Blackburn shifted his body, sitting up expansively. “Well, detective, you seem to have ruled out the possibility of an outsider.”
Det. Cosgrove gave him a cursory glance. “There’s no evidence of an outsider. Besides, we don’t need one, there’s motive enough for those here.”
He was tempted to stretch his neck for relief, but moved on. He was starting to feel like a corkscrew in search of a vulnerable cork.
“At least three of you have insisted you have little motive.”
Like a judge pondering a decision, Det. Cosgrove sat still. Then, like a human gavel. He pounded the table, and called, “What do you think, Mr. Sanders?”
Cameron Sanders started to curl his arms over his head, then his hands retreated to his pockets. “O.K., so I confronted him about what he was doing. But, like you said, I certainly wasn’t the only one.”
“Indeed not. But then, you are in the liquor business in a big way with whisky, plus you’ve been a beer master for years, and the poison was administered in beer.”
“They’re different businesses. Someone else could have put poison in a bottle of beer and given it to him.”
“Perhaps… but where is the missing bottle?”
“I guess whoever did it will have to tell you.”
The detective turned to the member sitting next to Sanders. “What do you think, Mr. Stanley?”
Stanley stirred from his reverie. He stared at his interrogator. Once again, his voice a rising pitch, he said, “I think you’re acting like a bull in a china shop! How could I have done it, I don’t know anything about picking locks, not to mention poisons! Besides, I have the best excuse, I was busy winning the bottle.”
“Really? I wouldn’t call that an excuse. And, like you said to me, you really wanted to win. How badly, Mr. Stanley?” Lengthy pause. “Moreover, someone like you, who’s been around libraries and bookshops professionally, never exposed to such information?” He paused, but Stanley only stewed . “Well, perhaps only some things.”
Det. Cosgrove returned to the group. “How about you, Mr. Blackburn?“
Blackburn bristled. “Now you’re just throwing darts at a board.”
“You were in charge of the agenda. You’ve been here before. You know the routines of the club members and the lodge.”
Blackburn thrust out his chest, took a deep breath, and responded, “Now you’re throwing darts, looking for a board!”
The detective smiled. “Well, then. Let’s keep sifting the evidence.”
“To review… who among you checks off the boxes? That is… had sufficient knowledge and ability to obtain the poison, and administer it so efficiently to the victim… prepared, or came up with on the fly, a place to quickly hide this evidence, and in a place unlikely to be detected by a conventional search… had the ability to open the portfolio case without a key and without damaging the lock, quickly securing important documents, in all probability relating to major selling orders for tomorrow, or something similarly disruptive, and hiding them, since there is no evidence of shredding or burning.”
“Someone here who fits all the puzzle pieces has a background working with different formulations and ingredients, and therefore would have some experience with toxic substances. I understand the identified poison plant, moonseed, grows in Ontario in the wild, a fruit-like plant which can be fatally mistaken for edible grapes. From that standpoint a number of you could have sufficient knowledge. This person also was known to at least one of you for having access to skeleton keys. And this person had a hiding place so obvious, but pristine, as to be overlooked.”
Det. Cosgrove stopped, then signaled to Con. Doyenne, who briefly left the room.
The other faces shifted to confusion to staring at one in their midst. Someone’s expression wavered between defiance and despair. Otherwise, no one moved. After a seeming eternity of moments, Con. Doyenne returned, and deposited on the table a six pack of what was labelled dark lager craft beer. Det. Cosgrove focused on its guardian. “Time to see what’s in the water. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Sanders?”
Sanders sat motionless. As the others kept up their gaze, the detective spoke up. “Why don’t we sample this new lager of yours? You’ve been keeping it at room temperature, so we can pretend we’re in Europe.” Sanders smiled weakly, biting his lip.
Det. Cosgrove went on. “I’ve got to give you credit. It took some nerve to leave this carton out in the open in your room. But then, you took great pains to make it look untouched, straight out of the warehouse sitting next to another fresh one. Maybe even lost in the glow, you hoped, of those expensive whiskies. So we would overlook the boxes in favour of more obviously used containers.”
