This is chapter 3 of Destroying Angel. You can find chapter 2 here.
We pulled up to the house and came through the back like last time. Wullf was wearing an apron and pouring coffee all around and looked not unlike a Parisian café owner. I pulled out a chair for Rosalita and made sure it was next to Andy. Wulff and I made eye contact and I headed outside to get the food. I heard some raised voices inside and then Wulff came out. You could see his dander was up.
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Ollie seems to think that because we are here, we are also under his authority.”
“Damn sloppy to have us here at all.”
He smiled. “I didn’t point that out. He’s concerned we may be colluding.”
“Justifiably concerned, it turns out.”
“Once I told him you brought food, and he better be nice if he wanted any, he put his own interests first and decided to let me out of his sight, but we better make it quick.”
I thought about where to start in case we got interrupted. “Okay, Herschel got her out, but she dropped a bombshell on me while we were waiting on food. She did it.”
He looked directly at me, the mercury lamp on a pole in the center of the drive came on and threw a greenish light over everything, making his swarthy skin look darker. “She did what?”
“She put poison in his food, in the mushroom risotto.” He looked down a moment, thinking, then his eyes flicked back to mine, “Okay, what else?”
I ran it down. I told him about the child, the blackmail scheme, the marriage, and the things I had found at the hospital.
He took the food from me, including the leftovers. Then he asked about the flies and I handed them over. He looked up at the hat, and took that one too. I was reaching into my pocket to pull out the rest of the evidence when he put his hand on my hand through my coat. “You might want to take the night off and head home, just in case I need you later.”
I looked at him for a moment and withdrew my hand. “Got it.” I had just opened the door to the Hudson and started to get in when Braster showed up, followed by his second deputy, Bertand, parking me in.
“You’re not going anywhere Abel. Get your ass into the house with the rest of them.” I shot Wulff a look, but his expression gave nothing away.
“Actually, I was just coming to see you.” I pulled out my wallet and fumbled around, “Here is the dinner receipt for your hostages. Um, I mean captives. Er, suspects! That’s the word I was looking for.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Wulff interjected. “Certainly you didn’t expect to keep people for hours without feeding them? The blood sugar issues during an interrogation alone would be devastating.”
Braster looked back and forth between us and then snatched the receipt from my hand, stuffing it in his pocket. I didn’t ever expect to see a penny of it, but needling Braster was always worth the price of admission. Bertrand looked amused.
They bustled us into the house officiously like it was their idea to do it and not ours, but we ignored them as I got out plates and Wulff dished up the grub. I only bought food for six, and only got out six plates, including Ollie, and excluding Wulff who had leftovers, so Braster and Bertrand had to cool their heels while the rest of us ate, Wulff only waving them towards the coffee for self-service. He then got up and started warming up his left overs. I hadn’t paid them much mind, but was a little surprised to find it was the mushroom risotto.
“I could never eat that,” and he waved his hands at the take-out, “when I have Rosalita’s excellent leftovers of venison in sherry cream, with roasted fennel sides, and this excellent mushroom risotto.”
“Where did you get that?” asked Braster. “The fridge was off limits.” He shot Ollie a dirty look.
“Oh, relax, I got it from Abel who was here at dinner days ago.” I marveled at how those two truths combined to create a bold-faced misconception in the ear of the listener.
“That food could be poisoned. That’s why we sequestered it.”
“Oh, pshaw. If it was poisoned, you would have six victims and not one.” I shot a look to Rosalita. Certainly she knew I didn’t take home left overs, and would figure out these came from Andy’s cabin. I just wanted absolute certainty that they were safe. Wulff, on the other hand, needed no such reassurance. He tucked into the food like he hadn’t eaten in two days.
Just then, Andy heaved across the table for the water pitcher like he had palsy, knocking Wulff’s plate clear off the edge of the table. Wulff calmly caught it on the way down and did it so adroitly he managed to keep the food on the plate and bring the whole thing back to the table with one sweeping motion. The whole thing happened so quickly, those who weren’t watching heard a clatter and maybe saw the plate come back to the table, but would’ve missed everything in between. The cops were gathered around the coffee with their backs to the group, talking amongst themselves and barely shot glances over their shoulders before returning to strategizing.
