Unlike the previous three stories, I did not try to turn this one around in 24 hours.
The Scarf and The Noose
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.
(contains violence, mild language)
Benjy Baxter and Caesar Campbell
|co-owners of BaxCam Coffees|
|Maury and Maureen Basil||co-owners of Java Juggernaut and Java Gym|
|Valeria Estefan||owner of La Cafetería|
|Josefa Estefan||Valeria’s grandmother|
|Jasper Numan||owner of Two Lumps For Me|
|Connie Ridgeley||owner of Coffee C’s|
|Timothy Thomas Tilbrook||owner of Tim Tom Coffee|
|Bessandra Leeway||owner of Leeway Lodge|
|Mickey and Gloria||employees at Leeway Lodge|
|Lieutenant Simon Tennant||Astley Hills Police Department|
“Oh, my! I’ve been waiting for your arrival! Adds a touch of celebrity to the place, you know?” Benjy and Caesar regarded the woman at the front desk curiously.
“Celebrity?” asked Caesar.
“So modest—as if you didn’t know!” The two men seemed genuinely puzzled, so she added, “Go to Twipper and look for #CoffeeDetectives. That’s you! Solving murders and robberies in East Kingsley! Everyone here is dying to meet you. Oh, dear—maybe dying isn’t the right word, hee hee! I’m Bessandra Leeway, the proprietress of Leeway Lodge.” She shook hands with each of them. “Let me show you your room.”
She led them into a hallway, then up a narrow wooden staircase. At the top of the stairway was a hallway, going both left and right, leading to doors in either direction. “This house belonged to my great aunt Violet. I think she was a madam, so you can guess what went on in these rooms!” She turned left and unlocked the second door on the right, and handed Benjy the key. “Here we are!” The room held two twin beds. “It’s a little small, but you know, these rooms were only meant to hold a single bed, tee hee! Just outside your door to the right is a door that goes to a stairway that leads to a patio on the roof. I think some of Aunt Violet’s clients would hide up there during police raids!” She laughed, then took a deep breath and clasped her hands. “We serve three meals a day: breakfast at 7, lunch at 12:30, and dinner at 6:30. All included in the price. I know you’ll be at the convention over the weekend so be sure you let us know if you’ll be eating here or not. There’s also an informal coffee social at 3:30. Most of my guests right now are here for the convention, so it’s a chance to meet your fellow attendees. If you need a snack at any time, just let someone in the kitchen know.” She took another deep breath and looked pleased with herself, having recited her little speech with great aplomb.
A maid appeared in the doorway and cleared her throat.
“You’d better come, Ms. Leeway. He’s unhappy again.” Gloria tilted her head towards a door on the opposite side of the hallway.
As Bessandra followed Gloria, she said, “Enjoy your stay, gentlemen!” She swept out the door and closed it behind her.
“Quite a character, eh?” said Benjy.
“Yes.” Caesar looked at his watch. “It’s 3:30 right now, we can make that social.” Caesar changed shirts while Benjy splashed some water on his face. Caesar could hear shouting from the hallway. He pressed his ear to the door, and could just make out Bessandra saying, “Gloria, just make sure they always have extra soap.”
Caesar opened the door a crack and peered out. He could see Bessandra and another woman, presumably Gloria, turning to go down the stairs. A door across the hall opened and a couple stepped out. “I’ll behave.” said the man to the woman.
The door to the left of Jasper opened and an elderly woman appeared. “Hello, Connie.” she said to the other woman.
“She’s not Connie!” snapped the man.
“I’m Maureen. We met earlier.” said his companion. Caesar flinched when she spoke. Her voice was a loud, brassy blare.
“Ay, I’m so sorry.” said the elderly woman. “From the back I thought you were Connie.”
The woman smiled. “We’re just going to the coffee social, shall we go down together?”
The elderly woman nodded and the three of them headed down the stairs.
“I’m ready.” said Benjy. “Let’s go!”
