“Will this take long?” I asked as I set a cup of coffee in front of the detective. I was careful not to let the cup rattle when it touched the table. “I have a tee time in forty minutes.”
“No. I just want to review your statement and see if you have anything to add.”
“It was two years ago.”
“Sometimes it’s worth taking a second look at a case after a little time has passed. People think of some detail they didn’t think was important before, or something happens to change their perspective on events. To be honest,” he said with a disarming smile, “I’m retiring soon, and this is one of those cases that always bugged me.”
“Yes, it was disturbing for all of us. The Home Owner Association increased security after it happened. More patrols, more motion activated lights. We all have those doorbell cameras now. Greg and I have a camera on our patio now, also.”
“Too bad Otto didn’t have cameras back then.”
“Yes. Poor Otto. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
“Take me through the events of September third, 2017.” He pulled a little notebook and a pen out of his jacket pocket, just like on television.
“Was that Sunday?”
“Okay.” I deliberately relaxed the muscles in my arms, and crossed my legs so I wouldn’t fidget. “Greg and I held a Labor Day barbecue for some of the couples in our neighborhood. We had also done a Cinco De Mayo party, and everyone loved it, so I used the same menu. Chips and salsa, guacamole. Greg grilled steak and peppers for fajitas. I made spicy watermelon margaritas. I suppose those aren’t the sort of details you’re looking for.”
The detective smiled. “Just tell me what you remember.”
“Well, things got a little wild. I’m afraid that was my fault. I poured the tequila with a heavy hand. Someone fell in the pool. I think it was Doris. Then a bunch of other people jumped in, too, fully clothed. There was some silly dancing. I don’t remember any of the conversations now. I’m afraid the evening is a bit of a blur.”
“What about the fight between your husband and Otto?”
A chill snaked down my spine. “It wasn’t a fight,” I clarified. “It was an argument. I think Otto had borrowed some tool and was slow returning it. Greg was angry about it.”
“According to the statements, it was a ladder.”
“Okay, it was a ladder. They were both drunk. Pretty soon they were shouting at each other, but it never got physical.”
“And there was something to do with lawn mowers?”
I laughed. I was careful not to let it sound too giddy. “I had forgotten about that. Greg bought a fancy riding mower. He told me it would pay for itself since we could cancel the lawn service. That lasted about half the summer. That dumb mower is out in our shed gathering dust now. Anyway, a few days after Greg bought his, Otto went out and bought one, also. A much nicer one. He and Otto did that sort of thing a lot, trying to one up each other.” I shook my head. “Men.”
“They fought about it?”
“It was harmless. You know how it is when you get into an argument. You start pulling out every little slight you can think of, no matter how silly. And like I said, they were both drunk. It was around that time Doris fell in the pool, which distracted everyone. Pretty soon, no one remembered there had even been an argument.”
The detective’s expression remained neutral. I couldn’t tell if I was convincing him or not. “And there was something about . . . ducks?”
I rolled my eyes. “Otto had gone to some restaurant and had duck eggs. He realized that free range chicken eggs are all over the place, but duck eggs are harder to find, so he came up with some scheme to raise ducks in his backyard and sell the eggs. Of course the Association didn’t approve it. We don’t allow livestock, or home businesses. Otto was trying to appeal, and Greg was the president of the Association at the time. I suppose they argued about that, too. I don’t remember.” I gave the detective a charming smile. “I was too busy with the blender.”
“What time did the festivities break up?”
“I think it was . . . close to midnight? Is that what it says in my statement?”
He nodded. “What did you do after the party?”
“Greg went to bed immediately. I cleaned up a little, but I was tired, so I left most of it for the morning and went to bed, also.”
“Otto’s blood was found on the handle of your gate.”
“Yes, I remember that from the original investigation.” I shrugged. “Otto used that back gate all the time. It was quicker for him to cut through the little service alley, rather than go all the way around. I don’t remember him injuring himself that evening, but he might have had some sort of minor cut.”
“There were no cuts on his hands.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he swatted a mosquito, or something like that. It was a very small amount of blood, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” the detective admitted. “You’re sure your husband was in bed with you the whole night?”
I bristled. “He was sleeping off the beer and margaritas. He didn’t move for nine hours straight.”
“But you were inebriated, too, right? He could have gotten out of bed and you would have slept right through it.”
“What possible reason could Greg have to kill Otto? An argument over a ladder and a lawn mower? That’s absurd.”
I concentrated on breathing normally. It was natural to get a little worked up when defending one’s husband, but I didn’t want to overdo it.
