So, I didn’t win the Black Orchid Society Nero Wolfe competition, and now I can publish the story here. I want to thank everybody who helped: Jason, Kelly, Elisabetta, Beth, the Wilsons, Judy, Ellen, Mark, other Mark, Laura, Ethan, other people I’m sure I’m forgetting at the moment. Please forgive me if I have left you off the list.
The rules were that:
- Each entry must be an original unpublished work of fiction that conforms to the tradition of the Nero Wolfe series
- Contains no overt sex or violence
- Does not include characters from the original series
- But the “feel” had to be similar
My watch said noon. That meant that Wulff would be at his bench tying flies, the one time he was not to be disturbed. Still, I was on an errand for someone I thought was both prettier and more valuable than even one of Wulff’s most beautiful and effective creations. I’d much rather take his brow-beating than to explain to Rosalita why she had to sit in the hoosegow one minute more than necessary.
I looked at the knocker below the brass name plate reading “Theo Wulff, Esq.,” whatever that means, and the sign that said “Do Not Disturb 12-3,” which didn’t leave a lot of time if you think about it, since he fished from dawn until the fishing cooled off, took an early lunch during which he would not talk business, always had dinner at six – also non-business, and then grabbed the evening hatch most nights, too.
I raised my hand, thought better of it, and went in without knocking. Wulff was back-to me at his tying desk, which faced out a window down across the meadow to the river. He was surrounded by bits of feather, fur, and thread. And books. Books piled everywhere, three of them opened on the window sill and leaning against the pane so he could look at them. He was just setting down a flute of Chuckanut Helles, the only beer he likes more than his own.
“How did you know it was me?”
“The only person who walks in here without knocking is you; and certainly you are the only person with the temerity to walk in here without knocking during my tying hours.” He spun on the old piano stool he used and flipped up his magnifying spectacles to look at me. “I assume this is good?”
I studied him for a moment, a bit struck by his good mood. Either he had a tricky problem on the vise, the morning fishing was spectacular, or the evening fishing promised to be so. “Well good as in thorny; not good as in there has been a death up at the lodge.”
He took a sip of beer. “Yes, not good.” He waved to the sofa. “Would you like a beer while you tell me about it?” Without waiting for an answer, he got up and walked over to the tap on a small refrigerator to pull me a neat glass of the golden lager with a dense head that looked like you could ski on it. I took the first sip and, as always, I was transformed. “It seems so simple, but there is something about this beer…”
“Indeed. The very quintessence of umami on the back of the tongue, just on the side, like buttered toast. If only I could isolate this in my own beer…” He looked at me, vaguely ridiculous with his magnifying glasses flipped to their ‘up’ position on his forehead, like a tiny pair of Mickey Mouse ears. “I hope that your palate is properly lubricated to spring forth this tale which could not wait?”
“It’s a bit of a tale.” He held up one finger, refilled his own glass, and settled back on his stool.
“Andy, up at the lodge called me. One of the guests died, looks like poisoning. Sergeant Braster is up there creating all kinds of ruckus. They took Rosalita in for questioning, and nobody can find Jerry Crowley.”
Instantly I had his attention. He was on the edge of his stool to the point I feared he and it might tip over. “Spill it, and leave nothing out.” I should’ve known. If there was one woman in the world that he cared about, it was Rosalita. Ever since Crowley had hired Rosalita to be his cook up at the lodge, Wulff had been taking most of his dinners up there, and they spent hours in the kitchen discussing her native Dominican cuisine. Slowly he was beginning to rub off on her and they were creating some sort of fusion style together. Probably the most time he had ever spent with a woman since his mother. If he ever had a mother.
Theo Wulff is a strange duck. He comes off like a show dog, but you have the feeling he roamed the streets like his namesake at one point. I asked him about that once, if he was any relation to the late, great Lee Wulff, perhaps the best fly fisherman who ever lived. “By blood, tangentially,” he’d said. “By inclination, directly.” And that was the end of that.
“Sometimes I ‘guide’ for Jerry.” I said, making air quotes. “Which means I get a free drift ride, he gets a hand, I shoot some video and get the hero shots, and when I get tipped I kick it back so he makes an extra C-note or two per day.”
“I am aware,” he said waving his hand as if to say “get on with it.”
“Context, okay? So three days ago, Crowley asks me last minute if I can help him out. Asks me if I can come to dinner and spend the night in case he needs any help up at the house. I figure it must be a big group or a long trip, and of course I never pass on Rosalita’s grub, but when I get there it’s just two other guys. Two dudes from the Dominican Republic.” Wulff’s eyebrows went up. “Yeah, some cacao exporter and his sidekick. At dinner these two looked like they were going out tango dancing. I don’t know if you can put a crease in waders, but that is the impression they gave. Very high class, but very thuggish at the same time.”
“I know the type.” As much as I wanted to hear that story, mine took precedence. He was always dropping these tidbits at the most inopportune time, and it never seemed appropriate to follow up on them later.
“Anyway, Crowley is real jittery of these guys. And the weird thing is, the main dude, Negro, he’s all chatty and acts like he knows Crowley from way back.”
“Negro,” he said, pronouncing it “nay-roh” and rolling the R with perfect annunciation, “that means black. That’s Dominican slang for ‘evil.’” Again, how does he know this stuff?
“So we have dinner, and this Negro guy wants to go out and fish. His sidekick, some muscle named Tibaud, flew all the way up from the Dominican and says he wants to take it easy, so Crowley hands over one of those custom fly wallets he gives all of his dudes, and I take Negro down to the run across from the lodge to sort him all out and spend a little quality time with him. He had a gorgeous custom Burkheimer rod that cost more than my truck, but hadn’t fished it for a while and wanted to knock the dust off of his casts so he could fish well the next day. Turns out that wallet was full your latest creations. We fished until dark.”
“After, the guy is looking for some action, and I tell him it’s going to be boring as hell, but he insists, so we go to the Buck and Thorn. It was as slow as promised, and I had him tucked in by midnight.”
Wulff narrowed his eyes and tilted his head as if he would ask me something, but he didn’t, so I went on. Nevertheless, he had me on the defensive. I ran my hand through my hair. “Well, you said ‘leave nothing out’ so I thought I would start at the front.”
His arms were crossed. “Of course, from the beginning.”
“Next day, we float the middle section from High Bridge down. Lots of run off, low visibility, so it’s slow, but it starts clearing up.”
“We stopped for lunch and the two guys are fishing while we set up camp. I grab my camera, that Canon DSLR that shoots both stills and video, and start just taking random shots of the set-up, casting, scenery – you know the kind of stuff in case you don’t catch a fish. Nothing is happening so I alternate between helping with lunch and taking shots. Tibaud comes up to camp breaks out a bottle of rum, and I decide to take my leave and to see what I could do for Crowley, but before I get to him, suddenly, there is a bunch of hooting and hollering down on the beach. Negro is into a big fish, but solid. I run down and I’m filming away like Cecil B. DeMille wanting to get the whole thing down. I’m tight on the fish, I’m tight on him, I’m panning. Negro has done this before and was playing the fish in. I’m paying no attention to Tibaud, but just as Negro is beaching the fish, Tibaud runs over and before I can even stop him, pulls out a 9mm, and shoots the fish! Negro walks up and tosses a native steelhead right there on the rocks, all proud of himself and beaming and says ‘Lunch!’ A beautiful 15-pound native hen. I could’ve cried right there.” Wulff’s eyes went wide.
“I know, right? I run up with my fists all balled up and start to give him a piece of my mind, saying ‘What part of catch-and-release don’t you understand?’ He might be Crowley’s client, but I’d do the same to any other jackass on the river. But Crowley, just puts his hand on my arm and thanks him. Negro struts back to the river and I look at Crowley like he’s insane. He could lose his guiding license six ways from what just happened and then what is he going to do for a living? You know what Crowley does?”
“Do tell,” said Wulff taking a sip of his beer.
“He takes out a knife to gut the fish and points to that scar that runs the length of his face just along the hairline.”
“I always wondered about that, but a gentleman never asks.”
“Well, I never got the chance. The chulos came up for lunch, they were in a fine mood, and it seemed best to leave it that way. We finished up and packed up, when all of a sudden Negro starts complaining of cramps. Doesn’t look so good, starts throwing up. Then, bloody diarrhea. I mean this guy is going down fast. We loaded him into the boat but he became delirious and wouldn’t stay put. Of course, we are on the river, and short of helicoptering him out, you gotta take the ride to the takeout, or hike out to the road. When he went into convulsions, we left the boat and carried him out. It was that bad, like some demon inside him was eating its way out.”
“What did you have for lunch?” asked Wulff, and here I am thinking, man, this guy has stones. It’s always about the food with him. In a man with less genius the trait would be so offputting as to make his friendship totally unappealing.
“Well Rosalita always makes a big dinner and packs leftovers. Nobody ever complains.”
“I’m sure they don’t,” said Wulff with no small amount of chest puffery, him having taken her under his wing and mentoring her culinary development. “Leftover what?”
“Venison and mushroom risotto. That and the steelhead grilled on the side. I’m sure Crowley wanted that fish gone as soon as humanly possible. However, I fail to see the importance in the noon-time fare.”
“Well, we are investigating a poisoning.” I suppose even I should’ve followed that one along, had I not been blinded by my prejudices of Wulff’s peccadillos. “Did you watch him prepare the fish?”
“Actually, I did it for him, distasteful as it was, it kept me from hurting the guests. The whole time I’m doing it, I’m looking around like the game warden is going to be floating around the bend at any moment.”
“Understandable. So you had leftovers from the night before, which everybody ate, and a fresh fish, which everybody ate. Very curious.”
“I’m offended you would think either Jerry or I would ever touch wild steelhead. It’s plain dishonorable.”
“Of course. So two people ate the steelhead. And the rum?”
“It was neither offered, nor desired.”
“They both drank from it?”
“They both had cups when I came back from cleaning the fish. I can’t tell you what was in them.”
He snapped his fingers. “You say you have video?”
“What do you expect to get out of that? You think he got poisoned by the water? I only wish that he had.”
“I don’t have any expectations. Expectations are the antithesis of observation, and observation is the crux of abduction.”
“Abduction? Don’t you mean deduction?”
