“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
It has lately been my great honor and privilege, to journal the remembrances of one of the most unique and numinous individuals I have ever known. In context, over the course of a year, this man undoubtedly saved my life and in the process taught me a great deal about myself and the unobserved world around me. I should disclaim that I never intended to turn the episodes of our time together into memoirs, however the singular way with which Horatio Higgins Hollingsworth approached not only his life, but the analysis of things unseen, commanded at least a feeble, if not an entirely inadequate, telling of his seemingly clairvoyant skill as a forensic genius, and to my great benefit, dear friend.
My hesitation to make these things public is tempered by the fact that he is a wanted man, not in the traditional sense, but by forces outside the law, dark, evil, cunning, and bent on revenge for a myriad of reasons, including the incarceration and execution of some of the most baleful criminals the world has ever known. As his reputation for deciphering facts grew, he became highly sought after by organizations including the CIA and SEC as well as wealthy individuals and heads of foreign governments bent on saving large sums of money or restoring prized reputations where many had been destroyed. This might have been perceived as a godsend, but where one man is rescued and adulation abounds, another takes the fall, and of the latter, my uncle was forced to live a life in his waning years, fully incognito, in stealth and on the move.
If I appear somewhat ambiguous in the telling of these events, which in most cases I witnessed directly, or was made privy-to by his first-hand accounts, the reader should allow for certain artistic license, with full knowledge that real people and careers were involved and revelations regarding their circumstances could be considered damning and hurtful. With that inseplitudiation, I begin.
It was around mid-January of 2010, during a ferocious winter that neither the Farmer’s Almanac nor billion-dollar satellites predicted, when I received an email from my favorite aunt in Cincinnati. In it, she asked if I’d heard from her brother, who indicated he might be paying me a visit in the near future. Uncle Horatio was a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and an enigma in our family circle, where he was discussed regularly at events like holiday gatherings and reunions. The tales of his military exploits were exceeded only by the chin-wagging of his anomalous eccentricities that were a large part of his storied legend — like being arrested for running naked for hours in the snow along the fence-line of the Yongpyong military base in South Korea, or incidences of self-mutilation or self-inflicted poisons, one of which initiated an unsuccessful, yet highly publicized court martial.
My mother, who had been deceased for almost five years used to talk glowingly of her brother whom she called Horace, mostly for his athletic prowess on the basketball court, and as a scholar who graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average. After which, he accepted an appointment to West Point, where in 1960 he finished second in a class of 650. As a young second lieutenant, he served with distinction during three tours in Vietnam and then entered the forensic division of U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Forest Park, Georgia where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Stars and Stripes ran a profile on him in 1995 describing his profound expertise in the analysis of physical evidence at a crime scene. In one case, he proved how a four-star general and his adjutant stationed in Baumholder, Germany pulled off the heist of a priceless Lautrec that had been confiscated by the Nazi’s and was being packaged for a return to the Louvre. Paramount to the case were fingerprints left on the wall behind a commode used by the adjutant, who had taken an innocent leak on the night of the heist — this, in the bathroom adjacent to the storage warehouse where the painting was housed. Uncle Horatio successfully proved that men, particularly nervous, sweaty men, often lean forward against the back wall behind a toilet when conducting business and this was one of the first places he dusted when he began his investigation. When confronted with his apparent presence behind locked doors at the scene of the crime, on the night of the theft, the helpless adjutant made a full confession.
From the mid 1990’s on, he practically disappeared, and only an occasional letter, sometimes from the Ukraine or an unknown destination deep in the Amazonian jungle would find its way to my mother or Aunt Linda. Also peculiar, was that he would occasionally send my mother and aunt large sums of money, usually in $100 bills, tied in thick wads, mailed in inconspicuous envelopes with no return address. On one such mailing, he sent $50,000 with a note to my aunt requesting that she give me $10,000, for no apparent reason other than perhaps the serendipitous intuition of my emotional struggles after Candace, my beloved wife of thirty years, passed away.
