The day was warm but autumn was soon coming. The leaves were barely starting to turn. If you looked carefully you could see a leaf here or there with one of the rich colors of change. A deep breath told you: Summer was ending.
Madame Marina Karitska was at Sunday brunch at her friend Faber-Jones’s house on Cavendish Square. The weather was nice enough that seating had been set up outside for them to enjoy the warm sun as well as the wonderful food. Faber-Jones had once lived in a mansion with his wife, but after she left him he had moved to this smaller, yet still magnificent house. He had kept in his employ his cook and her husband, and the brunch the cook had prepared was delicious: small mini souffles and quiches, accompanied by pieces of fresh fruit rounded out with strong, if American, coffee.
The party guests were mostly known to her. As always there was Faber-Jones’ medical doctor, Berkowitz, and Lieutenant Pruden and his fiancée, Jan Cooper Hyer. Of course there was Faber-Jones’ daughter, Laurie, who she had helped find her way in life after the young woman fell in with a cult. Laurie had brought along a friend, a pretty brunette with a very shy smile.
“I met Beth in college,” Laurie explained. “She has a bit of a puzzle and we’re hoping you might help. That is, if you don’t mind,” she pleaded.
“Of course,” said Madame Karitska. “Come, sit down here with me. What is your puzzle?”
Laurie and Beth sat down at the small table. “It’s ok, Beth,” Laurie said to her friend. “You can tell her. She’ll try to help.”
“This will sound weird, but it’s about my father,” Beth started. “I never knew him, and my mother died five weeks ago. She never told me much about him, just that he left when I was a baby.”
“I am so sorry to hear that,” said Madame Karitska. “But there is something more?”
“Yesterday I was at work when a man came in and asked for me by name. When I went to the reception desk, he said he was my father!”
“Did your mother have any pictures of him?” Madame Karitska inquired. “Or something else he left behind?”
“No, nothing,” replied Beth. “But I have picture of this man.” She pulled out a computer printer picture of a man with dark hair and a Van Dyke beard. “It’s not very good, it was taken from the cameras that watch the reception desk.”
Madame Karitska studied the picture, and asked, “What is his name?”
“Henry Billings. I’ve always used my mother’s last name.” Beth shrugged. “He says he just wants to get to know me. I’m supposed to meet him tomorrow night for dinner.”
“Something about him makes me nervous,” interjected Laurie. “Beth said he couldn’t remember the name of Beth’s mother correctly, or where they were living when she was born.”
“But that’s easy to explain, it’s been so long,” Beth protested. “Karen and Katherine are close enough to be confused, and my parents were living in New York City when I was born but moved to Trafton when I was only a month old.”
“Still,” argued Laurie, with some heat. “A father should at least remember where he was living when his child was born!”
“Has he asked for money, perhaps?” suggested Madame Karitska. “Has he said anything to give reason to believe he has a bad motive?”
“No,” admitted Beth. “But he says he wants to talk about something ‘important’ when we have dinner tomorrow.”
“Have you talked with the police?” asked Madame Karitska. “Lieutenant Pruden would be happy to help you, I am sure.” Pruden and his fiancée had been listening to an elderly distinguished man introduced as Simon Brimmer, who had been talking about old radio shows. Upon hearing Pruden’s name he and Jan came down to where the three women sat.
Laurie quickly recapped Beth’s tale but Beth, blushing, added, “I spoke with a nice police officer at the local precinct. He told me that there was nothing to be done, as it was not a crime to pretend to be someone’s father. And they couldn’t do any kind of background check on him without proof of criminal activity.”
“Unfortunately, he was probably correct,” said Lieutenant Pruden. “The police are so backed up with serious crimes that many precincts are under orders to only run checks on those they hold suspect. But if you give me his information, I would be happy to try to slip in the request.”
With thanks from Beth, and relief on Laurie’s face, Beth wrote out the information she had on her possible father. “This is the address he gave me,” she said.
“I’ll try to look into it as soon as possible,” promised Lieutenant Pruden. “But I must ask -- do you have any money he could be after?”
