His Final Performance
Sergeant Sprott whistled. “Sure is a lousy place to get murdered, isn’t it, sir.”
Lieutenant Hugo Melch snapped his glance up from the
woman sprawled on the bathroom floor. “There aren’t any good places as far as I know, Sprott.”
The sergeant flushed the length of his long scrawny
neck. “No, sir, but. . . .” He flicked a carrot colored
lock of hair out of his blue eyes. “But in here. . .beside the toilet?”
“Why not?” Melch said. “Murders happen everywhere
nowadays. Progress, you know.” He grunted and groaned as
he squatted down to the ceramic floor. Sure would be nice if he didn’t have to take a closer look at Nell Darlingham, but such was the curse of being a homicide cop. He poised
himself above the dead woman, and, carefully not touching
her, leaned inwards toward the wall until he could get a
clear view of her pop-eyed, blue face and the rope
embedded in her neck.
Melch muttered under his breath. Ugly situation, that’s for sure. Not at all a nice way to die. He eyed the rope. Nothing unusual about it, unfortunately. Just plain nylon like you’d find at any hardware store.
“Sir,” Sprott said, “we’ve got a problem.”
“Huh?” Melch looked up. “Besides the murder you mean?”
“Oh no, sir. I mean, well it has to do with the murder itself, sir. And our solving of it.”
“Spit it out, Sprott,” Melch growled.
“Yes, sir. It’s our three suspects. They all claim to have been together in the living room when it happened.
But there was no one else was in the house. And all the doors were locked.”
“Hmm. Interesting.” Melch straightened his massive body, eager to get out of the room before he up-chucked his dinner. “They say why they were here in the first place?”
“Yes,” Sprott said. “At Mrs. Darlingham’s invitation. They’re struggling Hollywood hopefuls just like Ms. Darlingham was.”
“Actors, you mean?”
“Yes, sir. Two actors and one actress. Anyway,
apparently Ms. Darlingham had a big self-promotion idea she wanted to share with them.”
“That so?” Melch craned his head around the flowered
shower curtain and peeked in at the sparkling clean tub.
“What was this promotion idea?” he asked drawing his head out.
“I don’t know, sir. I was just going to ask them that
when you arrived.”
Melch nodded and swung his big eyes to the tiny window
five feet up the wall opposite the tub.
“Oh no one came through that window, sir,” Sprott said, following his glance. “Way too small.”
“Yeah.” Damn, he could see that for himself, didn’t
need Sprott to point it out. “Come on, Sprott. Let’s get out of here and let the M.E. and forensics crew do their things. Meanwhile, we’ll sit a spell with these possible future stars of stage and screen and see what we can shake out of them.”
Melch stomped out the bathroom door, ripped the
transparent crime scene gloves from his hands, gave the
forensic team and M.E. a nod, and led the way across the
hall to the living room.
The three people on the couch looked up in unison.
Almost like marionettes, Melch thought. Good. They
were ripe for a bit of questioning.
“About time you showed some interest in us,” snapped
the older of the two men.
“And you are?” Melch asked.
Early fifties maybe, and lean with a bearded scowling face. Yeah, thought Melch, he could’ve done it.
“And you, ma’am?” Melch asked, turning to the dark-haired, weeping beauty.
“Oh, uh, I’m Consuela Molina, officer.” She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
“And I’m Bobby Gordon,” said the third. Southern
accent, mid-thirties, handsome, but looking pretty haggard
at the moment.
“Of course there’s nothing we can add to what we
already told him.” Cotton wagged his head in Sprott’s
“You might be surprised,” Melch shot back. He planted
his hands on his hips and sent severe looks around the
room. “Which of you found Ms. Darlingham’s body?”
“Already been asked,” Bobby Gordon said.
“So answer it again,” Melch growled.
“Uh, okay. Sure. Just didn’t want to waste your time and–” Gordon broke off as Melch took a step toward him. “Okay, okay. Sorry. All of us found her.”
“And it was awful,” Consuela Molina added, her ruby
lips trembling. She wiped a tear from her mascara stained
Melch’s heart softened. His feet ached and his
stomach still felt queasy, but that sure wasn’t this sweet-
faced woman’s fault. He clenched his jaw. Or was it?
While women stranglers were few and far between, you never
could tell. . . .
He looked for a place to sit, spotted a single worn-
looking armchair and clomped across the room to sink into its depths. Being in charge had its rewards. Let Sprott take that hard-backed chair next to the couch. “Okay, what do you mean you all found the body?”
“Just that,” Cotton said.
“That’s right, Lieutenant,” Sprott said. “They–”
Melch glared him to silence, then swung back to his
suspects. “You.” He pointed at Gordon. “Tell me about
this finding of the body.”
“It’s quite simple,” Bobby Gordon drawled. “We were
all sitting here when all of a sudden we heard Nell shout.”
“Shout? Shout what?”
Gordon shrugged, and Consuela Molina explained. “We
couldn’t understand her, but it sounded so. . .oh I don’t know. . .so frightening, I guess.”
“I’d say bizarre is a better word for how she sounded,” Cotton put in. “Anyway, we all ran to the bathroom, but the door was locked so we–”
“Kicked it in,” Gordon said. “Or, rather, I kicked it
- in. After calling out first, of course.”
“Hmm. And what did you find?”
“Hell,” Gordon sputtered. “You know that.”
