Authors: Selma Eichler
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
MURDER CAN COOL OFF YOUR AFFAIR
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Electronic edition: July, 2002
Also by Selma Eichler
MURDER CAN KILL YOUR SOCIAL LIFE
MURDER CAN RUIN YOUR LOOKS
MURDER CAN STUNT YOUR GROWTH
MURDER CAN WRECK YOUR REUNION
MURDER CAN SPOOK YOUR CAT
MURDER CAN SINGE YOUR OLD FLAME
MURDER CAN SPOIL YOUR APPETITE
MURDER CAN UPSET YOUR MOTHER
To my husband, Lloyd Eichler, again, for his help and remarkable patience—again.
I’m very grateful to—
Major Alan G. Martin of the New York State Police, who, as he has so many times before, came to my rescue with this book, too,
my editor, Ellen Edwards, for recommendations and guidance that went even beyond this manuscript,
Lexi Adams, Ellen’s assistant, for all of that Internet sleuthing on Desiree’s behalf,
Helen Eichler, Attorney-at-Law, for her time-consuming legal research,
and, certainly not least,
my friend Joe Todaro, for his assistance with this new computer of mine. Without Joe’s help, the next couple of hundred pages might have been blank.
I could only keep my fingers crossed that Mr. and Mrs. Lander would turn out to be a couple of very skinny people.
Not that I have anything against those who are comfortably built, you understand, being of not insubstantial poundage myself. But my cigar-box-of-an-office just wasn’t meant to accommodate more than one visitor at a time. So if even a few inches of either Lander’s seat should extend beyond the chair’s seat, we were facing the possibility of busting through the walls here.
But I needn’t have worried. When they arrived for their one o’clock appointment that Friday—and on the dot, incidentally—John and Trudie Lander were all I could have hoped for.
Trudie was tall, maybe five-six (well, from my five-feet-two perspective, that’s tall), with the long, scrawny neck, sunken chest, and—happily—bony hipbones of a once-upon-a-time fashion model. That time, if it existed, having been about thirty years in the past.
John Lander had at least half a foot on his wife. A slightly balding fellow with a pleasant face and warm brown eyes, he wore an ill-fitting navy suit that hung so loosely on his spare frame that he seemed almost gaunt.
As soon as they settled themselves across the desk from me—with John in a chair schlepped in from an office across the hall—the phone rang. And while I was confirming Monday morning’s gynecologist’s
appointment, I gave my prospective clients a quick once-over.
They were fairly attractive individuals, I decided, although as a couple they did strike me as slightly mismatched.
In sharp contrast to her husband, Trudie was very fashionably turned out. Her red-linen suit—the ideal choice for a temperate spring day—might have been custom tailored. Her black patent pumps had a beautifully shaped, up-to-the-minute heel. And if that quilted leather bag wasn’t a Chanel, I’d eat it.
They were dissimilar in another, more basic way, too. Even during the brief time I was on the line, Trudie was extremely animated, her eyes darting here and there, her hands fingering first her skirt, then her tawny shoulder-length hair. Actually,
might be a more accurate description of the woman. John, on the other hand, I took to be a quiet, laid-back sort of man, appearing so relaxed he could have been mistaken for a disinterested party. Well, they (whoever “they” are) do say that opposites attract. And, of course, it’s not hard to figure how this kind of difference might, in fact, wind up being a good thing.
Finally, there was the disparity in their ages. In spite of Trudie’s unusually taut facial skin (evidently the work of an overzealous and not particularly talented plastic surgeon), I estimated the woman to be on the seasoned side of fifty. This would make her easily ten years her spouse’s senior. And good for her, I say. I can remember when it was almost
that the man had to be older than the woman (and no one seemed overly concerned about how much older, either). As for the other way around, though, that used to be practically
Still, while I really do feel things are a lot fairer these days, I suppose I’m not quite as accepting as I like to believe I am. I mean, now that I think about it, why else would I be dwelling on the age business like this?
Anyway, once the phone call was over I began the interview with, “Your wife said when she contacted me this morning that you may be in danger.”
Obviously, I was addressing John, but it was Trudie who responded. “Yes, I certainly did.”
Oh, it’s going to be like that, is it?
Okay then, I’d just skip the middleman. “What makes you think so?” I put to the woman, who was fidgeting with her hair again.
