wearing his seatbelt, but Mortimer had been hit in the head by a moose hoof through the broken window, and by the airbag at the same time, causing instant brain damage. The moose, actually survived and was taken to an animal rescue preserve where it received treatments for its broken legs. Mortimer, on the other hand, found himself at a loss of what to do with his dead-self, and latched onto Fiona as ghostly friend….”lucky me,” Fiona thought.
Troy, who never heard or saw Mortimer, was still musing about the house in front of them. “Maybe Ms. Breckly has cataracts and sees everything in a foggy mist. Or, maybe, she’s actually blind, how often would a blind 94 year old go out of her house?”
Mortimer chimed in, “At 94 a person can remember when house paint was probably $1, $2, or $5 a gallon and paying $30 to $50 a gallon would be too much of a stretch for her take. Fiona gapped the two men’s conversation and replied, “Maybe the paint store had a great deal on exterior paint, and Ms. Breckly took advantage of it, perhaps those were the only colors left.”
“Hey,” Mortimer shouted, “There’s a guy on the porch. I’m going to go and have a talk with him.” Fiona couldn’t see any “guy” on the porch, and came to the conclusion “the guy” was another ghost. “Great,” Fiona thought, “another ghost.”
“Come on, Troy, let’s go and talk to Ms. Breckly about her missing paintings and objects,” Fiona said, as she opened her door to get out. As Fred left the car, still staring around the various angles of the house, he asked “We’re getting out of the house within 15 minutes, 20 at the most, right?” Fiona somewhat agreed and said, “Ok, you take the lead. Women like you, young, old, middle aged all open up quickly to you,” Fiona said. “It’s because of my boyish-charm,” Troy quipped. “Yeah, right!” Fiona said.
The front door was surprisingly normal. Normal color-mahogany. Normal shaped-a double paneled door with normal victorian hardware holding the door onto a normal cream colored doorframe. If one just stood here facing the door, one could ignore the rest of the house. Troy was ringing the normal victorian doorbell, which was attached to door.
It took only a few seconds before the door swung open, and a tall square-shaped woman stood in front of them. Troy smiled at her and began, “Ms. Breckly….” “It’s about time you police got here! You took your time to look into the theft of my things, I pay my taxes, which pays your salary, and I want to know what you are going to do to get my things back,” Ms. Breckly stated, not shouted, just briskly stated the facts in a crisp, clear enunciation of each word.
Troy, true to his nature, responded “ I’m Detective Troy Billings, and this is Detective Fiona Leister….” Corine Breckly never looked at the badge Troy had produced for his identification, she merely clearly stated, “I know precisely who you are, and your partner. Do you think I don’t know who I pay salaries for with my taxes? I read the papers. I know your track record of solving the crimes in town. Come in and let’s get this problem solved before more of my things go missing.”
“Ms. Breckly,” Fiona ventured to say, “we have the list you gave the officers the other day…the paintings and objects…and I was wondering if you could show us where they were placed before they went missing. We brought some donuts as a snack so we could sit and talk about a solution of how to get your possessions back.”
“Come, in,” the woman replied and lead Fiona and Troy to a living room area that had a fireplace at one end. She stopped before a painting between the fireplace and the antique desk which stood a few feet away from the fireplace on the same wall. “See, my painting is missing!”
Troy responded, “That looks like a lovely oil painting of daisies, could you have switched the paintings accidentally?” Ms. Breckly unblinkingly looked at Troy with disbelief, and responded back, “Why would I EVER have a picture of daisies in my house? I had a friend Daisy, who stole my boyfriend in the seventh grade, and then moved to Florida with her parents. Why would I want to remember her, and that time? I had a lovely painting of our town’s waterfall that my grandmother painted… and now, it’s missing.”
Fiona, who was looking around the room, spotted a vase with silk roses. “Ms. Breckly, I see on the list you stated that Your crystal vase was missing. Is that the vase sitting on the table next to the sofa?” “No! That’s not my crystal vase—first that’s glass, not crystal, and I would never have roses in my house.” Troy had to ask the question, “ Why?”
