It had been many years since Luke had cause to venture across the Hudson from New York City into New Jersey: he had no reason to. There was neither family, nor friends residing on that side of the river. So unless work required, he was more than happy to stay east of the Hudson River.
Luke didn’t fear too much in life, but he always tensed up considerably when crossing under any of the rivers via the respective tunnels-- the Battery Tunnel under the East River to Manhattan, or the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson to New Jersey. It just didn’t seem right to him, driving under all that water.
To Luke it was right up there with the concept of a 775,000 pound airplane being able to get off the ground and then stay up in the sky; it just isn't right to him.
The trip from the 84th in Brooklyn to Cliffside Park, New Jersey was about fifteen miles, but due to the usual traffic congestion, it took about forty minutes by car. He was able to cross over the East River via the Manhattan Bridge however, he wasn’t so lucky when crossing the Hudson. That leg of the journey required crossing under the Hudson River via the claustrophobic Lincoln Tunnel.
It wasn’t until he was clear of the tunnel on the Jersey side that Luke finally relaxed the tension that had built up in his shoulders.
Daylight overhead replaced the blur of wall-mounted lights rapidly flicking by as they illuminated the bland cream colored wall tiles and ceilings of the claustrophobic tunnel.
“In 100 yards turn left…” the impassive sounding female voice from the vehicle’s GPS instructed. “Turn left...” the voice ordered.
‘I heard ya…’ Luke instinctively snapped back at the GPS voice as he turned into Waterview Avenue, Clifford Park. He slowly rolled his vehicle along the street searching for a house number, any house number.
Waterview Avenue was particularly wide, in fact double the average suburban street. The golden autumn tones of the leafy tree-lined street were aesthetically pleasing, especially with the afternoon sun doing its best to peek through the thick foliage.
By contrast, the grass nature strips that bordered the roadway were narrow – less than one yard wide. A tree about seven to eight yards high stood out front of each property, like a giant botanical sentinel casting welcomed shadows from the damaging sun, while protecting the front of the homes from the harshest of elements.
“Destination in 200 yards,” The voice instructed.
Luke noted the houses in this street were all architecturally identical. Each was a brown brick, narrow fronted, two story home with white trims around the windows and white gutters and eaves.
The front doors were all located on the left above a four or five step stoop. To the right of each front stoop the homes boasted a small front garden that demonstrated the varying standards of nurture and horticultural skill.
Each home was separated from its closely located neighbor by a driveway that led to a rear garage. If you looked out from an upstairs window at the side of any of these homes you would be looking directly into a room similarly positioned in your closely located neighbor’s property.
Luke had seen houses like these before. They reminded him of the homes that appeared in the 1988 Hollywood movie, Big that starred a much younger Tom Hanks.
The monotone voice from his GPS broke his thoughts. “You have reached your destination…Destination on the right.”
Luke parked his vehicle outside the address. He took a moment to check the house number positioned over the front door before verifying it against the house number in his notes: Number 426, all was good.
A vehicle was parked in the side driveway of the property, a short distance in from the street.
Luke secured his vehicle then habitually scanned the immediate vicinity before he strolled across the quiet leafy residential street to the front door.
After knocking on the white fly screen door, Luke examined the stacked brickwork framing the front door in a decorative arch while he waited. His distracted attention snapped back to the sound of the front door opening.
A female voice asked, ’Can I help you?' The front screen door masked the features of the silhouetted shape standing on the other side of the door.
‘Good afternoon ma’am…’ Luke began. He held up his gold shield. ‘I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Detective Luke Fox from New York PD…’ he said. ‘I’m looking for a Mrs. Booth...’
‘New York PD…?’ she repeated as a question.
Luke nodded. ‘That’s correct. I’m investigating the murder of a female by the name of Linda Fulton…I was—’
‘Ah, poor Linda…’ the female behind the fly screen said with a despondent tone. ‘I’m Mrs. Booth,’ she said. ‘Come in, please.’
The fly screen door opened out towards Luke. He was greeted by a smiling, middle aged woman in her mid-fifties, with light brown collar length hair framing her plain features.
‘Come in please…’ She stepped back and extended her arm inside her home.
Mrs. Booth directed Luke to the small lounge room off to the right of the front door. An abundance of framed photographs were positioned atop of any and every available flat surface.
A claret red leather three seat sofa and two chairs, separated by a small timber coffee table occupied the majority of the available floor space in the modest sized room.
