Saturday, March 27, 2010

Shooting Arrows At The Moon; a mystery for FFF #26

"What do you see when you close your eyes?" Nicole asked Detective Harker. Harker was silent and looked Mrs. Nicole Cleghorn over, looking for clues as to what was running through her mind. Her broad shoulders trembled as she stared out the window with a glazed look in her eyes. She had calmed down, but every so often a tear would follow the wet path down her face that so many had traveled before. "When I close my eyes," she said, "I see Ollie on the roof, naked and laughing, with that great big bow of his, shooting arrows at the moon. He was like that. He was just full of life and laughter and he wanted to share it with the world. It was in his writing and children loved him for it." She smiled at the thought.

"Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt your husband?" Harker said softly.

"No. He was in a scuffle or two at the local tavern, but that was just a misunderstanding. Besides, that was months ago."

Sgt. O'Brien beckoned from the doorway to the parlor and Harker excused himself. "Alright Sergeant, what do we know?" Harker asked after he closed the door.

O'Brien opened his notebook and checked off things as he read them. "It runs like this: the dead man is Oliver Cleghorn. He writes children's books and has made a ton of money doing it. You have met Mrs. Cleghorn, his wife. Mr. Cleghorn has a long history of run ins with the law, most of which were alcohol related. He was found dead in his study this evening at approximately ten fifteen. Cause of death was from being struck in the back of the head with a heavy instrument which caused his demise per Dr. Shaw. The murder weapon was found next to the body. It is a replica of a medieval mace. It has blood and hair on it that match the victim. The forensic guys have gone all over the house and whoever did this had a key or was here. There are no signs of forced entry on the whole house or fingerprints on the weapon."

"Who had access to the house?" Harker asked.

"We have narrowed it down to Mrs. Cleghorn, Walter Hurst, Mr. Cleghorn's illustrator, and Gibson Tucker, his publisher. Hurst is at his cottage by the gate and Tucker was often a guest including tonight, and is in his bedroom on the third floor. We have a couple of uniforms checking in at the local tavern, but from the little bit I've heard, this bastard was nutty as they come and he drank like a fish." O'Brein closed the notebook with a snap. "So what are your orders Detective?"

"The mace was from here in the house?"

"Yessir. Turns out Mr. Cleghorn was crazy about the stuff. Swords, bows and arrows, axes, suits of armor. The stuff is all through the house. Even the house is a replica of an English manor house."

"Have someone make some coffee and take it to Mrs. Cleghorn. Tell her I'll see her shortly. Right now, I'm going to see the study. Take statements from Mr. Hurst and Mr. Tucker. I'll be along to interview them later."

The study was fifteen by fifteen and was lined floor to ceiling with books. The only wall not covered in leather bound limited editions was filled with a stained glass window of a Greek woman holding a stag in one hand and a bow in the other. The setting sun through the moon over her shoulder gave the room an eerie glow. In the center of the room was a large roll top desk and draped on it was pale corpse of Ollie Cleghorn, the beloved author of forty-seven Murial the Moose children's books. At last count, they were being translated into twenty-three languages and sold worldwide. There were even rumors of a theme park.

Harker stood behind Ollie and looked over the desk. Ollie was slumped to the left of his lap top and a Word document was up. From the layout, it looked like a play, complete with stage directions, lighting and set layout notes. On further examination, it was the script for an Adult version of The Taming Of The Shrew. The only really interesting part was the final paragraph. "h8v9o3bi8oo3ebj3" and these were the only keys with blood on them, so Ollie must have lived long enough to touch his fatal wound with both hands and type this out. The key was in his final message but Harker couldn't make sense of it. "Maybe Mr. Tucker can shed some light on this," he thought as he copied the line into his notebook.

Mr. Gibson Tucker was a wisp of a man with a receding hairline and an even more receding chin. He wore an expensive gray flannel suit that made him look like a cashier at a bank who got more of a thrill from handling the money than any Vegas call girl could provide. Mr. Tucker seemed more agitated by the lack of his cell phone than the demise of his friend and colleague. "You don't understand," he pleaded, "I've got to call the publishing house right now! I've got probably fifty novels and probably five hundred short stories of Ollie's laying around. I've got to start the presses now! If I don't, I'll look like some Johnny-come-lately when all the publishers have their editions out. Ollie wrote like a mad man. He churned out stuff like a machine. Any damn thing he could think of, romance, horror, westerns, mystery's, sci-fi. Nothing sold because all the world knew him as the creator of Murial. He tried pen names, and they still turned him down because they weren't willing to risk the cost of the run on an author with no public recognition. I have a lifetimes of Ollie Cleghorn's work that instantly has a market!"

"The man is still warm downstairs. Doesn't that bother you at all Mr. Tucker?" Harker asked.

"What bothers me is I can't have my damn cell phone to make the deal of a lifetime! You are costing me money!" He patted his forehead with handkerchief, "Say, don't I get one phone call?"

