Authors: Elaine Orr
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Real Estate Appraiser - New Jersey
“Sorry,” he said, and placed his pile of books on the couch. “You doing okay, Madge?”
“Yes, Adam, thanks.”
Aunt Madge is the only one who calls Scoobie Adam. “Now that you’re here, I’ll head home.” She pulled a tooth brush out of the side pocket of her purse. “I was actually going to offer to stay over if you needed me.”
IT WAS ELEVEN o’clock and my eyes were closing as I read Sue Grafton’s latest novel. Usually I stay up half the night with her books, which told me I was more tired than a boardwalk carnival worker on Memorial Day weekend.
Scoobie had shut the door to the other bedroom so Pebbles would stop wandering in. I got out of bed to turn out the light, and noticed that Jazz seemed to be fascinated with something near the bottom of the chest of drawers.
There was a tiny corner of a piece of paper sticking out from behind the chest of drawers and she was trying to paw it out.
I stooped to pick it up and had to fight her for it.
When I finally had it, I saw that it was Norman Fitzgerald’s business card, and my address was written on the back. It was a couple of seconds before I realized that the person who had killed Mr. Fitzgerald must have been in my house. I sat on the edge of the bed and then lay back and looked at the ceiling. After a few seconds Jazz jumped on the bed and stuck her nose on mine.
“No wonder you were scared.” I moved her face away from mine and softly stroked her. I looked again at the card.
It didn’t seem likely that Mr. Fitzgerald would need to write down the address for himself, so he must have told someone else where I lived. Morehouse could probably compare the handwriting on the card to Mr. Fitzgerald’s.
If there had been fingerprints I’d probably obliterated them.
WEDNESDAY MORNING I drove to the police station and waited for almost fifteen minutes before Morehouse came to the door that led back to the offices and waved me in.
As I walked into his office I thought it looked even smaller than other times I’d been there.
Then I realized that another four-drawer file cabinet had been wedged into the room so that his desk now sat between two of them. My knees bumped into the desk as I sat in one of the two chairs across from it.
Before I went to bed the night before I had put the business card in a plastic sandwich bag.
I placed it on his desk without saying anything.
He looked at both sides of the card.
“Where’d you get this?”
“A tiny corner of the card was sticking out from behind my chest of drawers last night.”
“Son of a…my guys should have found that.”
“I think Jazz had worked a bit to pull it out more.”
“Maybe, but how did it get behind there in the first place?” he asked, more to himself than me.
I answered anyway.
“Do you suppose it means they moved the chest of drawers?”
Morehouse didn’t answer, but picked up the baggie and walked out of his office toward the open area where more junior officers sit.
I figured someone was going to get chewed out, and took the moment to look at the notes on a small pad of paper on his desk.
There were three names.
Two were crossed out so thoroughly that I couldn’t read them. Not upside down anyway. The third name was underlined.
Clive Dorner. Why did that sound familiar?
Morehouse walked back in and sat down.
“Who is Clive Dorner?” I asked.
“Don’t read the crap on my desk,” he said.
“That’s police business.”
“Then don’t leave it on your desk when you have a guest.”
He snorted. “Guest, are you? More like a pest I’d…”
“Hey, he called me the other day.”
“What the…What do you mean he called you?”
“That telephone invention thing.”
“Don’t be a smart ass.”
“It was at least ten days ago.
I could check my phone. He said he wanted me to show him around town, he was looking for property.” My tone of derision was probably obvious. “He wanted to buy houses and flip them, I think.”
“You ain’t a realtor,” he said, staring at me intently.
“I am, but I haven’t worked as one since I moved here. I referred Dorner to Lester, and then later I ran into the two of them at Burger King.”
“So Lester knows this guy,” he said, and drew a circle around Clive Dorner’s name.
“Just to show him around, I think. Who is the guy?” I asked.
“Norman Fitzgerald’s nephew.
Grew up in Ocean Grove, but moved away about twenty years ago, maybe more.”
“Mr. Fitzgerald’s nephew.
What made him call me?”
