|| Home :: Robert Fitton :: Matthias Jones Mysteries :: The Hamilton Fletcher Murder|
The Hamilton Fletcher Murder
The Fletchers were the most influential family in southern of New Hampshire, yet no one answered the estate phone. Matthias Jones placed his cell phone back in his parka pocket and looked back at the pep rally. Lark was on stage too long. The townspeople listened to another recap of his uneventful coaching career at Hamilton College. Jones shook his head. As the present football coach he wanted to give his own speech and then join Nigel Kent at the Fletcher estate for drinks with Hamilton Fletcher. The unanswered phone bothered Jones. He had spoken earlier with Hamilton in his study and promised to arrive at the estate before nine-thirty. It was already nine-fifteen and Lark's rambling antidotes grated on his nerves.
The early September evening charged his spirit. He faced the common and then panned to Nigel, sitting in one of the platform chairs. The college president was dressed more like a business executive in his navy blue Brooks Brothers suit. Nigel served as the Fletchers' mouth-piece at the college and a conduit for the family's activities in town. He had hired Jones, expressing his private elation about Lark reaching retirement age.
Nigel shrugged his shoulders as Lark laughed at another one of his own lame jokes. Jones checked his watch, inched over to Nigel and whispered into his friend's ear. " He's been up there for twenty-three minutes. We can't keep Hamilton Fletcher waiting because of Lark."
" Oh, let him go on. Everyone loves hearing Lark reminisce. I'll speak to Hamilton."
" Nigel, if I had a buck for every time I've heard the story of Brownie Plympton intercepting that pass in 1947 ..."
" Hopefully, he won't bring up the Snookie Mackenzie story. "
" Amen to that. "
Nigel smiled and nodded. " I see you finally got a hair cut."
Jones rolled his eyes. As summer ended, he had looked like a beach bum. At least he had taken Nigel's not so subtle advice and had his light brown hair trimmed at Vinnie's Barber Shop. But in the barber shop mirror he had seen the tension in his deep set brown eyes. Vacations never helped him relax and the first game of the season made him even more anxious." Oh, come on, Lark."
" Matthias, honestly, I think this Prouty game has you all upset."
Jones turned away from Lark. Nigel's dark eyes were magnified behind his silver framed glasses. " Me, upset?" Then he smiled.
The crowd cheered as Nigel stood and held Jones' shoulder. " He's all done."
" Truer words were never spoken and who says prayers aren't answered?"
Lonnie Hannigan quickly introduced Jones. As he strutted across the platform the swell of applause shook the common. Lark, dressed in a white letterman's sweater, shook his hand, and leaned over. " Good luck, old boy. Tell them to win this one for The Lark."
Jones nodded and grinned. Lonnie shook his hand. " Go get em, Coach."
In the warm night air he faced the crowd, thanked all the appropriate people and raised his hand into the air. " What do you say we win this one for the Lark?"
Lark looked out for approval, and after a fearful lull the cheering began again. When they settled down, Jones went on with his locker room pep talk, modified for public consumption. He could sense he had the crowd with him. For ten minutes he ranted about his team, the town, and the Fletchers.
" My boys are ready for this game. I can't tell you it will be an easy game. But these boys know how to hit and hit hard. They've demonstrated that in the preseason and all week. And we are going to hit Prouty hard!"
That brought the crowd into a frenzy. As he panned the common, past his own white colonial with the white picket fence, he knew how much he loved living in this little New England town. It was not just the architecture or the history, but the people, knit together by time, and living together with all their human foibles.
" This town has pride. And my boys have pride. Tomorrow we face a very good Prouty team. I won't deny that, but these boys share the long history of Hamilton College. With that history and pride, we will demolish Prouty tomorrow!"
He raised his voice, finishing his talk and as he left the platform they were wild. Tom McGill walked with his petite wife, Susan. McGill moved his gray mustache around in a circle. " Was that, demolish? "
" The quote is correct. And I expect good coverage of the game tomorrow, Tommy."
" On what?"
" Inside information. You're going to the Fletchers tonight with Nigel ..."
" How did you know what?" asked Jones.
" I don't even want to know how Lark found out."
McGill leaned closer. " I want to look into this problem up there on Fletcher hill. Thurmond Childs keeps telling me Hamilton Fletcher swindled him out of land."
" Thurmond took the law into his own hands," said Susan.
McGill raised his bushy, gray brows." Burning the edge of the Fletcher property was not the smartest thing Thurmond could have done."
Jones nodded. " He's a mad man. I heard Hamilton Fletcher used his high powered lawyer to take a good chunk of the Childs land."
" Then old man Childs had the heart attack and Thurmond snapped when he died."
" Poor man," said Susan.
Jones started through the crowd and toward Nigel, but called back to McGill. " Well, I'm sure we'll read it in The Enterprise."
" You will if you get me the inside track when you talk to Hamilton Fletcher."
" You talk to him. This is a social occasion."
" See what you can do, okay?"
" By the way, good speech, Coach." McGill smiled and walked down the sidewalk arm and arm with his wife.
" Thanks. "
Nigel spoke with several of the college's professors. They congratulated Jones as he approached and wished him good luck in the game tomorrow. Nigel pointed at Jones' jeep, parked across the common. " Are you ready, Matthias?"
