Murder at the High School
Grant Paxton was the senior most history teacher at the history department of Bedford-Pittston High School. It was a vocational school tucked away into the southeast corner of Massachusetts. Because of its’ location, lying almost an equal distance between the big cites of Providence ,R.I and Boston MA, it was often overlooked but still managed to have a great reputation among state vocational schools. Grant had taught on the academic side here for 16 years now, but today the school was abuzz like never before in Grant’s tenure.
Grant had just gotten his lunch from the cafeteria and was heading toward the room belonging to Steve Rickman. It was the room adjacent to his and he had been having lunch there for most of his time here. As always, they would be joined by a third history teacher, Jack Carville. It was information that Jack would have that most interested Grant. Last night there was a school committee meeting at which they were supposed to name the superintendent. The last six months that job had been filled by Alan Magellan, a former math teacher. He had taken over when the previous superintendent, Robert Grassley, abruptly retired in April of the last school year, citing health reasons. There was another candidate, Lana Ames, a science teacher. Word is that Mr. Magellan got the job and she did not take it well, making a scene that caused her to get ejected. Jack was the union rep to the school committee meetings and sat in on them. Grant was certain he would have a juicy story to tell.
When Grant got to the room Steve was there and Jack was just entering from the other direction. After everyone got settled, Steve asked Jack what happened at the meeting.
“Well’” Jack said, “as you probably heard Mr. Magellan got the job. No surprise as he has been doing it on an acting basis for 6 months. Apparently though, Lana was surprised. She approached the table yelling that they were male chauvinists and she had better qualifications. She kept getting more and more agitated and even threatened a sexual discrimination lawsuit before finally being dragged out of there. When she got in this morning, Sharon Perry from English told me, she had another fit in the teacher’s lounge and threatened to get Alan for this.’ “ Nothing unusual happened at school throughout the rest of the day. The students were dismissed as always at 2:15 and most were gone when the buses left at 2:20. Teacher dismissal was 2:30. Many of the teachers left at this time. There was the after school homework program daily in the library, so there were always some students and teachers on hand for that until it ended at about 4:00. After that , the only people usually left in the building would be the night maintenance crew and a smattering of teacher’s getting ready for the next day’ s lesson. The doors to the front office were locked up at 3: 30. A teacher leaving after that would return their key to the drop off box outside the office. Eventually even those straggling teachers still around would leave by 4:30. There was usually one exception, Grant Paxton. Most nights he was the last one out of the building. He liked to finish all the work from that day rather than take it home. When he went to drop off his key, he was used to seeing no one except for the occasional maintenance man. On this night however, there was a light coming from one of the offices on the other side of the locked office door. Grant glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to five. It was unusual for any of the administration to still be there. The lighted office belonged to Mr. Magellan. As Grant returned his key, Mr. Magellan popped out of his office carrying an empty coffee cup and heading toward the coffeepot in the administration break room. Through the locked glass doors he saw Grant and waved at him. Grant waved back, turned around, and made his way for the door closest to his car.
Meanwhile back inside the break room, Mr. Magellan poured a cup of coffee. Before leaving he opened the refrigerator door and reached for the coffee sweetener that only he used—CoffeePal. He poured some of it into his cup, stirred and went back into his office. While looking over some expense statements, he began to drink his coffee. When he got about ½ way finished, he suddenly began to feel very warm. He loosened his tie. He was having difficulty breathing. He began twitching uncontrollably. Not knowing what was happening but realizing he needed help, he tried to reach for the walkie-talkie radio on his belt buckle. He could reach someone in maintenance with this as they too carried radios, but he could not move his arms. By now his airway was severely compromised. He was choking to death. . He collapsed at his desk. His symptoms grew worse by the minute until he died. No help would come until hours later when a passing maintenance man would notice the lit office and his body would be discovered.
School was canceled the next day, Friday. The office was turned into a crime scene. There were no teachers and only the principal, Elaine Southworth and the vice principal, Garret Lynch, were there from the administration.
On his way in however was one teacher. It was Grant Paxton, who was asked in by the police to assist on the case. It just so happened that Grant was nearing retirement and a couple of years ago, with an eye towards supplementing his income, he started writing murder mysteries. Last year he was published for the first time. The case in his book was very similar to an actual case the police were having trouble cracking. Eyebrows may have been raised when Grant was asked to assist. His brother, Lt. George Paxton is a homicide detective and three years his junior. Having grown up with him, George knew of his brother’s love of murder mysteries and had first-hand knowledge of his almost obsessive attention to detail. He had no problem recommending him. These were assets to the police and with Grant’s help they were able to solve the case and get a conviction. Thinking lightning might strike twice, he was being brought in a second time. The fact that he was a teacher at the high school was another plus.
As Grant pulled into his parking space, he clicked off the radio which had been blaring. It was preset for Sirius XM satellite radio, the 60’s channel. This was the music he liked even though he had been only a grade schooler during most of that decade. One would have thought that the next decade, the 70’s, would have had a greater impact. Even though his teenage years were spent in this decade he identified with the movement and sub-culture of the previous one. Upon entering the building, he was met by his brother, detective, George Paxton.
“Grant,” he said greeting him. “Thanks so much for coming down.”
“That’s no problem,” Grant said. “What can I do to help?”
“First, let me bring you up to speed,” George replied. “Last night between 4:30 and 5:00, according to the coroner, Alan Magellan was murdered.’’