Andy put both hands flat on the table and was rigid. His mouth opened and closed like a beached salmon. He was clearly very upset. He looked back and forth from Wulff, to Rosalita, to me, to the cops. It was clear that he wanted to say something but was torn. He was shaking his head back and forth unconsciously. The man was in torment. Finally, he mouthed to Wulff “Don’t eat that.” At this point, Rosalita’s eyes went wide and she put her hand to her mouth. But Wulff just winked and put the food in his mouth, rolling it around and clearly savoring it. Tibaud was grinning and eating with gusto. Jerry was staring a hole into his plate and hadn’t touched his food.
“I hate to interrupt your repast, folks – ” Wulff stopped Braster with a lifted hand, palm out.
“Please, sir, no business during dinner.”
“Wulff, I already told you once today to stay out of this. When you are done, I want you to leave. This is my show.” He pulled out a packed of light blue papers. I looked at Wulff and he shrugged. He wasn’t going anywhere if I wasn’t free to drive him.
“Okay, it’s official now. We have permission to search the house, the cabins, and the grounds.” He looked at Crowley, “If that’s okay with you, of course.” Crowley looked at him as if he had a retort, but then just waved a fork at him for assent.
“Don’t forget the boat,” said Wulff who clearly had formulated some theories I wasn’t up on.
Braster looked at him and the techs in the door. “Okay, let’s get started.” He reached down, took the remains of Wulff’s meal and handed them to a Tyvek-suited techie. “Start with this, bag it. Go through the refrigerator.” He looked at Wulff. “And don’t forget the boat.”
We sat there and looked at each other. Braster let us stack the dishes but wouldn’t let us wash them. Then Wulff and I got the cribbage board down and started to play. Andy and Rosalita held hands but didn’t talk. Tibaud stretched his legs out under the table, folded his arms across his chest, and was out in minutes, with a smug little smile still on his face. Jerry watched the game. The cops drank coffee and chatted. Eventually one of the boys in spacesuits came back and had a quick conversation with Braster.
Braster took his coffee into the office which was off the hall connecting the kitchen with the rest of the house, facing on the driveway, and called Jerry in. Jerry hesitated like he might not want to talk and Braster said, “It goes like this folks, either talk to me here, or I arrest the lot of you, take you to the station and keep you there while you lawyer up. Since Wulff already used the only good lawyer in town, it might take a while for you to get out.”
Jerry blew out a big breath, patted Rosalita’s hand, got up and followed Braster into Jerry’s office. Rosalita hung her head and began to cry. Wulff immediately put down his cards and put his hand out for my phone.
“What do you think you are doing Wulff?” Asked Bertrand.
“I’m calling an attorney.”
“I didn’t hear anybody ask you to call an attorney.”
“Standing arrangement,” said Wulff. Right about then Herschel picked up and Wulff turned his attention to the phone like the deputy wasn’t even there.
After Jerry came Tibaud, then they asked for Rosalita. When Rosalita stood up, Wulff put down his cards, but before he could say anything, Herschel came through the door, letting in a burst of unseasonable chill as the sun went behind the ridge. He took in the room at a glance, and then came over to Rosalita.
Braster’s eyes shown like raisins in the doughy folds of his flesh, but he brusquely ushered them both into the office. When Rosalita and Herschel came out, Hershel’s mouth was a grim line. He took one look at Wulff, shook his head negatively, then immediately got on the phone. I exchanged a look with Wulff, but he was back looking at his cards like nothing had happened.
I’d forgotten Braster said he wanted to talk to me until Bertrand came out to get me. I looked at my cards and the board, said “Dammit!” as I tossed them down. We were neck-and-neck on the last hand and it was my first count. The right turn card would’ve put me out.
The office was wood paneled, fir, I think, and dark with age. The old oak desk was square on the door, a window behind it, and a filing cabinet on either side of that. Surprising how much paper fishing can generate, I thought. Only men could take another man’s pure, simple freedoms and figure out how to charge him for it, track it, make him accountable for sharing it. There were bookshelves on the right and left walls, making the passage around to the desk a narrow fit. Bertrand sat in one chair facing the desk and I took the other.
Braster tapped a tape recorder with a pen, and Bertrand held a yellow legal pad and pen at the ready. Something about that bushy mustache of his had always offended me, and it was definitely getting to me now. “You are on the record Abel.” I just looked at him. “That requires a response,” prompted caterpillar face.
I looked over at him. “Oh, sure. Gotcha.”
“Anything you want to tell me, Abel?”