Jones looked at his watch and took out his cell phone. He dialed the Fletcher estate again.
" Hello, " answered a low pitched male voice.
" Who is this? " asked Jones. " Is this Hawlings? " The line snapped dead. " What the heck is going on out there? "
" Try again, Matthias. Maybe you dialed the wrong number."
Jones checked the number on the screen and pushed the SEND button. " That's weird. You'd think Ham, Hawlings, or one of the servants would at least be there. Something is wrong up there."
" I say let us be on our way."
The line rang as Jones nodded as a wind gust disrupted Nigel's neatly combed gray hair, but he quickly rearranged it as they crossed the grass. Again, no one answered the phone. They stepped off the common and headed to Jones' jeep.
About fifty yards in front of the jeep Lark lingered at the door of his long beige Buick.
" Give it your best, Matthias!"
Jones smiled. He gave Lark the thumbs up sign and pushed the Fletcher's number on his cell phone one more time. Lark opened the door and got inside. He started the car, producing a copious mixture of obnoxious fumes. When they reached the sidewalk, Jones pinched his nose and Nigel grinned. He could always get the prim and proper college president to laugh.
" Isn't that car a little old?" asked Jones as the line rang.
" So is Lark."
" Didn't you people pay him when he coached at Hamilton?"
Nigel grinned. " Given his record, he probably owes the school money. I know Lark does not like to part with the dollar."
As Jones ended the call and opened the jeep door, Lark's taillights moved backward, toward his jeep. Quickly, Jones yanked Nigel into the street. The oversized Buick raced in reverse and like a fanning machine gun, splintered every picket on Jones' fence. Lark came to a sudden stop diagonally across the front lawn and under the dining room window.
Jones ran ahead of Nigel and leaped over the fallen fence to Lark's open window. " Lark, are you all right?"
His glasses hung cockeyed off his ear. " What happened, old boy?"
" You must have shifted in reverse," said Nigel.
Jones opened the car door, fixed Lark's glasses and helped him onto the front lawn. As they brought him up the brick walk, Jones glanced back at the demolished fence and winced as he opened his front door. He flipped on the foyer light and brought Lark into the kitchen. Nigel steadied Lark as Jones filled a glass with cold tap water. He handed the glass to Lark and visually checked for any apparent injuries.
" Lark, maybe I should bring you over to Prince William. To the Emergency Room."
" I'm going to pay you in full, Matthias."
" Don't worry about that. The fence was old. I had been planning to fix it anyway."
" No, no," he said, fumbling in his pants pocket. " I have a check in my wallet."
" Not necessary."
Lark insisted. Nigel smiled as Lark removed a crumpled check from his wallet. He took a ballpoint pen from the counter and filled out the check. Jones looked at his wall phone, wondering whether he should call the Fletcher Estate again. He punched in the estate number as Lark handed the check to Jones and stood. " I would think that this would cover the damage."
" Six dollars and thirty-nine cents," said Jones, slowly as the line rang. " Well, that's awful nice of you."
Nigel covered his mouth, turned away and tried not to laugh.
" Not at all. A man has to live up to his debts incurred."
Jones coughed to mask his laugh as someone answered. " Fletcher es ... Fletcher estate. "
" Hawlings, is that you? This is Matthias Jones."
" Oh, Mr. Jones. It's tragic. Just tragic. He's&ldots; gone." Somebody called out in the background and Hawlings hung up the phone.
" Hawlings, what's happened? " As Lark sipped the water and spoke with Nigel at the counter. Jones dialed the estate again, but the line was busy. " Something's really wrong over there! "
" What was that, Matthias? " asked Nigel.
" Come on, Lark. I'll drive you home. " He looked into Nigel's dark eyes. " Come on, let's hurry. "
Lights blazed through the trees atop the hill. Jones shifted the jeep into second gear up the circular front drive. At the top of the hill, the brick mansion's room lights, lampposts and even the auxiliary spotlights lit the grounds. Two white and blue Hamilton cruisers were parked adjacent to the portico's white pillars. Jones spun the jeep around the drive and parked near the open garage door. " What the hell is going on?"
Once out the jeep door, he leaped into the driveway. Then he jogged ahead of Nigel up the brick stairs and through the open the front door. Wendell Harris held a gun at the doorway.
" Matthias, you should stay back. "
" Come on, Wendell ... "
Jones jaunted by Wendell and down the hall. He heard Ham Fletcher's voice quiver from inside his father's study, across from the drawing room. " I don't know who would want to do this!"
Jones rounded the heavy walnut doors. George Strickland, in his jeans and gray hooded sweatshirt, escorted Ham Fletcher from the study. Ham, his face red and tear lined, staggered to the hall sofa. Hawlings, in his blue bathrobe, stood motionless to the side. Hamilton Fletcher was face down on his desk, in front of a dark computer screen. A little round rear skull wound within his silky white hair was crusted with blood, trailing down his neck and saturating his white shirt.
Copyright c 2000
Trendsaction.com is a service of SecondWave Information Systems
© 2013 Secondwave™
P.O. Box 5166, Chatsworth, CA 91311, USA