|| Home :: Robert Fitton :: Matthias Jones Mysteries :: Murder at the Conservatory|
Murder at the Conservatory
When it came to money Lark held onto the buck like a tough fisted first lieutenant, fighting to the death for a chunk of strategic ground. Jones dragged the phone cord tight as Mookie pinged the steel hammer against the exposed copper pipes. " I can't hear you, Lark. What are you saying?" He stepped onto the gray patio stones and closed the slider door, but the hammering persisted. " You're saying Professor Neusbaum owes you money?"
" That, Matthias, is the understatement of this year, last year, and every year!"
" Calm down."
" How can I calm down? Ten thousand of my hard earned dollars have gone down the drain to purchase some&ldots; some Steinway!"
The barrel chested Mookie pushed open the slider with his work boot. In the morning sun, his bristly, unshaven cheeks and short, matted haircut gave him the appearance of a criminal having just escaped the penitentiary. His rounded, frog blue eyes blinked slowly, but his protruding lips never moved when he spoke.
" You gut problems."
" Mookie, I brought you over here to fix the washers in my kitchen sink. Now, you've got the whole wall torn apart and that brother of yours-"
" My twin brother," he said, raising his index finger.
Jones pinched the bridge of his nose as Lark came back on the line. " Well, what should I do?"
" You've known Neusbaum for years. He's your big buddy. You knew him when he played piano at weddings. Now he conducts the Prince William Symphony. Can't you reason with him?"
" Reason with him? I want to kill him! He has my money!"
" Call L.G. and take legal action. Very simple."
" You gut big problems," said Mookie.
" Will you just hold it, Mookie?"
Mookie pushed his lips downward and stepped back inside.
" Touchy, touchy. Arnie said you'd be touchy."
" Now, listen, Lark. I suggest you and Flo get into your car and take a long drive somewhere. Cool off and talk to L.G." The ensuing dead air on the line unnerved Jones even more. " Lark? Hello, Lark." He closed his eyes, shook his head and moved back inside as Mookie banged the pipe again.
" You gut big problems."
" You said that," said Jones. He went to hang up the phone, but the wall phone now lay on the counter next to the jagged hole in the kitchen wallpaper and plaster. He maneuvered the receiver into place. " I hope you guys know what you're doing."
Mookie opened his blue eyes wide and tilted his head. He had the annoying habit of pushing air into one cheek, inflating the cheek, and moving the air into the other cheek. " My brother and me, we've been in business for twenty years. Bisbane Plumbing, Twice as Nice."
" What exactly is the problem?" asked Jones.
Jones grabbed his clipboard off the counter. He did not want to arrive late at baseball camp. " What's A.P.S.?"
The cellar door opened and an exact replica of Mookie, down to the blue eyes, whiskered cheeks, and scruffy hair, stepped into the kitchen. " A.P.S. Everybody knows about A.P.S. Sooner or later you're gonna get A.P.S."
" Guys, I'm on my way to my baseball camp."
" Listen to him, Kookie. His baseball camp. Everybody knows Arnie Dewars put up the cash for that camp."
" Don't remind me," said Jones. " Now, what's A.P.S.?"
" I heard Arnie got Ricky Johnson from the Padres to run the camp," said Mookie.
" I wanted Ricky. I went to school with him. But he couldn't make it with his schedule."
" He dump ya, huh?"
" No, he didn't dump me. Now, what is A.P.S.?"
" Antiquated Plumbing Syndrome. Hey, you gut bad pipes, Yakima," said Kookie.
" Real bad," said Mookie.
Seeing duplicate copies of both husky guys with their prison cut, peppered hair and pudgy blue eyes, pushed his patience. Kookie started pushing air between his cheeks. " So, what's the upshot?"
" You're lucky ya didn't burst ya pipes," said Mookie.
" Can I have another orange juice?"
Jones stared at him. Then Kookie moved forward, tracking dirt from the cellar across his kitchen tiles. " Me, too? And more cereal."
" Don't you guys eat breakfast? I have to go. Do whatever you have to do. Just fix the plumbing."
" What about breakfast?" asked Kookie.
" Help yourself. I'm out of here. I have twenty-five boys waiting for me at my camp."
" Arnie's camp," said Mookie at the refrigerator.
Jones shook his head, grabbed his cell phone off the table and headed out the front door as the pounding began again. The air had warmed and morning shadows cut across the common's carpeted grass. He took a deep breath and hurried down his brick walkway walk to his red jeep. The stout stone clock tower's tarnished brass hands toward nine o'clock.
He pushed the picket fence gate. A car engine as loud as a passing jet, caught his attention beyond the common's granite posts. Lark's long faded brown bomber ran the stop sign and his tires skidded as he rounded the Main Street corner. An oncoming compact's high pitched horn sounded several times and the little car veered toward the sidewalk. Lark accelerated past the storefronts, but did not stop at L.G.'s law office. The car tires again screeched against the asphalt at the Hamilton Street traffic lights. Luckily the lights changed, but Lark fishtailed, nearly sideswiping a small blue pickup truck and a yellow Volkswagen parked along the curb. Then he raced down Hamilton Street toward the college.
