Whodunnit?:Burn Down the House

Whodunnit?:Burn Down the House
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Private Investigator

Marlon Monroe was shoehorned onto a bench between a wedge-shaped man with bruises that ringed his eyes like coffee stains and a pregnant woman who reeked of booze. No free seats left in the cramped waiting room. Coughs and splutters, walking aides and neck braces. Latino, Chicano, Salvadorian, Guatemalan. Marlon, the only latte, had short dark hair, a weekend’s worth of stubble, and an off-the-rack suit that never saw an iron. The only men he knew who ever ironed were Navy SEALs. Outside, an ambulance wept by.
“Mr. Monroe,” the secretary said with a smile.
Marlon entered a cramped office that had no carpet or drapes. Stacks of files teetered against unpainted walls. Seth Levi sat at his desk, hair like rusted steel wool and a tailored navy pinstripe suit.
“I like your new office,” Marlon said. “Just a block away from the hospital.”
“I go where the money is,” Seth conceded.
“I know. I’ve seen your commercials on late night cable. Medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, workman’s comp, auto accidents- get what’s yours.”
“Ouch. Retract your claws, ok. It pays the bills. But I’d have thought you must have plenty of peaceful nights now you don’t dine with your police scanner on the table.”
Marlon’s blue eyes sparked.
Seth opened a drawer, slapped a thick dossier on the desk and leafed to a page. “Yesterday, a house burnt down in the city of Dublin, California, yaddy-yaddy-yah … oh this bit’s interesting, the owner, one Mr Tomas Lynch, 71-years-old, deceased, God rest his soul, natural causes, leaves a sizeable estate but no will.” Seth paused to let the information sink in. “Find me next of kin, bring them in, we split the finder’s fee.”
Marlon frowned.
“What? Not high level enough?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Consider it lucky I’m still friends with you and as a friend I am willing to offer you a lifeline, unlike certain acquaintances in SFPD, who think you’re toxic waste. This is paid work, my friend.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Marlon grabbed the page with the details of the job and walked out of the office. He stepped out onto the sidewalk on the corner of 24th and Potrero. Workmen on a scissor lift bolted a sign above the premises: Seth Levi Law Offices – Get What’s Yours! SF General on one end of the street and Bayshore Freeway on the other. Warm and sunny in the Mission, same as always. Marlon got into a Toyota with two hundred thousand miles on the clock and beyond the Mission District a foggy stew ghosted San Francisco city.
Marlon scanned through the printout from a next of kin search in the Public Records Office. He thumbed a number into his cell phone, took a deep breath and dialled. “Parker, it’s me.”
“Monroe? Never thought I’d hear from you again.”
“I need a favor.”
“Anything. Anything at all. You name it, buddy.”
“Submit too quick like that, it’s a sure sign of guilt.”
“I feel awful about what happened, Marlon. I really do. I didn’t think…”
“It’s the best thing could have happened me. I’m my own boss, now.”
“You always land on your feet. Got your PI license and everything?”
“Run a records search on Jerry Lynch, born 05/12/67, Alameda County. I need an address.”
Detective Parker entered the details into the system. “You’re in luck,” he said. “The address is CA 94974.”
“San Quentin prison?”

Marlon sat at a table in a prison meeting room. A man with longish, slicked-back hair hung his head in hands and wept. His cuffs and shackles played like sad maracas. A file lay open before Jerry Lynch.
“One point two million dollars,” Marlon said. “It’s all yours, well, it is in ten years when you get out.”
“He never named me in the will,” Jerry said.
“You’re his only heir. Naming wasn’t necessary.”
“Or he thinks I really done it.” Jerry met Marlon’s eyes. “I didn’t murder Donna Lindberg.”
“If you’ll just sign this document,” Marlon held out a pen, “then we can get the paperwork in order to sign over the estate.”
“You found me pretty easy, didn’t you, Mr Monroe?”
“Sure, I guess. Got some friends still like to do me favors.”
“How much would it cost to get me out of here?”
“I just deliver files, not cakes with files in them.”
“Can’t you find some fresh evidence, do whatever you PIs do?”
“As much as I’d like to take your money, I don’t think I can help.”
“I’ve been sentenced to twenty-five years for something I didn’t do,” Jerry said. “At least listen to my side of the story.”
“Ok,” Marlon said.
“Donna Lindberg was murdered in 1995. Nineteen-years-old. Lived on a farm. Her body was found two hundred yards along a dirt track near her home.”
“Who found the body?”
“Some volunteer fireman called Moore. The thing is, the house had been set on fire, which attracted the authorities. I figure the killer was covering his tracks, getting his prints out of the house, y’know?”
“Were you involved with Donna?”
“No, but she worked in a bank where I went to cash a check,” Jerry said. “I’d been drinking heavy for a few weeks and needed money. They wouldn’t cash my check and I recall saying you people are parasites and you should be wiped out. Dumb thing to say. I was arrested a few hours later for disorderly conduct, spent a night in the cells. The evening after my release, Donna was murdered.”
“No alibi?”
“I was hung-over. I went home and spent the evening alone in my apartment. The thing is, I never seen Donna before my arrest. She worked in the bank, but I had never been in contact with her.”
“Why were you drinking?”
“My wife filed for divorce.” Jerry’s eyes were hollow and blank like a man who had outlived a life sentence. “I have some files in my cell. You’ll need them. Everything else was stored in my dad’s house.”

