Creative commentary plus crafty composition

The detective sat on one side of the large conference room table. He and Ms. Munroe conferred for several minutes, Cosgrove doing most of the asking, mainly about her observations of the guests, she referring at times to her notes. An important point was that Banks had told the lodge director he always kept his wallet, chequebook, rings, and keys in a safe place on trips because he had a fear of losing them, and would retrieve them from the lodge safe as needed. When Cosgrove held up to her the piece of label found in Banks’ room, using small tongs, she confirmed that it did seem the same as the lodge’s own ‘Pine Needle’ brand, but the colour seemed outdated. She was released to resume her monitoring.

Ms. Munroe sat outside the room, in company with the members, who were waiting uncomfortably, like patients for their doctor.

“Mr. Blackburn, I would like to speak with you first,” stated Det. Cosgrove.

Blackburn nodded vaguely.                                            

“Now, down to specifics. I understand you to be main organizer of this conference. You ran the agenda.”

“That’s essentially true. As far as the agenda goes, to be fair, we did get off topic a few times.”

“Primarily thanks to Mr. Banks?”

“Particularly when the subject of Y2K came up, or veered anywhere near it. He was certainly the most paranoid of any of us. He’s known – was known – as a morose, fearful person, although apparently a great conductor. Some financial success at least. He carried an umbrella of negative expectation, worrying about his wine collection taking a major hit. I heard he was thinking of liquidating some of his stock by Friday, tomorrow.” Blackburn seemed to relax a little, engaging more direct eye contact. “On the other hand, I’m sure he was really hoping not to lose that bottle of Dom Pérignon Rosé, although it was his choice to pick that as the prize in the treasure hunt. Definitely a mercurial personality, you could say.”

“Was there anyone he was particularly talking to about his Y2K worries?”

“Probably everyone, at some point. I did see Ty Stanley and a couple of others at the cocktail party having a bit of a spirited chat with him. They talked awhile.”

“What others?”

“I think I saw Cameron and Tory there, Dave maybe.”

“What about you? Did you have a debate with Banks about this Y2K issue?”

“No, not really, much. We all had some discussion, of course, during our meetings. You can appreciate our having concerns. Me, I try to be a glass half full guy. Occupational hazard, I suppose, I’m a real estate agent. No matter what happens with Y2K, people will want property.”

“What about during that so-called treasure hunt this afternoon? Did you meet with him in his room after it started?”

“What makes you think that?” Blackburn paused, then shot back, “Say, what do you mean downgrading our prize hunt? It’s a rite we proudly hold at the end of each year.”

Det. Cosgrove bristled. “Let’s focus on the important issue. His death, which very much looks like murder. I understand you went upstairs shortly before he did.”

“Yes, I went directly to my room.”

“Did you see him?”

“I did speak with him briefly, but that was in the hall, after I found the clue sheet on the desk in my room.” Blackburn wavered. “I did stop by his room before going back downstairs. I heard a couple of voices indistinctly, so I just continued on.”

“What was it about the clue sheet you wanted to speak with Banks?”

Blackburn seemed about to say something, then steadied himself. He went over to a nearby desk with material remnants from the club meeting. “Here, it’s the list of TV shows from the 1960s, game shows. One of them was meant to be a clue to the hiding place of the bottle. I didn’t identify the right one.”

“Presumably all you treasure hunters received a copy of the list?”

“We were supposed to. Banks told me a copy was put in each member’s room. I don’t believe we all went up to our room before the end of the hunt, because after Ty found the bottle and the rest of us were left to commiserate, it turned out that a couple of us didn’t have the list, or didn’t find it until it was too late.”

Det. Cosgrove stood, stared out the window, then back to Blackburn. “Did you know he had a very elegant portfolio case, with a gothic emblem?”

Blackburn looked up.  “Yes, I mean I’ve seen it before. I didn’t know he brought it here, but I’m not surprised.”

The policeman pulled out the next question slowly. “Any idea how it was opened without a key?”

Blackburn looked lost. He just stared back.

“So, you didn’t go in Banks’ room, and you didn’t have a beer with him?”

“He offered when I saw him, but I was frankly determined to decipher his clue sheet.”   

“Thank you, please ask Ms. Heath to come in.”

Ms. Heath’s answers to Det. Cosgrove’s questions were perfunctory and clipped. She claimed not to have gone upstairs to her room at all since the search for the prize bottle started. She abstractedly flipped a small gold coin, hesitating only when she paused to respond to him. She didn’t know anything about the portfolio case, and was indifferent to the mystery of it being opened. Nor did she seem to be overly concerned about the ripple effect of Banks’ Y2K terrors, exhibiting only a frozen smile. That quickly changed, as she added that she was secretly fascinated to hear about his room’s artwork, and hoped to have a chance to see it

When he sat down, Sanders nodded once to the detective, jaw set, gaze alert, but with an occasional involuntary twitch.

Det. Cosgrove said, “I understand you had a testy exchange with the victim yesterday.”

“I wouldn’t call it that. I, and others, have been trying to calm him down about Y2K.”