She retorted, “When I was in my twenties I lived in an apartment building, and lived next to this gay man—I suppose the proper term, now-a-days, is homosexual—It was demoralizing to come home every Valentine’s day and have to pick my way through all the rose bouquets that filled the hallway, in order to get to my apartment door. I didn’t mind the one bouquet of flowers the other women in the building got, but one homosexual man getting 30-40 bouquets year after year was insulting. My friends thought I should take one of his bouquets, that he would never miss one of them, but I’m not a thief, and I would know they were not my flowers.”
Fiona had to steel herself not to burst out laughing at the scene that the woman described, and continued on with the investigation by asking, “Does anyone have keys to your house, Ms. Breckly?” “Only my nephew,” she responded, “and he lives in Kansas.” Fiona followed the lead with, “When was the last time you talked with your nephew, or saw him?” She responded, “He was here last Christmas, with that woman he was going to marry. I didn’t like her, and she stole my box, but they went back to Kansas. I wasn’t even invited to the wedding. And, don’t try to imply that he had anything to do with this. First, if he wanted anything, he could just ask for it. Second, what would he want a crystal vase for? Third, I’m 94 and 7 months old, how much longer do you think I have to live? He’ll inherit everything, including the house when I die. He virtually will own everything any way.”
Troy picked up the trail and asked “What box did did his intended steal? Ms. Breckly? Fiona saw her blink at Troy, with speculation, and responded, “She took my treasure box that I had since I was 12 years old. It had all my favorite things in it, my birthstone ring, my confirmation cross, my favorite stone I found that was green, my letter from my boyfriend that promised undying love—look how that turned out, though.”
Fiona jumped in before Daisy could be brought up, again, and asked, “ What is your nephew’s name?” From the other side of the room came Mortimer’s voice with “Phillip Lanky.” Fiona’s thoughts started making a connection between the “guy on the porch,” and Ms. Breckly’s nephew “Phillip Lanky.” She concluded Phillip was dead, and here on the porch. The case suddenly became more involved than a childhood treasure box.
Ms. Breckly stated “Phillip. He and his mother lived with me most of his life, and we added onto the house several times to accommodate all of us living here. He moved to Kansas for his job. He worked with solar panels and the electric company down there.” Troy asked, “Have you called him lately, or has he called you since Christmas?”
“No, why should he? He lives a very busy life, and that woman had him leave here in such a hurry he forgot one of his suitcases. She kept saying it was cold here, and wanted to leave. It was Christmas, of coarse it was cold and snowy. Phillip is such a smart man, I don’t understand what he sees in that woman.”
“Ms. Breckly,” Fiona asked, “what was her name, do you recall?” “Yes, I recall her name, do you think I’m feeble minded? Her name was Sharon Tribeville—Phillip called her Sherry, don’t ask me why. I looked at her driver’s license when they went out for food, and her name was Sharon V. Tribeville- Kansas State drivers license #k09- 55 -4354, and it looked just like her,” she said with a sniff of contempt.
Troy piped in and asked if they could see the bedroom, or bedrooms they used while they were here for Christmas. “I suppose you should see where my box was that she stole from me when she left,” she replied. So she led the way upstairs, slowly, step by step, as only a 94 and 6 month old woman climbs a stairway of 25 steps going up to the second floor. Troy followed behind, as Fiona lagged behind with Mortimer to question him about Phillip.
Fiona whispered, “ Does Phillip know what happened to him and where his body is?” Mortimer shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s kinda fuzzy what he remembers. He doesn’t really know what happened. He just remembered looking at himself lying in the yard.” “Where in the yard?” Fiona asked—“The front, the side, the back yard? Can he tell you where his body went after he saw it lying in the yard? Or who was there at the time?”
Mortimer looked saddened by having to admit he didn’t have great success in getting the finite details from Phillip that he had hoped he could. “He truly loved his Aunt Corey, that what he called her. She doesn’t strike me as someone who would let us call her Corey, she acts like a Corine, to me.”
Fiona let his comment about how a person named Corine acts, slide, and told Mortimer to keep his ears and eyes open for anything that could help this case. She, also, reminded Mortimer, that he hated it when people referred to him as “Mort,” so not to be too hard on Corine Breckly. With that both of them went upstairs to see the rooms.
