“He’s right in here,” said Sergeant Frank Herbert as he led Detective Frederick Ontario down a hall in the Delphi house.
The room the men entered was rather plain. It had off-white walls, and beige shag carpeting. One painting hung on the same wall as the door, in the corner. The only remarkable aspect to the room was that the place looked like it had been thoughoghly searched. All of the drawers and closet doors were open. One drawer from the dresser was even laying to the side, flipped over with most of the contents still in it. Detective Ontario surveyed the scene. Lying face-up near the window was the body of Jack Delphi.
“Hmmm... That’s odd,” remarked Detective Ontario.
“What’s that Detective?”
“It’s probably nothing. You made sure that no-one touched the crime scene?”
“Of course, what do you take me for?”
“I didn’t mean to offend you Frank. This whole case just has me questioning, that’s all.” Detective Ontario scanned the room once more.
“Safe’s open, and all the jewels are gone.”
“So you think it was a botched robbery Frank?”
“That’s what it looks like.” Anyone would have to admit that it seemed pretty simple. Robber broke in, cracked the safe, then was surprised by Jack. Detective Ontario moved toward the window.
“The double entry still has me miffed, Frank.”
“The way I figure it, the robber came in the front door, breaking the chain, and then panicked after the heist and bolted out the window. The lock’s pretty rusty, so it would have been hard to open, especially if you were in a hurry.”
“You’re probably right. This case just doesn’t seem like it should be that easy... Well, I might as well examine the body.” The coroner had yet to arrive, but both Detective Ontario and Sergeant Herbert could easily determine the cause of death. A pool of blood surrounded the head of Jack Delphi, and there was a gold candlestick with one end covered in blood laying about four feet from the body.
“What a horrible way to go,” commented Sergeant Herbert.
“What’s worse is that he saw it coming.” It was clear that the blow to the head had come from in front of Jack Delphi. “His last view would have been his attacker’s face.” Detective Ontario leaned over to examine the body closer. “Hey, what’s this?” Clutched between the thumb and forefinger of Jack’s corpse was a small piece of stiff purple fabric. As he lifted the dead man’s hand to remove the cloth, he found a small, ragged cut on the inside of the right index finger. “Now that’s curious.”
“What did you find?”
“Just a chunk of cloth, and a small cut.”
“I don’t know, what ever it was, it occurred just shortly before death, there’s no sign of clotting. It’s getting late Frank, why don’t I interview Mrs. Delphi and we’ll call it a day?”
Sitting on the couch, facing away from the Officers, sat a plump woman, she had blonde hair tinged with gray, blue eyes, and a general “grandmother” feel to her. She stared blankly ahead at the fish aquarium in front of her.
“Mrs. Delphi, I know this must be hard for you, but I just need to ask you a few questions.” Susan Delphi just sat there with her arms clutched around her body, trembling.
“She can’t hear you.” Both officers turned to identify this new voice.
“And how would you know?” snapped Sergeant Herbert
“Because I’m her son. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Steve Delphi, lover, poet, all around carefree guy.. and only child of that wretch in the next room.”
“I take it you don’t like you father?”
“He and I had our differences, but I’d never kill him if that’s what you’re getting at Sergeant.” Detective Ontario eyed the new comer with suspicion. He was Caucasian, about six foot, 180 lbs., and in his late twenties or early thirties. He had Dark hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a black silk shirt, black slacks, black shoes, a purple silk handkerchief, and a royal purple necktie. Sergeant Herbert and Steve began to glare at each other.
“Fine, let’s start with that,” Detective Ontario interjected before it got any worse. He took out his note pad, and began to write. “First, since you brought up the subject, why didn’t you and your father get along?”
“Hmpff, he thought I was a bum. He was greedy, and didn’t like me having any fun. He expected me to become a business man like him. There are plenty of other reasons if you want me to continue.”
“No, no that will be fine. Okay, here’s the cliche. ‘Where were you on the night of the thirteenth?’”
“Where were you last night?”
“Out with some friends.”
“And I suppose they’ll corroborate that?”
“Of course!” Steve said as though outraged by the comment. As he gestured, Detective Ontario noticed some scratches on his left arm. “What are you questioning me for anyway, I thought some burglar killed him.”
“I’m not convinced of that,” Frank looked at Detective Ontario surprised by the comment. Detective Ontario continued, “Where’d you get those scratches?”
“The ones on your arm.”
“Ohh... I’d rather not say.”
“Why not?” snapped Frank, supporting his friend. “Because it might incriminate you?”
