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December 07, 2016
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A summer mystery—Part 2: the victim

It was a little after one in the morning, and detective Brown stood holding a fresh iced coffee in the basement of an apartment building. He stared down at a white chalk outline where a dead body had been found a few hours earlier. “Sprawled” was the only way he could think to describe the position.

“ID?” Brown asked.

“Mr. Peter Johnson of 5C. Worked as a stockbroker. Married, two kids, wife is home, kids are not,” his partner read out of his notebook. Brown focused on a spot of blood on a pipe above the body.

“He was dressed in running pants, sneakers, and a blue button-down shirt, died from blunt trauma to the head.”

“College?” Brown asked.

“The kids? Yeah.” his partner answered, finding Brown’s eyes on the spot of blood. “You think it was an accident?” He stepped closer and they both stared at the splotch. “It’s possible he may have hit his head and fallen down.”

Brown scrunched his face and grimaced. “I’m not so sure about that,” he said, taking a sip of the iced coffee. “Mr. Johnson would have had to hit his head mighty hard.” He walked out into the hallway. “Why would he come into this room anyway?”

“I suppose he might have been doing some laundry.”

“The laundry is on the other side of the basement,” Brown said. “Get a blood-spatter expert down here, but I think we’ve got ourselves a homicide.” He stood. “I’m going to go talk to the wife.”

His partner held his watch up for Brown to see. “Take it easy; it’s after 1 a.m.”

“Poke around down here. Try to figure out how the body was moved.”

Brown grumbled on the way up in the elevator. He wasn’t looking forward to this chat. She would, of course, be hysterical and the Advil he had taken was having no effect on his usual headache.

Knock, knock, knock.

She had been crying but seemed put together. “Come in.”

Brown took a step inside. “So sorry to trouble you, ma’am. I am detective Brown.”

“Pleasure,” she mumbled as she returned to the couch and her drink. It was probably not her first. “Please sit.”

He took his time walking over and surveyed the apartment. It was a nice place. Neatly kept. Pictures of the family. Brown noticed that all the hangings on one wall were removed and instead tape and pencil marks were scattered about.

“Renovations?” Brown asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Johnson. “We are splitting the apartment next door with our neighbor. We are each taking half.”

“Very nice,” Brown said.

“It’s been an ordeal. Like anything in New York City real estate. We finally have permission to start.” She choked up.

“Just a few preliminary questions and then I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Sure,” answered Mrs. Johnson.

“Can you tell me what time you returned home?” Brown asked. He flipped out his notebook.

“Around 11 p.m. I was actually surprised that Peter wasn’t home yet.” Brown nodded and scribbled notes. “There was nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Can you think of anyone who would want to harm your husband?”

Mrs. Brown thought for a moment and shook her head. “No.”

“Any strange things going on? Prank phone calls? Anything at all?”

“Not that I can think of.”

Mrs. Johnson told him that things between them hadn’t been great for the past few years, I mean, if she was being honest which she had no reason not to be. The recession had hit Peter particularly hard at work, and with the kids in college they had just gotten their heads above water. They had almost had to pull out of the apartment renovations.

“Did your husband have a life insurance policy?”

“I suppose he did.”

“Who’s the beneficiary?”

Mrs. Johnson stopped and looked into Brown’s eyes. “I suppose I am. Why do you ask, detective?”

“My apologies, Mrs. Johnson, I mean no disrespect. It’s getting late. I should be going. If it’s alright with you. I’ll swing by tomorrow with the crime boys to do a search of the apartment.”

“No problem.”

“Thanks, ma’am.”

And then at the door he stopped. Another door to the right of the main one.

“What’s in here?”

“Oh. Those are the back stairs. They lead straight to the basement.”

“Oh perfect.” said Brown. “That’s right where I am heading.”