Seth was sat behind his desk and faced a man who looked like he wrestled bears. Seth opened a drawer, selected one of the many-sized neck braces, and threw it to the man.
Marlon entered.
“You’re entitled to money damages,” Seth continued. “You fell on business property. You need compensation because you’re an innocent victim. You can’t afford to pay all those costly medical expenses.” Seth threw a business card to the man, whose eyes followed it like a setter. “See my doctor.”
The man walked toward the door.
“And learn to limp,” Seth said.
“How did you get into this business?” Marlon asked.
“I wasn’t big enough to be a bully,” Seth said. “Popping a few kids probably would have gotten it out of my system, but I was short and ginger … and here we are.”
“I’m going to look into the Jerry-Lynch-Donna-Lindberg thing,” Marlon said. “It’s over in Alameda County, just outside Dublin city. About forty miles away.”
“Don’t waste your time on it.”
“Donna was severely beaten and stabbed. Multiple bite marks on her body. If Lynch didn’t do it, then someone’s still out there, maybe doing the same thing.”
“Still a sucker for a damsel in distress.” Seth stood, walked around the desk and led Marlon to the door. “Let me treat you to a porterhouse steak for a quick turnaround on the finder’s fee case, but this talk of investigating a fifteen-year-old case is done with, ok?”

Marlon stumbled into his apartment and ricocheted off the bookcases that lined the hallway. Large gaps in the library; dust marks where books had been removed. He flopped onto the couch, spun the cap off a bottle of Jameson’s and swallowed a mouthful. He glanced at a photo of him hugging his fiancée, Kimberly. He dialled a number on the phone and said, “I miss you.”
“You’re drunk,” Kimberly said.
“I finished my first case today. I’m celebrating.”
“You’ve got to stop doing this. Stop calling me at four AM.”
“Someone stole your books out of the apartment.”
“They’re mine and I took them back. I’m moving on with my life.”
She hung up. Marlon took a long swallow of whiskey, dialled another number.
“We need to talk.”
“What time is it?” Seth asked.
“Lynch’s conviction was based entirely on the testimony of some dentist who matched the bite marks on Donna’s body to Jerry. There’s no other physical evidence tying him to the crime. And the defense’s own expert disputed this dentist’s findings… Are you still there?”
“Talk to me tomorrow when my eyes are able to stay open and I’m mostly sober.”

Seth sat at his desk, head in hands. “I should have you flogged for summoning me from my coffin at this hour.”
“Dr Edwards was the lynchpin of the conviction,” Marlon said. “He testified that the seven bite marks found on Donna were consistent with dental impressions taken from Jerry. No other physical evidence linked him to the crime. The district attorney had one other piece of circumstantial evidence from Jerry’s ex-wife who said he had once bitten her.”
“Ok, there are holes, I’m not denying that,” Seth said.
“Tell me what you think about Dr Edwards’ evidence.”
“From a purely legal standpoint,” Seth said, “bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, analysis of hair, fiber and handwriting- all sound compelling in the courtroom, but forensic science is a lot of loosey-goosey stuff. I get people off all the time because this evidence is the highly subjective analysis of people with minimal credentials. Most of these experts don’t even have advanced degrees.”

