Sergeant Wilson hated stakeouts. Here he was, stuck alone in a first-floor apartment, photographing the comings and goings at the home of a suspected hit man across the street. And it was a beautiful day outside, which just made things worse.
Wilson heard the door to his own apartment building close and glanced outside to see Dr. Weber’s regular Tuesday patient leaving. 11:58, he noted on his watch. Time for the elderly psychiatrist to watch his half-hour game show, and then make himself lunch. When he concentrated, Wilson could hear the TV upstairs in the doctor’s living room.
At 12:35, the whistle of a teakettle announced the doctor’s lunch preparations. Three minutes later, the kettle was still whistling furiously. Wilson abandoned his stakeout and hurried one flight up to see if anything was wrong.
When his knocking produced no response, Wilson walked into the unlocked apartment. The doctor lay on the kitchen floor. A fruit knife lay in his right hand. A bloody steak knife lay imbedded in his back.
Wilson did his own whistling. “Wow.”
“Wow is correct, dear fellow.”
The sergeant turned to find Sherman Holmes standing behind him in the doorway. “This murder just happened,” Wilson gasped. “How do you do it? You’re like a vulture.”
“Thanks awfully,” Sherman said and quickly perused the scene. The noisy teakettle sat on a low flame. On a cutting board were an open can of tuna and a sliced apple, its flesh already turned brown. The TV was on in the background. “Someone interrupted his lunch.”
“That much seems clear,” Wilson said. “There are two other tenants in this building who stay home during the day. Let’s talk to them.”
Sammy Cole, on the third floor, answered the door in his underwear. “I work nights,” he said with a yawn. “I got home around 11 a.m., had a little breakfast, and went to bed.” Sherman looked through to Cole’s kitchen and saw a half-filled carafe sitting in the automatic coffee maker. “The floors are thick,” Sammy added. “I didn’t hear a thing.”
Glenda Gould lived across the hall from Sammy and seemed unnerved by Dr. Weber’s death. “He was my psychiatrist. I told him to get better security. With all the nut cases he treats, this sort of attack was inevitable.” She twisted the ring on her finger, revealing a raw patch of skin underneath. “I’ll need to find another doctor.”
Wilson walked back down to the crime-scene apartment with Holmes. “Naturally I know who did it,” Sherman said in his unique, infuriating way. “I just need to check one thing.”
WHO IS SHERMAN”S SUSPECT?
WHAT WAS THE VITAL CLUE?
Sherman went to the doctor’s refrigerator and opened the freezer section. “No ice in the ice tray. Just as I suspected. That’s how the doctor’s last patient got the kettle not to whistle until 12:35. He filled it with ice cubes and put it on a low flame.”
“You mean the killer was the patient I saw leaving?”
“Yes. This nut case, as Ms. Gould so aptly put it, was clever enough to make the crime appear to have happened later. He rigged the kettle, opened the tuna, and sliced the apple. He probably even moved the body into the kitchen.”
“That’s a cute theory,” Wilson said. “But…”
“Note the oxidized flesh of the apple.” Sherman pointed to the browned fruit, then to the fruit knife in the victim’s hand. “If the doctor had cut the apple himself, as we’re meant to believe, it couldn’t have turned so brown so soon. We discovered the body just minutes after he supposedly cut it.”