He shook his head. “One of the saddest misconceptions of our profession, dribbling down from Sherlock Holmes. His deductions were in fact syllogisms that only worked as a literary device because as preposterous as they were, Conan Doyle simply decided to make them true. Thus, the reader is fooled to think the conclusions are brilliant, but of course they are rubbish by any rigid logical standards. In fact, Watson’s biggest role is to take the same facts and make the wrong deduction, then get corrected by Holmes, further re-enforcing this trick. In truth, these leaps of intellect by Holmes have no bearing on the real world. Fascinating really that so much literature is based on this error. Such sloppy thinking for a purportedly logical undertaking. And yet millions of readers have been entertained by it for a century in dozens of stories.”
I was going to remind him of our time crunch, but in such moods there is no stopping him. I pulled out my tablet and started to load the photos and videos I’d shot over the last couple of days.
“In the Hound of the Baskervilles, for instance, there is an exchange in which Sir Henry Baskerville receives an anonymous letter composed of pasted up letters inside a hand-lettered envelope. Of course, Holmes knew exactly which paper the letters were cut from by the font. Memory palace and all that. Never mind that the criminal would take great pains to hide his handwriting on the note only to use his very own hand on the envelope.” He closed his eyes and began to speak as if reading off of the page, an annoying habit that he had and doubly so since I knew he was in fact looking directly at the book in his mind. “‘The address, you observe, is printed in rough characters. But The Times is a paper which is seldom found in any but in the hands but those of the highly educated. We may take it, therefore, that the letter was composed by an educated man who wished to pose as an uneducated one.’”
“Deductive reasoning, or deduction, starts out with a general statement, or hypothesis, and examines the possibilities to reach a specific, logical conclusion using syllogisms. If, and only if, A is true and B is true can C be true. But not all syllogisms are true, there are many ways to construct them to fallacious ends. In this case, A is that the Address is Rough Printed; B is that the note is comprised of letters from a newspaper read by educated men; C is that therefore an educated man is posing as an uneducated man, but what do A and B, actually have to do with each other? Nothing. It is a fallacy. It appears the premises are related, but they are not. You could make any number of conclusions from this flumadiddle. Wouldn’t it make more sense that the uneducated butler of a wealthy man grabbed the first printed matter at his disposal to write the note and slipped up by then hand-addressing the envelope? Or you could say ‘Doctors have terrible handwriting. The address was poorly written. Therefore, the letter was addressed by a doctor.’ Don’t you see? You can make any connection you want. There is no way to test the validity of the premises, you just write them in when you ‘solve’ the case. Preposterous rubbish.”
“On the other hand, abductive reasoning usually starts with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the best possible explanation for the group of observations. In Abduction we make and test hypotheses using the best information available. This often requires making an educated guess based on observation for which there is no clear explanation. This is what Holmes was actually good at, making those leaps to the only possible solution.”
I recite my only Holmes quote. “’Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.’”
Wulff made a moue. “Yes, for literature, which surely we are not. Abductive reasoning is useful for forming hypotheses to be tested. We use abduction when we are scouting new water, trying to find fish and determine which fly they will eat. We know certain fish like certain conditions, so we look for those conditions. We know that in certain circumstances they eat certain things, so we present that fly to the most likely lies for that species. If that does not work, we change tactics: looking in a different place or trying different flies. We are constantly forming and testing hypotheses until we catch a fish.”
“You should write a monograph on the subject,” I quipped, only half listening. I handed over the tablet.
“It is not my job to disabuse the gleefully ignorant. Only to guide the dangerously ignorant who may directly influence me.”
He watched the videos for some time in silence, muttered “Interesting,” then watched it a couple of more times. Then I set him up to watch a slide show of the images. After some time, he handed it back. “Yes, that was productive. Was that my fly?”
“Yes, one of the new ones. Apparently they are as effective as advertised.”
“Yes, apparently so,” he said, but he was looking out the window and his mind was far away.
“So, is adduce a word?”
“Yes, but it is the wrong word for what we do to solve crimes. Adduce means to offer as example, reason, or proof in discussion or analysis. ‘We should do it this way because this has worked for a number of other people in similar circumstances’ and such. For example, we caught a fish on this drift with this fly last week, so let’s start there. While deduce means to use logic or reason to form a conclusion or opinion about something. Based on what people had done before, I deduced somethings about steelhead and incorporated them into a fly, which represents a hypothesis we can test.”
“So we deduce, but in doing so we are actually using abductive logic and not deductive logic.”
“Precisely. Now we have clarified both the root and the solution of the problem. The verbs and the nouns do not agree.”
“An easy and understandable mistake.”
“Conan Doyle either tripped over the differences, or was afraid to introduce a new concept to his readership. It was Poe, whose term ratiocination – a reasoned train of thought, which covers deduction, induction, and abduction – was probably the first, and best, description of the detective method. Of course Holmes was notoriously dismissive of Poe’s Dupin character on numerous occasions, clearly a thinly veiled sleight by Conan Doyle against Poe to elevate his own imaginary character, when instead a more secure man may have paid homage.”
I shot him a glance. I was going to have to reread my Holmes when this was all over. “And English isn’t even your first language.”
He waved the comment away “Fifth language, seventh language, it makes no matter, one must still be precise in how one uses it.”
At that point there was a knock on the door, a pounding actually, to which Wulff released a sizable “Harumph!” and waved for me to get it.
There stood Sergeant Braster. I admit, his presence perplexed me. I cocked my head at him but didn’t offer a greeting or entrance. “Are you going to let me in?” he finally asked.
“Don’t know. Like it says on the door, Do Not Disturb. It’s Wulff’s tying time. Got something important?”
The roll of fat above his uniform collar started to color up.
Wulff called out from behind me, “Might as well let him in Abel, sooner to get rid of him.”
The good sergeant barreled past me and took his place between Wulff on his stool and me reinstated back on the couch. Nobody offered him a chair or a beer. “Did I interrupt something?”
“Well, as Abel said, normally I’m totally indisposed during the afternoon tying. Today was a particularly complex pattern, a Jock Scott. Quite maddening in the details, really.”
I could see he was going to go on for a bit, but I had my own reasons for getting rid of Braster.
“I was filling him in on the goings on at the lodge. Had just gotten to the part about the guy getting sick on the boat.”
“Negro, his name was Negro,” interjected Braster, mispronouncing it as “nee-gro.” I did not disabuse him of his ignorance.
Wulff held up his hand, “Let me guess, the ambulance picked him up at the launch, took him to the hospital, next morning he feels better, he insists on coming back to the lodge, and now this morning he’s dead?”
My jaw dropped. Ratiocination at its best.
“You didn’t whack the guy did you, because you certainly know a lot about it,” said Braster.
“Well that’s how amatoxins work.”
“And how did you deduce it was an amatoxin? Even the lab boys haven’t gotten that far?”
“Because I heard the first half of the story before your arrival and you detained the cook this morning, so it was pretty easy to fill in the rest. But that doesn’t explain why you are here.”
“Just how do you know so much about poisonous mushrooms?” Asked Braster.
“I don’t know about poisonous mushrooms, I know about delectable mushrooms and how to tell the difference. The woods are a bounty of delicacies if we but stop to find them, and a veritable morass if we are not careful. Amanita ocreata, in particular, half of one cap will kill you.”
“And did you teach your little cooking protégé about poisonous mushrooms?”
Wulff just stared. “Why are you here?”
“I’m here because I’m pretty smart myself.” Braster stopped and gave us both a smug smile. “I saw your boy Abel head away from town after he left the lodge and I figured he was probably heading straight here. Now, since I got both of you together, I just wanted to let you know that we got the girl, and since you just gave our suspect a means, and an opportunity; once we have the motive, it’s a done deal. You don’t need to interrupt any more of your arts-and-crafts sessions to stick your noses in any of this.”
Wulff took a sip of beer, which I knew he was doing to cool down, both literally and figuratively. He hadn’t been bested by Braster, but rather by his own ego, and I knew he was taking himself to task and working out how to fix it.
“Been a time or two when my tutelage has prevented you from being the fool, Braster.”
“It’s Sergeant Braster, Wulff. And this one is cut-and-dried. You, and you,” he pointed a fat finger at each of us, “stay out.”
“Is that all, Braster?” I could just about see steam coming out from under the officer’s hat, but Wulff didn’t give him time to reply. “Show the man out, would you Abel?” To which I sprang to my feet and opened the door.
Braster looked at me. “Abel, you can expect a call to come in yourself.”
After he left, Wulff rubbed his hands together. “So, I assume you have strong feelings that Rosalita didn’t do this and you came here to convince me to do exactly what the officer just adjured us not to do?”
“Let’s start with just why the Sergeant picked her as the suspect.” I held up my hand and ticked off my fingers, “She’s the cook, her bags were packed this morning, and they included a gun.”
“A gun,” he said. “Our sweet Rosalita with a gun.” He looked directly at me, “I don’t suppose this is where you come in? Perhaps an ancient Webley Mk IV .38/200?”
I stammered a bit. “And I don’t suppose that even our dim-witted friend might find a good motivation for her to have said gun and that he will soon be back to talk to you about it.”
“He might at that.”
“Why don’t you enlighten me?”
“How well do you know Rosalita? You spend a lot of time with her.”
“We have been very busy, making it so that I can get a proper meal in this wilderness. First, moving her through the Culinaria, then teaching her how to forage, after that how, smoke meat correctly. Oh, so many things. Of course there have also been forays into her native cuisine. Barely a moment for chit-chat I tell you.”
I nodded. That all sounded like a very Wulffian, as opposed to wolfish, way to treat a beautiful woman. “Fair enough. Until yesterday, I basically only knew her through you. But when this guy Negro showed up, she called me. You see, he comes off as a prosperous cacao farmer and exporter, but really, he’s just a high-end coyote with a good front company. Do you know what a coyote is?”
“In this context, I take it to mean a nefarious individual who smuggles people from Latin America into the US.”
“Very good. Yes, he smuggles people. Girls mostly. And those girls then become slaves in brothels.” I could see his jaw clench. “Rosalita spent three years in one of them outside El Paso, marking a scratch on the wall for each customer, before she escaped and worked her way north.” What has always gotten me is not that people can be cruel, it’s that they can pile one cruelty on another without thought. I’ve seen too much of this. It’s one reason I’ve come to spend most of my time on the river these days.