To my knowledge, he hadn’t been seen in person by anyone in the family for over fifteen years. Aunt Linda’s email simply stated, “Your uncle Horatio may be visiting you shortly. I can’t say exactly when, because his letter to me was rather vague, as are most of his messages — however I can assure you, you’ll get along splendidly. He’ll be good for you — he’s a kind man full of energy and zeal, if not a bit overbearing, but I should also warn you, he also has a tendency to act strangely at times.…..Love always, Aunt Linda.”
I received the news with great excitement, considering that for the past year, I had been living depressed and alone in a small 1920’s clapboard home, in a secluded canyon five miles north of the historic gold mining, turned gambling town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. I had taken the residence on a month to month lease, one year to the day after Candace passed away, on the naïve assumption that the solitude and beauty of the Front Range might restore some of the happiness and zeal I’d once possessed prior to her death.
I’ve sometimes questioned the cruel hand of fate we’re occasionally dealt, particularly when we least expect it. Six months prior to my world being shattered after a meeting with my wife’s oncologist, I had retired from the Denver Police Department as a detective, with 90-percent of my former salary guaranteed for life, and a healthy 401K, plus full medical coverage, that assured us our golden years would be spent in relative comfort and security. Following her death, I turned to anti-depressants and whisky which I began consuming in ever greater amounts, so much so, that before I knew it, my detached garage was soon lined with the empty proofs of my depression.
Three weeks after receiving the email, at a time when winter had laid its cold white blanket on the countryside, I heard a rapid knock at the door. I rolled over to check my bedside clock which showed 4:00 a.m.. Coming off a sound sleep I was disoriented as the persistent knocking grew more forceful. “Hold on, hold on, I’m coming,” I said, as I stepped into my slippers and put on a cotton robe. The fire in the pellet stove had died out hours earlier, and the inside of the house was freezing. I could see the steam from my breath as I shouted that I’d be there shortly. I turned on the porch light, opened the door and before me stood my furtive, smiling Uncle Horatio.
He was taller than I remembered, thin and pale as a wintering aspen, clean-shaven with sharp, almost pointed features and piercing blue eyes. His hair was wiry and gray and pulled back in a ponytail that hung below his shoulders and he wore a coarse thick gray turtleneck sweater with green fatigue pants tucked into fur-lined, snow boots. He was holding a large green duffle bag over his shoulder.
“Truman, good gracious, look at you, you’ve grown old! I’m your Uncle Hollingsworth,” he said, extending both hands and grasping my shoulders. “Damn sorry to hear about your wife. I heard nothing but good things about her. I had a bride once in the Mekong Delta for about three months until she was blown to bits in a friendly mortar barrage. Three months was all we had together, and I was a broken man. Can’t imagine what losing a wife of thirty years must have been like. The last I heard, you were drinking yourself into an early grave — and you’ve filled out. You need to watch that — a five-percent increase in body fat over your target Body Mass Index could reduce your life expectancy by as much as fifteen percent, however living in a cold climate like this might just compensate for the arterial disintegration. Stick out your tongue,” he asked, with authority.
“Just as I suspected — you have liver issues. May I come in?”
“Of course, you’ve got to be freezing. I didn’t hear a car, but then again, I was sound asleep,” I said, moving to the pellet stove to light a fire.”
“That’s because I hiked here from Colorado Springs!”
“Colorado Springs! Good God that’s almost forty miles!” I proclaimed. “Can I at least offer you a cup of coffee?”
“No, no — never touch the stuff — the carcinogens will kill you with every modern cancer known to man. No, I stick with Curcuma Longa Tea, which is a herb of the ginger family, native to Southeast Asia. I learned about it when I was in Nam — remember that ugly war?”
Somewhat befuddled I replied, “Of course I do, but why in the world did you walk from Colorado Springs? A buck makes twenty, it’s below zero outside. Aunt Linda would have gladly given you my number,” I said, pulling out a chair at my rickety two-person dinette. “Please, have a seat.” I said, pointing to the only other chair in the room.
He did and continued, “Truman, I walked here because I chose to. It might seem unbelievable, but I have a standing heart rate that’s as low as most marathon runners. As for cold, this is nothing compared to the Yakutsk peninsula in a blizzard. I’ve inured myself to the cold in order to live longer. Did you know that living in a moist, cold climate can increase your life expectancy as much as twenty percent? According to Bergmann’s rule, man is better suited for colder climates and in fact will live longer if he stays there — but let’s not postulate about eco-geographic principles — I walked here by choice. It made me happy to do so. Could I trouble you though for a cup of hot water?” he asked, pulling out a hemp-cloth bag that contained what appeared to be his tea stash.
