Not For Sale

Sherman parked his antique Bentley by the edge of the road, fascinated by the sight in front of him. True, the houses were not unusual, four comfort­able residences built around a leafy cul-de-sac. The part Sherman found so fascinating was the signs on the lawns. The house on the right was graced with a real estate sign, “Contract Pending,” printed in bold red. The house on the left boasted a similar sign [and a similar “Contract Pending”]. The house on the middle left had the same announcement springing from its grass.

The middle right house was different. The owner had planted at least half a dozen placards in his front lawn. “Not For Sale,” “Never For Sale,” “Won’t Sell. Don’t Ask.” “I’ll Be Here Forever.” All of them were hand-printed in an angry black scrawl.

“Someone doesn’t want to move,” Sherman chuckled to himself. “But unless I miss my guess, he or she has already been moved—from this world to the next.”

Two police cars were parked behind each other in the double-wide driveway, while the other side was occupied by a van from the coroner’s office. Sherman walked around to the backyard, just in time to see a pair of officers carrying a full black body bag toward the van’s open doors.

“Sherman! Just the man I want to see.” Sergeant Wilson, wearing plastic gloves, was in the yard. He had just picked up a bloody two-by-four and was placing it in an evidence bag. Below, on the grass, the rectangular piece of wood had left an outline of green in the middle of the blood-soaked lawn. “Murder weapon,” he announced.

Wilson handed the blunt instrument to a patrolman, and then informed his friend of the facts. The deceased was Harry Ryder, owner of the “Not For Sale” house. Someone had attacked him in his yard, beating him to death.

“His neighbors were at home,” Wilson added. “They’re all suspects.”

“Let me guess,” Sherman said, rubbing his chin. “Someone wants to buy the entire cul-de-sac. But the deal will only go through if Mr. Ryder joins them and sells.”

The sergeant nodded. “Some millionaire plans to tear down all four and build a mansion. Now that Ryder has been so conveniently killed, his heirs will sell and everyone will be happy. Except us, of course.”

Sherman and Wilson went from home to home, inter­viewing the suspects. The owner of the far right house was Dan Osterling.

“I was out raking leaves,” said the grizzled ex-Marine. “I saw Ryder come home around four. He parked in his garage and went directly inside. We didn’t exchange a word. Two hours later, I’m in my den watching TV when the doorbell rings. It’s you guys telling me that Ryder’s been murdered.”

The house on the far left was owned by Janet Vega, the real estate agent who’d put together the prospective sale. “I actually saw the attack,” she  told Wilson.   “I was in my upstairs bedroom and didn’t have my glasses on. But I saw a man clubbing Harry Ryder with a piece of wood.  He kept hitting him until Harry stopped moving.  Then he wiped off the wood and threw it down beside the body. I called the police.”

“And you couldn’t tell who it was?” Wilson sounded doubtful.

“Sorry,” Janet said. “He had on a baseball cap, so I couldn’t even see his hair color.”

The house on the middle left, right next to the victim’s, was the property of Archie McDee, an out-of-work carpenter. “It’s a shame Ryder was so stubborn,” he told the homicide detective. “Janet put in so much effort to get us a great price, and then Ryder goes and spoils it all.”

“Did you hear or see anything?” asked Wilson.

“Yeah,” McDee admitted. “I had my side window open and I heard Ryder shouting for help. It sounded like he’d gotten himself into a fight. I probably should have called the cops, but I was mad. I figured he deserved whatever trouble he was in.”

Wilson walked back to his car as mad as Sherman had ever seen him. “I never heard such bad alibis. I say they’re all in this together, covering for each other.”

“Well, one of them is definitely lying. Why don’t we start there?”

WHICH SUSPECT IS LYING?

HOW DID SHERMAN KNOW?

“I say they’re all lying,” Sergeant Wilson insisted.

“Maybe,” said Sherman. “But we know for sure that Janet Vega didn’t see Ryder being hit with that two-by-four.”

“How do we know that?”

“Well, for one thing, the two-by-four wasn’t the murder weapon.”

Wilson stopped in his tracks, his mouth falling open. “What? It was a bloody, blunt instrument, lying right by the body.”

Sherman nodded in agreement. “But it wasn’t the weapon. That piece of wood was on the ground when the attack happened. That’s the only way it could have left an outline of green when you picked it up. The forensics team will confirm this. Meanwhile, you should bring in Ms. Vega for questioning. Either she killed Ryder herself or saw a completely different scene from the one she told us about.”