“Oh, no,” replied Laurie. “I make a decent salary at my job as a computer programmer. My mother left me a few pieces of jewelry, nothing very expensive.”
“Here is my address,” said Madame Karitska, giving Beth a piece of paper. “Would you come by on Tuesday, in the morning, to tell me of your dinner?”
“Of course,” replied Beth, and politely excused herself.
“Do you suspect something, too,” Laurie asked, turning to Madame Karitska.
“I only sense that she also believes something is amiss, but is reluctant to speak it aloud,” said Madame Karitska.
“Sense?” said Brimmer. “The young lady is just nervous due to this change in familial status. Surely you don’t believe that someone would claim to be the young woman’s father for some nefarious reason?”
“People have claimed family relationship for all sorts of reasons,” commented Madame Karitska.
“Madame, I assure you,” said the man with a pointed sniff. “I have quite many years experience with solving crimes and know exactly of what I am speaking.”
“I see,” was all Madame Karitska said.
“Madame Karitska,” said Faber-Jones. “Have you met Mr. Brimmer? Simon Brimmer was well known for his mystery-solving radio shows years ago.”
"Surely you remember 'The Casebook of Simon Brimmer'?" Brimmer inquired. "It was a very popular show, on which I solved hundreds of mysteries and crimes."
"Pisces Records is thinking of making albums of some of his best shows," said Faber-Jones. "This could be a big hit for the record company."
“Perhaps it will interest people in a new show," said Brimmer. "And, I assure you, Simon Brimmer has not lost his touch.”
Tuesday came quickly. Monday had been a day of errands, with only one appointment, a regular, and the rest of the day spent shopping. Groceries from the market, and later a visit to her favorite thrift shop had found a smart dress at an excellent price.
On Tuesday she had no appointments until the early afternoon and busied herself with chores and housework until Beth arrived. They had set no particular time save for “morning”. Madame Karitska knew patience and would have plenty of time whenever the troubled young woman arrived.
When noon came and Beth had not arrived, she began to worry. When her one o’clock appointment arrived, she urged herself to put aside her fears for Beth to concentrate on her client. Mrs. Begely, a regular, was always fearful of her husband’s future and wanted constant reassurances that he was neither wasting his time with his career or casting his eyes upon other feminine waters. As always, she was able to reassure her client that all was well. She had not met him in person but had handled some of his items, brought by his wife. Through psychometry, she was able to determine that he was a rather mild man who loved his wife deeply, despite her fears otherwise.
At four o’clock, with still no sign from Beth, she set off to Sixth Street to visit Help Save Tomorrow, where Laurie worked for her friend Daniel Henry. Daniel was an ex-convict dedicated to helping the poor and homeless that surrounded him. The neighborhood was poor and somewhat dangerous. Madame Karitska had lived in worse in the past and walked without fear but with caution. Bravery does not mean foolishness.
Upon arrival at Help Save Tomorrow she walked in to find Daniel and Laurie sorting food into grocery bags. Thinking of how she had been able to afford her own groceries just the day before, she understood. They tried to hand out bags of groceries every week, when possible, thanks to donations from nearby churches and restaurants in the city.
Her friend Daniel greeted her warmly. “The nearby chain bakery and sandwich place just promised to send over all their leftover bread every morning,” Daniel said cheerfully. “We may be able to hand out bread every day now.”
“That is wonderful news, my friend,” said Madame Karitska. “I wonder, could I borrow Laurie for a while?”
“Sure,” replied Daniel. “She’s due for a break anyway. Just please make sure to bring her back by seven o’clock, that’s when we hand out the groceries and it can get hectic.” Madame Karitska quickly agreed.
“What did Beth tell you about her dinner with her alleged father?” Laurie asked excitedly, as she rushed over.
“But that is why I came,” Madame Karitska said. “Beth never showed today. I am worried, do you know where she lives?”
“Of course,” Laurie replied. “Let me grab my bag and we’ll head over.”
The walk was not far, but both were quiet with their own thoughts until they arrived.
“I have a spare key,” Laurie said as they entered the apartment building. “Beth gave me one when her mother was ill, so that I could water her plants.”