I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, hands clasped. “Well it’s kind of a secret,” I looked from one to another and saw I had also drawn them forward, “but apparently Wulff’s new fly is candy to steelhead.” I smiled and leaned back like I had just relieved myself of a huge burden.
Braster shot Bertrand a look. “Time was you, me, and the phone book would be having a long overdue chat about now.” He smiled. I smiled. Bertrand smiled. All for different reasons, I’m sure. “But, let’s cut to the chase, Abel. We know you had drinks with Negro the night he got here. We know you got a thing for Rosalita, on account of the gun. That’s motive, means, and opportunity right there.”
I leaned back in the chair. Looked back and forth between them again. “That’s it? That’s all you got? You got nothing. You don’t even know that’s my gun.”
“Oh, I know it. At the moment I might not be able to prove it, but I know it.”
“Well so what? I was consulting with her. No law against that.”
“Consulting, or consorting?” shot Braster.
“That’s a big word, Braster, you been sneaking your wife’s romance novels on those long, boring speed traps again?”
Bertrand looked away and put the back of his hand to his mustache like he might lose it.
Braster’s fat roll tinged pink but he refused the bait like a selective brown will inspect and reject a fly. “What did you have to discuss with the victim, and what is his connection to the suspect?”
“Well we talked about all kinds of stuff. Mostly fishing related, so you wouldn’t get it.”
“You weren’t warning him off?”
“Don’t play dumb. There had to be a reason she killed him, we are going to find out what it was. I think she ‘consulted’ with you, you told her you would take care of it, then took him somewhere and told him to stay away from her.”
“Unless you have evidence of which I’m unaware, you are certainly jumping to conclusions here. What if she didn’t kill him and never met him before? The killer could be right in front of you and you would miss him.”
“That’s a good point. You are sitting right in front of me and we do have a motive for you, plus opportunity.”
“Pfft! That’s no motive, and again it presupposes a connection between Rosalita and Negro. You can go jump in the lake.”
He switched tactics on me. “Why was she running?”
“Who said she was running?”
“She was packed, with a gun.”
“Maybe she had a romantic getaway planned. How would I know?”
He smiled and looked at Bertrand, “Because you were consulting with her.”
“Which of course means I cannot tell you what we discussed.”
“There is no client privilege with a PI,” said Braster.
“One thing I know for certain is that cops often lack a grasp of constitutional law. If you want to know what we talked about, I think I’d better consult a lawyer.” I held out my hands, palms up. “We’ve come full circle. We done?”
Pink was turning to red, and I really worry about his blood pressure sometimes.
“Well, Abel, here’s the problem I got. Rosalita, she spilled the whole thing, lawyer sitting right here and all.”
One thing I learned is to never over-react. Assuming that she told us both the same story could be one of those fallacies Wulff was going on about. “Did she now?”
“Yup. We know all about the coyote and the poison. She says she told you about it and you promised to take care of it. You talked her out of killing him and took the poison from her. She had no idea you were going to use it poison him.”
Still no reaction from me, which is surprising because things were beginning to drop into place in my head with resounding thuds. I had already heard two versions of this story myself. I was wondering if she had played me the whole way, or if she just stumbled onto it last-minute like.
“That’s motive, means, and opportunity, which gives us cause to search you now.”
Bertrand was already behind me, hand on his gun. I put my hands above my head thumbs together like I was going into an airport X-ray machine.
“Stand up. Slowly.” Braster had his gun out, resting the butt on the blotter.
Betrand searched me quickly but efficiently, finding the license, the vial, and the mushroom caps. I could’ve smacked myself for having all of the evidence on me. Which fallacy did that fall under? Is there a fallacy of hubris?
Betrand put the evidence on the blotter one item at a time. Braster opened up the license and looked at it, then looked up at me. “Even a dumb local cop like me would find it hard to miss the connections here,” and he gave me a huge smile.
Some angel, I thought. But I got it, you spend your formative years in a brothel scratching a mark on the wall for every man who took you, and you have a beautiful little girl waiting for you who may suffer the same fate – you do what you have to do to survive and keep your family together. I thought briefly of some of the things I’ve done, and that the people we get to pay back are rarely the people whom we originally wronged. Altogether, I’ve been in worse positions, and I was willing to take a little heat for my friend. Or, maybe I really wasn’t the noble knight I wanted to be when I grew up, but she’d played me for the same fool I’d been all along. Looked like I was going to have some time to ponder it all.