"Not until we book you. Do you recognise this serial number?" He showed him the string of numbers and letters from Ollie's computer. "An off shore account?" Tucker guessed. Harker nodded to the uniform as he left the room, "Stay with him and don't let him near a phone."

Harker enjoyed the little stroll down the drive to Mr. Hurst's cottage as the crickets began their song. Harker had to squint a little as he stepped out of the dark and into Walter Hurst's drawing room. Hurst was seated at his easel under a bright lamp, sketching the same moose in different poses. While Harker let his eyes adjust, Hurst picked up a clean sheet and his pencil flew across the page. He looked up once to glance at Harker and traded his pencil for some charcoal. With a sweep, a brush, and a bit of shading, Hurst handed the sheet to him. It was a picture of himself drawn like Dick Tracy with his .45 blazing. Sure, it was cartoonish, but the likeness was unmistakable. "Well I've seen your artwork Mr. Hurst, let's see how well you tell a story?"

"Well Mr. Detective, I've got a damn good story to tell but it is the kind that calls for a drink. Do you mind Mr.-"

"Harker," he said as he sat down on the worn plaid love seat and spread his notebook on his knee, "and no, I don't mind." The tall, slim Hurst pulled three beers from a dorm fridge and handed him one. Hurst returned to his easel, opened his can and took a long pull. "Harker, I've got every reason in the world to give this to you straight. I'm going to tell you a little tale but I'm going to try and keep this short. Just stop me if you have a question. I just want to get through this so I can put away a couple more of these beers and forget today ever happened for a few hours." He finished his first can and cracked the second before he started.

"I've known Ollie the longest. We met in college. He wrote and I drew, and we just gravitated together. He was fun, he was funny. He knew all the girls and who was throwing the best parties. Make no mistake about it, Ollie loved to have a good time but he drank. Even then, he drank like it was his job and he would fight anyone. He had a horrible mouth on him and he just didn't know when to shut up. He could write like choirs of angels but he couldn't string three sentences out of his mouth without muttering fuck cunt cock sucking bastard in there somewhere. That's why he could never do book signings or public appearances. All of his interviews had to be written." He wet his lips and continued.

"Him and Nicole met fourteen years ago, and after a very brief courtship were married. This was four years before Ollie hit it big with Murial the Moose. As mean and as violent as he could get when he was drunk, which was all the time, he was always sweet to her. Never raised a hand to her. He'd get loud sometimes, sure, but she was his rock."

"After four years of scratching around trying to make ends meet, Ollie tells me that we are going to try for two more months then give it up. Ollie figures we could do a children's book and make some dough. They have short runs and are more likely to give a break to some unknowns. We blow the last of our cash on frozen pizzas and beer, and knock out the first Murial in a long drunken weekend. We drop it in the mail on Monday. On Friday, Tucker calls and wants to mail us a check for thirty grand for starters until the lawyers could hash out the contract. We hitchhiked to the bank to cash it and bought a car to get home in for twelve hundred. We stopped at the liquor store, got six bottles of rum and wrecked the car within a quarter mile of home. We thought we had made the big time."

"Then they asked how soon we could have the next one ready? We turned one out every two weeks for eight months. Then the checks really started to roll in. Ollie put some money back so he and Nicole could have a baby. We both bought houses and tried to get comfortable with the idea that we didn't have to eat instant noodles any more."

"But Ollie wasn't happy. He wanted to have something else of his published that wasn't a moose. So he drank more, a lot more. Any normal person would have just keeled over, but not Ollie. He was a gold medalist at his chosen sport. I've seen him drink 100 beers in 24 hours, and to top it off, he did a handstand on the bar.

"How was your relationship with Ollie then?" Harker put away the notebook and sipped his beer. He knew it was best to just let him talk.

"Ollie and I were pals. We would have a good time and the work always got done. Ollie threw wild parties and invited celebrities and a few came, but they didn't come again. Then it was just Nicole and Ollie and I. She and Ollie went to Europe for an extended trip. Months later, he calls me and invites me to come live here with them. He's had this estate built as an exact replica of one he'd seen in England. He said it would be much easier if I was here, as his heart just wasn't in it any more."

"What about the money? Ollie made it rich off the Murial books, but what about you? Where is your estate and fancy cars?" Harker got up to get another beer.

"I make a good living at what I do. I'm an illustrator. Any one who can draw a stick man thinks they are an illustrator, but one with even a little bit of talent could copy my style and I'm out of a job. Sure, the money was lopsided because Ollie was the author, but I got my fair share. Most of it went to my mother's medical bills. She had the cancer," he said softly. "A hundred times, Tucker tried to get Ollie to write me out and hire someone else for peanuts to do what I did, but every damn time, he turned him down. 'I work with Walt or I walk!' he said. What can I say? I loved the man. He was my one true friend and my partner. I would have done anything for him."
"Does this mean anything to you?" and Harker showed him Ollie's last key strokes. He shook his head. "What about Nicole?" Harker looked him in the eye first. He had to see the reaction. Hurst smiled. He smiled warmly, the same way he did when he mentioned his mother.

