13
Apr
09

Fate Pays The rent (Sixteenth Installment)

“Well, you can sure tell who your supposed friends are and who’s being paid to talk to you. My lawyer was here hours ago. Where were you? Out eating lunch? You know what I had for lunch?” They were sitting in a light-blue room the size of a guest bedroom. Clement and Buzz were on one side of the table, Jeff was across from them. All three of them had coffee and Jeff’s agitation, the slight tremor in his hands, and the half-dozen paper cups empty and discarded at his feet clearly showed this was not his first of the day. Buzz nodded at Clement.
“Yeah, funny thing about that, Jeff, because we wanted to talk to you about food. Well, food and Aaron.”
Jeff thumped the table and some of the coffee sloshed from his cup. “I’m tired of talking about Aaron. Do you realize all I’ve done all day is talk about Aaron? I’ve never talked about anybody so much in my life. And, like I said before, where the hell were you? Where’s Mari?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is she okay? Is she dead somewhere too?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, don’t you think somebody ought to find out? Like maybe me since I’m her boyfriend? I am still her boyfriend, right?”
“Yes. If you haven’t heard from her then just assume everything’s okay between the two of you.”
“Oh no no. You know better than that. Even you know better than that. You can’t just assume that because a woman hasn’t said there’s something wrong then there’s nothing wrong.”
Buzz leaned forward. “Jeff, I understand you’re probably very tired of talking about Aaron Whittaker-“
“You got that right.”
“But we need to talk about him a little more. Just a little and then we’ll leave you alone and we’ll put some people to work looking for your girlfriend.”
“I don’t want some people to go looking for her. I need to do the looking because I’m the one that knows her. She’s my girlfriend. I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t do anything while I’m in here. I can’t find Mari. I can’t sell any chicken strips. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t selling chicken strips anyway. My life is a black abyss and it’s just spiraling downwards.” He sat down at the table again, folded his arms and laid his head down on them. Buzz nodded at Clement.
“Jeff, I know you wanna get out of here but the thing is right now this is the safest place for you to be.”
“Oh yeah, and why is that?” Jeff lifted his head and glared at Clement.
“Well, to put it bluntly, they think you killed Aaron. You said you were in his office-“ He held up a hand to quiet Jeff and continued, “I know what you’re gonna say, ‘he was alive’. That means you were probably the last person to see him that way except for the person who killed him.”
“I didn’t see him alive or dead because I wasn’t in his office last night.”
“Your car was spotted in the parking lot about ten,” Buzz said.
“Yeah, I went over there. I parked in the parking lot. I walked around the building.”
“Why?”
“Because I thought about how I felt when I told you we didn’t have to worry about the pictures and the truth is I felt really good. I thought maybe I actually could go over and talk to him and ask him to leave us alone.”
“You didn’t like him still talking to Mari all the time, you were the last one in his office and you could easily have made a copy of the key before you gave one to me.”
“I didn’t kill him. I didn’t even go in. I started to go in but everything was dark and I got scared and left.”
“I hear you but you being there at ten makes you the likeliest suspect. What you also have to understand is that makes you the likeliest target.”
“Target for what?”
Buzz stood up, walked to the wall, and walked back to the table. “Let’s assume you didn’t kill Aaron Whittaker.”
“Yeah, let’s assume that since it happens to be true.”
“If you didn’t kill him then somebody else did since even someone with a migraine would have a hard time committing suicide by decapitating himself with a shovel.”
“Right.”
“As long as we’re focusing on you then the person who really killed him thinks they’re gonna be okay.”
“And if they think they’re gonna be okay then they’ll go out and do something stupid and then you can catch them. I watch TV, ya know. There’s a problem with your plan though.”
“Jeff is right. There is a problem.”
“Thank you, Clement. I thought maybe having lunch with this guy made you go clear over to the other side.”
“Shut up, Jeff. The problem is something like that only works if the person who was murdered got killed for the insurance. They figure someone else got busted for the crime and they wait a little while and think they’re home free and then they start spending the money and bam!” Clement hit the table and Jeff startled. “But there’s no indication anybody killed Aaron for the insurance. We don’t even know if he had insurance. We don’t even know why anyone killed him or would want to kill him.”
“That brings us back to you,” Buzz said. “You’re the only one with a motive. A bunch of people- definitely more than I’d like- had the opportunity and the means was right there in the office. You are the only one who’d be better off because you wouldn’t have to worry about sharing or losing your girlfriend.”
“But I wasn’t worried. She’d been talking to Aaron all along so why would I get worried and kill him now?”
“Wait a minute! We don’t know if there was any insurance but there is somebody who might have had a reason to kill him for money.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t know about any-“
Clement stood up and leaned over to Buzz. “I’ve got an idea but if I just spring it on Jeff without giving him any warning first he’ll come unglued.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
“Is there any way you can leave us alone for just a minute and then come back in? Maybe get us some more coffee?”
“You’re that sure about him?” Clement nodded. Buzz sighed and said, “I could use another cup right about now. Anybody else?”
“I might have had enough,” Jeff said.
