Columbo: Fatal Vacation
Marcus Huxley stretched out on the sun lounger and gave a satisfied sigh. This was the life. Sun, sea, sand and…well, he didn’t have to search far for the other. Most of the girls on the island knew him, or at least knew of him, and they weren’t backwards at coming forwards.
He pulled his sunglasses halfway down the bridge of his nose as two more nubile young women sauntered passed giving him a backwards glance. They smiled a smile that signified any kind of pursuit in his case would lead to an effortless capture and a probable “friendship” between the three of them.
He was about to rise from the lounger and give chase when he heard a voice that he never thought he would hear again.
‘Hello, Marcus. I thought I would find you out here eyeing up adolescents in bikinis.’
Marcus turned to the elderly man who had sat on the lounger next to him. ‘What can I do for you, Charles?’
‘So you remember me then? I would have thought with the hectic schedule you’re on you would have forgotten all about Victoria…and what happened.’
‘How did you know I was here?’ asked Marcus pushing the sunglasses back up his nose and staring out at the ocean.
‘When someone with such distinction in the game of tennis as you is playing in a tournament in Hawaii news travels fast.’
‘It’s very kind of you to come all this way just to watch me play in the tournament, Charles.’
‘Come, come, dear boy. You know well enough the reason why I am here. It was only a month ago my poor Victoria killed herself and we both know the reason for that.’
The old mans voice although rough with age had taken on a hint of bitterness. He removed a folded piece of paper from his pocket and held it out to Marcus.
‘I’m not signing autographs today, sorry.’
‘I brought all the holiday reading I need with me, thank you.’
‘You may joke, Marcus. This may all seem like a big game to you, but I’m going to kill you.’
Marcus turned his head slowly to face Charles Gordon.
‘What did you say?’
‘I don’t mean I’m going to murder you; I mean I am going to kill your career, your lifestyle and your entire squeaky clean image. By the time I am finished no one will want anything to do with you; especially those foolish girls who think you’ll show them a good time, but really just use them and leave them broken like a bully with someone else’s toys. Read it.’
Marcus took the paper and unfolded it. He scanned the words carefully taking in all the details. It was the autopsy report for Victoria Gordon and it wasn’t good. It showed that at the time of her suicide Victoria was pregnant. It was the final sentence that made him realize the trouble he was in. A DNA test had been performed on the fetus, a test, if it ever came out, could prove that he was the child’s biological father. He folded the paper and began to put it in his pocket. Before he had a chance to react Charles Gordon had snatched it from him. He would never have thought the aged hands were capable of such speed.
‘You would be surprised at what else I managed to dig up over the course of a month. I have Victoria’s suicide letter, her diary that leaves detailed accounts of your meetings and how you managed to pursued her into bed and finally the DNA test from the dead baby that I have no doubt will be a match for you. You see I have everything I need to make your life a living hell and I’m going to enjoy making you suffer as you made my Victoria suffer.’
‘Should the police not have that suicide note?’
‘What good would it do with the police? They would never act upon the information in that letter and I want you to feel the pain my Victoria felt.’
‘I didn’t kill her, Charles. If she couldn’t handle having a baby then maybe she should have taken precautions to prevent it. Now if you don’t mind I have a match later and I need to get ready.’
Charles reached out a boney hand and gripped Marcus by the wrist. His eyes were cold and his voice shallow. ‘I will make you pay if it’s the last thing I do.’
Marcus pulled free of the grip and pushed his way up from the lounger. He turned back to Charles who was still glaring at him with a threatening stare.
‘Could we discuss this later? What room are you in?’
‘There is nothing to discuss. You are finished.’
‘Give me a chance here, Charles. All I want to do is talk this over. What room are you in?’
‘Room 614, but don’t go getting the idea that talking’s going to help you now. You’re dead!’
Marcus walked to his room with his customary swagger, cheery smiles for his child fans and the mischievous wandering hands on the waists, hips and buttocks of his more mature female ones. They knew he wasn’t really being uncouth; he was only playing a part for the crowd. Even if he did want to be uncouth there were plenty of willing women who would gladly let him “play” with them. One woman asked for her photograph to be taken with him while another had a video camera pointed at him, never wavering from the smile that had wooed many women over the years. When he finally got to his room the cheery smile faded into an anxious scowl. It was very doubtful if Charles Gordon could get any of this to stick…in theory. There were hundreds of news stories a week about people trying to point the finger at a celebrity over some insignificant slight or other, but this was different. Charles Gordon had proof in black and white and that didn’t bode well for Marcus when the muck started to fly. There was no way he could alter Charles Gordon’s mind and so there was only one way to make sure the story was never heard. Marcus Huxley decided to kill Charles Gordon.
He had two hours before his next game at three o’clock so Marcus knew he had plenty of time to execute his plan. First he took the bright red curtain cord from the curtains in his room and tucked it into the waistband of his shorts. He removed a pair of white leather driving gloves from his suitcase and placed one in each pocket of his official tournament jacket he had been given upon arrival at the hotel. His plan was simple and nothing could go wrong. Kill Charles, leave the room and just sit back and watch hotel security and the Honolulu police force chase each others tails.
He sauntered along the corridor smiling at every woman, young and old, he encountered. One or two of the house keeping staff insisted that they needed to kiss him on the cheek in order to continue living. They all played the game he had become a master at and none of them stood a chance in the game of cat and mouse he insisted upon playing. Checking the corridor was clear he quickly slipped into the fire escape stairwell that ran through every floor of the hotel. He arrived at the sixth floor door and opened it slowly, looking around in case someone was wandering around outside. Luckily the games for that day’s tournament were still in full swing so most of the hotel guests would be out at the courts watching the other competitors. His luck held out as room 614 was directly across the corridor from the fire escape. At least he knew he had a quick escape when he needed it. Marcus pulled on the white driving gloves and knocked the 614 room door. Charles Gordon opened the door and gave that repulsive grin that he assumed meant the end of Marcus Huxley. It was at this point that Marcus realized that killing Charles was the only option left to save his neck and he would perform is duty with the utmost pleasure.
