59 - Benjamin Beezer's Book Bazaar
The late evening news that day had said about a man being shot six times. All in the chest. All by machine gun fire. A man who spent his time looking down on people. How old was he? Sixty maybe, with dark hair and a moustache and rich. He was extremely rich, that was obvious. The house was one of those right up there swanky places. His cleaner had found him slumped over on the sofa in his sitting room. White shirt a mess as you can imagine. Reading glasses broken. Tall wine glass spilled. Did she scream? No one really knew but you would think so wouldn’t you? With the blood and all and two dead eyes staring right up at her as she walked into the room. The vacant wide sort. Kind of stuck open.
No signs of entry so the police said. Everything was locked. Front door security chain on. No windows broken. They were stumped, the police were. Was he on his own? That was a question they asked themselves and the cleaner of course. She didn’t know. How would she? She was not there until nine. That was when she arrived. At nine that morning. There was no evidence of anyone else though. One wine glass and a book open laying on the sofa next to the body. Brown paper parcel wrappings on the coffee table and paper that said happy birthday. He had been reading. Best bet was he was alone. You don’t read when you’ve got guests after all, do you?
The cleaner sat in the kitchen on a tall bar stool drinking hot sweet tea with a police woman next to her. Tears of shock still in her eyes. The grumpy, mid-aged detective standing opposite still wearing his knee length grey mac with a red tie all skewy and talking real fast. She struggled to keep up. He asked if the man was married and the cleaner said no. He lived alone. Her voice still shaking but not so much now. Certainly not as much as an hour ago. Any relatives? Just a niece, Mandy, she said. His brother’s daughter. He had sadly died a short while back. He was broke and…. Well you know what depressed people do sometimes. The detective asked if his rich brother had helped him financially. The cleaner said no she did not think so. He was too mean. That was why he was so rich because he was so mean. The mother? Left years ago to be with a younger man who they say looked like James Dean.
The detective sighed and then said thanks to the cleaner. Walked out the front door where his sergeant was waiting in the porch.
“Just look at this place. The fella was rich all right,” the sergeant said. “You see the holes in the wall. The place was sprayed. Bullets everywhere. With all that you’d have expected something. Forensics said not a scrap though. No sign that anyone had been there either.”
“Yeah. This one’s a mystery all right. We’ll go talk to the niece see what she has to say. The only relative so I suppose she’ll inherit a whole heap of wealth…. and that’s a real good motive, Isn’t it? First we’ll visit the guy’s solicitor. See if there’s a will.”
A few weeks before Benjamin Beezer had been sitting at the back of his shop. A huge cavernous space and old. Floor to ceiling shelving. A tall wooden ladder on wheels to reach the high ones. Books everywhere. All sorts. Ancient grand volumes. Classic sets and newish ones by the ton. Cobwebs and dust and that musty smell old books have. Dark and gloomy. Lack of windows; lack of light.
He was sitting behind an old desk under the bright glow of a tall standard lamp. The desk crammed with books. He knew all the books in the shop. Inside out so to speak. The doorbell dinged. One of those old hanging down types that the door clipped when it opened. An old fella was Benjamin. Short white hair and a dull, creased face. Round wire specs that he looked over. He could see through the racks of books. Through each shelf he could see bits of the diminutive lady, with her back to him, shaking her umbrella into the porch. Leaning forward a bit. Foot holding the door open. Then she folded the umbrella, rested it against the wall and turned. Closed the door, stood up straight and undid her raincoat.
“Mr Beezer,” she shouted although not so loud as though she was shy of making a lot of noise.
She removed her rain hat. He saw her blond hair swirl as she shook her head. Nice face. He liked that nice face look. It suited him that she had a nice face. She had a sort of innocent look. Perfect. He stood up. Pulled his jacket from the chair back. Slipped it on and straightened a thin blue tie. Then walked through the long lines of book shelves. Ran his finger along a shelf and looked at dust.
She saw him and smiled. He liked the smile. Warm and definitely enhanced her look. You know, that innocent one.
“You must be Mandy,” he said. Momentarily he lost his natural frown and that was as close to a smile as he ever got. Then the frown was back and he was sort of scowling at her.
