Murder and Money

By Jacqueline Seewald

On a bitter cold winter day shortly before Christmas, the Lavender Lady glided into Lieutenant Jim Connelly's New York City office with an air of authority. Sergeant Lou Minetti raised bushy eyebrows questioningly.

"Dr. Violet Sanders is working with us. She's here to help solve the Marson case," Connelly responded. The death of a prominent New York businessman had drawn considerable media attention, becoming a high profile case.

Dr. Sanders, a forensic pathologist, dressed entirely in shades of purple, extended a slender hand that both detectives politely shook in turn. Her lipstick and fingernails, also purple, contributed to an impression of eccentricity.

"I've run those tests you asked for, Lieutenant, and I believe you'll find the results interesting."

Connelly eagerly rolled up the sleeves of his conservative white shirt and got ready for business. A creature of habit, he wore a long-sleeved white shirt to work each day, each season, just as he kept his graying hair cropped military short. For fifteen years, he'd dressed in a military uniform. Now as a police detective in civilian life, he wore his suits in the same manner. Minetti, twenty years his junior, dressed in a different colored shirt everyday and often kidded Connelly about his boring predictability.

"So do we have a case or what?"

"I'll let you decide," Dr. Sanders said cryptically.

She carefully opened a folder and took out some murder scene photos then scattered them across Connelly's desk. One long fingernail pointed to the shot of a man hanging by a rope from a wooden beam in the expensively furnished recreation room of his penthouse apartment.

"If it isn't Randall Marson, Wall Street tycoon," Minetti said.

"Former Wall Street tycoon," Connelly corrected.

"Yeah, really former," Minetti agreed.

"Was he the President of Ace Corporation?" Violet Sanders asked.

"Nope," Connelly replied, "he was the VP. Not a bad deal considering Ace is a multi-million dollar, multi-national software gaming company. Marson made big bucks."

"Yeah, they'll give him a big, expensive granite slab in the cemetery," Minetti said.

"When did you become so cynical?" Connelly responded.

"It's just my natural charming self." Minetti smiled at Violet Sanders.

Minetti studied Violet Sanders, staring at her hair.

"Something wrong?" She arched a thin eyebrow.

Minetti shook his head. "I've never seen purple hair before."

"It's eggplant."

"What's eggplant?" Minetti asked.

"The color. It's eggplant. Much more subtle than purple."

"If you say so," Minetti remarked. "It looks good on you."

Connelly figured his partner was showing off for company. Minetti had always considered himself a ladies' man, but Connelly thought it couldn't be more than a harmless flirtation. After all, Minetti was happily married and had been for the past five years.

"So what's the story?" Connelly asked Dr. Sanders. "You think it was a suicide?"

"No way. It's the real deal. Definitely a homicide."

"How can you be so sure?" Connelly liked Dr. Sanders in spite of her peculiar appearance, admired her self-confidence. But he was of the old school; with him, trust had to be earned. And he couldn't see an attractive, classy gal like her having the grit to poke around dead bodies. It wasn't easy for him to accept that she could do the job as well as a man. He'd be the first to admit he was a male chauvinist who didn't worry about being politically correct.

"The fall the victim took was short. He died of strangulation. There was a chair knocked over nearby. The rope was strong and held."

"Right. Consistent with suicide," Connelly said.

Sanders shrugged. "Maybe. But when death occurs by strangulation in a hanging of this kind it's a slow, painful affair. Often the individual changes his mind and begins to struggle. He panics and uses his hands to claw at his neck or tries to climb the rope to ease the pressure of the noose. This results in scratches and tears of the skin, ripping of fingernails and rope burns on the palms and fingers."

"And you didn't find this with Marson?" Connelly fixed his dark brown eyes on her.

She shook her head. "His face was purplish and engorged with blood. Eyes protruding, tongue swollen. Also, the conjunctivae, the pink part of the inside of the eyelid, show petechial hemorrhages. But these conditions are also consistent with manual strangulation."

Connelly got to his feet and began pacing the small office like a caged panther. "So let me get this straight. You think someone strangled Marson then tried to make it look like a suicide."