Charles offered the chair he had pulled up to the coffee table and then took some papers from his attaché case. He took the time to slowly read through them in order to make Marcus sweat. It didn’t really matter what was on the other papers; after Charles was dead no one was ever going to get the chance to read them anyway.
‘There you have it,’ he said throwing the papers into Marcus’s lap. ‘Read it and weep is the appropriate saying I believe.’
Marcus scanned the papers. Victoria always had a tendency to talk too much and now her father was about to pay for her words. She was always writing in her damn diary about useless day to day events, but Marcus never dreamed she would describe the intimate details of their liaison and the fact that he was the only man she had ever been with. This made it impossible to deny any accusations of paternal guilt. His life would become unbearable with the press forever watching every move he made and having every woman from there on know how he had treated Victoria.
‘Would these copies be admissible, Charles?’ tested Marcus.
‘What do you mean copies? They are all originals!’
‘They look like copies to me.’
‘I’m telling you they are the originals of everything. I’m sure the media would prefer the originals over copies once I get back to England, and those are what my sweet Victoria left for me.’
‘Why didn’t the police keep the suicide note?’
‘They haven’t seen it…yet. I needed you to see first hand the suffering you caused by rejecting her and the baby. A handwriting expert will confirm that she wrote that note.’
‘Let’s have a drink and work something out, shall we?’
‘There is nothing to work out Marcus. You are finished.’
‘At least give the condemned man a last snifter before the execution.’
‘I suppose you deserve that much.’
Charles Gordon turned to the drinks tray on a long sideboard and poured two large scotch’s for them. Before he could offer the drink Marcus was up behind him with the curtain cord around his neck. Charles was an old, frail man and it surprised Marcus when an elbow struck him in the ribs which momentarily stunned him. In the short time it took Marcus to catch his breath Charles had taken a small revolver from his pocket and was aiming it straight at his head.
‘That was a stupid thing to do, Marcus. Now I’m not just going to end your lifestyle I will endeavor to put you behind bars for attempted murder.’
‘What did you expect?’ said Marcus breathing slowly, ‘You want to destroy me. Did you think I was going to let you just threaten me and not try to stop you? Even you are not that foolish.’
‘We shall see what hotel security have to say about it.’
Charles turned to the phone and Marcus lunged for the gun. It discharged and Marcus fell back onto the couch holding his left shoulder where a patch of red was forming; a searing pain throbbed down his arm.
‘I warned you,’ said Charles with those cold, uncaring eyes. ‘Now I might as well finish it right here.’
Quick as lightening Marcus grabbed the lamp beside him and threw it at Charles. It smashed into his head and Charles fell to the floor in a heap pulling the phone from the table. Marcus didn’t care if he was dead or not all he wanted to do was get out of that room and back to his own. He picked up the curtain cord that had fallen to the floor during the initial struggle and scooped up all the papers from the table. At least he knew that they were all originals and that there were no copies laying around to link him to this.
He opened the door and looked out into the corridor. The shot hadn’t alerted anyone yet so he rushed across to the fire escape door and threw himself through. If he had been a few seconds later he would have been seen by hotel security who had just left the elevators further down the corridor. Marcus was running on instinct and all he could think of was getting to the basement in order the discard the papers, curtain cord and his bloody shirt and jacket in the hotels industrial furnace. Within seconds it was done and everything had gone up in flames. He was clear for the moment but now he needed to patch up his shoulder where the bullet had hit him. When he got back to his room he gave a sigh of relief. Although his shoulder was burning from the bullet he had finished his business with Charles Gordon…for good!
Captain Theodor Albinski stood in the doorway surveying the crime scene. It had been a long time since he had transferred from homicide to the anti-terrorism task force, but he still remembered everything from his training days. He was only supposed to be keeping an eye out for any terrorist threat towards the tennis tournament, but being the highest ranking police officer on the island and the fact that he was head of security for the duration of the tournament made this his case. Although his career in the LAPD homicide department had been a happy one he always wanted to advance into other aspects of law enforcement. In the anti-terrorism unit he had found his niche. It wasn’t the fact he wanted to be in charge of others or always ending up in some international intrigue like James Bond, he wanted to love his job as much as a cop he once knew back in LA. This cop had passed over every offer of promotion with the pay rises and benefits they would have brought because he loved his job. Like Theodor being a captain in the anti-terrorism unit this cop could never have been anything but a lieutenant in homicide.
Theodor would always remember the Commodore Swanson case. It was the first day he had joined homicide and the captain wanted him to learn from the best. His first sight of the best made him wonder if the captain was playing with him. Lieutenant Columbo looked more like a bum than a cop, but Theodor soon realized how wrong he was. Since then he had never taken anyone at first glance. Under the lieutenant’s rumpled raincoat, tussled hair and cloud of cigar smoke was one of the sharpest minds Theodor had ever encountered. As he began to remember the times he and Columbo had crossed paths on cases a tune came to mind. It was the tune to ‘this old man’ a children’s nursery rhyme that the lieutenant used to whistle or hum. The strangest thing was he was sure he could hear it now. That low whistle he knew so well. He had to look out into the hallway to make sure. His eyes couldn’t believe what they saw. Shuffling up the corridor was that distant memory; that man who had taught him so much, still wearing the rumbled raincoat and whistling that tune. Lieutenant Columbo was here and Theodor couldn’t have been happier.
‘Lieutenant,’ said Theodor holding out a hand as Columbo reached him.
Columbo looked confused for a moment before it dawned on him who this guy was. It was the moustache and the grey hair at the temples that baffled him. The last time they had met the sergeant, as he was back then, couldn’t have been more than thirty. Now he had matured and hadn’t really changed all that much (moustache and hair aside).
‘Mac,’ said Columbo using the old nick-name Theodor had had back in the early days. ‘It’s good to see you.’
‘Same here, Lieutenant. What are you doing in Hawaii?’
‘Mrs Columbo won this trip on a radio phone in. I tell ya, she must have a touch of the Irish luck in her family somewhere. You know, every time she buys a lottery ticket she wins five bucks and I couldn’t even win a raffle if I was the only one who bought a ticket.’
‘I’ve been meaning to call you and offer my sympathies. I heard about your recent loss. How are you holding up?’