“I know,” a stunned Grant responded “I heard it on the news. I actually saw him going to get a cup of coffee. That must have been around a quarter to five. I was probably the last one to see him alive.”
He motioned his brother to follow him inside one of the vacant conference rooms and closed the door behind them. “We already have a prime suspect with motive. The problem we have is lack of a murder weapon. He was not shot or stabbed and there’s no sign of blunt force trauma. A preliminary examination revealed a swollen throat. He had loosened his tie. His airway may have been restricted. There was evidence of vomiting. To put it bluntly, he choked to death. We believe he was poisoned. Toxicology is looking at the coffee in his cup now to see if they can prove that. However, they cautioned me that they have to know what poison they are looking for in order to test for it. We don’t know what poison was used. “
‘Who is the prime suspect?” Grant asked. The answer was certainly no surprise.
“Lana Ames. “ George answered, “She was visibly upset by losing the superintendent’s job to Alan. She caused a public scene at the school committee meeting on Wednesday and yesterday, according to the principal and vice principal, was overheard to threaten Mr. Magellan. Neither one was actually there, however .This is where you come in.”
‘Go on, George.”
‘”We need a list of names of anyone who actually saw her teacher’s lounge outburst against Alan. We need to know exactly what she said. We’ll need that for the trial. It will prove motive.”
“You seem to me like you are already satisfied that she did it.”
“Her own actions condemn her, Grant. But we’ve got to find evidence, a smoking gun so to speak. Here’s what we want from you.”
“I’m all ears, “he said, standing to mock attention.
“First of all start working on that list. We feel it can be accomplished a lot easier by a familiar teacher rather than having the unsettling sight of having the cops in here crawling around.”
“O.K., I’ll get started,” Grant said, “but are there any other suspects?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t call him a suspect but it is someone we’d like to speak to. Your principal told me about the casino that was scheduled to open up adjacent to school property. I understand that a negotiation occurred when the state required another access road be built. There’s no room for it except on land owned by the school. The previous superintendent, Mr. Grassley, negotiated a deal with the casino owner Charles Whitehorse. The casino would pay for lights for the sports fields and in return would get the land.”
Just recently, the blueprints were found to contain an error. A building housing a black jack table and several parking spots was scheduled to be built, but because of a surveyor’s error, on land owned by the school. Having negotiated a deal before Mr. Whitehorse sought to do it again. This time Alan, the acting superintendent at the time, was dead set against it. The land in question was scheduled to be the home of the expanded bio-tech department, an extremely popular new shop. He refused to budge. This made Mr. Whitehorse angry and there was a shouting match. No threats, just shouting but there is a motive here that warrants checking out at least.”
“‘O.K. Grant said. ‘I know what you want from me. I’ll get started.”
‘Great” George said. “Oh, and Grant?”
“Look I had to stick my neck out to get you this time. You were a great help last case but you have got to keep your nose out of areas where it doesn’t belong. No snooping. Promise me.”
Now what self -respecting sleuth or writer being asked to assist the police would promise that? Still he could tell by his brother’s tone that his agreement was required or the whole deal was off. He crossed his fingers behind his back with his left hand extended the other and shook on it with George. Not wanting to lie he chose his words carefully: “I promise I will do no inappropriate snooping around.” He said goodbye to George, and headed out to his car.
Grant looked up at the clock on the wall inside his classroom. It read 2:07. There were 8 minutes left of class; just enough time. The challenge was to teach the class the meaning of the word radical in the political sense. They would need to understand that to do tonight’s homework. As he had done for many years now, he asked the following question.
“Who knows what the word radical means? “ Nobody offered a reply. Grant continued. “Radical as in the Radical Republicans of the post –Lincoln era, is a word that means extreme. Let me show you an example. He positioned himself directly in front of Jody Olson’s desk. It was the first desk in the first row. “Let’s say I look down and notice a deadly tarantula heading for Jody’s foot. There is no time to warn her verbally. The only way I can stop the deadly spider in time is to take my foot and stomp on it. This is the way most rational people would solve this problem. It is considered to be the moderate or mainstream solution.
Now if Mr. Paxton had loaded this small thermo- nuclear device into his pocket,” he showed the class an imaginary device, “he would have had another option; drop the device, detonating it over the spider’s body killing it and everything within a 2 mile radius of the explosion.” The class laughed.
“Each option accomplishes the goal of stopping the spider but the second one is an extreme or radical solution. It goes much further than most people would go. This is what the Radical Republicans in control of Congress would do after the Civil War. They would rebuild things in an extreme way going much further than moderate or mainstream people would go.” A glance at the clock revealed he had 1 minute left. “For homework read about The Radical Republicans on pages 263-265 and then answer the questions on the bottom of page 265.” There was just enough time to write the assignment down and then the bell rang for dismissal and the end of the first day of the new week.
The school day was over. Teaching had distracted Grant. He had not thought about the murder for hours. Now it was time to re-focus. During the weekend, George had informed Lana that she was a person of interest and asked that she be available for questioning. She was on temporary suspension with pay. Grant had gotten the names of the people who were in the lounge when Lana had her outburst from his good friend, Sharon Perry, who happened to be making some copies in there when this happened. There were 3 others there at the time, all para-professionals. Grant had taken the names down and arranged for George to come and question them after school. That time was nearly here. At 2:20 Grant went down to the conference room where the interviews would take place. Sharon was already there. The other three would wait in Conference Room A. Grant and his brother would call them into Conference Room B one at a time to get their stories independently. Sharon was first. The others were Mary Nobel, Dottie Lemon, and Sarah Trask. Each one was asked the same questions and each one claimed that they had heard a visibly upset Lana Ames say that she was going to get Alan. They all said they heard the same exact words. This was very damaging but there was still the matter of the murder weapon. According to toxicology it was some kind of poison, what and how was it administered was still unknown. This was vital to obtain a conviction.