‘My husband is not home at the moment, but can I get you a coffee, or a water or something,’ she graciously offered.
‘A coffee would be great thanks – ah white and two…’ Luke said, smiling to his host.
While the coffees were being prepared Luke examined the library of family photos dominating, if not smothering the room’s décor. These were definitely proud parents and grandparents.
‘Ah, that one’s our adorable grandson, Dennis,’ Mrs. Booth proudly boasted, upon returning to the lounge room carrying a tray of coffees and cookies. ‘He’s two,’ she said.
‘You must be proud,’ Luke said.
He followed his host and moved to the sofa, watching as his she placed the tray of beverages onto the coffee table.
‘Please…’ she said indicating the single chair. ‘Have a seat.’
Luke sat as requested. The woman lowered herself onto the front of the three seat sofa opposite him. Her hands were clasped in her lap, while her eyes, filled with expectation, were trained on Luke.
From their discussions Luke was able to establish that the woman’s name was Shirley Booth, and she lived at the address with her husband of 35 years, Larry—the “L” in the telephone listing.
Shirley confirmed she and Linda often called each other for a chat – several times a week, in fact. They were best friends from high school who regularly kept in touch and maintained their close friendship beyond college. They visited each other’s homes often. As couples, they were the closest of friends.
‘I’m only four months older than Linda, but to look at us you wouldn’t think so,’ Shirley said. ’She was so fresh faced and youthful looking and I’m…well… much older looking,’ she said.
Luke smiled in response. He knew discussions with a woman about her age were better left unsaid. 'I noted that the calls between Linda and you were noticeably increasing up to the time of Linda’s unfortunate murder,’ Luke said.
Shirley nodded. 'That was because Linda was concerned that her husband’s obsessive compulsive disorder was getting worse. He was apparently becoming increasingly paranoid. He regularly accused her of being interested in other men,’ Shirley said.
‘Do you think that is true…?’ Luke asked.
'As far as I’m aware... this accusation was so far from the truth, it was ridiculous. Linda loved her husband. She was devoted to him and would never even look at another man, but the constant unfounded accusations were hurtful to Linda.’
The mention of Linda’s husband’s jealous paranoia was particularly interesting to Luke. ‘You mentioned her husband’s obsessive compulsive disorder….Is the OCD medical diagnosed...? Does he have psychological issues...?’ Luke asked.
Shirley held her gaze on Luke, nodding slowly. ‘He’s medicated for it,’ she said. ‘Personally, I think he’s getting worse as he ages.’
‘Has Linda ever told you if Calvin was violent towards her?’
’No, she never once mentioned that he was violent. Anyway, he loved her too much to hurt her.’
‘Do you think she would she tell you if he was being violent to her...?’
‘Absolutely...’ Shirley’s reply was emphatic. ‘Not a doubt in my mind....she discussed everything with me.’
Luke flipped through the pages of the telephone records. ‘I am interested in the call Linda made to you on the night she died,’ he said. He stopped at the last page. ‘Ah…at 7.45pm,’ he read.
Shirley’s eyebrows dipped. Her head shook slightly. ‘I didn’t talk to Linda the night she died,’ she said then sipped on her coffee.
Luke’s confused eyes dropped back to the phone records. ‘Ah… Yes, it was the 24th… a Saturday. It says here that she called your number… the call went for fifteen minutes.’
Shirley slowly shook her head. ‘I’m sorry Detective, but I can assure you, I didn’t speak to Linda on the Saturday. I think the last time I spoke to her was the day before – the Friday.’
Luke rechecked the records. He nodded. 'That’s correct…you did receive a call at 6.33pm on Friday the 23rd. The call went for thirty-five minutes, but these records also show a call was made to here at 7.45pm. Could your husband have taken that call…?’
Shirley shook her head. ‘No, if I wasn’t home he would’ve told me that he had Linda on the phone for fifteen minutes.’
Luke lifted his coffee and took a sip. He sat back in his chair holding his cup in two hands while he processed this information. He was puzzled. Was she hiding something? These telephone records don’t lie. A call was definitely made to this address on the night Linda Fulton was murdered. Luke was comfortable that Shirley didn’t appear to be the dishonest type, so why wasn’t this falling into place the way he anticipated.
Shirley’s head snapped to her right, towards the front door. ‘Oh good…Larry’s home, maybe he might know something.’
A short stocky man with a corpulent waistline entered the lounge room carrying some grocery bags. Larry’s questioning eyes flicked between Luke and his wife.
