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Odd Man In

by Gary Clifton

Dallas Homicide Detective Margaret Williams, trapped along with a half-million other morning commuters, started slightly when her cellular buzzed, interrupting the symphony of honking horns surrounding her.

“Detective Williams?” the dispatcher asked.

“Speaking.” She smelled a homicide coming her way.

“Murder. Stabbing on the far north side. It’s uh...” Papers rattled through the telephone. “Uh, vic is Robert E. Lee Duplisis, III.”

She instantly recognized the name of one of the most prominent, wealthiest citizens of the Southwest. “Where? How?”

“Maid just found him on the floor of his mansion library, stabbed in the throat with a wine bottle. Lieutenant says you’re primary. He also says send Harper as backup. I’ll call him next.”

“Show Homicide 222 responding.” She scribbled down the address and bounced her Jeep up the grassy bank to the service road.

Margaret Williams, a product of the sprawling West Dallas George Loving Housing Project, had kicked her way out of her slum background and attended a local college while working nights as a dispatcher in the Dallas police dispatch office. She’d been a Dallas cop ten years.

Now, two years a homicide detective, she had acquired the nickname “Maggs” from squad-room banter. She’d managed to fit easily into the largely male, largely white, largely cynical-of-female-cops crowd around the Homicide Division. Divorced, she was the single mom of two boys, ages six and seven.

Lacking any emergency equipment in her personal vehicle, she threaded through heavy traffic, reaching the palatial Duplisis estate in twenty minutes. Donning vinyl gloves, she wended her way through a jumble of parked emergency vehicles and the crowd of cops, news-types, and gawkers before slipping under the yellow barricade tape.

Robert E. Lee Duplisis lay on his back in a wood-paneled room that must have contained a million books along the four walls. Dressed in a silk robe, with pyjama bottoms below, the wine bottle sticking out of his throat told a familiar story. A circle of dark crimson around the upper body completed the crime scene map.

Maggs knew Duplisis by reputation as a ruthless, greedy man, who drew pleasure from destroying competitors or any detractors, real or imagined.

Red Harper strolled in, a nasty stub of mostly eaten cigar in a corner of his mouth.

“Know anything about wine, Red?” She looked up.

“Gives me a headache. But so does my old lady.”

Harper, rumored to have been in Homicide since before color TV, was husky, nearing mandatory retirement, and easily identifiable at a hundred yards by the thin, bright red rim of hair circling above his ears. Well known among the Dallas criminal element as a man not to cross, Harper was as tough as he looked and definitely smarter.

Maggs motioned to one of several lab squints poking around the room. “Old Robert E. here bought it with a thousand-dollar bottle of wine. Treat the glasss remnants like eggs.”

She examined his fingernails. “And the killer left us some of themselves. DNA possibilities here, guys. Left hand only.”

The lab techs began scurrying around.

Maggs asked a uniformed sergeant standing in the doorway, “Any forced entry?”

The officer shook his head. “Victim appears to have let the killer in.”

Maggs said, “News media made this guy out to be a very nasty individual. But he supported charitable causes. I read he was big into some local art museum, but don’t recall the name.”

The scene was interrupted by the nearly hysterical protests of a female voice at the front door, being restrained by uniformed cops.

Maggs and Harper walked to the front door. “And you would be...?” Maggs asked, flashing her badge.

“I’m Clara Duplisis Parker, Mr. Duplisis’s daughter. This is my house.” Slender, with expensive clothes and enough makeup to grow a crop, her arrogance formed an invisible circle around her.

Maggs and Harper steered the distraught woman into a drawing room off the main hallway. The walls were adorned with numerous oil paintings. Maggs guessed each was worth a year of her pay.

In twenty minutes of interview, they learned much: Robert E. Lee Duplisis III had three children by his wife, who had herself died a year earlier in a car crash. Clara’s two brothers, Charles and Edwin, in their late twenties like their sister, both lived in the Dallas area.

The older, Charles, was employed by his father in their many business activities, although Clara said they seemed to be at cross purposes constantly.

The younger brother, Edwin, was totally estranged from his father and worked as a broker for the Dallas branch of a national stock brokerage firm.

The dead man was a multi-billionaire who, according to Clara, had left everything to his three children. Clara, herself, was married to Marcus J. Parker, a prominent Dallas real estate lawyer.

“Do you live here, Mrs. Parker?” Maggs asked.

“Well... not anymore. I’m married.”

Maggs studied the distraught face. “Why did you tell us this was your house?”

I grew up here and with father gone, it’s now mine... Actually mine and my two brothers’.”