In the dining room, there was a large table set up in the center, with benches on either side. A number of smaller tables had been pushed against one wall. Another large table held three big urns—marked Columbian, Decaf, and Hot Tea—a bowl of oranges, bananas, and red and green apples, two platters of assorted pastries, a stack of small plates, and a basket with cloth napkins and silverware. A young man in an apron was folding more napkins. On the west wall was a large picture window offering a view of the garden which contained, appropriately enough, mostly violets. There were seven people at the big table, engaged in conversation.
“You can sit here if you’d like.” honked Maureen, waving at them excitedly. She scooted over to make room, pushing aside the man who had been in the hall with her.
As they walked towards the couple, the elderly woman, who was sitting at the other end of the table said to Caesar, “Excuse me, do you have any herbal tea?” Caesar looked at her. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she said, seeing his face. “I thought you were the server.” Caesar looked at the young man. Besides the fact they were both wearing white shirts and black slacks, there wasn’t any resemblance.
“No harm done.” he said. “I’m Caesar Campbell. This is my business partner Benjy Baxter.”
“I’m Josefa Estefan.” She indicated the young woman sitting next to her. “This is my granddaughter Valeria.”
“I’m Maureen Basil, and this is my husband Maury.” she said. “Are you here for the convention?”
“Yes. We own BaxCam Coffees in East Kingsley.” The two men introduced themselves.
“The coffee detectives! Our celebrities have arrived!” cried Maureen. Benjy forced a smile while Caesar shifted uneasily in his chair. “We own Java Juggernaut.” continued Maureen.
“Oh, now you’re the real celebrities.” said Benjy. “Twenty locations in the state, and two-time winner of the Coffeehouse Association Humanitarian Award.”
A woman wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and matching hair, sitting across the table, rolled her eyes.
“We also own Java Gym.” said Maury, and he flexed his tanned, sleeveless arms to drive the point home. “Twelve locations.”
“I’m Timothy Thomas Tilbrook.” said the man next to the tie-dye woman. “TimTom Coffees.” He offered his hand to Caesar, but before Caesar could shake it, Maury had stood up and put a card in Timothy’s hand.
“Here you go.” said Maury. “A free gym membership for a year. He walked around the table, handing everyone a card. “One for each of you!”
Josefa looked at hers and shrugged. “I’m afraid it’s not much good for me.” she said.
“We have special programs for our honored senior guests.” he said. “We want everyone to feel they can participate and keep fit.”
“Maybe I’ll check it out, then.”
Bessandra swept into the room. “Is there anything anyone needs?”
“I think you’re out of spoons. I need one” said Maury.
Bessandra turned to the man folding the napkins. “Mickey, take care of that, please.” He nodded and left.
“My turn!” said the woman in the tie-dye, taking advantage of the momentary distraction. “I’m Connie Ridgeley, owner of Coffee C’s. Three locations!”
The last member of the party said, “I guess that just leaves me.” He wore an oversized beret, with a long heavy scarf coiled around his neck like an anaconda. If his peacoat had been a smock, he would’ve looked like the stereotype of a French painter. “I’m Jasper Numan.” he said. “Two Lumps For Me over in Lead Valley.” He felt obliged to add: “Just one location.”
“I’ve been there.” said Caesar. “Nice place.” Jasper smiled.
Mickey returned, carrying a small white bundle. He went to the food table and deposited the contents—spoons—into the basket. He then picked up a spoon and presented it to Jasper.
“Not him, me!” cried out Maury, standing up abruptly, hands balled into fists. “What the hell is wrong with you? And I don’t want one that you touched!”
Maureen rested her hand on Maury’s arm and smiled self-consciously at everyone around the table. Maury saw that everyone was staring at him. He unclenched his scowl and his fists and patted Mickey on the back, the way one pets a dog when one doesn’t really like dogs. “Just a slight misunderstanding.” He handed Mickey a card. “One for you too. So sorry!” He patted Mickey again, who regarded Maury the way a dog regards someone who doesn’t like dogs.