They entered the studio apartment to find a disaster. A couch had cushions shredded, chairs were broken, books thrown onto the floor, clothing and food scattered everywhere.
“Oh my God!” cried Laurie. “Beth? Are you ok?”
Madame Karitska grabbed Laurie’s arm and pulled her back to the entrance of the apartment. “We should not go in until we have contacted the police. I will go find a phone and call Lieutenant Pruden.”
But Laurie had a cell phone. After helping Madame Karitska dial her detective friend, they waited in the hallway for his arrival. “Lieutenant Pruden was quite clear - it was not safe to enter until he or another officer arrived.”
“But what if Beth is in there and hurt?” Laurie said, visibly frustrated.
“I do not think that is likely. We could see the whole apartment from the entrance and there was no sign of her.” Madame Karitska understood Laurie’s impatience. “They will be here soon, and we will find the truth then.”
It was no more than 5 minutes until Lieutenant Pruden arrived with other officers and, surprisingly, the elderly gentleman from Faber-Jones’ party the other day. “Madame Karitska, you remember Simon Brimmer, don’t you? He was visiting the station and insisted upon coming along.”
“Of course, how do you do, Mr Brimmer?” she inquired politely.
“There’s definitely nobody here, Lieutenant,” called out one of the officers inspecting the damage.
After speaking with the other officers for a few minutes, Lieutenant Pruden told the others it was safe to come in. “Just don’t touch anything,” he cautioned.
“Beth’s jewelry box is missing! “ cried Laurie. “I don’t understand. The items in there were only worth about a hundred dollars. Most of it was costume jewelry.”
“Miss Faber-Jones,” said Mr Brimmer. “Do you know what hung on that wall?” He was pointing to a place where a nail stood and a rectangle of paint near it was slightly darker.
“An old painting,” replied Laurie. “Beth said it had been her mother’s favorite. She kept it to have something to remember her.”
“Was it worth any money?” asked Brimmer.
Laurie laughed. “Beth said her mother found it at a yard sale. It was a pretty picture of a stream going through a meadow, that’s all.”
“There you have it,” announced Brimmer. “Clearly this was the work of some hooligan who was looking for money for some nefarious purpose. Likely drugs.” He looked smug.
“Then where is Beth?” asked Madame Karitska, gently.
“Lieutenant Pruden, is it safe for Madame Kartiska to touch something yet?” asked Laurie.
Pruden checked with his colleagues and then told them that anything on the west side of the apartment was safe.
Madame Karitska opened a cabinet in the little kitchenette and removed an obviously well-worn, used coffee mug. She held it quietly for a moment.
“I sense fear, but little more. It is hard to tell...” she trailed off.
“Lieutenant Pruden!” Brimmer said loudly. “Are you going to tell me your police force encourages the use of so-called psychic means?”
“Why, yes, Mr Brimmer, it does,” Pruden answered calmly. “Madame Karitska is not just a friend - she has been instrumental in some of our most important cases.”
Brimmer audibly snorted, and said, “In my day we never would have resorted to such clear nonsense.”
Madame Karitska said nothing but was privately amused. Clearly this Simon Brimmer had no idea of the talents of his record producer friend, nor others who had been at the party on Sunday.
“Mr. Brimmer,” Pruden said. “In my day, we take all the help we can get.” He turned to Laurie. “We’ll put out an alert for her and I’ll notify Missing Persons myself. We’ll do everything we can to find her.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Lieutenant Pruden, were you able to find any information about this Henry Billings?” asked Madame Karitska.
“I’d almost forgotten,” he responded. “No, there was no information at all. It was kind of strange. There was absolutely nothing, not even a parking ticket. Like he was some kind of ghost.”
“Hmmm,” was Madame Karitska’s only reply.
When the police were done with the apartment, Madame Karitska tried touching a few more items of Beth’s, to no avail. The young woman had disappeared and no one was sure where - or why.
It was a golden spring day. That was the only way she could describe it. She felt harmony in the air, as if the budding trees and crocuses poking out from the dirt would wash away the drabness that winter days could bring.