Troy and Ms. Breckly were just coming out of the one bedroom that looked like it had pink silk wall paper. Fiona gave Troy a questioning look, and he responded that, indeed, the treasure box was missing, they had searched all the drawers and closet in the room, so he added it to the list of missing paintings and pictures.
Fiona and Mortimer followed them into the next room, which had lavender silk wallpaper with small purple violets. It seemed like a well-used room. “This is Phillips room. And, see, there’s his suitcase. He’ll get it when he visits the next time,” Ms. Breckly commented. Troy asked if he could open the suitcase to see if anything of importance was in it, in case she needed to call him so he wouldn’t worry about losing it.
They all crowded around the suitcase, as Troy opened it. Yep, there it was, a suitcase full of clothes, and toiletries—it would have been helpful if it had contained a “smoking gun with fingerprints” Fiona thought. She looked around the room and asked, “May we see if Philip left anything else, Ms. Breckly?”
Fiona, had to try to figure out how to tell Troy and Ms. Breckly about Phillip being dead, she wasn’t suppose to know that information. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a ghostly partner, and sometimes it creates moments, like this, that needs a strategy to lead others to the information one got from a ghost. There were times she wanted to tell Troy about Mortimer, and even hinted about Mort, but she wimped out every time. There are just some things one doesn’t admit to, like seeing ghosts—or seeing a ghost, one ghost, not “ghosts, plural.”
Corine Breckly looked at Fiona and said, “You can, if you like, but I cleaned this room very thoroughly after they left, and nothing is out of place.” Fiona, had to agree that Ms. Breckly would have noticed if anything was out of place, she got a very different picture of Corine Breckly than Fred had gotten when he and Leon had responded to her call about the thefts. Fiona would call her shrewd and observant, not one inkling of dementia came through from their conversation with the woman. BUT….there was the exterior of the house to consider.
Fiona decided to tackle the outside of the house and the yard, in order to see what the grounds looked like that surrounded the house. Where would Phillips body be? If he was dead, how did he die—no, not “if he was dead—he was, and Fiona had to prove it, and discover how, who, what, or why he was dead, and where he was—or rather where his body was, HE was on the front porch of his Aunt Corey’s house. Yep, Mortimer was right, she really was more a Corine-type of person, than a Corey-type.
“Ms. Breckly,” Fiona started asking carefully, “could you come outside with us and show us around your yard to help us get a real picture of how someone may be getting into your house?” Fiona, figured that perhaps Corine Breckly didn’t have a clue about the way the house was painted. The inside of the house was definitely not the same genre of decor as the outside presented.
“Let me get on my coat and boots. I try not to go out often at this time of year. I’ll give that Sharon her due, it is cold here in the winter.” As they waited in the “parlor” for Corine to don her coat and boots, Troy raised and eyebrow while looking at Fiona. “I suspect Phillip didn’t leave with Sharon last Christmas,” Fiona stated. “Oh????” Troy questioned. Fiona began to set up the groundwork that Phillip was dead and hanging around on the porch of the house. “I think we may find Phillip, somewhere, or a clue, though, the snow won’t help. Whatever we could find may be covered by the snow we’ve had since Christmas.”
“Hey, Fiona, I just thought of something, come here, quick!” Mortimer called from the entryway the front porch. Since Corine was just coming down the hallway dressed for the cold outside, with hat, gloves, scarf, boots and winter wool coat, Fiona went to the door and opened it for everyone to go out onto the porch. As Troy was helping Corine slowly down the steps, Fiona hung back with Mortimer, to whisper “What? What do you remember?”
Mortimer pointed to the end of the porch and said, “Remember when I died, I kinda hovered around where the waterfall was, I thought that was because I liked the sound and look of the waterfall. But, when you came and everyone moved my body, I went right along with you. That’s how I got to know you, I followed. I thought I followed you because I liked how you treated everyone with respect, including me, well and that you were the only one who could see me. I just thought about it now, what if I was following my body, and not necessarily you in particular, it just happened that I attached to you in that moment. What do you think?
