A Mac Faraday Mystery Short
This is going to be your day, you lucky dog. Lance Collins admired the clear blue sky overhead before pulling his black Ferrari into the last empty parking space. Rarely was such a prime slot, directly across from the Spencer Inn Sports Club staff entrance, vacant at ten o’clock in the morning. It’s a sign. Things are finally going my way.
Fighting to keep down the wicked laugh bubbling its way to his lips, Lance grabbed his athletic bag and tennis racquet from the passenger seat and stepped out of his car. The feeling of good fortune took a dip when the hair on the back of his neck rose to attention. He turned around to find the source of
suspicion in the form of a German Shepherd eyeing him from the front seat of a red Dodge Viper in the carte blanche of parking spaces—that reserved for the Spencer Inn’s owner, Mac Faraday.
“What are you looking at?” The shepherd narrowed his eyes into a glare. “Mutt.”
The dog’s snout twitched. His lips rose into a snarl. “My younger brother used to have a dog just like you.” Lance waved the racquet in his hand. “He bit me. You know what I did to him?” The shepherd bore his teeth. “I backed over him with my car … on purpose. When they found him flattened in the road, I cried along with everyone else. No one ever knew.”
Lance’s voice dropped to a harsh whisper. “Take that as a warning, Gnarly. If I ever catch you in my sights, I won’t be tapping the brakes to slow down—I’ll be hitting the gas pedal.” Gnarly jumped up in his seat to lunge at him with
snarling barks. Lance seized the opportunity to club him over the head with the tennis racquet. To the attacker’s surprise, the dog dodged the blow before leaping back to clamp down on the racquet with his jaws. “Give me that, you son of a bitch.” Keeping his grip on the handle, Lance pulled back in an attempt to retrieve his racquet while Gnarly shook his head like a predator snapping the neck of its prey. The dog’s teeth tore through the strings in the head of racquet. When it became apparent that he was losing the tug-of-war, Lance resorted to pounding his adversary on top of the head with his fist.
“You damn son of it bitch. I’m going to kill you.” Gnarly dropped the racquet to respond with barks that sounded like his own canine version of curses and threats. Lance was in mid-lunge for the dog’s throat when he was pulled back by the shoulder.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Mac Faraday yanked him back to step into the midst of the fight. The sight of his dog being attacked prompted him to take on an assertive nature that the tennis instructor had never seen coming from the former homicide detective turned inn owner—all thanks to an unexpected inheritance from his birth mother.
Wish I was an illegitimate bastard to a rich, world-famous mystery writer. Taking notice of Mac’s faded blue t-shirt with a worn police academy emblem on his breast pocket, Lance silently swore that when he received his inheritance, he was going to dress in a style more befitting his social status. “Your dog attacked me.” Lance held up the shredded tennis racquet. “Look at what he did. This is a three-hundred-dollar racquet. How do you expect me to give lessons to guests with equipment in this condition?”
“Maybe next time you’ll think about that before trying to hit my dog with it.” Lance could see the German Shepherd, his tongue hanging out, laughing at him behind Mac’s back. Reminding himself that Mac had the power to fire him—and probably would—even if he was a favorite among the female patrons, Lance’s jaw clinched.
“With all due respect, Mac, your dog came after me.”
“And grabbed your racquet out of your hand to chew it to bits?”
“All this without leaving the car?” Mac folded his arms across his chest. “He jumped out of the car, swiped your racquet out of your hand, and then jumped back into the car to shred it?”
“You shouldn’t be leaving such a vicious dog alone in your car like that,” Lance warned. “Someone could get hurt, sue you, and end up owning this inn.”
“Not if they’re smart enough to stay away from my car,” Mac replied. “Why do you think I drive Gnarly around with me? His pleasant odor and charming personality?”
Judging by the low noise he uttered from deep in his throat before hanging his head, Gnarly picked up on his master’s sarcasm. Out of the corner of his eye, Lance was aware of Police Chief David O’Callaghan, his arms also folded across his chest, watching the exchange. It’s only a matter of time. Where Mac Faraday goes, Chief O’Callaghan is never far behind.
“You don’t like dogs, do you, Lance?” the police chief asked.
Giving up on pleading his case against Gnarly, Lance turned to answer. “What? Do you intend to charge me with some hate crime for defending myself against a dog that tried to bite me?”
