This is the fourth and final chapter of Destroying Angel. You can find chapter 3 here.
“Did you read the paper?” I asked a week later as I crunched across the river rock in my wading boots.
“The last good thing in the paper was the moon landing,” replied Wulff.
“Well Tibaud is going down. And Ella is coming to live here. I’m glad it all worked out for Rosalita.”
“Women are the cause of so much trouble,” said Wulff with a wave of his hand. “Look at what happened to you. You barely knew her, were completely enamored of her, and she used and betrayed you in a moment of panic.”
“On the contrary, once you understand them, women make perfect sense. It’s men who commit crimes of passion. In your line of work, you might do well to understand this.”
His head swiveled and his eyes squinted. Wulff would never admit it, but he couldn’t risk making a mistake just because he had been emotionally blinded, and he knows less about women than any man I have ever met. I definitely had his interest. “Do tell.”
“Women, in general, are all motivated by the same thing: maintaining the family unit. They don’t care about right or wrong, personal gain, or power. They only care about maintaining whatever family, tribe, or herd they have. All mammalian packs are led by females of the species. Only humans ignore and deny this, much to our woe.”
“So you are saying, in light of this logic, Rosalita’s actions were perfectly logical?”
“Perfectly. Perhaps even predictable, had I not been so far inside it and trying to figure the men out. It is men who act on their passions, and who are therefore entirely illogical and unpredictable. In our case Negro on pride, Tibaud on his greed, Jerry on blind love. Even me. The motives they attributed to me were not cold and logical, they were hot-headed and lustful. Think about every case you ever had, and I bet you could map any female criminal’s motive to keeping the unit together.”
“But she sacrificed you, and she did it with some forethought. She nearly destroyed everything for a lot of people.”
“On the contrary, she acted to protect her daughter Ella, her husband Andy, and her protector Jerry – her family.”
Wulff was stroking his chin. “Yes, your explanation fits my hypotheses of the crime.”
“Abduction at work.”
“Ratiocination, if you please.”
I had strung up my rod and turned my attention to the run before us. There was a barely discernible dark stripe that I knew represented a long deep slot that often held fish. The sun was coming up and pulling a mist off the water like the smoke that rises off of a house’s roof just before it bursts into flame. “Thank you for solving the crime and getting Rosalita off.”
“I did not solve the crime,” he said as he rigged his own rod, putting the four pieces together and running the line through the guides. I shot him a baffled look.
“As usual, you miss the things that are often right in front of you. As promised, I got Rosalita off, which actually would’ve been pretty simple had you not gotten embroiled in the whole thing.” When I started to protest he held up his hand. “After that, I merely proposed a hypothesis that Braster jumped on like a man whose leader breaks while landing a trophy fish. I did not solve the crime. Not yet at least.”
“What are you waiting for?”
Just as I turned for my answer, Jerry came down the trail.
“Ah,” said Wulff, “the gang is all here. We were just discussing my hypothesis of the crime.”
“Hypothesis? Isn’t the crime solved? Tibaud put the poison in the rum.” Jerry was already rigged and was also scanning the river. “If Tibaud didn’t do it, who did do it?”
We looked at the river for a while and then Wulff reached into a chest pocket and pulled out the custom wallet that I’d taken out of Negro’s waders. “It doesn’t seem fair that a criminal should get to profit from my labors, while I should not.”
Jerry’s head swiveled around and jerked forward as if that would help focus his eyes. Wulff opened Negro’s wallet, carefully inspected the flies and then pulled one of them out. With the big two-handed rod, he had quite a bit to manage. He was about to put the fly in his mouth and free his hands to rezip the wallet, when Jerry reached forward and put his hand on Wulff’s arm. “Don’t.”
Jerry looked at him. “How did you figure it out?”
“Well, we never answered the only question that really mattered.”
“The two bananas,” I said, remembering my unresolved conversation with Jerry at the hospital.
Wulff turned to me. “Yes. Assuming that Negro being here was not a coincidence was really the crux of the whole thing. It always had to be Jerry. He was the common element.”