“So what you’re thinking, is that Phillip may not know where his body is, but he may have followed it here, to the porch, and attached to Corine, because he loves her? Is that your theory?” asked Fiona.
“Yep, want me to go under the porch and have a look?” Mortimer asked. Fiona nodded as she hurried down the steps to join Troy and Corine. “Ms. Breckly, who does your plowing and shoveling when it snows? And while we’re on the subject of handymen work, who did you get to paint the outside of your house?” Fiona was so proud of herself that she was able to slip in the paint feature to see what Corine would say about the outside paint on her house.
Corine turned toward Fiona, and surprisingly laughed out loud, pointing to the outside of house. Fiona reacted by thinking “ah, oh, psychotic break, dementia here we go, and just when I was getting used to the rational, dogmatic Corine.
As Ms Breckly, chuckled her way through her explanation, they found out Ms. Breckly hated her neighbor across the road, just as much as she hated daisies and roses. Apparently, she had the house painted this way to annoy her neighbor, hoping he would move, then she would buy his house, and repaint her’s back to the more traditional motif for a victorian house. Alas, it didn’t work, but she loved the idea that she irked him every time he looked at her house. She loved when he sent letters, and orders that she had to repaint her house. There was the Corine we had come to know in the short time we were with her.
But there was still the problem of telling her about Phillip, and finding out who, what, when, and how he died. And, right on time, Mortimer showed up from under the porch, just his head an an arm motioning for her to come over where he was. Reality was about to crash around Corine, and Fiona was the one who had to do it. Fiona hated this part of her job. How does one gently break the bad news to a 94 (and 6 months) old person that her nephew was dead. She could just ignore Mortimer, and find the body after Corine died, but that wasn’t the ethical thing to do, perhaps the kind thing, but not the ethical thing.
Fiona, motioned for Troy to look around the skirting of the porch, as she led Corine down the sidewalk toward the front yard. Fiona chatted about the size of the house, and the yard that surrounded the house, waiting for Troy to find what Mortimer indicated was under the porch. As she glanced back, she noticed Troy had, indeed, found the loose skirting that had fallen loose off the porch. By his posture, Corine could tell he found what she was cringing about having to reveal to Corine.
Sometimes this detective job was crappy—somehow in this moment Fiona thought she would have preferred seeing and talking to Phillip, like when they had found Mortimer. Somehow that would make the find. . . what? happier, no, not happier—she stilled morned that Mortimer had died of his moose-accident, but he was just annoying and helpful enough that she often forget about his “death.”
Fiona suggested that she and Corine should return to the house for hot tea, or coffee, and the donuts that she and Troy had brought. As Troy joined them, he gave Fiona a look that said he found what Mortimer had suspected. “We’re going in to get warm and have our donuts? Want to come in with us?” Fiona called to him. His reply was, “I have to make a call, I’ll be right in as soon as I can.”
Instead of going up the steps to the porch of the house, Corine began to stomp over to the side of the porch Troy had pulled away the loose skirting. “You must really think I’m a doddering old fool, with no observational capabilities. You sent Troy over to look under the porch, and he found something, and he’s calling in the troops to verify the find. You, on the other hand, have sadness and concern written all over your face, not wanting to tell me something. I’m very astute, I didn’t get to be 94 and six months by being stupid, you know. Why don’t you just tell me, out right.”
As Corine reached the end of the porch and looked under where the skirting was pulled back, she paused, and said, “I guess Troy and Sherry didn’t leave in a hurry, without a goodbye at Christmas. I recognize their coats, and that is Sharon’s suitcase—can I get my treasure box back, or is it considered evidence? We best go into the house and wait for the police to come, oh wait, you are the police. Ok we’ll wait for whomever Troy is calling. I think I need more than coffee, tea, and donuts—don’t you?”
