dontravis.com blog post #536
Image courtesy of dreamstime.com
I’m in the middle of a technical crisis. Google’s gone haywire on me, and I had
a hell of a time finding access to my blog. Found it by accident, so was able
to post for this week. Still going to take a lot of time to recreate some paths
from here to there, so cross your fingers for next week.
STERLING SILVER SCISSORS
By Donald Travis Morgan
The sterling silver scissors reflected ambient light as they lay beside the inert body. The six-inch tangs had penetrated Oliver Swinson’s torso between the fourth and fifth ribs. Swinson, himself, lay sprawled across the Persian carpet in his opulent study. He’d been attractive and kept himself fit. Given the diamond ring on his right hand and his surroundings, he’d died a wealthy man.
A teak cabinet in the far corner caught my eye, and I walked over to examine the numerous pieces of very good origami it contained. You can never tell about these things, but the corpse didn’t look to be a man given to fashioning pieces of paper into art. Perhaps the scissors put the lie to that supposition.
My sergeant, a seasoned vet named Monroe, had arrived before I did. Now he cleared his throat. “The vic’s a back-east financier who recently retired out here. Can you believe that? Retired, and he can’t be past forty or forty-five. His nephew, a kid named Binky, found him this morning. The only other people in the house were William Halston, who’s visiting from back east; Mary Blane, the housekeeper; and Joseph Blane, the butler.”
“Okay, let’s go talk to them.”
The four people gathered in the living room had arranged themselves according to social status. Halston, a haughty man in his middle thirties, perched on the divan. The eighteen-year-old nephew slouched in a recliner. A pile of reddish-brown knitting yarn beside him morphed into a shaggy dog when he momentarily lifted his head as I entered. Mary Blane, as broad as she was tall, stood against the back wall. Her husband, a cadaverous shadow, hovered at her elbow
“My name’s Detective Williams. The sergeant has taken your statements, but I have a few questions.” I glanced down at the nephew. “Do you use the study often? Nice origami, by the way. Yours or Mr. Swinson’s?”
The youth showed a little animation before slipping back into nonchalance. “Thanks. Yeah, it’s mine. As to the study, uh-uh. By invitation only. The place was UO’s private reserve.” The kid hovered somewhere between handsome and pretty, but that studied indifference detracted from his image.
“UO?” I asked.
I asked the two servants, Mary and Joseph Blane, to join the Sergeant and me in the dining area and ascertained their movements last night. After they were finished at the house, they visited a married son and spent the evening playing with their grandchildren. Not a perfect alibi covering all the hours in question, but for the life of me I couldn’t see a motive for either of them. Nonetheless, better to reserve judgment until the picture was clearer. I mentally moved them to the “B List” of suspects and permitted them to retreat to the kitchen.
The medical examiner and his people arrived, and I spent a few minutes with them. Far too early for them to give me much definitive information, but they were able to estimate a time of death. Probably somewhere around two in the morning. Hmmm… the Blanes had returned by that time.
The sergeant and I went back to the living room where the houseguest and the nephew had apparently not moved a muscle since we left them.
“Hand me that ash tray on the coffee table, please.”
Managing to look bored, the nephew asked as he passed over the Baccarat crystal. “Why did you want that? Was UO bashed over the head or something?”
“No, but I confess to an interest in excellent crystal pieces. It’s quite good, you know.”
“UO only had the best,” he replied.
“Apparently,” I said as I handed it back to him. “You are his nephew?”
“Yes… sir.” The “sir came out grudgingly.
“And your name?”
“Horton Maysfield, but everybody calls me Binky.”
I resisted the urge to ask the source of the nickname, but that was likely one question that did not need answering. “I understand you found the body.”
“Yeah. He’s usually up before I am, so when I came down, and Mary told me he hadn’t showed up for breakfast, I went back upstairs looking for him.”
“Where is your bedroom?”
“Right next to his. But the walls are pretty thick, and I can’t hear him when he’s in his room.”
“So you went to the study?”
“That’s where he spent most of his time, so yeah, I went to the study. Found him laid out on the floor with those bloody scissors lying beside him.”
“Did you touch them?”
He shook his head. “Uh-uh. No way.”
“Did you touch the body?”
Well… year, I shook him, you know to see if he would move. Then I felt to see if I could find a pulse or whatever. But he was a goner.”
“And then I let out a yell and the Blanes showed up. A minute later, Mr. Halston got here.”
“Who called the police?”
“Mary dialed 911,” Halston said.
I gave my attention to him. He had likely been presentable in his younger years, but he’d allowed himself to run to fat. At least in the belly. Seemed cultured, bright, and civil. “Mr. Halston, what’s the purpose of your visit?” I asked.
“Purely social. Oliver and I go back a long way.”
“How long back?”
“Oh, ten years I met him my senior year at Columbia University when he came on campus looking for recruits for his brokerage. He hired me. Worked together until he retired and moved out here to the west. Then sporadic contact, at best.”
“And what prompted your visit at this time?”
“He surprised me with a phone call and an invitation. As I had some business in Los Angeles, I agreed to stop over on the way back to New York.”
I considered his voice and cadence a moment, after which I questioned the boy in the study while the sergeant took Halston’s statement in the dining area. Separately, they each sketched out the previous evening and night’s activities. Once those statements were taken, we thanked the two of them, and they left for other parts of the house. Halston headed for the stairway. Binky rose and gracefully took his leave, the multi-hued dog plodding along in his wake.
“What do you think?” Munroe asked.
“I know what happened.”
The sergeant’s eyes widened.
“Did you notice the kid handed me this ash tray with his left hand?”
“Need to confirm it with the technicians, but I’m betting those scissors that did in the victim are left-handed.”
“They have left-handed scissors?”
“Sure. Each scissor—and it takes two to make a pair—is asymmetric. That’s because human hands are asymmetric. Left-handed scissors are constructed to accommodate this phenomenon. I’ll wager that pair belongs to Binky. He uses them to prepare paper for his origami art.”
“Just because they’re his doesn’t mean he’s the one who used them to kill his uncle?”
“Binky probably wasn’t Swinson’s nephew. He was his ‘boy.’”
“And he just up and killed his sugar daddy?”
“He did after Uncle Oliver passed him over to Halston last night. Halston was probably one of Swinson’s boys before he got too old.”
“You’ll play hell proving that… unless there are fingerprints on the scissors.”
“Oh, I doubt there will be. That’s why they weren’t still sticking in the man’s chest. Binky had to take them out to wipe his fingerprints off. Then he dropped them beside the body. I doubt it was pre-planned. Probably a moment of rage. My impression is the kid’s too spoiled for his own good… and apparently UO’s too. And he doesn’t strike me as a tower of strength. He’ll break. All we have to do is handle him right.
Well, there you are. I’m left-handed, so I knew (from bitter experience) there are lefty scissors. Did you? At any rate, I hope you enjoyed Donald’s story. Let me know, so I can pass it on to him.
Until next week.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!