“The murder weapon was a golf club. Your husband is quite the golfer, isn’t he?”
“It’s a golfing community. And it’s not like a club is complicated. I would think even a non-golfer could figure out how to use one.”
The detective smiled. “I suppose so.”
I didn’t think he really believed Greg had done it. He was just taking a shot in the dark. I felt a little of the tension in my shoulders ease.
“Can you think of anyone who was angry with Otto?” he asked. “Or who might have wanted to hurt him?”
I sighed. “Only his wife. She had always been . . . high-strung. And they were separated, not divorced, so she inherited everything when he died. She was certainly familiar with the neighborhood. She could have slipped in unnoticed, or told someone else how to do it.”
“She had a rock solid alibi, and we couldn’t find evidence that she had hired or coerced someone else into killing her husband.”
“She’s the only person I can think of who would have wanted to hurt him. I don’t know. After she left, he had a bit of a midlife crisis. He bought a sports car. No, Greg called it a muscle car. And he brought home . . . women.”
The detective raised an eyebrow at my tone. “Women?”
“Young women. Girls. I don’t know if they were call girls or if they were just trashy. And then there was the band.” I shuddered. “He was in some band back in his twenties and he got them band back together. They would practice in his garage. Loudly. And badly. Mostly Hootie and the Blowfish songs. That might have been motivation to murder him, but the Association enacted a noise ordinance that nipped it in the bud a few months before the barbecue.”
“Sounds like Otto made a lot of trouble for the Association.”
“Nothing we couldn’t handle. Otto could be a bit wearing, but he was also a charmer. Everyone liked him. As far as I knew. Look, my tee time is in ten minutes. Is there anything else, Detective?”
“No, I don’t have any more questions at this time. Thank you for speaking to me.”
“Of course. I’ll see you out.”
After I closed the door behind him, I leaned my forehead against the cool wood and took a shuddering breath. I forced myself to breathe in through the nose for four counts, hold seven counts, then breathe out through the mouth for eight counts.
Luckily Greg had called to warn me that the detective had stopped by his office and was on his way here next, so I had a little time to prepare myself. I wasn’t sure how well I would have held up under a surprise interrogation.
That chapter of my life was only two years ago, but it felt so far away it almost didn’t seem real.
Greg had had a client visiting whose wife needed to be entertained, so I had volunteered to take her out shopping and to lunch. After I dropped her back at her hotel, I was walking through the lobby and happened to notice the man in a suit sitting at the bar, drinking alone. Something about him made me stop and take a second look. He had put on a little weight and lost a little hair, but I would have recognized him anywhere. He noticed me in the mirror behind the bar and turned. Those warm brown eyes lit up as he gave me a dazzling smile, and I melted. I still had his class ring in my jewelry box.
Our fling only lasted a few weeks. It was bad luck that Otto saw us out together one evening while Greg was working late. When I got home that night, Otto was sitting next to our pool, drinking one of my husband’s IPAs. I remembered the glee in his eyes when he told me that I needed to convince Greg to accept his backyard duck proposal or else he would whisper in a few choice ears who he had seen me with and what we had been doing. The rumor would have spread through the community like wildfire. I told him I’d try, in order to buy myself a little time. There was no way I was going to give in to his blackmail, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
At the barbecue, when he and Greg were arguing, I panicked. I was afraid he would just blurt it out right then and there. I looked at my lovely husband and all our friends clustered around our gorgeous patio, and I pictured my whole world crashing down. Doris was standing at the edge of the pool. She was tipsy and wearing heels, and everyone was distracted by the shouting match, so no one saw me give her a little shove. I had managed to avert disaster, but I knew I was out of time.
I started mixing the drinks a little stronger and making sure that no one had an empty glass. I nursed my own drink. I had to plan on the fly, but I guess I did a pretty good job. Greg fell into bed as soon as everyone left. I waited about a half hour to give all the neighbors a chance to settle in and fall asleep, then I slipped out through the gate. We still had the key to Otto’s back door from that time he went on vacation and wanted us to look in on his cat. I found him asleep in his recliner in the living room. His bag of clubs was right next to the door.
I’ve been playing golf for thirty years. I’ve always gotten compliments on my swing.
Speaking of which, I was about to miss my tee time. I needed to pull myself together and get to the club to see what people were saying about the investigation. Hopefully this would all blow over fast this time. I shook my head. Otto and his damn ducks.
I smoothed down my hair, grabbed my purse, and headed out the door.