“Thank you, Mickey.” said Bessandra. Mickey left. Bessandra followed him, giving Maury a disapproving look before she disappeared through the door.
“We’re nominated again this year.” said Maureen, as though nothing had happened. “I do hope we don’t win. It’s embarrassing. There are so many other deserving nominees.”
“Tell me more about this award.” said Caesar.
“Yes, do.” said Connie, with mock enthusiasm.
“Every year at the convention they present a Humanitarian Award, for the coffee owner—or owners—who have contributed towards the community.”
Maury, who had calmed down and sat back down, said “We’ve won it twice. Once for creating the ‘Homeless Work Research Grant’ to benefit our disadvantaged brothers and sisters, and once for our ‘Buy A Coffee, Save A Soul’ program.”
“Nice.” said Benjy. “Let’s talk later, maybe we’ll make a contribution.” Maury and Maureen exchanged glances. “That would be wonderful.” said Maury, more to Maureen than to Benjy.
Timothy’s eyes narrowed, and he was shaking his head “no” just slightly, but Benjy and Caesar were too preoccupied with the Basils to notice. Connie noticed, though.
The coffee social continued until about 5:30, when Bessandra chased everyone out so the staff could prepare for dinner. Caesar decided to check out the violet garden while Benjy took a nap.
2nd FLOOR PLAN
|← door to roof||HALLWAY|
|↓ stairway ↓
When they returned to the dining room, the larger tables were now against the wall and the smaller tables had been moved out. Jasper and Valeria were sitting at one table, Timothy and Connie at another, and Maureen and Josefa at another. “I think I’ll go chat with Valeria.” said Caesar. “Sure thing.” said Benjy, who saw Maureen waving at him again. He walked over, made a little bow to the women, and sat down. Josefa was looking over the menu. Maureen had a glass of wine in front of her.
“Hello, Benjy! You can borrow my menu.” said Maureen.
“Where’s Maury?” asked Benjy.
“He’s sleeping in the room. He said he has a headache. Bessandra said the staff could make something for him later.”
Meanwhile, Caesar had sat down with Jasper and Valeria, who had already ordered some wine. Mickey came over and handed Caesar a menu.
“Hello again,” said Caesar. “Are you two ready for the convention on Saturday?”
“Yes, indeed.” said Valeria. “I have a little time on Friday to check out the town and then it’s early to bed for me.”
“You’re all ready to go?”
“Oh yes. This is my fourth year attending. And the staff at the convention are really good at helping out.”
“I envy you both.” said Jasper. “Your stores are thriving and mine, well—not so much.”
“Beginner’s luck for us.” said Caesar. “This whole ‘coffee detectives’ thing was just a fluke.”
“And it wasn’t always easy for me.” said Valeria. “I’ve been in business for five years, and am only now showing any significant profit.” She touched Jasper’s shoulder reassuringly. “If you ever need advice, I’m happy to offer it.”
“Hang in there, Jasper. You’ll figure it out.” added Caesar.
“Thanks.” Jasper smiled. “I’ve tried all kinds of tricks to bring in a little money.” His mouth wrinkled. He took a deep breath, then sighed. “No more of that. I’ve been looking forward to the convention. I have a small booth and I brought some promotional merchandise.”
“Tell you what.” said Valeria. “Give me some business cards. I’ll put them up at my booth at the convention and send people your way.”
“Me too.” said Caesar.
“Thanks.” repeated Jasper. “I’ll bring you some after dinner.”
Benjy was inching backwards in his chair, trying to put a little space between him and the trumpeting Maureen. “We’re so fortunate.” she said. “We began with just one store, and in just a couple of years, BANG! (this caused Benjy and Josefa to jump) We had twenty.”
“That’s amazing.” said Josefa. “I know how hard it’s been for my granddaughter.”
“Do you work in her stores?”