David observed the tattered racquet. “No, I believe Gnarly came out on top of that fight. I’m talking about Sparky. Your wife’s maid told us that Kim kicked you out after you tried to poison her Yorkshire Terrier.”
Lance waited for the rest of the news. Where’s the rest of it? I know you have more to tell me. So say it. I’ve been rehearsing for this moment. Give me my cue and let the curtain go up on my performance.
When it didn’t come, he asked, “You came out here to question me about Sparky? That was a month ago. Don’t tell me that bitch has decided to press charges against me for trying to kill her yip-yap.”
“Is that why your marriage only lasted sixty-three days?” Mac asked. “Sparky never did like you. You made it no secret about you not liking him. So you decided to get rid of him.”
David said, “The vet told us that someone had fed him chocolate. That’s why his kidneys were shutting down.”
“No one has any proof that I was the one who gave it to him,” Lance said.
“Sometimes you don’t need proof to know what someone is capable of,” Mac said, “That’s why Kim kicked you out. She knew.”
David chuckled, “What did you do? Give her a choice. You or the dog. She chose the dog and gave you the boot?”
“I don’t have to take this.” With a show of bravado, Lance turned away from them to toss his racquet through the open window of his car.
Mac followed him. “Talk about ironic. You’re back to living in your little condo looking down on Kim Weathersby’s lakefront mansion where her little yorkie is sleeping on what used to be your side of the bed.”
His patience at its limit, Lance whirled around. “What is this about?”
“Kim was found dead last night.” Lance could see the police chief studying him when he broke the news. That’s why he’s there. He has to see my reaction. Having prepared for days, Lance gave it to him. The delight he felt when he launched into his performance was similar to that of a child waking up on Christmas morning after having waited weeks for it.
Lance’s mouth dropped open. He let out a gasp. His eyes were wide when he clutched his chest while collapsing against the door of his sports car. With a sob in his voice, he asked, “Are you serious? … No … it can’t be. Kim … She was my wife. How? How did it happen?” Yes, don’t forget to ask how it happened. They’ll notice if you don’t ask for all the details.
“The maid found her last night,” David told him. “Kim was hosting a dinner party. She had poured a martini and taken it upstairs to get ready. When the guests started arriving and she still hadn’t come down, the maid went up to check on her and found her collapsed on the floor in her dressing room.” “Collapsed from what?” he asked.
“We’re still waiting for the autopsy results,” David said.
“Can’t be drugs,” Lance said. “Kim didn’t do drugs. She drank. She had to have her martini at four o’clock every day but she wasn’t a lush.”
He noticed Mac studying him even more closely than the police chief. Of course he is. He had been a homicide detective for over twenty years in Washington, D.C. Police Chief David O’Callaghan is young. He’s sharp, but still young. That was why he always called Mac Faraday in when it came to a murder on Deep Creek Lake. If anyone is going to nail me, it’s going to be Mac Faraday.
“You were very well aware of Kim’s habits, weren’t you?” Mac asked. Sound offended by the suggestion.
“I loved Kim.” “She dumped you for a dog.” The corner of Mac’s lips curled. “As a matter of fact, her lawyer tells us that she had an appointment for changing her will on Monday morning. She was disinheriting you to make Sparky her chief beneficiary again.”
“I was here in the lounge with a date last night,” he said. David pounced on the slip. “I didn’t ask you for an alibi. We didn’t even say it was murder.”
Mac was cocking his head at the tennis instructor. Behind his master, Gnarly was also cocking his head. The dog had sat back down in the passenger seat of the sport car and rested his front paws on top of the door. He seemed to be enjoying the show.
Is that dog smirking at me? Lance sucked in a deep breath and regrouped. “Why are you here talking to me then if you’re not asking for an alibi? Kim was only twenty-eight years old. She was healthy. Why else would she drop dead if someone hadn’t killed her?”
