Tag Archive: Mystery

Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, and the central figure in a mystery television film series created by William Link and Richard Levinson.

The show popularized what’s come to be known as the inverted detective story format. There’s no “whodunit”, here; the perpetrator’s identity is already known to the audience. The plot revolves mainly around how he or she will finally be caught and exposed.

The Man

Columbo is a friendly, chatty, disheveled police detective who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. They’re initially reassured and distracted by his rambling speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Right up to the point where he nabs them, for murder.

Though the name “Frank” can often be seen relatively clearly on his police ID (badge number 416, if you’re interested), Columbo’s first name is never explicitly mentioned, during the series. When asked, he always emphatically answers “Lieutenant”.

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series “The Chevy Mystery Show”, entitled “Enough Rope”. This was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story “May I Come In”. This teleplay is available in the archives of the Paley Center for Media, in New York City and Los Angeles.

The first man to portray Columbo, Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of gray hair. Freed’s Columbo wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar, but otherwise had few of the other now-familiar Columbo mannerisms.

In 1968, the same play was made into a two-hour television movie on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo. Cobb was unavailable, and Crosby turned it down. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Peter Falk, who wanted the role, would be ideal – even though he was much younger than what the writers had in mind.

Columbo’s wardrobe was provided by the actor himself; they were Falk’s own clothes, including the high-topped shoes and the shabby raincoat which made its first appearance in 1968’s “Prescription: Murder”.

Columbo’s unsettling, uneven-eyed stare was due to Falk’s own visual impairment; he had a glass eye in his right eye socket. It remained a mystery for 25 years whether the character had one as well, until 1997’s “Columbo: A Trace of Murder”, where he jokes: “You know, three eyes are better than one.”

Falk would often ad lib stuff like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, or becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation. He inserted these into his performance to keep his fellow actors off-balance, and to help make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo’s antics more genuine.

Here’s a YouTube compilation, to give you a bit of a character study:

His Method

Columbo reversed the format of the standard “whodunit”.

In almost every episode, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning, and knows the identity of the culprit. The murder isn’t always premeditated, but in each case the killer attempts to hide their crimes, creating a false scenario of how the death occurred, often trying to implicate a false culprit. The killer will drop numerous pieces of misleading evidence, and have a water-tight alibi for the murder.

The beauty of these tales lies in the way Columbo finds and follows the clues that lead him to the truth, and the tricks he uses to obtain information, or even a confession. The story unfolds in parallel, from the point of view of Columbo and the murderer, as they play cat and mouse.

In the first part of each episode, the soon-to-be murderer is introduced, and their professional or lifestyle setting is explored. Other characters (including the soon-to-be victim) are introduced through their relationship to the murderer.

As the premise and motivation for murder becomes apparent, the killer typically puts into motion a well-arranged plan, involving the death of the victim and the establishment of a viable cover story.

The second part begins with Columbo’s appearance after the discovery of the body, and usually opens at the scene of the crime, some time after the arrival of the police. So in some cases, Columbo doesn’t appear until halfway through an episode.

When he does, the murderer is usually keen to demonstrate a desire to assist Columbo in his investigations, and to be available for questioning. Which is the Lieutenant’s cue to pop up at all hours, with deceptively shrewd observations and follow-up questions.

Columbo generally maintains a friendly relationship with the murderer, apologizing repeatedly for taking up their time, even as his true suspicions become increasingly apparent.

As more and more evidence is revealed, Columbo shares with the killer his thoughts on the case, pointing out contradictions between the new evidence and the killer’s stated version of events in his bumbling, amiable style. Columbo’s formidable eye for detail and relentless approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer late – too late – in the story line.

During the final act, Columbo drops any remaining pretence of uncertainty, and shares with the killer details of his findings and his arrival at the conclusion of the killer’s guilt.

The killer’s reaction varies, with some conceding in a friendly manner the error that closed the case, and others becoming aggressive or despondent. After this, the episode generally ends, with no following or concluding scenes.

His Caseload

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, 1968’s “Prescription: Murder” had Falk’s Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to its success, NBC requested a pilot for a potential series be made, to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis.

