Columbo: A Killers Tale
Columbo: A Killers Tale
Richie Kavanaugh stepped slowly into the cell that was to be his home for the foreseeable future. From its rickety metal bed frames and wafer thin mattresses to the scarred and faded wooden table and chair; this was as far away as you could get from the style and comfort with which he had become accustomed to living. Even though the cell looked clean, or at least as clean as a prison cell could look, there was a distinct stench in the air. It was not a dirty stench; it was not a foul stench; it was more the stench of defeat and fear. Unsurprising as everyone in this cell block had been arrested on suspicion of, or been found guilty of, murder.
As he looked around the cramped cell he suddenly noticed a figure lying on the top bunk, his back to the new arrival, apparently asleep. Richie had heard so many horrific stories about prisons, their inhabitants and the gruesome things that happen, that he decided to try and get to the wooden chair as quietly as possible and wait for his cell mate to wake in his own time. The chair had other ideas. As Richie lowered himself slowly the chair creaked loudly.
‘What? Who’s there?’ said the gruff voice from the top bunk.
‘I didn’t mean to wake you,’ said Richie, scared stiff that he might now befall the wrath of some barbaric brute for waking him.
‘Just taking a cat nap, Boy,’ said the bunk dweller in a southern drawl. ‘You just arrived?’
‘Yes, Sir, My name is Richie Kavanaugh.’
‘Pleased to make your acquaintance,’ said the southerner without even turning to look at his new cell mate. ‘As you’re here I assume you’ve killed someone?’
‘You don’t have to answer that. It’s not really proper to inquire with a newcomer about their crime, but I find it helps to break the ice sometimes.’
‘I suppose it doesn’t really matter now; I’ve already confessed to my crime.’
‘Confessed! They must have really got to you in that interrogation room. What did they use, good cop/bad cop?’
‘More like dumb cop/extremely smart cop. I never saw the inside of an interrogation room during the whole investigation.’
‘And yet you confessed?’
‘It’s a little more complex than that. You see, I thought I had planned the perfect murder.’
‘Didn’t we all,’ replied the prone figure. ‘Tell you what: You tell me about your perfect murder and I’ll tell you about mine. There’s no pressure, but it seems to me that you want to get something off your chest.’
‘Sounds reasonable, may I take the bottom bunk?’
‘It’s all yours, Boy. Make yourself comfortable and tell me your tale.’
Richie removed his jacket and crawled onto the bottom bunk. After folding his pillow several times he began: ‘My problems started when I decided to split from my business partner of fifteen years…’
‘I feel I’ve outgrown this place,’ said Richie pacing the office. ‘You never want to take on the really big clients and they are breaking our door down because they want Crowley and Kavanaugh to handle their advertising needs.’
‘I understand how you feel, Richie, but you must understand that the clients we have been working with all these years must come first. Yes, the big clients would bring in more money than we have ever seen and that is to your liking, but I have to think about our reputation with our old clients too. It is because of them that we have been in business for so long.’
‘I’m not saying we have to give up on the old accounts…just focus a little more on some fresh ones. Bring in some new money and expand the business so we can become one of the biggest advertising firms in the country.’
‘To be the biggest doesn’t necessarily mean we will be the best, Richie. A number of the largest companies in the world are the most notorious for not paying their taxes or not treating their staff with the dignity and respect they deserve.’
‘It won’t change who we are, Luther. There is no reason to believe that we will stop paying our taxes or treat our staff any differently than we do now. The only difference will be that we are making more money than we ever have, and isn’t that the true American way?’
Luther Crowley shook his head of white hair, ‘I won’t discuss this anymore, Richie. My mind is made up.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Luther. I think it might be time for us to part ways. We obviously have opposite opinions on how the company should progress and I feel that I could develop my own business if I can take on the new contracts myself.’
‘I can’t say I’m surprised at your decision, in fact I’ve been expecting it for some time. You are young and you see the world of tomorrow opening up before you. I’m a member of the old school of business; back when a man’s word and a handshake would be enough to sign a contract or complete a business agreement. You may see me as a relic; a fossil from a bygone age, but in all these years from starting out alone with only the clothes on my back to building the company which you see before you today, I have never been cheated in any transaction that has passed through this office. That is due to the fact that I have worked with people I trust throughout the years and never giving any fraudsters or rip-off merchants a chance to swindle me.’
‘You’re no relic, Luther. One thing that was always obvious to me was the fact that you are probably one of the most savvy, yet natural, business minds I have ever encountered. The fact that you realize I look to the future instead of the past proves that to me.’
‘There is no more to discuss, Richie,’ said Luther Crowley, extending a hand. ‘I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, whatever they may hold.’
‘That was how it ended. Everything was handled graciously and Luther even found some offices for me to rent. For a while we continued taking lunch together twice a week and discussing the finer points of our individual outlooks on the advertising world. Things couldn’t have been better…’
‘So what went wrong?’ asked the voice from the top bunk.
‘It was very soon that I realized that it wasn’t Crowley and Kavanaugh those big clients wanted; it was only Crowley, but it was too late for me to do anything about it by then.’