“Rosalita knew the victim, too,” said Wulff.
“And had such a great motive to kill him, that even if she’s guilty I still want to get her off.”
For a big man, he could move fast. I’ve seen him fairly dance in the river with a big fish on. In a moment he was up and had snatched his coat off of the Shaker pegs on the wall by the door. “Let us go stick our noses in this business before they haul you in as an accessory.” He looked at me under lowered brows. “How many times have I told you if you insist on carrying a gun, not to license it? It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said, shaking his head as he headed out the door.
I left my truck where it was and walked across the gravel to his custom-painted metallic, maroon-on-pearl, wine berry-colored 1949 Hudson. I never failed to marvel at its lines. Not only the most beautiful car ever built, but it also had the largest displacement six-cylinder engine ever produced. The naturally low stance and classic white sidewalls belie the fact that the groundworks have all been updated to modern standards for suspension, rubber, and brakes. Classic luxury car looks; up-to-the-moment performance and handling. I acted like it was a burden to be Wulff’s driver, but we both knew it was a MacBethian complaint, and a few times my wheelman skills had come in handy, so it all worked out.
I pushed the button on the fob: the shaved, handleless doors opened, the car started, and the air-ride suspension hissed into place. A confirmed non-car guy who did not, as far as I knew, even have a license, where Wulff got the car was never completely clear. When asked he would just shrug and say, “A gift for services rendered.”
As soon as we got into the car, he held out his hand, which I knew from long practice meant he wanted to make a call. I reached inside my coat and handed him my phone. Why he refused to carry a phone was never made clear to me, either. Something about them being a “damn distraction on the river.” He dialed from memory, which he always did. I only heard his side but I got the gist. He’s called his man Herschel to make sure Rosalita lawyered up and got out of the hoosegow.
Whereas Wulff’s house was on the river side of the road, the lodge sat on a long drive up the hill away from the river. As we drove up, we swung around the back of the house to the kitchen entrance. Light was coming from the windows which spanned the width of the house.
We entered the kitchen and there around the table sat Andy McAvey, the handyman; and Tibaud, Negro’s right hand man and heir-apparent. They were holding mugs of coffee and huddled against the cold in the house, despite the nice weather outside. Leaning against the commercial range in the middle of the long wall facing the door was Ollie, one of the deputies. McAvey looked up as Wulff crossed to the woodstove in the middle of the short wall at the far end. He tisked to himself and set a fire.
“Rest of the cops just left,” said McAvey.
“Fine by me, they always spoil my appetite,” said Wulff who began bustling around the kitchen like it was his own, which it pretty much had been these last few months. “I’m famished,” he said has he walked up to the refrigerator. Ollie interceded. “You can’t go in there; Braster is coming back with a search warrant. Everybody is just sitting tight until that happens.”
“Ach!” said Wulff, “And here I am starving. I don’t suppose we can get him to bring a pizza?”
He looked around, “Where’s Crowley?”
“We called him, he left before the body was discovered. Nobody has heard from him,” said Ollie.
“He probably went to get the boat, and you know how the reception is out there,” I offered.
“Yeah,” said Ollie, sounding unconvinced.
Just then my phone rang and I took it out of my pocket. I listened and hung up. I took Wulff aside. “It’s Hershel, he got Rosalita out and said I can pick her up.”
“Excellent!” said Wulff rubbing his hands together. “You can get some food.” I shot him a look and headed out the door. Some things are more important than your appetite.
Before I got to the car, he came bustling out. “Just remembered to ask me for beer?” I blurted out as I opened my door, hotter than I meant to be.
“Oh, shush. We can’t discuss everything in front of Ollie can we? Look, Herschel didn’t get her out yet, that was a ruse to get you out of the house. We don’t have much time. Before you go, hit the cabins and give them a once over before the cops get here.”
“Looking for anything in particular?”
“Well anything that would point to the poisoner. And I certainly want my flies back, if you run across them.” That seemed like a strange request, but Wulff’s inscrutable self-absorption was always a background noise anyway.
“And if I find something?”
He looked me in the eyes and held his chin. “That’s a tough one. On the one hand, we want to clear Rosalita. On the other, I don’t much care who offed this bastard.”
“Times like this; I wish you carried a phone.”
He smiled. “There’s no reason you can’t use the house line. Just ring me there if you run into any moral conundrums.”
“Oh, and do bring back some food, would you?” Then he spun and was gone.
The driveway formed a loop on the backside of the house with the house on the bottom and six cabins arranged around the top, backs to shed barns and the hills that rose up to bluffs in the afternoon light. I went around the car to the first cabin on the other side of the yard. They were cute little one- and two-bedroom modular cottages. Each one was painted up with curtains, a full bath, and a sitting room with a little kitchenette. They weren’t locked, because who was going to steal from you out here but your fishing buddies? A key would just be another thing to lose in the river.
Of the six, four were occupied. Going counter-clockwise, the first one belonged to McAvey. I pulled the blinds and began to look around. The long front room served as living room, dining room, and kitchen. There was a bookshelf in the living room with some NY Times best sellers on it, Jack Reacher novels in particular, and below that some more academic texts on plants, notably Edible and Wild Mushrooms by Arora, and Stamets’s Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. The room was sparse and had some clothes dropped where they may, as well as a few dishes in the sink, like you might expect from a bachelor. In the middle of the little table was a bouquet of flowers which seemed odd, but he was the gardener, among other things. The refrigerator had a collection of Tupperware with various leftovers in them. I smiled. Rosalita took care of everybody, it seemed. I figured what the hell, and grabbed one for Wulff.
There were three doors against the back wall. On the left was his bedroom. The bed was unmade. I tossed the closet without finding much, but the dresser held some lady things, which were not in his size. So, Andy had a girlfriend and not a fetish. No crime in that, except I’d never seen her around. On the dresser was also a picture of light skinned Latina girl, maybe ten or so, very pretty. That and an Ansel Adams calendar were all I saw for decorations.
Next I hit the bathroom, and was not surprised to find a second toothbrush, feminine deodorant, shaving cream, razor, and hair products. That left the second bedroom. I opened that up expecting to find a catch-all full of gear, but the bed had been removed and instead there was a desk with a computer on the back wall under the window. On the wall to the right, another bench set up like a small laboratory with a microscope, flasks, vials, and burners. Curioser and curioser. Well, there was no way I was removing that before the cops came. Andy might have some explaining to do when Braster showed up, but there was nothing I could do about it now.
I made one last quick look around the room, saw a waste basket under the desk, and there in the bottom were some mushroom caps. I whistled despite myself, went into the kitchen, grabbed a baggie, and carefully put them in it, then put the whole thing in the inside pocket of my coat. I closed the door, backed out and went to the next cabin.
Next was my cabin where I’d stayed the night before, but I’d cleared all of my gear out in the morning before the float and stashed it in my truck.
After that was Tibaud’s I tossed the place fast looking for hiding spots: the toilet tank, the freezer, between mattresses, ran my hand around the edges of the carpet looking for pull ups. Inside a valise in the closet I found ammo for the 9MM, but no gun. I left the ammo right where I found it. Like Wulff said, these weren’t good people and anything to put a little heat on them was fine by me.
The last cabin, was Negro’s. Being the victim, I tossed it quickly. No gun in the luggage, an expensive suit in the closet. A very expensive hand-tooled travel kit containing toiletries. A briefcase with some papers on his legitimate cacao business. No waders. Those must still be at the hospital, I figured. If the killer had done his dirty work here, there was no evidence. Three cabins, twenty minutes, time for old Abel to boogey into town. I grabbed the Tupperware with the leftovers, got in the Hudson and eased it down the drive to the road before I pulled out my phone and gave the lodge a call.
Ollie answered and I asked for Wulff. I could tell he was trying to figure out if there was any reason not to put me through when it sounded like Wulff took the expedient by grabbing the phone from him.
I gave him the brief run down on what I’d found, including the lab.
“Did you find the Waders?”
“I did not.”
“Go to the hospital and get those waders. Go through the pockets. Get anything you find.”
It seemed strange, but by now I know better than to second guess Wulff, and I had a good thirty minutes to figure it out rather than ask another dumb question. “Anything else?”
“Yes, we need to find Jerry before the cops do. Right now, we have a two-banana problem.”
“Coincidences are a lot like bananas. You can eat one. But even if you are really hungry, the second one is very hard to force down.”
“I never really thought about bananas that way before, but you are right, I could not eat two. However, despite this charming and insightful analogy, I remain unenlightened as to what you are referring to.”
He sighed like I was an imbecile. “I would have a hard time buying that Rosalita is at the one trout lodge in the world these two show up at. But I definitely can’t take that Crowley also knew them. Something stinks. Do some digging. Work backwards and figure out how they are connected.”
“Got it. One last thing.”
“Tibaud is armed.”
I eased the Hudson over the molded gutter between the road and the sidewalk and into the hospital parking lot. I was running a couple of scenarios through my head about what to say to get access to the waders, depending mostly on if I’d dated the nurse who was working the ER. I’d had a fair run of them a while back, and honestly was rather hoping that Julie might be on as I always felt we had unfinished business. My musings were interrupted, however, by Crowley coming out of the door, plastic bag-in-hand. My errand list just got significantly shorter. I strolled up to him and when he saw me he looked a bit like a cat who had swallowed a litter box.
“Abel, what are you doing here?”
I had my hands in my pockets, so I nodded to the bag. “Same as you, I suppose. I came to get Negro’s gear.”
His eyes narrowed and he unconsciously pulled the bag back, putting his body between me and it. I merely arched my brows and he became aware of his actions.
“Yeah, uh, sure,” he said, offering up the bag. I opened it. Inside was a set of silk long underwear, one of those mosquito-proof linen over shirts, a bandana, a baseball type cap with flies in the bill, waders, and boots. I pulled out the shirt and went through the pockets pulling out a license and steelhead catch card in a bright orange plastic case. I noticed he hadn’t marked his fish. I pocketed it, just in case there was some information on it. The waders had a fly wallet in the chest pocket. I opened it and looked, five of Wulff’s finest, which I put in my coat. I almost skipped the hat, but then reached in and pulled it out. Another dozen or so random flies, including one of Wulff’s. I took the whole hat and handed him the bag back.