Columbo looked saddened. ‘It was a shock. There was no indication that anything was wrong. One minute we were out visiting the family the next thing you know…gone’
‘Do they know what it was?’
‘Doctor said heart attack. It was so sudden. The family have been great; everyone pulled together to help out. I suppose no one lives forever.’
‘How old was he?’
‘We never really knew. I got him from the police pound the day before they were going to put him to sleep. No one ever came forward to collect him and he didn’t have any papers so we had no idea how old he really was,’
‘How is Mrs Columbo?’
‘That’s a whole new story. She put her back out last night at the limbo contest. I told her not to have that last drink, but she insisted it would limber her up. Now I’ve got to take pictures of everything for her because she can’t get out of bed and doesn’t want to miss anything.’
Columbo pulled a camera from his pocket. ‘I’m just glad I brought extra film with me.’
‘You should get a digital camera, Lieutenant. You can take hundreds of pictures without needing any film at all.’
‘My brother-in-law, Fred, tried to show me how to work one but there are too many buttons and settings…I prefer the good old point and snap approach.’
‘Whatever you’re more comfortable with, I guess.’
‘What’s going on in here?’ said Columbo peering over Theodor’s shoulder. ‘I heard talk about a shooting.’
‘We got a homicide, Lieutenant. The victim, Charles Gordon, was struck with a lamp. We don’t have any suspects and no witnesses. A gunshot alerted another guest who called security immediately.’
‘Gee, I better let you get on then.’
‘If you would like to run your eyes over the crime scene I would appreciate any thoughts you might have.’
‘I’m supposed to be taking snaps for Mrs Columbo…’
‘Well, if you’re not interested…’
‘Maybe just a quick look,’ said Columbo eagerly pushing passed Theodor and into the hotel room. This is where things were going to get interesting. Theodor asked all the officers and technicians to step aside and let the lieutenant examine the scene.
Columbo started wondering around the room and muttered to himself and running his fingers through his thick silver hair. He scanned the room as a whole and then scrutinized the smaller details. As he came back to Theodor he threw a hand in the air.
‘I need to ask one question to whoever found the body.’
‘Sergeant, please ask Mr Wills to step in here,’ said Theodor.
Sergeant Caplan left the room and returned with an officious looking man who didn’t look too happy about being called in.
‘This is Chuck Wills head of the hotel security.’
Columbo offered a hand, but the security guard just stood looking fiercely at him. Pulling his hand away Columbo smiled. ‘Would you mind if I asked you a question?’
‘Would I mind? I suppose not, considering I’m usually the one doing the questioning around here. This lot turns up for the tournament and I’m suddenly a subordinate in my own hotel.’
‘We’ve already discussed this, Wills. Just answer the lieutenant’s question,’ snapped Theodore.
‘Yes I was. Is that all?’
‘That wasn’t the question, Sir. What I need to know is: Was the balcony door open when you got here?’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Answer the question, Wills,’ repeated Theodor, a pang of annoyance in his voice.
‘No. I checked the whole room over when I arrived. The balcony door was locked and the key was inside the lock.’
Columbo face fell slowly into a frown. ‘That’s very interesting, Mr Wills, thank you.’
He walked towards the hallway. Every other cop watched as he disappeared out of the door. They all turned to Theodor with questioning glances.
‘What was that all about?’ asked Chuck Wills.
‘That was Lieutenant Columbo and he’s going after the murderer.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! There is no way he could know who killed Charles Gordon.’
‘Maybe not, but I’m willing to bet that’s he’s on the right track already.’
At the reception desk Columbo was having trouble getting the reception clerk to understand him. It wasn’t a language barrier; it was the fact that the clerk didn’t believe Columbo was a cop. When he had flashed his badge the clerk eyed it suspiciously and said he would have to hold onto it until hotel security checked out his story. Luckily at that point Captain Albinski arrived to save the day.
‘Mac, can you tell this guy I’m a cop.’
‘This is Lieutenant Columbo of the LAPD. Is there some kind of problem?’
The clerk handed back the badge and shook his head. ‘No problem here, Sir.’
‘I need some information and he won’t give it to me,’ said Columbo.
‘Please cooperate with the Lieutenant and give him any assistance he requires.’
‘I’m very sorry, Lieutenant. I can’t just go handing out information to anyone. I could lose my job. You understand?’
‘Hey, forget about it.’
‘So how can I help you?’
‘Guy in room 614, Mr Charles Gordon. Can you tell me when he checked in?’
The clerk tapped at the keyboard. ‘Say’s he checked in just before midday.’
‘Did he have any luggage with him?’
‘There were no bags I can remember. He carried an attaché case, but nothing else.’
Columbo frowned. ‘Can you tell me how long he was booked in here?’
‘Until tomorrow morning at nine. He had booked one of the hotel cars to take him back to the airport.’
Columbo turned to the Captain. ‘Doesn’t that seem strange? The guy comes all the way from England to Hawaii and only stays one night.’
‘Maybe he had a meeting here and only needed to stay one day.’
‘Maybe. Then maybe he had another reason for coming.’
A heavy set woman had approached the desk while Columbo asked his questions and was now huffing and puffing behind them to show she was ready to be checked in.
‘Sorry, Ma’am. Won’t be much longer.’
He smiled. She sniffed.
‘Did Mr Gordon use a hotel car from the airport?’
More key tapping. ‘No. He must have picked up a cab at the airport.’
‘Do you think we could get security footage of his cab arriving?’ said Columbo to the Captain.
‘Do you think he arrived with his murderer?’
‘Just somthin’ I want to check on.’
‘I’ll get onto Chuck Wills and get a copy of the footage.’
‘Thank you for your help,’ said Columbo to the clerk. ‘And thank you for your patience, Ma’am.’
Before he took two steps his hand shot up and slapped his forehead. ‘One last thing. Did Mr Gordon ask for anyone when he arrived?’
‘Funny you should say that, Lieutenant. He asked for the room number of Marcus Huxley. Naturally I couldn’t give it to him.’
‘Huxley, the tennis star?’ asked the captain.