* * *

Maggs and Harper stopped by Homicide and filled out a preliminary report. Maggs’s cellular interrupted.

“Detective Williams, this is Cindy at the crime lab. Good news and bad. The samples from the vic’s fingernails are polluted by something the killer had on his hands, which we haven’t identified yet. We did get a preliminary mitochondrial DNA match, and I’m 99 percent certain the old man dug his nails into someone with a familial relationship. Too early to determine who.”

Maggs covered the cellular. “One of his kids killed him.”

Cindy continued. “I believe we can eventually ID the foreign substance from his nails and get a better bite on the DNA trail. I’ll call you.” She hung up.

Maggs looked across the desk. “We need to roundup all three kids and get DNA samples.”

In two hours, and with some friendly persuasion via telephone, all three Duplisis children were clumped around a small interrogation room table with Maggs. She studied their faces. All seemed well composed in view of the loss of their father. “For expediency’s sake, we need DNA samples for all three of you.”

Edwin Duplisis, fleshy, with thick eyebrows that accented a permanent scowl, stood and said, “Gestapo is alive and well in Dallas. My pig father would have had Aunt Jemima here” — he gestured at Maggs — “picking cotton on the rear forty.” He then spat on the table. “That sample good enough?” He stormed out, the door glass shuddering as he slammed it.

No stranger to racial slurs, she said calmly to Sara Parker and Charles Duplisis, “Y’all can do the same, but a swab is far more civilized.”

Both grumbled but submitted to an oral swab test.

Charles, of medium build, wearing a silk suit and a $10,000 wristwatch said, “Are we suspects?”

“Everyone is a suspect.” Maggs stretched the truth.

Charles snapped, “My father was an insufferable ass, but I didn’t kill him.”

Sara Parker and Charles Duplisis had just cleared the door when a balding man of fifty, red-faced, with an expression that announced “lawyer” burst in.

“J. Fredrick Sumption, attorney for Mr. Duplisis and his three children. Two of my clients told me out in the hall everyone was a suspect. That include me?”

“No,” Maggs smiled, “but you can spit on the table if you feel like it. Counselor, I need to talk with you a moment.”

Lawyer Sumption flopped in a chair, expectantly.

Maggs stepped out into the squad room, motioned a clerk over, and directed her to gather a sample from the spit on the table. She then handed the two encased swabs to the clerk with instructions to carry all three to the crime lab immediately. The clerk followed her back into the small room and Q-tipped saliva from the tabletop.

Maggs held the lawyer’s gaze. “Counselor, I want to see the will.”

He instantly broke into lawyer-speak about client confidentiality and rights.

“Save it, Mr. Sumption. Your client is dead, and those three who just left have no standing to prevent probate procedures. You surely know we can get the will with a court order by tomorrow. Next day, tops. We’re looking at the murder of a heavyweight citizen here.”

Sumption sighed. “Good God, cops are worse than jailhouse inmate lawyers. I brought a copy with me.”

Maggs asked, “Who gets what? Clara told me the mansion was hers.”

Sumption took on the expression of a roasting crab. “Look, I know y’all will get this anyway, but if news of this will leaks before it’s formally read, you won’t believe how many little flecks of dog dung most of us will get on our clean clothes.”

“Not good for the Duplisis children, huh? I don’t much like dog dung. We’re in the business of collecting information, not giving it away. We’ll say nothing.”

Harper stepped into the room.

“The Duplisis kids, first.” Sumption flipped open a briefcase. “Mr. Duplisis came in last week and made a new will. Each of the three who just left get a million.”

“Dollars?” Harper rolled his unlit cigar stub. “Damn, not bad.”

Sumption glared across the table without answering. “The bulk of everything else — the mansion, all those paintings, a castle in France, for God’s sake, and just over two billion in cash, stocks, and bonds — goes to the Mari Oaks Museum of Art.”

“Mari Oaks?” Maggs asked. “That’s the name in the article I read. What’s that about?”

Sumption looked near to apoplexy. “I just write things down and try like hell not to interrelate with the characters.”

Harper leaned forward. “How much money did the old boy donate to this museum before he died?”

“You’ll find out in the end anyway. Millions, over a period of years.”

Maggs saw the reality instantly. “Old Duplisis had a girlfriend in the museum business. Damn, some of those paintings on his walls were ugly.”

“And cost more than the economy of Russia,” the beleaguered lawyer said softly.

* * *

Maggs drove a small, battered Dodge with Harper wedged in the passenger street. The Mari Oaks Museum was closed. By neighborhood inquiry they learned why.