“I don’t think you should be taking those.”
I looked at Crowley. “Why is that, Jerry?”
“Well, I’m sure Negro will be wanting them back.”
That’s when it struck me – he didn’t know. “Jerry, Negro’s dead. The cops are trying to pin it on Rosalita, and Wulff is trying to figure it out before that can happen.”
His mouth opened wide and he took a step back. “No! What are you talking about? He was fine when I left the house.”
“Not sure yet, maybe some kind of poison.” All the air went out of Jerry and he stood there in his plaid shirt and jeans looking a lot like a pile of laundry. “It wasn’t her. It couldn’t be her.” He looked up. “Why do they think it was her?”
“He’s dead, and her bags were packed. They are just trying to tie them together. Braster is on his way up to the lodge any minute with warrants.”
He looked genuinely shocked at the events. I thought this might be a good chance to catch him off guard. “Why was Negro here, at your lodge?”
His head snapped up and his eyes focused instantly. He looked a lot like a rescue dog slunk in the corner of a cage at the pound, scared but willing to do anything to survive, even if I meant sucking up to a little fat kid with candy all over his face. “He came to fish.”
“But he knows both you and Rosalita, Jer. The world is just not that small.” I was thinking right then of the two-banana problem. “How do you know these guys?”
“I need to sit down,” he said, and we turned to a bench beside the door. He sat heavily and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
“These guys are bad dudes. The real thing, cartel stuff. About ten years ago, I was guiding them. We were coming into a nasty drift, I told Negro to sit his ass down, he wants to make one last cast. We hit the first hole and he just about goes in. The guy goes crazy. He whips me right across the face with a rod. We flip the boat, I go under, I try to get a hold of it, and he’s got the boat in one hand and his gun in the other. Pistol whips me right across the face, opening me up like a can of Vienna sausages and knocking me out. Down I go, getting pinned on a sweeper. At the end of all of it, the two of them get out and right the boat, leaving me there for dead. If it wasn’t for turbulence in the river working me against that branch and popping me up like bad gas in a bathtub, I would be.”
“That is cold,” I said.
He looked at me. “You know what they did then?” I shook my head. “They finished the float. Two days of it, fished the whole way out. I know, because I found my gear at campsites along the way. They just used it and left it. It’s a good thing too. I was in a bad way, having cracked my skull, and that gear kept me alive as I walked out.”
I whistled. “That is double-digit cold.”
“It took me a while to heal, but I wanted those guys dead bad.” He looked over at me and I just nodded. I got a few stories about revenge I could tell myself. “When I was well enough, I started stalking him. I watched him at work. I got to know all of his movements. Gradually, I pieced together his operation. That’s how I realized he wasn’t just any cacao farmer but also had the brothels and drugs. I’m a hunter all my life, been one on the land here, and they taught me to hunt men in the army. I thought it would be easy to off him, but these guys live in a whole other world of crazy. Tibaud, he’s good. He never lets his guard down. I started to lose my patience. So one day when they went to check on his operations, I just decided I would gun down Negro, Tibaud and anybody else with them.”
He looked away and I could see he was looking into the past like a drive-in movie playing out in the parking lot. “It was in El Paso. It was hot, the sun was straight overhead and my shirt was stuck to me. I didn’t eat or sleep much back then. I could smell my own stink. I was getting on loco: I smelt it, I felt it, I could taste it. It was then or never. They went in to this low yellow adobe building with the door right on the street, and I pulled up across from it, about one hundred feet down. I had my Ithaca 12-guage shotgun on my lap. When the door opened, I was just going to roll up on them, unload, and take off.” He looked at me again.
“That’s when Rosalita came running out. She had on a white negligee and was barefoot. She was looking around crazy, like some kind of animal fleeing a fire, and she was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Some kind of an angel. I just did what I had planned to do except when I rolled up, instead of shooting her I told her to jump in. They came out, I unloaded both barrels, we took off, and we have been running ever since.”
Rosalita had skipped that part when she told me the story. And a great story it was, but he still hadn’t answered my question. I was just about to point this out when a cruiser rolled up. Deputy Bertrand got out and stood there, his great red mustache under his nose like a cardinal had landed on his lip, thumbs hooked in his belt.
“Well, lookee here. What a coincidink, the three of us being here. What are you two boys doing on this fine day?” He made a show of looking around at the blue sky, and then cocked his head and stared at us.
Crowley held up the bag. “I came to get Negro’s stuff.
I slicked back my hair and popped Negro’s hat on my head, shrugging. “You know me and nurses.”
Bertrand tipped is head and held out his hand. “I’ll take that,” he said reaching for the bag.
I was about to mention warrants and all, but I really just wanted him gone so Crowley and I could get back to conversing. Crowley popped up off of that bench like a dog on point and trotted the bag right over to the cop. “Sure thing, Bertrand. Anything I can do to help get this cleared up.”
Bertrand looked at him. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
Jerry shrugged. “Didn’t know Negro was dead ’til Abel told me. We left the boat on the river when we hiked him out. I went down early this morning to hike in and get it out in case we needed it.” He looked at me. “I was going to call you for a ride back to the truck, but I got a lift right at the take out from another guide before I could get even get reception.”
Bertrand listened to the explanation with his thumbs hooked in his belt, as if he didn’t really care. “You oughta maybe head home, Jer.” He looked at me. “What about you, loverboy?”
“I’m going to enjoy the sun and wait for shift change, but if you need me, you know where I am.” Then I stretched out my legs, pulled the cap down over my eyes, and folded my hands in my lap. I could feel Bertrand staring at me for a while trying to get the last word in, but I was already rerunning Crowley’s story in my head. Eventually, I heard Crowley’s diesel start up and go, and finally the cruiser took off with a squeal, but I still sat there for a bit, cogitating. Somehow, I’d choked down both bananas, and yet I was still hungry. I pulled out my tablet and went over everything Wulff had looked at. If there was a murder there, I sure was a lousy dick.
When Herschel called me, Julie still hadn’t come out of the ER and the day was cooling off as the sun descended. So I ambled back to the Hudson and headed towards the jail.
When I got to the station, Herschel was waiting in his car to catch me before I went in. “Abel,” he said, and we shook.
“I got here just as they were bringing her in. The stuff they got on her, they got without a warrant. Her room is in the house off the kitchen, they saw the luggage, and they just barged right in to it. So there was no way they could hold her, or even talk to her.” He looked at me. “It doesn’t mean they can’t bring her back if they find something.”
“Thank you for that.”
“It also means the gun is out. If they find anything on it, I’ll come down on them like a cement cloud at trial.”
“Don’t suppose I could get it back?” I asked. Just because the cops couldn’t use the info if they ran it, I had no confidence they wouldn’t run it. Plus, even though that gun was over fifty years old, it had never once misfired and I was kind of used to having it around, like an old grinning Rottweiler that never leaves your side but you know will protect you in a tight spot.
“Well, that is a gray area. They can’t use it, but I still have to go through some gymnastics to get all of that stuff back. To do that, I may have to tell them who it belongs to. I’m going to have breakfast with the DA, if I have to show up at his house to do it, but they can stall us that long. Besides, if you take it back to the house, it will be subject to the warrant. Best right where it is now.”
“She’s out and that’s the important thing. I was actually more concerned they could hold her on her immigration status than I was about the charges.”
“She caught a break there. Because of the, um, circumstance of her arrival in the US, she is eligible under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Act and has been working towards her citizenship so she can bring her daughter Ella in legally. That and the fact that she is married to a U.S. Citizen means they have nothing on her there.”
“To Andy McAvey. I hope that doesn’t burst any little bubbles for you, Abel.” I could see a little smile, maybe a smirk from the solicitor. “Her daughter is the whole reason she tried to come to the states in the first place. To create a better life.”
I waved it off, “No, but it does clear a few things that were bugging me.” Like the picture in Andy’s cabin. But it also opened up a few more.
“She’s waiting for you inside, but before you go in, is there anything I should know?”
“Well, Abel, I’ve said about as much as I can for attorney-client privilege, but I know her story and I know how your chauvinistic ideals have lead you astray in the past. If you did something I should be getting out ahead of, it would sure help both of us to know right now.”
I looked at him and weighed out a few pros and cons of conflicting interests. “Nope, all good.”
He opened his car door. “You are the most trustworthy guy I know. And also the least believable. You take care, if you don’t, or if you haven’t, you’ve got my number.” He got in his car, and I watched him drive away. Then I spun on my heel and double-timed it up the steps to the station.
She was sitting there in the lobby in a cheap plastic chair, looking very lonely and a bit embarrassed. I grabbed her up without looking around. But when we turned to go, Braster was there.
“I thought I told you to stay out of it?”
“Actually, I just came into town for pizza and happened to run into Herschel.”
“We would’ve given her a ride just fine, as we’ll be going that way the moment the warrants are cleared.”
I shrugged, “Well, no need now. No sense in keeping a lady waiting.” I offered her the arm on the side away from him, tipped Negro’s hat and started whistling a merry little tune as we pushed through the double doors.
As soon as we got outside I realized her sleeveless shift was not going to suffice and she took my denim coat with a little smile.
Another smile and a little nod. I figured might as well come off the hero and bring some food back after all, but I also wanted to get a little time with her before I dropped her off, perhaps to be arrested for real this time. There were a few things we needed to get straight.
There was a little Mexican place on the corner that was open, mostly for the post-lunch, pre-dinner bar traffic, but that left us pretty much alone in the dining room. We sat down and the waiter brought the prerequisite chips and salsa. I ordered two coffees and he left us alone for a bit.
“Long day, huh?”
“Yes,” she blurted. “And I’m so sorry about the gun.”
I waved it off. “It’s actually a good thing they grabbed it before they had the warrant. You know, they’re on the way to the house right now, waiting to search it? Keeping everybody together so they can’t talk.”
“Why were you running? You know I was protecting you”
“It didn’t work.”
“What do you mean? I took Negro out and sized him up. He clearly remembers Jerry, but he has no idea who you are.” It seemed indelicate to say he runs a lot of girls and she was just one of them, but that was the impression I got.
