The Dying Clue

Detective Carol Bixby gazed at the corpse and couldn’t shake the feeling that she was taking part in a cheesy mystery novel. She had heard stories about murder victims writing a last dying message in their own blood. Such things actually did occur. But why would someone use his last ounce of strength to crawl over to a wall and write in blood … his own name? It made no sense.

The murder scene was in the offices of Martinez and Kramer, certified public accountants. It was an oddly shaped space. In the front was a reception area guarded by Mona Lapinski, a middle-aged assistant. Behind her station, the office split like a “Y,” with two long corridors angling off. At the end of one corridor was a frosted glass door, with painted letters proclaiming “Douglas Kramer.” At the end of the other corridor was a similar frosted door, this one with the name of his partner, “Gil Martinez.”

On the day of the murder, Mona left the office around noon to walk in the park and eat the sandwich and apple she brought every day from home. Gil Martinez left a few minutes later to have lunch with a client at his private club. That left Douglas Kramer alone in his office.

Mona was the one to find his body. “I was coming back from the park,” she said in her statement. “I saw Larry, the guy from Worldwide Parcel, on the sidewalk, ringing our buzzer. He said no one was answering, which isn’t unusual at lunchtime. I signed for the parcel, said good-bye to Larry, and unlocked the door. People in this building are very good about security. Strangers don’t get in.”

“Anyway,” Mona continued, stopping to take in a deep breath. “The parcel was for Mr. Martinez, so when I got inside, I took it straight back to his office. A soon as I walked in…” She shivered. “Chairs turned over, lamps broken. And the blood.”

When Gil Martinez walked in a minute later, he found Mona standing in his private office, screaming at the top of her lungs. His business partner, Douglas Kramer, lay next to the wall, a pair of scissors embedded in his stomach. On the wall, by his outstretched hand, were four letters printed in blood. “D-O-U-G.”

“Doug and I weren’t really friends,” Martinez told the detective. “The last time I saw him was this morning. He came into my office to borrow a pair of scissors.” He identified the scissors, which were currently sticking out of his partner’s stomach.

Detective Bixby pointed to a brown leather wallet, untainted by the blood, sitting prominently on his bloody desktop. “Mr. Martinez, this is a crime scene. Did you just put that here?”

“No, no,” he replied. “I forgot it when I left. I charged my lunch on my account at the club. That wallet’s been here all day.” Carol put on plastic gloves, then checked the contents— three credit cards and two hundred twenty dollars in cash. Nothing was missing.

The last interview was with Larry Baker, the delivery guy. He’d been called back by his dispatcher and didn’t seem too pleased to have his route interrupted. “I don’t know what I can tell you,” he said. “I had several deliveries in that building today, but I didn’t see anything unusual. I made two trips from my truck. On the second, I ran into their assistant and she signed for the package. I didn’t even go inside again.”

“Do you make a lot of deliveries to Martinez and Kramer?” Carol asked,

Larry thought for a moment. “Couple times a week. But I never met either one of those guys. I just dealt with the assistant. From the way she talked, I got the sense that they didn’t get along.”

Carol drove back to the station house. Her shift was almost over, and Jonah was probably there waiting for her. She hated thinking that her twelve-year-old son might be able to solve this puzzle when she couldn’t, so she reviewed the case in her mind.

Robbery couldn’t be the motive, since Gil Martinez’s wallet was still on his desk, untouched. The security camera showed no strangers entering, and everyone else in the building at the time had an alibi. But the big question was why. Why were those four letters scrawled on the wall?

WHO KILLED DOUGLAS KRAMER?

WHY WAS “D-O-U-G” WRITTEN ON THE WALL?

Carol “Bixby found Jonah at her desk, playing with the Identi-Suspect software on her computer. “Jonah, that’s not a video game,” she scolded.

“Sorry, Mom.”

“I know I’ve been working too much,” Carol said, feeling more
 than a little guilty. “But I can take tomorrow off if we solve a murder
 tonight. You up for it?”

Jonah was always up for a good puzzle. He listened as his mother outlined the case, then sat and thought. “Why wasn’t there any blood on the wallets?”

Carol frowned. “Do you think robbery was the motive after all?”

“Well, it would explain the scissors and the wallet and why Mr. Kramer was killed in Mr. Martinez’s office.”

“It would?”

“Sure. Larry was already in the building, delivering packages. Let’s say he entered their office. It seemed empty. He looked down the hall, saw a wallet, and went to steal it. But just then Mr. Kramer walked in, bringing back the scissors he borrowed earlier that morning. They fought and Mr. Kramer got stabbed.

“Now Larry was in real trouble. He needed to blame someone. He assumed that the guy fighting for the wallet was Mr. Martinez, the guy whose name was on the door.”

“You mean he got their names wrong?”

“Yeah. That’s why he wrote “Doug in blood, trying to blame the guy’s partner. Then he wiped his fingerprints off the wallet and went out to his truck. When Mona saw him, he was pretending that he’d just come back with their package.”

Carol had to admit it made sense. “Larry could also have changed shirts in his truck, to get rid of the blood.” She smiled. “I think you’ve just earned us a day off.”