Marlon scanned through the phonebook: Dr Edwards wasn’t listed. He checked online and found nothing. The Public Records Office wouldn’t open for another two hours. Marlon turned the key in the car ignition and the Toyota coughed blue smoke. He headed north, skirted around Chinatown and got on Vallejo Street. He found his way to the Central Police Station on automatic, like a homing pigeon, could have done it with his eyes shut he knew the streets so well.
He entered homicide detective Eric Parker’s cubicle and sat next to him. “See what you can find on a Dr Edwards for me.”
“Nice to see you, too.” Parker accessed the system and entered the details. “You going to make a habit of this—?”
“Look who it is,” Zimmerman said from across the room. All eyes were on Marlon. “Is your new case a shakedown on the latest Victoria’s Secret catalogue?” Most of the men laughed. Zimmerman registered the hard edge to Marlon’s stare and sat back down at his desk.
“I’m real sorry I let slip about your … secret,” Parker said. Marlon didn’t answer. The search results appeared on Parker’s monitor. “Edwards died five years back.”
Marlon left. He called directory assistance and got connected to Dublin Police Service. He asked for all the files on the Lynch case to be forwarded. He went to a diner across the street and had cut into a stack of pancakes when his phone rang.
“This is Assistant Sheriff Scott, in charge of Dublin Police Services. You’re investigating the murder of Donna Lindberg in 1995?”
Marlon set his fork down. “I need the police reports and everything else you have on the case—”
“That’s a long time ago.”
“I can count.”
“So, Mr Lynch wants to lodge another failed appeal?”
“He maintains his innocence. Fifteen years, now.”
“Murderer-rapists, they’re impossible to rehabilitate. He put that girl through hell.”
“Someone did, I know that much. Maybe there’s something in your file that’s been missed.”
“You’re wasting your time.”
“You don’t know that—”
“In actuality, I do. I’m staring at the file right now.”
“In your office?”
“Obviously.”
“Why is the assistant Sheriff of Alameda County personally calling—?”
“The files are being forwarded to you as we speak, Detective Monroe.”
Marlon chewed the inside of his cheek. “I’m not a detective anymore.”
“I know.”

Seth finished reading the police report. “There’s nothing here.”
“Exactly. There was no background search conducted on Donna, who her previous boyfriends were, or if she was even dating someone at the time of the murder.”
“What else have you got?”
“The volunteer firefighter, who went to the house to put out the fire, discovered Donna’s body two hundred yards away down a dirt track.”
“He’s nosey and he’s too good at his job — next.”
“Assistant Sheriff Scott called me, personally.”
“Ok, I know you’re trying to redeem your tattered career but Lynch isn’t the case to do it with.”
“I want to visit the crime scene, get a fresh perspective. I’ll need some gas money.”

Marlon parked near the library and watched a circular building that housed various civic and municipal offices and the Dublin City Police Department. A two-story building with balconies. He glassed the building with a pair of powerful binoculars and searched for surveillance cameras. He checked his wristwatch. It was after seven in the evening. He drove east through the city past Fallon Sports Park and onto Jordan Ranch Drive. Two miles of uneven cement road led to the Lindberg farm and home, which had been abandoned since the fire. Marlon walked around. Jimson weeds had sprouted through the charred carcass of the house and the gravel yard lay undisturbed except for a set of tire tracks. Wider than his, maybe from an SUV. Someone had been there recently.
Marlon followed along a dirt track for two hundred yards to the location of Donna’s corpse. He was in a hollow that hid him from the house and the ranch road.
Marlon returned to the police department. He put on a pair of leather gloves and a baseball cap. He approached the side of the building, opened his briefcase case and took out a rope with a grappling hook. He climbed onto the first floor balcony. The offices were dark, un-peopled. He opened an unlocked window and climbed inside.
He moved through the office, entered the hallway and made his way toward the end where the sheriff’s office was. Voices from the stairwell. Officers on the front desk were at the bottom of the stairs. Marlon entered the sheriff’s office and scanned the contents of the desk and drawers. Nothing. The metal filing cabinet was locked and he opened it with a pick. He flicked through the files, found one marked Lynch, Jerry and switched on his digital camera.