The rapping inside his house continued as Jones attempted to start the jeep. He had a slight skipping problem until Arnie Dewars fiddled with the wires yesterday afternoon. The engine backfired and sputtered out. He set the clipboard on the seat and pumped the gas. Like a slow sunrise, the engine finally caught and blue smoke pushed along his fence. The jeep threatened to stall along the common as he shifted. He wanted to find Arnie, but baseball camp was about to begin.
Not landing Ricky Johnson was a major disappointment. Ricky was supposed to tell him today whether he was available for a speaking engagement to benefit Hamilton's athletic programs later in the summer. Jones stopped at the corner and glanced at the Hamilton Street lights. He shook his head at Lark's erratic driving as he brought his jeep up the far side of the common, but he also hoped Lark would not embarrass himself in front of the distinguished Neusbaum.
At the traffic light, the baseball diamond's green grass, dirt in-field and bright white bases were visible beyond the little bowl shaped football stadium named after Lark. Jones slowed and as the light turned green he cautiously released the clutch through the intersection. Only a few cars moved along Main Street on this quiescent summer morning.
His backfiring jeep dipped down the Hamilton Street hill into the shadows of the towering hemlocks and maples. The road swept by Larsen Stadium. Jones put on his blinker for the service road, cutting between the gym and the baseball field's long chain link fence. The kids were scattered across the grass and smooth infield and Mac Conners's white Honda was parked along the fence. As coach of St. Pat's Mac had always opposed him on athletic field, but while on vacation at a Hamilton Bay cottage, agreed to help him run the camp for a week. He spotted the hefty Mac, wearing a blue sleeve baseball, shirt, up at bat against one of the kids.
Jones' grin dropped as his jeep strained along the fence. When he finally stopped and turned off the key near the gate behind the aluminum bleachers, the engine stayed on and sounded like the bubbles in a pot of boiling water. When the jeep finally shut off, he shook his head, grabbed his clipboard and stepped outside. The crack of the bat echoed off the brick library walls to the right. A long fly ball went sailing over the three kids in right field and bounced up the grassy, tree lined hill to the Shaker style music conservatory. Jones cupped his hand at the gate. " The old duffer still has it!"
Mac turned to the right and pointed the wood bat toward the fence. The kid lobbed the ball. Mac swung hard and fell on his knee. He quickly got up and the kid fired another pitch. Again Mac connected and the arching fly ball cleared the yellow and green three hundred foot sign behind the center field chain link fence. Mac walked up to Jones and with a cocky look, handed him the bat.
" Match that one, big guy."
" Not bad for an old man," said Jones, looking across the field. Arnie Dewars' powder blue pick up looped around the library parking lot beyond right field.
" Maybe you'd like to take a few swings," said Mac, wiping his brow.
" I have camp to run," said Jones, smiling.
" We're lucky we even got the field this morning," said Mac.
" This idiot comes running on the field screaming about not having an official permit."
" What?" asked Jones.
" Yeah, a mealy mouthed little guy with glasses and a Bermuda shorts. Police shirt. Looked like he was on his way to summer camp. He drove a beat up little brown car marked, Campus Security."
" Bucky Driscoll," said Jones.
" He threatened to write us up," said Mac. " He said we needed written permission to be here."
" I hope you told him to beat it," said Jones.
" Well, he wrote this ticket and said the tow trucks were on the way."
Jones shook his head. " Bucky would get in trouble standing still. Let's round up the boys." He blew his brass whistle. The group converged around the coaches. Arnie Dewars, cigarette hanging from his mouth, clawed his way over the right field chain link fence. He was stuck for a few seconds before he fell onto the right field grass. When he stood, he picked up his dark rimmed glasses and quickly lit another cigarette.
" Who the heck is that?" asked Mac.
" The sponsor of this camp. I can still see him bugging Ricky last month at the Colonial House." Jones exhaled. " Mac, can you get the boys set up? I'll take care of Arnie."
Mac nodded and Jones trotted into the outfield. Arnie wore a Yankee's jersey and waved in a wide arc. " Matth-i-as!"
" Looks like I'm right on time."
" Time for what?" Lark's car now zoomed past Arnie's pickup and continued toward the music conservatory.
" You look like you could use some help," said Arnie, elbowing Jones in the ribs. " Not as young as you used to be, eh?"
" Look, Arnie, we appreciate the funding for the camp."
" Everybody knows you couldn't raise the dough."
" That's not true. We had plenty of pledges"
" Right." Arnie blew smoke around Jones' face.
" And put out the cigarette."
" Can't take the smoke, eh?"
Jones raised his index finger. " Look, Arnie ..."
" Do you know who you're dealing with, Matth-i-as? I played semi-pro ball."
" You?" Jones could not halt Arnie from trekking to the infield. " Where did you play semi-pro?"
" The Yankees team in Roswell, New Mexico."
They reached the infield dirt. " Isn't that where the all those alien stories started?"
" True stories," said Arnie, exhaling again.
