This story is by Kit Matthews and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Everyone has a deadline, so to speak. For some it’s sooner than others.
Eileen Fisher had 48 hours.
She was freshly graduated from Columbia University with a 4.O GPA. She had prospects. Specifically, Eileen wanted to be an investigative journalist.
It is common practice for companies such as News Corp, to test candidates before interviewing them. In this case they had 20 fresh students desperate to prove themselves. This year’s test was slightly different to the usual treasure hunt.
The candidates had to find an unsolved case, solve it within 48 hours, and hand in an editorial for the front page covering the story. The best three stories would be published and candidates would be interviewed for the vacant position.
Buried beneath piles of books, eyebrows furrowed, Eileen sat in New York Public Library glossing over the last 2 years-worth of unsolved crimes. The case she chose had to be perfect. It had to be legendary.
Eileen knew she couldn’t afford to waste time choosing her case if she was going to have enough time to solve it. Tying her hair up off her neck, she took a glance around the room and noticed familiar faces. Hopeful students, hunched over books and laptops alike, similarly motivated for the competition.
Now, while Eileen wouldn’t consider herself as the nervous type, the clock in her head started ticking. She needed to make a decision before she ran out of time.
Looking back down at the archives she realised there were only 2 pages left in the book when something caught her eye.
Two years ago, Senator James Murphy was shot riding an elevator from a lobby press conference to his room on the seventh floor during an election campaign. Eileen recalled the drama and media coverage, but the police had failed to catch the murderer. Witnesses saw him get on the elevator alone; and according to reports it stopped once on the sixth floor, by the seventh floor he was dead. Security footage didn’t catch any suspects getting on or off on the sixth floor, and there was no murder weapon or new leads in two years.
It was exactly what she was looking for. She needed to prove to them and herself that she could do this. Fortunately for her, it was such a scandal at the time that there was a lot of material in both print and online media.
While a few sites alluded to NSA conspiracies, and a few suggested he was murdered for his money, nobody could explain who killed him, Eileen new she’d have her hands full.
First step – Suspects.
There were 3 suspects on the 6th floor, all of whom had alibis.
One was an (allegedly) Argentinian mobster with no known connection to the victim (despite conspiracy theories of corruption). He had been seated at the bar in the hours preceding and following the murder with only a brief toilet break.
Second was his ex-wife and campaign manager Gail Henderson, whose alibi was that she was having an affair with James’ brother; he being the third person on the 6th floor.
James’ brother, Stewart, had the strongest motive. Following James’ death, as his only next of kin, Stewart would receive a sizable income from their family’s estate which had gone to James as the eldest son. However, James had been paying his brother a regular income, in an attempt to dull his jealousy at being the second son and keep him afloat since Stewart’s business had failed the year before.
As far as Eileen was concerned the security footage of the 6th floor was easy enough to manipulate to not be reliable. Therefore it was most likely he murdered was that someone shot him as the doors to the elevator opened, disposed of the gun, and provided them-selves with an alibi before escaping.
The three suspects on the 6th floor had been tested for gunshot residue, but it occurred to Eileen that if the murderer had used the stairs to access the lift and escape they could be from anywhere.
All the security staff on the seventh floor were interviewed but none had an apparent motive to kill the Senator. Most were working in different security firms across the city now, having been privately hired by Gail as protection for the Senator on the campaign.
Time for some primary sources.
Eileen’s uncle worked in the investigating precinct at the time. Whilst he hadn’t been on the case, he did have access to the files. Finton was only a beat cop then, so spent most of his time breaking up brawls and attending traffic accidents, but with a little needling Eileen convinced him to supply her with photos from the case.
Eileen was still bothered by how far his scarf was from the body when he had clearly been holding it when he got on the lift.
After doing a little reconnaissance, the would-be detective went to a nightclub in downtown New York, famous for its ruthless bouncers, knowing that their latest hire had been part of Senator Murphy’s security detail.
From afar it was clear that he wasn’t your average bouncer. He was a foot taller than his colleague and lacked the customary beer gut.
“You’re not the first person to track me down,” his gravelly voice dropped to a whisper after Eileen announced that she knew who he was. “I don’t generally like advertising the fact that I was part of a security detail that failed to protect one man. It’s a mark of shame for me and the rest of the crew that day.”
“I know it’s a long shot, but do you still have the names and contact details of everyone else that worked in the security detail with you? I’m trying to get as much detail as I can for the article.”
“There were two crews that day. I was part of the team that followed James on the whole campaign, but there were 3 others with us that day hired by Gail. A couple of the regular detail had requested the event off so they could visit their families. They were only hired the day before. I only have the number for one, but I have all three names.” the bouncer shrugged like this wasn’t the first time and he doubted it’d be the last time he was asked for their details. The two exchanged emails so he could send Eileen the information in his break. “For now I have to get back to work, but I’ll forward you everything when I get home.”
It was late by the time Eileen got the email.
Sam Worthington (former soldier, honourably discharged from service), Jude Nelson (the only member of the detail that stayed in touch with the official security detail) and lastly an obvious pseudonym John Smith.
Something looked familiar about John smith from the photo attached to the email.
By morning Eileen realised where she’d seen his face.
He had been in the papers lately as the body guard of the notorious Fred Ascott, head of New York’s most prolific drug cartel. He made an effort to keep his face away from cameras, but one paparazzo had managed a clean shot of him behind Fred. It had been suggested that he was the cartel’s main muscle and hit man. His name wasn’t listed anywhere but Eileen was certain it was him.
The most likely scenario was that he was ordered by Ascott to assassinate Murphy, due to his ground breaking legislation regarding policing drug distribution.
As part of the security detail it would have been easy to commit the murder. Sneak down the stairs using someone else’s weapon from the armoury, wait at the sixth level for the doors to open, use the senators scarf to mask any gun residue and throw it back in before the doors closed. Then all he had to do was to come out the top of the stairs as the elevator doors opened. It’s unlikely anyone would notice from where he entered in the chaos.
Although he had no apparent motives at that time, his connection to Fred Ascott could be enough to reopen the case.
While her theory was entirely circumstantial, that’s all it needed to be to for her article. Now all she had to do was to finish writing it before the end of the day and hand it in before anyone else. Most people would probably hand it in tonight but if Eileen could get it in ahead of schedule she’d have an advantage.
Hair bouncing as she ran down the sidewalk, paper in hand, Eileen managed to squeeze through the doors behind the security guard who then guided her to the submissions desk, recognising the look on her face as that of a journalist on a deadline.
First paper in the pile. Eileen left confident she would get a call-back for the interviews.