Columbo placed a hand on the captain’s shoulder and leaned in close. ’Marcus Huxley the English tennis star.’
Marcus had temporarily patched himself up with a first aid kit provided by the hotel. He would have to wait until his return to England where a friend, who was a doctor, could remove the bullet and not ask awkward questions. Just as he slipped his arm into a sling he heard a knocking at his door. He opened it to two men. One looked official in a crisp suit and sensible tie the other wearing a raincoat over a blue and orange Hawaiian shirt.
‘Mr Huxley?’ asked the official looking one.
‘Yes, I’m Marcus Huxley. What can I do for you gentlemen?’
‘We’re with the police, sir. Could we come in? We need to ask you a few questions.’
Marcus stood back to allow them to enter. They all took a seat and Marcus offered drinks.
‘Not on duty, Sir.’
‘What can I do for you…Mr…?’
‘I’m Captain Albinski of the anti-terrorism task force and this is Lieutenant Columbo of the LAPD.’
‘LAPD? Aren’t you a little outside of jurisdiction, Lieutenant?’
’I’m just here on holiday. My wife won this trip on a radio show. Hey, you’re the Marcus Huxley; the tennis player? Wow. My nephew is a big fan of yours.’
‘That is always good to hear. How can I help you?’
‘Could I get an autograph for him?’ asked Columbo pulling out his notebook. ‘Nothing fancy, just your name.’
‘I can go one better than that,’ said Marcus unfolding a large poster of himself in one of his many professional poses.
‘What is your nephew’s name?’
‘Theodor, but we call him Mac.’
‘There you are,’ said Marcus with the flourish of his pen, ‘Always happy to reward a fan.’
‘Gee, he’s gonna love this. I’ll be voted uncle of the year for sure.’
‘Do you know a man named Charles Gordon?’ asked Captain Albinski trying to steer the conversation back to the investigation.
‘Can’t say the name rings any bells. What is this regarding?’
‘Mr Gordon was a guest at this hotel who was murdered this afternoon. We’re checking with everyone at the hotel to get a lead on what happened.’
The captain handed a photograph of the victim to Marcus. He took his time to study the close up of the dead mans face. With a shake of the head he handed it back.
‘I’m sorry, Captain. I’ve been here all afternoon so didn’t have a chance to see of hear anything.’
‘Anything you wish to ask, Lieutenant?’ asked the captain.
Columbo had vacated his seat and was wondering around the room humming to himself.
‘Have you seen that man talking to anyone at any point today?’ said Columbo continuing his perusal of the room. ‘I believe Mr Gordon knew the person who killed him.’
The captain and Marcus Huxley looked surprised at that statement. Captain Albinski couldn’t see where Columbo was going with this, but knew him well enough to let him ride it out.
‘No, I’m afraid I didn’t see the gentleman at all. What makes you think he knew his killer?’
‘There were two glasses of whiskey on the side table untouched. I think he poured the murderer a drink and you don’t do that for a complete stranger.’
‘I just offered you a drink and I didn’t know who you were.’
‘That is true, but then there was the position of the chair. The chair from the writing bureau had been moved to the coffee table. Almost like Mr Gordon was showing something to his murderer there.’
‘Did you find anything that Mr Gordon could have been showing to the killer?’
‘Nah, all that was on the table was an empty attaché case. That struck me as a little strange…I mean no one travels with and empty bag.’
‘But if you can’t prove there was anything in the case…’
‘That’s the whole problem and why we’re exploring every possibility in search of the answer.’
Columbo was still aimlessly wandering around the hotel room during the whole exchange. He kept ducking under tables and then started tugging the curtains.
‘Are you looking for something, Lieutenant?’ asked Marcus.
‘I’m sorry, Sir. My mind kinda wanders away with me. Did you know you had a curtain cord missing?’
‘No I didn’t. I’ll have to get onto housekeeping about that. If there is nothing else I really need to rest.’
‘Terribly sorry to have disturbed you, Mr Huxley,’ said Columbo making for the door.
Captain Albinski stood abruptly and followed Columbo. Just as Marcus was about to close the door Columbo wedged his foot into the opening.
‘Just one thing, Sir. You have blood on your shirt. Have you had an accident?’’
Marcus looked down at the shirt where his shoulder had begun to bleed again and left a couple of small red blotches. So much for hotel bandages. They were so small as to be mere specks.
‘I had a nose bleed before you got here; it must be the heat. I thought I had caught it all. No need to worry about it.’
‘You should see the hotel doctor if it continues, just to be safe.’
‘Don’t worry, Lieutenant, I will.’
‘Oh and why is your arm in a sling, Sir? Have you hurt yourself?’
‘I pulled a muscle during my morning match. Sadly I had to pull out of the tournament because I am in too much pain to continue. I’ll be returning home later today.’
‘You managed to get a flight at such short notice?’
‘I’ll be going in my private plane, Lieutenant.’
‘Too bad you had to leave. My nephew would have bet good money on you to win this tournament.’
‘Not this time, I’m afraid.’
‘We’ll let you get some rest now. Thank you for your time.’
‘What did you learn from that short interview?’ asked Captain Albinski after Marcus had shut the door.
Columbo turned to him with a wide grin. ‘Marcus Huxley murdered Charles Gordon. All we have to do is prove it.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Did you notice the burn marks on Mr Gordon’s neck? I think someone tried to strangle him before hitting him with the lamp. Of course, we’ll have to wait for the coroner’s verdict on that, but I would say one of those curtain cords would be a good bet on a possible weapon. Strange one of Mr Huxley’s is missing.’
‘It’s possible, but hardly solid evidence, Lieutenant.’
‘Means we’ll just have to keep digging and fast if he’s leaving tonight.’
Columbo handed the poster to the Captain.
‘The video footage you wanted is ready for you in the security office,’ crackled Chuck Wills’ voice over the captain’s radio.
Columbo eyed the captain. ‘Time to pick up our shovels and dig.’
The security room had been built for one man and certainly no more. A security officer sat at the controls to the bank of monitors on the wall while the other three men squeezed into the room behind him.
‘Not enough room to swing a cat in here,’ stated Columbo.