“Ay, no, not me. I’m afraid I couldn’t keep up. I’ve visited my granddaughter’s stores in the morning when everyone is lined up demanding their coffees. How her staff stays so polite and patient, it’s beyond me.”
“We’ve been lucky.” said Benjy. “Caesar and I have some good staff, and we get support and encouragement from the other merchants on our street. And, uh, the ‘coffee detectives’ thing hasn’t hurt, I guess.”
“Well, not everyone is so fortunate.” said Maureen. She looked over at Jasper. “I was talking to him earlier. I guess things are pretty grim for him. Business is failing. He …” She paused. “… well, I’m afraid he might do something stupid.”
“Really?” said Josefa. “Jasper didn’t seem like that when I spoke to him.”
“That was Timothy.” corrected Maureen. She looked at Timothy and Connie’s table. They looked back at her uneasily, then resumed their conversation, speaking very quietly.
“Was it? I was sure it was Jasper. That big scarf of his.” Josefa closed her eyes, trying to remember. Maureen looked at Benjy and shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“May I take your order?” said Mickey.
The next day, Connie and Timothy were heading down the hallway towards the dining room, when they found Josefa standing at the foot of the stairs, looking up expectantly. “Waiting for someone?” asked Timothy.
“Maureen. She asked me earlier to meet her here.”
“Oh yes,” said Connie. “I just saw her. Looks like she went shopping.” She gestured over her shoulder.
“Oh?” said Josefa. “I thought she was upstairs getting Maury.”
“Well, don’t be too long.” said Connie. “It’s lunch time!” She and Timothy walked to the dining room, leaving Josefa in the hallway alone.
Suddenly, someone shoved past her, nearly knocking her down. She looked up to see a familiar scarf trailing behind its wearer. She saw a rope in his right hand, which struck her as an odd thing to be carrying. “Jasper! Watch where you’re going!” He ignored her and ran up the stairs, turned right, and vanished from site. Almost immediately from the same direction, Maureen cried out, “Hey!” She turned the corner from the right and came down the stairs. “Josefa! What’s up with Jasper? He just ran past me!”
“Me too. He nearly knocked me down!”
“And was he carrying a rope? What would he need that for?”
“Yes, I wondered that myself. How odd.” said Josefa.
Maureen shrugged. “Well, I’m starved.” Maureen turned and bellowed up the stairs. “Do hurry, Maury!” She offered Josefa her arm. “Shall we?” She and Josefa then walked to the dining room.
As they reached the door, Maureen suddenly stopped. “My shoe!” she said. She crouched over her left foot. “You go in, Josefa, I’ll be there in a moment. My shoe is untied.”
Josefa saw her granddaughter sitting at a table and joined her. Mickey handed her a menu. Connie and Timothy were at another table, closest to the big window, and Caesar and Benjy at another. Josefa looked at Maureen, who had finished tying her shoe and had taken a step through the door. She stopped again and turned to look over her shoulder. “Come on, Maury!” A pause. “Well, go get them. They’re on the nightstand.”
“Shouting, shouting, shouting.” whispered Caesar to Benjy. “Does she not understand the concept of ‘indoor voice’?”
There was a sudden loud crashing of breaking glass. A large object had come smashing through the big window. Shards of glass flew everywhere, showering Timothy and Connie, who were sitting at the table nearest the window. They sat, frozen with shock, afraid to move lest they cut themselves. Everyone else looked past them. Hanging in the window, a rope around his neck instead of his scarf, was Jasper. Without his massive peacoat, he looked very gaunt. Bits of glass were tangled in his curly hair.
Maureen staggered and clutched a nearby chair. “Oh my God.” she moaned, and fell to the floor. Maury came running in. “What was that noise?” he said. Jasper’s swinging body and Maureen lying at his feet fought for his attention. He finally fell to his knees, breathing hard. “Maureen!”
