“In seven hundred and fifty yards turn right,” the GPS commanded, breaking what had been a lengthy period of silence for Jack and Spence. Both men were weary from their day’s activities. Their topics of conversation had diminished with their fading energy levels.
Jack enjoyed a brief moment relaxing in the front passenger seat while Spence did the chauffeuring. The only problem was, the comforting warmth from the afternoon sun radiating through the car’s windows had a sedative affect when travelling for long periods without a break.
Jack looked across at Spence who was focused on the free flowing Morris County traffic. ‘I think we’ll make this the last one for today Spence,’ Jack said. ‘I don’t know about you…but I’m stuffed,’ he added.
‘I hear ya Jobs,’ Spence said. ‘According to that,’ he lifted his chin to the GPS display, ‘We’re nearly there.’
‘Not before time either,’ Jack said.
‘What number is this?’ Spence asked.
Jack lifted a clipboard wedged between his seat and the vehicle’s center console and read through the list of names and addresses. 'Ah…this will be our 14th for the day.’ Jack slid the clipboard back beside his seat. ’That’s thirteen black luxury vehicles so far that weren’t in New York on the morning of the 17th’.
‘And then there were six….’ Spence added, trying to remain upbeat towards their repetitive inquiries.
The Detectives had started their day early visiting all the owners of black luxury motor vehicles on their list who resided in the greater New York area. Thus far, all vehicle owners visited conclusively demonstrated, by way of solid alibis, that their vehicles were not in New York City on the morning of March 17th.
“You have reached your destination…” the GPS alerted. Spence slowed the vehicle. His eyes scanned for anything that resembled a house number. ‘Yeah right…There’s nothing but a huge brick fence,’ he complained as he slowed the vehicle to a roll. ‘Where’s the gate?’ Spence said.
All they could see was a tall rendered brick wall, the top of which was covered with a creeping vine that cascaded from the top of the wall. The wall bordered the property boundary and appeared to go on as far as they could see.
After rounding a right-hand, dog-leg bend in the road, Spence’s question was answered. An opening in the unyielding eight foot high brick wall was visible ahead. Spence pulled the vehicle over to the right, stopping the car adjacent to the property’s driveway to verify they had the correct address.
Both men sat in stunned silence as they looked beyond the magnificent black ornate wrought iron gates, through to the obvious opulence exuding from the palatial double story residence that awaited 100 yards or more down the arrow-straight cobblestone driveway.
‘Whoa…is this prick royalty or something?’ Spence quipped. ‘Have a look at the size of that house.’
Jack’s mouth remained open as he took in the apparent affluence of the property. He motioned towards the drive way. ‘The gates are open Spence,’ he said ‘Get in there before they close.’
After entering the property Spence rolled the unmarked police vehicle along the driveway towards the house, subconsciously too intimidated to exceed walking pace.
Evergreen boxwood hedges, square-cut into low borders, stretched along either side of the cobblestone paved driveway. Waist height, white Iceberg standard roses planted with stunning effect behind the boxwood hedges greeted the visitor at regular intervals as they continued along the driveway.
Magnificently manicured lawns and meticulously maintained gardens stretched beyond the roses to the perimeter boundary fences which were softened with lush tree foliage.
Moving towards the top of the drive the Detectives were greeted by two large rendered brick pillars standing about ten feet high, complete with over sized Grecian Urns on top of each pillar. A three metre tall, Italian Cypress tree stood in front of each pillar like sentries guarding the entrance to the huge circular driveway that enclosed a large, centrally located fountain.
Illuminated jets of water rocketed upwards from the raised rectangular pool and rhythmically danced and twisted across the fountain, reminiscent of the popular Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas.
The imposing portico that protected and adorned the front entrance of the residence extended all the way to the roof of the second story and was supported by four over sized onyx columns that appeared to stretch on endlessly, giving the impression the building was much taller than its mere two storys.
