Not Done Just Yet
by Roy Dorman
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Later, Johnny and Jennifer were back at Johnny’s office after being at the precinct for a couple of hours. They had been interviewed first separately and then together so that the detectives could see if their stories jibed. Johnny really knew only what he had learned that morning, but he let the lead detective, Mark Hammond, in on a few hunches he had during his separate interview.
“But how did you know?” asked Jennifer. “You figured it out so quickly.”
“Oh, there’re still a few loose ends. Things just started to add up as stuff started happening. It began with the Iran part. Things are hot over there; it’s not easy to get into that country without a really good reason. Buying antique Persian rugs and bringing them back to the U.S. would probably not be possible with the way our two governments are at each other’s throats. That had planted some doubts.
“The second thing was when you told Richard that Allan was missing. I’m pretty good at readin’ faces, and Richard looked like he knew he was in deep trouble if you’d hired somebody to find Allan.
“Finally, and I’m sorry about this part, Jennifer, but you seemed to genuinely believe Allan’s Iran story. That told me that if I was right about it just being a ruse to ditch the mob, he was probably gonna ditch you too.”
“I only stayed married to Allan for the security,” said Jennifer. “Up until recently, his business has always made enough money to stay ahead of his gambling debts. But the day those two stopped and threatened me was the day I started making plans to leave Allan.”
“Well,” said Johnny, “I’m guessing Richard will lawyer up; tellin’ where Allan’s body is would pretty much admit he killed him.
“There’s this little bar I know that has great burgers. Since we never finished lunch, what say we go for an early dinner?”
* * *
“Hey, Eddie, how ‘bout puttin’ on a couple of burgers for my client and me? Jennifer, this is Eddie Johnson. He’s a great guy. Eddie, this is Jennifer Ralston. She just found out her husband may have been murdered, and we’re here to grieve or celebrate. Maybe a little of both.”
“Nice to meet you, Jennifer,” said Eddie. “I’ll bring some beers over to the booth, but it’ll be a bit for the burgers. Tony came in a little late and a little stoned, so he’s back there bumblin’ around getting the grill set up. I’ll keep an eye on him to make sure he does his usual good work.”
“You said something back at the office about loose ends,” said Jennifer, once they were seated.
“We should know soon if some of them got tied up,” said Johnny. “Ya see, when I said I was a good judge of faces, I wasn’t just talkin’ about the look of fear on Richard’s face. There were other things before and after that.
“He didn’t seem like the type who could kill somebody by himself. Help somebody else do it, yeah; but he probably wouldn’t have the moxie to plan it and pull it off himself.
“When he heard you had hired me to find Allan, he thought you were settin’ things up to look like you weren’t part of the plan to kill Allan. He decided he needed to make some calls. I’m bettin’ the first call was to an airline to get a ticket out of the country.”
“Johnny, are you accusing me—?”
“This morning in my office you said you may have gotten Allan murdered. It seemed to me that you threw that out there to give the impression of your innocence rather than guilt. By itself, it wasn’t a big deal. But the drama with the slap in the face to Richard and your accusin’ him of killin’ Allan, it was added to the growing pile of doubts I had.
“You and Richard would be good enough actors for minor roles in a high-school play, but neither of you is ready for Broadway.”
Jennifer looked over Johnny’s shoulder and saw one of the detectives who had interviewed them headed their way.
“Mr. Adams, Mrs. Ralston,” said Detective Hammond. “Mind if I sit down?”
“No, no, not at all,” said Johnny. “Jennifer and I were just talkin’ about some of the theories I had about the case.”
“Well, you were right about Richard Payton probably not killing Allan Ralston, but he was in on it,” said Hammond. “When we put it in his ear that Mrs. Ralston here had told us she was sure he had done it and then told him he might be looking at life in prison, he decided to cooperate.
“His story is that Mrs. Ralston poisoned Mr. Ralston and then asked him for help in disposing of the body. They dumped it in the Hudson without identification. Homicide is checking the morgue for John Does right now. If he’s not there now, he will be soon; they always turn up.
“Jennifer Ralston, you have the right to remain silent...”
* * *
“So, Johnny, that was a short date, even for you,” said Eddie. “Why don’t you bring your beer up here and you can tell me all about it. I think Tony’s got those burgers ready.”
Johnny walked up to the bar and settled onto a stool. “Hey, buddy,” he said to the guy next to him, “ya want a burger? New York City’s finest made my date an offer she couldn’t refuse.”
“Thanks, pal; the next beer’s on me.”
“I think this one’s over before it ever really got started, Eddie. She came into my office about 11:00 this morning, and here it is a little before seven and she’s already out of my life. Since I guessed right about her killin’ her missin’ husband, she probably won’t even pay me for solvin’ the case. I guess that’s what retainers are for though, right?
“But it’s Friday night and the weekend starts now. I don’t look too needy, do I, Eddie?”
“No, Johnny,” Eddie said with a grin, “you don’t look needy at all.”
* * *
And that might have been the end of Johnny’s involvement in the Allan Ralston murder case, but it wasn’t. Even without Allan’s body ever showing up, Jennifer might have been found guilty based on Richard’s testimony. Or she might have been found not guilty if the prosecution couldn’t convince a jury she had done it.
That night, at three in the morning, actually, Johnny sat up in bed, awakened from a sound sleep. The movement hurt his head, and he was at the start of a hangover brought on by buying too many rounds at The Shot Glass and then having too many of those folks he had bought drinks for return the favor. But some things needed mulling over.
