After-School Homicide

Detective Peter Pauling glanced up from his paperwork and was surprised to see a boy with a backpack standing in front of his desk. “Jonah! Hi.” He checked a nearby wall clock. “Is it six o’clock already? How was band practice?”

“Pretty good,” said Jonah. “Is my mom around?”

Jonah Bixby’s school was directly across from the Beaverton Police Station, and nearly every day Jonah waved hello to the desk sergeant and made his way back to the Major Crimes Division bullpen to wait for his mother.

“Carol’s at a crime scene,” the middle-aged detective told him. “I have to get over there myself. You want to come?”

A few minutes later, Jonah was in the passenger seat of a police cruiser as they pulled up in front of Clawson & Wolfe Jewelry, an expensive shop in the downtown district. The seventh-grader expected to be told to wait in the car, but Detective Pauling didn’t say a word, and Jonah wound up following him past the yellow crime tape, through the jewelry showroom, and into a rear storage room. The first thing he noticed was the blood.

Against the far wall of the room stood a floor safe, about four feet square, its door flung open. All around the safe was blood, drops of it on the floor and streaks of it across the back wall. In contrast, the inside of the safe was as clean as a whistle, without blood and without a trace of the trays of gems that were usually stored there.

The next thing Jonah Bixby noticed was the source of the blood, a tall heavyset man sprawled a few feet in front of the safe. A crime-scene technician knelt over the body, taking swabs from under his fingernails, while another took dozens of photographs, recording the blood spatter patterns on the floor and walls and on the door to the huge safe.

Detective Carol Bixby was off to one side, away from the blood, questioning a man and a woman. The woman still had a look of horror on her face. From his mother’s questions, Jonah deduced that this was Madelyn Wolfe, co-owner of Clawson & Wolfe. Her partner, Otto Clawson, had been the victim.

“It was shortly after five P.M.,” Miss Wolfe stammered. “Otto and I had just put the inventory into the safe and locked it when the front bell rang. It was a man with a large box in his arms, like a deliveryman. It was only after Otto had opened the door that we saw…” She shuddered at the memory. “He was wearing a ski mask and had a gun.”

“Did you recognize his voice?” asked Carol.

“He didn’t say much,” Miss Wolfe replied. “He forced me into that closet and locked me in. Then I heard him talking to Otto. I kept yelling, ‘Otto, open the safe. It’s not worth getting killed for.’ A minute or so later, I heard the shot.”

Madelyn Wolfe paused to take a deep breath, which finally gave the other witness a chance to speak. “I guess I’m the one who discovered the body.” His name was Gilbert Green and he was the dead man’s next-door neighbor.

“Otto’s car is in the shop,” he continued, “so he asked me to pick him up after work. I got here around 5:30 and found the front door open. I heard a woman screaming, so I came back here and saw this.” He stopped and scanned the room, just to make sure. “Except Madelyn was locked in the closet. I didn’t want to touch anything, so I dialed 911 on my cell. It was your men who broke down the closet door.”

Detective Bixby nodded, but her mind was elsewhere. Something didn’t make sense. “If Mr. Clawson opened the safe for the thief, like he was told,” she muttered, “then why did the guy shoot him?”

“Maybe Clawson recognized his voice,” suggested Detective Pauling. “Or maybe they fought over the gun.”

“Maybe,” Carol said, then at long last noticed her son standing in the doorway. “Jonah? What are you…” She turned angrily to Pauling. “You brought a twelve-year-old to an active murder scene? What were you thinking?”

Detective Pauling shrugged. “He’s been to murder scenes before.”

But Carol was already at the door, ushering Jonah away from the blood-filled room. “Sorry about this, kiddo. Did you get anything to eat? I’ll get a patrolman to take you out for a burger.”

“I’m not hungry,” Jonah protested. “Mom, one of them is lying. I think one of them killed Mr. Clawson.”

WHOM DOES JONAH SUSPECT OF MURDER?

WHAT MADE JONAH SUSPICIOUS?

Carol had taken her son into the front showroom. “You are not allowed into murder scenes, young man.”

“It’s not going to give me nightmares ” Jonah said, although, he wasn’t quite sure about that.

“Good.” Then she smiled, “What did you see in there?”

“It’s not what I saw — it’s what I didn’t see. There’s no blood in the safe. There’s blood on the safe door, but not inside, meaning…”

“Meaning the safe was closed when Mr. Clawson was shot…” Carol rubbed her jaw. “Which brings up the question…”

“Who opened the safe?” Jonah liked it when he and his mother finished each other’s sentences. He tried it once more. “The only other person who probably knows the combination is…”

“Clawson’s partner, Madelyn Wolfe. So, you’re telling me there wasn’t any guy in a ski mask?”

Jonah nodded. “I think she killed him, stole the stuff in the safe, then locked herself in the closet. If you check her pockets or somewhere nearby, I’ll bet you find the closet key.”