04
May
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Twentieth Installment)

“We don’t have hanging in this state.”
“Well, being lit up like a Christmas tree then.”
“Or the electric chair.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve got no intention of dying for something I didn’t do and I don’t want to talk any more about it until I talk to my lawyer and he talks to somebody with the clout to keep me out of this.”
“Where is your lawyer? I can’t imagine what he was thinking letting you come in here and shoot your mouth off.”
“I told him I didn’t need him to come with me. He wanted to but I told him he didn’t need to because I was just going to be having a talk with my old friend Clement.”
“Then as soon as you saw I was gonna be here too you should have called him and had him come in.”
“Yeah, I should have. ‘Woulda shoulda coulda’ as my mother always says. But I didn’t. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t say anything I can’t deny later. I didn’t say anything you can hold me to. The only thing I said for sure is that I did not kill Aaron Whittaker. I don’t like the way this conversation is going and since I’m not under arrest and I have other things I’d like to do today, I would like to get the hell out of here.”
Buzz knocked on the wall beside the door and Mari was let out. Clement saw a gray-haired man come forward and take her arm. “She’ll probably get everything she wants,” Buzz said, when the door was closed.
“Why? How can you promise to keep her out of it when she might be the one who killed Aaron?”
“Because she’s right that the ultimate cause of death was determined to be decapitation.”
“But let’s say she really did do something before the other person came in and cut his head off. What if she did something that made it easier for them to decapitate him?”
“She’s an accessory.”
“What if she thought she killed him or thought she’d left him to die then someone else came along?”
“And finished the job.”
“Yeah, and she didn’t know anything about that until somebody told her. What if as far as she was concerned Aaron was dead or nearly dead?”
“That’s an interesting idea. If there’s any truth to what you’re saying then she must have been awfully surprised when they hauled her off the bus and brought her back and it wasn’t in cuffs.”
“How could she have done it? What’s a way she could kill him without really killing him?”
“Now, you’re confusing me. I gotta ask Sylvia something. You wanna wait out here in a nicer chair in a room that actually has windows?”
“Yeah, that’d be good.”
The two men went into the larger room and Clement selected a chair and a magazine. Buzz walked over to Sylvia’s desk. “Do we have the toxicology report on Aaron Whittaker? Also stomach contents?”
“It’s right here.” Sylvia shifted some papers on her desk and pulled a brown folder from the pile.
“Thanks.” Buzz walked back to where Clement was sitting. He opened the folder and scanned the reports. “She didn’t poison him.”
“The report says that?”
“In so many words. The tox screen was negative on all known drugs and poisons.”
“Damn.”
“Stomach contents consisted of some walnuts, some cranberries, some cream cheese, and bits of a chocolate covered espresso bean.”
“That’s it?”
“Yep.”
“You know, in a way that makes sense.”
“How?”
“Aaron told me he had a migraine. It’s a little weird that he was in his office instead of home or somewhere more comfortable but maybe this was the place he felt the most at home. Or maybe it came on pretty quickly and he didn’t feel able to drive anywhere else.”
“My aunt had migraines that would lay her out. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t walk. The only thing that helped her feel better was puking.”
“Hey! You said your aunt couldn’t eat.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“So, Aaron Whittaker was diabetic. What do you suppose would happen to someone who was diabetic and who was unable to eat regularly?”
“Obviously their blood sugar would drop.”
“If it gets low enough you go into a coma, right?”
“Yeah. Are you wondering where the walnuts come in?”
“Aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m also wondering how someone who couldn’t drive ended up with cranberries and cream cheese in his stomach.”
“And a chocolate covered espresso bean.”
“That too.”
“There’s another thing I’ve been wondering about.”
“Can we talk about it over some coffee and a BLT?”
“Sure. I’m picking the place this time.”
“Any place but Anna’s.”
“What?”
“Hey, I’m all for cleanliness but I like a little flavor in my food even if it does mean swatting a few flies.”
“You’re a cretin.”
“Yeah, it’s healthier that way.”

He took him back to Brad and Vicky and the A&W. Except it wasn’t Brad today; it was a red-headed kid named Tanner who was even less ept than Brad. Vicky, who was in charge for the moment, supervised the making of three BLTs before one passed her muster. Both men ordered root beer floats and Clement rocked Buzz by asking for a large Coney Island.
“I can’t believe you frequent a place like this. I can’t believe you’d eat something like that especially when it was made by him.”
“I’m sure, it’s okay; Vicky kept a close eye on him.”
“Oh ho, so you’re a regular.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. I came out here the other day after I had lunch at the school. I was hoping some real food would help me recover from the sloppy Joe I’d had at lunch but then I didn’t have the nerve to put any fast food on top of it.”
“Which explains how you knew the employees’ names but not why you’re sitting there with a giant Coney.”
“Let’s say I was feeling nostalgic.”
“Yeah?”
“We used to go to A&W on road trips when I was a kid.”
“You still see your family?”
“No. We aren’t what you might call close.”
“What happened? Are you the black sheep of the family?”
“You know what? I think it’s a little early in our relationship for you to be psychoanalyzing me. Usually that kind of thing doesn’t happen until two people have slept together which you and I aren’t gonna. I wouldn’t say I was the black sheep, I would say people were disappointed. They thought I was smart and they thought I was probably gonna do great things with my life and make the world a better place for all living things and it didn’t happen. I haven’t made the world a better place and what I do is sell chicken strips that are generally acknowledged to be nasty.”
“How do you feel about selling nasty chicken strips?” Buzz was smiling. “You said you had another question about Aaron Whittaker. You’ve done your part; I’m sitting here with a BLT. Fire away.”
“How did he get there? I didn’t see a car in the lot when I drove up around eight.”
“He could have walked over. He didn’t live far from the office. That’s probably one of the reasons he chose the new complex when he moved the office from downtown.”
“It used to be downtown?”
“Yes, when Whittaker’s father started the business it was right near the center of town. That was partly so customers could find him and partly because at that time that’s all the town there was. A few years ago the powers that be determined the old building could be more useful as condos and everybody had to go. Aaron decided to take advantage of the situation by moving into the new complex which was a medium walk from his home.”
“He couldn’t have walked there after the migraine started, right?”
“It depends on how they are for him. Judging from everything you’ve told me, I’d say he wouldn’t have done much walking if he could avoid it.”
“That means he went to the office before the migraine got really bad. Why? I mean, yeah it was dark there and quiet but why go to the office.”
“Not a place I would choose or many other people would for that matter. But, like you said, it was dark and quiet. It had familiar and comforting things in it, stuff that had belonged to his dad. Mostly, I’m guessing, it was the idea that it was a controlled environment. Nobody knew he was there or expected to see him there so he could be left to recover without anyone bothering him.”
“Right. Just me and Mari and whoever cut off his head with a shovel. Did you guys find out what those rocks were?”
“Some ochre, some malachite, and we’re still working on the blue one. Nothing worth killing anyone over.”
“Isn’t it funny how we say that?”
“What?”
“’Nothing worth killing anyone over’. Like if he’d had different rocks in his office there would be justification for his being dead now. Like there’s a good reason for killing someone, for cutting their head off with a shovel.” Brad and Vicky had competed an order for a family of five and they slid the trays across the counter towards them. Each parent picked up a tray and the mother gathered the children around her and urged them, duck-like, to a table on the far side of the restaurant.

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