Harry Doyle cruised by Regina’s Café right on schedule and this smiling brunette waved to him from a bench just outside the front door as he slowed at the curb.
“Harry?” she asked as she walked over.
“Good to meet you Barb. You look exactly like Orville described you. You ready for this?”
“As ever. Let’s go…”
She hopped in and they drove two blocks south to Piper Street and went west to pick up Bluebird Avenue which led them to Crossmont Lane just beyond the new mall that was still being developed across town.
“Done some acting before, Barb?”
“In college. I am sure all those skills will come back instantly. You?”
“Orville tell you what I really do for a living?”
“Some kind of hotshot PI or something?”
“I don’t know about the hotshot part, but yeah…I do PI work for a lawyer outside Memphis. So to answer your question, yes…acting and role playing is a lot of what my job is all about every day.”
This time she chuckled. They did not talk anymore as Harry was approaching the building and he pulled to the curb and killed the ignition.
“OK, Barb…it’s showtime!!”
They walked hand in hand up the sidewalk that led to the entrance of the apartment building just in case Sid Kennedy happened to be looking out the window so their cover was solid from the beginning. He held the door for Barb and they knocked lightly on a door to the left just inside the main door that had the sign “Manager” on it.
“Come on in…it’s open,” a voice from inside called out.
A short, compact man wearing glasses and a light tan jacket stood from behind his desk and shook each of their hands in turn.
“Mr. and Mrs. Doyle, I assume?”
“That we are,” Harry replied. Harry and Barb.”
“Sid Kennedy here. I own the building and do most of the maintenance and stuff. I understand you are new in town and looking for an apartment. Is that correct?”
“We are.” Barb interjected with a huge smile. Just married too!”
“Really? Fantastic! Congratulations! What brings you to Laconia?”
Harry and Barb sat in chairs just in front of Sidney’s desk as he returned to his seat as well as Harry laid out the fabricated story he and Orville had concocted for the ruse of getting into Joe Garrity’s old place. Kennedy nodded along with Harry as he spoke.
“We heard you just had an opening here, Sid,” Barb said when Harry had finished, “and we ’d love to take a look.”
Kennedy grimaced a bit before he spoke. He needed to fill 3G soon as his mortgage on the building depended heavily on not having any of the units go vacant for more than a month or so. Joe Garrity’s apartment had been empty now for coming up on three months from a combination of the murder and then the police investigation and how long it had taken Sid to get the place presentable again. There was no one in Laconia who was not aware of the murder that had taken place there and as a result of that new prospective tenants were not exactly lining up to sign a lease.
He did not like to hide anything in his rental business here…well…unless he had to. But Kennedy was beginning to feel the pinch and the squeeze of an upcoming mortgage payment he was going to have trouble covering from his dwindling savings. He had carried the empty space so far, but after another month that might get tricky. Here were new people in town. Most likely they knew nothing of Joe’s murder and Kennedy was now tempted to say nothing about it and get their signatures on a lease before some big mouth in town filled them in. Not my finest hour, Kennedy thought to himself, but desperate times call for desperate measures…as his father had always said.
“Just the two of you? No kids?” Kennedy asked just to keep the conversation flowing.
“That’s right,” Harry replied. “ So far…”
Kennedy joined in a laugh with them thinking they were sharing some inside joke.
“As a matter of fact I do have a unit that I just got cleaned up from the last tenant. It is ideal for a couple. Let me grab a key and we can go take a look.”
Kennedy snagged a key from his drawer and began to lead them back through his office door when his phone rang.
“Sorry…just a second.”
Harry and Barb stood quietly by while Kennedy listened to an obviously distraught tenant on the other end.
OK…OK, Mrs. Duggan…I understand. Hang on and I will be there in just a second to take care of it.”
“Trouble?” Harry asked sincerely.
“Oh…this leaky pipe in one of my units, I thought I had it fixed last week but it seems to acting up again.”
He hesitated a beat, but then spoke again quickly as he did not want to lose this potential new tenant.
“Tell you what, guys,” Kennedy said, “this leaky pipe will be a quick fix I am sure, but I need to get over to Mrs. Duggan’s right away. She panics easily I am afraid. How about I give you the key, you go take a look, and I will catch up to you in just a few minutes?”
“Sure,” Harry replied. “Take your time. We’ve got plenty of time today and we’ll just look it all over so we can give you our decision when you get there.”
“Perfect! See you in a few. The unit, 3G is just on the next floor up, fourth door on the right.”
Harry palmed the key and smiled at Barb after Kennedy hustled down the hall in the other direction.
“Man oh man!” he exclaimed. “Does this simplify things!”
“Oh?” Barn asked as they walked to the stairs to walk up.
