Wednesday, October 17, 2018

In Search of Tom Purdue: Chapter 13 (Part 1)

In the previous installment, Perdita Vremsky, after having been given a tour of the Old Haine Place, “interviews” Tom Purdue now that he's regained consciousness and the results are not very promising. Meanwhile, Cameron, Dorothy, and Martin return to Purdue's basement, quickly closing the tunnel gate behind them when Dr Kerr suddenly shows up, much to everybody's surprise (including Kerr's).

(If you're just tuning in, as they say, you can read the novel from the beginning, here.)

And now, it's time to continue with the next installment of

In Search of Tom Purdue.

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The Marple Precinct's supply of coffee turned out to be not so endless, alas, having run out half-way through the morning, so Officer Naze was dispatched to a nearby grocery store for fresh supplies. When she returned, she found the break room's coffeemaker its usual recalcitrant self, and a pot of fresh coffee taking forever. The smell of some fresh brew eventually filtered its way down the hall into the bull-pen where the other officers sat, staring at the white board with little thought beyond a cup of joe. Since it was proving to be a tougher case than she'd initially imagined, a rough morning after finding this latest body, Det. Laura Narder let everybody have ten minutes to replenish their caffeine intake. Meanwhile, she kept staring at the board herself, trying to reconfigure the information till something new might jump out at her.

If nothing else, giving them a break might get the collective blood circulating, a chance to get up, stretch some muscles, with or without coffee, talk about something else for a couple of minutes. She wondered what she should do with herself, knowing if she'd walk into the break room, they'd all clam up immediately. Her preference was to walk out the back door, take some deep breaths, and stand under a tree for a while. Then her co-workers would think she was too good to go join them.

Tango, looking in the window, saw Narder check the time on her phone, then turned to everyone in the break room. “Yo, everybody,” he called out, jerking his head toward the bull-pen, “time's a-wasting.” Everyone resumed their places, coffee cups in hand, once again serious and attentive, ready to attack the questions from different angles.

Reel, handing Narder a fresh cup “in case you need something stronger than that bottled water,” gave her a “we'll-get-this-one” nod. “Maybe we should sit in different chairs – you know, get a different perspective?”

The evidence was the same, they went over it in the same order, again they placed everything onto a convenient time-line. Nothing was different but somehow she hoped they would have a different result. “Isn't that the definition of 'insanity,'” she thought, as she rattled off facts. “But maybe someone'll notice something we've missed before.”

“The first victim, Alma Viva, arrives early for her first day of work; Arugula Jones gives the 'new girl' the tour; just before 9:00, they're both in Belle DiVedremo's office and everything seems fine. Shortly after 9am, everybody's arrived and Crimea Rivers sends the victim upstairs to put the weekend's mail on the boss's desk. From there, it was only a few minutes before those downstairs heard noises coming from upstairs – Nick Turner's sent to investigate. Arugula Jones hears the commotion, goes to help; first one on the scene.

“Jones looks in, sees the blood, sees the body, looks up, sees someone 'praying mantis-like' standing over the body and screams. Turner glimpses a tall guy dressed in black running into a connected office. He runs after him, sees our presumed killer running down the back steps. The presumed killer disappears into the back alleyway.”

Pointing at photos, maps or diagrams as she goes, Narder continued her recitation: ”Jones describes the intruder as a tall man. From the footprints, we know he wears a size 11 shoe – no fingerprints. Turner didn't catch a good look at the guy, can't say whether he's tall or not, hunched over as he ran.

“From the attack on the victim, we know he's right-handed and pretty strong, slashing her across the throat – she bled out. And, oh yeah – he killed her with something that could be a scythe.

“Dr Nortonstein found a fragment of a rambling hand-written letter in the victim's hand, but the signed part was ripped off; addressed to DiVedremo, everything pointed to Thomas Purdue, a composer Marple Music published. There'd been some problems with Purdue along with several desperate-sounding, nearly incoherent messages on the answering machine from over the weekend. He'd been last seen on Friday by his assistant” – Tango snorted – “Amanda Wences; his last phone message came in Saturday night. After that, Dr Purdue seems to have disappeared and hasn't been seen since.

“The second murder took place right under our very noses, people – at the crime scene after we'd locked up yesterday afternoon. Belle DiVedremo returns to her office, is apparently killed there; the body's removed. The body – same M.O. – is discovered inside the Haine Crypt at Blackwood Cemetery. That's just around the corner from Purdue's house.”

