THE FINAL CLUE
written by Austin S. Camacho
narrated by Mark Bielecki aka Dr. Whodunit
“Hannibal, thank God you’re here,” Isaac said the second I stepped into the gym director’s office.
Isaac Ingersoll stood six foot four and weighed a good 325 pounds. It was weird to see a guy that size terrified. But when I walked in some of the terror left Isaac’s eyes. He looked like a man who had just been taken off death row. Looking down at the corpse on the floor, I hoped Isaac was right.
“Fascinating,” Police Detective Orson Rissik said. He was detaining everybody while they waited for the coroner. “The other three suspects called their lawyers, but Ingersoll called you, and you’re the first to arrive.”
“Maybe he figures he’s the one in trouble, detective.” I understood Isaac’s thinking. He was the biggest man in the room, although all four suspects were bigger than me. Their size was the reason that The Predators was such a great semi-professional football team, despite their recent slump. But size was no advantage to the players found in the building where a man was beaten and then stabbed to death.
The guy lying on his belly was the smallest man in the room. His face was turned toward the door. His right hand still held a death grip on the edge of the desk. His left hand was thrust under the back cover of a book apparently snatched from a collection of novels on the desk. I didn’t see a knife, but the wound on his side had surrounded him with a pool of blood.
I had worked with Rissik before so I knew I could push things a bit. “So, four football players in the gym but not together, right? Then somebody notices a trail of blood leading from the locker room to this office, to the guy laying over there with his hand on the last page of Patricia Cornwell’s latest bestseller.”
“That’s the basics,” Rissik said. “Looks to me like the vic was reaching for the phone, but couldn’t quite make it, so he grabbed a book instead.”
I squatted down for a closer look. The victim’s blank, empty eyes stared back at me from within dark circles. Blood from his nose and lips showed that somebody had worked him over good, but even mangled as it was, I recognized that face.
“You know this is Manny Simpson, right?”
“The gambler?” Rissik asked. “Last I heard that weasel was fixing college basketball games. Considering who we got here today, I’m thinking he’s moved on to semi-pro football.”
Hannibal stood to face the short lineup against the wall. “So, who DO we have here?”
Rissik pointed his way down the line while his suspects stood silent. “You know the white fellow, Ingersoll. He’s fullback for the Predators. This next joker is Georgie Sparks. He’s a guard. The next man is Nick Davis, the tight end. Number four, Dan Cooper, is a wide receiver.”
I smirked at Rissik. “I get the sports connection, but there must have been other people in the gym. Why are you only holding the football players?”
Rissik smirked back. “You think the book’s a coincidence?”
I shrugged, pulled out my pen and got down on my knees. I didn’t figure Simpson for a literary type, so it made sense that he grabbed the book to leave some kind of clue. The title told me right away why Rissik was so sure of himself.
“Patricia Cornwell’s best seller, Predator. Yeah, I guess him grabbing this one from the half dozen books on the desk is a pretty clear pointer.”
“Yeah,” Rissik said. “I figured I had a dead lock until I turned up not one but four players.”
I slid my pencil under Simpson’s hand and lifted it. I wanted a good look at the book’s last page. “For a crooked gambler, I hear Simpson was pretty smart. Maybe there’s more to his dying clue.”
Rissik crossed his arms and walked toward me. “You know, we usually solve this kind of thing just like Scarpetta in Cornwell’s books. Forensic evidence will surface.”
“Really? I kind of like to try to noodle out the clues and solve the puzzle myself.” I knew I was pushing Rissik’s buttons. As expected, he rose to the bait.
“Okay, Jones. You figure you see something I missed? You think you know who it was?”
In fact, I did think I knew who killed Simpson. To test my theory, I’d have to push my man to a confession.
I walked right up to my suspect and looked him in the eye. “I saw your last couple of games. Kind of disappointing.”
Nick Davis leaned forward, maintaining eye contact with me. “Nobody plays their best game every single week. But I give this team all I got.”
“That’s bull,” I told him. “That fumble that cost the game last week? Pretty sloppy. And what about those two passes you just couldn’t get hold of three weeks ago?”
“Ain’t no law against having a bad day now and again,” Davis said, backing off just a bit.
It was time for me to get loud. “No, but there is a law against throwing games for a gambling syndicate. What was your beef with Simpson? Didn’t he pay you enough for shaving points?”
Ingersoll and the other two players stepped away from Davis, glaring at him. Their stares seemed to rattle him a lot more than I could.
“It ain’t like that. I met Simpson today to call it quits. I just couldn’t keep on betraying the team. But he wouldn’t let go. Said he’d tell the guys what I done. I couldn’t let him do that.”
“So you roughed him up in the locker room,” I said.
Rissik whipped out a pair of cuffs and slapped them on Davis. “Then, when he wouldn’t cut you loose you stabbed him. Well, I don’t think anybody will actually miss Simpson, but from the look of your teammates’ faces, you’ll be safer in custody.”
While Rissik read Davis his rights, Isaac jumped at me. I gritted my teeth against the slap on the back I knew was coming, and managed to not fall over when it landed.
“Thanks for coming down, Hannibal,” Isaac said. “I just know that would be me in the cuffs right now if not for you.” Rissik shoved Davis into a chair, and I could see curiosity fighting grudging admiration on his face.
“Okay, spill it, Jones. What did you see on that page that tipped you that Davis was the killer?”
“You should have seen it yourself, Orson,” I said. “It was pretty clear that Simpson knew he was going to bleed out quick, so he snatched the book off the desk that he knew would implicate one of the players, and just had time to open it to the page he knew had words that would identify his killer.”
“You saying Simpson had read this novel?”
“No, Orson. I’m saying that Simpson knew the last page would tell us which player killed him. You know the words I mean now?”
Rissik cursed under his breath. “Of course. The two words that are on the last page of every book.