George had to leave to get back to the station. Grant was given the task of trying to find out more about the murder weapon. He stopped into the office. He asked to see his good friend Garrett Lynch, the vice principal. They not only shared the same birthday but they both had a love of 60’s music, especially Motown. They had gone to a concert last Wednesday to celebrate Grant’s 59th birthday. The Isley Brothers, the Four Tops, the O’Jay’s and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were there. Garrett took the next day as a personal day but Grant was the good soldier and came in to work.
Grant wanted to look over Lana’s resume to see if there might be anything there. He was directed to Garrett’s office and knocked on the open door.
“Come in” he said dispassionately. Looking up, he saw it was Grant and his mood improved considerably. “Grant, come in. You’re here no doubt in your consultant role. What can I do for you?”
‘I’m here to try and get some information on Lana. Can I look over her resume?”
“Sure I‘ll get it for you. “.
“Garrett,” Grant stopped him as he left the office. “I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Lana did this. I’ve worked with her for years. She is not the easiest person to get to know but she’s so smart. I can’t believe she would do this after publicly threatening him. Can you think of anyone else that would wish Alan harm?”
“Not really,” he said. “Everyone knows about the dispute with the casino owner, Mr. Whitehorse. I guess there’s reason to suspect him but there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing.”
“I know my brother questioned him and he has an alibi. He and his girlfriend were together all afternoon and then they had dinner at the nearby 99 Pub. There were witnesses. But you were friendly with Alan. You lived on the same street. Is there anything going on in his personal life?”
“Now that you mention it, there is something. As you probably know Alan got married last year. His new wife is a real pill. She’s all about money and material goods .When his first wife remarried two months ago, she was on him mercilessly about changing his will. His first wife was cut out completely. His new wife Jill, got her share and made Alan take out a $500,000 dollar life insurance policy to boot just last week. I have no reason to suspect her but I wouldn’t put anything past her either.”
“That’s interesting,” he said. ‘I think my brother may want to know that. “
“Let me get that resume,”Garrett said. He left and returned quickly with the resume. “Here,” he said handing it over. Diana is still here. If you finish by 4:00 give it to her. Otherwise bring it back to me.” Grant nodded and they said their goodbyes. He took the resume back into the now empty conference room. He took it out and began to look it over. There didn’t seem to be anything outstanding here at first glance. Lana had her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami in marine biology. She graduated near the top of her class. Her first work experience listed was in Australia. Grant recalled a conversation he had had with Lana years ago. She was talking about growing up as an air force brat and spending 10 years down under while her father was stationed at various bases in Australia. Every summer they would go on vacation to the shore several hundred miles away. From here they would dive and explore the Great Barrier Reef. Lana fell in love with diving. Students of marine biology at the University of Miami got to do lots of diving. It was what attracted her to that school. Diving was listed as one of her interests on the resume. Also listed on job experience is summers spent working at Northeast Aquarium in Boston. She worked in the venomous exotic fish department, at least she did when this resume was compiled 20 years ago. But Grant knew from their conversations that she still worked summers at the aquarium. Sometimes she was sent to dive for these exotic fish. She loved this job.
Suddenly it hit Grant. She had worked with venomous fish. Mr. Magellan had been killed by some unidentified poison. Could it be? He would have to do more research.
Back in his basement at home, while Grant was waiting for his computer to get set, he decided to put a little research music on the CD player. He popped in a Motown’s greatest hits CD and sat down town to the sound of ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations.
He took a sip from his coffee cup before starting. By coincidence he had visited the Northeast Aquarium last summer. They were touting the arrival of a new fish to their venomous fish collection, but what was its’ name? Grant couldn’t recall. However, he remembered the plaque outside the tank claimed this fish was found in the Pacific Ocean. He typed in ‘Pacific venomous fish ‘and the first fish that popped up rang a bell. Grant was sure this was the one. It was the stonefish. After researching more information about that fish, he determined that the venom from this fish could well be the poison that killed Alan.
He called his brother and relayed the information. Toxicology tests would have to be made. They would probably have the results by Wednesday. That would allow for some time to talk to the people at the Aquarium.
“George,” Grant said. “There may be another suspect that we overlooked.”
‘Oh, yeah. Who’s that?” he asked.
“Alan Magellan’s new wife.”
“We already looked into that,” George interrupted. “Its’ standard with any murder case. See if the spouse wound benefit financially, like from an insurance policy. Now Alan did have a small insurance policy for $20,000 and he had changed his will recently giving his new wife what
previously would have gone to his now remarried ex. But all told it’s less than $50,000, not enough to commit murder over.”
“I heard that late last week, Alan took out a $500,000 life insurance policy at the urging of his wife. Is that enough to commit murder over?”
“Late last week, you say. If it was done on Friday, its’ possible that when we checked the insurance company had not yet filed their paperwork. I’ll check again but to answer your question, yes that definitely changes things. I’ll call you tomorrow at school.”