“There’s nothing like a hot brew in the morning. Like a try? Mind you, it takes some getting used to — sort of like boiling alfalfa,” he said, smiling as he filled a metal tea-ball full of the trimmings.
“Curcuma Longa does three things, first, its calorie free, second, it boosts the immune system, and third, it’s full of anti-oxidants. In Okinawa they drink it like westerners drink soda pop, and that small island has more centenarians than any other spot in the world.”
“You’re right, this must certainly be an acquired taste, I’d rather drink grass clippings,” I said, barely able to swallow the acrid brew.
“Well said!” he laughed, pounding his hand against the table. I realize it’s early, and I am undoubtedly an unexpected interruption in your normal routine. Why don’t you go back to bed and we’ll catch up when the sun comes. Do you have any plans?” he asked, holding his tea cup with both hands.
“Fortunately no, I’m fully retired,” I said.
“Fine, we’ll need plenty of time to get reacquainted — for now, all I need is a hard, level surface — that spot in front of the couch will do just fine.”
“But you’re welcome to use the couch,” I said, realizing this was no ordinary, perhaps even sane man in my presence.
“Absolutely not — the floor it is. I’ll see you at o-dawn-thirty,” he said, pulling out a straw mat and wool blanket from his duffle.
At precisely 8 a.m. I woke to a gentle alarm and went to the living room which was empty, save for Uncle Horatio’s neatly rolled sleeping mat. Through the window, I saw him practicing some form of standing meditation on the snow-covered ground. It was well below freezing and yet he was in short sleeves and sweat pants. His eyes were closed and his arms, legs and hands were moving in a slow, balanced rhythm.
An hour later, he came into the house red-cheeked and full of vigor where he found me reading an old Field and Stream magazine.
“Good morning Truman — it’s my unfortunate duty to report that your little Fitz is gone for good. Quite a shame, it looks like he put up a valiant fight, but you know Golden Eagles rarely miss their mark, particularly when attacking an unsuspecting small dog like a Lhasa Apso. Also, on an issue that remains entirely within your control, I recommend you stay strong in your attempt to quit smoking. We should also try to wean you off the Gabapentin. The fact that you’re nervous and depressed won’t help. We’ll just have to deal with that on a day to day basis.”
“You can stop right there,” I said, angrily rising from my seat. “You’re most welcome to stay, but I greatly resent you snooping through my personal details. How on earth do you know about my little Fitz and for God’s sakes have you stooped so low as to search through my cupboards?”
He frowned with his eyes, as he sat down across from me, “Now, now — without knowing my habits, I’d probably draw the same conclusions. I can be a tremendous bore at times, and for that, I apologize, but I assure you, I haven’t been through your cupboards or snooped around your garage or personal belongings. You see, my own sense of observation allows me to make assumptions and draw conclusions about things that might sometimes, be better left unsaid. I’ve made a living out of noticing details, and analyzing bits of information that when combined with logic, intuition, and a bit of luck, bring me to solid conclusions about people and problems that aren’t apparent to the casual observer. For example, please indulge me — by observation, I know you’re left-handed, yet ambidextrous. You drink, I’m guessing, about a fifth of Makers Mark Whisky a day, a sure sign of depression, and your preference for cigarettes is unfiltered Camels, that is, until about a week ago when you went cold turkey. You play a steel-stringed acoustic guitar with proficiency and I imagine are beginning to experience the early stages of peripheral neuropathy. How’s that?”
I sat down and looked around the room, completely flummoxed. There were no whisky bottles, no cigarettes, no prescription medications and my guitar was in my room on a stand next to the bed. “That is amazing, you are one hundred percent correct. You are either clairvoyant or the ghost of a fictional detective come to America as a hypochondrial old man. That was more than simple observation, it was witchcraft,” I said, shaking my head. Let’s start with your conclusion that I’m left handed. You haven’t seen me write.”