The problem, she explained, was that Thomas Purdue is apparently not a tall man, he's 65 and not likely that strong, plus he wears a size 9 and nothing places him at the scene. But his recent behavior, the phone messages, the letter, the fact he's disappeared – all these, she points out, make him “suspicious.”

“Not to mention all these academic friends of his who pop up the moment he disappears,” Reel added, “like they're accomplices.”

“And,” Tango piped up, “don't forget, he's a serial composer – turned serial killer?”

There was little physical evidence to identify a killer and they're still waiting on results from Nortonstein about some trace evidence found in the wounds or on the rug used to cover DiVedremo's body. Curiously, there was this button found between Victim #2's body and the rug, something their guest, IMP Agent Sarah Bond, identified.

Tango smiled. “Speaking of whom, has anybody heard anything from the vavavoom-alicious Agent Bond since she left here earlier this morning?”

Ignoring his question, Narder again mentioned its presumed association with The Aficionati. “Nadia?”

From what she could gather on-line, Nadia Klüh reported it was a secret organization, so there was a ton of information. “Nothing helpful, just a group committed to preserving the... 'sanctity' of classical music?”

“But is it a group that would commit murder to do just that? And is Purdue a member of this group?”

The door from the precinct main lobby was flung open with great force and a once tall, stoop-shouldered, basically overweight old man stood in the doorway, nearly bald and scowling, thoroughly gray of visage. It was more sensing his presence than hearing him enter, but everybody shut up and turned as the man stood there.

Narder nodded but tried not to smile, hoping to look serious, like “we're-doing-our-best-Cap'n” serious and then hoping he'd let it go. Rather than nodding, Captain Freddie Gagliardo plodded forward, walking right into the bull-pen.

Judging from the look on his face, he was not pleased with the latest news he'd been given earlier this morning. His expression was all about disappointment, heightened by the cynicism of years' experience. Narder thought he looked like it was already the end of the day. Small wonder everyone – lovingly – called him “Grumpy Cop.”

“People,” he said, looking around the room slowly as if he's taking roll, trying hard to look like he might smile, “I know you're all good, hard-working officers, and you've had a rough morning. But, let us face facts, you've got to move faster on this case – as fast as possible, then even faster still.” Gagliardo let this sink in a moment, wondering if anyone caught his drift. “Not that I'm excusing sloppy work, mind you. We need to solve this case and soon – before there's a third victim.”

He didn't need to remind them they now had the bodies of two dead women lying in their morgue, brutally murdered, and no suspect in custody in their jail, not even in their sites. But when he expressed it this way – needing to preempt a third victim – it drove the point home with resounding force. Tango looked at Narder whose quick glance around the room caught the expression on everyone's faces, one of a dark epiphany: “We must catch this bastard,” they collectively felt, “or it'll be our fault.”

Narder knew, as they all knew, when you're dealing with a serial killer, it's when will he strike again, not if. It hadn't occurred to her before, though, who that next victim might be. Is anyone else at Marple Music in danger, if Purdue's out for revenge? Or could he just strike anywhere, without warning?

“When the discovery of this second body hits the media,” the captain continued, “the good people of this town will panic.” His voice was calm and, as usual, understated, almost cynically devoid of emotion. Narder had to admire him for that, not erupting into demagoguery (if that was the right word, here), ablaze with fear.

“The fact there'd been a second murder at all, as they've heard it reported on last night's news, was bad enough. But now they'll have a body to point to and they'll want answers.”

Narder picked up the ball, adding, “We want time to do our job but time is unfortunately something we don't have. You heard what Gru... uhm, the captain said, so let's avoid any panic.”

But Reel figured it depended on how it's handled, what wording they used. “People panic when the media tells them to.”

Officer Anne Roofer, the precinct's intrepid dispatcher, stuck her head in the door. “While you guys have tried being productive, has anyone noticed a group of about twenty people just showed up out front? I imagine it's reporters from every newspaper and TV station in the region – looks like they're expecting a press conference soon.”

Gagliardo rolled his eyes back as his shoulders sank a few more inches. “Well, you guys get me some answers – fast!”

Tango heard the increasing sounds of grumbling from outside. “Panic in three... two...”

When holding a press conference, it was Gagliardo's experience the rumpled, exhausted look always won you some sympathy with the media – three TV stations, two radio stations, and the remnant of a local newspaper – because it made you look like you were interrupted while hard at work, taking time out from chasing after potential perps. With any luck, the alarmed public will see this as a welcome sign rather than typical bureaucratic indifference to their plight when you consider there's a killer on the loose who could strike again. But then, as Narder knew, the residents of the Greater Marple Area were well aware of their rumpled, exhausted-looking police chief, whether announcing a drug-related arrest or a street closing for a summer fair. It didn't help he reminded people of someone rudely awakened from a nap where no amount of gravitas could instill confidence.

