Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Fallen (Part 4)

     Our body went into the morgue as a Jane Doe, but didn't remain that way.  Her name was Meredith Jansen, and she lived in the townhouses at the end of the street.  She was reported missing by her family, who couldn't figure out where Mom could have gotten to.  She could have reached our property by walking along the edge of the bluff.

     Investigators began to rule out suicide.  There was no bruising anywhere on her body.  She did, however, have strychnine in her system, enough to prove fatal.  How the hell she ended up on the inside of the fence was anyone's guess.  There were no scuffs on her shoe consistent with having scaled a six foot high  chain link fence.
     All this news was unwillingly provided to us by Ross, who took it upon himself to call us every morning and ask if we had any new information.  We didn't have any, so he would share his own....  A move Donner never would have done.  Bekka and I digested the information he shared, and left it alone.  Something severe would have to happen for me to get involved in this mess.

     Something severe happened.

     Bekka and I were getting ready for bed four days later when the phone rang.  It was one in the morning, not a normal hour for a telephone chat.  I picked it up, expecting it to be one of my performers  calling from jail, hoping I could come up with bail for whatever idiotic move they pulled.
     No.  Instead a perky voice said, "Hi, is this Lenny?  Lenny Schneider?"
     "Yeah, that's me.  Who's this?"
     "Listen, Lenny, it's really in your best interest to lay off looking into that death that happened at your beach house.  You should just forget it."
     I started getting mad.  "Okay, first of all, I'm not investigating the death.  That's what the cops are here for.  Second, you never answered me.  Who is this?"
     The voice laughed and said, "I'm the one who rigged your black car, that's who I am.  It's a warning to forget that woman's death.  Okay?  Bye."
     I stood there briefly holding a dead phone, then began pulling on my boots again.  Bekka asked, "Going out again?"
     "Just as far as the Fury.  The clown who was on the phone just now claims to have tampered with it.  I've gotta go see what's up, you wait here."  I moodily strapped on my shoulder holster and Beretta.
     Downstairs, I grabbed my big flashlight out of the Acura and did a couple orbits around the Fury.  Nothing initially looked out of place.  I unlocked the door and tossed the interior.  Nothing.  I finally popped the hood to see if anything was amiss.
     Bingo.  Looking far below, I could see wires coming off the starter motor.  Climbing underneath, I traced the wires to what could only be a pipe bomb duct taped to the inside of the fender.  The setup was simple: anyone starting the Fury would blow themselves up.  I pulled the wires loose from the starter motor and gingerly took the bomb off the inside of the fender.  When Ross called in the morning, I'd let him know I had a little present for him.  It would spend the night in the garage.
     "So what's up?" asked Bekka as I walked back into the bedroom.
     "Some shithead wired a pipe  bomb to the Plymouth," I growled.  "Don't worry, I got it out.  The same shithead also warned me to not investigate that woman's death.  Well, duh.  I'm not a cop.  I've got ex girlfriends who weren't as big of a pain in the ass as that woman is.  I wish I could communicate to people that my primary interest at this point is to be left alone.  Call me insensitive, but I could care less why that woman is dead."
     Bekka frowned.  "But someone just made an attempt on our lives again."
     "Don't remind me," I said.  "I'm parking both cars in the garage from now on."
     I went out into the kitchen area, got some ice in a glass, and filled the glass the rest of the way with Johnnie Walker.  To hell with warm milk as a sleep aid, this was a surefire route.  I trudged back into the bedroom, holding the glass out in front of me like an incense burner.  Bekka looked at the glass and said, "Can't say I blame you."
     "I'm drinking this, then I'm going to sleep.  Whatever happens while I'm asleep, happens.  I'll find out about it in the morning."
     And something did happen while I slept.  Someone threw a Molotov cocktail at our new house.