‘Wouldn’t Mr Crowley have had you back to work with him?’
‘It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about that and it would have solved my problem immediately, yet I didn’t want to lose face with Luther or any of the clients I had managed to acquire.’
‘So you had some clients?’
‘The problem with the clients I had taken on was that they were smaller than most of the accounts that Luther already had. They would have been right at home with the “Luther Crowley Advertising” family. At that point a beggar couldn’t be a chooser and so I swallowed my pride and approached Luther to propose the possibility of returning to the company.’
‘Mr Crowley refused?’
‘Luther didn’t even object in a malicious way. He said that I should keep at it until I made myself a success. A success? Within three months of leaving I was facing bankruptcy because Luther was the success, not me…not me. I couldn’t convince Luther to reinstate me within his company and there was no way I could continue on with my own without losing everything.’
‘And so you decided that your only option was murder?’
‘I thought that if Luther were out of the way then all his old clients and the new accounts would flock over to my agency; I was right. Within a week of Luther’s death I had taken on almost a third of the old accounts and several new one’s. Finally things were looking up for me; at least that’s what I thought.’
‘There was a problem?’
‘Oh yeah, a major problem in the form of this funny little guy from the police who came around asking questions about the most mundane things. As soon as I had given him an answer for one question it seemed another two popped up.’
‘What was this cop’s name?’
‘Columbo. Lieutenant Columbo.’
‘That explains it then. Most of the guys in here are the victims of one or another of the Lieutenant’s little deceptions.’
‘He got me fairly, I suppose. I was caught out by something that I couldn’t have seen coming or had any control over. My plan just seemed so perfect. It shouldn’t have gone wrong.’
‘Suppose you tell me your plan,’ said Richie’s bunkmate, audibly turning onto his other side above.
‘I knew that Luther always worked late on a Wednesday, and so I arranged a meeting with him…’
‘Don’t forget to put me down in your diary for that ten o’clock meeting on Wednesday,’ said Richie. It was lucky that he was on the phone and not face to face with Luther. If they had been in each others presence it would be apparent from the scowl on Richie’s face that the last thing on his mind was a friendly conference.
‘I’ll remember it, Richie, don’t worry. I am used to dealing with my own schedule.’ It was something that Richie never understood. Luther had always insisted that he never had need of a secretary; he believed in performing every task in his office, even down to typing his own letters on a manual typewriter (no computers for Luther). Richie on the other hand took Gloria on as soon as he made it up to partner. It was always a mystery how Luther could keep all the meetings with clients, deadlines and still come up with one successful advertising campaign after another without help; years of practice was the answer.
‘Do this one thing for me, Luther. Make a note so I can be absolutely sure you won’t forget and arrange another meeting by mistake.’
‘You should know by now that I am not well known for making mistakes with my calendar, but just for your peace of mind I will write it in my appointment book. Is that satisfactory?’
‘It’s a weight off my mind, thanks, Luther.’ Richie replaced the receiver. This was going to be simple. Now the hard question: how was he going to bring an end to Luther Crowley’s life? His eyes fell to the gold letter opener on his desk. It was a gift from a grateful client that needed Crowley and Kavanaugh to revamp his executive stationary firm. In the clients opinion the campaign had surpassed anything he could have wished for and duly bestowed a pair of his most precious solid gold letter openers to the men who had, in his estimation, saved him from financial ruin. The engraving on the letter opener read: Crowley & Kavanaugh, My Saviors, Lally’s Bespoke Executive Desk Adornments.
‘Thank you, Mr Lally,’ said Richie to himself, ‘You have just become my savior.’
‘So you decided to murder your partner with your own letter opener? That doesn’t sound too smart to me.’
‘Oh, I had good reason for using my own,’ said Richie with a sigh, ‘you see Luther had an exact replica sitting his desk, but I couldn’t chance trying to make a grab at it because Luther, although old, was trained in hand-to-hand combat.’
The listener gave a snort of laughter.
‘Hand-to-hand combat? Now I’ve heard everything.’
‘He was a real health nut when he was younger and still visited the gym twice a week. If I tried to take his letter opener he would have had me on the floor or in a strangle hold before my fingers had even closed around the handle. So by taking mine I could take him by surprise before he could react.’
‘Now I understand completely. That was pretty smart thinking on your part.’
‘I thought that at the time too. Now I had another problem to deal with: how was I going to get into Luther’s office without being caught on the CCTV cameras?’
‘You must have found a way, right?’
‘I found a way. Another one of my genius plans that would later come back to bite me.’
‘I don’t really want this meeting to become public knowledge,’ said Richie, once more on the phone to Luther. ‘It wouldn’t look good for me to be asking your professional opinion on my newest account.’
‘Rest assured that I won’t tell a soul about the contents of our meeting. I have no reason to see your professional reputation damaged. I am willing to help you make a success of your company even though we should be bitter business rivals.’
‘I know I can count on you to keep a confidence but I don’t want anyone to see me visiting you. Would you be willing to give me your private elevator key for one night so I don’t have to arrive through the lobby?’