Shirley gestured towards Luke. ‘This is Detective Fox Hun…’ Shirley said. ‘He’s investigating what happened to poor Linda.’
Larry nodded once and appeared to relax. Luke stood from his seat and extended his hand to the approaching Larry. Larry placed a bag on the floor and the men shook hands.
After politely excusing himself, Larry moved to the kitchen to unload his purchases. When he returned a short time later Luke took the opportunity to update Larry on the reason why he was visiting their home.
'Did you answer a telephone call from Linda at, or around 7.45pm on the night she died?’
Larry shook his head. ‘No I did not.’ He was adamant.
‘When did you first become aware Linda had been murdered…?’ Luke asked.
Shirley and Larry’s reflective gazes met. ‘It was the day after…the Sunday, wasn’t it Hun?’ Shirley said.
Larry nodded. ‘Yeah…Calvin called to let us know the horrible news. He was a mess. I think it was the next day…so, yeah...that would’ve been the Sunday,’ Larry said.
‘What did Calvin say had happened to Linda when he called?’
Larry thought for a moment. His eyes lowered, maybe to consider his words carefully, or maybe he found the recall of the incident distressing.
‘Calvin called to tell us she was dead…she had been killed.’ Shirley nodded her support as her husband continued. ‘He said that someone had broken into his house while he was out getting takeout dinner and when he came back he found her on the kitchen floor. I think he said he disturbed the man…or wrestled with the man who killed his wife,’ Larry added with a slight question in his tone.
Shirley again nodded her confirmation. ‘That’s right…Calvin said he wrestled with the man before the man ran away,’ Shirley confirmed.
The story relayed from Calvin to the Booths was consistent with how it had been reported to the police. Luke remained perplexed at how a straight forward telephone call could cause so much mystery and intrigue. The call was definitely made, so who answered it and spoke to Linda for fifteen minutes...?
After briefly running the events through his mind Luke recalled that while the telephone records showed the call was open for fifteen minutes, the 9-1-1 call was made at 7.53pm—eight minutes after the call from Linda began. This would logically suggest Linda was killed prior to the 9-1-1 call. So therefore, she could not have been talking on the phone to anybody for the full fifteen minutes. Did that imply the telephone call sat silent, with no conversation taking place for the remaining seven or so minutes...? And if so, what did the person she was speaking to do...?
Luke’s attention returned to the Booths. ’Do you utilise an answering machine?’
‘We do,’ Larry said.
'Could the call from Linda have gone straight to that machine and you missed it?’
‘We have one of those modern answering machines, Detective,’ Shirley said.’ It’s a digital model. We check it regularly so I would have remembered if Linda had left a message, especially if the message was left on the night she was killed.’
‘Wait…’ Larry lifted a finger. His eyebrows were dipped. ‘The 24th…Saturday the 24th…’ He looked to Shirley. ‘Wasn’t that the night the power was cut off to the whole street…?’ he said.
Shirley’s face illuminated. ‘You’re right…it was,’ she said. ‘There was a major fault in the area and the power company was working on it throughout the evening,’ she added.
‘That’s right…’ Larry said. ‘You remember…without electricity we couldn’t cook dinner, so we went out.’
‘For Italian…’ Shirley added. ‘That’s right. We came home about 10.30pm…we went out for ice cream and coffee afterwards, you know…for dessert,’ she said with a knowing smile at their apparent decadence.
‘So you see…we definitely weren’t home that evening, Detective,’ Larry confirmed.
‘And there definitely wasn’t any message waiting for us when we returned home after dinner,’ Shirley added. ‘If there was…we would have noticed it…we always check the machine when we return home.’
Luke rubbed a thoughtful hand across his mouth. ‘You said your answering machine was a digital model…’ Luke said as a question.
Larry stood from his chair and commenced to move towards the kitchen. ‘That’s correct,’ he said. Larry motioned towards the kitchen. ‘It’s through here, I can show you...’ he said.
Luke followed Larry into the kitchen. Larry indicated the compact device sitting on the kitchen bench, directly beneath their wall-mounted telephone.
Luke examined the answering machine closely. ‘It looks like this model doesn’t use those mini cassettes...’ Luke said.
Larry grinned. ‘No…no...you’re correct...’ Larry said. ‘The technology has advanced since they were last used, Detective,’ he said. ‘No, this uses an internal memory drive or something like that to store the messages.’
Luke’s eyebrows lifted suddenly. ‘Store the messages…?’ he repeated as a question.
