The Pointing Corpse

When the detective business was slow, the great Sherlock Holmes had spent the long, empty hours playing the violin. Sherman Holmes did the same, but with less soothing results. “Maybe I should take lessons,” he would think as he sawed back and forth across the strings. When things got really slow, Sherman switched on one of his police band radios.

After two boring days of drizzle and inactivity, the detective intercepted a call reporting a murder victim found in a car. Sherman happened to be driving his classic Bentley at the time and made a quick turn up High Canyon Road.

He arrived to find Gunther Wilson standing between his patrol car and a white sedan parked beside a panoramic view. The sergeant actually looked glad to see him. “I’m a little out of my depth on this one,” he said. “It’s a celebrity, Mervin Hightower. Shot at close range. I’m waiting for forensics and a tow truck. On top of being murdered, his car battery’s dead.”

The whole city knew Mervin Hightower, a newspaper columnist who specialized in scandalous exposes. Sherman walked around to the driver’s side. An arm extended out the partially open window, propped up on the glass edge. The hand was made into a fist, except for the index finger, which was straight and firm with rigor mortis.

“He appears to be pointing,” Sherman deduced. “How long has the fellow been dead?”

What do I look like, a clock? The forensics boys will narrow it down. I saw the car and stopped to see if he needed help, which he doesn’t. I recognized him, even with the blood.”

Sherman looked in to see the columnist’s familiar face contorted and frozen in agony. “I presume the man survived for a minute after the attack. What do you think he was pointing at, old bean? Something that could identify his killer?” Sherman lined up his eyes along the extended arm. “What story was he working on?”

Wilson pulled a newspaper from his back pocket. “Here. In today’s column, he says he’s going to expose some embezzlement from the City Charity Board.”

“There are only three people on the Charity Board,” Sherman said, checking the column for their names. “Marilyn Lake, Arthur Curtis, and Tony Pine.” Then he examined the view: a glistening lake, a neon sign for Curtis Furniture and a majestic grove of evergreens. “Zounds!”

“Zounds is right. If Mervin was trying to point out his killer, he did a lousy job.”

“Not necessarily.” Sherman was thinking. “I think he did just fine.”

WHO KILLED MERVIN HIGHTOWER?

HOW DID SHERMAN KNOW?

Sergeant Wilson scratched his head. “There’s no way you can know what he was pointing at.”

“Oh, yes, there is,” Sherman said. “His battery’s dead.”

“So what?”

“So, a dead battery probably means his lights were on.” Sherman checked the dashboard and saw that he was right. “Let’s say Mervin had a rendezvous here last night with someone from the Charity Board, perhaps to get information for his story. That person realized Mervin was getting too close to the truth and killed him. But before dying, Mervin saw something…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Wilson growled. “And he pointed to it. But which of the three things was he pointing at?”

“It was night, remember? The lake and trees would have been invisible in the dark, especially with all the cloud cover we’ve had lately. The one visible thing would have been that glowing neon sign. That’s what Mervin meant. The killer was Arthur Curtis.”