"She is my friend and my rock too. I don't have any family left, and she and Ollie were all I had. I don't know what she will do now, or me either for that matter. Tucker will be just fine with whatever deals he can cook up and that slimy bastard would sell his grandma on the street for the price of a cup of coffee." Hurst stood and stretched with a glanced at his unmade bed.

"Just one more question and I'll get out of your hair. Why didn't Ollie and Nicole ever have kids?"

"Something medical with her. Scarring or something. I don't know. Ollie didn't like to talk about it, but they both loved children. Why?"

"No reason. I just thought that a successful writer of children's books might want a kid. We might need to contact you in the morning. Until then, goodnight."

The cool air and the dimness seemed to agree with Harker as he walked back to the house. He stopped to marvel at the rising full moon. He thought of the stained glass window with it's own moon and he wondered who the woman might be. The more he stood and gazed, the connections fell into place, but there was one piece missing. He turned away from the moon and took long strides to the house. Sgt. O'Brien was at the door and told him that Dr. Shaw has been forced to sedate Mrs. Cleghorn due to her grief and she would be unavailable for questioning until the morning. Harker ignored him and headed straight to the library.

The body had been removed but everything was just the same. Harker left the lights off and brushed the mouse on the lap top to shoo away the screen saver. He looked from the screen to the keyboard. He turned to the darkened stained glass window, and knew who killed Ollie Cleghorn. "Sergent! Prepare to make an arrest!"

Harker knows who did it. Do you?

Leave your guesses in the comments and I'll supply the Answer this time Tuesday.



  1. Oliver Cleghorn is loosely based on the actor Oliver Reed. The premise for the story was "gently lifted" from a book of one minute mysteries that I had as a kid. I hope the solution isn't too hard to guess and I didn't include any red herrings.


  2. Doc, great write mate. I once went to Malta on a scuba diving holiday and we went to this bar. Inside it was set up like a proper English boozer and it was the favourite pub of Ollie Reed. Signed photo's of him were everywhere. To say we had a few in there would be a lie. ;-)

    I think its Tucker. 1. I don't like creepy, skinny blokes. 2. The guys books and stories would be worth more when he's dead. ???

    Great FFF entry, Doc.

  3. Great story, Doc. Great details and fine dialogue.

    Clues and codes are always fun, and the most obvious person is always the likeliest...especially when Ollie wrote "Nicole Killed Me"...bit of a giveaway, right?

    Thanks for the headscratcher!!!

  4. Well written Doc. Read like a classic pulp mystery. The solution? You have me thinking, but so far nothing. I'll chew on it some and either get back to you or read the solution later and then say , "Doh!"

  5. Harker? Of course the killer is Dracula, who would praise you for this story, then drink your blood.

  6. THE SOLUTION: Ollie is a touch typist. He has to be to crank out so much material. After recieveing the fatal blow, the killer leaves and Ollie touches his wound with both hands. He then types out the name of his killer but because of his sever wound, he doesn't notice that his fingers are not on the home row but on the top row. Had they been on the home row, he would have written, "nicole killed me". Congrats to Crybbe666 to be the first who guessed it.

    The reason that this plot is the only one I recall from perhaps the one hundred stories in the one minute mysteries book I "borrowed" this from is it the only one I never could have even guessed.

    I taught myself to type on a worn out Smith-Corona manual typewriter. If you missed the key, you got your finger smashed between the keys. If you didn't hit it hard enough, the type was too light. I can't touch type and I still tend to hammer the keys.

    The Greek woman in the stained glass mirror is Artemis, goddess of the hunt and fertillity. This was used to hint that the friction between them was because of their lack of children. Well that and the fact that Ollie was a drunken jerk and after fourteen years, she snapped and killed him. She would have gotten a lot of money if she hadn't been caught.

    I like to think of it as a crime of passion, but that is the romantic in me. I hope you enjoyed it and I promise my next entry will be much shorter.


  7. Hey I know I've been known to write some terrible things, but I aint never killed any people! I only kill animals for a living - my hell how many people are going to pick on me for this... is this your sick and twisted way of getting me back for my bullying a few weeks ago???

    Just kidding, This was a great story - and I'm glad that Aussie Paul figured it out, cos I read it twice and still didn't see it...

    A great mystery for sure!

  8. Great stuff, Doc. When I read Paul's comment that said..."especially when Ollie wrote "Nicole killed me"..." I re-read the story and still couldn't find it. Those Aussie's are a clever bunch, or I'm just thick. :-)

    Well done Doc, David.


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