No matter that Alejandro Tango has been working on the latest developments since the DiVedremo body had been discovered around midnight, he still looked more dapper than Captain Gagliardo arriving to start his day. If it's public relations you wanted, Narder'd put Tango and Reel on the podium with the latest information in the investigation. People had the utmost respect for Captain Gagliardo, even after The Marple Busybody broke the Captain's nickname “Grumpy Cop” last summer. It didn't help when that turned him into an immediate social media meme.

Before he left to see to the growing crowd outside the precinct's door, Gagliardo quickly scanned the white board for information, knowing what he knew he could and could not release to the public. He knew they'd just gotten the all-clear to release the latest victim's name, there having been no immediate next-of-kin to notify. There were things that were and were not pertinent to what the public needed to know, especially about the gorier details. Mostly they wanted to know how close the killer was to being caught.

Gagliardo might mention Purdue in the context of a “Person of Interest,” but he couldn't officially identify him as a suspect. He'll ask for the public's help in locating him since he's “whereabouts unknown.”

All was going well, considering, until Narder noticed the chief's eyebrows knotted up.

“You realize, detective, there's a basic problem, here?”

Narder was about to acknowledge how they'd been discussing that when he arrived, without mentioning it was for the umpteenth time, as the Captain moved in closer to the board for a better look and started pointing out “obvious discrepancies” between what the witness saw, what the physical evidence indicates and the description of Purdue.

“The man the assistant director saw standing over the first victim's body was tall; and bloody footprints indicate a size 11. How does that corroborate with Mr Purdue who is 5'8”, wearing size 9s?

“Also, where's the murder weapon? 'Possibly a scythe'? But did the assistant director see a bloody scythe in the killer's hands? And when the murder weapon's found, will it have Purdue's prints on it? There's a letter from Purdue found in the victim's hand which arrived Saturday. Plus 'odd behavior' exhibited in his phone messages.

“But there doesn't seem to be anything in the physical evidence so far that can tie him to the crime scene, meaning any judge and jury could easily reach a decision of 'reasonable doubt.' While he may have motive, as you suggest, 'motive' by itself does not mean he had 'access' to commit the murder.

“If 'odd behavior' were enough of a reason to suspect someone of murder, you could arrest half the media out there. Don't quote me on that – I believe that's what they call a metaphor.”

Narder, not sure that really was a metaphor, watched as Gagliardo ran his fingers through his hair and massaged his temples before he left his officers to do their work of apprehending the killer.

“Catch this guy as soon as you can,” he reminded them, “but do a clean job of it – follow the evidence.”

“Will do, sir,” Narder said with a smile. “Thank you for your confidence.” She watched Gagliardo shuffle out of the bull-pen.

“Well,” he said, “I must go meet the enemy – I mean, the media.”

“Man,” Tango said, breaking the silence, “leave it to good ol' Grumpy Cop,” watching the man head toward the front door. Everyone knew he had the utmost respect for the Captain, despite his tone. “What do you expect from a man who listens to Mahler all day?” He turned his attention back to the board.

“So, you heard the Chief,” Narder began again, regaining control of their concentration, “always 'follow the evidence,' right? Always good advice. So, if Purdue wasn't physically at the scene, could he still be involved?”

“You mean our scythe-wielding tall man in the size-11s was a hit man, someone Purdue hired to do the job instead?”

“Now, that's something we haven't considered before,” Narder said, “someone went to retrieve that letter before DiVedremo'd read it – but then...”

“...killed Alma Viva by accident, before going after DiVedremo after she'd read it.”

“But had DiVedremo in fact read that letter – at least, all of it,” Narder said, jotting notes down on the board.

“And then how'd our hit man know DiVedremo would return later that afternoon?”

“Reel, check Purdue's financial records, see if he made any sizable withdrawals recently and who they were made to, if possible.”

Tango pointed out they may not find anything in the evidence pertaining to Purdue because “you know how serial composers are. They can disguise anything so you can't see it, upside-down, backwards, or both!”

Narder was trying her best to be forceful. “I know we think he did it but that doesn't mean he did. If we can't find any evidence tying him to this case, it's hopeless.”