The cops said that a round trip ticket to Iran was purchased for Allan Ralston, but it was never used. After Richard had copped a plea and spilled the beans about Jennifer being the one who killed Allan, they had assumed he had been killed before he could have used it.
But did they check if any tickets to somewhere else, say to Central or South America, had been purchased by Allan? Probably not: they, too, figured that Jennifer had done it. Richard helped her get rid of the body; case closed.
The next morning Johnny called Detective Hammond and told him what he had thought about overnight. “Also, suppose Allan and Richard had planned on disappearing and had established a nest egg in some foreign country they could run to and hide?” said Johnny.
“They could set up the Iran trip as a red herring and Allan would go first with Richard to follow after he smoothed the way for everyone to think that Allan had been killed, maybe by the mob, for example. The mob would deny it, of course, but who’d believe them?”
“That’s an interesting theory, Johnny,” said Hammond. “I suppose when Payton found out that Jennifer was going to look more closely into Ralston’s disappearance, he might have had to improvise and have it go from a simple disappearance to Ralston being murdered by Jennifer.
“Jennifer is maintaining her innocence and has hired the best lawyers she can afford with the money that’s still available to her. We’ll take a look at airline flight records to see if we can find anything.”
* * *
Jennifer hadn’t been able to post bail. The judge had been convinced that she was a flight risk and had set it high. Johnny was meeting with her in her cell.
“My attorneys tell me that you might believe I’m innocent and you have the police looking into the case again,” said Jennifer.
“Well,” said Johnny, “my ego might have pushed me into accepting some things that weren’t that well thought out. I usually take more time with a case, especially a disappearance or a murder, but this one seemed like it was solving itself and I went with it. No matter how this turns out, I’m sorry for that, Jennifer.”
“If I don’t wind up spending the rest of my life in prison, I guess I can forgive you,” Jennifer said. “You know, you said Richard and I weren’t very good actors. If things turn out in my favor, I guess you’ll have to rethink that. I apparently wasn’t very good, though I wasn’t even acting, but you and Richard sure were good. He easily fooled everybody, and you sure fooled me.
“I thought you and I were working together to find Allan and you were actually trying to solve his murder before I even knew he was dead.”
“I got that comin’ and more,” said Johnny. “I admit I led you on. But if the detectives can find Allan alive, you should be in the clear.
“Well, hello, Detective Hammond. Good news, I hope.”
“It’s probably good news for Mrs. Ralston, but not for Mr. Ralston and Mr. Payton. The Buenos Aires police have found someone who matches Allan Ralston’s description dead in a hotel room down there. Richard Payton has recanted his story—”
“Recanted his story?” snorted Johnny. “Ya mean since they found Allan’s body in Argentina rather than the Hudson, he gets a mulligan?”
“He wants to be put into the Witness Protection Program because he thinks the Russians killed Allan and will be coming for him next,” said Hammond. “He figures those two in the bar at the Blue Dahlia were there to get him, not Mrs. Ralston.
“He’s told the whole story about how he and Allan planned to start a new life in Buenos Aires. I don’t think he deserves the program, but he did help clear Mrs. Ralston here.”
“After he set me up for life in prison,” said Jennifer, “I hope they send him to Armpit, North Dakota, and nobody who’s anybody ever hears from him again.”
* * *
After Jennifer was released from jail, she and Johnny walked slowly, said little, and thought about what had occurred during the short time they’d known each other. After a couple of blocks, she surprised Johnny by saying something he had only thought that first morning they had met.
“I knew right off I liked you, Johnny,” she said. “You’re a character, and I like characters. Allan thought he was a character, but he was too self-centered to be a real character.”
“Well, Jennifer,” said Johnny, taking her hand, “that’s just about the nicest thing anybody’s said to me for a long time. I’d be happy to be a character in your life.”
“I’m just so glad it’s over,” said Jennifer.
“Yeah, I think it’s finally over,” Johnny replied.
“You know,” said Jennifer, “Allan had a big life insurance policy with me as the beneficiary. Very soon I’ll be a rich woman. What say we go to my place so I can change into some decent clothes? Then we can go to The Shot Glass and I’ll buy; I never did get my burger. I can’t wait to see the look on Eddie Johnson’s face when we walk in.”
* * *
But Eddie Johnson had friends at the police station and knew Jennifer was going to be released probably before she did.
“Well, well, here it is Thursday night and Jennifer and Johnny sashay into The Shot Glass not lookin’ needy at all. Beers and burgers?”
Eddie was a character too, and he recognized fellow soulmates when he saw them. It was the part of his job he liked the best.
* * *
Later, after he and Jennifer had finished their burgers, Johnny excused himself to go to the restroom. Eddie watched from behind the bar as a man who had been at a corner booth by himself walked over to Jennifer’s and Johnny’s booth.
Jennifer took an envelope from her purse and set it on the table. The man picked up the envelope without a word and walked out. Eddie thought the cut of the guy’s suit looked like what most of the Russian Mafia in the neighborhood were wearing.
From what Eddie’s buddies at Homicide had told him about the case, he figured the envelope was maybe the final installment for Allan’s murder or the first installment for Richard’s. Jennifer looked at Eddie. Smiling, she put a finger to her lips and shrugged. Eddie smiled and shrugged back. He might at some time tell Johnny what he had seen, but he wasn’t going to tonight. With the way the last week had unfolded, Eddie wasn’t even sure that Johnny didn’t already know about the envelope.
But one thing Eddie did know: this thing wasn’t over yet.
Copyright © 2017 by Roy Dorman