He leaned over the carton. “Let’s check out a couple of bottles, anyway. Constable, please pick up one and open it. Yes, keep your gloves on, you never know.”
Con. Doyenne did so, and passed it on to her superior. He took a sniff. “Smells like a nice craft beer, if a bit heavy.” The constable opened another, passed it on to Det. Cosgrove, the result similar. Sanders still sat unmoving, his own gaze morphing to a mix of surprise and betrayal.
Bottle number three yielded a different story. When the detective discovered there was a much different scent, beer unpleasantly pungent, muted by the scent of honey, he carefully set it aside. The label had a slightly tacky feel, as though it was recently mounted. Sanders’ gaze began darting, slowly shaking his head in denial.
Bottle number four had another story. No beer contents, only a number of forms crushed into a paper rope. Con. Doyenne passed the twisted package to her boss. Unveiling them revealed nearly a dozen sales orders, dated for processing tomorrow.
Something metallic flashed briefly in the light. Found loose on the bottom of the box was a skeleton key.
Det. Cosgrove briefly shook his head, picked up the key, looked at it from different angles. “Two details about the locked case suggested you, Sanders. One was a conversation I had with Mr. Ryder, who related to me a comment made on arrival by Mr. Blackburn, stating that one of your group could ‘concoct’ skeleton keys. The way it was worded stuck with him. Then, of course, your profession is brewing. Two, in our interview. I brought up the documents mystery. I deliberately gave you a couple of openings to make a clean breast of your having skeleton keys, which I would have expected you to admit if you had nothing to hide. Oh, you all may be interested to know that I checked with Banks’ home office, and was assured that the only key in the lodge for the case would be on the person of Mr. Banks. Or, in this situation, under the lodge’s lock and key, so to speak.”
The detective stood back a little. “Sanders, you showed signs of a man determined to stop the danger, and increasingly desperate when it wasn’t working out. You stood to lose as much as any member, probably more, if Banks flooded the liquor market with sell orders, to escape the wrath of Y2K. My own investments portfolio may be a pittance compared to you all, but I do appreciate the role of modern technology. Market reactions can be swift and punishing. You and Stanley, particularly, were in his face trying to talk him out of it. but you were the only one who had a plan B, a way to stop him. Someone desperate enough can be counted on to do almost anything”.
Sanders seemed to waver between confusion and despair. “O.K., I have a motive. So do they. But, detective,” he said with increasingly urgency, “you’re wrong about my killing him. I didn’t do it. My hands are dirty. But I didn’t kill Mitchell.”
The heretofore silent throng erupted in mild pandemonium. Eyes darted back and forth, anger, shock, amazement all displayed. Con. Doyenne looked to the detective. He appeared calm, awaiting the initial noise to subside, then raised his hand for attention.
“You know something, Sanders, your hands are quite dirty. You provided the hiding place. You were, literally, the hands-on assistant. But, you’re right. You are not the one who did the deed, or, in this case, the deeds. What I outlined is a path someone else wanted us to follow. I’m surprised you’ve kept your mouth shut. A testament to your partner, our primary antagonist in this drama. The one depending on your rising panic, and the poor judgement that goes along with it, the one who manipulated you into being immersed in this crime. Leaving you holding the physical evidence. However, the crime did not depend on brute strength.”
Reactions perked, except for Sanders and one other.
He paused, then turned to another member. “That meant we could not rule out the role of a woman. Particularly, one able to influence others to get what she wants.”
Melanie Quinn responded with an intense stare. “You give me too much credit, detective.” She looked at Sanders, her head tilted as if giving a message. “Mr. Sanders and I have only a professional relationship.”
“Yes, I can believe things started out that way. But someone with your training and understanding of human psyche, you could have put your powers of persuasion on vulnerable candidates like Mr. Sanders, most importantly on the victim.”