Grant shut off the laptop and let the rest of the CD play out. Before it did he fell asleep. When he woke up, ‘My Girl’ was playing again. A quick glance at his watch showed he had been asleep for two hours. It was now 11:30. He shut off the CD player and the lights and went to bed.
The next day in school, George called Grant at lunchtime. George had found out more information but he would not discuss it over the phone. Both Jill Magellan and Lana lived close to the school. It was decided that George would pick up his brother after school and then stop by and question both of them.
The end of the day seemed like it got there quicker than usual. George picked his brother up and told him what he had learned. First, about Lana, he had contacted the Northeast Aquarium. Their copy of the shipping manifest shows that Lana signed for the most recent shipment which included the poisonous stonefish. Second, a check of the insurance
records indicated that indeed Alan had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy. It had not been finalized until late Friday, after George had checked.
Lana’s house was the first stop. They got out in the driveway and made their way to the front door. Grant rang the doorbell. Lana answered.
“Hello,” she said. Noticing Grant was there she added: “Grant, how are you? This must be your brother the police detective. I see a resemblance.”
Showing his badge, George said “Lt. George Paxton, ma’am. We’d like to question you here about the murder of Alan Magellan.”
“Come in” she sighed. “I’ve been expecting you—what took you so long?”
They didn’t answer but just quickly stepped through the doorway. In the living room they sat down on a sofa and Lana sank into a recliner to the left. Lana was married but she was alone at the moment.
“Lana,” Grant said. “I wish we were meeting under more pleasant circumstances but we’ve got to ask you some questions.”
“I know what they are,” Lana said. “Go ahead.”
“Were you present at the last school committee meeting?” George began the questioning.
“Hah,” laughed Lana. “I certainly was, it was televised on the local cable access channel.”
“Then you know I must ask you if you had a tirade and threatened a discrimination lawsuit when you lost the superintendent’s ’job to Alan.”
“Yes. Guilty as charged. My mother always told me I had a bad temper.”
“You had to be physically removed.”
“Yes, I am a hot head sometimes.”
“The next day, Mrs. Ames, you were witnessed in the teachers’ lounge saying you were going to…” he read verbatim from a quote he had written in his notepad “get Alan?”
“Yes, I got worked up again, but you must understand. Take a look at my resume and compare it to Alan’s. His pales in comparison. We’ve both got CAGS degrees but since I was hired I’ve gotten a master’s and I nearly have my doctorate. Alan should not have gotten the acting superintendent’s job. That should have been mine as well. It is just a good ol’ boys network.
Ignoring the commentary he went right to the next question. “Mrs. Ames, were you still in the building last Thursday about 5:00 when the murder occurred?”
‘‘No, I left early and came straight home. I had given a big test that day and I had a lot of papers to correct.”
“Were you alone?” George asked.
“Yes. My husband was out of town on business that night.”
“Lana,” Grant asked “about your job at the aquarium, did you sign for delivery of a stonefish last summer?”
“Yes I did. It was added to the venomous fish collection. It is a fish that is difficult to see. It blends into its’ environment. Anybody who has ever done any diving in the western Pacific, especially in the Great Barrier Reef knows about the stonefish. It is covered with quills like a porcupine. These quills contain a highly poisonous venom. Why do you ask?”
“We have reason to believe that this was the poison that killed Alan.”
“I didn’t do it, regardless of how this looks,” she said “Am I under arrest?”
“No,” George said, putting away his notepad and rising to leave. “but, please, don’t leave town. We may not be done here.”
‘”Goodbye, Lana,” Grant said, also getting up from the sofa. “Thank you.”
They got into George’s car.
‘Well, let’s go see Mrs. Magellan,” George said “but I think we may have our culprit already.”
“It doesn’t look good,” Grant admitted, “but I don’t know…”
They approached the door at Alan’s house. Grant rang the doorbell and Mrs. Magellan answered. She was wearing a cashmere sweater and Capri slacks. She was holding a small
poodle in her arms. A glance at her hands revealed an exquisitely done manicure. Grant was surprised at the fact that she looked significantly younger than Alan, maybe 12 or 15 years.
She looked at them quizzically. “Can I help you gentlemen?” she asked.
George again showed his badge and this time identified both himself and his brother. Grant had never met Jill Magellan. “We are very sorry for your loss. We would however just like to ask you a couple of questions.”
‘Thank you” she answered back, matter of factly. “Won’t you please come in? Shotsie and I here,” she held out the poodle, “were just going to have dinner. Isn’t that right snookems?” she asked the dog and kissed him on the lips. ‘”Rosa!” she yelled. Emerging from the kitchen wearing an apron was what appeared to be the maid. Handing the dog over to this woman she instructed: “Please see to it that Shotsie gets fed.”
Grant looked around. The house was magnificent. The furniture seemed to be very expensive. There was, a chandelier, a sliding glass door to the backyard which connected to a patio and what looked to be an Olympic sized swimming pool out back. Beyond that Grant could see a hot tub to boot!
“That’s my maid,” Jill explained. “Can I get you gentlemen anything?” she asked as she went to the bar and fixed herself a mixed drink.
“No thank you” came the almost simultaneous reply from the brothers. “ George took out his notebook and pen. “Now if we can get started, Mrs. Magellan. I’d like to know where you were last Thursday around 5 p.m. when the murder was committed.”