“That’s right,” she replied, “we talked on the phone…. You know my problem?”
“I do and I have the solution. You said your uncle likes to read gangster books. Especially reference books.”
“Yes gangsters. Anything to do with prohibition era gangsters. He’s so fascinated by them.”
“Take a seat while I fetch something. Is it for his birthday?”
“That’s right. Two week’s time.”
“Good. I have the perfect thing. I’ll only be a moment. I have to wrap it.”
“Oh that’s not necessary. I can do that.”
“But it’s essential. It must be wrapped and be opened only by your uncle. It cannot be opened before. He lives alone, you said?”
“Yes he does and I understand why it needs to be wrapped…. I just didn’t think,” she said and Benjamin nodded at her, forgiving the error. Then wandered back through the rows of shelves thinking how slight she was. That would help for what he had in mind. Make her involvement all the more implausible.
Mandy saw the bright shine of a big torch flicking between some far off volumes. Then she heard books being shuffled. Saw dust rise at the end of a particular row. Then the lamp went out. She heard muttering. A kind of chanting. Then she heard paper being cut and the screech of sticking tape.
“You know the arrangement?” Benjamin said five minutes later as he handed her the book wrapped in birthday paper.
“I do. Ten percent is very reasonable.”
“Then we do not need to meet again…. Don’t forget the umbrella as you leave.”
The detective stood on the doorstep and pressed the bell button set in the door frame. Listened to footsteps approaching from far back in the house and looked up at the ‘For Sale’ sign. Then waited and the door opened. He asked if she was Mandy Mortimer and she said yes. Then he said all the usual stuff about him being a detective inspector and this was his sergeant and they flashed their warrant cards. He said about the reason for calling. About her uncle and could they come in. She asked if they would like tea or coffee. Coffee he had said so she sat them in the sitting room and disappeared for a few minutes.
Setting the tray, with two cups, on the coffee table in front of the sofa she sat opposite with her hands in her lap and waited.
The detective said, “You know about your uncle?”
“Of course,” she replied with a smile and her look. The detective immediately lost his grumpy demeanour. He liked that look. Did it affect his judgement? Who knows but after a stream of questions he left thinking she was innocent.
First he had asked her where she was that night and she had said staying with friends over a hundred miles away. Sure her father had been broke and she was having to sell the house. The detective had enquired of the solicitor and he had said that yes she was the only beneficiary. In reply to that question she had simply said she would still be selling her father’s house but would then move into her uncle’s when everything was settled. He had asked if she saw her uncle much and she had said not so much he was kind of reclusive. What about his brother, her father? She had said about them not talking for a long time. He had asked why that was and she had said because her uncle had refused to help her father when his business was in trouble and that was why it eventually failed leaving them with nothing. Her father had been devastated. His brother was so rich. He had more than he knew what to do with but still would not help. How did she feel about that he had asked. Not much she replied, looking sad, it was nothing to do with her really, the relationship between her father and his brother. Did she dislike her uncle? No, she said she had sent him a book for his birthday. Then after a few more questions they left.
Walking to the car his sergeant thoughtfully said, “This is all a bit convenient, don’t you think?”
The detective replied, “That’s how it seems all right. Think about it though. Can you see that lady with a heavy machine gun blasting away at her uncle? Look at her. She’s tiny. Weighs how much? No more than one ten for sure.”
“She could have paid someone.”
“Sure she could but where would she have got the money? We’ve pulled their accounts. You’ve seen them. Hers and her fathers. They’re both empty. Nothing much going in or out. Just her basic living expenses. Anyway that does not work for me. There’s just nothing that indicates she was involved. Her uncle was a mean man. We know that for sure. We’ll concentrate on anyone he might have upset. Mean and rich, he’s sure to have upset a lot of people. There’s someone out there with a big enough grudge. All we gotta do is find them.”
As they drove away the detective was thinking about the scene. The body and the wall so full of holes. All those bullets and the one wine glass and the open book. That was ironic, that book. About gangsters and open at a page with that full length picture of Lucky Luciano blazing away with one of those Tommy Guns they used to use. Just spraying bullets all over the place splattering the wall behind the man sitting on a sofa. Hitting the man six times in the chest.