Then they read me my rights and all of the other boring stuff. Braster was pretty smug about it and I was glad I was cuffed or they might’ve added a few more charges to the list. They perp walked me through the kitchen and I shrugged to Wulff as I went by. At least I wouldn’t have to call my own lawyer. Tibaud was wide awake now and smirking at the whole scene like he had paid for this entertainment. Which, in a way I guess, he had.
Braster came out of the office. “We’re done for now. But keep yourselves available.”
“What’s your take, constable?” asked Wulff in a completely conversational, friendly tone, like he would say if I was a salmon Braster had just caught and Wulff was inquiring what fly he’d used.
“We have Rosalita’s word that puts Abel for it. Plus we found mushrooms on him, the vial she described that contained the poison, and the victim’s ID, like a trophy.”
“So you took the word of your prime suspect against a man you’ve known for years?”
Braster looked around. “Unless you can explain this all away.”
“And the vial.” Wulff looked at Rosalita. “Really? Shame on you.” He looked back at Braster. “Your prime witness describes the exact piece of evidence you find in your search. That doesn’t make you suspicious?”
“Well, the mushrooms and the license tie it all together. He was cleaning up the evidence when we nabbed him outside.”
“Why would Abel have toxic mushrooms on him if Tibaud supplied the poison?”
“We’re working on that. We’re not so sure that Tibaud supplied the poison at all. It makes more sense that when Negro showed up, Rosalita told Andy who he was. Andy made the poison in his little lab, and Rosalita was going to administer it. But Abel talked her out of it and she gave him the poison when he said he would take care of Negro. It was a perfect little lovers’ triangle. Abel didn’t even know Andy had already married his little angel.”
Apparently Jerry didn’t know it either, because at this he jumped to his feet and everybody in the room turned towards him, cops’ hands going to their guns.
“Married?” was all he got out.
Andy’s eyes went wide as a tarpon. “I’ve never even used my lab! We bought that for the cultivation business, but so far the only person to use it is Wulff for his beer making. All you are going to find in there is yeast.”
Wulff waved the commotion away and held out his hand. “May I see the mushrooms, please?”
“I thought you were not an expert on poisonous mushrooms?”
Braster shrugged and had Betrand pass the baggie over. Wulff looked at them in passing and said, “You are going to find that the vial only contained ethyl alcohol, and that the mushrooms, are Tricholoma matsutake, or Pine Mushrooms.” He looked at Braster, “As I said, I differentiate the poisonous from the delectable. Matsutake, although resembling the poisonous Amanitas enough to cause a few deaths each year, are actually one of the most delectable and expensive mushrooms in the world. I believe it is one of the strains Andy was considering for cultivation.” Andy nodded. “I’m sure there are a dozen reasons Abel could have them in his pocket.”
This drew blank stares from all of the cops.
“In other words, your evidence in no way ties either Andy or Abel to this crime. It’s complete folderol.”
“Why would we take your word for that? Abel is your man.” I rather wanted to say I was my own man, but decided to keep the spotlight on Wulff. He seems to do better in it.
“Because I have never steered you wrong. In fact, I have spent quite a bit of time correcting your course, for which I think you should be more thankful and less spiteful. But, I’m sure we could find a mushroom book around here somewhere to clear this up.”
“So,” he continued, “of the four people who have motive – Rosalita who was betrayed and sold into slavery; her husband Andy who loves and wants to protect her; Abel who jousts at any windmill in a skirt; and Tibaud who stands to inherit an empire – we have proven that the first three could not have committed the murder.”
I noticed he left Crowley out. I guess he figured if the cops hadn’t made that connection, he wouldn’t muddy the waters by doing it for them. He was like a magician sometimes, pointing you at the one thing while making sure you weren’t paying attention to the other, more important, thing.
“Thus,” continued Wulff, “the only remaining suspect is the murderer. The person who clearly did this is Tibaud.” Tibaud’s head snapped up. The cops swung their gaze to him, obviously confused.
Wulff sighed as if he were trying to teach calculus to second-graders. “Tibaud needed two things: his boss dead, and a suspect who believed she did it. But these two things are not mutually inclusive. He confronted Rosalita and gave her the vial you found, blackmailing her into poisoning Negro. But he couldn’t take any chances. He gave her a vial of placebo, most likely the same ethyl alcohol as the actual tincture, but without the toxin. If she used it, then she really would believe she had murdered Negro. If she didn’t, he would blackmail her into confessing anyway. Since she had nothing to lose, it was practically guaranteed she would do it and believe she was the murderer.”