“If I knew things like that I wouldn’t be looking for him, would I?”
“But who is he?” I persisted.
“He buys properties, fixes them up fast, and tries to sell at a big profit. Flipping, like you said. Not usually here, though, as far as we know.”
This still didn’t tell me anything about the man. “Sooo, he was looking at houses here not just because of the hurricane, but because he lives near here, or something?”
“Only address I can find for him is in
Philadelphia. Haven’t found anyone here who knows him well. Who told him about you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he told Lester that. Did you know him before today?”
One of the guys who knows him saw him at the courthouse the other day,” Morehouse said.
I suppose he could have been researching properties.”
Morehouse was growing impatient. I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know, apparently.
“Dorner told the guy he was looking up houses with liens on them, looking for bargains,” he said.
“What a sleaze.”
He shrugged. “We all wish things was how they were, but it’s better to get the places fixed up than have them rot.” He flipped a card in his Rolodex, apparently ready to get back to work.
Who still has a R
olodex of phone numbers?
“Sergeant,” I waited for him to look at me directly. “Someone was in my house.”
“Maybe,” he said, quietly.
“Or maybe Fitzgerald wrote your address down so he could find you with that drawer thing, and it fell out of the back of the drawer or something.”
“Or maybe not.
I need to know…”
“I get that,” he said, not being grouchy. “You want to know, but you are not to go poking into this. If someone was in your house, you don’t want to run into them on your own.”
He pointed his finger at me. “I’ll send some print guys over to check out the immediate area where you found the card.”
“I touched everything.”
I felt frustrated at every turn.
He stood as if to dismiss me.
“Somebody smart enough to get in without leaving evidence of entry probably wore gloves.”
I DROVE BACK to my house and walked in the back door using the special key for its antique lock.
I knew I’d have to use the front door again, but not yet.
Two sets of feet, eight altogether, padded across the hardwood floor in the living room into the kitchen.
Jazz and Pebbles stopped at the edge of the room and then Pebbles walked to the fridge.
“You ate already.”
Jazz rubbed my ankle and I looked down at her. “Can you teach her to be less of a glutton?” In response, Jazz walked to her bowl.
With a sigh, I poured a few pieces of dry cat food into her bowl and a few Cheerios into Pebbles’ bowl.
Then I walked to my bedroom.
I stared at the chest of drawers for about ten seconds and then walked to it and opened the top right drawer.
I removed the scarves and gloves and placed them on top of the chest and took out the drawer.
It was not a big drawer, so I lifted it above my head and looked at the bottom.
I carried the drawer to my small dinette table and set it on the table and stared at it. Nothing looked odd, so I decided to get the other top drawer, which was on the left side of the chest of drawers.
After emptying my underwear from that drawer I sat it on the table next to the right-side drawer.
The difference was immediately apparent.
The drawers were the same length, but the drawer on the right side, that of the vanishing act, was almost half an inch less deep. There was a thin piece of wood, which I thought was called balsa wood, fitted into tiny slots that had been carved down each side, at the back of the drawer. There was what appeared to be an equally thin lid over the extra space, probably with a hollow space beneath it.
It would be easy to hide something back there.
Something like diamonds.
I wiggled the bit of wood that I thought covered a hollow space.
It moved a little, but there was no way to raise it. There was just the slightest space between the side of the drawer and the inserted piece. Maybe my metal nail file would fit. I took it from my purse and slid it between the balsa wood and the side of the drawer.
Jazz was now on the table top inspecting my work and Pebbles was leaning against my leg.
I pushed Jazz back, gently, and she was interested enough in what I was doing that she didn’t swat me. She moved to the edge of the table and stayed just out of easy reach.
After a few seconds of gently wiggling my nail file, the wood loosened and slipped into the recess.
A glance told me it had been glued to the other piece, not fastened with a nail or screw.
I peered into the small space.
If you put marbles in there they’d rattle, but a thin necklace or bunch of gems could be wrapped tightly in cloth and would not make a sound.
I sat on a dinette chair and stared into the drawer.