“So wait, if Thomas Purdue isn't our killer,” Reel whined, “then who is? Without him, there's nobody even near our radar!”

Again, the door from the lobby opened up, letting some noise leak in from outside where members of the local media were interrogating Captain Gagliardo over his lack of information concerning these recent murders. When Narder frowned, the others turned in time to see Special Agent Sarah Bond not bothering to hang up her coat.

“Quite a gauntlet I had to run, there – could barely squeak through. Your press always that keen on broiling your guv?”

“Grilling,” Narder said, turning back to the board, “the term here is 'grilling'...”

Tango turned and, realizing he'd made eye-contact with her, gave Bond a nod timed to a pair of quickly raised eyebrows which Narder knew was traditional Tango-speak for “wolf-on-the-prowl” and meant Bond best beware.

Ignoring him, Bond reached for something in an inside pocket of her raincoat and pulled out an equally rumpled manila envelope.

“I won't take up much of your time, detective, but I have some information here that could be useful to you. That description given of the bloke seen standing over your first victim's body? I've some surveillance photos taken of a particularly interesting person we've been tailing who could be someone you'd be interested in.”

At least, Bond suggested, he more or less matched the description given by the assistant director a lot better than Purdue. Plus, being an agent for the Aficionati, it explained that button she'd found.

“We've traced so far three Aficionati agents already to the Philadelphia area, though it's almost impossible to identify them as such. They've had several centuries to perfect their secrecies, and they've proven highly elusive. I'd followed one of their agents here which led us to two more. One of those may be your would-be suspect. And given that Captain Grumpy Cat was outside getting a good broiling from the local press, it might be welcome news.”

The IMP agent's subtlety and her timeliness were not lost on Det. Narder.

“Do you have anyone you'd suspect of wanting to murder the director of Marple Music, some disgruntled client, enemy or rival? Have there been any threats made against her, anything that you're aware of?”

Narder said that this one composer, Thomas Purdue, was very upset about being cut from the roster: there may be others.

Without denying the possibility of some class-action conspiracy against DiVedremo instigated by a bunch of senior citizens, retired composers turned vigilantes, Bond thought it less likely than some international ring of classical music extremists. She handed Narder copies of a couple of photographs she'd just been sent, taken from surveillance cameras at the Philadelphia airport.

“I'd received these from an agent working this case from our London office who's following this Aficionati cell active in Philadelphia. It could mean they are involved in the murder of DiVedremo – and others.”

Narder looked at the grainy photos, enlarged to the point of being useless which didn't show much of the man's face. “We're trying to find out if Purdue's a member of your Aficionati group.” She mentioned these three other academics visiting Purdue's house, supposedly friends of his, who might also be part of the organization.

“Hmm” – Bond hesitated for a moment so as not to appear dismissively rude – “no, I don't think so, but who knows? As I said, they're very good at keeping their identities and involvements secret.” Narder thought it was like Bond was hiding something about Purdue's academic friends but decided against saying anything at this point.

Narder tried comparing her image of Thomas Purdue, older, shorter, pot-bellied, against this taller, younger man in these photographs: “Could be...” Regardless, Narder shook her head and handed the photos around. “Anyone recognize him?”

Bond pointed out in the earlier photo, time-stamped Sunday afternoon at 13:21, there's a small button on his black trenchcoat's lapel. “But on the one stamped on Monday at 21:34, you'll notice it's missing.” Also, looking closely at the Monday photo, it was easier to see those glasses he was wearing, large convex, mirrored sunglasses. “Didn't your witness describe him as looking like some kind of praying mantis? Would Purdue even own a pair like that? This is certainly a look that would get you noticed out in public.”

Tango, the first to see Bond's photos, dismissed them at a glance for not being proof it wasn't Purdue in disguise, passing them to Reel who was sure he'd never seen the guy before. Officer Naze moved quietly over to Reel to look at the photographs next before Torello had a chance to see them.

She studied them more carefully, going back and forth between the two, giving them each her careful and fully concentrated attention. “I've seen this guy somewhere, fairly recently, too,” she said, viewing them again.

“Paula, really? Can you remember where? Maybe hanging around at the crime scene?” Narder walked over and looked over her shoulder.

“Uhm, no, I think – weeks ago, maybe? Yes, at a township commissioners' meeting.” Paula nodded as if agreeing with herself. “Definitely!”

Patting her on the shoulder, Narder asked if she could remember anything more.