“How do you know it was a placebo?” asked Braster.
“Because, he needed her to believe she did it, but he also had to be absolutely sure it got done. Tibaud was doing the most dangerous thing you can do, overthrowing a cartel leader. If he screwed that up, there would be parts of every living member in his family tree spread over two continents. There is no way he would outsource that to anyone for any reason. But either way, it was him who administered the poison, in the rum on the beach. Abel has video of him opening the bottle and passing it to Negro. Did you find the bottle in the boat?”
Bertrand nodded affirmatively before Braster shut him up with a withering look. “When you test it, you will find the toxin in it.”
A huge look of relief passed over Andy’s face. “I thought…” he began.
“You thought Rosalita had poisoned Negro’s food at dinner and you switched his plate for yours, which you took in your room on some pretext and then put into your fridge.”
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t until I started eating it. But the fact that you thought I was eating poisoned food cleared you of the amatoxin poisoning, because in fact you acted to remove the poison both from me and Negro.”
“You lied about the food, and you took evidence from Andy’s cabin,” said Braster. “I should take both you and Abel in just for interfering with an investigation.”
Wulff shrugged. “I can afford certain expediencies which you cannot. The only evidence I took was evidence of innocence. It would’ve meant nothing to you and we would’ve missed the chance to rule Rosalita and Andy out.”
“That was a huge risk,” said Jerry.
Wulff looked right at Tibaud who was rocked back in his chair, smirking. “Not at all. Tibaud certainly couldn’t risk her using the poison on him. That would just be sloppy, and Tibaud is anything but sloppy.”
“And where is his expertise to concoct a poison?” asked Braster.
Wulff looked at him. “I’m sure that you will find that Tibaud came up through the ranks as a chemist, isn’t that so?” He swung his head back to look at Tibaud.
Tibaud smiled like a snake. “I know chocolate. That is what I do.”
“No matter, making a tincture is not that complicated. A chocolatier could do it.” Wulff waved him off.
At that point Tibaud’s smile got a little bigger. As the front legs of his chair dropped to the floor, his head swiveled from Wulff at the head of the table on his left towards us bunched up at the door on his right. He reached towards his lower back with his right hand as he put his left flat on the table for leverage. I did not for one minute think that Braster or either of his deputies had the training or skills to move before Tibaud dropped all four of us. If they had, we wouldn’t be sitting here like a school of hatchery fish at feeding in the first place. Even though I saw it coming, I was held by the bicep on either side with my hands cuffed behind me. I lurched towards the table with all of my strength, catching the deputies by surprise and breaking free, but without much force. I realized that at best all I was going to achieve was to sacrifice my life for a few seconds of theirs, which I doubted they would either appreciate or invest wisely. However, in such situations our logic abandons us and our hardwiring is revealed.
It would’ve all gone so wrong, except that at that moment, Wulff took his fork and drove it into Tibaud’s left hand, impaling it on the table. Tibaud spun on this attack, although I noted that he did not utter a sound, and that’s when I hit him with my right shoulder with all of my weight behind it. We went down, the gun went off with a terrible sound, and the cops finally fumbled into action. It took all three of them to separate us and subdue Tibaud, me waiting the whole time for the sickening and final kick of a 9 mm shell in the belly, as sure and lingering death as any mushroom. When it was over, Andy was on the floor with blood everywhere, Rosalita over him screaming and trying to stop the bleeding. Turns out the bullet went through the table and clipped him on the little roll of fat above his belt. No real damage but a ghastly good wound with that large-caliber bullet. That hole is still in the table and makes for lots of good after-dinner conversation.
That pretty much broke up the party. They called the meat wagon for Andy, arrested Tibaud, and eventually got around to uncuffing me. Ollie and Bertrand even thanked me. I nursed my sore shoulder and grabbed a beer out of the fridge with nobody thinking to stop me for consuming evidence. I was shaking bad enough to make it hard to drink, but I don’t think anybody noticed.
I rubbed the cuff marks on my wrist and looked at Wulff, “You did take a big risk on that plate of risotto,” I said.
Wulff smiled, and held up an empty bottle of charcoal pills and another of milk thistle, “Let us just say that I figured it at 98:2 and I took precautions against the two.”
Continue to the fourth and final chapter of Destroying Angel.