“Before I go into it, it would probably be best if we gave you a little background. Don’t you agree, dear?”
who apparently recognized this for the rhetorical question it was—owing, no doubt, to years of experience—didn’t so much as nod before Trudie plowed ahead.
“Last month John’s extremely wealthy uncle was told he had an inoperable cancer. You may have heard of him, Ms. Shapiro—Victor Lander? No? He’s really quite well known—a pioneer in the plastics industry. Poor Victor. His illness is so-o tragic. He’d always been such a strong, vital man, in spite of being well into his eighties. But, sadly, in the fall he began to deteriorate, and now the doctors are saying that he has only a few months to live. At any rate, two weeks ago this past Tuesday—nine days after Uncle Victor revealed his diagnosis to the family—John’s cousin Edward, Victor’s principal heir, was
” As she uttered the word, Trudie shuddered, after which she swallowed a couple of times. When she spoke again there was an urgency in her tone. “What we’re here about, though, is that this Monday there was an attempt on my husband’s life, too. He had been at the office until quite late that night, and when he got home at around eleven-thirty, someone took a shot at him right in front of our building. John could actually hear the bullet whiz past his ear, couldn’t you, dear?”
John knew better than even to attempt an answer.
“It appears, however,” Trudie went on, “that he was
the only one who did hear anything. The gun must have been equipped with one of those silencers.”
At that moment Trudie took a couple of seconds out to pick some imaginary lint off her skirt, and I used the opportunity to slip in a few words. “Have you spoken to the police about this?”
She looked up, eyes blazing. “The police!” she spat. “The morning after it happened—before my husband went to work—we stopped in at the station house to report what had occurred. We saw one of the detectives who’s investigating Edward’s death, and he wrote down the information and promised they’d follow up. But I’m sure they’ve merely been going through the motions. I don’t believe that fellow gave any credence at all to what we had to say.”
“Why do you think that?”
“You could tell from his attitude that he regarded the whole thing as a ploy to divert attention from the fact that John had a very good motive for wanting Edward out of the way. And, unfortunately, there were no witnesses.”
“What motive are we talking about?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? John is next in line.”
Trudie eyed me rather pityingly. I got the impression she’d concluded that I was more than a little slow-witted.
“Why,” she informed me, “to inherit Uncle Victor’s millions, of course.”
I was curious to learn what had brought the couple to me—I mean, to
specifically—and I started to pose the question. But Trudie aborted the attempt.
“I should tell you this before we go any further,” she said as she slid over to the edge of her seat. And now she leaned so far in my direction that there was a good chance of her falling. If there’d been any room for her to fall, that is.
“Tell me what?”
“John isn’t the only one who had reason to kill Edward. There are others who, under certain circumstances, would also profit from Edward’s death.” She sat back in the chair again to deliver her next sentence, according it the slow-paced, dramatic reading she felt it warranted. “Those circumstances being that John has to be disposed of first.”
“Trudie,” her husband admonished. It was the only time since we’d introduced ourselves that he’d uttered so much as a peep.
“Well, who do you suppose shot at you, darling—the tooth fairy?” And dismissing him with a wave of the hand, Trudie returned her focus to me. “If John should die before Uncle Victor does, John’s twin cousins Shawna and Scott Riley would split the inheritance between them. And if, in turn, anything were to happen to
the estate would pass to David Hearn, the nephew of Victor’s deceased wife.”
“And in the highly improbable event that David, too, should meet with an untimely end?” I asked.
“Charity. I think Uncle Victor specified that the bulk of the money would be divided among five charities. I can’t remember which ones at the moment.”
I was startled when John jumped in and rattled off, “American Cancer Society, Heart Association, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Lighthouse, and Alzheimer’s.”
“How certain are you that these are the terms of the will?”
certain,” Trudie assured me. “That Sunday when Uncle Victor had us all to his home to give us the terrible news about his health, he also revealed his decision to leave the bulk of his estate to Edward. He’d made Edward his principal heir, he said, because the two of them had such a special bond. You see, Edward was orphaned at thirteen, and Uncle Victor had practically raised him. If anything should happen to Edward, however—and, of course, Uncle Victor had no expectation that it actually would—he wanted John to have the money. John and Uncle Victor were never that attached really, except for a short period about ten years ago, right after Aunt Bella—Uncle Victor’s wife—died.”
“What happened then?”