“So, you were arguing with him about it?”

“Look, detective, it was more getting him to see reason. Tyrone and I kept telling him there are many potential scenarios, not just worse case. We wanted him to understand how his crying wolf could hurt not only him. Not helpful for stability in our businesses, or in protecting the value of our assets. And not for his own piece of mind, for whatever that might be worth. ”

“Is it true he was going to sell off a large part of his wine portfolio?”

“He said he wouldn’t actually do much before New Year’s. We hope we talked him out of doing any more than he already did. I don’t know what he told anyone else.”

Det. Cosgrove indulged in being conciliatory. “Doesn’t seem like much time left to do a lot of damage, if it’s to be by tomorrow.”

“Times and technology have changed.” Sanders seemed to appreciate any empathy. “Plus he might have made some moves already we don’t know about. After all, he was pretty flaky for a conductor. Did you notice those pictures hanging in his room?”

Beyond “Yes,” Det. Cosgrove didn’t comment. “So you also found the list of TV shows in your room?”

“Yes”. Sanders looked wistful. “But it didn’t do much good.”

“I see. Did you have a beer in Banks’ room?”

“I did see him briefly, but I didn’t hang around, I wanted to find that bottle.”

“Hmm. So, what do you think about the documents being stolen from a locked portfolio case with no key?” 

Sanders shrugged, trying to exude calm. “I didn’t notice which portfolio case he brought to the meeting. And I don’t know about stolen documents.”

Det. Cosgrove persisted. “How do you think it was opened without a key?”

“What makes you think there wasn’t one?”

“We have good evidence. There’s no key anywhere in his room, and the only one we know of is in the safe.” Pause. “I wondered if you had any ideas.”  

Sanders stared ahead. “That’s a curious one. Sorry, I can’t help you.”   

“I see, please have Mr. Stanley come in.”

Stanley initially looked wary, but as he settled on his seat he started to lean forward. His voice pitch rose as he spoke. “Nasty business. Not good for our club.”

Det. Cosgrove looked annoyed. “Not good for the club? Certainly worse for Banks.”

Stanley looked surprised. “Clearly. I mean, obviously bad for Mitchell.” 

“You don’t seem too upset, though. You didn’t like him?”

“Look, as I understand it, he was a successful, but typically temperamental, conductor. He amassed quite a wine collection. He complained a lot about how much work and expense was involved in his avocation, and lately he wouldn’t let it rest fretting about Y2K.” Stanley appeared frustrated. “He became increasingly obsessed. Connor and I were getting worried about the effect on our whole club.”  

The detective leaned back to consider, then leaned in. “I understand you and Mr. Sanders had a pretty vigorous discussion with Banks at the cocktail party.”

Stanley suddenly seemed laser focused, and a little exasperated. “It’s obvious behaviour like his could be detrimental to the group. We all have a financial stake. We wanted Banks to not do anything else, selling out in panic, assuming the worst. Look, maybe there will be some glitches due to Y2K, maybe it’s because I’m a memorabilia collector, we will survive this, the world will march on. It will find a way to.”

Det. Cosgrove tried to lower the temperature with a soft, “Let’s hope.” Then, back with, “Did you meet with him in his room?”

“When I went upstairs and passed his room, the door was ajar, so I knocked, and he invited me in. He said he would decide in the evening if he was going to sell anything else. He was going to follow his gut. I pleaded with him one more time to be responsible. I changed the subject when I saw his wall coverings. Classic supernatural of a period. Like the paintings from Night Gallery.”  

The detective thought to himself, ‘You too, eh?’ Aloud to Stanley, “You didn’t have a beer with him? Try to get him to help you win the bottle?”

“No, and no.” There was a fanatical shine to Stanley’s eyes. ”I really wanted to win the bottle, but fair and square.”

“Then you didn’t see the portfolio case?”

“No, I know he has a couple of really nice ones, but I didn’t see what he brought here.”

“Any idea how it might be opened without a key present?”

“I’m not any kind expert on briefcase science, detective, and certainly not on being a pickpocket. My expertise rests with books and investment grade memorabilia.”

Det. Cosgrove mulled this over. “So, you say you simply went back to your room. Where you found a copy of the list.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“One other thing. As I hear it, you made quite an impression at the talent show with your knowledge of all kinds of plant life. Including the poisonous kind.”

Stanley seemed to be reliving highlights of the talent show in his mind. “Well, sheriff, it takes all kind of critters to make Farmer Brown fritters.” He smiled indulgently. “I don’t apologize for having a range of knowledge.”

Con. Doyenne leaned in through the door. Det. Cosgrove motioned Stanley to leave. As she started her report, she showed him three embossed 8’x10’ pictures, featuring depictions similar to the gothic look in Banks’ room. One was found in Stanley’s room. Det. Cosgrove called him back. He acknowledged having seen it, but didn’t seem concerned about how it got there.

Told by her boss he would go through the rest of the report with her after completing the interviews, the constable left and signaled to Melanie Quinn to see him. 

