Episode 12 of Witt Kepler, Private Eye
The savory smell of bread dough frying in hot butter permeated Chez Keppler. Witt and Guthrie stopped in the foyer, taking a minute to inhale deeply, in wonderment of the tasty treat awaiting. Witt had been contemplating leftover pizza for lunch; this plan had obviously been replaced.
Guthrie, like Witt a single gentleman, survived on a similar diet of frozen meals heated in a microwave oven. Anything home-cooked would be a feast for the Canadian. His salivary glands working overtime by now, he asked “Did you go off and hire a chef, Witt? Whatever’s cooking might just be better than a box of timbits.”
“You speaking Canadian on me again, Guthrie? Stick with English, please. Just what the heck is a timbit?”
“Sorry, lad. Doughnut holes. It’s a long story. But the point is – something is being fried and it smells great. You have to agree, eh?”
Witt started walking into the living room, calling to the chef. “Kamianka? I’m hoping that’s you in the kitchen. Yes?”
A familiar female voice answered somewhat mockingly. “Yes, daaahling. I am making some varenyky for us. Did you bring us a lunch guest?” It was, indeed, Kamianka, playing up her Eastern European accent.
Witt and Guthrie entered the kitchen. From the looks of the wreckage, Kamianka had done some serious cooking while Witt was away. On the stove was a large cast iron skillet filled with over a dozen small dough balls, gently turning brown in a sea of hot, liquid butter.
“This is my partner, Guthrie Oaks. He’s on loan to the Metro PD from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
“Of course, the uniform – it gives you away, Mountie. Have you ever had varenyky? There is plenty for all of us if you are staying for a while.”
Guthrie smiled at his new acquaintance, somewhat stunned by her beauty. “I’m not sure what varenyky is, exactly, but they smell great. You must love to cook,” he said.
“Sometimes. These are what you might call potato dumplings, steamed then fried in butter. My grandmother’s recipe. The best comfort food ever. I tend to cook them when I am stressed out, and lately, well, I have been quite stressed. Thank goodness Witt is going to help me.”
Witt joined the conversation again, saying “Guthrie’s helping out with your case, too.” Suddenly, the private detective stopped. Taking a step back into the doorway, he surveyed the kitchen, then glanced back at Guthrie and Kamianka, who were standing in close proximity to each other. “Kamianka, would you mind, after lunch of course, if Guthrie and I worked without any distraction?”
“You mean the female type of distraction, yes?”
“Exactly, my dear. It shouldn’t take us more than an hour. You can relax in the study if you like. Plenty of books to read, there’s a television as well. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not. I know when I am not wanted,” she said jokingly.
After the fine meal, Kamianka excused herself to the study. The last thing Witt wanted was for Kamianka to see herself on the security video. Given the subject matter, it would be difficult enough to keep Guthrie in line during the second viewing of the day.
“Are we going to view the entire video again?” Guthrie asked, hoping for an affirmative answer.
“No,” Witt replied. “Something isn’t quite right with the end of the video and I think if we watch the first part, then skip to the end, we may be able to figure it out.”
Witt started the video again, with both the police chief and Kamianka entering the room. He finally pushed the pause button on his remote control. “Okay, take a good look at the room. What do we have here?”
Guthrie walked up to the video screen. Pointing with his finger, he said “Well, we have the two people in question here, in the bed. We have a pile of his clothes here on the left, and her clothes here on the right. That’s about it, really. Do you see something else?”
“That’s the obvious stuff. Here, let me take a stab at it. No pun intended, of course.”
Witt approached the screen, saying “First off, who took the video? A typical security camera would have been mounted high up on the ceiling, probably in a corner to get the entire room in the picture. This one is straight on, aimed at the bed.”
“Maybe he set up his own little camera system, like a peeping Tom spying on himself,” Guthrie offered.
“I suppose that could be correct. If he did set up his own camera, it would still be there, unless the police investigators found it. But how would the flash drive with the video end up at Ludlow’s office? A dead police chief can’t pull that one off without some help, and I doubt the girl sent it.” Witt referred to the woman in general terms, since he wasn’t sure if his lunch guest had put two and two together yet, realizing that Kamianka was the star of the pornographic video.
“Okay, you have a good point. Someone must have taken the video, perhaps using one of those miniature spy cameras, hidden in a painting on the wall.”
“Too high. I am guessing either a plant on a desk, or perhaps hidden in a low AC vent. We should take a look at the room first, I suppose.”
Witt then pointed to the left side of the bed. “Here is something interesting, a blue suitcase. Not too big, but big enough for someone traveling to a convention for a few days. I don’t recall seeing it at the end of the video.”