She toyed with a chip, and her eyes lost focus. “It wasn’t him. It was Tibaud. He came to me when you were gone with Negro. He knew who I was. He said he still owned me.” Her eyes shifted to mine and I could see them wet with tears. I reached over to hold her free hand. She was trembling. I sensed there was more and I didn’t want to interrupt. “He said he knew I had a daughter in the Dominican and that she was trying to cross, too. He gave me a bottle and told me to poison Negro, or he would make sure what happened to me happened to her.”
It was spilling out now. “He said, if I did it and got caught to just take the blame and he would make sure that Ella was taken care of. Then he laughed, said he might do it personally.” She started hiccupping like people do when they are trying not to bawl. “He said that if I got any ideas, Ella was already on her way here, and if anything happened it would go through. Only him going back would stop it.”
She looked right at me. “She’s eleven. What would you do?”
I sure wasn’t going to answer that, or ask her what she did. In fact, right now, that is the last thing I wanted to know. Just then the waiter came. I picked up the menu and made a great show of ordering a heap of food to go. I asked her what she wanted, but she had sunk back into her own thoughts, so I ordered for her.
There was one thing I needed to know, and I was pondering how to separate out how to ask about the thing I wanted to know from the thing I didn’t want to know when suddenly she looked up at me.
“I did it. I put the poison in his food.” Which of course was exactly what I didn’t want to know. “I made wild mushroom risotto, and figured I could always claim I had made a mistake, claiming that I must have picked a poisonous mushroom and thought it was the horse mushroom, agaricus arvensis.” She looked very serious. “Theo always says we must use the proper names and not the ‘vernacular.’’’ Another moment while she composed herself. “I didn’t know what Tibaud gave me. I didn’t know it would take Negro days to die.”
Well that cleared the path to what I did want to know. “Where’s the vial?” Or in other words, is there any evidence?
“I had it on me when they took me in. But since they didn’t arrest me, they never searched me.” And with that she pulled it out of her purse and handed it to me.
I actually laughed out loud at that one. If Braster had done just one thing right, he actually would’ve had it all sewn up. In fact, if he truly covered all of his bases, he could still figure it out and sew it up, but I figured the odds at about 999:1 on that. Even Wulff would have a hard time thinking that one through. I looked at the bottle, a little clear glass vial with a black plastic cap, and put it into my pocket.
I looked at her beautiful face and my heart melted. She may never be my angel, but she was still an angel. Then I had a thought. “Did you really do it, or are you just confessing to keep your part of the deal?”
“I did it. I had to do it. I wanted to do it. But, I wasn’t running because of that; I was trying to get back to Ella before Tibaud, because I knew he would never really let her go. She was his insurance. He would torture both of us forever. Now, I need to confess, or Ella will have no chance at all. I was all set to when Herschel showed up.”
“Rosalita, that you absolutely must not do.” She looked at me and I could see I was having no impact on her. “Look, do you trust Wulff?” She nodded slowly. “Well, Wulff is on it, and he’s got an angle. I don’t know what it is yet, but if I know him it’s good enough to get you off. So you just don’t say a word, and don’t go anywhere. Got it?” The slightest of nods, it might’ve been a tremor. “You trusted me to start this; trust me and Wulff to finish it. Nobody here is going to let you take the fall for killing that pig, okay?” This time, the nod was more positive, although the eyes still showed doubt. “Just a couple of days Rosalita, and this will be over, I promise.”
I’d learned a lot about my friend tonight: a mother, married, and deadly. And she called Wulff ‘Theo.” Nobody, but nobody, calls Wulff “Theo.” He would have a fit over that, and then would absolutely choke to death to hear somebody he taught to cook claim they made a fatal error in the kitchen. That would not do.
As I looked across the table at her with her big black eyes and waifish smile, even now her childlike innocence still showed through. Before I could rectify my feelings with her actions, our food arrived and we took off. We both kept to our own thoughts on the way back, and I was hoping to beat Braster back to the lodge. Because even though I figured the warrants were really no longer an issue, I still had to strategize with his corpulence.
We pulled up to the house and came through the back like last time. Wullf was wearing an apron and pouring coffee all around and looked not unlike a Parisian café owner. I pulled out a chair for Rosalita and made sure it was next to Andy. Wulff and I made eye contact and I headed outside to get the food. I heard some raised voices inside and then Wulff came out. You could see his dander was up.
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Ollie seems to think that because we are here, we are also under his authority.”
“Damn sloppy to have us here at all.”
He smiled. “I didn’t point that out. He’s concerned we may be colluding.”
“Justifiably concerned, it turns out.”
“Once I told him you brought food, and he better be nice if he wanted any, he put his own interests first and decided to let me out of his sight, but we better make it quick.”
I thought about where to start in case we got interrupted. “Okay, Herschel got her out, but she dropped a bombshell on me while we were waiting on food. She did it.”
He looked directly at me, the mercury lamp on a pole in the center of the drive came on and threw a greenish light over everything, making his swarthy skin look darker. “She did what?”
“She put poison in his food, in the mushroom risotto.” He looked down a moment, thinking, then his eyes flicked back to mine, “Okay, what else?”
I ran it down. I told him about the child, the blackmail scheme, the marriage, and the things I had found at the hospital.
He took the food from me, including the leftovers. Then he asked about the flies and I handed them over. He looked up at the hat, and took that one too. I was reaching into my pocket to pull out the rest of the evidence when he put his hand on my hand through my coat. “You might want to take the night off and head home, just in case I need you later.”
I looked at him for a moment and withdrew my hand. “Got it.” I had just opened the door to the Hudson and started to get in when Braster showed up, followed by his second deputy, Bertand, parking me in.
“You’re not going anywhere Abel. Get your ass into the house with the rest of them.” I shot Wulff a look, but his expression gave nothing away.
“Actually, I was just coming to see you.” I pulled out my wallet and fumbled around, “Here is the dinner receipt for your hostages. Um, I mean captives. Er, suspects! That’s the word I was looking for.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Wulff interjected. “Certainly you didn’t expect to keep people for hours without feeding them? The blood sugar issues during an interrogation alone would be devastating.”
Braster looked back and forth between us and then snatched the receipt from my hand, stuffing it in his pocket. I didn’t ever expect to see a penny of it, but needling Braster was always worth the price of admission. Bertrand looked amused.
They bustled us into the house officiously like it was their idea to do it and not ours, but we ignored them as I got out plates and Wulff dished up the grub. I only bought food for six, and only got out six plates, including Ollie, and excluding Wulff who had leftovers, so Braster and Bertrand had to cool their heels while the rest of us ate, Wulff only waving them towards the coffee for self-service. He then got up and started warming up his left overs. I hadn’t paid them much mind, but was a little surprised to find it was the mushroom risotto.
“I could never eat that,” and he waved his hands at the take-out, “when I have Rosalita’s excellent leftovers of venison in sherry cream, with roasted fennel sides, and this excellent mushroom risotto.”
“Where did you get that?” asked Braster. “The fridge was off limits.” He shot Ollie a dirty look.
“Oh, relax, I got it from Abel who was here at dinner days ago.” I marveled at how those two truths combined to create a bold-faced misconception in the ear of the listener.
“That food could be poisoned. That’s why we sequestered it.”
“Oh, pshaw. If it was poisoned, you would have six victims and not one.” I shot a look to Rosalita. Certainly she knew I didn’t take home left overs, and would figure out these came from Andy’s cabin. I just wanted absolute certainty that they were safe. Wulff, on the other hand, needed no such reassurance. He tucked into the food like he hadn’t eaten in two days.
Just then, Andy heaved across the table for the water pitcher like he had palsy, knocking Wulff’s plate clear off the edge of the table. Wulff calmly caught it on the way down and did it so adroitly he managed to keep the food on the plate and bring the whole thing back to the table with one sweeping motion. The whole thing happened so quickly, those who weren’t watching heard a clatter and maybe saw the plate come back to the table, but would’ve missed everything in between. The cops were gathered around the coffee with their backs to the group, talking amongst themselves and barely shot glances over their shoulders before returning to strategizing.
Andy put both hands flat on the table and was rigid. His mouth opened and closed like a beached salmon. He was clearly very upset. He looked back and forth from Wulff, to Rosalita, to me, to the cops. It was clear that he wanted to say something but was torn. He was shaking his head back and forth unconsciously. The man was in torment. Finally, he mouthed to Wulff “Don’t eat that.” At this point, Rosalita’s eyes went wide and she put her hand to her mouth. But Wulff just winked and put the food in his mouth, rolling it around and clearly savoring it. Tibaud was grinning and eating with gusto. Jerry was staring a hole into his plate and hadn’t touched his food.
“I hate to interrupt your repast, folks – ” Wulff stopped Braster with a lifted hand, palm out.
“Please, sir, no business during dinner.”
“Wulff, I already told you once today to stay out of this. When you are done, I want you to leave. This is my show.” He pulled out a packed of light blue papers. I looked at Wulff and he shrugged. He wasn’t going anywhere if I wasn’t free to drive him.
“Okay, it’s official now. We have permission to search the house, the cabins, and the grounds.” He looked at Crowley, “If that’s okay with you, of course.” Crowley looked at him as if he had a retort, but then just waved a fork at him for assent.
“Don’t forget the boat,” said Wulff who clearly had formulated some theories I wasn’t up on.
Braster looked at him and the techs in the door. “Okay, let’s get started.” He reached down, took the remains of Wulff’s meal and handed them to a Tyvek-suited techie. “Start with this, bag it. Go through the refrigerator.” He looked at Wulff. “And don’t forget the boat.”
We sat there and looked at each other. Braster let us stack the dishes but wouldn’t let us wash them. Then Wulff and I got the cribbage board down and started to play. Andy and Rosalita held hands but didn’t talk. Tibaud stretched his legs out under the table, folded his arms across his chest, and was out in minutes, with a smug little smile still on his face. Jerry watched the game. The cops drank coffee and chatted. Eventually one of the boys in spacesuits came back and had a quick conversation with Braster.
Braster took his coffee into the office which was off the hall connecting the kitchen with the rest of the house, facing on the driveway, and called Jerry in. Jerry hesitated like he might not want to talk and Braster said, “It goes like this folks, either talk to me here, or I arrest the lot of you, take you to the station and keep you there while you lawyer up. Since Wulff already used the only good lawyer in town, it might take a while for you to get out.”