‘I think that’s going a little too far with your paranoia, Richie. So what if people know you’re visiting me, we are old friends. Who’s to know we’re meeting in a professional capacity?’
‘It would put my mind to rest if we could meet in private. Please, Luther, do me this one favor.’
‘Alright, I’ll drop the key off to you Tuesday night,’ conceded Luther.
‘Thanks, Luther, you won’t regret this.’
‘I bet he’s regretting it now,’ said the upper bunk dweller.
‘He was as good as his word; Tuesday night he drove out to my place and gave me his elevator key. Now I was ready to go in for the kill…so to speak.’
‘Sounds pretty impressive so far, Boy, I can’t see any loopholes you’ve overlooked.’
‘I wish you had been the cop in charge and not that damn Columbo. It was as if the first time he saw me he knew I was guilty.’
‘Yeah, he has that way about him.’
‘Do you know him?’ asked Richie, sitting up on his bunk.
‘Let’s just say our paths crossed once. Continue with your story, I want to know how you pulled it off.’
‘Well,’ said Richie, placing his head back onto the folded pillow, ‘As you know my meeting with Luther was scheduled for ten o’clock, so at nine o’clock I drove out to his office block…’
Richie pulled his car into a vacant space two blocks from Luther Crowley’s offices. Any closer and someone could recognize his car from the days of his employment there. He checked his pocket for the fourth time to make sure his letter opener was still inside. This was not the time to start making mistakes. He took the bottle of bourbon from the passenger seat and made his way to the office. Luckily no one was around this time of night, so it was all plain sailing. When Richie arrived at the Crowley office building he took a detour around the back to the underground parking garage. The only car there was Luther’s sedan. Looping around the outside of the garage to avoid the bright light from the overhead lamps was probably unnecessary, but something this critical called for extreme vigilance. There were no buttons for the elevator, just one small keyhole. Luther had had the express elevator put in himself; it went straight from the parking garage to his office and Luther had the only key to work it…that was, until tonight. Richie turned the key and waited for the elevator to arrive. It seemed to take an age, every few seconds he would look around the garage for any indication that someone was coming down and might spot him. Finally the doors opened and Richie turned the key in the elevator control panel to begin his ascent to the office above.
‘You’re early,’ said Luther as Richie stepped out of the elevator, ‘you said ten o’clock.’
‘I’m sorry for turning up like this, but this client has brought forward the deadline to complete the campaign. I don’t know what to do; I’ll never finish it in time.’
‘How long have you got?’
‘He wants a cursory outline by tomorrow morning. It’s impossible.’
‘With Crowley and Kavanaugh on the job, nothing is impossible.’
‘Shall we make a toast,’ said Richie holding up the bottle of bourbon, ‘to the good old days?’
He pulled off the plastic seal and threw it into Luther’s wastebasket and took two glasses from the drinks cabinet.
‘And to the good days still to come,’ said Luther taking the glass from Richie. ‘Why don’t you take your gloves off, Ritchie? It’s not cold in here.’
Richie lifted his glass in a toast, ‘To us.’
‘To us,’ echoed Luther.
As Luther began to drink, Richie lunged forward with the letter opener he had surreptitiously removed from his pocket. The golden blade plunged into Luther Crowley’s chest, puncturing his heart. It surprised Ritchie how easy it had been to commit murder; especially toward someone he had called a friend for so many years. He left the letter opener where it was and took the identical one from the desk and put it in his pocket. Luther’s glass had fallen down onto the desk and spilled the bourbon across the papers he had been working on. Richie took his glass over to the sink in the en-suite and washed it thoroughly; drying it afterwards with a cloth and replacing it in the cabinet with the others. Then he placed Luther’s fingerprints on the bourbon bottle and placed it with the decanters in the drinks cabinet. He took one last look around and decided everything was as it should be and turned the key to open the elevator doors. As the doors opened he took a chair that was sitting nearby and placed it between the open doors. Then he turned the key in the elevator control pad and stepped over the chair to replace the elevator key onto Luther’s key ring. Now it was time to get away from the scene of the crime, at least, until he came back to discover the body at ten o’clock. Removing the chair from the door and placing it back into its original position, the doors slowly closed and he was once more back in the parking garage and walking back to his car.
‘Why would you go back at ten? Surely, you would be in the clear now, so why tempt fate?’
Richie laughed, ‘Why do you think I wanted Luther to write down the time of our meeting? When the police checked his calendar it would show that I arrived at the time stated; written in Luther’s own handwriting.’
‘I underestimated your plan. I think that’s a very inventive idea.’
‘Not inventive enough for Lieutenant Columbo. He looked a shambles and came across as a bit slow, but my opinion of him rapidly changed. I put the letter opener in the glove compartment of my car and waited for a half hour or so, then drove my car to the office building and parked out front and walked in through the front door. The night security guard, Trent, had his nose in some books; he had been studying up for night classes in some subject or other. He greeted me and asked me to sign the visitor’s book, inquired how everything was going with my new set up and logged my arrival time next to my name. I said I had a meeting with Luther at ten and he told me to go on up. Of course, I knew I was going to find my dear old friend dead, but I had to make it look good so instead of calling the police myself I returned to the lobby and told Trent to call them. Within five minutes two officers arrived and I showed them up to the office where I had discovered my ex-partner dead only moments ago. The officers asked me to wait outside in the reception area of Luther’s office and that is where I first met Lieutenant Columbo.’