‘Please call me Jill,” she said and then took a swig of her drink. There was an awkward pause as if she was forgetting George’s question. “Oh yeah,’ she said “your answer is -- I was right here with Rosa waiting for Alan to come home. The cook, Maria was here too. Today is her day off.”
“‘Jill,” Grant said, “we’ve discovered Alan just took out a $500,000 life insurance policy. That money, of course, will be paid to you shortly. If you don’t mind me saying so, that’s a lot of money.”
The answer shot back quickly. “If you are insinuating that I killed Alan for the money, you are wrong. Look around you.” she waved the hand with the mixed drink in it in a circular motion, causing the ice cubes in the glass to make a clinking sound. “Do you think the paltry sum Alan’s original insurance policy insured him for would pay for this? I have a cook, a maid, a Mercedes, and this beautiful home to keep up. I needed the extra money the new policy provides if Alan died. I had no idea Alan would be die so soon after the policy was bought. But I needed to think ahead in order to be provided for properly. Besides, he’d be making pretty good money in his new job, so he’d be worth more to me alive.”
Grant winced. She was hardly talking like a grieving widow. Garrett was right. He could see after 10 minutes that she was materialistic and selfish. Still, though, her arguments made sense. Grant thought she was innocent.
George got up and ended the interview, thanking Mrs. Magellan for her time. Grant followed him out. When they got to the car Grant spoke.
“What do you think?” he asked his brother.
“I don’t think she did it,” George said. “I still think it is our prime suspect. We’ll have a better idea tomorrow once we get that toxicology report. Let’s get you back to your car.”
It was a short drive back to the school parking lot. George pulled up at his brother’s car and let him out. Reaching into the back seat he grabbed his teaching bag and got out. When he got to his car and turned on the radio, the Beatles were playing on Sirius. It was his favorite Beatles’ tune, A Day in the Life. He cranked up the volume and headed for home.
The next day, an already tired Grant pulled his silver Honda Civic into its parking spot at the school. The car was 10 years old now and was developing rust spots but it still san great. Grant hated the thought of getting rid of it. He got out and began the long walk into the building. He was very restless last night and did not get much sleep. What was bothering him was this case. He knew if the toxicology test came back positive that it would most likely lead to Lana’s arrest. Even though he had helped compile some of the evidence against her, he just could not bring himself to believe she was guilty. She might have had a quick temper but she was not stupid. Who would announce that they would get Alan in front of witnesses and then move against him on the same day! Something didn’t add up.
On his lunch hour, Grant had decided to have one last look around the break area where Alan apparently had been poisoned. For some reason, perhaps that, lunch seemed to take forever to get to. Finally it was 10:50 –lunch. He hustled down to the main office. First he poked his head into Elaine Southworth’s office and got the principal’s permission. Next he went to the administration break room. It was small. One half of it contained a small copier and fax. the other half had a small refrigerator and small table. When he got there the receptionist Kerry Grable was at the table. She was pregnant and every Monday morning Grant had made it a point to inquire about her health. With all the commotion surrounding the case, he just remembered that she was absent from her desk every day this week, and it was Wednesday already!
“Hi, Grant “she said “I’ve missed you so far this week. I haven’t given you my weekly pregnancy update.”
“Yes, I know,” Grant confirmed. “Where have you been?”
“In the bathroom,” she held her stomach. “Three guesses why,” she joked. “The doctor said it would be any day now. I am just trying to make it through this week.” She glanced down at her coffee and realized she had forgotten something. “Grant, I forgot my half and half. Can you get it for me, it’s in the fridge behind you on the top shelve-in front of Alan’s Coffee-Pal.”
Grant opened the fridge, found it and gave it to her.
“Thanks” she said.
“Kerry” Grant asked. “How did you know that was Alan’s coffee- creamer in the fridge?’
“Oh, everybody knows that around here. He’s the only one that uses it. Alan loves his Coffee-Pal creamer. I mean he loved it,’ she corrected herself. “We should throw it out now, I suppose, but none of us has the heart to do it. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
Grant wrapped a paper towel in his hand and opened the Coffee Pal. He took a whiff. It didn’t seem to smell right but he couldn’t be certain why. He’d turn it over to the police. He opened and closed the cabinet doors looking for anything unusual.
“Kerry, were you working here last Thursday?” he asked.
“Yes. I was here all day.” Kerry didn’t mind the questions. She knew he was working with the police.
“Did you notice anyone unusual come in?”
“Now that you mention it, Charles Whitehorse popped in and asked to see Alan, but he was at a conference when he came in. It was right round this time --11:00 a.m. We were in shock, given the state of the relationship between him and Alan. He said it was time to bury the hatchet and talk business.”
“Are you sure he was here? He would have had to sign the visitor’s log.”
“He did. Check it out. Oh and he wasn’t alone. His Australian girlfriend was with him.
Her name is Natalie Gibb. She worked here briefly a while ago on the nightshift She had on a short miniskirt and a low cut blouse. I remember she dressed the same way when cleaning crew. What a contrast. Mr. Whitehorse impeccably dressed with an Italian suit and a silk tie. she worked here. She must be 20 years younger than him. I am positive they were here. I remember Mr. Whitehorse asked if he could use the fax machine before he left. He had a timely business transaction to fax that couldn’t wait.”
“Kerry,” Grant said, ‘this is important. “Did he send his own fax?”
