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To the Victor…
Chapter 6: The Case of the Snuffed-out Snoop
by Tog
(Part 4 of 4)

*     *    *

The following morning everyone was downstairs by 8 AM.  As they arrived, they gathered in the Study and huddled around the glow of the fire.  Lista looked over the group carefully.  One of them was probably a murderer.  She didn’t know for sure that that was the case, but it seemed to fit so well.  One thing she did know for sure.  Whoever searched the body in the freezer had a fresh cut on a finger.

“Well, for some of us it was an eventful evening.”  Ms. Forsyth scoffed but Lista continued.  “After that. 

“To bring everyone up to speed, last night, after I’d finished my first rounds, I was poking the fire while I thought about things.  I noticed something odd in it.  As it turns out, there were several pages burnt sometime after we all went to bed.  I was able to save some of the pieces and it looks like it was a copy of the reports I read last night, but not really the same.  I can’t tell exactly what it said, but I know it’s different.  One word I was able to make out was ‘chlorophyll’, which I know wasn’t in my version.  With a bit of help from Marcus, I was able to get into the freezer and found.  Are you all ready?  The files were still there.”

Ms. Forsythe raised her head a bit and said to the room in general, “My word, dear.  Where do you find the energy?”

“Miss, if you needed in the freezer so badly, why didn’t you come to me for the key?” asked Mr. Hastings.

“Frankly, because you are the only one that could have burned whatever it was.”

“Pardon?”

“You heard me.  Just before we all went to bed, Davis cleared out the coals and ash to relight the fire.  You said that no one had been out of their rooms, so it stands to reason that you burned the papers.  What were they?”

The former Major glared at her for a moment and then looked around the room, only to see everyone looking back with a similar accusatory gaze.  “Okay.  I told a small lie.  I can’t swear that everyone was in their rooms all night.  It’s not something I like to have known, but I’m a smoker.  A little after the storm let up, I went out on the porch for a while.  It may have been as much as 15 minutes.  I have no way to know if anyone came down at that time, but it’s possible.  Besides, the threat is from outside the house, and I’ll swear that no one entered this house on my watch.”

Lista frowned.  “I’m not sure that’s really the best alibi, but I did find something else that sort of supports it.”

She turned to address the rest of the group.  “Audience participation time.  Everybody play along now.  Everyone that did not see Mr. Hastings from the time we went to bed until we all came in here this morning, raise your right hand.”  All hands went up.  “All those that swear they never left their own rooms last night, raise your left hand.”

She looked over the hands.  “Everyone has both hands raised except for myself, Hastings and Marcus.  That means that either Hastings is lying or one of you is.  I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with the letter… ‘A’.”  Her eyes were fixed on the adhesive bandage wrapped around the finger of one of the other guests. 

“You can all put your hands down now.  Marcus actually came down before I went into the kitchen, and recalling his story about his misspent youth, I asked if he could pick the lock.  At this point Mr. Hastings was a pretty good suspect for burning the papers, so going to him would have been a bad move.  Marcus couldn’t pick it, but started describing a way to open a padlock without a key of any kind.  As it turns out, the thing he was describing was sitting in the trash, already used.  This tipped the scales away from Hastings, since he wouldn’t have needed to break in.

“I also found some blood on the one in the trash.  Like whoever made it cut themselves doing it.  Must have been hard to get that bandage on there and not mess up that manicure, huh Misti?”

Misti stood up and began to walk around the room as she spoke.  “Fine.  You caught me.  Yes.  I did break into the freezer.  I wanted to get a look at that report and see just what it said about my Ronnie.  I know it can’t be true and I was hoping to find something in them to show it was all a lie.  I made that thing to open the lock, and I cut myself on it.  Take me away.”

“What did you burn?”

“I didn’t burn anything.  I looked at the report, then went back up the stairs in the kitchen.  I never even came into this room.”

“See, I don’t think that’s true.  The ones in the fire had yesterday’s date on them, and were printed on the same heavy bond paper I saw in the office.  The report I read was printed on regular paper.  I think the reports were switched, and that you’re the one that did it.”

“That’s a hell of a leap”, said Marcus.

“Maybe so, but I’ve got my reasons to think it’s true.  I also found that Devon’s body had been searched and his wallet had been gone through, but nothing obvious was taken from it.  There was blood smear on the wallet.  What I didn’t find were the keys to his office.  I think you swiped his keys, then looked for the combination to his safe, or some other place where he might keep the hard copies of that report that got burned.”