Spence parked adjacent to the portico. Jack and Spence alighted from their vehicle and made their way to what was the largest front door Jack had ever seen; easily twice the size of a standard front door.
After a brief wait the doorbell was answered by an attractive woman in her early thirties. She was elegantly dressed in dark blue tailored slacks and a white loose fitting shirt, intentionally unbuttoned well down to proudly display the ample cleavage of her ‘purchased’ breasts.
Over sized gold hoop earrings swung freely from her ear lobes under her salon styled, brown shoulder length hair that framed the beauty of her face. Her makeup was flawless. Everything about her appearance was immaculate. Her affluence was clearly evident in the quantity and quality of gold jewelry she wore.
Diamond encrusted gold rings were worn on every finger, including her thumbs. She wore diamond toe-rings, gold bracelets on her right wrist and a very expensive looking gold and diamond encrusted watch on her left wrist. She also wore a single strand of cultured pearls around her neck. Everything about this lady exuded elegance and refinement.
‘Yes,’ she asked, her pencil thin eyebrows raised inquisitively as she peeped from behind the partially opened front door.
‘Good afternoon ma’am, my name is Lieutenant Jack Head and this is Detective Sergeant Doug Spencer we are from…’ his voice tapered off when he noticed the woman was not paying attention to him. Instead she was focusing beyond him, looking away over his right shoulder.
‘Shoot…Did I leave the front gates open again?’ She asked rhetorically. ‘Dear me.’ She reached to her right, out of sight.
Jack and Spence turned to look back towards the double wrought iron gates, which were in the process of closing. They exchanged a brief smirk.
‘I’m sorry gentlemen… Now…You were saying?’
‘Ah…yes I was…’ Jack slipped his badge from his belt. ‘My name is Lieutenant Jack Head and this is Detective Sergeant Doug Spencer. We’re from New York Homicide. We are making some inquiries in the area and we were wondering if a Mr Barry McDougall resides at this address.’
‘Yes, he does. Barry is my husband,’ she said. ‘Is he alright…? Why do you need to speak to him?’
'He’s fine, as far as we understand. Does Mr McDougall still own a black Mercedes S550 with personalized licence plates, I-T-R-O-C-K-S…?’ Jack spelled out.
’Yes he does, and it is pronounced “I-T” Rocks… He works in the I.T. industry. He is what you would probably call a dot.com millionaire…or multi-millionaire more like it,’ she smirked. ‘He’s very good at what he does,’ she boasted.
‘Does his vehicle have darkened windows?’ Spence asked.
‘Ah…yes that one does. It’s his favorite. He has four other cars in the garage around the side,’ she motioned to her left. ‘But the Mercedes is his favorite.’
'Do you know if your husband was in New York City on the 16th of this month?’ Jack asked.
She thought for a moment. ‘Yes he was actually. He was there for two days I think. He has a lot of clients in the city, so he stays in town when he meets with them. What seems to be the problem? Why are you asking me all these questions about my husband’s car?’
‘Do you mind if we come in Mrs McDougall?’ Jack asked.
‘Of course. I’m so sorry.’ She stepped back and opened the door fully then beckoned them to enter. ‘Do come in…please,’ she said. ‘And it’s Gloria…Mrs McDougall is Barry’s mother,’ she said smiling at the Detectives.
As they entered the home they were confronted with something straight out of a magazine of the rich and famous. A huge atrium foyer the size of a grand ballroom greeted them. Jack scanned the area. It’s bigger than some people’s homes.
The marble columns, antique mirrors and gold leafing on the walls of the spacious atrium exuded opulence. Double doors were located to the left and right leading off the expanse of the foyer. The open doors on the left allowed a peek into the lavishly decorated lounge room.
The glazed atrium roof extended all the way to the second story ceiling and provided a feeling of open space and grandeur. The large, centrally located glass roof feature lit up the atrium with natural light, which reflected off the wide expanse of marble flooring. Across the floor were two sweeping stair cases that appeared to go on forever, winding up either side of the atrium foyer’s curved walls, meeting at the second story.
