Reminiscent of Copper Cove
by Patricia Tyrer
part 1 of 2
“So the email was a ruse?” questioned Detective Jansen, twirling the mechanical pencil he held in his left hand, while reaching for a tablet of yellow, lined paper. “Is that what you think?”
Harriet nodded. “Yes, it was all a lie. I got an email from my son Neal, but I’m certain he didn’t write it. I think Dorian wrote it, trying to convince me that Neal is fine. Nevertheless, I believe my daughter-in-law has murdered my son.”
Jansen looked at Harriet’s determined face flushed with emotion, eyes reddened from worry or hysteria, he hadn’t yet decided. He’d gotten a brief outline of the complaint from the desk sergeant who found him alone in the squad, everyone else having gone to lunch.
Jansen was ready to get a quick statement from the older woman and then go to lunch himself. He figured he’d seen a thousand of these nuisance reports over the years, and this one was interesting only because the complainant, Harriet Stegman, was a popular mystery writer and retired English professor.
As far as Jansen knew, Harriet Stegman was no kook. Her latest novel was already a best-seller, and the likelihood of a publicity stunt was slim. In fact, his wife Janice had bought a copy last week and had her nose buried in the damned thing all weekend.
Jansen looked over at Harriet. She was either telling the truth or she was one hell of an actor, he thought. “Mrs. Stegman,” he began.
“It’s Dr. Stegman,” Harriet interrupted.
“Yes, of course. Sorry. Dr. Stegman. Let me get some information for my report, and we’ll go from there. Okay?”
“Yes,” Harriet nodded, twisting a handkerchief around her forefinger and gripping it tightly.
“Name of missing person?” Jansen asked, discarding the pencil and yellow pad and pulling a laptop closer, typing rapidly with two fingers.
“Neal Terence Stegman,” Harriet began.
“Dorian Stegman, “ interrupted Jansen, “is Neal’s wife, the one you think sent the email and murdered your son,” Jansen stated flatly, continuing to type.
“Yes,” Harriet affirmed, “I realize this sounds a bit outlandish, but I am not a dithering old woman with an active imagination, I assure you. This is playing out exactly as I wrote it in my novel,” she added, clarifying matters in her own mind, if not in Jansen’s.
She transferred the handkerchief, now thoroughly wrinkled, to her other hand and began the same twisting motion. “Here’s the email I received last night,” she explained, handing the detective the copy she’d printed out. “This claims they’re buying a forty-foot sailboat in the Virgin Islands and intend to sail it back to Florida,” she continued, as she tried to explain the situation that had brought her to Jansen’s desk.
She spread the handkerchief flat on her knee and pressed out the corners with her fingertips. “But I haven’t been able to contact Neal,” she continued, “and I’ve been trying for five days. That isn’t like him.”
The typing stopped. Harriet looked up into Jansen’s questioning face. “Neal is terrified of water,” she continued, explaining that Neal would never purchase a sailboat with the intent to travel in it.
She waited for a response. Jansen dropped his hands to his lap and stared at the screen.
“Okay, and?” he said, urging her to continue.
“Neal is embarrassed by his fear of water, especially with his father having made his fortune in offshore oil. Neal always went by helicopter to his father’s rigs, but it was never an experience he relished. It’s just something he doesn’t share with people, and he would not buy a boat and cruise across a swimming pool, let alone from Florida to Rhode Island,” she argued, trying to keep her voice steady and credible.
Jansen resumed fiddling with the pencil he’d laid down earlier.
“The point is,” she continued, “I wrote this exact scenario in Murder at Eagle Shoals.”
“Your novel,” Detective Jansen confirmed. “My wife’s reading it right now. She says it’s a real page-turner.”
“Thank you,” Harried acknowledged. “So, you see, Murder at Eagle Shoals takes place in the Virgin Islands. It wasn’t until I received the email last night that I became concerned. I believe Dorian is using the novel as a template.
“I’ve never really trusted Dorian. I think she’s found the perfect method for murder, and I’ve given it to her,” Harriet’s voice was quivering. “In the novel, Joanna, a tennis pro, meets Robin Denniger, the heir of a deceased oil baron. They too quickly fall in love and marry.