“No, because it’s embarrassing.”
“It’s likely to get a lot more embarrassing,” Detective Ontario replied with steel in his his voice. “Now, where’d you get those scratches?”
“From a girl,” Steve mumbled.
“I said ‘from a girl!’”
Detective Ontario chuckled, “These kids.”
“You know, if anyone had a reason to kill Father, it was Nick Mülleimer.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he and Father differed in their views of where the business should go from here. Father wanted to stay local, and Nick wanted to.... to expand.”
“I’m not real sure, it just had Father extremely upset. Can I go now?”
“Yea, I’m done with you for now.”
“Thank you,” Steve spat, and he strode from the room. Detective Ontario looked around, and noticed that Mrs. Delphi had left at some point during their conversation. He glanced at his watch.
“Ten-forty-five, Nancy will kill me. Why don’t you see what you can find with forensics. I’ll meet you at Cafe Hardy tomorrow at twelve o’clock sharp.”
“Sounds good to me,” Frank said and then escorted Detective Ontario to the door.
As he drove home, Detective Ontario had the feeling that he was missing something. “There has to be some vital clue,” he thought. “Maybe it’ll come to me in a dream.”
His wife was already asleep when he walked in, so he simply stripped, and got into bed. Within moments he was asleep.
The answer didn’t come to him in a dream, and by the time he left the house at 9:00am he was as close to solving the case as he had been when he left the Delphi residence. “First stop, DelMule Hardware,” he thought as he drove.
The hardware store owned by Jack Delphi and Nick Mülleimer was a small, brick building built before the war. Its only distinguishing feature was the white sign on top with the words ‘DelMule Hardware Co.’ stenciled in large, green script.. As Detective Ontario drove up, he could see that the shop was open for business as usual. “It’s like nothing even happened,” Detective Ontario mused as he got out of his brand new, ivory, nineteen-thirty-four Ford Phaeton. A small bell dinged as Detective Ontario opened the door to the store.
“What can I do for you?” asked a tall, red haired man. He was sporting a dark green suit, brown shoes, and a mahogany cane trimmed in silver. A bronze medal gleamed on his left breast, and along with his gold spectacles, it brought to mind the image of a southern colonel. As he stepped toward Detective Ontario, the reason for the cane became obvious. He had a noticeable limp, favoring his left leg.
“I’m looking for Colonel Nicholas Mülleimer.” Detective Ontario began.
“I am he.”
“Mr. Mülleimer, my name is Detective Ontario. I trust you have heard about your partner?”
“Of course, it’s all over the town. Some wretch tried to take Sue’s jewels, and was caught by Jack. It’s too bad he got away with the jewels anyway.”
“That story just doesn’t fit.”
“What do you mean detective?”
“There are to many inconsistencies,” continued Detective Ontario as he idly examined a chisel displayed on the counter and advertised as ‘Ever-Sharp’, “What I don’t get, is why go to all the trouble of ransacking the house after getting the jewels and killing Mr. Delphi?”
“After getting the jewels?” Mülleimer asked with evident shock. “It was my understanding that the search for the jewels is what made the mess.”
“That’s what it could look like, but one of the drawers from the dresser would have been right in the way of the thief. It should have been broken.. or moved.”
“Perhaps the drawer was knocked out during the struggle?”
“I thought of that, but the contents were trapped under it,” as he spoke, Detective Ontario placed the chisel back in the case, and turned his attention toward the hand saws.
“Well, I have every confidence that you will be able to solve this little mystery without much effort,” replied Nicholas as he straightened the display case. “You seem to always spot the right clues.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Jack’s son said that you and Jack had a.. difference of opinion.”
“Yes, well, we have the opportunity to open another shop about 23 miles away. It would mean that we would have to hire another employee and have them watch one of the stores part-time. Jack didn’t like the idea of giving up profits, or of leaving the store in the hands of someone else. Even me.”
“So, now I suppose the Widow Delphi has Jack’s half of the business.”
“Oh no, we had a survivor clause.”
“So you can now open that other shop?”
“Before you go accusing me, look at Jack’s family. His wife stood to gain a hefty life insurance policy, and his son was pretty angry about being removed from Jack’s will.”
“Jack was disowning his son?” asked Detective Ontario with astonishment.
“Not in so many words, but yea, he planned on leaving his son penniless.” As he finished, another customer walked in, “If you’ll excuse me, I have a store to run.”
As Detective Ontario walked out, he called back over his shoulder, “Where were you last night?”