“I second that. My eyeballs are about to start floating.”
“All right, coffee for one.”
Clement sat down at the table and Jeff grabbed his arm. “Where’s Mari?”
“I told you I don’t know.”
“Do you know why she left?”
“I don’t know anything except Buzz is gonna come back in a minute and I’m going to have to tell him something you don’t want to hear.”
“It’s about Mari, isn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“You think she killed Aaron.”
“I don’t think anything. I’ve got no idea if she killed him or if she didn’t.”
“How can you say that? You know her. You’ve been with us for hours. You can’t tell me that in all the time we spent together you saw anything that would make you think she’d cut someone’s head off with a shovel. She’s not even that big.”
“You can do anything if you get enough leverage. If there really was money involved that’s even more reason.” Buzz had returned with his coffee.
“I don’t want to believe that Mari killed him any more than you do but if you didn’t kill him and she had a good reason then we have to look at everything.”
Buzz sat down and sipped his coffee. “Tell me about this money. It’s not insurance?”
“Mari, wouldn’t get any insurance. They weren’t even together any more.”
“No, this isn’t guaranteed like that; it’s more of a gamble than anything. Jeff, you remember the pieces of paper we’ve been finding?”
“Yeah, there was one of a beehive and one of a cat and then the one I found yesterday.”
“Right. When I had lunch with those two boys yesterday the older one explained what we were looking at.”
“How did he do that?”
“Because he’s a really smart kid who’s insufficiently challenged. If I ever get out of here I’m gonna go see his teacher and the principal and maybe we can get things fixed. Anyway, he explained what was on the paper and he told me about something called the Millennium Prize.”
“What the hell is that?”
Buzz whistled. “It’s a million dollars and international fame.”
“For doing what?”
“Solving one of the six math problems on the list.”
“Math problems? Like what?”
Clement reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a sheet of paper folded lengthwise. “Proving or disproving the hypothesis that all nontrivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function have a real part of ½.”
“And you think Mari had something to do with that?”
“Yes.”
“There’s no way in hell.”
“She’s the one who was working on the other things we found. Those pieces of paper were notes she jotted down.”
“She got those from Aaron Whittaker. She had to have gotten them from him.”
“Why?”
“Because Mari wasn’t that smart. She isn’t that smart. I guess I should watch how I say things. After all, I’m already in here for one murder.”
“How do you know she wasn’t very smart? Did you ask her?”
“Did I ask her? I didn’t have to ask her. If it wasn’t on Oprah, Dr. Phil, or ‘Entertainment Tonight’, she didn’t know about it. She could barely walk and carry on a conversation at the same time. I told you how she nearly blinded me with the perfume.”
“You just knew, huh? Or maybe you assumed like everybody assumed Aaron was married. He wasn’t, by the way.”
“Okay, so he wasn’t really married. Why am I on trial here?”
“There were no pictures either, Jeff.”
“Okay.”
“Well, if you knew there weren’t any pictures how come you spent so much time trying to get me to go in and get them back?”
“I didn’t say I knew there weren’t any pictures. You just told me there weren’t any pictures and I said, ‘Okay’ as in ‘That’s very interesting. Thank you for enlightening me. When can I get the hell out of here?’ Like that.”
Buzz turned his chair around and straddled it. “I understand this may be a hard thing for you to think about but is there any way you can imagine- no matter how dense you think she may be- your girlfriend killing Aaron Whittaker?”
“No, of course not.”
“Not for a million dollars?”
“No! She wasn’t very smart but she wasn’t stupid enough to think she could get away with murder.”
“Jeff, did you know Aaron was a diabetic?”
“No. How the hell would I know that?”
“Mari told you what TV shows he liked and when he got his hair cut so I thought maybe she told you that too.”
“Well, she didn’t.”
Buzz stood and put his palms on the table. “Did she tell you he was afraid of needles?”
“No, she didn’t. Where is this coming from? Why does it matter if he was diabetic and afraid of needles? Did somebody take a big syringe in first and scare him to death before they cut off his head?”
“Not that we know of but we’re checking into everything.” Buzz looked at his watch then at Clement. “You’ve got another appointment this afternoon, don’t you?”
“What is it? Are you meeting Mari? You really do know where she is?”
“No, it’s not with Mari and I really don’t know where she is. Buzz here is going to get some people to help us find her though.”
“Absolutely. The more I hear about her the more I can’t wait to sit down for a chat with her myself.”
“I can’t believe you think she’d kill Aaron. She had no reason to kill him. She didn’t care about money.”
“Jeff, look. In order to get in and kill him the person had to either have a key or be somebody he knew well enough to let in or to leave the door open and tell them to come in. Mr. Gomez the custodial supervisor and his people had a key. Dolores worked down the hall and she had a key. I had a key that I got from you. Mari had made a copy from the original. Maybe you made a copy before you gave the one to me.”
“Mari gave the copy to me and I-“
Buzz put his hands over his ears. “This is something I don’t need to hear right now. I have a couple of things to check into and I think you two should get some rest.”
Jeff held his hand out to Clement who shook it then allowed himself to be pulled into a hug. “You’ll find Mari?”
“I’ll try.”
“I didn’t kill him.”
“I hear you.”
“You’ll come back?”
“As often as they’ll let me.” Jeff extended his hand to Buzz who also shook it but did not embrace him. Buzz knocked on the wall and two of the men left by one door and the third by a different one.

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