He held up a hand and said, “Allow me — I’m sure you’ll see that through trained observation to detail, these conclusions are nothing more than an obvious assemblage of facts gathered into logical conclusions. I assume you’re left handed by the way you stoked the fire last night and reached for the coffee pot. When performing menial tasks, we typically lead with the hand that is strongest and yet I observed obvious callouses on the index, middle and fourth finger of your left hand, typical of a right-handed guitar player, and particularly one who prefers heavier steel, acoustic strings. The fact that you lead with your left hand but play guitar with your right, makes you impressively ambidextrous. The small shard of maroon wax used to seal the Kentucky whiskey-maker’s bottle lying near the spent ribbon of a pack of camel cigarettes under your couch solidified, with aide of my magnifying glass, the conclusion as to your preference for tobacco and strong drink. Studies have shown that a person of your height and weight rarely consume more than a pint in a day without exhibiting the tell-tale yellowing of the cheeks and lazy tongue. I deduced that you quit recently, because to your credit, the house has been cleaned and dusted within the past week, and save for the wax shard and innocuous cigarette strip under the couch there are no other obvious signs of smoking save for minute particles of tobacco ash on the saucer that sits on your coffee table.”
“Brilliant,” I said. “But how on earth could you possibly know that the doctor has recently given me a prognosis of neuropathy?”
“That, my suffering nephew, was one of the easier conclusions I made. Even now, like last night, I observe you clenching your hands in an attempt to bring back the feeling that is surely disappearing as a result of the deterioration in nerve endings associated with your neuropathy and Gabapentin is the standard prescription for this prognosis. Based on your age and the scabs I observed on your shin just below your robe while we were sitting last night, I’d say that unless you make a serious attempt to modify your lifestyle, which includes eliminating processed carbohydrates, you’ll be a candidate for the surgeon’s gigli saw within five years.
“And what about my little Fitz? I asked, “I’ve been a near wreck since he disappeared several days ago?”
“That took a bit more work. I knew your little companion’s name was Fitz from correspondence I received from my sister describing her concern over the passing of your Candace and the fact that you were living alone with a puppy who she mentioned by name. The picture affixed to the side of your refrigerator is clearly that of a Lhasa Apso, though certainly not of pure-breeding. While on my morning reconnoiter, I observed the scene of Fitz’s gallant last stand with a Golden Eagle, one hundred yards across the clearing from an area that would have been my first choice as an ambushers blind. Fortunately for you and me, but unfortunate for our courageous Fitz, there was no ex-KGB assassin, only the sharpened sight and talons of one of North America’s largest and most lethal, birds of prey. Judging by the feathers and hair and spent blood at the scene, I’d say the Golden Eagle may well reconsider the next time he sites-in on a small dog.”
Several days passed and while I was concerned that the peculiar habits of my pontificating uncle were somewhat distracting, I was glad to have his company. I discovered that he had an acerbic wit and was moved easily to laughter. He was in magnificent health with boundless energy and I was hard-pressed to keep up with him on our twice-daily walks. His knowledge of forensic science and the practical application of observing and gathering evidence was astounding. As a former detective, I was fascinated by his international tales of crime, that in some cases, included heads of states and vast sums of money.
He was also a man who looked constantly over his shoulder, as if he were being stalked, and his daily security routine made me wonder if we would indeed be attacked by some highly trained assassin brought to life out of a Robert Ludlum novel. To my knowledge, he never carried a weapon which made my Rugger 45 mm short-barrel pistol a most welcome addition on our excursions.