Misti sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the heavy wooden coffee table and glared at Lista, but said nothing.

Lista continued.  “Let’s say I’m right about the files.  Someone had to swap them and you were the only person that was alone for even a few minutes from the time the lights went out until we found the body.  I think you arranged the EMP attack and hired those two guys to plant it.  I saw the tracks outside the kitchen window.  I also think that you wrote the bogus report yourself using the inside information you got from being married to the subject.  He’s the only one you could really know would be here.  All those businesses and industries that were listed were all pretty vague.  Most of them covered areas that aren’t even represented here.  But I don’t know why.  Why do any of this? And did the EMP kill him, or did you finish him off?”

All eyes were fixed on one of the two women, or darting back and forth between them.  Lista was ready for Misti to run.  She was sure she had the speed to overtake her if she tried.  She wouldn’t have to fly.  Misti shifted in her seat, and looked at each person in turn.  The only one that gave her the slightest comforting look was her husband.  The others had decided she was guilty before she could even speak.  Her eyes fixed on her husband for a moment and then moved over to Lista, who seemed ready to launch off of her chair.  She gave a heavy sigh, relaxed and started to cry.

“Okay, fine.  I sort of did it.  I hired those guys to bring the EMP to the house.  I swapped out the documents.  I didn’t kill him though.  I mean not directly.  I didn’t think he’d stay in the room when the lights went out.  When I opened the door, there he was.  I switched out the papers and hid them in the bathroom, then got them out later.”

“Dear?  Why?” asked Ronald.

“What did the real report say?” asked Lista.

Misti was sobbing even harder and began to dig through her purse for a second tissue.  “I didn’t look at them, just hid them and tossed them on the fire.  I don’t care what they said.  I was contacted by someone a few months back that said they had enough evidence against you to ruin you.  All they wanted was a little dip in the stock prices and a minor scandal would do it.  They said that if I did this, they’d leave us alone.  I did it for you.”  She had used up the second tissue and was now after a third.  “Happy now Lisa?”

“No.  I’m not.  That still doesn’t work.  If Devon had lived, your switch would have been found out as soon as he looked at the reports.  How did you actually expect this to work out?”

Misti flushed.  Lista readied herself to run, but instead had to block the small purse Misti threw at her as she screamed, “You witch!  I hate you.”

Time seemed to freeze for just an instant.  There was a flash, then a loud sound.  When Lista thought back on it, there felt like several seconds between the two events, but with the sound came a pressure all over her body.  It was like being hit with a mattress or sofa cushion.  The impact knocked her back over the chair in which she was sitting and then came the sensation.  It was an all over body tingle, like being caught in a hail storm.  She felt the back of the chair hit her in the back and then she felt the ground in the same place.  Her head bounced hard on the floor and her left hand hit something hard.  The base of a table leg?  That was the last thing she could recall before seeing the light fade back into view.

When she was aware enough to look around, she could see that the others had been affected as well.  Hastings was moving.  He could tend to the injured.  She already had a job.

Misti had bolted for the door the instant the “stingball” stun grenade she had hidden in her purse had detonated.  The way she had thrown the bag, she was spared from the brunt of the impact by the table and was able to make use of the time to get a good head start to the boat launch.  Lista saw her tracks vanish around a bend in the path about 300 yards away.  “I must have been out longer than I thought.” She said to herself.  Once clear of the house, she leapt into the air and flew off down the path.  When she arrived on the beach, she could see a small, rubber raft with an outboard motor idling in a circle about 200 feet off shore.  Slumped over in the raft, was Misti.

Lista flew out to the raft and saw that Misti had something stuck in her back.  As she got closer she could see it was the sand spike used to anchor the craft to the beach.  Lista figured that in her haste to escape, Misti forgot to grab the line.  When the anchor rope reached its limit, the spike was pulled from the sand and flew back at Misti like a harpoon.  From the position of the wound and the color of the blood, there was no hope for her.  Lista pulled the raft back to the beach and looked at the marks in the sand.  They supported her idea.  Further down the beach was another landing site where a second raft had been docked.  Each raft had one set of boot tracks coming from it, but the other raft had both sets returning to it.