Jerry blew out a big breath, patted Rosalita’s hand, got up and followed Braster into Jerry’s office. Rosalita hung her head and began to cry. Wulff immediately put down his cards and put his hand out for my phone.
“What do you think you are doing Wulff?” Asked Bertrand.
“I’m calling an attorney.”
“I didn’t hear anybody ask you to call an attorney.”
“Standing arrangement,” said Wulff. Right about then Herschel picked up and Wulff turned his attention to the phone like the deputy wasn’t even there.
After Jerry came Tibaud, then they asked for Rosalita. When Rosalita stood up, Wulff put down his cards, but before he could say anything, Herschel came through the door, letting in a burst of unseasonable chill as the sun went behind the ridge. He took in the room at a glance, and then came over to Rosalita.
Braster’s eyes shown like raisins in the doughy folds of his flesh, but he brusquely ushered them both into the office. When Rosalita and Herschel came out, Hershel’s mouth was a grim line. He took one look at Wulff, shook his head negatively, then immediately got on the phone. I exchanged a look with Wulff, but he was back looking at his cards like nothing had happened.
I’d forgotten Braster said he wanted to talk to me until Bertrand came out to get me. I looked at my cards and the board, said “Dammit!” as I tossed them down. We were neck-and-neck on the last hand and it was my first count. The right turn card would’ve put me out.
The office was wood paneled, fir, I think, and dark with age. The old oak desk was square on the door, a window behind it, and a filing cabinet on either side of that. Surprising how much paper fishing can generate, I thought. Only men could take another man’s pure, simple freedoms and figure out how to charge him for it, track it, make him accountable for sharing it. There were bookshelves on the right and left walls, making the passage around to the desk a narrow fit. Bertrand sat in one chair facing the desk and I took the other.
Braster tapped a tape recorder with a pen, and Bertrand held a yellow legal pad and pen at the ready. Something about that bushy mustache of his had always offended me, and it was definitely getting to me now. “You are on the record Abel.” I just looked at him. “That requires a response,” prompted caterpillar face.
I looked over at him. “Oh, sure. Gotcha.”
“Anything you want to tell me, Abel?”
I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, hands clasped. “Well it’s kind of a secret,” I looked from one to another and saw I had also drawn them forward, “but apparently Wulff’s new fly is candy to steelhead.” I smiled and leaned back like I had just relieved myself of a huge burden.
Braster shot Bertrand a look. “Time was you, me, and the phone book would be having a long overdue chat about now.” He smiled. I smiled. Bertrand smiled. All for different reasons, I’m sure. “But, let’s cut to the chase, Abel. We know you had drinks with Negro the night he got here. We know you got a thing for Rosalita, on account of the gun. That’s motive, means, and opportunity right there.”
I leaned back in the chair. Looked back and forth between them again. “That’s it? That’s all you got? You got nothing. You don’t even know that’s my gun.”
“Oh, I know it. At the moment I might not be able to prove it, but I know it.”
“Well so what? I was consulting with her. No law against that.”
“Consulting, or consorting?” shot Braster.
“That’s a big word, Braster, you been sneaking your wife’s romance novels on those long, boring speed traps again?”
Bertrand looked away and put the back of his hand to his mustache like he might lose it.
Braster’s fat roll tinged pink but he refused the bait like a selective brown will inspect and reject a fly. “What did you have to discuss with the victim, and what is his connection to the suspect?”
“Well we talked about all kinds of stuff. Mostly fishing related, so you wouldn’t get it.”
“You weren’t warning him off?”
“Don’t play dumb. There had to be a reason she killed him, we are going to find out what it was. I think she ‘consulted’ with you, you told her you would take care of it, then took him somewhere and told him to stay away from her.”
“Unless you have evidence of which I’m unaware, you are certainly jumping to conclusions here. What if she didn’t kill him and never met him before? The killer could be right in front of you and you would miss him.”
“That’s a good point. You are sitting right in front of me and we do have a motive for you, plus opportunity.”
“Pfft! That’s no motive, and again it presupposes a connection between Rosalita and Negro. You can go jump in the lake.”
He switched tactics on me. “Why was she running?”
“Who said she was running?”
“She was packed, with a gun.”
“Maybe she had a romantic getaway planned. How would I know?”
He smiled and looked at Bertrand, “Because you were consulting with her.”
“Which of course means I cannot tell you what we discussed.”
“There is no client privilege with a PI,” said Braster.
“One thing I know for certain is that cops often lack a grasp of constitutional law. If you want to know what we talked about, I think I’d better consult a lawyer.” I held out my hands, palms up. “We’ve come full circle. We done?”
Pink was turning to red, and I really worry about his blood pressure sometimes.
“Well, Abel, here’s the problem I got. Rosalita, she spilled the whole thing, lawyer sitting right here and all.”
One thing I learned is to never over-react. Assuming that she told us both the same story could be one of those fallacies Wulff was going on about. “Did she now?”
“Yup. We know all about the coyote and the poison. She says she told you about it and you promised to take care of it. You talked her out of killing him and took the poison from her. She had no idea you were going to use it poison him.”
Still no reaction from me, which is surprising because things were beginning to drop into place in my head with resounding thuds. I had already heard two versions of this story myself. I was wondering if she had played me the whole way, or if she just stumbled onto it last-minute like.
“That’s motive, means, and opportunity, which gives us cause to search you now.”
Bertrand was already behind me, hand on his gun. I put my hands above my head thumbs together like I was going into an airport X-ray machine.
“Stand up. Slowly.” Braster had his gun out, resting the butt on the blotter.
Betrand searched me quickly but efficiently, finding the license, the vial, and the mushroom caps. I could’ve smacked myself for having all of the evidence on me. Which fallacy did that fall under? Is there a fallacy of hubris?
Betrand put the evidence on the blotter one item at a time. Braster opened up the license and looked at it, then looked up at me. “Even a dumb local cop like me would find it hard to miss the connections here,” and he gave me a huge smile.
Some angel, I thought. But I got it, you spend your formative years in a brothel scratching a mark on the wall for every man who took you, and you have a beautiful little girl waiting for you who may suffer the same fate – you do what you have to do to survive and keep your family together. I thought briefly of some of the things I’ve done, and that the people we get to pay back are rarely the people whom we originally wronged. Altogether, I’ve been in worse positions, and I was willing to take a little heat for my friend. Or, maybe I really wasn’t the noble knight I wanted to be when I grew up, but she’d played me for the same fool I’d been all along. Looked like I was going to have some time to ponder it all.
Then they read me my rights and all of the other boring stuff. Braster was pretty smug about it and I was glad I was cuffed or they might’ve added a few more charges to the list. They perp walked me through the kitchen and I shrugged to Wulff as I went by. At least I wouldn’t have to call my own lawyer. Tibaud was wide awake now and smirking at the whole scene like he had paid for this entertainment. Which, in a way I guess, he had.
Braster came out of the office. “We’re done for now. But keep yourselves available.”
“What’s your take, constable?” asked Wulff in a completely conversational, friendly tone, like he would say if I was a salmon Braster had just caught and Wulff was inquiring what fly he’d used.
“We have Rosalita’s word that puts Abel for it. Plus we found mushrooms on him, the vial she described that contained the poison, and the victim’s ID, like a trophy.”
“So you took the word of your prime suspect against a man you’ve known for years?”
Braster looked around. “Unless you can explain this all away.”
“And the vial.” Wulff looked at Rosalita. “Really? Shame on you.” He looked back at Braster. “Your prime witness describes the exact piece of evidence you find in your search. That doesn’t make you suspicious?”
“Well, the mushrooms and the license tie it all together. He was cleaning up the evidence when we nabbed him outside.”
“Why would Abel have toxic mushrooms on him if Tibaud supplied the poison?”
“We’re working on that. We’re not so sure that Tibaud supplied the poison at all. It makes more sense that when Negro showed up, Rosalita told Andy who he was. Andy made the poison in his little lab, and Rosalita was going to administer it. But Abel talked her out of it and she gave him the poison when he said he would take care of Negro. It was a perfect little lovers’ triangle. Abel didn’t even know Andy had already married his little angel.”
Apparently Jerry didn’t know it either, because at this he jumped to his feet and everybody in the room turned towards him, cops’ hands going to their guns.
“Married?” was all he got out.
Andy’s eyes went wide as a tarpon. “I’ve never even used my lab! We bought that for the cultivation business, but so far the only person to use it is Wulff for his beer making. All you are going to find in there is yeast.”
Wulff waved the commotion away and held out his hand. “May I see the mushrooms, please?”
“I thought you were not an expert on poisonous mushrooms?”
Braster shrugged and had Betrand pass the baggie over. Wulff looked at them in passing and said, “You are going to find that the vial only contained ethyl alcohol, and that the mushrooms, are Tricholoma matsutake, or Pine Mushrooms.” He looked at Braster, “As I said, I differentiate the poisonous from the delectable. Matsutake, although resembling the poisonous Amanitas enough to cause a few deaths each year, are actually one of the most delectable and expensive mushrooms in the world. I believe it is one of the strains Andy was considering for cultivation.” Andy nodded. “I’m sure there are a dozen reasons Abel could have them in his pocket.”
This drew blank stares from all of the cops.
“In other words, your evidence in no way ties either Andy or Abel to this crime. It’s complete folderol.”
“Why would we take your word for that? Abel is your man.” I rather wanted to say I was my own man, but decided to keep the spotlight on Wulff. He seems to do better in it.
“Because I have never steered you wrong. In fact, I have spent quite a bit of time correcting your course, for which I think you should be more thankful and less spiteful. But, I’m sure we could find a mushroom book around here somewhere to clear this up.”
“So,” he continued, “of the four people who have motive – Rosalita who was betrayed and sold into slavery; her husband Andy who loves and wants to protect her; Abel who jousts at any windmill in a skirt; and Tibaud who stands to inherit an empire – we have proven that the first three could not have committed the murder.”
I noticed he left Crowley out. I guess he figured if the cops hadn’t made that connection, he wouldn’t muddy the waters by doing it for them. He was like a magician sometimes, pointing you at the one thing while making sure you weren’t paying attention to the other, more important, thing.
