Home Office Homicide

“Very neatly dressed,” Sherman observed as the medical examiner gently turned the body face up and began a preliminary examination.

The victim was wearing a dark, custom-made suit with a fresh rosebud in his lapel. The only thing marring the outfit was the gash left by the silver letter opener that had been placed in his back. That and the blood.

Sergeant Wilson led his friend to the far side of the elegant office. The dead lawyer, Patrick Wales, Esquire, ran his firm out of the first floor of his home, a beautifully restored structure in the heart of Capital City’s best neighborhood.

“At least we know the time of death,” Wilson said, pointing to the phone lying beside the body. “At 8:55 this morning, Wales telephoned his accountant. At 9:05, the accountant heard Wales scream and that was it—end of conversation. The accountant called for help and they called us.”

“A single thrust in the back,” observed Sherman. “Who else was in the house?”

“Three individuals,” Wilson said, checking his notes. “The deceased’s wife, his law partner, and their assistant.”

Holmes and Wilson wandered out of the office and into the front hall. A woman in her mid-forties dressed in a white bathrobe stood anxiously by a flower arrangement on the center table.

“I’m Lydia Wales,” she said in a flat, even voice. “My husband and I were upstairs in our suite. Patrick finished dressing around 8:30, and then went downstairs. I was still in my bathroom when I heard him scream.”

Lydia was about to continue when a tall, sandy-haired man entered from the direction of the kitchen. He intro­duced himself as Jake Martin, law partner of the decedent. “I walked through the front door around 8:30,” Martin said when asked his whereabouts at the time. “Just as Patrick was coming downstairs. The two of us went into the kitchen for some coffee. Shortly before nine, Patrick left to make a phone call—in private. I went out back to have a cigarette. I was out there when I heard his scream.”

The legal assistant was the last to be interviewed. “I got here right at 9:00,” said Penny DeLoren, an attractive young woman in a seriously ambitious suit. “I bring in flowers every Monday,” she said, pointing to the roses on the hall table. “The office door was closed. I was in the library when I heard Patrick scream.”

Sergeant Wilson pointed to the “No Smoking” sign on the hall table, then led Sherman out to the front porch. Neither man smoked, but they needed to talk.

Wilson spoke first. “The guy Wales called, the accountant, says the victim was paranoid about money. Wales was whining about embezzlement and demanded a full financial review. The accountant didn’t take him seri­ously, but…”

“But Wales may have been right,” Sherman said as he puffed on his unlit pipe. “Are you ready to make an arrest?”

Who killed Patrick Wales?

What clue gave the killer away?

THE SOLUTION

“I don’t suppose you buy roses very often,” Sherman said. He was pointing through the front window to the roses on the hall table.

“Sure,” Wilson said. “Once a year on our anniversary—when I remember.”

“And how long do roses stay fresh?”

“Three or four days.” Wilson had to remind himself that Sherman’s aimless digressions usually led somewhere.

“So an unopened rosebud would probably be less than a week old.”

“Look, Shermy, what’s your point?”

“My point is Penny DeLoren brought in roses this morning, and the victim was found with a rosebud in his lapel.”

“So? He picked a rose from the bouquet.”

“And how did that happen? Wales got on the phone at 8:55 a.m. and never got off. Penny says she arrived with the flowers at 9:00. When did Wales have time to pick a flower and put it in his lapel?”

Wilson thought it over. “Penny arrived earlier, when the victim and his partner were in the kitchen having coffee. Wales then picked the bud, went into his office and got on the phone. Penny must have been walking by and heard him talking about embezzlement.”

Sherman smiled. “Let’s go in and have a talk with Ms. DeLoren.”