 

Later that afternoon, after the police had been contacted, everyone gave their statements.  Lista gave as much information as she could recall, and the lead investigator agreed with her theory about all of the events, though he did clarify that everything would be followed up.

The group parted ways at the shore and as might be expected, Mr. Abernathy looked to be in shock.  He had a few assistants there to help him home.  Lista couldn’t help but feel for the guy.  It wasn’t the outcome she would have hoped for.

Once they were back over Steel Canyon, Lista said her good-byes to Marcus over the helicopter headset.  She wished him well, invited him to call her again, then opened the door and stepped out.  He marveled at her as she dropped away from the craft, then spread her arms a bit and changed course to Boomtown.  He was already making plans to call her again when she vanished from sight.

 

“Hey guys, I’m home!  You missed me right?  You know you did.  Guys?  Hello?”  She glanced over at the dry erase board they used as a message center.

Lis, hope you see this in time.  Mass riots have broken out all over.  We’ll be in Sky, near the hospital to see if we can’t get some of this put down.  MA flew back home for a few days, so we could really use you.

Tog

She hurried into her room to get changed and emerged just as the others returned.  “Sorry I’m late guys.  Was it bad?”

“It was rough.  Ep earned her keep, that’s for sure.  You got my note then?”

“Yeah, I just barely got back.  Turns out there was this big murder thing at the house and I managed to solve it all by myself.”

Congratulations were handed around, and details were exchanged on both the events of the house, and the riots.  A few days later, Angela walked in with a huge smile.

“Hey!” yelled Tog.  “Look who’s back.  It’s Saint Matthew!  Glad to have you back here.  You look different.  I take it went well?”

“It was amazin’.  I can’t believe my parents are okay with this.  Dad was a little freaked at first, but they’re fine with it.  It’s like this huge weight’s been lifted from me.  Wait.  Saint Matthew?”

“You missed all the fun up here” said Jyn.

“Up here maybe, but I didn’t miss it.  I got it back home too.  Lots of places did.  It’s like the whole country went nuts Friday night.”

“Yeah, even where I was things were crazy.”  Lista filled her on the details of the house, knowing that Mourning would be impressed at the way she figured it all out.  When she had finished the story Angela looked up with a frown.

“I don’t think you got it all.  I think there had to be at least one other person in the house that was involved.”

“What?”  Lista looked shocked.

“Don’t get me wrong, Misti was definitely the main person involved, but she had to have help.  Okay, let’s work backwards.  You saw tracks from two boats on the beach.  Each had one set of tracks coming from it.  The same tread, or near enough to the ones you saw outside the kitchen window.”

“Right.  Two guys came to the island by raft, one in each, to kill the power and leave a boat for Misti.”

“The problem is, it rained hard that night.  From about 8:15 to midnight.  You said you had a hard time makin’ out the tracks where you and the others searched the house when you went out later that night.  Why would the rain’ve hidden your tracks, but not the tracks of the mystery men?”

“Crap!  I started to wonder about that when Marcus caught me hovering.  I guess they could have wandered back by after the rain had stopped.”

“Then we need to look at the beach.  If the sand was dry, you wouldn’t have been able to get the details of the tread.  The men had to have come around after the rain.”

“Then that means that Mrs. Wilson lied about seeing them.  But she had never met Misti before.  I’m sure of it.”

“Then let’s look at the actual blackout.  Misti said that she had planned to make the switch when the lights went out, right?  Why would she think the room would be empty?  If the power goes out in someone else’s house, the last thing most people would do is go down to see what happened quickly and as a group.”

“Misti knew Mrs. Wilson was going to scream!”

“And the timin’ of the blackout was critical.  It had to happen before anyone saw the file, but after it had been placed in the open.  That was too narrow a window to risk using a timer.  There had to either be a bug in the room or an accomplice with the trigger.”

“But she was with me when it was triggered.”

“Which brings us to the thing about the purse.”

“Huh?”

“When Mrs. Wilson left the room, she asked you if either of you wanted to come.  You declined and so did Misti.  A second later, Wilson came back to get her purse.  I’m bettin’ that the transmitter was in the purse and that if you would have gone with her, she wouldn’t have taken it, so that Misti could listen in and set off the EMP.  Were they ever alone together?”

“Just for a few minutes, I think.  Right before dinner.”

“And did either of them get up from the table.”

“Yes.  They both did.  In fact, I think everyone did at some point.”