Benjy ran to the ruined window and said to Mickey, “You and Caesar go upstairs, see if you can undo that rope!” They left. Benjy tried to hoist the body without much luck. He needed more muscle, and turned to Maury. “Help me here!”
Maury, however, was gulping air convulsively. “Can’t … I’m hyperventilating.” Benjy called out, “Timothy, help me! Valeria, get Bessandra. Connie, call 911!” Valeria ran from the room. Timothy grabbed Jasper and the two men tried to lift the body. But Jasper was clearly dead. Benjy tried to untie the noose but the knot was too tight. Bessandra followed Valeria back into the dining room. “Get me a knife!” barked Benjy.
Josefa watched all of this in horror. She clasped her hands in silent prayer.
Caesar and Mickey came running back in. “The rope is tied on the roof. We can’t undo the knot.” said Caesar. Bessandra came back with a large knife. Mickey grabbed a chair and stood on it to cut the rope while Caesar helped Benjy and Timothy hold the body aloft. Connie began kicking away some of the glass on the floor so they could lay Jasper down. Mickey grabbed a tablecloth and covered him. “I called 911. The police are on their way.” said Connie.
By now, the Basils had recovered. Maureen was sobbing. “How terrible! Poor Jasper!” She buried her face in her husband’s chest. Maury was still breathing a little hard. “My God.” he said. “I know he was feeling very depressed, but … why didn’t he reach out?”
The room was then silent except for the banshee wail of approaching sirens.
“Wow, the coffee detectives!” Benjy and Caesar tried not to roll their eyes at the police detective. “I’m Lieutenant Simon Tennant, Astley Hills Police Department.” said the man. “Not much of a case here for you, though.” He looked almost disappointed. “The others have already said he was very depressed. And just before dinner, Mrs. Basil and Mrs. …” He consulted his notes. “… Estefan—the grandmother, not the granddaughter—said he ran past them on the stairs, carrying a rope. I guess he decided to end it all. It’s a shame.”
“Jasper did seem a little stressed,” said Caesar, “but I wouldn’t have said he was depressed. I guess you can never tell.”
“Well, we might be in touch if we have further questions. Here’s my card if you think of anything.” He handed cards to both Benjy and Caesar. They all watched as the ambulance took Jasper away. By this time, Bessandra and the guests had joined them. Lt. Tennant tipped his hat to the group and left.
“Jasper didn’t give me an emergency number to contact when he checked in.” said Bessandra. “The police already looked in his room and said it was okay to remove his things. I hate to just toss his stuff. I guess I can wait a few days to see if any relatives or friends come looking for him.” She sighed. “But I get the feeling nobody will.”
On Saturday, news at the convention spread quickly about Jasper’s death. The organizers asked for a moment of silence before the public was let in. Valeria and Caesar and Benjy also set up donation jars at their booths and crowdfunding links on their websites. They felt helpless; would anyone come to claim the body? What if nobody did? At the very least, the money would help pay for a burial.
Dinner that evening at Leeway Lodge was a somber affair. Everyone picked at their food without enthusiasm. The big window had been covered with plywood.
At one point, Maury stood up and tapped his wine glass with a spoon. “I’d like to make an announcement. First of all, a toast to Jasper Numan. I know he was really struggling and on the brink of despair. I wish we could’ve helped him somehow.” Everyone raised their glasses.
“Secondly, Maureen and I wish to announce we are starting a new charity, to help those who struggle with suicidal thoughts. We’ve decided to call it The Numan Initiative.” Everyone raised their glasses again—except Connie and Timothy. They just watched Maury silently.
Maury sat down and Maureen stood up. “My friends, I feel especially bad. Jasper had come to me and was talking about …” She hesitated and dabbed her eyes with her napkin. “… he said he couldn’t see any way out of the mess he was in. We’ve all said things like that before and most of the time it’s just talk, but I guess he was serious about it. I only wish …” Her voice trailed off and she sat down again. Maury put a muscular arm around her shoulders. Everyone sat silently for a moment, then resumed eating.