The 1971 film, “Ransom For a Dead Man” had Lee Grant playing the killer. The popularity of this second movie prompted a regular series on NBC. “Columbo” premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series, NBC Mystery Movie rotations: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits.

The network arranged for the “Columbo” segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights, to allow for Peter Falk’s other commitments as a motion picture star.

“Columbo” aired regularly from 1971–78 on NBC. The series was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 for several new seasons, and a few made-for-TV movie “specials”.

His Legacy

Despite solving numerous murders over several decades, in Falk’s last appearance as Columbo in the 2003 cable-TV movie “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, the detective is still a lieutenant.

To his senior brass, Columbo is the preferred investigator for high-profile crimes – a dedicated case officer who’s something of a legend, and thus has a powerful position within the police force.

Obviously doing something right.

Peter Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.

That’s it, for this one.

Hope you’ll join me, for our next installment.

Till then.



The Deserted Island

The Deserted Island

No megalithic structures, here.
Or 27-foot high giants.
Just a quiet, rural setting.
And people.
116 of them.
Men, women, and children, like you and me.
Who, some time between 1587 and 1590, simply disappeared.
All 116 of them.
Off the face of the Earth, apparently.
And into the annals of mystery.
The Lost Colony, of Roanoke.

The Island of Roanoke
Roanoke is an island in Dare County, North Carolina in the USA.
It was named after the historical Roanoke Carolina Algonquian people – a Native American tribe who inhabited the area in the 16th century, at the time of British exploration.
Today, there is a land area of 17.95 square miles (46.5 km2), and a population of 6,724 as of the United States Census of the year 2000.
Roanoke Island is famous for having the first ever English colonial settlement in the New World; Sir Walter Raleigh laid the groundwork for setting up the Roanoke Colony in 1585 – 1587.
And Roanoke Island is where the first child of English descent was born in the New World.

Prelude To A Mystery
It was actually in 1584 that the first group of English settlers made an attempt to establish a colony at Roanoke Island.
This first batch of adventurers consisted of a hundred men, but they quickly abandoned their first settlement due to harsh weather conditions and their failure to maintain a good relationship with the native tribes.
In 1585, explorer John White traveled to Roanoke Island, and made a map and other drawings of the island.
In July of 1587, a colony of 116 English settlers landed on Roanoke Island, led by White.
One month later, the first English child – a little girl – was born in the New World.
A week after Eleanor Dare’s daughter was born, her grandfather, Captain John White, set sail for England to bring back food supplies and other materials.
What Captain White expected to be a short trip turned out to be a long stay in his motherland.
Spain attacked England, and there were many other unexpected events, which conspired to delay Capt. White’s return, for a further 3 years.

The Disappearance
When Captain John White returned to the island in 1590, his daughter, Eleanor, and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, were nowhere to be seen.
White saw no one from the English settlement he had left three years ealier, and the place was bare of any signs of life, as even the houses had disappeared!
The letters “CRO” were sketched on a nearby tree and the word “Croatan” was found carved into a wooden post – but a visit to the Croatoan Indians (another local tribe) gave him no answer as to where his family and the English colony had gone.
More than a hundred people – 90 men, 17 women and 9 children – had apparently vanished.

What Happened To Them?
Who knows?
Some say that the colony was wiped out by a sudden deadly storm – easy enough to imagine, given the island location.
Others theorize that the settlers may have been the subject of brutal attacks by nearby native tribes, seeking to prevent future colonization of the island.
Still others maintain that the settlers may have intermingled with and become absorbed into the native population. That they became so comfortable, living as natives that they ultimately decided not to return to the colony.