One morning as a cold front bore down from the northwest, with a sky like a cauldron of charcoal, I received a call from Samantha “Sammy” Bass, Lieutenant of the Cripple Creek Police Department. She alternated between chewing and sipping something as she spoke. “Good morning Truman, our new deputy, Bam Johnson took a 911 dispatch around 5 a.m. at that big mansion overlooks Gillette Flats, owned by the wheel who made a killing in the dot-com bubble years ago, used to come into town dropping U.S. Grants like they were quarters. I don’t know if you read about it, but his wife disappeared last spring, I mean flat disappeared, no cell phone, credit cards, ATM’s — nothing. Common knowledge was, they fought every night, gun firing, World War III type screaming matches. She came into the station one night looking like she’d been three rounds in a cage fight, but wouldn’t press charges. Two weeks later she vanished. We questioned Dot Com, searched his property, put out an APB, and got absolutely nowhere. Case turned as cold as the storm moving in from the north this morning. Well things just got interesting. Last night, neighbors in the flats thought they heard dogs fighting. Turns out wolves broke into a utility shed on Dot Com’s property and were playing tug of war with his body parts. By the time Bam showed up, it was pretty ugly. I know you like these things and I’m short staffed. You wanna take a look before the Feds roll in? I figure we got about half a day, before I make the official call? Consider yourself deputized. If you’re in, I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
“I’ll be there Sam, and I’ve got a friend I think you’ll like to meet.”
“Trust me on this.”
Uncle Horatio was excited about the prospect of examining a possible crime scene and did a quick inventory of his modest canvas backpack that contained his forensic tools including a handheld UV light, magnifying glass, fingerprint kit, and various supplies like latex gloves, tweezers, small blades and plastic bags used for collecting evidence. “You get calls like this a lot?” he asked, as we drove under dark clouds towards the north end of the flats where the mansion stood in a silhouette on the bordering hillside.
“Not really, I met the Lieutenant at a Christmas function about a year ago and we mostly exchange war stories from our past. She was a detective in Phoenix before getting out of the rat race to live in a place where she can raise cattle and see stars at night. No, there’s not much crime in Cripple Creek or within a twenty five mile radius for that matter. We have coffee once a week and she vents to me about budget problems and the small town mentality that has everyone in everyone else’s business. She’s also widowed which gives us a bit of a bond.”
Forty five minutes later we arrived at Gillette Flats which was once part of the thriving Cripple Creek Mining district that produced more gold than any other area in the U.S… It’s a broad, barren meadow with a few skeletal brick ruins that sits five miles north-east of Cripple Creek under the towering western slope of Pikes Peak. At one time, it held a small town of some renown with boarding houses, saloons, a gambling casino and race track, before slowly falling into decay. Our destination was a palatial log-house estate that sat on a bluff overlooking the meadow. The house was visible for miles around and was the home of C.J. Cooper, a wealthy investment banker who made his fortune during the dot-com bubble of the mid 90’s. An ornate amber-colored log gate that was open with “Rags to Riches Ranch” scrolled in rod iron above the crossbeam guarded the entrance. The weather was already bragging its vicious intent with a biting wind when Uncle Horatio told me to stop.
“Let me out here,” he said, before we went any further.
“You sure, it’s at least a quarter mile to the house. We may get dumped on any minute.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure — I can guarantee, if there was a crime committed here last night, what happened at this gate will be illustrative, and if I don’t work quickly, this weather may ruin everything.”
“Have it your way, I’m gonna continue on up.”
In my rear-view mirror I could see that Uncle Horatio had already removed the magnifying glass from his bag and was on his knees before I was a hundred yards up the hill. When I reached the front of the house, I saw Lieutenant Sammy Bass’s Explorer and another Jeep with Cripple Creek Police Department painted on the side. I waived to Sammy who stood at the top of an ostentatious flight of rock-paved stairs, the color of pink granite, in the shape of an alluvial fan talking to Bam Johnson, her rookie deputy, one-year out of the Police Academy in Colorado Springs. She was average height, shaped like a butternut squash with short-cropped dirty-blond, hair that was beginning to show hints of grey, mostly hidden beneath a beige PD baseball cap. A weathered down overcoat covered her body to her knees, and she wore black jeans over chestnut colored riding boots.
“Welcome to Siberia Truman, glad you could make it — you’ve met Bam before haven’t you?” She asked, holding a clipboard and fidgeting with a camera that hung over her shoulder.
“Yea, he’s reminded me how poor I am at eight-ball a few times at Ralf’s,” I said, gesturing to him, as he returned the wave, while bracing the open doorway with his other free hand.
“We got some serious weather on the way. Let’s get out to the shed before this really turns ugly,” she said, walking along the wide, wooden wrap-around porch to a stairway on the west side of the house. “I imagine there’s a bunch of wolves somewhere in these hills feeling pretty satisfied about now,” she continued. “Dot Com was a pretty big guy and probably rivaled any decent buck those guys have eaten in the past year,” she said.