“I was going to,” Kerry answered, “then the phone started ringing off the hook. Seeing I was busy he offered to send his own and he did.”
Grant was digesting what he had found out. Had the police missed his name? He probably was not on their list of suspects and would not have been red-flagged had they caught it. The fax machine was next to the refrigerator!
“Kerry, can I get a look at last Thursday’s visitor log before lunch ends?” She showed him where they were kept and he found what he was looking for. “Here it is “, he said aloud “ you were right. Natalie Gibb and Charles Whitehorse-11:10 in, 11;20 out. Kerry, you’ve been a big help!”
“I have?” she asked. “Have I cracked the case?” she said half-jokingly.
“I’ll let you know Kerry. I’ll let you know.” Grant replied.
Quickly returning to his room, Coffee-Pal in hand, he glanced at the clock. 11:10 just five minutes left before class. He’d eat on his prep today; the last period. Right now he had just enough time left to call George.
“Homicide, detective Paxton,” he said. He must not have been looking at his caller id. or else he would have recognized Grant’s number.
“Grant, its’ George.”
“Oh Grant, I was just going to call you. The toxicology report came back positive. There’s a preponderance of circumstantial evidence now against Lana. Enough so that we’re getting a judge to write out a warrant for her arrest.”
“George, I’ve got less than 2 minutes before class. Here’s the short version. Don’t arrest Lana yet! I’ve found out some information on Charles Whitehorse. He was here the day of the murder. There’s more but I can’t talk right now. The bell is going to ring. Can you come by after school and pick me up. I think he has to answer some questions.”
“Grant are you sure? He never said that to me and everybody knows that he had not talked with Alan for months.”
“Yes, I’m positive. His name’s on the visitors’ log.” The bell sounded ending lunch. “I’ve gotta go, George.” Come by and get me after school. I have last period off. I’ll call you. Goodbye.” He hung up. The case had just gotten much more interesting. How was he ever going to get through this last period of history?
12:45. The bell rang signaling the end of the period. Grant hurried to the break room, where he wolfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While he ate he examined the creamer from the break room, using paper towels so as not to get his finger prints on it. He could find nothing. Then he called George.
‘Hello, Grant,” he said, remembering to look at the caller i.d this time.
Grant got right into it. “George, I found out that Whitehorse came by to see Alan, but he wasn’t here. Before he left he sent a fax himself from the breakroom. That means he could have tampered with Alan’s coffee creamer. From where it was kept, the murderer would have had easy access to it. I think that Mr. Whitehorse has some more questions to answer.”
“O.K. Grant. I’ll come by after school but I may be a little late coming out of a meeting. You’ve behaved yourself so far but promise me you’ll wait till I get there. Don’t try and do this alone. I am just as interested as you in asking him some questions. I promise I will hold off on Lana’s arrest at least until I hear what Whitehorse has to say.”
“O.K. George,” his brother said. “I’ll be here waiting for you.”
They hung up. A couple of hours later, about 3:00pm., George picked Grant up and they drove to Whitehorse’s nearby business office. The company was called Native American Realty. Whitehorse belonged to the Wampanoag tribe and through a series of shrewd investments the tribe had made enough money to open a chain of profitable casinos. The tribe was rich and so was Whitehorse.
The two brothers had called ahead and so were expected. Whitehorse was there but so was his girlfriend. Grant was surprised that she was there. Whitehorse was dressed to the nines. He had on an Italian suit and silk tie, just as he did when Kerry saw him. At least his girlfriend looked a little more presentable than before. She had on a fancy shiny blouse that came up to her neck and a pants suit with high heels.
“Come in, gentlemen, come in. Sit down,” ‘he motioned to two huge leather chairs on the other side of his desk. “Let me introduce this young lady. She is my business associate and fiancé, Natalie Gibb.”
The two brothers sat down. George spoke up first: “Mr. Whitehorse, the other day, you didn’t tell me that you had stopped by the school on the day of the murders.”
“You never asked me,” Whitehorse protested, “Is there a law that says you have to volunteer information?”
“Unfortunately no,” he answered. ”What was your reason for going there?’
“As I am sure you know, Mr. Magellan and I were having a dispute over some land. We had not spoken for weeks. It was a business matter. The only way to solve it is to talk it out. I went there to try and do that but he wasn’t in. So I left.”
‘Did you send a fax before you left?”
“Yeah, I had to reply to a business offer by 11:30. I didn’t think I would have enough time to get to my office so they let me use theirs.”
“Did you send it yourself?”
“Yeah. The receptionist was swamped with phone calls and she’s pregnant to boot. I offered to send it myself and she let me.”
‘Mr. Whitehorse, have you ever heard of a stonefish?” Grant asked.
“I have.” Natalie spoke up. ‘I used to live in Eastern Australia. Its’ not far from the Great Barrier Reef where we used to go diving every summer. Every diver there knows about the stonefish. It’s a real hazard. Camouflaged and with quills or spines that are highly poisonous if stung, It’s a danger to divers.”
“Will you dummy up,” Whitehorse said. “He asked me, not you. He turned back and looked at Grant. “My answer is no, I haven’t heard of it.”
“Miss Gibb.” Grant asked, were you once employed at the school?”
“Yes, about 4 months ago I worked for a temp agency that had a three week assignment at the school. The regular maintenance crew was working on a special assignment stripping floors in some rooms, I think. I helped out till they were done.”
“What were your duties?”