Fiona helped Corine into the house and into her parlor. “What can I get you Ms. Breckly, this must be a shock to you….how can I help you?” “You’re very kind,” Corine replied, “but, someone had to have had a hand in this, because it wasn’t Phillip, or Sharon, who put them there. I’m believing they were killed, right? Two of them, I would have suspected Sharon if we had only found Phillip, I never liked her, she stole my treasure box. I guess this also clears them both of stealing from my house, their bodies looked dead to me, dead people don’t steal. I think I’ll go lay down, this is time for my afternoon nap, do you mind?” Fiona watched as Corine climbed slowly up the stairs to her room on the second floor. Fiona, never expected the day to turn out the way it did, she was expecting to find misplaced pictures and keepsakes, not misplaced bodies and one sad 94 and six month old woman who lost her nephew, who loved his Aunt Corey.
Now they had to find paintings, objects, a thief and a murderer. Maybe she should have gotten the name of Corine’s doctor. Would she die from the shock and sorrow of what she saw under her porch? Really, this was the part of the job that Fiona hated, the family left behind. Mortimer didn’t have any family, thus, Fiona, lucky her, became his “next of kin.” Now, she’s beginning to feel the same way about Corine.
Troy came into the house and walked into the parlor, “Where are the donuts? Is Ms. Breckly making the coffee, the forensic team will be here soon. It looks like there are two persons, oh, that’s right you and Ms. Breckly saw them. How’s she taking it?”
“She went up for a nap,” Fiona replied. We now have to find the paintings and objects, plus the thief and the murderer—well we don’t know that they were murdered, we’re only speculating, with good very good assumption.”
At that moment Mortimer showed up, shaking his head. “Poor woman, lost her family. What are we going to do now?” “We work the case,” replied Fiona. Troy nodded his head, and replied, “Yep, we work the case, until we find who, what, how, when, why, and where the paintings went.”
It took several hours for the forensic team to do their work. They formally announced that it was Phillip Lanky, and Sharon Tribeville under the porch. Preliminary observations determined that both were hit from behind, and dragged under the porch—autopsies would be used for further analysis if they were dead from the impact, or died of exposure to cold weather.
They did find a wallet that didn’t belong to either victims. The name on the card inside were of a man called Trevor Banks, from Washington, the State.
“Did you find any keys on the victims, Phillip or Sharon?” Fiona asked.
“No, should we have found some? We took the suitcase and purse to be logged in, if we find any keys we’ll let you know, but none of us saw any.”
“I bet the perp took the keys to this house and to their house in Kansas.” Mortimer stated with authority. Fiona replied, “ We don’t know if this Trevor Banks took their keys, and is the one coming and going from this house, taking Corine’s things.” Troy nodded, and said, “Yes, but we have a third person to look at, which would keep Ms. Breckly off the suspect list.”
“He can’t be accusing Corine of killing them and hiding their bodies, can he?” Mortimer shouted into the room. Fiona’s mind was going though all the actions and conversations that occurred during their visit with Corine. “No, I don’t believe Corine could have done this, first because she was, and still is concerned about her pictures and objects, including her treasure box. If she had killed Sharon, she would have taken her treasure box back from her. I’m, also, going out on a limb to say that anyone who keeps a room for their family member, readied for their return, would be expecting them to show up , again. I have to believe Corine is in the clear. Trevor Banks, not so much. We need to run an active background check on Trevor Banks and find out where he is and what he is doing. Also, we never did find out who painted the house, and is doing snow removal for Corine, we need to do that, too.”
As Troy was writing a list of what they still had to do on the case, Fiona called a friend from the police force who was on leave, to see if she could stay with Corine for a few days or so. Then, she left the house to cross over to the Corine’s annoying neighbor. See what he, or she, or they saw. Wow, this is more complicated than it appeared to be earlier in the day. What is the saying? “Oh what a tangled web we weave…oh, when we practice to deceive—well that doesn’t work here does it? (unless we take into consideration this is a work of fiction and I’m making all this up as I go, that is).
We might as well end here, and blame the whole debacle on Trevor Banks, I had it in for him from the beginning of his character, the neighbor turned out to be Corine’s seventh grade boyfriend, the snow shoveler and snow plow persons were local persons well known in the community, and Trevor Banks still needs to be found. I caught you up on all the lead for now.
Thanks for reading this….oh and Mortimer says “Hey, see you next time we have a case to solve.”