Richie had been waiting in reception for oven an hour watching police officers and crime scene technicians going about their business. Observing the way they worked made him rerun the whole scenario in his mind. Had he remembered everything? Did he leave any tell-tale signs or other evidence of his having been there at the time of the murder? As the minutes ticked slowly passed, it had become more apparent that there was little for the police to find. Could it be that he had planned and executed the perfect murder? Suddenly a voice brought him back from his reverie:
‘Did you twist your ankle, Lieutenant?’ said one of the officers who had been addressed earlier as Sergeant Dobbs. Limping into the reception came a little man in a raincoat; a cigar clenched in his teeth.
‘No, it’s nothing like that, Bill,’ he replied, holding something brown out for the Sergeant to look at. It was the heel of a shoe.
‘You got a blister, Lieutenant?’ asked one of the officers from inside the office.
‘No, Don, I don’t have blisters. It’s the heel of my shoe. It just came off downstairs. I’ve had these shoes for years, they’re Italian style.’
‘You’re telling us they’re Italian shoes, Lieutenant? Come on, you didn’t get those from Italy.’
‘Not from Italy, just Italian style. My wife got me these form a discount store the day I made lieutenant; nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents.’
‘How long ago was that?’ quipped the officer called Don from the office.
‘Hey, these shoes have never let me down. I’ll have to go see my nephew; his wife Marilyn has a knack for mending old clothes, so she might be able to fix these for me.’
‘If not, there’s a guy down on Hanover Street who could set you up with a new pair,’ said Sergeant Dobbs.
‘I think I’ll try Marilyn first, but thanks anyway. Hey, isn’t that the Rockford’s Raisins Raccoon?’ Columbo had stopped to admire a picture of a cartoon raccoon dressed as a convict with a swag bag full of raisins. ‘My wife has a key ring with that little fella on it and she knows all the words to the song on TV.’
As Columbo was about to limp into the office Richie stood up and called the Sergeant: ‘Excuse me, Sergeant, do you think this will take much longer, I do have other places to be.’
‘Who are you, Sir?’ asked Columbo, walking back towards Richie. With one shoe higher than the other his walk reminded Richie of a penguin. It was all he could do to stop himself from laughing.
‘This is Mr Kavanaugh, Lieutenant, he’s the guy who found the body.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Sir, shame it wasn’t under happier circumstances. Did you know the victim?’
‘We were once in business together, Lieutenant. I left start my own venture a number of months ago, now. We were still very close friends…’ Richie broke down a little. It wouldn’t be smart to overdo the grieving scene, just in case.
‘Oh, I understand, Sir, I don’t think we’ll be needing you anymore tonight. If you leave your address with Sergeant Dobbs, I’ll pay you a visit in due course.’
‘I’ve already got it, Lieutenant,’ said Sergeant Dobbs.
‘Then you’re free to go, for now,’ said Columbo starting his waddle to the office.
From the doorway Richie could see Columbo sit himself down in the chair by Luther’s private elevator and begin to examine his shoes. As he was about to take off the damaged one, he suddenly stopped and stared at the floor.
What on earth are you doing? thought Richie, watching with interest. Columbo got down on all fours and began to look under the chair. He moved the chair across the carpet and then back again.
‘Hey,’ said Columbo, to no one in particular, ‘Did anyone move this chair?’
The crime scene technicians continued their work while the officers continued chatting amongst themselves.
‘I said did anyone move this chair?’ repeated Columbo a little louder. Two officers came over to find out what the Lieutenant was on about. ‘This chair here, did you move it when you came in?’
‘I didn’t touch the chair,’ said one.
‘Wasn’t me,’ added the other.
‘Can I have everyone’s attention, please? Take a good look at this chair, now, has anyone in this room moved this chair since they’ve been here? Anyone?’
Richie was a little confused: How did the lieutenant know he had moved the chair? It wasn’t important and it didn’t mean anything. It was time to get going before Columbo started asking him questions about chairs. He pressed the button for the elevator and was just about to be going when doors stopped closing as a hand containing a cigar came through.
‘I need to ask you one thing, Sir, if you don’t mind.’
‘What is it?’
‘Did you come up with the idea for the Rockford’s Raisins Raccoon?’
‘I handled that ad campaign, yes.’
‘Could I get your autograph? My wife adores that little guy and it would give her a real thrill if she knew I had met you.’
‘Not a problem,’ said Richie, scribbling his signature in the lieutenant’s notebook.
‘Thank you very much, Sir. Oh, I’m sorry to keep you like this, Mr Kavanaugh, but I do have another question for you? It’s about one of the chairs in the office.’
‘Oh, I heard what you said in there, Lieutenant, and I think you’ll find your answer rests with the cleaning crew.’
‘The cleaning crew?’