‘You’re telling me,’ said the officer.
‘That’s enough of that, Tom. Just show them the footage.’
The red faced officer flicked a few switches and the driveway of the hotel flashed up on the main screen. A blue cab pulled into the drop off point and Charles Gordon could be seen getting out. He paid his fare, picked up his attaché case and walked into the hotel.
‘Is that what you wanted to see, Lieutenant?’ asked Chuck Wills.
‘Could you run it back once more, please?’
‘Sure thing,’ said the officer flicking more switches.
‘Pause it there,’ said Columbo pulling out his notebook. ‘Hey, Mac, you got a pencil?’
The captain handed over a silver pen. ‘Gee, that’s a nice pen. Make sure I give it back. I’ve got a habit of walking off with other peoples pens.’
‘Is this what you wanted to see?’ asked Chuck Wills again.
‘That’s just what I wanted,’ said Columbo scribbling in his notebook. ‘Thanks, Tom. You’ve been very helpful.’
Back at the reception desk Columbo asked the clerk for the number of the sapphire cab company.
‘If there is anywhere you need to go we would be happy to supply you with a hotel car.’
‘Thanks for the offer, but I need you to get me a sapphire cab.’
Reluctantly the clerk dialed the number and after a short wait someone answered.
‘Hello, this is the Honolulu Grand hotel. Could you send a cab for a Mr Columbo, please?’
‘Hold on,’ said Columbo grabbing the phone. ‘Could you send cab number seventy six, please?’
The voice at the other end said that that particular car was busy on another job at the moment and they would send another.
‘I’m willing to wait until cab seventy six is free.’
The gruff reply from the cab operator asked if this was a prank. Columbo had a hard time convincing her that he was a cop and needed cab 76 in regards to a murder investigation. She said she would send 76 out as soon as he had finished his current job. Columbo thanked her and hung up.
Within fifteen minutes the cab pulled up outside where it had deposited Charles Gordon that morning. The driver didn’t look too happy about being summoned out to the hotel by the police.
‘I’m off the clock, buddy,’ said the driver as Columbo approached the cab. ‘I’m waiting for some cops.’
‘That would be me,’ said Columbo flashing his badge. He got in the front passenger seat.
‘What do you want with me?’
‘You picked up this man from the airport this morning?’ asked Columbo showing the driver the picture of the victim.
‘What happened to him?’
‘Answer the question…’ Columbo looked at the photo ID hanging from the rear view mirror, ‘Manny.’
‘Yeah, I picked him up at the airport.’
‘Where did you take him before bringing him here?’
‘What makes you think we stopped anywhere?’
‘I’m not trying to cause you any trouble, Manny. This man was murdered in his room a few hours after he arrived and I’m working the case. Any information you can give me to help with my investigation would be appreciated.’
The driver sat silent for a couple of minutes staring at the wheel. He finally made up his mind to answer.
‘Look, you got to give me some assurance that I won’t get into any trouble over this.’
‘You have my word that once you tell me what you need to tell me I’ll forget you said anything. Deal?’
‘Ok, Deal. I picked the guy up from the airport and he said he wanted to go to some address in the bay area. So I take him to this address and wait outside. When he comes out he’s carrying a cardboard box. He asks to go to the hotel and as I’m driving he opens the box.’
Manny paused still unsure about revealing the whole story.
‘You had my promise, Manny. What was in the box?’
Manny sighed. ‘The guy had a gun in the box. He took it out and put it in his inside jacket pocket. I didn’t think it was any of my business so I just dropped him off and got out of here.’
Columbo pulled a five dollar bill from his wallet. ‘Thanks for your time, Manny.’
‘Is that all?’
‘Just give me the address and then you can go. No one will know the information came from you.’
Manny gave Columbo the address, took the five and then high tailed it out of Dodge. Captain Albinski caught Columbo coming back into the lobby. ‘Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.’
‘Sorry about that. I was talking to the cab driver who brought Mr Gordon here this morning.’
‘How did you know which driver brought him?’
‘When we watched the CCTV I saw the cab number and just asked the company to send that one out here.’
‘Smart thinking, Lieutenant.’
‘And now I know where Mr Gordon got his gun from.’
‘How do you know he didn’t bring it with him?’
‘With all that extra security you’ve had set up at the airport for the tournament he wouldn’t have got a gun onto the island. Which lead me to believe he picked it up here after he arrived.’
‘Makes sense. So what step do you want to take next?’
‘Before I do anything else I have to check in on Mrs Columbo or she’ll think I’ve forgotten all about her. Give me thirty minutes and I’ll figure out what to do next.’
Within ten minutes Captain Albinski found Columbo at the reception desk again with the phone to his ear. The Lieutenant thanked someone for something and then replaced the receiver.
‘Mac, you’ll never believe this!’
‘What is it, Lieutenant?’
‘I just been talking to Mrs Columbo and I mentioned Marcus Huxley. She says she read some article about him having a short romance with a girl from England, but get this…her name was Victoria Gordon.’
‘Did you call your room?’
‘That was a long distance call to Scotland Yard. I know a superintendent there called Dirk. They told me he’s not a superintendent anymore and that he’s a Chief Constable now.’
‘Friends in high places. Isn’t it the middle of the night there?’
‘Yeah, but he didn’t mind when he found out it was me calling. He said he’s going to do some checking on Charles Gordon and get whatever he can on the relationship between Marcus Huxley and Victoria Gordon.’
‘So now it’s the waiting game.’
A woman with a digital camcorder nearly walked right into them. She had been so busy watching the flip out screen that they had hardly registered.
‘I’m sorry bout that,’ said the woman in her southern drawl. ‘I was momentarily overcome with my filming equipment.’
‘Nothin’s broken,’ said Columbo. ‘You got some good vacation shots?’
‘Today is my last day here and I finally got what I wanted. Do you know Marcus Huxley?’
The two men exchanged a look.
‘I’ve been trying to catch him alone most of the week and this afternoon I finally cornered him. That makes me sound like a stalker, doesn’t it?’
‘Everyone’s a fan of someone,’ said Columbo moving to the woman’s side. ‘I’m a big fan of Marcus Huxley myself. Mind if I take a look?’