The convention continued on Sunday. Maury and Maureen had repeated their announcement to all the coffeehouse owners. Valeria and Caesar had walked over to the Basils’ booth to see that a big monitor had been set up showing a website for The Numan Initiative. Nobody had a picture of Jasper to put on the site, so Bessandra let them have a copy of his driver’s license, which she had scanned when he checked in. From the big monitor, his face looked out at everyone dispassionately. Valeria mused that he would’ve been embarrassed by all this attention.
Monday morning, Caesar was up early. Benjy was still asleep. Caesar decided to take a walk in the violet garden. Josefa and Valeria were there. Connie came up beside them. “Hello, Maureen.” said Josefa.
“No, lita.” whispered Valeria. Josefa looked more closely at Connie. “Ay, I’m sorry. I get so confused.”
“Well, we’ve all had a nasty shock this weekend.” said Connie.
Caesar suddenly turned and raced into the hallway. Bessandra was at the foot of the stairs. She regarded him curiously. “I’m just going up to clear out Jasper’s room.” she said.
“Mind if I come along?” She nodded and they went upstairs. Benjy had awakened by now and was at the top of the stairs, about to descend. Caesar motioned to him to follow them. Bessandra unlocked the door and they all stepped inside. On the floor, just inside the doorway were Jasper’s coat, hat, and scarf. There were two suitcases on the bed. Bessandra opened each one. The smaller one contained an assortment of clothing and toiletries and what looked like a few letters and legal documents. The larger one contained business cards and promotional products like stress balls (“How ironic.” thought Caesar) and keychains. They all bore the Two Lumps logo.
Caesar picked the clothing up from the floor and said, “May I borrow these? Just for a few minutes.”
“Borrow them?” said Bessandra. “Umm … well, I don’t see why not. But why?”
“Just a hunch.” he said. He put them on and raced back to the violet garden. The three women were still there, their backs to him. As quietly as possible, Caesar sneaked up behind them then abruptly shoved his way through.
“Hey!” cried out Connie. Caesar turned to face the women. Connie and Valeria looked annoyed, but Josefa’s eyes were wide with dread. When she saw that it was Caesar, she relaxed.
“Caesar, what a tasteless prank.” she said. “For half a second, I almost thought you were Jasper.”
“That’s all I needed to hear.” He went back to where Bessandra and Benjy were looking at the letters. “I’d like to get all the guests together in the dining room when breakfast begins. It’s important. I also need to make a call.” He pulled out his cell and a business card. “Benjy, come with me to our room for a minute.”
Everyone had gathered in the dining room. Mickey tried to hand out menus but Bessandra told him to wait.
“Is this going to take long?” said Maury. “We have a plane to catch.” Before Bessandra could answer, Caesar and Benjy walked in. Caesar closed the door to the kitchen and addressed the group. “Thank you for waiting, everyone. We wanted to talk to you all about Jasper’s death.” Josefa noticed uneasily that he was carrying Jasper’s scarf, beret, and peacoat.
“Three days ago we were all in the dining room when Jasper committed suicide. He had gone to the roof with a rope and hung himself.” Everyone nodded. Maureen closed her eyes and winced.
“Or was it suicide?” He gestured towards Benjy. “We don’t think so.”
“You mean it was an accident?” said Connie.
“But how does someone accidentally hang himself?” said Valeria. Caesar and Benjy stayed silent, then after a moment Timothy spoke. “You can’t. But then …”
“It was murder?” said Connie. “Oh, no, that’s just ridiculous. It had to be suicide. He was really depressed about his business.”
“That’s right.” agreed Timothy.
“Was he?” said Caesar.
Valeria thought, then nodded knowingly to him, but Maureen said, “But he was. I was really worried he might do something stupid.”
Caesar ignored her and said, “Josefa, when Jasper ran past you up the stairs, what was he wearing?”
“That big scarf and hat of his, and his coat. The ones you have right there.”