“At home, with my wife.”
“Figures,” mumbled Detective Ontario, “she’ll back him until the end, and then some.”
It was almost twelve-thirty by the time Detective Ontario pulled into the parking lot of Cafe Hardy. True to form, Frank had yet to show up. At almost one, Frank Herbert rolled into the parking lot in his white, nineteen-twenty-eight Chevy Sedan.
“Sorry, Detective. I got caught up in an interview with Mrs. Delphi.”
“Oh really?” Detective Ontario asked, his interest peaked. “What did she have to say?”
“Not a lot. She was asleep in the den when the murder occurred, the first time she knew anything was wrong was later in the evening when she found the body. Her alibi is a little weak, so I did some checking. I found out that their is..”
“A significant insurance policy on Mr. Delphi.” Detective Ontario finished, “Yes, Nicholas Mülleimer told me. What about forensics?”
“They found Mrs. Delphi’s finger prints on the candlestick, but they found someone else’s on the safe. The coroner confirmed that the wound to the head is the cause of death, and not poison from the small cut.”
“I never suspected that it was.”
“I had it checked anyway. He said the wound is consistent with a blow from in front..”
“Just as I suspected.”
“and that the candlestick was the murder weapon.”
“I know all of that. What I need is the missing link. What did he say about the cut?”
“You were right, it was inflicted just before death, and it was caused by a small, pointed object; such as a sewing needle.”
“So, what do you think, Frank?”
“I think that Mrs. Delphi did it. We have her prints on the murder weapon, a motive, no real alibi, and plenty of opportunity.”
“And I think that there is more to this than meets the eye. Besides, Mrs. Delphi is a respected Trustee, we can’t just accuse her of murder without real proof.”
Detective Ontario proceeded to recount the details of his meeting with Mr. Mülleimer.
“It sounds to me like he has as much reason to kill Delphi as Susan. Maybe they’re in cahoots.” replied Frank when he had finished.
“Possible, but doubtful. There is still a key piece of evidence that we’re overlooking. Let’s go back to the Delphi residence and see what we can find.”
As they got out of their cars at the house, Detective Ontario noticed that Jack’s window was clearly visible from the street. Detective Ontario rang the bell, no answer. He rang again.
“Maybe she can’t hear you.” suggested Frank.
“You’re probably right.” replied Detective Ontario as he opened the door and stepped inside. The house was dimly lit, but Detective Ontario’s eyes adjusted quickly and he made his way toward the door to the den. They found Mrs. Delphi sitting on the couch listening to the radio.
“Oh! I didn’t hear you come in.” As Susan Delphi set down her sewing, Detective Ontario took note of her sewing basket. Several needles, a pair of scissors, thread, and chunks of luxurious blue, white, ivory, red, and purple cloth. “There, now what else can I do for you gentlemen?”
“Well Mrs. Delphi...”
“Call me Sue.”
“Well.. Sue.. I just wanted to ask you about your relationship with your husband.”
“I’m afraid it wasn’t all that great. We fought a lot, and he was even planning a divorce. I tried to work through it, but it didn’t help.”
“You said you fell asleep last night, what time was that?”
“I don’t know. Jack and I fought last night, as usual, and all I remember is thinking that the radio must be broken because right after Jack left the room I heard ‘Do mows putt beetle perks in fee parts of Sam’, and then I remember waking up and finding Jack dead.”
Detective Ontario and Sergeant Herbert continued to question Mrs. Delphi for about fifteen minutes before giving up. They weren’t learning anything they didn’t already know. They proceeded to examine the property for more clues, and then headed off to question the neighbors.
Two hours, and countless visits later, they regrouped at Joe’s Barbecue for dinner.
“What did you find out, Frank?”
“None of the neighbors saw anything, they just reinforced what Mrs. Delphi had said. How about you?”
“About the same, however, I did find out one interesting tidbit.”
“Oh really, what’s that?”
“One of the neighbors, an elderly lady named Mrs. Jackson, saw Manuel Garcia sneaking out of the Delphi’s garden at about 6:50 or 6:55pm.
“She was sure it was Manuel?”
“He was still wearing his red shirt.” Frank looked around and noticed all of the other red shirts around him. Each had the words ‘Joe’s Barbecue’ embroidered on them.
“No wonder you insisted on coming here!” Frank laughed.
After dinner, Detective Ontario and Frank questioned Joe about Manuel’s work schedule.