‘By all means,’ said the woman rewinding the footage. ‘I have watched this so many times so once more is just fine with me.’
Columbo watched as Marcus Huxley appeared on screen and proceeded to bask in the adoration of his female fans. He performed for his audience with great delight. After a few minutes of this he walked towards the camera. Suddenly the view became that of himself and the cameras owner in the pose of a selfie. He threw his arm around the woman’s shoulders and pulled her tightly into himself and planted a kiss on her cheek. Columbo had seen enough.
‘Excuse me, Ma’am. Is that time stamp correct?’
The woman read the time on the screen.
‘Why, yes, that was the time I met him.’
‘Would you mind if I borrowed your camera for a while?’
‘Do you think I am some kind of moron? You think I would hand my personal property over to a complete stranger? You got some nerve…’
Columbo was pawing through his pockets for his badge when Captain Albinski stepped in with his.
‘I’m Captain Albinski and this is Lieutenant Columbo. We’re with the police.’
She eyed the badge. ‘I apologize, Captain Columbo.’
‘Albinksi. Captain Albinski and Lieutenant Columbo.’
‘I would gladly let you borrow my little camera, but I am leaving in two hours and I’m on my way to the airport now.’
‘Would you mind if we put that piece of footage on a USB stick?’
‘I don’t think I would like my holiday films to end up on the internet. I’ve heard stories about how easily someone’s “home movies” can end up on disreputable websites.’
‘I can assure you, Ma’am,’ said the Captain. ‘Your footage will go no further than us.’
‘I suppose it wouldn’t hurt then…’
‘Hello, Lieutenant. How is your investigation going?’
Marcus Huxley was standing in his hotel doorway watching the legion of hotel porters remove his luggage. Columbo shuffled along the corridor with a laptop computer under his arm.
‘Things are goin’ pretty slow, Sir. Whatever you see on TV is nothing like the real world. On TV you got a small group of suspects and you know one of them is guilty. In the real world you have six billion suspects and you know one of them is guilty.’
‘Not great odds.’
‘You’re tellin’ me.’
‘That is the last of them, Mr Huxley,’ said the last porter out of the room.
‘If you could make sure they are dropped of at hanger ten at the Honolulu airport. My pilot will stow them.’
The porter gratefully took the wad of money offered to him and left. Marcus was about to go inside when Columbo stopped him.
‘Would you mind if I asked you a question, Mr Huxley?’
‘Certainly not, Lieutenant. Please come in.’
Marcus offered a seat, but the lieutenant seemed too nervous to sit down. He kept pacing the floor with his hand on his head and mumbling away to himself. He looked almost at the point of panic.
‘Are you alright, Lieutenant?’
‘I’m fine…well; I was fine…but…’
‘You don’t sound too sure. Tell me what’s troubling you and I might be able to help.’
‘Would you mind, Sir? I do have a question for you, but I don’t want you to take it the wrong way if I ask it. It’s just that the captain expects a complete report from me and I wouldn’t want him to think I hadn’t given this investigation my full attention.’
‘I promise I won’t take any question the wrong way. Please ask this arduous question of yours.’
‘Well…it’s to do with your original statement earlier. You said you had been here all afternoon and I was willing to believe that, but I came across something that kinda disproves that.’
Marcus leant forward in his chair and trying to discern what Columbo was talking about. He ran a gauntlet of possibilities through his mind and none of them seemed at all possible. He would have to give in and let this silly little man explain.
‘What was this something, Lieutenant?’
‘There was a woman with a video camera and she was so engrossed in the footage on her camera that she walked right into me. When I asked to see it I was surprised to find the footage was of you and this woman in the lobby and I couldn’t understand why you lied.’
‘Lied!’ Marcus almost jumped out of his chair.
‘You see that’s what I didn’t want to happen. Now I’ve upset you and I knew I shouldn’t have asked about it.’
‘Back up a minute, Lieutenant. Why would you think I lied?’
‘It was the time stamp, Sir. It says that you were in the lobby at a quarter to one, but you said you had been in your room all afternoon.’
The lieutenant opened the laptop and pressed a button. The footage played with Marcus and the woman in their tight embrace. Marcus Laughed.
‘It’s merely a case of confusion. After I had been down on the beach sun bathing I walked through the lobby and back too my room. What I should have said was I stayed in my room after I had returned. It’s a simple misunderstanding and nothing to worry about.’
‘You have no idea how silly I feel, Mr Huxley. I was worrying over nothing.’
‘It’s good to see you take your work so seriously…’
There was a knock at the door.
‘Excuse me for a second, Lieutenant.’
Standing at the door was a bull of a man in tennis whites. He beamed a smile as Marcus opened the door.
‘I’ve just come to collect your event clothing. As you know we’re going to auction them off at the end of the week and add it to the donations for the charity.’
He couldn’t have picked a worse time to come calling for the clothes that Marcus had discarded to the flames of the furnace in the basement.
‘Sorry, Harold, someone stole them while I was sunbathing this morning.’
‘That’s too bad, Marcus. We were hoping yours would bring in a huge chunk of change.’
‘Tell you what. I’ll write you a check before I leave tonight and hopefully that will swell your coffers.’
‘That’s very good of you, Marcus, but I wouldn’t feel right about it.’
‘I’ve had a great time, I got to travel out here and I was given this beautiful complimentary hotel room so it would be my pleasure to donate something.’
‘You’re some guy, Marcus.’
‘That’s what the ladies say,’ said Marcus closing the door.
‘There was one other thing I needed to check with you, Mr Huxley.’
With trying to figure a way of explaining his missing clothes Marcus had forgotten all about Columbo being in his room. He returned to Columbo’s side.
‘Of course, Lieutenant, What is it?’
‘It’s your injured arm, Sir. You said you hurt it during your morning match…’
‘Yes, I must have pulled a muscle. I’m sure it will be fine after a few days of rest.’
‘But if you injured your arm in a match this morning how could you be hugging this woman so tightly this afternoon.’ He turned the computer screen so Marcus could see the frozen image of his arm around the woman. ‘Surely if you injured it you wouldn’t be able to hold this lady like that.’