I addressed Jerry, “I asked you once – how did he get here?”
Jerry was looking down at the stones, then he squatted, picked up a handful and ran it back and forth between his hands. He was quiet for a long time and I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me. “I invited him.”
“That had to be the answer,” said Wulff, “but why?”
“I told Abel about how I met Rosalita, and how we have run for years.” He started casting the stones one-by-one backhanded into the river with little flicks of his wrist, like he was dealing cards.
“I risked everything for Rosalita. I love her. After she met you, and learned to cook, we started talking about growing mushrooms in the back barns as a side business so we could get ahead in the off season and make a place for Ella. That’s when I hired Andy. He has a degree in botany.” That fit with the books and the lab in Andy’s room, at least.
Jerry stopped again for a long time, looking out across the water. I became very aware of the sounds of the river rushing by, the birds waking up in the woods behind us.
“She never loved me like a lover, but she and Andy took up. They thought they were careful, but when you live together like that, there isn’t much you can hide. I contacted Negro and told him I was sick of running. I told him he could have Rosalita back if he would leave me be. I knew he would come like a vulture to putrefaction.”
I said, “That’s a dangerous game, killing him before he killed you.”
He looked over at us. “We were already playing that game. I just decided to take control of it. I made the poison in Andy’s lab. I was going to kill Negro and Tibaud, frame Andy, and get Rosalita back. It was a win-win-win from a losing position.” He pointed at Wulff with his chin. “Just like you, Negro always put the fly in his mouth, that’s why he whipped me in the face all those years ago. Almost bit his tongue off when we hit that hole in the drift boat. So I got those babies from you because he always has to have the latest and greatest of everything, and I knew he would use them if I promised they worked. I soaked them in the toxin, and I gave them to both of them.”
“That’s what you saw in the video, the fly in the mouth,” I said to Wulff.
“Indeed,” he said. “The fly is the only thing he put in his mouth that nobody else did on that first night. And it had to be then for the symptoms to develop when they did.”
I turned to Jerry, “And that’s why you let me take the flies at the hospital. Because once I told you Negro was dead, you knew I was removing the evidence and leaving you clean. You couldn’t wait to give that gear to Bertrand, after I took the evidence out for you.”
Jerry nodded, “I was hoping Tibaud would do the same thing with the fly, even if it wasn’t until the next day. If he didn’t, I’d find some other way to dose him.”
“Using the built-in time lag in the poison to cover the double deed, if necessary,” said Wulff, thinking out loud. “That stuff is so toxic, you could probably get a lethal dose just from handling the flies.”
I swallowed thinking about me sitting there with the wallet full of flies in my pocket and one dangling from the hat. I could’ve killed a whole season worth of customers without even knowing it, if I’d been lucky enough not to kill myself first.
“Yeah, but Tibaud is a very cagey guy. When you and Negro went fishing that first night, he came into my office, stretched out in the chair in front of my desk like he owned the place, said he knew I invited them here to kill them, and asked me flat out what my plan was. I tried to play dumb, but Tibaud said the only reason I was still alive and Rosalita wasn’t on her way back to the brothel was that he wanted Negro dead, too, and maybe we could help each other out. He said it with that big grin of his, like we were talking about where we would be fishing the next day.”
He looked back and forth between us. “I laid the whole thing out for him, about how I intended to poison Negro. He actually seemed amused that I had put this whole thing together. Treated me like a kid with a science project. In the end he said I’d actually come up with a pretty good plan. Then he asked for the poison and I handed it over. He told me he would take it from there. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him I’d already used it on the flies.”
“The time lag again,” I said. “You hoped Tibaud would dose Negro and assume it was his doing when the symptoms came on. Which is just what happened. It was pure coincidence the poison from the fly hit him right after he had the rum, then.”
“Plus,” added Wulff, “there was always the chance Tibaud would still dose himself.”
“Yeah, but I never figured he would double-cross me and work a side deal with Rosalita, that twisted bastard. I don’t think he was ever going to let any of us go. He was too cruel. He would’ve killed, me, taken Rosalita back, and enslaved her daughter, too.”