A New Perspective On The Case
Experts from the First Colony Foundation in the USA, and the British Museum in London have taken a fresh look at White’s 425-year-old map of the region (The “Virginea Pars” map of Virginia and North Carolina has been owned by the British Museum since 1866), and uncovered what they feel may be a tantalizing clue as to the fate of “the Lost Colony.”
White made the map and other drawings when he traveled to Roanoke Island in 1585 on an expedition commanded by Sir Ralph Lane.
Attached to the map are two patches: One appears to merely correct a mistake on the map.
The other patch, however – in what today is Bertie County, in northeastern North Carolina – hides what appears to be a fort. Another symbol, appearing to be the very faint image of a different kind of fort, is drawn on top of the patch. It is visible only when the map is viewed in a light box.
It is unclear why someone covered the symbol with a patch; it could indicate plans to build more of a settlement than just a fort.
The American and British scholars do believe that the fort symbol could indicate where the settlers went.
In a joint announcement, at a scholarly meeting on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.in May of this year, the museums said, “First Colony Foundation researchers believe that it could mark, literally and symbolically, ‘the way to Jamestown.’ As such, it is a unique discovery of the first importance.”
“Their intention was to create a settlement. And this is what we believe we are looking at with this symbol – their clear intention, marked on the map …”

How Compelling Is The New Evidence, Though?
It is certainly true that White knew the majority of the Roanoke settlers had planned to move “50 miles into the maine,” as he wrote, referring to the mainland.
And the patches on White’s map are significant, in and of themselves.
Brent Lane, a member of the board of the First Colony Foundation, observes that the map was critical to Sir Walter Raleigh’s quest to attract investors in his second colony.
It was critical to his convincing Queen Elizabeth I to let him keep his charter to establish a colony in the New World.
And it was critical to the colonists who navigated small boats in rough waters.
So, that made Lane wonder:
“If this was such an accurate map and it was so critical to their mission, why in the world did it have patches on it? This important document was being shown to investors and royalty to document the success of this mission. And it had patches on it like a hand-me-down.”
If the second patch does indeed indicate plans to build a new settlement that was larger than a fort, and if the proposed site is in modern-day Bertie county, then investigators now have a definitive place to concentrate their search.
“We believe that this evidence provides conclusive proof that they moved westward up the Albemarle Sound to the confluence of the Chowan and Roanoke rivers,” said James Horn, vice president of research and historical interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and author of a 2010 book about the Lost Colony.
“This clue is certainly the most significant in pointing where a search should continue,” Brent Lane added.

So, The Search Is On…
The land where archaeologists would need to dig eventually is privately owned, and some of it could be under a golf course and residential community. So excavating won’t begin anytime soon.
Archaeologists must first re-examine ceramics, including some recovered from an area in Bertie County called Salmon Creek.
It could take a while.
But, as Brent Lane concluded:
“The search for the colonists didn’t start this decade; it didn’t start this century. It started as soon as they were found to be absent from Roanoke Island … I would say every generation in the last 400 years has taken this search on.”

It will be fascinating to see what they turn up.
I hope you have a good day.

Well, some of it, anyway.

What follows is an extract from my forthcoming thriller novel, “Xero Option.”

Hmm. Cool logo, yes?

“Forthcoming.” As in, “I have to finish the damn thing, first.”

In the meantime, here’s Chapter One.
Feel free to leave a comment if you like it, loathe it, or just want to pass the time of day.

And happy reading.

*  *  *  *

Earl Grey. Or jasmine.

Farrell nodded, grimly. That’s what she should have gone for.
Something simple. Not some “exotic blend of fragrant leaves, grown on
the rolling plains of Outer Tyberia”, or wherever it was. With “a
rich, yet delicate flavor, that…”

Yeah, right.

She scowled, stabbing the soggy teabag into the depths of the thermos
cup, for the umpteenth time.

The guy at the grocery store had sold her a lemon. Or – Farrell
grinned ruefully at this – he should have done. Would have had more
flavor in it, than this stuff. Farrell–

Paused. Head bowed. Still scowling at the offending mess in her cup,
as the short hairs at the nape of her neck stood on end.

Someone was watching her. Had been, for some time.

It didn’t take going on 20 years of police experience, to figure that
one out. The feeling was primal. That idiot, Vitale, would have
described it as gut instinct, street smarts, or some jassack cliche,
like that. The Lieutenant would phrase it more elegantly. He had a way
with words that Farrell frankly admired. A sense of style, about him.

Whichever way you put it; she was being watched.

Farrell looked up.

He was standing about a foot in front of the reception desk, in an
attitude Farrell would describe as parade rest: feet slightly apart,
hands loosely at his sides.