Conscious of her profession, the detective donned his glasses, looking at her from an angle. “Hello, Ms. Quinn, the hypnotherapist.”

Conscious of his profession, she said, “Hello to you, detective.”

“I understand you also have an interest in horticulture. Do you communicate with plants by hypnosis?”

In spite of herself, Ms. Quinn bristled a little. “I presume that’s, at best, a left-handed compliment. I get my hands dirty with garden plants. And I love to discover those in the woods, around places like this lodge.” She let her sarcastic energy rise. “If the plants listen to me, it’s because of my personality.”

“No doubt. What do you know about plant poisons?”

“Not much. Is that what did in Mr. Banks?”

“Please answer the question more clearly.”

“Naturally I know some do’s and don’ts in handling plants.”

“I’ll take that to mean you have some knowledge.” Det. Cosgrove looked at her more closely. “Did you have a glass of beer with him in his room?”

“No, I didn’t see him after he went upstairs.”

“You didn’t go in his room?”

“No.” She paused to look out the window. “And, to anticipate your question, no, I didn’t argue with him about the subject of Y2K. He couldn’t go beyond reacting on a gut, emotional level. No wonder no one seemed to reach him. Like he was in his own bubble.”

“Interesting metaphor.” The detective started to reach into a pocket, then seemed to think better of it. “You’re being a Doctor of Hypnotherapy… what do you think, medically or psychologically, about the artwork in Banks’ room?”

Ms. Quinn’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t have any analytic relationship with him. My unsubstantiated opinion, is that, given his somewhat mercurial, iconoclastic, nature, he probably felt at ease in a disturbed world.”

“By the way, did you see any of the prints he apparently had brought with him?”

“No, why do you ask?”

“Because one was found in your room.”

Ms. Quinn made eye contact and shrugged. “I try to avoid negative energy. If it was in my room, it must have been out of the way, because I didn’t notice it.”

“Aren’t you curious as to why it was there?”

Ms. Quinn’s reaction was a hypnotherapist worthy stare. “Maybe whoever put it there was looking for disciples.”

Det. Cosgrove tried another direction . “Perhaps you would be interested to know that Bank’s portfolio case was broken into, but with no damage and no key.”

She was unruffled, appearing to enjoy his parries. “No kidding! Kudos to the ingenious. As long as they adhere to a legal, moral methodology, of course.”

The detective decided not to pursue it.

Torin Currie’s interview followed a familiar path. The antique dealer’s answers reflected his own obsessions. Particularly, this came out in his tendency to speak quickly and with a rising voice. When the issue of Banks’ Y2K fixation was brought up, he was more interested in how he hoped own business would handle it. He acknowledged he found a copy of the list of TV shows in his room.

“Did you go talk to Banks in his room about it?”

“No, I was trying to figure out what damn TV show was the clue.”

“Did you have a beer with Banks in his room?”

“No, I didn’t go in there. I saw him briefly in the hall, he looked distracted.”

“What do you know about Banks’ embossed portfolio case?”

“The one featuring The Music of Erich Zann. You know, I’m kind of jealous.”

“Really! Of the case, or the image?” At Currie’s stare, he continued, “Was the print left in your room similar?”

“Actually, if I’m not mistaken, that one may be an interpretation of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland.”

“Hmm, this seems to be a common area of interest between you and the deceased.”

Currie appeared bemused. “Yes, so it was.”

Det. Cosgrove leaned toward him. “But you didn’t see him in his room about it, or ask him about the print?”

Currie shook his head.

The detective swung back a little. “Back to the portfolio case, you have any idea how someone might have accessed one of the files, when it was locked, undamaged, and no key around?”

“Look, Det. Cosgrove, I’m one of the least likely to be affected even if Y2K turns out bad. My investments are in items which have, to some extent literally, stood the test of time, they’ve survived many ups and downs in world history. And, as you observe, I have another, more outré passion I had in common with Mitchell. Not that we were involved in any ritual sacrifices, ha-ha. Sorry. What it comes down to is, I’m not involved in his death. So I don’t think my speculation would be helpful.”

Det. Cosgrove checked his notes. “You were here on a short holiday about a year ago, with your wife, along with Mr. Blackburn and his wife, correct?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Anything stand out from that trip that could be relevant to my investigation?”

“Not really, we hiked in the woods during the day, and sampled the local beers when we got back. And some card playing.”  

With that, and no objection from the detective, Currie stood and departed. The last member to be queried, David Broughton, followed in.

Unfortunately for Det. Cosgrove, Broughton’s unhelpful answers almost paralleled Ms. Heath’s, except for his attitude, which was perfunctory but begrudging. He also claimed not to have gone upstairs to his room at all when the treasure hunt started. Also like her, and especially Currie, he professed to not be seriously concerned about Banks’ Y2K terrors. In no way would he admit to having a green thumb, or sticky fingers.

After the software developer left, the detective observed to Con. Doyenne that, what Broughton had in common with Ms. Heath was that, along with apparently not having found their copies of the list, they had been the least noticed during the time around the crime.

(end of part three)

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