With my wasted effort at the police station getting me nowhere, it was time to do some follow-up on the husband. That meant a call to Blackwater River State Prison in sunny Florida. And that call started with an unexpected shock.
“Dead?” I repeated back. “Oscar Fortuna is dead?”
“You must be one crack private investigator to pick up on that so quickly,” replied Warden Stick Crabtree. “ ’Cuz, you know, y’all coulda checked the obituaries for the county.”
“If I didn’t know he was dead, why would I bother starting my search by looking for an obituary?” I said, trying to keep my tone short of sounding snide. It was bad enough that I was fighting hard at keeping all sarcasm out of my voice.
“Okay, I’ll give you that,” the warden relented. “I just don’t like private dicks snooping around my prison.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t like snooping around prisons.” I sighed heavily. “When did Oscar Fortuna assume room temperature?”
“Uh...” It sounded like the warden was shuffling papers. Or he could have been simply stonewalling me. “Here ’tis. Last August. August 3rd. Got shanked in a scuffle. Dead before we could even get to him.”
“Someone had it in for him?”
“Hard to say, really. Fortuna wasn’t a scrapper, didn’t cause any trouble.”
I said, “Next, you’re gonna tell me he was a model prisoner.”
“Funny you should say that... Fortuna was your typical model prisoner. Word was he could afford to be patient. I guess he had him some connections.”
“Connections,” I parroted. “Care to elaborate?”
“Don’t see any reason why not,” he drawled. “Fortuna’s prisoner’s account always had a nice balance. Someone out your way was making sure he had enough for plenty of cigarettes, candy, what have you. Word is he was well-off enough to hire a couple of big boys to keep him safe from the badder population.”
“Reality is that they apparently didn’t do a good enough job,” I replied, sighing. “So, who was supporting Fortuna during his extended vacation?”
“Couldn’t tell you. Western Union deposits, as regular as my wife’s periods, no name associated with it once it’s in the prisoner’s account.”
“Wouldn’t matter,” replied the warden. “Had no reason to look any deeper. And the payments stopped right after his death. Guess someone back there got the word. It obviously wasn’t you.”
Couldn’t argue with ol’ Stick, there. I was about to hang up when the investigator in me woke up again.
“Ever find out who did Oscar in?” I asked.
Stick cleared his throat. “I’m a bit embarrassed to say that we don’t rightly know. Shiv was still in the body; no less than seven other inmates had blood on their hands, all supposedly from trying to save Fortuna’s life.”
“And the prisoner he was scuffling with?”
“Not a speck of blood on him. Claims he’d barely started swinging when he was pushed away by other inmates getting in on the action.”
I shook my head. “It was a hit, wasn’t it?”
“It’s kinda walkin’ and talkin’ like a duck,” Stick replied. “And to answer your next question, we have no idea who mighta wanted him dead. I’m gonna leave that little investigation up to you.”
The warden terminated the call, leaving me with one less lead to work with and even more questions screaming for answers.
If somebody on the inside had it in for Oscar Fortuna, I had to assume that Stick would have uncovered that. If somebody on the outside had it in for the late Mr. Fortuna, the most likely answer was tied to a series of anonymous deposits that Oscar was no longer enjoying. Of course, the key issue was “anonymous.”