David and Mac exchanged glances before the police chief said, “That’s our thought exactly. And you’re right up there at the top of the list, Lance. Whirlwind romance and marriage that lasted only a couple of days past two months. Prenup that’s tighter than a bank vault. She kicked you out with only the clothes on your back and that Ferrari that you got for a wedding present.” “I was here last night. I had a date. You can call her if you need to check out my alibi.” Mac said, “But you were at your wife’s house yesterday afternoon before she collapsed. The caterer had let you in. What were you doing there?” “Same thing I’ve been doing there ever since Kim kicked me out,” Lance replied. “Begging her to take me back. I told you. I loved her. Yesterday, I took her two dozen long stem red roses, just like Ihad every day for the last ten days since she kicked me out. I’m sure you found them there along with all of the other roses that I’ve been bringing her.” David was nodding his head. “The caterer told us that you had sent her out of the room to get a vase to put them in.” Roll your eyes. Let them see how silly this whole line of questioning is—especially when they have no proof. “Excuse me for wanting her to come home and find them on display in the middle of the dining room table.” Mac replied, “And while the caterer was getting the vase, you were alone in the dining room with the bar and vodka. Are you sure you didn’t slip anything into the vodka while you were alone?” Of course, Mac would notice that. “I wasn’t completely alone,” Lance smirked.
“Sparky was there, too.” He showed them the bite marks on his ankle. “That rat bit me and I kicked him. Do you want to arrest me for that, too?” “As you mentioned,” David said, “you and Kim were married for two months. You’re aware of her schedule by now. Friday afternoons, she goes to the salon to get her hair done. Why did you take roses to her when you knew she wouldn’t be there?” Lance shot back with the answer that he had thought out very well. “Because I knew she wouldn’t let me in. But if she hadn’t have died, if I had a chance, I know that she would have taken me back eventually.” He sniffed while willing the tears to come to his eyes. “I know she loved me.” He covered his face with his hands when the tears didn’t come.
The interview ended with Police Chief O’Callaghan asking for the phone number of his date from the night before. After making a show of being confused with grief, Lance brought up the phone number on his cell phone and read it off to him. “Call me if you hear anything,” he said to David in a pleading voice.
There was a flicker of sympathy in the police chief’s eyes when he assured him that he would.
Even if they do know I did it, they have nothing. Without any definite proof, they have to have some doubt. Of course, the timing is suspicious, but that’s only circumstantial. Things happen at the strangest times. People drop dead for no good reason. That’s what happened to Kim’s father. He was only in his thirties when he dropped dead. Why can’t his daughter do the same? So it happened in the middle of a messy break up? Stranger things have happened. Lance was aware of Gnarly watching him with accusation in his dark brown eyes while Mac Faraday backed out of his reserved spot and drove away.
Dogs have a sixth sense about people. Kim had told him that the night she tossed him out. Sparky had never warmed to him. He didn’t think it was that important to win over a rat dog, until Kim started suspecting that maybe there was something wrong with him that made Sparky dislike him.
Maybe Sparky resented my taking his place as Kim’s chief beneficiary in her will? Whatever the reason—Yeah, I tried to kill him, but it was self-defense. Didn’t Kim see that I was trying to save our marriage when I fed that chocolate cake to her dog? With a choked voice and grief-filled face, Lance went inside to tell the manager of the sports department that he had to go home. His wife had passed away.
Stunned by the news, the manager told him to take as much time as he needed. That’s exactly what I intend to do. When he got home, Lance tossed the shredded racquet into the garbage. No more giving tennis lessons to desperate housewives and cougars on the prowl. He dropped his athletic bag to the floor. This time next week, I’ll be back on the lake soaking up the rays next to my new yacht. With a grin, he set his cell phone on the kitchen table while on his way in to make a celebratory drink.
Don’t celebrate too much. When O’Callaghan calls, he’s going to try to trip you up again. You need to stay on your toes. He wondered how long the police chief could string out the investigation. It isn’t like Kim has a bunch of relatives clamoring for justice and wanting to kick me out of her will. She was an orphan. Her father had died when she was a child and her mother was killed in a private plane crash.
Yep, the hundred-million dollar orphan was the perfect wife—except for her spoiled Yorkie. First thing I’m doing when I move back in is feed Sparky a bowl of antifreeze.
Time to celebrate with a cocktail. He went into his kitchenette to mix a martini. It seemed most appropriate. After all, it was a martini that brought him his good fortune. All of the ingredients were waiting for him along with a martini glass he had put in the cupboard the afternoon before.