Average height. Average weight. Average build.

Not ugly; not handsome. Average.

There was something about him, though.

“I’d like to report a murder.”

His tone was mild, uninflected. No discernible accent. An average voice.

“Oh, yeah? Who’d you kill?”

Farrell’s question was as much a reflection of the cynicism that
seemed to worm its way into the DNA of every resident of Metro City,
as it was a genuine concession to the fact that this guy might
actually be dangerous.

And a way of easing her own tension.

That primal thing, again.

Farrell felt her hand sneaking involuntarily toward the shelf beneath
the reception desk – even as the guy opened his mouth, to respond.

“You. And every other person, in this building.”

Farrell’s hand completed its journey, fingers closing round the butt
of the 9-millimeter automatic stowed beneath the desk.

Since the terrorist incidents of recent years, Homeland Security had
made this – and several other precautionary measures – standard
procedure, at station houses across the city. Together with
recommended practices for dealing with alleged or potential
perpetrators of terrorist acts.

With her free hand, Farrell lined up a pen and steno pad, beside the
computer terminal on the desk. Fingers poised to scribble. Still
fingering the weapon below Mr. Average Guy’s line of sight.

“What did you say your name was, again?”

“I didn’t,” he replied. “It’s Psmith. John Psmith. With a ‘P’.”

Farrell went through the motions of writing this down.

“John… P… Smi–”


Psmith smiled, a Zen-like tranquility oozing from him, as he shook his
head. He leaned forward, both palms spread flat on the desktop.
Friendly. Cooperative. Totally harmless.

It took all of Farrell’s strength of will, to stop herself from flinching.

“It’s Psmith. With a ‘P’,” he said. “P-S-M-I-T-H. Pronounced ‘Smith’.”

*  *  *  *

Shouldn’t it be “Smythe?”

Vitale wrinkled his brow.

“I mean, that’s how it’s spelt.”

Still frowning, Vitale cast a critical eye over the desk.
Preternaturally tidy. Custom stationery, designer ornaments. Gilded
plaque, in front: John Smyth.

Everything put in place, just so. Evidence of a fastidious nature,
which permeated the entire office.

Prissy, thought Vitale. That’s the word.

Polished bookshelves, neatly stacked. Plush furniture, like you’d find
in an old English gentlemen’s club. Everything spotless, and
positioned as if by design.


Behind the desk, an upturned swivel chair. Sprawled in it, the body of
John Smyth, a well-groomed man in his fifties. Polished as his office.
Save for the bloody hole, in his forehead.

On the wall above Smyth sat a circular depression, at the center of a
splatter of blood, bone, and brain tissue.

Some of the goop had splashed a series of frames on the wall above the
desk. A diploma. Certificates of Appreciation, from various Bar
Associations across the country. Photo of a fishing trip: Smyth and
the current Attorney General. Smug expressions on both men. Look at
us; we’re just a couple of regular guys.

Vitale grunted. “Hmph. Probably had an intern catch those bass, for ’em.”

“Privilege of power.”

Vitale almost jumped, as Garber stepped up beside him. A big
African-American man in his forties, the Lieutenant was remarkably
light on his feet. And quiet. Vitale often joked that he should start
a training program, at the precinct. Ninja Sneaking, 101. Could be a
useful skill.

“The man moved in exalted circles.”

The Lieutenant’s voice was dry. “Fellow of his standing, station in
life, he’d want to be a cut above. Set himself apart from all the
other John Smith’s, out there. Guys with solid names, like us –
Vitale, Garber – we don’t have that problem.”


Vitale was unmoved. “Why the hell doesn’t he spell it right. Did. Didn’t he.”

Behind the two detectives, Forensic Investigator Matthew Clapton
fussed around the body. A solidly built man in his thirties, Clapton
had the look of a teenage computer geek; he was that absorbed, in his
work. Plotting trajectories, doing scrapings, dictating notes into his
iPod. Clapton was meticulous. Thorough. Brilliant, on occasion.

Slow, thought Vitale.

“Hey, Matty. What do you say? D’you think he’s dead?”

Clapton interrupted his work-flow just long enough to respond.

“It’s Matthew.”