The prim lady who operated the tea shop next door said airily, “Well, dearie, Mary Lou died last month. I went to her funeral at Sun Lawn. Such a nice service. Robert was heartbroken, but such a stalwart young man.”

“Robert?” Maggs asked. “Duplisis?”

“Oh, heaven’s no. Robert LaBlatte, Mary Lou’s son.”

Harper tossed his dead cigar stub in the trashcan. “Was Robert Duplisis at the funeral?”

“No. He was a big supporter and very close with Mary Lou, but he wasn’t at the funeral. Funny, since they used to drop over here for lunch often.” She stared at the receptacle with the cigar stub, horrified.

Maggs asked, “Do you know how to contact Robert LaBlatte?”

“They — Mary Lou and Robert — lived over in far east Dallas, in one of those beautiful restored homes. Here’s the address.” She scribbled on a stick-it note.

“Robert?” Harper asked. “Married?”

“No, I think he was married to the museum, just like his mother. And a talented painter.”

“How old is he?” Maggs asked.

“Oh, maybe twenty-two or three. Dropped out of art school to help his mother when she became ill last year. Such a fine young man.”

She carried the trashcan containing Harper’s cigar stub toward the rear as they left.

* * *

Maggs drove them up Gaston Avenue as fast as traffic allowed. Her cellular buzzed.

“Detective Williams, it’s Cindy at the lab. Bad news. None of the DNA of the three Duplisis children match the samples from the victim’s nails. All are related to the killer, but not guilty.”

Maggs gave Harper the bad news as she jerked to a stop in front of the LaBlatte home. After ten minutes banging on all doors, they concluded either Robert LaBlatte was not home or did not want company, although a Silver Corvette was parked in the driveway.

“We really need to talk with this kid, Harper. Let’s sit a spell.”

Maggs circled the Dodge two blocks down and parked behind another vehicle. In twenty minutes, the Corvette whizzed out of the LaBlatte driveway and turned toward downtown. Maggs gunned the Dodge, tossed the flashing red light on the dash, and the Corvette stopped.

“Corvette coulda run off and left us,” Harper observed.

“He’s got no reason to run,” Maggs said, “if that’s him.”

As she approached the driver’s door, the glass slid down.

“Robert LaBlatte, I’m Detective Williams, Dallas Police.” She held out her shield. “Hand me the ignition key and a driver’s license, please.”

“What’s this about?” came the universal question. With a trembling left hand, he handed her a driver’s license. She noted the hand was stained with paint.

“I ask the questions. The keys, now.”

His left hand continued to shake as he passed the key out.

Maggs sat in the back seat beside LaBlatte, Harper in the front. LaBlatte, a slender young man with sandy, shoulder-length hair and a sparse goatee, asked, “Am I under arrest?”

Maggs said, “Just a few questions, Mr. LaBlatte.”

When she pulled a DNA swab kit from her purse, LaBlatte bolted out the opposite door.

In fifty paces, she had downed him, slipped on cuffs behind, and marched him back to the Dodge.

“Mr. LaBlatte, you are now under arrest. Why run?”

LaBlatte didn’t reply.

Maggs found her DNA kit. “I don’t think we need it, Robert, but I gotta take a sample anyway.”

Harper looked over the seat, puzzled.

“Harper, looks to me like old Duplisis had a fourth child: Robert here, who probably killed the old man in a fit of rage. See the facial resemblance? Duplisis was such an ass, he used Robert’s mother, had a child by her, but didn’t bother to play a role in the kid’s life.”

Harper asked, “Child?”

She turned to LaBlatte. “Robert Duplisis was your father, right, Robert?”

LaBlatte nodded, studying his lap.

Maggs said, “I saw the four deep scratches on the back of your right hand when I cuffed you. It appears Duplisis clawed at your hand as you murdered him. You suppose that artist’s paint will match the foreign substance mixed with the killer’s DNA from beneath his fingernails?” Maggs smiled.

“I hated him, but I didn’t mean to kill him. Only went there to raise hell about not coming to Mother’s funeral. The old leech hung around for years, cheating on his wife, used Mother like a common trollop, lavished gifts with never any affection. Then he was a no-show at her funeral, for God’s sake?”

“But you didn’t know he left you billions in his will?”

LaBlatte looked up, eyes wild.

“Rewrote his will not long before you murdered him.” Maggs shook her head. “Your bad, dude. You only have to serve a hundred years or so to collect the inheritance.”

LaBlatte dissolved in tears.

Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

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