“Okay, my guess is that they had it planned so that one would set everything up during dinner, then the other would check it all.  Maybe they each had a different part to set up.”

“But they never met before.  I’d bet my life on it.  Wilson did nothing but glare at Misti as soon as she got there.”

“And that had changed before dinner, didn’t it?”

“Wow, I guess it did.  Misti was talking about some solitaire game she was trying to make up.  Mrs. Wilson was the only one that seemed to care, and they did seem to be a bit more friendly after that.  And you know what else?  Mrs. Wilson asked me something about how much I liked October.  I told her I like summer better, and she got all weird on me.  Later I think I heard her ask Misti the same thing, same words and everything.”

“Countersigns maybe.  It’s makin’ a bit more sense now.”

“Explain it then.”

“Okay, say you want to kill this guy, and you want to be sure it gets done, but you also need to get your assassin away from the scene.  The best way to do it is to use two of them and cloud the issue.  If four things have to happen, and everyone has an alibi for at least 2 of them, then no one person can be responsible.”

“So this is a conspiracy?”

“Probably.  Wilson knew there would be someone there she was supposed to work with.  Misti knew someone would contact her.  Wilson asked everyone some innocent question knowing that the one person that gave the right reply was her partner.  If each had half the plan, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes to share the two ideas.  Do you know what the big problem was?”

“The guys in the raft were late?”

“Right.  Wilson had to scream when she saw them as the power went out to draw everyone out of the office and get them lookin’ for the guys outside.  If you had been with her, Misti would have screamed.  Either way, it gets one of them alone, and everyone else gathered in a different part of the house.  Because the guys in the raft got there after the storm, we know that the EMP device had to be placed by one of the two women, both of whom could have done it during dinner.”

“So why actually have the guys in the rafts?”

“To have physical proof that someone that wasn’t in the house was on the island, and to help the real killers get away if possible.  Maybe even to have people runnin’ away from the house if anyone ran out to catch them.  And probably to kill Misty before she could get away.”

“You think Misty was murdered too?”

“Almost certainly.  A sand spike though the back is just too unlikely to happen, but we need to see the police report to be sure.”

“How would they have done that?”

“They could have been hidin’ in the boat for her.  Easy enough to swim or wade over to it, then jump back into the water after.”

Lista gave a long sigh, “But.”  She sighed again.  “But if they were both involved, how come they got an invitation in the first place?”

“We might never know that.  Whatever was in that report would have been key, I think.  It does raise an intrestin’ thought, though.  What were the odds that a man would come across information that would lead to him invintin’ the husbands of two killers workin’ for the same group to his home for the weekend?”

“Well…  So now what?  Do we follow up on the Senator’s wife being part of it?  Do you think we’ll ever know the real reason Devon called everyone there?  And why it was so important to silence him?”

“Let’s see where the official investigation leads.  And hey, you did an awesome job.  The stuff you got, you nailed, it was just a few of the more subtle things that got past you.  Try not to look so glum.  That’s my thing.”

*     *    *

“He’ll see you now.”

Mrs. Wilson entered the room.  It was unlit except for a bright light placed high above.  She could just make out a shadowy figure concealed in a large chair behind an even larger desk.  “You wished to see me, sir?”

“Nice job with Devon.  Pitty about the girl, though.  She had promise.  I just wanted you to know that the investigation will find that she acted alone, and that her death was accident.  You are clear to continue monitoring and reporting.  The exercise went well, and I think we can get your husband into a higher pay grade next time around.  I’m also pleased to see you had no difficulties with the devices.”

“No, sir.  They worked perfectly.  I was able to hide my phone in a copper pot just before I set of the device, as you instructed, to maintain contact with the men outside the house.  One question though, if I may.  What about that woman?  Lisa Monet?”

“She will be dealt with in time.  I’ve had Sagittarius look into her.  I think she may be one of the people that forced us to switch from the newspaper to the television.  If that is true, I think we can expect further interference from her.  I’ll have Aquarius start to work on ways to discredit her if she surfaces again.  From what you say, it shouldn’t be hard.  For now, avoid any contact with her.  She may be the type to want to follow up on things.”

She turned to leave, and the man in the chair sat back.  Once the door closed, he pressed a button on his desk.  “Mrs. Wilson and the Senator are on the watch list.”

“Understood, Sir.”

TO CHAPTER 7 >






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