He didn’t even look up.

Vitale rolled his neck, as he adjusted the knot in his tie. Though in
his early thirties, Vitale seemed uncomfortable in the slacks and
sport jacket combo favored by so many male detectives (and a fair few
of the women; but that was another story) in this city. Like a brash
college kid gone formal to impress his rich girlfriend’s snooty
grandparents, or something.

He turned toward Garber, who was frowning over the nick-nacks on the
desk of the late Mr. John Smyth, pronounced “Smith.”

“So, Lenny–”

Vitale caught himself, as the frown on Garber’s face grew deeper.

“Len. Lennox. What’s it look like, to you?”

Garber nudged a drinking bird paperweight, on the desk. Like Vitale
and Clapton, he wore surgical gloves.

“I’m not sure.”

Nestled neatly behind the bird was a sleek little cell phone. Garber
picked it up, and hit last number redial. He held the phone close to
his ear, as a whiny, nasal voice piped up from the other end.

“Arnold Gleissner, paparazzo. Hello? Hello?”

“Hello. Mister–”

But Gleissner had cut the connection.

Mouthing the word, “Paparazzo?”, Garber turned toward the Forensics man.


Clapton held out a clear plastic evidence bag, with a scrap of paper in it.

I pried this out of the victim’s hand,” Clapton said. “Had to smooth
it out, a little. Well, a lot, actually. See the edges, there?”

Garber held the bag up to the light. And grinned.


He passed the bag over to Vitale, who studied the paper. It was a
fragment from a glossy photograph. Vitale smirked, as he took in its

“Hmph. Couple of exalted circles, there, all right.” His eyes widened.
“Hey! Isn’t that…?” He tapped a portion of the the image. A face.
Partly obscured, but recognizable.

Garber’s silent nod confirmed it.

Vitale gave a low whistle.

“You guys can go ahead.” Clapton studied the expressions of his two
colleagues, as they both turned to face him. “I’ve dusted for prints,

Vitale barked a harsh laugh, jerking a thumb toward the corpse behind them.

“Yeah. That’s what this guy was, looks like. Dusted.”

He held up the photo fragment.

“For prints.”

“Mm-hmm,” nodded Garber. “Let’s go pay a visit on an Arnold Gleissner,
photographer. See if he can put us in the picture.”

*  *  *  *

“Ten to one; Gleissner’s skipped.”

Vitale drummed a tattoo on the dashboard as Lieutenant Garber swung
the cruiser into the parking area of Metro West Police Department

“Guy knew we’d be onto him,” Vitale continued. “Knew his part in the
scam would be exposed. Left town.”

They had spent an unproductive hour and a half at Silver Lake Palace –
a set of low-rent condos, in an area of the East Side that was equally
low-rent. Silver Lake was home to one Arnold Gleissner, paparazzo.
Whose apartment was unoccupied. And whose neighbors hadn’t seen him,
in three days.

Garber killed the engine. “And which scam would that be?”

Vitale shrugged. “Blackmail. Extortion. You saw who was in that photo, right?”

“I did,” said Garber. “Do you think murder was part of the plan?”

“I dunno,” Vitale replied. “Maybe the pay-off went south. Smyth tried
to plea bargain his way out, short-change the guy.”

Garber shook his head. “Smyth and Gleissner were opposite ends of the
social spectrum. Gleissner wouldn’t have made it past Mr. Smyth’s
palatial front gate, even.”

He continued, as they exited the car. “All we have is a phone number,
a photograph, one word, and a hunch. To score a warrant to search
Gleissner’s apartment, we’ll need a whole lot more than that.
Something more…”

Garber’s eyes narrowed, as he looked toward the precinct house.


The circus was in town.

Bomb Disposal officers with sniffer dogs walked rounds of the parking
area, checking vehicles. At the entrance doors, cops and civilians
crowded the steps. A local news crew had set up at the base of the
stairs, shooting alternating footage of the security sweep and the

No panic, though. This kind of scene was pretty common, now.

Heads turned as the barred shutters rolled back from the entrance
doors, and a Bomb Disposal officer emerged, megaphone in hand.

“All clear,” he said.