Marlon parked on a side street and read over the files. Evidence had been suppressed from the files forwarded to him by the assistant sheriff. The original investigation noted that Donna had a boyfriend called Robert Moore. They had broken up two months before the murder. Robert was part of an entourage to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg as part of a junior UN delegation. Bobbie had an airtight alibi. But his brother wasn’t quite as clean. Andy Moore was Bobbie’s brother. Andy had been the volunteer firefighter who put in the call about the house fire at the Lindberg farm. Andy was the guy who discovered Donna’s dead body. According to the report, the police had questioned Andy about the incident but let him go. It had never been mentioned during the trial or since.
Marlon flipped open his notebook, which contained Andy Moore’s home address in San Leandro. Andy was now the Alameda County Fire Chief. Marlon drove to Moore’s house in San Leandro, a mock-Georgian building on the outskirts of town set in five acres of private land walled off and gated. Marlon watched the entrance gate. Time passed. He fetched a magazine and leafed through the pages of a lingerie catalogue. He stopped at a page, admired the lacing, and turned down the corner.
He dialed a number on his cell. “I was just thinking about you.”
“You’re on a stakeout,” Kimberly said.
“You know me too well.”
“I thought I knew you…” She cleared her throat. “I used to worry myself sick when you went on stakeouts.”
“And now you don’t?”
She thought for a long moment. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
She hung up.
An SUV exited the estate. Marlon followed it east on I-580. The SUV exited the freeway, entered a park and continued along a lane lined with cypress trees. Andy Moore got out, entered Dublin Cemetery and made his way to a grave — Donna Lindberg’s grave. He lit a cigarette, smoked it to the finish and placed the remains in a little silver case, which he put in jacket pocket. Moore returned to his SUV, drove back to San Leandro and onto East 15th Street to the Alameda County Fire Department administration office.
Marlon’s cell rang.
“Ok, this is interesting,” Seth said. “Robert Moore is a California State Senator. It pays to have an alrightnik brother. I think Senator Bobbie had a conversation with assistant sheriff Scott, forced him to keep shtoom about our little murder-rape situation and its connection to an outstanding and prominent member of the community. If we’re gonna do what I think we’re gonna do, we need Andy the Arsonist’s DNA.”

Moore exited the Fire Department administration office after the sun had set and got into his SUV. The offices appeared to be staffed fully twenty-four hours a day. Marlon tailed Moore to a bald-tire joint on the edge of town. Moore entered the bar.
Marlon smelt the all-night coffee and sweat on his wrinkled clothes. He glanced at his travel bag, unzipped and took out a change of outfit.
Marlon entered the bar dressed in a black skirt that came to the knees, stilettos and a brunette shoulder-length wig. He was more than passable as a female impersonator. He slid into a booth and watched his target in the bar mirror. Moore was sat by himself at the bar, jacket draped across the back of his seat.
Two scruffy guys in leather vests with Laffing Devil patches and hunter-green brain buckets stared at Marlon. Nomad bikers probably passing through with no backup. The thatch-faced one slid into Marlon’s booth with the sour reek of riding all week in leather chaps.
“Hey, darlin’, ain’t seen you around here before.”
Marlon ignored the guy. Moore had finished another cigarette and placed the butt in his little silver case. He took the first slug of his bottle of beer to empty it by a third.
“Don’t be shy, sweetheart,” the biker said. “I won’t bite … unless you want me to.” He laughed like a broken cement mixer.
Moore stood, walked toward the back of the bar and then out of sight. Marlon went to the bar and dropped his handbag to look like an accident. He bent for it, reached inside Moore’s jacket and removed the little silver case.
“Hey, whatcha at, darlin’?” The man from the booth came behind Marlon and put his hand on Marlon’s shoulder, which knocked Marlon’s wig loose. Marlon dashed out of the door.
“It’s some sort of queer,” the man said and followed Marlon outside. His buddy came along. Marlon fumbled at the keys in the door of his car. The two men came on him. “I’m gon’ teach you some manners, dirty faggot—”
Marlon struck the man’s solar plexus. He collapsed like a sack of flour. Marlon glanced at the other man, who backed up and ran away.
“Sissy.” Marlon straightened his wig and dress.

