I think I drew the short straw.
The Superintendent came out of his office and cast an eye over the available detectives, stopping firstly at Plunkett, the current star, the Detective with the best resolution rate, then, after a shake of the head, looked at me.
I was trying to hide.
Obviously, it didn’t work. Another dead-end case was beckoning.
When I stepped into his office he told me to shut the door. I declined to sit.
He slid a file across the desk and sat back. “This shouldn’t take long. Open and shut.”
I knew what open and shut meant. The last open and shut case cost a detective his job. It was how the Superintendent got rid of what he called the ‘chaff’.
I picked up the file and opened it. A man sprawled on the kitchen floor, a bullet between the eyes. It certainly didn’t look spur of the moment or a lucky shot.
“The man had a history of domestic violence and the wife had enough, acquired a gun and when he pushed her too far. All she’s guilty of is illegal weapons charges.”
And quite possibly murder.
“I want it wrapped up by the end of the week.”
Dismissed. I felt like I was back in school. “I’ll do my best.”
No surprise that Plunkett had noticed our byplay, and that he should comment, “What important work has the Super set you on, then?”
There was no doubting the sarcasm and the condescending tone. It had also gained the attention of the other members of the squad. I could feel all eyes on me.
Stage one, the Superintendent gives the ‘dismissal’ case.
Stage two, Plunkett starts the humiliation.
“I’m sure you’re well aware of which case it is. After all, you have a hand in case allocation, being the senior detective.”
A small change in facial expression, definitely not the answer he was expecting. He opened his mouth to retort, then shut it again.
I simply walked past him, adding in a lower voice, “Thanks for the open and shut case, by the way.”
I had hoped that all but ignoring him would fire him up. Mercifully it didn’t, he picked up a sheet of paper from his desk and walked out. The others went back to work. I had no friends there.
When quiet settled over the room, I opened the file. There were a number of documents and witness statements. The previous detective, Robert Jackson, now working in a distant police station where there was very little crime, had come to the conclusion that was a justifiable homicide.
It fitted the facts if you didn’t read between the lines.
I started with the autopsy and the death was straightforward. A bullet in the head, shot at close range, not a lucky shot, but it was deliberate.
The forensic team had gone over the scene, and those people in the house at the time, the victim’s wife, Imelda Archer, two children Jennifer and Dale, and the wife’s mother, Wendy O’Donnell, all said the same thing, that he deserved to die, and no, they hadn’t seen who did it, but, on the other hand, none of the three had witnessed Imelda do it, only that she had been arguing with her husband, then a gunshot, and then silence.
There were the facts that the wife tested positive for gunshot residue, and the murder weapon had not been found. It was, at best, circumstantial but compelling evidence.
The building’s residents had been canvassed, and aside from the usual, ‘It’s none of my business’, there was the odd, ‘don’t know them’ or ‘he got what he deserved’. Most corroborated the time of the shot that fitted the time of the death. Some offered the opinion that they’d often heard loud and heated arguments coming from the apartment, and later seeing Imelda with lacerations and bruising.
Outside the building, among those canvassed, only one said they heard another bang, one that was thought to be a car backfiring because it was half an hour earlier than the actual shot. The previous detective discounted it as being relevant to the case.
As a matter of interest, Detective Jackson had run a background check on Archer, to see if he had any enemies, of which there were many but all had alibis, and friends who mostly had little good to say about his wife. Not unexpected in such a situation.
He did the same for Imelda, and her friends corroborated the story about the brutal husband, and how it was in their opinion if she did it, it would be justifiable.
I read Jacksons notes, his final report and his recommendations, and they echoed the very words the Superintendent had told me.
Sticking points were the earlier bang, which corroborated Imelda’s statement when said she had not shot her husband but had threatened him with a gun she had got from a ‘friend’, whom she refused to name, about a half-hour before she found the body on the kitchen floor. She didn’t admit to firing a bullet, but it was possible she had.
A gun in the hand of an inexperienced, and agitated shooter was a dangerous weapon, and a shot could go almost anywhere. I doubted, given the distance she said she was standing away from the victim, she could have hit him.
She said the gun had gone missing when she put it in a drawer after the husband left.
That meant that there were possibly two weapons, or it could be the same one used on both occasions.
Forensics had looked for a bullet in the wall, considering there may have been a first shot, one fired by Imelda when she threatened her husband earlier, if that was, in fact, what happened, but none had been found.
Nor was there any testimony that anyone had seen the husband leaving the flat, or any other movement or sounds from the apartment in the half-hour leading up to the time of death.
This was not an open and shut case.
Then there was another forensic report, still in the envelope with the word ‘copy’ on it, still unopened. It was dated the day after the last entry by the first investigating detective.
Why hadn’t it been opened? Had Jackson believed it was just a copy of the first original report. It didn’t feel like anything more than a single sheet, whereas the first was ten pages and evidently came in a larger envelope.
I opened the envelope and pulled out the single page. It had a single paragraph and a note that said ‘just thought I’d check if there was a match between the gun residue on Imelda Archer’s hand and the gunshot wound on the victims head. They do not match.’ The report concluded that there had been two shots fired, one by Imelda that wasn’t fired from the same gun that killed her husband.
I looked up to see the Superintendent standing in front of my desk.
“Is it an open and shut case?”
“I don’t think so.” I handed him the sheet of paper from the previously unopened envelope and watched him read it.
“Sloppy. Very, very sloppy.” He glared at me. “Find the killer.”
© Charles Heath 2020