A collective sigh of resignation went round, as perpetrators,
complainants, and peace makers began to dribble back into the

“Another day, in the business of law and order,” Garber noted.

Vitale nodded. “Yep. Life, in the big city.”

*  *  *  *

The crowd in the reception lobby had thinned out considerably, by the
time Vitale and Garber cleared the metal detectors, and approached a
glum-looking Sergeant Farrell, at the desk. Her expression brightened,
as she greeted the senior detective, with a respectful nod.


“Sergeant Farrell.”

“Hey, Sarge.” Vitale’s grin was cocky. “Still slurpin’ down the herbal tea?”


The thunder clouds descended on Farrell’s brow, again.

“Hey, what’s with the, uh… ?”

Vitale jerked a thumb back, to indicate the last of the Bomb Disposal
Unit, loping out of the exit doors.

This brought a smile, from Sergeant Farrell. The kind a snake might
wear, as it contemplates a clutch of chicken eggs in a deserted roost.

“I am so glad you asked me that, Detective. I think we’ve got a live
one, for you. Upstairs.”

*  *  *  *

At the third floor, they pushed past the bullpen housing the
Detectives’ Division. Fallout from the morning’s bomb scare had the
plainclothes investigators juggling between their existing work load,
and a fresh influx of new cases.

That wiseacre, Hashida, found time to whistle the theme from “The
X-Files” at them, as Vitale and Garber passed from view, into the
adjacent corridor – which was home to the SIU.

The Special Investigations Unit shared a name and a few structural
elements with a civilian oversight agency in Ontario, Canada – but
very little else. Its officers were charged with “the discreet and
thorough investigation of cases which – for reasons of national
security, procedural, technical, jurisdictional, or political
implications – might otherwise fall outside the remit of the
mainstream law-enforcement network.”

A polite way of saying “sensitive”. Or “outside the box.”

In practice, this meant the SIU would often work in tandem with the
Detective bureau. Occasionally, though, the Unit could be called upon
to act, independent of it.

The SIU had been set up by special order of the Governor – more or
less in direct consequence to Lennox Garber’s retirement from the
military, his relocation to Metro City, and his expressed interest in
continuing to work as an investigator, outside of the armed forces

At present, the SIU consisted of three officers: two Case
Investigators, and a Forensic Investigator. The team had scored some
notable successes (discreetly, of course) in the several years since
its inception.

Some pretty bizarre cases, actually.

The Unit had its own forensics lab, custom fitted to Clapton’s
specifications. And an interrogation room. Your standard double space:
observation room, with computer access to the online crime databases.
Santa hadn’t delivered yet, on the polygraph link-up Clapton had been
lobbying for.

So Vitale and Garber would have to rely on their wits – and their own
powers of observation – with the occupant of the room beyond the
one-way mirrors.

*  *  *  *

Not your average-looking terror suspect, Vitale thought.

But, that was just it. The guy seated at the table in the center of
the room looked exactly that.


Neutral expression, as his gaze swept over Vitale, ignored him, and
locked eyes with Lieutenant Garber.

Vitale felt it, then.

A ripple, in the atmosphere of the room. Scent of blood, in the air.

Growing up, in the neighborhood – the guys he ran with – it was often like this.

Couple of them would be horsing around, one minute. Yucking it up.

A wrong word or move, and BAM! One of the guys would pitch over, a
blade in his gut. Or worse.

It was there, for an instant. Then gone.

That feeling.

“John Psmith.”

Garber consulted the clipboard he held in his hand.

“P-S-M-I-T-H. Pronounced, “Smith.”

“Great.” Vitale rolled his eyes. “Another one.”

He felt Psmith’s gaze shift toward him. His expression, unreadable.

“Says here,” Garber frowned over the text. “You’ve confessed to the
murder of Sergeant Farrell, at the desk downstairs. And the murder of
every other person in this building.”

Psmith nodded, affably.

“I’ve also killed every man, woman, and child, on the face of the Earth.”

There was silence, for a moment, as the detectives took this in.

Catching Garber’s eye, as they took their seats either side of the
suspect, Vitale twirled a finger above the table top: “This one’s a
Looney Tune.”