‘We have an extremely tenacious cleaning crew in this building, Lieutenant, and I’m sure you will find that they move the odd piece of furniture while cleaning the offices.’
‘The cleaning crew,’ Columbo laughed, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’
‘I suppose you have to look at things in a different perspective as the rest of us. Being a cop means that everything that isn’t in its place or seems out of place must be scrutinized in case a clue is missed that will allow the perpetrator to go free.’
‘Gee, you’re a smart guy, Mr Kavanaugh, and if I find anything else that I think is out of place I’ll be sure to seek your advice about it.’
‘Those are famous last words uttered by many and regretted by all,’ said Richie’s bunkmate.
’After that there was no getting rid of him. Everyday he would appear out of nowhere with a stupid question; I would give him a credible answer and then a little while later he comes back with another. It became more and more aggravating as the days went on…
The morning after the murder Richie was busy at his office. Since his secretary Gloria had been there the phone hadn’t stopped ringing. His plan was going perfectly. With the death of Luther Crowley the clients needed someone they knew and trusted to continue his work for them. It was time for him to shine all alone. Just before nine Gloria buzzed the intercom: ‘There is a Lieutenant Columbo here to see you, Mr Kavanaugh.’
‘Show him in, please.’
In shuffled Columbo with his unlit cigar and raincoat (which looked like he had slept in it). He extended a hand and took a seat across the desk.
‘I see your niece managed to fix your heel.’
‘Yeah, it’s better than ever. She’s one smart cookie, Marilyn. Oh, is it alright if I…?’ he held up the cigar.
‘Please, feel free, Lieutenant.’
‘Thank you, Sir,’ said Columbo striking a match and taking a few puffs.
‘How goes your investigation?’ asked Richie, more out of self preservation than actual concern.
‘Well, it’s still early days and the first forty-eight hours are the most crucial. After that the trail kinda goes cold.’
‘Have you managed to turn up anything prudent?’
‘I’m afraid that chair is still going to bother me. I asked the cleaners about it and the woman who cleans Mr Crowley’s office…’ Columbo referred to his notebook, ‘…Madge, says that Mr Crowley was very specific when it came to the cleaning of his office. She told me that that particular chair was always placed back into its original position before she left. So who moved it?’
‘What makes you think it was moved, Lieutenant? I mean, how could Madge know its original position?’
‘Oh, the carpet makes me think it was moved. You see the carpet in Mr Crowley’s office has a deep pile and if something sits in one place for a long time, like a chair, there are these little indentations left in the carpet where the legs stood. And that is how the cleaner could always put it back into its original position, and that means someone must have moved it after she left. I just can’t explain it.’
Richie was starting to get a little annoyed with this funny little man and his obsession with chairs, but he also wanted to give him some kind of answer so that he would hurry up and leave. There was only one thing for it: ‘It has just occurred to me, Lieutenant, that I might have moved that chair.’
‘You, Sir? Why would you need to move the chair and why didn’t you mention it when I asked last night?’
‘No, you don’t understand. You see when I found Luther I felt a little faint and remember sitting down, what with the shock and everything. I might have knocked the chair as I sat in it.’
‘Are you sure that was the chair you sat in?’
‘I can’t be certain, but it would explain its moving after the cleaner left, wouldn’t it?’
‘You’re right, Sir, it would. I think that is what happened and I’m sorry for bringing that particular memory back to you.’
‘I’m just happy I managed to help you figure something out, even if it doesn’t give you any kind of lead in the case.’
‘You have been very helpful, Mr Kavanaugh, and I thank you for that help.’
The buzzer sounded and Gloria’s voice came over the intercom: ‘Mr Kavanaugh, Jason Palk is here to see you and someone from the Willis toy factory has called twice.’
‘Please tell Mr Palk that I will be with him as soon as possible.’
‘I can see you’re busy here, so I’ll get outta your hair. Thanks for your time, Sir.’
‘My pleasure, Lieutenant.’
Just as Columbo was about get up something caught his eye. He picked up the gold letter opener, turned it over in his hand and read the inscription.
‘Hey, Mr Crowley had one of these, didn’t he?’
‘We were given them by a grateful client when we saved his business. They mean…meant the world to us. That was when we knew we had really made it. Sadly I lost mine when we moved my office to this building, but it meant so much to me that I had my secretary order a new one. If anything it’s a reminder of a job well done.’
‘Did you happen to see Mr Crowley’s letter opener last night?’
‘I can’t say I noticed it, no.’
‘It hasn’t been released to the press yet, but it was Mr Crowley’s letter opener the killer used.’
‘My god, how awful. It makes you wonder what kind of world we’re living in.’
‘No one is all bad, not really. I think there are more good people than bad in the world, you just don’t hear about the good ones that often. Anyway, I’ll get going now.’
Columbo shuffled to the door then stopped and turned back.
‘There is one thing, Sir, very small thing, probably not worth asking, but can you tell me why you had a meeting with Mr Crowley last night and why at such a late hour?’
‘We were going to discuss one of my clients advertising campaigns. You see, Luther and myself agreed to work together on larger accounts. He would help me if I needed it and I would help him if he needed it.’