“You say the feds will be here in a few hours,” I asked as we entered a large wooden storage facility that was immaculate with a polished cement floor, panel siding and portentously organized metal shelves along both walls. The area was well-lit with several troughs of florescent lights, hanging from the ceiling.
“Yea, I haven’t placed the call, figured we do our thing before it turns into a circus. I’ll catch hell though if I don’t make it soon. This guy is major money, and I’m sure has connections that could ring my bell if we’re not careful. Besides, outside of a few bears wreaking havoc on a bus outside Johnny Nolan’s Casino last month, this is the biggest thing we’ve seen in over a year. I’m warning you, it’s pretty ugly,” she said, as we walked towards the rear of the building where flies were already buzzing around a blood-stained heap that was once the richest man in Teller County, Colorado.
“What’s that large egg shape underneath his rib cage?” I asked, pointing to an Ostrich Egg sized wooden sculpture of some sort, lying underneath his mangled upper torso.
“I’m not sure, but whatever it is, he was probably trying to protect it. There’s other’s lying across the floor, as if they’ve been thrown,” she said, pointing to broken pieces of similar egg shapes scattered across the floor. I’m guessing he pulled them out of the box that’s sitting by the work bench.
“Why do you think that,” I asked.
“Just look at how anal this guy was. Every storage box is identical and filed alphabetically. It’s the only gap I see,” she said, walking to a series of uniformed metal shelves a few feet away.
“You said you thought he was sick before the wolves had their feast — why?” I asked.
“That was Bam’s observation when he arrived. He said it appeared as though Dot Com had the runs and was vomiting blood all over the entryway. In fact, that’s what you’re smelling right now. Geeze that’s ripe. Wolves must have picked up that scent, the same way we smell smoked tri-tip,” she continued. “Might also be why what’s left of his face is that dark shade of purple — that kind of facial swelling wouldn’t occur this quickly, not after the blood’s been drained from his body.”
I turned to Sammy who was focusing her camera on the body. “So we’ve got a rich man, shits his pants and vomits in the entryway, makes his way out back without a sweater in this weather, leaving a brown trail of fecal matter along the way, drags himself to the shed, pulls down a box with a bunch of large wooden Easter Eggs, gets pissed off and chucks all but one, which he tries to hatch while being devoured by a bunch of hungry carnivores.”
“Yea, that’s about it — Bam, you find anything else in the house that looked weird,” she asked, turning to Bam Johnson, who was covering his nose with his left forearm.
“Nothing. When I got here, the porch light was on and the door was open. I could smell the guys crap from the bottom of the stairs. Looked like he was one sick puppy, but I didn’t see anything else inside that looked suspicious. I heard the wolves fighting out back and ran them off with my flashlight. I’d swear I saw one of them drop about a hundred yards out back toward that stand of Aspens that lines the clearing.”
“Don’t touch a thing!” a voice shouted from the entryway. “That man was poisoned with an extremely deadly compound. Have any of you come in contact with any of the bodily fluids exhibited at this scene?” Uncle Horatio commanded, walking briskly to the dead body.
“And who the hell are…”
“Lieutenant, this is a matter of life and death, I repeat, have any of you touched anything since you arrived?” he said, turning to face us from his kneeling position.
“Sam, this is Uncle Horatio, the man I spoke to you about.”
Uncle Horatio glared hard at me, “Truman, I can’t convey the gravity of this situation in any clearer terms. If you or the lieutenant or the corporal touched anything on this man’s person,” you will potentially die within minutes. There is no quick antidote for thallium poisoning.
“No sir, I haven’t touched his body or anything other than the door knob,” Bam said nervously as he rubbed his bare hands on his pants.
“Thallium?” I interrupted.
