by Patric Peake
On the surface, Gerald Pepper, police investigator, seemed the least likely man to be involved with murder, yet murder followed him like his loyal pooch, Othello, the black lab, and never failed to land him right in the middle of some gruesome investigation.
He was a medium man, medium build, medium length brown hair, medium brown eyes, a medium age of 48 and a medium life which included one dog, and a quaint little cottage on the outskirts of Crookfield, California. His only distinctive feature was a deep scar below his right eye that continued as a distinct dent in the bridge of his nose.
His efforts to draw the cloak of retirement around himself seemed to be succeeding with the exception of an occasional online investigation for someone on the world wide web. These were facilitated by his self-delegated Information Specialist Eloise Block, the Chief of Police’s teen daughter. Pepper knew it was a matter of time before they would be telling Inspector Block stories.
“The question is…” Eloise took a seat at his table in the Pizza Palace, the cultural hub of Crookfield. “…what would it take for Inspector Gerald Pepper to come out of retirement and engage in another local investigation?” Eloise paused for effect which elicited in Pepper’s visage, the look of a bored slug. “And then I realized the answer to my question lay right at your feet.” Othello shifted his position in the sawdust under the table at this comment.
Eloise puffed up only slightly as she drew her digital notebook from its case clicking the on button. “This…” Her screen background screen displayed, several ravens perched in leafless branches against a gray sky. Eloise had explained she was exploring her dark side. She tapped the screen. “… is Desdemona. She directed her attention under the table. “That’s right, Othello – Desdemona.”
What appeared on the screen was a golden version of the black lab. A yellow lab. “And she is, as of seven thirty this morning, homeless.”
Pepper took a slow, deliberate sip of his diet coke with its slice of lemon, waiting for the jaws of Eloise’s plan to clamp shut on his throat.
“Homeless because her owner has been murdered and no one seems to know how. Even Sergeant Detective Carol Armstrong is befuddled. Mergatroid Korsakoff, lays on her couch, in front of her flatscreen with remote still in hand.”
Pepper rubbed his brows at the potential onset of a migraine headache.
“I rescued Desdemona from the pound. She is not the criminal to be caged for this.” Eloise nodded at the neon-filled window of beer signs. Outside, tied to a lamp post, the yellow lab whimpered watching each passer-by as if they might be her lady.
“And you think she’s whining because she cares who killed her mistress?”
“How would Othello feel?” Eloise countered.
“And this, this Mergatroid is still there, crime scene untampered with?”
“Exactly.” She smiled because her trap had not clamped down on his throat, but rather tossed a lasso and tugged on Gerald’s heart.
By the time Pepper and Eloise got to Mergatroid’s apartment, the coroner had already pronounced the tentative cause of death as a massive heart attack. Striking because she was just twenty six years old and in her second year of teaching first grade at the local elementary school.
Striking also because she had just returned from her morning three-mile jog. She wore a Yankees baseball hat through which she pushed her blond pony tail. And she still wore a neon pink rubber wrist band that held one of those watches the told the owner number of steps, heart rate, blood pressure and about five other details of their current health. The screen flashed on and off with bright red letters “Caution – Caution – Caution.”
But she did have a pace maker. Apparently she had a congenital heart challenge, a prolapsed mitral valve that occasionally skipped or doubled a beat which was corrected by the device.
Apparently the pacemaker overheated during the event, her flesh enveloping it, scorched. The coroner had never seen anything like it.
Sergeant Detective Carol Armstrong came out of the restroom holding the TV remote in a rubber glove on her hand. “Inspector Pepper, what an honor. You look well.” Her blue eyes spoke more words than Pepper cared to assimilate. He focused on the remote.
“As far as I can tell,” Armstrong said. “Her last living action was to press this remote button.” The TV was still on the Discovery Channel. “I guess she discovered more than she bargained for.”
Pepper put a hand over his mouth and turned away to suppress the groan that threatened to escape as a result of the Sergeant’s inane comment. He pulled out a handkerchief.
“May I,” Pepper asked.
Carol placed the remote in his handkerchief for his scrutiny. As he examined it his eyes jumped to the window where a commercial, white van screeched away from the opposite curb.
He pressed the return feature on the remote which sent the channel back to the previous view, a baseball game. Pepper scanned the room. Hanging on the hooks by the door was a second Yankees baseball cap, with a wider band.
He pulled out his pocket knife and ran it along the seam of the remote. It popped open.
“Jeez, Gerald. Already!” Eloise said.
“What” Sergeant Detective Carol Armstrong asked.
“He’s already solved it and is about to tell us who to put the cuffs on.”
Pepper sat with Eloise at the bench he’d placed in front of the stream behind his cottage and watched her toss one ball for two Labrador Retrievers, curious about the interpersonal dynamics of that. Othello behaved like a gentleman and let the younger Desdemona splash into the stream to retrieve the orange tennis ball.
“So.” Pepper invited.
“So, the nerd in the white truck was a pacemaker monitor. He went around doing computer analysis of existing pacemakers. He was in love with Mergatroid, but the love was unrequited. In fact, replaced by another love, according to the extra baseball cap.
“And it was murder by remote. When she pressed on the remote it activated a computer chip he had inserted which sent her pacemaker and her heart into overdrive.”
“Quite a stretch in credibility.” Pepper added.
“Well,” Eloise paused for effect. “We did find a note in his journal. Her last heartbeats were all mine.”
“To use the language of your generation,” Pepper said. “Creepy.”
Eloise nodded at the dogs. “They seem to be matched. I adopted her, you know.”
“You know he murdered her. Right?” Pepper said.
“In the play?”
“Precisely.” Pepper gazed into a deep pool in the stream with just the leaf of a thought about his dear, murdered wife, twirling in the eddies.
“Motive?” Eloise asked.
“Same as our perpetrator. Jealousy.”