‘Did he ever ask for your help, Sir?’
‘Once or twice, Lieutenant.’
‘One last thing…which client was the meeting about?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t divulge that, Lieutenant, we were at a crucial point in this client’s campaign and I wouldn’t want any details leaked as to its contents, you understand. Surely it has nothing to do with the murder?’
‘No it doesn’t and I’m sorry for making a nuisance of myself. Goodbye, Mr Kavanaugh.’
‘That was just the first day,’ said Richie, groaning at the memory.
‘The first of many, I’m sure,’ said the voice from the top bunk. ‘That’s how Columbo works: he keeps coming back until you either confess or go stark raving mad.’
‘The worst time I had with him was when he interrupted one of my meetings with the biggest account I had taken on. We were just about to work out the final details on the campaign when Columbo came knocking on the door. I tried to tell him that I was busy but he still knocked that door and waved until I left the client and went to talk with him. That was when I realized that something had gone wrong with my plan…’
‘I’m sorry to bother you again, Mr Kavanaugh, but I do need your help with something.’
‘Couldn’t this wait, Lieutenant, I’m with a client; a very important client, as it happens.’
‘I apologize, Sir, but this important.’
‘Ok, ask your question and then I must get back to my client.’
‘Is he the guy you were going to discuss at the meeting with Mr Crowley?’
‘I don’t believe this. I already told you that that has nothing to do with your investigation. Can you just ask your question?’
‘I apologize again, Sir, I just want to ask you something about when you found Mr Crowley’s body. We’ve had the autopsy results back and there’s something that doesn’t make sense me about the coroners findings.’
‘Like the fact that Mr Crowley had only taken a small sip of his bourbon and yet the bottle had at least a glassful missing from it. I can’t figure out why so much of the bourbon is missing from the bottle…unless he was sharing a drink with someone he knew. In that case he was killed by an acquaintance and not a stranger.’
‘So what does this have to do with me?’
‘I wondered if you moved anything when you discovered the body, Sir, like an extra glass or something.’
‘Do you think I’m stupid, Lieutenant? Why would you think I would move anything at a crime scene?’
‘Something is off with this case, Mr Kavanaugh, and I’m trying to find answers to some difficult questions. I just want to check your version of events so that I can remove certain theories I have.’
‘I can assure you that I never touched a thing when I found Luther. I walked in, saw his body, took a moment in the chair to calm myself and then went back to the lobby to ask Trent to call the police. That is a concise account of my movements from discovery to having the police called. Now, if there is nothing else…’
‘That’s the problem, there is something else. Where did the missing bourbon go?’
‘Is this how you spend your time, Lieutenant, chasing unrelated suspicions instead of focusing on what is right in front of you. The fact that Luther’s bottle has more missing than he drank that night is very simple to answer. If he had that bottle for a couple of days he could have drank some the day before, or the week before. It is a worthless point to pursue.’
‘But it was a new bottle that day, Sir.’
‘How could be so sure? He could have had it for weeks or even months.’
‘It was new that day; there is no doubt about that.’
Columbo pulled out a small plastic evidence bag containing a strand of black plastic. He removed it from the bag and handed it to Richie.
‘That proves he opened it that night.’
‘What is it?’
‘That is the plastic seal from the bottle and there it was right there in the wastebasket. I asked Madge about the wastebasket and she tells me that the bag is replaced every night, so we know that he put it there that night after the cleaners had gone. Which brings us back to the original question: Where did the missing bourbon go? I just can’t figure it out.’
‘One thing I did notice was the mess on his desk. When he was killed he probably dropped his glass and in doing so spilled the contents of his glass on the desk. Isn’t that the obvious answer?’
‘It would be a very good answer if it wasn’t for one thing.’
‘And what is that, Columbo.’
‘To have that much bourbon missing from the bottle Mr Crowley would have had to fill his glass to the brim. Everyone I’ve spoken too said that Mr Crowley wasn’t much of a drinker. I don’t think he filled his glass up and we know he didn’t drink it. I think someone else in that office had a drink too. And what’s more, I think it was the killer that brought the bottle with them.’
‘What makes you think that?’
‘Well, Mr Crowley had a pretty full drinks cabinet; bourbon, vodka, gin and any other spirit you prefer to name. So why would he get a new bottle of bourbon when he already had some?’
Richie couldn’t take anymore of this stupid cops annoying questions. It was amusing at first to watch him stumble around and chase his own shadow, but now he was getting aggravating and Richie had had enough.
‘Look, I can’t do your work for you, Columbo. If you need answers then I suggest you go and find them away from me. Goodbye, Lieutenant.’
With that Richie returned to the meeting and slammed the door behind him. Columbo gave a satisfied smile as he wandered back down the hall to the elevator whistling ‘This old man.’
‘I hadn’t thought about how much bourbon would be missing from the bottle. How many other cops do you think would have caught on to that?’ asked Richie to his bunkmate.
‘That is what makes Lieutenant Columbo a legend in the LAPD. He sees the little details that the other cops miss. I heard he caught a guy once because he was deaf; some chess player or something.’