"Not quite. I think he was already unconscious when the rope was yanked around his neck. But technically, the hanging finished the job."

"Regardless, we're talking homicide," Connelly said, trying to get it clear in his mind.

"Lieutenant, that is exactly what I think," she said. Her blueberry eyes were bright and intense, growing more purple by the second.

* * *

They located Jennifer Marson at her sister's home on Long Island. Connelly noticed that the bountiful blonde was at least twenty years younger than her husband had been. Trophy wife, he supposed.

"I understand you were the one who found Mr. Marson," he said.

She dabbed dry eyes with a tissue. "It was so horrible. I'll never go back to that house." She shuddered elegantly. "I knew things were going badly with the company and he was very depressed, but how could he kill himself like that?"

"Maybe he didn't," Connelly said evenly.

Her sky-colored eyes widened. "What do you mean?"

"Did your husband have any enemies."

She shook her head vehemently, hair moving like a wheat field in the wind. "No, everyone liked Randy. He was a salesman, and what he sold best was himself."

"Anyone complain to him about the way things were going at Ace?" Minetti asked.

"Franklin Voss who is CEO and Randy's boss certainly didn't blame him for any of the trouble."

"What about shareholders?"

Mrs. Marson was thoughtful. "There was some rancor with Mr. Dione. He invested heavily in the company at Randy's suggestion. But Tony is a neighbor and a golf buddy. He and Randy were friends."

They drove back to Manhattan, a trip made slower than usual by snow and slush that contributed to the heavy flow of traffic. Tony Dione was a well-connected wise guy with the street-name, Tough Tony the Enforcer. Neither police detective saw a need for delicacy in questioning him.

"So Mr. Dione, word on the street is that Ace is tanking. Could be another Enron scandal. How much did you invest in the company at Marson's suggestion?"

"Enough," he said grimly. Dione had iron gray hair and narrow dark eyes that screwed into bullets. "But the company isn't going belly up after all. And I can prove I found that out before Marson died. So look elsewhere for suspects. Besides, I thought Marson took his own life. He was real unhappy lately."

"So his wife told us," Connelly said.

"He probably found out about her cheating on him," Dione said.

"How would you know about that?" Minetti stared at Dione suspiciously.

"Hey, I only know what my wife tells me. She and Jennifer use the same hairdresser. That woman's a flowing fountain of info. You know how it is, women like to gossip. Jennifer's the second Mrs. Marson. He traded his first wife in for a newer model. Maybe Jennifer's boyfriend got impatient waiting for her. Maybe he wanted her to come away from the marriage with big bucks. Marson didn't even insist on a pre-nup. He was nuts for Jennifer." Dione lit up a cigar and puffed it with satisfaction. "If that's it fellas, I got a business meeting in a little while. Cops make my associates nervous. So hit the road."

"Sure," Minetti said. "It's been delightful." They didn't bother with a pretense of shaking hands.

* * *

"Think it's true about the wife?" Minetti asked as they left the ostentatious townhouse decorated in contemporary glitz.

"We better check it out. Wouldn't be the first wife who had her husband whacked for his bankroll. Then again, we ought to check out wife number one, find out just how bitter she is."

"For sure those dainty digits of Jennifer's didn't squeeze Marson's neck and choke him to death," Minetti observed.

Wife number one, Sara, had some nasty things to say about her ex, just as Connelly expected. "He tried to cheat us on child support, hid his assets and lied in court. Personally, I'm glad he's dead, but I never would have killed him or arranged it. The kids hardly saw their father. Still, at least they knew they had one. And without whatever he gave us, I'm going to have to find a second job."

Connelly considered the first Mrs. Marson a dead end. He shook his head at Minetti as they left her modest home. "No motive there," he said.

They next interviewed Franklin Voss, Ace's CEO and Marson's former boss. This was their day for seeing how the other half lived. Voss's estate in Northern New Jersey was huge and opulent. The grounds were replete with an indoor pool that featured a waterfall and pond with exotic fish. They found Voss on an indoor putting green. Nearby, two beautiful women played tennis on an enclosed court. It might be freezing cold outside, but it would always be summer in this mansion. Connelly doubted that many movie stars lived better.

