The Taunting Clue

Sherman felt honored. He’d had no idea the police commissioner even knew he existed. And now, not only was he at headquarters actually meeting the head man, but Commissioner Lowry was asking him for advice.

“Sergeant Wilson says you’ve helped him on one or two cases. Perhaps you can give us a fresh viewpoint on this one.”

Taunting Clue“I’ll try,” Sherman said, doing his best to look modest.

“Good.” Lowry consulted the notes on his desk. “Yesterday at three p.m., a jogger on County Lane Road heard a gunshot. He pulled out his cell phone and called 911. A few minutes later, a patrol car made a pass through the area and found a murder victim, Andy Patano, a mobster we were leaning on to get information on some bigger fish. He’d been shot in the head, execution-style. Under the body, our boys found a cigarette lighter — gold, with the initials B.F.”

Sherman didn’t have to think hard. “The mob boss, Bruno Friendly.”

“Exactly. And Bruno’s prints were on the lighter. We finally thought we had the mob boss dead to rights, except for one thing.”

“Bruno has an alibi for three p.m.?”

Lowry nodded. “From two P.M. to three. Bruno is always alone at that hour, taking an afternoon nap. A pair of my detectives had decided that would be a good time to pay him a visit and put on some pressure about his gambling operations. They were with him at his house when Patano was killed.”

Sherman appreciated the irony. “So, the police graciously supplied Bruno with an ironclad alibi. How did Bruno explain his cigarette lighter being under the victim?”

“Bruno says he used the lighter that morning during a breakfast meeting with his three lieutenants. When my detectives were there, Bruno made a point of not being able to find it. We’re being played for fools, Sherman, and I don’t like it.”

“What about Bruno’s lieutenants? Could one of them have committed the murder?”

Commissioner Lowry checked his notes. “None of them has an alibi. Max A. was at Bruno’s house when the detectives arrived. From there, he says he went to the market, paid cash for some groceries, then went straight home.

“Joey B. telephoned Bruno shortly after 2:30, while my men were there. Bruno mentioned he had unexpected guests but didn’t elaborate. Joey was calling from his cell phone, so he could have been anywhere. He says he was at his mother’s house, baking a pan of ziti.”

“And the third guy?”

“That’s Carl C. He says he was at a matinee movie from two to four. He has a ticket stub and knows the movie’s plot, but that’s no real alibi.” Lowry slammed a fist on his desk. “This thing with Bruno’s lighter. It’s like they’re playing with us, telling us they did it and daring us to catch them.”

Sherman scratched his chin. “If you do put Bruno in jail, will that shut down his operation?”

“I wish,” grumbled Lowry. “No. There’ll be a power vacuum. But in a few weeks, one of Bruno’s lieutenants will wind up taking his place.”

“Well, I think we can prevent that from happening.” Lowry seemed confused by the comment, then his eyes widened. “What are you saying? You have the murder solved?”

“Oh, yes. Looking at it from the outside makes it fairly easy.”

WHO KILLED ANDY PATANO?

WHAT CLUE DID SHERMAN LATCH ONTO?

Police Commissioner Lowry pushed himself to his feet. “I knew you could do it. Who was it? And what did you mean about looking at it from the outside?”

Sherman tried to be diplomatic. “I mean leaving out the pride and the embarrassment and the idea of their taunting you. No one was taunting anybody.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Bruno didn’t know ahead of time that your detectives were coming. From two to three was his naptime. Normally he wouldn’t have an alibi at all. It was just luck that he did.”

“So, what are you saying? One of Bruno’s own lieutenants was trying to frame Bruno for murder?”

“Exactly. They were the only three who could have taken the lighter from his house that morning. One of them killed Patano, planted the lighter, and hoped to take over the boss’s position when the boss got sent to jail.”

“Nice theory,” Lowry said with a nod. “But that still leaves us with three suspects.”

“No, just one, Carl C. The other two both knew about Bruno’s unexpected visitors. If either of them were planning the murder, he would have postponed it to another day. Carl was the only one who had access to the lighter and who didn’t know that Bruno would have an alibi.