Larry nodded once again. ‘That’s right…unless you actually delete the message, it is saved to the machine by default.’
Luke motioned towards the machine. ‘Maybe Linda’s call is on there in the stored memory,’ Luke said.
Larry shook his head. ‘When we receive a call this little red light here…’ he touched the top of the machine, ‘Blinks to let us know we have a missed call. We didn’t have any missed calls when we came home Saturday night.’
‘Does this model have a battery back-up?’ Luke asked.
‘No, it’s power operated,’ Larry confirmed.
‘So…what would happen if the power was cut?’ Luke asked.
Larry lifted his chin slowly. ‘Ah…I see where you are going with this. I don’t know the answer to that, Detective.’
Luke removed his cell phone. After checking the telephone number in his file, he called the Booth’s landline. Within seconds their telephone began ringing. ‘Let’s allow this to go to message,’ Luke said.
After the Booth’s pre-recorded welcome message had completed Luke said into his phone. ‘Testing one, two, three…’ and hung up.
A couple of seconds ticked by before the small red indicator light commenced to flash.
‘Now…’ Luke said.
He turned off the machine’s power source at the wall socket and pulled the plug from the wall. The answering machine powered down.
After a wait of about thirty seconds, Luke reconnected the power plug returning the power supply to the answering machine. Luke anxiously watched as the machine went through its reboot.
Once it had finished, the little red indicator light remained solid; it was no longer flashing.
Luke’s excited gaze met Larry’s puzzled expression. ‘It appears that when the power is cut…the flashing light is re-set,’ Luke explained. ‘Even if a message had been left, like the one I just left…’ Luke said, ‘Now…’ he continued. ‘You said the messages are saved into the memory by default, unless you physically delete them.’ Larry nodded his confirmation. ‘You didn’t physically delete any message from Linda because you didn’t know that you had received a message,’ Luke said.
‘So you think that Linda called and because we weren’t home the call went to the answering machine…’ Larry said. ‘And…the power company playing around with the power must’ve cut the power after Linda had called…so the flashing light wasn’t flashing when we came home.’
’Exactly,' Luke said. ‘Now...’ Luke gestured to the machine. ‘How do you recall stored messages from that…?’
Larry pushed buttons on the front touch screen display. ‘Ok…’ Larry began. ‘It looks like there are four messages stored in the memory. Do you want me to play them?’
Luke nodded. ‘Yes please.’
Larry pressed a button and stepped back from the machine. They all stared at this little piece of modern technology as a computer generated voice advised,
“Message received Thursday April 13th at 3.35pm.”
Luke shook his head—wrong date. A short beep sounded, followed by the voice of a female leaving a message.
‘Oh, that’s my friend Kim…’ Shirley said.
Luke flicked a finger towards the machine. ‘Ok, try the next one please, Larry,’ he said.
Larry pushed a button and the computer generated voice started,
“Message received Sunday July 18th at 10.35am.”
‘Nope…that’s not it,’ Luke said. ‘Wrong date. Next...’ he said with a wave of his hand.
Larry pushed the stop button to cancel the message replay. After a brief pause the computer generated voice commenced its introduction.
“Message received Saturday October 24th at 7.45pm.”
Luke’s eyebrows lifted when he heard the date. His head snapped towards Larry and Shirley, who returned his surprised gaze.
‘That’s it…’ he announced excitedly. ‘That’s the date I’m looking for…’
A female voice began talking in the recorded message. All three waited in anticipation to see if the voice was that of Linda.
“Hi Shirl, it’s Linda…again…are you there…? Pick up please if you are there…”
Luke’s excited eyes flicked between Larry and Shirley. ‘That’s what I‘ve been looking for…That’s the missing telephone call.’
Luke clicked his fingers and pointed to the answering machine. ‘Stop the playback, Larry. ’ His comment was firm and direct.
Larry quickly complied by pressing the STOP button.
‘I suspect there will be things on that recording that you would not want to hear.’
Larry nodded. ‘I understand.’
The Booths were not happy when Luke told them he would be seizing their answering machine as it possibly contained vital evidence into Linda’s murder. They fully understood and offered no resistance, but they were not happy about the short-term inconvenience it would cause.
Luke was especially anxious to listen to the contents of the answering machine’s recorded message, but he chose not to listen to it in the Booth’s kitchen, in case the message was too confronting by capturing some, or part of Linda Fulton’s gruesome murder.