‘This way gentlemen,’ she indicated two archway doors centrally located underneath the 2nd story landing. The Detectives followed their host as she walked two steps ahead. Jack noticed her figure was seductively slim and shapely, with a narrow waist and curvaceous hips.
She had a swagger about her walk; an over-accentuated sway in the way she moved her hips and butt; clearly a ‘peacock’ display for the benefit of her trailing guests.
She probably expected her visitors would have had their eyes firmly fixed on her, and she was right.
They trailed her through the house down a long, wide corridor that opened into a spacious and stylish sitting room. The south facing, ceiling to floor picture frame windows flooded the room with bright natural light and boasted an uninterrupted view of the property’s expansive and meticulously manicured grounds.
She turned to face her guests. ‘Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?’
‘A coffee would be great thanks,’ Jack replied.
‘That will be great thanks,’ added Spence.
‘I won’t be a moment,’ she said before exiting the sitting room through the same door they had entered.
Both men stood at the wall of ceiling to floor windows, gazing out in awe as they stared directly down the length of the massive, luxurious rectangular swimming pool. High arching water Jets along the length of the pool spouted out from the side into the middle for effect. Sun lounge chairs, all fastidiously placed at the same angle, lined either side of the pool. Ornate onyx columns supported the decorative roof of the over sized cabana that wrapped around the end of the pool furthest from the house.
Tennis courts were partially visible off to the left, beyond the tree lined fence that encased the pool area. The view of the property to the right was an open expanse of manicured lawns and gardens, with sculptured hedges and ornate fountains strategically located throughout the grounds.
‘Impressive isn’t it?’ Mrs McDougall said as she returned to the room.
Both men turned to notice her re-entering the room empty handed, as she made her way over to stand beside Spence at the window.
‘Very...’ Spence replied. ‘How long is the pool?’
‘It’s Olympic length, so it’s about fifty-five yards or so,’ she said with a shrug at the estimation.
Spence just slowly shook his head.
‘How did you manage to acquire so much land in such a developed estate?’ Spence asked.
‘We bought some of the surrounding properties…made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.’ She smirked boastfully. ‘Barry saw this house design in Hollywood when he was there with work and he wanted to build it for himself, but he had to be near New York. So we bought out four or five of the neighboring properties…five I think it was,’ She added, ‘so we could get the land we needed. That was the easy part though. The hard part was getting all the land converted into one title.’
‘Your grounds are simply magnificent,’ Spence said.
Smiling in response Mrs McDougall said, ‘Maria will bring your coffees in shortly…Shall we sit.’ She indicated the two luxurious white leather lounges facing one another and positioned in front of a large open fire place. Small ornate marble columns supported the mantle ledge over the fire.
Located above the fire place was a large portrait of Mr and Mrs McDougall encased in a wide and extravagantly ornate gold colored frame. The seven foot by four foot painting depicted Barry seated in a high-backed throne-style chair. His right leg was crossed with his left hand holding his shin. Mrs McDougall was posed standing proudly to his left, with her right hand casually draped over his shoulder. The jet black background gave the impression the painting’s subjects were illuminated by a spot light.
Jack lowered himself in to the lounge. The soft leather seemed to swallow him up, yet still supported him. He gestured with his pen to the painting. ‘Is that Barry?’
‘Yes, that’s right. We only had that painted last year,’ she said. ‘We were very happy with the likeness of us both.’ She smiled up at the commanding presence the overbearing portrait took in the room.
Jack’s eyes flicked from the painting to Spence seated opposite. Their cynical eyes met only briefly, but both shared similar thoughts.
Years of working together, spending almost every day side-by-side, more time than they spent with their wives, meant each knew the other’s thoughts, and opinions, especially their critical and cynical idiosyncrasies.