Since it is Mac Faraday who suspects, he’ll be pushing for a thorough investigation, but that won’t do him any good. He’ll never find the evidence to prove it. According to what Lance had uncovered during his research on the Internet, the poison he had used, an alkaloid toxin, aconite, would only show up with the most sophisticated of toxicology tests. Oh, he was very careful. There was no way it could be traced back to him. He had even done his research on a computer at a public library in Morgantown so that they wouldn’t find record of his research on his computer. Even if they do find the poison, so what? There’s no way they can trace it directly back to me. I made damn sure of that.
Lance ran his fingers across the smooth bleached counters in his kitchen. They weren’t going to find any trace of the poison. It was long gone. He had flushed it down the men’s room toilet at a bar in Oakland, the next town over, where he had taken his date the night before. He held the martini glass up to the light and admired his cleverness. Yes, it was suspicious my showing up at the mansion while Kim was out getting her hair done. I knew she wouldn’t be there. Mac was right.
As Lance had argued, he had been showing up at the mansion with flowers every day for ten days—long enough to make it not unusual for him to come with gifts in an attempt to win back the woman he loved. Loved. Yes, I loved that spoiled fairy princess.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Lance poured the vodka into the shaker along with the ice. While he shook the mixer, he chuckled so hard that his feet began tapping to the rhythm until he broke into a dance of joy.
Impressed with the beauty of the roses he had brought, the caterer didn’t hesitate when he sent her out of the room for the vase. That was when he slipped the martini glass he had coated with the poison out from under the tissue in the box of flowers to switch with the one that always rested next to the martini shaker in the bar—the glass that Kim would use to enjoy her four o’clock cocktail. He was about to make the switch when he felt the clamping down of little teeth on his ankle.
It was all he could do to keep from dropping both glasses. “Get away from me, you little mongrel!” Sparky held onto Lance’s ankle with his needle-like teeth for all it was worth. It took several kicks before Lance was finally able to punt the Yorkie halfway across the room. Yelping, Sparky scurried out the door. Excited to get on with his celebration, Lance poured the martini so that he could go out onto the balcony to look down on what would be his new home. Holding up his drink in a toast, he said, “To my lucky day.” He took a sip of the martini. “As they say, every dog has his day.” The liquid in the glass felt smooth flowing down his throat. Proud of his cleverness, he inhaled deeply only to have none of the oxygen go into his lungs.
Again, he sucked in all the air he could, but his lungs deflated like a balloon having all the air sucked out of it. Lance staggered off the balcony into the living room.
The rings from the phone seemed to bounce around from one side of his brain to the other. He collapsed to the floor. His fingernails broke off while he crawled across the hardwood floor in his last desperate attempt for salvation. How did this happen?
Sparky! I shook Sparky off my ankle and turned back to the bar and the glasses were there. Which glass was the one with the poison? Was it the one on the left? But I was so sure—I had planned it so carefully!
Police Chief David O’Callaghan hung up the phone in time for Mac Faraday to come into his office. Gnarly jumped up into the chair across from his desk. David held up the autopsy report.
“Lance Collins didn’t kill Kim Weathersby.” Mac’s eyebrow rose in surprise. “What did kill her?”
“Congenital heart defect.” David handed the report to him. “She had a massive heart attack. The medical examiner talked to Kim’s family doctor. It was a hereditary condition. Killed her father. Kim knew about it, but kept it a secret. She didn’t want to be treated like an invalid. No one knew.”
“And she was drinking vodka martinis?” David held up his hands and shrugged his shoulders. “That was her motto. Live fast, die young, and leave a gorgeous corpse. She went out the way she wanted.”
Shaking his head, Mac lowered himself into the chair across from the police chief’s desk. “I could have sworn Lance killed her. I could see it in his face.”
He reached over to stroke the top of his dog’s head. “Gnarly saw it. Didn’t you, Gnarl?”
“The husband looked good to me, too,” David said. “But Kim Weathersby did die of natural causes. Her husband Lance Collins is chief beneficiary in her current will right ahead of Sparky.
Rightfully, he’s earned everything he’s got coming to him.”
Laughing, Mac tossed the autopsy report back onto David’s desk.
“That lucky dog.”
Hey Guys! Party at My House!
The place will be all to ourselves!
Let's Celebrate Christmas!
Gnarly is Coming!
Let's Read "It's the Night Before Christmas"!