Friday, May 9, 2014

Appearing in issue #19, May 12, 2014

Title:  A hole in the story?

By Author:  Clare Mishica


Tag line:     Uncle Eli had an unhealthy diet, but was it really the doughnuts that did him in?

Police characters:   Det. Delia Thorne and her partner Det. Barker

The gist:    A 911 call brings Det. Thorne and her partner to Eli’s house where his nephew, Gage, reported he found him lying on the floor. Thorne took photos as she surveyed the kitchen where Uncle Eli’s body lay.  There was a half-eaten doughnut on the table along with other pastries, a frosting smeared newspaper, a cell phone, a set of keys, a cracked coffee mug that had rolled towards the sink leaving a trail of coffee, and a briefcase leaning against a nearby cabinet with coffee splashes on it.  The ME announced Eli had been dead for less than one hour and could not rule out a heart attack until further tests were done.   Eli was on heart medication and was not known to eat healthy. Eli was wealthy and a major supporter of various wildlife organizations.  In fact he had publically stated that he had already made bequeaths for the animals. 

Nephew Settler said that Uncle Eli was fine last night and that his uncle had invited him to go fishing this weekend.  Settler was at work when his brother called him with the news.

Nephew Gage said that Uncle Eli had asked him to stop by this morning to talk about a fund raiser he was planning.  When Eli didn’t answer the door Gage used his key (both brothers had a house key) and went in.  He said he found him face down on the kitchen floor. He dropped down beside him and checked for a pulse, found none, and called 911.  He then rolled his uncle over and tried to administer CPR.  The EMTs took over when they arrived but they could not revive Uncle Eli. Gage said his keys and briefcase were still in the kitchen.

Det. Thorne looked over her photos again and knew it was not a heart attack but murder.  She suspected poison and she knew who did it.

Crime scene:    Uncle Eli’s home.

Clues:    Coffee spatter on the briefcase.

Suspects:   The two nephews….or his own heart.

Red herrings:    His bad heart, his poor eating habits. 

Solution:  Gage supposedly arrived after Uncle Eli had fallen, but his briefcase had coffee splatter which could only happen if he were there when the man fell and dropped his coffee.  Gage had gambling debts.

My two cents:    If Gage had dropped to the floor, turned over his uncle, and attempted CPR wouldn’t his clothes have been wet from the coffee mess?  The lack of that should have been a huge clue for the detectives but it wasn’t mentioned.   Maybe it got cut.

Detectives don’t generally take photos of the crime scene, but they can.  Maybe it was a quirk of hers.  I don’t think this story really needs photos but they didn’t spoil the tale.

Seems like a lot of people in these stories have gambling debts.  That’s getting a bit old.  Along with the scads of rich uncles and aunts making their heirs wait for the money. 

There was nothing wrong with the story.  It was just okay.  It wasn’t particularly entertaining or clever.  The clue was quite easy.   Three stars.


Chris said...

Have to go along with all you've said, Jody. I didn't get the clue because my thinking was if he'd leaned his briefcase close to where his uncle had fallen, in a trail of spilled coffee, and then tried to revive him, those splashes could have got onto it that way, even after Unc had shuffled off his mortal coil. The solution works but I'd have liked something more to back up the flimsy evidence. And, yes, those gambling debts are piling up along with the bodies.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris, through my experience working with blood splat specialists in depositions, I know that a splatter/spatter has a pattern to it. Spurting blood from a stabbing or gunshot makes distinctive marks on the surrounding area. In this case the coffee splatter from the initial falling cup would look different on a briefcase than just the wet dabs from moving the body around. It was supposedly leaning against a 'nearby' cabinet and therefore got the initial spray. It may have gotten a few drops from the movement of the body but that would look different. But that is all very complicated for a short story and most people aren't even aware of the difference. Probably why it worked for WW.

I had a teenager throw a beer bottle at my moving car once. I traveled down the road a bit to the next gas station and called the cops. The teens had been walking along the road. I returned to the scene where the cops were talking to the boys. The cop examined my car door and just with his flashlight (it was night) he could pinpoint where the bottle hit the window, you could see the spray moving away from the hit because I drove on, and he could even tell what direction the bottle came from. I have to wonder if the cops new the boys, or knew their fathers, because they let the boys offer me $50 to get the little scuff mark off my window if I wouldn't press charges. They looked properly scared and apologetic, so I took the money and left. But the point of that story was you can tell a lot from splatter marks.

Chris said...

All understood, of course. As you say, in these very short mysteries it doesn't do to get too complicated, there just isn't the room to work things out to that extent. The story was fine otherwise and I salute the author for getting a yes.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. By the way did you want a copy of the 2nd list of short story markets that I compiled?

Jody E. Lebel said...

PS Clare gets a lot of yeses.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, am I going to have to edit your blog? Healthy is an adjective; healthfully is the adverb, which is the way he didn't eat. Also bequeaths is a verb; bequests is the noun you were looking for.

Yeah, I wondered, too, why he didn't get his pants wet with the spilled coffee if he actually did get down on his knees to do CPR.

My question, how many of the so called clues in these little mysteries would actually stand up in a court of law?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. Guilty on both counts. Yeah, you better stick around and keep an eye on me.

The answer to your question is most of those things would be included in the state's case, sometimes only to explain why the police were suspicious and how the investigation started. In this case photos of the briefcase would be introduced and entered into evidence. The state would bring in a splatter expert to explain what it all means. Then the defense would begin a harsh cross examination and there would be a lot of eye rolling and dismissive gestures. It's all what they can make the jury (or judge if it's a non-jury trial) believe.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, I wonder why the jury system is not on its way out. There are high profile trials (usually of celebrities) where it seems the jury acquits on a purely emotional basis. They see and hear only what they want to, and the accused goes free. Some years ago I was fascinated by the TV series JAG. Isn't a panel of judges more likely to come to a valid decision when considering the evidence? I am surprised that no one writes a military based crime for the little WW mysteries. Is that a no-no for this magazine?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. As citizens we are given the right to be tried by a jury of our peers. A panel of judges, who have heard it all, seen it all, and have little tolerance for nonsense may not be the best chance someone has for getting a not guilty. And after all, that's what it's all about. If you were accused of a crime you didn't commit but it looked bad, you might be better off pleading your case to regular citizens. If your case was pretty much cut and dried, but there were some legal issues, like whether the police had a right to stop you in the first place, those kinds of cases are better tried in front of a judge who understands the law and what factors need to be proven. Juries are told to not let their emotions, bias, sympathies or prejudices get in the way, but of course we are human. It is very easy to think that a jury came back with a not guilty because they felt sorry for the guy, but you didn't sit there for days and hear the evidence. The state has to prove he did it. The accused is not required to prove he is innocent and does not even have to say one word. He is presumed innocent all the way through the trial. If the evidence could go either way, or is really weak, it is the law that the jury give the defendant the benefit of the doubt and acquit. The standard is that it has to be proven 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

As far as military crime for WW, I don't think that's a no-no, but WW tends to like cozies. I think you'd have to keep it 'light'.

Chris said...

That goes for the UK, too, innocent until proved guilty. My other half was on jury duty last year and the judge was very clear on that point - they could only bring a guilty verdict if there was absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that the accused did what they were accused of. Given the out of touch utterings of some of the older members of the judiciary over here, I personally would far rather stick to the jury system. It works pretty well.