Just from the brief glance the Detective’s exchanged they knew exactly what the other was thinking – gold digger.
The only way a beautiful woman such as Mrs McDougall would go for a man like Barry McDougall, who was some twenty years her senior, would be for the financial security and the affluent lifestyle he was able to provide her.
If the painting was an accurate representation of Mr McDougall, and judging by how accurately Mrs McDougall had been portrayed, Jack had every reason to suspect it was, they were a real life case of Beauty and the Beast.
Barry McDougall was depicted in the painting as a short, balding, portly man, wearing thick black rimmed glasses. His rounded unattractive facial features had a hint of a double chin and the corpulent waist line suggested he was not the athletic type.
He was the type of guy that if he was in college, he would be the Stereo-typical ‘Nerd’ and Mrs McDougall would be the popular beautiful Cheerleader that would not even know Barry existed.
‘Now, Mrs McDougall-’
‘Gloria.’ She smiled.
’Gloria. Yes, Sorry. Gloria…' Jack corrected. 'You said Barry was in the city on the 16th. Did he drive his car to New York?’ Jack rested his note pad on his crossed leg.
‘Yes he always prefers to drive there.’
‘Is he likely to have loaned the car to anyone while he was in the city?’ Spence asked.
She firmly shook her head. ‘Oh no. I doubt that very much,’ she said. ‘He won’t even let me drive it.’
‘You said you thought he was there for two days. Do you know where he stayed when he was in the city?’ Jack asked.
’He always stays at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. They know him very well there,’ she said. Her face tightened a little. ‘So, why is Homicide interested in my husband?’
Their conversation paused as the McDougall’s domestic maid Maria, entered the room carrying a tray with coffees and an Evian water for Mrs McDougall. She placed them onto the coffee table.
‘Thank you Maria,’ Mrs McDougall said.
Maria acknowledged with a smile and she exited the room.
Jack continued in response to Mrs McDougall’s question, ‘A street prostitute was seen getting into a vehicle matching Barry’s car at about 2am in the morning of the 17th. Her body was found the next morning by the East River in Brooklyn. She had been murdered. She hadn’t been seen since she got into that black Mercedes sedan,’ Jack explained then sipped his coffee.
’Was Barry’s licence plate recorded by a witness or something? How do you know it was his car,’ she asked. Jack had underestimated her astuteness.
‘No, no, the car was identified by the make only,’ Jack said. That was a small lie perpetrated so Jack could justify why they were there asking all these questions about Barry.
The reality was, Desiree said she thought the suspect vehicle may have been a Mercedes, but she wasn’t certain.
‘We’re not saying in any way that Barry had anything to do with the murder, we are just following leads,’ Jack explained.
‘There is no way Barry would pick up a street hooker Detective. That I know for certain.’ She was resolute.
‘Why do you think that?’ Spence asked.
’I don’t think it Detective, I know it,’ she replied firmly. ‘Barry is a very conservative man, a little shy even, and he would not be comfortable being with a strange woman, especially a prostitute.’
‘I see,’ Jack said.
‘But more importantly Detective, he works very long hours. He is up a 5am every morning and by 9pm he is in bed, exhausted. There is no way he would be able to stay awake until…you said 2am didn’t you….?’
‘That’s right, 2am…When do you expect Barry home?’ Jack said.
‘He is away for one more day with work and he will return then. Barry is not directly contactable when he is away on business. Because of his lengthy meetings he turns his mobile phone off. I always leave a message and Barry returns my call when he has time.’
Jack nodded his understanding. 'I will need to speak with Barry as soon as possible, preferably at the police station, to find out what his movements were on the night of the 16th.’ He handed her his business card. ‘Could you ask Mr McDougall to call me at his earliest convenience.’
A short time later he ended the visit.
Mrs McDougall saw the men through to her front door and out of the building. She informed them that the front gates will open automatically as their car approaches them and she bid them farewell.