“He took off early last night, said he had something ‘important’ to do.” replied the short, obese man standing before them. “Then he never showed up for work today.”
“Is this normal for him?” asked Detective Ontario.
“No, no. He’s usually very prompt.”
“Thank you very much for your time. Come, Sergeant, we need our rest. Oh, and send out an APB on Manuel Garcia.”
As Detective Ontario sank into bed, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was that he was missing.
He was awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call.
“Really, oh that’s great. We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
By the time Detective Ontario had rang the bell six times, Frank had managed to undo the chain. As he pulled it open, he slammed it into his foot.
“What happened, Frank?”
“I banged my foot against the door.” Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Four-thirty in the morning.”
“And why may I ask are you ringing at four in the morning?”
“Four-thirty. They caught him.” Detective Ontario said as way of explanation.
“Caught who?......Oh! Come in, I’ll get dressed.” As Frank walked through the darkened room, his shin connected with something hard enough to make a dull thump. “Stupid ottoman,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
Frank emerged from his room fully dressed and buckling his belt. “All right, let’s get going. Ow!”
“I caught my thumb on my badge.”
“Perhaps I should drive, Frank.”
Detective Ontario and Sergeant Herbert walked down the bright corridor of the New Britain police station toward interrogation room three. “We don’t know how desperate he’ll be, so watch yourself Detective.”
The young Hispanic boy sitting before them had a look of utter fear on his face. He wore tan slacks, black shoes, and a black sweater. “For the last time! I never even had the chance to see Mr. Delphi, let alone kill him!”
“But you admit to stealing the jewelry night before last?”
“Yea, I was really hard up, you know.”
“Sure, we know.” Detective Ontario said as he and Frank left the room.
“What do you think?” asked Frank when the door was securely closed.
“I think I just found the killer.”
“Just get cleaned up and meet me at the Delphi residence at two. And do try to be on time for once,” he said as he strolled away. “Oh, and bring the kid.”
Detective Ontario gazed at the three people gathered before him in the den. “Thank you all for coming on such short notice. I know the memorial service starts in about an hour, but I thought you would all like to have some conclusion to this before then.” He turned as Sergeant Herbert entered, escorting Manuel Garcia. “I trust you all know Manuel. He is well known in the department as a pickpocket and petty thief. Burglary is something new to him.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Mülleimer as he rose from his seat with a speed that shocked even the Detective. “I knew it had to be some punk kid that did such a terrible thing!”
Detective Ontario raised his hand to stop Mülleimer. “Oh, Manuel took the jewels all right, but the murder was not the outcome of some bungled burglary. No, this was premeditated. From the beginning I really didn’t believe that it was some botched robbery as it appeared. There were two things that just didn’t fit.
“The first was the double entry idea. The chain on the front door was snapped, as was the lock on the bedroom window. This suggested two forced entries, not an entry and exit.
“The second discrepancy was the way in which the room was ransacked. Manuel admitted to watching Mr. Delphi input the combination, so why ransack the room? There was a drawer laying upside down on the floor between the dresser and the body of Mr. Delphi. Since the death blow came from in front of Jack, the killer would have had to be standing right on top of the drawer. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Murder seldom does,” interjected Colonel Mülleimer.
“Regardless, I was forced to look else where for motive. Each of you has a motive. Each has opportunity, but only one of you is the murderer.”
“Just tell us already!” demanded Steve Delphi.
“I’m getting there. First let me say that the one piece of physical evidence left at the scene turned out to be much more vital than I thought. When I examined the body, I found a small piece of purple cloth clutched in Mr. Delphi’s hand. This in itself was not remarkable, were it not for some other small coincidences.
“First, Manuel was dressed for work: black slacks, red shirt, no jewelry, no decoration. This means that if he was the murderer, the fabric was a red herring. His alibi is the strongest of all. He was seen leaving the house at six-fifty or six-fifty-five.”
Susan Delphi’s normally pleasant face was replaced with a mask of utter contempt. “Then he was in my house when Jack was killed!”
“No, Mrs. Delphi, he was not, you yourself told me that.”
“Yes, you said that the last thing you remember is the radio saying ‘Do mows putt beetle perks in fee parts of Sam’. Had you heard correctly, you would have realized that the phrase was actually ‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man?’ the intro to ‘The Shadow’, which comes on every night at seven. At least five minutes after Manuel left. And your husband was still alive.
“Since Manuel’s unintentional alibi is airtight, he cannot be the killer.” An audible sigh escaped the lips of Manuel. Detective Ontario glanced at the boy and felt some measure of pity. ‘He knew no one would believe him’ Detective Ontario thought. “That leaves us with three of you. None of your alibis hold water.”