" Arnie, put out the cigarette."
" Oh ... yeah," he said, throwing it on the dirt. Jones shook his head and snuffled out the cigarette with his sneaker. " Hey, Maccer!"
A different sound cracked off the library bricks. Jones looked to the kids passing the baseballs by the third baseline. Then he heard a dog barking inside the open conservatory window. " That sounded like a gunshot."
" You've been on too many cases, Matth-i-as." Jones shook his head and turned toward the conservatory.
" For once, Arnie, I might agree with you." He turned toward the kids. " Come on, Arnie, we'll get you a glove."
" Glove? I want a few swings," said Arnie as they crossed the infield.
" Let's start with the glove, hot shot." Jones flipped over the roaster page on his clipboard while Arnie pontificated about his playing days.
" I led the league in doubles. Old double dare Dewars."
" Double dare?" asked Jones, looking up.
They'd give me the intentional," said Arnie as he pounded the glove with his closed fist.
" I'd like to give you the intentional."
" What did you say, Matth-i-as?"
" I said let's get this camp going." Jones spun around when a distinct gunshot emanated from the conservatory and the dog barked again. " That was a shot."
" Little nervous about runnin' the camp without Ricky Johnson?" asked Arnie as he poked Jones in the arm.
" I tell you that was a shot."
Jones retreated across the infield and picked up speed once he hit the outfield grass. Bucky Driscoll spun his little car across the library parking lot and disappeared behind the conservatory. Jones broke into a sprint and vaulted the fence like a gymnast in competition. He heard a loud car engine start on the far side of the building as he jaunted up the tree shaded slope. Lark's clunker raised the dust and careened onto the adjacent the athletic fields.
" What the hell is going on here?"
e reached the trees as Lark's car knocked over a soccer goal and scraped the curb onto Hamilton Street. The conservatory's windows facing the library were open, but the only entrance was around the parking lot side. As Arnie cackled from the outfield, Jones paralleled the octagonal building's stone facade, and Lark fishtailed down Hamilton Street toward Route 32.
Bucky's compact brown security car, front fender dented, was parked near the conservatory entrance's cement walk. Jones leaped up the weathered wood steps under the columns. He ran through the open barn board doors and up the inside stair treads. " Bucky! Bucky!"
Gray quarry tile lobby rimmed the locked outside pane windows and the inner barn board walls. The area was deserted and the lower white paneled doors to the music hall were closed. Jones slipped across the red lobby runner, but when heard barking, he veered toward the main conservatory doors. Bucky's voice was muffled behind the door panels. " Identify yourself."
" Matthias Jones, what's going on in there?"
Now Bucky's voice was on a megaphone behind the doors.
" Clear the area! All personnel will exit the building."
" Bucky, I'm the only one in the building! Open the door. What's going on in there?" After a long silence Jones pounded the door. " Bucky, I heard shots."
" Oh, it's you, Matthias. The battery is dead on my short wave."
" Open up!"
" I can't do that. We have a murder scene here!"
Jones shook his head and pulled his cell phone from his back pocket as Arnie Dewars entered the lobby. " Hey, Matth-i-as!"
" Do we need paramedics, Bucky? Who was shot?"
" Said individual has expired."
Jones dialed George Strickland's number at the police station.
" Who? Who's dead?"
" Hamilton. Ned."
" Ned, get George."
" He's playing checkers with Wendell. Wendell's lost four in a row. Although sometimes I think George lets him win."
" Ned, there's been a murder." The phone dropped, rattling Jones' ear. Arnie lit a cigarette as he approached. " Arnie, stay at the outside door and don't let anyone inside."
" You a little shaky?"
" No, I'm not shaky. I'm trying to get inside, but Bucky won't let me in!"
" I'll get ya in."
Strickland came on the line. " Matthias, what happened?"
" Somebody has been shot up here in the conservatory," said Jones as Arnie gripped the brass doorknob. " Arnie this is a crime scene!"
" Huh?" he asked and pulled open the door. " Hey, Buckster, what happened?"
Bucky assumed a firing position and aimed at Arnie. " Get back, A.D."
" What's going on up there?" asked Strickland.
A brisk air current through the open library side windows cooled Jones' arms as he moved alongside Arnie. Professor Neusbaum's white hair flowed over the grainy floorboards. His arm was cuddled over a cello and the drawstring was two feet away, near the gray paneled wall and closed window panes. A wide maroon blood splotch radiated outward from a tiny bullet hole in the center of his pale green shirt. Four feet diagonally from the wall, a snub nosed handgun with a back handle and chamber, surrounded by a silver or aluminum frame lay on the wood. Neusbaum's German Shepherd watched Jones' every move from a position between Neusbaum and the glossy black piano. Jones remembered Neusbaum playing Frisbee his daughter and dog on the common.
" George, the maestro, Professor Neusbaum. He sure as hell looks dead."
Copyright c 2000
Trendsaction.com is a service of SecondWave Information Systems
© 2013 Secondwave™
P.O. Box 5166, Chatsworth, CA 91311, USA