07
Apr
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Fifteenth Installment)

Clement followed Buzz across the hall to the door of Aaron’s office which was standing open. The shovel was gone. The chair he had sat in the night before while discussing the future King David’s motivations was broken and tagged. As Clement looked around he noted that nothing else was as he had remembered it either. Had he been in this room with the lights on? He and Aaron had talked by the streetlight filtering through the blinds. Yes, he had left a note on Aaron’s desk the day Dolores had caught him so he must have seen this room. “There was a painting on that wall.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah, it was a painting of Aaron, the man who had this office, and he was looking very much like one of those old lumber barons.”
“The Robber Barons.”
“Exactly. I thought at the time that it was funny someone that young would be so arrogant. Maybe it was confidence.”
“You know anything about a painting?” Buzz asked a guy with a brush.
“Yeah, somebody found a big frame down in the dumpster. It could have had a painting in it before they tore it up.”
“Did you find out any more about what he did here? I mean, while I was out in the hall.”
“The guys found some of what looks like coal but also some kind of orangey rocks, some blue ones and some green ones. We don’t know anything about rocks so we’ll have somebody that does give us a report.”
“Why would they ruin the painting?”
“Maybe they took it down looking for a safe and it happened that way or maybe they didn’t find a safe and they were ticked off and vented their uncivilized feelings on the painting.”
“Do you think that’s why he was killed?”
“Nah.” It was the man with the brush. “Whoever did that came along after he was dead or maybe didn’t even know he was in here and found the door standing open and decided to take advantage of it.”
Clement remembered Aaron saying something about excusing himself and encouraging Clement to take advantage of his absence. “Where is he?”
Buzz came to stand beside him. “You sure you’re ready?”
“I’m probably more ready than he was.”
“Yeah, there’s that.”
Clement walked to the window, tracing the path he’d taken the night before. When he reached the side of the desk, he looked down. “Holy crap! That’s a lot of blood.”
“That’s what I thought, too.”
“Is that the usual amount when someone’s head gets cut off?”
“I’ve only seen one of these before now myself. I asked somebody else and he said he thought it was a lot. Maybe some people lose blood faster than others. Some people got high blood pressure and that doesn’t help.”
“It was the coffee.”
“What?”
“He told me people should drink coffee if they have a migraine because it constricts the blood vessels and keeps the pain from getting through.”
“It might constrict your blood vessels but it’s also going to raise your heart rate and as soon as the circuit gets cut-” Buzz looked apologetically at Clement.
“It’s a lot more okay than I thought it would be. He’s not still here and that makes it easier.”
“No, they moved him out of here real quick as soon as they got things marked. The rug would be outta here too but I wanted you to be able to look around and see what you remembered.”
“So, this is where they found him?”
“Yep.”
“That’s just about where he was when I left last night.”
“That tells us something then.”
“Yeah?”
“Either he was really attached to that spot on the floor and he went back to it after he got up or-“
“Or else he didn’t get up to let the person in because they had a key.”
“Who would have a key? Or who could get a key?” They were back in the hallway beside the window that looked out on the goat. Two men wearing coveralls and gloves walked into the office then one stuck his head back out.
“Okay if we take the rug now?”
“You wanna look around in there any more?”
“I don’t think I’m gonna remember anything else standing there. I’m not sure I’ve been any help at all.”
Buzz nodded to the man in the doorway. “Yeah. Thanks for waiting on it.”
“No problem. We’re on the clock.”
“Mari’s out of town. She made a copy of the key to Aaron’s office while they were still together.”
“According to who?”
“According to Jeff. He didn’t say she made more than one copy though and supposedly I had that solitary copy last night when I unlocked the door and talked with him.”
“Heads up!” The two men in coveralls had the rug hoisted on their shoulders like a pig going to a luau.
“You guys are fast.”
“Takes practice.”
“Like putting on a condom.”
Buzz watched them carry the rug as far as the elevator then turned back to Clement. “So, you had a key and Mari may have had a key. Did Jeff have a key?”
“Not unless Mari gave one to him too. Or maybe he made a copy before he gave the key to me.”
“Okay, you, Jeff, and Mari. Who else?”
“Mr. Gomez or somebody else on the cleaning crew had one or they couldn’t get in to clean this office.”
“You think they’d clean if they thought Whittaker was gonna be gone for a couple of days?”
“Maybe not. Probably not. He said last night that the crew was competent but not impressive or something like that. He also said they’d never get anybody better as long as Dolores was in the building because she was so protective of Mr. Gomez and minority rights.”
“Did Dolores have a key?”
Clement leaned his head against the cool window and closed his eyes. “She came running up to me as I was getting off the elevator. We talked about what I was doing here. She insisted that I talk to someone else on this floor and she decided that person was Aaron. We knocked on the door and he wasn’t here and then-. Yes! She has to have a key. She let me into his office and made me write him a note. I wrote the note on his desk so we must have gone at least as far in as that.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“So that gives us you, Jeff, Mari, Dolores, and somebody from the custodial team who probably was further from the office than any of the rest of you.”
“Why, Buzz. I believe you’re a cynic.”
“I’m a skeptic; it’s not quite the same.” They were sitting at a long table that appeared to be several picnic tables shoved together and covered with a large piece of oil-cloth.
“Why are we having lunch here at Judy’s? I mean, I understand it’s lunchtime but why bring me here?”