“Your’s, Colonel, is only substantiated by your wife.”
“Are you calling my wife a liar?” Asked the colonel, rising again from his seat.
“I am not. I only mean that she is loyal, and a good wife. Now, I shall continue... Mrs. Delphi..”
“..Sue.. you were alone, that destroys your alibi, and Steve, your friends may only be trying to protect you.” Fear registered on the faces of both surviving Delphis
“That leaves us searching for other ways to eliminate suspects. You, Colonel, provided me with my next clue.” Detective Ontario paced to the far side of the room, idly staring out the window. “You stated that Steve had been removed from Jack’s will.”
“Yes, to the best of my knowledge, that is correct,” the Colonel said warily.
“I have no reason to doubt you. This fact does, however, destroy any motive he may have had, as he surely would have wanted to be reinstated first. Besides, his clothes are all silk, much softer than the fabric I found.”
“As I said from the beginning, I am no killer.” Steve said with a self-satisfied nod. Now I have been validated”
“Yes, you have, Steve.”
“And then there were two,” muttered Frank.
“Next I turned toward physical evidence. Sue’s prints on the candlestick could easily be explained by the fact that she cleans the house, and would have handled the candlestick many times. That left me with the cloth. I found no purple in the attire of you, Colonel...”
“Ha! I knew it.” spat Mülleimer as he glared at Sue.
“But, neither did I find the right type of cloth in Mrs. Delphi’s sewing basket.”
“Then the cloth was useless, Detective.” Scoffed the Colonel. “All this hubbub over nothing.”
“Not at all, Nick, not at all...”
“I don’t get it.”
“You will.. you will... The final clue came this morning, with the timely capture of our thief here. As Sergeant Herbert was getting ready, he stabbed himself with the clasp of his badge. Though it took me a while, this turned out to be the key.
“I took the liberty of calling in back-up. Officers! Arrest the Colonel!”
The Colonel leapt from his chair and made a mad dash for the window, before being subdued by the three armed officers. They pinned him against the wall, and handcuffed him.
“How did you know it was him?” Steve asked in obvious awe.
“It was really quit simple,” Detective Ontario turned his attention toward Mülleimer, “You have a limp, I assume it is from the war.”
“Yes!” spat the Colonel.
“Then you would have been given the ‘Purple Heart’.” Turning back to the othershe said, “When I met the Colonel, he was wearing a war medal, as he is now. The piece of fabric that I found on Mr. Delphi. was very course, like something that would be used as a ribbon.” A collective gasp reverberated around the circle of those gathered.
Detective Ontario paced to the window which had recently been Mülleimer’s only hope. “Colonel Mülleimer pulled up outside of the Delphi residence at about six-fifty. He spotted Manuel exiting the house, and his plan came together. He opened the front door and walked in. Mr. Delphi was in his room, furious. As the Colonel entered, Mr. Delphi stood up, and that..” Detective Ontario spun on his heels to face the awe-struck crowd. “that, is when the Colonel struck him.” Detective Ontario walked straight up to the subdued Colonel.” As he fell, he clutched at you, managing only to grab your medal, correct?” Without waiting for an answer, Detective Ontario continued, “His ‘Purple Heart’, that was the key. Part of the ribbon snagged, and tore off, but the pin tore Jack’s finger as well. Seeing his partner dead, the Colonel set to work ransacking the room, then forcing the lock on the window, to make it appear as though the thief had come in that way.” Detective Ontario turned once more to regard the others in the room, before seating himself in the recently vacated seat of the Colonel.
“Colonel Mülleimer didn’t know that the chain on the front door was broken, nor did he realize that his own meticulous nature would keep him from scattering the contents of the dresser across the room. Instead, he took out a drawer and flipped it over, keeping the contents inside, some still folded.
“Take him away.”
“It’s nice to have this whole thing over with isn’t it, Detective?” Frank asked as they drove back to Frank’s house.
“Yes Frank, it is.”
“One thing still bothers me...”
“How did you know that it wasn’t Mrs. Delphi?”
“Sue isn’t organized enough to ransack something, she would never have overturned a drawer.”
“That’s not much evidence.” Frank commented as he got out of the car and turned to walk up his drive.
“Who said anything about evidence?” Detective Ontario asked with a sly grin as he pulled away.
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back to the Short Story Page.Candlesticks and Cloth, 13 January 2001