“Thus,” continued Wulff, “the only remaining suspect is the murderer. The person who clearly did this is Tibaud.” Tibaud’s head snapped up. The cops swung their gaze to him, obviously confused.
Wulff sighed as if he were trying to teach calculus to second-graders. “Tibaud needed two things: his boss dead, and a suspect who believed she did it. But these two things are not mutually inclusive. He confronted Rosalita and gave her the vial you found, blackmailing her into poisoning Negro. But he couldn’t take any chances. He gave her a vial of placebo, most likely the same ethyl alcohol as the actual tincture, but without the toxin. If she used it, then she really would believe she had murdered Negro. If she didn’t, he would blackmail her into confessing anyway. Since she had nothing to lose, it was practically guaranteed she would do it and believe she was the murderer.”
“How do you know it was a placebo?” asked Braster.
“Because, he needed her to believe she did it, but he also had to be absolutely sure it got done. Tibaud was doing the most dangerous thing you can do, overthrowing a cartel leader. If he screwed that up, there would be parts of every living member in his family tree spread over two continents. There is no way he would outsource that to anyone for any reason. But either way, it was him who administered the poison, in the rum on the beach. Abel has video of him opening the bottle and passing it to Negro. Did you find the bottle in the boat?”
Bertrand nodded affirmatively before Braster shut him up with a withering look. “When you test it, you will find the toxin in it.”
A huge look of relief passed over Andy’s face. “I thought…” he began.
“You thought Rosalita had poisoned Negro’s food at dinner and you switched his plate for yours, which you took in your room on some pretext and then put into your fridge.”
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t until I started eating it. But the fact that you thought I was eating poisoned food cleared you of the amatoxin poisoning, because in fact you acted to remove the poison both from me and Negro.”
“You lied about the food, and you took evidence from Andy’s cabin,” said Braster. “I should take both you and Abel in just for interfering with an investigation.”
Wulff shrugged. “I can afford certain expediencies which you cannot. The only evidence I took was evidence of innocence. It would’ve meant nothing to you and we would’ve missed the chance to rule Rosalita and Andy out.”
“That was a huge risk,” said Jerry.
Wulff looked right at Tibaud who was rocked back in his chair, smirking. “Not at all. Tibaud certainly couldn’t risk her using the poison on him. That would just be sloppy, and Tibaud is anything but sloppy.”
“And where is his expertise to concoct a poison?” asked Braster.
Wulff looked at him. “I’m sure that you will find that Tibaud came up through the ranks as a chemist, isn’t that so?” He swung his head back to look at Tibaud.
Tibaud smiled like a snake. “I know chocolate. That is what I do.”
“No matter, making a tincture is not that complicated. A chocolatier could do it.” Wulff waved him off.
At that point Tibaud’s smile got a little bigger. As the front legs of his chair dropped to the floor, his head swiveled from Wulff at the head of the table on his left towards us bunched up at the door on his right. He reached towards his lower back with his right hand as he put his left flat on the table for leverage. I did not for one minute think that Braster or either of his deputies had the training or skills to move before Tibaud dropped all four of us. If they had, we wouldn’t be sitting here like a school of hatchery fish at feeding in the first place. Even though I saw it coming, I was held by the bicep on either side with my hands cuffed behind me. I lurched towards the table with all of my strength, catching the deputies by surprise and breaking free, but without much force. I realized that at best all I was going to achieve was to sacrifice my life for a few seconds of theirs, which I doubted they would either appreciate or invest wisely. However, in such situations our logic abandons us and our hardwiring is revealed.
It would’ve all gone so wrong, except that at that moment, Wulff took his fork and drove it into Tibaud’s left hand, impaling it on the table. Tibaud spun on this attack, although I noted that he did not utter a sound, and that’s when I hit him with my right shoulder with all of my weight behind it. We went down, the gun went off with a terrible sound, and the cops finally fumbled into action. It took all three of them to separate us and subdue Tibaud, me waiting the whole time for the sickening and final kick of a 9 mm shell in the belly, as sure and lingering death as any mushroom. When it was over, Andy was on the floor with blood everywhere, Rosalita over him screaming and trying to stop the bleeding. Turns out the bullet went through the table and clipped him on the little roll of fat above his belt. No real damage but a ghastly good wound with that large-caliber bullet. That hole is still in the table and makes for lots of good after-dinner conversation.
That pretty much broke up the party. They called the meat wagon for Andy, arrested Tibaud, and eventually got around to uncuffing me. Ollie and Bertrand even thanked me. I nursed my sore shoulder and grabbed a beer out of the fridge with nobody thinking to stop me for consuming evidence. I was shaking bad enough to make it hard to drink, but I don’t think anybody noticed.
I rubbed the cuff marks on my wrist and looked at Wulff, “You did take a big risk on that plate of risotto,” I said.
Wulff smiled, and held up an empty bottle of charcoal pills and another of milk thistle, “Let us just say that I figured it at 98:2 and I took precautions against the two.”
“Did you read the paper?” I asked a week later as I crunched across the river rock in my wading boots.
“The last good thing in the paper was the moon landing,” replied Wulff.
“Well Tibaud is going down. And Ella is coming to live here. I’m glad it all worked out for Rosalita.”
“Women are the cause of so much trouble,” said Wulff with a wave of his hand. “Look at what happened to you. You barely knew her, were completely enamored of her, and she used and betrayed you in a moment of panic.”
“On the contrary, once you understand them, women make perfect sense. It’s men who commit crimes of passion. In your line of work, you might do well to understand this.”
His head swiveled and his eyes squinted. Wulff would never admit it, but he couldn’t risk making a mistake just because he had been emotionally blinded, and he knows less about women than any man I have ever met. I definitely had his interest. “Do tell.”
“Women, in general, are all motivated by the same thing: maintaining the family unit. They don’t care about right or wrong, personal gain, or power. They only care about maintaining whatever family, tribe, or herd they have. All mammalian packs are led by females of the species. Only humans ignore and deny this, much to our woe.”
“So you are saying, in light of this logic, Rosalita’s actions were perfectly logical?”
“Perfectly. Perhaps even predictable, had I not been so far inside it and trying to figure the men out. It is men who act on their passions, and who are therefore entirely illogical and unpredictable. In our case Negro on pride, Tibaud on his greed, Jerry on blind love. Even me. The motives they attributed to me were not cold and logical, they were hot-headed and lustful. Think about every case you ever had, and I bet you could map any female criminal’s motive to keeping the unit together.”
“But she sacrificed you, and she did it with some forethought. She nearly destroyed everything for a lot of people.”
“On the contrary, she acted to protect her daughter Ella, her husband Andy, and her protector Jerry – her family.”
Wulff was stroking his chin. “Yes, your explanation fits my hypotheses of the crime.”
“Abduction at work.”
“Ratiocination, if you please.”
I had strung up my rod and turned my attention to the run before us. There was a barely discernible dark stripe that I knew represented a long deep slot that often held fish. The sun was coming up and pulling a mist off the water like the smoke that rises off of a house’s roof just before it bursts into flame. “Thank you for solving the crime and getting Rosalita off.”
“I did not solve the crime,” he said as he rigged his own rod, putting the four pieces together and running the line through the guides. I shot him a baffled look.
“As usual, you miss the things that are often right in front of you. As promised, I got Rosalita off, which actually would’ve been pretty simple had you not gotten embroiled in the whole thing.” When I started to protest he held up his hand. “After that, I merely proposed a hypothesis that Braster jumped on like a man whose leader breaks while landing a trophy fish. I did not solve the crime. Not yet at least.”
“What are you waiting for?”
Just as I turned for my answer, Jerry came down the trail.
“Ah,” said Wulff, “the gang is all here. We were just discussing my hypothesis of the crime.”
“Hypothesis? Isn’t the crime solved? Tibaud put the poison in the rum.” Jerry was already rigged and was also scanning the river. “If Tibaud didn’t do it, who did do it?”
We looked at the river for a while and then Wulff reached into a chest pocket and pulled out the custom wallet that I’d taken out of Negro’s waders. “It doesn’t seem fair that a criminal should get to profit from my labors, while I should not.”
Jerry’s head swiveled around and jerked forward as if that would help focus his eyes. Wulff opened Negro’s wallet, carefully inspected the flies and then pulled one of them out. With the big two-handed rod, he had quite a bit to manage. He was about to put the fly in his mouth and free his hands to rezip the wallet, when Jerry reached forward and put his hand on Wulff’s arm. “Don’t.”
Jerry looked at him. “How did you figure it out?”
“Well, we never answered the only question that really mattered.”
“The two bananas,” I said, remembering my unresolved conversation with Jerry at the hospital.
Wulff turned to me. “Yes. Assuming that Negro being here was not a coincidence was really the crux of the whole thing. It always had to be Jerry. He was the common element.”
I addressed Jerry, “I asked you once – how did he get here?”
Jerry was looking down at the stones, then he squatted, picked up a handful and ran it back and forth between his hands. He was quiet for a long time and I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me. “I invited him.”
“That had to be the answer,” said Wulff, “but why?”
“I told Abel about how I met Rosalita, and how we have run for years.” He started casting the stones one-by-one backhanded into the river with little flicks of his wrist, like he was dealing cards.
“I risked everything for Rosalita. I love her. After she met you, and learned to cook, we started talking about growing mushrooms in the back barns as a side business so we could get ahead in the off season and make a place for Ella. That’s when I hired Andy. He has a degree in botany.” That fit with the books and the lab in Andy’s room, at least.
Jerry stopped again for a long time, looking out across the water. I became very aware of the sounds of the river rushing by, the birds waking up in the woods behind us.
“She never loved me like a lover, but she and Andy took up. They thought they were careful, but when you live together like that, there isn’t much you can hide. I contacted Negro and told him I was sick of running. I told him he could have Rosalita back if he would leave me be. I knew he would come like a vulture to putrefaction.”
I said, “That’s a dangerous game, killing him before he killed you.”
He looked over at us. “We were already playing that game. I just decided to take control of it. I made the poison in Andy’s lab. I was going to kill Negro and Tibaud, frame Andy, and get Rosalita back. It was a win-win-win from a losing position.” He pointed at Wulff with his chin. “Just like you, Negro always put the fly in his mouth, that’s why he whipped me in the face all those years ago. Almost bit his tongue off when we hit that hole in the drift boat. So I got those babies from you because he always has to have the latest and greatest of everything, and I knew he would use them if I promised they worked. I soaked them in the toxin, and I gave them to both of them.”