“Yes, thallium, the new-millennium poison of choice for assassins — it is nearly undetectable and easily concealed by virtue of the fact that it is water soluble. When administered, even in diminutive quantities, the effects are quite deadly. And that, by the way, is a “Matryoshka doll”, often mistakenly referred to as a babushka doll lying underneath the poor fellow’s rib cage. I’ll wager it’s painted with a mother figure. The other dolls which lie in pieces, around us, represent children in a Russian family. This dying man was providing a clue by clutching the doll,” he said, bending down to examine the wooden figure with his magnifying glass. “Yes, as I anticipated, it’s the mother figure,” he said, standing, then walking back towards the door. “I’ll need to take another brief look in the entryway of the house and my observations here will be concluded. I also recommend you calling whatever form of animal control you have in the jurisdiction and advise them that they’ll likely find several dead wolves in close proximity to the house, all contaminated with the same deadly poison,” he finished, then rose and quickly headed back towards the door.
“He really does need to work on his social skills,” I said, turning to Sammy, who had a perplexed look on her face. “He’s actually a renowned forensic investigator, retired from the Army where he actually wrote a book on the subject,” I said, trying to make apologies for the brisk treatment we’d been given.
“I’m not sure whether to arrest him or thank him,” Sammy said, cupping her hands to her mouth for warmth.
Back at the house, standing in the massive doorway we found Uncle Horatio who’d put on latex gloves holding what appeared to be an expensive umbrella, with an ornately carved, crooked wooden handle. The blood-covered, silver tip was as sharp as a heavy-gauge needle used for injections.
“As I surmised, this is the murder weapon. Under a magnifying glass you can see the initials ГУМ, which is the trademark of Russia’s most famous department store in the Kitai-Gorod district of Moscow. The killer was kind enough to place the umbrella among the others in the bin by the door, almost as if to flaunt the execution. I noticed the distinctive, crooked handle the minute I arrived, which is why I moved quickly to your aid in the storage facility to warn you,” he said, covering the tip with a small plastic bag from his backpack.
My apologies for the drama, but thallium is one of the more lethal poisons known to man — you might recall reading about the assassination of KGB defector Nikolay Khokhlov or the journalist Shchekochikhin a few years back. Some also suspect it might have been the poison used in an attempt on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s life in 2004. The compound is water soluble and often slipped into the hot drink of an innocent victim. In our case, the poison-coated tip of this umbrella was turned into a killing weapon and I imagine, thrust into our wretched wife beater the minute he opened the door. He exhibited very little struggle as the lethal dose had an immediate and debilitating effect, causing almost instant diarrhea, vomiting and convulsions. I’m amazed that he had the forbearance to make his way to the building out back.”
“Wait, are you saying a Russian assassin murdered this man?” I asked.
“To be precise, a heavy-set Russian woman, approximately five-feet, four-inches tall, one-hundred-sixty to one-hundred-seventy pounds, of modest means, physically strong, who walked with a measured limp, probably from a mild stroke that occurred within the last few years.”
“How on earth did you….”
“Truman, you really must…read my book. The reason I felt compelled to inspect the area around the gate was because any vehicle used for the crime would have likely stopped there. There is an intercom on the portal that someone, in this case, our killer, used to address the murder victim, who likely recognized the visitor, and opened the gate to let her in. A careful examination of the ground showed a pair of woman’s snow boots, approximately size-7, worn by a person who left the footprint of a stout woman. The distinctive “star” on the ball of the sole is found on Khombu snow boots manufactured in Russia. I concluded the woman was of modest means by the tread of the new-tires that could only come from a small, compact, rental car, not of this area, which would typically be characterized by a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle. I deduced she was strong because only a woman with respectable strength would have the ability use the heavy umbrella as a lethal sword point, executing a thrust that would have been the envy of any avid fencer.”
“So you’re saying a Russian woman killed the victim using a poison-tipped umbrella as the weapon. Why?” Lieutenant Sammy asked.
“We can only surmise, but she was likely the mother of the wife who disappeared last spring. Her motivation must have been exceptional to have travelled halfway across the globe on such an ominous mission. As Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Revenge is the act of passion, vengeance the act of justice. Lieutenant, you can send out an APB or you can allow the Feds to investigate the scene and make their own, thorough, time-consuming week-long assessment, that will by all accounts lead them to a country that Napoleon and Hitler should have surely avoided, whose winters makes these look docile, and at a cost that would momentously surpass the limited budget of the Cripple Creek Police Department.
Audio rendition of the above story