Jazz was now sitting in the other one. It seemed that someone took the drawer from the auction site so they could check this space. I’d probably never know who took it or if anything had been in the space. Or if Mr. Fitzgerald was killed because the murderer thought there was something still in the drawer and wanted to be sure they got it rather than Mr. Fitzgerald. It was maddening.
I WAS SITTING IN Burger King with Lester. I had gone there looking for him, though I didn’t tell him this. He had a cup of coffee and his traditional six packs of sugar. I had an iced tea and was really glad to have something cold to drink.
I could not get Clive Dorner out of my mind.
If Dorner was related to Mr. Fitzgerald, maybe he knew something about whether his uncle had been on my porch because of the chest of drawers. But that didn’t make sense. When Fitzgerald had the drawer, whether he’d been the person who originally took it or not, he could have looked at it. Maybe even taken something out of it.
On the other hand, if Mr. Fitzgerald knew something had been removed from the drawer, the murderer might not have known that.
He (or she) may have wanted something valuable they thought was still hidden and been willing to kill to get it.
Speculation is pointless.
Lester had not known that Dorner was related to Mr. Fitzgerald but, as usual, he had something to say.
“Haven’t heard squat from the guy in more than a day. We was about to make an offer on a house on Ferry. Then nothing, blatto.” He took his unlit cigar out of his mouth and pointed it at me. “You gave him to me. I took him to six places.”
I am very familiar with Lester’s work ethic.
In fact, I admire it, especially because when he makes sales I usually get to do an appraisal. “I’m sorry, Lester. He sounded like someone who really wanted to buy.”
Lester waved the cigar at me. “I know you wouldn’t do me wrong, kid.
We gotta find this guy.”
I hate it when he says
Lester fancies himself some sort of detective. He has helped me out a couple of times, so even if I want to blow him off, I’m polite. “If I figure out where he is, you’ll be the first to know.” I did not say
“I even bought the guy a burger,” he groused, and then changed tacks faster than a sailboat on a windy day.
“Still pissed off at George?”
“Didn’t Ramona tell you?
It’s the other way around.” I grinned at him. “Unless you want to tell him to get over it.”
You’re a great dame, Jolie.” He didn’t look at me as he said this.
Lester is maybe ten or twelve years older than Ramona and I, and he’s a little too rough around the edges for me.
“Thanks, Lester. I haven’t even been divorced for eighteen months. I’m not really in the market.”
“So, where should we look for this Dorner creep?”
I shrugged. “Maybe he just got busy. He could be the person who has to make his uncle’s funeral arrangements.”
“Didn’t you say he was in your bedroom?” he asked.
“I said he
have been. It seems like too big a coincidence that he called
, his uncle is dead on
porch, somebody seems to have dropped Mr. Fitzgerald’s card in
house, and Clive Dorner’s not around.”
He chewed on his cigar for a moment, and a woman two tables down said, “There’s no smoking, you know.”
Lester eyed her. “Which is why it ain’t lit, lady.”
He looked back at me and in a low tone said, “She must know my ex-wives.”
I stood. “Thanks for talking to me.”
“Where ya goin’?”
“Probably to the office.” This was not true. I was going to the library, but I wasn’t going to say that to Lester. He’d tag along.
“Gettin’ a lot of work?” he asked.
“Some, but not enough. Sell Clive Dorner something and I’ll get more.”
THE LIBRARY has past issues of the
Ocean Alley Press
on microfilm, which is helpful because it isn’t online. It was also a quiet place to think. It’s not that the Cozy Corner and my new house are noisy, but Jazz, and now Pebbles, can be quite the distractions. Plus, if there were dishes in the sink or the bathtub was dirty, I felt compelled to clean.
As I walked into the library I was again struck by how different it was than when I went to school in Ocean Alley in eleventh grade.
Huge file catalogs had been replaced by two computers that had searchable indexes for books or whatever else the library had to offer. More computers, these for patrons to use to access the Internet, stood along one brightly painted wall. In eleventh grade, there were just a couple of computers, and the Internet connection was really slow.