Now this was becoming irritating. It was something so simple yet this stupid cop had seen it. Why was he even here asking his stupid questions anyway? Marcus could only come up with one answer.
‘When it comes to my fans, Lieutenant, I would gladly suffer a little pain in pursuit of their happiness. I simply fought through the pain and made that woman’s day.’
‘You sure did, Sir. You really are some kinda guy to go through that for your fans.’
‘If you don’t mind Lieutenant, I would like one last wander around the hotel before I leave…’
‘Gee, I’m sorry. You want to go out and I’m holding you up. You enjoy your last few hours here before you go. What time are you leaving?’
‘I’ll be taking a car to the airport at half past seven.’
‘I wish you a safe trip home.’
‘Thank you, Lieutenant.’
As Columbo scooped up the computer and walked to the door he stopped and turned back to Marcus with a playful grin. He wagged a finger at him as he slowly walked back.
‘You want to keep your tournament clothing, don’t cha?’
‘What are you talking about? You just heard me tell the organizer that my clothes were stolen on the beach this morning.’
‘Yeah, but that’s not true is it?’ said Columbo still grinning. ‘They were never stolen.’
‘Now you really are calling me a liar.’
‘That video footage of you hugging the lady shows you still wearing your tournament whites. If you came back from the beach how could you be wearing them if they were stolen while you were sunbathing?’
Marcus felt like he had been hit with a ton of bricks. This cop was tricky and he always seemed to need an answer for something. He simply laughed the question off.
‘I’ll level with you, Columbo. I like to keep mementos of matches and tournaments. I admit I told a little white lie to Harold about the clothes, but I did say I would give him a check so really I’m buying them in the long run.’
‘Have you got them in your luggage?’
‘Yes. They’re packed a ready to travel back to England with me. Now if you don’t mind…’
‘Gee, I’m still holding you up. I’ll get outta your hair…and thank you for your help.’
The way in which Columbo thanked him gave Marcus an eerie feeling about that scruffy, yet seemingly intelligent cop and he wasn’t about to take any chances. He phoned down to reception and asked for a hotel car in thirty minutes.
‘You sure called that one, Lieutenant,’ said Captain Albinski as Columbo approached the reception desk. ‘We couldn’t find you so I took a call from Chief Constable Dirk. He said Marcus Huxley and Victoria Gordon had a two month relationship which Huxley called off abruptly. A few weeks after the split Victoria Gordon Killed herself and it was discovered that she was pregnant at the time. No one was sure who the child’s father was, but it seemed that Charles Gordon blamed Marcus Huxley for his daughters’ suicide. He had DNA tests taken from the fetus and stated that he was going to make amends for his daughters death.’
‘That’s why he was only here for one night. Just long enough to tell Mr Huxley what he was going to do…that’s our motive.’
‘Have you found any proof of his guilt?’
‘I can’t prove a thing. Everything I know is circumstantial, but one thing I do know; we can’t let him leave this island. We still have a few hours before his plane leaves…’
‘I think that time just got a little shorter, Lieutenant,’ said Sergeant Caplan pointing at a group of excited women. At the center of the throng was Marcus Huxley and he looked over at the three cops and smiled.
‘I thought you were leaving at seven thirty, Mr Huxley.’
‘I decided there was no point in hanging around here any longer. I’ve cleared my departure with the airport. As soon as I arrive I’ll be jetting off back home. It’s been a pleasure, Lieutenant; Captain.’
‘Looks like we’re too late, Lieutenant,’ said Captain Albinski.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Columbo hurrying after the cluster of baying women.
Marcus Huxley stepped into the waiting car and blew a few kisses to the women before he indicated the driver should drive. As the car began to pull away Columbo jumped in beside him.
‘What do you think you’re doing, Columbo?’
‘I need to ask you something, Sir.’
‘You’ve asked your last question of me, Lieutenant. I’ll get the driver to pull over so you can get out.’
‘I know you killed Mr Gordon.’
That stunned Marcus into silence. He assumed that this stupid little man suspected him of something, but if Columbo had anything on him he would have arrested him by now. He decided to play it cool and test the water.
‘You surprise me, Columbo. You say you know I killed Charles Gordon yet you still want to ask your stupid questions.’
‘I know about your affair with Victoria Gordon; I know she was pregnant when she killed herself; I know Mr Gordon suspected you were the father; I know he had DNA tests performed on the fetus; I know he came here to publicly ruin you; I know you removed any papers he was showing you in his room; I know you tried to strangle him with the missing curtain cord from your room and I know you killed him to stop the story getting out.’
Marcus had listened quietly. He was surprised how much information Columbo had actually uncovered in such a short time, but he couldn’t help smiling. As the cab pulled up in front of the airport he threw a wad of notes over to the driver and stepped out onto the sidewalk. He walked briskly into the terminal leaving Columbo trailing behind.
‘Don’t you have anything to say, Mr Huxley?’ called Columbo.
Marcus stopped. ‘You say you know all these things and you follow me all the way out here…why don’t you just arrest me?’
’You can’t arrest me because you have no proof. You can sit and tell me everything you know about me; Victoria Gordon and our affair; Charles Gordon’s suspicions, but you can’t prove I had anything to do with Charles Gordon’s death. You can bleat on about it forever more, shout it from the rooftops if you wish, tell anyone who will listen, but I will sue you and your department for everything you’ve got. Proof is in the pudding, Lieutenant, and your pudding bowl appears to be empty. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going home.’
Columbo watched Marcus Huxley swagger off to the check-in desk. A man in uniform, probably his private pilot, was waiting for him there. He led Marcus to the security desk where he was briefly searched by the female guard. It wasn’t the most thorough search he had ever witnessed. Marcus had just stepped through the security scanner as Captain Albinski and Sergeant Caplan joined Columbo after giving chase in a borrowed hotel car.
‘What were you thinking, Lieutenant?’ asked the captain.
‘I couldn’t let him get away.’
‘Looks like he’s already got away,’ said the sergeant as Marcus Huxley took one last self-satisfied look back at them and followed his pilot. He knew he was in the clear and that was just fine with him.
