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FIFTY-MINUTES FLAHERTY

by

John A. Broussard


 

Table of Contents

Fifty-Minutes Flaherty
Goodbye, Grandma
A Timely Death
Christmas Stalkings
Death in the Stables
Death of a Pigeon
Death of a Sasquatch
Death of an Unfaithful Wife
Death on the Fifty-Yard Line
Designer Death
Double Homicide
Drive-By
Gate Crasher
Gridlock
Gunless
Homeless Homicide
Lifeline
Murder in the Presbytery
OD
Christmas Unwrappings
Self-Incrimination
The Carnie Caper
The Case of the Barking Dog
The Death Car
An Accidental Death
The Immovable Body
The Importance of Color
The Lebanese Beach Party
The Liquor Store Holdup
The Missing Shipment
The Phone Call
The Plaid Jacket
The Police Commission
The Restraining Order
The Signing
The Traffic Ticket Alibi
Windstorm
The Importance of Knowing Motive
The Only Possibility
Steer Stampede
The Marble Pedestal


Fifty-Minutes Flaherty

Detective Sergeant Donaldson wondered if "Fifty-Minutes" Flaherty was going to live up to his reputation today. This was no barroom brawl where twenty witnesses could testify to who had done the knifing, where Flaherty could make an arrest as he walked through the door. This homicide had occurred in a private apartment, and even though there were only three possible perpetrators, Donaldson couldn't see how Flaherty would be able to pin it on any one of them.