Wulff put the fly back in his mouth, zipped the wallet, and then tied the fly on as we both looked on, agape. “Unlike you two, you didn’t really think I would be walking around with murder evidence on me, did you? I tied some new flies last night.”
I whistled. He was right. If the cops had been just a little smarter, they would’ve caught me with the evidence after all. They could’ve done me right at the hospital, or even at the jail!
“I have to hand it to you, Jerry. The one guy who never came under suspicion is the guy who did it.” Right then I wished Braster had given me my Webley back, because I wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Well, actually, everybody poisoned him, except for you, Abel, and I’m not perfectly sure about that.”
“Everybody?” Jerry and I asked in unison.
“Yes. Rosalita at least thought she was poisoning him. Tibaud gave him one deadly dose, and you, Jerry, gave him another.”
“What about Andy?” I asked. “At the house you said he actually tried to save Negro.”
“No, I said that Andy tried to prevent Rosalita from poisoning Negro. The mushrooms you took from his room were the Corinarius rubellus, the Deadly Web Cap. I think if we looked a little harder we might’ve found the poison Andy made, either at the house or in Negro’s body.”
“You said those were Matsutakes.”
He shrugged. “They were in your pocket when the cops found them, not Andy’s cabin.”
“Unfortunately, the cops stopped searching the moment Tibaud made his move; Andy went to the hospital and was never questioned; Negro’s body was shipped home; and since you don’t carry murder evidence around, I presume the mushrooms are gone. Ergo, we cannot test that theory,” I said.
“Oh, but we can. Unlike amatoxins, which show up within twenty-four hours, symptoms of the Deadly Web Cap come from orellanin, which can take up to three weeks to surface, and there is no known antidote. I’m betting he dosed both Negro and Tibaud, probably in their toothpaste, if I had to guess. Just put it into a hypo, take the cap off and shoot it into the tube. No mess, no fuss. They would go home, keep re-dosing themselves every day, and eventually come down with flu-like symptoms and then their kidneys would fail. In the Dominican, nobody would ever see it coming or connect the symptoms until it was too late. Andy was really the most brilliant of the batch. If everybody else had left it to him, the cops wouldn’t have gotten involved at all.”
“But Tibaud didn’t go home, he’s sitting right here in jail.”
“Exactly,” said Wulff. “We should have verification of my theory any day now.”
Jerry looked at Wulff. “So now what?”
“So now there is one dead bad guy, another bad guy behind bars who will soon be getting justice from man or god, you have your vengeance, two kids are in love, and it’s a beautiful day on the river.” He finished cinching his knot. “Like I said, I don’t much care who did it, just that Rosalita didn’t go to jail. But you were a bad man, you let your good intentions twist you up when you planned to frame Andy for it. You have to decide what kind of man you are going to be. Go sit on that rock and think about what you did, because right now we are still friends and I need to know you won’t be doing that again to those kids or anyone else. If you really love Rosalita, let her be happy – she’s earned it.” He dropped the arm that had been pointing to a large rock at the edge of the beach and turned to the water. “In the meantime, I’m going to take the money water as my compensation.”
He snapped his fingers, and turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot – and Abel got his due.” He reached into his pocket again and handed me an envelope.
I opened it up, and there inside was a copy of my receipt for the Mexican dinner and a check from the police department to cover it, signed by Braster himself. “I should sign this over to you for services rendered.”
“Ah, keep it. I’d just frame it conspicuously for the next time he barged in.” He looked at me and we both laughed. Then we looked at the river for a moment in silence.
“Hey, you never did tell me, what are you going to call that fly?”
He looked down at the fly in his hand and then looked back up at me eyes twinkling. “The mushroom whose poison was on the fly? Amanita ocreata?”
“In the vernacular, that mushroom is called the ‘Destroying Angel.’ It seems appropriate, all things considered. Do you think that is too much for a fly?”