‘Basically sweep and clean out the rooms and offices at the South end of the building, including the main office. Someone else had the north part.”
“Alright,” George said ending the session. “That’s all for now but I’d like you to stick around, Mr. Whitehorse in case we have more questions.”
‘I’m a busy man:” Mr. Whitehorse complained. “If you want to talk again my lawyer will be present.”
“That’s your right,” George said. “Just make sure you don’t leave town.”
“Am I a suspect?”
“Let’s just call you a person of interest.”
“‘I don’t like the sound of that,” Whitehorse said.
George and Grant got back into the car.
“What do you think?” George asked his older brother.
“I don’t believe him” Grant said.
“Neither do I. I think I’ll hold off on that warrant for Lana Ames. We’ll test that Coffee-Pal you gave me and see what we find.”
George pulled up beside Grant’s Honda. Before Grant got out he asked George; “The first time you questioned Mr. Whitehorse, how was he dressed?”
“Italian suit and silk tie. I guess he wears them all the time.”
“Brother are you thinking what I am thinking?”
“I think so and if we could find it at the crime scene, I think it would really put a nail in the coffin.”
“I’ll have forensics come down again and do another sweep,” George said “If we find what we are looking for this could put us over the top.”
“Are you sure we aren’t twins?” Grant joked.
“If so we’d be the only twins born three years apart,” George joked back.
Grant got out of George’s car and into his Civic. He headed for home. He had a feeling he would sleep better tonight.
The next day, Thursday, one week after the murder, a well-rested Grant emerged from his Honda Civic and began the long walk to the front entrance of the high school. When he got there, as he had expected, George had the forensic team all over the administration break room again. If Grant and George were correct they would find the evidence that could crack this case wide open. George felt confident they had a good case, but he knew the forensic results could clinch it. George would have a busy day. The lab found that the coffee creamer had contained several milligrams of stonefish venom, probably injected into the creamer with a syringe. George had to try and figure out how this happened. Also he had secured a search warrant for Whitehorse’s home looking for a silk tie. It all came together by the day’s end.
George called Grant and got him up to speed. If everything went according to plan, he would bring Whitehorse in tomorrow. He’d call Grant at school.
Friday was a gloomy, cloudy day but you could not put a damper on the enthusiasm Grant felt that the case might be solved today. Grant walked into school and waited for George’s call. It finally came at 2:30 He had called Whitehorse down and invited Grant to come as well.
.When Grant got to the station, he had a quick powwow with his brother. The two of them then went into the interrogation room. Just before entering, someone handed George a sealed plastic bag containing evidence. He also had a printout in his hand.
In the room there was a long table in the middle, perpendicular to the door. On one side were seated Mr. Whitehorse, his girlfriend and a well-dressed man which Grant guessed was his attorney. He was right as the gentleman introduced himself. His name was A.G. Holmes. The brothers sat at the opposite side of the table.
George spoke first. “Mr. Whitehorse we have compiled evidence recently which is very damaging to you. As you know Alan Magellan was poisoned by stonefish venom. We now know that it was injected into his coffee creamer. Mr. Whitehorse, you told us that you were in the break room area by yourself. Did you inject this poison into the creamer?”
“No, I did not.” Mr. Whitehorse said, indignantly.
Grant addressed Natalie. “Miss Gibb, do you take drugs?”
“You don’t have to answer that,’” Mr. Holmes said, then. turning back toward Grant, he said: “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Let me explain,” George said. Whoever poisoned Alan had to get the syringes from someplace. I didn’t think the murderer would be dumb enough to use his own credit card but I ran a check anyway. You were clean Mr. Whitehorse. But 10 days ago, if you will take a look at
this printout, Miss Gibb, you used a LL Bean credit card to buy 8 syringes from a medical supply store.”
Natalie ripped the paper out of George’s hand and looked it over carefully. “You son of a bitch,” she yelled at Mr. Whitehorse. “I remember now. We were in Acapulco and you said you needed to order something on line but your wallet was still locked in the hotel room safe. I let you use my credit card but I didn’t know it was for this!” She had to be kept apart from Mr. Whitehorse by the attorney.
“Let’s have order,’ George said. “Mr. Whitehorse,” he said addressing him. “you know yesterday you were served with a search warrant for a silk tie. He deposited the very same silk tie, which was in a plastic evidence bag. “Let me tell you why. You see when you signed in as a visitor to the school last Thursday, you had your picture taken. It’s standard procedure for all visitors. I have here a reprint of that picture. Please note that you have on a royal blue tie. Now Mr. Whitehorse, we took this royal blue tie from your house yesterday.” He pointed to the evidence bag on the table. “Our forensic people combed the administration break area and found a concentration of microscopic fibers with a blue tinge. We also found them the first time but because we knew Alan wore a royal blue silk tie occasionally, we thought nothing of it. At that time we had no idea you were at the school the day of the murder. We compared the fibers we found there with those from this tie we took from your house yesterday. They match- the fibers at the scene are from this tie.”