“John would go over to his uncle’s once or twice a week in an effort to console him. Mostly they’d spend a couple of hours just sitting around and talking. Sometimes my workaholic husband would even let Uncle Victor prevail upon him to leave the office early enough to make it there in time for dinner. John would always try to take him to a restaurant instead—you know, to get the poor man to leave the house. On occasion he actually managed it, too. At any rate, apparently Uncle Victor hasn’t forgotten John’s kindness to him.”
“Did you accompany your husband on these visits?”
I asked for no real reason except that I’m pathologically nosy.
“No, I decided Uncle Victor would feel freer to pour out his heart about Aunt Bella and their marriage—or whatever—if it was only he and John.”
And besides, consoling a grieving widower is hardly your idea of a gala evening out, isn’t it?
I thought. Immediately after which my nicer, more tolerant self admonished me. I was hardly being fair to the woman; I didn’t even
her, for heaven’s sake. But in all honesty, Trudie Lander wasn’t easy to take. I mean, I’d had people dominate a conversation before. But this tomato was in a class by herself.
At any rate, I swear she sneaked into my head just then because, her chin out to
she declared firmly, “Listen, Uncle Victor
to be more comfortable with John alone.”
“You’re probably right,” I conceded diplomatically. And now, momentarily forgetting myself, I put a question to John. “You and your uncle didn’t remain that close, though?”
“No, eventually things tapered off a bit. With the hours John spends at work, he barely has time for
much less his uncle.” This, of course, from Trudie.
“I want to make sure I have everything straight,” I said. “If your husband is eliminated, his share is divided between the twins. And if by some quirk of fate they, too, are out of the picture when Uncle Victor departs this world, Aunt Bella’s nephew becomes the primary beneficiary. Correct?”
“Yes. And the whole business is totally bizarre, if you ask me.”
“I gather those conditions took you by surprise.”
“You gather right. Until Uncle Victor outlined his intentions, John and I had more or less assumed that most of the money would be apportioned among the four cousins. And while we were virtually certain that
the largest chunk would be going to Edward, we figured there’d be plenty left over for the rest of us. Trust me, it isn’t that there aren’t enough assets here to go around. I believe the others had also been under this impression, don’t you, John? However, the way Uncle Victor explained it that day, the remaining relatives had been allotted only token amounts.”
“Uh, you said something about the
cousins,” I pointed out while frantically having a second go at totaling relatives on my fingers.
“We never considered that David Hearn would be included in the will. I doubt very much if Uncle Victor has been in any sort of regular contact with him. John and I hardly know the boy—he rarely even bothered to attend Uncle Victor’s family gatherings.”
“Maybe my uncle didn’t invite him,” her husband threw in dryly.
“I don’t remember seeing him at the house that frequently when Aunt Bella was alive, either,” Trudie retorted sharply.
“He was a
then, for Christ’s sake. Besides, your memory’s letting you down. Before David’s parents moved to Florida, the three of them used to show up fairly often.”
Trudie gave him a positively lethal look, and I quickly changed the subject to forestall the twins’ ending up the big winners in the Uncle Victor sweepstakes. “Is there anyone else who might have had reason to harm your husband?” I asked.
I glanced at John. “No one,” he agreed. “I don’t seem to excite that much passion in people, one way or the other.” And for the first time he smiled. It was a really appealing smile, too.
“It could be that the shooter wasn’t actually aiming at you,” I offered tentatively. “There’s always the possibility it was one of those drive-by things.”
“Oh, sure,” Trudie scoffed. “Not even two weeks
after John becomes heir to a fortune, some disinterested party just
to come close to getting him out of the way. You’re not big on coincidence, are you, Ms. Shapiro?”
Now the truth is, I’m not at all big on coincidence. In fact, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I was even willing to concede that there
such a thing. “I agree that it’s highly unlikely,” I said, trying not to sound defensive, “although at this point I wouldn’t rule it out completely. And please call me Desiree—both of you. But listen, there are a few more things we should cover.”
Trudie nodded her permission.
“Are you able to account for your whereabouts at the time your cousin was murdered, Mr. Lander?”
Trudie actually allowed the man to reply. “It’s John, Desiree,” I was informed. “And as far as my whereabouts, Edward was killed at approximately eight o’clock in the evening. I was—”
“The police were able to pinpoint the time of death like that?” I broke in.