By way of answer I said, “What did you mean by that crack that for all you know, I could’ve done it?”
He was standing just downhill of me on the slope of the riverbed, so he had to look up at me. “Well, I got a couple of bananas left, and you know I hate that.”
I didn’t answer.
“For one thing, amatoxin takes a minimum of six hours to work, more like twenty-four in most cases.” He shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe a tincture would work faster.”
“I’m not following.”
“What I’m saying is it’s as doubtful that he got sick immediately from putting the fly into his mouth as it is that he got sick from that rum. Takes time for that stuff to get in the system and do its work.”
“So, that was just lucky that he got sick after the rum, but he had to be dosed the night before at the lodge.”
“Or, at The Buck and Thorn.”
“And why would you figure that?”
“Because the other banana is your story about confronting Negro. It doesn’t hold up. What did you do, outright ask him, then take his answer for it?”
“Something like that.”
“No.” He said it just like that. Perfectly flat and dismissive. “Too many bananas. It’s not like him, and it’s not like you. Both of you are too careful for that sort of thing, to let loose ends hang like that and take each other’s word for it. But you know what does fit?”
Again, I had no answer. “What fits is Rosalita’s story. That you took the poison from her.”
“And why do you like that so much?” I asked
“Because it fits all of the hypotheses, everybody is true to form; I don’t have to change what I know about you and I don’t have to change what I know Rosalita. Plus, it’s the only story that fits the timeline. He had to be given the amatoxin on his first night here. You had it all: motive, means, and opportunity. Hell, it even fits your theory, because it kept you in the family, until she sacrificed one member for the whole. The bananas are all gone.”
“We could’ve used your flies the first night on the river, or Tibaud could’ve spiked his rum any time.”
“Ah, but did either of those things happen?”
“It must be terrible to be so suspicious that you don’t even trust your best friend.”
He waved his hand, “Your honor and loyalty are above reproach. That’s what makes you predictable. And that predictability is what makes you trustworthy.” He shook out some line and made a cast. “We are just ratiocinating here. It’s my job to consider every hypothesis. That’s the thing about abduction, deduction, or induction. By themselves you can never be sure you have the answer, just an answer. Therein lies the rub: each of the facts may be true, but of all of the possible conclusions, somehow we have to prove one and determine, did this thing happen? This is why I forced the action into the direction it needed to go.”
I noticed he didn’t say that he used them to find the truth. “I’m not judging anybody. Hell, if I had the vial and the chance to use it, I probably would have, too.”
We looked at each other for a long time, the smoke coming off the water behind him as the angels took their share, his line swinging in the current.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I kind of like the name ‘Resurrecting Angel,’ myself. I guess it’s the optimist in me.” He looked at me and then at the fly and said “Hmm” like he was considering it, but didn’t answer. Then he turned away and took a few steps in the river before he cast again.
As the sun came up, I thought about a little banana that had been stuck in my craw for a while, too. I thought about what he said about women making a mess of everything. Because as much time as him and Rosalita spent together, I disbelieved he didn’t know her story. Elsewise, how was Wulff’s man Herschel already working her immigration status? She sure didn’t hire him by herself. And like Braster said, Wulff sure knew a lot about how to kill somebody with mushrooms. I rather liked that toothpaste thing, and if I had to bet who was the cleverer of the two, him or Andy, I was sure where my money would be. As he said, it would’ve been the perfect crime if everybody else hadn’t made their less elegant attempts and brought the cops into it.
I watched that old fat man dance his way down the water – casting, taking three steps, retrieving the line, casting again. All of it inside the three-beat, ONE-two-three rhythm of that old, familiar fly-fishing waltz. I have always found solace in that cadence.
Then I looked over at Jerry doing penance on his rock with tears streaming down his face. I thought about how, like a fly in the current, we get pulled this way and that, diverted from our true purpose, and that maybe it was time to mend my drift. I decided if we got off the water early enough, I’d swing by the ER on the way home and see what Julie was up to. Then I tied on a fly, but I made sure not to put it in my mouth.