“Poor Nell,” Consuela Molina burst out. “I couldn’t
move. None of us could. We just stood there in the
doorway holding on to one another. Nell’s face, those
popping eyes, that rope around her neck. . . . Oh, it was
horrible, just horrible. Finally I was able to unfreeze, and I ran to the other bathroom and was sick.”
“And I hurried out to the kitchen to call 911,” Gordon
“And where’d you rush to?” Melch asked Art Cotton.
“Me?” Cotton blinked. “Nowhere. I remained by the
bathroom keeping watch.”
“Uh, the killer, of course. He had to be somewhere.
I mean, hell, I even looked behind the shower curtain and
in that little cabinet under the sink.”
“Was the window open?”
“It was closed,” Gordon cut in. “Not that it matters.
The killer couldn’t have gotten in or out that way. Way
too small, you know.”
“Yes.” Melch scowled. Why did everyone have to tell
him that obvious fact anyway? “What was Ms. Darlingham’s
wonderful promotion idea?” he asked. No better way to
catch a killer off guard than by changing tact.
“Uh. . . .” For once Bobby Gordon didn’t have a
“We don’t know,” Cotton said.
“She died. . .was killed before she could tell us,”
Consuela Molina added.
“Any of you hate her guts?”
“W-what?” Gordon sputtered.
“Someone killed her so someone must have hated her,
“Well, I don’t know. But we were all together, so it
couldn’t have been one of us.”
“Ah, so then you did hate her, eh?” Melch grinned
“No, of course not. Nell was a little full of herself
“A lot full of herself,” Art Cotton said. “But like
Bobby says we were together the whole time. Someone else
must have sneaked into the house.”
“And out again?” Melch asked. “Who? The Invisible
Cotton shrugged, Gordon frowned and Consuela Molina
began to sob. “Oh, this is more than I can take,” she
moaned. “I’m beginning to feel faint. I really am.”
Melch frowned. “Easy does it, ma’am. The Sergeant
will get you a glass of water, won’t you, Sergeant?”
Sprott popped out of his chair. “Oh certainly, sir.”
“I could use one, too,” Gordon said.
“Me, too,” Cotton said. “It’s damn hot in here.”
Melch rolled his eyes. “All right, get ‘em all a
glass, Sergeant. And me as well.” He would much rather have had a couple of beers, but hell, he had to be polite. And he couldn’t drink on duty, especially not while he was grilling suspects. Melch crossed his arms over his ample stomach and ran his glance around the room studying each of the three in turn. One of them had done it. That much he was sure of. But how? Damn. Why had he become a homicide cop anyway?
How many more years was it before he could retire? And get bored out his noggin? What was he thinking? Yeah, he hated dead bodies, but he sure loved it when he collared a the killer responsible for the dead body.
So which of these three was it? Which one of these three was the killer? And again, how? They covered one another perfectly, so unless they all were lying. . . . Could that be it? Could two be covering for the guilty one? Possible. Especially if they had all hated her. Yeah, in fact– Wait! Maybe they were all equally culpable, had carried out the crime together. Wow. Maybe. Yes, that could be the answer. Had to be the answer.
“Sir.” Sprott shoved a cool glass of water into his
“Ah, thank you, Sergeant.” Melch sipped, swallowed,
and continued considering his three suspects. He didn’t mind if Cotton and Gordon were guilty, but too bad the woman also had to be involved. Too bad, too bad-– Wait! What had she said earlier? Something. Yeah, he remembered now. Melch took another swallow, a bigger one this time. And then he had it. The case was solved. Only one of them was guilty. The Invisible Man was invisible no longer.
“Ms. Molina,” he said suddenly, “I need to talk to
“W-what?” The woman jumped, spilled a little water
in her lap.
“You’re the key to this murder, ma’am.”
She stared at him, her face paling. “I. . .what do
you mean?” she stammered.
“I mean what you said earlier, ma’am. You said you
stood in the bathroom doorway and saw Nell Darlingham’s
face and eyes.”
“We all did,” Bobby Gordon said.
“Did any of you touch her?”
“Touch her?” Consuela Molina looked horrified. “No
“None of us did, Lieutenant,” Art Cotton said. “There
was no need to. It was obvious she was dead.”
Melch smiled grimly. “Then how did she get turned on
her right side — away from the door?”
“Huh?” Gordon stared. So did Art Cotton, Consuela
Molina and Sergeant Sprott.
Melch nodded. “That’s right. When the Sergeant and I
examined the scene I had to crouch way over Ms. Darlingham
to see her face, a face which was facing away from the
doorway and toward the inner wall.”
“I – I don’t understand,” Consuela Molina said.
“It’s quite simple. Either someone rolled her over
afterwards –- moved the body, in fact — or she wasn’t dead
when you discovered her.”
“But. . . . Of course she was dead,” Gordon
“Was she, Mr.– Sprott, grab him!”
Art Cotton swung his fists, but was no match for
Sprott’s sinewy muscle and youth.
“She was having us all on,” Cotton screamed as Melch
read him his rights and as Sprott cuffed his wrists. “The
only promotion idea the self-centered bitch had in mind was
using us as her stepping stone to the big time. The minute
Bobby left to phone 911 and Consuela ran for the other
bathroom. . . . She. . .she jumped up and laughed at me.
She bragged that talent agents would come from all over to
sign her up when they heard how her great acting skills had
fooled the three of us. She. . . .” Cotton hung his head.
“I lost it. I grabbed that rope and. . . I made her fake
strangulation a reality.”