Guthrie was now thinking more critically. “And the mirror. Look – you can see the reflection of the television. Looks like a show I have seen before, too.”
“Nice work, Guthrie. Now let us see what the room looks like after the woman returns.”
They advanced the video to the point where Kamianka is returning from her shower. Witt stops the video one more time.
“Look – the suitcase – it’s now gone. And the television show, it’s changed, too.”
Guthrie checked the time stamp on the video. “According to the time on the video, that show shouldn’t be on for another ten minutes. Someone doctored this video!”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Witt said. “We need to find out what was in that suitcase. This could be the motive for murder! Some perfect crime. Like I always say – no such thing.”
Feeling pretty smug, the two stopped by the study to tell Kamianka they were leaving. On the way out, Witt picked up a bottle of talcum powder and grabbed a broom. Guthrie decided he would not ask why.
Once at the hotel, Witt and Guthrie met the police detectives working the case. “Any leads, detective?”
“Not really. We are checking the hotel security video but there was a huge convention here at the time, too many people for anything concrete. The inside of the room was clean, no prints at all. This was a professional hit, if you ask me.”
“Maybe you should go over the chief’s old cases, looking for anyone he put away that might be out now. Revenge is always a good motive,” Guthrie added.
“We’re doing that, but it will take some time. The chief had been working for years at Westborough. That means a lot of filing cabinets.”
Witt saw the opportunity open up. “You know, the DA wants us to help. Maybe we could lend a hand reviewing those files?” Witt knew that of all the duties police officers had to pull, paperwork was the least favorite. Going through someone else’s paperwork ranked worse.
“You guys are awesome. I am sure there will be plenty left for you by the time you get there. His office is about an hour away by car.”
Witt peered inside the room. “Mind if we take a look around first?”
The detective nodded them in, saying “Nothing here, we already checked everything from fingerprints to DNA samples on the sheets. But be my guest.”
Witt and Guthrie looked around, patiently waiting for the last official investigator to leave. Once they were alone, Witt opened his bottle of talcum powder, shaking it onto the carpet, near the left side of the bed.
“Hand me that broom, will you?” he asked of his Canadian counterpart.
“What in the world are you doing? Thinking of becoming a janitor?”
Witt started gently sweeping the carpet, from the edge of the bed away towards the wall. After just a few strokes, the wheel tracks from the suitcase became clearly visible. The tracks ran from the bedside to the door leading into the adjoining room.
“As I suspected, someone from the room next door took the suitcase while the woman was in the restroom,” Witt said.
“Must have been a heavy suitcase to make tracks deep enough to stay indented like this,” Guthrie replied.
Witt agreed. Moving toward the adjoining room, he tried to open the door. It was locked. “I imagine we will find either the culprit had a key or they used something to block the mechanism. Duct tape would be my preference.”
“So you are saying the murderer waited for the woman to use the washroom, then snuck in through the side door, stabbed the man with the heroin while he slept, and then took the suitcase and left? How would she have relocked the door from the other side?”
“Another mystery, Guthrie, another mystery. But let’s take a look at this planter by the door. Perhaps the murderer was in such a hurry, they left their camera.”
“How do you know the planter contained the camera?”
“Because that is where I would have put it,” Witt said. “No one notices fake plants used as décor. They are everywhere, but most people just don’t think about them. The same as the side door. No one ever checks the adjoining room door. We always assume it is locked. This one is a clever one. Smarter than average.”
“Smarter than Vetski?” Guthrie asked.
“Yes, I believe so, and that has me worried.”
“Goodness, something has the great Witt Kepler worried? I’ve heard everything now.”
Witt reached into the clump of green plastic ferns potted in the off-orange ceramic floor planter. He quickly produced a black pencil-like camera that had been stuck in the dirt, carefully hidden amongst the fern leaves. “Here you are, one nanny cam…with…a small transmitter. Guthrie – our murderer was watching this play out in real time.”
“That’s how he knew when it was safe to enter the room?” Guthrie exclaimed.
“Exactly. Like I said, not the average killer we are dealing with here.”
“What’s our next move?”
“Well, we should visit the front desk to find out who was staying in the next room, then stop by the Westborough station to help out with those files. After that, we should have enough information to visit the number one suspect.”
Guthrie pondered the last statement for a few seconds. “We have a suspect now? We haven’t even identified the prostitute yet. Who do you suspect, Witt?”
“When a police chief dies under mysterious circumstances, who is the number one suspect, regardless of the facts?”
“You have me stumped,” Guthrie replied.
“Mrs. Police Chief, of course.”