“Wait a minute.” said Timothy. “When he came through the window he wasn’t wearing any of those.”
“Yes, we found them on the floor just inside his room.” said Benjy. “So let’s see. He’s in a hurry to run to the roof and kill himself, but he stops by his room to take off some clothing. Why?”
“Well,” said Timothy uncomfortably. “Maybe it’s kind of hard to hang yourself if you’ve got on a big scarf.”
Josefa spoke up. “He turned right at the top of the stairs, towards his room. He ran into Maureen.”
“He didn’t turn left to head to the stairs to the roof?” asked Caesar.
“But it still couldn’t be murder!” protested Connie. “We were all here in the dining room.” She paused. “Well, not everyone.” She cleared her throat uneasily. “Bessandra and Gloria weren’t here.”
Gloria was about to protest, but Bessandra raised a hand to silence her, then pointed at herself in mock innocence and mouthed the words, “Who, me?” Benjy laughed. “You’re right, they weren’t here.”
“True,” said Caesar. “Bessandra and Gloria weren’t in the room, but there was one other person missing.” Everyone looked around at each other.
Finally, Timothy spoke: “It was Maury.” This time Maury did the wincing.
“But he was right behind Maureen.” said Josefa.
“Was he? Did you see him?” said Benjy.
“No, but I heard her talking to him.”
“So did I.” said Connie.
“But you didn’t actually hear or see him, right?”
Everyone digested this carefully. Josefa said, “Well, no.”
“Josefa, how do you know it was Jasper who rushed past you on the stairs?”
She looked doubtful. “It had to be.” Caesar stayed quiet to give her a chance to work it out for herself. She said, “But I only saw him from behind … that big hat of his. I never actually saw his face.”
“And as for being suicidal, he didn’t seem that way to me.” continued Caesar. Valeria nodded again in agreement. “True, one can contemplate suicide while appearing happy. I think the psychiatrists say it’s because once you’ve decided to do it, you feel relieved that your misery will soon be over. But only one person kept saying he was depressed and suicidal.”
Everyone slowly turned to look at the Maureen. “But he was! He told me so!”
“We only have your word for that.”
“So what? That doesn’t mean he wasn’t.”
“But this is ridiculous!” said Connie. “Why would the Basils want to kill Jasper?”
“Let’s go back a couple of years.” said Benjy. “The Basils had started a series of phony charities. It was a big scheme. They solicited donations, then returned 90 percent of the money to the donors with a receipt for the full amount so they could write it off their taxes, and the Basils kept 10 percent.”
“What does that have to do with Jasper?” asked Valeria.
“Seems he initially refused. He didn’t really have enough money to donate to significantly impact his taxes. But as things got worse for his business, he decided to try blackmailing the Basils. He’d tell the authorities what they were up to unless he got a cut. So they had to silence him.”
“Watch out everyone! The coffee detectives are hard at work!” said Maureen, smiling in feigned excitement. “I think you two have let this coffee detective crap go to your heads. You’re accusing us of murder and running a phony charity? Is this some kind of publicity stunt for your store? It’s all bullshit.”
“Actually,” said Timothy. “I’m one of the ones who donated to your charity and got 90% back.” He turned towards Benjy. “I’ll catch hell for this with the feds, but I will testify that the Basils were running this scheme.”
“Our word against yours.” said Maury, gritting his teeth.
“And against mine.” said Connie. Timothy took her hand and nodded.
Maureen smirked. “Well, that only proves we had a phony charity. That doesn’t prove we murdered Jasper. No way are you pinning a murder on us.”
“What about what Josefa saw on the stairs?”
“You’re basing all this on what that stupid old fool has to say?” said Maureen. Maury looked like a pot of porridge about to boil over. “She thought you were the waiter, after all. She thought I was Connie. Why should we believe anything she says? She’s clearly …” Maureen tapped herself on her head and crossed her eyes.