Madame Karitska carefully walked up the steps to her home, the first floor of a brownstone on Eighth street. Although the building was a bit shabby, the yellow door seemed today to be part of the welcoming of the new season, although deep down she knew it was really just another affectation by her artist landlord, Kristan. It had been the yellow door that had brought her to this apartment, after a dream in which she saw the building with the sign that currently sat in her living room window, which read, simply, “Madame Karitska, Readings.”
In the few minutes that remained before her next appointment, she attended to coffee in her kitchen and put her purchases away.
Her three o’clock appointment came right on time, and she ushered them in. “Coffee for you, Mrs. Anderson? I have American and Turkish. And milk for you, young man?” she asked.
“American, please,” said the woman, who couldn’t have been older than twenty five. “Milk for Billy would be fine, thank you.”
In a few moments Madame Karitska came back with two cups of coffee and a tall glass of cold milk, as well as a plate of Oreo cookies. She placed them in front of her clients and said, “Now, I understand there is a lost dog?”
“I’m sure you deal with much more important things,” the woman said, wringing her hands. She was dressed simply in pants and a plain button-down shirt, and the boy with her was showing signs of outgrowing his clothing. “But Billy has been so upset since we lost Buster.”
“Losing a friend is a serious thing, whether human or animal,” said Madame Karitska. “Let us see what we can do to find him.” She turned to the boy and asked, “Did you bring something of his?”
The little boy handed her a paper bag, which contained a metal chain and a small rubber toy. “This was all we could find,” explained the mother. “Buster had been kept on a run outside when we weren’t home, during the day. He had a big doghouse, a self-filling water bowl, and lots of room to run around. The other day I came home from picking up Billy at day care to find Buster missing. Someone had unhooked his collar from the chain on his run.”
Billy started to cry. “I want Buster!” he sobbed.
“I am so sorry, Billy,” Madame Karitska said solemnly. “I will try to see if these things will help us find him. If you can quietly have some milk and cookies for a few minutes, I will tell you what I see, is that alright?”
Billy hiccuped, but nodded. He calmed down and took a big drink of milk as Madame Karitska handled first the chain and then the toy.
“Buster is a big white fluffy dog, is he not?” she asked.
“Why, yes!” said Mrs. Anderson. “Buster is a purebred Samoyed. My husband got him just before Billy was born, before he lost his job. That’s one of the reasons Buster spends his days outside, because Samoyeds need lots of space to run around. In the evenings we bring him inside and keep him with us.”
“He’s warm and fuzzy!” added Billy.
“Buster loves you very much, Billy,” said Madame Karitska. “He did not want to go with whomever took him. Mrs. Anderson, is there anyone who did not like the dog. A neighbor, perhaps?”
Mrs. Anderson looked startled. “There’s Mr. Leigh down the street. One time he stopped my husband and told him how cruel we were to leave the dog outside. My husband tried to explain that some big dogs need a lot of space but Mr. Leigh kept arguing. Eventually my husband gave up and walked away. We talked about it after dinner that night but I nearly forgot about it until now.”
Madame Karitska thought for a few minutes. “I have a few ideas, I must talk to some people. It may take a little while, but I feel we can find Buster. Billy,” she said, turning to the young boy. “Do you think you can be brave for a few more days?”
The little boy nodded. “As long as Buster comes home,” he said.
“I will do everything I can to find him,” said Madame Karitska.
Not long after the Andersons left she gathered her purse and walked around the corner to the police station, to visit her friend Detective Lieutenant Pruden. She found him at his desk with a familiar visitor. It was the elderly radioman she had met at Faber-Jones’ party months before, Simon Brimmer.
As he saw Madame Karitska approach he jumped up, shaking Brimmer’s hand, and saying, “It was so nice to visit with you, sir, but you must excuse me. Madame Karitska and I have a dinner date tonight which nearly slipped my mind. It must have been the excitement of your tales which caused me to forget. Please do forgive me.”
“Of course, dear man,” said Brimmer, with a magnanimous wave of his hand. “Perhaps we will talk again soon.”