‘Because he was deaf?’
‘You heard me, Boy. Then he got some woman who peddled over priced make-up because she had poison ivy rash on her hand which proved she had killed her lover with a microscope that had a slide containing poison ivy on it. No plan is ever perfect, not when it comes to Columbo.’
‘I soon realized that when Columbo returned with another question, and this was one thing I had overlooked completely…’
‘What now, Columbo?’ said Richie, heading for the elevator demonstrating that he wasn’t about to stop and have a chitchat with the Lieutenant.
‘It’s something very important, Sir,’ said Columbo trying to keep pace.
‘I am on my way to Luther’s funeral, Lieutenant, and I want to be there on time, so if you’ll excuse me.’
Richie stepped into the elevator and was surprised when Columbo jumped in after him.
‘What is your problem?’ asked Richie.
‘My problem is with the CCTV in Mr Crowley’s lobby.’
‘I meant what is your problem with me? Ever since Luther’s murder you’ve been hanging around my neck like some kind of millstone. Sometimes I think you’ve got it into your head that I killed Luther.’
‘I think you did, Sir.’ Columbo looked apologetic. ‘I think you went there earlier that night and killed Mr Crowley and then came back later to find the body.’
‘You’ve just made a big mistake, Columbo. I’ll be talking to your superiors after the funeral.’
The elevator doors opened and Richie stepped out into the lobby, Columbo hot on his heels. No matter how fast Richie walked Columbo kept pace, at one point even running to keep up.
‘The CCTV tells a convincing story, Sir, would you like to know why?’
‘I don’t want to listen to any more of your drivel, Columbo,’ said Richie getting into his car.
‘You were on the CCTV around ten o’clock, Mr Kavanaugh.’
Richie stopped for a moment and wound down the window.
‘Of course I was; that was the time of my meeting.’
‘But that is the problem…no one else was seen on there. Not one other person came into the lobby all night. The last of the cleaners left just after eight and then nothing.’
‘Maybe Madge or one of the other members of the cleaning crew killed him then.’
‘I don’t think so, you see, the coroner said that Mr Crowley had been dead a little over an hour when he examined the body. That means he was killed somewhere around nine o’clock. Where were you at that time?’
Richie gave Columbo a hateful glare, ‘I was sitting in my office preparing for my meeting at ten o’clock…ten o’clock, not nine, ten. Anyway, how am I supposed to have got into Luther’s office if no one was spotted on the CCTV? Can I turn invisible now?’
‘I think you went up in his private elevator.’
‘You know that that elevator works by a special key, don’t you? Do you also know that there is only one key and that Luther had it with him at all times?’
‘Except the day of the murder, Sir, while I was running the CCTV footage I noticed something very odd. Mr Crowley never enters through the lobby; he always goes to his office by way of his private elevator and phones down to Trent in the lobby so he can sign him in. But on the morning of the murder Mr Crowley came in through the lobby and signed in himself. Why would he come in through the lobby instead of using his elevator?’
‘Maybe he wanted to ask Trent how his studies were going.’
‘Trent said that Mr Crowley merely said good morning and went straight on up. I think he gave his key to you so you could get to his office that night without being seen.’
‘Why would he not want me to be seen?’
‘Oh, I’m sure there’s a very good explanation for it…’
‘Which you don’t know. You think you’re real smart, Columbo, but I’m smarter. Yes, you’ve got lots of little why’s and how’s, but one thing that stymies your entire case is proof. You can’t prove any one of your suspicions and you think by keeping after me I’ll give in and confess to get you off my back, you couldn’t be more wrong. You will never get me and you know why, because you don’t have it up here.’
Richie tapped the side of his head, started his car sped off leaving Columbo scratching his. Maybe Richie Kavanaugh was too smart for his own good.
‘I didn’t even think about the CCTV,’ said Richie’s bunkmate, ‘that Columbo thinks of everything. Did you get to attend the funeral?’
‘Yeah, I made it in time for the service. I gave a speech about what good friends we were and what a great team we had made, and I meant every word. You see I didn’t kill Luther out of malice, it was just business. Then Columbo turned up in that wreck of a car of his and waited for me to finish before trying to corner me as the mourners left. I wasn’t in the mood to listen to anymore of his theories and made a beeline for my car. He caught me just as I was about to pull away.’
‘Would you mind doing me one last favor, Mr Kavanaugh?’
‘I’m done with you, Columbo. If you want to speak to me you can do it through my lawyer.’
‘I wondered if you wouldn’t mind coming back to Mr Crowley’s office with me; there’s something I think you need to see.’
‘Do you know what, Columbo? I’m going to come with you. I want to see what fantasy you’ve dreamed up now. I want to see you destroy your career with more unsubstantiated propaganda against me. I’m going to enjoy watching you dig yourself a hole that you can never get out of.’
‘If you’ll just follow my car, Sir, we can soon have this wrapped up.’
That last remark about wrapping things up didn’t sit well with Richie. He turned the whole thing over in his mind. Columbo had nothing, he couldn’t have…could he?