“Let me sum up, Mr. Whitehorse, George continued. “ First, motive; you wanted the land that Mr. Magellan refused to sell. Getting that land would mean lots more revenue for you. If he wouldn’t sell, you decided to get rid of him. Second: opportunity. You were alone in the break room and took that time to inject the venom into the Coffee-Pal. It was well known that only Alan used coffee creamer. Your girlfriend worked here briefly, maybe you found out from her. Anyway, you knew. As far as your pick of poison to use, the stonefish was your choice. Maybe you overheard your Australian girlfriend talk about it. The Western Pacific is their natural habitat after all. Maybe you just searched the internet. Bottom line is you learned of this and decided to use it in your deadly scheme. As far as the murder weapon, it would be the poison but that would be useless without a syringe. I think that little scene we all witnessed here today proves that you ordered the syringes on line using your girlfriend’s credit card. Mr. Whitehorse, you are under arrest for the murder of Alan Magellan.” As he read him his rights, he took out a pair of handcuffs and put them on. A police officer came into the room and led him away.
“Don’t worry we’ll beat this rap,” Mr. Holmes assured him. “I’m going to go right now and get you out on bail”
Mr. Whitehorse was silent as they took him away.
“What about me?” Natalie asked.
“The D.A. will look this over. Its’ possible that he could charge you with being an accessory but I doubt it. You are free to go,” George told her. “Do you need a ride?”
“If you don’t mind. I came with Charley. I don’t have my car.”
‘I’ll have a police officer drive you home. Excuse me.” He left the room to make the arrangements. This left Grant alone with Natalie.
She looked at Grant. “I remember you from my time at the school. You were the one that played 60’s music from your room after school. What are you doing working with the cops? “she asked.
“I am a mystery writer part time in the summer. Because of that they sometimes ask for my help.” Grant replied.
“Oh, like Jessica Fletcher,” she said, referring to the old TV series in which a writer helped the police solve crimes. Her ride arrived and as she walked out the door, she turned around and said: “I wish you had just stayed teaching. Now I may have lost my meal ticket.” She left with the police officer.
The weekend passed quickly and soon it was time for school again. Unlike last week though, when it felt like the proverbial Sword of Damocles was hanging overhead, this Monday morning felt much different. Grant could sense it as soon as he stepped into the front office to sign in. The tension was gone. As he signed in a temp who was covering for Kerry Grable spoke to him.
“You seem to match the description I got about what you looked like. I have a message for Mr. Paxton from Mrs. Southworth. Are you Mr. Paxton?" she asked.
“Yes, I am, Grant Paxton’” he replied. “but I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. You seem to know who I am, but I do not know you.”
“I’m’ sorry, “she apologized. “My name is Darla Robinson. I am filling in for Kerry today. She had her baby yesterday, see.” she pointed to a photograph which read: Linda Grable born Sunday October 26 at 7:08 a.m. Weight 7 lbs. 6 oz. “There’s a card if you want to sign it after. Mrs. Southworth would like to see you in her office when you are finished.”
Grant signed the card and then knocked on Elaine’s open door. She was sitting at her desk. When she saw Grant, she smiled broadly. “Grant, come in and sit down,” she said warmly. She got up and closed the door behind him. “I just want to thank you on behalf of the school for the fine work you did in finding Alan’s murderer. “
“Well, you’re quite welcome,” he replied. “‘I was only one member of a team, though. I was only doing my part.”
“Well it’s a mighty fine part you played let me tell you. Being a vocational school, as you know, we have to recruit 8th graders to come here. That task would have been greatly complicated if we were the school whose science teacher killed the superintendent. It means a lot to this school that you proved that was not the case.”
“I played a part in setting the record straight and I was happy to do it.”
Elaine thanked him one more time and then sent him on his way. Everyone he met in the hallway seemed happier. From lunch with the guys to the end of the day it was as if a dark cloud had lifted and the bright sun was shining through again. After school Grant had a lot of work to do. He had to correct some homework, copy some handouts for tomorrow, and then get set up for the next lesson. Being a substitute teacher for 3 years at the start of his career he never forgot to always leave things in place for a sub, just in case he had to call in.
As he was contemplating how long all this would take him to finish, there was a knock on his open door. He was sitting at his desk and glanced up to see that it was Lana Ames. Her suspension had been lifted and today was her first day back.
‘”Hello, Lana,” Grant said. “How was your first day back?”
‘Like riding a bike,” she told him. “Grant, I was just on my way out and I wanted to stop by to say thank you for helping to clear me. I know it looked pretty bad there for a while and I know I have my hot temper to blame. Thanks for saving me from myself.”
“Even when the evidence seemed to point in your direction, I could never bring myself to think it was you.”
”Well, maybe you felt that way but I was getting the distinct impression that there were others who felt differently. Anyway I just want to say thanks for having faith in me. I’ll never forget it and I appreciate it more than I can say.”
“If I played a role in clearing you, I was happy with the result,” he magnanimously said.
“Oh you definitely played a key role. “she said “You are pretty good at this sleuthing stuff. Are you planning to do it again? “
“I won’t pursue it. I am currently writing murder mysteries in the summer. I may do that full time after I retire in a couple of years. If the phone rings and the police ask for my help again? Well…let’s just say never say never.”
“O.K., Grant. I’ll be on my way. I just wanted to say thanks again for getting me out of a deep rut. I appreciate it and will never forget it,” she said. “If you ever go to the Northeast Aquarium again let me know and I will get you a free pass.”
‘Alright,” Grant chuckled. “have a good night.”
Lana left the building. Grant knew he would be at his desk for the next several minutes. He got up and closed the door behind him, then found the song he was looking for on You Tube and played that on the Smart Board. The song was a Bobby Fuller Four cover of an early sixties tune. The name of the song was: I Fought the Law (and the Law Won). It seemed appropriate.