“Delighted, delighted,” murmured Pruden as he ushered Madame Karitska out the door.
“And what was that all about, may I ask?” she asked him as they settled into his favorite Italian restaurant. “We had no dinner plans.”
“Brimmer is a nice enough guy, a bit full of himself, but he has story after story,” Pruden explained. “He knows the Chief from way back and so he’s taken to hanging around to replay ‘the good old days’. Apparently one of the Chief’s first assignments was working under the famous Detective Inspector Richard Queen and his assistant, Tom Velie. Velie took a shine to the rookie that is now the Chief, so he got to see a lot of Queen’s work first hand.”
Pruden gave a short laugh. “Funny thing, though. The Chief told me that Brimmer was always coming up with theories about crimes that Inspector Queen was investigating, and they always turned out to be wrong. Worse, it was usually Queen’s son who proved Brimmer wrong.”
“Inspector Queen’s son was a policeman as well?” asked Madame Karitska.
“No, no,” said Pruden. “That was the worst part -- for Brimmer. Ellery Queen, the son, wrote mystery novels. He was so absent minded he was a danger behind the wheel of a car, but boy! could he see through a mystery and solve it.” Pruden sighed. “What I wouldn’t do to have an Ellery Queen around today. Fortunately, I do have a Madame Karitska.”
Madame Karitska took the comment in the spirit it was meant and thanked her friend.
After they had began to eat, she told him the tale of the missing Samoyed. “Why would one steal a dog?” she inquired.
“A purebred?” said Pruden. “A lot of reasons. The easiest is simple re-sale. A purebred dog from a clean, championship line is worth a lot of money. Do you know the dog’s pedigree?”
“No, I did not know to ask,” said Madame Karitska. “I have known many dogs in my life but very few champion dogs.”
“You should also ask if the dog is chipped,” suggested Pruden. At her puzzled look, he continued, “These days dogs can get a tiny microchip implanted in them. It will contain a number in a registration database. All shelters and veterinarians have chip scanners, and if the dog came from a quality breeder, it probably got a chip as a puppy. Even if the owners information isn’t in the database, the name and location of the breeder will be.”
“Fascinating!” she declared. “It continues to amaze me what technology can do.”
After dinner Lieutenant Pruden walked her home, where she called Mrs. Anderson to inquire about the chip and ask after Billy.
“I don’t know about any chip, but I can tell you the name of the breeder,” said Mrs Anderson. “Billy is still so upset. He won’t eat and he fusses at bedtime. Do you think this information will help find Buster?”
“I do indeed,” comforted Madame Karitska. “I will be back in touch within a few days.”
The first thing the following morning she called Pruden and gave him the information about the breeder. He called her back an hour later.
“The id chip now has a flag in the database,” he told her. “If the chip is scanned and the database checked, it will now contact me.”
“Excellent,” she said. Then she excused herself to prepare for her ten o’clock appointment.
Her client, a young man she had not seen before, arrived right on time. Pots of both American and Turkish coffee had just finished brewing. To her delight, the client chose Turkish coffee, and she brought out the small pot and cups and served, ushering her client to a comfortable seat.
“My name is Robert Evans,” said the man. “I have an odd problem and I don’t know where else to turn right now. I overheard a woman at the library talking about you and thought, well...”
“I understand,” said Madame Karitska. “People worry that I may be a fraud. This is one reason I do not set a fixed price for my readings. You may pay what you feel appropriate.”
Mr. Evans seemed to think this over. “Ok, that seems logical, and fair. Let me tell you my situation. I work from home four days a week. My wife works at an office so I’m the one who is there when the children get home from school, or is with them if they are home sick from school. But I still need to do my job, so we decided we had enough to afford help. For four hours a day a woman named Susan comes in the afternoon and is part nanny, part cleaning person. She keeps the children out of my hair until it’s after five and I can stop work, and she helps keep the place tidy.”
“That sounds helpful,” she commented.