“Well, from what I’ve been told, Edward’s wife phoned him at a little after seven—she had a class that night—and during their conversation, he mentioned that he was about to stick a casserole in the oven. The dish takes a half hour to bake, and the medical examiner’s report indicated that he’d consumed the meal just before he was shot. Plus, when a friend of Edward’s called the apartment at a few minutes past eight, there wasn’t any answer. And a short while later, at eight-fifteen, a neighbor rang the bell to return a book he’d borrowed, but no one came to the door.”
“That seems to do it, all right. Anyway, before you were so rudely interrupted, I had the idea you were about to tell me where you were when your cousin died.”
“I was at work.”
“Is there anyone who can verify that?”
John smiled sheepishly. “I’m afraid not—the police asked me the same thing. My secretary went home at five-thirty, so no help there. For the most part I concentrated on catching up on my paperwork that night, although I did get in touch with a few prospective buyers—I’m in real estate. I tried to reach one of them at just around eight o’clock, too. But the party wasn’t in; I didn’t even get an answering machine.”
I take it.”
“Unfortunately, lately I tend to be doing most of the pursuing.”
“Did anyone stop in at your office? With a food delivery, maybe? Or how about the cleaning lady?”
“Don’t I wish!”
“Did you have your car with you that day?”
“Yes, I always drive to work.”
“Your office is where?”
“In Brooklyn—Brooklyn Heights,” John replied, naming one of the borough’s more upscale areas.
“Answer this for me. About how long would it take to drive from your office to your cousin’s place?”
Evidently Trudie had grown impatient with not hearing her own voice for a few minutes, because guess who jumped in. “At that hour of the evening? He could probably make it to Edward’s in a half hour. Perhaps less.”
Well, since she’s so eager to participate . . .
“Umm, I’ll have to ask you the same thing I just asked your husband, Mrs. Lander. Would you mind telling me where you were at eight o’clock on the night of the murder?” Following this, I hastily threw in the same lie I’ve relied on too often in the past to even estimate. “I’m only asking for my records, of course.”
There was a large dollop of sarcasm in the response. “That’s easy. I was where I always am—at home, waiting for John to put in an appearance. He got in around ten—it was one of his early days.”
“Any telephone calls? Visitors?”
“I can’t be absolutely certain, but I believe I spoke to my aunt Margaret that evening. This would have been about six-thirty, though, which is when we normally phone each other.”
“And you had no other calls?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“How about visitors?”
Trudie shook her head. “I’m sure there weren’t any.”
“Tell me, who was it who discovered Edward’s body?”
“His wife. She found him when she came home.”
“And when was that?”
“Around a quarter to eleven. He had apparently admitted the killer to the apartment himself—from what I understand, there was no indication of a break-in. Edward was lying on the kitchen floor with a bullet in his chest.” She squeezed her eyes closed as if to block out the scene.
“Just one last thing,” I said, addressing John. “How did—” But Trudie had already allowed him to have his say. So reminding myself about eliminating the middleman—and with an apologetic glance at John—I redirected the question to her. “How did Edward and John get along?”
“They were buddies—right, dear? They often played golf on Sunday mornings, and they met for breakfast every Wednesday before going to their respective places of business. They belonged to the same gym, too, and sometimes they’d arrange to work out together. We even took a vacation with Edward and Sara—his wife—a couple of years ago.”
“And you? How did you feel about Edward?”
“I liked him. He was a very nice man,” she responded primly.
“Just one last thing,” I said for the second time. “What made you decide to come to
Trudie hesitated. “May I be honest?”
“Well, ever since John was shot at four nights ago, I’d been trying to persuade him to hire a private detective.”
me?” John groused. “She
me about it.”
His wife ignored him. “At first he wouldn’t even consider the idea.” She smiled smugly. “But being an extremely determined woman, I finally managed to wear him down.”
Why didn’t this surprise me?
“I had inquired around a bit and gotten the telephone numbers of the top two investigative services in New York. John, however, refused to ring up either one of them—you wouldn’t think it, but he can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be. He said he’d hire a detective if I insisted. But only with the proviso that the detective be you.”
At this, my eyes must have grown to twice their size. I looked to John for an explanation.
“I heard about you a while ago,” he said, flushing. “I wish I could remember who it was who mentioned you, but I do recall this person’s saying that if he—or she—were ever in trouble, you’d be the one they’d contact, that you have a reputation for getting results. For some reason that stuck in my mind.”
met with a certain amount of success in recent years. But as far as this providing me with any kind of recognition, let’s put it this way:
is not exactly a household name.