Homicide Lieutenant Flaherty didn't stop to question any of the three. Instead, he moved immediately into the apartment's computer room, bringing Donaldson along to provide a quick briefing, while the suspects waited uncomfortably in the living room. The Sergeant looked surreptitiously at his watch. Ten-ten. Would the murderer be under arrest by eleven?
Lounging back in the office chair, his grey hair neatly combed, his expensive suit fitting him perfectly, Flaherty said simply, "Fill me in."
.
"The four of them were playing poker, and the owner of the apartment tipped the bottle a bit too much. Halfway through the evening he took off to his bedroom. When he didn't come back out after a half-hour or so, the other three went in to see if he was OK. He wasn't. Big ivory-handled letter opener was sticking out of his chest. Deader'n a mackerel."
"Did you question any of them?"
.
"No, sir. They just volunteered that information, and since I knew you were on the way I figured I'd leave the questioning up to you."
"You're sure no one else could have killed him?"
.
"Absolutely. The only other entrance besides the front door opening into the living room is in the back, and its got three locks and a chain on it. The victim," Donaldson paused to check his notes, " Dustin Dobbin, was kinda paranoid. Same set of locks on the front door. And, this being six floors up and no fire escape, even a human fly would have a tough time getting in through a window. We checked everything when we got here. Back door was all locked up. Windows too, for that matter." He shook his head. "No question about it. It had to be one of them."
.
"And you checked all the rooms?"
.
Donaldson was offended by the question, but knew better than to show it. "Yes sir. First thing we did. The kitchen is just an extension of the living room, so that was easy to check out. Then there's the long hallway." He nodded toward the door. "Goes by here, then across the hall is the bedroom where they found the body. Further down on the same side is the bathroom. Next, on this side of the hall, is a second bedroom. Then there's a sharp turn to the right, and the hall ends up ten feet or so further at the back door. We checked every inch. No one, not even a midget, could have hidden away anywhere."
.
Flaherty nodded approval. "OK. Let's start the questioning. Do you have their names?"
.
Donaldson flipped the page in his notebook. "There's Abraham Gould, Benjamin Sheffield and Charles Waterman."
.
Flaherty grinned. "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie."
.
Donaldson seemed puzzled at first then recognized the sequence.
.
The Lieutenant continued, "Bring them in, in alphabetical order."
.
"Charles Waterman is kinda worse for wear. He was still drinking when we got here. Him and Dobbin were both boozing it up heavy. The other two are sober."
.
"OK. Get some coffee down him. It may not sober him up, but it should keep him awake until we get to him."
.
Abraham Gould was a tall, thin, intense looking individual. His long thin fingers kept interlacing and unwrapping as though they had separate lives of their own.
.
Name, address, occupation tumbled over themselves. "I'm a systems programmer in Dustin's firm–Softstarlight, Inc. Been there for five years." Flaherty prodded him on to describe the evening.
.
"It was something of a surprise for all of us when Dustin invited us over for poker. He'd never done that before. Never took much time out for anything not involving work. I suspected there was more to it than just a get-together. Everything was going along fine, but after a few drinks–I don't drink much myself–he loosened up and dropped a bombshell. He was selling the company right out from under us. And there are no golden parachutes in this outfit."
.
Flaherty interrupted, "If Softstarlight is so successful, won't the new company just keep everyone on?"
.
A wry laugh was the answer. "The world of business doesn't operate that way these days. We're being bought out because we were too successful. Buying out is a way of getting rid of competition. We'll just be closed down once the deal is finalized."
.
"It seems to me there's a big demand for computer people, though? You shouldn't have any problems finding a job."
.
"Sure, but I've invested my heart and soul in this business. Even worked for a pittance to see Softstarlight succeed. Dustin was a smooth talker. Convinced me and the others that he'd go public and give us a big slice of the pie. It sounded great. Then he double crossed us."
.
Flaherty smiled. "So you were pretty angry."
.
"You're damn right I was angry. I was pissed off to beat hell. So were the others. "I'm not sorry to see him dead–but I didn't kill him."
.
"Won't the business be sold anyway?"
.
"No. His brother stands to inherit. According to Dustin, his brother quit because of the pending sale. Didn't want anything to do with it. So he'll never go for selling the business now that he owns it outright."
.
"Did any of you leave the room after Dustin went off to bed?"
.
A vehement, "I didn't! But Ben did for ten minutes or so. And Charlie went out for even longer afterwards. I think they said they were going to the can. I was too damn mad to really listen–or care."
.
"Have you ever been in this apartment before?"
.
"My wife and I lived here for almost two years. When Dustin started the business he was looking for an apartment, and my wife and I were anxious to move into a home, so it worked out fine. He took over our lease."
.
Flaherty nodded and asked him to have Benjamin Sheffield come in.
.
Sheffield was far more relaxed than his predecessor. As tall as Gould, he weighed perhaps fifty pounds more and settled heavily into the proffered chair.
.
His description of the evening differed little from Gould's. "I was surprised at the invitation. I've known Dustin for years. Lived here for six weeks with him while I was hunting for a place of my own. In all that time I never heard him even mention poker. I guess it was just an excuse to break the news to all of us." He seemed to be thinking about the invitation as he added, "Four-handed poker really isn't much of a game."
.
"Were you disturbed when you heard Dustin was selling the business?"
.
"Sure. But it was getting to be something of a dead end for me, anyway. I've been thinking of moving on. I'm a programmer, and the field we're working in is pretty narrow. I'd like to broaden my horizons." He grinned, "It's always nicer to quit than to be laid off. And there's no severance pay or anything like that. But I'll get by."
.
"Did you leave the room after Dustin went to bed?"
.
Sheffield shook his head. "Abe did, though. Gone about ten minutes or so. Said he was going to the head. Let's see. It was after that that Charlie took off. I don't think he said anything."
.
Flaherty nodded to the Sergeant who had been taking notes. Donaldson rose, escorted Sheffield out and brought Charles Waterman in. A small man, older than the other two, he was obviously still feeling the effects of the evening's drinking, despite the coffee. There was no mistaking the signs of an early hangover.
.
"Were you surprised at the invitation tonight?
.
Waterman shook his head, which caused his eyes to blink from the pain. Thinking better of it he simply said, "No."
.
A raised eyebrow prompted Waterman to continue. "There've been rumors around about what was going on. When I heard that Dustin's brother had stalked out of his office and quit, I knew we were in for a change. I was kind of surprised that Dustin had us out to his apartment, though. I've never been here before. Any important meetings were usually in his office or at some local restaurant. What really surprised me was the poker party business. I didn't even know he played cards."
.
"Have you been working long for Softstarlight?"
.
Waterman shook his head, then grimaced. "No. Dustin recruited me from Silicon Valley last year to be marketing manager."
"Any promises?"
.
"Oh, sure. But I'm a grown boy. Been in this business for years. You learn soon enough that there will always be promises that don't pan out."
.
"So you weren't disappointed when he told you you were through?"
.
.
"Naturally, I was. But, like I said, that's just one of those things."
"Did you leave the room after Dustin went to bed?"
.
Waterman started to shake his head but thought better of it. "No"
.
.
"Did either of the others?"
.
"Yes. I think Abe went first. Yes, I'm sure he did. Was gone quite a while. Later Ben took off. Can't remember for sure how long he was gone."
.
As Donaldson closed the door behind Waterman, he glanced at his watch. Flaherty seemed not to notice. It was almost eleven. He turned to look at the Lieutenant and struggled to keep the smile from his face. "I guess the only thing we know for sure is that they're we're dealing with a bunch of liars."
.
"No one wants to be a suspect. Least of all the one who killed Dobbin. But now we know who did. Charge him. Read him his rights. Cuff him and take him in."
.
Donaldson's jaw fell. "Who?"
.
Standing up, Flaherty flicked an invisible speck of lint from his trousers, and said, "Why, Charles Waterman, of course."
.
"But how do you know he killed Dobbin?"
.
"Put yourself in the place of any of those three out there. They're reasonably intelligent–probably well above average–important jobs in a successful software firm. Now, if you killed someone in an apartment where there were only two other suspects, wouldn't you want to broaden the range of suspects?"
.
Donaldson looked puzzled.
.
A smile lit up Flaherty's face. "What would have made an investigating detective suspect that some outsider had killed Dobbin?"
.
Donaldson’s face lit up. "The back door. Of course. If it hadn't been all padlocked, I would have suspected someone could have crept in, killed Dobbin and then gone out the same way without any of the three knowing what happened."
.
"Exactly. So, as a reasonably intelligent individual, if you had been the killer, you would have unlocked that back door and left it unlocked. Right?"
.
The light dawned. Donaldson exclaimed, "And only Gould and Sheffield knew about that door. If either of them had killed Dobbin, they would have unlocked it and left it unlocked."
.
"Right."
.
This time Flaherty noticed Donaldson checking his watch. It was exactly eleven.


 

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