When they arrived at the Crowley office building Columbo insisted that they go up to Luther Crowley’s office in the private elevator. Columbo had borrowed the key from Luther’s personal effects.
‘I just want to get a few things straight in my mind about this case,’ said Columbo walking down into the underground parking garage. ‘The killer had to come in this way to dodge the CCTV, there’s no other way to get in.’ Columbo turned they key and waited for the elevator doors to open. ‘After you, Sir,’ he said.
Richie stepped in and Columbo shuffled in behind him. They rode up in complete silence, even though the atmosphere could have been cut with a knife. They stepped out into the office where Sergeant Dobbs and a couple of uniformed officers were waiting.
‘So, what happens now?’ asked Richie, looking around the room. ‘Are you going to have a surprise witness jump out of the en-suite and finger me for the crime?’
‘I don’t need a witness in this case, Mr Kavanaugh, because you already told me you killed Mr Crowley.’
This was enough to wipe the grin off of Richie’s face.
‘What do you mean, I told you?’
‘Would you do something for me? Would you take a seat behind the desk?’
‘I want you to try something for me. Don’t worry it’s just a harmless little test of strength.’
Richie took a seat at the desk and watched as Columbo took an evidence bag from his pocket and removed the gold letter opener. Placing it on the desk Columbo said, ‘Would you try and bend that, Sir?’
‘Bend it? It won’t bend, it’s solid gold.’
‘I know that, Mr Kavanaugh, but would you humor me?’
Richie picked up the letter opener and holding the handle in one hand and the blade in the other gave it a slight twist. Nothing changed.
‘What is this about, Lieutenant? I told you it wouldn’t bend.’
‘Would you try it once more, Sir, a little harder this time?’
Richie’s knuckles turned white as he strained with the metal. Nothing changed.
‘I’ve done it twice now and I still don’t have the faintest idea what you expect to gain from this.’
‘Maybe nothing,’ said Columbo looking at the sticker on the plastic bag he took the letter opener from. ‘I hope you don’t mind but I went to your office and borrowed your letter opener for this test.’
‘If it means you’ll leave me alone now, then I don’t mind at all. Have we finished here?’
‘I wonder if you wouldn’t mind doing it once more…’
‘I tried as hard as I could and it still didn’t move. There is no point in trying again.’
‘Oh, not with that one, Sir.’ Columbo took another evidence bag from his pocket, containing another gold letter opener. ‘With this one.’
He handed the letter opener to Richie.
‘This is the letter opener that killed Mr Crowley.’
‘And now it has my finger prints on. Are you trying to pull a fast one, Lieutenant?’
‘I wouldn’t do something like that, Mr Kavanaugh; I would never make an arrest that way.’
‘Make an arrest? You really believe you can prove my guilt, don’t you?’
‘If you’ll just try and bend the letter opener, please, Sir.’
Richie prepared to make another attempt on bending solid gold when suddenly the blade snapped straight from the handle. He couldn’t hide the look of shock of his face. What had just happened? What was this cop up to?
‘You wanted proof of your guilt, Mr Kavanaugh; you hold it there in your hands.’
‘Proof? This doesn’t prove anything. I knew you must have been up to something shady. I’m leaving right now.’
‘I can’t let you leave, Sir, you’re under arrest for murder.’
Richie didn’t know what to say. He looked from the two officers to the sergeant and then back to Columbo. This wasn’t real it couldn’t be.
‘I’m going to call my lawyer,’ said Richie, reaching for the phone.
‘Make sure he sees this,’ said Columbo, throwing a piece of paper down onto the desk. ‘It will help explain what happened here today.’
Richie picked up the paper and read what was written on it. His heart sank. There was no way he could have seen this coming.
‘As you can see, Sir, that is the invoice for the letter opener that you had your secretary order to replace the one you lost when you moved offices. She told me that when you first started out that money was a little tight and she was trying to help cut costs where possible.’
‘I suppose I should apologize for my harsh words to you, Lieutenant. I really didn’t think you had anything.’
‘I didn’t until you tried to bend that letter opener. You wanted a solid gold one like the one you lost, but your secretary wanted to save you money…and ordered you gold plate over lead. That begs the question: How did the letter opener that was ordered after you had left these offices end up here and Mr Crowley’s end up in your office? You had to have brought it with you. I would call that proof, Sir. After the murder you moved the chair to keep the elevator doors open while you replaced Mr Crowley’s key and then put the chair back as you left. It was a clever scheme.’
‘I didn’t kill him out of hatred, you know.’
‘I realized that when your secretary told me that since Mr Crowley’s death your business had picked up, I sorta put it together.’
‘You’re a very intelligent man, Lieutenant. I never stood a chance against you.’
‘I don’t know about that, Mr Kavanaugh, you had me going for a while…’
‘So there you have it. Fate was against me from the very beginning. Perhaps if I had shot him or poisoned him it would have turned out differently, but I doubt that with Columbo on the case. Now you’ve heard my story lets hear yours.’
‘Well,’ said his upper bunkmate, ‘My problems started when my nephew won thirty million dollars on the lottery…’