‘Are you saying he’s got away with it?’ asked the captain.
Columbo didn’t know what to say. In all his years as a cop he had never failed to solve a case and get the murderer. This was going to be his last case. He had been told by his superiors that when he returned from his vacation he was to retire with a good pension and a one hundred percent success rate. Even though he wasn’t officially connected with this case he would know of his failure. As he began to speak something occurred to him.
‘The balcony door!’ he cried looking back at the security desk.
‘What are you talking about, Lieutenant?’
‘I got an idea. I might be wrong, but it’s worth a shot. Mac, here’s what I need you to do…’
Marcus settled back into the chair as the plane began to taxi onto the runway. He was comforted in the knowledge that the whole sordid affair with Victoria Gordon was over and that his plan to rid himself of her interfering father had been carried out without too much fuss. Now all he had to do was sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of his life in peace. The engines grew louder as he felt the force of the plane accelerating for take off. His moment was short lived as suddenly the engines cut out and the pilot came over the intercom.
‘Sorry, Mr Huxley, but we have to stop.’
‘What on earth for?’ asked Marcus holding down the intercom button.
‘I think you’d better come and take a look at this.’
Marcus rushed into the cockpit to see for himself. Sure enough a group of six airport security cars were spaced out across the entire runway. Standing in front of them waving a brown envelope in the air was Columbo. Even from this distance Marcus could see the look of satisfaction on the lieutenants’ face and that didn’t bode well.
‘What are you doing, Lieutenant?’ asked Marcus as Columbo boarded the plane.
‘Wow, sure is a nice place you got here. It’s nicer than some of the rooms at the hotel…bigger too.’
‘Enough of the dim-witted act and tell me what you want.’
‘You know, I knew it was you since I heard that Mr Gordon asked for you when he arrived. No one goes somewhere for such a short time and asks for people he’s not there to see. So I used that as my starting point in this investigation. I gotta admit that you held your own quite well, Mr Huxley. You never faltered…not once. You had very good answers for every question I put to you. I do have one last thing to clear up, if you don’t mind.’
‘Mind! Of course I mind. You have just blocked an active runway and stopped me from leaving. I want your superiors name…’
‘I promise one last thing and then you can go,’ said Columbo, hand on heart.
‘Ask your question and then get out!’
Columbo placed the envelope on the table. ‘I know why you didn’t want to return your tennis whites; you couldn’t. You had to destroy them. It all had to do with the first question I asked at the crime scene: Was the balcony door open when the body was discovered? Mr Wills, the chief of security, told me it was closed and that set off alarm bells in my mind. Not one other person had realized the importance of that question. If you would take a look in the envelope, Sir’
Marcus slowly opened the flap and removed the two photographs inside. He took his time to study the first one, not understanding its importance. His questioning glance moved Columbo to speak again.
‘That is a copy of a picture of you walking through the security scanner not five minutes ago. I wonder if you can see anything unusual there.’
‘Nothing unusual I can see,’ said Marcus scanning his eyes over the picture again.
‘Maybe the other one will give you a clearer understanding.’
Marcus froze. His mouth fell open and his eyes stared blankly at the second picture. He couldn’t speak, his mouth was dry…it was all over.
‘It was a gunshot heard by a guest in the next room that alerted security of the murder. While I was at the crime scene I asked Mr Wills about the balcony door because I hadn’t seen a bullet hole anywhere in the room. I had to assume the bullet went somewhere. When I found out the balcony door and windows were closed I knew that it couldn’t have left the room and so had to have hit the person who murdered Mr Gordon. As you can see from that blown up picture from the security scanner, it clearly shows a small metallic object in your left shoulder. That was your biggest mistake, Sir…leaving the gun behind, I mean. When the police surgeon matches the bullet in your shoulder to the gun found in Mr Gordon’s hand it will place you at the scene of the crime. It took hotel security under a minute to arrive at the scene. There is no way you could have been shot by that particular gun unless you were present at the time of the murder and as you never confessed to being in that room I have to conclude that you are the murderer.’
‘I don’t believe this. You wouldn’t give up, would you? You had to keep coming back asking those bloody questions.’
‘That’s my job, Sir,’ said Columbo with a smile. ‘I’m with homicide.’
Columbo and Captain Albinski watched as Sergeant Caplan led Marcus Huxley to the waiting car. He was no longer that tall, Casanova figure he was used to showing in public, but a wilted shell of his former self.
‘I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Lieutenant,’ said Captain Albinski shaking Columbo’s hand.
‘I really thought for a minute he’d got away with it. Once he was back in England he could have a doctor remove the bullet and that would have been the end off it.’
‘Can I ask you something, Lieutenant?’
‘Sure thing, Mac.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me about your retirement?’
‘How did you find out about that?’
‘Chief Constable Dirk informed me while I was on the phone with him. He says he has put in a strongly worded recommendation to the commissioner for you to keep your job as will I.’
‘Gee, thanks, Mac, but they already let me go years over my retirement age. I think it’s best for everyone if I just leave quietly while I can.’
‘Nonsense. You’ll go stir crazy if you can’t work. This case just goes to show what you are still capable of.’
‘Do you really think so?’
’Trust me. You belong in homicide and that’s where you’ll stay until you are ready to leave.’
‘Thanks, Mac, you’re a pal. I’d better get back to the hotel and collect Mrs Columbo. We’re supposed to be leaving this evening.’
‘Oh, I almost forgot.’ The captain removed a camera from his pocket and handed it to Columbo.
‘I forgot all about the pictures for Mrs Columbo. The only chance we will ever have to come here and I forgot to take pictures.’
‘I think you’ll find you have more than enough pictures for your wife,’ said the captain handing over some rolls of film. ‘I had one of my men travel around the island taking as many pictures as he could.’
‘You’re a life saver, Mac.’ Columbo turned to leave.
‘There is just one last thing, Lieutenant,’ said Captain Albinski.
Columbo turned back with a grin on his face. ‘What’s that?’
‘Could I have my pen back, please?’
The lieutenant slapped his head and pulled the silver pen from his raincoat pocket.
‘See, I told ya I wander off with other people’s pens.’