“I like to have a big juicy burger for lunch; it gives me a good excuse for a nap or a coffee break around four o’clock. Somehow I wasn’t really in the mood for a burger today. Plus I remembered what you’d said about being in the neighborhood around the office and I figured you’d like to get as far away as possible. Staying in the same city, of course.”
“Of course. Restrooms are where?”
“Over there in the corner and they’re guaranteed to be immaculate until you use them.”
“I see my reputation precedes me.”
“Yes. You want a Caesar salad, no anchovies, extra croutons?”
“Did Jeff tell you that too?”
“No. That’s how I order mine.”
It took Clement longer than he had expected to get back to the table from the bathroom. Judy’s was the kind of place he would never have gone on his own. There was a gift shop selling canned seafood and T-shirts with messages like “Judy gave me crabs”. Old toys, clothes, and furniture hung from the walls and ceiling of the dining room and more items were tucked into the rafters. Postcards- from loving couples describing honeymoons at Niagara Falls or from car dealerships congratulating buyers on the one-year anniversary of their purchase or from visitors extolling the beauty of Ames, Iowa rested under the glass table-tops. Clement felt eyes on the back of his head and stopped examining a candy-apple-red Duncan Imperial yo-yo. Buzz was watching him and he nodded his head at the two salads and coffee.
“Wow! That was fast.”
“No, you were slow. It’s all right though.”
“I had one like that when I was a kid.”
“A red one?”
“Yeah. I didn’t realize they made them in any other color but I guess they must have.”
“Yep.”
“Took me six months of wheedling, cajoling, and bargaining to get my mom to buy me one. Coincidentally, she gave in a week before my birthday.”
“Coincidentally, huh?”
“Did you have one?”
“Not like that. I had a glow-in-the-dark Butterfly.”
“One of those tricky guys.”
“You got it.” He waited while Clement added cream and sugar to his coffee. “I did some checking while you were gone.”
“Yeah?”
“Aaron Whittaker was diabetic. That’s why he had the Benedict’s Solution in his desk.”
“It couldn’t have been used for anything else? No mineral tests or anything?”
“The one and only use according to my people is detecting the presence of glucose in a solution. In this case, that solution was urine.”
“If he was diabetic, why didn’t he use one of those blood-testing machines? Your grandmother used Benedict’s but that was before they had the newer technology. Right?”
“Maybe Whittaker didn’t like needles. Some people are like that. My sister became diabetic while she was pregnant and had to stick herself in the finger about eight times a day. Her hands shook so much the first time she did it that I thought she was gonna stick my brother in law instead but she finally got the hang of it. I guess some people never do.”
“I’d have a hard time doing it. But maybe he had the stuff for somebody else. Mari maybe?”
“I don’t think so because his fear of needles might also explain the coffee.”
“What about it?”
“You said Whittaker was lying in the dark and he had a thermos of coffee. That’s a very old-fashioned way of treating a migraine. Most people would take some kind of pill.”
“I thought I heard some of those things can give you a heart attack.”
“Yeah. It’s rare but I guess it happens.”
“So maybe he wanted to be out of pain but he didn’t want to take a chance on being dead. Makes sense.”
“Yeah, but there’s other ways of dealing with a migraine. Frank, the gentleman with the very tasteful prophylactic comment, goes to the doctor and gets a shot of Demerol. It knocks him out for a day but if he’s got a migraine he’s not gonna be much use to anybody anyway.”
“But that’s a shot.”
“That’s right. It’s another needle Whittaker was trying to avoid. I think it adds credibility to the idea that he was the diabetic and that solution belonged to him.”
“Let’s say that’s right and he was diabetic. How does that get us any closer to knowing who killed him? He was killed with a shovel, right? That could have happened to anybody. If you’re gonna kill him by cutting his head off then it doesn’t matter whether he was diabetic or not, does it? I mean, if you knew he was a hemophiliac and you wanted to make sure there was a better chance of him being dead before anybody found him then cutting off his head would be a good idea.”
“You say that so calmly.”
“That’s because I’m not thinking about it being Aaron who sat on the floor and lectured me on good and evil. I’m pretending this is one of those cold case shows on TV and I’m trying to figure out who did it before the hour is up.”
“You don’t strike me as the kind of person who watches a lot of TV.”
“I don’t. I don’t watch those shows either but I’ve heard a lot about them. And I do love ‘Murder, She Wrote’.” Both men laughed and Buzz signaled for more coffee. The waitress refilled their cups and Buzz watched Clement put in the milk and four sugars.
“You always put in four sugars?”
“Pretty much.”
“Good thing you’re not diabetic. Do you like coffee?”
“I like caffeine.”
“Why don’t you have a Coke?”
“Because you ordered coffee.”
“Did Whittaker take sugar in his coffee?”
“I don’t know.”
“You said he had some in a thermos.”
“Yes, and he offered me some but I turned it down.”
“Did you see any food in the office?”
“No, but it was dark except for the light coming in through the blinds.”
“Did you smell any food?”
“No. I wasn’t expecting to smell any. Before you say it, yes I do know you can experience something without expecting to but I wasn’t expecting to and I don’t remember any.”
“Let’s make this the last cup. Your friend, Jeff, claims to have been in the office and to have left Whittaker alive. Maybe he saw or smelled something.”

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