Seth spoke into his office intercom: “It’s lay-vee, not lee-vie like the jeans.”
Marlon entered and set Moore’s stolen silver pocket ashtray on the desk.
“You made sure he can’t connect you to this artifact?”
“It’s taken care of.”
Seth grinned. “I have to say, you’re smarter than I gave you credit for. Had you spoken to this Moore guy before we acquired that police dossier and this possibly incriminating DNA evidence…?”
Marlon walked toward the door. “Call me when the results are in.”
Andy Moore stood before Donna Lindberg’s gravestone and smoked a cigarette. Marlon moved next to the man, who didn’t say anything. They shared a long moment of silence. Marlon took out a pair of handcuffs and Andy Moore offered his wrists, all without making eye contact. He led the man to his Toyota and put him inside.
They drove in silence for several minutes.
“You’re not a cop,” Moore said.
“I’m Marlon Monroe, PI.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“Assistant Sheriff Scott’s office.”
Moore continued to stare out of the side window, had not once so much as glanced in Marlon’s direction.
“You discovered Donna Lindberg’s corpse on a dirt track two hundred yards from her family home and farm, which you had reason to be at because of a fire started around the time of her murder.”
“That’s a long time ago,” Moore said.
“I went to the farm the other night. It’s abandoned. Nobody’s been there for years, except you. I bet your SUV tire tracks match the ones I found at the Lindberg farm.”
Moore shifted uncomfortably.
“There’s no way to see the location of the body from the house or the only access road. So, how did you know the body was there?”
“I’m not saying anything.”
“You knew her body was in that exact spot because that’s where you always met her,” Marlon said.
Moore faced him for the first time.
“Your brother, Bobbie, the big shot senator… even back then you were still in his shadows,” Marlon continued. “Bobbie dated Donna until two months before the murder. It’s natural for siblings to be jealous of each other, wanting what the other has.”
Marlon parked outside the Dublin city police station.
“You met Donna in that location for weeks, maybe months,” Marlon said. “You met there precisely because it was out of sight. It was secret. But you didn’t want it to be a secret, not any more. You met Donna there with the intention of eloping. You wanted to run away with her. You loved her.”
Moore lowered his head, cupped his cuffed hands around his face.
“But Donna wouldn’t leave with you,” Marlon continued. “And then she made a mistake. Maybe she let slip that she still loved Bobbie, maybe even that she might tell Bobbie about the two of you. So, you beat this beautiful, blond nineteen-year-old to death. Did unspeakable things to her. And then you set fire to her home — you panicked, maybe someone had seen you drive up there, but it gave you a perfect alibi.”
Marlon got out of the car, opened the passenger side door and dragged the man out. Moore had silver streaks of wetness like snail trails on his cheeks.
“You murdered Donna. You had an innocent man sent to jail, you coward. And you had your big brother come to the rescue and force assistant sheriff Scott to withhold evidence.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Moore said. “I didn’t kill her. You won’t strong-arm me into a confession.”
“I don’t have to. The crime lab confirmed your DNA as a match for the murder of Donna Lindberg. When you bit her, all that saliva…”
Marlon let the sentence trail off.
“It was you,” Moore said. “My pocket ashtray.”
“Excuse me?”
“You had that woman steal my pocket ashtray.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marlon said. “But did you think she was hot?”
Kimberly sat alone at a restaurant table set for two. She checked her watch, ordered another glass of red wine. Marlon took his seat. He wore a black dress and mascara, but no wig this time.
“Did you have to come like that?” she asked.
“It’s who I am,” he said. The waiter arrived. “Scotch on the rocks,” Marlon said. “Make it a double.”
“You’re late,” she said. “Same as always.”
“I had some good news for a client. Fifteen years in jail, but he’s free now.”
“It’s confusing,” Kimberly said. “You talk the same, act the same, but you’re wearing women’s clothes. It’s going to take a lot to get used to this.”
“But you can get used to it, right?”
Kimberly studied his eyes for a long time. “The worst part wasn’t the lying, or finding out about it after you quit the SFPD, but that you never asked permission to use my mascara. Typical man.”
She smiled.

Michael McGlade

About Michael McGlade

Michael McGlade is an Irish writer with 60 short stories in journals such as Shimmer, The Big Click, Ambit, Grain, J Journal, Green Door,and Spinetingler. He holds a master's degree in English and Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen's University, Ireland. Represented by Isobel Dixon of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. Find out the latest news and views from him on McGladeWriting.com.

Michael McGlade is an Irish writer with 60 short stories in journals such as Shimmer, The Big Click, Ambit, Grain, J Journal, Green Door,and Spinetingler. He holds a master's degree in English and Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen's University, Ireland. Represented by Isobel Dixon of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. Find out the latest news and views from him on McGladeWriting.com.

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