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Evans. “But something odd has been happening lately. I keep my wallet in the top drawer of my dresser. I never keep a lot of cash in there, but lately twenty dollars has gone missing every Wednesday. I’m afraid it’s Susan, but I have no proof. I don’t want to go to the police until I have a reason to start suspecting her. Can you help?”
“Quite possibly,” replied Madame Karitska. “May I first ask, how do you pay Susan?”
“Every Friday by a check,” Mr. Evans said. “Is that important?”
“Perhaps,” she replied. “Do you have your wallet with you?”
“Well, yes,” he said, removing it from his back pocket. “You aren’t going to make any more money disappear are you?” he said with a half smile.
“I promise you that I will only try to get a reading from it. I use something called psychometry, where I can obtain images from objects.”
“I see,” Mr. Evans said with doubt clear in his voice. “How does this work?”
“Quite simply, I need some silence and I will see what kind of impression I get from the wallet.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes.
“Mr. Evans, how old are your children?” Madame Karitska asked.
“Well, Bobby is five and James is twelve,” he said. “But they would never steal from me! They get an allowance that’s quite generous for children their ages.”
“Mr. Evans, I am afraid that your older son has something of an... addiction,” she informed him calmly.
“Oh, my god! Drugs!” cried Mr. Evans, his eyes wide with panic.
“Oh, no,” said Madame Karitska. “Comic books.”
Later that afternoon her phone rang. It was Lieutenant Pruden. “You will never guess what’s happened. The chip database registry people called. A shelter right here in Trafton has the dog!” He arranged to pick up Madame Karitska and go with her to the shelter.
They arrived just as the shelter workers were closing up, but a show of Pruden’s id card and badge allowed them entrance.
“How did you get the dog?” asked Madame Karitska.
“A sad tale, but one we’ve heard often,” said the shelter manager. “The family bought the dog but then found that one of the children was highly allergic. Such a beautiful dog, too.”
“They didn’t just return it to the seller?” Pruden asked.
“They claimed they’d tried, but were unable to contact the people they bought it from. Confidentially, I think the whole thing was a bit shady. We’ve seen that happen, too.”
“Whatever do you mean?” said Madame Karitska.
“It’s not uncommon for expensive dogs with pedigrees to get stolen and then re-sold by shady people for a fraction of what they’re worth. From a breeder, a dog with a good pedigree might go for thousands of dollars, but from an illegal reseller they can be obtained for only a few hundred dollars.” The manager sighed. “That’s why we always scan for chips. When dogs this nice come in, they’re often here from illegal means.”
“Well, we know his original family,” Madame Karitska told the shelter manager. “There is a little boy who will be very happy to see his dog again.”
“Oh, that must be the man who called earlier,” said the manager.
“Called?” asked Pruden. “Who called?”
“One of my employees said a man called just before you did and said we had found his dog, and we put a note on his cage. The man said he was coming in the morning to pick up the dog.”
“Did he give a name?”
“Yes,” said the manager flipping through papers. “It was, let me see... Oh, here it is. Henry Billings.”
“Billings! I wonder if it’s the same man we’ve been looking for!” said Pruden. “Listen, I’d like to put one of my officers here as a worker first thing in the morning. Not only is this man not the dog's real owner, but he is a suspect in the unresolved case of a woman who vanished after her apartment was destroyed.”
The shelter manager agreed quickly, and Pruden and Madam Karitska left for the precinct as the animal shelter people finished closing up for the night.
Lieutenant Pruden had arranged for a young police officer named Amy to play the part of the animal shelter worker that morning. She had worn her own clothes, simple jeans and a shirt, and was fitted with a ‘wire’ so that other officers could hear her interaction with the man coming to see “his” dog.
“Remember,” Pruden reminded her, after she’d studied the picture of Henry Billings. “When you confirm that the man is the same as the one in the picture, use the words ‘blue shirt.’ If it’s not the same man, tell him that you need to process his paperwork and to come back the next day.”
“No problem, Lieutenant,” assured the officer.
It was a trying wait for Billings to come for the dog. It was a warm day, and they could not run the air conditioner in the van due to some interference problem with the recording equipment.
After about ninety minutes, about five men who might have been right had come and gone, with none of them asking about the big white fluffy dog. A sixth had just entered the building.