“I was there on-duty but not paying really close attention to the proceedings – check the official records from their last meeting. I remember seeing those glasses and how they made him look really weird. He, uhm... – yeah, he owns this old run-down property and applied for a license to turn it into a 'haunted' bed-and-breakfast.”

She remembered it because others argued it should be condemned and demolished but this guy wanted to fix it up – inside. The outside would stay the same, but the inside would be authentically renovated.

“Right,” Reel agreed, after tapping in a bunch of words to a search on the township's website, “here's the full report.”

Naze recalled the guy's name sounded Italian, something like maybe Rupa or Reppa.

“Close enough.” Reel continued scrolling. “Here it is: his name is Graham Ripa. He's talking about the Old Sam Haine Place.”

“Graham Ripa? He's the guy who owns the black van at the cemetery.” Narder pointed out the photo on the board. “And isn't the Old Haine Place right next door to Thomas Purdue's house?”

That got Tango's attention, sitting up and also peering over at Reel's computer. “Well, you know what that means, don't you?”

Before Narder could say anything, Tango explained how Purdue hired his next-door neighbor, the creepy-looking Graham Ripa, to kill his publisher, only first time he flubbed it, then went back to finish the deal.

“Rein in those wild horses, Gaucho-Man,” Narder cautioned, “let's see where this leads. Are there any photos posted from that meeting? Especially ones showing Ripa speaking to give us a better ID on him?”

“No,” Reel said, continuing to type in even more words, “but when I do a search on 'Graham Ripa,' there's this...”

By this time, everybody in the bull-pen, including Bond, gathered around Reel's computer, even Tango who thought he'd figured it out. Reel was reading from an old newspaper article about a 2002 missing-person's report. “A woman named Lily Ripa, 62, had disappeared,” Reel read aloud, “under 'very mysterious circumstances' as reported by her son, Jack. Her grandson, Graham, found blood all over the living room in her house, the old Sam Haine Mansion on Marymede Lane. With no body ever found, no one was ever charged with her murder.”

“Well, that's curious,” Narder said, “the grandson who discovered the blood wants to turn his grandma's house into a 'haunted B-n-B,' a house which happens to be next to one belonging to Thomas Purdue.”

Tango suggested setting up a pool to see who'd win where they'd find Grandma's remains. “I got dibs on the basement!”

“Too obvious... – oh shit!” Reel was bouncing around in his seat, he was so excited. “Oh, my freakin' God! Get this!” They hadn't found this one before because Purdue's name had been misspelled “P-E-r-due.”

A later report said police interviewed “one Thomas Perdue, then visiting his aunt, Jane West, who lived next to Lily Ripa, concerning an old wheelbarrow found in West's basement that was smeared with blood.”

“Also curious,” Reel added, “the blood in the wheelbarrow was a blood-type match for the blood found in Ripa's living room!”

Tango explained he meant Tom Purdue's basement for the lottery pool, not Ripa's, considering Purdue was probably a “sleeper” serial killer, pretty sure they'd find “all kinds of bodies” in Purdue's basement by now.

Narder wondered, with evidence like that, why drop the investigation? “Maybe Gagliardo remembers...”

“Or,” Reel suggested, “her body's in the crypt?”

“I believe your expression is 'curiouser and curiouser'?” Bond excused herself, saying she had work to do on another case. “Ta!”

Narder thanked her for the photos and told her they'd keep in touch.

Reel resumed reading, noting the wheelbarrow in question belonged to the Haine family and Graham Ripa's fingerprints were all over it. Purdue's theory was the kid hid it in his aunt's basement – “but how?”

Yet there were no fingerprints or other evidence tying Purdue to the scene. “Somebody's gotten away with murder all these years!”

Tango stood up and looked around the room. “So, any questions, guys? We're dealing with a serial killer from way back. And I remind you, our guy Purdue is a serial composer! Just sayin'...”

“If anything, wouldn't that be motive enough for other people to kill him?” Narder suggested they check out this guy Ripa.

”Meanwhile, Zerka, go back to Marple Music, check the alleyway for tire tracks. That body didn't just float out of there.

“Then we'll get a warrant for Purdue's place and look for... – a wheelbarrow.”

= = = = = = =

to be continued... [with the next installment to be posted on Friday, October 19th]

The usual disclaimer: In Search of Tom Purdue is, if you haven't figured it out, a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents in its story are more or less the product of the author's so-called imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody. While many locations may be real (or real-ish), they are not always "realistically used” and are intended solely to be fictional. Any similarity between people and places, living or dead, real or otherwise, is entirely coincidental.

©2018 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train.

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