“Hmm.” Vitale cracked a lazy smile. “I don’t know.”

He stretched out an arm. Flexed his fingers, as he looked at them.

“I still seem to be, you know, alive, right now. Pretty much. You’re
looking pretty chipper, too, Lieutenant. How’s it hanging there, Len?
You alive?”

Garber nodded. “It would seem so. Yes.”

Vitale turned toward Psmith.

“So, um, Mr. Psmith. When did you, uh, you know, kill us? Exactly?”

Psmith considered, a moment.

“Today’s Tuesday, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Vitale nodded. Let’s humor this guy, he thought.


Psmith’s tone was firm.

“Thursday.” Vitale struggled, to keep a straight face. “As in, two
days from now, Thursday.”

It was Psmith’s turn to nod, now.


“Woo-ooooooh,” Vitale whistled. “End ‘o’ the world, huh?”

Psmith smiled, as he shook his head.

“The end of humanity, when it comes, will happen one death at a time.”

“That’s very philosophical.” Garber appeared to contemplate the idea.
“And it helps us, how?”

Psmith shifted his attention to the older man. That atmospheric
frisson, again, as their eyes met.

“1523 Highland Terrace'” he said.

A look flashed, between Garber and Vitale.

“Nice neighborhood.” Garber kept his tone mild.

Psmith’s smile didn’t waver, as he replied.

“Door’s open, I think.”

Another look passed between the two investigators.

“What’s going on, in Highland Terrace?”

There was an urgency to Vitale’s tone, now.

“Huh? What have you done? Answer me!”

Vitale slapped a hand down on the table. Hard.

Psmith regarded him mildly – as an entomologist might look at some
amusing new species of bug. His seraphic smile hardly faltered, as he
continued to stare.

Garber studied the two of them. He quickly concluded that the
stand-off wasn’t going to be resolved, like this.


Vitale broke eye contact with Psmith. He straightened, and rose from
his seat. It was Garber he addressed, as he opened the door.

“I’ll get ‘em to send someone. Check it out.”

But his eyes were on Psmith.

*  *  *  *

Highland Terrace. A quiet residential development, on the outskirts of
glamorous Metro City.

How the realtor’s brochure had described it, when Chavez toyed –
briefly – with the idea of renting accommodation, here.

One look at the house rents – and the figure on his monthly pay check
– put the kibosh, on that idea.

That was shortly after his transfer, to Metro West.

Glamorous Metro City. Yeah.

Chavez guessed it was all right. He had seen worse towns. Seen better.

No matter where you were, though, some things never changed.

Guys in the muster room took to calling him Hugo. Cracks about
slumming it; moonlighting from the White House, or whatever, in
Caracas, Venezuela. Hysterically funny. Yeah. The first six hundred
times you heard it.

A quiet, residential development.

Try suburb.

1523 was a neat two-story. Just like all the other houses on the street.

Chavez imagined the eyes of two and a half children on him, as he
stepped onto the porch. From their curtained windows. A neighborhood,

Paranoid, really. It was the middle of the morning; kids would all be
in school by now. Probably.

They had left the cruiser out front. Parkes was circling the back of
the property, while Chavez —

The front door was open.

Not gaping, but clearly unlocked.

Unsecured premises.

He addressed the presumed occupants of the building, as he approached the door.

“Hello! Metro PD. There’s been a report of– We’ve had a– Hell. Parkes!”

No answer. Parkes must be out of earshot. The structure blocking out
Chavez’ voice.

“Is anyone in there? Is anyone hurt? Shit.”

Chavez unclipped his service revolver. Thinking of the paperwork to
come, he nudged open the door. And entered the house.

“Oh, mierda!”

The smell hit him, first. Then, the visual.

In the front room (spacious lounge; that’s what the realtors would
say) lay the remains of a typical suburban family: Mom, Dad, couple of
kids. Not two and a half. Though it was difficult to tell.

They had bled a lot, when they died.

And they had died quite horribly.

“Oh, shi –!”

He couldn’t finish. Chavez turned, stumbling to the door. Bolted, for
the porch rail. And retched, uncontrollably, into the yard.

*  *  *  *

That’s all, for now.