     All the damage was minor.  A section of floor would need to be replaced, as well as some drywall and the wiring along one wall.  Beyond that, there was nothing wrong.  I was thankful Bekka and I had opted for steel construction, and not wood.  We'd have lost a lot more if we'd used traditional construction.
     Ross had sent the bomb disposal squad over to retrieve the pipe bomb.  Guys in heavy padded suits wandered around in front of the garage.  I was accused of idiocy for having removed it from the Fury.  I made no excuses, other than a foul temper.  They placed it in their truck and left, leaving Ross, who wanted to know who my enemies were.  In light of the call I'd received warning me to not do any investigating, I posited that we were dealing with an unknown enemy.
     "So you've had a bomb at one residence, and arson at another.  Someone doesn't like you, Lenny."
     "No, someone is trying to scare me," I said.  "Right now I'm not scared, I'm pissed off.  Somebody thinks I'm helping investigate Meredith Jansen's death.  Not to speak ill of the dead, but to hell with her.  She's been a headache since we first met.  If you guys can figure out why she was killed, that would probably take a lot of pressure off me."
     "And you stick with your statement that you have no connection with the deceased?" asked Ross.
     "I never met her.  I never saw her.  I never heard of her.  All she is is some woman who showed up dead on my property, and has been wreaking havoc ever since.  Considering all the trouble she caused when dead, I'd hate to think about what she was like when she was alive."
     Ross considered this in silence.  Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a key.  He handed it to me, saying, "I almost forgot.  There's your padlock key back.  Your property is no longer an active crime scene.  You just need to wait until the arson boys are out of the way, and you can get back to work."
     "Thank you, sir," I said, dropping the key in my pocket.  I needed to call my contractor to let him know work was starting again, and there were repairs to be made.  At this point we were so far over estimate that one measly fire wasn't going to make too big a difference in the long run.
     Bekka joined me in the driveway as Ross left, cup of coffee in one hand.  "So what are you planning on doing today?" she asked.
     "I'm going to visit the family of Meredith Jansen.  I'm going to find out just who she was.  I deserve to know," I told her.  This would accomplish a few things: it would satisfy my curiosity, it would possibly provide details that would add up into clues, and I would find out how closely watched I was by my unknown bomber.  If he made a move, he was watching Ms. Jansen's family.  Whoever he was, he wanted Ms. Jansen's death to remain a mystery.

     I left the Acura at the new house and walked along the bluff to the townhouses.  Rang the door buzzer listed for Jansen.  A soft Midwestern voice said, "Hello?" through the speaker.
     "Hello, Mr. Jansen, my name is Lenny Schneider.  I'm the person whose property your late wife was found on.  May I talk to you for just a few minutes?"
     There was no response, just the sound of the door buzzer letting me in.  I wandered the halls briefly and finally found the right unit.  My knock was answered by a lanky piece of work, needing a shave, holding an Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in one hand.  He shook my hand limply and introduced himself as Richard Jansen.
     "I've been going through this thing, looking for solace," he said, holding out the BCP.  "I'm not finding any."
     "Mr. Jansen," I said, "I feel for you in this time of anguish.  I was the one who found her, and she has enveloped my life ever since.  I just want to know a little bit about her as a person.  Do you follow me?"
     Jansen nodded.
     "Tell me, what did she do for a living?"
     "She was an appraiser," Jansen said.  "She specialized in jewelry, getting estimates for people who wanted to insure their precious stones.  She was fast and accurate, so she was in demand."
     "How long were you two married?"
     "Thirteen years.  One child, a son, age nine."
     I asked a few more softball questions and made my exit.  It was clear that Richard Jansen was still deeply in mourning, and would remain that way for a while.  Losing a spouse to death had to be painful, but losing a spouse to murder must be sheer torture.  I couldn't imagine what he was going through.  Hopefully, somewhere, he would find some solace.
     I walked back along the edge of the bluff, pondering Meredith Jansen.  She was thoroughly unremarkable.  The only thing striking about her was her career, appraising other peoples' jewels.  Beyond that, she was mildly active in the local Episcopal church, she doted on her son, and was devoted to her husband.  A perfectly nice lady.  Then one day someone fed her strychnine, snapped her neck, and had her fall inside my fence line where I was building a house.  With that fall, Meredith Jansen became a harbinger of chaos in my life.
     I let myself in through the gate, sat on the edge of the empty hot tub, lit a cigarette, and tried to make sense of it all.  I couldn't.


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