“It appears your relationship with Mr. Sanders is more than strictly as investment colleagues. I understand it was your suggestion that Mr. Sanders offer the leftover craft beer to the lodge. The same lodge you have been to previously. Blackburn and Currie have here before, but only in the past year. You are the only one who’s been here before that. That means you are the only one directly linked to the beer that killed Banks. We know this because of the piece of beer label we found in his washroom. You see,” his enunciation deliberate, “we’ve been able to determine that it is part of a label not used by the lodge for its house brands for nearly two years. The design was modernized. There’s also a good chance there’s a date stamp on the bottle, which you likely missed. You must have kept a bottle or two from one of those trips. Perhaps it was initially a souvenir. In any event, a bottle with a label only you could have brought to Banks’ room. A bottle of beer you reformulated with poison, looking enough like the lodge beer that, when offered to him, Banks wouldn’t suspect it was doctored, at let until was too late, Including extra lead on the label. I don’t know how much you did this part alone, or how much beer-meister Sanders assisted you.”
Ms. Quinn looked again at Sanders, but he was looking away, disconsolate.
Det. Cosgrove resumed a more oratory stance. “To those of you who don’t know, lead has been a long time ingredient in alcohol bottling. It can become toxic, in part due to potential leeching from the label or cap.” He resumed focus on her. “I believe you’re a smart, imaginative, and pro-active hypnotherapist, Ms. Quinn. You had the time to be prepared. A plan of action, which you sold to your friend Mr. Sanders, who was clearly panicky about the prospects of a mini-market meltdown in alcohol investing. Not to forget some collateral damage protection for you. Time, and timing, are very important themes in this case. Time, interestingly, your area of investment specialty.”
“I expect you got help from beer expert Mr. Sanders to concoct a variation on one of his new fruity craft lagers. You get him to bring six-packs to hide the evidence, minus one bottle. You commit the murder, sneak back to his room with the evidence. He fixes the bottle caps, and the box, to look fresh from his brewery. But, with none of your fingerprints, the poisoned beer and missing papers and skeleton key in his room, if we do open the box and find out? You have your patsy to fall back on. Sadly for you, you were just careless enough, in your haste no doubt in Banks’ washroom, to not account for one piece of label. All that work, thinking you removed all the evidence of your efficient, deadly plan. Cleaning off any fingerprints, no doubt, such as on the key and the bottle. One little slip up…”
Unobtrusively, she hoped, Ms. Munroe broke out with a little smile of her own.
“I guess the only other thing is to speculate on a possible savings grace, whether you actually intended murder. No doubt this will be clarified in the autopsy. Was there sufficient poison in his system to be attributable as the sole cause of death? With the level of stress he was under, self-inflicted or not, plus his heart condition, there are extenuating circumstances. And perhaps you really only wanted to make him temporarily sick, so he would be physically unable to process those sales orders in time. For your sakes, I hope that’s the case.”
With that, Det. Cosgrove slowly seated himself. His concentration on Ms. Quinn was unwavering. She slowly twirled in her chair, 90 degrees in each direction, before settling back to face the detective. She swirled her tongue around her teeth.
“Tell you what, Det. Cosgrove. And you, Constable. Why don’t we go to a more private room, and explore this conundrum?”
The detective and the constable looked at each other. He looked back to Ms. Quinn.
“I wouldn’t call it a conundrum. But I do think Mr. Sanders should accompany us.”
The other five members of the Hamleton ATAS club soaked in the ramifications of this scene, Det. Cosgrove turned back to them one last time. “So you know, a forensic accountant is being assigned to this case, just to make sure that financial transactions involving any of you over the next little while are on the up and up. Stay on your best behaviour. You never know when karma may make the difference.”
“Oh, and on behalf of Con. Doyenne and myself, have yourselves a happy Y2K!”
As midnight, New Year’s Eve, the year 2000, the new millennium, arrived in stages, time zone by time zone around the world, Y2K fears did not come to pass. Which is to say, happily, few tremors. The technological side of the world engaged the new plateau of time without dire incident.
In his home, with a dozen or so family and friends attending, the winner of the 1978 Dom Pérignon Rosé celebrated with a special wine unveiling. As Tyrone Stanley stood before them with his millennial prize, he declared, “Sometimes investments simply flow best when served in the finest crystal.”