“On their honeymoon in the Virgin Islands, Joanna murders her unsuspecting husband by lowering the boom on him quite literally while they’re sailing. Robin, the husband, can’t swim. He keeps that fact a secret from everyone except Joanna, whom he trusts.
“The murder is ruled an accident by the St. James police, and Joanna inherits her deceased husband’s fortune. If it weren’t for Robin’s suspicious mother, a mystery writer, Joanna would have gotten away with murder.
“Ann Barton, the writer in the novel, solves the case and sees Joanna prosecuted for murder in the end, but I think Dorian may have changed the events just enough to get away with the crime, yet make sure I knew she’d done it.”
“Uh-huh,” Detective Jansen said, his fingers again resting on the keyboard. “So how does the mother-in-law catch her?” Jansen asked, intrigued.
“It’s a long complicated story with a previous murder, a change of names, a boyfriend waiting in the wings, and so forth. But the long and short of it is that Ann Barton knows her son can’t swim, suspects that Joanna has committed similar crimes, and in the end proves that a 40-foot sailboat was too big for Joanna to sail alone after Robin’s death. There must have been someone else on the boat. This is all verified through fingerprints, DNA left behind on a wine glass, and witnesses who placed the boyfriend with Joanna before the murder.”
“Huh,” Jansen snorted. “It’d be nice if it were that neat and tidy in real life.”
“Yes, that’s certainly true,” Harriet conceded, “but in fiction, all of it is just a lie. It’s fairly easy to arrange clues so the murderer gets caught. I’ve never trusted Dorian, as I’ve said.
“She claims to have no family, no friends that we’ve ever met, has offered little background information, and seems to have swept Neal off his proverbial feet in a matter of weeks. She’s a complete mystery, an uncomfortable, clever mystery who I truly believe has nefarious intentions. From the day Neal introduced us, I’ve had this dark premonition about her.”
“I see,” Jansen said, typing a few more words into the report. “Okay,” he began, “here’s the deal. The best I can do is run your statement by the captain and see if he thinks we’ve got enough circumstantial evidence to query the police in the Virgin Islands.” Detective Jansen paused. “So, until then,” he said, looking directly at Harriet, “I’ll keep in touch.”
“Oh,” Harriet replied, flustered. “So there’s nothing to do but wait?” she asked.
“Right,” Jansen replied, “nothing to do but wait.”
Harriet rose, gathering her handkerchief and her handbag. She slung the shoulder strap over her left arm and walked slowly out the door.
By the time Jansen reached the door himself, he could see Stegman walking down the steps toward the car where her driver was waiting with an open door. “God, I hope she’s not crazy,” he thought before heading to Mustard’s Last Stand, the local police lunch spot: cheap hotdogs, fountain cokes, and cold draft beer — if the watch command wasn’t around.
He entered the pub, heard his name, and headed toward the small group of fellow officers in the corner, nearly finished with their food.
“What kept you?” Petersen asked, wiping mustard from the corner of his mouth and sloshing down his soda.
“Harriet Stegman,” Jansen replied.
“Stegman? The author?” Petersen continued. “Whadya doin,’, gettin’ her autograph?” The other men at the table chuckled.
“Nah, she thinks her son’s been murdered by her daughter-in-law, like in her book.”
“Now you are kiddin’,” Petersen laughed.
“Swear to it,” Jansen said. “She thinks they’re down in the Caribbean somewhere, buying a boat so the daughter-in-law can push the new hubbie overboard and reap the Stegman millions.”
“Yeh, okay,” Petersen said. “I didn’t think old Harriet’s books made that much money.”
“They don’t,” Jensen continued. “It’s old man Stegman’s money she thinks this broad is after. He left a bundle to the only son, Oil money.”
“So she’s gonna pay to fly you down to the Caribbean to save him?” Petersen asked, picking up his sandwich wrapper and soda.
“Yeh, sure, I’m taking a private jet to St. Barts this afternoon, right after I file the daily report log. Then I’ll grab my snorkel gear and head to the airport.”
“Okay, smart guy. See you back at the station.”
Jansen nodded. He watched Petersen and the others leave the pub. From his position he could just see the tops of their hats as they headed back to the precinct. He had to admit the story sounded a bit crazy, even if he did believe Stegman’s version. Best to alert command before he started pestering the local constabulary in the Virgin Islands.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Tyrer