“That’s what you saw in the video, the fly in the mouth,” I said to Wulff.
“Indeed,” he said. “The fly is the only thing he put in his mouth that nobody else did on that first night. And it had to be then for the symptoms to develop when they did.”
I turned to Jerry, “And that’s why you let me take the flies at the hospital. Because once I told you Negro was dead, you knew I was removing the evidence and leaving you clean. You couldn’t wait to give that gear to Bertrand, after I took the evidence out for you.”
Jerry nodded, “I was hoping Tibaud would do the same thing with the fly, even if it wasn’t until the next day. If he didn’t, I’d find some other way to dose him.”
“Using the built-in time lag in the poison to cover the double deed, if necessary,” said Wulff, thinking out loud. “That stuff is so toxic, you could probably get a lethal dose just from handling the flies.”
I swallowed thinking about me sitting there with the wallet full of flies in my pocket and one dangling from the hat. I could’ve killed a whole season worth of customers without even knowing it, if I’d been lucky enough not to kill myself first.
“Yeah, but Tibaud is a very cagey guy. When you and Negro went fishing that first night, he came into my office, stretched out in the chair in front of my desk like he owned the place, said he knew I invited them here to kill them, and asked me flat out what my plan was. I tried to play dumb, but Tibaud said the only reason I was still alive and Rosalita wasn’t on her way back to the brothel was that he wanted Negro dead, too, and maybe we could help each other out. He said it with that big grin of his, like we were talking about where we would be fishing the next day.”
He looked back and forth between us. “I laid the whole thing out for him, about how I intended to poison Negro. He actually seemed amused that I had put this whole thing together. Treated me like a kid with a science project. In the end he said I’d actually come up with a pretty good plan. Then he asked for the poison and I handed it over. He told me he would take it from there. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him I’d already used it on the flies.”
“The time lag again,” I said. “You hoped Tibaud would dose Negro and assume it was his doing when the symptoms came on. Which is just what happened. It was pure coincidence the poison from the fly hit him right after he had the rum, then.”
“Plus,” added Wulff, “there was always the chance Tibaud would still dose himself.”
“Yeah, but I never figured he would double-cross me and work a side deal with Rosalita, that twisted bastard. I don’t think he was ever going to let any of us go. He was too cruel. He would’ve killed, me, taken Rosalita back, and enslaved her daughter, too.”
Wulff put the fly back in his mouth, zipped the wallet, and then tied the fly on as we both looked on, agape. “Unlike you two, you didn’t really think I would be walking around with murder evidence on me, did you? I tied some new flies last night.”
I whistled. He was right. If the cops had been just a little smarter, they would’ve caught me with the evidence after all. They could’ve done me right at the hospital, or even at the jail!
“I have to hand it to you, Jerry. The one guy who never came under suspicion is the guy who did it.” Right then I wished Braster had given me my Webley back, because I wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Well, actually, everybody poisoned him, except for you, Abel, and I’m not perfectly sure about that.”
“Everybody?” Jerry and I asked in unison.
“Yes. Rosalita at least thought she was poisoning him. Tibaud gave him one deadly dose, and you, Jerry, gave him another.”
“What about Andy?” I asked. “At the house you said he actually tried to save Negro.”
“No, I said that Andy tried to prevent Rosalita from poisoning Negro. The mushrooms you took from his room were the Corinarius rubellus, the Deadly Web Cap. I think if we looked a little harder we might’ve found the poison Andy made, either at the house or in Negro’s body.”
“You said those were Matsutakes.”
He shrugged. “They were in your pocket when the cops found them, not Andy’s cabin.”
“Unfortunately, the cops stopped searching the moment Tibaud made his move; Andy went to the hospital and was never questioned; Negro’s body was shipped home; and since you don’t carry murder evidence around, I presume the mushrooms are gone. Ergo, we cannot test that theory,” I said.
“Oh, but we can. Unlike amatoxins, which show up within twenty-four hours, symptoms of the Deadly Web Cap come from orellanin, which can take up to three weeks to surface, and there is no known antidote. I’m betting he dosed both Negro and Tibaud, probably in their toothpaste, if I had to guess. Just put it into a hypo, take the cap off and shoot it into the tube. No mess, no fuss. They would go home, keep re-dosing themselves every day, and eventually come down with flu-like symptoms and then their kidneys would fail. In the Dominican, nobody would ever see it coming or connect the symptoms until it was too late. Andy was really the most brilliant of the batch. If everybody else had left it to him, the cops wouldn’t have gotten involved at all.”
“But Tibaud didn’t go home, he’s sitting right here in jail.”
“Exactly,” said Wulff. “We should have verification of my theory any day now.”
Jerry looked at Wulff. “So now what?”
“So now there is one dead bad guy, another bad guy behind bars who will soon be getting justice from man or god, you have your vengeance, two kids are in love, and it’s a beautiful day on the river.” He finished cinching his knot. “Like I said, I don’t much care who did it, just that Rosalita didn’t go to jail. But you were a bad man, you let your good intentions twist you up when you planned to frame Andy for it. You have to decide what kind of man you are going to be. Go sit on that rock and think about what you did, because right now we are still friends and I need to know you won’t be doing that again to those kids or anyone else. If you really love Rosalita, let her be happy – she’s earned it.” He dropped the arm that had been pointing to a large rock at the edge of the beach and turned to the water. “In the meantime, I’m going to take the money water as my compensation.”
He snapped his fingers, and turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot – and Abel got his due.” He reached into his pocket again and handed me an envelope.
I opened it up, and there inside was a copy of my receipt for the Mexican dinner and a check from the police department to cover it, signed by Braster himself. “I should sign this over to you for services rendered.”
“Ah, keep it. I’d just frame it conspicuously for the next time he barged in.” He looked at me and we both laughed. Then we looked at the river for a moment in silence.
“Hey, you never did tell me, what are you going to call that fly?”
He looked down at the fly in his hand and then looked back up at me eyes twinkling. “The mushroom whose poison was on the fly? Amanita ocreata?”
“In the vernacular, that mushroom is called the ‘Destroying Angel.’ It seems appropriate, all things considered. Do you think that is too much for a fly?”
By way of answer I said, “What did you mean by that crack that for all you know, I could’ve done it?”
He was standing just downhill of me on the slope of the riverbed, so he had to look up at me. “Well, I got a couple of bananas left, and you know I hate that.”
I didn’t answer.
“For one thing, amatoxin takes a minimum of six hours to work, more like twenty-four in most cases.” He shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe a tincture would work faster.”
“I’m not following.”
“What I’m saying is it’s as doubtful that he got sick immediately from putting the fly into his mouth as it is that he got sick from that rum. Takes time for that stuff to get in the system and do its work.”
“So, that was just lucky that he got sick after the rum, but he had to be dosed the night before at the lodge.”
“Or, at The Buck and Thorn.”
“And why would you figure that?”
“Because the other banana is your story about confronting Negro. It doesn’t hold up. What did you do, outright ask him, then take his answer for it?”
“Something like that.”
“No.” He said it just like that. Perfectly flat and dismissive. “Too many bananas. It’s not like him, and it’s not like you. Both of you are too careful for that sort of thing, to let loose ends hang like that and take each other’s word for it. But you know what does fit?”
Again, I had no answer. “What fits is Rosalita’s story. That you took the poison from her.”
“And why do you like that so much?” I asked
“Because it fits all of the hypotheses, everybody is true to form; I don’t have to change what I know about you and I don’t have to change what I know Rosalita. Plus, it’s the only story that fits the timeline. He had to be given the amatoxin on his first night here. You had it all: motive, means, and opportunity. Hell, it even fits your theory, because it kept you in the family, until she sacrificed one member for the whole. The bananas are all gone.”
“We could’ve used your flies the first night on the river, or Tibaud could’ve spiked his rum any time.”
“Ah, but did either of those things happen?”
“It must be terrible to be so suspicious that you don’t even trust your best friend.”
He waved his hand, “Your honor and loyalty are above reproach. That’s what makes you predictable. And that predictability is what makes you trustworthy.” He shook out some line and made a cast. “We are just ratiocinating here. It’s my job to consider every hypothesis. That’s the thing about abduction, deduction, or induction. By themselves you can never be sure you have the answer, just an answer. Therein lies the rub: each of the facts may be true, but of all of the possible conclusions, somehow we have to prove one and determine, did this thing happen? This is why I forced the action into the direction it needed to go.”
I noticed he didn’t say that he used them to find the truth. “I’m not judging anybody. Hell, if I had the vial and the chance to use it, I probably would have, too.”
We looked at each other for a long time, the smoke coming off the water behind him as the angels took their share, his line swinging in the current.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I kind of like the name ‘Resurrecting Angel,’ myself. I guess it’s the optimist in me.” He looked at me and then at the fly and said “Hmm” like he was considering it, but didn’t answer. Then he turned away and took a few steps in the river before he cast again.
As the sun came up, I thought about a little banana that had been stuck in my craw for a while too. I thought about what he said about women making a mess of everything. Because as much time as him and Rosalita spent together, I disbelieved he didn’t know her story. Elsewise, how was Wulff’s man Herschel already working her immigration status? She sure didn’t hire him by herself. And like Braster said, Wulff sure knew a lot about how to kill somebody with mushrooms. I rather liked that toothpaste thing, and if I had to bet who was the cleverer of the two, him or Andy, I was sure where my money would be. As he said, it would’ve been the perfect crime if everybody else hadn’t made their less elegant attempts and brought the cops into it.
I watched that old fat man dance his way down the water – casting, taking three steps, retrieving the line, casting again. All of it inside the three-beat, ONE-two-three rhythm of that old, familiar fly-fishing waltz. I have always found solace in that cadence.
Then I looked over at Jerry doing penance on his rock with tears streaming down his face. I thought about how, like a fly in the current, we get pulled this way and that, diverted from our true purpose, and that maybe it was time to mend my drift. I decided if we got off the water early enough, I’d swing by the ER on the way home and see what Julie was up to. Then I tied on a fly, but I made sure not to put it in my mouth.