“Marty,” they heard Amy pretend to call back to another worker. “Have you seen my blue shirt?”
Suddenly the shelter was swarming with officers.
“Henry Billings, I believe. You look just like your picture,” Pruden said, holding up the now-worn picture next to the face of the human version. Billings was quickly cuffed and taken back to the police precinct.
At the precinct, Lieutenant Pruden called Madame Karitska to tell her the good news. She asked if she might come by to see the man, and he agreed.
Madame Karitska walked over and took the hand of Billings, dropping it after only a moment. “I believe you’ll find that Billings is not his real name. But he was Beth’s real father.”
“He was?” Pruden said, surprised “Then where is Beth?”
There was silence for a moment. Then Madame Karitska said, “She’s dead, isn’t she.”
“Billings” stared at his feet and said nothing.
“Why?” she asked, simply. “It was about the painting, wasn’t it?”
The suspect said, “She didn’t even know what she had.” Pruden had one of his men take the criminal away.
The next day Lieutenant Pruden came by Madame Karitska’s apartment, where Laurie sat sipping a cup of Turkish coffee. Madame Karitska immediately got her other friend his own cup of the potent brew, and they sat quietly for a moment.
“I still don’t understand why,” Laurie said, breaking the silence. “If he was really her father, why did he kill her?”
“It took a while, but eventually he confessed everything,” Pruden said. “Guilt, maybe, over killing his own child.” He sighed.
“It’s still not clear how he found Beth, but she was certainly eager to accept him as her father. He talked her into taking him to her apartment. Once there, he started asking her about money and inheritance from her mother. When she mentioned how little there was, except for the painting, he realized that Beth had no idea that her mother had bought a priceless painting and thought it was junk. It’s a commonly heard tale, but it actually is an uncommon occurence.” Pruden took another sip of his coffee.
“‘Billings’ -- whose real name turned out to be Harold Brady, with a long record of simple thefts -- was involved in the dog theft and re-selling ring. Unfortunately, he also has a drug problem. After he stole the Samoyed, he used the money from the resale on drugs. His bosses were not happy and wanted repayment. He was originally going to try to wheedle the money out of his daughter, but when he saw the painting he realized he had to have it.
“The sad part is, he claims he didn’t mean to kill Beth. He just hit her too hard and she hit her head again as she fell. There was no blood, so he called some of his criminal pals and they took the body away and dumped it somewhere. He won’t say where. Yet.”
Pruden stopped. Laurie had tears running down her face. It didn’t take any psychic ability to see that he was feeling awful for upsetting her.
“Well,” said Madame Karitska. “Even in the face of death, there is often happiness around the corner. I think the visitors due here any moment should help with that.”
“What do you mean?” asked Laurie just as there was a knock on the door.
Madame Karitska opened it to reveal a woman, and a beaming young boy who was holding the leash of a very large, white, fluffy dog.
“Sit, Buster!” said the boy, and the dog obediently sat, with a big doggie grin on his face.
“Madame Karitska, we had to come and thank you so much for helping to find Buster,” said the woman.
“I am happy he is back safe and home, Mrs. Anderson,” she told the young mother, and introduced her other two guests. “Lieutenant Prudent was especially helpful in finding Buster. It was he who got the right people to keep an eye out for Buster’s microchip.”
“Thank you all,” said Mrs. Anderson. “I won’t stay long, but I wanted to bring this,” she said, handing Madame Karitska a fifty dollar bill. “My husband just got a new job at his old salary, so things are looking better for us. We’re already planning on putting up a bigger fence around Buster’s run.”
“That is wonderful news,” said Madame Karitska. “Billy, you and Buster must take care of each other, yes?”
“Yes, ma’am”, the boy replied excitedly, and the trio left happily.
The three in the house sat back down to their coffee.
“So in a way, Brimmer was right about who killed Beth,” reflected Pruden thoughtfully. “And in a way he was very wrong. I wonder what Ellery Queen would have thought?”
“That we may never know, Lieutenant,” said Madame Karitska, with a smile.