Reminiscent of Copper Cove
by Patricia Tyrer
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Over the course of the two weeks since he’d first spoken with Harriet Stegman, Jansen had contacted the St. Barts’ police and explained that he was trying to locate two Americans supposedly staying on the island. After finding no record of them on St. Barts or St. Martin, where they would most likely have arrived by air, Jansen was referred to the U.S. Embassy at Bridgetown, Barbados.
Smith-Engels, the Counselor Officer in Barbados said unless Neal and Dorian Stegman contacted them or had some type of interaction with the local law enforcement on either the French or the Dutch sides of St. Martin, it was unlikely he’d have any information.
Jansen had thanked him for his assistance. He had suspected as much himself and, at this point, was beginning to doubt the validity of Harriet Stegman’s fears. Still, he told her he’d follow up, and that was exactly what he’d done.
* * *
As Jansen approached the front door of the Stegman mansion, he regretted the news he had to give her that there was no news. Jansen pressed the doorbell and listened for movement from inside the house.
A young, attractive brunette opened the door. “They’re waiting for you at the funeral home,” she said.
“Pardon?” Jansen said.
“Aren’t you the police escort?” the woman asked.
“No,” Jansen said, “actually I’m here to see Dr. Stegman.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well,” she began slowly, drawing out the word into two syllables. “Dr. Stegman passed away last week.” She paused. “Her funeral’s this afternoon; that’s why I thought you were...” Her voice lowered to the point that Jansen didn’t hear the end of the sentence.
“I’m sorry,” Jansen said. “I didn’t know. May I express my sympathies to the family?”
“That would be me, and yes, you may,” the woman said. She held her hand out to Jansen. “I’m Dorian Stegman, Harriet’s daughter-in-law.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jansen said, taking her outstretched hand. “Dr. Stegman talked a lot about you and Neal. She said you were in the Caribbean, possibly buying a boat.”
“A boat?” Dorian questioned. “Not hardly. My husband is deathly afraid of the water; Harriet knows that. I can’t imagine what she was thinking.”
“Perhaps I misunderstood her,” Jansen offered. “Are you and Neal staying in town for a while?” he asked.
“Just until the house sells,” she answered. “As soon as Neal gets here, we’ll put it on the market,” she said more to herself than to Jansen. “Again, it was nice to meet you,” she repeated, clearly finished with the conversation.
Thinking of no reason to prolong his stay, Jansen expressed his sympathy once again and left. On the way back to the precinct, he called his wife.
“Janet, did you know Harriet Stegman died?” he asked.
“Yes, it was all anyone could talk about when I had lunch with the girls yesterday.” Jansen knew the “girls” were all in their sixties or older and had been having lunch since they were all new mothers many years before.
“She had a heart attack,” his wife continued. “Her daughter-in-law found her. They said she might have been there dead for days if the daughter-in-law hadn’t found her on the floor of her bedroom. Can you imagine?”
“No,” he interrupted, trying to shortcut his wife’s inevitable dramatization.
“And,” she continued excitedly, clearly enjoying the details she’d gathered from the girls, “Harriet had a cat. You know they’ll eat you if you die alone with them.”
“I hardly think the cat had time to eat her, dear,” Jansen assured her. “Anyway, I’ve got to get back. I’ll see you tonight.”
“See you tonight. Love you,” his wife said and hung up.
“Love you too,” he responded automatically into the dead line.
Jansen returned to the precinct still thinking about Harriet Stegman. The situation wasn’t that unreasonable; there was no reason for suspicion, yet he couldn’t quite shake the image of the anxious, hand-wringing Stegman from his mind. Seated at his desk, he reached for the telephone and dialed.
“Coroner’s Office,” the voice said.
“Hello, is Dr. Michaels available?” he asked. “This is Detective Jansen from Robbery Homicide.”
“Hold,” the voice said.
“Yup, this is Michaels.”
“Doc, Detective Jansen here. I was wondering if you’d done the autopsy on Harriet Stegman?” he asked.
“Nope. No need. She’d seen her own doctor within a day of her MI. The law doesn’t require it.”
“I see,” Jansen said, stalling for time to think of what other information he might gain, eventually coming up with nothing. “Thanks, doc,” he said and hung up.
Jansen sat a moment thinking, then pulled up the report he’d taken from Stegman two weeks before. He furrowed his brow as he read. The corners of his mouth drew down as they always did when he was deep in thought. Stegman had certainly been believable, yet the daughter-in-law dismissed her story out-of-hand. He pondered the possibilities.
“Jensen,” the desk sergeant called from the front of the squad.
“Here,” Jensen called out.
“The 7-11 on 14th and Elm just called in a 10-30,” he said, indicating a robbery in progress.
“I’m on it,” Jensen said. He closed the file and left the precinct. It was several hours before he wrapped up his day. Eventually, he turned the slick top into the police compound, exchanged it for his sedan and drove home.
“I’m home,” he hollered out as he came in through the garage door.
“Your dinner’s in the oven,” his wife said from the living room. “Why don’t you bring it in here?”
“In a minute,” he said, sliding the hot pad on his right hand and reaching into the oven for the foil-covered dinner plate.
“Did you go to the funeral?” she asked.
“What funeral?” he responded.
“Oh, right,” he answered. “No, I didn’t. I got called out on a robbery and completely forgot about it.” He tested the temperature of the plate with his bare hand, picked it up, and with a beer in his right, headed into the living room. “I met her daughter-in-law, though, the one she thought had killed her son. Seemed like a decent sort. Apparently she didn’t kill Neal since he got here in time for the funeral.”
“Did the wife come first?” she asked.
“That’s what she said. I asked if they were staying long, and she said only until they could sell the house and close up the estate.”
“That’s strange,” his wife replied.
“What’s strange about it?” he asked. “Neal hasn’t lived around here for years.”
“No, not that,” his wife said. “I mean the fact that the daughter-in-law found her dead and now they’re selling the house. You know that’s almost the exact plot of Stegman’s, last book, Copper Cove.
“In that book, this awful woman, Stacy Feldman, kills her mother-in-law and then pretends to find her dead of a heart attack. She convinces her husband to sell all the mother’s property and move far away before killing her husband. All the inheritance went to the wife, no questions asked. Pretty nice and tidy, huh?” she asked.
Jansen felt his face flush. “Does she get away with it?” he asked.
“Nope. No one in Stegman’s stories ever gets away with it,” she said.
Jansen considered this for a moment before speaking. “Do we have a copy of Copper Cove?” he asked his wife.
“It’s behind you in the bookcase. You want to read it?”
“Yes,” he said, rising out of his chair. “I think I need to read it... closely.”
Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Tyrer