“Sure. I was trying to figure out in my head just how we were going to get away from him up there so I can snoop around. I had a few ideas, but this just made them all unnecessary. You mind keeping an eye and ear out for Sid while I poke around?”
“Of course not honey! What kind of a wife would I be to not help out my loving husband?”
They both laughed together as Harry unlocked the door to 3G and they went inside. Barb nodded to Harry as he ventured further into the apartment while she kept a furtive vigil through a slight opening in the door so she could warn him if Sid Kennedy was approaching. Harry looked over the whole unit amazed at just how well Kennedy had cleaned up following what had been a hideous mess following the stabbing death of Joe Garrity. If he had known better he never would have suspected anything had ever happened here.
But knowing his time to look around might be limited based on just how long it took Kennedy to remedy the leaky pipe in Mrs. Duggan’s unit, he wasted no more time. From what Orville had relayed to him from his “source” Harry went directly to the wall where the murder weapon had been found. All Orville had passed along was the clue “in the wall”. Harry had pressed him for more details but Orville had shrugged sheepishly and told him that was all he had to go on. But knowing just where the police had found the hidden knife, Harry was pretty sure that narrowed down his search.
Despite Kennedy’s meticulous sanitizing of the apartment, Harry had this feeling he had not touched or fixed the panels covering the false wall section in question. The walls had been scrubbed down from blood splatter and the drywall repainted, but there was this one section of the wall between the kitchen and the living room that had been done in cheap wood veneer paneling. It made no sense to Harry from a design perspective, but that was where whoever had planted the knife had gone. He opened his jacket and removed this tool he used routinely in such matters and slid a flat blade in between two of the panel sections carefully prying apart the sections so as not to damage the wood and leave any indication anyone had been there.
After just a few insertions of the blade along the seam Harry was able to lift one section away from its seating and he lifted it carefully away and laid it to the side. With that first section removed the one adjacent to it came out easily with no more prying required. Harry then laid on his back and flicked on the small flashlight he carried with him into the hole revealed. He shone it all over, up and down and from side to side but all he was seeing was empty air behind the wall. Apparently at one time this part of the wall had been drywall just like the surrounding areas, but someone must have needed to get in there to do some work…maybe plumbing or electrical, Harry figured.
And instead of matching the drywall to its neighboring sides, they just slapped this ugly, cheap paneling over the hole. Maybe, Harry reasoned, this was an ongoing problem in the unit and whoever was doing the repairs at the time did not want to have to rip apart the drywall again if additional access might be required…if this was a chronic problem. Harry would have done the same thing, he told himself. But the problem now was that he wasn’t seeing anything in the aperture that Orville’s “source” had indicated would exonerate Sarah. He leaned further in and as just about to give up disappointed that he might have to go back to Orville and report that it had been a dead end when his light caught a brief reflection off to the left.
He stopped suddenly and concentrated his light on the area where his light had reflected back unexpectedly. He panned the light back and forth and the object that was picking up the beam flashed back each time he moved it. He held the small flashlight between his teeth while he slipped on a pair of latex gloves and reached over to clear away some construction debris that was obscuring the object. Careful not to let his clothing touch any of the sides of the opening, Harry reached forward stretching as far as he could and snagged the object with the end of a pen from his pocket. He lifted it up and shone the light on it again…it was a cheap chrome plated watch.
Harry eased his arm back through the hole and stood with the watch hanging from the pen. It was nothing special, he thought, as he looked it all over. Just this old Seiko watch that many stores everywhere had carried in years gone by. And it was an analog model, which made Harry think it had either been there awhile or just belonged to someone who had owned the thing many years. It just was not the kind of watch you could find that much anymore since digital models had become so popular. But as he gazed at the face of it, he saw the second hand still clicking around telling him that unless this thing had some kind of everlasting battery that it was a recent deposit in the wall.
This was encouraging and Harry felt his pulse quicken as he turned the wrist band inside out to look at the back of the watch. The flexible expanding band moved with ease and Harry felt his breath catch briefly as he looked at the inscription on the back:
For Richard…from your loving wife, Melanie…
“We still OK, Barb?” Harry asked as he looked over at her.
“A-OK…no sign of Kennedy anywhere…”
Harry was sure this thing belonged to Richard Finley now, but just first names on the watch would not be enough…he knew this from first-hand experience in the past. How to prove it? He looked over the watch carefully trying to come up with an idea. He supposed if Finley was still married, or if this Melanie was still around somewhere if they were divorced that might be a lead, but most likely some lawyer somewhere could argue it was just coincidence. Then he spotted it. Just along the side of the watch and running into the crevices between the wrist band segments was a crust of a reddish/brown stain.
Harry was no genius but he had seen enough things during his tenure as a PI for Alberto that he knew blood when he saw it.