"Nice scenery," Minetti commented, observing the women dashing around the court in their skimpy outfits. "This guy knows how to live the life."

Voss, swathed in Armani, disdainfully frowned at them. "Gentlemen, I have very little time to talk with you."

"Maybe we should invite you and your lawyer to come down to police headquarters instead," Minetti said, clearly pissed off.

"I suppose I could manage to give you a few minutes." Voss conceded, glancing at his gold Rolex for emphasis.

Connelly decided to get Voss's undivided attention. His military training had taught him to shoot straight, accurate and always take the advantage. "We understand there's a scandal connected with your company. Millions have disappeared. They're talking accounting fraud. As President of the company, I assume you know a lot about that."

"Actually, I don't. That was Randall's department. Now that he's dead, we have no way of knowing what happened to the money. It simply vanished."

"Real convenient," Minetti said with a sneer.

Voss stayed as tranquil as a mountain lake. Connelly admired his cool, aloof demeanor.

"I can only assume Randall took his life out of shame and guilt."

"Except it seems he was murdered," Connelly said, watching the older man carefully for a reaction.

"What? I'm shocked. Can't believe it!"

"Maybe your auditors will have something to say after a thorough investigation."

Voss gave them a smile, flashing pearly white teeth reminiscent of a piranha. "We won't be filing Chapter 11 after all. I worked a deal for a buyout from a competitor. We're getting top dollar."

"Did Marson know about it?" Connelly asked.

"I kept the information close to the vest. But I did catch him sneaking around at my desk the day he died. I think he had an inkling."

Connelly was thoughtful when they left. "I guess we got some checking to do."

"Think he's lying?" Minetti's thick brows raised.

"Let's face it, no one tells the truth to cops."

"Yeah," Minetti agreed, "lying to cops is a national pastime, like watching football or eating hot dogs."

That reminded Connelly, they hadn't gotten any lunch. He stopped for fast food at a local joint. During the meal, they discussed the suspects.

"Could be any of them," Minetti said, chomping down on a burger.

Connelly didn't respond. He was thinking about what Voss had said.

* * *

Several days later they made another visit to Tony Dione's townhouse.

He greeted them warily. "What do you guys want? I told you everything I know."

"Not quite everything. When did you find out Ace wasn't going under?"

"I don't remember," Dione said.

"Convenient amnesia," Connelly said. "We checked with your broker. You sold short on your Ace stock."

"So what?" Dione said belligerently.

"Someone told you to do it. Let me guess. I know. It must have been Randall Marson, your good buddy. You threatened him when you found out about Ace being sucked dry. He told you that selling short on the stock would save you financially. Except he didn't know then that Voss was saving the company. By the time he found out and told you, it was too late. You'd already put in the order with your broker. You stood to lose a fortune. You were so angry you began strangling Marson with your bare hands, then you hung him, trying to make it look like suicide."

"I got no comment. I'm calling my mouthpiece." Dione puffed away nervously on his Havanna cigar.

"You do that," Connelly said, his index finger jabbing the air in front of Dione for emphasis. "But there's something I think you ought to know. Voss was the only person who had access to the company's money. He's the one who stripped the company of assets. Of course, he was planning to blame Marson and make him take the fall. Voss had a win-win situation going. He must have been delighted when Marson turned up dead. The really sad thing is, you didn't even whack the right guy."

"A real shame," Minetti said.

Dione slumped down behind his desk, face the color of the belly of a dead catfish.

Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Fifteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including mysteries: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, THE TRUTH SLEUTH, DEATH LEGACY and THE THIRD EYE. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as THE WRITER, PEDESTAL, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, GUMSHOE REVIEW, THE MYSTERY MEGAPACK, LIBRARY JOURNAL, and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. The 4th novel in her Kim Reynolds mystery series, THE BAD WIFE, was recently published by Perfect Crime Books.

Copyright 2014 Jacqueline Seewald. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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