“No!” said Josefa. “I can’t swear I saw his face. But I will swear he, whoever it was, was wearing those clothes and I will swear he turned down the right hallway after passing me. I’m sure of that.”
“That still proves nothing!” snapped Maureen. Maury’s neck bulged as he gritted his teeth.
“You are awful, awful people!” cried Josefa. “How could you do that to that poor man? Pendejos!”
“You bitch! I’ll kill you like I killed Jasper!” Maury leapt out of his seat and lunged at Josefa. Caesar, Benjy, and Mickey all rushed to her defense. Right then, the kitchen door flew open and Lt. Tennant and three uniformed officers hurried in. They all wrestled Maury to the floor, but even the six men found it a struggle to keep him there.
“This is your fault!” raged Maury at Maureen, his spit showering the men. “You said she was old and easy to confuse!”
“You’re both under the arrest for the murder of Jasper Numan.” said Lt. Tennant. Then, to the officers, “Read them their rights and take them away.”
“Are you okay, lita?” said Valeria.
“I just need to catch my breath.” said Josefa. Then, with a wink, “And it’s not because I’m hyperventilating.”
“I’m glad we were here.” said Lt. Tennant. “Caesar called me just before the meeting, and we were hiding in the kitchen. We heard every word.”
“But I don’t understand. Just how did they do it?” said Bessandra.
“At some time before lunch on Friday, Maury and Maureen probably went to Jasper’s room to pretend they were going to give him some money.” said Caesar. “Maury garrotted him with the rope so it would look like he had died from hanging himself. Maureen took Jasper’s clothes and the rope and headed downstairs. She asked Josefa earlier in the day to meet her at the foot of the stairs just before lunchtime. When the time was right, she put Jasper’s clothes over hers and rushed past Josefa to make her think she saw Jasper still alive.”
“Oh!” said Connie. “I knew I had seen her downstairs!”
“Maureen ran upstairs into Jasper’s room, stripped off Jasper’s clothing, then came right back down, pretending that Jasper had rushed passed her too. She and Josefa then go to the dining room, but Maureen stops at the door and pretends to tie her shoe, to let Josefa get to where she can’t see into the corridor. Maureen then turns to speak to Maury, but he’s not really there. He’s up on the roof with Jasper’s body, tying a noose around his neck. Maureen shouts into the empty corridor, ‘Come on, Maury!’, and this is her signal. A moment later, Jasper’s body comes crashing through the window. And a moment after that, Maury comes in, as though he were just outside in the corridor. All that guff about hyperventilating was just to cover the fact he was panting from running all the way from the roof.”
Benjy continued. “Meanwhile, all this talk about Jasper being depressed was generated by the Basils. They were trying to make his situation look more dire than it actually was, so his suicide wouldn’t look unexpected. We didn’t really have hard evidence against them, but we knew Maury had a temper. We figured it wouldn’t take much to ignite it and get him to confess. Sorry about that, Josefa. I didn’t think he was going to attack you.”
“Well,” said Timothy to Lt. Tennant. “I guess that means we’re both in trouble.” He looked at Connie.
“That’s between you and the IRS.” said Lt. Tennant. “But if you come clean and offer to repay, they might show a little leniency, especially since you’re willing to testify against the Basils.”
“We will.” promised Connie. “Still, poor Jasper. How did you two guess he was trying to blackmail the Basils?”
“Well,” said Caesar. “I could say it was because he said something about ‘trying tricks’ to make his business succeed, but mostly it was a copy of the letter he sent the Basils, threatening to blackmail them. We found it in his suitcase. I wish he hadn’t done that. I’ve been to Two Lumps. It’s a good place. It just needed a little help.”
“See? What did I say?” said Bessandra. “You two really are coffee detectives!” She pulled out her cellphone and began typing. “Hashtag … coffee … detectives … hashtag … Leeway … Lodge”. She snapped a picture of the two men and pressed send. Everyone applauded with approval.
“We’re never going to live this down.” whispered Benjy to Caesar.